Thursday, October 17, 2013

Backpacker culture, Chiang Mai and Taylor Hay - they all change.

I have been back in Thailand for about 3 weeks now, and it is such a different experience than 3 years ago.
Firstly, the town has changed. Massive amounts of Chinese tourists are pouring through Chiang Mai. The Thai's are responding by translating signs, selling Chinese food and smiling in spite of the characteristics that make Chinese tourists so unique.
Also, backpackers have changed. Very few people people sitting in the front garden of Julie Guesthouse are reading a book, or having a chat - or even asking advice of where to go! I stopped by Julies last night for dinner, and was amazed. The corner seat (seating for about five people) had 4 people sitting there each on Skype/Facetime in the middle of the bloody common area! A glance towards the pool table showed 3 people sitting on their phones, with headphones in, and across the room was a guy scrolling through the infinite Facebook newsfeed on a laptop.
I believe that the invention of medicine, tours, the internet, Skype and broad social circles (courtesy of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) has almost removed part of the adventure from traveling. I have to laugh at some of the people I see here in Chiang Mai. They are not travelers, they should be at home. But instead due to pressure from their culture, friends and this ethereal "gap year" that they must partake in - they are here. Shitting their pants in Thailand unsure of what to do.
Even in three years, the general attitude has shifted alot more into the fear of brushing your teeth with tap water, the fear of riding a motorbike, the fear of eating street food.
I met a German couple at the bus station on the way up here, it was 7am and when I sleepily stumbled my way off the train (I got lost) I found them huddled in the station wide eyed and panic stricken. I mumbled something about tourists to myself, bought a coffee and some fried chicken, and was approached by a Thai man who told me to get into the back of a pickup truck. I obliged and soon the German couple joined me. They asked where it was going, and I told them that the guy that found me had said bus station but who knows! They didnt look amused. They asked how much it cost, I said I dont know. They asked when it left, I dont know. "What time does the bus leave?"
"I dont know."
"Is your coffee made with boiled tap water that still contains bad things or bottled water?"
"I dont know."
"You shouldn't sit on the edge of the truck, its dangerous. What if they hit a bump? You better have good insurance if your sitting on the edge."
I realized that our conversation was probably over, and I didnt have the heart to tell them that I dont have insurance. They looked like scared puppies nestled amongst the cargo in the back of the truck, holding on for dear life, as we bounced around Sila At. The ride turned out to be free, a service by the bus company.
Backpackers used to desire authenticity. Real experience. The way I see it now though, it looks like they desire the iconic profile pictures, and a few trinkets. They want to get back to their home country as soon as possible. Put in their time overseas however much they hate it, so that they can put it on their CV and appear cultured. When in reality they never left their culture - just their country.
There is a whole town within Chiang Mai, its called Hong Dong, and its an expat community. Gated communities, western food, western schools, security. The chains are the hangout spots - McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks. Im sure that most of the people who live in these places are not trying to get into the culture. They dont want to be here. They are masochistically here because of religion, or they are here on business, and would rather not be. I have always figured that was normal for those people, but never thought that backpackers would be the same.

The Minister of Tourism in Mae Chaem asks us how to bring tourists in.
The other reason for the difference is me. I have changed more than Chiang Mai has in the last three years. More than the backpacker culture even. The things I used to find appealing are slowly losing appeal. The man in the picture here to the left asked us about tourism. Why we travel. He asked how many countries we had each been to, and when it came to me and I said 27 - he nearly spit out his food. I didnt feel cool about it, I felt bad about it. Thats new. He explained that he wishes he could have traveled, but unfortunately now he has a good job, a family, and a car. He said he is not happy. I told him that in my experience visiting 27 countries - I am not happy either. I desire a good job, a family and a car. He recited a Thai proverb that for the previous couple of weeks I had been considering getting as a tattoo - ใด ๆ ในโลกล้วนอนิจจัง - it means "All on this earth is unstable, not lasting, uncertain and transitory." We went on to talk about how to attract tourists, as he wants to grow the industry. We assume that someone called his office when they saw us sit down for breakfast - there is no tourism in this town. I imagine him rushing out to fake a random meeting with us, and have this chat.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sheep to the Slaughter

