Category Archives: Musings

Version 0.69 (Her, in my Head)

05/28/19

A bit worn out with thinking of Huyen so much. She has been the primary object of my mental awareness and focus since I left Vietnam almost two months ago. And that mainly sexual, which is strange because I don’t maintain a strong focus on sex in my life. I’m pretty indifferent, and frankly, feel like much time spent on that sort of thing is time wasted, time that could be spent more fruitfully. It’s only after having spent time with her that this has become so manifest. They are irritating though, these intrusions in my life, particularly when they occur during times that I’m writing or being (ahem, trying to be) productive. What it is with her that is, and has remained, so titillating, so sexually provocative I know not; that has so captured my attention that I am fairly powerless in keeping her from my thoughts, and truthfully often welcome the intrusions. My thoughts of her, in the way which they are imagined are felt like a drug. My mind clouds over completely, and all sensation softens, becomes fuzzy, nebulous, and she is that cloud that I am wreathed in, which I breathe in, and breathe out. It is exactly like a drug because these imaginings of her and I are of such ecstasy at the times, but afterwards I look at the time, or at my regularly distracted journaling, or at a book and I can only be annoyed.

What a waste….

I want no more of these thoughts to intrude. I want my creative, or at least semi-productive life back. Right now I don’t feel her within me.

Right now.

Is this a good thing?

Version 0.61 (The Heat, Daydreaming, and A Cave Tour)

05/02/19

Kinda thinking I don’t want to be on this island anymore. Two and a half days and I’m already done with the heat and the tropical sun. The sun, the sun.

THE SUN.

I don’t know what to say about it. From the confines of an air conditioned building it appears a thing of beauty and magnanimity, shining its light, illuminating the world, playing with the waves of the ocean, the leaves of the palm, pushing shadows slowly across the world as we spin around our axis, and the animals of the world moving in time to its rhythm. But we humans are stupid animals because we insist on being out and active even when the sun is at its zenith, and the temperatures are at their highest, stumbling and sweating through a hell of our own making. We’ve learned to combat this through fans and air-conditioning so that we may stick to the societal and cultural rhythm of our nine-to-five, or morning-straight-through-to-evening activities. Of course this is particularly true on vacation when one must wander out in all weathers and all temperatures because we must SEE things because otherwise whats the point of plotting out a time on one’s calendar and going on a vacation in a foreign land?

So, anyway, I am done with the heat, and the sweating through my clothing, and the being dirty, and the stinking, and being a stupid animal. All the same, while I’m here I should embrace being the stupid animal that I am and appreciate this opportunity. Besides, there’s no beating this opponent, and I certainly won’t be outsmarting him.

I’m day dreaming about traveling in the U.S. now, with Huyen, of showing her some of my favorite places during a summer. A cross country journey. D.C. and NYC of course, but also various places in Michigan: Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, but most importanly Leelanau County and its peninsula, including Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes, wine tasting at various vineyards, the many and secret beaches along Lake Michigan, and the many other smaller lakes. And then a few days in Chicago, several days in Milwaukee, and then there is a big gap until Colorado, then California with a drive down the coast from Washington state.

It’s too easy to day dream about cooler climates than it is to focus on the goings on here. I have a little bit of work with Claudio later this afternoon, and still have to do some photography around the hostel for him. I’ve been vacillating between wanting to leave early, and staying for the full week here. But the best thing I think is to just let everything go to plan. It’s sort of like trading; I don’t like to meddle with a trade once I’ve determined a setup and entered into that trade, though often it is very tempting.

Went on a cave tour yesterday. I was the only one, strangely enough, and was quite surprised the man even bothered to take me out. After the tour and at intervals during it I had intermittent convesation with my guide about his life. Simple stuff. How long have you lived here? Do you enjoy guiding? How long have you guided? The differences between here and the other islands? His life is of such a simple purity. Watching him walk through the forest and up the hill to the cave I observed such an ease and comfort in him, and a surefootedness, the balance of a cat, the familiarity with a place, a path, from having trod it so many hundreds of times. Something I don’t ever see in the denizens of a city, most of whom are usually in a rush to get somewhere. Occasionally he would pause after a particularly steep climb, the sweat beaded up on his forehead. He would just stand statue-like but for the expansion and contraction of his chest and his head turning, listening, peering into the jungle. Maybe he would ask a question of me, or point something out, like a cicada carapace, or a honey bee hive through the branches and leaves high up in a tree, hanging there like a curtain. On our way down after leaving the cave he lit up a cigarette and began smoking as we walked down the hill back to the village, not in a hurried way, but in a manner that was aligned with all of his actions up to this point, like he was reclining lazily in a porch-chair smoking easily, watching the world unfurl itself as it continually does, minute after minute, day after day, year after year, but all those moments just one singular moment always going going going, rolling into and out of itself and my tour guide simultaneously part of it but also beyond it, simply observing it. The double helix of a strand of DNA—life on one side, death on the other, inseparable, together all the time and for all time.

