The main way that I get to know a new place is to walk. I walk in a spiral pattern, which helps me to not lose track of where I am staying and get a feel for what the surrounding area is like.
As I walk in the spiral pattern I make a point of photographing the names of streets. This is exceptionally useful if you might need to give a taxi directions. You can show the driver the photos of the street signs, which can be helpful. In the are near my son’s last school there was wei xian lu (pronounced way-shian-lu) and huixian lu (pronounced h-way-shian-lu).
It is surprising how well you can get a handle on what an area has to offer with two spiral walks: one starting out to the left and the other to the right. You learn where you can buy basics like water and fruits and what restaurants are available.
Do you have a method for getting to know a new area?
You can’t see and do everything in a short period of time. My preference is for quality over quantity. Which is fortunate since I am not a high energy particle.
I touched a little on this idea when I talked about planning around having jet lag.
A few things that I have learnt to plan for:
Travel time from place to place.
To add time beyond the minimum recommended to see things, because I process more slowly and like to take photographs.
Realistic levels of physical activity. I can hike 13 miles on fairly even ground (I did it last June on our Hadrian’s wall walk), but on steep or choppy terrain that goes down to 9 or 10. High altitude affects that as well. Lately I have taken a couple of falls, and had some bad back days, and that has made me aware that I am smart to go places where there is an alternative activity if I am not up to hiking.
I need quiet time and get overloaded if I don’t make some accommodation for it. Travel inherently involves what the Chinese call 热闹 (re nao in Pinyan). It literallytranslates as “hot noise”. This post contains a good explanation. Some people thrive on it, but it wears me out and can make me irrational if I don’t have a plan for quiet time.
In new places I tend to do a variety of things to get it.
When on the usual tourist trail I often feel like I am not really in the the place. Like I’m in a bubble with a barrier between me and the place.
My son and I had a talk about this isolated feeling. It is easy and comfortable when traveling in a group to create your own bubble. Especially if there is a language barrier. But it leaves us feeling like we missed out on something. When the two of us travel together we try to interact with others, both local and fellow travelers. But with the emphasis on local.
I am not a picky eater…or at least I don’t see myself as one. As the chief cook and bottle washer at home I get to chose what food is in the house and how it is prepared so my assessment doesn’t get challenged much, except when I am traveling.
I try to be not picky, and always point out that I did eat a spicy fried cicada one time, just to be polite, it wasn’t that bad. But sometimes you aren’t awake yet and suddenly realize that what you thought was orzo pasta has eyes, and you just aren’t up for the adventure.
One of the great ways to see a place is at markets. They can be supermarkets, little corner convenience stores, street markets, farmers markets…Whatever they are you will get a feel for the place. You will see people interacting and get a chance to do so yourself.
I am not gifted at languages. In part because I am not particularly auditory. I am a bit on the tone deaf side, and it is getting worse as I get older, as is my hearing in general, and I like silence most of the time.
I studied Japanese for a year, over a year before my first trip there. We weren’t planning the trip when we took the course and I wasn’t actually all that interested. I only took it because that was the only way the community college would let my then 14 year old son take the class (we were homeschooling other subjects).
Brag: He was 14, I was 41 and everyone else in the class was between us, including the instructor. We BOTH aced it! (I was so proud).
But when we got feet on the ground, my carefully learned Japanese flew out the window, except for a few phrases. (My son did better.)
I touched on the importance of observation in my Crossing Streets post. Just being aware of your surroundings can make a situation where things can go south not do so.
There are situations where you know what the risk is and yet you find yourself being dragged into the situation. Well maybe you don’t, but I have had it happen to me. It is all well and good to know the risk, the problem for me is knowing what to do instead, or how to extricate once you realize something is awry.
I try to keep my eyes open and notice things in general, and I’ve given myself permission to be rude and just pull out if I feel uncomfortable. I also act like I don’t understand sometimes, when I do if it makes pulling out easier.
Sorry no magic here. The only cure for jet lag is time, and we humans adjust by about an hour a day.
I don’t know about you but I have read volumes about jet lag trying to find a magic bullet. The thing is that if you have commitments in your regular time zone there is only so much pre-adjusting you can do.