Get a job, hippy.

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When I started this trip, I earmarked October as a potential end.  Back to being gainfully employed.  A grown up, once again.  Figuring that it will take a couple months or more, the time is now ripe to be looking for what is next.

And the strange thing is, I’m not panicked by this thought.  Nope, turns out I’m excited to get back to work.  If time off recharges your batteries, mine are pretty much at max capacity.

So the question is: what’s next?

My fantasy at the start of all this was that I would discover a whole new career to follow.  I gave myself every opportunity for this: travel to foreign lands.  Free time to discover new things.  Freedom from any expectations.

So while I’ve traveled I’ve talked to a lot of people and imagined myself in many different roles.

Teach English in Spain?  Well, that would be pretty cool.  And I could practice my fledgling Spanish.  But the pay is pretty poor, and English is a weird language.  Spending my day trying to explain why prepositions change in seemingly arbitrary ways sounds a bit sketchy.

Write on a beach in Mexico?  Well I do love writing.  Love it.  One this trip I have finished a novel and started a second one (as well as kept up this blog thingy).  I will keep writing regardless of what job I take.  But I remember when I was in Mexico, I didn’t make any progress on my novel at all.  I think I would too easily fall into the relaxing lull of Mexico and just end up drinking beer and feeling my toes in the sand.  Not that there’s much wrong with that.

Sling beer in Dublin?  Well, I did see this posted at one of the local pubs:

A career in beer?
A career in beer?

But I have a total of zero years experience.  Plus that sounds like a recipe for a really unhealthy lifestyle overall.  Other options: a taxi driver in London.  Or a dive instructor in Mexico.  Or a haggis maker in Edinburgh.

All excellent options.  Well, maybe not the haggis one.  Regardless, while looking at all these options, I also discovered that there are things that I absolutely love about the work I left.  I love working with a team of people creating something.  A healthy, motivated team pushing towards a common and challenging goal is pretty much unbeatable as far as work goes.  And to get paid along the way?  Bonus!

To put it another way: when I was working on Forza, there were massive challenges to simultaneously  build a world-class game while changing all the production methods for the studio.  I got to work with some of the finest people in the business solving these problems, and the end result was fantastic.  It was exhausting and amazing and rewarding.

When I was working on Project Spark, again we had crazy challenges: build a game where an average person with no training can create anything they want: games, movies, playgrounds.  In addition we had to build a team from scratch.  Kind of like building a house and foundation at the same time.  It was scary, hard, and exhilarating.  Arguments and debates were frequent, the direction changed almost daily as we tried to find the “right” thing.  Failure loomed around the corner every day.  Here again I got to work with some of the finest humans I’ve had the pleasure to interact with, and that experience is irreplaceable.

Now as I consider what is next, I would love to have more of what I enjoyed in past work experiences, and less of the (for lack of a better word) bullshit.  Corporate layers of bureaucracy.  Inefficient and inflexible structures.  Power struggles.

So what does that look like?  Well, I’m going to take some time to investigate.  Culture matters in a huge way for me now.  A good team in a fun environment working on something that will make people and the world better is the ideal.

I began my investigations about two weeks ago.  Just sent out a few tentative feelers to see what might be out there through people I know.  I didn’t feel ready to really start the job search in earnest, still being in the throes of traveling, but I could see October peeking at me on the horizon, and know that these things take time.

I was also rather hesitant how I might be received in the hiring world now.  A middle-aged dude who just dropped everything to go  traveling for months on end?  Really?  You wanna hire this guy?

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The reception was far warmer than I could have possibly expected.  My last boss at Amazon contacted me immediately.  A friend at Nike pulled me in for a quick chat about a potential awesome position there while I was in Portland for the wedding.  A company in Cambridge wants to fly me out for interviews.  And it continues.

It’s all rather sudden.  And exciting.

I realize now I’m in the perfect position for job hunting.  I can take a job anywhere in the world, so my hiring pool is vastly expanded.  I am not in dire straights financially so I can take my time to find something that excites me.  I can even take a temporary gig if I want, as I have no fear of unemployment now.

Bring it on, world.  Let’s see what’s out there.

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Inspiration to do amazing things with your life

In looking for inspiration about what I can and should do with my life, the “Remarkable Misfit’s Manifesto” is ridiculously inspiring.  While I don’t feel the urge to follow him and set up a company in Africa, everything he writes shakes up my view of what I’m doing with my life.

Hopefully it can do the same for you.

The misfit: http://aj-leon.com/pursuitofeverything/the-life-and-times-of-a-remarkable-misfits/

Edinburgh on the fringes

Edinburgh.

