the ‘authenticity’ dialogue continues… on travel

to everyone who replied to my previous post with their definitions of ‘authenticity’ & were patient enough to indulge me by answering my follow-up questions, thank you ever so much, i really appreciate your efforts, but…it isn’t over yet.

it seems from my previous post that peoples’ general definitions are that it is quite flexible: something can be authentic by design; so something that isn’t authentic in the sense of being original can become authentic through process, through the manipulation of materials to form an authentic thing, in its own right. some define it as something true, so something original, but are persuaded that as we deconstruct what that truth is, it seems to them that it can be reconstituted using methods, behaviour or materials that don’t belong in their first definition of authenticity before they are questioned further.

i want to move to more specific topics to try & gauge particulars. so i want to ask: what do you  think is involved to make an ‘authentic’ travel experience? we all have in mind what we expect from travelling, from a country, from its architecture, food, from the behaviour of the locals, the weather, the culture, the objects of a place, the customs & even clothing etc. this may be informed from our reading of guides, blogs or seeing photographs in magazines. they may even inform our search for authenticity when we commit ourselves to a destination, which whether positive or negative, set expectations we wish fulfilled to have had an authentic experience. i am not here investigating the rights or wrongs, or political correctness, i am not judging opinions, i need honesty from you all.

regardless of how our opinion is persuaded i would like to know you experiences or definitions, your expectations or your disappointments. even if you never visited a place, what do you expect it to be like? what would disappoint you if you experienced it, but didn’t expect it? it could be something like seeing a monk using a cell phone. anything at all related to authentic travel.

in case you are wondering why i am doing this, i’ll try to explain. i want to write an essay based largely on publicly gathered knowledge. you & me together are discussing this topic so as to be formulated into an essay format that will detail what authenticity is, how it works & what it means to us. writers develop a theme alone, thinking they may be addressing the thoughts of a body of people, but perhaps by actually discussing something with a large body of people before writing, may actually create a more hones, shared idea of a topic that actually gets to the center of how people feel about it; rather than if it is done with a perceived notion of what people may or may not think. blogging is an ideal platform for the sorts of discussion that Krishnamurti dedicated himself to trying to begin with people. his reaching out to people was usually in regards to a term, a word or something that is collectively experienced. he seemed to have had little success, from what i can see in his numerous talks, despite his popularity, which may have been the hindrance. people i have learned don’t like looking stupid, they don’t want to embarrass themselves, this is understandable, but it shouldn’t be. we are an international community & blogging allows us to trade ideas & that is really my aim, its just that at the end of it i want to have produced an essay.

i don’t think i’ve done a good job of explaining myself, i hope i can clarify more in a future post as i attempt to render more acceptably my intentions. i have it on the tip of my tongue, but as i never considered how to explain this, i find myself lacking.

thank you all again & i look forward to your opinions.

daniel

 

36 Comments Add yours

  1. I believe an authentic travel experience is one that deviates from the cliche mass tourist crowd, to visit hidden gems not overly burdened by excessive fame. So instead of going to Paris, go to Bordeaux. Instead of going to Bavaria or Oktoberfest, visit Baltic Germany such as Hamburg or Rostock. Go to Patagonia or resorts such as Fogol island inn. Instead of going to London, go to Edinburgh. Instead of Tokyo, go to Naoshima’s Benesse Island Art Site.

    BTW, the theme image is very good.

    1. theme image is hyeopjae beach near to where i live.
      ok, so you advocate seeking out the real by avoiding cliche. but how do you think something becomes cliche?

      1. It becomes cliche when a certain artificialness arises. When it is the first name that pops up without thinking. When subtle beauty and a distinct experience is being forfeited. When the hype is more than the real thing (i.e. Paris).

      2. wouldn’t you say that a cliche is something worn out because it was the original thing?

      3. I see a cliche as something that has become (even if still grand) off the shelf and no bespoke.

      4. thanks for your input. i sort of agree, except it seems to me that people negating cliche can be dangerous, as something that has simply been overused becomes ugly or useless, which seems a little unfair. but i also agree that to progress, to essentially give something else an opportunity certainly has its benefits.

