Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Limbo Kid

I woke up the other day and asked myself, "Why haven't you written a blog in so long?"  And the only thing that came to me was the same old excuse I've been using... nothing has insipired me lately, which could not be further from the truth.  I guess I just have this misconception about inspiration-- that it should strike you like lightning and spur this ever-constant flow of thoughts and ideas.  As a writer, I should know better.  Writing isn't always easy.  Sometimes it's like reaching down your throat and extracting a bunch of crap.  True, sometimes words are like water... but I'd argue that the more complex, intricate experiences require special effort to put down on paper.

The last few months have been really interesting for me.  As most of you know, I visited Thailand in February.  What a fascinating country!  I stayed in Phuket, but I visited some islands (including the infamously beautiful Ko Phi Phi).  Much like India, Thailand is defined by contrasts... social constrasts and otherwise.  Initially, you might find it to be a grimey, slimey, somewhat dirty place.  Prostitutes are everywhere, children are caring for children, and severely physically disabled people are strewn all over the streets begging for loose change.  Thailand is not easy to stomach at times (literally).

That said, I actually found the country to be an extremely warm and welcoming place.  Why was I surprised?  Well, Phuket is a tourist's heaven and a backpacker's nightmare.  There are foreigners everywhere... irritating ones... which is why I was surprised at how NOT jaded most of the natives are.  They have a lot of stupid people they have to put up with on a daily (seasonal?) basis, yet they are still wonderful, hospitable people.

Perhaps the best thing about Thailand was the fact that I left with a bit more wisdom then I came there with (that has a tendency to happen when traveling, I suppose).  For starters, let's discuss the old adage... "Don't judge a book by its cover."  When I arrived in Phuket, I hired a transfer van to get me to my hotel.  The men driving were a bit odd, and I'll admit it, I was a little paranoid that there were two of them and one of me.  But let's face it: we live in a crazy world.  I'll also admit that I prejudged these guys the minute I met them.  Dirty clothes, jerky movements, stealing glances at me in the rearview mirror, sharing somewhat ominous laughs together-- all bad signs, right?  I began recalling some self-defense moves I learned in my body combat classes...

At one point, the driver pulled over the side of the road and let the other guy off at what struck me as a pretty deserted place.  We sat for a moment while the driver retrieved his cigarettes and lit one up.  I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.  I was feeling really jumpy at this point, and when I get like that, I usually blurt something out... inappropriate or not.  So, I sloppily struck up a conversation with the guy, asking him what kind of cigarrettes he smoked.  Thai cigarettes, of course.  Okay... good one, Katina.  To my surprise and thankfully, he took my communication as a desire to chat.  He began asking me about my life, what I do, where I'm from, etc.  I slowly began losing my white-knuckle grip on my seat-belt.  His name was Sowpaan (pronounced SOW-pahn).  We exchanged information about ourselves, and before I knew it, I was asking him about various phrases in Thai.  Things like, "Will you marry me?" (Tang-ngan-kan-mai?)  You know, shit that comes in handy when you're in a foreign country.  He found my ridiculous curiosity pretty humorous.  We shared a few laughs, and I think it might be safe to say we became best friends by the end of the hour-long carride.   The only regret I had when I alighted from the car was how much time I wasted in getting to know him because of my stupid assumptions and insecurities.  Aside from that, it was one of the best cultural exchanges I've ever had with anyone.  So, life lesson learned: don't prejudge.

Leaving Thailand was difficult beyond my imagination.  My time there confirmed my addiction and genuine love for traveling.  It also confirmed my suspicion that this is what I'm supposed to be doing right now.  This is where I'm supposed to be... and who I'm supposed to be.  Saying goodbye to that country left a dull ache in my heart, but I guess I've felt that everytime I've left anywhere.  Sadness usually consumes me in the last few hours before boarding my plane.  It's true that leaving a place feels much like a breakup-- one that you didn't want.  And the worst part of it all is you're not sure if you'll see this place that you've personified ever again.  You do your best to muster up a proper goodbye, but you know that your words would fall far short of a worthy farewell.  This place, these people, the sun, the sand, the water... it's given you so much.  Your time here has changed you, and you can't go back.  You can only trudge on with a heavy heart and the priceless gift of a new perspective, perhaps even some answers.  I love you, Thailand.

So, I turned 23 a few days ago.  Another year gone by.  But where oh where did it actually go?  How is it that time passes so quickly and so slowly (a phenomenon everyone hates to ponder)?  I'm not going to lie, turning 23 scared me a lot.  It didn't scare me because I'm "getting older."  I'm not one of those lunatics who things 23 is old, believe me.  It just scares me because time seems be speeding up.  How am I supposed to take advantage of everything, do everything I want to do, when the time frame to do it all in seems so limited?  I want so badly to get life right.  And foolishly, I've been wanting someone to give me all the answers.

