Foreign Morning Senses

Two adjacent slowly spinning fans. Tables of fake glass, fake wood, fake plastic hosting turning pages of real news. A rooster above the days on the wall, flapping first month of the Western year. Cloud-shielded sunlight on diminutive dirty tiles. No doors.

Helmeted singles and doubles speeding by, a gaggle of mechanical geese, a flock of weed eaters. Zhong bei, jia tang. Western indie pop from petite speakers. Bing de. Nice day for ice. Clinging. Wings of hummingbirds flapping against glass.

Oil oily and yolk yolky. Luo bo gao: is it a radish or a turnip? Straw transferring frothy new substitute like unsweetened marshmallows to the back of the tongue and its roof, lingering. Bitter skin of fruit, a remorseless first impression keeping the sweetness at bay.

The outer wisp of a small, condensed chemical cloud, stinging nostrils, burning tonsils. Soap. Perfumeness as she breezes by. Sharp salty sea: the port olfactorily. The beans, brewed, always smell cozier than they taste.

Whittling wooden chopsticks. Warm breeze on dry squinting eyes. Pain from ear to temple because I chugged here instead of sipped to go.

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A Night at Badouzi

From the bus stop, it’s a steep 2km trek up the same road the cars take. I get to the top around 3pm, slightly later than I wanted to in order to get a read on the sunset and pick a spot for picture purposes, but yet at a perfect time because it’s the pre-sunset stage where you can feel a yellowy-orange presence arising, and the world seems to be in high-contrast mode. The first thing I see when getting to the top is this:

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A bunch of couples are hanging out in the shadows of Wangyou Valley below. I continue on to the coast, and even though we’ve only been apart one day, I greet it like we haven’t seen each other in years. The view is so pretty while walking up and down different sets of stairs, trying to enjoy the warm breeze but also find a good spot to set up the camera. It’s overwhelmingly large – there are plenty of good spots at tops of hills, at valleys, looking at ridges, looking at ports. There are also lots of people since it’s the weekend.

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There are so many options for picture-taking. I’m not a scientist or a light expert, and I have no idea how the coast will be affected by the light. I just take what the sky, mountains, and water give me, which can vary widely. I think this spot will be good:

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There are hundreds of mosquitoes, and I’m wearing my salmon shorts sitting next to some high grass. I can still smell the citronella on my skin, but they don’t seem to care.

I watch the boats millimetering forward, entering and leaving the port. Fishermen and women stand on the edge of the rock structures below, and couples take pictures behind me. Some people come up and talk to me. They’re very nice here.

Where am I supposed to look? What am I supposed to see? I don’t know.

Here comes the sunset.

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The spot I chose is alright, but I look left just a bit. This is what I was looking for.

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For just a few moments, there is but one definite place to focus my eyes. I get up. The hill we strange little creatures are standing on is no longer attached to the earth, and we’re collectively part of something much bigger. The surreal skies overwhelm us as we look up in awe. The people standing next to me have a discussion about school.

I keep moving the camera left, west, following the color. Even though it’s unexpected and there are people in the picture (which I almost always avoid), I get some nice shots and enjoy it. Maybe I’m too obsessed with sunsets over coasts.

Pretty skies at Badouzi

Meanwhile, back at my spot…

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The event in the sky only lasts a minute or two, and people start to leave. But I’m staying. Even though I’m without phone service on top of a hill far from transportation, I’m determined to conquer the night, if the mosquitoes don’t eat every square inch of my arms and legs first…

The darkness welcomes me. Some boats turn on their bright lights, and I mess around with some more pictures.

_mg_8570After the sun sets at Badouzi

I stay another hour, until I can no longer see my hand and nearly everyone is gone. I stand in the middle of the black valley, stopping again for a few minutes, looking at the ships and the stars, wishing I could stay here all night.

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I want more of this. I hope to discover as much of Taiwan’s natural beauty as I can, because exploring makes me happy.

Full photo album

Wandering Thoughts from Holland

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I just spent some time alone in various parts of the Netherlands, trying to regroup and figure out where to go next with my life. I posted some non-Amsterdam photos here.

