La Raza Cósmica: A Cookbook, if You Will

To be sure, I am not condoning José Vasconcelos’s philosophies as per La Raza Cósmica; rather, this cookbook is my shot at presenting this ‘cultural caudillo’s’ ideas through an alternative medium. Cooking aficionados, eat your hearts out.

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Buen Provecho

Let me clarify the following, as the timing of this post may seem a tad off: a little over four months after the arrival from a short but sweet adventure, I finally kick procrastination in the ass, and decide to post the following passage, which has been tucked away in a Microsoft Word document since early May.


Following an intense yet informative term at school, Gonzo and her travel sensei embark on an adventure to the two most southern states of Mexico: Chiapas and Oaxaca. This folks, is monumental in two general senses: (1) this trip has been the virginity-breaker of a series of travels that have occurred at least once a year – 2014 being my virgin year; and (2) not having travelled with my dad since 2010, our personal growths over the past five years contributed to what I consider one of the most memorable, genuine, and healthily frustrating/challenging adventures I have encountered. And with that, I bid you a happy read on the splendours of beautiful Mexico. Buen provecho.

PALENQUE, CHIAPAS

  • After completing back-to-back exams, and smashing back bevvies in celebration of my completion, a nocturnal/delusional Gonzo and her father board a plane almost promptly (I’m talking like a day, man) to Palenque, Chiapas via San Francisco and Mexico City.
  • Upon arrival, dad is struck with not necessarily culture shock, but rather, shock of the drastic changes that have occurred in this region since his last visit nearly 40 years ago (but hey, it’s slightly idyllic/naïve to assume that there wouldn’t be any change, eh?). In fact, en route to our cabañas, Mick was trying to scope out the field where he set up camp after his visit to the Palenque ruins while high on hongos where he bushwhacked through what is now a groomed, lawn-mowed tourist attraction.
  • On that note, we visited these very ruins on the informal ‘holiday’ known as 4/20. Though we didn’t formally celebrate, we lived vicariously through dad’s former experience in the Palenque ruins.
  • As a town intended more so for rest and recuperation, on our second day in Palenque, we arranged a bus to San Cristóbal de las Casas via Agua Azul and Misol-Ha in order to get a dose of some fine cascades. Our spontaneous arrangement with a lady at the travel agency epitomized one of the aspects that resonated the most with me during the course of this trip: the amount of people that genuinely reached out to us no matter how big or small the need/request was.
  • Mick, who is truly fascinated with los mono saraguatos (howler monkeys), wanted my auditory perception system to be stimulated by their howls, which I consider sound like a swarm of bees, but are nonetheless fascinating. After a couple of failures to experience their cries at near distance, dad asked Elizabeth — the lady who owned the travel agency — when and where the best time to catch their battle cries were. In light of the former theme I mentioned of people being altruistic, Elizabeth closed up her office, got us to hop in her car, and took us on a short and sweet ride to some of the corners of Palenque’s central area in a quest to find the famous mono saraguato. Although I didn’t have the up-close and personal experience with the roar of the howler monkey, it was Elizabeth’s selfless act that echoed for the remainder of our time in Mexico.

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Arriving in Palenque

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MISOL-HA AND AGUA AZUL ⇢ SAN CRISTÓBAL, CHIAPAS

  • After spectating and swimming in the epic waterfalls of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul respectively, and chowing on mangos dipped in Tajín and sipping on coconut water fresh from the bosom of the coconut trees, Miguel realizes that his camera is missing (which we reckon was mostly likely left behind at Misol-Ha). As per usual in the event of a missing camera, it wasn’t the missing device itself that troubled us, but rather the loss of a memory card that held such solid memories on it. RIP.
  • However, reminiscent of Elizabeth’s altruistic act, was the genuine kindness of a mother-son travel duo from Texas, who — because we were parting ways, and not heading back with the group that was on our hired van/mini tour bus/whatever you wanna call it — offered to keep in touch with our bus driver if he received any information from people at Misol-Ha on Mick’s missing camera. If anything turned up, we would meet with them in San Cristóbal, where they were heading down to after their time in Palenque.
  • To clarify (because our itinerary is such a cluster fuck): the van that took us to Misol-Ha and Agua Azul was returning to Palenque. However, dad and I were heading to San Cristóbal, so we separated from our initial posse to board another bus to head further south.
  • Despite the crappy feeling of losing a camera, it was this mother-son duo’s reaching out that trumped dad’s loss, and which later blossomed into excellent encounters and discussions (as will soon be mentioned).
  • After parting with our fellow Misol-Ha and Agua Azul attendees, dad and I boarded our bus in butt fuck nowhere to San Cristóbal. What was supposed to be only a three-to-four-hour bus ride turned out to be a six-on-the-verge-of-seven bus ride, which consisted of roads full of speed bumps that not only slowed down the process of getting there, but made visits to the bathroom’s puke-filled sinks and toilets a rather daunting task (sorry for the details, but I’m trying to paint the picture as eloquently as possible).
  • Upon our near-midnight arrival in the bus depot located in the outskirts of San Cristóbal, we were offered flyers for a hostel from what we perceived was a she-hustler. Expecting to be able to easily locate the Airbnb we reserved ahead of time, we took her paper with a grain of salt. However, the midnight vacancy of the town and overall unawareness of our initially-reserved accommodations led us to an evening stroll to the hostel advertised at the bus depot. Nothing super memorable about this joint, other than the fact that I stupidly under-boiled tap water, which left me with an upset stomach, which thankfully only lasted one night.

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Misol-Ha

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Picked and packed at the peak of perfection at Agua Azul

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Looking rather angsty in San Cristóbal

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SAN CRISTÓBAL ⇢ OVENTIC ⇢ CHAMULA

  • We ended up migrating to the most epic hostel I reckon I ever stayed at. Not only did it have nice feng shui, but the families that owned Posada Mi Casa were at the same time cool and warm, making our stay comfortable and enjoyable.
  • Here, we also met Paul, a dude from Germany who has been involved in human rights observation work on Zapatista communities. In light of his familiarity with the area, he offered to give us a little tour of Oventic, an autonomous Zapatista municipality, and Chamula, another autonomous municipality, largely inhabited by indigenous Tzotzil Maya people.
  • At the gates of Oventic, we were greeting by two Zapatistas in their iconic balaclavas, who took down our information with respect to our national identities, our purpose for visiting, and any organizations that we were affiliated with. After consulting these bits of information with the community’s council, we were granted permission to enter. As a caveat, I say the following with no means of being condescending/portraying the Zapatistas as subordinate/etc., but the members of Oventic were extremely friendly and carried on with what I assume to be their daily routine (e.g., attending classes, tending the land, etc.), while our posse (that is, the three from Posada Mi Casa ft. a lad from Montreal and a chick from France) walked around the community.
  • What was very notable was that one of the many buildings that were covered in murals, had indigenous art distinct to the West Coast. It was pretty astonishing, to say the least, how something so specific to one region has ended up in the autonomous community of Oventic. Even when dad asked one of the Zapatistas if he knew anything about how the West Coast indigenous art was incorporated in their murals (which were largely tributed to anarchism and civil resistance against neoliberalism, and iconic figures such as Emiliano Zapata, Subcomandante Marcos, Comandante Romana and Che Guevara), it still remained a mystery.
  • After chilling in Oventic, we hitched a ride in the back of a truck down the hill to Chamula, where we visited the church of San Juan. In brief, what struck me about Chamula was how it epitomized the frustrating and uncomfortable ramifications of imperialism. Indeed, you’ll read a lot about rituals of individuals drinking Coke-a-Cola in order to burp to rid themselves of bad spirits, the plethora of candles lit inside the church, and — in some instances — graphic sacrifices of chickens; but the conniving practice of syncretism — which our compañero Paul told me about the night before — really got to me. Don’t mean to go on a rant here, but you still see such sly mechanisms being exercised in contemporary missionary movements, but I won’t get into that here. You got my URL/contact information. Message me, muchachos.

