(Failure to) Quicken the Pace

I must have been there at least an hour drinking tea and trying thuoc lao as we laughed. They had a fire going to ward off the cold and ash rained on us the whole time as if it were snowing. Were it not for the Vietnamese faces around me, I could’ve sworn I was in Kieslowski film, in Poland or Russia. Meanwhile, the two shackled dogs barked and fought each other amidst the ash, smoke, and smog.

via Daily Prompt: Quicken

Today was supposed to be the day that I made magic happen: apply for (more) jobs, run some errands for the house to pick up things like a blanket so I don’t freeze again tonight, write, and begin learning the Vietnamese alphabet. However, my efforts to quicken the pace were halted. The motorbike I rented and have been riding around town had other plans for the day, which consisted entirely in fucking with me. It was like bad joke. Apparently, she thinks this is a game. This ain’t a game…

At first I thought it was just my inexperience with carburetors– “should the choke be up or should it be down? I don’t know but it’s freezing. Let’s try both.” Neither my Yamaha R6 nor the Honda CRF 250 had carbs. After fiddling with the choke in different settings, I at least got the bike to turn on, stay on, and not die when in idle. “Eureka!” Or so I thought. “Nope!” I leave the cafe in Tây Hồ and head towards my apartment in Ba Đình. Out of nowhere the bike simply turns off despite being in fourth-gear, cruising. Confused, I try giving it gas to no avail. Still coasting, I try to start the thing while in motion using the electric starter. I pull over, thinking I simply ran out of gas. The bike felt as if it wasn’t getting enough of something. Eight hours later I still don’t know what that something was because it wasn’t gas; I digress. I pulled over to the side, checked the gas levels since I have no fuel gauge. “It’s got gas,” I thought to myself as I jiggled the bike and had gasoline splash around the floor, lightly, leaving a urine-colored blotch on the pavement. For the next twenty minutes I fiddled around with the choke again just to try and get the damn thing to start. However, the things I did before did nothing.

After trying unsuccessfully a little longer I felt silly. I was stopped right in front of  a car-wash and the people kept looking over, exchanging glances with one another, and speaking in Vietnamese, laughing. I don’t speak Vietnamese. I bet they were commenting on how I had probably never ridden a motorbike before; “silly tourist”. I played with the petcock again, looking busy and telling myself their bikes probably break down as well. One of the workers comes over and I presume he asked if I needed help. However: language barrier. Also: masculinity. So, I politely decline and hop on the bike. I hobbled over to a friend’s house about 2-km away from where I pulled over, arriving sweaty and gross, simultaneously freezing and over-heating from the exertion. He isn’t home but his roommate lets me in. Waiting, I fall asleep on another friend’s bed. When I wake up an hour and half later he still does’t seem to be home. Nobody is. Feeling like I should give it another go, I fiddle again with the stupid nobs: what I believe was the fuel ratio knob, the choke, and engine idle RPM speed. At that point, I don’t even know what I did but it worked. I left the house, eager to get home and begin my day.

The plot thickens. I pass the round-about, wait at the same light, and take the same turn to the main road to my house as the bike stutters again, stalling and slowing.  I finish coasting and realize I am in front of the same place– again! At this point I could do nothing but laugh as I make eye contact with the same individuals from a few hours earlier. This time I don’t even pretend to know what I was doing. They invite me into their little outside waiting area; it was made of bamboo and covered with tarps, featuring a bong for thuoc lao, a table and a tea-set. They invite me to sit, where they give me seemingly endless cups of tea. One guy in particular seemed to understand English quite well although he either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English. However, he understood that I needed to call my rental guy.  I show him my phone, which is at 2% as it always seems to be when I need to make calls. He lets me use his. After I hang up with the rental people he texts them the address. We wait.