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Castle Fabulous. Visible from everywhere.

Land of haggis, castles, and awesome accents. It’s a great town on its own, and when you add their annual Fringe Festival to it, you have a recipe for awesomeness.

Back in Seattle, when I was still planning this trip, I talked to friend and co-worker of mine (let’s call him Makerbot), and when I mentioned that I wanted to spend some time in Edinburgh, he graciously offered that he and his girlfriend (Let’s call her Industrial) owned a house there, and I’d be welcome to crash when I was in town.  Fantastic.

Fast forward nine months, get through Spanish lessons in Mexico, a broken foot in Spain, abusing the hospitality of friends in London, a trip to the arctic, and I actually made it to Edinburgh to take him up on his offer.

A couple call outs here:

  • Nicest room I’ve stayed in since leaving my apartment.  Actually, probably nicer than my apartment.
  • Not only did Industrial agree to put me up (even though she hadn’t met me), but when she found out about my card-woes, she gave me cash to ensure I could have a good time at the festival.
  • Industrial stayed out drinking at Festival with me, her sister and their friend until far too late/early.
  • Also, the front door key is absolutely the coolest key you’ve ever seen.  Ever.

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  • Hard to make duplicates, I imagine.

So, add all this to the list of kindnesses I’ve experienced on this trip and can probably never repay, but just be thankful for.

Now, Edinburgh is worth visiting on it’s own. It’s a beautiful town, and large enough to have lots of interesting history, places to see and things to do, but small enough to be at times quaint, approachable, and super friendly. It’s got all the things that seem pretty much required of a European city. Like castles.

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Castle Fabulous, backside
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And fantastic buildings, streets, and alleyways.
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Beautiful park + gothic architecture = fabulous

And other impressive structures.

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Cathedrals? Yeah, we got those too.
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Canals? In Edinburgh? Ehhhhh, sure, why not.

However, it’s not ALL sixteenth-century stone and plaster awesomeness, there’s a fair amount of new construction going on as well.

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Not so castle-like.

All in all, a great town, and I’m not even taking into account the highlands. Then when you add in the Fringe Festival, well that takes things to eleven.

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Peeps everywhere.

The Fringe goes basically all of August, and there are a MASSIVE number of shows, far too many to make sense of. Also, most of these shows will be things you have never heard of. So how do you go about choosing some shows to go to?

Well, in my case, like I’ve managed everything else so far: arrive, walk around, and make it up as you go along.  As it turns out, this has some distinct advantages.  First off, there are so many shows that it’s understood extra has to be done to get your attention.  So promoters, artists, and volunteers are circulating the crowds, actively pushing information in your face about the shows you simply NEED to see.  One day of walking around the festival netted me a few brochures and such:

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A single day’s loot.

So in addition to there being many MANY shows, there are many MANY people milling about. This means it is quite difficult for anyone to really stand out or get noticed. You’ve got to resort to extreme measures. For example, as a man, you could dress like a giant princess, then break down in the middle of the street, sobbing about your broken wand, like this chap:

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OMG! My wand is all brokeded.

Note: he wasn’t promoting a show that I could see. No fliers to hand out, didn’t talk with anyone who gathered around, just sobbed about his wand, then got up, walked a while more, then repeated. Not sure what that was about.

Or, you could just spin some wool, which one would think is a perfectly normal thing to do. But usually not in the middle of the street. Got to be one of the more unusual street performances I’ve run across.

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Spinning wool. On the street. Like ya do.

Or hey, you could be a busker! Oh, but there are many, many a busker on the streets. What’s your angle? How about bringing Scottish music with a more modern style by adding a drumset and electric guitar? Done.

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Bagpipe rock

So, I walked around, got a forty-two pound festival guide, picked up many flyers and promotions, and talked to many people promoting their shows. Turns out that taking the time to talk to these folks about why you should see the show can be quite beneficial: oftentimes you can get free tickets out of them (have seen three shows for free so far).  Note – this might only work at the beginning of Festival, where they are all desperately trying to make a splash.

However getting the tickets and finding the show are two very different things. The guide attempts to give you a map with all the locations numbered (there are 300 of them).  The map is full of numbers, that correspond to a list of names on another page. The numbering on the map looks like it was assigned by meticulously writing numbers 1-300 on small pieces of paper, stuffing them in piñata, then shooting the piñata with a howitzer. The list of names should hopefully be in alphabetical order to help you find your place. Turns out no. How about grouped by map location? Nope. Hmm, maybe by promotional group? Wrong again.

There is no order to this. Maybe it was chronological?

