Listening as a part of the journey

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Often when thinking about this thing called “travel”, we imagine the look of the land, the taste of the food, and/or the culture of those who call a place home. And this is all good.

But what may sometimes be missed is the extent to which, through travel, we also venture into a vast auditory landscape. If you are like me, your peripheral vision doesn’t quite reach to your ears, and so sometimes you forgot you have them.  But they’re powerful appendages, funneling all sorts of sound into our heads, where the brain then goes to work to make sense of what is around us. As I type these words now I can hear the sound of Buddhist chanting at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa; the serene call to prayer in Medan, Indonesia; the shutting doors of a commuter train in Kuala Lumpur as it whisks a silent horde of dawn commuters into the Malaysian metropolis (above).

And one of my sweetest auditory travel moments of all: walking through a Sumatran village at midnight, in complete darkness, and hearing a young Indonesian woman sitting on her roof with a guitar.  Strumming the chords just right, she was singing John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”  I paused, my ears perked wide, and nearly melted at the sound of her voice and the words.

And so when I make a things-to-do-list for my days on the road, it includes: Shut your mouth at times, maybe even close your eyes.  And listen.

Posted by | Comments (8)  | October 15, 2009
Category: Images from the road

8 Responses to “Listening as a part of the journey”

  1. David Turnbull Says:

    Beautiful post. I haven’t begun my vagabonding yet, but I still just enjoy lying on my bed and listening to all the sounds from the streets outside – the cars, the birds, the footsteps of school students. It’s amazingly calming. 🙂

  2. Sam Says:

    Beautiful post, Rolf. I, too, find listening to be one of the more pleasurable experiences while traveling — boots scraping snow, stoves igniting, bursting laughter in low-lit, glowing tents …

  3. Rolf Potts Says:

    Cheers, Sam — but Joel Carillet wrote this post!

  4. Lindsey Says:

    After becoming mostly deaf in one ear, from a plane flight-It has caused me to become keen to sound I still had the ability to capture. Often I’ll record people laughing as I travel with my little voice recorder.

  5. Kami Says:

    In similar, though less poetic, fashion…one of many of my favorite travel memories is of walking down a residential London street in the middle of the day on my way to the train and passing a row house out of whose open door some unseen person suddenly and exuberantly belted out, “Ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog…” It made my Tennessee-roots heart chuckle and feel right at home.

  6. Joel Carillet Says:

    Great to hear form each of you, particularly the descriptive sounds (or quiet!) you’ve shared.

  7. Ruth@Exodus Says:

    I agree, beautiful post and very true. I go to a hebridean island every year and nothing beats standing on the shore, shutting your eyes and hearing the roar of the sea against the silent nothingness of a place where ‘cities’ simply don’t exist.