Postmodern Tourism: An Interview with Pico Iyer

One archetype that hits me very forcefully, as it does many people, is that when I’m wandering around the Himalayas, for example, most of the people that I see are Westerners from Germany, California, or the Netherlands, who are wearing sandals, Indian smocks, and are in search of enlightenment, antiquity, peace, and all the things they can’t get in the west. Most of the people they meet are Nepali villagers in Lee jeans, Reeboks, and Madonna T-shirts who are looking for the paradise that they associate with Los Angeles — a paradise of material prosperity and abundance.

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Los Angeles famously in its school district now teaches 82 different languages. It is the second biggest Thai, Salvadoran, and Korean city in the world. I was just spending a lot of time in Los Angeles Airport and there you really see the future landing with a bump all around us and not really knowing what to make of it.

What is also interesting about Los Angeles is that more and more of the world is made up of these generic cities. So it’s not just the global village, but it’s also a global metropolis. When you fly to Toronto to London to Singapore to Sydney to Los Angeles, say, you really feel as if you are just going along five different suburbs of the same city because they all have the same constituency. When you are flying from here to Toronto, most of the people on the plane will be Chinese and most of the people that are waiting to greet you at Toronto airport are Indian. The same pattern is repeated in London and Hong Kong and whatever. So more and more cities are just becoming part of a global culture.

Postmodern Tourism: An Interview with Pico Iyer

Book club

Having no iPod this journey, I’ve relied on a number of books to provoke my thoughts and imagination while stuck in various places, a gnarly dust storm most recently. These are a few I would highly recommend:

  • Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, L. Hunter Lovins, and Amory Lovins [Amazon | Google Books] – A testament, and blueprint, for how we should really be living: in harmony with our ecology. Otherwise, as the book points out, the life support systems of our planet, our ship through the desolate space, are going to cease functioning as we need them to. It holds an optimistic view of the future, though, and argues that by recognizing “natural capital” as limited and valuable, we can actually solve most of the issues humanity faces, climate change and social justice for instance, and live better at that. Personally, it has made me wonder why we don’t have hypercars and closed-loop domestic waste systems already. I’ve got a few projects for home in mind when I return, although I’m going to need to buy another copy because Anat has mine in either Pune or Israel.
  • Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource by Marc de Villiers [Amazon | Google Books] – As I’ve discovered and rediscovered this entire trip, water access issues aren’t publicised to the degree they need to be. Or at all really. Being from the Pacific Northwest and all, I’ve always assumed water flows naturally from the tap everywhere and always. That’s not always the case. Although it starts off slow, the book is definitely worth finishing. For instance, one of the many interesting theses is that the conflict between Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan is territorial largely due to water access. All three nations face water scarcity, and control of supply is integral to national security. As with so much development coverage though, India is nearly completely missed.
  • An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire by Arundhati Roy [Amazon | Rediff Books] – In a vein similar to John Perkins’ Confessions of An Economic Hitman, Roy lambasts the United States, IMF, World Bank, Bechtel, and team for being authoritative, oppressive, and imperialist the world o’er. She argues that Empire, by causing social injustice and benefiting few, is weak. Her essays offer interesting perspective into how India fits into the picture.

Manoranjan! (“Enjoy” for those non-Hindi speakers like myself…)