Sunday, June 04, 2017

From Tourist to Local and Back Again

I've lived in Toronto's shadow for 23 years and I would say that I hardly know the city. I can't even count the number of times I've hopped on the GO down to Union or some other destination, or visited a museum/theatre for some sort of school trip. And yet my mental grasp of Toronto feels like less than a skeleton. Maybe an arm and a leg, but no more. Queen's Park? China Town? The MEC? These are places I know but how they relate to each other... I'm not sure.

This past weekend, I travelled up to Seoul for a last weekend with some friends before summer break in a couple weeks. Friday afternoon, I set out from near Yonsei University and decided to walk through Hongik University down to the Han River and then along and across to Yeouido Han River Park. As I passed familiar and unfamiliar landmarks, I couldn't help but wonder how this city has become so much more familiar to me than Toronto despite my current gap with the Korean language and my limited number of trips. From taking a couple tours, making friends and just exploring the city on foot, my mental map of Seoul and the distance I've physically travelled within city limits is so much more than Toronto. I'm perfectly comfortable gliding from bus to subway and back again to get anywhere. Definitely at least a completed skeleton, if not a bit of meat on those bones as well. ;)

How could I live so close to the most populated city in Canada and hardly know anything about it aside from the Rogers Center, CN Tower and of course, the lake? Even thinking about the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) in general, I only really know my small town and I wouldn't be the first to say there's not much to do in Whitby (eh, friends?).

As I sought to make plans with friends in Seoul, I ran into the common problem of "distance" and "time." When I told people where I might be staying, their immediate reaction was, "That's so far from where I am." (Considering I had come all the way from Jeju = 40 mins bus ride + 45 mins at airport + 1 h flight + at least 45 mins on the subway, their reasoning did not move me, but I digress). However, through these responses I think I started to see the difference between my tourist mindset and a local's perspective.

When I think like a tourist, I just want to see things and spend time with people. I know that I'll have to travel greater distances and that that will take time and so I go in prepared. 45 minutes to an hour is then nothing when reaching a destination. Plus, the journey to the destination is part of the fun and the excitement. How will the adventure end? Not sure, let's just start it and see later!

But when I'm in my "local" mindset, it's all about routine and how long it will take to come back to my home base and my travel radius drastically decreases. Time travelling is wasted time. Or I'll think, we can always go next time, why not wait until I have multiple reasons to go to that side of the city or that area. There are a number of times where someone has said, "Let's meet up in Jeju-si or Seogwipo-si" and I hesitate. Or, "Do you want to meet for dinner in Toronto?" What else can I do in the city? I think. How can I make this trip more productive? If I go, what time can I catch the train back? I'm planning my exit before I even arrive.

I wonder how much we miss in our own neighbourhoods and cities when we succumb to the "it's too far" or the "time wasted" mindset. Do we stop looking for new places to try? Do we get stuck travelling between the same points on a map without veering off the beaten path? Worse, do we start thinking its not worth it to go beyond the edges of the familiar and into the unknown?

(I know that sometimes money is a factor as well, but I think for many of us, it's the last block in the wall. After we consider the time and distance we think about how much it would have cost.)

I hope that I take this lesson with me as I travel back home this summer and as I continue to live here on Jeju. I want to remember to be a local tourist in my own town and I hope that I can encourage others to do step out of their comfort zones as well.

Over the Han River; Translation: Do you want to take a walk?
Love and Hugs

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