seeking alterity

After we left Tantou, we visited several other scenic spots in Kaihua. Beautifully other to Shenzhen’s clogged roads and noisy crowds, these scenes suggested that the gate to an other worldly adventure was just around the bend in the road or nestled snuggly behind a crumbling wall. And yet. Each time we spoke with local residents, they asserted, “There’s nothing here.” In turn, the visitors from Shenzhen responded that this beauty was enough, but the locals remained skeptical; beautiful enough to bring in tourists?

This desire for alterity, for another world, for some kind of homecoming that cannot take place admist the hurried rush of business as usual–all this compels us out of Shenzhen to places like Kaihua, where yes, there is beauty, as well as an alterity that has been produced through inequality and poverty and neglect. In fact, members of our group often grumbled that the improvements — large tiled farmer homes and plastic advertising, for example — that locals had made had actually taken away from the region’s charm.

And there’s the rub: we urbanites seek “real human feelings”, and we want to experience generosity and excess, and we even suspect that those feelings are available to us in faraway elsewheres, requiring pilgrimage if you will. But we are not on pilgrimage, we’re tourists and tourism requires us to suspend the disbelief that a sense of can belonging can be purchased, or produced by re-branding poverty as “local flavor”. We pretend that these unequal exchanges comprise hospitality, but nevertheless a low grade anxiety hums beneath our respective roles; how did we get here?

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