Paradoxical Prague

Prague, Charles Bridge

Prague is definitely one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. By all standards, it has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the architecture is incredible, the streets are cobbled and it’s just like you are stepping into a fairy tale when you arrive.

Except for one thing; the amount of tourists that are constantly flowing through the city.

I am no stranger to crowds; god knows India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, and Vietnam have plenty of them; I lived in Boston for a couple of years which is pretty crowded as well. But there is something about the pure tourist that just drives me kind of insane. Maybe it was the average age of the people in the city, or the way that they crowded together, but it is absolutely something I could do without seeing again.

With that said, the architecture in Prague was absolutely fantastic. It’s like being in Disney world with all of the castles and churches and especially the tourists. The city is the capital of the Czech Republic and the largest city in Czech. The image above is an image of the Charles Bridge which was completed over 600 years ago. Let’s just say the city is fairly historically significant.

There’s about 2 million people in the suburban area of Prague and 1.2 million in the city, though you might not even notice it if you wake up early in the morning. It receives double its population in tourists each year, which will only be increasing each year. It is the 15th largest city in the European Union and the weather is great; just warm enough to wear a light jacket and jeans and not get cold, though at night it’s advisable to wear something a bit heavier.

Historically, Prague or Praha was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire making it a major player the protestant reformation. It’s gothic architecture is epic in proportion and Prague has some of the most beautiful churches, statues, and religious architecture that I have ever seen. It’s amazing how gigantic churches can be and after reading the history of Prague, it’s easy to understand the massive power of the church at the times where the city flourished.

Incredibly, it seems that most of the architecture in the city was preserved during the first two world wars, probably due to its location outside of Germany. There are still over 500 spires in the city and many more beautiful buildings. Definitely worth a few days visiting, though I don’t think I could have stayed for more than a week.

The night life was decent, I was able to partake in a pub crawl that was extremely busy, a few hundred people and ended at a 5 story club featuring 90s hip-hop. It was pretty lame, even though I do like 90s hip-hop, there is far better music for the dance floor and the DJ was pretty much just using his iPod and letting it play.

So if you get a chance, give Prague a visit, just keep in mind the large number of tourists that you will find in every nook and cranny of the city; even in the off-season they far outnumbered the locals, so expect the locals to be a bit less friendly than usual as well.

 

 

Returning to the West

Dhaka Streets_1

The past few days have been a difficult adjustment period. The accumulation of stress over the past few months was nothing short of monumental and I needed time to allow everything to process.

Budget traveling in Asia was fun, rewarding, and a life-changing experience. I would do it again, but I would have planned things much differently, spending more time in Myanmar rather than Vietnam and Thailand because of the touristic climates of the latter two countries. Vietnam is also particularly difficult as an American; there are massive amounts of propaganda about the war and people just aren’t excited to have you in their country. At least that was my interpretation of my experiences.

India was exactly what I needed; a combination of challenge and pure peace, allowing me to move far deeper into my yoga practice and mediation than I had anticipated. Nepal was a much-needed rest and I feel so lucky to have avoided the earthquakes and the devastation that they caused. Then Dhaka happened.

After I while, I realized that the east is so similar to the West; we are all essentially the same in our humanity and have differences and unique qualities that separate cultures, individuals, and groups of people. And in that uniqueness, comes a diversity that is relatively similar; there are always good people and bad people, people looking to take advantage of you and people looking to help you.

This is why perception is such an important part of the human experience; we base our decisions off of what we have experienced in the past.

Dhaka was so hard because of the way that their society is organized. People are willing to be completely wrong when trying to help you, as long as they can feel like they’ve helped you. They look up to white people and at the same time despite them. It seems that every sword has two sides.

Dhaka was probably the hardest day of my life, but it was also one that gives me the most hope. When people work together we can do anything we want. The way people worked together to help me was truly an incredible thing to witness.

I need to return to Myanmar because I was only able to visit Yangon, but the people were so nice. They went about their business until you came into contact with someone at a restaurant, or through whatever interaction and they were so kind. Far nicer than any country besides India, which I found to be somewhat similar. Thailand was close to Myanmar, but the people seem to be so sick of tourists. Though Bangkok is not really a city I am looking forward to visiting in the future, the north of Thailand was breath-taking and the locals were so nice. But I think they were as sick of the foreigner party scene as I was.

The came Vietnam, which I had always heard great things about. There is probably a lot racism against Americans because of the Vietnam war and the people seem to have taken on the victim mentality completely, like they are entitled to things because of it. And its hard to argue that they shouldn’t.

