Campus tourists: A welcome sight

Opinion by Tiger Sun
Nov. 22, 2017, 3:00 a.m.

“Wilbur Hall dining? Where is it?”

A confused-looking, kindly old Chinese man stopped me as I was preparing to bike to class. After I pointed him in the general direction, it really got me thinking: “Man, there are a lot of Chinese tourists here.” Many of my friends here at Stanford have also noticed the large amount of visitors from abroad asking for photos and directions, sometimes going the wrong way in the circle of death. Some might find them a little annoying — one of my friends said, “They always block the sidewalk, and I almost crash” — but I find them a welcome sight, reminiscent of home in China.

Just last year, I was probably one of those flummoxed tourists with my extended family, who were visiting the States. Walking in the middle of the street, asking harried students for directions to MemChu and Treehouse, taking pictures in front of Hoover Tower, I now realize that I was probably an inconvenience to dozens of students just trying to make it to class. Looking back though, that trip to California was such a meaningful experience in that it was one of the only large family trips that we’ve taken in the U.S. For many of these Chinese tourists, this trip to the U.S. is such a big moment.

And yes, Chinese tourists can be annoying — sometimes, they make the lines at the dining halls really long and they can be a little rowdy. But I’d much rather have them than not.

They represent the true globalization of the world as we move forward in technology. It’s a true reminder of how far we’ve advanced as a species when it’s possible for someone on the other side of the planet to fly across an ocean for something as small as simply visiting a college campus. Whenever, I see a large 旅游团, or tour group, often headed by a tour leader holding a bright red flag, I always get a sense of wonder: Why did they choose to fly halfway around the world to visit us at Stanford?

Equally as wondrous to me is how far China has come. I won’t claim to be extremely involved with my Chinese heritage, but I’ve definitely asked my parents about their lives in China growing up. It didn’t sound easy growing up under Mao’s Communist regime, rationing food, living in relative poverty. Now, especially when visiting China and experiencing its growth in the last 10 years, I’ve seen its insane development into a technology giant. The fact that many Chinese people have gone from having to worry about putting food on the table come dinnertime to being able to take leisurely trips to Stanford, California is a big deal for me, and for them and their families as well.

And as a Stanford student, I really appreciate the clout of my school on the international level. As one of my close friends told me: “The tourists not only increase the reputation of the school but also make the school feel alive.” In a less nuanced sort of way, it feels good to go to such a renowned school. I know I’m not supposed to derive too much pleasure from or put too much thought into what others think, but every time I see tourists, it feels personally validating that I’m here. My friend is also right in that it makes the school feel alive. Observing these tourists, so full of happiness and fresh energy, it can be uplifting from the sometimes monotonous everyday schedule we go through.

The tourism scene at Stanford can definitely get kind of irritating, especially when swerving to avoid the oblivious couple taking pictures in front of the Oval or getting stuck behind a long line of tourists at Wilbur’s ramen bar. But thinking back to the good family memories I’ve had as a tourist and the fact that these people have flown so far just to see my home, it gives me a warm, feel-good feeling of gratitude to be here at Stanford, even through the ups and downs.


Contact Tiger Sun at tgsun ‘at’

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