      5. I agree with what you are saying, and in a sense, the problem lies more in that there are too many tourists and not so much that the value is not there. For example, the National Palace Museum in Taiwan has plenty of treasures, but recently, the spike in Chinese tourists means that simply getting around is like navigating through cattle class. I like to experience things in a more relaxed and natural manner, to travel and explore with dignity and decorum, not be part of a mad dash from one crowded location to another.

      6. The Sistine Chapel feels like a cow farm in that you get herded through. It isn’t enjoyable in yhe sense that you can peaceably make your way yhrough but I’d be hard pressed to argue it isn’t an authentic place in Catholicism.

      7. I know what you’re saying, but if I can’t enjoy it properly, if feels withered and artificial. To me, the charm is gone no matter the value. Like a lifeless body. I feel that authenticity comes from a combination of factors, some obvious and some more subtle. If I walk into the Sistine chapel and I don’t feel religion being observed, the it feels that it is more formality than substance. I feel that authenticity comes from values paired with the infrastructure and art. I want to experience a world and culture, not just look at expensive stuff.

      8. An admirable position to take. I used to feel like that. But i have come to think differently about the world of tradition, but i admire your spirit. That sounds belittling but i don’t mean it to be.

      9. Another thing is that I don’t like being singled out as a foreigner and tourist. If I could assume the body of a native born for the trip I would.

        So what is it you feel differently than before?

      10. I don’t think tradition should be held with higher regard than now, because when we do that we don’t appreciate what we are capable of. Things don’t progress even though society has altered. Education, art, politics to name a few get stuck in an obsolete mindset because of too many established values and traditions. Perhaps the period of transition is ugly but when we realize we can create with lasting purpose we may create more meaningfully. We seem to create so much temporal junk because we live in the shadow of an incorrigible tradition.

      11. Good point, being smothered by something no longer relatable is not good either. I don’t want something perpetually aging, for example, I am not interested in reenactments. However, I don’t want something that is new for the sake of being new. I want to see a Phoenix rise from the ashes. A great thing reborn into something even greater, and to experience that in all its glory.

      12. I saw that in a dream on a pagoda built by a monk. Turned out it was called the Phoenix pagoda. Funny coincidence eh?

      13. Wow, it could be prophetic. Who knows, maybe you will be a great pioneer.

      14. It was odd. Same monk i told you about. I wrote a poem about it. I’ll post it for you soon. Let’s hope not i may pioneer people down some questionable paths.

      15. I look forward to it. Plus, I am sure that whatever you create will be for the best. For example, maybe you’ll help protect Jeju’s shrines and heritage in some decisive way in the future.

      16. Think about it, you come from England all the way to Jeju and respect and care for the culture more than many locals. It could be your destiny to revive the island.

      17. That’s my pal Joey’s destiny. I just keep my head down and buy local and use the Jeju people and their island as a well spring for poems. I’d be cautious romanticizing me too much.

      18. Off course it looks far fetched right now, but in the Maxims of the Sages (Ming era text), it states that even a straw hut can harbor a future PM, general etc., thus, it isn’t so much about the resources commanded at present, but the will to act properly. After all, faith in little things will lead to the opportunity to do greater things. Plus, it could eventually become a group effort.

      19. I like your enthusiasm.

      20. Remember, history is full of humble people who have risen to do great things. For example, Liu Bang went from sort of like a hobo to First Emperor of the Han. So just carry on in the right direction and great things can result.

      21. you are full of history lessons, they are quite fitting to your point too.

  2. I’ll have a go. Authentic travel experiences, in my opinion are mainly influenced by the mindset of the traveller and the open-ness to immerse in local cultures in a respectful manner. Get that right, and it will be authentic, because you’ll get an insight into the present day culture of the place you are visiting. I know some people think authentic has to be going to a place that has no other tourists and the locals have not been exposed to outside influences, but you’d need to time travel if that is what you’re after (in my opinion). 2 authentic experiences I have had that stand out was bumping into locals in Grimyachinsk as my friend and I were going to brave a cold swim in Lake Baikal (and get 10 extra years of life or something…). These incredibly generous people suggested we come back to their place for lunch once we were done- we were totally immersed in the spirit of it all and didn’t think twice about saying yes and in doing so, learnt a little more about their piece of the world. The other one was travelling through Mongolia and being invited in for milk tea or a fermented brew whenever we chanced upon a ger in the sparsely populated steppes. The gers almost all had satellite dishes and a tv inside, but it was an authentic experience as it provided an insight into the customs and culture that were true at that point in time. Neither of these experiences could be purchased or booked- they were part of just ‘being’ in the place and in those moments. Okay, that was a long one. I’m thinking I should add this to my NaNoWriMo word count haha. Really interesting discussion you’ve started, Daniel!

