How Traveling Restarted My Life – my trip to Vietnam

For background, I’ve been a homebody for most of my life. Right now I’m 25. In 2019 I traveled for the first time (outside of family vacations at resorts) and doing so has marked a transition point in my life; so much so that I make sense of my personal history as two periods: The pre-travel me and the post-travel me.

Before traveling I was disillusioned with my university studies. The reasons I had for going (to study topics that fascinated me, work on interesting problems, contribute to science) seemed to be based on a faulty and idealistic understanding of how the university system works. It was restrictive on my interests, beset by intellectual dogmas, and I felt like I was merely continuing on a workplace tradition.
By losing the worthiness of a goal I was working towards for three years I became aimless. Existence was dull and too often I was miserable and apathetic. I confided in literature and art because it gave me meaning and a repository of wisdom. But these weren’t enough. I was deficient. Books could not give me what experience could. In many ways Academia showed me that.

Traveling had seemed a way for me to restart my engagement with life.

So, two years ago, in May (the rainy season), I went to Vietnam. I first landed in Hanoi and then made my way South. I visited Sa Pa, Da Nang, Hội An, Hạ Long Bay, Huế, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Ho Chi Minh City (South) and Sa Pa (Upper North).
Ho Chi Minh had an atmosphere of “this is where things are happening”. I went to a restaurant called Noir; food was served in complete darkness by visually impaired waiters. The nightlife was livelier than any other place. The street food was unreal. Unfortunately I only spent three days.
Sa Pa was an aesthetic haven situated in the mountains; also, where I rode a motorbike for the first time. I drove in the villages, through thick, wet mud, and got lost for a while. Thought I had engine trouble and asked a farmer for help; there was no trouble. Then in the streets I was almost hit by a bus.

When arriving in Hanoi the time was about 3 am. It was quiet and hot. The airport was small, minimalist and empty. I had come off a 20+ hour plane ride so my senses were dulled. I needed to call an Uber, a taxi, or whatever transport. I had read stories and seen videos of people getting scammed by taxi drivers so I made it a priority to avoid them. But I had no data and Uber doesn’t work in Vietnam (they have their own version called Grab).
As soon as I went outside a man waved at me. His hands clutching at the air as if he was reeling me with rope. I knew I had to be firm, make no eye contact and most importantly make it look like it wasn’t my first time. I walked away, head low to the ground, and he followed. Then I did it. I made eye contact. His eyes widened, his head shaking yes, yes. I asked how much (I learned from YouTube videos that that’s the most important question). He said “400”, which is around $15 US. And without even thinking I nod, and we get to his shuttle-bus.
Inside were two others. A woman in the front and a man in back. I climbed in the back and said “Hello.” The man asked me where I’m from (the universal question). I said, “Canada. And you?”

“Russia.”

“What about you?” I asked the woman.

She turned briefly to say, “I’m from Lebanon.”

Then – silence.

I looked out the window thoughtlessly and felt the sensation of “Where am I?” There were long and curving trees and garbage lining the highway sides, piled under dense shrubs and shoddy houses with corrugated roofs and wide unmarked roads with traffic lights dangling from bundled wires. Some motor-bikers skirted past with no helmets, their shirts flailing fast and long like capes.
Our driver was manic behind the wheel. The Russian looked at me and shook his head smirking. I had a feeling of being somewhere dangerous, an emotion like “no turning back”.

“Did you just arrive?” I asked the Russian.

“Yeah.” He was wearing a black shirt and shorts, black wristwatch. On his back a black backpack.

“How long are you staying?” I asked.

“Not long. But I don’t know. I’ll get a motorbike in Hanoi and go south.”

After a few minutes he asked, “How long are you?”

“Two weeks.”

“Two weeks? No, no, no.”

“What?”

“Not enough,” he said; the Lebanese woman looked over her shoulder. “I’ve been on my journey three months and it is not enough.”

Going inside the city the roads narrowed into cramped strips of pavement. On the sides were stores displaying multi-colours, signs of a language riddled with accents, merchandise on merchandise – clothes, jewelry, electronics, car parts – all dark and shapeless. Few locals lounged on the curb, on concrete steps, on tiny plastic chairs, smoking from large wooden pipes, eating and watching this shuttle-bus zooming through their streets. An old woman sitting on a stool brandished a wide-open smile. My disorientation intensified. I was no longer tired.

I didn’t have much experience with the world at this point. My dealings with people were largely formal and superficial. Naturally I was nervous, which I hated about myself. Which was another reason why I wanted so badly to expose myself to people, the world – to kill off the boogeyman my parents and others built up. One of my mom’s friends said that I shouldn’t go to Vietnam because “bad things happen there.” That’s nonsense. And it’s the worst type – coming from fear and inexperience.

