Hope For the Guest

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


December 2015

Winding Through The Fog

“Best boat ride ever” I said with faint sarcasm. Its true that the scenery was exquisite but it is also true that beauty depends on the eyes you see it with. Our little group of boat-goers were cold, sniffling and dreaming of a warm bed somewhere else. We had spent the day before riding about the mountains of Mai Chau getting a feel for the earthy life that still persists, the rain was light but our weakened health made even a little dampness reach our bones. It made the rainy day a little less inviting, even less than the day before.

I got on my motorbike and carefully maneuvered on the slick clay so it was facing back the way we had come. I saw that there was still smiles on most of the faces in our little 6 person biker gang. We weren’t totally blind, just to the point where our situation would  be funnier from a warm room with a hot cup of tea.

We had been sitting on deck chairs on the front of an unnatural green boat. the mountains surrounding the lake were partly hidden by the mist rolling through the landscape. I had the thought that it was more beautiful this way, the sun would make all the colors brighter but the dim mystery was a kind of pretty that I missed from my home country.

At one point we were all sitting in the rain and the clouds were letting more water fall on us. I realized there was another option besides suffering in the rain, the boat had a dry cabin. A few minutes after I went inside everyone else followed. “life doesn’t have to suck” I said to the first person to follow. It was a joke from the night before when several of us were sitting around a campfire and the smoke would turn into one of our faces. Despite the discomfort that person would just wait for it to end. They would be spluttering and their eyes were watering but they wouldn’t move. The fix was easy, standing up and moving to an empty seat on the other side of the fire. I was wondering how many times in my life I had stayed in the smoke for an inadequate reason.

I used to be the king of staying in the smoke, I had to for years and it formed a habit of suffering to gain strength. It took outside insight for me to finally realize I didn’t have to always suffer, sometimes things could be fixed, and actually learning to fix life’s dysfunctions was a better skill than to suffer in silence.

Later I watched the shapes in the mist as our return journey winded its way through the high peaks. One of my friends got the driver to let him put on some music so the soundtrack to the winding drive was a German Techno mix that made everything seem a bit more like an epic of some kind. I could only see 15 to 25 meters before the mist shrouded the shapes completely. It made what I could see seem more finite, I couldn’t see the context so it felt like each piece of the world was alone. Each piece was easier to focus on, it reminded me of the technique in photography of having a very narrow focal plain so the only clear piece of the picture is the thing you want the observer to see. You can tell stories this way, sometimes the context hides the pieces its made of. I have been on a few night buses and it always feels like a shame that I don’t get to see the landscape as I pass by but maybe there is an opportunity there.I think  I’ll go into my next night bus with a different perspective.


Writing for me is an exercise in ignoring perfectionism. I’m not a good writer, I can’t be a good writer. If I were to become a good writer than I would stop writing from the pressure and expectation of being good.

I sit down to write, put some music on repeat so it will hide me from the world long enough to write something. When I stop halfway or even after 90% I usually won’t finish, stopping leaves room for the self doubt and criticism to flow in. It’s enough to make whatever I have written, no matter how inspired, seem dull and lifeless. When I write I have to think of it as a post just for myself, a group of words just to help me organize my memories and ideology. It can’t be for other people, that would be too much to expect and somehow too pretentious if I actually expect other people to gain something from reading what I write.

Whenever I start to feel good at something, especially something creative I will level off and usually start devolving from that moment on. I don’t want writing to become some little experiment that failed the minute it felt like it was succeeding. I will ignore the fact that some people might read this until after I am done writing it. Maybe in some future I will be okay with the entire truth but for now it is imperative that I write. The more the better, the more practice the better. One great article wouldn’t be worth the consequences that could come after.

I’m not trying to say that I don’t give my writing my best words, I’m trying to say that to maintain a great effort I have to be clever with my expectations for myself.

“What’s Your Name?”

“What’s your name?”
Its a question that tends to come after the decision to trust while traveling. Its not the first question, sometimes its the last question asked before parting ways with a new friend. I spent days in someones company before even thinking to ask their name, I like to know names but sometimes it seems less important than finding out what kind of person they are. I ask where they are from, why they went traveling, how long they have abroad and what some of their best experiences were. Everyone knows you can’t be friends with every person you meet so we skip to the parts that are important to us.

Its an odd kind of interview. Are they similar? are they different? It matters what kind of person you’re talking to because each bit of travel information will be shaded by that person preferences. Some people like trekking, some people like good food, some people like comfort, some people like drinking, some people want an authentic experience and some people like meeting new people. If you love meeting other backpackers but you go where an authentic experience type of person recommends you may find yourself in some middle of nowhere town without a single person to talk to.

So I ask to figure out the kind of person I’m talking to. Sometimes its really easy, a few words make it obvious what that person is looking for. And then you’ll meet someone that doesn’t care about home countries or last destinations. That’s my favorite. When the questions go from “How are you?” to “What are your nightmares like?” in about a minute. Its not usually that fast but for me those are the people and conversations that make me grow up into a different sort of person. Talking frankly with a stranger is a certain kind of freedom, honesty can come easily and through the lack of pressure to portray myself in a certain light I learn more about who I am when no one is watching.

