Tuesday, July 30, 2013

21 of my favorite photos from a year abroad

In May of 2012 I quit my job to embark on what I thought would be a six month trip to Southeast Asia. I'm now currently beyond the 12 month mark, and no ending is apparent in the foreseeable future. This past year and change has been one of the most inspirational I've ever lived. Also, this past year has been one of the most challenging and eye-opening. While all the things I've seen, done, and experienced will most likely never be replicated, they will be remembered and impacting. Traveling comes with a lot of time for introspection and reflection, and if done right, the lessons learned while abroad will stay with us for a lifetime.

While everyone has their own medium for reflection, sometimes it is good to branch out and try different methods. I prefer to write, but recently I've been gaining a lot from looking through and editing past photos. Though photos can never really do justice to the places we've been, the people we've met, and the things we've done, spending time with them can help us remember. Here are a few of my favorite photos from the past year abroad. Enjoy!

My first motorbike, purchased in Thailand, driven through Laos and Cambodia. Here she is in Vientienne in Laos right before I got pulled over and almost forced to pay a bribe.

Muang Noi is a tiny town in northeastern Laos. My 4 days there were spent in incredible scenery with an incredible travel partner.

A newly discovered Beatles sex tape

The Prabanan Hindu Temple in Jogjakarta, Indonesia at sunset

Take 2

A selfie on a scooter ferrie from mainland Malaysia to Pulau Penang

A beautiful view of Penang from a top a Chinese Temple

One of the many temples on the island of Penang, in Malaysia

Don't be tricked, these guys are bastards. Monkeys outside of Batu Cave in Kuala Lumpur, Malyasia

Young monks braving the heat in Bagan, Myanmar

Transporting a mirror in Mandalay, Myanmar

Sledding in Nong Kiaw, Laos

An abandoned French settlement in southern Cambodia

Inspirational street art in Melbourne, Australia

One of the three multicolored lakes on the island of Flores in Indonesia

This little girl sat quietly in her box as a group of 5 little boys her age went nuts on all the tourists. 4000 Islands in southern Laos

Some people have trucks, others have 125cc scooters. Bandung, Cambodia

Paradise. Koh Russei, Cambodia

Monkeying around in Sumatra, Indonesia

The tail end of a lovely sunset in Muang noi

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A little Sunday reflection

It is easy to reflect on life while traveling. It isn't, however, always easy to make time to reflect, meditate, pray, or center yourself when stuck in the midst of the daily grind. For those of you needing some encouragement, here are a few words from a Hindu philosopher named Osho. The book I'm currently reading has 2 excerpts per day that you read in the morning and evening everyday for a month. While the notion of adjectives preceding love in the States is a seemingly ubiquitous issue, Osho has a different take. Enjoy the read and let the words seep in and stay present for the entirety of your day!

"...But total love is a totally different phenomenon from perfect love. perfect love has a certain idea and that idea has to be fulfilled. One has to go according to a certain pattern, one has many 'should' and 'should nots', many commandments, and one has to slowly slowly, cultivate a certain quality of perfection. but total love is non-ideological, there is no idea. all that is needed is each moment, whatsoever you are doing, do it wholeheartedly, don't hold back - that's all. that's what i mean by 'totally', don't hold back.

Photo courtesy of author

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Actual things you NEED to do in your 20s

I’ll be honest, I read a lot of articles on Buzzfeed, Thought Catalog, and other sites about what I should be doing with my 20s. While the amount of articles I've been reading has seen a significant decrease since I quit working a desk job and started traveling, it isn’t to say that I don’t still read them. The internet is a black hole, so a little surfing of Facebook often times finds me distracted from stalking people by reading what they post on the interweb. While all this is fine and well, some of the “advice,” given on these sites is a steaming pile of crap. I’m not gonna lie, I loved Buzzfeed’s video of top 10 trips 20 somethings need to take, but I’ve also read other articles on said website (if you’ve read Buzzfeed, this makes since).

While I’m not saying I know exactly what everyone should do with their life (nor even what I am/should do with mine) I'd like to think I’ve learned a thing or two in the last 6 years of my 20s.

