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Christmas in Quarantine

overcast 20 °C

Two weeks in quarantine isn’t hard when you know there’s something amazing waiting on the other side. I’m still surprised it’s finally happening, there were so many times when things were about to grind to a halt that I started to lose hope. But now I’m here, in Taichung, and in quarantine until Christmas.
This time last year I was heading home to finish paperwork on the job that I was supposed to have in China. Everything was set, medical was already done, I just needed the background check and some other certified documents before I could leave. I might have made it, almost made it, but a few delays pushed it into March, and by then they weren’t accepting new visa applications.
Covid was part of it, but there was also a trade war, and I’m an American. It’s hard to know how much each part affected the it in the end, but the job disappeared, and seven months in a studio apartment began during the pandemic.
I had a plan, before. My apartment was to be down the street from the Peace Corps offices, and from the consulate. I could spend the two years building up relationships, some money, and work on my application for the foreign service. Now, the Peace Corps is gone from China, and that consulate closed following the Chinese one in Texas. Even if I had made it, I don’t think it would have been what I wanted it to be. There still would have been some good, but things have been changing for a while, and it’s probably best that I move on.
I searched for jobs for a while, looking for open borders and safe haven while taking classes on Coursera and playing far too many videogames. In the end, I saw someone had posted about their quarantine in Taipei, starting a job teaching during the summer. I reached out again, and this time found an answer.
It was a slow process, with every step finding a way to add a week of delay time to my schedule. I kept plodding along, complaining loudly every time I found a stone to trip over. The idea of having to go back to Home Depot and work retail haunted me, drawing closer as my passport expiration date drew closer. In the end, I arrived at Taoyuan airport with a week before I hit the six-month mark, the time when it must be renewed before I can apply for a visa. As it is, renewing it is one of my first priorities. The visa offices had shut down for covid, and even now I don’t know how long renewal will take.
But, for now, there is nothing I can do but wait. I eat, stretch, play videogames, and stare out the window at the fragment of the city I can see between the buildings. Christmas music blares in through the walls from the streets below, typically the same half dozen songs played on repeat from five to ten at night. The room is clean, the food is disappointing, but everything is an amazing driving force for when I get out.
I can’t wait to wander a new city like I used to. There are kung fu schools to check out, restaurants to discover, and mountains to climb. I can see it all in the distance, through the crack between buildings. I know the basic pattern of how it will go, the pattern I’ve made in so many cities now. Friends, food, memories, and the life that I thought I had lost. I am thankful to be back out in the world, even if the world isn’t what it was before. At least now I have hope it will come back.
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Posted by Porticaeli 07:30 Archived in Taiwan Tagged travel english quarantine tefl taichung Comments (0)

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

sunny 10 °C

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

sunny 30 °C
View A long way home on Porticaeli's travel map.

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

sunny 36 °C
View A long way home on Porticaeli's travel map.

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)

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