Sunday, April 29, 2018

On the Southern Cape - What's on Top

Eastern Cape, South Africa
When I was in Cape Town, I met a young German girl who told me that I had to be more positive and enthusiastic. I told her that's kind of hard, when you're lawyer. After all, we're trained to see everything that's wrong with the opponent and their work. Perhaps, that's why depression and suicide is so high in the profession. I read that you're 3.6 times more likely to be depressed if your'e an attorney. But I took a leaf from that German girl's book and told myself today - "I'm going to enjoy my life." And to be honest, I needed to enjoy it; I've been exhausted from writing my appellate reply brief.

Wind blowing through my hair
I arrived into the Eastern Cape, still upset that PhD student at the other hostel took my money. And on top of that, I'm fairly certain the hostel owner was in on it. I kept telling myself that it was time to move on, but sometimes,
emotionally that sense of unfulfilled justice and violation linger in one's spirit.

But when I came to the Eastern Cap, I thought to myself - how beautiful. When I arrived, I knew I was at the right place to stay for awhile. And, I also knew it was time to start working on my Reply on my client's case.

To be honest, I was really dreading to have to work on writing another brief again. I don't think the general public knows how difficult it is to write a quality brief. It takes so much energy and thinking. I always feel exhausted after writing a good brief.

Some times I wish that the work in writing a brief would exercise my body like a marathon would, because it certainly feels like running a marathon, except with none of the health benefits from doing it. In fact, the stress can impact on you negatively. But even though I'm admittedly complaining, working on a brief certainly has other effects: It sharpens the mind.

It reminds me of how my mother used to sharpen knives with a whetting stone, grinding away the dull edges of the blade so that it had virtue again. And virtue is important. It not only means you're an ethical person; it also means you're functional with a purpose.

But coming to the Cape has been a good experience for me. I found a church that I liked. I met with the pastor. He was gracious enough to meet with me for an hour and half. He counseled me. We prayed together. He taught me how to forgive the thieves in the last hostel, and I needed to do that. I just didn't know how. (Forgiveness is not my strong point.)

I know there's a lot of atheists and agnostics who read my blog. So excuse me, if you have to read that I practice spirituality. But I have to be honest. I felt blessed. I felt blessed to have someone pray for me and to pray for someone. I was encouraged and refreshed and a sense of peace came over me after.

Throughout this week, I've been working on that Reply brief every day, except today, a Sunday. Well, even though it feels like I've been walking and trudging through the sludge, I'm

glad to say I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. There's going to be an end to this thing.

So, today's Sunday, and I went to church. I haven't been to too many services on my sabbatical. The pastor spoke on raising adolescent children. It made me think about my boxing kids (who are no longer kids, but college students) back home.

A good portion of the talk was on how social media, like FaceBook and WhatsApp and Instagram, is destroying the lives of our adolescence.

The sermon made me think that our kids and teenagers have it harder than Generation X or my parents' generation or I did. They're constantly bombarded with lies and deception all the time. On FaceBook, everyone is having a wonderful time and everyone is Frenemying each other to one up each other on who has the most likes or the most friends or whatever. On top of that, they're being bombarded with advertisements and messages and being told what's cool and what it takes to be cool.

You're cool if you have an awesome car. If you're an athlete, you have to be able to perform extraordinary feats, like those on the sports channel. If you're to be beautiful, you need to look like a supermodel. If you're smart, you have to be a super child genius, like Malcolm in the Middle. All of these expectations only cause people anxiety by saying one message: You're not good enough (and never will be). And I thought growing up in high school during my age was tough, but it's certainly harder now.

Is there a solution? I don't think any easy ones. Technology is advancing and becoming inseparable from our lives. All that a parent can do (and really should do intentionally), is teach their children truth, right from wrong, and strong values to help them journey through a hostile jungle.

Anyways, after church, I told myself I'm going to enjoy life today. I took a walk along the coast for about 4 miles. From the cliffs, I even saw a great white shark swimming in the bay and a harem of seals. Tons of them, actually. (You can see the pictures posted above.)

After hiking through the rugged coast, I hitched a ride back into town. I came back to my hostel and rested and made egg noodles with a mussel cream and wine sauce. It was beautiful, and I gave some to the employees here. We enjoyed together.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

My Faith Struggle

Rembrandt's Sea of Galilee 
(Currently missing; stolen.)
I met a Flemish woman in Stellenbosch, and then I met her again several weeks later here; she was in her 60's and seemed like a lonely soul. She babbled often to the guests, and perhaps stayed in hostels because it gave her an opportunity to meet people. She told me that her family and friends back home tell her that they love her writing, and I realized - somehow - what was missing with my writing. And that is an openness to share my fears and challenges and insecurities. And one theme that's been resurfacing over the years is how to trust in God with my security and well being, especially with regard to money. It hasn't been easy.

