Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Living with Monks

As I said in my last post, John and I heard about a Monastery we could stay at. So knowing nothing more than it's name (and an incorrect pronunciation at that) we boarded the local bus and went bouncing through the mountains to Wat Tam Wua. I was expecting a small gathering of huts around a temple and some stoic monks who grudgingly allow westerners to live at the monastery. It was just about the opposite.
First of all, the property was amazing. I think there may only be a handful of more beautiful monasteries in the world. When we were riding the bus and came into its valley, I thought, "Wow, this is the prettiest valley I've seen in all of Thailand." And then the bus came to a stop, and the driver yelled, "Wat Tam Wua." One of the other westerners staying there said that it seemed more like a Buddhist spa rather than a Buddhist Monastery. Though a monastery it surely was, and for four days, we followed the rules. The structure wasn't as intense as some retreats, but there was still almost five hours of daily meditation, only two meals a day, and an hour of chore work on the property. There were three resident monks, and they were so happy and easy going that it would have been hard to get annoyed at anything in their presence. Staying there, it was good to experience some structure--something my life has been utterly lacking for the last three months. It wasn't so structured that it felt like a prison, but it was structured enough to give the sense of free time. It actually gave an interesting perspective on free time. Usually free time is between periods of work when you can do nothing. At the monastery, free time was between periods of doing nothing when you could do something.



Walking in

The property

Sunrise in the valley

Meditation cave

John

The main meditation room

Where I did yoga

Where we slept

The morning we left

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bharma Dums


Miles said that our lifestyle here reminds him of contemporary versions of Jack Kerouac's characters in The Dharma Bums. I have to agree with him. We wake up each morning with yoga, chi gong, and meditation, then have breakfast of oatmeal and oolong tea. During the day we take dips in the river, visit local temples, or sit around and read anything from science fiction to eastern philosophy. In the evening we play the card game hearts where the winner wins a free beer from the three losers. We eat out mostly, but we've managed to cook a few meals using market ingredients and our electric kettle to boil potatoes.
The night life here is interesting. If you visit the main walking street anytime up to 10 p.m. it's filled with hundreds of strolling Thais and Westerners, but go out at 10:30 and everyone has somehow vanished. Most go home, but the few that stay out go to two places: first, a dive bar called Bee Bop that has live music until closing time at 1 a.m., at which point everyone migrates to a open air bar called Bamboo that's complete with fire pits to gather 'round. Bamboo Bar is somehow exempt from closing time laws and lets people mingle 'till the roosters are crowing (which isn't actually a valid indication of time, because I've heard roosters cock-a-doodle-doing at every hour of the day and night.)

Consistent with our Bharma Dum lifestyle, John and I both got tattoos of Buddhist symbols. Mine is the knot of eternity on my wrist; his is the syllable "hum" on his chest. I won't presume to know John's full explanation for his tattoo, but I do know mine: The knot of eternity means several things in different cultures, but it commonly represents the cycle of birth death and change, and also the karmic connectedness of the world. I had the idea for this tattoo tucked safely away in my mind back when I got my first tattoo "timshel" on my right wrist. Getting the knot on my left completes the concept of the reminder that I wanted to keep in plain sight all the time. "Timshel" means that my path is open--my choices and perceptions are up to me--but the knot reminds me that my path is also intertwined with countless others and that change is inevitable. After getting two tattoos now, I can see how people become addicted to them and just want more, but as far as I'm concerned right now, I'm done... but hey, Timshel.

Mine

John's (He's not angry, he's just chewing a cracker)


In other news, the fellowship of me and Miles has been broken. For two and a half months we haven't spent a night in separate rooms or spent more than a few hours apart, but today, we parted ways. He hitched a ride to a farm a few kilometers out of town to work and live for the next week. Mine and John's plan is to take the bus up to a monastery we heard foreigners can stay at for days at a time. Today's parting wasn't too emotional, because we have plans to meet back up in Pai in five days.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Once upon a time in Pai