Since the Olympics starting up last week, I have been watching them and in the little breaks where they interview competitors and show their stories, Ive been bummed that they only talk about American athletes... But then I remembered that Im in America, and Im sure that the South African coverage only highlights South African athletes...
But then I stumbled upon this whole #NBCfail catastrophe, where a reporter tweeted the email address of some NBC bigwig and he got flooded with hate mail for not showing the games live, but in primetime where they could make more money on adverts. Some strings where pulled, and the reporter got his Twitter account banned. Then while downloading a copy of the opening ceremony (I missed it on TV) I realized that the American version was censored... several parts of it where cut out when they showed it hours after the actual ceremony. Including the tribute to the victims of the 7/7 London terrorist attack, an attack which most Americans probably didnt remember. I canceled my NBC download and looked for the BBC version.
I then logged onto Facebook and found a new feature! A panel of trending articles that link to sponsored websites.

These "Trending Articles" are a way for Facebook to drive traffic to sites that pay them money. Nothing new... so like lots of stuff I dont care about, I went to hide it from the stuff that comes from actual people that I care about, and realized its unhideable.
Do I care that Facebook is trying to make money? Not at all. Do I care that the four "Trending Articles" where about sports? Kinda... I mean where is the news on the blackout in India? Or the conflict in Syria?

I am reminded of Christopher McCandless's paraphrase of Thereau "rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness... give me truth."
I would add "rather than comfort, than entertainment, than peace" give me truth.
I have long known that the media is twisted to push a message, but Im realizing it now more than ever. We get into our "Filter Bubble's" (as this awesome TED talk puts it) where we only see what we want - or what complex algorithms THINK we want. Its like Cypher said in The Matrix - "Ignorance is bliss..." which is such a true statement. Seeing a need or a problem makes us feel guilty or responsible, seeing an update on Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian makes us forget that there is a dying world out there beyond our front door, and lets us enjoy our bubbles.

"A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa." -- Mark Zuckerberg, in response to a question about what gets on our Facebook newsfeeds.

That quote is so unfortunately true, and Im not knocking Mark for saying or thinking it. He is a business man trying to get people to spend as much time as possible on his website looking at ad's. Im not pretending that he has humanity's best interests in mind, because he has his wallet's best interests in mind!
But like Eli says in the Filter Bubbles talk (if you havent watched it yet, you should! Here is the link again...) The gatekeepers of the internet, namely Google and Facebook, need to start thinking forward, and bring us things that we need to see. Not things that we want to see.
I have stopped watching the news for my news. When I hear about a story I do my research on it, but all that the news is to me, is a way to hear about things that I should research. When I heard about the shooting in CO, I read a first hand account of one of the surgeons in the hospital where victims where taken. I downloaded an MP3 of the police scanners for that time, and listened the the actual police reports coming in. I dug up unedited cell phone video footage from people in the theaters. I read Fox's take on it, and the BBC's report. I talked to friends in CO to see what the general feel was of the people there. I went to some deep dark internet places, and found incredibly distasteful images and jokes referring to the victims.
I did my research at as many different places as possible, looking at as many views as possible. And I feel like Im pretty well informed about what happened that day. A few hours later I saw the same cell phone video clip I had found, playing on NBC. It was edited down, and the audio was removed.

All Im saying, is that we need to stop believing what we see and hear. We need to do our own research, and believe things because we are informed. And getting informed on something requires alot more than watching a 5 minute news story on it. Dig, look, read. Look places where you KNOW you will disagree with things.

This goes so much farther than news too, it goes to all aspects of life. I am a Christian, and I have studied Buddhism, and studied parts of the Koran. I disagree with all of it, but that doesnt mean I dont want to know what its about.
Listen to a sermon from the Westboro Baptist Church, and ask these guys why they believe what they believe - instead of just hating them and not knowing what makes them tick.
Westboro Baptist Church
Image Source

Watch documentaries on 9/11 even if you dont believe the conspiracy theories. Watch documentaries on veganism, and then ask vegans if its actually true - even though you love meat. Spend a good amount of time using both Mac AND Windows before you defend one or the other. Travel to other countries before saying that America is the best. Try anchovies on your pizza, and watch Spanish TV even though you dont understand what they are saying. Ask an Iraqi what she thinks about the war in Iraq, and then ask a US Soldier the same question.
Be informed. Make it a point to never say something unless you have a reason and can back it up with well researched information. And if you dont feel like doing the research - no problem! Just dont have views without knowing why. Dont trust the media to educate you, dont trust your educators to educate you. Heck, even the apostle Paul in the Bible says not to trust him, but to test everything for yourself.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I went to a temple today.

