Saturday, May 4, 2013

X is for Xenophile - images of America

Xenophile: An individual who is attracted to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.

That sounds good to me! Though I think the more common terms would be - "someone who has the travel bug", "itchy feet" or simply "wants to see the world"!

My early travel memories are of milling around the Melbourne docks with my relatives ... waiting, waiting, and more tedious waiting for a huge ocean liner to leave. We'd have explored a relative's tiny cabin, looked at the schoolroom set up for the children travelling (can't have them missing out on lessons!), and have been shooed away as the time came for the gangway to be pulled up.

Eventually my cousins and I took off (waiting is sooooo boring when you're 5 or 6 years old) scampering around, getting lost amongst the throngs of people and generally whooping it up.

I recall the excitement of purchasing bags of colourful streamers to throw from the dock to the side of the ship where people jostled for a position to catch and hang on the the flimsy paper, keeping in touch with their loved ones for as long as possible before the paper stretched, became taut and eventually snapped as the tugs shunted the ship into position to leave. By this time adult tears were flowing freely as they knew we'd be unlikely to see these people, who'd become so much part of our lives, ever again.

We'd crawl over the atlas below trying to find the countries and towns which had been mentioned. You can get an idea of the size of the atlas from the iPhone at the top left.
Other early memories are of groups of guests at my childhood home.  Chinese people who appeared to be similar to my young eye, but who were unable to converse with each other in their respective languages, and needed to speak in English which was their common tongue.

Sometimes they'd bring their own visiting relatives to meals. I remember one occasion where someone's uncle looked just like the old Chinese men in paintings - he painted me a picture of a Junk bobbing on waves which I still have somewhere. The dinner chatter would be punctuated with questions about how my mother cooked roast lamb, lemon delicious pudding and other dishes unfamiliar to these friends.

Sometimes, there must have  been discussion about the war, (WW2) because I remember my father reminiscing about being on a Naval vessel in the pacific islands and talking fondly about the native peoples who he referred to as the Fuzzy Wuzzys - always with deep respect. I was aware that even though China and our Chinese friends hadn't been directly involved in WW2, they had been struggling with their own conflicts. These dinners were sometimes very sombre affairs.

There was also discussion about far away exotic places with wonderful names, people with strange customs and lands which even smelled different. How could that be possible?! Letters and post cards came in the post, covered with colourful stamps from around the world as relatives and friends would travel, slowly by ship stopping at different ports and sometimes staying somewhere for months on end.
I learned to pronounce some place names and even find them on a map: Tanzania, Tanganyika, Kenya, Stratton Strawless,  Norwich. I never managed any Chinese ones, though I recall attempting to learn Cantonese, sadly with no success at all.

So how does this relate to America?  The answer is both nothing and everything.

I get an enormous amount of satisfaction when I travel.  I'm fascinated by place names and have fun attempting to pronounce them, both at home and abroad. I love conversing with people even when we have no common fluent language, using only mime and basic, mispronounced phrases. Finding out about different cultures is a pleasure, and I'm always reminded how similar we are, no matter where we live.

When friends have travelled I'm the one who sits and listens, asking questions, drooling over photos. Vicarious travel is the next best thing to being there yourself - and there's little chance of catching a stomach bug!

Naturally, one of the other things about travel which provides general hilarity and entertainment is coming across unusual place names and wondering how the name came about, and why it was chosen for that location ...
Some amusing Australian place names are here

What is your favourite place name?



Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. that partly explains your love with and visits to China .. now I want to know more! My family travelled somewhat too - and I'd have loved to have been an age to understand and ask questions ... perhaps not so much now - as I'd be aged (with an accent over the e!).

I did my vicarious travelling via stamps ... and I love learning people's names, seeing where they came from, getting that initial background - then there's a very superficial understanding of them -it helps to relate.

I just never did the travelling early on ... but I've had some experiences along the journey of life ..

Cheers - so well experessed .. thanks - Hilary

Barb said...

Hi Sue, I've been reading your blog and enjoying your travel photos and commentary about the US. I've been to NZ but never Australia. Glad that you enjoyed some winter cold while you were here. As for me - I'm ready for some warmth!

Sue Travers said...

Hilary, it's obvious now you've mentioned it! There are so many questions that in hindsight I wish I'd asked. I didn't know till a couple of years ago that one of my mother's cousins married a Kenyan woman - much to the shock of the very straight-laced relatives!

I think this is why I enjoy blogging and social media so much - it brings us closer - though I do miss the stamps!

Barb, when I was writing about the cold, I was well aware that many of you have had more than enough of long, bitterly cold winters! Thankyou for letting me know you've been reading my posts and enjoying them - next stop will be Australia's snow country where we visited a couple of weeks ago.

Emily richardson said...
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