The importation of exploitation.

3 Jun

In my previous blog post I said I would write more about our trip to the long neck village. Here goes.

The more I travel the more I see that all developing country tourist destinations have the same exploitive tendencies. It doesn’t matter if it’s environmental or human, if tourists are willing to pay for it, and people can make money from it, it will be exploited.

The tourist agencies along the Northern Thailand backpacker route advertise tours to “traditional long neck villages”. The long-neck tribes are characterised by the women that wear copper rings around their necks that push down their collar bones giving the impression of long necks. The roots of this tradition are unclear, but some theories believe the women use to wear the neck rings to make them unattractive to other tribes, or to protect them being attacked by tigers. Like most traditions in the modern world it was beginning to die out, but with the tourists willing to pay money to see it, it has made a come back.

We weren’t willing to go on a tour, so we located where a Karen long-neck village was and drove up to the Burmese border where it was located. The long-neck people are Burmese and not Thai, but the Thai government has given them refugee status and land on the Thai border as they escape ethnic cleansing and a hostile military regime (hence my title, ‘The importation of exploitation’).

We arrived at the Burmese border where we were greeted by a sleepy, yet friendly border guard that motioned that we weren’t allowed through into the actual refugee camp, but pointed to another booth. We went to the rustic bamboo booth at the entrance way to the long neck village. We paid the absorbent entrance fee, 200 baht per person, which is ridiculous, that’s the same price we pay for a double bed bungalow, but we had come all this way. What makes it worse is that you know the village people won’t see any of that, that money will be spent of high class prostitutes and expensive whisky.

Visions of smiling village people (the photo below the exception) going about their daily chores were quickly banished as the dirt road led us into the human giraffe zoo. Long-neck ladies stood behind make-shift bamboo stalls in front of their huts, reciting rehearsed English sales verses “special price, hand made scarf” etc. I got a token tourist photo, and we made a purchase from the hand craft stall, as that is the only money they will actually get.

The village was not made up to look fake or beautified for the tourist, it was basic bamboo huts, rubbish lying around, it was how they lived. After all no matter what way you look at it, it’s a refugee camp.

After spending 20 minutes there we walked back up the dirt road, all feeling ripped off, sadden, empty, but more so disgusted at the exploitation.

The question that filled my head was, “are we as tourists helping the long neck people or simply aiding in the exploitation of the long neck people?” As I mentioned before, the long neck people are Burmese refugees escaping ethnic cleansing in a country where 40% of GDP is spent on the military and a mere 1% spent on both education and health!

By us as tourists wanting to see long neck people and get a token photo to show people back home, we have given them an opportunity to get away from a grim Burmese existence. But you have to ask yourself, it must be a pretty dam grim existence back in Burma if living in a village on the Thai border and basically treated like zoo animals is a better way of life.

No matter what way you look at it, it is exploitation. The Thai officials that profit from the human zoo are taking advantage of an ethnic minority’s vulnerability.

I hope this helps those backpackers reading this and wondering whether to go on a long neck tour. Now you know what to expect. But hey, what do you do? The long neck people depend upon the tourists buying their hand crafts to survive, but they are being grossly exploited, you decide, I still don’t know, all I know is that it’s bloody sad.

OK, this is far too long and most people may not have got this far, but it you have I will leave you with a quote, I can’t remember where I heard it, but it fits nicely into the theme of this post:

“The world will only know peace when the power of love outweighs the love of power.

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2 Responses to “The importation of exploitation.”

  1. crystal edge June 9, 2009 at 4:38 am #

    I agree that the tourists support the continued exploitation of human beings in this village and in countless other situations around the world. But, it is a catch 22…without the tourism, those same people have an even slimmer chance earning a living. I’m curious if you felt the same guilt by association when you visited Thailand’s infamous ping pong shows though. Just playing a little devil’s advocate:)

    • Hap June 14, 2009 at 1:47 pm #

      Oh yeah for sure, I totally did, infact I would of written about that in my ping pong post that its the tourists like me that want to go and say they have done that, that keep fueling the fire.
      I have just finished reading a book called ‘Sex Slaves’ which is about the traffricking of girls into the Asian sex market. My god that is a rough read, makes you question our fellow humans, basically it talks about young girls, children that are stolen, tricked, or sold by there families and taken to a big city, their virginity is sold and they are raped repeatively by paying men, eventually they are seasoned where the continual rape becomes a reality, if they are lucky they make a little bit of money, if unlucky, they are 19 with full blown aids and kicked onto the streets to die. Wow, that was a little dark.

      On a brighter note, Mandy and I had a wicked time in NZ, off to Auckland tomorrow and fly out to Argentina on Tuesday, looking forward to it.

      HOpe all well with you and La Familia

      NBL Hap

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