Although when viewed rationally Philadelphia is a normal metropolitan city, there are plenty of the things that will keep Americanophiles entertained and enthralled. Whether that be huge skyscrapers or large marble receptions of mysterious nameless businesses; down to Irish Pubs or hitchhikers in the middle of the road, Philadelphia has these and more. The greatest American-typical sight I have seen so far has been seeing rows of people playing chess in Rittenhouse Square, a fascinating place to sit and watch the world in motion.
Getting out there and taking in the city should hopefully smooth out any culture shock that one could experience. Fortunately I haven’t had any major shocks, but culture shock can come in variety of ways and sizes. So far it has only been small things that could potentially trip me up or inconveniences, such as a debit card not always working or not knowing public transport well.
Another recent local indulgence was going to see an American college football match for the first time. The match was between University of Pennsylvania and Yale University played at Franklin Field, home of UPenn sports teams and was broadcast on national television. Another opportunity I had was to watch the US Open Squash tournament, which happened to be held at Drexel University. One of the most significant Squash tournaments on the calendar, it featured many of the best players in the world which was great to watch. I have played Squash quite a few times and is a great combination of physical fitness and tactical intelligence, and a game I’d like to pick up playing more at some point.
My most enjoyed tourist venture so far has been seeing Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra at the Kimmel Centre for Performing Arts. Shen Yun is an orchestra that combines traditional music of the east and classical music of the west, something which is not easy to do. The sounds of the Erhu and the Pipa – instruments that produce sounds
commonly associated with traditional Chinese music were more than enough to allow me to escape to a place far away and a to time forgotten to most. They played many of their own songs plus some famous western pieces including Zigeunerwisen (Gypsy Airs) by Sarasate, my favourite song of the performance.
Another thing keeping me away from working too hard has been the Lynch Observatory at Drexel University. During the Observatory Open House anybody can go up and do some astronomical observing. Housed there is the main Meade LX200GPS Telescope with 16” Schmidt-Cassegrain Optics, the largest telescope in Philadelphia. There is also access to a few ‘smaller but still better than anything I’ve got’ telescopes.
In summary, new surroundings allow you to open out your awareness to realise what is going on around you. This may in turn make you realise how potentially interesting where you come from is, and how much is going on there which you had never really paid much notice to out of being overly accustomed or indifferent to it. Although I definitely wouldn’t consider myself apathetic towards my home, I will take this thought consciously back to Birmingham and the UK. Making the most of what a city has to offer can also have the power to rekindle an old interest and inspire new ones.