Stop Being Ironic, Austin



Tracy Chan’s Austinist article, Stop Being Ironic, Austin (summarizing a NY Times Article articulates what irritates me about a lot of hipster culture. While there’s nothing wrong with silly for silliness’s sake, I think the irony is an attempt to deal with the self aware shallowness.

"As with most friendships it was never a matter of growth or doubt. Friends are born in archaic horizons; they were shaped with the Pteraspis in Siluria; they have nothing to do with the accident of space." Henry Adams in The Education of Henry Adams

What are the characteristics of a good friend?

"As with most friendships it was never a matter of growth or doubt. Friends are born in archaic horizons; they were shaped with the Pteraspis in Siluria; they have nothing to do with the accident of space." Henry Adams in The Education of Henry Adams

“As with most friendships it was never a matter of growth or doubt. Friends are born in archaic horizons; they were shaped with the Pteraspis in Siluria; they have nothing to do with the accident of space.” Henry Adams in The Education of Henry Adams

As a GED Instructor I would teach essay writing. We’re talking straightforward, vanilla 5-paragraph essays. Now the thing about these hyper standardized essays is that they must ask something that anyone at all could answer without having to read anything (it’s seperate from the reading test). The unintended result is that the questions can often be very personal, ranging from “Who was someone who changed affected your life and how did they affect it?” to “What’s your favorite _____ and why?”

The prompt “What are the characteristics of a good friend?”, led to an interesting class discussion.”You can always depend on a friend, no matter what.” said one student. “You can always call them, even at 2am and they’ll listen to you.” said another. “They will always lend you money.” said a third. The class got a little quiet and stopped calling out characteristics. “Who here has a friend?” I asked. Silence. “No one here has any friends?” I asked again. “Fuck friends. They stab you in the back!” said a girl and the class rumbled in agreement. “Yeah, I’m better off without friends. They’re liars.” said another girl.

What followed was a long discussion about realistic expectations. The students had an unrealistic expectation of good friends (they, of course, didn’t want to receive 2am emergency calls any more than their “friends” did). Instead of seeing friendship as a negotiated understanding between two people it was a monolithic junior high school ideal that they could never have. We will never have the same type of BFF friendship that we had as teenagers because situations and resources change.

Honestly, I was in the same boat as my students, not seeing myself as having more than a friend or two at any given time. My experience left me wondering, are we all unrealistic or simply lower expectations and retitle aquaintances into friends? Are they people one facebook who like our updates, essentially a mix between passing notes in class and cooing over a baby?

As an adult, what are the characteristics of a good friend? I’d like to know.

Reverse Culture Shock: Energy Drain

I’ve been back for about three weeks and shock is just about setting in. It’s as total as it is indescribable. I know it only by its symptoms. I am exhausted all the time. The actual tasks I need to do are easy: going to the mechanic, calling a friend, driving to the bank. It’s ironic because both the bureaucracy and the language is easier for me to navigate than it was in Buenos Aires.

The feeling is like having ice skated or roller bladed for a few hours, on taking the skates off you feel like you’re walking on air. You feel like you can run faster than a cheetah, nothing can stop you, your shoes have never been more comfy. But then you don’t know why you’ve walked just a few blocks and you’re out of breath already. The answer? Reverse culture shock.

Things seem like they should be easy, after all, I’ve done all this stuff and I didn’t even speak the language, I didn’t know anyone, I had fewer resources. I have none of these problems here in the States. It is not the difficulty of the tasks that is overwhelming, it’s that neurons in my brain are firing after having gone years without being accessed. My body is reconstructing relationships that it hasn’t considered in years.


2 Girls, 1 Worldview




Today was my first day where I wasn’t formally employed while in Buenos Aires. It felt good not to have anywhere special to be and it brought back this conversation I’d overheard about a week ago while standing at the bus stop. There were two blond American girls. You can tell Americans by their hair, their clothes, and that they speak English loudly in American accents. I sidled closer to try hear if they were speaking English. Finding people who speak English thinking that no one around them understands is an amazing voyeuristic pleasure. When we got on the bus I was able to get closer and overhear. One was telling her friend about her plans now that she had been living here in Buenos Aires for about 6 months.

“Why would I work for $10 an hour. In a few years I’ll make ten times that. Why not enjoy my time here? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“Yeah,” her friend said, “You don’t want to waste it.”

And here we have a whole worldview. You see, there is this idea in the states that during your adult life (called Real World) if you’re not contributing to corporate America then you’re shirking your duty. Children, the senile, the mentally handicapped, and students are generally excepted from this. But on graduation, every student knows what they’re in for. These girls, I assumed from looking at them, had just graduated. Many new graduates take a parentally funded trip abroad to “experience the world” before heading on to the Real World.

Now you may think I’m about to judge them for thinking that they are immature and lazy. On the contrary, traveling is an amazing way to find yourself. However, working in another country enhances the experience you’d have and does not diminish it. There are tons of jobs you can get in other countries which you would never be qualified to do back home. But in a worldview where you work for money, work can be seen as a chore rather than an opportunity. These girls were trying to avoid the Real World (which is a pretty terrible place) by putting off working, but work isn’t the issue.

