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    Dispatch from the Philippines

    Here’s an email that I wrote to my family while I was visiting my fiancé’s family in the Philippines in October. 

    Hello family,

    I just wanted to send you a quick update from the southern Philippines, where I’m hanging out on Lovely’s family’s patio (there was a chicken walking around here a couples mins ago).  I’ve been here for the past five days and am going back to California tomorrow.  

    I’ve included some pictures of her family’s front yard, which extends out to the street where they have a little eatery; across the street is an elementary school.   There’s a little farm in her backyard, and over the past several days her family’s slaughtered and roasted two goats, two pigs, two turkeys, and one duck, and those are just the ones I know about.   For dinner the entire neighborhood comes over and the house is filled with around fifty family members and friends attending the feast.  If you walk up the road you pass the hospital, high school, and then hit the main part of town, where popular Zumba lessons are held for the public in the town square every evening.  (I say town but it’s more of a village.)    

    Lovely’s home is in the province of Hagonoy, which for the second year in a row has been awarded the top Rice Achievers Award (or something like that) in the country.  I’ve included a pic of the rice harvest that Lovely’s mom was overseeing on the rice field they own.   Far beyond the rice fields lies Mount Apo, the tallest mountain in the Philippines.  It’s an overnight trek to the top of the mountain, which is allegedly swarming with bandits, so we just visited the base of the mountain where we went zip-lining and then had lunch in the “land of peace.”

    The beach pictures were taken on a little island near the main city of Davao del Sur, the main city on the island of Mindanao, where the airport is located.  The current president of the Philippines used to be the mayor of Davao del Sur, and his daughter is now the mayor.  Durterte seems to have massive support among citizens here, whom largely appear to endorse the state of martial law which is in effect on Mindanao (there are checkpoints on the street ((I’ve been driving Lovely’s friend’s manual Toyota to town because none of her friends have driver’s licenses – a nerve-wracking experience since my skills with a stick shift are limited)), and metal detectors in malls and hotels).  The martial law, which has been extended throughout 2018, seem to be targeted at reducing rampant criminality and terrorism.  There are cells of Islamic fighters who have proclaimed their allegiance to ISIS on the western edge of the island, which is comprised mostly of Roman Catholics.  Signs in town display photos of the dozens of “most wanted terrorists.”  The overall situation is presently peaceful and quiet, though the neighboring town was overtaken by ISIS militants and bombed to the ground by the Filipino Air Force last year.  

    We’ve been eating a lot, and there are edible gardens everywhere.  We can’t go anywhere or visit anyone without being fed or leaving without food.  You can be standing outside and someone will hand you a papaya from their yard, then they’ll ask if you’ve ever had the fruit that you’re standing under (“watery-rose apple”), then they’ll go and hack down some coconuts or offer you a tuna steak on a stick, and always there will be mangoes, and this process goes on ad infinitum. I just took a break from writing this letter to eat a breakfast that Lovely’s mom made which consisted of a delicious array of fruits and vegetables.  The food derives from immediate sources and is ubiquitous   On more than one occasion I’ve been sitting down eating one meal and they are already preparing the next.  Yesterday I was eating a pig’s blood and liver soup in the backyard and Lovely’s dad’s friend walks to the side of the house with a turkey, casually breaks its neck then begins the bloodletting process because it’s what’s for dinner.  While we were eating breakfast two sparrows flew into the kitchen to eat grains of rice. Yesterday I was having a beer in the kitchen a gecko fell from the ceiling onto my lap.   After the rice harvest mung beans and watermelons are planted, but before this people go out into the fields at night with lights and gather the frogs, which are supposedly tasty (after they’re cooked).   There was only one delicacy that I couldn’t stomach and almost threw up chewing which was balut: the 18-day old embryo of a duck that’s boiled and eaten from the egg shell.   No thanks. We’re going to go to Crocodile Park today, where Lolong – the largest crocodile in captivity (20 ft., 2,300 lbs.) lived and died and is now preserved in formalin – and I have a feeling we’re going to eat crocodile meat there.

    This trip has been awesome and has been made extremely unique because of Lovely and her family. Her parents are kind, generous, and gregarious.  (Her father, a retired police officer, isn’t home right now because he fell off his motorcycle a couple weeks ago and injured his wrist – so he’s been seeing a “quack doctor” who heals him through touch and having him drink “miracle oil.”)  I look forward to my next trip back here (definitely for a longer duration of time).  In the meantime, it’s back to work to prepare of Lovely’s arrival to California in January.  I’m working more than I ever have in my life at the moment, and I truly hope it pays off.

