Trapped in Paradise – the DC Edition

Part travel blog, part philosophical musings. All tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness.


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End of an Era

Emotions are sure to run high today, on what’s probably the most unconventional of Inauguration Days we’ve ever had. There will be plenty of time to focus on the incoming administration, but today I want to pay homage to someone I see as being one of the great leaders of our time.

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I first came across Barack Obama during the 2006 midterm election cycle, after listening to the many enigmatic speeches he gave calling for change in the midst of the current administration. I had paid very little attention to politics at that time because for me, there was no point – I was a young military officer, sworn to follow the Commander in Chief no matter who held the title, and if I thought the president at the time was not doing a good job, there was no way I could say it without jeopardizing my career. I was also surrounded by hard-core conservatives who constantly reminded me that I, a woman, didn’t belong in Naval Aviation despite my excellent performance in flight school, and that I should be grateful that we were fighting two wars because otherwise there would be no need for “extras” in the military. Speaking up against these accusations only brought me more trouble, so I kept my mouth shut.

Politics was synonymous with hopelessness, so best not to even pay attention.

But then here comes this charismatic young senator from Illinois, with messages of unity and change for the better. His speeches seemed to focus not so much on dragging the opposition down, but uniting for a common good in order to change our country for the better. I remember reading the transcript of one of his speeches and feeling both jaded from my experiences, while hopeful for the future he spoke of. Was this guy too idealistic? Yeah, probably. But I’m idealistic too, and I know the pain of holding on to that spark of hope even while the rest of the world seems to be telling you to knock it off. Perhaps idealism is what we needed.

Still skeptical, I continued to follow his career with interest, and was thrilled to see that a year later, he had thrown his name into the ring to become President of the United States. His message of hope resonated so strongly with me, and even though I couldn’t openly support him, I did as much as I could behind the scenes: I donated, and I spread the word about him to my family so that they could openly support him. During my squadron’s deployment to Iraq in 2008, I stood up to one of my coworkers who’d made a show of opening up others’ absentee ballots for the primary elections, and harassing those who’d requested a Democratic ballot. And on Election Day, still in Iraq, I very nearly cried tears of joy when I heard that Obama had won, even while my coworkers were making racist “Obama bin Laden” jokes and criticizing the “stupid young people” who had voted for him. There may have been people saying horrible things in our country, many of them serving in the military alongside me, but on that day, the good people won.

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Eight years later, while I know that President Obama’s tenure was far from perfect, and while there were many decisions he made that I didn’t agree with, I still have nothing but the utmost respect for him. For he is one of those rarest of politicians: one who still cares first and foremost about his people, even while serving in the most powerful office in the world. Whatever missteps he took, I feel that he never lost sight of his end goal, which was taking care of all of us. And when he did hit a home run, it was huge – marriage equality, saving the US auto industry, bringing us back after the recession, all the work he did to fight climate change, just to name a few. Sure, maybe his presidency didn’t accomplish all of the changes we had hoped for. But I believed in his vision for America, and I believe in it still.

So, to President Barack Obama, I want to say thank you. Throughout the years I’ve found you to be such an inspiration, to continue to do good no matter what obstacles others put in your way, to stay focused on helping those who need you, and to never stop fighting.

This country isn’t perfect, but it’s ours. It belongs to all of its citizens, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. This is one of the places where a person born into poverty can succeed, provided that they have access to the right tools and the knowledge of how to use them. In spite of what others say, our individual differences make us stronger, not weaker. Is America already great? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But this is our home, and if home isn’t worth fighting for, what is?

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It is with pride that I return home to participate in the Women’s March on Washington tomorrow, before I head back to Tel Aviv to finish my semester abroad. The expenses and the weekend suffering from jet lag will be worth it. Twelve years ago when I joined the military, I swore an oath to defend against enemies foreign and domestic, and I still hold onto that oath even though I’m no longer a naval officer. Lending my voice to the thousands of others who will also be marching will be something I know I can be proud of, doing my small part to ensure that hope and equality don’t go by the wayside again.


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End of summer recap

Now that the busy summer is over, I’ve decided to take a look at my list of goals from a few months ago and see how I did. This should be hilarious.

  1. Find a place to do volunteer work on the weekends.
  2. Keep up with the blog. Maybe start a travel-specific blog.
  3. Sign up for a summer class, such as programming or something tech-related.

So these first three were a colossal failure. When I wrote this, I hadn’t picked up my second internship yet, so I had at least half of every workday to play around with. The second job took up the rest of that time (which I didn’t mind, because it was more experience for the resume) so that’s a resounding NO on the volunteer work this year.

