My Shot

October 12, 2015 at 10:52 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I’ve been writing a lot lately. Reading quite a bit too. For better or worse, though, it has all been academic. I definitely feel like I’m finally getting my sea legs back under me in that regard, so to speak – 4+ years out of the classroom requires a bit of getting up to speed. Fortunately school has always been a skill of mine, so it’s all coming back.

I felt it was important for me to take a bit of time here, though, for some self reflection and honesty with myself. Writing has always been therapeutic, and I tend to treat this blog as more of a journal than anything else, so here we go…

Much like the beginning of a football game or a performance, beginning any new project doesn’t really start until you have take that first hit or sing those first couple notes. For me, that happened last week with my first grad school paper. It was 2 pages – nothing massive – but it was my first chance to prove to myself that I was capable of doing the work at this level. It’s one thing to intuitively feel it, but actually getting into the grind is another thing entirely. My first paper happened to go relatively well, but that just means that I need to continue to up the ante and get as much out of this program as I can.

I think sometimes about the idea of building a house. A small error in putting together the foundation can lead to big structural problems 2 or 3 stories up. It’s important to really take advantage of the time I have early to learn the basics (especially in research methodology and economics, where my background is not as strong) so that I can build my skill set in a way that will be effective. I’m trying to get into a routine that allows me to get everything done I need to get done, lets me be as social as I need to be for my mental health, and keeps me at least relatively active. The balancing act is one that definitely can be done, but it requires some thought and a lot of tinkering here and there to really make it work for me.

Speaking of social life, I feel quite grateful that I have met so many interesting, passionate, intelligent, and fun people here in Corvallis and the MPP program. I’m very lucky that my roommates just happen to be great humans as well. Life is always better when you get along with the people you live with. At the same time, though, I do miss many of my friends who are in the Portland metro, flung across the northwest, and beyond. There is a certain sadness inherent in transition, I think, that is neither good or bad. It simply is. As my life changes, there is a bit of melancholy knowing that nothing will be the same. We can’t remain static. I don’t want to be static – I want to learn new things and meet new people, hear the songs that I will sing to my children someday (if I have them), and maybe fall in love and out of love or at least have some interesting stories about dates I went on.

I can’t say that this is exactly what I imagined for myself at 25, but then again, I don’t know if I really imagined anything specific about 25 in the first place. It’s exciting. It’s new. It’s challenging. I’m in uncharted waters. I’m in a place that feels very different from just about anyone I knew before I came here. I’m trying really hard to be here, where I am, in any given moment. I’m trying to be myself in a world that thinks I’m too nice, or too yielding, or too whimsical. I want to change the world. I want to change myself. I want to feel like there is no distinction between those two sentences. I want to have all the answers. That’s actually untrue…I enjoy the mystery. What I really want is more comfort with uncertainty. I want to make my family and friends proud of me. I would like to leave people’s lives a bit brighter than I found them.

Just have to keep heading onward and upward.


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Capable of Anything

September 11, 2015 at 11:24 am (Uncategorized)

14 years…the better chunk of my life, and the lives of my peers.

Prayers & thoughts for the victims, the heroism, the sacrifice. But please don’t forget all the innocent people all over the world who have been killed in one of the biggest policy blunders in American history, and don’t forget how this was the catalyst to remove a chunk of our civil liberties. Take the hate and learn something – how we can be better. Don’t let it all be in vain.

Don’t just #neverforget. Actually remember.

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Song for a Friend

September 10, 2015 at 9:16 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Weddings generally make me thoughtful. Now, they also make me want to party the night away with friends, family, and strangers, but once the party part has passed, they make me thoughtful. I think it’s inevitable – you see people making a HUGE life choice and you say to yourself, “they were probably pretty thoughtful about this. What about you?” To the extent that we all can’t help but compare ourselves to others, I find myself taking mental notes about what I liked and didn’t like for my own potential wedding someday. I also think it’s pretty natural for single people at a wedding to wonder about what their future love life has in store. Those things are interesting, certainly, but they weren’t the dominant feelings I was experiencing.

Rather, I found myself filled with gratitude.