I'm going to take you back with me to Thailand for a minute to illustrate this for you.  Well, the flight from Thailand to Taiwan.  I sat next to this man named John.  John was a forty-something Pakistani living in Los Angeles.  His work, however, is in Taiwan.  He splits his time between his home in Los Angeles with his Taiwanese wife and newborn son and his work in Taichung.  John was probably one of the most interesting people I've ever talked to in my life.  He grew up in Pakistan, studied in Sweden, lived all over the EU, and has traveled just about every corner of this earth.  John has worked as a computer technician, electrical engineer, gemologist, and he currently owns a company that makes medical equipment.  The man is a jack of all trades.  I had a pretty blunt conversation with John.  I had nothing to hide from him.  I couldn't if I tried... I was crying practically the entire flight home.

I asked this man about so many things.  I was so hungry for conversation with someone who understood me, someone who could lessen the burden of my ever-present worries, someone who could help me process my feelings of isolation (after all, I did just break up with my boyfriend).  I have never focused so hard on a conversation in my life.  I was eating it all up, soaking in as much information from this man as I possibly could.

John is a nomad.  He admitted to me he had no place he actually called home.  He's been somewhat of a "lost boy" all his life... relying only on himself and the few friends he made wherever he went.  He told me he has never truly felt attached to anything until his son came along.  Having been exposed to so many people and so many vastly different cultures, he has no sense of national pride, no "stances" on anything, no die-hard opinions about anything... he's just an in-between kind of guy.  So, I posed this question to a man who has seen more and knows more than most: do you think you can ever know too much?  Do you think we are meant to be born in one place and love it and call it home forever?  Do you think if we see too much and inevitably erase everything we've ever regarded as true we might permanently fuck up our hard-wiring?  Can we ever be happy when we go back to start our "real" lives?

Basically, I've been worried about my ability to simplify things.  I think I've lost it.  My brain has been feeling much like my messy room right now.  I don't know how to find anything, where to put anything, or how it even got that way.  John seemed to understand this all too well.  You don't know how to identify with anything anymore because you're so far from home and yet you're such a stranger in your current environment.  Nothing fits.  You're a limbo kid.

John's response wasn't quite what I expected.  I thught he was going to serve me the predictable, "Katina, stop worrying.  Stop overanalyzing."  Instead, he confirmed the legitimacy of my concerns, which frightened me a little bit but I was really glad to get a straight answer.  As much as traveling is good for you it can be equally as detrimental to you-- depending on who you want to be or who you CAN be.  Sometimes seeing life in a different light requires you to change who you are, and if the important people in your life don't understand, what then?

So, here I am... getting answers from John.  I swear, while it was all happening, I thought this man was my deliverer.  I told him flat-out that he was an answer to my heart's prayers or something because I really needed to talk to someone in that moment.  He looked pretty taken aback.  I gave him my travel notebook and asked him to write in it.  He wrote this and nothing else: "Live today.  You will live forever."

After our goodbyes, I hurried to the bus counter to buy a ticket back to Taichung.  As I was standing there, I felt someone smack their hands down on my bag.  Naturally, I was a bit startled, and when I spinned around, I saw John.  He asked me what bus I was going to catch and that he wanted to ride with me.  I thought this was a little odd.  Then he asked me where I was sleeping and if I wanted to get a late night drink.  That's about the time when I realized who this person truly was.  Wife or no wife, son or no son, he belonged to no one.  He subscribed to no moral code, had no real convictions... he was a directionless, wave-rider.  His understanding of our conversation was that he was saving this young, impressionable girl and that maybe, if he said a few "profound" things, she might trust him.  I was a project, not a person.

And, let me just say, I'm not turning this into an issue of gender.  I don't care that he's a man.  All people are inherently selfish.  He may have been able to relate to me, but he certainly didn't have the answers... nor would he have cared to give them to me if he did.  My point is that John, the forty-something world traveler, actually knows no more than I.  And on top of that, what's right for him is not necessarily right for me.  How was I so naive to think that this stranger could cure me?

Reminds me of this Cat Steven's quote from the song, "Father and Son."

"If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them they know, not me."

No one can fix you.  Absolutely no one... not a partner, a friend, or a charming stranger.  No one can tell you what to expect around every corner or after every decision.  You choose it all.  You choose what you do, how you do it, and ultimately, whether you learn anything from it or not.  It is human nature to want to relate to people, to focus on the similarities you have with others... it shields us from loneliness at times, there's no doubt about it.  But the truth is no one has ever taken the journey of your life before.  You are the first and last person to pave this path.  I've come to realize that the only way to live life right is to live YOUR life right... you take it one gut-feeling at a time.

