In Cambodia it was fairly common to see women wearing gloves, long sleeves, large hats, and jackets in spite of the heat. I would personally be trying everything I could to wear lighter clothing and cool off, while they were pulling on long gloves to drive through traffic. In Cambodia, like most of the non-Western world, lighter skin is desirable. If you have sun-darkened skin it implies that you are of the lower, working class, forced to do manual labor out in the sun. Lighter skin implies riches and the ability to stay indoors. In the Western world it is the opposite, a dichotomy that is never lost on me. We prefer tanned skin to show that we have been out in the sun. Being out in the sun sends the message that we've had time to relax by a pool or beach, and haven't been inside working. In Cambodian stores it was common to see skin lightning creams, a complete opposite of the dark tanning oils you see in American drug stores.
Our opposite views on skin colors and what they imply is just the beginning of our differences. Americans and Cambodians see poverty and wealth very differently. Americans think having to pay interest on student loans makes you poor. Cambodians think not having a place to live makes you poor. I can't help but think about the true poverty I witnessed in Cambodia as I read the news and listen to people complain and/or support Occupy Wall Street.
At first I thought I might find myself supporting Occupy Wall Street. After all, I have a lot of anger built up inside of me right now towards the US financial situation. I lost three jobs in a row due to the bad economy. (Laid off due to budget cuts, or the company went out of business.) I have struggled over nearly 2 years to find decent employment that pays almost as much as I used to be making. I've come to accept that I won't "move up" or possibly even find equal work to what I used to do. My unemployment benefits ran out months ago, and when I did receive them, trust me, they weren't remotely close to enough to get by on. I have student loans that have to be repaid for a college degree that isn't doing me any good.
In other words, I'm the perfect example of what Occupy Wall Street is complaining about.
And yet, I haven't joined their ranks.
And I don't intend to either. I've seen real poverty and I have seen what a truly corrupt government can do. I 100% endorse the OWS right to assemble and right to free speech. Jump on your bandwagon and complain away! You have that right, and I won't stop you!
But I don't support their cause. I'm a big believer in letting people make mistakes and letting them fail. Personally, I am on the fence about the corporate bailouts. I think we needed the bailouts because the rest of the country (namely regular every day citizens) were not prepared to handle the fall out. However, that isn't the same as saying I approve of how the directors of such companies handled the funds. If anything, I think we've all learned that we can't trust certain CEOs. So what should we do about it?
Well, personally, instead of boycotting Wall St, I'm going to go buy stock in different companies. Why? Because it makes me a shareholder with voting power. I'm going to vote out the boards of directors and CEOs when I get my chance. Also, I'm going to invest my own money in the companies I want to see succeed, rather than let the government bail them out.
And I am going to keep working and finding ways to make money. I don't expect a hand out. I've had to accept more charity over the past 2 years than I am comfortable with. And I'm not demanding more. Instead, I'm going to keep finding small odd jobs, and I'm going to do side work, and I'm going to keep working my butt off to pay my own bills. I'm going to keep contributing to the American economy, and I'm going to say my prayers every night and thank God that I'm an American.
I'm going to be grateful that I'm not unemployed in Cambodia and living in a flooded out shack. I'm going to be grateful for the police officers who protect us. I'm going to be grateful to live in a country where complaining about the police won't land me in jail. I'm going to be grateful to live in a country that has money in the ATM. I'm going to be grateful that even though I may not agree with the bias of the newspapers, that I know the papers will continue to be printed tomorrow and that no one will disappear for writing a letter to the editor. I'm going to be grateful that I have the right to drive. And I'm going to be grateful that my government loaned me the money to attend a state college, and that even though I'm slow to pay that government back, that they haven't whipped me, punished me, or thrown me in jail.
No, Occupy Wall Street, I won't be joining your ranks. I'm proud to be an American. And I'm proud to live in a country where you and I can be the same but different.