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Oventic

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West Coast indigenous art in Oventic

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Descending from Oventic

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Chamula

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CHAMULA ⇢ SAN CRISTÓBAL

  • Later that night, dad and I went for some grub at a generic comedor; generic, in that waitresses hustle potential customers in by waving their menus in your face on the sidewalk, even though their meals are essentially identical to their neighbouring vendors. Anyways, we ended up buying pastries from a university student who was fundraising for a cognitive behaviour therapy program at his academic institution. While dad engaged in lengthy conversation with him, one of the waitresses from another comedor chimed into their discussion, making cheeky/cute side remarks, but also, showing some mild interest in their chitchat.
  • Eventually, when the student left, we ended up talking to the girl. Her story is truly an experience that makes me not take my relationship with my dad for granted. 17-year-old Rosa doesn’t go to school because her parents forbid her from doing so. She ended up moving out when she was twelve, and rents a bedroom for herself with a house full of other individuals. She works 17-hour shifts at the comedor, and while her parents love her other siblings, according to Rosa, they don’t love her. Despite these immense complexities (to say the least), Rosa’s held a kind persona that outdid her life calamities, making our discussion and her willingness to share her personal experiences a memory that I — dunno ‘bout you dad, if you’re reading this — will carry with me.
  • The next day, we checked out the Na Bolom Museum which shares the history of/information on the Lacandon Maya and the Chiapas rain forest, all in an effort to preserve both bodies. I won’t go too in depth here, but its founders, archeologist Frans Blom and his wife, documentary photographer Gertrude Duby Blom are individuals that make me have faith in humanity. (Dad even shed a tear during a clip in a documentary showing Gertrude being awarded with the Global 500 Award.)
  • Speaking of documentary photography (the parallels will soon become apparent), dad and I ended up meeting with the mother-son travel duo I had mentioned earlier twice in San Cristóbal. Aside from learning that dad and I weren’t the only travel partners out there that got some pretty weird-ass assumptions about our relation (i.e., is this your under-aged, gold-digging, perhaps Polynesian or Asian-looking Mexican girlfriend? Or, put euphemistically: “friend”), I ended up (a) becoming more aware of even finer details of dad’s travels back in the day, (b) having the opportunity to hear about the travel experience of the mother and son — some of their adventures which require major cojones, (c) learning that skulling a wee bit of tequila with 100% agave after a night of drinking kills a hangover, and (d) although brief, got a unique scope on some aspects of Mexican social culture (such as male-female dynamics, work habits, etc., — i.e., the small things that seem mundane, but for some reason fascinate/stick with me) as the duo’s experience in Mexico/Mexican ancestry shared some information you just can’t get anywhere else.
  • Right, so I mentioned Gertrude’s — look at me, calling me by her first name like we were good chaps back in the day — documentary photography, and how that’s somehow linked to our meet-ups with the mother and son. Well, Diego, the son, is involved in documentary photography, and you can check out his work here.
  • All in all, Susie and Diego, if either of you read this, on behalf of my dad and I: thank you for the good conversation, the medical Mayan tea, your overall extended generosity, and letting us know that there are other weird travelers out there.

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Posada Mi Casa

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SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, CHIAPAS ⇢ OAXACA CITY, OAXACA

  • The next day we had to bid farewell to Posada Mi Casa, which I found quite saddening considering the effortlessly cool ambience of the hostel, and the families the lived there. I even had myself a child here:WP23
    Juuust kidding.
  • Again, the somewhat hard to follow itinerary continued in this leg of the trip: a one-hour bus ride from San Cristóbal to Tuxtla (or Tuxtla Gutiérrez — whatever nomenclature floats your boat); about eight hours in the town of Tuxtla, which gave us ample time to go to Sumidero Canyon and buy some granola; and then a ten-hour, state-crossing bus ride from Tuxtla, Chiapas to Oaxaca City, Oaxaca.
  • After cruising on our overnight first-class bus — the choice to purchase this mode of transportation being  (a) the long distance that we would be traveling, and (b) the puke-ridden washrooms of our former bus experience – filled with other gringos, we arrived in Oaxaca City at 8:00 AM the following day.
  • As per the recommendation of one of the families at Posada Mi Casa, we hailed a cab from the bus depot to Hostal Mágico, only to find that the dormitories were full, and that we could either pitch a tent on the rooftop, or sleep in their hammocks for 70 pesos/night. We went for the latter. Jackpot.
  • On the same day of our arrival, the football team of dad’s native Bournmoth won Championship title, and earned promotion to the Premier League, which is a HUGE deal. For me, not so much (not much of organized sports broad myself), but we’re talking tears-in-Miguel’s-eyes type of deal. So, I proposed a beve or two in order to commemorate this landmark moment in sports history. Thus, we ended up crushing some cans in the park, and spiking our drinks in the restaurants with mezcal (with 100% agave of course).
  • The night after this was only followed by more celebratory drinks; this time, honouring Pachamama (otherwise known as Mother Nature) and her ferocious powers. Apparently, while we were out and about in town, there was an earthquake and we didn’t even feel it. Furthermore, hurricane/monsoon-like conditions struck us later that afternoon back at Hostal Mágico, with winds wrestling the foliage and rusty hammock shelter on the rooftop, and dampening our beds (i.e., hammocks). As such, Esteban, the owner of the hostel gave dad a mattress, and me the couch of the common area for sleep on for the night. The powers of Pachamama are rather fascinating; and hell, I’ll drink to that.
  • It was quite neat: in the event of the storm, it seems like everyone in the hostel came together (aw, how fucken sappy). But we ended up getting to know some groovy-ass people. In fact, our plans to rent a car and head to Oaxaca’s Pacific coast ended up nicely meshing with one of the lads (a Brit who goes by Tinz) we hung out with that night, resulting in him hitching a lift with us the following day.
  • But before I get to that, I MUST mention that I had the most glorious, long-anticipated tlayuda that night, as recommended by an excellent Canadian amiga who studied in Oaxaca for a semester last year. Thank you, my dearest Moshi Moshi.

