Initial Thoughts on the Maldives

So, it’s my third full day in the Maldives. And one of the most interesting things about going to the Maldives is the reactions you get when you’re telling people you’re going to the Maldives. Here they are, ranked from most to least frequent, and with my own responses:

  1. “Maldives! Oh em gee, you’re so lucky – that’s my dream destination!” – Well, in principle I recognize that I am lucky, but mostly I’m just dead inside. How I wish I could feel the kind of joy that you seem to feel – even vicariously! Please weep for me.
  2. “Maldives! You need to send me pictures!” – Well, maybe later…
  3. “Maldives! Isn’t that, like, where movie stars go?” – Well, yeah but not only, not anymore…
  4. “Maldives? Where’s that?” – Well, basically south of India…
  5. “Maldives! You must be rich!” – Well, not exactly, because…

In the last few years the Maldivian government has moved beyond the ultra-deluxe private island resort market and begun allowing tourist development on local islands. It’s still not a cheap place to travel – the logistics of providing anything close to western amenities in a remote archipelago of tiny islands remain daunting. And this is still a country that emphatically does not cater to the 21-year old Party Hostel Banana Pancake Gap Year Finding-Yourself Party Party Party Party Party Party demographic (a group for which I clearly have the utmost affection). So, if you can’t afford the debauchery of the private islands, where apparently anything goes; if hate alcohol and nightlife as much as I do, and love being on a traditional island where strict Islamic values prevail; and if don’t mind skimping on some frills like formal transportation, here’s how you can survive, if not thrive, in the Maldives on a Bloggerbels Cheapo budget:

    1. Pick an island that’s big enough to have a few local food options – Those tourist restaurants can be scary expensive. (Or, the same prices as in Canada, which is basically the same thing.)
    2. Pick an island with enough beaches that you don’t need to get on a boat everytime you want to go for a swim.(I chose the agricultural island of Thoddoo – one of the “biggest” islands in the country at about 3 kilometres across – for both of those reasons. Also, because they’re known for growing delicious papayas! Also, because I hoped it was far enough from the airport to not yet be totally inundated with mass tourism – but I only partially succeeded on the last point…)
    3. Instead of taking a speedboat like all sane people do, ride the much slower midnight fruit transport ferry from the capital of Male. Actually, after waiting for a while at an incredibly dodgy pier, one of the boatmen informed me that the boat was in fact leaving at 5 AM, and that I should really sleep on board until then so that nobody robs me. After mulling over whether I should accept a strange man’s invitation onto an unlit boat, I finally decided to be touched by his concern. However, I still had considerable difficulty hopping onto a gently swaying, fairly tall fruit transport without the benefit of a ladder. (Visions of my laptop falling into the Indian ocean!) Eventually I got onboard, had a surprisingly comfortable sleep on a floor mat as the boat rocked back and forth, woke up both refreshed and alive, and finally made it to the island by 10:30 AM.
    4. Go to a resort’s Facebook page and engage in an endlessly drawn-out Messenger conversation to get a better-than-listed deal on a room. I managed to snag an air-conditioned room with breakfast included for one week at $300 US, cash. Unfortunately, this is a very good deal for Maldives. And very importantly, and unusually, the hotel also has a public kitchen!
    5. Breakfast: Free hotel breakfast, but not until after going to the beach to buy fresh fish from a fisherman.Lunch: Cook attempted Maldivian fish curry with rice in the shared kitchen. Ingredients: Curry powder, coconut milk, onions, garlic, chillies. With most vegetables costing more than fish in this land-starved, marine life-rich country, you’d better really love eating fish… And I do!Dinner: A whole lot of tasty snacks and hot black tea at the local tea houses, which are exclusively patronized by men, most of whom seem to be Bangladeshi workers. (Although if you’re a woman, hopefully you won’t get anything worse than a whole lot of attention if you do go… I understand that they crack down hard on crimes against tourists here.) Even the various samosas and curry puffs are filled with fish – and I ain’t complaining!
    6. Of course, the worst way to save money in Maldives is to not go anywhere. The local beach is nice, but you do need to shell out a few USD to visit deserted islands, swim with the manta rays, and all that stuff – That is, after all, largely the purpose of being here.

