CIEE International Common Ground--Issue 1--Feb 2016

Page 1

common ground february 2016


23 - 32

35 - 42

Through the Spirit Door: A search for authentic connection

Dirtbag’s Paradise: Have the climbers gone colonial?

47 - 54


Framing the Favelas: Poverty tourism in Rio neighborhoods

59 - 66 The Elephant in the Room: Western ethics or a fuss over nothing?

Common Ground Mission

Yangon, Myanmar

Patagonia, Chile

Common Ground provides a space for storytelling from around the world that sheds light on a global issue from local perspectives. By addressing a multiplicity of perspectives, we hope to facilitate a broader understanding of the issues that constitute our world. Each issue of Common Ground examines a specific theme that enables discourse through a deep and critical lens. Our CIEE student contributors investigate, reflect upon, and relay their international experiences through writing, photography, and other artistic endeavors with the hope that together, we can learn and connect on common ground.

Rome, Italy

Common Ground grew out of CIEE Khon Kaen, a community-based study abroad program in the Northeast region of Thailand. The original student-produced magazine functioned as a forum for the voices of local peoples, with the objective of building solidarity amongst grassroots communities in order to promote a more just and participatory world. Now, Common Ground magazine is a collaboration between CIEE study abroad program participants across the globe. As a necessary step to increase dialogue across communities, this issue of the magazine has expanded to involve perspectives of students in ten countries.

Pictures of people taking pictures of people from around the world. St. Petersburg, Russia

Chiang Mai, Thailand


Bangkok, Thailand

Contents 7 - 15

16 - 18

20 - 22

23 - 32


35 - 42

Readings The globe

Monuments to Tourism

The globe

Waffle Ruminations

Through the Spirit Door

Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Tour Guide

Russian Federation

Dirtbag Tourism

43 - 44

45 - 46

47 - 54

55 - 56

57 - 58

59 - 66


Framing the Favela

Winter Palace

Berlin Mystique

The Elephant in the Room

Where are you from? United States of America

Lao People’s Democratic Republic


Czech Republic

Federative Republic of Brazil

Russian Federation

Federal Republic of Germany


Kingdom of Thailand

Kingdom of Thailand

Letter from the Editors: Dear Readers,

Miscellany on Tourism

Percentage of the world’s population who traveled internationally last year: 15% Percentage of the world’s population who serviced them: 8%

In this issue of Common Ground, we invite you to explore the way we search for an authentic tourist experience–to ask if such an experience really exists– and to question why touristy places don’t seem to represent the real version of a place. We examine the search for an authentic tourist experience and the implications of that search through many different lenses including ethics, art, and waffles.

Percentage of the world’s population who traveled internationally in 1950: 1%

Least visited country by foreign travelers in 2011 that’s not an island: Moldova (11,000 visitors, population: 3.6 mil.)

In search of authenticity, travelers trek to remote villages to discover the real Laos. Grungy rock climbers stay in five-dollar a night bungalows while highend vacationers pay hundreds of dollars a night for all-inclusive resorts. Tour guides in Brazil boast supporting the local community while the government tries to brand these informal communities as safe tourist destinations. Foreigners critique elephant tourism as animal cruelty, but don’t take into account the relationship between elephants and local people and culture. But how does one find, let alone quantify an authentic tourist experience?

Highest per capita number of international tourists annually: Turks and Caicos Islands (12,185)

Rank of states with the highest percentage of residents with passports Alaska, Delaware, and New Jersey: 3, 2, 1

Highest per capita number of international tourists annually that’s not an island: Austria (2,673, ranked 18th)

States with the lowest percentage of residents with passports: Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama

All the pieces in this issue discuss experiences that provoked the author to question aspects of tourism and confront their identity as a traveler and tourist. Of course, we can only provide a portion of the picture, but we hope to challenge and inspire dialogue around the topic. As students from the United States traveling to foreign countries, we get to live in a place for a semester and call it home. We pretend that we are not the fanny-pack-wearing, sunscreen-slathering, photo-snapping, annoying tourist. We feel we really know the places we travel, that we don’t just take– that it is more of an exchange. Whether or not we’d like to admit it, though, we acknowledge that we are tourists and our identity as foreigners influences the way we travel. In this issue of Common Ground magazine, we explore the ways that TOURISM–in its many different forms–touches the lives of people around the world.

Least visited country by foreign travelers in 2011: Tuvalu (1,200 visitors, population: 9,844)

Highest per capita number of international tourists annually that’s not an island and not in Europe: Qatar (1,703, ranked 27) Highest per capita number of international tourists annually that’s not an island, in Europe, or the Middle East: Malaysia (873, ranked 43rd) Rank of Tajikistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iraq for lowest per capita number of foreign tourists: 1, 2, 3

Percentage of Americans holding passports in 2015: 38% Percentage of Americans holding passports in 2000: 17%. In 1989: 3%; Americans traveling abroad in 1854: 0.1%

Rank of Orlando (FL), Chicago, and Las Vegas as cities worldwide with highest number hotel rooms: 2, 3, 1 US city that loves tourists the most: Chicago, Illinois US city that dislikes tourists the most: Arlington, Texas Number of airports in the world: 40,798

Highest percentage of non-island national gross domestic product made up by inbound tourism: Albania (48.23%)

Number of airports in USA: 13,531, in Brazil: 4,093, in Mexico: 1,714, in Russia: 1,218, in Paraguay: 799, in China: 507

Second highest percentage of non-island national gross domestic product made up by inbound tourism: Croatia (39.39%), Eritrea (36.84%)

Mode of reaching tourist destinations worldwide, by percentage: air: 54%, road: 39%, water: 5%, rail: 2% Percentage of international arrivals in 2014 coming for holidays, recreation, and other forms of leisure: 53% Average value of euros tossed into Rome’s Trevi Fountain each day: 3,000 Country with the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites: China (51)

- the editors

Percentage of the 79 UNCESCO World Heritage sites in the Middle East designated as “under threat”: 33 Attraction ranking four times in the world’s 20 most visited sites: Disney Parks and Resorts Citations to the figures and facts in this Miscellany on Tourism are on page 68. Inspired by Harper’s Index COMMON GROUND 5


HISTORICAL EXCERPTS Tourism and the Tourist [Academic Monograph]

FROM TRAVELER TO TOURIST: THE LOST ART OF TRAVEL By Daniel Boorstin, in his book, The Images: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (Macmillan 1961). Boorstin’s groundbreaking work is one of the first to look at the phenomenaon of tourism from a historical and anthropological perspective in the United States. Men who live in a secure, rich, and decent society travel to escape boredom, to elude the familiar, and to discover the exotic. … The modern American tourist now fills his experience with pseudo-events. He has come to expect both more strangeness and more familiarity than the world naturally offers. He has a lifetime of adventure in two weeks and all the thrills of risking his life without any real risk at all. …Expecting all this, he demands that it be supplied to him. Having paid for it, he likes to think he has got his money’s worth. He has demanded that the whole world be made a stage for pseudoevents. And there has been no lack of honest and enterprising suppliers who try to give him what he wants, to help him inflate his expectations, and to gratify his insatiable appetite for the impossible. Formerly travel required long planning, large expense, and great investments of time. It involved risks to health or even to life. The traveler was active. Now he became passive. Instead of an athletic exercise travel became a spectator sport. …This change can be described in a word. It was the decline of the traveler and the rise of the tourist. …This was the word “tourist”- at first hyphenated as “tour-ist.” The traveler, then, was working at something;


the tourist was a pleasure-seeker. The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.” He expects everything to be done to him and for him. In the latter part of the nineteenth century railroads and ocean steamers began to make travel actually pleasurable. Discomfort and risks were suddenly reduced. For the first time in history, long-distance transportation was industrially mass-produced. The tourist looks for caricature; travel agents at home and national tourist bureaus abroad are quick to oblige. The tourist seldom likes the authentic (to him often unintelligible) product of the foreign culture; he prefers his own provincial expectations. The French chanteuse singing English with a French accent seems more charmingly French than one who simply sings in French. The American tourist in Japan looks less for what is Japanese than for what is Japanesey. We go more and more where we expect to go. We get money back guarantees that we will see what we expect to see. Anyway, we go more and more, not to see at all, but only to take pictures. Like the rest of our experience, travel be- comes a tautology. The more strenuously and self-consciously we work at enlarging our experience, the more pervasive the tautology becomes. Whether we seek models of greatness, or experience elsewhere on the earth, we look into a mirror instead of out a window, and we see only ourselves. [Novel]


By Don DeLillo, an American novelist, from his novel, White Noise (Penguin Books 1986).

orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the sign started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides–pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book. “No one sees the barn,” he said finally. A long silence followed. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.” He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others. “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.” There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides. “Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.” Another silence ensued. “They are taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said.

We drove 22 miles into the country around

Farmington. There were meadows and apple



company of people who despise you, people you do not like really, people you would not want to have as your actual neighbour.


By Jamaica Kincaid, from A Small Place, (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 1988). The part fictional, partautobiographical novel is a critique of colonialism and tourism in Kincaid’s native Antigua.

That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.

By Richard Flanagan, an Australian author, from his novel, Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish (Grover Press 2001).


But one day, when you are sitting somewhere,

alone in that crowd, and that awful feeling of displacedness comes over you, and really, as an ordinary person you are not well equipped to look too far inward and set yourself aright, because being ordinary is already so taxing, and being ordinary takes all you have out of you, and though the words “I must get away” do not actually pass across your lips, you make a leap from being that nice blob just sitting like a boob in your amniotic sac of the modern experience to being a person visiting heaps of death and ruin and feeling alive and inspired at the sight of it; to being a person lying on some faraway beach, your stilled body stinking and glistening in the sand, looking like something first forgotten, then remembered, then not important enough to go back for; to being a person people (and they are other people) have with nature. An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you, that behind their closed doors they laugh at your strangeness (you do not look the way they look); the physical sight of you does not please them; you have bad manners (it is their custom to eat their food with their hands; you try eating their way, you look silly; you try eating the way you always eat, you look silly); they do not like the way you speak (you have an accent); they collapse helpless from laughter, mimicking the way they imagine you must look as you carry out some everyday bodily function. They do not like you. They do not like me! That thought never actually occurs to you. Still, you feel a little and your nights in the





tourists had money and we needed it; they only asked in return to be lied to and deceived and told that single most important thing, that they were safe, that their sense of security—national, individual, spiritual— wasn’t a bad joke being played on them by a bored and capricious destiny. To be told that there was no connection between then and now, that they didn’t need to wear a black armband or have a bad conscience about their power and their wealth and everybody else’s lack of it; to feel rotten that no-one could or would explain why the wealth of a few seemed so curiously dependent on the misery of the many. We kindly pretended that it was about buying and selling chairs, about them asking questions about price and heritage, and us replying in like manner.

By Don DeLillo, from his novel The Names (Vintage, Reissue edition 1989).

But it wasn’t about price and heritage, it wasn’t about that at all.

TO BE A TOURIST is to escape accountability.

The tourists had insistent, unspoken questions and we just had to answer as best we could, with forged furniture. They were really asking, “Are we safe?” and we were really replying, “No, but a barricade of useless goods may help block the view.” And because hubris is not just an ancient Greek word but a human sense so deep-seated we might better regard it as an unerring instinct, they were also wanting to know, “If it is our fault, then will we suffer?” and we were really replying, “Yes, and slowly, but a fake chair may make us both feel better about it.”

Errors and failings don’t cling to you the way they do back home. You’re able to drift across continents and languages, suspending the operation of sound thought. Tourism is the march of stupidity. You’re expected to be stupid. The entire mechanism of the host country is geared to travelers acting stupidly. You walked around dazed, squinting into fold-out maps. You don’t know how to talk to people, how to get anywhere, what the money means, what time it is, what to eat or how to eat it. Being stupid is the pattern, the level and the norm. You can exist on this level for weeks and months without reprimand or dire consequence. Together with thousands, you are granted immunities and broad freedoms. You are an army of fools, wearing bright polyesters, riding camels, taking pictures of each other, haggard, dysenteric, thirsty. There is nothing to think about but the next shapeless event.


[Academic Paper]

THE COLONIAL STUDENT By Anthony C. Ogden, under the title, “The View from the Veranda: Understanding Today’s Colonial Student,” in Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad (Volume XV, Winter 2007/2008).

The article is a cautionary note to international educators working with American students studying abroad, drawing disturbing parallels between European colonists of the nineteenth century and post-modern American students in the twenty-first.


so it was, for decade after decade, a steady stream of colonial families traveled great distances to join the ranks of countless others to take up residency in their country’s dominions abroad. In many ways their personal motives were similar. Whether it was to make money, to find excitement, to improve their status, or to maintain family tradition, colonials found themselves on journeys to worlds very different from what they knew. Usually by steamship, their transition from a land of the familiar to a land full of new sounds, sights, and smells was more than a mere trip, a rite of passage. ...By the very fact that the colonials were by definition a ruling elite, the nature of relations between the colonials and the local population were often ceremonial and prescribed. Assuredly, some assimilated to local ways of life and even intermarried with the native people…For the most part, however, the colonials maintained their distance, interacting only as needed and often in an objective and disassociated manner.


U.S. higher education today, it has become commonplace to refer to our students as customers.

Education abroad has not been immune to the pervasive consumerism mentality seen in U.S. higher education. Without hesitation, students (and their parents) are increasingly demanding familiar amenities and modern conveniences while abroad and seemingly with total disregard to host cultural norms or feasibility. Indeed,

the typical student is noticeably changing and because of this it is more challenging to sustain a reasonable balance between meeting students’ expectations and industry standards on the one hand and offering affordable programs that actively and creatively engage students in meaningful


intellectual and intercultural learning on the other.

