Football, Collective Memory, and Nationalism in Southeast Asia

Nationalism is an endless thing. It must be inherited continuously through education, slogans, and of course the existence of ‘others’. In the context of inter-state relations the existence of ‘others’ will become more complicated if the national identity of other nations has come into contact in open conflict. In other words, ‘others’ would be considered an antagonist if history presents a collective memory of inter-state conflicts.

In Southeast Asia, conflicts between nations are not new. The confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia at the end of the Old Order is one example. However, since the establishment of ASEAN 50 years ago, open conflicts between Southeast Asian nations incorporated in ASEAN have almost never been heard. This is because the countries incorporated in ASEAN agree not to interfere with the sovereignty of other countries in politics or ideology. With the agreement they hope to create peace in the region of Southeast Asia.

Memory is still a memory. The collectively recorded history of conflict can make latent embedded sentiments possible to stick back. In Plato’s view quoted by Anne Whitehead (2009), past memories of the past can reappear if there is an inducement from the creation of critical relationships in the present. Practically, these conditions can be found in Indonesia’s rage of support for Malaysia in the SEA Games 2017 event which makes Indonesian netizen remember the history of Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation in 1964. Started from the case of a reversed flag to the Indonesian team meeting with Malaysia in the semifinals of the male football team; Our collective memory of the political confrontation launched by Bung Karno returned to life and was manifested in ‘nationalistic’ slogans such as “Ganyang Malaysia”, or more contemporary styling like #shameonyoumalaysia. The slogan is revived as if it is not a matter of the fact that there are many Indonesian Workers (TKI) in Malaysia.

A glimpse of these slogans are the examples of the strengthening of nationalism in the digital era. It is not uncommon for these discourses to be on social networks accompanied by messages about the importance of maintaining unity in the midst of our increasingly fragile nationality post-elections in Jakarta. It is interesting to look back at how a nation in the midst of political conflicts between groups like Indonesia can regain the spirit of nationalism in sports. But as an ideology, nationalism will indeed revive life if called. In this case the call is made with a medium that broadcasts and promotes the spirit of nationalism through framings with patriotic nuances. The condition is further supported by the disappointment of Sports Minister Imran Nahwari’s statement on the preparation of Malaysia as the host of the Sea Games and cynical opinion from Indonesian netizen on the referee’s leadership of Malaysia in Indonesia’s men’s football match against Timor Leste. Accumulation of negative perceptions of Indonesian people of Malaysia’s competitiveness as host of Sea Games 2017 is getting worse with the history of Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation that erupted in Dwi Komando Rakyat (Dwikora). It is therefore not surprising that the protests by Indonesian netizens against Malaysia are no longer a rational but emotional protest.

The issue of conflict in the sports world that includes political sentiment is not a mere Indonesian and Malaysian monopoly. In the ASEAN region similar sentiments occurred in a match between Thailand against Vietnam in the ASEAN Football Federation U-19 (AFF U-19) tournament in Vientiane, Laos. At that time Thailand was in the process of blowing Vietnam, with the final result 6-0. In the celebration, Thai supporters began to light up and waved. A Laotian police team goes to the stands, perhaps to make sure no one gets hurt, but they got a strong reaction from Thai supporters. Chaos erupted, and gunfire was widely circulated. When Laotian police tried to enter the crowd, Thai fans created a kind of “human wall” to prevent authorities from accessing their stands. Interestingly, Vietnamese supporters also helped the Laotian police by throwing bottles at Thai supporters [1].

The complicated dispute between supporters of Laos, Vietnam and Thailand on the green field can be traced through a book entitled Creating Laos: The Making of a Lao Space between Siam and Indochina, 1860-1945 by Søren Ivarsson. In the book, it is explained that the cultural identity of Laos is created from the struggle between Thai expansionists and the French Colonial Government in Indochina. Thus the identity of the Laotian community was formed along with the presence of bad memories of Thailand. On the other hand, the communist ideology that became the cornerstone of the nationalism of Laos and Vietnam today, has made the sense of brotherhood between the Laotian and Vietnamese peoples stronger, let alone Thailand as their opponent in the tournament, its nationalism relying on imperial feudalism contrary to the basic principle of communism [2]. Therefore, it is not surprising that Vietnamese supporters are seen actively “helping” the Laotian police by throwing bottles at Thai supporters.