In the south of Vietnam I was scammed at every opportunity possible, there seemed to no stop to what people were willing to do for a bit of money. The only reprieve was from the people we were already staying with, who tended to be very kind and thoughtful and wonderful towards their clients. There were a lot of very nice people, but there was a lot of dislike directed at me for no reason by people in general. It was probably due to being American, which I think is obvious when I travel.

Coming back to the West through Berlin was great; the country is very in touch with its history and many of the exhibits of the wall in the city are completely eye-opening, full of facts and personalized stories, and bring the situation to life. It was nice to see both sides of the equation as well; how Hitler and the Nazi party came to power and why it was even a possibility in the country. A nice change from the one-sided propaganda in Vietnam.

Now I am in Prague, but spending the day recovering rather than traveling around. Two more days here should make for a lot of history and good food, site-seeing, and spending time with my family. I’m going to write an article on Berlin after this, so stay tuned for more experiences about the journey I am on.

 

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 🙂

 

Nightmare in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Children

Dhaka can be a nightmare. It was for me a few days ago when I forgot all of my things except my passport and phone (which I only have for pictures and music) and got lost in the city for a solid 11 hours straight. I thought I was going to have to sleep on the streets.

Have you ever done something really, really stupid, immediately regretted it, then gone on to fix the bad decision for the rest of the day? That was my Saturday. I haven’t prayed hard in a long time, I’ve never begged on the streets, or hard to use my yoga in such a necessary way. The amount of stress going through my system was unbelievable and I’m still moving through a good amount of it.

It started Friday night, when I learned that Biman Bangladesh Airlines cancelled my layover flight to Yangon and expected me to stay in the airport overnight, which is complete bullshit (an unexpected 14 hour layover with no lodging?) Avoid the company if you can, it was an awful position to be in. But luckily, a spanish family living in Dhaka offered me to stay with them instead of a hostel, insisting that it was necessary because of the conditions in Dhaka. After experiencing the brunt of India, I thought ‘ how bad can it be?’ It was awful.

Getting lost started with wanting to go take pictures at 7:30 after doing a little yoga in the morning (I didn’t finish my practice, which is a little weird), then about 5 minutes into my short walk, I was completely lost. I hadn’t taken the time to recognize the buildings around me so I had no landmarks that I was familiar with. I probably walked around and near the building I was staying in for a solid 2 hours before beginning to panic a bit at 9 because my flight was at 12:30 and I like to have 3 hours before my flight. So I started to jog around run a little to try to cover ground faster. I stopped at 11:30, exasperated, realizing the gravity of the situation that I was in. To add to the panic, Dhaka is one of the poorest places on the planet, and lots of my walking around the city involved walking on sandbags to avoid the sewage flooded streets.

I decided to try to see if I had properly remember the address of the family I was staying with and took a rickshaw, since I was on my last resort, even though I couldn’t pay him unless he took me to the right place. He ended up taking me all the way across town in the wrong direction, until I ditched the took-took in traffic because I couldn’t pay (yeah I feel guilty, but I had literally nothing to give the man). I was so dehydrated that my mouth was completely dry and a man offered me water from a used bottle, that I only took one sip of before knowing I couldn’t drink it. I went to a stall and literally begged the vendor for water, which he unexpectedly gave to me.

I began to get completely hopeless wandering the streets, looking for anything that might help me and praying my ass off for some help. Then I met a girl named Anna, from Colorado and I literally begged her for help as well. After seeing how dire my situation was, she agreed to help me and  took me to her school where she taught english, where her friend helped me to look for the apartment on Google street views. After realizing how little I could recognize, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get back by myself. Anna and I spent the next 3 hours roaming the streets, looking for anything that looked familiar. We looked through the areas for what I thought I remembered and then decided to try the different clubs in the city where westerners hang out (because the city is Muslim, there is no drinking allowed in the city). The first club was the international club, but we had no luck there. Then at the second club, around 5pm, we finally found some people who knew the people I was staying with. They made a few calls to figure out where their address was, then they drove me to their house. I will always be so grateful to everyone involved in that trip, and Anna really saved me that day! Something I really did not expect to happen. What a restoration for my faith in humanity!

So that was probably the worst day of my life. It’s so easy to say in retrospect, but the panic and fear that I felt during those first 5 hours will never be forgotten. So be careful if you ever visit Dhaka, the place is not easy to get around in. The city is a maze, the people are always trying to be helpful and will absolutely point you in the wrong direction because they have no idea where you are looking for, and very, very few people speak english.

