Sunday, July 2, 2017

Southeast Asia 2017

We are three days away from departure. Our backpacks are packed and lined up against the wall in our bedroom. We have been eating up our fridge and freezer stocks and haven’t bought much for groceries over the past two weeks. The kids had their last day of school on Thursday and brought home fantastic report cards which capped off a very successful school year for both of them. The yard is in good shape and we’ve got Ana’s mom and dad lined up to take care of it for us over the summer. We’ve been try to meet up with as many friends as possible before we leave so there’s been plenty of socializing.

On Wednesday we leave for a seven week trip to South-east Asia and we are ready. Three years ago we embarked on a slightly longer 10 week trip to the region that was an eye-opening and life changing experience for our whole family. Barely a day has gone by since that trip that I have not thought about it.

And here we go again!

But this time we are going as an expanded group, at least for the first part. Our friends Angela and Tony and their children Mackenzie and Maddie will be joining us for the first three weeks. And this year we are starting with a catamaran trip in Phuket, Thailand instead of ending with one. We are chartering a 40’ Lagoon catamaran from the same company we did last time, but plan to explore many new places in Phang Nga Bay, over a period of five days. Our next stop will be Cambodia, after which our friends will head back to Canada and we will continue onto Vietnam and spend the rest of our time there. At least, that’s our current thinking, but since we don’t tend to book much of anything in advance, our itinerary is pretty much up for grabs.

Because we’ve had to greedily horde vacation days for this trip, we haven’t strayed too far from home this year. Instead, we’ve had many fantastic weekends exploring our rich and diverse backyard of south-western Ontario. Even after living here for over ten years we still rarely have trouble finding new places to visit and things to do. Work has also been very busy for both of us, especially the last few weeks trying to wind up loose ends in preparation for our extended leave.

This weekend was Canada’s 150th birthday so it was a great time to reflect on what we are as a country and perhaps where we should be headed. Our country’s relationship with our aboriginal people seems to have made great strides this year, at least in recognizing the issues and past injustices, which is a good first step. It seems every public pronouncement that is made always begins by recognizing the First Nations people, so I think our citizens are trying to make reconciliation a part of daily life. But what does that really mean? I’ve had conversations on this topic with many people, and there are so many opinions ranging from “We don’t owe the aboriginals anything, we are all equal here” to “We should be settling every land claim and paying aboriginals the massive sums they feel they are due” to what I think is a very common idea, which is “Let’s recognize there is an issue, say and do the right things, and put a reasonable amount of public money towards resolving the most pressing issues, but I still don’t know exactly what is required of me personally.”

Ana and I attended a Walrus Talks event in Toronto a few weeks ago. The Walrus is one of our favourite magazines and we have subscribed for years. It is a rather left leaning publication that features articles on current Canadian events, fiction, poetry and it’s mandate is “to be a national interest magazine about Canada and its place in the world...” The magazine organized a series of talks in 2017 with the topic “We Desire a Better Country” and we were thrilled when we got seats for the Toronto show.

We left the show with mixed feelings. Each of the speakers was given 7 minutes to discuss how we can make Canada better country. A few of the speakers had excellent, thought provoking, positive messages. But the majority of them seemed to be there for one reason: to make people feel guilty. Throughout the hour long event speakers addressing the crowd accused them, as Canadians, of hating black people and doing their best to eradicate native people. One of the speakers was a founder of Black Lives Matter and their speech was as close to hate speech as anything I’ve ever heard. Several of the others focused specifically on aboriginal issues, even though none of them were aboriginal, almost as if they had appropriated somebody else’s grievance. There was one native speaker and he was practically the only speaker that had a message of hope and joy and he did not once mention any grievance against Canada on behalf of his ethnic group. Was the speakers’ intention to make Canadians feel ashamed for their assumedly vicious thoughts and deeds? Considering the liberal nature of this magazine and its readers, I don’t think there were too many people at all in the crowd who are perpetrators of injustices against any ethnic group in Canada, yet there we were being accused all the same. I left wondering exactly who the speakers were trying to address, or whose minds they were trying to change, or what audience behaviors they were hoping to change. I don’t think we can build a better Canada by blaming today’s citizens for atrocities committed by generations of people who came before us in a different world and social circumstance, nor by taking on the collective guilt of a hundred and fifty years of historical missteps. Yes, our police should not be shooting young innocent black men for trivial misdeeds. I think we can all agree on that. And yes, the current relationship between native Canadians and non-native Canadians needs work and many aspects of daily life for some aboriginal people is atrocious. We can agree on that too. But what are you proposing? I actually didn’t come away with any ideas at all on how to make progress on any of these issues. I just felt guilty.

I have a proposal. Get to know people. Learn how to empathise. Develop a multicultural group of friends. Travel to new places, even if they are only an hour away. The only way to change yourself is by building personal relationships with people unlike yourself and learning why people are they way they are, and accepting it, even if you maybe don’t agree with them. You cannot bludgeon a society into changing their ideas; this has to begin from the ground up, from personal connections, from broad personal experiences, and from education, whether it comes in the form of a textbook, a speech, a discussion, or an internet meme.

We’ve always tried to teach our children the importance of not just accepting people for who they are, but also to celebrate diversity and the multiplicity of opinions and preferences. This is why we are taking this trip, and why we have traveled so extensively with our children. To show them (and ourselves) that yes, people are different, and things are done very differently in other countries than they are in Canada and it’s not right or wrong or better or worse, just different. And any country you visit is sure to have at least one thing that is done much better than it is in Canada, so why not take those ideas and explore how we could implement them at home to make Canada better?

So this is our goal. Keep our eyes and ears open. Learn as much as we can. Meet people. Make friends. Bring ideas home with us that we can use ourselves and share with others. If we can do that then the trip will have been a great success.

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