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Yeah, yeah – rub in the guilt, why don’t you. GFY, random inspirational quote generator!

 

The blog – I really, really wanted to launch a new blog before the summer was done, especially since I’ll be living abroad during the next few months. I almost did it today, but then discovered that the WordPress hosting sites (at least the few that I looked at) were a little pricey after the initial “beginner” discounts ran out. Oh, to be rich. I admit that I haven’t looked around much yet, so the research continues.

4. Attempt to learn Hebrew in preparation for studying abroad.

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Learning by osmosis.

Let’s just say… this is a work in progress. “תהיה בריא” or something like that.

5. Consider freelance writing to earn extra cash.

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YES!! I can actually eat three meals today!

See #1-3. Again with wanting to start an official travel blog; I still have this dream of writing for a living, although I have yet to figure out how on earth to incorporate that into a business career. I wanted to use the not-yet-existing blog to get my name out there to start freelancing, but that may also have to wait.

6. Work on writing something for fun, taking one of the many novels I have mulling around in my head and actually putting it on paper.

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My attempt at being a novelist – 13 measly pages to show for it.

I tried! I started off so well, setting a goal at the beginning of the summer to write at least three pages a day (my pace during that one time I participated in NaNoWriMo.) But the two internships got the best of me, and what free time I had went toward the Hebrew studies. Oof. I’m really not doing very well at prioritizing my personal goals, am I?

7. Get my health back on track (which took a serious backseat in May, between finals and my health scare in China.)

 

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Yeah, this happened.

Okay, this one I accomplished! I started following a plant-based diet during the week (being very careful not to say “vegan,” lest I anger the hard-core vegans and end up with angry comments on my blog) and cutting out alcohol except during the weekends. This actually went a long way with helping me get healthy again. It’s not that I want to give up meat and dairy completely (hence the break on the weekends) but I wanted to eat more vegetables and experiment with healthier recipes. By the time Friday rolls around each week, I feel awesome! (I also really, really want an egg and cheese breakfast quesadilla with a bloody mary.) Between the new-and-improved diet and getting back into a workout routine, I found myself a few pounds lighter by summer’s end. Yes! Health was my priority, but if I don’t look like a complete cow by the time I go to Israel, I’m happy with that too.

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Those morning runs in the heat and humidity of Washington DC were tough, but the view made it a little more tolerable.

 

So what’s next (besides figuring out how to finally start a travel blog)? Well, school started for everyone but me. Since the school year at Tel Aviv University, where I’m doing my semester abroad, doesn’t start until late October, I’ve got some extra time on my hands. I’m taking advantage of it as best I can (especially since I won’t get a winter break – the Israelis only take off one day for Hanukkah!) so it’s off to the west coast to visit friends and family. And then… back to Asia!

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Glorious Hong Kong!

Yes, I’m taking the very scenic route to Israel. Two of my classmates are studying abroad In Hong Kong, so I’m going to visit them for a few days. I’m excited – Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities, and it’s been years since I’ve had the opportunity to visit. Also, I should probably a custom suit made (since I’m supposed to be a serious business professional now, so I should at least attempt to look the part.)


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Happy Olympics Day!

I’ve written before about how much I love the Olympics, though I have to admit it’s a little harder to get excited this time around thanks to the doping scandals, deadly viruses, and well, everything else going on in Brazil. That being said, the long-awaited event is finally here, the Opening Ceremony is tonight, and the athletes who have been training their whole lives for the Olympics (well, the ones who decided to risk infection) are going to show the world what they’re made of. Come on, who can’t get excited about that?

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Gold medals won by feats of strength, or by pure chance… eh, who cares. Get it, Australia!

Thanks to a brief interlude between the end of my summer internship and the first day of school, this is the first time in many years that I’ll actually have time to watch the Olympics for more than a passing moment, so I’m extra excited. The only thing is, my roommate and I don’t have cable so I was anticipating spending a lot of time at the sports bar down the street to get Olympics my fix. Not like that’s a bad thing, but sometimes I just want to watch the morning’s volleyball match in my pajamas with a cup of coffee, you know?

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Or water polo. Everyone loves water polo in HD.

However, something I just discovered yesterday is that NBC is offering free streaming of the games to U.S. military members and their families. Great news for people like me who are too cheap for cable!
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If you’re affiliated with the military, all you have to do is go to the military exchange’s website and create an account, then go to the NBC Olympics site and choose “Exchange” as your provider. Voila! Now you can watch the games from the comfort of your home, and shop for ugly clothes and Motrin the cure-all drug (which, according to your corpsman, can treat everything from back pain to amputations.)