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A photo of people taking photos at Sumiedro Canyon

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Miguel looking beyond groovy at the canyon

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Finally enjoying a cup of pozol

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Deluxe suite at Hostal Mágico

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Yours truly and the glorious tlayuda

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HEADING TO THE COAST

  • After parting with pals from Hostal Mágico, dad, Tinz and I made our way to San José del Pacífico: a very small town, which is pretty much a street and a hill up in the mountains, and decorated in hongos paraphernalia. Though the mountains that were being constantly consumed by the clouds were beautiful, time was of the essence, and as a stop that we didn’t plan on making, we stayed here for only one night.
  • The joint — no pun intended — that we stayed at was literally ran by a dude who was high as a kite ‘round the clock. No complaints though; just a heads up to other travelers who come here: churros aren’t donuts here.
  • Our next stop was San Agustinillo via a detour through Zipolite to see dad’s old stomping grounds, which have now become some sort of hippie haven.
  • I’m pretty lax when it comes to long, windy roads, but the route from San José del Pacífico to the coast is nothing to be underestimated. We’re talking roads that curve as tight as our intestines are arranged in our belly; and not just in sporadic instances, but instead, pretty much the whole stretch.
  • Upon arrival in San Agustinillo, we said our farewell to Tinz, who got his first look at the Pacific Ocean, hopped on a four-minute collectivo truck to neighbouring Mazunte, and embarked on his spiritual journey in Mexico.
  • Our one-night stay in this fishing village functioned as a pit stop of some sort before heading off to Chacahua: a chunk of land only accessible by a boat ride through the epic mangroves that infest Lagunas de Chacahua.
  • On our way to Chacahua the following day, in the quest to find a nice spot to eat by the water, we accidentally ended up at some suave, five-star resort, where I don’t know if they took too kindly to my perma-barefoot status that I carried from San Agustinillo (and held for a good remainder of the trip).
  • Anyways, upon arrival in Rio Grande, we hired a boat to take us to Chacahua. This is probably the only scandal we faced throughout the course of the trip, and thankfully, it not being too much of a big deal. (The dude made us over-pay, and lied to us about their being cheaper modes of transportation to Chacuhua via Zapotalito. The end.)
  • This chilled-out, surfing and fishing village was a nice cherry on top of the final leg of our journey. Perched on some jagged rocks by the ocean, dad and I watched the waves violently collide against the rocks; fishermen fish; and fishing boats strategically timing their launches in order to not be consumed by the water. According to Daniel, the owner of the accommodation we were staying at: “in Chacuhua, it’s always 8:10 AM” (i.e., time doesn’t exist).
  • Not only were the people and environment here the ultimate treat to somewhat wrap up our trip (after all, we still had two nights left in Oaxaca City after this), but that evening, I had one of the most genuine and meaningful conversations with my pa. Despite the fact that I barely see him back home, and that most of our means of communication are via e-mail, our life stories/struggles poured out, and as demented and/or intense they may have seemed to one another, we welcomed each other’s peculiarities with acceptance.

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San José del Pacífico

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San Agustinillo

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Chacuhua

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Lagoons of Chacuhua

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8:10 AM departure (otherwise known as 10:00 AM)

BACK TO OAXACA CITY

  • So the winding roads continued for at least 87% (more or less) of our route from Rio Grande to Oaxaca City. Bless Daniel’s soul for giving us a 30-minute boat ride to Rio Grande where our car was parked, as opposed to taking the cheaper, but longer option via Zapotalito. Even though we left at 10:00 AM that day (or, in the official time zone of Chacuhua, 8:10 AM), we ended up arriving in Oaxaca City by 9:00 PM.
  • On top of the vicious curves of the road ahead, we drove through some torrential downpour, and the debris of boulders chipped off the mountain, which left us with an “oh shit” feeling in the pit of our stomachs.
  • We ended up staying back at Hostal Mágico; this time, being able to snag two beds in a dormitory.
  • We technically only had one full day left in Mexico, and from the beginning of our trip, we designated this day to market time (i.e., buying gifts for your mutha, your brutha, and your bruthas from another mutha). However, the fuck-up of the was that I accidentally bought WAY more ‘goods’ than the duty free limit allows for you to bring into Canada, and just felt like a schmuck for the rest of the evening.
  • Indeed, it’s super melodramatic of me to get down and out on this mistake, but I think my grouchiness that unfortunately fell on the last night was due to a mix of things: the thought of leaving this wonderful place; physical tiredness (though I don’t know to what. Heat?); and quite likely, drinking while in the sun, and while packing my pack in the heat (hey, they don’t sell alcohol in convenient stores in Vancouver; thought I would take full advantage of this here. I know, “fucken tourists”).
  • In a nutshell, my last night in Mexico was pretty somber.

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Arriving back in Oaxaca City

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OAXACA ⇢ TIJUANA ⇢ SAN DIEGO ⇢ BELLINGHAM ⇢ VANCOUVER

  • So, as per the subheading, we caught and early morning flight from Oaxaca to Tijuana; a bus from the airport in Tijuana to the United States-Mexican border; another bus – who we shared with a group of missionaries (hallelujah) – to the airport in San Diego; a flight from San Diego to Bellingham; and a lift from Kaleem (the little bruva), who picked us up and drove us to our humble abode across the border (eh).
  • The only noteworthy happening that occurred during this final leg of the trip was that I had the most random emotional moment as soon as our plan descending in Bellingham. Although my red eyes coupled with my natty hair and stinky clothes probably generated the passengers’ assumption that I was incredibly stoned, my tears were ostensibly because of this amazing journey I shared with my dad. Hence, an experience — despite my attempt here in this post — that I cannot mentally fathom, nor put down in words.
  • Love you, ayah.

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The Essence of Compassion (AKA: my Bad Ass Mother)

Wow, so after some strenuous defrosting of the ice block that I’ve apparently been frozen in, I emerge from my hibernation in the attempt to share an update on la vida loca. So, here I am breaking the ice (ha! Get it?). After five months of not writing a post (minus my coltan in the Congo paper), I fill you in to the tune of my clicking keyboard…

I begin with wishing my baby bro a happy belated 19th birthday. May the freedom of legality bring you the liberty to purchase booze and cigarettes at the flash of a government-issued photo ID. I’d also like to take this paragraph as a chance to thank him for teaching me how to better communicate with people. Because of your ability to be straight-up and honest with me, Kaleem, you make it that much easier for me to realize how much of a (1) nuisance, (2) royal pain in the arse, and (3) mellow-dramatic baby I can be at times. Further, I honestly do not take your trust for granted. Whenever you’re sweating the small (and large) stuff, and find comfort in opening up to me, I not only consider myself privileged to have a snippet of your trust; but I also see an opportunity of learning more about you and myself in this brief moment of “spilling the beans” as some would say. If you’re reading this, and rolling your eyes at how sappy this is, I’ve done my job right. Love you like a brutha – oh wait…

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ImageKaleem poppin’ squats and getting his pre-game fuel since his junior days. Always were a little body builder, wernchya’?

As a ritual in my writing, I usually touch base with the academics; followed by something travel-related; proceeded by alcohol references/jokes (I swear, I’m not an alcoholic, but honestly some of the most hilarious moments I’ve ‘remembered’ or witnessed, have been that much more funny thanks to a cheeky little bevvie); and most likely continued by how my dadi-o has been a consistent inspiration throughout these moments. But I feel the unwitting need to dedicate a good chunk of this post to the person who I consider to be the epitome of humbleness without effort, optimism that comes naturally, and all around loveliness; and that person is my forever-smiling mama.

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Rewind to over 21 years ago to a time to when a newly-wedded lady emigrated from one of the Indonesia’s larger bodies of land, Sumatra, to huge-ass, chunky, Canada (to put it eloquently) in order to start up a new life with some gringo (my dad), who had a mustache that was strikingly passable for that of Tom Seliks. After a couple of years of putting a dent into the West Coast, a super excellent humanoid (who only gained her excellence through genetics) was sliced out of the Sumatran native’s belly, and two years later, the birthing process repeated itself, only this time, excellence came with different reproductive organs (i.e. dude, not dudette).

