Some Reflections

Travel is always educational–a way to challenge the “givens” of our own daily surroundings and routines by engaging with different cultures and environments. As our recent, extended trip has concluded, it seems appropriate to share some reflections.

  • In both Australia and New Zealand, we were struck by–and impressed with–the meticulous maintenance of the infrastructure and especially of the public spaces. In New Zealand, especially, the parks and beaches  weren’t only well maintained, they were numerous–and I found it particularly interesting that they routinely included public toilets–also clean and well maintained. Not “pay for use” facilities, as we’ve seen elsewhere, but conveniences open to the general public.

The emphasis on –and care for–free publicly available amenities really impressed me; it suggests a culture far more focused on community than we in the U.S. are accustomed to.

  • A couple of conversations–one with a passenger on our ship, and one with a New Zealand friend of my youngest son–gave me an insight into the contending reactions to lockdowns that we saw during the Covid pandemic. The first exchange occurred when I was in a line with another passenger; he said he lived in Florida, and (intemperate as it was) I asked him how he viewed Florida’s governor. His response was that DeSantis had “handled” the pandemic exceptionally well.  I restrained myself from remarking that the data showed a rather different result. It may have been less annoying for the Florida citizens who survived; but thanks to DeSantis’ dismissal o medical science, a significantly larger percentage of Florida residents died than died elsewhere.

The conversation with my son’s friend was a bit different. I remarked how much I  admired Jacinda Ardern, the former PM. She laughed and told me that Ardern was far more popular internationally than in New Zealand, and that she would not have been re-elected because of widespread disapproval of the way she’d handled the Covid pandemic–that New Zealanders overwhelmingly thought the lockdowns were too stringent, lasted too long, and were damaging to the economy.

The data confirms that Ardern’s management–a management consistent with medical advice– saved many lives. But those measures did depress the economy.

Both discussions illuminated something I’ve had great difficulty understanding: why did so many people resent the rules and restrictions meant to protect them from illness and death? I guess if you owned a small business or restaurant and the rules caused it to tank, recognizing that your pain had saved the lives of people you don’t know is asking a lot. Still…

  • Humans on planet Earth occupy vastly different natural, economic and cultural environments. The contrast between the native populations with whom we interacted in French Polynesia and Tonga, for example, and those who live in Australia and New Zealand was striking, and confirmed to me how much of individual well-being is  shaped by the institutions of a given culture and society.

I think particularly of the young man who drove us around in Uturoa. He spoke at least two languages–his own and English (and perhaps others), and shared that in addition to providing tours to visitors, he had established a small business exporting fruit and vegetables. He was clearly ambitious, hard-working and entrepreneurial, but it was also clear that what he will be able to accomplish will be limited by the extent of local dependence on tourism, by  the widespread, obvious poverty, and by the lack of a supportive economic infrastructure.

  • On a cruise and far from home, the news takes on a more detached quality. As we have heard heart-rending stories about the hostages, about Gaza and the continued travesty in Ukraine, and been treated to daily reports chronicling the chaos, stupidity and mean-spirited activity that passes for politics in the U.S. these days, it’s hard not to be depressed about the world our grandchildren will have to negotiate. I alternate between hoping that we can emerge from all the craziness and despairing that humanity is headed for another Dark Ages…

Most of all, a trip of this sort reminds me how very fortunate my husband and I have been. We may have missed Thanksgiving with our extended family, but my husband and I absolutely haven’t forgotten to be grateful for having been born in a time and at a place that allowed us to fashion a good life. I just want that same good life for my grandchildren– and for everyone else’s children and grandchildren.

A ship took us to an incredibly beautiful part of the world. Next year, I hope Americans will vote to keep another ship– the ship of state– in the hands of an equally sane, competent captain who can steer us into calmer waters.


  1. Thanks you, Sheila, for your sane and compassionate view of our world and the people in it.

  2. There are no Democrats to run the municiplsities in New Zealand?
    Just sayin we are a mixture of failed and well run locales of government.

  3. Interesting post. Hubby and I considered AU and NZ to retire but I felt it was too far from family and home. After living abroad and through the pandemic, I am looking forward to our return to the states in ‘24.

    Thank you for sharing the photos on your Facebook too. More please!

