A great advantage to foreign travel is perspective.
Seeing how the rest of the world lives gives you reason to ponder, contemplate and be thankful for what you have.
Many generations ago my family left China and migrated to the U.S.—something I’ll be forever thankful for.
If it weren’t for some ambitious long forgotten relative, I would most likely be knee deep in a shit filled water logged field laboriously planting rice and scratching out a bleak subsistence in the Chinese countryside, living in constant fear that some communist party member/bureaucrat will come and take away what little wealth I have just because he can.
I would spend my life waiting for a disease or health problem that would be quickly handled by a common but expensive medical procedure in the U.S but kills if you are poor, without access to medical care and live in a country whose dictator devalues individual human life.
And because I don’t have access to modern medicine, would put my faith in quack science and the healing power of herbs, roots and ground up monkey testicles as legitimate cures instead of trusting pills and procedures tested in double blind drug trials run by Western drug companies.
If it weren’t for some long forgotten relative, I would live ever afraid that the police will come and take me away and wipe my family off the face of the earth for simply speaking the truth or objecting that the brother of the vice minister got drunk and killed my daughter with his Mercedes.
So life in the U.S. is prime, but I enjoy foreign travel because it produces perspective on what you have, how little others have, and, amazingly, it nurtures the human spirit to see people live with grace and class in difficult circumstances —– like poverty.
Many friends say they like to visit foreign countries to enjoy other cultures but when you question them their travels consist of a couple of weeks on a package tour being herded around a series of manufactured “experiences” ever under the watchful eyes of their tour guides whose main motivation is extracting a big fat tip and pocketing their share of your purchases at a special “tourist shopping zone.”
Most egregious are cruises. Cruise ships dock, disgorge its passengers and insists that they return before the sun sets. Passengers spend their money and time to get to a foreign country only to have the ship make them leave before the most interesting part of the day.
And while on shore, the locals have set up a special tourist area where businesses have to pay extra taxes, pay for special licenses, and have jacked prices to cover their higher costs.
Locals would be crazy to be in the tourist area where everything costs more, and the stores are filled with cheap tourist crap no local wants to buy, and the restaurants charge twice as much and remove the taste from the cuisine so that is is palatable to western taste buds. And many times, where you eat ends up being part of an American chain anyway.
On a cruise you spend your time in a foreign country penned up like cattle in a feed pen being fattened and prevented from moving or seeing much before being slaughtered to feed the natives.
My type of foreign travel is going to someplace different, spending extended time there, learning the language, and burrowing down where normal everyday people live and foreigners are largely absent.
Making some real connections with the natives is where the value and fun of foreign travel is and where the value of expending scarce time and money lies.
You can do this to a limited extent on The Reservation, but, ultimately, The Reservation falls short. It’s really just a juiced up version of the Special Tourist Zone in Mazatlan, Acapulco, or Puerta Vallarta. What you get on The Reservation is tons of fun but in the end it is not real and leaves you unsatisfied.
A wonderful feature of Thailand is that the country and people are not xenophobic and don’t walk around with a chip on their shoulder about the relative worth of their culture and country.
Foreign ideas, foreign culture, foreign products and foreigners themselves are welcome.
Seldom heard or read is a complaint about Thailand and Thai culture being polluted or taken over by foreign ideas and ways of living.
Foreign people, products, music, literature, TV shows and movies are allowed and encouraged and frequently push out domestic alternatives without comment or complaint.
Thai women consider it fashionable to have mixed race children (luk chrueng), want to marry respectable middle class white men, and love having the opportunity to sample foreign cuisine — no matter how disgusting it might look to them at first glance (think English breakfast).
What’s interesting about Mae Hong Son is that its’ a small town waaaaaay up in Northwest Thailand that has no reason for existing. Nothing is going on there but agriculture and its not a stop on the way to anything.
There’s no reason to be in Mae Hong Son except you were born there and have no way out or your a recluse who wants to go where no one will bother you.
Or maybe it is just the place you were born, its where your roots are, and you don’t know about anywhere else.
In any case, my friend and I decided to visit Mae Hong Son just for the hell of it.
And what I found interesting about Boonieville, Thailand, is the influence of American culture.
This is the Crossroads bar and restaurant smack in the middle of Mae Hong Son.
And even when you are in the middle of Nowhere, South East Asia you can get a decent pizza or burger and a diet coke.
This is a nice Thai girl met at the Crossroads with whom we struck up a conversation with and spent some quality time together.
She’s a junior level university student and was studying for an exam.
I help her out and discovered what passed for a university education was learning Excel.
The test was about building worksheets using absolute vs. relative references.
So in The Middle of Nowhere, you can eat American food, drink American soda, meet the natives whose goal is to learn American software, and who prefer an American husband or boyfriend over one of their own.
Foreign travel. Highly recommended if you have the time and money.
Great for getting some perspective on The World.