If you do it right, most fun things are lots of work. The only thing is that because you enjoy what you’re doing, you don’t call it “work”. Getting paid for doing what you want to do is the goal, but apparently these girls seemed to have such a dreary idea of work that they were willing to pass up the experience of getting out into the community in order to avoid it.


Ex Exnat



Friends, Portenos, Expats: Lend me your ears.
I come not to praise exnat, but to bury it.

That’s right, after months of not posting, it’s time to put a fork in this little blog: it’s done.

My first blog, triptrap, was the travel blog I wrote in until I arrived in Buenos Aires and was written from the point of view of a traveler. As obvious as this might seem, it’s worth mentioning because when I ceased to be a traveller, when I began to feel at home, I needed something else.  Here I was in a home. Not my home, rather I was a semipermanent visitor in someone else’s home. With this newfound existential angst I needed a new blog and here exnat was born.

I loved writing this blog and I loved the comments I received and the community I became a part of. I also loved plunging the depths of the expat psyche. It’s been lovely but all good things must come to an end.

But don’t worry, I will still be writing a blog.  The difference is that this will be a blog about a real passion of mine: games. I’m just starting it and it’s called twoifiplay.  While I’ll probably write about expat things every so often, it’s really an opportunity for me to share interesting games with people who might not otherwise come into contact with them.

So for those who update your blog subscriptions, I’ll be seeing you soon.  And for those who don’t, goodbye and it’s been pleasant.


Perhaps… Perhaps… Perhaps…

I recently heard this poem read and I found it very inspiring.

for the loneliness of an author

Perhaps these thoughts of ours
will never find an audience
Perhaps the mistaken road
will end in a mistake
Perhaps the lamps we light one at a time
will be blown out, one at a time
Perhaps the candles of our lives will gutter out
without lighting a fire to warm us.

Perhaps when all the tears have been shed
the earth will be more fertile
Perhaps when we sing praises to the sun
the sun will praise us in return
Perhaps these heavy burdens
will strengthen our philosophy
Perhaps when we weep for those in misery
we must be silent about miseries of our own

Because of our irresistible sense of mission
We have no choice.

by Shu Ting
translated from the Chinese by Carolyn Kizer

My Nature



One of the big changes for me in moving to Buenos Aires is from small city to big city. I have no idea how many people live in Buenos Aires but I’m told 12 million. That’s a lot. A LOT. But the consequences aren’t so much in having a barrage of folks around you at all times (which is new for me) but more than anything not being able to escape so easily. Everywhere I’ve ever lived before there has been nature of one form or another around but in Buenos Aires all you have are parks. Admittedly fairly close there are tree filled places but it’s not that accessible to get there without a car and no one I know just goes there for the nature.

When they think of nature most folks think of Tigre which is a lovely little vacation place just up the road. It’s at a river delta and there is a maze of islands you can get to by quaint wooden ferry boats. This weekend was freezing but I needed my nature fix and headed with some friends to what I can only call their vacation house in Tigre. It’s more of a cabin on stilts than anything as there is no running water or bathroom. However, that just makes it all the more attractive.



It was cold. Unusually cold. So cold, in fact, that it snowed for the first time in over 50 years. I am not making this up. It was really really cold. That didn’t stop us from participating in the awesome outdoorsy tradition of campfire cooking. We stepped out from Argentine asado tradition by having only roasted veggies. No meat. Yum! And there was something about the cold that made the intensity of the experience, the sheer feeling of being alive and out of the city just incredible.



Being away from the natural world has been a huge change for me. It felt wonderful to get back to my hippy tree hugging roots. Even as snow comes down outside, Spring is coming soon and I’m looking for good places to go camping on long weekends. If anyone has an idea, let me know 🙂

Expats and the porteño food experience

Cooking Torta Frita

I like Argentine food. I like pretty much all of it. However I have noticed that there is a certain distaste among some expats, especially Americans, for Argentine food. Every expat has had their love affair with the juicy steaks, red wine, and dulce de leche on everything. This lasts about a week. Then they begin to get bored, then to whine a bit, then the real bitching starts. “I hate empanadas.” “Not pizza again.” “Please, gets me a real salad.” They complain that pizzas here tend to be overloaded with cheese, inevitably somehow involve ham, boiled eggs, or something similar.

Sure, things aren’t going to be the same as at home but they have a point: the flavors rarely change and there is little diversity. The same ingredients are repeated over and over. The classic place has eight flavors of empanadas and some places can boast 10 or 12 but really everyone here orders the same thing anyway. Porteños simply do not demand or want a variety in the dishes they are served. Pasta is traditional and good but they tend to stick to very strict ingredients and recipes — no crazy pink vodka sauces to be found here.

Going to the spice aisle, even in a very large store is at an exercise in frustration. Here, the idea of a large selection means 10 brands of salt, 10 brands of pepper, and five brands of Parsley. Porteños look on with fear as their expat friends add spices that they had to buy Barrio Chino .