  4. We traveled to NZ about 8 years ago and didn’t have to endure the politics of COVID. The resentment and backwardness toward avoiding a communicable disease is very retro. We survived as a species by doing the things that defeated mass extinctions among the human population. I used to teach that concept in my science classes, but they weren’t in Florida.

    Yes, when a citizenry is community conscious as their first priority, life is better. In the U.S., we’ve become a nation of self-serving, snarling me-firsters to the point where we threaten our very existence. This is the end game (from my book) for capitalism left to its own devices.

  5. Thanks for reminding us –
    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” ~ Mark Twain, ‘The Innocents Abroad’.

  6. The whole rugged individualism thing is a lie and a blight. The thought that this country was not built by communities is stupid. The idea was brought to us by people that separated us from each other and then us from our money by promoting consumerism to fill the void left by loss of community.

  7. I am glad that you, and Mr. Sheila, have returned safely.
    You have presented a good reason for the study of sociology, just what the Florida legislature has
    debated removing from our college curriculum. I’m not sure what that debate decided, as I have not the patience to follow the idiocy in Tallahassee. But, even the concept of debating such a thing underlines that idiocy.
    The myth of rugged individualism that Melinda refers to has helped to create the focus, here, of “Me first!” which plays into the ignoring of any bigger picture, in people’s perspective.
    this is the opposite of the Bantu point of view that reads “I am, because we are,” something much more sane.

  8. Welcome home Sheila. I loved Sydney and met some amazing people when I was in Australia—some of the coolest from New Zealand. We are working hard on our launch of Hoosiers for Democracy Substack publication and have some great models of civic engagement from RUBI and Red, Wine and Blue and order groups fired up to confront the MAGA movement. I was touched by your reflections

  9. Chafing against restrictions is understandable. The burdens of the restrictions are tangible and felt by basically everyone. The benefits are more abstract and hardly felt by anyone. Most people don’t notice the dog that didn’t bark.

  10. Sheila – poetic and thoughtful summary. We did a 49 day land AU/NZ trip nearly 10 years ago and noted a couple of other things not likely to have been experienced on a cruise around.

    In New Zealand, no doubt out of guilt over their treatment of the indigenous Maori, many road/street signs are in English and Maori.

    In Australia, at least back then, nearly everyone drove at or slightly above the speed limit. We saw no tailgating or reckless driving. We asked some folks about that and they said it was the “matey culture” – we are all mates and take care of each other. I have been wondering about that since…what happened here?

  11. Thank for your reflections on your trip. The comments from people from Florida and New Zealand are really interesting to me. In PM Ardern, we saw governance that considered the public good over the public’s pocketbook. In Gov. DeMented, we saw the opposite. Our beloved Ron is praised for not doing what’s necessary, while Ms. Ardern is reviled for doing what’s right. This is a perfect example of the tyranny of the majority.

  12. NZ is now run by the National Party, which sounds much like the Libertarian Party. If New Zealanders were upset about their “rights” during a pandemic being stepped on, this would make sense as a knee-jerk reaction. Ardern was extremely popular leading up to Covid.

  13. I visited Australia many moons ago on business and liked what I saw and heard from those descendants of criminals (criminals, that is, by the standards the English employed at the time while sending “indentured servants” to our shores. (Query as to whether the senders who wanted to reduce their jail expense should not have been the ones “sent” to the “colonies” – see the old film “Oliver!”). My wife and I later went to New Zealand and toured both islands. We were very impressed with the kiwis’ open and friendly chatter. One couple at a restaurant in Wellington invited us to dinner at their home the evening following. We went. Nice folks!

    I am glad Sheila is glad she visited New Zealand. They are nice folks indeed and the South Island has spectacular scenery available for both kiwis and tourists to eye, as well as the city of Christchurch, my favorite urban conclave of those in both islands.

    Travel is indeed broadening as different cultural experiences yield new perspectives on the human condition. My daughter and I are going to Antarctica via Buenos Aires a week from tomorrow, but other than a few scientific outposts, this fifth largest continent is uninhabited, so I don’t expect to learn much about the human condition from the penguins, seals and whales.

    As I noted here before, this visit will complete my continental bucket list, having visited all the others. If Sheila and Bob as retirees have not visited all the continents and have the time, I would recommend that they finish off such continental visitations, though perhaps Sheila’s broad perspectives on the human condition need no further broadening.

  14. Welcome home…thanks for sharing your insights. My husband and I are considering a similar cruise next year

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