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What We Become

Everything has stopped here. Travel, work, life. There really isn’t much to do, and no way to plan for the future. China was in my sights, but the virus stopped everything for a while, and our government makes it worse. Communication isn’t good between the two countries these days, and every time someone high up targets the Chinese on anything it makes them less likely to open Visas for Americans again any time soon. It’s really hard to know what will happen at this point.

I had a plan, and now it is done. And there is nothing to do but wait. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, all this change. There are other places I want to go, and China was always going to be temporary. The world is open to me again, and I want to see what is out there. It’s only when you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Or so I keep telling myself.

But being stuck here is the issue. The unknowns. How long will it be? How bad will it get? What will the world become afterwards? I’m seeing this as a sociologist in so many ways, and the potential is staggering. Just seeing how much of what we do is a social construct that can be sacrificed in an emergency is amazing. The changes in personal space, the fear of what others might have, that any surface you touch can infect you, that the assumption that we will be healthy, or that the health care system can take us in is amazing.

That is one thing I noticed. There is no profit in preparing for this kind of event, this spike in services at hospitals. It would be a waste of money to have all those extra beds and space, money that could be kept as profit, or used to open a new hospital and expand the market. A government run system could prepare for this without worry about profit, but with all the inefficiencies that government breeds. So many people now are without health care also, and who knows how high this spike will go. How much will we have to suffer to collectively decide that the system must change? How close does the disease have to get before people get angry?

An event like this is morbidly fascinating. All the stories I have read that begin this way, that the world changes beyond return, and that it really shouldn’t go back to the way it was. The pandemic exposes our flaws, so we can break or we can endure. We can become stronger since we have seen our weakness and can fix it. Or we can deny it, our undeserved faith in how life should be, and that it should never change. Everyone chooses on an individual level, but as a society we will have a flow, like an ocean in a storm. What will we fix? What weaknesses will we find? What idols of what was will we cling to, memories of the time before?

Even more so is the time that we are in, the level of technology that allows a quarantine without completely stopping the world. I am still talking to my friends in Mexico, helping edit papers for my old coworkers in China, and in touch with family spread across the US, and we’re starting up our DND game again. People can work from home, order anything they need, and endure at a level unimaginable at the turn of the millennium. It also shows the weakness of a service-based economy, with most people in the US whose jobs are simply to help other people get things finding themselves without work. It was something to do, but we always thought that computers taking those jobs would be a slow process. What happens now that they are a barrier to disease? What happens when people don’t want to have that contact with people, with cash, with all the things that could make them sick?

People are such unique creatures, seemingly so easy to predict, but almost always coming up with so many unexpected ideas and solutions. And with such spectacular failures. I doubt this will make the world collapse, it has yet to really happen in our time, but I could easily be wrong. What happens to the active warzones in the time of plague? Continue fights that cannot be won or begin spending the money at home where the economy is going into a recession and the people are all getting sick? What happens with all the trade that was relied on?

America produces enough to survive without help, but almost all the medicine is made in China, and so many other things come from outside now. On an individual level I am sure this will push solar panels and survival skills on some people, building storage and finding ways to survive when the world around them fails. Looking back at all those doomsday preppers and seeing that they might have a point could become more common than we like. How many people will try to begin the separation from a society they have lost faith in?

And what of all the anxieties and mental illnesses? Part of the reason I am able to cope with my insecurities as well as I do is because of a time where a combination of illness and bad meds put me at rock bottom. After that there was sadness, but having that emptiness as a reference point makes everything in my life so much easier to endure. What happens to others when the virus touches their lives? When they are at deaths door and survive, or someone close to them does not? Does it consume them or strengthen them?

That is my real question, what will we become when this passes? As individuals, groups, and a society as a whole, where will we be after? Will we choose what to be or will we let the world decide for us? And what comes next, considering this is relatively minor compared to some of the plagues of history? Where do we go, from here?

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Posted by Porticaeli 14:11 Archived in USA Tagged sanfrancisco english photography american sociology Comments (0)

Waiting in San Francisco

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I’ve been in San Francisco for a month. I planned to be gone by now, but it hasn’t worked out. Getting the documents is taking far longer than I would like, and it’s far too easy to make mistakes that stretch out the time. It’s not a bad place to be, I’m just ready to get back to work, or at least to be somewhere else.

