Sunday, August 20, 2017

Conversations with the World in a Peruvian Beach Hotel

The Peruvian grandmother, who worked at the hotel, was excited one morning and was telling everyone that she met some Mexicans. I asked her, "What did they want?"

"To take a shower," she answered.

"And did you charge them?"

"I did."

"And did they pay?"

"They did."

After telling me, she went around the hotel telling people that she met some Mexicans, who were asking for a shower.

I haven't met any Mexicans in Peru; so, I guess it was rare for them to come this small beach town.

On the weekend, the hotel had a full house. And full houses bring a new life to a place and gives it a different energy. It becomes alive.

* * *

Another day, a 27 year old Australian guy from the Northern Territory came. He was tall and had a clueless feel to him.

He talked to me some. I told him I went to the Norther Territory before. (For those of you who don't know, it's just south of Indonesia.) It's sweltering hot, and Crocodile Dundee was filmed there. The capital is Darwin.

I found out he was an electrician.

Grandmother tried to speak to him in Spanish. But because he was only traveling for a few months, he couldn't communicate well with her.

One day she asked me in Spanish, "Where's your Australian friend?" We speak in Spanish.

"He's not my friend," I told her.

"His Spanish isn't clear."

"That's because he's Australian. You know, Americans are smarter than Australians." (I should have also told Grandma that originally, criminals founded Australia.)

"Is that so?"

"Yup, Americans are smarter than them." I smile. (Being that I'm part New Zealander, have to do my duty to Australians. We used to say at work that when Kiwis left New Zealand, that they did the world a favor. The average IQ of both countries went up.)

* * *

Another day, a French couple comes. They're older, in their 60's. I liked them.

I met the wife first in the kitchen. I was drinking a glass of Chilean wine. I liked her. She could have been any mother of a white picket fence community. It was like going to my friend's house in the suburbs and having dinner with them. I poured her a glass and offered it to her.

She took it. Drank it. Liked it.

We talked. She told me about her travels in the Pacific. How they lived in France. How they were tired of traveling for several months and didn't want to go to the nearby tomb museum. (I mentioned it on the blog post.)

I told her I went to France. I lectured in Aix en Provence in the South. But I didn't tell her what I lectured on.

She tells me they're from the South as well.

After dinner, her husband met me in the lobby. I offered him a glass of wine. I offered her another glass. They both took it. Drank it. And liked it. The husband looked a lot like my lawyering mentor.

They traveled most of their lives. They asked what I do.

I said, "I quit my job. I took a sabbatical."

The guy told me, "I did that too, when I was 34."

I smiled and asked him: "Why?"

He then tells me something cool: "I told myself when I die, I want to say I knew the world. So, that's why I travel a lot."

They're very lovely people. I keep pouring the wine until it's all gone. They speak good English and tell me about their time in the Pacific islands. They lived and worked near Fiji. They told me their favorite places.

They're scuba divers. They retell me their favorite dive sites.

And the husband says, "There's a great one in Australia. I forgot the name. It's off Townsville."

"The Yongala?" I ask. The Yongala is the ghost ship wreck. The huge boat got caught in a storm and sank it. The crew all died. It landed in a place with many currents, and turned into a kind of reef. The fish and other animals grow to epic proportions. Apparently, you can still see the skull of a crew member on the wreck, though I didn't see it. I did, however, pick up a sea snake (the most venomous snake in the world) that was almost as thick as a coke litter bottle. The fish were as huge as a VW beetle.

"That's it," they both say. They're smiling and happy I recalled it for them.

"That's my favorite dive spot. I did it twice. I was in my early twenties then," I say.

"Oh, we did it too! It was great! The fish were just huge," the wife says.

I think what's the odds I met someone who dove perhaps the greatest shipwreck in the world. They told me about other shipwrecks they did, but they still loved the Yongala the most.

I said, "The problem with me is that I dove all these great sites when I was younger. I was doing my field work in Australia then. Now, everything isn't as great as the places I started in.

"Anyways, do you like coffee?"

The wife says, "Of course, but we gave away our good coffee in Cusco. It's the end of our trip."

"Not to worry," I say. "I'll brew you some tomorrow."

We chat until we're tired and ready to go to bed. Then, I say in French: "Good night." And hug them.

Grandmother watched our conversation. Even though she doesn't know English - it appears like she got the gist of what we're talking about.

* * *

The next morning, I wake up late, which is usual. I can't find the French couple. I go to the kitchen and brew some coffee.

They find me in the kitchen. The lady says, "We tried to find you. But the hotel owner said you were still sleeping."

"I sleep a lot," I say. "It's what keeps me looking so young."

They laugh. I laugh too. "What about coffee?"

"Oh, we already drank coffee."

They gave me breads, and she says, "We got this for you. It's very good bread."

My heart warms up, and I say, "Thank you very much. You didn't have to do that. Let's have a seat at the lounge. I'll pour you some more coffee. There's never enough."

I take three cups and the coffee pot. We walk to the dining area. I pour all of us a cup of coffee.

The husband tells me more about his life. The wife marks up my guidebook and tells me where to go in Peru. She writes down her contact information and tells me that if they're in, to visit them in the South of France.

I said, "I will. What are you going to to today?"

They tell me they're going to the Tomb museum after all.

We talk more, but after awhile though, it was time to say good bye.

I tell them in French, "Until we see each other again."

The wife says, "Oh, you speak some French."

I tell her, "Just a little. Some French tourists liked me on the Galapagos and started teaching me French."

She smiles.

We kiss and hug and say good bye.

* * *

One day, the owner of the hotel gives me a ride to the two neighboring villages. It was there, I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

I ask him, "How did Isabel lose her land?"

"The mafia took it."

"But how? I didn't understand her."

"They falsified papers and claimed it was really their land."

"Why didn't she get a lawyer?"

"Because the courts are controlled by the mafia. You need to watch the movie on Pablo Escobar to understand how it all works."

That's when I finally got to the bottom of Grandma's story. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Captured by the Religious at an Ostrich Ranch

Emu grabbing me.
I regretted going with the Peruvian newlyweds to the Ostrich Ranch, near a beach. It was a mistake, because once they got me, they tried to convert me, and they tried really hard to convert me. I wouldn't have any of it.

At the hotel lobby, a Peruvian man approached me and asked if I wanted to go with him and his wife to a tourist site. I would have usually said, No, but because I thought it would be an opportunity for my Spanish to improve, I went with them.

They seemed happy and merry, in a way only newly weds could be. The wife spoke fluent English. The husband asked me if I was Korean. He spoke some Korean.

I find it interesting that so many people in Peru guess that I'm Korean and not Filipino. In the States, I always get asked if I'm Filipino. I've been asked if I was Columbian and Ecuadorian too. I guess I can pass for any race of a third world country and perhaps some first world ones too.

The husband was so proud of himself that he lived in Korea for three years. He told me all about it. They were also surprised I could speak and understand Spanish. I told them it was mandatory for me to learn in high school.

And I hated learning Spanish in my high school Sierra Vista, mainly because the Spanish teachers, Peterson and Ellis, were such terrible people. My Spanish teacher was Marilyn Ellis - and her daughter tragically died in a drunk driving accident while I went to school there. We genuinely all felt bad for her when it happened.

Unfortunately, she kept teaching instead of taking time off. And one time in class, a student, who was admittedly lazy, didn't do his work. She said in front of the whole class, "It should have been you that died - not my daughter."

She was a real nut. Her daughter was a law student at Pepperdine Law School when she died. I told her once I wanted to go to law school too. And she told me that I would never make it to a better law school than her daughter. (From what I know, UCLA was and is ranked a lot higher than Pepperdine, and I was the first one from Baldwin Park to ever attend UCLA Law. Oh yeah, by the way, the Ellis family came from wealth; she never told us though if it was old or new wealth.)

I'm writing this story, because this was the kind of education I received in Baldwin Park. I'm sure if a teacher told a student you should be dead in Beverly Hills High - some form of reprimand would be in order. But in short, Baldwin Park teachers were abusive to their students and kicked them down rather often to hold them in place from advancement. No wonder US News reported that Baldwin Park's education system ranks as some of the worst in California.

Back to Peru. They took me to an ostrich ranch. They were eager to eat there because they never ate ostrich meat. I told them that the meat would be red, like steak. Ostrich was more like beef than chicken.

When the food came out, it looked like a bloody steak. They also ordered an omelet, which was huge. They asked me to eat some. I said I would, but just a little.