Version 0.55 (Feeling Uneven, the Virtues of a Swamp, and More)

04/21/19

I guess it’s Easter Sunday back home, soon. I’m living in another world now and have forgotten all but very little it seems. I live a very basic existence consisting mainly of eating, drinking coffee, sweating, sweating profusely, sweating through my shirt, looking for cafes to escape from the heat and the constant sweating, photographing, and trying to stay atop trades in crypto and analyzing forex charts. I feel lost much of the time here. I think largely because I am so far from busier parts of the city where there is more to do. A large part of my day is spent just moving from spot to spot. Much too much time, and so I feel like I’m not gaining enough from my time here, and thus I am disillusioned with the city. The suffocating heat isn’t helping. Haven’t yet decided if I move to a new hostel for a few days after my time at Kamin Bird House is up, or if I just pack up and move south. I would, I think, prefer to give Bangkok a bit more of a chance. It’s too easy to be disappointed by something after a couple of days of dissatisfaction, develop too quickly a poor opinion of the place, and then throw in the towel on it. Making hasty decisions is one of the worst things one can do for himself in developing an opinion on something. Give it time, and realize that it’s not going to change for you, and if you expect it to you’re only going to continue to be disillusioned, disappointed, and frustrated.

Pretty certain I’m lonely. Is this good or bad? What can I learn from it? I’m in love with being alive, but I feel less than alive right now. I feel beat down and uncertain. Why am I here in Bangkok? What am I doing? Truly and frankly I’m not doing anything. What am I supposed to do? I don’t even know that. I could be having a good time with a friend or certain other person. but again, and I’ve covered this ground before, I’m not traveling and I’m not accomplishing anything either. I’m unhappy with my photography and so I’ve lost the desire to shoot, and I’m sick of spending more time traveling to areas I want to visit and photograph than actually spending time in those places I’m visiting. I’ve had certain periods of brightness and they make this all worth it (it’s amazing the crap that a photographer will put up with for a single, satisfying image), but I’m stagnating right now. Can this be a good thing? I think yes. I KNOW yes, and I know yes simply because I’m honest and conscious enough to ask that question.

The swamp of my soul… this phrase has been flipping over in my mind for the past few minutes, I suppose because I am writing of stagnation. The world equates a swamp with negativity, with filth, stink, rot. Yet swamps are beautiful. They’re teeming with life, no less so, and often more so, than other ecosystems. So why the negativity? Many people talk, and have talked for centuries, of draining them and filling them in (and many people have done so; several of America’s large cities rest on what was once swampland). Very few say “this swamp is beautiful, a masterpiece of evolution.” A swamp is life disguised as death (a rather poor disguise in my opinion, but it has obviously fooled a great many people), which is a tremendous trick—many animals “play dead” as a way to fool predators. Unfortunately, in this case the predator is man who plays the role of scavenger and so has at it at the swamp anyway, destroying it completely. Humankind has no respect for the swamp. It doesn’t shine. It doesn’t glow. It doesn’t maintain a dry and comfortable temperature of 20-25 degrees celsius. It is often much hotter, with a humidity to match. It is impossible, or near so, to build on. In short it is inconvenient, and provides nothing of “value”, therefore it must be destroyed.

So, is my soul a swamp? Do I find it disgusting, repulsive? I think perhaps right now comparing my soul to a swamp is doing the swamp a disservice. I think a swamp right now is much fuller of life and beauty than my soul currently is. My soul though, right now, is waiting. It is a fertile field with the attendant nutrients and minerals needed for it to support life. It is merely waiting for a seed, hundreds of them, thousands, tens of hundreds of thousands; and a bit of rain (something else people like to complain about) before it may begin to blossom and proliferate with plant life, and become a habitat for other living beings, creatures small and large, fragile and delicate, beautiful and winged; and then it will bear fruit which it may then provide to others that they may do the same in turn, that we all may live more productively, fruitfully, satisfyingly, gratefully. But until then it is waiting with no less than a touch of stoicism, but not without a certain turmoil either.

