I’m frequently elsewhere.

 

“As much as I want to be in the present – as much as I want to appreciate the fleeting moments I have – I’m frequently elsewhere. I’m in my scooter riding the chaotic, dusty streets of Kathmandu, dodging other bikes, cars, cows, carts, bicycles, old men, goats, buses and children. I’m in my apartment in Patan, lying in bed with my love wrapped in my arms. I’m on a hillside on the edges of a valley, catching a glimpse of the Himalayas. I’m talking to shopkeeper about their village, and receiving invitations to dine with a family I just met. I’m sipping sweet milk tea, listening to the cacophony of horns and watching the dark plumes of exhaust around me. I’m wishing I was far away. I’m wondering why I’m really here. My memories are more alluring than the experiences they once were.”

If this were a story, would you want to read more?

What are we working for?

overworked

“Huge swathes of people in the Western world spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed.” – David Graeber, Syndey Morning Herald

As I grind out yet another job search, David Graeber seems to present the paradox that has often popped in the my head. In his article, he questions why we work so much when technology has essential made us so productive that we need not work more than 15 days a week? In the deftly titled piece “The modern phenomena of nonsense jobs“, he outlines his argument for how messed up inequality and capitalism has made our working world. A few week questions:

  1. In this productive world, why are we still working so much?
  2. Why are the jobs we are work often so pointless?
  3. Conversely, why is there so much inequality and unemployment during this surge of productivity?

Personally, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but humanity has proven itself again and again to accept systems that clearly do not benefit itself on the whole. Changing or going against these systems is difficult, time and resource consuming, and often doesn’t provide clear results (Maybe we need more jobs focused on changing these systems?). Truly though, this same argument could be used to explain why the nonprofit sector has exploded in the last few sectors as well.

“But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the ”service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries such as financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors such as corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza-delivery drivers) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ”bullshit jobs;’.”

I’ve seen a lot of ridiculous job positions since I began my search. Does the frozen food industry really need a high paid lobbyist? So If we are really wasting our time, then what should we be using it for? I guess we could get in better physical shape, spend more time with our families, use our creativity to attack big issues like global warming, travel more, spend more time volunteering in our communities, read and educate ourselves, and become masters of the arts, to name a few.

Is there anyone really against this idea?

What is the solution for making our jobs more meaningful? Is a natural evolution in waiting to happen? Is it already happening?

Destination Nepal: One Year Past

One year ago I stumbled out of my plane after 30 hours of sleepless travel to the airport in Kathmandu. I remember how I had to take a tram from the plane to departure area, and how it looked more like a military base than an airport. As I filled out my VISA the immigration officials gave me completely contradictory information, and when I couldn’t find my pen in my haze one of them tried to get me to pay him for his. One official told me I could only stay 90 days… the other assured me that I could stay as long as I wanted. I was confused.

As I exited the airport, there was Amy waiting for her mail delivered by some stranger from Michigan.  I was disoriented and confused as a dozen taxi drivers converged on me and I could barely communicate with the poor girl. I hastily said goodbye to her and looked for my driver. As I found my name plate, some random guy tried to take my luggage from me who I thought was with the driver so I let him. He wasn’t and immediately asked me for a $20 tip afterwards. As I sat in the car waiting for the other passenger to arrive, I could smell the strong stench of diesel. It was slowly raining but I had to get the window open for a chance at fresh air.

Finally my co-passenger arrived and took off down the bumpy roads of Kathmandu. A few flash images still stick in my mind: cows walking and sleeping roadside, a man sleeping under a tree in the middle of the road, shady-looking, drunk Nepalis walking the streets of Thamel, my co-passenger David asking me: “So you’ve never been in the third world before.” We arrived at our guesthouse but I could not sleep that night. I was too jet-lagged and anxious from all the crazy things I had seen the night before.

It has been one hell of a year of adventures. I pray there are many more still awaiting me in the coming  years.