One thing I’ve learned: Don’t take people’s advice so seriously, especially and more so if it’s something they don’t have a direct connection to.

I was impressed by the Russian and had a desire for the adventure he was on even if I didn’t know exactly what it consisted. And even though I was nervous about it. When the two got off I wanted to ask them for their contacts but I was shy – something that would change drastically throughout the trip.
In the tourist district things were quiet, the street lamps lit the surrounding a pale yellow. Some workers were conversing outside the glass double-doors of a hostel and the driver pulled up alongside them. I grabbed my two bags (a large hiking backpack and a string bag) and slid open the door. A warm and heavy air hit me but what was more impactful was the scent. Rich with spices and smog, gas fumes and oil. Hanoi is known for being dense with pollution. Later on at times I’ve felt light-headed from simply walking.
The driver asked for 500k VND. As with anyone inexperienced I was agreeable. This was a characteristic that defined my entire bartering career in Vietnam, or lack thereof. And I could never justify bartering for prices that were already so cheap.

The driver sped away, past the yellow-lit concrete, into an arched gate of stone, a dark portal. One youth from the group stood up and pointed to the hostel. I said, “Yes”. We went to the front desk. The place was narrow yet tall, the same temperature as outside and decorated in a safari-theme and smelt a little like used towels. He took my passport and stored it in a drawer and I quickly thought that he doesn’t work at the hostel. He must be a local thug trying to take my passport? “Every hostel must hold the passports. It’s a standard rule,” he told me while I was staring at the drawer.

Before going on the plane my father instructed me to “leave your bags behind. Someone’ll plant drugs in them and snitch you to the police for a reward.” Good advice, right?


The worker gave me a card for the room and then let me go. But before that I tried out my Vietnamese. I said “cam on”, which is thank you. My pronunciation was as expected. Another worker sitting in the front desk shouted “oh!” then guided me on how to say it. He was drunk and excited. I said it half-heartedly and then went upstairs. I get into my room, find my locker, though I put nothing in it. I get into a top bunk with all my stuff which I lay at my feet. I slide the thick side-curtains to fully shield myself and then lay tired yet not sleepy, thinking “Where am I? What am I going to do?”

Next day I awoke with vibrant colour and activity and heat. In the lobby what was empty and dark was now abundant with people and light. After being formally welcomed I sat on a booth-seat, watched groups of tourists pass and waited for a tour guide provided by a local University. The hostel staff were ahead of me, on computers or standing, at times glancing at me and smiling. Again I had no thoughts, I was all feeling. Soon my tour guide, a young girl, was at the doors.
Stepping out, the sun pressed on my skin with a burn. Shops had unraveled and spilled over the curbs and motorbikes were overflowing the street and weaving around people like schooling fish, some stopping so sudden the drivers were almost jostled out of their seats. And I do mean overflowing. You have to be careful where you’re walking or else you might touch an exhaust.
There were eateries between the stores which were all arranged like rows of boxcars stretching across the street. White steam spewed out the open kitchens and the sizzling meat was loud and mixing with noise of honking and conversation. And the smell – tremendous. Lime, beef broth, mint, lemongrass. Fish sauce. I love Asian food, so I was welcoming. We found a place to eat and I ate a simple chicken and rice meal while my guide watched on probably surprised I was wearing jeans and a buttoned long-sleeve shirt. I was like an ice sculpture in the tiny dining room.

We visited Hoàn Kiếm Lake, St. Joesph’s Cathedral, Thăng Long Imperial Citadel, and a lush park and garden called Quoc Tu Giam. She told me about history and best places for food. But I was most interested to hear about her life. If she enjoyed being in Vietnam, where’d she like to go, how her schooling was going, etc.
Overall I spent nearly seven hours with her – unusual since most tours last two-three. And we had a great time. We ate phở in a popular restaurant and then drank egg coffee in a semi-hidden café overlooking the lake. The interior was cool from the dark concrete walls and had a trapped aroma of roasted coffee and fruit. Short wooden tables and chairs were set in rows along the bare plank-floor and from the wooden blinds a cooler evening air came and the sunlight peeking out the slits was enough to light the place.
After my guide left me at the hostel I went straight to bed. The short time before sleeping I only felt satisfaction and gratefulness for having been there. What surprised me was that I didn’t get a sense of culture shock – as the days progressed I felt more at home than I did back home. The people I met (what I cherish most) were varied, caring and interesting. Everyone had their own stories, passions, failings, and I was eager to listen. I also met some scammers (I lost $190 but my home-stay host got most of it back). None of that mattered though.
On the fifth day in Hanoi I changed my flight in order to stay one month. Vietnam showed me life in the highest resolution. How could I downgrade?

