Categories
Festivals United States

Everything’s Bigger in Texas – SXSW 2012

South by Southwest is an annual film/music/interactive festival that overtakes the beautiful city of Austin, Texas every March. I’ve attended for two years now because it’s an incredibly cost-effective vacation that provides two things I need on a regular basis:

  • A smooth blend of relaxation and chaos
  • Interesting and intelligent people to meet

It’s essentially a few thousand sponsored parties, shows, and events all designed to make you have a good time (and usually remember a brand or an artist). For the common man it means enjoying free food, open bars, live music, and creative people for twelve days.

When combined with CouchSurfing/staying with friends and airline miles it gets even more affordable. Just don’t buy an official badge. You don’t need it.

A few things I did at SXSW 2012:

  1. Ate heaps of burgers sourced from local, grass-fed beef
  2. Drank loads of Tito’s vodka, Lone Star, and Dos Equis
  3. Learned about truffles and truffle oil (and truffle fries)
  4. Watched at least 30 live music performances
  5. Saw a fight at a local grocery store
  6. Became jealous of Austin’s Car2Go service
  7. Watched the Austin Music Awards from the third-tier VIP section and saw Bruce Springsteen’s surprise performance
  8. Met dozens of incredible personalities from Austin, New York, Mexico City, and Toronto
  9. Consumed massive amounts of free BBQ and tacos
  10. Saw a concert in a church at midnight
  11. Personally returned a lost wallet
  12. Won a Sphero at a tech party
  13. Saw a mobile Occupy SXSW street movement and the police response
  14. Watched Jeff Who Lives at Home at an Alamo Draft House – my new favorite theater (you can silently order food/drink with little slips of paper during the film)
I highly recommend checking out Firehorse – the live performance gave me goosebumps.

 

Categories
Uncategorized

Bridging the Chasm

Me at Burning Man

And then a year went by.

Travel:

I stayed in the United States for the entirety of 2011 but I did manage to spend six full weeks on highly visceral activities in other places. These included SXSW, Bonnaroo, ten days on Anna Maria Island with good friends, and a glorious week in the Black Rock Desert at Burning Man. Not bad.

Blog:

I redesigned my personal site and moved all the old Wanderlust content here. I did this because it looks fancier and I want to write about other topics in addition to travel. Sorry for those of you that got a random email update a couple weeks back. I hope you like my new home.

Work:

I was offered a job and accepted it. I’m still employed so that’s all I will say about that for now.

I’ve also launched a one man web building company. I taught myself all about domains, hosting, and WordPress. When I built this site I realized I could build awesome websites for other people too. If you need a site for your business, blog, or portfolio consider having it Built by Collin.

Education:

In addition to teaching myself the above mentioned skills I am learning JavaScript for free using Code Academy. I’m also reading quite a bit about startups and venture capital.

I’ve also been studying various topics that I suppose could by categorized under “the human condition.” Our physical evolution has left us with many unneeded byproducts (i.e. wisdom teeth, appendices). I’m convinced that our mental evolution has followed the same course.

Take greed for example. Greed is a characteristic which appears to be innate. And why not? It was once incredibly useful. It made us into the dominant species we are today. The greedy monkey had more to eat. But now it has turned against us. If anyone can think of one “world problem” that cannot be linked to greed I’d be very eager to hear it.

Other:

I’ve been selling off all my belongings. I want to be as lightweight as possible. I don’t want to be a man who is owned by his possessions. I’m converting everything I can into liquid capital, the rest gets donated or gifted.

I also grew my hair out really long and wrote a blog post.

Categories
Southeast Asia United States

The End Is the Beginning Is the End

Current Location: Louisville, KY, United States of America
Current  Weather: 32°F (feels like 24°F)
Days Gone: 201
Days Remaining: Zero
Home provides its own type of chaos. Perhaps the chaos and uncertainty craved by the traveler is really just a craving for simplicity. Unknown means no planning. It means your time is yours and yours alone. For me, unknown is easy. With too many variables, calculation becomes impossible. You can’t suffer from analysis paralysis if you can’t analyze the situation. I’ve said before that the present is all we have. Well, it turns out that while traveling the present is the only thing worth considering. Even for someone like me, a person who considers every option and almost subconsciously plans for every consequence, travel makes careful planning impossible. With an unwieldy trip such as this, the possible futures which cascade outward from every event are so multitudinous and varied that I can actually allow myself to not think about them. Mental peace.

