Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The New Colonialism

reconnaissance photo Hanoi Hilton l970
Aging baby boomers are now colonizing Indo-China and other former centers of western imperialism. Only Pyongyang, unsullied by tourism, has managed to maintain its pristine poverty. There were the French who were finally kicked out of Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu. Then the Americans beat an ignominious retreat from Saigon while Cambodia fell under the grip of the Khmer Rouge and Burma (now Myanmar) became ruled by an imperious military junta. The latest wave of colonization is being undertaken by the self same generation that lost their virginity under the famous poster of Che Guevara which was de rigeur in 60’s dorm rooms. Indeed Cuba has become a destination of choice for intrepid travellers who still like to spice up their trips with a feeling of transgression, to the extent that the country is still embargoed by the United States and is, in theory, off-limits to tourists. Cambodia is so popular that there are traffic jams on the way into Angkor Wat and as for the notorious killing fields you have to negotiate the crowds, angling to get pictures of skulls. You can’t get room at Raffles in Siem Reap, a vestige of British colonialist rule, nor at the Metropole in Hanoi, a holdover from the long French occupation, today teaming with elderly couples from Duluth. The Vietnamese may have won the war, but it’s unclear whether Vietnam is being governed by the Communist party or by the Hilton Hotel chain. The famous Hanoi Hilton, the site of the notorious Hoa Lo prison where John McCain spent five and a half years would have been torn down for a real Hilton if there hadn’t been an outcry from those who wanted to preserve an important piece of history.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful irony!

    If western culture is a disease, what's the cure?

    The killing fields and torture chambers are symbols of horrific past events, sure, but symbols are empty if we don't bother to focus on their meaning. Symbols should remind us of a lesson, but if all they do is serve as a backdrop to Uncle Fred and Aunt Martha smiling and waving at the camera, we might as well replace them with yet another Disney theme park.

    And yet I believe...that some tiny inkling of meaning attaches to even the most obtuse tourist; that to travel always forces a change of context; that no-one can travel to a foreign country without broadening their worldview.


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