Go East Young Man! Traveling the Orient – Asia Adventure

After spending a summer serving in war-torn east Africa, where I slept in a tent for two of the three months I was there; I returned to the United States to embark upon a law education. Far less adventurous and for me difficult to be passionate about, I struggled my first year of law school. Though I passed the first semester of courses by the skin of my teeth, my grade point average was quite discouraging for someone thinking to make a career practicing law.

Thankfully, it took a few months for our second semester final exams to be graded and posted. I therefore in good faith pursued an international law internship and summer program at the University of Hong Kong. Situated atop lovely Victorian Peak, I dived deeper into academia and international law.

What was unique about those three months in Hong Kong during the summer of 1995 was that the British government was still ruling. Upon taking a trip to the high court, I saw Chinese judges wear white British style wigs. It was a funny and rare site to behold.

My passion in particular was helping oppressed people in forgotten nations where their human rights were being violated. Unfortunately I learned from my law professor in Hong Kong that international treaties to uphold human rights are rarely enforced by the United Nations or anyone else globally. For me that further diminished the relevance of international law and my interest in studying it.

In those days a particular religious group smuggled Bibles across from Hong Kong into Shenzhen, China. I was asked to participate, which I did. That day of smuggling Bibles was far more exciting than my entire summer buried in law books in Hong Kong.

Upon returning home after successfully completing my summer internship and academic program, I opened a disheartening letter from my law school encouraging me to withdraw based on my dismal grade point average.

Wondering what on earth I would now do with my life, when walking home to my Brooklyn Heights apartment I heard a voice. “Go east young man! Go east!”

Gripped by what I heard, I determined to go to Chinatown that week. Upon doing so I met a Chinese Pastor who immediately offered me a job to travel with him throughout Asia and be his English teacher. Without hesitation I happily accepted. Not long thereafter I found myself in Taipei, Taiwan.

Across the street from my new apartment was Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park honoring the revolutionary Chinese leader who established Taiwan governmentally. Suffering from jet lag the first week I was in Taiwan, I journeyed outside looking for some food when I discovered the lovely park across the street.

Many people were exercising, enjoying the cool morning air. Tai chi was a particular favorite, which I saw both men and when doing with the utmost concentration and precision. The Chinese internal martial art is frequently practiced for health and longevity. The slow and fluid movements facilitate internal harmony and oneness within.

Before the business day began, the raising of the national flag, along with a soldier salute occurred daily. It was a delight to be able to see and behold. Though I could not yet speak Mandarin, what I saw with my eyes captivated my heart and deposited a deep respect for Chinese culture.

By reason of my association with Pastor Ko and other reputable wise men, I soon became a highly sought out speaker. Others throughout Asia began hearing of me and invited me to their countries.

My trip to Burma was a somewhat covert operation considering where I was invited to speak was deemed a “blackout area” where foreigners were not permitted. Nevertheless after meeting my initial contact in Rangoon, we were able to exchange the problematic national currency and secure a domestic flight to the remote destination.

There was no electricity. I slept on a blow up mattress under a mosquito net, while large rats crawled overhead at night. We hung our meager supplies and fruit from a string to keep the rats from getting to them during the evening.

When I awoke in the morning, there were always some fresh rodent droppings on my mosquito net. Nevertheless I was happy to endure such light afflictions considering the tremendous response of the people when I spoke to them about personal empowerment and being a world-changer.

Since the Universities had been shut down across Burma, students did whatever they could to further their education and professional development. That is why they were so enthusiastic to hear me speak.

Historically student and monk peaceful protests in Burma were ended by brutality and killing. What troubled me most however was the lack of opportunity for bright youth throughout the country. Religious leaders from the monasteries begged for rice daily in the streets of Rangoon. Democracy would not be tolerated as those in power were determined to hold on as long as possible.

What touched my heart the most was the humility and hunger of young adults to draw near to foreigners to learn anything they could. Such a yearning for knowledge and self-development deeply moved my heart to commit to do all I can for the Burmese youth. I pray the freedom within the hearts of the youth and monks of Burma can somehow victoriously breakthrough and transform their beloved country.

Upon reaching my twenty-eight day limit on my visa in Burma, I was forced to leave the country. My next stop was Thailand, a lovely country with much sexual perversion.

Never in my life had I seen such open prostitution as I had in Bangkok and Phuket. Prostitutes and transvestites freely approached people on the streets soliciting payment for sexual favors. Commonly ladies and “lady-boys” approached me uttering obscenities and selling services.

The U.S. Navy and Marines arrived in Phuket happy to party and take in some extracurricular activities. A few service men made friends with local girls. I can only imagine how many drunk foreigners wake up in the morning only to find they’ve slept with a transvestite.