I told them I had an ostrich omelet before. It was in Australia - when I was a university student doing fieldwork in the outback. We stayed on a cattle ranch, but they also owned an ostrich. The ranch cooked us up an ostrich egg omelet - which was the size of 25 chicken eggs.

I remember it being a bit too old, and I had diarrhea later from eating it. The best memory I have of that Australian ranch was when a flock of Apostle Birds descended on us. They're owls, but they're called Apostle Birds, because they come in twelves, like Jesus and his disciples. They were very amusing - and they watched us eat dinner over the campfire.

The Jehovah's Witnesses brought their own wine. Their "sister" made it. It was good, but it didn't taste commercial.

I made a toast. But they refused to clink their glasses. Then they told me they were Jehovah's Witnesses, because it was pagan in origin. (Note to self: Don't trust people who don't toast.)

Oh no, I thought. I wish I could run away. Why did I come with them?

Then they asked me to go to one of their services back in their hometown. The guy explained he was in Korea because he was studying the Bible there.

Then they gave me this big lecture on heaven.

And I thought to myself, Whatever they think heaven is, I don't want to be there.

I was hostage. And then I had to hear them talk about inner peace. And it was so boring to hear this talk.

They told me how inner peace was better than drinking and smoking and drugs.

So, I told them, "But God made tobacco."

"No, Paul," she said. "God didn't make it."

"Oh yes, he did. And he made cocaine too."

"No, Paul, but that's all artificial. And it's temporary."

"It all grows naturally. When I was in Iquitos, I chewed on cocaine leaves. I didn't feel anything, but it grew from a tree.

"Also, if you do it every day, it's no longer temporary. Then why have inner peace?"
Interesting lighting on the ranch

The lady didn't like that I was outarguing her, and doing it to spite them. I couldn't believe I fooled for it. They captured me.

Well - we then went on a tour of the ranch. Our guide was a young Hispanic guy. The lady asked him, "Are you Mexican?"

He said, "No. Why do you think so?"

"Because you used a Mexican phrase."

I felt that his heart was beating faster and that his body language reflected nervousness. I could feel my heart beating faster too. She caught him, and she didn't even know it. (I think he was a fugitive too, but perhaps I'm just too imaginative.)

Well, he gave us a good tour. I understood almost all of it. There were Australian emus and Peruvian emus and African ostriches. One thing I learned was that African ostriches have a powerful immune system. I never learned that before.

More effects of lighting.
After, the guy wanted another omelet. Because there were clouds and the setting was designed for it, I took some self-portraits because the lighting was so different on the ranch. I wonder if Spielberg knew how to get this kind of lighting.

Afterwards, we went to a small beach nearby. There were a number of abandoned boats on the sand.

I took photos for them, because it was their honeymoon. They kept asking me to go to their religious meeting. I didn't want to go. And they weren't getting the point.

After the sun started setting, they took me back to the hotel. I was tired from being around them. So, I took a nap.

* * *

When I woke up, grandma was working at the hotel, so I started talking to her.

Some Peruvian beach with abandoned boats.
I told her, "I went to the ostrich ranch."

She said, "You did? Did you like it?"

"Yeah." I showed her a few pictures of it on my iPhone. Then I said, "The couple took me. They're Jehovah's Witnesses."

"Witnesses what?"

"Jehovah's Witnesses."

"Oh, Jehoavh's Witnesses. They are?!"

"Yeah, and they're crazy. They just keep talking about taking me to church. Why would I want to go to their church? Crazy is crazy."

She just said, "Mmmmmm..." and nodded.

"They just got married."

"Is that so?"

"Yup. He's from Chiclayo. She's from Lima."

"Oh?"

"But they're crazy. Because they just want me to go to their church. I don't want to go."

Anyways, I tried to reflect and think through all the signs of how to spot a Jehovah's Witness behaves, so that doesn't happen to me ever again. I wouldn't mind going with some normal, kind people to the ostrich ranch, but no more going with people who intend to convert me.

(And I probably wouldn't have been so annoyed with these Witnesses, had they not been so deceptively nice in the beginning. Their only intent (or at least it felt to me) was to convert me.)
I look like the character in the video game, Assassin's Creed.

My client says the cat looks evil.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Funny Conversation with a Peruvian Grandmother

Photo by Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos
I took a break from Chiclayo and went to the beach and stayed at a beautiful hotel that only cost me less than $11 a day. I was the first person to stay in the new room. I didn't really do much at my days at the beach: I ran on the beach, read, watched movies, studied Spanish grammar, napped, ate, drank, and talked with this Peruvian Grandmother. She was funny.

At the hotel there worked a grandmother who liked to talk to me. Whenever I went down to the lobby to use the wifi, she would just sit next to me and start talking to me in Spanish. It forced me to put my computer away and talk to her.

She asked me where I was from. I said the United States.

She asked "Why I had Chinito [Chinese] eyes then?"

"Because my parents were born in Korea. What's your name?"

She said, "Me? Isabel."

I said, "Isabel is a beautiful name. It was the name of a queen in Spain."

"Si, and she married Fernando."

"And Fernando was a weak king. Isabel was the most powerful queen of Spain. She sent Christopher Columbus."

"Yes, and he took over South America and stole our gold."

"I saw many pictures of Isabel in Madrid."

"You did now?"

"Si."

"And what do you do for work?"

"Oh, I don't work."

"Why not?"

"Because it's bad for my health."

"I see what you do. And that's bad for your health."

I felt my face turn red in embarrassment and busted out laughing.

She said, showing no teeth in her mouth: "Si, si, si."

After, she told me her husband had passed away five years ago from a heart attack. He also had lung cancer and smoked chronically.

"Well," I said, "I need to find you a new boyfriend then."

"No. I don't want to marry again."

"Who said anything about marriage? Just go and have some fun."

"I just work and read the Bible. That's enough for me."

"Look Madam, you're not a nun. You can have some fun."

"Oh?"

"What would you like for a boyfriend? A Chinaman? A Native? A white man?"

"Oh, they're all good for me. But, I'm passed that age."

"No, you're not. You can sing and dance and go eat out with him."

"I can't dance. You see how old I am?"

"Oh, yes you can. When you fall in love again, you'll have a whole new body."

She starts to laugh then.

"I know someone just for you. He doesn't speak Spanish, though."

"That won't work. We need to be able to have a conversation."

"Oh, you can talk. He speaks the language of love."

"You American only think and talk about sex. We're not like that in Peru. We don't just have sex with people."

I started laughing and said, "I never said anything about sex. I said love. Love is not sex."

"No, no, no. I know you Americans. You like to seduce and just have sex. I know Americans."

* * *

The next day I'm on my computer Youtubing. She starts talking to me. I put my computer away again.

I ask her, "Do you know Rihanna?"

"Who's Rihanna?" she asks.

"A singer. She's black, but she's American too."

"I don't know her."

"Come on. Let's watch Rihanna together." So we watch the We Found Love music video of Rihanna on Youtube. In this video, Rihanna is in a bikini kissing a guy. I wonder if Granny is happy watching.

"Look how happy Rihanna is, because she found love."

Then the grandmother tells me another story. She says her husband owned a lot of land north of Chichlayo and some mafia people took it from them. I couldn't understand how all this happened.

I said, "You need to hire a lawyer."

"We did hire one. He charged a lot. And nothing happened."

Oh, I thought. Lawyers here are the same as they are back home. Charge a lot. And get nothing done.

"Then we gave up. They started threatening us and saying they'd kidnap us."

"Oh, how sad."

"It's ok. I have my children. I work. That's good enough."

* * *

I call my client the next day and tell him, "I found a Peruvian girlfriend for you. I think you'd like her very much."

My client tells me, "What the hell are you talking about, Paul?"

"There's this 70 year old lady I met at a hotel, who works here. She's very nice. And she even cooked me lunch one day, and she didn't have to do that. I think you'd like her a lot.

"But she wasn't too happy you don't speak Spanish. I told her you speak the language of love."

He started laughing.

"But she says that Peruvian ladies aren't into sex. So, she's going to be cautious with you."

"Don't give me that, Paul."

I start laughing and say, "You should consider it."

* * *

The next day she brought her two daughters to work and she tells them: "Here's the guy who wants to find me a new boyfriend."

The daughters both say: "No! She's not marrying again."

I said "Who said anything about marriage?"

Then, this grandmother goes on and tells me more stories about her and her family . . . 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fixing the Broken in Chiclayo, Peru

In Chiclayo, holding a Rottweiler puppy.
I fixed my J. Crew magic wallet in Chiclayo, the City of Friendship, also known as the Pearl of the North. It's the kind of wallet that has a band, which holds money beneath it. (Though to be honest, I don't know what's magical about it; it hasn't brought me a great fortune yet. Perhaps, it's magical, because it gets you out of debt.)