The following are a few of my thoughts while strolling around the nice little country.

 

While You’re There

These solo trips are always frustrating because I think I need to see certain things in the area while I’m in one spot, but I don’t like touristy things and try to create my own adventures. Yet these adventures, even when fun, feel forced; forced by a travel god telling me to do things so I can say I’m doing things. It usually ends with me randomly walking ridiculous distances in city streets and getting lost in remote towns and, besides one or two significant meeting people-related incidents, usually lots of time is left completely to myself to worry over what to do next. It’s usually a mix of “any way the wind blows” and “any way the wind blows that also sounds like a perfect fit,” and the endless possibilities can be a bit overwhelming. Should I go to some obscure, barely accessible location and take pretty pictures? Should I go out and talk to some locals? Should I have an interesting adventure? Should I use the opportunity in this new place to figure out my life? I do not know how to choose anymore, so whatever I do ends up being completely capricious, and I’m always left wondering if I should be doing something else. There are plenty of downsides to being a drifter when you tell yourself you’re doing something more profound than just escaping.

 

Any Destination Required

I woke up and decided to drive from Amsterdam to Germany to see some mountains and pretty scenery and stuff. I hopped in my surprisingly fast Renault stationwagon-ish thing and looked for any random location in Germany on the in-car GPS. However, the rental car company only had Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) locations on its GPS.

I decided instead to drive to the Lux because I know nothing about it, and I embarked on side roads through the foggy Dutch and then Belgian (and for like 3 minutes German) countryside. Even with 1200 km of driving in two days under my belt, my shifting was still choppy because the lip on the heel of my left all-purpose-while-traveling hiking boot got stuck beneath the clutch every time I released it.

Anyway, after 7 hours of driving, I couldn’t find a place to park in Luxembourg City and got weirdly trapped when a main road suddenly turned to a parking garage and, upon having no other choice but to hit the “give me a ticket and I’ll pay before I leave” button, I was notified in French on a screen that my car was not allowed in the garage for some reason, and I was forced to awkwardly reverse the Renault back out of the long and narrow passageway and onto the busy hilly road with cars converging directly onto the entrance from both one-way sides. I then drove through the drizzle and couldn’t find parking or a place to stay, so I eventually (after about 10 minutes) just decided to drive like 4.5 hours directly back to Amsterdam.

But I thought about the GPS again. I needed to be able to choose some destination and go with it, and it made me extremely anxious to not be able to pick a spot in Germany. I guess I’ve done this since I started driving. I can’t leave until I know which exact direction to head for my inexact adventure. Without a destination it’s stressful in new places because I feel like I must take every exit and see every sight until I find something perfectly suitable. Of course, it’s never really been about the destination. On this trip, the high-level insight I gained was that European petrol is very expensive, and I had to return the car before going broke.

Then it dawned on me that the GPS thing is like my life. There have been so many freaking side projects I’ve started or just envisioned for a few minutes but end up discontinuing due to no motivation, no passion, and the idea that I can’t do something I consider to be “on the side” until I have the main thing figured out yet. I don’t accomplish anything when I have an extended period of free time. There are too many possibilities, too many other exits to take before the sun sets, and I can’t ever settle on one specific endeavor. Well, maybe I’d actually make progress on all things if I simply had one major thing in place acting as support beam. This has proven true in extremely limited instances in the past, but then I leave or quit the main thing and all the secondary things fall apart.

Now, it’s time to plug something in to the ol’ GPS so this journey can be fun again.

 

Gears

Racing through the streets of Amsterdam in this crazy thing. Speed bumps and intersections, narrow passageways, pedestrians and bikers. Unsure – 1st or 2nd gear? Need an in-between gear, it seems. Want to choose speed first, then put in necessary gear, not the other way around. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to want?

