Pico Iyer describes how he is “always foreign,” or brings with him a sense of foreignness almost wherever in the world he goes. He was born in England to Indian parents, and spent much of his early life in California, feeling doubly out of place there and not feeling at home with any of his three possibly identities. Iyer is of Hindu origin, and he describes his possible personal connection to Bali or the Ganges in India, but again he says,
“everywhere I knew was foreign, which meant that nearly everywhere had the power to unsettle and surprise me, forever,”
which is the essence of what Iyer writes of in this piece (Iyer).
Iyer attended school in England, and he describes “flying alone over the North Pole six times a year” to attend first preparatory school and then Oxford University, all while still living with his parents in California (Iyer). This also must contribute to Iyer’s eternal foreignness, his early disconnect from any kind of solid, familial home. This could be disastrous for a young person, but Iyer seems to imply that it was more freeing and enlightening, allowing him to have the perspective he now employs. Iyer was also raised on the road beyond just this, so to speak, as he talks about spending months traveling, continent to continent. He says that
“the door to the world was swinging open for those of us ready to live rough and call ourselves foreigners for life” (Iyer).
All of this, alongside his formal education and being raised by a political theorist father and being from a line of writers and thinkers, seems to have led Iyer to want to reexamine travel, and tourism, through a new lens, a critical and picture-perfect lens. He describes how the world has become smaller, yet not less diverse or more homogenized as some may claim. Instead, the world has only changed along the lines it was already coursing. He writes about how Bali has changed, now equally full of fast-food and beachfront resorts as temples and shrines, but that it is not “spoiled” as some may say. He writes that
“this is what the island has been tempting every visitor to say since the beginning,”
and the visual alterations hardly detract from how wonderfully foreign it continues to be (Iyer).
Iyer’s writing continues to portray travel in a new light, as not ruining the world while seeing it, but rather continuing to find new ways that the world is worth traveling. We are not becoming more monotonous and uniform, but rather we are adapting alongside one another in a multitude of different and amazing ways. In this way, you could compare Iyer’s work to Steinbeck, who writes about the trials and hardships of the American man, but not to say that America is terrible, but to say why it is worthwhile. Through critical analysis, thought, and storytelling you can come to see each’s perspective and see how their respective subjects are multifaceted and dynamic. Much as the West is in turmoil during The Grapes of Wrath, the world travel writers describe is being massively altered by globalization and the tourism industry. But the argument in from both Steinbeck and Iyer is that this doesn’t mean they are being ruined, but much the opposite. Iyer says that what we see now is a continuation of culture, of new things being born along the lines of what came before, and this only makes it more worth seeing.