Can a Trip Ever Be ‘Authentic’?
In a globalized age — when a McAloo Tikki is just as Indian as the Taj Mahal — has the very word lost its meaning?
I once spent an unforgettable day in the traveler’s treasure-house that is Sana’a, capital of Yemen. Stained-glass windows glittered from thickets of high tower-houses as night began to fall, and khat-chewing men with daggers at their sides haggled furiously in the Salt Market. Clay walls surrounded one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on the planet, where groups of turbaned shopkeepers headed toward 1,400-year-old mosques as the call to prayer echoed through the dusk. It wasn’t hard to feel, amid the dusty lanes of a large section of town that’s now a Unesco World Heritage Site, that nothing had changed since the Prophet’s time; here, I decided, was the Old World, all slowness and prayer and tribal custom, in stark opposition to the fast-forward, hyperconnected, young society I know in California.
And yet the single most revealing moment I spent in Yemen came not in Old Sana’a, but in the bombed-out, headline-ridden port of Aden. The ‘‘true Yemen,’’ I realized inside a crowded Internet cafe, was the sound of ‘‘La Cucaracha’’ playing loudly as a truck driver sounded his horn outside. It was the melancholy half-Yemeni, half-British man who buttonholed me one afternoon and invited me to see the cemetery where most of his family was buried. It was the Ching Sing restaurant nearby that had been serving moo shu shrimp through nearly 40 years of warfare, and boasted a menu startlingly similar to the one I’d seen at the Chinese Cascade Restaurant (an ‘‘Authentic Chinese Restaurant’’) in southern Oman, not far away — run and frequented entirely by Indians.
然而对我而言，也门最发人深省的时刻，并不是在萨那老城，而是遭到轰炸满目疮痍，备受媒体关注的港口城市亚丁。我在一所拥挤的网吧里意识到，所谓“真正的也门”，是一个卡车司机在网吧门外按着喇叭，车上大声播放着墨西哥民歌《小蟑螂》(La Cucaracha)。是一天下午，一个也门和英国混血的男子拉着我讲话，邀请我到一块墓地参观，他的家人多半埋葬在那里。是附近的诚兴餐馆(Ching Sing)，尽管它经历了近40年的战火，但一直在供应木须虾仁，这里的菜单与我在另一家餐馆看到的菜单惊人地相似——那家店是烹制“正宗中国菜”的瀑布中餐馆(Chinese Cascade Restaurant)，位于距此不远的阿曼南部，由印度人经营，也只有印度人光顾。
Our notion of places — which is to say the romances and images we project onto them — are always less current and subtle than the places themselves. That’s why we work to screen out the many shopping malls and signs for McAloo Tikki in Varanasi as we search for dead bodies near the ghats; it’s why my Kyoto-born wife, visiting the U.S., looks aghast when I take her to an authentic-seeming Vietnamese restaurant in Orange County or that Ethiopian market my friends in D.C. have been raving about.
She longs instead for Universal Studios, a ghost town that evokes the ‘‘macaroni Westerns’’ she grew up on, the ‘‘real America’’ as devoured by the world on ‘‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.’’ Cosmopolitan and refined as she is, she knows that travel is, deep down, about the real confirmation of very unreal dreams.
其实，她最想去的是环球影城(Universal Studios)，虽然那明明是一座假城，但却能让她想起从小就耳濡目染的“通心粉西部片”(macaroni Westerns)，想起《比弗利娇妻》(Real Housewives of Beverly Hills)让全世界人都陷入痴迷的“真实的美国”。尽管她优雅又见闻广博，但她明白，旅行最深处的意义是让很不真实的梦，得到真实的印证。
I know, I know: It’s the heart, the very soul, of vacation travel — especially luxury travel — to serve up the atypical. Tour companies aspire to introduce us to what isn’t ordinary, to what can’t be found back home, to what is in fact as far from the everyday lives of locals as possible. When we settle into our $500-a-night suite in a Taj hotel, surrounded by oil lamps and bangled dancers, the room glittering with tiny mirrors, we couldn’t be further from the ‘‘real India’’ outside, which struggles to get by on $1 a day. Our backpacking kids scorn us for our distance from real life as they settle into a fleapit in Old Delhi, a ‘‘real India’’ compounded of bedbugs and stomach cramps and equally ‘‘authentic’’ travelers from Düsseldorf and Malmo.
