Roadtrip in Tasmania, 2016
An incredible trip with an incredible man….and my first travel movie!
An incredible trip with an incredible man….and my first travel movie!
A few years ago I spent a month exploring Colombia, and a colleague recently asked for tips. I wrote up a quick doc for her professing my recommended highlights, and thought others might appreciate it, as well. Without further ado…
Anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but specifically Love in the Time of Cholera; here’s a blog entry I wrote about Cartagena.
Arepas (I personally find sweet corn arepas and the plain ones to be meh)–go for the ones like Arepa con Huevo or Chicharron.
Fried fish with coconut rice and plantains — a must have when on the coast.
Bandeja Paisa–a big plate of meat and meat and carbs and starch. This is a popular meal in the more rural and mountainous regions.
Trout (La Trucha) especially if in the Coffee Triangle.
Casuela de Frijoles— sort of a bean stew. You can get a great bowl of it at Ajiaco y Mondongo’s in Medellin
Mondongo, of course, is a garlicky, creamy soup most popular in Bogota.
Patacón con Todo— Heaped onto a styrofoam plate with the routine precision of a Michelin star chef, I saved this baby for last. Patacón is the same as Tostones, or twice fried plantains. On top of this is seemingly everything you’d want on a mountain of plantains. You’ve got your sausage, your shredded chicken, your onions and cheese and beans. Top it with potato sticks and three kinds of sauce (my guess is pineapple, ketchup and mayo), and there you have a perfectly edible munchie meal, one that’s good enough to write home about. Where can you find this delicacy? I popped my Patacon cherry at a stand along the borders of the Plaza in front of the Iglesia de la Trinidad in Cartagena.
Where to stay: The neighborhood El Poblado is where a lot of backpackers stay. A bit nicer and trendier. What to do: Visit Parque Botero, eat a nasty hot dog. Take a salsa class and go dancing at El Eslabon Prendido! Go paragliding because you’ll never be able to afford it here and the views are increíble. Take a Pablo Escobar tour and find out why Medellin used to be the murder capital of the world.
Bogota is the kind of city where you want to spend some time. Similar to New York, it’s hard to feel as if you’ve gotten an understanding of the place if you’re just passing through. However, if you must, some highlights are: Go on a graffiti tour Watch the sunset at the top of Montserrat Learn about gold at the Museo de Oro Shop. You’ll find your market somewhere. ……… You can read a bit further about my Bogota experience here.
Salento is the type of small Andean town in the middle of Colombia’s coffee triangle where you can expect to find men walking between colorful craft shops in small ponchos and cowboy hats, where you can perch yourself on a hillside hacienda drinking freshly roasted coffee and looking out at the snow-capped peaks of Los Nevados National Park. The town itself is lovely, so make sure not to just pass through it, as it’s not to be overlooked. Coffee farms surround the small town, so make sure to take a coffee plantation tour. But the main allure of Salento is its role as a gateway to Cocora Valley, the home of the stately wax palm trees, a national symbol.
Where to stay: I stayed at El Viajero Hostel, close to Monumenta India Catalina and the best damn arepa stand in the city. Many tourists like to stay on the lively Calle Media Luna. If you’re looking to stay on the beach, there are a ton of high rises in Marbella, but the beach isn’t incredibly impressive. The city is far more fascinating. The neighborhood of Getsemani is the new hot spot in Cartagena, so might be worth checking out hotels there.
**if you do decide that you love the reviews of el viajero and want a hostel vibe, it is worth noting that the private rooms, while air conditioned, are directly next to the courtyard where you will never get a peaceful night’s sleep. Not that you want one in Cartagena…
What to do: Beach is nice, but as you see if you read my post, I just loved walking around and eating, drinking, smoking, napping, getting caught in torrential downpours. It’s fucking hot in Cartagena.
A lot of people go to the mud volcano which I heard was over touristy, or take a day trip to Playa Blanca which is meant to be gorgeous, but I didn’t go…
Santa Marta is a great gateway to other cool parts of the coast like Tayrona National Park, Minca, Palomino, Taganga, etc. The city itself is really not that cool (although some may disagree), but The Dreamer Hostel was actually a dream. You can see some of the pics from there in a blog post here.
Alternately, you can even stay in Taganga, although I don’t have recommendations for where. Known in Colombia as “the backpacker’s ghetto”, it’s a sleepy fishing village, a little gritty, but absolutely lovely. We partied there one night at arguably my favorite club in all South America called El Mirador. As its name suggests, it looks out over the port. There’s a ton of different indoor and outdoor dance floors, a good mix of tourists and locals, and you can party till the sun rises and you can see little fishing boats bobbing calmly in the water. You can also walk along the beach during the party to look for drugs or arepas. And there’s always an after party.
Minca is a little village that is known among backpackers for two things– 1) A waterfall; 2) Casa Elemento–Pro tip: book in advance (if they have no beds, you can also pay to sleep in a hammock, which I did). The town is quite small, so if there are other things to do there, I didn’t hear about them.
Whatever hostel you stay at can arrange for you to take a taxi to the waterfall, which is a short trip and not a big hike to the falls.
A taxi can also take you the center of town, where you can take a zigzaggy, adventurous ride up to Casa Elemento, a hostel in the sky boasting the world’s largest hammock!!!. Make sure to find out how much the moto-taxi up will be before you meet with a driver and pay him before you sit down on the back of his bike so that he doesn’t try to get more out of you at the top.
The ride to Casa Elemento is super fun, but about an hour long into the mountains. Can read about my experience with this hostel here. **make sure to bring tons of deet/bug spray and something warm and covered up at night.
Again, stayed here at the Dreamer Hostel sister. It’s the prettier of the two with an excellent bar, restaurant, pool and rooms. It’s right on the beach, as well, and the water has the craziest current I’ve ever seen, so not swimmable but def something to see. You can also go river tubing in Palomino, but I didn’t get around to it.
I didn’t make it here because I heard mixed reviews. I think the deal is a massive sweaty hike to a gorgeous beach where you can camp out for the night, sleeping on hammocks or in tents rented from the vendors there. I hear these hammocks and tents are pretty vile and a lot of people said that while gorgeous, the whole ordeal was more of a headache than it was worth.
by Rebecca Bellan
Source: 9 signs you’re back in NYC
I had just flown into JFK from a trip that lasted a little over a year. My flight landed at around 11 p.m., and I walked over to one of the four customs officers before heading to baggage claim. The officers were trading jokes amongst each other between stamps.
“You’ve been gone a while. Where you been?” My assigned officer asked in that lovely Italian, New York accent.
“Oh, a few places,” I replied, already feeling my tongue start to pick up the familiar patterns of speech. “Started with Asia, then did a year in Australia, then Israel and some of Europe.”
“Australia! Why were you there a year?” He asked with a smirk as he flipped through the pages of my passport.
“I was on a working holiday visa–” I tried to explain.
“Hey,” he interrupted. “You’re in America now. It’s called a vacation.”
A final stamp and a “get outta here” and I was being ushered into baggage claim.
The reversion usually begins when I go to my favorite deli/pizza place/bagel shop and begin my order with, “Hey, lemme get a…” Pretty soon I’m dead ass complaining that it’s brick outside and I’m mad cold, as I wonder aloud why that guy is grilling me as I try to eat my dumb good sandwich/slice/everything bagel.
Travel makes you a more outgoing person. You really can’t get away with keeping to yourself because you constantly have to politely ask strangers for help, directions, suggestions, etc. Also, some cultures are just more friendly than others. Australia has a certain “mateship” going on that makes polite chit chat and cheeky jokes among strangers a totally common occurrence.
Not so much in NYC.
I had been trained for over a year to make passing jokes or comments to strangers as I held the door open for them or waited in line for a coffee or bought a ticket to a movie. When I tried similar behavioral tactics in New York, I was mostly met with surprise. Whether it’s because New York is a notoriously hard place to live or because there is simply so much stimulation that people need to find a comfortable happy place in a self-inflicted bubble, getting through that exterior to even make a joke to the average New Yorker could leave them stunned for a few seconds.
When you try to breach the wall that most New Yorkers build up, you’re met with an initial lack of attention, then surprise at being addressed, then awkwardness due to an absence of practice in the etiquette of casual jokes with strangers, then genuine warmth once they’re all caught up. Because the stereotypes that New Yorkers are mean are just not true. Blunt, jaded and self-involved, maybe, but good-hearted, helpful and real people to the absolute core.
