Tuesday, May 31, 2005
I LOVE THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!!! I guess that probably has something to do with the fact that the majority of the people I love happen to live here, but WOW! I am FIRED UP to be home!
After dropping in to LA to re-live May 26th for the second time, my buddy Matt Johnson stoked me out in the hugest way by taking me straight from the airport to the Angels - White Sox game. Life hasn't slowed down since then. I've spent the last couple days with some of the most special people in the world here in San Diego and I'm catching a night bus back to Sacramento tonight to give my Mom the biggest hug ever. After that...I have no clue what the future holds. So many possibilities, so little time.
I did manage to set up some form of communication besides e-mail though, so if you have a free second and you want to catch up, I'd love to hear from you. My new number is 650 576 6702. Talk to you soon!
Saturday, May 28, 2005
I originally put this list together on the plane ride home after over nine months in Europe and Africa and I posted it as "Lessons from the Dark Continent" on March 13th, 2004. Since many of you never got a chance to dig that deep through my entries, I've re-posted it here because all of these lessons apply to the second leg of my trip as well.
I never intended this list to become a blog entry. These thoughts were part of a letter I wrote to myself...a letter intended to help me capture and keep the insights gained through spending a long time outside of my comfort zone. Each paragraph is full of unreferenced quotes and off the wall ideas. I apologize for nothing. Enjoy...
CHOOSING HAPPINESS: No matter where you go, there you are. There is no way to run away from yourself. If you're unhappy, you're choosing to be that way, regardless of your location.
THE MEDIA MODEL: The media severely spins, edits, and manipulates news to serve the interests of advertisers, media stockholders, and the government. There is no sinister ringleader, it's simply a flawed system. Viewers beware.
AMERICANS: Most of the world sees Americans as an ignorant, materialistic, workaholic, violent, culturally self-centered population.
WESTERNIZATION: When people grow up with nothing, and are not constantly bombarded with consumer driven media, they tend to be happier, more peaceful, and more family oriented than their westernized counterparts who have been convinced that happiness comes with a pricetag.
PERSPECTIVE: The challenges we face on a day to day basis are nothing compared to what the majority of the world faces. Our minds love to obsess and our society thrives on bitching and negative news. The world would be a better place if more first-world residents experienced life with the have-nots.
SHORT TERM THINKING: Like the fable of the scorpion and the tortoise, corporations and governments are inherently focused on short term gains, with minimal consideration of long term consequences. It's just in their nature. Two to six year political terms and accountability to quarterly financial results trap these institutions into chasing quick personal gains first, and the good of the world second.
WE ARE ACCOUNTABLE: The world's problems; starvation, overpopulation, environmental destruction, unsustainable resources, rampid disease and poverty are terrifyingly real. While they seem overwhelming, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Indifference, rationalization, procrastination, and fear will lead us to our doom. We are all accountable.
RATIONALIZATION: Beware of your mind. It can spin you unconsciously into misery in a moment. It can rationalize away dreams and opportunities in a cloud of fear-based, uneducated, babble. Dig into your assumptions before you discount an idea. What are they based on? What is really driving them? Don't say you can't do it...ask how can it be done.
SEEK UNDERSTANDING: Everyone is dying to be understood, yet no one is trying to understand. We assume what we choose to assume, and then work ourselves into an unnecessary frenzy. If we all spent a little more time trying to understand those who frustrate us, we would have a lot less frustration in our lives.
LOVE: When you can separate yourself from all the messages telling you happiness comes with a pricetag, you can see that the most important thing in the world is love. The love of yourself, the love of your family, and the love all the people you share your life with. Relationships with living things are what bring richness to our lives. Everything else is a distraction or a mental manipulation.
STAYING PRESENT: It is possible to live vibrantly in the moment and still execute an responsible, driven, plan for the future.
INNER PEACE: Show up, pay attention, tell the truth, and let go of the outcome. Do whatever you can and then accept what comes unconditionally. Expectations and worrying about things outside your sphere of influence are the drivers of unnecessary misery and shortened lives. When you can unconditionally love and accept whoever and whatever comes along, people can sense you inner peace and it spreads into them. Give and you shall receive.