Yes, we got a guitar!
video

Since the turn of the month, we've been traveling as a five-some: Miles, John, Tom (John's brother), Ben (Tom's friend), and me. WE stayed a few days in Bangkok, a few days in Lampang, a few days in Chiang Mai, and now we're in Pai. Five is a big number to travel with, but it's working out great so far. Miles and I needed the extra company. Our conversations were getting short from so much familiarity, and we were tiring of our two-person card game.
After 10 days of hopping from place to place, we were all ready to settle down somewhere, and our place of settlement is a mountain town called Pai that is just a short drive away from the Burmese border. It's a touristy place, but instead western tourists, it's a vacation mecca for Thai and other Asians. In this way we feel exempt from the guilt a tourist may feel for invading a foreign place. It's the perfect place to take it slow in, and I was ready to take things slower.
It seems counterintuitive, but traveling is my least favorite part of traveling. Whenever we move from place to place, whatever peace I may have established in one place has to be regathered in another. I'm reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance right now, and at one point he says, "To travel is better than to arrive." I only agree sometimes. I've been on the move for nearly three months now, and now whenever I get into a vehicle of some kind I just stare our the window as my mind becomes a vast thoughtscape covering all points in space and time. I think about things done and things to do over the span of years, but when I was settled in an area all I would think about was what to do in a given day. Some regular readers may notice the hypocrisy between this post and the last. In the last post I was harping on how I had never felt "out" of a moment and how calm my mind is. I'll qualify the last post if it wasn't clear: I do feel calm here, but that's not to say that my mind doesn't have times where it's a blizzard of activity. Somehow though, even when I'm staring out a car window with my mind a million miles away, I still feel "in" whatever I'm doing--all the thoughts are somehow necessary parts of that moment. Even so, it's nice to settle down with our five-some.
But wait, I almost forget to mention our sixth companion: an electric water kettle. We bought a kettle in Lampang for Chad's apartment to brew tea and such, but we decided to take it with us when we traveled on. We're probably the only backpackers in Asia carrying our own electric kettle. It's a cumbersome thing to carry, but it probably gets used more than any other single item. We make tea two to three times a day, make oatmeal, boil eggs, make saline water for sinus flushes, and we're even thinking of cooking potatoes in it. Bringing it from place to place is like bringing a little piece of home along with you.

In the hills above Pai


He's stoked to be here.


Our sixth companion

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Within or Without

For several years I've been aware of a phenomenon where I feel either "in" a moment or scene or not. The best example I can think of is sometimes I'll be driving through beautiful country, but it doesn't feel like I'm experiencing the view enough by just sitting in a car. I feel as though I need to frolic or stroll through the scene to truly be "in" it. I think it's the "going somewhere" that taints the experience. Going somewhere implies starting and end points and reasons for going between the two. But this feeling isn't exclusive to riding in cars. I can be sitting atop a rock with a meadow stretching before me with nowhere else I need to be, and sometimes that still isn't enough. I think that withdrawn feeling comes from extraneous thoughts about destinations or obligations. I would think that while traveling I would constantly be worried about such things, but to my own surprise, when I thought about this feeling that I know so well, it occurred to me that I haven't had it once on this trip. I think it takes a calm mind to have that "in" feeling, and though it hasn't been apparent to me until now, my mind must be stiller than normal to not have this problem. I'm glad I realized this, but I'm not going to dwell on it anymore, lest it pull me out of something.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Poetic Locomotion

What was now, is now has been
And what's to be is soon enough then.
All that's coming and going is but a dream,
so that all that matters is the now in between.

PLAY ME!
video

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Blessings and Flip Flops

We got blessed on Tuesday. We visited a temple and got shown around by a monk. He took us back to his room where we prayed and then got his blessing and bracelets for good luck. The good luck had a short expiration date, however, because that night Miles and I went to another moon party (half moon this time) and we BOTH had our flipflops stolen. This time I was paranoid about keeping my footwear, so we took extra care in picking our hiding spot. We trudged off into the woods and stowed them behind a tree under some palm fronds. We had to make a mental map, remembering landmarks and such to make sure we'd be able to find our way back. Again, when light began creeping in over the horizon, we went back to our hiding spot found nothing there but scattered palm fronds. I'm beginning to lose my faith in footwear here. In fact, we both went a day and a half before we broke down and bought new sandals, because our feet were getting too raw and dirty for our liking.

Losing my shoes wasn't enough to cloud all my good memories from that night. One stands out to me of dancing with a big, bear-like man. I saw him come out of the crowd like a yeti emerging from the woods. When we saw each other, we had a sort of understanding and started dancing with all our might. I had never danced with such abandon. The crowd even stood back a little both to give us enough room and for their own safety. When we were through, we both hollered and embraced one another in bear hugs, celebrating our new brotherhood.

