Taverns and Townies

So to kick this off, my adventures in Asia were cut short and I returned home to Ohio last week. After a few days of sleep, reunions, and ridiculous reverse culture shock I set out in search of a new adventure; this time in search of a paycheck. Where did I end up? 20 hours north of my hometown in Columbus, Ohio at a small town you may not find on a map on the shores of Crane Lake, Minnesota. Up here the O’s are prolonged and the “about” is used with a Canadian accent. The population rests at around 75 in the winter and bulges at the seams with a whopping 200 in the summer. I am one of those 200. They count us. The crew. The college kids from all over the country in search of money and an adventure.

Between ridiculously complex family webs that make everything here interesting and the constant flow of “the men have gone fishing” groups filing in and out of the boats and gift shops, there is never a dull moment around these folks. Except the 8 hours I spend on my feet in a gift shop. Up here the clouds of mosquitos are the biggest threat to me. Keys are left in the cup holders of unlocked cars and cabin tenants aren’t given keys. The puddle hopping planes come and go constantly and the townies biggest fear is their boat breaking. Well, and the docks floating away as they break from their anchors given the recent swell in water level. Or (and this may be the worst) the kegs run out at the bar and the new ones aren’t chilled yet (!!!). Kids run as wild and free as the bugs.

Small town charm. I look like a complete jackass sitting on my computer in a bar and restaurant as most people here use very little technology outside of radios for the boats and minimal cell phone use, but I had to shoot some emails so I figured why not blog while I’m at it. Did I mention I have no service? ATT only. And wifi can’t reach as far as my hot waterless, leaky roofed, unlocked cabin. I’m the happiest person alive. That’s no joke. Paddling the maze of water that makes up the Minnesota-Canada border, running trails to beautiful gorges at 6 am, swimming with giggling children after work, fishing minnows and leeches out of bait ponds, and being almost completely isolated from the outside world is wonderful to me. The strikingly beautiful landscapes help too.

So, taverns and townies: two of my favorite things. Small town charm, family backstories, piecing together the web that makes up the community, and doing my best to fit in without intruding on their territory. I’m an outsider, and I will be for the duration of the summer. About five months ago this would have driven me crazy. Currently, I find it fascinating. I’ll keep ya guys posted. 11 hour work day can be fairly exhausting.

TTFN- ta ta for now!

The things that bring a nomad joy

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The things that bring a nomad joy As a student living abroad for the semester, I’ve become a fairly sedentary creature. I didn’t know that this wasn’t what I wanted when I left the United States, but I didn’t get a true taste of the nomadic life until two weeks ago, when I spent my two weeks of spring break bouncing around Indonesia with few to no plans, no travel guides, and just a small daypack with minimal belongings to lug around.

Day 1-4: I booked a hostel in Kuta, Bali (Aussie spring break paradise) planning to get out ASAP and go to more diverse and pristine places. But then I ended up in Granny’s Hostel. This changed everything. I ended up here for four days, granted I spent two out on day trips in other parts of Bali. Immediately I felt the shackles of school, plans, stress, worries, and anxiety release their grips on me. My internal compass spun out of control for the first day or two, I had no clue where to start, what to do, or how to travel on my own. All I knew is that I wanted no plans, no game plan, no ties or commitments to anyone’s agenda but my own. So that’s what I did. Four days later….

Days 5-9: PARADISE! Took off from the Granny’s leaving behind some amazing new friends from around the globe with one girl who had different plans than I. But, like I said, who needs plans? 6 hours later we were booking a hostel on the small diver dominated island of Gili Air. Met some awesome people, snorkeled, and made an awesome new friend! She and I continued to travel together for the rest of my time in Indonesia. Hell I even took my first scuba diving class after talking to the two English divers in my hostel room. After my dive they dropped me off at another island where we met up with 5 or 6 others from Granny’s (like I said, best people ever). Spent 3 nights on Gili Trawangan doing as much as possible while sleeping as little as possible, ain’t nobody got time to sleep when you’re in heaven. Each morning we woke up with the sun (sometimes hating ourselves for it) just to go out, maybe hop on a boat, swim with some turtles, take some wheatgrass shots, and live another perfect day with some more complete strangers. But (some) good things must come to an end eventually…