Figure out who YOU are: This could easily be put at the bottom of the list as an all encompassing, feel good way to bring it all together, but it is too important to leave until the end. While the following tips may help in the discovery of oneself, you are the only person who can figure out you. This comes all too easy to some. For those who find it a struggle, you need to make it a priority. The world isn’t waiting on you, and neither are all the humbling situations that remind you that “you,” is still a relative term.

Let go of the past: This is tough one for me. I ‘m a person who overanalyzes most things, and while I’d like to think I can forgive pretty easy, I guess I have a problem with forgetting. This, of course, is a two-way street. That trouble with forgetting also hinders the ability for forgiving and forgetting mistakes I’ve made in the past. Life is too short to let people, places, or past experiences have power over you. People hurt people, that’s the nature of life. While some do it willingly and purposely, others do it on accident. If you are reading this and have a pulse, you've hurt someone. With that being said, you are the only person who can forgive others, forgive yourself, and actually let go. Figure out what you need to do, and do it, because the older you get, the excuse of past hurt for current actions become less and less accepted.

Gain some perspective: If you are in your 20s and you haven’t left your community, that’s OK…it needs to change though. Not everyone is going to quite their job to travel for months (years!) and live out of a backpack in nasty ass dorms and guest houses. While this is my personal choice, that doesn’t mean it is the only way. There are some (semi) valid excuses for not going abroad, but there is no excuse to justify forgoing learning about the lives of people outside of your community. We live in a diverse world with multiple cultures to live in and learn from. Ignorance isn’t bliss; at this point in life you are the only one to blame for knowing only the world you were born in to.

Define what you believe in: I have faith. While my faith is far from the church I grew up in, I’ve spent the better half of my twenties living in a manner that helps me cement my beliefs and values, which, of course, are staples in who I am. While not everyone is going to believe in a deity, everyone should have faith in something. Be it God, your friends, or your family, faith and belief define you as a person.

Learn to laugh at yourself: There are times in life when you need to be serious, but there are also times in life you need to be comfortable being the butt of jokes. I know full well I can be a defensive person, but being on the road has forced me to willfully accept being laughed at…a lot. It is easy to regress to a state of defense when we feel uncomfortable, but this does not, in fact, help anyone. Get laughed at. Make a joke of your faults. Use these situations to help you become more comfortable with the lesser parts of your personality.

Fall in love: I feel like our generation has succumbed to this idea of being with someone, while not actually being with someone. You date, sorta, and spend time together, but have no title. You see each other most nights, you get jealous if other people hit up your not boo, boo on social media, yet you can’t commit. Fuck that, for reals. Fall in love with someone. Fall in love hard. Sure it may not be the person you end up with, and it may hurt like hell when it ends, but it is better than this wishy washy, non-committal crap.

Learn to be comfortable alone: While being in love is fun (or in one of those fake relationships), learning to live solo is a good thing. It can seem like everyone is constantly with friends, or in solid relationships, but this isn’t true…and even if it is, that doesn’t mean you should be too. If you can’t spend time with just yourself in a room, why should someone else be able to?

Do something life affirming RELIGIOUSLY:
Yep, you read it right. Do that es on the daily. This doesn’t have to be monumental, just something that reminds you that you are young, alive, and free to engage the world how you choose. Be it breaking your schedule once a day or going cliff diving, a simple action acknowledging the infinite possibilities of a numbered existence needs to be incorporated into your day, everyday. A few of my favorites: riding bikes at night, going someplace new ALONE, having a random conversation, dropping my number to someone even if I don’t expect them to call.

Be grateful: There is something good in your life, always. On top of that, somewhere, at some point, someone put you ahead of their own well being to make sure you didn’t die. This is a blessing. Having a roof over your head, food on your table, and some sort of prospect for the future (even if it’s a slim one); these are blessings. Don’t take this for granted. Once you start showing some gratitude for what you already have, you’ll be surprised at what other novelties start coming your way.

Stop giving a PH fuck: People spend a lot of time worrying about what others think. When I say people I mean me. Or more so, meant me. I’ve been a worrier for years, and while I’m decent at doing what I want (26, do what I want!), it hasn’t always been the case. Life is too short to go through the motions, and wayyyy too short to not tell the people in your life how you feel about them. Pursue your dreams, drop the L bomb to the people who you feel it for, and metaphorically empty the recycle bin of those not willing to stand behind you when you make the jump.

