Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It Ends

It ends.
The moment is gone,
the next is here.

Now that one too,
has departed from the world.
As gone as the oldest star,
as distant as the foreign galaxies.

It always ends.


For much of my life I thought it would be amazing to visit another planet. In the strangest of ways, Australia whittled away that longing. The new millennium has brought talk about people wanting to live on Mars, but I really can't agree with that desire. To visit is one thing, but to move permanently is another. Mars could never be home to anyone except for the children that are born there (someday there will likely be people born on Mars from parents who have moved from Earth). Honestly, why would anyone want to move to such a remote place for a few weeks of excitement followed by a lifetime of boredom and loneliness? As much as Australia looks like Mars on a map, it fortunately exists on the same planet as each of us. And unlike Mars, Adelaide is the opposite of isolated. I wasn't miserable there for even a second. But it's not home.

Everything I've learned in Australia thus far, from academics, to social relationships, to cultural nuances will all stay with me for the remainder of my life. My guess is that most, if not all other UND students that have gone off on exchange can agree with me on this one: the cities around the world we've been to are all more enjoyable to live in than Grand Forks, North Dakota. But what we need to keep in mind is that if it weren't for Grand Forks, if it weren't for UND, we would have never gotten the chance to know that. And for that, I will never be able to thank the University of North Dakota enough.

When I first arrived in Australia, I was effectively a ghost. Living on the outside, knowing no one. But after spending enough time in Adelaide, everything started to become eerily familiar. I created an entire life on my own, separate from everything I've ever known. That's scary. Not many people I know that are my age have done that yet, and I'm not sure if some of them even could. By the end of my stay, I could hardly walk down the street without running into someone I knew or recognized. On my bike, for instance, I would come across places that I not only remembered, but could trace exactly back to where I lived. Places that I knew from one angle were rediscovered from other perspectives, filling the gaps in my own internal map of the world.

Nothing is the same anymore. The places around Adelaide that were once mysterious to me are now everyday sights of life.

Earth is an amazing planet. It is filled with odds an ends and too many places to discover than time in any one person's life. But if you ever get the chance to travel, make it a useful experience. Don't let others or the media define your perspective of the world. Go and find out for yourself. And if you don't like to travel, that's okay too. This might be an unpopular statement, but I'll say it anyways: disregard those telling you that you should go out of your comfort zone. If you want to, it's your choice. And just because you do, doesn't automatically mean that your life will be happier or more enlightened than it is already. The truth is, you can remain in your comfort zone nearly your whole life and live quite happily and comfortably. Then again, if you do choose to venture out, there's an entire world of possibilities out there that have the potential of making your life more interesting, exciting and enriching. But it ultimately doesn't matter which one you choose. Even if you stay in your comfort zone, someone else could enter into your life because they stepped outside their own comfort zone, making your life better or worse. And if you're the one that steps out, maybe you end up missing out on other benefits in life because you were gone doing other things.

What I'm trying to say is that there's no perfect advice, no sayings to go by that for sure, 100 percent make people's lives better. Life is a series or randomly interlinked events that could turn your way or the other with absolutely no certain predictability. Sure, maybe you decide to go out with your friends on a Saturday to have a really great time, and you do. But in another reality, say you tell your friends you're tired and don't want to go out. Say you stay home for the night, and realize you're hungry for ice cream. Say you go to the grocery store to pick out some ice cream, and as you're heading out the door you drop your wallet in the parking lot and someone picks it up for you. Say that the person who picks up your wallet turns out to be the love of your life. It is not likely, but it is absolutely possible.

Discovery is like the cold on a Minnesotan winter morning. You can't hide from it. The world is out there to discover, but at the same time we're out there too, and regardless of where we are or what we decide to do, the world is constantly discovering each of us. And if you're reading this and think you missed out on Australia, you didn't. Because even though Australia provided me with a once in a lifetime experience, maybe it was I that missed out on life back home. Maybe it was I that missed out on the rest of the world. Maybe it was I that missed out on going to the grocery store. Maybe it was I that missed out on you.


It's now one of my first few days back, and I'm at my dentist's office in St. Paul. After he finishes with my teeth, I get on my bike and decide to take a slight detour on the way home. I decide to go through Como Park. As I zoom down Lexington and make my way through the parklands, Conservatory, and Pavilion, a familiar thought, a thought I've known all my life crosses my mind. I realize that although some things have changed about this place, all in all, it's essentially the same. It's still the same neighborhood I've lived in and loved my whole life. It still doesn't get any better than this. After spending enough time living in this neighborhood, it's become much more than just a place. Really, it's no longer even place at all; it's my memories.

I don't view the world the same way an average park visitor does. I'm riding down Como Avenue now, but it's not merely a sidewalk that I see alongside the road. I see my 12 year old self and his friends, walking back to his house after a day at the old Como Pool. I make my way around Como Lake and pass the pavilion, but it's not merely a waterfall that I see across from the building. No, I see my 8 year old self in the plunge pool jumping from rock to rock, suddenly fleeing from the onslaught of down-pouring rain. Finally, I find myself at the East of end of the lake, but instead of making the final turn down Victoria Street, I take a right onto Maryland, going past my house, high school, and place of work. And there he is again, my young self. I can see him now, there's so many of him. He's walking home from high school. He's rollerblading to work. He's playing baseball with his brothers at the elementary school. I've only lived for two decades and the past is already starting to spook me. Because even my memories aren't memories anymore. They are there right in front of me, dancing and embracing, singing and smiling at me.

It's hard to say how much any of us really know about love, but what I know is that it's anything but superficial. You wouldn't love someone that has a negative impact on your life or a terrible personality, no matter how good looking or infatuating they may be. And the same goes for a place. I don't just love places like Adelaide, Como Park and more because they're beautiful. I love them because they have character. I love them because of the invaluable memories we've shared together. I love them because no matter where I find myself in life, I can always go back to them and smile.

For a long time, I've searched for a name to describe my love for where I live. "Topophilia" works well enough, a word that translates from Greek to literally mean "love of place". But then that got me thinking. Is it as simple as me deciding to love this place? Is love a decision? Or could it be that this place has loved me all along? After all, I never had a say in the location of my birth. I couldn't find a better term until years later, when I discovered an obscure song by MGMT, called "Love Always Remains". It's a relatively pleasant song, but the title itself is what really speaks volumes. As straightforward as that simple phrase seems to be, it's really not. The term "love always remains" does not actually mean that one's love for something always remains. Love doesn't necessarily last forever. What it's really saying is that when something lasts forever, it's love. And that's the beauty of it all. A place will never break your heart. A place will never fall out of love with you. People change, but places don't. If you truly love a place, it will love you back forever.


Adelaide, South Australia
February 2015 - June 2015
To my parents, for putting me in the right place

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Happiness only real when shared" reads the closing line of Christopher McCandless' adventure journal, written moments before death in the Alaskan wilderness. His story is famously captured in Jon Krakauer's "Into the Wild", and one of the many questions readers may have, is why is that phrase so important? Is any sort of happiness incurred alone thereby fake? The book, it appears, suggests this very notion. Krakuer does a wonderful job interpreting McCandless's journal, communicating to the reader how important it is to share memories with others. When McCandless wrote his final few words, he was starving, exhausted, and most likely quite lonely. His life alone amongst the wild at that point seems like a waste. It failed to be what he imagined, and the happiness he found there became futile because he had no one to share it with. But are memories always better when experienced with other people? Is happiness only real when shared?