The rise of open conflict by sports supporters – especially football – in inter-state matches is not surprising. The presence of supporters to the stadium for an immediate and open expression of nationalism will usually be rewarded with similar actions from opposing supporters. With a lot of mass it is certainly very difficult to ensure their expression is still in a “safe” corridor. Not to mention if the media, public figures, or dark history in the past were involved in creating a negative perception of the opposing team. If such a thing happens, then it is certain that the nationalism sentiment of binary opposition will heat the game. Thus football is no longer a matter between players, referees, or FIFA; because as Zen RS columnist said in his speech on the book Sepakbola Seribu Tafsir, “football is not a matter of grabbing the ball alone, because throughout the 90 minutes of football matches there are so many allegories of life.” If I may add, then I believe that like life, the game will be more complicated if we have enemies. Therefore, it is not surprising that Jean-Paul Sartre said, “in football everything becomes more complicated due to the presence of opposing teams”



Ivarrson, Søren. 2008. Creating Laos: The Making of a Lao Space between Indochina and Siam 1860-1945. Copenhagen: NIAS Press

Kennedy, Edward. 2014. Sepak Bola Seribu Tafsir. Yogyakarta: Indie Book Corner

Sartre, Jean-Paul. 2004. Critique of Dialectical Reason (translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith). London: Verso.

Whitehead, Anne. 2009. Memory. New York: Routledge

YouTube. (accessed on 15 September 2017).

YouTube. (accessed on 15 September 2017).



This article was written by Venda Pratama (in Indonesian), an Anthropology student, Faculty of Cultural Sciences, UGM, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Tracing Prostitution Tour in Thailand from Time to Time

The problem of prostitution is endless. In addition to the many opposing parties, there are still a handful of supporters. Although considered immoral by most people, but the sex industry is still surviving until now around the world. No matter how intense the government declares illegal, it is not easy to make prostitution vanish from a country because there is always a need. In Southeast Asia, Thailand is famous for its sex tourism. Boonchutima (2009) stated that the government of the White Elephant has been trying to change the image by promoting other tourisms such as cultural tourism. But unfortunately, a thick Thai image of sex tourism has not changed.

Podhista (1994) stated that prostitution in Thailand does have a long history. The practice has been around since the days of Ayuthya (1350-1776). The Europeans who came to Siam in the seventeenth century had witnessed the practice of prostitution in Thailand (Poumisak, 1975, Hantrakul, 1983, Skrobanek, 1983, and Thanh-Dam, 1990 in Podhista, 1994). One of those Europeans is an envoy from France, La Loubère. In his note, La Loubère mentions an official who is referred to as ‘the man who buys women and servants to prostitute them’ (Thanh-Dam (1990:148) in Podhista (1994).

In addition, in Ayuthya period, there is a corvée system [3] in which all men must indeed leave the family and serve the feudal lords for six months (Podhista, 1994). It was at that time that the girls were believed to be the servants of the corvée when they were far from their wives. In the end, in 1960, commercial sex in Thailand became a sizable industry during the Vietnam War or the Second Indochina War (1957-1975). During that time US troops sometimes came to Thailand to rest and that’s when the Thai women used the opportunity to meet the needs of life by serving the soldiers of the United States.

Since then prostitution rampant in Thailand even survive until now. Although the government is reportedly being intensively launched tourism without sex and banned brothels to operate in Thailand, the fact is prostitution in Thailand is still active. In fact, Gugić (2014) says that prostitution in Thailand plays a role in the country’s economy. About 60% of Thailand’s national income comes from the tourism and sex tourism sector playing a major role in Thailand’s tourism sector. Every year, Gugić (2014) says about 10 million tourists come to Thailand and about 60% of tourists are male while 70% of the male tourists come for sex tourism. Therefore, every year there are more than 4 million men come to Thailand for sex tourism.

Ironically, when sex tourism in Thailand contributes a lot to the national income of the country, Boonchalaksi and Guest (1994) in one of his studies suggested that Thai prostitute enter into the world of prostitution precisely because of economic problems. Indeed, universally the economic problem is indeed a problem of all countries, especially in the region of third world countries. However, according to Podhista (1994), specifically poverty in Thailand occurs because of the government which puts forward the industrial and services sectors, but ignores the agricultural sector. Though Thailand is an agricultural country and most of its inhabitants work as farmers.

Poverty that occurs to farmers in the villages result the difference of economic conditions in the village and in the city becomes very lame. Not to mention based on Podhista (1994), in the era of globalization as it is today, consumerism and a high lifestyle has plagued the village. Thus, to meet the basic needs coupled with lifestyle demands, any job that generates a lot of money in a short time is well received by the public, including prostitution.

Not only farmers who faces poverty, DaGrossa (1989) revealed that in Thailand there is not enough job opportunities for young women from villages who less educated and inexperienced. In fact, in Thailand girls have greater responsibility than boys when it comes to the household economy. Therefore, farmers who face poverty will eventually be forced to involve their daughters into prostitution. Thus, a daughter from an inadequate family who wandered out of town to become a prostitute for the sake of supporting her family has been understood and considered reasonable by the surrounding community.

The traditional discourse in which girls in Thailand are responsible for living their families is still implemented today. In Phongpaichit research (1980) in Podhista (1994), the prostitute in the research sources admitted that they were indeed the backbone of the family. In fact, the fact those women who are unable to support their families are considered fail, not only by the family but also by the surrounding community. Therefore, unsurprisingly Thai women are ultimately forced to justify any means to meet these demands, even if it means they must involve themselves into the world of prostitution.

