Thursday, March 1, 2018


Was a long time ago. I'm now writing at

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mojarra Farmer

It has been brought to my attention several times now that in this life, this human life, the best thing you can ever do besides finding a woman or man to love with all of your heart, the type of person you'd move to Greenland for or take a job as a garbageman, is to find a way to make money (money) doing something that you love.  You can't just kind of like it, you have to love it.  If you accomplish this you have maxed out your potential as a human being.  Or rather, if you accomplish these two things you have reached the proverbial summit, though in some cases the summit is probably more like Mt. Townsend in the Olympics or even Toe Jam Hill on Bainbridge rather than the mighty beasts of K2 or Mount Everest.
How do you know when you love what you do, and, is it truly possible?
The answer to the first question has an unsettleingly amount to do with Grey's Anatomy, and the answer to the second question is "maybe".  The reason I mention Grey's Anatomy in relation to the answer to the first question is that when you're a teacher of English (English teacher) in Latin America you come across a startling amount of students who only know Seattle because of Grey's Anatomy.  Not because of Microsoft or the Space Needle or the rain, but because of a semi wretched show about fake doctors which doesn't really even have anything to do with Seattle.  But even more overwhelming are the number of students who don't know where Seattle is, who pronounce it "Suraddle", and not quite as overwhelming but also just as devastating are the students who not only don't know where the Emerald City is, but don't know where New York is, or Miami, or Washington DC, or Belle Fourche, South Dakota, or Paris, Texas.  When you come across these students you no longer want to be an English teacher.  You want to jump out the window.  Or you want to be a geography teacher.  But it makes you wonder.  And it also makes you realize: "I don't love my job".
Which is why, when I have the means, I will go to Buenaventura, take the first lancha to a deserted island, and live off the land.  I will be a coconut farmer, in that I will be near the coconut trees and cultivating them by fertilizing around the bases of the trees, and I will also of course supplement my diet with a steady amount of mojarra, or "snapper", to the layperson.  So that is why the title of this blog post is coconut farmer, because that is the current plan, and an occupation I think I could truly love. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Role of the Book In Bogota

I am very tempted to start this blog post with "...Is nonexistent", but I feel that might be overly cynical, and after my last post the last thing I need is more cynicism.  That said, the role of the book here in Bogota is minimal.  People don't read very much.  People don't read on the bus and they generally don't read in cafes.  When you ask people what they like to do they often say "watch TV" but they almost never say read.  There was a girl in one of my English classes who loved the Hunger Games.  It simultaneously broke my heart and lifted it to the heavens.  All she wanted to do when she got out of class was read about Katniss Everdeen and tributes and districts and tracker jackers.  It doesn't matter that she was reading the Hunger Games.  She was reading.  It is such a rarity in this city.  She will go far.

I dreamed this morning about opening a bookstore here in Bogota.  A bookstore where you can come in and sit for hours and buy nothing but still just read, leaf through books, take a massive stack of books to a table and lazily look through them.  Get lost in a book by Roberto Bolaño or Pablo Neruda or spend several minutes criticizing Isabela Allende.  But I will never do it.  There is only one bookstore in all of Bogota, a city with 9 million people -- 9 million! -- that is even remotely like that.  And it's only sort of like that.  Most of the books have plastic on them.  You can sit and read, but you kind of get the feeling it's not entirely OK.

The kid who I most see reading sells gum on the corner.  I have no idea what his name is.  There are plenty of people who sell gum and other snacks or cell phone minutes, but he's the only one I've ever seen reading.  And he's always reading.  Every time I pass by he has a tattered book in his hands and he looks thoroughly engrossed.  He should be awarded some kind of prize.  He should be given a free education.  The boy is a scholar, and a fine example.

The role of the book in Bogota is almost nonexistent, but there's no reason that shouldn't change.  Put more words on paper, and transplant those words into our brains.  That's all that needs to be done.  I'd like to end ith a Bolaño quote (well, from a Bolaño book) that has absolutely nothing to do with reading or books or even Bogota, but could probably be interpreted in dozens of ways.

