Archives for the month of: October, 2013

10/30/13:

If I were to imagine a place that I thought I would never fit in, Ubud, Bali would be that place. The land of yogis, spiritual gurus, healers, raw food cafes, and every self help experience imaginable, I am the odd one out. The one living on another level of spiritual awareness, presence, and priorities. While I wouldn’t identify myself as ignorant, unaware, or judgmental, when it comes to the essence of Ubud and the life many people here lead, I was the epitome of a non believer. I figured I’d eat my way around the city, see the famous thousand temples, and get the hell out of dodge–there was no way I wanted my first few days of solo travel in a while to be here where I couldn’t envision connecting with anyone or even being able to hold my own in a conversation about any of the aforementioned topics.

However, here I am 5 days later with no intentions of leaving anytime soon, engaging with a new network of friends who are broadening my horizons and educating me in ways I never expected I would be receptive to. It happens that my curiosity and thirst for knowledge is endearing. This community is deeply generous and has so much experience to share–experience that surprisingly parallels many things I’ve dealt with at one point or another. Realizing the similarities of human experience makes everyone more relatable. The people I have met have made mistakes, been confused about their place in this world, struggled with emotions and relationships, and just come out the other end differently. That’s all it is.

Once I opened my heart and more importantly my mind to learning from and experiencing the real Ubud culture, my innate curiosity took over. I have experienced massage exchanges, life model sketching sessions, chanting exercises, meditation, Watsu water therapy, ozonation, and a state of peace, calm, and acceptance that I never knew existed. As the sun set over the picturesque landscape of rice paddy fields last night, I gathered around a fire pit, mediated in a sauna, and basked in a steam bath while the DJ guided us through a night of new friends, knowledge, and relaxation. I questioned myself about a million times where I fit into this picture of Ubud expats. The interesting thing was, no one was questioning me. They were teaching, sharing, and not once put off by my naivety. There are not many other places I have experienced that level of acceptance. So here I am, listening and taking it all in and deciding that I just might call this place home for a little bit longer.

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10/7/2013

As I sit here, giddy after reading my latest guilty pleasure romance novel, I shift my eyes from one side of the room to the other. Both of my travel companions, entranced in their respective interests, looking so content and at peace, while at the same time determinedly focused. Writing and reading are what make them happy; and while my desire for attention and my playful energy is abounding, I can’t help but smile and quietly find an alternative outlet in my own writing. Passion is an interesting thing. The way it affects people, drives them, energizes them. Consider what it has done to the three of us. It has transformed a rainy night in a sleepy island bungalow into a haven where three independent souls coexist but feel no distinct need to interact. We all know we are here, together, but no one makes a move to turn our attention away from what inspires us–the keyboard continues to click away and the sound of pages are swiftly turned. I choose to find happiness in observing and reflecting.

I have realized in my past few relationships what an incredibly attractive thing it is to see someone passionate about something. Whether it be a job or a hobby, the way we approach what inspire us is unparalleled by any other motivation I’ve experienced or witnessed. The pursuit of wealth and beauty breed shallow ambition, easily faulted by setbacks and difficulties; however, when we pursue things that are a part of who we are, there is a more emotional reaction and drive that allows us to persevere in spite of such challenges. I want to believe that we all have at least one thing that we are passionate about, and naive as it may sound, that it is possible to maintain these interest despite financial and societal pressures. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion I have experienced conversations like the one below:

Person 1: I hate my job
Me: If you don’t like it, why don’t you find another one
Person 1: I am not sure what else I would do
Me: What is it that makes you happy? Start from there
Person 1: I don’t know. Money makes me happy but I don’t really like working.

All jest aside, I have had this conversation on numerous occasions. If it is with a romantic interest, most attraction is immediately extinguished. Fires doused in a downpour of rain. I can’t quite explain what it is, but it leaves me with an urge to shake them and scream “There must be something other than money!”

However, I know it is not always this easy. It’s not simple to pinpoint what it is we love, how this can play into what we do, and how not to get caught up in material desires that might deter us from our original intentions. If consider myself lucky to have even been able to address two of these three things. #1 know I love the world of education and #3 I am willing to accept that in this world I might not ever make a lot of money and am more than happy to continue my pursuits despite this fact. It is #2 that trips me up. How can I channel my passion for education, travel, and research, all of these things that inspire me, into a career, into a future?

As I observe my two companions, I am energized by the models set in front of me– both of which have been able to channel their interest for reading and writing into their work and day to day life. Their passion is what fuels their focus and determination on such a lazy rainy evening. I hope to learn from our time together, and continue to brainstorm my future trajectories in both life and work. With no clue where it will lead me, I have nothing to lose and envying to gain. To the pursuit of passion! Just after my more immediate pursuit of a good nights sleep that is…

11/24/13
I wonder if this is something we will ever get out of our systems, doing things I know aren’t good for us just because they feel right at that moment. I’m talking from the scale of indulging in that unneeded candy bar, to picking up the phone and calling someone that you know you shouldn’t. Society has groomed us to expect instant gratification. Text messages, video games, and credit cards teach us that what we want is often directly at our fingertips. However, unlike the reset button that pops up every time my Halo character is slain, or the Staples easy button that seems to make problems go away, life doesn’t readily react the way we expect it to.

