Wednesday, March 01, 2006

No, thank you....

(Fill in the blank to finish the sentence)

a) we're walking
b) we don't want to buy anything
c) we already have one
d) we're not going to give you money

Any traveller who has spent time in this part of the world will agree that (no matter how wonderful the rest of the experience is) the constant bombardment by vendors and touts and moto/tuk tuk/cyclo drivers is absolutely exhausting and even surreal at times. On the plus side, we now know how to say "No thank you" in a number of new languages.

It's hard to describe how it feels to be viewed as a walking ATM machine. You definitely start resenting it though. That brings up all sorts of liberal guilt, as clearly we make so much more money and have so much more disposable income. The fact that we're on a budget (compared to many other tourists) doesn't carry much weight with people in Cambodia who can't imagine ever having enough money to fly anywhere, much less around the world. (our "astronomical" salaries make a little more sense to them when you explain how much things like a cup of coffee, clothing, groceries, rent, etc. cost. Of course most people could care less about having this conversation; they just want you to buy a pineapple.)

It would be one thing if it was just people trying to sell us things. But the blatant attempts to rip one off is what really gets on our nerves. To be told with a smug look that the price is 4-10 times what you know it should be is infuriating. Even though 99% of the time we either calmly bargain it down to close to what it should be or walk away, the swallowed frustration still eats at you. It's different than the bargaining that's common in markets all over the developing worlds where it's understood to be a game/ritual with rules where if things are done correctly both sides win. This frequently feels very much like pure rip offs and often occurs at the worst times (when you are exhausted and disoriented after long travels). I've actually been very impressed by the extent to which Brian has been able to keep his temper in these situations. ;-)

I don't know what the solution to this is, other than hoping that the standard of living and incomes in these countries improve. We wish we could explain that they actually might make more money if they would stop the hard sell/overcharging tactics that turn so many people off and can keep them away. I would frequently be willing to pay a slightly too high fixed price to avoid the hassle of having to negotiate everything and be always on guard against getting ripped off. In Hoi An, they seem to have gotten the message as the touts for the tailor shops have been clamped down on to a huge degree. Without that change in policy, we wouldn't have spent more than 1 day there as we would have been too exhausted and turned off by the onslaught. But since it was manageable, we stayed for multiple days, spending money across the town and even buying something from one of the clothing shops. So maybe there's hope.


Another random observation: Brian and I wonder whether a significant portion of the population in SE Asia suffer from hearing loss or injuries. We are constantly amazed by (and in serious pain from) the volume of life around here. Whether it is horns blaring on the road 24/7 (and constantly on a bus journey), the live music and miked performers at the Water Puppet Theater, or the karaoke music videos being blasted on the buses, we find ourselves wincing in pain and actually putting our fingers in our ears to try and lessen the impact. We can't imagine living through this on a full-time basis. Between the pollution we've breathed and the ringing ears, we hope this 4 months in Asia doesn't have permanent detrimental effects on our health.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

sadly I would have to agree with you. on our own trip the worst part was having to constantly be on guard. making sure you didn't get robbed, making sure you didn't get ripped off when buying something (still happens anyway), and just the general fending off of people. it is absolutely exhausting, and one of the reasons I'm not actively trying to make it back to SE Asia. glad your trip is going well. love the blog!