I must have been there at least an hour drinking tea and trying thuoc lao as we laughed. They had a fire going to ward off the cold and ash rained on us the whole time as if it were snowing. Were it not for the Vietnamese faces around me, I could’ve sworn I was in Kieslowski film, in Poland or Russia. Meanwhile, the two shackled dogs barked and fought each other amidst the ash, smoke, and smog. The guy sent over by the rental company finally arrives, smiling. He fiddles with the same damn knobs I fiddled with it. However, maybe he actually knew what he was doing. It’s possible. Although the bike still didn’t feel 100% as it had a few days before, it got me home. I hadn’t eaten so I parked my bike at home and left the maze of alleys to treat myself a little; today was a little stressful.

So far, this is the only productive thing I have done all day. Today I failed to quicken the pace but perhaps tomorrow I will have more luck.

Center of Gravity

I won’t even mention how fresh everything feels outside the confines of the apartment; the sea of motorbikes, chickens everywhere– living, dead, or somewhere in between– a symphony of honks, dogs barking, roosters crowing, and construction. So, if ever it feels like things have gone back to what they were, all the new things I am experiencing and will experience flood into my head. I welcome the madness that is Hanoi.

(Part of the Daily Prompt Challenge)

Today marks the end of my fifth day in Hanoi, Vietnam. Traveling with limited funds has forced me to postpone my backpacking travels and return to a somewhat civilian life– at least in the sense of routines, a room to call my own, possessions beyond what I can carry on my back, etc. I can’t deny that it all feels a little contradictory. Originally, I set out on my journey to ditch the very things that I now find myself searching for in Hanoi: a job, a motorbike, clothes so I don’t look like a homeless backpacker at the new job I am in search of.

While backpacking I had no center of gravity and could float free around the country on a whim, writing my own journey as if it were a blog post where I could add, remove, or  edit whatever parts I want in an effort to make it my own– to make it me. It wasn’t so much of a balancing act; it resembled more of a unilateral push towards one thing, which was travel and explore. As a new resident of Hanoi, I am search to find that center of balance I was so intent on ditching as a new traveler just under three months ago.

At first glance, it seems as if all has all doubled-back on itself, reverted to what it used to be. However, this is far from the case. I need only to step outside my room in the fourth floor of a five-story house to be reminded of this. I won’t even mention how fresh everything feels outside the confines of the apartment; the sea of motorbikes, chickens everywhere– living, dead, or somewhere in between– a symphony of honks, dogs barking, roosters crowing, and construction.  So, if ever it feels like things have gone back to what they were, all the new things I am experiencing and will experience flood into my head. I welcome the madness that is Hanoi. I welcome the hunt for a job that has me obsessively writing cover-letters, sending resumes, and hoping for the interview.

Like I said before, this is a balancing act again– albeit a new one. Things that got pushed too far away from the center through traveling or by other means, whether by choice or habit, fell off. Hell, some things should’ve fallen off… some things still need to fall off. Meanwhile, there are other things, the things that fell off a while ago and need to be picked up and placed along the center again. This is exciting as hell as it gives me the chance to pick and choose what I want in my life again.

So, in effect, this new balancing act doesn’t contradict my original journey after all.

They are separate yet syncopated.

An Exercise in Patience & Calm Pt. II

When getting to Hue, they yelled at me to wake up, shouting”Hue! Hue!” while poking my shoulder. The other passengers laughed and in a sing-song manner, semi mocking the Vietnamese music they played throughout the entire ride, I reiterated “Hue! “Hue!” as I got out of my seat and grabbed my bag. They dropped me off at a gas station, opened the compartment and put my bag on my ground as I struggled to put my boots on. Before I even accomplished this, the guy ran back to the bus, which had already started moving and hopped inside. I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was in Hue and had no battery on my phone…

This is a continuation of the following post: An Exercise in Patience & Calm Pt. I

