Soon to be Asia-bound

 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
We are soon off on our second “trip of a lifetime,” this one to New Delhi, Katmandu, a six-day trek in the Himalayas, and then two weeks in Thailand, one of them unscripted.

Our trip to Europe in 2011 changed my outlook on many things. In Italy we saw Italians doing all of the daily jobs from waiting tables to driving buses. Imagine! Switzerland was just as imagined. Prague was enchanting, and the John Lennon Wall gave me an idea of the power and reach of this man. There are cathedrals everywhere, but deeply embedded in them are hints of the real history of religion – sun worship and astrology. The Vatican had the feel of powerful military fortress, and a long hallway of statues with all of the male genitalia chopped off spoke volumes on Catholicism. Countries on the euro are expensive. Those not are much more affordable, though the standard if living is very high throughout (except perhaps Hungary as we saw it in our brief glimpse*).

VelvetRevolution2But most amazing was the infrastructure, excellent railways and buses running on time all the time, clean and police-free airports and terminals and the absence of the monster-chains like WalMart polluting the countryside with their Soviet-like grayness. They are there, I know, but the places that we saw were mostly small shops. People lean against cafe railings in the morning as they drink their cappuccino from real cups. They are rushed in the bigger cities, just like here, but it’s footsteps, trains and buses instead of automobiles. Parts of Prague gave us the oppressive nature of the Soviet occupation. We walked daily through Wenceslas Square famous for those powerful images and the “Velvet Revolution” that brought in the new regime. I realized that we are prisoners only of our own minds. Such a revolution is possible in the US too, though I don’t see it coming any time soon. We are deep in mind and thought control here, but I don’t think people can see that from within. Travel helps.

Our son Steve did some of the same trip that we are embarking on Wednesday AM, but he’s young and so he rented motorbikes and met other young people and traveled like a young Kerouac. We don’t have that luxury, and so will be a little more stationary. I am trying to free my mind of stereotypes and prejudices, but have a bad feeling about India – heat and cows and excrement and crowds. Gotta shake that notion! Thailand, as we will see it, is likely a first-world country catering to Americans, but I can’t just hop on a motorbike and head into the hills to live among the people in the rice paddies … oh, wait – that’s my Vietnam stereotype!

John Lennon Wall, Prague: First Soviet officials, and later Knights of Malta, painted over the wall. It would reappear within days.
John Lennon Wall, Prague: First Soviet officials, and later Knights of Malta, painted over the wall. It would reappear within days.
And even so, though I don’t want to be a tourist, we will be tourists and should be tourists. The non-tourist parts ought to stay that way, in my view. By definition settings are not natural once we start traipsing through them. People begin to devise ways to part us from our money, and most of those ways involve catering to our stereotypical ideas of the place we are visiting. Just by going to a place, we change that place.

I don’t know if I’ll be writing much – it’s kinda of what I do no matter where I’m at as I rise early and have my best times before the rest of the world gets up. I suppose that won’t change. i do love writing.

I am told that in Thailand they put ice cubes in beer. That’s disturbing.
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*At the Keleti railway station in Budapest when we arrived, I headed for the bathroom and went from stall to stall looking for one with toilet paper. At last I saw a man at a desk at the entrance signal to me, and I went out there. He pointed at a giant roll there – he was monitoring use. How Soviet!

9 thoughts on “Soon to be Asia-bound

  1. I am trying to free my mind of stereotypes and prejudices

    Are stereotypes and prejudices necessarily false?

    Countries on the euro are expensive. Those not are much more affordable, though the standard if living is very high throughout

    IOW, kind of like Boulder writ large. I wonder what is similar?

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    1. Stereotypes precede perceptions. I’m going to try to have one without the other.

      Boulder writ large? I don’t get that at all. Boulder is quite wealthy, and people who work there cannot afford to live there. Western Europe in general is wealthier per capita than here in the US, more egalitarian.

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    2. Stereotypes precede perceptions.

      We still need shorthand ways to organize the world. Stereotypes and a knowledge of statistical distributions is a good first step to successfully navigating the world. E.g., all gypsies won’t rob you, but keep a hand on your wallet when around them.

      Boulder writ large? I don’t get that at all.

      That Boulder, Switzerland, and Italy are relatively wealthy/have wealth to spread around, and are the destination of immigrants looking for something better, derives from their European sensibility in how to organize and manage things. When comparing per capita incomes, break it out by ethnic group. The Swiss in America do as well or better than the Swiss in Switzerland.

      The European cohort in the US stacks up similar to their brethren across the water when looking at categories such as crime rate, educational performance, and economic attainment. When you make statements like, ” Western Europe in general is wealthier per capita than here in the US”; I think, “if you take out African American and Hispanics, we stack up about the same”. Maybe Steve Kelly will find a way to close the gap someday.

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      1. Some day you’re going to see that your views on biology in human affairs don’t fit, and actually take the time to think about it a bit and take a tack on it from a different angle, and then things will open up and you’ll see far more than you do now. You’re a little bit limited in your perceptions, not even imagining that public opinion is too important to be left unmanaged.

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        1. Cute. I like it. Hoist him by his own petard. (What the hell is a petard?)

          I see differences, cultural and racial, and even genetic within cultures and races. I fear what happens to societies when people focus on those differences in terms of superiority of one group versus another. Even if I perceive more ability in one area, say white people and our banking-oriented commerce, or a sub-group, Germans and their extreme organizational skills or Russians and their science or Jews and their banking and focus on education, I think it critical from a societal point of view to quash notions of superiority. Otherwise we start killing people based on such traits.

          Right now we’re killing Arabs based on stereotypes. See how it works?

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        2. I fear what happens to societies when people focus on those differences in terms of superiority of one group versus another.

          We can discuss differences without resorting to superiority concerns, but it does come up, and there is a naturally adversarial dynamic here: every culture thinks they are the best. I suppose one useful outcome would be a balance of power, but a problem today is we advocate one culture over another via public policy; thus we get the notion that immigrants “do the work Americans won’t do”, which I’ve found to be utter b.s., but there it is. I’ve watched central California from Bakersfield to Fresno turn almost 100% Hispanic, with the expected accomplishment (anybody for a cock fight?); and nobody seems to say much about it. LA Unified School District is 80% Hispanic, and this evidently amounts to diversity we should celebrate.

          Right now we’re killing Arabs based on stereotypes.

          Yes, and being done by a government that mouths every multi-cultural trope one can cook up.

          Our boutique wars are largely foolish, but when there is a clash of cultures, one needs to be ready to fight and prevail. Sometimes it comes down to do or die, and sometimes you need to conquer territory to move into the future.

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  2. I’ve been spending some time reading and watching NDTV (New Delhi TV)following the Tropical Cyclone Phaelin hitting the NE coast of India. Definitely changed my preconceptions about life in India.

    What really disturbed me was on the live TV viewer — the commercials were all targeted at the uber-rich. It seems that the societal striations in India aren’t as hidden from view as our trifurcated society (rich/middle-class/poor) tends to do, and the uber-rich are glorified and targeted on tv. All we get in the states (even on Fox) is TV ads targeted at the middle/poor class.

    Amazing what watching TV ads can tell you about a society…

    Also, the bug on the live TV viewer tells about the seizing of a U.S. “security company” ship (read “mercenaries”), and towing it to Tutikorin for having arms without having the proper permits to carry them in Indian waters. Gee, I wonder what would happen if an Indian (or Chinese) mercenary ship were carrying weapons in U.S. waters???

    And amazingly, India managed to evacuate nearly a million people in 36 hours away from where the Category 5 tropical cyclone landed. Few deaths… take that New Orleans!

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