Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Travel Channel New SHow Pitch

Okay, this summer has gone on long enough. I'm ready to be back at Clemson. Being bored at college at least is better than being bored at home.

On the bright side, I have watched several television series, reread all the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books, and decided to try and at least work on the 1001 Movies You Have To See list. Oh and I've also started to watch the Travel Channel, which seems like something I should have started to do years ago.

So far, I have learned a few things. Admire Adam in Man vs. Food, don't try to say if he can do it, so can I. If Andrew Zimmerman ever needs to be replaced (probably from food poisoning or his body shutting down from all the weird stuff he manages to try) give me a call. I'm down for that kind of stuff. I've eaten cow balls before, that's got to count for something. Anthony Bourdan and I would be good friends I think, since we both have that same try everything but be sarcastic about it attitude. And let's be honest, Bet is cool, but the stuff he conquers is not that daring.

With so much time on my hands as of recent, I have begun daydreaming about my only travel channel show and what crazy idea I would have has the shows premises. And it came to me instantly... Host Family! A 20 year-old fairly well-traveled kid (me..) would travel around the world and spend one week in a family in various different countries. The family would get to decide what to do and how to really immerse the student (me) which could include, crazy things, bizarre foods, and sarcastic muses about life in said-different country. I think it would be brilliant. Episodes could even be split too. Like comparing life in New Jersey with Georgia is vastly different. The same is probably true for comparing lifestyles in Sydney and the Outback, in the suburbs of Paris and the French wine country, and in Hokkaido and Kochi.

Travel Channel, give me a call if you are interested! I even know some French, Japanese, German, Argentinian, and Australian families that would be interested in hosting...

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Really Bad Flatmate of the World

 Dylan Moran on America

How Traveling Changed My Politics... and made me more confused

Before I began traveling long term, I was a hard core Republican. I came from a family of political conservatives, which included everything from Attila the Hun fascists to march with Martin Luther King independents. I was in 6th grade, when I peered out the window of my Middle school classroom and watched smoke rise over the distant city of New York. I learned the meaning of terrorism and hatred and American pride and what it means to be a Republican at 11 years old, when most kids my age just wanted to French Kiss on the playground. I poured out Grey Goose vodka and refused rides in German cars in 2003, on the edge of the Iraq 'conflict.' In 2004, I was a guest at the George W. Bush inauguration, my hero (until his last term when he began spending like slimy welfare-lovin' liberal.) Everything seemed to change after that.

Now, the Political Compass is calling me Left/Social Libertarian, and I can no longer watch Fox News. And every time my Mom starts talking about politics, I can not help but getting up and leaving the room.

First, I should probably start by saying I wasn’t the “stereotypical” Republican, many Republicans are, in fact, not “stereotypical”, to be fair. But the problem is that I had the tendency to have beliefs that my parents had drilled in my head. Although my Dad has changed drastically, especially in regards to to Social aspects, my mother is still radically conservative. My beliefs mainly boiled down to “Less Federal Government is Better,” which I still believe to some extent, but am slowly beginning to change my views on even this topic.

I fully understood that the money my parents were forced to pay to the government was used to build beautiful state-of-art school in Newark, NJ. This occurred while my own Public School, one of the best in the state, was falling apart, or had asbestos hanging from the ceiling. This to me was wrong. But I truly did not understand how it worked, in retrospect.

However, I have always been socially liberal. I can remember clearly in 2008, when my best friend, who's mother runs Planned Parenthood in New York City, and I went into New York City to participate in the Gay Pride parade. Neither one of is Gay, but we wanted to show that we supported them. I asked my friend if I was the only Republican in the crowd and she told me that without a doubt I was the only one with any conservative thoughts whatsoever. Probably not true. My Dad sort of ignored me when i told him what I had done in the city, but my mother was anything but pleased.

I believe in gay rights, gay marriage, and am pro-choice. But I also believe that it should not even be an issue. Gays are people like us, and if I can get married, I don't even understand why there would be an issue for them to be married. Thus, when this issue comes up, I tend to just not say anything and sit around in disgust. (Imagine my surprise with what goes on living and going to school in SOuth Carolina Bible country.)