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You might be a veteran if…

I also heard that the Olympics will be streamed on YouTube via a bunch of internet stars, including a guy who got famous by playing frisbee. (Clearly I’ve been doing this whole “being an adult” thing all wrong.) Either way, there should be plenty of ways to watch all the events, so let the games begin!

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And let’s hope that they turn out better than everyone is expecting them to.


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Going “natural” and eschewing social media

I recently came back from a three-week long trip to Asia: an R&R visit to Cambodia followed by a consulting project in China for my grad school program. The China project involved a photo contest between my group and the four other groups from my class who were in similar projects around the world. The rules were simple: we posted our best business and tourist photos on Instagram and Facebook, and the group with the most collective “likes” won.

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Oh, Kim. You really are what America is all about now, aren’t you?

Now, I’m a bit older than most of my classmates, and as a result social media isn’t as integrated into my life as it is for them. But on this trip, I found myself striving to keep up with them, which would have been tolerable if it had been just about taking pictures of vistas or ancient buildings. See, I like doing that anyway.

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Aren’t flowers and temples nice?

But for the younger women in particular, it became a contest about who could post the best photos of themselves, and what was supposed to be a silly, fun event somehow turned into a beauty contest. Suddenly I was worried about lighting, my posing, how I looked, if my smile was just right or if I looked thin enough. I was more stressed out about the photo contest than I was about my actual school project!

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Yeah baby, you’re a TIGER!! Work that giant castle door!

And the funny thing was, I used to admire the pictures of these girls that I would see on Facebook. They were really good at the whole self-branding strategy, I remember thinking, and that I should ask them for pointers as I embarked on my new career in business. But seeing that strategy in action – watching them wander off from our tour group to take seductive pictures on the Great Wall, or wake up at 6am to take photos by the hotel pool while I was waking up to go to the gym, well… it was kind of ridiculous. Is that really how the kids go on vacation these days? How can you enjoy yourself when all you’re focused on is how you look in that next Instagram post?

It’s silly, and I found myself starting to emulate them. I was posting so many pictures of myself online in an effort to keep up, more than I think I’ve ever posted for any one trip. And the worst part was that it depressed me to realize that I wasn’t getting nearly as many likes on my photos (presumably because I don’t have as many connections on social media, but it made me wonder if there was something wrong with me.)

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Nope, nothing wrong with preferring “goofy” photos over “sexy.” Giant lobsters need love, too!

So after I got back to DC, I decided to take a break from social media, deleting the Facebook app from my phone for a little bit. In a way, I’m going back to being natural (as per today’s Daily Prompt theme) and focusing on what’s important to me: my friends, my work, my writing. In other words, everything but how skinny I do or don’t look in some silly social media selfies.


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Social media apps + boredom = you don’t want to know

Oh the life of an intern.
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I hadn’t had to do an internship as an undergrad since I was in ROTC, so this is the first time I’ve had to live the life of the inexperienced intern. It hasn’t been bad so far. Because this is also my first civilian job since the retail jobs I’d worked in high school and college, it’s definitely been an eye-opening experience.

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In addition to learning about the world of tech consulting, I’ve also gotten good at making coffee and crawling in the ceiling to install phone cables.

My one complaint is that I do wish I were in a different city. As the theme of the blog would suggest, I’m not altogether happy in DC, and it’s even worse now that many of my classmates are out of town. I’m a bit bored during the week, which has the potential to lead me into trouble.

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This is what happens when you search “bored on the internet” on Google Images

I mentioned before that I had downloaded WeChat while I was in China. I had done it only because we were told to by our professor, and I had initially only planned to use it during our trip and then delete if afterward. However, since it was the only way to keep in touch with the university students I had met, I decided to leave the app on my phone.

It’s actually pretty cool – China’s government blocks almost all of the social media apps that the rest of the world uses, so WeChat has evolved to take the place of WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and in certain countries can be used to make financial transactions. People in China use it more than text messaging, and during our consulting project with the nanotechnology company we learned that the sales associates conduct all of their business on WeChat. Plus, the chat feature enables you to download these silly animated characters that Chuck and I used to great effect.

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On one of those nights when I was feeling my age (i.e. “I’m so glad I no longer act like a perpetual teenager.”)

That black cat (“LuoXiaoHei”) is totally how I feel on the inside.

