Thursday, June 30, 2005

Tourism vs. Intentional Travel

by Skald

Matt's recent posts touch on a very important subject... the difference between tourism and intentional travel. Most "travel sites" and "travel writers" focus on the former. They describe beautiful places and decadent activities. They tell you where to stay, how to save money, where the good deals are. They rarely, if ever, examine the philosophical, cultural, economic, political, or psychological aspects of travel.

That's a shame. For tourism sucks all the vitality from travel. It kills its greatest benefits. For the benefits of travel often derive from that which the tourist most avoids: the challenges, the unexpected, the difficult. The intentional traveler seeks these out. S/he pushes into the unknown and the uncomfortable (each according to their inclination and temperament). The tourist seeks the known, the comfortable.

The tourist brings back a tan and a collection of commodities (snapshots and trinkets). The intentional traveler is after things which cannot be bought. For the intentional traveler seeks inner benefits: transformation of perception, thought, emotion, belief.

Your average American Yahoo shuns travel for the same reason they shun critical thought... they seek the comfortable. They seek that which confirms their superiority. They dont want to be challenged.

But the intentional American traveler is another breed. They embrace discomfort. They live by that pseudo-Star Trek creed... to boldly go where they have never gone before. Outwardly this means new countries, new foods, new cultures,... but the heart of the matter is the inner journey.... new thoughts, new perceptions, new understanding.

We need more intentional travelers, and fewer tourists.

.......

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Well whaddya know?

I'd no sooner posted that article about war when I surfed over to cnn.com... and whadyya know!! There's Dubya on the front page rambling on about war:

http://www.cnn.com/2005/POLITICS/06/28/bush.speech/index.html

A couple of things:

1) Now that I live outside of the fear mongering 'Merican media none of his arguments work for/on me. I'm not paranoid any more... I don't watch the 6 o'clock news that breeds that fear.

2) Whenever he used the word 'democracy' or 'freedom' I inadvertently want to substitue in 'consumerism' or some related term.

3) Why does a timetable for 'Merica's withdrawal from Iraq necessarily have to be 'artificial?'

Just a few thoughts.

-Matt

p.s. What do those two posting have to do with travel and Hobopoets? Just another reason you might want to Flee the Country! and buy that one way ticket to somewhere! Just another notch on the belt of many reasons you should step outside and go explore another culture, lifestyle, vocation or dream!

War and our language

For a really good article in a Malaysian newspaper go to:

http://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2005/6/29/lifefocus/11327930&sec=lifefocus

You'll get a good idea of what many folks outside of McMerica think about Dubya and how that refelcts on US living abroad.

It also details how we use the word war nonchalantly in casual speech.


A cople of quotes:

Maybe we should just blame George Bush. The man who started the very abstract war on terrorism that then morphed into a very real war on people can surely be held responsible for the prevailing obsession with being war-like about everything.

Marina Mahatir
The Star
June 29,2005

To George Bush, the war against terror has meant demonising whole communities of people based on their faith, and marching into countries to occupy them, a very twisted way of giving them “freedom”.

Marina Mahatir
The Star
June 29,2005

Or is it, in the style of George Bush, an impatience with approaches to problem solving that require much study and thought, that may take some time to show results, that doesn’t yield much business opportunities for t-shirt and banner makers, that doesn’t lend opportunities for photo taking with VIPs? Let’s get ‘em quick and fast and then move on to the next thing, damn the trail of suffering we might leave behind. There are Dubyas all over the world.

Marina Mahatir
The Star
June 29,2005

-Matt

p.s. I seem to recall someone recently posting on a reply on Hobpoets that the war in Iraq was a good thing. Maybe it ain't right of us to think we got the higher moral ground and truck in for a 'peace' and 'freedom' war after all? Anyway, I thought it was about oil... not freedom.

Sunwalker

by AJ

Great to hear from Sunwalker.... We'd love to hear more about your experiences walking around the country.

