The Thing About Traveling Part 1 or The Desolation of Tourism
I have just left Manilla, in the Philippines, I was not there long, but long enough to see that it has fallen victim-as many popular Asian destinations have-to the rise of the global tourism culture. As I walked the streets I saw several fast food chains, shopping malls that would seem more at home in the USA then in Manilla, but most shockingly, to walk the street meant I was near constantly either being solicited, or being told to come into one of the street men’s bars where “you can meet this lovely girl I know” or “see lots of pole dancers”. Perhaps it’s good to have options, but I just wanted to go to a bar and have a beer. Preferably not where I would have to second guess whether the girl I was talking to was being nice with the hope that I’d pay for her services. This is not a slight on the Philippine people. They are not to be blamed here. Naturally a city wherein its citizens don’t possess much wealth will pander to the wants of the visiting wealthy. Whether it is a western city or an eastern one, people will take work where they can, and if that involves persuading a tourist one way or the other so be it.
Does it not lie on the tourist then, to try and respect the people of a place that they more or less extort in order to extract some pleasure. It is one thing that a place that had become so popular due to its unique oriental appeal is now reduced in part to a place where the only none partisan response I received to the question of “Where can I get a relaxing drink?” was “TGI Fridays is a nice place, sir”. The worse thing is the seedy underbelly it cultivates. That every street corner had a man with photos of women I could have for a fee, and every bar seemed to be populated with like boys not older than myself is horrible not only for the prostitution of these people, but worse for what it says about the tourists who go there. Without demand an industry cannot survive, and this one was positively thriving.
Now it is not to say that this is a despicable industry on the whole, indeed even an unenlightened soul like myself can accept that it has a place in society. However, in places like the Philippines and other popular tourist hotspots throughout Asia, the sex trade is a particularly cruel and dark one. It is estimated by the UN that there are 1 million child sex slaves in Asia, and this says nothing of the over age sex workers, and huge numbers that are economically so vulnerable that they see it as their only choice.
It’s important to be reminded that if tourism continues on as it currently does places like Bali and Manilla-which are unrecognisable from what made them so popular-will only be lands of cheap food, goods, and sex, rather than gateways to another culture. I know that I probably did not look hard enough, but it’s sad to think that if a tourist wants to find a real part of Manilla they have to engage in amateur sleuthing to do so. Next time you holiday in Asia, try and find the gems that have brought you there, and if you are tempted by a woman of the night, think of the wider consequences this may be having on their lives. As in everything, choose wisely.