Off with a bang

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

Oh, the de­lights of de­vices and stay­ing in touch while on the road. It used to be that you could dis­ap­pear for days, if not weeks, and no one ex­pected to hear a word, un­less you were the sort to fire off pic­ture post­cards.

I had an over-ef­fi­cient trav­el­ling com­pan­ion ages ago who wrote all her post­cards within an hour of ar­riv­ing at our des­ti­na­tion; Jenny would head for a sou­venir store, scrib­ble on the cards (usu­ally with iden­ti­cal pic­tures) and then lo­cate the clos­est post of­fice. I once asked her why she didn’t just carry a rubber stamp with a pro-forma mes­sage. Some­thing like: “The weather’s hot and so are the men.” (We were about 20, af­ter all, and not bad look­ing.) She scoffed at this idea as she pro­duced the roll of printed ad­dress la­bels she al­ways car­ried and made me help her stick them on. Mother, grand­moth­ers, aun­ties from A to Z, cousins and en­vi­ous friends — all were cov­ered. She was an in­spi­ra­tion, of sorts. These days, she’d be the type of trav­eller who’d copy and paste the same text mes­sage to every­one on her phone’s data base. Done and dusted, as Mother would have de­clared.

When I trav­elled around In­dia alone, at what now seems a ridicu­lously young age, I would oc­ca­sion­ally call home from a cheer­fully named STD booth (sub­scriber trunk di­alling, let me as­sure you). I would have to book the call at a cer­tain time, show up promptly, be given a chit and then, if lucky, the call would go through an op­er­a­tor within the next hour. Mother and Dad would rarely an­swer, we had no mes­sage-bank, mo­biles were un­known. “How’s the weather abroad?” Mother in­quired dur­ing one rare con­nec­tion and then left me dan­gling while she an­swered the door­bell.

But now we are all con­tactable day and night, at home or on the road. Our de­vices ping and ding and some play over­tures or hoot like owls. They never shut up. The lat­est ones are so tricky and ad­vanced I have heard ru­mours they can in­flate to be­come a lif­er­aft and cook a chook while they’re at it. We can Skype or FaceTime with friends across time zones who’ve called us while we are in our jim­jams and or­ganic cold-pressed face masks. I am too afraid to turn off my iPhone while trav­el­ling in case of an ur­gent call, so there I will be in, say, Madrid, at 2am try­ing to be po­lite to an Aus­tralian telco agent who’s of­fer­ing to update my plan or of­fer­ing me a free breath of fresh air if I will take a quick sur­vey about cus­tomer ser­vice.

Re­cently at Bangkok air­port en route to Laos, I am with my col­league Cyn­thia who’s show­ing me how to use the speaker on her iPhone mes­sage app. She thinks this will be help­ful as I have a wrist in­jury and need to rest my hand. “It will write in front of our eyes,” she tells me. I am full of won­der­ment as she gives a demon­stra­tion.

A lit­tle mi­cro­phone icon ap­pears. “We are go­ing to Luang Pra­bang!” she an­nounces, quite loudly. The words ap­pear, mag­i­cally and ef­fort­lessly, on the screen. “We are go­ing to Lon­don for a bang!” Golly.

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