We have been abroad for over five months now. Each country continues to amaze and impress us with new experiences. No two countries are the same. No two cultures are the same. However, there is a common curiosity that unites them all: President Trump.
It seems we cannot escape the political conversation. As soon as people find out we are American we prep ourselves for the next series of questions surrounding our controversial new President. Most people already have their opinions, but some people ask what we think. It is hard not to engage and I usually make my opinion known.
With the exception of one person (he also favored Brexit and the abolishment of all government which made for an interesting night at the bar!) none of the people we met were in favor of trump. They used words like "crazy", "racist", or worse. However, the most common criticism is that he isn't qualified to hold such an important position. An Australian, who lives in London, asked, "Why don't Americans understand that he isn't qualified to head the world's most important economy?" He went on to explain how the success of America dictates the success of the rest of the world. I had no answer for him.
A woman from Scotland remarked how the world looks to America to be a global leader and we elected a President who wants to run an isolationist regime that won't work in a global economy. She also commented that America is the land of opportunity founded by immigrants, yet we want to build a wall and ban "muslims". I couldn't respond well enough.
A man from Fiji with limited English asked why so many people voted for him when he says crazy, mean things. My attempt to explain the electoral college didn't go well. So again, I had no answer for him.
Another Australian simply said he no longer respects Americans. He wasn't the nicest guy so we just walked away from that conversation.
At dinner in Indonesia our waiter brought up he election. He said in broken-English, "Trump, he has no heart". He then told us to tell Barrack Obama hello for him when we get back to America. If we run into him, we certainly will.
One of the most interesting conversations was with a young man from Germany who was about to start his masters degree is political policy. He was incredibly informed and made some valid points. He started by commenting that Hillary and Trump were both trying to accomplish the same thing: grow the economy, create jobs, and prevent terrorist attacks. The difference, he noted, was that Trump want to do this by isolating America and Hillary wanted a global strategy. He felt that isolating the country from the rest of the world would prove to be more detrimental to the economy and the safety of America. He also said he studied the constitutions of the top ten countries according to GDP in the world and ours is outdated and not that relevant anymore. It is just his opinion, and I am not saying I agree with it, but it made me think considering the constitution originally counted black people as 3/5 of a person. Honestly, I think he knew more about our constitution than 90% of Americans, myself included. It was a conversation I won't easily forget.
Most everyone we spoke with (there are dozens and dozens of conversations) came from a place of concern and were very respectful. We have made some friends through these conversations and hope to stay in touch as we continue our travels and end up settling again in the States. We hope many of them to visit us.
We have also encouraged people to visit America. Many of them had plans to and we did our best to provide recommendations. We spoke with pride of the amazing things to see and do in the States. We even went as far as offering up a place to stay or a meal with friends and family as they make their way across the states. Sorry folks, you have been appointed as Ambassadors of American good will. There were many misconceptions about American cities, American health care and American people. Hopefully we cleared them up and they will enjoy their visit.
We do not expect the conversations to stop but, likely, increase. The travel ban is now a hot topic. I've learned to embrace the conversations. What I realized is that while many Americans are angry right now, most foreigners are disappointed. They feel let down by their Global Leader. I empathize with them.
I guess what I learned from this is that the world is watching and they have high expectations for us. As Americans we often talk about our country as the "greatest in the world". If that is the case then we must act like it. We must embrace our diversity and treat everyone as equals. We must welcome with open arms those seeking a better life. When other countries are in crisis and their citizens are fleeing for their lives we must allow them to find safety and hope in America. We must live up to the great expectations other nations have of us. If we choose not to then we lose the right to call ourselves the greatest country in the world.
Where We Went: Komodo National Park/Lubuan Bajo (Flores) + Ubud (Bali)
First Moment Here: Let’s just say the landing was terrifying. After 90 minutes flying over water in a propeller plane we landed between a few mountains just off the beach and the wind and clouds were at their best. Slick runway meant the plane was all over the place, “comin’ in hot” but we are fine.
Funniest Thing We Did: After an “adrenaline filled landing” Chelsea had to use the airport bathroom. The airport is so small that by the time I came out, we were the LAST passengers left in baggage claim and all the other drivers had already picked up their arriving passengers and left the airport. Embarrassing.
Craziest Thing We Did: Hike on Rinca island, a small island with over 1,500 komodo dragons. Komodos kill buffalo, deer and other large prey with their toxic bite. Humans die in a day if bitten. Very cool to learn about this animal unique to this area and their nesting, etc.
