The Greatest City in the World and Whatnot

So I went to New York City, finally. Took 27 or so years, but it happened and I am better for it. It was a very brief visit, but here is what I managed to enjoy while there for the first time:

I was yelled at by the pizza man for taking the wrong pizza box (which he had given to me 30 seconds earlier) because it contained two slices of sicilian-style pizza and not one. I had assumed they condensed orders into one box as my friend had just ordered the same thing, but they had not and so the pizza man took my pizza away from me, which I had just finished delicately garnishing with various spices, and disgustedly dumped the entire box and it’s contents into the trash while handing me my actual order. This all happened within 5 seconds. It was an absolutely exhilarating experience, and the pizza was very, very good.

Other Various Things New Yorkers Yelled at Me Regarding:

  • Moving too slowly
  • Moving too quickly
  • If I happened to know the time
  • What my name was and if my full party was present to be seated
  • If I had a ticket to see the play
  • If I have tickets to sell
  • Making too much noise
  • Not being able to hear what I was saying

We went to a bar that Wilson liked (he has been to New York many times) at a hotel called THE STANDARD, which is apparently very famous and has the name turned upside down at the entrance to be both confusing and clever. It was a chilly night but we bravely sat outside with other similarly disappointed people because we had walked enough distance in the cold to fool ourself into thinking we were warm enough to do so (we were not).

Our waiter eventually shuddered his way over to us to ask us about ordering drinks while wrapped in a blanket and sporting white pants, giving off the appearance of a walking tortilla. As the outdoor patio was stubbornly bathed in a series of orange light, this only lent to the strangeness of the scene, being served by a pale orange tortilla that seemed alarmed by our request for blankets, as if we were somehow warmer than the other patrons who had been given blankets. We concluded this panic stemmed from the extra 15 seconds he had to remain outdoors in order to retrieve said blankets. At one point, he unwrapped himself enough from his blanket to bring us our drinks (mulled wine, quite good), revealing his uniform to be a semi-transparent windbreaker seemingly no thicker than a tissue.

What I am saying is that this was the greatest bar I have ever been to.

The bagels in NY are delicious and also infuriating because they come with the realization that I have been eating poorly-made bagels my entire life, utterly unaware as to how perfect they can truly be.

Our first night in the city found me in an insatiable appetite for ramen, so I found a place a mile away and we walked to this unexpectedly hip and bustling (and tiny) ramen shop. It was entirely too small to contain everyone eating or waiting to eat, and after a few awkward moments of standing too close to strangers, we waited until outside until a waiter mimed to me through the window if I was Taylor and to come back in, and then were promptly seated in front of the kitchen. This poor woman in charge of everything moved faster than any human I have ever seen. She was prepping ramen, finishing ramen, cleaning dishes, swearing at ramen…it was as much a feat of human endurance as it was cooking. The only time she took a break was to clutch her back and wince briefly and later very courteously ask us how we liked our meal. I am convinced running a kitchen in New York takes at least as many years off of a life as does smoking or excessive drinking habits or other dangerous things. The least surprising thing to say about New York is that it is fast, but the speed with which anything is served and ordered has to be experienced in person to understand the full meaning of the word. The ramen was good, and so was the kimchi fried rice.

It wasn’t until my last morning in NYC that I came upon my ideal place to live: it is south of Chelsea and very quiet and walkable and most assuredly expensive. It also has a little church garden that is open for public use and I liked that. No one yelled at me while I was strolling along, which was my only disappointment.


Cousin Paula Reminds Me to be Kind in DC

Upon our arrival, Cousin Paula greeted Wilson (his cousin, not mine) with a “Heyyyy cousin!”, immediately giving me the sense of being privy to a family reunion rather than a 48-hour tour of D.C., though really, it was a family reunion of sorts. Wilson had pulled some strings (a familiar theme throughout this trip) so we ended up with some impossible-to-get, months-in-advance-type tickets to the new Smithsonian African-American Heritage museum, and his two cousins came in from New York and LA to join us on an early morning tour of the exhibits (which were excellent and managed to be moving, jolting, exciting and sad all at once).