I had to take a three and a half hour ride from my beach town, where a little boy who sat behind me kept putting his hand on my shoulder. I stayed longer in Chiclayo than I imagined, because even though the city wasn't beautiful, the people were. And because of this, Chiclayo has a special place in my heart.

Although Chiclayo has a population of about 600,000, it feels like a big small town, if that makes any sense. It's success comes from being an intersection for the highlands, the ocean, and the jungle.

At my hotel, in the mornings, I wake up, and my hotel owner - a friendly man who acts fatherly towards his guests, says - with great enthusiasm - "Good morning."

He asks, "How I am?" often. And after awhile, his wife took a liking to me, and she cooked me an omelet.

He cooked me an egg once. They often ask me to sit with them for breakfast, where I drink my coffee and talk to them about life.

J. Crew Magic Wallet,
notice the bad quality of the band.
The man and wife of my hotel make fun of my breakfast too. She says, "You don't eat anything for breakfast. You just drink coffee."

One time, for breakfast, a pharmacist sat with us. I asked him what to do about the swelling from the mosquito bites. It was a complex conversation and rather technical. I could follow some of it, but not all of it. The conversation was worth a lot in terms of improving my Spanish.

In the end, he wrote me a prescription. I asked him how the active ingredient worked. He couldn't explain it to me. The hotel owner said he enjoyed listening to our conversation - as I tried to pry out as much information from him on pharmacology. (The hotel owner knew I was an attorney, but the pharmacist didn't. I think he enjoyed watching two professionals talk - which he said was different for him.)

I asked the pharmacist if he knew how to make cocaine too. He said he didn't know how. I told him I did and told him how. I said I learned how to make aspirin in organic chemistry lab, and it's a similar process to make cocaine. I told him I chewed on cocaine leaves in Iquitos, and it did nothing for me. The pharmacist only said that it was an opiate.

(As an aside, it's probably been a good change for me to stay in a place where generally only Peruvians vacation. I would have never met a Spanish speaking pharmacist at an establishment for foreigners.)

I'm staying at a family-friendly place. One big family was there. The little boy loves my computer, especially when I watch music videos on Youtube. When he hears my Spanish, he tells his mother that I'm not from here and can't speak lots of Spanish. He keeps asking about my computer and using it. I didn't let him use it, because I didn't think it'd be good for him to like such things at such an early age. Maybe I made the wrong judgment, but that's what my instincts told me.

My brother Scott bought me my computer for Christmas, after my last one broke. He appreciated that in the summer, we were in Chile together, and I had enough miles to get him a business class flight - which he couldn't stop raving about. After my computer died, (and I mean it was dead as dead could be, for I had overused it in law school and burnt it out), my mother hounded him to get me a new one. She doesn't even know how to use a computer, but she could see that I was struggling to work without one.

At the time, and probably still, I was as poor as poor could be, because I had no job, no money, not even money for Christmas presents. I had just finished passing the bar and had just started suing Baldwin Park without any cashflow and a huge student loan hanging over my head. I remember being so depressed to not have any money back then to buy anyone anything for Christmas. But that Christmas, Scott bought me a MacBook, which I've used since. Now, this little boy was fascinated with it. But I didn't think it was good for him.

Getting back to Chiclayo. There's nothing that special about Chiclayo, except that they are the most friendly people I have met in Peru. Only once, did I have a bad experience with a woman who was entitled and shoved me aside to take my seat in a colectivo.

The food is also very nice. They're mainly known for stewed goat and duck and rice. Nonetheless, I think they don't cook the duck correctly. Good duck should have the crispiest skin, because it's naturally greasy and fatty. Hence, when cooked in its own fat, it tastes delicious.

The area is also known to have hidden tombs, tomb raiders, and archaeologists. One day, I went to a recently opened museum called the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan. There was a recent discovery of some ancient graves, which had ancient and beautiful jewelry, gold and silver and copper, art, and skeletons. The tomb raiders were upset though, because they thought it belonged to them and not the government. Apparently, fighting began between the two groups, and a tomb raider was shot and killed in the skirmish.

On another day, I had my magic wallet fixed, as I was mentioning. At the markets, there are also these shanty repair shops. It reminds me of Baldwin Park's Swamp Meet, a kind of Latin American outside mall made up of kiosks. The main repairers fix shoes and bags and watches.

I asked the tailor where I could fix my wallet, and the tailor said try the watch repairer. I asked the watch repairer and he said to ask the shoe repairer. The shoe repairer then said I needed to find a guy named Chia - who was the expert in fixing everything.

I found Chia. I showed him the problem. He said he could fix it. He disassembled the entire wallet. Fixed the band. Stitched it back up. I paid him. He smiled. He took a photo of my wallet, because he had never seen anything like it and found it interesting.

I hope someone associated with J. Crew reads this and changes its practice. I wrote an email to the CEO about how the wallet was meant to wear out to force me to buy a new one, meaning these things are not built to last. I said it was not good practice and cheapens J. Crew's reputation.

In any event, I took great joy in repairing my wallet - which I had for five years. I have an unusual fixation in fixing objects. Anyone who knows me, also knows I even restored a classic car.

I try to fix all broken objects I love. I think I'm into restoring my stuff, instead of throwing it away, because I tell myself - if broken things can be fixed, then broke people can be fixed too. Also, what kind of attitude is it to throw away the broken - whether it's with people or objects? Finally, I believe when something or someone is fixed from damage - that area always becomes stronger. For these reasons, I have a semi-obsession with restoring worthy objects.
My memory of Chiclayo - Beautiful people in
an average looking city. 

Other than that, I just finished reading Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby. After, I reread the introduction, as I did for Hemingway's A Dangerous Summer. I read the commentator's afterthought. I told myself I'm not reading this book again; it was almost as if I forced my way through it.

It's an ugly story written beautifully. I appreciate it and am in awe of Fitzgerald's genius and imagination. But, I can't get past the fact that Gatsby is an ugly story, which really is a criticism on the ugliness of the American Dream and the formation of the American identity. This is the reason the book ends with a discussion on the West and Manifest Destiny.

I can't help but also be reminded that the tragic Gatsby story turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy for Fitzgerald. Like Gatsby, the end of Fitzgerald's life was ugly. He died young, an alcoholic (which Gatsby wasn't), in poverty, and in depression,. Some say that Zelda, his sweetheart, killed Ftizgerald, especially when she had to be locked up in asylum. In the end, Fitzgerald turned into an alcoholic in his thirties, and really after that, didn't write anymore great novels. It's very sad.

A cat that let me pet her. She has nice green eyes.
Nonetheless, here are two quotes that I found in Gatsby that I love: "No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Here's another one: "There I was, way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute, and all of a sudden I didn't care.”

After I finished Gatsby, I left the novel at the hotel. I liked the idea that wherever I went, I was leaving stories behind, unlike Daisy and Tom in Gatsby, who the narrator says: "smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made[.]" (This certainly reminds me of the Baldwin Park's Mayor and Council Members and Carrillo and others.) Besides them, I guess we all know people like that.

Well, hopefully, I'm also finding new stories and living a great one myself.

Well, that's four books down. Four books left. I started Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I realized all my books I'm reading are by white males on this trip (and probably other trips). Is that a coincidence? This trip has me thinking about all of that.

Me holding a puppy in Chiclayo.
I wanted to end this article by talking about finding puppies for sale. When I saw them, I wanted to buy them all and present them to my mother as presents.

I don't think she'd appreciate it though. I don't think Jeh Pan would want another member in the family too; he already feels annoyed by the new chick that hatched recently. In any event, the whole affair made me miss home and my family and my friends and my animalitos once again. But it's a beautiful thing that I'm reminded of them constantly; it's clear: I love them all.

Stingray tortilla with beans.






Thursday, August 3, 2017

Border Hopping Out of Peru Into Ecuador

At the Peru-Ecuador Border
After I cancelled my flight back home, the way I felt and thought about the world changed; it was as if an earthquake shattered the structures and foundations inside of me. I instantly realized I had to renew my Peruvian visa. It wasn't expiring immediately, I had over a month left. But, I didn't want this problem lingering in my mind throughout my trip. Also, I was only about 150 miles away from the Ecuadorian border. It was time to go to Ecuador - where I was last year - mainly to see the Galapagos.