    Hope you enjoy the pics and videos.



    I forgot to mention that I’m the only white guy in sight for many, many miles.  I was reminded of this as I heard some giggling behind me and a squad of little school girls were hiding in the plants smiling.  I got up and pretended to be angry and chased them away. :oP







    Message From Auckland

    What follows is a short e-mail I wrote to my brother regarding some time I spent in Auckland, New Zealand over the past week.  The message is followed by a slideshow featuring photos of some of the places and things I mentioned in the email, such as the library, books and magazines, and the 100 year-old Tepid Baths – the main swimming pool in downtown Auckland.   Separate blog postings will be provided for the visits I made to the Auckland Botanic Gardens and the island off Auckland called Rangitoto.  In addition to several random shots of the city, the slideshow includes some pictures of the New Jewellry shop on Lorne Street in Auckland, which is run by artist John Walters, who was kind enough to take the time out of his day to explain the jewelry making process and let me take a picture of him at his workbench.  The slideshow also features three pictures of awesome paintings by New Zealand artist Roger Mortimor.  I realize how banal is it to post an email I’ve written to my brother instead of a actual blog post, but in this case I think it works.


    Dear Brother, 

    I hope all is well.  I've been laying low in Auckland for the past few days while my fiancé is at work.  Her employer wanted the kids around for the holidays but they're all going back to Queenstown on Tuesday, when she starts her leave.  At that point we'll do some traveling around the South Island which I'm looking forward to.  That's when the pictures will start rolling in.  So far I've pinned down a constructive routine of going to the library and exercising.  There's an amazing fitness center here in Auckland called Tepid Baths.  It's 100 years old but the pool and gym are modern.  It's $15 USD a day to work-out and swim, so I'll usually swim a mile to loosen up and then hit the weights, mainly dumbbell workouts as well as squats.  There's a hot tub there too but I haven't dipped because I'm not really a hot tub type of guy.    

    The Auckland Library is also fantastic and has an overwhelming amount of good books and magazines.  I always bite off more than I can chew and fail to read the majority of things I take off the shelves, but I make sure to put them back where I found them so as to alleviate work for the librarians.  There's a stack of magazines and some books right beside me as I write these words right now and I haven't even made a dent in them.  Most of the magazines are old New Scientist that I'd like to catch up on, and the other magazines all pertain to New Zealand (one magazine is called Forest and Bird and from what I understand it's all about the state of country's ecosystems, which, according to the magazine, are in alarming decline).  One of the books that I'm not reading is called Natural New Zealand, and it looks really good - you can tell someone really put a lot of work into it.  The other books are called The Water Book (subtitle: The extraordinary story of our most ordinary substance) (just typing that made me thirsty), and Claxton (subtitle: Field Notes from a Small Planet) by Marx Cocker.  I very truly wish I could stick to this routine for a year straight.  That would indeed make me a happy camper, and a much smarter man.

    Having said that, I'll most likely break my routine tomorrow because I want to visit this little island off of Auckland called Rangitoto.  You can get there by ferry and visitors are advised to bring their own food and water because there's no food or fresh water on the island.  

    The other place I want to visit before heading to the South Island is the Auckland Botanic Garden.  Auckland and every other NZ city I've been too is super green because they've built around they trees and hills, instead of leveling and razing them.  I read that from the colonial onset there was a firm understanding and conviction that trees were the "lungs" of the city.  So it's super green and gorgeous everywhere here.   And the trees are huge and sprawling and tropical and beautiful and intricate, kind of like much of the vegetation in Hawaii.  So I want to learn more about them by visiting the Botanic Gardens.   I may even try to do that today. It's located outside of the central city so I'd have to take a bus there, which is fine with me.

    I actually did read some of Natural New Zealand and enjoyed learning this:

             New Zealand's long isolation from other landmasses has resulted in one of the world's highest rates of endemism (species that are unique to a particular area) among its flora and fauna.  According to scientist George Gibbs, in his excellent book Ghost of Gondwana, New Zealand has over 2,000 endemic plant species, some 200 endemic vertebrae species, and, astonishingly, more than 20,000 endemic invertebrate species.  Only Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands can lay claim to such high levels of endemism.

