I was hungry when I left Pyongyang. I wasn't hungry just for a bookshop that sold books that weren't about Fat Man and Little Boy. I wasn't ravenous just for a newspaper that had no pictures of F.M. And L.B. I wasn't starving just for a TV program or a piece of music or theater or cinema that wasn't cultist and hero-worshiping. I was. I got off the North Korean plane in Shenyang, one of the provincial capitals of Manchuria, and the airport buffet looked like a cornucopia. I fell on the food, only to find that I couldn't do it justice, because my stomach had shrunk. And as a foreign tourist in North Korea, under the care of vigilant minders who wanted me to see only the best, I had enjoyed the finest fare available.
After a day on Mykines, I changed my mind about life not going on. A sort of life was going on, beating with a reasonalbe version of a pulse, but that life consisted for the most part of travelers like myself. There were maybe a dozen of us -- one third of the island's population. Our tribe could only increase as the Mykines tribe dwindled away, a few falling down steps, most simply emigrating, until there would be, sad to say, only our peripatetic selves. We were the future of all places condemned by remoteness to a lingering, photogenic death.
I wore only black socks, because I had heard that white ones were the classic sign of the American tourist. Black ones though,- those'll fool 'em. I supposed I hoped the European locals' conversation would go something like this: PIERRE: Ha! Look at that tourist with his camera and guidebook!JACQUES: Wait, but observe his socks! They are.. Black!PIERRE: Zut alors! You are correct! He is one of us! What a fool I am! Let us go speak to him in English and invite him to lunch!
David Attenborough has said that Bali is the most beautiful place in the world, but he must have been there longer than we were, and seen different bits, because most of what we saw in the couple of days we were there sorting out our travel arrangements was awful. It was just the tourist area, i.e., that part of Bali which has been made almost exactly the same as everywhere else in the world for the sake of people who have come all this way to see Bali.
To be a mass tourist, to me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.