Alan Machin's Blog - September 2009
It's All So, Sort Of, Out There ..... Way Out There
Just a note in between thoughts of university life.
I set a few google-traps in the dark corners of cyberspace waiting to catch the odd tasty information-lobster. You know, aspects of tourism as education, that kind of thing. Lo and behold, in this morning's pot was an iridescent little minnow just begging to be gutted and grilled. I thought Aussies were down to earth folk? Or is this the kind of thing that sucks in gap-year graduates? Click the links and make sure you view as much of the video as you can take (8 seconds on average):
Click here, all you goddesses (gods probably welcome to descend low as well)
The Cult Of Individuality
To a degree unknown in other kinds of organisations, the core of every university is one made up of highly independently-minded people the tutors. The saying about the difficulty of herding cats must have been devised with the management of university teachers in mind. By origin academic independence is an important principle as it was a way of safeguarding its independence from interference by governments, religious interests, commercial companies and pressure groups. Academics should have the right to say what they like and what they believe in, within the framework of the laws of libel and slander. Such groups of researchers and thinkers ought to represent a priceless resource that communities have to help them make the best decisions across the entire spectrum of human activity. They should be available for consultation, advice and, of course, should be entrusted with the top level of education of the next generations of leaders in each and every field.
Thats at its best.
At its worst it doesnt work like that. First of all there are external and internal pressures shaping the expression or non-expression of opinions. Academic staff who are planning out their careers have to be careful of biting the hand that feeds them. This means, primarily, the internal management of the university school, faculty or central management. Externally it means the people responsible for funding, grant-aiding or sponsoring research or new courses. Blue sky research that which is done for its own sake, rather than that which has some immediate practical application in mind - is not common, at least not in the newer universities. They are struggling to establish a research profile since as polytechnics they probably concentrated on teaching. Governments funds UK universities partly on their standing as successful, active research institutions. Other organisations wanting research and consultancy work done will choose according to the reputation of the research department.
When money is short the power of governments and commercial companies is even greater. Many people would say that is how it ought to be. But it is a situation which raises huge questions about academic freedom, especially if the effects on the results of research being bought by government and commerce is thought through. How those customers influence researchers to move in certain directions would be the subject of a whole book and beyond the scope of the present discussion, but all part of the process.
The second downside of academic freedom is the fact that the phrase can be a catchword to be used whenever an academic wants to insist on going his or her own way. The culture in higher education is one in which the success of an individual depends on them making their mark, individually. They might work with other people but it will usually be as part of a group sharing certain aims but still essentially individuals. Team working might exist where more hierarchical units are set up academics plus technicians plus research assistants for example but the importance of individuality weighs against true integration.
The results have been the basis of satirical work ranging from Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (1954) to the Times Highers Poppleton column written by Laurie Taylor which dissects the activities of another fictitious university. In the cartoon strips by Posy Simmonds in Mrs Webers Diary (1979), Mrs W is married to a frustrated sociology lecturer, George Weber. He rails against back-stabbing by colleagues who act more like rivals manoeuvring to get their research papers published, their courses given prominence and themselves given advancement. There can result what I would call competitive fragmentation in which a fatal mix of ambitious, unscrupulous individuals and managers lacking both vision and ability can destroy whole educational programmes. Yes, it happens in other places, too, but I suspect having had experience of many it is more marked in higher education and all the more regrettable since these are the places where the next generation of leaders is being trained.
Public Debate Or Public Relations?
As someone who spent 19 years in tourism marketing I can recognise different qualities of public relations practice. There are all kinds the good, the bad and the ugly. In one way or another every individual human being uses it in presenting themselves to other people. Education in general can be considered a form of public relations in that it tries to present particular choices about knowledge, opinions and actions and aims to persuade people children, students to accept them. So it is hardly surprising that universities employ it. Faced with present day pressures and the need to sell themselves in a way that they never had to before, HE institutions have had to adopt some hard PR tactics. The trouble is, those tactics can involve adopting not just a few skilled specialists giving a service where required: they can introduce a management culture which runs right through the system from top to bottom. It can be a culture which crowds out internal and external debate, comment and criticism. At its worst and the worst exists in some institutions it becomes a form of repression, not encouragement.
As in politics and big business there exists a set of predictable responses to those who disagree, those who raise issues, criticise. We see it in party politics all the time. The public becomes totally disbelieving of anything that a political leader tries to claim. If that level of disaffection is reached within our major training and research institutions education will become divorced from the wider community, destroying itself from within.
Here is a test. Try checking this short list against the kind of responses given by national politicians. How many times do we find these as the kind of answers they give to critics of their actions? Then try checking the way that business leaders do it in similar circumstances. Do people who deal with universities find these responses in use?
When criticism is made, do they debate the issues openly, or else:
React with hurt that anyone should even mention it
Claim that criticisms do more harm than good at this sensitive time
Accuse the critic of being out of date trying to judge by outdated criteria
Refer to successful activities and initiatives which present a better picture, while blatantly avoiding the issues
State that the comments do not apply to the wider picture within the organisation
Say that changes have already been made which have changed the situation fundamentally
It makes an interesting comparison, especially when you realise that these three sectors control the government, commercial life and educational future of the country.
