My little ramblings seem insignifcant and frivolous, and I’m not sure why I bother sharing them. Still, I think it is important that ordinary people keep living their lives and not give in to hopelessness, despair, or disgust in the face of the acts of a few extremists who manage to wrest the attention of the world, either by shooting innocents or by shooting off their mouths – yes, I mean you Mr. Trump.
So, in this not very optomistic mood, I thought I would look back at our year in travel and see what good things I could find to focus on. First, I do want to acknowledge that I do understand that we are deeply privileged to be able to do what we do and live how we live, and there are so many reasons we are grateful for that, no matter what else is going on.
In the spring, we traveled to Southeast Asia, stopping in one of our favorite places in the world – Singapore. We happened to be there shortly after the death of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, and in the eulogies and articles and memorials to him, we found many lessons for all the worlds’ government leaders and, indeed, for ordinary citizens, in how to govern well and how to be a good citizen. Mostly it is about taking responsibility and taking the long view, and putting the good of the many above advantage for the few.
Then we had the opportunity to visit two emerging nations – Myanmar and Cambodia – both nations with troubled recent pasts, but where we saw great optimism and hope for the future. In Myanmar, hopes were high during our visit for a victory for Aung San Suu Kyi – whom they call “The Lady” -and her NLD party. In November, the NLD did indeed win a landslide election, and slowly, the leaders of the ruling military junta do seem to be moving towards democratization of the country, with the former ruler Than Shwe, having stated his support the the NLD leadership on Sunday. Due to a constitutional provision that was intended to keep Ms. Suu Kyi from becoming the official ruler (she has children who have British passports – the constitution forbids anyone with ‘foreign ties’ through family members from becoming president) it is expected that a proxy ruler will fill the position. Nonetheless, Ms. Suu Kyi clearly intends to wield the power and it would appear that reforms in Myanmar are likely to commence soon. The people we met there have, in common with the Singaporeans, a long view, and a willingness to sacrifice in the short term in order to achieve a more prosperous and free future for their children and grandchildren. One can only hope for the best for the citizens of this lovely but troubled land.
Cambodia is a bit further along in terms of integration into the wider world than is Myanmar, but seems to be sliding backward into a more totalitarian and less democratic state than has pertained for the last few years. Under the same ruler for over 30 years, Cambodia had made some progress since the horror filled days of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and, economically, at the least, had become a player in the modern world. However, recently, opposition leaders have been harassed, threatened with arrest, and gone into exile, and further crackdowns seem likely. I would not likely have known any of this, though, if we had not visited there. Now, with knowledge of the country and its history, and with some personal relationships that we developed during our stay, I take a lot more interest in what is going on there, for good or ill. I fear that the cautious optomism we saw from people will erode with these new sanctions on dissent.
From the emerging world to the Old World, we spent our late summer in Germany and England, topped off with a cruise through the lands of the Vikings. Where we were in Germany, people are now struggling to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war-torn Middle East, and the very towns we were in in the Lake District are now quite literally under water after the worst storms in decades. Vikings, on the other hand, are a hot commodity in the popular media – everything from tv series to games feature Vikings. Having seen their homelands, I can certainly understand why they became traders and travelers – it would have been really tough trying to wrest a subsistence from the arable land in Norway, and their colonized lands in Iceland and Greenland weren’t much better. Here again, it is travel that has opened our eyes and minds to the concerns (and ways of life) of others. In the absence of our travels, I would likely be the same as most Americans I know, not venturing beyond the available broadcasts on CNN for my international news. Instead, now, I keep up with local news from all over the globe on the internet.
All of which is another way of saying that, like Rick Steves, we will ‘Keep on Travelin” for all the benefits and blessings it brings to us, in spite of the fears and difficulties that can crop up, and to assure that those who would have us cowering in our homes, or, worse yet, engaging in some kind of Holy War, do NOT get to win!