In his comment, Sunwalker bemoaned the need to make take a break from travels and make some money. While there are a few hard core souls who can manage without doing this (monks, sadhus, and the like), most of us require at least a minimum of income now and then.

I dont think this is anything to fret about. Unfortunately, its just a fact of life for most of us. The trick is to find a good strategy- one that maximizes freedom and income simultaneously.

Ralf Potts (the travel writer) writes about this too. He urges vagabonds to relax and make the best of their working stints. Of course, another strategy (one I favor) is to travel and work at the same time. Living and working abroad provides a deeper cultural encounter than breezing through a country in a month or two.

Currently Im teaching English in Bangkok and loving it. After a horrid work experience in Japan, Im very happy. Ive got great students, a great schedule, good pay, and almost total freedom in the classroom. Truth is I love teaching (when the conditions are right)- so I look forward to my class. Im eager to do a good job for my students. Ive been injecting a lot of energy into my Effortless Acquisition (my teaching blog). At the end of the day, Im still energetic... often more energetic than I started out.

So there are good income-generating situations. Of course, there are many many more bad ones. But either way, we need that cash for living and travel.

The key is to keep improving the income situation (more money, more autonomy, more freedom) while always keeping the next journey in mind.

.....

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Change & Travel

by Skald

Everything changes. Nothing remains the same, nothing lasts. This is a central message of Buddhism. Much of Buddhism is designed to help people accept, live with, and embrace this fact.

I think travel is also an excellent way to embrace the truth of change. Travel can be a short vacation. A distraction. But it can also be a metaphor for life. Our lives resemble a journey. As Thoreau said, 'Going from, towards' is perhaps the most basic theme of life. We are always leaving something, somewhere, someone. We are always arriving at something, somewhere, someone new.

Its a painful and difficult process if you resist it. Travel... especially intentional travel over extended time periods.... teaches you how to flow with change. You learn how to say goodbye to favorite places and people. You learn how to stay in contact with them. You learn how to move on to the next place, the next challenge.

You are always letting go and opening to something new. Thats a tremendous skill to have in life.

.....

Friday, June 24, 2005

Leave

by AJ

So you're sitting in that office again... bored... staring out the window. You glance at your watch and the clock. You count the minutes until lunch.... take the longest lunch you can get away with... then count the minutes again until its time to leave.

I used to be that way. I remember many extremely long and monotonous days... at social work agencies, at IBM, at the hospital.

But now Im excited to get up. Im excited to teach my students. Im excited to be in a foreign land that never gets cold.

Perhaps you are a person who values security and routine. Perhaps you are happy in a routine job. If so, I have nothing to say to you. Good luck. I wish you the best.

But if you are like me. If such a situation makes you feel like a wolf caught in a trap..... my advice to you is to LEAVE. Dont waste any more time. Go. Hit the road. Head to the airport. Get that passport.

Life is waiting.

.......

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

In Fairness To Christians

by Skald

Its seems obvious that the term "Christian" in fact refers to a set of religions that seem to have little relation to each other.

The loudest and most politically powerful at the moment (in America) are the rightwing nuts who support war, hate gays & lesbians, etc..... These people call themeselves Christians.

But "Christian" also refers to such groups as the Quakers... wonderful people with deep faith in peace, love, acceptance, and non-violence.

Though both groups claim the title "Christian", its hard to imagine two religions more different. The Quakers have more in common with certain Buddhists, Jains, Sufis, etc.... than with the Christian Right in America.

All of which is to say, I tend to be fast and loose with the term.... often neglecting to cite the inspiring example set by Christian groups such as the Quakers.

Ahh, the perils of language and opinion.
....

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Big Lie

by Skald

Ivan Ilyich suffered most of all from the lie, the lie which, for some reason, everyone accepted: that he was not dying but was simply ill,... And he was tortured by this lie, tortured by the fact that they refused to acknowledge what he and everyone else knew, that they wanted to lie about his horrible condition and to force him to become a party to that lie.

