Sunday, October 5, 2014

If Only Could Tourists Have to Preserve Trust...

On Day 2 of his trip in Nepal, the author decided to take a long detour to the eastern regions of the Kathmandu Valley, hours away from the capital city itself.  In a country where public transport is minimal, the author had to reserve a long-distance taxi in the city's main square.  In his quest, he came upon a friendly driver of late 40s, who immediately gave a round-trip price with several stops (waiting time for him) in between.  Without asking for any prepayment of the fairly large sum by Nepali standards, the driver took off for the suburbs with the author in tow.

About an hour later, the taxi reached Nagarkot, a little resort town on the edge of the Kathmandu Valley with spectacular views of Himalays to the north and the entire Valley to the south.  Upon coming to the town, the taxi driver simply stated, "here, you look around, I will be down at the town center for lunch."  He proceeded to hand me my bag, and drove off...again without any partial payment for the one-hour trip that have already been taken.  Some half a hour later, the author walked back to the town center, where a congregation of taxis were desperately hunting down customers.

It is inconceivable that the author's taxi driver does not know about this situation.  Given the abundance of taxis, the author could simply take one back to Kathmandu, paying only for the one-way journey instead of the higher round-trip price already negotiated.  The author was morally upright enough to tell off the other taxi drivers that he is already booked for the return trip (much to  the irritating dismay for some of them), but there is nothing that guarantee that other tourists in the same situation would have behaved the same way.

With only trust holding the agreed transaction from getting sabotaged, it is wise to examine just how much sense of trust flow through Nepali society, not just in its dealings with foreigners, but also with one another on a daily basis.  Sometimes this trust comes off in naive forms, such as the abundance of stores selling real Gurkha knives to foreigners.  Apparently the act of foreigners taking these lethal weapons home on flights back home have never bothered the shop-owners, or indeed, the government authorities overseeing security controls at the airport.

But other times, that trust is genuinely admirable.  For instance, the roads of Nepal, whether in the bustling center of Kathmandu or the rural quietness of agricultural villages, are often occupied by dogs and goats, which, at first sight, seem to have no tags or marks to identify any human ownership.  What's more, when cars pass through the roads, these goats and dogs make absolutely no attempt at dodging the incoming vehicles, fully trusting that the vehicles will drive around despite sometimes the roads' incredible narrowness (often one-lane roads are used for two-way traffic).

The crossing of such trust across species may well be the result of communal upkeep of such trust.  The dogs and goats are often seen being fed by different street vendors, who casually share whatever food they are selling with the creatures.  Looking even more closely, one would find that many shops are not even attended 100% of the time, including ones that deals exclusively in expensive textiles and wooden sculptures.  Shop owners tend to trust that the tourists and the other shop owners would not take without waiting for their return and paying the right prices.

In this part of Asia, it seems that the most mutual trusting societies seem also to be ones that are the least developed and thus has the most to gain from one-time trust breaches.  Yet, as these societies newly open up to the outside world and get themselves exposed to the often unsavory behaviors of outsiders, they unfortunately kill off that pure sense of communal trust that sustained neighborhoods for centuries.  It is all the more unfortunate that those who are trusting of others become ridiculed for misplaced innocence and are seen as low in street-smarts.

As much as the author hope that modern-day tourists that come visit Nepal help to maintain this beautiful mutual trust within local society, the reality is most likely going to be completely opposite.  With the tourist trade becoming more dominated by the Chinese, a group with no redeeming qualities whatsoever when it comes to the issue of trust, the Nepal of strong communal bonds will surely not be present in the not-so-distant future.  It is with great sadness, and chagrin to all the supposedly civilized and developed visitors, that the passing of trustful Nepal will be mourned.

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