Strange Addictions (or: On Smartphones and Sanders)

20 03 2016

To my friends’ chagrin and, secretly, to my own slight amusement, I have always been something of a tech ignoramus. I was late getting a cell phone. I was late getting an iPhone. And nowadays, a little dream of mine is to have my next phone be a dumbphone.

I get that willfully going dumbphone is an absurdly drastic step. The world has changed since I could force my high school friends to call my house and ask my parents if I was home. It almost feels kind of… suicidal. But that’s exactly why I realized I had to do it.

You can be addicted to technology. About three years after getting my iPhone 4, I am (was?) addicted to it. I felt its weight as I carried it around the house, knowing I daren’t miss a text; and I forgot what my hand felt like without it. I would try to squeeze checks of this and that app in every tiny mote of between-time: at red lights; while my computer was loading; during movies that weren’t quite grabbing me.

Call it this Jew’s little Lent-speriment. I am now the owner of a Pantech keyboard phone, and have been for about two weeks. And in this blog post, it’s time for me to address the myths surrounding the sepia-toned yesteryear of the dumbphone. Let’s see if they stand or flop.

1) A dumbphone is so simple that you can do what you want – type texts and make calls – without constant worrying about troubleshooting.

Nope, nope and nope. I remember now that once upon a time, a phone worth its salt was worth its weight in gold. It seems that in my recent Craigslist purchase I neither got screwed nor got lucky, which makes my purple Pantech the perfect subject for this experiment. The touchscreen doesn’t always lock when you want it to, meaning that I’ve sent countless blank texts or ones filled with ertyhunmmmm%^&&%$6566%%%%%. Most annoyingly, since I’ve changed the clock for daylight savings my phone insists on not translating the data it receives from other texts. As a result, all of my text conversations appear in one-hour blocks, since all of my messages were sent an hour forward.

Classic dumbphone crap, right? But I think I sort of expected this. So…

2) Ok, fine. But the bar is so much lower because you’re not immersed in a gorgeous digital world, and so you have a higher tolerance for just saying “oh well” and getting on with your life.

Actually, the real answer is even more critical of Apple: common iPhone problems like freezing, touchscreen malfunctions, and battery life actually stop you from using the damn device. With my dumbphone, it’s just not the end of the world, and so I keep using it. And so we can add a honeyed grain of truth back to myth #1. In a way, even a janky dumbphone is somehow more durable than a smartphone.

3) The battery life of a dumbphone is way better than that of a smartphone, so you don’t have to constantly worry about plugging it in.

Yes and no. Again, I’m sure this is phone-specific, but my phone now lasts for 2 days or so without a charge. It’s infinitely better than my old iPhone, which would last a matter of hours; and having that classic 3 blinking bars in the little battery, instead of a percentage notice, makes it much less stressful to play helicopter-parent. But still. I admit it: without a doubt, the romance of the tale has grown in the telling.

4) Without a dumbphone, I can simplify my life of apps.

Again, yes and no. The thing is, since it isn’t unlocked, I thought that as soon as my iPhone lost the patronage of a bona fide AT&T chip, it would become a useless brick. Not the case. I still have all the same apps, but they now only work with the WiFi in my house – surprisingly, even ones like WhatsApp that are linked to a telephone number. For me, honestly, this is actually an ideal solution. I’ve been able to continue using them when necessary; but without them waiting in my pocket all the time, I check them 1000% less often. (We’re talking a switch from every 20 minutes to every 2 days). The bad news, of course, is that the availability of the apps sort of taints my experiment.

My life with my phone, meanwhile, feels simplified in a way beyond the lack of apps. Without the ability to send emojis, GIFs, or quickly-snapped photos, I find myself narrowing my contact with my friends to slightly more pragmatic reasons. And though I wish the design for checking texts was a little quicker, and the display for things like group texts a little savvier – in those departments, it’s true, the iPhone has narrowed it down to perfection – I’m perfectly happy to text less, and think less about sending a picture of every little moment to the person with whom it’s an inside joke. That is one part that I’m actually enjoying a lot.

5) It’ll be hard to navigate the world without the Internet all the time, but it’ll force me to engage and think more.

This is true, but I think I romanticized the value of this engagement and thinking. The most obvious manifestation of this (now is when you get to say “I told you so”) is maps. Since going dumbphone, I have been spectacularly late to meet a friend; and have spent some tense moments in the car running errands which definitely could have been quicker. I’ve enjoyed strengthening my knowledge of unfamiliar neighborhoods in my city. But outside of my hometown, this story would be vastly different.

And then there’s your ability with a smartphone to look up a number and immediately call it – one of their greatest powers, if you ask me. Because I lacked it, finding a medical office I’d never been to involved traipsing through the halls of a large public health building, where most of the offices were closed and no one knew where anything was, finally to be helped by a nice lady who was on her lunch break. “I just started working in administration here,” she said, “so it’s actually good for me to know if you didn’t find what you’re looking for.” Was it nice to make a tiny connection with that lady? Well, sure. And I guess it helped her with her job, in some tiny way. But sweet blue Jesus, it took almost a half hour to do what could have taken seconds. That’s impossible to ignore.

My dumbphone life also involves a lot of quick Google Maps searches on a PC before I leave, which really just requires me to allot my time a fraction differently. And leads to another epiphany, one that I don’t think an analysis of tech addiction in 2010, or in 2013, could quite have reached: the way you use technology is an amalgam of ALL the devices you have, and how they interact.

6) I’ll be happier and I won’t want another iPhone.

Since the iPhone has fared much better than I thought in this experiment, I am as shocked by the answer as I type this as you probably will be when you read it: yes, I am happier. I literally don’t know why, except for this vague sense that my days are more interesting and less… sort of… masturbatory.

But here’s the really weird part: the answer to the other part of this myth is no. No, I will eventually want another iPhone. I realized early on in the experiment that this was the inevitable conclusion. The future goes forward, not backwards; and above all else I aspire to go with it. I admit how clutch it is to have a camera with you on the run. I’m intrigued by apps like Strava that could be really useful and awesome. And the idea of tackling a Backroads trip without a mapping system is just absurd. Besides, with its supreme lack of space for more than a few apps, my iPhone 4 hadn’t really been an iPhone for a while.

So what on earth to make of this? I guess technology addiction is just one of those ones you learn to live with, like coffee addiction. I’ll have to take a moderate stance: this detox is great fun so far; but it’ll just have to be a learning experience to look back on when I have my next smartphone. Until I forget what life is like without one. Then it’s time for the next detox.

