Hope For the Guest

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


January 2016

The Only Problem with Suffering, is the Suffering

I was in a bus heading south from Chiang Mai when I felt something I didn’t recognize. At first it didn’t feel like much but in a couple hours everything hurt. All my muscles ached and I had a cough. In just a few hours my body went from feeling fine to feverish. A couple weeks before I had been sick for almost three weeks because I didn’t let myself recover fully before continuing to tire myself out. This time I knew I had to stop it as fast as I could.

When the bus got to Sukothai, my destination, I got out and walked strait to a hotel. I already had to ignore how little energy I had. I booked two nights, got enough water for at least a full day and a meal before shutting myself in my room to rest. I didn’t want to have a lingering sickness again. Being sick while traveling sucks, physically its not really that hard but emotionally it is a bother. The idea of wasting time and the fear of what the illness could be can be a lot to handle.

I was glad that I booked two nights when I woke up the next morning and didn’t even manage to get out of bed before noon. I had a headache all the day before and that night was torture, I couldn’t sleep most of the night because of the headache. I took a shower, I watched a movie, I tried to wet a towel to put on my head but everything was warm. The water doesn’t come out cold when its from a big plastic tub on the roof where it was 90 degrees during the day. Being sick is really hard while traveling. Its hard to get what I want when I’m well but I have the strength to deal with things not going well. When I’m sick it only increases my needs and makes me way less capable of getting those needs met.

I felt a bit better after two nights of rest so I thought I would be up for a bus ride to another town. The weather had turned cold and my body didn’t seem to be working to keep me warm anymore. I was freezing the whole bus ride. I don’t get it but the buses always seem to use the AC, even when its cold outside they will make the inside of the bus just as cold. When I finally arrived in Udon Thani I had to stay another two nights just to rest. This time it was even worse, it was cold, I hadn’t eaten more than a meal in the last three days and the isolation was starting to get to me. My back was hurting from trying to rest so much and everything else was aching from the sickness or from lack of use.

I left that hotel room twice in two days. Everything was really hard, walking across the street to buy water was about all I could motivate myself for. I knew I needed to eat something so I managed to eat a few snacks in those couple days.

One of those mornings I woke up and felt different, I wasn’t cold. I had been cold no matter what I did for days. I was wearing all my clothes and I had all the blankets around me but nothing was making me warm. It felt like I wasn’t making any heat so my clothes couldn’t keep in the heat that wasn’t there.
This morning though I wasn’t cold, I started to feel kind of lucky. Before that I was starting to despair, depression was sinking in. I could only hold up so long without having my needs met. I couldn’t sit alone in my hotel room feeling awful physically without eventually not being able to stay happy.

When I started to feel warm though, that’s when I started to realize what the best part of sickness was. I’ve been sick a lot in my life and most of that has been headaches. Because of that I have known how to appreciate sickness for a long time. Sickness makes health seem amazing. If I’m healthy for too long it just seems normal and I don’t appreciate my health. There is nothing like a bad migraine to make me happy to do anything. Migraines make it impossible to do almost anything, I can’t eat, I usually can’t drink water, I can’t look at tv or computer screens, I can’t talk to people, and sometimes I can’t even sleep until its over. I have had migraines for as long as I can remember and because of that its a lot harder for me to always take my basic human abilities for granted than it must be for totally healthy people. When I wake up from having a crippling headache the day before I feel amazing, like I’m a new body. I think that’s a lucky thing to get to experience.

I used to think that was a half-assed thing I had to be thankful for because there wasn’t anything else that could possibly be good about having headaches but now I’ve seen more of the way that life has of numbing people to the simple pleasures in life over time. Its actually really hard to continue to appreciate things that don’t change. Normal good things just become normal things. Unless you get them taken away for a bit. I will probably always get migraines, so even if I don’t get other kinds of illness I’ll still have my basic human abilities taken away from time to time-Yay Me.

Right now being able to keep myself warm feels like a pretty cool ability. A few days of feverish cold is a horrible feeling. I still can’t wait to feel well enough to eat a full meal.

