Howard W. French: With Life’s Journey as Goal, Little Can Disappoint

The New York Times’ Shanghai correspondent, Howard French, has an essay in the International Herald Tribune which, while not directly about China, reflects philosophically on his life as a foreign correspondent:

A Haitian proverb says it best: Behind a mountain is the next mountain. For me the next mountain was Chinese, and when I came to Shanghai, I exhausted my ambition during the first six months studying eight hours a day using teachers who tag teamed me. Today, my collections of Chinese character cards and homework assignments jostle mutely with the Japanese ones.

“Like people who set out on a journey to see with their eyes some city of their desire, and imagine that one can taste in reality what has charmed one’s fancy.” Proust wrote this phrase in gentle ridicule of people who would seek the unattainable.

If one takes one’s journey for the goal instead of fixing on a destination, there may be less opportunity for disappointment. It’s certainly been that way for me, setting out for Africa right out of school for a year and staying for six; plunging as deeply as possible into each new place, from Haiti, Cuba and El Salvador to Liberia, Mali and the then-Zaire.


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