Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Until Australia

Today I found ten rupees in my laundry and, for a split second, I snatched it up, thinking that I could buy water with it later. Then I remembered that I am not in India or in Asia for that matter; I am back home in Murfreesboro Tennessee.

After 3 overnight flights, multiple 10 hour layovers, an ear infection, a bruised breast bone, and 5 nights of much-need sleep, I think that I am finally awake and well enough to write this last post.  And since I’ve already given you all of my thoughts on all the various countries I’ve travelled to, I think I’m going to end this on a more personal note.

In my wallet, I carry two fortunes cookie fortunes. The first reads, “Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there.” I found this in my pocket just after a big break-up summer before senior year when I was living in New York City. Then, I believed that I needed to have faith in the connection that I had had with that person and in what I believed that we could have again—faith in him and in what we had built. Almost two years and another break-up later, I still find this slip of paper meaningful. During these trips, I have started to have faith in myself and what I can accomplish on my own—that I can be happy and successful alone. But I also have faith that I will find that kind of love again and, so instead of shutting myself away and putting up my guard, I will let myself open up just as easily as I always have. And love just as easily as I always have. I still have faith in people—that at the end of the day almost everyone means well. Call me naïve if you want, but even after being scammed a million times over in Asia, I still believe that.

The second and more recently discovered fortune that I carry around says, “You get in life not what you want. You get in life who you are.” In taking this time to travel, I have begun to accept something about myself. Together, my goals, personality, and interests, have not laid out an easy road for me. And to be honest, I really never have made easy choices even when I should have. If I am lucky enough to get to do what I want to do, I’m going face another decade of tight finances, hectic and difficult trips to the developing world, months of job rejections, and years of tests. But that’s okay. This path might not be conducive to relationships, friendships, or my annoying need to hermit and put in roots everywhere I go, but I do have faith that, because I am on this road, that the people in my life (as most of them already are) will end up being just as determined, passionate, and committed as I hope to be. And in terms of relationships, specifically, I’m just going to have to learn to love and get hurt for a little while until I come across that rare combination. But most importantly, I need to really accept this about myself. Not to just say it, but to know it.

I originally decided to go on this trip as something exciting to do with a boyfriend (which is kind of why I’ve been talking/thinking about relationships so much), but I ended up keeping my plane tickets, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. That I could be alone. That I wouldn’t fall apart and have bouts of homesickness everyday. That in the past two years, I had grown. That I was stronger. This isn’t to say that my two months away have been miserable. Well sure, spending a week in paradise on Koh Phi Phi Don was rough I guess. And Bob’s booze cruise didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Seeing friends was another real downside. JOKES. Hopefully, by now most of you know that this trip was great. More than great. Amazing. But parts of it were ROUGH—India especially. And I think that I’m coming away from those not so great experiences with the faith that I needed to find in myself and with the acceptance of parts of myself that I have either been trying to change or bury.

And as cliché as it may sound, I think that writing this blog has really made me hold myself accountable to be more honest with myself and to really think about what I see rather than just make a small mental note of it. So thank you so so much to everyone who has been reading. And to those of you that ventured on over to that side of the world with me. LOVELOVELOVE all of you!

So this it for now. This Ginger has now been to North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. She has not just swum in but skinny-dipped in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Until Australia, then.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Halong Bay

While in Vietnam, Katie and I decided to take it easy and only do one big trip to Hanoi so that we could see Halong Bay, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. And so like all tourists, we signed up for an overnight boat ride. Best decision ever. 

At first it was pretty foggy because a lot of people were burning local rice fields.

But then it cleared up, and we had great visibility, which was lucky from what other people were telling us. 

Part of our trip included a trip to one of the caves in the bay. Very beautiful. Although it was a bit strange that they had lit it up with neon lights. Afterwards, Katie and I went for a nice long bit of kayaking just around some islands near this cave. 

We chanced up on a woman with a LIVE octopus and way too many fish for my comfort level.

