September 2008

I can’t help but think of what Thomas Merton said when people asked him if he’d seen the “real Asia” when he was in India and Thailand in the late 1960s: “It’s all real, as far I can see.”

I think that part of the challenge is that by nature we seek out cultural differences as travelers, yet we tend to project Platonic ideals onto what other cultures should look like and how those cultures should operate. This is nothing new. The ancient Greeks and Romans who traveled to Egypt projected their own exotic fantasies onto Egyptian religion and society. In turn, the young British aristocrats of the 18th and 19th centuries went to Greece and Rome and were disappointed to find unwashed peasants instead of the classical magnificence they thought they’d find there. As I say in the very first chapter of my book, “it’s the expectation itself that robs a bit of authenticity from the destinations we seek out.”

— Rolf Potts, Revelations from a Postmodern Travel Writer