Absolutely not.

A few entries ago, in my post titled "My Australian Girlfriend", I outline my solo venture to Adelaide's Outer Harbour, and how truly splendid everything about that journey was. (by now, hopefully, it has been established that I don't actually have a girlfriend.) But perhaps most peculiar of all is how I managed to have such a grand time completely alone. If I had to be classified, I would fall closer to the introvert side of the spectrum, but it's always more complex than that. Individuality is not about the black and white facts of nature so much as it is about the gray area in between. Different situations evoke different aspects of our personalities, so to appoint it with a single moniker never does any justice. Regardless, I find confidence in knowing that I can have a good time all by myself. I've found that the people I've met that can do this as well are the ones I gravitate towards most.

A couple weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to go to Perth by myself. One night, I walked north of my accommodation just to see where it would take me. I encountered numerous sights that took me off the beaten path, but Hyde Park in particular proved most memorable. It was about 11 pm by the time I got there. Despite being only a couple kilometers away from the city centre, not a person could be found. Hyde Park contains two small ponds, divided by a land bridge in the center, encompassed by a larger walking path. Normally I would walk around at a moderate pace, but in Hyde Park, the sights from the path prove too intriguing to do so. Ducks meander their way throughout the ponds and into the shadowy islands within. Black Swans contently stretch out along the shores. A kitten streaks by, disappearing into the night seconds later. Statues, sculptures, gazebos, and informational recordings give the park life even when no one else wants to. Perhaps strangest of all, are the random exercise equipment scattered about the path, bolted into the ground. Here, the city of Perth provides safe instruction as to how to use the equipment, as well as healthy eating habits. I actually laughed out loud a few times. I didn't walk around the ponds so much as I danced, thanks to my ipod-delivered music. I sat amongst the birds and watched the stars with a smile on my face. Somewhere in Perth, perhaps minutes away, a party must have been going on. Faces upon faces of people appearing and disappearing, striving for relevancy, for meaning. But in the midst of all that, another ongoing party was happening right there in Hyde Park — a party within my head. And no one else was invited.

When spending time alone, there are always going to be moments of sad realisation relating to how no one else can share the same memories. I can never ask anyone, "hey do you remember that one time in Perth…" except myself. But the idea of happiness only being real when shared puzzles me. Some of my happiest moments in life occur when I am completely alone. Likewise, many more of these moments happen alongside other people. But can anyone on earth share my exact same memories? Are any of them quite like me? Of course not. And that's precisely why, in addition to those close to me, there is a tremendous amount of love that I have for myself. That's why, when I wake up each morning and look into the mirror, it's not just my own reflection that I see. I see my best friend.

To fully accept and be at peace with oneself is of the most essential aspects of living, though unfortunately for some this requires more effort than others to achieve. No matter how valuable the connections you have with other people may be, none are as important as the relationship you have with yourself. Not a single person in the entire universe will ever be as close to you as you are with your own being. If at first you don't love yourself, it becomes immensely difficult to love anyone at all.

Monday, June 8, 2015



As a student to the aviation industry, I've been picking up on a lot of marketing techniques airlines use. Somewhat unsurprisingly, I've noticed that they're all pretty much the same. Cheap fares, gourmet food, top amenities, etc. They're not advertising travel, they're advertising comfort. They're advertising a chance for people to "get away" from their mundane lives. Que the United Airlines billboard:

Is this what people dream about these days? Getting away? I can picture it now: someone stuck in traffic on the way to their day job, looking up at that billboard and dreaming of somewhere far away, of sunny weekends and no work. Aviation, arguably, is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, invention of all time. When combined with telecommunications, aviation has globalized the world in ways that were unimaginable just a century ago. But ads like the one above are geared towards those who live for the weekend and slouch through the week. Ads like this remind me of why I'm attracted to a varied work schedule. Why should we go through life hating Mondays? If others think we were put on earth to work the same five days each week from 9 to 5 every day until they day we die, hats off to them. But I think life is much more than that. There are days we work, and days we don't. And both should be wonderful in their own unique ways. I don't care if I get work off on a Wednesday or a Saturday; just don't lull my life into a sense of monotony.

In fact, every day when I take the train out of the city towards Mawson Lakes for class, I see the exact type of people that United Airlines target with their billboards. I see hoards of businessmen and businesswomen unloading off the train, coming from the suburbs and going to work in the city. They're all dressed up. Their clothes look good, some of their faces look good. But the expressions on nearly all of them? Bleak. The way they walk? Hasty. As if they're late for that same thing they do every other day of the week. And there I am, taking the train the opposite way. On a spacious, comfortable train headed away from the crowd. Different from everyone else.

That aside, I bring up the subject of airline marketing because in the following story, I am about to utilize one of these airlines to get from Adelaide, Australia, to Christchurch, New Zealand. Let it begin...


Aviation is fantastic because it provides rapid transportation over vast distances. But it's where we go after the luggage carousel that makes everything worthwhile; the places airplanes cannot reach. Upon arriving in New Zealand's South island, we rented a car and set off for the various sites it has to offer. Beginning in Christchurch, we essentially circled the island by heading north along the East Coast, West along the North coast, South along the West Coast, then turning back East in the center and back to Christchurch. What I noticed, quite curiously, is that the greatest places we discovered could only be found on foot. No cars, boats, planes, or even helicopters could safely land on the mountains we scaled. And none of them would ever be seen on the bike path leading us to the serene grandeur of Lake Wanaka.

You know that feeling you get when you're so exhausted that you don't really want to talk to anyone? That's how I felt after arriving back in Adelaide from New Zealand. It's not like I was annoyed or crabby, I simply didn't feel awake enough to adequately listen to whomever spoke with me. My three hours of sleep left me so tired that I forgot about doing simple things that would make me less tired, like taking my backpack off while sitting down.

In order to get back to my residence from the airport, I needed to take the bus. So I sat down next to the airport bus stop, and after almost getting on the wrong bus twice, decided I needed to review the different routes. Hand on head, backpack still on back, I leaned to the side and noticed a familiar sign beaming in the afternoon sun. Despite my contempt for advertisements, this particular ad displayed to me a very conflicting, yet strangely comforting phrase...

It's funny, really. This idea of home. Australia is not my home, but as soon as a trip to New Zealand is involved, suddenly it is. I've developed a new life here in Adelaide, and once that life is put on hold for 10 days, everything other than Adelaide is a vacation, and Adelaide becomes home base. A journey within a journey. A round trip flight within a round trip flight.

So when I looked up at this billboard presented by Australia's flag carrier, I couldn't help but smile. I knew the simple phrase it conveyed was wrong, but at the time it felt so right. It was the two words I needed to hear most.

Qantas. Welcome home.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


We were up before sunrise. Adelaide, South Australia - Sydney, New South Wales, - Christchurch, New Zealand is how Qantas delivered us to our intended location; to explore New Zealand's South Island. When I learned that we would be stopping in Sydney for a more than a few hours, I was distraught. That's too long to sit in an airport! But then it dawned on us: why not just take the train into the city for a bit? With only a couple hours of freedom, one cannot delve too deep into the complexities of the beast that is Sydney, NSW. It really only leaves enough time to see the basics: the high bridge, opera house, downtown, etc. And yet a couple hours is all I need to make a place memorable for what I anticipate to be the rest of my life.