I applied this realization on the day of my birthday.  I went to a waterfall with some friends just outside the city.  You had to wind your way up the dizzying mountain, navigate a steep, gravel path, and hike a somewhat treacherous gorge to get to it.  I wanted a birthday I would never forget, something that would require me to face a great fear of mine: heights.  We got to the waterfall, and immediately my enthusiasm plummeted significantly.  When I saw the dangerously narrow ridge to the "launching" area (I put launching in quotes because if this place was in the states, it would be blocked off), I started with the self-doubt and began searching for excuses not to jump.  Lucky for me, I have extremely fearless friends that will peer pressure the hell out of you until you can't refuse (thanks guys).

I tiptoed my way along the side of the ridge, which is a slanted five inches at one point.  Mind you, there is absolutely nowhere to get a good grip on the perfectly rounded rock.  It didn't help that you had to walk out on this ledge quite a ways because if you fell up until a certain point you would land on solid rock.  My heart was exploding in the moment.  I wasn't sure what would happen first: a heart attack or falling to my death.

Miraculously, I made it to the "ledge," which is about 2 feet long and 4.5 inches wide.  The rock you're standing on jutts out, so in order to clear it, you actually need to catapault yourself from the rock about 3 feet or so.  At this point, I'm standing on the ledge looking down.  I'm about 40 feet up or so.  For those of you that can't imagine this, that's higher than the Olympic high dive.  So, in addition to the overwhelming height, I'm looking at this great bit of rock I need to miss and thinking nothing but defeated thoughts.  I even began voicing them, "I can't do it!  I can't!"  My screaming eventually prompted my legs to begin shaking violently.  This was a problem for two reasons: 1) I looked like an idiot to my audience (my friends and random Taiwanese hikers), and 2) Shaky legs meant it was uncertain if I would be able to jump far enough to clear the rock.  That's when my friend offerred to jump with me.  I hate to accept help in those situations because it means I can't take full credit for such a brave act, but I did.  I was too afraid to climb back, but I knew I wouldn't jump if someone didn't lead me.

My friend climbed out to me, grabbed my hand, counted to three, and practically pulled me with him.  Unless you've felt that feeling of flying, you can't quite understand how freeing and frightening and wonderful and horrible it is all at the same time.  Your stomach tightens up, your arms fly up in the air, your lunch rises to the back of your throat, and you're wondering just how much the landing is going to hurt... which is a lot, by the way.  Smacking the water from such a height is not pretty.  But, lord, does it give you the rush of a lifetime.  It's an act that requires you to relinquish control.  For those few seconds you're suspended in the air, you have no say in anything.  And yet, the minute you hit the water, you feel more powerful and capable than you ever thought possible.  Strange, isn't it?

On that day, the 23rd anniversary of my birth, when I jumped off the waterfall... I jumped into a new mindset.  I've been heading in that direction for the past few months, but I finally fully immersed myself in it.  You can't be in control all the time, which is why you just have to stop worrying about what's right or wrong, how you should be feeling, where you need to be, who you're becoming.  No amount of questioning or research will ever answer life's deepest mysteries, nor will it ever shed any light on your reality.

That's all I got.  I love you.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Write.  Just write.   

This has been my motto for days.  But, come on, should I really need one?  I just got back from Malaysia for chrissake.  I must have something to say.  

The not-so-funny thing is it seems that the more I travel the less I have to say.  And I'm not sure if this is because words don't even begin to paint a fraction of the picture or because I'm simply too lazy to make any attempt... or I don't know, I could just be sick of words.  Talking only gets you so far.  At some point you need to stop talking.  

Seriously, though: Malaysia.  Where do I even begin to begin?  Just go!  Jump on a boat, hijack a plane, grow a pair of wings, sell your spleen.  Do whatever you have to do to experience that place.

If nothing else, Malaysia is proof that there can be harmony in the world, and I am of the opinion that everyone should experience such hopefulness firsthand.  The peaceful convergence of so many historically (and currently) clashing religions is perhaps what fascinates me the most.  Being a predominantly Islamic country with a hefty side of Hinduism and a dash of Buddhism, there is no shortage of glaring cultural differences everywhere you look.  

As a misinformed, fear-filled American, I felt slightly uncomfortable with all the religious expressiveness at first.  It was just so "in your face."  I felt like at any minute it would be like West Side Story (KL style): women in Indian traditional dress would start fighting Muslim women in colorful burkas.  Sikhs would emerge from the shadows and pull switchblades out of their beards, while monks would drop AK-47s from their robes.  The tension was as thick and heavy as the ever-present sweat pouring out of my body.