At around six we all began to rise with the sun. I brushed my teeth and got back to the bus, laughing to myself about what I had just experienced. It was at that point that the driver told me to leave my bags on the bus and walk over to the border to get stamped in. In an inquiring tone I motioned him to him with my hands, using my index and middle fingers as make-believe legs and reaffirmed whether or not I was supposed to “walk to the border.” He said yes, mimicking my motions and adding that he would be meeting me on the other side. Cautious but reassured by the driver who went through lengths to treat me well and attempt to explain what was happening at different times, I took a small bag with me (laptop, camera, expensive shit) and left the big bag. I began to walk the kilometer or so to the official border-crossing. As I looked back at the bus, I was relieved to see the ladies doing the same as myself, walking a few hundred feet behind me. I waited for them and we exchanged words, which neither of us understood. They laughed, I laughed, and we continued walking. You’d think that a language barrier would result in struggle and conflicts but more often it results in laughter.

The border was easy, taking me ten minutes. In line, I was entertained by four UK travelers who were drunk as hell and trying to get across without the proper paperwork. It was barely 7:30 in the morning. Oh, and they were on motorbikes.

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Guy on left was struggling the most

Seeing that this was an ordeal, the guy in charge let me go ahead of them, I got stamped out of Laos, stamped into Vietnam, and was on my way. The driver was waiting where he said he would be, standing outside with my bag. He communicated that I would now change buses and get on the sleeper bus. We said our goodbyes. I made it a point to shake his hand and wave to the ladies. Overall, I left that bus feeling quite alright, tired physically but invigorated mentally.

I laughed when the crew of the sleeper bus put my bag in their compartment and told me to walk straight for an undefined distance to an undefined space– somewhere over there, further past the border-crossing; like the previous driver, they motioned that they’d pick me up there.  Since previously putting all my faith in a bus that was much less maintained and reliable-looking, I began walking without hesitation, giving them a thumbs up in the process. When the bus came it drove past me. They pointed further ahead to a gas-station that was obfuscated from view by a bigger truck.  They  honked and waved for me to continue. I laughed again– and walked.

The sleeper bus was nice. However, I still can’t stop wondering why I hadn’t been on this bus from the beginning. Was I scammed after all, despite my attempts to thwart any such plan? I will never know. I fell asleep on this nice bus, which had a bed-like seat that reclined nearly all the way and had enough leg-room to not feel cramped. However, the distance from the border to Hue was only three hours. When getting to Hue, they yelled at me to wake up, shouting”Hue! Hue!” while poking my shoulder. The other passengers laughed and in a sing-song manner, semi mocking the Vietnamese music they played throughout the entire ride, I reiterated “Hue! “Hue!” as I got out of my seat and grabbed my bag. They dropped me off at a gas station, opened the compartment and put my bag on my ground as I struggled to put my boots on. Before I even accomplished this, the guy ran back to the bus, which had already started moving and hopped inside. I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was in Hue and had no battery on my phone. I asked the guy at the gas station where the train station was and he motioned behind the shop. Confused and doubtful, I walked to the back and found nothing but a filthy toilet.  “Well,” I thought, “I do have to go.” I took peed, careful not to touch anything, even the door, or slip on the piss all over the floor. It started to feel like Bangkok all over again and alarm bells began going off in my head. I exerted some effort to quiet them all and trotted away with no real direction or purpose, just hoping for a landmark.

While walking, I fended off the constant motorbike taxis trying to give me a ride, telling me the train station was far, etc. I embraced what I was doing and took my chances. Besides, if I wanted a ride at any point, I could throw a stone in any direction and it would hit someone willing to drive me. Within 15 minutes of walking I sighted the train station, bought a ticket to Hanoi (another 13 hours), and proceeded to kill some time– four hours to be exact.