Connections are like fires, once they are lit they can consume fuel very fast. At home people don’t have the time, freedom or anonymity to meet a stranger and turn twenty four hours into a life changing relationship. Even when its a few hours of talking in a cafe it can begin something and through meeting a totally New person it will start New ideas. Sometimes truly new ideas are hard to come by in our regular lives, most people I surround myself with at home have similar ideologies. Of course they do but out here I accidentally meet different kinds of people and before I have a chance to push them away as an “other” they are a friend.

There are many ways to connect but I long for the kinds of connections that are built by a shared desire to explore oneself. So many other things could be from another world but when that desire to get to know yourself is shared it can create amazing conversations and deepen understandings that would not otherwise ever leave their shallow residence.

“What’s your name?” She asked after a day of conversations.
She already knew who I was so the name meant more when added to the person.

“Mad Devils”

“dropping bombs like mad devils the American’s destroyed villages, children, pots and pans, farms, women, forests and even statues of Buddha” It was a line from a propaganda film on the Vietnam war, or the American war as they say here in Vietnam. I was one of two Americans in my group of 25,  I felt no desire to point out that fact.

A half an hour later the guide asked my group if we wanted to shoot guns. He had just shown us the many ways “used to kill the Americans”, traps and all sorts of improvised weaponry. I didn’t have any desire to pick up those guns, guns that may have been used against Americans or against Vietnamese.

I didn’t feel well since the propaganda film, it was a faint nausea. I just didn’t feel comfortable.

The tour brought us to a tank, it had white letters on it ” American tank was destroyed by a delay mine in 1970″ A group climbed up to smile and have their picture taken. I didn’t understand how the context was so different for them than for me, I wasn’t about to happily pose in front of a tank where Americans died in. Several groups climbed up  for the picture of them on top of a tank, I started to think maybe I was just weirdly affected by the situation.

After the tour of the Cu Chi tunnels was over I went to the war  remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh. “its too bad they changed the name” an american guy I met said. “It used to be called the museum of us war crimes and genocide.”

It actually used to be called “Exhibition House for US and puppet crimes”, then it was changed to ” Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression”

I started to read about the Vietnam war, it was all slanted against the American side of the war. The language used was hateful, it became hard for me to read, my first reaction was to think it was propaganda. That it wasn’t true exactly the way it was stated but soon I realized that its probably just as unreliable to listen to what I had always been told from the American point of view. It might not be lies either way, its just natural to speak from a place where you are on the good side and the enemy is on the side of evil.

It disturbed me.
I couldn’t read everything. I just looked at the pictures.
It didn’t take more than half an hour to look at everything. After that I quickly walked away with a lot to think about.
I don’t hate America and I don’t hate Vietnam, I understand the American side of the war much less than I feel like I understand the Vietnamese side. It sounded pretty clear that they were fighting to defeat the people that bombed and killed their loved ones. I don’t understand the more political reasons the US had in engaging in the war.

The day before I played a game called “Would you push the button?”, I had a lot of time to kill on the bus and this 9 year old from the UK asked me if I wanted to play a game. He explained to me that one person asks a question like”You are about to get hit by a car. If you push the button a random stranger switches place with you and you are fine. Would you push it?”. Some of the questions were lighthearted and some were more serious. It started me thinking about how people could do things like drop an atomic bomb or order a genocide. Some pretty tough questions came up but even this 9 year old chose the options that helped other people if it was between saving himself or other people, even strangers. It seems logically simple to decide between things that hurt one person or a lot of people but in history there have been decisions that both involved very bad things for a large number of people. It was between your people and other people, your side and the enemy side.

I don’t understand humans, we aren’t logical and we aren’t fully instinctual either.

I Got On The Right Bus

“Bus 39” and he pointed off into the distance.
I walked off in the direction, I didn’t fully believe he knew what he was talking about but there was only one way I knew to find that out. There were hundreds of buses all around the large bus station. I tried to look for a pattern in the numbers. “148, 133, 46” I read, I thought it must be highest to lowest. “02”, nope, not highest to lowest. There seemed to be no pattern. I asked another bus driver who was napping in the bus’s open luggage compartment. He pointed back the way I had come so I turned around to walk past the jackals that had already asked me if I wanted a motobike ride 50 or 60 times.

I had been getting more and more annoyed with that kind of rudeness. I knew it was out of desperation and that these moto drivers in some way needed to be this aggressive for them to  get paid but I still felt so angry when they tried to convince me repeatedly to ride with them. Sometimes they would lie and tell me the bus I was looking for didn’t exist or that the distance was very far. Some seemed to be very willing to do whatever they had to do in order to get a passenger.

The night before my bus dropped me outside the city limits of the town I was trying to get to so I had a tough time of finding a hotel and ended up overspending on my budget. I have been dropped in the weirdest locations by buses, sometimes the bus drops me out of town and than drives into town, even though they know I’m going into that town. Its crazy to me that they would drop someone who can’t communicate on a random highway in the middle of the night without any directions.

