Thinking out loud on the subject of tourism & authenticity & the problems in their relationship

To experience authenticity, it should be more difficult than this. More than a taxi ride, cable car, which takes you for a modest price to the summit & thereabouts. & thereabouts, you can purchase all you require to fill your back pack & your belly. Here at the shelter, before the ascent up Yeongsil to Witsaeoreum, you can eat wild roots, ginkgo nuts, ferns & rice, foraged from the surrounding forests & prepared, sizzling in black clay pots. You can eat rice cake & oranges. You can buy a broad hat to block the sun, a handkerchief for mopping sweat. Extra pairs of legs. Chocolate bars & coffee. omija or citron tea with a healthy bitterness to sting the tongue alive.
These are not authentic things in themselves. They are an amalgam, guaranteeing a volume of tourists to an authentic environment, equipped with myth, religion & local produce.
You don’t even need to clean your own boots when you get home, no need to dirty a sponge, there is an air pressurized machine, which cranks & whirs angrily, frightens the crows into bewildering caws. It is as they’re trying to fend off a threat. The machine blasts the scum off your soles.

Tourism vitiates quality. Yeongsil shelter isn’t so bad, i’m more flummoxed by ease; which i am beginning to understand as a stumbling block for authenticity. Elsewhere isn’t so fortunate. To maintain authenticity is time consuming. Time is money. Less time spent = more money made. Volumes of the product should be kept to a minimum, like winking in a blizzard.

A mist falls like rags of lace over the temple. Cools the packed pines. Tourists feels their skin again, as if it were a slab of white marble. They forgot the feeling of horripilation. They welcome the old sensations of the skin that summer forgets for them. The statues of Siddartha & Dangun gasp as if they took a gulp of carbonated water. There should be a traffic of mountain streams, pristine & audacious running beneath the small bridge leading to the temple & bifurcating throughout the forest. i can feel the afterthoughts of its energies in the light wind. The rain has been unsatisfactory this summer.

Stone lanterns with peaked roofs have space enough for a single candle. Capaciously they guide monks through the trunk of night. A shrine beside the temple smokes incense, erodes gifts of chocolate & fizzy drinks, as if the heavens developed a sweet tooth. The monk went to eat soup & catch up on Kakao Talk. There are families wearing the same clothes, a Siberian tiger on the adverse & reverse of their t-shirts. They make brief surveys of what’s on offer. Father’s with hands behind their backs & a brisk pace though their steps are shored by their height. Mother’s with purses full of tissues & small vials of perfume. Children with the scent of sugar in their mouth & red stains on their clothes. They seem disinterested, but it’s more likely the next place on their bucket list is lodged in their mind. i can’t grudge them time’s footfalls. There are countless steps to take up the mountain where the 500 Generals bang granite fists on the sky, to make their grief heard over growling motorbikes & families giggling at photographs of themselves, fastened in mid-air.

The crows bark in registers that remind me of gesticulations from a pulpit. Wings aren’t the best tool for annunciating, like using Claude Chappe’s semaphore on the radio. You need fingers for such emphasis. One crow i saw whispered in the ears of another, unlike the irritating flies & mosquitoes who zip in mine. Somewhere a circumference is made from one crow whispering to another, a clear center, except the boundaries, though felt to be somewhere, are of uncertain demarcation— greater progress is expected. Things were off to a good start for not knowing.

The cloud drifts away. The summit ridge jollies into a modern blue. Everyone is the same. Their scale is similar to a platoon of ants. Slowed by altitude. Met by a wind that never makes it down. Seeing them i think of Jacob ’s ladder & wish them the best of luck. The striated façade of a cliff beside them, a reminder of our stature. Dead trees. Medicinal flowers. Rocks & dry grass.

Teenagers follow parents to the temple next to the car park. They look up at the eaves hand painted with lotus in teak, red, blue & orange. Hand crafted by master builders who study for years, who carried fallen pines from somewhere deep in the forest. Treated them to a new incarnation. Objects arranged into adoration like 2 chopsticks that fell into the shape of a rood. Even the window shutters carved into a diamond lattice the sad browed bend of the roof is of no interest to them— its gable shelter for small birds, ignored. After impersonating crows they check their cell phones & never resurface. i don’t blame them, but i want to. What is this lump of wood to them? They can’t use it for shelter, it inspires no aesthetic climax, its interior & exterior is without LED or halogen fixtures. The temple doesn’t flash unless the wind extinguishes & reignites a candle in the same breath. This is a remote place & they have no gauge on the distances of solitude. They are yet to abstract the dimensions of peace.

The crows signal each other with a spectrum of caws. They speculate on our commotions.
Time’s urgency is lost in the pull of so much umbrage, in so many dried sticks of the dead carpeting the ground. Branches that if brushes were attached at their tips would paint master pieces with a little encouragement by the wind.

Only our presence brings time here. Geology has its own. & tries to ignore our vested interests. Goes around us. Will always take the long way round.

But i’m only here for the difference in degrees.

Posted by:DPM

DPM is an idea-logue (sic) and object-oriented speculative realist, attempting to be response-able in an irresponse-able society.