Oh, and I almost forgot – how is it? Well, the beaches on Thoddoo would be considered very good, but not the very best, by the standards of the Philippines – a country which is, needless to say, much cheaper to travel. I’ll reserve full judgment until I go on a boat tour, which will be in a few days. It’s quite possible that the Maldives still has the Philippines beat in the marine life department, and there’s only one way to find out. Either way, however, it’s definitely a pleasant place with a unique culture, and I love observing local life – I’m fascinated to see how people live in a place that is so remote and where land is so incredibly scarce. Local people are a bit hard to figure out, but I’m working on it – I enjoy seeing their reactions when I greet them on my walks, which range from friendly to bewildered to totally deadpan.

And did you think I was joking about not showing any pictures? Nope – It wouldn’t be fair to do that before my island-hopping trips.

100 Reasons Mexico is the Greatest Country on Earth – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

    1. Fresh fruits and vegetables all year around! Oranges cheap enough for you to affordably make your own juice!
    2. The Mexico City Metro – In spite of all of its (considerable!) maintenance issues, it’s one of the largest metro networks in the world, and for 5 pesos ($0.25) US you can go pretty much anywhere you want within the city centre
    3. The Cineteca Nacional, an art and foreign cinema multiplex(!) in Mexico City, with 10(!!!) screens showing mostly non-commercial films, plus book stores, cafes, and a lot of really cool people
    4. Eating avocados everyday without feeling like a pretentious white person
    5. 20 peso ($1 US) chamber music recitals at the gorgeous Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, across from the equally lovely Alameda Central park
    6. Museums, so many museums – many of them housed in gorgeous old Spanish colonial buildings
    7. Cactus (cactuses? cacti?)
    8. Eating chili-and-lime flavoured crickets on the sidewalk in Puebla or Oaxaca – A handful a year are plenty for me, but I’m still glad to have them around!
    9. The fairly solid non-alcoholic options at most Mexican bars (for a teetotaler like me) – Clamato with spicy seasoning hits the spot if you don’t mind smelling like clams while trying to impress women, or there’s always a steady supply of sparkling water
    10. If you dance really, really badly (which I do), nobody seems to mind very much
    11. An entire karaoke bar full of drunk locals all belting out “Ahora Te Puedes Marchar” by Luis Miguel in unison
    12. Mole
    13. Widespread acceptance of international credit cards, even in midrange establishments
    14. Wonderful-sounding words and place names that start with “ch” – Churros, chimichanga, Chabacano, Chilpancingo
    15. Pollo asado
    16. Reasonably generous immigration policies
    17. Being able to see two dudes making out in random public places without anyone giving a shit (at least in Mexico City)
    18. The widespread presence of signs like this one (“In this establishment we do not discriminate against anyone for reasons of race, religion, sexual orientation, physical or socioeconomic condition, or for any other reason. But we do demand respect for this business and those who frequent it.”)

    19. General lack of burning hatred within the hearts of the local people
    20. The way people sing when they talk
    21. Well-lit public streets at night (at least within major cities)
    22. People’s – or at least, middle-class young people’s – nearly total lack of interest in religion
    23. I bought the most insanely durable pair of earbuds in my life for 25 pesos ($1.25 US) from a sidewalk vendor near the market in Merida. Generally, the way I mistreat my earbuds, I’ll lose sound in at least one side within two months, no matter how much I paid for them. As far as I can tell, this $1.25 special will never, ever die. And they sound pretty good, too!
    24. People’s surprisingly intense love of art and culture, and their overall intellectual curiousity
    25. Mexican men in cowboy hats look way cooler than white guys in cowboy hats
    26. All those manly-sounding men’s names – Luis, Jorge, Miguel, Manuel
    27. All those classy, sexy-ass women’s names – Daniela, Fernanda, Alejandra
    28. Fairly solid Internet speeds and reliability
    29. People adding -ito to every noun to make it more polite, like asking for azucarito (sugar) for your cafecito (coffee). To foreign ears, it doesn’t sound any more polite, just adorable.