I killed time by going to an abandoned water park, Ho Thuy Tien, at the suggestion of my friend Roxie. The size of the place compounded by the fact that it was abandoned, adding to the surreal feel of it all. The park’s center-piece stood in the center, by the lake–a dragon whose mouth one could walk Photo Feb 22, 11 21 26 AM.pngup to and look outside at the whole of the park. I met some Canadians there and we walked around, chatting. After a while, I got a ride back to the train station and hopped. For the next 14 hours, I shared a room with three young female monks who were absolutely adorable and spoke no English. After waking up from a few hours nap, they offered to share their noodles with me, beckoning me to follow them. I didn’t know where they were going, I just followed behind. Next thing I know, we have gone through eight cars in the train, ending up in the staff area. Speaking Vietnamese, the girls bridged the language gap and within a few minutes we brought the noodle soups back to the car and ate. Our only communication revolved around smiles and laughter as we ate and showed each other pictures of our lives.

Their stop was just before mine. An hour later, at five in the morning, I arrived in Hanoi. It was raining and cloudy– colder than I expected. After searching for an open hostel to no avail, I found a Circle-K, which is the Vietnamese equivalent of 7/11 and had a strong coffee. I remained there  for several hours typing and waiting for hostels to open.

As morning came about, it hit me: I live in Hanoi now.

 

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The dragon’s mouth. 

 

 

 

 

An Exercise in Patience & Calm Pt. I

My legs were cramped. I really needed to stretch! Thanks to the rice bags, my own bag, the women’s bags, and bus driver who was sleeping on the floor along the walkway, stretching was literally impossible. So, I ended up falling asleep with my legs on the top of the headrests of my own seat, upside down. To anybody who saw, specifically the lady to my left, I looked insane…

I have just arrived in Vietnam. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would make it through or expire on the way. It didn’t start well. Upon asking to purchase a ticket from Pakse in Laos to Hue in Vietnam (after a 3 hour van ride from Don Det), the guy laughed at me and asked if I was sure. “Yea, I am quite sure,” I replied, trying to glean the humor from his sarcasm. I knew the reason for his response: the trip from Pakse to Hue was notorious for being absolute shit in every way possible. Not only were the buses supposed to be crap, old and barely functioning, but the roads were worse. Compound that with drivers, who often drive the whole 13-hours with little rest and you’ve got a recipe for an awful time. After handing him the 220,000LAK, he gave his disclaimer: “This is going to be the worst ride of your life,” which he followed by stating that he would rather not even sell tickets to this route–“but if I don’t, the others will.” I took the ticket and informed him, in my own sarcastic tone, that he really sold it. I did confess that I had already read about the route’s problems and knew what I was in for: an experience.

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From Pakse to Border

The bus didn’t leave until five and it was two-thirty. He offered a shower, which I accepted. The past week of Mekong-water showers had made my skin feel funny despite the liberal use of soap. Hungry, I went across the street to Jasmine, an Indian/Malay place that I frequented in Pakse and which had a sister restaurant on Don Det. I showered, ate, played with the little girl they were taking care of then then hopped on the free tuk-tuk to the bus station.

Looking back, the bus wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Actually, I think it was pretty bad, I just have a tolerance for that kind of shit, often necessitated by my being polite to others. After all, the driver is barely to blame for the shitty route and shitty bus– a job is a job. In Thai we use the phrase mai pen rai to signify that a transgression (whether real or perceived) doesn’t matter; it’s okay! During my month in Laos I learned the corresponding phrase to be bor pen yang. It certainly helped that I was traveling alone. As I arrived to the station I asked which bus was leaving to Hue. The guy pointed to what I kindly describe as piece of crap with decals that read “VIP” on the front and sides. The driver was washing it diligently though, which gave me some hope; if he takes that much effort to wash and clean his bus, despite the fact the he is about to drive it through the dustiest of roads for 12 hours, I felt a little reassurance with he whole endeavor.

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VIP AF

I hopped on and was surprised to see only twelve seats and none of them filled. He motioned to me, implying that I should eat and told me that we didn’t leave until eight– it was five. The lady who sold me the ticket from downtown Pakse said the bus left at 5:30. Knowledgeable of a scam in which you pay for a VIP bus and get put on a lesser bus, I walked around, asking the ticket booths and other bus drivers which bus was going to Hue. They all pointed to the scrap heap. “OK,” I thought to myself. I walked back, drank a beer, had some soup, then had the genius idea of stringing up my hammock in the back of the bus, where there were no seats, just empty space. Hello, travel-hack! I perked up, thanking myself for dragging the hammock around with me everywhere I went. The driver laughed when he boarded the bus and saw me hanging and swinging from a bright-orange hammock strung along the inside of his bus; I doubt he had ever seen such a sight.

