It has been a busy two weeks for me with the new project kicking off in earnest and lots of social events, birthdays and general dinners and drinks. It was also Mardi Gras at the weekend, but most people I know didn’t go.
For people who live in a city that is the centre of tourism or the host of a major event there is always, I suspect, that slight feeling of guilt when you fail to attend something that people have literally travelled half way round the world for. I suppose that not everyone in London has been to Buckingham Palace, or all New Yorkers have been to the top of the Empire State Building, nor all Beijingers to the Forbidden City or the Great Wall. For the local, the stumbling hoards are just ticking off the must-dos, the things that make it onto bucket lists around the world and drive the mass of tourists following their umbrella-toting guides: thirsty, jet-lagged and seeming much less interested than they ought to be at the sight of some of the world’s major sights.
For the resident though, all of these world-important structures, festivals and locations are just part of the background to daily life. That is not to say that they are ignored – for sure Sydney uses it’s harbour and the building and islands, cliffs and drama as a key part of life and entertainment in the city. You only need to look at the way the world watches on New Year’s Eve as Sydney showcases the fireworks spectacular. Rather they are things that you can take or leave, pass by without a glance or looking up from your book as your train goes over the harbour bridge.
Mardi Gras has become a bit like that for me now. This year it was raining, a friend was having a birthday party and when faced with a choice, a good Aussie barbeque, undercover and hanging out with 20-odd friends just seemed like a better option. Because of course, unlike so many people who have travelled, I told myself that I can always go next year or the year after.
Therein lies the crux of it. When things become the norm they sometimes lose their charm or excitement – but for all the people who are experiencing for the first time there is a need to make the most of it, to draw every moment out and to make it count. The sense of wonder that each new tourist has when they see the Eiffel Tower for the first time, or step into Red Square or fly over the Grand Canyon is a reminder of the wonders of the world we live in and to that person one of the moments that will (hopefully) stay with them forever. Travel is a gift and anyone, no matter how reluctantly they set out on that first step, who travels deserves respect.
I am heading back to the UK for a couple of months in two weeks. A guide book and camera in hand, there are a whole number of places that I will be heading to see and experience for the first time – places I passed by when I lived there. My intention is to play a little bit of the tourist in my own country, which after fourteen years away I suspect that I probably am.
So, the next time a camera-toting tourist gets in your way on the street, or blocks the door on the underground as they hesitate, wondering if they are heading in the right direction or asks you to take a picture of them in front of a world heritage site you pass by every day, just remember that this may well be their first and only time. Play nicely, because it might be me and I may blog about you.