Frank Throws Things That Are Food and Not Food

Frank is throwing things with all hands, all two. His hands are moving so fast, moving so fast that they’re really fast. After a day constrained by socks, all socked in by his socks, he surges to life. The throwing makes him surge. It makes him surge and makes him throw things. Things are flying through the air, hitting things. Some of the things being thrown are food; others things being thrown aren’t food. Some of the things having things thrown at them are food; others aren’t food.

Frank lets out a primal scream, raw and ragged, as his hands move in a throwing motion, moving as if they are throwing things, because they are. His hands are like things, too – Things that throw things. He’s dripping sweat, sweat dripping all down his completely naked body, wearing nothing – not even socks. His feet are naked too, because they’re not wearing socks. Frank is throwing things.

Eventually, Frank has thrown all the things. All thing-throwing possibilities are exhausted. His screams gradually turn into sobs, his sobs  into whimpers. Soon, his whimpers will become sniffles, then only silence. He picks up a few things and tries to throw them again, but they’ve already been thrown – Once thrown, a thrown thing can’t really be a thing to throw again. It has always been this way.

Frank gazes at the mess of thrown things strewn across the floor – some of them food, some of them not food and therefore not food. It is hopeless, it is futile, it is a colossal and extravagant waste. But as long as he has arms that can throw things, he will continue to throw things – some at other things, some at nothing; at no things, no things whatsoever. He will continue until his arms can throw no more, and once they cannot throw, he will throw his arms away, as well. But that is a long way away, in some unseen future. For now, Frank has thrown much, and in the future he will throw much more.

Tomorrow, Frank will put his socks back on.

100 Reasons Mexico is the Greatest Country on Earth – Part 1

With absolutely no offense intended towards countries #2 through 195… (Except for maybe numbers 190-195, because damn, they must be really terrible places.)

    1. In its Spanish form, the name “México” is fun to both say and write
    2. Being able to choose between five kinds of salsa for your tacos. My favorite: habanero en escabeche!
    3. Mexican guitar gods hopping onto public transit to give amazing mini-concerts of Mexican folk music – or, if you’re really lucky, electric blues – in exchange for a few pesos
    4. People in restaurants routinely saying “Buen provecho” (Bon appetit) to complete strangers
    5. Wide open spaces, out on the road without a soul in sight
    6. Cities that are lively but not overcrowded
    7. Smiles, so many smiles
    8. Also a lot of laughter
    9. Totally awesome-sounding indigenous place names. You’ve got Xochimilco and the Plaza of Popocatepetl in Mexico City, Xcaret (pronounced “Shkaret”) and Tixkokob in Yucatan state
    10. A lot of the states have amazing names, too: Hidalgo, Durango, Michoacan, Aguascalientes, Sinaloa, Guanajuato…
    11. Having no choice but to spend your day practicing and improving your Spanish with the local people on the street, and then being able to turn off your brain and speak English at the end of the day with your super-educated Mexican friends
    12. Almost all of the music that you’ll hear everywhere (except for reggaeton). Almost everything is in Spanish, almost none of it is the western pop you’d hear in other countries, and almost all of it is awesome (except for reggaeton).
    13. Cheese! I mean real, good, almost-European-quality cheese…
    14. Read More

Writing Even if Nobody Cares

Right from the title, this post is at severe risk of descending into a bona fide pity party. (Actually, the title itself may have already reached a point of no return on its own.) But I do want to reflect on why anyone would bother to write anything.

When I tell people I have a blog, they naturally ask if I have a travel blog. “Not exactly,” I reply, with consummate vagueness – It doesn’t always feel like it’s worth the trouble to try to express what this blog is “about”. The next question is often whether I use my blog to fund my travels. I laugh, because this blog is pretty much the least monetizable thing on Earth. It is written without an obvious audience, without any obvious regularity, and without any obvious purpose aside from… writing.

