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.

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/

Khao San Road: Missing the Mark

It’s January 24th, 2017. Twenty days ago I arrived in Bangkok. The twenty-hour flight that yielded a fifteen-hour time difference was like time-warp, disorienting. That same night, I ate and drink scrupulously, waking up with a bad case of food poisoning wherein I threw up everything in my body for a whopping fifteen hours. It led me to question many things, namely the scorpions I ate, and the random, unrecognizable foods my new friends and I coaxed each other with, as well as the excessive towers of Chang. They left in the morning. Fifteen hours later, I was still lying in the top-bunk, alone, mustering the strength to get up and vomit only for fear of vomiting on the beds below. I  believed that my time spent in Brazil had granted me some sort of immunity, making me at least less prone to illnesses. To say the least, those first 48 hours in Bangkok were sobering, humbling, and a little intimidating. I began to question my trip.

That same night, in a (surprisingly awesome ) hostel bordered by a lady-boy house and a loathsome, disgusting back-alley filled with piss, cats, leftover bottles, and half-eaten food trays– a straight-shot to Khao San Road– I met several people with whom I connected. As I tried to keep up with my new, local friends, I realized two things. First, drinking in Thailand will drain your money faster than anything else. A large, 500ml beer is double the price of a delicious, mouth-watering Pad Thai. Second, I was not here for this. It got me thinking about the question many of you asked me. “What am I actually doing here?” I thought.  “What do I have in mind?” I can assure you all received half-assed, vague, and likely unsatisfying but calculated responses. By now you must know I like to hold my cards close; what I know is not for everybody to know. I am open, yes, but I am by no means an open book. I am travelling because I know I will find something. Ironically, I don’t know what. Honestly, I don’t want to know what. I know my path through these lands will have many corridors to explore, some spiritual, some social, but mostly unknown. I want to explore them all.

I know I am one among many passing through here, however my twenty days here have already reaffirmed that I am much more than that. I like to think I am more conscious and more aware. I care about different things, and frankly I believe I care more. That is not to say that I am better, or they less. Just that my life has been conducive, (or perhaps even necessitated), a deeper awareness of myself. This same awareness can be confusing and conflicting. Yes, that more accurate: conflicting. 

I know many of you have been asking me to upload pictures, write blurbs, etc., which it seems I have refused to do until now. I had to experience things through my own eyes first before pasting things on the web like so many others. I am not here for you yet I am here because of you. In all honesty though, my journey is your journey.

With this little preamble, I leave you to enjoy some of my favorite parts of this trip. Here, I share with you my mistakes and lessons learned, my insights and thoughts, and my trajectory throughout Asia. This is not just a travel blog; it is as geographic as it is mental. I also know that would not be here without many of you and several of you have been instrumental in facilitating this trip, whether it was by housing me in the months I was prepared to be homeless in order to save up, or by giving me extra shifts at work, or even by simple encouragement. You have all motivated me in your own ways. I think you know who you are. I hope you know who you are.

Wishing you the best.