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Full Moon Weekend at Koh Samet Island

I was determined to see a beach.  It was really all that I had craved for after being in land-locked country for so long. Even though we Michiganders may only enjoy the privileges of a warm waterfront for 3 months a year, we still relish our time with water. The common ritual is to roast our bodies to a crisp before submerging ourselves into the cold waters of Lake Michigan.

For my trip I decided on Koh Samet, a popular weekend resort of Bangkok residents. It was a reasonable 3 hour drive from Bangkok. Before leaving, I was warned about my adventures:

It’s a holiday weekend it’s going to be really busy. You don’t have a reservation?

You’re going alone to Koh Samet? Nobody goes a lone. Well it is a popular gay island, don’t worry you’ll have friends!

None of this phased me as I booked my ticket for luxurious 3-hour ride to the coast, which I imagined would be similar to the buses I took to Chiang Mai. I was wrong. As my driver led me to the place of departure, I was guided towards a mini-van. The only seat left was a nice tin space in the back with leg space for an over 6 footer. Memories of Nepal rushed into my brain. Well, at least this van was air-conditioned. As I quickly found out, the vans in Thailand are renowned for blasting comedy-talk shows are the highest volume possible. Also, the backseats are really bumpy – like, fly-off-your-seat-a-foot-into-the-air kind of bumpy. It was a fun ride.

In the van, I was immediately befriended by the other white passenger aboard, an energetic  South African named Ringo. As we started small talk, Ringo informed me that there was not a single reservation available on the island. Not one. It was a full moon party weekend of course! How foolish I was; that was the holiday my Bangkok friends were talking about. Ringo was in the same situation as me, but he was meeting up with friends who lived on the coast. He assured me there would be someplace I could stay. I decided then to become friends with Ringo.

Suddenly, I’m in drinking rum in the back of a pick-up truck racing towards Koh Sumet Island. My new companions were all English teachers recently relocated in Thailand, from the US and England, (and of course the South African). When we reached the pier to Koh Samet, we had the choice between taking a ferry and a speedboat. We opted for the Speedboat. There’s nothing like an introduction to a tropic island like hopping waves on in the front of a speedboat.

The party began as soon as I hit the beach. My new friends let me store my baggage in their single reserved room, thank god. The only sleeping tonight would be on the beach, if at all. The drinking began in the later afternoon, and didn’t stop until the late morning of the next day. It was quite the party. Most of the time was spent hopping for one beach party to the next, meeting other travelers and locals as we went. This continued on until about 5am.

The highlight of the night came sometime after midnight. As the parties raged on, we stripped our clothes and dove into the dark ocean. We swam under the moonlight, but we were not alone. Amidst the three foot waves, large strings of salp bumped into us in every direction. It was truly an ethereal experience.

(Note: I had to steal pictures for this post, since my electronics were locked safely away the whole time I was on the island)

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One upon a time in Chiang Mai…

If you get an extended trip in Thailand, or are not interested in the “beach scene,” consider a trip up to northern Thailand to visit Chiang Mai. I was not planning on going to Northern Thailand until my friend temporarily relocated there for personal reasons. I am glad I got the opportunity to experience this part of Thailand as it was one of my favorite parts of my Thailand vacation.

Chiang Mia features the heat of the Thailand but not the dense humidity of Bangkok, due to its proximity to the mountains that eventually grow into the Himalayan range towards Burma and China. A city of less than 150,000 and under 1 million people in its metro, Chiang Mai has a laid back atmosphere but features all the modern amenities you can imagine. Where renting a bike in Bangkok would be intimidating and scary, it’s the perfect way to explore Chiang Mai. If you are more ambitious, you can follow the outgoing roads to more villages and towns in Northern Thailand. The city is exploding with temples, but still features an active bar scene if you’re down to party. It has two large Air-con malls when you need to escape the heat, and plenty of spiritual activities to partake in. You can easily escape the city for a variety of hiking, outdoor activities, sports and wildlife viewing.

