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india

3: Arriving to an Elaborate Scam in Goa [Kolkata; Goa, India]

Day 4 – Saturday

For my last day in Kolkata I figured I’d walk around and see all the sights I hadn’t yet seen. I started out in the morning making my way to the house where Mother Teresa spent a good majority of her life. As soon as I stepped in, I felt very emotional, like a sacred blanket had been placed over me. I felt like crying, for the quotes and memories of Mother Teresa that they had displayed around touched me quite deeply. I walked up to her quaint room where she would sleep, which was extra hot since it was right above the kitchen (and there wasn’t even a fan!). A stroll through the mini-museum showed me common items of hers such as her sandals and telephone, as well as her Nobel Peace Prize and a cloth with her very own blood on it. Close by was her tomb, which had flowers in the shape on a heart laid across it. Some nuns were praying nearby, and were scattered about the still very active convent (this wasn’t the well-known house of the sick and dying that she opened, but that was still very active, too). So I paid my respects, and was off to the next holy place.

A great Yogi named Parmahansa Yogananda who started the fellowship for self-realization in America spent much time in Kolkata. There wasn’t much to see at his house, just a little plaque that says he lived there. I made a friend in asking for directions who went to The University of Kolkata, which was very close by. He recommended to me the Indian Museum, and so after Yogananda’s house I started the long walk there. On the way I saw a bunch of pups feeding from their mother on the sidewalk, some really, really busy markets, some more temples and mosques, a guy carrying a mattress on his head walking across the street, another guy sleeping in his hand-pulled rickshaw, and a very busy protest against corporations.

I walked quite a few miles in extreme heat and humidity before I reached the Indian Museum. Thankfully I drank a coconut and some Mossambi (sweet lime) juice on the way to keep me going. The museum held lots of old fossils and plenty of science/wildlife exhibits. It was interesting, but I found the hustle and bustle of everything happening on the streets there more appealing. So I took a few more selfies with some Indians who’d approach me wanting a picture, learned about the different bioregions in India, and was on my way back to my guesthouse. So many people are curious about what someone like me is doing in India, on the walk back I met some folks and they bought me a cup of chai. We then rode the bus together, and I got off soon after a long day of walking in the heat to finally lay down for a little bit. I went to sleep rather early, for I had a flight to Goa early in the morning the next day.

Day 5 – Sunday

The sun was just rising as my Uber to the airport pulled up around 5 AM. The full moon was still illuminated with a beautiful reddish-pink backdrop. The flights go fine, nothing too interesting happened until I landed in Goa around 2 PM and hopped in a taxi to head to my first Workaway place, where I’d be staying for the next 2 weeks: Saraya Ecostay & Cafe. Right before my taxi driver is about to leave, a man named Steven comes up to the taxi and is asking if he can drive him to a bank on the way with me.

Steven claimed that he was followed down a one way road by some people he stopped to ask for directions, and was mugged. They apparently took his bag, which had his passport, money, ID, basically everything important. They even knocked out one of his teeth, which he showed me. He needed to contact his brother to send money to him, so that he could take a taxi ride to Delhi (~2,000 km or 1,200 mi) that night. He could then get back on his feet since he had family there: his mother and aunt. He was a retired lawyer from London, England, who looked Indian but sounded British, and could talk like a lawyer.

I put myself in his shoes, and offered to help him in many ways. Since he wasn’t able to get any money from the bank on the way, I let him use my phone once we got to Saraya to call his brother to send the money to me instead. He gets through to brother Kevin who worked as a neurosurgeon at Hammer Smith hospital, and calls his bank to make sure that there are locations that were still open, since on Sunday most were closed. There were 2 back in Panjim, a 20 minute drive away. So we order another taxi, and were on our way back to the main city in Goa.

Steven told me about some service he did for those who are abused by the legal system in Laos, and had a lot to say about American & British politics, as well as how absurd all of these terrorist attacks on innocent people are. He cared for all these ethical causes and was upfront about paying for all of the expenses that this trip is causing me. All in all, he seemed like a decent guy and so I was happy to help him. I’d hope for the same help if I were him.

