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Amman Jordan Not Modern City

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Amman, Jordan is Not a Modern City

In Syria I was warned that Amman, the capital of Jordan, was a very modern city.

When talking to other travelers, the word “modern,” is often used as a euphemism for “bad” or “not very interesting.” When used in reference to a place, “modern” also insinuates tons of traffic, pollution, shopping malls, people in western clothing, faceless expressions, shopping, working, and walking fast.

Oftentimes, the use of this adjective is expressed with a disappointed look on the face.
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Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Amman, Jordan- April, 2009
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Perhaps it is sad that the term “modern” takes on such an adverse meaning.

“It is very modern there.”

“Oh . . . really?”

The word “modern” is all to often a warning placard directing travelers to walk down another path. Tourism is an everlasting hunt for what appears to be exotic – different – in a world which is overwhelmingly “modern.”

Tourism is the cardboard facade in front of the concrete highrises, the costume on the actor who is otherwise a very ordinary person. Travel has been perverted into a search for what is not really there, a search for bullshit. Tourism is a search for actors and not people, a search for performances and not reality.

If modernization is a positive catchphrase for the municipalities and politicians of the developing world, then it is a negative deterrent for most tourists and travelers. Calling a city modern is the equivalent of saying “do not go there.”

To break through the bubble of tourism then search out the most “modern” places that you can find.

It is funny to me how closely “modern” cities around the world resemble each other. That is to say: cinder blocks, rebar, and concrete highrises and faceless, rectangular buildings. “Modern” often means indistinct architecture, and indistinct people.

I care very little if the places I am traveling to are “modern” or “ancient.” I am after the right now, and all places are “right now.” As far as I am concerned, an ancient city is just as modern as a yesterday built stripmall. Everything is modern.

In point, I was not put off when I was told that Amman was a modern city. I want my world the way it is. I like my people the way they are.

But there is a frame of mind that could be considered “modern.” It is a way of acting and a way of thinking. Societies in which the members seldom interact with each other in the streets, where everybody drives everywhere, and live in gated communities is “modern.”

Perhaps “modern” is just another way of referring to an anti-social society.

I care little what the places look like that I travel to. I care about how the people react to me.

How easy is it to make friends?

Do the people talk to me when I walk down the streets?

Do people return my greetings?

All too often, the people of “modern” cities act like the faceless, cubical architecture that they live and work within. In this sense, I understand the inherent aversion that many travelers have towards “modern” places.

It is my feeling that modernization is not just a revolution of utilities and building materials and practices, but a revolution in methods of social interaction. I care little if a city is made from old stone or from new concrete, I care if the people there are open to meeting me or if they are as rigid as their right angle abundant dwellings.

This being stated, what I found in Amman was not “modern.” Or, at least, the city scape was not strewn with strip malls and faceless gray, concrete high rises. As far as the visual senses go, Amman satiated my capacities to their fullest. The place looked interesting:

Honeycomb stone houses covered rolling hills, the streets roved and wound their way through buildings, back alleys lead to hidden little shops deep in market catacombs, and the people hung out in the streets yelling “welcome to Jordan” to me as I passed them by.

If Amman is “modern” then at least it is not faceless. A traveler can still walk down the streets of Amman and meet people. It is true, the streets of Amman are well paved and many of the buildings are new, but the character and sense of charm of this city that removes it from the image that I conjured up when I was told dimly that it was “modern.”

Amman is in the 21st century but it is not “modern.”

Amman is cool.


Mosque in Amman, Jordan.


Bands for Arab headscarves that many of the men in Jordan wear.

Vagabond Journey on Amman, Jordan
Crossing border Syria to Jordan
How to travel from Damascus to Amman
service taxi from Damascus

Amman, Jordan is Not a Modern City

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Filed under: Jordan, Middle East

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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