A Numbers Game
Higher education has become a numbers game. Government targets upon which the major part of funding is dependent and a culture of competition between institutions and between courses are the main reasons. Universities have become sausage machines turning out products the marketing terminology is everything that it is thought the trade wants with new flavours, shapes and sizes of what is often openly called 'the product' determined by marketing committees. One of the buzz-word phrases is that higher education is student-focused. That should mean that students learn how to study and take their own decisions. In reality the system has become dominated by tick boxes and spreadsheets that measure attainment to decimal points against tabulations of criteria. The distinctions between levels of success still remain, as they always have been and always will be, largely subjective. The straight-jacket imposed on both tutors and students reduces both the opportunity for the latter to experiment and investigate broader issues and for the former to tailor their teaching programmes to the needs and aspirations of their students. The aim of the present system is to handle large numbers in what is hoped to be a scrupulously fair system. The question has to be asked: is it actually scrupulously fair or is it really superficially fair? Can any system be devised that can lay down procedures which will deal with every eventuality without creating a bureaucratic nightmare in which the time available for good teaching is squeezed out?
Universities are bound to respond positively, at least in public, to the policies laid down by government. So when challenged about the problems of teaching large numbers they will point to creative approaches, web-based learning, student-centred programmes of study and the like.
I know a lot of very good, highly creative and effective approaches that ex-colleagues developed. Some of them, not all, were aimed at helping them deal with lecture and workshop groups that are double or treble what they were fifteen years ago. It is a matter for debate as to how effective they are.
Web-based learning does extend the library of resources that students have. It might correct spelling and grammar, warn of inadequate referencing, mark multiple-choice tests and aid tutors in giving feedback comments. Its a long way from engaging an individual student in learning how to string relevant thoughts together, using analysis, evaluation and creative synthesis. Student-centred learning is a worthy and laudable aim it is what universities have being striving towards for decades but it requires students to know how to research, analyse, evaluate and then construct knowledge-based approaches for themselves. And many, many of them arrive from schools and colleges inadequately equipped. Having qualifications in a number of subjects is only part of the spread of skills and aptitudes necessary for successful graduation: attitudes - conscientiousness, application, hard work, initiative, cooperation, sociability and more are essentials. There are also many debates about language ability: a C or above in English does not guarantee that technical language will be easily understood and applied, for example. Yet many universities have to make decisions about applicants based solely on UCAS application forms in which the candidates statements and teacher references can only be an approximate guidance at best, and at worst ... downright misleading. There is little time for interviews or tests of one kind or another, and often the pressure is on to fill courses. Its a numbers game.
Several people have asked me whether I am missing teaching. Its a thought that surfaces as universities begin a new academic year with Induction Week. I hear of the son of an ex-colleague going from home to the north-east to be an undergraduate. The daughter of another friend has moved to the Liverpool area as another. Its impossible to avoid hearing about the new academic year beginning. Having first taught full time in 1962 and been involved inside education at secondary, higher and adult levels; and having worked in the tourism industry for 19 years, almost all of which being connected with education in one way or another, I will, perhaps a little rashly, venture some comments. Some will be considered too critical - might be claimed as unfair - but many people in many universities feel that higher education is losing its way and I offer these as some of the reasons why.
The answer to the question about missing teaching is a definite no. Well, OK, I miss many good friends amongst my well-respected ex-colleagues. I miss the fun and pleasure to be had teaching. Our students were outstanding in virtually every year, a delight to know, to teach, and - to learn from. I miss them.
The trouble is, to be honest, that education at all levels, and especially higher education, is turning more and more into a mass-production process. Numbers of students increase with scant regard for the level of resources that are needed to teach them. I worked out a while back that, in comparison with 1992 when I moved from the tourism industry into higher education, in 2009 I had only half the time available to deal with each student that I had then.
There are problems that universities have these days that did not exist in the same measure in the past. Of course some have these problems more than others. The new universities formed from polytechnics in 1993 probably suffer more than the longer-established institutions because of the huge pressure they are under to compete as research and teaching universities which also have to earn through consultancy work. Financing higher education depends on all these things in a cut-throat environment, or, as an ex-colleague of some years back put it, in a dog-eat-dog world.
I have to compare universities with local government service, employment by educational charities and work in commerce. I give them in that order according to the length of time I worked in those types of organisations. For commerce it was just over a year, but I also acted as a leader for special interest weekends set up by what was at the time one of the largest hotel groups in the UK. That work spread over about 24 years with three or four weekends a year, and had to respond very definitely to commercial requirements especially customer service - successfully: there was a rebooking rate of well over 90%. If you need to, have a look at the page listed to the left, near the bottom, About The Author for more detail of the sort of places I am using for comparisons.