ImageExcellence pt. I ft. Sumatran goddess.

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Excellent pt. II ft. a very intellectual conversation with some gringo.

Fast-forward 21 years, and the Sumatran lady (my mother, in case y’all haven’t clued in yet) continues to be tough as nails, and I cannot fathom what an incredible person she is to this day. Now, let me just say that the idea of permanent residency in a foreign land poses as exciting as equally as it does scary to me, because of the both travel- and family-oriented broad I am. But my mom’s case is especially unique because of the large family she comes from, that consists of so many complex layers: all which make the idea of moving overseas near impossible.

Let me just paint a picture for you here: because of the former Dutch colonial rule, the idea of an Indonesian marrying a Caucasian lad challenges the pre-existing bitter dynamic between the two groups – although that’s a very general statement, but you get my drift. Out of the seven sisters in my mama’s household, there was a widely-held assumption amongst family and friends of their family that she was my Opung’s (Bahasa for “grandpa”) most ‘prized’ daughter (excuse the objectification). Because her birth followed the miscarriage of the only boy my Nenek (“grandma”) and Opung managed to have, she was like the son he never had. Furthermore, her against-the-grain demeanor (e.g. going to a Catholic school, when they weren’t even Catholic; majoring in Japanese in university just cause; informing her parents the day before departure that she had signed up for a CWY exchange to Canada) made/makes her distinctive to the already fascinating characters that are her sisters.

I find that having this relation at the core of her departure is not only inconceivable (because of her family’s deeply embedded roots on Sumatran turf – both mental and physical), but inspirational. By dedicating her life to the unknown, my mum’s kahunas and bravery are truly moving.

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Ma’s pad back in the motherland (Tanjung Merawa). How could you not miss a place like this?

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3/7 of the sisters: Mida, Tetty, Itot.

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Mama in the middle, with her sister to the left, and of course, the queen of the household to the right: my Nenek.

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5/7 of the sisters (including my ma) and Tom Selleck.

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The chicest and most beautiful.

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Dinner with Opung (with dad about to crap his pants).

After a recent arrival from a trip back home, I can hear the sparkling nostalgia in her voice as she speaks of the rollercoaster of adventures she shared both solo, and with her sisters and their families. Despite the sturdy façade, I can’t help but question if that there is an imbalance of emotions (i.e. the longing of wanting to be in the motherland). Regardless, this Sumatran broad is what I consider to be the essence of compassion. Ma, if you’re reading this, I just want to say “terimah kasih, for all the sacrifices; the blood, sweat and tears; and the care that you have given to those around you on Canadian soil. I hope that the seeds that you have planted here can continue this legacy – NO MATTER WHERE WE ARE IN THE UNIVERSE. You inspire me to be kind; to not be engrained in my ways; and to treat the world as my oyster. You remind me that regardless of our location, we always have family and friends somewhere”.

So folks, let this post serve as an inspiration to be inspired, and to be grateful for gratitude and not take it for granted (I’m sorry, but all those Gs just make me feel like a G-G-G-Unit). Love you mama, dadi and Kaleem. You guys are not only my rock, but rock my world.

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PS: MAJOR shout out to my dad for snapping these B-E-A-U-TIFUL photos back in the day.

PPS: while we’re here appreciating the small things in life, I just want to thank Mother Nature and all the farmers for peaches. Bought myself a bag the other day, and I speak the truth when I say that each bite was sheer ecstasy.

Stay peachy,
Gonzo

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Mobile Phones’ Touch Screens: a not-so Touching Life-Cycle Analysis

So once in a blue moon, Gonzo writes a paper that gets the brain juices flowing; and it just so happens that I take a tad of pride in this one. It’s not necessarily the style and and flow of the writing that struck me with this bad boy, but more so the disturbing information I came across while doing research. Enjoy the read, and I hope it gives all my compadres a little slice of awareness and consciousness as it did to me.

The ever-growing uses and features of mobile phones – a product used by 75% of the world’s population as of 2012 – contribute to its expanding consumer market (World Bank). In fact, according to a World Watch report released in 2013, because a number of mobile phone holders own more than one device, the sum of mobile phones has surpassed the world’s population (World Watch). Not only is this concerning as it reflects society’s dependence on technology, but the production of mobile phones has tremendous environmental and social impacts. In this life-cycle analysis, we will specifically look at the touchscreen component of mobile phones, and the extraction of a crucial ingredient in this feature: coltan (columbite–tantalite). Further analysis will look into how it is used in the process of primary production in order to create dry electrolyte tantalum capacitors, a vital component in touchscreen circuitry (Hayes and Burge 19). In addition, we will observe the secondary production (i.e. assembling the touchscreen); distribution methods; and consumption and disposal trends of touchscreen mobile phones.

Australia, Brazil, Canada and China are home to some of the world’s coltan mining activity. However, because 80% of the world’s coltan is located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we will narrow our focus of extraction to the Kivu provinces, geographically situated near its border with Rwanda, where most mining activity takes place (The Friends of the Congo par. 2; Hayes and Burge 26). This process of extraction via manual labour (see Step 1 in Fig. 1) reveals a set of serious socio-cultural and environmental impacts.

It can be assumed that recent price hikes on coltan and increasing demand for mobile phones and other touch screen devices are just some of contributing factors to the many social and health impacts inflicted on civilians of the Congo. This booming industry worth billions of dollars a year (with prices ranging anywhere from  $50 and $200 per pound) (Molinski par. 3), has become an incentive for militias from neighbouring countries including Rwanda and Uganda, as well as indigenous Mai Mai militias, to use forced civilian labour in order to achieve maximum extraction and regulate transportation of the Congo’s coltan (Hayes and Burge 28). The demographics exploited for labour in this industry are scattered all along the spectrum: from men and women of working age, to children as young as twelve-years-old. In addition to the brutal working conditions in the process of extraction, “non-bureaucratic organization [and occupation] of [profit-driven] warlords” have also been the underpinnings of breaking down Kivu communities’ social structures (Reno 218; Hayes and Burge 30). Deteriorating health and education statuses; escalation in sexual violence; collapsing judiciary systems; and other extreme violations of human rights are just some of the many harms that are tied to invading military authority and ultimately, the course of extraction (Hayes and Burge 30).

Not only does coltan extraction have immense socio-cultural consequences, it also has devastating ecological implications. One of the major environmental costs is the poor agricultural development because of labour transfer to the far-more profitable coltan industry. Because of this, “large areas that used to grow food crops … are now uncultivated” (Hayes and Burge 29). In addition to the ripple effect caused by the lucrativeness of this industry, coltan mining also has a direct impact on the indigenous fauna. In order to make extraction of this ore easier, forested regions with high concentrations of coltan – especially Kahuzi Biega National Park, home of the Mountain Gorilla – have been stripped (Cellular-News par. 8). This not only raises the obvious issue of deforestation, but has also slashed the gorilla population in half from approximately 258 to 130 within the Kahuzi Biega National Park region (Cellular-News par. 8). Furthermore, because of the poverty associated with the displaced workers (who are either recruited by militia, or families urgently needing income), “bush meat” (i.e. slaughtered gorillas) is sold to miners and rebel armies who control the area (Cellular-News par. 8). In fact, according to a United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) report, “national parks in the region have lost up to 80% of their larger mammals” to the bush meat market (6).