On this trip, especially, I feel like God's been challenging me to give more. And that's not easy, especially when you're not making a regular salary.

People look at me and think being on sabbatical is a dream, and perhaps it would seem so, especially if you're still on a paid salary. Imagine getting paid for not working for a year. I know some people would die for that opportunity. But that's not the case with me.

When I told my legal mentor that I was taking a break, I remember he looked at me in shock and said, "So you're going on an unpaid one year sabbatical?"

And I said, "Yup." And not knowing his religious background, I added with confidence, "The Jewish people practiced it in ancient times and had faith God would provide. I need to have the same faith."

He stared at me, semi-puzzled.

And that's been the challenge, aye? The Torah is clear that God's people were not allowed to farm the land on the seventh year for a number of reasons. One was to allow the land to recharge. Two was so that the poor could come on the land and have food. Third was so that the animals could also recover from the problems caused by development. (In other words, the outer environment also had to heal.) And probably fourth and most importantly, it taught the Jewish people to rely on a good and caring God - who would come through and provide for his people and not to rely solely on their own efforts.

But on Sabbatical, I realize that God called me to give more. And at times, I didn't want to.

Giving a lot and finish this trip with enough money were in conflict with each other. I was worried.

On the other hand though, I had come to a comfortable place of giving, and it was no longer good enough. Plus I was facing other challenges form this Sabbatical. I was burnt out. And I still had  trauma that came from nearly being killed. (Sometimes I still remember all the blood that was gushing from shoulder and head and how it soaked through all my clothes and drizzled all over my hand.)

Nonetheless, I still obeyed the commandment to be generous, but admittedly, not as cheerfully as I should have. In the end though, I had to tell myself: If you [Paul] believe that (1) God created the universe and (2) that He is caring and kind, then you should have no problem in trusting in him for your resources. In the end, it's all God's resources, anyways. You can't take it with you when you die.

No wonder why Jesus said: “So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings." (Matt. 6:31-34, GNT).

In summary - the Scripture says God knows what you need and not to worry about it. Everyone worries about these kind of things, but you're different. You're chosen to be a light and you have a mission to accomplish to advance the Kingdom. So be joyful and cheerful and don't worry, because your God will provide whatever you need, and in doing so, you show the world your great faith.

And that's been the struggle inside of me between light and dark thoughts. But I should know better.

In my life, my God has always come through. For instance, I was almost paralyzed to start my own law practice (without having any experience in litigation or starting my own business), not making money, and having a huge student loan hanging over my head. But look now; I won a number of cases, made enough to go on sabbatical, and had my student loans paid off - which freed me greatly (in so many ways).

But God never lets you get comfortable. I've been given more challenges and more trials and more tribulations; so that I may mature as an individual and in my faith. And that's not been easy, but certainly rewarding.

In any event - God's come through again. An anonymous benefactor deposited $1,447.57 into my account the other day. Wow! And thank you!

At first I was skeptical about the money; that's my training as an attorney. (We tend to see the world through a negative lens.) But then I had to accept that it was a sign to not be afraid of where I'm going, who I'm seeing, or what I'm asked to do. And to be obedient, faithful, and to have faith.

I then had a chat with an important person in my life. And he too reminded me to not be worried about money.

After thinking about it some, it completely changed my life. I realized I need to enjoy myself more in South Africa and it freed me in knowing what work I'll be doing when I came back home. The insight there is that fear leads to constraints and that hope and love (which casts out fear) leads to possibilities and creativity.

So, I end by asking that you keep me in your thoughts and prayers and send me encouragement if it's on your heart. This journey hasn't been the safest one. In Colombia, I was almost killed. In South Africa, two thieves, in conspiracy with each other, at my hostel stole money from me. I also think one of the people that housed me was unsafe. At the moment, though, I'm enjoying myself, writing in a fishing village (some of my favorite spots on Earth). Thus, please remember I need your prayers.

In faith,


Monday, April 23, 2018

Did Michael Taylor Hire Incompetent Council Member Ricardo Pacheco for Money? - TaylorGate

Our police chief - Michael Taylor
(c) LA Times
Baldwin Park Chief of Police and West Valley Water District Board Member Michael Taylor just hired Baldwin Park Council Member Ricardo Pacheco as assistant general manager at the water district. It's obvious that the reason behind this is the money trail (which we'll get to later). Can the corruption get any more in-your-face and offensive?

For those of you new to the story, let me explain what's happening. Baldwin Park Chief of Police, Michael Taylor, a character for his known corruption (he fired a boxing coach that worked for the city for 20 years and had me arrested and strip searched for protesting him) ran for water board in his home city.