While writing this post I saw, more and more clearly, a link to politics. Allow me to explain. Like so many liberals, I live in a divided household: the older generation is with Hill, while I intend to give my ballot the Bern. Both my parents, of course, have very good reasons for whom they support. My dad has mentioned that Bernie’s wish to eschew free trade will just selfishly hurt the poor countries to which we outsource. My mom has mentioned that Hillary seems more well-rounded on things like foreign policy, while Bernie keeps yelling about his one issue.

Can’t disagree with that, certainly. But it led to an interesting conversation. I told her what I’ve heard, and basically believe: that yeah, Bernie certainly has less foreign policy experience; but what with the breadth of what the President must deal with – and what with the massive army of advisors he or she chooses – at the end of the day, I really just want someone who is intelligent enough to parse the advice given to him or her by military personnel, and sympathetic enough to my values to do what I would wish with that advice.

Mom grimaced, and said that it still wasn’t quite enough for her. She would feel safer with a President who’s able to inspire respect for power in other world leaders; and basically she fears that with a sad-sack like Bernie as figurehead, other world powers like Iran and China might grow greater than us and start threatening us and our world hegemony.

I was taken aback both by this and by the ordinary answer that rose to my lips: “Oh well.”

I’ve never brought the logic this far, but I suddenly realized something. Voting for Bernie inspires wishful thinking hedged by fear and regret in voters: the same emotions inspired by the thought of shaking an addiction. Because the possibility of a Bernie presidency is the possibility of an end to our addiction. Our addiction to being the world police, and the world’s greatest power.

A close friend of mine once summed it up this way: “Hillary is the best leader for the current system; Bernie is the best leader for a new system.” We liberals have been talking about what a different U.S. would look like ever since I’ve been alive. Now that we’re close, we realize what we’ll have to give up, and we’re getting cold feet.

I think my generation is so pro-Bernie precisely because we’re uniquely prepared to face this. Our parents were raised by a generation smug in the knowledge that their country had smitten ultimate evil in WWII; and when they tried their hand at being peaceniks, it was smug in the knowledge that they were against the ultimate negligence in Vietnam. But my generation was raised in the shadow of 9/11, and all the shades of gray that became visible in that shadow. How sometimes we try to help other countries, and only end up causing more harm years later. How sometimes horrible things happen, but there’s no one you can reasonably blame. Most of all, I think the overreaching fear from 9/11 caused us to grow up with an awareness of something important: that all our meddling and military action, though regrettable and remonstrable, is very much a guilty pleasure. It’s not just a disgusting cancer to let go of joyously. It has a good side. It makes us feel safe.

People in the liberal hotbed where I was raised talk about an America where gun violence is not rampant; where good education and healthcare are basic rights. But I think most of them haven’t realized that in their imagination, this new America is still subject to certain assumptions they grew up with: that we still be the top dogs of world trade; able to influence worldwide policy with sanctions passed at the lift of a finger; always with more and bigger nukes than those who want to destroy us; always there to shove the dysfunctional faux-democracies in Iran, China, wherever, back in line.

If we really want to be like Iceland or Norway or Switzerland, or even Canada or Germany, the picture might not look like that. Liberal frustration stems from the fact that America the modern civilized democracy and America the empire cannot coexist. If we really want to focus on fixing America first, then we will have the weird and scary experience of watching the world map shift around the vacuum we leave. But to change the way things are, we have to make a choice.

If you’re dreaming of Bernie but you feel doubts come gnawing, this is for you. We as a country are at that moment when we throw away the last empty cigarette box and think, wait, hold on, crap – this isn’t gonna be all roses and dew drops. What can I say? We’re right, of course. It’s never as easy as we think, to quit our strange addictions.

But that’s no reason not to try.

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Little People

9 03 2016

One day last year, during my job training, a favorite topic of conversation became “What was the weirdest job you had before Backroads?”.

The answers included: rowing a gondola in the canals of the touristy Venice-replica in Long Beach; guiding nerdy Indian elementary schoolers on team-building activities in China; swabbing the decks on a Farallon Islands shark research boat; and, my favorite, distracting the octopus at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences while his tank was being cleaned. Take a sec to enjoy it. This girl’s job was distracting the octopus.

So you’ll understand how with this type of environment, I don’t think I have the wildest resume out there. But nonetheless, I never thought I’d spend the off-season of Backroads working as a French-immersion preschool teacher. For the moment, I have left the guests behind, and have entered instead into the mysterious lives of little people.

Or have I? For I would state – and I know this makes me sound like an ass, but I would state that dealing with preschoolers is less similar to dealing with people than it is to dealing with pets. Think about it. Sometimes you call their name 6 times in a row to get their attention, and they stare into space the first 5 times with their tongue out then turn to you the sixth time as attentive as can be. What did you say differently? You may never know. In the same vein, whether they like you or not seems to be decided viscerally, based on smell or face shape or something. If they like you, they’re all over you. If they don’t, they’ll stare at you ’till you make a sudden movement, then run.

To understand what it’s like to teach immersion French to preschoolers, you first have to realize that preschoolers can’t talk. Not really. They talk, but they say things that don’t make any sense. Even the ones who are very verbal are still not quite all the way there. Oftentimes, these confused budding bilinguals simply open their mouths and say something that they obviously believe is either French or English, but in fact is neither.

Sometimes I repeat, just to see if I hear method to the madness in my own echo. “Javu baruddi?” I repeat, a mix of concern and skepticism stretching my face into a grimace.

“Barudi! Javu ba!” the student will repeat in a plaintive cry, simply begging me to understand. And those are the moments when I really feel like I’m dealing with a desperate pet. Because I can tell they need something, but it’s like… sorry, pal. I’m gettin nothing.

So this job involves not so much teaching French as teaching eating with a spoon, sitting, colors, proper use of scissors, and slide etiquette, via a combination of French and pantomime. Outside of schoolwork, I can report that other popular pastimes among the toddler population include:

-Writhing like the girl from the Exorcist during naptime

-Putting an arm over their eyes, elbow-first, when somebody is asking them to do something and they don’t want to

-Not eating lunch.

-Saying “Moi fais pipi! Moi fais pipi!”

