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Hope For the Guest

If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive, do you think ghosts will do it after?

Month

October 2015

Safer To Travel

_DSC1232I closed the door to my fourth floor room in Surat Thani to find that it had three locks on it, the locks made me feel less safe. They made me wonder why a door would need so many locks, what unseen menace they were expecting that I had somehow missed on my way up the stairs.
But then I remembered that safety is relative.

Safety is sometimes looked at like its a black and white world where as long as you stay in the light nothing bad can happen, you are safe. I don’t think safety is a useful foundation to live on, except to ease someones mind.
I think about safety as a collection of mitigations for risks around me, I make routines so that some bad things are statistically less likely to happen. I know that this doesn’t stop bad things from happening. I could stay in my hotel room because I’m afraid to walk around at night but the guy in the next room could fall asleep smoking and light the hotel on fire. Safety is a comforting thought, its nice not to worry but if I’m being honest with myself I can’t feel 100% safe even sitting on the couch back home in the US.

Despite my view of safety I don’t stress constantly about risk, I know stress is more likely to kill me than anything else.  I try to avoid stress with as much seriousness as I try to avoid being mugged.One of the things that helps is I make it a rule that I act instead of worry and after I’ve acted I relax knowing that I will deal with anything that happens from solid footing. If I’m worried about someone breaking into my hotel room when I’m not there I hide my valuables in different locations in the room, I try to be aware of entering and exiting my room for anyone who might be paying too close attention, I make it easy to steal the things I can lose and hard to steal the things I don’t want to lose. After I’ve taken steps I relax.

Traveling can be so stressful. At home we get used to the risks we face, sometimes so much that we have no second thoughts about extreme dangers like driving or the amount of stress in our lives. Traveling holds new risks with new faces every day, I get used to one place and than I move and the patterns are different. Its easy to feel out of control, which is an honest feeling, its just not a helpful one. I work on how I think about danger and safety so I have ways of relaxing despite life being full of risk. As much as I enjoy traveling I would not have that enjoyment if every minute was a struggle to relax. I have this struggle whether I’m at home or abroad, its important to remember that just because I think something does not make it true. My fear does not make dangers more real or closer, and in the same way my comfort does not make tragedy less likely. I practice learning the likely risks, however mundane. I try to cultivate an aware but relaxed mindset so that I can have the benefits of my eyes and ears without the adrenaline of fear. I like to think of awareness as something without judgement, so I can see a danger without any fear because seeing something is just that. Only when I decide what it is and how to feel do I then start to feel.

I’ve seen children hit their heads while playing and pause for a few moments before crying or shaking it off. If you interrupt their decision with “Oh no, are you okay?!” they seem to be more likely than not to cry.

Its so odd to me how risk exists in our perceptions. Likely dangers are ignored in favor of fixating on one-in-a-million tragedies. According to National Geographic’s website In 1996, toilets injured 43,000 Americans that year. Sharks injured 13. I feel way more fear for sharks than I do for toilets, if I was a logical person toilets would be much more frightening. I must not be very logical, its a much more visceral image to think about a shark attack than being injured by a toilet. There’s an excellent book on this subject, its called The Unthinkable. It explores peoples perceptions of risk very well. It explains how people are more afraid of scary imaginary than on likely but less intense images. Its just less dramatic to imagine myself dying from a heart attack from years of stress or poor eating than it is to imagine being murdered in gang violence in Honduras.

Traveling might be dangerous, but I don’t think its more dangerous than staying home for me.

I know the unknown is scary and traveling is all about the unknown but it shouldn’t stop as many people as it does (especially in America from what I’ve seen). Life is full of dangers, Some likely and some unlikely, you might run into them on the way to work or eating dinner or while trekking through the jungle in Cambodia. You don’t always get to choose what dangers find you but what would you choose?

Would you prefer to tell someone you burned yourself on the stove at home cooking eggs or that you burned yourself cooking crab that you waded for miles waste deep in a murky Malaysian river to catch?