Once in Panjim, we go to both of the locations that I heard the bank lady tell him were open, but they were closed. Likely we had false info because of the time difference between India and where we called. So now, he is still in a rush to get to Delhi that night because his aunt was sick, and he also was considering seeking medical attention since he got kicked in the crotch and was bleeding down there. The only option is this special hotel taxi, since there were police checkpoints on the way which would require both of them to show their ID’s in order to pass. He simply needed cash to pay the hotel taxi driver. The moneygram I could pick up tomorrow. He needed to leave today. So, I gave him some money. I won’t say how much here, but it was a lot. Over $100.

We drove back to Saraya in a taxi, and he gave me a hug as I wished him goodbye and good luck. By this time it was already 6:30 or so, and I settled into the bed where I’d be sleeping for the next 2-3 weeks. I chatted with another volunteer named Dom who sleeps in the same room with me for an hour or 2, and then get news that Steven is back at Saraya. Uhoh.

Long story short, he needed more money for the hotel taxi than he requested before, and so we drove to at least 5 more ATM’s looking for ones that wouldn’t decline my card. I had to call my bank from someone’s hotspot at the bank in order to activate my card again, since all the recent transactions flagged my card as fraudulent. Eventually I withdrew and lent him even more money, and in exchange he gave me a piece of paper with a new Moneygram code on it to receive an even bigger sum of money once the banks are open.

Now it’s around 10 PM that I get back to Saraya to finally eat some dinner. I tell them all about my whirlwind with this Steven Dixon from Britain, and Deeksha, the owner of Saraya, is sure that it’s a scam. I was naturally skeptical, too, but wanted to stay optimistic. The fact that he sought every way possible without asking me directly for money until he had no other option made me hope that he really wasn’t just acting the whole time.

All I could do now was wait until I can go accept the Moneygram that I really, really hoped he sent me.

On my next blog post I’ll be sharing my experience of seeking out the Moneygram, as well as what my life has been like the past 2ish weeks staying at Saraya. Stay tuned!

Hopper

Categories
india

2: Riding with the Police, Chased by Monkeys [Kolkata, Sundarbans NP; India]

Day 2

After an amazing breakfast of spicy chickpeas, rice, and who knows what else, I checked out of Shree Krishna International Hotel and started to make my way to the hostel I had originally booked for the next 3 days in Kolkata. Since my first taxi driver was able to find it (but I thought it was closed at 4 AM and so went to another hotel), I figured it would be a piece of cake getting there again. But oh I was wrong!

My taxi driver spoke very little English, so I showed him the address and he still seemed confused. Next thing you know, he’s asking people on the streets where it is. He gets a general idea, and we drive for maybe half an hour through crazy traffic and pouring rain into the city center. Once we get close, he starts asking people on the streets again if they know where it is. After trying maybe 7 people, we finally are guided even closer. Or so I thought. I end up on a one-way street, and traffic is so intense he tells me to just walk down the street, and it should be only a few minutes away. I do so, and walk exactly to where Google maps tells me it is. Still, it was nowhere to be found.

So, like my taxi driver did, I start asking people on the streets. Several people claim to know where it is, and give me directions. So I follow what they say, and its nowhere in sight. I ask again, get new directions, follow those, and still can’t find it. Eventually I wander past the Kolkata police station. I figured they must know where it is. I go inside, show them the address, and for a while they all talk with each other about where they think it is. Eventually an officer tells me to follow him, and he grabs a helmet out of his room. I thought we’d walk out to the street and he’d point to me where to go and take off on his motorbike. Instead, he hands me the helmet and tells me (in Hindi) to hop on his bike. What!? We start to cross through 8 lanes of chaos, and all I can think is that I have to trust him. Once we get close, even he starts asking people on the streets where it is! He gets directions, follows them, asks another person, follows their directions, and after 10 minutes riding around on his bike, finally I see the sign: Hotel Bengal Guesthouse! I made it! I wanted to tip him, but the only cash I had was a 10 rupees (15 cents) bill or a 500 ($7). My hour-long taxi ride cost me 500, and I knew that 100 would be sufficient, but the experience of being escorted by an Indian cop on his bike was worth $7 to me. So I tipped and thanked him, “dhanyavaad!” and checked in to my new guesthouse, which for 3 nights only costed me $20.

