To see the world with eyes wide open

pin-icon Northampton, Massachusetts

The resignation of Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, has led to an awareness of my increasing interest in politics – two years ago, I didn’t even know about Maida, and I find this funny because I’ve never thought of myself as the kind of person to talk about global issues. I never read the newspaper through JC – but the more time I spend out of Singapore and the more I see, the more I realise that my aversion to politics and the news stems not from a set of blinders I’ve placed over myself, but an inherent disillusionment with the way news in Singapore is really not news at all.

Perhaps I never felt it in Singapore because of our relatively sheltered position – what was there to worry about? We were never caught up in political games of ‘who-recognizes-my-independence’, our political scene is less concerned with its ogliarchy as it is with the Lee family drama and newnation.sg. How can there be real politics when nothing new ever really comes up for debate? Singaporean politics sometimes feels a bit like a child pushing around peas with his fork and then saying he’s finished his veggies, hoping his mother doesn’t realize that there are exactly the same number of peas on his plate.

But I digress – in any case, I think my growing interest in politics stems from my increasing involvement in social justice causes on campus, my rapid awareness of my ‘minority’ status in the United States and its corresponding baggage, and the always-changing political landscape of the Eastern European region.

There was once when my travel partner and I were sitting in a Quiznos in San Juan watching a bunch of locals with buckets of Medalla get increasingly rowdy on a Saturday evening. The guy next to us (a young Puerto Rican teacher, I later learned) started chatting us up and telling us about the parties going on in the area – but on learning that my travel partner was a Political Science major, the conversation rapidly turned to Puerto Rican politics and the question of its freedom.

I’m also thinking now of this article by Leslie Jamison on Sri Lanka. It would have been entirely possible to do a vacation in Puerto Rico with the blinders up – without knowing anything about the problem of its freedom, but that conversation at the Quiznos showed me why I think there is a certain sense of entitlement that comes with traveling without reading the news. Like Jamison writes, showing up somewhere without knowing anything about it ‘had come to seem like the distillation of a certain kind of privilege’ – ‘looking at this place without knowing its history wasn’t any kind of vision at all’.

I don’t think it’s possible to be a citizen of the world – to truly be engaged and curious, to live with eyes and arms wide open – without caring about what’s happening. How is one to travel without being aware of the baggage carried by the land we set foot on? If you do not see a country in light of the conversations around it – its history, its current place in the world – then do you see the country at all?

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