Looking through my blog, I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t posted about this seeing as next to western NGOs, this is a pet hate of mine. Mind, I would actually put the damage done by these Western expatriate lifestyle communities as marginally lower than those neo-imperialistic western NGOs (you can read my rant against them here). There’s another area too: Western consultant/professional expatriates within SE Asia but I merely dislike those but will probably rant about it sometime soonish.
First, I’d like to outline a distinction (my own) between neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism. The first subjugates through capitalist tools, the second through political tools. Both are guilty of cultural imperialism, the first through an inherent blindness to local culture due to consumer selfishness, the second through an inherent assumption of western moral superiority due to underlying white saviour complexes. In my experience, there are ZERO exceptions to this.
Second, this is not about race. It’s about the intersection of economic disparity, cultural difference and historic injustice. Actual western colonialism in S & SE Asia is within living memory and the damage persists. I consider the Chinese diaspora within SE Asia to be in a migration category not without its own substantial issues. East-West/West-East/East-East migration within SE Asia is worthy of at least one post in itself.
Anyway, here’s the current list of why the haterade on lifestyle expatriates:
- They generally create western tourist CBDs often in the best part of town (and the prettiest portions of the country). This has follow-on effects on local culture as a once self-sustaining people move towards a tourism-service industry. At worse, sex-tourism starts to sky-rocket, at best, every second local starts touting motorcycle tours or taxi services. Regardless, the horror of SE Asian reggae bars spread like a malignant STI.
- They often damage the environment. They all say “sustainable” but as soon as an untouched bit of absolute beach-front or pristine mountain with rice-paddy views property is “discovered”, the tiny footprint eco-hut somehow turns into a MacMansion.
- They usually drive up prices, crowd out local businesses, exploit locals and profiteer (or at least attempt to do so). At later stages, economic activity becomes isolated from the local economy – most transactions take place between foreigners who attempt to avoid local tax laws. The local environment, people and culture become nothing more than an capitalist input to sustain the wealthy and increasingly decadent lifestyle of these parasites.
- Driven giddy by a level of economic power they would never have back home, lifestyle expatriates are often boorish and patronizing to the locals and are invariably and insufferably self-delusionally smug to each other. The current blight of new-age passive-income
snake-oil-purveyorse-entrepreneurs makes the self-satisfaction that much worse.
So, given all of that, what is my preferred solution? It should be obvious: sustainable locally owned and locally operated tourist businesses with western tourists paying their money, staying a short time (preferably not more than 1 week in any particular town) and leaving. Truck em in, empty their wallets and truck em out. Their money is good, everything else should be considered rubbish. Yes, all this needs good local governance, a certain level of non-corruption and intelligent development – items often sadly lacking in S & SE Asia but it’s their struggle and believe it or not, they can and will do it without western intervention.
PS: I don’t claim any exemptions for myself.