I still remember the last time back in 6th grade when I was holding onto a banana that two French tourists handed to me as I stood outside of Nguyen Tri Phuong middle school waiting for my parents to pick me up…I could still remember that sense of mesmerizing curiosity upon seeing people who were different from me…Having grown up in Hue, a small town in Vietnam, a very homogenous place where tourists scarcely come and where everyone I saw has black eyes, black hair, and similar skin complexion, I was always intrigued to see tourists walking by outside of my middle school, which was located on one of the streets in the center area of the city. I found pleasure in watching the tourists bring cameras all over the places, maneuver around places with very confused faces and intrigued curiosity, and excitedly attempt to say “Xin Chao” (hi) to local Vietnamese residents. I once thought to myself, “Why are these tourists so interested in seeing these seemingly ordinary buildings, trees, and places and found so much joy in walking long distance around the city? Don’t they get bored and tired?”
I didn’t know what it meant to be tourist until I left Vietnam to study in the US and 2 years later came back to Vietnam with a “tourist” mindset. Having left one place, especially a place where I grew up and spent 12 years of my early childhood, allowed me to embrace the things that my previous self would consider as “ordinary.” I was beyond ecstatic to once again get to sit on a stool on the street at 7 am in the morning to taste a 20-cents-bowl of “Com Hen.” The sight of hectic crowd of people moving around and squeezing past each in other in “Dong Ba” market became so foreign to me as I excitedly accompanied my mom on her daily trip to the market to buy fresh fish and vegetables to prepare for our delicious homely cooked meals together. The usual coffee shops in Vietnam became my favorite spots as I was always curious to see the ever changing creative designs within each local coffee shop each time my friends and I hung out to play cards and mindlessly chat without realizing hours have passed by. I came to appreciate the ordinary things, as a “tourist” mindset enabled me to see things with a different light.
My love for travelling was not naturally born out of curiosity of new places and exotic cultures, or acquired through reading travelling books or seeing things on social media. In fact, I grew up in a very contained world, with a very contained mindset, and very contained knowledge of the real world outside of school and home. However the experience of leaving a place where I was born allowed me to develop a new perspective and a fresh sense of appreciation for simple things and experiences that I get to encounter in life. I became conscious of my “tourist” mindset when I found myself snapping photos continuously, staring up at buildings and historical sites on the streets, reading all the signs that I never knew existed even though I had crossed them countless times, ceaselessly held an awestruck facial expression upon seeing anything I crossed by. I simply started to pay attention to everything. I brought with me this tourist mindset wherever I go, even in the places where I live in the US. This mindset has enabled me to capture the sounds, the sights, the sceneries of places that I encounter, spot the minute details of things, and identify the subtle changes in buildings, trees, stores, street signs, and other things around me.
This experience has enabled me to redefine the concept of “tourism.” I truly believe that tourism doesn’t necessitate distance or extravagant expenses. Tourism, at its core, lies in the attitude – a sense of curiosity and a hunger to learn and explore the places and people in the surroundings. It’s a fresh sense of appreciation for the things that you encounter every day, right where you live. But of course, physically going to distant places would also be an important first step to acquire a tourist mindset, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. If you want to make it happen and want to travel somewhere new, you can make it happen at a low cost to gain first-time experience being a “tourist.” I always thought it is funny how my parents work in the tourism industry and yet I was never interested in travelling while living in Vietnam. I just went wherever they took me. I only knew about the concept of “travelling” as a hobby or interest only when I had left Vietnam and came back as a tourist and discovered the joy of having a fresh perspective of appreciation for everything I encounter.
…If there’s one thing that I wish I can do more at this age, I would travel more. Because the more I travel, the more I grow, the more new perspectives I become exposed to, the more I come to appreciate the opportunities that life has given me, the more people I meet, the more friends I make, the more photos I have in my albums (haha), and the more memories I have to cherish…