I Don’t Believe in Destiny, But if I did…

Yes I don’t believe in destiny, fate or a heavenly presence with a plan for me. Something about struggle and lifting myself up by my own bootstraps since my teen years has encouraged a belief in my own will. The power of my choices has propelled me through my life, if I had sat back I would not have survived with the kind of mind I have now. I know believing in destiny doesn’t stop everyone in acting decisively in their own best interest but my particular combination of life events made me focus only on the tools in life that I did have an ability to affect. I forgot about gods and destiny in favor of human choice and phycology. Belief was simply too complex for my teenage self to handle on top of everything else.

However I recently rediscovered a post I wrote what almost sounded as if I believed things were being controlled by some universal force, something with a plan. After reading it I started to think about the idea of a force moving my life in a certain direction. Either that triggered it or perhaps the four Mormon missionaries I met on the bus from Chiang Rai had placed the idea of god’s plan into the undercurrents of my consciousness.

Whatever the case it felt like a good time to share this story.

I saw the sign from down the street. I read “Hostel” and I wondered how I had missed it in the two hours of wandering around town. It was big and bold, but again I had missed the sign for the hostel in town. It had become a trend that I only found a decent hostel after I had already paid for a room in a guesthouse without much a chance to meet other travelers. It was uncanny how often I would find myself in some isolated hotel where I couldn’t even communicate that I wanted a room without using sign language.

But this was different, I had found a hostel. I walked down the alley where the sign had pointed, when I looked through the glass walls of the building I saw a haven of the secret dreams I held only for myself. I never told these and I believe that they were not to be had but only wanted. After weeks of this trend I started to believe it was necessary and best for me even though I wanted to be around people.
I saw a shining pool full of smiling people and a lounge full of people chatting. An employee opened the door for me and I walked in smiling to myself. I still held some superstition that this too would somehow not work out for me.

I had been through a few days of too-perfect non-connection with other human beings. Part of me really wanted to meet some good people and then spend more than a few hours or a single day with them. It was hard to stay happy without the connection that I think all people need, it was starting to wear me down. I was so happy to have finally found a good place to meet some new people. 

A few days before I had gotten scammed in Phnom Penh and it left me really annoyed with the world of people. Our ability to sacrifice other people for our own good when we are desperate or moral-less enough is hard for me to reconcile. I was in a hostel at the time but typically it had only two people in it, one spent her time coughing very loudly and ignoring me and the other was an elderly man that only spoke to me after two days of ignoring each other. I asked him what his name was and in five minutes he taught me to regret asking him anything. It was immediately apparent that he was suffering from some sort of mental condition that made human connection confusing for him, he struggled to understand that I didn’t want to hear about random things anytime they popped into his head even when I was clearly doing my own thing.

I came out of this to a small town where I spent a revitalizing afternoon walking around a national park on my own, I enjoyed my own thoughts and it felt good to be in a quiet place. I don’t hate my own company, I actually feel good when I’m alone and I’ve been feeling more at home alone the longer I travel. I had a very insightful think about my life and by the time I had gotten back to my hotel that night I felt more myself. The big city had left be frustrated with feeling like a human vending machine that seems to say “free money” on it.

I arrived in Sihanoukville the next day and I was braced for the impact. I knew Sihanoukville was essentially a party town with a dark underbelly. It was said to cater to the kind of sex tourism that wasn’t as easy to find in Thailand, I knew they were old stories but I expected the old white men with young Cambodian girls and the tuk tuk drivers that have to yell at every white face just to get a couple passengers a day. It didn’t feel good to be there but I wasn’t surprised. I had resolve because I knew I was only there to get to my own personal jungle paradise a few hours away, it was a step on the journey. It was a pleasant surprise to find a hostel away from the grimy street, all I wanted was a place to relax before heading out early the next day. 

“Sorry we’re full” I immediately starting grinning, I held back laughter as I thanked the employees and walked out the door. ‘Of course’ I thought, it has to be this way. Nothing will stop me from facing myself. It was already starting to feel like the universe wanted something for me and nothing I could do would push me out of its current.
I still tried to jump out again, I found a hostel. I almost always take the fan dorm instead of air con but this time I chose the air condition because there were two girls in the room and I wanted some company. I put my bag down and went back to reception to pay. When I was almost to the door to my dorm it opened and the two girls walked out with their backpacks on. I smiled at the persistence of this lesson. I sat down alone on my bed and was still glad I had chosen air con, the cool air washed over me and the greenhouse effect of the architecture was somewhat mitigated.

