Waiting in San Francisco

I’ve been in San Francisco for a month. I planned to be gone by now, but it hasn’t worked out. Getting the documents is taking far longer than I would like, and it’s far too easy to make mistakes that stretch out the time. It’s not a bad place to be, I’m just ready to get back to work, or at least to be somewhere else.

San Francisco has always been a bit off for me. I like the place, but I would rather be in LA or San Diego, where the Mexican food doesn’t always come out weird. Lettuce in burritos, things fried that should not be, beans and rice in everything, no heat to the salsa, there is always something that is not what I am looking for. The weather is a bit too cold, the air a bit too wet, the ocean far too cold, but maybe that’s just that I’m used to the winter in the desert.

It was stressful being here at first, problems kept coming up with the visa paperwork, delaying my trip out, and even now I can’t plan to leave until I have the visa since in San Francisco the Chinese Consulate sometimes requires you to go in for fingerprinting to get the final visa. I was planning a trip south, but I’ll be lucky to make it to San Diego, much less to Mexico this time. I’ll have to plan better next time.

I never thought the process would really take this long, but China has a few extra steps, and it’s easy to miss. Not that I blame them. With all the problems I’ve seen teaching abroad, I’m sure most of these steps were created because of people cheating the system, bypassing rules to get the jobs that pay better, or hiding from something back home. I just hope it’s not always this difficult. I don’t want to waste so much time next time I change countries.

Having this much time off is frustrating. I am too far out of shape and away from Wing Chun to go practice with the people I know here, but I’m hoping to find something, somewhere to go for a while. I have a small gym I can use, but I always had a problem with being consistent when I was without the group. Buddha, Dharma, and Sanga. In Buddhism you need all three to achieve enlightenment, the teacher, the teachings, and people to study with. I just haven’t found that here yet.

Not that I’m looking. I should, but I always feel weird going in the States. In other countries I show up and it goes well enough, especially since I usually can’t speak the language well so I can be off to the side and quiet until I really want to join in. Here, there is no language barrier to hold me back. There is something oddly comforting about not being able to communicate except through fighting. It’s something I understand, something that comes easy to me now.

But that sets my plans, for now anyway. Find a place to fight, find something to fill my days, and keep working on the visa. And maybe look up some other countries and see how hard it is to get to them. It’s nice to dream of what will be.

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Remembering Taipei

It was weird being back in Taipei, the energy maybe, or the memories. Maybe it was just knowing how soon I would be back in the US. I found myself walking fast through the streets, like when I still lived there. I still had all my old music, and in some ways it was like I had never left, and in others it was all too clear.

Lanzhou was not good for my health. It’s not the fault of the place, but I couldn’t really find anywhere I really wanted to practice kungfu. I can never sustain training alone for too long, and my kungfu teacher would only teach once a week sometimes. I need a place i can go every day, with people who are truly passionate about all the aspects of kungfu. Too many schools lack something, forms, combat, or just the feeling of community I look for.

I ran up steps to the trolleys, avoiding the escalators like I used to, walked around the city with no real direction, and wandered the nightmarkets thinking about all the places I’ve been. There is still pain in my feet, but in Taipei it didn’t matter, I just had too much energy to stop moving once I started. I wanted to climb mountains again, get lost in the woods, swim in the rivers. All the things I missed living in a megacity in the desert. I doubt the center of Chengdu will be much better, but at least I can make my way into the mountains easily enough.

 The hardest part of finding a new home in whatever place I moved to is finding the right people. I always make friends fairly easily, but I need the people who will push me to do more than I would on my own. There are always people, but I need someone to climb mountains with, to do more than simply exist with. Friends, but also allies. The world always drags me down. I can push forward most of the time, but having someone to fight alongside makes all the difference in the world.

Taipei already had most of that. I had friends to climb mountains with, kungfu brothers, other teachers, friends, but I moved on. It was easy at the time, to go into the Peace Corps and do something new. It’s even easy now, leaving Taipei, but now there is a question, should I have come back to teach there? I speak enough Mandarin now to practice with people, it’s much harder to learn from scratch there. It wouldn’t be hard to find work, to settle in and make a life there. I wonder if I made a mistake.

In Chengdu, some of that is already done. I’m moving back rather than going to somewhere new, so I have most of what I need, but I’m still waiting on the visa. Now, I have time, just waiting for everything to be done, sometimes dealing with paperwork that always needs one more thing, then waiting again. And time keeps passing, slowly.

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The Trap of Bliss

When I am in a dream, the only way I have ever been able to take control is when I realize I have no continuity in my past. I know where I am, but I never know how I got there. I’m on a cliff leading up to the house I am staying in, but I was just in another country, how did I get here? That is the defining question of my dreams. How did I get here? Things are always irrational, but when I am in the middle of it, everything seems normal. Like that part of my mind just accepts the reality around it and deals with problems as they come, until I think of the past. If I can’t remember how I got here, something feels deeply wrong.

Zamales was a paradise in a lot of ways. I never really explored like I planned to. The town of San Filipe was a cool mix of old Spanish buildings, quick built concrete storefronts, and fancy beach side houses, but I barely ever saw them. The beach seemed to stretch on forever, but I never went that far. Liwa, the beach side village I stayed in had tons of street art and bamboo houses, but I never took the time to get pictures. The trap of bliss is that nothing really seems important. Life is good, so there is no need to strive or struggle.