              New Zealand is also home to several biological refugees, including the prehistoric tuatara, unusual frogs that don't croak, accent wrens that are among the most primitive of passerines, and giant weta that have changed little over 200 million years. Some of these life forms survived here long after others of their kind disappeared from the rest of the world.  As a consequence of the geographical isolation, birds like the kiwi evolved from an ancestral group of ratites (I had to look that one up) into the unique creatures they are today.


    Conversations About the End of Time and The National Gallery of Art – Part 2: Back to the Apocalypse – Jean Delumeau

          This is a follow-up to a previous journal entry which also features excerpts transcribed from the same book, Conversations About the End of Time supplemented by photographs of paintings on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.  The other entry presented excerpts from a discussion that the book’s editor had with the late biologist-paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.  The following excerpts are transcribed from an interview titled Back to the Apocalypse, in which French historian and theologian Jean Delumeau discusses, among other things, the role of Western religions in influencing the end of the world hysteria that intermittently manifest in civilizations and societies throughout history.  (To see Part 1 of this series, which features excerpts from an interview between the editors of the aforementioned book and the late biologist-paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, click here.)


    If there hadn’t been any great fear in AD 1000, can you explain how and why eschatological fears recur from the end of the fifteenth century onwards?

    I believe this is the be connected to the series of misfortunes which befell the West from the fifteenth century onwards.  I shall list them.  The first, and indubitably the most important, was the Black Death of 1348, which was a veritable demographic disaster.   A quarter, perhaps even a third, of the population of Europe died in the space of three or four years – a truly vast number.  Second, a little later, there occurred the great schism (1378 – 1417), with two, and at times even three, concurrent popes.  The French theologian Jean Gerson was of the opinion that this could only be a punishment inflicted on sinning Christianity, and he even added that no one would enter paradise until the great schism was brought to an end.  The schism was repaired at the beginning of the fifteenth century, but a century later, the Protestant reformation broke out.  On this occasion, Christianity in the West was split in two and has remained thus divided to this day.  To all this must be added the many famines, the Hundred Years War, the War of the Rose and the Turkish threat: the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, that of Asia Minor and a large part of the Balkans, the fall of Egypt at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Ottoman protectorate extending over the whole of North Africa with the protection being given to Barbary pirates who ravaged Christian shores, and so on.   And on top of that, wars of religion broke out in the sixteenth century.  It was in this dramatic context that the expectations and fears about the end of the world flourished again.  It was in the spirit of the age to look for guilty parties, since all these misfortunes had occurred.  And more rather than fewer were identified.

    Are you referring to the Inquisition and the witch hunts?

    Yes.  Throughout the 250 years during which these misfortunes were befalling the West, there was a constant search for scapegoats: Turks, Jews (it was the greatest age of anti-Semitism), heretics, witches.  One has to realize that the great age of the persecution of witches was not the Middle Ages, as is often believed, but a period stretching from the end of the fifteenth century to the beginning of the seventeenth: in other words, the Renaissance.  Think about Michelangelo’s tragic Last Judgement on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, or Durer’s series of fifteen etchings of the Apocalypse, which made it famous at a stroke.  People at this time did not have the notion of progress as part of their mental baggage.  They did not think that humanity could have a long future ahead of it, or any future at all.  They looked upon it as old and close to its end.  Christopher Columbus wrote in 1500 that the end of the world would occur in the 150 years at the very most.  Nicholas of Cusa declared that the victory over the Antichrist would happen between 1700 and 1734.  Luther stated that ‘We have reached the age of the pale horse of the Apocalypse… the world will not last another hundred years.’ I could give many other examples of quotations of this type.  Millenarians were in the minority; for most people, the end of time was close at hand; the world was rushing headlong towards the Last Judgement. 


    Isn’t there, at least in Christianity, a distinction between the particular judgement of a soul which occurs after death and the collective judgement of a soul which occurs after death and the collective judgement of humanity which will take place at the end of time?

    Traditional Christian theology, especially in the Middle Ages and during the modern era, indeed distinguished between the judgement of individuals, which takes place immediately after their death, from the general judgement of mankind.

    And this would occur after the end of time?

