Foreigners on a Foreign Road

A truism of travelling is that it makes you see yourself. What is not always made clear is that this is not achieved by introspective journeys occasioned by magnificent sights or fascinating cultural revelations, but by seeing yourself in others.

Clearly, one sees oneself most in other foreigners. I have found that natives tend to have a mystique of oneness with each other and their country which makes them, as reflective surfaces, somewhat murky.

Until I have the guts to peer at that mirk, it is in those other laowai (“Jonny foreigners”) one meets, no matter if their origin is Armley or Austin, that you find most easy affinity and most clear difference and distaste.

In the shared atmosphere of exclusion the resonance of their actions is exaggerated, becoming more immediately infuriating or more lovely than they would be at home.

Simple courtesies and favours seem especially kind and selfless. This leads to your mind turning to you and saying: “Hey, if you were that laowai, that’s not what you would have done, is it?” Slightly different from a more normal at home response of “If I could be arsed, then you’d see what real kindness is.”

On the more juicy side of this equation the pettinesses and lazinesses that one observes, the tedious expressions of self, are more likely to be recognised from home. Then, horror, you realise you recognise those things from yourself!

Did the view of the mighty Leshan Buddha enclose me within myself and point out this and that contrast? No, but the hours of company did do something to my internal, reflective, databases.

– Jonny


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