The conclusions are not good. Clearly what universities are trying to do is very different from what local government, the charities (a major museum and a professional association) and commercial firms are trying to do. Universities, however, are faced with the need for rapid change in a way which calls for very different management approaches to be adopted quickly, and therein lie some huge problems.
Let me say here that the university where I served is, I believe, no different as far as problems go as any other, similar, institution. I would also say that much of its work was still is outstanding, with dedicated, hard-working staff. It is held in high regard by its students and ex-students. However, the demands and pressures placed upon it, as with so many other universities these days, are severe, imposed from above and requiring instant responses when it is long-term development strategies that are needed.
So I will refer to several problems which stand firmly in the way of good, sensible higher education development. You can add others, Im sure. They are:
1 The public relations shell which surrounds university operations and which is replacing proper discussion of issues.
2 The heavy new demands on management at all levels, with teachers often having to supply that management in processes in which many have little experience or training.
3 The cult of individuality team-working is often misunderstood; rivalries can be fierce and left unchallenged.
4 Advancement depends on individuals succeeding, sometimes at a cost to others.
5 Competitive fragmentation follows from the previous two.
6 Management can be weak if there are people in posts for which they have little aptitude - a problem shared with most other organisations, obviously.
7 There are virtually no rewards for being a good teacher only gold stars. The rewards of prestige, pay and position go to those with a name for research, a willingness to become managers, or those able to pull in consultancy money. Yet it is good teaching that counts, overwhelmingly, at all levels.
8 What might be characterised as a teachers commitment to serve them all my days in a more altruistic age has virtually disappeared since the 1980s.
9 Students coming from much wider ranges of knowledge, experience and culture - itself something to be wholly welcomed - but therefore often needing far more help and guidance from overworked staff.
10 A financial system which means most students must take on paid work requiring long hours (some - few - have accepted full time jobs) removing the ability for make teaching programmes flexible, exhausting many students, and reducing their discretionary educational time.
I will expand on these thoughts individually in the next few postings.
Dark Tourism Again
A student at a university across the Pennines wrote to me a couple of week ago asking for ideas on a study of 'dark tourism'. She was particularly interested and had been inspired to consider doing her dissertation on it by her tutor. I thought that my reply might be useful to other tourism students as there are quite a number who find it an intriguing subject. Here's my reply slightly edited and then I will make a comment about the graphic above:
"I have given it some thought and have some ideas that might not sound terribly inspiring. You have probably seen the web site http://www.dark-tourism.org.uk/. It's worth looking at in many ways but I think it's a mish-mash of ideas. If you look at the mini case studies and the comments that people left you will see why. The new book edited by Sharpley and Stone (one of the people who commented) is mentioned.
I agree with the person who said that dark tourism is in the mind of the beholder. In other words 'dark' will mean different things to different people and so will the significance of the sites they are thinking about. My own web pages try to make the same point [see the page listed on the left: full address is http://www.alanmachinwork.net/Idealog-August-2006]. Historians would point out that perceptions are based on the person doing the perceiving as well, and they would also say that ideas of dark tourism will change gradually through time.
Two bits of advice, I think. One, don't 'do' concentration camps - very difficult to find out how people view them because primary research is almost impossible. I supervised two students who had a go at Auschwitz with mixed results and some disagreement between the markers about the quality! There are plenty of UK sites and you can bring in concentration camps, Ground Zero, Arlington Cemetery etc in the literature review. Among UK places - war cemeteries, murder locations (eg Jack the Ripper), sites of social 'darkness' like the mills I mention or mining museums etc. Tower of London - York Dungeon - even medical museums and preservations. It's almost anywhere that produces an emotional response in the visitor of a dark or negative nature. Are people seeking thrills as they would on white-knuckle rides or viewing a horror movie? Do they visit so they feel good afterwards because they werent caught up in it themselves? But motivation isn't the only angle to look at: the 'ingredients' of dark attractions and sites is another for example.
Is there really such a thing as dark tourism or is ALL tourism potentially dark for reasons within the individual? You will often have a tutorial with your supervisor and come out feeling more confused - it's how investigating ideas works! Primary research: examining motivations can be very difficult and might be best avoided. People are very cagey about admitting getting satisfactions of dubious kinds out of such places.
Best thing is to identify what you want to find out - what question are you trying to answer or theory to test? Only then start to work out how you would investigate it. Don't think "what can I do a questionnaire on" and then think of a topic! See your tutors and sound out their reactions to your thoughts, and then decide the line of attack."
The point about the photos above is this: are they all dark tourism examples? The butcher's stall is one of those in the Boqueria market in Barcelona, a popular attraction for tourists. Would vegetarians and vegans consider it 'dark'? The religious building is St Peter's in Rome. Catholics would feel offended to think anyone saw it as a centre of dark tourism, but I could point to, for example, well-known Protestants from Northern Ireland who would see it as exactly that. The students and tutor stood in front of a Mustang fighter plane in a museum might have several opinions about it - pride, admiration, gratitude, fear, horror, pity ..... similarly for the 'Titanic' poster in Belfast, the US war cemetery at Coton near Cambridge, UK ..... Boudicca with her chariot armed with lethal sword blades on the wheels for slicing up Roman soldiers (isn't there something dark about celebrating war with an idealised monument? It's a very tricky subject) .....