Argentines have a lot of respect for their cooking tradition. As a culture folks here don’t like mixing in random things and experimenting with the same “no rules” attitude typical of Americans. One thing that’ll be interesting to see is if Starbucks’ presence pushes local coffee menus into offering more iced drinks. It might not be so. Diva provides one porteño reaction in her blog entry: Just say no [to Starbucks]. It’s a really interesting read and it’s good to see porteños aren’t just opening the door to US corporate culture. God knows how many expats are here just to escape Starbucks…

While many American expats miss the crazy diversity of home, perhaps there’s a method behind the staid and conservative Argentine cuisine. Apart from the famous eating disorder problem, perhaps this explains their thinness when compared to their yanqui counterparts. I was recently listening to a radio show about rethinking our ideas about thinness and one caller mentioned a very important point: that in places where they sense of cuisine, people feel more connection and derive more pleasure from their food than in places where folks are confronted by many choices, none of which they have cultural connections with. In turn, this connection and pleasure has been linked to gaining more nutrition from the food one eats, allowing for smaller portions. Personally, I think that this sense of cuisine helps porteños maintain their weight, even in this dulce de leche culture of medialunas, alfajores, and cream sauce.

Tales of the Carrefour

Cold Rose

I live a block from Carrefour but if I go there, even for just a few items, I bargain for 45 minutes at least. The reason why is that it’s a is a place where you get lost. By USA standards it’s just a normal store but for Argentina it’s huge. Today Carrefour was crowded. Very crowded. Everyone got paid for the month and it was a Saturday evening of insanity in the aisles. And the checkout lines were even worse. I had 15 items and could have gone for the 15 items line but it was so long that I just couldn’t bear it. So i went to the line where the pregnant women get priority.

There’s something about supermarket lines in Buenos Aires that’s completely infuriating. It’s actually not so bad but for someone pampered on the USA “check yourself out” system, waiting for the bus seems like a short exercise. I was pessimistic and wanted to get home to make my butternut squash soup (without the butternut).

That’s when I saw the checkout lady. Girl. Checkout girl. She was a girl. And she was worth checking out if just because she was the only smiling person in the store. I don’t know why she was smiling but she was and it was infectious. I got a strange sensation that she didn’t actually work there, that somehow she didn’t fit in. It was as if she were only doing this checkout gig as a favor to and that she was happy cause it was fun compared to what she normally did and she was helping someone out.

She looked over me and I looked away. I always look away. Everyone checks each other out here, are you supposed to look away? I look away for sure. Whatever. I had a strange idea that she would ask me why I was in the pregnant woman line and not in the 15 items line and I could say “oh you were smiling and I just wanted to be in your line” as a compliment. But then i remembered that “line” (cola) also translates to “butt” and I didn’t want to say that. I gazed at the Gillette Mach 3 razorblades. I felt like I was in an episode of Peepshow.

It was my turn and she was friendly. She wasn’t like anyone I’d ever seen at that supermarket before. She looked happy. She looked me in the eye and she made smalltalk. We talked about how the store was busy, how she was hurrying. But she didn’t hurry with me. She asked me who knitted my scarf and I told her I knitted it. She said she could see because of the errors in it.

We came to the last item. I asked her her name. She told me it was Janeen. Or Jaleen. I didn’t understand but it didn’t really matter. I walked out on air.

The point of this story is this: As you walk about in the world, you reshape your universe. Not just in the passive way that you view the world through filters. Your very filters interact with the world. Her smile made her day. And then mine as well.

Looking for a woman

I’m looking for a woman,
That will work to set me down,
I’m looking for a woman,
That will work to set me down,
I’ve bin looking all night long,
She can’t be found.

When I was travelling in Peru I saw this sign and thought it was funny:

Looking for a girl or a woman

The sign says: WE NEED A WOMAN OR A YOUNG WOMAN. I thought it was so sexist it was funny so I snapped my photo and forgot all about sexist Peru.
Buenos Aires is a cool place: big, cosmopolitan, and advanced. But sexist as all get out. So this business is offering a few different jobs on Monster.com. Here are two of them.

The one for the men to apply to:

Monster.com notice for men

And then the one for women:

Monster.com notice for women

Any coincidence that the project leader should be a man while the person who gives tours should be woman? This is so common here that they will actually say “No. We’re looking for a man” or “Sorry. Only women.”

Machismo society is what it is. I have to be really honest and say that I don’t know why I’m shocked. But for some reason I am.

So how long will you be here for?

Palermo Chico

Expats leave the country for different reasons: from not being able to stand four more years of Bush to trying to ditch that coke habit, from starting up your own third world sweatshop to just needing some fresh air and a change of perspective, we expats troop around the globe. We bring our culture and, more often, our money to exchange for some local flavor.

But for many of us there is an expiration date printed in a place where we just can’t see it. Sooner or later it comes up: that innocent question that hangs like a noose around the neck of every expat. It’s like asking a college graduate: so what’s the next step? It’s a mean question because most college graduates are facing a time of their life where there are fewer clearly defined steps. A better question would be “Do you have another step planned out?”

Either way, like dogs that sniff each others butts, expats ask eachother this question and then judge eachother by it. Keep in mind that part of the expatness of expats is that they’re not naturalized into the country. If you’re immigrating you’re a local that just doesn’t know the language yet. An expat is still keeping their origin as their defining characteristic.   A big part of the definition is that expats are NOT Argentine.*  Expats are always foreigners so there’s a weird status to who’s staying longer and each one of us tries to figure out the trajectory of the other almost immediately.

*Actually this is just one definition… the one I’m using right now….

Life Takes Visa

I just read this article called Monopoly ditches cash, goes plastic. My understanding is that this is relatively old news but then… Visa Takes (on) the Game of Life.

