I just made the mistake of re-reading my recent rant about air travel. It would appear that I was particularly bilious that day, so, I think that it is appropriate for me to take some time and expand on one of the subtexts within this ill-humored bit of fluff.
Lets speak of travel and differing culture. Going to another place and immersing oneself in another culture is a great way to grow as a person. Don’t kid yourself, your home, wherever it is, is just another spot on the planet. It is not especially favored by God and does not hold the keys to all truth and goodness. Travelling and spending time and energy within another culture is one hell of a good thing. Makes you work on your humility and thankfulness, something that is always needed here in the good old USA.
What offends me so much in our ways of travelling is the tourist/business travel way of life. It is not limited to Americans, though the Japanese and us have elevated the lifestyle to an art form. Travelling to a distant land and trying desperately to keep the local culture at arms length, like something to be coolly examined under a naturalist’s lens. Subtle mocking is the order of the day, to be performed while catching a quick golf game and being served cocktails by servile/nubile locals. Jimmy Buffet put it best in this excerpt for “A Cowboy in the Jungle”
Steel band in the distanceI have spent too much time and mileage on jet planes. My Continental Airlines frequent flyer statement by itself shows 329,957 miles. This number doesn’t include Delta, American Airlines, or the Military Airlift Command, which add about probably twice that to the total. I’ve been to a couple too many continents and have no intention whatsoever to see the last two. Traveling to do stuff was part of my life for quite a bit. But all that time in a bad chair going somewhere else allowed me to watch the bad parts and become thoroughly disgusted by them.
And their music floats across the bay
While American women in moomoos
Talk about all the things they did today
And their husbands quack about fishing
As they slug those rum drinks down
Discussing who caught what and who sat on his butt
But it's the only show in town.
They're tryin' to drink all the punches
They all may lose their lunches
Tryin' to cram lost years into five or six days
Seems that blind ambition erased their intuition
Plowin' straight ahead come what may.
It turns out that my real problem with the current travel model is that it allows one little chance of truly interacting with other people. You understand other cultures by being invited to weddings; sitting in a back alley in Beijing getting drunk on big bottles of Yanjing beer with your work buddies; watching a young Thai man getting his head shaved in preparation for being a monk; sitting in a bar in Little India with the smell of the spice market overwhelming you while the monks at the Buddhist temple down the street send out a bass line to their prayers; carefully listening to the little Arab kid who sells you the hash cookie and not eating the whole damn thing.
So, if you want to travel, quit your job and catch a boat. Get an apartment on the rive gauche and argue Sartre. Squat in a market in Katmandu and dicker over the price of hashish, or go work in a nunnery in Calcutta helping the poor.
But for Christ’s sakes, don’t go there to play golf.