This lie, a lie perpetrated on the eve of his death, a lie that was bound to degrade the awesome, solemn act of his dying to the level of their social calls, their draperies, and the sturgeon they ate for dinner, was an excruciating torture for Ivan Ilyich.


It hurt to read that passage. Because I have been a party to just such a lie. Painfully uncanny... that quote recalls... exactly... my grandfather's death.

I remember the last time I saw him... my final visit to see him in Indiana. The first time I saw him I knew. I knew he was dying. But I went along with everyone's lie. The lie that with the right treatment, the right medicine, the right rest,... he would recover.

No one dared to speak of death. It was never discussed. Everyone pretended. My aunt bullied my grandfather to take his medicine, see another specialist, etc., etc.

And what did I do? I avoided him. I barely spoke to him the few days I was there. I couldnt bear to pretend in his presence and didnt dare burst the bubble of denial surrounding the family. But Im sure he knew. The lie probably tortured him too. He too probably wanted to discuss this awesome, mysterious, terrifying occurence.

I would. I would want to set things in order for myself. I would want to say goodbye. I would want to deal with the truth. Im sure he did too. How lonely he must have felt. How isolated... alone with his impending death, and everyone frantically denying it.

I was a coward then, and I regret it. I wish I would have sat down with him and talked about death.... screw whether everyone would be upset. He was a kind and wonderful man and I owed him at least that.

But instead I avoided him... unable to speak truthfully, unable to lie to him.

I will never make that mistake again. Never again will I degrade "the awesome, solemn act of dying".

......

The Big Journey

by Skald

What had induced his moral agony was that during the night, he suddenly asked himself: "What if my entire life, my entire conscious life, simply was not the real thing?"

It occured to him that what had seemed utterly inconceivable before- that he had not lived the kind of life he should have- might in fact be true. It occured to him that those scarcely perceptible impulses of his to protest what people of high rank considered good, vague impulses which he had always suppressed, might have been precisely what mattered, and all the rest not been the real thing. His official duties, his manner of life, his family, the values adhered to by people in society and in his profession-- all these might not have been the real thing. He tried to come up with a defense of these things and suddenly became aware of the insubstantiality of them all. And there was nothing left to defend.

"But if that is the case", he asked himself, "and I am taking leave of life with the awareness that I squandered all I was given and have no possibility of rectifying matters--- what then?" He lay on his back and began to review his whole life in an entirely different light.



There it is in a nutshell, the big fear that drives me. For I do not want to end up like the title character in Tolstoy's story.

What matters? Surely not the ridiculous societal games of money chasing, status, "stability", reputation, career. These are mirages. They will crumble and NO ONE WILL REMEMBER THEM. No one.

When you lay on your deathbed and think back on your life... what do you want to remember? A respectable career? A big bank account?

Will you be completely unprepared, much as Ivan Ilyich? Will you have avoided the big questions of life and death in favor of accepted trivialities?

These are the questions I ask myself. These are the questions that push me to keep questioning, keep exploring, keep wondering. I know there are no black & white answers,.... but the process of questioning and wondering is perhaps our greatest vocation. Our true calling.

How I despise the trivial Capitalist culture that brushes this aside... in favor of what? Gadgets? Cash? The latest episode of "Sex and the City"? A big SUV and a new McMansion?

"What does it all mean? Why has it happened? It's inconceivable, inconceivable that life is so senseless and disgusting. And if it really was so disgusting and senseless, why should I have to die, and die in agony? Something must be wrong. Perhaps I did not live as I should have," it suddenly occurred to him. "But how could that be when I did everything one is supposed to?"

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Off to Singapore

When you live in McMerica you feel lucky to get your 2 weeks off and go to the 'Red Neck Riviera' aka Panama City, Florida. You'll look for a familiar deep fried restaurant and think to yourself 'this is living' as you drink your coke and eat your cheese fries.

As a McMerican maybe you'll visit the next county over or perhaps another state. But you're still in 'Merica full of 'Mericans. Rarely do you visit another culture or another country. Rarely are your assumptions challenged and your stereotypes kicked in the gut.