The tension, of course, was a product of my imagination (and a result of trusting American media sources for far too long).  Kuala Lumpur is a microcosm of what the world could be, what it should be.  It is a fully functional, wonderfully diverse place full of forward-thinking, well-rounded people of every background and every faith you could possibly think of.  

An interesting thing to note about Kuala Lumpur, in particular: no one, and I mean no one, stares at anyone.  Can you say that about anywhere else?  Be honest now.  If you go into a Walgreens in Ypsilanti and you see (God forbid) a Muslim woman in full dress, you would stare, wouldn't you?  And not because you are necessarily judging or anything, but because she is so different from you.  And more than that, she is part of a religious community that you are trained to be fearful of.

But in a place like Malaysia, no one is put under the microscope.  No one is made to feel badly about what they believe or how they choose to express themselves.  No one is made to feel that they are the "inferior minority."  The freedom of the individual is of utmost importance, as it should be.  And perhaps this is what I liked most about Malaysia.  I felt intensely comfortable in my own skin.  And how ironic is that?  In a place where everywhere I looked I saw burkas and saris, I felt the most secure as my western dressed self.  Not a single person looked on at me with disapproving eyes (none that I saw anyway).  I just can't get over it.  I feel so thankful for what a warm embrace that country gave me.  I learned so much from it.

While we're on the subject of differences, I can't quite shake a particular image from my mind.  For every trip I take, I almost always come away with one experience that burns an image or memory so bright into my mind that it's sometimes the only thing I see for days.  The one that has stuck with me from Malaysia was of a young Muslim girl.  She was no more than seventeen or eighteen years old.  We were in the public bathroom of a food court in the middle of bum-f*cking nowhere.  The girl had a beautifully delicate build with the exception of her giant, very pregnant belly.  If that wasn't enough, she was holding what I assumed was her one-year-old baby girl.  The baby was standing naked in the sink and gripping a tattered, yellow bottle.  She had the most striking half-moon eyes, silky black hair, and wore an expression that didn't seem to communicate any discomfort or worry.  Her young mother was casually bathing her with the community soap in what struck me as a fairly filthy bathroom, making sure to scrub between every crease of baby fat.  The odd thing was it came across as a very natural thing with the way the baby just stood there indifferently, as if this was a daily occurrence.  

I would be lying if I said this didn't bother me, but not in the sense that it made me feel sorry for this young woman.  Quite the contrary actually, but I'll get to that later.  It bothered me in the sense that it made me feel like a jerk.  It bothered me in the sense that we whine and complain about how unfair things are, how we didn't get that promotion, how we can't afford that 500 billionth and very latest version of that camera we've been wanting, how we can never seem to take a breath and be thankful for any source of happiness we're lucky to have... and somewhere in this world there is a young, pregnant girl bathing her child in a public restroom.  

And, as I said, the most wonderful thing was you couldn't feel sorry for this girl if you tried.  She would never let you.  The strength in her eyes, the deliberate and vibrant way with which she moved...  It was obvious she wasn't sitting around asking, "Why me?  Why me?" (It's usually the people that have the most who do that.)  No!  This girl didn't have a second to waste on questions.  I would argue that she was okay with the hand she was dealt.  I would argue that because she had to be okay with it.  We have to be okay with it.  

And so, I think what it all comes down to is just accepting things and allowing ourselves to be happy once and for all.  At one point do we start to do that?  Why is it so hard to stop questioning and start living?  The curse of comparison, perhaps? 


Thursday, January 20, 2011

We are all indefinite pronouns.

For two months I have had no words.  That's a lie.  For two months I have made revision after revision on this entry, each time producing an end result drastically different from previous attempts.  If that's any indication of where my head's at these days, it's the best one I've got.

Seriously?  December shook me to the core.  She literally threw me against the pavement... then made amends by revealing to me inexplicable beauty.  As for January... I'll have to get back to you.  January still has time to mess with me.

I reluctantly woke up this morning (reluctantly because it was 7am), dragged myself onto the balcony, took in a lungful of polluted air, and relished in my freedom, my city.  Despite its horrendous drivers, cockroach-infested food stalls, beetlenut-stained streets, and questionable everything, I fully recognize it as my own.  I've developed an allegiance to this city.  We've formed a perfect symbiosis of sorts.  I have surrendered everything to it-- my uncertainty, my hang-ups, my insecurities, everything I have ever known (which seems next to worthless now), and in return, I have been granted the invaluable gifts of perspective, renewal, and contentment.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing about making such a drastic move in your life is you can no longer count on the usual familiarities to define you.  There are no expectations of you.  No ghostly remnants of the past come to haunt you.  There is absolutely no chance you will see your incompetent doctor or ex-friend you've been trying to shake off at the convenient store.  You feel a little lighter.  You realize that you have the power to go in any direction you want, to change direction as many times as you wish.