We will now look at the earlier stages of assembling the touchscreen, following this immensely destructive extraction. Here, production requires the coltan to be refined into a heat-resistant powder known as tantalum in order to make tantalum capacitors, which hold high electrical charges. However, according to Judy Wickens, secretary general of the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center based in Belgium, the coltan exchange that occurs between rebel groups and local traders; local traders and regional traders; and later, regional traders and larger regional traders, makes tracing the origins of the coltan used by international manufacturers challenging (Essick par. 21). Nonetheless, statistics show that “more than 20 international mineral trading companies import minerals from the Congo via Rwanda alone”: a disturbing fact considering that Rwanda’s production in 2011 actually exceeded the region’s level of coltan (Essick par. 22; United States Geographic Survey 162-163). This illustrates how difficult is to calculate where and how the coltan used in tantalum is extracted – does coltan that is supposedly ‘ethically’ extracted in, for example,  Canada, actually originate in the black market in Central Africa?

Imports are primarily supplied to Asia, Europe and the United States. Two of the largest tantalum processors, German H.C. Starck – responsible for providing 50% of the world’s tantalum – and Amerian Cabot (CBT) (Essick par. 23) are responsible for separating tantalum from the ore through a combination of gravity and magnetic separation (see step _ in Fig. 1) (Gongyi Forui Machinery Factory pars. 4-5). Firms then sell the heat resistant powder to capacitor manufacturers (some of the largest being AVX, Epcos, Hitachi, Kemet, NEC and Vishay) where a variety of tantalum capacitors are assembled (see step _ in Fig. 1) (Essick par. 23). Though the companies listed above have a relatively ‘clean’ record of direct environmental impact compared to other industries, some have still been involved in ecological scandals. In one example, trichloroethylene (a chemical in industrial greasers that can cause cancer and other health problems) traced to an AVX plant located in Columbia, South Carolina was linked to contamination of local groundwater (Wren par. 5).

The finished capacitors are then sold to some of the largest companies in the telecommunications industry, including BlackBerry, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung, to name a few where additional inputs are used in constructing the screen (see step _ in Fig. 1) (Hayes and Burge 37). It is in the companies’ assembly factories that the environment and well-being and the social equity of their workers have been put to the test. According to Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics, Nokia ranks in third place from first due to factors such as being “just shy of maximum points on hazardous substances” (e.g. antimony compounds) and failing to meet their renewable energy target (par. 2). However, it should also be noted that Nokia has implemented production efforts such as using renewable materials in their cell phones (e.g. bio plastics, bio paints, recycled metals), and a renewable energy target of 100% by 2020 (Green Conduct par. 21; Greenpeace par. 1). Unfortunately, a majority of companies do not strive to be environmentally sustainable. While most firms provide targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the process of manufacturing, Canadian-based company BlackBerry (formerly known as Research In Motion Limited or RIM) not only has no target, but also gives no disclosure of their current GHG emissions (Gersmann par. 2).

The issue of human rights is also at stake during the process of assembling touchscreen mobile phones. Take for example, Chinese electronic manufacturing company, VTech: a 2012 report from Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights revealed that Chinese employees in a Guangdong VTech factory were described to be working in sweatshop conditions (e.g. 12-15 hour shifts, low wages, and no health or social insurance) in order to manufacture electronics at low costsfor telecommunication companies, including Motorola. Furthermore, Samsung has been notorious for over-working their employees. General policies such as “overtime regulations and a system of fines for employees that [are] late or absent” illustrate how the company has come to its reputation (Latif par. 3). For instance, in a 2013 case, workers “in the Amazon region [were] given just 32 seconds to assemble a mobile phone” with some accounts of packing as many as 3,000 phones a day (Page, par. 4).

Though these are just a few examples of the environmental and human capital used in the manufacturing process, it gives us a basic understanding of the ecological and social consequences that continue even after the extraction of coltan from the Earth.

Because the telecommunications industry is so vast, we will look at a few alternatives that companies choose when strategizing distribution methods. Packaging practices that sit at the more eco-friendly end of the environmental impact spectrum include using recycled material and using soy ink – an alternative to petroleum-based inks which is renewable, biodegradable and lowers the cost of the recycling process (CleanTechnica, par. 1-5). At the other end of the spectrum, many of these companies fail to implement a paper procurement policy (which would exclude suppliers that are involved in deforestation and illegal logging) for the remainder of un-recycled material used in packaging (Greenpeace par. 3). Among the many other resources used in packaging are crude oil (for plastics) and ore (for aluminum). Getting mobile phones from their manufacturers to the consumer market is done via air, rail, road or sea, all of which require the use of fossil fuels, causing a disruption to the climate (Environmental Protection Agency The Life Cycle of a Cell Phone).

Once a mobile phone has reached the consumer market, its uses provide a laundry list of functions in addition to its initial (but now diminishing) purpose for spoken communication, including being a portable music player; a game console; an Internet browser; and what writer Dan Tynan foresees, a portable television set (par. 3). Despite its many uses – or perhaps because of – the lifespan of mobile phones is increasingly short-lived. Regardless of their five-year-average life expectancy, owners dispose of their working devices after an average of 18 months (Milovantseva and Jean-Daniel par. 5).

Although major mobile phone companies have implemented e-waste programs for users seeking a more efficient way to dispose of their devices, the United States Environmental Protection Agency revealed that discarded mobile phones made up 8% of the 25% of electronics that users chose to recycle (Environmental Protection Agency Frequent Questions: ECycling par. 2). Furthermore, the regulation standards of various e-waste recycling plants fluctuate. For instance, in a recycling plant situated in Guiya, China where 60%-80% of families work, blood lead levels higher than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (μg/dL) were found amongst 70.8% of children in the area – who by definition have elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) (Zheng et. al 15-16). The remainder of disposed phones end up in landfills, with plastics, ceramics and trace metals that can leach into the environment for centuries (Milovantseva and Jean-Daniel par. 1).

From a dull black metallic ore; to the refining processes of international companies; to the hands of manufacturers for further production; to the lucrative mobile phone industry and multinationals for final stages of assembly and distribution; to its use by consumers; and finally to disposal in either landfills or e-waste programs, the journey of what has been coined as a ‘conflict mineral’, shows the social and ecological burdens that extend beyond the people and environment of the Congo. This life-cycle analysis illustrates the incessant cycle that stems from a seemingly-innocuous product used by 75% of the world’s population (World Bank). It then raises the ethical question of whether or not there is any rationale behind creating the touchscreen feature of this gadget at the expense of the environment, and the health and safety of humans. Is extraction and further assembly of this raw material really worth the gruesomely raw ripple effect?

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Works Cited

CleanTechnica. “Soy Ink: Five Ways It’s Better for the Environment.” CleanTechnica.Sustainable Enterprises Media, Inc., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2014. <http://cleantechnica.com/2012/07/09/soy-ink-five-ways-its-better-for-the-environment/&gt;.

Cellular-News.”Coltan, Gorillas and Cellphones.” Cellular-News.N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2014. <http://www.cellular-news.com/coltan/&gt;.

Environmental Protection Agency. Washington, DC. The Life Cycle of a Cell Phone.By Environmental Protection Agency.N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/osw/education/pdfs/life-cell.pdf&gt;.

Essick, Kristi. “Guns, Money and Cell Phones.” Global Issues.N.p., 11 June 2001. Web. 27 Jan. 2014. <http://www.globalissues.org/article/442/guns-money-and-cell-phones&gt;.

