Being an American myself, I don’t like the term “ugly Americans,” but sometimes it fits.
Joseph Dasilva and Travis Dasilva, a married couple from San Diego, call themselves the “Traveling Butts” as they take pictures of themselves with their pants down at various tourist destinations. Most recently, they did so at Wat Trai Mit Witthayaram, known as the Golden Buddha Temple, in Bangkok. The temple is known as the home of the world’s largest solid gold Buddha image.
The couple’s arrogant antics have been chronicled on their social media accounts. Regrettably, such things seem to be popular on the Internet, with some people such as the Dasilvas choosing to forego meaningful conversation and content in favor of increasingly offensive and stupid stunts designed to gain followers.
What is especially egregious about the stunt is the fact that it was done at a holy site. The great shame of it is that the couple – and many foreign visitors to Thailand’s capital – see the temples as tourist attractions rather than religious sites. This may be due in part to an ignorance about Buddhism, and part due to the arrogance of thinking that only Western religions are valid ones. Some visitors to the temples see the Buddha statues, and think of them as nothing more than the Thai equivalent of the world’s biggest ball of yarn.
Those who disrespect the temples in such a way do so without giving it a second thought, but at the same time, would never think of mooning a statue of Jesus. Would the Traveling Butts have pulled their pants down in front of St. Peter’s Basilica?
Thai police have called the couple on their actions, and according to the Bangkok Post, they have been fined 5,000 baht (about US$150), the highest fine for public nudity. But it doesn’t end there. Because they posted the pictures on the Internet, and because they did so at a religious site, they may face additional charges, including computer crime laws for posting pornographic pictures online, and violating Section 206 of criminal law which concerns behavior at a religious location.
The computer crime violation could put them in prison for five years, and levy a 100,000 baht fine. The religious insult violation could give them an additional one to seven years in prison, and a fine of 20,000 to 40,000 baht.
The temples are popular destinations for tourists, and all are welcome, Buddhist or not. Most tourists respect the rules, which are similar to tourists who visit any religious site in any country.
One of my favorite memories is visiting the Archcathedral Basilica of the Holy Trinity, Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Bernard in Gdańsk, which was consecrated in 1594, and is home to the famous Oliwa pipe organ, the largest pipe organ in Europe. While I was visiting, someone played Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – and hearing it played on this legendary pipe organ is probably one of the greatest musical experiences you can experience. Visitors were respectful. When the organist was playing, we – along with all other visitors – stood transfixed.
There are unwritten rules, which are for the most part, observed at those cathedrals. Dress respectfully. Take off your hat. Speak quietly. Don’t use your flash if there are people praying. Don’t pull down your pants in front of the Holy Cross.
I lived in Bangkok for two years and also visited dozens of Buddhist temples throughout Southeast Asia. Most tourists are similarly respectful, and there are rules to follow which are similar to those I observed in Europe. Still, Western tourists still feel the need to try to walk in wearing shorts and see-through tops, take selfies while leaning against the Buddha statues, and in the case of the Dasilvas, pull down their pants in front of the Buddha.
I will point out here that tourists are almost always welcome at those temples. There is usually a Buddhist monk overseeing the site, and before taking a picture, I always asked him if it was okay, and the answer was always “yes.” So long as you are respectful, they do tend to be pretty easy-going. If you go, behave as if you are walking through your own church back home. Don’t pull down your pants in front of the Sacred Buddha.
The Dasilvas should get no sympathy for their action. There should be no outrage when they receive a harsh prison sentence. They violated the law. They are ignorant, arrogant, and offensive, and they make all American tourists look bad. They are the ugly Americans.FOLLOW NEWSORG.ORG ON SOCIAL MEDIA