I don't know if you guys can see this, but it's oil on the water. Halong Bay is absolutely gorgeous, but it's quite obvious that the Vietnamese haven't thought about preserving it in the long term. There are hundreds of boats packed full of tourists just leaking oil into the water every day. It's awful. It's like they are capitalizing on this natural beauty, which no one can fault them for, but in a way that maximizes profit for only a couple of years. It just reminds me of how, like them, we also usually see things in the short term. Just take a look at our politics and policy over the century on everything from the environment to welfare. Instead of really getting at the problem, we just create more "solutions" that only create more problems down the line.  But I guess it's hard to think in the long-term when you are struggling to make enough to get by everyday.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to Cross the Street in Vietnam

Everything about crossing streets here is pretty counter-intuitive. But not to worry, I've made up a step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Close your eyes. Do not look both ways.
Step 2: Pray to any and all gods that you believe in. If you are agnostic like me, think about statistical possibilities that you will get hit and/or become religious for a minute.
Step 3: Ignore the honking. It is probably not directed towards you.
Step 4: Blindly put one foot out. Then another and then another.
Step 5: Continue to pray that the motorbikes won't hit you.
Step 6: Avoid cars as they are too big to swerve away.
Step 7: When you make it to the other side of the road, thank all Gods. 

And there you have it. Here you just basically step out into the street, walk across, and hope that no one hits you. Like into oncoming traffic. It is insane!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Vietnam Remnants Museum

K. Hoar and I have spent most of our time in Ho Chi Minh City relaxing, exploring, and doing some serious eating. We did, however, decide to go to the War Remnants Museum. After reading a couple of ex-patriot blogs about how biased and one-sided the displays were, I was a bit hesitant, but after thinking back to all the articles I read about the Vietnam War in U.S. Foreign Policy (yes, Lehmann I read them ALL), I reminded myself of how imperialist we were.

The museum boasts two main attractions—a collection of American helicopters, tanks, guns, and bombs outside the building and photographs documenting anti-war demonstrations around the world and the after-effects of Agent Orange, a chemical that American soldiers sprayed across the country.

 After walking around the museum for a couple hours, I found myself fixating on a few key ideas/thoughts. The first was that the Vietnamese did a really good job of documenting anti-war demonstrations around the world, and happily there was a whole section on the protests that took place in the United States. When I saw a couple of photographs of young hippies at Berkeley, I thought to myself, my mom is probably one of those fuzzy blobs in the background. A proud moment, I must say. But honestly, it was nice that the people were making a point that not all Americans wanted the war and that many were against it. Yet still, I heard several Europeans muttering about what the United States did. I even heard one woman stop her son, saying look what the Americans did. No lady, look at what our stupid government did.

This little moment brings me to my next point. While reading the information on the wall, I came across several quotes from the French, calling out the United States for committing crimes of war and genocide. This frustrates me SO MUCH. Not that people shouldn’t be keeping America in check, but that I feel like Westerners love to point out other countries’ mistakes while ignoring their own. Like hey France, remember when you built a volleyball court on the mass graves in Murambi, Rwanda after watching people clean the blood-soaked floors. Don’t even get me started on what the French colonizers did. But honestly people. Geez. Like next time you visit Washington D.C. go to the Holocaust Museum and then to the Native American/Indian one. As most of you know, touring the Holocaust Museum is a pretty intense experience, full of horrific photographs, incredibly difficult to watch videos, and, famously, piles upon piles of the dead’s shoes. But take a five-minute walk to the Indian Museum, and you won’t see much about the Trail of Tears. Urgh. It’s just so incredibly frustrating for me. If any country is going to call out another then that government should also investigate its own past. It’s too easy to keep shifting the blame onto everyone else, while not taking a hard look at what we have ignored.

One last thing. I think that what happened in Vietnam was absolutely despicable and ultimately wrong. There is now way around that. But I’m not a hundred percent convinced that what happened constitutes genocide, which is defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.” And I saw several plaques of quotes from prominent human rights associations that what happened in Vietnam was genocide. And I guess that what I’m getting at is that just because something is awful and horrible doesn’t mean that it’s genocide. I believe that to call it that downplays the events that unfolded in Rwanda, Darfur, and Germany among other countries. Maybe downplays is the wrong word—it just isn’t true to what happened. And it can kind of desensitize people to future genocides if we start calling every awful and bad situation genocide. I sort of think of it as similar to politicians calling each other Nazis. Maybe an official’s decision was authoritarian or even totalitarian and that makes it a bad decision definitely, but it was not a Nazi decision. To say that trivializes the Nazis and all of the experiences of those that suffered under Hitler. I guess that I just think that we really have to think hard about how we label things.  Hmm, I’m not saying this in the best way possible. I know. I apologize. But hopefully, you can kind of get what I’m saying.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Internet Censorship

I first realized that I wanted to be a political science major when I wrote a paper on North Korea. And while I don’t recall the exact subtopic, I do remember reading quite a bit about how totalitarian governments function—how leaders establish legitimacy, maintain control over almost every detail of their people’s lives, and survive in a world order dominated by democratic states. I was also really interested in how such a government psychologically manipulates its people, convincing families to turn on neighbors and children to give testimony against their parents. Understanding that these types of societies are fragile, most totalitarian leaders do whatever it is in their power to prevent rebellions, and I was always fascinated by what means they took and how the people reacted.