I soon went to explore after checking in to my guesthouse, though unfortunately it was still pouring. I asked the man at the front desk where I can find a good sheltered spot to go. He recommended Quest mall, and so I went. There was LOTS of security at the entrance, and I had to go through a scanner like at the airport. Once inside, it felt like any fancy big mall you’d find in America. It had 6 floors offering a food court with KFC, Pizza Hut, Chili’s, and lots of high-end shops like Gucci and Armani. Very few stores that you wouldn’t also find in the US.

The mall wasn’t my scene, and once the rain subsided I headed towards the Victoria Memorial, which was built to honor Queen Victoria of England back when India was still under British rule. The architecture was elegant, and the gardens beautiful and well kept. Most interestingly, though, I met many Indians who want to take a selfie with me! Always in a very polite manner, they’d approach and ask, “excuse me sir, would you mind taking a photo with me?” I’d gladly accept, and sometimes chat with them for a little while about where they’re from, what they do for work, etc. I expected to see a few other tourists from Europe or the States, but I was the only one. So I guess it makes sense that they’d want a picture with such a rarity as a blonde-headed white person.

Close to the memorial was a big green space on Google maps which held Fort Williams, so I tried exploring around there afterwards. Sadly, I wasn’t allowed in because I was American. There was very high security there, but even the guards are quite friendly and non-intimidating. On my way back there were there grand chariots painted gold and covered with all sorts of sparkly gems parked on the side of the road, waiting for tourists. Nobody was riding them – I doubt they had more than 2 rides the whole day. When I walked past they were really trying to sell it to me, and though I felt bad for the poor folks who make a living off of these rides, I felt bad for the horses, too, and didn’t want to be the center of such a luxurious scene. Plus, if I have the time and energy, I much prefer walking. You get such a better feel for the culture, the people, the way of life. I’d only take taxis when I had long distances to multiple places I wanted to visit with limited time.

Day 3

The next morning I was off to Sundarbans National Park, which was some 150 km or so from Kolkata. Its claim to fame is that it’s home to the Bengal Tiger, the national animal of India. The cheapest way was by train, and I was excited to finally experience the Indian railways. I expected the train station to be crowded, but this was a whole new level. I thought that New York train stations were busy, but Sealdah Station made that look like a desert. When a train pulled in, people would hop off before it stops moving, and just floods upon floods of people would swarm all around. I could probably see at least a few thousand people from one vantage point. My train ticket costed 15 Rupees (less than 25 cents!) and took me a decent distance (50 km?) to a town called Canning. Interestingly, there was a separate line at the ticket booth for ladies, which was much shorter than the general line. Also, on the train, women could choose to sit in the Ladies compartment if they wish, or may otherwise sit/stand in the general area (there was no men-only compartment).

Somehow, between all the people squished onto the train standing practically everywhere physically possible, there was a constant flux of people moving from cart to cart selling all sorts of goods: curly chips, peanut-brittle-ish thing, fruits, drinks, and even stuff like toothbrushes, Q-tips, and pencils (but no toilet paper). One middle aged woman came through sobbing, saying something in Hindi that I didn’t understand, holding part of her dress out and asking for donations. It was sad to see, as well as the people whose houses are falling apart and less than a few feet away from the train tracks. India is one great fantasy of glory and hardship all mixed together, harmoniously and chaotically.

Once I got to Canning I had to find a way to get to Sundarbans. I didn’t recognize the taxis at first, because they looked more like a Jeep. But eventually I hopped inside, and the man who is advertising the taxi told me I should hop up top instead. At first I was hesitant. I’ve never rode on the roof of a car before, and the roads were busy and poorly maintained. But then I figured: screw it, I may never be able to do something like this again. So I climbed up the tiny ladder, and sat upon this cargo holder of cross-crossed metal bars which straddled the roof with 2 other Indians.

Ahh the breeze! Oh the amazing views! The extra bit of discomfort was totally worth it. I saw massive rivers, rice paddies, temples and churches, small villages, and an incredible amount of banana trees, coconut trees, and other other fruit trees which I know not the name of. It was a long journey, and already close to 2 PM by the time I arrived. But when I did, it felt like a totally new world. No honking cars passing by every second, no people yelling on the streets selling things. Instead: the sounds of crickets, other insects, and leaves glistening in the wind.