Tomorrow I'll hop on a bus a ride the 5 hours to Singapore. I could just as easily skip up to Thailand or head over to Cambodia, down to Indonesia or over to Vietnam. Which I will do later this June/July.

Different cultures. Different folks. Different religions. Different outlooks and world views. NO Walmarts!

Ah... the beauty of living abroad.

-Matt

Foul Stinking Evil

by AJ/Skald

I found this link on Bruce Eisner's excellent site: Quotes from the Amercan Taliban

It contains direct quotes from rightwing Christians. To my mind, nothing exposes their fanatical and hate-filled worldview quite like their own words. Here we find the core of the Christian Right's "Family Values": hatred, fear, loathing, venom, and plain stupidity. These are ignorant and dangerous morons and its about time they were outed.

Why does the media play nice with them? Why aren't these sorts of quotes presented on CNN, the network news, newspapers, etc.? Why are "liberals" and "progressives" so soft on these bastards?

Read their quotes and realize... these people cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be compromised with.

There is no effective strategy but to expose them and fight them with intensity, humor, and ferocity.

......

Saturday, June 18, 2005

International Roll Call

by AJ

Well, our handy stat counter is giving me a good deal of interesting information. Most interesting to me is the international makeup of Hobopoet readers. We have readers in Malaysia, Iran, The Ivory Coast, The UK, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Canada, The United States, Germany, and Ecuador.

This brings to mind the recent Newsweek article titled "The Power of Us". The article is about the power of the internet to connect people and form, essentially, huge resevoirs of intelligence and wisdom.... a huge external brain. Such an external brain becomes particularly creative and powerful when it is comprised of diverse individuals... people from a wide range of cultures.

Tim Leary wrote about this same potential... a potential that is now actualizing. Leading this trend is the next generation of internet communication: especially blogs and free internet phones (ie. Skype). Ive experienced this power directly and personally.

Teaching English provides one small example. In addition to this blog, I manage a blog dedicated to language teaching. Its a team blog, co-written with a Japanese English teacher named Torhu.

Torhu and I started communicating via email. We both share an interest in certain unconventional teaching methods. That correspondence then grew into a team blog. Following a class, Torhu will often post about it. He'll detail what he did, what went well, and what didnt. I do the same.

Since we use similar techniques, I learn a tremendous amount from his post. Often I apply his ideas the next day in my own classes. As a result, my teaching has improved quickly... much more quickly than if I was on my own.

The internet makes this possible. None of the other teachers at my school favors my methods... so without the internet I would not have this same opportunity.

The next step for the blog is to involve students. Ive given the address to all of my classes, and Im encouraging them to leave anonymous comments, suggestions, and complaints about my teaching. Thai students are very respectful and thus unlikely to give me direct criticism. However, I have already received one long and detailed (anonymous) comment from a student... one with many good suggestions.

So the blog is helping me create an interactive class.... one in which the students help mold the instruction they receive.

Quite exciting.

............

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

by AJ

Im currently reading Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich". Its not exactly happy reading. But it is very thought provoking.

The story chronicles the main character's death process. Tolstoy himself was obsessed with death and its significance to life.

Ivan Ilyich's life had been most simple and commonplace-- and most horrifying.


That quote mirrors Thoreau's quite nicely: "The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation".

What they are both saying is that the common life, the life of routine acceptance of authority, the life of drudgery and monotony, is a horrifying and overwhelming tragedy. What makes such a life particularly tragic is that most people don't realize the horror until its too late. Only as death approaches do they ask, "what does my life mean?" Only as death approaches do they question the "common wisdom".

Only the approach of death can shake them from their complacency and obedience. Sometimes.... usually... its too late for them to do much about it. They die full of regrets.

I have witnessed this process many times.... Professionally (as a social worker working with AIDS and Cancer patients) and personally (with older friends and acquaintences). And it is indeed tragic.

I carry these people's words in my head. Many admonished me to "follow your dreams".... "travel while you are young and healthy"...."do what makes you happy".