But home is where I am now. I’ve been breathing cold Louisville, KY air since early December. My trip was cut short suddenly when I received an email that my grandfather was in the hospital for what would be the last time. Twelve hours (and a bus ride to the capital) later I was on the side of a Malaysian highway helping my cab driver change his flat tire. With only minutes to spare I jumped out at the airport, abandoning in the backseat the sandals I’d worn for seven months and two thick books, jetsam that would have kept my pack from fitting in the overhead compartment. I was living in rewind. It was eerie, the speed at which I was able to backpedal. The speed at which I was able to circumnavigate the entire planet at a moments notice. You know that montage in Fight Club where Edward Norton is flying around the country and experiences a disconnected sort of deja vu? It was like that with less bandages and more security. Malacca-Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok-Tokyo-Chicago.

Chicago about killed me. It was snowing. I’d gone from 100 degrees to 30 in 24 hours. By the time I made it from the plane up the walkway to the airport (in my lightweight rain jacket) my shivering was indistinguishable from a seizure. I’d consumed eight cups of coffee and four back-to-back in flight movies. My plan was to beat jet-lag preemptively. I hadn’t slept. My vision was obstructed by tall people in rough, gray coats. I found myself drowning in English, loud and obnoxious and everywhere. Sickly looking people all across the terminal bared their teeth and screamed into cell phones. Surely they were complaining of their cold, bleak surroundingstheir gray floors and gray walls and gray-filtered sunlight. It was a zoo exhibit. Or an ant farm. The giant planes on the tarmac watched us silently through the glass. I found my way to the domestic terminal and huddled next to a vending machine. I was afraid to sit down, fall asleep, miss my flight. I counted to stay awake. I counted “people who stared at me,” “people without cell phones,” and “people who smiled.” I spent 90 minutes next to that vending machine. Smiles lost.

I slipped into my old life the way one might slip on an old shoe. Everything worked the way it shouldI could still drive a stick, run the microwave, answer a cell phonebut it was all very surreal. I’m chalking it up to jet lag, reverse culture shock, and sunlight withdrawal, but I can barely remember my first two weeks stateside. I was my own apparition, out of touch with reality. I found myself constantly recoiling from everyday things. I became physically ill the first time I walked into a Bed, Bath and Beyond and saw a $40 piece of metal designed to hold toilet paper; available in bronze, nickel, and chrome. Thanks but I’d rather have five days on a Cambodian beach.

I’d like to think I’ve become more empowered. I’ve learned to accept my own strengths and I know how to take full control of my life. By living simply, eating meals of rice and sharing dirty accommodations, I have become comfortable with my “worst case scenario.” I can now take bigger risks without fearing the consequences, because I’ve already faced them. In many ways the things gained on a trip such as this one are intangible. And most intangibles cannot be defined without metaphor. The writer in me is gleeful at this conundrum. But the reality is that I cannot tell you what I’ve learned, lost, and gained. Our language is not yet that robust.

I spent two-hundred days wandering throughout Southeast Asia. And I did it on my own. Through my self-reliance I have achieved, if nothing else, self-trust. And it is with this I move forward, comfortable in my non-conformity, one step at a time.

The Breakdown by Numbers

Total cost (including airfare): less than $4,600
Airfare: $1150
Cost per day on the ground: ~$17.25 (ranging from $6-60)
Weight lost: 18 lbs (From 158 lbs to 140 lbs)
Days abroad: 201
Distance traveled (by land): 11,000 km / 6,800 miles
Distance traveled (by air): 31,600 km / 19,630 miles
Total distance traveled:  42,600 km / 26,480 miles

This was an experience that will continue to shape me for the rest of my life. I cannot imagine what else I might have done with that seven months that would prove more valuable. For those of you who have stuck with me through the whole journey, I am beyond grateful.

Last thing consumed: Quite a bit actually. I’m focusing on regaining all the muscle I lost. I’m eating 3,000 calories/day at the moment. Since my return I’ve regained 16 lbs.
Thought fragment: I’m driving 1,000 miles to Austin for SXSW in a couple weeks. It will be good to get back on the road again.

Did you enjoy reading this post? That’s great because it’s the last one for a long while. Feel free to subscribe to start getting updates when my next adventure rolls around.