The fondness and warmth with which Wilson’s family constantly demonstrated towards one other might normally prompt self-consciousness, my presence being some sort of intrusion upon a family event. Quite frankly, I was dwarfed by the talent and intellect of everyone in the group: Cousin Paula, a captivating artist, writer, musician who became impossible not to pay attention to when she spoke; my good friend Wilson, longtime designer, architect and musician, gregarious and engaging at all times; Meg being a longtime activist, multi-lingual intellectual all wrapped up in a warm and welcoming persona, and her husband Jeffery, an accomplished photography editor at the New York Times…look, I had no business being here.

Kindness does wonders for a person’s confidence though, as I never felt small or ignored, but immediately drawn into a temporary family, however brief a time it was we were all together. Hospitality comes in many forms, and the unspoken inclusiveness of the group never made me feel like a stranger. I was a friend.

Now, I thought I was a relatively friendly person before this trip—you kind of have to be when traveling alone if you want to get anywhere or see anything different—but Paula and co had me questioning this assumption almost right away. First off, no one was homeless: as we walked through the capital, people who lived outside had names, and she often spoke with the numerous people we came across who asked us for money. If money wasn’t always given, kindness was certainly imparted during each and every interaction. We prayed for those we met by name, which was convicting as someone who mostly limits his interactions with strangers to a surface-level nicety that ends as a fairly meaningless gesture. Or perhaps less harshly, I’ve been too busy acting nice instead of being kind.

Another example: Sunday night found our group at an upscale comfort-food joint (a couple blocks away from the friggin’ White House) next to a lively Nor’eastern couple who cheerily offered a sampling of their dishes as we pored over the menu. Instead of leaving it there and finishing our meal in peace (I will say though, Grandma Dee was a bit more keen to leave), this older white couple (who proudly volunteered as Civil War reenactment actors each summer for the past two decades) ended up joining our family for the meal. By the end, they had paid for our entire meal (a substantial bill) and tearfully unburdened themselves to Paula—who deftly shifted between offering a boisterous laugh and sympathetic ear the entire evening—asking for prayer over  alcoholism, marital issues, and sick family members. If it hadn’t happened so naturally and seamlessly over the course of an hour and half, the whole event would be startling.

So here’s my lesson learned: kindness shouldn’t be rare. Outside of friends and family, towards people I don’t really know, I’ve grown to let kindness be the exception rather than the standard, and I’d be remiss to leave this habit unchanged. Those 48 hours spent with Paula, Meg and others turned into more of an education than any of the monuments or museums I visited.

Grandma Dee Loves to Vape (and other short stories from D.C.)

My bad Chinese was put to immediate use upon my arrival in D.C., though I couldn’t hrrrave been happier to be thrust once again into the confusing melee that is communicating in a language I readily understand though am rarely understood in. It really felt like old times. 

(I’m on the east coast with my friend Wilson for two weeks seeing stuff, keep up here please)
I’m trying the whole AirBnb thing out this trip, which is why I found myself in front of six Chinese tourists who were in our AirBnb (meaning, we paid to sleep in it for two nights), attempting to convince them to move upstairs to their Airbnb, which was easy enough until I realized they took our unit key in the confusion which required a few additional conversations and awkwardly knocking on their door in order to successfully extricate said key. It was all delightfully confusing and I very much enjoyed myself. 

We then went and ate some Mexican food with Wilson’s visiting cousin (who is a joy and I will write more about later) and, I’m ashamed to say, had two excessively large bowls of guacamole (yes, that is which was immediately regretted. 

Our guide for much of Monday evening was vape-toting, dirty martini-guzzling Grandma Dee (she was a friend of someone’s cousin, rather complicated business) who had driven a D.C. tour bus for the last twenty years and could recite the number of steps to such-and-such or the exact height of the Washington Monument or know the start and end dates of just about any major military endeavor without so much as blinking. Dee’s substantial knowledge of the Capitol aside, I had yet to meet a grandmother who knew what vaping was, much less an active vaper, so I regarded her mostly with a similar quiet awe and reverence as exhibited towards one of the many memorials we visited. Were the bars she suggested we indulge her insatiable dirty martini appetite in between the Lincoln and MLK monuments a little divey? Why yes, yes they were. I did not enjoy the beer selections nor the music selections. 

We met a very sweet women named Flo on the metro. 

I met up with my friend Kenzie and we walked around the city with a Chow Chow and it felt nice. Evidently everyone in the city loves a good Chow Chow, though he insisted on chasing after the entire squirrel populace on our walk. 

