Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Land of the free, and the home of the brave...

I'm on my way home from China now, yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!  Home for Christmas and as many Christmas-esque activities as I can cram into 10 days!  I'm in Hong Kong for the night and tomorrow we'll be winging our way eastward to the States.

I know I haven't really done a China travelogue.  This is for a couple of reasons.  First, I didn't take any pictures there, because I was working almost every second of the waking day.  Secondly, I mostly saw the inside of a factory, and the neighborhood around the factory, which is not very inspiring.

However, I wanted to take a brief second to acknowledge all the things that China has made me acutely grateful for.  One of the great things about travel is how it throws into sharp relief all the things that you love about your own life.  A brief list of the things that China has made me grateful for:
1.) Garbage Men.  China doesn't have 'em.  God bless those guys.  Just try and imagine what our world would be like without them.  Let me tell you from the other side, it stinks.  Literally.
2.) Drinking water right out of the tap!  This is truly a miracle, if you really think about it.  Pretty much EVERY house in the US, even the ones of poor people, have these magical spigots where you can stick your mouth right up and safely drink from it?  Whaaaaa??? Crazy amazing! The Chinese have to boil every. single. drop.
3.) American butchers.  Do you know how much gristle meat naturally has?  No, you don't, because it just isn't possible to buy meat that grim in the States.  I am not a picky eater, but there are some parts of an animal that you just don't want in your soup.
4.) Clean air.  This is a place where you can not only see the air pollution, you can taste it.  Ew.
5.) Our government.  <record scratch>

This last one is the one I wanted to talk about.  I have never been a very patriotic person.  Sometimes when I go to foreign places (hello, Cambodia) I learn things about the U.S.A. that make me ashamed to be an American.  I recognize the value of that royal blue passport, but I've never been very proud of it.  I've always looked down my nose at most American patriotism as trite, as David Sedaris says "other countries have national slogans of their own, none of which is "We are number two!"


In China, you can't protest.  You can't vote.  You cannot write whatever you want in the newspaper.  Hell, there only is one newspaper and it's full of how to benefit Mother China.  You can't read blogs like this one.  Or use Facebook, or Google, or anything else deemed dangerous by the government.  You can throw your trash in the sea, and ride a motorcycle with your kids with no helmets, but if you are caught with a New York Times in your briefcase, you can go to jail.

I've always scoffed at "the land of the free, and the home of the brave" before, thinking that it was a very smug statement.  (As if the French and the Thai are lying around bemoaning their cowardice, right?)  However, it is sometimes worth remembering that American freedoms do NOT extend around the world.  Don't take that New York Times for granted, and revel in your Occupy Wall Street and your left-wing blogs.  Be grateful for the skill of our forebears and yea, even our politicians that we have a democratic government that has lasted 222 years.  (Turns out in the rest of the world, the government turns over every 50 years or so!  Who knew?)  In all my travels this month, perhaps my best souvenir is gratitude for the things I forgot I already had.


  1. Nice work, Martine. Lovely perspective!

  2. Freedom of press and freedom of assembly is something that Americans totally take advantage of . . . me included! After Kim Jong Il died earlier this week I was listening to reports and Korean newspapers were saying that he "died from extreme exhaustion from improving the country so much." Crazy pants!