After that night I wasn’t quite ready to take shit from people that just wanted my money even if it meant giving my life a few extra difficulties. Unfortunately the easiest reaction to being ripped off is to become less kind and harder towards strangers. One of the things that gets me the most is when they grab my arm, they aren’t usually rough but just them touching me makes me want to hit them. They understand when I say no but it isn’t usually enough.

I ended up finding a bus that seemed to be going to the right place. At least the driver motioned to sit down and than ate lunch in the back of the bus. The driver appeared to have his handicapped sister riding along with him, I don’t know if that’s really the case. It could have been any young women and her slurred speak and strange mannerisms might not have been because she was handicapped but It seemed that way to me.

I spent that ride thinking about how much I was missing by giving so much energy to the tuk tuk and moto drivers. They made me mad and than I tried to avoid them, I spent extra energy thinking about how rude they were and how anyone could be that way. All the while I missed the nice people, the kind of person that would bring his handicapped sister to work everyday, feed her and care for her despite living on a bus drivers salary. I decided that I was looking at the wrong thing for weeks.

I had gotten so caught up in avoiding scams and untrustworthy people that I stopped looking for the kind people. It makes sense to watch for danger but it makes for a bleak worldview when all I see is danger and bad people. I don’t want to go home thinking of Southeast Asia as  hostile place.

The driver pointed out the bus and I said thank you as I stepped out. I was already forming a plan to see a happier world, I would still avoid danger but I would make it a system so I didn’t have to devote so much energy to it.

I was smiling very big as I walked down the street.
I was exactly where I had wanted to be, that almost never happens for me.
I’m almost always lost in some way but this time I was in the place I planned on being. It felt so good, I almost punched the air in celebration.
Sometimes trusting people is dangerous and sometimes its beneficial.
It’s necessary  to trust people.
I want to see a world where trustworthy people outnumber the rest.

Kampot, Cambodia

Kampot is a town known for pepper. Its in nearly every store here, its suppose to be very good. I personally have no idea if its anything special because I doubt the people who live here could pay $10 for a bag of pepper when a cook might make $120 dollars a month.

When I walk around I see many tourists in coffee shops or bakery cafe’s. Its a nice place to hangout and relax, its not too loud and there’s still lots to see. It still feels like a real town despite the growing tourist infrastructure. There are many guesthouses revamping themselves to have dorms and more backpacker friendly facilities. I would guess that in five years there will be a thriving hipster-esk backpacker and ex-pat community here. There are already many ex-pats enjoying the extreme freedom of being a wealthy foreigner in a poor Cambodian town.

I’m leaving Cambodia tomorrow, I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I am very excited for some more diversity. Cambodia pretty much looks the same everywhere, its all flat and green. On the other hand I will miss the genuine people I’ve met here. I’ve learned so much from Cambodia. Vietnam will be a good opportunity for me to use what I’ve learned about myself to choose places that I’ll thrive in.
I’m looking forward to many jungle treks.

Abandon Standards

Sometimes I’m reminded of how very far from home I am.

I found an ice cream and pie shop in the town I’m in, I was really excited to get a cold treat. Its been so hot and I don’t always do well in this kind of heat. A ice cream float sounded like just the kind of home comfort I needed but when it was placed on my table I realized they had really emphasized the Ice part of ice cream float. The glass had some soda, some ice cream but it was mostly ice. It really disappointed me at first and than it just made me realize that is part of being so far from what I’m used to.
They didn’t know that an ice cream float only has ice cream and soda or if they did they thought it was better with mostly ice cubes in it.

Asia has many perks but consistency and quality western food are not among them. Sometimes it just sounds so good to have  a good western meal so I find a restaurant that touts having “western” food and order a sandwich. Sometimes its twice as expensive as the other menu items but the meal is little more than a snack, sometimes its actually pretty good in its own way. Whatever it is its not familiar.

I’ve eaten rice and noodles every day for months, in Cambodia saying you’re going to eat rice is the same as saying you’re going to eat a meal. It is a part of everything. Despite nearly every meal being mostly rice or noodles everyone is very fit.

Southeast Asia is a place of many contradictions. There are jewelry stores in fly infested meat markets. Sometimes I walk by a bakery and take a deep breath of the sweet air but two steps past the bakery the air turns putrid by an open sewage canal. I’ve paid a dollar for breakfast and a cup of coffee and I’ve paid 7 dollars for the same thing a few blocks away. Its not consistent, everything is what it can be. The price is what it can be based on supply and demand, the food is what it can be based on the availability of ingredients and the kindness of the local people depends on how many rude tourists come through per day.

I’m still not used to having to watch every interaction I have for scams and ripoffs. Pricing is vastly different based on who you are talking to and if I don’t know the details of what I’m asking for its easy to get a really bad price by SE Asia standards. I’ve paid $10 to go 12 hours on a bus and I’ve paid $7 to go two hours. Its kind of a wild world. It really helps to have your wits about you here.

I’ve had times where I start to feel at home, but usually its a mistake. It might seem familiar at times here, I might even kind of know what I’m doing occasionally but that doesn’t mean its like home. People come from another world of experience, it offers so much possibility for me to learn but I doubt that I will ever understand the roots.

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