I just want to start off by saying that this has little to do with money. What this is about is morals, principal, knowing right from wrong and being a decent person.
I want to address the amount of tourist scams going on in SE Asia. Let me just stop to mention that I’m fully aware of the backlash this is going to get me.
From the “What does it matter? You have a lot more money than them and it’s only a few cents anyway.” To the “They are just trying to survive!”
I’m sure I will hear a couple, “It’s not everyone that’s doing it, only the minority.” And the inevitable, “They don’t know any better.” OR “Why are you complaining about this? Don’t you have something better to be worrying about?”
One of my friends laid it out for me pretty well. Her and her partner posted a video online documenting their shock when a duo of Vietnamese fruit sellers lied to them about the price of bananas and cheated them out of the change they were owed.
They were caught off guard, taken advantage of and were left with a bad taste in their mouth for the country, the city and the locals.
When they posted the video on Youtube, many of the commenters were coming at them for complaining about their “first world problems”. They also made sure to put them in their place for getting angry with the poor, desperate and down and out, Vietnamese locals.
What they didn’t realize however is that in their attempt to defend the fruit sellers, they were just judging and stereotyping them.
Look, who am I to say who they are and who they aren’t. The point is that just as those leaving the comments just automatically stereotyped the two fruit sellers, the fruit sellers were stereotyping my Western friends as being rich, stupid and non-caring about wrong done to them.
Stealing, lying and cheating is stealing, lying and cheating no matter if it’s one cent or one million dollars and whether it’s a foreigner or a local. Most people wouldn’t steal from those with bigger bank accounts just because those people had more money than them.
The people that carry out these scams, they are trying to survive, sure. However, they have a price, a fair price, that they are willing to sell their goods for and still make it out on top.
You see it when they charge the locals upwards of 50% less for something that they charge travelers and foreigners for. You see it when they quote you almost three times the price for something to see if they can get away with it, only to come down once you walk away.
If some of you aren’t familiar with the scams of SE Asia, here are just a few that I’ve experienced.
• The fruit seller in Vietnam who weighed my oranges, quoted me a price and then took a couple out of my bag to put back in her stock when she thought I wasn’t looking.
• The cab driver in Vietnam who took the longest way possible to bring us home, despite protests, requests for turns and pointing at the map. He charged us 3 times what we usually pay when taking that route.
• The local girls in Sapa, Vietnam who harassed us to buy their bracelets. When we tried to be polite by saying “maybe” we would check them out later, they left us alone. However, later on in the day, they remembered our faces and started following, harassing and telling us that they would follow us forever unless we bought something. One of them even told Josh that he was a bad person and another gave me a hearty “Fuck You” when I eventually stopped being polite and gave her the silent treatment.
• The man in a Vietnamese train station that posed as an employee, grabbed our bags out of our hands and frantically rushed us to our sleeper cart,confused, only to demand that we give him money for his “service.”
• The woman selling fruit in Bali who told me that she didn’t have enough change to give me and wanted to keep my money in exchange for a few more pieces of fruit that didn’t equal the amount I was owed. After my firm protests, she finally coughed up the money that she did in fact have.
• The woman at the rice terraces in Bali who watched us walk through her station and turn right around when we realized we had gone the wrong way. She demanded that we leave a donation for seeing her side of the terraces even though we didn’t see them at all and had just donated for the side that we came from. She wouldn’t let us pass without giving money and then tried to tell us how much we needed to donate.
Also, the man at the rice terraces who gave us a dirty look for the amount we donated at his station and then followed up by asking me if I was pregnant and laughing at my visibly irritated reaction.
• The Thai police officer that pulled us over for no reason and then demanded that we pay him off $30 USD. He even tried to take our key out of the ignition so we couldn’t leave.
• The child in Cambodia who tried to get us to buy him milk powder, only to return it to the store and get cash for it to give to his parents (we didn’t fall for this one.)
While most of these instances happen in and around tourist destinations, I have been completely put off, tired of dealing with the hassle, sick of always keeping my guard up for being swindled and frankly just tired of being looked at as a walking, talking ATM machine.
Tourism can be both good and bad but for the local people who are trying to scam tourists out of their money at these sights, they are ruining the potential benefits for themselves.
Instead of earning money through their work, services and products at these sites, they are driving tourists away and making them so angry that they don’t want to spend a penny.
I am so fed up with being harassed and made to feel bad for not wanting to spend my money on a trinket or a bunch of brown bananas that I am ready to abandon tourist destinations all together.
These places may be beautiful or interesting but how can I enjoy it when my only options are to spend money on things that I don’t want or to be harassed or tricked by people coming at me from all angles?
Even if I do visit a tourist site, I have decided to fully stock up on snacks, water and supplies from locations outside of the tourist centers who sell their items for a fair price, leaving the people prone to scamming at the tourist sites without any profits from me at all.
I think that they are ruining it for themselves because pretty soon, other tourists are going to get fed up, if they haven’t already and do everything they can to keep their money out of the hands of people who lied, scammed and cheated to get it.
This issue has a lot of arguable angles and could probably be debated for hours, but, this is how I feel.