Tag: traveling

A Trip To The Far East Puts the US in Perspective

Renowned blogger Jason Kottke took a trip to the far east, visiting Singapore, Vietnam and then stopping off in Qatar on the way home. You can read the whole post here however what struck me the most within his elegant write up were the last few paragraphs (emphasis mine):

And finally to finish up… Whenever I travel abroad, of course I have thoughts about the overall character of the places I go, but they’re based on such an incomplete experience of those places that I’m hesitant to share them. The Saigon metro area has a population of ~13.5 million and I was there for 2 weeks as a tourist, so what the hell could I possibly know about it beyond the superficial? What I mainly tend to come away with is how those places compare to the United States. What freedoms exist in a place like Vietnam vs Singapore vs Qatar vs the United States? How are those freedoms distributed and who do they benefit? And from what authority are those freedoms derived? The more places I go, the less obviously free the US feels to me in many ways, even though our country’s baseline freedom remains high (for some at least).

But the main observation I came home with after this trip is this: America is a rich country that feels like a poor country. If you look at the investment in and the care put into infrastructure, common areas, and the experience of being in public in places like Singapore, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin and compare it to American cities, the difference is quite stark. Individual wealth in America is valued over collective wealth and it shows.

I know that’s a bit of a downer to end on, but despite what you see on Instagram, travel is not always fun & games and often provides some potentially tough lessons and perspectives. You might get your phone stolen and come back feeling a little bit less great about your home country. Them’s the breaks, kid — welcome to the world. Thanks for following along as always

This is a view of the rusted Long Island Bridge. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

His assessment of America feeling like a poor country as a result of a lack of investment in infrastructure, transportation, and public/common areas is so brilliantly on the money. I have subconsciously observed and noticed this when traveling internationally as well, however have never taken the “step back” to articulate the feeling. Sometimes you need to see it written in front of your face.

The Soul Of A City Can Be Found In Aisle 5

Whenever I travel, it is inevitable that I will find myself in the local grocery store picking up some snacks, food, and other essentials to last me through my trip and/or vacation. Or, I’ll be picking up some of the local treats that are unique to wherever I’m visiting – think real Cadburys chocolate (oh, yeah…there’s a difference) or some scones when in England. Seeing Richard Morgan of New York Magazine talk about this in gave me a great big smile, only because everything he talked about was so familiar.

The secret museum in every city is a grocery store. It’s where you can grab and squeeze and not-at-all-weirdly smell indigenous produce. The fishmonger runs an aquarium. The butcher is a zookeeper. But groceries also hoard the culture’s guilty pleasures — its Netflix-and-chill snacks are in its potato-chip flavors (my native London favorite was a packet of sea-salt-and-Chardonnay-wine-vinegar crisps, and Marmite ones always hit the spot, too). Its childhoods are in its confections (I loved Icelandic Prince Polo chocolate bars, which are actually imported from Poland). I am constantly on the lookout for jars of gently tart zarour jam, so freely available in my mother’s hometown of Bethlehem, in Israeli-occupied Palestine. It’s the last tree that still bears fruit in her abandoned childhood home.

Richard Morgan – New York Magazine

On top of the great local vittles you can acquire – or horde up on – in the foreign grocery store, you get to people watch and observe locals live their lives like a voyeur peering through a window. Are they going for the sausages or the salad tonight? Beer or wine?

And honestly, it is not just a practice for a foreign country. The people watching allows you to pick out who are the locals and who are not. A few weeks ago I was on a family vacation in Maine, and my wife got stuck behind a millennial – slash – wannabe yuppy couple at a local Maine supermarket. They were so out of place, and so not local to Maine, that my wife texted me complaining how they were so disorganized that they held up the line for a good 15 minutes (I was sitting in our car). Now, we obviously are not from Maine, but these folks in front of my wife stood out so distinctly that a few minutes later I saw a woman and her husband walking through the parking lot – the woman wearing a loud bandanna on her head. I immediately described her to my wife via text, asking “Was that her?” Yeah, I nailed it.

So next time you are in Iceland, or Paris, or Germany, take a walk out of your AirBNB and pay a visit to the local grocery store. You may discover a treat you would never have found in a restaurant.