Overcoming Adversity

Think back to that first moment when you first found out you could ride a bike. Your dad had let go of holding up the seat and you had balanced yourself enough so you could just let the wheels guide you to where you wanted to go. The wind whistled through your hair, and you grinned so big because you realized at that moment your whole life changed. You were no longer required to stay home. There was a whole neighborhood for you to explore, and all you had to do was hop on that bike so you could see every nook and cranny of it. For the first time in your life, you truly understood the meaning of the word, freedom.

But this sense of freedom did not come easily. A lot of heartbreak occurred along the way to you learning how to take that chance and become a proficient bike rider. You had to overcome the embarrassment of riding around the neighborhood with training wheels bolted on to your back tire, allowing your already bike-riding friends the opportunity to point and laugh at you. The arguments you had with your dad were equally frustrating as he would yell at you about the need to pedal and you would claim that you were pedaling, but deep down in your heart you knew you had too many other things on your mind to worry about his suggestion. The bruises and scrapes you collected during the process was a constant reminder of every time you failed. But the great thing was you never gave up. You persisted because you knew that the reward would be worth the struggle, and now you can no longer understand what it meant being unable to ride a bike. We forget about the process of what it took to get us where we are with our bike-riding ability today.

We eventually take for granted these important milestones in our life, and more importantly, as we get older, we rarely look for other opportunities that allow us to grow. We grow complacent in our daily routine, and sink into those comfortable moments. I find myself falling into this sinkhole from time to time, and it is when I start to see a danger of my life no longer being relevant. It is part of the reason that I love the fact that the school I work for, Korea International School, has a strong experiential education program.

I have been a big part of this program for the last three years as I have taken an active role in designing the trip that the sophomore class takes to Boramwon camp in the mountains a little southeast from Seoul. It has taken a couple of years to tweak the program to get it exactly where we want it, but it has now reached the level that the students will get a lot out of the experience. It centers around the hero’s journey, and just like that journey, the students are required to take their fears and worries on a series of trials and challenges that will allow them to overcome those things they struggle with. They have to take on low ropes, and high ropes challenges, biking, archery, rafting, hiking, and many other little adventures designed specifically to take them out of their comfort level.

It is a transformative experience. These kids come into the trip timid and shy, not knowing what to expect. But after each little challenge, they gain a little more confidence in themselves, and gain the willingness to try new, and scary things. In a world that is constantly changing, where we do not know what tomorrow will look like or what challenges will be presented to the human race, this kind of mentality is a really important to instill in students. Plus they have a great time in the process.

The challenge of experiential education is not only something for the students. Each trip challenges me as well. There is a certain amount of risk that is involved when you take inexperienced students out into the wilderness to test their wills and their athleticism. You can get the students lost on a mountain, or they may slip off of that bike and hurt themselves, but each of those setbacks are more important for the development of these kids than if they were able to breeze through each of the challenges. If they get lost on the mountain, they have to come together and think about the best course of action to get themselves safely down. As long as they keep their calm and think things through logically, they will be able to make it back to safety. When they come back to school and look at the next essay they have to write for their English classroom, it won’t look so daunting because they have already overcome something worse than that.

And if you think back to those days when you were first learning how to ride a bike, when you fell off, you quickly got back on. If you did not, then you would never have learned how to ride that bike, and enjoy the freedom that was gained from going through those troubled times learning how to ride. The reward was worth the pain that they suffered along the way.

When you learn how to ride that bike, or climb to the top of that mountain, you gain the greatest thing you can ever get in this lifetime, a story to tell, a memory to cherish, an accomplishment that no one can ever take away. These are the things that can never be learned in a classroom. They can only be obtained through the trial that was experienced. This is the importance of an experiential education program, and it is the reason that I can always be happy to be a part of this moment with my students, every year.

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Seeing Home for the First Time

There is something strange that happens to the place you grew up in when you return to it after you have been away from it for awhile. You start to see it for the first time. You start to understand why the place you grew up in helped to define the person you have become today.

For example, I grew up with mountains always staring down on me from the west. They were such a part of who I was that I started to not notice them. Relatives of mine who grew up in the Midwest would come out to visit and would be amazed at their beauty and majesty. We would wind our way through the peaks, and they would stare out the windows with their mouths hanging open hoping to take it all in.

I would look up out of my window and say, “Yep, that’s a mountain.” They were something that was always there, and I did not need to think about it beyond that. Whenever I wanted to see them I would look west, and whenever I wanted to find west I would look for them. That was how I defined my life on the Front Range, and couldn’t understand why people would be so amazed by the thing that I took for granted.

It wasn’t until later in life when I voyaged to the ocean for the first time that I started to understand what people experienced when they visited the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Here was the complete opposite of the landscape that I had grown up with. Here was this body of water that stretched out as far as the eye could see and was constantly undulating and changing. It wasn’t the steady rock that always hung to the west for me. Instead, it possessed a personality that could change from day to day. One day, it could offer a pleasant respite in the sun.

The next day, the clouds could come in and encase the coast with a dark blanket, giving rise to the waves crashing against the shore. People run to the safety of their warm homes and watch the weather from behind windows designed to frame the beach. The sense of solitude it offers is completely different than anything I felt while driving through the mountains, but I finally understood what others felt while they looked at those peaks jutting from the ground.