It’s one thing to remember that NYC offers infinite choices for lifestyle and entertainment. It’s quite another to be plugged into it. There’s an energy that takes over when you come home, a vibration from all the bodies that echoes under the surface of your skin. You walk the familiar streets that you spent years running away from, and suddenly you see them from the perspective of an outsider with the knowledge of an insider. You’re damn proud to be a part of the hustle and bustle, even if you’re just strutting your stuff down the street to get a slice of pizza. (Because you damn well know that nobody in the world does pizza like New York does pizza.)
When I was last home, my girls and I went out to one of our favorite bars in the East Village to dance to some hip hop. The music was on point and the crowd was right. At around 3 in the morning, we strolled to the car to head home. As one friend finished a cigarette, the other started bumping some Missy Elliott on the car speakers. Within minutes, a crowd of 15 or so had joined our little street dance party. Names were exchanged, song requests were made and joints were passed in a general spirit of youthful camaraderie and liveliness.
It was one of those moments that makes you remember that anything is possible in New York because the odds of something happening are seriously in your favor.
New York is a place that is at once stunning, nostalgic and kind of gross. You learn to deal with it. You automatically breathe through your mouth as you walk along the brownstones in the Upper West Side in an effort to filter out the smell of garbage cooking in the hot sun. You stroll through Central Park with a sense of whimsy as you shield your field of vision from the bum taking a dump on a rock. And you thank the hot dog or halal man kindly as you trust that their street meat is really a reflection of their Health Inspection grade.
Any New Yorker will tell you that when they travel, they miss “real pizza” and “real bagels.” I wholeheartedly back this up. Growing up, we’re taught that it’s the New York water that makes the difference.
Oh, the sheer wonder of entering a pizza place with 10, no, 20 pizza pies with all the different toppings awaiting the simple point of your finger. Chicken and broccoli, Grandma, Grandpa, Sicilian, Eggplant… Then, with practiced accuracy and swiftness, the angel behind the counter swoops up your choice and pops it into the oven to heat up.
When it’s bagel time, I won’t even look at anything besides an Everything Bagel. Toasted to perfection and topped with anything from in-house made scallion cream cheese to cold chicken salad. I’m not home until I’ve demolished both of these delicious carby treats and feel that loving pit in my stomach.
No matter how many countries I’ve traveled to, no matter how many cities I’ve lived in, I’ve never been able to purge my New York instinct to jaywalk. I simply do not see the logic in waiting for the light to flash in my favor before strolling across the street. Friends and other pedestrians would look at me as if I were some sort of maverick, at once awed and fearful of my rule-breaking and death-cheating. As if I didn’t have vision and reflexes that would prevent me from getting hit by a car.
New Yorkers literally stop traffic. We always have the right of way. The pedestrian is very much like the pigeon, in that we are aware of our surroundings but will only move out of your way if we really think you have the balls to hit us.
From Red Velvet Cronuts to over the top Milkshakes to Rainbow Bagels, I simply can’t keep up with all the poor souls that wait in line for hours just to pay for an overpriced accost to their arteries. But even as I roll my eyes at their illogical patience, the FOMO kicks in and I schedule a time to see what the fuss is about
Other cities that describe themselves as multicultural are just dipping their toes in the water. There is always something so startling, yet so comfortable when I’m confronted again with the melting pot that is New York. When you travel in other countries, for the most part, you see a lot of the same type of person. Lots of Peruvians in Peru, lots of Swedes in Sweden. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way it is. I remember when I arrived in Sydney and commented on how white it was, friends were quick to defend themselves against being racist for some reason and say that their city was really very multicultural. Sure it is.
I feel at home in New York when I can weave in and out of languages and accents and ethnicities and food. It excites me to come home and feel comfortable conversing with someone who may look completely different to me, yet is not a stranger by virtue of being a New Yorker. New York is the most magnificent rainbow that embraces, accepts and is enhanced by cultural differences with a zest that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. Everybody is welcome. Everybody is home.
by Rebecca Bellan
He wasn’t just trying to “mansplain” my valid reaction — he was trying to bully me into thanking him for sexually harassing me.
I WAS IN DARWIN, Australia and my friend Nicole and I had decided that our coolest fashion option would be to wear sundresses — but nothing flashy or revealing. Just normal cotton sundresses.
We strolled down Mitchell Street, a strip known for scandalous ladies’ nights and backpacker debauchery. We wanted to avoid the beer-soaked scene of our peers and instead set our sights on a small local pub with pool tables visible through the wide windows. There weren’t too many people inside, but I noticed a group of men in their 40s and 50s sitting outside smoking cigarettes, laughing and drinking beer. I groaned inwardly as I saw them look up at us in unison, elbowing each other like a bunch of teenage boys. I held my breath and stared straight ahead as I walked past, their leering gazes made me feel like I wanted to take a bath in hand sanitizer.
We ordered a couple of pints, paid for the pool table, and began an effort to have a normal night of drinking beer and shooting pool. But I never stopped noticing the men watching us, and they never stopped watching us. Their stools outside gave them a prime viewing position to stare at us through the window as we racked up, took forced sips of beer and chalked the cue. I said I would break, and the second I bent over to aim, a cheer went up from outside. I ignored it and broke. I was solids. We kept playing for a few more rounds, trying to act normal, like we couldn’t see or hear them. Nicole had to bend to hit the cue ball, and her backside was facing the men, so I stood behind her as she lined up the shot. I could hear the men sniggering outside, so I got fed up, whipped around, threw my hands in the air and yelled, “What the fuck are you staring at? Don’t look at us!”
I was shaking with anger and trying to chalk my cue when one of them stumbled in and on the way to the bar said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. We were saying nice things. Good things.”
“I don’t care. Don’t look at us,” I replied curtly.
He looked confused. “No,” he said as he shook his head, “You don’t understand. They were compliments. Compliments! We were saying nice things.”
“I understand, sir, but I don’t need your compliments,” I replied calmly.
His face instantly changed from good-natured drunk to ready-for-a-fight. “Oh, you’re really fucking immature, you know that? You’re a bitch. We were only giving you compliments. Grow the fuck up.”
“I never asked for your compliments, and what you were doing was invading my private space. It made me feel very uncomfortable,” I said, as if I were talking to a toddler.
I was trying to stay calm to keep him calm, but that didn’t seem to work. He walked quickly, threateningly toward me, calling me more offensive names and reiterating his stance that he had done nothing wrong. He was just paying us a compliment. I tried to ask him if he might understand that a group of men leering at two women might make those women feel uncomfortable and unsafe. He got right up in my face, so close that I could feel the heat of his beer breath and said, “You’re a fucking crazy bitch, you know that? Grow the fuck up.”
“Get out of my face,” I replied calmly, keeping my feet firmly planted and my head held high. My knuckles had turned white from gripping the cue stick, and I was already imagining throttling him with it if he turned violent. He wasn’t just trying to “mansplain” my valid reaction — he was trying to bully me into thanking him for sexually harassing me. Suddenly there was breathable air between us as one of his friends, who looked less like a violent rapist, pulled him away, trying to laugh it off while apologizing.
I spent the rest of the night fearful that the man and his pack of testosterone-fueled fools would wait for us outside and try to put Nicole and me in our place. It’s not the first time I’ve feared for my safety as a woman. From being followed down the street in Sicily by men asking me ‘Quanto?’ to being asked to dinner by random men on the street in Istanbul to being groped at Penn Station in New York when I was 14 to being hissed at and stared at like a tasty arepa con chicharron as I walked through the streets of Medellin. Whether we’re abroad or at home, females have a constant mental checklist in our heads relating to our safety and likelihood of being harassed or raped in any situation. I feel that this is in large part due to the things that are said to us, to sexist rhetoric that is deemed acceptable worldwide, but still shocks me when it appears in Western countries, like America and Australia.
We are seeing a rage lately, though — against a type of culture that allows men to continue with their ill-founded macho behavior. And that rage is worldwide. Right now, it’s in Argentina where women donned all black and marched to protest sexual violence after the brutal rape and murder of 16-year-old Lucia Perez on October 19. These women are demanding a cultural change in machismo culture in the Latin American world, in the same way that women in other countries, which boast equality of the sexes, should be demanding a rhetoric that demonstrates this shaky equality.