Traveling revealed to me an important aspect of my psychology: Playfulness.
Every situation, person, location was an opportunity to play and discover.
I was as a child in a playground of my own design kept secret from everyone else.
Any discomfort, frustration, delay was inconsequential, akin to falling off on both knees – take a few deep breaths, wipe off the dirt and get back on.
I realized the potential life has to be infinitely worthwhile and fascinating. And my own potential on who I could be, what more, or less, I could make myself. There are so many possibilities, so much life one can explore just in themselves.

Now I know not everyone has my peculiar dispositions. So, what can I generalize out of my own experiences in order to give to others?

Well, if you take two people and set them out on the same journey, you’re going to get different experiences. One may come back with many stories to tell on who they met; the other may detail all the places they saw. One will say a place is a must-see; another that the same place is rubbish.
Ultimately their experiences depend on how they’re engaged.

I know this is a cliché but there are two types of people in the world:

There are those who expect value to be given to them. They are takers. They interact with the world as if reality owes them value. And sometimes they get it but too often they’re disappointed.
Others give value onto experience. In them is the power of creation. They are givers, and they, even without knowing, are the source of value; and truthfully that’s the only tenable source there can be.

I’ve realized that what made Vietnam valuable was not Vietnam. It was my engagement with it – Vietnam mattered because my experiences mattered. My first day was me wrestling with the engagement others (and myself) had made. Then the morning brought clarity, victory, and I was free to engage in the way I genuinely knew how. And that’s when the country opened for me.

Excuse the philosophy but there is no value inherently in the world. That may be shocking to read; it may seem nihilistic. But it’s not. Relying on the world to give you value is exactly what presupposes nihilism. We are in a feedback loop with our reality and it starts and has always started with us.

Maybe I was aware of all this at one time, maybe I forgot that life is ultimately our own playground.
Vietnam helped me to remember and I’m grateful for it.




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The engagement with art and beauty

What are we looking for when we view art? 

If a child were in a gallery and two walls were covered by paintings. One side has the works of Rothko, Mitchell, Miró. The other Eyck, Veronese, Rembrandt.
Which side would they be attracted to?  

The engagement to art results the valuation. 
Each genre requires its own engagement, which can be regarded as a mode of experience. And experience is unbearably rich. 

What I find enjoyable in abstract paintings is meaninglessness. I hope the work tells me nothing; I want free-quality of colour and shape; aesthetics without reference. 
But I know the beauty of a Rembrandt is not in Rembrandt. It is in the source- the viewing person. The Rembrandt is a stimulus which evokes. Proof: many are indifferent to paintings. 

Now think of nature. It has a similar engagement-requirement. 

"Nature...is nothing but the inner voice of self-interest."
- Baudelaire 

One can extract aesthetic sense from a mountain, a beach, a Pollock, while another cannot and will not because they're not able to affirm, or do not even have, a secret to play with. 

Imagine you could form one sentence to communicate the reality of beauty experienced.

“That for which we find words is something already dead in our hearts...”
- Nietzsche 

And why do people buy millions worth of paint hazardly splattered on a canvas? 
It's an investment like real estate. Don't think too much of it. 

   




        


Top
Mark Rothko - Blue, Orange, Red - 1961 
Joan Mitchell - City Landscape - 1955
Joan Miró - Ciphers and Constellations in Love with a Woman - 1941

Bottom
Jan van Eyck - Madonna at the Fountain- 1439
Paolo Veronese - The Wedding at Cana - 1563
Rembrandt van Rijn - The Storm on The Sea of Galilee - 1633

on writing

I am wondering how to write. 

I'm reminded of Nietzsche. In The Gay Science his prose was, in comparison to his later works, boring. I think he had a distaste for writing so practically. His thoughts changed; to read what he had had wrote made him cringe. And so, he later wrote as to make the text ambiguous. The perspectives were welcomed. And he was made more than what he was.  


Reading someone's blog posts, the same person I've silently ridiculed because of how detailed and verbose and well-done they write, I'm inspired. There exists what I want in this person; to write, and do it with conviction. Their writing looks like worship. 


I'm hateful of stereotypical writing techniques when trying to write a blog. I'm agitated at having a model of a 
blog post when I am writing. It kills creativity and motivation. 

