Shih-Hsien Hsu Illustration

Lingering Dream

A Collection of Prose about Place Lag

Written and illustrated by Shih-Hsien, Hsu


‘Place lag’: the imaginative drag that results from our jet-age displacements over every kind of distance; from the inability of our deep old sense of place to keep up with our aeroplanes. -  Mark Vanhoenacker, Skyfaring (2015)

March  2013

It was my firs t long flight for a short-term study tour in London. The feeling was so impressed that till now I could still remember freshly. I sit in the middle of Shanghai Pudong International Airport for a connection. Chewing the bread prepared by my family, my eyes were getting wet. The destination was no longer the place that could be reached by tube or railway; all I longed for existed on imaginations.

August  2013

It was my first awareness of place lag. In the afternoon being surrounded by the dreamlike feast of nature, I was enjoying the geothermal spa at the extraordinary Blue Lagoon in Iceland. However, three hours later I was swallowed up by jam-packed tube trains in London. Thinking of why I experienced two completely different views in a short time, I felt so strange with layers of depression.

July  2017

It was both the first and probably the last memory of going back to Taiwan for summer break. I sowed the seeds in the air. Now it has grown to a tree and monologues telling place lag flows through the veins.  

Rippling in the gentle breeze, my heart is blew towards a faraway home.

Night ︎

The London Eye, twinkling in the dark, became closer and closer while the inflight announcement was made. A bird’s eye view of London at night looked strangely familiar to me.

Stepping out of the cabin, the wind blowing through gaps of the airbridge reminded me the arrival of the United Kingdom. Sniffing the smell combining the heating and fatigued travelers, I passed long aisles inside the terminal; what in front of me before the custom were advertising light boxes which displayed the images of iconic Britain characters saying welcome.

“I had left home ten thousands of miles away again; however, it took me only two airline meals, two movies and several broken sleep.”

On my way taking the underground train home, I felt the summer break had never happened while I was taking out the jacket to resist the autumn wind blowing inside. I almost forgot the unendurable humid summer in Taiwan.  

Outside the station was a deep blackness; current local time in London was 10:21 p.m. Very few passengers were on the road. “If I arrived earlier before the sunset, I would felt less lonely.”  Opening the door, the action of turning on the light finally declared the end of the travel.

Looking around the empty room, I felt quite emotional. To restrain myself from being swallowed by the depressed silence, I started unpacking to fill the room with heavily-loaded food and groceries from home. I could not remember the exact time when I finished allocating all the stuffs.

After washing away the exhausted state of the body and mind across the flight, I curled up covering myself with the black wool coat. The memory of mother’s folding the coat for me, wafting in the air, accompanied me in this enormously solitary bedroom.

01:50 a.m.

Morning ︎

Jet lag woke me up at 7:00 a.m.

I walked towards the window to see morning London, which I had not seen for nearly three months. Seeing a distinct contrail in the azure sky, I questioned myself with layers of confusion.

“One moment I was sharing my birthday cake with others, the next day I was alone thousands of miles away. The feeling was far beyond words; it was called ‘place lag.’  

I could replace accurately what were in front of me with the views in Taiwan. Where I stepped on was the ground of the Britain, whereas my intangible homesick heart drifted.

Then I realized those vivid memories were sealed as soon as I was on board. Like holding a bunch of sand in hand, I wanted to hold it firmly but what left behind was only a sense of powerlessness of sand’s falling. In contrast to the loud sound of landing in London Heathrow, the taking off and landing within my heavy heart were so silent that it made me hardly breathe.

I remembered the first few hours of flying; I was wide awake taking photos of a vast earthy land beneath. Not taking it seriously at that moment, now it appeared to be the only proof  that I had travelled through the zones.

Mongolia  42°00′N, 113°00′E

Flying ︎


As an air travel enthusiast, I think about the meaning of flying a lot.

Apart from the turbulence, the journey proceeds nearly in an unnoticed way, even the change of colors of the sky can not remind the traveler the progress unless we check the flying map on the screen.

With the confusion of the zones, maybe we are traveling through an isolated space while we’re in the air. If experiencing place lag was essential for every traveler, how long will it take and what will come into view?

I prefer the window seat because I’m one step closer to the sky. Gently putting the palm of my hand on the window with closed eyes, it is a ritual named pulling a trigger that transports me back to the memories before boarding.