Thus, unsurprisingly that until now the practice of prostitution still exists in Thailand. Indeed the government has repeatedly tried to remove the sex industry in Thailand. However, it cannot be denied that the surrounding community has no objection to the existence of these practices in their environment because yet it is much in need, both from the side of women who need money to meet basic needs, as well as from the men to meet biological needs.

Proof of acceptance of prostitution in Thailand is evidenced by non-exiled brothels. The brothels are located among the residents. According Boonchalaksi and Guest (1994) brothels in Thailand even located close to places of worship and trade center. The existence of brothel in Thailand is considered normal, like normal offices.

Moreover, in one of documenter films about prostitution in Thailand by Austria’s director Michael Glawogger, Whore’s Glory (2011) showed how the practice of prostitution in exclusive brothel covered as a massage parlor in Bangkok named Fish Tank. The building of Fish Tank located and operated in the center of city crowd like an office building. The prostitutes of Fish Tank stand in the upper floor of the building which made from glasses and pointed laser to the men who pass them to invite customer. Not only the extravagant building, Fish Tank also has other employees like any other offices, such as customer service, waitress, parking attendant, and security officer.

Fish Tank is not the only brothel which covers its business as massage parlor in Bangkok.  Furthermore, this kind of things is not only happened in Bangkok, the camouflage of brothel is spread across Thailand. It shows that prostitution has become an aspect of life in Thailand’s society and has been rooted. In fact, its existence is not harming or disturbing the surrounding community. The root that has been planted for the past decades and supported by the never-ending poverty, makes prostitution is hard to be vanished in Thailand.



Boonchalaksi, Wathinee dan Philip Guest. 1955. Prostitution in Thailand. Salaya: Mahidol University.

Boonchutima, Smith. 2009. Resistance to Change: Thailand’s Image as a Sex Tourist Destination. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University.

DaGrossa, Pamela S.. 1989. “Kamphæng Din: A Study of Prostitution in the All-Thai Brothels of Chiang Mai City”. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 1-7.

Gugić, Zrinka. 2014. Human Trafficking Under the Veil of Sex Tourism In Thailand: Reactions of the EU. Osijek:University of Osijek.

Podhisita, Chai, et. al.. 1994. “Socio-Cultural Context of Commercial Sex Workers in Thailand: An Analysis of Their Family, Employer, and Client Relations”. Health Transition Review, Vol. 4, pp. 297-320.

Glawogger, Michael. 2011. Whores’ Glory. Lotus Film. Austria, 110 min.

[1] Thailand dulu dikenal sebagai Siam.

[2] Seorang utusan atau perwakilan, terutama dalam misi diplomatik.

[3] Tenaga kerja yang tidak dibayar oleh seorang bawahan kepada bangsawan feodal.



This article was written by Nitya Swastika (in Indonesian), an Anthropology student, Faculty of Cultural Sciences, UGM, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Constructing Southeast Asian Multicultural Identity: Bridging the Diversity across Nations

Southeast Asia is a very diverse and multi-layered sub-region in Asia which consists of different nations with different ethnicities, languages, cultures, and societies. Besides, Southeast Asian nations considerably share distinctive socio-cultural features, in terms of language spoken, ethnicities, religion, culture, and society which differed from one to another. Specifically, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore are highly considered as Southeast Asian diverse nations, ethnically, linguistically, religiously, culturally, socially, and politically. But they are diverse in different ways and cope with diversity in different ways (Ali, 2011).

In responding to such diversity, Southeast Asian nations are often encouraged to establish one common regional identity enabling them to integrate as one unity of Southeast Asian nations. Further, the notion of building such integrated identity is supported by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as one of the most influential organisation in Southeast Asia. In addition, it is concretely represented in the concept of ASEAN’s long-term plan stating that ASEAN has formulated a planned integration among its ten member nations and has challenged its citizens to embrace regional identity (Jones, 2004). Moreover, such plan is also well-affirmed in ASEAN Vision 2020 proclaiming “we envision the entire Southeast Asia to be, by 2020, an ASEAN Community conscious of its ties of history, aware of its cultural heritage and bound by a common regional identity.”

The ideas to encourage the integration of one identity is also supported by the notion proposed in ASEAN Blueprint on Socio-cultural Community (ASCC) as it envisages several notable and worth-pursuing characteristics, one of which is building the ASEAN identity. The Blueprint pronounces that the ASEAN identity is the basis of Southeast Asia’s regional interests. It is the collective personality, norms, values and beliefs as well as aspirations as one ASEAN community. ASEAN will mainstream and promote greater awareness and common values in the spirit of unity in diversity at all levels of society.

However, it is important to highlight the problem currently occurred as the modernity in this late era has made the issue of identity become more complex and complicated. This phenomenon happens as the complexity and instability of identity are believed widely pervaded by the vast changing of social condition in human life. As a result, the rapid flux of identity can somehow be considered threatening the stability of identity itself, particularly in the era of modern technology, migration, urbanisation and globalisation on which people live nowadays (Rutherford in Howarth, 2002).