Some background on this visa problem. I didn't know that you're supposed to ask at the border how many days you want to stay in Peru; for an American - the maximum stay is 183 days. (Let that be a lesson to me - research more thoroughly visa issues before going to the country, but then again, I needed something to do and figure out. Maybe, it was for the better all this happened.) At airport checkpoint control, I stated I would stay a month; so, the guy gave me 60 days. You can't renew your visa within Peru; you have to border hop, meaning you have to leave the country and then come back into it. You could also overstay your visa, and you're fined $1 USD a day. It's not a bad price, but after being put into Russian house arrest once because I had visa problems, I wasn't going to go through that again.

I took a collectivo - a shared taxi to the Ecuadorian border, to a city called Macara. I had to wait about an hour for it to be full, and the company said that the car was "completo" when we had four passengers.

I sat shotgun. The driver wanted me to share my shotgun seat with someone else. That would make six people, and it'd be an uncomfortable two and a half hour ride to the border. There was a cranky and older woman who sat behind me, and when we had to wait for another person, she said, "You're a liar! You said only four people. You're a liar."

I really liked her.

Then she said, "I'm only giving you 13 soles. It's always been 13 soles."

The driver said, "No, it's 15."

She said again, "You're a liar."

I didn't like my driver. He must have been the meanest person in Peru I met so far. And add to it, that he was also a greedy man.

I told him, "I'm not sharing a seat with anyone."

He said, "It's always 6 people."

Another lady in the back of the car said, "I'm going to change companies."

I asked her, "There's another company?"

She pointed at it and said, "Yeah, it's over there."

I told the driver, "If we don't leave soon, I'm changing companies too." I opened the door, ready to leave.

He said, "Get back in. We're going. But you people! It's always six in a car."

This is interesting. My trip started with a semi-mutiny in a collectivo.

So, he drove through the bad roads of the City of Sullana. It was not paved. And the ride was rough getting out of the city.

In an hour into our drive, he stopped the car and got out and urinated on the side of the road. I had to do it too; so, I went out. A guy sold me a coconut while I was waiting in the collectivo, and I drank it.

When we got back, a poor-looking mother and her son, about 15, needed a ride to the next city. The driver said, "He's going in front with you."

I said, "That's fine."

The mother put a large bag of supplies inside the trunk and went in the trunk. She laid on top of all the luggage. She didn't complain, and if anything, she started laughing about the whole thing. I felt sorry for them. I don't know exactly why.

We rode another hour towards the border. The boy was nearly so close to me, my elbow was in his rib. I wondered if I should strike a conversation throughout the trip or just mind my own business. I choose the latter.

The mother and son got out about an hour into the ride. The first thing the boy said, when the car stopped was, "Mom, we're here. Are you ok?"

I felt like I should've paid their fare. And it wasn't because I was being cheap, I didn't pay it. I just thought it'd be strange to pay it. Who does that?

I didn't pay it. But I told myself, if something like that happens to me again, I will pay it. It's not going to change the world; it's most likely not going to in the grand scheme of things make their lives better. But it's still something I can do. No matter how weird it is.

At the border, we all get off. The cranky lady gives him 13 soles, instead of 15. He screams at her. She tells him, "It's 13." And she turns her back towards him, not being affected by his anger whatsoever.

I thought to myself, I hope when I get that old, I can be that cranky and get away with it too! I was definitely smiling inside.

I asked the driver if I could pay 13 too. He said, "No!"

I said, "But I"m hungry and poor and have no money."

He said, "That's your problem."

I handed him a 20 note. He gave me back 5.

I was really wishing I had small change; so, I could've also given him 13 soles and turn my back towards him too. The difference of 2 soles is $0.67. It's nothing for me. I just didn't like the guy; it was kind of a negative tip, to subtract instead of add, you know?

I walked up the street to the border control, which was a small kiosk. There were only five people in front of me. But they're much slower at the land crossing checkpoint then at an airport.

The lady at the checkpoint tells me that she can only give me 90 days. I asked for 183. She said, "No." I was already in the country for 25 days.

She stamps my passport with an "salir [exit]" stamp. I walk ten minutes into Ecuador. At the crossing, I fill out my paperwork. The guy at the Ecuador checkpoint asks how long I'll stay. I tell him three days. He stamps my passport and puts 3 on top of it.

I walk back to the Peruvian checkpoint and the lady says, "Nope. This is wrong. I can't give you a new entry stamp until you have an Ecuadorian exit stamp."

I walk back to the Ecuadorian checkpoint and the guy says, "I know what you're doing. And it's illegal. You can't just come in and out of here for a new visa. It's illegal."

"I don't speak Spanish. I don't understand."

"You don't, huh? Seems like you know some stuff. You need to stay in Ecuador for 24 hours before I left you out."

"24 hours?"

"That is correct."

"Please. Isn't there something you could for me? 24 hours is a long time."

"No. That is the law."

"No one will know if you let me out earlier."

"No. It's 24 hours."

I walk across a bridge further into Ecuador. I see a car passing. I hitchhike. The car stops for me. He lets me in.

I introduce myself. Ask him questions. (It's easy for me to get a ride hitchhiking. But it's never free. I have to pay with a conversation.)

He says he's going into Ecuador to fix his car. But I can't understand his Spanish - he has such a strong accent. He says he's from Peru. He says that it's cheaper to fix a car in Ecuador. I ask him over and over again what's wrong with the car - and he says nothing. The guy keeps changing his story. Who knows why he's really going to Ecuador? I'm sure it's about some kind of illegal activity. 

About two miles from the border, we enter into the City of Macara, Ecuador. I get out. I thank him.

I find a hotel. It's $10 USD a night. I brought some US money with me. The guy running the hotel is 19. His father owns the hotel. He has this I'm-a-cool-kid-because-I-have-money-to-show-off-because-of-my-dad feel. We all seen the type in school. But I liked him, because he was eager to help me and was not entitled. When I thanked him for fixing my hot water device in the shower, he seemed pleased with himself and said it wasn't a problem.

I take my first hot shower in over a week. I'm still annoyed at the mosquito swelling above my eyebrows.

After my shower, I go to a pharmacy. I buy some anti-histamine cream.

Then, for dinner, I eat fried chicken and rice. After, I find a place that serves me a glass of wine. It's decent, but not great.

I go back to my hotel. I sleep decently.

In the morning, after coffee, I walk two miles with all my stuff back to the border. On my way, I spot a large lizard that looks like a Gila Monster. It was probably about two feet long.

At the Ecuadorian checkpoint, there were two lines. And I see that the guy from yesterday was there again. Oh no. He better not spot me. I haven't been in Ecuador for 24 hours.

I go in the other line. I turn my back towards him. I use people to shield me from his view.

When I get to the front of the line, the lady takes my passport. She reviews my file in the computer. I look to see all the information on me in the computer. I see what she's doing. I'm memorizing their processes. I'm a bad little boy. And like a computer, my eyes acting as a lens, records everything their doing. She knows I'm watching. In the end though, she stamps my passport with an exit stamp.

I walk to the Peruvian checkpoint. The lady that was there was back. There are about 8 people at the checkpoint. I cut in front of all of them, since my paperwork is already done - and theirs is not. (Remember, I tried the day before; so, I had the paperwork done already.)

We argue and haggle for 10 minutes. I ask for 183 days. She says No. She speaks so fast, I can't understand everything she's saying, though I can make out the gist of the conversation.

She said the maximum entry time is 183 days per year. At first, she says she can give me 90 days. I get her to 100 days.

Then, I ask for 150. She says no such thing exists. I ask for 120. She says that doesn't exist either. What can I do? I give up.

She stamps my passport for 100 days more. I ask her if I need to pay for a visa. She says, "No, it's free," missing the idea that she could've made some extra money on the side.

I did it. I got my visa. I walk back into Peru.

I hail for a collectivo. The guy is around 25. He's blasting loud and ugly Spanish music. He drives fast and gets me back a lot quicker than the last guy.

I tell people in my beach town I renewed my visa. Since, it's such a small town, everyone is talking about how I went to Macara to renew my visa. Apparently, tourists don't usually do such things around here. Now, they know how to advise tourists what to do about visa problems, that is, if anyone ever finds the small beach town I was at. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

On Ganas (the Passion to Live)

On my thirty first day of my sabbatical (the day I was scheduled to come back, that is - until I cancelled my ticket back home) I decided that I needed to show myself and the world what it means to live a beautiful life. On this day, the young guy at the front desk of my hotel turned up his Latino music in the morning and was singing to it.

It woke me. I would usually have been annoyed to be woken up from my restful sleep, but he sang well, and I started liking the song too.

I went to the front desk and asked him in Spanish, "What was the name of the song?"