Miles and I are back in Bangkok now to pick John up from the airport. It's comfortable coming back to the same place twice, even if it is Bangkok.
Happy Thanksgiving, by the way.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Plunges


My favorite part of a dive into water is the rise back to the surface. It starts after plunging down to the trough of the dive, and I give my upraised arms one breast stroke to my sides to send my arced body upwards. In those few feet of water, I remain still as water flows over me and washes the dirt from the day, and the clutter from my mind. I feel like could be there forever, perpetually floating to the surface, and I could be content. But breaking the surface is inevitable, and it makes the fleeting rise from the depths all the more special.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Buckets and flipflops

Fucking Cheap Bucket

So they have these things called buckets here. You all probably think you already know what a bucket is, but in Thailand, the word carries extra meaning. In the West, if someone was like, "Hey, man. Do you wanna split a bucket?" You'd be all, "I have no idea what you're talking about." But here, people will say, "Yeah, man!" because here a bucket is a small plastic pale filled with ice, a flask of liquor, a can of soda, and a Red Bull, thus creating a utilitarian cocktail to go. They're the unofficial national beverage. Beach fronts or streets known for their night life are filled with vendors selling the exact same buckets for the exact same prices, and all you have to go on to choose a seller is the vendors' decorations and the volume of their voice. Beers can get expensive here, so for the frugal traveler, buckets are the popular, economical choice.
My flipflops got stolen here on a night when Miles and I were indulging in the national beverage. As I've said before, the island we're on is famous for full moon parties, but for those of us on the other side of the lunar cycle, they also throw black moon parties with the same spirit. After dinner and a bucket or two, we arrived at the party around 1 a.m. (things get started really late here), and since the dancing was on the beach, we hid our sandals to enjoy the night barefoot. Our hiding spot was pretty decent. When I tucked them behind an out of the way bungalow, the thought didn't even enter my mine: "Is this hiding spot good enough?" I had total faith that I would be leaving the party with footwear. But alas, I was wrong. We danced the whole night without a single worry, but when light began creeping in from the east, we went to get our flipflops, but only found one pair--Miles' pair. The real bummer is that I really liked my flipflops. I sent my tennis shoes home. because I was so confident in the comfort of my flipflops. And Miles didn't really like his flipflops. He was even thinking of buying a new pair here, but his were the flipflops that weren't stolen. I've already got a new pair. They're alright, but I take them off half the time, because my bare feet are just as comfortable. I'm over it now. It's all just a part of travelling.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Island Hops and Hopes




The Thai islands are both not what we expected, and exactly as we expected. They're very beautiful and very crowded. We weren't prepared for how crowded they actually are. In the land of understatements, to call the tourist path here "beaten," is king. Our plan was to rent climbing shoes in Railay, and "climb every day for the next two weeks." What actually happpened is that I got ill again, we never went climbing, and then left Railay after three nights. We did, however, meet two Coloradoans there, and Miles and I decided people from Colorado are pretty cool. There also must be some sort of unexplained attraction between Coloradoans, because without making any plans, we kept running into this couple for several days in unlikely places.

After Railay, we went to Koh Phi Phi pretty much because it's obligatory for tourists to stop there. It was stunning. Both in landscapes and the sheer number of foreigners in such a small space. Everything is done in excess there: partying, drinking, tattooing. The girl from Colorado saw my tattoo and asked if I got it here. I felt a sense of revulsion at the idea and gave her a stern, "No, I got this in America!" I'm painting a grim portrait of these places, but it's actually easy to have a good time here. On Koh Phi Phi, Miles and I rented a kayak and went around one side of the island. The currents were in our favor, so we were able to rest whenever we liked, and we still drifted by the limestone cliffs toward our destination. We made landfall on the opposite side of the isthmus from where we rented the kayak, so we hired a cart pusher to push our kayak on his cart to the other side. That night we were going to go out at one of the beach parties, but I still wasn't feeling well, so I went to bed and left the partying up to Miles.
Now we're on Koh Phangan, where we actually plan to stay for the 10 days until we pick John up in Bangkok. I'm feeling good about this island. I'm feeling the best about this place since we left Lake Toba and Pulau Weh in Sumatra. It's a big island with lots of wilderness in the middle, and the city of Haad Rin, which is famous (or infamous?) for the full moon parties. We won't be here for a full moon, but that makes little difference here, because they also have half moon, and black moon parties (the black moon is tomorrow night). Basically they're partying all the time. This would normally wear us down, but we have a place at the very tip of the penninsula from where it's dark, quiet, and you can't even see any signs of civilization. From our secluded retreat, we can decide if and when we want to partake in the island's offerings. I've been traveling for nearly two months now, and I embrace any place that can feel something like a home.

