Seeking authenticity

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Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The most poignant memory of my first day there is checking into a fancy hotel (as evident by the fact that their complimentary breakfast consisted of more than cartons of milk and food in cardboard boxes). I remember taking one look at the scrambled eggs and leaving, going to a dingy corner café, ordering steaming Pho, and revelling in the idea that I was a millennial traveller, rather than an obnoxious tourist. I ate with the locals and I knew the rhythm of the city – I was experiencing culture with authenticity. I wasn’t going to fall for the comfortable yet narrow trap that globalisation has lain for us.

Yet the fancy hotel that I stayed in, similar to globalisation, is sometimes difficult to dislike at face value. There’s the fluffy towel and the pool on the rooftop that offers a view of the city skyline, which both become fabulous whilst sipping a cocktail. Disdainful as I was of the hotel, it is evident that globalisation (along with tourism) have brought a higher standard of living for many in developing countries. When I think of globalisation, my brain somehow turns into the production of a high-end advertising firm. I see logos flashing at me, aglow against the darkness of the void, the golden arches, the white tick. This strange vision is tinted with nauseating sweetness, and not just because it features Coca-Cola.

Multinational corporations do bring benefits to the economy in developing countries, in terms of raising the overall standard of living. Globalisation also brings with it modernisation and technological advancement. Yet, while the GDPs of many developing nations experiencing economic growth rises exponentially, the Gini Index (a measure of wealth inequality within a nation) is indicative of the rising economic disparity in nations, ultimately perpetuated by globalisation.

During my trip to Vietnam, I looked down on globalisation in spite of enjoying all of its benefits; such as bars where I could hear the familiar Australian drawl if I felt homesick, coffee, youth hostels, and the fact that I managed to get by in spite of my broken Vietnamese. Yet despite this obvious flaw in my insistence on being a traveller rather than a tourist, I did have some experiences that were frightening, exhilarating and full of uncertainty; whether it was trying to order food with a pervasive language barrier being present, or downing snake wine by the side of the road, hoping I hadn’t willingly ingested venom or some kind of parasite.

Maybe the idea of immersing yourself in a culture is an act of self-deception. Because sometimes when we run away from globalisation, we are often buying into a manufactured experience created by globalisation itself. After all, I was offered these experiences through a popular tourist agency, which provided ‘Easy Riders’ or motorbike riders who took you around the countryside, to provide a taste of the ‘authentic’ Vietnam to millennials like me, who wore Ao Dai and ate Pho every day.

I’d like to think it’s possible to ensure that the benefits of globalisation are countered with its problematic aspects. Yet globalisation, along with capitalism, has become so entrenched, and so pervasive in this world – they are difficult to fight, or even modify. I don’t want to accept wealth disparity and the destruction of the environment, they must be counter-acted. It can be done. However this is not an individual responsibility but a collective one. And that might be the most authentic thing of all.