The Post Racial Wasteland

The current state of race relations in America has been boiled down to the recent outrage over police brutality in minority neighborhoods. While many barrels of ink and pixels of screen space have been used to decry the deplorable state of policing in at-risk minority neighborhoods, very little has been used to look at the root of the problem.

Self-selecting communities have been a little mentioned effect of the post civil rights era. As strict institutional barriers regarding mobility among races fell by the wayside, the less rigid barriers erected by the free market took their place. What we now face, is a prototypical South Africa drawn up on the lines of wealth as opposed to institutional racism.

I had the opportunity to see Johannesburg, South Africa through a variety of lenses typically unavailable to an American tourist. After 5 months of traveling through Australia and Southeast Asia, I landed in Johannesburg to take part in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders showcase. Alongside the literally towering figures of Dikembe Mutumbo, Andrei Kirilenko and the first African born GM in NBA history, Masai Ujiri, I saw 50 of the most talented young athletes on the continent, while taking in sites from “the other half” or more accurately the other 90% in post-apartheid South Africa.

Our days were spent at the gleaming American school on the outskirts of Jo-Burg proper. A facility that would’ve made many prestigious American schools blush with inadequacy, the school was a shining beacon. It was also surrounded by the ubiquitous razorwire fences that had become as much a part of the South African landscape as the baobao and marula trees. Post-apartheid South Africa dealt with the institutional policies that made racism a part of the land, but in an economic climate that sees white South Africans bring home an annual income nearly on par with Americans, the black population sees on average 1/7th of that.

The first thing that I was told in Johannesburg was to exercise extreme caution. Expensive jewelry, phones and computers were to be kept in a bag, if not locked up away from your person. To be mugged in Jo-Burg is not a matter of “if” but “when.”

That crime was considered such a fact of life was a concept completely foreign to me. Besides a few minor dustups in Vietnam and Thailand, I had encountered no such crime in my travels up to this point in areas far poorer by per capita GDP measures.

As I wandered, Christopher Columbus style for the lack whites that I saw, through the Central Business district, I realized that the crime seen in South Africa was not a case of absolute poverty so much as the corrosive nature of relative poverty, a condition much more likely to yield violent and volatile results. White South Africans (and a growing black plutocrat class) live behind their razorwire fences in compounds more reminiscent a Westchester hamlet than the shantytowns of nearby Soweto, where I visited a primary school where an astounding 39% of students are HIV positive. This problem was defined far more by economics than race.

The America I inhabit looks more and more like that South African scene every day. While the rich suburb of Carmel, Indiana dickers over a new 27 million dollar youth sports facility, the potholes just 6 miles south are large enough to eat a VW Rabbit.

Indianapolis found itself budgetarily unable to plow side streets this winter, but the Monon Running/Biking Trail used primarily from the wealthy “Yuppie” class found itself plowed nearly on the hour. Our self selecting society and parochial local tax structure has combined to essentially create a tale of two cities in nearly all of our major metropolitan areas.

The ties that bind Americans together are more fragile than ever before. Whereas the post-war generation saw managers and laborers living in the same neighborhoods, sending their children to the same schools, and taking in the same entertainment, the Jim Crow of today has replaced the “Coloreds Not Served” sign with one that looks like $. Racism has been replaced by economic elitism; the color of money washing away the color of skin in the new segregation of the haves and have nots.

There’s no need for a sign on the door telling who isn’t welcome when the cocktail is $14.

A quick look around the rural portions of my state will reveal a growing ghetto, made up not of blacks but of a largely white economically disenfranchised population. The HIV outbreak in Southern Indiana caused by intravenous drug use has shown that social issues are also color blind. Their problems are a mirror onto those of the Great Society Generation that saw the lower class inner-city family unit fall victim to drugs, broken homes and a lack of economic opportunity.

Discretionary handouts do not replace economic opportunity on either a moral or results basis. The problems of drug use, teen pregnancy and violence have gotten progressively worse as opportunity has become more distant. These policies served only to excuse the thriving upper classes from economically disenfranchising their lower class brethren.

As multiple generations saw economic disenfranchisement become the only reality that they’d ever known, an economic evolution took place which threatens to separate the socioeconomic classes into entirely different species.

