Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"...The God that you do not believe in has blessed our president with victory."

Title courtesy of a Matt Tiabbi interview, because, y'know, he'd have something darkly sarcastic to say, too. I've kind've run into a cynical streak that comes with reading too much eXiled and too many books that talk about "being on the front lines of an Empire you don't know exists" and all of that. But look. As a self-referencing, egotistic, obnoxious blogger, I have an important message for all of you about to begin a travel blog.

The country you are about to visit does not exist for your self-actualization. Authenticity is Complicated? Nooo. This? Stupid. That? Wretchingly awful. Lets discuss.

  1. "Sure, travel companies will charge you a lot of money to offer up a “real” experience, but what you’re purchasing is no more or less authentic for its exclusivity." Travel companies also speak the local language and get you hooked up with events you would never find otherwise. If you're traveling for a week or two, you're not going to wake up one day and speak Thai. This is ok. You're traveling to take pretty pictures and tell cool stories. If you wanted to experience life as a Thai does, you'd burn your passport and somehow shade those baby blues. So deal with the fact that your a foreigner and are seeing a country through foreigner's eyes. That isn't going to change.
  2. "Coffee is not just coffee when it is a glass mug of Malay espresso and sweetened condensed milk, served on a sticky 85 degree day in a Kedai Kopi in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, with a steaming bowl of lahksa." Ooooh, look at the lady who went to Indonesia! Did YOU go to Indonesia? Well, I guess you wouldn't understand. It's not just coffee, its sooo SENSUAL. I'll make you some right now, but you won't GET IT, will you? You just can't be in BORNEO if you're in Columbus. Listen, you don't want me to take details for granted? How to do that, make 120-photo Facebook albums and update my Fbook status every 15 minutes from my iPhone? What the blue fuck? Some of us may not have time on our pleasure-cruises to take copious notes on everything we've done with eyes open. We have lives to attend to as well. Live in the fucking moment once in a while instead of impressing people back home.
  3. "‘Existential migration’ is conceived as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about existence by leaving one's homeland and becoming a foreigner." Looks like someone read their Walden. What exactly are you learning about existence, pray tell? Is it that English-speakers can get paid the world-over? That getting drunk in fascinating locales makes for wonderful stories and ugly tattoos? That nothing bad can happen to white people, no matter how different the local people look? That you can get some solid strange if you're a dude with a black baby in your Facebook picture?* I love how this study came from the US...I wonder if Mujahidin count as existential migrants? Or Gulenists and Jesuits? Or is our study sample solely suburban volk?
"But Aslan Juhayman," you may ask, "aren't you a foreigner who has left home to live in a foreign place? Twice?" The answer, my friend, is yes. I am a suburban dude who left home. I had my reasons. They are, at the moment, intensely personal. I am, I would wager to say, not perfect. And I also wouldn't include Third-culture kids in this snark, because that's a whole other interesting phenomenon.

I'm a huge fan of travel. I love what de Botton has written on the subject. I sincerely think that everyone should, at some point, get out of the neighborhood they grew up in, and not just to kill someone from a different neighborhood, either. But let's not wear ourselves out with the back-patting. The Study Abroad of us are incredibly fortunate. We have the opportunity to do some really cool things. But just having an opportunity doesn't make us special. As the saying goes, waking up on third base doesn't mean you hit a triple.

So don't let me stop you from taking pretty pictures and writing funny stories. I should hasten to add, however, that there are lots of interesting angles out there about framing narratives and the such. I'll even be writing about them in the future. There is a lot you can learn about yourself by traveling, of course. All I ask is this: remember that the country you are visiting doesn't give a damn about you. The country does not care whether you live or die, have a great time or are caught in the rain, fall in love or catch the clap from a hooker. In Turkey, for example, 70 million people will go about their days tomorrow without caring if I can figure out this damn OpenERP at work tomorrow.

I am not important because I'm an American. I'm just lucky enough to have one of dem blue passports. But that passport won't protect me if I get drunk and punch out a Turkish dude. That passport won't open doors (except for the consulates). I'm also fortunate, in a way, that I don't get looked at as an American often. I'm lucky that when I open my mouth, people seem to think "wow, that Turk dresses funny and talks like an absolute moron" as much as they think "that American knows six verbs, we should congratulate him!"

But when all of us objectify the locals as allowing us to see ourselves better, its disgusting. They don't care about us, in a way. Each individual Turk (or Thai, or Afghan, or whatever) has their own individual needs and cares that cannot be boiled down into a "Turks feel ___ about Americans" or "The people are so courteous" in any ingenuous way. Complex issue is complex. And that American passport, and the visa you paid for, is all about you finding yourself out, and has nothing about you changing lives or Opening Rare Windows. If you want to do Anth, get a degree. Otherwise take pretty pictures and write snarky posts about tourists.

*=does not apply if you are black, obviously. Then people just assume you have a Baby Momma.

4 comments:

  1. Man, this is scathing...

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