By far, “moi fais pi-pi” is the most commonly uttered phrase within the walls of the preschool. By the students, at least. The most commonly uttered phrase by us teachers is “Oh là là,” which, in case you didn’t know, isn’t actually a sexy acclamation, but more a translation of “Oh my!”. “Oh là là” is pretty much the only way you can react to anything preschoolers do. Someone trips and falls? Oh, là. Drew a nice picture? Oh là là! Got tangled up trying to tie their shoes? Oh, là là. Food everywhere from not eating with a spoon? Oh lala lala.

The French education style is different from the American one, which is one of the defining factors of how the preschool is run. “We explain to all of the parents that we use French discipline here,” my boss explained on my first day. “Remember, they are all OK with that.” That doesn’t mean some horrible corporal punishment; but it is different than the way I would be inclined to treat toddlers. It means showing them when you’re angry or disappointed with them – no Jedi mind-tricks of sweetness – and expecting certain adult-like behavior of them, like sitting properly at the table with their legs forward. I can’t help but feel sometimes, when I remind them of this for the umpteenth time, that it’s a fruitless exercise. But then I think of how different young French people are from young Americans. And I realize there are many different ways to raise children, with unfathomable results.

Another thing I’ve noticed (though I don’t have any American preschool experience to compare it to) is that the French preschool teachers don’t mind being overheard. They comment to each other freely about how difficult the kids are today, and they don’t hold back on small quips when talking to the kids – “Sophie, eat with your spoon, oh là là, remember the last time you spread food everywhere it was like a bomb went off.” While we all were celebrating my birthday, my boss was telling me to enjoy my youth – she’d change some things, if she could go back. “Oh, yeah,” snorted another teacher, “I’d change the father of my children.”

I was taken aback, and realized there were two ways to interpret this. On the one hand, failing to hide this dark snark surely helps instill that typical Gallic cynicism which the French complain about constantly. If the teachers think the kids aren’t absorbing their energy, they’re wrong. But on the other hand, maybe they don’t care. Unlike in an American school, the teachers don’t censor and infantilize everything that surrounds the kids. Of course they’re not cussing and talking about sex – French kids must be polite, after all! – but they are allowing themselves to talk like adults in a certain way that I wouldn’t. And I have to wonder if that attitude is already helping to build some of the things that Americans so admire in the French: a sharp and critical psyche; a subtle understanding of irony, social cues and secrets.

Let me say, if being gay hadn’t already made me challenge my previously-assumed desire to have kids, working at a preschool sure as hell would. I don’t mean that as a diss of toddlers. But the idea that these parents have to teach these kids everything – from potty training and use of cutlery to study skills, sharing, and the difference between right and wrong – is utterly harrowing to me. At school, we just have to usher the stampede of kids onward through the hoops, making sure they don’t trample each other and hoping they learn something in the process. Can’t sleep during naptime? We just “shhh” until the hour is up. Made a pi-pi in your pants? Grab their change of clothes, bundle up the old ones and send them home in a plastic bag. We watch as they slowly progress; while the parents’ 24/7, pee-soaked, insomniac nightmare of constant life coaching chugs forward behind the scenes.

My parents and I have been hooked on a TV show called “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”. The wonderful writing on the show parades an endless line of complex villains, all of whom you realize, in some climactic moment, just has something broken inside of them – some slight flaw which made them think incorrectly that murdering someone was the best way forward. Not to make this get super dark, but honestly I feel like the murderers just didn’t quite get the education they needed in preschool.

That’s what I mean by a harrowing task, teaching these kids everything about everything. Try to help a bunch of 2-to-5’s go through their day like a normal society, and you’ll realize just how horrifyingly complex our society really is. It doesn’t just make you daunted by the idea of raising a child; it gives you existential dread. Everything we take for granted has to be constantly retaught to each generation – by the people who were the victims of the last botched teaching attempt. You get the feeling that the whole thing is about as stable as a teetering pile of pancakes being moved from plate to plate by a spatula inserted at the bottom.

But what’s more, most of us don’t understand our society completely either. At work, I look down from above with face-palming comprehension as a whole drama plays out: someone grabs someone else’s toy; the original owner says “Mine!”; the thief says “Want!”; the original owner starts to cry; and the thief stares in downcast horror at his friend’s tears, wondering how it came to this. For me, it’s so obvious. But what about when I reunite with an ex-lover whom I’d like to be friends with, but up until this particular meeting we’ve been unable to avoid a flirty vibe – how to avoid disaster then? What about when you live with your parents and they’re doing something that annoys you, and you have to confront the issue politely as an adult roommate, despite the fact that they still see you as their baby, and with the additional challenge of staying sensitive to the fact that they work long days and can’t handle stress or criticism? What about when you’re drifting apart from your best friend, and he says he can’t make it to your birthday? What about when you like one set of grandparents more than the other? What about when you need to say “sorry” to a client or boss sincerely, but without groveling so low that you sell yourself short? I can’t help but think there’s an answer to each one of these situations – one that, if we knew it, would be as simple and obvious as not saying “mine” and snatching people’s stuff. But I can report that 24 years isn’t enough to have cracked any of the above conundrums. I am still on the same journey of socialization as the preschool students. And tomorrow they might learn how to share, but damn, they’ve still got a loooooong way to go.

The raw facts of humanity are on display in preschool. I think neither John Locke nor Thomas Hobbes was correct – Locke with his belief that humans are naturally good, and evil is learned; Hobbes with his crotchety opinion that humans are naturally selfish and wicked, and must cede their freedom to a social contract to live in peace. If anarchy is anything like preschool – and I think it would be – it would be a mix of fiercely random tribal alliances, governed by that uniquely human blend of calculation tempered by the the whims of love. And the whole thing would be shot through equally with acts of monstrous selfishness, and of gorgeous altruism.

I guess what I’ve realized is, insanity is constantly at bay behind human culture… so what is there to do but try and solve the riddle for ourselves, then stop worrying? Sometimes I sneeze and make phlegm fly everywhere, or spill bright red spaghetti sauce on a shirt that is meant to be worn on formal occasions. And at those moments, I think, Oh, God. I’m just like one of the kids right now. If there was a titanic preschool teacher watching over me, he or she would survey the scene with a groan, and say “Ohhhh la la la la la la….” while cleaning me up. But there isn’t. So I just grab a Kleenex, wipe my nose, and remember that when push comes to shove, those kids are going to do just fine.





Tales of the Balkans

23 12 2015

Who can you answer for?

