A colorful storefront
I have never traveled anywhere more confusing or surprising than the city of San Jose. The streets in the city are numbered, starting at zero with even numbers branching off to the right and odd numbers branching off to the left. The stores all sell the same unrelated items (eg. tires and electronics or clothing and washing machines). The pedestrian walkways are harder to walk on than the roads because of the surplus of people walking, window-shopping, and selling items. You cannot walk an entire block without being approached by five people handing out fliers, three people selling socks, and two people selling bra straps (is it just me or is this very strange?). Aside from the fact that the vendors speak Spanish, the shopping part of the city does not have a distinct, cultural flavor that gives any indicator you are in a foreign country.
The storefronts are all Americanized, the items boast familiar brand names such as Hollister, Billabong, and Nike, and the Beatles’ familiar lyrics blare from each and every speaker. Where is all the Latin-American flavor?
After walking several more blocks, I found it: the breathtaking architecture, the never-ending stone church steeples, the vibrant stained glass windows, the flowing fountains, the rotundas with columns swathed in flora. These views were accompanied by a variety of cultural stimulants such as the alluring smell of Latin-American cooking, the street performers dancing salsa and meringue, and the handmade artifacts decorating the wooden carts along the curb.
Sometimes I think I need to be a little more uninhibited, but in this environment, I was utterly and completely in my element.
I danced with the street performers, admired the natural markings on every hand-carved box, took pictures with the local police officers, hugged the clowns, and donated some colones to the buckets for the local charities. The two Americans who I was traveling with were appalled and most likely embarrassed to be seen with me. They both often tell me how out of place they feel and how obvious it is that they are being noticed and watched by everyone. For me, this is just a fact of life for a traveler.
The beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral
No matter where I travel, I am going to be different. What people need to recognize is that different is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, most people are intrigued by tourists and by different cultures in general. The opportunity that we see in their country and their culture is a sentiment that these people are able to return through their curiosity about our visit, our home, etc.
I do agree that I stand out here with my white skin, my blue eyes, and my strange sense of style, but I will admit that I like it. I think that each and every tourist needs to focus less on the glaring differences and more on the subtle similarities. For example, I love to let loose and dance around with street performers in the public square. From what I have seen at various clubs and bars here at night, the locals also love to let loose and dance around. I love to cook without using measuring cups and a specific recipe. From what I have seen at various restaurants and road-stands here, the locals also love to freelance with their cooking by tossing in any and every spice and vegetable they can get their hands on. I love to run until my lungs burn and my mind races so fast that I no longer notice my surroundings. From what I have seen at various gyms, parks, and tracks in the area, the locals also love to lose themselves in athletic endeavors regardless of the humid 90-degree weather and the impending guarantee of unpredictable downpours. Overall, I think that we all have something to learn from each other. Being a tourist is not an impediment, but rather an opportunity. It provides you with the chance to learn about another culture while also sharing your own.
A fountain in the International Peace Garden at the Graduate School