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Travel Narratives: “The Grand Tour” and “Vagabonding” Essay

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Updated: May 13th, 2020

Being a traveler is rather hard. Apart from diving into an entirely new environment regularly, a traveler should weight their judgment about the places of visit and the local people. Representing a nation is a complicated task, and both Osnos and Pugh in their articles “The Grand Tour” and “Vagabonding” do a fairly decent job. However, some prejudices or misconceptions appear in their articles once in a while.

The authors of each narration are trying to describe their experiences in the most objective manner possible. However, because of the uniqueness of a person’s vision of the world and its elements, they provide different observations when talking about the same issue and even making the same statements. Although both Pugh and Osnos provide seemingly similar observations on the same issue concerning the economics and politics of the places that they visit, these observations contribute to creating a completely different image of the people living in these states. Osnos creates the image of a chaotic yet powerful state with very likable people. Pugh, on the other hand, brings up practically the same issues, yet constructs a slightly negative image of the Asian (Myanmar, to be more exact) people and their government.

It is remarkable that both authors talk about the impressive influence that the government has on the people of the Asian culture. Osnos focuses on the Chinese people, while Pugh provides a general overview of a range of Asian states. Pugh claims that they have several features in common, especially when it comes to people’s political awareness and the overall attitudes towards the government: “Everyone lives in fear of the government” (Pugh 4). Pugh also, mentions the negative commentaries provided by his Chinese friend regarding the representatives of other nationalities: “Just change your dollars into government-controlled

‘Foreign Exchange Certificates’, give us a bribe, and be quiet,” their eyes seemed to say” (Pugh 2). As for Osnos, his entire philosophy of travel across China can be expressed in his following statement: “He who can bear hardship should carry on” (Osnos 2). Much like Pugh, Osnos also makes quite specific statements about the political awareness of the Chinese people. Even when describing Amsterdam, he mentions that it is a popular tourist location for the Chinese because of a political reason: “Trier has been unusually popular with Chinese tourists ever since

Communist Party delegations began arriving” (Osnos 4). However, Osnos’s remarks do not create a negative image of the Chinese people. Perhaps, this attributes to Osnos’s positioning them as helpless. Pugh’s descriptions make people look passive.

The differences start to become evident as the authors provide their evaluations of the Asian people and their political ideas. For Osnos, the Communist issue in some of the Asian state is merely a peculiar feature. For Pugh, however, Asian people’s political vision is of much more importance. Pugh does not simply mention their unwillingness to change their financial and social status. On the contrary, he focuses on the effects of the political incompetence of the government and the reluctance of the citizens: “Wages in Myanmar are criminally low – less than $.50 a day for many people” (Pugh 4). Pugh lists all major concerns, including poverty, dictatorship in some of the states, etc. Perhaps, Pugh does not aim at creating a negative portrait of the Asian people. However, his choice of words for describing the Myanmar society and several others leaves a range of negative emotions. Also, Pugh states very straightforwardly that a range of Asian states, Myanmar in particular, are totalitarian: “Speaking out against the government or campaigning for democracy is a sure ticket to prison” (Pugh 4).

Therefore, the effects of Pugh’s and Osnos’s articles are strikingly different. Osnos simply points at the obvious facts of the Asian political regime. Pugh, in his turn, puts a very strong emphasis on political injustice. At the same time, Pugh explains that neither of the citizens does anything to change the situation. Thus, Pugh shapes the reader’s idea of the Asian people, particularly the Myanmar ones, in a negative way.

Also, Pugh often mentions fear. He often states that “People are afraid” (Pugh 6), “Everyone lives in fear of the government” (Pugh 4), “There’s nothing like adding terror to discomfort” (Pugh 7). These statements are not frequent, but they make the reader focus on particular negative elements. Thus, Pugh seems to manipulate the reader’s attention and opinion.