So, looking at my ticket, I’ve got a venue name like “Venue 40, Udderbelly Grassmarket”. This is not a street address exactly, and if you are a visitor, the terms “grassmarket” or “udderbelly” might seem less than descriptive. After some asking around, you will eventually establish some landmarks. For example, udderbelly is basically a giant inflatable purple cow.

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Meet me udder the cow (see what I did there?)

Then, once you are actually AT the venue, these shows are so small that many of them are tucked away in dank-smelling caverns, unused for anything until this special moment of the year rolls around where twenty folding chairs are set up in front of a make-shift stage. This leads to some rather unfortunate signs that equate the show with activities of a less-than-special nature:

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Unfortunate grouping.

Regardless, having taken in a number of shows so far, I feel there are two in particular I should mention are worth seeing. In case you want to hop a flight and get over here. Or if you run across either of these blokes in the future, as I think is likely since they are pretty fantastic:

Jon Bennet: My dad’s deaths. This is a guy who attained some small level of Internet fame by traveling the world and taking pictures of things, pretending these objects were anatomically attached to his nether regions. He even got a book out of it. His stage show is stories about his dad and is funny, tragic, heartfelt, amusing, surprising, hilarious, touching, and worth every minute.

Howard Read: Hide and Speak – This guy puts on a show using 2-d animations projected on a screen that he controls with a microphone, game controller and foot pedals. It’s frantic, ridiculous, inventive, and hilarious. Also worth checking out, especially when he gets into heckling with the audience. Good stuff.

So that’s my first few days of Edinburgh and Fringe.  I’ve still got a number of days left, so I’ll probably have at least one more thing to say about it.

 

Updates on various issues:

  • My bank rushed a card to me which arrived Friday.  The PIN code, which must be sent separately, was sent to my brother (seemed easy: he could email it to me once he got it).  First Tech is in Seattle.  Elder Wanker is in Sammamish.  I got my card in Edinburgh before they could get a PIN code across the pond to the eastside.  Kinda odd.
  • My foot is nearly fully healed.  I hope to begin running again in about three weeks.  However, either due to a different gait or some other factor, I’ve developed a huge blood blister that I keep re-creating by walking around for 4-8 hours a day.  Today is day five of dealing with this.  I may have to just amputate, the foot is far too much trouble.
  • For those reading along on the YA novel I’ve been working on, I failed to post any chapters whilst cruising around the arctic.  I apologize, and think this is proof that breaking my foot was the best thing that could have happened for my writing.  I’m back to my regularly scheduled posting schedule now.  New chapter today, more new every Sunday, Tuesday and Friday.  Should be complete in one week.  Thank you SO much for following along, having early criticism and feedback is invaluable.

Cashless in the UK

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Upon returning to civilization from the arctic, I discovered that my debit card had become a non-functioning piece of plastic, instead of the magic money-spewing device I had been enjoying for my entire trip. My first inkling of this was while I was still on board the good ship Expedition, awaiting my 4am flight out of Longyearbyen.  At 2:45 I was woken up and informed that my card, upon which I’d placed my bar tab and gratuities for the trip, had been declined.

Long story short: I was able to use a different card to charge everything to.  Sleep eluded me, and I arrived back in civilization with about an hour of sleep only to discover upon logging into my bank site that I had apparently been in Mexico instead of the arctic, withdrawing money from ATMs at a frantic pace.

Happily the fraud was caught.

Not so happily, my card is dead.  Shuffled off the mortal coil.  Pushing up daisies.  It is an ex-card.

Taking stock of my situation, I found that I had some Kronor left from Norway, which converted to 16 pounds.  I also had a 20 pound note left over from before I left for the arctic.  I had been saving some Euros in case I ever landed in a Euro country again, but now I figured was a good time to convert them as well.  Not a great deal of money.  I would obviously need some method for acquiring more funds.

A not-so-quick call to my bank assured me of a few things:

  1. There is no way to resuscitate my card now that it was compromised.  Changing PINs would not be good enough.  A new card is needed.
  2. I should be able to use my credit card to get a cash advance from any bank that handles card transactions.

Good enough.  I got a new card ordered and the following morning proceeded to take care of business:

  1. Pick up the train ticket I previously purchased for my trip to Edinburgh.
  2. Get cash from a bank to supply my trip in Edinburgh.
  3. Wash my clothes that have become quite ripe after ten days.

Item #1 went off without a hitch since I luckily had purchased the ticket from a travel site using my credit card.  Simply insert the card into a ticket machine and it spit out my tickets.  Easy.  Plotting how to get to King’s Cross station (point of departure to Edinburgh) was also simplicity itself: my hostel was right by a tube station that would take me directly there, and I still have money on my Oyster card so that’s sorted.