Railay


Two Thais fishing up the beach from where we're staying. Over that rocky bit in the background is Haad Rin.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tick on my Butt


Yup, I got a tick on my butt. I first noticed it on the plane ride from Sumatra to Kuala Lumpur as a sore spot on my left check. Miles confirmed it for me, and then once we knew how, he removed it too. At first we were going to burn it off with a smoldering piece of incense, but then we decided to read up on it first. After looking at some tutorials of how to remove ticks from dogs, we learned that it's best to just use tweezers, so tweezers we bought and then went to work. Miles spent several minutes face-to-cheek, examining and then tugging at the tick that didn't want to let go. Even now, after having it out for a day, the spot where it dwelt is still as sore as if I still carried it with me.

We've spent three days in Kuala Lumpur. This city is famous for shopping, and I can't actually believe how many malls this city can support. There are major malls right across the street from other major malls. Some of them are 10 stories high. There were a few things we each needed to buy, but even more things we wanted to send home. We sent a 7 kilo box of miscellanea home on the slow boat for about $30. Now our packs are lighter than ever as we head back up to Thailand tonight on the night train. We're going to a beach town called Rai Leh, which is famous for its rock climbing. There are huge limestone cliffs on the mainland, and monoliths of rock shooting up from the sea. Though we're several months out of practice, Miles and I are going to get some shoes and climb every day for the next two weeks.



Including the driver, we fit four on a motorcycle taxi.

One of the crazy malls.

Tonight will make the third night we'll have eaten at this restaurant where you eat with your hands off a banana leaf.


We were very tired from a long day of walking.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Time Keepers


A jungly waterfall on Pulau Weh

Of water we have five gallons; of money we have two million rupiah; of reading material we have 400 pages. We've decided that when the first one of our three assets runs out, we'll leave this island. We've toured the major tourists spots and partaken in the popular activities, so now we're living the lives of the locals. Actually we probably look hasty compared to the locals, what with our book reading and frequent swimming. I'm not all that sure what the locals do here. The only activity I can catch them in the act of is lounging, mostly. I have seen them doing laundry too, and motoring to and fro in their little boats. But lounging is their principal past time. Miles and I are mere amateurs at the sport. After an hour or two of it I get restless and go swimming, or walk from the bungalow forest to the small village to have tea. We're becoming familiar faces in the small crowd of locals and tourists. There are only 3 restaurants we go to, and we're greeted as regulars at them all. We've already been here long enough to see groups of tourists come and go while we remain. But at the same time there are people who have lived this spartan life for months or years. Some people come here for months at a time, and only leave to go earn money in a wealthier country, only to come back here. I couldn't do that. At least I don't think I could--It would take some practice. Or rather I'd have to unlearn some of the work ethic from college. Already, though, I can feel that slow change. Today passed with surprising swiftness, yet when people asked what I did today, I struggled to name more than two things: swimming and reading. After this we're flying to Kuala Lumpur. I'm afraid I may melt under the stress of a big city, but at the same time I think I'll be ready for a change of pace.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sonnet #1


The bungalow in question

Near latitude zero, on an island in the sea;
there, by the shoreline, our bungalow hangs.
Planning our days means letting things be,
and our hearts are seldom filled with pangs.
Here, the days pass slowly, but not idley
cause there's much swimming and reading to be done.
For a freshwater shower, we all wish mildly,
but with the passage of time, it'll eventually come.
And so we sit on our patio as the world unravels
patiently awaiting our next worldly travels.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New experiences


A taxi ride across Medan, my least favorite city in the whole wide world.

