Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This phenomenon needs a name; maybe it's "endearing quirks".

Here's a reaction I have sometimes all the time when I'm traveling.  I start to find parts of places charming, quaint, cute.  In India, the guy on the street who was selling beards.  (everyone's selling stuff!  But beards?)  Or the trucks: all brightly colored, with "horn please!" (or sometimes "horn do" (huh?)) painted on them.  Or in Japan: that someone would have thought to make a... comedy aquarium. In the Netherlands, shoot, the whole damn language.

Oh snap wait I have the perfect example.  When I was a kid I went to a computer summer camp.  They tried to teach us some things in C++.  Good grief.  (it was also an outdoorsy camp.)  But the thing is, in C++, if you want to print "hello" to the screen, you can type:
cout << "hello"
And you use << for other things too.  So my teacher was an Indian guy, and whenever he wanted to tell us to type that, he'd say something that sounded like "put two character."  As in, "you type cout, then you put two character, then you put "hello".  I thought this was just the best saying, and of course I never mentioned it, because I dunno I thought it's not okay to draw attention to the peculiarities of his speech.

It's an interesting kind of enjoyment I get out of this.  It's not really "cute"- it's not condescending.  It's sort of like childlike admiration.  Something is a little quirky and, if I were a young kid, I'd point it out and say "hey that guy says "put two character" when he means the little arrows."  But y'know pointing these things out might offend.  So I just secretly toss it away in the back of my mind, in the pile of "inside jokes for exactly one person", and kinda forget about it (except I never forget about it, and in my mind, whenever I'm writing C++, I often have to put two character, and I grin.  (this is kinda the only redeeming thing about writing C++)).

Anyway, I think this is mostly great.  I'd love to hear about other people's quirky things they really dig about places or people from places.  I'd also be willing to listen to counter-arguments, that this is racist of me or something, because I'm making fun of people's poor English or whatever.  The main reason I don't think I'm being racist is that I'd love it if people enjoyed the hell out of my cute mistakes; but the argument doesn't go both ways for racial epithets so it's possible it doesn't for endearing quirks either.

If you'll excuse me, I'm off to my slaapkamer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Maybe one guideline of this trip will be that it'll be guided by stories.

I just finished "India: a Traveler's Literary Companion."  It's very good!  I mean, I like it a lot.  A dozen or so short stories, arranged by geography.  They all sound very different.  I get a little feeling of being there.  Same with Stones into Schools.  Really amazing stories.  (okay, this is different; it's not fiction.)

The same was true with a movie I watched recently called The Fall.  It was a little different: it wasn't actually about these faraway places; it just happened to be filmed there.

But instead of reading about the ho-hum day-to-day of current hotels, restaurants, and sights to see in a guidebook, I'll try to guide myself by crazy places I've seen in fantastic movies and lush descriptions in books.  Worth a shot, anyway.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Lump this one in with "hipsters", "jocks", and "nerds".

The more you read about travel and talk to travelers, the more you'll hear people hate on "tourists."  Paul Otteson, in a book called "The World Awaits" that I will not recommend (read Vagabonding instead), does a pretty thorough job of hating on tourists:
"The tourist takes tours; guided groups of like-minded folks enjoy the convenience and relaxation of having it done for them."
"The tourist goes to tourist places, eats at tourist restaurants, and stays at tourist hotels."
"Tourists go to places when they are supposed to go."
"Tourists never quite know where they are."
"Tourists always move as if they were attached to an invisible leash."
... and on and on.

There's always a little caveat in these rants, if you let them go on long enough, like "oh well sometimes it's okay to be a tourist, if..." and a few experiences about how they were a tourist once in Bali because it was the only thing to do, or because they were with their family, or whatever.  I think the feeling we're supposed to get is not that it's a sin to be a tourist, but that being a tourist is a bad thing generally caused by ignorance or immaturity, kind of like picking your nose or saying bad words because you don't know what they mean.

But talking about "being a good traveler and not a tourist" only accomplishes three things:
1. lets us "enlightened travelers" feel superior to the unwashed masses
2. makes us revere and cower before those who are "better travelers" than we
3. makes us always worry "am I being a good traveler now?"
Two of these are bad feelings.  One feels good but is ultimately destructive.  So let's stop talking about it.