Wednesday, May 21, 2014

First Un-Impressions

So much pressure is put on first impressions, but as I mentioned last week, I don't think a short exposure to a big entity like a country or a human being, is really enough to truly make a decision. As a former manager who conducted interviews, I realize that sometimes there is no choice: a first impression will have to do. However, as a traveler, a little of my knee-jerk reaction to things was trained out of me.

For example, I visited the campus where my sister works and lives. She has told me she lives on a beautiful campus. The day we arrived, I had just been traveling for something like 20 hours. It was getting dark, and it was drizzling. Here are some of the things I noticed:

- A security guard had to open the gate to let us on campus. I felt a little like we were being let into a jail yard.
- The road was okay, but we turned onto what looked like a sidewalk and then onto what looked like a gravel path.
- The door to the apartment looked run down, as did the entry hall. There were three wooden stairs leading to a landing with her door. I couldn't believe my sister had been living here - and liking it! - for four years.

A few days later, on a sunny afternoon, I walked basically the reverse of the path the taxi took, carrying my camera, and everything looked so different to me.

- The campus is gated, but the gates are beautiful, scrolling iron. Having secured gates like this is common in China.
- The "gravel path" in front of her apartment wasn't gravel at all! It was cement. Where did I get gravel from?
- The door does have some rust on it, and the entry way is worn, but as I type this, it reminds me of how the basement of the house I grew up in looked. In fact, I think the entry way was much nicer. (For the record, that house of my childhood had wood stairs leading to the first floor; her apartment actually doesn't have wood stairs. They were just simple concrete steps.)

I'm glad I didn't express my first impressions then and there. I'm only sharing them now to show some of the contrast. Reserving judgement, assuming the best, and seeking the story behind the way things are - these are all lessons I hope to carry with me into my future.

What have you learned while traveling?

Your Sister

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