“There’s no time like the first time.” This is a common phrase spoken or heard when you or someone you know is visiting a new place for the first time. Somewhere in this phrase is a sense of excitement and wonder at a new land as yet undiscovered. This week I am traveling to two places I have never been before and this led me to think about some first times.
The biggest of all for me was my move to Hong Kong in the winter of 1999. Having only briefly visited Hong Kong once before I had little idea of what awaited me on the other end of an 18-hour plane ride. Now, almost ten years later I have fond, albeit fading, memories of that first trip. Every time I return to the States, a trip that now seems shorter, I remember the look in my parents eyes as we hugged and said a tearful goodbye, I remember taking my seat about halfway back on the plane and fastening my seatbelt not knowing when I would next be in Boston, and yet I also remember my heart rushing and anticipation building as the 747 circled and prepared to land at Hong Kong’s new airport. What did my new life have in store for me? There is no time like the first time.
Then there is the first time I traveled into China, not very long after I arrived here. The first time I visited Rome and caught a glimpse of Pope Benedict. The first time I went to London and saw Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the London Eye. The first time I descended on Mongolia and witnessed the deplorable conditions of homeless children barely living there, which reminded me of the first time I visited rural places in the Philippines. Earlier this summer my wife and I saw Prague for the first time and we loved this "disneyland without the gates," as one friend called it. It took our breath away to see the historic palace watching over the vivid color of that Bohemian city. It didn't take my breath away as much as Lhasa, Tibet did when I first visited there, but then again Prague doesn't sit at 3,650 m (11,975 ft).
I decided today that I need more first times in my life, and I bet the same can be said of you. The older we get the fewer “first times” we seem to have. Life can actually become quite boring as we him-haw or way through our routines and fail to sense the wonder that is all around us. This is what makes travel so inspiring. Getting up close and personal with a civilization that has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years but one that you have never laid eyes on re-awakens the senses and perks up life.
New tastes, new smells, something new to touch. New people and with them new languages, new traditions, and new cultural faux pau’s. There are at least three experiences I hope to have in these next few days. First, I want to be surprised by something, like some fact, some piece of history, or a missed expectation. Second, I want to taste a food that I have never tasted before or never tasted “quite like this.” And third, I want to be able to get up close to look into the eyes of the people whose country I am visiting. What do their eyes look like? (I can always tell a lot by looking someone in the eyes.)
If I manage to keep awake as the plane descends on this new land I hope to feel the butterflies flapping their wings in my stomach. I hope to see out the window a fresh landscape and most of all I hope to see my hosts who will be an integral part of introducing me to two new cultures! This is a first time. They don’t come very often, so I better seize the day and the night and every moment in between.
After all, there is no time like the first time.