But then I moved out of the country for a couple of years, and I started to miss those things I had always taken for granted and those things that I never knew how much I loved. The mountains were the first things I longed for. I could no longer figure out which direction I was pointing, and because of that I always felt lost even though I knew where I was. But it felt as if a part of me was ripped away and I wished desperately to have them back.

When I got back to the states, the beauty and majesty of the peaks just stunned me as if it was the first time I ever saw them. I could start to appreciate them for the way they were meant to be enjoyed. I could feel that isolation that other felt as they were absorbed by the power of these giants. One of the days while I was out in Colorado, I got to enjoy the sunrise from above timberline as it inspired me and melted away the morning chill.

I was also able to complete a goal that I always wanted to achieve but never have been able to because of various reasons. In a span of one day, I summited not just one, but two of Colorado’s 14ers.

Thousands of people flock to these specific mountains every year as they visit the state. They have become one of Colorado’s biggest tourist attractions. Depending on who you talk to, there are 53 or 55 of these peaks that rise 14,000 feet over sea level. The distinction comes from how a person defines what constitutes a peak depending on how much of a rise in elevation occurs between one peak and the next.

Greys Peak and Torreys Peak are two of the more popular ones. There is a clear trail that runs up to the top of both of these mountains, and if you plan for a whole day of hiking you can make it to the summit of both mountains without much trouble because they are close enough to each other. The nice thing about them is there are couple more difficult routes that give the more experienced hikers a challenge if that is what they are looking for, and it is a long enough trail to give the less experienced hikers the challenge they are looking for.

My major concern with the mountains was the altitude. Even though I am a very active individual, I was coming from sea level and once you get above timberline, the altitude can become a serious problem. I remember starting the hike at 9,000 feet above sea level and thinking this would be easy as I talked to my companions on the hill. But my attitude suddenly changed as I was gasping for any air that I could stuff into my lungs and still not getting enough. I was worried that I would fail in my attempt of summiting another 14er.

Altitude sickness can be a very dangerous thing. Basically you are not getting enough oxygen for your body to function properly. First, you will start to feel a little dizzy. Then you will start to get a headache. The worst thing that could happen if you don’t treat your altitude sickness is that you could become so disoriented that you could get lost in the wilderness of Colorado. There is only one thing that you can do when you start to feel this way, head back down the hill, missing your chance of reaching the summit. Of course, you are still alive and well, so I guess that is worth the exchange of not achieving your goal. I was able to get my breathing under control so I could finally do this for the first time in my life.

Luckily, the feeling of dizziness never returned, but that did not mean that dangers disappeared. Many different things can go wrong on a mountain. It is part of the reason I have never been able to complete a 14er even though I grew up with them in my backyard. I have had to cut my expeditions short because of weather numerous times. When you get that high, storms can blow in quickly. If it is a blizzard you find yourself in, you lose visibility as biting snow blow into your face, making the path a slippery slide that could send you plummeting off the peak at any moment.  These storms don’t hold the same danger as a thunderstorm. When you get above timberline, there is no place for you to go find cover if lightning starts to strike, and you are the only thing it is most attracted to because you are the highest point around for miles. There have been many times I have made a fast scramble down a mountain as one of these storms started to blow in. Throw in scree fields with bowling ball sizes boulders willing to slip out for under your feet or come crashing down on you from above, and the random behavior of animals from mountain goats to the occasional bear, and you have the trappings for a spectacular adventure.

The mountains offered me many adventures during my voyage home. Even though the Greys and Torreys hike was the pinnacle of the hikes I took, there were various others I went on that were not as grueling, yet still fun. Growing up on the Front Range gave me thousands of opportunities to look down on the sprawling city. I never took advantage of it very often, and I regret that. But going back I was able to go on a few of these closer and shorter treks.

I had the pleasure of enjoying them with another aspect from home I missed a lot, a canine companion. I have written on a couple of occasions how my voyages overseas started with the passing of my dog, Bear, and even though I will never regret the experience I have had the last couple of years, the one thing I really miss is having that happy friend come to greet me every time I come walking through my front door. I miss the silly things a dog will do in order to get your attention. I miss that unconditional love that can only come from being a dog owner. While I was in the Denver metropolitan area, I had the pleasure of house sitting, and it came with the care of my brother’s malamute, Sakari.

Your perspective on life changes in the presence of a dog. All of a sudden there is another being that needs me in order to survive. And there is a companion there who gets really excited to even go on a simple walk around the neighborhood, getting even more excited when they know that they are going on a longer hike. It made being home that much more enjoyable knowing I was going to get to spend time with this happy individual.

Of course, it was a pleasure to spend time with my family as well. It is the main reason I go home every year. I enjoy watching how much my nieces and nephews have grown over the year. When I was living in the same town as them, I did not notice the change as much. It comes in subtle surges when I got to see them every other month. But when I do not get to hang out with them but once a year, they grow not only in height but in maturity as well. I can start have conversations with a couple of the older ones that are intelligent and go beyond them just agreeing with me. They formulate their own opinions, supporting them with things they have read or viewed on television. It is refreshing to see them grow into young adults.

