Sunday, 26 June 2011

I No Longer Read Travel Books

"I want firsthand knowledge of everything, not fiction, intimate experience only. Whatever takes place, even a crime I read about, I can't take an interest in, because I already knew the criminal. I may have talked with him all night at a bar. He had confessed what he intended to do. When Henry wants me to go and see an actress in a play, she was a friend of mine at school. I lived at the home of the painter who suddenly becomes a celebrity. I am always inside where it first happens. I loved a revolutionist. I nursed his discarded mistress who later committed suicide. I don't care for films, newspapers, 'reportages,' the radio. I only want to be involved while it is being lived." --June Miller

This is a memo to myself and actually, anyone who reads blogs:

I no longer read travel books.
To live vicariously through something or someone else, whether that be a friend, a travel book, a news report, a postcard or a film, is to not live at all. You may say that it is the second best thing to the actual thing, but what is the actual thing anyway? When I was living the most, I watched the least films. I love films but they are just images of fantasies of other people. Throw away your armchair and travel in the place you live. Walk. Talk to people on the streets. Eat up life, consume life. They may free you and you may escape life for a while, but life always catches up. Instead of trying to outrun life by consuming fictions, wouldn't it be better to catch up with your dreams?

Culture Camp

Surprise! I'm not in Nicaragua yet. I'm in a hotel near the Toronto airport waiting to get into the airport at 3:30 in the morning.

I'm with 17 other youth who are travelling to Nicaragua with Canada World Youth. 9 of them will be going to Somoto, a place with 40,000 people, and the rest of us will be going to Estelí, a much larger town (population 120,000). It seems like a really fun, dynamic group from all over Canada. We'll be working with Funarte (click on link for a 5-minute youtube video of the amazing organization).

So for these past few days I've been at Edgewood camp in Eden Mills immersing myself in an intercultural/orientation camp. I've also been learning some Spanish so soon I will be writing some Spanish on here!

We stayed up on Friday night (it was Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day so the people of Quebec were itching for a beer) and had a sort of sober nightclub going on. In the outdoor chapel we danced with an iPod and computer speakers as the DJ, we used flashlights for strobe lights and all people could blame their behaviour on were the marshmallows they'd eaten a few minutes before.

Although the median age of the group is 21, as we got on the bus to come from the camp to the hotel, people were eating candy (Mentos and Lick-n-Dips), drinking from juice boxes and making signs for passing trucks to honk their horns. It's weird how I forgot all about those things until I experienced them again. Once you leave childhood behind it takes other people to remember it for you.

Saturday, 11 June 2011


More than a few people gawked when I told them I'm going to Nicaragua without knowledge of Spanish. It may be I'm highly ignorant, which is the worst way to travel, and maybe I shouldn't even 'deserve' to go to a country without having learned some of their language, and it's even worse since I studied linguistics. Maybe, maybe not.

I tell people, "I'm going to Nicaragua."
They say, "Do you know any Spanish?"
"Are you going to learn any?"
"Not much before I go. I've got phrasebooks and a dictionary and that's it."
"How long are you going for?"
"Three months."
"Estás muerto."

The problem with learning foreign languages for me is the lack of contact with the living language. All throughout elementary and high school we talked our way through fake conversations with other foreign language learners and a teacher who may or may not be a native speaker of French. I've given up on learning languages unless I'm in the country. I have to disconnect my mind from, "I'm memorizing these words because..." and connect the words and phrases and grammar I'm learning towards something that is communicable and understandable and will get me something, either allow me to convey some information or give me some useful information.

I sort of wish I'd learned more Icelandic while in Iceland, but only sort of. Does that make me sound ignorant? Unless I have a real motivation to do it, and that comes out of need to communicate. Proof of this comes from people who went on Rotary exchanges during high school. Usually they were immersed into situations where no one else knew or would speak English to them and they adamantly must speak the host language. I wish I had that experience. All I've had experience with as a foreign language is my mangled French and my broken Cantonese. I know that I can get by in my world with only English, but if I want to get out of my world I recognize that English alone is not, is never sufficient. But not travelling because you're afraid of language barriers or you're afraid of looking ignorant is worse than not knowing the language.

Anyway, it's true that the more prepared one is, the more smooth of an integration I'll have into another culture. I'm defensive about my choice to purposely lack preparation, but that's for me to worry about and for you to not call me ignorant.

Traveling without knowing the language doesn't have to be a disadvantage: In Defense of Ignorance