Monday, June 30, 2008

The Conveyor Belt of Tourism

There's something so seductive about the comfy beds, the plentiful food, the air-conditioned buses, the carefully tailored patter of the guides.. but we are feeling so restless after days of this "canned" experience. Yes, it is precious to spend time with our family, and yes, it is exquisite to have a trip to all these fascinating countries gifted to us, but we feel tantalized by the trimmings without the meal. Perhaps we are travels snobs, wanting to truly MEET people from other cultures and learn about their lives. High-end tourism (as it was described by the people sitting with us at dinner last night)seems to be ultimate of consumerism...consuming the most stunning landscape, the most "authentic" forms of local entertainment, endless quantities of upscale food, continual photo ops, etc. But after twelve days, we are dizzy from the superficiality of it all, and cranky from conversations with people so privileged that their ultimate goal is to visit as many countries as possible, eat and drink ridiculous amounts until they go home and starve themselves, and ignore much of what they observe (or choose not to observe) about the inequities far from home. Maybe it all serves making them feel smug about the lives they've chosen. I dunno. Perhaps I need to read more anthropological studies about the culture of tourism - it seems to be a cultural plane that requires a stronger stomach than mine.

I went into this whole adventure trying to have as open a mind as possible, and I did meet one woman traveling alone who was politically astute and critically thinking. But she was the exception among the two dozen or so people I met outside my family during the trip. Even last night, at our farewell dinner, I continued to dangerously dive into political conversations with "entitled" folks who expressed xenophobia, racism, classism and more, without a blush. I've always liked testing the edges of my own assumptions, but I am a bit worn out from this exercise after 12 days.

Hopefully our last few days in Budapest will give us more of the depth we crave.
Tomorrow we will spend alone with my mom, who has one last day in Budapest before flying back. Then we will cross the river into Buda, where will stay at a cheaper hotel, after 2 nights in this superficially & ridiculously priced 5 star hotel (featuring the sounds and vibrations of jackhammers outside the window from 7 am until almost 6 pm).

Gotta get dressed now for the last family dinner.

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