Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What I’m Bringing Home to Canada



I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to take home with me. No, I don’t mean my new beer tshirts, foot birdie, credit card knife, or the dried lemongrass; what I do mean is what experiences have affected me the most, what knowledge have I acquired, what have I learned about myself, and what ideas can I use to improve things at home. So here are ten of them, in no particular order.

1. I eat too much meat

I remembering learning this lesson the last time we travelled to SE Asia, and I have learned it again. Our diet at home includes way, way too much meat. During the time I’ve spent here I have felt physically better than I ever do at home, and I am sure this has to do primarily with the food I am eating. My intake of meat, cheese and bread has been substantially replaced by noodles, rice, fresh vegetables and fruit. The meals we eat at home are typically a big chunk of meat surrounded by starchy, root vegetables and bread. Here, the base of the meals is rice or noodles with a few scraps of meat, and loads of leafy green vegetables and spices. My digestive system simply seems to run better on this type of diet, so when we get back home I am going to make a concerted effort to cook a little differently at home.

2. The Chinese are coming

Nearly every person we met and spoke to at length commented on how Chinese investors are buying everything. Every city we visited had dozens of skyscrapers and construction everywhere – all Chinese driven. Chinese tourists are absolutely everywhere, and they have money to spend – lots of money. One person we met who has a Chinese business partner has learned a lot about how they do business, and says that they are coming to take everything, at any cost, in every country, and will flatten anybody in their way because they are so focused on winning that they are willing to break any rules and do whatever it takes. This may sound a bit dramatic, but I think it is true. Think about it – every little piece of crap we buy at the Dollar Store, or Canadian Tire, or Walmart or 90% of the stores we go to is putting profit in the hands of the Chinese, because that is where all the goods come from. What do you think happens to that money? Well, they have to invest it somewhere, and they invest it in countries outside of China.  So what does this mean for us? What it means is that there is a massive opportunity for young people to learn more about the Chinese, learn more about Asia, and start building relationships and businesses with people there. No, the answer is not to hate China, ban their goods, and ostracize their people ; rather it’s to learn more about China, develop relationships, and build businesses with them. This shift is inevitable so you can either fight it, or seize the opportunity. The future belongs to Asia.

3. Smiling takes you a long way

Everywhere we go, the locals smile. When you tell them yes, they smile. When you tell them no, they smile. Their disposition is always cheery, and even when things go wrong, they keep on smiling, and that makes such a huge difference. At home, as soon as things go wrong we get pissed off. If a waiter screws up a bill, we get angry. If a retail clerk is having a bad day, they scowl and bark at people. This is a bad way to live. Getting things done is so much easier if you have a happy disposition.

4. I hate the winter

I already knew this one, but this trip has reminded me how much I despise living in a cold place. In these countries, people live their lives outside, on the streets and sidewalks, with their neighbours and friends, and that is why these cities have so much energy and excitement and culture – even on Mondays.  In Canada, we spend half of the year bundled up inside, by ourselves, and even when the weather does warm up, the force of habit often keeps us inside by default. Being here reminds me how much I love the heat, and the sunshine, and the ocean, and the beaches. I have tried to enjoy the winter in Canada, but I just can’t do it. It’s too cold. And it seems Canadians just lurch from one cold or flu to another during the winter months which is simply punishing. That doesn’t happen in warm places. So, there’s not too much I can do about this one at the moment…but in a few years, who knows?

5. Plastic is destroying the world

Throughout this trip, we have left a wretched trail of empty, plastic bottles in our wake. Because you cannot drink the tap water, potable water is served up in plastic. Every hotel leaves three bottles of water per day in your room. When you order water in a restaurant, you get a plastic bottle. Want to fill up your reusable glass bottle? Buy a plastic litre jug of water from the mini-mart, dump it in, and throw the empty plastic bottle in the garbage. A lot of this plastic ends up in the rivers, oceans and beaches, and we’ve seen evidence of that everywhere we have traveled to. In Canada, there is absolutely no reason for anybody to buy or use plastic bottles, since our tap water is perfectly safe. There should be a huge tax put on those stupid things to dissuade people from using them. Also, I want one of my kids to become a scientist/inventor and fix this problem for the world.

