Back to Bangkok, Time to Rock

When you roll the travel dice, and tempt the divine powers that be, you can never really tell what’s going to happen. I’ve relied on fate mixed with a bit of intuition, thrown down with a dash of inspiration to steer my wayward ass on countless occasions. This time around, I was coming out of a savage yet rewarding semester. I had taken on more classes than ever, and drowning in bluebooks, prepping like a madman and holding it all together along with the backdrop of an incredible year of change had left me optimistic, yet a touch depleted. More on that shit possibly later.

I waited until the last possible second.

“I need to get the fuck out of here”

“Tickets look kind of pricey”

“Well shit”

I could have stayed home, tended to a few things, prepped for next semester, etc…but lo and behold, after scanning possible routes for a few weeks, in the midst of finals, days before departure what falls into my lap?!

A scuzzy bargain basement fare to Bangkok Thailand. Don’t go and read the reviews. Stop being scared. Stop wasting all of your fucks thinking about what could go wrong. Embrace what could go right, tap into the stunning ass power of ridiculous optimism instead. Kick fear in the dick, and let hope reign supreme. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

Boom. Do it. Don’t look back.

For two months worth of most people’s cable bill, I was out of here. 15 ass numbing hours to Shanghai , then five more to Bangkok, this adventure was underway. I had finally finished grading in the wee hours the night before with my trusted buddy Frank, courtesy of some amazing friends. (Reason #16578 not to be a twat, friends make the world go ’round)

Frank always offers stellar moral as well as academic support

Thus I was able to grab a bit of shut eye. My flight from China landed at 2:00 AM after 25 hours, and 10,000 Miles. All grades submitted, everything graded. 2018, mostly survived. My cab driver despite lack of English kicked on the jams, and him, I and Neil Young rocked into the city.

Late night eats and into my hotel. I’ve been loving the simple things as of late, and so many aspects of Thai culture resonate with that. From outlook, all the way to flavor profiles.

This is my third time to the land of a thousand smiles, and this journey is just getting started.

Ready to get lost with me??

Leave some love, or don’t.

Advertisements

Creativity, Wanderlust, and the Mind

 

Let me know what you think.

There are plenty of things to be gained from going abroad: new friends, new experiences, new stories.But living in another country may come with a less noticeable benefit, too: Some scientists say it can also make you more creative.

Writers and thinkers have long felt the creative benefits of international travel. Ernest Hemingway, for example, drew inspiration for much of his work from his time in Spain and France. Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, moved from the U.K. to the U.S. in his 40s to branch out into screenwriting. Mark Twain, who sailed around the coast of the Mediterranean in 1869, wrote in his travelogue Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have begun examining more closely what many people have already learned anecdotally: that spending time abroad may have the potential to affect mental change. In general, creativity is related to neuroplasticity, or how the brain is wired. Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.

“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. But it’s not just about being abroad, Galinsky says: “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.

In Galinsky’s latest study, published last month in the Academy of Management Journal, he and three other researchers examined the experiences of the creative directors of 270 high-end fashion houses. Combing through 11 years’ worth of fashion lines, Galinsky and his team searched for links between the creative directors’ experience working abroad and the fashion houses’ “creative innovations,” or the degree “to which final, implemented products or services are novel and useful from the standpoint of external audiences.” The level of creativity of a given product was rated by a pool of trade journalists and independent buyers. Sure enough, the researchers found a clear correlation between time spent abroad and creative output: The brands whose creative directors had lived and worked in other countries produced more consistently creative fashion lines than those whose directors had not.

The researchers also found that the more countries the executives had lived in, the more creative the lines tended to be—but only up to a point. Those who had lived and worked in more than three countries, the study found, still tended to show higher levels of creativity that those who hadn’t worked abroad at all, but less creativity that their peers who had worked in a smaller number of foreign countries. The authors hypothesized that those who had lived in too many countries hadn’t been able to properly immerse themselves culturally; they were bouncing around too much. “It gets back to this idea of a deeper level of learning that’s necessary for these effects to occur,” Galinsky says.

