One of the saddest realizations of becoming an overseas expats is learning how little Americans know about the rest of the globe. In defense of my countrymen (and women), it’s not entirely our fault since we’re controlled by a mainstream media that’s a “for-profit” élite industry caring only about reporting profits at the next shareholder meeting. With greats like Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite long gone, the memories and knowledge of some of history’s greatest tragedies disappeared and with social media replacing networks as the main source of “news”for most Americans, the November election results aren’t really any great surprise. Thankfully, eight million or more Americans live outside the homeland and those of us lucky enough to retire abroad are among the citizens that benefit from the plethora of great educational tools available from little known historical sites to amazing archeological monuments.
Finding small and relatively unknown museums that teach me something ranks high on my list of priorities while living overseas and The Cambodian Landmine Museumfits the bill perfectly. Included on a day trip from Siem Reap along with one of the area’s most fascinating temples (Banteay Srei), we spent two hours or so at this gem of an attraction and came away with a wealth of information barely mentioned in any American history book. Innocently shielding our schoolkids from some of the worst unspeakable acts the nation’s ever participated in, few people even know that America engaged in a relentless five-year bombing campaign that literally destroyed the Cambodian people. Dropping tons of landmines all over the nation, the stated goal of the mission was to destroy the supply chain between the North Vietnamese Communists and Thailand. Victimized by one of America’s most deplorable foreign policy decisions in its history. the result is a nation literally littered with landmines designed exclusively to maim and not kill. Thanks to the efforts of some brave Cambodians, the nation is finally almost free from landmines. Too bad it’s taken almost 45 years to make thinks right.
Continuing my recent discussion about why Penang is an excellent choice for MM2H applicants despite lacking “big city” atmosphere, I want to give credit to an amazing little place called The Camera Museum. Easily one of the most unusual and informative small museums anywhere, the guided tour and amazing arrangement of historical information make this mostly undiscovered place a hidden gem and warrants a spot in the best of class for all museums in Southeast Asia. Opened in 2013, it devotes an entire floor to the history of cameras, a seemingly mundane topic that actually has a fascinating history dating back to the 16th century. I’ll bet you can’t name the inventor of the first workable camera prototype (don’t feel dumb; hardly anyone knows because most museums stick to photography).
But more on that later. Back to the point, one thing we love about Penang is how you never know what you’ll find. Setting out with the general goal of visiting the museum, Diane and I took the bus to Love Lane, the main backpacker friendly area of Penang where you’ll find many coffee-house, hostels and cheap rooms. First off, unlike almost anywhere in Thailand, the first thing you’ll notice is Penang is much less crowded when it comes to the younger crowd. Primarily a Muslim country by population, Malaysia levies heavy taxes on alcohol which tends to discourage young party animals. Additionally, conservative values means less hotties in skimpy bikinis and no topless Europeans on the beaches which also keeps the younger crowd on the other side of the border in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong; I love hotties on beaches as much as any guy but could easily do without the excessive noise, rowdiness and stupidity that comes with college age crowds and sports bars showing football to drunks for thirteen straight hours. So for us, Penang makes a great choice and Thailand is a quick plane ride away should we get bored with the lack of nightlife.
During our visit to Diane’s hometown Canadian city this past holiday season, an ironically timed thing happened. Purely through coincidence, Diane has family in both Brooklyn and Queens that live very close to my semi-estranged parents. Living in the same small two bedroom apartment since 1952, my father always makes short sarcastic comments when I call about why we don’t visit more often. Unwilling to let us stay in the spare bedroom for no clear reason, we usually refuse citing the cost of lodging anywhere in New York City. Visiting my hometown only about twice per decade, I was looking for an excuse to pop in one last time before fleeing to the other side of the world.
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge highlights my childhood Brooklyn neighborhood
Before you call me heartless, understand that parents of Jewish backgrounds pull a guilt thing that’s inescapable even if religion plays no role in their lives (like mine). Having used all frequent flier miles and free perks on our Annual Expat Destination Research Vacations, we got excited when we learned that Diane’s cousin in was getting married in Queens later this year. Under undue Chinese parental guilt (similar but slightly different from the aforementioned Jewish guilt), we quickly agreed to attend before thinking about the timing, financial implications or practicality. Given the timing of our MM2H filing and simultaneous listing of our house in March and April, we decided against the trip but naturally waited until we got home to tell the family.