Welcome to my very first post for a new series I’m trying out on my blog, called “Monday Musings.” I’ve always written down my ramblings (aka. musings) from traveling but never had the courage to post them on this blog.
After much “ah-ming” and “ahhing,” I decided they would be perfect for a weekly series. So sit back, grab a cup of tea (or if you want to start your week right, a glass of wine!) and let’s get started with our very first Monday Musings!
I’ve been in Japan for over a month, and while time has flown, staying in a place longer than I usually would has gotten me thinking.
You see my friends; I used to gush about Japan. How much I loved traveling here, how polite everyone was, how super organized and advanced I thought everything was.
After spending a month here – living in an apartment here, exploring different parts of Japan, I feel as if my initial views of Japan were superficial.
Of course, I still think that there are super polite people in Japan. But there are also people who aren’t polite here. Just like in Australia, just like in the US and every country.
And yes – Japan is advanced. I mean, their toilets have bloody buttons on them! But it feels strange putting down my experiences here to simply “oh people are polite, and everything is so advanced.”
Please, don’t get me wrong. I do not intend for this post to be about Japan bashing. I’ve met some truly lovely people on my travels. From fellow traveler’s to the wonderful hospitality staff who put up with my terrible Japanese, there are some really kind people out there.
But this trip has made me realize that my past impressions of Japan were superficial. Both times I visited Japan, after spending 2 weeks I came back gushing about how amazing Japan was, how polite everyone was, how dang AWESOME every thing was.
This trip has made me realize how superficial it was for me to say those things. How could I, after spending 2 weeks in a country form an opinion that was so absolute?
It feels embarrassing to have to admit these things because I honestly consider myself a traveler.
I explore with an open mind, I try not to judge others, and I try to learn as much as I can when I’m traveling.
But sometimes it’s just not enough. 2 weeks is not enough. 4-5 days in a handful of cities wasn’t enough.
I’ve never been a travel checklist traveler – I don’t rush between tourist attractions, keen to get my photo and quickly move on. And yet, despite this, I’ve still managed to be a “fast traveler.” I’ve still managed to skim the surface and have ended up forming superficial views about a country.
And I know I’m not the only one. I’ve heard others express the same opinion – so absolute, so confident that their experience represented the country they’ve visited.
I want to be clear – I don’t want to turn this post into a “country bashing” exercise, I do honestly believe that no place is so completely “fantastically wonderful.” There is not one place on earth that I can 100% say that about (maybe except Melbourne, but you guys know I’m biased as a Melbournian!)
How can we spend 2 weeks in a country and understand it – truly understand it, without forming opinions that are superficial?
I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I do question whether as travelers our experiences are truly representative of what it’s like living in that country. I mean – as a visitor, I am likely to have a series of highly orchestrated experiences. From the staff that helps me at my hotel to the waitresses who know I am a tourist. To the tourist sites that we visit, that cater to international visitors.
How can we truly understand a place, a city, a country if we engage in these experiences for 2 weeks?
I don’t know if it’s possible.
But, what I do know is this:
1. Traveling to a country for a short period is still a worthwhile experience: it is still worth your effort to spend time in a country, even if it’s short. Whether you’re traveling to have a holiday, relax on a beach or want to get lost amongst the museums in NYC. Any travel is worthwhile.
2. They say “travel broadens the mind”: it still does – even if it’s for a short period. You still learn SOMETHING. Even if it’s learning more about history or understanding where something was created or discovered. Even if your experiences are tourist driven, chances are you will still learn something about a country, about a place, about history.
3. Our experiences, even if they are orchestrated by the tourism industry are still legitimate: Just because you had a 100% wonderful experience that may not be representative of other experiences that are not tourist facing doesn’t make your experience any less real.
But saying this…
We have to keep in mind that our experiences may not wholly represent the full picture.
For example, I’ve had plenty of white friends visit Malaysia for a few days who then go on to tell me how amazing and friendly everyone is. As someone who’s parents are of Malaysian-Chinese descent, as someone who spent their school holidays living with family in Malaysia, I know this is not 100% representative of everyone’s experiences.
Don’t get me wrong – Malaysians are friendly people. As are Australians. As are Americans. But what my friend’s experiences don’t show is the racial tension that exists in Malaysia. Not everyone is 100% friendly to everyone. Not everyone gets that same experience.
Does this mean what my friends experienced is not legitimate? No – it is 100% a legitimate experience. BUT it is not representative of the full situation.
We have to remember that experiences are solely ours, not representative of everything or everyone. Fast travel sometimes means that we miss out on understanding facets of culture, of experiences.
We have to be careful when making statements about countries, about cities about PLACES we visit. We are travelers, and while our word is not absolute, it holds weight. Our opinions educate others, teach others and help others learn about the world.
And another thing?
We have to be wary of “fast travel.” We have to be aware of how we can fall into this trap; we have to make sure that if we are visiting countries or cities that our word shouldn’t be taken as absolute.
What about you? Have you “fast traveled” before? Have you ever experienced any of the above?
Let me know what you think!