Of course I get to reconnect with my parents and my siblings as well. It is always a pleasure to see them, but it is a greater experience to enjoy their company on a summer evening as the day cools down and the memories heat up. At this time in my life, these moments are not only about catching up with the experiences throughout the year, but also reminiscing about the moments we have shared in the past. I get to relive a whole lifetime whenever we gather together for an evening.

Of course, it is also about creating new memories as well. This is the best part of going back home. I went to many of the touristy places in Denver that I might make it to if I was living there, but since I was only in town for a short period of time, I made sure that I made it to some of my more favorite ones.

Coors Field in downtown Denver was definitely one of the places that I really wanted to go back to. I have attended a couple of baseball games in Korea and they are fun, but it is nothing like going to a MLB game. The level of play is crisper and more intense when I get to see one of these games. It was an added bonus to be able to see the game as well during one of the Rockies’ better runs for a pennant. The night I went, they had just come off of two games where they came back in the ninth inning from a Nolan Arenado hit late in the ninth inning. The Rockies had the best record in MLB. Expectations were very high that they would be able to continue on this streak. Of course, the night I went, they lost 16-7, and started a losing slide that had them go to the fifth place in the National League. I know there are going to be a lot of Rockies’ fans that will believe that it is my fault for the slide, but I was only there to enjoy time with my family and hopefully see a win. I didn’t get to see a win, but I did get to enjoy time with my family.

And the beer was pretty good too.

This is another thing that I really appreciate when I come back to the states. Certain types of food and beverages cannot be found in Korea. In fact, Seoul is just starting to experience their first ever craft beer revolution. Little pockets are springing up all over Seoul where you can find good beer, but it is nothing like Denver. There are craft beer locations all over the place and many of them make some excellent beers. It is getting to the point where they have to do crazy things in order to compete for the business of the average beer drinker.

One of these places is Dry Dock Brewery. They are a big hit in Colorado, and they have been expanding to other places in the country, so if you live in the U.S.A. and have not tried their beer yet, give it some time and you will soon be able to see it in your liquor stores. It started off as a homebrew kit place where they would experiment with their own beers. Their patrons enjoyed the beer so much that they expanded their operations and soon had a tasting room in Aurora that you could go and enjoy their beer. Recently, they expanded even more to include a place where they could mass produce their beer and can it to send it out to various places in the nation. The new place has a tasting room, but it also expanded beyond the borders of its building to include a nine hole Frisbee golf course behind its building. It is awesome. You grab a beer, play nine holes, and go back in for another beer. I enjoyed the course twice while I was out there.

The only problem with the course was the snakes that slithered around it. You had to be careful while you went out to hunt for your disc because you could have been bitten by one of them. While I was playing, we did come across a big bull snake, and we did the typical thing that all Coloradoans do when they come across a bull snake; we captured it.

And then we took it to scare other people who were playing the course. It was just a flavor of Colorado that I missed while I was living across the ocean, but was happy I got to enjoy it while I was back home.  It was fun to revisit old haunts like the Denver Zoo.

The difference this time around, I got to look at all of the sights through the eyes of a visitor and not as a resident.

It meant that every time I looked around I saw something that I usually would not see even though it was always there to begin with.

All of a sudden, the trees took on a new shape, and a new meaning.

The columbine flower was now worthy of my time to stop and enjoy. Colorado came to life for me in a way it had not for many years. It was as if I became like one of my relatives from the plain states of the U.S.A. driving through the mountains for the first time and being awestruck by its beauty.

But there was a time where I had to say goodbye to the Rocky Mountains and make my way further west. I still stopped at the ocean to stop and enjoy some time in the state of Oregon. When I eventually made it back to Korea and told my friends what I did over the summer, they all explained to me how jealous they were that everywhere I got to go was considered the more beautiful parts of the nation. I am lucky that I do get to spend a considerable amount of time in these parts of the world, and I have always been fascinated by Oregon and the Pacific Northwest in general.

The problem comes with the fact that I have been there so many times that the true beauty of the place starts to get hidden among all of the trees the state boasts of. And if you have never been to Oregon before, there are a lot of trees there.

But once you emerge from that forest, there is a lot to see. And it seems to get better every time I go. I have caught an Oregon sunset over the ocean a couple of times and it is a very rare event because the coast is usually covered in a thick haze from the clouds that roll in. To get a cloudless night is a rare treat, and you should take advantage of it if you are given the opportunity because the sunsets are spectacular.

I also got to spend more time on the beach then I normally would. We stayed two nights in the same location in a house right on the beach which added to the experience of going out there. Pretty much every other time I went out to enjoy the Oregon coast, I took a day’s drive from Portland and made it back before midnight on the same day. Because of this, I rushed through the time I had there hoping I could suck the most out of it. This time I was able to relax in the morning while enjoying the crashing waves, and go out in the afternoon to take part in many of the activities that the coast has to offer.

One day, my wife and I went down to Cannon Beach to take advantage of the breeze constantly blowing by buying a kite. There are many kite shops in town because this is something many people do while visiting this iconic spot. The water is not something people experience as much because it is colder than you would find in warmer climates. So people go down to the beach to enjoy the salt air and warm sand. The place where we bought our kite was on the edge of town run by a man who was clearly enjoying the new laws about marijuana. He had a Grateful Dead concert jamming in the background and was happy to show all of the kids that came into his shop how to assemble their kites and fly them. They usually bought the beginner kites, but my wife is an expert kite flyer and she went with the trick kite instead. It was the perfect purchase for the place because it allowed us to have many hours of enjoyment not only on Cannon Beach but also the beach that our house overlooked.

