It’s crucial to understand the customs of a country you are visiting. There are those that are essentially universal, there are those that are the complete opposite of what you might be used to, and everything else in between. Knowing how locals live and interact with one another, and with their surrounding environment, will almost always save you from an embarrassing flub or potentially outright disrespectful action. A willingness to adhere to these customs is something that can’t be taught to grown-ups, though. It’s a choice we as men and women have to make for ourselves. As someone who’s traveled fairly extensively, I would highly advise anyone who visits a foreign country to respect the customs, even if you think it’s getting in the way of your fun. There are a million and one ways to enjoy yourself within the bounds respectful behaviour.
I can’t possibly see how the 2 Canadians, the Dutch and British individuals, and 6 others who stripped at the top of Mount Kinabalu in eastern Malaysia didn’t know that what they were doing was troublesome. Malaysia is a Muslim country and things tend to be more conservative than what many of us in Europe, North America, hell even South America and many parts of Asia, are used to. I spent 3 weeks in peninsular Malaysia well as Indonesian Borneo, but never eastern Malaysia. From what I have read and heard, though, is that in Sarawak and Sabang, things are a little more “traditional” as it were compared to areas around Kuala Lumpur. To me, it’s blatantly disrespectful to be stripping where these 10 tourists did.
Going back to traditions, though, I am a strong advocate for doing away with those that are problematic and contrary to contemporary social views and human liberty. Frankly, I don’t think a concept being “traditional” is, in and of itself, a viable reason to preserve it. Sabah’s Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan made an incredible statement, insinuating that an earthquake that occurred days later was a result of the disrespect that occurred on the mountaintop. When I say his statement was incredible, I mean it in the literal sense of the term. I get traditions, I get customs, but these are peoples live we are talking about. 18 people died and this multi-titled minister is implying, supposedly based on his traditional beliefs, that human stripping has the power equivalent of tectonic movement beneath the Earth’s surface. If the striptease upset the spirits as he suggested, why didn’t they kill the strippers, instead of the locals? Absurd.
I commend those with real power in this situation; the prosecutor for the case, Jamil Aripin, acknowledges there is no such link between this deadly tragedy and the cringe-worthy but less tragic disrespectful behaviour on the part of the travelers. The 4 arrested paid fines in the area of $1,600 each and were booted from Malaysia. To me, that would be the worst part: to be considered unworthy of admittance into an entire country. That would hurt a lot more than the fine and the 3 days in jail.
When you travel abroad, have fun but don’t be stupid about it. And think about foreigners in your country, ignoring customs that you truly value. That’s how you would be projecting yourself if you did what this tour group decided to do.