For me its not safer to leave home because it has less risk, its safer because it keeps my spirit alive. There are many ways to die and many ways to be harmed, I don’t want my life to die before my body does. The undecided amount of time I have left I would like to spend searching, growing and facing the wind.

This is what I think about when I hear how dangerous travel is. “So you think you’re safe at home?” and “How do you want to live?”
I can mitigate the risks of traveling but I can’t reconcile giving into my fear of the unknown.

Judging

_DSC1304I put one foot slowly forward until it found a safe place to land, a place solid enough to move my weight to, then I slid my weight forward until my other foot was free to repeat the motion.
I had been intentionally forcing slowness in my forward motion, it is easier to go fast but I had been thinking about strength the day. I was thinking that nearly everything is harder to do slowly, not everything but if you ask someone to do ten pull ups slowly its going to be harder than ten fast. There is another layer too, its easier to force determination the shorter the distance. Anyone can be determined for ten seconds.

I walked through the steep and slippery jungle paths with an ear to the small noises around me and whenever I didn’t need my eyes to plot my steps I used them to scan for anything that might be moving around me. I spotted many lizards darting off into the beds of leaves that were thick just off the trail. It went on like this for a couple kilometers until I heard a sound up ahead.

This is how it played out in my head:
A sound in front of me. I see black, green and brown in a pattern. Its camouflage, Its a man, I see shiny and black in his hands. Its a gun, not a shotgun. Its usually a shotgun when I’ve seen guns here. Its a rifle, that’s a big gun for a man in camo to carry in the jungle in Thailand. He hasn’t seen me, is this why I train to walk like this? Is there danger? How do I not get shot if he shoots? Left is a steep hill and right is nearly a cliff with a river somewhere below, I would have to throw myself down the cliff to have a chance at not getting shot. Jump, no, he is probably a park ranger. Wait, wait to see if he raises his gun then jump. He sees me. One second. “Sa-wat-dee-khap” I say “Khap” he replies seemingly totally unaware that he could have scared me by walking down a jungle path with a rifle.

I didn’t feel anything that I was aware of during that few seconds. Afterward it made me think about my own thought process, maybe it was because of how relaxed my mind was when it happened but I remembered how I thought very clearly. I don’t know how other people think but I’d like to know how I think.

Despite being a benign situation, for five seconds I wasn’t sure of that. I noticed that during that time I was able to plan a lot of things and ask a lot of questions, words cant tell all the micro decisions made in those few seconds. I’m sure most people think at least that well, most people are equipped with a pretty powerful brain I think. Despite how we all function differently I think most people learn to use what they have on hand.

It also made me think about judgement and how traveling is a constant practice of judging everything. I judge everyone I see for safety, friendliness, helpfulness, intrigue, what they could think of me, if they have any particular interest in me, and what sort of life that person might live. I look at how long and at what of me they look at. Some people rest their eyes on my camera, some people look me in the eye and smile and some people try not to look at me.
Places are the same, some situations are dangerous for me to be in so I need to be aware of where I am and where I’m moving towards. It is surprisingly easy for me to walk into a secluded area where I would have much less ability to escape before realizing that’s where I’m about to be. It is constant. Sometimes I need a break so I go sit down somewhere with my back to the wall so I can take a breather.

Every person I meet will either help me, hurt me, teach me, or confuse me. I try to avoid the hurting kind but its all a balance because it is too easy to avoid people on a first look. I give people chances but I hold to my safety net.

There are some negative feelings associated with judging people, I’ve heard “Don’t judge people” or “Don’t make assumptions” many times in my life but I have to say that I think that is a ridiculous thing to tell someone. As people judging and seeing patterns is one of our best and strongest talents. If I didn’t Judge the world around me I would be completely lost, seeing the world around me and than making judgments about what is good for me and what is not happens to be one of the most important skills to have. What people should say is “Keep Judging” and “Don’t hold to your first assumptions”.

