“travel the way the locals travel”
A little while ago while I was visiting Hong Kong with my friend Simon I met an interesting man named Harold on the patio of a bar. Harold was an older fellow, I’d guess around 60, and was sitting alone packing a pipe full of tobacco when we met him. We said hello, and he invited us to sit and talk over a beer. We found out he was from Switzerland, and had an enormous history of travel in countless places.
After some interesting conversation I asked Harold what was the best advice he could share with be about travel since compared to him I was just starting out. He told me travel is about truly experiencing another culture and their way of life and that there was one important way to ensure I got the real experience. He said no matter where I go I should always travel in the same ways that the locals would travel. He said if the average local would travel to a new city via the train in the crowded standing section, then I should do the same. If the locals would rather take a cheap motorbike taxi than a car taxi I should do the same. Even if it was easy for me to afford a more luxurious or convenient means of travel I shouldn’t do it, because travelling the ways the locals travel will open me up to far more rewarding experiences and encounters.
This advice really made sense to me. Often we see the travel between and inside cities as unimportant and instead just focus on the destination, but the truth is the way you get from one place to another is just as important and interesting. While it may be less comfortable or take longer or be more expensive, travelling the ways the locals travel will let me experience what their lives are really like, open me up to meeting new people, and give me a more true experience of the culture.
Next Harold told me there was something else he learned time and time again through his travels, and that’s to listen more than to speak. He told me in other cultures people will do things strangely and think about things so in ways that might not make sense, and it’s very easy to want to give them advice and tell them how you would do it and to try and share a more western mentality… but he says people are really not interested in this and they become offended. They are happy with the way they do things and the way they think and they don’t want you to try to force your knowledge or your way onto them. Harold said it’s much more important to learn from others than to try to teach them.
Thinking back now this is an area that I sometimes have trouble with, I tend to reject other peoples thinking when it doesn’t make sense to me and I’m quick to offer up an alternative way to view things. I think while some people are more open to this sort of thing and eager to learn about a westerners way of thinking, Harold is still right and the average person won’t appreciate it. Here in china things are so different its easy to reject them and get frustrated, but ill try to hold the ‘learn more than you teach’ mentality as I go.
All in all meeting Harold was a cool experience, it was nice to talk to someone with a long travel history and a lot of life experience to share. Until next time~