At 6ft 7in, my husband stands out in a crowd at the best of times. But when I was browsing at a local market in Borneo and suddenly heard a commotion, I didn’t expect to see him pretending to hunt tourists with a blowpipe almost as long as him.
Needless to say, a handful of local traders were encouraging him on, no doubt thinking he was going to buy from them. But I knew the smiles would soon be wiped off their faces when he would inevitably put it down and announce it was “tat”. I’ve long suffered his usual refrain to any local market trader as I’m handing over my cash: “Don’t bother wrapping it, throw it straight in the bin.”
Only this time, I’d had enough. The level of poverty in the area was evident for all to see. These traders were trying to make a meagre living selling “tat” to holidaymakers, who have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds travelling to far-flung corners of the earth. I felt the least we could do was to boost the local economy while we were there and buy locally made goods.
“That’s not going to fit in our hand-luggage,” I said through gritted teeth. “Choose something that will.”
Before he could say: “tat”, I pulled him into the stall and told him bluntly that it wasn’t a good idea to walk away from blowpipe sellers. I left him to pick out something that would fit in the luggage.
On our return to the tourist minibus, we were the only couple who had bought anything. Some tourists go to look at markets, but not to buy. Others ask the tour guide how much they should be paying for goods, only to always be told: “What you think it’s worth.”
Rather than take the approach that you are being ripped off in local markets, I like to believe that you are helping to finance the local economy, creating jobs and income. For this reason, I would urge holidaymakers to buy something. After all, if you don’t want it, you can always donate it to your local charity shop back home – a neat way to reinvest in developing countries.
As for my husband, he chose an elegant wooden mask, which is still on prominent display in our home, ensuring we’ll never forget that day at the market.
– Lyndsey Jones – journalist and avid traveller!
Travellers: what extraordinary shopping adventures have you had while abroad? Share your stories with us!