Gratitude for the fact that I have such wonderful/caring/fun/talented/sweet friends, gratitude for the fact that all the variances of life brought me to such a joyful moment, gratitude for the fact that everyone puts up with my silliness. Gratitude for the fact that you can be far away from people and always pick up right where you left off. I’m grateful that everyone is just a text message away if I want to hear from them. Happiness that I can be absolutely ridiculous, and my friends will not only accept but embrace it. Gratitude that I have so much that I can learn from the way that they live their lives and their friendship.

I think that the best way to be a positive change in the world is by being kind and loving to everyone you come across. Big, sweeping, societal changes are good (and needed!), but positive change needs to come from each of us individually, as well. I know I’m not always perfect – I can be kinder, more open to others, more generous with my time and attention, and more compassionate. The trick is to keep working at it, ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel like it, and then to be kind to yourself when you inevitably have a bad day and lash out at someone for no reason, ignore someone, or when you just can’t seem to get anything right. There’s always tomorrow – always an opportunity to be your best self.

The Dalai Lama posted something relevant on Facebook this morning:
“Change in ourselves and in the world in which we live may not take place in a hurry: it will take time. But if we don’t make an effort nothing will happen at all. Change will not take place because of decisions taken by governments or the UN. Real change will take place when individuals transform themselves guided by the values that lie at the core of all human ethical systems, scientific findings, and common sense.”

So we all have to do it ourselves. We have to take care of ourselves, of others, of the world around us. I guess that’s why weddings are great – it’s an excuse to throw off the societal constraints we sometimes have about being open and truly tell the people we love how we feel about them. It’s about two people making a commitment to one another, but also about everyone at the wedding to let them know that the love they experience is not limited to theirs. We’re all here for you; we love you too. We feel the abounding joy that comes when we let ourselves freely love other people. It makes you happier to wish and work towards happiness for others.

We can be the change. We can be the love. We can do things for each other and let a rising tide lift all boats, rather than be selfishly focused on our own self-interest. We can all kick ass and be awesome together. It’s about blurring the lines that divide us, to stop seeing the “other” and start seeing yourself in the faces of the people you encounter.

As far as general life updates…

So far Corvallis has been treating me well! My roommates are great, the town seems fun, and I’m excited to jump into my program and start working. I think the next two years will be a great experience, an excellent career launch point, and full of personal growth and adventure.

Football starts today! I’m very excited, even if the two teams playing make me wish they could both lose. It’s like Christmas, if Christmas also came with a bunch of reservations about head trauma, hyper-masculinity, and the exploitation of persons of color. It’s a complicated love affair, to be sure.

I’m trying to be better about writing more consistently, especially as I will have to write much more for grad school, and I haven’t had the experience of pumping out tons of text in the last few years. I’m going to see if I can either write or run (or both!) every day. No promises, but that’s the goal I’m working towards.

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September 1, 2015 at 11:17 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

This weekend I ran my first ever Hood to Coast relay – 198 miles in 31 hours! (I *only* ran 16 of them).

When Howard asked me I was slightly hesitant at first, since I had never ran that far in that period of time before, and because as great as this summer of traveling all over has been I was looking forward to one weekend where I wouldn’t have to be doing anything. At the end of the day, though, I can’t help but be a social butterfly, so I decided to take on the challenge. Worth it. Like any good adventure there were moments of pain and sleep deprivation where I wondered why in the hell I was doing this, but it’s always pleasing to set goals and attain them, and I was fortunate to have a great team to make the experience a lot of fun.

The most challenging part was my second leg, which involved running almost 6 miles at ~3am, up a mountain, in the dark, in the rain, and without any sleep. It was painful, but I was able to have a lot of fun with it because I managed my expectations well. I think that’s what it’s all about, and a life lesson that running has helped me with. You can know that a situation is going to be unpleasant, but unpleasantness mainly arises from what’s going on in our own heads, not from the situation itself. If I say to myself “I’m tired, this is awful, I’m upset” then I will be upset. If I say “I’m tired, this is awful, but I’m RUNNING UP A MOUNTAIN RIGHT NOW – LOOK AT THIS LIGHTNING, YOU CAN’T STOP ME MOTHER NATURE” all of a sudden I’m amped up and feeling good. Similarly, at any point in your life you can choose to change your perspective. Reality is what we make it. We all have the power to create a more positive existence for ourselves, if we want to.

