October 31, 2004
Kerry vs. Bush
The sign in the second story window of the old Victorian building on Bush Street said, "I'd rather live on Kerry Street." In two days, all Americans will find out if they will be living on Bush Street or Kerry Street in one of the most closely divided presidential elections in recent times. But, it is not just America that is keen to know the fate of this election - the whole world will be watching.
While many American's would be surprised to hear it, the US presidential elections are watched all over the planet. In recent weeks I've had foreign friends email me from as far away as Australia, the Netherlands and Afghanistan, all telling me they will be anxiously watching the results of the US elections. And, even more than just watching, all of them also hope that Kerry will be elected the winner.
Several months ago, in a Confucian temple in a city in China, I was practically accosted by a monk who, upon finding out I was an American, began to question me about "why little Bushy make Iraqi people cry?" A month before, I spent the better part of an evening and into the morning trying to explain to a German man and French woman in my Beijing youth hostel that not all Americans agree with or even voted for Bush. Several days later I saw the shock and amazement in the eyes of the Spanish couple who had no idea there were actually peace protests in America regarding the US invasion of Iraq. In fact, an almost universal trend in political conversations while I was overseas was my trying to explain that not all Americans agree with Bush - or, even voted for him!
It's been two months since I have been back in the US and where I was previously shocked by the misconceptions people from other countries have about America and its people, I am now depressed by the lack of understanding that US voters have about the consequences of re-electing Bush for four more years.
With great anticipation I watched all three presidential debates this year. Since I was overseas until September, I hadn't had a chance to see the candidates speak or hear their stance on the issues and I was keen to form a more educated opinion. Well, that and I was hoping that instead of voting for Kerry as the "Anti-Bush" vote, I could vote for him in his own right. My enthusiasm dwindled from the first debate until the last, until I could hardly control my frustration and anger at the slew of polished rhetoric coming from the candidates lips.
It is a sad state of affairs that as a 30-year-old having voted in only three previous presidential elections, I don't believe a word of what the candidates are promising. I'm tired of hearing conflicting information about how many jobs were created (or lost), what someone's voting record says (or doesn't), and what will happen to the US if someone is elected (or not). I'm tired of someone asking a question and hearing the same polished, scripted and standard response - especially when it doesn't even answer the question.
My dad and I got into a debate while I was visiting him in Indiana last week - a debate regarding the two candidates. The details of the debate are not important - except that because of the debate I was finally able to verbalize why I was voting for Kerry. For better or worse, it has almost nothing to do with his stand on the issues. I am not voting for him because he might be called to chose a judge or two on the Supreme Court. I am not voting for him because he says he has a plan for Social Security or for Health Care. I am not voting for him because he supports rights for gay couples.
I am voting for Kerry because I believe that a vote for Kerry has broader implications than just voting for the next president of the United States. I believe that electing Kerry is the single most important strategic move for the people of the United States of America - and the only thing Americans can do to even hope of restoring the tarnished image of America on the world stage. I say this because I believe that Bush is the biggest public relations liability the US has had in my lifetime.
We went from a country with the world's sympathy (France's Le Monde September 12, 2001 front page reading "We are All Americans") to a country rallying behind a leader who used such brilliant quotes as "if you are not with us you are against us," and ostracizing the US politically, socially and environmentally from much of the rest of the world. We say the world is becoming smaller yet we continue to act like our actions don't have broader consequences. Do we really want the school bully image in an increasingly smaller and more unified school yard?
I choose Kerry because I believe him to be someone who has an awareness and understanding that the United States is not an island unto itself - but a part of a world community. I think he has the potential to be a president I could be - dare I say it? - proud of - or at the very least, not cringe in embarrassment at having as our leader. I am voting for Kerry because, plain and simple, I think he is the smarter man. The smarter of the realitistic options available, anyway.
Now, I admit it is entirely possible that Kerry is no smarter than the speech writers and spin doctors that surround him and mold his image. And, in that case, domestically we will remain status quo and will be no better off than we are with our current leader. But, I suspect there is more there. And, frankly, I'm willing to risk voting Kerry just so I have the potential of a president I am not ashamed of calling our own.