The next day, we went out to Manzanita, the next town further south from Cannon Beach. It is not as big of a tourist destination that the other place is, but some of the things that draw people to come down here are the salmon fishing and the kayaking on the Nehalem River. There are many places along the river where you can find a guide or rent a boat. If you time it perfectly, like we did, you can travel up the river during high tide and turn around when the tide switches so you can easily float on back down the river. It is also a great place to watch the wildlife. Many herons fly up and down the river in search of the salmon swimming upstream to their breeding ground, and we were followed by a bay seal that liked to pop its head out of the water far enough away where we could see him but not take a really good picture of him.

The beaches of Oregon offer many sights to see. When the tide goes out, you can observe tiny microcosms of sea life in the tide pools. I feel educated every time I stare at one of these natural aquariums from the ocean. I know the elementary schools of Portland bring their students to the beach at least once a year to give them this education, but considering I grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, it is a fascinating sight for me.

In fact, when I see sea life, I get really excited. Oregonians will look at a tub full of crab and think about how tasty they would be with a little bit of butter. I look at a tub full of crabs and wonder what it would be like to live that way. How did this creation ever evolve into the beings that they are now? Why do they need to walk sideways? But that is just because they are not something that I grew up with allowing me to take them for granted. I grew up seeing them in plastic containers after they had been processed and no longer looked like the creature they used to be.

It is this way for everything that exists in the town that you grew up in. You never really see it until you move away. But as soon as you come back from that long time away things start to emerge in a new light.

You can start to see the weirdness of the city because it is no longer the everyday you’ve become accustomed to.

It might be overwhelming at first, and the slightest changes might throw you off. It might disturb you that the band that was always promoted on your favorite music store is no longer painted on the wall. The company needed to make changes in order to keep up with the times, and you wish it was still the nineties. But change needs to happen, and the best way to embrace it is to enjoy it as if you are looking upon it for the first time.

And don’t worry because there are some things that never change. It is the combination of the old with the new that make the places you visit and the places you return to the great dynamic expression of humanity. Try to look on as if you have never seen it before, and the world will always remain magical.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale, available at https://www.amazon.com/Tag-Cautionary-Tale-John-Collings/dp/1533623902/

Cabbie Logic

I must be growing up because I went on my first ever business trip. Through my years in education, I have been out many times with my students on Experiential Education trips, but I never really considered them business trips. Those kinds of trips require me to get all dressed up to meet colleagues so we discuss the matters important to our profession. I didn’t have to put on a tie and present myself in a professional manner on the EE trips, nor did I have to network with people and do the all important dinners afterwards. My most recent trip was my first time to have this kind of experience and I was lucky enough to have Singapore be my first stop in the land of adults.

I attended the reThinking Literacy conference held on the UCW Southeast Asia campus. It was a refreshing look at the way people view different forms of media and how it is being used to influence the masses. During this day and age, it was a particularly relevant topic especially when the keynote speakers discussed the ways producers of media have gotten selective with their audiences in order to deliver the messages they know their consumers want to hear. Of course, we have heard this message before and we believe that we are not a person that can be so easily influenced by this type of propaganda. We are more intelligent than that. And if that is true, then let me ask when the last time you spent some time watching or reading the media that you disagree with? If you can’t think of a time when you did, then the information you consume might be influencing your thinking and you might not even know that it is doing this.

Don’t worry you are not alone. I used to believe that I was above the influence of the news I watched and read. I believed that I could make up my own mind, and I was not being told what to think all the time. I believed that I could watch it with a critical eye. It was my choice to believe the same kind of things that they were telling me to believe. That was until I learned a little from the cabbies in Singapore.

Yes, there is a certain kind of wisdom that can be found from a conversation from the people that drive other people around town. They really know the place where they live better than anybody else. They are in touch with the pulse of what makes the place tick, and they are not afraid to tell you what they think. I got into a conversation about various world leaders with a cabbie on my third day in town. We started off by discussing one of the most recently elected to office presidents, Moon Jae-In, and how he impressed the cabbie by the way he was willing to come to the table to talk with Kim Jong-un.

The driver also told me about his opinion of other presidents, and prime ministers. This list of the ones he admired included Lee Hsien Loong and Donald Trump. This surprised me a little bit because I have not run into many people on my extensive travels through southeast Asia that admire the current president of the United States. In fact, most jokes I hear from people from various nations include the punch of Donald Trump. In the past, I would have made an instant judgment because this person did not agree with my way of looking at the world, but this time I held my tongue and listened to what he had to say.

I learned a lot by just listening.

The cabbie liked both of these men because of their abilities to grow the economy. They were also able to keep the people of their nations safe from the terrorists coming from the Muslim communities. It was really hard for me to not correct this individual that terrorism do not only come from Muslims, and not all Muslims are terrorists, but I was getting an education at this time, and it was important that I listened. The language barrier between us caused poor communication, and he was never going to listen to the opinion of a foreigner; whereas, by listening to his beliefs, I was able to see what issues were important to him.

