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A Matter of Geography

January 28, 2012

Two weeks ago, I was in a village of floating shacks in Cambodia.  Their only concerns are pulling enough sustenance from that lake for their families and keeping a roof together during the monsoon.  Children in rags, or less, played, tumbling in and out of the water.  Baskets of fish, abuzz with flies, sat on porches.  The next day I was in the shiniest multi-story shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, a true temple to the spirit of consumerism.  I couldn’t help but wonder what those poorest of fisher-folk would think of such a place.  In fact, what did they think of us, drifting through their villages with our cameras and travel gear and prosperous proportions?  We must be as aliens, coming from a world unimaginable.  And it’s all the simple matter of where we were  born.  There is always an inspiring story of the individual who, with a dream and hard work, raises him or herself out of the poverty into which they were born.  But most don’t.  I know I don’t have that kind of drive.  I would be most.  Then there was the birth defect, which was so easily remedied in the United States but would have left me a cripple, begging, in so many other places.  I am blessed beyond description and am inexpressibly grateful for the life I was born to.

Yet, while I appreciate all the excesses which make this life so comfortable and heaven forfend the thought of doing without, many of the people I saw in southeast Asia, who certainly lack, seemed quite happy.  There were weddings aplenty ~Dragon being the most auspicious year to do anything, especially be born.  People were laughing together, eating, working, frequently all at once.  And smiling… at us.  Genuinely.  Children ran to the street just to wave and say hello.  Mothers waved their babies’ arms in greeting.  In Hà Nôi, a woman wanted to take a picture of her little boy standing with the man, a giant at 6’2″.  Could it be true that wealth isn’t having the most but needing the least?  The old lady with three teeth, squatting on her heels, cooking dinner on a coal hibachi on the sidewalk in the middle of a huge city wouldn’t be a picture of domestic tranquility for us.  But she was laughing happily, surrounded by people also cooking and talking and eating.  She won’t die alone, unmissed for days, because the neighbors expect to see her there, with them, every day.  We drive alone to work long, hard hours to go home and maybe eat dinner with our immediate family if we’re lucky, watch the news, go to bed, and do it again.  That would look pretty cold and sad to these gregarious people.  I suspect they would pity the poor folk who don’t see their children and grandchildren but once or twice a year.  They might even be disgusted by what we feel we must eat, something full of mysterious chemicals but easy and fast and gone before it’s tasted anyway.

No, I still wouldn’t trade, but when my most pressing concern becomes Why is my new iPhone* shouting at me every half hour and does that mean it’s draining my account? I will remember that I am relatively warm and mostly dry in my home, the cat is safely indoors, and a hot shower is waiting whenever I want it.

Also that fresh vegetables are good, friends are life, and nothing is guaranteed forever.

[photos from the trip forthcoming, rsn, when we get them sort of sorted]

*Yes!  A 4S & I’m very happy with it. Thanks A, for telling me how to stop the shouting.  No, I probably couldn’t give up my 1st world toys now.

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