The only things I had with me were two cameras, so enjoy the photos!

Dhaka Streets_3Dhaka Streets_4kids in Dhaka1Dhaka marketDhaka Streets_5people of Dhakarickshaw DhakaDhaka Streets_7 swamp in Dhakatea stand in Dhakakids in field in DhakaDhaka Streets_6leper in Dhakakids in Dhaka2Dhaka Streets_2Dhaka Streets_1child in Dhaka

 

 

 

 

Kathmandu, Nepal

View of Mountainside, Kathmandu

This is a photo-only blog. Enjoy!

Dusty Kathmandu Street
Dusty Kathmandu Street
random student in uniform
random student in uniform
Smiling Child
Smiling Child
IMG_9582
chicken.
Market
Market
Beggar
Beggar at the Monkey Temple
Nepal's 7-11's
Nepal’s 7-11’s 
Monkey!
Monkey!
more students
more students 
Kathamandu, Thamel Streets
Kathamandu, Thamel Streets
Nepalese trashcan
Nepalese trashcan

 

Getting my India Visa in SF

San_Francisco

Why I love San Francisco

I got my visa for India this morning, and took a megabus into the city yesterday afternoon. I have to say that part of me is sad because Urban Flow is closed right now and I really loved that studio. There’s something primitively satisfying about chanting with a couple hundred other humans at the same pace. Top reason why I love SF: yoga. Mostly Rusty Wells at that.

I forgot forms, as usual. I needed a copy of my drivers license and some alternate things form that I have nothing to fill out on. I have a pretty clean record, to be honest. But I printed my visa form there, had to refill that out again because I didn’t include my middle name like I did on my passport. Oh well, the people working there were really nice.

I usually come for a weekend, or a couple of nights so I can head down to the studio and practice and see a couple of college friends, but I am becoming more and more aware of how yoga is continuing to gain popularity. Our society and culture are molding it into something amazing, something that is really American too. I’m always incredulous at the vast diversity of Americans, it is truly awe inspiring.

San Francisco has no shortage of diversity and people are friendly, if you give them the chance to be. Its a rough life in a city, I’m really glad that I haven’t been living in one for the last year, it feels great to take breaks. But the massive stimulation does seem to have a very productive effect on me, being one who was diagnosed with ADD, it helps me to focus. But it is also exhausting.

The consulate was a piece of cake, I used CKGS, it cost $100 for a 6 month tourist Visa with multiple entry. I hope that means I can make it to Nepal, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia. I am also seriously considering Thailand for two weeks in April, maybe a Mango farm? But I am also really excited for 3 weeks in Germany with my sisters and mom. Berlin is going to be beyond epic, I’ve heard so many amazing things about that city. I hope I can see some live EDM, apparently da germans are really into it.

For the past 3 or 4 months I have been making music, really mostly in the last 3. I was so inspired by Lightning in a Bottle that I wanted to learn it for myself. I think I love entertaining people in general, I think yoga might be just one outlet for that. But it is definitely my favorite one, and the most steady of all my passions. A great joy is rising in my heart as I turn to the east again, ready to see more of life on this planet, the world outside of the states. This will be my first time in a 3rd world country, I’ll see poverty there unlike anything I saw in China last May. Though, I can’t say that the people there had much, at least they had some opportunity to farm and work the land. I wonder how India will be.

So I am going to spend at least one day in Bangalore before heading to Mysore, I want to see the trade capital of India, 8 million people in the metropolitan area, and there are a little of ancient temples there. Then its off to Mysore to register with the Ashtanga Institute and practice with Saraswathi. I finally got a confirmation letter after two rejections! But only after calling Saraswathi and asking if I could attend. She said, “come, come, practice here.” Well, don’t mind if I do!

I think what makes me most excited about India is the silence, the time alone, the time in thought and in meditation. It is my favorite thing, which still surprises me every time I take some time to sit down and breath, stop my thoughts and maybe stretch. Lately it has been much more about meditation than the asana practice. Which is probably perfect, because I have a feeling I will get my fair dosage of asana in India.

There is supposed to be a huge storm coming in tonight, its pretty exciting to hear the wind gusting outside. I love waking up in the fog and seeing the sun during the winter, its pretty great to spend the cold month where the weather is good. Geese and ducks have it right. Can’t wait to migrate myself, I think that kind of lifestyle would be really interesting.

What do you love about SF? Besides the yoga, of course 😉