Thus, identity is believed as a socially constructed identification rather than just a simple idea considering identity as the belonging of individuals to geographical places where they live, as people now are able to adjust and adapt from one space into another. Under that circumstance, identity is no longer believed as something fixed as it dynamically changes and is always constructed and reconstructed. Hence, it can be seen from the sociological perspective, all identities are indeed a socially constructed identification which might use building materials from geography, common socio-cultural attributes, political control, history, biology, collective memory, or even religious institutions (Castells, 2010).

Further, Castells (2010) believes that social construction of identity always takes place in context of power relations. This functions as a basis of his proposal on the three forms of identity building covering legitimising, resistance and project identity. Legitimising identity deals with the origin of identity introduced by dominant institution to extend and rationalise their domination. When it is generated by actors who are in more devalued or stigmatised position in terms of its domination, it refers to resistance identity which aims to resist and survive from the influence of the dominating ones. Whereas project identity occurs when social actors are available to any cultural materials in order to build a new identity or redefine who they are (Castells, 2010). Hence, it is momentous to emphasise the role of powerful social institutions in Southeast Asia, either it is ASEAN, NGOs, religions, cultures or societies in building together once common identity of Southeast Asia.

By considering such complexities of identity, and the feature of Southeast Asian diversity which is greatly distinguished from one to another, therefore, it is necessary to propose the ideas that can let the identity possibly built without pushing or forcing, even to eliminate particular features of the existing diverse national identities. Thus, this paper aims to discuss the concept of multiculturalism in constructing the identity of Southeast Asia functioning as a bridge among its diverse nations.

In discussing about multiculturalism, it is indisputable that there is an increased awareness among scholars, activists, and policymakers of the importance of multiculturalism as a concept, as an approach, as an ideology to struggle for, a fighting creed, and as an object of research and study. But it is also a way of understanding of culture (Ali, 2011). Moreover, multiculturalism concept is well-applied in several prosperous countries such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia even some Southeast Asian countries, i.e. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. It is often illustrated via analogy of melting pot, salad bowl or mosaic.

Melting pot refers to the process of assimilating different identities, races, ethnicities, cultures, etc. into one common pot provided. It is important to underline the involvement of assimilation or the process of melting a way to form and create one new identity or society. In other words, it is possibly made up from existed various racial and ethnic groups which have been combined into one culture creating a richly diverse country like the United States of America. While salad bowl and mosaic which are considerably similar and more applicable in this case refer to the process of combining and uniting the diversity into one common space or place allowing it to display its own beauty and aesthetic value. The key point of these concepts are the existence of the space (i.e. bowl and frame) which enables the materials to show how beautiful they are when they were combined and placed in the same space without any assimilation or the process of melting away (Datesman et al., 2005).

All in all, the problem is actually not how to accommodate relatively fixed plural identities, but rather how to provide for multiple possibilities of identity and culture. Moreover it is supported by the notion believing multiculturalism as an effective approach to addressing questions of ethnic, cultural diversity in contemporary society (Ali, 2011). Thus, it is also to highlight the need and the possibility for Southeast Asia’s powerful social institutions to form and construct one common identity which enable its diverse nations and citizens to be who they are yet positioned under the same underlying big umbrella, Southeast Asian multicultural identity.



Acharya, Amitav & Layug, Allan. (2013) Collective Identity Formation in Asian Regionalism: ASEAN Identity and the Construction of the Asia-Pacific Regional Order.

Ali, Muhammad. (2011). Multiculturalism in Southeast Asia. Jakarta: The Wahid Institute.

Castells, Manuel. (2010). The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Datesman, Crandall and Kearny. (2005). American Ways: An Introduction to American Culture. New York: Pearson.

Howarth, Caroline (2002) Identity in Whose Eyes?: The Role of Representations in Identity Construction. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 32 (2). 145-162 DOI: 10.1111/1468-5914.00181

Jones, Michael. (2004). Forging an ASEAN Identity: The Challenge to Construct a Shared Destiny. Contemporary Southeast Asia, (26), 1, 140-154.

Lian, Kwen Fee. (2016). Multiculturalism, Migration, and the Politics of Identity.  Singapore: Springer.

Murdock, Elke. (2016) Multiculturalism, Identity and Difference. London: McMillan.

Setyaningrum, Arie. (2003). Multikulturalisme sebagai Identitas Kolektif, Kebijakan Politik dan Realitas Sosial. Jurnal Ilmu Sosial dan Ilmu Politik, (7), 2, 243-260.



This article was written by Moh. Za’imil Alvin, a student of the Faculty of Cultural Sciences, Universitas Islam Negeri (UIN) Maulana Malik Ibrahim Malang, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Identifying Southeast Asia

Many people misrepresent Southeast Asia and ASEAN. Some of them think that Southeast Asia is ASEAN, or vice versa. Then what is “Southeast Asia” and “ASEAN”? and How is the origin of “Southeast Asia” as a “study” or “area studies” ?.

