AYUTTHAYA– A foreign young woman posing in a picture over a Buddha statue with its missing head became an entire article for the Bangkok Post last Friday to show that tourists do not behave always properly. This is true that many people when on the move do not always have the right behaviour. But more than a provocative gesture, misbehavior is mostly due to a lack of knowledge about local customs, if not just stupidity.
The Bangkok Post first titled that “A photograph of a female tourist posing with a Buddha statue at Srisanpetch Temple in Ayutthaya province has offended Thais and has sparked several discussions on the internet”.
The newspaper went on by indicating that the foreign woman positioned her head and arm in the same spots as the statue’s missing parts, ignoring signages posted at the temple entrance in Ayutthaya which informs about the proper conduct and behaviour in front of a religious image.
The newspaper reported that “a Thai tourist said he saw the incident during his New Year holiday trip to Ayutthaya. The man said he had seen travellers taking inappropriate photographs on other occasions as well.
“A person should learn about the tradition and culture of a place before travelling to it,” one person wrote in an online discussion.
“Some foreigners do not know our traditions and culture. The supervisors are the ones to blame because it is their job to inform the tourists of the regulations,” said another online comment.
A first question to be asked indeed is where stood the security? According to the newspaper, a security officer declared that the temple’s staff were unable to fully monitor all tourists because of the heavy influx of visitors during the New Year. Normally, the officer said, staff would warn visitors about inappropriate pictures and ask them to immediately delete them from their cameras or phones.
It is true that Thai are particularly sensitive about their culture protection. But at the same time, they allow many digressions over their own identity and culture without being really chocked. The worst example was probably given with the US movie “Hang-over 2” which took place in Thailand. This rather dull US comedy showed the worst of what could be imagined in terms of image for Thailand: monkeys, smoking drugs, local people playing illegal games and cutting a finger for fun, robberies, prostitutes, etc… etc… All the negative cliches about Thailand were there. But the government –so prompt generally to defend the incomprehensible value behind the term ‘Thainess’- had this time nothing to complaint about. Of course, the movie generated so much money and buzz around the world that it probably succeed to kill any local resentment.
This is the application of double-standards about what can be tolerated or what cannot be accepted which draw dozens of comments on the website of the Bangkok Post, following the article. Most of the readers denounced the fact that newspapers and authorities should better concentrate over tourists being scammed or killed in Thailand rather than on a picture, as stupid as the behavior of this girl could have been.
Said one comment: “Billions upon billions of baht tourists bring to this country every year. They provide thousands of jobs direct and indirectly. Be gentle with your golden egg-laying goose. Because worrying more about an innocent picture then, for example raped, shot, robbed and/or stabbed tourists (all example can be found in the last week), might scare that goose away”.
Said a Japanese reader: “ How very Thai! You can charge foreigners double to visit the temple but then complain when they do something that is not acceptable for Thais, who by the way, do not follow the Dharma especially young ones. I have visited many temples where Thai women are in shorts or short skirts and are taking their temporary “boyfriends” for a visit. Thailand is a country of absolute double standards – whether it would be morals, ethics, politics, relationships or business”.
Most of the comments are in the same ton, except two over a total of 20 on Friday night. With all the current issues raised recently in newspapers or social media about negative experiences in Thailand for some tourists –only some of them-, the necessity to redefine relations between foreign travelers and locals as well as finding the right balance between a tourist-oriented economy and the reality of daily life seems an absolute necessity. – Luc Citrinot