Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Underdressed in Laos: Travel Gear

Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
This is something I can't get my head around. International is not cheap--it's cheaper for some than for others, sure. International travel offers treasures in perspective, wisdom, and experience. And yet there is a class of tourist unworthy of the name: "vacationer" might be more appropriate (or "holidayist" in the UK).

But I don't understand why people shell out for international travel solely to get drunk/stoned in other countries. And I don't understand why people are so intent on traveling to those countries yet feel no compunction to observe the least of their social conventions.

Any guide book, travel map, or phrasebook for Laos will tell the literate traveler: "Seriously, cover up your shoulders, chest, and thighs. Uncovering these is considered improper and rude in Lao culture." It's a simple enough observation. The weather is hot, yet at least 12 hill tribes have survived wearing clothing enough to keep covered. Why can't the tourists?

Why can't the backpackers, who make such a big stink about how important it is to see the world? What those hippies aren't saying is, "...to see the world and trammel its cultures." The garment known as a tank-top in the US and a singlet in other places is a convenient thing for people who want tans, have zero heat tolerance, play sports, or beat women. But it has no place in Laos, despite all the hippies and backpackers who insist on wearing them. It was not a difficult feat in the least to camp out on a sidewalk curb and take pictures of all the foreigners who exhibit complete disregard for Laos' considerations in their wardrobe.

The exposed thighs is another thing. Even when we were traveling through the Muslim-predominant areas of Indonesia, some women thought flaunting their sexuality was more important than preserving their livelihood and staying out of jail (or at least respecting the local culture). Denim short-shorts with the rolled cuffs or the Daisy Dukes are in display throughout SE Asia. I can't say that only Australians violated this code, nor that this was the staple of the Australian outfit, but I can say that most of the time, whenever I saw someone wearing as little fabric as possible to expose as much leg as possible, I thought I detected an Aussie dialect when they spoke. Other nations violated this too, but one could make a strong case that Daisy Dukes and halter tops are standard issue when leaving Australia.

And it's not just women, note. Women frequently exposed their shoulders in thin singlets, exposed their bra straps in a real display of taste, but men were right up there with uncovering as much of their body as possible. Why? There are ample notices (for anyone with the capacity to read) that advise in friendly terms any traveler to Laos that there are certain things you don't do. Why would someone spend all that money to go to another country and not have a basic concern for any local customs they might violate? I'm all about customs and culture when I travel. I want to make sure I do nothing wrong, I don't want to accidentally offend the locals. So I don't understand these hypocritical, callous, and ignorant people at all.


Anonymous said...

I liuke how you covered yourt hot chick phot shoot with the blog post. Now you're thinkjin' with marriage!

sxoidmal said...

Oh, it's better than you think: my wife's totally in on it. She runs up and poses herself beside the offender so I can legitimately get a shot without coming off as creepy. More precious than gold, she.