I am a very critical person and sometimes that gets to be too much, sometimes I don’t give people a chance. I’m not the best example of someone who holds an open mind, but I will say that one of my biggest goals while I travel is to practice compassion so when I do meet you on the street someday I will see whatever look you give me and try to imagine what made the person that is looking at me instead of just judging the outcome of what made you. I want to give everyone the chance to choose who they want to be.

Where Am I?

_DSC1057There is something so elusive that even some of the most aware observers miss it, its always right in front of all of us, it can be seen, heard, smelled, touched and tasted but that is not what makes it real. Its the present moment, I know people that aren’t ever in it and I know some people that are so oblivious of anything other than it that they stop seeing its value. There are many ways to miss the moment, many ways to see too far or too close. I think appreciating the real, one and only, most precious moment of now is a hard thing to do.

Maybe you disagree, maybe its easy for you to see what you have and where you are and love them despite their imperfections. If so then you better write that story for me to read. Don’t get me wrong I love my life and I enjoy living it, I just get lost in other places besides here.
I think about what I will be doing in a week and the here and now slips through my fingers, or I get frustrated with something that just happened which causes the next batch of moments to be set under a cloud from my frustration. I don’t think its about enjoying everything all the time, that’s dumb. Anyone who says life is about being happy has a few lessons about to knock on their door in my opinion. For me being happy is a benefit of living but not what makes it worth living.

I have been pondering on how to be present and what that means the last few days. Throughout my day I yell in my head “wake up!, remember where you are!”, its a real struggle for me. I want to enjoy or make the best of my time, I know in my head that everything I’m doing will only happen once. The collection of sights and sounds is is unique in all my moments but its still so hard to feel awake.

It is all around me while traveling, people come and go, food is eaten, things are seen and everything all in a single day.The next day I might be miles away, in god knows where, doing something completely different. Each day is so new and different they all run so fast that before long I feel as if I only half lived them.

I don’t know how to combat the feeling that I missed something or forgot something. I have dreams about forgetting things, I wake up and continue my day still thinking I must have forgotten something crucial. I will do my best to be here right now, every time.

So far my action plan is pretty simple. I think of a few things I’m thankful for whenever I have a quiet moment, or when I’m becoming negative. I write in my journal once a day, that helps me realize what I have done each day and it helps me to have an idea of how many days I’ve lived because I can see myself working through the book. I think I need routine, I don’t know what else to do, I can’t just will myself to experience everything to the fullest. Some days are better for sleeping in, some days are better for eating familiar meals, some days are better for remaining indoors. Some days are best lived in a normal place, lived in a normal way. It is okay for a day to be ordinary.
But I need to remember that.

Today I sipped a cup of hot chocolate, watched the cars drive by and it was enough.

Phuket, Patong Beach

_DSC0773“Ah, I actually will have one” I ordered a beer to go with the two others at my table.
A new town and already surrounded by people I could be friends with. Sometimes friends while traveling don’t seem like the kinds of friends I’d have at home but the beginning to my first night in Phuket was with two Germans with conversations that flowed easily.

I’m getting a little more used to the flow of partying, I’m getting to know what I need in order to feel comfortable and keep up my energy. It takes water, not too much alcohol, and I usually need to do something physical to not feel sleepy. Its an odd skills to have and its definitely not much of a skill for me but its good to feel like I can enjoy myself in that environment.

At dinner we joked about going to the Hooters, “it seems like the reasonable thing to do” one of us said. It really did seem like about the plainest thing to do in Patong Beach, even as we walked out to find the Hooters the night was waking up. Before long we were called at for massages and we had a flier shoved in each of our faces every few steps. We stopped for a few seconds to get our bearings but we unwittingly stopped in front of a massage parlor, in those few short seconds the girls came out and blocked our way forward, the Germans went right and I went left. I went the wrong way, they all surrounded me and for a very uncomfortable second of them groping me I wondered how literally running from them could be seen as anything but I pushed past. It had a few of the massage girls grab me or slap my ass in Koh Phi Phi but that was even more uncomfortable.

