Saturday, July 27, 2002

My friend Will checks in from Beijing:

regarding your pondering your lack of outside-the-US travel, I don't think I've got any necessary advantage over you. Before I ever went to China there were many times in America where I felt like a foreigner. I'm sure everyone has felt this. Everyone has experienced what it feels like to be an outsider, to feel like you don't belong, or that people aren't speaking your language, even if it's only in a metaphorical sense. The one thing you do get by leaving the country, however, is a taste of what life would be like without all the little things you take for granted but are an essential part of your sanity. In China, food is a big thing. It's all so strange and so foreign that after awhile, you just want to say, "Enough! Can't you people eat like normal Americans?!" It makes you realize that it's the little things that make life in a foreign country so drastically different. I never thought there was anywhere in the world where you couldn't get good bread, or cheese, for example. I went nuts my first time in China, because neither of those things is readily available. (Apparently they don't appeal to the Chinese palate.) Neither can you get deodorant here; you have to have it shipped from home. Think that pastry looks appetizing? Take a bite. You'll find some delicious red bean paste in the middle. As one commentator has said, in Asia, at some point you begin to lose your inner moorings, and you can either resist it, and going home having not learned anything, or you can let it happen, go some kind of crazy and come home a different person. I think that's a nice summary of learning/growing in general. That's all it is, you grow when you travel, but you don't need to travel to do it.

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