Globalization vs. localization has been an never ending debate. Some believe that the whole world is becoming more and more alike, akin to a global village. It is said that increase in trade and travel will lead to even more homogeneity. And yet many believe and customs and culture still remain as distinct as ever and are likely to remain so. There is some truth to both the arguments. Wherever I go, I may find malls, but people dress and behave differently inside them! Culturally sensitive travel seems relevant even today. It also feels like common sense to me!
And yet it doesn’t seem to be so common. The police arrested tourists in Sabah who posed nude on the top of the Kinabalu Mountain in Sabah, Malaysia. Here is a short quote from the BBC story linked above.
Ranau district police chief Mohd Farhan Lee Abdullah confirmed to the BBC that the authorities had arrested a British woman at Tawau airport in Sabah on Tuesday. The two Canadians, who are siblings, and the Dutchman turned themselves in to police on the same day. Their lawyer, Ronny Cham, told the BBC’s Jennifer Pak that he had requested the four be held apart from other detainees in order to ensure their safety.
I might have not thought much about the incident but for a Malaysian friend asking for my views on it. I told him I found the behavior of the tourists totally insensitive to the local culture.
The people of Kazadan Dusun tribe in Sabah consider the mountain sacred. In you have visited the Himalayas, you can see that people consider them sacred too. There are prayer flags and stone formations to invoke the Gods all over the Himalayas. I wonder what is so difficult to understand about it that certain cultures consider their mountains sacred? It didn’t help at all when an earthquake followed this event, which many put to the disrespect shown by the tourists to the mountain! I know it is a false argument but it is a predictable one.
The government of Malaysia answered with the arrest of the tourists. Now that raises another question. Is that the best way to deal with the situation? I have no answer to that as well.
But it does raises a question about our behavior as travelers and backpackers. I have read countless quotes and posts exalting travel. Travel is something that should open our minds to other cultures but does it?
My personal take is that people will be people, they will behave in all possible ways and travelers are no exception.
It is important to be educated about the place one is going to visit. What is really the point of traveling if we cannot respect the local customs? One small initiative of this blog has been the dress code for women series. Do check it out.
What do you think about the behavior of the tourists on the Kinabalu Mountain in Sabah, Malaysia? What is your take on culturally sensitive travel?