This is nuts! Games are meant to teach things. One of the only redeeming qualities of Monopoly is that it teaches small kids to count cash and, hopefully, use it wisely. Life is similar. For little kids, who are realistically the only people who will enjoy these two games, should be learning arithmetic. The Visa Card essentially puts a branded calculator in the boxes. Except it’s worse. Research, which I heard somewhere once, says that people spend about 15% more with credit cards than with cash so we’re certainly teaching them something, but what?

but… are there bagels?

I love the Lonely Planet Thorntree. It’s this place where people who really have no clue at all can ask folks who’re actually in the places they’re going. And it totally works. They get real (conflicting) opinions! It’s great and you can give as well as get.

I was just visiting the Uruguayan Thorntree thread and there was this question there.

are there bagels in Montevideo? how to get them there?

I have a child visiting Montevideo on a term abroad. He misses two things: his cat, and BAGELS. Anyone know of anyplace in Montevideo where a bagel can be found? Anyone heading there in the next few days or weeks and willing to take a dozen for me/him? Any ideas on shipping from here to there? Help!


Wow. Fun vacation. I realize that the bagel is for the kid… but what kind of a kid goes to Uruguay of all places and has to have his bagel? I can’t imagine the Uruguayans visiting the States and pulling this: “But mummy, how can I go to America without my special mate and the medialunas that I adore!” I think it’s really interesting how people want to take their homes with them. It’s different than not simply having faith that they’ll have a place to stay and nice food to eat… They want the food they have at home. Aside from being further from home, why are these people travelling? I dunno. I’m probably overreacting but if that kid is over 4 years old, it should be able to understand that different countries have different foods.

However, big surprise for me: There are bagels in Uruguay.


Cheating on someone is wrong and really interesting as well. To me it’s simple: you’re not supposed to. You give your word and you’re not supposed to break it. To me, the key is honesty. No one is forcing you to be involved in the relationship; you’re choosing to participate. You could always tell your partner: you know I just want to have sex with other people and that’s what I’m going to do and you should know that before I do that: that’s just the way it is. It’s honest. It’s healthy. It’s understandable. Honesty and communication are the two of the most important things in a relationship.

As someone who’s never cheated, I make it into a moral issue though I don’t think cheaters see it in this way. Here in Buenos Aires cheating is more accepted than in the States. The joke here is that Thursday night you go out with your mistress, Friday with your friends, and Saturday/Sunday with your girlfriend. I don’t think that there is more cheating than in the States but I do think it’s more ok to talk about it. In the States people judge you. Here they judge the relationship.


Friends of mine cheat. I think it’s really strange to be in a situation where you’re forced to lie. It’s like working in a place you hate but instead of saying anything to your boss (and making things better) you just pretend you like it until you can’t take it anymore. During this time you’re concentrating on looking for other jobs to make sure that you’re financially secure.

Similarly cheating comes from fear and insecurity. Fear of being alone and unwanted so you hang on to what you have.

Stargate Review

Ok. So I just went to see this movie, Stargate. The movie is about how in 1920 the US made an archeological discovery in Egypt which the government confiscated pretty quickly. This in itself is interesting because it was actually Britain who controlled Egypt at the time. Anyways we cut to the present day where one archeologist, Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader), is having a terribly difficult time convincing scientists that the pyramids are, in fact, much older than we suppose. He is down to his last pennies when he is picked up by the air force and taken off to a very top secret lab where these “long lost” ruins are kept. So the air force (of all people) have been conducting research on the project for two years. Which means it sat there since 1920. It turns out that the hieroglyphs are a map with coordinates to open another artifact, the stargate. The earth men send a robot probe through and, after it transmits back that the other planet is habitable, it promptly runs out of juice. So the military decides to send a group of men through on a reconnoscence mission and this is where the interesting subtexts begin to show. The group is led by Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil (Kurt Russell) who has been depressed ever since his son shot himself. Once they get to the planet they appear in a replica of the Giza pyramid complex and find other humans who spend pretty much all their time mining special crystals. Unfortunately, Dr. Jackson can’t find the coordinates back. It’s just a matter of looking around, he feels. The people have been forbidden from writing or reading and when he tries to show them the symbols they need to return, the people take him away to be washed. After that they bring a beatiful young girl into his room. He doesn’t want to have sex but he does want to show her the symbols. At first she resists but then she draws the symbol he wants to see. Which looks like this:


It turns out that she is no novice to the world of writing and she takes him to the underground tunnels where there are lots of symbols written on the walls. It is here that he learns to speak their language (based, basically, on hyroglyphics). He reads that an alien was about to die but tried to cheat death. He visited another world in his ship and one little boy was adventurous and came close and the got inside his body and possessed it, like a parasite. By transferring from body to body he could perpetually cheat death. He had first visited earth but then the earthlings eventually kicked him out and he skedadled off to some other planet (presumably this one). He had also learned from his mistake and not allowed these new slaves to read or write. Anyways, as Dr. Jackson is reading all of this, the alien comes back, takes control of the pyramid (and the stargate) and begins capturing all the military folks (there are 8 or so on the mission).

The military people would have been doomed but they have instilled the spirit of revolution in the slaves. They rise up and, after some touch and go fighting where tens of people die, the slaves use the American technology to beat Ra’s henchmen. Ra tries to escape but his ship is blown up by a bomb that he intended to send to destroy earth.