I went out to book my bus for the next day and soon after I arrived back in my dorm an older guy walked in. I said hello and he totally ignored me, I thought it was weird but I just figured he was at least partly deaf. Pretty soon though he started talked to me, I found out he was Russian and spoke very little English. We talked for a little while and it was interesting to try and glean some information about Russia since I’ve never talked to someone from Russia before. There are many Russian tourists in SE Asia but they seem to mostly stick with their bigger groups.
Soon though I was getting a headache and the talking wasn’t helping. I couldn’t disengage though, our beds were two feet apart and nothing was between them. The beds were just mattresses sitting on a wooden platform. It was difficult to take a nap or do something easy for my headache on my laptop while the water I was drinking counteracted the headache.

He asked me if I wanted to go swimming. Two voices spoke in my head, one said ‘I just want to take a nap’ and the other said ‘you’re traveling, go with the flow. You can always rest later’. I said yes and almost immediately regretted my choice. We walked to a bar close to the beach and sat down. I was confused at first but I soon realized he had a different way of doing things. He had said earlier that he didn’t drink water, he only drank beer. He ordered me a beer before I could stop him. I thought ‘okay, one beer is okay, it won’t hurt my head more to have a beer’.   
I went back after a weird hour of drinking two beers and taking a five minute dip in the ocean twice. I was feeling worse, I didn’t think I could eat so I started watching a movie until it got dark enough to sleep. Unfortunately the Russian guy came back after half an hour and began interrupting me every few minutes to say some random complaint about the Russian economy. He was clearly pretty drunk after drinking beer from morning to after dark. He was that kind of drunk where he couldn’t judge the situation very well. 

I began to hate my meek politeness at that point, I felt that I had to pause my movie and listen every time he said something to me. My headache was getting really bad and I felt like the universe not only intended to keep me alone but also it wanted me to want to be alone. It kept sending me the kind of person that I preferred my own company over. On my walk the day before I was thinking about what I wanted my time traveling to mean, I wondered why I wanted company and why I was beginning to feel jaded. It was almost three months away from home with many more to come but already I’m feeling like I keep seeing the same people and places over and over. It feels like watching the same movie with a different title. I long for more and my life wants to be lived but my time alone is spent wondering why I want more than a cup of coffee to wake up to and a place to sleep at night. I wonder why my own company is not enough and why new food doesn’t inspire me like it did three months ago. I had no answers and sleep came as the only way to move past the pain of a debilitating headache.

The next day could not have been more welcome. I knew that being in nature would help clear my mind. I’ve always felt at home deep in the woods.

Confidence Is Key

Travel changes people, everyone in different ways since everyone’s trip is different. Some people don’t notice these changes and some people idolize what travel does to them. I pay attention to how I’m changing and try to soak up  as much from my experiences as I can.
One of the biggest ways travel has changed me is in my self confidence.

Confidence is an interesting trait. It seems nearly impossible to be confident all the time and most people seem to only be confident in a limited area of experience. The place where they spend the most time in or the place  where they feel the strongest in. It can be work if that person feels like they are good at their job or it could be in sports or another kind of hobby. It is a huge part of how we see ourselves, confidence tells a lot about a person.

Self esteem is different, it is less specific. Someone can be confident but have low self esteem. Self esteem is more about how much you like yourself and how much you value yourself. A person can think they are better than other people without having high self esteem, they can be self confident without liking themselves.
These are just my definitions, I don’t expect them to be universally true.

I’m not a totally confident person, because of my life so far I feel very inexperienced in normal areas of life. I tend to shut down in new big groups of people, I feel a great deal of stress meeting new people or even meeting up with people I haven’t seen in a number of days. I never really understood how to be a young person and the times I’ve tried to act like one usually feel like trying to breathe underwater.
Being homeschooled and generally not being in many normal circles of people has left me with a different web of confidence than many other people. One of the simplest examples is drinking, many people feel at home drinking and partying. Its a social bonding activity that is shared by enough people that it is the natural go to for strangers trying to feel more comfortable with each other. Have a few beers and the alcohol mixed with the familiarity of the ritual helps smooth over the awkwardness of meeting new people. Or that is how I imagine it works for other people. It does not work like that for me, I’m not comfortable with the drinking ritual. When it comes to traveling this can be a problem. Many times I haven’t felt able to participate in the most common way people get to know other new people and because of this I have  to search out different ways of connecting to people. My confidence areas are defining how I must behave.