The first time, he failed miserably. Then he got fired as chief - which was a great relief for all of us, as temporary as it was. Somehow he manages to come back as chief, asks for corrupt and outrageous raises and tries to make a million in retirement and now has a contract that says he can't be fired unless he commits a felony. (We wonder what he has over Mayor Lozano.) This means he has to be convicted of something like murder or rape or  grand theft before they fire this guy.

After marijuana money enters Baldwin Park, Taylor enlists the help help of ex-state assemblyman Roger Hernandez and city attorney Robert Tafoya and receives various amounts of drug and contraband money to run for public office.

Guess what? This time he succeeds and his first move is to fire a number of committed workers at the water board.

Ricardo Pacheco upset to be defeated in court.
(c) San Gabriel Valley Tribune
The first people Taylor has to hire are those that helped him in get into office. So like himself, Baldwin Park City Attorney, Robert Nacionales-Tafoya (who was fired from the water board) becomes the new attorney at the water board. And what did he do? Well, he drafted Taylor's contract. Well known for deception, Tafoya denies such an allegation, but my copy of the contract specifically states it was drafted by the "City Attorney".

After, Tafoya comes Pacheco. The board hired an inexperienced and incompetent Baldwin Park Council Member, named Ricardo Pacheco, from a pool of 25 applicants. Does anyone see a problem that Baldwin Park employees are infesting another public agency in San Bernardino?

(For you legal experts - it makes me wonder if a legitimate public agency can run as an alter ego of another public agency? Food for thought. And we know what alter egos do: launder money.)

Although the board website alleges that Pacheco has a bachelors of science from Cal. State Los Angeles, Pacheco has never shown proof of this. Perhaps, he took one class there. But given his inability to write or do math, I highly doubt he graduated with an engineering degree there. (Let this be a lesson to all of us: Question what your politician says about his qualifications. Always.) On top of his make-believe degree, Pacheco also alleges he works for Cal Trans. We need to see the proof. In fact, I stand by my story that Pacheco is most likely an undocumented sex felon from Texas.

And yes, Pacheco did work as a public works director in South Gate - where he was forced to resign because of his bullying and accusations of sexual harassment. Council Woman Cruz Baca has also accused Pacheco that he physically pushed her once too; the district attorney declined to press charges. Witnesses have observed how high school girls are loathsome of Pacheco and disgusted by him when he approaches, including even his own daughter. A number of witnesses have seen the Sunday school teacher and married Catholic at the strip bars on Valley Blvd in the City of Industry. (Several witnesses have also alleged that Father Mike of Baldwin Park's Catholic Church also asks for "big donations" from this marijuana scheme.) The pattern and all these circumstantial facts are in line with the theory that he's a an ex-felon convicted of sexually related crimes in Texas.

Regarding his judgment, Pacheco has proven himself vindictive and wasteful with city money. To shut up local activist Greg Tuttle, Pacheco sued Tuttle on an estimated $500,000 in legal expenses of city money. In the first case, Pacheco lied under oath to get a temporary restraining order against Tuttle. Pacheco lost that case. Then, in the second case, Pacheco attempted to code enforce Tuttle and ruin his credit rating. He lost that case as well. Both instances now only show how wasteful Pacheco is, but his inability to control himself and his temper.

So, why is Taylor hiring someone as incompetent and mean-spirited as Pacheco? Well, first, Pacheco voted for Taylor's exorbitant contract and also his clause that he can virtually never get fired. But second, let's not also forget that Pacheco is part of the phony California Education Coalition Political Action Committee that laundered drug money to get Taylor elected. As we keep saying in Baldwin Park: Follow the money. It certainly lead you to interesting places.

New 2018 Lincoln Navigator
Well - our "public servant" is living the high roller life now, even while being incompetent, uneducated, unethical, spiteful, mean, and wasteful. After the injection of marijuana money into the City and his new job, Pacheco bought himself a new 2018 Lincoln Navigator, laser eye surgery, and a new suit.

The students at the boxing club used to ask me how to become wealthy. I would tell them the truth: "I would tell you to go to school and get a good education. But it seems that being corrupt is an easier and faster way to do it."

To end this piece - I wanted to answer a question asked of me a long time ago. Someone asked me: "Why should we care about corruption?" I mean it seems obvious why, because it's wrong and bad for society. Well, I'm in a better position to answer that question now.

The ring of corruption in Baldwin Park
and West Valley Water Board
Now that I'm in South Africa, I'm witnessing the unraveling of the social fabric and trust of civic society. This results is the loss of business and people being unable to make money to house and feed themselves.

And one reason this happens is because of these corrupt public officials - who are too lazy and incompetent to make their own way in life. So, they lie to us, and then turn around and steal from us, instead. And here in South Africa, it's turning into a hopeless society where everyone just preys off of everyone else, because there's no business.

Is this where we really want to head?

The solution to this problem is that these individuals needs to be investigated, the truth needs to be exposed, and they need to be justly charged and convicted. Only then can we start all over and have a government for the people, by the people.

