China: Not a ‘Pseudo-Place’

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  11.13.08 | 12:00 PM ET

imagePhoto by AndrewEick via Flickr (Creative Commons).

When The Smart Set’s Paula Marantz Cohen headed off on a two-week organized tour of China, she expected to experience one of the tourism industry’s manufactured “pseudo-places,” as Paul Fussell calls them. That is, “tourist commonwealths, whose function is simply to entice tourists and sell them things.” But as she explains in this thoughtful essay, she was mistaken.

“China is such a big country,” Cohen writes, “its history so long and complex, and the changes underway so enormous that not even the efforts of a multi-billion-dollar promotional campaign for the Olympics and an organized tour led by government-sponsored guides could turn the country into a pseudo-place.”

I had a strikingly similar experience on my own Beijing package tour this summer. I expected that on my trip, all of the wrinkles that make travel interesting would be ironed out—and, like Cohen, I was wrong. We do disagree on one thing, though: she found the Great Wall underwhelming, “overrun with tourists and awash in merchandise.” I was still wowed by my visit to the wall despite the crowds and the strict one-hour time limit set by our bus driver. The tourist masses didn’t spoil my trips to Stonehenge or St. Peter’s or the Taj Mahal, either.

It seems to me some of our greatest creations just might be immune to the “pseudo-place” disease, no matter how many cheap T-shirts are for sale.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

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