Best Thing We Did: SCUBA here was out of this world. We did three dives and the highlights were getting to play with an octopus, observing a 10’ reef manta at a cleaning station, and our third dive with so many fish and so much beautiful coral you can’t describe it with words. We also saw turtles, sharks, huge eels, unicorn and trigger fish, a broad cuttlefish, lion fish, and so many more.
Here I am doing the underwater sign language for "manta ray" with our dive master. The video of us with the ray is like 4 minutes long so once we get it edited we'll post it!
Tastiest Thing We Did: We sampled 12 Indonesian dishes as tapas and it was really fun to try all the different flavors, textures and SPICES! All delicious.
Also, on Valentine’s Day we went to this beautiful restaurant called Bridges which overlooked the lush greenery along the river and we had a CHEESE plate and wine. I hadn’t realized how much I missed cheese until I tasted it after SIX months. Blue cheese, camembert, and two others (couldn’t understand the waiter). Oh. My. God. Yum!
Coolest thing we Learned: Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world (250m) and the largest Muslim population in the world. It was really cool hearing the prayers (not at 4:30am but all the other times) and seeing all the little girls at school with their heads covered. We also learned that Indonesia, along with Cambodia, has some of the smallest humans. We noticed it first, then looked it up and confirmed it. Lots of ducking for Adam and all the men are shorter than Chelsea (average 5’ 2”). Having children is also super important in their culture. Everyone has kids, and it’s the son’s responsibility to take care of the parents in their old age (since insurance doesn’t exist and medical care is paid for in cash) and the daughter’s responsibility is to care for her husband.
Biggest Surprise: We went to grab lunch and ended up witnessing a royal cremation ceremony here in Ubud. Not only had we never heard of this before, we had no idea what it entailed. No better way to learn than a front seat. It was a really cool moment since we didn’t plan any of it. A good reminder that just being on this trip, being “in the world” is how you have the most incredible experiences.
Singapore + Kuta (see below)
First up, Singapore!
First Moment Here: After a 10 hour overnight flight, we took an uber pool ride to the Yale-NUS (National University of Singapore) campus to meet our host, a guy Adam went to high school with who is now married with kids. We settled in then headed to Little India via public transportation (one bus, two trains) to walk around and get a taste of India. We had the spiciest food we’ve had on this trip thus far, Chelsea got henna, and we went to the really cool temple. This day just went to show how far we’ve come in our travels!
Funniest Thing We Did: We went out for dinner and drinks in Holland Village with our hosts, Corinne and Chris, and after Lebanese food went for margaritas. Corinne photobombed four asian girls taking a selfie, peace signs and all.
Craziest Thing We Did: Try chicken feet. We went to a really cool outdoor mall/grouping of hawker stands and got to sample a bunch of local foods…including chicken feet.
Best Thing We Did: So hard to choose from all the amazing things we did in Singapore, between little India, Chinatown, the Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay and the light show on Marina Bay Sands Hotel. All in all, we loved every second in Singapore and it was all made possible by our awesome hosts! If I did have to choose, I’d go for the 12+ story cloud forest, encapsulated in glass looking out onto the city. So many beautiful plants and flowers, a towering waterfall and two skywalks. Such a cool experience.
Tastiest Thing We Did: Again, hard to choose between the India, Afghani, and Chinese food but because it’s cool - we ate at a Michelin Star restaurant called Hawker Chan which had meals for $4.50 S$. Amazing food at the right price.
Coolest thing we Learned: Riding Singapore trains was amazing. They are super clean ($500 fine for eating/drinking on the train) and people are very courteous. There are tons of PSAs to make sure people offer their seats to the elderly, put their extra bags on the ground (so they don’t take up seats) and even speak in an appropriate volume. The train routes reach everywhere you need to be and when mobs of people are headed into or out of the train station everyone politely “queues” up to ride JUST the left side of the escalator so that if someone walking (not standing) wants to pass on the right there is room. Crazy to witness!
Biggest Surprise: The amount of opulence for a tiny country of only 5 million people. The downtown area is spectacular. The hotels and shopping are over the top. The gardens are amazing, better than our best. And it leaves you wondering, who is it all for?
Mystery Solved: We finally had to ask about the gum situation. Turns out there is NO GUM in Singapore, it’s even on their list of things you cannot bring into the country. This is one example of how they keep their country clean and in check. Craziest thing ever!
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