So, I encourage all of you to do your part in being outraged and active by the cancerous growth of corruption rooting and infesting itself in our presence. It makes me wonder if we've entered into where there won't be economic growth in the Western World for the first time since the Dark Ages. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Food Guide for Cape Town & Stellenbosch

Medium Rare Steak at Rust en Vrede Winery
Photo by Paul Cook
From Cape Town, I went to Stellenbosch - which is a university town and a destination for wine lovers. I stayed there for a week and a half and really enjoyed myself on good food and drink.

Unfortunately, my stay at the hostel called Banghoek Place did not go so well. I had $50-$70 USD stolen there, and the owner of the hostel not only was hostile, aggressive, and mean about it, she suggested I drop my investigation (which makes you wonder if she's in on it).

(If anyone is reading this from Banghoek Place, I just wanted to say that it's a really violating feeling to have your cash taken. The reaction of the owner who didn't care was even more hurtful. I hope those who are responsible can change their way, so you can stop harming people and yourself and local tourism.)

In any event, I had to throw that out there to warn other guests. Also, if you are going to stay there, make sure that you count your cash before you check in and every day while you're there. Cash has a tendency to disappear when you're staying there.

If you want to find out what happened, you can read Kyra's blog, a Flemish girl who also had her money stolen there, along with four other girls. You'll have to translate it from Dutch to English, but Kyra was a bit of pitbull too when it came to the investigation. (Obviously, she mentions me as in the blog as the one who continued the discovery and had "good courage".)

Anyways, back to my time in Stellenbosch. I really enjoyed my time in Stellenbosch. I met good people, ate nice food, and enjoyed the wine immensely. It's too bad though that my time was really soured by the theft.

Anyways, I'd like to do a food guide for Cape Town and Stellenbosch below.

*I have received NO compensation for writing this guide. These reviews are my genuine opinion, and thank you for the food, service, and drinks these establishments have provided.

* * *

Cape Town


South China Dim Sum Bar on Long Street

Dim Sum dishes at South China Dim Sum Bar
After not eating Chinese food for awhile, I found this place a savior. It's a Dim Sum bar. It's cost isn't cheap, but not expensive.

I recommend getting the fried lamb dumplings, the shui mai, and the chicken dumplings. All the noodle and rice dishes aren't worth it. (Hint: If the owner contacts me, I can give improvements on those dishes.)

Service could also improve. The first night there, the staff was rude, and I had to talk to the owner about it. The service improved a lot better after that talk.

Make a reservation to get a seat from Thursday to Saturday. Hope you enjoy.

Food & Coffee 

Lola's Cafe on Long Street

A picture of the inside of Lola's
(C) TripAdvisor
Across the street from the dim sum bar, you can have the most rich cappuccinos at a place called Lola's. The staff are beautiful and greet you with genuine warmness and kindness. I had a coffee here every day that I could. And they're super clean; I remember that they shut down the restaurant every two days a season to do a full cleaning.

This is a lunch place and not a dinner place. They have the best vegan burger I had, and I also recommend their croissants. They're also fantastic.

I never had their juices, but those appeared to be really popular too with customers.

Royal Eatery on Long Street

A burger from Royale Eatery
(c) TripAdvisor
Even though I'm not the biggest fan of burgers, but Royale Eatery has some really good ones! I recommend some of their more popular burgers. They have great sweet potato fries too and an awesome salad. For your side, you can order half salad and half fries. That's what I did.

I had to come back twice to try their ostrich burger. Not the biggest fan of it. The other burgers are better.

Highly recommended.

Chocolate, Coffee, & Bunny Chow

Honest Chocolate on Wale Street

A medley of chocolates and pastries and drink at Honest Chocolate
(C) TripAdvisor
I loved it here! How can you not, when it's all about chocolate and more chocolate and more chocolate. It's amazing. I liked all their chocolate dishes, so no specific recommendations. Their cappuccinos are also good. Really, though, the drink here to get is the rooibos (red bush) latte. It's a latte made out of red bush tea. Ask for some honey. And man, is your day made.

Make sure to try their bunny chow. They hollow out a muffin, stuff it with chocolate, and then add ice cream, chocolate, and nuts to it.

They also have fast internet. Highly recommended! Enjoy!

Ice Cream

Moro Gelato on Long Street

Gelato at Moro Gelato
(C) TripAdvisor
Started by two Italians and a South African, Moro Gelato is a wonderful little stop to have gourmet gelato and beautiful chocolate with it.

I recommend the Marchese gelato - Vanilla from Tahiti with South African macadamian nut butter and caramilized almonds and a second scoop of tart gelato (like sour cherry or mango) to balance out the creaminess. This has to be one of the best gelato places I've been to.

The other flavors are typical of other gelato places, however.