Not surprisingly, a distinct type of education

abroad student appears to be emerging within this dynamic environment. This profile, the colonial student, typifies the U.S. university student who really wants to be abroad and take full advantage of all the benefits studying abroad offers, but is not necessarily open to experiencing the less desirable side of being there. The colonial student casts a striking likeness with the early colonial travelers, who also moved across borders within the confines of a political and bureaucratic system of established protocols and practices. Colonial students yearn to be abroad, to travel to worlds different from their own, to find excitement, to see new wonders and to have experiences of a lifetime. They want to gain new perspectives on world affairs, develop practical skills and build their resumes for potential career enhancement, all the while receiving full academic credit. Like children of the empire, colonial students have a sense of entitlement, as if the world is theirs for discovery, if not for the taking. New cultures are experienced in just the same way as new commodities are coveted, purchased and owned.

[T]he place comes to largely serve as a home

base from which students make frequent sightseeing forays into other parts of the country or region. Rather than immerse themselves into the host community to the extent possible, they embrace the privileges afforded to them as short-term guests. Learning the local language, developing meaningful relationships within the community or exploring the uniqueness of the host culture all become relatively less important.

Oblivious to differing cultural patterns of socialization or faced with language barriers too trying to overcome, colonial students find themselves falling back on the relative ease and security of the “student bubble.” Historically, the practice of colonialism involved the transfer of people to new territories

where they lived for extended periods of time while maintaining allegiance to their home country. If an analogy could thus be drawn with education abroad, a colonial system might be described as the infrastructure which supports the privileged position of the student over the local. If we are merely transposing to foreign soils an American bubble of U.S. higher education concerned mostly with access, consumption, and personal gain, we may be doing little more than establishing a coloniallike presence in what appears to be our “country’s dominions abroad.”

As international educators, our responsibilities

lie not only in providing the highest quality programming for our students, but also in understanding the impact our presence has within our host communities. To ignore the fundamental principle that we are equally indebted to and reliant on our host communities for realizing the goals of our programming would be to undermine our basic aspirations to encourage meaningful intellectual and intercultural exchange…Although there has been a much-welcomed political shift toward employing native faculty and staff on-site, or at least those who are acculturated, there still remains the transparent acquiescence to American standards of programming, often at the expense of host culture standards of quality.


hovering on the economic and cultural periphery of our host communities, we are in effect transposing a microcosm of American management and administration. And while we certainly espouse respect for the people, places and cultures that host us, our approaches are not always leading to the development of true reciprocity in which the local community is central to our viability and benefactors of our success.

Simply, the sustainability of most education abroad programming lies in the ability to provide opportunities for our students and those in the host culture to live and learn alongside people from different cultures. By imposing an American-ethnocentric, colonial


system on the backs of our host communities and then to concern ourselves with issues of intercultural integration does little more than perpetuate notions of our own elitism, power and domination.


not concerned about authenticity in the least. Post-modernists argue that authenticity is meaningless and not a concern for today’s travelers…[the postmodern travelers] are not concerned with authentic experiences so long as they enjoy themselves. Having purchased an experience, the post-modern traveler is simply spending and is not necessarily striving to be the brave explorer and inquisitive seeker of authentic cultural experiences In fact, the post-modernists might very well conclude that contemporary education abroad students are not in fact colonial students at all, but rather are post-modern students who understand all too well that the search for authenticity of cultural engagement is generally a dubious proposition given the nature of an education abroad experience. The whole globe is a stage on which the post-modern student can revel, moving at will from scene to scene. Abundantly aware that one cannot avoid being an “outsider” no matter how hard one tries, the resolutely realistic, post-modern student gladly assumes the role. The post-modern student recognizes that he/she is just another consumer of the education abroad experience where nothing is authentic...Furthermore, the post-modern student may conclude that the education abroad industry’s tiring insistence on intercultural integration is nothing more than a demonstration of our own colonial gaze that places greater value on the traditional, the classic and the exotification of the “other.” The post-modern student can find just as interesting the crass and crude as he/she does the traditional high arts and culture.


the steady stream of colonial families of decades past traveling to their country’s dominions abroad, contemporary education abroad students are similar passengers on a powerful steamship bound for lands of new

sounds, sights and wonders. Although their studies may be challenging and demanding, students are exhilarated with thoughts of new opportunities that await them; after all, they’ve been told to expect an experience of a lifetime. They are yearning for excitement, to travel the world and to experience new things. Many are in search of new knowledge that will inform their studies, new skills that will enable them entry into desirable professions, and new attitudes that will challenge their limited perspectives of the world. Some will become competent speakers of foreign languages, develop close and meaningful ties with people from cultures other than their own and still others will pursue scholarly initiatives in search of new knowledge. However, there are others who are simply enjoying a modern Grand Tour and are not necessarily striving to be the brave explorer and inquisitive seeker of new cultural experiences. These students see themselves as transients in a world that has somehow afforded them this exceptional privilege, and for whom sitting on the colonial veranda, sipping sangria, watching their host culture in action, is comfortable and natural…As international educators, we should not be satisfied with simply exposing students to different experiences. Rather we should be satisfied only when our students are engaged and motivated to pursue experiences that lead to transformative personal growth. The education abroad field must proactively navigate this steamship, leading students in the direction that motivates them to want to step outside of their comfort zones…We should not allow the demands of an emerging colonial student to dictate the creation of a colonial system abroad or put simply, to transpose an American bubble, complete with its complex myriad of expectations, to foreign soil. Otherwise, we make it possible for students to stay on the veranda, viewing the culture and natives from the comfortable position of the privileged elite or timid observer. If there must be a veranda within education abroad, it should not be the platform from which experiences are gained, but rather the place for students to reflect upon their experiences and to embrace the expansive vista of the new culture.



who visit them and find out about their lifestyles

By J.G. Ballard, a British author, from his novel, Millennium People (W. W. Norton & Company 2011).

4. It is the task of the public authorities to provide protection for tourists and visitors and their belongings



is the great soporific. It’s a huge confidence trick, and gives people the dangerous idea that there’s something interesting in their lives. It’s musical chairs in reverse...All the upgrades in existence lead to the same airports and resort hotels, the same piña colada bullshit. The tourists smile at their tans and their shiny teeth and think they’re happy. But the suntans hide who they really are–salary slaves, with heads full of American rubbish. Travel is the last fantasy the 20th Century left us, the delusion that going somewhere helps you reinvent yourself.


GLOBAL CODE OF ETHICS FOR TOURISM A comprehensive set of principles designed to guide key-players in tourism development. Adopted in 1999 by the General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization. The Code’s 10 principles amply cover the economic, social, cultural and environmental components of travel and tourism: Article 1: Tourism's contribution to mutual understanding and respect between peoples and societies. 1. The understanding and promotion of the ethical values common to humanity, with an attitude of tolerance and respect for the diversity of religious, philosophical and moral beliefs, are both the foundation and the consequence of responsible tourism 2. Tourism activities should be conducted in harmony with the attributes and traditions of the host regions and countries and in respect for their laws, practices and customs 3. Host communities should acquaint themselves with and respect the tourists

Article 2: Tourism as a vehicle for individual and collective fulfillment 1. Tourism, when practiced with a sufficiently open mind, it is an irreplaceable factor of self-education and mutual tolerance. 2. Tourism activities should respect the equality of men and women; they should promote human rights and, more particularly, the individual rights of the most vulnerable groups. 3. Travel for purposes of religion, health, education and cultural or linguistic exchanges are particularly beneficial forms of tourism, which deserve encouragement Article 3: Tourism, a factor of sustainable development 1. All the stakeholders in tourism development should safeguard the natural environment with a view to achieving sound, continuous and sustainable economic growth geared to satisfying equitably the needs and aspirations of present and future generations. 2. All forms of tourism development that are conducive to saving rare and precious resources, in particular water and energy, as well as avoiding so far as possible waste production, should be given priority and encouraged by national, regional and local public authorities. 3. The staggering in time and space of tourist and visitor flows, particularly those resulting from paid leave and school holidays, and a more even distribution of holidays should be sought so as to reduce the pressure of tourism activity on the environment and enhance its beneficial impact on the tourism industry and the local economy.


4. Tourism infrastructure should be designed and tourism activities programmed in such a way as to protect the natural heritage composed of ecosystems and biodiversity and to preserve endangered species of wildlife. Article 4: Tourism, a user of the cultural heritage of mankind and contributor to its enhancement 1. Tourism resources belong to the common heritage of mankind; the communities in whose territories they are situated have particular rights and obligations to them. 2. Tourism policies and activities should be conducted with respect for the artistic, archaeological and cultural heritage, which they should protect and pass on to future generations. 3. Financial resources derived from visits to cultural sites and monuments should, at least in part, be used for the upkeep, safeguard, development and embellishment of this heritage. Article 5: Tourism, a beneficial activity for host countries and communities 1. Local populations should be associated with tourism activities and share equitably in the economic, social and cultural benefits they generate. 2. Tourism policies should be applied in such a way as to help to raise the standard of living of the populations of the regions visited and meet their needs; the planning and architectural approach to and operation of tourism resorts and accommodation should aim to integrate them, to the extent possible, in the local economic and social fabric; where skills are equal, priority should be given to local manpower. 3. Special attention should be paid to the specific problems of coastal areas and island territories and to vulnerable rural or mountain regions, for which tourism often represents a rare opportunity for development in the face of the decline of

traditional economic activities. 4. Tourism professionals, particularly investors, governed by the regulations laid down by the public authorities, should carry out studies of the impact of their development projects on the environment and natural surroundings. Article 6: Obligations of stakeholders in tourism development 1. Tourism professionals have an obligation to provide tourists with objective and honest information on their places of destination and on the conditions of travel, hospitality and stays. 2. Tourism professionals, insofar as it depends on them, should show concern, in co-operation with the public authorities, for the security and safety, accident prevention, health protection and food safety of those who seek their services. 3. Tourism professionals, so far as this depends on them, should contribute to the cultural and spiritual fulfillment of tourists and allow them, during their travels, to practice their religions. 4. The press, and particularly the specialized travel press and the other media, including modern means of electronic communication, should issue honest and balanced information on events and situations that could influence the flow of tourists. Article 7: Right to Tourism 1. The prospect of direct and personal access to the discovery and enjoyment of the planet’s resources constitutes a right equally open to all the world’s inhabitants. 2. Social tourism, and in particular associative tourism, which facilitates widespread access to leisure, travel and holidays, should be developed with the support of the public authorities. 3. Family, youth, student and senior tourism and tourism for people with disabilities, should be encouraged and facilitated.


luxury of a hotel and instead camps. His boots and jeans look weathered and he’s thin as a board. He’s obviously been on the road a long time, but he can still look on what he’s seeing with wonderment. He’s strangely popular, and people come up and want to take a picture with him.

Article 8: Liberty of tourist movements 1. Tourists and visitors should benefit, in compliance with international law and national legislation, from the liberty to move within their countries and from one State to another. 2. Tourists and visitors should benefit from the same rights as the citizens of the country visited concerning the confidentiality of the personal data and information concerning them, especially when these are stored electronically. Article 9: Rights of the workers and entrepreneurs in the tourism industry

Monuments to Tourism

In Sochi, Russia, a middle-aged tourist stands unsmiling, hands on his hips, and wearing sunglasses so you can’t be sure what he’s looking at. He’s in typical tourist attire—tee shirt, shorts and flip flops, with a camera hanging around his neck. He’s a bit on the heavy side, and his gut threatens to spill over his belt buckle. The locals seem to be ignoring him; perhaps that’s why he looks so disgruntled.

1. The fundamental rights of salaried and self-employed workers in the tourism industry and related activities should be guaranteed under the supervision of the national and local administrations, both of their States of origin and of the host countries. 2. Partnership and the establishment of balanced relations between enterprises of generating and receiving countries contribute to the sustainable development of tourism and an equitable distribution of the benefits of its growth. Article 10: Implementation of the principles of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism 1. The public and private stakeholders in tourism development should cooperate in the implementation of these principles and monitor their effective application. 2. The stakeholders in tourism development should recognize the role of international institutions, among which the World Tourism Organization ranks first, and non-governmental organizations with competence in the field of tourism promotion and development, the protection of human rights, the environment or health, with due respect for the general principles of international law.



n the middle of a sidewalk on Irkutsk’s main drag, Karl Marx Street, stands a wideeyed tourist looking up in wonder, mouth agape—perhaps, if for nothing else, he is a tourist in this distant Siberian city. A water bottle is conveniently in a side pocket of his backpack, easy to get at when he needs a drink on his endless journey. Tied up to the back of his pack is a sleeping mat, indicating that at least some nights he doesn’t have the

In Fuengirola of Costa del Sol, Spain, a naked woman holds her arms forth to the sea, appearing to have just let a black dove go, or maybe, as a blogger speculates, is “holding a dove in flight.” She elicits only a passing glance by those on their way to the beach. The backpacker in Irkutsk, the heavy-set man in Sochi, and the naked woman in Costa del Sol are all sculptures officially named as a “Monument to the Tourist”— rather than statues of tourists which can be found in places far and wide: Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada), New York City, Makarska (Croatia), and Anapa (Russia). The latter reflects the modern reality of tourists being everywhere. But the Monuments to Tourism are showing honor to the cash cows that fuel the economies of hot tourist destinations, or places hoping to become one, like poor Irkutsk who saw in 2013 only some 80,000 international tourists (compared to, say, the Costa del Sol region who saw more than ten times that number in 2014). Irkutsk’s Monument to the Tourist, our backpacker dumbfounded by wonderment, rates 15th out of 199 “Things to Do” in the city, garnering a 4.4 average out of 5 on Trip Advisor. The Monument to the Tourist doesn’t even get on the list of 161 Things to Do in Sochi or the 516 in Costa del Sol.


as a gate to the city. Valued at 600,000 euros, the monument was a gift from an influential businessman, who also got the name of the avenue changed to his: Rafael Gomez Sanchez Avenue. One blogger wrote that “this particular monument only denotes the great importance of the ‘tourist’ for Torremolinos’ inhabitants.” Unfortunately, Sanchez is now facing charges of tax evasion, and the city is considering whether to rename the avenue and tear down monument, arguing that the “this sculpture does not represent the municipality.” The plan has caused a debate among citizens. Some say the monument has become a symbol of the city. Others worry that tearing it down might send the wrong message to tourists. Costa del Sol is a creation of global tourism. Once a string of sleepy fishing villages, it became the playground of the rich and famous starting in the 1950s when the number of foreign tourists visiting annually only counted in the thousands. By 2014, the area was the 25th most popular vacation spot in the world with 8.5 million tourists. To show gratitude to “the tourist,” The city of Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol chooses two international tourist couples and two domestic ones as “Tourists of Honor” on the city’s own “Tourist Day.” The luck couples are invited to “enjoy traditional dances” performed with “the municipal band,” partake of the “especially good-tasting dishes of paella and fried fish” and take in a “traditional bullfight.”

