Ah, summer! Birds are chirping, the sun is blazing and the warm wind blows dust in your eyes. This is a time to relax with no worries of deadlines or homework. For me, it was also a time to travel — twice — to find out what’s happening at the other ends of the continent.
I should probably explain my motivation for traveling. As an international student, I’m already experiencing life as a foreigner in the U.S.. But with a student visa that lets me stay in this country until I graduate, I try to make full use of my time to explore with the same spirit and energy as the American forefathers in the frontier.
Last December, I journeyed to the southwestern corner of the U.S. and experienced a Californian winter. This means cold winds and heavy rains, but no snow, no slipping and falling, and no thick jackets (except for those worn by the locals, who obviously have never experienced a Wisconsin winter).
This summer, I went to the opposite end of the country and visited Florida. I had read and heard about what it’s like there — half-naked bodies tanning on white beaches, shops and restaurants at every turn of the eye and palm trees lining heavily-used roads — and wanted to experience it personally.
I found that those descriptions were mostly true. Key West is a rustic island with campsites, small shops and, at nights, pubs overflowing with people in search of more beer. Its beauty extends to the ocean floor, where one can scuba-dive to see a myriad collection of corals and fishes. Up north, Miami’s beaches are truly a sight for sore male eyes. People really know how to live it up down there. Too bad I arrived on a weekend or I could have seen more skin!
What I didn’t expect — or neglected to research — was the weather. I arrived in Key West right in the middle of hurricane season. For one whole day, it rained and drizzled, putting a damper on spirits. You could distinguish between tourists and locals immediately- the tourists were the ones looking for shelter everywhere. Meanwhile, Miami was hot! The humidity and overcrowdedness added to the stifling and suffocating heat. Again, you could identify the tourists by their constant search for air-conditioned shelters and ice-cold water (or alcoholic drinks).
Fortunately, the weather was slightly better on my trip to northwestern America. In Vancouver, I was greeted with a cool, comforting breeze. The weather was pretty much the same in Seattle, except that it drizzled a lot too.
Besides being well known for its dreary weather, Seattle is also famous for its mountains and bay. What I didn’t know was how the city rebuilt itself after a fire. I didn’t even know it had been burnt to the ground before! After rebuilding, the city government raised the street level, thus the first floors of many buildings became the basements, producing the Underground. Today, this is open only to walking tours, although some shops still operate below. This was really a lesson in how conflicts between government interest — the need to raise the water pressure — and business interest — the need to recover quickly after the fire — severely altered a city’s development.
Back in Vancouver, I found myself somewhere between Chicago’s brisk pace of life and Madison’s slower, more casual atmosphere. Vancouver is a big city with lots of buildings and heavy traffic. But there are sections that seem to be a world unto their own. There are small streets with low-rise buildings and small neighborhoods tucked away from the hustle and bustle. The University of British Columbia is also a beautiful place with its tree-lined roads bringing you to its many new buildings, something you don’t really have at UW.
The prime tourist spot is probably Granville Island. This place was developed into an arts district, although there is still a cement factory, a legacy from former days. Both tourists and locals flock to this place because it offers so much diversity and richness in such a small place. You can spend the day shopping at the many small shops before taking a break at one of the coffee shops or pubs, then end your day at the comedy club. If the Overture Project becomes anything like Granville Island, then I think Madison would have succeeded in enriching the community many times over.
But the Overture Project is still under construction and Madisonians continue being content in their safe little places called homes. Which brings me to my motivation for writing this article: To inform you there is a world of wonder and enjoyment just waiting to be discovered. It’s wrong to think that we only need to care about Madison and improve our lives by concentrating our efforts here. It’s also not enough to read or hear about others’ experiences and pretend that we know all that we need to know about those places. We shouldn’t be so narrow-minded and short-sighted. Take advantage of your free time this summer and go beyond Wisconsin’s borders, even beyond Chicago and Green Bay and Minneapolis. The frontier beckons you to rediscover its lost glory.