Version 0.51 (False Piety)

04/04/19

Yesterday went with Minh to the colossal statue of Avalokiteśvara and the pagoda complex on Son Tra Peninsula north of the city. He tells me everything there is no more than ten to fifteen years old. I’m a bit incredulous about that, so I want to research it a little bit.*

In addition to the older Linh Ung Pagoda there was a brand new pagoda or shrine built on a nearby lot (the temple grounds are quite large). A very tall tower which the costs of must be fairly astronomical. Impossible for the monastery to afford I would think, but Minh tells me they get donations and sponsorships from large companies, similar to how in the U.S. so many sports stadiums and arenas are bank rolled by large corporations or banks, and thus, as a sign of their hubris and ego they negotiate with the city to have their name on the stadium. It’s unfortunate because I feel it sucks the soul right out of the thing, not that I feel there is much soul left in team sports; it’s basically just a transactional relationship between ownership and players around who gets paid what. This I find repugnant, or, if not repugnant, unattractive, and so I find myself repelled from popular team sports in general. The fact that this doesn’t exist is what draws me to ultra trail-running. I also happen to enjoy the act of trail-running myself. The biggest names in that sport are the easiest people in the world to find inspiration in, but not just inspiration to become a better runner or athlete, but inspiration in being and becoming a better person, for they all are compassionate, warm-hearted, empathetic, grateful, humble, sincere, human beings without the inflated egos of the stars of the popular team sports. In short, they’re just great people who, because of the notoriety they receive for being the athletes that they are, cast a broad net and pull many people into their life-affirming orbit. Nor is there a need for giant sports complexes to be built, thank God, or better and more advanced training facilities just to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. There are only races to be run through some of the most beautiful natural places on Earth. So, I wonder if one day these temple complexes will be named after a sponsor or a donor of a large sum of money.

The fact that there is all this money that flows into these pretentious little palaces completely turns me off of them (except for the photographic opportunities afforded by the hordes of tourists who visit and make a mess of the place by leaving litter all over). They’re no different than the tacky mega-churches seen all around the U.S. Is it necessary to build something so tall? No, of course not. What is the purpose? If the spirit of a people lay in the height and size of a temple or church structure, then the city of Changzhou would have the most spiritual people, and the rest of the world would be struggling to catch up, to outspend ($38.5 million) and outbuild (~154 meters) the Chinese. These are not, unfortunately, structures built by the toil and sweat of the monks living on the grounds, or the populace of the city or town that might benefit by it, but are built by companies with cranes, employees, and huge bank accounts. There is no spirit. It’s mere commodity, and this is reflected in the tourists who visit them with their false piety, striking poses around the various Buddhas and statues of ancient sages, or anywhere there might be a beautiful view behind them. I saw a woman yesterday posing on the steps leading up to the main courtyard who stood with her back to the ocean hundreds of meters below and behind her. Her palms were pressed together against her breast as if in prayer or a bow, and I could feel my face flush in anger at her hollow pose. This woman was like an empty, rusted watering can which, because it can hold no water has absolutely nothing to give, serves absolutely no purpose. Place it in a corner of your garden though and it might look like a nice bit of decoration. If you get close enough you can see that it is useless. So much of this posing and posturing, largely by the Chinese and Korean tourists, I witnessed here that it turns my stomach (The fact that they leave their trash—snack bags, and plastic water and soda bottles—littering the grounds of the complex doesn’t encourage a friendly attitude towards them either.). But this of course makes it an excellent place to witness a strange, to me, sort of human behavior, no matter how repulsive it may be at times.

*the complex itself dates back to the nineteenth century, however parts of it have been renovated and rebuilt over the years, other areas are new as the site has been developed further, and the giant statue is only nine years old dating from it’s completion, or fifteen years old dating from when the first stone was laid.

Version 0.47 (Drawn Back in Time)

03/24/19

Hanoi continues to surprise. The juxtaposition of old and new, aged and modern is more remarkable here than anywhere I’ve ever been. Perhaps that is because I’ve never traveled to a “developing country” before, or perhaps because I’ve never been to one with an economy growing at such terrific speed—~7% annually, which is absolutely stupendous. I’ve written before how everyday I see the beginnings of a new building; whether it’s the destruction of an old one, a hole in the ground for a new foundation, the skeleton of a new building and the sounds of the laborers ringing out from the depths of the hollow structure; or the renovation of an older one, concrete patios and balconies being chiseled away by jack hammers.