"An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom".  --Beaudelaire

Good day, faithful readers.  Good day.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The "B" in Bogota

It's been a long time since I've written for Finnish Summer.  I wish I was in Finland right now.  I wish I was anywhere but in Bogota.  I need a vacation.  I'm sick of the lack of eficiency here.  If you're going to be on the beach drinking coconut water and surfing, inefficiency is the name of the game (though actually not with surfing, as that would probably involved trying to paddle your board with floaties on your arms or dragging a parachute behind you or something ridiculous like that).  But when you're in a city of 9 million people, you expect there to be some form of efficiency, somewhere.  And yet there's not.  Everything is ridiculous in this country.  Today I officially quit my job.  Normally when you end a contract I imagine it might be customary to get a form signed by your boss or some kind of person in charge saying that the contract is over.  And I had to do that.  I also had to get another formed signed by about 10 other people saying that they were "at peace" with me and that I didn't owe them anything and that as far as they were concerned I could leave.  How ridiculous is this?  Is this not the very reason hierarchy exists, to avoid situations like this, so that a person in charge can make important decisions without having to consult with every person who works at the company?  There was a spot on the form for the cafeteria staff to sign.  The cafeteria staff!  In other words, there was a spot on the form for the lovely lady who gave us tea and coffee and poundcake at 430pm everyday to sign saying that I didn't owe her any napkins or that I didn't accidentally take seconds of the coffee.  Riculous.  Insane.  Welcome to Colombia.

This country seems to pride itself on paperwork and appearances.  For anything official there must be myriad documents to sign.  It must be a process.  It must be difficult.  Because "that's how things are supposed to be".  Or at least people think that's how things are supposed to be.  When you go to the park you see people working out with personal trainers doing ridiculously easy and ineffectual exercises with all kinds of equipment like medicine balls and surgical tubing that maybe target one to two muscles to 4% of their capacity, and yet that's how it's supposed to be.  You're not supposed to work out.  You're supposed to look like you're working out.  You're not supposed to be a businessman.  You're supposed to wear a suit and a tie and shiny black shoes and look like a businessman.  The work is completely independent.  Appearances are everything here.

Should I come here just to bash the culture?  Probably not.  However, I think it's natural to compare your culture to that of the culture you're living in.  Obviously you're not going to be OK with everything.  And you might even be a little unreasonably judgmental at times.  I do not dislike Colombia.  I really like Colombia.  And for the most part, I really like Colombians.  This is a beautiful country with beautiful people, it just has a ton of problems.  What country doesn't?  There are some things I will get used to,but there are some things to which I probably won't.  I don't need to go to Finland, but I do need to go on vacation, which is why my friend Steve and I are going to Villavicencio next weekend, a place where (apparently) the air is warm and the rumba and steak flows like wine.  I don't want to become jaded, because no one likes a jaded person.  And no one likes a person who criticizes things only to be guilty of the same things themselves.  And I realize that many times when we hate something we are really hating something that exists inside of us.  I realize this.  I am fully aware.

But the cafeteria lady?  Give me a break....

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Finish Line

I am now in Stockholm feeling tremendously inedequate.  This city seems absolutely beautiful and I will probably see about 0.4% of it.  At least I can take solace in the fact that my hotel has good chai tea. 

I debated at length this morning over whether or not to stay in a hostel on my last night in Europe or splurge and get a hotel/ be alone.  I opted for the solitude.  I don't want to have to worry about some drunk 18 year old from Wisconsin snoring like a freight train while I lie in a crowded dorm room.  And the hotel I'm at is extremely nice even if from the outside it resembles something out of 1960's leningrad.   It is very modern and chique and has three bottles of mineral water for free in the fridge.  I promise I will never use the word "chique" again in my life. 

My last night in Åland turned out to be fairly exciting.  I went out hoping to meet some people I had been talking to on couchsurfing and just as I was about to give up and go home I ran into a girl who worked at a nearby cafe and who invited me to go out with her friends for the night.  Soon I was standing in line in my ratty Vans and vagrant-like beard waiting to get into Mariehamn's only night club whilst talking to "Jun", a Swedish-speaking Finn who would curse the music in the club repeatly and ask me on several occasions why on earth I liked the Vanvouver Canucks.  By the end of the night I spotted him at the bar, alone, swaying slightly and clutching a bottle of "Old Speckled Hen". 

The ferry to Stockholm was uneventful.  It was mostly a bunch of Finns feeling shopping carts to the brim with beer at the duty free shop.  In Åland the Swedish speakers don't even like the real Finns.  They regard them as wild and unrefined, which is interesting keeping in mind that they live in Finland.  The people I was hanging out with last night barely spoke Finnish, and said they had no real desire to learn. 

I will now go out and have dinnner and celebrate alone my last night of over three months of traveling.  The sun still hasn't set because it is almost midsummer and even though we're slightly further south than Finland it still by no means gets dark tonight.  And then tomorrow morning I will get on a flight to Frankfurt followed by a 10 hour marathon to Vancouver on Condor, an airline I'm still not wholly convinced exists.  But for now I'm going to enjoy Stockholm's wonderful gastronomy while hopefully not breaking the bank.  TGIF Friday's, perhaps?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Horrible, Horrible Blog Entry from a Beautiful, Beautiful Place

A minimum of 300 words.  In 10 minutes.  Or more if you want to take it.  I have started to force myself to write things becuase if I don’t force myself I won’t write about it.  I wanted so badly to write about my time on the sheep farm.  Matt was an interesting character.  He played World of Warcraft almost all the time when he wasn’t working and his feet were in a state of decay where if you were to slice a half inch layer off the bottom of his heels he would notice nothing except that maybe it would’ve been a little harder for him to reach the tea on the top shelf.  It was a disgusting, horrible, time and I’ve glad for every minute I spent there.  I need those horrible experiences to make me appreciate the good ones.  I need to work hard to fully savor the afternoon sloth of lying around on the couch watching the Euro Cup. 

