Make the Planet Great Again

I think “Make America Great Again” is a short-sighted, narrow-minded, insular, and selfish mindset. The America First attitude implies that our greatness can only come at the expense of others. It implies that we want to make this country greater than others, and to hell with everyone else.

People who buy into that type of rhetoric tend to view this as a dog eat dog world. They think that the only way to rise up is by climbing over the top of others, and the more extreme adherents prefer to wear cleats while doing so. Much better traction that way.

I don’t want to live in such a world.

I sincerely believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. We are all in this together. Having traveled internationally, I tend to have a more global worldview.

For example, I think if we want to reduce the number of people who seek asylum in this country, we need to help our neighbors fix the problems that are causing their countrymen to seek refuge with us in the first place.

I also think that if we don’t join our fellow earthlings in trying to reduce carbon emissions, we’re not going to have anything left to make great.

I don’t think giving everyone equal rights will somehow reduce my own.

I don’t think giving everyone a living wage would reduce my own, either.

I think our pollution becomes their pollution. I think our greed becomes their deprivation.

I believe with all my heart that war benefits no one when all is said and done, and that no profits are worth the death of even one human being. If we sunk as much time, money, and effort into promoting peace as we do in propping up war, this would be an amazing big blue marble, indeed.

Watch out for whose neck you’re stepping on, folks, because yours is right there under your noggin, just waiting to be squashed, too.

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Spork

A horrible thing happened to me recently. I discovered the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten in in my entire life.

The reason this is horrible is that it’s located in Bend, Oregon. Bend is a delightful, quirky little city in the high desert region of Oregon. Sadly, I can think of no really plausible scenario that will find me back in that neck of the woods. Which means I’m destined to go through Spork withdrawal.

Spork is a fascinating restaurant that serves a fusion of cuisine from Latin America, Africa and Asia. Just as a spork is a combination of a spoon and a fork (and no, there are none of these handy utensils to be had in this place), Spork combines food in ways most people would never think to combine them, and the results are absolutely delicious.

Even better, these meals are extremely affordable, incredibly plentiful, and come from locally sourced, seasonal, humanely raised ingredients.

I had the Lomo Saltado, which the menu describes as “Peruvian stir-fry with wok-seared bavette steak, red potatoes, sweet peppers, onion, grilled tomato, soy, crema, radish, fried egg, green onion and jasmine rice.” My mouth waters just describing it to you.

Dear husband had the Thai Steak Salad. “Grilled bavette steak, greens, cabbage, beansprouts, herbs, fried shallot, toasted coconut, and nam jim sweet-spicy tart tamarind dressing.”

The casual atmosphere was amazing, too. It features international décor that, just like the food, manages to blend together perfectly in unexpected ways. We sat in an elongated wine barrel, near African wood carvings interspersed with Mexican tapestries. And the international music fit the restaurant as if it were composed for it.

Woe is me. I found an amazing place and will most likely never get to return to it. But I’m telling you, folks, if you are ever within 300 miles of Bend, Oregon, make it a point to go to Spork, even if the line is stretching out the door, as it often is.

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Vancouver Food

One of the best things about Vancouver, Canada, is the food. It’s a city by the sea, and it’s very much an international town. That bodes well for seafood, as well as Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, First Nations, Italian, Greek… you name it, they have it in Vancouver.

I’m told the best things to eat during a visit are salmon and sushi. And I’ve read that the sushi is much more affordably priced than anything you can find in an American metropolis. I wouldn’t know, not being a sushi person myself. But the salmon? Yes please. And keep it coming!

Vancouver is surrounded by farm country as well, so if you have a chance to eat fresh, seasonal produce and dairy products, do so. You’ll notice the difference. Make yourself a picnic lunch and eat it in Stanley Park, while taking in the view. There could be no better dining experience than that!

Whenever I travel, I try to avoid chain restaurants. I like to support the local economy. I also know that starting a Mom and Pop restaurant is a risky proposition at best, so it feels good to lend them a hand whenever possible. Some of the most delightful meals I’ve ever eaten have been possible because of this practice. It’s not as much of a risk as it used to be, because we all have access to on-line reviews.

So, do your homework, and get out there and dive into the culinary richness of Vancouver. You’ll be glad you did.

Vancouver Food

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Seattle’s Fremont Sunday Market and Mobile Food Rodeo

I don’t know how I managed to overlook this Seattle tradition for so long (probably has something to do with the fact that I work every Sunday), but in the quirky Fremont neighborhood here in Seattle there is a street market every Sunday from 10 to 4. It’s only about two short blocks from the Fremont Drawbridge, and it’s a lot of fun. The first time I went was with friends Deborah and Dan.