“Us vs. Them” rhetoric of has been used to great effect in politics and it has become a self-fulfilling policy. Simply glancing at a chart of obesity and birth rate by income will show that those making under $25,000 a year are more than twice as likely to be obese, and have a birth rate 80% higher than those making more than $75,000 a year. These differences are magnitudes larger in reproduction, habitat and size than those separating the distinct African and Asian elephants.

While wealthy urban elites wring their hands at the outbreaks of violence in NYC, Baltimore, and St. Louis, it is not of some deep seeded concern but instead because they are afraid that the invisible but present boundaries of privilege will not be sufficient when the feces and fan intermingle.

The only long term solution to the problems cleaving the American dream from an ever increasing portion of the populace is the economic revitalization of these depressed areas. The economists I studied in college maintained that overall economic growth was the only outcome that mattered, but if “on paper” GDP growth only goes to fund further militarization of the police force and additional social handout programs, what did we actually gain?

Urban or rural, the root of the myriad social problems seen today is not drawn along the oft-cited lines of race. To quote our famous Cajun sage:

“It’s the economy stupid.”

An American Lazarus

Good morning from Singapore.

Waking up curled over two chairs in the Singapore airport, contorted into a fetal position far too compact for my size, I’m thankful again of my “superpower.”

I can fall asleep anywhere, anytime. And it doesn’t matter if a freight train or a hurricane is coming, you’ll have to send someone to roust me.

Spiderman can keep his webs, and I never really wanted X-ray vision anyway, Superman. I’ll keep my weaponized narcolepsy. It has served me incredibly well, especially in the always fluid sleeping conditions of Southeast Asia. Whether a dorm full of incredibly drunk 19 year old shouting Brits or the coffin berth of a 12 hour sleeper bus, I slap on a history podcast and I’m out faster than a fat kid in dodgeball.

The older I get the more I realize how fantastic this ability is.

I’m leaving Southeast Asia tonight, headed onto South Africa. I’ve spent the last 3.5 months on the adventure of a lifetime. I experienced the horrors of war, as well as came to a better understanding of America’s legacy in Vietnam. I got an up close view the charismatic, maniacal and efficient evil of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

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I saw some of the most beautiful natural places on earth, from 5 mile long caves to pristine waterfalls, untouched and underdeveloped.

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I got to walk in the ruins of one of the ancient wonders of the world, Angkor Wat.

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I played with monkeys and rode on elephants.

 

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I wrecked motorbikes and taught monks English.

Where's Switzerland again?

Where’s Switzerland again?

 

I got to see a military coup first hand, and debate political issues with people from a half dozen countries almost nightly. In three weeks I developed a bond with a man who taught me a lot about addiction and even more about the human condition. I saw a girl who was incredibly lucky to “only” have 40 stitches in her head, and I saw a surfer who was not so lucky as his lifeless body was pulled from the Bali barrels.

I agreed to travel hundreds of miles with people I’d met mere minutes before and “evaded” organ snatchers in remote Laotian towns. I learned to communicate with only hand gestures and a smile to bridge a language gap. I learned the art of Thai boxing at the hands of gentle madmen, and learned to cook the cuisines of a half dozen nations.

Belgians, Finns, Limeys and Thais

Belgians, Finns, Limeys and Thais

In short, I lived life. Frankly, a helluva lot of it. I grew more than I would have in the next 5 years of my “normal” life. I was in more uncomfortable situations in 100 days than I can count, but I managed to make it out of all of them with barely a scratch.

They say the best journeys are the ones where you find something you didn’t know you were missing. I found something better.

I found a man that I thought died years ago. A guy who laughed first and frowned rarely. The one who looked at the world with the endless optimism of the boy taken to a barn full of horseshit, started smiling before saying, “There must be a pony around here somewhere.”

He looked a lot like a guy who had become a nasty cynic. One who had been paid well to delude himself into thinking that he was smarter than everyone else in the room. One who thought that a growing number on a bank account was going to magically fix an unfulfilling life. One who had put a reckless love of risk before an awful lot of things that actually mattered in this life. One who’d forgotten that the happiest moments really are free, or damn near to it.