If someone asks you, about some cultural question, what do y’all think – vous, ustedes, whatever – could you speak for your extended family… or just your immediate one? What about the people that live on your street: do you belong to a place? Or do you belong to a group like a religion? What about the other members of that group? Could you speak for them?

Could you speak for your country?

For a friend’s birthday once, me and a group pooled money to give her a coffee-table book made by the guidebook company Lonely Planet, with a two-page spread for each country in the world. The separate pages on “Israel” and “Palestine”, as well as one on Kosovo, were tasteful, and yet highlighted the absurdity of the idea: The Israel page talks about an “age-old nation”; meanwhile the Palestine page mentions the point of pride that “Jesus was born here!” Who’s to say whether Jesus was born in Palestine or Israel? He was born in the Roman Empire, people. Flipping through the book, I realized how intensely we’ve come to accept the modern nation-state as the supreme geographical unit. And I realized for the first time how weird that is.

The Balkan Peninsula, where I spent a good part of my autumn, would fit easily into Texas. In the Lonely Planet book, this checkerboard of small countries filled 6 separate pages with fairly similar snapshots of farmlands, minarets and mountains. The entire United States, meanwhile, was a Manhattan skyline, a beach lined with palm trees and a street in Vegas all crammed into one page. Strange? That’s what I thought when I first came across the book – but hearing people’s stories in the past weeks, on one side of a border and then on the other, I’ve realized that there is some inherent human wish for our cultures and our identities to be validated by an official nation which is Ours.

I guess you don’t notice that until you don’t have it – and the people of the Balkans have gone to all sorts of lengths to get it. That’s the overarching story that unfolded during my trip through the region: from Italy to Bulgaria in about two weeks.

But as with so many things, I have to begin at the end – with Iveta, the friend who was the ultimate destination of my trip, and whose city, Sofia, was my last stop east. Bulgaria has a little distance from the tightly-woven Balkan conflicts, and so Iveta had a unique perspective.

“Basically, all the fighting started over religion and then ended up about land,” she began. “The thing you have to understand is, we Balkan people are really passionate. It’s really easy to get us to unite, but it’s also really easy to create some stupid stuff to divide us. There was Yugoslavia, and everyone was so excited about Yugoslavia. Then I think somebody decided to mess it up. And all they had to do was say ‘Yay nationalism!’, and now everyone is so excited about nationalism.”

Before I go on, I have a disclaimer. Weaving historical tidbits into my story comes automatically with a certain academic messiness. I’ve tried to at least say “He told me…” or “She told me…” when possible, but I still feel the need to disclaim: This post may educate you about some controversial and spicy stuff, and my version of it is not cited in even the least professional way. If you’re interested – look stuff up!

CROATIA

Here comes Balkans 101. The Balkan Peninsula lies across the Adriatic Sea east of Italy, and a history of migration and empire has made it a major crossroads. There are different ethnic groups – mainly Slavs (the ethnic group Russians also belong to) and the darker, more Greek-looking Albanians. And there are many religions: Orthodox brought by the Byzantine Empire; Catholic brought by the Venetian Empire; Muslim by the Ottoman. Until the 90’s it was all one country, called Yugoslavia. When people talk about “former Yugoslavia,” they’re talking about the Balkan countries.

“Croats” was originally the name for the Catholic Slavs who inhabit the Balkans, while Serbs were the Orthodox Slavs. This introduces two important concepts. The first is the weird (to me) idea behind many of the post-Yugoslavia states: one state for one people; one ethnic people. It’s the same idea behind, say, the State of Israel. They couldn’t get along in one country, ‘cus there were too many power struggles; so give ’em their own country. Right?

As an American, my deepest principles come down to the fact that for a government to treat two people differently because of ethnicity is a racist and wrong act. And saying “hey, you’re one of us!” counts as treating someone differently. So I’ve always been skeptical of this definition of a state, no matter where it’s found. “Croatia is a civilized, Christian country,” one of my hitchhikees assured me. And ironically, I felt the opposite of reassured – I felt a gulp of differentness, of unease. But for him, the statement was just part of what makes his home his home.

The other important fact wrapped up in this definition is Croatia’s identity as a Mediterranean country. Catholicism equals connections with Italy equals Westernness, to oversimplify the links in the chain. When the powers that be drew the borders of Croatia, the country of Yugoslavian Catholics, it was no coincidence. The borders were drawn to include the Catholic population that was, and is, mostly concentrated along the coast; because the Venetian Empire extended its influence (and its religion) via the sea. And in a lot of ways – the food culture of the olive and the grape; the sunny island-peppered coastline, the red-roofed architecture – Croatian certainly is Italy’s close cousin.

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The Hedonist Blues

25 11 2015

I’ve had some tough thoughts on my mind lately about Life with a monolithic capital L. These thoughts have been keeping me from blogging about a lot of interesting travels over the past month, nagging me with the feeling that unless I get this off my chest, any update will be… dishonest. Will be missing something. So I’m going to try to put them to pixels, but I’ll warn you. It’s gonna be a downer. Open a new tab now and have a subreddit about cute puppies at the ready.

The thoughts necessarily start with a small update, which is that I’ve been traveling around Europe for the past month, and will be for the foreseeable future. Long story short, a season of my seasonal job has come to a close, and until Aprilish I have to find something to do with myself. I look around at what my coworkers are doing for winter and I hear about ski seasons and South America, bike tours of Colombia and of California, climbing and camper vans, organic farms and picking up languages. What’s a boy to do? Enter the additional plot element of the Staff Ride, our company’s end-of-season bike trip/party – all expenses paid, except airfare. Everyone told me it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and why would I shell out to fly to Europe just for one week? So the rest is history.

I have become a hedonist. That is, I currently live a lifestyle fueled by hedonism. How should I spend my winter: A, B or C? The trick answer is that all of the options are about me. Whether it’s getting in shape or communing with nature, acquiring new languages or trying new sports, it all comes down to one choice: What would be more fun? Exciting, enriching, inspiring, exhilarating, they’re all cheap adjectives for the same thing – pleasure. And I have to wonder if there’s more.

I’ve been feeling nihilist, to misuse more philosophical terms. What I’m hoping nihilism means is the belief that nothing really matters. We, the human race, are rapidly destroying the planet as well as each other. With that in mind, I can’t help but observe that the Earth will be better off without us. There is nothing inherently right or beautiful about human culture. We are only beautiful to ourselves because we are us. Whatever strange, restarting world we’ll leave behind when we’re gone, it’ll surely be just as wondrous to the earth, or to God, or to whatever witness there is, as our era was. In light of that, there’s no reason to change our catastrophic course except for the simply selfish reasons of avoiding our own trauma and inconvenience. And those things are avoided just as well if you tell yourself, well, YOLO, we’re here to enjoy life while we can.