He said, "I don't understand."

I said, "What's the song called?"

"What song?"

"The song you were singing."

"Ah," he said. Then, he told me.

I started listening to it. After listening to this song, which seemed to say to not care about anything and live in the moment and fall in love every chance you get, I realized how fortunate I was.

Although it's been a hard year for me in my profession, and at the higher court I lost my cases (incorrectly by the way, from all perspectives and angles), I was truly grateful for all that went well this year too.

I paid off my student loans, all of it, which freed me from all debt. I lost 15 pounds and was around or below 10% body fat - something I have never achieved in my life. My Spanish was getting better and improving quickly and happily and fluidly and proficiently. I was on an indefinite sabbatical.

My life, indeed, felt like one large celebration.

And I missed my family and friends and animalitos. And they missed me too. And I've been constantly asked when I'm coming home. Although I feel sad to say: "I don't know," our separation and desire to see each other again is a beautiful thing; for it's nice to be loved and to love others.

In fact, on my thirty first day of sabbatical, my friend texted me and said to come to Korea, immediately. He would pick me up from an airport and set me up with a job. Though I didn't care to work yet, I  knew I was fortunate to have friends all over the world - who wanted to see me.

He says I should make a lot of money. I tell him, "I think God made me an artist - not a businessman. It's probably not in my future to make tons of money." He responded by saying that what I said was funny and also nonsense.

I also listened to a talk on passion by the most-read Spanish author - Chilean writer - Isabelle Allende. And in her talk, she says this: "Heart is what drives us and determines our fate. That is what I need for my characters in my books: a passionate heart. I need mavericks, dissidents, adventurers, outsiders and rebels, who ask questions, bend the rules and take risks."

And with wit, she adds: "Nice people with common sense do not make interesting characters. They only make good former spouses."

(That made me think, I certainly don't have commonsense, as commonsense would demand that I work, save money, buy a house, start a family, and get back into a debt - which would take 30 years to pay off. Not right now. No thanks. Just been there. Just done that.)

When I heard Allende's talk, I hope I had paid that price of ganas, the passionate spirit inside of us that calls us to show the world what extraordinary things we can do and calls us to endure through all that pain needed to achieve it. This is so my life, and not my words, could speak the importance of living a beautiful life. And in that spirit, although I gave up a lot to fight against those who abuse their power, and do it with impunity, only time will tell what I actually gained and inherited too.

I guess the big takeaway from all this, if there is one, is to remind myself of this Jewish proverb. "What is truer than truth?"

Answer: "A story."

And want to know what's truer than that? "A beautiful life" - Me. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

9 Days in a Peruvian Fishing Village

Me: Running on the beach, around sunset.
I'm sporting the sweatshirt my friends got me
for my birthday.
At sunset, I was running on a beach in Northern Peru, where the sand had so much gold fleck in it, it shone and glistened and glinted and gleaned the colors of the sunset sky, and when the dying light sparkled against it, it was as if I was running on the surface of an amethyst gem. And although I told myself that I would only stay three nights in this fishing village, I ended up staying 9 nights there.

Every time I ran on that beach, I decided to stay an extra few nights. There was something supernatural about running on wet sand bear footed, while ocean waves crashed against your legs and feet. It was as if I became one with the force and nature of the sand, sea, sun, sky, and wind.

Just a few days ago, I was in the Amazon Jungle. This was such a different scene. From Iquitos, I took a flight back into Lima and then from Lima I changed planes to Piura, the Northern Capital of Peru. It's important to note that a direct flight would've gone straight eastward and would have only taken 2 hours at most. You can only get out of Iquitos by land or river boat; it's literally riverlocked. It would've taken me four days to reach the mainland by boat, and then another 20 or so hours to get to Northern Peru. So, I had to bear a seven hour journey, including waiting time, by taking two flights out of the Amazonian Capital and into the Northern Coastal Capital.

From there, I had to take varying modes of land transport to a remote seaside village - which I actually read about in the plane. In other words, I changed my entire plans, just to come here, by reading a blurb from a random book about a remote seaside village. And I made that decision on the spot.

Why plan? I have nowhere to go, no one to see. (Incidentally, it was in this area that Hemingway spent time and caught a huge marlin, which became his inspiration for Old Man and the Sea.)

Sunset at my remote village, clam diggers in the background
I didn't do much in this village - except read, surf the internet, eat fresh fish (raw and cooked), drink coconut water, dig for clams, and sleep. It's also important to note what I didn't have to do: check in with clients; check in with the courts; work at a job, in which I was getting blocked; and justify myself constantly against other people's expectations. I was living in a warm and soothing and a sailing dream - as rich, peaceful, deep, and blue as a sapphire sea.

Not everything was perfect, though. I got bit horribly by mosquitoes called zancudos, and these had to be the worst kind. Unlike other mosquito bites, I reacted horribly to it, and they liked to bite my face when I slept, even when I put mosquito repellant on.

Dropped 15 pounds of fat from December 2016.
Not a pleasant endeavor.
They left my skin blistering and looking unpleasant. These have to be the worst kind of mosquitoes in the world - and I've traveled the world. Even after the bites on my legs healed, it still looked like someone jabbed me with a syringe. Nonetheless, the bad didn't outweigh the good.

I've been rereading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I don't love it (probably because I don't like the plot much), but I can't deny his genius as a writer - which no movie could capture, because his genius is in his words and narrative.

I've also concluded this is a horrible book for high schoolers, and a great book for adults around my age or older. This is because how can teenagers living in Baldwin Park (or any other ghetto or middle class city) relate to the bootlegging era and a culture of extravagant wealth and a group of people who have nothing else better to do than to wash their hair in champagne. It's not relatable to the average American teenager, and hence it can't be appreciated.

It has given me an idea of a story. Imagine a book, in which one of the main character (it's questionable where the main character is Nick or Gatsby in the novel - who are really alter-egos of each other), grew up in some poor village in Mexico - where his family made $3 a day by picking peppercorns in the hills - which was later shipped to America.

One day, a rich American gets lost in that village, and the boy sees how easy life is with tons of money. He decides then that he's no longer going to work as a peasant, and is desperately in search of becoming rick and rich quick. He falls into a group of drug lords, performs certain illegal tasks, makes his way up, and gets rick quick, like he wants. And then he moves to America.

There, however, he finds a white girl he falls in love with, and he does everything he can with his wealth to win her over. She uses him. And no matter how hard he tries, he can't win her over with his wealth or his fake story that he made his wealth as a doctor in Mexico. In the end, he gets tracked down by a rival gang member, who shoots him execution style. Nobody comes to his funeral. Nobody cares.

Now that's a story that our youth could relate to. And that's generally the Gatsby story retold for the modern audience. Nonetheless, I can't hep but be in awe of some of the quotes in the book.

At the party, it's said: "In [Gatsby's] blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars."

Another good quote is when Nick thinks to himself: "Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known."

And finally, the book is a classic, because it speaks to us still in prophecy. The singer at the party sings: "“The rich get richer and the poor get - children.” Keep in mind, the novel was published 92 years ago.

Anyways, I'm more than halfway through the book. I'm taking my time with it, because the language is so absorbing and it's not a fast read.

On one of the 9 days, there was a small carnival for over two days, which was held in front of the church. It looked like all the people from the village came.

It was enjoyable for me to see the children holding paper mache lanterns of dragons and stars. They looked like red and burning and hot glowing fireflies, floating aimlessly through the air, which appeared to be at the speed a slow creek would carry floating flowers.

On the second day of carnival, there was a reenactment of Saint Santiago's play on the streets. People dance and sang, and Santiago spanked local townspeople with his wooden sword. In the end, he danced with this grandmother, who seemed to have standing with everyone in the village. Then everyone clapped and cheered and the fireworks exploded in the distance.

Finally, the big news is that I cancelled my one way flight back to LA. It was a scary thing to do. It was like cutting off the life line to home. And I did it.

I'm officially a Korean-American gypsy, homeless and nomadic. I even cancelled my auto insurance and my data plan for my phone. I have nowhere to go and no one to see.

Like Martin Buber said: "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

My Last Days Around the Amazon

A motot axi, it reminds me of the rickshaws of China.
After coming back from my tour, I spent a few days at my hotel in Nauta, not doing much. In the mornings, I'd make coffee with a coconut I chopped down and turned into coconut milk. The coffee was instant; so, it needed some better flavoring. I'd surf the internet, read my book, and eat dinner. And the day would start the same again the next day. But this is how I liked it.

I brought that duck carcass and flesh with me and had a local restaurant cook it. It tasted delicious.

