Reflections on the Far East
This past month has been a series of contrasts: first the energy (and pollution) of Beijing; then the pristine emptiness of Mongolia; the Russian Far East trying to establish a sustainable economy; and finally the efficiency and delicate beauty of Japan.
Each country is in a different stage of development. First Mongolia, with just 3 million people living in an area about a third the size of the continental US, where nomadic herders can still graze their livestock almost anywhere in the country. Then the Russian Far East, 3 times the size of Mongolia but only 7 million people; almost entirely birch forests or treeless tundra. The central government in Moscow 6 timezones away is trying to encourage emigration from western Russia. But even Vladivostok, with its attractive location and business potential is struggling to attract people and investment. Then there is China. There are 110 million Chinese living in the 3 provinces of China sandwiched between Mongolia and Vladivostok helping to drive an economy that has been booming. Finally Japan, having achieved the Asian “miracle” now grappling with how to sustain that miracle.
I have enjoyed traveling in every one of these countries. As a tourist with limited language skills, my understanding is shallow. But one over-riding conclusion comes through stronger and stronger the more I travel: people everywhere just want peace and a better life for their children.
And there are no right answers, no single road towards happiness. Neither China nor Japan holds the blueprint for sustainable development for Mongolia or the Russian Far East, no more so than the US holds all the answers for China’s future. History, culture and geography do matter. Countries are all dealt a different deck, and their people have to play their cards as well as they can. Hopefully, everyone can come out a winner.
Traveling humbles me. I know so little about the world. I want to keep coming back to these places to learn more.
by Gee Kin Chou 7/20/16
SaFely in SF
Ever since I left San Francisco to travel for the first time, I don’t think I was ever happy to retun “Home”. It’s hard to admit that if you come from one of the recognized world-class cities that happens to be thriving in a non-heavy industrial, high tech environment. But I was always a bit of a wanderer, so in that respect I always look to where the grass is greener, or at least growing.
Everyone wishes a safe return home, including me. We are back, and everything is fine. The weather here was breathtakingly beautiful: clean, crisp, with clouds from the Pacific Ocean swishing by. It’s a typical day of 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius–the only two numbers that can be transposed), which is typical for most of the year. We are heading for a heat wave of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
I know there is depressing news and horrific events that have transpired in the past two months, including one now in Munich apparently. My heart goes out to those who are affected. I only watched TV periodically or seldom while traveling. When you are out of the loop, it preserves your sanity in a way. While reality is sobering, I can’t help but believe our fears are heightened by the media that perpetuates these incidents.
And life must go on, as it has and will in all the peaceful cities we visited: Beijing, Ulaan Baatar, the Mongolian Countryside, Irkutsk, the towns and villages along the Trans-Siberian to Vladivostok, Vladivostok, Tokyo, Kusatsu, Matsumoto, Nagiso, Tsumago, and Magome. Before that, I was in Dresden, Weimar, Leipzig, Berlin, Dessau. I wish the continued safety and freedom from harm for these cities.
I had forgotten that there are bills to paid, junk mail, invitations (hypothetically), and maybe even calls to return (oops, no more voice messages left to be heard). But nothing that needs immediate attention, thanks to internet access and email dumps. A few flying papers strewn in the garden, dead plants, giant cobwebs, but nothing that can’t be amended.
My world travels for the past three years have been an ongoing experiment. With careful planning, traveling can happen with minimal disruption to one’s life. I hope you will all take advantage of life and what it has to offer, whether they are far-flung places or a trip to the grocery store.
Since Gee Kin has written the summary of our travels (ohne Deutschland), I am reposting the short films that some of you may have missed on Mongolia, Russia, and Japan that were made on the fly just after our visits to each country.
Mongolian Herder Family:
The Art of Soba Making
It’s difficult to do a hard stop on this communication in travelswithmyselfandothers.com. You have been an important part of my travels. Thank you again for your comments. I’ll be reposting a few headers and footers in the next few days to make San Francisco a part of the journey for those interested.