 

The Window

I see you in there. You see me out here. From the longing looks on our young faces, it is apparent we have a lot in common and a lot to learn. Why do we continue doing things we don’t want to do? We keep looking through windows, seeing things – moving anythings, stationary everythings – all of which merge into one overwhelming idea of reality, realness. We feel unreal, incomplete, incompatible with our surroundings, and yet we’re stuck in this alien world, begging to feel alive like all the things we see, regardless of what they might be. I know you know I don’t care about what you’re doing, but that you’re at least trying to do it. I know you know I feel imprisoned by my current “freedom,” that it is one of the many possible suboptimal routes I chose. I know you’ve been on this side of the glass too. You want out again? I want in again? I thank you for providing me with the escapism that I needed, and you’re welcome for yours. But let’s make a silent pact to stop looking there and start looking here for the answers we need.

 

 

6 Occasionally Fun, Usually Interesting Months in China

Month 1

I succumb to the $14.99 in-flight Wi-Fi just in time to see the Cardinals lose Game 4 and the series to the Cubs, and while flying over the North Pole that is gorgeous but also makes for an extremely confusing route on the non-sphere-shaped in-flight map, I am in a six-minute existential crisis that goes away when the old Chinese woman next to me falls asleep on my shoulder.

I arrive in Beijing unable to see Beijing, sweating and standing in an extremely long customs “line” learning how Chinese queues work, pulling the protruding metal rod from an overstuffed yesterday-purchased Wal-Mart luggage bag which has already broken somewhere between CLT and PEK.

I am of course expecting movie-esque fanfare from my company upon airport arrival, when instead, an aloof old Chinese man holding a piece of paper with the company name scribbled on nods at me and wordlessly speedwalks ahead and I am apparently supposed to follow, and he is now a tiny speck in a closing elevator, and I get stuck entering. The expressionless stares from a crowd of Chinese people will become familiar soon enough.

After 30 minutes of intense small-bus driving, my closed-eye instincts tell me we are close to downtown. I open my eyes: we have gone from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3. We’re picking up another person, and my driver parks illegally in a muggy parking garage. I guess I’m supposed to wait inside the van. I’m drenched in sweat and almost deaf from reverberated honking when he returns with another employee from America one hour later. She is annoyingly overenthusiastic about the whole experience, but she’ll later be a friend. We get stuck in the Beijing rush hour on the way back, the kind where the drivers put it in park and get out and socialize on the road while smoking cigarettes in the dense pollution and run back when things get going and floor it three feet and park and do the whole thing again.

When our van finally arrives at the He Ping Li Hotel two hours later, we almost die by lightless electric scooter and then by wrong-way aluminum rickshaw as we cross the side road to get to the entrance. It’s been about a week since I actually slept, and that’s all I want to do now. I don’t want the Chinese gf to see me in this sub-human insomniatic jet-lagged state. No people tonight, just a nice bed and…oh, there she is standing in the lobby to surprise me, and we were supposed to meet later, and I’m upset that she will see the not-real version of me on our first-ever date together in my dramatic first night in a very distant country that I dreamed would go perfectly. I smile.

The next two weeks are spent attending intense training and listening to the exact same Norah Jones album while eating the exact same hotel breakfast every day. And I wake up at exactly 3:43 every morning because my body clock is confused I guess. Also, the hotel bed is a queen-sized rock.

I have to find an apartment in the next two days in the like eighth largest city in the world and I have had approximately ½ day so far to actually look for places, and I have zero idea what I’m supposed to be looking for, and I fully accept that I will probably settle. On the last day, I find a decent-looking place close to work. On the rental website, there is a picture of a robot man, a robot couple, and a question mark. I move in, and I am for some reason surprised when the place is not a third-world shanty. The other robots end up being Chinese, and one of them becomes a friend.

There is a confusing IKEA security incident where I bring an IKEA bag from home and I think they think I’m stealing it.

Observing, teaching.

All of my weekends are spent doing complicated bureaucratic visa-related things in all corners of this gigantic city.

