Local Syndrome: Judged by the Busload

By on June 6, 2018

Just what do locals mean when they reference the ‘Asian Invasion’?

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Let’s say you’re a local, out and about on the Town Square around midday. Maybe running errands, maybe grabbing some lunch. The shortest way to the other side of the square is diagonally through the arches, of course, but alas!

A gaggle of Asian tourists stands between you and archway. The group snaps pictures thoughtfully. Some pose under the arch. Some snap a picture of a dandelion or the wooden boards they stand on. Regardless of their focus, they’re utterly oblivious to your frantic sidestepping.

“Excuse me…sorry, I…”

You step to one side—no, wait, the other, and weave your path through the bodies to enter into the square (and likely into the background of a few photos).  Muttering under your breath, you shake your head in pure disbelief. How could these people be so unaware of their surroundings? And how are there so many of them?

The “Asian Invasion,” many have concluded, has arrived.

It’s a generalized quip that is all too common among the locals in our Tight-Knit™ community. And for some reason we’re totally OK with saying it. Repeatedly. It’s about as common a phrase in the summer as “stuck in traffic” and “were you on the river today?”

With “Asian Invasion,” we’ve conveniently bundled up all walks of tourists from an entire continent and paired them with a word that is often used for unwelcome intrusions (consider “home invasion” or “invasive procedure”). That the two words rhyme only emphasizes how easy a phrase it is for locals to hiss at one another in frustration.

The number of Chinese visitors to Jackson Hole per year is not easily measured. Countless streams of tour buses seem to pass through town, unloading and reloading tourists. Not all of the buses stay the night, as some make their way up to Yellowstone. Counting them is about as easy as figuring out how many Californians drove through Jackson last August.

However, half-a-million per year is the ballpark estimate put forward by Brian Riley, a man who markets trips to Yellowstone for Chinese tourists. In 2015, Riley told Richard Anderson of the Jackson Hole News and Guide that he estimated 500,000 visitors to the area for that summer. It is hard to disagree with, because it almost feels like it could be more.

But regardless of the exact populous, there is a bit of humility locals need to show to not just tourists from China, but to tourists in general. I don’t believe a single one of the tourists who visits Jackson is here to make a local’s day more miserable. Instead, they’re reveling in the uniqueness of the town’s architecture, enormous mountains like Snow King that flank it and, arguably most of all, the fresh air.

Thanks to China’s air quality problems, primarily caused by rapid industrialization and coal mining, small towns like Jackson, Wyoming, are something of an anomaly. The World Health Organization recently released a report that noted, in 62 Chinese cities tracked by the WHO, pollution levels actually dropped by a 30 percent average between 2013 and 2016. But this is a mere drop in the bucket and it has not stopped a surge of Chinese citizens fleeing overdeveloped cities in pursuit of a simpler, cleaner life.

To poke fun of or criticize Chinese tourists for simply visiting Jackson is, in short, racist and completely out of line with our values as a community. Even though a Jacksonite is just as likely to fuck up while he or she is lollygagging in another country—or at home—we relentlessly shame tourists for making mistakes. We’ll never fully understand circumstances that led to Colin Scott falling into Norris Geyser Basin in 2016, or the internal reasoning that made Shamash and Shakeel Sassam load that baby bison into their car the same year.

Yes, it is easy to laugh at those who don’t know as much as you, Oh, Wise Local.

Tourists come to Jackson Hole for its unpredictability and adventure, beautiful gorges and jagged mountain peaks. They don’t know all the ins and outs or the dangers that may be present. They want an experience in a Western mountain community with a comfy, hometown feel. Maybe they want to take advantage of the outdoors in whatever way they can. Maybe all they want is to take some pictures so they can show their bedridden grandmother what Wyoming is like.

Honestly, the only difference between a tourist and a local is that tourists don’t stick around. And just because we planted our feet in this town and chose to reside here does not make us monarchs of the land. We should remind ourselves that these Chinese tourists and all others who visit Jackson Hole are having life-changing experiences, seeing further than the polluted horizon they may endure back home.

Imagine how many life-changing experiences we let pass us by while we’re busy bitching about the visitors who drive our economy.

After so many years of tourism, Jackson must learn how to play host to not just the wealthiest English-speakers, but to all.

About Andrew Munz

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