There are a zillion things to do in New York City, but my favorite thing to do is walk across it. Every kind of person, demographic. See people out shopping, walking home after a marathon, out with their kids. Overhear people speaking Spanish, Italian, Farsi, French, Chinese, Japanese, and, yes, English – American, and English-English, with a bunch of different regional accents too.
And you see the things that you see everywhere, brunch places, department stores, beauticians, hotels, convenience stores, the ubiquitous Starbucks. And then those things that you only see in NYC, like 24 caret gold facial treatments, and a store for just one kind of candy (M&Ms, surprisingly little chocolate, and lots of pajamas).
So as I took a long walk along 7th, I was thinking about adventures. I love MOMA, and the view from the Empire State Building is pretty awesome, but the experiences I remember most fondly are: the Mauizio Cattelan exhibit I saw at the Guggenheim last time (see a video here), because it was extraordinary. My friends and I, hanging out on the Highline, transfixed by the vertical carpark, trying to determine the algorithm for operating it efficiently. And the encounter with the random guy I met when my plane was delayed for 8 hours, who showed me the lesser known queue for taxis at LGA, and taught me how to bribe someone.
When I was in China, we weren’t too excited about the Great Wall, but wondering around the forbidden city we met a woman whose boyfriend would take us to a slightly different part of the wall than most of the tourists went to. And it sounded cool, so we went. And it was – when someone was being snotty about tourist traps the other day I said that there are some things that a lot of people go to see because they were worth seeing. And the great wall is – the view is amazing, it stretches as far as you can see. You can wax lyrical about how small and insignificant it makes you feel, if you are that way inclined. But the experience that made more of an impression on me, was meeting these women at Moon Hill in Yangshuo who walked up and down the hill, all day every day, carrying postcards and a cooler of drinks to sell. I started off being irritated that they were coming with us, but by the time we got back down again I realized they were amazing. They were my real lesson on humanity – on the difference in work ethic, and expectations, between them and those of us who live in the West. Up the Pearl tower, my friend and I jumped up and down trying to take pictures that looked as though we were flying, but I really felt like I was flying when I was riding a scooter for the first time, until that unfortunate incident with the two trucks and the large pile of rocks.
In Japan, I skiied with a bunch of random Australians where they held the 1998 Olympics, and wondered through the temple from the Memoirs of a Geisha. But I felt like I appreciated Japanese culture and Japan in general the most when I was hanging out in Harajuku. Love the outfits. Particularly love the hats.
Of course my favorite kind of adventure, is to go and live somewhere new. Moving to Canada with a week’s notice? Making it work? That was hard. But rewarding. Moving again within the province, to KW, was relatively easy by comparison. Next, a non-English-speaking country, because that will be a real challenge.
And so one of the things I realized this morning is that for me, the adventure doesn’t happen at the destination, it happens often unexpectedly, somewhere on the way. It might be easier to find an extraordinary experience in NYC (fancy that 24 caret facial?), but I think with the right attitude and travel companions, you can have an adventure in Winnipeg (like when my friend got trapped in an escalator). And I don’t normally bother to share what I thought of the Great Wall of China, but those women from Moon Hill? I’ve talked about them a bit.
On my way to MTV with my intern, I shared with him my calm travel philosophy – wallet, keys, phone, passport. Anything else you can buy. Except for adventures, they’re free, as long as you’re open to them, and you’re not so fixated on the check-list of things to see, that you let them go whooshing by. Kind of like me, on that scooter, headed towards that truck.