Phu Quoc – when you know you are part of the problem
“We all want what we know is not good for us. What we know that might break us in the end, and yet we fly towards it. Always wanting the thing we cannot have.” – Madonna (Crave)
What it is about hotel companies and corrupt governments that believe the idea of building large structures only 15 meters from the water is a great idea. I could only think that when they first built some of these holiday accommodations on Phu Quoc they might have been 100-200 meters away. (I told ya mum you will have a water front property soon) The Russians and Chinese flock here even though they only have a foot of sand to play with. I kept on thinking, why would you want to come to a resort on the beach where the water is grey and looks like it’s nearly run out of oxygen? It was not the first time that I have seen water like this and I am sure it won’t be the last but I did fear for their health and happiness. Certainly the marketers have done a great job selling the dream. Says something about the world we live in. Profit for a few and destroying a way of life and the environment for those who have no voice.
It was not all doom and gloom, the sunset was divine, the bustling street markets selling plenty of food and voices of happy people singing to all hours their favourite Karaoke tune. When I eventually found the beach where the locals meet, sleep and eat I started to see how, maybe within my life time, Phu Quoc was a beautiful place. However as I strolled along the foreshore it was sad to see the environment totally destroyed thanks to hap hazard rubbish collection and a lack of regulation. The fishermen and their families lived on the shoreline in homes made from any building material they could find. I wondered how on earth could the government allow this to happen? I started to get a picture in my mind that although tourism has a positive effect for a few, for the majority it actually is devastating.
As I continued my walk along the beach towards the main town, (separated by a river from the tourist center) there was a huge pier that I needed to navigate, however it was fenced of. I had hobbled to far to go back so I weaved my way through horrible piles of rubbish and filthy gunky puddles and managed to crawl and rock climb the man made shore breaker. About 100 meters in front of me were domestic buildings and what looked like a thriving village. I didn’t want to arouse the locals but that was impossible. At first I think they were also shocked to see me. I gingerly smiled, feeling like I was intruding in their private business but they were more than happy to show me the right direction. With my hiking/walking stick in hand I disappeared into a maze of laneways. After a short time I had lost my sense of direction so the best thing to do was to roam and observe the people going about their daily life. I stood out like a sore thumb especially with my camera so I decided to put it away, rather than focusing within the frame. I needed to see, hear, feel, smell and taste this world. I’m glad I did. I mean what was I going to take a photo of? I think it was around this time that I started to question the purpose. Because what I was seeing was not right? How can one not be appalled at the millions of people that have been taken advantage of? How can I not question myself?
Before arriving in Vietnam many people spoke about how great the country was. I met those who took advantage of the cheap travel; accommodation, transport and simplistically of life. I met those who took advantage of a party one can have. I met those who can stay long term because it’s cheaper than home. I met those who went for the cultural experience, for whatever that might mean. I met those that went for the food. I met those to experience the beautiful landscape. I met those who want to have a ‘real’ experience. I then met myself.
When I left, I felt empty, betrayed, cheated and angry at myself for being everything that I thought I might not be. The privileged. We come and go and leave a country that is in such bad shape environmentally which we have contributed to. We view through a prism, the market places alive but dead, the beaches and their resorts a fake reality, we take advantage without giving back yet when we leave we speak highly of the time we had. We get home or go somewhere else and thank god we don’t live in Vietnam.
I am glad I went to Phu Quoc, if anything it has reinforced my view of the world and the idea that we must fight for decency, dignity, fairness and making the untouchables accountable. We live on one planet, pity some think it’s all theirs.
So what are some solutions? Maybe with the money we save we could give to local organizations that help the environment, fund educational programs for the people by the people or subsidize community programs to help to regenerate the land we are quite happy to use. Choose resorts that have taken the effort to engage with their employees that help promote education and environment problems. Take the time to engage with the local community you are visiting. Pay a fair price for goods. There are many people who have made goods that are more expensive and the money goes to the local community, not to someone from another country, ie China. Stay at resorts owned by locals rather than multinationals. Book accommodation through their website rather than the big chains. The money goes overseas not to the locals who have no control over their bookings. If you use plastic bottles make sure you use them again. Don’t use a plastic bag to carry what you have bought. Ride a bike rather than a motorcycle, take public transport, it’s hard but u still get to the same place.
Finally, I keep on thinking about my own country. Is this what happens when human rights are disregarded? Here we have a country like Vietnam (and many more) where people who are a position of power. They control by means of corruption or through the threat of physical or psychological violence? Yet here we are in Australia thinking we are above all that. Yet are we? We are certainly not trying to hard to reconcile with indigenous Australia as facts and stereotypes are often distorted. We continue to destroy our environment and treat the less fortunate with disdain and blame them for all our woes. We also think by dismantling the basic tenants of human rights that many fought for is some sort of conspiracy that takes away our freedom and opens up our borders to terrorists. More than ever we need to take a good hard look at ourselves, because bit by bit it won’t be immigrants, the poor or indigenous Australians who threaten our so called lucky country but those who have the power to stop anyone who disagrees and challenges their agenda. It happens slowly and history has a habit of repeating itself.