For the first time in my life, I truly understand the immense joy in being a nobody.

But what does it mean to be a nobody as opposed to a somebody or an anybody?  I think these definitions are interesting.  According to Oxford American Dictionaries:

Nobody- a person of no importance or authority (He was a nobody).
Somebody- a person of importance or authority (She was a somebody).
Anybody- a person of any importance (Everybody who was anybody came to the party).

I know we can be one, but can we be all three?  How can we define ourselves with indefinites?  And an even better question: why am I pondering this crap?

I'll tell you why.  I was walking down the street the other day and disappeared.  No one saw me, no one acknowledged me.  I might have been able to walk through a few walls at the time.  And what's worse is I kind of liked it... in a resigned, indifferent, free-bird kind of way.  When you're nobody, you hurt no one.  When you're nobody, your vibrations have no effect on anything.  You have room to just be.

Would you really turn away from that?  For what... the chance or, as I like to think of it, the risk of feeling what?  If the world could promise me something, I'd drop everything..


Sunday, November 14, 2010


It's been a while, hasn't it?  Hope this update finds you all in good spirits, health, and fortune.  

I'm well.  Every day is so different from the last one, which is good.  I still wake up some days and feel like I live among aliens.  Or maybe I'm the alien?  That's sounds about right.  It's just so very different here, and in a good way most of the time.  I don't know, you should see for yourself (this is the part where you stop reading this and research airfare).  

One thing I will say is it's easy to feel alone here.  I have been fortunate to make many wonderful friends, and it's rare that a single day goes by when I don't see one of them.  But no matter how many friends or acquaintances you come upon in this place, you will never feel so completely and utterly alone in your life.  The kind of alone where you feel like you're drowning a little bit.  Every day is a roller coaster. One minute I'm laughing at a table full of people and the next minute I'm driving home with nothing but worrisome thoughts.  "What am I doing with myself?"  

What do we want?  There's an interesting topic and a reoccurring theme in my life the last few months.  We make decisions every day, don't we?  We walk into Starbucks or some other over-priced coffee joint and know that we want a tall, low-fat caramel macchiato.  We know we want a nice cell phone or those shoes we saw at Macy's last week.  And we make decisions about these little, insignificant things... because we know what we want.  We also know what we are capable of.  Well, lately I've been struggling with figuring out what it's going to take to make myself happy.  What I want for the rest of my life.  What preparations, steps, advances do I need to make now in order to get there?  I'm at the proverbial fork in the road.  And I'm sitting in the middle of the damn road.  

The problem with transitional periods is they give us so much time to reflect.  Reflection is a healthy thing in moderation, much like alcohol and Haribo gummy worms.  But when that's all you do day in and day out, it's going to eat your soul.  The past can haunt you, and I'm not even referring to bad memories or bad feelings.  Just the past, in general.  The good, the bad, and the nothing.  There have been regular neuron misfirings in my brain as of late.  I will be having a discussion with someone and then some random, obscure memory will cloud my brain.  And it's not even one of those situations where you see the "connection" or where you are reminded of something.  It's a completely unexplainable, even out-of-body experience where you wonder why you just thought about that one guy you met at a bar over the summer who never said anything profound or worth remembering, but something about the way he walked was intriguing.  And now you're picturing his intriguing walk in your mind while you stare at this 400 year-old temple in the cold, pelting rain.  

Transitional periods are slippery.  You can never quite catch your footing.  You're a different person from one day to the next.  I'm fortunate in that I like who I'm becoming here.  I like who I am, but I miss who I was sometimes.  The simplicity of my life before all of this distance seems like a far-off memory.  And I can't help but wonder, is this life?  The constant pining for previous simplicity?  

I selfishly ponder all of this.  Then later I go to a little food stand on the side of the road and watch a little boy who is all of 5 years old help his mom sweep up cockroaches while she prepares my soup.  He has one toy.  It's an old, crusty batman figurine.  My eyes go from the boy to the roaches to batman to his weary mother.  I think about his future.  What will this kid amount to?  What opportunities will be afforded to him?  Is his future in this broken-down food stand?  And that's when I feel ashamed for ever complaining or worrying or wondering.  That's when I am just happy to have my soup.  That's when my typically American, egocentric brain shuts up.