Her gesture to the tourist was apparently in the way of further tourist development and she out of the way to a spot closer to the beach where she’s still giving thanks to the tourist, just not in such a choice spot. The globe didn’t come with her. Now she stands on a pole with metal bands representing a globe.

Regardless, these monuments to the tourist are not of interest to tourists themselves, perhaps reflecting the fact that tourists don’t like to be reminded that they are tourists, and certainly don’t want the fact celebrated.

In nearby Torremolinos, the city inaugurated its own “Monument to the Tourist” in 2002. Surely the grandest tribute made to the tourist in the world, a figure of a woman stands on top of a twenty-meter column in the center of the roundabout that serves

The area is notable as it may have been the first to feature a monument to the tourist. It may also be the first to tear down a monument to the tourist. In nearby Fuengirola, the sculpture of the naked woman releasing the bird, “Monument to the Tourist,” was first erected no later than 1971 back off the beach in the center of a roundabout. She stands on a globe of the world.


(Above) Most people react playfully to Irkutsk, Russia’s Monument to the Tourist, saying the statue was “cool,” “life-affirming fun,” “cute,” and “amusing.” One visitor said that although it won’t “produce a WOW effect,” it was easy to be photographed with him. One Irkutsk resident commented said the statue helped Irkutsk people see “the city through the eyes of visiting guests.” Some, though, said he wasn’t worth seeing. A Japanese visitor said “It’s just a statue.” One Russian commenter said of the young man: “Here I stand, head stupidly cocked” and called it a “mindless piece of metal.” (Left) This tourist couple strolls along the waterfront in the tourist resort town of Makarska, Croatia. He doesn’t seem to notice that she attracts a lot of attention, drawing people to rub her elbow, nose, and right breast.w COMMON GROUND 18


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Graham Marema // Czech Republic

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An Autobiographical Play in One Act




A Café in Dresden, Germany–late evening



Six college-age women sit down at a café after a day trip to Dresden. Five are from various places in the United States, studying abroad in Prague for the semester; the sixth has lived in the Czech Republic her entire life. They all eat Nutella waffles and chat about photography, about the social media generation, about being tourists in beautiful cities. It is obvious to the audience that they have mixed feelings. They wonder about the photos stored in their phones. Why these were saved and others deleted. What they remember about the places and what they’ve forgotten. One of them asks if she can record the conversation in order to use it in her submission for Common Ground; the others agree as long as they end up sounding insightful.

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ALAINA: I think we take pictures to relieve the stress of having to remember things. You can go back and see everywhere you’ve been and you can keep that forever. But I think sometimes we also take pictures because our generation is so used to constantly updating people about what we’re doing. And there are those sayings like, “If you didn’t Instagram it, it didn’t happen.” So are we actually taking the picture for ourselves, or for everybody else? I mean, our generation gets a bad rap for always being on our cell phones. My mom always complains when we go to a restaurant and she sees everyone there on their phones instead of actually having a conversation (Three of the women are on their phones). PAVLA It happens to me sometimes. When I see something funny, and I am making picture, sometimes I am already thinking of a caption in my head.

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ALANA Maybe I’m walking right into a trap…but I don’t see what’s so wrong with social media culture. I like seeing what people are up to on Snapchat. I like having album after album of everyone’s business on Facebook. It’s that kind of burden of memory Alaina was talking about that I can keep in my phone. It’s like having photos in your wallet, only COMMON GROUND 20

you can keep a thousand of them. GRAHAM I can understand people’s problem with the social media phenomenon, though. When I went to Cesky Krumlov I was sitting in this courtyard and a girl walked past with a selfie stick, just sort of mosying along, staring down at her face in her phone as she walked through this medieval city. Literally everywhere she went, staring down at herself at different angles. I thought she was going to trip. MELISSA That’s disturbing. But I think another reason we all take pictures is because we see each other taking pictures, and you think, “Oh shoot, everyone else is taking a photo of this, should I be taking one too?” There’s almost this guilt. What is that about? And you think, yeah, why not, because you can always go back and delete it. When I did black and white film photography, I was paying money for that film, and I only got twentyfour photos per roll. And I really liked that. Every photo was deliberate. You had to ask yourself every time, “Does this photo have meaning?” Which means you really have to look at the thing you’re photographing, not just with the lens. Otherwise, you see people who don’t even look at it with their eyes, they’re only looking through their phone. There’s something about being somewhere and soaking it in that you can’t get through a camera lens. And then I always catch myself thinking, “Couldn’t I just Google Image this when I get home anyway?” JULIE No, the photos aren’t the same online. You know you took that picture. You know you were there. You pick the angle, the spot, you can say I was there at this time, this weather, this month, this day. It’s nice to have that memory because you never know when you’ll be back. Like when will I be back in Dresden, Germany? And anyway, it’s always more meaningful to have people in them, even if your friends never want to pose for pictures…(Looks pointedly at Graham) GRAHAM Yeah, okay, I feel uncomfortable posing for pictures. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable taking pictures at all. There’s this saying, “When you observe something you change it.” I think about that a lot when I’m taking photos. I have a friend back home who told me he hated Prague, and when I asked him why, he said it was because there were so many tourists with selfie sticks. And now I’m one of those tourists with another cellphone pointed at the Prague Castle. In taking photos, you’re adding to the aesthetic of the place, changing the way it’s perceived. People come and see you there and see Prague as just this place filled with tourists. So in taking the photo, you’re changing its surface. Do you ever feel like that, Pavla? Like, do you ever get annoyed with tourists crowding the streets? PAVLAio Yes. I hate it. It’s really just that you have to pay attention because you don’t want to walk into someone else’s photo, so you always have to watch where you’re going. But I don’t judge them. Well, I mean, I never judge tourists who are taking photos of the National Theater, or I don’t know, something really important and interesting. But when I see them and they are taking a photo of some random building, and they are in my way, and I am in a rush, yes I am annoyed. JULIE I get annoyed with that no matter what city I’m in.


ALAINA I think you do change a place when you take a picture of it. Imagine the John Lennon Wall. (Unconscious of the pun she’s just made) It used to be all anti-consumerism, “express yourself,” all that–and since tourists came and posed for pictures in front of it, that’s all it is: a place to take a photo. Which is so different from its original meaning. And I like that spot–I still took my photo there. But it does make you think. Why do we take these pictures? Is it because other people take them, or because I really love this place? PAVLA I think if you do not want to go to a place–if it is not your dream to go there, if it is not in your heart–I don’t think you will get as much from the photo. When I went to Helsinki, it was a beautiful, gorgeous city. But I just wanted to make photo. And now when I look back on the pictures, I can’t remember if it’s Helsinki or Latvia. But when I look back on photos of Cuba, I know where every single one was taken. I think it is because I wanted to go there will all my heart. JULIE I think that’s true. I think meaningless pictures start to blur together. I think sometimes it gets to the point where it’s more about showing someone where you are rather than being where you are. MELISSA I think we’ve all finished our waffles. Melissa is right. They stop the recording, pay for the waffles, and head out to catch their bus back to Prague. If someone were to take a photo of them as they walk through the city toward the bus stop, they would capture forever the image of six women taking pictures on their phones of the brightly lit buildings around them, the bridges, the dark water, the markets–the photographer would see Julie buy a postcard and complain about the price, Melissa trip over a loose cobblestone, Alaina laugh at her and trip over one herself–but the photographer wouldn’t see the conversation they’ve just had, which none of them bring up but all of them ponder. Curtain.

Thanks to Alaina Lester, Melissa Krusell, Alana Bradley, Pavla Šimáčková, and Julie Rombom for the insights. COMMON GROUND 22

Through the Spirit Door Mariko Powers // Laos

Tourists are increasingly seeking an “authentic” experience when they travel– one few others have had, one that does not feel contrived exclusively for visitors. Likewise, tourists are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impacts of tourism on the communities they visit. A “responsible tourism” homestay program in a remote Akha village in Laos allows tourists and locals to exchange memories and experiences, going beyond traditional transactions. But the availability of such a tour begs the question, “why do we want to visit these peoples and places in the first place?” “One hundred percent no taking pictures of people in the village. And no pictures of the spirit door,” says Mr. Thongher, the white of his teeth a brilliant flash against his dark tan skin. He is stripping giant banana leaves from their stems to use as an impromptu roadside dining mat. “They don’t understand how you can take the picture. They believe if you take a photo, it will steal their soul and make them sick.” Mr. Thongher is a 28-year-old tour guide for Tiger Trail Outdoor Adventures–Laos, a responsible tourism company based in the country’s quaint tourist mecca town, Luang Prabang. He is babyfaced and soft-spoken, fluent in English, Lao, and his native Hmong language. As he places the leaves to the side of the small dirt road, he instructs his trainee, Mr. Sii, to set out our mid-trek lunch: black chicken dipped in salt, a sour and spicy concoction of marinated vegetables, and a massive mound of sticky rice. Accompanying me on our tour is my boyfriend, Sam, a 26-year-old blonde, blue-eyed lab technician from Los Angeles. He stands in stark contrast to Mr. Sii and Mr. Thongher–at 5’9” he is relatively tall, and he needs a constant supply of sunscreen to protect his fair skin. I’m 24, also from California, and can burn–but not easily. I work for an American study abroad program in Thailand, and am happy to discover that the countries’ respective languages are similar enough that I can communicate on a basic level with locals. “I hate sightseeing,” Sam had told me earlier, mentioning he’d like to avoid tourist hotspots. Last week he attempted to visit the obligatory “must-sees” of Bangkok–the Royal Palace, the Reclining Buddha statue, and the major temples, but fell prey to a (not uncommon) tuk tuk scam– as a white tourist wandering the city alone, he was an obvious target. The affair was exhausting for him, so we decided not to seek out the major attractions of Thailand’s northeastern neighbor, Laos. Instead, we joined Tiger Trail for a five day Fair Trek tour, advertised on their website as “a community-based tourism initiative that works with local communities to create authentic travel experiences that leave a positive impact.” We selected the “Akha Experience” tour, a program that brings intrepid tourists to stay in the secluded Akha ethnic minority village of Honglerk. Their steep hillside home is a two to three hour

(title page) An Akha baby cap hangs on a line. Women make their traditional clothing by hand, combining weaving, embroidery, sewing, and plaiting to create distinctively colorful garments. The addition of tassels, beads, feathers, silver coins, and other ornaments varies by ethnic subgroup. Tourists traveling to northern Thailand these days have been flocking to villages that critics have dubbed “human zoos.” The villages are a big draw for foreign visitors eager to gawk at the “longneck” women, refugees of the Padaung ethnicity from neighboring Myanmar who have fled across the border and now earn money showcasing their tribal customs.

walk from the nearest market, accessible only by foot or by very determined motorbike, and is based in Phongsali Province–the northernmost, remotest and poorest region in Laos. Travel and tourism is growing as an important source of income for the developing country, accounting for 14.7% of GDP in 2014–by contrast, the total contribution of tourism to neighboring Vietnam’s economy was 9.3% of GDP in the same year. Laos counted over four million tourist arrivals in 2014, and increasing recognition of the country as a tourist destination is projected to continue, with visitors expected to surpass six million a year by 2020. The Lao PDR Tourism Strategy 20062020 identifies “development of participatory ecotourism” as a primary goal, and with more than 150 ethnic groups, Laos can capitalize on the culturally rich rituals of its many ethnic groups to draw foreign audiences. Ethnotourism is not exclusive to Southeast Asia–this travel phenomenon is found around the world wherever there are indigenous peoples. One can easily join safari tours in Kenya with Maasai hunter-gatherers, participate in traditional ceremonies with the Inupiat Eskimo people in Alaska, and trek to indigenous villages within the depths of the