The most striking theme in the movie is the way it sees American interventionism. Here a bunch of unprepared marines show up in a world they know nothing at all about. They don’t know its name and couldn’t even find it on a map. This turns out not to be a problem, despite the fact that no one can speak the Stargate World’s language very well. Doctor Jackson only figures it out in the last third of the movie. Even then it’s mostly an expedient to make the movie more enjoyable for the viewers as we now get subtitles instead just gibberish. In the movie everything is simple. Nothing is complicated. We see nothing of their real culture and problems, only glimpses of our common humanity. Having a common spoken language is nothing compared to the shared experience of fighting oppression. Released in 1994, the USA was still flush from the first Gulf War, our victory over Iraq, and our freeing of Kuwait. No surprise that there’s a desert theme. This is truly how we Americans saw ourselves and our foreign policy. As my brother Felix would say, “we were drinking our own Kool-aid.”

The second interesting thing was the reaffirmation of traditional family values and heterosexuality in the movie. For one thing the movie has virtually no women. There are some civilian women working on the project back on earth, most especially the daughter of the original archeologist who discovered the stargate. She serves as a kind of mother figure for Dr. Jackson. Then there’s Jackson’s beatiful girl who is offered to him by the leader of Stargate World. There are some old women who playfully wash (fluff?) Jackson before he meets his girl but that’s mostly just to establish that both Earth and the Stargate World are procreative. Jackson and O’Neil are heterosexual men, to be sure, and actually this needs establishing because they stand in stark contrast to the alien and his entourage. Despite the way he presents himself in the King Tut mask (complete with phallic beard) he looks mostly like a girl.

In fact, Ra doesn’t seem to be able to reproduce like us humans and as a result has to resort to keeping a harem of submissive boys around him as well as strong male guards in kinky outfits:

To contrast Ra’s court, there is the reaffirmation of traditional American values. There is a fairly overt scene where a Kurt Russell and a long haired boy in a halter top (showing his midriff) first shows him how to light his lighter and then the boy reaches for cigarettes he later reaches for Russell’s gun and Russell becomes angry and says it’s dangerous. The boy parallells the boy who is first intruiged and then entered by the alien. Russell, who is not gay, warns the boy off from his own sexuality. The movie is rife with sexual symbolism from the one pyramid penetrating another to the seventh symbol itself.


The most intense reaffirmation of traditional values is when Jackson refuses to touch the woman throughout the movie. Finally he hears someone say that he has already married her. Only after having heard that he did, in fact, marry her. He allows himself to sleep with her.

Overall, the movie was so thin that it was hard not to be distracted by the symbolism. I thought the movie was ok. But most interesting if anyone wants to know why the US got itself into the mess it’s in now.

Thomas Friedman

Man… I really liked his book, From Beruit to Jerusalem, but then I listened to him on On Point and I just couldn’t stand him. He sounded so full of himself as if his opinion mattered more simply because he’s famous. He wasn’t very coherent though.

Then I poked about and apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed this show. It didn’t take long to find out why he seems like such an apologist. It’s because he is!

I pretty much just stick to NPR for news but it’s absurd how these pundits just talk talk talk the way people talk about sports. It’s not like talking about things in which they can take action, it’s much more gawking at the big stars. Or at least that’s the effect.

Selling hope

“In the factory, we manufacture cosmetics, but in the store we sell hope.”

-Charles Revson, founder of Revlon

A big war… by our currents standards

From this online U.S History course we’re making:

World War II was the most destructive war in the world’s history up to this point. Tens of millions of lives were lost, millions of acres of land were destroyed, billions of dollars spent, homes and government offices were obliterated, and lives were shattered. At the end of the war, the Allied forces stood victorious, but nearly every nation lay in rubble.

World War I was “the war to end all wars.” Check out how we hedge our bets now! I mean “up to this point.” One would hope that we’d never have a war like that again but what we teach our students is that everything is possible.

Monseigneur in Town

I have been listening to the podcast of A Tale of Two Cities. Here is an excerpt from the chapter, Monseigneur in Town:

The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon Monseigneur. In the outermost room were half a dozen exceptional people who had had, for a few years, some vague misgiving in them that things in general were going rather wrong. As a promising way of setting them right, half of the half-dozen had become members of a fantastic sect of Convulsionists, and were even then considering within themselves whether they should foam, rage, roar, and turn cataleptic on the spot–thereby setting up a highly intelligible finger-post to the Future, for Monseigneur’s guidance. Besides these Dervishes, were other three who had rushed into another sect, which mended matters with a jargon about “the Centre of Truth:” holding that Man had got out of the Centre of Truth–which did not need much demonstration–but had not got out of the Circumference, and that he was to be kept from flying out of the Circumference, and was even to be shoved back into the Centre, by fasting and seeing of spirits. Among these, accordingly, much discoursing with spirits went on–and it did a world of good which never became manifest.