    1. i don’t care that it was long, you gave a thorough, brilliant answer. i think you should post it on your blog & also ask people on your side then you can summarize what you found for me. spreading the discussion is certainly encouraged.
      i have to pretty much agree with here. to have an authentic experience while travelling now you have to exist side by side with it, you have to get to know it, which takes time. that is why i stayed in Korea so long. there was nothing special about choosing Korea, i just wanted to be somewhere long enough what it would take me a long time to learn through some other way, i would absorb over time organically. i never travelled as such, but instead i hitchhiked, because i wanted to avoid being a tourist (though of course i was).
      i think you hit the nail on the head, authenticity cannot be booked, it just happens, because the planned cultural experience is, by being planned diminished in intensity, somewhat.
      thanks for coming back to take part again. thoroughly pleased with your answer.

      1. thanks Daniel. Existing side by side with it- great way to put it. A longer response at a later date. I’d be happy to share on my blog and get the discussion going, but can only do if you are happy to wait till December as I have disabled comments on new posts this month to avoid distraction from nanowrimo. I have also had an authentic travel experience in Paris, which I will tell you about next time I comment 🙂

      2. well if i haven’t written the piece by then it may well be on the cards & it is very likely i won’t have written it by then so let’s see. look forward to your expanded responses.

  3. angela1313 says:

    I have not been here before but I love this subject. I agree with 1000hoursleft about the openess and respect. I’ve had some well orchestrated experiences that I would not have missed but they involved the usual sort of famous place/museum kind of thing. The experiences I consider “authentic” involve personal connection and it seems from the other comments it is true for others. It may not even be a “travel experience” in the strictess sense. On a trip to Glasgow I was waiting at a bus stop when a woman asked if the bus was a particular route. I explained I had seen it on the station signs but that I was a foreigner and she might want to check for herself. She decided I was trustworthy and we waited together while she told me she too was a stranger, having left Glasgow over 40 years earlier for Australia. She was only back to scatter her husbands ashes off the cliff at the little park by the sea where he had proposed to her. It was his last request. Our conversation continued for an hour about Glasdow, changes and Australia and then we parted but that meeting seemed to change the whole trip. It was only my second day but for the two weeks I remained in Scotland it was like that. I had a series of small personal connections that made the trip one of the best I’ve ever had.

    1. thanks for offering up your opinion & fitting anecdote.
      i find it quite wonderful that what seems to be authentic to people is something quite ordinary, something we probably do everyday, or have the opportunity to, but something about unfamiliar surroundings inverts us: what is usually ordinary becomes special, because we don’t feel we are fumbling in the dark though we are fully aware that we are in someone else’s environment. it isn’t the sticking out it is the blending in. isn’t that interesting.
      do you think that deep down, despite the romance of adventure, we really just want to go somewhere & feel at home? there’s a line in Derek Walcott’s ‘White Egrets’ where he says “there was no need to travel /
      this far, to recognize things i already know.” could this be part of what authenticity feels like, to know already? to be at home?

      1. angela1313 says:

        I think that may be a big part of it Daniel. My grandfather fed me everything Scottish throughout my childhood, including Scotch in my oatmeal when I was sick and I could have built up expectaions beyond reason, I suppose, but in fact I did feel very at home there. Then again, I felt very at home in Korea and that was completely undiscovered country when I arrived. Perhaps it was similar values, I found in both countries helpfulness without invasiveness, direct and straightforward people, good food without pretention and a suble and rugged landscape that appeals to my love of hiking.

      2. Korea grows on me more & more, i’ve been here 6 years now. i think it is the food most, going back to a western diet would be so dull, Korean food keeps me in good shape. i have never gained weight as long as i eat mostly Korean food.
        thanks again for your input, i hope you can help me again soon as i ask the blogging world more questions on authenticity.