There is a permanence to things that is not always under our control. Our scathing Facebook message cannot be unseen; we can’t undo screaming at our bosses and quitting to make a point; and going after the bad boy can end in trouble. At some point in our lives I believe everyone will do one if not many of these things. Not because we don’t understand the repercussions, not because we enjoy some good inner turmoil, it’s because in that moment we indulge, let go, or do something that feels right in that moment, we are happy. In the pursuit of happiness our judgment may be clouded as we aim for that instant gratification we’ve gotten so accustomed to. What we are left with in the end is having to pick up the pieces and assess the damage we may have done to others and/or ourselves and hopefully learn from the experience.

Now, not all impulse decisions or decisions driven by our wants have such treacherous outcomes. One candy bar is not the end of the world and friendships can be mended even if you post a rude comment on their wall when you were angry. The trouble comes when the things we choose to do that aren’t good for us stop seeming so bad. Our sense of self control, and morality shift, allowing ourselves excuses for more of these actions to take place. So how can we balance our desires with our needs and uncomplicate our lives? I think the truth is we can’t. We are complicated beings and often that is part of the charm of our multifaceted nature as humans. However, as long as we continue to challenge our choices and have those close to us hold us accountable, we can all afford to indulge every once in a while, right? By being conscious that not everything we will do will always be in our best interest, we accept that it is ok to make mistakes, try and fix it, and move on.

Stranger things have happened than what happened yesterday evening. Yet, still, falling asleep with some new friends on the beach whilst being serenaded by local Indonesian called Sol shouldn’t seem all that normal. Dancing to Reggaton at a reggae bar on an island where you can’t go swimming shouldn’t be what I expect to experience during international travels. Even being gifted a fresh banana off a tree when its 3 am and your really hungry yet everything’s closed should should still throw me off guard–but it doesn’t. This isn’t the first time I have found myself in a new place, with new people, a new language, and no idea what is going on. Yet last night reminded me of something I had seem to have forgotten–I am completely and utterly out of my element. 

Being able to say hello and how are you, doesn’t make me a local. Being invited to join my guest house family for a sunset picnic doesn’t mean I immediately fit in. However, something has changed in my approach the more time I have spent abroad. Having no foreseeable plans, expectations, or preconceptions, these new and often strange experiences are my life. When I get asked when I live, I have no real answer. If you were to ask me who my friends are, I would gesture all around me to any new smiling faces I happen to have chatted up that day. This is my standard, normal, everyday. 

 

When I think about how I have gotten to this mental space, I know it did not happen over night. My up for whatever attitude has been shaped by good friends who have challenge me, as well as experiences that should have had me running home or feeling uncomfortable. To be able to say as I walked home last evening that “Stranger things have happened,” might mean that my normative scale is shifting. I question, what will phase me after a year on the road? Imagine 10 years, the stories I will share and my reactions to similar scenarios. Will I constantly be in search of something that is more exciting, more out of the ordinary, a stranger story to tell? Or does getting over the initial shock factor quicker that usual allow me to take away different elements from the same situations? While I continue to enjoy and revel in this new acceptance of strange, I wonder, what will be the next things that happens that makes me go “Wow, that was really odd?” Don’t worry, you will be the first ones to hear about it. 

 

 

10/4/2013

Today, as I scanned the passing signs on my bus to Kuala Lumpur, I realized that I was born with a special gift. Something that as much as I might deny its worth always seems to help me conquer new places, makes the trying seem simple, and opens me up to infinite opportunities and people. This gift is having English as my native language. I grew up lucky to be speaking the world currency. While no country will ever admit or accept that speaking English is one of the quintessential parts of competing and interacting in the global community, it’s one of the main reasons I have been able to travel with such ease through these various countries.
I enjoy thinking of language as a form of international currency, because this makes me pretty rich–not something your probably used to hearing from a teacher. I am fluent in the two most spoken languages in the world, allowing me to communicate and interact with a fairly large % of the 7 billion people on this planet. For a true extrovert, this news couldn’t be better. This however, might be the one instance that I allow myself to get “money” hungry. I crave more currency, a desire to speak more languages, open up my social world to more people, cultures, and experiences.
I by no means am willing to rest on my laurels relying on everyone to speak English–so much gets lost in translation. However, it’s also improbable to attempt to learn ever language in the world. If I truly want to enable all those I come in contact with to openly express themselves through language our options are currently very limited–gestures, pointing, and pictures will only get us so far. So how can I address this seemingly insurmountable challenge? Will there ever be a way for all humans to communicate in a meaningful way? If more people considered language as a form of currency would language education become a larger priority in our global economy? I guess in the mean time I will just have to make it a personal aspiration to learn as many as I can. 2 down, over 7000 known languages to go!