Australia and the United States are two very similar countries, culturally speaking. Both are English-speaking new nations with advanced democracies, and both aggrandize their forward thinking while they are simultaneously held back by conservatives. If countries like ours are to truly embrace their claims of equality for all, then we all need to take part in an active social change that stigmatizes sexist speech in the same way that it stigmatizes racial slurs. We need to accept the reality that sexist rhetoric can and often does lead to violence and sexual assault against women because it normalizes the attitude that we are objects. Let’s call this rhetoric “sexist slurs” because, at the end of the day, it is both hateful and founded in ignorance and a grasp for power that a certain class of people simply do not deserve.
by Rebecca Bellan
I look around, and I barely see what I came here to see. Instead, I see unimpressed and pasty old white people straight off an expensive cruise, coupled up like they’re on a buddy system.
I JUMP OFF THE PACKED PUBLIC BUS at the Old City walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and the tourism hits me all at once. As I jostle for a space on the sidewalk, I’m accosted by strangers leaning over makeshift podiums, screaming gimmicks at me, their smiles plastered on insincere faces.
Hi there! Are you interested in a Game of Thrones tour? Wine and bike rides? Kayak tours? Dalmatian tours? Explore Dubrovnik by boat? Etc, etc?
How does one reply to all of this unwanted attention, this breach of private space? My New York breeding taught me to keep my head down. Don’t make eye contact. Keep walking. The tourism workers don’t seem to like that. I get called rude as I pass by. Some make passive aggressive comments.
Oh, so you’re not interested? That’s fine. Have a nice day.
I walk with the throngs of other tourists towards the city walls, but then I beeline towards a sliver of water I see beyond a bit of the old fortress. I’m searching desperately for a semblance of normalcy, to gaze out at the ocean and not at a sea of other assholes like me, toting a camera, hat, water bottle. Dressed in comfortable, quick dry clothes and ugly, easy-to-walk-in shoes. The whole ensemble that screams: I’m foreign! Take advantage of me!
There is a line to get to the wall that looks out at the ocean. I stand on my tiptoes to see that people are lining up to take a shot with one of the ultimate King’s Landing views. I don’t actually know what I’m looking at. A later Google search tells me that it’s the Pile Gate and the Fort Lovrijenac. Tourists are hastily snapping selfies and posing before someone obliviously steps in front of their shot. I push my way in to take a cheeky pano of the scene before I am pushed away by others eager to do the same.
I walk away from this disturbed ocean view to see what the fuss is about inside the city walls. Each movement is held up by the need to say “Excuse me” to more strangers as I awkwardly stroll-duck through their pictures. I look at them as I pass, the fascination of Dubrovnik’s fortress completely lost to me in my horror at what tourists like me have done to its assumed charm. Some posers pose excitedly, some look away nonchalantly — perfect for Insta. Some stand there grudgingly, looking truly over the experience of proving that they went somewhere by standing in front of it and every other person just like them. I feel their pain.
What the fuck am I even doing here? You hear the name ‘Dubrovnik’ on the Balkan backpacking trail often enough. It’s the next stop after Kotor, Montenegro. You Google image the city, get a feel for it. You think it looks cool. Incredible, really. You need to see it for yourself. Some people warn you that it’s touristy. A few backpackers at your last hostel or at a bar in Skopje tell you something along the lines of: When I was there a few years ago, Dubrovnik was just a small, cute town. Game of Thrones ruined it. And, it’s pricey. But worth a look.
I knew all this, yet here I am with the others. We, the tourists, flock in heinous amounts like pseudo-traveller drones. I wonder if anyone here even knows anything about Dubrovnik or Croatia? I realize that my own knowledge is slim. I’ve been moving around so much, jumping from place to place, that I keep catching myself in a new city without even knowing what the currency exchange is or how to say “thank you.” The Old City is amazing, architecturally speaking, but what am I even looking at? What am I snapping photos of? I feel as though I had better take a picture of the stately structures elevated around me because a photo will last longer than my meager impressions of this city on display, bared to appease the demands of the Almighty Tourist.
I could be anywhere in the world right now. I look around, and I barely see what I came here to see. Instead, I see unimpressed and pasty old white people straight off an expensive cruise, coupled up like they’re on a buddy system. I see Asian tourists with masks on, and loud, overweight American families toting frozen beverages. I see other backpackers like me, staring upward and eating ice cream. A lot of people are eating ice cream. The only locals I see are the ones who serve the ice cream.
I’m overstimulated. I stop at a cafe for an espresso. You know a place is touristy if you can pay with a credit card, at least in this corner of the world. Extra points if all the signs are in English, and if the menu is in six different languages.
I take my time using the cafe’s wifi. I’m scouring Wikipedia for historical context about Dubrovnik. It’s a Croatian city on the Adriatic in the Dalmatian region. UNESCO World Heritage Site. Maritime trade increased the prosperity of the city. City walls constructed from 12th to 17th centuries. Never been breached. The Republic of Ragusa existed from 1358 to 1808 and was a commercial hub that acted independently, despite being a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. The people mainly spoke Latin. Their motto was “Liberty is not well sold for all the gold.”
I pay my bill and move along, searching for a route to the holes in the wall. Someone told me you can jump into the water from there. I didn’t bring my suit. In my quest, I find a slightly more quiet part of town, so I sit on one of the old fortress walls and try to look out for a sign of these holes. The stone is hot from the sun, and I pull my hat down over my eyes for a bit of extra shade as I look out at the bay. I think this view may have been in Game of Thrones, too, but I can’t remember. The sound of water gently lapping against the sand and the tranquility of the small fishing boats, so neatly lined up before the small beach, calm my senses and help me think about why I even travel. Man, this city is starting to break me.
Ok, why do I travel?
I travel because I get to have genuine experiences every day. I get to be free, to roam as I please. That’s why I like to stay a bit off the beaten track. If my experiences aren’t genuine, then what am I doing traveling? It’s more about what I’m not doing. Like not working, not making commitments. As I ponder my existential crisis, I wonder how all of the people touching and sitting on this ancient stone is affecting its longevity.
I walk back into the main strip of the Old Town, the Placa, to get my bearings again as I continue my search. As I look around, I get the sense that I’m at the Eiffel Tower combined with Six Flags on a Saturday in the summer. Some place that would warrant and forgive an influx of tourism to this magnitude. Only I’m meant to be in a city still. But it’s an “old city” so every stone is a monument, every alley is art.
Armed with my Olympus, I snap photos with a grudge. I think I’m getting closer to the hole in the wall. I’m walking around that bay that I had looked out at earlier, contemplating my traveling woes. The smell of the sea is comforting, and the Adriatic is a sapphire. I walk close enough to the edge for my feet to feel the spray and occasional crash of salty water. Three local fishermen sit together on a bench, a beer in each one’s hand. The smell of fish emanates from their direction. They look dirty and weathered compared to their fresh tourist counterparts, but not because they’ve been working. They look exhausted from watching all of us walk past all day. What must they think of us? They look at me as I walk by, seemingly ready to make a cheeky comment that reinforces their sense of manhood. I stop in front of them and ask to take their picture. Two of them smile accordingly. One covers his face with his hands. I take the photo anyway and look at the picture on my camera screen to make sure no tourist walked into my shot.
Almost every photo is ruined by the tourist, so I start taking photos of the tourists. One point for an awkward solo photo. Two points for a photo of a tourist petting a stray cat. Three points for a photo of a tourist taking a photo of a stray cat.
This entertains me until I reach the holes in the wall. I walk through some quiet back alleys where laundry hangs between the buildings, and this visual gives me hope. I don’t know if I’ve actually made it to the alleged “holes”, but there is access to the sea, and surprisingly few have stripped off their clothes to jump in. I figure, why not? I’m here. Better than taking photos of tourists. I take off my quick dry clothes, my cheap sunglasses, my baseball cap that says ‘Godzilla.’ I put down my chunky camera, cover it with my clothes, and jump in. The water is fresh, salty enough to restore me. Suddenly, I’m a traveler again, living in the moment, going with the flow. I smile at the child who has jumped in after me, at the couple who share a wet kiss as they tread water next to me. Because at the end of the day, the essence of traveling is realized in small moments, like when you look up at the sky as you float on your back and realize how lucky you are to be bobbing away on this particular body of water.
by Rebecca Bellan
Please don’t launch a premature air strike on an Afghani hospital in your irrational anger.
I think we need to take a break. So take me off your Christmas card mailing list. I’m sick of seeing your pasty extended family lined up with their rifles on the porch in their Sunday best.