  4. The term, “Authentic Travel” is a mystery to me. Is it about the quality of one’s experiences in traveling? Does on absorb through osmosis the culture and personalities of the societies one meets? Perhaps this term refers to the interactions, if any, with the locals or the environment. What should I make of my visit in 1967 to South Vietnam. Was it an “authentic travel”? There certainly was interactions with the locals and the environment. Did this in any way invalidate the authenticity of my travel to that country?

    You will pardon me if I find the term “Authentic Travel” meaningless and even pretentious. I have traveled to a great many places in several hemispheres and never once did it occur to me or anyone else to whom I related my tales of travels to ask if such trips were authentic. Some of the travel was work related such as driving truck long haul across America, some was for training purposes, and some was just for the fun of seeing new places and observing cultures and societies. Since I was conscious each time and remember my experience then I must say that such travels were authentic.

    Perhaps the problem is with the adjective itself. After all, what is authentic travel? If one books one of those tours where one visits eleven countries in five days has one nor had an authentic travel experience? Does spending three months in a French Village make my travel authentic? Do you see the problem? One is trying to place a moral judgment on an experience. Openness and respectfulness are relative terms of judgment. these two terms beg the question of how much openness and respectfulness one must exhibit in order to have an authentic travel experience. Anything less means that one’s time was wasted.

    So I would judge my own travels by what I experienced. There are places I’ve been that I would not care to revisit such as Singapore or Mumbai. And I would never wish to spend another year as the guest of Uncle Sam in South Vietnam, one never wants to go through hell twice in a lifetime. On the other hand I have enjoyed the small villages in Mexico, wife has some family down there and life is vastly different. I would love to go back to Budapest, the architecture is stunning and the people very friendly. London has gotten to be a pain in the rear but I do like Scotland in May and June, Alas, even there the population crushes in on one. There are only a few places I would go in Italy and Spain, the political climate is growing more unsettled. My opportunities for travel are dwindling. World travel takes more money than I am accustom to spending, so I must go where my dime will take me and no further, But never will my travel ever be authentic.

    1. i chose travel as i was interested to see if people would say anything about how travel is perceived through social media, travel companies. y’know the sort of things- heavily saturated photos of locals staring into the lens, beach huts on white sand, a tranquil lapis lazuli ocean in the background. i am with you, i don’t think authenticity can be when you are temporarily visiting a place. i have lived in Korea for 6 years, i speak quite a bit of the language, i cook the food, read Korean poetry, i married a Korean, i even run a business here, & not for a minute would i count myself as having had an authentic experience, because i cannot think like a Korean, & i find it difficult to overcome my English/Western oriented way of being. i think the term is silly, it was used to see what people would have to say, to narrow the definition of ‘authenticity’ to something more specific. i felt travel easier to approach than say, literature, which really is silly.
      maybe you have a suggestion for a topic to concentrate on? it would be welcomed.

      1. Language is a bitch. It refuses to do our exact bidding no matter how hard we flog it. Language is taught to us, sorry Dr Linguistics, there is no language acquisition device within our brains where all the rules of grammar are preloaded at conception just as BIOS is loaded into a block or ROM for a CPU. Our brains are wired for pattern recognitions in the visual, auditory, and olfactory parts of the brain. Many linguists and neuroscientists believe that the ability to do mathematical calculations came before language use and both use some of the same cortical areas. Thus our culture and language is passed on to us as is our ability to do mathematics. Understanding this means that we may visit other societies and observe them. We know to some extent, some individuals more than others, who we are and thus compare and contrast our experiences with other societies, both the general and the specific. I would believe the one question we might ask of travel is what insight does it give us. Powers of observation are not evenly distributed and sometimes disabilities such as dyslexia provide a sense of fun. The first time i went to London I saw all those large and small signs reading “TO LET”. I kept placing an I in each sign thinking it was odd that the city was advertising the availability of toilets.

        So why not ask what individuals find different in other cultures or societies and also what commonalities they may observe. That would make for a most interesting discussion. We see differences first and take the commonalities for granted and yet each has significance in our living.

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