I'm sitting on a bench in Sydney, right underneath the tip of the opera house. The clouds provide much needed shade, and my eyes are reminded of the 3 hours of sleep I had the night before. I'm also reminded of the fact, that, mere hours before, I had no idea I would be in downtown Sydney at that point in time. My gaze wanders across Sydney Harbour, to the other side of the bridge and the unknown wonders to be found in North Sydney. There is park beneath the bridge, and to the west of that is a peculiar clown face looming from the entrance to what I eventually learn to be Luna Park. Surely, something like this could only exist in someone's dreams. I begin to wonder: How did I get here? Why am I here right now, at this exact place and at this exact time? Everything felt eerily familiar, yet surreal. And that's when I fell asleep - roughly 20 meters away from the most iconic building in Australia.

If memory deletion were to somehow be possible, I wouldn't use it the same way I imagine others would. I would use it for travel. I would book a flight, and upon reaching my destination, I would delete all memories associated with how I even got there; like a dream in reality. Remembering part of a dream hardly ever includes how we get to a place. We are where we are and there is no reason why. When I awoke from my short slumber of no more than a few minutes, Sydney became my own abstract world. Suddenly, I forgot where I was, let alone how I got there. Suddenly, the line between reality and surreality blurred. I didn't wake up from a dream; I woke up and entered one.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Call Me Brett Favre: I'm Un-Retiring From American Football... In Australia

I'll always remember the first football game I ever played as a starting running back. It was 4th grade. Since my home city of St. Paul didn't have a competitive youth league back then, I played for Roseville's youth interleague system, in which a number of Roseville teams just played against each other. I played in 3rd grade as well, but that was the year I only played middle linebacker and had (somehow I remember this) a coach that didn't know any more about football than I did. And I was a little kid who had never played before! In 4th grade, my coach observed that I was one of the fastest kids on the team. So then, he tried me at running back during practice and it goes well enough for me to stick with it. Our first game was coming up on Saturday, and the nervousness began to sink in before my heightened duties.

Saturday arrived and the quarterback called everyone in to announce the first offensive play of the game. Sure enough, he called a hand off play to me. Before I knew it, there I was, standing in the end zone. What? I didn't even know what to do. I handed the ball to the ref and got off the field until my coach threw me back in for the extra point I didn't know existed. In summary, the center snapped the ball, the quarterback handed it to me, I ran around the corner, turned left and continued for 80 more yards into the end zone without being touched. On our next drive, we tried a few different things involving other players until they decided to hand it off to me again. Touchdown. "Is this football or track" I must have wondered, because no one could touch me, much less tackle. The exact sequence of the remainder of the game is a bit foggy to me, but I remember without a doubt that I was handed the ball two more times. What did I do in my next two attempts? Touchdown, followed by touchdown. After we won, I remember sitting in the back seat of my dad's van on the way home, wondering to myself  "is this what it feels like to be bound for the NFL?" I don't blame myself, either. We've all heard of baseball pitcher's having perfect games, and how difficult that is. But football players? Running backs? I was handed the ball four times, and each time landed me in the end zone. I went the entire game as a running back, the position that gets tackled the most, without being tackled at all, not even once.

Although my football career began on a perfect note, it wouldn't be like that forever. Yes, I did eventually get tackled. And yes, my organized football career did end after 9th grade, but that was a choice that I decided to make based on preference rather than skill. In the 7th grade, I tore my hamstring playing football, and even though I made a healthy recovery, I haven't been able to run as fast ever since. The next two years would prove to be my final ones playing organized football, but not because I wasn't good anymore. Instead, the fun of it all simply began to dwindle.  Every season through senior year, the coach at my high school asked if I wanted to play, and every year it was the same answer. If I could have simply shown up to the games, be handed the ball without worrying about memorizing plays and just run I would have been fine with it, but we all knew that would never be the case. And as much as I would have liked to be part of that American stereotype as a football player adored by their classmates every Friday night, some of my favorite memories happened while sitting next to them in the stands. After all, there was plenty of time in the winter for them to admire my hockey playing instead.

And thus, was the end of my football playing days...

Or was it?

This past week, a couple of my friends invited me to join them in our University flag football club's welcome party. The field, or "oval", as Aussies like to call it, is located in gorgeous Mawson Lakes, the same site of my aviation courses at UniSA. A series of small buildings and strip malls constitute this quaint area until the shops give way for man-made lakes, fountains, and sculptures. One can almost see the amount of effort and precision it must have taken to build the area up in such an aesthetically pleasing way. If this place is an album, it's Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. Beautiful, ambitious, sparkly, yet characterized by an underlying sense of it all not being possible without ridiculously expensive production.

By the end of the day, I was a part of another team, "5 Star Service" and successfully penetrated the social bounds of an Australian clique. In order to garner notice from them, now my teammates, I made what was admittedly a spectacular interception in our own end zone that sealed our win for the scratch match. All of this, I preceded simply by walking onto the field and playing, which was preceded by sitting on a train, which was preceded by whatever else I did that Wednesday, which was preceded by waking up.

"Oh, sh*t! This bloke can catch!" Chris turned to me after I came down with the same ball the opposing quarterback had just thrown. "What's your name, mate?"
"Thomas, but just call me Tommy."
"Damn mate, where did you learn how to play like that?"

I looked down at the brown ball sitting quietly in the grass, its white teeth sticking out in a grin, as if knowing what I'm about to say next.

Then, in in my unapologetically American accent, I for some reason decided to say, "United States, mate."

Laughter in the dead of the night.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Invisible Oceans Part 2

I tuned out the birds and continued my voyage, thinking about this word, "reality" when a strange thought crossed my mind. Why is this scene in front of me real? And how? If I had never became an exchange student, never gotten this exact bike to cause myself to be here at this exact moment, there would have been absolutely no way for me to believe that this particular place exists on the same planet I grew up on. Maybe I would have looked up pictures of Adelaide online, but would it have shown this particular spot along the river? Of course not. And even if I somehow did see pictures of this place, it still wouldn't have been real to me. The picture would be, but not the place itself. Take Antarctica, for instance. No one I know has ever been to Antarctica, so how do I know it exists? Because there are pictures of it and other people tell me it is. But what then is real, the pictures, or the actual place itself? I'm not denying the existence of Antarctica, but rather pointing out that it's not real to me unless I've been there, felt the cold, listened to the silence, and thought to myself: "This is Antarctica. This is what it feels like to be in Antarctica. There is a place on Earth called Antarctica, and I am standing in it now." So during this seemingly straightforward bike ride along the river Torrens, all of my senses were busy coming together to simultaneously deem the situation as real while explaining to myself why it is real in the concrete world. And all of this happens every time we discover a new place.

Along with actual reality, there is a faux reality, or "perceived reality". A strange phenomena exists that blurs the line between reality and perceived reality. Say, for example, a random person from across the world discovers this post. We'll call this person Vincent. Not only would Vincent find out that I exist, but he would become certain that I (whoever I may be) am alive at the exact moment of this entry being sent. But he still doesn't know me and I have no idea he even exists. So tell me, am I more real than the next person, the next blog out there that Vincent doesn't discover? To him maybe I am, but who's to say? It's the online version of walking past a stranger along the street only to never see them again.

