Life left to chance

3 11 2010

Throughout my time here on Earth, I have tried various methods of organization to order my days, all with little success. The trash bins of my life are stuffed full of organizers, calenders and schedulers purchased by my well-meaning mother. Often she will say to me “You will be so much happier if you just use this,” to which I will reply, “I know;” but on some level, I obviously don’t, for I never do follow her advice.

Of course, a life that is less structured is more open to moments of serendipity than one lived in a closed loop. Chance encounters, spontaneous ideas, unexpected adventure … such things all depend upon the fact that they can’t be planned for or anticipated.

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My Faithful Companion

7 12 2009

My new gig has been enjoyable thus far, but also very absorbing of my creative energies (as the gap in blog entries shows), and it has taken a bit of settling to adjust to its rhythms. Additionally, the job requires that I write a column on a topic of my choosing once a week, hence some of the ideas and energy that would have gone here goes there instead. Hopefully, I’ll soon be updating this thing on more of a regular basis, but to make up for it I’ve posted below one of the end results of my newspaper efforts.

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A Tribute of Sorts

7 07 2009

Today on airwaves, TV channels and an overflowing Staples Center, fans and detractors ruminated on the life of the late pop star great Michael Jackson and the impact of his life, music and overall weirdness. I’m inclined to simply say he wrote some good pop tunes and let’s leave it at that. Any serious discussion of the man requires a serious discussion of his penchant for little children. I’d rather just remember the music.

Still, even NPR covered the coverage of Jackson extensively and the constant reference made me think of my most recent experience with the man’s oeuvre. It was a mildly humorous event and it happened in Southeast Asia so it’s a perfect story for this blog.

After I recovered from the “Beer Hoi” induced haze of my first few days in Hanoi, I decided to embark for the countryside and perused the packed backpacker area in search of a good trek or tour. This is actually quite an intimidating task, as there are so many tour operators in Hanoi that the choices are practically endless. Adding to the frustration is that after some cursory glances you realize that everyone is offering the exact same package. Price varies wildly and the operators will tell you everything you want to hear, so it’s hard to discern a great trip from a bad deal. Even the advice of fellow backpackers can be mixed.

I eventually settled on exploring nearby Halong Bay, known for its beautiful Karst formations, and an overnight stay on a junk boat. Since every tour operator offers such an excursion, the result is not an idyllic slumber aboard a creaking vessel adrift in a lonely bay but rather an assembly-line shuttle out to the bay and back. With no seeming way to escape this, I sought the most youth-friendly establishment so I would have a ready group of friends to help mitigated a crap experience. The tour I chose ran out of a an Aussie-owned hostel that seemed popular with the young folks and promised beer as well as a boat.

I made my voyage with a solid ensemble of 11 or 12, a mix of Europeans and a few Americans. We had a good deal of fun kayaking in the rain by day and drinking aboard our junk by night. By 9 a.m. of the last day, we were all quite tired and looking forward to sleeping on the bus ride back.

At about this time, our troop of weary souls was joined by a crew of souls not so weary. A detachment of four English guys, one English girl and a German dude from another tour run by the company we signed up with joined us for the bus ride back. They were in high spirits, as they had been sustaining themselves on hard liquor instead of sleep.

To the dismay of all others involved, the rowdy Brits and sole German (who the English guys simply called “Germany”) piled into our packed mini-bus for the four-hour ride back to Hanoi. Conveniently for them and unfortunate for everyone else, the bus had a readily available iPod jack for the easy playing of one’s favorite tunes.

We were tired, some of us were hungover and most of us had not been consuming bottles of vodka at an alarming rate since 10 p.m. last night. But the roaring few occupying the back row of our bus shattered all possibilities of sleep for those not so blessed with their own music-playing devices.

For the sake of decency, I will not repeat the (mostly shouted) conversation of that outrageous crew. It consisted of strings of profanity, mockery of Germany (the guy, not the country)  and loud, repeated and prolonged calls for the playing of the song “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson.

About halfway back, pretty much everyone had succeeded in ignoring the madmen seated in the bus’ rear, despite the inebriatees’ best efforts to goad and heckle the vehicle’s silent majority.  Bored of this, Germany shambled to the front, plugged in his iPod and blasted some techno music at a startling volume level. Such was the terror inspired by the raw drunkenness of these guys that at first nobody protested the sudden introduction of the pulsating beats. Eventually, the music was turned down to a more reasonable level, but it still persisted.

It was at this point, stuck in traffic outside Hanoi, that the loudest of the sloshed British chaps, sporting a straw chapeau, began his mantra demanded the immediate and repeated playing of “Man in the Mirror.” We listened to the song over and over again, with Straw Hat Dude emphasizing the greatness of the ballad by dropping a firestorm of f-bombs. While I found the situation more humorous and memorable than annoying, I was still nonetheless relieved when the bus finally arrived back at the hostel.

Thus, the best thing I can say about MJ is that despite the constant obscenity-filled call for “Man in the Mirror,” I found myself thoroughly enjoying the song. A damn good tune, tinged by the ravings of a near-lunatic in the background. A lot like Michael Jackson’s life, I would say.

Freelance Continued and Other Updates

16 06 2009

Matador just put up another one of my articles and this one differs significantly from my previous effort. One of the things I like about the site is that it covers so many aspects of travel, including the philosophical and emotional impact world travel often has on individuals. This recent piece explores how I felt as a self-described procrastinator set loose on my own in China and Southeast Asia. Read it and find out!

I had hoped on my return stateside that I would be able to find gainful employment in the industry of my degree before my funds dipped below a critical threshold. Despite my best efforts and many resume revisions, my outstanding qualities and qualifications continue to elude any potential employers. The reason for such rejection confounds me when the choice seems so clear. Come on guys, just hire me already, you know you want to. Really, it’ll be awesome.

Such attempts at persuasion coming to naught, I have been forced to find some vocation to sustain my basic necessities. While I managed to avoid delivery duty again at the sandwich shop of my collegiate career, I will tomorrow attend a training session for that most ubiquitous of part-time jobs, a waiter. I’ve been employed in a number of fields, but this will be an experience entirely new to me. While I can be quite personable and amiable in social situations, I wonder about my ability to maintain such cheerfulness for shift after shift.

In the world of order taking and food serving, the twin skills of overbearing enthusiasm for items on the menu and dogged but non-invasive interest in the persons seated are what vault one to the upper echelons of food service income. Alas, my financial fortunes will again be left to the kindness of strangers. I pray for rich drunkards and recent lottery winners.


11 06 2009

My travels in Southeast Asia have finally born some journalistic fruit. A meta travel site for backpackers, the Matador Network, has published an article I wrote about exploring the semi-remote town of Nan in northern Thailand. Filled with motorbikes, caves, friendly locals and maps that indicate there should be a waterfall here, but really there isn’t, it’s a good read.

Check it out!