Just before eight, the rest of the passengers arrived, all four of them. All were women, one of which always held a large stack of bills for some reason and would pull it out, count it, and return it to her bag. She must have done this a hundred times. After the first few times, I lost curiosity in the matter. While the hammock was great, swinging back and forth with the sway of the bus, it was short-lived. Photo Feb 21, 6 32 26 PM.jpgOur first stop was just forty minutes from the bus stop, whereupon the driver and few guys filled up the entire back of the bus with goods. There were hand-woven baskets, red bags, blue bags, and green bags– oh, and bags of charcoal. Even now, in Vietnam, I still have flour residue from the the bus. Reluctantly, I took the hammock down and sat in a seat that reclined–for the time being. Within the next six hours we made five more stops, each to pick up more goods. I had no idea a bus could be packed so tightly. The bags contained flour, sugar, and rice. Mind you that each time they stopped to load the bus, everybody had to leave and wait outside, meaning that the last two stops I was awakened to the driver yelling “You! You!” That was the signal for me to get up and out of the bus so they could load. Mai Pen Rai, I told myself. By the end of that last stop, there were bags in between every seat, and in every nook of the bus, including the top and bottom compartments. My seat no longer reclined, since I was in the far back. However, the lady in front me only had me behind her, not a hundred bags of rice, so she reclined all the damn way, forcing me to move a seat over, which was so stacked with rice at my feet that I was practically in a squatting position.

At some point, I managed to fall asleep, awoken only by the driver throwing a blanket over me, which was a nice gesture. The only time I woke up after that was somewhere in the early hours, after we had already stopped a few kilometers outside the border to sleep, waiting for it to open. My legs were cramped. I really needed to stretch! Thanks to the rice bags, my own bag, the women’s bags, and bus driver who was sleeping on the floor along the walkway, stretching was literally impossible. So, I ended up falling asleep with my legs on the top of the headrests of my own seat, upside down. To anybody who saw, specifically the lady to my left, I looked insane…

To read the rest of my trip to Hue and then to Hanoi, stay tuned– it will be up tomorrow. After all, I have to give you freeloaders something to look towards to, no? I can’t give you everything all at once! 

Greetings from Circle-K in Hanoi’s Old Quarter!

P.S. Here is the little girl I was playing with in Pakse just before leaving– she really wanted to play with the phone! Reminded me of my own sister, Isabella.

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Cutie!

Been There Don Det

As I write, Ziggy sings, “Everybody’s worried about time / But I just keep that shit off my mind / People living on twenty four hour clocks / But we’re on a ride that never stops.” How fitting!

Although I have been trying to catch up on my recent travels in Thailand, I have to acknowledge the fact that I am no longer in Thailand and haven’t been for a month. I arrived in Laos on the 29th of January, crossing over by slow-boat. I started in the North of Laos, first stopping in Pak Chong, after having left from Chiang Khong (Thailand), from which I could see through to the other side of the Mekong and glimpse at Laos; at that time, the light hitting the opposite side of the Mekong in the morning was spectacular. Personally, I knew nothing about Laos and for some reason was adamant about not researching things. I just wanted to go, be surprised, and make spur of the moment (and hopefully fruitful) decisions based on walking around, word of mouth, and what I felt like doing at any specific time. Looking back on a month of travel, these desires were met and whatever goals I had for Laos were successful.

