Letter: "How one tourist was horribly mistreated" by Richard Li  Bottom

  • The following "Letter to the Editor" was sent by Richard Li to Yokwe Online and also the Journal

    How one tourist was horribly mistreated

    On Saturday, January 6th, my mom arrived in Majuro. She had flown all the way from the United States to see her only child. She would be staying for nine days, living in a hotel, eating in restaurants, shopping for handicrafts, seeing Majuro’s sights, and spending time with me. In other words, she was a tourist.

    In fact, not only is she a tourist, but she is arguably the ideal tourist for she has lived through some of the worst conditions in modern human history – the Chinese Cultural Revolution and a failed Great Leap Forward. At the age of 12 her parents – my grandparents – were sent away to be “re-educated” according to the Maoist regime and she and my aunt and uncle, both of whom were younger, were forced to fend for themselves for almost two years. Moreover, the city in which my mom grew up can be optimistically described as an industrial wasteland. It was leveled by an earthquake in the 1970s and, despite restoration efforts, has steadily deteriorated into urban muck. Pollution, filth, and garbage are extremely common, as are rodents and other pests. Currently most residents of that city walk around wearing surgical masks to filter out air contaminants. Thus, when my mom arrived in Majuro, she was not deterred by trash, pests, or crumbling buildings. In fact, she even remarked how much better my school is compared to the one she attended. “At least your school has four walls,” was her comment. Think most tourists would react so positively to a developing country’s conditions?

    As a tourist, she was served very well by Majuro’s tourism infrastructure. Her hotel room was comfortable and clean. The restaurants where she dined were friendly and affordable. She was able to easily rent a car and drive to Laura. Her boat ride to Eneko was prompt and enjoyable, and she’s still talking about how much she loved snorkeling Eneko’s coral. Kudos to the Chamber of Commerce and all relevant parties for developing this successful infrastructure. I for one fully expect that the upcoming JAL tourists will be very pleased by the service they receive in Majuro.

    However, there was one aspect of my mom’s visit that was particularly distressing. She was very rudely, or even disgustingly in some cases, treated by some local people. I specifically instructed my mom to wear long, loose dresses along with how to behave in certain situations in order to follow manit in majel. Nevertheless, despite following my directions, she still suffered from being Chinese and being a woman.

    On Monday, two days after she arrived, she was shopping at a store when a man aggressively got in her face and started yelling. He held up a box with Chinese on it and asked, “What does this say?” Startled, my mom didn’t answer. He then held up another box and asked even more loudly and rudely, “Then what does this say?” My mom was upset at this point and refused to answer. He then screamed, “Aren’t you Chinese?” Receiving no response, the man stormed away.

    On Tuesday, three days after she arrived, she was waiting for a taxi outside of her hotel when a man threw his cigarette butt at her and told her, “Get out of this country!” When I saw her later that day, she was visibly upset. She asked me, “Why are people doing this to me? What did I ever do to them?”

    On Sunday morning, at around 6:00 AM, I was awakened in my bedroom by a man who had broken into my house. I told him to get out of my house, though not in such kind words, and he ran away. After collecting myself, I thought it was very strange that he bothered to come into my bedroom since it’s in the back corner of my house. When he broke in through the front door he would have been in my living room/kitchen, and had access to electronics, appliances, DVDs, tapes, food, and a fair amount of beer. If he intended to steal something, he did not have to come into my bedroom and risk waking me up. Clearly his intent was not to take my possessions, he wanted something that was only in the bedroom. I then thought that maybe he intended to harm me, but decided that couldn’t have been the case or else he would not have ran away when he saw me. So if he didn’t want any of my possessions, and didn’t want me, then what did he want? There’s nothing else in my house besides my possessions and me.

    Then it hit me. For that entire week my mom had been in my house all by herself during the day. Anyone who looked in through the windows on any day would have thought that a small, Chinese woman was living in that house by herself. I suspect that the man who broke into my house was not looking for my things or me. I suspect he was looking for my mom to corn beef her at best, or to rape her at worst.

    Last summer I wrote extendedly about the need to treat all people, including Chinese, with respect out of simple human decency and dignity. While this is certainly still true, perhaps suggesting the same should be done but due to financial reasons will hit closer to home for some people.

    Simply stated, the way my mom was treated is not how tourists should be treated. In about a month the first JAL charter flight will arrive in Majuro, and a month after that another one will. These flights will bring hundreds of tourists willing to spend their money in Majuro, much like my mom. Also, and let’s not quibble over details here, they will look like they come from the same part of the world as my mom, and many of them will be women. I guarantee those tourists will not appreciate being aggressively harassed at stores due to their ethnicity, being told to get out of here while having cigarette butts thrown at them because they are foreign, and being the target of forceful sexual advances.

    Imagine if a few of these Japanese tourists are yelled at in stores, or told to get out of this country, or are the targets of corn beefing or breaking and entering. How long would it be before their interest in the Marshall Islands fades, especially considering they have many similar and closer options like Saipan or Fiji? And how interested would the rest of the world be in spending leisure time in the Marshall Islands after hearing about these kinds of incidences?

    Over the past year much has been said and written regarding the need to treat foreigners and women with respect and dignity. There have been public forums held, radio announcements made, and many newspaper articles written about the subject. Sadly, none of these efforts seems to have taken root, as evidenced by my mom’s experiences. Maybe this is because there never seemed to be any consequences to treating foreigners or women in these ways. Certainly the legal or social ramifications have never been very severe.

    But now the economic effects are looming dark and large on the not-so-distant horizon. A lot of money and potential for development will be lost if the Japanese tourists do not have positive experiences. The clock is ticking loudly. If it strikes midnight and these problems are not resolved, the Marshall Islands’s tourism industry could turn into a pumpkin after two charter flights.


    by Richard Li

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    "Promoting more information disclosure by the public service, rather than secrecy which may allow corruption to be hidden" - from Nitijela UN Workshop Outcomes Statement, Feb. 17, 2011
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    "Promoting more information disclosure by the public service, rather than secrecy which may allow corruption to be hidden" - from Nitijela UN Workshop Outcomes Statement, Feb. 17, 2011
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