All the Difference in the World

Screen shot 2015-10-08 at 11.53.39 AMThick crowds of stumbling drunks scream and chant their way through the streets and underground stations of Munich, their stomachs filled with delicious, but undeniably over-priced food and drink from the Oktoberfest. The ones who managed not to overdo it have their glazed eyes set on an after party at a bar hidden somewhere in the city, while those who’ve done their dash want nothing more than a pint of water and a warm bed. Both groups seem oblivious as they pass by thousands of asylum seekers from far away lands huddled together in every nook and corner of Munich’s central station. Most of these people are facing or have had to deal with horrors the likes of which most of the drunken masses are lucky never to have known, but they ignore the noise and pull their jackets tighter, hoping to find some shelter from the night.

Another night in another part of the world a group of 5 over-fed tourists take up seats at an alfresco table in the valley-town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of the ancient Machu Pichu. Their waiter is patient and well mannered but it’s a struggle to make sense of their rapid fire English and messy Spanish, so he has to repeat their order a few times to get it right. The food comes out but one of the steaks is overdone, and combined with the slow service the group fails to be impressed. They leave only a modest tip, but it’s more than enough for the waiter, and after his shift he walks back up the winding, mountain road to the house above the valley that he shares with his parents, grandparents, wife and first child, while the group of 5 head with full bellies back to their $200 a night hotel sat bang in the centre of town. A little slice of capitalism poking up like a pimple in the middle of what was nothing more than a sleepy, mountain town 4 generations earlier.

On the other side of the world in the coastal town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, a gap year backpacker drunk on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol empties his stomach onto the pavement outside one of the more notorious nightclubs. The mixture of pad thai and vodka-redbull dribbles down his chin and smacks the cement in a cascade of over indulgence. His fellow partygoers cheer him on but after another round of vomit he is lead away by his friends, stumbling but insistent that all he needs is another beer to keep the party rolling. They pass a local family of 4 sitting together on a crumbled retaining wall and sharing a meal of spicy rice and fish, but neither group seems to pay any attention to the other. One of the friends kicks by accident a hat laid out to collect people’s spare coins, but none of the family bats an eyelid, and the oldest son just stands up and puts it back where it came from. They’re all too used to the ambivalence of those passing by, and they know that on another night that same drunk backpacker might have carelessly thrown 20 dollars down into their collection. A lady employed by the nightclub emerges 10-minutes later with a brush and bucket in hand and washes away most of the sick. The half-digested slush cost the backpacker more than she would be paid for her entire night’s work.

It’s a dismal scene played out a thousand times over, in a thousand different cities, languages and cultures in tourist districts all over the world. People hopping from booze cruise to pub crawl to all-inclusive resort with their hearts and minds closed and oblivious to everything but the top 3 fucking attractions on Trip advisor. There’s nothing inherently wrong with pub crawls and resorts and the like, but as with everything over-priced and promising free-drinks it needs to be practiced in moderation. The same drunks marching through Munich may have spent the last month volunteering to help refugees into their country, the group living it up in the 5-star hotel might have been doctors on break from their foreign aid work in the Amazon jungle, and the British kid throwing his guts up all over the pavement might have been celebrating the end of 3-months teaching English at a school in rural Cambodia. There’s no way to know without asking, but it’s what makes all the difference in the world.

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