Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Underworld

by Skald

It's always been that way, and it will always be that way. There are two societies, two symbiotic cultures uneasily sharing this planet, two intertwined human structures, mirror-imaged like root and branch. The overground and the underground. The drop-outs and the cop-outs.
--Tim Leary

What I love about this quote is that it points to the universality of this dynamic. Its nothing new. Today, its anarchists and corporate servants. In the 60s it was hippies and the establishment..... in the 50s, the Beats and the squares.

This is the dance of evolution. The novelty seeking fast mutators (us) push the envelope.... the stability seeking slow mutators seek to impose order and control. Leary encouraged us not to bemoan this state... for it mirrors many natural processes.

What this says is that it has always been difficult to be a fast-mutating evolver. The overground.. the mainstream... the cops and employees and priests and politicians ALWAYS resist. No use whining about it. Accept it. (In fact, Id argue that we now live in a time period that is particularly friendly to fast mutators).

Psychedelic drugs are illegal. The anti-work philosophy is considered dangerous and disrespectable. Wandering travelers are viewed as unstable. The government is thoroughly corrupt. Most people in the mainstream are corporate servants and mindless consumers.

So what.

None of that absolves us of responsibility for our own lives. Our lives, our happiness, our evolution as human beings... are still our responsibility and no one else's. There is no choice but to accept the entire catastrophe and keep going.

Forget protest... evolve.

"Accept that you are a criminal and be prepared to act like one" --Hakim Bey


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Monday, July 25, 2005

Learning the Local Language

by AJ (also posted on Effortless Acquisition)

Ive always considered myself one of the worst language students in the world. Im terrible. I lived in Korea a year-- and speak no Korean. I lived in Japan a total of 6 months... and almost no Japanese.

Ive lived in Thailand for two years and speak only "taxi Thai". Pitiful, eh?

Yet I still believe that learning another language is very important. Without the local language, there is a permanent barrier between you and the culture which is very difficult to breach.

So I criticize myself for this (Im a language teacher after all). But lately Ive reconsidered this criticism in light of the research, knowledge, and techniques I use as a teacher. I KNOW that traditional language teaching methods are a huge failure (somewhere in the vicinity of 95% of language students never attain proficiency). As a teacher, I also know that living in the country is of little help to beginning students.. the input they receive is far too complex to be of use.

Yet for some reason I continued to follow the traditional mindset as a student. I thought just living in Korea or Thailand or Japan might be enough. Its not.. unless you are already at a mid/high intermediate level. I tried to learn Japanese from language tapes and textbooks... and totally failed. I studied a little Thai in a natural way (thus my "taxi Thai" ability) but then reverted to the "Ill absorb it from my surroundings" mentality.

But lately, Ive caught on and decided to try the methods I encourage my own English students to use. As Ive mentioned earlier, Im lazily trying to acquire a bit of Spanish. Ive been doing this, so far, simply by reading baby books and the lowest level graded readers (available from the TPR site... by Blaine Ray). This has been a very pleasant and indeed "effortless" approach.

Truth be told, Im not one of these gung ho people who can grind out studying for hours every day. I hate trying to memorize vocabulary- and grammar is even worse. In the past I made attempts to "study" Spanish and I got bored and frustrated very quickly... my attempts never lasted longer than two weeks.

But Ive been doing light reading for about a month now... very leisurely... I just do it when I have a little spare time... and Im making much better progress. Because I dont do this a lot, my progress is slow. But it is pleasant and most importantly-- I am continuing with it. Learning a language is like running a marathon... its not a sprint.

After a month of light reading, however, I realize Id like to get some oral input. I suppose I could order a "language tape" and do endless drills (ugh). But instead Ive decided to use movies. Im going to start with "The Motorcycle Diaries". I just watched it (with English subtitles) and loved it.

My plan is to imitate the movie technique... watch the movie in short scenes and play each scene two or three times. Since I won't have a teacher to explain the dialogue to me (in simpler language)... I may resort to looking up key words in a dictionary as I pause the scene.

To be sure, this will be slow work. But Im not in a hurry. And it will be much more pleasant than repeating drills from a language tape. My guess is, in the longrun it will also prove to be much more effective.

With Thai, I first need to learn the alphabet (so I can use a Thai-English dictionary).... then I will use the same technique with Thai kids shows (Bob the Builder, etc...).

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Exodus

by AJ

It seems that some Hobopoet readers are taking me seriously!! This week, Ive gotten emails from two different people in the States who are planning to move to Thailand to travel and teach. Rock on!

For the record, Im happy to give advice and help to anyone who wishes to come this way. The first thing I suggest is to read my articles (and others) on Transitions Abroad's website (in the Teach English Abroad section): Transitions Abroad Transitions Abroad is an excellent magazine and has info on working, studying, and volunteering in countries all over the world.