FINDING CLARITY: Clarity comes from listening to yourself. Nothing you can see with your eyes can fix you on the inside. The confusion and chaos of our media-saturated society can be wiped away by making time to spend quietly alone. When was the last time you let yourself "Be" with absolute silence? When was the last time you communed with nature in a place where you couldn't hear any man-made noises? Calm you wild, frantic mind. Relax your shoulders. Everything is exactly as it should be.
MAKING MEMORIES: A rich life is full of unique memories. Beware of your mind's longing for comfort, routine, and repetition. These are the ingredients of a bland life full of the days that run together. There are more great people than you could ever meet and more amazing places than you could ever see. Consciously add that variety to your life. Go on that trip, see that show, say hello to that stranger. In the end, your memories are all you will have. Don't let them blend together into an indistinguishable blob of a life. This ride is over in less than 90 years. Make sure you don't miss it by waiting for someday. There is no someday. There is only this moment. Make it unique.
YOUR ENVIRONMENT: Be very conscious of who you choose to spend your time with and what you choose to spend your time doing. The people and activities of your life shape who you are and who you will become. It is absolutely unavoidable. Consciously create an inspirational, enlightening environment. Choose how you will be shaped. Choose carefully.
TAKING ACTION: The media has convinced the bulk of the population that they are helpless to make a difference. The have convinced us that we only care about ourselves and our purpose in life is to consume. This is insanity. Every massively positive event in history was initiated by people like YOU deciding to DO something about the world. People like YOU writing letter and holding signs. People like YOU starting companies and donating money. People like YOU spreading passion, awareness, and enlightenment. People like YOU risking disapproval to chase a dream. What will be your legacy? How will you be remembered? As someone who stood for something? As someone who made a difference?
DO WHAT YOU FEAR: The hardest, scariest, things in life are the ones that shape your character. Even though your timid, overwhelmed mind is an expert at resisting and avoiding fear and discomfort, When you can push past this false resistance, you end up with accomplishments you will be proud of the rest of your life. A life full of courageous attempts, even though checkered by failure, will always outshine a life full of what if's, fear, avoidance, rationalization, and missed opportunities. Better to have tried and lost than to never have tried at all.
GIVE 100%: Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. Perfectionists tend to give half-assed efforts so if they don't succeed they can justify their failures by convincing themselves they could have won if they would have given 100%. What an insane recipe for regret and wasted potential! When you pour your heart into something you never have to wonder what if. Don't fill your life full of worthless busywork to justify half-assed efforts in the games that count. This is the only way to fully realize all that your life has to offer.
LOVE YOURSELF: The world values you as much as you value yourself. Love yourself and you become more lovable. Give love unconditionally and you will receive unconditional love.
LISTENING: Don't waste life trying to be right and make others wrong. See past you pride to what's most important...the people in your life. When taking part in a conversation, listen. Send your partner energy with your eyes. Don't anxiously wait them to shut up so you can talk about yourself. Don't spend your listening time preparing your next statement. BE in the moment as a listener. Get curious about who they are, what it's like to be them, and what their dreams are. Unlock the potential in your relationship. Process your partner's words deeply, with a spirit of compassion and understanding.
RELAX: When you catch your mind in a tailspin and you notice your shoulders tight, your brow furrowed, and your breathing shallow...exhale deeply...drop your shoulders...and appreciate the incredible wonder and beauty all around you. The world is already perfect, it needs only to be appreciated.
RECORD YOUR LIFE: Writing is one of the most mentally intense things you can do with your brain. Practice it every day. A life worth living is a life worth recording. Don't inflict rules on yourself. You don't have to write about your day. You don't have to remember past events. Just spend time with your present thoughts and watch the pages fill up. There are no rules. There don't need to be lines on the page or grammar in the words. Just capture the fleeting energy of your mind. Track your evolution of thought so you can build new insights from your personal path.
DON'T CLING TO THE PAST: Don't become so attached to your past that you miss the present. Memories are important, but freedom and lightheartedness are more important. Don't let your fear of regret cloud your life and your mind with an unnecessary, clutter-filled burden. Clear out your mental and physical closets to make room for something vibrant and new.
