Wednesday, July 27, 2011

cultural v commercial

I recently got back from a trip to China, and while I was there, the universal homogeneity really overwhelmed me. There was so much chaos in the streets, but everybody seemed exactly the same. And I wish I could have experienced it the same way I could have if I had spoken the language.

In general when people travel, it's really hard to get a clear sense of the culture or have legitimate, unique cultural experiences when they aren't able to communicate with the people that live there. My friends and I went line dancing at a communal park one evening, but I couldn't even ask the woman next to me what the moves were because I don't speak Chinese.

In a sense, the trip was disappointing because there were certain instances that I really wanted to feel integrated with the happenings of the city, but my inability to speak prevented that. Many of the museums and festivals that my tour group went to were very commercial and touristy places where the salespeople kept attempting to cram their homemade goods down our pockets. That's the China that we were forced to experience, simply because these types of places are the only ones where we could understand what was going on.

When I tried to say "four" out loud, my incorrect tone inflection accidentally caused me to scream "death" in the middle of Tiananmen Square. It wasn't one of my more proud moments.
A word of advice? Brush up on the native language of a country when you travel. You'll be able to have authentic experiences without insulting the natives-and that's always a positive.

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