Mixed Feelings – It’s a Classic Tourist Day

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North Thailand

 

I have a sister and a daughter who are sometimes more in tune with animals than with people. When they first visited Qatar they were so excited to ride a camel.

The first opportunity we had to ride was on the beach. I found my sister sitting on the side of a sand dune by the water’s edge, looking at a camel. I happily…obliviously…plunked down beside her and said “Are you going to ride?”
She said, “I’m having nothing to do with this.” I was shocked. Why not? “That is the saddest camel I’ve ever seen.” (She was a former employee of an animal nature reserve, so this wasn’t her first camel). She proceeded to tell me why she thought that. She had good reasons. She had seen happy camels on this trip but not these ones. My daughter appeared moments later and without us saying anything she said “I’m not riding these camels.” These girls just know. They have a sense that I don’t have, although I’ve learned some things from them and I try my best now to be more aware.

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Annie with a happy camel.

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A camel with a happy Janice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really wished they were with us yesterday when we went to see the animals, in northern Thailand. I’d done a bit of research before we came but I’m not entirely sure how you can tell if animals are being well treated. I heard and read some horror stories. I could see that the elephants we were visiting weren’t badly treated. I couldn’t be sure they were well treated either. Are elephants happy painting pictures and playing soccer? Do they enjoy putting on a show for everyone? I can’t jump to a yes or no about that. I did see the area where the young elephants were learning to paint when we were river rafting. It looked like an outdoor kids class. Bottles of paint and an easel set up under a thatched umbrella. How could that not be happy?

At any rate, we also took a ride down the river on these big intelligent animals. It wasn’t far and they didn’t seem to complain. Thai people have been using domesticated elephants for labour for centuries. Now they have them working in the tourist industry. Still, I felt conflicted about the use of would-be wild animals for human entertainment.

On a side note – our driver was quite entertaining. After several questions about our family, he really felt that I needed a grandson and that he could help me out with that if I’d just let him have my “gorgeous daughter…so gorgeous….oh my Buddha, oh my Buddha.”

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The water festival continued even on the elephant trails!

 

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On our way back to the city we visited the ‘Long neck Karen’ tribe. Enter mixed feelings number 2. You may have seen a documentary about these people. The women from the age of 5 put rings around their necks. They add one a year for several years in an attempt to make their necks longer. Their reasoning varies from making them look ugly so men from other tribes won’t take them, to their long necks making them beautiful so they can attract a good husband. The reason is no longer the reason. The main reason is now tourism. Therein lies the conflict. The people are Burmese refugees and not Thai citizens so far (they’ve been here for 17 years). The men work in the fields and the women weave on their looms while the children play. There is a teacher who comes to the village every day at 5 and teaches them English. The village is clean. There were girls playing a game of checkers and giggling like schoolgirls. The children flirted with Honour (as usual). But it was weird. It’s strange to pay to go and see a tribe and take pictures of them. It’s also a way to give them money in exchange for something else and thereby support them when they’re stuck with no way to make money otherwise. The little girls with rings on their necks made me sad. There was at least one girl who didn’t have rings around her neck because she is being sent to a Thai school for a regular education. I hope that’s the start a good trend.

Dave didn’t go because he’d just taught a Social Studies unit on tourism, and ironically, this very issue came up in a discussion on ethics and tourism. Dave told his class he wouldn’t visit these tribes because it encourages them to continue to keep putting the rings on their little girls. He had to stay true to his word. Our tour guide said that this was the only way these refugees had of making a living. Honour really wanted to go because she watched a documentary about them and we were right here. Stuck in the middle and understanding both sides, I went with Honour.

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Qatar advertising and Barcelona football reach into the remote Thai villages – small world.

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I made a contribution to their little school and bought a little hand woven wallet. It made me feel like I was supporting the parts of their life that were healthy. Realistically speaking, we did have to pay to go there and part of that was picture taking and that’s the bad side of it all. Such a mixture of feelings.

Our world is full of these conflicts and choices and imperfect decisions. If we drive a car, or eat meat, or buy anything manufactured in China or Bangladesh or ….most any developing country…we take part in some form of unfairness in this world we live in. This conflicted, beautiful, messy, art/music filled, pain/joy filled, struggle/peace filled world.

Conflicted, but doing my best to walk with compassion.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Mixed Feelings – It’s a Classic Tourist Day

  1. Lynda Carlyle

    Another excellent post, Tracie!….and for the record–the elephants looked happy to me! xo

    Date: Fri, 8 May 2015 11:49:45 +0000 To: lynda.carlyle@hotmail.com

  2. Jola Genge

    Touching and thought provoking. So much we are unaware of in our Western so called civilization. Thank you for sharing! I love your blogs Tracie! XO

  3. Mandy Kasper

    Oh so true. So so so true.

    Good write 🙂

    On 2015-05-08 7:50 AM, “Tracie on the Go” wrote:

    > tracieonthego posted: ” I have a sister and a daughter who are sometimes more > in tune with animals than with people. When they first visited Qatar they were > so excited to ride a camel. The first opportunity we had to ride was on the > beach. I found my sister sitt” >

  4. Susan Herron

    Such an interesting and though provoking post today, Tracie. We, as people, are fascinated and interested with other cultures and want to see them. But, as you mentioned, often old traditions and practices that aren’t healthy and should be stopped are kept alive for tourism. I can certainly understand the mixed emotions you feel, as we should all feel as we go out there and explore the world.

  5. Rosemary Travis

    You take me to places (on the planet and in my heart) that demand exploring. Thank you.

  6. Terri McCallum

    Love your viewpoint..

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  7. Karen

    I so enjoy your perspective on the world.

  8. I obviously find the long necks medically abusive, but it’s the fact that the people don’t get the admissions entrance that bothers me. That’s a bit like slavery. There are some free villages in Mae Hong Son, though. Love the pictures. Love Tland.

    • WHAT???? This changes everything for me! If I would have known that I would have either not gone (because now it feels like a human zoo) or I would have gone but would have bought more from them directly. Our tour guide said that the fee supported them. So, either we went with a good company, or he was lying. Of course it wouldn’t be the first time. Thanks for making us even more aware.

  9. You said it so well, and as always Tracie, your ‘voice’ and observations are profound. Conflict, compassion, peace & imperfections definitely make it a messy world – as you say. But, I do believe our intentions create a difference, which could be argued. And, maybe we don’t get to see the changes we tacitly inspire, but we do our best as we go through life, and as Maya Angelou told Oprah, “When we know better we do better.”

    Thinking more about the neck rings – what do you suppose would happen to the adult women whose necks are elongated with those rings for decades? They probably could no longer support their heads without the rings, I suppose. I liken this to the ‘bound feet’ of Chinese women who, in the belief that small feet=beauty, were left crippled and deformed when unwrapped, after a life-time of having their feet held within those ribbons of bondage. So maddening to see females treated this way.

    • Hi Linda, Thanks for the question (you always ask good ones).

      In fact their necks don’t elongate. Their collar bones are what suffers. They get compressed. I’m not sure what would happen if the rings were removed. I suspect they wouldn’t have the muscle strength they’d need. I did notice that the older women had weak, high, voices. I wondered if this was a result of the rings. At any rate I think the focus should be on not perpetuating the tradition. I have read that it is dwindling and will likely be gone in 2 generations. Seems like too long, but maybe there’s an end in sight, and that’s good. There was a young teenage-looking girl who didn’t have rings because she went to a public school. This is also positive.

  10. Wow, Tracie! Amazing photographs! I heard about the elephants and the rings around the neck but never read about it or seen pictures. Thanks for sharing! x

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