It isn’t very often that someone crawls out of an unmarked grave, but I’m glad I came across it.

That’s what meaningful travel does. It reacquaints you with the best versions of yourself. It shows you overcoming obstacles to reveal a character and mental fortitude you didn’t realize that you’d had.

And thank God it does. Otherwise I wouldn’t have found that man I thought had died. And he’s a helluva lot better than the one who got on a plane in Chicago in March.

Farewell Southeast Asia. You’ve done more for me than you’ll ever know.

Hoi An Cooking Classes

In an effort to both take in the local culture as well as learn how to replicate some of the phenomenal cuisine that we’ve been eating since arriving in Vietnam, Ben and I took a cooking class at our favorite Hoi An eatery, Cafe 43.

We were taught by the lovely Hien, who was as patient a teacher as we could as for. After 3 hours, (and some very stained hands from dicing Indian saffron) we produced 4 dishes with a pretty high level of success.

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I know great picture of me right?

I know great picture of me right?

The cost for this gourmet lesson. $5.

It is good to be in Vietnam.

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Below are the recipes for the things we made.

Grilled Seafish in Banana Leaf

Ingredients:
6 Banana Leaves
Whole Seafish- preboiled for 5 minutes
20 Grams Fresh Ginger
50 Grams Indian Saffron
4 Lemon Leaves
5 Stalks Lemongrass
8 Shallots
2 tsp smashed garlic
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Directions:
Finely chop lemongrass
Dice ginger
Dice saffron
Thinly slice shallots
Roll lemon leaves and slice
-Mash above ingredients in mortar until paste

Add garlic, pepper, salt and vegetable oil. Mix with paste

Place 3 banana leaves on each side of aluminum foil for a pouch
Place ⅓ of paste as a base on banana leaves
Place ⅓ of paste inside fish
Place remaining paste over top of fish
Fold uptight and clamp aluminum foil pouch over low heat for 30 minutes, turning once

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Dipping Sauce for Seafish
½ tsp peper
1 tsp salt
4 tsp lime juice with seeds

Chicken Spring Rolls
100 grams minced chicken
Soft rice paper
200 grams of boiled chickpeas diced
½ tsp 5 Spice
30 grams carrot
30 gram sweet potato (boiled until soft)
1 taro (50 Grams) (boiled until soft)
Bunch of spring onions
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp 5 spice

Grate carrot
Mash chickpeas, carrot, sweet potato, and taro

Heat 10 inch skillet over low heat with 1.5 Tbsp of vegetable oil
Add 1 tsp garlic wait 1 minute and add spring onion, cook one more minute
Add skillet contents to mash
Add salt, pepper, sugar and 5 spice
Hand mix throroughly with paste

Spoon about a tbsp onto rice paper
Roll tightly, folding in ends once wrapped around once

Cook in ½ pan of vegetable oil to deep fry over low heat
5-7 minutes until golden brown
Roll spring rolls 1x to get both sides
Do not overcook

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Sauteed Spinach and Garlic
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
½ tsp pepper
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp vegetarian seasoning
1 tbsp dried garlic

Cooking:
Saute all ingredients covered over low heat for 5 minutes

Squid and Sour Fish Sauce
1 small red chile chopped diagonally with scissors
½ tsp garlic
½ tsp sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp fish sauce
Mix together until sugar dissolves

Stuffed Squid
1 8 inch squid tube of medium diameter
100 grams minced pork
1 tsp mashed garlic
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
½ white onion
25 grams carrot
Bunch of spring onion

Mix all ingredients besides squid, and leave for 3 minutes.

Dice onion, carrot.
Chop spring onion and leave separate

Place 2 tbsp vegetable oil in 10 in skilled, throw in pork mix.
After 1 minute add carrot
After 1 minute add onion
Saute until carrot is soft

Remove mix from heat, stuff inside squid tube, packing hard.
Affix toothpick across top of squid

Place 2 more tbsp vegetable oil into pan over low heat
turn squid on all 4 sides until golden brown
Use scissors to cut ⅔ down the squid tube after removing from heat
Remove toothpick
Eat with tomato and pepper sauce

Dipping Sauce for Seafish
½ tsp peper
1 tsp salt
4 tsp lime juice with seeds