I saved the bones too and let it sit in water with vinegar overnight, that way, without using fire, I extracted nutrients from the bones. The next day, I cooked the broth for 6 hours. When I had it, it was rich and tasty and hearty and delicious.

Fried duck the local restaurant made for me
with the duck I brought them.
On the weekend, a Brazilian guy in his 40's with his Peruvian wife and Colombian friend came rolling into town with their fancy rented motorbikes. The Brazilian's name was Manuel, and he was fluent in Spanish. It looked like he took steroids because he had a big chest, but it had a roundish women-look rather than how pecs are naturally toned and squarer.

He also wore a lot of bling - and I mean it was all bling, bling, bling. Bling on both hands. He had a bling Mason ring on. Bling on his neck. Bling in his ears.

They invited me to drink with them. I kind of didn't want to, only because it meant I had to be social and that cost me energy. Also, I had to do it all in Spanish.

But they poured me several shots of rum they bought locally. I found out they were architects, taking a break and enjoying the weekend. The Brazilian lived in Iquitos for 12 years, and he said he liked it but found that the people were dumb and simple - at least that's what he said.

I was happy that my Spanish was improving. I could follow almost everything, but once in awhile, I had to ask what a specific word meant. (You could always tell people who have a formal education versus those that don't in Latin America. Those with a formal education know how to explain what a word means.)

I told them I graduated in biology and was traveling to figure out what to do with my life. In telling them such, they thought I was younger and naive and inexperienced - and they all knew more than me.
The hotel cat. She's not Jeh Pan, though.
All they kept wanting to do was go clubbing - clubbing in this tiny village. But clubbing they went. Perhaps, they liked lording their wealth (perhaps paid for, perhaps on loan). And they came back hung over, still drunk, and looked worn and burnt. I said good morning to them all though, spritely and fresh.

After resting up in Nauta, (remember, I had that slight injury from my fall), I took a collectivo, a shared taxi, back to the Amazonian Capital of Iquitos. I checked in to the same hostel.

While sitting in the corner by myself, an Israeli guy talked to me. I cut the conversation short, though. I didn't feel like being that social.

I was re-reading the introduction to Hemingway's The Dangerous Summer, which turned out from a publisher's view to be an epic failure. The audience no longer wanted to read about bull fighting and Hemingway didn't have the life in him to write another great piece. (Even to me, he seemed bitter and angry in this novella.) A year later after publishing the manuscript, he shot himself in the head. (Sadly and coincidentally so did his second wife, Martha Gellhorn.)

Well, I finished the book, and then left it at the hostel's book shelf. Another book down. Five left to go.

Still sitting by myself, an Irish guy sat next to me. We chatted. I put the book down and listened to him.

"How are you, Bryan?" I ask.

We met once before. He was 35 too. He was tall and thin and looked like he was in shape, even though he claimed he never exercised. He said he was that way, because he smoked 10 cigarettes a day.

"Good and you."

"Good. I just came back from the rainforest. Have some injuries. What have you been up to?"

"I did Ayahuasca."

Ayahuasca is a mix of psychedelic plants that originate from the Amazon and is used in a traditional Shaman ceremony to open up your mind and spirit to connect to the universe. In America, it was made famous by William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, founders of the Beat Generation. Burroughs writes about it in the Yage Letters, where he's looking for the ultimate trip, which is also supposed to cure his drug addictions.

"Oh you did. Tell me about it."

"I went with Gabby for ten days. You drink this filthy, nasty crap drink. Then you go into a trip. And the shamans start chanting an Icaro."

(I met Gabby in my room. She tried to sell me on it. I told her I was a Christian and wouldn't participate, and to me she was a horrible marketer as she was always complaining about everything, from the lack of security in the hostel to the noisy street to the cook putting too much salt in her fried eggs.)

"So, you feel anything? Did the world open up for you?"

"Well, why don't we get some food and drink and talk about it? I've been eating all this crap at the Shaman's hut."

"Really? I ate really well in my little village. It was fantastic. Let me show you this picture of the duck I ate. It was sooooo good."

"I don't want eat that crap anymore. I'm tired of this Amazon crap. Let's go to a real place."

"I know a Belgium place on the malecon. I could use a glass of wine. There was no wine where I was at."

We walk down the malecon to the bistro and sit outside. Bryan is one of those guys can't help but glance at all the people that pass him.

We order some salmon on crackers and cheese and bread and olives and two glasses of beautiful wine.

Bryan tells me, "Well, you're in this hut in the middle of the jungle. After drinking the nastiness, I went into this trance and saw all these images. I think it would've worked better if I had not resisted and just been more open to it."

"So, it's like a hall of pictures?"

"Exactly. But you get to pick which picture you want. And I picked a picture of my parents that were aging. Then the Shaman came up to me and prayed for me. And I started crying and breaking down. I just knew how much they loved me. Before that I was angry at my father."

"Interesting."

He tells me about the other guests and how an Australian guy had a vision of himself working at a restaurant and that was now his new calling.

"Are you going to do it?" He asks me.

"No. Probably not. I don't need to spend that kind of money to know that my family and friends and pets miss me."

"I never miss anyone."

"No? I don't get that. I miss people all the time."

"I mean, I enjoy spending time with people. But I don't ever miss them, after they leave.

It was then, I felt sorry for him. I couldn't imagine a world where you don't miss people. Missing people is such a beautiful feeling. Perhaps, it's one reason why I travel so much. It reminds me of how much I have and all the people and pets to be grateful for. I'll never forget Jeh Pan putting his head down and laying on the floor before I left to the airport. I still am amazed how he knew I was leaving for awhile.

I wondered who was poorer, this guy sitting across from me with his tenured job at the local community college as a web design instructor, or the villagers of Nauta, some of whom made only $5 USD for the whole day. Even my hotel owner ate breakfast with her staff once a day.

I glanced into his heart and did not like what I saw. He knew I was doing this. And he called me out on it later.

I told him, "I've been kind of anti-social on this trip. Feels like I've been there, done that. I'm a bit jaded."

He said, "Well you can't judge people too quickly."

"Aye, you're right on that one."

We chit chatted about this and that, none of which was all that important. He found out I still lived with my mother.

I told him, "At first, I had to. It's how I got out of debt. I'm debt free now. And actually ended up loving living with her.

"She makes me my favorite coffee every morning, called Blue Mountain. I have some, but I'm saving it to share with someone on a special occasion. Nothing romantic. Just someone who would appreciate it." I could tell he wanted to try some, but he wasn't the right person and it wasn't the right occasion. I could also tell he could get free stuff from other travelers; but not me.

"Being debt free is good." I could tell him from his body language that he was mired in debt - probably credit card debt.

I needed out of the conversation, though. Otherwise, I was going to end up talking to this guy all night.

We struck up a conversation with the girl at the table next to us.

I told him, "I reckon you could sit at her table, if you really wanted to. She's not going to sit next to you, because she won't take the effort to move her purse on that seat. You see it?"

"I do."

"Here, I'll start it off." I turn to her and say, "Hey, excuse me, where you from?"

"I'm from Berkley." She had a new age look about her. Mid 30's, maybe earlier 40's. Probably still living off her wealthy parents' money and not having a real job. (Perhaps, like some people... =/)

"Oh, that's what I thought. You kind of give off that vibe."

"And what about you?"

"I'm from Los Angeles."

Bryan says, "I'm from Ireland."

We all chat for awhile, small talk, something I learned from New Zealand, because the Kiwis love it so much.

Then I take out my phone and say, "Oh, I'm sorry, I have to go. I have to take this call. Excuse me for the rude interruption. I don't mean to be so unmannered. Enjoy your evening."

There was no phone call.

I paid my bill. I got up. I walked back to the hostel. Eventually, Bryan did end up sitting at her table.

Back at the hostel, I start planning where to go next. I think I fancy the beach. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

How I Got Out of Student Debt and Celebrating with a Sabbatical

On Sabbatical, running on a Peruvian beach.
Last week, it's official: I'm out of student debt. I'm debt free, which means I'm free. And free is free is free is free.

I'm celebrating my new freedom by taking a Sabbatical - which means I stopped working and am taking a break. It's traditionally supposed to be for a year; I don't know if I have that much saved up to go that long. But, I'm going to be gone as long as possible.

Sometimes, I want to come home, because I miss everybody and my animalitos (small animals in Spanish). But then I remind myself, you can take a Sabbatical, so you should.

I wanted to write about how I got out of student debt; in the hope that it could help others. But before I do, I think taking a Sabbatical was the best thing I could do.