Annandale Winery

Picture of Annandale Vineyards
(c) Annandale 
A lesser known vineyard than Rust en Vrede, Annandale in my opinion has the best wines that I've tried so far. Apparently, the vineyard has been run by an Afrikaner family for five generations. I couldn't try their $70 bottle of Merlot, but their Syrah and Cavalier was to die for.

A Swedish couple recommended this place to me. It was a bit out of the way, and I had to hitchhike here to get here. Totally worth it!

Again, highly recommended.


Rust en Vrede (Rest and Peace)

The Kitchen at Rust en Vrede
(C) Rust en Vrede
The Rust en Vrede Vineyard is well regarded. Nelson Mandela picked the wines from here for his Noble Prize dinner.

Although I like the wine, I thought the steak, marbled with fat, was superb and tender and succulent and of good value with these really crunchy and savory french fries. (See picture above). The salad was first rate as well.

This place was also a bit out of the way, and I had to take a shuttle-taxi to get here. Really, worth it!

Ok folks, that's it for my recommendations around the Cape Town area. Please write to me if you found my tips helpful.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Meeting the South African WiseMan

Hermit Hovel by RollingMan
So, when I met with the three of them (the WiseMan and his two friends), they were all drunk on white wine. It was a hot and sunny and beautiful Saturday afternoon in South Africa - and I guess a few chilled glasses of white wine could hit the spot.

I introduced myself and gave the WiseMan the red wine I brought for him as a gift. One of his friends was a winemaker, and he was in a very good mood - a very good mood indeed.

After they found out I hitchhiked, the WineMaker would hear nothing more about it. I was going to stay with him the night. He showed incredible South African hospitality.

We all chit chatted about this and that, about the small things and the great things, but unfortunately not about the important things. They were drunk and not in the mood for it.

The WiseMan had pizza delivered to us. It was a sign of his hospitality, because I told him I was hungry. I had been traveling for hours to see him.

After, they brought out two more bottles of white wine. In total, they may have each drank a bottle or more of wine that day. The WiseMan's cheeks turned a bright baboon red, and he said he needed a rest.

I was disappointed. I came all this way. I wanted to share my story. I wanted some wisdom. I needed some help. But it happens. Whatever it was.

The WineMaker and his buddy took me around town. We went to a bar on the hill. The WineMaker kept talking about how bad the methodists were for some reason. Later, he introduced me to a number of friends and his girlfriend.

One of the WineMaker's friend said, "My grandmother believed in only two things: Methodists and Jan Smut. Methodists aren't good people." I wondered what was wrong with these methodists.

After the sun had set behind the hill, he took me to his place. He had a cozy and well-built and well-designed home. I slept in a nice bed. I had to take a short shower. Their area had so little water - everyone was waiting for Day Zero to hit soon.

The WineMaker talked with his girlfriend and friends. He was rather drunk - so much of it didn't have too much relevance, but some of it was interesting.

I slept for 9 hours, but when I woke up, I didn't feel rested. I think I had a glass of wine too much too.

The WineMaker and I and one friend had breakfast. It was decent but nothing to rave about. Nobody was in a good mood; they all looked hung over.

I stopped by the WiseMan's place. He looked hung over too. I said good bye to him. I was still a bit disappointed I didn't get the wisdom I was seeking.

After, the WineMaker took me back to town through the backroads - where I was able to see some beautiful African birds fly through the fields. I even saw African deer that looked like a unicorn.

Before he dropped me off at my AirBnB, we did another wine tasting. That lifted both our moods. What is it about wine that it could do that?

The WineMaker told me about all the different varieties in the region. He knew them well, and he even knew the year of each one. We overlooked more of the mountains, and I told him stories, like when that speed boat almost tried to kill me Colombia. We talked a lot about travel.

After, the WineMaker paid. That was generous of him. I tried to pay. I regretted not paying, so much so, I thought about it for days after. He was such a generous man.

After he dropped me off, I met my next host - who turned out later to be a White Supremacist that believed the Jewish race was trying to enslave or kill him. Imagine staying with someone like that. He tried to be polite, but he was so full of rage and anger and stress, it was hard to be around him.

In any event, the next morning, my next host gave me a ride to the nearest train station. I was able to make it back into town, but I kept wondering what was the point of all that. I didn't learn much. They seemed kind of suspicious of me, but they were too drunk to let me even explain my story.

I wish I could have told them that their wisdom needs to be invested in the next generation for mission to continue. I wish I could have told them that I probably had knowledge for them as well, or more about my own journey. But perhaps next time. There could be a next time, however and whenever that happens.

But I was still proud of myself, I had did it against the odds. When I came back, I was welcomed with smiles as I told everyone: I did it! I saw the WiseMan of the South African Mountains, and I told the people my story.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Seeing the WiseMan of the South African Mountains

"I don't know if I'll make it, Lloyd," I told the Xhosan receptionist. "But I have to see him." I heard there was a wiseman in the middle of nowhere I had to see.