There must be at least two important variables. One is the viewpoint of the beholder (after all, horror, is in the eye of the beholder just like the saying points out beauty is perceived there). Second, it must depend on the level of knowledge and personal experience of the viewer because that is what shapes their viewpoint. In turn that level will be affected by the on-site information and interpretation.
All angles well worth while researching.
More fascinating photos and stirring stories about tourism in America? - click here
Scroll down the page to read postings in chronological order. These follow on the postings in the August blog.
Just south of San Jose in California is Gilroy Gardens. Gilroy boasts two big attractions - the Gardens and the annual Garlic Festival held in late July. Plenty of folk are drawn in by the smell and flavour of garlic, others perhaps repelled: how does the idea of garlic-flavoured ice cream grab you? But there is little at the Gardens to put anyone off and much to attract families in large numbers - a huge car park fills rapidly, as it has since 2001 when it first opened.
The Gardens were created by Michael and Claudia Bonfante after the sale of their Nob Hill Foods supermarket chain. They wanted a theme park focused on horticulture. It was to be a mixture of theme park with rides and attractions with trees and flowers as the theme. In style it is very much a theme park with the horticulture on show but often only as a backdrop for the rides. On the other hand there are lots of exotic trees and flowers to be seen, well labelled and explained. Small shelters contain displays about the Earth and natural history, such as one on earthquakes with a working seismograph and another with the larvae of butterflies living their life cycles.
The Bonfantes set up Gilroy Gardens as a not-for-profit organisation. Besides returning profits into the Gardens for maintenance and development a percentage has to be used to support community projects in the area. In charge is a Board of Directors. The operations management is actually in the hands of Paramount Parks who also advise on finance and long-term planning. As they were brought in two years after the opening it is perhaps reasonable to assume that the early management struggled with the new concept and needed expertise in tourist attractions operation which it did not have.
It isn't a cheap visit. Adult admission at the gate is $42.99 (£25.98) and children $32.99 (£19.94) though by booking online adults and children can both buy tickets for $29.99 (£18.13). There is also a membership scheme which offers unlimited visits within more than a year at a heavy discount.
The entry price for those buying at the gate may be high, but the quality of the Gardens and the overall experience is immaculate. So if you don't like the garlic, go for the gardens when visiting Gilroy.
The Maritime Park in San Francisco is immediately west of Fisherman's Wharf and Restaurant Row. Another transport collection, it is free to view from Pier 15 but tickets have to be bought to go aboard the main ships. The earlier posting about the ferry Eureka pointed up the location of the Pier as a continuation effectively of Highway 101 so it does symbolise an important maritime/land location.
The collection here has plenty of contrasts. The paddle-driven Eureka is accompanied by other engine driven vessels including two steam tugs, Eppleton Hall and Hercules (both shown above), a scow schooner Alma and the spectacular square-rigger Balclutha (above). Endeavour (above right) was moored at the end of the Pier but isn't listed in the Museum's web site. Its modern communication rigging suggests it was a visitor itself. The collection also has a number of smaller vessels and a building yard on the Pier for wooden boats.
Tourism Transport: San Francisco
It would take a book (or a laptopful of web pages) to describe San Franciscos transport networks. Theyre possibly the most varied in the USA, extensive and colourful. And as one official website says, they will either get you where you want to go on time or three or four hours late depending on the mood of the driver. Actually, that was about some of the street cars.
Heres a brief summary using the photos above. Top left is one of the open-topped tour buses discussed in an earlier posting. Next to it well, it represents the people of the city, road networks and green transport all at the same time two people riding a tandem near Aquatic Park.
The big picture is of one of the highly-recognisable cable cars that run on three routes in the oldest part of the city. They are pulled up and down the hilly streets by cables running in conduits in the road with each car operating a clamp round the wire when the gripman wants to move his vehicle. That job, they say, is one needing skill and strength together. Two levers and a footbrake operate the car. The system was introduced into public service by Andrew Hallidie in 1873 so it has served the city well
The next photo clockwise is of a modern trolley bus (electrical power from overhead wires but running on rubber tyres) and next to that, bottom left, is a street car what we in Britain would call a tram. San Francisco had an extensive system but gradually closed it down. They were considered (in Britain and some other places) to be inflexible and to get in the way of motor cars. Many European cities kept them on as relatively cheap and simple movers of large numbers of people via public transport. Britains only set up is that centred in Blackpool where it is mainly a tourist attraction and, as it happens, one in dire need of refurbishment. San Franciscos network was run by its Municipal Railway operation. In 1976 some volunteers got together to preserve one of the old trolley buses that was to be scrapped. Then in 1983 the Municipal Railway and the citys Chamber of Commerce got together with the volunteer group to run a Historic Festival of Trolleys. It was very successful and the then Mayor of the city, Dianne Feinstein, asked them to repeat the event. It continued its momentum and built up a body of volunteers who acquired further street cars from around the area and the other US States to be restored and brought back into use. It remains a volunteer organisation receiving no government money but relying on donations and subscriptions and the sale of goods from its web-based shop. New lines will be brought into use.
