Contrasting

 The wind rushes under the door in warm puffs pushing the dry air conditioned air out through the cracks in the wall. I keep my eyes shut, trying to lay still and let the contrasting smells and air caress my nose. The laundry drips around me, and the rank smell of sweat comes up from my multiple shoes below. Even after brushing my teeth three times my mouth still tastes of fish and and some numbingly hot pepper. 

 Downstairs I can hear the children playing and their mother scolding their every move. Outside my window skyscrapers rise above the jungle and red dirt river beds carving their way out of the wild in random clusters. Everywhere there are cameras. The moment I step outside of my room there are cameras keeping watch of me. 

 The sunlight strokes the recently rain soaked plants of the common area. Little electric bikes with brightly coloured umbrellas wiz past on the brick walk ways, then rattling their way over the little wooden bridges. All along the side are little shops, usually with red signs and bold white or black Chinese writing. Little tents are set up randomly amidst the sidewalk with anything from fruit to whole pigs being sold underneath. The block is gated in, and there guards sit a little hut and let people through to the next block, or on the north side into the streets beyond. 

 Everywhere people walk with their slow methodical steps, chatting or texting. Inside they sit around small tables reaching in front of one another to grab a bite of some entree with chopsticks, or to pour someone a small cup of tea in peaceful show of respect. 

 Outside the gates of community is a mad rush. Four lane roads are over taken by small motorcycles and tricycles going the wrong way through traffic in a haphazard fashion, daring death to dart between cars and weave to narrowly miss buses. The cameras above the streets flash constantly. Pedestrians walk through traffic as calmly as some circus show. Children play on the side of the road, darting through cars and motorcycles to retrieve a ball. Somehow the relaxed communal living melds seamlessly with the hectic death-wish reality outside. It appears to be a paradox, a terrifying contrast. The same way the skyscrapers look both at home and as strangers rising like strict overgrown brothers of the jungle around them, always attempting to grow as tall as the mountains the loom overhead but instead look like nothing but naked and artless spines amidst nature. 

 I assume that is how I stand out here. A tall, white stranger who walks too fast, or walks too slow, never understanding, and always attempting a dumb smile in response to questions. A awkward tower among the masses, standing stiffly, eyes glazed over, frantically waving his arms while gibberish comes out of his mouth. But I guess if a skyscraper can survive among the jungles and mountains, and even make them look better, then I can learn to fit in here too. 

Exams- Repost

I wrote this last year for finals, and since finals are approachingagain I thought I would repost because I still get a kick out of exam time. 

It is exam time. That means milkshakes and coffee, pajama clothed students wandering the halls with bloodshot eyes and bed heads. The aesthetic of professionalism, of higher learning, is replaced by an over all negligence of personal hygiene and common self care. Students who have spent the semester in hightop shoes, skinny jeans and slicked back hair are suddenly seen walking aimlessly in socks and sandals, and any semblance of what used to be a nice hairdo are long gone, only the leftover caked gel in their hair shows that they ever cared. The library, formerly full of diligent students poring over books and writing careful notes, is now full of the zombie population of the campus. Empty coffee cups, energy drinks, and scattered notes clutter the tables, while students lay snoring on the couches. 
Why? Because, acedemics are graded by this one final exam that you prepare for all semester. An exam that once it approaches you feel totally unprepared for. Your value as a human falls to a simple three hour section where you are crammed in a white walled room with three hundred other students with a few sheets of paper and a couple hundred questions. It’s the one place in the world where everyone’s worth is decided by questions that one man or woman find relevant. 
When you walk out your door and see a hapless student wandering with bags under their eyes, a half open backpack, and holding a half eaten snickers bar, don’t judge. This student is about to face a gavel that no human is ever prepared for. Finals. 

Walking Into A Sketch

I remember the first time I  touched snow and looked at the great pine trees towering above me cloaked in a glittering blanket of diamond cut ice and snow. “It looks just like the pictures, just like all the books said it would,” I gasped, “All the fairy stories are true,” Everything I read and looked at in sketches and pictures came alive before my eyes, more real and more bright than anything I had imagined. It was as if Aragon was taking the Fellowship right up the mountain and I was there too. It took the words I had read on a page and pasted them all around the world around me.