I wouldn’t say that I LOVE running, but I definitely like it much more than when I first started. I really enjoy the challenge of competing against myself, and I have met a bunch of really great people doing it, so that’s a plus. I’ve had to change my mindset from one of a sprinter to longer distances – they require different strategies. I do sometimes hear Holman’s voice in my head from track practice, though, exhorting me to use my arms more. “Reach, Henslehh, REEEACH!” in his Nebraska drawl. Yes, coach.

Overall, I would love to do it again – especially if we can avoid insane weather and actually enjoy the party at the finish line. Now to make sure I keep my focus with running, have to sign up for a few more races. If you want to run with me, let me know! The more the merrier, always.

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August 25, 2015 at 1:20 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

I’ve been “in” Corvallis for just about a month and a half, but my actual time here has been pretty sporadic between weddings, bachelor parties, and general travel around the NW to see all my friends in such far flung places as Selah and Ashland. In any case, home has yet to really become HOME for me. Still, as things start to settle down I think I’ll probably start to settle in more to Corvallis.

Last week I went up to Seattle for the marriage of my cousin, Amy. Lovely ceremony and had a great time seeing everyone! You’d think that I would see my family more often since they’re only ~3 hours away (now 4 1/2), but life gets busy and I tend to only make it up for major holidays and the like. So this was an excellent opportunity to reconnect! Glad to have Jeff in the family. I ate waaaaaay to much, but that’s about par for the course when you’re visiting your grandparents.

When I think about food, I can’t help but reflect on my relationship with it. As my grandfather stated eloquently last week, “some people eat to live, and some people live to eat.” For the most part I try to eat with a modicum of healthiness, but I will admit that I often have a case of eyes-bigger-than-stomach-itis. I think in large part it stems from the fact that while I was growing up, I could eat and eat and eat and eat and not gain weight. I literally spent the last 3 years of high school attempting to gain weight – lifting, whey protein, eating and eating and eating – and hardly gained a pound. Of course, when I left for college I started moving less and began drinking my calories, and the rest is history. I am not a big guy, but when I look at myself in the mirror I still expect in some ways, I think, to see the string bean in the mirror I had always seen before. Now I look at myself and I can’t help but sometimes get caught up in how I should be thinner or more toned. It’s easy to get down on yourself – I know that my own body image issues certainly come in the context of a society that gives us unrealistic expectations of what a person is supposed to look like, but that doesn’t make the feelings we have less real.

I’m of the opinion that it’s better to have a mindset of being the best person you can be every day. When you have days that are less than ideal, forgive yourself and set about being better tomorrow. That’s easier said than done, of course. The words in our heads can be insidious. However, it’s all part of a larger picture of self care and taking care of your mental state. Keep on working on that, and the other issues you have will begin to clear up as you see yourself for who you really are and not as a projection of the negative voices in your head. We all have value and worth!

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July 10, 2015 at 9:51 am (Uncategorized)

I move tomorrow!

“What’s past is prologue,” Antonio tells us in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. That play always confuses me, because there are so many similarly named characters to other Shakespeare shows I know better (namely Twelfth Night). The confusion may make the statement all the more accurate, because life IS confusing.

What I do know is that this feels like the end of a chapter, or maybe a novel in a series – the one entitled “Between 2 Schools.” The last 4 years have been at turns terrible and wonderful, but I do believe that they have given me a wonderful foundation to get back into the classroom for a bit. I wrote about all that a bit ago, so I won’t delve too deeply there.

In any case, I’m all packed up and ready to get down to Corvallis. I never unpacked, actually, moving from Portland to Camas, all my stuff has been in boxes the past 5 months. Being in Asia, obviously, doesn’t predispose one to needing most of one’s things, and besides that what do I have that my mom doesn’t? So they stayed in their boxes. Tomorrow, though, I’ll begin unpacking and making a new home – one with new friends, new roommates, new connections, and new adventures.

What’s past may be prologue, but there’s a whole lot more to be written!

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Mental Health & Me

May 18, 2015 at 10:14 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Crazy, I have been told, is a pejorative word in the world of mental illness. As such, I try not to use it. It can be difficult at times, because that word is ingrained in our minds pretty firmly. So I work on not calling anyone crazy. I wonder, though – can I still use crazy to describe someone who wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline? Can I use it to describe a big party? Probably. Maybe. I think there’s a place for crazy, somewhere, but I’m working to find that line.

