Exhausted in Vietnam

dark_cave

At this point, I am ready to leave Asia. This journey has been a long one; its been almost four months since I left sunny California to head to India.

India was rough; I got food poisoning 3 times, the third time for an entire week before I was able to get my hands on some probiotics and it was not a fun experience. I continued my Ashtanga practice the whole time and it was definitely an empowering experience, but one that I don’t ever want to experience again.

India became very peaceful for me. I was free to meditate for 3-4 hours a day and write stories and make music when I wasn’t meditating. Boredom was absolutely a big part of India and I was already excited to go back to work after a month. By the end of my time there I was so sick of the extra attention of being white and not having anyone to really connect with. When I’m on long trips like this, I always start to miss my family and friends… A lot.

My progress in the Ashtanga practice was unmistakable, but by the end it really wasn’t important to me anymore. Where was I going anyways? So now I can do full lotus, supta kurmasana, and I can pretty easily get one foot at a time behind my head; but so what? What does that mean for my life and my happiness? Absolutely nothing. I listened to Alan Watts a lot in India and my favorite quote of his was: “So when you have achieved enlightenment, so what? What now?” and that’s where I think I’ve ended up.

So by the end of India, I was exhausted. It’s not easy to live in a third world country; the boredom alone is enough to drive you a little insane. But then I headed to Nepal.

Nepal was a breath of fresh air and a nice rest for me. I stayed with people who didn’t hesitate to act when the quake happened; which I was very lucky to avoid. These guys enjoyed their lives so much and I met people from around the world that I had an absolute blast with. I stayed in the city the whole time because my budget over here was very strict; I came over with less than $3,000 for 4 months of serious travel and I’ve been to 6 countries, all of which are very poor.

After leaving Nepal, I was lucky enough to meet up with my girlfriend/best friend. She was a much-needed break from being alone. We planned to meet in Myanmar, but a technical difficulty with my flight on Biman Bangladesh airlines (NEVER fly with them if you can avoid it) left me stranded in Dhaka for an overnight stay in the airport.

I was lucky; a family that I met in the airport randomly and extremely kindly  offered to let me spend the night at their apartment. They gave me kindness that I won’t soon forget. Then, in my first real terrifyingly close encounter with extreme poverty conditions (which I was a part of for a solid day) where I begged for water and for help. A girl named Anna came to my rescue and helped me to find the family’s apartment that I had completely lost. Another stroke of luck and kindness that I won’t forget; neither will my stress response system.

After narrowly avoiding some terribly consequences in Dhaka, I was able to get a new flight to Yangon, Myanmar and was excited to see a tiny bit of westernization for the first time in months; sky scrapers, parks, and paved streets were never so beautiful to my eyes. And I got to see my girlfriend again, which was what I was really looking forward to. The culture of Myanmar was the easiest for me to cope with in Asia; people were kind and treated you like a human rather than a commodity. Bangladesh was the worst; people will absolutely take as much advantage of you as they possibly can and all of the westerners that lived there looked completely exhausted as a result.

We moved on to Thailand which was surprisingly touristic, but again nearly everyone was more concerned with your money than with anything else about you. It gets exhausting over time to have people trying to get from you and sell you on things. In Thailand, we visited Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pai, and flew from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Bangkok was not fun for me; it reminded me of a combination of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, but at least they were used to tourists.

Ho Chi Minh was far different from my expectations; most everyone in the city is trying to take your money by offering Rickshaws, taxis, even random scooterers will stop you on the side of the street and try to get you to ride their scooter. And people are always trying to please you, even if they are completely wrong. This is part of the reason I got so lost in Bangladesh; if someone doesn’t understand you, they’ll make something up that they think you want to hear. It’s frustrating to say the least.

So we took the night buses from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang, which was another breath of fresh air; kind of. Out hostel was amazing, I highly recommend Mozjo Inn if you are ever in Vietnam, the hostel alone is worth a trip to that city. We went scuba diving there and it was amazing! No license required.

Hoi Anh was next, which is an extremely touristic town and didn’t have too much history, though the influences of China and Japan were incredible to see.