Not one said, "be sure you have a job with good benefits". Not one said, "I wish I had paid more attention to my career". Not one said, "I wish I had made more money".

American culture, as a rule, denies the truth of death. No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to think about it. When we bury people we mummify them and enclose them in vacuum sealed coffins-- to pretend that they will stay preserved forever... to deny that they will decay.

And its not just young people. Has there ever been a more death-denying generation than the baby boomers? They are hitting their 50s and 60s but still chasing consumer gadgets. They are still chasing money and vain status symbols. They are still in massive denial.

How will these people handle the inevitable approach of death? Its not going to be pretty.

But the more important questions are:

How should you live now so that you can die peacefully, without regrets or denial?

What kind of life will give you satisfaction on your deathbed? What kind of life will be meaningful at that moment? What will seem most important then? What priorities should shape your life now?

My hunch is... a stable job with good benefits will not be among them.

......

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Freelance Naturalist

I've been a professional naturalist before- taking kids and adults hiking and teaching them about their surroundings.

I've even been a freelance writer before and gotten paid to write articles about my travel and adventure expeditions.

Yesterday I scored my first freelance naturalist job. Someone from my school told their husband who runs an environmental consultancy about the environmental education teacher.

She e-mailed me. I called him. He said he needed someone to write up a nature guide/brochure for a trail that's being revamped up in Fraser's Hill, Malaysia.

He asked if I'd be interested. I jumped on it!

Yesterday I rode up to Fraser's Hill and scoped it out. Volunteers have already began some stabilization and erosion control. We tramped through 15 foot high ginger plants, listened to a chorus of frogs and spotted a mountain pit viper curled up in the bark of a tree. Batallions of leeches inch wormed their way towards us as I realized we were in their territory. Jungle pig tracks and scrapings dotted the few flat spaces.

At 600m elevation, Frasier's Hill is in the transition zone bewteen lowland rainforest and montane rainforest (an ecotone). Thus a prime spot for birds and other fauna that might frequent both types of forest (i.e. possibly higher biodiversity than either type of forest on it's own).

The weather was cool and damp, not like KL at all.

I met with the Friend's of Frasier's Hill committee and they were glad to see me working on the project.

I'm getting paid a pretty nice sum of money to do something I love.

Now that's what I call living.

As Skald says (from Joseph Campbell) 'follow your bliss' and the rest falls into place.

So now I have a few things to get in order to go out and research the trail:

1) leech socks
2) write in the rain notebooks
3) waterproof map case
4) local flora and fauna guides
5) fuel bottle for the scooter (no fuel up in them hills)
6) funnel for the fuel bottle

I think I'll be pretty well set.

Now I could rush up there and stress out and finish it up in a day or two... but what would be the fun in that?

Half the fun is in drinking hot coffee in the brisk mountain air while the gibbons sing, drinking well earned royal stout in the evenings after a nice day on the trail... and let us not forget the actual trail mapping, photography and writing up of the 'nature notes' for the trail guide.

So I might as well stretch it out into a week or two huh?

-Matt



Sunday, June 12, 2005

Indian Pilgrimage

by Abhijit Chavan

If you have not read about this guy's amazing and inspiring journey, thought
this might interest you.

http://nipun.charityfocus.org/blog/ar/pilgrimmumbai/000701.html

It has loads of other stuff to inspire to follow your own path.

Regards,
Abhi

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Bush's Popularity Low

by Skald

Just read that Bush's popularity in the US is at a dismally low level. Amazing, after 5 years could Americans finally be getting a clue? Perhaps, but it probably won't last... stay tuned for the next big threat/crisis... (maybe Iran, maybe an attack on US soil); if there's one thing we all know, its that Americans scare easily and when they are scared they are easily controlled.

.............

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Teaching- My Way

by AJ

It boils down to autonomy, in the end. Thats the crucial difference.

I started teaching again today... in Thailand. But what a difference from the McEnglish school in Japan. At McEnglish, I was a clock puncher. I was told exactly how to teach. I had no say over my schedule. I was worked ragged. I was dictated to.

