Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Category: Rants and Raves

#10: Memory

Two nights ago, nine African American individuals were shot and killed in cold blood while in prayer at Emmanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The killer has been apprehended. This tragedy has left me stunned, angry, sad, frustrated, and questioning.

Our country’s collective memory is short, especially when it comes to racism and the oppression of people of color. And then something like this shooting happens, jogs our memory for a short moment, gets us talking and acting, and then the 24-hour news cycles ends and moves us on to the next big movie or celebrity gaffe.

The memories this moment jogged for me were other awful events from the past few years:

  • the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the many other black lives whose soul and breath were taken unjustly and unceremoniously by police violence
  • the shooting in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary School
  • other mass shootings perpetrated by white men who were often written off as mentally unstable with no recognition of the larger system and society that has created these killers

President Obama gave a speech after the shooting. Some of his statements really resonated with me as I try to stay hopeful and optimistic that maybe THIS time there will be more action taken to control the rampant presence of and access to guns in our country.  He said, “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”

He also quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from a speech he gave in response to the killing of four African American girls when a church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed by Klan members. I went to read the full speech and it’s amazing, beautifully written (and I’m sure spoken), and inspiring. Here are a few excerpts, but I encourage you to read and re-read the whole thing:

And yet they [the four girls] died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death… They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

and then there’s this:

Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.

Let our memories not be so short at all the injustice people of color, especially black people and communities, have endured. When will Dr. King’s dream be realized?

Moments that Make Me Smile

There have been so many fleeting moments I've witnessed in my travels that I wanted to share and document for myself (sorry, no photos, they were just too fleeting! You'll have to imagine along with me.).

Baby animals (little lambs, calves, baby macaques) playing with their friends, realizing their moms were moving on, and then running to catch up. I could see some of their momentary confusion as they looked for their mom.

A baby on her dad's back in a hiking frame with only her head peeping out, gazing out at the world around her with very limited vision.

A dad on a motorbike, with a 3-month-ish old baby on his lap, and the mother sitting behind him. The baby kind of looked like he was precariously perched on dad's knee, but they were just cruising along, no worries about car and child safety!

Newlywed couples wearing matching shirts, holding on to each other for dear life in case they get lost from each other, I suppose? Honestly, isn't at least one of them embarrassed to be wearing matching clothing? That's just too cutesy for me! But I have to stop hating, and all I can do is giggle a little.

Being asked for the 100th time if I need a taxi or a massage. And all I can do is smile because I don't want to throttle anyone in a country that is not my own.

Hearing Muslim chants over loudspeakers at various hours during the day. The other morning, around 5am, I heard the guy chanting and he was so earnest that his voice cracked a bit. Made me smile in bed in the dark since it kind of woke me up.

The mostly Asian travelers who will get up out of their seats on trains, planes, buses to be the first one to leave the mode of transport, even before the mode of transport has come to a complete stop (or sometimes even landed). Again, another one of those things where I could get exasperated, but I just have to smile and wonder about what they are thinking. It's kind of funny if you put it into another frame of mind. “Maybe if I get up 2 seconds earlier than that other person, I can get out into the terminal 3 seconds faster to get to the baggage terminal only to wait.” Heehee, adding narration can be kind of funny.

Signs in English in Bali and Malaysia that just sound funny. Here was one I actually did take a photo of:

Travelers eating spaghetti or burgers in Bali. Seriously? You come thousands of miles to eat your own food? (I see a trend of borderline judgmental observations here in this list. But I'm trying to show that what could drive me crazy, and sometimes does, I'm learning to just let slide off my back and smile about it.)

Another motorbike one– a family of five or six all Jenga-ed on to a motorbike, with one driver and other adults and children surrounding him or her. It's quite a sight to see. And everyone looks so comfortable. Good thing Southeast Asians are often really skinny!

Tourists with an iPad or other tablet holding it up to take a photo of something. It just looks silly, like you're holding up a book to use as a camera. Gotta laugh at that one.

Fruits and vegetables in their natural habitat that I have never seen that way before: mangoes on a mango tree, strawberries in a strawberry patch, macadamia nut trees in flower, huge bunches of green bananas weighing down its tree, and so many more edibles that I saw for the first time in a garden or wild. Such wondrous things!

And this– I just had to take a photo of it:


An American Traveler in a Developing Country

Since touching down and going through the airport in Denpasar, Bali, I was reminded of the challenges dilemmas of being a tourist-American in a developing country. The last time I faced the feelings I’m now having was when I went to the Dominican Republic during a college spring break with some girlfriends. I remember how weird and guilt-trippy I felt being in a resort where everyone was brown-skinned, in service to people, mostly white (except for me and my friends, but the American passport basically made us white), tourists. I couldn’t fully enjoy myself, especially when we went out to the town, outside of the resort, and saw how poor people were. And I mean Third World poor, not U.S. inner city poor.

