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Cultural Heritages in 21st Century: A Human Zoo for Tourists’ Entertainment

Viewed 2360 times 2017-2-21 11:43 |System category:Life| culture, tourism

          Last year during the Spring Festival two friends of mine and I decided to make a short trip to India for 10 days. Since we were on a budget we couldn’t travel thoroughly in all country and planned to limit our visits to New Delhi, Agra, State of Goa and Mumbai. Likewise it was pretty much apparent for us to conduct our travels in cheapest means and spare our money whenever we could. And actually when we arrived in India, everything went as planned. We had great time, but I think we also experienced a travel that is not a typical tourist experience. Since we were on a budget we actually spent lots of time on the road in farmers’ or workers’ cars or in the cheapest hard seat along with the regular folk. I believe since we didn’t dine in the expensive restaurants or utilize the main touristic attractions (talking of entertainment) we had the chance to observe how reactions of tourists and common people differed. And it was completely irritating.

            You go to a temple and see native people praying or chanting whereas you also see a tourist taking a selfie, imitating the natives praying or doing some kind of a pose that reflects the image they have of the temple, religion or the people, whatever. For example, near to Taj Mahal it is possible to observe the residents are heading for prayer or praying just few meters ahead while finding a tourist trying to pose a supposed-to-be-an-Indian-thing posture. Furthermore, foreigners taking photos of weddings and funerals of locals from a safe distance –occasionally selfies– while having a bite and a drink like they are watching some kind of a show is not an extraordinary sight.

            But such sights are not sui generis to India. In any country the same folly is taking place. Within an absolute ignorance any relic or attraction with cultural, historical, religious meaning are exploited by foreigners. We (everyone on this earth, I am not sparing a nation) simply go to a country and take photos. Nothing more. Interpretation of meaning and comprehension are limited to putting on the traditional clothes of locals at the very best. You eat some local food, try some traditional clothes and take a selfie with gangster pose around some cultural or historical attraction, voilà!

            Maybe some of us are done it, or witnessed it being done by others. People taking selfies in the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, tourists posing Nazi salute in Auschwitz, foreign tourists pretending to be meditating in Buddhist temples, names dig with nails into holy and/or cultural sites “… was here”… I am sure everyone has fallen into the same wantonness at one point in their life or witnessed in. I remember one time my friend and I was listening to Turkish poet Can Yücel’s poems about death and love with a light folk music in the background when we were in US and as soon as my American friend came into the room she started doing belly dancing. This is just absurd. Then what is the source of this glibness that we all seem to fall in sometimes?

Why are we so shallow?

            I believe this phenomenon that I spoke of is not any particular person or group’s fault. But in a world that we seem to know more about it we are becoming more superficial with every piece of information. We have access to any knowledge in every second, yet the more knowledge we have seem to be further from the embracing the meaning. I am not sure what the reasons are behind but I will blame it on capitalism first of all.

            As the world is more globalized the meaning seems to be attached to the materiality, perception is shaped around the economic worth of it. Monetary benefits are behind the display of culture within a consensual agreement from both the visitor and the host. The host displays his/her culture with 10 dollars at the entrance and visitor gets to do as she will for 10 dollars. But actually, it is not only these 10 dollars that is mending your understanding. You have worker for months maybe years to come to a place, worked hard for every single penny, paid for your plane tickets, paid your hotel and also paid for your entrance. Of course since you are going to pay for it the host is going to present his/her “goods” in a best marketable way. Hence now your comprehension of this new world is valued by the dollars you have brought with you, and you will get the best of it. Not just watching it or waiting there, you will enjoy it because you deserved with your every single penny.

            Secondly, maybe our quick access to any information today is actually keeping us from learning. We learn so much from the internet and books when we go to a place, de facto, we are unable to learning from it because our prior knowledge is screening that new information from getting inside our heads. Let’s say you are a sinologist studying Taoist understanding of afterlife and you have published papers, books on it. But you are going to China for the first time and when you get to a temple in China do you think you would get new information easily or would you look at things with a verifying eye like –yes I know this, I know that? In my opinion it is the latter. Likewise, for example, I am really fascinated by Korean culture, but not only I have never been to S. Korea, but also my understanding of the Korea is mainly based on contemporary Korean literature rather than any real information. So if I went to S. Korea tomorrow, wouldn’t my understanding of Korea be based on the image I have of it?

            So in a world interpretation is undermined, information flowing like wind how can we get to the meaning? I don’t have the answer but I have few ideas.


For Conclusion

           What can be done in order to protect our own values and culture that is residing inside the meaning we attach to the   forms of art, objects and sites as well as respecting to the others necessitates us to have a investigating mind with a respectful attitude. We cannot expect anyone to have the same feeling towards our culture since it needs years of understanding or expect ourselves to have the same understanding with the locals when we visit a place for the first time, especially if it is really foreign to us. But we can do is to try to omit our predefined information about the places we visit and understand what is going on. Yet, at the same time we must try to have a balance between receiving information and interpreting it. Likewise, we can observe the other people and see how they treat their own culture. Only after that maybe we can surpass this superficiality and have a real taste of the world around us.  

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Recent comments

  • Why I Cannot Continue Studying in China 2018-11-15 14:14

    Thanks for sharing you idea here in Chindaily ..
    what you said is happened to me now .. I'm a postgraduate and next year would be my final year at university and i can really get what you said abuot studying in university at China ..

  • Why I Cannot Continue Studying in China 2018-2-19 15:37

    I remember reading this great blog a year back. Didn't I post a reply? It's not in the Comments list. Anyway: Once again, this opinion piece deserves to be shown to others.

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