6. I am young at heart

I still feel like a kid. In fact, when somebody refers to me as a “man” I assume they are talking about somebody else. Several people during this trip have expressed surprise when they found out how old Ana and I are, so I think we must be doing something right. I simply don’t feel like I am very old. Ana and I have so many more places to visit, so much more to see, and so many more things to learn that we’re going to need at least another hundred years to finish it all. But as that seems unlikely, we’re going to have to pick up the pace to make sure we get it all done in time.

7. There are not enough tourists in Paris or Brantford

We have run into tourists every place we have visited throughout this trip – millions of them. But I can’t remember the last time I have met an international tourist in Paris or Brantford, or perhaps I never have. Why? Where we live is such a beautiful part of Canada, with so many amazing things to see and do, such friendly people, and it is so easy to get to - why is there nobody there? I’m pretty sure we get backpackers in Canada, and they all can’t be going straight to Banff or Whistler, so why don’t they come to our region? Moreover, backpackers specifically bring a lot to the table; besides spending money on food, drink and activities, they bring a little piece of their homes with them, which is an opportunity for locals to learn about the world outside where they live. This is something that benefits everybody and can add a lot of character to a town. So I am announcing the imminent opening of Paris Backpackers…but I’m going to need some help. Anybody interested?

8. I can survive on a Low Information Diet

I regularly live on a high information diet. When I wake up I read the news in the local paper.  On the way to work I listen to the news on the radio. When I get to work I check Google news again. At lunch I go to the gym and listen to the Economist news podcasts. When I get home Ana and I talk about the news. On the weekends I read Time and The Atlantic news magazines, among others. During this trip I decided to take a break from all this and enjoy a Low Information Diet. So I did not bring a smart phone, I have not looked at Google news once, I have not read a paper or magazine, and every time Ana’s tried to tell me about something that’s happening in the world anywhere outside of our current two block radius, I tell her to talk to the hand. And guess what? I don’t miss it. Any of it. In fact, I think it is slowly poisoning me and taking up way too much of my time and my limited memory space. Instead of feasting on news, I have been reading novels, writing and very often just sitting there, looking around, thinking about stuff. So when I get home I am pledging to stick with a low information diet.

9. We are destroying the ocean

I did my initial scuba diving training in Karachi, Pakistan in 1997. My first major diving trip after getting my ticket was to Phuket, Thailand. Those dives I did there changed my life – never before had I imagined that such colour and life could exist in the oceans, and that we could go down there to see it. Twenty years later, a lot of this marine wonderland has been decimated.  And there are a lot less fish. The pressure we are putting on the oceans is immense, and at some points during this trip I have wandered through the fish markets and seen the incredible quantities of product they sell, and looked out to the harbor to see hundreds of fishing boats, and boated through waters seeing nets and fishermen all over the place, and wondered how the hell there can possibly be much of anything left in the ocean. I don’t know specifically what I can do to alleviate this problem, besides maybe stop diving and stop eating seafood, but it does make me very sad.

10. Smart phones are turning us into sad, boring, screen zombies

Last night a German family sat at a table next to us. As soon as their asses hit the seats, all three of the kids pulled out devices and headphones and drifted off into another world. The mom and dad sipped their drinks and talked for a while and then pulled out their own phones and started surfing around. When the meals arrived, the kids didn’t even put down their phones – they shoveled food into their mouths with one hand as they held their devices up with the other. One day on the beach we passed four young girls, sitting in beach chairs as the sun was going down over the horizon and all four of them had their faces in their phones, oblivious to nature’s best show happening in front of them. We walked into one bar where there were six young backpackers sitting at a table, all of them consumed with their devices, completely ignoring each other.

I cannot express with words how sad this makes me. When I first started backpacking, everybody talked to each other and it was great, because it was easy making friends anywhere you went. Now, in 2017, you can’t talk to anybody because they are holding a screen up to their face at all times. This is insane. When you are with another person, or in a group of people, and you are completely ignoring them in favour of staring at your phone, you are actually communicating something very important. What you are saying to them is, “You are not that important to me. I don’t give a shit about you or what you have to say. I’ve got all I need in this device here.” It is wrong and it’s making people strange. So if you ever catch me doing this to you, please punch me directly in the face and take my phone and break it in half.

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