Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reliving the field trip through tourism

In some places I have lived, some points of the city were only viewed when visitors came from out of town:

Twin Cities, MN: Mall of America
Copenhagen, Denmark: The Little Mermaid

The Milwaukee, Wisconsin, metro had good things to do, but not in the classical tourist sight-seeing fashion. In Wisconsin, cultural tourism is the way to go. Some of the best times my dear wife and I enjoyed during our 2.5 years there involved basic activities that locals enjoy as well: eating brats/sausage, cheese and the abundance of beer; fish fries (amazing cultural activity--I once read Wisconsin is the highest fish consumption state in the country), enjoying the beautiful autumns, walking near the lake shore, attending sporting events in Madison, Milwaukee Brewers baseball, and Lambeau field. All of these places involve good interaction with locals, something that cannot be promised at a particular tourist destination. I'm not anti-tourist (though I can only handle being a tourist in small doses), I like to find places to visit where I can talk to locals about life in that place.

Seattle has more sights similar to Copenhagen and the Twin Cities. With some visitors coming to town recently, we were off to the kid-friendly stops, the Seattle Aquarium, Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. The Seattle Aquarium is an interesting conglomeration of school/summer camp field trippers, tourists, and local families. I attended at least 2 field trips to the Seattle Aquarium as a child, and visited there on other occasions. I know field trips still occur in these days of slashed education budgets and increased standardized testing, but my anecdotal observation says field trips are dying as an educational experience. That makes me feel melancholy about education. Ultimately, my children will know much more than me in their lifetimes, but I believe in the field trip education experiences I had as a child. The girls and I thoroughly enjoyed the aquarium that day--the best part being that they could touch sea cucumbers, sea anemones, sea urchins and starfish. If the place wasn't crawling with street urchins, I could have hung out there poking and gazing at the sea life for hours--ah, to explore without a schedule--but we let the girls spend the most time there. If I could have been any kind of scientist, it would have involved oceanography.

Of the non-touching exhibits, we liked the jellyfish and the seals the most. We see a lot of jellies on the Puget Sound, but at the aquarium, we were able to examine their intricacies in clearer water behind Plexiglas. Watching seals in captivity is a love-hate experience. They interact with the humans like no other sea life I have seen; they were hamming it up and made us all laugh several times. I wonder about mammals in captivity. I'm sure plenty of people are appalled by the whole enterprise, but I also value the appreciation and awareness about God's creatures that comes from a visit that my girls take to the Seattle Aquarium.

The Space Needle is a place for great views of Seattle and the Puget Sound, but it's not the only viewpoint available in the region. If you want to dodge people taking pictures of one another, purchase expensive provisions and kitsch, the Space Needle is for you. It deserves one or maybe two visits in a lifetime--it might have been enjoyable if the girls weren't so hungry and cranky. I think I got whiplash from keeping my head on a swivel all day--keeping track of two busy girls in a big city takes significant effort, which is probably why my parents didn't take my brothers and I to downtown Seattle on a regular basis.

Now that I have just about squarely hit midlife, I'm the one providing direction and guidance more often in more settings--this little tourist trip represented a shift of roles for me as a Pacific Northwesterner. Our visitors provided me with an opportunity to refine my cultural attache routine for whomever makes the trek to the Seattle metro. Come on over!

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