There it is in a nutshell: the path of least resistance. But I also am tormented by my own privilege in being able to think these thoughts, simply because for millions of others, life is not a treat to be enjoyed. What did I do to deserve all the things that give me pleasure, from wine overlooking the Matterhorn to the biggest version of Wikipedia being in my native language to living family members who love me? A whole lot of nothing, that’s what.

And at this point, though that fact makes me plenty insecure about my hedonism, I first want to touch on why this does not inspire me to forsake hedonism. It’s because the obvious alternatives – a solid desk job with a salary, working towards a career, being respectable – aren’t going to do anything to change the unfairness of the situation. Say I do something uber-responsible: go to law school, slave away to prepare for the bar exam, and then as a lawyer rake in bazillions and snag the swankiest apartment in Santa Monica. Then I would be harvesting the system for my unfair privilege, just like I’m doing now, except not enjoying it. What’s the point in that? No, no – the only thing that could call me to make a change would be doing something to help the millions of others who are less lucky. And I don’t mean just handing out ladlefuls of soup outside the church. I mean doing something big, or at least a piece of something big, so that the system gets a little better.

Which brings us to the next source of the angst. As a kid I was truly, constantly heartbroken by the rape of the environment, and it meant the world to me. As I grew older and learned about poverty and my own economic privilege, I sort of let my environmentalist feelings drop to a simmer. I realized that to worry about nebulous things like the climate and the polar bears is a rich person’s problem – the sad truth is that for industry to grow as fast as possible is the best way to lift people out of poverty, so they or their children can lead lives with 2 seconds of leisure time in which to enjoy nature.

But now, as the truly alarming signs of climate change begin to show, the other swing of the pendulum nags me. Our planet is unsustainably overpopulated, and solving its humanitarian problems will only lift more consumers up to help destroy the earth. Besides, there has never yet been a time in history without humanitarian crises. Even in the unlikely event that one will ultimately come, procrastinating on saving the Earth until it gets here does not seem like a plan of action that’s working.

The problem is that even this desperately honest conclusion – that we are killing our mother, wiping out the diverse community of life that birthed us – is still trapped in the box of rich-people-logic. To focus that much on saving the earth is a hopelessly selfish act, at best. At worst, it could be seen as willfully letting others die so that a more sustainable global population can live, which is heartless and cruel. Surely if we’re determined for humanity to weather the shitstorm of the mess we’ve made, it’s all of humanity, or we lose our humanity.

And that, dear reader, is the conundrum I am left with. The nut that I just can’t crack. Which is better: to save ourselves?

To save the world?

Or to save each other?





Some Thoughts About Gentrification

26 09 2015

I am very lucky. My latest job – as a guide/camp cook for a tour company – has taken me to some dreamy places this summer. From the orange canyons of southern Utah to the shores of the Great Salt Lake and the icy heights of Glacier National Park in Montana, it’s been a wild ride. And the luckiest thing of all is that my job currently has me home for a few weeks.

Home. I use the term loosely, since I am staying in Berkeley. There was a time when I would have laughed at the notion that my sleepy suburb was part of that monolithic paper town called the Bay Area. But adulthood has changed my perspective. After everywhere I’ve been this summer, I really do feel like I’m home.

The other day I was returning from working on a trip up in wine country, right around sunset. As I climbed up the white arc of the Richmond Bridge and the bay opened up before me, I watched the islands that dot the water drift past each other like backdrops in a marionette show – some golden and bare, others crowned with dark bunches of Monterey pines. And bit by bit, the skyline of the City unfolded from behind the massif of Angel Island: first the towers of downtown, from which the twinkling lights of the Bay Bridge were strung like a garland; then the pale stipple of houses on Telegraph Hill and Russian Hill; and finally the wooded slope of the Presidio, beyond which the sea spray hung like gossamer in the blinding gap of the Golden Gate. I looked at the glorious view, and didn’t even realize that I had taken a deep breath, and let my whole body relax.

But then I thought about an article I saw linked to on Facebook recently – as one often does, when one sees a beautiful vista, and wants to spontaneously ruin it. I thought of the title of the article: “A Surplus of Tech Killed the Loveliest, Liveliest City on the West Coast.” (Wonderfully concise, these modern online journalists.) And I couldn’t help but think, as I looked out across the water: Is this what a dying city looks like?

San Francisco is a city with a demon, and everyone is talking about it. If you’re uninitiated, allow me to introduce you to the conundrum. It can be summed up like this: Tech industry booms. Overnight, San Francisco goes from an old-school, mid-sized city, to a place upon which a flood of people with six-figure paychecks descend from every corner of the earth. Rent goes up. A lot. People get pushed out, and the culture changes.

That’s it, in a nutshell. It’s called gentrification, and it’s a word that is on everyone’s tongue around here. Average rent in San Francisco, according to this real estate group (found in a quick Web search for data), has gone up 60% since 2010. SIXTY PER CENT. The Bay is not an easy place to be poor right now, and I disclaim now that this is not a post about the dark edge of gentrification, the real problem of how it interacts with urban poverty. I don’t know enough about that to write about it, and for fear of disrespecting it, I want to acknowledge that. No, my fascination is unique to the Bay, where the snafu comes down to a particularly personal and particularly subjective heart: What happens when the soul of a city gets lost?

I have always believed, in case my description above didn’t make it clear, that San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the world. For that reason, I find it unbearably ironic that soon, the only people who will be able to afford to live in the most beautiful city on earth are those whose passion, livelihood and culture revolves around looking down at a screen. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly goes into the poisonous brew: a mix of the inherent link from technology to convenience; with, perhaps, the tendency of the titanic tech companies to offer services that allow their employees to live a private, charmed life behind closed doors. The controversy takes its first steps beyond the bank and the realtor’s office in dramas of entitlement, like this one, for example. And it all adds up to one overarching feeling among the defenders in this class war: that the new techie arrivals are taking up space, but they aren’t giving any of their time, money, intelligence or imagination back. And in doing so, are sucking this city dry.