Item #2 proved to be a bit more difficult.  The first bank I tried (HSBC) informed me that this wouldn’t work:

Lady: “No, sorry, we can’t do that here.  You can get cash from an ATM though.”

Me: “No, I can’t because it’s a credit card, I need a cash advance.”

Lady: “Right, but you can put it in the machine and take money out with it.”

Me: “No, see, it’s a credit card, it doesn’t connect to my bank account.”

Lady: “I understand sir, but if you put that in a machine and put in your PIN…”

Me: “It’s a credit card, for charging things, there is no PIN.”

Lady: “I see sir.  Well, you can go to a shop and buy things with it.”

Me: “Yes, that’s all well and good.  However, I’d like to get a cash advance.”

Lady: “Yes, I’m sorry sir, we don’t do that here.  Have you tried Lloyd’s?”

So I tried Lloyd’s.  And I tried many other banks as well, eventually trying some rather out of place ones (an Arab bank, an Indian one, a tiny bank office from indecipherable origins).  In desperation I even tried a Western Union branch, and they just laughed at me and said “try the post office.”

The post office?  Really?  Well, I had nothing to lose.

Actually, to be precise, I had about fifteen minutes to lose.  While they had a “travel money” window, they informed me of the root of the problem: you could not get money from any process in the UK without a card that had chip+pin security.

See, if you have a card with a security chip on it, that attests that you have the card physically in hand.  The PIN then validates that you are the proper owner of that card.  In the US, we just have a magnetic stripe that holds account info.  There are many machines that can easily read and store that info, and capture your PIN as you put it in a hacked machine.  It’s frighteningly easy for a criminal to do this and I’ve found many sites that walk you through how this works, completely with pictures, and even places that sell the equipment.

The irony: I can only get a cash advance with a card that has chip+pin security.  However, if the US had a chip+pin system, it would be far more difficult to spoof and defraud a card and I wouldn’t be in this position.

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Hey U.S., you are missing this thing here.

So, at the end of all this, I had to admit defeat.  No cash for me.

As for #3, the travel fairy wasn’t done with kicking me yet.  While the hostel had a relatively affordable washer and dryer rent (two pounds to wash, one pound to dry) the dryer turned out to not actually circulate air, just heat it up a lot.  So after a couple spins through the full cycle, my load of laundry was still mostly wet.  My roommates experienced a similar thing.  So we all hung our laundry from our beds, window blinds, lockers, and any other surface that would let a piece of fabric hang.

We opened the window to increase air flow.  The rain pelted right back in at us.  Drying was going to be a challenge.

And so I sit here on a train to Edinburgh.  36 pounds in my damp jeans pocket, backpack full of clothes in various stages between wet and dry.  The morals of this story:

  1. Always travel with at least two payment methods, if not more.
  2. The US should get off it’s butt and implement better card security like the rest of the world has.
  3. A small hostel room filled with wet clothes ands up smelling like pungent cats after twelve hours.

Now it’s a race between my spending habits and the arrival of a new card.

In more positive news: train travel is so much nicer than air travel.  No horribly security scans or forced checking of luggage. Abundant electrical outlets and free wifi.  Ability to move around freely.  Real breakfast served to you on a plate.  Fabulous scenery.  Space to set up a laptop or stretch out and rest.  If only we could get high speed trains connecting the world.

Finances and footwear

Often heard: Man I wish I could just quit my job and travel.

I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do this vacation / trip / sabbatical / Walkabout (shall we just call it a “sabbabout”?).  I’m constantly aware of this and thankful.

However, when I talk to people who want to do this about what is in their way, the first reason is usually money.  That’s a fine reason.  However, the surprising thing is that you do not need a lot of money to do this.  The good folks over at GoCurryCracker.com are spending a lot of time in Mexico, and they are doing all the work to detail their expenses every month so you can see what it actually costs.  Go check out their expenses page if you want some details.

My example: PDC is much more expensive than the inland Mexico, and even here I can live very well on less than $1k per month.  For example you can rent a furnished room in a house within a 10 minute walk to the beach for ~$500 per month, which includes everything (water, electricity, internet, etc).  If you are willing to be further from the beach it can be even cheaper, and if you really just want your own place, I’ve seen apartments advertised for around $400.  You can cook food at your place very cheaply, or eat out every day for between $2-$10 per person per meal.

Granted I’m missing out on things like Air Conditioning (and oh my; this is a rather important thing, it’s the one luxury that I’m considering adding back in somehow if I find myself in this country again), but still; I eat well, I’ve got a nice place, and I can be on the beach daily.