The main part of the national park was separated by a big river, and to take a boat over there would be too timely. So I stuck to the small walk around section on my side of the river, since there was still a lot to see there. As soon as I stepped in there was a beautiful garden with butterflies and dragonflies dancing about, and once I passed through that, a brick pathway with a sign that says: BEWARE OF DANGEROUS MONKEYS. I am naturally excited and cautious as I proceed, and after perhaps only 100 steps I see a group of monkeys off in the distance! I approach slowly, and as another Indian couple passes by them casually, I realize that you can get close without bothering them. So I end up standing maybe 10 feet away and just watching as they monkey around on the netting, gates, and nearby pathways. Some eventually meander past me only a foot away – this is the closest I’ve ever been to a monkey. Their facial gestures and bodily movements are surprisingly even more human-like than I imagined. They really seemed like little furry forest-dwelling humans.

I watched them for about 10 minutes, and moved on to explore the rest of the park. Not too much later, I spot an alligator (on the other side of the fence, thankfully), and a hawk-like bird as well. The path soon looped back around to the starting point, and it was getting rather late, so I thought I’d take one more look at the monkeys and then be on my way. I go back to where they were, and keep even more distance than I had before. The older ones climbed so gracefully, but the young ones were still learning the ropes. They’d have a clear intention of where to go, and sometimes miss their next grip and fall. I watched this for some time… peacefully… undisturbingly… or so I thought.

Then all of the sudden, one falls and makes a yelp, and mommy and daddy monkey come chasing after me! These monkeys went from one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen to one of the most ferocious and intimidating things I’ve seen. I totally regretted not having some sort of stick to scare them away. I had nothing to help me, so I ran. I booked it as fast as I could, so I could show them that I don’t want to hurt them. I end up slipping on some mud and falling to the ground, and I thought I was done for. I was waiting for those huge incisors to dig into my skin, and soon after being rushed to the hospital for a rabies shot. Thankfully, I stood up unbitten, turn around, monkey still growling at me, run a little bit more, and yell very loudly, “Hey! Back off! Go away!”

At that time, I was far enough away from the rest of them to back away slowly. Momma monkey knew that they won, and I won’t bother them. I walk away towards a big group of Indians who were watching the whole thing, and they hand me a branch, telling me to use this for protection. So I walk back through the crowd of monkeys, weapon in hand, and make it past without another incident. As soon as I make it through, heart still pumping a mile a minute, a local claps at me and in hand gestures tells me to follow him. I thought perhaps he’s taking me to the park manager or police, where I’ll be fined for disturbing the wildlife. We walked outside of the park down the road I came from, for maybe 20 minutes, having no clue where he intends to take me. Surprisingly, he was just guiding me back to a rickshaw (a mini 3-wheeled taxi) that I could take back to the train station.

I take it back to the Jeep-like taxi, where I once again sit on the roof for the hour-long ride back to the train station. This time there were 7 of us on top, and maybe perhaps 12 below. That almost 20 people in/on a car that in America you’d typically fit 5 people maximum. Indians know how to carpool! Anyway, I end up making a few friends on the roof as we ride back. One named Rajid(?) who is a hip-hop/R&B dance teacher in Kolkata spoke decent English. We got to know each other pretty well – he said Chris brown is his hero, and loved Man vs Wild. The others were friendly, and pointed out fruit trees, rivers, and rice paddies to me, but the language barrier limited our conversations.

We make it back to Canning, and they won’t let me pay for the taxi ride, which is only 50 Rupees (less than $1). They also bought me a local drink of shaved ice (aah, I tried to avoid this until now so I don’t fall sick, but politely accepted) lime, and soda water. It tastes good, but weird. The water had some sort of dirty flavor to it, and I thought that I may very well get sick from it, but thankfully I didn’t. When we board the train and are waiting for departure, another Indian comes in, puts his arm around Rajit, and escorts him off the train in a very strict manner. All 4 of his friends follow, and I try to as well, but they tell me to stay. I started to become very concerned, and thought that that’s the last time I’d ever see my friend, without getting to say goodbye.

