The View From Here
Thoughts from a guy whose been to a few places...
and on a few coasters
and on a few coasters
I love the writings and greater philosophy of the acclaimed travel writer Rick Steves, who strongly advocates for traveling with a purpose. He sees travel as an opportunity to learn about new places and meet new people. Many of his works emphasize taking an active learning approach to travel, but I believe that even if the priority of your journey isn’t to focus on learning about the people and customs of your destination, it can still present a great opportunity for you to gain a broader experience. The wonder of travel is that by simply by going somewhere you’ve never been before, at least one of your senses will present you with something they’ve never seen, heard, felt, smelled or tasted before. With countless destinations to choose from around the world or even within the boarders of our respective nations, it can be difficult to pick just one or to prioritize where to go first. If you find yourself trying to make that ultimate decision, and you’re not a fan of throwing darts at a map, then one of the easiest ways could be simply looking toward yourself and what you enjoy.
It's the same...but different.
One of the best examples for this idea is baseball. It’s a popular sport in many countries of North America, the Caribbean and Asia, and the basic mechanics of the game itself are more or less the same in any of those countries. Where you really start to see differences is in the fan experience depending on where you are watching a game. Those of us who enjoy America’s favorite pastime here in the United States will typically find a crowd that is a bit more subdued in the early stages of the game during individual pitches, unless there’s situation for something to happen such as a strike out or when the batter makes contact into or near fair territory. The crowd often becomes livelier as the game goes further along and the situation calls for more involvement, whether the home team needs to rally from behind, or they are just a few outs away from sealing victory.
Those going to a game in Japan, however, will find a completely different atmosphere. It is very common for the fans of a teams to engage in chats led by the musical instruments of a few for each batter of their favorite team (including visiting teams whose fans typically have their own sections in the stadium). You’ll also find all kind of flag waving and noise makers among the fans throughout as well. They cheer when major plays happen like you’d see in American ballparks, but the energy is more constant from beginning to end, and gives to feeling more akin to what we may experience here in the States at a soccer match.
Going to baseball games is just one example of how your personal interests can open doors to learn about differences between places though. You don’t have to be a sports fan to be able to go to a place in another country and engage in favorite activities. Do you have a passion for music? You could go to a local music club where they play live, and hear the differences of their local take on jazz. Do you love to cook? You can participate in a class to learn local cooking styles and recipes. The number of possibilities can add up quick fast. But even activities and hobbies that you wouldn’t necessarily think would be different from one place to another can offer those opportunities to be exposed to different customs, traditions or styles.
Theme Parks can also show our similarities and differences
In many respects, this philosophy of traveling to pursue your interests and hobbies has been a big part of my life. Ever since I had my first ride on Raptor at Cedar Point in 1996, I have had a deep love for roller coasters and amusement parks. As I got older, I began to add more parks to my list of those visited, and even spent parts of five years working for two major amusement and theme park destinations. As time has gone by, I've been fortunate to be able to pursue this hobby of ridding coasters and visiting theme parks on six of the seven continents of the world (haven't seen anything to indicate that Six Flags Antarctica is coming anytime soon). While the main objective of these various parks is to provide their visitors with entertainment through their rides, shows and scenery, the parks in various parts of the world can offer all sorts of insight into the cultural differences of various places. Whether it's the small family owned park, an emersively themed park, or a place fighting for the title of the best coaster collection, many of them offer similar cultural exposure.
Another major difference I've noticed is the hours of operation for parks in different parts of the world. During the deep part of the summer, it's common for the major parks of the United States to open between 9 and 11 in the morning, and stay open until around 10 to midnight. In Europe though, while some parks will operate with similar hours, it's also not uncommon to see the parks close closer to 5 or 7 in the evening, even during the main part of the summer season. This could be connected to the difference of work-life balance that can come from the different locations, as European shops and restaurants often have more limited hours than you see in the states for similar businesses.
How pursuing various coasters opened up new experiences and possibilities
Some of the things I have been able to do and experience because of seeking more obscurely located coasters have been truely eye opening. One park visit in particular that was a bit eye opening was that of Lion Park Resort outside of Gabarone, Botswana. Pulling up with the cab driver into the dirt parking lot of this place in a quite sparsely populated area was a bit of a surreal moment. As I stood there and looked away from the park, all I saw was dry grasslands with a number of trees. I was essentially in the middle of an African savannah, with the hope of riding a coaster that ran on an unreliable electrical grid. While Disney's Animal Kingdom does their best to replicate the feeling of being in Africa on the Kilimanjaro Safari and in the main guest areas, I don't think the ride experience would ever be able to replicate the feeling I had with the realization of what I was doing at that moment.
Certainly, had it not been for adding the day to visit Botswana in seeking out their Schwarzkopf looping coaster, I would never have had that interaction and experience, nor would I have been able to enjoy some wonderful conversations with the family visiting from just across the boarder, or the park manager who I spoke with while I awaited the arrival of the cab to head back to the airport where we exchanged coins from our home countries.
It's totally understandable if you may not have the time or the resources at the moment to travel abroad (I've been there before, as it was only after I got into my mid/late 20's that I could really get into international travel because of finances and time availability), but if you find yourself with an opportunity to go to a different country, I highly encourage you to do so, and let your interests and hobbies help guide where you go. You may be surprised to find what you'll learn about a place if you go for something that you enjoy back at home.