Letters

Letters 10-27-2014

Paging Doctor Dan: The doctor’s promise to repeal Obamacare reminds me of the frantic restaurant owner hurrying to install an exhaust fan after the kitchen burns down. He voted 51 times to replace the ACA law; a colossal waste of money and time. It’s here to stay and he has nothing to replace it.

Evolution Is Real Science: Breathtaking inanity. That was the term used by Judge John Jones III in his elegant evisceration of creationist arguments attempting to equate it to evolutionary theory in his landmark Kitzmiller vs. Dover Board of Education decision in 2005.

U.S. No Global Police: Steven Tuttle in the October 13 issue is correct: our military, under the leadership of the President (not the Congress) is charged with protecting the country, its citizens, and its borders. It is not charged with  performing military missions in other places in the world just because they have something we want (oil), or we don’t like their form of government, or we want to force them to live by the UN or our rules.

Graffiti: Art Or Vandalism?: I walk the [Grand Traverse] Commons frequently and sometimes I include the loop up to the cistern just to go and see how the art on the cistern has evolved. Granted there is the occasional gross image or word but generally there is a flurry of color.

NMEAC Snubbed: Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) is the Grand Traverse region’s oldest grassroots environmental advocacy organization. Preserving the environment through citizen action and education is our mission.

Vote, Everyone: Election Day on November 4 is fast approaching, and now is the time to make a commitment to vote. You may be getting sick of the political ads on TV, but instead, be grateful that you live in a free country with open elections. Take the time to learn about the candidates by contacting your county parties and doing research.

Do Fluoride Research: Hydrofluorosilicic acid, H2SiF6, is a byproduct from the production of fertilizer. This liquid, not environmentally safe, is scrubbed from the chimney of the fertilizer plant, put into containers, and shipped. Now it is a ‘product’ added to the public drinking water.

Meet The Homeless: As someone who volunteers for a Traverse City organization that works with homeless people, I am appalled at what is happening at the meetings regarding the homeless shelter. The people fighting this shelter need to get to know some homeless families. They have the wrong idea about who the homeless are.

Home · Articles · News · Random Thoughts · The Missing
. . . .

The Missing

Robert Downes - December 31st, 2007
You hear American music everywhere you go in Asia, and see American films and TV. There’s a “Texas Hold ’Em” pinball machine in the restaurant at my hotel, and a McDonald’s right downstairs. But one thing I haven’t found are any living, breathing citizens of the United States.
There were mobs of us in Prague, back in the Czech Republic, but after that, it was as if the people from Tennessee, Texas, Alabama and Ohio all dropped off the map. I saw a tour bus of them in Egypt, with my countrymen hidden behind black windows and sheltered in the fortified Hilton on the Nile behind armed guards -- they might as well have been traveling in a Thermos. But I haven’t found any mingling with the hordes of Swedes, Germans, Russians, Finns, Spaniards, Aussies and New Zealanders that you find everywhere here in Backpacker Land. So far, I’ve met just two others: nurses Helen and Jason, who were on my tour in Egypt.
I can’t help but wonder if it’s simple fear that has kept Americans locked in their own country, or else confined to hermetically-sealed resorts in Mexico or package tours in Europe. Perhaps it’s no surprise: as Michael Moore pointed out in “Bowling for Colombine,” the American media is obsessed with spreading fear of everything from killer bees to Chinese teddy bears. And for the media, foreigners are the worst of all -- our fears roil like an episode of “24” with Snidely Whiplash villains in the guise of Arabs and the Russian mafia lurking inside the friendly neighborhood ice cream truck rolling through your neighborhood.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that there are armies of Americans here, but we’re simply traveling in different circles. Possibly, they are holed up in the Radisson on a “Ten Days in Asia” tour. If so, my apologies.
But imagine enduring many American travelers’ biggest fear: you’re rushed by two dark-skinned men in a lonely place in a Muslim country with no chance of escape.
But this is no mugging -- these guys just want to shake your hand and say how thrilled they are that an American is visiting their country. They practically have tears of joy in their eyes.
This happened to me a number of times in Egypt and also in the Kingdom of Bahrain, where an innkeeper assured me that Americans are the “best of the best” among all of the foreign travelers, and he wished there were more of us stopping by. A cab driver in Thailand also claimed Americans were the best of the bunch, but there were few visitors.
One of the things you get asked everywhere in foreign lands is, “Where are you from? Australia? England? Germany?”
I always answer, “America,” because I love seeing peoples’ reactions. But I’ve heard from other travelers that there are some Americans who are fearful to admit where they are from, perhaps because of the dumb moves our government has made over the past few years, courtesy of the Bush administration.
Some Americans will even claim to be natives of Canada, England or Australia. No doubt, they are afraid that someone will say something mean or even assault them.For my money, there’s nothing dorkier than a tourist marching around with a Canadian maple leaf flag on his pack, as if to say, “Don’t hurt me, I’m a Canadian, not one of those nasty Americans.”
But there’s little reason to fear foreign travel because the dirt-poor citizens of the world are so used to living under incompetent, corrupt governments that “George Boosh” (as they call him) looks like amateur by comparison. They have ghastly leaders like Hosni Mubarek in Egypt or “Mush” in Pakistan. And the Spice Girls could run India better than the fanatical Hindu clowns who govern that country like an insane asylum. The poor people of the world could care less about American politics -- it’s tourist dollars that matter, along with the desire to spread them lavishly.
In fact, they love Americans, because we tend to be big-hearted and don’t pinch every nickel like many other Westerners. Some Westerners bargain so hard in the markets that it verges on being cruel, considering that the tourist junk for sale is a matter of pennies to us, but means a great deal to poor merchants.
So buck up, Americans. The people of the world still love you, and would be pleased to have you as their guests.
At a shop on the Red Sea in Egypt, my roommate paused for a moment over stating where he was from. The Muslim shopkeeper picked up on his hesitation.
“Why are you afraid to say you are from America?” the shopkeeper asked. “We know you have bad leaders, just like us. But that’s just politics. Your people are good, just like our people are good. Even the Israelis come here and we know they are good people. You must always say with pride: ‘I am from the United States of America.’”
Amen to that, brutha’. If you can’t stand up for your country, you can’t stand up for anything.

