"No man should travel until he has learned the language of the country he visits. Otherwise he voluntarily makes himself a great baby-so helpless and so ridiculous." —Ralph Waldo Emerson
The day has come for me to begin. I am a great baby and so ridiculous, but I would rather lean on the words of Christ than the less-celebrated, just-as-cranky Transcendentalist of Concord, MA, the late Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is said that children learn languages better and faster, but the verdict is out on this. I have spent hours with my nose in Rod Ellis' compendium, The Study of Second Language Acquisition, and only know that I can tarry no longer. Today, on my official day off, I am setting out into the fetid, icy streets; climbing the stairs above McDonalds on Tongzhi Jie; and enrolling in classes with Aliens. Aliens? Yes. That is the name of the school and you can learn more about it here:
"He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."Ralph Waldo Emerson in Self-Reliance:
It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.
I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.
Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.
3. But the rage of travelling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the travelling of the mind?