You can shop for vintage clothing and jewelry, yard sale antiques, flowers, and all manner of international clothing, arts and crafts. Just feasting your eyes on the colorful wares is a delight. I also enjoy watching people walk their dogs. (My dog Quagmire would never tolerate crowds of this size.) And it’s a great way to just celebrate being out of doors.

There are some food trucks every Sunday, but once a month, the Mobile Food Rodeo descends on the area as well, and the crowds swell. The rodeo includes food from all over the globe: Greek, Mexican, Italian, Indian, Native American, all manner of Asian cuisine, as well as seafood, burgers, donuts and hot dogs.

When the weather is mild, after you’ve braved the long lines and gotten your food, you can sit along the banks of the ship canal and watch the boats go by, just as I did with my friends Paula and Kevin. It’s just the quintessential Seattle way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

I hope I see you there, but if you are planning to go, I highly recommend you carpool, bike, or take public transportation, or you’ll experience another Seattle tradition: the utter lack of parking.

Fremont Sunday Market

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A Few Thoughts on International Women’s Day

First of all, happy International Women’s Day! It’s nice to be recognized and celebrated. I’m glad that organizations throughout the world will be using this as an opportunity to speak out about equal rights. I’m thrilled that this will open up dialogues that many people wouldn’t otherwise have thought to have.

But at the same time, it frustrates me that we still need a day like this. Aren’t we women every day of the year? Don’t we deserve basic human rights all year round?

Recently I was sitting at a table with 15 other women, so I took an informal survey.

  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever been touched inappropriately without your permission.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever been cat called.
  • Raise your hand if anyone has ever discussed your breasts, behind, or legs without your initiating that conversation.
  • Raise your hand if your opinion has been dismissed as trivial.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve heard a man singing the words “bitch” “slut” or “ho” along with the radio.
  • Raise your hand if you yourself have been called a bitch, slut, or ho.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve seen nude women calendars in public places.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been interrupted by a man who insists on explaining something to you that you already know.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been treated like an idiot by a mechanic.
  • Raise your hand if men have assumed that you’re not intelligent.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been rejected based on your weight, age, or shape.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized because of something you were wearing.
  • Raise your hand if people have assumed you need to ask a man’s permission to do something or go somewhere.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of not being feminine enough.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of being too girly.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been told you do something good, “for a girl.”
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for not having children.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for having children.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for working.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for not working.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to drive behind a truck with naked women mud flaps.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been paid less than a male counterpart.
  • Raise your hand if men that you’ve trained have been promoted above you.
  • Raise your hand if a man assumed you needed his protection when you didn’t.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been told something was women’s work.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of being emotional or hysterical.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused.

Try giving this survey the next time you’re with female friends. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that in the vast majority of cases, every woman at the table raised her hand. And that’s probably the most outrageous part of all – that it comes as no surprise.

The only reason that this happens is that we are not in the exclusive group of humans who sports a penis. That simple fact makes “us” not “them”. As far as I can tell, that appendage does not endow people with superior abilities of any kind. It just means we get to be easily identified as being on the other team. And society has arbitrarily decided that our team gets to be the losing team. It’s not rational. It’s not just. And it’s not acceptable.

I for one am sick and tired of being treated to micro-aggressions every single day. Case in point, I looked at my supply of Graphicstock pictures to see which one to use for this blog entry. This, below, is their idea of a good image for Women’s Day. Because we all should be depicted as naked, sexy, thin, with long flowing hair and luscious lips, arching our backs while floating with our heads in a flowery cloud.

Happy Women’s Day, indeed.

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Give Your Child the World

At the risk of alienating half the American population, I genuinely don’t think that building walls between countries brings about world peace or understanding. In fact, the more that we interact with the rest of the world, the less we will fear it. It’s the unknown that is scary. The more you travel, the more you know.

I believe it’s important to get your kids thinking about the wider world at an early age. Anything that inspires curiosity and imagination and creativity and expands one’s worldview can only be a good thing. That’s why I got very excited when my niece told me about Little Passports.

This is a program for children ages 3 to 12. When they sign up, they get a little suitcase, a passport, and a map of the world. Then each month they get an age-appropriate package in the mail that teaches them about other world concepts, countries and states, and includes letters, souvenirs and fun activities.

What a brilliant idea. But even if you can’t afford to participate in Little Passports, I strongly encourage you to promote global understanding, especially for your children. Maybe choose one country a month and learn about it with your child. Prepare a meal from that country. Listen to their music. Learn their history. Check out their art. Everything you need can be found on line.

As social media expands, and as the sea levels rise, the world is shrinking. It is really important to prepare your kids for the fact that the planet is becoming even more of a melting pot than it already is. Walls won’t help you in this effort. Instead, build bridges.