So, I was riding in the mountains the other day trying to scrounge up some video footage.  I didn't find a whole lot of footage, but I did find a puppy.  I was riding along, taking in the scenery, when I spotted this brown and white beagle-looking puppy running down the road.  I was in a pretty secluded area full of palm trees and rice paddies.  I stopped my scooter and got off.  Immediately the puppy ran to me and did what puppies do... melt your heart.  I looked around for any sign of life-- anyone who might claim ownership of this helpless creature.  Nothing.  I gave it some water and cursed myself for not being smart enough to have any food on me (you should always have something in your bag, in case you should come across a puppy or something).  The clock ticked and before I knew it I spent almost an hour sitting on the side of the road with this dog. 

He just sat next to me and stared at me with these huge, brown eyes.  Despite being a puppy, he wasn't very puppy-like.  There was this strange air of wisdom about him like he knew his fate or something.  Or maybe he knew mine.  We consoled each other for some time without even knowing it.  I looked at the clock and knew I had to get going before it got dark.  I put my helmet on and started for my scooter, and to my surprise, the puppy laid against my kickstand... almost as if to say, "Please don't leave."  And I did what any wretched, heartless person would do.  I drove away.  I drove away because I had to.  Because I couldn't help him.  Because, like every island dog, he needed to learn how to survive.  And I swear to you on everything I own, everyone I love, that as I rode away I saw him running after me in my rearview mirror.  I cried a little down the mountain but it was one of those poignant moments that provides unusual clarity.  I realized that he and I shared something in common. 

Dogs chase after scooters.  People chase after answers.  I've been chasing something.  We all do.  But you can't just run to and from things all the time because you miss what really matters-- and that's every single precious moment you find yourself in.  Doesn't matter if you know what you want or where you're going or what the hell you're doing.  All you really can do is be happy with your soup.  And I'm gonna work on that.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"So Miss Me... Send Me Some Light and Love, and Drop it."

Hello there!  Its been at least a few weeks since my last post, and there's simply no excuse for it.  Well, actually there kind of is... I have been rather busy.  Work is killing me, BUT in exchange for all the mental and physical exhaustion, I have reaped some wonderful rewards!  My 1st and 6th grade classes are beginning to understand the "routine" I've set for them this year, and they are responding well to it.  My 1st grade has been behaving better, or perhaps I should say I understand the kind of direction they need better than when I first started.  Anyway, things are looking up in the teaching department, so that's good.  Now if I can only get organized with this whole grading thing... What a fiasco that has been!

As for my every day life, there hasn't been a whole lot going on.  I had one too many drinks last weekend and have decided to take a break from drinking.  There's some news.  Sorry you had to read that, Mom!  The good news is it won't be too hard to cut that activity out of my schedule, as I'm pretty broke (well at least until Friday-- PAY DAY!).

Ohhhhhh pay day... let's discuss, shall we?  The rather exciting thing about pay day is Ms. Katina will be receiving her very first big girl paycheck, which will signify one solid step towards official freedom (aka a set of wheels).  Friday can't come soon enough.  Seriously.  It's hard for me to put into words just how difficult it was for me to go from having a car available to me 24/7 to complete immobility.  Don't get me wrong, I've been walking places, but please keep in mind that it's been almost 100 degrees here every day with 100% humidity.  Not to mention, we just finished up the monsoon season.  You don't want to walk anywhere and get caught in flash floods or blowing rain.  

So, I feel like I should explain the photograph that accompanies this post.  My roommate, our co-worker, and I went to this beautiful neighboring town on Saturday that lies about 45 minutes outside Taichung.  The town is calling "Taiping."  It was a breathtaking ride there as the scenery gradually morphed from big city to small city to small town to factories to tiny vegetable markets to farms to nothing but mountains as far as the eye could see.  There were some parts of the drive that actually reminded me a bit  of India, the drive from the Goan airport to the heart of the endless Goan beaches (minus beaches, sub mountains).  If you haven't driven in such a remote, exotic place, do it.  I have never felt so high on life as when I'm exploring the natural beauty and dichotomy of this part of the world.  The contrast of toothless women lounging on make-shift chairs (or buckets) to luscious palm tree and bamboo forests will force upon you the NatGeo, surrealism of it all.  When I escape the city, I simultaneously check out of reality.  You could tell me I'm dreaming, and I'd probably believe you.  And that's when I say to myself... "I think I like it here."  Or "We're not in Kansas anymore."  I prefer the former, as the latter is a bit overdone, no?