I went to a temple today, I immediately flashed back to standing in wat pho in Bangkok. Men in robes ran around with incense, candles where slowly lit, mantra's where recited and chanted throughout the service. Young monks bowed before an older monk, they "splashed" incense smoke onto a red book, they talked to it, an older monk carried it around over his head and young monks bowed to it. I figured that the book was their diety.
I had a hard time though, figuring out what the whole thing was about... was it the book that we where all gathered to see? Was it the statue in the front of the temple? At least at wat pho the giant Buddha was so large, it was obvious what we where there to worship. But here, there where to many things to worship. Did I need to bow at the older priest? They kept quoting an revered monk, maybe I needed to worship him...
At one point, it reminded me if a Sikh temple that I had visited, there they blessed some snacks, and then we ate them. They didn't really explain what it was about, but the bread dough type stuff was tasty at the Sikh temple. The snacks at the temple today where really dry and flavorless.
This temple also was much less friendly, other temples in Asia people would offer me food, and if I forgot to take off my shoes they would kindly remind me with a smile and a laugh. But today at this temple I felt like I was treading on eggshells all day, nobody would tell me what I was doing wrong, but I felt judged by all of the super grumpy staff and priests and monks. There where chants in other languages, and although the priest spoke in English, his accent was so thick that I could barely understand him - but that is normal in my experience at temples. Just like at Buddhist temples, they asked for donations to keep them open, which I always found strange when the temple itself is so lavish, and the people just outside the doors have nothing. Similar to Asian temples, this one was lavish! A huge garden, beautiful property, and of course the essencial gift shop and food vendors. I may as well have been back in Thailand or China. But it felt strange being in LA, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. "this is Catholicism? This is the religion that people say is the same as what I believe?" I thought Christianity was about freedom, forgiveness, grace, gloryifying God and building a relationship with Him. But the people at this temple thought differently, they where religious. For them its all about tradition and liturgy. There is absolutely nothing personal about these peoples religion. Buddhism is more personal, and a ton more appealing to me. It felt like watching a well rehearsed play, not people worshipping God.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


It was really hard waking up on the morning I had to leave Amsterdam, partly because it was weird knowing I was leaving, and partly because I had only gone to bed a few hours earlier (I was out enjoying my newly earned freedom from the rules of the hostel)
I got up, grabbed my bag, and headed for the train station with a couple of friends. Next thing I knew I was at the airport. Then I was through security, then I was on my plane in my exit row window seat. It didnt hit me that I was leaving until we started to take off, I was of course listening to Sigur Ros, and the beautiful music mixed with the emotion of leaving my home of the last 8 months brought a weird but sad smile to my face...
I just listened to music for the 3 hour flight, and as we descended from the clouds, and I cought my first glimpse of Iceland, Glósóli, the song I had been listening to hit its crescendo. I was plastered to the window and soaked in the bizarre Icelandic landscape. Huge clouds of steam rising from countless geothermal pools, not a single tree, just volcanic rock and brown grass. Strange brown hills and cracks, with snowy mountains in the distance. We landed, and I walked out of the airport into the cold air. It smacked me in the face, ok. Iceland is pretty cold...
I met Hilmar, and we drove into town. I dropped off my bag at his house and had a quick coffee (the 4th one that day) then we headed to the gym. While he was training, I wandered around a park near the center of Reykjavic, and realized that when the sun sets at 5pm - it gets even colder. But I sat on a bench and smoked and enjoyed the stares that I got from people. "who is this idiot in shorts and flip flops?!"