Gersmann, Hanna. “BlackBerry Maker Hits Bottom of Green Electronics Rankings‎.”Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 09 Nov. 2011. Web. 05 Feb. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/nov/09/blackberry-greenpeace-electronics&gt;.

GongyiForui Machinery Factory. “Tantalite and Columbite Mining Processing Equipment From China Manufacturer.” GongyiForui Machinery Factory.N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2014. <http://www.frjig.com/news/tantalite_columbite_processing.html&gt;.

Greenpeace. “Nokia Moves up to 3rd Position in This Edition of the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics.” Greenpeace. Greenpeace International, Nov. 2012. Web. 4 Feb. 2014. <http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/cool-it/Campaign-analysis/Guide-to-Greener-Electronics/&gt;.

HantouchUSA. “How It Works: 4-Wire Analog-Resistive Touch Screens.” HantouchUSA: Touch Screen Specialists. HantouchUSA: Touch Screen Specialists, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2014. <https://www.sparkfun.com/datasheets/LCD/HOW%20DOES%20IT%20WORK.pdf&gt;.

Hayes, Karen, and Richard Burge. Coltan Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo: How Tantalum-using Industries Can Commit to the Reconstruction of the DRC. Rep. Cambridge: Fauna & Flora International, 2003. Web. 24 Jan. 2014. <http://storage.globalcitizen.net/data/topic/knowledge/uploads/2010022412222515.pdf&gt;.

Latif, Lawrence. “Samsung Supplier Audit Finds Overtime Violations but No Child Labour.”The Inquirer. Incisive Financial Publishing Ltd., 26 Nov. 2012. Web. 05 Feb. 2014. <http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2227339/samsung-supplier-audit-finds-overtime-violations-but-no-child-labour&gt;.

Molinski, Dan. “Colombia to Wage Battle Against Illegal Coltan Mining.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 12 Mar. 2012. Web. 25 Jan. 2014. <http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304537904577277902985836034?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304537904577277902985836034.html&gt;.

Page, Carly. “Samsung Workers Are given 32 Seconds to Assemble Phones.” The Inquirer. Incisive Financial Publishing Ltd., 14 Aug. 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2014. <http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2288775/samsung-workers-are-given-32-seconds-to-assemble-phones&gt;.

Reed, Eric, and Marta Miranda. Assessment of the Mining Sector and Infrastructure Development in the Congo Basin Region. Awsassets.panda.org. N.p., Jan. 2007. Web. 04 Feb. 2014. <http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/congobasinmining.pdf&gt;.

The Friends of the Congo.”Coltan Facts.” Breaking The Silence. Break The Silence Congo Week, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2014. <http://www.congoweek.org/coltan-facts.html&gt;.

United Nations Environmental Program. The Last Stand of the Gorilla: Environmental Crime and Conflict in the Congo Basin. Rep. Ed. Christian Nellemann, Ian Redmond, and Johannes Refisch.Ås, Norway: Birkeland Printing, 2010. Print.

Vishay Intertechnology, Inc. “DC Leakage Failure Mode.” Vishay.com. Vishay Intertechnology Inc., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2014. <http://www.vishay.com/docs/49268/tn0003.pdf&gt;.

World Bank. “Mobile Phone Access Reaches Three Quarters of Planet’s Population.” World Bank. The World Bank Group, 17 July 2012. Web. 24 Jan. 2014. <http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2012/07/17/mobile-phone-access-reaches-three-quarters-planets-population&gt;.

World Watch. “Market Saturation Slows Mobile Phone Growth.” World Watch Institute. Worldwatch Institute, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 24 Jan. 2014. <http://www.worldwatch.org/market-saturation-slows-mobile-phone-growth&gt;.

Wren, David. “S.C. Supreme Court Justices Mull Damage Claims against AVX in Pollution Case Involving Myrtle Beach Property Owners.” The State: South Carolina`s Homepage. The State, 24 Jan. 2014. Web. 4 Feb. 2014. <http://www.thestate.com/2014/01/24/3224751/sc-supreme-court-justices-mull.html&gt;.

“This Meal Makes the Denny’s Grand Slam Look Like a Carrot”

Let me just disclaim that this is an extremely messy, spur-of-the-moment post that I feel the need to write for the sake of rejuvenation. After mustering up the courage to remove myself from the couch and finally post on update on life since landing on home turf in May, I just want to break the ice by wishing you all: a happy new year. May 2014 bring you all good energy, success, and new opportunities 2013 failed to do (namaste). Generally, I’m not one to have any resolutions for the new year, but more so for every month. However, it being a new year makes it extra fresco and makes me more inclined to live up to those new goals. Oh my god, what a boring and cliché way to kick off the first blog post of the year; let’s talk life from May to present, and that nagging desire that still sets up camp in my noggin to go places.

LIFE (AT A GLANCE) SINCE MAY:
So, as tradition holds, I worked (though it certainly was way too fun to call it that) as a group leader/counsellor this past summer. And – again, as tradition holds – met some very cool people along the way, some who I – without naïvety – claim to be some of my closest amigos. Not only that, but I had the most unique and genuine opportunities to get closer to mates that I formerly had done training with, worked with in past years, or gotten to know throughout the year, All in all, a really good summer made it that much more difficult (boo hoo, I am such a wimp) to adapt to the new school year. Here are some shots that only capture a glimpse of the summer:

July 27_0021On the job (part I).

August and September_0003On the job (part II).

July 27_0009On the job (part III)… just kidding, this is totally off the job.

August and September_0009Off the job (part II).

August and September_0018Having the honour of co-counselling with a long-time, long-distant chum. The most blissful days of my life.

August and September_0038Brother from another mother. Seriously considering NZ this April.

August and September_0046Sister from another mister. Mal, if you’re reading this, it’s embarrassing how little we see each other considering: (A) we live right beside each other, (B) we work as curry vendors outside at the same joint of working as counsellors, and (C) we now go to the same uni. Respect.

Now this may not pose as a big deal to some, but it’s very important to myself considering the transition from point A: my lack of knowledge of not having a single clue in this entire galaxy of what I wanted to do, to point B: finally getting my foot in the academic door.

LET ME RANT FOR JUST A HOT SECOND:
Having entered a new and larger educational institution as such an emotional wreck (yes, there were some shenanigans that happened during the last week of summer that scrambled my brains to a delicate pulp), I can say that I didn’t have the best start to my first semester at this new university. Further, in comparison to how I kicked off things at my former college (i.e. a newly formed self confidence, determination, and an all-around drive that allowed me to get shit done and get to where I wanted to), I was (stupidly) getting down on myself and just not living up to the potential I knew I could.

Though the catalysts in this weren’t clear, I think I can blame no one but myself. I don’t want to resort to issues such as family health, social relations, etc., because in the end, I always had such a good network of friends and family – maybe even better than I had before. As I sit here now, I’m thinking it was me who was closing off help or just being too damn stubborn (who knows!).

Anyways, don’t want to get too personal/intense about this little snippet of my ever-changing youth; just merely want to paint the picture of how poorly I kicked off the school year, and allowed the bad to trump the good.

So anyways, fast-forward to the end of the semester (we’re talking mid-December), and I’m fairly pleased with my final exam performance that I must celebrate with a huge-ass pancake from Jethro’s with my life-long guru (dadi) and bruva. Sitting with the two lads that I’m honoured to call my family allows me to start the winter break, and end the semester on a high note.

