May 1 has been a while ago, but with an annual activity in a not-prominent but interesting place, I’m still thinking of the little at-home-making adventuring I did around that time.
Less stuff, more sensuality.
In that, you can show your concern for the world, as well as your elite status, by not just mindlessly shopping, unlike “the masses”, but carefully selecting your experiences and curating what you show of them.
You can follow the psychological insight that has been showing that experiences make happier than possessions, spend differently, have a memorable life sampling the best the world has to offer, and keep the economy humming along.
You can have your cake and eat it, too.
There are just two typical oversights, two problems that are often deliberately glossed over: the necessity of (some) things and the fault of the bought experience.
The Necessity of (Some) Things
It takes things to do things.
Sure, if the things you spend your money on merely clutter up your living space, yes, then they are the mere possessions that the psychologists in pieces on “why you should spend your money on experiences and not things” are talking about. Then, you might have felt excited to get those things, probably loved them for the first few days, and then got used to them being around.
Also, if you spent all your money on stuff so that you don’t have any money to spend on doing anything, having all the things in the world would not make you happy.
Still, even with running, and as fond as runners are of saying that you need no (special) equipment to go out and run, there is a great market for gear.
As with so many a kitchen appliance and gadget, there is probably a lot of aspirational sales, of people buying running shoes and equipment in the hope that having invested the money in those things will make them do what they want to do, and be better at it.
Some people probably overdo it with their equipment, on the search for the perfect shoe or the perfect training watch (or kitchen knife or pan), too.
Yes, it does not take much, and in all the marketing pushes all around us, we would do well to remember that – but running shoes that suit you properly and proper running clothes rather than jeans and a cotton T-shirt are probably not the worst idea, either.
To Have or To Use…
As usual, the proper balance needs to be considered:
Is the gear good in various ways (such as value for the money, quality, opportunities it gives) or is it just tempting because the marketing is good?
You have to strike a balance between the psychology that is at work when things are alluring and the actual value of these things later, when in use.
The latter is all the stronger an issue as the ultimate value of even the best of gear is only fulfilled if you actually have opportunities to use it, and if you make use of those opportunities.
Good gear that is constantly in use, even if it was expensive, costs little compared to cheap things (let alone expensive ones) that just use up space in a garage, if you consider the cost per (hour, mile, etc. of) use. And if you wouldn’t have the experiences that are memorable if you didn’t have those things, then you are right to spend money on these things.
The Fault of the Bought Experience
The second problem glossed over in the incessant call to spend your money on experiences, to buy experiences, is the consumerist frame to these suggestions.
Same as some gear is actually necessary for experiences; some money may be necessary to make more experiences possible, and some package trips may be good for learning new things or going to new places in safety – but there lies a point where we tend to go quite wrong in constantly thinking about the direct buying of those experiences.
It’s not about the spending of money.
Money Don’t Buy Memories
As you may, if you ever stop to think about it, regret ever having purchased things that just clutter up your life, you may regret ever having paid for experiences that were just superficial.
After all, the reason why you should “buy experiences, not things,” as that is always phrased, is that we have a longer and stronger memory of experiences. Also, we tend to remember good experiences as even better than they were, and we re-interpret not-so-good experiences as funny, or relevant, or at least great learning experiences that shaped us into who we are.
That is all true, but when money comes into play too much, it may color the memory.
The romantic dinner at the restaurant that is way above your pay grade may turn into a great memory if it was worth it or if something unexpected happened, but if it was just a meager disappointment with money badly spent, it might well be remembered most strongly in terms of the financial loss for nothing, if it is much of a memory at all.
The hole-in-the-wall street food place, in contrast, is memorable not just for not having cost much, but for having been found serendipitously.
For an odd, bad experience to be remembered in a positive light, it helps if it was something that you decided to risk, and that you mainly did of your own accord. (Not that a bungee or parachute jump wouldn’t cost you a bit of money, wouldn’t go down without some trepidation, but would then likely end up a positive memory…)
The same applies for experiences that turned out good, too: The important thing is that it was truly your experience, with as much input of you yourself as possible.
Put Yourself Into It
An experience is better when you actually experienced it in full, from the excitement of the initial idea through the anticipation in the nitty-gritty work of planning, to the excitement and anxiety of the first step into that adventure, all through it, and finally in the reporting (where social media can actually be good for you) and the memories afterwards.
A cruise may give you tons of innocuous (or not-so-innocuous) holiday snapshots and experiences, but like any packaged experience that is served up like a Disneyland ride, controlled and passively consumed, there is just too little input of you yourself to make it truly memorable and worthwhile.
On the other hand, if you create adventure, you can even stay “at home,” invest only very little to no money, require no (new) gear at all, but decide to do something exploratory and adventurous.
Approach it in that spirit, embark on that enterprise, and create a memorable experience – all from such simple “adventuring” as going out for a night run, a photo project, a little bit of foraging, an outdoors overnight stay, some lessons in the history or biology (or whatever strikes your fancy) of the place you are. Or from family time together. Or an entrepreneurial venture.