“We fly because of the departure.”

“Why we depart?”

“We leave to start a journey.”

“What‘s the meaning of a journey?”

“We set out with the aim of the self quest.”

Bearing an anticipation in mind, we look forward to meet the brand new us at the destination. However, we will never know an exploration of the foreign country is the way to piece together the facets of home. While we fit fragments of memories all together, we know it’s time to return.

The purest space through the air then solidifies our yearning for home layer by layer.

It seems we have never left; however, we have left for many times.

Sea ︎

What in front of me was an endless sea.

Standing at white cliffs of Dover, I closed my eyes and listened to the waves crushing against the pebble beach. With the sound of a flock of seagulls’ hovering and a ferry’s whistle, I imagined there were a crowd of loyal audiences in the other side. I could not see, but I could feel it sincerely because at this moment my heart was also situated at the opposite end of this immense sea.

I recalled ……

On 23rd July last summer friends sent messages to invite me to mountain hiking; being an outdoor activities lover I responded without hesitation even though that day was the hottest day of the year based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar.   

On our way to the hilltop we passed an opening. Roy went through it and was surprised by the stunning landscape ahead, shouting at us to come over him. A little off island stood in the middle, being surrounded calmly by blue, as the sea melted into the sky. Sparkling in the sunshine, the dream-like view finally pacified our broiled mood.

Despite standing upon a different hillside looking afar towards the sea, what I hoped was the same purpose: to find the inner peace.

There was no certain shape of the sea; it extended with features. Thinking of the quite memories was also formless; it depends on what room we left for it. I always thought these two were connected at some mysterious moment; it could be the time when the full moon arose that we could lift the sea level to see people’s laughter, anger, sorrow and happiness beneath.

As a well-known Greek fables wrote, the barber revealed the secret of the king’s donkey ears to the hole. Similarly, we whispered the innermost thoughts to the sea and the waves which swept away were the responses to our secrets.

“I thought it had ended already; however, it just temporarily hided and waited for another moment to strike me. Today was the day: 29th October. Later, a wave crushed against my homesickness and shattered the breakwater, overflowing all over the place within.

Dream ︎


It was at 05:50 AM on July 5th, 2017.

Hearing the sparrows twittering, I opened my eyes to welcome the first jet-lagged morning in Taiwan. While I was turning over in bed holding the paper fan bought from Kyoto, I saw the familiar view outside the french window and thought a year before was like a dream which never happened.

Could not fall asleep again, I woke up to draw.

“Why got up so early?”Asked and gave me the breakfast full of the hometown taste mother who entered the house from the market.
“Because of jet lag,” I replied with a smile.

Thinking of what to draw, I scrolled on the phone and then rested my eyes upon the photo of a barber shop which I took on my way to the airport. I remembered there was an instinct instantly telling me that I would draw this view in Taiwan today. Then every line took me back to London as though I stood on the opposite side to illustrate the half-opened blue wooden door and a hard-working barber reflected in the shop window. However, when I looked up breathing, the smell of home returned me abruptly to the present. Within one day I had crossed such a long distance from west to east as well as vacillated among three tenses of the past, present and future.

It was at 12:20 PM on September 19th, 2017.

While waiting for a connection in Hong Kong, I took out Hong Kong dollar given by my sister to buy a cup of iced tea, then sit on the second floor looking down at the bustling of boarding gates.

“You arrived Hong Kong quite soon,” a friend texted me.

Indeed, we traveled easily between countries nowadays in the era of aviation. Three hours ago I was at the station near home hugging my mother to say goodbye; her tear remained so real but now I was counting the unfamiliar currency and waiting for the next destination.

It was often said that the dream was the reflection of the real life; however, I could not distinguish between the two right now. I truly went through laughters and tears in London, whereas the arrival of home let everything return zero like waking up in a London dream. But at the same time looking back to my summer break, it was such a fantastic life that also felt like a dream.

“Attention, Cathay Pacific Airlines flight CX253 to London is now boarding at Gate 25. Passengers please have your boarding passes and passports ready,” urged the airport announcement.

“Was it real or unreal?”

I had no answer but kept traveling between the dream and awakening.

Time-Space Convergence ︎

My first time traveling to London was in 2012.