San Francisco has always been a bit off for me. I like the place, but I would rather be in LA or San Diego, where the Mexican food doesn’t always come out weird. Lettuce in burritos, things fried that should not be, beans and rice in everything, no heat to the salsa, there is always something that is not what I am looking for. The weather is a bit too cold, the air a bit too wet, the ocean far too cold, but maybe that’s just that I’m used to the winter in the desert.

It was stressful being here at first, problems kept coming up with the visa paperwork, delaying my trip out, and even now I can’t plan to leave until I have the visa since in San Francisco the Chinese Consulate sometimes requires you to go in for fingerprinting to get the final visa. I was planning a trip south, but I’ll be lucky to make it to San Diego, much less to Mexico this time. I’ll have to plan better next time.

I never thought the process would really take this long, but China has a few extra steps, and it’s easy to miss. Not that I blame them. With all the problems I’ve seen teaching abroad, I’m sure most of these steps were created because of people cheating the system, bypassing rules to get the jobs that pay better, or hiding from something back home. I just hope it’s not always this difficult. I don’t want to waste so much time next time I change countries.

Having this much time off is frustrating. I am too far out of shape and away from Wing Chun to go practice with the people I know here, but I’m hoping to find something, somewhere to go for a while. I have a small gym I can use, but I always had a problem with being consistent when I was without the group. Buddha, Dharma, and Sanga. In Buddhism you need all three to achieve enlightenment, the teacher, the teachings, and people to study with. I just haven’t found that here yet.

Not that I’m looking. I should, but I always feel weird going in the States. In other countries I show up and it goes well enough, especially since I usually can’t speak the language well so I can be off to the side and quiet until I really want to join in. Here, there is no language barrier to hold me back. There is something oddly comforting about not being able to communicate except through fighting. It’s something I understand, something that comes easy to me now.

But that sets my plans, for now anyway. Find a place to fight, find something to fill my days, and keep working on the visa. And maybe look up some other countries and see how hard it is to get to them. It’s nice to dream of what will be.

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Posted by Porticaeli 13:52 Archived in USA Tagged travel san francisco english photography american Comments (0)

The Trap of Bliss

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When I am in a dream, the only way I have ever been able to take control is when I realize I have no continuity in my past. I know where I am, but I never know how I got there. I’m on a cliff leading up to the house I am staying in, but I was just in another country, how did I get here? That is the defining question of my dreams. How did I get here? Things are always irrational, but when I am in the middle of it, everything seems normal. Like that part of my mind just accepts the reality around it and deals with problems as they come, until I think of the past. If I can’t remember how I got here, something feels deeply wrong.

Zamales was a paradise in a lot of ways. I never really explored like I planned to. The town of San Filipe was a cool mix of old Spanish buildings, quick built concrete storefronts, and fancy beach side houses, but I barely ever saw them. The beach seemed to stretch on forever, but I never went that far. Liwa, the beach side village I stayed in had tons of street art and bamboo houses, but I never took the time to get pictures. The trap of bliss is that nothing really seems important. Life is good, so there is no need to strive or struggle.

I spent most of my time in a hammock, sleeping in the open air or just watching tv i missed out on in Mongolia. I swam in the ocean most days, fighting the current or surfing when I could get a board. I am way out of shape, but I never found the drive to get back into working on my popup again. Or my kungfu. I could blame the ever lessening pain in my feet, but the truth is I just had no motivation. I built a few things, cooked a few meals, cleaned once or twice, but most of my time was spent on simple pleasures.

We spent a lot of time talking, joking, and eating. The food was amazing, except for a single meal during my stay. Almost perfect. Adobo, lumpia, and an endless series of meals I never really learned the names of. There was a French chef from Belgium and an Italian chef for part of the time too, and I cooked Mexican food once or twice. There were always problems with the appliances, but in the end the food was always good and no one got sick from anything. There weren’t many snacks, but somehow that didn’t matter. When I had the chance to hit the town, I bought some stuff from 7-eleven and ate it faster than I thought I would.

