Monday, June 20, 2011

Catching our Breath Now--Barry

Now in Jerusalem at St George's College enjoying a few days getting acclimated here before the course starts tonight.   There has been a lot of time in the past two days for afternoon naps, while doing some sightseeing in the Old City and elsewhere in Jerusalem and attending to overdue personal needs like haircuts.

St George's College, Jerusalem--our home for the next three weeks (we're in one of the third floor rooms with a balcony)

The last week or so following our departure from New Zealand was a whirlwind as we visited three large cities--Sydney, Melbourne, and Singapore--before taking the El Al flight to Tel Aviv from Bangkok that arrived here early Sunday morning.   We also rented a car in Sydney and drove the 1000km to Melbourne over the coastal route in two days to see something of Australia outside its two major cities.  (Interesting routing by the way for the El Al flight, which can't fly over Saudi Arabia, so we went south around the horn of Africa over Somalia and Djibouti before flying over the Red Sea, which itself took 2-3 hours, much longer than I expected.)

A few random observations of the places we've been since my last post:
--Sydney:  the highlight for me was seeing for the first time, in person, those two iconic landmarks--the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.   It made me think of those other thrilling moments when I've been fortunate to see in person sights that I had known only through photographs since childhood--the Eiffel Tower, the Matterhorn, and the Star ferries in Hong Kong come to mind.   My first sight of these two Sydney landmarks was on the approach of our Air New Zealand--what a great airline!--flight from Christchurch when we happened to be on the right side of the aircraft to take in the view before landing.   Later we were able to walk across the Harbour Bridge from our B&B in nearby Kirribili and to tour and later attend a performance at SOH.   Will always remember this.

Harbour Bridge and downtown Sydney (Opera House at far left) seen from  ferry slip near our B&B
--Melbourne:  while it doesn't have the well recognized landmarks of its larger rival city in New South Wales, Melbourne for us was a more comfortable city with its wide streets and downtown grid layout reminiscent of Chicago and Toronto.   We loved our visit to the Melbourne Zoo, taking one of the city's famous trams there and back.   The highpoint of the zoo was seeing those well-known Australian creatures (kangaroo and koala bear) that we weren't able to see--either in the wild or as roadkill--during our long drive between the two cities.   So we could check that off our list!

Marilyn and friend at Melbourne Zoo
--Singapore: just amazing.   The dynamism of the place is so palpable, and I've never been to such an orderly and clean urban area.   It was just thrilling to observe and, as Americans, somewhat sobering as well.   The National Museum of Singapore had a fantastic walk through exhibit on the city state's history. How far Singapore has come in terms of overall standard of living for its residents just in the period Marilyn and I have been alive is just breathtaking and testimony to the extremely good governance and industrious people resident there.

Naumi Hotel with its great rooftop pool view of Singapore was a splurge at the half way point of our journey--and well worth it
My last observation leads to a related, depressing thought.   On our journey we've been to four countries---Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore--where the governance--not just in my estimation but to other observers and by other measures as well--is superior to what we have in the US, and this "good governance" gap over decades between these four countries and ours is manifest right before our eyes in our travels in the quality of public facilities like airports, urban amenities like well maintained parks and restrooms, etc.   And increasingly these countries are eating our lunch economically--just check out how exchange rates have moved between USD and CAD, NZD, AUD, and SGD.   In Australia unemployment is less that 5% and it's less than 2% in Singapore and you wonder how long before we return in the US to days of economic prosperity and optimism.   Enough of my editorializing....

I'll close with an initial reflection on Israel.   Just walking through the Old City the other day--very much an in your face experience in comparison to the polite, Anglicized places we've been to so far--you realize how hard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is and will be to resolve.    Like the layout of the Old City itself, it seems very complicated.   This morning, up early to do my email, I spoke with Azzam, one of the Palestinian workers at the College.   Today it took him an hour and twenty minutes to get through the Israeli checkpoint to get to work from his home in the West Bank.   He has rheumatoid arthritis and it hurts for him to stand in line for so long.   Just imagine going through the worst airport security line of your life every workday, twice, and that's probably what it's like.   The next few weeks are going to be filled, I think, with troubling observations and I hope some positive insights as well.   Farewell for now.

1 comment: