Perspective is Everything

This is a re-written portion from the post Life, Lunacy, and Passion: 10 Things To Think About as You Wander Through Life.”

I want you to imagine something with me for a moment.

It’s okay, you do have a moment to spare, even if the to-do list in your mind starts screaming at you.

Imagine you’re at work and suddenly a translucent bubble gently floats past your eyes and settles right next to your keyboard (or frying pan, tractor, surgical device, baton, etc).

The bubble doesn’t burst; in fact, it appears to be robust and teaming with activity, and just…sits there.

Rather than going through your 170 emails after coming back from a weekend, you decide to take a closer look.

What you see makes you question your sanity.

In the bubble is a tiny world not unlike earth in a solar system also closely resembling ours, but instead of having eight (or nine, whatever), it has five planets and two suns. You look around to see if anyone else is seeing this but quickly go back to the bubble as it grows bigger and bigger. Suddenly everything is zoomed in and you can see what’s going on in the planet.

You are unable to pull your eyes away from the spectacular phenomenon in front of you. Beings that look like a cross between a human and a manatee are walking (and hopping) around. We’ll call them Humanatees.

You can see that they’re going about their lives in much the same way that humans on earth go about their lives; kind of in a state of terror or drunkenness, and sometimes with love and affection.

You quickly find that in this bubble there appear to be some major differences with regard to time; the Humanatees only have 1 day to live, which is 60 seconds in our time.

It is heartbreaking to see the beings born, grow old, and die within a minute’s time. What is even more heartbreaking is this: the beings mostly don’t even enjoy themselves. For most of the 60 seconds you witness the following:

The majority of the milliseconds are spent doing things for other Humanatees, the latter of which appears to own and govern most of the world’s riches.

It’s weird to you because they end up killing each other over the riches, which in all honesty just look like little plastic frisbees to you.

“Why would anyone in their right mind kill someone over a frisbee?” you wonder aloud to no-one in particular.

Some of the Humanatees put on smart robes and declare things about the meaning of life and act very important and ask for money to continue looking and acting important and providing Answers to Things.

Then others do the same, only they provide similar but different Answers to Things and wear robes that flow differently… and then…then they kill each other over differences in ideas.

You are astounded.

You start shouting at them “YOU ONLY HAVE 60 SECONDS TO LIVE…PLEASE STOP! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”

Some poor beings end their own lives at 20 seconds.

You can barely handle it, and start weeping uncontrollably because it’s all just so absurd.

After you compose yourself, take a sip of water, and continue to not look at your emails, you then go back to the bubble.

Unfortunately, you continued to be horrified, but not in the same shock and awe sort of way. You noticed that most of the Humanatees have a blinding obsession. It is the obsession of blending in and living life only as deemed appropriate by peers, parents, or those who wear robes and provide Answers to Things.

You also notice that a very very small percentage of Humanatees own 80–90% of the world’s wealth, AKA Plastic Frisbees. To you, you could see how absurd it was; 60 seconds and everyone is dead, so why the hoarding? Couldn’t they see how asinine it all was? Couldn’t they see that whatever power any of them felt they had was such a farcical delusion that it was beyond laughable?

It wasn’t all dismal, however.

There were some who seemed to go outside of the construct created, realizing that their lives were over really really quickly. Some decided that they would do whatever they had to in order to make the most of their 60 seconds and even help others out during their short lives. This was heartening to you, as bittersweet as it all still was.

Suddenly, as though the universe realized that something was happening that absolutely should not be happening, the bubble disappeared with a grand but mellifluous whoosh.

You sit. Stunned. You decide to leave for the day. You wonder where everyone else is but ultimately don’t care.

You decide that maybe the emails aren’t that important and that you’d rather enjoy the sunshine and time with your loved ones while you can…

Obviously, this is a loose analogy of how we behave during our own short time here. Consider how time itself is merely a construct, and that within this construct we are alive for a fraction of a fraction to the tenth power of it.

This is sobering, right?

It is not, I realize, a simple thing to just throw off all of the superfluous stuff that drives us. We have society at large, our DNA, our upbringing, our particular circumstances, heartbreak, death, war, poverty, riches, health, illness, etc.

The main point I want to get across here is that we should always strive to look at everything from a proper and healthy perspective. This means that no matter what you or I may be going through at the present moment, we can weigh it against this fact:

Someday, maybe soon, maybe later, you and I are going to die.

Let this one sink in. Breathe it in and let it resonate in your lungs. It can burn, but the high is worth it.

I like to make it a practice (mainly because my brain likes to take things way too far) to weigh circumstances, thoughts, emotions, hurt, pain, happiness, regret, anxiety, fear, and everything else against this absolute truth.

Once this is realized, it’s really important to BE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT and DO what we need to do in life so that we don’t end up on our respective 60th second wondering just why we didn’t even attempt to live the life we wanted to live.

I urge this gently with urgency to you, myself, and the Humanatees, just in case they exist somewhere in the universe.

Thank you for reading, and yes, you can check your email now…or not.


Let's Play: KKK vs. BLM!

I’m writing this as a response to a Facebook post thread, instead of going through the usual back and forth that no-one cares about, and where both parties only become more solidified in their views, right or wrong notwithstanding.

It’s a simple message for Sean Hannity and those who have bought into the asinine sentiment that Black Lives Matter is another hate group like the KKK.

I’ll elaborate on why this modality of thinking is pure illogical bullshit, but first, allow me to provide some additional context.

Though it has been canceled, in the wake of the Charlottesville catastrophe it was announced that there would be another white nationalist movement at Texas A&M, led by Richard Spencer. I posted something about going and protesting the neo-nazis on a couple of social media platforms, including one I don’t use much anymore. The lone response had me baffled and bemused.

"And let's not forget! FUCK BLACK LIVES MATTER HATE GROUP ALSO! Get rid of that grease stain on humanity while you are at it!”

It astounded me that one would immediately put BLM in the same category as the KKK. I chose the road of diplomacy in my response, though I was tempted just to eradicate the post as unadulterated white-privilege fear-based rhetoric fueled by the likes of Sean Hannity or Tomi Lahren.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is just that, but I grew up in the same town as this guy so wanted to find out more. My response:

"And why do you say that? It's obvious that there are still bigots who don't understand that people are still being treated unjustly based on the color of their skin. Is that group responsible for the deaths of many because they deem other races "subhuman?" Or...is it that you can't handle any other race demanding the same rights and treatment that white settlers (who almost killed off the entire indigenous people btw) get, and still get?”

The response that leads to me writing this article? This:

"Now don't get me wrong Jeremy. I think the kkk is a bunch of shit starting racist idiots! And "blm" is the exact same bunch of idiots. Does their cause really have any point? Besides violence? Do some people get treated different based on race? I believe they do. Is that fair? Nope! But this hatred all over the country is not going to fix a damn thing! We have got to come together as a nation to fix these problems. Not burning down your own town because of difference in opinion. I am far from a bigot just an average American who wants the good ole USA back.”

Now, I want to break this down line by line, but I think it’s important that we first establish a groundwork for what both groups have done and what their fundamental world views are. Let's play a game to compare the two organizations. 


Without further adieu, let’s play KKK vs. BLM!

We'll be judging based on 4 categories:

  1. History
  2. Fundamental Ideology
  3. Deaths Initiated 
  4. Effects on Society

Scores will be calculated based on the numbers negative 500 billion to 10.

Alright, starting with history, let's see how each contestant fares. 

Round 1: History

First up, the older white dude, aka the KKK. 

It was founded in 1866 by ex-confederate soldiers in Pulaski, Tennessee.

"Throughout its notorious history, factions of the secret fraternal organization have used acts of terrorism—including murder, lynching, arson, rape, and bombing—to oppose the granting of civil rights to African Americans.”

Taken from: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/united-states-and-canada/us-history/ku-klux-klan

Score: -500 billion. 

Now let's see what's up with the history of BLM.

Three black women (Alicia GarzaPatrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi) used the hashtag #blacklivesmatter as a response to the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen in Florida. "It was a response to the anti-Black racism that permeates our society and also, unfortunately, our movements.” http://blacklivesmatter.com/herstory/

The movement didn’t really gain momentum until August 14, when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed on Aug. 9, 2014, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

Score: 10

Well, that was a pretty brutal first round. I'm not sure how the KKK will recover from that one. But, it's still early in the game, so let's see how this all plays out. 

Round 2: Fundamental Ideology

KKK Ideology

You can get the full PDF of the Ideals of the Ku Klux Klan here, but I've summarized below. 

The Character of the Organization (written in 1920)

- It is a white man’s organization, exalting (yes, exalting), the caucasian race and teaching the doctrine of white supremacy. Evidently, they also thought that Christian civilization depended on the preservation of and building up of the white race.

- It’s a gentile organization (that is, not Jewish).

- They are an American organization and only allow native born American citizens (wait, why haven’t I heard of any Native American tribe members being in the KKK?).

They feel that the immigrants who were flooding in at the time were leaving unfavorable circumstances in their home countries (my god how could they!)

{Commentary from the judges} I'm sure glad the white man didn’t cross the pond because of unfavorable circumstances. Also, I’m so glad the white man didn’t come up with something like Manifest Destiny, wherein they believed God was handing them the land, and so raped and murdered and ravaged and then caged the real Natives before them. How bad would it be if the white man then desecrated a small part of the land that it had so generously apportioned to the native people by building an oil pipeline on it? Wow, that would’ve been…oh…oh shit, no, that all happened.

- They believed that the immigrants sought “nefarious ends.”

- It is a protestant organization, that is, membership is “restricted to those who accept the tenets of true Christianity, which is essentially Protestant.

- Big Surprise: They stand for white supremacy! They believe that distinction among the races is not accidental but designed.

- They believe that America must be kept a “WHITE MAN’S COUNTRY.” (Is this where the annoying use of all caps had its birthplace? Leave it up to the bigots to ruin everything.

- The republic was established by and for white men. Wait, what about that one statement we made on July 4 or whatever…"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

- They believed that if blacks (or anyone that wasn’t white) tried to have control of..anything? was an “invasion of our sacred constitutional prerogatives.” It goes on to say “Every effort to wrest from the White Man the control of this country must be resisted.” If you keep reading there are more things that make it feel as though someone is pounding a large hammer inside of your brain.

- Oh, is there something positive here on this next one? “We would not rob the colored population of their rights…”

Okay, what’s coming next…“but we demand that they respect the rights of the White Race in whose country they are permitted to reside.

- The purity of the white blood must be maintained. Crap, Obama you really screwed that one up. It then goes on to list biological and social problems that arise from not maintaining pure white blood, all of which I’m positive is backed by sound research and careful thought.

- “..the highest expression of life is in service and in sacrifice for that which is right” what an interesting way of showing it.

Score: -500 Billion

Ouch!

BLM Ideology

Taken From http://blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles/:

"Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression."

Diversity: We are committed to acknowledging, respecting and celebrating difference(s) and commonalities.

Restorative Justice: We are committed to collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension all people. As we forge our path, we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.

Unapologetically Black: We are unapologetically Black in our positioning. In affirming that Black Lives Matter, we need not qualify our position. To love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a necessary prerequisite for wanting the same for others.

Globalism: We see ourselves as part of the global Black family and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black folk who exist in different parts of the world

Black Women: We are committed to building a Black women affirming space free from sexism, misogyny, and male‐centeredness.

Collective Value: We are guided by the fact all Black lives, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status or location

Transgender Affirming: We are committed to embracing and making space for trans brothers and sisters to participate and lead. We are committed to being self-reflexive and doing the work required to dismantle cis-gender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.

Black Villages: We are committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, and especially “our” children to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable.

Empathy: We are committed to practicing empathy; we engage comrades with the intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.

Black Families: We are committed to making our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We are committed to dismantling the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” that require them to mother in private even as they participate in justice work.

Loving Engagement: We are committed to embodying and practicing justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.

Queer Affirming: We are committed to fostering a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking or, rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual unless s/he or they disclose otherwise.

Intergenerational: We are committed to fostering an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, shows up with capacity to lead and learn.

Score: 10

Well, let's just move on to the next category:

Round 3: The Number of Deaths Initiated

Klan: Unknown, but definitely in the thousands. 1 death happened August 12, 2017.

Score: -500 Billion (the judges have noted that this is a waste of time and can they just make a negative ∞ mark. In this case, we'll allow it!)

New Score: -∞

BLM: 0

Score: 10

Round 4: Effects on Society

KKK 

Terror

Murder

Extreme Racism

Rape

Detrimental Ideology

Maligned understanding of biological differences and similarities between races

An extraordinarily arrogant and hyperbolic view of racial supremacist based solely on skin color (this, in and of itself is enough to shatter a half-sane mind)

Voter repression

White mobs, white entitlement, white privilege,

Probably Trump, I dunno

Score: The judge's response: "Fuck this."

BLM

People are more aware of police brutality, especially in cases where officers (or white complected persons like George Zimmerman) are acquitted of murder charges.

For example, Rolling Stone did the following article: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/black-lives-matter-11-racist-police-killings-with-no-justice-served-20141204

Is it perfect? Hell no, and this article points out some things that are causes of concern: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/29/us/black-lives-matter-blowing-it/index.html

But it also points out some of the benefits to society it has provided. For example: "It has illuminated complex issues like mass incarceration and racial bias in policing for millions of white Americans."

Score: 8

Well, this was a blowout. 

BLM came out with the win at 38. 

The KKK came out somewhere around "500 billion miles below the furthest depths of hell," as one judge, Bob Hillback, put it. 


Do you have strong biases against BLM? Read this article.

Do you believe BLM promotes or supports violence? Read their guiding principles again. Additionally, in case you're brain is harkening to the day when police officers were murdered in Dallas, read this article:

What Black Lives Matter Really Says About Violence

Also, it's worth noting that even Mitt Romney sees through this ridiculous rhetoric, which a FB friend of mine so poignantly pointed out: 

This "Nazis and BLM are the same" crap is despicable. Nazis and the KKK were *founded* on white supremacy. BLM was founded on the belief that cops shoot a disproportionate number of black people. Any attempt to equate the two is an effort to justify white supremacy. If you do that, you support white supremacists. If you support white supremacists, you're a traitor.
Fly your confederate and nazi rags high so everyone knows who you are.
Romney: Bigots and those fighting hate are 'not the same'
Mitt Romney fired back at President Trump for saying “both sides” were responsible for violence at a white supremacist rally over the weekend, claiming that the two clashing groups were more “morally different universes.”“No, not…
THEHILL.COM

 


Now let’s address what was written on good ol’ FB: 

"And let's not forget! FUCK BLACK LIVES MATTER HATE GROUP ALSO! Get rid of that grease stain on humanity while you are at it!"

To compare a group that at its very core is dedicated to ending inequality, violence, sexism, etc with the KKK is beyond foolish. 

"Now don't get me wrong Jeremy. I think the kkk is a bunch of shit starting racist idiots! 

Good. If you thought they were good people I’d be very disappointed. 

And "blm" is the exact same bunch of idiots. 

Now I’m disappointed. No, they are not. Read http://blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles/. Have there been instances where some people who associate themselves with (or maybe don’t but society immediately associated them anyway) the movement have not handled things in the best way? Of course, we’re talking about a large number of people here. Remember, this whole movement started as a social protest against the senseless killing of an unarmed black teenager. The KKK BLATANTLY promotes white supremacy, inequality, and violence in the face of it. 

Does their cause really have any point? Besides violence? 

Yes. Read http://blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles/

Do some people get treated different based on race? I believe they do. Is that fair? Nope! 

Good, what should we do to remedy the situation?

But this hatred all over the country is not going to fix a damn thing! We have got to come together as a nation to fix these problems. 

Yes, yes we do. But the solution is not immediately condemning an organization that at its core was created to help us see things that are taking place that definitely does not keep us together. Moreover, to immediately condemn said organization with the same verve as condemning the KKK is quite honestly sickening. 

Not burning down your own town because of difference in opinion. 

I assume you’re referring to the BLM activists in France? Yes, that’s not the best way to go about things. But that doesn’t represent the movement as a whole. Does Donald Trump represent every ideal of the Republican Party? I sure as fuck hope not, because if that’s true, then this country has absolutely no hope.

Another thing to consider (in the case of the French incident), it wasn’t over a difference of opinion. It was over the death of an individual. I don’t know about you, but if someone I loved was killed I’d be a bit incensed as well. 

"I am far from a bigot just an average American who wants the good ole USA back.

Sigh. I believe you probably do want what is right for the country. I just ask that you think and do your research before spouting off things that in all honesty sound like they were spoon-fed from a Fox news correspondent. 

Another issue I have is with the sentiment “wants the good ole USA back.” It’s a sentiment similar to “Make America Great Again.” 

So…when was America great? 

Don’t get me wrong, America has done some great things, but equally, if not more important, is to remember how horrendously we’ve gotten things very very wrong. Enslavement, oppression, genocide, among other things. 

Did I forget to mention that as a race, black people have been enslaved, tortured, brutalized, victimized, raped, killed, and segregated for centuries? From 1555 to 1865 people, real people were forced into slavery. And it’s been an uphill battle ever since. 

When there is a resurgence of white supremacy, neo-nazism, etc, the last thing we need to be doing is immediately lumping in other organizations that have been built as a means to resist centuries of oppression and inequality. 

What we can do is try and understand what the true ailments in society are, and do our part, however small, to try and make things right. I say this as much to myself as to anyone. 

 

The L.A. Experiment Part One: The Real Crazy Eyes

Santa Monica Palm and beach

When I returned to the States, I could fit everything I owned into a regular sized car, which is exactly what I did after I bought an old used Audi for $2000.

Not my actual car, but this one is a beauty. 

Not my actual car, but this one is a beauty. 

I went from Austin to L.A., not to “make it big,” (there are already a few million or so trying to do that out there), but to experience it and see how I felt about it. 

It was my L.A. experiment, and I have a few thoughts that I want to throw into the black hole of cyberspace about it.  

First, I have to tell you about my encounter with the real-life Crazy Eyes (no, I didn't meet Uzo Aduba, I'm just talking about someone who was remarkably like her character in Orange is the New Black). 

Before you get distracted by the TV, a Kim Kardashian pop-up, your phone, or any other number of possible distractions pervasive in the 21st century, I’ll tell the story already. 

Long Beach

I had just gone for a run along the Long Beach boardwalk before the sun decided once again to dip into the horizon, and was walking back to my car. It was twilight outside, beautiful, and only slightly brisk. In other words, perfect SoCal weather. I walked by the small building that housed restroom facilities when I noticed a woman who had stopped right in front of a sign. 

The sign had pictures of various food items. . 

She stopped at the sign and started caressing it, almost as if she was trying to conjure real pieces of fruit or ice cream from the pictures on it. I have found that I can't produce food by trying to grab it from a wall, but feel free to give it a go if you'd like. 

I walked by thinking nothing of it except that the world she was in at the moment must be pretty damn interesting. I smiled inwardly and thought that was the last time I would see that person. 

I was wrong. 

Suddenly I was aware of someone behind me, of light footsteps on the sand-sprinkled concrete walkway. Then I was being spoken to. 

“There you are,” she said lightly, then added, “Hey Eminem.”

I didn’t respond. After traveling for a while, I got used to not replying to strangers because many times they did not have your best interests in mind. And strangers who call you Eminem, well, it's probably best just to mosey along. 

“Hey Brian, ain’t you gonna turn around yet?” she asked, still in a very controlled almost soothing hypnotic tone. 

I didn’t turn around. 

“Oh I see,” as though a light epiphany tapped her on the shoulder, “you ain’t listen to bitches. No. You listen to yourself.” 

Suddenly she’s walking alongside me, and once again she implores me to converse with her, alternately calling me Brian and Eminem.

I decided to acknowledge her, partly out of curiosity, another part out of courtesy that was instilled in me from growing up in Nebraska, and another because there is a special place in my heart for the outcasts of the world. 

So with utter grace and mellifluous tone, I ventured with “what’s up?”

While the door (in my mind at least) was only partially cracked open for conversation, she barged in like an old friend and sat down on the couch and started eating the chips and salsa with full possession of the remote.  

The very first thing uttered from her when face to face was: “I’m not trying to have sex with you or nothing,” and proceeds to grab her crotch. She then tells me that she’s the eastside of…well, I don’t know, but it was the eastside of something and flipped what appeared to be some cryptic entanglement of fingers. 

She then continued to talk to me as though I was a person named Brian, and she had some messages to be delivered to someone (a Joe maybe?) of “Hungry Jack Productions” or something like that. I couldn’t piece together what she was telling me, though I must admit that she was stating things very clearly, if not eloquently.

It was as though I was witnessing the social metamorphosis of a human life that would normally take place over a few years. She asked if we could shake hands.  

Against my better judgment (the wise part of my brain that gets the proverbial shaft half the time), I accepted, then quickly began to regret my decision to do so. It’s not because I didn’t know where the hell her hand had been, though I did end up wondering just where the hell that hand had been. 

We began shaking hands, and she became ecstatic. She exclaimed with what appeared to be the pure unadulterated joy that it was “so nice to meet you, Brian!” I told her my name was Jeremy, and that seemed to lift the spirit of the handshaking to new heights. It was as though she was ready to burst. She was jumping up and down, exclaiming how wonderful it was to meet me. She just held fast to my hand, shaking it and shaking it, in a world that looked like pure divine ecstasy. I don't know if this went on for 30 seconds or 30,000 years.

Then…without warning her brow went from high to low.

Her smile vanished. 

While still shaking my hand, she said in very even tones, and not without a razor’s edge of menace: “You’re mine now bitch.”

That was the catalyst I needed to end the conversation there and forever. I withdrew my hand and believe I said something like “Nope, I don’t think so,” or something to that effect, and walked in a direction that did not lead to where I parked my car. 

She then took on a thug-like juxtaposition that included a bit of Hollywood starlet, called me Bryan again, and told me to tell Jimmy that he still owed her for…well, for what I have no clue.   

Why Am I Writing About This? Isn't this just standard interaction with a homeless person in the vicinity of L.A.?

I had worked with the homeless before, many of whom suffer from some form of mental illness. I believe this individual was no different, so I was not mad. She lived in a different world, with different rules, and from what I could tell harmless. It did leave me with an odd feeling that lingered for a bit. There was the imaginative part of me that thought “what if she is a witch and her statement carries power to modify the world, including the power to make me her bitch?!”

Of course, that is only the comic book part of my mind, and the effect of her words on my comic book mind soon wore off.

I am grateful for the comic book part of my brain, the part that does not see anything as impossible. It is critical that this part of the brain is activated, challenged, and sharpened with seemingly odd circumstances.

She was a blessing disguised as a very high and mentally aberrant individual who had a confused but overall good heart. Of course, I could be wrong. She may have been a sociopath, or an actress practicing for a part, or just really super high. 

In any case, at that time she was living on the outside of societal norms, and prompted this post. I say, bless the outcasts. May they always disrupt our “normal” lives that are often just as deluded as theirs. 

Life, Lunacy, and Passion: 10 Things To Think About as You Wander Through Life

"Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have." – Eckhart Tolle in "The Power of Now"

One: Thoughts on Developing a Sense of Perspective

sense of perspective

I want you to imagine something with me for a moment. Imagine you're at work and suddenly a translucent bubble gently floats past your eyes and settles right next to your keyboard. The bubble doesn't burst; in fact it appears to be kind of robust and teaming with activity.

It just so happens that your eccentric co-worker John had brought in an expensive electron microscope the other day, so rather than go through a slew of boring emails you decide to check it out with the microscope.

What you see makes you question your sanity. It’s a tiny world not unlike earth in a solar system with beings that more or less resemble humans. You are unable to pull your eyes away from this spectacular phenomenon. You quickly find that in this bubble there appear to be some major differences with regard to time; people only have 1 day to live, which is 60 seconds in our time. It is heartbreaking to see the beings born, grow old, and die within a minute’s time. What is even more heartbreaking is this: the beings don’t even enjoy themselves. For most of the 60 seconds you witness the following:

  • The majority of the milliseconds are spent doing things for other beings who appear to be trying to accumulate vast amounts of something that looks a lot like miniature plastic frisbees. With their stock of frisbees they would buy oblong concave huts made out of something resembling steel and get people to do things they didn’t want to do for mere fractions of frisbees. Evidently someone somewhere decided that the plastic frisbee-like mineral was of substantial value, and many of these beings wore it around their many necks or wrists. 
  • The beings who had the most seemed to be the most…depressed, though they had so many plastic frisbees. 
  • Some poor beings ended their own lives at 20 seconds
  • Many beings were killed fighting over what appeared to be plastic frisbees, or even just ideas. 

To you as an outsider, you simply cannot believe just how insanely these beings are behaving. You want to shout out “DON’T YOU KNOW YOU ONLY HAVE 60 SECONDS TO LIVE?!” Most of the beings had very little plastic frisbees, and spent most of their 60 seconds working for tiny tiny crumbles of plastic frisbees that the plastic frisbee hoarders had. All of the plastic frisbee hoarders lived in incredibly ornate huts, and had mountains of plastic frisbee that was very tightly watched over and added to. 

How sad for both the plastic frisbee hoarders and those with hardly any. There wasn’t a whole lot of difference on the surface regarding how sad the whole situation was. But there were some who seemed to go outside of the construct created. Some decided that they would do whatever the fuck they had to do in order to make the most of their 60 seconds. It all happened rapidly, but you could see that when the beings who consciously made these decisions experienced some tumult for a few milliseconds or even a full couple of seconds, but when the big 60 popped up they appeared decidedly more content, more accepting. Maybe not exactly happy, but not sad either. 


Obviously, this is a loose analogy of how we behave during our own short time here. Consider how time itself is merely a construct, and that within this construct we are alive for a fraction of a fraction to the tenth power of it. This is sobering; at least it should be. 

Do you realize how short your life is in comparison to time itself? I recommend checking out the WaitButWhy article regarding time: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/08/putting-time-in-perspective.html

It is not, I realize, a simple thing to just throw off all of the superfluous shit that drives us. We have society at large, our DNA, our upbringing, our particular circumstances, heartbreak, death, war, poverty, riches, health, illness, etc. 

The main point I want to get across here is that you should always strive to look at everything from a proper perspective. This means that no matter what you may be going through at the present moment, weigh it against this fact:

  • Someday, maybe soon, maybe later, you are going to die.

Let this one sink in. Breathe it in and let it resonate in your lungs. It can burn, but the high is worth it. 

I mean knowing fully that you are going to die someday, and that it could be today, soon, a long time from now, or somewhere in between. Weigh it against the knowledge that we are on a tiny tiny tiny blue dot of a planet

Let me repeat this. 

Realize fully that you are going to die someday, and you have absolutely no idea when this is going to happen. It could happen before you finish reading this post, though of course, I hope not. I want you to live a long fulfilling life, with the caveat that you’re a decent human being. I may be dead as you read this. Do you understand that you are going to die someday? Don’t go past that. I don’t care what you believe what happens after that. I’m talking about your time on this plane of existence completely ending. 

Always weigh circumstances, thoughts, emotions, hurt, pain, happiness, regret, anxiety, fear, and everything against this absolute truth. 

This does not give you license to go and mess other people’s lives up. This should act as a catalyst for you forming your own license to fight for and do what you want to do in this life, so long as you don’t mess with other people. This should encourage you to get out of a shitty relationship that you don’t want to be in but are too afraid to end it because you may offend or hurt the other person. That needs to stop. Now. 

This also does not mean you should always be in a state of bliss. That is simply not how life works. Let thoughts and emotions ebb and flow; just don't let yourself get caught up in them. 

Does your job make you feel like you’re just fuel for a corporate furnace? Say goodbye to it if you can. If you can't, then it will be important to keep perspective and work toward making the necessary changes to get out of it. Yes, we need to make money, but how much? Some will have to fight harder than others in the game of money-making. My hat is off to you. I definitely realize it’s that much more difficult if you have a family. 


Are you going through something right now? 

At the risk of sounding like a metaphysical shaman, try this exercise: 

Imagine yourself separated floating quickly but comfortably away from earth. 

Don’t worry about being able to breathe and all of that. You’re only going there in your mind. Start from right above your town, to the Earth's atmosphere, and to the moon and beyond. You want to be able to see the earth, but from a great distance. Now look. Use an ultra-powerful telescope to see all of the things going on

Look at everyone going about their tasks on earth.

See our bickering and loving and hating and everything in between from afar. Lives starting, in motion, and ending. Stressors originating solely within our psyches and serving no purpose whatsoever.  We are an enemy to ourselves all too often; what happens when we become allies to ourselves? What happens when we finally start standing the fuck up and pushing past all the thorny bullshit we throw in front of our path? Oh and the thorny shit we throw in our paths doesn’t land on solid ground. It lands on other thorny shit thrown there by others and society at large. 

Stop adding to that pile. Stop making your feet bleed more than they already are.

Accept who you are. Accept the present moment and continue moving ahead doing your best in this life. Wake up


Two: The Importance of Being the True Self and Living Your Own Life, Not Someone Else’s

authenticity be true to self

No-one else lives your life. This is an obvious de-facto statement, right? Why do our actions often suggest otherwise? Why do we continue to act as though others have a say in how we choose to live the only short life we have? 

From the very far outside looking in, this doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s pretty crazy and reminds me a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. 

So why do we do this? It is because we desperately want to fit in, be liked, and be accepted by “the tribe.” Things are more comfortable doing it this way because it is an obsolete but very prominent part of our DNA. Many many years ago if you weren’t accepted by the tribe, then you were thrown out of the tribe, and you died. That’s why it made sense back then, but it makes absolutely no sense today. Now there are so many different world views and “tribes” out there that we end up trying to fit into not just one but multiple groups of thought. This means it doesn’t really matter a whole lot which group we associate ourselves with, as long as it isn’t some nefarious sociopath-think group. Let’s go a step further: what if you decided you didn't care about pleasing any group of people, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not likely that you would get killed for it. Unless you happen to be fighting hard for a highly charged political or social cause, then there’s not much to worry about. At the end of time, who really gives a sh*t about how well you played along with your tribe’s worldview? 

In fact, the things that people really give a sh*t about are the actions you’ve taken that don’t fit into the common mold or the established path. 

I recommend reading the following blog post to better understand why we let the words and opinions of others sway us in various directions: http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/06/taming-mammoth-let-peoples-opinions-run-life.html 

What is the true self?  For one, it is multifaceted. You are not binary computer code; that is, you are not wholly one thing or another. We are all multifaceted. Forget the black-and-white box that Hollywood sometimes portrays, because it is a lie. It is no more real than Puff the Magic Dragon. 

It is always tempting to want what others have, and not just material possessions. Maybe it's the charisma that your favorite actor exudes, or maybe it's the calm and eloquent way that a friend tells stories in front of thousands of people. 

It's time to stop trying to be someone else. Sure, sometimes it's good to emulate behaviors in others that you look up to, but don't get too caught up in it. Cultivate you.

It is tempting to give in and let society, family, and friends dictate how you should live your life because it makes it easy. It makes things comfortable.

No matter where you are in life, I think it's important that we try and stop making decisions based on how we think others may perceive us. No-one else lives your life, so be sure you’re the one behind the steering wheel. As you contemplate all of this, remember that your desire for comfort and safety can be the biggest obstacle in getting what you want out of life. 

I believe fully that it’s vital to contemplate how you want to be remembered when you die. Go all the way to your deathbed self and think about what would upset you most, or cause the most intense feelings of wistful but resigned regret. Is the only thing stopping you from living and doing what you want to do fear? You know what you have to do then. 


Three: Dealing with Psychological Fears (Past, Present, and Future)

Whatever stressors, fears, regrets, feelings of remorse, feelings of dread, or any other rumination you may indulge in should go head to head against a couple things:

  1. The present moment
  2. The knowledge that everything passes, including your life 

Maybe you believe you can’t forgive yourself, somehow “ruined everything,” can’t see any hope in the midst of anxiety and fear, can’t let go of how someone else hurt you, can’t let go of how you hurt someone else, etc. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time to realize a few things, and put a few other things into action. 

First, realize that the present moment is all you ever have. You don’t have the past. It’s forever gone, so every second, minute or hour living in remorse over the past is wasted time. I don’t care what it is you’ve done in the past. You need to face the utter reality of the situation, forgive yourself, and move on (I say this as much to myself as to anyone). If you need to make amends, then make amends. If it’s something truly messed up, then turn yourself in. 

This is all more aimed at those who struggle with unnecessary guilt over innocuous things. I have OCD, so am somewhat of an expert in feeling remorse over things that I fear may have happened because of me, or things that could possibly have happened because of something I did. 

What you think of as the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind, of a former Now. When you remember the past, you reactivate a memory trace — and you do so now. The future is an imagined Now, a projection of the mind. When the future comes, it comes as the Now. When you think about the future, you do it now. Past and future obviously have no reality of their own. Just as the moon has no light of its own, but can only reflect the light of the sun, so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power, and reality of the eternal present. Their reality is “borrowed” from the Now.

Tolle, Eckhart (2010-10-06). The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (p. 50). New World Library. Kindle Edition. 


Four: Dealing with Mistakes, or Failure

dealing with failure and mistakes

Even if you have recently fallen, have recently picked up that bottle after years of never drinking a drop, hooked up with someone that you'd be embarrassed to tell your best friend about, took a drag or smoked a pack of death sticks, or reached again for a needle or a flame to bring chemicals to boil; you can get the fuck up and try again, and this time with renewed veracity. 

Maybe it’s nothing so extravagant. Maybe you just behaved in a way that you deem a bit below your ideal, or maybe you let your pride get in the way of things, your ego. For some, this can feel just as intense as doing something much further away from our ideal self-vision. 

One thing among many that I’ve learned from Pema Chodron’s book “The Wisdom of No Escape”  is that we need to be less aggressive toward ourselves when judging our past actions. No past actions really need to be analyzed to any great extent, unless there is a lesson to be learned and applied now or later. Rumination should not even be a part of our vocabulary, at least regarding past events, because again, it is a complete waste of time. While in the throes of intense feeling and being encumbered with a waterfall of negative thoughts being generated, it may feel like the only damn thing we can do is ruminate. 

But that shit never works. It never helps. It doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help anyone else. In fact, it only makes life suck more. You don’t have to make life suck more. Are thoughts of inadequacy or pomposity infiltrating your brain? Let them be, but don’t indulge them. Just view them like a passing train. It’s a loud-ass train I know, but you don’t have to get on it. If it’s a sense of arrogance, be aware of it. You don’t have to fight it, or try and remind yourself of some horrible thing you’ve done so that you can get back to a median level, or even worse, to a more comfortable and known inferior position. 

You are inferior to no-one. 

No one can always stand tall. Great nations fall; powerful suns die. Don't waste vital time ruminating on a perceived "failure to live up to the ideal self" vision. 

Powerful, amazing, life changing people fuckup. One difference between greatness and mediocrity is how we deal with fucking up. 

When I was 28 I fucked up, but I did not handle it the way a great man would, I'm slightly embarrassed to say. 

Face your demons. No matter what kind of pain it causes, face them head on. Trying to run or avoid them only imbues them with power. 

Are you disappointed that you let yourself be puppet-mastered a bit, or peer pressured even as an adult? That shit never ends, it just changes color. How you have allowed yourself to be influenced in the past does not have to dictate how you act right now. 

You are here now. When the future comes, be "here" and act in accordance with your true self.

Realizing DEEPLY that NOW is EVERYTHING. It is all we ever have. And if it sucks a bit with emotional turmoil, so be it, but don't let it be because of something in the past. If condemning thoughts about the past come to mind, observe but don’t give them the power they want. 

Yes, sometimes things that have happened in the past have been causes of unwanted circumstances today. But all you have to do is deal with the here and now. 

Don't believe me? Unless you've found a way to bend time in order for you to touch and manipulate the past, something that already is, then you cannot argue. 

You have right now.

There are times when my mind, for whatever reason, focuses heavily on the past, especially concerning derogatory memories (good memories of the past come up too, or just memories that don't trigger much emotion, but those never stand out as an issue). 

Observe the mind. See how it goes out of control. Accept the emotions that accompany the dark thoughts. It doesn't mean you agree or disagree with anything. When people say things like "I choose to be happy," I think it’s patronizing and condescending to the majority of the population who cannot merely "be happy." Happiness is fleeting. Inner contentment and acceptance of what is going on without judgment is something that does not have to be fleeting.  

Always aspire to act in accordance with the ideal self, but forgive if you know (or perceive through your cloudy mental lens) that you have fallen short. If you have made a mistake then muster every ounce of your courage to face the present moment, then embrace it fully and without reservation. There is no other way to live. Is your life different now because of it? So be it. It is different. Accept it as it is, and change what you can change. 

Be true to self. Respect the self. Take care of the body, mind, and soul. This means living in the present, even if you’ve slipped up recently. I’ve found http://www.freeaffirmations.org/ to be a great resource for finding affirmations to go through that can help with these things.  


Five: Thoughts on Collective Humanity

humanity

Everyone has a certain level of stupidity. Humans are not infallible or supremely intelligent. Many people act purely on the whims of their fragile ego. One only needs to watch the 2016 American presidential debates to see what I’m talking about. 

Hubris, greed, lack of empathy, blatant stupidity, and violent attachment to ideologies are all pitfalls of humanity. As my friend put it, “we have room for improvement.” We mask our weaknesses and ignorance with pride, tribalism, facades, microcosmic knowledge, and absolute statements. Sometimes strength means being able to say "I do not know," or to express self-doubt.

We build ourselves up too much and take ourselves way too seriously, especially considering the short amount of time we have here. I think we need an evolution in consciousness, the way we think, and the way in which we conduct ourselves with one another. 


Six: Thoughts on Social Justice

justice scale

There is too much injustice in the world for me to really get into it here, so I'll narrow the focus a bit.

I'm not perfect in this area, and honestly feel like I'm way too self-centered most of the time. However, one day in Chiang Mai I went for one of my runs, which always resulted in a lot of sweat; enough to make my shoes slosh because they would become saturated with it. Anyway, one day I remember seeing a kid who had a condition that precluded him from being able to walk properly. There was a gate that he was just not going to be able to scale, so a local and I ran over and helped the dude out.  

I tell you this not to toot my own horn, but to say that on that day one thing really infiltrated my brain: we should not ever fuck with the downtrodden, with those "less fortunate," with children, or with anyone perceived to be "weaker" because of a disability or socio-economic status. For example, if you knew someone who said it made them feel powerful and good to beat up homeless kids in 3rd world nations, how would that make you feel and what actions would it prompt? I realize that we all can't be out there to try and "save the world." I'm just saying if something like this crosses our path, we had better damn well take action. 

It goes without saying that you should practice kindness and give respect to everyone around you (unless a reason is given not to), but is it not doubly obvious in certain circumstances?


Seven: Thoughts on Why I Traveled for Almost a Year

travel reasons to

Why did I quit my job, sell everything, and go on a trip around the world for many months?  For one, I realized that there were a lot of things that needed to be jettisoned from the way I thought and acted. This included working jobs I didn’t care about only for a paycheck, doing things for fear of displeasing others or staying stagnant out of fear and addiction to comfort. On this trip, I came to realize the beauty of being human and truly standing for ourselves and for others. 


Eight: Thoughts on Religion

religion picture

I’m not religious. I do not bow to Confucius, Siddhartha Guatama, Joseph Smith, Jesus, Muhammad, etc. All made pertinent marks on the world, but it is my belief that they were fellow humans who walked the earth. I do not mean any offense to the devout who believe otherwise; I’m just stating what I believe to be true. That said, I don’t claim to know everything about this immense universe, including metaphysical matters. If there is a "God,” a higher power, etc., then it is my belief that this “entity,” for lack of a better word, is nothing like we have written about or made up. I was once a devout Christian so know that what I write here will be rejected because it doesn’t line up with established sacred text. I would have done the same. 

Anyway, I don’t honestly know how we as humans could behold in our very limited minds the immensity of an entity responsible for creating the known universe. 

We don’t even understand our own minds yet. 

I also don’t judge those who follow a religion, as long as the religion in question doesn’t advocate:

  • Violence
  • Prejudice and Discrimination
  • “Truths” that have quite obviously been refuted as being completely incorrect. For example, the belief that the sun revolved around the earth, and the like. 

Believe what you want to believe if it brings fulfillment, joy, and love for those around you. I still sometimes call out to the universe at large for help. Maybe it’s silly, and then, maybe it isn’t.


Nine: The Importance of Health

wellness image

If you don’t have your health, then it can make it very difficult to do what you want in life. We are obviously carbon-based biological finite beings, and things get screwed up. Cells multiply uncontrollably, hearts give out, accidents happen. As much as we can, I think it’s worth it to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

I remember once talking with a fellow co-worker who imbibed in fast food every day. He made a curious statement, which was: “at least I’ll be happier than you eating what I want to eat.”

There are a couple of things wrong with that statement. For one, objectively speaking I was a much happier person overall (as far as I could tell). Second, healthy food can taste fantastic. Third, eating better can have a positive influence on the way we think and act. 

I'm not trying to be judgmental here. In fact, I’ve been down that road. Not only did I get addicted to fast food, at one point I was drinking like a fish and downing 2000+ plus calorie meals in the middle of the night. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be healthy at this point in time. I’m downright grateful for it. 

I’m not talking about cutting out everything and living the life of an aesthetic. I just truly believe that imbibing in a healthier lifestyle can make us more alert, happy, and emotionally stable. 

Another aspect of health is emotional and mental well being. I think meditation, yoga, socializing, and practicing gratitude can be life-changing. I admit that I don’t meditate or do yoga nearly enough, but I know the benefits are very real. 


Ten: Achieving Greatness, and Knowing What It Means For You

stay focused

I’m fairly certain that achieving greatness can only be done if you’re ready to eschew comfort and security. I have yet to experience my own version of greatness on the scale I want, so take all of this how you want. If someone you admire is doing something that appears to be easy yet they are incredibly successful, then I’d wager that they’ve put in a ridiculous amount of effort and self-sacrifice to get there. There are some exceptions to this of course. 

What is greatness, or success, or whatever you want to call it? To me, it is following your true self, knowing what you want, and going after it without reservation. It could be just being the best parent you can possibly be, or maybe it’s to become a novelist or to get a stable job in the corporate world. It means working your ass off. It means staying incredibly focused. 

The hard part is usually determining what you really want. It can be really really hard to first know what it is that you want, then after realizing it, coming to terms with the reality of it. Most of us don’t know what we want, or we want too many things. In my case, I love the thought of many many things. I love the thought of running a podcast like Radiolab, or of being an actor in a cool movie despite having zero acting experience or becoming a neuroscientist. 

The Importance of Visualization

Just as successful people visualize themselves achieving whatever it is they are out to accomplish, all of us should do the same. The athlete visualizes him or herself getting to the finish line first, scoring over and over again, or pulling off an incredibly complex skateboarding trick. But they don’t just visualize the end-goal; they visualize the work involved to get to that point. The novelist visualizes publishing a book as well as the work they need to put in to make it happen. 


These are some of my thoughts, and hopefully, some of them resonated with you. Feel free to agree or disagree. Thanks again for reading, especially to those of you who read all the way to the end of this long post. 

Traveling is Weird Sometimes - The Funny, the Odd, the WTF

Over the course of about 11 months, I’ve had the opportunity to visit roughly 15 countries. I don’t say this to brag, I say this to give you an idea of just how many different types of people I’ve come across in this short period of time, and how many times I’ve had the privilege of going through various airport security checks. This equates to a whole lot of unexpected weird shit, especially when you’re dealing with me. 

I recently removed the portion about Costa Rica. Maybe someday I'll setup a "B-Side Stories" blog about some of the more crazy things that transpire in my life. 

Brazil

We were on the beach in Uba Tuba, Brazil, and we had a whole lot of candles that needed to be lit. The sky was turning darker and the clouds leered at us threatening to shed some extra water weight on us. 

We were there for my friends’ re-wedding; they were already married but were doing the ceremony in Brazil for her family and friends.

Nothing too crazy happened up to that point, save for Jaidev and Mikey almost drowning out in the great zealous South Atlantic. Jaidev truly thought it just might be his last day on earth before getting pulled in by someone. We were staying in a house owned by an ex-Playboy model, and it was a sexy place, if I may use that adjective to describe a place. There was a pool in the middle of the house, one outside the house, a sauna, and a bunch of awesome Brazilians. 

Make no doubt about it, those Brazilian friends and family will always hold a special place in my heart. And not just because I got really drunk the night of the wedding with them and proclaimed myself to be an honorary Brazilian. They’re just incredibly accepting. Sometimes I wonder if by some freak genetic anomaly someone slipped 

My friends, perhaps in a moment of insanity, decided that I was to be the one to officiate the re-wedding. I had never done anything like that, had no spiritual license obtained from the archangel Gabriel, and wasn’t in the slightest bit religious. It didn’t matter, I was in. 

The candles just would not light, and we had a small number of matches. The ceremony was going to start soon, the candles wanted to stay in the nether-world, and my friend was wearing shorts and a tank top (a singlet for you international readers). His grandmother approached, and with a voice bordering on anguish pleaded that he at least put on a shirt that didn’t look like it had been worn by a trucker for 5 days on a cross-country trip. 

He refused. 

Soon the bride would be approaching in a resplendent white dress, and people were worried. A breeze subtly snuck in and blew out a candle, and a drop or two of rain started to appear on all of our faces like the sky was playing a game of gentle paintball without the paint. We scrambled to get the music going, which was by the group Explosions in the Sky. She appeared from out of the foliage at the outskirts of the beach, and upon seeing her husband, paused with a look of utter bemusement on her face. 

If only the photographer could have captured that moment. 

She was a tough woman, however, and continued down the sand aisle that we had created. The ceremony was to begin, but before it got completely underway, Josh ripped off his pants and shirt. 

No, he didn’t suddenly go crazy and decide to join a nudist colony on a remote Micronesian island. 

He had on underneath his shorts a tuxedo speedo. A friend handed over a nice pair of shorts and a crisp white dress shirt for him to don. It was all planned. After much laughing and sighs of relief louder than the rumbling of a volcano from those present, the ceremony went on. 

It was beautiful, and at the end, we all took a shot of tequila which was the start to a pretty amazing night in at an ex-Playboy model’s house in Uba Tuba, Brazil. 

Argentina

My notable experience in Argentina is outlined here.

Philippines

Taxi Drivers:

There are a few things that really stand out about the Philippines. The beautiful islands, the warm people, the old expats with young Filipinas, Justin Bieber, and crazy taxi drivers. Oh, and the fact that tampons aren’t sold here, divorce quite literally doesn’t exist (at least in a semantic sense), and like the rest of SE Asia, there is skin whitening cream in every 7-11. Yes, there are myriad 7-11’s in the Philippines and other SE Asian countries. 

Following are a couple of real scenarios. The first one happened in Manila, and the second in Cebu. 

Scenario 1: 

I was trying to get to Paco Park. The driver that pulled up at the ATM kiosk I had just failed to use wanted to charge me 100 dollars to go a few kilometers (this was after I had already gotten in). I admit I made the mistake of asking him if he took U.S. currency. In response to his request for $100 I started laughing, thinking that he had to be joking. 

I told him fuck no, and he kept going down, all the way to 10 or 20 dollars. I wasn't even negotiating, I just kept saying no...to everything. Believe me, that dude wanted to get the Benjamins that I didn't have real bad. 

All the while he was pulling away at his cigarette that dangled from yellowish brown lips in front of a few brown rusty looking teeth. He kept leaning in as if proximity was going to somehow sway me one way or the other. After about 1 minute I told him to stop and let me off.

He didn't stop.

Instead, he offered to bring me to a whore. I told him to stop again.

He still failed to stop the car.

He wanted to take me to some bars. I told him to stop and let me out.

He. Kept. Driving.

By that point, I was pissed off and told him to stop the fucking car and let me out. I gave the guy a dollar. 

He was incredulous at getting only a dollar. Whatever.

 

Scenario 2: 

I had just gotten off the ferry that took me from Bohol to Cebu and needed to get a ride to my hotel. After negotiating a price or somehow convincing the guy to use his meter, the taxi ride began. For the 349th time in a span of a month, the opening question was: “where are you from?”

So I told him I was American, and then the fun began. 

“Good, Americans don’t smell.”

“Huh?” I murmured. 

He then proceeded to go into a politically incorrect diatribe that would make Donald Trump blush. 

“The Africans and Chinese smell.”

“What the…” I stammered

Unfettered, he continued on. “It’s because of the spices. Seriously, ask any taxi driver and they’ll tell you. They smell. Americans and Canadians don’t smell, so I was glad to know you were American.”

“Well,” I carefully worked out, “that’s something I’ve never heard in my entire life.”

He then flipped the topic completely to gender, misogamy, and some other crazy shit that I’ve forgotten. This was one conversation that I wish I had recorded but didn’t. “Most of the guys are gays here, that’s why there are so many women. Filipino women will stay at home and take care of the house for you. American women don’t do that. They work right? It’s better having a Filipino woman.”

I had to put on my figurative liberal hat and make it known that the idea of women having to stay home and not work is a social construct and that women can do whatever the fuck they want. Of course, I didn’t say it in so many words. The guy was stalwart in his opinions, like Ron Burgundy in Anchorman. It was just damn interesting. He dropped me off, and I got my supposedly non-smelling ass in the hotel. 

Additional Quick Notables

  • Divorce doesn’t technically exist, and tampons aren’t sold there. 
  • What is sold there is the ever-ubiquitous whitening cream, which I soon found is everywhere in SE Asia. 
  • To board the ferry that goes from Tagbilaran to Cebu you have to go through 3 ticket booth lines, qualifying it as the most inefficient ticketing system in the history of the world. I still love the Philippines. 
  • You can ride a bike suspended 1 mile in the air on cables on the island Bohol. 

Bali, Indonesia

  • I got a tattoo from a tattoo artist without a sketch. I just let him roll. 
  • When I went to Padang Padang beach, it was beautiful but pretty disgusting. While swimming out it felt like I was literally swimming through a landfill. You could probably find things you may need like I don’t know, toothpaste, used underwear, half used aerosol cans, oil filters, every candy wrapper known to man and alien, etc. 
  • The Indonesian authorities will kill you if you try and smuggle drugs: http://mashable.com/2015/04/28/indonesia-bali-nine-australians/#NZ2hZAWZ5kq4

New Zealand

I don’t really have any weird stories from NZ. Even if something weird happened it was overshadowed by the sheer beauty of that place. 

Australia

I wrote about some interesting times in Australia in the following posts:

Vietnam

Same with Vietnam; here are a couple of posts:

Malaysia

Nothing too crazy here, though I did hang around with one of the craziest people I’ve ever met one night. Maybe I’ll tell you all about it sometime. 

Thailand

Thailand is awesome and depending on where you go, can be very chill or extraordinarily crazy. Phuket can be like a joint, a 5th of whiskey, and a couple lines of cocaine all rolled into one adventure (I’m being figurative here people). On the flip side, Koh Lanta or Chiang Mai can be chill like a bourgeois white picket fence. 

Cambodia

Nothing really notable here with regard to WTF moments. 

Hong Kong

There were two things about Hong Kong that threw me for a loop:

  • I saw a number of old dudes walking around shirtless, one of which was giving a haircut. It was just interesting seeing this very old and dude with a buddha belly giving someone a haircut without a shirt on. I mean, I just can’t imagine it would be very comfortable for the person getting the haircut. 
  • It’s a beautiful place with a lot of cool trails and beaches. 

Lombok, Indonesia

I love Lombok. When I first arrived I hired a driver to take me to the place I was staying on the southern end of the island. The following conversation ensued, which will be Lombok #1:

Driver: “Oh you’re from America?”

Me: “Yes.”

Driver: “Is it true that you have a lot of aliens there?”

Me: “You mean like immigrants…people who are in the United States either legally or illegally?”

Driver: “No, I mean aliens…from outer space.”

Me: “…oh…no, we don’t. That’s just stuff on the television that isn’t true.”

Driver: “Oh.”

Lombok #2 is the best quote from a German friend of mine who said this while we were trekking up Mount Rinjani:

“Who needs sex when you have tea with sugar?”

Lombok #3:

Ben Affleck is posing as a German for an up-and-coming role. Well, not really (that I know of). It’s just that this dude I met staying at the same place as I looked exactly like Ben Affleck. 

Singapore

Gum is illegal.

Germany

There was nothing too unexpected here, but there are a few things worth mentioning. 

1. In Munich, there are many naked people who sunbathe along the river Isar.

2. A friend of mine from Munich took me to a spot where we could climb and get the best possible view of the Neuschwanstein castle. Evidently, it was “illegal” for us to be there, and there were about a million signs saying the equivalent of “stay the fuck out.”

On the way up and down, my friend made some pretty hilarious comments. Here they are: 

Friend: “You know what I mean when I say "dangerous" right? It means if you fall you'll probably die.”

Most of that trail fell under the "dangerous" designation

Friend: “If you see a lot of rocks falling, just run to the side. I'm serious. I have no idea what may happen with all of this loose rock. It's not a real trail. 

It's very illegal for us to be here.”

Vienna, Austria

A discussion with some very awesome dudes from South Korea at a hostel:

Awesome dudes from S. Korea, talking about the general height difference between Koreans and a lot of people in Austria:

“Maybe we're shorter because gravity is stronger where we're at. 

Me:

“I’m pretty sure that's not scientifically sound.”

So there you have it; a taste of the interesting I experienced while on my global journey. 

Siem Reap is Tyler Durden and I'm Peter Gibbons

Siem Reap, Cambodia is a living dichotomy. It’s like a mind split in two, the differences breathtaking. OK, maybe not breathtaking, but at least worth noting. I have to admit I wasn't in the best state of mind when I visited this city, so like every other post by anyone, it will only provide my limited 4-day mentally questionable perspective (as a side note I plan on writing a short article on how perspective influences life and travel).

So there I was... one moment I'm playing shuttlecock with some awesome locals after a ridiculous rain and sweat-soaking run, the next I'm dealing with:

The Tuk-Tuk Mafia

"Tuk-tuk?" 
"Tuk-tuk sir?"
"Where you from"
"Where you going?"
"What you looking for"
"You want girl?"

This happens every 2-5 seconds while walking the streets of Siem Reap. As a lone traveler, I'm especially singled out as a target (at least it feels that way). I may as well make a costume with the body portion a dollar sign, and the headpiece with a loudspeaker attached that yells "please assault me with a barrage of goods and services, for it is pleasing!"

Can someone please make a cartoon drawing of that costume? I'm just not good with that stuff. 

WTF is a tuk-tuk you may be wondering? It's a motorcycle with a carriage. Or, a taxi. 

It's almost as though the very act of walking is some sort of atrocious social faux-pa, or maybe gravity is considered to be a nefarious entity to engage in battle with. Whatever the case, many have a hard time accepting the fact that one would rather walk than ride in their chariots of immaculate motorcycle emissions. 

Even on the way to Angkor Wat the tuk-tuk mafia tried to get money from me. I rented a bicycle to bike out to the temples. For some reason, this was considered to be some sort of feat that only Olympic athletes should attempt. I was wished good luck a number of times, as though there was a good possibility that I just wouldn't make it. 

From my hotel, it's only 4.2 miles. That's 6.76 kilometers.

On the way, there is a "ticket checkpoint," where people wearing purple shirts blow a whistle at you and tell you to stop (while those on or in motor vehicles whizz past). 

Officer: "You have a ticket?"
Me: "No, do I need one?"
Officer: "Yes, you need to go all the back to town. Leave bike here and tuk-tuk will take you."
Me: "No, I'll ride my bike. It's not far."
Officer: "No, you should have known about ticket, leave bike here. It's far, tuk-tuk take you."
Me: "No."
Officer: Same stupid bullshit
Me: Same answer

I start pedaling off.

Officer: "It's too far, you should know about ticket, tuk-tuk take you."
Me: "I DON'T CARE, I'M RIDING MY BIKE"

"What a fucking asshole," I thought. 

It took me about 30 minutes to ride into town and get an overpriced ticket to see the temples. $20 for one day. They offered more expensive tickets for 3-day and week visits, etc. but I'm glad I opted for the 1-day thing. Don't get me wrong, the temples are cool, but I guess you have to really be into them to get a lot out of it. I know I know, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, and it should induce a state of awe and wonder that will give you mind-boners that last longer than a real case of Viagra overdose. 

Can I be honest though? I could care less if it's the biggest religious monument in the world. It's cool but let's not get carried away here. 

I also realize that Cambodia has had an extremely rough history, which is probably still a ridiculous understatement.  And like I've said before, you can't judge a nation based on narrow anecdotal experience, but I'm going to shoot straight with my narrow anecdotal experiences in Siem Reap. 

Before moving forward, I have to say that I've met some really awesome, super-genuine, kind, AWESOME humble happy people here. Also, I know the tuk-tuk drivers are just trying to make a living, so they're out there doing it ya know. I get it, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood. Most are nice and cool, if annoying. Or really fucking annoying. 

My Best Night in Siem Reap

I figured it out. I had an incredible night walking through the streets of Siem Reap. Before I get to that, let me paint a picture of this place for you. 

  • There is a stagnant river that runs (?) through it. It's still kind of cool
  • It almost seems as though someone is paying people to just drive through the streets at all times so that there is never a moment when there isn't an insane amount of motorcycles and cars cruising along the roads. 
  • There are around 1 billion massage parlors (this is a rough estimate)
  • There are some hotels that look like they were made for Mariah Carey and an entourage of somehow-rich B-movie actors, and right next to them are shacks where people are trying to hawk goods
  • There are always many Chinese tourists. They are everywhere in SE Asia, and I think I'd be freaked out if I didn't see them at a particular spot. *I met and made friends with some very awesome Chinese people on this journey. 
  • There are always backpackers who look exactly the same. They are usually very white and many wear billowy pants. 
  • There are many middle-aged couples of varying nationalities. They are usually staying at the same hotel as I. 
  • You can buy prescription drugs like Zoloft over the counter
  • They have restaurants with names like "Herbal Pizza Happiness." This means they serve weed pizza.
  • There are dubious looking bald lone travelers like me who one day may look lost, confused, and dazed, and the next calm and uncaring. 
  • There are locals who earn income from selling goods and services to tourists. These people talk at me all day long everywhere I go. Incessant is too weak a word to describe it. 
  • There are families and friends hanging out in parks
  • There are a lot of temples 
  • There are the friendly shop owners. 
  • There are stray dogs. 

How I Had An Awesome Night in Siem Reap

I had a lovely night tonight in Siem Reap. How? I'm so glad you asked! First, this is what you need:

  • Headphones
  • Something to plug the headphones into so that sound is produced
  • An umbrella if it's raining

Before heading out I recommend you do some sort of physical activity to induce clarity of mind. Or if drugs are your thing to induce clarity of mind, do that. Whatever works for ya. Maybe hypnosis. Whatever helps you achieve that state akin to what Peter in Office Space attained, that's what we want. 

OK, now you're ready to go out. Before stepping outside, it's vital that you have your earbuds in your ears with music that you love playing. It's best if you have the music loud enough to where you can't understand what people are saying to you, but you can still hear cars and motorbikes. 
 
Now arm yourself with a dreamy smile and walk. Breathe in the air (or hold your breathe if you happen to be right beside a bus or a gonzo CO2  spewer), look around, and just be. You may notice peripherally that people are vying for your attention. Here you can just walk on, ignoring them peacefully. Or, you can smile at them and keep walking. I stopped a couple times and looked the tuk-tuk driver in the eye and proclaimed "it's a beautiful night my friend! It's perfect!" Or, in the same vein, I would state with pithy, "what is wrong with walking my friend, for it is a marvelous night to be walking!" 

I walked through streets lined with pubs and seedy massage parlors. A whole gaggle of masseuses literally got in front of me on the sidewalk with posters showing low prices for a massage. I simply smiled, raised my umbrella high, and walked through and around them, enjoying a song by Deafheaven or some other band. 

I did this a number of times, simply ignoring, raising my umbrella, and walking. 

I walked through the night market where I know every shop owner called out with not only their voices but every cell in their body, willing me to look at and purchase the goods at their stall. But I was immune. I was in heaven!

Sometimes I would stop and talk with the shop owners. When it was apparent that the conversation was not real, but only words spewed to obtain cash, I simply smiled, said nothing more, and walked on in bliss. 

It was an incredible night, and I finished it off by watching Fight Club. 

Top 12 Tips for Traveling with OCD

First, a disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional by any means. For real professional help please consult a licensed therapist. The methods contained herein have worked for me, and are (mostly) based on methods taken from very sound resources like The OCD Workbook.

Also, I tend to personify OCD as a horrible, hysterical, dominating, needy, pathetic, life-sucking entity. I don't know if this is medically sound, but it makes sense to me. 

OK, let's get started.

According to a dictionary I found online, this is the definition of logic: 

Logic: “a particular way of thinking, especially one that is reasonable and based on good judgment.” 

If you have or know about OCD, you know that logic is something that OCD disdains with a ferocity unmatched in the natural world. Instead of embracing logic, it embraces over-reactivity and a general "freak-the-f^%#-out-about-ridiculous-innocuous-things-as-much-as-possible" philosophy. 

You can imagine how this can make traveling a bit awkward and uncomfortable if you have this particular disorder.

I won't get into all of the ways in which OCD has infiltrated my life like a homicidal thought-hammer. For a nice uncomfortable look into my life with OCD, feel free to take a look at my book on Amazon, OCD Sucks!

Anyway, enough prelude already right? The title indicated I would be providing some useful information, so let's get to it. Here are my top ways to deal with OCD while traveling. 

Tip #1: Don't Mess With Your Meds

This is what I did. I started reducing my dosage with the hope that I could eliminate the need for them altogether. Don’t do this, for the love of all the furry cat videos on YouTube just don’t. I’m fairly certain this contributed to a recent mental-flurry kind of month.

Tip #2: Don't Be Surprised When It Strikes 

It’s a bit of a rude awakening when all of a sudden that a$$h#le (OCD) shows up at your door at 3 in the morning completely strung out on crack cocaine and starts yelling obnoxious things while reeking of rat sweat. It happens. In fact, expect it to happen. Maybe not the rat sweat, because rats don't sweat, but don’t be surprised with anything.

When this happened to me recently, I had kind of forgotten that even though OCD is idiotic and illogical, it is still clever as hell. It’s like a conniving politician turned petty pocket thief. What OCD steals, rather, what you allow it to steal, is of much greater value than any material possession. 

It tries to steal focus, attention, peace, and your valuable limited time here on earth. Anything or anybody that steals these highly valued things is unacceptable. 

Tip #3: It's All About What You Do When it Strikes

Know that reacting to the OCD only gives it more power. 

In fact, each super charged reaction is like giving it steak and potatoes. Even if it’s been lazy for a while, it’s always at the ready to jump back in and bulk up. 

It then gets bolder, barges the hell in, and tries to live with you for a month and eat all your cereal. It’s a lot like the demon Catch in the book “Practical Demonkeeping” by Christopher Moore. Every time Catch devoured someone he would grow substantially. 

OCD is a lot like Catch the demon, but not as interesting. 

Sometimes it only annoys you by doing something like the equivalent of playing a lot of Kenny G on a bagpipe and smoking crack in your living room. Other times right when you wake up in the morning before you have a chance for any other thought, the OCD starts blabbering hysterically about all kinds of stupid things it thinks is important, and decides its going to spend the whole day with you. 

Tip #4: Don't Attempt to Outwit It

Don't be fooled into thinking you can somehow outwit the OCD by analyzing thoughts and actions. 

Or worse yet, that you can simply run from thoughts or undo things that already are. 

It’s really weird when I look back and think about all the self-induced agonizing over what already is. I wonder how in the hell could this admittedly shitty emotion cause me to live with a mental reel of the past and thinking things like “I could have should have blah blah blah.” Then I realized a few very important things about dealing with OCD, after refreshing my memory about really throwing punches at it.

It’s all about not doing your compulsions. 

I had forgotten (or maybe never realized), just what some of my compulsions were. We’ll look at that more closely in the next point. Before moving on, know this: analyzing your thoughts and actions is counterproductive, especially when it's OCD. You simply have to be OK with being uncertain about a few things, as well as having some crazy thoughts roaming around your mind. Everyone has crazy thoughts from time to time; we just tend to shine a spotlight on each one like an overly zealous thought-police officer. 

Following are some things that OCD may be trying get you to be uncertain about, which in turn prompts you to try and analyze the junk out of it:

* Did I harm someone
* Was there a possibility that I could have harmed someone by doing that negligent thing?
* Holy shit I’m going to have strong anxiety forever and I’ll look like that skinny guy in his underwear from that movie The 6th Sense
* Am I a horrible person for this? Is my moral, nay, my overall character completely jeopardized now? 
* Did I ruin my health forever?

The list goes on and on like a DNA strand. 

Tip #5: Don't Give In To Compulsions

You have to remember what compulsions actually are and to avoid doing them. This can get a bit tricky because the OCD doesn't want you to realize what your compulsions actually are. It's also easy to go into panic mode when we experience the anxiety. 

I'd forgotten that journaling about OCD can be a compulsion for me because I end up trying to utilize logic to free myself from the anxiety. It can be good to really look at what's going on and to write about it, but when it's totally OCD a different approach is needed.  

So, instead of my old way of journaling and justification of my analyzing thoughts and actions, I realized that I needed to purposefully trigger that son of a bitch. You're essentially poking and pinching it, which in turn makes it shove bigger needles deep in the brain, and with much more vigor. It's kind of like finally facing an annoying human in your life fully, opening your arms and saying "bring it on motherf#$%r!"

The anxiety will flare and surge like an atom bomb in your core, but you've got to just accept it. Let it be there. It will abate with time. 

This gives the OCD pause. It makes it a bit confused because it's suddenly lost some control. It may not feel like it at the time, but it means that you're finally throwing punches back. 

Tip #6: Practice ERP, Especially if You're on a Long Holiday

Nobody wants to experience anxiety on their holiday, which is why OCD can really be a nuisance during this time. Sometimes I think just practicing mindfulness works, which I'll touch on in the next point. However, when it gets really bad, you have to get your hands a bit dirty. 

ERP stands for Exposure Response Prevention. This means purposely exposing yourself to or imagining feared thoughts and situations. After doing this enough you'll find that what first appeared to be a lion is just a house cat. 

Tip #7: Practice Mindfulness

There are times when I get OCD about how I’m dealing with OCD, which causes more OCD. Then there is so much OCD around I forget that there is a beautiful world to see out there.

If you’ve ever taken a good yoga class, often the instructor will do a bit of guided meditation at the end. One thing they will say is something like “when thoughts come into your mind, thank the mind, and go back to focusing on your breath.” Sometimes the best way to deal with OCD, especially when things have leveled off a bit, is to simply practice mindfulness. It’s allowing thoughts to come into the mind and letting anxiety be there, but not giving any special attention to the thoughts or the feelings. It’s all about living your life despite crazy-ass obsessions and the temptation to give in to compulsions. 

As they put it in “The Mindfulness Workbook,”  “All we have complete control over is our behavior. This is true 100 percent of the time.” 

Tip #8: Be Social

OCD loves it when it can get you alone with your thoughts so that it can subtly intermingle with them. Even if you're feeling pretty lousy, make sure that you get out there and hang out with some cool people and have some enriching conversation. 

This is especially true if you are taking a year off and traveling like myself. Staying at hostels is great for that, however I admit that I tend to book cheap private accommodation via Airbnb, Agoda, Hotels, or Booking. I know it's not a big deal, but because I'm 39 and a month away from turning 40 hostels can feel a bit too much like crashing a college party. In turn, I have to get out there and start talking with people. The wonderful thing about traveling is that it's really not hard to find genuinely cool people who are more than willing to kick it with you for a while. I've gained some lifelong friends this way. 

Tip #9: Do Things Despite the Anxiety.

This is not easy. Believe me, I know and understand fully. The world darkens quite a bit. I almost feel like people can see the asshole clinging to my back, reeking of rat sweat and playing out-of-tune Kenny G bagpipe music through terrible boom box speakers. 

Tip #10: Be Careful with Alcohol

Consider staying the hell away from it, or at the very least just drink in moderation (my friends would have a good laugh at this, because I'm the last person to talk to about moderation). Nonetheless, it is true. Alcohol can really have an effect on the severity of OCD.  

This is not easy, especially when it can be stressful enough traveling around the world and all you want is a nice cold beer on draft. Just know yourself, and if you see a pattern of heavy OCD the day after drinking even just a bit of alcohol, it’s time to question how much you really need it. It’s okay if the people you’re with have a problem with that. It just means it's time to find new people to hang out with. 

Tip #11: Know That It's All Bark and No Bite

OCD wants you to believe it’s a bonafide demon who can truly mess you up for life.

It’s not. 

Tip #12: Don't Give Up

When the OCD symptoms become incredibly strong, it’s a temptation to just give up on certain things in life. It could be stopping you from doing things that you previously enjoyed, or maybe throwing away certain goals because OCD has made the idea of achieving them beyond mere pipe dreams and into the realm of delusion. 

One day in Hong Kong I was particularly anxious. I was seriously questioning what the hell I was doing and wondered if I should just go back to the States and bury my head in an assembly-line job to get my mind focused on anything else. Then some random Hong Kongian walked by with a shirt that said: "Don't Give Up."

Now, I'm not much of a spiritual guy anymore, and I'm definitely not religious in the least, but if there's a possibility that the universe was saying something to me through that dude, I'm cool with that. It actually picked me up a bit. I would've forged on anyway, but that was like a taste of that Elvish Lemmas bread from Lothlórien in Lord of the Rings. 

I have no idea why I use LOTR so much when I write about OCD. I just do. 

If you or a loved one has OCD, I hope this helps. If you don't, be grateful!

 

And everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world. All of it together was the flow of events, was the music of life. - Herman Hesse

Should You Be Scared of Muslims?

Throughout history, there have been far too many groups of people who firmly believed that they should murder en masse because their god ordained it. I can hardly write that sentence without shuddering with utter bemusement, disbelief, disgust, horror, and anger. 

We are a young and dumb species. 

Our collective hubris only makes it more obvious. More of that later. First, let’s discuss stereotyping. 

The Problem With Stereotyping

Stereotyping is lazy. Allow me to elaborate with a fictional character named Karen.  

Karen is visiting the U.S. from Australia and is boarding a plane to Kansas City from Chicago. Unfortunately, that day she had a very bad migraine, had recently quit smoking, and genuinely disliked most people. She stole coloring books from a couple of deaf children, flipped off an elderly woman who was having trouble with her luggage, and told a flight attendant who had just finished a double shift that she looked bloated. 

Karen is a true bitch. 

She sat beside a middle-aged man named Bill and gave him such a stink-eye that he felt his face turning brown. Bill had never met anyone from Australia, but after being kicked in the shin for trying to talk to her he knew exactly what ALL Australian women were like. 

With that one anecdote, Bill would talk at length about how horrible Australian women are around the dinner table, despite the fact that his interaction with Australian women was nil. According to http://countrymeters.info/en/Australia, there are 12,209,117 women in Australia. Is Bill justified in making a blanket statement about 0.00000819060051599145% of women in Australia? 

No, of course not. If you think so, then you should quietly put away your electronic device and reach for a coloring book with very large shapes that are easy to color in. Please don’t steal the coloring books from deaf children, because that’s very wrong whether you're religious or not.

It's simply easier to say that an entire group of people is one way or another. I know I do it from time to time, especially when I write about how cool a particular culture is, like Thai culture. (Thai people are truly amazing, btw). 

But really I'm just being lazy when I make blanket statements like that. Based on anecdotal cumulative experience, those who have lived in Thailand have more authority to speak on such matters. Even then, there will be biases and modes of thought colored by personal experience. Anthropological arguments are hard to make using a priori statements. 

Throughout the years in our short human history, we have preferred black and white, binary, good or bad, us vs. them. 

Well guess what? Life is not always clearly "this" or "that." Are you fully good or fully bad? Is every Muslim a terrorist? Is every American bombastic like Trump? Is the nation of France filled with only stuck-up assholes? Are all Canadians super nice? 

It's hard enough to say that 20 people in a room are one certain thing, let alone millions, or in the case of Muslims, billions. It's this incredibly narrow “everything is black or white” way of thinking that provides a tributary to an ocean of insane rhetoric used by politicians and many others. Have you ever heard the expression "We should just nuke em”? Or, "Let's just drop a bomb on that whole country”? And recently, "Let's make it illegal for Muslims to enter the country”?

Let's make it illegal for those who are part of the second-largest religion in the world to enter the country? Let's just shut the door to 23% of the world? Good thing Muslims by and large are a peace loving people; otherwise, I'm pretty sure we'd be fucked. Maybe we are anyway considering our presidential candidates (written June 2016). 

I’ve done a lot of searching, and I just can’t find any conclusive evidence regarding what percentage of Muslims are deranged murderous lunatics, more commonly known as radicals or extremists. The question presented is always, “Well, what constitutes a radical? Can they merely condone terrorist attacks, or do they need to be actively attacking?” Good question. Quite honestly, depending on what shitty blog you end up on (including this one), you can get a range from 0.00006% to 99.9%. 

So what do we do with that? I don’t know, I’m still trying to understand all of this too.

Before we go further, what exactly is a Muslim? Great question!

*Disclaimer: I am not an expert on the religion of Islam. I will try my best to present an unbiased, factually based synopsis for you. 

Mus·lim

ˈməzləm,ˈmo͝ozləm/

noun

1. 1.
a follower of the religion of Islam.
 

adjective

1. 1.
of or relating to the Muslims or their religion.

OK, that doesn’t help very much. Let’s find out what the definition of Islam is. 

Is·lam

isˈläm,izˈläm/

noun

1. the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah.

    * the Muslim world.

- Merriam Webster Dictionary

OK, maybe we need some more help in figuring out what it means to be a Muslim. Here is my very condensed version of Islam, based on what I’ve read. I apologize for any errors or information left out (please let me know via email if there’s something extremely erroneous). 

Muhammad, born 570 CE, was orphaned at an early age, later became a merchant, and married an older widow when he was 25. He had no formal education. He was known to go into the mountains to meditate and pray, and when he was 40, things got real. According to followers of the religion, the archangel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad in a vision when he was 40, which turned out to be the first of many such visions over a period of many years. The content of the visions was put together to form the Qur’an. See History World for additional information.   

The Qur’an is considered to be the verbatim word of God by Muslims. It was compiled by Muhammad’s companions after his death in 632 CE. The version we see today, as I understand it, was put together by Uthman, the third caliph and friend of Muhammad’s.

In addition the Qur’an, Muslims are advised to read: the Torah (which are the first five books of the Old Testament), the Zabur (which are the Psalms of David), and the Injeel (the gospel of Christ). http://www.christiananswers.net/islam.html

OK, so we have Muhammad, and we have his revelations put together in a religious text. From around 600-something to now it has grown from 1 follower (his first wife Khadijah) to approximately 1.6 billion or so today. And you know what? It’s still growing. 

So how the hell did some Muslims start getting into terrorism? I’m afraid that question is a bit above my pay grade, but there is a pretty decent, heavily cited Wikipedia article that delves into the reasons, which you can peruse at your own leisure: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_terrorism. At a glance, it appears to be a mixture of revenge, deranged ideology, micro-societal pressure, and lost youth being plucked to join a community of like-minded people. 

It’s kind of like one big gang with confident idiots telling lost idiots what they should do and believe. One thing that I keep reading over and over again is that the terrorists themselves are often not really religious, or they’re at least illiterate when it comes to really understanding a sacred text like the Qur’an or the Bible. 

Additional relevant sites: 

  • http://mb-soft.com/public/terroris.html
  • https://www.quora.com/Which-passage-s-from-the-Quran-is-are-used-by-Islamic-terrorist-group-to-justify-their-acts

At this point it may be worth going over what Islam is actually about. The following was obtained from http://www.gotquestions.org/Islam.html

The Doctrine of Islam

Muslims summarize their doctrine in six articles of faith:

  1. Belief in one Allah: Muslims believe Allah is one, eternal, creator, and sovereign.
  2. Belief in the angels
  3. Belief in the prophets: The prophets include the biblical prophets but end with Muhammad as Allah’s final prophet.
  4. Belief in the revelations of Allah: Muslims accept certain portions of the Bible, such as the Torah and the Gospels. They believe the Qur'an is the preexistent, perfect word of Allah. 
  5. Belief in the last day of judgment and the hereafter: Everyone will be resurrected for judgment into either paradise or hell.
  6. Belief in predestination: Muslims believe Allah has decreed everything that will happen. Muslims testify to Allah’s sovereignty with their frequent phrase, inshallah, meaning, “if God wills.”

The Five Pillars of Islam

These five tenets compose the framework of obedience for Muslims:

  1. The testimony of faith (shahada): “la ilaha illa allah. Muhammad rasul Allah.” This means, “There is no deity but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” A person can convert to Islam by stating this creed. The shahada shows that a Muslim believes in Allah alone as a deity and believes that Muhammad reveals Allah.
  2. Prayer (salat): Five ritual prayers must be performed every day. 
  3. Giving (zakat): This almsgiving is a certain percentage given once a year.
  4. Fasting (sawm): Muslims fast during Ramadan in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. They must not eat or drink from dawn until sunset.
  5. Pilgrimage (hajj): If physically and financially possible, a Muslim must make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once. The hajj is performed in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar.

Killing in the name of….

You know, this killing in the name of stuff has been around for quite some time. People have been murdered in the name of many a religion or religious sect. How many people have been killed in the name of religion (check this out for some interesting answers: https://www.quora.com/Which-religion-is-responsible-for-the-greatest-number-of-deaths-of-infidels-over-its-entire-history)? Let’s go a step further and forget about religion. Just what kind of killing has gone on in human history? The simple answer is: a LOT.

Genghis Kahn. Tamerlane. Shaka Zulu. Lothar Von Trotha. Christopher Columbus. Julio Argentino Roca. Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Don Ignacio Zuniga. Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama. Rafael Trujillo. Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stalin. Mao Zedong. The list goes on and on. Countless massacres. Countless. Many if not most instances of genocide were started in the mind of one man. 

Let that sink in.

One person was somehow able to influence a vast number of people to commit unthinkable acts of violence. One person.

When are we going to learn that just because someone speaks with an air of authority it does not mean that any authority should be bestowed? When will we learn that despite the fact that someone appears to be working for us in perilous times, what they require of us is our dignity? Of course, it’s more complex than that, I know. However, we have played our part as sheep very well throughout history. Our longing to be part of the tribe often outweighs any true and original thought.

Ugh…I think that may have to be another article. 

You think your country is free from genocide? I doubt it. Check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history

Why am I putting all this information in here? Because this shit is not new. Based on the logic used to talk about ALL Muslims in certain parts of the U.S., no one should be allowed in the country. Maybe the Janists…they’re probably alright, but who the hell knows. 

Here are some interesting facts you may not have been aware of:

The majority of deaths from terrorism do not occur in the West. Excluding the September 11 attack, only 0.5 per cent of deaths from terrorism have occurred in the West since 2000. Including September 11, the percentage reaches 2.6. 
Lone wolf attackers are the main perpetrators of terrorist activity in the West. Seventy percent of all deaths from terrorism in the West since 2006 were by lone wolf terrorists with the rest being unknown or group attacks by more than three attackers. 
Islamic fundamentalism was not the main cause of terrorism in the West over the last nine years. Eighty per cent of deaths by lone wolf terrorists in the West were driven by right wing[sic] extremism, nationalism, anti-government sentiment and political extremism and other forms of supremacy. 

- Global Terrorism Index, 2015 

My Narrow Anecdotal Experience With Muslims

I was in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, which is located on the island Borneo. I decided to go for a run in the heat one day because I needed the clarity that Matthew Inman talked about in his post "The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances." 

Along the way I was stopped by a few girls who were all wearing Hijabs (you can use 22Words.com as a reference point to know which headscarf is which). I fumbled with my earbuds, trying to switch them off so I could tell what they were saying. The sweat was already beginning to drip heavily on the steaming cement, but no one seemed to care. They were wanting to know if I had time for an interview. "For a class?" I queried, to which they answered yes.

I always take the time to answer questions when I'm stopped by students, for a number of reasons. One reason is that I want to immediately shatter any derogatory paradigms they may have regarding all citizens of the U.S. Granted, there are a great number of narrow-minded assholes in the U.S., but there is also an abundance of extremely kind and cool people. I always hope to represent the more "let's all chill and hang out together" side. Yes, people from all over the world stereotype. It happens to be one of those universal things us humans do. 

The girls were Muslim, wearing the proper Muslim attire despite the heat. They asked me about 5 questions, but 3 stood out to me. One was, "Do you think it's inappropriate for us to wear headdresses when it's so hot outside? Another was, "Would you be okay with your mom becoming Muslim?" And finally, "Do you feel threatened when you see someone wearing a headdress?" 

In answer to the first question, I just stated that if it's a tenet of the religion, then it doesn't really matter whether it's appropriate or comfortable. This is aside from what I think of religion altogether, which is something I won't be discussing in this article.

For the second I said sure, I'd fully support my mother if she suddenly decided to follow Islam. I'd fully support and love my mother regardless of ANY religion she belonged to. Perhaps if I were a devout anything my views would be different. 

For the third, I replied honestly and said that I did not feel threatened. And I don't. This one made me think a bit, though. 

Prior to that conversation, I had already made some great Muslim friends, but it made me look back to when I first started interacting with those who followed Islam. 

I love talking with people, but I wondered how I should address the women in headdresses. It's pretty obvious, at least with the Muslim women I interacted with in Malaysia; treat them with dignity and respect, just like you would any other human. What I suppose I was really wondering about was whether it was even inappropriate to smile at a girl, or God forbid flirt a bit? 

When I stayed in the Kinabalu National Park at Mile 34 lodge, I was fortunate to be able to speak with a large group of Muslim men and women. It. was. amazing. They were just really cool and fun to hang out with. 

With the guys, it wasn't as apparent that they were Muslim. One I met in Kuala Lumpur was an inventor, incredibly intelligent and inquisitive. And I would've had no idea that he was Muslim if he hadn't told me that he needed to go pray after getting a smartphone reminder to do so. 

A guy in Kota Kinabalu from Pakistan talked both of my ears off after a run. I was in his store, standing there incredibly sweaty and somewhat smelly. The Nebraska in me wouldn't let me just say see ya sucka! He felt it was his duty to buy me a Snickers because we talked for so long. Others came and went while he and I discoursed. He spoke fervently, and I did too. He seemed to have this intense need to educate me on Islamic matters. 

He definitely had opinions regarding the American government, as most people in the world do. He wasn't always on point, and I always defend my country when someone says something out of ignorance about it. America is wayyyy too multifaceted to be crammed into a Trump box. 

A really interesting thing that I learned from him was that he found many of the American people to be genuine and caring. He was from Pakistan and said that the American people showed great support for the Pakistani people during the earthquake of 2005. The government was not to be trusted in the least, however. He didn't care for Obama at all. 

There was one conversation I had with a girl who told me that she believed Americans were loud, arrogant, and Trump-like (yes, stereotyping). I assured her this was not the case. I, for one, was not like that (if I ever become like that I give every person who reads this full permission to slap me as hard as you possibly can). This led to a discussion about America imposing itself all over the world, kind of like that drunk guy on the dance floor trying to get with every girl within reach. I had to agree that I had seen FAR too many KFC’s and 711’s on my journeys throughout SE Asia. I admit that I’m extremely ignorant when it comes to international trade and commerce, so if you know something that should be added here, please comment or send me an email. Or, I suppose you could just think, “This is shit, I’m going back to work,” and that’s fine too. 

Anyway. I want to change the paradigm that all Americans are overbearing bombastic assholes. How? How how how. Hollywood, you now have a new moral objective my friends. 

One paradigm at a time. First, time to change the way some Americans view 1/6 of the WHOLE WORLD.

You know what? Seriously, Muslims are just people going about their lives: they work, have shitty bosses like the rest of us, have sex, don't have sex, eat (except during the day during Ramadan), laugh, cry, and generally live like most people in the world. And what are most people in the world doing? They're trying to get by. They're trying to live their lives the best way they know how. 

For better or worse, America does exert 

The Muslims who I met have nothing to do with terrorist factions, and if I had to make an educated guess, I would say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims don't. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. So those of you who think all Muslims are terrorists, you are absolutely wrong.

I really hope that no one ever says what I’m about to say, but I have a feeling that there are a few people who do. It goes something like this: “We should just get rid of all the Muslims in the world.” If anyone thinks like that, then you are essentially saying a few things:

  • You think genocide is OK
  • You believe in mass murder and are just like the terrorists
  • You want to kill MY FRIENDS
  • You are a complete fucking idiot 

I asked a couple of my Muslim friends some questions. I’ve included the questions and paraphrased answers below.

1. What are some things that are most misunderstood by Westerners (or anyone not affiliated with the religion) about being a Muslim?

To be fair, not all things are misunderstood by Westerners, but the main things would be the terms of “jihad,” “hudud law” and “polygamy.” But most of the time, the perspective will change. For example, if we dig a bit more into polygamy, we can find that in the past it was a significant criterion for being a Muslim, but not for personal pleasure, of course.  

2. How do you think people who are not Muslim see you? Do you feel like you would be accepted everywhere? Please explain why you would or would not feel accepted in some places.

In Malaysia, we do just fine. But for an example, if we traveled to the United States, I think most people would actually feel a little uncomfortable, especially around the women because they tend to wear hijabs to cover their aurah. Before the 9-11 tragedy, I don’t think it was a problem. What do you think? 

3. What is the best way to make others more aware of what you represent as a Muslim? 

Respect towards every religion in the world. Because we have to actually believe that all religions teach peace and harmony. If we don’t know something, we should ask, and ask the right people rather than Googling and making assumptions. 

4. If you were speaking with someone who interpreted verses in the Qur’an as justification for murder, what would you tell them? 

I think the way we interpret verses can vary from person to person. Again, we need to refer to the experts. 

5. What do you think is the biggest issue with the way some Westerners view Islam? 

Terrorism. Here in Southeast Asia, we live peacefully.

So, should you be scared of Muslims? I guess if you’re scared of people who practice religion (the majority of the world), then sure. But I think that’s more your problem than anyone else’s. 

Additional recommended resources:

  • http://www.religioustolerance.org/islam.htm
  • http://listverse.com/2009/07/10/top-10-misconceptions-about-islam/

 

Happy Water, Coffee, and Bloody Knuckles. A list of Vietnam Do’s and Dont’s

Following is a quick little list of do’s and dont's while in Vietnam. 

First, let’s start off with things that you should avoid doing. 

1. Avoid trying to open shuttle van doors yourself when they come to pick you up to take you to Halong Bay. 

The very nice guy whose name I don’t recall came to our amazing hotel, HM Boutique in Hanoi, and let us know that our van was waiting for us. Lo and I walked over and stood at the door for a few seconds. As the door did not automatically open I decided to take the initiative to try and open it myself. I took the initiative because there have been times in the past when I’ve missed stops or stood at doors for long periods of time only to find that I could’ve pressed a button or just opened it. 

At first, it wouldn’t budge. I was grabbing onto one of the iron handles that spanned one of the folding doors. Then, it began to open easily…far too easily, and then far too quickly. 

Suddenly my hand was being crushed by the doors folding into one another automatically. It was a weird feeling, and I reacted with complete cool; that is I started fighting with that damn door. 

Man vs. Uncaring Automatic Machine

In any case, it closed either because the driver pressed the button to close it, or the machine took pity on me. Only the bus driver association of Vietnam really knows what went down. *I don’t know if such an organization exists, but I imagine it probably does, and that they have keg parties and initiate new members in weird cult-like ceremonies. 

When we finally entered a couple American girls were like: “are you okay?” Evidently they witnessed the whole thing. So I had some bloody knuckles and a tiny little scrape to the ego. After about a minute I told the ego to fuck off, and then I felt pretty awesome, I have to admit. Sometimes I like a little bit of pain. It wakes me up a bit. Don’t worry, I’ll see a shrink one of these days. 

Halong Bay

2. Avoid trying to run around the entire circumference of Westlake in Hanoi in an hour, unless you have a high tolerance for opening all of your pores to strong air pollution, traffic dodging, people dodging, high humidity, and can run very fast for a very long period of time. 

When I worked at Apple, my colleagues came up with a phrase where they use my surname as a verb. It’s called “Nickeling It.” “Don’t Nickel it” became a common phrase, at least while I was there. What does it mean? Well, I have a tendency to be extremely optimistic about things to the point of delusion. It started with a project we were working on, and I recall saying something like, “well that’s it, that’s all we need! It’s fantastic and nothing more needs to be done!” Then it would all fall apart, we’d find things wrong with it, people would cry, nations would fall, stars would quietly lay down to die, to depressed to explode like normal stars.

Well, maybe nothing so dramatic, but I did this enough times where the term “Nickeling It” came into existence. What did I do with Westlake? I Nickeled the fuck out of it. It was about 45 minutes or less until sunset, and I remember looking at this somewhat beautiful man-made lake and telling Lo: “I’m going to run around it.”

She was incredulous but knew that I liked to do crazy things so just accepted it. After about 2 hours later I realized a couple things:

- There was no way in hell I was going to run around that thing unless I took another hour or 2 or who knows. 
- If I continued on I would need to figure out how to not pass out from extreme dehydration
- I completely underestimated the number of roads I would have to navigate by the lake just to stay close to it. In other words, there isn’t a steady trail for runners all the way around it; just in certain parts. 
- I had no way of contacting Lo so I should try like hell to get back to our designated meeting point. 

So I decided to hail a taxi. 

It’s worth noting that at this point in time my clothes were not only saturated with sweat, it looked as though there was a constant invisible shower of water running over me. My clothes were more than drenched. There wasn't a nanometer that wasn't completed and utterly awash in my sweat. My clothing and my sweat were one. 

I could barely get my phone to function because the sweat was so profuse. I remember reaching into the first cab to try and get the map going of where I needed to go and seeing drops of sweat just pounding into the passenger seat. We couldn’t agree on where I needed to go, so I decided to try for another one. He drove off with a couple of shot glasses worth of sweat in the passenger seat. 

I hailed another one with one of the trusted taxi companies (Mailinh), and unfortunately for the back seat, sat down and let the sweat continue to reach out to everything around it. I am truly sorry to whoever got the taxi after me. Anyway, I finally got back to Lo, and she honestly thought I looked skinnier. 

So that night I ate a large and great meal, then ended up puking it up in the middle of the night. I don’t know why that happened, I just know that it kind of sucked. 

3. Lastly, avoid leaving your passports with the hotel after you checkout

This is pretty obvious. It happened to us in Muine, but thankfully I remembered when we were only about a mile out. The hotel sent a driver to meet up with the bus with our passports. We also had a really cool lad from the UK who had been working in Vietnam for 4 years and offered to call up the hotel and speak with them in Vietnamese to confirm. 

Now for things that you should check out. 

1. Watch a Game of Foot Shuttlecock

If you’re in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, be sure to check out a good game of Foot Shuttlecock. No, this is not a pornographic game, though there may be something out there with that kind of name in the adult video world. This is where people use a shuttlecock kind of like a hackey sack. It’s really just badminton without the rackets. They're really damn good. I'll have a video soon showcasing their talent. There should seriously be a Foot Shuttlecock championship. If there is one, someone please let me know. I'll go to it. 

I suck at Foot Shuttlecock

2. Check out the sand dunes in Muine

If you’re there, do it. It’s rad. The sleds are just ok. I recommend just going and chilling, or rolling down the hill without a sled because that's pretty much what happens anyway. I was covered in sand that day. 
 

Muine:

3. Experience In Hoi An and the Surrounding Area
Check out the lanterns at night, run through the fields outside of town, then the next day go to Marble Mountains and Monkey Mountain on a motorbike that can be rented for $6 USD.
The lanterns are ubiquitous here, and it’s really rad at night. If you’re into running, biking, or motorbiking, make sure to take a junket through the fields outside of town. There are paved paths through the fields, and it’s really peaceful. 

Hoi An pics:

Marble Mountain:

Monkey Mountain:

4. Drink Happy Water in Ta Phin with Pham
https://sapatourswithpham.wordpress.com/about-me-2/

The homestay is situated outside of the village of Ta Phin on the side of a mountain. It’s stunning, and you should definitely go. Her husband is a very rad super energetic and slightly crazy guy. The absolute best food I had in Vietnam was at Pham’s place. No joke, it was just phenomenal. Before the meal, her husband breaks out this enormous jug of clear liquid that looks like it has some sort of plant life in it. 

With no hesitation, he proclaims “This is happy water, it has opium in it!” Now if that’s not a party starter, I don’t know what the hell is. He pours the happy water into bowls, then passes around shot glasses about half the size of standard shot glasses that one would find in the States. He just dips the small shot glasses into the bowls and passes them around. To me, it was like a nice little mix of vodka and tequila, in a very good way. It was a bit mild and easy to drink, and it went really well with the food. I honestly had between 5-7 shots each night, just felt loose (not drunk) and felt great the next day. 

Hooray for happy water!

5. Lastly, drink the coffee in Vietnam

It’s the absolute best that I’ve ever tasted anywhere. Hands down. I know many Australians pride themselves on their coffee, but to me, Vietnam takes the proverbial cake. It’s just so good…so damn good. I’m going into a dream just thinking about it right now as I drink “meh” coffee here in Kuala Lumpur. 

A few more pics:

Sa Pa

 

 

I'm Just a Guy Trying to Buy Maxi Pads in a Remote Northern Vietnam Village

My female friend Lo who I was traveling had her period while we were in the incredible area of Tả Phìn, Sa Pa, Lào Cai, Vietnam. Don’t be grossed out. At this very moment, approximately 334 million women are on their period, according to one Quora user. Credit: Quora

We had just gone hiking for a number of hours in Tả Phìn, crossing rivers and going up steep inclines. I had just gotten done with about 6 weeks in NZ and AUS, and had done a fair amount of hiking, so I was a bit more prepared to continue on. She did extremely well, though by the end we both knew she needed some rest. 

The only problem was that she needed to go into town to buy some maxi pads. So, being the noble gentleman that I have the capacity to be, I offered to walk to town and grab some.  I was feeling spry and wanted to catch the sunset anyway, so I set out to accomplish my mission: Get Maxi Pads. 

What I hadn’t thought through was the fact that I had no internet whatsoever (Vietnam isn’t part of T-Mobile’s international coverage plan), and there was no wifi close by that I knew of. So I decided to wing it. 

I got sidetracked by some pretty incredible scenery along the way:

 

Then I resumed my search, which I've detailed below. 

Shop 1:

My first try turned out to be a miserable failure in communication. I just had no idea how to say menstrual cycle or maxi pad (maybe I should've tried saying maxi pad?). 

I couldn't just start grabbing my chest to try and say I'm talking about people with boobs here. In the same vein of thought, I couldn't just grab or point at my crotch. That could've resulted in:

1) Someone trying to betroth me
2) Someone taking me to a village brothel (I'm pretty sure there weren't any there)
3) Me getting my ass kicked
4) Getting laughed at as the new foreign idiot in town

I'm usually adept at accomplishing number four without grabbing my crotch.

Shop 2:

My second try was also a failure, but I gained an ally. One of the  Red Dao tribe ladies who try to sell foreigners souvenirs was talking to me in English and trying to help. Undoubtedly she was going to pitch me in the end, but I just didn't have any need for the awesome stuff they make. Here's a picture of Lo wearing the full regalia:

Red Dao Lo

 

I would try and say I needed something "just for girls" and they would grab a bag of Cheetos or the Vietnamese equivalent. This went on for a while when my new Red Dao friend just said: "you look around and see if you find." 

Shop 3:

It was at shop 3 where I was successful. It started off the same: huge abysses of misunderstandings and bags of potato chips being offered. I really didn't think potato chips would help with a period, so I pressed on. Then I saw it. 

Toilet paper. 

I grabbed some rolls and emphatically stated "for woman, for girl!" 

After saying "for woman, for girl!" a few times a sudden light seemed to shine in their eyes, the light of understanding and confusion. The understanding of what I was asking, and the confusion over why I was asking for it. 

The shop lady walked over to the Menstrua-Shelf, and pointed to the most expensive item there as if to say, "is this what you are looking for and please buy this one with the carrying case if it is." I nodded ecstatically but refused the Gucci-looking-maxi-package, opting instead for a simple box of good old fashioned maxi pads. 

I'd never been so happy to buy a box of maxi pads. Plus, I got to negotiate the price. I love Vietnam. 

So there you go dudes. Point to some toilet paper and say "for woman, for girl!"  and it just might work for you too if you need to do the same. Oh, wait, are you too "manly" to buy maxi pads? 

You can't use that weak shit as an excuse for your outdated misogynistic fears. Go out and give it a try.

Vietnam Sleeper Bus Gymnastics

The overnight budget sleeper buses in Vietnam can be pretty alright, especially from Ho Chi Min to Muine, and from Muine to Na Trang. However, going from Na Trang to Hoian can be an interesting experience. 

It started off almost normal: The bus swung by our hotel and picked us up. There were other Westerners there. One kept laughing with an odd sporadic laugh reminiscent of the laugh Dax Shepard affected in Idiocracy, probably watching something similar to what Dax's character was watching in the film. 

At one point a few Vietnamese were either yelling or speaking very passionately to one another about something for a good 15 minutes. I couldn't tell which. Maybe they were acting for us, doing an impromptu drama? If so, the acting was excellent; I could feel the heat from their fiery shouts. 

This was all normal. The first thing that was not normal, at least for me, was the fact that they put all of our stuff at the back of the bus instead of under it. 

What was under the bus? Cocaine? A dance party for HATH (hobbits accustomed to heat)? Used socks? Another dimension? No-one knows except for the bus people. That was okay. I was ready for the 12-hour ride.  

Then it got a bit weird. And not weird as in people started morphing into cartoon drawings because someone slipped some ground peyote into my fun dip. 

It got weird because suddenly it seemed as though we were stopping a lot and picking up more people than the bus could hold.  

Stop, pick up. Stop, pick up. 

As I’ve stated in previous posts, I’m no mathematician, however by counting the number of available beds against the number of passengers boarding I wondered how the hell it was going to work. 

No matter. Just as I didn't concern myself with annoying chuckles and fighting Vietnamese, I didn't concern myself with this either. I've never been very good at math anyway. 

I went back to my computer. My travel buddy asked what the sign said at the back of the bus. I told her it said “No Smoking.” Note: I found out later that she wanted to know if it was a bathroom. I knew that it was a bathroom, but I didn’t know that she didn’t know that, and thought she was just curious about what the red sign said. Sorry Lo!

About an hour later I realized I should use the restroom before I tried to get some VBS (VietBusSleep), however, when I looked down I noticed that the floor had people sleeping on it.

So this is where they were putting all those people. Well, fuck. 

I hadn't yet mastered the art of floating at that time, so I was essentially stuck. I was on a top bunk, every bed was filled, and the floor right under me had sleeping humans on it. I was stuck. 

So what did I do? Did I just say “fuck all of these crazy societal norms, I’m pissing my pants!” No. Not yet. I'm still hanging on to the fundamental societal customs, especially when it comes to personal hygiene. 

As I'm still in my semi-sane years I decided instead to just become a Vietnam Sleeper Bus Gymnast. That's a thing, right?

I pretzeled my body and deftly (I’d like to think) maneuvered my way between beds until I could gain access to a part of the floor that didn’t have sleeping humans on it. I'm not sure how I did it without climbing over a lot of people, but I do know that if I had not succeeded I would've have made someone either very unhappy or happy, depending on whether they needed some physical contact. 

Other than that it was bearable. I mean, it was uncomfortable as fuck, but I expected as much in certain places. 

I'm telling you this story so that I can say this: I would rather be in an uncomfortable-as-fuck bus in Vietnam with annoying Westerner laughs, fighting Vietnamese, dancing hobbits in the storage, people-sleeping-on-the-floor-making-me-become-a-gymnast-just-to-use-the-bathroom, rather than being stuck in a cubicle. 

No joke. No offense to those who love their jobs and work in a cubicle; that's actually beautiful as long as it isn't slowly killing you emotionally and physically. 

Next up: I'm Just a Guy Trying to Buy Maxi Pads in a Remote Northern Vietnam Village

Is New Zealand a Real Place?

I'm pretty sure they just give you acid when you arrive in New Zealand.

I say this because so much of it is so awe-inspiring, vivid, and fantastically scenic that I wonder if I was just on an acid trip the whole time I was there. 

I wonder if maybe I never left the airport, and I was just wandering around with other tourists in a big multi-colored tourist room where we could think that we were seeing incredible vistas, climbing summits, or seeing a pristine reflection in a lake that you thought could only be found in the imagination spurred by fantasy books. 

You should definitely check it out, especially if you appreciate nature things. 

When you visit New Zealand, the following are some things to know about. 

Driving

- drive on the left side of the road
- If you get an exceptional deal on a car rental, be prepared to drive something with 200-400 thousand kilometers on it, no joke. I got one beat up son-of-a-bitch but she got to where I needed to go. 
- Be prepared for many roundabouts instead of traffic signals. It actually works rather well.
- You can take your car from and to either island by way of ferry. It was about $180 one-way.
- When parallel parking be careful, it takes a bit of time gauging distance on the left side of the car when you're not used to parking on that side. 
- A lot of people (backpackers on a budget mainly) hitchhike. Just an FYI. It's accepted and you can delve into the world of hitchhiking culture.
- Be prepared to hit the windshield wipers at least 1000 times when you meant to hit the turning signal.

Internet

- it basically sucks in most places

Safety


- I would feel confident leaving my laptop on the sidewalk and returning to find it propped up nicely or turned into the city's lost and found department. 

Cities and Places


- Auckland is okay, but really it's just another city to me. When I arrived there from Bali I felt like I was a parallel America where the steering wheel was on the other side of the car and people said mate a lot. 
- I didn't go to the Hobbiton film site because it felt like a major ripoff. People who went said it was magical. That's some magic I can do without, thank you. Someone is getting crazy rich off of that.
- Hamilton is quaint. There's a nice river that runs through it, and evidently they have a good botanical garden (I didn't go).
- The Tongariro crossing is a muuuuuust do. If you are fit, climb Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom). It's pretty interesting because there are no clearly marked paths. On the way there, our Maori bus driver just said that we'll know where to start climbing when we see it and if it seems like the volcano is going to erupt to get the hell out of there. The whole way up is primarily loose tephra, and it's wicked steep.
- Wellington is rad. Go there and make sure you do some hiking in Victoria park. 
- Nelson is. Hmmm I don't know, I guess it's okay. It's close to the Abel Tasman coastal walk, which is very cool. 
- Don't go to Greymouth. 
- Lake Tekapo is incredible
- Wanaka is awesome and had great hiking around it
- Queenstown is a must do. Climb the Ben Lomond summit. Seriously, it's amazing. Just make sure you're in decent shape before you do it.
- Christchurch is cool, specially Hagley Park and Godley Beach Park. 

As is the case with every country I visit, I just scratched a few surfaces. A guy told me that a couple from who-knows-where planned on staying in New Zealand for a few months to travel all around the country, but ended up staying for 7 years and are still trying to capture all of it.

Sydney Drug Dealers and Sky-High Pubes

I love Sydney, despite the fact that it felt like I was in the middle of a huge gambling session where I was the one losing a ton of money and the casino (Australia) was getting all of it. It's beautiful, has as many beaches as there are stray dogs in Costa Rica, and people say mate a lot. 

I'm not a backpacker, and after staying in Sydney I'm even more not a backpacker. That last sentence has to be grammatically incorrect, but whatever. As stated in previous posts, I usually do the Airbnb thing. If I'm in a place like Bali I'll just do a hotel/homestay. However, because it seems to require years of high-end prostitution work to be able to afford a place in the city for a few nights, I opted for a hostel. Yep, the place where I would share a room with about 6 other smelly but often very cool people. It was still about $40 a night there, which is a ripoff, especially since they charged for wireless internet. That was an insult because their wifi, just like the rest of Australia's wifi is only slightly better than wired internet from 1997. I'll probably rant more about that in another post.

In Sydney, the noteworthy thing that happened to me was on a Friday night. Though I hadn't been going out to the bars or even drinking much for a time, I agreed to join my flatmates for a drink. 

We couldn't get into the first place because they found a beer bottle in the purse of a girl that was with us. She was already drunk so was fairly indignant, saying that everyone should be able to drink everywhere, and so on. Anyway, we then proceed to walk a good 2 or 5 kilometers to some bar that an English dude knew well, where yay, we only had to pay 10 dollars to get in. 

No offense, or maybe yes, some offense is needed here, they should be paying people to go there. From there we headed to another place, where I got bored and left. 

It got interesting when I got back, and not in a good way.

I was lying in my slept-in-a-thousand-times bed when all of a sudden a newcomer enters and starts blabbing about drugs. 

I soon found out that I had a drug dealer bunking with me. 

Well, this is just fucking great I thought. 

He tried to sell me something I couldn't even identify, and when I kindly turned him down he proceeded to tell me how jacked out of his mind he was. He kept moving around. This was at around 3 in the morning. At around 3:30 or so my hostel-mates come back feeling good and slightly wasted from the club. I really got along with them so didn't mind asking them how things went, then they all kind of stopped and noticed the extra body in the room. The new guy (self-proclaimed drug dealer),unabashedly said he was a drug dealer and that he was told by a friend to stay there because hostels are great places to sell drugs...at 3 in the morning.

When everyone had more or less settled down in their respective places, the drug dealer, we'll call him Dylan, started either masturbating or playing a video game violently. It was fucking early or late or whatever, and I was tired. So I said something and that stopped, thankfully.

I then drifted off into a dirty smelly drug dealer sleep and woke up about 3 hours later. Thankfully I had a great view when I awoke. 

Two of the hostel flat-mates had become mating mates and had left the bottom halves of their naked bodies uncovered for the world to see. It was apparent that Brazilian bikini waxing was not a thing either subscribed to, as the only thing that really popped out, seemingly almost to the ceiling, were the monster pubes.

In conclusion, I'm now officially done with hostels. I've met many amazing, crazy, fucked up, intelligent, idiotic, arrogant, kind, loving, stupid-as-fuck, clever, old, young, alcohol loving hostellers, but I feel too old for most of it now. 

This may change within a week, who knows.

Australia Is Like an Expensive Hotel

I really like Australia; it reminds me of a really nice hotel to splurge on. It's comfortable, things are generally very clean, I can only afford a night or two, and the internet sucks. 

I'm honestly still processing Australia and trying to figure out how I can love a place so much but still feel this underlying gut feeling of kind of almost not liking it. What does that mean? 

I met some super cool people there, and didn't run into any major problems, so I don't know what my problem is.

Maybe I spent too much time in the business district or tourist sections of Melbourne. Maybe the exorbitant price of EVERYTHING just got to me. In any case, it really is a phenomenal place to visit for numerous reasons. I'll try to leave my jaded fragmented psychological babbling out of it, but no promises.

First, it's clean. It's almost suspiciously clean.  You will not find stray dogs, and the homeless dudes probably make more dough than the average fast food worker in America. I'd bet money on it. 

Let's narrow some things down. 

Melbourne
I went to Melbourne based on many recommendations to go to Melbourne.

Some things:
- The Victoria State Library is awesome. They have workstations all over the place, and in the quiet areas, it's really hard not to fall asleep even if you did just have a strong cup of coffee at Mr. Tulk. The wifi can be okay.
- The wifi in Australia generally sucks more than ...I dunno, it just sucks.
- The botanical garden and tourist spots around that area are definitely worth visiting.  
- The Prahran area is pretty cool, and has a bunch of cool shops and eateries, specially' along Chapel street. There was one place that had a sign that read something like "no suits and ties allowed. Dress code enforced." This was a relief to me, because walking around downtown Melbourne feels like you're constantly surrounded by good looking male and female Mr. Andersons from the matrix. I almost wondered if the Melbourne CBD had been them controlling me for the past nine years and felt the back of my head for an opening, hoping that I too could learn karate like Keanu Reeves in a simulated matrix environment. There was no opening, but my head was shaved, so I guess that was something.

A friend of mine once told me that Australians are Americans in the making. I don't know if that's true, but I can certainly see Sydney or Melbourne as Wall Street's not so little brothers. 

Sydney
Ah, Sydney.
- it's beautiful and has a lot of beautiful spots that you should see. 
- There is a multitude of incredible beaches
- It can get weird in hostels (I have another post about this)
- The Sydney Opera House looks like an alien ship that decided Sydney was its destination for a while. 
- Check out the big bridge over the harbour. Oh yeah, it's the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
- Don't just go to Bondi beach. Check out the north beaches like Manly, Freshwater, etc.  
- Speaking of beaches, when it's nice out everyone tends to congregate by the beach in the pristine lawns. Families, people playing guitar, etc. it's just freaking cool
- The surf is gold here yo
- There seems to be a high concentration of good looking people here. Maybe it's because a vast majority seem to be on the very cutting edge of fashion.
- The internet sucks and everything is too expensive. 

I rented a car from Sydney to Melbourne, and it was okay. The highlight was Keppel Lookout Trail in Marysville. The Yarra hilly region is pretty cool. I'm pretty sure I missed a lot of awesome things along the way. Oh well!

Jetstar Made Me Hide My Laptop in My Pants

Jetstar, you anal retentive bastard.

I don't like Jetstar and I love Jetstar. Why do I usually love Jetstar? Because they're cheap. Why do I now have a loathing for Jetstar? While purely anecdotal, I despise the fact that they made me put my laptop down my pants.

You may be thinking, "well, we have scanners and what not, and quite a few things that don't make sense like not being able to carry a container of witch hazel that's over 3.4 oz or whatever the limit is, so maybe this is their thing." 

Allow me to elaborate. 

They only allow 7 kg as carry on for economy passengers like yours truly, and they actually take that shit seriously when they weigh it at the Avalon airport. Btw, you should totally check your airports when you book. The Avalon airport is far away from Melbourne and the trip ended up being an expensive and boring Uber ride. 

Anyway, my carry on's weighed in at around 12 or so kilograms. So I had to jettison some stuff because God knows the plane would probably fucking go down because of those extra kilos. 

Even after I threw some things out and stuffed my coat pockets with chords, tablets, typewriters, leprechauns, accordions, etc, I was still over the limit. I wasn't going to just give my laptop up to the anal retentive Avalon airport gods.

I decided then and there to stuff the laptop down my pants. It was my only recourse. 

I looked around to see if the personified Orwellian airport staff could see me. They appeared to be assisting passengers and not noticing me just 2 or 3 Jetstar check-in counters down. 

I looked behind me at the line of Aussies getting ready to go to Sydney but didn't really care if they could see me putting a laptop down my pants. I would probably never see them again...well, after we landed and got our bags in Sydney that is. 

Then I took a normal breath and nonchalantly (kind of)  wrestled my rectangular aluminum MacBook down the front of my pants. It's good that I hadn't gotten fat on the trip, otherwise who knows how it would've gone down. 

I walked gingerly, for lack of any other word at the moment, back to the counter where I waited for an entire family to check-in to their flight. Then I plopped my luggage on the weight machine again and came out at pretty much just 7 kilograms.

I thought it was over at that point, but it wasn't. My guitar almost always goes in the oversized luggage compartment, but I usually don't have to do anything to get it there from the check-in counter. I was asked to follow a representative to the oversize bin with my guitar. So I did. I walked with my coat pockets weighing a good 7 kilos themselves, and of course with a laptop in my pants. I suppose it may have looked like any one of the following: 1) a very odd and outdated chastity belt, 2) a very short but incredibly wide erection, 3) there was a laptop in my pants.

Somehow I made it there and out without her noticing. Or maybe she noticed and decided it wasn't worth asking about because what if it was one of those super sensitive things that one shouldn't ask about. 

Anyway, I didn't keep the laptop in my pants for the flight, in case you were wondering. So yeah, just in case you book a flight with Jetstar, you may end up having to put your laptop down your pants. I recommend the 13 inch Macbook. I can't imagine how the 15 would work.  

Things You Should Know About Bali Before Going

Remember, when you’re in a different country, you’re essentially in someone else’s house. Sometimes their house rules don’t make sense. For example, let's say a young guy by the name of Jimmy goes to stay with his uncle Jarvis in a town somewhere between Portland, OR and Landing, MI. He hasn't seen his uncle in a few years but needs a place to stay because he's looking for a job in that approximate area. 

So, in the same way, though I don’t agree with all the laws of Indonesia, I gotta respect them because it ain’t my house. This is not to say I would obey a law if I thought it was morally reprehensible to do so, e.g. treat others like shit because of the color of their skin, gender, sexual preference, etc. But just like there have been asinine rules in the past in the U.S. (and today I assume) so there are similar asinine rules in other countries.

It's kind of amazing how much we let those no more intelligent, or rather, much less intelligent, dictate what we can or cannot do with our lives. Why? Because they are confident to a fault and not afraid to tell people how they should behave in life in all aspects? Because it's easier to let someone else be the master and us the puppets or sheep? I suppose that's a diatribe for another day.

Before I go down a cavernous rabbit hole, here are some things you should definitely avoid while you’re in Indonesia.

Things to Avoid in Bali

  • Avoid trying to score, smoke, or even think about marijuana, or any drug (the current perception of what a “drug” is) for that matter. They DO NOT play around when it comes to this shit, so don’t do it. I’m not being facetious when I say that people have been executed here because of attempted drug smuggling. See: http://mashable.com/2015/04/28/indonesia-bali-nine-australians/#8tuWssW.IPq1 
    • Ironically, Gusti number 1 told me that while pot is a huge NO-NO it’s okay to drink and drive. I don’t know if this is true, but to me, this conjures up an image of someone taking a baseball bat and bludgeoning Logic to the point where it isn't recognizable. It also made a couple fuses totally blow the fuck up inside my head, so I tried to tactfully give my opinion that “WTF THAT’S FUCKING ASS-BACKWARDS DUDE.” 
  • Try and avoid getting “Bali Belly,” as an English dude put it. Don’t drink that tap water. Try and eat at places where it’s fairly obvious that things are prepared hygienically. How the fuck do you do this? Don’t ask me. I had Bali Belly for about half my time there. 
  • Don’t have your debit card information stolen. I did. Cover your debit cards when you pull cash out. I got robbed again, but it was just my two debit card numbers. Luckily I’m not rich and have fraud protection. 
  • Don’t get killed and don’t kill anyone else. This one can be applied anywhere you are. 

I found an interesting article on About.com about the Indonesia drug laws in case you're curious: Drug Laws in Bali and the Rest of Indonesia

Things That are Good to Know

  • The yellow liquid you see in yellow jars at convenience stores contain gasoline for your motorbike, not pee. So if you don’t see a gas station for a while, if you see jars that look like they have pee or mountain dew (or a weird mixture of both), know that it’s gasoline and you can buy some on the cheap for your motorbike (obviously not for cars). 
  • Use these guys for your transportation needs if you want a safe and air-conditioned ride. 
    • Gusti #1: +628123927711
    • Wayan’s contact info:  +6281337834230 or +6281933032268
        • These guys are completely trustworthy, and make sure you don’t lose your stuff. The prices are reasonable, though not exactly cheap (expect to pay 300,000 Rupiah to get from point A to point B) or $30. 
  • Navigating the Roads
    • Drive on the left side yo
    • Maps.me is awesome. Throw in an earbud while you’re motorbiking if you don’t feel like getting lost
    • Wear a mask, because there is a whole hell of a lot of exhaust. 
  • If you are from a wealthy country where the currency is high, be grateful. We can travel. We get weekends off. I’m pretty sure Europeans get half of their lives off for holidays on top of parental leave on top of who knows what else. 
    • Allow yourself to feel humbled by the experience. 

A Nickel For Your Thoughts:

  • Times I was offered a taxi: 1,548
  • Everyone I talked to in Bali knows:
    • That Barack Obama is the current president (I had no idea that Obama spent some time in his youth in Indonesia, which my driver Wayan educated me on).
    • That Trump is an idiotic sociopath (most of the world knows this, how is it that so many people in America don't get it?) Check out The Oatmeal's #DONMOJIS
  • I didn’t go to Mt. Agung, but you probably should because it looks awesome
  • Bali has a day of silence. Every business is closed, no-one drives anywhere, and shit is just kept chill, silent, and reflective. I, unfortunately, missed this by a day or two, but I think EVERY country should practice this. 

Best quote from my time in Bali:

“In Bali we are religious, but we are not extreme, and accept everybody. You wanna dress sexy? If you are ok with that I am ok with that. Okay if I just look?”

Places in Bali That Are Not Ubud

Bali is rad, and there are obviously some great places outside of Ubud. Though I didn't see everything, I've put together some notes on places I did get to experience. 

Jatiluwih Rice Terraces

Simply put: do this if you're in Bali. I highly recommend taking a motorbike out there. Even if it rains (like it did for me), it was well worth it. I'm pretty sure the restaurant I went to gave me a good case of "Bali Belly" while I was waiting for the rain to subside and my clothing to dry a bit. Again, totally worth it. 

Kawi Temple

This place is cool, mainly because it’s so damn old, 11th century old. Otherwise ya know, it’s just ok cool.

*Tip: when you arrive at the parking lot where the taxi drivers park, and where (everyone?) pays 2000 Rp for parking, there may be a couple ladies that will wrap a sarong around you saying that you absolutely need a sarong to enter into the temple.

I was thinking, hmmm, I guess I need one and this is what happens right here in this part of Bali. 

That was the wrong thought process.

They were just hard-core pushy sales ladies. I bargained them down a few hundred thousand Rp, though I'm pretty sure I still overpaid by Bali standards. I wonder if it was just sheer laziness why I didn’t just take the thing off and move on. Or maybe I was "Assertive-Deficient" at that moment. 

In any case, when I got to the temple itself I found that they provided sarongs for free to wear while you’re in the temple. Shiiiiiiiit. 

Btw, if you want to enter into sacred places you gotta wear a sarong. Don't worry guys, though it's a bit like a dress you'll still feel beautiful and masculine. Maybe we can get that asshole Trump to come to Bali and wear sarongs, take a few yoga classes, and become a semi-rational human being. Yeah, I know, there's a better chance that the planet Mars will turn into a huge floating supermarket with advertisements that we can see but can't comprehend here on earth. Hell, that guy probably practices torture methods on the revived Sauron eye, sticking tiny Trump needles in them.

Mount Batur

Driving up and around Mount Batur made me feel like a part of my brain destroyed by alcohol in earlier years was suddenly restored. I could remember my full name and where I'd been for the past 48 hours! It definitely afforded incredible views of the Batur lake and then some. Once again I totally recommend taking a motorbike through it and going on toward the coast.

Fyi: it’s pretty steep and windy for a while, so if you’re not comfortable on a motorbike, maybe sit that part out. I would also make sure that you have plenty of gas. I was speaking with an English dude before I embarked on the journey who turned back because he didn't have enough fuel, and it sounded as though his motorbike had horrible gas efficiency. I ended up riding through a cloud on the way up and over the small mountain/big hill, then when I emerged on the other side there was a wide open view of the sea. 

Also, be careful when you're riding up that mountain. It's beautiful, but you need to pay attention to the incredibly windy roads that have no guard rail. If you fell off the road, well, the outlook wouldn't be good (you'd probably die or be very very mangled).

Padang Padang

This is a very small beach with amazing views. You have to walk down a number of steps to get to it, and will in all likelihood encounter some macaque monkeys along the way. The surf is good there too, and you have to swim out a ways to get to where the waves are.

FYI, there is an abundance of trash that you have to swim through. It’s pretty disgusting, but you could probably find things you may need like:

  • toothpaste
  • used underwear
  • half used aerosol cans
  • oil filters
  • every candy wrapper known to man and alien
  • the full wardrobe as you may have imagined it in Chronicles of Narnia

Tanahlot Temple and Norman

I went to this temple during the Kuningam ceremony, so this place was filled with both traditionally dressed Balinese and tourists. We couldn’t go into the temple, but it didn’t matter. It was well worth going. I met Norman and his family there who are pictured in the black and white photo below. They were super cool and kind. Though I had Bali Belly, I accepted some of the fruit that they offered. 

Despensar

So, Denpensar to me wasn’t much of a place I wanted to stick around in, however, you do fly into the city, so you'll likely see it unless you are in a coma or something on the way out of the city to Ubud.

Thoughts on Dispenser:

  • If you need electronic stuff you can go to Rimo. It's a pretty nondescript place, and when you walk in you'll be wondering if you're walking into an asylum where they'll rename you and tell you your whole life has been a lie and that you've always been there. Luckily that didn't happen. If your iPhone needs to be fixed, there is a dude there who is supposedly the best of the best. Sorry, I don’t remember the name of the store. This is what it actually looks like:
  • You know how in those travel show scenes where you see a ton of people on scooters, bikes, motorbikes, weaving between cars, trucks, people, etc., and you think, “geesh, that looks a bit hellish.” Well, it’s not sooooo bad, though it can be pretty bad at times. We’re talking all of us on scooters hopping up on sidewalks and god-knows-what-else to get through the packed-sardine traffic. I really wish I had mounted my camera for some of it. You get really close to fast moving heavy things while your a fast moving lighter thing.

Canggu

Canggu is a hip little beach town with great surfing and yoga. It’s beautiful, not rushed like other places, and has some great places to eat. It also seems like it could win the award for being the hipster capital of the world (you have competition Austin). Check this place out, it’s worth it. The beaches are pretty dirty here too, unfortunately. 

Nusa Dua

Nusa Dua is the opposite of Canggu. It’s a resort area, and the kilometers of sandy beach are gated. Every time I ride in there to get to the beach I had to go through a security checkpoint. It was beautiful, though, and had some decent surf while I was there. The beaches were kept pretty immaculate. They oughtta be because other people pay a whole load of cash to stay at some of the places close to it. It’s definitely has more of an upper-class vibe to it, and the surfboard renters seemed to be surprised when I wouldn’t pay their normal exorbitant prices. 

Kuta

Kuta sucks.

Just kidding, it just mostly sucks. I mean, there are great people there as well, but damn it’s just commercialized as hell and the shop people are waaayyyyyy too hungry. The beach is large and trashy. I’ll probably never be back in my lifetime unless I’m part of some beta teleportation machine test that goes awry. It has some cool history to it, though. 

Green Bowl

Green bowl is this very out-of-the-way beach. Contrary to what many claim in blogs, though it may have been true at the time of writing, it's not a hidden beach. Though it certainly wasn't crowded when I went either. 

Balingan Beach

This place is awesome and has some good reef break surfing. The views from atop the hills behind the beach afford some really great serene views. 

Ubud: The City that Sleeps but is Still Ultra-Rad

My first and last stop was Ubud, which is a hotspot for many things, including but not even slightly limited to:

  • Designer clothing (more for women than men from what I could tell) 
  • Yoga
  • Great restaurants
  • Cheap, great lodging
  • Taxi drivers
  • Westerners...lots and lots of Westerners
  • Massage Parlors
  • 1,246,397,201 scooters
  • Monkeys

Following are a few things I can speak to, though just like everything I write, I’m only scratching the surface of things. Good thing there are real writers out there doing this kind of thing. 

Kecak Fire and Trance Dance

If you get a chance, check this out. It’s riveting, with really cool dancing, chanting, and a dude who dances on burning things near the end. I went twice, and both times someone from the audience got freaked out when the guy starting kicking smoldering coconut husks. I would go again, and I've already been twice. 

Campuhan Ridge Walk

Level 3 contributor (whatever TF that means) from Tripadvisor wrote a great review which pretty much sums it up: 

The walk is not long and it suits everybody. On the way you can see a temple and the ricefields and at the end you have cafes where you can have some lunch. Its a great area where you can go walkibg, running, breath or even just take photos. CR: Tripadvisor

Best Wifi/Food/Ambience/Service Combination?

I used a list from the super cool site Trip Canvas (formerly Meh the Sheep) to find decent wifi: https://indonesia.tripcanvas.co/bali/fast-wifi-in-ubud/. In the process, I discovered the best one, which is not on the list, but should be now. The Taksu restaurant, which is a place for yoga and other things, won the Ubud Internet race for me. The service is outstanding, seriously. And the food is truly delicious. 

Getting a Tattoo in Bali

The artist at Bali Bagus is awesome. I can’t tell you how many times I thought of getting my old sun tattoo removed, or asked friends, family, other tattoo artists what could be done with it, to no avail. The problem turned out to be with me: I didn’t know exactly what I wanted; I just knew I wanted it to look better than it did. 

Finally, I came up with a general background that I sent to an artist, which was more than I gave to other artists, but still, in this case, it was a resilient, “hell yes we can do this.” It was a “shot in the dark” ya know; it could have gone very very badly. I stumbled across this place because I was looking for an iPhone case at the iStore across the street (yes, it’s called iStore, not an official Apple thing ya know). Other than that, I would have never even thought to come here. In fact, when I got back into town to have my skin drawing done, I went to the wrong studio because I lost his card. There is a Bali Bagus Studio 99, which is not the one I got my piece of work done at. Google Maps is no help either, as it only pulls up the 99 studio. So I will do my part for the tattoo world and show you where it is:

Location of the Bali Bagus tattoo shop:

This is right across the street from the Ryoshi Japanese restaurant: Jl.Hanoman No 68, Ubud, Kec. Gianyar, Bali 80571

A number of people ask me if getting a tattoo hurts. Now, I’m sure you can Google for some awesome insightful answers to how you go about conquering the pain, but I’m still going to throw down my thoughts here. For me, this is how it goes: For the first hour or two, hubris is by my side saying things like “we could do this all day buddy, no problem!” I can read and daydream a bit during phase 1. 

Then comes phase 2, which is the pain phase. Ahhhh pain. It’s where the skin starts to get really raw, and the nerve endings feel as though they’ve decided to become streakers and expose themselves all over the place. For me, phase 2 is when the artist starts hitting more sensitive areas. So what do you do?

After a couple hours, you really do feel like saying “okay, stop, stop stop stop. STOP THAT SHIT.” But, my artist was on fire. He was going at my skin as if possessed by the god of tattoo art. I didn’t want to stop because I didn’t want to interrupt his flow, and I thought maybe it would just be worse if we stopped and continued again. I also kept remembering what a friend told me regarding a culture where when a person (I think just dudes, not sure) gets an old school tattoo as a rite pf passage, they can’t show any signs of pain while getting it done. Otherwise, they’re a pussy or something, I dunno, I need to listen better. 

In any case, I set out to do just that and didn’t allow myself to so much as grimace. At least, I don't remember grimacing. 

How the hell did I do this while it felt like someone was repeatedly driving an ice pick into my chest and between my neck and shoulder blade? 

  1. I stopped resisting on all levels. I didn’t clench my muscles in response to the pain (well, I did but then remembered to try and unclench them). I didn’t keep thinking “stop stop stop motherfucker” even if that particular thought came around more than once. I just acknowledged and accepted what was happening. 
  2. I closed my eyes and tried to just meditate. Don’t get me wrong, thoughts do come, but you just let them come and go. 
  3. At times, focus on the pain, at other times, stand outside of it, as an observer of something that’s going on with your body.
  4. I’m pretty sure I also had the thought that it was a form of torture, and that I must not give up my secrets that the government has implanted in my brain!

Anyway, I’m really happy with how it turned out. Check that off the ever-expanding bucket list. 

Here's how it turned out:

Accommodation

As mentioned in my first post about Bali, Lilicita Inn is pretty damn amazing. It was one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in, and it was $18 a night. The customer service was outstanding, the room was huge, the bathroom was huge and awesome. Seriously, it was just….freaking great. 

Yoga

I’m pretty sure I sweated out 10 pounds of water weight with each yoga session there. 

Conclusion

Ubud is awesome. 

15 Initial Impressions of Bali

Where and how do I begin with this stupendous island. It feels like a universe unto itself. Its geography is remarkable, its people beautiful (most of the people I met anyway), its culture rich, its religion ever-present, and its taxi drivers omnipresent. While Indonesia is primarily Muslim, Bali is primarily Hindu. “There is a temple for every household,” Gusti (Gusti number 2) my driver explained. “Every thing has a god. We make offerings everywhere…in the temple, in the street, many places. 

It keeps us busy.” 

Indeed as you walk the streets of Bali you will see offerings on the sidewalk, with incense burning (they have some of the best smelling incense). 

Without further adieu, here are my 15 Initial Impressions:

1. There are incredibly ornate statues EVERYWHERE. It's possible there are more statues here than there are Starbucks in the U.S. The numbers are too high for me to do the math. 

2. Wait, why are we driving on this side of the road and why is the steering wheel over there? Yes, they drive on the left side of the road. You get used to it. 

3. How are all these beautiful people not sweating like crazy wearing their awesome traditional accoutrement?

3. Most people seem to be genuinely rad and happy to talk with you. 

4. This culture embodies excellent customer service in many areas. In restaurants and hotels, you’ll find yourself being treated like a king, queen, prince, or princess, and it feels absolutely genuine in most cases. 

5. Taxi drivers and massage parlors are apparently mass produced and are available every ten seconds of your waking life. To put it another way: Just as there are an infinite number of dogs in the Philippines and Costa Rica, there are an infinite number of massage parlours and taxi drivers in Bali. There are probably more massage parlors and taxi drivers in Bali than there are grains of sand on earth, more than there are planets in the Andromeda Galaxy, more than…ok, I’ll stop with the hyperbole. But for real, a lot. 

6. In my math-deficient estimation, at least 1 million motor vehicles seem to take up a radius approximating a city block in Denpensar. *This is totally an exaggeration as an initial impression, but a reality when going into Denpasar on a scooter.

7. You can find awesome hotels on the cheap (one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in in my entire life of 39 years was Lilacita Inn, which was $18 USD a night). 

8. There are many wooden replicas of male genitalia of varying (I'm talking the difference between a smart car and a yacht) sizes available in gift shops, and these gift shops are almost as ubiquitous as massage parlors and taxi drivers. That means that there is an almost infinite number of wooden replicas of male genitalia in the country. I haven’t looked into why this is, and I don’t mind being ignorant about it either. 

9. There are a lot of people from Europe, Australia, and the states EVERYWHERE. I wouldn’t be surprised if I went to the most remote part of an island and was suddenly in the midst of a “Yoga and Dreadlocks Session for Tourists.” That’s not a thing yet that I know of, but it very well could be someday. 

10. Many locals wear really awesome traditional Balinese accoutrement, especially during funerals and ceremonies. See point 3. 

11. Many of the beaches have a shitload of garbage floating around in the water. Nusa Dusa is an exception, though I’ve heard there are more that are clean. Padang Padang was exceptionally disgusting and rubbish-filled. I swear it was like some very drunk city planner was in charge of creating a new waste site and was like: “fuckit, let’s throw all this shit in Padang Padang, I’m tired and want a taco.”

12. “Where are you from, “Where are you going,” and “Taxi” seem to be the 3 main opening sales lines anywhere on the island where tourists visit.

13. Much like the Philippines and Costa Rica, there are whole families cruising on heavily trafficked roads on nothing more than a small scooter, while wearing their awesome traditional garb. 

14. When I say I’m from the states, after a while they determine I mean American, and say Obama! They know about Barack there, as evidently our Commander in Chief lived in Indonesia for a while when he was younger. This was a fact that I did not know, but Gusti number 2 did. Gusto number 2 was my second driver named Gusti.

15. This is rad...this is just truly rad.

Palawan: A Spectacular Island to Visit Even if You're Violently Ill

When you look at a map, it looks as though Malaysia decided to cut off a sliver of itself and throw it over to the Philippines. If so, was it a gesture of good will or because of a lost bet? Only the geography gods know unless they’ve had too much to drink. 

Palawan Map.png

This post shouldn’t be long though I suppose it’s already in the TLDR category. I don’t have too much to say about Palawan, but I have put together a video which includes a bit about my kayaking experience off of El Nido, which was the highlight of my time on the island.

A quick note about my videos: I’ve decided to put my efforts into photos and writing. What this means is that I’m ok with the videos being of sub-standard quality. I’ll be posting them so that you can get some glimpses into what I’ve experienced, but don’t expect anything within a 7 million kilometer radius like the work of J.J. Abrams. 

Palawan is cool, and I imagine I may have found it a lot cooler if I wasn't consistently experiencing some illness or getting rained on. Maybe not, though, maybe I needed to be “down with the sickness,” as the Disturbed singer said long ago (I have no idea what he really meant by this, and I’m not looking it up). 

Initial Impressions

Puerto Princesa

I flew into the Puerto Princesa airport, then rented a bike from Palawan Days. It was a red beauty and looked like a badass bike though it basically had a scooter engine. 

Puerto Princesa is just kind of…eh. It has too many people packed into it, and really isn’t that cool. I did enjoy the Robinson’s Shopping center though. 

Tip: If you’re riding your bike through rain, invest in a rain coat. It’s as simple as that. I didn’t have one, and for the life of me, I couldn’t find one anywhere. For some reason I was more fixated on finding something to cover my bags that I attached to the bike behind me, so was asking around more about something to cover up my gear with. It was like a collective conspiracy by the city to make sure I didn’t find anything. People would tell me they had no clue, or that “maybe that shop over blah blah blah has one.” I even stopped at some shops where they had laundry done and the like, and asked if I could buy a big plastic bag they use for clean clothes. Nope. Not for sale. It was fucking weird, but whatever, I know persistence. 

Then I ended up at Robinsons. I was going into every shop that could conceivably have anything. There was a luggage compartment in one of the stores, and they had rain bags but they only came with expensive bags. Everyone said no, there wasn’t anything, or to try a different store. 

Then something dawned on me. 

Shower curtains! 

They used shower curtains in the Philippines right? I was in a store not unlike Macy’s or Target, and headed to their bath section. Lo and behold, I found myself a beautiful cheap shower curtain. I was proud. I was practically high-fiving the young ladies that were working there, who looked at me like I was part lunatic, half-crazed madman. I ended up using that thing extensively because I drove around in the rain A LOT. By the end of the trip, it looked as though someone wore it in a tough mudder race.

The Roads and Countryside

What can I say? Gorgeous. Despite the rain, the tour van drivers driving a million miles an hour, the big trucks spewing out plumes of exhaust that put the Lost monster to shame, the loss of hearing in one ear, the construction on narrow windy unpaved mountainous roads, the food poisoning, and the extra portion of rain, I loved it. Seriously, it was awesome, even if sometimes it was pretty uncomfortable. Here are some of the roadside views:

Port Barton

I spoke with a lot of people who made Port Barton sound like a long lost paradise, filled with chilled out leprechauns and magical dragon dust. Usually, when I get that kind of strong advice from more than one person, I feel the need to check it out. In this case, sorry, I wasn’t impressed. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool and all, but the place I stayed in was overpriced and overall it was lackluster. I was able to capture some cool shots, though. 

El Nido

The town itself isn’t much. It has a lot of shops and people trying to sell you things. What’s AMAZING about El Nido is the natural beauty of the place. Check out the Wikipedia page for some good info on this beauty. 

For me, kayaking for a day was the highlight of my Palawan trip. You can find beaches that you can have all to yourself, and row past breathtaking rock formations jutting out of the sea. It’s best just to see pics of what I’m talking about:


Things to Know About and Possibly Avoid

  • If you are traveling domestically and have a flight transfer in Manila, know that you have to exit the airport and go to the entrance of the domestic terminal cuz the two ain't connected in the building yo.
  • If you go on an island hopping tour, be careful with the food. Well, be careful with the food anywhere on the island. When I first arrived the front desk person at my hotel told me a lot of foreigners were getting sick. I was feeling fine at that moment so of course arrogantly thought: “Hah! Those other Westerners with weak stomachs. I feel sorry for them, that they do not have a robust gastrointestinal system that exudes the very essence of ballast!”

Then I got violently ill 3 days later. I’m pretty sure it was from the meal they cooked on the island hopping tour. Some sea creature I ate just did not sit well. I’ll spare you the details, but my body was trying to use every available orifice to get rid of what felt like an alien invasion in my stomach.

Anyway, I have some footage of my kayaking experience in the following video. It starts at 2:24 into the video if you want to skip the other stuff. 

Thank you for reading my friends and family.