A jogger's guide to world travel
Northampton, Mass. — FOR me there is nothing better than getting up at the crack of dawn, slipping out of the hotel in the middle of a strange city, making a snap decision about whether to turn left or right, and then jogging off on a new adventure. I do it all the time, in the States and abroad. Over the past 10 years I have run around the Ringstrasse in Vienna, down dusty roads in suburban Nairobi, through back alleys in Hong Kong, in and out of little villages high above Bellagio, along bustling avenues in Peking, and along the banks of the Liffey, the Thames, the Seine, the Rhine, and many other rivers.
Such running around the world has a special quality to it. It is a kind of inversion of the oxymoron ``same difference,'' which we used to say as kids. The different sameness of what I do to keep in shape and to see new places before starting a day's work is a most satisfying fringe benefit of my itinerant life style. Research projects, meetings, and lectures keep me on the move.
While I have occasion to meet many people and to visit many interesting places on my trips, it is on early-morning jogs and off-hour weekend wanderings that I can especially feel the wondrous unity and amazing diversity of the family of man. Time and again I am struck by continuities and connections between me and those whose habitats provide me with ``field sites'' for comparative study.
It's when I am literally on the road that much of what I study and write about, namely, culture and character, becomes most personally meaningful.
Most of the people I've encountered in my off-the-tourist-route excursions are warm and friendly. In places unused to the likes of me, they are sometimes a bit confused by my half-dressed presence as I suddenly appear from around a cobblestoned corner or over the brow of a brick-laid hill. I have seen the proverbial double take as early risers look at me, stop, and look again, in cities such as Madrid; Mexico City; New Delhi; Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia; Suva, in the Fijis; and Sendai, Japan. Then, usually, they smile.
Sometimes they do more. I was once stopped by an elderly street cleaner on a corner in the center of Graz, Austria. Shaking her finger, she lectured me in German for at least 10 minutes, explaining that ``one must not cross the road against the light,'' even though it was 5:30 a.m. and there was no traffic in the area.
``Rules,'' she said, ``are rules. And here, in Austria, they are obeyed.''
Not, apparently, in Italy. There, by contrast, on numerous occasions I have been laughed at by passers-by as I waited for a light to change in the first rush of traffic of the day.
Like a Pied Piper, I've been followed by groups of Chinese children along Shanghai's Bund and down by the beach at Penang, Malaysia. I've been cheered by Swedes who called ``Hup, hup, hup'' as I ran along Stockholm's quay and by New Zealanders as I headed into the hills above Christchurch.
My obsession has rarely gotten me into serious trouble. On the contrary, it has often opened doors. I've found that occasional stops to talk or to try to communicate with the local people can pay off in a variety of ways.
I remember a morning in Xian, China; I ran from the grounds of my big, Soviet-style hotel, off to the right, toward the center. There, in the giant plaza of the new provincial building, were hundreds of people in groups ranging from six or eight to 40 or 50, all doing their exercises.
Few paid much attention to me as I loped by, but I was most curious about them.
I ran for another mile or so, then retraced my route. As I returned to the area of activity, I stopped nearby and watched. At one point a young man came up to me and, in school-book English, said, ``You jog, sir.''
``Yes,'' I said.
``I do not jog; I exercise with this,'' he said, showing me his wooden sword.
I asked him to tell me what he did with it. He bade me follow him, and we walked past several clusters of older people doing a kind of stylized shadowboxing to a waiting group of four young men. My new friend nodded to me, then joined the others. They started an elaborate routine of thrusts and parries, all accompanied by routinized foot movements.
While participating in the swordplay, the young Chinese who brought me there did not look at me, but I did notice him smile when, after 10 minutes or so, I waved at him and took my leave.
There was also the time I was running in the woods near the Holmenkollen ski jump high above the city of Oslo. It was a fantastic fall morning. Everything was in tones of yellow, green, and blue.
Quite unexpectedly, I heard footsteps behind me. Someone was gaining on me. I suppressed the urge to speed up and decided to let him or her pass. He, who turned out to be a man about my age, didn't. He merely caught up, fell in with my pace and started to chat.
We ran along together for another two miles or so, getting to know each other and to learn that, not only was he also a university professor, but one who was in my field and who would be attending my lecture that very afternoon.
The next morning I ran with him in another part of the city and in the afternoon he took me to a fishing village I would never have seen. That was 12 years ago. We are still in touch.
What advice can I give to fellow runners who are traveling?
First, if you want to take the tried and true routes, ask a concierge where you can run. It's pleasant to discover that, even in those places where the locals think joggers are a bit crazy, the activity has become sufficiently commonplace that they can usually tell you where to go.
Second, don't let your desire to get in the miles detract you from the fringe benefits. Watch where you put your feet, as you always must in strange places; but also slow your pace so you have time to look around, sniff the air, drink in the atmosphere.
Third, keep your shirt on. I have learned that even in warm weather ports, where runners are not uncommon, local customs demand a certain decorum, even in the wee hours when most of those who set the standards are still fast asleep.
Peter I. Rose is Sophia Smith Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Smith College.