The practice has Jewish origins. I didn't know this, until this year, but one of the hallmark reasons that the Sabbath was created was because the Jews were freed under Pharaoh's bondage in Egypt.

The Sabbath was meant to be a celebration and a reminder of their freedom from enslavement. Taking a break from making money also tested one's faith. It was a statement by the people of faith that what they had was enough, and that life wasn't all about making money. It was about freedom and being grateful to the God that freed them. Also, having less forced God's people to put into practice their faith, one which said that God would provide for their future needs. One was actively forced to trust in his or her own hoarding of resources. For all of the above reasons, taking a Sabbatical was a good fit for me.

Alright, back to how I got out of student debt. This is mainly what I did and here's what I learned about it. It took me about five years after graduating law school to get out of it. Law school cost about $130,000 for all three years, and it was probably about another $60,000 to live in West Los Angeles for three years. Going to law school, all up cost me $190,000. (UCLA gave me a good amount of grants and my father helped too. Roughly, UCLA paid a third, Dad paid a third, and I took out a loan for a third.)

So after UCLA and Dad, I borrowed $53,700 for three years of law school. After I graduated, that amount turned into $58,242.99 in three years, a $4,500 increase. (That's a lot, think about what you can do with $4,500).

In the end, I ended up paying $58,841.44, of which $5,141.44 was in interest. I had a $650 debt from undergrad, $119 of which was from interest of a total principle of $2,000. In total, for my entire education, I borrowed $59,500, that included my undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Getting out of debt was a challenge and certainly a testing of my own self-discipline, especially because I was learning how to start my own business, while learning to litigate at the same time. (I wish I could advise not to do that too, but law firms aren't hiring. If you're interested in me writing articles on how to start a business, write me.)

Here's what I advise, learned, and suggest. Here's are my seven points towards becoming debt free.

(1) Don't get a formal education. If you're going to go to some expensive private liberal arts college, and you're going to have debt over $100,000 forget it. You'll almost never get out of it. Also be very aware of going to a low tier law school, which charges a prince's random but has low bar passage rates. You'll also be doomed in debt, if you have over $100,000 in law school debt and can't pass the bar.

In general, I'm not advocate of going to professional school either, anymore. (Though with that said, I found my time at UCLA Law to also be priceless; I felt like I really got a first class education there.) But, the market has realized that law school may not be a good investment.

At UCLA Law, for the class of 2012, there were over 8,000 applicants. It was a record high at the time, which was broken again in 2013. Now, there's only 5,000 people applying. The market has realized that having a professional degree doesn't always pay back a return on investment. (Some older lawyers may criticize me for saying this, but believe me, they didn't have the same hardships of student loans that my generation does.)

Nonetheless, I'm a big advocate of becoming educated; so, just because I said don't go to university doesn't mean not to learn. As Mark Twain said, "Don't let schooling interfere with your education."

I recommend doing what young people do in Germany. Get an apprenticeship.

Ray Bradbury didn't get a formal education, but he did go to UCLA - to rent a typewriter at Powell Library to write Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury practiced and practiced his craft.

I don't know about medicine, but at least in California, you can apprentice with a lawyer for four years and then sit the bar. In theory, you should get better training that way, than attending law school.

(It's sad I have to say not to go to university, but currently, America is heading toward's an educational financial bubble that's about to burst. It's my view that now is not the time to go, if you're going to be burdened with excessive loans.)

So, figure out what you want to do and get apprenticed or go to a public school. Or, if you go to an expensive private one, you better graduate in some technical field - like computer science or have a full scholarship. (Another option would be to work for the government, but one can never be guaranteed of having such a job. If you work for government for ten years, your loans are forgiven. But you still have to pay taxes on it.)

(2) Don't take out the maximum amount of the loan. You're a student. Take out what you need. I knew people in New Zealand who took out huge loans to go on ski trips. No. That's a horrible investment. Take out only what you need for your tuition, supplies, rent, and food. Nothing more.

In fact, in my last two years of law school, I took out even less loans. And in my last year, I ended up returning $5,000 of loan money, because I had a windfall.

(3) Minimize costs as a student. The biggest cost you have as a student will be your rent. Don't live in a posh place to impress your friends. I lived 7 miles away when I attended law school, and I had a good friend who let me live with him at a reduced rate. (Some days, I even ran to school and back.)

(4) After you graduate, live simply. And it will be offensive to some of your friends.

After a woman crashed my German car, I bought a beater. It was supposed to be only a temporary ride, but it kept driving and lasting. The insurance and maintenance was cheaper. And I got so much flak from friends and family (except for my mother) for not buying a better car. I probably could have bought a nicer sports car, but that would have delayed me paying off my student loans.

Why have a nicer car over being free? I was in debt. I told them, "I can think about buying a better car when my loans are paid off."

I lived at home with mother, which I ended up loving completely. But people would question me: "Why don't you have your own place?" And I said, "Because, I love living at home. But also, I need to pay off my student loans." Mom's been the best to let me live with her and make my favorite coffee, aiding me in the quest to slay my behemoth of student loans. (Perhaps, Baldwin Park would fall without her.)

Not only did I stop buying new things, I also got rid of 80% of everything I owned, either by trashing it or donating it.

And guess what? It made me happier and freer, as I learned to live with less. Consequently, because I had less stuff, I greatly appreciated the little I had left even more. (I wasn't expecting this.)

In short, I had to stop caring what other people thought about my life. It was my life, and they weren't shouldering my student loans. And if that meant I wasn't cool or invited to some parties, so be it. As an unintended consequence though, I think it made my litigation better, because I was more focused on my own training, learning, and profession.

(I probably still enjoyed eating out. I wondered often if I should cut that out too. But I enjoy the company of my friends - so, I didn't let this one go.)

(5) Be creative. In my last year of law school, I was a teaching assistant for the undergraduate department at UCLA. UCLA undergrad, thus, gave me a stipend towards my tuition and this helped a lot. If you can make some side money, without hampering your law school education, I would do so and pay off your student loans. (Upon reflection, TA'ing though did hurt my grades a bit, but the amount I got paid for was a good trade off.)

Also, right before I made my last payment, I found an unopened box from 2004 from a camping equipment called REI. Everything inside was brand new, even though it was 13 years old. REI had a policy, which I was grandfathered into, that stated that if I was unhappy with their product, it was a lifetime refund. Before going to Peru, I returned it to the employee's surprise that I had something that was 13 years old. She said, "Did you do a spring cleaning?"

I said, "Yup." I smiled. I got back $80. I put it towards my student loans.

(6) Strategize. Getting out of student debt is a battle and it presses you. You need a grand plan, filled with detailed tactics.

I had a game plan. The start of creating a game plan is to make paying off your student loans either your top priority or one of them. It really had to be up there, and you have to be focused on it.

After that, create a plan. What I did was that I had six different types of loans. What I'm going to say next is obvious, but still has to be said. Pay off the largest interest loan first.

So for me, I had two unsubsidized, three subsidized, and one subsidized loans undergrad. (It gets complicated, because there was only four accounts, but six loans.) I paid off the unsubsidized loans first, because they accrued the most interest and start the day you borrow.

Your goal is to get rid of the unsubsidized loans as fast as possible, or it'll accrue and compound interest and get you. After that, I worked on paying off the subsidized loans in order of the highest to lowest interest first; that's why, even though I only had $650 in undergrad loans, I didn't pay it off. It only accrued 2% interest generally; so, it was my lowest priority to pay off.

Just make sure you plan your work and work your plan. Upon reflecting more about it, I could have saved $1,000 to $2,000 in not paying interest had I created a better plan right from the time I started law school. But at the time, you get worked to death at law school; so, I didn't have time to sit down and create a good plan.

Don't make that mistake. Have a workable and clever plan, and it really will save you money and get you out of debt faster.

(7) Finally, give to charity. Whenever I made a profit, which was almost never, but some times happened, I tithed 10% back to charity or a religious institution.

Some people abhor this idea. I can say that it teaches you self-discipline and gives you a joy in giving. I also believe in one of the verses in Psalms, 27:35 to be specific: "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread."

That's it. That's how I did it. Hope it helps you. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Killer Bees, Cocaine Leaves, and an Accident in the Amazon Jungle



The morning sun in the Amazon Jungle.
The wakes are created by dolphin breaches.
At four in the morning, a slight breeze chilled me and woke me up, while we were sleeping on a beach of the Amazon Jungle. I couldn't get back to sleep, and was wide awake when dawn came. At dawn, I heard all the morning birds call and the splashes of the dolphins nearby. The transition between night and day and day and night becomes one enormous changing of the guard in the jungle, and this is the most dangerous period of time for prey, because the predators know that the prey are looking for a place to rest and roost. Hence, for this reason, my cat Jeh Pan is most active at dusk and dawn too.