After training, Hilmar drove me around and showed me some of the sights, then we went and met up with a couple of his friends and ate hamburgers at a famous Icelandic place, where we saw 2 Icelandic celebrities. In a country with only 300,000 people - everyone goes to the same places.
After that, we drove around the docks and checked out whaling ships and the new Icelandic coast guard ship. We went to the new concert hall where Bjork was playing, and wandered around for a while and tried to sneak in... We didnt get in. Then we met up with Hilmar's girlfriend Sigrun, and a few of their friends and we went to the pool, a huge outdoor community pool where everyone hangs out in the warm water and talks. There where tons of different pools with different temps, and all the water is heated by the volcanoes. In fact all of the head in Reykjavic comes from natural geothermal water, and all the electricity is produced from the steam found in nature.
I sat in the 44 degree pool (thats over 111 degrees Fahrenheit!) while it was below freezing outside. And I went down the waterslide. Awesome.
Hilmar is going to let me use his car tomorrow to drive a 300km loop around the most beautiful sites in Iceland. A tour on a bus costs over 10,000 kronur ($100), and I get to do it in my own car at my own pace for the price of gas. Amazing. The only problem is I cant afford gas, Hilmar and Eyvindur and I went to all the hostels to look for people to go with me, I put up a flyer and this morning had enough people email me to fill the car. Amazing. So tomorrow I will set off with a guy from somewhere I dont know, a girl from Poland and a girl from Australia for a big all day loop around Iceland! Im so excited for a sick road trip.
On our way home, we saw the northern lights flash across the sky, and I crawled into bed around 3am and I slept like a baby.

This morning I woke up to the sound of Hoppípolla (one of my favorite Sigur Ros songs) and Hilmar made me breakfast of this crazy thick almost yogurt chunky milk stuff. And toast with cheese and coffee. Then he dropped me off in the city, and I have been wandering around. My first stop was a record store, and I listened to an entire vinyl record of this amazing band called Rokkurro. The music here is so amazing... Then I stepped back out into the cold, and now Im sitting at a cafe drinking espresso to warm up before heading back out to see what else I can find. I heard there is a salvation army store here, and I might try and find some pants... But I kinda like the stares I get :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Amsterdam Doldrums

My goodness how time seems to move so strangely here. I have been away for a year now, and on one hand it feels like just a couple weeks. But on the other hand I cant even remember life before I left.
I was talking to a kid from California the other night who just up and left Wittier. He doesnt have any plans, and is thinking of going home soon.
He has only been away for 2 weeks, but he told me that it feels like an eternity.
I think its because when you travel, everything is new. Nothing is routine any more so everything stands out in your memory.
But for me right now, I have been here so long that nothing is new. Everything is routine so nothing stands out in my memory. The days fly by, but I cant remember anything that happens - Amsterdam is just a huge blur, with clarity on a few moments that specifically stand out to me, my North East Europe trip, a few people, a few goodbyes, a few parties, and a few nights out. But the majority of my six months here are just Amsterdam - thats it.

I guess the same goes with my life back in California before I left. Nothing really stood out. I think this may be a truth about life in general - because even my time on the road, the road just was the road. Days blended to weeks which faded into months. Life was about living - no goal or purpose except living it. I wasnt looking for anything in specific, I was just finding things.

I feel like I have found everything in Amsterdam though, just like in Los Angeles. I know there is plenty of things that I havent found in both of these cities, but this emotion isnt rational, I wont try to rationalize it. Instead Im just wondering when it will end, what happens when I have explored every city in the world? Im guessing thats what lead to space exploration... We had already discovered the earth.
I know some people who never have this feeling, they are perfectly content to stay in their home town. Some of them are perfectionists, so they prefer to explore one place and keep finding more and more (because honestly, you can never really find out everything bout a big city, you can spend your entire life in one and still find new things every day) and then there are people like me, who after even a couple of weeks start to feel the need for a new place. I dont think we have the desire for the small details, we just like to catch the vibe of a place, and then move on. Some places take longer than others, but I know for me personally it doesn't take very long.
So the question is, do I embrace this? or fight this.

Friday, August 5, 2011

"Iraq and America friends."