Besides that, check out the travel and job links on the sidebar of this website. And, of course, you can always email me.

Join the exodus. Hit the road now.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Simplicity- The Key to Freedom

by Skald

There are many arguments for living a simpler life. Environmentalists tell us of the reduced impact to the Earth. Mystics tell us of the spiritual benefits.

But I prefer to accent the rockbottom, selfish, practical benefit: Simplicity is the key to freedom. Through simplicity, almost anyone can live a magnificent, free, interesting, and adventurous life.

I tire of hearing the sad excuses and protestations. Many write me and say things such as, "It sounds great, but who can afford to travel and live free for long periods of time?"

These folks are convinced that freedom comes only after decades of toil and wage slavery. They call this dubious freedom "retirement"..... but I prefer to call it by more brutally honest names: "pipe dream", "rationalization", "delusion".

Some think they must slave away at a high paying job in order to earn the right to travel long term. But as Ralf Potts notes, anyone can work as a toilet cleaner and save enough to afford freedom and travel.

The key is simplicity. While there are many definitions, perhaps the most practical is: living below your means. If you rake in six figures, live off of five. If you make 12,000 a year, live off of 9000.

Simplicity is what set me free financially. It has allowed me to fund extended trips in India, Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, and the US. It enabled me to live three straight years without a full time job. Its let me choose jobs on my terms- has freed me from dependence and desperation.

Many think they must earn more, more, more and slave longer, longer, longer. But living simply is a much faster, much more efficient, and much more effective means of winning freedom.

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Friday, July 15, 2005

Off the Beaten Path

by AJ

There are great advantages to leaving the tourist path. By doing so, you gain a closer encounter with the people of the country you are visiting. Also, you leave more room for the unplanned and unexpected. Generally I love this.

Last weekend my friends and I struck off into Thai-only sections of Kanchanaburi province with mixed results. We saw a lot of beautiful scenery.

There were problems, however. I forgot one of my golden rules of travel: avoid travel with large groups. Its nearly impossible to please everyone in a large group. Decision making becomes slow, difficult, and often frustrating. I find that four people is the absolute maximum I can travel with... and only if all four people are highly compatible and very laid back. We had six in our group-- and at least two were far from being "laid back".

So through torturous and inefficient decision making (the loudest and most demanding decide), we ended up on a houseboat on a river in the middle of nowhere. This seemed to be a great decision at first. The river and surrounding rainforest were beautiful. I imagined a quiet weekend in nature-- recharging my mental batteries.

Then the motorboats kicked in. From 7am to 10 pm.... a constant parade of extremely loud motorboats cruised the river. They were so loud that we had to stop all conversation every time they passed... wait until the noise died down until we could resume our chat.

So rather than a quiet and relaxing weekend in the jungle, I spent two days in an environment even noisier than Bangkok (before this trip, I couldnt imagine a noiser place than Bangkok).

If Id been on an extended journey this would not have been much of a problem. Thats what I love about traveling for long periods of time... if things are bad, you just move on.

But I suppose I was in vacation mode... just wanting a couple of days of relaxation before returning to work. I learned that a short weekend excursion is not necessarily the best time to head off into uncharted territory.

I also learned that I prefer longer trips.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Reading and Travel

by Skald

I often find that reading and travel are an ideal combination. Specifically, I find that reading helps me shift to a more "intentional" mindset. Reading encourages me to examine my inner and outer travels and mine them for significance.

For example, when travelling in India the first time I read many books about India. Some prefer to read up on a country BEFORE travelling there... but I find its more powerful to do this WHILE travelling.

In India I read India: A Million Mutinies Now, No Full Stops In India, Midnight's Children, The Inscrutable Americans, Karma Cola, and several other books on the country. I found the experience of reading these books while in-country to be very thought-provoking. I didnt have to use guesswork... I could easily imagine the scenes the author's described.

I also gained deeper insights into India and its culture. I experienced my travels much differently as a result. I observed and thought about the Indian religions and social system. I considered its history. I compared these to my American experiences and my American prejudices.

I highly recommend this approach. Next trip, hold off on reading about the country until you get there.... then read like crazy.

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Huxley Quote

by Skald

The previous Huxley quote conjures a similar Buddhist saying, "All things in moderation, including moderation". Moderation is great, most of the time. But we also need extremes. We need to push the envelope. We need to be challenged.

We need what Maslow and others call "peak experiences".... to go beyond the pale routine of daily life. We need to experience higher and deeper levels of consciousness. We need to see new places, try new things,.... We need the weird and mysterious and unexplainable.

