Alma M. Karlin - ASIA UTTERLY BEWITCHED ME

The temporary exhibition marking the 130th anniversary of Alma M. Karlin‘s birth and the centenary of her departure on her journey around the world.

 

Alma M. Karlin (12 October 1889–14 January 1950) was a writer, journalist, world traveller, amateur researcher, polyglot and theosophist who travelled the world from 1919 until 1927. She travelled alone, continuously, for eight years, supporting herself by working: teaching languages – she spoke ten, if we include her somewhat rudimentary Slovene –, translating and writing articles for publication in numerous European newspapers. The nature of her journey places her among the greatest travellers of all times.


On the evening before her departure, in reply to her mother’s question as to why she was going, she answered:
“Because I must. Something inside me is urging me, and I will not find peace if I do not obey this impulse.”

She held that “this is a task that has been allotted to me and I cannot refuse its call.” She was driven by inner impulses. “All that I shall see, learn, achieve. All that I shall discover on my journey, the things I shall bring home with me, all that I shall give to humanity!”
When her mother asked her when she would return, she replied confidently that she would be back in two and a half years, three at the latest, and added: “And then you can be proud of me.”


A year after the end of the First World War and a month after her thirtieth birthday, Karlin set off from home with her modest savings. She took with her a suitcase, in which space was found for a manuscript copy of her own ten-language dictionary, a small leather handbag and her indispensable Erika typewriter. Celje railway station was dark. A light, icy rain was falling and she was chilled to the bone. When the overcrowded train stopped at the platform, she bade farewell to the friends who had come to see her off and boarded her carriage. It was Monday, 24 November 1919.
Her original aim was to travel first to Japan, but as a result of circumstances –lack of money or the wrong papers – she instead took passage at Genoa on a ship bound for Mollendo, the southernmost port in Peru, reasoning  that “if all roads lead to Rome, sooner or later they will surely lead me to Japan.”

When living in London for a few years before the First World War, she had come into contact with people from India, Japan and China, to whom she had taught languages and who had introduced her to various aspects of their own cultures. “Asia utterly bewitched me,” she wrote in her autobiography. This was the seed of her desire to set out on a journey and experience these cultures for herself.
The time she later spent in Japan, Korea, China and Formosa (Taiwan), presented at this exhibition, was for her an extraordinarily happy time.