Most of the work was just about maintenance, patching fences and sweeping up before the guests came on the weekends. People from the local cities like Manila would come to spend a day or two at the beach before going back home, like we used to go to the mountains in California to camp and see the stars. I never really got around to seeing the stars here. I would watch the sunset most nights, on the beach or through the trees. I swam in the ocean a couple time as the sun went down. It was like swimming in an ocean of paint, reflecting all the colors in the ripples between waves.

The days passed faster than it seemed possible. After a few weeks, I found myself wondering if I was awake or asleep, so I traced back my steps and found I was at a loss. I was where I should be, on a beach in the Philippines, but I couldn’t remember exactly how I got to my hammock. I couldn’t remember climbing the stairs, or where I had been a hour before. There was a feeling, something about cleaning, or building, but I couldn’t be sure. The days began to blur together in a way I couldn’t have expected, and the memory I rely on to show me the difference between worlds failed me.

Everything was right, nothing was too weird, and I was fairly sure I was awake, but I didn’t know for sure until I began to create a past. I waited a minute and started to put things back together, sorting through my memories as I created new ones. It was exactly like when I would drive to work everyday and find myself there, but completely on autopilot, unaware of anything that had happened during the drive. And that was the worst part of bliss for me, that loss of my memories. That life was so good and easy it wasn’t really worth being aware of.

I could see a path laid out there, filled with sunny days and mosquito bites, finding someone to spend my life with, building a house, and slowly dying in a hammock on a sandy beach. There would be problems, but never any that would truly disrupt the place. A life on the beach would be a decent life, but I am not ready to stop yet. I’m in Taipei now, with a couple weeks before I get home for Christmas. I still have places to go, but it’s good to know there is a beach waiting for me.

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Posted by Porticaeli 05:11 Archived in Philippines Tagged travel philippines english photography american liwa Comments (0)

Tranquility of Spirit

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Landing in the Philippines was hard. I have never heard anything good about Manila, and I wanted to be out as soon as possible. Part of it is just leaving Seoul, Mongolia, and China. Everything feels safe there, and I was never robbed beyond the typical overcharging you get with taxis sometimes. I didn’t really know what to expect in the Philippines, and that was hard. Not knowing. I should have known it was just my anxiety acting up.

Manila looks a lot like Mexico as you pass through. Some neighborhoods are beautiful, filled with cookie-cutter houses or malls and expensive stores, others just look like they were built as they went, scattered concrete cubes filled with stores and homes. There are a surprising number of Dunkin’ Donuts here, but most shops look more like family owned hole in the wall stores and street food restaurants. The more expensive areas are filled with western stores, super-malls, and coffee shops. The power lines fill the sky over the streets, draped across the corners of buildings and electricity poles. 

The bus ride out of the airport was cheap and comfortable, but the roads in Mongolia lowered my standards significantly. We stopped off and on over six hours, some people getting on and off, others selling fruit, eggs, and snacks. In Mexico there would have been entertainment sometimes too, clowns and musicians helping pass the time. They annoyed me back then, but I miss them now.

Then, I came to Liwa in Zambales. Its a beach town, filled with hammocks and surfers, souls in celebration of being lost from the worlds they came from, searching for something more than can be found in the world outside. Some I wouldn’t be surprised to see burn out, and others may find the tranquility of spirit they are looking for in meditation and chemicals. There is a lot of faith here, born out of experience rather than religion. I question it sometimes, but then, I question everything. I was never one to accept that the universe has any plans for us, or that life has any meaning beyond what we give it.

But life here encourages that kind of thought, that there is a plan and it is good. I spend most of my days relaxing in a hammock or swimming in the ocean, relaxing into the waves on a good day or fighting them after a storm. Everything is alive. The walls crawl with lizards and ants, mosquitoes and flies are everywhere, and frogs of all sizes are scattered around the forest and house. The purpose of life here seems to be just to stop and take a breath, find your direction, even if it takes years. Especially if it takes years.

It’s and easy place to stay, to stop and never leave until life forces you to. I could spend a year here, sitting on a beach and relaxing, teaching somewhere local or online, just existing until something forces me to move on, but I don’t really want too. I have complaints. There are no walls in some places here, just a hammock under roof, open to the world. The ocean is warm and never really seems to cool me off when I start to overheat. And after living in the desert for so long, I am already tired of everything being wet all the time.