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Have We Forgotten the Ukraine?

I get it. We have neither the money, the time, the moral currency, nor the manpower to intervene in every international atrocity. God knows we’ve left Tibet dangling since 1951, Burma since 1962 and I could talk for hours about various coups in Africa and the Middle East.

But what stuns me is how quickly we’ve stopped talking about Ukraine. It was only a little over a year ago when unmarked Russian soldiers began entering that country and took over the Crimean Peninsula. Outrageous. Irrational. It would be just as insane if the US suddenly decided to take over Vancouver, just because we have more military might than the Canadians. Many Americans live in Canada after all, so let’s just take it because we can.

And yet no one says a word about the Ukraine anymore. Did we just decide that it would be easier to look the other way instead of getting into a big international kerfuffle? Or is our attention span that short? Are we simply stretched too thin in wars of our own making, or do we just not care about anyone other than ourselves?

I suspect that we’ll spend more time discussing Caitlyn Jenner than the people who have been driven out of their homes in the Crimea. What does that say about us? Putin knows exactly the thickness, or lack thereof, of our moral fiber, and that’s why he knew he could get away with such a b***h move. He knows us too well. So does the rest of the world. And that’s scary.

[Image credit: telegraph.co.uk]
[Image credit: telegraph.co.uk]

Travel Restrictions

Travel is my reason for being. Due to finances, I haven’t been able to leave the country in several years, but I have been to 19 other countries, and these experiences have been the high points in my life.

I strongly encourage everyone to travel. It’s the only way you can truly have an open mind. It’s the only way you’ll learn that “our” way isn’t the only way and in fact it may not even be the best way. Until everyone truly understands that concept, there is no chance for any type of peace on earth.

Having said that, as people become more financially desperate, the world is becoming an increasingly scary place, with kidnappings, incarcerations and crime on the rise. And Americans are becoming, if anything, more hated by segments of the international community.

Does that mean we should stop travelling altogether? On the contrary. Now, more than ever, we need to eschew isolation and make more of an effort to be part of the global community. Not only to spread our wealth around a bit, but also to foster as much good will as we can.

But it is very important to travel intelligently. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that it might be a good idea to avoid war zones. But it’s also important to understand the human rights philosophy of the government in question. When making travel plans, my first stop is always the State Department website, where you can read up to date reports on travel advisability and news for each country. Many countries are safe to travel in, but contain regions to avoid, and this is always good information to have. And if you fall into a particular minority group, you may want to extend your research even further afield.

As sad as it makes me to say this, I know that there are certain countries which I realistically will never visit. North Korea, for example. But also, as an outspoken woman who refuses to be treated as a second class citizen, I don’t see myself ever visiting Saudi Arabia, either. While I’m willing to respect customs related to clothing, no one will ever tell me I can’t drive. Full stop. Sadly, as a woman traveling alone, there are many parts of the world I should think twice about visiting.

My nephew has reached an age where he’s looking forward to exploring the planet, and I’m thrilled for him. I remember what that’s like, that feeling that you have endless possibilities for adventure. I love him to pieces, so it nearly killed me to have to ever-so-slightly rain on his parade.

He was talking about going to Egypt, and that’s someplace that I’ve always wanted to see myself. But I had to tell him that as the laws stand in that country at the present time, he can be incarcerated simply for being gay. He told me he didn’t plan on doing “gay things” while there, and while, yes, that would greatly reduce his risk, it doesn’t eliminate it entirely, and this is a young man who, try as he might, would not be able to “fake it”. Unfortunately there are many countries in the world that would pose a risk for him. That breaks my heart, but it’s a fact.

Americans seem to be under the impression that they have some sort of immunity when traveling abroad. They think that if arrested, they will simply be able to call their embassy and be set free. Au contraire. All the embassy can or will do for you in the vast majority of cases is make sure your relatives are notified, deliver your mail, and give you the occasional red cross package. So the best thing to do is be aware of the laws of the country in which you travel, and strictly adhere to them. I’ve never found that to be particularly hard, but apparently some people do. If you plan to go somewhere with several kilos of cocaine taped to your inner thigh, well then, you deserve what you get.

So travel, yes, but do your homework first. Knowledge is power. Bon voyage.

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[Image credit: outlookmaps.com]

Walking Between Cultures

One of the things I love most about the virtual world of Second Life is that you get to meet people from all over the world. One friend, C.N., is a young man who is an amazingly talented artist from Vietnam. I met him just as he was finishing his secondary education and applying to universities abroad. I remember how exciting that time is. You have a world of opportunities in front of you. You can go so many different directions. There so many possibilities.

I was even more intrigued because his experience must be all the more heightened as he was going from one cultural extreme to another. What does that feel like? How does it impact you?