According to Dr. Agus Suwignyo, Southeast Asia as an area felt not too well known. The indicator to which he is concerned is that when European societies often refer to Southeast Asians who are coming from different countries identified as the same group. Dr. Agus Suwignyo explains that the actual status of Southeast Asia can be seen from three aspects, namely as a “concept” of politics and defense, historical reality and area study.

Southeast Asia as a political and defense concept is deliberately created by and for the sake of those who have historically not come from the “Southeast Asia” region. The concept of “Southeast Asia” started from the existence of Southeast Asia Command (under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten) which was created with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on First Quebec Conference (August 1943) have spawned a military political dimension in Southeast Asian Region. Southeast Asia Command was used against the Japanese soldiers that ruled Southeast Asia for the first time in history. Followed by the war in Indochina and the existence of domino theory and decolonization in a narrow legal sense, and plays an important role in the acceptance of the concept of Southeast Asia [1]. Southeast Asia was also used as a geopolitical cold war that gave birth to The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967. This regional group then promoted economic, political and security cooperation as a counter-discourse form of the Asian-African Conference in 1955. To date, ASEAN has ten members, namely Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Then what is the position of other countries like East Timor? East Timor has not (yet) joined ASEAN member countries, but has entered into Southeast Asia.

Secondly, as a historical reality, long before the concept of unity and government, people in Southeast Asia have come into contact. It is seen from the similarity of several languages, socio-political and culture between countries. One of the examples is the tradition of gotong royong (help each other) that is reflected in both the rural level to the greater level such as social institutions and governance. This suggests that there are similarities of value systems, social institutions, and governments, and economic modes. It is also influenced by a relatively similar source of “outer” influences from China, India, Arabia and Europe. This is further elaborated in a book entitled History of Modern Southeast Asia by Leonard Y.  Andaya who is a Professor of the History of Southeast Asia in University of Hawaii at Manoa and Barbara Watson Andaya, an Australian historian.

Finally, the status of Southeast Asia as an area studies actually began before World War II. That is when a group of scientists consisting of orientalists and epigraphers, botanists, zoologists, philologists, historians and archaeologists researching Southeast Asia. While post World War II Southeast Asian scientists mushroomed during the Cold War, but the focus of the study is mostly only in one particular area in Southeast Asia. This phenomenon leads to epistemological challenges such as the stable concept of “space” and “time” constraints within the boundaries of “Southeast Asia”, the scientific policy and the diffusionist Perspective in writing on Southeast Asia. Unfortunately Southeast Asian studies are more attractive to “outsiders” which means that there are currently quite a few experts, researchers and people interested in Southeast Asia who are indigenous “Southeast Asians”.



This article was written by Tania Nugraheni Ayuningtyas (in Indonesian), Tourism student, Faculty of Cultural Sciences, Gadjah Mada University, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).


Tourism Interconnectivity in Southeast Asia

As a region that is part of the Asian continent, countries in Southeast Asia have characteristics of tropical climates with an enchanting archipelago and year-round sunshine. The landscape ranging from mountains, sea to the beach with white sand and the green tosca water almost can be found throughout this region. Not only that, the region of Southeast Asia has cultural richness of tangible and intangible. It is marked by the existence of 17 cultural heritages which has been written in the List of UNESCO World Heritage. At least, this can be an attraction for tourists around the world. It is proven by the number of significant international arrivals. Data compiled by Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) in 2015 recorded more than 115 million international arrivals by 2015 which is expected to reach 173 million by 2018 with a total growth of 2% annually. Thailand is included in the second rank in the category of Top Five Fastest Growth Destinations 2014 – 2018 with the highest total international arrivals of 36 million, followed by Malaysia 27.7 million, Singapore 16.7 million, while Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Lao, Myanmar, Brunei Darussalam and Vietnam still at the number below 10 million arrivals in 2015.

In order to continue to develop the tourism sector, ASEAN establishes interconnectivity in tourism through ASEAN Tourism Ministers which produces an integrated tourism strategy as outlined in the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) 2016-2025. ATSP 2016-2015 focuses on two main visions. First, is improving the competitiveness of ASEAN by becoming an integrated tourism destination. Second, ensuring that tourism in ASEAN takes into account the inclusive and sustainable aspects. This is in line with the implementation of the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2016-2025 which is further described in 10 strategies of tourism sector development programs, namely promotion and marketing, product development, human resources development, tourism investment, service quality, sustainable tourism, tourism transportation facilities, tourists’ security and safety, connectivity and infrastructure, and climate change issues.

One of the ten strategies of tourism development program in ATSP 2016-2025 is on promotion strategy and tourism marketing in ASEAN. Through the website, tourists can access any tourism related information such as ongoing events or festivals, photos and videos of tour activities, book airline tickets or hotels, to tour referrals that will assist them in determining the itinerary of the tour. Promotion step is also pursued by the slogan “Southeast Asia feel the warmth” that presents the harmony, togetherness, unity of countries that are incorporated in this region. The slogan “Southeast Asia feel the warmth” campaigned to every country to develop products and attractions with excellence hospitality with the local wisdom of Southeast Asian society. With the integrated tourism promotion and marketing strategy, it is expected to support the realization of ASEAN as a “single destination” as mandated by the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2016-2025.