Beyond the vice of prostitution, Thailand overall is a lovely place to vacation and visit. The food is fantastic. The people are friendly. The beaches are superb. Among the islands I visited were Krabi and Phee-Phee, the latter hit the hardest by the tsunamis.

A European restaurant owner told me stories of Burmese young ladies who had been kidnapped or promised work at upscale resorts. Once the Burmese girls were brought to the cities, their passports were taken and they were forcibly subjected to prostitution. I was informed that once the young ladies get HIV or some sexual disease, they are taken back to the Burmese border, given a fatal injection, and left to die.

Such human rights violations are rarely fought considering the limited economic opportunities in Burma. It is said even along the northeast region of Thailand families sell their own daughters into prostitution to make money.

Though I saw many beautiful young ladies, I managed to happily restrain myself. I was not interested in catching any sexual diseases, which I was told was quite common throughout Thailand.

I journeyed further south when I received an invitation to speak in Penang, Malaysia. Immediately upon entering Malaysia I could sense there was a stronger governmental hand upon the land. I found the Muslims in Malaysia to be very friendly and respectful.

My greatest adventure was traveling to East Malaysia, where I spoke in several poor villages. The precious people were very superstitious, practicing various voodoo like observances I had only before seen in Haiti. Some claimed they were harassed and troubled by demon spirits. Hence I spoke on the importance of guarding your heart, personal purity, and living fearlessly.

The villagers were overjoyed to have me as their guest and cooked innumerable dishes for me to sample. Their poverty by no means hindered their gracious hospitality, neither their generosity. I shall never forget the tenderness of heart the Malaysians showed me.

One unexpected visitor that showed up in a modest home where I stayed was a monkey. During the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis when the military was slaughtering all of the pigs, many were concerned about other animals contracting the virus. Thankfully we never fell ill with the disease and carried on through the outbreak unharmed.

While in East Malaysia (the island of Bornea), an invitation came to speak in Brunei. This small and oil rich nation didn’t have much to do socially at night, but the people were all very polite and industrious. Shell Oil and other petroleum contractors frequented the small country to do business.

What surprised me the most was to see over seventy people jam packed within a small house to hear me speak. The event was hosted by a Christian fellowship that legally was not permitted to meet publicly.

When I inquired further as to the laws of Brunei, I was told that only the Catholics and Anglicans are legally authorized to conduct Christian ceremonies. Brunei does not permit other religious groups to have churches or schools.

It was then I realized how priceless the freedom of thought and expression is, without which there can be no democracy or just government to serve the people. Such sacred freedoms we in the West so commonly take for granted are greatly cherished and only wished for abroad in such nations as Brunei.
Though Brunei has a prospering economy, it is a “dry country” meaning no liquor is sold in the country. Certainly forbidding the use of alcohol has its benefits. There are no drunk driving incidents to endanger people with, neither excessive substance abuse. As one who does not drink myself, such restrictions had no bearing upon me.

Nevertheless as a world traveler touring Asia, the laws of Brunei that restrict religion and consumption were very noticeable. On a more fun note, the free theme park the sultan constructed for all to happily use in the center of the country was a blast! Children and adults of all ages make merry and enjoy it very much! It is my hope the sultan’s generosity will extend over into social freedoms for the people of Brunei.

Upon leaving Brunei we were off to Jakarta, Indonesia. As a surfer Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, quickly became my favorite country in Asia. Considering I didn’t have much money to travel on, the inexpensive hotels and minimal cost of living made Indonesia very comfortable for me.

Even better the people were very generous. Wherever I spoke I always left with more money than I came in with. Upon going to get a hair cut at the salon, I was presently surprised to discover reflexology. Foot massage is very popular throughout Indonesia and only costs about $5 to $10 depending on where you go.

After a good workout at the hotel health club, I even managed to get a full body massage lasting one hour for just $10 to $15 USD. I suddenly felt like a king, though I was living on a pauper’s budget.

While traveling to different areas of Jakarta, my taxi driver pointed out to me a former hotel which had been bombed during the riots a few years ago. The building was utterly destroyed. I was told that Islamic terrorists had blown it up in anticipation of President Clinton and other Americans being there.

I learned about the May riots in which Chinese businessmen were also targeted by Muslim extremists who vandalized their homes and sought to kill them. Like clockwork every May, Chinese would leave the country fearing for their lives.

It seems the Chinese living within Indonesia made the locals jealous. Their business acumen and astute intellect provoked struggling Indonesians.