It’s hard to analyze this situation without passing wild and unfair judgments. I want to acknowledge that before going on, so that whatever sounded unfair in the above paragraph, you can just pop a grain of salt with it and entertain the notion that this problem is not just the fantasy of crusty and nostalgic locs. And if you moved to the Bay for a job and you’re still reading, with all the crap you gotta get… you are a saint. I promise that this has dipped the deepest into vilifying that it’s gonna go.

So let’s start by playing devil’s advocate. Being from the suburbs, it has always seemed clear to me that cities change, and that’s why you live in the city. That’s the price of living in the city. That little Chinese place you love is going to close, but something else cool will open up where it was, because it’s the city. It’s like Game of Thrones. Nothing is immune. Right? You just roll with it.

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Mex and the City

23 04 2015

Everywhere in the great continent of North America that Latin-speaking people live, the horizon flickers with the long shadow of this, the third-largest city on planet Earth. It is magnetic and infamous. Destinies swirl around it; groups of friends and former lovers meet here. It is a city teeming with money, power, humanity, sex, art, culture, and ancient history. Throughout my journey everyone has constantly warned me that a new friend, an art gig, a secret show, can quickly turn a week here into a month.

How to even begin to describe the importance of Mexico City to the Mexican world? Its real name is DF – the Federal District. Like Washington D.C., it belongs to no state but to its own territory, which encompasses only the city. The Zocalo, its central square, is the largest public plaza in all of Latin America, and the 0-point of all the mile markers on all the roads in the country. In Mexico, when you say you’re going to “Mexico” you mean here – the center, the crux, the end and the beginning. The great numbered avenues of the city center are called Eje – axis – and the Latin world turns around them.

The very word “Mexico” comes from the Mexica, another name for the Aztecs. Mexico was, and still is, home to a huge diversity of indigenous people, languages and cultures. But the identity of the nation was forged here, even before Spanish contact, by the greatest and most brutal empire-builders of the Americas. On an island in the Lake of Texcoco they built their capital, a teeming metropolis of bridges, palaces and floating islands. The year Europeans first laid eyes on it, it had the same population as Paris, and its builders had never heard of the wheel.

The empire it ruled expanded ruthlessly upon the engines of warfare, state religion and human sacrifice. The city was conquered ruthlessly by the Spanish army, and since then it has expanded just as ruthlessly – until it sucked the Lake of Texcoco dry, filled the lakebed, and belched its infamous, eternal cloud of gray smog into the sky overhead.

I came to Mexico City because of a wedding. Rather, the wedding was in Cuernavaca – a sort of Napa Valley/San Jose equivalent, if you can bring yourself to believe that one city can fill the same role. The fact that you can drive an hour and a half, through rural mountains and fields, to a neighboring city and have it still be considered a “bedroom community” tells you something about the size of Mexico City. Cuernavaca is called the City of Eternal Spring because of the climate, but it’s also a city of eternal smog – the same cloud of smog that envelops DF. Moreover, Cuernavaca has been infamous in recent years for cartel activity. As my friend Miguel drove me from the bus station to his uncle’s house, he told me stories about slight brushes with the underworld his family and friends have experienced there. Apparently the brother of the groom, a former policeman, was once involved in a firefight in a bar. Unbeknownst to him, he fired on a cartel member. Since the police in that neighborhood were in cahoots with the cartel, boom – suddenly the police force had orders to finish him off. Only by quitting his job, moving, and having the good luck of an uncle who had married into a political family did he manage to get protected. He couldn’t be at the wedding, because he’s still on the hit list in that neighborhood.

Another time, a friend of Miguel’s was eating at a restaurant when three giant black SUVs pulled up. Bodyguards with guns took everyone’s cell phones for safekeeping before they allowed their charge to enter: one of the cartel bosses. Everyone had to stay inside until he was finished eating, to ensure that nobody called the police – and the cell phones were guarded to ensure that nobody took any pictures. When the boss left, the bodyguards redistributed the cell phones, and as a little thank-you, picked up everyone in the restaurant’s tab. That’s what happens every time a cartel boss wants to go out for a taco.

The restaurant story is a good introduction to the skinny on Mexican drug cartels, which is way less binary than I thought. The cartels are well-oiled machines as powerful and organized as the state government, and they’re constantly performing little acts of goodwill to keep the Mexican population on the fence about who they’re rooting for. More than picking up tabs in restaurants, apparently they fund a lot of projects in small, poor towns – the same towns where people “disappear”. But by keeping the crops blooming and the wells full in places of extreme poverty, they keep the fodder of revolution just damp enough that to ignite it is impossible.

Moreover, part of the story is how corrupt the Mexican government is. Apparently in the tourist center of Mexico City the members of Congress, completely known to everyone, literally act like a Mafia and extort a cut from every single business. Don’t want to pay your congressman under the table? Oops, your restaurant has violated health code because of that chair by the bathroom door, dale, bai. Long story short – in the wake of Ayotzinapa (which I’ll summarize later, in case you missed the news a few months ago), I really had an impression that corruption was like this: the cartel is bad, and the government is bad too because they work with the cartel. The real situation, in my opinion, is much more shocking.

Anyway, the wedding. The bride was my friend Miguel’s sister, and it was really amazing getting to see this huge moment for his family. I’ll gloss over the details, except to say it involved the body-of-Jesus cracker, lots of women fanning themselves, live music, tequila shots in hollowed-out cucumbers, empty beer cans hanging from the back of the “Just Married” car (it’s tradition, apparently, so the car makes noise); fireworks, silly hats, and a pair of live doves which were ceremonially released.

When the weekend was over we drove to Miguel’s house in the suburbs, napped heartily; and then I was on my way into the city proper, my mega-mochila on my back and my guitar in hand. (I had bought it for cheap in Puerto Escondido and meant to sell it, but in the end didn’t have the heart to). The bus wound through the streets before getting on the freeway, and as we descended into the Valley of Mexico I beheld the city in the distance: an unending field of stipple-drawing houses and uneven towers, spreading away into the gray smog like some post-apocalyptic infinity. The mountains on the other side of the valley were invisible, even in silhouette.

That was the day I first took the Mexico City metro. No other metro can compete in terms of cheapness and efficiency: a ride anywhere costs 5 pesos (about 30 cents), and in a city that sprawls out like Los Angeles, getting pretty much anywhere takes as long as it would in New York or London. Nor can any metro compete in terms of confusion, squalor or madness. I knew it would be bad, but I still wasn’t prepared.