Before I delve into writing about my experiences in Laos, I’ll flash-forward to where I am currently: Don Det, 4,000 Islands, in the southernmost part of Laos, where borders between Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos meet. I could cross over into Cambodia right now, either by kayak or by boat, pay a few dollars to anybody guarding the soft border, and be on my way. Of course, were I to get caught in Cambodia without a visa sometime after, this would be a different post altogether.GOPR2093.JPG This just shows how relaxed this island (Don Det) is– even the borders are “soft.” I have thoroughly enjoyed my days here, relaxing and spending the majority of them doing nothing. Here, as opposed to many other places, doing nothing is acceptable. In fact, it is encouraged. I feel like I am living in a stereotyped version of Jamaica, or elsewhere on the Caribbean, where life is slow.

Initially, I hung around with friends from Pakse for three days, kayaking to the world’s widest waterfall, walking around and watching the Laotian children that inhabit every part of the island, and eating good food. It is with this group that I had previously done the 320-km Bolaven Plateau loop, which left from Pakse (link soon). Oh, I also sat a lot on the hammock, riverside.

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Khonphapheng Waterfall

After they left, I was supposed to leave the day after, or soon after. Instead, I opted to stay for a few extra days. Don Det has a tendency to do that to people, especially to those with no real time-schedules. The only semblance of a schedule I have is visa-related; my Laos visa expires six days from now and my Vietnam visa has been active since yesterday. Aside from that, money is the only limiting factor. If I were to stay here any longer, I could easily get a job and get free meals and accommodation, something which I almost did. However, most of the job are at bars, which wasn’t quite the environment I wanted to be in all day and night.

These last four days I have spent doing some self-care, both physical as well as mental. In the mornings, I swim over to a sandbar directly across from the Happy Bar and just a minute walk from my bungalow. Every time I swim that distance, I am reminded of how difficult swimming is! Holy hell. I think I would rather run five kilometers than swim one– and I mean that. Here I could insert some cheesy quote about how we should strive to do the difficult things in life, bla bla bla. I do it because it is refreshing. It just also happens to benefit my body. After that, I go take a shower, which is ironic because the shower water is also Mekong water. However, there is a differential here: soap. I suppose that makes all the difference. I then go for breakfast at Mama Thanon’s, which always seems to be playing Ziggy Marley’s Dragonfly. As I write,  Ziggy sings, “Everybody’s worried about time / But I just keep that shit off my mind / People living on twenty four hour clocks / But we’re on a ride that never stops.” How fitting!

At Mama’s, I relax and battle with the wifi for a few hours, sometimes reading an ebook to pass the time, or edit pictures that I know I can’t upload until I get to Vietnam, which will have better wifi. You may wonder why I have posted so few pictures. Wonder now longer: it takes me an hour or more to upload three pictures. You do the math. Often, the download will be almost complete then the wifi shuts down for a minute as it tends to do intermittently and the entire upload is lost. Sometimes I’ll order another tea and try again or just give up, close my laptop, pay, and go to my bungalow.

When the sun goes down I go for a run, which the locals seem to find funny. I return, sweaty as can be and pull out my laptop in which I have a four-part, forty-five minute long video of a specific type of stretching-meditation intended for Muay Thai boxers. It is an older, regional style, called Chaiyuth Style. The first forty-five minutes are a series of
breathing-oriented stretches that are meditative in nature.

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Chaiyuth Style

Doing that on the porch, overlooking the Mekong sunset as I do it has been great. I workout, doing push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, etc, do some static stretches, and hit the shower again. If there’s still light out, I’ll read until there is none left then go back to Mama Thanon’s and hit a bar on the way there or the way back. A friend of mine, Ian, has been working at the 1 More Bar for the last few days, so I stop by and say hi when I feel up for a beer.

However, last night was my last on Don Det. My bus for Pakse leaves in two hours, from which I will buy a bus ticket to Hue, Vietnam. From Don Det to Pakse shouldn’t be more than three hours. To Hue should be another 16. Then, from Hue, I am booking a train to Hanoi, which should be another fourteen hours. I decided on the train for safety reasons as well as the added bonus of comfort; also, I can pay using a credit card, which will save me from doing another ATM run for a while.