ASEAN believes that the end result of all ATSP strategies 2016 – 2025 will be able to optimize the tourism sector so that it will contribute to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The tourism sector in Southeast Asia in 2014 has contributed 4.8% of total GDP or generated about 117.9 Billion USD, and is expected will continue to increase to 4.9% or 209.4 Billion USD in 2025. This will also impact to the growing employment opportunities in Southeast Asia as investment continues to grow.

The last hope of the interconnectivity of tourism in Southeast Asia is that this region will become a qualified tourism destination that presents the uniqueness, harmonious diversity, and committed to responsible for the development of a balanced tourism, sustainable and inclusive, therefore be able to contribute significantly to social conditions – economy for the welfare of society in Southeast Asia like the vision stated in the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2016-2025.



This article was written by Tania Nugraheni Ayuningtyas (in Indonesian), a student of Tourism, Faculty of Cultural Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Cambodian Orphanage Tourism – When an Orphan is a Tourist Attraction

In 2001, the famous Hollywood actress, Angelina Jolie,  visited Cambodia whilst she was featuring in her latest box-office film, Tomb Raider.  Whilst in Cambodia, Angelina fell in love with a seven month old baby.  A year later, Angelina returned and officially adopted a baby named Maddox. Angelina has since admitted that she had no desire to have children before meeting Maddox, and meeting with the children at a school in Cambodia. Angelina is now a mother of six, with three of her children having been adopted.



Children can be innocent, spontaneous, funny and joyful, all whilst flaunting a cheerful face –  characteristics which attract our affection and empathy. However, in recent years, this empathy towards children has been capitalised on in order to create revenue. Foreign tourists and volunteers have been the targets of this trap.

We cannot ignore the influence that tourism has had over the social life of Cambodian people, especially children. One obvious example that has taken place in Cambodia, is the development of a new branch of tourism- orphanage tours. Essentially, orphanage tourism involves visiting an orphanage for several hours as part of a scheduled tour, coupled with various activities (Eimer 2013).

This example demonstrates how orphans have been commoditized for the purpose of increasing the income of various individuals. Orphanage tourism now serves as an example of how tourism can be poorly administrated, as orphans are taken advantage of, and used as bait to attract tourists who will likely contribute donations. Orphanage tourism attempts to project children as fragile, innocent and adorable beings, who seek the love (and donations) from first world tourists. (Reas, 2013)

In Cambodia, tourists are approached to visit orphanages, and offer donations to the children in the orphanages. However, these donations are often misused by inscrupulous managers who are instead utilising orphanage tourism in order to increase their own incomes. Orphanages that should operate to provide orphans with a place to live, access to health services and education, are instead using orphans to attract donations from tourists. As this has become the primary purpose of these orphanages, many orphans are not recieving the necessary care, health and education services that should be provided to them. In many ways, denying children these services is a deliberate decision – the sicker children look, the more money tourists are likely to donate.

Tourism in Cambodia has thus allowed certain individuals and organizations to profit off of children.  Furthermore, this kind of tourism is rapidly growing in Indonesia. In 2005, Cambodia gained 1, 421, 651 foreign tourists, and this number continued to rise to 2, 508, 289 in 2010 (Tourism Statistics Report, 2016). Data collected by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Veterans and Rehabilitation of Cambodian Youth, shows that there has been an increase in the number of orphanages in Cambodia by 75 percent – from 154 in 2005, to 269 in 2010 (UNICEF 2011). In addition, not all of these orphans are listed on MoSVY. Allegedly, many orphanages are not legally registered, in which case the number of orphans is realistically higher. Essentially, as tourism grows, the number of orphans is also growing.

In addition, many of the children now residing in orphanages were deliberately placed there, despite the fact that most of them still have parents. MoSVY data shows that 44 percent of the children cared for at the orphanages were brought there by their own parents and relatives. In Cambodia, it has been discovered that 30.1 percent of people live below the poverty line (World Bank, 2009). It has been suggested that the high level of poverty is the primary reason orphans are sent to these establishments, regardless of their authenticity.


Attempt to Eradicate Orphanage Tourism

Angkor Wat, one of the largest historic archeological sites in Southeast Asia, is one of Cambodia’s primary tourist attractions, and as such, has also become an ideal location to attract tourists into the orphanage trap. Conveniently, Angkor Wat is also located in Siem Reap, a slum area, and one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia. The administrators of these establishments create tourist orphanage tours in order to generate income and raise the standard of their own lives.

