What do you own that you're most proud of?
For me, it's my passport - specifically, the one I currently hold.
Let me start with the cover: John gives me a hard time about it because it's not the most flattering color, but I bought it as a present to myself when I finished my finals at the end of my junior year at Mount Holyoke. There was a store in Northampton that sold amazing museum-quality jewellery, scarves and other accessories; I had my eye on the leather passport holders in their glass case for quite some time. I still love the smell of it and the grosgrain ribbon interior. I don't think I'll ever give it up.
My passport photo itself was taken at a camera shop at the South Hill Mall in Puyallup, Washington that's no longer there. In the photo, I'm 17 but look like a 40-something mom. I've got short, curled mom hair and quite a lot of makeup on, for some reason. A TSA official told me a few years ago that she couldn't believe it was the same person as the one standing in front of her: "It's like you've aged backwards," she said, astonished. "Like ... Benjamin Button." I know, I know. I look like a 15-year-old now that I'm in my late 20s.
Then there are the visas: 6 of them in total. The first was my student visa to Oxford, where I'm smiling the smile of a smug, thinks-she-knows-it-all college student. In between that and my second student visa to the UK is the one I was issued for Russia, where I visited with my mother shortly after graduating from Mount Holyoke. It's so cool and mysterious because it's entirely in Russian and I have no idea what it says. My third visa is for the University of York, and the photo was taken at the Walgreens in Edgewood, Washington. My hair is very long and I'm smiling the happy, exhilarated smile of a recent college grad excited for her grad school adventure. A pashmina is stylishly tucked under my chin, a nod to the chic European look I picked up from studying abroad. Next is my first working permit in the UK, after I accepted my first job at Penguin Books. I'm positively glowing here and have the trendy, blunt bangs that were so-in-season at the time. This photo was taken at a Boots photo booth on the Strand. Finally is my second UK work visa. I look like an axe murderer. This photo was the result of 8 unsuccessful tries at a photo booth at Marylebone train station and a wasted £25. I had also come straight from the gym. I was not allowed to smile, due to application regulations and therefore, evidently felt that this meant I had to put on the most pissed-off expression I could muster (I was also pissed off that I had just thrown away £25 to a stupid machine that couldn't take pictures correctly). Unfortunately, the look of fury in my eyes in this photo would foretell the annoyance to come during the whole in-person application process (which had a happy ending, clearly).
As for my stamps, I'm not particularly well-traveled, since my friends have been to far more far-flung places. But still, my passport tells the story of visits to 13 different countries. Each stamp bears a lovely, warm memory of travels to locations such as sun-drenched Santorini, sangria-sipping Seville, and all the pad thai I could possibly eat in Koh Samui. It shows the three places of importance in my life as the most visited: the United States (where I'm from), Hong Kong (where my family is from), and the United Kingdom (where I'd like to be from). It shows that I have, on occasion, literally traveled "around the world" - flying from London to Hong Kong to Seattle and back to London.
My passport makes me feel like a globetrotter; it makes me feel jet set. I love the fact that it was running out of room for stamps and required an insert. I'll be sad when it comes up for renewal soon, as this particular passport has accompanied me on some eye-opening, life-changing, home-returning trips around the world. It's my most prized possession.