Building a fire is one of the situations I feel most confident in. Give me a rainy, windy forest over a room full of chatting people any day. I just feel at ease performing the acts of making a fire. I’ve built hundreds of fires and I know that most of the time I can start a fire. I  started a fire in the pitch black, lost, in the rain, while I was hypothermic and it took lass than an hour. Because of experiences like that I feel more comfortable when I’m around a fire.

Traveling has changed my general confidence. I feel comfortable more of the time and the unknown is less scary than it used to be. It is one of the best things about travel. People who have been traveling for several months seem different than people who have been traveling for less than a month. The amount of craziness I have dealt with in my trip has left me with a sense that I can deal with a lot more than I used to think. I lost 75 dollars and three days and it barely mattered to me, in the beginning that would have bothered me for weeks. I arrive in new cities without a twinge of fear now, when I first started traveling every new city was a challenge. I feel as if I’m walking around on a street back home when I’m walking around here, it used to feel like some kind of war zone.

I had a moment the other day when I asked a stranger a question without needing to and without thinking about it beforehand. I can’t remember ever doing that before. I always rehearse conversations in my head, talking to strangers doesn’t feel natural but I asked a stranger a question without any hesitation. I am growing into new areas of experience. I can inhabit more areas of existence now than I have perhaps ever been able to before.
Travel  changes people.

Meet Angry Michael

“Friday!? I asked. The agency had just told me that my passport would be back two days later than they had originally told me. I was angry, I value my time more than anything. Time is finite, I can’t ever get it back after its used and that means when someone else forces me to wait for two extra days I don’t feel inclined to go easily into submission. I was especially upset because the person running the tour office seemed to have deliberately withheld information, aswell as lying to my face about the tour I had just gone on.

Anger is a funny thing for me.
I avoid it like the plague, in myself and in the people around me. It scares me and I cannot feel safe when there is anger within earshot. I have been trying for the past year to feel angry in a reasonable way. I don’t mean in moderation, I mean that I used to feel anger only when it was too much to control. It would make me lash out when it only hurt the bystanders, whether they were driving my anger or not. I hate that so much, the idea of hurting innocent people made me feel even more ashamed of my anger. I try now to feel anger when I feel it so that it normalizes and turns into the useful emotion that it is.

I think anger at its roots is a force for fixing wrongs. We feel angry when we sense a wrong in the world, when someone hurts something we care about we feel angry and that force gives us energy to throw into fixing the wrong. I don’t think it is always like that and I have plenty of examples of ways where anger was used in a rippling negative way but I like anger a lot more than I like depression, or shame. It seems to be capable of motivating action in the times when action could be a hard choice if left to logic. Those times when the right thing is not the easy thing.

The guy at the tour agency continued to explain how it took three working days for them to get the visa. “Yes and its been three days, you told me I would have it back today”, normally I would shut up and give in without a fight. I can be quite subservient but traveling has shown me that if I want to get what I want I have to fight for it. I guess this was one too many inconvenience because my wrongness alarm was going off pretty loud. I was raising my voice and actually channeling my anger, I wasn’t out of control and I wasn’t totally pretending to be angry. I have been known to only show anger when its acting, I didn’t trust myself to use real anger so I used to just behave as if I was angry when in reality it was only a show for a cause. Most people don’t really believe me when I say “I am very angry about this” unless I raise my voice and look the part (Believe me, I know).

I asked for a discount and he gave me one, he even looked worried by my anger. I don’t remember such a normal anger response from me. I was so happy with myself for being healthy that I lost most of my real anger and had to pretend for the last half of the conversation.

When I came back at noon two days later it wasn’t ready, I came back two hours later and it still wasn’t ready. Finally at 5pm they told me that they didn’t know where my passport was and a few minutes after that they said they had found it in Vientiane. Now that was very far away in the Capital of Laos, two days by bus away, so I was not happy with that. I was actually very angry with them for at first making me wait, then losing my passport and now they were going to make me wait another day for them to fly my passport back to me. I never yelled and actually after my first show of anger two days earlier they were being very helpful, I made it clear that this was a big problem and that I expected compensation for wasting my time. They gave me a free night in a hotel and half the price on a bus ticket out of town the next day. I have a sneaking suspicion that they would not have done that without my anger.

