Friday, 22 April 2016

The Amazing Race 28, Episode 9

Dubai (U.A.E.) - Bali (Indonesia)

For those who don’t have a sense of comparative scale, the island of Bali in Indonesia is about four times as large as O’ahu (Honolulu), with a similar overall population density and development similarly concentrated in a coastal fringe around the volcano that dominates the interior of the island.

Bali may be most-visited international tourist destination, and one of the most important way-stations on the international backpacker trail around the world, that The Amazing Race hasn’t previously visited. More international visitors arrive at the airport on Bali (designated as Denpasar, “DPS”, even though it’s actually closer to Kuta — Bali’s counterpart of Waikiki or the Cancún hotel zone — than to the rapidly growing city of Denpasar) than arrive in Indonesia’s political and economic capital mega-city, Jakarta. As with Cancún, which attracts more foreign tourists than much larger Mexico City.

The decision by the producers of The Amazing Race not to visit Bali before, but to do so now, is in line with the overall trend of international tourism to Bali over the years since the launch of the reality-TV show in 2001. The numbers of foreign tourists coming to Bali declined sharply after 11 September 2001, as in many other places in the world, and plunged even more precipitously after terrorists blew up two Kuta Beach nightclubs catering to foreign tourists in 2002. It was a devastating blow to employment on an island where the economy had become dependent on international tourists.

Indonesia got more bad press last year for executing several foreigners for drug smuggling and other violations of drug laws. Tourists are often recruited as freelance drug couriers, but the risks are never worth it. Whatever you do within any country, clean up your act and clean out your belongings for any border crossing! I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to explain why tourists aren’t scared away from visiting the USA by our excessive sentences for victimless nonviolent drug conspiracies and other such “crimes”! But human rights concerns seem to have had little effect on the recovery and continuing growth of international tourism to Bali, where twice as many foreign vistors are expected this year as before 9/11 and the 2002 bombings.

Who are these growing numbers of foreign holiday-makers on Bali? Australians, mostly. Bali gets visitors from all over, but Australians are the majority. Bali is the nearest vacation destination to Australia with Third World labor costs and prices, and the standard budget beach holiday destination. The cost of a flight from Australia to Bali and back is less than the savings in costs of food, lodging, and other tourist activities, compared to a comparable beach resort in Australia, for the typically week-long stay. People from the USA may think of Bali as a “cultural tourism” destination in which to experience Indonesia, and it can be even though it’s far from typical of the rest of Indonesia. But a visit to Bali is also, inevitably but for some people unexpectedly, an encounter with Homo Touristicus Australus.

The obvious parallel is again Cancún, which is tremedously cosmopolitan and draws visitors from all over the Americas and Europe, as well as domestic visitors from other parts of Mexico, but where the dominant tourist presence is from the USA. For visitors from other countries, a visit to Cancún is thus an encounter with the way people from the USA travel as much as it is an experience of Mexican life (though it can be both).

What does it mean to say that Cancún is too US-influenced, or Bali too Australia-influenced, for some people’s tastes? A key lesson for travellers anywhere is that — unless you go to places where there are no other tourists, which few people actually do — the experience of travel, the services on offer, and the expectations of hosts are are all shaped by the travel cultures of guests. You’ll be better prepared for what you’ll find on arrival if, when you are researching destinations, you ask, “Who are the other tourists or visitors to this place?”

Television travel shows, of course, depict travellers as well as the places they go. Many viewers in other countries watch The Amazing Race — on which the cast of racers is still limited to US citizens — as much for the exotic antics of U.S.-ians abroad, often for the first time in their lives, as for the cultures of the people who live in the places they pass through (and to which the racers have only limited exposure).

I enjoy watching The Amazing Race Canada (which started out with a season filmed entirely within Canada, but has expanded to visit destinations around the world in subsequent seasons), and The Amazing Race Australia (opened to contestants from New Zealand as well in the most recent season) not so much because they visit different places than the U.S. versions of the show, but to see the different things they do in the same places and the different ways that cast members from these different countries travel and behave.

What about travellers from other countries? The concept of The Amazing Race has been licensed to producers of local versions around the world, but with limited success in many regions. When I described The Amazing Race to a recent houseguest from France, they assumed that I was talking about a different reality-TV backpacker travel show that has filled a similar niche, with equal or greater ratings success but with its own travel culture nuances, in Western Europe: “Pékin Express” (French) or “Peking Express” (most other languages).

The Peking Express is the name used in most of Europe to refer to the train from Moscow to Beijing, which in English is usually described as a branch of the Trans-Siberian Railway. In the first season of Peking Express, the racers had to hitchhike along the same route from Moscow to Beijing, finding their own places to sleep along the way, on a budget of two Euros per person per day (reduced to one Euro a day in subsequent seasons). The prize for the winners of certain stages of the first race was to get to ride the train, along with some of the the TV production crew, rather than having to hitchhike, for part of the next leg.

As in “The Amazing Race”, there are checkpoints and challenges along the route of each season of “Peking Express”, and the last team in the standings at the end of each leg is eliminated.

Peking Express was a originally a Flemish/Dutch-language production broadcast in Belgium and the Netherlands beginning in 2004. This has continued but was joined by a wildly successful French-language version (broadcast in France, Wallonia, and Québec), now in its tenth season, and by German, Spanish, Italian, and Scandinavian spin-offs.

All of the French seasons of Pékin Express are available on DVD and online, but so far as I can tell, only in French, and my French isn’t adequate for rapid colloquial speech in an action TV show filmed on location with lots of background noise. And while my family name is Flemish, my Hasbrouck ancestors came to America in the 1600s, and I don’t speak any Flemish/Dutch at all (to the puzzlement of some Flemish people I meet while travelling who expect anyone with such an obviously Flemish name to speak the language).

At least the first Dutch/Flemish season of “Peking Express” was released or broadcast somewhere with optional English subtitles. Most likely, this would have been for Belgian TV, where many programs have a choice of subtitles in Flemish, French, or English. Unfortunately, most of the bootleg copies available online were recorded by Dutch/Flemish speakers with the Dutch/Flemish subtitles turned on (for translations from Russian, Mongolian, Chinese, etc.) and not the English subtitles. I haven’t been able to tell whether the Flemish Belgian DVD editions include the English subtitles as a poorly-advertised option.

If any of my readers can find DVDs or online editions of any of the “Peking Express/Pékin Express” versions with English subtitles, please let me know. I’ll be happy to send you Paypal for the regular retail price plus postage from Europe, Québec, or wherever.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 22 April 2016, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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