What stayed with me through the long ordeal, however, even more than the Russian airline experience, and even through the burning, blurry eyes, and overly-tired ringing in my ears, was the extreme differences of the three cultures we experienced, back-to-back-to-back.
I think that aspect is both one of my least, and most, favorite parts of this travel experiment – experiencing so many cultures consecutively. When all is said-and-done, I think we will hit 20 countries and 40+ cities in 26 weeks, and when done in rapid sequence, it gives the incredible experience of comparing and contrasting each culture not only to the U.S., but also to each other. I am making all sorts of comparative cultural check-lists in my head, but I know there is a more formal way to do this, and 30 years ago, I learned a few.
You see, one of my partial majors in college was Anthropology and my love for examining and understanding different social systems and cultures is being reignited on this trip. But how much can you learn in 4 weeks (as in Buenos Aires), 4 days (as in Sri Lanka), or in the case of the Moscow Airport, 4 hours? Probably quite a bit, and then to some degree - almost nothing at all. But surely more than if we never tried this crazy and exhausting travel idea.
I'm not sure Russia will get a fair shake in such a short visitation time, but we did get some distinct impressions.
And speaking of 4’s, in Anthropology classes, we often studied a society through these four pillars:
1. Religious Beliefs, Rituals and Myths
2. Governance, Organizational and Military Models
3. Trade, Commerce and Economic Systems
4. Social Customs, Mating Rituals and Gender Relations
While we haven’t had the time to sit and analyze each of these countries through such a complex academic lens, you do get the “gut feel” for a country, whether on their soil four hours or four weeks.
We wrote quite a bit about Japan, so no rehashing there. The Moscow airport was interesting as when you land from a longer flight on a larger airplane, visitors from prominent cities like New York, London, Rome and Tokyo are treated to the fancy upper-level with huge and very “non communist” billboards for Mercedes and crisply-suited sales attendants at luxury Duty Free Shops. But, as you worm your way down to the smaller connecting flight gates, the hallways get narrow and dirtier, and the services grittier and more aggressive. And the duty fee shops go from luxury brands to mostly cheap vodka. A model for Russia in general, or just an American traveler’s ‘snap’ impression? Hard to know how much to put into these insights?
Greece - first impression? Warm, friendly, old world European - and a little dirty and rough-around-the-edges due to economic struggles in the last 5-6 years. Athens itself is like a charmed tourist city fallen on hard times, not much different than Buenos Aires in many ways.
One last thought, and really an unexpected part of this trip, especially for Suzanne and me; we are not only seeing current cultures as they operate in the everyday world, and visiting historical elements that built those cultures, but we are also experiencing some local and global crisis in real-time and away from our isolated comforts in the U.S. (and the U.S. media's take):
- Peso devaluation, economic instability and consumer anxiety while in Argentina
- Pre-election campaigning and political strife in India
- Anti-government protesting while in Thailand
- Disappearance of the Malaysian Airline while in SE Asia and search and recovery while in Australia
- Obama’s visit to Japan while in Tokyo (and his navigating Japan's tensions with China)
- Traveling through Moscow and watching their televised version of the Ukraine crisis while on their soil
I am not sure if we will see any anti-austerity protests while here in Greece, but based on everything above, it wouldn’t surprise me.
The people, the culture, the history, the live events…it’s hard to take it all in whether in 4 weeks or 4 hours, but I am glad we are trying.
“May you have the good fortune of living in interesting times”. – Chinese Proverb
P.S. More on Athens and classic Greece coming up shortly! Suzanne's parents, Bruce and Linda Kamp, flew out to join us here and it is a blast to see them - and to have some new company. The kids are thrilled to see Grandpa and Grandma, pumpkin bread was brought, and we've only had one Republican v. Democrat heated argument in the first 24-hours. So, it's going well by any standard!