San Francisco therefore has a very varied, highly utilitarian transport network carrying millions of residents and visitors annually, proof that a mix of public, commercial and volunteer organisations can serve a community well. The cable cars, street cars and tour buses attract large numbers of tourists as do transport operations in many destinations.
Boudin's Restaurant: Bake 'N' Take
Along Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco are many restaurants and bars. Boudin's is both plus a shop and a bakery fully visible to passers-by. In the 1950s I remember using Joe Lyons's corner houses in London where you could watch food grilled on special plates which then arrived at your table on an under-plate. In Staffordshire we could watch the local oatcakes griddled in the centre of Redman's shop before being sold to the customer, and off course fish and chip shops always had their stainless steel vats frying away so you could get your cod and chips hot in their takeaway bags.
Boudins is rather more upmarket than those but the principle is the same. Display the clean, efficient production area - the bread bakery - to potential customers and you're more likely to bring them in to eat or take away the next meal. The restaurant is next to the wine bar. A good range of the usual fare is served including that great favourite, a carved-out bread bowl full of delicious clam chowder.
The First Motel
The first motel should really be called the first mo-tel because that is what it was called. It was built in 1925 as the Milestone Mo-Tel. The hyphen was introduced to let people know it was a compound of motor and hotel and not a spelling mistake. Arthur Heineman built it in 1925 as the first of a planned chain of 18 throughout California.
Heineman was an architect in Pasadena where he had built bungalows with his brother in courts designed groups. During the period after world war I the growth of car travel in America was leading to many more travellers who had to negotiate dirt roads and sleep either in a hotel, should they find one, or an auto court, a hotel with facilities for cars somewhere nearby. There were camp sites if you had a tent and some had wooden shacks which were little more than shelters. Heineman thought that there was a market for something in what he could see was going to be big business. He combined the quality of an inn with the convenience of an apartment or bungalow there were both - with adjacent parking for each unit. Some even had garages. They all had en suite bathrooms including showers. A restaurant, grocery and laundry were opened within the complex. The restaurant even had silverware and crisp tablecloths and napkins.
There was an important element of tourism planning in the choice off location. The principle that Arthur Heineman used was the four hundred miles that drivers had to travel between the two main Californian cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. It was a two-day journey at least in the 1920s and the obvious place to stay was around half-way, which pointed to San Luis Obispo. It was a logical addition to a transport system. The early Spanish settlers placed missions a days horseback journey apart on El Camino Real from San Diego to San Francisco. Railroad companies saw hotels constructed a days train-ride apart. Heinemans Milestone Mo-Tels would be spaced according to the distance a car could drive on average in a day. The design of the building was based on those Californian missions white-painted plaster-covered buildings with simple arched colonnades and a three-storey bell tower like that of the Santa Barbara mission. As with the first hotels and railway stations (and of course the missions) the new Mo-Tel had to look impressive, respectable and safe. $80,000 was the building budget: $1.25 the overnight charge.
Arthur Heinemans plans never progressed beyond his one and only motel. He was not able to register the name as a trademark and other competitors joined in with cheaper developments. He had been right about the future industry, of course, and it grew. After the second world war peace and prosperity coupled with the building of better roads brought the start of the tourist explosion. A more and more were built the word motel found its way into Websters dictionary in 1950 and Holiday Inns started its motel chain in 1952. Under the name it had adopted some years before, the Motel Inn, the San Luis Obispo property found itself competing with more than a dozen motels of different kinds within the distance of a mile. In 1991 it closed.
The site was bought by Rob Rossi and John King who developed the upmarket Apple Farm Motel next door complete with a rebuilt watermill now being used to prepare foods and ice cream for their shop. The pair own resorts, golf courses and ranches across Central California. Their plans, announced in 2000, were for new bungalows and a new restaurant in the former Motel Inn to be opened by 2002. Nothing has yet appeared and much of the old complex has gone leaving only the front buildings from the Heineman design. Termite infestation was one of the reasons for removing more of the former structures according to an Apple Farm Motel manager to whom I spoke during my visit. At least the hopes are still there and the local community holds the former Motel Inn to be a historical landmark for San Luis Obispo.
How Not To See A Museum
When Simon and Darvik arrived at the San Luis Obispo Children's Museum with two adults they were straight inside exploring. Three of us who had been to see what was (not) happening to the remains of the world's first motel arrived later. Ah, said a slightly embarrassed young man selling entrance tickets, adults can only go in accompanied by children. Then we realised that the adults within were without, as it were - without their mobile phones; at least they weren't answering. See what happens when you let grown-ups loose without detailed supervision by juniors? Well, it was only about half an hour until last admissions anyway, so we weren't bothered. Even when, from outside, we saw young Simon waving to us through an upper floor window, there was no way we could tell him what our problem was. I'm sure it is a very good museum. At least, that's what the kids said.
