To go or not to go, this is the question. This question torments the independent travelers and is explained and turned up side down and on both sides in travel guides and all sorts of conscientious media outlets. Should we visit Tibet where the people suffer from the brutal Chinese occupation, should we visit Burma, where the government run by a bunch of ruthless generals is holding Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 10 years or should we visit Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge are still at large, threatening the political process.
You may hear conscientious ladies arguing about the fact they don’t want to put their money in the abusive government pockets, political savvy gentlemen arguing that international tourism would give a stamp of approval to the legitimacy of hated rulers, the adventurer type would be concerned that the government may bar him to travel to particular areas that they consider “unsafe”, or the human rights conscientious traveler wouldn’t go because of the forced labor or other stark abuses the government may do to the people. And they are perfectly right! All these things are happening and all these people should absolutely be concerned about them. But something is missing in this equation. It is something important and nobody seems to be concerned about it: It’s the PEOPLE of the country that lives under the dictatorship. Nobody really thinks about their life as human beings, about what they feel and IF they may be helped by the independent traveler’s presence. And I can tell you this because I was born and raised in a dictatorship, one of the most brutal in modern Europe: Romania under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu. Living now for many years in the USA I caught myself thinking in the cliches I mentioned above, but I cannot be so forgetful about my past and not to remember how I felt when I was living in Romania. A dictatorship is a very large and relatively comfortable jail. Your jailers are able to control most of the things in your life, their main goal being of controlling your mind, and you don’t have too many lines of defense in front of their actions. They may decide to change your place of living, they may cut short your supply of food or heat, they may force you to spend your time in ways they want and in extreme cases you may just disappear like you never existed and nobody can ask what happened: your friends and family just dreaming that you ever existed. And most of the dictatorships are working in very similar ways, in most of them the Socialist/Communist ideas being the core belief at one point in their development. I remember when I was living in Romania how terrified I was that foreigners would not come to see my country. I knew that they were forced to change money for the government but I wanted them to come no matter what and see with their own eyes the disaster the dictatorship created and to pass this information along. It may not have helped in changing things but morally I felt helped because I was not alone in the hands of my jailers; it was somebody else, and not one of my jail mates, who saw how I lived and hopefully my torturers cannot do to me what they had in their sick minds. I was in need of their presence to see with my own eyes that is still some normality in the world, that not everybody lives in a jail and these people may be interested to hear the other people sufferings.
So if you ever asked yourself the politically correct question: to go or not to go, my humble advice is GO. Go and talk with people without imposing on them your views or forcing them to talk. They may be extremely afraid to talk with you, being concerned that somebody may hear them, but when you ride in the back of a motorcycle in Mandalay or you are alone with a monk in a Tibet monastery ask them gently what they think about their countries and you’ll see how their souls will open and the answers will open a new dimension of understanding for you. Travel to Tibet to see tears in the monks’ eyes when they hold your hands just because you are there and see everything and you will be asked to bless them with the Lonely Planet book just because they saw the picture of His Holiness inside. Travel to Myanmar to see how people suffer by an inept government run by a bunch of thugs dressed in military uniform that tried all sorts of economic models and failed lamentably in all of them and see how, when is nobody around, they will tell you how much they hate this government and how much they love Aung San Suu Kyi.
Travel to Cambodia to see the harrowing suffering on the guide’s face when he talks, 25 years after, about the Khmer Rouge crimes, that strives to create the Utopian society any hard core Communist would have dreamed of. Travel and learn about dictatorships from their own people and about the crimes of the Communism, its efficiency in killing people surpassing at a far cry the Nazi killing machine of the Second World War concentration camps but still being, even today, the hidden darling of the French left-wing intellectuals and the staunch Anti-Americans all over the world Travel to where you think that your pure presence may help alleviate people’ suffering. But always travel independently because only in this way you may stay out of the government control. Here, at FlyingMonk, we do firmly believe that YOU, as an Independent traveler, can make a difference. So we advise you to GO!