I also used to be pro-gun rights. Why? Parental influence. My Mom raised me to love Carleton Heston. That was th extent of my knowledge on owning a gun. If you wanted to have a gun, as long as you didn’t use it to commit crimes, you should be allowed to. I thought the government had no business interfering in the private lives of its citizens. After all, in one of the amendement thingies we always talk about in school it says something about owning a gun. Thanks Mom!

I disagreed with government-sponsored social programs to support the poor, mainly because I thought they just threw money at the issue without looking at the root problems. I know also knew personally of people who went ahead and had another baby, not out of parental devotion, but because of an additional check each month. While I wanted to end welfare and medicaid type programs, I also thought every American had a personal responsibility to look after the less fortunate. This sort of helped me sort out my views that Americans ought not to be taxed for welfare, but should be able to support charity on their own. It should be my choice about where my money is spent.

I had plenty of liberal friends, but I stood firm in my beliefs, I was not to be swayed. So what happened? How did seeing the world, living with host families, indulging in another culture, change all these views?

"Americans are just Canadians with guns." In Japan, I was asked tirelessly if i had a personal gun. The story of Yoshihiro Hattori was relayed to me more times than I could have possibly counted. Somewhere along the lines, I realized the strict gun control and social programs of Japan were the reason for the safe streets (overlooking the Japanese Yakuza after all.....)

I was sick in France one time. It turned out to be Bronchitis, which, left untreated, could have hospitalized me and definitely ruined my ski trip in Chamonix with my Dad. At the time, I moaned and complain to L R that I hated the French medical system. The first trip to the doctor left me with over three different drugs including back, foot, and head medicine when I swear all I had was the sniffles. But my Brocitus treatment left me with a whole new aspect on universal health care. Depending upon where you seek treatment in France you may be paying for coverage through your government healthcare or you may be treated in a private healthcare situation. The beds in France are distributed between public hospitals, non-profit hospitals and for-profit companies - and health care jobs are regarded very highly in social status. Why was I ever against this universal health care system? Taxes. The taxes that are levied in order to pay for the providing of care to the public are quite high. As much as 12.8 of gross earnings are taken from an employee before they can even be paid. While it used to be 6.8% of earned income, the rate has now been dropped down to 0.75% of earned income. The heaviest taxes are on the rich, and not just the rich who have income. Rich people with assets are still taxed at a high enough rate to bring in more money to the national healthcare system

I used to believe that the government should not be involved in the markets. Since youth, I was taught free market would correct problems, so deregulation of industries was needed. However, as I got older and time went by, I realized that leaving problems to be solved by the free market assumes that consumers force corporations to comply to certain ethical standards or that the stockholders and board members make choices based not solely on profits, but on moral values as well.

Unfortunately, the bottom line seems to win out most of the time. The majority of consumers want the best products and services for the cheapest prices, so of course jobs need to leave the US to find a cheaper workforce elsewhere. Stockholders want high profits. It’s not enough to make A profit every year, a company needs to make larger and larger profits. In order to achieve lower prices and higher profits, corners need to be cut somewhere. This has proven, to me, over time to not usually be in favor of the American public.

Taxes are higher in Europe, but I neer heard anyone suffering under too high taxes. In fact, people seemed to go on strike when more conservative programs were pushed, which wuld lead to lower taxes. Plus, taxes are really that much higher when you factor in the cost of health insurance in the US and the cost of college tuition there (college tuition is paid for by taxes here, students only pay fees). [My host parents in Europe one time did the Math... we pay more in the USA.]

There is more to say on this. But I keep changing my mind on lots of different political ideas and stances. I think the best thing to say is that I have thrown off the brainwashing from my youth. I am independent and able to think for myself. And the fact of the matter is that my travels have given me a new mindset, a new way to look at the world.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Why Was I Born Here?

This is not some editorial blog post about reincarnation. (Although I have strong beliefs toward reincarnation, my college life in the rural south of Clemson University, and taught me one thing above all else. Don't talk about religion, that does not correspond with the majority. Sad but true...) This is a post about what it means to realize that while one's passport proudly proclaims a birth rite of an American citizens, I have my own personal doubts and apprehensions. I believe I was born in the wrong country. A honest mistake but a mistake nonetheless.

