The word travel has the same origin as travail, which is derived from the Latin trepalium, meaning “instrument of torture” (Pearsall 1998:1972). As testified by the etymology of the word, travel means to make a laborious journey (Flexner, 1987); more directly, Fussell (1980) equates travel with work. In view of all this, and in order to make the work of traveling less toilsome, a written aid may be of some help.
It has in fact been asserted that guidebooks exist because traveling is frightening (Allen, 1996).
While this may not be intuitively obvious, it is certain that a guidebook may help make travel less
“torturing” by preparing travelers prior to their trips and functioning as a compass along their journey.
By its very name, a guidebook is a book that guides people to find their orientation. It delineates a world for people to experience and makes foreign places open, attractive and accessible (McGregor, 2000). Thus, a guidebook mediates the relationship between a traveler and a destination. It provides a cognitive framework for perceiving a destination and interpreting what one perceives (Bhattacharyya, 1997).
The framework varies from guidebook to guidebook, however. Gilbert (1999) writes that although most guidebooks share common features, subtle differences exist with regard to how information is organized and presented; this explains why certain sites are marked as worth visiting (MacCannell, 1999) in one guidebook, but are simply left out in another. Cohen (1985) states that all information imparted is rarely, if ever, purely neutral; with its seemingly objective arrangement of information, a guidebook is no exception. One must keep in mind, as one critic reminds us, that “the putative objectivity of the travel guide is established by personal experience on the ground” (Callahan 2011:104). A guidebook is more than a manual for understanding a foreign destination and culture; it is, rather, “an idealized summary” (Carter 1998:351) of what places are like. A particular ideology is hidden behind it. Hence, due to its nature of selection and guidance, Barthes (1957/1972) calls it “an agent of blindness.” As Richardson points out, ‘‘no textual staging is ever innocent” (1990:12)—any piece of writing is inscribed with a certain value. Therefore, a guidebook carries the beliefs and values of its author or editor, and the culture in which it is produced (Lew, 1991; Quinlan 2005; Santos, 2006).
Considering all this, let me state the obvious: Taiwanese guidebooks on Paris represent the city through a Taiwanese lens. By writing out a foreign destination, these guidebooks actually provide a
window into the Taiwanese culture of leisure travel. To the exploration of this culture this paper also wishes to make a contribution.
Traveling for leisure to other countries does not have a long history in Taiwan. Overseas travel was prohibited for the public before 1979. A small group of people was the exception—diplomats or the affluent; a limited number of students also traveled for reasons of work or study (Chen, 1998; Lee, 2000; Ying, 2007). In many cases, tourism occurred as a byproduct. Travel information was scarce.
Geographical texts could help a little in rendering more familiar a foreign destination; so did translated travel programs occasionally shown on TV. Some of these early travelers also wrote down accounts of their trips and had them published. Their work played a certain role in opening a rather closed society, as it introduced foreign destinations and cultures to the people in Taiwan.
Then, in 1979, the Travel Ban was lifted. The idea of leisure travel remained new and expensive for the vast majority. A series of policy changes implemented by the government, improved economic conditions, and better access to information for the general public led to a surge in the demand for travel and leisure in the late 1980s (Tseng, 2000). Books of travel accounts proliferated. Sensing an opportunity behind the fast-growing popularity of this leisure activity, several editors started to publish guidebooks or translate foreign works into Chinese. Taiwanese TV travel shows mushroomed during this period as well. As for newspapers, after years of running only occasionally travel-related articles, the three major newspapers in Taiwan, China Times 中國時報, Liberty Times 自由時報, and United Daily 聯合報, inaugurated their travel sections in the early 1990s. By now leisure travel was practiced by a much larger number of people, who gathered their travel information from a variety of sources. As Professor Jin-Yuan Hu 胡 錦 媛 , a researcher in travel literature, wrote in 2004, leisure travel has become a necessity for people in Taiwan.
Writing and travel have always been intimately connected (Hulme & Youngs, 2002). And we can easily verify this connection in the Taiwanese case. Travel writing in Taiwan was first reserved to a small number of people who had the privilege to travel in the earlier days. Zun-Peng Bao 包 遵 彭 (1957) and Mei-Yin Chung 鍾梅音 (1966), among many others, produced travel accounts after their trips to Europe and thirteen countries in Asia, Europe, and America respectively. Their writing mostly revolved around their itineraries; and included a brief introduction of the geography, history and culture of the places they visited; reporting their observations; and looking into their inner world and reflecting on life. All in all, their writing was an extension of their trips, and it was meant mainly to share their observations and feelings along their journey.
Professional guidebooks that aimed at preparing their users prior to and during their journey did not appear in Taiwan until the 1980s. At first, guidebooks written by Taiwanese authors—Traveling in
Western Europe with You 伴 您 遊 覽 西 歐 by Chiu-Shung Tsai 蔡 秋 雄 (Taipei: Shin Sheng Times Publishing 新生報社, 1980), for instance—tended to cover many countries in one book. Each country was introduced in a superficial manner, in just a few pages. Images or maps were rarely included. Well into the 1990s, as more people began to choose independent travel over package tours, guidebooks that provided more in-depth introduction on specific destinations began to appear on the market; practical information about such aspects as accommodation and transportation, as well as images, were included.
It is also worth pointing out that several books published during this period were a combination between a lecture and a guidebook. They introduced major tourist attractions from historical and cultural perspectives in an objective voice, without personal travel tales or tourist information. They were not travelogues, yet they were different from guidebooks; they belonged, in fact, to an intermediary genre. After the millennium, when independent travel became a much sought-after way of travel, guidebooks greatly diversified. Books with specific themes and concerns became available to cater for a more sophisticated reader market. Not only were more images included, but they were also brighter and more colorful than before.
It is against this background that the present research articulates itself. It stems, in fact, from a fact of which I became aware during my last visit to Paris. I had brought along a Lonely Planet guidebook with me. I believed it would provide comprehensive information on Paris, in keeping with the promise of its recognized brand name. Along the way, I met several fellow Taiwanese travelers. As we exchanged information, they asked me if I had tried the bubble tea at a Taiwanese restaurant near the Garnier Opera House. I did not know such a place existed in Paris, so they showed me information about it in their guidebook, which was written by a Taiwanese author. It turned out that my Lonely Planet guide was not as “omniscient” as I thought it was. The Paris I knew was slightly different from the one they knew, because we used different guidebooks!
I had never really given much thought to how important for a guidebook the author’s background is, but after that incident I started to wonder how locally produced guidebooks could vary from translated ones. International or foreign published guidebooks usually adopt a global perspective since they operate on a multinational and multicultural market. As a result, information that only interests a particular group of readers is less likely to be included. This explains why information about the bubble tea place was absent from my Lonely Planet guidebook, which is not written from a Taiwanese point of view. The way Paris is framed varies from one guidebook to another, depending on the perspective and agenda that each one has. Exploring this in detail has thus become for me a topic of research.