However, there have been some unforeseen expenses.  Let’s start with shoes.

I came to Mexico with three pairs:

  • My “every day walking shoes” which are some old cross trainers I’ve had for 5 years or so.
  • My “zero drop” running shoes (tiny and light, so they pack well in the Backpack of Doom).
  • Sandals.

Now, in PDC it turns out that the only reason to put on shoes is if you are going for a bit of a run.  The every day footwear is sandals.  I was quite happy with my sandals, until one night out on the town they suffered Structural Incoherence:

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Walking home barefoot at 3am is a delicate thing

Much sadness.  They were good sandals.  So I attempted to replace them with the closest replica I could find.  These worked just fine for a couple days, when (again, one night out on the town), the left one began to suffer the same fate as their brethren.

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Note to self: sandals and dancing don’t mix

So it was that I found myself shopping for footwear again.  This is more shoe shopping than I’ve done in the past 5 years, I think.  My keen mind quickly deduced that the common structural failure for these failed footwear products was that toe-thingy.  Get rid of that, no problem, right?

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Structural issues resolved. I’m a genius

However, these are causing a horrible chaffing on one side of my foot.  I’ve tried putting band-aids over the chaffing spot, but it’s so hot out that the band-aid falls off within minutes (note: my super power is the ability to sweat profusely, apparently even on the side of my foot), so I’ll need to purchase yet ANOTHER pair.

So, yeah, this is the sinister hidden costs of life in Mexico.  I’ve been instructed to buy some name-brand sandals next.  I won’t mention the name until I try them out and can vouch for them.

And that’s more than I ever thought I would write on the topic of sandals.

Hey Buddy, can you spare a screwdriver?

“¿Tiene usted un destornillador?” I asked, hoping the translation was correct, or at least close. She looked at me concerned for a moment.

Mind you, this is not covered in my daily Spanish classes. We haven’t gotten to the point where we are covering household tools or construction of various store-bought objects. Yet I found myself in a room that could double as a steam room, with the pieces of a floor fan in my lap, sweat dripping down my nose, asking for a screwdriver.

But I get ahead of myself:

While I was grateful to have a place in PDC with the Mexican family that hosted me (and they were very friendly and accommodating), the room I was in was less than conducive to writing, sleeping, drawing, and general well being. So, I took to the internets to help me find a new place.

Success was found through Airbnb.com in the form of a room to rent in this lovely house here:

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Compared to the concrete room I was in before, this is house is absolutely beautiful and adorable. I found that I would have a room to myself on the 2nd floor:

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And I even get a quaint little balcony, should I get the urge to sing “don’t cry for me Argentina” at night:

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Plus, the place is surrounded by these giant, complex, tropical trees that let me pretend I’m living in a jungle. Machete is, so far, optional:

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To add to all this, my housemate / landlord is a local tour guide, so she knows all the most amazing places around here, knows history and culture, and lets me alternate between Spanish and English so I can practice Espanol but still eventually get a point across. On top of all that, the rent is cheaper than the room with the family, and I get to control what I have for breakfast. Perfect!

One drawback: my room, as it turns out, is basically an oven.

No problem, there’s a ceiling fan. One pull of the chain yields… not a lot. The fan blades leisurely turn at a rotation of about once per hour. Elisabeth explains that she has asked “the man” to get it fixed, but in Mexico things happen on their own time. So she provides a boxed fan, some assembly required.

Thus I find myself sitting on the bed, squinting at a construction manual (en espanol, natch), and realizing that there is but one thing I need: un destornillador. After she stares at me long enough for me to think I better leap back to the translator app and try some other tactic, she goes off and I hear many rummaging sounds from the adjacent room. while she is looking, I discover that the blades on the power plug work perfectly well for the larger screws. Eventually she comes back with a steak knife that lets us get the smaller screws sorted.

And now I sit here, with the fan blowing me in the face, in a lovely nueva casa.  Life is good.

I highly recommend airbnb.com.  Great site for finding temporary housing.  I also highly recommend living in this house if you are ever in Playa.  It’s listed in airbnb as “room in a Mexican Caribbean House” and it is excellent.

Livin’ la vida Mexicano

Part of my planning for living abroad yet being frugal was to rent a room with locals. This, I figured, would be perfect: I get to save money, and improve my Spanish by speaking with the people I live with on a regular basis. So, through my school I arranged to be hosted by a local Mexican family, and breakfast would be included each day. I could stay as long or as short as I like because I’ll be paying by the week. Also, unlike staying at a hotel which can be around $150 – $200 or more per day, this would be $200 per WEEK, with breakfast! Sounds perfect, no?

