Tag Archives: travel

The Land of China

Since visiting China last August I haven’t had much to say about it. I still don’t. I heard Anthony Bourdain describe it as a country you can never know. I think that’s true. It’s changing too fast, has too much history, and social context I’ll never have the privilege of understanding.

Shanghai, China - 38

China was both what I expected and nothing as expected. There were times I couldn’t access Google and pornography was blocked while prostitutes crowded the streets around Western hotels. In the land of Communism I’ve never seen a place where luxury and materialism thrived more. Skyscrapers are built by the dozen by rich and well connected contractors. A tailored suit cost $75 in the fabric markets. The super rich rein while booming population keeps labor cheap.

But these are just facts about China. Things anyone in Shanghai for a week would notice. Less noticeable are the undertones of change that separate new and older generations. The generation of Mao watching the new generation of techno-youth connect with the rest of the world like never before. Both connect and disconnected like never before in history.

I have the feeling China doesn’t know itself – but maybe that’s not exclusive to China. Where it’s headed is still a question mark. Meanwhile, individually, everyone fights to get their piece of the pie. Even the monasteries (around Shanghai) are a money grab – converted to tourist attractions as much as  places of worship. Their piece of the pie.

China is a reflection of my own ignorance. A place I can visit, but I’ll never know.

Beale Street, Memphis, TN

Beale Street, Memphis, TN – Beale Street is a less popular version of Bourbon Street in that there are no open container laws, there are a lot of flashing lights, and plenty of intoxicated out-of-towners drinking too much. The crowd on a Wednesday night is primarily middle aged, unattractive, and under the influence of various controlled substances. Like most such streets in America visiting is highly recommended.


The Appalachian Trail

Hills. The Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail is a hill – both ways – always going up. Except when you’re going down. Going up or going down – uncomfortably down.  Trails that go up hills, then sharply down them. At least that’s what it feels like after 31 miles of them.

Beauty. There are beautiful views – views that make it clear why they call them the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are streams that run along most of the valleys that are equally as beautiful. It’s a great hike.

Appalachian Trail - 26

Thinking. At about 15 miles in my hiking partner and I stopped talking. The combination of exhaustion and spending the last 12 hours together left us without much to stay. That’s when most of the thinking begins. The valuable part of hiking. You start to think about a lot of stuff. Shower thoughts. Like:

  • It’s weird that we can drink filtered sewer water, but we’re supposed to boil fresh mountain spring water.
  • It seems strange that I spend 10 hours a day in a small room looking at a screen when there is so much outside.
  • I wonder when the last person to step here was. And here. And here. And here…
  • If I’m so happy hiking – with almost nothing – why do I feel like I need so much stuff?
  • I could eat so much right now.

Borders: Humanity in Exile

Earlier this year Holden and I ventured across the U.S. and Mexico border from San Diego to Tijuana. We took a 45 minute trolley ride to the Mexican border and crossed on foot. The juxtaposing skylines served as a depressing metaphor for what humanity has become. The richest people to have ever existing segregating themselves from the third world by a concrete barrier. All to protect our jobs, our border, our country. Nationality over humanity.

Immediately crossing the border there is a bridge to Tijuana that hovers over a filthy canal. In the canal are dozens of dirt and shit covered Mexicans.  Men, women, and children dressed in rags, teeth rotten, begging those Americans brave enough to cross for change. Cultural degradation as result of poverty, corruption, greed, and mal-education.

A few military guys crossing the board at the same time as Holden and I crack jokes about how they are going to “fuck some hookers” as they spit over the bridge down to where those “crazy fucks” are in the canal.

Years of conditioning has trained us to dehumanize the “other”. They are not one of us. Not human beings. We spit on them. We fuck them for pennies and brag about how cheap it was later. We separate ourselves from them by a few feet of concrete and steel. Dissociation -and the whole world is doing it.

More Borders: More Human Division

Then today I read a first hand account about another border. The border of Isreal and Palestine.

“I went to Israel. Saw a city much like any city in Europe. Clean streets. Beautiful big store fronts. Sidewalks. Nice signs telling you where to go. Little stands and shops everywhere. Great food from around the world. Pastries, pizza. It was Europe, basically. I loved it. It was very clean! It was great…

…You exit and on the other side [of the border]is a tall wire fence covered with barbed wire. There is graffiti all over the wall. The buildings are crumbling. No nice food, streets made of dirt, everyone is poor…”

It all sounds so familiar. Those fortunate enough to be rich create barriers to separate ourselves from those who are poor. Sometime we even call those people enemy. Subhuman. Terrorist. Barbarians. Backward.

Then we wonder why the have-nots are willing to die, to kill, and to terrorize. We wonder why these same people can be converted to extremism. Meanwhile we maintain a foreign policy of separatism, elitism, and turning a blind eye to exploitation. How can you call yourself a Christian, a Jew, a man of integrity, and moral atheist, a human being – and be okay with any of this?