15 minutes passes, and he and his friends come back into my cart. Rajit looked so ashamed and upset. Turns out he was fined 360 Rupees for smoking a cigarette at the train station. There were no signs saying not to, and it seemed like plenty others were smoking too, so I told him how terribly unfair I thought that was, and his most crude remark was, “stupid fools.” Swearing in India is very taboo, and though I’m sure he knew plenty of swear words, he wouldn’t say any. I could tell 360 Rupees (~5$) meant a lot to him, and felt so bad for him, I wanted to offer him some cash but thought it’d be rude.

By the time the train back to Kolkata left it was already around 8 PM. So many other people were squished in between us, we couldn’t conversation much, so instead I hung a third of my body out of the door and watched the night-time Indian countryside and small villages pass me by. There were hundreds, if not thousands of people just hanging out on the tracks. Not drinking and partying, just sitting there, chatting and spending time with each other. I guess in order to enjoy themselves that’s all they need… or all they have. Perhaps both.

– – – – –

I have been in India for over a week now, but have been so busy that my blogging is lagging well behind my travels. Since then I’ve been ripped off big time, made some great friends at my first Workaway experience, and just today was part of a climate change protest in the heart of Panjim, Goa. Stay tuned (there is a link to follow me on the right side of this page) for even more crazy stories!

Bye for now,

Hopper

Categories
india

1: First Impressions of India [Kolkata; India]

I flew from Detroit to Chicago to Abu Dhabi to Kolkata. Chicago to Abu Dhabi was the longest flight I’ve ever been on. It was somewhere around 13 hours. We took off around 9:30 PM, and since we were heading east so quickly, the sun eventually rose, AND set again before we landed! So my longest flight ever ended up being my shortest day ever.

I’m glad I didn’t stay in Abu Dhabi (UAE) for long. It was the middle of the night and still 95 degrees. When I walked onto the plane to Kolkata, there was cool steam coming out of the walls. I felt like I was at a Halloween dance party… on an airplane.881CB8D6-3D3A-449A-9713-93FCE016EB1C On the flight there it finally started to feel like I’m actually going to India. I was one of very few white people on board. Still, it didn’t really set in until I walked outside of the airport into the heat and there were all these Indian women in beautiful, vibrantly colorful dresses presumably waiting for a bus. Immediately someone walked up to me and asked if I needed a taxi. I accepted, and we hopped in his rickety old car.

There were no seatbelts! But at least the windows could manually be rolled down. That was the first time a taxi driver had ever offered me a cigarette, and so we shared a smoke together as he (hopefully) brought me closer to my hostel. Road signs and traffic laws mean practically nothing. Since the streets were relatively empty at 4 AM, we ran plenty of red lights and stop signs. Drove right on the dotted lines that separate lanes, and got so close to some trucks that I could’ve reached the first half of my forearm out the window and touched them. Most of the Kolkata was still asleep, including plenty of dogs lying in the street. A good amount of people were sleeping outside, on the ground, or on tables and under the flimsy roofs of their day-shops.

When we got to my hostel I had booked, it was closed, and I didn’t feel safe waiting around on the streets for it to open. So he brought me to another hotel, guarded by security, and with locals(?) sleeping in the lobby. Seemed great, but was too expensive. They were asking 2300 Rupees ($32 USD), and I only exchanged $50 at the airport. I told the taxi driver I didn’t have enough to pay him and the hotel, so he brought me to another one that was asking 2000 Rupees. I didn’t want to pay that either, and tried negotiating, but to no avail. I was exhausted and just wanted somewhere to sleep. I gave in, paid them and my taxi driver, and at around 6 AM decided to go to sleep.

I was excited to explore, but didn’t want to be delirious and get myself into trouble. Alarm was set for 9 AM so I could enjoy the complimentary breakfast, but when it went off I could care less about eating. I ended up sleeping until around 3 PM. Still wasn’t very hungry when I awoke, so I decided I’d just wander the streets and get a feel for my surroundings. So much life buzzing all around me! So many smells – good and bad – of the flowers they were selling along the “sidewalk”, of the dirty, murky water that ran in channels down each road, of incense, of curry, of human urine and scat, of pollution, of fresh fruits and vegetables. It was an all-in-one package. Turn the corner and you have no clue what you nose will be subjected to.