Even though I’m arguably a “creative” individual – putting aside any question of whether the things I create have any actual merit – I’m really much more fortunate to also have a set of bland technical skills, mostly unrelated to creative writing, that manage to keep me afloat financially while I fart my way around the globe. If I were forced to think of a way to monetize my writing, I might be reduced to churning One Weird Tricks, one weird trick at a time. Best-case scenario, I could write that pandering autistic travelogue-cum-memoir that I’ve been thinking about, which… hey, that’s actually a pretty good idea! (I don’t think I’d be very good at talk show appearances, though, so maybe not.)

But for now, I write without any obvious audience or purpose. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t want an audience – After all, I’d keep these posts as drafts (and also not occasionally spam links to my Facebook friends) if I genuinely had no interest in being read. But since I also make pretty much no concessions to any common notion of readability aside from kinda bothering to string together grammatically correct (run-on) sentences, I can’t want it very badly, can I?

As I reflect on the purpose and meaning of shouting into the void, I naturally contemplate the folly of wanting anyone to appreciate one’s creations, anyway. Whether one person reads your writing or a million people do, at the end of the day our creations will be dead, and so will we. In that case, the only possible benefit of writing is the brief pleasure it gives the writer – the pleasure of self-expression, of externally organizing one’s thoughts, of catharsis, and maybe – just maybe – of receiving appreciation and validation from the outside world. A totally-not-a-Buddhist Buddhist like me has to dismiss the final motivation as a petty and self-defeating one, even if I do devote about half of my waking actions to seeking out the most shallow forms of validation. And so, all that’s really left is the pleasure of putting one’s thoughts and feelings into a concrete form. And once they have been formed thusly, they have already served their purpose, and it would only be vanity and self-absorption to dwell on them further. Of course, I’ll still obnoxiously send post links to my friends every once in a while…

So why do it? Well, today, it’s really just because it’s an incredibly slow day for work. Anyone need a web developer/programmer/business analytics guy?

Welcome to Frank’s Socks

Frank’s socks smelled like Frank. It was a tough, orangeish smell, like the smell of crying orange. As he unrolled his socks in the morning, Frank thought about pain – the pain of mortgage payments, the pain of dental treatments, the pain of the endless cycle of death and rebirth and endless craving and dissatisfaction, but most of all, the pain of socks. He thought about how his body had begun to break down and decompose – gracefully, at first, then rapidly and all at once – almost as soon as it had reached the closest it would ever come to perfection. His socks were socks.

As he drove to the office, he felt the cold clam hands on his eyes. He had started a new job a week ago, and his socks clung anxiously to his toes, but not to the space between them. That’s the problem with the space between things – It’s not occupied by anything.

He arrived five minutes before the start of his shift, groggily pouring out some already-stale coffee. The caffeine didn’t even really affect him anymore – It was just habit, the feeling that this infusion of burnt seeds could inspire him to work, to excel, to contribute. But compared to an egg, he was just half an egg. Compared to half an egg, he was just a quarter of an egg. When it came to workers at the place – when it came to work – Frank was never going to be the best at work. After a week, he knew this already, but he clung to his false optimism, optimism that he’d one day find his place in the place, like a sock wrapped snugly around a thing, a thing with no toes and no space between them.

He laboured throughout the day, doing his stuff. But his mind wasn’t in it – He thought about the socks on his feet, one sock for each foot, two socks and two feet in total. He tried to count each one in turn, but he never got past two, because there were only two of each. If he stretched – in the same way that a sock stretches to cover a thing that is bigger than the sock – he could get to four, but that really felt like a cheat. Deep down inside, he knew the most it could be was two, and then another two, and that made him feel small – so small, like a small sock.

Finally, the work day came to its weary close. Frank didn’t even know how much stuff he had done – Because really, how can you tell the difference between stuff and something that isn’t even stuff at all? The only real certainty was the certainty of two socks that clung to two feet, a certainty that clung to him like two socks cling to two feet. As he drove home – still in socks, still lost in socks, always socks – it began to rain. And the sound of the rain, at least, managed to drown out the sound of his sobs.

