Why do we travel?

Technology for everyone. Angkor Wat.

Many years ago when we lived in South East Asia, Angkor Wat had been one of the top places on the list of places I wanted to see. It was almost three decades later, this year, when I finally travelled to Cambodia and found my feelings about Angkor Wat were mixed. The ruins were awesome, in the true meaning of the overused word, but the crowds …

While I walked around the temples of Angkor, at times I found it hard to switch off and dodge the phenomenal number of tourists, at their worst in large noisy glutinous groups. The once scarcely know site of multiple temple ruins set amidst jungle, had become a victim of its own popularity. Even starting the day well before dawn, it was impossible to find space to simply sit and be. There were only snatches of peace and spirituality to be found in those brief moments when the crowds were stilled and when we visited the outer circuit of temples. And this was not during peak tourist season.

Solitude on the outer circuit, Angkor.

Obviously it is now a desirable, if not iconic, place to go and to be seen to go to. Maybe that is the problem. In this world of social media and Instagram, when the perfect photo or selfie is so important, has that become the aim and main purpose of travel rather than the actual act of travel and experiencing a place and culture?

After the craziness of Siem Reap we went on to the temple ruins at Sambor Prei Kuk, dating back to the 6th century and some of the oldest in the country. At last we found some space and tranquillity, but alas two young French couples were trying to get that perfect photo of their partners in front of each ruin. Out of politeness, probably due to the lack of crowds, we waited endless minutes before viewing the temple ourselves as they cavorted and posed and pouted at the cameras on their iPhones. By the time we got to the third of the temples — unfortunately we were taking the same route around the ruins — we could no longer contain ourselves and walked into their ‘photo space’. They might have been students of ancient history and already with knowledge of these impressive monuments, or they might have no interest in the temples other than a backdrop to their photos. All I observed was their guide stood rarely speaking and impassively watching before leading them on to the next temple.

I now hesitate to go to Machu Pincchu, another destination I have longed to visit. Perhaps the fact that it is on top of a mountain will spare it from the worst of the crowds. But no, then I think of how Mt Everest, once the place only experienced climbers could even think about ascending, has now become the must-do-place for anyone with enough money and reasonable level of fitness. Yet at what expense to the lives of ‘sherpas’, fellow climbers and guides, and with what impact on the environment?

The latest selfie experience for some Chinese tourists in Laos

I still long to travel, but I suppose I shall have to accept that it is never going to be that intrepid adventure into an unknown country, not knowing where or if there will be a bed for the night, no mobile or landline phones and not even a guidebook never mind internet to help you out. Nor will it be with a slide film in my manual camera requiring each precious photo to be carefully shot at the right exposure and speed, only to be developed and seen upon reaching home. There must be few places on mother earth that have not been visited and if I do come across some wonderful wilderness I will be sure not to take a photo on my smart phone and add the location to my Instagram or Facebook.

Advertisements

I’m Back

Wow! It feels strange to be writing in my blog again after so long. I notice I still have an audience and people are regularly looking at my old posts, so I decided I should pull myself out of my reverie and start posting again. The Weekly Photo Challenge had been my main prompt for posting and upon its demise I lost some of my enthusiasm. I also started a new site for my business ‘Perth Emmett and Healing Therapies‘, although I haven’t done many posts on that either!

When I look back to why I started my blog, it was to write. The photos were almost a cop-out, even though they perhaps took almost as much time to take, choose and prepare as the writing did. I still have lots of political rants in me, many photos and thoughts from my more recent travels, and some gentler more exploratory words I’d like to write.

So here’s a little taster …

Siem Reap

Reverie or Sleeping Buddha?

Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

Plogging or Plolking?

I think I first became aware of this new ‘sport’ earlier this year. What a brilliant idea to combine jogging with tidying up our environment. In Sweden, plogging (the Swedish “plocka”, to pick up, and jogging) became a more organised activity a couple of years ago and more recently, with people’s greater awareness of the plastics problem around the world, so too has the movement spread to other countries.

plastic 2 blog

‘Sunglasses’ collected during a one hour walk!