Nevertheless the same opportunities exist for all throughout Indonesia. Yet many people were easily aroused by the protestation calling for violence. Sadly many died over the years as a result.

I fell deeply in love with Indonesia and returned numerous times. I particularly remember my time speaking in East Timor during the war in 2000, before the United Nations granted them national sovereignty. It was a time of hardship and unrest, as war killed many innocent people. Thankfully Timor Leste, as it is now called, is a land dwelling in peace.

When the tsunamis swept through the island of Sumatra, I was moved with compassion to find my way to Banda Aceh. The longtime renegade province of Indonesia had historically killed dissidents and religious leaders of other faiths. Eventually the leaders of Banda Aceh forbid international aid workers altogether.

That all changed when Banda Aceh and the bordering towns were devastated by the tsunamis. International aid workers from around the globe were suddenly greeted with open arms, waving hands, and smiling faces.

I met men who had lost up to five children and their wives in a single day. One Muslim man told me he cried for two months straight.

Endeavoring to do what I could with what little finances I had, we helped a Muslim young man rebuild his home. His home had been leveled by the tsunamis and he washed to the top of a nearby mountain when the waves swept through.

It was nothing short of a miracle that those alive survived. As they all pulled together to rebuild their homes, bureaucratic delays from the government impeded progress. Nevertheless many proceeded to build with or without authorization.

Other allegations later surfaced that corrupt governmental officials nationally and locally were pocketing charitable contributions and not getting them to those most in need. Such corruption is widespread throughout Indonesia as is evident by the poor and faulty infrastructure across the country.

Bribery sadly is commonplace. Even more troubling was the drug epidemic I witnessed among the youth, many of whom use ecstasy. It is said some 15,000 youth die annually from ecstasy overdose.

The island of Java also has its problems with prostitution. Not something you would expect from an Islamic government.

The Bali bombings during which discos were set on fire and tourists killed sent fear throughout the tourism industry. As the economy took a nosedive, the Indonesian government and police quickly responded to terrorist elements seeking to thwart national stability.

The dangers of terrorists remain throughout isolated areas of Indonesia, as one never knows when a radical may strike. Overall Indonesia however is very peaceable, polite, and warm toward foreigners.

I often felt like a movie star everywhere I went in Indonesia as people shouted at me with joy hoping to get a wave or smile in return.

The sweetness and sincerity of the people stole my heart. Though I am an American born citizen, I left my heart in Asia. Every chance I get, I happily and wholeheartedly return to the continent where two-thirds of the world’s populace lives.

Here at home in America I survive, but afar in the east I thrive! Asia is where my heart comes alive!

Hello From Nova Scotia – Learning About Native Heritage at the Bear River First Nation Heritage

About an hour after my departure from Annapolis Royal after a beautiful drive along the shoreline of the Annapolis Basin and through the early fall colours of the Bear River Valley, (also known as “Little Switzerland”. I arrived at the Bear River First Nation Heritage and Cultural Centre. I was greeted by Wanda Joudry-Finigan and Robert (Robbie) McEwan, while Frederick Harlow was manning the cash register. All are members of the Bear River First Nation, and Wanda and Robbie proceeded to celebrate my arrival with a special welcome song.

Wanda explained that the song invites our mutual relatives, grandfathers and ancestors to join us at this occasion. The lobby of the Centre holds various artifacts and a Heritage Gallery that pays homage to current and former Chiefs and Elders of the Bear River First Nation. Wanda pointed out present Chief Frank Meuse Junior who also operates a lodge for adults and youth alike who wish to learn about the Mi’kmaq culture. Another image was of Agnes Potter, a celebrated leader and respected Elder of the Bear River First Nation.

Then I was invited to view a brief movie about Willie Meuse, Frank’s grandfather, shown in footage from the 1930s on the Bear River. The film also highlighted the construction and launching of the first birch bark canoe built since 1927. The launching took place in 2004 and speaks to the importance of the ancestors.

We left the vestibule and entered a large multi-purpose room housing a variety of interpretive displays about the life and history of the Mi’kmaq First Nation. This room is also used for theatre productions, games of sports for the youth, community card parties, holiday feasts and presentations. Frederick joined me and gave me an overview of the birch bark canoe. He explained that the canoe weighs about 90 to 95 pounds and was constructed using authentic historical canoe-building methods used in the area. The canoe is a sea-going canoe, evidenced by the high rise in the middle. Fresh-water canoes do not feature a rise in the middle of the canoe.