***

Personally, I believe this side of the world could use a few more Americans spreading goodwill.
For instance, I like to buy souvenirs from craftpersons along the road, usually paying full price instead of haggling (assuming the price isn’t just nuts), or bargaining just for fun and then giving them what they asked for.
I was buying some trinket jewelry from a wizened old Bedouin woman at a godforsaken oasis deep in the Sinai desert. Perhaps she was younger than me, but her skin was as parched, brown and wrinkled as a camel’s nose and her little dark eyes peered out of deep folds, brutalized by the sun. Someone in our group from London said, “You shouldn’t buy from them -- it just encourages them to sell to the tourists. You should give your money to charity instead.”
“Hey, give them a break,” I shot back. “You are a millionaire or a multi-millionaire by comparison, and these people have nothing.”
I’m not sure that anyone on the bus agreed with me, but I believe that charity would crush the dignity of this proud Bedouin nomad. Instead, she made a clever necklace with her own hands and sold it at full price to a passing tourist. Now, she can tell all her friends about her big sale and impress her husband as well. And the whole family will eat better because someone bothered to reward her industry. And I have a nifty hatband and a vivid memory.
My only regret after making those small purchases is that I didn’t look into that desert woman’s eyes and say, “Thank you for selling your jewelry to an American.”

***

I spent Christmas morning getting lost on the streets of Hanoi in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Here, at last, I begin to hear American accents in the museums and temples -- they are former U.S. servicemen who’ve brought their families here to visit the old battleground.
Hanoi is a gray, chilly place. Wandering down a maze of narrow alleys, I found a carnival of colorful sights: people butchering meat at tiny stands, women tending small piles of vegetables on the sidewalks, live fish wriggling in shallow pans, women in coolie hats bowing beneath poles with heavy baskets of oranges strung at either end, and bicycle riders wearing surgical face masks to ward off the pollution.
Crossing the streets of Hanoi is like fording a river full of metal fish on two wheels. Thousands and thousands and thousands of motorbikes glide endlessly along, some with as many as five riders. To cross this stream of motorbikes, you must step into the current and walk slowly forward with the conviction that they will flow around you. Don’t even think of making a sudden move.
I made my way to a pleasant spot by a lake in the center of town where I found a small Christmas tree, a cup of cappucino and some chocolate cheesecake.
Out of the blue, a dozen Australians appeared, marching down the street in Santa Claus outfits, shouting season’s greetings. Some of the women were dressed as angels with Victoria’s Secret wings. A skinny Santa bellowed, “Merry f-’in Christmas!” in my ear. It’s good to know the season hasn’t been forgotten in Hanoi.
I made my way to an old French cathedral and offered a Christmas prayer in thanks for all the blessings in my life and God’s protection on this trip around the world. It was a very long list of things to be thankful for.
There’s so much more to tell... but it will have to wait ’til next time. Happy New Year to ya from Vietnam.


 
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