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He started traveling when he was 23, 5 years ago. Now he’s lived in 6 different countries, speaks 4 different languages, has a lot of great photographs and memories. And, much of the time, he is happy. But he does not have happiness. He says all he really has is his guitar. People that move around on their own, he says, they need something other than people to hold on to. He has his guitar, he says. His traveling companion.

His hair is long, kept in brown dreadlocks. He’s from Germany, but he sings in English and whatever language of whatever country he finds himself in. He is content, happy, to sit on benches across the globe, strumming and singing with the people, the crowds, that quickly surround him when he plays. He brings joy to them. Him and his guitar.

I wonder if he is happy after he packs away his one possession, after the crowds of people leave. I wonder how he is strong enough, if he is strong enough, to have been going so long on his own.  I wonder if he lied, if he’s actually terrified and lonely, or if he does take something else along with him on his travels — bits and pieces of people: the old man’s laughter, the girl smiling as she recorded him singing with her cell phone, the busy people who missed train after train as they stood in their subway station, singing. I wonder if it is enough for him, to have a part but not a whole.

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She asked me if I was doing alright; having a good time; not too overwhelmed; wanted some more beer. A grin sprung from my frown of a mouth.

“I’m great,” I said, as she leaned in closer to hear my response over the chatter of the restaurant.

“She’s shy,” another girl piped in.

“Not really,” the first girl shot back.

Not really. My typical response. Or maybe I more often go with, “Sometimes.”  I like to talk when I have something to say. Otherwise, I like to listen. Or not even listen; just sit there, as I did that night, surrounded by sound, watching, not comprehending, drinking my watery beer.

I don’t know how extroverts could survive in this city. Seoul. Maybe they plan weekly meet-ups at Korean-Irish pubs, and there they let out the bottled-up words they wanted to say on the street, on the subway, in the grocery store, to their own neighbors, to the nice-looking old lady sitting with her little dog on the park bench, to the 20-something boy in the cereal aisle in their local grocery mart.

Or maybe they speak in different ways — with their hair, like the Korean teenager with bleach-blond bangs, like the caucasian 30-something man I saw from across a busy street, sporting a bright-red mohawk. And with their clothes, opting-out of the apparent all-black Korean apparel fashion trend, and instead going for jeans, red converse, a plaid shirt, and a ball cap. He looks more American than any American I’ve ever seen, I thought to myself, glancing at him as we sat across from each other on the train.

It’s hard, even for me, the listener. It’s hard to listen when there is no sound, no quiet smiles, no polite small talk. It’s hard to sit, alone, in a subway car full of people who are also alone, each one diving nose-first into their cell phone screens– from the teeny-boppers to the grandmothers in jogging suits — or else taken out from the reality of the world in some other way: an ipod, a book, a nap. Sardine-pressed so closely to one another, yet so far apart; so alone. And there isn’t much else I can do but join them — ear buds in, book out, or eyes closed.

In a way, it is peaceful, and it does, in a way, feel like a community. But it also, in a way, makes me want to be loud. It makes me want to knock the phones from each of their hands, close their books, take from them their music. I want to yell at them, loudly or silently, tell them to look each other in the eye, to smile, to be people together, not just riders; living, not just moving through the motions (of the jerky subway car.)