Around the World in 60 hours

In late November and early December, I did my first around-the-world trip, Australia-Poland-US-Australia. Two weeks, 7 flights, 60 hours of travel time.

Simple outcome: I learned a decent amount about others and myself.

Gdansk, Poland

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Snow! Made the whole trip worthwhile. Walking on the frozen ground to work in the morning, even the graffiti seemed to fit into the snowscape. 

I’ve been to Gdansk, Poland four times now. Three flights to get there, about 34.5 hours from leaving Manly Beach to arriving at the corporate apartment. This was by far the best trip, although I didn’t see Malbork Castle, or even visit Old Town once. I simply focused on the purpose of my trip. I knew the grocery store well enough to buy the right foods, and every morning, a prison-cell workout (confined space), two breakfasts, and I was ready to start the day. As long as I wasn’t at work, if my body said “I want to sleep,” I slept. No attempt to adjust to time zone, just let it happen.

I constantly fill my time with too much. On this visit, I said “No” more than “Yes”, and ended up healthier and happier. Go figure.

Time with family

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I really love my family. Seriously – ignore the facial expression.  And Mom was actually awake at dinner. Promise.

Thanks to the Lufthansa strike, there was a small ripple of early morning chaos, but the airlines and one of my co-workers had smoothed everything out. I visited Copenhagen for the first time, but only to go from one gate to another in the airport.

Landing in DC, I spent the weekend in Stafford, Virginia, with the largest collection of my immediate family. My sister’s family and my mom both live there, and two of my nephews returned for the weekend. Every single minute there is great: helping Mom grocery shop, walk in a nearby park with my sister, a dinner out.

While home is Australia, where my sister lives will always be a place that’s special to me.

San Francisco

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Power to the people. Her sweatshirt reads “Health Care not Warfare.”

Desperately seeking difference

I’ve always worried that in a different time, I would have let tyranny happen, or even worse. I’ve never been drawn to protest or to activism. What would it take to get me out of work, off the bike, out of the pool, and into the streets. Well, it turns out, Trump.

There had been protests in SF, and I was hoping I could join in while I was in SF. Honestly, I am probably not politically aligned with most of the folks who would be in an SF protest, but part of what I wanted to do was expose myself (ahem) to people with different thoughts, different opinions, and actually listen. I’ve been barking for years about how neither side of the fence actively listens to the other (I know from experience, having been someone for years who could only absorb arguments that agreed with me). Selection bias is alive and possibly more powerful than ever.

Alas, no protests were scheduled (turns out there is an online schedule for political activism!) But there was a meeting of the Progressive Democrats of America on “the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) in a post-Trump era.” The TPP is a big deal to Australia, so I thought I could get educated and listen to people who I would never encounter on a daily basis.

After dinner, I slipped a gray wool jumper over my “I voted for Gary Johnson” t-shirt, and entered the Fireside Room at the Unitarian Church.

Progressive Democrats of America

My first thought was that I had stepped into a cabin in North Dakota. About 30 people in total, and I was the second youngest person in the room. Equally balanced between men and women, the audience was mostly white. Not a single button down shirt in view. Doing the math, I realized most of this group were teenagers in the 70s, so they were not the 60s hippies but certainly had a memory of the Vietnam War that I do not.
A few items of business passed slowly: Bernie’s influence and getting pervasive agenda items in the national forum, the 60th anniversary of the human rights declaration in 1948, passing around some stickers, and collecting about 10 signatures for a letter to Pelosi. I wondered what the punishment was if they found out a libertarian was in their midst? Stoning? Tattooing? Forcing him to surrender his property to the state? Mind, open back up.
 My first spark of interest came around a mention of driving corporate money out of elections (a big hot button for me – New Zealand’s limits on campaign contributions are much more sensical). I shared the same passion with everyone in the room for reducing corporate influence on elections.
Then the talk on the TPP began. ‘International Law’ has always seemed ridiculous to me, and international partnerships without an enforcement arm has always puzzled me. The three speakers had a very anti-trade partnership perspective – primarily that trade partnership agreements are a way to create, in a non-transparent fashion, agreements that can overrule existing environmental, labor, and other regulations, or force congress hand to adopt the agreements, then becoming enforceable laws (i.e “policy laundering”). I won’t get into the details, but it was fascinating. The time was already well spent to hear the other side of a story that the Australian press largely treated as “TPP good for Australia.”
My favorite aside of the three talks, was when one speaker described the coming Trump Administration as “The most corrupt oligarchical administration in history. A cabinet of billionaires. Prepare for the selling off of our country to the highest bidder.” I’d have to agree with what I’ve seen so far.
I certainly heard opinions that don’t even make it into the mainstream media:
  • “Don’t use Google” (because of their support of the mainstream Democratic party, I think). Sorry, still going to Google stuff.
  • “Trumps victory was a movement victory, not a campaign victory.” Groups of people do take independent action, that campaigns cannot withstand.
  • “Boycott Wells Fargo” – as it’s backing the Dakota pipeline project. I don’t know if I’ll cancel my account today, but I will register my opinion with my bank and make sure they understand it makes them a less desirable option.
  • The Digital millennium copyright act failed in Congress, but similar agreements were then snuck into trade agreements, meaning our democratic process is being circumvented.
My favorite speaker was Ernesto Balcon, a member of the EFF. Since Mitch Kapor was the chairman of the company I started, and John Perry Barlow spoke at one of my Stanford classes, I knew a bit about the EFF, and have always held it in the highest regard. Ernesto only reinforced my opinion of the EFF.

Non partisan partisans

The best part about this group was that while their focus was politics, they were not political.”This is about the issues, not about what party you belong to.” That while they identified as a group with a specific set of beliefs, that they were open to others and wanted them to join their causes, not necessarily their party. “We share a lot of ideology with  Libertarians.” I wanted to rip off my jumper and out myself right there, but I held back. It could be a trap.
All in all, the PDA session (ahem) delivered – I heard new thoughts, I heard opinions I disagreed with but I listened and understood why we differed. Many times we wanted the same thing, but believed in a different way to get there.
I need to find other outlets to make sure I keep hearing opinions that are different from my own, and even from the mainstream lines we get fed from conservative and liberal news media alike.

Arriving Home

I arrived home better than I left – an unusual event, and even more surprising given that I didn’t stay in a single time zone longer than six full days, and that I had circumnavigated the earth.

Looking back on the trip – there’s a lot of goodness. I accepted my own limits. I listened to others to try to expand my world view. I focused on my responsibilities. I ate a lot of greek yogurt.

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