Tuesday, April 27, 2010

All Good Things Come to an End

Well, that’s it! After a little over a year, my worldwide odyssey has come to an end! I sincerely want to thank everyone--my family, friends, hosts and travelers. Without them, my trip would not have been possible. This past year has been the highlight of my life thus far. My travels have broadened my horizons and eliminated many stereotypes I had about certain cultures. Everywhere I visited, I tried to interact with locals, learning about their country, culture and society. I value these interpersonal experiences, as they are the most memorable and more educational than reading books. I will remember my interactions with locals much more than I will remember the tourist attractions. I have learned that regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion, people are very similar all over the world. Everyone needs to feed his or her family, be loved and be accepted.

One indelible mark left on me as a result of this trip is my view on humanity. I am so glad I had the chance to step back and slow down from the daily grind of life. In doing so, I have been able to observe and experience humanity at its finest. I never expected to be invited to a man’s village, fed by a woman on a train or led to a bus station by a stranger. These “random acts of kindness” have shown me there are people with good intentions in the world, and to open up to them.

The following are some (not exhaustive) of my favorite countries:

France--There are many reasons why this is the most touristed country in the world. I like France because of its diversity--a country the size of Texas contains many different geographies, cultures and food. France places a huge emphasis on the arts and culture. In my opinion, French food and wine are simply the best in the West.

Spain--Similar to France, there are many reasons why this is the second most touristed country in the world. I like Spain because of its diverse regions, cultures and food. For example, Andalucia, a southern region, has unique Moorish architecture. I was surprisingly wowed by the number of cultural festivals in Spain.

South Africa--I had the opportunity to only visit the Western Cape province in South Africa. I was stunned by the natural beauty of Cape Town, its mountains, beaches and nearby wineries. Moreover, I appreciated the diversity there, as its mix of Blacks, Whites, Indians and Malays enriches the South African culture.

Uruguay--A tiny country sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil that is not on the tourist trail. I loved the friendly locals, the laid-back lifestyle, the farms and the beaches. Uruguay is small enough for me to learn all aspects of its society. For me, it was a joy simply living in Montevideo after traveling non-stop the previous months.

Syria--This Arab country has the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world! Also, Syria contains a wealth of history, as evidenced by its Roman ruins, Byzantine monasteries, Crusader castles and courtyard mansions. I enjoyed learning about the “real” Syria and not the Syria portrayed in Western media.

Malaysia--This is my favorite country in Southeast Asia. I love the cultural blend of Malays, Chinese and Indians. As a result of this diversity, Malaysian food is some of the best in the world. Lastly, friendly locals and a well-developed infrastructure makes traveling in Malaysia hassle-free.

China--The world’s most populous country surprised me on many fronts. Traveling around rural China, I encountered hospitable people, quaint villages and scenic countryside. In urban China, I loved the juxtaposition of old and new. The food is diverse and simply the best Asian food! China is racing ahead into the future and everyday brings changes and surprises. Overall, China is a very exciting country to visit!