Month 2

Lots of teaching and pollution. It’s getting cold and dry. Finally starting to have time on weekends, but it’s freezing out and the city’s so freaking big and I don’t have a car and I don’t know where to go so I go to these weird deserted mountain parks that are in the city but take a 1RMB 3-hour bus-ride to get to and only one or two end up being interesting. I do get to see a quiet part of the Great Wall while there are still leaves. Going out to eat for nearly every meal because it’s cheap and I work weird hours. Starting to learn basic Chinese words, but pointing and saying “this” or “that” works for perhaps too many things.

Month 3

Seeing the gf more. Christmas is a day by myself Western coffee shop-hopping in big malls reading Philip K. Dick for the first time while Chinglish Frank Sinatra performs quite well at an odd little gala. It’s smoggy, and there’s little on the fanfare front because it’s not a Chinese holiday. Christmas night is a 35RMB fake Taobao tree and later, an expensive English version of the Phantom of the Opera we’re still humming to this day.

Same kinda thing for New Year. They’re on a different calendar here, so a good chunk of the Chinese population is sleeping while I’m in a French bar with English teachers standing in a dark corner with no TV or anything like that engaging in a very anticlimactic countdown that is confusing because the apparent bartender who is standing on a stool leading it does so at 11:56 on our iPhone clocks.

I’ve started to “grade my language” even when I’m not teaching English.

Feeling the old dramatic existential thoughts, why am I in China, I’m regressing, etc. etc.

Month 4

I don’t know how I’ve made it this far. Some of the other intake groupies are getting restless to the point of possibly breaking the one-year contract.

My gf’s bday is stressful because I still don’t know her that well and what do you get a foreign person when you are a clueless inhabitant of their foreign land and you know nothing about the culture and the norms and there are lots of weird things you are not supposed to give people here because of bad luck or whatever, but she likes elephants and I find something with an elephant on it at the last second. The following day is my birthday (we planned that nicely) and she gets me a heavy winter coat that will still barely save my life in the next two arctic months.

In February comes the absolute madness of Spring Festival, which is like a weeklong Christmas + New Year x 3 that will make you despise fireworks and hallucinate about long traveling lines leaving the city. We go to my gf’s small hometown, where I learn that I am a Russian movie star. I meet her ridiculously nice family: 25 Chinese people seated around a very large table, asking questions in Chinese and toasting toxic baijiu, gf translating, no clue how to answer, just smile and take the smallest possible sip.

We go to an island in Thailand. The water is pretty, and we snorkel and boat, but the last day ends in infamy because I flip the rented hotel scooter while not even doing anything dangerous (maybe it’s karma for walking away unscathed from Mexican MarioMoped with the bros), and when we check out (with still-fresh wounds), there is a large extra charge on our final bill and a much bigger one on my ego.

I miss San Francisco a lot.

Month 5

It’s getting warmer out after the long winter, yet I’ve realized Beijing is kind of boring to me, so I start to leave more. I get used to pre-awake taxi rides, speed trains, and exiting Chinese airplanes. I’m closer to maximizing my middle-of-the-week weekends. I remember that I like taking pictures. Get to see pretty things like Xiamen, Shanghai, cherry blossoms in parks. Maybe I’m becoming comfortable in China.

Month 6

Just when I think I get into a work-life balance groove, my body completely gives up for a few days after a weeklong smog, and I get what they first a “common cold” and then a “respiratory infection.” No idea what it is, but NBD, back to normal. I spend the night in a small village and get to drive through the mountains and am pleased that I have taken my spoken Chinese from level 0Aa to 0Ab. But then the sickness thing happens again on a bigger scale, and I start to question my future here. One foot is out the door. Maybe one and a half, but I somehow muster the energy to bring the one-half foot back in and persist, and I get better, and hopefully it doesn’t get bad again.

I watch Kobe’s dramatic last game and Golden State breaking the Bulls’ record on opposing screens while eating pulled pork in a Memphis-style BBQ place with my friend from Memphis who says it’s really Texas-style.

I hit Chinese Starbucks Gold, which is ridiculously harder than and annoyingly separate from the American version.