If I had a choice of anywhere to live in Thailand, I’d go north. Many expats make the same choice, as there is a thriving international community. The three days I spent in Chiang Mai were a welcome surprise and highly recommended for anyone wanting to see a different side of Thailand

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Destination Bangkok

Ahhh Thailand, what a world apart from Nepal. You’re a hot, steamy son of a bitch. You lure people in with your promises of paradise, your endlessly delicious cuisine, and nonstop parties and beautiful tanned bodies. It seems a lot of people fall in love with you, for the right and the wrong reasons. Young, inexperienced teachers come to celebrate your beaches. Creepy, old, rich men and young beach guys come to sample your young women. And it seems everyone here knows how to party.

Between my visits to Chiang Mai and Koh Sumet island, I’ve been making stops in Bangkok. I don’t know what to think of the city. After coming from Kathmandu, it seemed so organized, verdant, and full of activity. Eating on the streets here is super cheap, and much tastier than Kathmandu. I don’t have to worry about food sickness. Taxi’s actually cost less… a lot of things do when your outside of the tourist and party scene. But it has this oppressive heat. And going out here just gives me the creeps, with the sex industry booming and loads of obnoxious  and sometimes belligerent tourists. Always good and bad as in anyplace.

I’m on my last day in Thailand and I don’t want to leave the house. It’s really sunny today, ruining my desire to do anything. I’ve already seen two movies here, gone to malls at least 5 times, and the beach just once. That’s what the locals do… whatever the hell you can to stay cool. Riding on the bus or going to a mall is nice relief from a sultry existence. I’ve had an amazing Couchsurfing host… he’s one of the Ambassador’s of Thailand and somewhat of a local celebrity for CS. His house has been converted to a hostel for CS’ers… a great place to meet and hang out with travelers and their Thai friend’s alike. It’s certainly been a great experience staying with Toom!

Last week I arrived and forced myself to do some Bangkok tourism, visiting the Grand Palace of the king and the reclining Buddha. It was quite epic and beautiful! The royal family must have been, and probably still is, loaded with cash to build all of these gold temples. You can seen the king’s photos virtually anywhere, as he is a revered person in Thailand for which all must show respect. You have to pay respect to the king’s/national anthem at the cinema before the movie starts! They just love the king. (It’s illegal to insult or mock him)

Bangkok’s seedy side is all it has been made out to be, and I’ve tried to avoid it as much as possible (I wasn’t so lucky in Chiang Mai and Koh Sumet… but we’ll get to that later). Khoasan Road is the tourist/backing district where many chose to stay, complete with a huge bar scene. My first and only night there an American guy tried to pick a fight with me. I was embarrassed for our country. I decided not to go back to Khoasan.

Next up: Chaing Mai and Koh Sumet.

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The final hours

“If it’s still on your mind, it’s worth the risk.” – Johann Von Goethe

Tomorrow I hop on board a plane headed towards Chicago via Japan, therefore making today my last full day in Asia. I can’t be disappointed with my bold and memorial journey to explore some of he most exotic and interesting places on the earth. What began as an idea to travel and see India, evolved into a living experience in Nepal with a full-blown Asia tour attached.

Well, I never made even made it to India. Life happened and Nepal took me by surprise. Unforeseen circumstances forced me to trim down my ambitions and settle for a more realistic trip. I chose Thailand as one country to explore before heading onto home.

In Nepal I saw and experienced a lot of crazy, strange, bewildering things that I accepted as normal and unremarkable after adapting to them for so long. Upon entering Thailand, the culture shock was real again. Born again were the feelings of being lost, confused, and unable to comprehend a culture that was utterly foreign to me.

Anyhow, back to the point of this post. There is a Midwestern ideal that staying home is the best. That despite where you go, nothing will be better than the warm comforts of your home. I’m sure some people will tell me that this was my “experience of lifetime.” Yes, it was and I will always remember it fondly.

