Just having returned from an impromptu trip across Guangxi (Nanning–>Yulin–>Guilin and back), and planning a jaunt to Yangshuo for our anniversary in late May has me pondering responsible tourism. A couple months ago, I read an article in the Travel section of the New York Times that wondered about the same topic. Kevin Salwen, contemplating the responsible response to peddlers on the street, writes, “The expanded power of a dollar, combined with what seems like infinite need, creates so many situations in which no answer seems appropriate. I find myself feeling like either a deep-pocketed patsy or a skinflint.”
I tend to loathe bargaining myself, because it seems arbitrary and nearly impossible to find an equilibrium and inevitably orchestrates injustice: either you get cheated, or someone else can’t earn a living. When shopping with Chinese friends, however, they insist you shouldn’t buy unless you can bargain down to the meager price their local sense tells them is appropriate (this has often amounted to either Evan or I running what I call “interference:” one of us distracts our Chinese friend in the other direction while the other buys whatever item we want at whatever price we want, however inflated!). In the end, Evan and I, like the Salwen, have settled on a resolution to buy the item for what we want to pay, regardless of whether we’re overpaying by local standards. As the article says, consider “stop[ing] bargaining before you are the only winner,” and let someone earn a decent wage. The final thought I have on this topic would be that we keep our privileges and blessings, as travelers in perspective. The ability to travel and enjoy other places is not a right but a blessing, and we’re visitors in someone else’s home country, and need to reflect on the way we represent our country as well.
What thoughts do you have on responsible tourism? How do you shop when you’re on the road?