Tag Archives: journal

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 0.52 (Ten Minutes of a Morning)

04/07/19

From the hostel this morning I watched a guy deliver large sacks of ice on a scooter to a restaurant across the street. Anything and everything is transported and delivered by scooter here: potted and unpotted plants, jugs of water, bundles of sticks, chickens in cages, songbirds in cages, propane tanks, furniture, cats, dogs, children, mail, tools, crates (which may be filled with anything imaginable). For most of this stuff one would think a car would be necessary at a minimum, but a pick-up truck or delivery van much more appropriate, but here, no. Anything can be strapped or some other way anchored to a scooter, and nothing beats a scooter for maneuverability, and no one beats the Vietnamese for their industriousness and ingenuity. Anyway, this guy delivers his sack to the restaurant, dropping it in a large cooler out front while the proprietor looks on. After this skinny little Vietnamese guy, with not an inconsiderable amount of effort, drops off his ice the proprietor fellow comes to the decision that he would prefer the other sack of ice, so of course they had to be switched. For what earthly reason that is, besides feeling like swinging his big dick around and popping his “BIG EGO” pin onto his shirt and giving it a good polish with his sleeve, I don’t know.

But as well this proprietor had a couple of these little bird cages hanging from the canopy out front. These much-too-small cages in which the single bird leaps back and forth from cage to perch to cage again with not even enough space to open its wings, like a mad man in a nut house. He’s not the only one, and it’s mostly the older generation, but it just seems another example of his hubris, or ego.

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 0.50 (Feeling Fortunate)

Patiently waiting.

Waiting for the moment to strike. I’m not completely sure what I mean by that. I just know that there are countless places in the world I wish to travel to. But I would also like to open a cafe in Hanoi or Da Nang, and run a coffee farm in the mountains. Can I manage at least two (three if you count the traveling) of these things simultaneously? And how long will these desires last? I have a habit of getting excited over an idea only to not pursue it, or for the excitement to ebb away (which likely means that I wasn’t that excited about it to begin with). I suppose this is true for most people. That initial thought is like a rush of sugar or a jolt of caffeine, but if there is no way to sustain that energy and excitement it will be doomed to fail. The idea itself needs to be one which you want more than anything to nurture and cultivate, so that it continues to grow within you until you are able to mate it to some action, some physical impulse that sees its first steps, and then it must continue to be cultivated so that those initial steps lead to further steps and not just down a blind alley. From there, with careful nurturing it begins to take on a life of it’s own, but until then the idea requires much care lest it dry up and wither away.

A European House Sparrow has just flown down from a tree to the patio of the cafe. Such a pestilence! Can one go anywhere in the world without these damnable birds following? It pains me.

I’ve been meeting people and making friends since being here in Da Nang. It started with the lovely hostel staff, and extended to a kid I met one night at the market across the river who was looking for someone to practice english with. In return he said he would be willing to act as a sort of tour guide for me, asking if there were any places in particular that I wished to go, and perhaps I would like to be driven around on his motorbike. So the next day we took a spin up to the top of a local mountain that was hidden away in the clouds; and the day after that he, I, and a few other people went on an excursion to Marble Mountains and Hoi An. I feel very fortunate to have met such good and kind people who have introduced me to some very peculiar foods (from a westerner’s perspective) that I otherwise would not have tried, and have taken me around the Da Nang area with no expectation of anything given in return but for my company. Yet this sort of occurrence happens every time I travel. I can say that it’s not terribly surprising anymore, but it is not and can’t ever be expected, and so it goes without saying that I continue to find it a wonder.

There is an art museum enticing me that I plan on going to today. And then, since the weather is so fine, I think I may visit the tall Bhodisattva statue on the peninsula nearby.

Version 0.48 (Mountain Slope Train Views)

03/27/19

To Da Nang.

The train has begun winding along the coast, high above the ocean, beaches, and boulders that comingle in such a spectacularly dramatic fashion below. Between trunks of trees, homes, and shops I catch glimpses of a smooth, glistening blue expanse nestled in the arms of lush green hills reaching out into the ocean like cupped hands gathering up water to drink. Through the opposite window of the train are the green, cloudswept mountains of Bach Ma National Park, a place I may visit while in Da Nang (if the weather cooperates).

The train is moving along quite slowly here, creaking and groaning like an infirm, rheumatic old man, as if to provide us passengers with substantial time to enjoy these new surroundings and a song to listen to as well. Out in the bay small boats scoot, and empty fishing towers stand like men in waders looking for a good place to cast their lines or nets. Everywhere around this creaking, squealing monstrosity is thick, heavy vegetation—a jungle— broken up only by the occasional stream streaming and winding down the mountain to the sea, and small concrete tin-roofed structures, many of which are joyfully and colorfully painted.

In less than an hour we ought to be pulling into the train station in Da Nang, and I will disembark, likely into some very warm weather, and will be off to eat (I already have a place picked out), as it will be that time, and too early for me to check in to the hostel I have booked. And then…

And then?

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 0.46 (Needing a Break, Leaving Soon)

03-21-19

Oh Hanoi, Hanoi, Hanoi, you weary me with your noise, your pollution, your noise pollution… your stink, your humidity, your scooters and motorbikes and the smell of their exhausts and the sounds of their engines; your crumbling roads, your crumbling sidewalks, your lack of sidewalks, your sidewalks that are not sidewalks but are parking lots instead, your incessant horn honking, your puddles and mud on and alongside the roads, your polluted lake littered with trash and dead fish, and its murky, milk-coffee-grey color; your solicitations from untrustworthy taxi drivers.

You’re cool. You’re beautiful (on the whole). You’re great! I really like you, but I’m not doing anything here with you any longer. You no longer stimulate me in the way you once did, and my life here no longer feels purposeful. I need to leave. At least for a little while. I’d love to come back though. And don’t forget it! I love watching you grow, and the frenetic, insane energy contained within your walls, streets, and alleyways. I love your little shops, and eating stalls and cafes found through the doorways, the living rooms or dining rooms or hallways of families’ homes, up a back staircase to a second or third floor. I love how so much is hidden away, tricky to find, but still discoverable if you know where and how to look. Often times it seems walking down an alley or through a door must be like walking into the bedroom closet of a certain professor, parting some clothing and finding yourself in a strange new land. I love the smiles of your people when smiled to. I love all the varieties and tastes of your food, especially the fresh fruit I can find on many a street corner. But I fear so much of this I can find elsewhere, and right now I need an elsewhere because at least the discovery of a new place will stimulate and renew the sense of purpose in me (I hope). This stagnancy must not last.