Monday, March 23, 2015

Nobody wants to see the "real" Bangkok

Following a recent discussion on Twitter I thought it might be good to (re)-start this discussion here. Someone was complaining that a dumpsite with poor kids in Cambodia was closed for tourists, suspecting tourists are not allowed to see "the real Cambodia" anymore, but instead only the bright side like Angkor Wat.
Just another street in Bangkok. Nothing to see here (beside the fact that there is a vegetarian restaurant)

So I was asking myself, how the hell this guy can even think a garbage dump site is the real Cambodia (and he lives in Phnom Penh)?

I think because we all have our own distortion field and agenda. We experience a country and a city in a certain way. If you are a tourist and you have 2 or 3 days in Bangkok, of course you will visit the usual suspects. You are not leaving the airport and head straight to a random street somewhere in the east of town. If you go to Cambodia, of course you have to see Angkor Wat. And it doesn't matter (and even claim to be) that this isn't the real Cambodia, because every country has some many faces and facettes -  not even the prime minister or any head of state has seen all of it.

Bangkok is just another Asian city with some specific highlights. Most parts of Bangkok are not worth a visit, because they were not built for it. They are functional, townhouse after townhouse, with more or less useful shops. Architecture isn't something Asian cities are famous for. And street life is not much different if you are in Bangna, Din Daeng or Bang Pli. But, this is the real Bangkok, because most parts are just like that.

Unfortunately it doesn't tell you anything about Thailand. Because a small village in Isaan is a totally different story, and so is one in the south of Thailand. Pattaya is as real as Udon Thani is and so are Phuket and Kanchanaburi.

Tourists want to escape their daily life and want to see and experience something different. Most of them just want to relax. That's their decision and yes, they have a right to do so. It doesn't make them bad people just because they go to the beach instead of sleeping on a dump side. I do agree that the more time you spend in a country the more your learn about it, but come on, nothing new about it.

But, as we all know, certain people just see poor people and they feel sorry for them and want to help. And I even understand that the world should know that those kids are suffering. Only the world knows already. In Cambodia, there is for example PSE, a NGO that gives education and vocational training to kids from Phnom Penh's garbage dump. (When I worked in Cambodia, we had one secretary who came from there). A picture of a poor kid that is sold in a gallery for 100 Dollar doesn't help the boy. School and later a job helps.

Reducing Cambodia to suffering from the Khmer Rouge and being full of poor people is as wrong as any stereotype. Just yesterday I met a friend from Cambodia who gets a training here with her new company - a international law firm. She is pretty annoyed of those good samaritans who drive fancy cars (or live a good life as a freelancer without paying taxes to the country they take advantage of). In particular Cambodian young people - with a main focus on the cities of course - are eager to develop and do better. Those who I know - and that is a difference from my experience in Thailand - do not forget where they are coming from.

Claiming to know the "real" Bangkok, Siem Reap or whatever basically shows how biased someone is, because what then follows is a reduction that fits this persons personally view and distortion field.
The guy from twitter by the way has a blog about Bangkok at night and guess what the posts are?
Party Time Patpong, Late night beer, Hollywood Bar Nana Plaza... So much about the real <insert name>.