I’m Not Writing These Days, But If I Were…

I haven’t written a blog post in over three months. Since then, my life has been a series of intense, bittersweet, and sometimes gut-wrenching experiences. I have suffered through the pain and anxiety of becoming homeless and come out the other end with a new perspective. I have lived little lifetimes in Taipei and Kuala Lumpur. I have loved and lost, and I have consumed unholy amounts of stinky tofu. And I have written none of this down, because even though I know that writing is one of the most cathartic experiences available to me, I am too easily distracted by the dulling opiates of my alcohol-free hedonism, my painful addiction to totally purposeless travel, and the vague sense that I am supposed to be working instead. So today I sit in the lobby of a hostel in Mérida, Mexico, thinking about how I should really be churning out code and meeting deadlines instead of indulging in my silly writing hobby.

So I brainstorm blog post ideas, and even mentally draft them, but never actually get around to writing them out. And really, can you blame me? (The answer is yes, but it’s supposed to be a rhetorical question.) Writing a new post is a major commitment for someone who finds it impossible to stop writing until he has reached the 2,000 word mark. So here now are some of the post ideas that I’ve dreamed up over the last three months. Is there one that you’d especially like to see? Comment here and let me know – I’ll get around to writing it up just as soon as I stop working, traveling, eating food, and doing anything else that could possibly stand in the way of my creative destiny.

I Love Billy Joel Because My Life Is A Series of Cliches
The Tinder Transsexual Conundrum
Things I Lost While Traveling (Actual Things, Not Metaphorical)
I Hate All Backpackers And Also Myself
Nobody Cares About Your Damn Writing
A Fool’s Errand to Ivanova, Bulgaria
Facebook IDs Are a Thing, You Bozos!
A Series of Excuses For Not Knowing Much Tagalog
Only Happy When I’m Singing
Searching For A New Home

You Can’t Run (Or Fly) From Your Problems
You Know, Humans Are Damn Weird-Looking
Peso Ringgit Rupiah Mango
Boiling Water and The Beautiful Illusion of Purpose
Little Lifetimes (The Tender Pain of Taipei and the Beautiful Anxiety of Kuala Lumpur)
Don’t Take Your Person So Personally
What Skin Colour Customization of Emojis Taught Me About My Unexamined White Privilege
Touring America In My Self-Driving Car
The Joys of Traveling Miserably

 

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Leaving the Philippines

In three days, I will be leaving the Philippines. Not exactly for good – somewhat anti-climactically, I’ll have to come back for a few days later this year before I fly out again. But I’ve largely cut my ties with the country, both logistically and emotionally.

My desire to leave developed slowly. The first time I lived in Manila, way back in – God, I’m not saying how long ago – my work circumstances forced me to leave before I had gotten my fill of the place. I spent the next two years in Vietnam trying to dream up a way to come back to Manila, and once I managed to finally move back with the option of staying indefinitely, it became awfully hard to tear myself away.

Right from the beginning – or at least once I got through my “everything is wonderful” phase and moved past the initial thrill of being on my own with my own money for the first time in my life – it quickly became apparent that there were some major pros and cons to living in Manila. The pros were obvious: there was the special energy of being in a bustling 24-hour city, a place that, more than even other megacities, truly never sleeps. With well over twelve million people somebody’s always going to be awake, all the more so when hundreds of thousands of them are working in call centres on all sorts of bizarre shifts to match office hours in North American, European and Australian time zones. There were the one dollar haircuts and the two dollar taxi rides, and the temptation – which I have mostly resisted – to simply pay other people to do anything that you consider even slightly inconvenient to do for yourself. Then there was also the temptation – which I completely gave in to, at first – to go out every single night and get totally soused on cheap beer and frozen margaritas at one of Manila’s kazillion bars, drinking yourself into oblivion while enjoying the energetic sounds of those famed Filipino cover bands. And then there were the people, who I still consider to be overwhelmingly decent, easygoing, good-humoured, and just generally fun. I’ve never had so many good friends anywhere in the world, and I seriously doubt that I ever will again.

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Coffeepacking the Coffee Desert

My name is Bloggerbels, and I have a problem. No, I’m not talking about the problem of being a horrible person – that’s a topic for another post. The problem I want to talk to you about today is my debilitating coffee addiction. You see, I have an addictive personality, something that may or may not be related to my Asperger’s Syndrome. I have been addicted to food, to alcohol, freight trains, classical music, “the ladies”, and now, to coffee.