I got diarrhea. There were the first hints of it a few mornings ago, but then I was fine throughout the day. Then after we were done with dinner and talking around the table with some fellow travelers, it came knocking. Conversation was dying down to begin with, but I didn't feel that I had the time to leave politely, so I simply asked for the key to the room and hurried back. I spent the whole night with alarms like that. I kept drinking fluids, and they kept finding the path of least resistance through my body. I didn't feel sick, so it was only an inconvenience of having to sit on a toilet so much. I was worried, however, because the following day we had more than 20 hours of travel planned. In the morning, I drank only enough to slake my thirst, and ate only bananas and crackers to nourish me for the day's journey. And what a journey it was. We were heading from an inland lake to an island on the very northern tip of Sumatra. It took a ferry ride, followed by a taxi, local bus, taxi, motorcycle taxi, mini-bus, large night bus, taxi, ferry, and one last taxi. Somehow, I didn't have to use the bathroom until the following morning, but I used it well.
We've now been in our island paradise for a few days now. Life is simple here. We either read, snorkle, or eat--all three are amazing here. We have a rickety bugalow overhanging the shore, from where we can peer into the shallow sea and see schools of fish floating by. Our bathroom is a small shack in the rear, and our toilet is a hole in the floor connected to a pipe down to the rocks. Like I said, life is simple here. There is electricty, but only half the time, but you only notice its absence when you need things like the internet. Chad has to go back to Thailand in a couple days, but Miles and I don't know how long we'll stay.


Our patio

Friday, October 23, 2009

News from Sumatra

The other day we ferried from Malaysia to Sumatra. On the ferry ride, I struck up a conversation with an Irish guy who had been though Medan, the port city, several times. He gave me a rundown on many snags and scams to look out for as soon as we got off the bus. I nodded my head, thinking I was absorbing it all, but then I seemed to forget it as soon as we left customs. Outside the building we were accosted by taxi drivers like I never had been before. You may think that their over-zealous pestering would only dissuade tourists from accepting their services. Wrong. They actually do wear you down, and we ended up taking a ride from one of them. Before we knew it, we were being taken to a place we didn't want to go, and forced into a ride we didn't want. It was only in the midst of it that I realized that all of the Irish guy's warnings had come true. It was a stressful few hours, but we eventually were able to get what we wanted out of the swindlers and the swindlers were able to get what they wanted out of us.
We made it to a place called Lake Toba. It's a very large volcanic lake, and in the middle is a very large island. Some 20 years ago, this place was a thriving tourist attraction, but earthquakes, tsunamis, and civil unrest have reduced tourism to a trickle, which has rendered this place a thriving tourist attraction, without the tourist. It's like a backpackers' ghost town. There are vacant beach front hotels, stores open late into the night without customers, and restaurants that are dying to cook anybody a meal. The only tourists there are at this place band together like survivors of the Apocalypse. Last night we went to a nice bar overlooking the lake, and the 5 of us were the only patrons during the 2 hours we stayed there. Today, with the same group and one more, we rented motorbikes and cruised across the island. We took the beaten road over the middle of the island and got a glimpse of how the average Sumatran lives. It is experiences like today that give me fuel to travel for weeks.
Tomorrow is my birthday here. We're going to celebrate it in the ghost town with our new international friends by taking over the local disco.

I have some good photos and video from this place, but these computers can't handle them. I'll add them when I can, because you want to see them, trust me. One of the photos is of a small island on a small lake, which is on a bigger island on a bigger lake, which is on an even bigger island, in the ocean.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

That fabled city was quite a shock,
so we hailed a taxi and left Bangkok.
We boarded a plane and soared over Asia;
two hours later, and we're in Malaysia

Because Chad is on break from his English teaching job, Miles and I are willingly going to places that he has heard about and wanted to visit. After just a couple days in Bangkok, we flew to an island in Malaysia named Penang, which is renowned for its food. It didn't disappoint; we think that we've had the best Indian food here--and Chad has been to India. Just as remarkable as the food (though in entirely different ways) is the guest house we're staying in. We're renting a room in a dilapidated building that has 20 foot ceilings and mice living in the walls. The innkeepers (there are two or three of them) laze their days away in the dark lobby watching Malaysian TV, with their shirts off and bellies out. At night they recline on the couch, counter or chair and sleep like logs 'till after dawn. One door down the hall from us is a Chinese woman who lives in the hotel with her 11-year-old son (whose birthday was today, allegedly). She subsists off of selling her artwork, and today she came by trying to make a sale to pay for bottled water. We bought two bookmarks for two ringets apiece, which comes to less than two dollars. The three of us like the vibe on this island. We were only in Bangkok for two days, but it was already time to have a break from the constant harassing from street vendors. Though there are stores and vendors everywhere here, we haven't been hassled once, and they are just as kind if you do choose to buy something.
Tomorrow we have ferry tickets to Sumatra. Chad has researched some places to go, and then he's going to leave Miles and me to do whatever. We might find a place to settle down for a little while and take things at a leisurely pace. We'll see.