Since I can’t travel to North Korea or Eritrea, countries like Vietnam are just about the closest thing to a totalitarian state that I can get to, and it is still a long way away from that. I know that Freedom House is not the be-all-end-all ranking system, but I like to use it. For 2011, it ranks Vietnam as “Not Free.” For those of you who don’t know, Freedom House does reports on just about every country in the world; it looks at political rights and civil liberties among other things to give each country a score, and then it ranks them as “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.” Here is its most recent report on Vietnam from 2011:

But basically, I started thinking about all of this when I realized that facebook is somewhat banned here. You can’t access it if you type in but, if you google proxy facebook sites, there are TONS. So it’s not really that difficult to get on.  So I started reading about internet censorship in Vietnam, and I found that the government refuses to acknowledge that it has blocked facebook and, therefore, the blocks are pretty weak. If the government really wanted to take a harder stance on preventing access to the site, it would have to take much stronger measures and admit that it is behind it all. That would be a very unpopular move amongst the Vietnamese youth. So instead, the government just limits access to the “common folk.” Here’s some more reading for those of you that are interested in this:  Also, I think I read that the people are formally guaranteed a kind of free speech, but that protection is often contradicted by local laws or government actions.

I guess that a lot of governments like Vietnam worry not that people will say awful things about leaders on facebook, but that they will use the site as a way of uniting people against governments in power. This all happened before the Arab Spring Movements, and I won’t say that facebook was absolutely instrumental in the rebellions, but I do think it made them logistically easier. But I guess, my point is that made Vietnam feared that the site would be used in a similar way.

In other news, as I’m writing this, the theme song to Titanic is blasting. AHAHAHAHA! Preparation for the movie coming out in 3D, I guess.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Catching Up on Lost Time

Hanging out with Legs and Mikey in Vietnam only confirms what I already knew—the only way to really understand/see a place is to live there. Or, if you’re interested in shortcuts, to visit someone living in that place who will show you around. Ho Chi Minh City has been pretty great thus far; it’s honestly more like Bangkok than Phnom Penh. And while it’s not yet as built up as Thailand’s capital, Ho Chi Minh City seems to suggest that Vietnam is definitely a newly industrializing rather than developing country. Traveling overland, I was struck by the juxtaposition between Cambodia and its neighbors. Obviously, I’m no expert on Southeast Asia or anything, but I think that by driving across these three countries, you can really see just how devastating a conflict can be and how far genocide can set a country back. I’m sure that that is too much of an oversimplification of a very complex situation, but it’s still something to think on.

On to less serious subjects, Legs and Mikey live in an amazing apartment a short ride away from the backpackers district. I swear, this place would run you at least a couple thousand in D.C. or New York City. 

 Katie and I have already taken over our room. 

 And this lovely poster that Mikey and Legs put up over our beds really made us feel at home. It’s supposed to help up have baby boys. 

Anyways, we haven’t really done much sightseeing, which is honestly fine by me. I’m a little pooped. After a bit, temples, forts, and palaces all start to look the same, and the history is lost on me. Although, I do think that we’ll probably go to some war museums and see the tunnels. But for the past two days, we’ve just been hanging out, going to the movies, and eating. Tonight, for instance, we stayed up playing hearts until 2 am, and it was so hot that none of us were fully clothed. Legs, Katie, and I were pantsless and Mikey was only wearing a towel. Felt like we were back at Hamilton again, except this time around pants are bogus. New trend??

That’s all for now. We’re planning out adventures right now to a water park, Hanoi, and Halong Bay. So I promise more pictures and interesting stories to come.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Trio Reunited

If you had asked me March of senior year, where will you be in one year, I probably would have said in New York City or Washington D.C. living with Legs and Katie and working at some research institute. Either I am seriously failing or definitely winning depending on how you look at it, and I honest to god never would have predicted this. But in less than 9 hours, the great, wonderful, terrific, amazing trio will finally be reunited in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 

I am seriously overstimulated. Just a 6 hour bus ride away!! Many many many adventures to come!!! EEEEEEK!