It happens with celebrities, too. You know Jimmy Fallon, right? I mean, not personally of course, but you know who he is. In fact, I bet his face popped into your head as soon as I mentioned his name. Now, if anyone were to ask Jimmy Fallon if he knows me, of course he would say no. It is quite discomforting really, how we feel like we know certain people only from reports, interviews, and what others say about them. Now it even occurs within everyday, non-famous society, stumbling upon the online profiles of people we haven't even met. Condemning, fantasizing, concluding anything, really, about people we have yet to meet is one of the most dangerous things we can do in today's facebook generation. It is even more strange to think that, when and if we do actually meet these people in real life, we feel like we already partly know them before they even know us. Jimmy Fallon has no idea who I am (I hope), but I am referring to him directly right now as an example. Therefore he is real to me, but I don't exist to him. Perceived reality.

There are two more questions that sum up this phenomena, one that can be answered and one that cannot: Are the planets out there that we have yet to discover less real because we don't know about them? Of course not, but none of them are specifically real to any of us. So this brings up the unanswerable question: Is reality reality, or is reality merely a perception housed in the brain? Why do we accept realities that we ourselves have never seen, and doubt others? Life as we perceive it isn't as forthright as it seems. Up to this point, I've hesitated to mention a third reality. We are well aware of the reality we know and see everyday in our lives, the one our parents grew up in, the one computers exist in along with the words you are reading now. Some of us may even know about the misleading "perceived reality" that occurs via indirect exposure. That leaves us with perhaps the most fascinating reality of all. This, my friends, is called undiscovered reality; the things out there that either we ourselves do not know about, or that no one on earth even knows about, yet exist as part of our universe nonetheless. Relativism states that reality itself only exists to the people who are consciously or subconsciously aware of it. That it only pertains to us in terms of culture, history, and human existence. So what then, of the galaxies far beyond human scope that exist without any of us knowing? Are they less real because we don't know about them? Is the fact that I'm talking about them silly because they actually don't exist? Questions like these are so rhetorical that no one in today's age could factually answer them. But that doesn't stop us from wondering, from questioning.

Essentially, when we ask a person any question, what we're really asking is, "What is your reality? What do you know that I don't?" Similarly, when we enter a new place for the first time, we're asking the universe that exact same question. This place, the area next to the river Torrens east of Adelaide city, would have remained in my own undiscovered reality for the entirety of my life had I never moved to Australia. One day we'll all meet our one common and final reality. Until then, it is imperative to accept that there are realities out there beyond control, beyond discovery even. Australia may not exist to you, but it does to millions of other people. Famine may not exist to you, but it does to millions of other people. Exclusion, loneliness, depression all may not exist to you, but they do to millions of other people. Don't let your own realities get in the way of understanding others - because in the end, this is what invariably makes each of us human.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Invisible Oceans: Part I

Interestingly enough, the bicycle I mentioned in my previous post was actually not the first one I purchased in Australia. I bought a very cheap one when I first arrived, but sold it in favor of the much nicer one. Usually when I go an adventure, I do so with via my bike. However, the story I'm outlining today occurred during my first few days in Adelaide, a day in which obtaining the bike was the adventure itself.

I found a suitable match on Australia's version of craigslist, The seller lives in Athelstone, a northeastern suburb of Adelaide, which meant I had to take the bus there, and ride the 25 kilometers or so back.

While on the way to Athelstone, I met an older woman on the bus from Los Angeles. We talked about my aviation ambitions briefly, and how she has lived in various Australian cities during the past 15 or so years, but she kept going back to talking about how handsome I (allegedly) am. That's another thing. What is it with older women (over 55) and being so confident with telling me how much they like the way I look? I'm sure it's not just to me, either - it seems to be a common occurrence. I suppose people like her are not intimidated by the notion of saying it aloud, speaking in a matter-of-fact-like tone, and, due to her age (at least 70, I presume), impossible to be perceived as flirtatious.

After awhile, she pressed the button that alerts the driver to pull over at the next stop. She had two larger bags that she needed for her house cleaning job, so I helped her carry it down the step and out of the bus. Unfortunately, when I say "out of the bus" I too, went out of the bus, and stayed there. All despite the fact that I was about 5 or 6 stops short of where I needed to be. A little embarrassed, I told the lady it was coincidentally my stop as well and that it was nice talking with her. As I turned to walk the other direction she told me goodbye and that she would one day "see me in heaven". Perhaps when we meet in the afterlife we'll both be young again.

I told the man I would be at his house at 10:30 which was in 15 minutes. I didn't know exactly where it was, so I had to follow the bus stops to get to the one I should have gotten off on. The problem was that it was 2 or 3 kilometers away and the day was hot and sunny. So then, I began to jog. Oddly, I wasn't irritated about my predicament. In fact, the whole time I imagined how funny it would be for someone watching me in the neighborhood to know my actual reason for running. To them, I must have looked like an unfamiliar Australian going on a jog with no resemblance of any type of workout clothes on and a baseball hat strewn very far backwards on his head. When really, I was a dehydrated American thousands of miles away from everything he's ever known, jogging in a neighborhood he's never been, wearing his hat differently to prevent sunburn, literally lost in the grandest sense of the word, all for the sake of meeting a complete stranger for the purpose of purchasing a $15 bicycle.

To explore and cycle under the sun or stars is quite possibly what I love to do most. So yes, this is what I do for love.

I found his house with a bit of luck, but also because one of my greatest talents is situational awareness and spatial retention. The closest thing I've ever had to photographic memory is being able to trace back and memorize the exact routes I've taken places, via bike, car, feet and rollerblades. At this point I've even developed the skill to assist while I pilot airplanes, so it has proven quite useful thus far.

The garage door opened and here was this man standing at about 5' 5" right in front of me. And yes, the bicycle he was selling was fit for him. After a bit of minor maintenance such as raising the seat, I was off, bound to find my way back in this foreign land along the Torrens river.

Making my way down the windy river path, I realized how lucky it was for the man's house to be next to a trail leading right back into the city. Since I live in downtown Adelaide, this was one of my first experiences getting up close and personal with Australian nature, and the contrast it has with Minnesota's nature is particularly eerie. Sometimes, I can even trick myself into thinking I'm in downtown Minneapolis in the summer. It's not until I venture out into the surrounding neighborhoods that something doesn't seem to fit quite right. The trees are different, the grass is different, the animals are different, even the calm is different. None of it is inherently bad, just unsettling.

The most disturbing difference, I found, is the way the birds sound. In Minnesota, songbirds may gently sing us to sleep during an afternoon nap on a summer's day. I'll never forget the tune the birds sing near my house in St. Paul. And yet, the birds in Australia don't sing at all. They laugh. In fact, they were mocking me. "You'll never find your way." the birds were whispering to me "Who do you think you are, trying to survive on your own here, with no water or means of communication? And they weren't wrong, either. Here I was, riding a dodgy bike down a path I had never been and with no cell phone, all while battling dehydration. I didn't have any doubts about my situation before, but now the reality of it all started to sink in...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Dear California Navel Orange,

Why did we have to travel so far to meet?

I saw you at the supermarket
And knew you were the one
Different continent
Same love 

Your sticker says it all
We are one of the same
Products of the USA
Keen to get away

Capital of drama
Always in the news
Let's pretend we're not American
Hollywood, go away

You know how I feel
About Australian Produce
I wish they all
Could be California orange juice

So now we're here
10,000 miles from home
Yet suddenly
It's near

As close to us now
As you are to me
Yesterday a place
Today a feeling

I can't help but smile
To think it was you all along
Peel in trash
Pulp in me

I ponder again
Calling out in desperation
Attempting to ask you
Instead asking myself:

Why did we have to travel so far to meet?

