Back in 2012 I was lucky enough to go to China with one of my good friends. We set off on our adventure excited to uncover the nuances of Chinese culture the best we could. We saw many impressive sights, from landscaped gardens to decorated palaces to the vast, Great Wall. Still, some of the most salient, thought-provoking moments on our trip came from our experiences navigating China’s everyday world – not the tourist attractions.
One particular experience stands out to me. I had bought my brother a souvenir stamp in the markets of Zhujiajiao, a beautiful water town close to Shanghai. But what is a stamp without ink? So when we were in Beijing later that week, my friend and I set off for a stationary store I’d noticed near our hostel. Our hostel was located in a very residential neighborhood, removed from the “tourist core” of Beijing. It was a great choice: accessible enough by public transit that we could get to tourist sites without a hassle, but also nestled in among everyday people, places and sights. I’d noticed the stationary store as we strolled one day, and we decided to make an errand of it to find some ink one afternoon. The minute we entered, we got puzzled looks from the shopkeeper. It’s likely they don’t see many tourists – and frankly, probably not much diversity either. Our “conversation” was pretty comedic, a mix of gestures and pointing as the language barrier kept us from truly conversing. Eventually I walked out, victorious, ink pad in hand. It was just a normal ink pad- I most certainly could have bought a nearly identical product once I got home to California. Still, that experience of buying an ink pad in a neighborhood shop in Beijing is something that I treasure. Sometimes it’s not about efficiency or doing things the most logical way, and shopping at that stationary store in Beijing meant more than the $1.50 I spent on ink.
There’s so much chatter these days about spending money on experiences and favoring moments over “stuff.” But when you’re looking for”experiences,” don’t forget about the everyday. Don’t just look for bucket list destinations and cross off the “most important sites.” Don’t think that every dollar you spend on “memories” needs to be spent on grand festivals or fancy wine-tasting extravaganzas. Don’t depend on the extraordinary to fuel your memories – sometimes the ordinary is even more meaningful.