In order to prevent the increasingly widespread orphanage tourism, it is crucial to prevent acts of exploitation. Children who are deliberately exploited due to orphanage tourism are likely to experience poor mental development. In addition, an inability to access education is detrimental to their future, and will make it increasingly difficult for them to break the poverty cycle. Furthermore, the lack of access to essential health services is detrimental to the children’s well being and health outcomes.

The current situation in Cambodia is not only concerning due to the abandonment of children, but is a more complicated humanitarian crisis. Orphanage tourism can be linked to other issues such as child trafficking, child prostitution, in addition to a myriad of other issues. Thus, the Cambodian government has attempted to prevent orphanage tourism by establishing a series of policies.

In 2006, the Cambodian Government issued an Alternative Care for Children Policy, with the intention of ensuring that children can live with their families in a supportive environment. The policy also promotes the principle that institutions such as orphanages should be the last option, and a temporary solution. In addition to this regulation, in 2006 and 2008, the Government has also set standards for childcare facilities for children in Cambodia. In 2009, the implementation of the Alternative Care for Children Policy, was further strengthened by the establishment of a child welfare system in Cambodia. Initially, this project was expected to make it more difficult to obtain a permit to establish an orphanage, so to prevent the development of orphanage tourism. However, the implementation of these policies has not always been easy, and there are still many cases of orphanage tourism in Cambodian society today.

The issue of implementing and regulating the aforementioned policies, is compounded by the increased demand of such facilities by a large number of tourists, donors, and volunteers, who do not realize that orphanage tourism in Cambodia is resulting in more harm than good. Due to this, a number of non-profit organizations, in addition to the government, have promoted and campaigned against orphanage tourism, and in doing so have attempted to raise awareness of the dangers of orphanage tourism. An example of such organizations includes the and, who share a vision to prevent orphanage tourism in Cambodia.


Lock in the Hand of a Tourist

In order to resolve this issue, the Cambodian Government will also be required to eradicate poverty through long-term investment in quality education and healthcare access for children. In addition, as the primary funders of orphanage tourism in Cambodia, tourists have an important role to play through halting donating to these institutions.  Fortunately, the aforementioned movements have been raising awareness of orphanage tourism, so donations have started to decrease.

In order to prevent further donations, tourists must see this issue from the broader perspective, and recognize that giving donations to these children is not improving their welfare. Providing funding to these institutions is often reinforcing the cycle of poverty.

Travellers should also avoid giving donations to orphanages that are not reputable. Despite good intentions, giving donations to such institutions will only lead to detrimental outcomes, as it encourages the use of children for the objective of profit generation. If donations can not be avoided, they should be facilitated through a reputable, legal instituion, so that funds can be distributed appropriately and effectively.

As members of Southeast Asian society, we must not remain silent about the orphanage tourism phenomenon, especially considering that 40% of the tourists visiting Cambodia originate from ASEAN countries. It is vital that we all play a role in building a more positive environment for children, and advocate responsible tourism.


Website Orphanage Tourism:



This article was written by Riza Rafigani (in Indonesian), a student at Universitas Gadjah Mada, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Tourism and Commodification of Culture in Southeast Asia

Have you ever been to Borobudur during Waisak? Or went to Thailand and saw a lot of shops which provide the needs of the monks? Usually you need to provide extra money in your wallet.

Yes, the religion rituals and cultural tradition now have been used by the business people to get bigger profit under the pretext of culture-based tourism. Several places of religion rituals implement a system of admission, or the use of religious attributes that require us to pay the rent. In addition, the economic effects also be felt by its surroundings, like foods business and parking. These are what commonly called commodifications, which come from the words commodity and modification. Most of the experts in contemporary usage, define commodities as any goods or services associated with capitalist production and can be found as a result of the growth of capitalism, this is the inheritance of Karl Marx and the early political economy (Appadurai, 1986). Along with Karl Marx, Greenwood (1977) also stated that everything that is sold is assumed as a commodity, including culture. Modification means changing. If it merged with the meaning of commodity, commodification means changing a stuff to become economical commodity.  Shepherd (2002) stated that along with the increasing demand of tourism, commodification of culture cannot be avoided because the tourists want to feel different cultural experience as theirs. The debate is warmly discussed by the public and cultural and religion observers.

Local culture usually considered as main example which susceptible to commodification. Especially traditional clothes, festivals, and traditional folk arts become part of tourism commodity, like how they are presented or produced only for tourism consumption. (Cohen, 1988). Local culture usually deliberately changed and treated as a touristic attraction so that it can be destroyed because it lost its original meanings. As explained by Greenwood, the lost of meaning caused by the cultural commodification is a serious problem as a result from the development of uncontrolled tourism.


Cultural Commodification in Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia, tourism industry is an important component from economic aspect for all ASEAN country members– especially Cambodia, Lao, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand, where the tourism industry contribute more than 10% of their GDP in their economic. Based on World Travel Tourism Council (WTTC), in last 2013 ASEAN country members got a quite big devisen from tourism sector which was US$ 112.600.000.000. From the number of visitors, in last 2014 ASEAN succeeded to invite a total of 55 million tourists outside ASEAN.

