Author Archives: Adam Matthews

Module 4 Research

I decided to look a little inward at my actions in the past few years. I’ve been travelling for the past 8 years, essentially, a foreigner living in China, a tourist travelling through South East Asia and an expat visiting Canada. In the past couple months, while in Mexico, I’ve experienced some of the cultural relics the Americas are known for.

In researching my final paper, I’ve decided to look into the impacts of tourism on indigenous cultures and have done so through comparison with Linda Smith’s book on decolonizing methodologies.

While not focused on indigenous culture, most of the emerging tourism markets tend to be in areas with an indigenous presence. How does tourism impact their daily life and traditions?

This site provides a solid overview of how tourism can effect local lifestyles both negative and positive though I chose to focus on drug tourism especially based on my visit to San Jose del Pacifico, a mecca for magic mushroom trippers. Peru is a hotbed for ayahuasca tourism with rich North American and Europeans flocking there to truly find themselves.

Drug tourism seems on the rise in South America due to the popularity of ayahuasca but it is old hat in South East Asia where the fast money to be made catering to young, party-crazed backpackers has been advertised in full moon parties (a completely invented concept by some hippies in Indonesia that is now a distinct part of any Thai island’s calendar) and other abominations that could never happen in a more developed economy like the Laos river cruise.

The ease of information access enables drug tourists to quickly find their next high. The influx of cash and people causes damage both to local ecosystems and culture. Even tourists keen for a cultural experience get watered-down experiences targeted to be real enough to attract the tourist but not at all authentic. Any one up for a Luau?

Indigenous Knowledge Colonized for Profit

One reason I’ve often heard to keep the rainforest is that we have no idea the healing powers of the plants and animals within. Science has just not yet plundered all of the secrets that people living in these environments have known for ages. DMT is big in the public conscious these days. It’s, like, in everything, man.

The above articles both relate to the popularization of a DMT containing vine and the rituals around ayahuasca. Its popularity with a growing group of wealthy Westerners is still rising and businesses have sprung up to meet demand. The sacred rituals and use for ayahuasca are being overrun by the tourism dollar. The commercialization of the ritual depletes both the meaning as well as the source. Those who use ayahuasca in these ceremonies expound the life-changing properties of the trip.

Proponents with large audiences are Joe Rogan and Dave Asprey. Rogan, a UFC commentator and standup comedian, has and incredibly popular podcast. Asprey, a Silicon Valley wunderkind, made his money in tech before starting his Bulletproof Exec corporate training and body optimization company. Both have a stake in the burgeoning mental/physical enhancement industry of which instant spirituality through psychoactive substances is a piece. Buttered coffee, inspired by Tibetan butter tea,  is where Asprey started.  Rogan is heavily invested in Onnit a company that produces brain and body supplements of which cordyceps plays a role.

The impact of a horde of Western nerds and jocks is relatively low to that of China’s long understanding of these substances and massive boom in population that can afford them. The above articles focus on the environmental impact of the harvest of this wonder drug. The impacts to the indigenous people are focused around monetary benefits and environmental degradation. Also, the fact that it is not going to last forever. Once the cordyceps demand falls or the fungus is no longer available for harvest, the indigenous communities will have lost a source of income, a traditional and important medicine as well as the environment in which it grows. This massive loss of diversity and it’s affects on traditional food sources will create social problems.  The instant wealth and the resultant abandonment of traditional skills will hurt.

Traditional ecological knowledge is a boon for western science. It always has been and always will be. While many of the ethnobotanists and other scientific researchers are well intentioned, the eventual impacts of pharmaceutical companies or quick-fix holistic living aficionados tends to undo whatever has been preserved.

What is worse? Chasing a life-changing ayahuasca high that may cure your heroin addiction? Drinking coffee with butter in it to wake up your brain? Ingesting cordyceps to enable you to accomplish that marathon that was always just out of reach?

