Roads Less Travelled—Two Reflections on Rebellious Walking
Building on their research interest in deconstructing social and spatial mobility through bodies in “transition”, take a walk with Amanda and Jocelyn as they ponder and question how differences in geographical environment and social-economic background can influence the way we interact with public space.
20 September 2019
I am writing from above 3000m, in the mountains of Nepal. It is about halfway through my trek. That I’m all the way here, completely without phone and internet connection, and not being able to “work” on the CCP project despite the tight timeline that we have, unsettles me.
Being here is disorienting. Walking here could not be more different than back home, in a city that is ordered, sanitised, comfortable. With every step in the mountains, I have milliseconds to make numerous decisions—Is this rock stable? Can I find a level spot to place my foot? Will my foot sink in the mud? I do my best to dodge patches of dung, hopping from rock to rock; it is a dance, an improvisation.
At times, my knees hurt and I can’t breathe. My body rebels against the unfamiliar conditions. My mind rebels by deciding to go as slowly as I please; amidst the expanse of space and time, I don’t see a point in moving any faster than I need to.
I am physically uncomfortable and mentally stressed; yet I am aware that it is a privileged position to be in.
Privileged enough to be away from work and responsibilities for more than two weeks.
Privileged enough to fly to an unfamiliar place.
Privileged enough to hire guides and porters.
Privileged enough to have someone cook all my meals for me.
Privileged enough to sit here griping about the cold and worrying about my pain.
It will feel strange when I’m back in Singapore.
I will start documenting my walking routes in the city, but what kinds of transgressions can/do I commit in a city like this? Jaywalking/crossing a traffic junction when the light is red?
I remain curious and open.
What do the routes that I take reveal about my life?
How do I make use of public spaces, and in what ways do I (consciously or unconsciously) rebel against certain kinds of public architecture?
What, if anything, do the above reveal about privilege, mine or in general?
7 October 2019
They bring me to places—deftly avoiding puddles of water, loose pebbles, squashed snails, and unidentifiable mush along the pavements.
They determine how formal or casual my outfit for the day is.
They withstand long hours of work on elevated heels, metal zippers clinking away with each stride.
They march up and down the corridor, soft thuds falling in rhythm. A routine walk that generates a routine beat.
They pad silently across floors where noise from behind the camera is taboo.
They slide and glide reluctantly across floors, wearing half socks burnished by friction.
They often walk the ‘right’ path, following accepted ways and routes to places.
At times, they walk the ‘left’ path, taking shortcuts, leaps and unorthodox entry and exit points from space to space.
At times, this boundary between the road well-travelled and the road less-travelled is ambiguous. Who determines which path is the accepted ‘norm’, and which path is its transgression? Is not the well-travelled path the ‘popular’ option—the democratically selected option? Or is the well-travelled path the socially accepted option—the ‘normalised’ option?
Who determines whose way of life is the dominant motif, and whose way of life is a ‘variation of the theme’ or a counterpoint?
My feet walk a pre-determined path, habitualised into auto-pilot mode. I do not need to think or will them to move in this daily walk.
They bring my preoccupied mind and body across textured paths, steps and slopes, synthetic rubber and concrete.
Sometimes, walking paths have become so hard-wired into my routine that I realise I have become numb to their implications.
Can our feet be a site of resistance? Can they ‘perform’ agency as they interact with a space? Can where we walk, and how we walk, speak truth and spark questions to wake our fogged minds?