From the seriousness of Capital Hill to the silliness of Inner Harbour, Washington and Baltimore are only separated by a 40 minutes train ride, and even faster if you see yourself as Tom Cruise going Top Gun by a family size rental car. Both are iconic East Coast cities of the United States, one being the playground of American Super Powers, the other being the battleground of the American Civil War.
Yet, despite the rich histories and plush landscapes, everywhere I went people were transfixed by their handheld devices, engrossed by the monster displays of their smartphones, and plugged in to their trillion megabits of music screaming from the overpowering bass of their shinny headphones, seemingly oblivious to the world and beauty that surrounds them.
Only when I met the smiling eyes of children, the gentle gazes of parents, and the passionate stares between lovers did I begin to see people genuinely connected, to themselves and to one and other. In the era of information technology and social media amped up by LTE and Instant Cloud Sharing, we too often neglect the simplest things that Street Life have to offer in making us happy.
The luscious tree lines, the welcoming coast front, the bubbly water fountain, the red cart with fresh popping corns, and even the makeshift drum set stacked with grimy rubbish bins, are all yearning to be seen, heard, touched and rediscovered, for they are the perfect backdrop to ignite curiosity, conversations, and mostly importantly, human connections.
Being a visitor and an outsider often allow us to see things with fresh visions and tranquil focus. But when was the last time we saw and experienced our cities with our eyes and not simply walking through them with autopilot. When was the last time we saw a concert with my own eyes and not through the screen of our cameras to take pixelized videos that won’t reap any likes on the Facebook. And when was the last time we truly enjoyed a meal with the company of our families and friends without once picking up our phone to check for updates and tweets from people that we don’t even like that much.
So put down your electronic devices for a moment, be mindful of your breathing, and remove yourself from the passenger seat to take charge of the present moment.
Andy H.Y. HO is a writer, photographer and assistant professor at the University of HK, based in Hong Kong.