I am used to city living. I grew up in Chicago and currently reside in New York—both large metropolises that consist of similar elements, yet are undeniably different. Search online and you’ll find endless lists proclaiming why one is better than the other, ranging from the quality of museums, access to public beaches and the age-old question of preferred pizza type (thin crust vs. deep-dish). Rather than adding to that debate, I’ll say that spending time in each city has made me appreciate the other.
Some people consider it silly to visit other cities if you live in one—seen one, seen them all. I suppose there is some truth to that idea, but for a moment, put aside the far reaching effects of globalization and consider the unique sights and traditions to be observed; urban life around the world isn’t the same everywhere.
Wander the streets of Rome and you’ll stumble across the Coliseum; stand on a Barcelona rooftop and you’ll discover Antoni Gaudí chimneys. Behold the site of Mumbai’s dabbawalas delivering home-cooked meals to office workers since it’s expensive and considered unhealthy to eat out. These are just a few of the noticeable differences that cities show you. Of course, there are less appealing aspects like you find in any urban environment, but it’s all part of life.
In Tokyo, my husband and I stayed in the Shibuya District at a hotel near the famous Shibuya Crossing. We parked ourselves on a corner to observe the nightly ritual where hundreds of people surge into five crosswalks on a green light. The people move en mass, but at a seemingly similar pace, in concert, so there is no pushing or shoving to be witnessed. No one scurries past with a harsh word or eye roll, as I have grown accustomed to when making my way through Times Square or Rockefeller Center.
Once the procession of people subsided, we were left to focus on the crossing itself lit up with a variety of billboards and television screens advertising the latest pop music, fashion and electronics. The bright lights, flashing screens and flood of people reminded us of being in Times Square or Piccadilly Circus, but there was something different—there was a sound ringing from an unidentifiable source. It took a few minutes for us to realize that sound was coming from the screens. Rather than a silent advertisement, a pop song was actually playing for all to hear. It was an incredibly stark contrast to the subdued nature of the crossing!
Shortly after returning to New York, I wound up walking through Times Square and noticed the silence. It may sound ridiculous, but I appreciated that the bright billboards weren’t speaking to me. Most people think I am slightly crazy when I tell them my newfound appreciation for Times Square, but it just goes to show you never know what might make you #changedbytravel. - Katie Jehenson