Sunday, 24 July 2016

Consuming the Exotic: Discovering Oneself or Getting Lost?

Flying over a volcano in East Java, July 2016

Tourism is a balance between consuming place, and being consumed. Images of land, space and place are cleverly constructed to weave an imagined experience that frequently is only as real as its own discourse allows it to be. You consume by buying, and you consume by eyeing. Coming to the Far East as a Westerner, there is an extra degree of foreignness, a search for exoticism and difference that is entirely played to in order to create, and sell, experiences memorable.

Finding yourself in the East is a horrible cliché that's too commonly lived out by foreigners, with varying degrees of success. But in many ways, all trips are ways of testing oneself when out of routine. Time away from home is temporary. Being finite, it is a form of escapism mental as well as corporeal. I like to make my own itinerary on trips, to steer away from pre-arranged activities and large groups. This is not always successful, but with each trip I make I learn about how to make decisions. Frequently, I forget past lessons, the moral of the story coming back to me in flashes after I've already discovered my error. But the conclusion I've come to, after travelling in various 'exotic' lands, is that outsiders only see as much as locals allow us to. There is a certain desire to get lost, to explore; but tourism is a lucrative business, and frequently this longing for the unknown is in fact mapped out beforehand, by hands we choose to ignore. We tread on paths already carved out.

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