Hooters seemed mostly tame, we stayed for a few drinks and another group from the hostel arrived. By this time I was feeling pretty tired having gotten 9 hours of sleep in the last 4 days. I was glad when we got up to walk around. We walked down the busiest street, the one with the most bars and strip clubs and ping pong shows. It was fully awake and everything filled my senses so It was hard to like I was there, I couldn’t hear myself think or myself if I tried to talk.

We walked into one of the bars with lots of girls dancing on poles. I hadn’t ever been to a place like that, I ordered a water even though it was more expensive than beer. I turned to look at the kinds of people that sat around me. There were lots of people, no clear types. The thing about Patong beach is it feels like a guilt free zone because there is always someone who is more guilty, and its just normal. You are the odd one out if you aren’t watching the girl ten feet from you spinning on her pole. Its an experience to do because you can tell your friends back home “Yeah, it was crazy in Phuket, you’d have to see it for yourself”. Of course not everyone feels this way, and there are many places just for the people who want to dive into Phuket.

Pretty soon I was falling asleep sitting up. One of the times I opened my eyes to realize they were shut the older white guy at the next table was staring at me, I didn’t mind being there with my group but I was uncomfortable with the kind of person that actually feels totally comfortable in a place like that and he seemed like that person. Some of the guys in my group were taking a few pictures and he kept telling them to give money to the girls dancing for the pictures. I don’t know strip club  etiquette but apparently he did…
I headed back to the hostel to catch up on sleep and waited for the morning to get caught up on the rest of the happenings after I went to sleep.

Patong beach is a haven for hedonism.

Response-Ability

22469403841_4b06d2339b_oSometimes words don’t mean what they should, they can meander down a path of societal change until they gain a new meaning different from the original intention. Some words sound different when said slowly, and some words mean different things depending on who is hearing them. Language is fluid and forms to peoples needs of it.

I think a lot about these concepts, for me there is so much meaning in certain words. Each  word carries history in its letters and knowing a very small amount can open doors into what those words mean or have meant in the past.

Ability to respond is a simple idea, it is the capacity to act in the situation you are in. It is having legs and a direction to walk, the word responsibility doesn’t inherently discuss if you should take what action you are able to take. It is only culture that adds the idea that not every action you are capable of is your responsibility. Most responsibility is given or accepted, maybe you sign a contract or officially belong to someone the way a parent belongs to their child. Parents know if their kid breaks a rule while they are young it is not the kid who will have to face the full repercussions of their actions and I know if I sign a contract for a job and I fail to do what I said I would then I will be fired, I’m responsible according to how responsibility is usually thought of.

But what do you do when you find a strangers wallet on the beach in the middle of the night? They are an adult and no contract was signed, I’m not responsible. They were responsible for their belongings and lost one of them. Maybe if I was a friend to this person before I would feel responsible, maybe then it would be a kind of social contract. It is part of having a pack or a group that all members watch each others backs. But when you aren’t a part of someones pack and they are in a tough situation why help?

I want to believe that for me the ability to act is a kind of responsibility. If I can help I want to so when I found a strangers wallet and than later found them passed out on a Thai beach at 3am I thought I could postpone sleep to help make the world less harsh for a stranger.

Maybe it is a bad thing to do, and I would by no means say that helping someone in the traditional sense is a good thing to do. Too often is trying to make someones life easier (helping) is only preventing them from learning to help themselves which is cruel. The strength to help has to have some harshness to it for the help to help, comfort and convenience hasn’t been known to grow strength in my experience.

I acted because I was the only one who seemed able to. I spent two hours helping them to sober up and searching for their hotel. We couldn’t find it and I ended up leaving them with a note telling them their wallet was at the police station. I’ll never know if I helped but I wanted to use my strength for someone elses good. Its not strength to have muscles just for flexing (sorry dudes). I believe I actually have to use what I have for it to be worth having, any strength I have stored has to be spent for it to be strength.