But, the comfort was, that all the company at the grand hotel of Monseigneur were perfectly dressed. If the Day of Judgment had only been ascertained to be a dress day, everybody there would have been eternally correct. Such frizzling and powdering and sticking up of hair, such delicate complexions artificially preserved and mended, such gallant swords to look at, and such delicate honour to the sense of smell, would surely keep anything going, for ever and ever. The exquisite gentlemen of the finest breeding wore little pendent trinkets that chinked as they languidly moved; these golden fetters rang like precious little bells; and what with that ringing, and with the rustle of silk and brocade and fine linen, there was a flutter in the air that fanned Saint Antoine and his devouring hunger far away.

It’s pretty shocking how startlingly relevent this stuff is. It so vividly reminds me of of the kitchy consumeristic hipsterism of the US. Shiny objects, precious collections of useless junk.

The other day I heard on Studio 360 they were interviewing a woman collects the clothes that the munchkins wore in the Wizard of Oz. It’s hard to put the connection into words but these munchkins were paid $50 a day and told to leave. Their costumes and sweatpants then passed into the unreal world where people buy these items on ebay. They spend money, good money, on this completely unreal stuff. It’s not new, people used to buy relics all the time: the hairs from Mohammad’s beard, a piece of Noah’s boat, a bit of the cross, etc. Even so, I think that only churches or rich people bought that stuff. Your average guy on the street didn’t own magical stuff touched by history. Perhaps this isn’t so much an example of oppulence as much as consumors buying into their own crazy myths.

To me the most striking thing about the passage is the complete unreality of the whole situation and the permanence with which everyone views it. The world knows that time is on their side and that the USA will not be dominant for too much longer. Be we chubbily walk around, completely ignorant of the world outside who looks bitterly into our absurd society that creates physical and psychological disorders from excess.


Here is an excerpt from the class we’re developing on interpersonal communications:

When you first join an organization, you probably feel somewhat uncertain about what is expected of you and how the organization operates. During your first few months on the job, you undergo a socialization process where, by observing what the organization says and does, you learn how the organizational culture operates.

Understanding the culture helps people recognize what is important in the organization. It also helps them feel connected to the organization and develops an esprit de corps and a sense of belonging. The culture helps people predict and control what goes on in the organization.

Ideally, the culture also operates as a set of guiding principles for the organization. It sets a tone and guides the company’s actions both inside the organization and with the public.

Just reading this stuff reminds me of what a bad start I had at my job when I began a year or so ago and the uncomfortability that resulted from the poor choices I made. I had not anticipated the intense cultureshock mixed the language barrier and the moving to a new place. Wow! Looking back, I can’t believe I did it. A teacher at the Seattle YMCA told me before I left about Machu Pichu and after her trek up it she believed she could do anything. Perhaps I done everything in Buenos Aires with style and grace, but I am still here with good friends, a great job, and a feeling that now I can do anything.

way too much time

I was talking with my coworker about getting some steak for lunch and i drew him a picture on MSN Messenger:
The conversation continued like this:

coworker: you have way too much time on your hands
nathan: jeje. don’t worry. i have the same amount you do. 24 hours a day
coworker: jajaja
nathan: people tend to link creativity and art with wastefulness and lack of productivity. it works to my disadvantage
coworker: jajaja – sorry that was art? dude you have spent too much time at the modern art museums
nathan: i’ll take it as a compliment

And the fact is that in a way it WAS a compliment. I work hard at my job and I try to do it with humor and in a way that brings something nice to the office. My coworker was trying to be funny. He is a really nice guy, no two ways about it. His comments, however, taken at face value show how needlessly negative we are as a culture in how we joke.


“What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. . And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”

— Former first lady Barbara Bush about Katrina evacuees housed in the Houston Astrodome (hear the quote)

I recently received the following email from a friend in the States;

Been wondering what you’ve heard about New Orleans. Does the media where you are talk about it all? It’s really outrageous, Nathan. It’s appalling how irresponsible and incompetant our government is. It’s really depressing–the last shred of trust I had in our government has been completely obliterated. It’s pretty clear now that I can’t depend on them for the bare minimum. Yesterday Jessica and I listened to This American Life. Ira Glass was interviewing a woman who had been in the convention center. He almost started to cry, listening to this woman tell about the horrific conditions inside. I certainly cried.

If this doesn’t change the attitude in our country towards George Bush, I really don’t know what will. If the aftermath of Katrina doesn’t make this country realize that extreme poverty and racism still exists in the United States, I don’t know what will.

How does this news meet you?

Today, as well, is September 11th. My oh my.

The answer is that for news on South America I have my news page I set up on my website. I mostly just check that so I didn’t even know about the hurricane till I received an email from a family friend on September 1:

Dear Nathan, I don’t know how much you are hearing or seeing about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but it is truly horrible. We were in Santa Cruz without a TV so we didn’t see the pictures until yesterday. People are dying because of lack of medical care. Apparently, there is no communication system. The hospitals are closing because they have no electricity or supplies and our president played golf last Monday. Yesterday he thought he would look at the damage from the air for the first time. They can’t even seem to get water to the people who are walking out of the city on their own. We are very angry. It is a disgrace. I have a friend in one of the hardest hit towns and I cannot reach her.

It was actually confusing to get this email. I was in a small town in Bolivia and I had no idea what she was talking about. I don’t know the spìn in the states but the a Guardian Unlimited article didn’t seem to agree with Mrs. Bush. But this stuff is big news in the foreign press as proved yesterday when I asked about the price of a Harry Potter book at a bookstand and I was approached by a 13 year old Argentinean kid who told me that my president is racist and doesn’t care if black people die. A 13 year old in a book store told me this. I asked him why he thought that and he told me that he thought it because of the hurricane. I told him that it was very sad to go to another country and have to hear that about my president (especially from children). He was very polite about it.



