Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Traveler vs Tourist

In preparation for NYU, I am reading The New New Journalism by Rob Boynton, my dean in NYU's magazine journalim program. He's a big part of the reason I chose NYU over Columbia and Northwestern. I received a personal e-mail from him back in February about my admission. We talked on the telephone in March and he answered all my questions about j school and whether it was a good move for me at this point in my career.

In contrast, Columbia and Northwestern were much colder, sending the standard "you've been admitted" letters in March/April and encouraging me to learn more through attending their open houses. Don't they realize that I'm Gen Y and expect to be loved and coddled? Columbia's initial admission e-mail was actually addressed to "firstname lastname" due to an administrator's misadventure with Microsoft mail merge. NYU's personal touch in the admissions process meant a lot to me, as an indicator of how I will be treated as a student there.

Anyway, so I am reading this book, which is a series of Boynton's interviews with "America's best nonfiction writers on their craft." The first conversation is with Ted Conover, a specialist in undercover journalism. For various books, he has ridden the rails with hoboes (Coyotes), worked as a Sing Sing prison guard for 10 months (Newjack), traveled around with Mexican illegal immigrants (Coyotes), and studied Aspen celebrities as a local cab driver (Whiteout). Boynton has since recruited Conover as a part-time professor; I met him when I visited NYU and found him inspiring and soft-spoken.

Boynton asked Conover about his need to live among and as the subjects of his stories, rather than gathering information solely from interviews. Given my current adventure in Hong Kong, I found this passage from his response particularly resonant:

I suppose what I am getting at is like the distinction between tourist and a traveler. The tourist experience is superficial and glancing. The traveler develops a deeper connection with her surroundings. She is more interested in them-- the traveler stays longer, makes her own plans, chooses her own destination, and usually travels alone: solo travel and solo participation, although the most difficult emotionally, seems the most likely to produce a good story.
I visited Hong Kong last summer for a few days, as a tourist. Settling into the city this time around feels very different, satisfying in that I expect it will become a comfortable place by the end of my two months here, but also intimidating as I don't have the luxury of breezing through without really getting to know it.

Being separated, emotionally and geographically, from friends and family is difficult, but I am appreciating the opportunity to leave my comfort zone. At least for a short period. I feel a sharpened awareness and increased sense of observation, as so many things are new and different, or, alternately, striking in their familiarity.

Speaking of my surrounding's familiarity, I met a friend this evening in Lan Kwai Fong, one of Hong Kong's nightspot districts. With people spilling out of its many bars and wandering the streets under the influence of alcohol, it bore a distinct resemblance to 18th Street in D.C.'s Adams Morgan. I've been known to compare 18th Street to one of Dante's circles; Lan Kwai Fong is not that bad-- it's just a little too heavily populated by expats for my taste.

Food victory of the day: Dim sum for lunch at Maxim in City Hall. My taste buds were in heaven. Fried taro, steamed pork buns, dumplings galore, some crazy ginger tofu soup... a dim sum dream come true.


Dustin said...


David B. said...


That dim sum sounds amazing. I had dim sum over the weekend in Chinatown, but it was less than stellar.