I want to write more. My life feels over-saturated with meaning and I want to express it. I have grown a nightmare out of silence. 


It is hard to translate floating thoughts into syntax and grammar. Intimidating, when you've always done it with your most buoyant ones. Words are like cages.


When I was younger I admired long and tangled sentences. Sentences like garden hoses. I considered them signs of high ability, and I emulated them. Now, I'm over it. I like simplicity, minimalism. Emily Dickinson is right for me. 


I want my thoughts to be fatty. My writing like a razor. The process: to trim and make lean.


I think of how I appear to others through my writing. A thing I've naturally learned by writing short stories is that there is an amateurish engagement where one is trying to convey to the reader who and what one is through the story. 
This is noticeable to nearly anyone, and lame. 
The writer is an epigram-generator. They are trying to translate the drama of movie scenes, abusing tropes, ending every paragraph with a closure, placing pointless references. Trying too hard, hoping and begging for the reader to see them through the words. I've written like this. I don't, or I'd like to think so, write like this anymore. 

Writing is vulnerable; I have to be okay with how others view me. Not uncaring, but okay. I dislike this audience in my head, especially because I like to think they're not there. Notice I did not say hate.

 

Poetry in the 21st

Speed disciplined the mind. 

The mode: time translated to purpose.

I've considered poetry to be in-conducive, a fight with memory, shuttled through a black box.

What information do you need? 
You are experiencing through words- What? 

To sit alone and read was once strange. One had to speak the word, or sing, to an audience. Augustine appeared other-worldy in his chair, reading silently. 



Is there contempt for inner music? 



I am content

The one with science and technology being sensationalized idiosyncrisis

I express some thoughts on Neuralink, physics and AI. I consider science to exist also as a commercial industry, and much of what we know of it is sensationalized because the platforms we use to get scientific knowledge, for the majority of people, function like businesses that are selling highly marketable products (ideas), which naturally causes a loss of scientific rigour and accuracy. So we are filled with a kind of pop-science understanding of AI, space, physics, and technology. And thinkers who provide sober and realistic perspectives are less considered and more disincentivized to partake in mainstream scientific discourse.  Basically, when confronted with any public thinker we have to ask ourselves: What is this person trying to sell me?  Scientist I forgot the name of: Sabine Hossenfelder 
  1. The one with science and technology being sensationalized
  2. Ramblings – on meaning
  3. Intro- My goal
  4. I am content

The hidden Hegel within Nietzsche

The master-slave dialectic for Hegel is the driving force of history, its annulment is the end of history. The equalization of master-slave for Nietzsche brings with it a dissolving of their contradicting values (morality).

Is Nietzsche merely continuing the Hegelian necessity?

I think what Nietzsche foresaw that Hegel didn’t is that through destroying the dichotomies of master-slave; a transitionary period of nihilism would be initiated which leads into absolute spirit after its completion. Nihilism would create the fertile grounds for a revaluation of values, where the highest values devalue themselves and it is through this negation that new values can emerge. These values are part of an absolute morality (free from the contradictory values of master/slave) that is a constituent part of absolute spirit. I think Hegel was too preoccupied with the historical aspect of his system and Nietzsche picked it up on moral grounds where he expounded the moral implications of master/slave fading away.

This would be a Nietzschean objection: absolute morality is free from master/slave values but through creating new values it still perpetuates a moral system that is objective and not free for the individual; the difference of this morality compared with the old one is that it expels the dialectical opposition but still places objective moral principles that confine subjects in its morality.

I think that we have to accept, as social beings, the fundamental essence of morality is slavish; it unifies people and acts as an authority of value-positing for a ‘power’. It is a power structure you cannot rid a social group of because the social body is always comprised of power relations (a will to power); you can’t escape this element or else you go into moral-relativism which leads-again-into nihilism. The subjective morality Nietzsche advocates is a tumultuous transition of a process that gradually solidifies an objective morality. We can’t be morally subjective tenably; ‘will to power’ will always designate an object morality through a process of contradictions being resolved through time (subjective morality engenders the fecundity for antagonisms that reach a dialectical completion into a ‘universal’ morality). This newly completed morality will (possibly) never degrade into nihilism because it is not tensionally conflicting itself in a dialectic. I think Nietzsche’s greatest alluding task was creating the principles for which we could articulate and implement the process (unbeknownst to him) that fruitions this objective morality.

