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Entries about travel

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)

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
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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

sunny 36 °C
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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)

South Korea

semi-overcast 20 °C
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I don’t really know what to say about Seoul. It wasn’t bad, but I was never amazed by the place, or the food. There was art, some cool to look at, but never really impressive. There were temples and palaces, but not so different than anything I saw in China. There were clean streets and easy access to any part of the city, but I’ve seen all of that before. If there was anything that I will hold on to, it is the memories of the people I met there.

Like in Taiwan, most of them were foreigners, travelers like myself. Morocco, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, Germany, Australia, and more passed through while I was there. We shared an apartment that was far too small, but it was clean and close enough to everything that it was good. It could have been miserable if we weren’t all laughing at our problems, giving bad advice and complaining all at once.

We laughed as we gave worse and worse advice to Germany about the guy she left behind, doing nothing useful to help distract or solve the problem, but all of us laughing and exploring the problem we have all gone through, the people left behind.

We laughed even harder listening to Morocco try and explain his views of the world, most of them in the domain of a 15-year-old rather than a 30-year-old. Simplistic ideas of diet, politics, and relationship delivered in a way that always seemed like he was just being an asshole. The truth was that he believed it, but was open to changing his opinion. He just couldn’t hear or see the attitude he presented with it.

Portugal was my favorite, a strong, independent personality with a beautiful all-encompassing laugh. An artist traveling and working out in the world. I’ll always remember the long conversations and laughter we shared, talking about everything and nothing. The first conversation we had was about Morocco, right after she arrived. Morocco was arguing about the need for cattle, and he was so sure that he was right that he never realized that when Portugal said she was vegan she didn’t mean that everyone had to be the same. I was off to the side, laughing constantly but unable to explain because I was brushing my teeth. Portugal kept looking back and forth, trying to see why I was laughing while he was being such a condescending asshole.

I finished and Morocco went to bed, and Portugal and I sat up talking. I explained my laughter, that I could see that he is not just an asshole, he just sounds like one. That he can and will change his opinion when he is wrong, that it sounds more like an attack than it was. I laughed because he was so unaware of what he sends into the world that he cannot see why people don’t like him. That he can’t see why his humor fails or his explanations never convert anyone. I laugh because of the beautiful innocence wrapped around his failed attempts to look strong, to look like a leader. He reminds me so much of so many other friends I have had in life.

Spain never really stopped working. Sitting in front of his computer programming, cleaning things left behind by others, finding translations for the new appliances, or helping organize and set up the house, he never really stopped. More of a leader, someone who does things rather than orders others, leaving a place better than when he arrived.

Turkey was also one of my favorite people, a fierce burning personality, adventurous and independent, going out to see the world because she can.
It was interesting to see how often I made her laugh with the same kind of comments that Morocco made, but somehow, he always made her annoyed. In comedy, like so much of life, delivery is everything. I remember the walking tour we went on, traveling through the back alleys of the art district for an hour, then somehow the tour went into the tech stores, like computer parts and murals belonged in the same tour. We talked and laughed, pointing out the cutesy sayings on the walls, like “my heart goes pit a pat” in neon over a coffee shop. It was amusing to see her eyes roll with annoyance, and I loved hearing her perfect, near constant singing as she walked through life. I wish I had half as clear a voice as she does.

There are other memories, fragments of conversations, jokes, wandering the city and sitting in the café. There are locals I met, long discussions of Korea and culture, of music and learning. But that is what Korea was for me, a place that I forgot almost as soon as I left, the void filled with people I could spend a lifetime traveling with. Laughter and complaints, beauty and sadness.

In a way, I am glad I never really connected to Seoul. There is a joy I find in places that I need to be alone for, accompanied by crashing waves, the wind in the trees, spectacular meals, and lonely sunsets. People can be a wonderful distraction, but there are times when I just want to feel the world alone. I missed out on that in Seoul, but I will never regret what I found there.

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Posted by Porticaeli 05:11 Archived in South Korea Tagged travel south seoul english korea photography Comments (0)

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