The wealth and the variety of culture become one of the touristic attractions which become the main pillar for the success of tourism in Southeast Asia. By utilizing culture as an attraction, counties in the region also cannot escape from the problem of the culture commodification. As in Indonesia with the cultural tradition of Balinese Hindu community, inside the dances there are layered meanings and usually performed in the temple of praying as offerings to the gods. In the context of tourism, dance performances are a form of entertainment which then be traded to the tourists. Baker et al. (2006) light up the impact brought by tourism to Barong dance that famous among tourists. Baker explained how I Made Kredek, a famous dancer and choreographer from Singapadu Village, introducing the short version of Barong dance which only an hour so that it more suitable to be performed to the tourists. This version also has a ‘possession’ part of the dancers even though it is a controlled simulation, short duration, and with minimal dialogue. Furthermore, the costumes used are also deliberately tailored to the tastes of the tourists. For example, Barong masks in some performances are even made similar to the Barongsai‘s lion head mask commonly encountered in East Asia to attract more tourists from the area. This effort sparked a polemic among Balinese people. On one hand there are some people who agree and give opinion that the creation of a ‘tourist’ version of Barong Dance is actually an attempt to separate the original Barong Dance which is sacred and used for ritual ceremonies. While some others still disagree and think that Barong Dance should only for ritual purposes to maintain its sacredness, not to be presented to the tourists.

Not much different from Bali, the tourism industry in Thailand has grown so rapidly that Thailand managed to attract tourists with a massive amount, to reach the number 29.88 million tourists in last 2015. Tourism has also contributed to contribute 10 percent of Thailand’s GDP. Chiangkhan District in Loei Province has been famous as an important cultural tourism destination in northwest. When tourism industry in Thailand grows bigger, a lot of cultural products of Chiangkhan societies deliberately modified to be sold to the tourists (Meekaew & Srisontisuk, 2012). For example, the traditional houses of the residents that deliberately renovated to become a home stay then offered to the tourists. Another cultural commodification happened is the alms of glutinous rice to the monks commonly practiced by local residents. The glutinous rice is placed in bowls then sent to a temple with foods and flowers. Travel business owners and home stay owners see business opportunities and create a package containing glutinous rice, food, and flowers that tourists can buy. Clearly, the effort is a commodification because the presence of tourism there has changed the value of this ritual and turned it into one of the commodities that can be sold.

Something similar happened in Vietnam. Mua roi nuoc, derived from Vietnamese meaning ‘dolls that dance on the water’, is a kind of puppet which is traditional Vietnamese performing arts. This puppet is similar to wayang golek in Indonesia. What distinguishes is a puppet show that weighs 10-15 kg is presented on stage in the form of a pond filled with water waist-high. The Mua roi nuoc water puppet show is rooted in the religious values of agricultural life in Vietnam (Pack, Eblin, & Walther, 2012). This show connects important aspects of religion and spirituality embodied in folklore in its performances over the centuries. Along with the increasing popularity of Mua roi nuoc among tourists, modern practitioners have changed the key components of their appearance both in terms of content and formats aimed to attracting spectators from foreign tourists. For example, the main topic that lifts the lives of rural Vietnamese people has now been combined with more universal topics like love and romance. The figures are also influenced by foreign cultures such as the emergence of cowboy figures. The duration of the show has significantly shortened to maximize the number of shows in a day. No wonder that today many custom leaders, puppeteers, and cultural figures claimed that this contemporary show has lost the value of its ritual performances associated with the rural spirituality of Vietnam.


Between the Needs of Tourism and Cultural Maintenance

Like the two sides of the coin, the presence of tourism in Southeast Asia has both positive and negative effects. The positive side we can get is that tourism has turned the wheels of the economy so that it can bring in quite big devisen. Tourism also serves as a means of studying foreign cultures so that we can get cross cultural understanding to create a dream world peace. But inevitably, we also feel the negative effects from the presence of tourism in the form of local cultural commodification as already described. To address this, damage control needs to be done so that culture does not change fully into just as paid performance, it needs to be separated which is the sacred culture and which culture can be promoted to the tourists. Another approach that might be done is the process of de-marketing with the intention of restriction / exclusion of tourists who come to the tourist area. This is based on the assumption that excessive amounts of tourist, or often called as mass tourism, can damage the values that exist in the place (Swarbrooke, 1999).

Culture is more highlighting the values of wisdom contained in it, while the economy further highlights the commercial side and the welfare of society. There must be a balanced point between culture and economy. There must be a separation on which cultures are meaningfully deep and sacred with parts of the culture that can be promoted for tourism.  Although it can be said that it is quite difficult to achieve that, it will eventually bring benefits and goodness to the culture itself. There should be a belief that it is possible to find the perfect balance in between. Cultural results can still be used as a tourist attraction, as long as the tourism players are not greedy and change the essence of the culture solely to reap the benefits.



This article was written by Aninda Dewayanti & Riza A. Raafigani (in Indonesian).