Yesterday I participated in Portland’s NAMI walk 2015. NAMI, if you aren’t aware, stands for National Alliance on Mental Illness. The purpose of the 5k walk yesterday was to raise awareness about mental illness and to raise funds to help with awareness, advocacy, and treatment. In the way that seeing several thousand people walking a loop in central Portland is going to naturally prompt questions, I think some awareness has been raised. However, I would probably be doing a disservice to the spirit of the cause if I didn’t use the other platforms at my disposal to help as well.

I have talked occasionally about my brother, who deals with mental illness, but for the most part I prefer to talk about how his illness effects me. His story isn’t mine to tell, and he’s a fairly private person. What I do want to try to do, though, is help with the stigma around mental illness, and the only person’s story I’m qualified to tell is my own.

First, some facts. These all come from NAMI’s website.

FACT: 1 in 5 Americans experience some kind of mental illness. 1 in 25, a serious mental illness.

FACT: Nearly 7 percent of American adults live with major depression. Just over 18% live with anxiety disorders.

I could talk at length about how our prison and homeless populations have a prevalence of mental illness, but for now I will just encourage you to check out NAMI’s website and the stats for yourself. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

I think the biggest issue is the stigma around mental health in general – we don’t talk about it. I certainly don’t talk about it. It’s really hard to admit to having any kind of mental health problem, even though if you had a physical illness you wouldn’t think twice about saying “yeah, I have a cold,” or “oh my knee is a little bit fucked up from a random scooter accident.”

Last year my psychologist diagnosed me with mild depression and anxiety. The depression I can usually shake with some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy – basically working to retrain your brain). The anxiety does pop up somewhat more often, and if I ever nope out of someplace, that’s probably what’s happening. I usually make up some kind of excuse, because saying “I feel super anxious and the walls are kind of closing in right now” feels like admitting weakness. It’s the same reason I have a near inability to cry – culture raises men to not disclose those things. I’ve seen it over and over in my own life and in the actions of others. Even now it’s hard to write.

I am fortunate that my problems are pretty mild, and I didn’t seek any help until there was an incident last fall that literally kept me from getting out of bed for a couple days. I think a lot of people wait until the problem gets completely unmanageable to get treatment, and if I could say anything, it would be that if you can (especially if your insurance will cover it), talk to a therapist. It was super helpful, even if didn’t love mine. Statistically speaking, there are a lot of people with some kind of mental health issue, and that’s OK. We can all work to be kinder, more understanding, and more compassionate. We can work together to help one another. We can work to be open and honest with each other. Don’t let the stigma or fear rule your life, and we can create a better future for everyone’s mind.

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Don’t Need No Trouble…

May 15, 2015 at 2:21 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

…but sometimes trouble needs me,” goes the opening line of the second track off of The Weepies’ most recent album Sirens. Outside of this album perhaps being their best yet, and the fact that I can’t stop listening to the album (or getting excited about seeing them in June!), this line really resonated with me.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few days about how my life has shifted SO dramatically in the last few years. I graduated from college 4 years ago at 20 years old, burnt out, unsure of what was coming next, with big dreams and a big blank space where the future should be. Sometimes I feel terrified that I am still that kid with big dreams and a big blank space (although now I know it’s where I’ll write your name). In no particular order, though, I look back and see the things I’ve done over that time span: fallen in love, worked in retail, worked a graveyard shift (and stayed up for a personal record of 41 hours), had my heart broken, seen my parents get divorced, struggled as my brother was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, ran my first 10k & Half Marathon, traveled in Asia for 6 weeks, watched the Seahawks win a Super Bowl (and come within a yard of a second), managed 3 political campaigns, helped some wonderful students change their lives, got my car stolen, worked in government, made a host of amazing new friends (honestly, just SO MANY beautiful, wonderful human persons), wrote exactly ONE original song (and it’s not terrible!), done a whole lot of singing, lived at home, lived on my own, and lived at home again. I’ve been accepted into a great university with a full scholarship to a program I feel extremely passionate about. I honestly believe that even though there are days that I struggle mightily, I am in the process of becoming more the person I want to be.

So that is the backdrop that I have to consider when I think about my life, my insecurities, and my fears. I realize more every day about myself – both good and bad. We have to look in the mirror and accept who we are. There are so many parts of me that I truly enjoy, and a few (that of course the mind gives outsize importance to) that are quite discouraging. I want to be more generous, more open, less fearful. I want to have a better body image. I would like to not always feel like I’m the one who has to fix every problem. I want to write more often – to me it’s something quite therapeutic, but the words don’t always come out easily. I also think that in our society there’s a pressure to not be honest, the “facebookization” of the world where we only share the good things in our lives and hide the struggles.