It doesn't matter anymore

Like the passing of now
You're gone before it's even realized
We are all gone

Lovers can die too

Friday, April 10, 2015

My Australian Girlfriend

 I would like for everyone to meet my beautiful new girlfriend from Australia. Like many in Adelaide, she was born and raised right here in South Australia. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures featuring the two of us together, but we're working on it. I got her about a month ago, and we've been quite happy together ever since. Below you may see the photograph of her...

Isn't she perfect? It's a shame I won't be able to bring her back with me to America in a few months, which is why we find it so important to value our ever-dwindling time together now. I'm not especially disappointed, though, because I have another absolutely amazing one waiting for me at home, longing for the day we can ride together again. Some may think of me as a nefarious man to have multiple of them spread across the globe, but what can I say? I love bicycles, and bicycles love me.

The first day we were together, we went on one of the most sensational rides of my life. I initially set out to visit an abandoned building found while I was lost a few weeks earlier, but realized that I wanted to ride further than that. I use an application called Strava to track where I go as well as my speed, but my cellular died en-route leaving only part of the data recorded. This portion of my journey is included in the map below, with the green point being the start and the checkered point being where my telephone runs out of battery. In reality, I actually went to the very tip of the outer harbor, which is the peninsula in the upper left corner of the map, West of the Barker Inlet. I went past where it says "North Haven" until I couldn't go any further, about 25 kilometers each way.

There wasn't a single aspect about this ride that wasn't interesting. Recall for a moment, your favorite movie, album, book, any piece of art really. Now, can you remember the first time you experienced it? Think of how new it was, how incredible it ended up being. The very essence of what makes favorites our favorites is that they go above and beyond our expectations, they take everything that we already know and redefine it; and that is precisely what this ride was like.

I began cycling through North Adelaide and down Port Road. When I ride, I don't move through the streets so much as the streets move towards me, revealing themselves as if waiting all this time just to do so. I discovered so many derelict buildings that I ran out of time and energy to explore them all. Because of my accent, I engaged in a lengthy conversation with the owner of an American restaurant specializing in hot dogs and wings, and found out that she is the wife of former NBA player Raheim Brown. I saw the ocean at night for the first time; star-studded night sky colliding with pitch black water evokes serene, satisfied existence as easily as dark nothingness and the inevitability of death.

By the end of my ride, I had traveled over 50 kilometers and established myself into countless scenes for which photos could never do any justice. Even though my time spent near the outer harbor was a memory for the ages, it actually wasn't quite the best ride of my life. Back in 2011 I made a snap decision to take a left down a road I had never traveled before. As it turns out, this road opened me up to the world of urban exploration following my discovery of the abandoned United Crushers grain elevator complex in Minneapolis. Since then, I've began to notice that the structures I explore loosely follow a common theme. Many of the places I visit have some sort of fence or exclusionary zone isolating them from active society. However, some of these fences don't exist in the real world. There are often fences in our consciousness inhibiting our whole being from knowing what it really wants. Whether it be physical or figurative, there's always a gap of separation, a gap that needs to be overcome.

Ever since that fateful day, it's been a strong belief of mine that the unknown, previously unexplored areas in life tend to be the most rewarding; that the path to enlightenment cannot be found on the safe side of the fence. Exploration expands not only our awareness of the physical universe, but also the comfortable perspectives with which we regard it. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required. Action without certainty. Movement devoid of over-thinking.

Large cities are so full of life, culture, and raw existence that it is intimidating to attempt to explore beyond its surface. What I mean by that is even though a city is teaming with content, the majority of its visitors subject themselves to roughly the same 20% that every other tourist experiences. I remember being in Chicago and seeing all the usual stuff, but when I think of Chicago, these aren't the places that come to mind. Rather, it's the neighborhoods that were visible only for a fraction of a second as we zipped past on the train. It's the juxtaposition of graffiti to parkland to factories to houses that, even if only seen for a second, exhibit an inside glance into the livelihood of that particular locale. In that same city I recall seeing a neon sign up on what must have been the 20th story of a skyscraper. It was very late at night, and apparently, within that window was a thrift shop confidently open for business. Seeing this shop open and advertising out of a window 200 feet above the ground perfectly expresses the boundless and unpredictable variety of life in the hearts of these massive cities. Wonders like this are what make Chicago interesting, not its bean.

Sometimes, even the grandest spectacles within a city are trumped by their own icon; they are so overly well known that they have unintentionally shifted into the superficial realm of their city. Say for example, you find yourself in Paris. You can't not see the Eiffel Tower, right? Despite the fact that you've probably seen hundreds of pictures of the Eiffel Tower and that you know exactly what it looks like, suddenly it's on the top of your list of things to see. Now does that make any sense? I certainly don't think so. Sure, go see the Eiffel Tower, but keep in mind that it's probably not going to be the most memorable part of your day. The thing about going to the Eiffel tower is, you're not going to meet any locals that know the truly wondrous sights in Paris, which is big chunk of what traveling is all about. Instead you might realize that you're simply standing around taking pictures of the tower (or heaven forbid, a self picture with it in the background) with a bunch of fellow tourists. You might end up with heaps of photos to show your friends, saying "Hey, on Friday we saw the Eiffel Tower!" and yet later that night you'll probably be thinking to yourself in bed not about the Eiffel Tower, but rather about the French people you met in the coffee shop on the way to Eiffel Tower, the ones that told you about that historic neighborhood in that obscure corner of Paris. Essentially, tourists of the world focus far too much on what they think others would want them to see and not enough on what they don't yet know exist.

Now that I've been to a variety of places around the globe, I often hear travelers talk of how they want to go everywhere. But what good is it if you're just checking places off a list and seeing the same sites that anyone performing a quick google search can see? The matter is further complicated given the notion that, for some, it absolutely can be just as satisfying to do exactly that. But these are the same people that make it a point to show everyone they're traveling instead of emphasizing the experience itself. Americans in particular need help with this concept: traveling isn't merely another commodity to "consume", it is a privilege to learn more about the world, its people, history, and slated future than any classroom setting could ever teach. It's an excuse to find a site you can call your own because you're the only one aware of its existence out of everyone you know. It's an opportunity to discover that new favorite piece of art, that new favorite place. It's opening your mind up to alternate viewpoints; letting the world hack your brain, murder your preconceptions, and shuffle everything you already know up to that point only to redefine it.

If you're traveling somewhere to merely check it off a list, I certainly cannot tell you that you're going for the wrong reasons. But what I can tell you, is that you're probably the type of person who has a bucket list. Personally, I hate bucket lists. They're too limited. They entice the list-maker to focus their endeavors entirely on activities and places that are already known. They don't take into account that often the greatest days in life are the ones that, if you could somehow travel back in time and explain to yourself in the morning where that day would take you and what you would end up doing, you wouldn't believe yourself. These are the days that make life worth living. Throughout my adventure to the outer harbor I felt at peace because I knew it would certainly become one of those days.

In Egypt, I have been told there is now a chain-link fence surrounding the great pyramids of Giza, preventing visitors from entering without first paying admission. Over the years, ancient pyramids have attracted visitors from all over the world, despite most of their original artifacts being looted centuries ago. I would love to visit these pyramids, but they are no where near the top of my list - and that's because I deliberately don't have one. As soon as a list is made, as soon as an itinerary becomes finalized, some of the magic of freely exploring is already lost. I never planned on biking to the outer harbor to see everything I did. I didn't expect to run into two wild dingoes during my journey. I didn't leave looking to find a specific location, I simply traveled Northwest and let the location find me.