I’m sitting in Hanoi Sandwich House thinking about all this, and just now I am struck by a smell in the air that is drawing me back into the life of a past self: my high school years and those couple of years after graduating as I floundered about confused, with no direction, and without purpose (some things never change!). It is not just a particular time that I am brougth back to, but a very specific place that I spent many hours of my life in during this period, also: Pedal Pushers Bike Shop. It is a smell I smelled so often as a teen, and a boy in my earliest 20’s from spending so much time in the repair station of that shop. It is a chemical smell, like a cleaner or a lubricant, and a not unpleasant one at that. And so I’m drifting back in time twenty years or so, and I see the tires—some old, some new, some hanging from hooks on walls, others littering the floor or propped up against a wall, and still more protruding from the open mouth of a trashcan. I see the brake and shifter cables and their housings, the assortment of tools used for repairs, cardboard bits strewn around the floor, empty boxes leaning against the walls, the repair stand in the middle of the floor—the hub that everything and everyone must move around—the faces of friends, their voices joking, laughing, shit-talking; music that I no longer listen to or enjoy on the stereo; cheese-steaks from Jeno’s atop their paper bags that they were picked up in on the work surfaces; old chains dangling from the lip of the trashcan; inner tubes hanging from the ceiling… All of this from one peculiar smell in this sandwich shop. A smell that is no longer. A smell that came and went like a dream, like the memory of a past life that seems so much like a dream, but which unlike a dream I remember so vividly.

Version 0.45 (The Day I was Henry Miller, and Ruminations on Talking)

03/18/19

Watching Troy pack this morning. He has frying pans in colanders, and an assortment of other things in frying pans all across the countertop. The general state of the place could be described as a “pig sty,” with shit sort of just spread out all over the place, so of course the first thing that comes to my mind is the scene in Tropic of Cancer where Miller accompanies Van Norden while he moves apartments. It is one of the funnier scenes in a book that is filled with many.

“The maid has piled his things up on the sidewalk. The patron looks on with a surly air. When everything has been loaded into the taxi there is only room for one of us inside. As soon as we commence to roll Van Norden gets out a newspaper and starts bundling up his pots and pans; in the new place all cooking is strictly forbidden. By the time we reach our destination all his luggage has come undone; it wouldn’t be quite so embarrassing if the madame had not stuck her head out of the doorway just as we rolled up….

Meanwhile the luggage is being hauled in. And things begin to look crazier even than before—particularly when he attaches his exerciser to the bedstead and begins his Sandow exercises. ‘I like this place,’ he says, smiling at the garçon. He takes his coat and vest off. The garçon is watching him with a puzzled air; he has a valise in one hand and the douche-bag in the other. I’m standing apart in the ante-chamber holding the mirror with the green gauze. Not a single object seems to possess a practical use. The ante-chamber itself seems useless, a sort of vestibule to a barn. It is exactly the same sort of sensation which I get when I enter the Comédie Française or the Palais Royal Theatre; it is a world of bric-à-brac, of trapdoors, of arms and busts and waxed floors, of candelabras and men in armor, of statues without eyes and love letters lying in glass cases. Something is going on, but it makes no sense; it’s like finishing the half-empty bottle of Calvados because there’s no room in the valise….

We are sitting at the round table in a pair of comfortable old arm-chairs that have been trussed up with thongs and braces; the bed is right beside us, so close indeed that we can put our feet on it. The armoire stands in a corner behind us, also conveniently within reach. Van Norden has emptied his dirty wash on the table; we sit there with our feet buried in his dirty socks and shirts and smoke contentedly. The sordidness of the place seems to have worked a spell on him: he is content here. When I get up to switch on the light he suggests that we play a game of cards before going out to eat. And so we sit there by the window, with the dirty wash strewn over the floor and the Sandow exerciser hanging from the chandelier, and we play a few rounds of two-handed pinochle. Van Norden has put away his pipe and packed a wad of snuff on the under side of his lower lip. Now and then he spits out of the window, big healthy gobs of brown juice which resound with a smack on the pavement below. He seems content now.”

That damn, silly, pig balloon is half deflated, resting gently on the floor like a golden buddha taking a snooze. Troy can’t figure out how to deflate it the rest of the way because he would like to fold it up and take it along with us—he seems to have grown attached to it—but he can’t find a valve that would allow it to deflate. Clothes are strewn over the bed, frying pans, as I wrote, and various other kitchen implements are across the counter. Troy’s eating a small bowl of macaroni and cheese with chopsticks while I’m lying in my bed, the sofa, watching all of this only half awake. Both of us are moving. He still has yet to look at the new apartment, but that’s only because last night I told him I’d split the rent on it for a few days while I’m still in town.

[Later]
What do people talk about? Is there really so much worth talking about? I’m prompted to ask these questions, as I’ve been in the past, while watching three Vietnamese gentlemen standing out front of the cafe chatter away like little birds. Happily, I might add. And it does remind me very much of birds perched in a tree or on electric wires in its meaninglessness.