    Exactly, at the end of time, when God decides to stop the passage of time and bring history to a close.  According to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), what will then happen is a cosmic event called Parousia.  This is the return of the risen and glorious Christ who will come to judge the living and the dead.  Jesus proclaims this very explicitly:

    But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And then he will send his angels, and shall gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth tot ends of heaven (Mark 13:24 – 7).

    Who will the elect be?

    I have no authority to speak out on this matter.  But I think it is important to turn to Chapter 25 of Matthew, where we read that the criterion of judgement will not a theological criterion, or a criterion of faith or belief, but a criterion of love and service to one’s fellow human beings.  It is worth recalling this famous text, which lies at the heart of what we are talking about:

    When the Son of man comes in this glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.  Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come O blessed of the Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and feed thee, or thirsty, and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger, and welcome thee, or naked, and clothe thee?  And when did we see thee stick, or in prison, and visit thee?’  And the King will answer them. ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:31 – 40). 


    The Palisades Trail, Striking While the Iron’s Hot, and Regrets

    We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today.  We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.  In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time.  Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs.  We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”  There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.  Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”

                                                                                                                             -Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam

    And I'm sorry for us
    The dinosaurs roam the earth
    The sky turns green
    Where I end and you begin 

                                                                                                                             -Radiohead, Where I End and You Begin


                The photographs featured in the slideshow below were taken along the Palisades Trail north of Calistoga in the Spring of 2015.   I’ve written about this trail before, and had planned for the journal entry in which the below photographs were to be included to be an all-around much cleverer one (it was originally supposed to be a fictitious letter written by Robert Louis Stevenson and to feature several of his drawings, including one of a giant bird snatching away his wife), but I never got around to it.  And it’s only because I expect to return to the trail this winter that I now feel compelled to post these pictures.  I realize it’s a first-world problem, but in relation to completing the first journal entry concept and as with so many other endeavors in my life, I wish I would have struck while the iron was hot and kept on striking until I saw the project through.   Alas, it was put on the back burner and eventually froze in the cryogenic chambers of my mind.  Of course, striking while the iron is hot also applies to those moments in life in which the window of time is rapidly closing and the iron can cool within seconds:  when you fail to stand up for yourself or others, when you don’t help someone in need, when you don’t tell someone the truth, when you let chances slip between your fingers because you weren’t on top of your game.   It’s hard to forget the times when you should have done something but failed to, because the possible alternate outcome of your intervention may haunt you.  (Clearly, I am no paragon of success, and am not suggesting that I am in a positon to give advice on how to get things done.)


             Failing to see a project through is sometimes an issues of time.  I often wish that I had a clone so that I could have him stay back at home and get things done here while I went off to work.  (And it is telling that in this imaginative scenario I would be the one going to work and my clone would be the one staying back to do creative tasks, which are harder than my physically laborious and monotonous job – to me this means that I’m too lazy to write.)   In the Japanese cartoon Dragonball-Z there is a portal in which the characters can enter into a different dimension where one second there translates to the equivalent of twenty-four hours in the real world, so they go inside to train to fight.   I wish that such a portal existed so that I could spend more time reading, writing, and drawing.  In the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, Dr. Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold explain the downside of having to sleep, and how much more productive one could be if only they were able to practice lucid dreaming:

           Proverbially, and undeniably, life is short. To make matters worse, we must spend between a quarter and half of our lives asleep. Most of us are in the habit of virtually sleepwalking through our dreams. We sleep, mindlessly, through many thousands of opportunities to be fully aware and alive.  Is sleeping through your dreams the best use of your limited lifespan? Not only are you wasting part of your finite store of time to be alive, but you are missing adventures and lessons that could enrich the rest of your life. By awakening to your dreams, you will add to your experience of life and, if you use these added hours of lucidity to experiment and exercise your mind, you can also improve your enjoyment of your waking hours.

            For those of us who are not able to work in our dream-states but still have the luxury of free time, we must prioritize the tasks we set out to achieve, taking into consideration how much time we have left before we die.  In the epic book and television series Cosmos, Carl Sagan touches on this concept in relation to reading: “If I finish a book a week, I will read only a few thousand books in my lifetime, about a tenth of a percent of the contents of the greatest libraries of our time. The trick is to know which books to read.” 

