07 November 2012


One form of travel that is rarely, if ever, mentioned by sociologists and other students of tourism is the business trip. Yet there is something to be said for the business trip as the only truly authentic and nonexploitative form of travel. For many travelers, especially those concerned (even unwittingly) with the exotic, the problem is that they are too focused on the social psychology of the travel experience, and not on the experience itself. That is, instead of choosing a destination based on relatively objective criteria such as comforts, amenities, cost, friendliness of the locals and so on, they choose their destinations based on how "authentic" or "exotic" they are and on how much social capital will be conferred in the ongoing quest for distinction. The value of a destination hinges on how many "moderns" have been there already and on how unprepared the locals are for their arrival. This concern for the symbolic aspect of tourism transforms potential destinations into positional goods.

None of these problems apply to business travel. Unlike the exotic traveler, who spends as little money as possible while commodifying the natives' difference, the business traveler is there at the express invitation of the locals. The business traveler's trip represents a declination from the symbolic to the material. He or she goes not in search of spiritual meaning, or positional goods, not even to "see the sights," but in search of trade—trade that, in principle, need not be exploitative or voyeuristic. There may be competition involved... [b]ut unlike the leapfrogging waves of tourists generated by those who travel to earn social capital, this is the sort of competition that works in favor of the locals, since they will then be able to negotiate for a better deal. In the end, it may be that the only "authentic" form of travel is business travel. Everyone else is just a tourist.
(Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath, The Rebel Sell)

Yesterday was only Stef's 1.5th day as a tourist, the first half being an ojeg trip to Gedung Sate and the surrounding. We went to see the floating market in Banjarmasin, visited apes in Pulau Kembang (in which he was properly called tourist and charged five times more than I was) and eating durian. Now he's chasing orangutan somewhere in Central Kalimantan.

The week before, I dragged him to see rubber forest and plantation, talking to the farmers (I translated) and eating jajanan pasar from vendor that made her round in the village. It was work all the way, but it was fun. He liked it. I myself couldn't remember when the last time I did such survey and I also enjoyed it very much. It was also where the words "authentic" or "exotic" or "off the beaten path", while maybe closer to the truth, don't matter much. That's why it reminds me of The Rebel Sell. Granted, research can also be exploitative in many ways. But we felt such good atmosphere from people we visited.

When we parted at the airport, Stef thanked me for 'taking him to places he probably wouldn't ever visit'. Little did he know that I, being a city girl through and through, probably wouldn't visit such places myself if it weren't for this trip.

You probably wouldn't believe me without pictures as proof. Sadly, I accidentally left my beloved camera at the durian stall. Oh well...

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