Cultural distance, or how different a foreign culture is from one’s own, may also play a role: Surprisingly, Galinsky and his colleagues found that living someplace with a larger cultural distance was often associated with lower creativity than living in a more familiar culture. The reason for that, they hypothesized, was that an especially different culture might come with a bigger intimidation factor, which may discourage people from immersing themselves in it—and no immersion, they explained, could mean none of the cognitive changes associated with living in another country.

Traveling may have other brain benefits, too. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education and psychology at the University of Southern California, says that cross-cultural experiences have the potential to strengthen a person’s sense of self. “What a lot of psychological research has shown now is that the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self,” she says. “Our ability to differentiate our own beliefs and values … is tied up in the richness of the cultural experiences that we have had.”

Cross-cultural experiences have the potential to pull people out of their cultural bubbles, and in doing so, can increase their sense of connection with people from backgrounds different than their own. “We found that when people had experiences traveling to other countries it increased what’s called generalized trust, or their general faith in humanity,” Galinsky says. “When we engage in other cultures, we start to have experience with different people and recognize that most people treat you in similar ways. That produces an increase in trust.”

This trust may play an important role in enhancing creative function. In a 2012 study out of Tel Aviv University, researchers found that people who “believe that racial groups have fixed underlying essences”—beliefs the authors termed “essentialist views”—performed significantly worse in creative tests than those who saw cultural and racial divisions as arbitrary and malleable. “This categorical mindset induces a habitual closed-mindedness that transcends the social domain and hampers creativity,” the study authors wrote. In other words, those who put people in boxes had trouble thinking outside the box.

Of course, although a new country is an easy way to leave a “social comfort zone,” the cultural engagement associated with cognitive change doesn’t have to happen abroad. If a plane ticket isn’t an option, maybe try taking the subway to a new neighborhood. Sometimes, the research suggests, all that’s needed for a creative boost is a fresh cultural scene.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Europe, on sweet training wheels.

You know I’m all for savage adventure. After Colombia and a brief respite back in the mitten, through chance and a bit of luck I’ve found myself back on the road. An easy flight to Amsterdam, and a few days on the canals turned into a run to Brussels and the push down to the Mediterranean. I’ll start by saying I love the Netherlands. I’ve used Amsterdam well over a dozen times to base invasions or departures from Europe. Winter, summer, spring…never a bad time here. Stroll the Red Light district, have a waffle, enjoy the people watching and the canals. Take it all in and relax. You’ve arrived! This is the perfect starting point. I’ve come to look at Amsterdam a bit as the perfect beginners gateway to Europe. Or, as the title suggests, Europe with training wheels. Let’s start with the airport. It’s big, sure, but easy to navigate. Make your way through customs and viola, the train station is in the basement of the airport. 25 min and 6$ and you are now in the city center.

How easy was that?!

Arriving in the morning is cool as the city is disarmingly quiet. Make your way to your accommodation, drop your stuff, grab a shower/charge your things and get out there! The people here are used to tourists. Don’t worry too much, if you’re confused about something, ask. There are tons of foreigners here, especially in the center. Find a cafe, grab a coffee and start your exploration. I’m a total sucker for canal shots as you can tell. These make for the ideal morning wander as they have a tendency to get jammed packed as the day goes on. You will log serious miles marveling at the old world architecture, waterways, and other sordid attractions. As this is the red light district, you will walk past people engaging in the time honored wake and bake, hitting it hard in the various coffee shops as well as on the street.

Yes. Weed is legal, taxed, and regulated. Enjoy that shit. Just don’t be a wanker about it.

One of the other big taboos for Americans is legalized prostitution. Get over it. Also, respect the ladies. Don’t try to take their picture or waste their time. Smile and walk by. Enjoy the ambiance. How many places like this exist in the world?!

Enjoy the European cafe culture, walk this city, and see how much different things can be. The Dutch are awesome, and as an American they may just ask you why everyone in the States is so sensitive. Grab a beer at one of the dozens of eclectic bars and think about this question. Hang around for the night life, and soon you will be with people from 10 different countries, sampling beer and snacks that simply don’t exist at home, expanding your mind with conversations you never thought you’d have.

