When the tourists flew in…

…thanks to Tourism Critic on Facebook for posting this poem by Malaysian poet Cecil Rajendra, first published in the book “Bones & Feathers” in 1978. Rajendra read this poem at a tourism conference in Manila in 1980, where it was picked up by a regional news weekly and a travel trade journal, then by Time magazine as part of a cover story on the Asian tourism boom. It was actually written after a visit to Trinidad, and also partly about Haiti, where shanty towns were preserved as tourist attractions, but it also fitted Malaysia, especially Penang, where Rajendra was born and raised.

*** When The Tourists Flew In ***

The Finance Minister said
“It will boost the Economy
the dollars will flow in.
The Minister of Interior said
“It will provide full
& varied employment
for all the indigenes.”

The Ministry of Culture said
“It will enrich our life …
contact with other cultures
must surely
improve the texture of living.”

The man from the Hilton said
“We will make you
a second Paradise;
for you, it is the dawn
of a glorious new beginning.”

When the tourists flew in
our island people
metamorphosed into
a grotesque carnival
– a two-week sideshow

When the tourists flew in
our men put aside
their fishing nets
to become waiters
our women became whores

When the tourists flew in
what culture we had
flew out of the window
we traded our customs
for sunglasses and pop
we turned sacred ceremonies
into ten-cent peep shows

When the tourists flew in
local food became scarce
prices went up
but our wages stayed low

When the tourists flew in
we could no longer
go down to our beaches
the hotel manager said
“Natives defile the sea-shore”

When the tourists flew in
the hunger & the squalor
were preserved
as a passing pageant
for clicking cameras
– a chic eye-sore!

When the tourists flew in
we were asked
to be ‘side-walk ambassadors’
to stay smiling & polite
to alwavs guide
the ‘lost’ visitor …

Hell, if we could only tell them
where we really want them to go!

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