But, even more so, because I want my overseas friends (my connection to "the world" as a whole) to know that we all don't believe the United States is an island, that we all don't believe that "you are either with us or against us" and that when the American people realize that we made a mistake - we do our best to fix it.
October 04, 2004
Just Dating Thanks
It's my one-month anniversary. Though I can scarcely believe it, I've been back in the United States for a full month already. What really amazes me, however, is that my trip - two years of my life - already seems like a dream.
Tomorrow I start a new job in San Francisco - doing some contract work for a former employer of mine. I've lined up a place to stay, and for at least the next 3 months, San Francisco is again my home. I'm not complaining about any of it - it confirms my belief that opportunities abound - you just have to be open to them (and have some damn good timing). But, this settling down - even if it is temporary - makes me feel like it’s the end of an era.
Everyone wants to know if it's weird to be back (it is and it isn't). Everyone wants to know if it was really two years - and did the time fly for me as much as it did for them (it was and it did). Everyone wants to know my "favorite" countries (India and Mongolia). And, of course, everyone wants to know what I'm going to do next (I honestly don't know).
The way I see it, my life is in dating mode. Currently, I'm dating San Francisco. I like the city, I enjoy its company, but I'm not at a place where I can commit to anything permanent or long term. I want to have fun, see how things work out - but I'm not ready for another long-term relationship. At least, not yet. After all, I just got out of a two-year commitment. Jumping into something else doesn't seem like a wise option, does it?
And, of course, I've got some baggage from the past. In fact, there is one aspect of my last relationship that I am having serious trouble getting over. I've kind of grown attached to it actually, and giving it up - well, I'm not so sure I can do it. I'm talking about my column.
The column began as a forum for me to share my ideas and observations about the world around me as I traveled its various nooks and crannies. I wanted to share my experiences - to "show" a little bit of the world that I was seeing, though my own eyes and in my own words. But, the column became more than that. It became a challenge for me as a writer - could I maintain a weekly column for a full year – or even longer? It became a vehicle for venting my frustrations - especially in places where I was alone. And, it became a habit that I liked having - a little bit of structure in an otherwise structure less existence.
But, most of all, it was a way for me to document the moments - to remember all that I was doing and seeing and feeling and thinking. I figured that years down the road - when I was an old woman sitting on my front porch and reminiscing about the "good old days" - that my columns would provide me with something more than pictures and memories. That I would have stories - my stories - to read over and over. They would be a permanent reminder of the Technicolor flourishes that only youth can provide, without the watered down Doppler effect that experience and time impart upon an aging memory.
Over the past two years, so many of my adventures have been documented and shared with all of you. Yet so many more never made it past the rough drafts - usually for lack of time but sometimes because the power of a new experience superseded the need for past documentation.
There were romances - and potential romances - with Casanova surf instructors in Australia and (harmless) cyber stalkers in Thailand. There were moments of blissful communion with nature - when my brother and I swam with whale sharks in the Philippines or when, in the Australian outback, my friend Alex and I watched the evolution of the most brilliant red, orange and pink sunrise I have ever seen. These moments and experiences all warranted a column, but somehow they were never realized.
I promised stories I never delivered - about weddings in India and interviews with western swamis. I began stories surrounding issues like Tiananmen Square, the problems with girl babies, and the international communities impression of Americans - then never finished them because I felt like they were too important to rush though and wanted time to research them more fully. Now, months after the fact, their important has not diminished but the time required going back has suddenly become limited in supply.
Ultimately I've decided I need the column to remain a part of my life - at least for a little bit longer. There are too many stories left untold, too many tales that still need telling. Just because my traveling life has been put on pause, doesn't mean the rest of my life is in a holding pattern. Just because I am in the United States, and not some exotic sounding country in the Far East, doesn't mean my quest for information or my desire for adventure has abated – or that my wanderlust is over.
And, just because I have another job, doesn’t mean I am no longer a writer.
So, while my column will flash back to those as yet undocumented moments during my adventures overseas, it will also focus on my reality today – and the adventures that come with it. The column will continue to evolve and change, like I myself will evolve and change. Both eyes forward but with one hand occasionally reaching back - to remind myself of where I came from - to help me in where I am going.