I’m not saying this is the end, so please don’t launch a premature air strike on an Afghani hospital in your irrational anger. Despite your faults, I still truly love you. You get caught up sometimes in fear, anger and ignorance, but I haven’t forgotten your virtues. You’re the strongest advocate for Freedom of Speech, you legalised gay marriage and you elected our first black president. However, your accomplishments are beginning to fade as I spend more and more time away from you. I’m starting to see you how a lot of other people around the world see you, and it’s not looking good.
We’ve been doing the long distance thing for nearly a year now. I’ve been enjoying a new kind of first world life in Melbourne, Australia, and from what I see online and on the news, you are having a sort of identity crisis and dealing with some raging demons. We’ve never spent this much time apart, but the distance has made me into a different person. I’m sorry to break this to you, but I’ve fallen in love with another country. Australia is like you, but better in so many ways. It’s an advanced democracy too, but it actually provides its citizens with basic civil liberties and rights, like Medicare, comprehensive welfare allowances and affordable education with interest-free government loans. Most people live comfortably off of what they earn here—without getting a second or third job to make ends meet—and still have the freedom of will and the excess dollars to spend on trips around the world. Your citizens, on the other hand, almost never travel unless they’re taking their meagre two-week holiday of the year to sit poolside at a lavish resort in a country that’s slowly developing from squalor to poverty.
Being with Australia has opened up my eyes to the fact that there are plenty of countries in the world that can give me freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Right now it’s Australia, but if things don’t work out, who knows? Denmark? Sweden? Canada? All I know is that I have finally gotten the perspective to be able to tell you what I didn’t know I wanted to tell you until now.
Fuck you. I’ve defended you to my friends abroad for far too long. You have no idea how you relate to other people in the world, and no wonder, with half your population being so stubbornly backwards that you find it impossible to join the global society. Ever think that maybe you shouldn’t let Bible Belt douche bags vote on local school board elections to keep Creationism in the lesson plan?
Fuck you for not being the country that I thought you were. You looked so good and welcoming on paper. I was taught that America was the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” I thought that we had settled the fact that Black Lives Matter when you rightly abolished slavery. You were the first country to break free from British imperial rule, the first country to put separation of church and state into your Constitution, the first country to invent flight and land on the moon and build skyscrapers. You gave the world jazz and Jimi Hendrix and Shark Week and Apple products and Mark Twain. You’ve shown me some of the most amazing natural wonders in the world, provided me with year after year of whimsical Halloween celebrations and fat turkeys on Thanksgiving, and given me endless hours of Hollywood entertainment. But I can no longer look the other way while you slaughter Yemeni mothers with drones or encourage your citizens to keep up with the shallow existences of the Kardashians.
I’m not saying that I was naive to the fact that we had our faults, but I just never felt them. I mean, I was a part of them, and a part of you, as much as you were a part of me. I used to meet a cacophony of sneers and jeers from Europeans and Australians in hostels abroad with a knowing smile, because I knew that everyone just hated the United States of America because we were the best. I mean, back to back World War champs, am I right? Except now I see it. Now I see that everyone hates us because we’re kind of the worst.
When I look at your Facebook profile, I not only see that the NRA still has you by the balls and you haven’t put any logical gun laws in place, but also that you’re continuing with this spectacle that is our presidential election process. Meanwhile, my new beau’s profile got the attention of the masses for their election for about a month, during which time they debated about who would provide Australia with the fastest internet and better universal healthcare. (Also, it only took one massacre for Australia to revoke their citizens’ gun rights, and they’re just fine without them.)
This election has gone on for far too long. Don’t you know that it’s just a reality show for the rest of the world? Every Aussie that meets me for the first time and hears my unmistakably stupid American accent feels the need to ask me if I’m voting for Trump…because clearly you’re considering this madman! You’re making me choose between Godzilla and the She-Wolf of Wall Street as the leader of our nation. I feel like I don’t even know you anymore. In fact, I’m embarrassed by you. In so many strangers’ eyes, I am guilty and stupid until proven innocent and intelligent. Australia won’t even let me extend my working holiday visa for a second year, probably because they can’t stand that they let me in in the first place.
At least they let me in fairly easily, unlike you who only gives out J-1 visas to students. That doesn’t seem very fair. I mean, it’s no secret that you’re rather lacking in foreign policy (cough cough occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq cough cough). But foreign policy should extend beyond war and trade and merge with cultural exchange. I know you’re stubbornly persisting this (the popularity of Trump’s anti-globalization “foreign policy” being a prime example), but we are living in a global community, a community that America should be the leader of but is hardly even a part of unless we’re at the butt of a joke. To re-earn the reputation of “USA Number 1”, we need to produce global citizens, to encourage our people to live and work abroad and come back to us with what they’ve learned.
I wish you’d offer meaningful reciprocal working holiday visas, at least to our allies– the countries, like Australia, that fought in all our wars. The Coalition of the Willing, and you’re not even willing to invite their citizens to live and work with you. If our soldiers can fight together, why can’t our citizens work together to create a greater bond among friends through cultural exchange programs? Is your relationship with your allies purely dependent on the existence of threat and tactical geographic advantage, or can it be based on a system of shared values of liberty and democracy and equality? I don’t think you realise that most other developed countries send their citizens abroad with backpacks on their backs, not M16s in their hands. I feel far too singular as an American on the backpacking trail.
You need to promote real travel, to encourage your citizens to get a PhD in Life rather than stressing out every junior in high school with SAT scores and acceptance letters to prestigious universities. Because any American who’s gotten a useless higher education in a subject they chose as an idiotic child knows that the exhilaration of acceptance and four years of intellectual pursuits and frat parties will amount to fuck all once the grace period ends. The rest is all existential dread, the occasional Groupon voucher for an all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica, and paying off student loans until we’re 50. ‘Sup with that 6.8 percent interest on my federal student loans, by the way? Unbelievable.
You’re cheap, you’re sexist and you’re weirdly religious, even though you promised from the start that you’d leave the church stuff away from the state stuff. Honestly, the list is just getting too long. Aside from our country code, the USA is only number 1 in three categories, best described by Aaron Sorkin’s character Will McAvoy in the Newsroom: “We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”
Look, I’ve tried and tried again to believe in you, to carry the pride that made us work in the first place. But now, you’ve gotten too comfortable. You’re stuck in your ways, while I want to grow and change and make friends with other nations. I’d like it if you did the same. Until you get your shit together, I really don’t want to come home. I’m truly terrified for what outcomes November will bring. I hope you smarten up and get on board with the rest of the world.
With love and hate,
Your former flame…of liberty
PS- The imperial system of measurement is stupid.
There isn’t a day or a time that I wouldn’t eat Vegemite on toast.
Most educated Americans have some inkling of how the US fails when it comes to basic Western World rights like health care and education. But growing up in the States, you don’t realize just how fucked the situation is. That’s just our reality and our way of life, and we just deal with it, shelling out monthly student loan payments that cripple our potential savings accounts.
Living in another country that actually supports its citizens has opened my eyes. Everyone here — including other travelers who have reciprocal health care agreements with Australia — is covered by Medicare. Students see some of the best benefits, including way cheaper education, INTEREST-FREE LOANS from the government, and a serious grace period on paying back those loans. They don’t have to pay until they’ve started earning over $47,000 per year. They also can reap the benefits from Centrelink, Australia’s welfare and human relations system, that offers students allowances to help them pay for books and other living expenses while they are studying.
Meanwhile, I’m hating my own country for charging me 5% interest on government student loans and giving me but a 6-month grace period from graduating university to start paying off just the interest.
Many Americans hate this word, but I’m actually into the liberal use of it. They say that in Australia, you call your acquaintances “mate” and your mates “cunt.” Obviously, it can still be a touchy one based on the method of your speaking, but in general, it seems that you can refer to almost anyone as a cunt here. It’s up to the listener to gauge from your context what you mean by it.
Here are a few translations from Aussie slang to American:
“He’s a sick cunt” means “He’s a bad motherfucker.”
“What a dumb cunt” means “What an asshole.”
“You’re a cunt.” means ”You’re a cunt.”
This video could explain it all a little better than I could.
The trick to Aussie slang is abbreviation. Almost anything can be converted into a two-syllable word with an ‘o’ on the end. (Everything except ‘hundreds and thousands’ for some reason.) For example:
I went down to the servo in my trackie dacks for ice to put in the Esky so that the tinnies of draft stay cold at the barbie s’arvo, but I’m devo because I forgot to buy durries. Can’t be fucked to go back, though.