San Luis Obispo Farmers' Market
We made a family visit to San Luis Obispo after exploring the fishing pier and sea front at Avila Beach. Half our party with the boys went to the Children's Museum. The rest of us got there later having stopped off at the world's first motel - or what is let of it. A little about that in the next posting.
It was the Farmer's Market that would be the main attraction. Starting around 6:30pm on what had been - as usual - a bright, warm Californian Friday did mean that after a while the sun was making shadows which took some of the sparkle off the photos. Nothing could dull the liveliness of the event, though. A long queue was forming for the most popular barbecue stand where a frantic team of men were cooking and serving. Every time someone gave a tip (I believe that was the cue) they burst into a chain of patter which was contributed to by each man in rapid-fire turn. It was well practised which presumably meant that they were well tipped.
Other stalls were cooking - generally burgers, kebabs and vegetables, but also Chinese food with rice, while fresh fruit and fruit juice, grown and made locally, was on sale. Other stalls were selling fresh vegetables - egg plants (aubergines to Europeans), leeks, tomatoes, squashes, carrots, beetroot, cucumbers and potatoes plus plenty of flowers, all grown within reach of the town. The impression I had was of a lot of small farmers selling here, though there were stalls with large stocks of goodies in cardboard trays with company names printed on them. It was also interesting to see Chinese- and Japanese-American farmers along with the expected Californians of European stock. Hispanic people were common, of course, both selling and visiting.
The Market occupied one particular street for a couple of hundred yards. Here were restaurants and shops catering for the many visitors that San Luis Obispo attracts. The restaurants put up their own stalls a well as opened their doors. A bar advertised itself as a British pub, the 'Frog and Peach' complete with Newcastle Brown Ale and Boddington's beer. The San Luis Obispo County Silver Band played at the end of one side street while in another three musicians performed rock music.
By the later evening the light was declining but the atmosphere remained that of a friendly family occasion to which tourists had been invited - and happily were feeling part of the whole thing.
Before They Built The Bridge
Crossing San Francisco Bay had to be done by ferry before the suspension bridge was opened across the Golden Gate narrows in May, 1937. Autos travelling north on Route 101 reached the Bay down the steep hill of Hyde St and and running straight on the pier. Ferries left from there to Sausalito and Berkeley. At one time the Southern Pacific Railroad operated forty-two ferries on the Bay carrying around 50 million passengers each year. The ferries which linked Route 101's two sections, north and south of the Bay, was thought of as part of the highway itself.
We are so used to the Golden Gate Bridge that it might come as a surprise to think of the period before it was opened when ferries did the work moving people to and fro. But before either the Gate Bridge or the Oakland Bay Bridge was built there was little alternative as the land route from the city north was impractical because of its length. From 1850 onwards when a boat called the Kangaroo became the first ferry on the Bay the use of boats increased. One of them was Ukia which was entered into service in 1890 as a railroad servicing ferry. After an extensive refit in 1923 it was renamed Eureka and used as a passenger vessel from the Hyde Park Pier. By the 1950s the use of ferries had declined and then ceased as the two great bridges were much more convenient.
Now, Eureka is moored permanently to the Pier as the centre piece of the San Francisco Maritime National Heritage Park. Visitors can see a collection of ships and also look back up the hill as Hyde Street stretches away, once part of the main route along the Californian coastal zone.
If you went to a theme park where a Chinese village was included in the list of exhibits you might find something that looked quiet authentic. But you would know it was not since you were in a theme park and there would be differences. The dominant language all round you might be English rather than Mandarin. The dominant smell might be something western rather than eastern. Most people might be dressed western style, be obviously tourists rather than native Chinese. There would be no animals wandering to and fro as there would be in any village anywhere. The footpath would of concrete or tarmac instead of beaten-down earth. You would be using non-Chinese currency to buy tourist souvenirs. In a hundred different ways you would know you were not in China but a tourist attraction. And yet ... in lots of ways your encounters would be with Chinese-style buildings, scenery and food with maybe real Chinese people. Ah - whoa there! - what would we mean by "real Chinese people"? American or European Chinese in traditional dress who could speak fluent Mandarin or one of dozens of other Chinese languages? If there was a member of the theme park staff dressed as a Chinese person speaking some Chinese with a western accent of some kind, would that be more or less "authentic" than a visitor from Qingdao, a 'real' Chinese person, unable too speak English and dressed in western garb? The number one question might be "which is the most authentic". Question number 2 might be "from which one would you learn most about China and the Chinese?" It's a matter of communication effectiveness, not only in terms of the all-important spoken word, but through the languages of architecture, decoration, clothing, food and others.