COINCIDENCES: Live each day with an attitude of positive expectancy. Look for the coincidences. Be aware of all the unexplained mysteries surrounding you every day. No one can build an ant, and you don't know how to personally create most of what you see every day. None of us can prove where we came from of where we're going when we die. Appreciate this wonder and mystery and allow it to add a layer of interesting thought to your daily life. Any story COULD be true. Why did you meet who you met today? What were you supposed to learn from them? What were you supposed to learn from that coincidence? What should you do today? All the answers are out there...just waiting to be found and appreciated.
YOUR TABLE OF ADVISORS: When you're getting to know yourself, be very conscious of who is sitting at your mental "Table of advisors". Whose opinions matter to you? Who has shaped you? Why do you want what you want? What outcome are you looking for? Why? Make sure what you think is true about you is actually based on YOUR thoughts and values. You can't change or maybe even understand how your environment has shaped you. The key is to ask the questions and become aware of your drivers to insure they are leading you towards who you want to become.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Every business in Queenstown is hiring for the upcoming snowboarding season so I was definitely tempted to spend the summer as lift operator or bar bouncer. Fortunately I could hear my sister Shaun’s words ringing in my ears, “If you don’t come home for my graduation, don’t bother coming home at all.” That solved that. The more I started thinking about home, the more I realized how little time I was going to have to catch up with my friends and family before business school starts. I was supposed to travel up the west coast of Kiwiland with Shawna until May 29th and then to fly to Fiji to relax on the beach until June 8th, but that would leave me less than two months to spend with the people I love and find a way to pay for school. Although I was super excited to take in the breathtaking views of western New Zealand and soak up the sun on some remote Fijian island, I realized that seeing all of you was much more important.
The next day I flew to Auckland, enjoyed a farewell dinner with Amalia and her family, and then hopped a jet to Fiji. I’ve spent a total of 27 hours in this tropical paradise so far, and I’ll be boarding a plane for LA in less than four hours. Crazy huh? I have a feeling Fiji would be way more fun with Mrs. Reid, so I’ll have to come back once I meet her. What’s really interesting is that I’m going to fly out of Fiji at 11PM on May 26th and land in LA at 3PM on May 26th. You gotta love time traveling 747’s.
There are a million things I want to write and thousands of thoughts racing through my head right now, but it’s hard to get them all down since the rancid Fijian fish I inhaled last night sends me racing for the porcelin throne every fifteen minutes. Sweet. I don’t have a phone number yet, but I should have that sorted out in the next week or so. My great buddy Matt Johnson has already lined up tickets to a pro baseball game tomorrow night, so it looks like I’ll be slipping back into American culture with a bang. You rock Majo.
Thank you SO much for reading along with me on this incredible journey. Having you here with me has meant more than you could possibly realize, and I will always be thankful for your inspiring words and thoughtful comments. I’ll be posting the missing stories from India and Southeast Asia over the next couple months, so be sure to check back every once in a while.
See you soon!
Friday, May 20, 2005
Since the Kiwi prices were busting our budgets, Shawna and I decided to hightail it down to the South Island to complete all our big ticket adventures before we started getting really cheap. Our first stop was Christchurch, which would have been foggy and uneventful if my great friend Paul Mangen hadn’t hooked us up with Simon, an off the wall Brit that Paul and I met in Beijing. Simon just happened to be in Christchurch interviewing for an engineering job so he was fired up to meet up with us for a couple drinks a local brewery.
We had only enjoyed a pint to two when the band started playing and drew us inside. Imagine two guitarists, a keyboardist, a drummer, and a guy on some bongo drums surrounded by about 40 people sitting on the ground and 40 more standing behind in a dimly-lit oak-lined bar about the size of your living room. There were no lyrics…only the music. I can’t explain it, but the sounds I experienced that night were overwhelmingly powerful. I could hear every instrument and all the instruments at the same time. It felt like magic. The beats and melodies brought tears to my eyes several times and as I looked back at Shawna in embarrassment I noticed her cheeks were wet as well. So powerful. What is it about music that rocks us to the core? I can’t explain it, but I sure am grateful for it.