A mind stretched by new experiences has a terrible time being closed again. Instead, it will leave you hungry for more.

Buy the ticket, take the ride, and let the good times roll. Amen.

Saved by Jesus…and jetBlue

cartagenaOn most days, the majority of headlines concerning airlines read like pure disaster stories. As a semi frequent travelers, we lower our expectations to the abysmal. And lets be honest, despite certain status perks on whichever team/alliance you’re flying, they are all rather similar. For the jaunt to Colombia, I flew jetBlue for the very first time.  Coincidentally, I ended up in Colombia by an accident, or as insurance/credit card companies refer to it as…”An act of God”.

Two years ago, I booked a super cheap fare to Barbados. I was set to to visit the warm sand and inviting water of the Caribbean island in October. Turns out, a hurricane had other ideas…and a similar itenerary. My travel dates fell 2 days outside of the refund window. I was bummed. On a hail marry effort, I called jetBlue to plead my case. The customer service rep had an easy southern drawl, and I remember thinking “at least the bad news that i’m getting hosed on this run will sound pleasant.”  But she worked her magic, and instead issued me a travel voucher! I was floored! I was in the office on a Saturday, which is never the most fun, and I was ecstatic and my unexpected victory.

The voucher was good for 12 months, and I was incredibly impressed by this airline, which I had never flown and had no status or rewards with had gone above and beyond. one year can be quite a while in the world of travel, so I promptly forgot about said voucher. Until the following year, with about 30 days left to go, I smiled and remembered my good fortune. I pulled up a map of where jetBlue might fly from Detroit, and what do I see at roughly the same price?

Cartagena, Colombia. Boom. Sold.

IMG_0225

I had an amazing time over the weeks in Colombia. My initial dispatch from the sunny paradise, From Cartagena with love.  to making it into the majestic mountains of Medellin. Mysteries of Medellin I love Colombia. I’m excited to go back and spend more time among all the awesomeness there.

If only Colombia was easy to leave. On this particular day, this was to prove both metaphorical as well as literal. My last day in Cartagena, after pulling a muscle in my foot from many a mountain trek on my way out of Medellin.  (Colombia, Getting old, Fried chicken and Serendipity.) found me at the wonderful Hotel Centro. My flight was early afternoon, so I had time to sleep in a bit, grab breakfast, take a long shower, say a  few goodbyes and make my way to the airport.

Or not.

Uber can be a tricky service in Colombia, but I had exhausted my cash, and wanted to make it easy as possible. I realized I was running a bit late, and ordered an Uber to the airport, the app tells me my driver is 22 min away.

“Damn 22 min? its typically 5-10”

So I wait, a bit nervous about getting out of the walled city and making it to the airport on time.  With 5 min left to go, the driver sends me a message from within the app, that he can only accept cash.

Miniature disaster strikes.  What do I do? Do I hobble to an ATM, and then try and find a taxi? Do I try another Uber?

IMG_0203

I request a new Uber. I’m waiting outside with my backpack, in the afternoon, tense and sweating as its 92 degrees and bright. New Uber says 15 min away. Fuck.

I make it to the airport, 55 min before my flight leaves. I know that’s just kinda dumb. I’m limping, hot, and frustrated. I’m still smiling, but in more a resigned way. I make my way up to the counter, and the first attendant tells me “this flight is closed, you are too late”. I know this, and am prepared for the Armageddon options to get home. But then the person next her asks me for my passport.

He spends some time in rapid fire Spanish over his walkie talkie, stopping periodically asking me if I have checked baggage, (carry on only for life!) and other bits of logistics. after 5 min or so, my fate hanging in the balance he asks me to follow him. He prints my boarding passes/tickets.

He leads me through customs, then through security and personally walks me to the gate and deposits me at line for boarding. I have never been treated that kindly by an airline. I was astounded by this guys service. I told him it was my first time to Colombia, and my first time flying jetBlue. He smiled and asked if I enjoyed my time here…Before I could answer, he said ” When you come back, try to get to the airport a bit earlier”.