Speaking of struggles, I’ve been trying to get back into running after the long hiatus in Asia. The first week went pretty well – minimal soreness. This week, though, I’ve had awful shin splints and my knees have been giving me a bunch of trouble. It might just be getting over the hump and back into running more consistently, but I’m wondering whether or not it might be because of something that happened in Thailand…

Kyle and I (after one night in Bangkok!) traveled down to Phuket to enjoy the sun, beaches, and to get Kyle a work visa (which is a story for another time). The second day we walked down the road to rent some scooters, because that’s the easiest way to travel around. Of course, yours truly has never ridden a motorcycle or scooter before, and these were much more in the vein of small motorcycle than Vespa. I had expressed some apprehension, but at the end of the day part of this trip was about pulling myself out of my comfort zone so I sucked up my fears (I have nightmares on an infrequent basis about crashing vehicles) and rented a scooter. We saddle up, Kyle starts to ride off, and the friendly guy at the scooter rental place shows me how to work the scooter. He says, “just grab the gas like sOOOOOoooooooo…” and I shot off like a rocket down the road after Kyle, his voice fading into the distance. That was my only lesson in riding. We get to the first intersection (did I mention we’re driving on the OTHER side of the road?) and I of course shoot straight through it, manage to stop on the other side of the road (we needed to take a right), get myself turned around, stop, and then lightly touch the gas, causing me to rocket forward and crash in the center of the the four way stop. The bike was a little scratched, nothing major. My knee was a little banged up, but not badly. I mostly was embarrassed as a bunch of other people stared at me. I picked the bike up and headed after Kyle. The thing about riding a scooter is that the balance is simple if you can ride a bike, and the actual driving is not difficult. However, it seemed that no matter how little I grabbed the gas I was either not moving or FLYING forward. This proved to be a problem after I crashed for a second time that day, smashing off one of the rearview mirrors. I was again more or less unharmed (I hurt myself way worse when my foot hit some coral), but I was worried that there would be no scooter left when we returned it in 3 days. The crashes were a bit painful, but more than that they were incredibly embarrassing. I was getting flustered, and that probably wasn’t an ideal environment to drive in when I wasn’t particularly skilled in the first place. So we returned the scooter, they were totally cool about it (just charged us the cost to replace), and I spent the rest of our time in Phuket right where I probably would have preferred to be in the first place: riding behind Kyle on a single scooter. We had a great time, and Kyle was gracious enough to give me very little shit about it while we were there.

In any case, my knees (the left one in particular) were quite sore for a week or so afterward. I was worried there might be structural damage – I’m pretty sure there isn’t, but running has sucked this past week. Just going to keep running and see what happens!

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Back in the USSA

April 29, 2015 at 10:57 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I’m back in the United States! I can see out the window of my mom’s house out into the gorge, and I have been repeatedly struck over the past few days just how beautiful it is out here. Travel is wonderful, but there’s no place like home.

Over the next couple weeks my goal is to reflect more about my travels (though I’m sure I’ll be processing this for a long time), tell some stories about my trip, and make myself write more consistently.

First some news I’m excited about, though: my official offer letter finally showed up from OSU, and I have been offered a Graduate Teaching Assistantship that will cover tuition and pay me a monthly stipend, which is pretty exciting! If I have the choice I would prefer to get paid to go to school than the other way around. It’s a great opportunity to really focus in and get myself ready for the rest of my life and career – there are so many things about myself and this country that I would like to improve and I’m so fortunate to get the opportunity to pursue both paths. For the next few months I will be volunteering, working temp and odd jobs as I can find them, and hopefully doing a tiny bit more traveling before this next chapter starts in the fall.

Before I start with any stories, though, I have so much gratitude to relay.

To Kyle, of course, for being generous with his time, his apartment, and himself. As my partner in adventure for the nearly 6 weeks, I couldn’t have asked for a better traveling companion. I’m glad we were able to do this; it’s a bummer that he lives half a world away.

To all the wonderful people I met on our trip, including (but not limited to) Hazel, Julio, Gilbert, Tyler, Courtney, John, Alamo, Lefty, Narelle, Michelle, Lily, Joaquin, everyone in Studio 188, Alex, and that pug at the scooter rental place in Phuket.