As promised, here are some photos for visual learners.


We went to local mosque and ended up getting a tour and lesson in Islam by this guy.

We rented bikes on in Malaysia. It's definitely the way to get around. Miles and I are going to try to buy two when we get back to Thailand.

Some local flora

Chinese buffet for breakfast

The view from our guesthouse window

Our guest house room: one single bed, and a double on the floor.

Khao San Road in Bangkok. This place was crazy. We were buying fresh fruit juice.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"I can't believe it's now already"

In the spirit of reading Lord of the Rings, here is a short poem (or song, if you wish) that I wrote:

Chased the sunset to the other side;
an ocean traversed in a flying stride.
To a foreign city where my travels begin
and I can live like a kid again.

So, we made it. We stepped out of the airport around 1:45 am, and had no idea what to do. We had Chad's cell phone number, but we couldn't figure out how to use the phones in the airport, so we just took a 300 baht taxi (about $10) into the city. We got dropped off at the downtown train station and still had no idea what to do. Eventually a helpful--and opportunistic--cab driver helped us use a pay phone to get a hold of Chad. Another 300 baht cab ride later, and we were meeting him in front of a Burger Kind near our guest house at 3:00 am. Miles and I weren't tired, and Chad was already inebriated, so we dropped off our bags and went out for beers. We ended up walking the streets until roosters were crowing and the sky was turning blue. In those early hours, we talked with strangers, got propositioned by Thai hookers, and I had my crotch grabbed by a he-woman. We got to bed by 6:30, and the three of us slept like the dead until after noon.
Here are some initial impressions:
-I like the smell here, and even the heat in a way.
-The people are the friendliest I've ever seen.
-The women are beautiful (even some of the ones that are actually men).
-Everything is cheap.
-The food is delicious and there's fruit everywhere.
-It's great seeing Chad, and we'd be lost without him.

When we were in L.A., Miles said, "I can't believe it's now already." That's exactly how it feels. I'll post some photos of this crazy place later.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Goss House goes to the beach

This is the first time we've had the gang at the beach. We knew what to do; we played paddle ball, went body surfing (during the day and at night), and even went regular surfing. Here are some photos from the weekend.

Chillin' in OB

Packing the car was a challenge. John didn't fit.

Assessing the waves

A few San Diego locals

Our hotel room at the Ocean Inn. Two of these rooms slept 11.

Remnants from the previous evenings "simpler times."

The coastline of Encinitas

Friday, October 9, 2009

An interesting encounter

Where it all went down


I had an interesting experience the other day in a park in Riverside. It went like this:
I was sitting on a bench overlooking a lake, and a skinny, timid-looking Hispanic man came up to me me and asked for the time. I told him, but he looked as though the time made no difference to him and he milled about for a moment.
"What are you doing in the park?" He asked, kind of swaying on his feet, but not drunkenly.
"Just relaxing--killing time." Pause. "And yourself?"
"Same, just relaxing." Pause. "Hey, I'm gonna go grab my beer, is it alright if I sit with you for a bit?"
"Yeah, sure."
He left and came back with his tall can of Budweiser wrapped in a paper bag. I introduced myself, and he introduced himself. His name was Mondo. We shot the breeze for a bit. I told him what I was doing in Riverside and about my upcoming travels. Pretty much all I got from him, was that his name was Mondo and that he was from a neighboring town called Corona. We sat for a bit, and a few ducks paddled up to us.
"You know," I said, "I'd like to believe that these ducks came over just to be friendly, but really all they want is to be fed."
"Yeah, they want benefits," Mondo said. "Even ducks want friends with benefits."
"Ha. And you know, the truth is that if I had some bready thing in my bag, I'd probably give it to them."
We didn't have any food, and the ducks eventually paddled away, quacking. Mondo and I shot the breeze a bit longer. I told him about Colorado weather, and a little about Miles' job, and then Mondo asks:
"Do you drink?"
"Yeah," I replied.
"Do you smoke weed?"
"Yeah."
"Do you party?
"Um, what do you mean by 'party'?" I asked.
"Hey, it's alright if you do, man--I do."
"No, I haven't ever partied."
He digested that for a moment and then asked, "Are you single? Married?"
"I'm single. I'll be traveling for awhile, so it's probably best that I don't have someone back home." Pause. "And yourself?"
"I'm single--I'm single..." Mondo replied, "but I like to play. Do you like to play?"
"Um... Yeah?" I replied, not liking where this was going.
"That's actually why I came here today," he said. "Is that why you're here?"
"Nope," I said. "Just killing time."
We were silent for a while, and then Mondo, wanting to change the subject, eventually asked: "So, what are you going to be doing in Thailand, man?"
I told him again, but when I felt like enough polite conversation had passed, I excused myself.

