How long does it take to switch from being “just a tourist” to living a bit more like the locals when you visit a new city and why would anyone want to make this switch? I ask this question, because for some travelers “just a tourist” is not a desirable state of being. It implies a willful ignorance of the larger context of one’s surroundings, a propensity to shop instead of experience, and to buy cheap trinkets better left uncreated. Finally, it means a dedication to staying in one’s comfort zone, even if that means eating fast food rather than testing the local fare.
I’m writing this blog in “paradise,” which is how many people refer to the state of Hawaii. We’ve been walking the line between hard-core tourism (tea from Starbucks, strolling the Waikiki strip with its flashy hotels and striking resemblance to Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive), and using our four-day bus pass to see the Honolulu that many tourists miss.
Yesterday, we visited the Honolulu Art Museum, to see European and Asian art, including a special exhibit of centuries-old Japanese “marriage manuals.” We also bussed to Foster Botanical Garden, a park replete with exotic trees, orchids and other tropical plants.
We’ve filled our small frig with fresh fruit and home-baked banana bread — both scrumptious — from a Saturday farmers’ market.
To get to the garden, we walked through a particularly blighted part of Chinatown. Homeless men and women had staked out their territories and passed the afternoon drinking and gambling on the sidewalks. We happily returned to the balcony of our hotel room to bask in the sumptuous ocean view, with majestic Diamond Head two miles in the distance. Being a tourist still has its charms.
Today we went on an even longer bus ride to the Bishop Museum, reputed to be the best in the state. We found our destination after seeking reassurance from fellow riders that we were going the right direction. On day two we became slightly more adventuresome. We got off a bus, changed our minds, ran a block to catch up with it and board it again. We abandoned the bus once more, walked to a new destination and returned home on a different bus. Despite our efforts to blend in, we haven’t fooled any of the locals. Our fellow riders peg us as tourists immediately. Could it be our sun hats and sunburned faces?