According to wikipedia, tourism accounts for 80% of Bali’s economy. But interestingly, agriculture (which used to be the biggest moneymaker) employs the most people. Does that mean that tourism only really financially benefits a minority of the population? I wonder.

It’s a strange feeling driving and walking around Bali because one can’t be sure if things are there as a tourist attraction or because it’s naturally/ culturally there. For example, there are all these really interesting statues at various street roundabouts and randomly in the middle of an intersection. They have to do with the Hindu gods and religion. I’m not sure if those were built recently or have been around for 100s of years. Another example is all the batik shops and coffee plantations and woodcarving shops that exist, right next to each other for miles down a street. I can’t tell if those are traditional farms and crafts workshops or if they’ve been built just for tourists.

At any touristy site or area, there are women peddling their wares, begging you to buy a wooden pipe or plastic pinwheel. And all along the street in Ubud (which is a touristy area), men sit on the streetside with their buddies, waiting for tourists to walk by and asking, “Do you need a taxi?” or “Do you need a motorbike ride?” I mean, it’s relentless, the solicitation by the Balinese of the tourists. And of course, we’re all easy to identify– even me, of Asian descent– I have my backpack and walking shoes.

Everywhere I have been (granted, I AM a tourist, and I’ve only been to places accessible to tourists), there are signs that everything is for the tourists’ eyes and wallets. Signs in English EVERYWHERE; menus with Western food; souvenir shops EVERYWHERE (next to temples, rice paddies, farms).

I know that tourism is a big part of the economy here, and it hurts me to see the lengths people will go to make even a few thousand rupiah.

And as an American and a millionaire in this country (I’ve taken out 1 million rupiah from the ATM at a time– that’s only $100USD), I can’t help but want to buy things or tip extra, but I’m on a budget, too.

It’s amazing how you feel the relativity of things, like money, when you’re in a country where there’s a huge disparity with your own.

It makes me squirm when I see well-dressed older white women bargaining down a few thousand rupiah with a store clerk for a scarf or other little trinket. Come on, lady, it’s only a few dollars you’re bargaining down, and that few dollars is nothing off you, but it’s a lot for the Balinese.

I’m just like the next tourist who gets all excited that I got a meal today for about five US dollars or that I got a haircut for the same amount. I mean, who wouldn’t be excited at that kind of “bargain”? But I get the immediate pangs after that moment of excitement thinking, “Wow, what a different life.” My plane ticket from New Zealand to Bali was about $700USD. When I told my driver yesterday that (Balinese like to ask tourists how much we pay for things– I’m not sure if it’s just curiosity or their way of getting a sense of how “rich” you are or what… It makes me a little uncomfortable.), he said, “Wow, you could buy a used motorbike with that money.”

The few Balinese people I’ve talked to– taxi drivers, my guesthouse owners– have never traveled out of Bali before. What a contrast to the many travelers I met in New Zealand, most who were European, who had traveled to multiple countries, not just in Europe but around the world. I think Balinese folks can’t even conceive of how much money it would cost them to travel just outside of Indonesia. And these are hardworking people, too.

I guess what I’m getting at is this privilege that comes with being American, with having a blue U.S.A. passport. Something that one takes for granted until faced with the stark inequities in the world.

Do other travelers here in Bali notice that this culture is built up to serve First World tourists? Does it bother anyone else? Would it be better if I just traveled in countries where the currency is more on par with the U.S. dollar?

I think this is a big part of the reason (in addition to the weather) that I can’t fully enjoy this part of my travels. I’d much rather be helping in the guesthouse, working in a temple, doing something useful to help the people here…

I could go on about this topic, but I’ll leave it at that. Food for thought for you and me.


I'm back at the New Plymouth Puke Ariki library for one last day in the area. My bus for Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is at 2:15pm. And then I have a weekend in Wellington with a friend of my sister-in-law (thanks, L!!) and then on to my next WWOOF placement near Blenheim. No idea what to expect for my next placement so I hope I get some access to wi-fi at some point in the two weeks that I'm there.

It has been an amazing 10 days, as mentioned before. I have the deepest gratitude for the family that opened their home and hearts to me so I could have some learning. I guess I gave them something in return– weeded paths, a cleared and newly planted strawberry patch, and transplanted berry vines. But that's small contribution on my part for three meals a day, conversation and knowledge sharing, and becoming part of the family for a week and a half. WWOOFing is an amazing thing on both the part of the member and the host when the fit is good.

Recognize this patch from my last post-- it was a before and after. And this is an after-after. I planted all those strawberry plants!!