“I wanted to experience an authentic insight into another culture–to exchange ideas and perspectives–not to leave with just photos and souvenirs, but with real friends and experiences.” Ecuadorian Amazon. In some cases, native peoples have significant agency in determining who can visit them and when, partnering with community based tourism companies that capitalize on globetrotters’ increasing desire to find “authentic” experiences–which, in turn, become increasingly hard to find as native peoples are pressured further and further by economics, exposure, or oppression to abandon their traditional livelihoods. In conventional tourism, however, tribal groups more often than not are reduced to COMMON GROUND 25

tokenizing their ethnicity, dress, and customs for drive-by tourists. The most egregious example of the industry’s fetish for the unique– in Southeast Asia, at least–are tours to see the Padaung “long neck” tribes in the Golden Triangle, which encompasses the borders of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. In the mid1980s Thailand experienced a particularly insensitive wave of tourist fascination with hill tribe peoples; in 1988 alone, over 100,000 tourists signed up for “jungle tours” based in Chiang Mai that took them to visit ethnic minorities in easily accessible, contrived “villages.” Today one can see Padaung women for as little as $7 USD, their necks laden with heavy brass rings. Tourists take photos and villagers receive a small sum of money from selling trinkets–end of transaction. At $422 USD a person, the Akha Experience Fair Trek tour–like fair trade chocolate and coffee or sustainably harvested wood furniture–carries a price tag with its responsible practices; a comparable commercial five day trip costs half as much in Chiang Mai. It takes a day and a half of travel by local bus and trekking to reach the village from Luang Prabang, so daytrippers are not just stopping by. Many hill tribe villages have already migrated from the mountains to settle alongside Laos’ winding roads, coerced by government relocation policies or attracted by the conveniences of development. Our destination of Honglerk, however, remains firmly among the clouds. In traditional dress, the Akha people seem out of the cover of National Geographic. The tribe’s simple living conditions, animist spiritual customs, and distinctive headdresses conjure images of a people suspended in time, almost completely removed from Western influence. The allure of meeting them, in a way, is because it’s akin to visiting some of earth’s last primordial peoples–however problematic that concept might be. “I wanted to experience an authentic insight into another culture–to exchange ideas and perspectives–not to leave with just photos and souvenirs, but with real friends and experiences,” Sam reflects, nearly slipping in the mud that permeates the road. The hike to the village is rugged, but beautiful, with scenic views of the far-reaching mountains of

Laos stretching into the distance. Tiger Trail has only brought approximately 50 tourists a year to the community since the “Akha Village Experience Project” was established in 2009, careful to protect the integrity of the village from mass tourism. The program was created in co-operation with the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), the Phongsali Alternative Development Fund, and national government offices to generate alternative forms of income for former opium growing communities through responsible tourism. “We were looking for meaningful and profitable tourism activities for the villagers,” says Kathy Eow, Program Manager of Fair Trek, on how the program started. “Homestays seemed like a win-win solution. They break down the wall between tourist and locals and can be a real cultural and educational experience for both stakeholders.” To their credit, Tiger Trail’s guides and promotional materials never exoticize the

Akha, never paint their lifestyle as a primitive society, nor an idyllic one. The village homestay is branded as a unique opportunity for cultural immersion, a chance to experience the power of human connection despite coming from seemingly different worlds. While we were curious about the Akha and their way of life, we didn’t want to observe the sort of staged “human zoo” experience that is often created to accommodate tour groups on pit stops. We were wary of hordes of obnoxious, stereotypical tourists both Western and Asian–camera shoving, unwilling to leave their comfort zone, sporting elephant print short shorts. We wanted “the real deal”– whatever that means in a world where, by nature of me being there as a tourist, I am altering the dynamic of the community. Finally, we reach the entry to the village, marked by a spirit door constructed of branches, vines, and woven natural materials. The Akha believe that this gate acts as a boundary between the human world and spiritual realm, creating a COMMON GROUND 26

Sam, Mr. Thongher, and Mr. Sii pause on their way to Honglerk village. The community is located another hour’s walk beyond this point, and the trail is marked by an almost indiscernible

Akha villages are traditionally located at high altitudes, and an agreement with the land’s spirits must be made before the area can be settled. On average, a tour guide has an annual salary of $26,660.

safe haven for the village. A woman walks by, hauling a sack of firewood on her back suspended by a strap across her forehead, twirling raw cotton into string on a spool as she passes. “The villagers say that the farther away your farm is, the more your wife loves you,” jokes Mr. Thongher. The women are too busy at home caring for the family and household to make clothes, so they do it while on the road. The men and boys of the village wear soccer jerseys and T-shirts, but the women continue to wear traditional dress. Their black tunics and skirts are trimmed in vibrant embroidery, and the differences in the shapes of their fabric headdress and patterns on their clothes identify each woman to a family and ethnic subgroup. Thick silver bangles on their wrists jingle as they swaddle their babies around their backs, each child with its own intricate kaleidoscopic cap. If the shock of seeing someone so “other” is present, the feeling is mutual. Akha women

openly stare, sometimes with mouths agape, at Sam’s white form, while he demurely waves back to them. I am half Asian, so one of the villagers tells our guides that I look like I could be Akha, even though the only trait we share is black hair. I laugh in appreciation of his efforts to find commonality. “They work very hard,” Mr. Thongher says. “If they don’t work hard, they don’t eat.” The Ahka in Honglerk grow rice for their families and to sell at the market, as well as some cash crops (a new nut that the Chinese developed to convert to oil is currently in demand). They also forage for edible plants and hunt small animals, like porcupines and squirrels, with homemade muskets. “It is good that the villagers see tourists because then they can see what is achievable if they get an education,” says Mr. Thongher. “They see from tour guides that if they learn English they can have a career in tourism, and they see from tourists examples of people who have earned money and can travel.” The comment is a bit paternalistic, I know, but not disingenuous.

Fair Trek has brought around $3,000 USD to the village, helping fund community projects such as building fences and fixing homes. Tourism creates livelihoods for guides as well, directly employing 129,500 people in the industry (4.2% of total employment) on a national level in 2014. Mr. Thongher has nothing but praise for Tiger Trail, which he says has given him support, a good income, and medical insurance–resources that help him toward his goal of buying a house for his family. “You can take pictures of the animals,” Mr. Thongher laughs, acknowledging our preexisting obsession with photographing everything from cows to butterflies, “you don’t need to ask them permission.” Pigs, chickens, ducks, and dogs run through the mud everywhere, with no separation between them and the villager’s wood and bamboo houses. “I’ve pleaded to villagers with tears in my eyes that we should no longer live with the animals, but they won’t change,” one of the village chiefs–our host for a few days–says. “I’ve urged them many times, but they won’t listen.” He is young–28–with three children. He is one of the few people in the village who can speak Lao, the national language, in addition to the Akha tongue. We sit on small stools in the house’s smoky darkness, our meal of rice, instant noodles, plant soup, and fried eggs illuminated by only two light bulbs. The village began receiving electricity last year. “Chiitoh!” we chuckle as we clink tiny ceramic shot glasses brimming with lao lao, homemade rice whiskey, and the village men laugh when Sam nods in approval. Mr. Thongher lights the clear liquor on fire to show how potent it is. The lao lao feels like fire in your insides too. “Do you have a village chief where you come from?” the headman asks. “How do people make decisions?” The question is a tough one for Sam, who lives in a huge city governed by a mayor he has never met–it’s challenging to identify where community decisions are made. Such exchanges and sharing of experiences is a large part of what Tiger Trail’s community

-based tourism seeks to promote.

“By including local residents in tourism development, we ensure that they have fair access to the economic and social benefits of tourism.” The villagers and our tour guides brainstorm a variety of activities in which visitors can partake that align with the tour experience of “living like a local.” Because it’s raining, instead of helping on the farm, we turn the bellows for the local blacksmith, who makes a knife that Sam later buys. In the evening, he joins in a lively game of soccer with Mr. Sii, Mr. Thongher, and the village boys, where they kick a small basketball past the pigs and onlooking girls. The children of Honglerk’s 60 families all attend primary school in rudimentary structures located on a scrap of level land at the base of the village. The classrooms are overcrowded, and village leaders hope to put the funds generated through the homestay program toward expanding the school. A portion of the tour cost goes directly to a village fund earmarked for community needs. “By including local residents in tourism development, we ensure that they have fair access to the economic and social benefits of tourism,” Fair Trek’s website says. Tiger Trail works with the village chief, who then communicates to the villagers about the nature of homestays and asks for volunteers to be hosts. Kathy laments that “responsible tourism” even has to merit its own category, serving as an alternative or “solution” to the general state of tourism. “Call me naïve or foolishly idealistic, but tourism should be perceived by all stakeholders–tourist, local, public and private sectors, organizations, etc.–holistically and developed as such,” she says. “It would seem like a no-brainer to develop a trek in a way that produces the least harm and maximum benefit to people and nature over the long-term.”


(next page) Mr. Sii smokes tobacco out of our host family’s pipe while lao lao distills over the fire. Both vices are gendered activities; I never saw women partaking in drinking or smoking in the village.

Many of the tools in Honglerk are made by members of the village with blacksmithing skills. After approximately eight hours of heating, pounding, shaping, and sharpening the metal, our host’s brother was finally happy with the finished knife. The UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) promotes competitive and sustainable tourism policies and instruments, fosters tourism education and training, and works to make tourism an effective tool for development in over 157 countries around the world.

vomit, all in search of the rare, the exotic, the primeval? Perhaps because I think the world loses a little of its color, becomes a little dimmer and dimmer each day, as we lose the things that make each culture unique. People whose lives are saturated by sterile strip malls and the redundancy of chain stores will inevitably seek something more, the soul of a place– something that will make them pause, whether it’s meditating yogis by the Ganges River or the throbbing sound of an Aboriginal horn across the red plains of Australia. This is where the imagination runs wild, no matter how unfounded its images.

Sam reflects that the dynamic of communitybased tourism is much different than the norm, which often leaves both the tourist and the local feeling like there is something parasitic about their relationship. “Touring with the Akha people feels much less like I’m being exploited for money, relative to more popular tourist destinations, and more like I’m contributing in a cultural exchange,” says Sam. “It’s great interacting with real people and experiencing the realities of another culture free of any dramatization or adulteration.” On the final night of our stay, our host family slaughters a chicken for dinner–a special meal, which our group eats in its entirety, head, feat and all. The chief places a ball of rice and chicken in our outstretched hands while murmuring blessings and good wishes for us, which we then eat and chase with lao lao. “Thank you so much,” he says, smiling as he ties a black string around each of our wrists. “We hope you will visit us again.” The Akha way of life is slowly changing. Through increasing exposure to education, technology, tourists, and foreign support for development, it is inevitable that the COMMON GROUND 31

embroidered tunics will give way to T-shirts– some already have. The question is how to visit in a way that preserves the integrity of the community, fosters authentic interactions, and creates a positive impact for both hosts and travelers. “When you develop tourism that intentionally bridges locals and tourists and gets both parties involved, such as an interactive weaving lesson or homestay, you create an experience rather than a product,” says Kathy. “Sometimes the tourism activity itself becomes less important or impressive than the intangible connection between people, or nature. Locals feel less like a commodity and tourists feel less like, well, tourists.” It’s a funny thing, tourism. No one wants to identify as a “tourist,” but everyone wants to travel. We like to imagine ourselves as different from the oblivious, Hawaiian shirt wearing archetypes of popular lore, but at the end of the day maybe all travelers are taking experiences that were not theirs to take. The availability of the Akha Experience Fair Trek tour begs the question, why do we want to visit these peoples in the first place? Why did I spend days slipping in pig shit and mud, consuming rice whiskey so strong it made me

The idea of “unspoiled” peoples is a construct. Despite the remoteness of the village, I saw kids playing with a cell phone. Mr. Thongher brought DVDs for our host family to play on a tiny off-brand laptop. These things don’t disappoint me–I learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that subsistence living is not glamorous, and the Akha people deserve conveniences. The nostalgia for a time gone by is real, but it’s the indigenous peoples of the world that bear the burden of maintaining the landscapes in which we plan our great escapes. The sheer power of shock factor allures adventure travelers to far-flung destinations– the desire to see the unseen, to share in some secret, to know that an experience was yours in some way that defies explanation. I suppose I wanted to be marveled at, and to marvel at someone else. I wanted my heart to seize. When you stare into the eyes of the “other” the hope is that, just maybe, the force of longing– for something unknown, for a mystery, for a shared humanity–and exhilaration is just as strong in them as it is in you. I could have had a beach, a cocktail, and a suntan–but then I wouldn’t have learned anything about another culture, would never have seen a story written large across the clothes, words, and faces of a forgotten people. I didn’t want to “have” something–I wanted to share something. And whether that shared experience was real or imagined, maybe only the Akha spirits know. //


Tour Guide Hannah Freyer // Russia

This poem was inspired by the incomparable passion and curiosity of tour guides that students of the CIEE Saint Petersburg program have witnessed over the past month. It explores the depth of the relationship between them and the cities they bring to life.

This city– My heart my home. This city– Whose history I know. In every nook and cranny, Secrets wait to be discovered. Hidden in the architecture, Carved in marble monuments, Hanging in museum halls; I want to know them all. My calling– To share her stories. My calling– To listen to her whispers. Every day she tells me more, Gifts to me new wonders. From this, I try to share my joy, My never ending curiosity. I am a tour guide and this city, I love.

What are the differences between a ‘traveler,’ a ‘visitor,’ a ‘tourist,’ and an ‘excursionist’? According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, a traveler “is someone who moves between different geographic locations for any purpose and duration.”