It is crucial to remember that a fence works both ways. Although the fence encompassing Giza's pyramids may prevent free access, everything it retains on the outside is irrelevant compared to what it retains on the inside. Of course, this fence does exist to prevent trespassers entering from without, yet many overlook a consequent philosophy fenced within. Along with the pyramids themselves, a sort of twisted ideology radiates from inside the fence. This ideology thrives on preventing world travelers from thinking outside the box, from finding their own favorite locations. As magnificent as ancient pyramids may be, not a single commonplace expedition to see them will ever be as profound as genuine discovery.

Unlike admission to the pyramids, discovery cannot be monetized. The people we love most in life don't charge us money to see them, so why should the places we love be any different? In the end, though, my opinion is trivial. Millions of visitors will pay to see the pyramids this year alone. Millions waiting to go through a gate in the fence, standing in a queue, on a path leading in. But the physical walking path leading into the pyramids is not the only path fenced by the complex; this tangible chain-link fence over tangible path is not the one we need to overcome. Rather, it is a psychological fence yearning to be broken down - a roadblock detracting our drive to explore the uncharted corners of the universe. For on the other side of this abstract fence, the Giza seeks to repress a far more critical path: the path followed by the brain in materializing a dream.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Blind Spots in Communication

On Thursday's I have class at the Magill Campus, 15 or so kilometers East of downtown. Since it begins at 4, the bus system can get busy as it makes its way through town, but luckily isn't too crowded when I get picked up. As I stepped onto the bus, I saw a few empty seats and sat down towards the front. By the time we were a few stops down the road, the bus was getting pretty full, and people started to stand. This was a bit strange to me, premature, really, since there was an extra seat next to me. I saw a man unnecessarily standing nearby and I wanted to tell him that he could sit down. However, it didn't take long for me to realize that there is no easy way of saying that. After all, maybe he just wanted to stand. Regardless, there's no normal way of communicating that to a stranger on a bus if they don't sit down of their own accord.

In a way, it was completely natural for this person to choose not to sit next to me, assuming he would have sat there if all two seats were available. He, like many of us, have developed this mindset of not wanting to cause me (or anyone else who would have be sitting there) discomfort by sitting in the next seat. The strangest part of all, however, is how people have managed to give him that mindset. What is it about the way we live that caused us to be extremely compassionate to the few that we know, and utterly disregard the ones we don't? This bus ride isn't exactly a great example, but let's say I was an acquaintance of his. Would he have stood there anyways? My guess is no, that he would have sat down to talk to me. Unfortunately, there's a distinct line between how people treat strangers and how they treat people they know. I use the word "unfortunate" because many people seem to regard strangers as competition rather than peers on this blue and white marble floating in the milky way somewhere in the infinitely vast universe. And yet, as soon as that stranger appears to be in danger, we rush to help. As soon as someone collapses in the street with a heart attack, ambulances and firefighters rush to save their life. We have systems set up to help complete strangers stay alive regardless of their income or background and yet it is undesirable to sit next to one of them on the bus. Is it instinctual to be suspicious of those we don't know, of the unknown? Have we evolved to assume that we must be competing for the same assets in life? At what point does a stranger cease to be seen as competition and instead be seen as another human being, complete with their own thoughts, problems, memories, and ultimately quite similar to everyone else on earth?

Humans have this incredible ability to empathize with one another, but this ability is not always as straightforward as it seems. During Crew Resource Management class last week, we watched a video summarizing everything that led up to and caused a particular plane crash. It turned out to be a mechanical failure, but when they interviewed one of the air traffic controllers, he said that after seeing the crash he got out of his seat, went downstairs, sat on the stoop and cried. Here he was, crying over the death of someone he had never known due to a crash that was not his, or anyone's fault. This is human compassion at its finest.

Sadly, this compassion of ours comes with a terribly distinct on/off switch. It is a crime to outright kill a dog in the United States, yet completely legal to go out and shoot a deer. So then, who decided which animals are the cute ones, and which ones are tasty and should be hunted? Many of the laws in our society perpetuate this selective compassion without any of us even noticing. The thing is, many of the nasty things that go on in the world would never happen if there wasn't this blind spot in communication. If we could all somehow know everyone's background, their problems, their lives, what their passions are simply by looking at them, the way people interact would fundamentally change. But the terrible truth to life is that we don't see any of these things by looking at someone. We only the see the way they dress, color of their skin, shape of their body, general attractiveness, etc. If there is one change that could extraordinarily improve the world overnight, it would be to grant everyone the ability to thin-slice their perceptions of others based on the dazzling side of their character rather than their superficial appearances.

I know it's impossible to know any of these things when you see someone on the street, but would it be a bad idea to pretend like you did? The book I'm reading right now is called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The main point author Malcolm Gladwell gets at is how decisions made quickly and promptly based on prior intuition can often be as good, if not better than many carefully thought out plans. That many times, haste does not make waste. By avoiding over-analysis we are then able to focus on what originally struck our subconscious' realm of decision making. In this book, there is a section about a successful New Jersey car salesman through the years. As a car salesman, it is imperative for him to judge within the first few moments what kind of customer he is dealing with. For example, is this customer nervous because it's their first time buying a car, or do they know a great deal about cars and would be offended if spoken to with a patronizing tone? Consequently, it was Gladwell's follow up paragraph that struck me most, in which he states, "There is another even more important reason for [the car dealer's] success. He follows, he says, another very simple rule. He may make a million snap judgements about a customer's needs and state of mind, but he tries never to judge anyone on the basis of his or her physical appearance. He assumes that everyone who walks in the door has the exact same chance of buying a car."

That right there is the attitude in which we should regard strangers. As difficult as it sometimes may be, it is absolutely crucial to avoid prejudging people. Given the situation, it is important to get a sense of how the person is feeling and their general mindset, but as soon as these judgments come based on physical appearance alone, all bets are off. Someone you dismiss because they look a certain way could have ended up a close friend, while another who's appearances you were infatuated with could only be there to take advantage of you. Ultimately, this all requires an incredibly open mind. To be able to eliminate all preconceptions and focus on the state of the person in front of you is incredibly difficult tool to access and maintain, but vastly beneficial when mastered.

In Blink, the car salesman assumes that everyone who walks into the dealership has the exact same chance of buying a car, regardless of what they look like. As global citizens, we need to adopt this concept as well. Only instead of people walking into a car dealership, they're walking into our lives.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Let It Happen


Since my residence is situated in downtown Adelaide, it's difficult to go right out and immediately take a jog. Given the population density, I prefer to to walk for a few minutes North until I get to the surrounding parkland, and assume a faster pace from there.

On my way to the parklands, I noticed something that I see every day but have never given much thought. There's this hotel nearby, and the ground level is a large bar, with an outdoor patio encompassing it. Every day when I walk past, there's always quite a few people sitting outside, drinking. More often than not, there's at least one table with a single person sitting at it, alone. Usually it is a man, so for writing purposes I'll refer to this person as a "he". To me, he always appears to be the most interesting person in the entire establishment. Drinking, it seems, tends to be a social activity. So what kind of person comes down to this particular hotel, or any for that matter, to drink while sitting outside by themselves? Especially since the patio is almost always full, I bet there is background pressure from people wondering why he needs a whole table to himself. I thought about this person while walking to the park, and I still couldn't quite understand what he's on about. Could it be that he's so satisfied with life, that a simple beer outdoors while alone and yet surrounded by people means for a lovely afternoon? Could it be that he's simply waiting for someone else? Perhaps he just likes to be alone. Either way, I sometimes wish I was outgoing enough to stop, sit down, and ask, "Why are you here right now and why do you seem so interesting?"

