Being broad-minded is of the utmost importance when exploring places and cultures different than our own. It goes hand in hand with respect, and allows us to delve, unbiased, into something new, and gain an unaffected appreciation for life. It’s what gives us the ability to know what someone is saying even though we don’t speak their language. Ask any traveler the one thing that makes for a successful journey, and he [or she] is likely to say: “Going into the experience with an open mind.”
Having an open mind points to an array of things. It speaks to being nonjudgemental, receptive of new ideals, sensitive to cultural idiosyncrasies and open to suggestion. At the end of the day, it is about embracing the setting in which we find ourselves.
I recall living abroad in Tokyo. It was typhoon season, so the rain was pouring down. I’d gone into the local konbini (convenience store) to buy my usual bento box lunch, peach water and can of Sapporo [beer]. I was in my own world, iPod in ear, as I left the store in a hurry, eager to get out of the elements. To my surprise, as I neared my place of residence, I noticed a little old lady running behind me, in the rain, yelling “Sumimasen, sumimasen!!” (Excuse me, excuse me!!). I stopped as she approached, and recognized her— she was the cashier from the konbini. As rain trickled off her hair and down her face, she continued, breathing heavily, “Anata no mizu!” Apparently, I’d left my water at the cashier’s counter. I took the water, thanked her and bowed. She returned the gesture with a smile, and walked away. I stood there for a moment, in shock; I’d never witnessed such courtesy in all my life, let alone my travels. This was my ah-ha moment! Everything changed for me in that instant: I began to truly pay attention to and wholeheartedly engage in experiencing everything Japan had to offer.
When we enter a new environment with the intent of just being… and seeing things for what they are, that is when the magic happens… it’s the point when we realize that though we’re all different (in terms of beliefs, appearances, actions, etc.), we’re all essentially the same. We’re all motivated by one thing: the desire to effectively navigate through life.
And so [with this realization] comes the unfiltered interaction with our surroundings: conversing with the little old lady who runs the fruit stand on the corner, or walking aimlessly through the town for the sheer enjoyment of walking through the town— without pretense. Going into a restaurant and trusting the chef to recommend something region-specific. Looking at a particular place or structure, and seeing it not as another tourist attraction, but understanding and appreciating its significance in the society to which it belongs. These things happen, but only when we slow down, pay attention, and actively begin to experience culture, bona fide. -VJ