I might not have agreed with his perspective and the handling of these issues has been done well by the current President of the United States, but I couldn’t deny that this was an issue that kept this cabbie up at night. Maybe if other politicians listened to this base instead of ignoring it, then maybe they could come up with a solution that would be something I would be more comfortable with and would avoid the racist, single-minded attitude spreading all over the world.

It was really interesting to hear that these same concerns were also taking place in this small city/state. It is one of the economic powerhouses in the world, and because of the British colonialism this community is a collection of a variety of people from all over the world. Where were these ideas coming from? It probably had something to do with the media being pushed out to the community, and if I spent some more time watching it I might have gained a new perspective on their thinking. But I only had cabbies to talk to instead.

The next cabbie took the crew I was with down to Arab Street. This is one of the bigger tourist spots in Singapore. It has a lot of great shops and a variety of restaurants that reminded me of a cleaner version of the Sojo district in Hong Kong. The journey to get there was just as eye opening as the one I had taken earlier in the evening. This time the revelation came from a conversation I was having that excluded the cabbie.

I was talking about past relationships with a colleague of mine, and he had mentioned something about his ex-husband. The cabbie had picked up on this. As I sat in the front seat, I had the prefect view to watch his eyes grow really big.

“Ex-Husband?” he questioned.

Once again this reaffirmation that Singapore was not the most progressive thinking country presented itself. The difference between this type of discrimination and the other was we couldn’t ignore it this time around. At first, my friend tried to correct himself by stating that he meant to say ex-wife, but this line correction was not really working. He finally just admitted who he was and answered any questions that the cabbie had about him and his life. On the other hand, we asked about the laws in Singapore and the attitude of people towards gay rights. It was an educational experience for all involved, and I do think that a new respect for both sides was reached during that cab ride, but the only way for that to happen was by first engaging in conversation.

I don’t know if it was the type of education that the reThinking Literacy conference was speaking about, but an important nugget was still there. My education on this trip was about digging through the onslaught of what we receive daily to digest and how we discover the truth of the matter through all of that noise. It really begs the question if we should be consuming all of that media in the first place. Instead, should we take the time every once and awhile to sit down with that stranger who sit across from us at the bar and have a conversation with them? What will we learn from those conversations? What will they learn? How will the world grow from having a healthy discussion? Is this what we are missing in our societies today?

Honestly, I don’t know.

Maybe, you could tell me.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale by John Collings available at Amazon.com. Now on sale in the Kindle store for only $3.29.

The Real Bali

Why doesn’t anybody ever pick up an orange and bite into it right away? Because the skin is inedible. You must peel through that layer before getting to the juiciness underneath it. The same can be said about Bali, a small island near the equator in the southern hemisphere. When I first got there, I thought of it like any other country whose major economic power comes from tourism. The roads were crowded with shops selling various forms of artwork, saris, and trinkets to take home so you could remember your time on the island. Restaurants claimed to serve local cuisine as well as westernized food, so if you ever felt the need for a slice of home you could have it in the same place where the others would have the opportunity to experiment with the world flavors. On the surface, it looked like any other vacation destination that would have a couple of places that you needed to go to, but would allow enough relaxation so you could unwind from that long flight before getting back on another plane to go back home again. But I learned that I needed to peel back the layers.

That’s why I would recommend if you ever find yourself in Bali to veer off of the main drag to see what the place really has to offer. Most of the times if you are in a country who is not an economic powerhouse, I would not recommend doing this unless you knew where that would lead, but Bali has a different feel to it. You are not really experiencing the place if you stay where all of the tourists hang out. There is a lot of beauty to the country that you have to look for, and then you will really have an amazing experience.

Bali’s culture is seeped deeply in the Hindu religion. In fact, when the island was first growing, the Hindus brought their faith with them and created thousands of temples so they could celebrate it. Some of these temples are rather large; whereas, others are hidden behind secret doors down strange alleys. The one thing that is consistent with all of them is that the beautiful art work that gives you respect for the faith which inspired it. It is a place reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. The culture begged for me to learn more about it, and the further I delved into the corners of Bali, the more intricate the statues became. Some peeked out from the mountains, while others were covered with so much moss from the hills around the towns that it made me wonder how long they had been there and why had humanity forgotten about them.

It made me start to wonder which had come first, the works of masterpieces, or the nature that the gods created around those structures because this is the other side of Bali that is wonderful to discover the further you walk away from the beaten path. It is a tropical paradise. I was lucky enough to find myself there in May which would be a lot like November for those who live on the northern part of the world. Because it is so close to the equator, it never gets too cold, but it stays warm enough during this time of the year that you are never in need of pants. This is the perfect time to explore those expansive forests.

But when I did that I discovered something else about this amazing island. It was almost impossible to escape from some indication that man is lurking someplace around the corner. Most of the time this type of exposure would annoy. Hiking the hills of Colorado, I am always mad when I come across the signs that someone had been there before, but in Bali, this did not disturb me as much. The footprint left behind by man had a certain amount of respect with the place where it was left behind. There was a harmony that went along with the natural landscape, making me feel as if man had found a way to live in harmony with nature.