The vessel is constructed of various types of wood including ash and birch and the outside is covered with birch bark. Any potential openings in the canoe’s skin are patched up with a mixture of spruce gum and bear grease. Canoes used to be the main form of transportation for the First Nations People and their navigation skills, fishing and hunting knowledge helped the French settlers when they first came to this area in the 1600s. This life-size canoe was made by Todd Labrador and Cory Ryan who is a seventh generation descendent of Malti Pictou, a well-known Bear River Mi’kmaq guide. Before Cory, he was the last person to make a birch bark canoe in the area.

The next exhibit featured a variety of arts and crafts that are produced here using Mi’kmaq artistic traditions. Robbie came over to give me more insight into some of the local arts and crafts. He explained that leather is worked to produce mittens, jackets, dresses, moccasins and other items. Dreamcatchers are an important symbol to the Mi’kmaq. With their intricate web-like design they are hung to catch dreams floating through the night air. There is a saying that dreamcatchers let the good dreams through but protect you from the bad dreams.

Jewellery is made using a variety of glass beads, bone beads as well as imitation sinew. In the past moose tendons were used to produce the pendants and bracelets. Decorated deer and moose hide are available for purchase as well. Robert indicated that he recently made an ornate dress for a native chief in Newfoundland. His artistic skills are evidenced by some of the most impressive pieces of work: Robert showed me a decorative jewellery box that he is currently working on. The box is made of birch bark and porcupine quills, bordered with sweet grass whose scent I was able to smell. He explained that porcupine quills are easily removed from the animal, and they are essentially used to stitch an elaborate design. For each quill a hole is poked and the quill is pulled through. By the time this item is finished, Robert will have invested over 200 hours to produce the elaborate pattern on this decorative box.

Wanda joined us and took me to a display of a wigwam to explain certain rituals and conventions that would be adhered to in First Nations encampments. Visitors would be invited to sit in the most honourable space in the home or wigwam. The same would go for children so they would be able to see everything to the left and to the right of them in order to be able to learn. During winter mats made from rush would be used for insulation against the cold. Baskets were hand- made in order to harvest scallop, clams, or mussels. Each of these particular baskets could hold up to 10 pounds of seafood. Other baskets made from ash were used for potato and apple picking. These baskets were hand-made in large quantities in the 1900s as a major means of economic survival in changing times. Today these baskets are sold as decorative items.

The tipi also features a variety of furs, including lynx, rabbit, mink, red fox and silver fox. During the 1920s and 1930s silver foxes were a real fashion craze in England and many women had a fox fur, complete with head and legs, draped around their necks as a statement of elegance. The fox’ head would be equipped with a clasp so it could be clipped onto the lapel of the lady’s coat.

I learned that the wigwam is made of birch bark. Wigwams were lightweight, which made them easy to move from one location to another and water-resistant. Encampments would be set up near the mouth of rivers, which would provide a plentiful opportunity for food and means of travel. A large part of native diet consisted of fish; the rest was made up of berries, fruits and meats. Often fishing weirs were used for catching eels. Wanda explained that in the last few years about 800 encampments have been found in Nova Scotia with more than 4000 artifacts dating back 2,500 to 4,000 years.

Mi’kmaq hunting traditions included bear traps that were baited with fish. Once the animal was caught, women would remove the guts, the hide and the sinews and carry it back to the camp to prepare it. Excess meat and fat would be scraped off the skin with scraping tools, stones or shells. Wanda informs me that women were very highly respected in First Nations society, as they were life givers. Meals were cooked in a hollowed-out log that held red-hot stones that had been heated over a fire. Water would be poured over the food and the hot stones to cook the meal. Spices were gathered in the forest, and instead of potatoes a plant called the Jerusalem artichoke would be served with the meat. Fish and meat were dried or smoked, and eggs were gathered from marsh birds.

We moved over to a display on Mi’kmaq language and Wanda mentioned that there were 7 Mi’kmaq districts, each with their own chief. The Bear River Reservation is located in a place called “Kespukwik”, meaning “where the water stops flowing”, referring to the Bear River flowing into the Annapolis Basin. Mi’kmaq language is based on action verbs, and pronouns are important indicators of belonging and possession. For instance, the words “mother” or “sister” can never be said by themselves, they always require a pronoun to indicate whose mother we are talking about. The Mi’kmaq words would say “your mother”, “my mother”, or” his/her mother” etc.

At the next display we saw a 1936 picture of Wanda’s great-grandmother, Sarah Fossey who lived until 1961 to the ripe old age of 101. Wanda has fond memories of Sarah who used to bring her grandchildren and great-grandchildren oranges as a special treat. Sarah was captured in a movie from the 1930s that was displayed at the Bear River First Nation Heritage and Cultural Centre. Wanda was overwhelmed when she first saw moving images of her great-grandmother in the movie.

