Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'm worst at what I do best

The road from Shanghai to London goes through some areas where nobody even knows what Europe is, and everyone looks like an extra out of Borat or the subject some sad documentary. In those places, I would tell people where I was going and where I'd been, and they'd give me a look not of awe, but of fatigue. Plowing forward day after day on dirt roads for up to 15 hours takes a motivation that is blind to comfort or the benefits of spending more than a few days in one place.

As much as my fascination with cartography drove me to complete the trip, part of my desire to travel comes from the fact that I went about 12 years without leaving this province. Admittedly, it's a big province, big enough to be the 29th-biggest country in the world, but it's not like I spent that time shuttling around to meet Claude, Manon or Francois in Abitibi-Temiscamingue, though I'm sure they all have nice teeth (yes, I'm aware that's in Quebec).

Traveling is another one of those things that I started doing because I was really bad at it. My proficiency at writing, insults and running also comes from not being naturally gifted at it, but from embarrassment at being really bad at it. I was never really a bad writer, but English is not my native language, and it was never a strength of mine until I started reading (and mimicking) the newspaper and posting on message boards in middle school. Also in middle school, I learned the skill of making fun of others since, well, there's a lot about me to make fun of. When I first started running, I was slower than all of the nearly 100 kids on the cross country team, both boys and girls, asthmatics and non-asthmatics, the gimpy and the non-gimpy. It was doubly unfortunate since I didn't exactly have the excuse of being fat to fall back on.

Running is somewhat different from the others in that I didn't want to be good at it because I was so bad. I wanted to be good at it because everybody else I knew was good at it. In typical Adeel fashion, though, I took all these things to the sort of extreme I did when I continue to beat my brother at years-old video games. It took me about 5-6 years to be better than most of the kids on my high school cross country team, which is unfortunate since by then I was almost finished university and most of them had long stopped running.

What I admire are people that don't know the sort of things that they should know and can plainly ask for help. That sort of unvarnished desire to know without concern for how the question will be taken is hard to come by. I tutor a person in written English who today asked me for recommendations in music so that she could judge it and find some that she liked. I have Korean friends who have asked me how to say all sorts of plain, everyday words in English. A dictionary would do the job just as well, but using a dictionary in private also hides your ignorance.

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