Lloyd said, "Oh, man, it's going to be hard. That's in the middle of nowhere. And you don't have a car. It's almost impossible to get there." Lloyd had dreadlocks and a bright and sunny and white smile every time he spoke.

"But I have to see him, Lloyd. He might have the answers I need."

I left on a Saturday, not knowing if this was going to work. I packed my things. I brought a fine bottle for the wiseman. I heard that he may have the answers I need in my journey hence.

Nicky, the morning receptionist printed me my sign of paper, because it's so hard to hitchhike in South Africa. It read: "American / Ride Needed / Can Pay." The receptionists and I debated whether I should write "Can Pay" or "Help". They both said "Can Pay" would increase my chances of getting picked up.

But Lloyd warned me. "Man, it's a Saturday. The trains won't be running frequently. You might have to get there really early."

I couldn't walk to the train station with that advice. It was 2 miles away. So, I asked a young dutch guy named Dave to give me a ride. I would even pay him, but he wouldn't accept it. After, I gave him my number to keep in touch.

I bought a train ticket for 13R ($1USD). I had to get to one station and make a change in trains.

Train rides are interesting in South Africa. In general, this tripper but good way of transportation is only done by the blacks and colored (mixed) people. I didn't see one white person on the train. I was the only Asian person, and I could feel the eyes being glued to my skin.

One lady even called to me and said, "Ching Chang! Where are you from?"

Not wanting to answer her, I said, "Japan," and changed seats.

I had to change trains. There, it was running about 30 minutes late. I had to wait about 40 minutes. I started reading. It was a good way of getting reading done.

On the train - a dirty guy kept grabbing his crotch and looking at me. I thought something was wrong and asked him, "Are you ok?" He touched my knee and I told him, "Don't touch me."

I moved seats, where he stared at me with a fixed gaze. Then he started ranting and raving. I figured he was mentally not well.

He left, and the other people on the train agreed with me that he was mentally unwell. The train ran through a number of filthy townships. Townships are these shacks made of tin, where the poor blacks and colored live. There, I saw a little boy defecating on a pile of trash.

After the last train, there was a bus that was going to 7 miles away from my destination. I had to wait an hour for the bus, and the bus told me that there wasn't a return trip. That was worrying, because my AirBnB was booked 20 miles away from where the wise man lived.

I had faith. I believed I could do it. I had to see him, and there was no turning back now.

There were thoughts and what ifs. What if I don't see him? What if he's not there? What if I can't get back at night? What if no one takes me back to my AirBnB? 

But I controlled my thoughts and pushed them aside and told myself, I have to try. It'll work out.

The bus dropped me off at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. There were just grape vineyards everywhere that went on expansively but stopped at the base of the surrounding mountains.

At the crossroad was a black guy who was also hitchhiking. He was a worker from Zimbabwe. It was rare to see another hitchhiker. I talked to him. He said he was going into the same town I was. He knew the wise man of the mountain.

I took out my sign that Nicky gave me, and we waited for a ride. After 30 minutes, an Afrikaner farmer with a white pick up picked us up and had us sit in his bed. He drove us into town, and I thanked him. I told him I was seeing the wiseman, and he was excited for me.

The driver stepped out. I asked the Zimbabwean guy to take the photo. He tried to take it of just the driver and him. I told him, "No. You must be part of the photo." I got the selfie of the three of us, and I told them both I would send it to them later.

I kept wondering if the wiseman would be there when I came.

After walking for about 10 minutes, I remember seeing his back. He was sitting on his porch, drinking wine. I recognized him. He had two friends with him.

 I thanked my Zimbabwean friend and said good bye. Then, I introduced myself and brought out the bottle of wine.

One of the guys named Tony looked at the bottle and said, "That's a nice wine." I told them how it took me three and a half hours, a car ride, two trains, a bus, and a hitchhike to arrive.

It was then, Tony said, "Have a seat with us."

They brought me out a glass of white wine. It was chilled. We toasted. We drank.

(To be continued.)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

My Last Thoughts on Cape Town

Lion's Head (background) and Cape Town (below)
shot by Paul Cook from Table Mountain
I erased my original posts and thoughts about Cape Town and wanted to share more of my thoughts and feelings about South Africa. Yes, I did the touristy things, such as Lion's Head and Table Mountain and the Victoria and Albert Waterfront and the aquarium there. But, that wouldn't capture my impressions of Cape Town and South Africa. My final thoughts is that South Africa is in a bad shape. The social fabric of trust has completely rotted in South Africa. No one trusts anyone.