To my whole family (especially my father, grandparents, & Amy) who were supportive of my adventures both emotionally and financially, you have my unending gratitude. I have to give an extra big shout out to my mother, who was generous with travel advice, frequent flier miles, and logistical support. She was excited for me even as I knew that she was secretly worried – a part of her didn’t want me to go. She also let me move my stuff back into her house so that I wouldn’t have to pay rent while I was gone, and is letting me crash here this summer before I leave for school. She’s the real MVP.

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to see a bit more of the world, and as I reflect on the fact that I have gotten chances that many others haven’t my resolve is strengthened to help people be able to achieve the things that give their lives meaning – whether it’s travel, an education, meaningful employment, or anything else. We live in a world where everyone should be shown the same decency and given the same dignity.

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China! vol. 4

April 1, 2015 at 7:51 pm (Uncategorized)

Well the China experiences have just kept on coming – time to see if I have the stamina to write about all of them in this sitting! I’ll be on a plane to Thailand in a little under 8 hours, so of course Kyle is asleep. He had a Studio 188 gig at JZ club last night that I attended. They sounded great but the venue is a bit cramped for such a big party band. Regardless, I think the audience had a lot of fun (most importantly, I did).

Where we last left off, I was writing my previous post while Kyle was at rehearsal. I was a week and a half into my Asian adventure, and while I was writing I was eating some food I had ordered (all by myself!) from Sherpa, which is a delivery service where people on scooters go and pick up food for you. It’s less impressive when you know they have an English website, but in China I celebrate the small things that I am able to do correctly. After that I walked to the Jade Buddha Temple, which is a 10-15 walk from Kyle’s apartment. I was a little nervous about getting lost, so I looked up the route on my phone and took a screenshot. If I had been anywhere else I might have laughed at myself (literally all I needed to do was walk north for a while and then take a right for two blocks. There are signs everywhere – in Chinese and English – it’s a tourist attraction), but even the time I had spent thus far was not enough for me to be 100% comfortable strolling around alone in Shanghai. I survived the short walk, bought a ticket, and walked in.

The thing about Buddhist Temples in China that I have seen is that they all resemble large courtyards with buildings arranged inside. They look an awful lot like royal residences, and in fact some of them were at one point prior to being converted. You walk in through a large stone archway, and the smell of incense grows stronger. There is a big metal cylinder with incense sticks sticking out the open side; it looks somewhat like an industrial grill. The walls are red, there are streamers waving in the breeze, and a lot of tourists. The tourists are mostly Chinese, but there are a few other groups, and I found myself behind a Russian family for a good portion of the time that I was looking around. There is something that is rather typical in the first couple of halls – a golden Buddha reclining flanked by either boddhisattvas or demons or Tara or other buddhas. Tibetan Buddhism is kind of like Catholicism in that there are TONS of players – there’s a boddhisattva for everything much like there’s a saint for everything. There’s one problem with the Jade Temple for me, though, as I walk around: It feels really commercial. I’m not expecting every temple I go to will be super meaningful, but I was kind of hoping that for my first trip alone I might be able to get the kind of experience you sometimes find in a holy place, regardless of the religion. As I headed farther back, there was another smaller gate, and you needed to pay an extra 10 RMB to see the back half of the Temple, with the Jade Buddha. Since I’d already come this far (and the fact that 10 RMB is less than $2) I paid up and went in to the last building, up several winding staircases, and into the room with the Jade Buddha. It was dark, with just a bit of light peeking through a back window and maybe a dozen candles. A big sign as you headed in said no photos, and even though in China rules are more like guidelines I try to follow them. The ceiling was filled with thousands of small enclaves, each holding a small gold buddha. The walls were covered in portrait’s of the Buddha’s life. In the center against the back was a very large Buddha carved out of jade. This room felt different – there was a kind of reverence in the air that was missing from the rest of the place. It was the feeling I had been hoping that I might feel. I stood there and took in the scene. When I left, there was another reclining buddha in a side room, also with a sign that said no pictures. Of course, there was also a gift shop area in the same room, so I’m not really sure what kind of atmosphere they were going for. Commercialization is not something I enjoy in my religion, but it’s certainly a real thing, especially where tourists are concerned.