And yet, maybe the reason he does so is in hoping that one day someone will come by and ask that very question.

At any rate, I finally got to the park and started my jog. Usually when people go on jogs, they know where they're going since it's near where they live. Even though this is near where I live, I didn't know where I was going. And that was the best part. Not only was I running for fun, but the world around me hadn't revealed itself yet. It's like being in a video game when you finally get to that new level. It could have been anything.

At its core, I enjoy rollerblading, biking, walking, running, anything outside to be accompanied with music. These activities are all powerful in their own ways because suddenly, the world becomes my music video. Suddenly, I don't feel like time is an entity out of my control; the world stops and goes to my rhythm.

Once I reached a relatively quiet area in the park, I decided to shut my eyes for as long as I could stand. Why did I do such a peculiar thing? Well, I closed my eyes and continued running for about 15 seconds straight just to see what would happen. Free will is a wonderful thing because it allows us to do whatever we want. At times, though, it's hard not to think about the possibility that everything is a pre-determined, precisely thought out simulation. When I do something odd, often it's to test this theory out. I recall a time long ago sitting at home trying to debunk this theory. I thought to myself, "If life is predetermined, maybe if I unexpectedly jump up, run around the house three times and jump back onto the couch I'll throw off the fixed schedule of the universe and break the cycle of being controlled." So then, I would do just that, but when I finished, nothing changed. I would wonder, did I really just decide to do that? Or did somebody cause me to decide to do that? It's impossible to know for sure, but the most valuable point I learned from this was not to become overly comfortable with my conclusions, or anyone's for that matter. As small children, we're led to believe that our presents at Christmas come from a fat, white haired toy maker from the north pole. For a long time, this is what we know and believe. But at what point does this start to seem strange? At what point do we realize that life isn't what we thought it was? On a larger scale, this could even be true about many aspects of our current society. The world itself could be vastly different than what current humans perceive it to be, but maybe none of us live long enough for our brains to realize something isn't quite right. Life as we know it could be the "Santa Clause is real period", while the universal truth is never fully realized until death. I'm not saying free will doesn't exist, nor am I siding with The Beatles by saying nothing is real. What I am saying, however, is to avoid regarding the "truths" of life with complacency. Because at one point in your life, you were convinced of Santa's existence.

When I was younger, I was put through swimming lessons at the old Como Pool. Every few sessions, I remember our instructor would have us put our heads below the water and see who could go without a breath for the longest. When it comes to things like this, our bodies react in such a way that makes us come up before we can pass out or drown. It senses that it's without oxygen, it does what it needs to do to get back to that oxygen. When we had these contests, there were no prizes. But let's say the winner gets a million dollars. Would things have changed? Would kids have passed out underwater, out willing their lungs just because of the high stakes? I've never seen a contest like that, but my guess is that everyone might stay under for a little bit longer, though none would pass out. The thing is, when our bodies sense that it's nearing death, instinct kicks in. If your feet are on solid ground and no one is holding your head underwater, you can't simply decide to drown.

I've found that there is a distinct and peculiar difference between these underwater breath tests and closing my eyes while running. I know for sure that closing my eyes can't kill me. I know that I picked a good spot in the park to run, where the worst thing that could happen is falling over. So why does my body's instinct kick in and open up my eyes? The moment I closed them I immediately felt unsure of myself, unsure of my safety. Even though I could feel the same path under my feet the entire time, I began to slow down and unknowingly take strange strides. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep up my pace when my eyes were closed. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep them closed for more than several seconds at a time. My body wouldn't allow it. This to me, is quite interesting. I understand how our bodies would react to something like drowning, but having our eyes closed? When a person is about to drown, their body reacts because it knows something is wrong. After all, it can't breathe. But when I close my eyes and run down a straight path with absolutely no one on it, my body reacts because it thinks something could go wrong. It knows that without vision, proceeding at such a pace could prove dangerous, so my eyes open even though I'm trying to keep them closed.


I would have never had such a dazzling reflection during my run if I had never decided to close my eyes just to see what would happen, which is what I'm really getting at: doing things just to see what would happen afterwords. We all do things, make decisions every day for various reasons, mainly because it's what we want to do or is what fits in with our personality. But when was the last time you knowingly did something just to see what would happen? I've noticed that the world is so new to small children that they do these odd things here and there just see how everything works. My question is, why do we stop at a certain age? To this day I find myself doing peculiar things just to see what everyone's reaction to it would be. What would happen if I made this surprising noise in front of this particular person? How about in front of this other person I know quite well? What would happen if I went to the drinking fountain, filled my mouth up with water, let the water fall out onto the carpet in front of everyone doing their homework, then continued walking back to my room without blinking an eye? These may sound silly to a lot of people, even like pranks. It actually is comical to me, some of the reactions, but that's not why I do it. I do it because I want to find out more about the people it happens to.

As in my previous entry, Within and Without, I'm discovering other people's personalities not based on direct communication, but by observing their reactions to strange, uncontrollable happenings. Instead of asking, "Hey, are you a prick, or are you actually fun to be around?" I can walk past them with heaps of water falling out of my mouth to find out right then and there. If the person laughs or doesn't even notice, they're probably either easy going or fun-loving. If the person is surprised and gets taken aback, he/she probably doesn't know me very well and is simply stunned. If the person gets upset and tells me to clean it up, I know they're probably either uptight or just an unpleasant person. I mean, who cleans up water? However, I haven't gotten to the worst type of person yet. Or at least, the worst reaction. These are the people who just sit there, unfazed, and utter the worst words one could possibly utter in such a situation, "Why would you do that?". I'm not talking about the people who laugh and find it so amusing that they want to know how I executed such a strange display of comedy. In that case, I see why someone would want to ask that. But no, I'm talking about the ones who just sit there with a scowl on their face and are so pissed off that people do out-of-the-ordinary things that he/she automatically assumes something is wrong with me. I'm warning you now, steer clear of these people. They're the ones who cut people off on their way to work because they think that where they have to be is more important. They're the ones who complain to servers at inappropriate times because they think they should be given the most attention. They're the ones sitting in an airplane's business class grumbling and complaining about how long it takes for the economy travelers to get to their seats. In a nutshell, these are the people that think they're better than everyone else. And you can bet that people like this are the ones living a mundane lifestyle because at a premature age they forgot what it means to do something just to see what happens afterwords. They've stopped wondering what happens and accepted life as a fixed, tedious world in which everyone must be like everyone else and those who are not are merely an inconvenience. It's amazing how much can be correctly deduced about someone based entirely from their reactions.

When I returned from the jog, the loner at the patio was gone. Something about his absence struck a chord with me, and I had a sudden memory. Back when I saw him, in addition to drinking a beer he was also smoking a cigarette. I don't know what it is about that combination, but if a guy is sitting on a patio alone while smoking cigarette's and drinking beer, you just know he showed up by himself. And that's when I realized why this person is so interesting. He was sitting there, letting Adelaide play out in front of him as an observer. He was watching because he wanted to know what would happen if he were to just sit there and not give a damn about anything at all.