I’ve heard that depression is anger turned inward. Despite thinking that is too easily misinterpreted, it is true in a certain sense for me. When I am angry and I just hold it waiting for it to dissolve it usually leads to a particularly empty, depressive morning or week.  I don’t know if that is because it takes so much energy to contain anger or if anger unused burns the holder or if anger is such a force for righting wrongs that holding it leaves me feeling diminished. I would guess that at least some of the time not using my anger leaves me regretting not acting to protect myself. When I hold my anger in it is almost always self harming, whether it leads to darker moods or the wrongness it was created to destroy hurts me.

This time the wrongness was lessened. I got a whole fried duck and a dark beer from the night market in Luang Namtha to celebrate (and also because it was 5 dollars for all of it.)

“Its for the wrong month” I told the guy at the tour office.
There had been many annoyances in the last few days but this took the cake.
Somehow they had managed to make me wait three days and spend 100 dollars on a visa that wasn’t even for the right month.

After getting my anger to do the talking I got 25 dollars back and I said Seeya later to Laung Namtha. I didn’t even mind being tossed around like laundry for 8 hours in the local night bus to Loung Prabang. Some things are just worse than other things.

Anger is starting to be a healthy part of me again.
And because I have had to get it back I will always know why it exists in the first place.

Travel America

The elderly lady pushed her bracelets between me and the two other people at the table. She was obviously unconcerned whether we actually wanted to buy her goods but the tactic seems to be leading people to be so annoyed that they must buy in order to get some peace. She was wearing colorful bell embroidered clothes and her face could have belonged to a 50 year old or a 80 year old, the wrinkles were deep but I couldn’t see kindness in her eyes. It always makes me sad to feel so dehumanized and than to realize that the way some desperate people have of looking at me like I’m a source of money also makes me ignore and dehumanize them.

One of us at the table offered the lady a tangerine since they had several to spare. The lady took it but made a disgusted, unappreciative face to such a meager gift. It was a small gift, but it was a gift that no one needed to give, it was kindness to offer it at all. The old lady scorned the gift and by doing so scorned the kindness from which it was offered. I’m sure she didn’t see it that way, I don’t think she had awareness outside her own needs in that moment. I couldn’t blame her for being desperate enough to look at our white skin as a privilege she deserved a piece of.

She left and we went on talking about adventures and the way we each grow as life flows along. I had went out for a quick breakfast before returning to my hotel room to plan the next months of my trip a bit better. I didn’t plan on being in Luang Namtha but the tour agency lied about when my Myanmar Visa would return so I was stuck for two extra days until I had my passport back.
Just before I paid for my breakfast I saw a friend and they invited me over to their table. It was now four hours later and we were still chatting and playing cards.

Its funny to be how politics come up quite often while traveling. There is something useful in learning what people from other backgrounds think about the world in general. I’ve learned many things in the last four months, I never would have the worldview I have now unless I had the chance to incorporate the ideas I’ve come across into my own world consciousness.

Each person represents their country as some kind of un-appointed diplomat. Since their are few Americans traveling I usually become America and I have to speak for the history and current decisions of the United States. I have to explain my nations consciousness and why certain things seem like good ideas to America whether I think they are good ideas or not. I’ve explained what I think of how Donald Trump can do well in the poles many times and heard many other opinions. I’ve told people about the differences in different regions in the United States and I’ve explained how the general population seems to mistrust the effectiveness of the government so they are eager for change, even different groups wish for completely different directions of change. I don’t know if I am right and I’m sure the people I talk with have the intelligence to realize I am one voice out of 300 million.

Still my worldview grows as much from trying to speak for my country than it does from hearing about other countries. I’ve learned more about the world from talking to strangers than I have from seeing the last 5 countries. I’ve been wondering lately how it can be possible to make good decisions for a country when the person making the decision understands so little about the context that country exists in.

I’ve met so few Americans traveling, I start to wonder how I can meet more Germans than Americans when the US has 318 million citizens and Germany has 80 million citizens. I’ve read that 46% of Americans own passports and 14% traveled overseas in a study from 2009. If all that is true I hope it doesn’t stay true. There are too many things to be gained from seeing the world from a different angle.

2009 Examination
Number of Americans with Passports

I have read another article that states Americans are traveling more than they used to-Link to that.