To Pugh’s credit, he portrays not only the local people negatively in his travel notes. Apart from the natives, the portraits of the representatives of Western civilization are also often negative. For example, the “stoned, pseudo-intellectual Westerners with dreadlocks and ear-plugs the size of potatoes” (Pugh 11) are very unappealing. It seems that Pugh wants to create a very unappealing impression on his travel.

Some of the differences in the author’s vision of traveling in general and the places of their visit, in particular, may stem from their attitude towards travel. According to Pugh, traveling is equal to education: “I view travel as life’s great educator” (Pugh). While such a position deserves appreciation, it still makes Pugh not only observe life. When traveling, he encounters various people and phenomena. Apart from observing, he also makes conclusions about each. Some of these conclusions may be right, and some are erroneous. Osnos, on the other hand, does not try to use logics in his travel. Instead, he looks closely and writes about what he sees. Such an approach seems very honest, though lacking in depth. As a result of this difference between the two authors, it is hard to compare the two accurately. Nevertheless, at some points, their visions cross, and a comparison can be drawn between them.

It would be wrong to claim that Osnos and Pugh’s opinions concerning the natives and their system of values are diametrically opposite. Osnos displays several techniques that are similar to those of Pugh. For example, both seem to focus on food. Indeed, both Osnos and Pugh mention the cookery of the cultures that they describe. Osnos recalls that throughout his trip, “breakfast will rarely be more than bread, cold ham, milk, and coffee” (Osnos 4). Pugh, in his turn, devotes several pages to describe the “street food in Bangkok, Thailand” (Pugh 8–9).

Needless to mention, the constant focus on political issues is also the detail that the two narrations share. The political situation in the states of the authors’ interest, however, is used for different purposes. Osnos mentions peculiar details about the state policies to create a specific atmosphere of exotics and impress readers. Pugh, unlike Osnos, tends to make elaborate conclusions about the state policies. Nevertheless, both stories touch upon a range of political issues. Another similarity between the two narrations concerns their way of telling the story. At first, it seems that the two are told in a completely different way. Osnos creates a cohesive narration, and Pugh merely creates lists of what he sees and learns on his way. However, somewhere at the end of Pugh’s summary, he suddenly starts talking like a traveler does. He describes his visit to a wholesale Silver Shop in Bangkok and starts sounding very similar to Osnos. Though the narration is rather emotionless, it still sounds like a traveler’s story. However, these are the only similarities between Pugh’s and Osnos’s travel experiences.

Neither the writing style nor the topics that the two authors have chosen match fully. The authors’ are opinions rarely the same. Nevertheless, Osnos and Pugh seem to provide the same social commentary on the political situation in the countries specified. Weirdly enough, even when the two authors agree, they still paint two entirely different images of the local people living in these political conditions. Osnos focuses on the elements of Asian culture. Pugh considers the link between the political strategy of the state and the people living in it. Hence, Pugh depicts the residents of Myanmar in a somewhat negative manner. Pugh, in his turn, glosses over the political issues and pays attention to what he sees during his travel. Thus, two different authors make entirely different statements and come to a single similar conclusion, only to disagree with each other at the end.

Works Cited

Osnos, Evan. “The Grand Tour.” The New Yorker 2011: 1–5. Web.

Pugh, Mike. Excerpts from vagabonding.com. n. d. Web.

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"Travel Narratives: “The Grand Tour” and “Vagabonding”." IvyPanda, 13 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/travel-narratives-the-grand-tour-and-vagabonding/.

1. IvyPanda. "Travel Narratives: “The Grand Tour” and “Vagabonding”." May 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/travel-narratives-the-grand-tour-and-vagabonding/.


IvyPanda. "Travel Narratives: “The Grand Tour” and “Vagabonding”." May 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/travel-narratives-the-grand-tour-and-vagabonding/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Travel Narratives: “The Grand Tour” and “Vagabonding”." May 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/travel-narratives-the-grand-tour-and-vagabonding/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Travel Narratives: “The Grand Tour” and “Vagabonding”'. 13 May.

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