It could be seen in the way they grew their gardens. Rice fields were carved into the sides of cliffs, and laid far behind the facades of the towns, but these fields that supplied the people with their major source of food did not feel intrusive. Instead, it became just a natural part of the landscape much like the statues and temples that were hidden throughout the whole of the countryside. It just became a part of what Bali was all about.

The people of Bali were able to take this even further to make the landscape in their backyards into a great spectacle. They are able to shape it into something that is both relaxing and contemplative at the same time. This is where the real Bali lies. It was a place that allowed me to unwind, to take those principles of losing one’s self in nature and by doing so finding one’s true self to the extent I have always wanted to achieve. The place behind the façade of this country is the place where I was able to lose my façade for a while and connect with myself.

This is what Bali was for me. Most of my wanderings happened in the small mountain town of Ubud, and I would recommend that you take the time to find yourself there at least once in your lifetime, but do not just spend a quick time to do it. It takes some moments to shed the worries that come with your normal life. You need that time to forget about those worries, and Bali is great because you don’t collect more in the process. It was exactly what I needed during this stressful time of the school year, and I am glad that I got to enjoy it.

It allowed me to look at the horizon again with vigor and excitement. It allowed me to feel the tension that was wrapped up in my shoulders slowly relinquish its hold on me. It allowed me to feel at harmony with my own nature.

Thank you, Bali.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale by John Collings. Now only $2.99 in the Amazon Kindle store.

Why Travel?

I was walking in the village of Te Van, Vietnam working my way to the start of my trek through the muddy hillsides covered in rice patty fields when I looked over at the man walking next to me. We started a short conversation because he heard me speaking English with a typical American accent. I found out that he was from Chicago, and even though he was surprised that I lived in Seoul, South Korea it didn’t take long to realize that I really was from Colorado. He and his family had been traveling through Vietnam for the last couple of weeks and remarked that we were the first people from America that he had come across. I told him that it is not an unusual thing to experience when traveling the world. Rarely, do I run into other Americans, and as of late, if I do, they usually happen to be part of the international teaching community like me. Americans do not typically travel outside of America.

Part of this is because America is a vast land with so many amazing places to visit that it shouldn’t be a big surprise that they wouldn’t think to visit places so far away. Proximity plays a big part in the equation too. It takes a long time stuck in the cramped spaces of an airplane to get to the place where you are going and then when you get there you get to experience jet lag for a few days before you can truly enjoy yourself. Americans have been known to travel to Mexico, Central America and the islands in the Caribbean because they are closer, and I have not run into many Australians or New Zealanders while traveling through Europe for pretty much the same reason. Lastly, there is this aspect of being comfortable. When you go to a different country, there are many cultural and language differences that you have to overcome in order to truly enjoy yourself. It causes a lot of stress for a moment that should be relaxing. Why would anybody want to do that to themselves?

Most of the time when people think of vacation they think of the moments when they can get pampered and leave their troubles behind. They want to find that expansive beach that looks out over the ocean so they can bask in the sun with a good book. They want that neon colored drink with the fat straw, heavy pour, and plastic umbrella. They want that soft bed with the towels folded into a swan and covered with rose petals. This way they can forget about their complicated lives for awhile and truly enjoy themselves. Why complicate things by learning about a new culture at the same time?

Actually, that is the thing that excites me the most with travel. I want to experience new things, and see a new perspective on the world. As the world moves closer to hiding themselves behind their secure borders, I would prefer to see how the rest of the world is living, and try to gain a different understanding of the people from different cultures. Yes, I do enjoy being pampered from time to time, but that is not the main focus of my travels.

Many Americans will find the all-inclusive places along the beach in other countries that allows them to enjoy this carefree life, but is that really getting out of their comfort zone. It is just another representative of America on a distant shore. In order to really experience that culture, the people need to leave the confines of their safe hotel and walk out on the streets of the place where they are visiting.

This can be a very scary endeavor. The streets on Ha Noi are a great example of this. People in this great metropolis need to get from one place to another just like in any other city, but they do not usually do it by car. Instead, many of them purchase motorbikes to trek across town. They don’t only take themselves, but they will load up their whole family on these bikes. There were many times that I saw a dad guiding the bike through the busy streets of town with the mom sitting sidesaddle on the back while holding on to a new born baby as the younger brother bounces up and down on the father’s lap. They weave their way through the traffic that is not dictated by any traffic lights, so there is always a blending of hundreds of bikes, cabs, cars, and trucks at every intersection with each one of them vying for the position that will allow them to get to their destination, and they let others know of their presence by continuingly honking on their horns. It creates a crying cacophony of music that lets people know they are in Ha Noi.

But one must look beyond the traffic if they really want to see the heart of the place they are visiting, and Ha Noi really has a heart to it. Once I ventured out of the streets of the old quarter, I found Hoan Kiem Lake. This is probably the most touristy place in the whole city. Restaurants and bars circle the lake, and if you are really adventuresome you can check out a water puppet show. I decided to visit the temple on the small island in the middle of the lake instead.

