Be Nice, Manila

I’m staying in central Manila. Near Abad Santos LRT. I’ve walked around the neighborhood at various times during the day and night. The tricycle drivers all know me, and they know where to take me when I don’t feel like walking from the LRT station to the guesthouse. They’ve also been great with directions when I want to walk around by myself.

I’ve walked to the local mall which is a couple kilometers away. Next to the train tracks is a sort of shanty-market where you can buy food and furniture. Kids are playing. People are noticeably happy. I’m asked to play a quick game of basketball (I assume because of my height). There are live roosters tethered near shacks.

I smile. People smile back. People are curious, they ask my name, where I am from, and if I’m enjoying my stay (I am, very much). Most of the children near the guesthouse know me and usually wave and ask where I am walking to, occasionally they walk with me for a block or so (before getting bored and running off to something more interesting).

Many people have echoed concerns that the neighborhood I am staying is not safe, and I definitely shouldn’t walk around alone. At least two of my friends have messaged me to get out immediately, as if I am in a war-zone. All of these are people I trust, and most of them live in Manila.

Nothing I have seen would lead me to think this area is unsafe.

Makati and Malate have been the names most recommended of where I should stay.

I went to Malate, and I also went to Makati. The mall in Malate, compared to the surrounding neighborhood, is extravagant. Same could be said of the Makati greenbelt. There is no middle income area; grinding poverty, hawkers, and prostitution outside, and upper-middle class yuppie luxury on the inside.

I smile. Few smile back. Many offer dirty glances and judgmental stares.

In these “tourist friendly” neighborhoods many cabs have refused to take me to where I am staying. Normally, I ride the MRT and LRT, but the trains close early during the week so even a late dinner means you’re taking a taxi home.

“It’s a dangerous neighborhood, I don’t drive there at night.” said one driver.

“that’s not true, it’s quite safe” I replied with a reassuring smile

“I know this area, I only drive in this area” he said. “let’s find you a girl, I know a place nearby”

I had one driver who claimed he didn’t know where my place was, and then claimed not to know where the LRT is when I mentioned that I am near a station. I’d say maybe one-in-five taxis are brave enough to make the journey late at night.

Normally, I am not one to criticize cultures I am foreign to, but I feel this is less a cultural issue and instead a shared-humanity issue.

In the high-class neighborhood, if I talk to a girl, many will assume she must be a prostitute and that I am sex tourist. Hawkers offer me girls, and some hostels (in an offensive way of preventing sex tourism) refuse entry if I am not with my wife (I don’t have a wife).

Manila, the best of who you are is found in the streets you most scorn. Manila is a place to love. And it is because of those “unsafe” neighborhoods that I love it — where I am treated as a human being by other human beings, and our shared curiosity brings out the best in both of us.

Manila, rather than warn travelers to stay away from those neighborhoods, perhaps you should visit them yourself, and be reminded of the hospitality and kindness of the human spirit (and not the kindness enforced through armed guards).

Drowning

Drowning, drowning, drowning forward. This place was not easy to find, and yet it was here the whole time. We let go. Who we were cannot enter, and we drown. Awake anew. See the other side; familiar and yet unlike anything we have ever seen.

We have only to let go. Completely let go.

Worldly Possessions

Simplify, simplify, simplify…

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Less is more, and this is everything I own. I went from a 55L duffel to a sturdy wheeled backpack and a simple laptop backpack that carries my laptop, wacom, camera, kindle, water purifier, sandals, and various other necessities.

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I’d be interested in an even simpler approach, if possible to ditch the clothes and toiletries and always acquire new ones as I travel. At a certain pace I think this could be sustainable.

My Unexpected Love Affair

Spicy ramen, you melt in my mouth, I love you. I have traveled far and wide and never have I found one such as you.

Looking at you, no one can tell where you are from. It matters not, as you are exactly who you are. You have been shaped by both east and west, the best of the world is in you and I share the joy of your company every moment we are together. It is a love like no other, undefinable and life affirming. Through you I know bliss and in that bliss I understand the nature of love: loving you is loving me is loving everything.

I will miss you ramen, until we meet again, I love you.

Art in Form

Look at the blank canvas, every edge and surface
Discover the image that is yearning to be found

Shape the world, release the life yearning to be found

* Wisteria and Pines by Bamboo Fence, Edo Period, Japan

Happy Labour Thanksgiving Day!

We called well over 30 hotels, hostels, and some couchsurfers — everything is booked in this part of Japan. Turns out it’s a national holiday, fortunately we found the Municipal Hiroshima Youth Hostel… it’s also booked to capacity but we’re staying in what appears to be an emergency shelter in an old meeting room.

As the temperature was dropping I realized a warm bed is certainly something to be thankful for… Although I also liked the Japanese concept that it is a day to think about environment, human rights, and peace :)

Found Myself at Liebe Latte

Liebe; middle high German meaning "the quality of love, pleasure, joy"

It was raining all day yesterday on Jeju island. It finally let up this morning. It’s cold and windy, and I can barely find my way around. I stumbled into this cafe looking for a warm cup of coffee.

It is quiet except for the melodic strum of classic guitar playing on the stereo. A child sleeps on a couch near the back, his mother takes my order. I fall back into a chair and sigh a breath of the warm comforting air. Spas aren’t this nice.

I look outside to the cold wind and busy traffic; it feels a world away from this moment. It reminds me that the rest of the day could be amazing, it could be anything I want it to be.

Surfing Consciousness

Walking in Seoul today, purposely lost, I stumbled upon the Han river. What a gorgeous sight. As I walked along the shore it felt as if I was moving to the natural rhythm of the universe. One of those moments I can only describe as the rapture of existence. Breathing and moving such that your very being is in accord with the world around. There is nothing quite like this state– no drug can compare (although some come close). It is a dreamlike state. All things appear as they truly are– infinite and beautiful– everything at once in perfect harmony. All that is and should be is there surrounding you.

In that moment I realized that our perceptions, how we see and react to the world, are concerned only with our survival. Impulses for good, bad, and the various perceptual ethos– it is our animal nature. I think of it as a flesh and blood subconscious; reactive to programmable instincts. It’s hard not to think of the human animal as amazing; every action, every step we take, every stroke of a pen, all is according to a programmed instinct, all concerned with survival. We can reprogram and guide our actions through simple conscious awareness. We learn, we repeat and copy to acclimate into the surroundings. If you want to be happy, then acclimate into happiness– find happy people and learn from them. It is an incredible powerful capability and well worth practicing throughout your life.

Perhaps as an evolutionary side effect this capability has thrust us out from the wild and into man made environments. Everything necessary for our survival is now at our disposal and yet we are often lacking purpose. Many, and I dare say most, people do not know who they are or what they ought to be doing with their life.

The answer used to be simple: to survive and participate in this struggle for existence; to be the best of who you are and survive. In the wild this is obvious– there are few, if any, existential crises in nature. A squirrel does not wonder why it exists, it just simply exists and follows its instincts without question. Modern humans have little to no life or death struggles. We are left to shape the world and whether we want to or not, this has become our function. Perhaps it is wise for us all to acclimate into this new purpose, to embrace it as fully as our ancestors in the wild embraced their struggle to survive. Their struggle, and the very best of them is with us today. We are their legacy, and we are the shapers of worlds they could only imagine.

But for today I will relax, and move to the natural rhythm of the universe; dream with eyes open and experience the rapture of existence…