Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When 7-11 Feels Like Home

Throughout this year, the crushing feeling of escaping back out into the world at large - to go on another crazy adventure into the unknown - has always been vivaciously pumping through my veins. And now, sitting in a bar in Seatac Airport, I can’t contain myself. I'm beyond words.

Waitress: “On that beer, would you like the 16oz or 24oz?”
Myself: “Oh, I'm going on an adventure! 24 all the way!”
In case you’re wondering, yes, this is indeed verbatim of what I said. The woman, though I think a little weirded out, smiled. And so did I.

Smiles for fucking days.

I can’t help it. I’m back in my element, back to what I discovered truly just excites the very elections and protons and neutrons in my entire body.

Last time it was a high. This time around, it’s a different sorta buzz than traveling in 2014-15. I’m different, and so is my family. Last time, I left on a sour note. My mom was in the hospital in the worst shape that I had ever seen her and I felt an overwhelming selfishness that I was running away. And run I did, because, well, sometimes, you have to let go. That situation turned out alright though, and t
his time, she’s been on a good streak, and I’ve left with good cheer. My friends and family are excited for me and that gives me strength.

It's my sister's reaction that has been the most surprising. She’s eleven now. And much more curious this time 'round the bend. More questions about safety and what I do when I travel (I told her it was for hookers and coke, so now she thinks I'm here fishing while drinking Coke). She took a lot of pictures with me and posted this on Instagram.

I'm still learning this new laptop I grabbed so I couldn't get the above screenshot to get larger, so this is what it says:

"There's my big brother going off to another adventure! I'm going to miss him so much and I am so thankful that he lived with us for one last year...We did many this [sic] together like laser tag, went to the comic book store, and more. He inspired me...Even though he is only going for a month and a half, I will never forget him! Have fun @nrogen"

Other than the last bit that makes it sound like I'm dying or something, this hit me harder than usual. I mean, I love my sister something fierce. I wrote a whole book basically on how much I love her and how she changed my life, but I never thought about it the other way around. Is that weird? I mean, I never thought, well, does she love me back? Maybe that's a dumb question (it is. And any teacher that tells you that no dumb questions exist, are lying!), but it's wormed its way into my head nonetheless. What hit me even more is the sentence about looking up to someone. Whoa. Hold the phone. She looks up to me? Really?

We had a brother/sister day like last time, but it was vastly different. Last time it was big extravaganza: going to Seattle (which, for my credit as a fucking amazing brother, I let her play the Frozen soundtrack, on REPEAT, in full, and in traffic for two and a half hours), went to the Lego exhibit at the EMP and, and, and...

This time we just went to a comic shop and bought some Korean food at a store next door. That’s all she wanted. We ended up doing a lot more that day, but when it boiled down to it, the day was all, really, really, simple. In fact, we could have just hung at my parents house watching Once Upon a Time (I am not a fan, for the record) all day long and she would have been equally as happy. I think, just because she was with me, she was good.

I’m not used to this. In fact - man, I didn’t want to jump the shark and get all deep and shit the first post, but hey, whatever. So here's the honest thoughts of a traveler who doesn't want to settle:

This is first time that I felt that I was leaving someone behind that I wanted to take with me. That being apart for too long deeply bugs and gnaws away at me.

It makes me question: is it worth it? Being away for this amount of time without the people you really care about?

Home, I’ve written, is where your heart lies, and it settles with people and places. I've accumulated a lot of homes throughout my years and with families and friends in places all over the world. I believe that home is where you make it, and it's the people that make the home. But now, I'm thinking there's even more to it than that. Home is also dependent on time.

I'll dive into this deeper later, but I'm getting the feeling that the places you call home can disappear, even when you have a) the place and b) the right people because you are missing the key ingredient: c) the time isn't the same and the moment(s) have slipped away. When I went traveling around the world, it was life changing and shattering, but no matter how many more times I travel and return, I know it will not be the same. I'm different and so are the people and the places I return to. Everything changes. And a home can either grow or disappear, or, maybe worse, grow indifferent.

Question: Can a person chase and find that home that no longer exists in the now?

Where are you, reader, happiest? Where is/are your home(s)? Think about it. Can you chase "home" if home is dependent on a time-period? Can "home" be a time in your life where everything, everybody, everyplace just “clicked”? Do you have a period of time that you wish you could go back to? Or are memories enough to permanently establish "home" for life?

Lots of questions, but you don’t have to answer them. They are the questions that buzz through me head as I travel and I wanted to share them with you. I think they make your brain twist and twirl in ways you’re not used to.

This is rambling. I’m just rattled and ecstatic and all that jazz. I'll expand on these those words later. For now, I have a plane to catch. To Canada. Then to Taiwan at 2am. Then to Bangkok. I adore travel and airports and the idea of planes and takeoffs and landings. But long - ten plus hour - plane rides? They are the worst. Geeze. Thanks Obama.

I'll arrive in the future and hang out at Starbucks for a while like the hipster I am. So, to be continued...