Day 11

The day began a little late, as most days with a musician will. Kyle and I went to a rehearsal at JZ club – Kyle plays, if you can believe this, in a Mauritian reggae band. He’s on trumpet, but they also have him sing a surprising amount. Outside of Kyle and Jason (who is Chinese and the pianist – also just a rad human being) everyone is from Mauritius. If you’re not aware, Mauritius is a small island nation near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Hearing Kyle sing things like “I’m a black survivor,” and “Am I Black Enough?” (spoiler alert: no) was pretty entertaining. They have a fun groove, though. More on them a little later.

Afterwards we went to the Shanghai World Financial Center (also known as the Bottle Opener for it’s distinctive architectural design) to check out the city from up high. It’s a HUGE building in its own right, but stands next to the second tallest building in the world. Some of these skyscrapers are just obscenely large. There is an observatory on the 100th floor of the bottle opener, which costs 180 RMB to get to. That’s option one. Option two, however, involves going up to the 91st floor where there is a bar and the drinks are WAY overpriced, but a 95RMB cocktail is still half the price of the observatory. Plus, you get a drink. Kyle and I managed to snag a seat right at the window as some people were leaving, and the view of the city was breathtaking. Up to this point I had known that Shanghai was really big, but for the first time I got a sense of what 24 MILLION people looks like. When you’re on the ground, you are where you are. When you’re up in the air, the largest city in the world starts to take on another dimension. After admiring the view for a while, we headed down to a restaurant called Morton’s for happy hour Martinis with a couple of Kyle’s friends, Mark & Jessica. We then went to a place called Mr. X with Tyler, Courtney, and John – Mr. X is this place where they lock you in a room and you have to solve a series of puzzles to get out. There are a couple of clues at the beginning, and then you’re just looking in the dark for more clues, a key that will open the next door, or what the series of posters might mean in relation to the panel of buttons on the wall. They give you an hour to solve it; we were unable to do so. It’s hard! We had a lot of fun, though.

Day 12

Kyle invited some friends over for a Chinese kegger. Am I kidding? No, of course not. Go Vandals.

Day 13

Woke up at like 2, very hungover. Kyle had a gig with Studio 188 at a Mexican restaurant called Pistolera, so that afternoon we headed down for soundcheck. Michael, who runs the band, fed everyone and was kind enough to feed me as well. We had a bit of time before the gig, so Kyle and I went down the street and played pool for a while before the show. They played, they sounded good, everyone danced and had a great time. Me not drinking turned into a couple of margaritas – that’s life.

Day 14

Kyle and I were up and ready to go at a much more reasonable hour – we had places to be! After a couple days of going full expat I was ready to be a tourist again. Thus after a quick meal we grabbed at FamilyMart (and then ate next door at a table in a KFC, which notably had a play place) Kyle and I hopped in a taxi and headed to the propaganda museum. Taxi driving in China is kind of like the game of thrones: you win or you die. Mostly they win though, so that’s good. The driving style always makes me nervous, though. Still, anything is possible when you have a taxi driver on your side. We got to the museum, which claims to be the biggest collection of propaganda posters in China since most of them are destroyed. I should say that the museum is in what appears to be a nondescript apartment building – you walk in, take the elevator up, and all of a sudden one floor is the museum. For all I know, the rest of it IS apartments. It’s a bit hidden, but don’t worry, when the guard stationed sees a white person walk up towards the building he hands you a small card with directions written on it. The exhibit itself was a chronological history of propaganda in China, and I found it fascinating. I bought a couple of replica posters – it’s hard to really imagine the kind of things a Chinese person who is 50+ has lived through. We left and got on the metro, ready to see the Shanghai Museum, only to find that once again it was closed! The website Kyle had looked at got the time wrong, and it closed an hour earlier than we had thought. Undeterred, we had some excellent dinner at a place called the Lotus Eatery with Courtney, John, and Tyler. Kyle then had a gig with Nukillahs (the Mauritian band) at JZ club, which in my estimation went very well. I’m not a huge reggae guy, but that night I was feeling the island music. Normally on a Saturday night the party at JZ goes until at least 3am, but we left around 1:30 since we had to be up to go to Beijing early the next day.