WTF Laos

“They told us there would be three French girls” someone mentioned as we waited for the ferry boat to get un-sunk. When we arrived at the river we didn’t see any feasible way to cross but that was only because a sunken longboat didn’t appear usable. It was a funny sight to watch our ferry being bailed while it was still almost completely submerged.
“They probably just say there will be three French girls on every tour” I remarked as a joke just before climbing into the leaking boat. It ferried us across and soon everyone on the tour was hiking through rubber plantations on our way to the “Ethnic village” we had been promised.

It soon became apparent that everything they guy at the tour agency had told me was a lie. He told me there would be two guides, one native and one who could speak good English to translate yet there was only one 63 year old guide that could speak a few words of English. He said there would be three other people on my tour, there was just me and the guide except the first hike of the first day. He told me I would be hiking in the national park, it was next to a road. He also told me that the two villages were located deep in the jungle and they were both next to the road, not in the national park and not deep in the jungle. Actually they weren’t even the same names as the villages he told me about with such color before I booked the tour.

I was not disheartened, if traveling has taught me one thing it is that sometimes no matter what I do the situation isn’t ideal and if I were to not enjoy myself every time I would only enjoy about half my trip. I’m not about to not enjoy myself while I’m here in Asia so I just wrote down in the back of my head all the differences between my trek and what the tour agency promised, just for laughs.

After the first hike to the little village, which was actually little, the four other people on the hike left to go back to town. I didn’t know until that point that they would leave me alone with my guide in the village, and since the trek only lasted until around 2pm it left a lot of time to do nothing. My guide wandered off within the first fifteen minutes and I spent about half an hour trying to find him. He then took me on a little tour of the village school before bringing me back for dinner. It was a lovely dinner of pumpkin stew, chicken and green things, and sticky rice. In Laos they eat sticky rice by the literal handful with every meal. All the other countries I’ve been to in Asia eat a lot of rice but here they just reach their hand into the basket and eat that handful with a tiny amount of other side dishes. They probably eat five times the amount of rice to every portion of meat or vegetables, it even looks as though they enjoy the rice more than the other kinds of food they eat the rice with. They will take a giant handful of rice and than put one or two tiny pieces of chicken on it.

The food was delicious and my only complaint was that they pressured me into eating to excess, sometimes I’m too malleable. After dinner my guide took me to another families fire where he taught me some words from the local language. Everyone was chatting and helping to teach me the words for pig or fire when I made the mistake of asking what they were cooking. They told me it was banana flower and rat soup, and then they pulled a rat out of the soup so I could try. Being as malleable and polite  as I am I accepted the rat gift and began my attempt at eating it. I’m usually pretty open minded about this sort of thing, I’ve eaten many awful things and I’ve found I can enjoy many kinds of food I didn’t expect to. This was different. The meat was black and the skin was rubbery and brown. It even had some cooked maggots inside it. I ripped little pieces of the tough meat off and tried to not look horrified. It started to taste like blue cheese which, despite seeming strange, helped me to eat the last bits of it.

Pretty soon my white face caught the attention of the town clubfoot drunk. He wandered over and used his few English words to say hello and ask my name before inviting me for a drink. Since my mouth tasted awful it sounded pretty good to have a beer. He grabbed a friend on the way and than pointed at a little wooden shack “pub” he said. What he was pointing at was a little convenience store, probably one of two places where you could buy anything in the whole village. True to Southeast Asian standard they had a speaker blasting poor quality pop music. A few minutes after we sat down Kin the drunk decided that the music was not nearly loud enough so he moved it closer and then he moved it onto the table two feet from me. He face it right at me as if I was suffering from severe hearing loss, and since I wasn’t it became a pretty uncomfortable drink at the local pub. Especially since he kept trying to get me to stand up and dance. It was just me, him and one other guy blasting pop music in a quiet little village. I thought it would be too much to start dancing while all the other families were cooking and eating circled around their fires.

The following day my faithful guide and I arrived in another smaller village. We got some rest and had dinner with a young man that seemed to run a guest house. It was not a home stay like I was promised but it had enough blankets. After dinner I was taken on a tour of the sleepy village.
It was quiet until it wasn’t. At the school there was a party in full swing. The children were all wrapped in plastic, they fashioned them into capes or masks, and the adults were drinking Lao Lao. My guide had told me the night before that he was old and didn’t drink, but it only took the group of giddy adults a few seconds to get him to have a few shots of the rice wine. I felt like a visiting diplomat, they pulled me over and had me dance with them. All the while they poured rice wine and soup down my throat. One of the teachers got a soccer ball world globe so I could point to where I’m from.