Once I bought my ticket and went through the turnstile, the signs towards the train led me down staircase after staircase. Flickering yellow lights and orange pipes traced the maze of tunnels that thundered into the depths of the earth. Deep underground, even long before the train was in sight, I passed through galleries and corridors lined with vendors hollering out the praise of their wares, and even little pizza shops and taco stands. Every once in a while the whole thing shivered with a passing train. The tunnels were huge and round and pipe-like, with room for sweeping flights of stairs like something from the atrium of a ruined palace, plus two escalators abreast. I felt like I was going to the Chamber of Secrets, along with several thousand other commuters.

When I reached the bottom, I was faced with a river of humanity squeezing onto a narrow bridge to the other side of the tracks. My mouth literally hung agape, my hand hanging limply onto the guitar that was definitely a bad idea. But there was only one way through. So I swallowed my tongue, waited for a gap, and- SQUOOOOSH! ElbOW elbow ELbow flat-tire OW puuuush pushing, pressure, pressure, pressure! Slowly, like a tide, we were carried up the stairs and over the bridge. I probably pushed an old lady. An old lady definitely pushed me. Nobody made eye contact. I held onto the guitar for dear life, hugging it to my chest. And then we were across, and – bing! – the subway arrived, and the doors slid open.

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The Beach

16 03 2015

A lot of the traveling culture here in Mexico is dictated by sun-seekers from the north – people who have come to the same town every year for thirty years, or who have gotten stuck in a honey trap running some bar or hostel. Everyone who is traveling here has a special place, its name spoken in hushed tones in a crowded bar, the place at the end of the rainbow. It’s an old tradition. In “The Shawshank Redemption” it was Zijuatanejo. In “Y Tu Mamá También” the two heroes try to cover their asses after inventing the magical Boca del Cielo. Everyone here is looking for their beach.

And I guess I’m on a similar mission, when I think of it. It’s a pretty irresistible treasure hunt. From the start, I knew I wasn’t coming here to travel but to settle and live for a little while. And my standards have quickly mounted about where that would be. So let me walk you through the stops so far on my search.

Stop #1: Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo. I stayed there for two weeks, knowing I didn’t want to stay any longer, but also sticking in the quintessential honey-trap of a hostel where the group of friends was way too tight-knit, the hammocks were way too comfy and the beer next door was way too cheap. It was fun I guess, and interesting to spend a bit of time in. But I don’t feel called back.

Playa del Carmen is in the “Riviera Maya”, a.k.a. the strip of Caribbean beaches and resorts that attracts the most tourists in Mexico, crowned at its northern tip by the wan and twisted jewel of Cancun. (If you’re already pretty weirded out by the name of an indigenous people, who has obviously dealt with poverty and persecution in modern Mexico, being used as part of the marketing for a glitzy American-dominated “riviera” which doesn’t involve them much… then we’re on the same level. If not, I apologize, because this post is already way too Santa Cruz.)

So, the Riviera Maya. Obvious downsides: expensive; quite touristy, lots of private land (i.e. resort beaches). Not-obvious downside: it surpassed even my expectations how everything was privatized. The famous cenotes – underground lakes that dot the Yucatan by the thousands because of the porous rock – are almost completely privately owned and run by the people whose property they happen to be on, with no sort of cohesion. Imagine if Yellowstone was a pay-by-geyser basis, and there was no Park Service to tell you that Old Faithful exists. The whole thing was shockingly non-user friendly.

There were upsides, though. Certain beaches were truly gorgeous, with thick pale silty sand and a turquoise bathwater horizon striped by dark lines of rocks and seaweed. The other thing is that Playa wasn’t that segregated. The whole place was rich and expensive, with tourists walking out their hotel front doors downtown and strolling the same cheesy main promenade with everyone else. There was no market; the locals shopped in nice air-conditioned supermarkets (though you could find your cheap food if you wanted). The only thing that was pretty segregated was Spanish-speakers from Mayan-speakers, but it seemed like the Mayans lucky enough to be from this boomtown (or those unlucky enough, but plucky enough to adapt) have done pretty well. Lots of beautiful houses in town bore plaques on the front gates saying things like “Familia Ix’bele”, and billboards all over advertised the bilingual elementary school.

But after two weeks I felt trapped, not cradled; and so it was time to hit the road, newly partnered with my Playa co-worker Tamar, to find our own paradise.

Stop #2: Bacalar, Quintana Roo

Bacalar is at the southern end of the state of Quintana Roo, where the Cancun suburbs peter out and the madness dissipates, near the Belize border. Bacalar was just our pit stop on the way to the next horizon, but a really detailed hunt for the Beach would entail some more time coastcombing in the area, because I think it was a promising candidate. (Shoutout to Punta Allen, which one acquaintance of ours spoke of wistfully as his magical Beach. Unfortunately, it was too far out of the way for us.)

Bacalar is way, way tinier than any of the other towns listed here. And it’s actually a lake town, which was really refreshing (ha, ha). It’s only big enough to have a little town square with cool buildings, a bandstand and an old Spanish castle. It’s surrounded by jungle, and from the town square, a sleepy Malecon lined with vacation homes and cottages runs along the side of the lagoon. They call it the Laguna de los Siete Colores – the Lagoon of Seven Colors – because of its beauty, but also because it was formed by seven cenotes that eroded together.

The hostel we stayed at in Bacalar was extremely lovely. Pluses: a dock on the water; tons of cute dogs; an awesome array of hammocks. The water was so pleasant to swim in, and that night we watched in awe as a bloodred moon rose over the lagoon. Minuses: rather expensive. Rather too small of a town to accept that big a community of paradise-seekers without feeling segregated, honestly – though there were obviously Mexican tourists outside our hostel somewhere, and the town was fairly friendly. It helped (hurt?) that our hostel was weirdly overrun with Germans. I love Germans, but when you’re not in Germany and you’re frolicking by a lake with two Mexican hostel employees, two Brits and eighteen Germans… it does sort of set the tone. My Beach has to be fairly international, but also dominantly Spanish-speaking and Mexican. On we went.

Stop #3: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

This small mountain city is not a beach town, but rumors of it had drifted up to me in the North already, because it’s a major honeytrap where hippie travelers find their Beach. Extremely cold, extremely old, extremely beautiful, it’s the kind of place where even the gas stations and chain stores have been opened in priceless colonial buildings. The streets are cobbled and hilly and terrifyingly one-way, the roofs are of red tile, and the houses are painted a riot of colors that defies comparison – somewhat Spanish, somewhat Italian, a fever-dream of architecture that could really only be called San Cristobal-esque. The indigenous population was huge and non-Spanish-speaking and wore traditional furry scarves and dresses around the street, chattering in Tsol’tsel. They were honestly a majority. Churches were everywhere, painted pastel colors, their bells ringing and ringing.