10/6/2013:

On my domestic Indonesian Lion Air flight, they made it a point to remind their passengers that the illegal trafficking of drugs carries the maximum penalty of…wait for the ominous pause…death. This announcement was made right before take off–just in case all of the illegal drug traffickers wanted to jump ship now and make a run for it, regardless of the steel doors that have just trapped them in. I would like to take a survey of the plane that would consist of just two questions: #1 “What is it in your life that keeps you from deciding to become a drug dealer? ” A. Your moral sense of right and wrong B. It would take too much work to adopt the past paced lifestyle of a dealer or mule or C. Lion Air’s friendly reminders keep me following the straight and narrow. And #2 “If you are or were ever in your life to become a drug dealer/mule, would an airline automated system message warning you of the legal consequences be sufficient to scare you straight?”
Somehow I think both questions would prove interesting for data collection on those infamous “tell us what we can do better” comment cards. How about a weather update for the destination city; or even an ad spouting off the meals served on board? Anything that might seem a little more relevant to all those on board–unless of course I am currently surrounded by >200 Indonesian drug dealers who are either not intimidated by death or are currently sweating like crazy hoping not to be found out. Hmm it makes me do a double take at that 80 year old woman I helped carry her bag that was twice her weight to the plane earlier. Am I now an accessory to an underground drug operation?
Wish me luck, not only as I try to make it through the flight without being questioned, but also as I embark on my travels with no knowledge of wether I packed appropriately for the weather or if they are serving chicken for dinner on this flight…oh the sacrifices! It will be quite a treacherous journey.

10/5/2013:

If you have ever had the luxury of hiring a knowledgable tour guide or the luck of being taken under the wing of a benevolent local, you can understand that nothing parallels the way you see and experience the depth of a foreign city. When you might not have seen a tourist for days, have slept in some rather close quarters with livestock, or have even eat food that you couldn’t even attempt to put a name to, you know that you have become immersed, and often even lost in a culture foreign from your own; good for you, you have embraced and hopefully overcome a challenge and this will be an experience hard to forget. But for those of us that might not get so lucky to meet that local, or have the funds to at least simulate it these experiences, here is a quick and easy way to experience and learn about the most raw, simple, and uncensored side of wherever you are–meet some local children.
Now I am not condoning walking up to random children and starting to play with them–we all know how that could turn out. I’m talking about those kids waiting at the same bus stop as you, the kids of the guest house manager, or even those that play hide and seek with you while you eat your meals from a street cart. We’ve all seen them, and more often than not our reaction might be to burry our noses further into our guide book so as to not perceived as creepy for staring at someone else’s children. I challenge you to shift that view, talk to the parents, gesturing if necessary, asking if you can play with that child. You won’t be disappointed when you miss visiting that cultural museum or ancient temple because you spent more than you thought possible playing with rocks and sticks and loving every second of it. That will most likely give you more insight into the culture than a landmark you will take a picture and soon forget. Especially as it blends into the other 186 attractions you will most likely visit that week.
Seeing the city through the eyes of a true, impartial, and unbiased local child is like recapturing the innocence of place. Strip the city of its tourist outlets, and comforts, and what do you get? Smiles, laughter, and fun. Every time I find my small guides, I find myself seeing the world more like they do–putting down the guide book and searching in the bushes for frogs or swapping food recommendations in Thai at a local market. A three year old little girl picked put the most delicious fruit and the tastiest salty treats (something resembling coconut and banana flavoring, although it is still somewhat a mystery), and my dear friend Damian (going on seven years old) showed me how self sufficient and simplistic a life in the jungle could be.
So lonely planet may tell you how they suggest experiencing a city off the beaten path, but I challenge you to look no further than the glimmering eyes of that small child that is trying to get your attention as you read this–their insight is not only cheaper, but much lighter on the back than that hefty guidebook. Enjoy!

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9/26/2013:

Chameleons can blend into their surroundings. Some species of fish have their eyes on the side of their head so that they can lay on the ground and blend in; and bats have a keen ability to see at night to fly around and catch their prey.

What these all have in common is that they adapt in some way to their surroundings as a means for survival. Us as humans aren’t that much different. While we can’t really change what we look like (except for the occasional trip to a plastic surgeon, or these strange whitening creams that seem to be prevalent all over Asia), we learn to adapt to our surroundings by adopting customs, learning new languages, observing, etc. Often these adaptations take a great deal of work, or study–such is my experience with the Thai traffic rules. However, some sneak up on you and you end up adopting things you didn’t even notice.
Today I was asked where I was from by a Thai waitress. When I responded America she seemed surprised. She continued by saying “Oh I thought you were Spanish, because you have a Spanish accent when you speak English.” Consider for a moment that this girl has never met me before, doesn’t know that I’m obsessed with speaking Spanish, or that I lived in Spain, or even that my iPod was quietly jamming to Reggaton through my left ear bud as we spoke. So why is this the ~15th time someone has has the same confusion? My native language is English, however, for the past year I’ve been living 70% at least in Spanish, and now I live in Asia where 95% of the people I speak to are non-native English speakers. Apparently I have adapted by adopting an accent? Maybe I speak slower and more clearly this way. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I am more than thrilled to be confused for a Spaniard, but it is quite a strange turn of events that it is now my English that confuses people in addition to my Spanish. I wonder what other interesting mannerisms I will adopt while I am out here–only time will tell!