Reflection: Chinese Travel and the Naming of Places

As mentioned in an earlier post on Alishan, something odd about traveling in Taiwan is the naming of places – all points of interest, no matter how insignificant, must be named and labeled.  This is the pig stump.  That rock arrangement looks like a Buddha’s ear.  Over there is a very tall tree.

And to somebody who has traveled through scenic spots in other countries, this is really weird.  When climbing Mount Rinjani in Indonesia, there are basically no labeled points of interest.  There’s the summit, there’s the crater and accompanying lake, there’s the hot springs.  There’s a bunch of camping sites.  And that’s about it – everything else is simply ‘climbing trail’.

And it’s the same thing in New Zealand, home to the Great Trails.  Hiking in Abel Tasman National Park, there are only two points of interest – hiking trail, and camp grounds.  Nothing else.  It’s simply you and nature, and have to use your own eyes and imagination to find any sights of interest.

So why this difference?

My theory is that it’s simply a cultural difference, in how Chinese people travel.  More specifically, how Chinese people tend to travel in massive tour groups, with a very rushed itinerary – wake up early, travel to X spot to take photos of famous sights A, B, and C, back onto the bus, go to Y, take photos of D and E, back onto the bus, repeat as needed.

With these tour groups, there’s never a sense of exploration, of going to get a feel for a city’s culture, for everyday life, for how it feels to simply stroll down the street.  Instead, it’s as if you were checking off items from a list of notable places to visit.  Yes, you’ve seen the city and its historical points.  But did you really see the city?  Did you savor it, reflect on its historical significance, understand its history?

To make a video game analogy, it’s like collecting achievements / achievement points – for some people, it’s an interesting diversion, but for others, it becomes and and to itself, getting all achievements.

I’m not judging these people on their choice of traveling by tour group.  No wait, that’s a lie, I am (probably unfairly) judging the shit out of these people.  But logically speaking, it shouldn’t matter to me, how other people travel.  It doesn’t affect me.

But in any case, that’s probably the reason why everything all points of interest, no matter how small, are labeled in Taiwan – because it helps give goals to tour groups, give them motivation to continue hiking and see the nice sight.


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