Something has been bugging me quite heavily over the past 6 months and it has reached a fever pitch of late. Whilst I know that what I’m about to say applies to what in all likelihood is a handful of tourists, the spill over on the rest of us is big. So here goes, vilify me if you have the inclination.
First off, what is a ‘Western Tourist’?
Simple – you have access to quality education and mostly likely have a tertiary education, you have running water back home, you have access to hard currency or a currency that lets you get hard currency (like the Rand, which we exchange for USD/Euro, etc) and finally, you’re able to travel outside your home country. All things we are a little guilty of taking for granted.
By contrast, when you travel in countries in the South East Asian quadrant, the local people you will encounter do not have the same benefits and privilege.
Do you know that to send your kid to grade one in Cambodia costs $400 a year for a half decent education? That’s almost a years family income for some people in the tourist industry. Following on from that, many parents stop sending their kids to school as soon as they have a basic understanding of a few base subjects as they just can’t afford it anymore? Did you know that the delicious food we enjoy in Asia isn’t enjoyed by the local people as they can’t afford to eat much else but rice, which they’ve grown themselves?
Yet, somehow, and I have no fucking idea how, but the people in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos et al are phenomenally friendly and will go out of their way to help you. If I was given such a hard deal, the chances are the world can fuck right off and I wouldn’t care less.
So when we Western tourists travel in countries such as these, the least we can do is put our privilege in our pockets for a bit. Learn a few words in the local language like ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ – it takes minimal effort. Things that really grate my carrot are the following which I have been seeing all too much of:
- Religion is real here. It’s taken seriously and means something. So when you are asked to take your shoes off – bloody do it. If you need to cover your shoulders when walking into a temple, bloody do it – put your bullshit Western value system of feminism and patriarchy aside (I’m not saying this is bad, I’m just saying be respectful to your host country).
- We all have a laugh about the plumbing situation here and how it isn’t great. But follow the rules – if you don’t, some local hostel owner is going to spend the next 3 days unblocking drains. You don’t have plumbers to phone here to deal with your shit. Quite literally.
- When you’re at a restaurant, your food will take a while and will be served when ready. Why? Well because the poor woman you placed the order with is also the cook and cleaner and is busy preparing every single meal on one gas burner. This isn’t the fucking Ritz.
- Your tour guides and hosts will sometimes ask you what you earn because they’re curious. For Gods sake, don’t be honest. Don’t answer the question or if you feel compelled to, lie. Bianca and I had a relentless guide who wanted a number and we made up a really, really low figure with the intention of hoping the number was similar to what he makes. We were wrong – our low number took him 2 years to make. I still feel terrible about this.
- You don’t know everything. Don’t travel with the attitude that you’ll ‘pick up’ Buddhism in a month or 2. You won’t and will end up looking like a prick. Rightfully so. Be prepared to learn – isn’t that why you’re travelling?
Alright, I think I’m done now. It’s not hard to be a decent human being. The chances are the guilty culprits (well, certainly in my eyes) aren’t even aware of what fucktards they come across as because their privilege is so overpowering. It must be said, I meet 10 stellar, quality human beings for every one delinquent out there and I’m almost 100% sure the good guys reading this will agree. The assholes probably are out complaining that their banana pancakes were cold or some shit.
As a disclaimer, if the feminist comment above offended you, you should go back to the kitchen. Haha, just kidding. All I meant by that is that everyone needs to be respectful of different cultures, even if you can’t quite see eye-to-eye on it. Secondly, I’m not a saint and I’m guilty of this stuff too but try my damnedest to correct myself.