The Lincoln Memorial was most impactful. His willingness to engage with political rivals and critics of all kinds in pursuit of greater goals is rare enough in politics that I suspect we won’t ever see someone like him again. Kind of wish him and MLK had been buddies or something. 

Going to try and throw up a post once per day over the next week, which feels rather self-indulgent, but I quite enjoy reflection through writing. Especially on trains.

I Did Not See Bears in Yosemite, or Conquering FOMO in a National Park

That distant groaning you hear is the sound of fingers being forced to type complete sentences instead of emoji keyboard shortcuts.

Yes, it’s been awhile. LondonBlogger has turned into LondonBigBoyWorker, the change resulting in relegating travel plans to whatever is behind the back burner and focusing on earning a wage and selling milkshakes to unsuspecting tourists waiting their turn for Pok Pok wings in SE Portland. Under most circumstances, I’d label this a decidedly unglamorous turn, but considering my bathroom in Indonesia comprised of a plastic toilet, a functionally useless faucet and purely decorative showerhead along with some friendly cockroaches, I’d say fortunes have improved considerably.

Now, living in Oregon is nice because it is relatively easy to leave on a weekend (or, with my schedule, weekday) trip somewhere in the mountains or coastal region and be able to take back one’s sanity in time for the workweek. This slight remedy can only last so long, as that gentle pull to travel becomes a screaming three year old that will not be sated until a flight is booked somewhere, anywhere, and that anywhere ended up being Yosemite.

I went it alone (as is my custom, though I’m surprised this habit is still surprising to some), doing perhaps the most adult thing I have ever done in renting a car for the trip after flying down to Fresno (I promptly blew the back right tire, very responsible of me). I stayed with the nicest people one is likely to ever meet in Fresno, then drove east to the southern park entrance, still very unclear as to what I was doing, which is perhaps when I am most comfortable while traveling. I travel in two modes: highly planned, structured and budgeted, and completely unplanned, disjointed and irrationally budgeted, purchasing four gallons of New Zealand artisanal water at Trader Joes because it seems like a good idea at the time.

The thing about trip improvisation is it will completely occupy your time, in the best kind of way. This is a lesson I was reminded of, yet again, in Yosemite. The sheer wealth of destinations within (and even just outside) the park makes it so I was rarely at a loss for what to do next, yet completely clueless as to what the thing was until I found it. I drove some 400+ miles within the park, exited and entered three different entrances, slept in varying degrees of comfort in my car, in a hammock, and in the absolute worst hostel I have ever stayed. All told, I got about 15 hours of sleep in three nights, but found it impossible to be tired when confronted with the staggering beauty of the place. So, I’ll shut up for a bit and let the pictures speak for themselves. Also, I did not see any bears in Yosemite, and this is a Very Sad Thing.

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Yosemite, in description and feel, is prehistoric. It forces upon the viewer an immediate appreciation for the vastness of what has been carved out amidst such a relatively small span of land. Whatever a visitor seeks to accomplish or “find” is violently discarded. Eyes strain to take in every crevice, boulder, stream, mountain: Yosemite is that moonless, starry night where one is irrationally compelled to seek out every pattern and constellation in sight, afraid to blink for fear of losing what is seen above until resignation settles in and blissful, unencumbered delight is the end result.

So while I could try and scrounge up some life lesson from this trip, or declare a newfound purpose from the time and money set aside for my brief exploration of Yosemite, I cannot truthfully do so. A newfound energy has certainly taken hold of me since, but my own reflections have only served to underscore the importance of simply taking time and energy away from the sameness of work and living and invest it in something different for a while, if only to be reminded of how small my life is and that the less is spent of it focusing on my own ends is probably for the best, and that a mountain or cliff or viewpoint that rarely changes is weirdly the best remedy for monotony.

For those who hate slideshows, pics in standalone format:

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Belated (I mean, REALLY belated) Photos From Europe

Look. I know. 

Posting pics of my backpacking trip across Europe after being back for two months is like, two YEARS in Facebook time. Our minds are simply too preoccupied with monitoring our five other social networks (and Snapchat!) to care about what someone did that long ago. Come to think of it, the gulf between then and now doesn’t seem to be so exaggerated: two months of job searching will do that to you.

The images are presented without captions and without explanation. Just trust me in that I took them all in Europe. As always, the images are in thumbnails on the next page.