Let me paint a picture for you.  You're coasting up a mountain on a sandy, rocky road that's about 12 feet wide (and occasionally missing large chunks of cement).  Just beyond the edge of the road is the end.  No kidding.  The cliff drops off, well I don't even want to guess, but let's just say you'd be plummeting to your death.  The only thing between you and your possible plummet to death are naturally occurring bamboo shoots that merely obstruct the fantastic view (let's just say if you had to die this way, it would be one fall to "die for").  You almost wish the plants weren't there.  The climb is starting to get steeper and windier.  You're straining your eyes to see around the next hairpin turn when your focus is broken by a "popping" sound.  Your mind and heart are racing to see which can give you a life-threatening condition first, and you begin praying to God or Buddha or Ganesh or Ellen Degeneres that that sound was not coming from your brakes.  And MUCH to your dismay, a car, of all things at a time like this, tears around the corner at an ungodly speed (any speed is ungodly in this scenario) causing you to instinctively flinch.  Your flinch creates a domino effect of sudden movements that jerk your front wheel toward "the end."  Your mind starts playing a montage of prominent memories, ya know, like the way it would before you drove off a cliff or something.......... and just when you think you should not have stepped one foot outside of Kansas, the "deer in the headlights" inside you surrenders to autopilot.  You don't know how or why or where or what but you come out of it, you recover, you straighten out.  You're basic survival instincts are not as deflated as you had thought.  So not only did you renew the faith you have in yourself, but you are once again, coasting up a majestic mountain and kind of enjoying yourself.  Not relaxing though.  Not until your feet are on the ground, of course.    

And that's only up the mountain.  Down is a whole other animal.

So, basically, life is never boring here.  I'm definitely more aware of my mortality than I've ever been, that's for sure... but that's the kind of "shock to the system" I need right now in my life.  Some people don't desire that or seek it, but I know I would have exploded with regret somewhere down the road if I hadn't tested myself.  Road... life is one big road.  "Every road leads us farther from home."  Iron and Wine song?  I think so.  And a good one, at that.  But back to testing myself... I have never felt so scared, so ill-equipped, so capable, and so contradictory in my life.  Every day is a wonderful battle.  I have self-doubts, but I'm in the bullpen rolling my sleeves up.  Because I have to be.  And there it is!  That's it!  The biggest lesson I've learned thus far in my young life, and I figured it out without the help of Ralph Waldo Emerson, but through my own life experiences (and isn't the issue of intellectual property pretty questionable, anyway?):


I am downright afraid that that's what my life has come down to these days, but I have also never been this happy with myself in my whole life.  Forget all the things I can't control, like distance and money and an uncertain future.  The me, in this very moment, is all I could hope for for myself.  The strides I've made in the last month and a half astound me.  There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not proud of my accomplishments, however minor they may be.

And isn't that all we ever want, just to be proud of who we are?

So, before I draw this self-explorative bullshit to a close (that will be read by all of 3 people-- "Hi Dad!"), grant me the courtesy of saying one more thing, or suggesting something rather.  I was recently bowled over with inspiration by a film.  "Eat, Pray, Love," based on the novel by Elizabeth Gilbert, is an incredible journey that will make you laugh, make you cry, break your heart, mend your heart, and ultimately change your attitude toward life if you will let it.  I am usually not a big fan of film adaptations, especially since I read this book, but the movie gives the book a run for it's money.  Forget the cinematography or the elegant performance given by Julia Roberts, see it for the priceless, underlying messages it provides.

One particular piece from this film stuck with me and just so happens to be the title of this post.  It refers to missing someone.  Missing someone means there's a void that that person used to fill.  We allow that void to eat a whole in our heart and essentially take something away from us.  The quote, "So miss me... send me some light and love, and drop it," to me, means that you must acknowledge the void and then release it.  You can't focus on the temporary, emotional discomforts because there will always be things trying to burden you and break you throughout your entire life.  You simple can't carry that weight.  

Make time for this film.  It will be one to remember for always.

And let me leave you with one, last excerpt from "Eat, Pray, Love."  It's a good one.  Thanks for reading my blog and caring about my life.  I really wish I had time to write more of these because it can be quite cathartic.  Anyway, miss you all... and love you with every fiber of my being!

"A friend took me to the most amazing place the other day. It's called the Augusteum. Octavian Augustus, the first true great emperor of Rome, built it to house his remains. When the barbarians came they trashed it along with everything else.  It's one of the quietest, loneliest places in Rome.  The city has grown up around it over the centuries. It feels like a precious wound, a heartbreak you won't let go of because it hurts too good. We all want things to stay the same. Settle for living in misery because we're afraid of change, of things crumbling to ruins. Then I looked at around to this place, at the chaos it has endured - the way it has been adapted, burned, pillaged and found a way to build itself back up again. And I was reassured, maybe my life hasn't been so chaotic, it's just the world that is, and the real trap is getting attached to any of it.  Ruin is a gift.  Ruin is the road to transformation."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Transitions and Translations

I've been here a little over a week, and I still can't catch my breath.   This place transcends the imagination.  There isn't a single morning I wake up that I don't have to remind myself where the hell I am.  It's wonderful.  For those of you who don't know much about Taiwan, well... words don't do somewhere like this much justice.  Hell, pictures don't even do this place a shred of justice.  But, alas, I shall do my best.