Travel, both inner and outer, is the means to get there. The psychonaut and the pilgrim are very similar. The arc of their journeys is similar. Oftentimes, they are one in the same person- simultaneously exploring the inner and outer realms.

In the end, "all travel is inner travel".

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Huxley

Richard Jason recently sent me this quote from Aldous Huxley.... great words to live by:

I want God, I want poetry
I want danger, I want freedom
I want goodness, I want sin
~Aldous Huxley~

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Part Time Work Abroad

by AJ

I'll be honest. Many full time jobs abroad (and at home) are terrible. My first teaching job, in Korea, was horrible. The school was sleazy. The hours were long. I hated the job. And as a result, I got a very bad impression of Korea.

My two jobs in Japan were bad too. They were better than the Korean job, but not pleasant. Luckily, my life outside of work was good and so I have a very good overall feeling for the country. But I hate working there.

The point is, while living and working abroad seems, and certainly can be, romantic and adventurous... its also possible that such an experience will be gruelling, boring, monotonous, stressful, and generally terrible.

But there is an excellent way to bypass this-- part time work. With a part time job, you are not subjected to the same gruelling hours. You have time to explore the country and settle into your life. Even if the job is bad, its bad for a much shorter time and thus effects the rest of your life less.

Of course, this is not an option for those needing or wanting to save lots of money. But for those who are focused on having an interesting and rewarding cultural encounter... part time work abroad is an excellent strategy.

I love my current teaching position in Thailand. While the students and staff are great... the main reason is that my hours are reasonable. Im officially employed full time, but my schedule is very relaxed. As a result I have time and energy to both enjoy the rest of my life and plan my classes well. Therefore, both are rewarding.

If you are thinking of living and working abroad, consider the part time option.

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

More Working Abroad

I'll have to agree with Skald about working in a foreign country. I left the US about 4 years ago with a small savings, my degree and experience, a Malaysian fiance and most importantly a sense of adventure and confidence that everything would fall into place and come together somehow! It was the best thing I've ever done!

Within a month I had part time work and once I was 'in' the part-time job offers kept coming. That eventually led to full time work at a US salary with 1/4 the living expense!

Since then I've visited 5 different countries, lived and worked in 2 different countries, published travel articles, expanded my own comfort zone, bashed some stereotypes, ate different foods, drank a zillion beers and gotten used to being the only whitey around for miles at most functions.

The best advice I can offer is this: get certified to teach something.. either English, a suibject (math, science, history) or coach a sport! It's the simplest was to get a job in a foregin country. One of my first jobs was teaching 'learn to swim' and I have a friend here who makes a living strictly teaching swimming lessons!

The bottom line is to open up, get creative at inventing a means of supporting yourself (i.e. swimming lessons or some other method) and get out and explore!

By the way, I don't really consider teaching work.. like Skald I abhor work and mindless jobs. The reality is that we do have to eat and have shelter... but I NEVER dread going into school. The way I see it is that I get paid to hang out with kids and chat about science!

-Matt




Working Abroad

by AJ

Occasionally someone will remark, after reading my exhortations for longterm travel, "Easy to say but who can afford that". Well, most people.... if you are willing to work and travel at the same time.

Of course, working abroad is not all fun. Ive had many miserable jobs (see entries from Hiroshima). But working in another country does provide a deeper encounter than does simple tourism. When you work you get into the local rhythms. You live more as the local people live and therefore get a feel for what life is like in that country.

Of course, working also allows you to stay longer and thus learn more. You might pick up a little of the language. You make friends. You interact with coworkers.

Those hoping to live a Hobopoet life abroad, therefore, might consider a stint of work. I dont like work as a general rule.... but if you gotta make money anyway, why not explore a new country and culture while you do it?

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Friday, July 01, 2005

Language Trauma

by AJ

We Americans are, as a rule, terrible language students. But dont worry, this isnt another criticism of the good ole USA. The truth is, language education in America sucks. But it also sucks in Korea, Japan, Thailand, and most countries of the world. In these other countries, the students plod along anyway because they must. Many need English in order to get into a university or to get a job.

But Americans dont have the same compelling need for another language. We can do quite well with English only. Many of us would love to learn another language... but after a couple of years of painful language classes, most of us give up.

What a shame... and so unnecessary. If different methods were used, we would learn more effectively and would generally enjoy the process. We wouldnt study grammar rules. We wouldnt memorize vocabulary lists. We wouldnt translate.

We would learn through actions, stories, games, movies, and pleasure reading. We would, through these means, acquire authentic and useful language and be able to use and understand it.

Its simply not fair to blame American (or other) students for the vast foreign language failure. It is the schools and teachers who are at fault.

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