I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but last week marks the first time I’ve taken the Shanghai metro. It’s not that I have anything against subways, but I’m using my tired excuse of “but with kids, you know, it just harder.” Taxis are cheap and so convenient. And, if I really think about it, I don’t love being confined underground like that. But I was alone and nostalgic for my days as a young urbanite, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was cheap, easy and clean.
I was heading to this “antiques market” in Puxi that I had heard about in passing. Maybe it was the giddiness of being alone or successfully navigating the metro system or venturing to somewhere new, but I loved it. I didn’t mind the somewhat aggressive shop owners trying to push me in for “just a look.” I didn’t mind the old men standing around hacking butts and coughing up their lungs and I didn’t mind others spitting out wads of phlegm.
I think a more accurate description however, might be “part tag sale, part antiques and part gift shop.” I was sort of wishing the Chinese equivalent of the American Pickers guys were with me. I swear some of it was just old junk buried in someone’s basement that they couldn’t bear to throw out. But some it seemed like it could actually be worth something. Old dominoes and mahjong sets. Tools, camera equipment, watches, photos, Little Red Books and other Mao propaganda pieces. The China I know is concrete and skyscrapers. New and modern. It was fun to see old and rusty.
So I mentioned to a friend I had gone. She was less enthusiastic about her experience. She said she had done some reading on it before she went and was expecting…a little more/better/different. I did no reading and was pleasantly surprised.
We live in a day and age where information about everything is everywhere. We have an endless source of answers, literally at our fingertips. You can sit in your kitchen and become an expert on a place you’ve never even visited. But much like my dilemma with photos, is all this information ruining our experiences? (Ok, maybe not ruining but heavily influencing?) You can read thousands of reviews, opinions and stories about places you want to go, allowing you to decide if it’s worth your time or what you can’t miss. You can see pictures of the hotel and room where you will be staying, the restaurant and food you will be eating. Not to say you’re going to follow exactly everyone’s advice, but all this information is inevitably creating certain expectations. The reality of what you experience may be quite different (and not necessarily always disappointing).
I married a planner. And I have to say, sometimes, I see the value in doing a little research ahead of time. No one wants to be Clark Griswold finally arriving at Wally World only to find it is closed. What’s the sense in visiting an historic temple if you have no idea the significance of it? I know Trip Advisor is helpful. And I know you can waste a lot of time trying to figure out where to go if you don’t look at a map until you arrive. But I don’t know, isn’t there something to be said for just figuring things out as you go? “It’s the journey, not the destination,” and all that?
Of course, I am not much of a planner. I don’t make lists before I grocery shop, I don’t like following itineraries and I rarely make reservations. (Of course they’ll have room for me!) Often, this does not work in my best interests. Just today, I forgot to get garbage bags and I poorly timed my trip around nap time and ended up arrived home 45 seconds after Nolan passed out in the stroller. (He doesn’t transfer to the crib easily but doesn’t sleep long in the stroller either.) So I’m certainly more inclined to do little to no research about places I’m going to visit. I have to say, I’m rarely disappointed. But, to be fair, I think I’m easily impressed. (You should see the size of the carrots here! Amazing! Like nothing else!)
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I don’t like extremes. I’m definitely an “everything in moderation” kinda gal. I like balance. So, it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m neither advocating burning all guidebooks and swearing off the internet, nor am I going to tell you to never go somewhere without reading reviews ahead of time. But, I am learning, there is no formula for traveling well. It’s all about knowing what makes you happy. If reading 10,000 reviews and carrying a guidebook with you everywhere makes you happy, go for it. If rolling up blindly to a new place, make you happy, go for it. But go. Traveling, at least for me, is as much about discovering somewhere new as it is discovering something new about yourself. And really, it’s not about how far you travel, it’s just about traveling somewhere new. (I just went across town and just look at how insightful it made me!)