This morning I drove through a small neighborhood in eastern Washington full of swooping purple and pink blooming trees and pine trees and the sun floating through the limbs. The dew on the grass bounced light straight up to the pink and purple flowers that fell lightly from the trees in the morning breeze. It was just like a sketch I had seen when I was younger.  A path cut its way through blooming trees. The artist sketched the flowers with sharp magical strokes that blended into one mix of lines that left me feeling mesmerized by the peace of the moment. The tree trunks were bold black and the sunlight was the warm off  white of paper slicing through blurred pencil strokes and smudges. I left the picture imagining the peace of an early morning with nothing going on besides perhaps an errand that didn’t weigh too much on the heart. I could see a gentleman in work boot taking his time walking down the road to pick up a tool or off to fix the fence. No rush except the bright sun and the cool air.

This morning I drove down the reality of that path letting the cool breeze stroke my hair as I drove unhurriedly to an appointment I would be early to. I knew I was driving through someone elses piece of art. I hadn’t been here before and getting here just reminded me that I wanted to be here almost as much as I wanted this to be home.  That is what traveling is all about isn’t it? Finding home wherever you, finding the familiar in the fantasy. Walking into the story books you read and finding them as real as the mundane life you have back home. You find that the fantasy of the bizarre in that moment is just as mundane as your reality, and back home the mundane reality is as much a fantasy as the world you explored.  Because when you get back home you realize someone from a far off place drew a sketch of that place too, and there is some story about the beaches you walk and they are peaceful to walk as the forests on the other side of the world.

If Only Originality

You would think atmosphere would breed creativity. It breeds thought after all. Or at the very least the strong emotion of feeling like you are thinking deeply. Perhaps it does. I can feel a story sticking to my tongue, right between the bitter aftertaste of black coffee and the tangy taste of cooped up hotel room air. There is the looming approach of change and deadlines hanging over my head, and that always feels somewhat like inspiration. But alas, none of these are truly creativity or originality leaking through the hotel room atmosphere. 

Unfortunately for me the buzz of the AC, no matter how soothing hasn’t given me enough inspiration to write any of the three papers that are due this week. Instead it has instilled in me the greatest desire to nap. The greatest work I feel currently ready to accomplish is that of rising to make another cup of coffee. 

One more cup of coffee it is, and then off to bed to let this cold air drag me into the depths of sleep. Creativity will come tomorrow, after another hard day of work and stress. Originality never comes without a little dying first anyway, and atmosphere alone won’t take me there. 

One Day At A Time

People always ask the same question. It doesn’t matter if I  walk into a new bar, or a new church service, when people see how different I talk and dress they all want to know where I am from.

I wish I knew where I was from. I wish that I could explain that rain reminds me that I am a jungle boy raises in the rainforests of the tropics. The oceans brings back the soaring salt water waves of my youth, and how I rode waves and sank to rip tides. The sunshine glimmers of my childhood in the cowboy country with a BB gun and a sling shot and too much time on my hands. I end up saying something like “I grew up overseas. We travelled a lot when I was a kid.” It sounds so empty, and rings of falsehood. I didn’t travel, I moved. I didn’t grow up overseas. I grew up in countries that became as much mine as the last one I lived in. This Noth America was overseas for me, as much as any country was. I didn’t grow up in a strange world, I grew up in something perfectly normal for me. Yes, when I was five I went snake hunting with a machette and a crowd of fearless boys and girls. I always thought chicken tasted like mountain lion, not the other way around. And yes, everything tastes like chicken, it’s all about how you cook it. If your chicken tastes like curry, so will your monkey or frog legs.  I didn’t grow up a stranger, I didn’t even grow up an insider. I grew up just like every other kid – one day at a time. 

The next question always bites a little too. They want to know what I am doing after college. What about the things I am doing while in college? I can’t live like my future career is more important than what I am doing right now. Maybe life starts now, and maybe I will do many different things after college, and maybe I won’t live past college, and maybe I will be stuck paying school bills the rest of my life. But all of those things depend on the now. Some things that I can change and some things that are out of my control. I respond with something like “Every day is a journey. I want to change the world, just like everyone else wants to,” the fact is, just like every human has since the dawning of time, I am stuck living life just one day at time.

