Having recently returned from our Hong Kong advance, I was reminded of a truth that I had unearthed while living abroad: that I learn at least as much about myself when traveling cross-culturally than I do about the culture which I’m visiting. That knowledge doesn’t come without some reflective work. At first I just notice things. In Hong Kong, I noticed the port and the skyscrapers immediately. Then I looked for evidence of what I had learned from Tsang and Pullinger. I noticed that there were fewer Caucasian people than I had expected in a region that had been under colonial rule for a hundred years, and wondered how residents felt about this period of transition from British to Chinese rule . I noticed that the streets were much cleaner and safer than I expected; of course this is because I wasn’t in the Walled City which Pullinger had described, but still I noticed it. Then I have to make some time to notice what I am noticing and what I’m wondering. In this case, I may also include the step of noticing what I had noticed in Tsang and Pullinger that shaped my expectations of Hong Kong. But travel has a way of insisting that I am located within a much broader context, and just as a book takes on meaning in relation to the other books in the library, or a word makes sense in relation to other words, so I find deeper meaning in my relation to a greater diversity of people .
Bayard’s observations and suggestions of how we might interact with books illuminates this process. His delineation of the inner-library as it emerges from the collective library is useful in understanding the two simultaneous, though sometimes competing, identities I possess in my own noticing. The first is that I am a representative of certain demographics which shape my own subjectivity; I am a middle-aged, middle-class, Caucasian Canadian woman. This, and perhaps the multiple narratives that help define this identity might be considered part of my collective library. Incidentally there are also key texts included in the collective library of this demographic, for example the now classic Canadian children’s books The Paper Bag Princess  and Anne of Green Gables  . How I have lived out that identity or would offer further definition of that broader classification, as well as how I’ve interpreted those key texts, might be considered my inner library.
It is difficult to identify precisely what volumes are contained in our ‘inner libraries’ as we enter into dialogue with circumstances that are new and yet unexamined, but it is critical to acknowledge that they exist in order to resist the assumption that our own stories, experiences and texts are globally normative and all others must be subversive. This humility is generally what encourages me to ask questions about what I notice and seek to understand my new surroundings. Just as we must understand a text in order to be in dialogue with it , we also must work to be in dialogue cross-culturally by seeking to understand the ‘inner library’ of local people in an effort to be pointed towards their own collective library.
A key example of this during our trip was a conversation I had with our dear local friend Nana. After sitting in our group during a speaker and subsequent question and answer, she observed that our group made a lot of observations about women and power. She noticed what we were noticing. She went on to explain that she would not tend to notice these things and from her perspective, it would not be a key concern for people in Hong Kong. Was this suggestion representative of the collective library or her inner library I wonder? For me to understand why I notice, I pull from my shelf those two children’s books: The Paper Bag Princess and Anne of Green Gables. You see the fictional heroines in these books contributed to my understanding of gender identity. Elizabeth taught me I could be a rescuer and use my wits to outsmart a powerful adversary (the dragon) . Conveniently, this book came out when I was little and keen on picture books. Unbeknownst to me, this book took a significant turn from Brothers Grimm and Disney (up until then) in making the princess a hero. What I internalized from this book, was to look at hard and dangerous situations and ask why shouldn’t I go? The second text, was published much earlier, but happened to be made into a CBC movie when I was young, re-igniting its popularity. Anne led me to assume that girls who were creative, intelligent and independent could make a favourable impact on the world—if they were willing to endure being misunderstood at times. These early additions to my library are why I notice when women aren’t powerful. I wonder which childhood texts might have shaped our new friends?
It seems then, that I have found myself in Bayard’s final library, in the ‘realm of play’ where books are discussed. Bayard points to the “virtual library” as the location where creative discussion and work takes place as together we create a collection of literary influences that have shaped us, or rather we have shaped them by our subjective readings. In talking about books he suggests we are exchanging parts of our very selves . Could we expand that library to also include experiences we’ve had? People we’ve known? Places we’ve been? Each of these further contributes to the construction of ourselves as reader and as creative agent.
“The paradox of reading is that the path toward ourselves passes through books, but that this must remain a passage. It is a traversal of books that a good reader engages in – a reader who knows that every book is the bearer of part of himself and can give him access to it, if only he has the wisdom to not end his journey there.”  Perhaps this is the traveller’s journey as well. As I process and continue to discuss what I’ve experienced in Hong Kong, I’m aware that I am undertaking a creative work of intentional, subtle, self-recreation—or, if I am able to invite God into the discussion, yielded recreation.
1. Tsang, Steven. A Modern History of Hong Kong.New York: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2004. Chapter 17. Kindle.
2. Pullinger, Jackie and Andrew Quicke. Chasing the Dragon: Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkeness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens. Bloomington, Minnesota: Chosen Books, 2001.
3. Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books you Haven’t Read. Translated by Jeffery Mehlman. Read by Grover Gardner. Ashland, OR: Google Play Audiobooks, 2007. Chapter 9.
4. Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books you Haven’t Read. Translated by Jeffery Mehlman. Read by Grover Gardner. Ashland, OR: Google Play Audiobooks, 2007.
5. Munch, Robert. The Paper Bag Princess. Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 1980.
6. Montgomery, Lucy Maud. Anne of Green Gables. Edited by Cecile Margaret Devereaux. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press,  2004.
7. Adler, Mortimer J., and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. New York: Touchstone Pbl Simon & Schuster, 1972. 140. Kindle.
8. Munch, Robert. The Paper Bag Princess. Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 1980.
9. Montgomery, Lucy Maud. Anne of Green Gables. Edited by Cecile Margaret Devereaux. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press,  2004.
10. Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books you Haven’t Read. Translated by Jeffery Mehlman. Read by Grover Gardner. Ashland, OR: Google Play Audiobooks, 2007.Chapter 9