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Coming Home (again)

Perhaps this is due to it being my third go around in as many years, or the weariness of walking everywhere and constantly stifling my very American desire to drive a car again, but the thought of going home occurred to me yesterday (in the shower, as these things tend to go) and I was surprised at how comforting it was. Two months of constant, often unplanned travel is both wonderful and tiresome. This is not to say I would not jump at the chance to do a backpacking trip through Europe again (I am already compiling a list of places in my head to visit if it ever came), but even in the company of complete strangers I find myself talking of Portland more and more as my date of departure edges closer.

I’ve come across more than a few people in Europe looking to get away from something, be it home, a relationship, or pain of some sort (this is heavily influenced by talking to those on the Camino). Travel can be a very helpful and necessary way to deal with those problems; I, however, cannot recall ever leaving the States for those reasons. Going abroad has, even on this wild Eurotrip, always been an education. The freedom to dictate (for the most part) every moment, every eatery, every step, every conversation is a rarity, and I cherish it dearly as the time for being (somewhat) responsible grows near. Some important decisions loom, and while I was not entirely ready to face then two months ago, I certainly am now. In this light, coming to Europe was an absolute success.

With all this said, any conclusion to a journey is difficult, and I will miss the people I have met along the way. I will probably pine for the mesmerizing charm of Paris from time to time, or laugh aloud thinking about the incessant mooing of cows while hiking the German alps. I will crave Italian gelato and dream of the Camino while stuck in traffic on the 217. As always, I leave these places full of gratitude, yet surer of who I am and where I belong: home.

It is always home.

A Mishmash of Things

In the past week, I have visited three countries–each radically different than the other–and a bit of exhaustion has crept in alongside the countless stories and experiences I will definitely not forget. To spare my thumbs (and the reader), I will keep my summaries brief. Apologies to those wanting more detail, but as all of you who know me in person are aware, I am rarely at a loss for words and will happily provide more detail if asked.

So, Munich. It was to my great pleasure to experience the atmosphere of the World Cup in a place where football (soccer) is so dearly loved as it is in Germany. As I sat with friends from the Camino in a beer garden drinking out of an absurdly-sized mug, I was at a loss as to why there are not many comparable settings in Oregon. Forget the rainy weather, we need a decent beer garden to compliment the excellent IPA’s crafted in my state. The city itself struck me as one of the more westernized places I had ever visited outside of the USA, sans the ridiculously complicated street names and Bavarian garb. One night I ate a fantastic serving of gyro alongside baby calamari after having consumed a hearty meal of roast beef and schnitzel atop the German alps for lunch. Munich, in other words, could do no wrong.

I also visited Paris again, because it is a great city and deserves as much time as can be given. I have curiously good timing for arriving in cities where festivals are ongoing, and was lucky enough to be in Paris during a city-wide music festival where a variety of bands set up on dozens of street corners and played until dawn. To be able to experience a mosh pit in Bastille, dance in the midst of young Parisians to bass-thumping ECM outside Notre Dame, and hear some indescribable (but enjoyable) music at the Muslim center all along the course of a four kilometer walk is something I doubt comes along very often. One member of our party sustained a minor cut in her hand in the mosh pit, the other lost her sandal. It was fantastic. I also paid €8 for the worst beer I have ever tasted at a show along the Seine, which I will probably regret for as long as I live.

The past two days I have spent on the eastern coast of Spain in a beachside town called Tossa de Mar and can scarcely imagine a more relaxing way to end my time abroad. Dazzlingly blue Mediterranean waters provided a fantastic contrast to the stunning cliffside homes I gaped at as I drove a moped through incredibly windy roads from one beach town to the next. And yes, this was my first time riding a moped, though I was kicking myself for not doing while living in Indonesia last year, as it was incredibly easy to drive and ridiculously cheap to do so. I was also praying furiously throughout every tight corner I sped through, so it was not without some moments of sheer terror.

There is much, much more I could write of, but I need to switch trains and catch up on some sleep. My flight for Portland leaves from Madrid tomorrow and despite how much fun the past two months have been, it is an incredibly comforting thought. I will post some final thoughts on Europe and coming home and another addition of Crappy iPod photos soon.