I plan on writing on the train, if I can find a comfortable way to do so. I know for certain that such a task would be impossible on the bus. I’ve learned by now.

In any case, stay tuned as I backtrack you through my memories.

If you are bored, or–dare I say– curious, catch up on my Thailand travels. If words are boring, take a peek of my arduously uploaded photos here. Enjoy!

That Land of Half-Truths

A stranger that I have only known for two days noticed the sadness that I carried with me tonight and approached me as I straddled the ledge of the hostel’s fifth floor, overlooking the center of Patze, Laos. With a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and an inexplicable sadness in my eyes, I automatically responded with a fake smile: “I just get like this sometimes. But don’t worry, I wont jump. I am not depressed or anything.” We both kind of laughed and she made an enlightening comment about how the fall wouldn’t do much anyways, I would just bounce off the aluminum roof below or get caught in the wires. We laughed and she left. I finished my beer and felt like crying.

Despite having so much time to myself in an environment that facilitates positive emotions– I mean, come on, backpacking for an undefined length of time is a dream for many, and it has been exactly that for me, for years– I still experience many of the same negative emotions that I did back home. That melancholic weight that just seems to yank me towards the ground persists; like gravity, but so much stronger. And so much more invasive. Tonight was just one of those nights. Those closest to me have seen me in these “bouts,” if I can call them that. My response has been typically to drink, preferably alone, and reflect while listening to a bunch of sad fucking music. I can’t say that it helps the feeling, or that I feel even remotely better, but there is a release that occurs in those moments. In the morning, I wake up and everything is (usually) back to normal.

In secret, I have seen a therapist. That was a load of shit; the first two meetings were purely introductory, the “tell me about yourself” shit, which leads me down a diatribe of self-pity and mopiness. Nobody wants to hear it and I sure as hell don’t want to repeat it. Naturally, I stopped going. My remedy since has not changed much. Maybe, at most, I surround myself with others. That just results in people telling me that I look or feel sad, down, depressed, or just plain weird; thanks, for the reminder. Fuck off.

But now things are different: I don’t have a job, I don’t own much (neither here nor back in America), nothing and nobody is tying me down to anything. Yet, here I stand, in Pakze, Laos, half-way across the world sometimes feeling the same as I did back home. Honestly, I don’t believe myself to be depressed. Searching around me, here in Asia, I find no cause for it. The cause is not external, it is interior. I finally realize (and actually believe) something that someone close to me told me years ago: I lead a life of small, half-truths because I am not honest with myself.

These half-truths affect others, but they are not malicious and I don’t even intend for them to exist. I guess that is usually the case with others, though.

These half-truths, or lies, are lies to myself; unfortunately, they just sort of leak onto others oozing like the clear puss from a scab. You only notice it when you touch it, often by mistake in the midst of haphazard movements.  The irony is that I have always considered myself so aware; about other people, their feelings, and their problems. Somewhere along the way I lost touch with myself, with my feelings, and my problems. This must have happened long ago. So now, here sits an the overly aware but miserably unaware person. Perhaps, as a collective, we are all so incredibly aware and knowledgeable about this or that, yet hopelessly unaware of the very essence of ourselves and of each other. Or, perhaps it really is just me.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This isn’t mopiness, like the introductory-therapy-session type of sappy talk I engaged in with my two-time therapist years ago. This is progress. I feel some weight being lifted. In a way it’s more like “promissory weight,” as in a future weight being lifted. But that weight is so heavy, that despite being in the future, I already feel ripples as they travel backwards in time. It’s a reverse-drip, the water-droplet coming up and into the faucet; the neurotransmitters flowing up-stream, which they almost never do.

I will transform this land of half-truths into a land of authenticity, both with myself and with others. Reading Clarice Lispecter’s novels, wherein she deals with the dilemma of how to say things that shouldn’t be said (for a variety of reasons), I internalized that dilemma. Yet, unlike her characters, I never let those scenarios play out as they should have; I stopped short. I am not as strong or determined like her characters. I know what I have to do. I can’t have my cake and eat it too.