A visitor “is a specific type of traveler taking a trip to a destination outside his/her usual environment for less than a year and for any purposes (ie: business, leisure or personal reason) other than employment.”

“Wells” was painted by a local from Saint Petersburg, Russia and highlights a unique architectural design. The poem “Tour Guide” explores the relationship between the guides and their cities. Both works show how locals share their homes with others.

Visitors can then be subdivided into for pleasure.

tourists if his/her trip includes an overnight stay

Excursionists “are same-day visitors on a short journey for leisure.” “Tourism includes visitors from abroad (inbound tourists) and also resident visitors taking trips from within the country (domestic tourism).” “Tourism itself is a social, cultural, environmental, and economic phenomenon that has developed only recently. As a result of this new development, we need to understand the implications of this industry. Tourism can contribute to environmental degradation and exploit local peoples. Yet, tourism can also lead to mutual understanding between peoples and society, be a vehicle for individual and collective fulfillment, and a factor for sustainable development. Due to these multiple impacts and the wide spectrum of stakeholders involved in or affected by tourism, there is a need for a holistic approach to tourism development and management. Furthermore as travelers, visitors, tourists, and excursionists we must be conscious of our role as foreigners in host countries and the implications our presence can have on a larger, global scale.”



DIRTBAG’S PARADISE Katie Mathieson // Thailand



he pauses occasionally to clip his rope through metal bolts. Now moving out under the “roof,” he’s literally upside down; he’s not so much climbing anymore as clinging.  Every movement is practiced, every muscle disciplined. His entire body weight–poised twenty feet above the beach–is held by just two fingers. Sharply exhaling, Maxi clips the final anchor. He’s done it. “Nice job,” says Sam, as he lowers Maxi slowly back to the sand. The small crowd that had gathered to watch let out a collective sigh of relief. Maxi and Sam climb together almost every day. “[Maxi]’s incredible. The most graceful, strongest athlete I’ve ever worked with. He’s not scared of falling,” says Sam. Maxi moved to Tonsai beach four years ago and has never left. He’s Thai, small in stature, and his unkempt hair swings from side to side as he climbs. Sam’s originally from Kansas, a very average white 20-something year-old male. After a few months in Tonsai he’ll head back to Austin, Texas and find a real job. “I’m staying as long as the money holds out,” he says. Since the early 1990s, climbers who can find the means to travel have made their way to this sport climbing paradise known as Tonsai, about an hour from Krabi province in the south of Thailand, which is only accessible by boat. This beach community is one of the most popular and beloved climbing destinations in the world. “It’s the biggest and best known spot in Southeast Asia,” says Lena, a climber from Hamburg, Germany. Tonsai beachgoers look on at the aerial acrobatics of climbers on the beach.

Average cost of a harness: $124.95.

For decades, rock climbing enthusiasts have flocked to a particular beach on Thailand’s southern coast. Beatnik climbers are not the only tourists who want to enjoy the beach’s extraordinary cliffs. The construction of a luxury resort on the adjacent beach has led to conflict between two tourist cultures and the proxy war may be emblematic of the colonial tendencies in international tourism. He claps his hands together twice; white chalk flies in every direction. “Maxi, let’s go!” says Sam. Maxi jumps up from where he was seated on the beach. His hands first then his feet, he seems to glide up the limestone cliff. Reaching, pulling, pushing, COMMON GROUND 37

The 500 bolted routes draw more climbers than any other climbing area in Asia. Other destinations—Chiang Mai, Southern Laos, Kuala Lumpur—have tried to replicate what Tonsai has, but it’s not that easy. Elke Schmitz, owner of Basecamp Tonsai, says, “during high season [October–April], Tonsai Beach in Railey Bay is climbers’ United Nations. No climbing trip to Asia would be complete without visiting this Mecca.” In just a week in Tonsai you can meet people from 28 different countries. Elke calls it, “the most diverse climbing community on the planet. Not just in nations represented, but in

terms of walks of life as well. Whether it’s the Malaysian National Team training camp, or a backpacker who tried for the first time and got hooked, the community is a crucial part of the Tonsai experience.” Climbers are willing to travel a long way to be a part of the Tonsai scene. Josh, a climber originally from Maryland, says, “in Tonsai, sitting at the bar, watching the sunset after a long day of climbing makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, a legacy. People have been doing the same thing for more than twenty-five years.” To be a part of this history means to adopt the collective identity, to embrace the sport and culture of rock climbing that started 60 years ago. This group has a label to denote their shared identity: “dirtbag,” a term that evolved out of a generation of 1950s Beatnik climbers living at Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley in California. This community perfected the ‘strategy’ of dumpster diving, sneaking showers, bumming rides, and pushing the limits of what was considered un-climbable. At the core of ‘dirtbagging’ is sacrificing life’s

luxuries to maintain an intense climbing schedule. This culture has spread to surfers, mountaineers, and paddlers–they’re all dirtbaggers. They reject the idea of careers, settling down, marriage, and instead commit themselves to a life of living out of their cars, and to extended travel–for the sake of pursuing their sport. Rock climbers can live in Tonsai for less than $10 a day, and even if they occasionally have a few beers with friends, it’s not too challenging to last two and a half months on $900. Their bungalows may not have hot showers or electricity, but life without those unnecessary luxuries is exactly what most rock climbers came looking for.

“Culture” at Risk

But their rock climbing experience is in danger. “You walk around Tonsai and see everything changing so fast: the new road, the wall, the resort. All the development, and it’s frustrating,” says Josh. “I know it can’t remain a hidden rock climber’s paradise forever, but I’m worried it’s starting to lose its charm and

(title page) Andreas Esterer, from Austria on the climb “Burnt Offerings.”

Average cost of climbing shoes:$100.

KOH PODA ISLAND could go the way of Thailand’s other major beach destinations. At the Club Med resort on nearby Phuket, you can play squash, do yoga, take archery or golf classes, and hone your skills in the Flying Trapeze School–which it boasts has “the best equipment and facilities for flying trapeze enthusiasts.” It advertises the resort’s atmosphere as “a refined Zen ambiance.”

“We’re out here pushing ourselves, trying to live our lives a certain way. They just float from place to place taking pictures and spending money.” For many, the creation of Club Méditérannée, or Club Med, in 1950 marks the beginning of modern tourism. In its own words, Club Med has been “an extraordinary utopia” with its “all-inclusive holiday concept” that “has been reinventing the alchemy of happiness” since its inception. The company now advertises holiday packages to one of its 71 resorts in the “world’s most beautiful locations” as a way of “freeing people from their day-to-day constraints.” he says, naming some of the most well known tourism destinations of southern Thailand. Dr. Jeff Rose, a climber who visited Tonsai in 2001, is currently a professor at the University of Utah’s Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism. He explains that change is expected, “Tonsai and Railey are quite different than when I was there in 2001. The climbing world at large has completely blown up, and of course any destination with warm weather, steep limestone, cheap living, lady boys, and a bit of culture–even if it’s not ‘real’ Thailand–is a sure bet to attract multinational investment.” Tonsai and Railey are separated by a rocky ridge. At low tide tourists travel easily from one area to the other, skirting around the rocks by way of the beach. At high tide the only option is to split the cost of a $12 boat ride with friends or take the path over the rocks, which is especially dangerous after

dark. Climbers walk to Railey frequently, usually for an ATM or a pharmacy, and the path isn’t treacherous compared to what they spend the rest of their days doing. Conversely, Tonsai is an adventure for tourists in Railey. Occasionally they’ll venture over to Tonsai in search of something exciting. Tonsai may have its own ATM soon, but many climbers aren’t happy about it. In Tonsai, a development consortium including Bangkok-based MBK Hotel & Tourism Co. among others has already displaced the oncebeachfront bars and restaurants. The first phases of construction include a two-meter high cement wall to separate the resort’s beachfront property from the current Tonsai. Tonsai visitors have already graffitied the Tonsai side of the wall with colorful images suggesting revolution and anarchy.

While the Club Med on Phuket offers trips to temples or a “sea gypsy” village, an elephant show, and a one-day excursion to Phi Phi Island at additional cost, other than the food, the resort could be anywhere in Asia—or southern Florida. The only “Thai” thing about the place is its company logo, which features an elephant. Many climbers at Tonsai feel they are a different breed than the conventional tourist. “We’re out here pushing ourselves, trying to live our lives a certain way,” Sam argues. “They just float from place to place taking pictures and spending money.” Mathis from Hanover, Germany says, “[Resorts] are not my kind of fun. I don’t need to change my place to spend money and party. I can have the same or more fun for less money when I climb. It’s just a different kind of fun. In a resort maybe you sit by the pool or take a day trip, but otherwise it’s just so boring.” He adds, “you have to travel to climb because it’s not like new mountains grow at your home.” Eli Elinoff, an anthropologist at the National University of Singapore, says, “everyone wants a place to themselves or to be ahead of the curve. Travel is a projection of this sort of

ADVENTURE TOURISM AS FABRICATED RISK Of course travel adventure is still possible. Nowadays, however, it is seldom the by-product of people going places. We must scheme, and contrive, and plan long in advance (at great expense) to be assured that when we arrive there we will encounter something other than the antiseptic, pleasant, relaxing, comfortable experience of the hundreds of thousands of other tourists. We must fabricate risks and dangers, or hunt them out. Nowadays it costs more and takes greater ingenuity, imagination and enterprise to fabricate travel risks than it once required to avoid them. Almost as much effort goes into designing the adventure as into surviving it. For this the tourist millions have not the time or the money. Travel adventure today thus inevitably acquires a factitious, make-believe, un-real quality. And only the dull travel experience seems genuine. Both for the few adventuring travelers who still exist and for the larger number of travelers-turned-tourists, voyaging becomes a pseudo-event. Daniel Boorstin, The Images: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (Macmillan, 1961).

With a major resort on its way just next door, the climber community is anxious that Tonsai



Deep Water Soloing in Tonsai has been a popular attraction for tourists as well. At high tide foreigners climb the sea cliffs and let the water catch their fall.

Average cost of rope:$260.

Top 5 most popular climbing destinations: Mount Khuiten, Mount Kilimanjaro, The Andes, Mount Everest, The Matterhorn.

Average cost of carabiners: $10.

Today, the number of photographs clicked every two minutes is the same as the number of photographs clicked by mankind in 1800s.

fantasy that you can return to a pre-contact paradise. But unless you have the time, the energy, the money, or the fortitude (or all of the above) to go to a place that is really out of the way, you are perpetually stuck with the sense that a place was better, more idyllic, more unspoiled yesterday.” Self-aware of their impact, climbers often look down on the extravagance of resorts. Josh says, “I think rock climbers, and outdoor enthusiasts

The question as to who has the right to preserve or develop Tonsai evokes a tension central to international tourism. But regardless of whether they are staying in a $3-a-night bungalow or a $900 hotel room, outsiders have changed the local geography from wilderness to new types of spaces that are designed, maintained, and governed to serve their needs. In fact, Dr. Koson Srisang, former Executive Director of the Ecumenical Coalition of Third World Tourism (ECTWT), suggests, that “tourism is little different from colonialism.”

While both Tonsai and Club Med were developed on land that was previously sparsely inhabited, the geography and infrastructure of these areas are now exclusively designed for visitors. Investors, recognizing what other foreigners like and will spend money on, came in and developed the land for tourists’ desires. One local longboat driver, Mr. Yao, exclaims, “there’s no school for my kids here. They live on Ko Yao Noi,” an island roughly an hour away from Tonsai by boat. The Thai people at Tonsai are there to serve the needs of the elite occupiers: feeding them, lodging them, guiding them through the climbing routes, taking them out on longtail boats. A Burmese bartender explained that he’d been living in Tonsai for 12 years and his English is better than his Thai. The infrastructure is not for locals.

Today, the number of photographs clicked every two minutes is same as the number of photographs clicked by mankind in 1800s.

(above) Sam says there’s nothing he would change about his life, except, “I wish I didn’t have to take rest days,” he says, “but in any practical way, how can you complain?”

space on the map was critical to motivating colonial expansion and justifying domination over those places. That same idea is also deeply connected to Euro-American ideas of adventure and nature. Such assumptions were also essential to the enslavement, domination, and dispossession that has become part-andparcel of the tourist industry in places with big inequalities.”

in general, gain a sense of satisfaction from being more rugged and ‘tougher’ than resort goers. We like to think that we’re getting off the beaten path and finding those hard to reach places or maybe pursuing something more meaningful than just the perfect photo or cocktail.” But while he wants to think he’s better than that, Josh acknowledges that at the end of the day, climbers are still tourists. “I think there’s lots of overlap and outdoors-y travelers and resort goers are more or less the same. Everyone just wants to get away and experience something different than the norm,” says Josh. COMMON GROUND 41

Backpackers as the New Colonists One way to understand both colonialism and tourism is to see them as dynamics driven by the same social process–one that involves occupying and transforming space by and for people from outside the territory in question. These dynamics are made possible by a global inequity of power and wealth. The assumption that foreigners have a right to transform a place is inherent to both, and often phrased in terms of moral or economic superiority. Elinoff explains, “The idea of the blank

And thus the question over who has the right to build on Tonsai is one between competing colonizers, rather than natives and foreign powers. The very fact that the climbers feel indignant about the resorts’ encroachment demonstrates their entitlement as foreigners to preserve their newly claimed base and culture. It’s hard to imagine such disarmingly friendly, well-intentioned people as Sam or Josh as a kind of modern-day colonists. They live a relatively Spartan existence at Tonsai, yet they enjoy leisure within this bubble, not so unlike fellow mobile colonists in nearby posh resorts. Dr. Jeff Rose suggests that the “do-gooder” mentality of preserving tourist spaces from further development might be missing the point. “It’s cultural infringement to put your conservationist values on the locals, a perspective that then disregards

the previous cultural infringement of dumping over-privileged, international climbing dirtbags into a very modestly developed social and environmental setting,” he says. But regardless of academic debate, for now Tonsai continues to grow and change. A new wave of foreigners arrives at Tonsai beach, Chacos in their hands and backpacks towering over their heads as they walk ashore. Josh greets an old college friend, ready for a week of climbing. “I totally forgot, I meant to tell you to bring spray paint,” Josh says. “Why?” she asks. “We have to graffiti something!“ he says, gesturing toward the high cement wall that separates the new resort from Tonsai, “Fight the system!” She glances at the people who just arrived on the boat with her and all those now leaving. “Why us?” she says, laughing, “What do we have to fight for?” //


Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors often in the form of bolts, fixed to rock. This places an emphasis on the physical aspect of the climb rather than on the summit. They’re designed to let climbers fall and push their limits in safe ways.