I said goodbye to Christchurch the next morning and settled in for the seven hour drive to the extreme sports capital of the world…Queenstown, New Zealand. On our way into the city center our bus drove past the first bungee jump in the world and I could feel my pulse begin to race. I’ve jumped off things with my ankles tied to rubber bands at least eight times now and it NEVER gets old. The rush cooks my senses every time, whether I’m jumping 120 feet or 320 feet. With over 400 feet of free fall, the Nevis bungee jump in Queenstown claims to be the biggest land based jump in the world, and while the South African Bloukrans bridge jump is higher, I wasn’t about to point that out to a bunch of guys with my life in their hands.
The jump did not disappoint, although the massive bungee/swing Shawna and I did the day before provided just as much of a thrill for $80 less. There are five different things to jump off in Queenstown, but my budget and my common sense decided two was plenty. Besides offering plenty of life threatening activities, Queenstown also provides some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. No matter where you looked, the mountains, lakes, and trees combined to wash your senses with beauty. Imagine a combination between the Swiss Alps, Yosemite, and Lake Tahoe and you might have something half as beautiful as Queenstown. Wow.
Saturday, May 14, 2005
I love being inside a warm comfortable home when its raining...and that's a good thing considering the New Zealand weather reminded me of Seattle for my first couple weeks in the country.
During one of our cozy nights in, Brett gave me a bagpiping education I'll never forget. Do you known any bagpipers? If not you should get to know one because there is an art to that instrument that takes a lifetime to master. Brett’s rainy day bagpipe music reminded me of William Wallace and conjured up a sense of honor and tradition I hadn't felt since touring my family's farm in Ireland. As I was enjoying the moment, Brett threw me for a loop by telling me the song he was working on was called "The Lament for Pipe Major Robert Reid". Are you kidding me? My Dad's name is Robert Reid...they even spelled Reid right! I've become a bit superstitious over the past couple years so I couldn't help but wonder if this was some sort of sign telling me I was destined to be a bagpiper. Nice...
Amalia and her parents made my first week in New Zealand one of my favorite weeks of this trip and I was definitely sad to say goodbye. Luckily my great friend Shawna Smith flew in from California the day I left the Fawcett household, so I wasn't lonely for long.
I met Shawna through her cousin Jamie Brown, who happens to be one of my best friends from Cal Poly and San Diego. Shawna is a super laid back Norcal girl who is in the midst of trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life after walking away from a successful career in corporate America. Sound familiar? Shawna and I definitely have a ton in common.
We didn't have too much time to talk the day she showed up though, because Nici Curtis, the niece of my great friend Jenni Prisk, was whisking us up to the Curtis family Kiwi fruit farm in the northern New Zealand town of Kerikeri that afternoon.
Nici is another wonderful New Zealander that went a long way towards convincing me to move out here. Nici just finished her doctorate in Psychiatry and is an expert on the human mind. She asks the kinds of questions you're afraid to ask yourself and I was honored to meet her, much less stay a couple days with her family. Nici's has a passion for finding ways to transform anti-social children and adults by radically changing their entire environment, from their school to their job and from their family to their love lives. Nici believes that most detention facilities for troubled kids just teach children how to do bad things better. I would say that probably applies to almost every form of incarceration system in the West.
Talking with Nici reminded me of a quote I copied down from the walls of the Auckland Museum's war exhibit:
"The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" - Edmund Burke
Next to Burke's quote I found this one:
"History shows that there are no invincible armies" - Joseph Stalin
It seems as if our government and our citizens should study these statements pretty closely if we don't want history to repeat itself. Ah, but I digress.
Shawna and I only spent three days with the Curtis family, but I could easily have stayed there a year. After working on the cattle and pig farm in Australia and touring the Curtis kiwi and citrus fruit farm in New Zealand, I'm starting to wish I would have been a farmer. It can be stressful, but there is something inherently satisfying about growing things and feeding people. Most days at the Curtis farm I just felt like pulling weeds and pruning trees. I'm sure one harvest would cure me of my romantic notions, but I haven't found the kind of peace I experienced in Kerikeri in a very long time.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
After soaking up a week's worth of Maori history in four hours, Amalia and I settled in for dinner with Brett and Sue, Amalia's amazing parents. When Brett looked down his nose and asked Amalia "Do we have to be nice to this one?" I knew I was in for a great week. The Kiwi wit flew all day every day, and when I learned that Brett and Sue drove a minivan from Singapore to London (via Afghanistan) before they were married, I began to understand how Amalia became the wonderful girl she is.
