Love of the Tongueless: Travelling Without Language

The Calle

You can’t tell by just this caption, but I am gesticulating wildly.

Faith waited nervously on the sun-dappled steps of Teatro Principal, on a busy pedestrian street in Guanajuato. She had a book in her hands and a pair of sunglasses, the afternoon sun blasting down upon the city. “I was worried you might not find your way,” she said.

My way involved flying through Houston, navigating Mexican customs, and finding a way to the centre of town from the airport. That I would need to attempt this feat completely in Spanish, despite my not speaking Spanish, was a matter of some concern. Would I get lost? Would I somehow end up stranded on the Mexican roadside, backpack straps anxiously twined around my fingers, as the exhaust of a dozen intercity buses choked my lungs? Would I simply end up wandering into the desert to be eaten alive by cactuses and supersnakes, or whatever it is that kills you in the desert?

But no, I arrived safely, thanked my driver, paid him his fare and waved him on his way. Faith shrugged. “Then I remembered that we’ve all been doing this constantly for the last few years.”

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Chronicles of Reverse Culture Shock: Red Light, Green Light (The Asphalt Hierarchy)

Is he still following us?

Drive. Or walk. Or cycle. Fight your way.

“Well, when I lived in Asia…” begin so many of my sentences these days. Moving away is hard, and as it turns out, so is moving back. Chronicles of Reverse Culture Shock is a series devoted to these difficulties, and is also an outlet so that I don’t become That Guy Who Won’t Shut Up About Korea to all of his friends.

The road is a warzone, a constant battleground where every car, every bus, every streetcar and pedestrian and bicycle is a guerrilla commando. In each of their hands is their own life and the well-being and punctuality of everyone else, and people are happy to play fast and loose with both. How this war plays out differs based on location in time and space, differs based on local hierarchies of importance and cherished modes of transport.

As a kid growing up in Toronto, I grew accustomed to a certain sense of ownership, of visceral claim, upon the road. No matter my conveyance, I was always in the right. As a passenger or driver in a car, everyone else on the road was an idiot just waiting to be plowed into by everyone else in an enormous, catastrophic explosion of stupidity and organ-meat. In the back of a bus, forced to share breathing-space with the armpit stank of dozens of strangers who hate sharing seats, I felt like it was our right to burst through traffic, and sneak through lights, and be as overbearing as possible. On foot, smarmy in my commitment to being green, I was imbued with a sense of immortality, a knowledge that the laws of man and the road did not apply to me, and that every opportunity to jaywalk was as natural a human right as life and liberty and frozen yogurt.

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The Chosen Land

The river

This land is your land, this land is my land. Though very especially my land.

There are people in every nation in the world who are absolutely confident that their country is the best. Not just in a, “Hey, our national cuisine is super! Isn’t our anthem just epic and heart-warming? And just check out that flag—why, I have several attached to my lapels!”, but something beyond that. A weird, seedy, deep-down knowing that your people are basically the Übermensch. That yeah, cultural relativism is nice and all, but isn’t everywhere else full of kind of… icky people anyway?

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