Now. I’m alive and exhausted. You ever drive or fly somewhere far away and you’re more exhausted than if you had run a marathon? As if the just the act of sitting there is more intensive on the body than some strenuous activity.

And how weird it is to be back to ol' BKK. My home away from home. It felt so routine getting off the airplane. I was used to the slam dunk of humidity drowning out the senses. I was used to the sea of crowds and  bombardment of signs and advertisements. And now everything seems normal. A gaggle of people walking the streets, tuk-tuks hustling and blazing by, almost sideswiping motorcycles. The colors are still as vibrant and everything is still a mix of poor and trashy and elegant and…it’s so alive, with the street vendors and chickens on the sidewalk and temples and monks with blazing orange robes and the list could go on (I've written about Thailand a lot before, so I won't elaborate). I felt good walking into a 7-11 (unlike in the US where everyone and their mother reading this guilt trip you for loving their food [save you Mical, if you’re reading this!]), because if there is one staple mark of Thailand, to me, beyond the sprawling jungles and beautiful beaches and gorgeous women, it's that. The image that has endured itself to my heart has to be the 7-11s. It's the Starbucks on every corner.

I feel a need to defend myself to readers from the US, where 7-11s are looked down upon (mostly because they give out cheap food and are primarily built in poverty-stricken areas where people can't afford healthier food and thus contribute to further health issues of those that can't afford medical care, but that's a different story and social workery rant for anther time). The 7-11s here, I'll be honest, probably have just as bad as food, but I just can't tell by any of the non-English labels. They sell pretty much everything and they are wonderful. I often wonder if they are here because of the large expat population here...

So, gotta go. Got things to do. Places to drink at. Sweat to pour out (Thailand's humidity is just plain evil). Friends (really, family) to see (Dan and Amporn, cannot wait!) and laugh with and play Shithead with (Noi, get ready to lose like a big fat loser). And a ton of little adventures to experience in-between.

So. Recap. Is home more than people and a location? Is it a timeframe as well?

Such a tease, but I don't have the answer for that.
All know is that I have plenty of 7-11s to frequent in the next couple days, and that's an answer enough for me. That and friends/family to see. That's home enough for me.

Until we meet again, friends. I'm off to sleep.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hearts and Minds

Well, damn Daniel, back at it with the backpacking. 
It's been a while, me writing here, hasn't? In fact, I'll be honest, it's been a while since I've written much of anything really. Since returning of April 2015, I've hit a creative slump with a few bursts of energy here and there. But man, when I was travelling, I was writing up a storm - weekly short stories I sent to my good friend Maria, book chapters, blogs about ants in my pants, you know, the usual. And then, I got back and all that just...stopped.

My life did the opposite of stop though. I came back and started a job where I finally made more than $24,000 a year as a pretty damn good middle school counselor (at least, I sure hope!). It was a successful year, but here I am again, on the verge of traveling to unknown destinations and feeling...well, alive. And ready to write again. So crazy ready. On that note, I'm a bit rusty, so expect the occasional word bumps along the way.

I'm feeling the high I've been longing for a while now. Also
, fair warning, there are going to be a ton of links in this post. Mostly to earlier posts from my last travels through Asia and Africa. It's both as a reminder to readers that are either really bored or have never read my writings and want context to my A.D.D. thoughts. (In the top, under history, you can go through all the past stuff as well). Either way, lots of blue underlines all over the place. Apologies all around, drinks are on me next time. 

For this post, I'm going to use it as a re-introduction to who I am, and why I do this and write about it.

This blog is about many things.

This blog is about escape. 
This blog is about learning. 
This blog is about adventures.
This blog is about eating bugs (silk worms, pictured). 
This blog is about life, both its achingly gorgeous moments and it's soul-smothering dark moments
And, most importantly, I think it's a blog about simply being a complex human being in a wonderful and sad world.

So, a breakdown of how I write these things.

I HATE boring writing. If it bores me to type it, it would bore you to read it. I'm not going to write about it unless it's either:

a) entertaining and will get a good belly laugh going, or
b) something that I find profound or meaningful (hopefully)

I write differently than most blogs you've probably read. I don't write like an English professor. I write how my brain processes things - sometimes it's an absolute mess to follow - but I think it adds authenticity that a lot of writers weed away through the editing/pleasing process for their readers. I have a distinct style and I roll with it (though sometimes I switch it up to stretch my writing muscles) that you may not like. That's okay, I won't be offended (maybe a little). I'm also a mess of contradictions. So, there's that.

I travel in an odd way. I don't plan, I don't bring books or guides and I just go wherever the wind takes me beyond the first planned day in a country. This leads to fun, trouble, and unexpected adventure.

As to the why I travel, that's a bit harder to explain. I've tried to before.

It's different this time, I think. I am not the same person I was last time I traveled. Maybe how I write and what I write about will be different. Maybe I'll talk about architecture more. Or maybe I'll just end up sharing more ironic toilet encounters. It really could be either...I haven't a clue.

