19 July 2010

On Travel

This particular time of the season, though accompanied by a severely hot weather, often draws many of us away from what is familiar and invites us to harbour a wish to get a decent massage in Bangkok, give a boost to the Japanese economy during Tokyo's sale season, or ease ourselves in a Hokkaido's hot spring. Though we frequently venture to explore on a different continent once in a while, few of us bear in our minds the notion of travel once we get off the plane, let alone the questions why and how we travel.

If we are kept ignorant of the art of travel, it is perhaps because we are often in muddle of the distinction between travel and tourism. Tourism invites us to set foot on a place where our actions are often governed by guidebooks and leaflets offered by the hotel which suggests that there are churches, museums, shopping malls, statues, and the likes that are in need of our company, conspiring to give weight to our vacuous schedule. While museums and churches might fulfil our spiritual needs, the very essence of tourism also seduces us to lend a fair portion of the schedule to the sacred shopping rituals. It seeks to remind us that our homes are the anchors of identity and products that are remote from our homes can fix us to a version of ourselves we want to side with. It urges us to take pride on our current identities. It refuses to evaluate the fundamental values that are in ourselves, so that we can acclaim with confidence that our very selves rest on a good foundation, that they can be perfected merely through material possession.

Travel, on the contrary, disobeys the guidance of what we should be curious about in guidebooks. Rather than submitting our geographical interests to what tourists should like, travel suggests we should rank the city's offerings according to a subjective hierarchy of interest. Though the Tokugawa Castle in Kyoto should be the highlight of our trip, a neighbourhood restaurant or even an ordinary backstreet might trigger our curiosity far greater than a well-known aesthetically constructed architecture. Though we are expected to appreciate the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the absence of our necessary receptivity to such architecture prompts us to admire a violinist who plays Beethoven's on the street instead.

If a neighbourhood restaurant proves to be more fascinating than a work of architecture, it is because one can venture alone into the very root of the city's culture at its fullest rather than a place where it is easily spoiled under the threats of massive tourists. It takes away what is habitual from us and encourages us through the changes around us, forcing us to form a new vision to look within ourselves. Because only through something that is completely foreign to us, we start to generate new assumptions that allow us to appreciate things in a different and a possibly more honest perspective.

Though travel is distinctly different from tourism, there lies a common ground for both activities- that we long to change ourselves. We get fed up with the monotonous routine of our everyday life and frustrated at the heaviness of inhibiting the same bodies again and again. Behind the same mortal bodies that bear our different torment souls, we tend to harbour a confused faith that there is yet another part of us that remains undiscovered, that our going away from home might summon the long-forgotten selves within us.

However similar the motive behind travel and tourism, while tourism rests on an optimistic attitude towards our practising lifestyle, travel favours pessimism, inviting us to change our ourselves in a more fundamental way. It strives to challenge the very essence of identity, the notion of "i". It confronts us with a complete opposite scenario which the values we inherently uphold might be fallacious, that these values that precisely identify the "i" have surrendered to a fundamentalist logic which ought to be corrected. It suggests that we should forget ourselves once we get on the plane. We need to unburden ourselves before we can fully enjoy the food offered by a neighbourhood restaurant and appreciate a beautiful work of nature because we are no longer critically dependent on the previously known assumptions about ourselves.

Unfortunately, many people of Hong Kong have clung obsessively to tourism rather than travel. They are unable to forget the virtue of haste, therefore make their vacations as strenuous as work and end up as exhausted as they have been at work the whole day. If life is defined by a succession of lightness and weight, why can't we say the same for travel? Only we get on the plane with a sense of lightness, we can come back full of weight.


1 comment:

  1. W, I adore this post. As someone who loves to travel, I can identify with the confusion you have so articulately described. One has to take the path less trodden to craft your own experience. To immerse yourself in a new city in total haste will be a futile exercise to rejuvenate oneself... the very reason why one would go on a trip.


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