So, let’s check in with reality, shall we?

First off, my concerns before arriving were principally:

  • Will the home have WiFi?

Upon leaving the comfortable and excellent hotel, I realized I had another problem:

  • Most buildings here don’t have addresses.

To get around in Mexico, you get an address like the following: “calle 34 entre ave 25 y 30”.  This translates roughly to: “on 34th street, between 25th ave and 30th ave”.  That’s how my school was noted, and I had no problems finding it, because it has a huge bloody sign out and looks like a vacation in the middle of the city.  How will I find the house I’m to stay at?

Well, luckily, this house seems to have modernized: they have a “casa 6” added to their address, so all I have to do is get between ave 25 and 30, and find a house with a 6 on it.  Simple.  Also: the avenues increment by 5’s here, so it’s just one block between 25 and 30.

So, I leave school, pick up my luggage from the hotel, and begin my trek from 6th street to 34th street.  It’s about 2pm, and the sun is in full force, as is the humidity.  I have wisely chosen to pack my backpack with everything I could ever need for Mexico, Spain, Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Norway.  So it weighs, roughly, 400 pounds.

Do you remember those tourist stores I lambasted when I discussed 5th ave?  Turns out they have AC on full blast.  Each store along the way was visited by a large foreigner, sweating so profusely that his pores were basically spraying sweat at strangers, who stood for several minutes under the blasting AC and sweat egregiously at their clientele.  Thank you trinket shops, I will never speak ill of you again.

Long story short: I found the house, dropped my back and knocked on the door, practicing in my head: “Hola, me llamo Korey” and “Encantada”, which I’m told is roughly “my name is Korey” and “Pleased to meet you”, but could actually mean “My dog’s name is Korey” and “A Jihad on your family!”.  So I’m a bit nervous, and I’m quite aware that since it looks like I took a swim fully clothed while carrying a backpack, I’m not the most presentable of guests.

no answer.

I knocked again, trying to knock “politely”, wondering what to say if the person who answers just glares at me and says “que pasa?”.  I sure don’t have the words for “Hi, I’m going to stay at your house and you’ll make be breakfast” yet.

Still no answer.

Panic rising, realizing I have no place to stay, and nobody really to ask if I’ve been given wrong directions, I knock again, a little more forcefully.  Still nothing.

So I give up and go across the street to get some water to replace the 40% body mass I have exuded through my pores.  Looking back across the street, I see two young foreigners walking toward the house.  I track them, and sure enough, they head to the very door I was knocking on.  I’m saved!

After intercepting them, they handle everything, showing me that I should have gone up the stairs to knock (I had no idea that was the same place), and they introduce me to my host, Alma, and they all have some laugh in Spanish about the sweaty doofus with the giant backpack.

So, fast forward a bit: the last couple days have been quite a change from staying at the hotel, laying on the beach, and consuming everything 5th ave has to offer with the Elder.  Now I wake every morning in a panic about how to say basic things:

“May I fill my water bottle?” (Puedo servirme agua?)

“Thank you for breakfast, the food was great” (estuvo muy rica el desayuno, muchas gracias)

“I think I may have left a lake of sweat back in my room, do you have a mop?” (su aplicación de traducción es inútil en esta situación)

So, I’m forced to actually use what little Spanish I have, which is good.  Alma and her family are super friendly and patient, which is quite a relief as well.  I constantly wonder what social faux pas I’m enacting every day, but I’ll learn over time I guess.

A quick tour of my new place.  Very different from the Hotel.  This is the street entrance.  You can see the stairs on the left that lead to the family’s area.  The lit doorway leads to the student rooms:

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This hallway leads past the room where the other students (Michael and Sabrina) stay, to my room:
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And here’s my room:
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Modest, but complete, and I have my own key so I can come and go as I please without disturbing anyone. Plus: I have WiFi.
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The only thing I’m missing now is AC. Notice that the bed has no blanket?  That’s because only a suicidal person would try to put something over themselves here.  I might just trade my leg for a bit of AC. Maybe I can sleep in one of the tourist shops?

The tooth of the matter

Cleaning out an apartment, getting rid of all your world possessions gets down to lots of strange things you may have carried around for far too long.

In my case, it was a tooth.

To be specific, it was a tooth with a gold grown.  My wisdom tooth.  Extracted from my head forcibly in 2002 I think.  It lived in a little manila packet in my closet for years as I intended to go sell the gold and recoup some amount of whatever exorbitant expenses I originally paid to have it installed.  The rigors of every day life always put it 42nd on the list though, so in the closet it stayed.  It moved with me, and as gold prices skyrocketed over the last couple years it would murmur at me from behind closed doors: “probably oughta sell me soon.  Prices are bound to crash again.”  Silly teeth, they are terrible market predictors.