“She’s the same age as you, and she’s single” my guide whispered in my hear about one of the girls dancing. I always wonder how the criteria can be so low. Apparently in his mind, no ability to communicate and the fact that I live ten thousand miles away was not nearly barrier enough when compared to the fact that I was the same age as this single girl.

My guide rescued me from a hungover hike the following day by getting me out of the party before I had too much to drink. Suddenly it was quiet and all I could hear was some low music coming from a house near the center of town. “A ceremony” my guide told me. he walked us over and opened the door. We peered in and saw a group of people sitting at the feet of some kind of holy man who was chanting and waving a stick at what looked like Chinese characters written on fabric. My guide explained how they were trying to rid the house of spirits through a three day ceremony.

As we walked away he told me that three men in the house were smoking opium. It was early still but there wasn’t anything else to do but sleep. I curled up with my three blankets and listened to some of an audio book until I felt tired enough to sleep. But there was a knock on the door, my guide got up and opened the door. Seeing a women enter the room reminded me of how my guide joked about how he was going to have one of the unmarried women in the village come give him a massage later. “good for you” I had said, I couldn’t quite tell if he was joking but then he asked me if I wanted to get a massage too. I had no idea what kind of massage he was talking about so I declined. I had forgotten until I saw the women come into the room. Somehow a quiet evening turned into a really strange night. I turned my audio book up and went to sleep.

Michael Without Borders

He held up one finger and said “One day” and I did my best to have a look of sadness for having to cross the border a day late. The border official in the green and red uniform sat my passport down on the table and proceeded to make me wait for him to process every other passport by the other people behind me in line. I just stood there waiting patiently for him to stamp my passport so I could leave. I only felt some impatience creeping in once, my foot started to tap the floor but it only took a couple deep breathes to move past it. I often gain personal insights into my emotional state by watching my own body language, its odd what I don’t know about myself.

I was laughing inside because it was such a silly situation. What could he really do? kick me out? I would certainly hope so.
A friend of mine a couple weeks ago was telling me about how he thought that the people who behave rudely are only making a fool of themselves. Its just not a cool thing to do to make fun of someone who doesn’t understand you or can’t fight back. I’ve had people try to say rude things to me in languages I can’t understand but ever since I heard that from my friend its been much easier to see how no matter what they say it only lessons them, it is a childish thing to do. Only a weak person attacks defenseless people, and not being able to communicate properly can be seen as the lack of defense. It also made it so much funnier to see this border official try to intimidate me through making me wait. I didn’t know if I would have to pay him a bribe but I wasn’t worried about that, I just wasn’t going to let myself feel defenseless.

He handed me back my passport when it was clear that he didn’t have enough else’s passport to process. Just like that, no bribe, no yelling, he just handed it to me and I had no apparent consequence for being in Vietnam a day after my visa expired other than waiting an extra 10 minutes.

I’ve now been in 11 countries outside the US. I’m personally excited for myself by that.

Into Laos Smartphone-less

I am going through the border from Vietnam to Laos tomorrow when my visa expires today. Its a test in calm for me, and oddly enough I don’t feel very worried. Maybe I should be and I definitely could be but its going to be okay and if it becomes an issue I won’t waste my energy pre-suffering.

I’m realizing that I’m getting into the swing of things. I don’t plan very far ahead, I don’t worry about spending money hardly ever and I don’t worry so much nowadays. The only thing I haven’t found is a clearer mind, I keep filling my focus with many little things despite the opportunity to train my mind in the many  expectation-less hours I have each day.

I say this because a long time ago I was in a place where my thoughts felt more in control, less wispy than they do now. Ever since then I have been trying to regain that sense of calm. I miss being able to hold an idea and fully digest it before choosing the next thought to process but part of me wonders if it can be reached without substantial life changes.

Still every day I try to practice using my mind in a intentional way. I try to practice visualizing and using my imagination or I’ll try to think up a poem without writing it down before its completed. I haven’t been able to do it yet but I’ll keep practicing.