August and September_0048My fellow pancake munchers.

However, my winter break pretty much consisted of either recovering from hangovers or watching Anthony Bourdain’s travel series No Reservations or Parts Unknown. Picture this: a couch potato watching this ultra bad ass just travelling the world one country at a time learning all about the history, people, culture and food of every one of those places. And yes, the title of the post is indeed from one of his episodes – specifically when eating a series of deep-fried meats in Colombia. This juxtaposing image essentially portrays my time off in a nutshell, and not surprisingly made me nostalgic as equally as it made me long for future travels.

Now for those of you who don’t know, I’m an intended International Studies major. What I’ll do career-wise: who the fuck knows; but what I can say from the heart is that any title with the word “international” in it sounds pretty damn alluring to me. I hate to come off unknowledgeable about the job opportunities and ignorant about my education, but let me clarify this: during my past semesters at both schools, I’m always learning new things, and with that, learning about myself and how little I know. That being said, I don’t want to be blindly picking careers and not considering the ethics behind it, and this has been a constant theme in the course material shared with me and other students. So folks, although it may take me eons to where I’m going, I’m sure it will be somewhat worth it in the end. And hey, who knows, maybe I’ll be getting my income from being the next celebrity traveler, roaming the nooks and crannies of our globe (i.e. the next Bourdain).

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE:
I have a fresh new semester to look forward to starting tomorrow. Although I’ll be pulling out my hairs for the next couple of years getting this lousy certificate that we are largely dependent on to get anywhere in society (we’re just lacking the creativity to get anywhere without it, really), I’m doing this because I feel like by getting some sort of an education, I can contribute – as minuscule as it may be – something to our crazy planet (Kumbayah, am I right?).

But let’s get real here: the best lessons I have ever learned have been through hands-on experience, listening, and stopping to smell the roses, AKA the marvels that naturally come along with gallivanting in your own backyard, to jetting to international turf. Note that these marvels consist both of the good and the bad, but it’s from those very unique experiences that I think have allowed me to be the broad I am today. Additionally, I think I owe a lot to my family and friends (holy shit, what a pompous bitch! I sound like I’m accepting an award or something. Pardon me), especially my pa, in allowing me to exchange a set of open ears for theirs. Some of the greatest lessons to be learned are often found in social transmission (I don’t have a study to back this, but it certainly has been an experience of my own).

July 27_0004My rock – who also rocks my world.

So, I leave you, my readers with a very general, pretty bland and uninteresting update of Gonzo’s vida loca since May. More updates in the future to come (and more frequently at that, I hope).

Yours truly,
The haphazard-yet-determined-nomadic student, Amira

Today Marks the One Year Anniversary of a New Layday

Actually, that’s a lie; today marks a one year and two day anniversary of a new layday. That’s right, folks: it’s been a whole year since Gonzo returned to the True North from gallivanting in some of the nooks and crannies of SE Asia. Since then, that monumental life experience has constructed the broad that y’all know and love today (yikes, make that a pompous broad).

But in all seriousness, I can genuinely say that the marvels of travelling have forced independence; ignited curiosity; and create some sort of enlightenment and acceptance with who you are and your ‘purpose’ (if that’s the right word). So, at precisely 13:41 on May 10, 2013, sitting in my boudoir, what was the major life-changing ‘lesson’ – if you will – that I got from exploring some corners of the globe?

If we want a particular future,
use your moulding powers to its full advantage.

“What in tarnation do I mean by that, and how in Shiva’s name have I applied that to mi vida within the past year?” you may be asking. I’ll make it short and sweet. What I mean is: don’t be lazy! If you know you have the ability to conquer a goal, do it. I’ve applied this to my life so far through mostly: academics and health (if you want to know the details, leave a comment).

So anyway, there’s my opener, BUT, I also owe you an update on the finale of this year’s adventure abroad. I left off on Day 03 in Ubud, which was written in the afternoon. As fate would have it, the evening unravelled some pretty gonzo-esque events…

UBUD, BALI (CONT’D):
Day 03:

  • So later on that afternoon, after writing the previous post, I walked back to my new homestay at Ubud Sedana, where I got acquainted with my new neighbour: a German lad, who is presently residing in Australia.
  • We were both nearing the ends of our stay in Ubud, so we decided to meet back up later that evening to go to one of the most ‘happening’ pubs in Ubud to finish off our trip with a bang.
  • After three rounds of Extra Joss and vodka, and whiskey and Coke, we found ourselves chillin’ at the pub with good company and shisha. However, after topping off the former drinks with six more shots and a lychee mojito (you can’t get any more multicultural than that), I had to run back to the homestay, only to cleanse my body of the drinks via my esophagus.

Day 04:

  • Bless the souls of the roosters in the courtyard of Ubud Sedana: if it weren’t for them, I probably would have slept in, missing my flight back to Medan.
  • Because the doors can only be locked by a room key from the inside, rather than a standard lock, I woke up in laughter while still in a semi-drunk state, as I had momentarily lost my keys (which were hiding in the in crevasse of my bed), therefore locking myself in my room. Whoops.
  • Again, lucking out in Bali, my former scuba diving instructor that I had last year while living in Makassar (who over the past year has become a bro), was diving in Tulamben. He and his school mate from his studies in Holland – who is actually originally from Spain, but currently living in Koh Tao, Thailand (remember that lychee mojito? I take that back: you can’t get any more multicultural than this) – were heading down to Denpasar the same day I had to catch my flight. Perfect! Killed three birds with one stone: saved 50,000 IDR in transportation costs, travelled with old/new pals, and trekked in the comfort of the private auto mobile (a major bonus considering my nausea).

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Some hungover chick, the scuba diving master, and the Spaniard living in Thailand who studied in Holland (again, multiculturalism at its finest)..

MEDAN, SUMATRA:

  • After a four hour delay in Jakarta, my family back in Medan so graciously picked me up at Polonia International Airport during the wee hours of the morning.
  • The remainder of my stay in Medan essentially consisted of family gatherings, family gatherings and family gatherings. And I can’t complain. It was amusing reminiscing on and fascinating learning about my childhood in Indonesia (apparently I used to be covered in mosquito bites and calamine lotion. Fun fact: I’ve never gotten malaria), and discovering the Batak roots of the Siregar family (e.g.: being raised on Dutch colonial sites; the palm oil plantation bizz; each of the seven sisters’ – including my ma – adventures during their adolescence ).
  • One of the most genuine relations I’ve had with my mom’s side of the family has been with my uncle, Om (uncle) Kiki, who I remember used to carved me and my brother wooden pencil cases and draw us sketches of Earthworm Jim just for fun. When we left Medan, saying goodbye to him (and the rest of the crew, of course) wasn’t the easiest thing to do.
  • Here are some photographs of our last couple days in Medan:

ImageEnjoying ayam pecel with the most comical aunt.

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The legend (Om Kiki) himself.

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Over the short few weeks in Medan, this gazebo became the primo hangout spot.

ImageSome very modest cousins.

LIFE AFTER INDONESIA (BUT STILL IN ASIA):

  • After the expected few hours of sleep that we got during our final night in Medan, mi madre and I hopped on a plane to Singapore, where we spent one night in Little India.
  • Although we were burnt out anyway, we thought we’d exhaust ourselves out even more so we could go to bed early (having to wake up at 2:30 the following day in order to catch an early morning flight to Hong Kong). Activities included being overwhelmed by the craziness of Mustafa Centre, being overwhelmed by the craziness of Orchid Road, and not being overwhelmed by the craziness – but rather at ease with the tranquillity and aroma of shisha – on Arab Street.