I think these next couple of months will be challenging in many ways but not in the way I thought they would. I (hope) they will uplift me and take away the weight that I feel when I lay in bed awake at night, thinking, thinking, thinking, not sleeping. I hope, too, that they will lessen the weight on those affected by my land of half-truths.

As I walked past my friend, after writing this, words were exchanged: “You don’t look so sad anymore.” I responded by insinuating that it must be the beer(s). As I looked away, again caught in a moment of vulnerability and surprise, there was a pause and a response: “No, I see it in your eyes.”

I Could Not Bear a Life with Everything Perfect

Before leaving, I had already made up my mind to travel by land as much as possible. Why? Well, first it’s cheaper. More grueling, sure, but cheaper. It also provides me a better view of the landscape– from within, as opposed to above. So far I have only taken one flight, which was the one from LAX to Bangkok. This flight alone totaled 20 hours. Thankfully, there was a layover in Taipei. There, I was able to stretch my legs, albeit standing in lines for two hours to transfer over. A stretch nonetheless, I suppose. I was worried as hell about the time, though. My flight left in 30 minutes and by my judgement I wasn’t leaving the second line anytime before the next hour. Shortly after, a slender, GQ-looking Asian airport staff-member pulled aside all of us scheduled to be on the flight to Bangkok,giving us a “fast-pass,” which was nothing more than him just waving us past everyone including security. Our bags weren’t even inspected.

A few hours later I arrived in Bangkok; but my bag did not. “Was I at the wrong baggage claim?” That didn’t seem to be the case considering I recognized people on my flight all around me. “Maybe there was a secondary baggage claim for larger bags?” Nope. I tried to smile as I walked around, confused and a little worried. Then, amidst a bunch of Thai words, I read my name on a sign at bag-check stand. “That’s strange,” I thought. That’s without a doubt my name.” As it turns out, out they did not have enough room for my bag. Just my bag. My bag was literally the only bag that did not make it onto the flight. I can honestly say I was relieved that; it wasn’t stolen, or “lost in transit.” Still, I was able to smile. They promised me that it would arrive on the next flight and that they would deliver it the next day at the latest. Having no choice, I smiled, signed, and turned towards the exit, still not sure which way that even was. Of course, I went the wrong way and had to double back, towards the actual exit.

I felt surprisingly optimistic and happy despite having basically lost everything I came with.

I can still recall with absolute clarity the moment I walked out of Sukhumvit Airport with nothing but a wallet, passport, the clothes on my back and big fucking smile.

As of now, my running list of transportation times and types is as follows:

20 hours worth of flight-time;
32 hours of bus or van;
10 hours by scooter/motorcycle;
15 hours by boat;
5 1/2 hours by commuter train;

Today I leave Van Vieng to Pakze by bus. This will add another 16 hours of travel-time to my growing list. In a way, it has become a sort of game. “Can I do this whole trip without flying, even once, aside from my flight into Asia?” I think I can. When I think of how uncomfortable it will be though, I just remind myself that I am not here for comfort. At least, not this kind of comfort. In fact, in more ways than one, I am here to enjoy a certain degree of discomfort. A discomfort, however, that will be a catalyst to other things, perhaps a new way of thinking, a higher degree of patience, or the ability and desire to just be okay with everything that happens around me. This gets me thiking about one of my favorite authors. In college, I identified wholeheartedly with Jimmy Santiago Baca, a poet of Apache/Chicano descent. In one of my favorites, he writes: “I could not bear a life with everything perfect.” This quote has kept repeating itself along my travels. I see people get so frustrated because their food hasn’t arrived in a timely manner at a restaurant, or the street vendor, taking her time, takes up 15 minutes to make you a sandwich; sit with it, enjoy it, cherish it. Everything is fine and there is, in fact, nothing wrong. At least not until you make it.

https://www.poemhunter.com/jimmy-santiago-baca/