Column Steven: Too airy a vacation?

Vacationing in Vietnam with baggage from the past. And a strong back.
Steven Snijders

In my previous column, I wrote about the Vietnamese clothing standards. Women sunbathe with their shoulders and knees covered. My girlfriend and I showed considerably more bare skin than the average Vietnamese on our vacation there. Even if we correct for the difference in height, we revealed dozens of square centimetres more skin. Sometimes, it felt awkward. But isn’t airy clothing more comfortable in the heat? How else is the cool sea breeze to do its work?

As a guest, you respect the host country’s customs. So, my girlfriend would wear an ankle-length skirt and don a t-shirt when swimming. At the same time, our light clothing style may well help push the strict local boundaries. It is difficult for young Vietnamese to break through the strict customs as the elderly are revered and respected. With tourists wearing mini-skirts, knee-length skirts may, by comparison, seem far less extreme.

Perhaps Vietnamese women have no desire to wear a lighter style of clothing. Could my idea be paternalistic projection motivated by the exaggerated fixation on individual self-expression of profusely sweating and ignorant ex-colonists? WUR investigates its own (subconscious) colonial traits. Tourists may benefit from following this example.

Here I watched the sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia with a British tourist. Photo Steven Snijders

A British tourist stood next to his Cambodian guide at the temple complex Angkor Wat. ‘We travelled across the globe looting. Terrible, what happened, but I am not like them!’ the Brit exclaimed. His feeling of awkwardness was clear for all to see. And although the man had a strong back, it was not strong enough to carry the weight of Britain’s many colonial crimes.

Although the man had a strong back, it was not strong enough to carry the weight of Britain’s many colonial crimes

I tried at all times to avoid carriages in Cambodia and Vietnam as much as possible. A motor carriage would serve as a taxi. Once, I had no other option, and I hated it. Terribly awkward. A white man seated up high being driven by a dark-skinned driver with a fraction of the passenger’s purchasing power. Very reminiscent of colonial times.

However, we do bring income. We spend money in local restaurants, bars, shops and hostels. Dignified work that generates a decent income. That income can then be spent in the local economy, on clothing, for example. Perhaps even light clothing.

Steven is doing a Master’s degree in Economics and Policy and enjoys hitting the squash court. He is always up for a game of squash and a good conversation. You can email him here.

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