||VAWN HIMMELSBACH, Chic Savvy Travels
The reality is, if you travel, you’re going to come across situations that make you uncomfortable. Things may seem black and white from the comfort of home, whilst flipping through guidebooks and daydreaming about your upcoming trip, but they’re every shade of grey when you find yourself in a foreign country and completely out of your element.
This issue, addressed in Tamara’s insightful report on visiting a slum in Rio, is something I’ve faced again and again during my travels.
Patpong, Bangkok’s red light district. Photo Credit: iStock
A few years ago in Bangkok, I was hanging out with some fellow backpackers who wanted to check out Patpong, the red light district, as “part of the experience.” I went along, mainly because I felt it was important to see the bad along with the good — which I think is a valid point.
But I only stayed about 10 minutes before I waved down a tuk-tuk to take me back to my guesthouse — there were so many foreigners wandering around the red light district, I felt like I was helping to support its existence.
From a journalistic point of view, I’m glad I saw it, because prostitution — or, more specifically, child prostitution — is a very real issue in Southeast Asia. But the image emblazoned on my brain of stony-faced prepubescent kids dancing around naked in front of middle-aged white males still makes me sick to my stomach.
On the other hand, while backpacking through Asia several years ago, I was adamantly against traveling to Myanmar (aka Burma) for political reasons — I didn’t want to support the militia junta, who had placed the democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest and continued to perpetuate one of the worst human rights records in the world.
But after six months of backpacking — and talking to other backpackers — I changed my mind, feeling that I could perhaps do some good by supporting the locals with much-coveted American dollars (what I found was that most people I met were desperate for information about the outside world and incredibly grateful for a chance to talk about it).
Here was my next ethical conundrum: As far as I’m concerned, bribery is just plain wrong, and I never thought in a million years I would ever bribe anyone.
At the time in Myanmar, foreigners were required to exchange American dollars for FECs, or foreign exchange certificates (not to be confused with the legitimate Burmese currency, the kyat), when they entered the country.
This was a way of ensuring the money you spent on hotels and in restaurants (using FECs, which looked an awful lot like monopoly money) would get into the hands of the militia junta. But I was informed that through bribing the right people you could get away with only buying a few FECs and then using American dollars for everything else.
In this situation, bribery was far less offensive than being forced to line the pockets of the highly corrupt militia junta. So I found myself doing something I never thought I would — and feeling it was ethically the right decision.
It’s hard not to impose your own value system on a vastly different culture, where things just don’t work the same way. Right and wrong isn’t always so black and white. So I weigh my options and then decide what I can live with — and have a plan to backpedal out of something I can’t.
My advice: Be prepared to be unprepared and go with your gut.
Date Added: February 1, 2012 | Comments (0)
No comments yet.