This is the place where I was able to put the noise of the city behind me and find some peace. The tranquility here allowed me to collect myself and really start to understand the culture of Vietnam. It was also the place where one of the country’s greatest myths played out. The name of the lake translates to “The Lake of the Returned Sword”. The legend goes that in the 15th century, Le Loi, on his way to becoming the emperor of Vietnam, was gifted a great sword named Heaven’s Will by the turtle god that lived in the lake. Le Loi used the sword to defeat his enemies and gain control over Vietnam. He returned to the lake and was once again visited by the turtle god asking for the sword back. After thanking the turtle god for the use of the sword, he returned it to him and the turtle brought it back under the lake where it is supposedly still buried today.

I had never heard of this story before, but it showed me that no matter where I travel in the world, the people have great stories that help give their culture shape and depth. It also showed me that no matter where I went, the stories might have their own unique twist to them but essentially they are the same. This story reminded me of Excalibur and the lady of the lake. This story reminded me a lot about the world. Though we may wear different clothes, pray to different gods, and eat different foods, we still value the same ideas held up with our heroes, and when we dig through all the superficial stuff, we are still the same underneath it all. It is easy to forget this when we stay safe in our home clutching on to our national pride.

I have started to realize that this is one of the main reasons that I travel.

But there are other reasons as well.

My travels also takes me to some of the most amazing sites this world has to offer. I have traveled to many National Parks in the United States. I have roamed over the vast fields filled with animals in Africa. I have studies the great cathedrals in Europe. And I have been to many of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Each time I visit one of these places, I am awed by the natural beauty, and Halong Bay might top the list as one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen. Any visit to the northern part of Vietnam has to include a cruise on this bay, and I would recommend going for at least three days and two nights.

This bay supports almost two-thousand tree clad islands. Some of them are so small that they will only support one or two people; whereas, others are so large that they have oyster farms, or beaches, or hidden caves on them. The cruise I went on took me to some of the better ones while giving me the opportunity to swim in the ocean, kayak to a hidden hideout of the Vietcong soldiers during the Vietnam war, and take a hike to the top of one of the tallest islands so I could survey the expanse of this wonder. This best part of this adventure was I got to do it from the comfort of a small ship that served amazing meals next to a well stocked bar. During the night, they taught us how to squid fish, and in the morning they showed us some Tai Chi.

With all of these experiences and views that are offered on an excursion like this why would I want to sit at home and see the same thing over and over again? I once had a student of mine tell me that a trip like this was not worth it because he could go online right now and experience the same thing through the free pictures that he found there, but I know from experience that these pictures do not do a place justice. Going out there and seeing the majesty of these islands and enjoying them from the comfort of a patio on a small ship is completely different from scrolling through pictures on Google image. I get to breathe in the fresh air. I get to taste the salt on my lips. I get to hear the gentle waves crash against the ship. It is the whole experience that makes it amazing, not just the view.

But this isn’t the only reason I travel.

Hidden in the clouds next to the border of China is the small mountain town of Sa Pa. This place shows the diversity Vietnam has to offer and reminds me a lot of the smaller towns in the hills of Colorado. There were a couple of streets where all of the restaurants situated themselves, and a market place was built, dedicated to creating and selling various handwoven items. It is an amazing process to actually see. Women, living in the hills, will gather hemp which they will constantly be threading together to make into a durable thread. This thread will then be dyed with a color created from the flowers growing all over the hills. It will then be woven together to turn into bags, pillowcases and shirts. They are beautiful pieces of art that are a huge part of the economy of this small town.

I learned even more about it when I ventured out of this small mountain town and spent a night in the village of Te Van. Many travelers will come out to these villages to stay at a home stay, and then hike between the villages to stay at another home stay. When I first heard about this cultural experience, I was really excited. It sounded like a place where you would stay with a family from the village, learn how to cook their traditional foods, and enjoy their company for as long as you stayed there. But this was not the case.

It felt more like a hostel that was built around somebody’s home. They supplied us with a bed in the corner of the house that was sectioned off from the rest of the people by a blanket tied to a rope. They did cook a nice meal for us, but it was not the most memorable one I had on this voyage. The thing that made it great was the company I got to share it with. I met a nice family from Switzerland, and a happy couple from Australia, but once again my friends and I were the only ones from America staying there for the night.

Even though I did not get the experience I wanted from the home stay, it does not mean that I did not enjoy my time there. I did get to go on a long hike through the hills. It started on day where the rain had pounded the fields early in the morning, and we each had to pay ten dollars a piece for a guide. At first I thought the price was a little steep, but I soon learned why it cost that much to make the hike through the mountains.

The path through the rice patty fields and bamboo groves was carved from the mountains, and because of the rain had turned into mud. This would not have been a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that we were not traveling on a flat road. The path took us up through the hills only to bring us back down again. The guide was able to navigate these paths without too much difficulty to get us to the next village with ease.

Each one of us also found a companion hiking with us. At first, I thought that they were just ladies who were being nice to hike with us through the hills as they made their way to wherever it was they were going, but I soon noticed that every time we stopped to take a break, they would stop with us. Eventually they helped us move through the muddy trails by holding our hands, especially when it got steeper. They carried this big basket on their backs and never slipped once which made me feel like a total scrub, considering I grew up in the mountains and usually have sure footing when I am in them. This is when it started to dawn on me that this is where our money was going to. After I considered that, the price of the guide did not seem that outrageous.

