Tag Archives: Tourism

Cabbin’ It

I felt a bit guilty casting aspersions at Chinese tourists in my last post.  I’ve discussed the phenomenon with half a dozen world traveler friends, and they all hold the same opinion, that Chinese tourists are rude, and—the worst sin of all—they are forever ruining other people’s views in their quest to get the perfect selfie, often with the hateful selfie sticks.

I had this experience in Rome, at the Colosseum.  I was standing at a viewpoint, marveling at the history of the place, when a young Chinese woman stepped in front of me and began preening and pouting for selfies.  She seemed completely unaware that she had ruined my moment and was blocking my view.

Maybe that’s what made it so annoying—it was clear that to her, I didn’t even exist or at best was a detail to be worked around.

“But of course,” I said to a friend the other night at happy hour, “she may not have been Chinese.  She could have been Korean, or American. I never heard her talk.”

“I know,” my friend agreed.  “But there are so many Chinese out there!  So the odds are she was Chinese.  They’re always in huge groups with a Chinese guide, and they barge in front of everyone.”

“I know, I know.  I’ve seen that many times. I was almost knocked into the street in Eton when lived there two summers ago. The Chinese tour groups came along the sidewalk like juggernauts.  It felt like they would have trampled me like a bug if I hadn’t moved out of their way.

“Their guides had a horrible attitude.  But I’d like to think there are polite Chinese tourists, immersing themselves in local culture, speaking a little Italian, but we just don’t notice them because … they’re not doing anything obnoxious.”

“Right.  I hope you’re right,” my friend replied doubtfully.  “Well, we Americans were the bad tourists for a long time, and still are. And the Japanese used to be notorious for taking photos of everything but not stopping to learn anything about what their subjects were.”

“I encountered a lot of horrid, loud-mouthed Spaniards in Germany.”

“And the Brits, especially in Spain, are super loud and trashy!”

We agreed, the Chinese get a bad rap for good reasons but also just because there are so many of them.

Travel used to be reserved for the rich. Thanks to the discount airlines and cruise ships, anyone can invade a beauty place with their braying and bad behavior.

I was on the shinakansen to Utsonimiya.

Oot-sone-oh-mee-yah.  I loved the sound of it so repeated it in my head too many times and now it’s an earworm.

The shinkansen was clean and quiet.  The seat was so capacious I could keep my suitcase in front of my knees.  The ride was smooth enough that the water bottle I set on top of my bag never trembled.

From Utsonimiya I would take a regular train to Nikko.  Then, I had mapped out how to walk from the train station to my lodgings.  There were buses, too, but they wouldn’t go all the way to the Turtle Hatori Annex, and I was nervous about getting on a bus with my bag, figuring out how to pay, getting off at the right place, and walking from there.

I needn’t have worried about any of it.  The moment I arrived in Nikko the skies opened up and the only option was to take a taxi. What a relief!  I didn’t care how much it cost; I had to admit that I just didn’t want to walk or take a bus.

The taxi driver wore white gloves and his seats were covered in white lace.

The inn was twice as far and a much more convoluted route than my guide book or Google maps had led me to believe.  I would have arrived exhausted it I’d walked.

The taxi cost about $9—no tipping expected—well worth it.

I had made my first successful transition from one city to another, the first of nine in the month to come.  After being oriented by the chatty hostess of the inn, I strode out to explore Nikko in the rain.

Sight Seeing, Blind

I love how quiet most pubs are, in contrast to American bars, where you can’t sit anywhere and not face a bank of TVs showing nonstop sports, in addition to blaring, manic music.

Not that pubs can’t be noisy, especially toward the end of the night in a university town like Oxford.  But it was a Wednesday afternoon and I had a quiet nook to myself.  I pulled out a notebook and started making lists—things to buy, places to go, writing ideas.  I listed all the writers associated with Oxford and who might have sat on this very bench before me: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Phillip Pullman, Thomas Hardy, William Golding, Aldous Huxley, TS Elliot, William Boyd, VS Naipaul, Dorothy Sayers, Evelyn Waugh, Lewis Carroll, and even Dr. Suess!

Maybe some of their collective genius juju would rub off on me.

My reverie was interrupted by a woman braying loudly in an American southern accent, “I’m afraid of the beef!”  I glanced over and saw a woman of generous proportions and her husband, both wearing sweat pants and sweat shirts with sports logos.  He was quite beefy but I assumed she wasn’t referring to him.  He was peppering the bar maid with questions about the menu.

“Now, is that bawled, or frahhed?  What kind of awwl is it frahhed in?  Does it come with French fraaahs or puh-tay-ta chips?”

He was clueless about the growing irritation of the bar maid and the line of people queuing up behind them.

“I’m afraid of the beef!” his wife announced again, as if we hadn’t been able to hear her the first time.

What did she even mean?  Naturally she supplied an explanation.  “The beef hee-ah is so coarsely gray-ound! It’s very tough in England.  Aahhm afraid I’ll break a tooth!”

Please, please, please, I said to myself, don’t make a comment about British teeth.  Fortunately she didn’t, or I might have had to out myself as an American by intervening loudly and pushily.

They finally placed their orders and shambled away in their Nikes or whatever they were wearing.  Have you ever noticed that a lot of people who wear “athletic shoes” are not athletic?

When I related this story at dinner, I was informed me that, to Brits, American ground beef has the texture of baby food.

Still at the Turf, watching the tide of people come and go at the bar.

Next up was a young Chinese woman.  “I’rrll have a pint of Ord Rozzy Schrumpy,” she said.  How brave she was to formulate that sentence, when you think about it.  I know nothing about Chinese, but if it’s anything like Spanish, it has different sentence structures and verb tenses from English.  And “Old Rosy Scrumpy” must sound even funnier to Chinese ears than it does to me, a native English speaker.

I finished my pint, then wove my way slowly through Oxford.  There wasn’t enough time to visit any of the fabulous museums, like the Ashmolean or the Pitt Rivers, which is basically a collection of collections from dead people’s attics—people who had traveled the world and brought back plunder like shrunken heads, taxidermy dodo birds, and totem poles.

I hadn’t planned anything.  I’d already taken hundreds of photos of the city so I walked for a block, sat on a bench and watched people, and repeated this for an hour.

Mainly what I observed is that people are oblivious.  I have been in this state myself, so I know it when I see it.  People are rushing around, trying to see everything on their tourist guide check list.  They find something, snap photos, then consult a map for the next thing.   They don’t get lost anymore thanks to GPS, so they never see anything by accident.

They don’t see—really see—the other human beings around them.  Many people looked straight at me but didn’t really see me, seeing them, as they frantically pinged from one site to another.

It made me think of a line from a Hebrew prayer: “We walk sightless among miracles.”

At one point as I sat in front of the magnificent Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library—one of the oldest and largest libraries on earth—a van screeched to a halt at the curb. A dozen Spanish tourists jumped out, took photos, then jumped back in and the van tore off to the next photo opp.