In this day and age, it is often considered racist or culturalist to criticize one’s regional neighbors.
Yet as the Year of the Sheep begins, some Thais appear to be reaching the limit of their forbearance and love for their visitors from mainland China.
One tourist site, the sublime Wat Rong Khun “White Temple” in Chiang Mai, banned Chinese tourists from entering for half a day on Feb. 3 last year, citing complaints of “inappropriate toilet usage”.
This year, about 90,000 etiquette manuals were distributed to Chinese tourists visiting Thailand during the recent Lunar New Year holidays.
Of course a single incident is no grounds for an outcry, but one might be inclined to worry when the same city also complains of the same guests being unruly in traffic, defecating in the city’s moat, defacing tourist attractions with autographs and — in one particularly infamous instance — a man kicking the temple bell of what could be considered the holiest temple in Thailand.
Neither is such behavior isolated to Chiang Mai.
Mainland Chinese visitors to Bangkok are frequently accused of being quarrelsome or thoughtless.
Examples? A man initiating a chair-wielding fight at the ticketing counter or a woman leaving her wet underwear out to dry on a seat in the airport terminal.
In one particularly egregious incident, a woman on a flight from Bangkok assaulted a stewardess with hot noodles, followed up by her boyfriend threatening to “blow up the plane”.
With rising anxiety in China at reports of the behavior of some of its citizens, Chinese officials are taking action.
The People’s Daily newspaper has published a guide including such advice as “Cutting in line is not cool. Standing in line is now in fashion” and “Do not write ‘I was here’. You are not the Monkey King.”
Harsher measures are on the way, such as a plan to identify the perpetrators and place them on a travel blacklist.
Not only do the authorities plan to ban any such bad apples from traveling, they will also publicize their identities for all to see — to spark awareness by tapping into the anger of the public.
Yet the Thai tourism minister appeared tolerant in a recent interview.
“Maybe the first time when you go out of the country … you don’t know the manners, you don’t know the culture there,” she said.
“Therefore, you might be doing something without any bad intention at all.”
Perhaps we should hope, this year, that the kindness and patience typical of the sheep is embraced by tourists and natives alike.
A lack of improvement would certainly be worrisome when the Year of the Monkey comes around.
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