Make healthy choices: Everybody has the ability to be relatively healthy. One person may be a marathoner and the other has trouble walk-running a mile, but that doesn’t mean walk-runner should stop. Being healthy is a privilege, not a right. We need to exercise, that is a given, but health, my friends, isn’t all about being active. When I say make healthy choices, I mean stop drinking and smoking. I mean get some solid sleep. I mean stop eating all that shitty food. What I mean is, we are humans, we all have vices. There ain’t nothing wrong with occasionally, moderately imbibing in things that aren’t the best for our bodies, but that holds true only if YOU’VE PUT IN THE GROUNDWORK TO DESERVE IT. The things we do to our body today WILL in fact, help or hurt us tomorrow. I saw a friend from where I grew up post a status along the lines of, “giving myself the best b-day gift of all; getting in shape to run a 5-k.” While running may not be this dudes cup of tea, he acknowledge that getting healthy is the best gift he can give himself. That, my friends, is inspiring.

Live with intention: Anyone who grew up Jesuit is probably cringing at this, but the truth is they got some things right. Whatever you are doing, do it to your best ability. If you are waking up just to half-ass work, school, or your relationships, why are you waking up at all?

Be happy: It has been said many times but I’ll reiterate it; happiness isn’t a destination, it is a mentality. Sometimes life sucks, shitty things happen, and then you stub your toe. This scenario happens all too often, but it doesn’t mean you need to be miserable. Once you decide to be happy, it is hard not to be. You are going to have off days, ups and downs, and your smooth footing, at points, will start to resemble the Rockies, but like my Dad’s old records used to state, “ Mamma always told me, there’d be days like.” That’s life. Do what it takes to be happy. Do it for yourself, and if that isn’t good enough, do it for the people who love you, the people who have sacrificed for you, or even just the people you come in contact with everyday. We may not all grow up to be Gandhi, but our happiness will absolutely facilitate positive effects on our immediate community.

Photo courtesy of author, edited with Instagram

Monday, July 22, 2013

Seemingly Important things that are disregarded during travel

1.) Days of the week -While our life is pretty much dependent on the calendar in the “real world,” days of the week have minimal relevance while traveling. Sure they can help with which nights western-catering establishments do specials, but if you are gone for more than a few weeks, Mondays, Fridays, and everything in between start to look similar.

2.) Personal appearance – Currently, I’m wearing Capri pants with a draw string and flap, matched with a beat up T-shirt…and I’m not the worst dressed westerner. If you don’t find yourself in flowy hippie clothes at some point in your trip, you are definitely missing the point. When else can you wear shorts, tank tops, and flip flops and still get into the swankiest places?

3.) Communication – Internet is sometimes hard to come by. Even when it’s not, exploring unknown places and meeting random people far outweighs refreshing mini-feeds. The internet takes a back seat to the immensity of Planet Earth.

4.) Borders and boundaries – You are more often than not going to find yourself at tables that look like the UN General Assembly. One day you may find yourself getting a massage from a Thai person with your new Russian friend, and the next you may be sipping Arak with only Indonesians. Just as country lines are malleable to travelers, so are topics of conversation. Race, religion, politics, and anything else you may normally stray away from become fair game when on the road.

5.) The value of a dollar – Don’t get me wrong, you are definitely going to be penny-pinching…you just won’t be doing it to the tune of a dollar. While prices may seem dirt cheap at first, in a few weeks you will be spending hours upon hours bartering over the equivalent of chump change in the US. Once you convert to the local currency, there is no turning back.

6.) Personal Space – wait, personal what now?

7.) Clean hotel rooms – If you are expecting fresh linens each morning, you may not want to leave the west…or your house unless you gotta big bank account.

8.) Overt Nationalism - I don’t hate my homeland. On the contrary, through travel I’ve begun to respect aspects of it even more than before I left. This, though, is also met with the inability to look at the world through a jingoistic lens. There are a lot of different lifestyles out there, and each one has something interesting to offer. Believing one place has it all right becomes more far-fetched with each new destination visited.

