Monday, February 24, 2014

A Continued Contemplation on Commercialization

“Namche told me that he wasn’t sure that tourism and prosperity have been universally good for the Sherpa community, because of the social upheaval and divisiveness that accompany them” (47). I thought that Norgay offered an interesting and refreshing perspective on the benefits and drawbacks of the commercialization of Everest. He touched upon a lot of the things we mentioned in class when discussing Into Thin Air, but also offered inside into the more interpersonal consequences that have arisen. He talked about how tourism stimulated the economy and how people made donations for community based projects that would benefit people equally but also touched upon the more negative effects that individual donations have had. He mentioned the arbitrary nature of many of the tips and donations that are given at the end of treks and how irreparable rifts are caused within families because two Sherpas on successful trips received drastically different compensation. He also mentioned how people are desperate to leave their local communities to send their children to schools in Kathmandu or preferably India or oversees regardless of the opportunities that exist within their own communities. It was interesting to see how on the one hand he worried how people were losing their connection to their own culture and language but had just previously mentioned how incredible and valuable it was that where most Sherpas only spoke their local language years before, almost everyone was now bilingual. It seemed to me that Norgay was torn, much as we were, between the ways that tourism and commercialization have both helped and hindered the communities around Everest. I felt it was a further manifestation of the rift he felt in his religious identity that he described as being a byproduct of St. Paul's, and spending time in the United States.


  1. Chinese Finger Traps

    Have tourism and commercialization helped or hurt the communities of Everest? I think this is a question everyone in the room—students and authors—are asking while recounting the climbs. We are caught in a Chinese finger trap. I’m not sure what the answer is, but it is worth noting we probably wouldn’t be reading these books if it weren’t for the commercialization of climbing. Commercialization is a good thing for the ways it has brought different perspectives, like Jamling’s, into conversation. If the mountain hadn’t been “commercialized,” books would not be “written by” Sherpas and sold for a profit to Western audiences and audiences all over the world—no one outside the local Everest community could experience the climb. Personally, I appreciate the commercialization of climbing because it has allowed me to engage in discussions about climbing while miles from the climb.

    According to Wikipedia, the Chinese finger trap is a common metaphor for a problem that can be overcome by relaxing. Should we relax about the commercialization of climbing? It may be that it is not even possible to commercialize a mountain/climb. What I have gathered about mountains so far is follows: A mountain is part of nature and belongs to no one. A mountain is a means of exploring oneself. You can’t commercialize a mountain, but can you commercialize oneself?

  2. Isabelle, I agree. I think there definitely are some pretty major divides in Nepal about whether the commercialization of mountaineering has helped or harmed society. The commercialization of mountaineering definitely led to social upheaval and over a very short time period, perhaps only a generation, as Norgay stated that in his fathers day, it was the Sherpas who carried the loads instead of the porters who carried the loads in Norgay's time and who continue to carry them today. Social upheaval is also usually never a peaceful process and considering it took place over such a short time period in Nepal, there probably was a lot of strife and social division that resulted from it. However, it also seems that the commercialization of mountaineering was economically very beneficial to the region and to many of the social classes within Nepal. Consequently, the commercialization of mountaineering is probably considered a positive influence to the country as the social upheaval will over time ultimately settle itself into a new equilibrium and one with a lot more wealth.

  3. I think that Norgay touches upon this even more towards the end of his book when he talks about how torn he is between Eastern and Western culture.

    In regard to the schooling issue, he acknowledges that many Sherpa families spend their whole lives saving money to send their children to schools like St. Paul's. This is something that Norgay finds distressing, especially since his absence from home as a teenager prevented him from establishing the relationship with his father that he so desperately craved.

    I think that Norgay's involvement with the American Himalayan Foundation is so interesting to me because he is actively working to better Sherpa communities so that students can stay in their villages and get a quality education, but at the same time this would deprive them of an experience that he admits was instrumental in his view of the world.

    I also wonder how much of the commercialization commentary in the book was Nogay's thoughts as opposed to Broughton Coburn's. Commercialization has given Coburn a livelihood and a job so I think he might have felt compelled to defend it. We don't know anything about the writing process but I think there is a potential conflict of interest with Coburn writing about commercialization and its impact on the Sherpa community.