Delirium in Paris

During the previous Wednesday night spent in a Parisian train station, I had managed to reserve a bed at a hostel some distance from the center. However, it was only available beginning Thursday night, which meant I had all of the morning to wander around Paris as I pleased or, was NOT pleased. Having been immensely satisfied with walking all the way to see the Eiffel Tower at daybreak, I was also incredibly exhausted with five hours to go until go could check in, all while dealing with no sleep and having to carry all my possessions throughout the entire day. I set out from the Trocador (like the Tower, also beautiful and empty at the moment) to find…something. I spoke the bare minimum of French needed to assure a citizen I was not either mute or an idiot, but in the hours that followed, my lack of sleep made for some interesting interactions with the locals.
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Homeless in Paris

On my last morning in Indonesia, I rose early enough to catch the sunrise, which I had yet to see throughout six months of work there. On my first morning in Paris–under remarkably different circumstances–I rose from my seat at the Gare de Lyon station at 3:30am to set off for the Eiffel Tower to see the sunrise.

Some further explanation is needed. Departing from Barcelona on Wednesday by train, an impromptu decision to take a three night detour in Paris while traveling towards Munich proved to have been terribly timed. That morning, French rail workers and Parisian taxi drivers simultaneously went on strike, stranding thousands of travelers in the city I was bound for and forcing a mass scramble for lodging. I being without wifi on a six-hour journey was blissfully unaware of the chaos, convinced there was plenty of lodging to be found in Paris on a Wednesday night. I was wrong.

After arriving at around 11pm, I proceeded to discover the limitations of my fanciful traveling impulses and was unsurprisingly unable to find any sort of lodging within reason of my budget. Undaunted on my first night in Paris, I went back to the train station at midnight and procured a fine seat: good wifi, near a lamp, and equipped with an outlet to charge my iPod. I soon discovered the reason behind my good fortune, as it became clear I had sat in an area occupied by Paris’ homeless populace in various states of mental incapacity. At this moment, however, I too was homeless and mentally incapacitated as a result of little sleep the night before, so I was happily unconcerned with my neighbors. I was not entirely comfortable though, as one man nearby would suddenly burst into uncontrollable–and terrifying–laughter every 30 minutes.

Needless to say, I did not sleep over the next few hours.

At the height of my discomfort (the bathrooms were closed after midnight and I was slipping in and out of delirium due to sleep depravation), it suddenly occurred to me in the small hours of the morning that here was a golden opportunity to see the sunrise in one of the world’s greatest cities. After some quick Google searches, it was clear where I should go: the Eiffel Tower, eight kilometers (roughly five miles) away. I had an hour and a half to get there with my pack, having never walked the streets of Paris, before the sunrise. Without thinking twice, I gathered my things and left the man of spontaneous giggling.
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Weird Questions and Nude Beaches

“You ask weird questions.”

This (not entirely inaccurate) observation came from the girlfriend of one of my temporary roommates in Madrid. My sister is back in the States, but I keep using her old apartment as a home base for when I come back from traveling in other countries. Her old roommates are from all over the world, which makes for some fun conversation at night over cheap wine in coffee mugs. Some different perspectives at the very least.

Back to weird questions. It was less of a malicious statement than it was her somewhat awkward attempt to say I did things differently, because I had been asking plenty of somewhat random inquiries over the course of the night: why people in Spain hate wearing less than three layers of clothing (inconclusive), where did they go to be inspired (directed toward the design students in the room), what they thought of American accents (not overly fond of them, though mine is apparently more tolerable than most). To me, I don’t view this as weird questions. As I’ve written often, the why is important to me, especially coming from a different culture. Perhaps we don’t ask enough weird questions, though I’m pretty sure we should strive for more of them. If it was weird to ask, it was also certainly not boring.

If I had been asking them a question today, it would have been why nude beaches (or topless beaches, in this case) exist. Being a Portlander (Oregonian suffices as well), you’d think I would be used to public nudity at this point. Strangely enough though, nudity in Oregon doesn’t really extend to beaches, so it is always startling when I’m walking along a nice beach and–oh hey, a naked person. How does one avert one’s eyes properly without being so obvious? Aren’t sunglasses a bit creepy in this case? And why, why are 99% of these liberated beach goers elderly women?

Then there is the question of towel positioning, because it is difficult to be comfortable when seated within a 20 foot radius of someone naked. If they all just decided to be in the same well-marked area (I have yet to see a “Nude Beach” sign in any language, by the way) this would greatly relieve my stress at the beach.

Or they should all just be on bikes. Naked people on bikes I can handle.