I checked the arrival time to inform my friend who would pick me up at the airport. While viewing the itinerary, I was quite confused by why the departure and arrival time were on the same day. Being afraid that something wrong might happened, I called the travel agency to ensure the situation.

“The time was correct. Due to the different time zones you would arrive London at the same day you left Taiwan.”

“Oh…I see. I did not notice that. Thank you!”

On the spur of the moment last year, I scrolled on the phone to find the night view of London and found the photo I took before landing and the others taken with my family and friends at the airport in Taiwan were grouped into the same moment. Six years had passed, the feeling of being lost by the mysterious time travel was still bizarre to me.

The only knowledge could specifically explained this phenomenon was the time-space convergence theory proposed by D.G. Janelle in 1968. It looked at the shortened relationship between time and space due to the evolution of transportation. Later David Harvey, the distinguished Professor of geography, addressed the connection between globalization and our experiences of time and space with the aid of advanced communication technologies. Well, place lag was exactly a sense of confusion based on the TSC explanation. What came to us was how to adapt our body and mind to suit diverse modes of living because of the shrinking world. Of course, it was not easy like adjusting time difference in just few days.

From          To                Departure                                           Arrival

Taiwan       London    10:50 a.m. on September 19th     08:20 p.m. on September 19th

I could not remember when the color of sky changed from a perfect blue to an entire blackness; in flight l I had seen an intense orange shining its glamorousness upon the cloud. At that moment we were supposed to fly above the terminator, which was a moving line dividing the daylight and the dark night side of the earth. However, what we went through was not merely the intersection of a day and night. If we defined the journey more intimately, what made a journey were not only the airway connected two places but also the self-reflection taking place within.

One was the land I had dreamed for so long; the other was my permanent home country. Between the two, orange opened the prelude of a displacement of my body and soul. It was too breathtaking to be dismissed; however, after a long time of exile I was eager to go back home.

Return ︎


“While you go back to Taiwan, you must experience another place lag.” Said Jeff who put his jaw in his hand. After hearing this, I smiled knowingly at him.

Truly, place lag is not merely the interplay between time and space; it is also a spiritual journey inside layers of memories. The more you travel, the more you understand your home. The much further you reach, the more nostalgia you feel. What we gain from it is how we internalize all the feeling things alongside the journey. As Marcel Proust says, “My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.”

Never coming back is not our intention of traveling. What behind the journey is to build a dramatic but more steady inner space while we are on our way to realize a self quest. Until the view of home disappeared in front of the eyes we finally realize our attachment for the motherland is unbroken.

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eyes. - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Being beyond expression, place lag is a sense felt only by heart. We are all afraid of the uncertainty in the future. So, we travel to seek the strength. It was the reason brought me here, evoking me not only geographical coverage I had crossed but sensational reflections happening in every depth of my heart.

Now it is time to conclude my two years journey at RCA with place lag.

“Depart and bring the courage home,” I uttered.

“Welcome aboard Cathay Pacific Airlines Flight CX 256 from London to Taipei, Taiwan.”

“The distance between London and Taipei is 9,779 kilometers. Our flight will take 15 hours and 5 minutes.”

“Hope you enjoy the flight! Thank You!”


We discussed about the process of translating during the tutorial.

“Firstly, I wrote in Mandarin and then translated into English. I found it was fairly complicated and it took more time than I imagined.”

“Why? You tell me.”

“Hmm….For instance, there are some idioms that I could not find the corresponding translations in English. Then I need to rewrite it based on my interpretation.”

“I think it is part of your work. Isn’t it?”

Initially, I did not notice this part until Mireille mentioned this point.

What’s the meaning behind translation?

Mandarin is not only my native language but an identity which makes me feel place lag. Through translating I tell my story to people in another land, letting them know where I’m from. While switching the languages, I pondered what the word choices and sentence patterns could keep my thoughts faithful. The circular process of writing, reading, deleting and rewriting could be viewed as a state of feeling place lag, which wove my in-between journey.

Although different languages reflect various modes of thinking and living, the essence of human beings’ need and desire is unchanging. Therefore, the narrative in translation can be spread and understood world-widely. Likewise, for every traveler the departure and arrival are both endowed with diverse values. Then the meaning of flying offers us an inner space to ponder ‘the courage reaching the distance’ and ‘the attachment for home.’

Copyright © Shih-Hsien Hsu 2018