Travels in the 1st person, singular

Sometimes it’s lonely to live with all the pretty images in my head.

To see the beams of the log cabin with the red corrugated roof, close to where the earth tumbles in sodden chunks into the seasonal riverbed

To see through to the tilted metal stove with a circle cut from the top, the perfect size to rest a cast-iron pot in.

The golden crunchy crust of the sourdough, a tang you smell even before pushing through the wood-and-aluminum door, the door always open on days when the sun shines.

You don’t notice the horizon of snowy peaks until, turning from the heavenly smells hovering on the stove, you look out the way you came in— unnamed mountains fade in and out of the blindingly blue sky.

Endless space can be dizzying, the freedom of nothingness can be terrifying and awesome.

There are a few bikes resting at seemingly random tilts on the grass, a few horses tied loosely to the clothesline, a few dogs lazing about, watching.

The sourdough taste still sticks to my palate and makes my mouth water. My senses put me in the damp grass, water-filled rainboots slowly warming as my feet cool. I wish i could share with you the clean smoke smell of a wood fire in a metal stove with the bread crisping on top. The thin sour-sweet smell of reindeer milk drying on hands, and the chill of the wind on the wet curly baby hairs that line my temples.

Let me take you there, where the road, such as it is, ends, and the water stands knee deep on the hill.

Close your eyes and I’ll take you there,

To the pretty spot in Mongolia I still see with my eyes closed

At the boundary

Rainy day today, feels about right. I miss Myanmar more each time: border crossings leave little time for reflection or a quiet parceling out of emotions, smells, things to leave or the things we carry forward.

No longyis, an immediate jolt

And faces without thanaka

As I am shepherded through narrow immigration channels and across a characterless no-mans-land and across that arbitrary line where Thailand begins, rising like a wall

Invisible in the air

Another day ticks forward and the distance between us and Cambodia shrinks down a little more,

Not that I’m counting.

After all, rainy days are for taking stock of the things

Before the rain,

And the things we carry after the storm.

Yangon, Myanmar

I love the city. You forget about the intransigent smell of betel nut until you touch down in Yangon and step out into the neighborhood. It permeates the street life anywhere people are talking, exhaled in fumes as grinning red lips part over red teeth. Ominous spatters on the sidewalk aren’t blood.
Yangon is different from other cities in Asia. Bustling but laid back, it feels like Burmese culture is not so much “preserved” as it is thriving. The longyi is still standard attire. It feels satisfying to glimpse a narrow-hipped man in a classic green longyi doing construction work, or someone in a white button-up, still crisp despite the heat, walking to tea or the office. People still stop in the middle of what is now a busy road to pay respects on their knees to Sule Pagoda. Palm sugar (with coconut!), tea leaf salad, beef in brown sauce, and plenty of veggie dishes. And milk tea morning, noon, and night.

In Yangon, visit Shwedagon Pagoda at night. Golden spires in builded light on every side. I walked circles around, tracing the days of the week. Wednesday in two elephants. A older novice in burgundy robes rests on one of the many ledges, cell phone in hand. A group of young novice boys chat animatedly near a stupa.

The sweaty day fades with the sun, and the mostly-dark streets show the movements of street vendors closing up and heading home. A few rat shapes dart between trash piles, and dogs take up their napping positions along the doorways.

Yangon is a city of change and tradition, and it has a different feel each time I return. I stare out over the low rooftops, waiting for this semester’s gap students to step out into the sense-rich city.

Living somewhere

Living somewhere is 80% a frame of mind. I’ve lived places though I’ve been there only two weeks, and I haven’t lived in places where I’ve spent months at a stretch. It’s about wanting to be somewhere, of deciding to “be” there, of investing in relationships and habits in the space where you are.

Right now, I live in Cambodia. I’ve only been there two weeks this time, true, and I’ll be gone with work for two-plus months before I’m back, but it feels like home.

I’ve rented a room in a house with a dope roommate, have a gym membership and am *besties* with some of the trainers, and feel comfortable jetting around the city via motorbike.