One evening when I was bored (after work, don’t worry) I decided to check out some of WeChat’s more social features. There’s a “Message in a Bottle” game where you can write anything you want, stick it in a virtual bottle, and throw it into the virtual ocean for someone to pick up. You can also go looking for bottles that other people have thrown, and either respond to their message or throw it back. The idea of meeting strangers on the web has always made me nervous, so I like this feature since it lets you read what others have written without actually having to talk to them (unless you want to; I usually don’t so I always throw the bottles back.) Plus, it amuses me to have my silly haikus floating around in cyberspace for anyone to pick up and ask “Um, WTF is this person on?!”
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I also tried out the “Shake” feature, which connects you to people around the world by shaking your phone. The app will look for others who are shaking at the same time, and give you the option to message them. Again, I never interacted with anyone because I was only doing this out of curiosity, but it was interesting to see where other users are located. (Mostly Turkey, Italy, and the Middle East. I had no idea that this app was so widespread outside of China.) Also, I don’t know if it’s because it has a smaller user base or if the users are more mature in general, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that I got almost no raunchy messages. It was nice to not have to root through a bunch of garbage.

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Aint nobody got time for this. (Photo credit: Buzzfeed)

My big mistake came when I clicked on “People Nearby,” and unbeknownst to me it sent out my location, allowing anyone within a certain radius to see me and message me. And boy, did I get messages.

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So many bros, so little time.

I know I’ve lamented getting old a few times, but this is an instance where I’m happy about it. I am so, so grateful that my dating years were done before Tinder and other apps became the norm, because I’ve heard enough online dating horror stories from my friends that make me so glad that I never had to go through that. For one, the idea of taking multiple bathroom selfies to find the perfect profile picture annoys me, so I don’t think I would have inspired people to swipe right. For another, having to weed through the troves of dudebros who are trying to send you naked pictures and what-not would just get on my nerves.

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No thanks, I’ll just stick with my cats.

Anyway, before I realized what I had done, I had basically broadcast to every guy in the DC metro area my profile picture (that isn’t a bathroom selfie, thank you) and was suddenly inundated with requests to connect from allll the bros. Gross. And while most gave up after an ignored message or three, there were a couple that just didn’t get it.

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Dense like a ton of bricks

Let me say this again – I am so glad that I never tried to use an app to find a date. Younger millennials, I feel for you.


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Post-vacation blues

…And just like that, it’s over.

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It’s always such a letdown coming home after a long trip, even if that trip involved a ton of work and not as much leisure time as you would have liked. We’ve been working toward the China trip since the beginning of the year, so now that it’s finally over, I kind of don’t know what to do with myself. Yeah, I still need to write about Beijing (which was a BLAST) but now that the summer break has finally begun I need to finally figure out what I’m doing for the next few months.

On my short list of things to do:

  1. Get an internship
  2. Get caught up on Game of Thrones
  3. Go grocery shopping

Okay, not necessarily in that order. Obviously GOT was first, because everyone and their mom was posting spoilers on social media! I was logging on to Facebook just long enough to post pictures from China (and therefore letting my family know I was still alive without having to actually call home) and trying to close the screen before I could see anyone else’s updates, and I was still able to piece together what had happened to Hodor. Ugh, the internet annoys me sometimes.

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Even in a communist country where the government censors the internet!

On the internship piece, good news! After all my struggles over the semester, I was finally able to secure something right after I returned from China. I was really worried about this, since I had been getting requests for interviews while I was abroad, but thanks to China’s strict government regulation of their internet, my connectivity was intermittent at best. Using a VPN helped (I had fairly good luck with ExpressVPN, utilizing their 30-day free trial period) but it still wasn’t 100% reliable. Therefore, I had lost out on a few opportunities and there was nothing I could do about it.

Thankfully, on my last night in Shanghai, I was able to schedule an interview with a local start-up for after I got back into DC. The interview went well, and the next day I was told I had the job. Oh THANK GOD. Sitting under the cloud of impending unemployment was not a fun experience, especially since they’re always telling MBAs that if you don’t get an internship, your prospects for employment after graduation are next to nothing.