14 thoughts on “Thinking out loud on the subject of tourism & authenticity & the problems in their relationship

    1. Cheers as ever Steve. i don’t write much prose, but i felt poetry wasn’t best suited to the development of my ideas on authenticity & tourism, but wanting the best of both worlds, i thought a description of behaviour & environment wasn’t to the detriment of my developing. i am glad to hear it worked for you. Perhaps i need to write more prose.

      1. Very welcome, Daniel. It’s a good point, and in the end I guess it’s about what works for you. From my side, I particularly like striking and unusual “visuals” like yours here. 🙂

  1. “Tourism vitiates quality.”

    I’m not sure. It changes stuff, but I never knew any culture that actually existed in aspic. We might not like the change, but it is inevitable; the only static state is death. If we can stand in front of the Sphinx in Gizeh and, forgetting for a moment, how many tourists are around us, clicking their Konicas and Yashicas, we can think “Wow, Napoleon stood here! Julius Caesar stood here!” And we can bet that their standing there brought change, we can bet that they were surrounded by their invading armies, we can bet that though they might have stood there, it took an Ottoman pasha to decide that he didn’t like the Sphinx’s smug leer so he bombarded it into the faceless ruin we pay to see today. Tourism is just one of those forces that comes along and works change. When we lament it, we indulge ourselves, we say “Oh I wish this place was like it used to be before all these OTHER foreigners came along!” as though our own presence were pure, as though our own presence made no difference. We made a difference by simply being there, we made a change in its state by simply observing and passing on. We certainly made a difference by coming and staying. You and I make a difference by writing poetry about places. But the changes we make are to places that have changed before.

    I live in a country that has changed and changed again, countless times over recent history – let’s say the past three hundred years – some of those changes due to tourism, some more devastating than that to other causes. Would I recognise the place if I stepped back a mere fifty years?

    We are a pioneer species – agents of change – heedless and blind though we may be to the unforeseen consequences of our pioneering. We have hardly ever ameliorated anything. Some prophets may say we hurtle towards a cliff, but – hey! – who knows…

    1. i want to just agree with what you have said because it is so elegantly articulated, but i feel i must clarify my position, which alters the position you are coming from.
      It vitiates the quality of things & our approach to a place, which is altered beyond recognition due to ease of access. The place ‘yeongsil’ in this prose piece, should be a remote, pristine mountain walk, but due to the easy access of its features, it isn’t any longer. It shouldn’t be so easy to destroy a piece of nature with tourism. Like building a cable car to the top of Everest.
      i’d say the pyramids & a natural wonder are sort of different. At least to me.
      Your argument stands in regard to man made monuments. If anything i’d argue that regarding man made monuments they retard change. A country consumed by monuments must rely on tourism else its economy falters, it vitiates the people, as is shown by the demonstrations at the moment by local populations against tourism, even though their economies are kept afloat by it. The problem i see is, any advancement takes space & when the space is consumed with treasures, colosseums & ampitheatres which provide tourism, but not much else, then any infrastructure must be built else where, perhaps eating into countryside, which becomes an environmental issue.At this point identity becomes more important than infrastructure. i am not making a judgement on this, it is just what i have noticed living in a country whose culture was almost entirely annihilated & rebuilding took on a practical dimensions due to concerns for feeding & housing people. Perhaps when economies are flailing it is time to ask how important an artifact is when people need food in their bellies & a roof over their head. This sounds very binary & perhaps myopic, i don’t know; i never imagined i’d hear myself say it, but history doesn’t seem all that important to me faced with the ecological & economic problems that face us.

      1. I see what you mean. However, I’m going off at a tangent. Several, actually.

        * People hardly ever demonstrate for change. They tend to demonstrate against it. And I speak as a radical who believes in confronting the consolidation of wealth and power at every turn.

        * Being a pioneer species, we affect nature. Not just by leisure, but by agriculture, by the growth of civil society, and in a million-million ways we do not realise.

        * Lamenting a remote mountain walk becoming a tourist trail is tantamount to saying “I want to keep this view to myself, and I don’t want anyone else to see it.” Or, worse, “I don’t want anyone to see this view, even me.”

        * Frankly, when I see man-made monuments, I have two conflicting feelings, depending usually on their age. When I see something like a stone circle, I am thrilled by the technical ability of people we write off as being remote, primitive, unsophisticated, and tribal. When I see something more modern – let’s say from Haussmann’s boulevards onwards, I think to myself, “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.”

      2. Some good points. I don’t mind the tourism of the trail so much as long as the tourist is willing to make some effort. I have respect for the true hikers but people who take taxis or drive to make flash visits is a problem for me as it is an ego of besting nature to experience it without putting anything in. You can have a mohntain to yourself if you know the right time. I managed it once or twice.
        Everything else i have to agree with 100%.

      1. I have to finish a book review for Dancecult while starting the latest round of translations and re-writes of The Analects of Na-neun… and I am traveling right now (welcome to Zhuhai!). But It will appear sooner than later.

      2. The Analects make up about 150 double sided pages of notes, poems, micro-stories, micro-essays on Japanese cultures, and various rants about musicians I hate! So I have a LOT of digging and editing to do.

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