I thought the honking was excessive at 4 AM, but the noise on the major roads at 4 PM was so much worse, I found myself quickly wandering down a side street to escape from it. Surprisingly, after walking just a few blocks, it was relatively peaceful, and I couldn’t hear the major road anymore. There were still motorbikes and rickshaws and compact taxis and bikes all swerving around me. I learned quickly not to make any sudden divergences from my expected walking path, otherwise I’d get run over. Sometimes it felt like if I were to even just turn my foot outward instead of ahead, it would’ve been ran over by some crazy (in Kolkata: normal) driver. It reminded me somewhat of the streets of Grenada, Nicaragua, but even louder, busier, and with more variety of different types of vehicles all trying to get ahead of each other.

Despite the chaos, Kolkata is a glorious place. Down the skinnier, quieter roads, there were kids playing cricket in the street, people washing clothes and dishes, fixing bikes and cooking over coals. There were incredible plants growing out of the most bizarre places, lots of street dogs and cats, many with battle scars. Lizards, super colorful birds kept in a cage, huge flocks of crow-like birds with bartered wings, and a beautiful brown cow. I found a park with a playground – kind of like the kind you’d see in the states, but more colorful and beat up. FFA044E2-F05D-4C9D-84BD-9F97FB46845FA swimming pool for kids, some statues of giraffes and lions, a pond with some goldfish, and an oddly large fenced-off square pool full of nothing.

The most common image you’ll find along the roads are of Krishna or Rama or another Hindu God in the form of painting, poster, and statue. I’m staying at the Shree Krishna International Hotel, which was playing the Maha Mantra (aka “Hare Krishna”) over the radio when I was checking in. Even the WiFi name is KRISHNA3. Lots of people are dressed in all-white robes and other spiritual attire. Along the main roads were towering sculptures of Hindu Gods, often with a sizable Gandhi sculpture right next to it. Gandhi is on (I think) all the paper bills – from 10 to 500 Rupees, and is by far the most common figure that shows up around town.

So, there’s a glimpse of what I’ve observed after a short day of being in India. Kolkata is so busy and exciting, I’m enjoying being here, but will be glad to be heading somewhere much more naturey, quiet, and laid back in a few days: Goa, India. After living in Washington being surrounded by woods and never hearing any traffic driving by, this is a compete 180. It’s great, its me for a few days, but definitely not forever. I stand out here. I saw countless thousands of Indians, one light-skinned Asian, and not a single other white person. At least I’m easy to find in a crowd!

Namaste,

Hopper

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Uncategorized

0: Who I am, What I’m doing, and Why.

Hey there, web surfers. Hopper here! Thanks for checking out my blog.

Some of you may know me as Hans. I adopted the nickname Hopper as a field instructor at outdoor school in Oregon, because I had lived in 7 different places in the past year. Plus, I was living on a property called Frogsville, and have a love for fellow hoppers like rabbits, grasshoppers, and frogs. So voila! I’m Hopper now.

What’s this blog about? Well, many things. It’s about life’s adventures. It’s about the way the outer world affects the inner world, and the way the inner world affects the outer world. And how as time brings the two worlds together in different ways, real growth happens. Naturally some philosophical and ethical questions arise, and this blog will put a handful of them under a microscope.

In just a few weeks this blog will have stories and insights from adventures on the opposite side of the planet – India. Then eventually Nepal, Thailand, and likely a few others as I travel around Southeast Asia for about 3 months while volunteering at schools and on permaculture farms. In order to explain why I’m going on this journey, let me give you my backstory first.

I grew up in a suburb near Detroit, Michigan. As a kid I was quiet, yet adventurous. Withheld, but curious. Polite, but mischievous. I loved traveling with family, and as I grew older and wanted more responsibility, I had such a lust to experience new parts of the world on my own. Partially because I was nicknamed ‘naive’ thanks to my sheltered upbringing, I just had to break free. My home life was very comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, and my best hope of shaking my naivety was living in different parts of the world without guidance from parents, or even friends.

