Off with a bang
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.