We also discussed life as a Mi’kmaq today. Wanda explained that Mi’kmaq society was matriarchal until the arrival of the first Europeans. In recent years, from the 1920s to the 1990, the government instituted a policy of residential schools where young native children were taken away from their families and taught the “white man’s ways’. This led to a significant loss in culture and heritage, women’s status eroded as a result and Mi’kmaq family structure suffered. The government wanted to force native children to “integrate” into mainstream society and in the process an ancient way of life was destroyed. Siblings were often not allowed to talk to one another and families were torn apart. Many of the native children suffered from mental, physical and sexual abuse in the residential schools. As a result of these policies, today many elders are learning the Mi’kmaq language from the younger generation.

Today there is a counter-trend where young First Nations people are rediscovering their language, culture and heritage. Of the conditions at the Bear River Reservation Wanda says that it is a managed forest and there is no poverty on the reserve, which holds about 100 people. Wanda herself has lived off the reserve for her entire life and has been self-efficient.

Wanda also explained that having “native status” is an important issue in First Nations communities. Native status confers certain benefits in terms of health care, taxation and schooling. Bill C31, introduced in 1985, improved native women’s status in the sense that they could pass native status on to their first generation children, even if the children were from a mixed native/non-native marriage. Men on the other hand can pass on native status indefinitely through the generations, even if they marry a non-native wife. This often creates economic inequality and friction within the same family where one set of cousins could have native status whereas another cousin would not officially be considered native. Even fairly recent legislation prolongs the European tradition of favouring male bloodlines.

Wanda gave me the names of several books that would provide further education about First Nations life and communities and when I said goodbye, she generously gave me two books to read as a present: “L’sitkuk – The Story of the Bear River Mi’kmaw Community” by Darlene Ricker, and “We Were Not Savages – A Mi’kmaq Perspective on the Collision between European and Native American Civilizations” by Daniel N. Paul, excellent reading material to educate myself further about native culture and history. As a parting gift she gave me a handcrafted medicine pouch that she had made herself, an example of the Mi’kmaq tradition of generosity and peacefulness.

I thanked Wanda and the entire team at the Bear River First Nation Heritage and Cultural Centre for their most interesting introduction to Mi’kmaq heritage and culture and resolved to read these books soon to educate myself. I started driving down the hill and all the people congregated at the local Bear River Band Office waved goodbye to me. It was time for me to continue my drive along the Evangeline Trail to tonight’s final destination: Yarmouth.

Argentina Travel Visa

Travelling to another country is not as easy as taking a bus ride to anther town. There are legalities and standard operating procedures that you must carefully comply with so that you won’t be in any hide-and-seek trouble. Either you need a passport or a Visa to be able to fly and gain entrance to a nation in another continent. Argentina travel visa is necessary to some nationalities but not all.

Argentina travel visa will take you to a trip to a stunning and elegant nation in Latin America. Next to Brazil in terms of size and population, Argentina flaunts a European appeal, affectionate culture and modern means. This soccer-crazy nation is where Europeans and North Americans mostly feel at home and comfortable because of its relatively similar Western lifestyle.

In principle, Argentina travel visa is given to non-residents of Argentina who want to visit for business and relaxation. Tourists from European nations and USA will need to present a passport only upon entering Argentina. Duration of visit is up to three months. As you reach the port of entry like landing docks and international airports, you will be made to present your passport before you are afforded with a free tourist card that expires in 90 days. Travelling as a tourist would be less trouble than as businessman because the latter must observe the three-month policy, otherwise you must obtain a valid business visa that justifies you are staying the country for official reasons and how long your trip will be.

Argentina affords four-year validity for multiple-entry Argentina travel visa. Travel requirement for nationals from United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Ireland is just a passport. Just as long as they stay for three months, no travel or business visa is compulsory. This can be done countless times by any traveler of such nationalities. If you are seeking to stay long-term in Argentina, you must comply with the policies stipulated by the Argentina Embassy. Permanent residency permits are provided if you are involved in a profitable business. If employed by Argentina-based company, you must have your work permit that is valid for one to three years. It’s a must that you contact the Argentine consulate for one-year business visa if your business trip has lapsed beyond three months.

Argentina travel visa has different sets of policies for citizens from Asia. It is vitally important for Asian visitors to present a valid tourist or business visa before entry. A passport alone won’t guarantee entrance. For American citizens who are of Argentine nationality observe a separate policy in accordance with their time of US naturalization. The Argentine Ministry of the Interior can handle these cases but policy-wise dual citizens are allow to stay for 60 days in every visit. If 60 days are over, then a dual citizen must leave the country on an Argentine passport.