He shook my hand and left.

 

that’s when I noticed his name tag. It was Jesus.

img_2564

Cheers!

Colombia, Getting old, Fried chicken and Serendipity.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice…”

Apt words to begin the plunge into Colombia. Gabriel Garcia Marquez began his famous book with these words. I’m back in the abaco cafe. My favorite in Cartagena. I’ve arrived back after ten days in the mountains, submerging myself into the glory that is Medellin. Unwrapping a few of those mysteries and getting it straightened out in my mind, and even getting some it down on paper. I wrote about the first few days in the Andes, and now that I’ve left back to the heat, it’s time to push it a bit farther.

dragging my sorry ass to the airport yesterday with my beat ass passport had me thinking. The previous days had been an enthralling digestion of the city, neighborhood by neighborhood. Over the three weeks I was averaging 8-9 miles a day walking the valley as well as the mountains. Spectacular views, savage flavors, and incredible people. I fucking love the layers here. I woke up early a few days before departure and noticed my right foot felt extra tender. After showering and leaving my place I had a bit of a limp! What was this? I tried stretching and walking it off, but the heel of my right foot just ached. It throbbed with every step. This proved a true calamity! I hobbled back to the hotel to deduce I had essentially pulled a muscle. I was walking a ton more, and had brought shoes that had been through the shit so to say. I decided that I would take it easy, and head down to the Parque lleras in the evening to edit photos and get some writing in. I find this amazing trendy chic cafe. Surely I will do my best work here. This is the preconceived image. All digital nomads and creative types only work in super cool cafes and on beaches of course. I sat down, ordered a hipster inspired beverage and waited for the greatness to flow.

surely this is where the magic happens…until the rockstar looking barista informs me that they close at 7…which gave me 10 minutes to channel said magic.

Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. I packed my things quickly finished my cafe con something or other and with some difficulty limped out of there.

Where was I going to find the creative muse now? I think we fall for the myth that to do our best work we need some set that looks like it was made for a Harry Potter film. That’s bullshit. This is what you need; good WiFi, a decent seat, and a not too awful vibe. Sit down, shut up, and get it done. Rents due.

So, where do I end up?

Motherfuckin’ KFC. They had excellent WiFi, everyone there was a local, and they had Postobon. My favorite Colombian sugary beverage.

I know, but how could I do that?!

Well, because I had to get over myself. I’m getting older, and I was limping. I was hosted by the the gracious colonel Sanders for about an hour. I did what I had to do, and it was great. Finished my notebook piece, edited photos, plotted some stuff for this site and enjoyed my time. at the end of the day, I’ve realized travel…especially by country number 70, isn’t about insisting to find the top ranked/ most reviewed location. This often leads to epic disappointment. By the time I returned to my place, my friends had also returned, and invited me to sit down to catch up over beers. Perfect timing. Traveling is about the most authentic experience possible. Embrace the unknown, keep a positive outlook and have faith in serendipity.

Even when it involves fried chicken joints.

More soon to come!

 

What do you think? Leave some love!

Mysteries of Medellin

You’ve heard of this city. Netflix has made sure of it. The most commercially successful criminal of the modern age hails from this place. El patron. Pablo Escobar. His is a legacy that is inseparable from Medellin. This city exploded into fame in the 1980s as the cocaine capital of the world. Most estimates say 80% of the white powder party fuel that ended up in the USA came from the Medellin cartel. The first of the Colombian “super cartels”.

Pablo was eventually brought down in a storm of violence that ripped through Colombia. Rival cartels, paramilitary organizations, the Colombian government, as well as the the American CIA all orchestrated his downfall. That was December 1993.

25 years later, Medellin is a rapidly changing city. Is cocaine widely available and offered? Sure. It’s the same in dozens of cities across the globe.