I do more traveling, spending some time in coastal cities like Dalian and Tianjin, and I make a few friends. I like all of the places I’ve visited more than Beijing, but it’s easy to like them when I only have short adventures there, ya know?

We finally throw away the Christmas tree.

 

In conclusion:

I constantly feel nauseous, and I’m not sure if it’s the pollution or the 7/11 Kung Pao chicken.

My English has improved since moving to China.

Chinese hospitals…

No tips seems to work better than tips.

I have met some really cool people here.

The VPN makes the Internet even more unbearably slow.

Cheap Western staples like Mexican and burgers and greasy spoon breakfasts are expensive here, and I miss taco salads and bacon and eggs with hash browns.

Repetition. Playlists at restaurants are the same like six songs literally for months. Video and audio billboards play one 20-second ad over and over and over again. Vendors say something like “please come buy my products, this one is on sale right now” in Chinese into a megaphone and hit the repeat button and sit in a chair for hours. No minds seem to be lost except mine.

So much lip-syncing where the amount of mouth- and eye-work to sell it is actually quite impressive, and this is crazily impossible with rhythmless Chinese opera, but they do it anyway.

Insane as the driving and traffic is, I have not seen a single major accident.

There is a choreographed dance by employees in front of some company or by old women in some park happening every single day.

What is a “paper towel”? “Napkin”? Cheap toilet paper is used for absolutely everything except restocking the communal bathroom roll.

There’s nothing like a refreshing glass of scalding hot water.

 

OK, gotta go buy more pollution masks. There are plenty of other things I’ll tell some of you later.

As they say here, “adiós.”

 

 

 

 

Beijing: One Month In

Six months ago, I had no intention of ever visiting China, Asia, or anywhere in the remote vicinity. My life was so strange and confusing, and I actually thought I would be moving back to Chicago from San Francisco. Out of the blue, something popped up in SF that offered me the stability that would surely cure my troubles. I started making friends and enjoying the city for the first time in a few years. I did things that I had been meaning to do because I finally could. Yet the happiness I was expecting never came. I felt ashamed for betraying the situation around me just like I had in the past and for considering something so detrimental to the career path I had barely stumbled onto, but I needed something dramatic that would stop this stuff once and for all. I considered trying weird medicine that would miraculously put my life on track, but I decided that seeing the world might be the cure for my enigmatic ailments. Before giving up a good thing, however, I needed to find something specific to care about and work toward.

So I did a Google search for jobs that require travel and applied to teach English in Beijing, and I had an interview the following week, and I got offered the job the following day, and I had to jump through hoops and revisit burned bridges just to get the extremely complicated visa arrangements in order, and I lived dual lives for an insanely stressful two months until I knew for sure was going, and then it became a reality, and then I had to tell everyone, which included my employer, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I had to look at myself in the mirror on a daily basis and ask myself how stupid could I possibly be?, and I started to finally feel at home in my quiet little SF neighborhood, and I started having second thoughts, and everything started having a “last supper” feel, and I knew I couldn’t go, and then I went, and now here I am.

It’s been a month now. No revelations yet, but I’ve been so busy with training, finding an apartment, doing visa stuff, and hanging out with the amazing girlfriend that I still don’t feel like I have arrived. I’m teaching about 90% full-time now, and by the end of the month, I’ll be at 100%. They really throw you in the mix right from the start, but I actually like that. Each class topic is pre-arranged, and the lesson plans are partially planned with plenty of room for creativity. Some of the lessons are really cool, and other ones are a little more interesting… There are two main types of classes: workshops for up to 25 students and “face-to-face” classes of up to 4 students that have more of a tutoring feel. I struggled with the workshops at the beginning because I am so terrible at speaking in front of people, but I have definitely improved. Some classes have gone really well, and I pat myself on the back for accomplishing something in a field I never ever dreamed of entering in my life. Oh, I teach adults. In my interview, they mentioned they preferred kids’ teachers, and I said absolutely not. I am happy with that decision because the adults (usually in their 20s and 30s) are pretty cool, but the downside is that they usually work in some capacity, meaning night and weekend classes. My hours are definitely not conducive to doing things like learning Mandarin, seeing the city while things are actually open, and hanging out with the girlfriend. It’s difficult, but it’s a one-year contract, and I will just “play it by year.”