So let's move from the idea of an American visiting a theme park representation of China to a real Chinese community in - China Town, San Francisco. We still have to ask if this is a "real" Chinese community. Plenty of Chinese people here. Or are they Chinese-Americans, wearing western dress, speaking (at least some) English and enjoying American culture? The street musician pictured looks Chinese and was playing Chinese music on a Chinese instrument while being dressed in a western style outfit (which might, of course, ave been made in Hong Kong). Across the street another instrumentalist looked to be authentic Chinese except that he was wearing wrap-around sunglasses. It reduced his so-called authenticity a smidgeon. Hmm! He might have looked 'less' Chinese, but who is to say that the true Chinese don't/must not wear sunglasses?
The point here is that any cultural expression, especially landscapes which are supposedly made up of one particular culture, are in fact a concoction of many. They will blend elements from different geographical locations, different historic periods and different personal cultures. Find a real Chinese village in the south of that country and compare it with another in the north, a thousand miles away. With a different way of life in each, which is the 'authentic' Chinese village? They are different. Yet both are 'more Chinese' than the theme park production or the China Town of San Francisco.
We have to ask if it matters. The answer depends on what you are looking for. It also depends on some sort of scaling of levels of culture present - authenticity if you must, though I think that word is overused in a very superficial type of way. From a tourism point of view a visitor will encounter varied levels of cultural immersion in theme parks, immigrant quarters and original locations, just as they will in books, movies and television shows. It's all a matter of quantity and quality.
Hop On And Off Tour Buses
Tour buses are now such a familiar sight all round the world. Many are open topped which gives the chance for high-riders to get a good view all round - and to take better pictures. Some buses have to be booked and used for a full tour starting and topping at a fixed location. Others can be boarded and left at any stop along their circular route using one or sometimes two days to do so. There are advantages and of course disadvantages. Among the latter - residents getting fed up with several buses in convoy causing traffic congestion, and the nuisance of guides' commentaries saying the same thing many times a day loud enough to be heard indoors. Sometimes camera-toting tourists on the top decks can be an invasion of privacy in the way in which they can peer over walls and into windows.
They can also reduce congestion if they keep touring cars away from busy routes. I'm less sure of that one. Not so many people would find their way round some of the bus routes and so don't even become a problem until they start helping double-decker buses find enough customers to make it worth their while trogging round a route. They also tend to focus traffic onto a particular route. On the other hand again it could be said that by managing the tourists efficiently around a route they reduce traffic problems caused by drives getting lost in busy districts.
They're very useful for visitors. They combine good transportation with entertaining and informative information. Visitor get a good view of places - at least on the upper decks - though at the same time they get whisked past interesting sights with no chance to explore. Sudden movements and rapid turns can destroy the chance of a good photo: top right is the result of just such a manoeuver when I was attempting a shot of the Six Sisters, a group off iconic houses on Alamo Square in San Francisco. The tour bus bottom right has a poster on its side showing the same buildings. Next to the bottom right is a reasonable photo of the open space of Union Square, but it is debatable whether such a picture is in any sense a 'real visit', a means of showing off just what someone has seen in San Fran, or a quickly-taken reference shot, one of a number made in the same location, which can be used for proper study later. Which is my excuse.
All tour guides (books ass well as the human variety) are forms of mass communication and open to charges of propagandising or being misleading by being selective or inaccurate. So, of course, can teachers and lecturers so education is by no means exempt from the problem. Arguments in favour? - more reliable information if done well, the possibility of flexibility if a real person delivers the commentary as in the photo (recorded commentaries, used on the red tour bus shown, are inflexible); a guide present in person can also answer questions. There are many arguments for and against. It is another illustration of the way in which tourism, the mass media and education need to be examined in terms of communications theory.
The Golden Gate was a way out to the Pacific in one direction and in to San Francisco Bay, with California and the American West in the other. At the north end of the suspension bridge across the narrow entrance is a viewing area. Central to this on a raised area is a statue of a sailor gazing towards the city. Hands in pockets, collar turned up against a cold sea wind, he could be thinking of the home that he is leaving, or of the country to which he is returning full of the experiences of war. Plaques nearby - like the one shown - represent the different groups of men and women who risked life and limb in the service of their country. Whether invaders or defenders, army, navy and air force are travellers, too. Are they tourists? Most people would say no. Yet when on leave or spending time in rest and relaxation they become leisured travellers and thus tourists. Many of them in later life return to the scene of their war experience as tourists. Whether in times of war or peace they absorb experiences of distant places which will shape their views of the world for good or bad. First hand experience leads to a broader kind of understanding.
Someone said there was a rodeo down in Santa Barbara and it would be fun to attend. It did sound good. The baseball game in Chicago had showed one iconic American event and here was a chance to see another. Santa Barbara is close to Los Angeles and anywhere further south in California means that its closer to the Spanish culture of early west coast settlers. The Hispanic influence is strong all the way up to San Francisco and some would say its increasing Spanish is spoken by more than half the population in many areas as immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere, legal and illegal, settle in and families thrive. Its much more common now to see all kinds of signs and notices in both English and Spanish.