The question is sometimes asked, “why do birds sing?” Well, the question “why do birds talk?” could just as easily be asked. So then we may ask, as I did, “why do people talk?” Is there a point? I think many people would ask “what is the point of birds talking?” Most people likely think there is none, that it’s compulsive, a natural instinct. So now we may ask what is the point, the purpose, of this instinct? We could ask this of humans too, because surely if it is instinctual for birds to chatter away to each other, it is equally so of humans. But what is that purpose?

To talk of “higher” matters is one thing—conversations on art, history, politics, religion, etc.—or, of things in an educational way—to teach, to learn—but of the mundane matters of daily life, what? One can only guess that these mundanities are of some significance to these people—to many people—and that by talking about these things one strengthens the bonds he or she has with others. But what determines the significance of anything? What does it mean to be significant, how does one determine the significance of something, and why place that label on anything?

What is the significance of significance?

Version 0.43 (Some Thoughts on Being a Foreigner)

03/06/19

I’m a little shocked, for I haven’t journaled in two weeks. Truthfully I haven’t had much to write about.
No.
Scratch that.
There’s been much to write about, but my camera has been doing the journaling this time. Right now I just want to sit quietly and think back on whatever I think back on. Down whatever merry lane my mind might carry me.

I’m at Ella Cafe in Tay Ho having a coffee as I usually do around this time, six in the evening. An hour ago I had my first ever massage by a professional massage therapist: Swedish, 90 minutes, $30 (or 680,000 dong). It was a nice treat to myself, though I have a hard time imagining it being worth the quadrupling in price it would cost in the States. Perhaps that means it wasn’t particularly good? Oh well. It’s impossible for me to say as I have no prior experiences to compare it to.

I have successfully applied for and paid for my visa extension. I assume it will be filled. In less than two weeks I’ll be in Da Nang. This is something to be excited about. I haven’t been out of Hanoi since arriving, and though I planned to rent a bike and drive down to Ninh Binh for two days, I realized the visa extension was more pressing (passport used as collateral for the bike). I really love this country, though, but I can’t place what it is that speaks to me so plainly and loudly and happily. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the fact that as an American with American money, everything is so inexpensive here. Now, it’s not just that, but I can’t in all truthfulness claim that that doesn’t have something to do with it. There is also the explosive growth I’m seeing in Hanoi. Everyday it seems a new business is opening or a new building being erected, or ground being broken somewhere. It looks to me like there’s a freedom to do almost anything you like, with little red tape and restrictions getting in the way. Little money required as well. One of my favorite sandwich shops is little more than a closet next to a convenience store. I imagine most of their business is to-go for they only have two, small, round tables out front.

But I think too, about the fact that I’m a foreigner with a fair bit of money relative to most Vietnamese (I guess) and think about this position of privilege that I am in because of this, and I can easily see how my judgment is skewed as a result. But how might I judge any differently? For I am who I am, and I come from where I come. Certainly some things that I see as inexpensive, many Vietnamese citizens will disagree, and for them i have very real empathy, because I come from that place in the U.S. Yet I don’t think they are unhappy because of this. I think the Vietnamese are some of the happiest and friendliest people I’ve come across, and the most communal and social, and I believe this is the driver behind their general happiness. Having more or less here doesn’t seem to matter so much because they are all part of various very tightly knit communities of family and friends.

These are all just observations made by a white male tourist from America over a two week period.

“Poem”
Lights flashing, streaming by in the dark
Others making shimmering daggers across the lake
The honking of horns like notes on a musical staff that is that same line of cars and motorbikes
Fruit hawkers on the sidewalks with their wares resting in woven baskets: sliced pineapple in plastic bags, enormous crescent shaped bunches of bananas, passion fruits, dragon fruits, lychees and still others unrecognizable to me.
Blue and red plastic stools everywhere, speckling the sidewalks, some their seats split, cracked, and taped together, and others brand new.

Screaming, shouting children pouring out of the gates after school like ants from an anthill.
Throngs of parents on scooters packing the streets, backing up traffic all around,
or nearly nonexistent the children left to their own devices to wander off and get a snack or play games.
Two old men, a tea pot, tea cups, a board game on the sidewalk, and several other onlookers exhorting, advising the players on strategies and next moves like the groups one might see in the United States surrounding a barbeque pit, or arched around the engine bay of a car, the hood up, attempting to diagnose a problem and prescribe a fix.
The mist over the lake and the cloud in the sky merged in the distance, becoming one.
Corn grilling, corn kernels battered and frying, bananas battered and frying.
A barber asleep at his spot on the street, the back of his head reflected in the mirror hanging on a wall.