Fingers in the Pot: Bolivia

Outsiders taking an interest in Bolivia’s government? This looks like something the US should take notice of!

U.S. sees foreign hands behind Bolivian unrest

Rumsfeld, Paraguayan President Discuss Mutual Concerns

US warns of Bolivian interference

Rumsfeld, in Latin America, Voices Democracy Concerns

It must be hard to report this stuff with a straight face, considering that the US military operates in most of these countries. Of course, there’s the drug trade and the now ubiquitous excuse of international terrorism.

travelling light

So when I left for this trip I was surprised at how OCD I became about the size and weight of my backpack, weighing out everything that was to enter it. I was obsessed with “travelling light”.

People travel heavy because they do not trust the world to be there for them tomorrow. Perhaps they don’t trust that the place they visit will have things like coffee or tea and they bring their own. Perhaps the place they visit will not have people to talk to so they bring books. Perhaps the world will be hot or cold and the world will not provide shelter so they bring clothes for all situations. Many people travel by bringing their worlds with them, frequently on their shoulders. The typical story is that of course the world provides things and the instant coffee brought from home never gets made. The heavy packers end up either hanging onto their stuff for the trip (too scared to throw it away because perhaps they might need it some day) or they throw it out (and make the conversion to light packer).



But there’s also another kind of heavy packing. I recently found that I would frequently preoccupy myself with plans and eventualities that simply never got used. I carry many thoughts (“What job will I have when I get back to the States?”, etc.) like a 60 liter backpack! It’s uncomfortable to carry my worries but it’s hard to let go and not worry, allow the world to provide and enjoy the weightlessness.

Global Challenge

While trying to price out trips to Lagunas de Los Condores in Leymabamba I came across what looked like a group of 15 British teen tourists. I figured they’d know about tour companies but it turned out to be a British group called Global Challenge, volunteers who come to Peru to help out Peru. This seems good because Peru has plenty of problems. They were filled with youthful optimism but they weren’t quite sure where to start. Having looked around the town they found that the most pressing job they could do was to paint the market and when I encountered them they were looking for paint.

Yesterday I came across the same group, this time in Tarapoto. They were eating at the best restaurant in town. I asked them how the painting went. “Not good” they said. The first problem was there was no paint in the town. Only a couple buckets so they had to leave the job half finished. The second problem was that the paint was ugly: red and green. “Christmas colors?” I asked. But the guy said no. The third problem was that the local Leymabambans kept telling them that they were painting incorrectly and wasting paint. This was infuriating to them and they sort of had the attitude of “hey! we’re doing this out of the KINDNESS OF OUR HEARTS! We’ve just payed about $3000, maybe as much as you make in a year, to come on a trip to HELP you guys by painting your market. You could be more appreciative!” What was most interesting to me was that while there was confusion, no one had really grappled with the main questions: Why was there no paint to be had? And why hadn’t the Peruvians taken care enough to paint their own market?

The cost of transporting this British labor was tremendous, if it was about getting the market painted they could have sent a cheque for about $30 but what it was really about was feeling charitable and teaching Britain’s youth to be good global citizens. Happily they told me that now that the market painting was over the group was off to spear pirhanas. I told them I thought that that sounded difficult. “What do you use?” I asked. They didn’t know but they were sure it was going to be easier than painting that market.

up the river

My aunt died yesterday and it’s hard not to be there for the funeral. The best way The only way I can really comprehend it is to imagine my brothers getting on the plane and my mom and dad at my aunt and uncle’s house. Dear family, when you read this, my thoughts are with you and I love you all and wish I were there.

I remember a conversation with Mrs. Culpepper I had before I left about loss. She said one way to view life is as a permenant condition of loss. Every moment we lose something and as we change we lose our old selves. We define ourselves in how we accept this loss and change. I believe travelling for long periods is a case study in accepting loss, a lesson in saying goodbye. Every day I meet new interesting people, close connections, and must say goodbye. Every day I find amazing places that I love and but there’s always the next bus.

To misquote somone:
life is but a memory and a forgetting…
trailing clouds of glory do we come.

Tomorrow I plan to set sail from the port town of Yurimaguas to the big jungle city of Iquitos. I’ll be leaving Tarapoto at 4am in a car going over super nasty dirt roads. It’s supposed to be 4-5 hours and I hope I make it before the departure time of 10am. Otherwise there isn’t another boat for 2 days. Tough stuff.

At the SAE office I took some unused maleria pills (Chloroquine & Proguanil) but in Tarapoto you can only buy Chloroquine. I did. 20 tablets of 250mg. On the plus side it’s cheap, on the minus side there’s some choloroquine resistance in the Amazon. Not good. Also the woman told me to take 500mg a day while CDC tells me 500mg a week. Confusing. Will look for Doxycycline in Iquitos.

I am tired and must now go to the market to look for clothes for the trip.

the long hard swim to the middle

This last weekend I went to San Francisco and hung out with Mary and Ben. Mary has an awesome new apartment in the Haight. I bought a camera off craigslist to replace the broken one and took a bunch of pictures to try it out.

