I still remember the sinking feeling I had getting off the train in Guangzhou, China, at 1 a.m. You think that perhaps arriving in the middle of the night in the middle of winter might spare you from the onslaught of shouting pushy people waving laminated fliers, but no.
“Hotel hotel HOTEL HOTEL hotel hotel CHEAP CHEAP good price!!”
The refrain like a cacophony of badly tuned horns, reinforced by jostling elbows and hands grabbing at our coats. These situations require a big deep breath of centered calm. Otherwise, if you’re anything like me, you’re likely to freak out and start running as fast as you can in the opposite direction.
Guangzhou isn’t the only place this happens in the world, of course. At those charged Destinations with a capital D where travelers arrive in swarms with obvious needs to be met (spiritual, commercial, basic, or otherwise) there is inevitably a waiting mass of locals looking to fill those needs, or create them. The Age recently ran a piece about the top cities where you get hassled as a traveler and I can think of many that aren’t on that list.
For me, this is a nasty feeling. I dislike fighting through the crowds, dislike the pulling at my clothes and the shouting, dislike the feeling of being in a full-on, unmasked consumer interaction with a place and it’s people. It’s like pulling that pretty little shear veil of “authenticity” or awe off of a travel experience and a place to reveal the simple, ugly framework of money beneath.
But then again, is it really my place to whine about this? After all, in China or Peru I am taking advantage of the low cost of living and searching out my own version of the authentic (Chinese living in traditional hutongs? Peruvians walking llamas through the Andes?) and there’s no reason the local people need to comply with my vision of an idyllic authentic getaway, right? To many of them, I am a way to make money – perhaps a nice and friendly way to make money or a slightly hostile one, but in any case, a path to the cash. Does this make them bad, cynical, sinister people? Perhaps some, but not all.
From yet another angle, however, one wonders if this sort of unregulated full-on assault throwing all sorts of random goods and services at tourists really benefits the “sellers” or “touts” or “locals” or however you’d classify them in the end – it often creates a popping resentment and hostility between them and visitors, it can end up damaging tourism to the area, and it frequently leads to rampant development in the form of hostels and backpacker joints and, to use a controversial term here, “cultural pollution.”
Yet how do we and they prevent it from happening?
What do you think, readers? Where are the places you’ve been hassled most? How do you deal with it? What do you think could be done about it? Let’s get the discussion going.