Balancing the Scale of Tourism vs. Residency

You know how you can have lived in a place for years and years and still not have gone to some of the tourist destinations in your own backyard? Maybe you live in southern Idaho but have never slid down the Bruneau Sand Dunes or picked your way through Craters of the Moon. Or maybe you live in northern Utah but have yet to climb your way to the top of Mount Timpanogos or stroll through Temple Square. Or maybe you live in our nation’s capital but haven’t yet explored the Air and Space Museum or undertaken the long walk that loops around the monuments.

I think it is easy to forget what spectacular things we have right where we live because we get used to seeing the signs for them and as a species of procrastinators, we tend to put off visits to these great sites because we know they will be there next weekend or next summer or next year.

As Thad and I have lived in several different places over the last fourteen years of our marriage (Idaho, Utah, northern Virginia, China X2), we have learned to not take for granted what we can see from our front door. We’ve visited Idaho landmarks; we’ve taken our nephews to the top of Timpanogos; we’ve escorted friends and family all over the DC area and we definitely have more China-seeing in our future.

But, this draw to do and see wherever we end up also creates an odd convergence of tourism and residency. Chengdu is home. We live here now. And will live her for the next two years. While I want to be a part of the events and culture of the city, while I want to see the pandas and temples and parks scattered throughout the city, I also want to settle in and be able to relax on weekends. In America, we had the occasional weekend where we had nothing planned and didn’t really leave the house much. Saturdays held the potential to be filled with nothing more than reading and writing and eating and napping.

Since we’ve been in China (a little over twelve weeks now!), I have often felt a twinge of guilt if we weren’t out doing and seeing every day we had off. Those quirky little pandas are not going to take pictures of themselves and the Wide and Narrow Alley is not going to provide an array of snack foods if no visitors come. Luckily, with the arrival of our UAB, which means a bit more of our American life has touched down in Chengdu, I have been able to settle in a bit better. I am fighting the urge to always feel like we are missing out on something if we take a day off from being tourists and just be residents.

Even with our possessions slowly trickling through customs and to us in western China, have no fear.  We have not become hermits! (Although, sometimes a life of hermitage does have an appealing ring to it. If I had an unlimited supply of books and cold cereal, I might just be able to do it.)  Knowing that we have just two years here, we definitely have things we want to see and be a part of, as well as favorite haunts to revisit when we’ve got a free night.

Saturday night was just one of those nights. I had been out all morning on a CLO excursion for twelve of our community members to learn about jade and do a bit of shopping, but after resting through the hottest part of the day, (Latin American countries may have siesta time, but we’ve got xiuxi time!) Thad and I wanted to get out and enjoy a warm summer evening before they are gone for the year.

We decided that with night falling, JinLi Ancient Street was the place to be! This was by no means our first trip there, having been once before already this time around in China, but several times before when we were here with Peace Corps. It is a great area filled with touristy shops meant to seem “ancient”, lots of food stalls with spicy Sichuan snacks (including some tentacle-bearing,  water-dwelling creature skewered on a stick) and glowing red lanterns hung overhead to create a festive feel.  Plus, if we ever get bored of walking the aisles of shops, we can always find a bench to rest on and enjoy the copious stares and eavesdrop on the discussions about how tall we are.

This Saturday we were also lucky enough to witness a woman in a fully bedazzled sweat suit having a little photo-shoot near one of the ponds in the complex. Her daughter, who had to be maybe nine or ten, clicked photo after photo of her mother using an iPhone, while the mom varied her poses from leaning on the right-hand arm of the café table’s chair to a brilliantly choreographed lean on the left-hand arm of the chair. I am not entirely sure what was going on, but the whole thing reeked of setting up an online dating profile! Who wouldn’t pick out the middle aged-woman in the totally glamorous glittery gray sweatshirt and sweatpants?!

When we first got back to China, I felt like tourism and residency were on opposite ends of a very long spectrum, but the longer we spend in Chengdu (and the more I contemplate our future placements), the more I come to realize that they should not be considered polar opposites. Just like we loved visiting the areas of interest in our various Stateside homes, we can visit the ones here and still have days where we hole up and never leave the house, maybe never even changing out of our PJs. (To be fair, Thad tends to shower and change right away in the morning, even on days we don’t have anything on our schedule. I, on the other hand, am happy to putter around the house clad in my hot-pink, owl-covered pajama pants and over-sized Baltimore Ravens t-shirt until I absolutely must make myself presentable to the outside world.) Tourism and residency don’t have to be, nor should they be, mutually exclusive. I can still get that long-coveted chance to hold a panda one day (for a mere 1300RMB) and flop down on my couch for a day of reading/dozing on the couch the next.

So, here is looking forward to a Saturday of touring LuoDai’s ancient town followed by a Sunday of pajama-pants and a newly downloaded book!

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