But here? I have complete autonomy in the classroom. My only mission: teach the students English and prepare them for the exams. HOW I do that is up to me. The school said, "You've got a Masters in TESOL, you are a professional, we know you know what you are doing".

What a difference that makes. In Japan I shuffled to work with dread. I stretched my classes... watched the clock, couldnt wait for the time to end. I did the minimum to get by; because I had too many classes and because I had to use methods I hated (and which, according to research, are inferior).

Here Im a bundle of energy. Ive been planning for my classes like crazy. Ive bought movies to use with each class. Ive scoured the internet for articles. Ive written lesson plans for weeks in advance. Ive written customized stories in order to teach key vocabulary. Im itching to get into the class and dazzle them.

Thats the power of autonomy. Thats the power of quality over quantity.

........

Monday, June 06, 2005

Women Hating Religions

by Skald

Women cannot be officially ordained in Thai Buddhism. Only male monks are recognized as "legitimate".

In the Christian catholic church, women cannot be priests or bishops... and a woman certainly could not be the Pope. In Islam, women cannot be imans. Most (all?) Christian protestant sects are explicitly or implicitly male-dominated.

I find all of this a bit mind boggling. Its hard for me to believe that in 2005, most people still accept the notion that men are "more spiritual" (whatever that means) than women. The fact that most women accept this is even more amazing.

Authority religions today are inherently macho-male enterprises. No wonder they are so harsh to women. No wonder they call for a wife's "obedience" (but not the husband's). No wonder they have such hatred for and fear of sex. No wonder they are opposed to abortion but support war.

While I understand the selfish reward for men, I cannot imagine why intelligent women continue to believe this nonsense. Nor can I imagine why a decently confident man would need such idiocy to prop up his ego.

.....

Friday, June 03, 2005

Jessica's Birthday

by AJ

Today is Jessica's birthday. It feels strange... to think she died three years ago. It feels like a long time, and an instant. Much has changed.

Most of the changes have been for the better. The rawness and pain has faded, but a deep sense of loss still lingers. And there is still an element of unreality for me. Because I travel so much... I forget... still unconsciously imagine that she is back in the States doing fine, living her life. That is not the case.

But time does heal. At this point, I remember mostly the good things about her. I feel tremendous gratitude for all she gave me. I remember her smile, her laughter, her energy. Much of the pain has faded.... while the positive memories intensify.

I heard good news this week. Jon, Jessica's husband, has remarried. Im happy for him as well.

I hope this is the case for all who knew Jessica... that time has healed, that pain has subsided, that loving memories have intesified....

And I hope we remember her as she would have wished to be remembered: with smiles and laughter.

...........

Motorcycles

by AJ

Rented motorbikes today and cruised around Penang.... mucho fun. There is a huge qualitative difference between driving a car and riding a motorcycle. The cycle experience is more immediate. You are in touch with the elements and the surroundings... not bubbled off from them by glass.

We cruised the road along the beach, winding along curves, up and down hills... till we found a spice plantation. We stopped at their cafe and I had spiced ice coffee. The cafe perched atop a hill that looked out to the sea. Tall trees arched overhead- they contained black monkeys with long tails, who eyed us as we eyed them.

Todd and I have talked about driving across America/C.America/S.America someday. Id thought Id do it in a van... but I now think such a trip calls for a motorcycle.

..........

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Aldous Huxley

by Skald

Here's a great Aldous Huxley link I found on Bruce Eisner's Vision Thing:

http://somaweb.org/

As many Hobopoet readers know, Huxley is one of my favorites. Check out the website and explore Huxley's life and work. Huxley was one of those rare individuals who combined mystical inclinations with a scientific/empirical approach to life.

His writing is lucid and thought provoking.

Muslim Country

by AJ

Im currently in Malaysia- a majority muslim country. And yet no one has threatened me. There are no suicide bombers. The place is quite peaceful. The people are very friendly.

Why doesn't the American media show this face of Islam?