Spring

The sky outside is purple and black. The wind has the scent of spring. There is the unmistakeable cool breeze that has the tinge of warmth to it keeps rustling through the pines with the faint whisper of the coming summer. I always feel nostalgic in spring. Spring is new birth, but more than that it represents new life to me in a very real way. Spring is the strangest thing that I have ever experienced in my twenty some years on earth. Growing up in the tropics meant that I never got to see the extreme season changes that Canada has. Winter was a shock to be sure, but an expected one. It shoved me out of my comfort zone and slapped me in the face with all the newness and foreign experiences. No more shorts, no more flip flops, no more running outside barefoot. Hello frozen car engines and twelve layers of clothing, hello frostbite and burning breaths, hello sunshine that was colder than any cold pack I had experinced. Hello new world. 

Spring was different though. Spring tempted me with familair feelings, but just as quickly ripped them away. The breeze had a touch of warmth to it, but if I stepped outside barefoot the frozen earth would bite and snap at my feet. Things began to get green, but there was no painfree swimming in the lakes. I could almost pretend when I looked outside that I was home, the trees began to bud and the grass began to grow, but when I stepped outside the air was full of strange smells and the air still stung going down my throat.  Spring was a change and a whirlwind I could not adapt to. Winter stayed the same, day after day, month after month. I could count on its harshness. Spring was a daily change. You would think that growing up between thirty some houses would have prepared me for the swift deterioration of the world around me. It didn’t. I woke up every morning feeling like a stranger in a new country. Every time I inhaled I was suprised by some new smell or texture in the air. 

This is my third or fourth spring to live through. But it catches me off guard still. The memories of those first days where I feared to open my eyes for all the uncontrollable change around me still flood through my mind when the spring air hits my lungs. I still fight back panic at the seeming crisis the world around me goes into. The snow melting away, plants fighting for life in the still cold air. 

I live with abandon and without control. I live in a world I cannot understand and cannot predict. I prefer knowing when change is coming, I like predicting that when the plane lands I will be in a new country with a new climate and new people. My heart races when I open my window of the same house only to find the world around me has run away with itself and is changing. That is change I cannot predict or control. I like living freely, it scares me when the world lives with abandon. 

The Ghost 

 There is a shadow across her face from the little rain cloud above her head. She says it’s the rain drops that are falling down her face but we all know it’s tears. She says goodbye as much as she says hello, but more often than not she walks by without saying a word. Her brown hair keeps her eyes hidden from view, it drapes around her face just like the cloak of hipster clothing she wears. Brown and black and gray are her colours and she prefers to use them as camouflage. She smiles softly and winces inwardly. No one knows her name, and fewer have seen her face. Her voice is quiet, and you wouldn’t know what was happening inside her head, even if you asked.  Everyone pretends she doesn’t exist, and even she likes to shrink away into the shadows of her own mind. Maybe it’s her eyes, or maybe we just don’t know. I get the feeling no one asked. It’s the way she looks into the eyes of a little boy who is crying that tells us all she is human. But the only one who heard her smile were the people too far away to voice the truth. 

 There is a little shadow that flits down the hallway on summer evenings. I think I saw her ghost yesterday running through the empty rooms of this place. I would have waved, had I been sure. Instead I just whispered a soulful prayer hoping her voice gets heard before it’s too late for the next. 

The Moon

The moon outside is crystal clear. At least as clear as it can be shooting its way through the clouds and fighting for attention with all the white and yellow streetlights and flashing coloured signs. Honestly the red Prospectors sign is brighter than the moon, and the big white streetlight in the parklot seems to hide the moon completely. But the moon is there, humbly enough, making the black night glow with a kind of silver light. You can’t see it much for all city light, but I know it’s there. I like the moon. The way it is the only companion on late night drives through the Rockies. The way it sends light to land softly on my shoulders when the cold night air is wiping away the last tears of goodbye.

I like the moon. But it carries with it a certain fear too. The kind of unknown that lurks in the dark when you are parked on the side of some lonely road in the mountains trying to take a nap after driving for sixteen hours. It hides things, and creates shapes and shadows of the dark. The moon reflects light but it makes does so in my dark. It won’t make things seen, it just morphs trees into the goblins and clouds into the castles. It changes cool wind to whispering and the road into a river of glass. The moon is no revealer of reality, it is a maker of fantasy. A giver of nightmares and dreams both in equal proportion.  

Sometimes I swear my life is guided by a moon. Fantasy caricatures arise and dreams are born, but I do know know where I am going. I cannot see what comes ahead, I can only read between the shadows and hope the reflections off the road are not the trickery of some laughing moon. 