It was the Spanish vaqueros or cowboys in the early eighteenth century who established the practices of handling cattle on the open range as opposed to the enclosed fields of Europe. Steers needed to be herded together from across the open country, sorted, caught and marked so ranchers knew whose animals they were. Herding on horseback, cutting out cows from the herd, roping with a lasso and tying down and branding were the skills that cowboys needed. Young horses, born in the wild, had to be caught and broken in to being handled and ridden. Cowboys had to have strength, stamina and a large measure of courage. Demonstrating just how good they were helped cowboys get better jobs. Showing off and competing with other men was a way of honing their skills and celebrating the end of long trail drives. Men could let off steam that way. Maybe it was a way of getting the girls if the girls ever knew just how good individuals were. So out of the competitions that were organised after cattle had been delivered to the railheads in places like Kansas City for transport to the cities of the east came the rodeos. The best handlers were awarded leather belts with decorated buckles, or new saddles. Competitions in rodeos became highly organised business in the last century. Accessories and equipment could be sold to gatherings of the cowboys themselves and the spectator public. As usual in trade shows round the world those taking part could discuss their trade and socialise with friends old and new. Women now take on the work of handling cattle on horseback, too, so while there may be plenty of girlfriends watching there are also quite a number of female colleagues competing and winning top prizes, as they did at this event. Rodeos run for several days and bring in participants and spectators from a wide area. They are therefore both examples of leisure tourism and business tourism as well as sporting occasions.
Chumash Painted Cave
Some people think that America has not got much history. That view is, of course, nonsense. It usually comes about by making a very misleading comparison with European history, compounded by a narrow-minded habit among some older Americans of thinking that their history began when European settlers started to colonise the continental coastlines.
Two points to make. First, there is a wealth of history everywhere about the USA from the times when the Spanish, French, English and other colonisers began to arrive. Every place has its story to tell. It might be more recent than most and might not appear as spectacular as somewhere like the Parthenon or Stonehenge, but its still a rich tale waiting to be told. Second, American history goes back not five hundred years but several thousand, and it is the history of Americans, too. Native, true-born Americans who might not fancy being called Yankees but are there at the heart of all American history.
There are many places to read their stories. Serpent Mound in Ohio, the Canyon de Chelly in Arizona or Chumash Painted Cave in California. OK, the Painted Cave dates are not all that old probably around the late sev enteenth century especially 1677, though the artworks were done at different dates. And they are small one cave with paintings only a few feet square at least, these in Chumash Painted Cave Historic Park; but there are others that were made by the Chumash peoples. No-one knows for sure why they were made or what they represent perhaps there are connections with a solar eclipse in November 1677, but some are older. The key thing is that they are sacred to the Chumash people and part of an important strand of human history in the North American continent, and of a very different culture to that of European-American people.
The cave is a couple of miles up a steep, hairpin-bended road of highway 154 out of Santa Barbara. They wont tell you where the other paintings are: visitors can damage fragile sites without meaning to, and these are too important to risk being harmed.
Cold Spring Tavern
In the days when travellers in central California used the San Marcos Pass the stagecoaches would stop at a series of taverns for food and rest while the teams of horses were changed. Cold Spring Relay Station, as it was at first known, was half way between Mattei's Tavern to the north and Patrick Kinevan's 'Summit House' to the south. Now known as Cold Spring Tavern it is owned by the Ovington family who have been running it since buying the property in 1941. Nowadays a high road bridge lets traffic speed past on a new route straight across the valley where the road past the tavern winds. But Cold Spring is well known and popular for its food and drink; on a hot summer's day the interior, being quite dark, is a pleasant relief from hot weather. The food is typically American, ranging from rare steaks to Cobb salads, served quickly and in plentiful amounts.
Those long journeys during California's early history have produced at least three such chains of accommodation and restaurants for travellers. The Spanish moved up and down the coast on horseback between missions which would shelter them overnight. Santa Barbara, Santa Inez, La Purisma and San Luis Obispo were some in this area, part of a series of twenty-one between modern San Diego and San Francisco. Traffic along Highway 101 may wonder what the bells are, suspended from posts shaped like shepherds' crooks. They are markers for the old Camino Real or Royal Road between the missions.
The stagecoach routes produced their taverns, and later still the railroads their restaurants and hotels. While the missions and taverns were spaced out approximately according to the average comfortable distance for a horseback or stagecoach traveller to cover, one to the other, the railroad stops were spaced according to the distance a steam train could cover. Fred Harvey established his famous restaurants (think of "The Harvey Girls" musical) along the route of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in this fashion, about 100 miles apart in the early days).
Click here for previous postings about Chicago and California
Answers to the 'Aliens Have Landed' puzzle pictures in the October '09 blog: Millennium Park, Chicago; The Louvre, Paris; The Vatican, Rome