Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Youthful Exuberance and Cultural Offence

"I do believe they've not committed any offence in what they've done. They didn't knowingly offend the group of people. Obviously the disaster that happened, the earthquake is extremely unfortunate, but if that is believed locally to be the cause of the earthquake that's not something Lindsey or Danielle would have known about."
"They were super funny but they weren't necessarily ones to go streaking."
"It was a completely sensible photograph, nothing indecent."
Phillip Gourley, fellow backpacker
Facebook   Lindsey and Danielle Petersen. "AFTER 6+ months, the dynamic duo are reunited,” the caption reads.
"The guide warned them not to do so, but they replied: 'Stupid man, go to hell'. He could not stop them. They even took a group photo and a selfie. Then they dressed and returned to the backpacker lodge."
Malaysian newspaper report
Well, then, perhaps some Canadians do strange things. The writer of this blog decades ago climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, ascended Moosilauke on several occasions. The first time with my husband and our three teen-age children, finding the summit bald and smoothly-surfaced in granite. It was a hot day, we intended to rest awhile before descending. I stripped to my underwear and splayed out on a large rounded boulder and sunbathed. True, we were the only hikers up there that day at that time, and it felt rather private. True, it was in the U.S. and who would object?

But in a Muslim-majority country to ascend a mountain with a guide leading a group, that's taking a chance. And it's a chance that some backpackers evidently decided out of a youthful spirit of joy, freedom and exuberance to take, thinking little obviously of the potential fall-out. A brother and a sister from Saskatchewan among the group now face court action as a result of their 'crime of obscenity'. They offended the spirit of the sacred Mount Kinabalu. The offence the spirit took at their flaunting of their nakedness caused it to shrug its shoulders in rage.

The result was an earthquake. And the result of the earthquake was the death of 18 mountaineers. Of course one must believe that mountains are sacred in the sense that spirits of godly virtue and powerful emotions inhabit them. Much as the Nepalese worship the mountains of the Himalayas and give offerings to appease the spirits or the gods and goddesses of the mountains before embarking on a commercial climbing season in the hopes that the geology and the weather will smile favourably upon them and fail to extract vengeance for insults and misdemeanors by causing death.

Malaysian investigating officer Asp Japri Abdul Halim from a police station in Sabah informed reporters that authorities would be holding the offenders of Mount Kinabalu for several days in Kepayan at which time the Native Courts will make a decision whether to proceed with charges. If the decision goes in favour of proceeding to lay criminal charges the backpackers could conceivably be looking toward up to three months in prison in Malaysia.

Video thumbnail for International travel taboos you probably didn’t know about

Before the Canadian brother and sister arrived in Malaysia they were backpacking elsewhere, and this is where they made friends with another backpacker, Phillip Gourley, who has expressed his belief that the two were completely innocent of intent to offend, but were victims of youthful zest in the happiness their surroundings invested them with. He had received a very favourable impression of the pair with whom he trekked in Indonesia and Bali as backpacking tourists.

The brother and sister, Lindsey and Danielle Petersen, uploaded Facebook photos of their mountain trek, proud of having summitted the 4,095-foot peak, the  highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. The group of ten young people had completed their hike in 30C heat, then stripped down to their underwear. In the photographs they had turned their backs to the camera. After the group photo was snapped, they dressed and thought little of their extravagant jubilation, carrying on to descend the peak.

Now, however, although they have been barred from exiting Malaysia, "They were pretty worried about the reaction of the media and how it was being portrayed", said their friend. The quote attributed to them by the Malaysian newspaper (above) is fairly absurd; expressing a version of events that suits public outrage. Still, that old adage, "When in Rome do as the Romans do", represented excellent advice thousands of years ago, and still presents as excellent warning to those who have fail to do their homework before embarking on a trip that will bring them in contact with another culture.

Facebook    The Malaysian government is stopping Lindsey and Danielle Petersen of Saskatchewan, from leaving the country for being part of a group of tourist who took naked photos of themselves at the top of Mount Kinabalu.

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