I’ve tried lots of new foods already. I’m quickly getting used to the cultural differences, but the one thing that still confounds me is the madness that happens at intersections.

Also, it’s true that everyone thinks Americans are handsome. It’s nice at first, but it’s already lost meaning. I get weird looks in some parts of the city and in my apartment complex, especially while wearing the smog mask, but there were times when I felt like a foreigner even in the US, so I’m used to it. Speaking of the apartment complex, I live in a cheap 4-bedroom place that’s actually pretty nice, but the shower is not divided in any way from the rest of the bathroom. You just turn it on and go, and after you’re done, there’s an absolute mess of water everywhere. It’s pretty common here, but I don’t know why.

Also, there’s no dryer. It takes like three days for pants to dry.

I thought I saw crowds in big cities before, but it’s truly hard to imagine such a large amount of people in places like the subway and tourist sites until you see it with your own eyes. It’s crazy.

This is honestly the first piece of writing I’ve done in China. There’s other stuff to write about, and maybe I’ll have more time to share my experiences going forward. I’m still getting a feel for my surroundings.

Talk to you later.

A Small Cheese Pizza to Remember

It was approaching midnight on a Los Angeles Tuesday, and I was at danger-zone hunger. There were no open options close to my Super 8, and this was pre- Grubhub or anything like that, so I just called around and finally found a place that was still delivering: Domino’s.

In my hunger haste, I forgot to pay with credit card over the phone.

45 minutes later, the driver arrived at my door, and I was as excited for that delicious cheese pizza as was Kevin from Home Alone.

“Small pizza with delivery fee is…$9.80 please.” In this, I sensed a touch of edginess, maybe because I was flirting with the delivery minimum, maybe because his life had come to delivering pizzas in the wee hours of a Wednesday morning, or maybe because this was his last delivery of the night, but probably all three.

The last thing on my mind was to be a difficult customer, so I quickly muttered, “Oh, can I still pay with card?”

“I’m sorry sir, not at this time. Cash only.”

I opened up my wallet to find nothing but a crisp $100 note. I had one of those annoying ATMs back in Peoria, Illinois that gave the minimum amount of $20s possible, so when I pulled out $300 in cash for this trip, I was given three bills, exactly two of which I used to save like $1.20 each time I filled up my gas tank.

I sheepishly offered him the $100 bill and asked for change. He only had $14 in cash, so that would amount to an $86 pizza.

‘That’s okay, I’ll simply get a $20 from the ATM downstairs.’ I took him with me.

It seems like a purchase on my credit card is blocked every single time I leave the city I’m supposed to be in, but my debit card has been blocked only once. Of course, the once was at this current moment, not in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, or even Kansas, but in the lawless foreign country of California; I never called the card company to say I was taking a road trip to the west coast.

‘I’ll get change from the front desk attendant.’ I walked over to the desk and, preparing to ring the bell, I noticed the sign: “Away from 12:01AM – 1:30AM. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

With panic looming, I looked outside the window for help. I was in a rough neighborhood in the middle of the night, and there were no businesses in sight.

‘Should I just tell him nevermind? Is that possible?’

The pizza guy was clearly annoyed at this point, and I was about to collapse from hunger, so I did what I do best and thought on my feet: I handed him the $100 bill and told him to keep the change. He was somewhat surprised but didn’t really argue against it.

I tried to starve myself the remaining two weeks of the trip by eating only carrots, apples, nuts, and string cheese, but to this day, I’m still trying to recoup that $90 tip.

“Home” in the Swiss Alps

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Lungern, Switzerland, November 2011.

The last time I felt at home.

 

I checked out of my hotel and caught the next train from Luzern.

I was the only one who got off the train. Lungern, although nestled halfway between a bustling tourist-friendly town and Mt. Pilatus, among many other popular Swiss Alps destinations, is tiny and has no attractions.

