HSCBC has an advertising campaign called 'point of view', where they compare two things, and show how they can be differently understood according to their cultural context. Images of sumo wrestling and muay thai alternate the words 'violence' and 'art', showing how a little shift in geography can mean a total shift of mind.
I was thinking of this idea a lot in my final days of travel, as I realized how Southeast Asia had become so mundane to me. Two years ago, the towering temples of Bangkok had seemed completely exotic-- yet after my year and a half of residence, they had become quite ordinary. Contrarily, the adobe houses and big blue skies of New Mexico had once been quite commonplace for me, but had since become rather romantic in my mind. At the point where I could pass by a gorgeous glittering wat without raising an eye, I knew it was time to leave Thailand. I wanted to be able to reinvest Asia with a little bit of the exotic I had lost.
I know there's a lot to be said against the exotic. It's a distancing device, a potential method of primitivization, it's the opiate of the tourist. But I have to say that a lot of what keeps me connected to the world is the draw of the exotic. Is there a way to construct the exotic so that it doesn't rest on out of date tropes and patronizing ideas of a disconnected world? What does the exotic mean nowadays, and should we still be opposed to it?