I already pick up plastics as I walk on the beach every day, albeit with more of a stoop than any ‘gym-like’ movement. I’m no longer a jogger and despite having enthusiastically decided I was going to get fit enough for a Park Run a few months ago, my few days of short runs resulted in my physio telling me running might not be what my body needed nowadays. But walking with a few squats and lunges would surely be okay.

 

plastic blog

Plastic bag, nylon rope and smaller ‘bits’ of plastic caught in the weed.

So a few weeks ago I started my new regime. On an empty windswept beach my dog sniffed around in the flotsam and jetsam while I slowed down our regular walking speed to fit in some strengthening exercises. Rather than being random, I decided to attribute different exercises to different pieces of plastic. A piece of nylon rope or string would be three squats, small fragments of plastic would be alternating lunges and other items such as sunglasses could be a slow stoop-like stretch of the hamstrings or a squat if the item was heavier, such as a lobster pot.

I’m not sure if this trend will take off in Western Australia. I have had a few bemused glances from other beach goers, few and far between in winter, and  becoming more numerous now the temperature is warming up for summer. Perhaps if I could get some fellow dog-walkers to participate my antics might not seem quite so bizarre? After all, I’m not exactly plogging, it’s more a case of plolking – ‘plocka’ to pick up, and walking.

 

 

Who would be a refugee?

The kids I work with that come from refugee backgrounds have my full admiration. They are a delight to teach and show strength,  flexibility,  bravery, enthusiasm  and the ability to embrace the country and people that has offered them this chance of a new life.

It amazes me that there is so much negative imagery and messaging about people who have had to flee their homeland. For most of them, there is no going back to the places from where they have escaped in fear of their lives – at least not for many years. If we could really empathise and put ourselves in their shoes (if they have any) then perhaps we might show more compassion.

In 2017, 68.5 million people were forced to flee their homes. Of those, 40 million were internally displaced, 25.4 million were refugees and 3.1 million were asylum seekers. They were forced to flee because of war, persecution, natural disasters, environmental crises and poverty. We see so many people seeking asylum around the world and the so-called ‘first world’ countries are quick to complain that many are simply economic migrants and their status is nothing to do with fear. In a time when money speaks louder than compassion, countries like Australia spend more money on protecting their borders than welcoming refugees. People often believe that their country takes a fair share of refugees; those who arrive through the ‘proper’ channels and are proven to be refugees, a process that can take many years while living in a refugee camp where they can be susceptible to bribery and ‘favours’. Yet it is less affluent countries who are more likely to host refugees.

‘Turkey, Pakistan and Uganda host 31 percent of the world’s refugees. The highest concentration of refugees is in Lebanon, where one in six people is a refugee, primarily from Syria.’ UNHCR 2018.

Those quick to complain that refugees are simply economic migrants, fraudsters and ‘shouldn’t be travelling without documents to prove who they are’, seem indifferent to the circumstances that force someone to flee their home. If your house is burning, guns are firing, women and girls are being raped, or there has been extended drought and you and your family are starving, wouldn’t you flee? Would you pause to make sure you have your documents, even if you actually possessed any? Wouldn’t you use all your money and capacity to move yourself or your family somewhere safe?

It is a complex and political problem. Wars and persecution on the grounds of religion, ethnicity and race will always happen. Drought and internal displacement of people will increase with climate change, and there will always be refugees and migrants. Yet there is an inequality in who is allowed to travel to a country for a new beginning. Why is a doctor from Vietnam lower down the pecking order than one from France or Australia? Is it because their qualification is seen as lesser or are there other factors at play?

If we could support the countries where these so-called economic refugees come from, namely poor developing countries, rather than spending millions on ‘border-control’, surely that would make more economic sense. If their homeland offered prospects for them, micro financing for small businesses, a living wage and safety, wouldn’t they prefer to stay there? Would that be enough to prevent many of the fatalities we are witnessing in the Mediterranean and other seas?

My thoughts go back to the children, the lucky ones who made it to our shores, the lucky ones who escaped violence and war, the lucky ones who weren’t sent to languish on island prisons in the pacific ocean.

Who would be a refugee?

 

Refugee children in Australia – the ‘lucky’ ones.