At sunrise, my guide comes out of his boat. We both watch the river dolphins playing nearby and breaching the water. He makes me a coffee. There's no milk and it's instant. So, it's not that good, but it'll have to do.

Driving our boat through the Amazon.
Jose asks me what I want for lunch. I tell him, "Arroz con pato. (Rice with duck.)" I tell him I know have to pay extra for it, but it's a dish Peru is known for. And I've been craving duck for awhile now. I also missed my Blue Mountain coffee and my mom's cooking.

This morning, my guide wants to learn more Korean. He brings out a book and asks me phrases. He writes them down. I wonder to myself how much he fancied this Korean girl that was on his tour. I also don't think he'll learn these phrases well.

When I was in Belize, on a small key island in the sun, in the summer of 2011, I remember that the host of my hostel was in love with this Korean girl that had stayed there. He liked this girl so much, all he could do was talk about her. He asked me about Korean culture. And, to Skype with her, he'd shut down all of the internet, so the guests couldn't use it. He really fancied her.

My brother always said the world is falling in love with Koreans, because they're the best looking and smartest of the Asian race. He said that Yellow Fever was spreading across the world. I just laughed at hearing it all. But, certainly, my guide might have caught some of this epidemic.

After drinking my coffee, we were driving back to Nauta, the largest town in the area. I slept on the boat, mainly, even though there were birds and dolphins. I was tired, because I woke up early. I felt bad for doing so, because my guide was doing all the work. And even though I had paid him for his time and services, I still did not like lording the fact that I could sleep, while he worked. But I still slept, because I was tired.

We arrived in the local village where 60 people lived. A teenage boy who spotted me was shirtless and put his shirt on immediately. All the villagers stared at me, which I do not know if I liked or should not like. My guide appeared to know everyone in the village.
Looks like my Buenos Aires Tetra at home.

He asked the boy for a fishing pole. Then he dug up some worms and took them with him to go fishing.

My guide went fishing in a local stream and fished out a number of tropical fish. I wish I could bring them home, but this is not the end of my journey. So, I cannot.

After dropping them back into the stream, we hike into the jungle again, but not very far. In a secret location, he shows me a secret stash of cocaine trees growing.

I ask him, "Who owns them?"

"He's dead."

"Who was he?"

"An old man."

Picture of a cocaine tree, found in a hidden location.
We strip some leaves and chew on them. I told him, "We need lemon for the full effect."

He laughs. I know this, because I read it in an old issue of National Geographic once. To make cocaine, you need battery acid and lots of cocaine leaves. The battery acid extracts out the active ingredient, and then you have liquid cocaine. Then you have to dry it out and cut it with something more neutral. The process is the same to make aspirin, which I had to learn in organic chemistry lab, ages ago.

I chew more leaves than he does. I don't feel anything, except I'm not hungry anymore.

We leave. My guide hears some monkeys. He wants to find them. I follow him.

While walking towards the monkeys, I see some big bees that look like bumble bees. In the jungle, there are these small bee that like white flowers. But these were different. When my guide sees them, he says: "Run!!!"

So, I run and run and run. I slow down about 10 yard, about 30 meters away, when I feel a sting in my left hand, underneath the thumb. I saw a big bee on it. Then the bee tried to sting me in my stomach, but I bunched it up with my shirt and pinched it and killed it.

I kept running but felt bees buzzing in my hair. I shook my head and kept running towards the village where it was clear. My guide, at another location shouted: "Paul!"

I said, "Si."

And caught up with him. He was stung more.

He said in English: "Killer bees."

"I know."

I touched my hand to see whether there was a stinger and asked him, "Are you sure it wasn't a wasp?"

He said, "No."

"Where's the stinger then?"

He explained these kind of bees don't lose their stinger some times.

I felt my heart beating fast and the high from running. Maybe, it was the coca leaves.

We walked back to the village, which wasn't far. My guide asked around for anyone who would sell a duck.  We found a person.

The family originally asked for $7. I said, $5. They agreed.

The women fed all the animals to trick them into capture. She grabbed the duck. The duck knew it was going to be killed.

She gave the duck to the man. The man held it down with his knee and pinned it on the flooor. Then he took the knife and slit it's neck.

The duck screamed and gasped. Blood started flowing. He kept holding it down with his knees and the blood kept flowing, pouring over its feathers and onto the ground.

I wasn't going to watch. But I told myself I had to watch. I ordered the killing. Then the duck looked tired and faint and closed its eyes. I did not like watching this. But I ordered it.

I slaughtered a cock and a duck once. My mother called me cruel. I told her we shouldn't eat meat then, if we can't bear slaughtering our feed.

She didn't get it. She said it was just better to buy the meat already prepared in a market in a clean package. But that's not how it really goes down. Eating meat is violent and the loss of life is not pleasurable to watch.

I paid them. I took the duck with us to where we were going to cook it. It bled on my shorts.

Cashew fruit and nut
My guide gave me cashew fruit, which had a nut attached. He said I could eat the fruit. So, I did. It was good. Then I cracked the nut with my teeth. Immediately, my mouth and lips went numb and then fiery. I told my guide.

Jose said, "No!!! It's poison."

Oh no, I thought.

He asked the villager for some soap. He started scrubbing my licks. I had to lick the soap. I washed and rinsed and washed and rinsed over and over again. It was still numb, but it certainly helped.

After, we kept walking to where we were going to cook our duck. One of the villagers offered Jose and me a drink. I could smell it was alcoholic and asked if it was tequila. They laughed and said yes. I drank some.

Jose drank more. He threw a coin at them for the alcohol. I didn't like that.

At our cooking spot, Jose boiled some water. The duck was now dead. The life had gone out of his eyes. I hung the duck upside down to drain out more of the blood.

When the water boiled, we dunked the duck in it. I was helping Jose pluck out the feathers.

But when I walked across a plank, I slipped and fell and another plank gouged my calf. The gash was deep but not bleeding. I looked and thought, It's going to bleed soon, and a lot. It was also very painful.

I tried to walk but couldn't.

Jose said, "Slowly. Relax."

After, I walked to a bench and rested. I couldn't help Jose like this. And the pain started surging. The blood started gushing.

I asked for a bandaid. No one had one. But a girl brought me a rag. I tied it around my gash and started walking back into the village.

Jose asked, "Where you going?"

"For tequila. It hurts."

"Good."

An old lady in the village gave me a shot of tequila. It helped. I walked back.

Some of Jose's friends came and asked what happened. I told them, "In one hour, I chewed on coca leaves, found killer bees, drank tequila, and ate some poison. I'm not sure what happened, but it led to my fall."

I laughed a little. Jose laughed too. What else could you do? It was kind of slapstick the whole thing.

I told Jose to also cook for me the duck liver and tongue. Lunch was plantains and duck. I had the leg, deep fried. It was a beautiful meal, but it was hard to taste on some parts, because of the poison that was still burning my tongue. The liver tasted absolutely delicious.

After lunch, Jose said he needed some time. I asked, "For what?"

He said, "Tequila." I wondered if he was an alcoholic. He showed up with bloodshot eyes when I first met him. And now, after having a sip of tequila and knowing I drank some, he couldn't help but get some more. That's how addictions work. The first taste leads to more and more.

After an hour, he came back. I was laying on the bench in pain. I was reading in Hemingway's The Dangerous Summer, coincidentally at the same time, that the main matador gets gored once and he won't take anything for the pain. He considered himself a real man for getting the gore and an even more manly man for not taking anything for the pain.

Well, I don't know if enduring pain for the sake of pain makes one a real man. I do know that my fall off the planks isn't the same as being wounded by goring. But perhaps being chased by a swarm of killer bees can be ranked up there. Who knows how dangerous it could've been if hundreds of them stung us all at once?

In fact, to impress the girls, I saw Jose take off his shorts and show the girls where he was stung in the buttocks. He made me show them where I was stung in the hand. I don't know how this makes us more of a man, but these girls actually seem to be impressed by it.

After lunch, we drove back to Nauta. I gave Jose a $10 tip. He wasn't expecting it. He gave me a big hug. I wasn't expecting that.

And he said, "God be with you."

I walked back to my hotel with my stuff. The owner asked me why my face was still kind of orange. I told her I painted it red with the resin from the tree.

She asked, "Why?"

And I said, "Because that's how the Indians from the Amazon look in the movies."

Then she started laughing.