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.