Discomfort. It’s mild, but it keeps me moving forward. There is nothing bad here That couldn’t be solved by having my own space to live in rather than sleeping in a hammock in a shared room. Life is good here, and easy, but I want to keep moving forward. I want to be in my next home, a place to call my own again. But there are still months to go before I can really settle again. I have a plan, and a contract, but I can’t really work on it until I reach Taiwan next month, but that should be easy. I know the city, and I know where to go to get everything I need. For now, I can just exist.

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Posted by Porticaeli 07:44 Archived in Philippines Tagged travel philippines english photography american liwa Comments (0)

A Wedding in Murun

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It’s hard to think back on Mongolia, simply because so much happened there. The vegetation went from green to yellow, then brown before I left. It started out warm, good weather for shorts, but by the end it snowed and stayed below freezing during the day. I went from a city to a farm, then a town and a nomadic tribe. I worked, taught, wandered, cooked, and slept on top of a mountain, but one of my favorite things had to be the Mongolian wedding.

The friends I was staying with had a wedding while I was there, so part of my invitation was just that I was staying where the wedding would take place. It was fascinating. There were traditional foods, large slabs of meat cooked in a local restaurant before being set up for presentation on the day of the wedding. A person would stand up, give a short speech, then sing one of the many songs that everyone in the family seemed to know. There were a couple people whose only job was to take a single, large shot glass and pass it around the room, person to person, and refilling it after each drink. Like in China, I was not allowed to refuse, and the times I tried to only sip I was given the cup again and told to drain it.

The vodka here tastes like rubbing alcohol to me. Reminds me of a medicine cabinet, or working in the hospital. It will get you drunk, but it really doesn’t seem to be something we should be drinking. The food was amazing the first day, but the thing about the wedding is that it seems to last about a week. After the first day with the big ceremony in an elegant yurt built just for the occasion, people kept coming to the house, day after day, to sit and eat and drink. They talked, they laughed, and they gave presents.

The last couple days of the wedding we traveled north to Lake Khovshgul to visit more of the family. I don’t really know the exact reason since we were visiting the people who were already at the wedding, but it is custom. It snowed that day and night, covering the world in a white sheet of glittering diamonds with waves of golden grasses across it. Tourist season had ended so most of the places felt empty and isolated. We ate and sat around the warm fire while presents were passed around, then it was on to the next home, and the next family.

I think it was my favorite because it was the only thing I experienced there that felt truly Mongolian. The language is written mostly in what looks like Russian characters. The buildings often have the feel of Russia, the Soviet Union, or China. So many of the restaurants are Korean, American, British, or Indian. So many of the Mongolian places have changed to suit tourists or have been influenced by their neighbors that it is hard for me to see what is truly Mongolian.

The wedding felt like a wedding, but it was not Chinese, or Russian, American, or Mexican. The way people celebrated, they spoke, even the way they passed snuff bottles to each other to smell, even if you didn’t want to try it. Everyone wore beautiful, traditional Mongolian robes and laughed and sang with their families. Part of me wants to see the similarities between it and the other places I have been, but that would be dishonest. I haven’t seen anything like it, so simple, traditional, and beautiful.

Mongolia was beautiful, and still wild in a way I have never seen. Part of that I saw in the children there. They don’t seem to look to the adults for direction, like they have simply had to deal with all their games and arguments themselves. They speak with confidence, even though they have rarely spoken English before. They learn it in school, but they never really speak it, like in nearly every public school I have seen before.

On the other side, they are much more physical, and in many ways closer to violence than I am used to. Games like rock, scissor, paper end with someone getting flicked in the forehead, and tag always seems to be at the edge of someone being slapped too hard, or in the head. Shame seems unnatural to them, like after accidentally poking someone in the eye, apologizing just never occurs to them. At best, it is spoken as the child runs off to play again.

Wild. It is the best description for Mongolia I can think of. A place where problems are solved between the people involved because the higher authority simply isn’t always there. A place where you can camp wherever you like because there are so few fences. A place of courage, confidence, self-reliance. I am sorry that I had to leave, but as the days were still below freezing it is best that I begin to head south for the winter.

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Posted by Porticaeli 02:43 Archived in Mongolia Tagged travel english photography mongolia american murun Comments (0)

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