I Did Not Know I Was Free


Essentially in Ireland

I was in Rhode Island, just to catch the flight to Ireland, where I would be transferring to Bordeaux, Southern France. The airport was called Providence/Boston-TF Green, long name for a small airport. When I passed the security check and started collecting my stuff. A stapler curiously found its way among my things. I picked it up and looked at the officer and said: ‘It’s not mine.’ He looked at me surprised and asked: ‘You sure? I am pretty it came together with your stuff.’ One colleague of him, a large woman with Latin accent laughed: ‘come to TF Green airport, get one stapler for free! Great advertisement!’ We all laughed. That was how I left the States in the end.

You might have heard about it from your friends with third world country passports. I was a Chinese (PRC) passport holder, which meant that I could not enter any developed country without a visa. I did have a 3-year Schengen visa issued by France, which entitled me to enter any Schengen country. However, although Ireland was a EU member, it was, unlike most EU members, not a Schengen country. Ireland was really in a curious situation. For Ireland, ‘to the east there is Brexit. To the west there is Trump’s USA and here I am, stuck with EU’.

I already booked a ticket from Cork to Bordeaux and I only had to wait for 5 hours in Cork airport. so I planned to stay in the international transfer zone for this time, therefore no need to officially enter Ireland.


Have you heard of any international airports without a transfer zone? YES! I finally saw one, right there in Cork. The arrival hall led directly to the border check and nowhere else. Although I had learned to complain a lot as I had become quite Dutch, I must admit here that it was also my bad since I did not think about it in advance. Luckily the border officers were nice and issued me a ‘one day emergency visa’ for me to get through the airport. I was led by one officer through the security check and arrived in the waiting zone for my flight. He told me to stay there and not move anywhere else. So between the border check at the arrival hall and the ticket check at the departure, I was officially in Ireland for about 3 minutes. How was Ireland? En…… the security check was smooth. That was all my impression of Ireland was.

I did not have an adapter so I was sharing the adapter of a fellow passenger, a Malaysian girl to charge my mobile. Minutes later the two officers came back to take a photo of  my passport. They asked us: ‘Do you two know each other?’ We said: ‘no, we are just sharing a charger.’ Nonetheless, they took a photo of her passport and visa. Then they left us alone.

Although I do complain from time to time, I am not a wining bastard. Those guys were pretty nice to me and I was grateful. They were not rough and in general the law enforcement in EU was rather humane, or to be exact, might be the most humane in the world, since by all means, EU was essentially left-wing.


the Realization of Freedom

When I finally arrived in Bordeaux and the smell of the grape vines found its way into my nostrils, I felt such joy. ‘I am back in Europe and I can smell it.’ After the battle with public transport in US, the missed flight and the false alarm in Cork, I was psychologically exhausted. I decided to sleep in the airport, for half a month.

Just kidding. 🙂 half a month would be too long. I would stay for like two or three days. Most airports in Europe also would not let you stay that long. On a website called sleepinairports one can find much information about many specific airports and how ‘sleepable’ they are. I was kicked out of Zagreb airport in Croatia after 3 days on the ground of vagabond. However, I once slept ten days in Sabiha Gokcen airport in Istanbul. After a while I started smelling like an airport and the workers became my friends. Nope, I was not intending to do that in Bordeaux.

I had a yoga mattress, a sleeping bag and bought plenty of food from a nearby supermarket. I continued reading Anne Frank’s A Young Girl’s Diary, so I was rather content.

However, soon the problem of the adapter arose again. My mobile battery was dying. Sarcastically speaking, there were only two modern tragedies: mobile battery dying and lacking wifi. I noticed that I was far from the only one who found this airport a comfortable bedroom. There were other regulars, among whom there was an old gentleman. He looked much like the Australian actor Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa in Pirate of the Caribbean Sea) but shorter and with a goatee. I estimated his age to be around 55. He always carried a briefcase with him and was meticulous about his routine. I noticed that he had two phone chargers, so one night before going to sleep I asked him in my rusty French if I could borrow one for a while. He nodded yes and took out one of them for me. Then he went to sleep on the bench with his jacket.

The next morning when the the sunshine woke us up, I gave it back to him and thanked him. He waved his hand and said: ‘No no! Keep it! You need it more than I do. I have two and in the future I can find more. Oh by the way, the airport can get really busy during the day. I hang out in the parks and nearby I can charge my phone in the train station. See you later!’ He combed his hair with great care, gingerly put on his casquette, arranged his briefcase meticulously like he was not folding clothes but painting a realism landscape and disappeared in the thin air, which smelled of the detergent the janitors used to clean the airport floor. All this time he did not have either a smile or any sign of anger on his face. He remained expressionless. Even now when I thought of him, he was expressionless.

I became curious.


The next night when he appeared again. I carefully approached him and asked how his day was.

Me: So, sir, how was your day?
He: So so. (comme ci comme ça)
Me: Are you from Bordeaux?
He: No, I am from nearby Dijon.
Me: I am sleeping in the airport because I want to stay alone for a while and read books. I am just curious, how about you?
He: I slept in airports and train stations first because I had to and now it’s because I choose to.

He was an art teacher in a primary school and he lost his job in the economic crisis in 2008. He was dismayed and desperate. He tried to get other jobs but whenever there was an economic problem, art was always the first to go. He became so depressed that his family advised him to take a solo trip to Provence. One sunny morning when the air was as sweet as pine trees, he was walking in the old center of Aix-en-Provence. He saw those people running for their work with a cup of coffee in their hands, not noticing either the sweet air or the blossoming trees. He suddenly realized ‘I am free now’!

He: We are so used to restriction that once we are set free we even don’t realize it and even struggle to get our shackles back. How interesting is that! From that moment on I started wandering around, making friends when I want to, reading books when I want to. I keep my family informed but they do not worry much about me anymore. When I am tired of seeing new things all the time, when I am tired of wandering, I will return home, but not now.


I decided that I would not ask his name unless he told me himself. Nope, he did not mention his name. Thus, until today I still do not know his name. Perhaps to him names were also part of the shackles.

I met people of all walks along my journey. In my younger years, when I first started traveling, I tended to look up on people. ‘What? You have been to Peru? So cool!’ ‘What? What was it? Hitchhiking? WOWO! You are awesome man!’ Gradually I gained my own experiences and I did not admire people easily anymore. However, his story hit me like a gentle hammer, gentle it was but still alarming as a hammer. With this feeling I went to sleep.

I had contemplated on the subject of freedom and restriction for a long time, especially when I was waiting for cars while hitchhiking. I asked many people what they were chasing after in their life. One way or another, most of their answers were ‘freedom’, let it be freedom of finance, freedom to explore or freedom of not doing anything. However, we can feel freedom simply because we have restrictions. No matter how hard we chase after freedom, we will never achieve 100% liberation. We will always have some restrictions in our life. The moment we achieve 100% freedom, freedom will lose its meaning. If you do not feel restriction, then you do not feel freedom. It is as simple as that.

However, although 100% freedom is not possible, freedom is still the most valuable possession one can have. That is why I love traveling in my nomadic way.

All travelers have the freedom of space. They can travel to any place they please.
Long term travelers also have freedom of time. They can travel as long as they please.
Nomadic travelers also have the freedom of finance. They can travel even longer, even further. Space, time, money, a nomadic traveler has 3 degrees of freedom. Is that not wonderful?

To be continued



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