Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Living Like a Tourist

Six months is an awkward amount of time to stay in a place.  It’s too long to feel like a tourist, but too short to feel like a resident. 

As we prepare to leave Hong Kong, we’ve started to reflect a bit more on our stay here and the things we’ve done and didn’t get to do.  We’ve crossed off virtually all the “things-to-see” on our list.  We’ve gone to places we’ve liked more than once.  We’ve started to cement some friendships (including the boys at school).  But in many ways we have only recently begun to feel like we’re settled.  Like roots—just the faintest shoots—are starting to grow.  And now we move on.

This awkwardness has manifested itself in a degree of ambivalence about the typical weekend itinerary.  On the one hand, we’re only here six months, so we feel like every weekend must include a full round of sightseeing, exploring, cultural exposure and dining out.  On the other hand, one can’t really be a tourist for six months.  At some point, you just need a normal weekend.

What has often resulted is a sort of casual tourism.  On a given Saturday or Sunday, we might plan a hike in a new area and a meal out.  Or we might aim to just explore one small neighborhood we haven’t seen, but only after a morning of chill time at home.  Having hit the Major Attractions like the Peak, the Star Ferry and Po Lin Monastery, we’ve moved into the second and third tier attractions.  Or we just go walking around to see what there is to see, to learn more about Hong Kong.

What I’ve recently come to realize is that this is actually a really nice way to live.  I’ve lived in a lot of different places in my life and travelled to many more, but I’ve never travelled in the places I’ve lived.  I’ve never really lived like a tourist in my own city.

We own guidebooks for Hong Kong and Shanghai, checked out one for Bangkok when we went there.  We’ve browsed through many other books and websites about these places.  The first thing we do when we start planning a vacation is to get a guide book.  But, I’ve never even looked at one for Boston.  Never owned one for Chicago.

I remember moving away from Chicago and thinking about cultural sights I never saw—places that would be top of my list if I were going today on a trip there.  For example, I always wanted to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art and finally did—when I returned on a trip years after moving away.

I think what happens is you develop a sense of open-endedness.  There seems to be no definite end to your stay in the place where you live (even if you suspect, at some point in a few years, you’ll likely move on).  So, there’s no pressure to see these things.  You can always get to them. 

Well, I’ve decided to make a commitment when I get home to living more like a tourist.  I’m going to buy a Boston guide book.  I’m going to buy a Providence guide book.  And I’m going to encourage the family to spend some of our weekend days checking out sights now, rather than at some future, undetermined date.  So, if you see us just wandering around Southie some Saturday, that’s just us living like tourists.


  1. Love your writings-- as always inspired by the experience and the gift you've given your boys. Keep us posted as you "settle in" to your new location. Hope all the logistics are working out. Big hugs to Jenkins-Roscoe clan big and small.


  2. I love your sentiment. So true! I say this all the time about Chicago. Might have to steal this from you for 2012...

  3. And we'll explore with you since there are so many places on Boston we've never seen!