Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Luang Prabang: A Zoo?!

Photograph © David Longstreath/Associated Press-All Rights Reserved

This photograph appeared in the New York Times this morning with the article "Tourism Saves a Laotian City but Saps Its Buddhist Spirit", and is of tourists jostling each other to take photographs of Buddhist monks during their alms gathering in Luang Prabang. What a disgraceful spectacle!!! I realize that Laos is in dire need of the jobs and money that such tourism brings, but the damage that this does to its traditions and ways of life is irreversible. Many other South East Asian cities have degenerated into touristic zoos...Siem Reap and its fabulous Angkor temples is one of them.

I visited Luang Prabang 3 years ago, and I recall seeing tourists photographing the monks early morning, but they were not as aggressive and so 'in-their-face". In fact, they stood at a respectful distance from the monks, some even standing on the other side of the road (as I did), to show respect for this age-old ritual.

This is from the article: “Now we see the safari,” said Nithakhong Somsanith, an artist and embroiderer who works to preserve traditional arts. “They come in buses. They look at the monks the same as a monkey, a buffalo. It is theater.”

How would these tourists feel if the roles were reversed? Haven't these monks the same feelings and sensitivities we all do?

I see this shameful behavior time and time again wherever I go from tourists who are clueless -or are uncaring- as to their reprehensible behavior. Some nationalities are worse than others, and I (as participants in my photo expeditions only know too well) have no second thoughts in directly confronting such tactless people.