Day 15

A couple weeks in China and it was finally time to leave the Shang behind and go to Beijing for a while! I was excited but a little nervous, since Beijing has a reputation for being a bit more authoritarian and less welcoming, whereas Shanghai is a pretty international city. We get up, get on the metro, ride to the train station, and are about to get in line when Kyle realizes THAT WE ARE AT THE WRONG TRAIN STATION. Shanghai, being huge, has 2. So we frantically get a taxi and tell the driver to step on it, and race away to the other one. As you may know by now, we made it, and even had a little bit of time to grab some coffee (Starbucks. Starbucks everywhere. Globalism in action). We hop on the train – it’s about 5 hours to Beijing via rail. I have a window seat, which I am pumped about. I love looking out the window. Kyle is able to pass out – I’m not so good at sleeping on the train. I catch a bit, but not much. The train wobbles when we pass another train, each passing each other at 300km/hr. One thing I notice is that there are a lot of bird nests. Big, globular nests sitting in trees and power lines and anything else treelike. I watch the city turn into rural farmland and small towns. Low houses with bits crumbling off the edges, dirt roads, and fields fly by. I know that we’re going to get there sooner at this speed, but sometimes I want the train to slow down so that I can take some of this in – it all goes by so fast! The ground, which up to this point has been very flat, begins to get hillier. Visibility isn’t great, and I can’t tell whether it’s foggy or just that polluted outside (I would come to find that yes, it was pollution). There’s a lot of rubble in between buildings. Things look rundown, mostly, though sometimes giant new apartment high rises poke out of the mist as we pass a city. I think about the fields, though, and how people have been working them for 5000+ years. How to even imagine roots that old and deep? More buildings jump out. 30 stories? 50? Buildings that are meant to hold a very large number of humans, and there are so many of them in China. Where do you put 1.6 billion persons? Something I notice is that there are solar panels on almost all of the buildings, which seems like a smart way to generate electricity in the city. I doubt they are working well today, though. There’s not much in the way of suburbs, as far as I can tell. You’re either in the city or the country. As we continue north, it gets a bit more mountainous. I see little pagodas on ridge lines.

A small tangent: There is a LOT of construction in China. All over. Always. It’s happening in stark contrast to the dilapidated and crumbling buildings near them, but new buildings are going up. From a purely empirical standpoint of my time in China, one thing that the Chinese do well is build things. Apartments, the Great Wall, the 2nd tallest building in the world (Damn you, Dubai).

We get in to Beijing, and promptly spend another hour on the subway getting to our airbnb place. We met with Lefty, one of our hosts, and then got some food. The apartment we were staying in is small but cozy, and inhabited by the aforementioned Lefty, her boyfriend Alamo, and their dog, Doggy. Kyle and I had thought there were two beds, or a bed and a pullout, maybe, but there’s just the one in our bedroom, so we get to snuggle up. To get to the apartment you have to head through a series of small alleys, maybe two persons across. There isn’t a toilet in our apartment, you have to walk a little ways back into the main alley to get to the public toilet. This bathroom is also what’s known as a squatty potty, which means that you’re basically camping – they holes are just in the floor. This is not my favorite thing about China, the dearth of toilets.

With a bit of time left in the day, Kyle and I decide to head to Tianamen Square. We’re wearing facemasks this whole time, as it is quite polluted outside. Tianamen Square is HUGE. Just massive. At one end is the Forbidden Palace (which was already closed by 4), and at the other a castle. In between lies a lot of open space, and to the sides are the government headquarters and a museum, respectively. There are cameras everywhere. Every pole is bristling with 5-10 of them. It’s a comical number of cameras, and in the moments it didn’t make me a little anxious I wanted to laugh. There are a lot of soldiers, too. Both cameras and soldiers are dwarfed by the number of tourists present, though. People are taking pictures all over (and having their picture taken, I’m sure). We then went a bit south of Tianamen, and wandered through the touristy district. After going back to our airbnb Kyle got a message that a friend of his was playing bass at a show near us, so we wandered through more dark alleys and found this little bar to listen to some music in. I will say, though, that there are a lot of places that I might feel uncomfortable at night in a dark alley, but China isn’t really one of them. For all of its issues, it feels (and as far as I can tell IS) pretty safe. We went to bed early-ish, knowing that we had to get up the Great Wall the next day.

OK – I am feeling some writing fatigue, so the rest of Beijing will have to wait. Kyle and I are heading to Thailand today, so we’ll see if I am able to write anything in the next week or so. Onwards and Upwards!

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