What a weird feeling! For most of the last three years, I haven’t had an answer to the question “where do you live?” I would reply here-and-there, or say where I’m originally from, or that I crash at my mom’s house when I’m not in asia. But I haven’t really lived anywhere since China, anyways, almost 3 years ago now. In that mostly-nomadic time since my college graduation, I’ve learned so much about myself through transience. From China I learned that outdoor space can be personal space; you can nap anywhere; and temples are a great place for some mental alone-time even when surrounded by people. From nomadic mongolia I learned the true importance of making every possession “do work.” From living in hostels and bungalows across southeast asia I learned to pack and repack constantly, streamlining the process and managing organization in the midst of chaos.

And it is with these nomadic skills honed, my possessions slimmed to the mostly-necessary, that I am excited to indulge in the act of hanging clothes in a wardrobe, of making or not making my bed and having it stay that way, of putting a buddha and incense in a small corner of the room that will be mine for _____. Even nomads stay in one place for a little while. My place, for now, is on a quiet red-dirt track off of National Road 6 just a few minutes from the temples of Angkor. Come and visit! I hope to stay a while.

For Fear Of

For Fear Of

Communism
How many lives have been needlessly squashed in the dirt for fear of

The Other
Different foods, clothes, customs
Where I lay my head is home but where you lay your head is
Different
Palates on the color wheel covering the same tongue
Kidneys
One or two

One heart
Blood red or blue

Self
How many chances have I held in my fingertips, running their unmade reels across the insides of my eyelids
As their paper-thin birth certificates slide soundlessly through to the dustbin of history below

Some of these caves hold ten thousands more
Glasses take years to decompose;
Bodies faster;
Ethics faster still

How many times will I let myself die

For fear

Of the other

We are the greatest Frenemy

We are the greatest Frenemy.

“American Exceptionalism”
I have it too, on the surface
But
When I have to think about it

Leading this trip across SE Asia.
Indochina, we once called it,
that green forest on the map between India and China,
unknowable in its own right

Unfathomably bloodied from American Exceptionalism,
Still working on making bootstraps to pull itself up by,
But bootstraps account for 90% of exports.
I guess US “support” wasn’t really supportive:

(Support of pro-Western leaders regardless
of the desires of the people.
Support of anti-communist leaders regardless
of moral fitness)

Support of weakened and dependent nation-states in the Pacific Theater.
Now Playing: With Your Unknown Lives.
You know what they say, knowing is caring and caring is bad business.

Protect and preServe our 1%.
Our bottom line
“No More American Deaths”
Outside of America, that is.
Carry on with the ones inside the border.

We are the Frenemy.

We whisper support to trusting minorities with our fingers crossed behind our backs
Holding out for the bell
Before sudden and complete amnesia strikes and we’ve had asian food once this week already, so find another friend at the lunch table.

Growing and moulding people like gourds in a garden, ready to be plucked and sent anywhere at the smallest justification.

(Thai paratroopers. Hmong paramilitary. Chiang Kai Shek’s anti-communists. Tibetans. Black American infantry.)

Perishable and expendable.
Perishable goods have a Use By date.

I want to save american lives too. But not at the expense of other lives.
Not “Except American-ism.” Not inperilism.

There is

Each human face anchors me.

Draws a silken thread to fill in the web a bit more.

Alone, we are fragile; together, strong–

that first lesson after death.

I travel because to live is to know life.

To learn as much as we can from every angle of our Human face

and with this knowing, rejoice in our difference like an endless table of flavors spread out before us.

“Universal Truths”

A white man’s existential crisis

Thrown into relief as the complexities of culture pass in front of the first flame

In a cathedral in England, probably,

Though the silent bones in a hundred frozen tussocks would beg to differ.

Nuance flickers more starkly in the cave of knowledge. Throw these “universal truths” to the ground and start again,

only This time our humanity is the drawing board.

Wake up

to news of an explosion in bangkok, a wedding in peru, a woman finally educated on family planning in myanmar. These people’s lives tug gently where they anchor in my skull; their hopes and fears and landscapes bob in the waters encircling my mind, carving out the angles of a face.

Strive harder to create representations of all people in the world. We are a young girl nestled in a ger on the steppe. We can find role models and changemakers who look like her, in appearance and in spirit. Draw strength not only from the human qualities which bring us all together but from the sheer possibility for difference, for innovation, for infinite permutations of the human spirit.