Now, however, I was getting rid of everything.  The tooth had to go.  In the mad rush to get everything out of my apartment, it eventually moved from closet, to counter, and then finally on the last day as I was cleaning my apartment, into my coat pocket.  It stayed there as I took my trip down to Oregon.

Now southern Oregon, as it turns out, seems to be at least half supported by the purchasing of gold.  Everywhere I drove in Medford, you couldn’t swing a dead tooth without hitting a sign saying “WE BUY GOLD! TOP DOLLAR!!  WE PAY MORE!”  So, finally I was cornered: I had time, I had places to choose from and I had the tooth.

I decided to choose the most reputable-seeming shop: the coin merchant in the mall.  The rest of the pawn shops and strangely newly-appropriated buildings with banner signs that sagged seemed like they might be shady, and I didn’t trust my precious tooth to them.

So it was, that I found myself attempting to sell gold, feeling a little shady myself.

Me: “so, I have a tooth with gold in it”

White-haired man: “filling or crown?”

Me: “er, crown.  I think.”

whm: “not a problem, grip the tooth with a pliers, then take a hammer and it’ll come right off.”

me: “and you guys buy the gold?  How does that work?”

whm: “we weigh it and give you spot price for it.”

me: “seems pretty straight forward.  I’ll be back”.

The following day I asked my father for a hammer and pliers.  I expected him to ask what for, but he just hauled out a number of instruments and presented them to me.  On seeing what I was attempting to perform, he suggested, in a manner that suggested this was commonplace, that two pliers might be a better solution.

Note to those who may attempt this sometime in their lives: a tooth that has been sitting around without a head to nourish it, dies.  Becomes a bit brittle.  Also: gold is slipperier than expected when attempting to grip with a large-toothed set of pliers.  Net result: the tooth basically disintegrated into bone powder, the adhesive that held the whole mess together remained a gooey blob like gum on the sidewalk, and in the end I walked away with $38.12.

Tacos are on me.  Kids: remember to floss.

Big decisions.

Warning: this post requires you to do some work.  The upside: you could change your life if you go through with it.  Plan your reading accordingly.

I’ve had several people express that they have dreamed of doing the kind of thing I’m doing.  Since I held this dream for a couple of decades, I know how that feels.  Looking back on how I got to this point makes me realize that there’s really only one thing you need to do, everything else is just mechanics and details.

The one thing you must do, and as cliché as this sounds, is the hardest to do:

decide to do it.

That’s all.

Once you make this decision, you are down to mechanics.  I will cover all the mechanics I went through in case it is helpful in a later post, but the only thing keeping you from doing what you want is making the decision to do it.  For me, there were many things I could list that were holding me back:

  • I have a great job, one other people would kill for, why throw this away?  I’ll never have a job like this again!  I’ll regret this!
  • Will I be throwing away my chance at a good and lasting relationship?
  • What if I’m not here for my friends or son when they need me?
  • Isn’t this just a horribly selfish thing?  This self-indulgence can’t lead to any lasting good.
  • I’m spending all the money I have saved, what if I don’t have enough to retire properly later?
  • What if something happens to me in some remote country?  Something disastrous?  How will I cope?
  • I have no idea what I’m doing or how to get along in foreign countries!  Better to just stay safe with what I have now.

If you dissect all the above statements and worries, they all come down to one core thing.

Fear.

At the core of all these is fear of worst case scenarios, or fear of potential future consequences.  If you have a dream you aren’t acting on, make a list of the reasons you have to not go after it.

No, really.  Make a list.  I can wait.  After all, I’m just a web page, I’ll be here when you come back.  GO!  Write that list!

Don’t worry, I’ll enjoy a little libation while you work.

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Seriously.  Spend some time getting it all out.  What is every reason you can dredge up from the bottom of your brain, heart and soul why you aren’t doing this?  Your list should be long.  It should have some crazy things (like: I don’t want people to think I’m a flake!  I’ll miss McDonalds cheeseburgers!  What if my trick leg acts up?  What if aliens invade and I’m not home to man the howitzer?).  Make sure you get it all out.

Got it?  Really?  No cheating.  Use pen and paper.  Use an audio recorder and dictate to it.  Or use my favorite tool: Excel.  If it can’t be done in Excel, it probably doesn’t need to be done.

Okay, I’m going to move on, but I’m trusting that you’ve made this list.  Don’t let me down here.

