Monday, June 28, 2010

The Internal Tourist

I spent the weekend in Beijing.

You might rightly expect me to list the interesting and culturally
relevant activities. Indeed, there is a natural flow of sharing
“vacation” photos and stories that focuses on the externalities of the
experience. Though they are the focus of our discussions and plans,
are these objects and locations really the reason for travel?

That was a rhetorical question, don't actually answer it. I'm on a roll here.

No, the externalities of travel are what we talk about, and are
necessary to the story (don’t worry, I won’t forget to work them in!)
but the reason that people enjoy travel is fundamentally different. I
think people who enjoy travel do so to experience personal growth and
change. This has been somewhat of a theme throughout my blog during
this trip, the question of whether someone else’s travel is inherently
interesting or not. I wonder how much of what makes something
vicariously interesting has to do with how deeply the story teller has
been moved. Often the stories we remember and have the most impact on
re-telling are small in scope – an interaction with a street vendor
can resonate more than a visit to a wonder of the ancient world.

One of which, by the way, I visited yesterday (Sunday).

Hey, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t help but get the feeling as I
ascended up the long set of stairs to reach the famous fortification
that I was only the latest in a line stretching into history of
millions of people wanting to check this item off their life’s list of
things to do, and I felt grateful. It truly was a wonder.

But what is not pictured and is much harder to explain is the
cumulative effect that my time here is shaping my internal landscapes.
How can one visit the “The Temple of Heaven”

or the silk and pearl market (note – standard rule is to offer 1/10 of
the asking price and move up about 5% from there. Ah, haggling. I’d
forgotten how much I enjoy it.)

and remain unchanged in some small way

These many small changes, but when taken as a group they are what make
it hard and sometimes tedious to answer the “how was your trip”
questions once the traveler returns.

And to be sure, the time that I’ve spent in this remarkable, ever
shifting China, combined with the experience of traveling alone and
then with a amiable, surprising, and diverse group of peers, has
changed me in numerous small ways. It is amazing what capacity travel
has to make me feel like a tourist in my own heart and mind in
parallel with the alien world I have been exploring. I hope you all
still like me when I get back!

PS – Yes, I am also learning things about supply chain management and
marketing strategy, if you were wondering.
PSS – I guess what it all boils down to is molding a well-mannered imagination.

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