I actually admired the guy's courage. He knew what he wanted, and he went out there to get it. I have trouble approaching girls, and my intentions are much more innocent and socially acceptable than Mondo's.

Don't believe their lies

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Where Miles lives

Driving down the dirt road, you notice that all the houses are fenced in. It's chain-link, however, not 6-foot planks, so the view is open into people's yards. Looking at their properties you may see derelict cars, bikes with flat tires, chicken coops, or overgrown gardens. As you drive through the neighborhood, barking dogs salute you along the fences--two, three, four, or more dogs to every house. Miles' host house fits right in with the neighborhood trend. When he pulls his car up, dogs come up to the fence and wag their whole bodies as he unloads his things.
First Miles usually goes inside to fix dinner. The house has a very lived-in look about it--not in that it's messy, but rather that the passage of time has filled it to capacity with an eclectic mix of sofas, rugs, paintings, Buddha statues, tables, chairs, books, vases, and a zillion other things. Miles cooks dinner using one-of-a-kind dishware, while his host, Mike, busies himself taking things out, putting things away, and making conversation. The dogs, meanwhile, either wrestle amongst themselves in the living room, or stare at you with rapt attention. At the end of a hall, a light under a closed door is the only evidence I saw of another renter, who, I hear, is a crotchety old man. When dinner in cooked and eaten, Miles heads down to his portion of the yard.
Walking down to where he pitches his tent, you pass an old pickup pop-top that's been permanently moored in the backyard. Its resident, also named Mike, has even built a mini fenced-in compound around it, complete with stereo system and tiki torches. Miles makes his camp at the end of the yard under a peppercorn tree that hangs down like a willow. At night, two of the dogs, a golden retriever named Holly (who, by the way, I've fallen in love with) and a boxer named Sara, follow him down to his tent, keeping him company while he gets ready for bed and guarding him while he sleeps.
As night falls, another world comes alive. In the first hours of darkness the dogs of the neighborhood start up their choir. Over the drone of faraway traffic, the dogs sing to one another until their their throats grow hoarse or until they bore of it altogether. Miles says some nights he tries to count how many different barks he hears. After the dogs quit, it's silent for a few hours, but long before dawn approaches, the chickens and roosters begin cock-a-doodle-dooing. There have got to be hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, and they all crow too early in the morning, probably mistaking the L.A. glow for the rising sun. And the sound has dimension too. I know what hearing 100 roosters crowing in the next yard would probably sound like, but this orchestra is like a vast landscape of sound. The farther the cock, the more muffled and red-shifted the crow.
The chickens and roosters are still going at it when the geese chime in from next door. Miles says their keepers feed them when it starts getting light, and the geese honk and squeak happily as they eat their chow. I don't know the benefits of keeping geese, but I imagine they might lay some mean eggs. When the geese are done feeding and honking, the cycle comes full circle, and some of the neighborhood dogs come out to say hello to the morning. This is about the time Miles and I have been getting up. He doesn't keep a watch in his tent, but using light and livestock, he can usually infer the right time to get ready for work.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Riverside: not so bad

It's amazing how a good coffee shop can change your (or maybe just MY) perception of a town. Miles directed me to a good one in Riverside, and I started to think that this place can't be all that bad. If a neighborhood has two or three good coffee shops, I find myself thinking I could probably live around there. If you look at what it takes to support a good coffee shop (let alone several) it says a lot about a neighborhood. To frequent a coffee shop requires disposable time and disposable income. Bars require the same thing, but because coffee is an upper, not a downer, lots of coffee shops indicate an active, wealthy, and social community. The same sort of communities usually support lots of bars as well.
Anyway, Riverside isn't that bad. I went to the top of a hill call Mt. Roubidoux--which, by the way, is no "Mt." Miles called it the Sanitas of Riverside. Here are some photos of it:


The paved "trail" to the top of "Mt." Roubidoux

The triumphant and holy summit

The view of Riverside from the top