On the way to get the camera Mary and I went to Ikea got a bookcase and a chest of drawers to put in her new room. In this picture Mary contemplates the strange relationship with my friends: I help them move into new places, to get more established, and live vicariously through them. Then I get mobile and travel and they live vicariously through me. The grass is always greener I guess.

I believe that it’s easy to become settled, to start a life, to go down one road that leads to a million more and on and on. Your resume leads you to jobs you have experience in. You become established, entrenched in your environment. Most of my friends, the ones who’re happy, have found something they love doing and have dedicated themselves towards it. Perhaps they don’t even realize that they have yet, but they have a directions and goals and with those come comfort.

Sacramento has been good to me in my time here. Especially working at Choices has been very healthy for me: giving me something to focus on before I go. I never realized how much I enjoy working on excel spreadsheets and solving math problems before I worked at that school.

It’s been really hard posting publically. Many of my thoughts and insights are about the people i’ve been interacting with daily and it’s hard to walk the tightrope of appeasing all my readers and myself and I’m looking forward to a much easier job in South America, where no one knows me and I can write about whatever I want without any reprecussions. The best I can hope for is that people who are interested in my life and want to know what I think and feel will come and read about the blog. I’m reminded of the HoboTraveler Blog where Andy takes some friends to Machu Pichu and then writes about how Machu Pichu is actually a big lame tourist trap. No doubt word got back.
Anyways, this is a picture of me in Utah, but it’s the picture I’m sending out with all my SERVAS emails.

what the [bleep] do we know?

What the #$*! Do We Know?! (2004)

If the goal of the movie was to spark conversation, it worked. The first time I tried to watch it (with my behavioral psychologist friend) we watched the first half and turned it off for an argument. Last night she, her philosophy major boyfriend and I made it through the movie with moderate heckling and a nice long discussion afterwards.

in the end, it reminded me of a conversation i had with aviva. she was telling me that scarcity was simply a matter of opinion, taking a point of view, like being optomistic or pessamistic. she chose to believe that the world was an abundant place, full of everything. the idea is that if you choose to view the world through that paradygm then it becomes that way.

If the movie has a message it’s that you shape your own reality and that while reality seems to be fixed one way, it may just seem that way because of your conditioning. I think that my reaction to the movie says far more about me than it does about the movie itself. Viewed one way What the [bleep] do we know was like a video you’d show junior high schoolers explaining that this idea. It was filled with academic (and some nonacademic) talking heads describing new age phenomena that didn’t seem to be in their field. What was most interesting about it was that it almost seemed like a propaganda movie advocating nonreligous spirituality.

For every emotion you have there’s a peptide chain and when you see or think of things that you associate with that emotion your body pumps out the peptides for an emotional reaction. Your cells react accordingly and you can become addicted to peptides you experience too often. The movie urges people to break their addictions to peptide chains (emotions) that they crave to the point of destruction. Craving these emotions has a physical effect of denying your cells the proper protiens, waste management resources, and water that it needs to last a long time. All your cells’ space is taken up with more and more receptors for the peptide chains that you’re addicted to.

The movie also urges people to stop living in the past, allowing your brain to form closer ties with old neural nets, and instead “create your day”, creating a new neural net that you like more (or at least you chose).

I liked the movie but I still don’t know what to do with my life 🙂


The American investment banker was at the pier of a small
coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one
fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several
large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican
on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, “Only a little while”.

The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer
and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to
support his family’s immediate needs. The American then
asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little,
play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria,
stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and
play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and
could help you. You should spend more time fishing
and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the
proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several
boats, and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.
Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would
sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your
own cannery. You would control the product, processing
and distribution.

You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village
and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, and eventually
New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.
” The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part.
When the time is right you would announce an IPO and
sell your company stock to the public and become very rich,
you would make millions.”

“Millions.. Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small
coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little,
play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village
in the evenings where you could sip wine
and play your guitar with your amigos.”

(from andy’s hobotraveler site

The last day or so I’ve been immersing myself completely in this hobotraveler website/blog. It’s amazing. As the trip progresses and the years pass on, the trajectory of the author changes. He doesn’t talk about it but you can almost sense the searching and the loneliness of permanent impermenance.

I ask myself. What is my trip all about? What am I searching for? When will I have found it? That’s probably not the best way to approach all this. It’s almost like I’m really hungry, craving food, and asking “What am I really looking for in a meal?” I guess I’m looking for travel to fill me up. The website suggests:

Pick a route of what you like…. i.e. party, archeology, nature,
trekking, poverty, ecology, and make a route to these
types of travel locations. Your trip will be better.
I like to see people, and culture, so I stop at lots of small towns.
Do not take someone else’s trip, Find out what you like to do?

Here I have been given a gift. I have been given the time and the means to travel. I can choose any trip I want. I’m excited. and intoxicated.

I’m writing this from Joe’s house. He’s scooting around me, packing for his trip to Spain. He’ll be there over the summer. I tell him that if he comes back with a Cathtilian accent then I’ll make fun of it even more than I do of his French. He promised he’d try to lose it as soon as he could, possibly by visiting another country.

I’m debating on the computer issue: should it stay or should it go… If it stays I won’t have trouble. But if it goes it could be double…

Joe: take the computer!