After this experience, I'm really itching to get started on something back home (wherever that is now, since it's not a guarantee that Boston is home…). But I'm trying to be patient to take on my experiences to learn different things about gardening, permaculture, life in another country to see what else I can add to my toolbox of ideas and lightbulbs.

The family I was staying with was really quite radical in their thinking about life and society. The mother (I call her that but she's really only a few years older than me– but it feels too weird to call her “the woman”– I'll just call her “C.”) introduced me to some films and youtube videos that were really interesting.

One video we watched was called “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”– you can watch it online. It was a really interesting, and hopeful, documentary about how Cuba suffered an economic collapse after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s because Cuba's source of oil (the USSR) was now gone. Permaculture (or sustainable agriculture) was the solution to getting people off energy dependence (since they no longer had a choice!) and bring people back to local economies and sources of food. It really showed how community gardens can solve some of society's biggest problems!

Peak oil is this concept that we will (or actually have) reach a peak of oil extraction after which there will be a decline in extraction and production. Theorists have said that we are currently in the time of peak oil and after this time, we should really start to worry and find alternatives to fossil fuel dependence. In essence, there is a finite amount of fossil fuels in the world and we really need to talk and strategize seriously about how we can get off of oil, coal, gas, petroleum, etc.

Permaculture, conservation, local systems, solar/wind/water energy sources– these are all strategies and tools to use to get us off fossil fuel dependence and I have seen it be possible with the family that I was living with this past week and a half.

I can see how this is all possible in rural settings where there is a long growing season and there aren't so many options for access to resources. Now I'm thinking about how to bring these concepts to urban living where there's such an abundance of resources (supermarkets, gas stations, technology) and where EVERYTHING depends on consumption of some kind of fossil fuel. Is it possible to cut that way down? Would people be interested in those ideas? Do they have too much to lose? How do we start to really instill in people the idea that if we just keep consuming earth's resources without giving anything back, we're really going to be in trouble sooner rather than later?

Living with this family, talking to “C,” I can see how one can become really alarmist and almost paranoid about all that's happening around; so I hope to keep a level and hopeful head about me in thinking about how to bring these concepts back to my friends and family as a start.

So that's a bit of my soapbox for today. I'll be in a city this weekend so will hopefully have more access to wi-fi and will post more pics of another part of the country. But I'll leave you, dear readers, with a final photo of Mt. Taranaki:

This was my last view of the mountain on my last day. I originally had posted a pic of my WWOOF host farm, but I know they're so cautious about publicity so I took it down for their privacy.


H is for “Hubris”

I’ve never totally understood what that word “hubris” meant.  It’s one of those words that get thrown around a lot in the media but I’m not really sure how many people know what it means.

So here are a few definitions I found online:

from Wikipedia: Hubris means extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

from Hubris is excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.

from Merriam-Webster: Hubris is exaggerated pride or self-confidence

Here are some headlines from the news today incorporating the word hubris:

  • Hubris on Wall Street: an article from Business Journal about Jamie Dimon and his abdication of responsibility in the craziness being uncovered at JPMorgan Chase
  • China GDP Hit Tells Story of Hubris Run Amok: Bloomberg article about the false sense of hope that Asia had during the 2008 recession in Western countries which is just hitting Asian markets now.
  • Protecting Twitter from its Own Hubris: Reuters blogpost about Twitter’s recent cutting off of LinkedIn where the author comments on Twitter’s overconfidence that it can stand alone from such entities as LinkedIn because of its own cachet and power.  Maybe they’re wrong!

This seems to be a common theme today in the excesses of the wealthiest of the wealthy, the CEOs of multinational corporations that are beyond the reach of regulations, regular human comprehension, and any kind of moral values.  How did we get here?  And how do we regain some humility and modesty in the midst of all this excess?

I see the anti-hubris in the little day-to-days:

  • someone getting up from their seat on the train to offer it to an elder, a pregnant woman, or just someone who looks like they’ve had a long day.
  • acknowledgement from youth that I’ve worked with about how much they have grown and developed because of the support of people like me and other youth workers and mentors in their lives.
  • backyard garden plots with the beautifully growing plants that give joy to the gardener and to the eaters of the bounty.
  • the happy faces of a group of friends at a meal together at a restaurant, in a home, at a park, sharing in the simple goodness of good company, good food, and good conversation.
  • the joyful walk in the early mornings or early evenings along a familiar stretch of sidewalk or road where I can see what I know but also experience a newness every time because of a new way the light hits those leaves or the different way the air smells that day.

Simple daily pleasures.  With loved ones.  Remembering why we are here– to build community with others and make positive contributions to building a better world.  The ultimate anti-hubris!

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