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The roof of my home in Hoboken

Though I loved my family and friends dearly, I fled my parents’ house at 19 to study Music & Technology in Hoboken, NJ. I was so intrigued by the vitality (and music scene) of New York City, but I soon discovered that I’d rather be peering at it from my rooftop than actually in it. I preferred solitude, for I found myself exploding with grand philosophical ideas, and realized that more than anything else I want to somehow share this glory that I’ve found with the rest of the world. I knew then that my life purpose extends past making music full-time.

 

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Outside my home in Iceland

So at the start of the next school year I was off to an eco-village in Iceland for 3 months to study abroad through a sustainability program called CELL. I gained a new appreciation for community and culture, but learning about how much trouble our planet is in and realizing how much my loved ones & I were ignorant contributors to such harm was super disheartening. It put ever the more strain on figuring out how I should live in this world. I hoped that focusing my philosophy studies on ethics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor would help. It did somewhat, as it widened my awareness of ethical perspectives, but how I thought I should ethically guide my life didn’t change much. Still, I needed a big change in order to feel accomplished with anything, so once I finally graduated in December of 2017, I shaved my head, packed up all my stuff into and RV I bought a month prior, and drove out to the Pacific Northwest to live indefinitely. Only a few days into 2018 I landed in Monroe, WA and parked on a property called Frogsville where I was sitting when I started to write this blog around a week ago.

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My home parked near Salem, OR

This was the most terrifying hop I have ever made. My only connections out there were 2 friends who I lived with in Iceland, and plans to attend a wilderness school in 8 months. That’s it. I hoped I would find an outdoor education job. I really, really hoped to finally be doing something purposeful and pleasurable. Thankfully, the stars lined up for me, and I was able to work with one of my best friends down in Oregon for around 6 months – in the spring at Northwest Outdoor School as a Field Instructor, and in the summer at Boy Scouts of America as an Aquatics Director. It was inspiring, humbling, exhausting, and eye-opening. After each job I was more sure that I want to continue to teach and be outside, but not necessarily with my previous employers.

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The frogcave/tiny home in Monroe, WA

That fall finally brought around being a student again, this time at Alderleaf Wilderness College in Monroe, Washington to study primitive & survival skills, as well as permaculture and outdoor leadership. I wanted to become more sustainable & self-reliant by developing a naturalist’s lens for viewing the world – for my own gain, and to become a better teacher. I achieved those goals and developed plenty of new ones along the way. I sold the RV, got rid of plenty of stuff that was just weighing me down, and moved into a tiny home in December of 2018. Eventually I was put to the final test of surviving for 5 days in the woods with no tools (and by choice, no hair) before I graduated in June of 2019.

Thanks to Alderleaf, this summer I became an instructor at Wilderness Awareness School, with the mission of fostering connection in youth to others, themselves, and their environment. So I’d take a group of 5-11 year olds out for adventures in public parks near Seattle, play games with them, and teach them about nature. I loved the freedom, the playfulness, the singing, the nature, the school culture, and especially the folks I worked with. But the more I enjoyed the program, the more I wanted to be doing something similar back in southeast Michigan, where nature connection is sparse and limited.

Thus, last week I drove across the country for the 5th time with a guitar, backpack, and snowboard bag strapped to the roof, and a bike strapped to the rear. Today, I’m back in my Michigan hometown visiting friends & family for a few weeks before I fly all the way across the ocean.

So why do I keep hopping around? Well, each hop has a different springboard. At first it was mainly to attend different colleges as I switched majors. Then it became wanting to grow by pushing my edges in foreign situations.

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A shipping-container home in NE Germany

Hence the summer before I graduated from college I used my German studies as an excuse to voyage to a farm in northern Germany for a month where only German is spoken, and to a farm/Krishna Consciousness Temple in southern Germany for another month where they wake up to chant Hare Krishna at 4 AM every day. I guess I’m driven by some insatiable desire to experience other cultures, in hope to further delineate what’s common and unique in human nature around the world. Amidst that I seek to develop a more informed opinion about what ways of living are “better” or “worse,” and why. 

