Beans, Rice and Loneliness – Part 1

Last August and September I took a trip through that most gun-filled of all isthmuses, Central America. I spent a month zigzagging through its small but fascinating countries, starting my way in Costa Rica and working my way up all the way to Mexico. And I ate a whole lot of beans and rice.

Costa Rica underwhelmed me from the start, though I hesitate to speak too harshly of a country that is a global model for eco-tourism. I suspect that I simply wasn’t feeling the vibe, and my wallet wasn’t feeling the surprisingly steep food prices, both of which prevented me from sticking around. The capitol of San Jose was friendly, but not particularly scenic or interesting.

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The Rat-Hunting Diaries: Rolling with the TRP

The Tunasan Rat Patrol (TRP) is a crack force of one human (Bloggerbels) and two dogs (Bop and Chichi) who work tirelessly to keep one house in the Tunasan District of Muntinlupa City… well, if not exactly rat-free, then at least within an acceptable rat limit.

On the evening of Sunday, January 8th, 2017, the human member of the Patrol returned home to the Rat Patrol HQ to discover that the shower drain had been forced open. Unfortunately, this is a typical way for rats to gain entry into the house. But even more unfortunately for the rats, the TRP was on duty that night, and its canine members (the Spotters) began following their noses, hot on the trail of the rodent intruder.

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False Promises for a New Year of Lies

In the venerable spirit of using this blog as my notepad, I thought I should follow up my introspective, beret-wearing New Year’s post with a bloodlessly practical list of resolutions. Or if not practical, then at least bloodless!

This year, I half-heartedly resolve to:

Learn Mandarin: Mandarin is the language of the future, or so they say. I’ve never been one to focus too much on the “usefulness” of languages, having already poured significant energy into study such burgeoning international languages as Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Bahasa Indonesia. (The fact that they were pretty useful when I was living in their respective countries only slightly mitigates my sarcasm.) That said, falling in love with Taipei last year provided a powerful inspiration, and I’m excited to escape the tyranny of phonetic writing and delve into a whole other approach to the representation of verbal ideas. The whole language-of-the-future thing might be more compelling if I wasn’t planning to confuse the bejeesus out of myself by taking mainland-oriented online courses that use simplified characters before spending a month in traditional character-using Taiwan. If all else fails, at least I’ll get to eat a lot of stinky tofu.

Prognosis: Proper Chinese writing technique is out of the question when I can bypass all the niceties of stroke order using the massive cheat of Pinyin keyboarding software – What a time to be alive! I doubt I’ll learn to read too many characters, either, beyond the ones that regularly appear on restaurant menus. That said, I think I’ll at least be able to speak coherently enough for the locals to reply with suitable condescension. (Just kidding – Taiwanese people are lovely!)

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Reflections on the Eve of 2017

With 4 hours left before the inauguration of the new year, I have opted out of all social activity to spend my night at home blogging and cooking Kerala egg curry. This is partly because my original social plans got soured by a personal boondoggle; partly because of my fear of losing a finger or two if I venture outside into the war zone of Manila on New Year’s Eve, with DIY firecracker launches taking the place of the heavy artillery; and partly because I’m just an antisocial old grouch.

A New Year’s Eve spent at home is also an ideal time for reflection, assuming one does not pass out from the firecracker smoke coming in through the window. I do not wish to reflect too much on the fact that 2016 was The Worst Year Ever, even though it indisputably was – from climate doom to the death of the most famous of all Jehovah’s Witnesses to Donald Trump and, perhaps most incredibly, the deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother one day apart. No need for another thinkpiece on that topic when everyone already knows it’s absolutely true, anyway: 2016 was the worst year ever. At least, until 2017.

And so, notwithstanding the fact that 2017 may yet bring horrors so appalling that all else will fade into insignificance,  I would like to reflect on the lessons that I hope to apply over the coming 365 days. Some of these are lessons that I only recently unearthed, while others are things I’ve known for a long time but had trouble actually applying. Either way, I believe these are principles that, if put into practice, could help me have a happier 2017 – That is, if I don’t die from a climate change nuke explosion with its ground zero located at a crowded Annual Convention of Beloved Celebrities.

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The Kalabaw Paradox

How how indeed! - S
How how indeed! – Source

Ever since the age of 14, I have devoted inordinate thought to the ethics of meat-eating. Around that age, my mother became a pescatarian; and I, being a hopeless mama’s boy at the time, was quite ready to emulate her example. It wasn’t a difficult decision, and not just because she was the only person I was living with at the time, as well as the one who cooked my meals. I had always loved animals – as a person with autism, I often found them much easier to relate to than people. And although I was certainly a gluttonous little porker, meat was never one of my favorite things to stuff into my greasy little piehole – you could’ve given me a bag of salt & vinegar potato chips over a juicy T-bone any day of the week.

