I cannot see any Battersea here [by staying here in Battersea]; I cannot see any London or any England. I cannot see that door. I cannot see that chair: because a cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes. The only way to get back to them is to go everywhere else; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays. Do you suppose that I go to France in order to see France? Do you suppose that I go to Germany in order to see Germany? I shall enjoy them both; but it is not them I am seeking. I am seeking Battersea. The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. – G.K. Chesterton
It’s been weeks since returning from China and I don’t know what to say about it.
Whenever I think back to the few days that I spent there, I am crowded by impressions. I can’t muscle my way through the mass of memories to somehow stand in the open and pick one to speak about.
I have been in a strange country where the people spit on the pavement. The babies do something on the pavement as well. It rhymes with spit. I have been squashed into an overfull metro train during peak time, feeling the breath of people who do this stoically every day. I have seen others like myself gawk at the Bund and Nanjing road. I have been through galleries in a beautifully run down art district.
I have marvelled at the architecture and the art: A design sensibility that sees nature as an artwork. Sculptures stand in rock gardens, barely carved, as a testament to natural forms. Chairs are wrought from roots that must have been tamed into the odd shape of a seat while still growing. The Chinese artists, it seems, have a great respect for the inherent beauty of things,
I have tasted food that I will probably never again have elsewhere, my experience of flavour and seasoning opening up to the novelty adorning every street there. Eating wasn’t something scheduled, it happened all the time, if only to sample the new things around each corner.
I have stood in the rain at a temple, while across the pond an orchestra practiced beautiful Chinese pieces.
I have soaked up all that is new and made it a part of me.
Because that is the point of travelling. To go boldly into all that is strange, to experience it for no other reason than its strangeness. Nobody travels to see things they’ve seen at home. To accept the strangeness is to somehow appropriate it, all for the purpose of returning.
That is, at last, what I have done. After mourning the pull of the real world which bids me leave, after revelling for the last time in the scents and sounds and flavours of a land beyond my ken, I have looked on that which was strange and felt my eyes change in anticipation of the fulfilment of their mission.
I have come home and seen it again for the first time.