Airport Questions

 12:00 midnight and my eyelids sagged shut despite my increasing effort to keep them propped open. The guard at the airport hotel had finally kicked me out of the lounge after a three hour dinner and sitting on the couch for another two hours. I sat stone ridged on an airport bench with one leg through the strap of my bag and my arm through my backpack straps. The fog in my head grew till the white lights and the shinny marble floor swam with memories and dreams all mixed into one.  

This is what I wanted though, to prove to myself that I hadn’t changed, that I still was the boy who lived for adventure and preferred airport floors to bedrooms and confinement. I envisioned carpet though, or soft seats, not being stuck outside of security on marble floors under blasting white lights with the echo of riding floor polish machines. I was dreadfully thirsty, and my back ached from dragging my suitcase from one terminal to the other down a sidewalk not meant to be walked. What kind of airport shuts down their train at night?  I let myself drift off with a ten minute timer on repeat set and places against my chest. I didn’t want to be deep asleep. 

 I thought of the test they did in the 70’s where they kept people from R.E.M. Sleep till they went psychotic. Would I drive myself psychotic? Was it the 70’s? They went psychotic, it didn’t matter. 

 The night came to an end at 4:30 in the morning. Or 3:30 apparently since I forgot to change my time.

 I pulled myself off the bench, letting the pain in my back drown out the protest of my stomach and attempted to sort out passport and visa paperwork and my 3 bags. I couldn’t think straight and I let my routines and double checking assure me of next step. It was all habit. My phone in my jacket pocket, wallet in my pants pocket, the left one, passport and boarding passes in the bottom pocket, headphone cord in top right. Check departure time, walk up to the desk, passport and boarding pass. Recite the phrase asking to check my bag and print new boarding passes. Request seat change, gather passport and boarding passes and walk towards security. Jacket off, pockets emptied from my pants pockets into their respective places in the jacket. Security line. Jacket in one tray with shoes and food, and backpack in the other tray. Let them slide through as I got patted down. Jacket on first, it had the important things in the pockets, like my cell phone and wallet. Shoes next, while holding the backpack. Triple check. Gate? No. Customs. Right. Paperwork out. Recite where I live. What’s my story? Repeat. What’s my story? 

 Smile. Blink. Don’t stutter. Thank you. Walk on. 

I still couldn’t think. But I didn’t need to. I had a system, I had checks. I knew I couldn’t think, so I had mental checklists. I loved this. This complete lack of control, but complete preparedness. I enjoyed it a lot more than I enjoyed laying on a hard bench trying to keep my eyes open. But one could not come without the other. 

 6:30 am. Time to board. I stank, but thats alright. I had applied several new layers of deodorant but I doubt it helped much. I sipped the last of my Starbucks coffee, and walked to board the plane. I liked this part. Flying. I wasn’t sure if I liked it because every time it was a new experience, or because like everything else in the airport it was a known and I had system for dealing with it. 

Hypocrisy

“Your words are like knives, you spit them out with disgust. Your hate is a disease, it oozes out of your body like an infection. You don’t keep quiet, you paint the world in colour for all to see. But your words are full of distaste and bitterness. You make a show of the sacred and hold to the traditions as though they were your salvation,” 

This is where we sit. Fighting between orthodox reality and liberal enthusiasm. Every day we face hypocracy and fight against it with inaction. Authenticity is as shallow as our comments, and as weak as our actions. Every morning we awake to a new sunrise and treat it just as we did the last, we propose to live as silent as possible so our words may not be used against us. 

There are still ideas alive in the world that build on that true human hope, still people who believe we are worth more than just a convert, more than just a choice. There is still a hope someplace that we can belong, and make others belong. It is the core of what shold be christianity. That strangers are welcomed as brothers and neighbours are as valuable as we are. 

Instead of open arms today we are faced with complaceny on one spectrum and hatred on the other. We do not love, we hate. We do not move, we remain silent. Instead of neighbours and brothers I see enemies and opponents, converts or conservatives, we are projects or we are fear mongering supporters of Trump. 

Each of us is human, and the core of Christianity is our own inablility to be perfect. At the core christianity admits that at our best we are no better than our worst enemy, and at our worst we are slaves and servants of all humanity.