When he got home, he took off his socks.

Notes for a Memoir – Part 1

People often tell me, “Bloggerbels [not my real name], your life is so full of adventure and intrigue! Why don’t you write a book about it?” I defiantly answer their rhetorical question by telling them that I’m way too lazy to sustain a literary structure for more than 4,000 words of self-indulgent verbal diarrhea.

And yet, the nagging thought persists – What if, instead of spending my life searching for the coconuttiest coconut rice on Earth, I actually found the time to sit down and compose a grand compendium of my many regrets? Well, I doubt that will ever happen, but you know what is feasible? Writing an outline for a book that will never be written! Here now, with possible revisions in the future, are my notes for an imagined memoir:

    • Chapter 1 : Can’t Remember Shit – Childhood and pre-adolescence. You know how, in almost every memoir or biography, the part about the subject’s childhood is boring as shit? Yeah, that’s gonna be the case here, too. Can only remember really bad or really stupid things, like being terrified of my alcoholic uncle, or pushing a kid onto the sidewalk so hard that he had to get stitches, or peeing on the floor of my cousins’ bathroom for some reason. Can’t write anything even remotely interesting about my parents, because they’ll probably read it, so memoir will appear to tell the story of little orphan boy overcoming adversity. (Although, seriously, my parents are pretty awesome.)
    • Chapter 2: Memoir Becomes More Interesting As Life Becomes More Terrible – Elementary school. Being smarter than everyone else is stupid. Fightin’! Fightin’ teachers, fightin’ friends – it’s a problem no one understands. Early experiences with the Canadian mental health system. Massive weight gain as a side-effect of psychiatric medication. Being fat. Hopeless schoolboy crushes. Being fat some more! Fat fat fat! (Fat.)
    • Chapter 3: The Clichéd Horrors of Early Adolescence – Getting acquainted with my new best friend, depression! Crisis of faith; desperately calling out to God for help in an empty church and deciding the lack of a response proved his non-existence. Also, why are these little bristly black things suddenly sprouting out of my balls? Also, more schoolboy crushes, now as part of a delirious hormonal fever dream.
    • Chapter 4: High School Lows – Going to school online because exposure to human beings is incredibly painful. Parents splitting. Getting diagnosed with autism, and being grateful that I now get to be disabled and not just creepy. More object lessons in the Canadian mental health system. Taking anti-depressants and deciding if I want to keep taking anti-depressants – the answer is mostly yes! The staff at a long-since-defunct music store are my primary source of human contact during the day. Buy hundreds of budget-priced compact discs to distract myself from the fact that life is totally, totally terrible. And also, fuck acne. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK ACNE. 
    • Chapter 5: Memoir Becomes Boring As Life Becomes More Tolerable – Continuing my studies in online university because exposure to human beings still remains somewhat painful. Doing copious amounts of volunteer work because it’s like a real job but with absolutely no stakes – just the way I liked things then, and just the way I like them now. Picking up women in random places, going on dates with them, and remaining a virgin who’d never been kissed for years afterward because I was still terrified of sex. Waiting for actual life to start.

Coming up in Part 2: Things happen that are actually worth writing about!

I Left My Wallet in El Segundo

When I was 11 years old, television changed my life.

My father was attending a conference in beautiful Jasper National Park, and he decided to let me tag along. I, being 11 years old and stupid, had no interest in the majesty of the rocky mountains or the stunning beauty of crystal blue lakes; instead, I played my ugly bricklike 1st-generation Game Boy and reveled in the joy of having my very own hotel TV while my father attended conference sessions.

In the course of flipping channels, I stumbled upon the RapCity show on MuchMusic, Canada’s watered-down answer to MTV. I had been vaguely familiar with rap prior to that, at least – I vividly remember having hours of fun with my friend’s cassette of MC Hammer’s “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em”, shoving it into his face while shouting “Please Hammer… don’t hurt ’em!” But until that moment, rap was a novelty, and not something that had really commanded my attention. But that all changed that day with the video for… well, for a novelty rap song. (Hey, I was still 11 years old, so I wasn’t quite ready to get sucked in by deep lyricism.) The song was I Left My Wallet in El Segundo by A Tribe Called Quest.