I’ve found that what I remember changes, sometimes names are effortless to remember, and sometimes its ideas for my blog. I’ve had weeks traveling where I remember names even when they weren’t spoken to me but only overheard from someone else’s conversation. Now I’m not sure that my memory and my focus is particularly astute.

I use a notebook instead of having a phone while traveling and many times on my trip have I met people that are surprised that I don’t have a phone. They are surprised because its so much easier to travel with a smartphone. The maps, communication and research on the go makes a big difference. Its funny to me that even five years ago that probably would have been weird to think and ten years ago it would have been insane to think of having such a powerful device that would work so universally. I know first hand how much harder nearly everything is without a phone, I struggle to know where I am. I have had to find other ways to finding my way, I’ve learned to know where to look in business signs to find the city name so I can usually track where I am on the bus. I don’t book anything ahead of time because I usually can’t find a specific hostel and I find it much harder to meet up with people if I’m not staying at the same hostel.

I like the idea of knowing what a smartphone takes the place of.
Soon enough I will be back in a world where I will pick up my smartphone and be very happy to have that power back but for now it is an interesting journey using the quickly disappearing skills.

The Middle And The New Year

The 4th of January will be the middle of my trip and I’m trying to fathom what that means.
It holds such significance to be at this point, its like this trip is a small life and I’m middle aged. I’m due for a midlife crisis where I evaluate what I have already done and decide what I want from the rest of my little life. It matters what I do right now, it will decide who I come as and what kind of trip I come home from. Since there is half of my trip left I have enough time to change the theme and the goals, there is still enough time to influence the overall trip.

This is my 118th day abroad, or somewhere between 295 and 400 meals away from home. I have met amazing people and I’ve met some sickening people. I ate a poison frog, some roasted rooster balls, and more rice than I ever thought I’d eat. I’ve been in trains, planes, motorbikes, bicycles, cars and I’ve walked hundreds of miles through cities and jungles. I skinned a python, repelled down a waterfall, swam with sharks, scuba dove to 30 meters, ate river fish in the jungle, swam in bioluminescence, and had many more life changing, and somehow mundane experiences.

I cannot return as the same person that got on the plane in Seattle 4 months ago. I didn’t want to stay that person but I also don’t have a choice if I am really being honest with myself. I think self honesty is the most important kind of honesty and because of that I don’t think I’ll pretend that I’m going to start this second half of my trip with the same goals that I started the first half with.

I’m not afraid of cars anymore.
I see the extreme danger and occasionally I feel some fear but I’m not afraid like I was afraid. I used to feel tense just walking near a road, ever since I was hit by a car I have had an intensified anxiety towards cars. Driving, riding in cars and walking near roads would give my physical fear. But not now.
I have been on so many grime reaper inspired rides that I can’t quite feel the fear like I did.
This seems to be a eloquent example of the way I am a different person now. I am different in many ways just from exposure. I am more able to be rude to those that try to take advantage of me, I am more willing to push for what I want,  I am more able to be honest about who I am to strangers and my world view includes many more factors than it once did. It’s not like I have become some enlightened person that suddenly understand things I didn’t know existed, no, its been a dull molding of old and new experiences. I am an amalgamation of pieces that came from different places, maybe that is why travel is so important. I will go home with pieces of Asia and than those pieces will drift into the people around me. Cultures will collide until we all understand each other.
Or maybe that’s bullshit, perhaps I’ll only come home knowing how to use chop sticks and wanting a burger.

There is something ironic about the new year and the middle of my trip being at the same time, and there is something very ironic about the story of my last day of the old year.
It was a miserable 8 hour ride to a town that seems to be largely avoided by most tourists. I woke up with the kind of sickness that made it hard to hear my alarm, my head was so stuffed up and everything hurt. I rode a motorbike to the bus and I wasn’t physically okay enough to feel any fear with the death defying ride. When I finally got to a hotel I was too sick to get food, and my head hurt badly enough to keep me from sleeping. I had to just stay up until I felt okay enough to finally sleep. I fell asleep just before midnight on the 31st of December. The day was a mess of pain and dysfunction, it seems ironic to feel like death at the end of the new, The metaphorical death of the year and this morning was the birth of another.
Like a baby experiencing his first breathes and faint movements I don’t feel totally good but somehow still better than yesterdays death.

And this is the part where I lean forward.
This last year Was and this year Is.

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