Urban myth, true story, who knows? Sometime ago, I read a newspaper article about traveling in China. The portion of the story that I remember most (actually, the only portion) concerned an American couple that left their fancifully-lensed, 35mm camera on a park bench in Beijing’s Red Square. After discovering their missing pictorial documenter, their first thought was the camera would be MIA, yet it was worth a 40something, mad dash back to the scene of, uh, the leave.
Back at Red Square the couple spotted the bench they once occupied. And on the bench: their camera – surrounded by folks enjoying the day, unconcerned about the camera. After discussing their astonishment over the camera not suffering a five-finger discount, the couple resumed their trip.
That was my first impression of China. And if it was an urban myth – didn’t matter. There’s always just a little truth in a good, juicy urban myth.
As of this post, Dear Follower, I have travelled to Hong Kong twice and while I haven’t left my camera on a park bench my first impression of the people of the city-state coincides with the tale of un-woe I relate above. Which is to say the native folk, collectively, could not be any more gracious, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent and all those other Boy Scout attributes. Sure, not every native has been on his or her best behavior, but the only hint that their behavioral game was off-kilter was a facial expression that said, “Please get out of the way, I’m running late.” I can handle that.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned whilst traveling abroad it’s (pause) smiling. A) One attracts more bees with honey than vinegar, and B) A smile says, “I’m new, here. Whatever faux pas I just committed, please chalk it up to my being a neophyte at wending my way in a foreign land.” It works. And believe it, if for every smile I’ve selflessly created, or reluctantly forced, the major airlines awarded one point — I would have enough points to upgrade to first class for the rest of my life, and possibly my post life-on-Earth trip to the Pearly Gates. (I’ve always said I’m taking my points with me.).
Traveling abroad has also taught me tolerance. And that’s not to say I was, am or will ever be xenophobic. It is to say, though, that I’ve learned to be tolerant during travel because I am a stranger within another culture. A visitor, yes, expected to behave in a mannerly fashion. Traveling within a culture so different than my America’s that no “Dummies” tome could ever fully cover. Cultures that are actually learned by talking to the native folk. It’s like what my Mother says, “When in doubt, read the instructions.”
Have I had any hassles whilst travelling abroad? Yes! I can’t keep-up with my glasses.
In sum, Dear Follower, honor thy inner twinkling toes. Get out and about. See the world. The other planets are too far away.