I’ll contemplate these questions on my upcoming San Jose del Pacifico trip.

Global and Local Musings

I’ve been listening to a lot of Canadaland recently in an attempt to become more Canadian. Often they’ll deal with indigenous issues. While the hosts are not indigenous, they will invite indigenous leaders in media, culture and politics to contribute. They focust mostly on Canadian media and have a series dedicated to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. A few of the recent shows are:

I’m looking into how China manages the media to show its own indigenous groups. In particular the Uighur population in west sitting above Tibet. This Muslim, Turkic population is largely ignored in the international media in comparison to their neighbours to the south. One culture source I’ve looked into that provides an indigenous perspective in Canada is:

Recently a friend who is a journalist focusing on Burmese issues shared a video on his Facebook feed. It involves the Shan people who make up a large area of North Eastern Burma/Northern Thailand and Western Laos and their fights against a mega dam led by Australian developers and the government of Burma. The Burmese government is famous for selling off its resources without qualm which reminds me of home.

Drowning A Thousand Islands (English version)

The river represents their culture, history and livelihood. While many of the people have been forcibly removed by military, they would like to have their land to go back to were conditions to change. The group Action for Shan State Rivers,  appears to be run by Shan people and the documentary focuses Shan sources and opinions.

The connection I draw to Canada in this is in regard to:

It appears in Canada that we have more visible indigenous voices. We have treaties and associated land claims. Do they matter in the end? The constant urge of Canada to export energy whether it’s LNG or oil. Generally this destroys the environment of lands that are supposed to belong to indigenous people and be under their control.

Separatism and Bubble Gum Pop in Xinjiang

Music has been my bridge for friendship with Chinese people and the proximity of the music shop to the local “Nationalities University” has exposed me to traditional music from Xinjiang. I am constantly amazed at the skill and beauty of the traditional music. The article, From Resistance to Adaptation: Uyghur Popular Music and Changing Attitudes among Uyghur Youth, focuses on how Uighur popular music has changed from the grinding heavy metal of the 90s separatist movement championed by Askar to the fluffy love songs of Arken both minkaohan (educated in Chinese) living in Beijing. I have heard neither of these artists and the article is a little out of date but outlines how the central government has manipulated the media to silence protest and homogenize the Uighur people. The article was published before the eruption of violence and protests in July of 2009 but it concludes a change in Uighur youth ideology from separatism and isolation of the Uighur nation to one of working within the current system to heighten the status of Uighurs in modern China.

Indigenous Education in China

This article from The Atlantic, gives a great overview of the tensions between Chinese Uighurs and the Han majority. Their mention of the minkaohan (Uighur students educated in Mandarin) and minkaomin (Uighur students educated in their native language) sheds light on an interesting divide within the students of Xinjiang as well as Uighur students studying outside of their home province.

Hong Kong University Press recently published a collection of essays on minority education in China, Minority Education in China: Balancing Unity and Diversity in an Era of Critical Pluralism. While I have been mostly exposed to Uighur culture through food and the local music scene, there are 55 officially recognized minority groups scattered around China. This book is an excellent resource on current trends, ideas and investigations into China’s education system.

Trip to Xinjiang from Your Kitchen

I’ll start my web travels on the delectable side of Uighur culture in China. One of the many minority cultures within China and indigenous to the north west province Xinjiang. They have communities all over China and while they face a lot of discrimination, their restaurants and bbq stands remain very popular. The most authentic restaurants are alcohol free and all food is halal due to their Islamic beliefs.

I always find food to be a great way to capture the soul of someone. The blog, Far West China, by a writer living in Xinjiang offers not only the standard words on Uighur cooking (delicious), but a look into the language and a collection of recipes allowing you to get in touch with this culture from your home kitchen. While popular in China, the restaurants have not often managed to travel outside. If you’re skilled in the kitchen, this could be your best chance for an intimate encounter with the Uighur culture.