Traveling is one of those “cool” things. Like playing music for an audience, acting, high-profile cooking, and other stuff, it gives the traveler social credit just by having done it. Of course, it depends on HOW you have done it as well. No one gives the rumpled guy in a dress shirt and loose tie with a garment bag and laptop case credit for having been to every major country while only using carry on luggage. Sure that old couple may have backpacked through the entire western hemisphere, but since the old guy was wearing Hawaiian shirts the whole time and the woman is wearing a sun visor, they’re just retirees. That loud Bostonian family may be rude as hell, but they just took their kids to Chinese Disneyland so they could have a unique experience at great personal expense. You can only hope the father realizes he is still wearing the mouse ears and they haven’t been glued to his head by sweat and toddler drool. It’s a strange, subtle narcissism that seems to grip certain types of Travellers. The hardcore German guy who one-bags his way across Africa sneers at the American girl in loose, clothing clothing who just finished crossing Asia. She in turn, looks down on the old guy in an Under Armour shirt who is visiting Australia. He gets annoyed at the tourists. They get annoyed at the rural foreigners. The cycle goes on.
Look Travellers are a part of any local economy/culture/people as much as anything else here. I come from a state that derives a large part of its income from tourism (not that I can find exact numbers on this since that income does not seem to be directed towards website design, ah Arizona!) and I can assure you that the tourists are not inconsequential. Before I flew over here, I was staying in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho which exists because it’s on a beautiful lake, and all but shuts down over the winter.
I guess now would be a good time to tell you about Hoi An
I went to Hoi An while I was staying in Da Nang. It’s one of those towns that areas will leave undeveloped in order to contain the tourists in one high-priced, “quaint” area. It even does a thing where it turns off all electronic lights during the full moon. I was not there during the full moon unfortunately, but that does sound cool to see.
It’s got a river in the middle of it.
It’s got festivals.
It’s got lots…and lots of shops.
Seriously this place has so many clothing shops, you can’t spit without ruining a silk sample.
It also has three crazy skinny roosters, the one pictured above just finished kicking that dog’s butt up and down the street.
They run this town.
This place was so annoying it was unbelievable. It was Disneyland levels of crowds. The only reason these pictures are so bare is because I took them while wandering around during the hottest part of the day. It was very hot and very humid, and I still waited until there were breaks in the crowd before taking pictures.
I’ve never seen so many TripAdvisor Owl logos in one place.
In the above, sterling example of why I am not a photographer. Each row of those tables was a seperate restaurant. All of them had various TripAdvisor logos with different accolades and reviews on their signs. It’s like some sort of remake of that South Park Yelp episode. Food was good though.
The view from that restaurant was the closest thing to real homes I saw in Hoi An after parking. I was told that a home near the water here can cost four or five thousand US dollars a month to rent. For a bit of perspective, that’s 113,995,000 in a country where a normal income is 3,000,000 a month, or about $150.
I would submit to you, dear reader, that this is not the bad thing that it seems.
The locals that are lucky/enterprising/mean enough to have shops here doubtless make scads, heaps of money off these tourists. The tourists get what they want, to look at buildings slightly different then the ones at home, experience getting ripped off by an actual Asian tailor, and take overpriced boat rides. Also here is the surrounding countryside
I didn’t take pictures of the water buffaloes wandering in these paddies because I figured everyone has one of those already.
Hm? Oh, this one is one of the dozen or so MASSIVE resorts being built all along the road between Hoi An and Da Nang. Just behind it is a beach. I’ll get into how the economy there is getting completely upended when I write about Da Nang later, but to keep on the point. Between this resort and Hoi An is a few miles of ruralness. I know because I ran out of gas in the closest thing to a town there was between there and Hoi An
Here. I had some very gracious help so everything turned out okay, but let me tell you, there is a reason that road is empty.
The point is, the tourism industry is the only work to be found here outside of the rice paddies and the above pictured service industries. Sure tailoring and crafts are important to locals as well, but I guarantee that selling knockoff suits to foreigners at high prices is a lot more profitable than selling to locals.
I want to talk a bit more about specifically the English language industry and exactly why I will not be staying on to teach English, even after being all-but-offered a position at a university in Saigon. I don’t want to get into that yet, but I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. All I’ll say here is that it seems like one of the largest dividers between local business and upscale tourist spots is fluency in English. It’s striking.
So back to my original point. Travellers. I started on this point because I have felt a profound disconnect between myself (tall American dude in T-shirt, jeans, and boots) and all the other types of tourists. Where I was typing yesterday was right in the middle of the wealthiest tourist district in Ho Chi Minh, there was a Versace store, a Hugo Boss store, and a store with no logo and six purses within eyesight of that Starbucks. To say it was upscale felt a little like underselling it.
Also this place, which had full blown SS logos all over the inside of it. You can see the glowing one in this picture. Double lightning bolts pretty much means one thing. *shrug* *avoids drawing connections between that and the Hugo Boss store*
Afterwards I walked down two streets and found myself in the backpacker area where hostels lined the streets. The sorts of places where, for $3, you get a night in a bunk bed and coffee in the morning. I then ate dinner in an Irish pub, outside a Hyatt which was filled with businessmen.
They actually had real Brown Sauce, I haven’t seen that outside the UK except for specialty shops. Though their “Fish” was just expensive chicken nuggets.
That’s three different types of travellers. Rich ones, Backpackers, and Businessmen. Yet, each time, I felt out of place. Maybe it’s my loner tendencies being exaggerated by cultural difference, but you know, what are you going to do? Maybe alienation is inevitable when the only participation you have in local business is being sought after for scams and shoeshines.
I’m getting weary of being the traveller. Of being the transient with more money than occupation. It’s not the new people, or the mental energy of new places, or the constant search for food that will be compatible with my digestion (I’m an American with Scottish ancestry, I should not be forced to go this long without deep fried food!) The thing that is getting me is the boredom. The aforementioned suspicion of the English language industry is not helping.
Don’t think that just because someone “travels” they are necessarily any better for it, but don’t discount those who don’t seem to line up with what your idea of “traveling” is. People are people wherever you go, travelers or locals. That convenience store clerk who helped me get gas and then sold me a Pepsi could have been from Tombstone, AZ or Coeur D’Alene, ID. They’re not aliens or primatives, nor are they some sort of mystic outsider that will impart forbidden knowledge from the Orient.
Shit, am I hurting future prospects at being a travel writer?
Uh, well, tune in next week to see me eat something gross! Then I’ll find a local restaurant and gush about how interesting the food is, then I’ll pose in a cafe in local clothing that no one has worn for decades, then I’ll…uh…gush about cultural differences or how the people are so different or…