What did you think of my final undertakings? This may be your last chance to ask questions pertaining to the trip. Leave your questions and comments below!

 

Categories
Malaysia Southeast Asia

Terror, Power, and Tandoori Chicken

Current Location: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Current  Weather: 77°F (feels like 86°F)
Days Gone: 199
Days Remaining: 17
 
With less than three weeks until my return the world is beginning to spin faster. It is as if the planet itself is trying to gain enough momentum to launch me back into a society that moves at a different speed. Two days ago I was clutching to the back of a motorbike while it flew through heavy traffic, passing with only inches to spare between bigger vehicles, running red lights, and generally spending as much time in the wrong lane as possible. My driver and cohort was oblivious to my terror. I decided, as I felt the heat of another car’s brake lights on my knee as we swerved around it, that if I survived this journey I would write about it. Thus, you have the above. For I did survive, and in doing so I’ve discovered that I much prefer being the operator of fast and deadly vehicles, not the helpless passenger.

Despite said dangers, our unfaithful steed bore us to Penang National Park, where we trekked into the dense monkey-infested jungle and arrived, at great length and covered in sweat, on a fairly private beach pocked with massive crab holes. The blue-green waters spoke of  relief, so we shed our salt-soaked shirts and swam. Before long, we were joined by a cautious and stealthy sea otter which spent most of its time examining us from a safe distance. Its head would vanish and pop up elsewhere, not unlike Whack-A-Mole from the days of old.

I have finally realized why it is that monkeys feel the need to attack me. And really, it’s all their fault. You see, monkeys happen to instinctively identify bared teeth as a challenge to fierce physical combat. As such, when I laugh at their silly ways and silly faces, they think I am challenging them to a dual. And when a human duals a monkey, nobody wins. So should you find yourself confronted by a monkey with the silliest of faces, even if said monkey is wearing a jester’s cap, do not, under any circumstance, laugh at the monkey. For it will attempt to eat you, and it will start with your bare ankles.

Almost without even trying, I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving consistently since my arrival on Penang, Isle of Food. I must say, though, I’ve sampled all the top Malay dishes from local establishments, and they are all still trumped by Indian cuisine. As such, the image to the right was (one of) my Thanksgiving dinner(s).

I’ve been in Southeast Asia for nearly two hundred days, and I think I’ve avoided writing anything on this blog that might be seen as culturally insensitive. But all that is about to change. I fully understand that many different cultures use many different utensils and practice many different methods of eating. That is all fine and good. I like variety. When eating Pad Thai or any fried noodle dish, I would sooner take up chopsticks than I would a fork. When eating a sandwich or french fries, I use my hands. And of course, should I find myself eating steak, I think the most convenient tools would be a knife/fork combination. However, when enjoying Indian cuisine, the traditional method seems to be the use a single hand. By employing deft thumb movements, one can shovel food from the palm and remaining digits into one’s mouth. I used this method myself many months ago when I found myself sharing a meal of rice and chicken in the wilderness with a tiny Hmong girl. And after I learned the proper technique it worked quite well.

That said, eating heavily sauced rice with your hand is something that, even after a lifetime of training, can end in messy defeat. The other day I was sitting in a restaurant enjoying my meal with the spoon/fork combo. An Indian gentleman at another table tackled his with the hand method. As a result, he had curry and rice not only on his hand, but also spread about his mouth and on his shirt. I watched, amazed, taking another bite of rice and beef curry with my spoon. As another bit of rice fell to his shirt and I couldn’t help but think, “Dude, there’s just a better way.” So there you have it. Culturally insensitive or not, there are times when hand-eating is simply the inferior method. If any Indians (or other eat-with-your-handers) are reading this, feel free to sacrifice me in the comments section and defend saucy hands everywhere!

I’ll keep this brief, but I want talk for a moment about power. I believe that everything is relative. And I mean everything. Power is no exception. The most powerful person in the world is the person who has the most control over you, your life, and your decisions. Therefore, the most powerful person in existence, my dear reader, is you. Uncle Ben was right though, with great power comes great responsibility. What will you do with all your power?

Last thing consumed: Did you see those pictures above?
Thought fragment: I think, should I have such a grand opportunity upon my return, I’m going to opt out of the new TSA death ray scanners just to get the complimentary groping everyone is getting so excited about.

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