My family has been spending summers at the tiny fisherman’s town of Njivice, the island of Krk, for over a decade now. We all idealize it, viewing it as this oasis of respite in the tediousness of our busy lives in the capital. Life is so easy here: The biggest decision of our day usually comes down to what we should eat for lunch — between going to and from the beach, napping and reading books in the shade. The clothes are stripped to bathing suits and flip flops, and our evenings are spent sipping cocktails while listening to various live renditions of With or Without You complimented by the sounds sea water makes while gently licking the shore.
I could place a fairly certain bet that a lot of Croats have a seaside place in mind akin to one I described above, which they also idealize and treat as an escape from their yearlong routine. Being from Croatia, we take this a little bit for granted. Some people escape for a weekend, some relocate for the entire summer, but we all look to the Adriatic when thinking of our ideal vacation. I used to think this is how all countries do it, but after living in NYC and Guangzhou, I now know that a lot of my foreign friends much prefer to travel abroad for the summer, finding the beauty of the French Riviera or Costa Rica superior to their own country’s holiday resorts. This is far more rare for middle class Croatian people. Not only because of our financial circumstances – which rarely allow such extravagance – but even more so, why would you want to leave Croatia in the summer? The amount of foreign tourists pouring in during these months of the year alone makes you feel like there is something here not to be missed.
I’m the odd one out in this too. I’ve spent many summers flying off in the general direction of the West, typically crossing the Atlantic to be stateside for my summers off. Behind me I would leave an army of friends and relatives who scratched their heads at my decision, then shrugged their shoulders and proceeded to enjoy their holidays in the area, more than content with the beautiful local pleasures which abound. I get it, and I get them more than they might even assume. It is so so beautiful here. It seems almost sacrilege to abandon it all for foreign thrills. Add to this the fact that, as a people, Croats are very proud. We all grow up being told this is the best and most naturally beautiful country in the world. As a result, many of us never question it in any real way. I hear friends saying that while yes, they’d love to travel abroad at some point in their lives, they don’t really feel like they are missing out for not doing so presently. They’re from Croatia after all, not some place as nasty, polluted and overpopulated as… China, for example.
But the thing is, while we are lucky in many ways, they are also very wrong not to check out (even) China. If I never went to Guangzhou, I would never have understood the warmth of its people, the loving kindness of my students, the traditional uniqueness of the Cantone tea. These are things only China could have given me. Same with the US, which truly has a special place in my heart — it is impossible to even try and enumerate the times I stood at various rooftops in Brooklyn or Manhattan, among all the twinkling lights, above the noise of taxi horns, thinking “I am so fortunate, just look at this place. Where else in the world is it like this?”
It took me a long time to internalize it, but there is no city or country that offers everything, no place to scratch all your itches at once. This is the exact point of traveling; to contrast, compare and add locations to your mental map of places that gloriously coexist in the world. An American lady staying in Croatia once told me, when prompted with what she thought of our sea coast:
“Yeah it’s great but – in reality, Hawaii is nicer!”
Whose reality would that be though? Was she wrong or do I have to swallow a piece of this collective Croatian pride because Hawaii also exists in the world? Unfortunately, I cannot tell you either way, because I haven’t (yet) been to Hawaii. The best I can do is to do my own research, visit these places for myself and then make up my mind. Not to say one should forget where you’re from, never forget this, but do allow yourself a chance to grow and expand, because without it, you have about as much experience as a backyard plant — no matter how beautiful the rest of the yard, wouldn’t you like to at least peek beyond the fence?
On that note, excuse me while I presently leave my backyard and take a quick dip in the turquoise Adriatic beyond it.