The entire island of Taiwan is about 250 miles from the top to the very bottom, at which point the Tropic of Cancer runs right through it.  Consequently, the weather here is no less than scorching hot on a daily basis.  In fact, it's so hot here that there is almost no point in showering if you are going to spend more than an hour outside.  For those who know me, this was not an easy fact to face (my 20 minute showers have drastically reduced to a mere 5).  As it is the rainy season/typhoon season, the sun usually bakes the island from about 9am until 4pm and then rains for a good portion of the late afternoon.  If you are going to live in Taiwan, you best have some top-of-the-line rain gear.  Fortunately for me, I have a 300NT ($6 US) raincoat from the local superstore.  It's been lovely walking home in pouring rain that feels like individual bullets (sense the sarcasm, people).

As far as my routine is concerned, let's start with my walk to work.  My walk to work usually takes about 7 minutes, and in that time, I see no less than 5 stray animals.  Depressing, yes, but I'm slowly beginning to respect and understand this strange "ecosystem."  For example, I went to pet and feed a stray the other day and almost got my hand chewed up.  Over the last week or so, I've gradually stopped pitying these animals and begun to respect them for their mighty survival instincts.  Seriously, dogs in the worst ghettos of America have nothing on the animals here!  These animals are more independent than most people I know, and if you even try to "make their life easier," they will probably eat you.

So, work... For those of you who don't know, I am teaching a 1st grade class and a 6th grade class.  After a little over a week of teaching and countless hours of preparation, I find myself constantly pondering one question: why don't teachers earn a shit-load of money?  It is no less than pathetic that we (as in the entire world) impress upon our children how vital it is they get a good education when we place such a low value on those who do the educating... literally.  Please note that I am not complaining about my pay, but I am merely expressing my frustration with the little appreciation teachers get (and this lack of appreciation is universal).  I suppose part of this upset stems from the fact that I never really realized how much my teachers and professors did for me over the years.  Being on the other side of the coin really allows you to see how much work and worry goes into lesson planning, teaching, and not to mention, inspiring!  Luckily, my kids are truly wonderful...  That's not to say I haven't had any trouble with them, but as I become more comfortable with teaching, I have been conjuring up different, more tactful approaches to my lessons.  So far, so good!  I will say, though, if I decide to pursue teaching I don't think 1st grade is for me.

Anyway, overall, the last couple weeks have been good.  The low point was getting sick with tonsillitis and missing a day of work, but I'm kind of glad I got sick early on because getting sick in a foreign country for the first time is always kind of a traumatic ordeal.  Now I know where the doctor is and I'm not as worried about the next time, which hopefully won't be for a while.

So last weekend I had intended on moping around and doing work, but my awesome co-workers encouraged me to go out.  What a night.  Saturday we went to a bar called Fubar, which is basically a foreigner hang out.  The bar is located in a part of the city called "Little Europe," which as you can imagine attracts many expats.  There were about five of us who went out, but our group quickly grew to about nine when some US sailors walked up to us and bought us a bunch of shots.  Though it was nice getting the free drinks, they were pretty annoying.  One of them in particular was quite the blubbering idiot.  He was fairly intoxicated, but I still can't believe what a jackass he was.  This guy asks me where I'm originally from and I tell him the suburbs of Detroit.  He says to me, "Detroit?  Last time I was in Detroit a 300 lb black dude walked up to me and tried selling me cocaine."  Okay, so you probably had to be there and understand the way he said it, but he was basically dissing the city.  Though I can't say I a am a true Detroiter, it sort of pissed me off to hear someone talking negatively about Detroit, especially someone who isn't even from there or familiar with the wonderful things it has to offer.  I'm sick of people believing the stereotypes and all the bullshit portrayals of the city courtesy of the devil media.  I highly doubt this guy has even been to Detroit if he had that experience.  I mean, where the hell was he anyway?  Ah well, whatever.

Well, that's all I got.  I'll try to write more often than every two weeks but I've been so busy getting acclimated.  I'll let everyone know as soon as I post a new blog.  Hope everyone is happy and healthy and all in one piece.  Much love!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Check out my new home!  Coming soon to a blog near you: stories, videos and pictures!