Authentic Asia: find it at the shopping mall
Recently I have been intrigued by something travel writer Tom Coote said on his website about the quest for authenticity in travel:
“The concept of authenticity has largely been appropriated as yet another way to persuade gullible tourists to part with their hard earned cash. If you really want to get to know a country, you would be better off doing what the locals would like to do, rather than visiting pointless tourist attractions, boring museums and tedious ‘cultural events’.”
I can just plainly agree.
He goes on proposing a few “Other things to do” to escape corporate – and local – attempts to part your money from your pockets, and ultimately comments that supermarkets are often infinitely better than the “authentic” markets that, by definition, are created to lure in the tourist. And again, indulge in Mission Empty Pocket. I have been thinking for quite a while that what Tom Coote has written is unbelievably true. Especially in Asia.
Asians, of all the peoples in the world I met, seem to be the ones enjoying the globalizing world most than anyone else. Really. And let’s face it: as much as many Asian countries would look so much better if people wore only traditional dresses, stop and think. Authentic is what REALLY is authentic; the true essence of life. And this essence, around Asia, is to be massively found within the malls’ walls. Flashing lights, Starbuck cafés, high heels, miniskirts and suits and ties. The oxen-pulled carts have been left out for good, although some Western traveler would have definitely loved to see them ply up and around the mall’s moving escalators. To cite the words of my Asian partner: “Why should we love regress, when we can finally have some progress? Should I dress up in rags to make you happy and give you the authentic experience?”. So, I argue that an authentic tour of China, Thailand and India would not be authentically complete if you did not pay at least a visit to these new temples of authenticity. Stroll up and down the aisles, check out some strange products, observe what locals try to fill their carts with. Look at the screaming babies and thumb through the books on offer. Get an insight into their real, modern culture. Join throngs of families looking for the new plasma television experience, or the latest improvement in whipping cream technology. And you would probably feel that those big differences you felt as you arrived are not as huge as you thought. It is a matter of perspectives. Like the one beautiful perspective I am having now, watching people walking inside of the mall from the safe air-condition comfort of a wirelessly powered Starbucks. This is my window of opportunity to the authentic world.