Of course, when we made it to the next village, before we sat down to lunch, the ladies convinced us to buy some of their wares they were lugging on their backs. How could I say no, after all they did to help my friends and me make it through the mud. I do have to warn others who might want to make this voyage though. As soon as I bought one thing from the kind lady that helped me, it signaled to all others in the area that I had money and they swarmed me with requests about buying their wares as well. It is really hard to tell a ten year girl who is holding up a bracelet she supposedly made that you don’t want to give her any money, but in the long run, she will never be able to improve her lot in life if she continues to peddle products on the street instead of being in school where she belongs. It broke my heart to see it but I knew it was the right thing to do. The older ladies trying to get me to buy things didn’t get the same kind of sympathy, plus I didn’t have enough money to buy something from all of them.

We eventually got back on the path and it took me to one of the most beautiful spots I had seen on the whole trip, a waterfall that wove its path down the tall mountain. An outcropping of rocks allowed for a relaxing spot where I could lay out and listen to the rush of water as it passed by. It allowed me to clear my mind and absorb all of the things I had experienced and comes to terms with it as it related to my life. Sometimes, I get so wrapped in my daily duties that I completely forget about my place in the world. I start to think that I hold a greater importance than I really do, but there is a whole world of people out there believing the same thing, and we can’t all be right. Sometimes I should just decompress to recognize that my problems are smaller than the ones that others are experiencing and the little things that I make a big deal about, I have no control over and they should be rushed away like the water pouring over that outcropping I found on that sunny day. I just need to enjoy the moments as they are presented to me.

This is the real reason that I travel.

So I respect my fellow traveler from Chicago who took his family out on an adventure far from the comforts of the United States. He came to the same realization that I did that there is more to this world than what can be found in the confines of the country we grew up in, and it is important to see them. It gives a true perspective of the world we live in and to our own lives. My hope is that more people take this risk so the world we live in becomes a smaller place, and we can start to heal the wounds that are dealt between us.

Go Travel.

 

Brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale.

Available at https://www.amazon.com/Tag-Cautionary-Tale-John-Collings-ebook/dp/B01GOVCELQ/

 

The Other Top 100 Songs from the 90s – 10 – 1

10 – 21st Century Digital Boy – Bad Religion

In a decade where punk rock ruled, this song was the one that defined them all. It had the foresight that great writers such as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley had when predicting the future. It is hard to imagine that this song was written over twenty years ago but predicted where we are today. Probably the most underrated song of the decade.

9 – Hook – Blues Traveler

Blues Traveler was the jam band that paved the way for every other jam band. In fact, John Popper was known to play on many of the other band’s tracks that allowed them to break through, most notably Dave Matthews Band. This song was the pinnacle of their music in the 90s and it had to be released twice before it hooked people, but it is the intense rambling of lyrics at the end of this song that makes it one of the best of the decade.

8 – The Day I Tried to Live – Soundgarden

I have always loved Chris Cornell’s vocals but it is never better than it is in this song. Combined with the carpe diem lyrics, it makes not only a great song to listen to, but also a great philosophy to live by. I have also always thought it was one of the best examples of drums to come from this decade.

7 – Closer – Nine Inch Nails

There was not one person that was alive during the 90s that was drawn to this song the instant it was released. The creative use of sound combined with biting guitars, and a mind warping set of lyrics created an unforgettable song. The video was also disturbing, even if you did not see the unrated version.

6 – Know Your Enemy – Rage Against the Enemy

“Land of the free/ Whoever said that is your enemy.” Do I need to say any more. The truth stings sometimes, but being in a mosh pit while the unique guitar work adrenalizes you makes it all worth while. Definitely one of the best political songs ever written.

5 – California Love – 2Pac

The hard edge to the beat and the musical quality behind the lyrics made this an unforgettable song. By far, the best rap song ever written. It combines the grittiness of gangsta rap with an incredible beat. Nobody has ever been able to match the power behind this song, and I don’t know if they ever will.

4 – Black – Pearl Jam

Many people would claim that another band should be considered the band of the 90s, but I would disagree. Pearl Jam broke the rules of how to promote itself, went against the norms for the sake of their fans, and delivered great music time and time again. Just look at their staying power and you will be able to recognize how important they actually are. This song is their best out of their hole catalogue and I am positive that many Pearl Jam fans would agree with me.

3 – Heart Shaped Box – Nirvana

I actually really hated Nirvana during the 90s. Most of their music did not really move me. It wasn’t until I heard this song on the radio and did not know that it was from them that I understood their importance. This is a great song, and if given a chance to listen to this or “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, I would easily pick this one.

2 – Fake Plastic Trees – Radiohead

This song hits me to the core. I can’t hear this song without feeling pain and anguish but at the same find a glimmer of hope somewhere in there that lets me know that everything will somehow be okay in the end. It has been connected to some of the most significant moments in my life, and I will always believe that this song has more power behind it than the other song that people credit to this band.

1 – Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

It might seem a little cliché to pick this song as number one, but it is so honest and truthful about the life Anthony Kiedis experienced that you cannot help to hear this song and feel the same pain that he felt. It is the vulnerability behind this song that I think defines the decade the best because that was what it the decade was about, honesty. Ask anybody that credits that decade as their decade and I think you will find that they agree.