The current trend of taking naked selfies is not only illegal in many countries, it shows a startling lack of consideration for those cultures that have drawn tourists to visit. Jeremy Torr reports.
Kinabalu, Malaysia, June 2015. Four Western tourists were arrested, jailed and fined recently for stripping off earlier this year for naked selfies on the summit of Mt Kinabalu. That they chose to do so immediately prior to a deadly earthquake that killed 19 other hikers was unfortunate. That they did it at all shows an astonishing lack of consideration for, or understanding of, local cultures and standards.
If rural Asian visitors to London started urinating in gutters, as some do in their home villages, Londoners would be outraged. But sadly, those same western tourists seem to assume that as they are from a more "advanced" society, they can behave as they please when on holiday.
The tourists on Kinabalu are not alone in their disrespect. In February this year, two American tourists were arrested by local police for 'taking pornographic naked photos' in Cambodia's Angkor Wat Heritage area.
That the ruins are a sacred temple to many, and the home of worshipping monks did not deter the women from “lowering their pants to their knees and taking pictures of their buttocks,” according to a local police spokesperson.
Only weeks before the Americans had desecrated Angkor's religious site, three French tourists were arrested for taking naked photos at the nearby Banteay Kdei temple, and a group of Chinese tourists was also apprehended while taking semi-naked pictures at the site. Authorities described the acts as “inconsiderate and pornographic,” and deported several of the foreigners.
The Americans arrested at Angkor, Lindsey and Leslie Adams, had been posing for nude pictures in Preah Khan temple. Chau Sun Kerya, a spokesperson for the Apsara National Authority, which administers the Angkor temple complex, said the women had "violated sacred ground,” with their actions.
"They admitted that they really made a mistake by taking nude photos," said Chau. "Perhaps they did not know Angkor is a holy site. But their inappropriate activities affect the sanctity of the place.” According to local standards of behaviour, taking naked photos is an act that is totally against Khmer ethics and culture.
As a result of these recent violations of local cultural standards, Cambodia has instigated a "Visitor Code of Conduct" for tourists visiting Angkor Archaeological Park.
The code, posted on the Agence Kampuchea Press website, specifies rules that advise visitors against against wearing revealing clothes, touching carvings or sitting on fragile structures, as well as smoking, and entering restricted areas at the temples. It also warns specifically against "any act of exposing sex organs and nudity in public areas" as well as the more obvious looting, breaking or damaging any part of the temple. According to the code, these are "crimes punishable by law."
Despite the fact that the tourists on Kinabalu, Briton Eleanor Hawkins, Canadians Lindsey and Danielle Peterson, and Dutchman Dylan Snel said later they realised they were doing something "stupid and disrespectful", they went ahead and did it anyway - and would have made it available on social media had they not been arrested.
The tourists arrested at Angkor were fined and banned from returning to Cambodia - but the question remains: why did these westerners visit these sites in the first place?
It also raises the question why, if they only wanted to take desecrating selfies to post online - knowing that the rocks or buildings or trees were ancient and sacred to the local people - did they decide to pose naked when other people would see it and possibly be highly offended?
If western tourists want to visit some of Asia's finest nude beaches, swim naked in a waterfall pool or just take vampy photos at the mall - no problem. If local custom is OK with it, that's what those places are for.
If they want to visit some of the ancient and revered remnants of cultures that still take an important role throughout Asia today, do that too - but try to understand and appreciate what unique and rare qualities they have to offer. Not pursuing the taking of desecrating photos as the main reason to be there.
Visiting a foreign place and treating it with disrespect not only taints the site - no matter if it's a tree, a mountain, a temple or a rock - but it also taints the image of tourists in the eyes of the local people.
The tourists, even if they are caught in the act, can simply up and leave but once it has been taken and shared, the image of the pornographic photo stains the site forever in the eyes and minds of the local people.