어디에서 오셨어요?

¿De dònde eres? Whichever country I was in, or whatever language I spoke, people would ask me the same question over and over again. Where are you from? It was the look that gave it all away. When I saw the look in their eyes, I knew we would be having the conversation I dreaded having. I would say I’m from America. Born and raised in New York City. Then I got even more perplexed looks. With an intensified piercing tone this time, people would ask again, Where are you from? Before I could say another word, people said and did anything to catch my attention. Maybe it was the Indian auto-rickshaw walla repeatedly honking his horn and yelling “Konichiwa!” at me on the

crowded streets of Udaipur. Maybe it was the Thai noodle shop owner that kept saying “syeh-syeh” after I paid for my meal and would only stop when I told him I wasn’t Chinese. Maybe it was the Korean vendor that looked puzzled when I suddenly paused during our conversation because I forgot the word for shoelaces in Korean. Maybe it was the Panamanian kids that pointed and shouted “Chino” at me when we were playing a round of musical chairs in a remote village. Maybe it was the high school math teacher I talked to while I was volunteering at a school in Ohio that kept asking me what my real Asian name was. Or maybe it was the Cambodian bus company employee that spoke to me in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai, but never attempted to speak in English, even after all the times I shook my head, “no.” After all of these encounters, I felt defeated. It was when I visited new environments that I was reminded of my physical identity, which clashed with the dominant narrative of what an American was supposed to look like.

Gwangwang-gaeg, videyshi, farang, turista, tourist. None of these words were words that people identified me with, because with my monolid eyes, pale skin, and straight black hair, my outward appearances did not reflect their perceptions of what many Americans look like. But then again, how can diversity fit a single image? The questions that people ask me about my cultural identity always strike me but from my domestic and international travels, I’ve learned that although I possess physical features that separate me from other Americans, those features do not shape my narrative as a person. Just as other cities, villages, and countries are linguistically, culturally, and genetically diverse, I am an example that America is too. 저는 미국에서 왔어요.

Soy de América. I am from America.

Where are you from? Nancy Chong // United States



View Art fits the pulse of a place into one. small. space. Ineffable, defined eyes watch– not blind. Art collects biased sight to view time. Here, people gather together to interact with an artistic display in I:CAT Art Gallery in Vientiane, Laos–a room that brought foreigners from unfamiliar places to a common space.


Jaime Webb // Laos


As humans, it is no secret that we seek to make tangible that which is unable to be grasped. Perhaps that is why we travel across the expanse of the world. In search of understanding, the artist creates a biased presentation of a culture and the viewer witnesses the display with their own perceptions. And yet, these mingled interactions allow cultures across the world to connect in one room. This poem was created in order to continue the dialogue regarding the complexities of individual and shared experience by creating yet another place (or page in a magazine) to discuss that which leaves humanity in silenced awe and continuing to travel and learn.


– a familiar foreigner


Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world (largest in South America.)

6% of Brazil’s population lives in favelas.

(left) The population of Rocinha, Brazil’s biggest favela, is 69,300. It is the most visited favela by tourists.

Framing the Favelas Laurel Klafehn // Brazil In Rio de Janeiro, it’s estimated that as much as 20% of the population lives in favelas—Brazilian poor neighborhoods within urban areas. These informal communities have become popular tourist destinations. As Rio’s tourism profile rises after hosting the 2014 World Cup and it plans for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, the influx of visitors has led to a boom in favela tourism, with mixed results for residents. COMMON GROUND 47

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil–It is finally dusk on a humid Brazilian day, the sun beginning to cast shadows on meandering alleyways and steep concrete staircases. Each corner brings a new wave of scent from fresh pastries to forgotten trash; this urban maze is a sensory playground. Fragmented, breathtaking views of the city below peek out between concrete homes, where one can silently spectate ever-present street soccer games. Locals look up from their tasks as a group of student tourists walk by, intrigued by their hungry cameras and broken Portuguese. This is life in the Salgueiro favela. Within the city limits of Rio de Janeiro, over 800 favelas are nestled between the high-rises so emblematic of major metropolises. This varied cityscape is one of the reasons why panoramas of Rio make for beautiful aerial movie intros and compelling magazine covers. Such superficial visibility of favelas has stirred much foreign curiosity about these distinctive communities. Tourist excursions that delve inside Rio de Janeiro’s infamous favelas continue to gain popularity. It is estimated that 40,000 tourists visit Rio’s favelas every year, and that number is only growing. Cariocas [Rio natives] and foreigners alike wonder if these tours provide an opportunity to de-stigmatize the negative reputations of the neighborhoods, or if they merely buy into the sensationalism of poverty and violence that has made “favelas” a household word. Quips such as “poorism” and “poverty porn” have been used to describe the “voyeuristic” sightseeing that has emerged in Indian slums and South African townships. In 2014 over one million tourists visited Rio. Favela tourism now occupies its own section on Rio’s official tourism website. According to a series of panel discussions conducted by the Rio newspaper O Dia to address “favela tourism as a tool for COMMON GROUND 48

social inclusion,” 60% of foreign tourists visiting Rio are interested in visiting a favela. Despite hopes that tourism would promote economic integration in these underserved communities, the reality may indicate otherwise. A small business advocate at the meeting referenced a study showing tourists only spend on average $1.50 USD (R$5) in the area on a visit, usually for a bottle of water. The demand for favela tourism is significant, but many feel that it does not provide enough economic benefits for the communities being visited. To better understand the favela tourism phenomenon, I recently went on a tour of the Salgueiro favela, located in the neighborhood of Tijuca. Karolynne Duarte and her partner, Vilson Luiz, guided myself and ten other Americans throughout the favela–passing their tenmonth old son, Zyon, back and forth between various stops. Their company, Guiadas Urbanas (Urban Guides), offers several kinds of tours in various favelas. They are both Cariocas and wear their “I (heart) favelas” T-shirts proudly. According to their website, Guiadas Urbanas “promotes tourism in urban spaces rich in culture, history, and tradition, with the perspective that they are transformational places for the people who inhabit, enjoy, and belong to them.” Our tour began after paying the equivalent of $1 USD each for a kombi, an old Volkswagon van used as public transport, to reach the top of the Salgueiro favela. The narrow switchback road snaked through dense residential housing, ending in a flat parking area at the top of the hill. There, we met Vilson and Karolynne. Vilson began the tour with a simple question: What is a favela? The tour group dove into a discussion of the favela as a neighborhood, and of its importance

The film “City of God” grossed $7,564,459 USD.

Brazil is the eighth largest economy in the world.

as a part of the city. Vilson noted that favela residents account for over 1.2 million people, more than 20% of Rio’s total population. The guides discussed representations of favelas in pop culture: movie subtitles and dictionary definitions offer synonyms such as “slum,” “ghetto,” and “squatter community.” The poignant and brutally violent Academy-Award nominated film City of God is often the only representation of a favela that foreigners have for reference. The guides noted that these portrayals feed the commonly held belief that favela residents are settlers who illegally obtained the land on which their homes were built and that favelas continue to be places of lawlessness and intrigue. Vilson and Karolynne say they often start tours with a discussion of favela stereotypes “to start to break down prejudice and cultivate open-mindedness” within the tour group. The story of Rio’s favelas dates back to the end of the 19th century, when President Prudente de Moraes’ government promised land in Rio to soldiers from Bahia, Brazil’s Northeast, after one of the country’s bloodiest civil wars. The veteran settlers moved to Rio, and while waiting for the land titles (which were never granted), they established themselves on a hill and named it “Morro da Favela.” Historians refer to the newly renamed “Morro da Providência” favela as the oldest in Rio. Other favelas grew from a need for housing near worksites, such as Favela Metrô-Mangueira, which was established by construction workers and their families while they built the city’s underground metro system. The Salegueiro favela we toured was settled in the early twentieth century and was founded by former slaves who moved into the city for work. Our first stop in Salegueiro is a local organization that provides supplemental education for both children and adults. COMMON GROUND 49

Two women show us desks and books donated to them by the Wal-Mart that used to be in the area, while small children and women bustle around the dimly room. One woman explains, “we don’t have electricity right now, which is why there are no lights and no fans. It gets really hot, which makes it hard when we give classes.” The organization also plans on starting a radio station at the community center. “We just want to be able to reach more people,” one woman says. “The government has promised funding,” she continues, “but funding never comes.” Vilson and Karolynne reference this ongoing tension between favelas and the municipal government throughout the tour. Despite the difficulties of favela life, its lack of amenities typically seems romantic and intriguing to foreigners. Residents take immense pride in the autonomy of favela communities, but their isolation presents significant obstacles to services that many city dwellers tend to take for granted, such as water, electricity, and sewage. “We don’t have water every day, nor do we pay for water,” Emanueli Lopes, a resident of Rocinha, Latin America’s largest favela, says. “The electricity often goes out, because people ‘pirated’ the wires to use for our houses. They don’t work as much in the summer, for example, so a lot of times we just won’t have electricity.” Emanueli pays the equivalent of $150 USD a month for her small home in Rocinha. She mentions that although ambulances and fire trucks will come to the favela, residents have to pay to get mail so that they can pay their bills. “Here, and in many other places, we feel forgotten by the government,” she says. Vibrancy seems to be the main aesthetic difference between the winding streets of Salgueiro and the gridded high-rises of Rio’s South Zone. Intricate graffiti art

splashes across street walls, and brightly painted homes create a mosaic against the blue sky. Electric wires dangle in tangles and flies swarm around liquids dripping down stair to stair. Salgueiro is unapologetic for its colors, smells, and noises. The second stop on the tour is the samba school, a beautifully painted red and white open-air space where community members meet, eat, and of course, dance. Vilson explains that the same families that live in Salgueiro today have ancestors that helped establish the community at its inception. “Everyone knows everyone. You can bet that your grandma knows somebody else’s grandma, so if you get in trouble, word is going to get around. It’s like a big family.” Brazilian-born Theresa Willamson started Catalytic Communities, an organization that strives to “integrate Rio’s formal and informal communities,” in 2001. She subsequently developed Rio on Watch,

a website dedicated to community reporting, which has publicized the voices of favela residents amidst the myriad changes they have endured since 2008 when Brazil won the bids for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. Williamson claims that the strong community ties within favelas are a product of their geography. “The emphasis on horizontal expansion (building out rather than up, as in high-rises) cultivates social interactions within the favela. When buildings are built next to each other, rather than on top of each other, people interact with each other more. This forms tight-knit communities,” she explains. The announcement of the successful World Cup and Olympic Games bids marked a critical shift in Rio’s public policy. These mega-events not only bring millions of foreign tourists into the host city, they also focus international scrutiny on the city’s doorstep. According to FIFA, the 2014 World Cup brought over COMMON GROUND 50

The tour walks through the Salgueiro community garden.

According to the Ministry of Sports, the total cost to put on the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil was an estimated R$25.6 billion, or roughly $11.63 billion.

in Rio’s South Zone, the UPP presence stimulated gentrification. Many foreigners find their way to Vidigal for the trailhead to the famous pair of monoliths known as Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers). Travelers hostels are now booming in Vidigal, promising experiences sweetened by words like “real” and “authentic.” Favela tours both large and small tend to use these same buzzwords. The favela is presented as a more “authentic” part of Rio than the cushy, tourist-friendly South Zone. To put concerned googlers at ease, many tour websites state that the “slum” has been “pacified.” These reassurances assume three things: 1. The favela is a more adventurous place to go than the typical tourist hot spots, 2. The favela is poverty-stricken (what picture does the word “slum” evoke?), and 3. The favela is less dangerous than it had been previously–thanks to the police.

18 Police Pacification Units (UPPs) have been installed in favleas to drive out crime since the first UPP was established three years ago.

five million fans to Brazil–937,330 of whom came just for the games in Rio, which only lasted 32 days. For 2016, the Olympic Commission estimates that over 100,000 people directly involved in organizing the games will come to Rio–and that’s before arrival numbers swell with spectators and tourists.

army, and the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP), an offshoot of the Military Police Force. In order to increase safety for tourists and residents alike, the UPP has since established permanent headquarters in 39 of Rio’s favelas. Rio’s City Hall cites this “pacification” as the factor making the favelas accessible to tourists.