If you need a bit more guidance, check out this video.
The slang is the best part, to be sure, but there are other small bits of my language that have evolved as a side effect of living here. One of the most noticeable is the way Aussies speak with an upwards inflection — kind of like they’re always asking a question? They even make statements by asking a question. Like, “How good is pizza?” or “How much is it raining out there?” Call it the Australian philosopher syndrome.
Also, nowadays, I’m asking people what they reckon and saying that we have heaps of time. I’m using the word ‘after’ as a verb, as in, “Are you after a coffee?” I ask people how they’re going or how they’re travelling instead of how they’re doing, and I answer almost every question with a “yeah.”
How was the movie? — Yeah, it sucked.
Want to go to the pub later? — Yeah, nah. Nah, yeah.
My first few months on a working holiday visa in Melbourne found me answering the same question a lot: “How do you like the coffee culture here?” I can’t say that we truly have a “coffee culture” to compare it to in the States. Sure, you’ve got your odd cafe here and there, but we all know we’re run by Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and the daily standard of a to-go cup. Our coffee, generally, is sustenance — nothing more than a burnt taste for a caffeine fix. Give me a venti drip with skim milk and two Equals please so I have the strength to continue with my day.
In Melbourne, however, the coffee begins with the milk. God help the barista who delivers a latte with the excess froth of a cappuccino. A fern or a heart is found in the foam of almost every cup of coffee, lovingly poured into the appropriate mug or glass to be drunk with patience at a hip cafe with an impressive, albeit pretentious, Aussie brekky menu (did someone say poached eggs and smashed avo?). It’s a daily event that’s something in between a treat and a necessity. It’s that moment when time seems to stand still. When all that is required of you is to sip and turn the page of a good book.
Aussies are all about the nicknames. I’ve been friends with some people for a few months, and still don’t know their true names. My own name, Rebecca, has been converted to Bec without question.
The Aussies can be pretty creative about how they go about shortening given names, carefully selecting syllables and strategically adding o’s or ie’s or z’s to the end as is deemed appropriate. Some of my faves are: Tash for Natasha, Donnie for Payden (don’t know quite how they got there), Jez for Jeremy, Sez for Sarah, Lukie for Luke…it goes on and on.
Vegemite, a yeast extract spread, has a rare flavor that falls under umami category, one of the five basic Japanese tastes. Soy sauce is also in this category, but Vegemite is a condiment all its own. There isn’t a day or a time that I wouldn’t eat Vegemite on toast. Just a light smear, the perfect amount, with some butter is enough to satisfy me, but I’ll never turn down a Vegemite and cheese toastie or a Vegemite with smashed avo open sandwich.
Australian Football League, or AFL, is a big fucking deal in Melbourne, and the first team sport I’ve bothered to pay attention to. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before — rough and athletic and non-stop action. It’s hard not to get involved in this city with 12 out of the 18 total professional leagues hailing from suburbs of Melbourne, where you’ve just got to pick a team if you want to live here. I go for the Geelong Cats, and I even got involved in footy tipping and joined a co-ed pub footy league with my housemates called the Bats.
Casual drinking is far more common in Australia than it is in any parts of the States I’ve lived in. In fact, I don’t think I truly understood what it meant to be fucked up until I lived here. Really, I’ve surprised myself in my abilities to consume copious amounts of alcohol and other substances and still remain upright. The nights spent at frat parties in college were mere practice for a weekend out in Melbourne.
People just walk around barefoot here, and it’s not a thing. It’s great, especially in the summer when you just cannot be bothered to put your damn shoes on. I myself love a good barefoot bike ride to the shops where I will see other barefoot people casually buying broccoli and slabs of beer.
In Australia in general and Melbourne in particular, there is a huge Asian influence apparent in the food. Whereas in America, our cheap and easy-to-cook food is either Mexican or Italian, here, it seems that everyone I know can master a curry sauce. Even the English style pubs usually have at least one meal with a Thai or Indian offering next to the classic Chicken Parmas and Pub Steaks.
Most of us are walking around wearing clothes we bought from op shops (thrift stores) like Vinnies, Savers, Salvo’s (Salvation Army), or even a local yard sale. Why go all the way into the CBD to spend hard cash when you can go to your neighbourhood op shop and buy a chunky knit or a denim skirt for a quarter of the price? Variety abounds at the Melbourne op shops, so it’s too easy to spend $20 and walk out with a whole new wardrobe.
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Charlestown, portrayed in the Ben Affleck film as some sort of townie hub for bank robberies, is really quite a nice place. A walk around the winding, thin colonial streets today will show you nothing more than a square mile-long working class suburb that’s slowly being gentrified by Boston yuppies (Young Urban Professionals).
Sure, Charlestown has flirted with organized crime like the Irish gang war in the 60s between the Charlestown Mob and the Winter Hill Gang in Somerville. And the townies there definitely didn’t come across as the forgiving type during the “busing” conflict in the 70s. But this town is, if anything, fiercely proud of their heritage, tradition and role as one of America’s oldest cities. After all, Paul Revere galloped at high speed from here to the battle at Lexington and Concord to warn that “the British are coming!” John Harvard himself lived in Charlestown, Samuel F.B. Morse was a born and bred townie and the Charlestown Navy Yard is home to Old Ironsides, the oldest commissioned vessel in the US Navy.
Bulger’s story might be a bit more common knowledge now to people outside the state of Massachusetts due to Johnny Depp’s portrayal of him in Black Mass. The notorious Boston crime boss of the Winter Hill Gang is both feared and iconized after terrorizing South Boston in the 70s and 80s, then disappearing in an attempt to escape an FBI indictment. In 2011, he was finally found in Santa Monica, California, strapped with an arsenal and over $800,000 hidden in the walls.
If you spend a lot of time in Boston, talk of Whitey isn’t uncommon, and neither are very distant relations to him. One friend of mine swears her dad worked in one of Whitey’s bars, another says his dad lived on Whitey’s block in Southie. Hell, I even met Kevin Weeks, Whitey’s right-hand man and leading rat in the case against Bulger and FBI agent John Connolly. One of my BU journalism professors, Phyllis Karas, wrote his memoirs with him and brought him into class to talk to us about the trial that was being held in 2013. Whitey was found guilty on 31 counts, including racketeering charges. He was found to have been involved in 11 murders, and later that year he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus five years.
South Boston is still a rougher part of Boston with embedded Irish working class residents still kicking about. However, the location and proximity to Boston’s downtown cannot be beat. Old triple deckers are making way for shiny new duplexes and not-bad pubs likeLincoln’s. I probably wouldn’t hang about some areas too late, though. Andrew Square, for example, still has the ghosts of brutality about it.
Nowadays, when people hear the words “Tea Party” they think of painfully backward Republicans like Michele Bachman who see lowering taxes and limiting social freedoms as a pathway to getting our nation out of debt. But let’s not forget the Boston-based revolutionaries who once gave a ‘tea party’ a whole new meaning.
The Boston Tea Party was originally a badass political protest against the Tea Act of May 10, 1773 in which the Sons of Liberty dumped an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company into the Boston Harbor. It all went down on December 16, 1773 and was one of the straws that broke the Patriotic camel’s back and started the American Revolution. You can walk around the Harbor and sail along the Harbor Islands today, watching for whales and envisioning what truly revolutionary shit went down among that gray-blue salty water.
It is easy to notice what drug addiction has done to many residents in Boston as you walk along the one-mile stretch of Massachussetts Ave near Boston Medical Center, otherwise known as ‘Methadone Mile’. Just a few blocks away from the clean brownstones and trendy cafes of Boston’s South End is a strip of methadone clinics, homeless shelters and drug treatment centers that have surfaced to try to combat Boston’s massive opioid addiction problem.
Residents walking their dogs would know to steer clear of this street for fear of their pet stepping on a used needle or picking up an empty heroin bag. I’m not exaggerating. The debris of addiction and the presence of junkies isn’t limited to the ‘Methadone Mile’– you can see the effects of the drug from Dorchester T stations to the lovely Fens gardens to Revere Beach. But in this location, however, it’s not uncommon to find addicts openly cooking and injecting drugs like it ain’t no thang. And to them, it isn’t, which should put it into the tourist’s head to be wary of people suffering and how that might affect their time in Boston.
