49. The Value of Analog

Remembering The Value of Analog: We met a charming Canadian couple in Penang, North Malaysia, where we rang in the Chinese New Year. Avid cyclists with a voracious appetite for traveling, they work seasonal jobs in Banff National Park in order to have 6 months out of every year for foreign exploration. Genius. And although they love the idea of the sorts of digital doo-dads we’re hauling around with us, they’re still living an admirably analog life. Of course, when that goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong, as when they found that the film camera they used for five months in South America left weird light streaks on hundreds of photos. When it goes well though, it’s truly inspiring, as with Julian’s illustrated travel journal, filled with hilarious and beautiful depictions of the best and worst moments of their trips. Village encounters, underwater adventures and troubles with PMS, all done in the style of an advanced grade school artist (which made it seem so attainable that we started making our own sketches that same night). Send colored pencils.

These two also got us thinking more about the current world opinion of America, because they told us something that was surprising. We meet a lot of Western tourists in Asia and we get into lots of conversations that start with them saying, “We couldn’t believe Bush was elected a second time.” Our Canadian friends, it turns out, get into lots of conversations that start with, “It must be really awful to live so close to America.”

It seems that this year in particular, it’s very in fashion for the rest of the Western world (west Europe and Australia, mainly) to openly trash America. It’s a hot topic everywhere, we overhear it in bars and subways as often as we confront it directly. The sentiment is especially strong in the middle-aged and older crowd, who usually pounce on our meeting as a chance to lecture us about the past and present political realities of our own country. A little debate is fun, but we don’t want to be apologists and we’re quickly growing tired of always being on the defensive. So we’re actually tapping into our patriotism and talking more about the bits of America we love. Imagine that. America’s not just the disastrous government that we’re already trying to change, it’s the organizations and people that actually do good things, it’s our friends, it’s our families, it’s places like Zion National Park in Utah and Johnnies Pizza in Mt. Vernon. It’s a complex and beautiful mess and what we’re really trying to say here is that we’ve got your backs, people. We could use some reinforcements though, so start thinking about which tropical beach you’re going to meet us on. Thailand should be nice. How about Thailand? Lots of fussy Europeans there.


  1. rja72 says:

    oh man. yeah it sure is fashionable to beat up on the good ol us of a, and why not? i mean bush jr. has provided plenty of ammo (pun intended). but you are right, our country is the great experiment with all its extremes, its natural beauty, runaway growth, its obscene wealth, its poor, its technological know how, and stubborn ignorance. i love it. and if i bunch of crusty run away hippies from canada?! want to thrash it i suggest you remind them of something charlie daniles once wrote:

    “We’ll the eagle’s been flying slow, and the
    flag’s been flying low, and a lot of people’s
    saying that America’s fixing to fall.
    But speaking just for me and some people from
    Tennessee, we got a thing or two to tell
    you all.
    This lady may have stumbled but she
    ain’t never fell.
    And if the Russians don’t
    believe that they can all go straight to hell…”

    btw, i’m not sure if the russian thing is relevant anymore. but who’s gonna argue with charlie daniels? go team.

  2. amyispolish says:

    Thanks Ronnie. We knew we could count on you for some wildly appropriate nationalist zeal.

    For the record though the Canadian hippies were very cool and knew the difference between American government and America.

  3. S says:

    I’ll second that – Shauna and Julian were gems. It’s also worth noting that we’re generalizing here – not every European we meet is ready to pick a bone with the US and we’ve met quite a few lovely people. The younger set have generally been much more understanding (and interested in conversations other than American policy).

    Still – dated Charlie Daniels lyrics? I love you.

  4. rja72 says:

    My apologies to our friends to the north. I’m all about building bridges…

  5. Anonymous says:

    I can tell you that the awkward American syndrome is pushed by Westerners. The sentiment was different with the locals I met in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and even Thailand. There, they were appreciative of Bush as a “strong” leader. Which, of course, meant a different conversation, entirely.


    sorry I couldn’t get in touch w/you while there. My motherboard freaked in Thailand and I couldn’t access your web info. Backups? I don’t need no stinkin’ backups!

  6. kate says:

    When the boys are in college, that’s what Marc and I are gonna do. Work for six months and then travel for six months. And not in an RV either. No matter what he says.

    11 years to go.

    Can you believe that sh*t? They’re SEVEN already.

  7. Zach says:

    “Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.” -Mark Twain

    That’s always pretty much summed it up for me.

  8. The Chez says:

    I’ll meet you in Bangkok with my four guns!


  9. S says:

    Four cars. You mean your four cars.

  10. Rob says:

    I wish more Americans understood the difference between loyalty to our country and loyalty to our politicians. Sadly, too many do not.

    Mark Twain was right.

    P.S. I’m so envious of you two! Thanks for sharing your journeys here. Cheers!

  11. Anonymous says:

    From Sherry:

    Shit, I did the same thing in Africa. I kept talking about the other America that I’m a part of.

    Or I could send you some little Canadian flag patches to put on your back packs and you can fake Canadian at will. That way you can have a vacation from being American during your vacation.

    (I finally figured out how to post a comment with my friend Anonymous)