Once you’ve spewed all that out, you’ve got your concerns codified.  Excellent.  Now, consider each separately and ask yourself if the core of this concern is really just fear, or do you have a legitimate concern?  I’ll wager most of issues are fear-based.  Cross those off.  Don’t feed fear.  A life lived by the dictates of fear is less than half a life.  Also, you’ll find when you move towards fear there’s something awesome in it for you.  Embrace fear.

For the ones that are real concerns, you’ve got a couple questions:

  • Is this concern a time-based thing?  If so, there is a date at which this concern is not valid, and you can start planning towards that date.  Example: I wanted to ensure I had raised my son to be an independent person before I did this.  He graduated, decided college was not for him and went right to the work force.  I gave him notice that in 1 year the apartment he and I were living in would no longer be an option.  He took this to heart and moved out in 9 months.  I’m proud of him.
  • What would it take before this is not a blocking concern anymore?  Don’t imagine the ultimate solution, imagine what it would take to make this concern lessened to the point that it doesn’t actually block you anymore.  For example: health coverage was a concern for me.  Thinking about what I really needed here was to keep myself healthy (diet and exercise), and have catastrophic coverage in case my leg fell off or my kidney revolted against me.  Researching that, I found I could get catastrophic coverage for myself and my son under $200 per month.  I worked that into a theoretical budget and this no longer blocked me.
  • Is this concern something people in your life can help you with?  I’ve been extremely lucky with the mechanics of this adventure, and the more people I talked to about doing this, the more people offered assistance to resolve many of my major or minor issues.

If you’ve played along, you’ve got one of these outcomes:

  1. Nice post, suckah, I’ve read similar things before.  Get a job, hippy.
  2. I now have a specific list of things keeping me from living my dream.  I can use this as a task list to work towards accomplishing my dream.  If this is you: congratulations, you are VERY close to tipping over and making the decision that will change your life.
  3. Man, I want a cheeseburger now.  Thanks a lot for ruining my diet.  You’ll be hearing from my lawyers.

This puts it all in rather simplified terms and I realize that your reality won’t feel this simple.  It took me years to finally make my dream real, and this decision was one of my most gut-wrenching ever.  In addition, I have a lot of advantages (financially stable, healthy, etc).  However, I also constantly sabotaged my dream by listing reasons why it was okay for someone else to do this, just not me.  Don’t compare your situation to anyone else, just note what is keeping you from your dream.  If you want to talk through your thoughts in more depth, leave a note here, or send me mail at koreyk-at-outlook-dot-com.

Good luck, move towards your fears, embrace your dreams.

Purge

Step one: get rid of things you don’t need.

Now, “need” is  a tricky word.  Do I need a couch?  Not while I’m traveling.  Done, away it goes.  Do I need bowls and plates?  Nope, out they go.  Big flat screen TV?  Table and chairs?  Dresser and bookcase?  Nay!  Begone, foul anchors of a static life!

Now, waitaminit… I may come back to this life eventually, right?  Won’t I just need to get a couch again?  And some plates?  And eventually a device which allows me to watch Miyazaki films whilst sitting on said couch, eating food from said plates?

Sure.  But since I’m not coming back tomorrow, or next week, or next month, I’d have to pay to store these things.  And what if, while exploring, I find something / somewhere I’d rather do and be, which is kinda the point?  Well, then I will have paid for stuff I’m not using to be stored in a place that’s not mine, only to have to pay someone to eventually remove the unused stuff and get rid of it.  Plus, aren’t there people who can use these things while I’m not using them?

All of this leads me to conclude that getting rid of everything is the sensible thing.

But wait one more time!  What about… shoes?

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Well some things would be just silly to get rid of.  Photo albums.  Tax records.  Shoes.  Don’t judge me: my size 12 feet happen to taper from gnarled and talon-like hooks at the front to rail-like wedges near the heel making finding a shoe that works for me quite an ordeal.  My shoes are precious.

I must admit to being slightly disappointed in my actual results: My dream was to get down to just what was in my backpack.  Reality: I stored around 10 boxes of stuff at my brother’s house, plus my bed which has a rather nice and expensive mattress.  Even so, the process of getting rid of stuff was pretty fantastic.  Facebook cleared out most things, a few trips to Goodwill and Salvation Army cleared out the rest.

Now I’ve got a backpack, a passport, and little else. This causes several competing reactions in me:

1.) Oh god oh god I’m homeless and unemployed. At 43. What have I done with my life?
2.) Awesome. I am free of “things”, unencumbered. I can go anywhere and do anything. I am FREE.
3.) Boy, a sandwich sounds good right about now.

Onward. The future awaits. And hopefully it waits with many interesting and exciting new sandwiches.