I developed a taste for coffee a while back. I enjoyed a daily cup or two for several years, but as soon as I stopped drinking alcohol I noticed that, like some sort of Alcoholics Anonymous stereotype, my coffee consumption went completely through the roof. At this point I realized that my restless, addictive mind just needed something to latch on to, and if I wasn’t going to become addicted to making people smile or to curing cancer, I may as well just embrace my addiction to the mostly harmless drug that is caffeine. And embrace it I have!

Another of my addictions happens to be travel, although it might be less of an addiction and more of a bright, multi-coloured distraction from the yawning emptiness of my life. For a time, my addiction to travel meant that my coffee addiction could not always be properly fed – some travel destinations don’t have much of a coffee culture, or good coffee may be prohibitively expensive. Or, in the worst-case scenario, one may find oneself in a veritable coffee desert, where good coffee is simply impossible to find. (Ironic, since the desert-filled lands of North Africa and the Middle East did much to spread coffee throughout the world!)

That all changed the moment I discovered the espresso pot. I was traveling around British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies with my dear father, who surprised me on the first day of our trip by yanking a coffee pot out of his suitcase. At first, the idea struck me as ludicrous, and I ladled untold scorn and derision upon the man who brought me into the world; but over the two weeks of the trip, I learned that the pleasure of starting every morning in your hostel or Airbnb with a good cup of coffee is easily worth an extra kilo of baggage. So, who’s laughing now? Nobody, because coffee is serious business.

An awkwardly shoehorned-in photo from this trip

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Reflections on Having Written Yet Another Dog Post

Over the past few months, I have been posting with abnormal frequency about my dogs. I suspect this is – spoiler alert – because I will have to give them away once I leave the Philippines. You might say I’m practicing missing them now so that I’ll be really darn good at it by the time they’re actually gone. At this rate, however, my blog will soon be completely overrun with dog-related content. OK, listen – I’ve heard of a dog with a blog, but a blog with a dogs?! Now I’ve seen everything! Or, more accurately, now I’ve seen two things (a dog with a blog and a blog with a dogs, if you’re keeping score back home).

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My Dogs and Their Many Names

In the midst of my rising terror over my imminent departure from Manila – and with it, the loss of my home base and the end of a life I’ve known as the norm for quite a few years – it’s worth taking a moment to step back and find comfort in life’s simple pleasures. One of the sweetest pleasures – perhaps the sweetest of all – is the act of reflecting upon the funny ways that people have unintentionally messed up the names of my dogs.

My dogs are named Bop and Chichi. Bop was a dog I accidentally-on-purpose inherited when I rented a house in Davao City. She had been guarding the house I rented, and kind of ended up staying there by default after I moved in. Apparently the son of the house owner was into Barney and Friends, which I didn’t know was still a thing in 2013 – but hey, that makes me feel less old! Here are a few ways people have gotten Bop’s name so very, very wrong:

Pot-pot – Source: A woman I dated for a while in Davao City accidentally referred to Bop by this name in one solitary, immortal text message. For the sake of this poor woman’s privacy and my own, I will say nothing else about our sad, lurid, utterly bizarre pseudo-relationship.

Fox – Source: One day I was taking Bop for a walk around our neighbourhood in Davao City. A little boy, perhaps eight years old, approached and asked, “What’s your dog’s name?” “Bop,” I answered calmly. “Hi, Fox!” he exclaimed with great enthusiasm. I did not shake his budding confidence by correcting him, because the children are our future.

Bob (or possibly “Bab”?) – Source: The Iglesia ni Cristo handyman who has done so much to keep my house in Muntinlupa from collapsing during the last few years. There was a period when he would try to convert me to his religion every time he came over to fix something. When he and an electrician installed a big-ass old school TV antenna in my yard, they wanted to make sure it got a clear signal for the Iglesia ni Cristo channel. His attempts at converting me have fallen flat, and he has since given up; I am still trying to gently correct him whenever he calls my dog “Bob”, but so far I’m not having any luck their,  either.