Mariehamn, with about 10,000 people, is the capitol of the Åland region.  It reminds me of a cross between bainbridge island and ohio.  The library is wonderful – huge and open and well lit – and provides internet access free of charge to the public.  The breakfast at the hotel this morning was also wonderful: granola, yohgurt, fruit, cheese and bread, and an assortment of teas.  I chose the ”Kenya Estate Black Tea”.  If it is still there when I go back I will have another glass. 

I was supposed to go to Sweden today but there are no hostels open.  Or rather, there is one hostel open but it has very bad reviews (one critique seems to be that there are no sinks for brushing your teeth and you that have to use the toilet, but i think maybe I misunderstood).  The more I think about it, why would I leave this tranquil island paradise and go to a big city?  Because it’s Saturday?  Because I want to go to a ”nite” club and get my drink on?  This is not the case.  I want to lounge around and walk around and not have to be social.  I don’t want to have to worry about a drunk, cologne-doused french boy coming into the dorm room at 4am in the morning to wake everyone up and start snoring in french.  I know I sound old when I say this.  This is because I am old.  I am almost 29. 

So I think I will stay here another night.  And revel in the island life and maybe, maybe even buy a skateboard so i can enjoy the local skatepark.  This would be slightly stupid as skateboards are much cheaper and better back in the states, but I will investigate. 

I think my time here at the Åland library has expired.  Just in case you were wondering, the ”a” with the little dot over it is pronounced ”oh”, the same way we say ”o” in english in the ABC’s.  So now you knå!

Friday, June 15, 2012


I am so happy to be in Åland.  It is exactly the kind of tranquil place I hoped it would be.  Actually it is even more tranquil, but that's about to change because the afternoon ferries are just getting in.  And these are no ordinary ferries.  These are cruise ships.  These make the Bainbridge Seattle ferries look like kayaks.

A lot has happened in the last 36 hours.  It turns out he is a benevolant God and has delivered me safely from the sheep farm.  When I finally achieved independence, when Matt and I parted ways and I drove his car back from the mechanic to the bus stop where he would pick it up later, it took several minutes for my new-found freedom to set in.  At first I just sat in the car, breathing heavily and silently pumping my fist.  And then I hit the highway, putting the windows down, blasting the radio, and seeing how his Citröen performed at 130 km/hr.  And then I started to scream.  "Freedom!" I shouted not unlike a young Mel Gibson.  And then I slowed down, made to the gas station, ate a meal of mashed potatoes and beef patties in gravy with a huge glass of COW'S milk and no mutton to be found anywhere in the immediate vicinity, and got on the bus.  And now I am here in Åland, an archiepelago between Finland and Sweden that is entirely Swedish speaking and doesn't even have Finnish on the streets signs.  I am ever so slightly easing my way out of Finland.  Maybe the shock would be too much for me if I just up and left.

Of course, as has been a theme for this trip, I currently have no idea where I'm staying.  I was offered a place by a girl on couchsurfing but she doesn't get off work till 10pm, has multiple facial piercings, a partially shaved head, and looks like she could beat me up.  But the other alternative is to pay around 100 dollars for a hotel.  I say I don't want to do this, but I actually really do.  I want privacy and solitude.  I want nothing more than to wander the quiet leafy streets of Mariehamn, main city in Ålando, well into the sunset and explore beaches and find food and not have to answer to anyone but myself.  Sometimes I can be a bit of a high maintencance traveler.  But I can also be low-maintencance.  I lived with a guy who seemed to derive great satisfaction from making me drive wooden posts into hard ground and who consistently played World of Warcraft in the afternoons for four days, after all.  So I think it's OK if I splurge for a night.  And maybe a night in Stockholm, too.

There is instantly a traffic jam before my very eyes.  An ambulance just drove by.  The tourists have brought chaos.  I just got done explaining to the ladies who work at the tourist agency that I also come from an island, and that every year it fills up with tourists, and I hate them.  "And now you're a tourist," they said.
"Yes," I said, and sighed and went to go use the internet.

It is beautiful here!  Beautiful!  The sun is shining and there are boardwalks on sloping rocks along the beach and plenty of coast to explore.  But first this tourist must find a hotel.