“The most powerful experiences come at no cost” (as Carl Maida of the UCLA‘s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability commented in this context).
So, don’t spend too much of your money on things, but don’t just buy experiences, either:
Do things, go out – or stay in, if you feel like that – get active, create experiences to remember.
It was one of those typical Beijing winter days when a harsh sun glowers onto a steely haze that makes the line of houses at some distance look like a paper cut’s monochromatic scene. Cold and wind chill to the bone, but at least it’s not one of those days when sun and skylines are completely hidden in a miasma that cannot but be bad for one’s health.
Being in the last weeks of my work-migratory sojourn alone in Beijing, neither bad air nor a bit of a cold could keep me from going out to explore more of Beijing’s (Buddhist) temples, as I had decided on doing a little writing project on those.
This day led me into the area around Houhai, one of the lakes north of the Forbidden City.
From another lunch at Zhang Mama (very good and very affordable Sichuan food)…
…past the just-then soft-opening Rager Pies store/café…
…west along the little hutong road towards the lake, past children just out of school for the day (or for lunch? an afternoon recess?)…
…my feet led me into the neighborhood around the Bell and Drum Towers.
I had been there before, hunting after the sites – and sights – where Western visitors had taken pictures in a Beijing that was only just emerging from the decline of the last Chinese empire. Only the rebuilding that was happening in a square just north of the Bell Tower and the plethora of shops (incongruously, including one with high-scale men’s wear most ‘Westerners’ wouldn’t even recognize) had caught my eye then.
This time around, it was the open gate to the tower that drew my attention.
Turns out one can actually visit them… but of course, in the Bell Tower, as you go in and wonder what sort of place this inside area is, you are shouted back out and around to the ticket check and stairs on the other side. In the tower is one of those tea house/clubs in historic buildings that have recently come under fire for the corruption and highballing lifestyle they may well be representing.
The view, unsurprisingly on a day like this, was not the best, but interesting enough in its monochrome and the village-like character of most of the area that could be seen.
The bell is big enough to be impressive, but what struck a nerve in me was the legend of the bell they were explaining on a poster in the (northern) area the furthest from where one comes up the steep stairs.
That legend tells of the maiden who sacrificed her life in order for the bell to be successfully cast – but the version described here pales in comparison to the one I had read a while ago, just as I was wooing my then-girlfriend and wondering how things would go, as she had only just broken the news of her relationship with a foreigner to her parents.
The legend’s full version has not only the girl’s father, but also her fiancée, trying to advance in the ranks of the imperial bureaucracy by promising the emperor the biggest bell ever, failing to the point where they are threatened with losing their heads (literally, of course), and being saved at the last minute by the virgin daughter who follows the dream in which she was told that it took a pure virgin’s blood to successfully bind the mixture of metals right into the melting pot.
Respect for your elders all well and good, but when it comes to rather Macchiavellian men having to be saved by a daughter and fiancée, I have to admit I’d rather go with a either feminist or Hollywood version…
The adjacent Drum Tower holds a few more of the, basically same, views, and explanations of the agricultural calendar and time-keeping methods of old. Before I ever managed to get up there, however, a group of young women apparently on a little (cosmetics) company trip accosted me with the wish to take photos with me.
It still happens in China, at times – and if you find my face somewhere, seemingly advertising some sort of facial cream or something like that, this is how it happened.
Of course, at least now that they’ve been re-made, the Drum Tower also holds the drums it’s named for. (There is but one original, and the explanation text that accompanies it does not fail to point out the holes in the leather which were made by bayonets wielded by the foreign Allied Forces…)
Why people would be sitting around in a place like the Drum Tower and sinking into their smartphone screens, I found myself wondering.
It was a good question, for “What are they waiting for? (Are they waiting for anything?)” led right to the sign which mentioned that the next drum performance would be taking place a few minutes later. Just the time it would have taken me to get back out and miss the whole thing, had I not wondered.
There it was:
The interesting encounters, just had by walking around and keeping eyes open to experiences, did not end there.
On the way on to the temple I wanted to get to, there was some movie filming going on.
At the temple, a monk at the left side entrance told me that visitors weren’t allowed in back… and when I looked in at the right side entrance, another monk invited me to come in and have a look around. With two Chinese who also just wanted to have a look around, it became a tad more touristy:
After the visit to the temple, as I came out to Houhai Lake, I broke out in laughter to the point where the security guards standing on the road there looked at me strangely – but, it broke the ice and got us to a short chat – and them to understand: The contrast was just too great. The lake where I had last seen people go for a swim was now an ice-skating rink…
… and, as it turned out, it was still a place where the Houhai swimmers went for a swim. Right next to the ice-skaters.
As things sometimes go, later on along the lake, I would also say “Hi” to another Westerner who turned out to be a flight attendant and would also be at the ISPO. Small world.
Whether you are in a new place or where you think you’ve been for only too long, there are new views awaiting you if only you go a bit farther.
Beyond the paths you – and everyone – takes, there is still more. And it is with these steps you will discover new things, and get more at home.