Today, I am in Hue, which is a great city, but relentless. I am tired of the extra attention, tired of people trying to sell me things, tired of people who are trying to take money with a huge smile on their face. Most act like they want to know where you are from then are quick to turn around and try to sell you things. It’s nearly impossible to actually meet anyone over here, especially due to the fact that they view you as a commodity. We’ve exchanged some nice jokes with our hostel owner and a couple of waiters, but most aren’t interested in us unless we have money. Its disheartening to see, but it goes to show that human are the same; we love to idealize about the peacefulness of the East, but the truth is that its even more chaotic than America.

This becomes obvious when you pay your first 5 dollars to enter a Buddhist temple. Money runs the world now and its painfully obvious here with the amount of poverty that exists.

Surprisingly, just writing this article has made me feel a lot better. It’s so tiring to be harassed ALL the time. Sometimes, its nice to just be able to share a smile and continue on our separate paths. It’s also weird to miss America, but I know that this will pass, just like all things and I will be doing my best to enjoy these last few days to the fullest. But man, I am tired. Ready to meet up with my mom and sisters in Germany and return to the west… and I am very excited to come back and keep teaching yoga, making music, and to see all of the friends that I miss a whole hell of a lot. Its been a long journey and I am seeing the end in sight and am happy about it; a sign that I am where I need to be.

Please don’t take this as a negative review of Vietnam; this has just been a long, arduous trip for me, partially due to the budget, partially due to the amount of ground that I’ve covered in the past month and a half. But keep in mind that the people here in Asia will get everything that they can from you, just like in the rest of the world. I know that once I am in a comfortable bed again, I’ll look back with fondness on these hardship and eventually, I’ll want to do it again 🙂

 

Overpopulation and its Potential Effects on Humanity

overpopulation: John B Calhoun rat universes

Overpopulation and Humanity’s Destiny

If we don’t halt population growth with justice and compassion, it will be done for us by nature, brutally and without pity- and will leave a ravaged world.

-Nobel Laureate Dr. Henry W. Kendal

 

By the year 2050, the Earth’s population is estimated to reach a staggering 9.6 billion people. Many scientists would consider this to be overpopulation of the planet. It is currently believed that there are 7.2 billion people on Earth, but this is just a guess. In reality, we don’t really have any idea how many people are on the planet, just a lot of supposedly “good guesses”. And unless we make some major breakthroughs in the fields of energy, ecology, climatology, and agriculture the human race has a good chance of experiencing a severe decline in population, possibly even extinction because of overpopulation. A lot of things need to change in our civilization’s infrastructure if the human race wants to survive for the next millennia and even more if we are to prosper.

I’m not an alarmist. There’s no need to panic. But you should probably reconsider your consumption patterns, because you will be economically pressured to change them in the next 20 years. Especially if you live in the United States. But the world isn’t going to end in the next 6 months. In fact, Earth will be fine, especially in the long run. We live on a planet that is incredibly good at balancing itself, which we are seeing now with the effects of climate change (see my review of ‘Chasing Ice’ if you want some good evidence of what is happening to the glaciers of the planet). But weather patterns are going to get more and more severe unless we can find ways to mitigate the greenhouse gas effect and humanity’s consumption of fossil fuels.

A Tipping Point for Humanity’s Population?

It is entirely possible that human’s have reached what scientists call “peak oil”. At this point, we might be running out of oil, even though in the last 6 months we have isolated and reproduced a fungus that can produce petroleum. We might also be able to clean up the world’s largest oil spills with a different type of fungus. Advancements in science are what is going to save us. If you don’t know about the scientific method, you should read this article.

All of these developments can be attributed to the massive growth in human population at the cost of our environment. These problems WOULD NOT exist if humanity was better at living symbiotically with our environment. Yes, I say this with 100% certainty. We tend not to look at situations holistically and see only what is in front of us. In this overpopulated state, we need to either mitigate the effects of our oil use while simultaneously finding sustainable sources of it, or we need to find an alternate, sustainable fuel source for the world’s transportation.

Alan Watts said that the fundamental problem with the current state of society is man’s isolation from nature. This allows for our overpopulation of the planet. Things like A/C, cars, roads, airplanes, deforestation, warehouses, skyscrapers, and dams are all examples of destruction of the environment rather than cultivation. Some of these things can be symbiotic with nature if architected properly (ie climate regulation, terraforming, sustainable fuels, nuclear fusion, etc.). Watts said that in the 60s.