The ‘‘reality’’ we crave, in short, is itself a fantasy. During the rare weeks when I can afford a holiday, I don’t want to immerse myself in the chaos, the commotion, the hand-extended poignancy of the ‘‘real India’’; humankind, as T.S. Eliot had it, cannot bear very much reality. It’s the unreal India, the surreal India we seek out as holiday-makers, a reality as Photoshopped and curated as a picture in a hotel brochure.
Yet these days that disconnect is even more acute because so many travelers have been everywhere (if only on-screen), which in turn means that reality — all that is unmediated and nonvirtual — holds a greater premium than ever. Today, we crave ‘‘realness’’ as never before, and in response, the travel industry is trying even harder to provide it. Expert guides take ever more pains to lead us to artisanal secrets in the local marketplace, and fancy restaurants claim to use only what has been grown in the fields nearby. Six-star hotels aspire to resemble the villages around them — though their guests may be comfortable only in proportion to the degree in which they fail.
This increasingly fevered quest for the authentic can in truth be a mug’s game, if only because the visitor’s ‘‘reality’’ is sometimes a local’s canny business plan. That dance in Ubud that’s so hauntingly indigenous might well have been created for (and even by) the tourist market. Those red-robed monks practicing ritual debating — on the nature of reality, no less — at the Drepung monastery in Lhasa are in fact doing so at the behest of their rulers in faraway Beijing, happy to encourage old customs so long as those will bring in dollars. You may encounter a craftsman patiently stitching gold tilla embroidery into an elegant shawl on the back streets of Srinagar, but there’s no less ancient craft involved in his brother down the street beckoning you toward his shop selling ‘‘authentic fake Rolexes.’’
For nearly every traveler, in any case, the prize souvenir from any trip will be the memory of an encounter with (let’s say) a Chinese guide armed with a story not so easily found in Chinatown back home. Very often that story will involve a highly unglamorous childhood in a village, a ‘‘real China’’ that might be the product of manufactured nostalgia and now has become the chance, through a visitor, to draw a little closer to Stanford. To wish that it were otherwise — to hope that the Chinese everywoman you meet wants to live the same ‘‘unspoiled,’’ often imprisoning existence as her father, without the iPhones and Audis and frappuccinos that we find so indispensable — is to practice a kind of imaginative colonialism. Let the rest of the world remain picturesque and quaint — ‘‘authentically’’ undeveloped — so that we can come away with some killer selfies!
When Pierre Loti arrived in Nagasaki in 1885, he commented to a friend, ‘‘Where are we in reality? In the United States?’’ Once he took on a local mistress, he likely realized he wasn’t in Kansas anymore — and that authenticity, like beauty (like truth) lies very much in the eye of the beholder. I hear the same sentences these days when friends disembark in Kyoto’s futuristic train station, to confront a city twice as populous as Detroit, though with fewer sushi bars in evidence.
In response, I’ll sometimes take them to a nearby Golden Arches where my chic Japanese stepdaughter in her Paul Smith dress is sipping iced Earl Grey and eating the special Chicken Tsukimi (or ‘‘Moon-Viewing’’) burger that McDonald’s serves up in September in honor of the harvest moon. The ancient capital is supple and sophisticated enough to update its sense of authenticity with every season. The only visitor who’ll come away disappointed is one whose dreams of the Other refuse to take in the Other’s (no less reasonable) dreams of him.
作为回应，我有时会带他们去附近的一家“金黄双弧”，我那时尚的日本继女会穿着保罗·史密斯(Paul Smith)的裙装，喝冰伯爵红茶，吃限时供应的鸡肉月见堡(Chicken Tsukimi)。这是麦当劳为了庆祝丰收季的月亮，在9月份推出的。这座古老都城足够灵活也足够世故，可以随着季节的变化更新它对“正宗”的感觉。进店后感到失望的，只有那些对“他者”怀有幻想，但又不肯接受“他者”对自己的幻想的人，毕竟后者的幻想也同样合情合理。