Plus I had to meet my quota for random acts of kindness.

If I Was A Bro

_DSC0434I’m on Koh Phi Phi, its a quiet little island (until the hangovers wear off). The cycle here is simple, wake up late, eat (probably something with carbs to help with the hangovers), maybe go for a booze cruise or a kayak to one of the breathtaking beaches around the island. Around 7 or 8pm is the time to grab dinner before the exciting stuff starts. 9:30 onward things start to pick up, bros walk around like packs of hungry animals searching for the most hoppin spot to show off their newest tank top (the one with the elephant or some sort of pattern that represents a culture that they are not taking part in, usually). I think its a sort of interesting play to watch, I don’t think its wrong to be an actor but I didn’t go to acting class so I feel more at home watching the characters play their specific parts.
If you make it to 2am when all the bars close and there is no more music to gyrate to than you are usually left to group up for the confusing, not so steady, walking back with new friends or the group that has mysteriously broken into smaller bands throughout the night. It happens every night in much the same way.

I did not come here thinking I would enjoy it, but I am a person that believes in trying things despite the chance of it tasting awful. I know I’m better in small groups of one on one, the big groups of strangers make it hard for me to feel like myself. But I wanted to push myself into that fear so at least I will have given it a fair chance before I continue on with my pensive journey through SE Asia.
I really didn’t know where to start at first, I ate dinner too early and than I was walking around wondering why it was so quiet in this notorious party town when someone stopped me to ask if I knew where the beach was. I didn’t really know but I walked with Tom until we found it and than I joined him and his friends for a drink (of sprite for me, the others thought that was humorous). I was surprised to find that I felt relatively comfortable where I was, talking with a few new people in a rooftop bar. I eventually had a couple beers and by 2am I had a rather large group of people to walk with back to their hostel, unfortunately one of the group had gotten separated and I felt able to respond (responsible) to give the search a try. I wandered down the beach and through most of the streets, I was also trying to get my bearings for my own walk back to my room. I eventually ran into a Tom and Sam and walked them back to their hostel which felt sort of ironic for me since my room was situated down several very dark winding alleys and their hostel was on a brightly lit street. It was out of sheer luck that I managed to walk directly back to my room without wandering around for an hour or two. I was only stopped once by a handsy massage lady that nearly physically dragged me into the massage parlor before I broke free.
It was an adventure for me, like a jungle trek but in a jungle that is more foreign to me than any wilderness I’ve been in. I wonder sometimes what it would be like to be one of those people that feel at home in the haze of alcohol, dancing, and meeting strangers. I don’t own a tank top or a pair of Ray Ban’s, or flip flops.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll get some Ray Ban’s just to see the world that they see.

Malaysia To Thailand

_DSC0117It was a slow day in the beginning. A good simple breakfast at the market and a bit of a walk to wake up. I was heading to Thailand, I didn’t know how or where exactly. Its not much of a thing to know really, its not enough information to put my finger on just knowing the name of the country I’m going to (I also knew it was north of where I was).
Before heading out the door of the hostel at around 10:30 I asked the owner and got a tangent involving information that I later used to find my way to the ferry and train on the other side.

Why are we going backwards? I was thinking as the train seemed to start its journey south, not north like I had planned. It left me sitting facing the wrong direction so I could only see backwards, I don’t know why but I keep tending towards letting things happen the way they are heading since I’ve been traveling. So I stayed facing backwards, leaving my future to be discovered only after I had past it. It was so easy and comfortable with Tom and Jerry playing in the background and the air conditioning keeping the temperature a degree above shivering. I was quickly lulled into a unconcerned mindset.

“Where you go?” a man said just before the Thai border. I told him I needed to change my money and go to Thailand and he said  a few words with “motorbike” and ” 3 Ringgit” somewhere in the sentence. I agreed and in several seconds I was zooming along on a motorbike feeling mildly terrified, a couple stamps on my passport and than I was zooming away down the road. He gave me a helmet for the first 5 second journey and than forgot to give it to me on the next two short journeys but it didn’t seem important when I knew nothing would keep me in one piece if an accident did happen.

