I’ve just spent the last two weeks on the beaches of Thailand in Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. If my posts about these places have been thin on the ground, it’s because I really don’t have all that much to say about them. The beaches were nice, the food was nice, the people were nice, and I got some work done – riveting stuff, eh? If there is something that I have learned from travel already (and I’ve only been away from home for three weeks) it’s that I am way more of a city rat than I am a beach bum. I even opted to leave Koh Phangan early, missing the full moon party, because I was having pangs to be back in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok. The moment the overnight bus pulled into the bus station, waves of relief washed over me, relief from escaping a beautiful beach and reaching a crazy city. Yup, that’s me.
Most people I’ve met on my travels in Thailand feel just the opposite – they escape the city to get to the beach. So what is it about city life that I love so much? It is actually pretty hard to pin this down, but I have a feeling my love for the city is related to a forward thinking attitude and a sense of multiplicity that is more apparent in urban centres. The forwardness of cities and the multiplicity within a city are also related to each other. More so than any other place, the city is a site where many different groups of people converge, living and working together. In my hometown of London, I have friends from other parts of the UK, friends from across Europe, and friends from farther reaches of the world as well. Similarly, I have worked with people from all over the world. Invariably, these separate groups, with all of their differences, have a great deal to learn from each other. And learn from each other is exactly what they do. For me, being part of a city culture isn’t about being swept away in the crazy pace of city life, it’s about having an openness that comes from forming a community of people that come from all walks of life.
This openness to people and sense of community learning, I think leads to cities being more forward-thinking than other places. It’s not universally the case, for example there are people in the city who get trapped within a strange ideal of working extensive hours and doing everything they can to move up the career ladder while ignoring the other factors that make life worth living. Sometimes the disparity of people living in a city is just too great and it doesn’t result in learning but in chaos. In my London neighbourhood, there were some very extreme riots that led to buildings and cars going up in flames and many businesses being damaged. This was a result of the increasing gap between rich and poor in the city, and although I don’t condone the actions of the rioters, I can’t imagine how frustrated with your life you would have to be to take such extreme action.
These instances aside, if a city can exist with some sense of equality between the different groups of people that inhabit it, I believe that there is nowhere that is more exciting to be than slap bang in the middle of a city. It is also worth noting that one of the main attractions of city life, namely forming an openness through exposure to many kinds of people, is also one of the main attractions of travelling. And thus, I wonder why so many people that travel frequently have such keenness to get away from the big cities and ‘off the beaten track’.
What do you think? Are you a city rat, a beach bum, or a country bumpkin?