BBQ in Atlanta

In Northern Atlanta there is a little BBQ joint attached to liquor store that serves up some of the best food on the face of the planet. Its owned by two chefs that didn’t get the memo about choosing a location, but since you have to get there at 11am to find a parking spot and the line is out of the door 7 days a week I guess you could say they know a thing or two about slow cooking meat.

Nightlife in the Southern City of Charleston, SC

Ah yes, Charleston. A town full of Southern charm, old money, beaches, and colonial architecture. It’s the picturesque view of antebellum south and everything that comes with it. Beautiful well dressed women in sun dresses. Courteous gentlemen who open doors for their wives. The clichés go on like a Margaret Mitchell novel.

But the hell with all that – I want to talk about the bars. The hidden side of Charleston. The dirty side. Where liquor is poured like a waterfall until 2am, where college students begin their dependence on alcohol, where fights break out on a Monday, local bands live the dream, and friends gather to sing their heart out after a few too many shots of whiskey. This is nightlife in Charleston, SC.

Squeeze Bar

My adventure in downtown Charleston began innocently – I wanted dinner. On my way to fill up my belly with delicious Southern fried cuisine I heard someone call my name. Maybe not someone, but something. It was a little bar that couldn’t hold more than forty people if it tried. The shelves were well stocked with beverages and a lone patron sat by himself enjoying a conversation with the bartender.

I walked in had a few beers and my night began. The bartender and I talked about life, love, and Charleston history. That’s how I found Big John’s.

Big John’s Tavern

A short walk stumble up East Bay street from Squeeze Bar leads you directly to the best Dive in Charleston. As I approached I over-heard a customer complain that “Big John” wouldn’t hire him because he had a drinking problem. I heard the distinct hum of poorly executed karaoke. I noticed beers were in the tall cans and not the average sized one. My heart ached, I found my Charleston dive bar.

Inside there are bra’s hanging from the ceilings like trophies from hard fought battles on glorious nights. There are war veterans swapping stories about “enemy combatants”. The bathroom is a trough and college kids drink $2 bud lights all night long. Big John’s isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those looking for the best night of their life with below average looking people – Big John’s might be the best place on earth.

Mad River Bar

Utterly defeated after John’s I decided to crawl back to my hotel off church street. That’s when I heard the glorious singing of an angel and combination of piano strokes that could only be created by a genius. It came from a former church turned bar. I entered obediently as God commanded.

Life felt right. I was drinking in an old church turned bar, a guy was destroying the keyboard in the former pulpit, creepy guys were hitting on college girls, and that’s when the fight broke out. A sweaty, disgusting, brawl between two slightly overweight couples. I sat back, enjoyed my beer and the entertainment. My night was complete.

Guatemala: A brief history of Christian conversion by force

In July of 2012 my wife and I visited Guatemala.  We traveled around the country and visited ancient ruins, religious sites, and learned much about the history and culture of the people living there.

One phenomena I found especially interesting was a unique form of Christianity practiced throughout the region – especially prevalent in the rural regions of the country. This form of Christianity incorporated Christian and Mayan traditions and symbols – a unique and beautiful presentation of religious history right there in front of us.

History: Christianity brought to Guatemala by the Spaniards

Much of the Spanish inquisition of Central America centered around greed, not religion. Spanish explorers used religion as an excuse to pillage and destroy villages for resources, land, and glory – rather than in the name of Christianity.

None-the-less religious leaders permitted this behavior in the name of God and Christianity was spread by forced conversion – a convenient  mechanism for the Spaniards to promote their imperialistic goals in and around Guatemala.

“Maya communities under immediate pressure to conform to imperial designs…Under the policy of congregacion…thousands of native families were coerced from their homes in the mountains into new settlements built around churches…For the Spaniards, congregacion promoted more effective civil administration, facilitated the conversion of Indians to Christianity, and created centralized pools of labor to meet imperial objectives.” [Source]

In all, hundreds of thousands of Mayans were killed, millions displaced from their homes, and incalculable history destroyed. “Mayan-Christianity” persist to this day.

Guatemala religion

Mayan Christianity

And though most Guatemalans in these rural villages consider themselves Christian -traditions left over from native Mayan culture remain potent. One example is the Mayan headdress and shirt (shown above) worn by only the elder women in Santioago Atitlan. The fashion is fading away, but remains one of the clearest examples of local culture entrenching itself into modern Christianity.

Spanish Priests also incorporated Mayan symbolism into the churches (shown below). My local tour guide pointed out the altarpiece inside the church:

“Maya traditionalists familiar with this structure merge the Christian symbols in this large carved wood sculpture with their traditional worldviews. The altarpiece is seen concurrently as “a sacred mountain from which divine beings emerge,” the three volcanoes surrounding Santiago Atitlan, and, in the broadest sense, a referent to ancient Maya temples and architecture” [Source]

Guatemala relgions 2

Modern Guatemala

Modern Guatemala is a mashup of native and imported traditions. In the small town of Antigua, Guatemala, for example, there are nearly 40 churches representing different Christian denominations. Each a beautiful, yet painful reminder of the costs of imperialism and religious zealotry.

Note: All photos belong to me.