ImageLittle India.

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Mayhem on Orchid Road.

ImageMosque on Arab Street.

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Alcohol-free perfume shop.

  • After our short stay in Singapore,we boarded a plane to Hong Kong where we had a short (just kidding) ten-hour layover. So, we did some exploring in the city centre and had dim sum (duh) in Kowloon.

ImageRia getting her bean curd dim sum on.

ImageSleepy time in HK (I am so with you gents).

LIFE AFTER ASIA (IN CANADA):

  • Well, obviously I miss Indonesia like crazy, but we gotta face the reality that all good things come to an end.
  • Exciting things are brewing for Gonzo (work back at the summer camp and transferring universities) in the months to come.
  • However, travelling will ALWAYS be on my agenda. In fact, as soon as landing on home turf and being reunited with family and freinds, discussion of future travels were already being talked about.
  • Picked up the bruv the day after our arrival from his rugby tournament in Japan, and I am genuinely thrilled about the new lad that this opportunity has made out of him.

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Travel sickness will probably take a bigger slap to my face once I get over this jet lag, but in the meantime, let’s leave this post on a optimistic note. Welcome home, Kaleem. Hope your recent travels have brought the same joys that mine did this time last year (plus two days).

Yes, My Eyebrows Are Real

Salutations from Ubud, where Gonzo is presently mooching off a Mexican restaurant’s wifi (authentic, I know).

Since setting up camp in Lombok, life has been eventful. Let me fill you in in the most organizational manner I can provide for you…

SENGGIGI, LOMBOK:

  • In sum, adventures here consisted of bonding with my most comical aunt, and the mamacita. Also, the original intent of the trip here was to check out my mum’s old stomping grounds when she was the leader of Canada World Youth (an exchange program, AKA the program that hitched my ‘rents… essentially I owe them a big one, or yours truly wouldn’t be alive).
  • Went to the Sade Village. Members of the village still practice their age-old tradition of kidnapping potential wives, all in the name of love.
  • Later, we went to Kuta Beach (which is not be confused with Kuta, Bali), where we spent a mere 10,000 IDR ($1.00 CAD) for a fishing boat to take us out to sea so I could swim in my undies and urinate in Lombok’s beautiful turquoise waters (I’m so sorry).
  • Our driver (but I’d rather call him a homie) Zacky then drove us back to Senggigi, where my mama and auntie bought martabak manis/terang bulan (an extremely rich pancake from originally from the Middle East), while I pulled a classic Mir Mir manoeuvre and got masakan Padang bunkus (to-go).
  • Spontaneously booked plane tickets for the three of us to head to Bali.
  • Met family friends from Medan who run a pediatric centre in Lombok. Extremely friendly, and gave me jell-o. Yum.

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DENPASAR/KUTA, BALI:

  • As luck would have it, the mother was fiercely struck with a stomach illness as soon as we landed in Denpasar (I should throw in that our plane getting there was hella old school – we’re talking propellers so loud I couldn’t even hear the flight attendants on the intercom, and luscious navy blue shagged furnishings – groovy, baby).
  • But, typical Ria (my mum) was such a trooper and recovered the next day after being heavily medicated by prescribed antibiotics by another aunt back in Medan (who actually helped me quickly recover from a stomach flu when I was sick last year in Jakarta).
  • Because of the present situation, we hectically jumped to reserve a hotel right on Kuta’s main strip. Felt like I was in rap video. Yo.
  • In fact, this hotel was located right next to the surf school that me and bruv went to last year when we were in Kuta, and go figure: they remembered us! On a side note, you gotta appreciate how stoned the surfers look because of excessive exposure to salt water (or maybe it’s not the water…).
  • Checked out Pasar Krishna, which is pretty much a crazy Costco/Tesco/whatever y’all have in your country of residence, but solely committed to Balinese souvenirs.
  • Went to a Hard Rock Café for the first time, and surprisingly I thoroughly enjoyed it: the live music was good, excellent stage present, and it was grand just watching my mum and her sister enjoying themselves.
  • Mama and the aunt headed back to Medan after two nights in Kuta, while I stayed on the island, and found myself headed a bit further up north for Ubud.

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UBUD, BALI:
Day 01:

  • Before going to the homestay, the youngster who drove me took Gonzo to a sweet temple after swerving around the afternoon traffic that builds up as flights from everywhere land and provide travelers who crave the zen ambience of Ubud.
  • After arriving at my homestay (Pondok Oka), I went for a long walk about Ubud’s centre with memories of last year’s travels with family and friends (awe).
  • Went to Gianyar’s night market, which is all about the babi guling (suckling pig), which I passed on, but helped myself to some sayur pecel, tempe and papaya. PS: a lady I photographed last year who made me sayur pecel was in the exact same vending spot. Check it out the original photo here.

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Day 02:

  • Kicked off the morning with some pisang goring courtesy of the homestay and a tomato smoothie (so delish), and a morning chat with Agung, one of the gentlemen who runs the homestay.
  • I’ll throw in this: the two guys – Agung and his nephew, Agung (no joke) – who run the homestay, are some of the most accommodating and happy folks I know. Not only did they provide a bike for me to ride free of charge (all about the savings, baby), but seem to take deep interest in the well-being of their guests.
  • Went to Ubud’s art market to get some more souvenirs. But before delving into the art of the market, chilled outside with some new buds: a taxi driver and a parking guide, who initially didn’t believe my eyebrows were real. After gallivanting inside (and getting more remarks about the brows), hung outside again with the new pals, this time minus the parking guide (who was busy making it rain IDR directing motor vehicles), but ft. an toothless older gentleman, dressed in Balinese attire, offering body massages (what?).
  • Found a rice field with a cement path and stairs that allowed me to enjoy leftovers from Gianyar smack-dab in the middle of the greenery. Best lunch I think I’ve ever had.
  • Checked out the Balinese tradition of the Kecak dance (known as the monkey dance), which is followed by a fire dance, where a horse rider who is in a trance runs through hot coals. The horse (made of straw) carried by the rider and gamelan beats puts him in a trance that allows him to run through the coals. The function of this segment of the dance is to protect society from evil forces. Again, Agung’s hospitality was brought to the surface as he accompanied me and gave a lift to and from the performance.
  • Finished off the day with a night bike ride to the most delicious Thai cuisine (and most expensive meal in Indo at a whopping $10.00 CAD) I’ve had: crispy fish and mango salad ft. vegan thom kau soup. One of the owners, Rata, left me with some words of wisdom, and although I can’t quote him word for word, it went a little something like this: “if we are happy today, our future is happy”. In sum, be happy everyday folks, and your future looks bright.

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Day 03:

  • Today, being my last full day in Ubud, I decided to treat myself to a spa day (damn, I feel like a Stepford wife). You know, a sore ass (from biking; get your mind out of the gutter) calls for a good ol’ massage. However, the spa, Bali Hati, makes pampering yourself a good deed for others. Their program functions to empower Balinese men and women through education, employment and health.
  • We’ll see what the remainder of my stay in beautiful Ubud has for me. In the meantime, I leave you with a photo of the gents who have made my stay as excellent as it has been so far:

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