During dinner I started to realize how 24 months on the road have impacted my manners. Which spoon is the desert spoon? Why do they say I hold my fork like a shovel? Is it rude to blow your nose in front of others? What if you sound like a foghorn? Luckily the Fawcett family was willing to smack me into shape so I won't offend my grandparents when I get home.
During our dinner conversations I learned that New Zealand is one of the most liberal countries in the world. The Kiwi's were the first to elect a female Prime Minister, they made gay marriage legal this year, and prostitution and gambling have been legal for years. Oh yeah, and everyone recycles...everyone.
As we settled down for the evening, Amalia threw in the classic Kiwi movie "Whale Rider" and started my mind spinning on Maori culture once again. Whale Rider tells the story of a Maori chief trying to preserve his culture in the face of massive western influences. How do you get your children to care about their ancestors and their tribe when their schoolmates care more about X-box games and making money overseas? How do you convince your kids to learn your traditional language when they'll never be able to use it outside of their home villages? I've always found it hard to relate to these types of cultural challenges since my culture is pop culture and the biggest ritual I have in my family is watching college football after Thanksgiving dinner. My native language is also the dominant world language, so it's hard for me to understand why certain nationalities cling so tightly to "irrelevant" languages.
After the movie ended I finally found an analogy that opened my eyes. Imagine this potential future. The year is 2200 and China is now the world's sole superpower. Mandarin is the language of the United Nations and international business and the Chinese have completely colonized America. White Christians have been forced onto reservations and most of the jobs and cities are owned by Mandarin speaking Chinese. The dominant religion is Buddhism and your kids don't see the relevance of Christmas and Thanksgiving anymore since they don't learn about it in school and none of their friends do it. English isn't used anywhere but on the reservation and it's almost impossible to find bread in any grocery store since the Chinese-American diet consists primarily of noodles and rice.
Would you fight for your culture? Would you make your kids learn English even though they couldn't use it in school or in business? Would you teach them about Christmas and make them come home for Thanksgiving? Would you go out of your way to cook traditional Western meals?
I think its hard for me to understand those fighting to preserve their cultures because mine is the dominant culture. Reversing the tables gave me a radically different perspective and made me hope the old Chief in the Whale Rider found a way to convince his children to care about their tribes ancient traditions.
Saturday, May 07, 2005
I first met Amalia in the small central-Tanzanian town of Iringa about a month before Shannon and I flipped our Landcruiser. Amalia was busy using her multiple degrees Oxford and Yale to teach a variety of subjects at an international school to prepare herself for a job with an international aid organization. Shannon and I felt instantly comfortable with Peter and Amalia, and I had the same feeling of comfort mixed with a little anticipation as I walked off the plane in Auckland. I hadn't seen Amalia in over 18 months, but when I saw her it felt as though I had just left Iringa last week.
We had plenty of time to catch up in the airport since the Kiwi authorities were busy fumigating my tent. I've been through 26 countries now, and nothing came close to the scrutiny I went through before entering New Zealand. The entire Kiwi economy depends on farming and herding, so they are INCREDIBLY thorough when it comes to biological safety. They inspected my shoe soles, confiscated my honey, interrogated me about petting kangaroos, and soaked my tent with pesticide. After I left the inspection area I felt like they should have given me a cigarette.
Thanks to Amalia's experiences in Africa and Geneva, she had just landed a fabulous job with World Vision the week before I arrived, so she had seven stress-free days to spend bumming around her hometown with me. Nice!
Our first stop was the Auckland Museum and the Maori exhibition blew me away. The Maori's are a group of indigenous pacific islanders that settled in New Zealand a couple hundred years before the English colonists showed up. The Maori's had a strong warring culture, so they managed to negotiate a relatively favorable treaty with the British, allowing the colonists to settle according to certain agreed-upon terms. Since I just left a country where the indigenous Aborigine population was completed dominated and marginalized, the Maori situation seemed drastically better.
