“Do travelers like us offer any value to America's public diplomacy efforts?”
Start: 5:30 AM. Finish: 7:00 PM. Time actually spent marching in the inaugural parade: 30 minutes. Was it all worth it?
I come from Scranton, Pennsylvania and that’s as hardscrabble a place as you’re gonna find.
— An actor playing Joe Biden on Saturday Night Live
I told a friend the other day that we were in Scranton and he responded, “Are you from there? How did it feel to be in America’s most famous political city?”
Some instincts are universal. That virtually all parents want a better life for their children is one of them. Our journey continually bears this out irrespective of the cultural and socioeconomic context of the regions we visit.
But in China, something extraordinary has happened. Two decades of economic growth, an exceptional cultural emphasis on family, and the one-child policy have all conspired to yield a generation of only children accustomed to the full focus of their family's emotional and financial resources.
You always remember the first time.
Besides being our first city stop in China, Kashgar (Xinjiang Province) was our first:
Lhasa. The name has a particularly mysterious and forbidden ring to it these days. Maybe it’s images of Tibetan cowboys on the high plateau or flashes of defiant monks protesting in the face of Chinese police last March.
Recently, the Chinese government reported that the situation in Tibet was “back to normal” in preparation for the arrival of the Olympic flame there. Even with the Olympic torch safely relayed through Lhasa this past weekend with an escort squadron of blue track-suited torch guards, Tibet still remains closed to foreigners.
It was our India moment. You know, the kind of travel moment when you’re on a trip and you think to yourself, “Now this is why I came here.”
No, we weren’t sipping masala tea and eating chicken tikka while admiring the image of the Taj Mahal in its reflecting pool. Rather, we were tucked into the sticky folds and the dingy creases of an uncontrived real-life Indian experience.
It was awful; it was amazing. Maybe not amazing, but eye-opening. Uncomfortable, certainly.
Obstacle-removing turtles, cavorting monkeys, remarkable chana masala and free shoe repair. We didn’t find entries for these in our guidebooks, but we did find them on the streets and in the hills of Penang, Malaysia.
News stories take on increased significance when we’ve actually visited the place being covered. For example, we've recently been reading more about the effects of a harsh winter on the lives of ordinary people in both Tajikistan and China. As we read these stories, images of the people we’ve met become superimposed on a piece of news that we might otherwise regard with detachment.
We now follow Myanmar (Burma) more closely, as well. Just a few days ago, the junta (military government) there made news by announcing another “road map to democracy” and elections in 2010.