'Dark tourism' has become a popular thing these days, with many people actively choosing the countries and places that they visit because of their connection to tragic or violent events. They may hunt out war zones, areas that suffered a genocide, or where a terrible attack or accident took place. I don't do that. I have no desire to seek out these atrocities for their own sake.
It exasperates me when I hear of people going to current disaster areas, whether they be natural events like earthquakes, accidents, or things like terrorist attacks. I truly cannot understand people going along to gawk at the misfortune of others, and even worse, take photos and selfies that they will then put on social media, with absolutely no regard for the feelings of those involved. These people are generally in the way, impeding the efforts to help those who urgently need it, and possibly using up scarce resources.
However, I do feel strongly that some places are important to visit. The events that have occurred through history play an important part in helping us to understand people and places today. We can also learn lessons from the past, to help us not to repeat the same mistakes.
For that reason, when we travel, we do include some pretty dark places on our itineraries. We try to avoid anything that is tacky, disrespectful, or glorifies bad things. I was a little unhappy with the site around the bridge over the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi, when we visited there, because of the number of places selling tacky souvenirs etc. It made the place feel like a tourist attraction, rather than, as I feel it should be, more of a monument to what took place and those who lost their lives or suffered there.
Most of the places we have visited have a more sombre and considerate feel to them. We have, for example, been to concentration camps in Europe, to Hiroshima, and to Sarajevo, not that long after the war there. These visits can be very moving, and sometimes incredibly distressing experiences, but we feel that some are a necessary part of our desire to learn about the world we live in. It can't all be about the pretty waterfalls and great buildings.
And it isn't just about places, it is also acquiring knowledge, that may be unpalatable. Coming from Britain, I think it is important for us to learn more about our own history, and the impact we have had on other countries and cultures. All too often in the UK, I hear people talking about the glory days of the British Empire, and how we ruled the world.
Personally, I learned very little about those days when I was at school, and it was easy to get the impression that our being in these countries was good for them. And it is true that we have left some very positive aspects of legacy in many of the countries we were in, introducing new administrations, skills and technologies.
However, what we don't talk about, is the darker side of our Empire. Where we effectively used our dominant power to invade these countries, crushing resistance and in some instances, committing terrible massacres. We don't talk about the way that we oppressed the indigenous people of places like the USA and Australia, and forget that, even where we didn't just suppress or murder them, we introduced diseases that decimated their populations, and took away their lands and way of life.
Even in Myanmar, where actually most people seem relatively relaxed about our part in their history, I find it hard to reconcile the terrible mess we left them in when we spent only one afternoon to - very poorly - define the borders of Burma and its neighbours. These countries are still suffering the effects of our negligent indifference, with ongoing border disputes and violent consequences.
Whilst I don't believe that we should feel guilty for the actions of our ancestors, I do think that it is essential that we recognise what happened, learn the lessons of our past, and ensure that we do not repeat our failings. The more I travel, and learn about some of the terrible things that my country has done in the past, the more frustrated I become when I hear some people now seeming to want to glorify our history.
We do try to make sure we are conscious of British history abroad and sensitive to how locals may feel about that when we travel. I take no pride in building our own success on the oppression of others. I understand the feelings of resentment that some countries have towards the UK, and find myself ashamed at times, when it seems that my fellow Brits demonstrate no such awareness.
Similarly, when we visit historical sites, we make sure that we are respectful. If there are codes of behaviour, we follow them. We don't wander off pathways, don't take photos that are not permitted, and we certainly don't take humorous selfies. It drove me mad recently, to hear that Auschwitz-Birkenau has had to tell visitors not to chase pokemon at its site.
With all this in mind, our next destination was Cambodia, so our next post will be about the still comparatively recent history of the Khmer Rouge period.