Yesterday I travelled down to Trafalgar Square to go to a Chinese New Year Festival. It was spectacular- all of Chinatown was decorated in paper lanterns and dancing dragons and lions to celebrate. There was a main stage with musical performers and acrobats. The entire scene took careful planning with shops, vendors, trinkets and such. Though it was raining fairly heavily the whole day, it was impossible not to be amazed by the spectacle. I particularly noticed as I was standing off to the side of the square, eating some noodles we bought from a truck nearby how the hosts of the show were trying to engage the audience in cheers. They would tell different sides of the crowd to cheer in a competition against each other, but were met with near silence from each side. Perhaps it was the fact that it was so cold and wet that people were too tired to, yet thousands shows up for the event. I became ever aware of the tradition of Chinese New Year. Was this how it was supposed to be celebrated? I was told this was one of the biggest celebrations outside of China, but why go to so much effort for an unenthusiastic crowd? It struck me that many of the people in attendance weren’t Chinese at all. In fact, I would go as far as to say that many of them were tourists like myself- observing to see the tradition but really act as a spectator (and a consumer).
After leaving the mainstage of the festival I wandered into the shops of Chinatown, I mean how could you not when the smells coming out into the street beckon you like a finger? The people in the shops were smiling from ear to ear, showing us pastries and dishes with Chinese and English writing next to them. I couldn’t help but notice how modest the prices were compared to the price we had just paid for noodles out of the truck back in the main Square. I began to recall that the people working in those trucks didn’t look remotely Asian, which seemed preposterous at a Chinese festival. In our text, it says “Mindfulness compels us to stay cognizant of who actually gains and loses financially from our presence abroad. Beyond that, it urges us to take practical measures to maximize economic benefits to those typically left out of tourism development.” (Slimbach, pg. 86). I began to think the people that owned these shops weren’t getting nearly the same number of customers as those in the trucks. Was it mindless of me to eat what was available to me instead of thinking about where it had really come from?
Mindful traveler asks why to their surroundings. They follow the chain of how things came to be. A ‘carefree drifter’ or ‘mass tourist’ will simply take in their surroundings, take their photos, and contribute little back into their host society. The mindful traveler does research and learns as much as they can about how people live in the culture they are in. It teaches them to ask the right questions about what they are seeing and experiencing instead of taking in with a closed off image of “there” and “home”. This means that we gain little when we try to make a global community. We are simply taking from the host but not contributing to the community that is giving us so much. Our class defined global community as “All people around the world living by and fighting for similar social values and basic rights.” I feel that we are remaining narrow minded when we observe from near or afar but do not analyze or take action in what we see. How can we fight for similar social values when we aren’t exactly clear on what those values are?
I observe my environment with a keen eye. I see how much effort is put into tourism and how that makes it very expensive for actual locals. I 100% believe that ‘mindful traveling’ or the practice of analyzing our surroundings when we travel is key to becoming a new generation of citizens working towards a global community. Personally, I plan on trying to interact with as many local people as I can, as well as observing what they like to eat and do for fun so that I can do the same instead of opting for the well-planned, tourist experiences that are planned out for me. This is quite difficult however due to the fact that with a culture so similar to my home culture, the aspects that make London so special have been heavily catered to tourists. The places like castles and museums I visit, I have learned that my British flat mates have never been to. Now I aim to figure out what it is they do with their time if not the things that I always categorized as ‘British’. This is also making me question if I have done most of the things that people visit my home for. I’ve personally never been to the Statue of Liberty, but should I? Should I try to act as a tourist in my own home? Or should I embrace everything that makes me an American?
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Kindle for Mac.