Dehumanizing tourism

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I am going back through some of my social media posts and re-posting some of the things that felt really important for me to share to the wider audience that pays attention to what I have been doing/up to. I went to Thailand back in April for family obligations, and will be going back in another week to complete some of the things I started back there. This travel has initiated a huge amount of personal work combined with ancestral healing, and also led me to my choice of wanting to be ordained as a Buddhist monk. This was an emotional post that I had written after I had left my mom with family members (since I’ve been her primary caretaker). I traveled on my own, and things collapsed down on top of me.

This was originally posted on May 2nd:

I had the experience today where I booked a tour to see the sights of Phuket in English because I clearly don’t speak the language enough to enjoy it on my own. Sure, they showed me the sights and gave me the history, but the most offensive thing to me was the dehumanization of being labeled as a tourist with money.

No. I’m not just a tourist. I’m a woman that’s trying to rediscover her roots because my mother never talked about it. She just wanted me to be American because it’s glorified internationally as this unreachable standard. Every time I asked questions about Thai culture, she deflected them. So here I am as an adult trying to understand the rich culture and history of this half of my bloodline.

No. I’m not just a tourist. I’m the primary caretaker of my aging parent who has a lot of needs to be met in order to live healthily. I’m here in Phuket to take a mental health break because being a primary caretaker is a lot of fucking stress. I could just leave my mom in an assisted living facility for the rest of her days, but I know in my heart she would be so much happier here in Thailand with her brother and sisters to take care of her.

No. I’m not just a tourist. I’m desperately trying to learn a whole new language because I don’t know how long my mom has left to live, and sometimes she forgets English because of her dementia. I want to still be able to communicate with her even when she forgets.

I’m not just a tourist, so don’t treat me like one. Being treated like a tourist robs us of being a human with human experiences and emotions.

As much as I want to continue posting amazing experiences of this trip to Thailand, it’s also a really emotional trip. For the first time in years my mom is finally stable enough to come back to her home. Don’t get me wrong, this is the first huge hiccup in this whole trip that has been filled with the generosity and kindness of human beings. In a way I’m grateful this happened so that I could finally process and come to a tipping point with all the emotions I’ve been keeping inside.

It’s ironic, that here I am in Thailand, known as “the land of smiles”, and my first day in Phuket I couldn’t help but cry all evening. I’m supposed to be taking a mental health break, and here I am processing what it’s like to be treated as a tourist.

My whole point to this is not to generate pity. It’s to share my story of what it’s like to participate in an extractive system that just treats people like a commodity (both on the tourism side and the healthcare side). What we need are more stories of connecting to the hearts of people, to hear what really matters, and to do so by honoring the individual. America needs to change its standards on how we treat our elderly and the response to just stick them in “old folks homes”. In the United states they are treated as a nuisance, while in Thailand the elderly are revered and treated with respect. We could learn from Thailands standard.

The picture shown is from a lovely temple that I went to go visit with a massage therapist turned friend right before I left Chiang Mai. I will go back to being happy tomorrow, but for now I’m sitting with this big ball of emotions and processing it all. Thank you for bearing with me and my messiness.

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