I spent most of my time in a hammock, sleeping in the open air or just watching tv i missed out on in Mongolia. I swam in the ocean most days, fighting the current or surfing when I could get a board. I am way out of shape, but I never found the drive to get back into working on my popup again. Or my kungfu. I could blame the ever lessening pain in my feet, but the truth is I just had no motivation. I built a few things, cooked a few meals, cleaned once or twice, but most of my time was spent on simple pleasures.

We spent a lot of time talking, joking, and eating. The food was amazing, except for a single meal during my stay. Almost perfect. Adobo, lumpia, and an endless series of meals I never really learned the names of. There was a French chef from Belgium and an Italian chef for part of the time too, and I cooked Mexican food once or twice. There were always problems with the appliances, but in the end the food was always good and no one got sick from anything. There weren’t many snacks, but somehow that didn’t matter. When I had the chance to hit the town, I bought some stuff from 7-eleven and ate it faster than I thought I would.

Most of the work was just about maintenance, patching fences and sweeping up before the guests came on the weekends. People from the local cities like Manila would come to spend a day or two at the beach before going back home, like we used to go to the mountains in California to camp and see the stars. I never really got around to seeing the stars here. I would watch the sunset most nights, on the beach or through the trees. I swam in the ocean a couple time as the sun went down. It was like swimming in an ocean of paint, reflecting all the colors in the ripples between waves.

The days passed faster than it seemed possible. After a few weeks, I found myself wondering if I was awake or asleep, so I traced back my steps and found I was at a loss. I was where I should be, on a beach in the Philippines, but I couldn’t remember exactly how I got to my hammock. I couldn’t remember climbing the stairs, or where I had been a hour before. There was a feeling, something about cleaning, or building, but I couldn’t be sure. The days began to blur together in a way I couldn’t have expected, and the memory I rely on to show me the difference between worlds failed me.

Everything was right, nothing was too weird, and I was fairly sure I was awake, but I didn’t know for sure until I began to create a past. I waited a minute and started to put things back together, sorting through my memories as I created new ones. It was exactly like when I would drive to work everyday and find myself there, but completely on autopilot, unaware of anything that had happened during the drive. And that was the worst part of bliss for me, that loss of my memories. That life was so good and easy it wasn’t really worth being aware of.

I could see a path laid out there, filled with sunny days and mosquito bites, finding someone to spend my life with, building a house, and slowly dying in a hammock on a sandy beach. There would be problems, but never any that would truly disrupt the place. A life on the beach would be a decent life, but I am not ready to stop yet. I’m in Taipei now, with a couple weeks before I get home for Christmas. I still have places to go, but it’s good to know there is a beach waiting for me.

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Tranquility of Spirit

Landing in the Philippines was hard. I have never heard anything good about Manila, and I wanted to be out as soon as possible. Part of it is just leaving Seoul, Mongolia, and China. Everything feels safe there, and I was never robbed beyond the typical overcharging you get with taxis sometimes. I didn’t really know what to expect in the Philippines, and that was hard. Not knowing. I should have known it was just my anxiety acting up.

Manila looks a lot like Mexico as you pass through. Some neighborhoods are beautiful, filled with cookie-cutter houses or malls and expensive stores, others just look like they were built as they went, scattered concrete cubes filled with stores and homes. There are a surprising number of Dunkin’ Donuts here, but most shops look more like family owned hole in the wall stores and street food restaurants. The more expensive areas are filled with western stores, super-malls, and coffee shops. The power lines fill the sky over the streets, draped across the corners of buildings and electricity poles.

The bus ride out of the airport was cheap and comfortable, but the roads in Mongolia lowered my standards significantly. We stopped off and on over six hours, some people getting on and off, others selling fruit, eggs, and snacks. In Mexico there would have been entertainment sometimes too, clowns and musicians helping pass the time. They annoyed me back then, but I miss them now.

Then, I came to Liwa in Zambales. Its a beach town, filled with hammocks and surfers, souls in celebration of being lost from the worlds they came from, searching for something more than can be found in the world outside. Some I wouldn’t be surprised to see burn out, and others may find the tranquility of spirit they are looking for in meditation and chemicals. There is a lot of faith here, born out of experience rather than religion. I question it sometimes, but then, I question everything. I was never one to accept that the universe has any plans for us, or that life has any meaning beyond what we give it.

But life here encourages that kind of thought, that there is a plan and it is good. I spend most of my days relaxing in a hammock or swimming in the ocean, relaxing into the waves on a good day or fighting them after a storm. Everything is alive. The walls crawl with lizards and ants, mosquitoes and flies are everywhere, and frogs of all sizes are scattered around the forest and house. The purpose of life here seems to be just to stop and take a breath, find your direction, even if it takes years. Especially if it takes years.

It’s and easy place to stay, to stop and never leave until life forces you to. I could spend a year here, sitting on a beach and relaxing, teaching somewhere local or online, just existing until something forces me to move on, but I don’t really want too. I have complaints. There are no walls in some places here, just a hammock under roof, open to the world. The ocean is warm and never really seems to cool me off when I start to overheat. And after living in the desert for so long, I am already tired of everything being wet all the time.

Discomfort. It’s mild, but it keeps me moving forward. There is nothing bad here That couldn’t be solved by having my own space to live in rather than sleeping in a hammock in a shared room. Life is good here, and easy, but I want to keep moving forward. I want to be in my next home, a place to call my own again. But there are still months to go before I can really settle again. I have a plan, and a contract, but I can’t really work on it until I reach Taiwan next month, but that should be easy. I know the city, and I know where to go to get everything I need. For now, I can just exist.

 

 

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