View of Cape Town from Lion's Head
One thing I did that was special and not listed in any of the tour books (not in the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide), is that I sat in a session of parliament. It's free and worth doing in Cape Town, as my hostel was nearby. The entire session was a like a circus. The minority parties were arguing with the ANC, and the ANC acted like it didn't matter what legitimate complaints existed, they were in charge. So, why should they listen?

Most of the houses are surrounded by electric wires to keep thieves out. I met a pair of South Africans, who were robbed at gun point in their gated community. Every place, like restaurants and bars, have a big iron gate in front of it. You have to be buzzed in a lot of times. 

It's the small things that get to you. Like, nobody hands the waiter their credit card.
A shark at the aquarium
at the V&A Waterfront
Instead, the waiter brings the machine to you, or you walk to the front counter with the credit card. This is because credit card fraud was rampant at one point.

Talking about the small things getting to you. I also don't like how when I hitchhiked here, people look at you like your crazy. I still got picked up, and the guy said, "Man! You're crazy. Nobody will pick you up."

And I said, "Well, you did."

"Consider yourself lucky and get yourself a taxi next time."

"Why won't they pick me up?"

"Because, no one will trust you. Everyone thinks everyone else is a criminal."

Over breakfast today, the nephew of my host said that a
hitchhiking passenger killed a driver recently. Not good. Like I said, it appears that the social fabric of trust in South Africa
The Butcher by Jane Alexander
Featured in the National Gallery
(These are the creatures Apartheid created.)
has deteriorated, at least towards the stranger, to the foreigner, to the unknown person. In my view, the concept of Good Samaritan has been lost. 

What that means for an entire nation, who knows? According to Jacques Pauw of South Africa, he says that South African untouchables "are unemployed for life. Exports are falling, commodity prices are falling, growth rate forecasts are falling, business confidence is falling. We have become world leaders in income inequality, racial tension, rape and illicit financial outflows." I don't recommend investing in South Africa, sadly. I'm sure the future will only tell us more.

On the theme of investments, there was a day I learned about diamonds at the museum. It was so commercial, I won't even bother telling you which diamond museum I went to. Did you
Cartoon at the National Gallery
Doesn't it remind you of Baldwin Park too and
their refusal to give up records?
know that a man-made diamond is exactly the same as a natural one? You can't tell the difference. 

I asked my guide, "Well, what if De Beers started making
artificial diamonds and putting them into their trade?"

She said, "They wouldn't do that."
"But if they did, nobody would be able to know. You just explained that to me."

Nothing was said after that.

Sunset of Cape Town from Table Mountain
All in all, I've decided I'm not going to buy a diamond. It's a dirty trade to put your money into. The pursuit of diamonds have caused the death of so many blacks and Boers alike. No matter what De Beers says, all South African diamonds are blood diamonds.

Final political thought. The big stir here is whether former President Jacob Zuma will be convicted of his crimes, which are so well documented. It's kind of the same problem in Baldwin Park - how does Mayor Lozano and his men continue to engage in corruption without prosecution. In fact, it's becoming more and more blatant and overt.

Not good at all. It appears that accountability and prosecution of government officials and administrators is a global problem. I'm convinced we've come to a point in time, where, we as a human race need to figure out how to prosecute those who govern us. Currently, South Africa has shown me that the checks and balance system is clearly not working but hasn't shown me how to make it work. 

One thing that I haven't mentioned about Cape Town is the beautiful coffee and food and ice cream I had. I'll post on that separately, as I think it should have it's own article.

So besides meeting "interesting" people and some good people, eating good food and drink, and seeing a country in one big mess, I think I can say I have a good feel for Cape Town. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Day 274: Lesson from The Easter of 2018 - On Being Free

Table Mountain at Sunset, Cape Town, South Africa
Shot by Paul Cook
Who would have ever thought that I would have been writing an Easter post from the Western Cape of South Africa even a few months ago? Really, this entire trip is taking me to places I would have never thought I'd end up in. I've been traveling now for 274 days, a little over 9 months. If there's anything that marks this Easter as special, I think it's about being free.

The holiday of Easter, and it's close relative, Passover, are really about freedom, right? Jesus said he came to "bring good news to the poor . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind . . . [and] to set free the oppressed". (Luke 4:18-19, GNT). And isn't Passover about the Jewish flight from Egyptian slavery?

In my opinion, it's hard to understand the concept of freedom today; the term has been so distorted. I'll never forget, after the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers, when George Bush said that the White House was going to eat "Freedom Fries" as opposed to "French Fries" that day. It's hard to imagine more ways to mock the word freedom.

When presidents and western leaders say they're going to take over a country to introduce democracy and freedom, are they really bringing freedom to a people? Or are they bringing a new type of enslavement, and using it as an excuse to take the resources of those countries? I mention this, because once again, the meaning of freedom is clearly muddled today.