All students learn Maori in school, Maori's have won access to thousands of acres of prime real estate due to ancestral claims, Maori welcome dances are performed for all visiting dignitaries, and white New Zealanders seem genuinely proud of the unique Maori history of their islands. Amalia is part Maori, and took pride is pointing out some of the artifacts within the museum that were created by her specific Maori tribe.
After taking in all the Pacific Islander exhibits, we settled down for the presentation of the traditional "Haka" welcome/war dance. Wow. It is impossible for me to convey the power of the Haka performance, but to give you some idea; my eyes were filled with tears of awe within the first five minutes. The music, the dancing, the chanting, the eyes, the images...all overpowering. I walked in expecting some sort of chintzy, depressing, trumped up display, and I walked out wishing I had a Maori-like heritage of my own.
Monday, May 02, 2005
I've found I do my best thinking when I am forced to sit still. Airplane trips, bus rides, toilet time, shower sessions...all great for contemplation. Maybe its because the constant flow of "should's" recedes for a while because it's obvious I can't do much multi-tasking at times like these. As I stared blankly at my elderly co-passengers during my flight from Brisbane to Auckland my mind started to spin...
What do you want to be like when you're 50 years old? 60? 70? Visualize it. Will you be super healthy and super active? Will you be running marathons and writing books? Will you have grandchildren? Will you still be working? What kind of wisdom will you have? What will you be writing in your journal? If the 70 year old version of yourself was sitting across from you right now, what advice would they give you? There is something very powerful about visualizing your ideal future because your mind starts to notice things that will help you make it a reality. Kind of like when you buy a Jeep and then start noticing Jeeps everywhere.
After contemplating my retired life for a couple minutes I caught the eye of my supercool stewardess and realized I don't have any friends who are flight attendants. I also don't have any friends who are ship captains, bus drivers, drug dealers, politicians, professional athletes, painters, etc., etc., etc., There are so many people doing so many jobs, coming home to so many families, living their lives out...and I will never know them. Even after 24 months of travel I feel sheltered...like there are whole segments of society that I have no experience with.
At that moment I started seeing beyond my flight attendant's uniform (not like that). She has dreams, fears, hopes, and things she wants to change about her life...just like me...yet I've always seen her as her "role". She is my flight attendant...my "single serving friend"...and I treat her as such. It's interesting how society leads us to put people on pedestals...to see them as somehow different, better, or worse than us. I'm starting to realize that we are really all the same. The president of the United States, the pro football star, the high school chess champion, the bum on the corner, the CEO...we're all just trying to do the best we can with the hand we've been dealt. None of us can see the future...all of us have fears...we're not sure we're right...about anything. This is probably old news to many of you, but reminding myself of how much I have in common with everyone I meet makes life so much more interesting. It also helps me talk to strangers and get over the anxiety that comes with meeting new people, trying to get jobs, and making a fool of myself. There is always that common ground, and when you can find it, everything changes.
When I finished gawking at my flight attendant I suddenly became aware of my intuition. I'm always aware of it...that part of me that knows without knowing...sees without seeing. There is a new book called "Blink" that attempts to scientifically prove the validity of your intuition and I couldn't put it down. As my gaze drifted from passenger to passenger I seemed to know everything about them at a glance. Of course my gut feeling will be wrong with several of them, but "Blink" argues strongly that you're right most of the time...like over 80% of the time. So if I can pick up on someone's "energy"...if I can sense their personality, attitudes, values, etc. at a glance...I wonder what kind of read they get off me? What kind of "energy" do I send off? Positive? Shy? Cocky? Introverted? Aloof? Intimidating? I wonder what I would think about me if I sat next to me on a plane?
Before I could finish that rambling thought my favorite flight attendant was telling me to buckle up and return my seat back to the upright position. It was time to dive into the world of "should's" and action items again. Even though my spinning thoughts shifted back to the reality of finding my baggage, I found I was already looking forward to continuing my random mental journey in the shower that night.