There was a walking trail from the train station to the town. I found myself heading toward the dreamy emerald-colored water.

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My travel backpack and duffle bag were even more burdensome than in the previous weeks (I had walked miles in Dublin, Paris, Barcelona, and Nice with the same bags), so I had to take frequent breaks. It was a nuisance, but a wandering traveler has no other choice than to carry his baggage.

The trail wasn’t exactly a sidewalk; it weaved steeply down a hill through backyards, gardens, and fields. The town was very quiet at this time of day and probably at every time of day. Once I made it to the lake, I found another trail.

I walked almost a mile along the water. I saw a little peninsula with a great view of the lake and the Alps. That was where I headed.

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There was a man fishing nearby in a small boat who happened to be leaving his spot; I was going to have the space for myself.

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The view was breathtaking.

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There was a lone bench shaded by a few trees with falling leaves. It was mine. The peninsula was all mine.

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I had no clue what to do with all of this – it was too perfect. I put my bags down, sat on the bench, and tried to soak everything in.

 

Part of my being seeks its own Walden Pond.  Completely separate from civilized society and all the “noise,” I can think more clearly. Tranquil, natural beauty makes me realize how little I really need. It also gives me hope that, if nature can achieve something this magnificent, so can I. Maybe I don’t want to be completely self-sufficient, but I do want to break free from the strangleholds of society. All I want is to be unencumbered by the superfluity that is thrown at me.

 

I took a few pictures but found myself unable to encapsulate what was right in front of my face. I thought a place like this would give me clarity, but it only made me more confused.

I took the long walk back up to the outdoor train station and found myself alone for almost an hour until the next train arrived. The cows grazed a few feet in front of me, their bells ringing loudly. A crisp breeze was blowing through the valley. Straight ahead were a few more houses, which gave way to slowly inclining fields, which turned into green hills and mountains.

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I looked closely to see a couple primitive trails through the hills, and I remember thinking how exciting it would be to hike those trails. A train on a separate track from mine briefly stopped. A single passenger got off and a car picked him up. I was too tired to think anymore, so I relaxed.

This is where I had my moment of clarity, not on the bench at my peninsula.

For nearly an hour, I had attained freedom. For the moment, I was free from all of my worries and anxieties. It was just me and the cows; the cowbells rang but the wind provided an ambient noise with which to dampen their otherwise shrill jingle.

This is where I felt at home. Not in a specific location. With few creature comforts. Not necessarily isolated from all civilization, but in an environment where the focus was on no one person or thing except nature in general. Peace. Beauty. “This is what I want.” That’s the only thing I wrote in my journal.

Then the moment passed, and I started thinking again.

I thought about what it would be like living in Lungern. “A large part of whatever it is that I am looking for is here,” I thought. But reality kicked in. I am in Switzerland. I have no clue what to do with my life back home, let alone in a pastoral setting in the mountains in a foreign country. What would I do here? Do I really want to live ‘far from the madding crowd?’

These thoughts were racing through my mind, yet an hour after I left, the Indian summer ended and the winter began. As I passed through the town for a tour of Mt. Pilatus the following day, there was nearly a foot of snow on the ground, and it was 40 degrees cooler. I couldn’t see outside at all. The perfect, serene, beautiful Lungern I had experienced was gone.

Was this some sort of sign? Would I really want to live in Lungern, Switzerland? Perhaps, but that is not the point. The point is, when I was waiting alone at the quiet train station, I was no longer detached from my surroundings. We’re all trying to figure out where we belong in life. We all want to know where “home” is. Some find it in a physical location; others have a more abstract definition. My home is where my mind is able to shut off. Where I can become one with my surroundings and not just be an onlooker. In the rare, usually accidental instances where I am not a tourist of life, I am at home.

I do not know what this means for my future, but I do know that I have endless opportunities to find my home and my calling if I stop thinking and start doing. I still have a ways to go before I settle on a life path; if winter comes abruptly, nothing is tying me down.