So now what? turns out I’ve been fascinated about Colombia for quite some time. Raw beauty, enchanting people and a beat all it’s own. This week, it was time for me to leave the sunny embrace of Cartagena, for the cool mountain intrigues of Medellin. this city, although only an hour flight from Cartagena could not be more drastically different. Cartagena is distinctly Caribbean. It’s akin to an odd mashup of places like the old town in Hanoi, with a Havana twist. Busy, rhythmic and enchanting, Cartagena is easy to wrap your mind around and manage. Medellin on the other hand is a different animal all together. This city is big. The climate is much cooler, and the vibe is one of a major city on the move. Having just spent a few days here so far, I’ve been traversing this valley as much as possible. This is a place with layers. With depth and grit. The art, the people, the food, all reflect this. to start, one has to venture to the plaza Botero. Famed Medellin artist Fernando Botero is now on his 80s. His pieces are all over the world. Including this one in Cartagena. his style is modern and one of largess. The sculpture park here in Medellin is a kick ass afternoon wander. Although numerous people informed me that the park can be quite dangerous at night.

the pieces collected here represent a cross section of his work Be sure to take an afternoon and discover this plaza in the middle of the city. Enjoy a lemonade de coco, and taste this neighborhood. Bring an umbrella as it may rain for a bit. Watch the clouds roll in and take it easy for the down pour. The art scene here is indicative that this city is so much more than the single story of drugs, cartels and violence. The layers here prove amazing, as does the scenery with the mountains always in the background.

Medellin is a place I’ve barely begun to unwrap and I’m already hungry for more.

More coming soon!

From Cartagena with love.

So, now 5 days into this charmed city on the Caribbean and what have we learned? We arrived famished and eager, taking it all in and pushing forward despite all odds. What an absolute blast. This is a kick ass city. Effortlessly grand, historic, bustling and hot. Stupendously hot. This city practically pulses with a beat, salsa in nature, well into the early hours. The ceviche is fresh, bursting, addicting.

I switched it up for this run, slowed it down and dug deeper into the places I’m in. 3 weeks in Colombia should give an ample snapshot of this incredible place. A few of the benefits of this approach will be discussed here. First and foremost, I’ve been treated to an absolute dream in wandering the walled city after an epic storm.

I slept late to the rain and thunder, then ventured out to explore the famed “walled city”. This is the first Spanish settlement on the South American continent. Built to protect against Sir Francis Drake and other British pirates as the quest for new world riches began in earnest. this place bleeds history, and walking these streets is an experience in itself. No all inclusive triple sec high fructose soaked pool bar here, surrounded by people who look, talk, and act like you…leave that shit for the cruise ships. Get lost. Find something amazing.

one amazing thing I encountered is when traveling alone…do me a favor, and throw your phone in airplane mode. At this point all the wireless carriers offer day passes or data allotments…but try this for a day. Only check your phone a few times a day when WiFi is avail. Be ACTUALLY present in the moment. By face fucking your phone, and taking more pictures of your beer than drinking it, you are missing out on everything around you. Strike up conversation, engage someone, ask for directions and struggle with the language, that is the very essence of traveling. You will be pleasantly surprised by this miniature “digital detox”. Through the process above I’ve met some amazing people. Even in the few days here. By staying a bit longer, it’s allowed me to dig in deeper to the culture with the help of some local awesomeness. Case in point, a few nights ago, my buddy Alejandro and I, who I met randomly asking for directions came across an amazing couple in a local market. They decided since it was my first time in Cartagena, that I must have their favorite arepas. A matter of pride and graciousness. I didn’t need to consult trip advisor, or Facebook, or read a damn review. We walked and chatted with them for a few hours and indulged local history, cultural insight and amazing street food. when we arrived at this stand, I was the only non local there. This is exactly what it’s all about. Meet some locals, fall in love with a location. Struggle a bit, find your groove, put your phone away and enjoy.

Cartagena, it’s people, it’s architecture, history and flavor all prove intoxicating. Warm and easy, this place has it all. I leave tonight for the mountains, as they are always calling. Medellin coming up next!

No surrender, no retreat.