Roberts: Asian eyes are on us
May 24, 2016
That whole thing about needing a vacation from your vacation? It’s true. I’ve been back about a week and I still feel like I need at least five more days off to right my jet lag, sort through piled-up mail and catch up on an overflowing inbox at the office.
I spent most of my holiday in a jungle in Thailand and the remainder of it in the Maldives. When I was in Northern Thailand, the comforts of the modern world were, well, left back in the modern world. There was no Internet; the electricity was limited and sometimes went out entirely; and the communal showers were truly communal in that spiders the size of a tennis ball often participated. After eight days of volunteering in those conditions, I had no trouble adjusting to 5-star luxury on a sinking island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. There, I had all the comforts of the modern world. But aside from air conditioning and a blender for my drinks, I didn’t take advantage of any of them. I sat on a beach, read books and sipped on something cold and fruity called Maldivian Madness. In both places, I felt completely removed from the dialogue of the Western world.
At least I wanted to be.
Despite spending 17 days exactly halfway around the world, in some ways, it was like I never really left the country. American politics and pop culture seem to permeate even the most remote locations in the world.
After landing in Thailand I took a rickety bus with mismatched sized tires to my destination in the jungle. The driver asked where I was from and I told him, "I am American." To which he replied, "I’m very sorry for your loss."
"What did I lose?" I wondered. Maybe the US soccer team lost to an Asian country? I had no idea what he was talking about and I asked him to clarify.
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"Prince. You must be very sad."
In fact, condolences for Prince’s death were offered several times during my travels. People seemed surprised I would continue with my vacation plans while my country was still in mourning. I was told where I could find a prayer room if I needed it. But even more than Prince, I got a lot of comments about Donald Trump. "I’ll definitely need that prayer room if he’s elected!" I told them. Sarcasm doesn’t always translate well.
Anytime people learned I am American, they immediately wanted to know my thoughts on Donald Trump. No one asked me about Hillary Clinton or our current president. Or Congress or American football, gun violence, fast food, Hollywood movies, why everything is so big in the US, or anything else we’re known for globally. Right now, Donald Trump seems to be our preeminent export.
In the predominately Muslim Maldives, I was asked over and over again if I thought Trump would be elected. I could only say, "I hope not." They sadly nodded their heads in agreement.
One of the workers at the resort told me he had been saving his money for years, hoping to attend university in the states. But because he’s Muslim, he is afraid he will not be allowed if Donald Trump becomes president. "I also cannot visit you," he sighed heavily, as if he’d been invited and had been looking forward to a trip.
In Thailand, where political unrest is the norm, I was surprised at the level of anxiety many had about our upcoming election. It would seem in a country where there was recently a military coup they’d have bigger things to worry about.
It was interesting to me that even in places with little connection to the outside world, people are paying attention to the U.S. elections. And it’s mostly because they’re deeply concerned about what they see.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.