Eleanor Hawkins, a British ‘backpacker’, and a couple of her friends were pictured last week on the top of a sacred mountain in Malaysia posing naked for a laugh. Just days later, an earthquake struck Malaysia killing eighteen people and the said group of friends were blamed for causing the fatal tremor due to their act of ‘disrespect towards the sacred mountain’. They were ordered by the courts to pay over £800 in fines and spent three days in prison as a result of their actions.
Whilst most people laughed and called Malaysia ‘backward’ and ‘old-fashioned’, immediately jumping onto the side of the British traveler who’d been imprisoned by these ‘peasant Asian people’, I came to the conclusion that the western tourists (sorry, they hate being called tourists, ahem, the travelers…) were the ones in the wrong and I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could think otherwise. I apologise in advance for sounding a bit ‘Daily Mail’ in this article, but here goes.
I myself have just got home from a five-month jolly around South East Asia and I was repulsed at how disrespectful the European, American and Australian travelers were. When you visit a foreign country, you have a duty to behave in the correct manner and adhere to local customs whilst you’re there. So many travelers we met were rude, arrogant and treated the local people like dirt just because of the colour of their skin and the fact that the locals didn’t own as much money as they did. There was a revolting amount of arrogance and aloofness that we saw, and in the end we felt very upset by the attitudes of the Caucasian travelers to the Asian locals.
Despite being repeatedly told by hotels, by customs, in travel books, on the internet etc, that it was completely unacceptable to show an ‘indecent amount of skin’ in Thailand, numerous times we’d be sat in a restaurant at night when a group of male travelers would walk in wearing no tops. Even in the UK you’d wear a shirt in a restaurant, so why they think it’s OK in Thailand I have no idea! Women are warned that it’s disrespectful to show bra straps in Thailand, yet they still do show them. Even if you don’t agree with the customs set, I think it’s important to at least respect them whilst you’re there.
I also witnessed a disturbing amount of rudeness towards the local people whilst I was away. On one occasion, we were sat in a Thai-run cafe waiting for our meal when a group of loud, brash English girls jaunted in. Having given their order, not one of them making eye contact with their ‘inferior’, Thai waitress, they suddenly shouted across the room to the elderly manager, “Excuse meeee. When’s our food ready? It’s just, we’re staaaarving!!!” in an arrogant, pretentious tone. Had they been in the UK, they wouldn’t have spoken to the staff in that way, so why in Thailand to the Thai people did they behave so dreadfully?
Eleanor Hawkins and her posse were wrong to do what they did. They will have been well aware that nudity is frowned upon in Malaysia, and they will have also been aware that the mountain that they were on was sacred. So why did Eleanor do it?
My honest answer is that I think she probably felt untouchable because she was a British girl abroad and these silly Asian people weren’t going to upset the superior Western world. Or maybe she just did it for a bit of fun and the person who so stupidly posted it on Facebook was to blame for the group getting into so much trouble.
Nonetheless, I think it’s time we started remembering our manners when we’re abroad and stopped creating a negative reputation for ourselves.