Perhaps - we in the West (and in many places around the world), think we're free, because slavery has been abolished. Technically, at least in the United States, humans cannot be the property of another.

Being in South Africa, however, has given me perspective. Enslavement, the abuse of humans, and the painful legacy of subjugation is so clear here.

I've spent close to a month in Cape Town, the political capital of South Africa, and there's no way you could be in Cape Town, without the people reminding you of the abusive system that Apartheid created. Apartheid was the South African version of America's Jim Crow laws. Laws were enacted to promote white dominance over colored and black people. Whites and blacks were separate; but not really. Blacks could still be servants for the whites, and hence share that space - but only if they were servants. But people were not equal, and the laws stifled advancements of colored and black people.

These laws maintained and perpetuated a white power in South Africa - which allowed the prevailing party to loot the resources of the land. Blacks were kicked down, literally and physically, spat on, and called racial epithets to chain them down. For instance, blacks were not allowed to work in certain jobs or even vote. As of April of 1994, Apartheid is technically abolished, but is it really?

Really, Apartheid was the modern and physical manifestation of what it meant to be enslaved and not have freedom. In short, it was cruel and degraded humanity for the benefit and wealth of the few.

And learning about Apartheid made me wonder, even though we're technically free in a place like the United States, are we really free as well? Its perhaps on this trip, I'm beginning to understand better the foundations of enslavement and freedom.

It's even plausible that the Scriptures argues that spiritual enslavement, as opposed to physical enslavement, is the worse of two evils. That's a radical idea, and understandably an abhorrent argument. How could a rich and young prince have it worse than someone in poverty, who is being beat and broken and abused? It's absurd, and one might argue, even trivializing revulsive systems like Apartheid.

But it's clear in Apostle Paul's response that one can experience joy even in the worst of circumstances. When he was in prison in Philippi, he writes: "I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now. And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus." (Phil 1:3-6).

To summarize, Paul in prison, gives thanks, experiences joy, and encourages his congregation (from prison) to strive to be better people. Although physically shackled, can there be a better illustration of freedom? I don't know about you - but I'm generally not an encouraging person when I'm suffering. In fact, for those of you who have been reading my blog long enough, know that the Mayor of Baldwin Park threw me into jail for protesting him. Although I thought it a humbling and crucial experience in my life - I can't say that I was nearly as joyful in my response that Paul demonstrated. Paul shows that one has freedom in how one responds to others - no matter how much is going wrong with life. (Notice; he doesn't even blame God, when these things happen. He doesn't even question why God doesn't free him.)

The passage of Scripture reminds me of how Prime Minister de Klerk, the head and power of the South African State had to negotiate with the prisoner Nelson Mandela. I mean, in this moment - who is the one that is really in power? Who is the one that is really in charge? In this moment, who is really slave? Who is really free?

Hence, in the West - like in America - there's an illusion that we're free, when we're really not. I met a privileged guy, recently, who ruined his reputation, his finances, and his relationships, because he was spending all his money on ecstasy and cocaine and marijuana - just because life was just too painful for him to live through sober. He'd rather be, what academics call, "in the zone."

(The phenomenon can often be seen in gambling addicts, who can't leave the slot machine. You'll see that they go into a trance. But what do they sacrifice to get into "this zone" - this artificial taste of freedom and joy? Generally, everything.)

And that begins to beg the real question. Are you in charge of the pleasure (whether it be in the for of gambling, drugs, alcohol, sex, quest for money, or power), or is that desire actually in charge of you? Who controls who? The answer to the question is whether a person can abstain or say no to that pleasure? And if he or she cannot, they are spiritually enslaved, and that harm has a way to seed and grow and root and manifest and control in other people, especially those we care about, like our friends, relatives, and children.

But to think about these problems, only bring despair. Is there even a solution?

Passover and Easter, however, are a reminder that a solution exists to this type of spiritual enslavement. The celebration of these holidays remind us that God is also the God of love and freedom and that through him - freedom is achievable. The Gospels, unlike what prosperity preachers say, never promises us wealth or power or a life of luxury or security or comfort. It does promise us a new life and the freedom that comes with it, if one is willing to admit that he or she needs to die to him or herself and trust that God will raise that person back from the dead.

That is the Christian paradox. In living, there is death. In dying, there is life.

I'm on a sabbatical now, and although many have looked at my journey across the world with envy - but really, it has been a mentally challenging journey. I paid off my student loans to the bank to reclaim my physical freedom. And that, in turn, cleared the way for a trip throughout the world, to learn more about the peoples of this planet and myself and my God, and how it all connects together.

Some times, I still worry about the future and my security, but when I do, I have to remind myself (some times quite often) that I serve the God that created the universe. What's most important is that I trust he knows what I need, and he'll provide for me.

Anyways, those are my thoughts for This Easter.

Happy Easter from the Western Cape of South Africa,