Passports and Passions

The year was 2006, and she was in junior college. Also a member of the school’s drama group. I was working with them to devise a play, ‘X-Country’. She played X.

Y:         You don’t have much time…

X:         …I know. Did you take it?

Y:         What?

X:         My passport?

Y:         Why would…

X:         …You have it right?

Y:         …No.

X:         Where is it…?

Y:         …Why are you asking me…?

X:         …Give it to me… 

Y:         …I don’t …

X:         — Give me my passport. Now.

Now it’s 2012, and she’s graduated from university. Working for an oil major, no less. But of course, all she really wants to do is travel.

Y:         All you’re doing is…

X:         …leaving, I’m only leaving…

Y:         …Your friends, even your family…

X:         …Who should understand that…

Y:         …There’s just no reason…

X:         …Why I have to stay…

Y:         …Here, where your whole life is…

X:         …Just beginning, and out there is… 

Y:         …Nothing, you’ll have no one…

X:         …To tell me what to do, where to go…

Y:         …For your own good…

X:         …According to what they believe…

Y:         …Because you’re not always right…

X:         …But even if I’m wrong, it’s my decision, and what I really need from you is…

Y:         …Just your passport.

Let’s go back to 2009. She told me that while travelling in Greece, she actually lost her passport – just like X. With no other form of identification on her, she kept thinking about her lines in the play. And she finally understood what she was saying on stage back then.

The passport, it’s not just a travel document. Out there in the world, beyond the borders of home, it defines our identity, it authenticates our right to board a plane, check into a hotel — to be simply be there.

Y:         What are you looking for?

(Silence.)

X:         Why are you asking me?

(Silence.)

Y:         Nothing. It’s nothing…

X:         …More than gravity.

Y:         Gravity?

X:         That’s all that’s keeping me here. A force of nature, holding me down. The world just keeps on turning. I find myself where I am. But it doesn’t have to be here, tomorrow.

In May this year, I visited Berlin, one of my favourite cities, and went to see the 7th Berlin Biennale. One artist, Khaled Jarrar, had created a fictional seal for the state of Palestine. You could get your passport stamped with that seal – and many had done so.

I didn’t have my passport with me at that time, but it made me think: if I did, would I do it? Am I willing to have imprinted in it a searing symbol of the unceasing political and religious conflicts of our time?

I don’t have an answer to that question, not even now. But art, like travel, makes you question yourself, and contemplate the world you live in. That’s why I love art, and that’s why I travel.

Y:         Your passport was in there, all this time. It was the first thing you packed. Remember now?

So after I came back, and she invited me to contribute to this travel blog of hers, I knew I had to start with some stories about passports.

Y:         Don’t lose it again. How else are you going to come home?

Till the next time mine gets stamped,

Bryan Tan

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