After finishing the first four weeks of traveling I have had a little bit of time and interest in writing up something reflective about culture in the places I have been thus far. I planned the first five weeks of my trip to ease me into traveling and living in increasingly foreign places. Hawaii is in the tropics but the culture is entirely American, with perhaps a more relaxed attitude toward going about day-to-day routines. There are many ethnic groups in Honolulu, mostly Asian. It’s a major immigration destination for Fillipinos, Indonesians, Samoans and other Pacific islanders, popular real estate for Japanese businessmen, and a top rated tourism hub besides. While I enjoyed my stay with my grandparents and appreciated the opportunity to relax in the tropics, seeing other places is the main priority of my trip and I was quickly ready to move on.

Fiji has many similarities to Hawaii: hot, humid, green tropical settings and beautiful beaches, easy-going social atmosphere, English speaking population. Fiji, like the next four countries I would be heading to as well as Sri Lanka and India later on, is a member of the British Commonwealth. Having been once a part of the British empire, they borrow a lot of cultural and political ideas from the UK. Fiji has been independent since 1970 and other than a few military coups it has remained peaceful. The country is not rich and the cities are not big; it’s mostly a country made up of small communities and villages. Things are very cheap here, like food from the grocery stores, housing, basic amenities like that. Technology is much more expensive than in the States. Dial-up internet in a village home costs around $80/month. The feel of the country is like Western meets Islander in a very comfortable way. In Fijian, hello is “bula” and Fijians say it loudly and often with big smiles, especially to tourists. Staying in a village with native Fijians gave me a lot of insight to the family-value relaxed-living tourism-based tropical nation, much more so than if I had stayed in a hostel by the beach.

New Zealand and Australia are a step away from Islander culture and back firmly toward Western. Both countries were started by British subjects, Australia in the 1700s by convicts and New Zealand in the 1800s by retired soldiers. Although the atmosphere in both places is extremely friendly and open-minded, there are many suble differences between the two. For one, the accents are slightly different; Kiwis sound as if they are trying to keep their mouths closed and Ozzies sound like they’re speaking out of the sides of their mouths, but both clearly have a British origin. New Zealand takes great pride in its aboriginal roots. The Maori people were subjected to the same harsh realities as any colonized nation but the government is taking steps to return large amounts of land and offers social programs for the Maori people. From what I understand Australia takes pride in its aboriginal cultures as well but the people and communities themselves have never made much of a comeback as a whole.

In both countries there is a great deal of tourism. I am sure to be biased since when I wasn’t staying with couchsurfers I was in backpackers hostels, but I was not prepared for how large and pervasive the backpacking community is in these countries. Each year hundreds of thousands of backpackers, mostly European but also plenty of Canadians and the occasional American, descend on the region to travel up or down the east coast of Australia, from Melbourne along the Gold coast to Cairns, and all over New Zealand’s green backcountry. There are more people in Sydney than in all of New Zealand, which contributed to the perception I had during my trip that New Zealand was a place for exloring the natural beauties of the land while the east coast of Australia is a better place to sight-see man-made marvels and party with other young people. This can make it a rather expensive place to be a tourist. Many European backpackers actually come to work in these places and get what they call a work holiday visa. The pay is much better in NZ than in the States for young people, and it’s even better in Australia, something like $16AUD/hr for minimum wage.

I noticed that all of these countries are much more globally-minded than the US. Despite being far away from the rest of the world much as the US is, conversation and social thought focuses on international issues to a much greater extent than in the more isolationist-minded States. One of the biggest things I took away from traveling in the South Pacifc was that each of these places emphasizes the importance of enjoying yourself, which means different things in different places. The culture I experienced has been almost entirely Western but with differing amounts of Islander mentality. I know the Western part will evaporate after I leave Singapore. Singapore is called the “Gateway to Asia” because it blends Western and Asian cultures so well; it’s almost like an introductory course on experiencing life in Asia. But now I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll write more about Singapore and the Orient soon.