9.) Consistency – Believe it or not, sometimes things occur with punctuality while on the road…and sometimes they don’t. The mistake is believing that the train will or won’t run on time. It is going to do one or the other (unless it gets cancelled!), you just never know which one. Along with times, the idea plans, prices, or practices are set in stone is also a fallacy. Consistency goes out the window once you exchange the world you know for only what can fit in a 40-liter backpack.

10.) The person you once were - After being away for a while, I’ve realized that travel doesn’t really solve all your problems. It can, however, encourage you to take a long hard look at the person you are, the person you’ve been, and the person you aspire to become, all the while giving you the medium to see where those three people will converge. Travel may not be a cure-all, but the effect of the experiences endured, both good and bad, isn’t reversible.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Why every male, lacking a spouse, should read Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises

There are very few authors who can preface a debauched tale of lust, gluttony, and alcoholism with a biblical quotation; Hemingway, of course, is one of those authors. The book Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, which gains its title from a quote in the book of Ecclesiastes, was one of Ernest Hemingway’s first novels to be met with international acclaim. Fiesta, in true Hemingway fashion, follows the lives of American and British ex-pats as they drink, screw, and fight their way from Paris to Pamplona, on a quest to see the Running of the Bulls. While romance, foreign cities, and parties may not be uncharted territory for the classic author, Fiesta brings a fresh, critical take on love, heartbreak, and poor behavior while abroad.

While some of the other Hemingway favorites such as A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls glorify Americans serving and living abroad, Fiesta doesn’t follow suit. In fact, the book seems to demonize those who have found themselves living the high life in Paris as rich, uninhibited socialites who have no regard for their actions.

The critical piece comes through the eyes of an American ex-pat named Jake Barnes. Though Barnes himself works, he is in lot with a mix of trust fund children and aspiring writers who lack ambitions besides drinking and telling tales of those not around the table. Barnes' love interest, Brett Ashley, is a British ex-pat with the title of Lady, finding herself in the final stages of divorce from her lord husband. Though Jake loves Brett, the seemingly antagonistic character finds comfort in tryst with suitors such as Robert Cohn, and her estranged lover Michael. In atypical Hemingway fashion, the protagonist does not end up with the girl.

While I would implore all fans of literature to hop on the Hemingway band wagon, Fiesta’s specific appeal goes to young adult men for its take on romance. Jake’s love of the mercurial Brett Ashley is a painful glimpse at what can happen when men fall for the wrong one. Brett, whom you later find out was emotionally abused in her first marriage, waltzes from fling to fling, all the while stringing along a select few who think they can be her lone squeeze. Enabled by the men whom fall for her, Brett precedes to bring man she recently bedded on the trip to the Running of the Bulls with her current fiancĂ©, as well as her perennial shoulder to cry on ; Jake Barnes. This, of course, is common knowledge to the entire lot before heading out on the trip. As messy as this sounds, the steaming pile of infidelity and lust is often to frequent in the dating lives of the lost generation. Watching Jake come to Brett’s aid, time and time again, after she burns bridges stays painful to watch until the last page.

Along with self-imposed emotional abuse, Hemingway also gives a glorious take on travelers or ex-pats behaving poorly abroad. As the Fiesta comes into full swing, Hemingway states, “The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta.” Insert in place of fiesta destinations such as Mexico, Thailand, or Laos, and you have the exact mentality of many westerners spending time in foreign countries. The theme of blatant disregard for local customs and culture portrayed in Fiesta is all too abundant in modern travel. The fiesta ends with 3 fist fights, 2 near arrests, and a literal walk of shame with Jake and crew leaving their hotel unable to make eye contact with any of the staff or the local guests. To quote Jake Barnes, “That was morality; things that made you digested afterward. No, that must be immorality.”

While Hemingway isn’t the easiest read, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises is a great book for any reader looking to delve into some of the great American authors. Along with a vivid crash course on how not to act abroad, as well as members of the opposite sex to avoid, Fiesta offers beautifully, precise descriptions of all destinations that Hemingway fans have come to love. If you are a single male (or a fan of literature) a necessary classical revival comes in the form of Ernest Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises.

Photo courtesy of Wordpress