I was at the Maejo Lantern release (aka Yee Ping Festival) when a colleague of mine loudly stated, “My god, there are so many foreigners here. This is insane. I bet they don’t even know what this event is all about. Why are they even here?”
Being as we were sitting down, surrounded by people from all over the world, I’m sure what he said was overheard. I was ashamed, but managed to say, “Even though we live here, we’re all visitors if you think about it.” And I wasn’t being spiritual or metaphysical either; I was just trying to put down the shovel that my coworker was swinging around with great importance and ego.
I don’t know why, but there is this traveller’s/expat pecking order that I’ve come across since living abroad and it’s embarrassing. I guess it’s kind of like the guys at the gym bragging about being able to bench press more weight than someone else or girls gossiping about those “ugly” women over there. It’s sooo high school.
Recently, I read a post on how Cuenca, Ecuador is overrun with rude expats and they are ruining the city. My first reaction was to feel annoyed at such a statement and my second was to understand why did I feel this way.
I used to live in Cuenca and I’ve met some really outstanding, generous and sweet folks out there. I consider some of them friends now. Yes, this was years ago, but I have a hard time believing that the whole expat community has gone fantastically to pot. (He said, all the expats were rude.)
When Cuenca made it in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2010, I thought, Oooo, that’s not good, but seriously, good places get noticed.
Now, I understand, most of us don’t want to go to a place overrun with tourists (or gringos). I moved away from Chiang Mai because it was getting too crowded for my blood. I was having a hard time finding a place to eat near my home after work. Traffic was creating a quagmire of confusion and seemingly endless discomfort. I started to feel restless, too.
But I left a lot of beautiful and special friends behind when I did. I don’t miss the city, but there are happy qualities about CM that make it crazy popular for others. A lot of expats remind me of how much the economy in the US has failed the American people. Yes, adventure is part of it, but cost of living is a very big factor.
It’s a double-edged passport, isn’t it? We want to a place to ourselves and we hate seeing other travelers or expats, but then again, we are the other travelers and expats. Even if they weren’t there, we’d be there. On-the-beaten track is great for some and not so fun for others. Tours, resorts, solo, camping, budget, RTW, gap year, adventure travel, there is truly something for everyone and I’m not going to pretend that the way I do it is better (or worse) than another. I mean, who the hell cares?
There are, of course, stupid travelers. And I’ve written about tourists behaving badly. In case you are unaware of this, Thailand gets A LOT of tourists acting like they ain’t got a bit of sense. So, expats like to sneer at them and swap stories like baseball cards.
Look, I get it. I don’t want your white mug in my photo op and you don’t want mine in yours (not true). We want to be the first to discover that special gem, that pristine place free of hip travellers, but here we are, collecting dirt on our boots and searching for the next restaurant to eat at.
Travel is supposed to enrich and broaden the mind. We’re not supposed to think colonial thoughts or be territorial. It’s a privilege and not a promise that it will be anything like we had hoped or wanted. And unless you are evil to small children and animals, I think it’s safe to assume that everyone’s journey has some value, right?
Why do you travel?