Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On the 'authentic' thing

This is a post from my other blog which I have since deleted; from April 2011

I went to the meeting of my local Rotaract club tonight and encountered something which I thing is typical for VolunTourism and volunteering-in-order-to-experience-a-country-differently in general.

A member presented the charity she works for (Childreach international) and presented one of their 'challenges' - a 'treck' of the Great Wall in China for which volunteers are asked to fundraise £2200 which would pay for the  8 day trip, all inclusive. Apart from the fact that it's probably quite good value for an organised trip it was interesting to hear her and the others talk about it.

The trip would be much more 'authentic' and 'real' as some of the accommodation would be in local host families rather than in hotels. It would also be more 'exciting' as local charity projects would be visited so 'all sides of the wall' would be seen rather than just the beaten tourist track. Even though this particular project does not involve any sort of volunteering, the discourse used to praise it echoed the typical volunteering-to-see-a-different-part-of-society-discourse. Interestingly enough the reasons and motivations put forward are similar by those who opt for homestays of different sorts (host family, couch surfing) rather than staying in youth hostels or hotel. I also remember reading that there were 'secret' restaurants to which you have to be invited by someone  who knows about them and then you quite literally eat in someone's living room. I suppose they wouldn't be advertised as running a kitchen is usually regulated by someone or other. Let's be authentic and real and buy the last bit of privacy that's not exposed on facebook yet.

Funnily enough after writing this I received an advert for 'authentic' food - you see it's "real" bread because it's baked in an 18th century oven and takes 48 hours to rise rather than a few minutes. While I personally actually don't like the 'unreal' sliced bread that comes in plastic bags and magically stays fresh for days and weeks, I would not go as far as calling it 'unreal' - what is it, if not bread? Surely items are given names according to their functionality (ability to put in toaster and be buttered) rather than then their manufacturing process?