Monday, November 09, 2009

[Travelogue] Back in (western) civilization

Nancy says she could happily live aboard this ship for the rest of her life, but for me there's no place like home. The longest I've ever been traveling before is six weeks, a record we broke about two weeks ago, and I don't know whether it's the time or being in the poorer parts of Asia, but it's starting to get a bit emotionally draining. By the time we reach Sydney in ten days I will definitely be ready to go home.

Since leaving Singapore we've had three ports of call: Java, Bali and Perth. Our visit to Java consisted of three hours of sitting on a bus, one hour of walking around the ancient temple of Borobudur in sweltering heat (Java is six degrees south of the equator), followed by another three hours of sitting on a bus. It could have been worse. Our bus convoy had a police escort, which allowed us to cut through traffic like Moses parting the Red Sea. We felt like VIPs until we found out later that anyone can get a police escort in Java simply by paying a bri-- I mean a fee.

Bali was beautiful, but again sweltering and the street peddlers on the pier were the most aggressive I've ever encountered anywhere in the world, and that is saying something. These people simply would not take no for an answer. I almost had to resort to threatening physical violence to get them to leave us alone. Once clear of the pier, though, the Balinese were very friendly, and some of the local crafts are quite impressive, worth a trip if you're into that sort of thing. The woodwork in particular is comparable to what we found in Africa in terms of value, maybe even better. A master woodworker on Bali makes between two and twenty dollars a day depending on their level of skill, and the intricacy of some of their carvings is mind-blowing.

I have to say, though, that although I found Asia fascinating I am not sorry to be leaving it behind for a while. Dealing with the traffic in particular, even just as a passenger, gets to be very stressful after a while. I tried to pretend that the crazy road rules and the omnipresent diesel exhaust didn't bother me, but the truth is they did. I have learned a new appreciation for Western infrastructure these past few weeks.

On which topic, Perth is a little gem of a city. It's out in the middle of nowhere, the most isolated capital city in the world, but it is gorgeous: clean and modern, chock full of parks and trees, on a river that is too shallow for industrial ships so the waterfront is mostly unspoiled -- except for what must be the most hideous convention center in Christendom. What they were thinking when they approved that monstrosity I will never know. (BTW, if you have $56 million burning a hole in your pocket, there is a stunning home on the riverbank on offer for that amount. It was built by a local mining magnate's wife who lived there for a year and then decided she didn't like it after all. It is rumored that if she doesn't manage to sell it she's going to tear it all down and start over from scratch.)

I have to say that this trip has made me an even bigger fan of Western civilization than I was before. I love Asia, much more than I was expecting to, but the places I like the most were the places that were most Westernized: Japan and Singapore. There's just an awful lot to be said for emission controls and yielding the right of way. And clean drinking water coming out of the tap. And air conditioning. We in the West take these things for granted, but they are in fact unimaginable luxuries in some very large parts of the world. I think Americans in particular would do well to keep that more in mind than we typically do.


Miles said...

I hear you on this one... it's a shame people don't realize how good we really do have it!

Enjoy Australia, in many ways it's the best country in the world imo. It doesn't have all the pros of the US, but it is also missing a lot of the cons...

Danston said...

Miles, some of the first immigrants to Australia from Europe were cons.

Miles said...

Hahahaha ohhhhh zing.

The US seems to have all of them now :)