Day 10: This time I left on my own, and stayed on my own. After less than 3 hours of sleep I got on another boat and made my way to Ubud, Bali. The cultural hub of the island. The crafts and art were breathtaking. After getting lost, getting found, trying my best to dry out my bag from the days of sand and saltwater, and some delicious Indonesian dinner, I finally went to sleep at a decent hour of 11 PM… only to wake up at 1AM and climb a volcano. Without bragging or anything, I’d say I’m in fairly okay physical condition and hiking has always been my outlet. Most times my mind may be yelling to stop but my body is more than capable. Not this time. My body was so exhausted I had to force my legs to pick themselves up. Worth it. Nothing could have been better than ending my trip with a good sunrise trek! And meeting another American idiot in the airport just to spend the night with him shoveling down some Micky D’s in Kuala Lumpur, swapping travel stories, sharing music, and trying not to attack the kid (and the parent of the kid) wearing squeaky shoes in the terminal at 4 in the morning. For a third night in a row, less than 2-3 hours of rest.

I got back to Cambodia and slept for about 20 hours straight. But I realized when I landed in Phnom Penh that Cambodia, for me, is not traveling. It’s living; it’s an experience, an immersion, a responsibility. Here I am a student. I have a schedule, a sedentary lifestyle. It’s a good lifestyle, don’t get me wrong, but I set out from America in search of what I had not experienced until Indonesia.

To all of those I met in paradise: keep it real guys! Live each day with nothing on your mind but that moment! Studying abroad is AMAZING and life changing, but sometimes its necessary to escape certain realities and build your own reality that is whatever you want it to be at that moment. Whether it’s with a new Indonesian boyfriend (Natalie!) or some new friends from around the world who happened to come together to share two perfect weeks together. To those of you who think going abroad is “traveling”, well, yes, it is. But there are so many types of travel, each type teaches you new lessons, puts you in a web of new people all in different spots in life. Don’t hesitate from doing all of it! Be sedentary, be a nomad, be whatever! Go wherever! But more than anything, whether you can follow a similar path or not, listen to the stories of strangers you meet along the way. They are some of the greatest influences you can ever have in your life. And even though you may have only spent one night or two weeks together, they may be in your heart and thoughts forever.

See you in another life brother!

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Music: The Universal Language

Okay, so there are some exceptions to this statement. I have indeed met one person on my journey in Southeast Asia who, in fact, did not enjoy music. However, I am electing to generalize using blanket statements and assumptions and claim that almost all human beings appreciate some form of music: metal, pop, reggae, techno, gospel, instrumental, hell maybe some people even like Justin Beiber. No shame (okay, a little shame if you like Beibs).

I myself enjoy almost all music. If there is music in the background at any restaurant, store, or bar I walk into, you can almost always catch me lip synching, bopping my head, or straight up dancing (this one typically accompanies a couple empty beer bottles on the table in front of me). To prove my point, I am currently sitting in a French coffee shop, watching French news, surrounded by French people; yet the news is currently discussing Nirvana and cutting back and forth from the lead anchor to clips of a past performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and several of the individuals around me are singing along.

What I don’t fully understand is why or how we came, as a single species, to universally enjoy the banging of drums, plucking of strings, or the sounds that we have the ability to make with our vocal cords when placed into a melody. Do I really care to know the answer to that question? no, not necessarily. I wouldn’t mind learning about the history of music as it originated on earth and developed into the numerous genres we have now, and I am sincerely jealous of my friends who selected majors allowing them to take classes on the history of rock or attend South by Southwest Music Festival as a “school trip” (Tyler you asshole).

But, when I am struggling for a conversation topic with new friends when there is a dramatically large language barrier lying between us making my Western social compass spin uncontrollably, music is my go to. The number of times I have found myself asking “what type of music do you like?” speaks to just how horrible I am at social interaction, or more so, how much I hate awkward silences. Generally, the question is enough to get us started on a music, movies, books, arts, and cultures rant that lasts for what seems like forever. Music is one of many things, but in my opinion one of the strongest tangible things, that brings people together. Whether its 3 in the morning at a club in Chiang Mai, Thailand or a classy dinner on the roof of the Phnom Penh tower in Cambodia. Dancing, singing, and laughing are the social first aid kit that I carry with me wherever I go. It’s my bandaid that I can pull out for when I inevitably bruise the conversation. Most of the time though, the music is already there. It lingers in the background as a safety net.

