May 22, 2002
You've traveled the world. You've seen the biggest church, the 2nd biggest church, and probably even the 3rd biggest. You've seen fantastic temples and scores of museums. Seen beautiful beaches, huge mountains and dense jungles. What's left? What's new? What keeps you from getting bored? Well for me, the answer seems to be in spectating political turmoil - "political tourism" (I need a catchier term for it, but I can't seem to come up with one at the moment.) After a while, every church starts looking the same - Every political crisis is unique and in the 3rd world they are rarely boring.
I first started thinking of politics as something to sightsee in Cambodia. Cambodia is always a mess and the politics are always interesting. But my 1st experience with political tourism was much earlier. I was in Prague in 1993. Not long after the velvet revolution where the Czech Republic peacefully separated from Slovakia. I was sitting in a bar having a few too many beers with some guys from Quebec. In conversation, one of us utters the word 'Czechoslovakia'. The whole bar stands up, turns towards us and gleefully corrects us "Czech Republic". It was an amazing and unique travel experience. Everyone has their photo taken in front of the Eiffel tower, but how many people have first hand experienced a country's innocent, powerful, new found patriotism?
Now I'm looking towards Myanmar. All the reasons seem to be pointing towards going. One - I'd planned to be in India, but it is way too hot. India is usually hot, but in a heatwave it's unbearable. The 120 degree weather has killed hundreds of people in the last few days. I'm thinking that I might want to start my travels in India after this heatwave is over. Two - As I wrote in the Palau Weh journal entry, I'm obligated to go to Mandalay, Myanmar as part of my Vegas quest. Going now will relieve my guilt over flying over it last month. Three - political tourism. Aung Suu Kyi is the democratically elected president of Myanmar who the military regime has kept under house arrest for the past few years. She was released from house arrest last week. I don't know what is going to happen next week, but I'm guessing it is not going to be boring.
It's probably time for me to give thoughts on September 11th. By being out of the country, I had a very different experience than the rest of America. I am probably the only American to learn about the attack while standing next a Komodo dragon. I spent the first few months after the attack in Muslim countries, which undoubtedly affected my thoughts. However, it was Cambodia that really shaped my views regarding September 11. In New York, 2800 people died. In Cambodia 2 million people died. I don't think that most Americans think of it this way, but September 11 is really a relatively minor event in the scale of human tragedy.
You're damn straight. I am so tired of ameri-centric dorks amazed that something so terrible as Sept 11th could happen... When terrorism happens in other countries on a daily basis.
Maybe American citizens should be given a "travel credit" where the government gives them a free trip to somewhere poor and war-torn. The list of destinations would change periodically. That way, Americans would get global awareness through direct exposure, and developing countries would get bourgeois American dollars.