Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What gives flavor to a city?

As a part of my job I have the pain and privilege of traveling to different cities. I have noticed that each city has its own character. When you visit the city repeatedly you start noticing it even if you don't understand the language, directions or the signboards. I used to live in Bangalore, this city needed a lot of cranking up to get started and moving by about 8:30 or 9 AM and evenings came early as the doors shut and lights went off at about 10. When we were living there we also started feeling 11 in the night is too late and 7 in the morning is too early to go to office. Singapore on the other hand wakes up early. There traffic jams at 630 am on roads and trains are fully packed at 730 am in the office. City never seems sleep as you notice car zipping by all the time, several 24 hour food joints around and people jogging at midnight.

Tokyo seems eager to get to work and reluctant to go back home whereas Kuala Lumpur seems opposite, dragging themselves to office and getting back home with the spring in their strides. In numerous traffic jams, I have observed women putting on their make up in their cars at signals or traffic jams while going to office but the same women are well manicured and perfumed when they leave office in the evenings in Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore shops as if they have a target to achieve or deadline to meet. She picks the top put it on take a quick glance in the mirror, looks at the partner, the partner stops looking at his handheld, takes a quick look and nods in agreement. They pick up all available colors and they rush off. Where as even client meetings in Jakarta start with exchanging pleasantries, checking on how the last evening was, where the next vacation is likely to be before starting to discuss about business. There is an idyllic, relaxed yet comforting feel to the city.

Buildings in London probably radiate the heritage. Every other building appears to be of historic importance. It fills the hearts of local people with pride and immigrants with desire and ambition to be a part of that heritage. Paris seems to have an eye for beauty in whatever they see. All seats on sidewalk cafes face the streets to absorb as much beauty as you can from the sky, the trees, the nature and passerby. Every other building seems like an art gallery and you expect to hear street music on every corner. Seoul's two divergent personalities are visible from very serious and grim ambience in offices and trains and hearty laughter and loud discussions at cafes and smoking dens. People in Nagoya seem happier than in Tokyo. Why do I feel air around me is filled with suspicion in Moscow or Jeddah and with awe in Yangoon or Siam Reap?

All of this got triggered when I, clad in my business suit in blazing hot sun in Bangkok, was rushing to a client appointment, dodging the oncoming pedestrians, saving myself from street barbecue food vendors, minding the potholes and secretly feeling happy that I was moving faster the slow moving traffic. That's when I saw a white man all by himself carrying a swanky camera standing at the edge of footpath, without worrying about street-side barbecue or oncoming pedestrians or the traffic, wearing a cargo short and a full sleeves shirt rolled up half way pointing his camera to a nearby building. When too a glance I noticed a full glass facade which was reflecting nearby buildings and the sky. This man was trying to capture some image either the building or perhaps a reflection of plane flying by or something else which he had in his mind. He looked like an ordinary photographer without any equipments or light-meters. To me this man was following his passion. Doing something that he wanted to without worrying about results or outcome. Every time I come to Bangkok I find such people which can only be termed as chasing your passion.

Why do I find such people only in cities like Bangkok or Paris and almost never in cities like Singapore or Tokyo? What makes people from different part of the world visit some city to discover their passion? Why do we feel comfortable in some cities in our first visit and just don't fit into others? Why do we feel like relaxing in some city and feel rushed in another? Why inconveniences in one city seem more welcome than facilities in another? Why do some cities need to keep building new attractions to attract tourists whereas some other cities have to ensure they don't change a bit to keep the tourists interested? Why do we feel we are being stared at in one city and ignored in another? Why do we feel we are being tolerated in one city and accepted in another? Why in some cities we seem to understand people even if we don't understand their language whereas in other cities we don't understand the people even if we know their language?

What really gives city it's flavor!

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