One of the things I like best about traveling is the perspective it gives me on my own life. I believe if everybody were able to travel the world and see different people and other cultures, then it would probably be a much nicer planet. And while there are many things I admired about the countries I visited (see my recent post here), I came home a little more thankful to have been born in America than when I left.
Every country we traveled to warned tourists: “Do not drink water from the tap.” Now, this is different from Mexico, where travelers might succumb to Montezuma’s Revenge while the locals snicker. In many of the countries I visited this trip the locals rarely drink the water! The governments frequently import bottled water because in a lot of places there is not an adequate filtration system to deliver safe drinking water. (It seems like it would be cheaper in the long run to build the infrastructure and water plants than to continue bottling and delivering water all over the country month after month, year after year!) Here in Florida water is a vital and fleeting resource, so I am grateful to the leaders whose shoulders this burden of protection falls – thank you!
On the upside, apparently Coca Cola gives Asia better quality drinks as “Energy” is listed as an ingredient. LOL
I am grateful for traffic lights, stop signs, lane lines, paved roads… all the traffic devices and rules really that we rarely (if ever) saw in Asia. In places where cars and motorcycles wiggle their way through packed intersections and the rules of the road seem to be whoever honks loudest and is the most daring behind the wheel, I appreciate law and order.
This was common in Vietnam:
Um… ’nuff said.
Obamacare fan or not, I’m glad if I get sick that I can get help. This is a major problem in each country we visited, where you only get treated if you can pay for it. And, even if you can pay for it, resources are scant leading to situations like beds being shared in the hospital. A large population in these countries cannot afford to pay for treatments, though, so there is no preventative medicine practiced, and many times it is the local pharmacist who tries to diagnose and treat villagers. So, when we were there climbing on temple ruins in the jungle, I was often trying to figure out a plan of action if my 73-year-old mother were to fall and break a hip!
This was the local clinic on Lake Tonle Sap – if you had a boat to reach it! LOL
Both Cambodia and Laos are still chock-full of live mines. In Cambodia the U.S. bombed the Ho Chi Minh Trail and then the Khmer Rouge set booby traps until 1999. In Laos, the U.S. dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs on 580 bombing missions. (This is the equivalent of dropping a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years. Um, yeah.)
There are thousands of unexploded mines buried across fields and throughout forests. As I stated in an earlier blog post, many times villagers have no idea there are mines, have lived and worked around them for years until a child stumbles across and sets one off, often killing or maiming the child. Then a volunteer group is called in to clear the area (because there is rarely just one mine) and the painstakingly slow and dangerous work of clearing the fields begins. While rare – something similar just happened in Germany from a leftover but previously unknown WWII bomb.
When you lose your job here, you can file for unemployment, and if things get bad enough, go on welfare. In the countries we visited, if you lost your job or were unable to work, you were simply out of luck and could suffer some extreme consequences. In Cambodia, where the minefields have left hundreds maimed, some make a living by playing music outside temples asking for donations. (We donated.)
I am also thankful that my family has a comfortable existence and that we live well above the International Poverty Line, unlike many people we saw. We don’t work any harder (actually we probably work a lot less hard) than many of the families in Cambodia and Laos, but we have had the incredible luck of having been born and raised in the U.S. A.
Here, advancement is possible (again, takes a bit of hard work and luck), but the rags to riches story is still alive and well. In many of these places, there was no access to internet (or even electricity for that matter) and the only transportation to the nearest town was walking. I struggle to imagine a way out of that. I would not be a blogger there.
While I had a job at age 16 teaching gymnastics to little ones, it was by choice because I wanted some spending money. Fortunately, my high school-aged son does not have to work (not that he’d have time as a competitive swimmer) but at least it is a choice for him, too. Some of the children in the countries we visited do not have this choice. While we saw many children happily going to and from schools, we also saw some children who do not go to school at all but work from the time they are able to walk. Children seemingly as young as five and six years old came up to sell us crafts. Others were working hard in the fields or in the fishing villages.
In addition to living above the poverty line, we didn’t have to use crowd-funding to finance our wedding, which is a very common way to pay for this major life event in SE Asia. (It’s pretty smart actually!) For most people in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, a wedding invitation presents a problem for the guests – how much cash can they afford to give? (There’s no bridal registry or traditional presents – money only.) Do they give $10, $15, or even $20? (And this is a hefty amount in these countries!) Whatever is given is actually a loan for the bride and groom to pay for the wedding. Each amount given is carefully recorded because that money will be repaid by the couple to each guest at a future wedding, birth of a child, etc. I, for one, am thankful for the toaster, pieces of china, and picture frames that we received for our nuptials. 😉
Just check out this beautiful wedding tent in Cambodia – where weddings start at 6 am in the morning and don’t end until lunchtime the next day!
Meanwhile weddings in Hanoi are ultra-short affairs: lasting only 1.5 hours. Many people opt to hold their wedding and reception during that hour-and-a-half lunch break during the week, in order to assure they will have guests attend!
Fun fact: Hanoi has a square where a team of make up artists, bridal gown rentals and photographers wait for engaged couples to come take their wedding photos ahead of the big day. We must have seen thirty couples come get their photos taken. They do it about a month in advance so the photos can then be photoshopped, including having many different backgrounds like the Eiffel Tower or a Lamborghini! They then hand these photos out to guests who attend the lunchtime nuptials.
Okay, I admit I am pretty squeamish to begin with, but there are some foods (and drinks) I am just not open to trying:
As our guide told us in Laos, “We eat everything with four legs except tables, and then eat everything with wings except planes.” Um, no thank you.
On the lighter side of things I won’t take for granted again, I include dessert. This is not dessert:
This is lovely fresh fruit, to be sure, but give me a hot fudge sundae or chocolate cake any day!
So, many people asked me why we went to SE Asia on a trip. I can now easily answer by telling them to just take a look at my photos of the gorgeous ancient temples, the incredible landscapes, and the smiles of the beautiful native peoples on my Flickr account. This is why!