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MBA Class of 2017

So with 2/3 of my short list taken care of (I still need to go grocery shopping, don’t judge me) I can at last focus on the long list:

  1. Find a place to do volunteer work on the weekends
  2. Keep up with the blog. Maybe start a travel-specific blog.
  3. Sign up for a summer class, such as programming or something tech related
  4. Attempt to learn Hebrew in preparation for studying abroad next semester
  5. Consider freelance writing to earn extra cash
  6. Work on writing something for fun, taking one of the many novels I have mulling around in my head and actually putting it on paper
  7. Get my health back on track (it took a serious backseat during the last month of school)

#7 actually needed to be higher on the list, since I’m pretty sure I had an allergic reaction to something in the food in Changsha. I never did figure out what it was, only that my hands and feet swelled up to the point where I couldn’t wear jewelry or some of the shoes that I brought, and my face was the size of a melon. I didn’t realize how bad it was until a friend had posted on Facebook two pictures back-to-back: one was on our first site visit in Shanghai, at the beginning of our trip; the other on our last day in Changsha after we gave our final presentations. In the first picture, I still have cheekbones. In the second, I look like I’d been stung in the face by about 50 bees.

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I went looking for a stock photo of a swollen face after an allergic reaction and now I’m scarred for life. So instead of sharing the pain, here’s a stock photo of a fat kitten.

If I ever figure out what it was, I’ll let you know. There were so many strange things we ate over there that I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to figure it out. Oh well. The only thing I can do now is continue to detox and work toward getting back in fighting shape.

Anyway, it’s no accident that writing is involved in 3 of the 7 items on my list. I’ve been wanting to get back into it – really get back into it – for a long time now. We shall see if I can actually follow though with it this time…


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Honoring the Fallen

On this Memorial Day, I wanted to share some thoughts I’d written last year during my solo Eurotrip when I had visited the D-Day sites in Normandy.

I’ve been seeing quite a few posts on social media by my fellow military veterans of the “no one appreciates Memorial Day!” variety, complaining bitterly that everyone only cares about the three-day weekend and grilling hot dogs while completely forgetting why this holiday weekend exists in the first place. I have to respectfully disagree on a couple of points: one, I sincerely doubt that most civilians have “forgotten” our lost loved ones. And two, I don’t think anyone is being disrespectful by enjoying the weekend.

I could go on a tangent about some of the things that I’ve seen veterans post, but I’ll save the rant for another day. This weekend isn’t about me, or about any of us really. Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring those who gave their lives so that we could live free. The “honoring” part is where I think many have a misunderstanding – are we not honoring our comrades in arms by enjoying the weekend? Would they really prefer that we wallow in bitterness and sorrow the whole time, or would they want us to enjoy the freedom that they fought and died for? Yes, I understand that it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. I’ve lost friends in the Iraq War, too. However, I still believe that I would fall in the second category, and I’d like to think that I’m not alone.

When I visited Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery last year, I remember having the same sentiment, in particular after visiting the museum and listening to one of the commentaries by a father of one of the D-Day soldiers:

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From The Skeptical Sailor: Eurotrip, part seven: A real champagne room, a pilgrimage, and more cathedrals

I had wondered why the D-Day sights in Normandy were not among many of the “day trips from Paris” lists I’ve seen. After making the trip myself, I now know why – it’s not easy, nor is it for the casual tourist. Of course I’m glad I went, but I’d been determined to go to the cemetery and was not leaving France until I did…

Anyway, the memorial is beautiful and really well done, and the cemetery speaks for itself.

Over 9,000 soldiers are buried in the American Cemetery at Normandy

Over 9,000 soldiers are buried in the American Cemetery at Normandy

I shouldn’t have even hesitated to pay the money. It’s really indescribable to stand in a place where so many young men gave their lives in the name of freedom.

On the hills overlooking the beaches, where the Allied soldiers landed so long ago.

On the hills overlooking the beaches, where the Allied soldiers landed so long ago.

Something else that stuck out for me was a father of one of the soldiers from the video they showed in the museum – he mentioned something I had often wondered, how the families of the dead felt about their loved ones being laid to rest so far from home. He’d said that it actually gave him pride to know that his son was buried in the very land he help to save. I love that sentiment, and thought of it again when we were walking on the beach. One of the other Americans with us mentioned that people go sunbathing on Normandy beach during the summer, and how he felt it was a little strange and borderline offensive. I see his point, but after watching the father in the video I also see the flip side: that all these brave men died so that people can enjoy the peace and beauty of Normandy today. By enjoying the beautiful beaches, we are honoring their memory.

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach

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Anyway, thank you for reading. This is something that’s been weighing on me for the past few days, for it bothers me to see other veterans trying to shame people for enjoying the weekend. No one is being disrespectful; we all know what this holiday is for, and the sacrifices that our loved ones made so that we can live in the freedom they fought for. We honor the fallen by shedding tears as well as by living in joy.

For anyone who wants to read the full post (which also includes descriptions of my day trips to Reims, Bayeux, Rouen and the Veuve Clicquot Champagne winery) it’s here on my old blog.