San Cristobal is also known for its key part in the Zapatista uprising. On New Year’s Day in 1994, an army of socialist separatists 3,000 strong – mostly indigenous, claiming the Mexican government to be illegitimate – declared war on Mexico and descended from the mountains to take control of several towns in Chiapas, including the large and important town of Ocosingo. They laid siege to the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, setting fire to police buildings and breaking open the jail. On January 2nd, though, the Mexican military arrived with reinforcements. They pushed the Zapatista army back from San Cristobal and there was a fierce battle for Ocosingo. The rebels lost, and they retreated into the mountains.

Today, though, there is still Zapatista territory up in the backcountry which is completely out of Mexican government control. The Zapatistas have their own school system, healthcare system and army, and apparently the villagers who live under their control enjoy a good standard of life, thanks to sales of trendy fair-trade socialist coffee and the like in the hip circles of places like Germany. You can see the start of their territory from the city of San Cristobal, beyond the radio tower at the top of the furthest mountain. On the bus we took through the countryside, all kinds of houses and shacks along the road bore the words in messy graffiti, “ZAPATA VIVE”.

So you can already see how this place started collecting a community of hippie travelers. Let’s get to the detriments. There’s no beach, obviously – though I’m open to the possibility that my beach may be a mountain town. Mostly it’s just fairly segregated. The hippie community is robust, white or from Mexico City, and into things like gems and juicing and flowy pants made by the local indigenous whatever-they’re-called. On the flip side of the same coin, locals are obviously pretty over playing the host. It shows, in small but annoying patterns of aggression like the fact that no one will ever, ever move over for you on the super-narrow sidewalks.

Stop #4: Oaxaca City

So we traveled onward, into the state of Oaxaca. Including Oaxaca City (actually called Oaxaca de Juarez) in this list is kind of a fluke, because it’s too big of a city to be anyone’s Beach. It’s not the end of the rainbow, it’s the center of the melting pot. But it’s my favorite city in Mexico so far, and I have to write about it.

First of all, Oaxaca City is the perfect size: big enough to be busy, but small enough to be walkable and not too globalized. It’s a bustling center, but it is undoubtedly the center of Oaxaca, where indigenous languages gaily mix and artisans and farmers bring their wares from miles away.

Those who knew me when I lived in Switzerland might remember what I always said about Bern – it’s beautiful, but all in the same way; every Disneylandish corner could be exchanged with every other. If San Cristobal is Bern, Oaxaca City is the opposite: gorgeous but grimy, historical but well-used, cheap, confusing, richly cultural. For every brightly painted building there was another one whose paint was peeling, and another one of gray stone. Instead of a sea of red roofs, its silhouette was a spiny forest of TV antennas. At times the cobblestone streets almost looked like they could belong to a semi-dumpy French city, and honest-to-God I mean that in the best possible way.

And at every corner there was another interesting attraction: a cultural center with an art exhibit, a mezcaleria offering free tastings, a huge green Gothic dome, a towering bulbous kapoc tree. Bright yellow taxis zipped through the streets. Vendors were everywhere selling cheap, delicious food: garlicky roasted bugs (yes, I tried them and yes, they were good); quesadillas with delicate yellow flowers inside; horchata with pieces of cut fruit; fried empanadas filled with chorizo and potatoes. It is true, though, that the vendors there were a little on the aggressive side – more than anywhere else in Mexico so far – and it definitely got a little aggravating.

But we had to move on, because we felt the end of our search approaching. Which leads me to my current home…

Stop #5: Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Puerto Escondido is a surf town. And it’s not that small – think Half-Moon Bay, but more compact. I like the size. The main part of the town tumbles down a steep hollow to a gorgeous cove dotted with boats, sandwiched between a clifftop lighthouse and a long sandy surfing beach. There the town peters out into palapas, campsides and scrubby palm woods. I like the climate: not jungly, but humid and hot enough for palms, banana leaves and flowers. I like the beaches, warm Pacific swell. And I like the vibe. Considering how often I´ve seen this place alluded to – including from my former coworker, a Santa Cruz neighbor´s bumper stickers, and my living-off-welfare expat uncle – it´s obviously not undiscovered. So for it to still feel the way it does, I give the props to the people who have visited here. You have to have a damn good record of tourists with good hearts on good behavior to create a town this famous that still feels like this. (Though I´m sure the 7-hour, vomit-inducing drive through the mountains from Oaxaca City helps.)

The one thing I don´t like is the place I´ve been offered to work at. I won´t name it, because I´ve realized lately how powerful blogs can be in the post-Yelp world to make or break a business, and I bear no one any ill will. But when you´ve got a story to tell, you have to tell it, ya know?

So suffice it to say that though I´ve gotten an offer I can´t refuse (one day of work for every two days off, HEY-o), I am somewhat annoyed by the vibe of this hostel – extremely English-speaking, the type of people who take taxis into town to go clubbing and don´t even know how to get there by foot. There´s a bar here, and the worst part is that you´re not allowed alcohol from the outside. That´s like telling me this is my new home, but I can´t cook, ya know? And it wouldn´t be a problem if the bar felt like a home-base, giving free drinks with a wink and making things special to order… but the bar here does not hook it up, to the Nth degree. The only beers are Sol and Dos Equis, small size; there are no limes (and the bartender made fun of me when I asked for limes… like, okay? are we sophomores in high school?), the smoothie drinks are basically devoid of alcohol, the only mixed drink is Jungle Juice (no margaritas!), and the workers basically get 0 discount, or even slack for when we pay our tab.

So basically, it´s a completely shameless coerced take-back of the money I will supposedly save living here. Although I am fighting it. In part, obviously, by not drinking; though that´s a bit annoying in a self-proclaimed “party hostel” where my job is to mingle and play the host. And also by keeping myself firmly in check for food money, which is a pleasure – the incredibly cheap town market is nearby, and I missed cooking. Also, this hostel has a pool. So there ain´t too much trouble in paradise.

I´m eager to see how the next few days shape my opinion of this town and the little life that I´m supposedly going to have here. Updates when they arrive!