Boston is rife with revolutionary history due to its role as a commercial center and home to some of the radicals we remember today like Samuel Adams (after whose namesake the Boston Lager was brewed) and John Adams. Just looking at a map of Boston and Massachusetts will make names of people and places from your history books jump out at you, from Revere and Quincy to Lexington and Concord.
If you feel like following in the footsteps of the Revolution that gave our nation the now-ridiculous reputation of ‘The Land of the Free,’ you can follow theFreedom Trail, which starts at the Boston Common park and goes to the USS Constitution.
It seems as though ‘America’s College Town’ always has been and always will be home to great minds and progressive thinking, and that idea only seems to be enhanced by the sheer amount of universities present. There are more than 100 colleges and universities in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area, most notably Harvard, MIT and Tufts.
In fact, this concentration of higher education in Boston has led to a steady increase in the population, leaving the city sort of grasping for housing. The Boston Redevelopment Authority found in a 2010 study that there are 152,000 students in Boston’s institutions, a number that had gone up about 20 percent since 1990 and, we can only assume, has gone up since.
Many people who don’t get to really experience snow (I’m looking at you, Australia) love the idea of traveling around the States in the winter. A White Christmas! What a novelty! I urge you, however, to do yourself a favor and not come to Boston for its winter. Hell, New York, for all its sludge, is a better bet if you’re dying to freeze your ass off in a major US city. Boston is simply too miserable to show you a good time.
When winter comes to Boston, it settles in, and so do its residents. You will be welcomed not only by arctic winds, thigh-high snow and terrifying icicles hanging off the roofs, but also by bitter humans who are struggling from an ungodly combination of bone-chill, the flu, seasonal affectiveness disorder and daunting daily transportation issues. That painful moment when you wake up to a white-washed window only to realize that you must now dig your car out or else suffer the lagging and creaking MBTA is enough to make anybody’s day a miserable one. In addition, you’ll find yourself exhausted from putting on at least three extra layers of clothes only to take off two of them in a huff the second you walk into any heat-pumped building. Heading to the pub later? Count almost everyone in Boston out. They’d rather drink inside and watch the Pats game.
Prepare yourself to start and end your night much earlier in Boston than you would in many other major cities. Most bars are only open until 2 am, so if you think that’s the time when the party is kicking off, you will be sadly mistaken and left with booze blue balls. Don’t even try to get another one off the bartender at 2:01. It’s not gonna happen.
If you are planning on one of these early nights out, make sure to bring a proper form of ID and expect to get carded almost everywhere. Boston is notoriously strict about ID-ing as it is a college town and there are plenty of underage kids just trying to have a drink in a social setting like a normal adult. Foreigners will often find themselves turned away by many bartenders for not having their passport on them. No, we don’t accept your country’s driver’s license. Military ID cards are usually considered OK.
New England seafood is well known for being some of the best in the world, so don’t leave without getting your hands on some. From the hearty Boston Clam Chowdah to a succulent and fresh Lobster Roll, you’ll be writing back home to Mom about it.
If you’re looking for a bit of history, check out Union Oyster House, America’s oldest remaining restaurant. It was built in 1826, it looks like a ship inside, and it’s alright. You can do better when it comes to New England seafood in Boston. I’m a casual seafood eater myself, so a walk through Quincy Market to Boston & Maine Co. for some steamed mussels will never go amiss. Also a big fan of Faneuil Hall’s Salty Dog for the sheer joy of watching the bartender shuck those fat Martha’s Vineyard oysters right in front of me. The Barking Crab is also a local favorite, as I love a chance to sit in a big red-and-white tent on Fort Point Channel in the Seaport District while I smash salty Fried Clams and buckets of King Crab.
“Many millennials aren’t earning salaried or union jobs and are instead scraping by with contracted or freelance work, along with a second job in hospitality or retail to make ends meet.”
Most presidential candidates have avoided or skimmed over the topic of urban policy and housing, despite our ever-growing urban populations. Our cities aren’t just hubs of earning and wealth dispersal amongst and between classes, they’re the lifeblood of our banking system. Real estate is the largest asset category in the United States and the center of the greatest market crash since the Great Depression. We are in the midst of a rental housing crisis, where the rents are rising faster than inflation, leaving people in the lurch for affordable housing and mortgage lenders hesitant to finance anyone looking for a loan.
Our next president should be making policies that support a beneficial transition of our cities. U.S. cities should be shifting toward becoming pivotal spaces for innovation, creativity and togetherness — not just places for certain people to grow richer. We need to do things like invest in better infrastructure and public transit, tackle poverty, and create more affordable and diversified housing.
Bernie and Hillary both seem to see rebuilding America’s infrastructure as a great way to create jobs and improve on roads, bridges and transit, both local and national. However, they’ve both stopped short of getting into the nitty-gritty of urban policy and the housing crisis. Maybe they, and the Republican candidates, see urban policy as too small-time for their national agendas. If that’s the case, they all need a wake-up call from their millennial voters who mainly live in urban societies and are affected by unsustainable and unaffordable housing, poor public transit options, low-wage jobs and other city-stemmed issues.
As much as we might like to think that we do, we don’t live in a post-racial society. The Guardian released a study that showed that young black men were nine out of 10 times more likely to be killed by police in America during 2015. The study tallied a total of 1,134 deaths by police brutality last year. The challenge moving forward will be in finding a candidate who is serious about creating solutions that don’t allow the use of lethal force by police to go on without scrutiny. The present policy measures are insufficient and this unjust structure must be called into question, according to one opinion piece by the Roosevelt Institute.
“…we must show Millennials — the leaders of today and tomorrow — that racism still exists so that they can press on ever more firmly toward extinction.”
Clinton, during the January 17 debate, took a notable stand against racial disparity in policing and acknowledged that much of the nation sees the lives of young African American men as worthless. “Sadly, it’s a reality,” she said. “There needs to be a concerted effort to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system. And that requires a very clear agenda for retraining police officers, looking at ways to end racial profiling, finding more ways to really bring the disparities that stalk our country into high relief.”
Sanders has been publicly outraged by police brutality and racial profiling from the start of his campaign. He gained popularity among the black community after his interview and discussion with rapper Killer Mike. Sanders believes that the US Department of Justice should do a thorough investigation anytime someone dies in police custody.
Marco Rubio has said little to nothing on changing policies so as to ensure that police brutality is not tolerated at all in our country. Instead, he has defended the vast majority of police officers who are not to be blamed for these “rare” incidences of violence against local communities. There’s no point asking what Trump or Cruz would have to say about this as they both, based on their past statements, seem to be rampant bigots — especially against Muslims and illegal immigrants.
Many candidates are busy in discussion about makinghigher education more affordable, or even free, and allowing post-grads to refinance their loans and start a new income-based payment plan. While we millennials are ever grateful (but mostly hopeful that our next president will just magically erase our loans), the candidates seem to be largely ignoring or bypassing discussion of K-12 education.
The U.S. ranks 14th globally in education, 24th in literacy and 2nd in ignorance. Our educational statistics should reflect our status as a world leader. Maybe our numbers leave something to be desired because according to amonthly Gallup poll, only 3 percent of Americans believe education to be our nation’s most important problem. Net economic problems cover 27 percent of Americans’ fears. We need to realize, as a nation, that there will never be an economic change if we don’t put in the time and effort to correctly educate the generation that will be heading any potential future change. We’re talking less standardized tests that don’t prove much about a child’s intelligence, and more class subjects that will prepare children for life outside of education and life in the global arena.
Candidates aren’t talking about it because we aren’t talking about it. Part of the reason our global educational statistics are so low is due to our varied and out-of-date curriculums. We’ve got Bible Belt school boards voting in favor of students learning creationism over evolutionism. How are our children meant to grow into rational and logical humans that can lead the United States, if there continues to be no enforcement of the principle that we are a country with a separation of church from state?
Nearly each Republican candidate, from Jeb Bush to Chris Christie seem to refuse to discuss evolutionism or how old the Earth is, and instead say that they believe that it should be up to the school to decide how many varying “theories” or “viewpoints” to incorporate into their curriculum. Bush went so far as to say that his education plan would give more power back to the “states, local school districts and parents.” Right, because taking funding out of the Federal Department of Education and putting it into individual states wouldn’t divide our country further.
The curriculum is only part of the battle. How are students meant to find a love of learning when there is an overwhelming number of under-qualified teaching staff? There needs to be more incentive to become a teacher, as well, so that we have truly influential teachers shaping the next generation’s minds. Currently theaverage teacher salary is around $56,000. We need a candidate who believes in placing a higher value on education.
