“Cambodia’s great”, enthuses the twenty-something gap-year Italian woman in the air-conditioned internet cafe where they bake great croissants. “It’s just that there are too many tourists.”
That’s the trouble with being a tourist: all the other tourists. Whereas *I* am a sensitive seeker after knowledge, a traveller, everyone else is a mere tourist. A particularly twisted manifestation of “I am a traveller NOT a tourist”-itis is to be found by the resentment that many Western tourists feel towards Asian tourists in places like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or Wat Pho in Thailand. There’s a particular type of Western tourist I call the “I’m not religious but I’m really spiritual” genus (that is, I like joss sticks and New Age music but am too lazy for philosophy or reading). They resent the bus loads of Taiwanese/ Vietnamese/ Korean/ Japanese tourists who come to the temples by the aircon busload and walk around talking excitedly and taking photos of each other in Asian poses. How dare they come by bus instead of tuk-tuk? How dare they obviously enjoy themselves instead of walking around reverently?
Here’s an example found at random:
We rode off when the tour groups started to come with busloads of loud Japanese and Chinese tourists, most of whom didn’t even bother to look at the temples, preferring to carry on their noisy conversations instead. Where we had spent almost four hours most of the tours were in and out in 15 minutes.
Disgraceful! Asian Buddhists walk around enjoying Asian Buddhist sites, and in a manner not exactly the same as how I do? They should be instantly banned, as only white people have feelings delicate and sensitive enough to enjoy Angkor.
This can lead to a syndrome I’ve noticed in Nepal and Thailand I call “My Personal Yellow People Theme Park”, in which unimaginably wealthy young white people travel thousands of miles to get drunk at full moon parties with other unimaginably wealthy young white people, or go white water rafting, or trekking, or to gawp at long-necked hill tribe people, while their only interaction with the locals is to order food from them, be driven to the next theme park ride by them, or to fuck them (depending on the type of tourist they are).
Of course, I have no high horse to ride. I bargained people down by 30 cents, perhaps depriving them of some food to save me less money than the price of a watery draft beer on Pub Street.
And I had an attack of “I’m not religious but I’m really spiritual”-itis. It’s easy to do in temples as vast as Angkor where it’s possible to find quiet places – or whole temples that are empty – and to sit and reflect. The gigantic temples being overtaken by the jungle can’t help but put you in mind of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, and the fact that we were there as a family to scatter my grandmother’s ashes leads to inevitable introspection about mortality.
It’s been suggested that I’m a boorish idiot without a spiritual bone in my body. I’m not given to flights of fancy or purple prose, but from my vantage point on a ledge at the twelfth century Angkor Wat, I was thinking of how time destroys all and the only constant is change – just as Buddha said – and was moved to write this rap song. Hopefully it communicates something of the beauty and the mystery of Angkor Wat.