In fact, I started to write a book in which I argue that a lifestyle of connectedness to others, self, and environment is what makes for a truly good life. I contrast this ideal with modern society, where I feel as though we are in general terribly disconnected from all three of these essentials. I want to argue that in more traditional ways of living, those connections come naturally. For after attending a wilderness school where we revitalized some native practices, I strengthened my inclination to believe that a life of less possessions and a deeper reliance on community and the immediate natural world to provide for one’s wants and needs is just as “good,” if not “better,” than the way that most upper and middle-class American folks are living.

But who am I to make such a claim? For one, value judgments of what ways are “good” and “bad” are subjective. I firmly believe that one must trust themself to determine good and bad, which means what’s right and wrong is different for everybody. It furthermore seems inevitable that value is determined by one’s will. And since I want to live in a planet with wild spaces full of biodiversity in 20 years, I deem it good to consume less and care for nature. But another’s want to drive a fast car or live in a big home might trump their want for some strange animals to stick around through the age of human domination. One could argue that my desire for biodiversity is just as selfish as another’s desire for expensive belongings. How do we compromise? How can I say I’m right and you’re wrong? I can’t. But if advocating for my values can lead to any sort of mutual solution or better understanding of each other, I’ll at least try.

For two, I can’t claim that a more traditional lifestyle is better than a modern one because in some ways I’m still just a privileged suburban boy whose always had a safety net and doesn’t know what it’s like to be poor. But by placing myself in situations where I forgo many comforts that I was accustomed to growing up, I hope to widen my perspective enough to speak with some authority. By living in the Pacific Northwest I’ve made progress, but until I leave the western world for a while, I simply don’t have enough experience to make the claims I’d like to.

During the year I spent at Frogsville out in the foothills of the Cascade mountains, the only running water I had in my home was undrinkable rain captured water. And when winter hit Seattle this year, for over a month my pipes were frozen and my home rarely reached above 55 degrees. Since the start of 2019 I’ve probably showered around 15 times and swam in fresh rivers and lakes over 50 times. I did laundry about once a month, and slept on a thin blowup mattress with spider webs decorating the walls adjacent to me.

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A decent dumpster harvest

I drink all of my bean water, pasta water, potato water, etc., and have dumpster dove for around 95% of the fruits & vegetables I’ve eaten in the past few months. Yet no matter how much of a eco-hippie I become, no matter how many modern conveniences I cut out or how many things I give away, I lack perspective on living off of less out of necessity. I’ve generally always been able to buy what I want when I want it. I’ve started living off of less by choice, not out of necessity. The way I’d emotionally process my lifestyle if I had to live this way would be very different. I hope to get a taste of such a life in India and Nepal.

I need an extended stay in a 3rd world country to contrast with my home life if I really want to claim that consuming less is generally better than consuming more. Though I was born with so many blessings, as I grew older I realized that having lots of nice things wasn’t such a blessing if they kept me from finding value and purpose in life. I was thankful for loving family & friends and a healthy body, and I’d try to be thankful for the nice things that were handed to me, but I didn’t feel so thankful for them. And then I’d just feel worse for not being able to appreciate it. My parents were a prime example of the American Dream, and what did and didn’t result from their achievements was frightening. Eventually I saw a version of the Dream warped into this dark fantasy to keep our economy running, rather than a healthy goal, which if you achieve it, you’re guaranteed happiness. Ironically, I dreamt for practically my whole adolescent life of taking over the company that my parents started together, but became disillusioned with the whole lifestyle when depression hit me in a living situation far nicer than that of the standard American. I couldn’t get over the fact that I had what so many millions of people are breaking their backs to acquire, yet I was somehow so unhappy. Eventually, I realized that I was lacking something that money can’t buy, and that generally becomes scarcer the richer you get: connection with others, myself, and my environment.

So I’m going to Southeast Asia to see if those who have these 3 essential connections, and very little else, are genuinely happy. Either way, I’ll write about my findings – by blogging, and eventually by book. I venture in order to achieve personal and career goals, but also simply because there’s something comforting about being on the move. I love seeing and trying new things. I thrive off of surprise. I’m forced to trust myself in difficult situations, and to discern when to trust others. As a part-time nomad I’m invigorated with all sorts of emotions that make me feel that everything, including myself, is in the right place. Plus, I’ll gladly wolf down some Indian and Thai food 🙂 

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Peace and hoppiness,

Hopper

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North Cascade Mountains, near the Gothic Basin