The People You Most Want To Avoid In SE Asia (and sometimes everywhere else too)
*Disclaimer; these views are for entertainment purposes only.
Call it expat privilege, call it snobbery, but let’s be honest; once you’ve been living in Asia for a while there are certain stereotypes that you go out of your way to avoid and who you would happily see being devoured by sharks (if we had any). And it’s just not tourists who fall into this ‘unwanted’ category, but quite a few of your fellow expats too. Here’s a light hearted but occasionally scathing look at the groups that really get my hackles up.
- Barstool Philosophers. We’ve all met them propping up bars in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other destinations. Usually managing to make Keith Richards look healthy and nursing their happy hour beer till it virtually evaporates, these fountains of faux-wisdom are often in the final years of their lives (not a bad thing from a world view perspective). For the price of a fresh beer or a short, or sometimes just because they think you need to hear about their decades of experience in Pattaya/Sihanoukville/Insert sleazy resort of choice here, these alcoholic versions of the Oracle at Delphi know everything you will ever need to know about relationships, visas, the locals, dealing with police, which bars have the best happy hours, running a business (they have likely failed at several), where to go for a full English/Aussie pie/burger, quantum physics, and a whole plethora of other mind-numbingly uninteresting facts, figures, and anecdotes. Ok, maybe not the quantum physics, but you get my drift. The ironic thing is, despite their lengthy time in the country, these sages rarely speak more than a smattering of local phrases, and those tend to be ones that can be used for purchasing either alcohol or sex. If you find yourself stuck beside one of these geriatric argle-bargles, then quickly finish your drink and escape. Irritation factor: 8/10
- Not So Smooth Criminals on the run. (See also former Special Forces types). Another common species found throughout Asia, and, like the so-called Special Forces soldiers, they suffer from severe cases of Walter Mitty Syndrome. Get stuck next to one of these creatures and they will regale you with their convoluted tales of a life in organised crime (or sniper duty in Iraq) and how they used their brains to evade the forces of law and order (or the Taliban). They will hint at their activities here, and let you take away the impression that they are major underworld figures with a price on their head. They will pepper their stories with dashes of colour in the form of shoot-outs with gangland figures (whose names they have harvested from old news stories) or tell grand tales of living la vida loca that involves nubile women who happen to be contortionists, piles of cocaine Tony Montana would run from, and yachts more often seen in the marinas of Monaco. The (sad) reality is that their true criminal record amounts to shoplifting in Woolworths when they were 14 and the only nubile woman they have ever encountered charged by the hour. If you find yourself being verbally assaulted by these purveyors of fantasy, simply let slip that you are a ranking police officer and they will skulk off to hide in a corner. Irritation factor: 7/10
- The Business Cliques. Now this isn’t a dig at the business community in general, best not to since I am (reluctantly for now) part of that community. But within that grouping there definitely exists certain insular cliques whom I’d gladly see put on a plane and sent homeward on one way tickets. More often than not these can be middle management types back home who were never going to get promoted any further but who, in Asia, can suddenly find themselves in dizzying and lofty positions. You will find them at any of the various “ – cham” or other networking events, hovering in the shadows of the real business geniuses, and foisting their name cards on all and sundry. In their own country they would forever be stuck in their own little orbit of anonymity but here they rise to Brobdingnagian levels they could never have dreamt of. These creatures are amusing/irritating on two levels; firstly they never realise that they are looked down on by the real businessmen and women working here. But more annoying is the way they gather in little packs and cling to all things British/American/Australian/Insert home nation of choice. Rarely will they venture into the real world of where they are living, but instead will gather in their favourite expat bar or restaurant and eat almost exclusively dishes from home. They are usually the biggest complainers about the lazy/dirty/rude/useless natives and most still have that degree of colonial superiority that was used to decorate Raffles. They rarely last more than a two or three year contract before fleeing back to the bosom of the motherland. Irritation factor: 7/10