So yes, it is okay to not give a damn about a lot of things, because even if you try not to care, the mind never shuts off completely. Thinking never stops. Reflection cannot be paused. Sometimes it's best to sit out there in the sunlight just to watch the world and see life as it happens, to remember what it feels like to be alone. And sometimes you may find yourself all alone on a patio bench in the middle of downtown Adelaide. Maybe, as you observe South Australia's capital city, you become dissatisfied with the way something in this world works, realizing change, however small, is in order. Who knows what this change could be, or bring about? And if you don't want to change South Australia, if you don't want to change the world, that's fine too. But aren't you curious just to see what would happen if you did?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Socio-Economic Justifications of Fast Food Ordering

One evening while we were sitting up on the 7th floor outdoor lounge, two of my friends came back with food from Hungry Jack's, which is exactly like Burger King. What I mean by this is that when Burger King tried to expand into Australia, there was already a restaurant here named "Burger King". So to avoid legal conflict, Burger King as we known it had to go by a different name in the land down under.

Anyways, it was Julian and Antony that came back with varying amounts of food from the same locale. Julian bought two smaller burgers from the value menu, while Antony had a large whopper with fries and a coke. When I asked them how much their meals cost, Julian said each of his burgers costed around $2, though Antony said he was quite hungry and therefore was willing to pay more for his meal, which costed around $12. As they both silently munched on their food, another question crossed my mind.

"So what's the difference between your two burgers" I asked. "I mean, other than size, Antony's must be of higher quality, given the cost."

After a long sip of coke, Antony responded in his natural British accent, "No... I think they're more or less the same... I guess I just wanted a bigger burger."

I'm no economist, but this whole scene reminded me of a cost-benefit analysis I've always had about fast food restaurants regarding their value menus. "Well, you said you were quite hungry, right? If you think about it, you could have ordered 5 or 6 of the same burgers Julian got for the same price as you originally paid for the large meal. As long as you don't mind bringing your own drink from your room and skipping the fries, this seems to be the more valuable choice, doesn't it?"

Antony paused from eating and thought about this for several seconds. After considering his own justifications, he finally said quite flatly, "Well... I guess I don't like to think that I just ate 5 burgers."

Fair enough.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Outside of it

Public transit is the ideal opportunity for me to interact, observe, and analyze. Today was one of the first few times taking the bus in Adelaide, though the subject of this entry has more to do with what happens outside of it. As we were heading down North Terrace, our bus stopped for a moment at a red light and I noticed a peculiar scene from across the boulevard. There was another bus pulled over on the busy street, and for some reason there were passengers on board but no driver. It took me a moment to realize that the driver was outside on the sidewalk, waving and calling out to an elderly woman trying to cross from the median towards the bus. He was asking if she needed a ride. She nodded her head and waved back. After the remaining cars passed, the woman crossed the street and made her way onto the bus with the driver's assistance. The driver then got back in and lurched the bus forward.

I always consider it important to look beyond the easy perspective, the one that says he was being a friendly bus driver going the extra step to ensure his passengers were boarded. I saw it slightly differently. The era of fast cars, busy schedules and city living has created a rush culture. It's not that I don't see people stop to smell the roses; I see people not knowing that the roses exist because the roses don't possess immediate personal benefits, there's no price tag on them, and they come without instant gratification. I fall victim of this sometimes as well, such as when someone hands me a flyer in the street to see their show or whatever it is they do. It's uncomfortable to put life on pause for the sake of a stranger. It's impossible to support everyone, to stray from the plan and attend every flyer event. Yet one of the most telling qualities I've observed from people is their reactionary kindness or lack thereof. Yes, it's possible the bus driver was already stopped, saw the lady, thought about it for half a minute, then decided to get out and say something, but I doubt that was the case. I truly believe that upon noticing the woman unable to cross because of wave after wave of cars, he simply reacted to the situation. Despite the fixed bus schedule, despite the possibility of unpleasant passengers grumbling due to the delay, the driver pushed aside the pressures of the world for just a moment to focus on a tiny sliver of it: the old lady. It's not enough to be "nice" anymore. Everyone is "nice". Character is much more than doing the right thing given time and a plan of action. Truly noble citizens posses the predisposition to do so on a moments notice.

So ask yourself this: if given a split second decision, are you the bus driver? Or are you the one that averts your eyes, keeps driving, and at the end of the day recalls a random memory of an old lady standing in the median, unable to get across to the bus stop. And while you wonder if it really was her stop, you become overtaken by the sudden, unforgiving realization that you were just too complacent to act out of bounds and find out...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Within and Without

My residence has an outdoor lounge on its 7th floor, overlooking Adelaide's lofty cityscape. The view is superb day or night, but it is especially intriguing at night. The skyline is not lit up as well as many American cities (Minneapolis vs. Adelaide), but the interesting part is looking down at the streets, the people, the nightlife.

Life is presented in first-person, therefore it is difficult to imagine what we look like to other people. When I look down at Hindley Street at night, I like to pick out a person from the crowd and imagine what they see. It's similar to this thing I've done for years, and it all started because I got bored of observing the same interest point as everyone else. I've found that it's more captivating to pay attention to the immediate, instantaneous reactions from an event than the event itself. For example, when I'm in a room with a group of people, and someone enters the room; the door opens, a noise ensues, and everyone looks to see who just entered. Instead of looking at the door to find out who or what is entering, I try to look into the eyes of someone else already in the room. Based on their reaction, what can I conclude about the situation? Are they visibly affected by the person entering the room? Do they start to smile, recognizing the person who walked in? For a moment, I imagine life through their eyes. It's not an easy task to get to know someone through direct communication alone. Often, I've noticed it's their reactions to other things, usually uncontrollable, that give away the most striking aspects of their personality. The next time you're at a firework show, drop your attention from the fireworks for a moment to focus on someone else's gaze. Are they visibly entranced by the fireworks, or do they immediately notice you looking at them? Or perhaps they're already looking at you, either in love or wondering what your own eyes tell them about your world...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

5 Paragraph Essay

Sometimes it takes being in a new place, knowing no one, and having no place to call home to find out where you stand in life. I'm still not sure if I'm frightened or pleased that I can walk down the street, passing hundreds of people and yet not a single person within thousands of miles knows that I exist. As an onlooker in a foreign city, this is how life would be, how life would appear regardless if I'm here or not. Summer in Australia is happening before my eyes, but would it happen if I closed them? Would it keep happening even if I wasn't here? Sure it would. Exactly how it's happening now.

In this world it is possible to exist as a ghost, and it is possible to lose touch with reality via the push of a button or tap of a screen. Regardless, everyone changes the future along with others' lives simply by existing. I don't mind existing in this particular realm, because as I view my current surroundings, maybe there's somebody out there observing me or my environment as well. And as I sit here, anonymously riding the bus, I realize that it's a temporary state. That no matter how long you choose to be a spectator, eventually someone is going to throw you into the game. So why wait for the coach to put you in when the lineup card is in your hands?

There is a reason why many don't believe in ghosts: because they can't fathom the possibility that they're hiding in living people, amongst us in everyday life. They're the outsiders, the foreigners, the homeless, the overlooked aspects of society. And though they may not cross our minds throughout the day, they're out there living life just like the rest of us.

Today the internet is awash with photos to show every place, every view, every discoverable corner Earth has to offer, solving one problem while creating another. With the sudden ease of information access, many forget about the adventure along the way. We can now get from point A to point B faster than ever at the expense of overlooking the area in between. But perhaps the greatest tragedy is allowing oneself to lose the will to discover, the will to endeavor without automation. The world doesn't stop when nobody around knows you exist, it stops when we fail to advance it.

I step out of the bus and into it.