He just successfully completed year one and is back home on holiday, so I asked him to talk a little bit about his experiences. What follows is what he was kind enough to share. Thanks C.N.!

My first year in UK has just passed – I feel like it was just one week – with a lot of enjoyable experiences.

Though the university had got seven Vietnamese students before me, many people told me that I was the first Vietnamese they had ever met, after constantly mistaking me for a Chinese. I can say that I have busted a lot of misconceptions – very funny ones – that British people hold about Vietnam. Many of those who are old enough to have lived the period of the two wars in my country thought that we spoke French as the primary language instead of a unique mother tongue. When they learnt that we have our own language, Vietnamese, they asked me if its pronunciation and alphabet are similar to Chinese or Mandarin, and were pretty surprised by the big difference.

Before I left for England, all that I have heard about British people had been their posh manner. My parents – not sure from whom they got the idea – kept warning me about being bullied and discriminated by native students. They were also very worried that I would become tight–fisted and ‘starving in a sense’ as a result of being discouraged by the extremely expensive cost of living, which is also a common misconception in Vietnam and which had almost made my parents reconsider letting me go to England.

All those misconceptions seem to originate from different people’s experience in big cities like London. I myself went to London once, and I must say I didn’t enjoy it. Not only prices are costly; a smile is also something people cannot give for free. The atmosphere of the small city where I stayed is just the opposite. The people there are very friendly and adorable, which immediately made me feel at home. I’ve got to know many local people – here everyone knows everyone! – who very often invited me over for meals. I experienced the same friendliness on campus; one of my loveliest memories is getting yelled at by a professor for addressing him too formally.

After all, there’s no big difference between the lives I had amongst the small communities in UK and in my country, since – you know what they say – the people make the places!

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[Image credit: volunteercard.com]

To War or Not to War

There really hasn’t been a good clean war that everyone could sink their teeth into since World War II. Okay, I’m being sarcastic, but at least we can all agree that Hitler was the bad guy, and people were willing to ration their food and give up their panty hose for the cause. We were all on the same team, and the team spirit was palpable. Maybe modern wars just need better PR people. But today’s audience is much more cynical and selfish than the “Greatest Generation” ever was.

These days we much prefer that our wars not interrupt our primetime TV viewing schedules, and no one wants to actually have to sacrifice anything. Rationing? Are you kidding me? Not gonna happen.

Recently, whether or not to go to war has been on our minds. The consensus seems to be that we don’t want the expense. In these economically difficult times, this is a legitimate concern, but I personally don’t think it should be the only one.

More and more, Americans are questioning why we have been the world’s appointed enforcer, and the world is questioning why the US feels it has the right to stick its nose in everyone else’s business. I think these are both valid points as well.

There are those of us who think that war, in general, is counterproductive. I mean, all the death and destruction and horrendous public relations gets us where, exactly? And proves what? And, as is becoming increasingly obvious, achieves what?

Part of the problem, I think, is that we tend to fight for all the wrong reasons these days. We fight for oil. We fight to stop terrorism, as if it were some identifiable creature that could be corralled in one place and squashed like the cockroach that it is, never to be seen again. Sadly, terrorism is more like smoke. It simply blows away, appearing in other locations, and often our very attempts to combat it inspires more of it to form.

If we’re going to wage wars, the only acceptable reasons, in my opinion, are moral ones. For example, we should have waded right into Rwanda before the rivers flowed with blood. We should have prevented China from setting foot in Tibet. We should have never allowed a single human being to be mutilated in Sierra Leone, and no one should have ever disappeared in Chile. But we averted our eyes every time, and for all those things and many more, we should be ashamed. It’s truly unforgivable.

I certainly think that chemical warfare against civilians is a legitimate reason to be involved in a war. However, we have to stop getting involved in conflicts if clear-cut and achievable goals are not possible. This endless, “Gee, I don’t know, why are we here again?” stuff does no one any good, especially those we are attempting to help. And that’s the confusing fumbling that we’ve been doing since the Korean War. It must be frustrating for our soldiers who so often join the military for good, moral, and decent reasons to discover that they are caught up in bad, politically motivated and undisciplined clusterf***s.

We didn’t fight WWII for oil. We did have an identifiable foe. Not all our reasons for being involved were moral ones, but there was a definite and overwhelming moral element. We could feel proud of what we did, why we did it, and what we helped to stop.

Perhaps that should be the litmus test to determine when we should and should not get involved in international conflicts. Are our motivations something we can be proud of? Can we take pride in our goals and the way we go about achieving them? And will the world be a better place if we achieve those goals?

If we cannot answer yes to all three of those questions, then we have our answer. No.

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