Buff – Source: A woman from the city veterinarian’s office who wrote my dog’s name in great haste on her rabies vaccination certificate. The vet’s office had set up a free immunization clinic in my neighbourhood, and I literally caught them just as they were driving away, at which point they kindly vaccinated my dogs out of the back of their van. So, I can’t blame her, although I would object that my dog is more lean and sinewy than buff per se.

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Manila After Midnight

The longer I’ve stayed in Manila, the more I’ve learned to dislike the daytime. During my first few months here I loved wandering outside in the middle of the day, soaking up the sun’s rays, sucking up the pollution, and celebrating my new life in a place without winter. With no hat or sunscreen, I destroyed innumerable quantities of precious collagen – that non-renewable resource that, once upon a time long ago, gave my skin its creepy-smooth texture. But a decade ago, who was I to care? I was young, indestructible, and drunk on the giddy joy of starting a new life far from home. (I was also quite often drunk on alcohol.)

After a while, I realized that the daytime in Manila is not exactly ideal. The sun takes its brutal toll on pale Scandinavian skin, and the air pollution wears away at a sickly Caucasian immune system. Eventually, one realizes the many advantages of staying inside with one’s dogs until the blazing midday sun makes way for soft, golden light around 5 PM – a wonderful time to take the dogs for a walk or go out to the market to buy some coconut water before the vendors close for the day.

More recently, though, I’ve learned to love the completely different world that is Manila after midnight. I’m not talking about the usual nightlife – I stopped drinking almost two years ago, I hate virtually all people, and I have better luck meeting women online than in bars, anyway. Rather, I’m talking about the night life – the unique life the city takes on well after sunset.

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Hey, Guess What: El Salvador Is Actually Pretty Great! – Part 1

I reluctantly left the wonderful revelation that was Nicaragua and continued my headlong rush toward Mexico City, where I had a flight to catch a few scant weeks in the future. My next intended destination was Guatemala, but I had a small detail to reckon with: the fact that Honduras and El Salvador stood between me and my next stop.

Even after being surprised by the hospitality and safety of Nicaragua (except for certifiably scary-ass Managua), I was still bracing myself for the nefarious criminality of the “real” Central America. Even passing through Honduras and El Salvador, which boast some of the highest murder rates in the world, seemed to be tempting fate.

So when the time came to buy my bus ticket, I originally intended to make an 18-hour beeline directly from Somoto, Nicaragua to Guatemala City. It was only a rather limp desire to be a badass that eventually persuaded me to only skip Honduras and spend at least one night in San Salvador. Aside from my fear of a butt-numbing 18-hour ride, I think I wanted to experience the equivalent to staying in a haunted house for a night.

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A Thousand Extra Lives, Please

With just over a month left for me in Manila, on the tail end of six very happy non-consecutive years, I find myself panicking.  It’s not the worst kind of panic – not, say, the panic of realizing that you’ve lost all feeling in your legs. It’s the panic of feeling like I’m about to lose a happy life I’ve taken for granted, and that I have to scramble to squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of it. I want to meet all the people I knew before, meet wonderful new people, go everywhere, and do everything.

The problem with the panicked rush to enjoy as much as possible, though, is that it ends up not being very enjoyable at all. Because I’ve also enjoyed the comforting sameness of my daily routine – the lazy morning coffee sessions at home, the ambling trips to the market, and the simple joys of spending an hour on Facebook messenger before I even start pretending to work. I want to squeeze out of every last drop of this serenity, too, but the problem is that aggressively relaxing to the max is a pretty nonsensical concept. And then again, every day spent drinking coffee with my dogs is another day I can’t spend rushing around the metropolis in search of one last dizzying adventure.

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Beans, Rice and Loneliness – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Ometepe turned out to be stunning – and of course it was, because my good buddy Joe said it would be! (I’m only surprised I didn’t skip it after he recommended it.) The island is formed from two volcanic cones, joined together with a narrow land bridge to form a figure-8. The waters along the island’s long sandy beaches, while murky brown, have the comfortable warmth of a tepid bath – even in the middle of the night – and offer stellar views of both volcanoes, albeit only in the daytime. Staying in a comfortable guest house at the edge of the barely-a-town of Sta. Cruz, with the beach just across the road, I got to soak in the warm waters of the lake while watching horses walk along the shore. I felt like I had found a tasty little morsel of paradise.

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