OF THE WORLD
Those of us who are baby-boomers or older grew up with constant international criticism for being ugly Americans when traveling abroad. Perhaps, back then, in the wake of the end of WWII and the resultant ascendancy of America as the world's wealthiest country, there may have been some cause for that impression among some. However, I've lived long enough to announce to all the world that we have lost the title of being ugly travelers or at least we share that dubious distinction with others-namely the Germans.
During my Asian adventure, some Germans in our group won the ugly traveler award. While slowly making our way overland after crossing from Nepal into Tibet, we were delayed a couple days due to the Chinese celebrating their liberation of Tibet fifty years before-something that no Tibetan was celebrating. Then, soon after we got through customs, we had had mechanical trouble with several of the vehicles: fuel pump, several flat tires, and other breakdowns. It was late at night and miles to go before we slept. Our guide announced that we should push on even though it was approaching midnight. He didn't want to fall further behind in our schedule.
Our guide's rationale made sense to all except for a German woman in her early 60s. She interrupted him with her suggestion. She wanted to find a hotel because if we continued to drive on, we would miss seeing one of the mountain passes because it would be dark. The Tibetan guide listened to her suggestion and explained again why he decided to continue on. Yes, we would miss a mountain pass with its view, but we would also lose an additional day in Lhasa (the highpoint of the entire trip) if we opted for not proceeding with our late night drive. This didn't set well with her. She sputtered around trying to get supporters to side with her.
I couldn't keep out of the fray and added my comment to the caldron of heated conversation. "Yes, we would miss a beautiful mountain pass, but we have already seen several and there will be several more still to see-after all, we were in the Himalayas! I personally would rather see more of Lhasa than another pass."
Well, that was a mistake. The German frau was now upset with me. She was dead set on seeing the view at all cost even if we would only spend a day in Lhasa. I retorted that we hired a professional to conduct the tour and felt that we should go along with his judgment. I then turned with my index finger pointing at her and threw gasoline on her raging fire by asking, "How many times have you been in Tibet or conducted this tour to Lhasa?" She responded that this was her first trip to Tibet. I turned to our Tibetan guide and asked him as pointedly as I did to her the same question. He replied, "I've been doing this for fifteen years."
I turned to the group and said, "We are wasting time that we don't have. Let's get on the road." I thought that this had settled the controversy. Not so. The German Haus Frau was determined to see her mountaintop and attacked again with the most incredulous statement, "I want to put this to a vote. We are in a democracy aren't we?"
Where had she been for the past half century? "No, this isn't a democracy; this is China," I quickly retorted. After another heated discussion, we all decided for the time being to make occupied Tibet into a democracy and decided to bring this decision to a vote. Each position was given equal time. After each position was restated again, several said that this was wasting time and everyone merely walked back to the vehicles to continue the trip without even voting.
She reluctantly got into the vehicle-the same one in which I was riding. By this time, my patience was very thin. I told her to get with the program and if she couldn't, I just didn't want to hear about it anymore. We drove on in dead silence. This gave me time to analyze my uncharacteristic hostile reaction. Hours passed on that lonely rough mountain road. Some possible answers were that I resented her manner or style. This was her first expression of wanting to run the show; she had a suggestion for everything. However, what was it that pushed me over the edge?
As the vehicle's headlights searched for the road, I searched my mind for why she got me going. Then it came to me. It was racism. What upset me the most was that she thought that she knew better than this mere Tibetan guide, who did this for a living. Our entire tour was delayed at the border waiting for the military holiday to get clearance to go through customs. Fifty years ago, it was not a German woman that thought that she knew best how to run things in Tibet but the Chinese government. Tibet had been living independent of any country, but Beijing thought that they could run Tibet better. Here we were in Tibet adding to Tibet's peoples being told how to run their lives.
What makes ugly travelers or just plain ugly people is the presumption that one person's way of viewing life is the only appropriate way of viewing it. We live in a pluralistic world with varying views on everything. We can improve upon our looks by allowing others space to do it their way.