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Egg All Your Hash

Egg all your hash
Or sniffle that groffle
Mandle those bandles
But don’t piffle those poffles

Tickle your scripples
But don’t kipple those griffles
These bayziks are basic
But snooks come in triples

Quadruple those stooples
Or pazopples by halves
Take quarters of splorters
Or six-sixteenths of splafs

All fractions of dakshins
But whole numbers for glumbers
These rules I share with you
To slug up your trumblers

Snork eggs by the snorkful
Eggs laid by the dorkful
Hash inside your splash
Makes all eggs kazorkful

So egg all your hash
Split, spacker and smash
All goods and services
To be purchased with cash

In Praise of Pimple-Popping

WARNING: Some people may find the topic of this post to be gross, obviously. You may prefer to not read it. I certainly wouldn’t blame you!

As I get older, my biggest regret – aside from all the missed opportunities of my youth, the slow breakdown of my body, and the grimly inevitable march toward death – is that I get fewer pimples. Or more precisely, that I get fewer rich, creamy whiteheads. Now, I may still get ugly red bumps on my neck from overzealous shaving, but that brings me no pleasure. On the other hand, those white gold-filled fun nuggets are becoming more and more rare, and I’m really starting to miss them.

When I started getting acne, as a teenager, it was nothing to enjoy. It covered my face and added greatly to the toxic cocktail of psychological issues that ground my teenage self-esteem down to a fine powder. I took Accutane, the horrifically strong anti-acne medication that can cause birth defects in pregnant women, and it bludgeoned my sebacious glands to within an inch of their life. I emerged from this, somehow, with fairly clear skin.

After that, acne became, well, fun. Whereas my face used to be covered with painful red lumps that would have to slowly heal on their own, my adult experience with acne was more like an exciting game of whitehead whack-a-mole. Whiteheads could be squished and squirted to death in seconds, and a dab of isopropyl alcohol would dry them up into a tiny red dot within a few hours.

With my face finally clear, I would mostly get acne on my neck – it’s taken me 20 years to learn how to shave properly, and I feel like I’m just about there. As a younger man with whiter heads, the aftereffects of a rough shave were far more enjoyable. When I popped the whiteheads on my neck, their proximity to my ears rewarded me with an extremely audible glorp! sound. I’m not sure how anyone could miss it, but some have assured me that they know nothing of the vivid auditory sensation of a popping pimple. I pity their lives of emptiness and drudgery.

And then there was that greatest of all portmanteaus, backne. The whiteheads on my back were always the most special. They were awfully painful to pop, but the pain somehow just increased my satisfaction – like I had overcome a fearsome obstacle and received a creamy white reward. The fact that they seemed to contain a larger volume of the white stuff didn’t hurt, either.

Sometimes I’d get them somewhere unusual and unexpected, like on my finger. Not much satisfaction in terms of volume, perhaps, and also quite painful, but still memorable in their own way, like receiving a three-legged dog for Christmas.

For as long as I’ve been popping acne, I’ve been warned that my hobby was a dangerous one. It can lead to scarring, they’d say. It can lead to infection, they’d say. Well, the only acne scarring I’ve ever gotten was around the corners of my mouth, and I don’t think I was popping many pimples there. I’ve received permanent scars from a cheese slicer and two scooter crashes in Southeast Asia, but not too many from acne.

I’ve also gotten an infection after staying overnight in a house with nine dogs, with the environment triggering such a ferocious allergic reaction that I scratched my foot raw. I had to take antibiotics for a week before it would close up again, but I’ve never had an infection from popping a pimple.

So, to hell with the pimple-popping party poopers! This life is filled with suffering and spectacular feats of cruelty, but there is one small consolation: our body can be a funhouse, in so many ways. Between the end of traumatic teenage acne and the middle-aged dessication of the sebacious glands there is a brief period in life when pimples can brighten your day and put a smile on your face. Embrace it, love it… and pop it!