           While I will never complete the overwhelming majority of projects that I have picked up but did not see through (those ships have sailed), at the end of the day they probably matter less than how I carry myself and treat others.  The Hawaiian practice of Ho'oponopono and Dave Isay of StoryCorps concur when it comes to how people should go about reconciliation and forgiveness in life.  In his March 2015 TED Talk Mr. Isay said:

         There's a hospice doctor named Ira Byock who has worked closely with us on recording interviews with people who are dying. He wrote a book called "The Four Things That Matter Most" about the four things you want to say to the most important people in your life before they or you die: thank you, I love you, forgive me, I forgive you. They're just about the most powerful words we can say to one another, and often that's what happens in a StoryCorps booth.

           Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware identified five themes that regularly surfaced among end-of-life patients whom were asked about their regrets in life, these were:  

    1.  I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
    2.  I wish I didn't work so hard.
    3.  I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
    4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 
    5.  I wish that I had let myself be happier.

          Perhaps this is linked to those regrets enumerated by Mrs. Ware, but I would add a sixth one: I wish that I had spent more time outside.  I intend to avoid having this sixth regret by maximizing my time outdoors.  As a matter of fact, if I can help it, I will not be confined to an indoor environment on my deathbed, for I would much rather pass away outside – under the sun, moon, or stars, on land or in water or in mid-air, or even in the jaws of an large animal.   I if I do end up immobile and confined to a hospital bed, I hope my friends and family have the sense enough to roll me out of there before my last moments and wheel me up to the top of a hill or into the forest, or place me face-up supine on kayak and send me out to sea so as to further alleviate the burden of dying in regret.   

    Roy’s no Mormon and not much a of a Christian, and does not honestly believe in an afterlife.  Yet the manner of death he fears does not sound bad to me; to me it seems like a decent, clean way of taking off, surely better than the slow rot in a hospital oxygen tent with rubber tubes stuck up your nose, prick, asshole, with blood transfusions and intravenous feeding, bedsores and bedpans and bad-tempered nurses’ aides – the whole nasty routine to which most dying men, in our time, are condemned.

                                                                                                                                                                       -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire


    The Fall

                             I have a terribly lovely habit of working hard and playing harder, and while a greater emphasis should be placed on the former if I am to increase my chances of success, I am a selfish bastard who is living life as though I were just informed I have cancer and have only two more months to live.  I try to be as honest as possible about my selfishness and hypocrisy (so when others call me out on it I can refer them to the fact that I’ve already acknowledged this contradiction).  There’s no need to get into the details of how my actions (transportation, consumption, waste, willful ignorance, technological dependency, not caring to learn about solutions) contribute to war, poverty, and environmental destruction, and I would not be able to argue with a person if they were to accuse me of being cut from same selfish moral cloth as those who would like to make of this world their playground and that I’m just trying to get my piece of the pie.  But I would like to think that there is a slight difference between those at the top and myself:  even in my actions of excessive energy and material consumption and neglect to my perceived responsibility for service to others and the natural world, I at least try to tread lightly – remaining conscious of the deleterious impacts of my decisions – and not hurt anyone or anything along the way.  Not a day passes that I do not thank my lucky stars that I am alive and free.  Not a day passes that I am not grateful to whom (my ancestors) and what (the rest of nature) has given me this opportunity to be alive.  By the same token, not a day passes that I do not remind myself of those in this world whose lives have been destroyed as a result of the policies carried out by the government and military of my country and their inter-governmental and corporate accomplices, subsidized by my taxpayer dollars, and for whose livelihoods I've failed to fight for.  

                    I believe that one way to avert a regrettable experience of one’s death is to position yourself well beforehand.  That is to say when you die, you may have a chance to glance at what you have done and who you have become and compare that to your unfulfilled dreams, and while you may not have had the opportunities to fulfill your goals, if you can say that you’ve tried to do the things you set out to do then you’ll be alright, even if you weren’t able to see everything through.  But, if at the moment of your death you look back and say that you did not try, then you shall die in regret and with a heavy weight bearing down upon your broken soul.   Having said that, here are some photographs of my friend’s farm in Northern California, where I go to pick persimmons to send to my mom every fall.  This slideshow is followed by some of an autumnal motorcycle ride to the Mendocino Coast.  I failed to adequately capture the beauty of the fall along this ride because I had other things on my mind than taking pictures, but I thought to myself today:  you should have taken the time to take more pictures, autumn is but once a year, and there will come a time for both you and the fall to come to an end.