Thursday, April 17, 2008

ravages of tourism

Here is an interesting article about Luang Prabang, Laos. I was there at this time of year in 2006.

The article talks about how tourism is ruining the town and taking away all the cultural atmosphere that people would like to experience. The very saving of the town is contributing to its demise. (So common now, I fear, look at Venice.)

I must admit, I felt the process in its middle stages when I was there two years ago. Some people still lived in the central part of the town (it's a VERY small town, like the size of UT's 40 Acres), but it was rapidly being gentrified. You felt the town changing, you felt the people trying to figure out how to handle all us 'falangs' and they were very friendly but also a bit wary at the same time. Especially the monks, they tried very hard to continue on with their traditional life, but they knew they were on display. (Luang Prabang is a center of Buddhist study, with a large concentration of wats and temples.) They all wanted to practice speaking English, so they could be tour guides themselves when they were finished with their time in the wats.

What really drives me nuts about this article, though, is the photo.

The photo shows the morning ceremony of the monks going to collect their food alms for the day. As a tourist, it is VERY important to be respectful of the ceremony. I know I did my best to not get in the way, to not stand higher than the monks (hard when you are almost 6 feet tall and they hover around 5 feet) and to remain far aside when I was not participating in it by offering food. (Offering food has a very strict protocol, which was explained to us and we did our best to follow.)

I swear, if I had been there and saw those idiot people from that bus hording in on the monks like that, cameras waved in faces and not respecting the traditions of 700 years, I think I would have had to say something. I cannot belive these people would act this way. God knows I probably was regarded as just a big stinky white tourist myself, but at least I *TRIED* to respect the culture and tradition of many years! At least we didn't have busloads of people driving up at 6am with tour guides shouting from bullhorns! I remember it as a very quiet and dignified ceremony, marred by only a few stupid women tourists wearing shorts who insisted on sitting on chairs to feed the monks (a big no no, you are supposed to sit on the gound with feet under you AND have your limbs covered. If you can't follow the rules, stand off to the side and watch quietly!)

I hate the way culture is plundered like this. And I know I am a contributor to it, as I went there and spent my dollars and took pictures as well. But dammit, at least I TRIED.

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