Feeling the Pulse of a Big City

Submitted by viravira on 16 December 2013   •  Opinion

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This is a guest post from bloggers Twosocks and Gypsytoes (feels like I’m living in a fairy tale) from the Dustysneakers. We’re fans of their blog and happy to have their say on how to enjoy a big city right here. Text and photos are courtesy of Dustysneakers, with just little adjustments to fit in here. Enjoy! 


Big cities, that sprawling metropolis with tall skyscrapers jam packed with people, are a nearly inevitable destination for travelers, even those who prefer to be with nature in remote, exotic places. It is fairly easy to find ways to enjoy a big city according to your liking. Guide books and travel sites can readily share local eateries that will satisfy a foodie, the best museums to go to for history buffs, shopping sites for the shopaholics, hip clubs to dance the night away, and the most unique sights a city has to offer.

However, most of these tips are about established attractions that are already imprinted in history and the image that a city would like to project. There is much less insight out there on how to catch histories in the making and the ongoing dialogue between the city and the people who live there. Twosocks, my partner in crime, and I came up with three alternative places that you can visit in between food hunting, sightseeing, and museum strolling to get a feel on the pulse of a big city.

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Visiting the local university

Who else can better give you a sense of history in the making than the youth, and where else can you better get a sense of their spirit than in a university? Walking through a university complex, there are always posters of student activities that will show what the educated young generation currently thinks are cool, important, or causes for concern. Students are also generally quite friendly and open to talking to travellers.

I found an ad for a Politically Inspired Book Club when I visited Srishti Art School in Bangalore, which a student explained is a community initiative to help those who would like to read books on politics find friends to discuss new books with.

Twosocks once visited Brawijaya University’s library during a trip to Malang and started chatting with a group of students almost immediately. They talked about books they are reading, where they usually hang out at night, and also social issues of their concern. At the time, he learned about the environmental degradation in the coastal areas of East Java through the students’ plan of helping some communities preserve their mangrove trees.

As a bonus, the canteen food in universities is usually tasty and really affordable!

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Hanging out in an urban art space

Unlike mainstream galleries that aim to showcase and sell the work of big names in art, alternative urban art spaces usually focus on introducing up and coming artists and making art more accessible to the public. These spaces, such as Dia.Lo.Gue in Jakarta and Kedai Kebun Forum in Yogyakarta, host a wide range of artwork – paintings, photography, installations, sculptures, performances – that commonly engages with everyday issues faced by people living in the city. Some could be political, such as a recent photography exhibition in Dia.Lo.Gue of the weekly Black Thursday peaceful protest in front of the Presidential Palace to commemorate activists who disappeared during the New Order era.

Some could be rather humorous, such as a glass installation of random conversations heard in a commuter train showcased in Ruang Rupa, another urban art space in Jakarta. Most of these spaces come with a small shop to sell crafts and merchandises of local independent artists or a café to have a drink and light meal while chatting with friends. Everyone is welcomed, whether they like to dress up or are more comfortable in sandals and shorts. Good news for travelers, isn’t it?

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Spending the weekend in a park

The heat and humidity of tropical countries, along with the lack of open green spaces in most big cities, usually deter people from going to a park. However, many urbanites have decided to reclaim parks as a public space and create fun community activities on the weekends.

On a Sunday stroll through the large Lumphini Park in Bangkok, I watched a storytelling performance for children and enjoyed seeing the animated expressions of the storyteller and the children although I only understood three words in Thai.

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Taman Suropati in Jakarta is always buzzing with activities all day long in a weekend: yoga in the morning, a chamber orchestra that plays Indonesian folk songs in the afternoon, and street musicians performing at night. All side by side with family picnics, dating couples, and friends hanging out together.

We love parks, most of all, because people seem to stand on a more equal ground. Most public spaces in big cities are segmented by class; it is fairly easy to distinguish the economic standing of a person from the shops they go into in a mall. But a park is much less divisive and people from different social backgrounds seem to be comfortable being around one another in this space.

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What we really like from the three alternative destinations is that they change in time. Unlike museum displays, which very rarely change, you will find something different no matter how often you visit a university, an urban art space, or a park. The dynamics of these places, which costs very little to visit, are in tune with the evolving mood of the big city and give you a glimpse of what the city and its people are going through at the moment. Let us know if you’ve included these spaces in your big city adventure, we’d love to hear your take on the pulse of the city!


Gypsytoes of The Dusty Sneakers

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7 years ago

Innovative! Love the post.

Gypsytoes and Twosocks

Vira and Mumun, thank you so much for featuring our article! We really do enjoy guest blogging for Indohoy and wrote about the experience here: http://dustysneakers.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/we-guest-blogged-for-indohoy/

John, thanks! We’re glad you loved it. Let us know if you have any other alternative ideas on exploring big cities. 🙂