Nietzsche was a child of his times; a product of the historical milieu that manifested his individuality. He was a being in a specific point in history that found within his profound thought a kernel of an historical becoming. The thought he was trying to get away from (Hegelian Dialectics) was actually the very reality he was situated in. The events and philosophy that preceded him allowed him to elucidate what Hegel couldn’t: the coming of nihilism and the moralistic consequences that accompanied the end of the master/slave dialectic. Hegel had made the mistake of placing absolute spirit at the end of history; he could not foresee the moralistic implications and the turmoil that ‘the end’ would cause to ‘spirit’ from becoming absolute; spirit will have to go through an anguish of nihility, where it detaches itself from what constrained it, and then reconfigures itself in a process that will bring about its absolute completion. The thought of Nietzsche was able to continue Hegelian thought in a route that was not historically available for Hegel: this is why both thinkers should not be taken in conflicting terms; the alliance of their thought can be critically and genealogically used to unveil the hidden mechanisms of our society and reality.

 


Note: The Nietzschean “overman” is a bridge towards the Hegelian “absolute spirit”

Norman Bates and his Mother

Psycho is a fascinating film that explores the inner-workings of a mental illness pertaining to a man whose sense of self is dominated by a mother figure. His mother had died long ago but the ‘ghost’ of her remained within Norman. He compensated for this death by going into episodes where he would take on her role. The role was a defensive mechanism towards what Norman felt as a threat towards himself through the perspective of an over-protective simulacrum of his mother.

At the end of Psycho 2, we find the truth. Normans real mother appears and we learn his dead mother was actually the real ones sister. Norman, showing no sign of distress and operating with an erie calm, strikes his real mother in the head with a shovel after she reveals the truth. Why would Norman kill his actual mother when, for what it seemed, he so desperately needed a mother figure in his life? This end scene provides a startling revelation.

For Norman, it was never about the reality of the mother, it was always about the fantasy. The mother signified the highest authority figure, who would look after and give orders to an insecure and scared little boy. The outside world was taught to be impure and dangerous by the mother figure, this led Norman to live a reclusive life that depended on the mother for safety. After her death, through the years, living alone in the house his mother once occupied, Norman created the perfect mother figure, the perfect bringer of peace and order in a world of chaos and evil. This imaginary mother figure engendered by the death of his former mother was the culmination of all that Norman desired in a paternal figure. The appearance of a living mother that would replace this imaginary matriarch is a stoppage of the fantasy.

Fantasy dissolves when coming face to face with reality, it no longer works because fantasy finds life within a realm of death (a void) where the virtuality of imagination is free to set itself up whatever it can possibly desire, unconstrained by any shortcoming of actual reality. The real mother that presented herself to Norman had to be killed and from her body and the actuality of her death; Norman found the sustenance to perpetuate the virtuality of fantasy. The mother lives on but only through death. She lives on in the all-encompassing spirit of Normans most primary desires. It was never about a mother, it was what a mother signified and the signification was suited so perfectly for him that he wouldn’t let the real sully it.

Love is the greatest Evil

Love idealizes imperfections making them perfect. It has potential to idealize the most heinous and despicable. Man loves too much and greed is born, he’ll rob and steal for this love. Man loves his ideals, he would kill millions and plunge the world into darkness for one idea that is an extension of all that he loves. People murder and torture for the love of god. They wage wars and kill for the love of country.  Through love, hatred is born. To hate is a drive to destroy the thing that opposes the love. One would sacrifice millions for a single love. One would conceal a murderer from justice out of love. The greatest evils are done out of love. Violence finds its purpose with love. Wars are waged purely for love.

A world without love is unimaginable, a world with only love is intolerable.

On capitalism

Capitalism is a historical necessity brought on by the purpose of consciousness which is creation to satisfy desire. In capitalism we shape the world through desire and its fulfillment, through capitalism we have made the world, we have instilled meaning in the world, capitalism is an art, it is an expression of our humanity and natural desires, it is the most natural progression that had to happen that stemmed right from our very nature. We have manifested our desires in the physical world through capitalism, we can be our true selves through it. In capitalism humanity is free but it is also enslaved by its freedom, it is a slave to its desires and its nature. Capitalism creates the symbolic order which structures the very fabric of our reality. Capitalism has created a culture , this culture stems from the very connection our consciousness has with the world we live in. A unity is built from this connection, the connection of external and internal, where both play equal roles in shaping the world we live in. There is no humanity with the abolishment of capital and capitalism, we cease to extend ourselves within reality, to extend our humanity. Capitalism is art, it is a creative expression, it is an almost spontaneous and free expression originating from the core of the human condition.

Capitalism is also a necessary component in shaping history. The over-surplus and indulgence is the progress that moves history forwards, the actualization of global communism will end history by removing the over-surplus and stagnating history.