Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Polls Apart

I sometimes respond to the South China Morning Post's opinion polls on its website, but I just as often find them irritatingly meaningless.  Take today's, for example: the question asked is: "Is India still a safe destination for foreign tourists?"  Pertinent, after recent widely-reported rape cases there, certainly, but totally unscientific.

First of all, note the implied assumption that India was previously safe.  Then consider the impossibility of summing up the safety level of a large and enormously diverse country of more than a billion people in one snap judgement.  Are you safe at the Taj Mahal?  Probably.  In Indian-occupied Kashmir, or the poorest slums of Kolkata - probably less so.

And what do you mean by "safe" anyway?  Likely to get raped or murdered - even with the occasional case that hits the headlines, not very.  Likely to have your pocket picked?  Much more probable - but not only in India.  Safe from your own stupidity?  Thousands of tourists die in foreign countries every year because people tend to take foolhardy risks on holiday that they would not take at home, from overdosing on drugs to riding motorcycles without a helmet to swimming in dangerous waters to eating in places with dubious hygiene standards - or even over-exerting themselves sexually!  Most Hong Kong people consider Thailand a safe destination for tourism, but apart from the country's appalling level of road safety, five foreign tourists and a Thai guide died in 2011 because of over-exposure to a pesticide used to kill bed bugs!  Who would have seen that coming?

Then there is the question of what one means by a foreign tourist.  In a tour group or travelling independently?  Male or female?  Travelling alone or with a companion?  Able to speak the local language or not?  Staying in luxury resorts or local flophouses?  All of these factors - not to mention one's visible "ethnicity", as officials like to call race these days - could affect how safe one is.  But a white female friend of mine lived for two years in India, travelling alone on a limited budget, with no problems, and loves the country.

My advice: don't let this kind of question put you off travelling except for avoiding obvious trouble spots (two other friends enjoyed a wonderful trip to Syria some years ago, but I wouldn't advise it at the moment)..  Just take sensible precautions, remember shit happens everywhere, and as they used o say in Hill Street Blues: "Be careful out there!"


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