Sometimes its easy and sometimes its not. Sometimes traveling is so easy, so cheap and so good that it feels like nothing could be hard and than it is, sometimes very hard, and dark, confusing. Sometimes you find yourself standing on an unknown street with unknown dangers in the middle of the night unable to communicate. It could be scary or exciting or humorous.
It was all three for me after hours of not knowing where I would sleep that night or if I would sleep. The bus had broken down, the new bus that was brought had a new driver that dropped me 30k away from where I needed to be and than where I needed to be was still too far to safely walk at night. Smith Zen  to the rescue, he was a young local guy with a smart phone who knew a few words in English and was kind enough to delay his journey home to help a very confused and tired backpacker. I don’t know if I would have been okay without his help.
It feels so weird to need help and not even know the words to ask for it, its hard enough in English but it makes me thankful that people are so similar. Everyone needs to sleep, a man with a fruit stand helped me find a motorbike that took me to a hotel, he spoke no English at all but he understood when I put my head to both my hands and closed my eyes miming sleeping. I ended up riding three to a motorbike looking for a hotel at 12:30am, it was one of those moments when you have to go forward, there is no stopping. I just had to ride it out, its like reading a story that’s only partly yours and the only way to find out what happens is to take another step. I began to be very thankful for my sense of humor during the nights adventure, there are many attitudes to have when its not easy but I find that being able to find the hilarity in a tough time smooths the transition into acting. Its harder to act when you feel stupid, its easier when you can laugh at yourself and take another possibly foolish step forward.

Shiny and Grungy- Door To Door

_DSC0371So far I’ve noticed that I can have many dissimilar experiences in a single day here in Malaysia. Today was like that for me. The morning began in a night bus arriving at a bus station on Penang island. I didn’t know thats where I was but soon enough a few strangers gave me opposing opinions and than one person told me to get on a bus that had just pulled up. I did even though I was hardly sure of it and I was soon glad that I had because it took me just where I needed to go. After finding a hostel I went walking until I found a market and I thought that a nice place to sit down, watch people go about their business and get a bite to eat. I had a cup of tea, a cup of fish ball soup and noodles with chicken and mushrooms for 1USD. In the afternoon I paid 3USD for a cup of coffee. The separation between things here is odd. A bottle of water could cost between 25 cents USD to a dollar depending on who is selling it. The way people live is just like that. One person might have a shack and eat rice every day and another might live like a wealthy westerner with a fancy car, house, smartphone, and never need to spend money at the cheap places.
For me I can do either and enjoy it. Some days I feel like 25 cents for tea and some days the 3 dollar coffee is what sounds nice. Its an interesting privilege to try a taste of both lifestyles.

Dusk Till Dark

_DSC0142It wasn’t dark yet, my legs were tired from a long day of trekking and it made it easy to sit patiently waiting for night to fall. The open room was two hours from the edge of the national park and overlooking as much of a clearing as you’re likely to see in the jungle. I was eating some few snacks I had brought when the quality of the light really started to change.
It happened fast, it felt like stepping out of the regular world and into a fairy tale. I’m not someone who thinks very whimsically most of the time but seeing the jungle go from light to dark was magical. The first sign was a call of some unseen animal that sounded like a giant creaky door closing. Then the rest of the sounds were exchanged for the night time versions, it was loud and each sound was like it was designed to send shivers down my spine. I saw a dark shape with a long tail walk over a light colored log, a catlike tail. It made a low, short sound several times before passing out of earshot. By this time their were lights all around, light from fireflies and light from lightning, like from some sort of mold or fungus on the jungle floor.
The changing of the guard all happened in about an hour and than slowly settled to a level a little lower than the peak at dusk.
I don’t know how any native people could not believe in magic.

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