A Map of Asking

A bright idea I had before coming to Korea was the thought of visiting Vladivostok. It’s not too far away and it’s been a long-time dream of mine. Before I ever imagined living in Croatia, I hungered for a visit to the Russian Far East.

From a pretty young age, I was obsessed with maps. Looking at them, memorizing them, creating them for the fantastical realms in my mind. Two towns in particular captured my fancy, for no discernable reason other than they seemed isolated and uninteresting (hipster childhood, what can I say)–Vladivostok and another town across the Sea of Okhotsk called Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (that’s Владивосток and Петропавловск-Камчатский for those of you who would like to know the Russian). In fact, those two cities are farther apart than Washington’s border with Canada and California’s with Mexico.

Fun fact, Vladivostok means Lord of the East. Also, fun fact, the Kamchatka Peninsula is not accessible by road. There are roads on it, but none that connect it to the rest of the country. Mind you, this is a peninsula about the size of Colorado.

Having learned more about the region (and it’s many, many volcanoes), I’ve long wanted to visit, but it’s one of those pipe dreams, you know? Like, the only real thing on my bucket list (that I don’t really have) is to do the entire Trans-Siberian railroad in winter and have a nice visit in Vladivostok at the end.

It always pleases me when people ask me questions about Russia–history, politics, (more rarely) language. I am certainly no Russia expert, but I definitely know more than the average American. And one thing I’m proud of, if I may, is my willingness and often eagerness to look things up if I don’t know.

My roommate in college and I shared a passion for Wikipedia. Being intellectual college-y types, we were of course fond of having intellectual, college-y conversations. This often led to disagreements both philosophical and practical. On these practical questions, we would turn without hesitation to that wellspring of easily accessible and digestible information (yes, he was usually right). Sometimes our battles of facts were about which was harder: Russian or German. Who could produce the most abstruse, confounding, absurd rule or grammatical structure. Often, they were about the minutae of historical and political discourse that delights us. We were pretty ideal roommates for a number of reasons, not least because our arguments were almost always extremely short-lived–typically only the time it takes to skim the relevant header on a Wikipedia page or two.

Like I said before, I am not an expert. In Russia or in anything. But what I lack in outright knowledge (which is admittedly 94% useless and obscure trivia), I make up for in curiosity.

In  couple of my classes recently, we’ve talked about charisma (a difficult concept to explain, let me tell you). I was reading just a couple days ago this guy who was saying, in a massive paraphrase, an important aspect of charisma–and even just happiness–was curiosity. To be genuinely interested in other people and the world around you. Not that I’m super charismatic or anything, but you gotta thing it’s maybe something important.

I also want to take a second to note that I’m also generally pretty apathetic about things. In some sectors this is waning, but it still looms large in my personality. And sometimes I’m overeager to share the answer, or overly meticulous about correcting small mistakes. And I do get embarrassed when I’m proven wrong and feel vindicated when proven right, even at the expense of another’s feelings.

I keep getting distracted by these caveats making sure I’m not painting myself in overly flattering terms. Whatever, you get it, I’m not great. But I’m not meaning to talk about me. I’m talking about curiosity.

Basically what I’m trying to say is: it is okay not to know, as long as you’re willing to find out. Ask questions. Listen to answers. Be honest about the extent of your knowledge, and try to increase it.

I love talking to people about things I’m interested in, especially if it’s waaay more than they really wanted to know. And, likewise, I love listening to people explaining things to me when I ask, even if it’s waay more than I wanted to know. In my limited experience, I’ve found that people with knowledge are generally pleased to be asked to share it.

So go forth and ask questions; you’ll probably make someone’s day. The only way to fill in a map is to go off the edge of one. To get what you’ve never had you must do what you’ve never done.

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