Monday, April 2, 2012

Foreign relations

Ok, I'd like to take this blog to discuss a few other topics besides where I'm at and what I've been doing, but since I don't want to let down my adoring fans (32 now, I think!), here's the short version:
Took the slow boat to Laos, where I rode elephants, went tubing, drank a lot, and learned to kayak. On a day when I was deciding between getting the extended 60 day visa to go back in to Thailand or go straight from Laos to Vietnam and Cambodia and wishing I had someone else to do all the planning and decision making, an Australian friend was wishing for a travel partner to go to India with, so BAM! India is back on the itinerary! Took the night train back to Bangkok to secure my Indian visa and now I'm hanging out on the Thai island of Koh Chang until April 7th when I will head back to Bangkok to pick up my visa and wait for my flight to India on the 11th.
Now, where was I? Oh yeah, Facebook. On behalf of myself and all my fellow backpackers, I'd like to thank Mark Zuckerberg for creating Facebook. I've heard some say, "I don't know what backpackers did before the Internet." But more than the Internet alone, Facebook has had a huge impact on backpacking and I don't know how we survived without it. With only email, my grandma would have only heard from me every few weeks, and a few close friends would have heard from me even less. I would have come home to missed birthdays and babies, new jobs, new relationships, new homes. Earlier in this blog, I said that I didn't plan to contact home too often while I was gone, and I take it all back. I have enjoyed bringing all of my friends and family members along for the ride as much as they have loved coming. On the rare bad or lonely day, it's been comforting to know that I can simply log on and complain, and almost instantly, my friends back home are there to cheer me up. Gone are the days when I would have had to send a pathetic tearful email and waited for hours, if not days, for the recipient to see and respond. It has also opened up a whole new line of connection with fellow travelers. I'm sure before Internet, if you made a new friend on the road, you exchanged addresses, vowed to stay pen pals for life, wrote once a month for a while, then slowed to once a year before eventually losing contact all together. Email may have prolonged this a bit, but Facebook has given a more realistic option to being able to stay "friends forever." Not to mention it has helped tremendously while I'm still traveling. I can go to a new town or country, and by updating my status, my fellow travelers can suggest good cheap places to stay, or even meet me at my destination because they are headed there, too. I have not met one single backpacker who didn't have Facebook. There is a term "flashpacker," used to disdainfully refer to the type of traveler who carries a suitcase with wheels instead of a backpack, wears a full face of makeup to go on the organized "trek" they paid hundreds of dollars to join, always stays in private rooms because the idea of sharing a dorm or even a bathroom is beneath them, and carries an armload of electronics to stay connected to the western world they paid so much to leave behind. But even the dirtiest, smelliest, hippiest backpacker can be found hunkered up in a hammock, updating their Facebook status and loading a new profile picture. So thanks Mark Zuckerberg, the backpacker community owes you big.
I'd also like to talk about the lack of American travelers. I have met tons of Germans, hoards of Australians, and plenty of English, Dutch, and Swedes. But with the exception of one magical moment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, when there were 7 of us at once, I very rarely run into fellow Americans, and even rarer still, American females. Most Americans use the excuse, "I can't afford it," even though we are considered to be possibly the richest country in the world. "I don't have the time," is another good one since I'm sure we have the highest population of tv watching couch potatoes, myself included of course. And "I can't do it while the children are young," seems just plain silly considering how many giant families of Australians and English I've seen trotting their kids around Thailand, through the streets of Laos, and dining in Bali. It's no more dangerous than a trip to Walt Disney World or Hawaii, and probably cheaper these days than the gas it would take to get a motor home across America for a summer trip to the beach...and a lot more culturally rewarding and educational. Sure, I could easily be considered a hypocrite since I was able to afford this by living rent free for nearly a year, but I guarantee, I'll never get that lucky again, and I have no intention of letting this be my last great trip. A little less shopping, a few more meals cooked at home, and foregoing expensive cable channels is really all it will take. So, what are YOU waiting for?
Finally, I'd like to address the opinions other western countries have of's not good. It's often been suggested (especially in the George W. Bush era) that Americans tell other travelers they are Canadian. Some even go so far as to sew a Canadian flag patch on their backpack! When another westerner (someone from a non-Asian country) hears my accent, the polite thing to ask is, "Are you Canadian?" Not because they can actually tell the difference between a Canadian and American accent, but because they would never want to offend some poor sweet Canadian by accusing them of being an obnoxious American! I even have a friend who whenever asked where she is from, quickly follows up her answer of " America," with the disclaimer, "but I am moving to Australia." Now, I'm not some intensely patriotic American girl who thinks my country is the only one worth living in. I think it's a big beautiful world, and who knows where I'll end up? But no matter what my forwarding address becomes or how many digits are in my phone number, I'll always be American, and denying that seems as pointless as denying that I have brown eyes or giant size 10 feet. I would much rather change people's perspective. My English friend Emma once told me in Chiang Mai, "Sandi, I'm really glad I got to meet you and some of the others, because until now, I had a pretty poor opinion of Americans based on the few that I'd met. You guys have really changed my outlook on Americans." BEST COMPLIMENT EVER. So get out here and help me change the world's opinion..and if I haven't convinced you to go buy a ticket yet, here's a few pictures that may help...

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