Last night was tough, I had to say goodbye to Firas.
Firas has a crazy story. He is Iraqi, and when America invaded, his life got flipped turned upside down. Long story short he has been on the run in Europe trying to seek asylum for the last 9 years. He got denied and this morning he flew home.
Firas has been working as a cleaner at the hostel for 2 months now, and since the start we have been buddys, but especially in the last couple weeks our friendship has deepened. We hung out and talked about Iraq, and America and politics and all kinds of crazy things.
When I started looking into traveling to Iraq he told me all I needed to know to stay safe and where to go. Then when I started looking into working as a military contractor there, Firas explained that if he was trying to blow up a Humvee with an RPG and he saw me inside he would say "Hey Taylor, move out of the way!" before firing, it became our joke, he would mime an RPG and tell me to get out of the way!
We gave him a Arabic/English bible when he left, and I wrote him a note inside the cover, it loosely translates "I will miss you brother, I hope we see eachother again somewhere in the world. Thank you for your friendship"

We listened to Amr Diab last night, and sang along with eachother while dancing in the cafe! It was great. We hugged goodbye, and he told me that when he gets home he will talk to his friend in the embassy and see about getting a visa for me. Me getting an Iraqi visa is technically impossible through normal methods. But there is a chance Firas can work something out. I would love nothing more than to go spend some time with him and his family in Iraq!

I have been looking into jobs in both Afghanistan and Antarctica. Doing various support work (Warehousing, dispatching, food service, etc) on the bases there. My current thought is to go home for a few months in November, and then maybe around the first of the year head to one of these places and work long hours in a high paying job for a few months. Then head out on the road again to either The Middle East or Russia.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Small Picture

One year. Im spending a whole year in one place, thats hard to put my head around.... My friend Gail laughed when I told her that Im staying here that long, she said that I would never make it. She gave me a couple months at best.
Some days I have a strong desire to return to California, but I really dont know why - I like it here way more. Maybe its not a desire to return to California, but a desire for whats next.
I was watching the latest episode of The Office last night, and half way through I started thinking about the next episode, and if it was out yet... I actually paused the show and checked to see if I could find the next one - before I had even finished the first.
I think thats a good analogy for how I think, I want whats next before Im through with what Im doing currently. My friend Chet once told me "when your here [Ecuador] - be all here." Im really bad at that.
Whats funny is that Im truly living my dream right now, today I met up with my friend Wendy, we met months ago in Thailand and again in Laos, and then completely randomly bumped into eachother in Cambodia. She lives in the north of Holland and was visiting Amsterdam today. We got coffee and caught up, then I walked her to the train station and saw her off. Im doing what I dreamed of before I left home, and what I longed for when I was travel-sick in China. Living somewhere, having a broad group of friends, working a job, having house-mates. This is literally a dream of mine coming true, and it has been preceded by 6 months of vagabonding around the world with no plans and nothing tying me down. I should be so content and stoked for every new moment!
I guess its just feeling the constriction of real life after a extended break from real life. I dont want to travel forever, I learned that. I just want to be able to drop all and go at any time. Even if I dont want to drop all and go, I want to be free too.
Is that selfish? Is it unreasonable? Is it impossible to live life that way?

I think if I was to come to Amsterdam open ended, and work here month by month - I might just stay forever. But the idea of having to stay, having agreed to stay, is making me feel trapped - and therefore I just want to get away!

I find no fault with this place, with the work Im doing. No I love it! But what hurts is not having freedom.
Small freedoms are no problem, having dinner at set times, and a schedule of when to work. I love that, I need that. But the big ones, the long term contracts... Thats where I have a hard time.
At my internship at Cypress Church, I didnt mind working from 12-5 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 7-12 on Sundays. That was fine. But the fact that I couldnt leave and pursue something else for a two year block - thats what made it so hard...

I have had 14 jobs in the last 7 years, I worked for a while, and when I figured it out, when it lost its challenge and mystery, I quit and found a new job. When the country of Laos lost its mystery in my mind, I moved on to China. When changing cities every two days lost its appeal, I settled down in Thailand for 3 months.
I dont have that option here, a weekend trip, or even the ten day trip Im going on in July doesnt give me the freedom I crave. I know I have to be back at a set time, and that thought will haunt me the whole time.

Is this something to change? To work on and block out?
Or is this something to embrace.

For now though, I live in Amsterdam! Its amazing. I love my work, I look forward to each shift. I love the people I live and work with, and I love this country. I guess I just need to look at the small picture - take it a day at a time. Be all here.