- The Trust Fund Twatpacker. To do one section on backpackers would have taken up several pages. It’s a little easier to break them down into their sub-groups and identify the most annoying. Now generally, I don’t have anything against budget travellers and most backpackers tend to be pretty decent types. But one grouping that does make you reach for the nearest sharp object are the ‘Trusties’ (if with dreadlocks, they become ‘trustafarians’). Whereas most backpackers are on a real budget, these trusties are on an imagined budget. Often with names like Tristan or Gabriella, these are the privileged few, armed with top of the range rucksacks, $200 sandals, obligatory rebellious piercing, and the inevitable ‘emergency’ debit/credit card from mummy/daddy. Their trip is usually part of the last fling gap year before going on to a high level university then a job in the city/media/pr/managing the family estate. They have spent some pre-trip time religiously learning some local phrases so they can “…blend in with the natives, yah” and have memorised all relevant pages of their copy of the Lonely Planet guide. They’re the first to hit the markets after arrival and buy some of what they think is local garb, particularly those awful jasmine/elephant pants that deserve doused in gasoline at the earliest opportunity. They are also most likely to cover themselves in fluorescent body paint and spend 12 hours dancing to the boredom that is psytrance. . Irritation factor: 8/10
- Chinese tourists. I hesitate to single out one nationality in case of accusations of racism (which it’s not). The simple fact is that your average Chinese tourist in SE Asia is an absolute nightmare. It seems hardly a week goes by without some ‘horror’ story appearing in the media or on social media. Defecating in public – and especially at monuments such as Angkor Wat – starting fights on planes, attacking buffets like a crazed herd of wildebeest, air rage incidents, and a total lack of respect for local ways or customs (though this latter one can be a feature of many tourists). But just why are they so bad? Lots of theories have been put forward, from lack of education among middle aged Chinese, no awareness of other cultures, right through to the perhaps overly simplistic explanation, “They’re Chinese.” When you throw in the fact that the Chinese groups tend to be the worst tippers despite the efforts of many Chinese travel agencies, then you can see why people tend to roll their eyes when they see a group.
Unlike some of the other categories, this one has the capacity for change. I personally think it is a very generational thing and that the older Chinese who have never had the opportunity to travel before can be a little overawed by the experience. Till that day comes, if you see a large group approaching…run! Irritation factor: 5/10
- The Ecowarrior Vegan Pansexual Minstrel. The second of our backpacker subgroups and the second worst . This group are the backpacker equivalent of Jehovah’s Witnesses on a crack/acid cocktail, only this group smells bad, very bad, “Because washing damages mother earth, man.” They’re out to save the planet in any way they can, though they do seem to have conveniently forgotten the carbon footprints they left in getting here. They will all get tattoos while travelling because “this country has left its mark on my soul, man” and the majority will have dreadlocks, though usually temporary ones. Often found with a guitar or didgeridoo, they will regale you with tales of their journey upriver and how they communed with nature and the spirits of the forest. Popular phrases amongst this group include; “I’m here to find myself”, “That’s so deep, man”, “The Goddess will be a gateway to high-frequency fulfilment”, “The grid is calling to you via a resonance cascade”, “Consciousness consists of meridians of quantum energy”, and “Eons from now, we warriors will heal like never before as we are aligned by the dreamtime.” They will quote Paulo Coelho, Rumi, and Russel Brand at you…incessantly. They will also all either have a personal shaman or they are one, and will gladly tell you of their amaaaaazing ayahuasca experience in the Venezuelan rainforests. Don’t ever mention to this group that you are against animal cruelty but still eat meat or you will be subjected to a 12 hour Billy Graham style sermon on why you can’t be both (throw the phrase ‘tu quoque’ at them to confuse if only for a few minutes). If you end up with one of this group next to you, there are various tactics you can employ, including ordering a steak, offering them soap, spraying them with a chemical insect repellent, or simply shooting them in the head. Irritation factor: 11/10
- The Sex Tourist. While it’s an often overlooked fact that the majority of the sex industry here in Asia is aimed at the locals, it remains a sad fact that the sex tourism sector is still pretty damned big. You only have to wander around nana Plaza or Soi Cowboy in Bangkok, Street 104/136 etc. in Phnom Penh, or Victory Hill in Sihanoukville, to see just how big a part it still plays. Now this is not a dig at sex workers themselves in any way, I believe that if they do choose (and on a serious note, many do not choose but are trafficked into this work) to work in this sector then they should be protected by law and have access to things like regular health checks etc. But there is just something so skin crawlingly sleazy about many of the men who come here only for this reason. This list is very much about stereotypes and they don’t get much more stereotypical than the overweight, divorced