My first memory of wrestling with the thorny issue of culinary ethics was from fifth or sixth grade, on the playground with my inseparable chum Dan. At the time the media was abuzz with the clubbing of baby (“baby”) seals in the arctic, and Dan indignantly declared, with a withering contempt far beyond his years, that the same people who bellyache about seal clubbing don’t care about millions of chickens being killed everyday. I had no answer to this at the time, but perhaps my eventual vegetarianism was a delayed act of spite – an “I’ll show him”, with my revenge exacted a few years too late. He did have a point, though.

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If I’m Gonna Die Eventually, How Can I Be Conscious Now?

Back in my rebellious teenage days, a rotund, sweat pants-wearing Bloggerbels spent the vast expanses of free time afforded by his status as a social pariah on pondering the deepest questions of human existence. Taking Homer Simpson’s classic utterance of “Everyone is stupid except for me” as my non-ironic life’s motto, I furiously scribbled my undercooked “insights” into beaten-up notebooks, presumably so that posterity would not be robbed of my precious gift.

One of the many imagined “epiphanies” that sprung from just below my mussed brown hair was related to the connection between consciousness and the afterlife. How, I asked myself, could I simply cease to exist at death, given that I was quite obviously conscious and aware at that precise moment? If there was clearly some conscious agent present to pose the question, how could that same asker simply seem to exist? How could this seemingly unbroken stream of consciousness simply stop? It would feel like a negation of every undeniably real moment of consciousness that had become before.

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The Horror of the Loving Machines

I recently returned to my beloved pooches in Manila after over five months of travel. Apparently I belong to the “out of sight, out of mind” school of attachment, as opposed to espousing the opposing “absence makes the heart grow fonder” theory – That is, I have to confess I didn’t miss them very much at all while I was off devouring stinky tofu in Taipei night markets and gawking at the opulent marble pedestrian underpasses of Baku.

But upon returning to Manila and settling back into my old life, I quickly realized what a balm it was to be welcomed home each time by hyperactively sweet balls of loving fur. And as I reflected upon how aggressively loving they are, I remembered a term (not original) that a former friend had used to describe dogs: loving machines. And as I turned the term over in my head, it slowly stopped being adorable and gradually became a bit creepy. (more…)

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President Pussy-Grabber and the Romanian Railway Police

Over the last few weeks, two parallel sets of misfortunes have been unfolding: one on a global scale, and of tremendous significance; and one on a personal level, and not important to anyone but me.

The more important narrative has, of course, been that of a short-fingered orange sex criminal being appointed to the office of the most powerful man (and yes, it’s still an office apparently reserved solely for men) in the world. The much less important one involves me leaving a trail of lost and damaged property through Europe, along with a few stray fragments of my heart – let’s start with that one.

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My Severe Discomfort with Talking About Travel

For someone who talks about travel a lot, I sure hate talking about travel. I suppose it’s inevitable that the topic should come up – when I’m traveling for half a year at a stretch, as I am now, the subject tends to dominate my life. It’s a good topic for breaking the ice with locals and fellow travelers, and epic tales of my seat-of-the-pants backpacking adventures can certainly impress timid two-week package tourists.

And yet, I can’t escape the dirty feeling that comes with talking about travel. (And yep – I’m feeling it right now!) Why is that, though?

First of all, I feel like I’m just not as excited about it as I’m supposed to be. I’ve lived the past decade of my life overseas, and have spent a significant chunk of that time traveling. At this point, I can muster about the same amount of enthusiasm for a trip to a new country as I would for a really good cup of coffee – it’s not nothing, because I do love a good cup of coffee, but there’s still something perfunctory about constantly feeding one’s addictions, whether they be to caffeine or to travel.

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America and the Joy of Low Expectations

I write this on a train from Bucharest to Transylvania, on an evening which also happens to be the morning of the 2016 US presidential election. I want to write about the United States, but my topic is not political – although, depending on the outcome of the election, my opinion of America may have shifted significantly by the Transylvanian morning.

I’ve been thinking differently about America since two years ago – which, in spite of all of my traveling, happened to be my first actual visit to the United States. One reason I delayed visiting for so long was because we Canadians – and yes, I now admit to the secret shame of being a Canadian – have been inundated with absurdly negative ideas about our neighbours to the south. “Oh, those Americans are so dumb,” a Canadian might say inbetween slapshots or hacks at the base of an uncommonly thick pine tree. “They’re all religious nutjobs who run around shooting at each other! Not like us – we’re so polite and peaceful, and we have universal health care!”

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