“We the people of the United States…” don’t really seem to have much of a say when it comes to prosecution of criminal misconduct. According to a statistical analysis on the Federal Prison population, nearly three-fourths of the population are non-violent drug offenders, yet corporate criminals are constantly escaping justice for their actions. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren cited many examples of corporations evading meaningful prosecution for their crimes in her New York Times opinion piece. Novartis, for example, is a major drug company that paid pharmacies to push certain drugs that ended up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Warren said that the government has full authority to dismantle companies that defraud Medicare and Medicaid. Novartis was sentenced with paying a fine so small that the CEO sort of shrugged when considering if they’d change their ethical behavior.
“The failure to adequately punish big corporations or their executives when they break the law undermines the foundations of this great country,” said Warren.
The legislation is in place, but deregulation is the main problem here. This, combined with consolidation of wealth, will lead us into the same traps we fell into during the 2009 financial crash. Think of how much of that dirty corporate money could have gone to other enterprises, like tertiary education and health care. The president nominates government division heads who enforce the laws. Nobody is above the law. For millennials, it’s a matter of choosing a candidate who we think won’t align themselves with Wall Street and other corporate giants, and instead work to enforce our laws.
It is more or less common knowledge that Sanders is for breaking up big banks and reforming Wall Street, and that Clinton wants to appoint more regulators, prosecute individuals and firms and ensure that no wealth is too complex to manage.
While we’re on the subject of economics, let’s talk about the disparity in wealth distribution in our country — where the “middle class,” or lack thereof, is barely distinguishable from the poor. And the richest 1 percent (there are those words again) has 40 percent of all of America’s wealth. The bottom 80 percent only has 7 percent of the wealth. This is because the uber rich and the big corporations aren’t paying taxes like they should be, so there isn’t enough funding for nearly any type of system that might alleviate these inequalities. Maybe you’ve heard these statistics before, but for the next election, we cannot allow this issue to fizzle out like it did after the Occupy Wall Street movement became more or less extinguished. We should be watching out for a candidate that expresses in earnest his or her plan to reform the tax code so we can break this cycle and spread the wealth a bit.
There is no longer a middle class in America, which is a huge problem for millennials, especially those just coming out of college and looking for a job. Declining union coverage is leading to a third of the disappearance of middle class workers from the workforce, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. Many millennials aren’t earning salaried or union jobs and are instead scraping by with contracted or freelance work, along with a second job in hospitality or retail to make ends meet. This means that we aren’t entitled to any healthcare, extra benefits, or even job security that the past few generations before us have had. We aren’t enjoying our 20s because we are working through them, just to survive and pay off our student loans.
Sanders, a self-proclaimed Socialist, is well known for his fight against this income inequality. On February 9, he even tweeted, “In our rigged economic system, almost all of the new income and wealth are going to the top one percent” and “We need trade policies that work for the working families of our nation and not just the CEOs of large, multi-national corporations.” Clinton also seesincome inequality as a drag on our economy and proposes things like tightening the tax code so “millionaires don’t pay lower tax rates than their secretaries” and raising the minimum wage. She stops short of saying just how high she’d raise the minimum wage, where Sanders has been pushing for a whopping $15 an hour.
As millennials, we have the unfortunate tendency toward a behavior that supports sassy headlines and sensationalist media — all in 140 characters or less. Millennials often think and converse in terms of social media and what is trending, but if we want a president in office who will act in our best interests — whatever you or I think those be — we need to avoid the system that propagates ignorant behavior. Following trending articles and clicking links about Donald Trump or other outrageous stories will only lead to a never-ending cycle of extremist statements. Even talking about how much you hate Trump, is cause for him to get more undeserved media attention. According to a poll conducted by Monmouth College in December 2015, only 17.5 percent of millennials favor Trump, yet he’s still constantly one of the top searches on Facebook and Twitter.
On that same token, Sanders’ political rhetoric seems to be optimistically filled with hope and anti-capitalism. He is our left-wing buzzword enthusiast, not far off from Trump blatantly stating, “9-11” when questioned about his desire to keep Muslims out of America. Liberal voters need to be wary that Sanders may not be the magician he claims to be. Obama hooked voters with his own rhetoric of hope and change, yet found himself going back on nearly every policy that he included in his election campaign. Voters give Clinton slack for rattling off lists of priorities were she to become president, whileSanders’ message is clear: “So long as big money interests control the United States Congress, it is gonna be very hard to do what has to be done for working families,” he said at the February 6 Democratic Debate. While Sanders’ message may give you chills, will it give you results? Whoever we decide to vote for, we need to make sure that vote has been based on more than just Facebook shares and buzzwords.
“Without education,” he said. “They will be begging for not only a short time, but for their whole lives.”
THERE I WAS IN SIEM REAP’S main tourist hot spot, where you can get a $3 massage in the same room where you can get a $10 happy ending. There was a Cambodian boy on Pub Street gesturing at a dirty-faced woman holding a baby. She was a statue in the milling throng. “Please, I don’t want money. I just want milk for the baby,” he said.
The woman watched our interaction intently as the boy moved closer to me. “I don’t want money. I only want milk,” he repeated.
He looked about 13 years old, with light brown skin, a round shaved head and bloodshot Mongol eyes. I hesitated. He clutched my hand. I looked around for my friend, Becs, and the two Indian boys from the hotel who had accompanied us to dinner. But they had already streamed through the masses, jaded to the pleas of begging children in the city.
I had read on Lonely Planet that there is a common “milk scam” in Cambodia. Children convince foreigners to buy formula for a baby, pick out the most expensive one, and then sell it back to the shop. The profits are split between the shop owner and whatever adult is, in essence, “pimping” the child.
Earlier that day, Becs and I had toured Angkor City, where hordes of children accosted every visitor, offering souvenirs for $1. Security guards handed out passes to regulate visits to the third level of Angkor Wat or Phnom Bakheng Hill. Along with guidelines for respectful behavior and dress codes, the passes explicitly stated that you shouldn’t give money to the children because it encourages them to skip school.
“While oftentimes travelers are motivated to contribute when seeing poverty and children in vulnerable situations, the way they contribute could be more harmful than helpful to the children,” Iman Marooka, Chief of Communication at UNICEF Cambodia, told me in an email interview. He explained that giving money to begging children, “perpetuates their vulnerability and exploitation.”
I already knew all that, but I still faltered. Every day I had spent in Siem Reap had ate away at me. It was a constant stream of pleas and my subsequent white guilt. The boy’s grip on my arm was curiously strong as he continued to insist that he didn’t want money, only milk. Eventually one of my Indian friends, Pranith, turned back and saw me still standing there. He weaved his way through the crowd and pulled my hand away from the child. We started turning away.
The boy punched my side. “Fuck you,” he said. I kept walking.
According to statistics from a World Bank project — LEAP in Siem Reap — 2010 brought 1.3 million international visitors to Siem Reap, with more than $606 million in revenue — a number that has definitely increased in the past six years. However, Siem Reap Province still remains one of the poorest in Cambodia, with the identifiable poor households reaching 31 percent in 2012, according to an Asian Development Bank study. The average hotel or restaurant staff salary is $60 per month.
So where is all that extra tourism money going? Is it staying in the country, or going out to the Korean and French business owners who apparently own more than half the establishments in town?
Among other causes of poverty besides profiteering, some of the most prominent are a lack of assets and low productivity, plus a lack of access to markets and an inability to compete with Thai and Vietnamese products. Due to low education, there’s also a lack of voice in the country’s decision-making. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport recognizes that for Cambodia to join the competitive market and become a middle income country, education needs to improve.
The Ministry’s website states that they envisage, “a time when graduates from all its institutions will meet regional and international standards and will be competitive in the job markets worldwide and act as engines for social and economic development in Cambodia.”
But education in Cambodia is not compulsory. Article 36 of the Education Law states that, “parents or guardians of small children are encouraged to take their children whose age is 6 years old or at least 70 months to enroll in Grade 1 of primary education; to try their best to support the studies of their children…”
To try their best. The Cambodian government does offer nine free years of public education — from primary to secondary school — but parents still have to pay for uniforms, transportation, school supplies and any extra tuition fees. Plus they have to cope with the potential loss of income that might result from their children not working.
And what about upper secondary school? What about higher education?