With this enormous influx of visitors, Rio’s Prefeitura (City Hall) understood that it needed to clean up the international reputation of favelas. Public perception of high crime rates in Rio had kept many would-be visitors at bay for decades, and the image of armed bandits and police shootouts would not be good for business. Rio’s City Hall marketing budget skyrocketed from about $140,000 USD in 2009 to over $26 million USD just a year later. In addition to these public relations efforts, the military police’s pacification policy also emerged with its main actors– the special operations force (BOPE), who are trained in similar methods as the Israeli

The impacts of the pacification policy have not been as peaceful as the name suggests. In Complexo do Alemão, a favela in Rio’s North Zone, the UPP came with force. According to Rio on Watch, this year 81% of days have witnessed gunfire. Several peaceful protests have been staged, with the resounding cry “Ta Tudo Errado!”… “Everything is wrong!” The protests have demanded an end to police violence. This favela, while technically open for tourists, does not receive nearly as much attention as the favelas in the South Zone, near popular Copacabana and Ipanema.


In other favelas, such as Vidigal, located

The appropriately named tourism company Jeep Tour proudly offers a droptop Jeep tour through a favela in the South Zone for $94 USD. Enumerated highlights include “a beautiful and different perspective from Rio,” in a “slum pacified by the police.” Emanueli is all too familiar with these Jeep Tours in her Rocinha neighborhood. “It’s weird when the tourists come in their Jeeps like they were on a safari–as if we were animals in Africa,” she says with dismay. Other Jeep tours tout a chance to speak with locals and purchase crafts made by residents. While Brazilian news outlets have not dwelt much on the debate over safari-like trips to favelas, many international news agencies, such as AlJazeera, have published pieces questioning the authenticity of such ventures. “First of all,” Karolynne laughs, “a Jeep couldn’t even drive on the stairs in Salgueiro.” Vilson chimes in, “you know why Brazilians have such big bundas

[asses]? We have to climb up these stairs every day!” As the tour continues, we peek into an aromatic bakery, photos of countless smiling residents lining its walls. It is a timeline of meals throughout the years. “We hope you all tell your friends about Salgueiro, the favela,” the chef tells us. “We hope you tell them that it’s not a scary place like they might imagine. We are families, we have events, parties. Tourists come to Rio and only go to Lapa for nightlife [a popular outdoor bar scene that tourists indeed frequent heavily]. We hope that this tour begins to change that. We want people to feel welcome here. We can offer fun and good experiences, too.” As the sun begins to set and golden light bathes the steps of the favela, we descend to the community garden. It is in its beginning stages, on a sloped plot of land with yet another stunning view. Vilson and Karolynne guide us through the rows, explaining the various peppers planted there and letting Zyon nibble on some cilantro. A large truck idles in the background, with the word mudanças [changes] written on the side. We joke that they staged it there just for photo opportunities. One wonders what sort of changes the neighborhood has seen in order to make the tour possible. At the end of the tour we use our heels to brake our walk down the steep curves in the hill, passing the UPP settlement. Salgueiro is one of the “pacified” favelas. Military police officers wielding semiautomatics give us friendly waves goodbye. Vilson cracks a joke with one of them. I leave with the warm fuzzy feeling that comes so often with being a tourist–the feeling of having done something new, and understanding something better


In 2014, it was estimated that the number of people living in slum conditions is 863 million. On average, 3 times more people are killed per year by police in Rio than in the entire United States.

By the numbers: 37 murders per 100,000 people in Rio annually compared with 1.9 murders per 100,000 in London.

This mural covers the graffiti of the drug faction which controls the favela, Conplexo de Alemão, in Rio de Janeiro–an area that experienced shootouts on 81% of the days in 2015. This is one of the many favelas with a permanent military police installment. Most of the violence occurs between the police and the drug faction. Tourists are not welcome here and if individuals visit, they are told to only take pictures of the wall, because in the past police and gang members alike have confused cameras for guns.

exciting development for Rio’s favela tourism. Globo, Brazil’s largest mainstream media outlet, has even acknowledged this shift. In a recent article, Globo applauded Guiadas Urbanas for providing an interactive favela tour option that goes “beyond the postcards.” But in order for this mission to be successful, the motivation behind each actor in favela tourism must be likeminded. A government that only worries about international tourists’ perceptions of order will be inclined to respond to complex social problems with force. A tourist who is attracted to the idea of driving through a poor neighborhood for the great photo ops–and minimal personal contact–will have different impacts on the favela than someone who pays for a walking tour in which they interact with residents. In order for exchange to occur, the goals of the tour guide and the tourist must be aligned. Conversely, the goals of community members and police must also be aligned.

than before. This is the intent of the favela tourism industry. Warm and fuzzy translate well into Tripadvisor reviews and tips. Rio’s City Hall employees clap each other on the back. The Olympic Committee breathes a little easier. Everybody wins, right? Movies and postcards around the world have portrayed Rio’s favelas as homogenous, frightening, and desperate areas–forgoing the nuance and dignity inherent in these communities. Perhaps using “favela” as an umbrella term resigns people to the lazy misconception that all COMMON GROUND 53

favelas are identical and face identical problems. Using their names compels visitors and residents alike to recognize their identity as a favela, yes, but also as a unique neighborhood that cannot be summed up in a headline. By presenting a favela as a community full of people that care about it and are actively working to make it better, we as outsiders are able to see the favela as a place that doesn’t need saving. Tours of Salgueiro aim to present the neighborhood as a place with dignity and strength in its uniqueness. An intentional tourism model that frames

the favela in a positive, productive light is now becoming the rule rather than the exception. This model does not glorify poverty, nor does it ignore the varied difficulties that Rio’s favelas face as marginalized communities. The negative reception of superficial voyeurism into these intriguing spaces (such as Jeep Tours) is bolstering responsible tourism companies such as Guiadas Urbanas. For example, FavelaTour, one of the oldest tour companies in Rocinha, only employs people from Rocinha. This shift from opportunistic business ventures to integrated entrepreneurship signals an

It is this receptive tourism that aims to shift long-lasting paradigms for the unique favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and for the people who are hungry to learn more about them. When this happens, we are no longer looking down at the favela from a helicopter or from the bed of a camouflage-decorated Jeep. We begin to see eye to eye. // Author’s Note: Guiadas Urbanas is just one of several responsible favela tourism enterprises in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Gilmar Lopes also offers an insightful walking tour of the Cabritos & Tabajaras favelas as president of the tourism company Tabritur. Favela Tour offers frequent, intimate tours of Rocinha. Rio on Watch is a community-focused reporting organization that reliably follows Rio’s favelas and provides a communication platform for favela residents to speak to the broader public. COMMON GROUND 54

The word in the mural, “som” means “sound.”

Pichação, known also as wall writings, began in the 1940s and 50s as political statements written in tar. “Piche” is the Portuguese word for pitch or tar and Pichação refers to writings made with tar.

The Winter Palace Sarah Krasner // Russia The crowds no longer there for balls, Still gaze upon the gilded walls, One hears native and foreign tones, They snap pictures on telephones. What would the owners, all long dead, Think of who roams the halls instead? The working class–who once did call, And so it came; they caused their fall— Wander through the rooms of splendor, Hand in hand, passing a vendor. One dances past a Rafael, As Marie might once have, the belle. A peacock fills another’s gaze, Imagining Catherine’s days. Firmly an old man holds a rail, Dreaming of seas his father sailed.

On the edge of the Neva River stands a robin’s egg blue building, its paint crisp despite its age. On the other side lies a square, where an angel stands upon a pillar, watching faithfully over the city. Since the eighteenth century, it has been known as The Winter Palace, one of the many homes of the Russian monarchs. Here, the Emperors and Empresses, especially Catherine the Great, stored incredible collections of art from across the globe. When the Russian Revolution occurred in 1917, the Winter Palace and the Hermitage buildings beside it were nationalized. Under the Soviet government, the complex became one of the world’s grandest museums, where even today people of all ages, classes, and nationalities can view centuries of Russian history and world art in the Hermitage.


Under Nikolai and Stalin, Different regimes have fallen. The Hermitage withstood them all, Under the gaze of angel tall.


Berlin Mystique Madaline Eck // Germany This city thrives on paradoxes; nothing here goes halfway. She raves and she is patient, she whispers in the linden trees. She screams in spray paint on apartment faces, pockmarked like adolescents by paved-over bullet holes. She weeps for her dead and breathes for her living, losing her children down the rabbit hole allees and finding them bathed in smoke and sweat, lit by the glare of too-late-for-goodnight street lamps.

Other cities will never compare. We cling to Berlin like a mother, turning cold shoulders to a world that would grab us away, swearing that never again will we find this kind of strange belonging. None of us could put a finger on what it was, why we breathed a little better seeing the nondescript letters that marked home: G.27, a fluorescent Futura-fonted masterpiece, staring quietly and steadfastly into the neighborhood madness.

Berlin never tires. She never sleeps. Her arms are tough but always open. Her veins are neon and her heart beats with the dance of a thousand Doc Martens on dirty floorboards. The stranger and the Ausländer, the young and the frightened, bleeding from their teeth and dirty knees: they huddle in her spiked embrace, refugees and outcasts in the Land of Misfit Toys. But to her we come, pilgrims of adventure. She blows away our misgivings in the wind tunnel of U-Gneisenaustraße and kisses away our tears in the labyrinth of the Tiergarten. We walk with learned stoicism in our secondhand leather jackets, hiding our broken German under our tongues. We gather local superstitions like seashells: “eye contact with every prost, or seven years bad luck.” We move quickly, parading like we’ve got a destination, dodging the deadly automobiles careening around corners into oblivion. False confidence. False fluency. Don’t lose yourself staring into German skies, don’t lose your stride staring into German eyes.


A green neon cross glows over battered rooftops: Electric Jesus, Patron Saint of Kreuzberg. Illuminating dirt and sin–forgive us our Sinn, our wanderlust-soiled minds. The city throws punches where she must; she fears nothing, and it is from her we learn to walk tall or not at all. Her adopted sons and daughters breathe fire. Our veins run sparks. Our knuckles turn diamond in the early cold. We stay up till the blue of the morning, and we pose


The Elephant in the Room Annie Sadler // Thailand The Asian elephant is a national symbol in Thailand, where they have lived alongside Thai people for centuries. Controlling captive elephants, however, requires treatment that raises concern amongst Western visitors in particular. Elephant trainers at The Amazing Surin Elephant Round-Up suggest that criticism of elephant tourism tends to ignore elephants’ cultural, emotional, and economic significance to locals.



Nearly 100 elephants are killed each day by poachers looking for their tusks.

(below) Tourists and elephants interact in the markets of Surin.

“Watch out!” “Move!” “Get out of the way!”

people shout as a scene from a film seems to unfold in the city of Surin, an usually quiet town in one of Thailand’s northeastern provinces. The mass of festival-goers parts and the loud roar of the crowd dulls to a hush as two massive elephants lumber past, clearing their way through the teeming rows of vendors and tourists. Just as suddenly, the moment of stillness evaporates and the crowd continues on, barely acknowledging the encounter as noteworthy.

For twelve days every year in Surin, two elephants walking in the market isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Surin’s signature festival, The Amazing Surin Elephant Round-Up, began in 1955, when the Gui–indigenous peoples, who have trained elephants for generations–assembled their elephants together to be photographed. It was the first and largest gathering of raised Thai elephants. The tradition continues today. On the third weekend of every November 200 to 300

elephants march to Surin’s city center, hailing from “elephant villages,” where Surin’s Gui people live, and nearby provinces. Vendors, elephant trainers, and visitors congregate from all over to view and participate in the spectacle–for the sellers, it is a major profit generating event, for tourists, it is a rare opportunity to view so many of the giant animals at once. A wide variety of tourists–young and old, white, Asian, and local–stroll in the giant market that has materialized to capitalize on the influx of visitors. Children shriek with excitement as the mahouts–Gui men who

ride, train, and care for an elephant–walk their elephants down the aisles, and tour groups stop to take selfies with the behemoths behind them. Elephants curiously poke their trunks into the hands of onlookers, sniffing for food. The mahouts solicit attendees to climb up for an elephant ride, and move on quickly if you are not interested–they are here to hustle. The festival concludes with two days of elephant performances. At two and a half hours, the Elephant Show features a variety of high production acts, complete with fog machines, fireworks, and hundreds of dancers dressed in elaborate costumes evoking old

In 1900, there were an estimated 10 million elephants in the wild. There are only about 40,00050,000 Asian elephants left in the world today.

Siam. Mahouts lead their elephants in a game of soccer, a comedic hula-hoop act, and a grand finale battle reenactment of the mid18th century Burmese–Siamese War. The show entertains audiences with complex staging, elaborate routines, and deafening music fit for a dramatic film score.

tourism in recent years. It is common to hear locals say, “we are the original elephant city.” Maintaining their prominence as Thailand’s premier elephant-viewing province is critical, as the Surin Elephant Festival funnels important tourist dollars into Thailand’s lesstraveled and lower-income Northeast.

For most visitors, the day is blissful, full of excitement and charm. The elephant is, after all, a national symbol of Thailand, and globally treasured as one of the most charismatic animals on earth. But for some tourists, there is an undercurrent of skepticism, a sense of unease as the mahouts place their sharp bullhooks around their animals’ giant ears.

Ms. Poon Ton, 30, travels every year from Roi Et province (160km away) to sell sugary drinks, the Thai equivalent of aguas frescas, at the Surin Elephant Festival. While Ms. Poon works primarily as a rice farmer, the opportunity to make money at the festival is worth sacrificing time away from the field, even during the busy rice harvest season. Ms. Poon says, “elephant tourism and tourists are good for Thailand and every province.”

