Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

A Look at Asia, Tourism and Tension

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My cousin recently ventured into Burma, after we parted ways in Vietnam.  He later told me the contrast between the two was nearly indescribable.  On the one hand, you have Vietnam, rolling in new money and racing ahead at reckless speeds.  On the other, Burma, idle and eroding, sinking into dictatorship and economic stagnation.

It had me thinking of the Asian countries I have visited in the past two years, in comparison to each other, and in comparison to some of the places I have been in Africa.  It’s a unique system of development in this corner of the world, one very dependent on its geography.  There’s massive China.  South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have all followed similar paths, straight down to Singapore.  Then there’s the peninsula with Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, all lead by Thailand in regional power and leadership.  The island nations, they have their own type of development, the Philippines, Malaysia, etc.

Common to them all is the boon of tourism.  Unlike Africa, people think of Asia as a “safe” place.  It’s long been part of the backpacker circuit, and has been further pushed and developed in the last 20 years than ever before.  The situation is slightly different in China and Japan, who are welcoming more tourists but also sending out an all-time high as well.  Meanwhile, the peninsula and the island nations are facing a huge influx of transient visitors, some relying greatly on their financial input.

Often, upon returning from trips, I have written of the downside of tourism.  Primarily, the 3 P’s: pollution, poverty, and prostitution.  I think I should expand on the notion of prostitution, because it is not just young women being forced into intimate interactions, but entire populations.  There is a cultural prostitution, a sense that everything is for sale in these places, and it is tragic.  The more tourist flood in, the more enormous cameras dangle from necks, the more tour buses, stupid guides with little flags, groups with matching hats, youth just in search of a party, elederly in search of 5-star hotels… its enough to make me sick.  It’s enough to make entire nations sick.

Here are two articles that I think point out the contrast in what has become the search for “authentic” places.  The first discusses how Luang Prabang, a sleepy city in the center of Laos I visited just over a year and a half ago, is dealing with a record number of tourists streaming into its quiet streets.  The second article talks about Myanmar and the situation there, in which a society is being “preserved” to such an throttling extent that it is now starving itself to death.  It’s two ends of the extreme.  And after reading the article on Myanmar, thinking of my cousin, I realize that soon enough that country will open its gates to the floods of foreign visitors and let the rainfall of cash wash away any seeds of culture still in the land.

Lastly, I wanted to follow up on my premise that China has silently regained sole superpower status on our globe.   The article is a wake up call, but I think we, especially the U.S., have hit the snooze button a few too many times to reverse course now.  A U.S. government spokesperson recently spoke of silent diplomacy being used against China.  Ha!  What a crock of shit!  Our soft and hard power are being shown to be exactly what they are, weak.  Our moral legitimacy is in peril, our thirst for war has lost us allies, and with our economy in the toilet, our nation has become a clinger, desperately holding on to resources and the last clutches of geopolitical hegemony as they slip through its grip.

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