The problem with humans is that we view ourselves as separate from our environment, when in fact the two are the same. Religion is a huge cause of this. For some reason, we feel like we are better than our environment, better than animals, because god made us special. In my last article on human microbiota, I explained how humans have a hole inside of us, called the gastrointestinal tract or gut, that is really a part of the outside environment. So in reality, humans and our environment are the same thing. It is largely our ego and search for control that has led us to believe that we are ‘superior to’ or greater than our environment.

The problems are rather simple. Yet people have a tendency to  be so over-reactive to seeing how humans have affected our environment. This allows news companies and especially shitty internet journalism to get an emotional rise out of us. And after this emotional reaction, we tend to become inactive and hopeless, rather than adjusting our behavior. I’ve witnessed this personally within myself. I waste energy on an emotional reaction, rather than thinking about how much waste I create on a daily basis. There are examples in our modern culture. Water consumption in southern California is an excellent example. Some people don’t even believe that there is really a drought.

Americans, as only 5% of the world’s population, use 24% of the world’s energy; some sources estimate the average American uses as much as 160 gallons of water a day. So instead of writing emotional facebook posts, being reactive and emotional about the issue take matters into your own hands; take shorter showers, try to drive less (obviously you have to drive to work and to get your kids to soccer and all that stuff because our infrastructure isn’t setup symbiotically). Try to use less energy, wash only dirty clothes, turn off your lights. Then you can stop worrying about our planet because that’s all you can do. Manage yourself.

We need to consider what it might be like if we had to live in 100% unity with our environment; which sooner or later will become a necessity if we are to survive with such a large population. Cities will be rebuilt. Freeways will be redesigned. We are already seeing the beginning of some amazing developments.

Answers to the problem of overpopulation?

Nuclear fusion might be the answer to our energy problems, but that technology is expensive and we’re going to have to wait for it. However, creating and harnessing the power of stars is how we will survive for the next millennia. There are a few awesome projects happening that might excite you for the future, rather than scare you away from it. The international thermonuclear reactor project is an exciting project underway and Lockheed Martin has somewhat suspiciously said that they have an even more compact reactor on the way (the scientific community is very skeptical because they haven’t yet released data). Our ingenuity will be the key to our survival.

I am trying to say that hopelessness is a silly conclusion and that hope is key to survival and prosperity. One way to inform yourself of some of the negative possibilities in our future is to learn about John Calhoun’s mouse paradise experiments on overpopulation. It is a concept known as the behavioral sink, or societal collapse due to overpopulation. However, even Calhoun left his studies with hope for the future of humanity, especially considering that there were rats that seemed to be resilient to the effects of overpopulation. His studies involved creating mouse utopias, then allowing the mice to overpopulate. In his studies he found

“Many [female mice] were unable to carry pregnancy to full term or to survive delivery of their litters if they did. An even greater number, after successfully giving birth, fell short in their maternal functions. Among the males the behavior disturbances ranged from sexual deviation to cannibalism and from frenetic overactivity to a pathological withdrawal from which individuals would emerge to eat, drink and move about only when other members of the community were asleep. The social organization of the animals showed equal disruption. […]

The common source of these disturbances became most dramatically apparent in the populations of our first series of three experiments, in which we observed the development of what we called a behavioral sink. The animals would crowd together in greatest number in one of the four interconnecting pens in which the colony was maintained. As many as 60 of the 80 rats in each experimental population would assemble in one pen during periods of feeding. Individual rats would rarely eat except in the company of other rats. As a result extreme population densities developed in the pen adopted for eating, leaving the others with sparse populations.

[…] In the experiments in which the behavioral sink developed, infant mortality ran as high as 96 percent among the most disoriented groups in the population.”

-John B Calhoun from “Population density and social pathology”(1970). California medicine 113

We have Hope for the Future

Over-reactivity from fear is something you should actively fight within yourself. Overpopulation is a problem that humanity can work together to solve. There is no need for fear. Find hope, reasons to belief in your own ability to consume less, if no one else’s. Fear and panic are the enemies to social order. Stop believing the news, especially internet articles aimed at reactivity. That’s what they want, to shock you into reading. If you can fight your fear with hope and action you will lead yourself to more action oriented at personal results, therefore affecting the collective in the greatest possible way that you personally can. See what  you can do, challenge yourself, experiment with alternate lifestyle behaviors. You’ll surprise the shit out of yourself 😉