New music has been one of my favorite parts of my travels this far. Never in my life had I been to a jazz bar, a reggae rooftop bar, or a techno dance club until I came to Southeast Asia. The “when in Rome” mentality led me to do everything I never do. Granted these things are dominated by westerners rather than Thais or Cambodians, but hey I’m getting there. My first week in Thailand was spent in a rural village and on the last night the mic was handed off between Thais and Americans and Italians alike as we switched between Miley Cyrus and traditional Thai lullabies. No one stopped dancing. Ever.

Music, is the world’s universal language. It takes no words to understand the tone or meaning of a melody. And it speaks to each individual uniquely. It’s the most beautiful point at which the world can come together. And with that, I will leave you with a song (how fitting and cliche I know right? FIFA World Cup songs are my favorite…. sorry. But not really at all). 

Maitre Gims- J’me Tire

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I didn’t realize how much traveling would open my mind to new things, in areas that have nothing to do with Thailand or Southeast Asia. A large group of us went tubing in Chiang Mai and the organization we went through also had a beach hangout set up along the river decked out with hammocks, volleyball nets, bungalows, tight ropes, and plenty of food. While I sat in paradise resting in a hammock watching the sun set behind my friends playing football (soccer for all you under-cultured Americans), this song came on and it dawned on me that this experience has not only taught me immense amounts about Thai culture, but that I’ve also made new friends from Britain, Holland, France, Italy, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia, Germany, and America. I realized how limiting America is when it comes to expanding your world. Not completely, you can make some of the greatest connections in America, but I realized the world of travelers and researchers abroad is a much smaller world. Most people can find connections between them and the people you meet are often much more likely to remember you. I have met leading historians on Southeast Asia and one of my professors is quoted in the New York Times almost weekly (he’s a badass if I do say so myself). Each of them has been willing to talk with me and introduce me to other students and scholars across the globe that may help me along my journey. Already I have made friends from around the globe that I can later visit when (as I know I someday will) I travel throughout all of Europe. And, as always, all these thoughts were tied to a song. Enjoy.

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New Student Summer Externships on Post-Genocide Justice in Cambodia

So I’ve been slacking on this whole blogging thing I apologize. But here’s an article published by Ohio University about the summer externship program that I will be helping to launch! I’ll post again soon with some substance about my adventures in Thailand but, for now, this is all I have time for.

Home is behind …

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Home is behind the world ahead,
and there are many paths to tread,
through shadow, to the edge of night,
until the stars are all aligned,
mist and shadow, cloud and shade,
all shall fade, all shall fade.

Pippin’s Song- Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

I’m not sure why I’ve selected this as my motto for my seven month excursion across Southeast Asia, but I have. Not because it can be directly tied to anything I do, or even because it makes complete sense to me. I’ve just had it stuck in my head since I arrived in Thailand. I’ve decided that it must be stuck there for some reason, and I have been contemplating why that is. As of now I have no explanation. It’s just there; taken up residence in my mind with no invitation and no foreseeable departure. Take it for what it is. Mai pen rai.

Doi Inthanon National Park

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Doi Inthanon National Park

After a year and a half since my last big outdoor adventure, I’ve finally made some time for my favorite activities: hiking and climbing. Doi Inthanon is full of trails through jungles, across ridge lines, and up the highest peak and Thailand as they weave between numerous waterfalls and beautiful overlooks.

Breathtaking. The sounds of nature combined with some of the most refreshing air I’ve ever encountered made this day trip my favorite day in Thailand thus far. Swimming in some pristine secluded waterfalls helped as well.

Such an adventure is an amazing way to bring you back down to earth and ensure that you get a luxurious nights sleep in a rock hard dormitory bed.

spring. (Thailand)

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About two years ago I had a friend who shared a video with me. It was about this couple who traveled through Patagonia together and elected to document it using film. I was enthralled by their story and their unique style. After sifting through some of their other videos I discovered this one. I found it fitting as I am currently sitting in a coffee shop in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

I have been in Thailand for over two weeks now, and this is just the beginning of my adventures through Southeast Asia. When I begin to lose sight of why I am here, or get overwhelmed by the immense flow of new people, information, places, food, and experiences, I try to remember this video. The little unexpected treasures of traveling are some of the most enriching and unforgettable stepping-stones of the journey. The force of culture shock and change that can sometimes knock you down and convince you not to take another leap forward is your worst enemy here. The process of overcoming this force begins with the everyday growth, the acceptance of change, and the beauty of what you unearth when you are not looking.

I hope others will enjoy this video as much as I did. Thank you to Gnarly Bay for encouraging our generation to explore and embrace the challenge of change.