This discomfort reflects the growing trend toward “ethical tourism,” a niche market for socially responsible tourists. The demand for “ethical tourism” typically comes from western tourists, and is likewise usually promoted by western expats that now run tourist companies in developing countries. Consequently, the categorization of tourism as ethical or unethical often leads to a clash between western ethics and local customs and traditions. But as “ethical tourism” or “responsible tourism” becomes more and more mainstream, Thailand has found that it must adapt to the changing landscape if it wants to keep visitors satisfied, and their pocket money coming in. In 2014, tourism contributed 31.9 billion USD to Thailand’s economy, accounting for a total of 19.3% of GDP. Within the region, Thailand was second only to Malaysia in tourist arrivals last year, and foreign tourism may only become more important as Thailand’s domestic economy continues to stagnate. The Tourism Authority of Thailand projects 28.8 million international tourists will visit in 2015. Notably, the Surin Elephant RoundUp–with an estimated 100,000 attendees this year–attracts as many, if not more, domestic and Asian tourists as western visitors. Surin’s celebrated chang–Thai for “elephant”– are the pride and joy of the province, the local claim to fame, despite the fact that the northern town of Chiang Mai, one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations, has become known as a hub of eco-conscious elephant COMMON GROUND 63

But some tourists ask–is it good for the elephants? “I heard mixed reviews of the show and the festival and wanted to make up my own mind about it,” says Jessie, a young woman from the United Kingdom. She came to see the festivities for herself, and does not seem pleased by one mahout’s treatment of a baby elephant. She says she filmed the interaction and will put it on her blog. “I rode an elephant before, but bare back and in a more natural environment. I wouldn’t ride it here,” Jessie’s companion, Ellen, says. She is alluding to the elephant in the room– the “unnaturalness” of elephants in this city setting.

“I am proud to be in the elephant show. It is the way to support my home.” A quick google search readily offers articles that show how polarizing and controversial elephant tourism has become. The screen fills with titles such as “The Shocking Secrets Behind Thailand’s Elephant Tourism,” “Spotlight on Ethical Tourism, Saving Thailand’s Elephants,” and “If You Love Elephants, Don’t Ever Ride Them.” These articles balk at everything from the immensely popular tourist activity of riding

elephants to the very process of elephant domestication, which necessitates separating baby elephants from their mothers. Such scrutiny is not baseless. Continuous riding of elephants with heavy metal chairs can be extremely harmful to the elephant’s health, and although baby elephants naturally nurse until age four, many are taken from their mothers before this age to begin their training. Much of this information speaks to the harmful practices perpetuated by tourism and calls attention to the welfare of this endangered species. They all exclude one perspective, however–that of the mahout. For many mahouts, working with their elephant is not a job, but a way of life. Mr. Homme Sin, 21, of the Ga Pa Ong district in Surin province, is dressed in traditional Gui clothing as he walks through the festival market. He laughs and jokes around with his six year old elephant, Meck, who he has raised since she was born. The playful duo seem to act more like siblings than animal and owner. As the elephant tussles her owner’s hair with her trunk, Mr. Homme smiles and says, “she is part of the family.” The criticism showered upon events like the Elephant Show by western whistleblowers assumes that the show was created solely for touristic purposes. For Surin, however, the Elephant Show is also an opportunity to celebrate the traditional importance of elephants to the local people. The brochure handed out with tickets to the show reads, “we are grateful to the Gui people who help preserve the elephants and the elephant-human culture in Thailand.” Mr. Nuie, 67, the mahout for Tong Hei–a stunning 42-year-old white male elephant that reigns as star of the show–confirms this sentiment. “I am proud to be in the elephant show,” he says. “It is the way to support the elephant and Surin–my home.” All of this complicates the idea of ethical elephant tourism. How can an outsider call Mr. Nuie’s culture and customs unethical when this has been his way of life and that of his family for generations? Does every international experience have to conform to western ethics? COMMON GROUND 64

(top) Mr. Somboon, 60, with his 55-year-old elephant, Peh Meh Lam. (middle) An elephant sprays the crowds in the market. (bottom)A tourist feeds an elephant sugar cane bought for 20 baht ($.70).

In 1989, the Forest Industry Organization owned 60% of the 306 logging licenses in the country and as a result 50% of its mahouts were laid off.

The criticism of elephant tourism often forgets that there are peoples and cultures attached to the elephants. “It is tradition and culture here to ride the elephant. It is common. My ancestors rode elephants to travel,” says Mr. Pah Somboon, a spritely 60-year-old from the Elephant Village, from atop his 55-year-old elephant, Meh Lam.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey announced that its circuses would phase out elephant acts by 2018 due to concerns about animal creulity.

Mr. Pah, whose family has had elephants for over 100 years, works primarily as a farmer. He brings Meh Lam to the Elephant Show every year, but refuses to participate in street begging because “it is not honorable.” His relationship with Meh Lam is not concerned with economic benefits, rather, is it one based on companionship and commitment. “When she can no longer work she will stay with my family until she dies,” he says.

make elephants afraid of me. I have to be powerful in order to control elephants; they are animals. We are humans and we have to protect ourselves.” This attitude stands in stark contrast with Mr. Pah’s philosophy for training his elephant, which he compares to teaching. “I teach her how we teach our children,” he says. “You cannot teach an elephant if you are not calm.” The individual bond between an elephant and

training. He has witnessed the “ethical shift” in Thailand’s tourism through his job arranging tours and itineraries for Dutch tourists. “The Dutch say you can’t sit on an elephant,” he says, slightly incredulous. “Bullshit. Thailand has been using elephants for centuries, but white tourists don’t want to sit on elephants any more. They want to shovel their poop, because they think that’s helping the elephants.” He laughs.

to support their elephants, which can require 300 kilograms of food a day. Additionally, since the use of elephant logging was banned in 1989, tourism is the only industry that supports Thailand’s 2700 captive elephants.

“If the Dutch won’t ride elephants–someone else will,” he said, claiming there are elephant parks that now only permit non-questioning visitors, usually Chinese, to enter. One thing he knows for certain, though, “as long as there are tourists in Thailand, there will be elephants.”

will adhere to our ethics? And when dealing with places, cultures, and people can we ever categorize things in such binary terms as ethical and unethical? We have to admit that it is like everything else in our increasingly globalized world–complicated. //

When elephants are viewed as a source of much-needed income, can western tourists really police the avenues of revenue for the people of Surin? As a tourist, do we have the right to expect that places we travel to

Undoubtedly, there are problems with Thailand’s elephant tourism industry. Street begging–which usually takes the form of mahouts urging sympathetic passerby to buy overpriced sugar cane or fruit from them to feed the elephant–still exists, although it is banned in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

“As long as there are tourists in Thailand, there will be elephants.” One mahout at the Round-Up, Mr. Hoho, 22, walks in the hot Thai sun all day, street begging with his elephant, Tung–meaning “money purse.” The baby elephant is one year old. Enthused tourists stop to take pictures with him, grinning as they feed him small pieces of sugarcane. The elephant’s name is telling. Mr. Hoho does not come from a mahout family and entered the elephant training business one year ago, indicating that he has more economic than cultural motives. At one year old, Tung is too young to be separated from his mother, and from the long jagged gashes on his ears, it is clear that Tung has suffered from this separation. When asked about Tung’s wounds, Mr. Hoho says, “he was naughty. I have to COMMON GROUND 65

its mahout means that there is no uniformity in how elephants are treated, leaving space for both harmful and positive relationships. Similarly, tourists’ opinions are just as varied. Mr. Renee, an expat from the Netherlands with a perfectly shaved head and terminator sunglasses, has been living in Bangkok for the last sixteen years. He attends the Surin Elephant Round-Up every year, impressed by the Elephant Show’s displays of advanced

International criticism of elephant tourism ignores the fact that mahouts need the income from tourist activities to have enough money COMMON GROUND 66

Mr. Homme Sin, 21, with his playful six-year-old elephant, Meck.

WRITERS Waffle Ruminations Graham Marema Davidson College Eastern European Studies Prague, Czech Republic Through the Spirit Door Mariko Powers Occidental College Development and Globalization Khon Kaen, Thailand Tour Guide Poem Hannah Freyer Colorado College Russian Language St. Petersburg, Russia Dirtbag’s Paradise Katie Mathieson Davidson College Development and Globalization Khon Kaen, Thailand Where are you from? Nancy Chong American University Community Public Health Khon Kaen, Thailand View Jaime Webb Luther College Development and Globalization Khon Kaen, Thailand Framing the Favelas Laurel Klafehn University of the Pacific Environment and Sustainability Studies Rio de Janeiro, Brazil The Winter Palace Sarah Krasner Scripps College Russian Language St. Petersburg, Russia The Elephant in the Room Annie Sadler Davidson College Development and Globalization Khon Kaen, Thailand Berlin Mystique Madaline Eck Creighton University Global Center Berlin, Germany COMMON GROUND 67



Zachary Barney Washington and Lee University Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Front Cover: Jamie Rudd p 1 Jenny Vainbern/ Katie Mathieson/ Madeleine Lebovic/ Jamie Rudd p 2 Mick Layden/ Katie Mathieson p 5 Abby Brown p 6 Katie Mathieson/ Greg Rodgers p 7 Katie Mathieson p 9 Abby Brown p 11 Katie Mathieson p 13 Zachary Barney p 15 p 16 p 17 p 18 p 19 Jamie Rudd p 22 Megan Brookens p 23 Mariko Powers p 26 Mariko Powers p 27 Mariko Powers p 29 Mariko Powers p 31 Mariko Powers p 32 Mariko Powers p 33 Hannah Freyer p 34 Katie Mathieson p 35 Andreas Esterer p 37 Y. H. Hsu p 38 Andreas Esterer p 39 Katie Mathieson p 41 Katie Mathieson p 42 Andreas Esterer p 45 Catherine O’Brien p 46 Catherine O’Brien p 47

Abby Brown Cornell University, Barcelona, Spain Hannah Freyer Colorado College St. Petersburg, Russia Laurel Klafehn University of the Pacific Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Madeleine Lebovic Tufts University St. Petersburg, Russia Jamie Rudd University of Rochester, Khon Kaen Thailand Annie Sadler Davidson College, Khon Kaen, Thailand Jaime Webb Luther College, Khon Kaen, Thailand


p 50 Laurel Klafehn p 51,, http://bit. ly/1O1vZpc p 53 Laurel Klafehn p 55 Hannah Freyer p 57 Graham Marema p 58 Madaline Eck p 59 Mariko Powers p 61 Annie Sadler p 63 Mariko Powers p 66 Annie Sadler p 67 Abby Brown p 68 Abby Brown p 70 Kaori Nagase/ Laurel Kleflan / Hannah Freyer/ Brianna Shelley MISCELLANY SOURCES



Executive Design Director Managing Editorial Board Member Text Consultant Photo Editor Annie Sadler Davidson College Khon Kaen, Thailand

Rebecca Goncharoff Intern Coordinator Khon Kaen, Thailand

Executive Design Director Managing Editorial Board Member Text Consultant Narrative Editor Jamie Rudd University of Rochester Khon Kaen, Thailand Managing Editorial Board Member Text Consultant Creative Writing Editor Jaime Webb Luther College Khon Kaen, Thailand Managing Editorial Board Member Text Consultant Narrative Editor Megan Brookens University of Pennsylvania Khon Kaen, Thailand Editorial Board Member Creative Writing Editor Hannah Freyer Colorado College St. Petersburg, Russia Editorial Board Member Narrative Editor Kelsey Magill George Washington University Khon Kaen, Thailand Editorial Board Member Research Editor Josefa Selena Leon University of Colorado Boulder Seoul, South Korea Editorial Board Member Illustrator Nancy Chong American University Khon Kaen, Thailand

Katie Mathieson Program Intern Khon Kaen, Thailand Mariko Powers Program Intern Khon Kaen, Thailand Zoe Swartz Program Intern Khon Kaen, Thailand

GLOBAL MEDIA CENTER LIAISON Mary Beth Brungardt Loyola University New Orleans Shanghai, China COPY EDITORS Megan Brookens Nancy Chong Geneive Glatsky Rebecca Goncharoff Josh Hengen Katie Mathieson Kaori Nagase Joeseph Plavn-Franke Mariko Powers Zoe Swartz Jaime Webb Kallin Zehren

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special thanks to all of the people who helped make this international magazine possible. Shout-out to all those CIEE students around the world who contributed to this effort—for all the meetings, Skype calls at strange hours, posting of google docs, and endless emails. We did it! We would also like to thank CIEE Khon Kaen staff and interns for their unwavering support for our project. Shout-out, too, to the CIEE Khon Kaen students in our programs for taking the time out of their massive workloads to be last minute copy editors—you are incredible. And thank you to the security guard, Paiboon, at CIEE Khon Kaen for unlocking the door with a smile on those long nights.

Sapa Valley, Vietnam

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

And a special thanks to Jim Pellow, CIEE’s CEO, for believing in our abilities. David Streckfuss, Common Ground Acting Editor-in-Chief Email:

CIEE Common Ground Magazine is produced under CIEE’s Global Media Center (GMC) ( Kathleen Goodwin, Executive Director of Communications & Marketing Laura Cannon, Global Media Center Publisher Mark Nestor, Creative Director Correspondence to CIEE Common Ground Magazine can be sent to: CIEE: Council on International Educational Exchange, 300 Fore St., Portland, ME 04101 U.S.A. © Copyright Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), 2016. All rights reserved.


St. Petersburg, Russia


Rome, Italy