How is different this time? Backstory.

When I went on my Bonderman (here's a link to an interview I gave about what that was all about), I had just finished up my Master of Social Work. I had a very good mentor in college who was, undoubtedly, my biggest cheerleader and was genuinely excited to hear my stories when I came back. Actually, excited is too tiny of a word. This was the kind of man that could inspire you to march out the door on any given day and go change the world. His eyes would sparkle - honest to God, just light up like the stars  themselves were powering them - when he talked about the things that drove the fire inside him: religions and social work and living a life for others. He was hungry to hear my stories and for me to live them. He was, to put it another way, overwhelmed with joy to see the person that would return, undoubtedly different and new and changed.

And so, I went. And I had an experience that blew my life away. When I came back, I was so ecstatic to tell him about all that I saw. I wanted to tell him about seeing bodies burn in Varanasi. I wanted to tell him about praying with a monk in Thailand. I wanted to tell him about hanging out with my friend Mikayla (who worked in the Peace Corps) in South African villages with names you had to click you tongue to pronounce. I wanted to bury him in stories.

But life attacked me. A job and bills and family and day-to-day life caught up with me and I was unable to secure a time to meet with him until just about one month ago.

So we met.

And I had come back to a man who had a terrible stroke. I'm not new to friends and family getting hit hard with health problems, but this one most certainly took the breath from me. 

The first realization: the stroke had taken a piece away from the man. 
He was reserved and much too quite. It was a struggle for him to talk. His memory seemed distant, as though already leeched away. 

The second realization: the stars were stolen from his eyes.

I sobbed all the way home and drank myself to sleep.

It was a grim reminder that what we are, as human beings, when everything is boiled down to it's very core is very, very simple. We are our memories. Without them, what are we? Who are we? The quickness and unfairness of life takes no prisoners and in a blink of an eye, sooner or later, the stars in all our eyes will die out.

But wait! I need to take a pause with all this sadness!
Another thing about me and my writing: While I never shy away from the sadness of life - of which there is an ocean of it - I always, always, ALWAYS balance it with the best, and the good, and the gorgeous tidbits of life that can bring light - however long - to a previous darkened sky. There is darkness, but there is always a flashlight.

So, back to it.

The grim reminder was, well, grim. But it reminded me why I do this. Why I keep fighting to remain in motion. The stars might be gone, in a sense, but because they burned so very bright, they left an impression on me that no stroke can ever erase. From neither myself or from him.

My mentor instilled in me an adventure for life. He instilled the stars in me. And my mission - my goal - is to bring that to others. As we can all see from the news at any given time, life can be incredibility broken. But what we don't get enough of is how in this brokenness, there is wonderful beauty in places and people that the media may say there is not. But there is, despite what the tvs or preachers or congressmen or newspapers say. My God is there beauty in things all around the world. And I want to show and share that.

I'm only going to be gone for a little bit this time, no eight month stint, but that's okay. I'll have plenty to write about and this time I won't have a large gap in my entries, as I have mini-trips planned later on this year... 

I hope you will enjoy it. I hope you can soak something in. And I hope through my writing you can come on an adventure with me. If I get a laugh or a "hey, that made me think", then I've done my job as a writer.

So here's the rough plan that I would gladly take input on. I fly in Thailand to visit Mac and Noi, the two friends I met last time around. I've missed them dearly, like I do almost all of the people I've met traveling. Because that's what happens when you're away from all that you know: you attach to what is universal across all lines of life - human relationships

From there? Nepal? Maybe Laos? Then...maybe Vietnam? I've been debating about going either there or Japan. Then again, I might do neither and go meet up with Lizbett, who is also traveling nearby and has written for this blog before (and, spoiler alert, what she wrote was amazing).

Then I come back for Round 2 - Fight! - of School Counselor Nick. And, of course, start planning my next adventure.
Before I go, a very quick aside. My friend Felice wrote to me recently and asked if I travel to escape. It took awhile to come up with an answer. I think that's true to an extent. Complacency is one of my biggest fears in life, so yeah, I do travel to escape (although that brings its own challenges).
But I also travel to do the opposite of escape - I travel to participate. To be apart of life on a bigger, more confusing, more beautiful, more tragic scale.

I travel for my mentor. 

I travel for my dad (who has been and is as encouraging as my mentor). 

I travel for those who are on different adventures in life right now and can't travel for extended periods of time and would like to see through another's eyes.

I travel because I'm escaping into adventure and participating in something more.

I travel because the writer in me is starving.

And, I think more importantly, I travel because the stars in my eyes are burning oh-so-very bright.

So I have about one week to pack and get ready to be back in my second home, Bangkok. Cheers, my friends, and see you soon.


I HATE self promotion, but I must. Writers need readers and this website isn't free, so if you like what you read, please share it with someone. Or use the little share icons at the end of every post. That would be very, very rad of you. So much thanks!