While I understand what they are saying, they are utterly wrong. But people are missing the point. Maybe this is because I’ve changed so much, or maybe I just unlocked a part of me that always was.  The experience has awoken a desire in me, to explore and never stop being curious about the world. I have met so many people where travel is a lifestyle, where adventure is necessary to survival, and who leave their homes regularly with ease. I don’t want to fall into line with a secure life. I want their flexibility and freedom.  And now I know it’s not as hard to have as I once thought.  It just takes a lot of guts.

So I counter your experience of a lifetime statement by saying “This is just one of my lifetime of experiences.” Sorry, I didn’t get this “out of my system”. Hell, I’m addicted as ever and I see no real cure in sight. Give me the culture shock any day. I’m ready to be lost and confused again.

I’m going home because I need to rehab a injury, to save some money, and realign my career goals. After that, anything is possible. I will love my time back in Michigan to see my family, friends and enjoy the luxurious lake shore. Just don’t expect me to settle anytime soon.

Back to Writing.

I promised to write about my experiences here and I broke that promise about 5 months ago when I ceased writing. Sometimes life kicks your ass a bit. The last 5 months have certainly been a wild ride, and I haven’t wanted to talk about all my experiences publicly. Sometimes you don’t want to admit what you’ve been going through. Sometimes you can’t because you don’t want to hurt the people around you or lose your job. These are probably reasonable excuses. However, now that I will be leaving this place behind, I hope I can go back and recall some of my experiences before they are too dim and unrecognizable for me to imagine anymore. I hope that if I talk in some of my friends in detail, they won’t mind how I characterize them. I hope that if I criticize my former place of employment, my future employers will see it as trying to do good and improve the way organizations work, not simply mindless bashing because I have a bad taste in my mouth. If you can’t write truthfully and honestly, what is the point of writing at all? I don’t want be a PR spokesperson of my own reality.

I have less than a week remaining before I depart Nepal. I feel as though I have the whole world in front of me, looking to smack me in the face with its new surprises. I’m not leaving on my own terms. I wanted to stay, I wanted another year of adventures in Asia. My health and my wallet have made that impossible. So instead I’ll be settling for 12 days in Thailand before I head back to Michigan. My number one goal is to get better. One I am healthy again, anything is possible. My number two goal is to find employment again and get my career back on track. In between, I have to make sure I record the lessons I have learned here, for my own benefit and the benefit of others. And finally, I don’t want to give up my dream of living abroad, yet again… whether that takes months or years to happen. I don’t know where I will go next, but idea of settling down is nowhere near my short-term plans.

So keep in touch with my blog as I reimagine the events and experiences that have taken hold of me here.

Nepal: Reboot

tongba!

What a difference one month makes.

At the beginning of this month, I had quit my job at the NGO, creating intense anxiety and stress about where I would end up next. I entered Vipassana meditation with much hope I could clear my mind, but in turn find my mind very difficult to subdue and calm. I found myself running away to the future, craving for some stability and direction for the next few months. But then something changed.

I have seen a few friends and others go through Vipassana and there’s definitely a difference when they exit, regardless if they keep in practice or not. It’s like years of baggage have come to the surface and realized, and suddenly, good things start happening in their lives. Well, I can say I am lucky to experience the same kind of transition of my own.

In one month post Vipassana, I have landed one job with another potential job on the horizon, moved into my own spacious studio apartment, seen several incredible relationships grow (including one special one in particular) and have even pondered the idea of staying in Nepal with a new VISA. I have also started taking Nepali language lessons.

I can’t say enough how lucky and appreciative I am to enjoy all these wonderful things in my life all of a sudden. After 4 months of life chaos, I refuse to take anything for granted. It seems like many things are coming to fruition, and it’s best to keep living in the moment and enjoy the ride.