• Nobelle Liew


I remember bidding for a module back in college, settling for the title that seemed the most interesting of the lot I was handled. "Sociology of Tourism" it was called; travelling, wanderlust, a common theme among most — surely a sign of interesting discussions to come?

I remember my awe and bobble-head enthusiasm when digesting dominant theories. The conscious elevation (or unjust transformation) of the ordinary to the exotic in order to sustain the interests of tourists? Yes. The habitual performances and behavioural acts performed by the host and the guest? Yes. The perpetuation and encouragement of class differences, maintaining social stratification and thus a functioning society? Yes. Tourism as a ritual: a cycling between the everyday mundanity and an annual self-reward of the extraordinary? Oh yessss please feed my thirst for knowledge. *Cues wide-eyed wonderment of a green academia*

I remember personally feeling the unjust that tourism has brought to countries, forcing a career upon in tourism-related industries upon rural natives, emboldening child slavery and all sorts of social injustice.

I remember rejecting the ritualisation of tourism, promising myself I'd travel as and when I want, because I love to, and not because I seek respite from the normalities of daily life. I would hop on a plane on the spur of a moment, instead of planning and saving for ages. I would revel in everything I see, hear, smell, regardless of how similar or dissimilar it is to my own experiences back home, and not chase all that's "different".

And yet, a couple of years down the road, I find myself going through the same motions. Working my ass off (not that I don't enjoy that), counting down days and dates till my next adventure, dreaming about otherwordly constellations and architecture.

I find myself talking about travelling not in terms of plain ol' education or curiosity; but as an escape, a yearning for cultures so distinct and opposite from my own. The search begins: pulling up TripAdvisor and numerous tourism sites to hunt down the most authentically local encounters, surfing through Airbnb to find an apartment smack in a residential district, finding chow — both famous and off the beaten track — that best encapsulate "culture". The building excitement of bringing back souvenirs: miniature recreations, encapsulating photographs, or stories to tell.

All that, while having the lessons I learnt, the principles I detest, ringing at the back of my head.

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