Final thoughts from this journey…

Posted by Bao on Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

This is the land that colonized your ancestors, I said to myself early this morning as I walked through the streets of Paris, the least you can do is find yourself a bowl of Pho. I wait at the St. Paul stop for the 1 train, which I take one stop down to Bastille where I hop on to the 5 train to Place d’Italie. There, I am told, I will find some fellow Asians.

It’s raining and soon me and my new jacket, which I have nicknamed Spanky, are soaked. Parisians are huddling under umbrellas and tarps at a sidewalk farmer’s market shopping for fresh fish, dried fruits, hot food. I buy two fried chicken wings from a Chinese woman and I swear it’s the best damn fried chicken I’ve had in my life (sorry mom, and sorry Roscoe’s). I also buy a piece of rotisserie chicken from her, which is aiiiite. I walk a ways in to the neighborhood past closed doors of Japanese, Indian and Thai restaurants, Pho shops, and I finally find a small Viet restaurant that is open. Here I can speak crappy Vietnamese and it’s a language the shopkeepers and I have in common. Almost everyone else in the place is Vietnamese, and it’s funny to be in France and have the Viet language in common instead of English. Maybe I’m making too much out of all this, maybe I’m just jazzed that I had some ca phe sua da and a bowl of pho for the first time in over two weeks.

Later in the afternoon we went into one of the suburban neighborhoods where some of the rioting took place. Some folks half-jokingly advised that we shouldn’t go there alone, but as per usual that translated into “we are scared of that place because there are lots of young people of color about.” Although some people were suspicious of us, no one was malicious or threatening and we got some good conversations going. I’m glad we did it: we needed a translator but no one wanted to come with us either because they were afraid of the neighborhood or didn’t want to go out into the rain or both, so one of Dom’s friends helped us out at the last minute and translated for us. There was a lot of important dialogue and interviews and it would have been a shame to miss it.

Tomorrow morning I get on a plane and return to Minnesota. No more coffee-flavored éclairs and efficient mass transportation system for me, it’s home, and the hope that my car will start after sitting dormant in the January weather all this time. My tour with America Listening is over: Dom, Carrie and Joel meet up with the next American character, Bob, in England, and they will continue on together to Russia and Brazil. It is crazy to think that Carrie, Joel, and Dom will have to go through this insane cycle of jet lag, hard work, and hustle for 11 more countries. What a chore, and what an important blessing.

When I go home, I will have circled the belly of the earth for the first time in my life, just a couple weeks shy of my 31st birthday. It’s been one helluva ride. Thanks to Joel, Dom, and Carrie for everything, no use getting into detail because there’s just too much. Best of luck and safe travels, never forget you’re doing important and necessary work. Thanks also to all the people back in the States who are taking care of us and this project from afar. And on the personal tip, thanks to my family and friends and co-workers, for your emails and encouragement, your support and your enthusiasm. See, I wasn’t lying to you! I really did get to see the world a little bit. It wasn’t like that Smurfs episode, where they drug Dreamy smurf and the rest of the Smurfs dress up like aliens to fool him into thinking he’s made it to Mars. I really got to go to Mexico, China, France. Not bad for a poet nerd from Phillips eh?

I’ve only got to see a little bit more of the world, so I’m no expert, but when trying to sum up the multitude of experiences, thoughts, and lessons that have come from all of this, the voices of two great singers, Bob Marley and Louis Armstrong, keep ringing in my ears:

“So much trouble in the world.”

“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

Those two lines, sung by those two voices, weave and twist in my ears. I don’t think they contradict each other. Work and love, reality and optimism, clarity and hope. If anything, those seemingly contradictory lyrics, sung in voices we need to hear, make it clear how important this world is, to all of us. Thanks for reading.

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