On my United Kingdom excursion, I was able to read this wonderful book Geography of Bliss: One Grumps Search for the Happiest Places in the World, by Eric Weiner. When he began the book, he identifies a character, or certain kind of person, very much like myself. In America, we seem to be expected to be happy 100% of the time, and those of us that are not happy 100% of the time are outliers, unhappy people who live unhappy lives. This is certainly not the case at all, even though I am one of those outliers that is not 100% happy all the times. I'll admit, I'm not a naturally happy person. But I'm not a naturally miserable person either. In fact, I am happy most of the time, I just don't feel the need to show it or remind the world around me how happy I am. Things that make me happy are small and minuscule  coffee mugs, old books, emails from France, and so forth.People are quick to identify me as a Pessimist, but I do not see myself as a pessimist. Jokingly, I used to tell people that I am pessimistic optimist, or someone that is realistically happy, rather than just phony happy all the time. I think it's the best way to describe it.
Another type of person, Weiner refers to is the Hedonic Refugee. Simply put, the Hedonic Refugee is a person who was born in the wrong country. They are people who’ve found a better cultural fit in a country other than their birth-place, “not political refugees, escaping a repressive regime, nor economic refugees, crossing a border in search of a better-paying job. They are hedonic refugees, moving to a new land, a new culture, because they are happier there. Usually, hedonic refugees have an epiphany, a moment of great clarity when they realize, beyond a doubt, that they were born in the wrong country.”

For me, that epiphany came when I was 16. I’d just returned from spending my year abroad in Kochi, Japan. I was young and naive at the time, when I truly began to believe that I was meant to live in Japan, meant to be Japanese. But as time gone on, I have begun to realize that Japan is not the place I am meant to be for the rest of my life, but I am sure without a doubt that the United States is not the place either. With Japan, as much as I would love to close out my American life, and begin life in Japan, I am not Japanese. People who have never been to Japan will not understand what that means. In American it does not matter if you are not America to be accepted, in Japan it certainly does matter.

I have been all around the world: Japan, Australia, France, UK, Germany, and many others and I still have not found the pace I was meant to be born. I thought for a minute that I was meant to be British several years ago while on a school excursion to London. But this past trip with my Grandma has confirmed one thing: London is not Great Britain. London is my favorite place in the entire world, and while I know I could spend a considerable amount of the rest of my life there, I am not entirely sure that Britain is my country of should-be birth.

“What to do with this information?” He asks after detailing the phenomenon of ‘cultural fit’. “Should we administer cultural-compatibility tests to high school students, the way we used to test for career compatibility? I can imagine the phone call from the school guidance counselor. “Hi, Mrs. Williams, we’ve tested little Johnnie and determined that he would fit in perfectly in Albania. He’d really be much happier there. A flight leaves at 7:00 p.m. Should I go ahead and make that booking for you?

Of course not. Just because the culture fits doesn’t mean we should wear it, and, besides, every society needs its cultural misfits. It is these people – those who are partially though not completely alienated from their own culture – who produce great art and science. Einstein, a German Jew, was a cultural misfit. We all benefit from Einstein’s work…”

He has a point. I imagine that if I ever did manage to find a country filled with people identical in personality to me, I probably would not want to live there. There was an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry realizes he is making a grave error in marrying a girl just like himself. "All of a sudden it hit me, I realized what the problem is; I can't be with someone like me..I hate myself!! If anything I need to get the exact opposite of me....It's too much. .It's too Much I can't take it ...I can't take it!!!"

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that you could devote your entire life to traveling the world to find that soul-mate of cities or that country you were destined to spend happily ever after with and maybe you’ll luck out and find it. I'm doing that with every trip I take and every experience I go through. I hope one day I can be like some of the great Americans in Paris, or wherever I might finally call home.

But for now, I think I'll embrace my time in New Jersey and then head back to school in South Carolina. I'm gonna save myself the trouble of complaining about not fitting in and work hard at learning to love the little things about America. The fact of the matter is that I see America as tourists see it. I'm better accustomed and less surprised at it's little quirks and wonders. But it is still a different experience for me. I'm American by birth, but Hedonic Refugee by fate.