Public education, and some private education, is offered in shifts. This means that the child attends either morning or afternoon classes — but they won’t receive a full day of learning.
“While this strategy can solve the problem of access, it may compromise quality, as it gives teachers less time to prepare their lesson plans or materials,” Marooka says.
According to the Education Statistics and Indicators for Siem Reap Province, the dropout rate in Grade 1 was only 8 percent between 2013 and 2014. However by Grade 9, dropouts grew to 18.8 percent, and skyrocketed to 59 percent by Grade 12. The upper secondary school completion rates are now around 19 percent.
If we want to use a familiar comparison, the dropout rates are 2 percent between Grades 9 and 12 in Massachusetts and the graduation rates are 86 percent. In the District of Columbia, arguably the United States’ worst district for public education, the dropout rates for 2011 through 2012 were 5.8 percent, and the graduation rates were 62.3 percent.
Sophea Pet, an assistant at the Volunteer Development Children’s Association in Siem Reap, told me that many children drop out because they aren’t doing well in school. He said that neither they, nor their parents, truly understand the importance of education. The children see begging on the streets or running small shops with their families as an easier way to make a living.
“Education for Cambodian children relies on parents waking up to take their children to school,” said Pet. “The parents are often uneducated and hard to talk to. They just see money as the most important.”
Pet called himself an “assistant,” but on the afternoon of our interview, I jostled up in a tuk tuk and he seemed to be running the show at the free supplementary school. The Siem Reap site and their sister school in Anlung Pi Village focuses on English, computer and art lessons for students aged 5-25. It is an NGO that thrives on volunteers and partnerships with organizations like Project Enlighten of the United States and Cambodian Schools of Hope, Inc. of Australia, among others. There is no recruitment process to find children to attend. Children show their motivation to learn by coming to the school of their own volition. Classes are held in the afternoon, after public school lets out.
In front of the hectic free supplementary school, located near the Wat Thmey Pagoda, was an adequate soccer field filled with elated children kicking around a ball. I walked slowly through the front gates. The space was filled with the playful energy that only happy children in a learning environment can produce. A few older kids chatted away in the center courtyard of the school while the younger ones occupied the surrounding classrooms, about 10 in total. The walls were covered in motivational English phrases and colorful artwork. I introduced myself to Pet and offered him a donation of school supplies as he pulled out a chair for me to sit down, eyes darting between me and the classrooms.
“Two of the teachers didn’t show up today, so I’m teaching three classes,” he explained, flustered.
I wished I had come earlier to help out, and not just to conduct an interview.
“When I was a kid, I woke myself up to go to school,” he continued. “My parents just wanted me to make money and go to Thailand to be a construction worker. I moved to Siem Reap by myself and believe that study is better.”
Pet said that the Ministry of Education is indeed working very hard to improve education standards through a reform agenda. They have improved the quality of the Grade 12 exam, and as a result, almost 56 percent of students passed the national upper secondary education exam last year, compared to 42 percent in the previous school year. However, Pet believes that change has to start with a compulsory education law, similar to the United States, where the government and the police work together to make sure children of a certain age are in school during the day. This would give children more motivation to attend school.
“Without education,” he said. “They will be begging for not only a short time, but for their whole lives.”
After we spoke, I went around to the classrooms while he made his own rounds, passed out Oreos and sang the ABCs with the kids, most of whom seemed younger than 10 years old.
The day after I interviewed Pet, I toured the temples as usual, but thoughts of the children stayed with me. I stepped lightly with sandaled shoes on 1,000-year-old stone, swimming through the wet heat in the air.
The last temple I visited was Ta Prohm, a sanctuary of thick silk-cotton trees pushed their way through cracks in the stone and endless roots gnarled over gopuras. As I left the complex, a young girl who was manning one of the stands called out to me.
“Hey, lady, you dropped money,” I heard her childish voice call from behind me.
I whipped my head around, but I knew I hadn’t dropped anything. She giggled behind her hand, enjoying her trick. I smiled and walked over to her.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Me? I am 13,” she said.
“Why aren’t you in school?” I asked.
“Oh, I go to school later,” she said. It was around 1 in the afternoon.
She saw the look of incomprehension on my face, so she said, “Look, really. I go to school later.” She walked over to her backpack, opened it, and showed me its contents. Inside was a school uniform, a few notebooks and pencils. She even opened the notebooks to show me that she had written in them. I could see that her name was Saroeurm.
“I learn English in private school. Western International School. I go at 2 o’clock. You help me start my business? You buy something, you help me with business so I can go to school,” she said.
I let my eyes float over her shop’s offerings, and settled on a breezy cotton dress with peacock feathers and a scarf with Angkor Wat printed on it. It cost me $4. UNICEF may not have approved.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked as I felt through my wallet for some bills. She looked confused, so I asked what she would do when she finished school. She replied that she might continue to run the shop with her sister, a woman with a soft round face that I hadn’t noticed was watching us protectively the whole time.
“Do you want to go to university?” I asked, hopeful.
She laughed nervously. “Not yet,” she said. “That’s four years from now. I’m just thinking…” she paused, trying to find the words. “I’m thinking step by step.”
Her older brother showed up to take Saroerum to school. His name was Bun Hoeurn, and he worked at Sonalong Boutique Village and Resort as a receptionist. He spoke English well, and at the time, was waiting on university test results to come back so he could pursue a career as a teacher in Siem Reap. I asked Bun if he thought Saroerum would attend university, too, someday.
“I really want her to study at university because in Cambodia, if you just graduate Grade 12, there are no jobs,” he said. “I want her to study, but if she doesn’t want to go, there is nothing I can do, so we need to talk to her.”
Bun took Saroerum out of public school and put her in private school, at Western International, because he wasn’t happy with the quality of education.
“She studied for six years in the village,” said Bun. “I tested her knowledge. The quality of the teacher is low, so she cannot grow enough.”
Bun claims that many of the teachers at public school are only required to finish Grade 9, pass an exam, and study teaching for two more years to teach at primary school. I checked the statistics, and according to a paper on part of a study on “Contract teachers and their impact on meeting EFA goals” completed by the World Bank, what Bun said has truth to it. Authors Richard Geeves and Kurt Bredenberg found that while only 7.1 percent of Cambodian teachers just finished primary school, they are largely concentrated in remote areas where they make up nearly half of the teaching staff. About 70 percent of teachers have only studied to lower secondary education, Grade 9. While most of the teachers have received some form of pedagogical training, the statistics don’t show whether the teachers learned at training centers or just on the job.
“There is a lot of corruption in Cambodia,” Bun lamented. “Teachers only get about $60 a month salary. They often go and get another job because the salary is too low, and they don’t pay 100 percent attention to the student.”
Now Bun is paying around $160 a month to send his sister to school, but he says it is worth it to get her a better education and improve her potential future. The private school is also a shift school, so Saroeurm must work in the morning. Luckily, the little entrepreneur likes to work and is good at it. I secretly hoped she wouldn’t get stuck doing it because she knows that she is able to.
“When the children work in the temples selling souvenirs, they are too lazy to study,” said Bun in a hushed voice.
That seemed to be the general consensus. So how do you motivate children and families who are ignorant to the realities? The future of their country depends on them and if they don’t educate themselves, their country won’t succeed.
Bun’s silent sister was closing down the shop around us as we spoke. It was time to take Saroerum to school. I thanked them for taking the time to talk to me, and got Bun’s contact information so we could keep in touch. As I walked back towards the gate, my new purchases slung over my forearm, I reflected on the individual children I had met in Siem Reap, the ones who wanted to learn, and the ones who didn’t. I was on their side now. I could see how their surrounding environment affected their lives, and how their actions would affect their environment.
Donate time: While voluntourism is in vogue at the moment, do your research before you decide to spend a week volunteering directly with children, especially if you are not qualified in your own country to teach or take care of children. If you don’t speak the local language, you won’t be able to communicate well with the children, and volunteering for only a short amount of time could cause other issues with the kids. If you can’t stay on as a full time teacher, the best ways to volunteer are to find an organization that is legally registered and protects their children based on UN standards. You can help by fundraising, marketing, spreading awareness, making films, teaching skills to local teachers, etc. For more information, check out tips from Child Safe Movement.
Donate money: Organizations like UNICEF, NEF, CARE and VSO are reliable and honest. They have the resources to provide support to vulnerable families. They help children remain with their families, get an education, provide school supplies, and help family members find employment.