manual worker from Barnsley who saves all year for two weeks of lust in Pattaya with a girl young enough to be his granddaughter. What takes them to a whole new level is when they ‘fall in love’ with one of these girls (they should have listened to the barstool philosopher for once) and empty their ATM to support the girl, her ‘brother’, the entire family back upcountry, two kids, and a water buffalo. Now it’s not as if there are no stories online warning of the pitfalls ahead, if anything there are a million of them, riddled with the clichés of desperation, betrayal, and financial ruin. So why does it keep happening? Spend a week in any small town in the UK (or Europe, USA etc.) in the winter and you will see why the idea of exotic locales and exotic women who can bend over backwards (literally) to please you is so appealing to these hordes of condompackers. Irritation factor: 8/10
- The Travel Blogger. There may be a certain amount of irony in targeting bloggers in a blog, and to be fair there are quite a few travel bloggers who I really enjoy reading, but since the spread of smart phones and social media, suddenly everyone and their Auntie Mable seem to have travel blogs. Now the ones I do read tend to be quite informative and I often find myself making notes on a destination I’ve not visited or a new restaurant that is getting a good write up. But for the most part their entries veer towards the staid and uninspiring. Now how do you spot these creatures if you are out and about? Well, much like vegans, this group seem to suffer from some form of compulsive behaviour that means they have to tell you they are a travel blogger, usually followed by how many hits last week’s blog on the Ko Pha-Ngan full moon party got or how many retweets, shares on Facebook etc. etc. As I’ve said, there are (lots of) good examples of travel blogs, but my issue is with the sheer volume that exists now, and how hard it can be to sort the wheat from the chaff. They come in all physical types, nationalities, class types, and backgrounds, but you can usually spot them at your favourite beach bar or restaurant frantically typing away on their laptop as they update their 17 regular visitors on just how fresh the shrimp is on this beach compared to the last beach. Irritation factor: 5/10
- The Voluntourist. Potentially another controversial one so I need to make it clear that my ire is reserved for the short term volunteers and also those organisations that capitalise on voluntourism by charging silly prices. This latter aspect of the sector is nearly always filled in by Guardian readers from affluent UK suburbs, who wear green wellington boots, recycle their waste religiously, and have a standing order from their bank to Greenpeace or whichever good cause is the current flavour of the day (and am sure each Western nation has their own version of that). Unless you are bringing very specific skills to the table which will make a real and tangible difference, then my view is that your two weeks of volunteering achieves very little other than patting yourself on the back. You may have good intentions but honestly, no, stop it, go and lie on a beach instead and, when you get back home, why not find a local good cause that could do with help and volunteer some time there EVERY week. There is also the consideration, when the charity/NGO project involves children, that you can do more harm than good. Such short term interventions, no matter how honourable your intent, can in fact cause psychological harm to what is likely a vulnerable group. Irritation factor: 7/10
- The Hipster. Though this list is in no particular order, I have saved the best (worst) for last. This is not a problem that is only prevalent in SE Asia, but is a worldwide scourge that needs exterminating as soon as possible. With your carefully coiffured beards, your stupidly retro dungaree shorts, checked shirts that belong in a Canadian lumber camp, and your obscure and esoteric tattoos that only tell us how much of a dick you are, this is one trend that will ideally die out sooner rather than later. Now combine those hipsters with backpackers (hippackers?) and you have a creature that is crying out for a continual slapping. They never drink ‘just’ beer, it always has to be a craft beer from a cask made from aged timbers of a sunken ship then transported thousands of miles on the back of a well-trained Moose. And never mind the beer angle, this hipster food craze is now getting beyond a joke. I want my food on a plate, or at the very most a piece of slate, what I do not want is my food served in a variety of household objects, novelty mini shopping trollies, little metal buckets, or other such nonsense, nor do I want anything, be it coffee or food, served ‘deconstructed’. Do not attempt to turn your sheer laziness into some sort of trend-setting chic idea. I go to a restaurant so someone else can cook, not to be presented with the various constituent parts of a dish for me to look at in stupefied amazement. It’s not clever; it’s just inane and unimaginative. If you find yourself in the company of one of these people the best course of action I can recommend is to kill them with fire. Irritation factor: 14/10
Story shared from Steven W. Palmer, Author.