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Escape to Pigeon Point

December 9, 2010

The first thing I did once I got settled in the bay post-Burning Man was buy a bicycle. The hazy cloud of Burning Man idleness lingered quite a while after the event itself was finished. My broken netbook presently in repairs didn’t help matters much, but neither did my desire to do nothing more than walk around Berkeley barefoot, eat almond croissants daily and read books about Greek mythology instead of looking for a job. I needed something to jolt me awake, something fast and intense.

I decided to pick a point on the map, cycle to it in a day, then cycle back the next day. Realizing very quickly that spinning my finger and thrusting it at the map was landing me in parts of the state with more meth labs than cheap hotels, I instead decided to limit myself to finishing some place with a hostel, narrowing it down to three plausible locations. After eliminating those places booked up until July with recession-era honeymooners, I settled on one spot – Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, 55 miles south of San Francisco.

I started out bright and early on Monday, October the 8th, from a friend’s place in San Francisco. Put my shiny new black panniers on, packed them up, and got ready to ride by 8:26 AM (after successfully resisting an almond croissant pitstop). After riding down 19th Avenue onto California Highway 1 for around 15 minutes, I was out of San Francisco and on the road.

Highway 1 makes California biking a breeze. The shoulders are wide, the scenery beautiful, and the highway itself is neither dangerous nor congested. But I didn’t know this as I was leaving San Francisco. And the first thing I hit was a roaring 3-4 lane highway jam-packed with cars speeding by so fast my bike shook underneath me. I cursed everyone who told me how nice Highway 1 is, cursed the cars who couldn’t hear me, and cursed myself for not just biking to a hostel at Fisherman’s Wharf.

And to top things off, I discovered that my lane was rapidly becoming… no longer a lane. Bordered by two converging 3-lane highways of cars all going at max speed, I soon saw my shoulder taper off into nothing – or, more specifically, into a grisly bike-and-several-cars pileup. I stopped for a moment. Two moments. Three. About 78 moments later, there came a momentary lull in the flood of these automotive phalanxes, just enough time for me to scramble awkwardly all over my bike and myself to get to the other side, praying I don’t trip in front of the white Subaru rapidly coming around the bend…

The rest of the morning was relatively problem-free and extremely picturesque, as the 1 follows, for almost its whole length, the cliffs above the California shoreline. I arrived in Half Moon Bay a half an hour under schedule at 12 PM, and stopped for butternut squash soup at a downtown restaurant. Congratulating myself on my good job, I figured I could take it leisurely from here on out, and arrive at the lighthouse by 4 PM just in time to grab dinner and use their hot tub.

So, soon after, when I followed a detour sign that led nowhere and popped me out by the beach, I struck up a conversation with another confused-looking dreadlocked biker nearby, “You following the detour sign too?” “Yea… crap.” He offered me some homemade jerky and explained that his load, which piled up and spilled over the front and back sides of his bicycle, was for a tour from Canada to Mexico, whereupon he would sell his cheapo hybrid bike and backpack further on down into Latin America. He was 55 days into his journey. I sat on my nice new bike and listened to his story. He asked me how far I had gone. “Uhh, from San Francisco. Since earlier today.”

After he introduced himself as Jono and told me he was riding down to Santa Cruz we agreed to ride together, though he was fatigued from a hangover and had just woken up a half an hour ago. I didn’t mind – I figured even with my afternoon laziness and the soup in my belly, I’d be able to beat this under-the-weather veteran at his own sport.

Within moments, I was scrambling. As, I think, is typical of any two guys who bike together, every increase in speed on the part of one appears – unconsciously, at least – as a challenge to the other’s cycling prowess. And soon, even if neither biker wishes it, they are pedaling as fast as they possibly can. After about 45 minutes of this, while I was convinced that he hadn’t broken a sweat, he turned to me and said, “Damn, you are kicking my ass.” Whereupon I realized we were kicking our own asses.

We made it to Pescadero, near Pigeon Point way under schedule, around 3 PM, largely thanks to our mutual one-upmanship. Moments after I saw the sign, I noticed Jono stopped on the side of the road up ahead (he had long since beat me) and I pulled over. “There’s a beached whale, here!” he told me. I had heard about this days ago but couldn’t imagine it would still be down there when I arrived. But lo and behold.

We made fun of a mother and daughter who were posing in front of the whale “Smile for the picture, honey!” then proceeded to take our own callous snapshots in front of the hulking, dead mass. The smell, however, was atrocious – somewhere between rotting chicken and rotting fish. It was difficult to stick around long, though we made sure to scope out every angle of the 91-foot long beast and the stillborn white baby whale who was floating nearby the mother. We were not so intrepid as one spectator, who made a point to touch every angle he could find of both the mama whale and the baby.

Sufficiently brightened by the reality that we were both not dead whales and didn’t stink as bad as them, we set out for Pigeon Point. He said goodbye and continued down to Santa Cruz, his final destination. I lounged around the hostel, glad to be finished with my ride. But as I sniffed the air I noticed a hint of dead whale in the air. I asked one of the hostel residents if they smelled it as well. They didn’t. Then I realized – it was in clothes, my hair and my shoes, especially, for contact with the air and water the whale was bobbing in. And I had no other pair of shoes for my two night stay at the hostel

Then I thought of Jono and realized it could be far worse. Wherever you are, Jono, I hope that load of yours doesn’t smell too bad.

They Burn Men There, Don’t They? Part 4: Leave No Trace

November 18, 2010

The art of Burning Man is mind-blowing – the art of what people create of materials and of what they create of themselves, neither of which I have ever seen or imagined anywhere else. The mutant vehicles of Burning Man are massive, mobile, functional sculptures: fast cars in the shape of animals with luminescent spirals for eyes and facial features, tiny autonomous cupcakes careening around the city streets like something out of Alice in Wonderland, surreal geodesic shapes seeming to hover futuristically around and through the campsites and small ships, firetrucks, hot air balloons and 16-wheelers converted into moving dance floors, flamethrowers, bars, restaurants and the odd grasshopper. Our own camp had one such transformation: the Playapillar, a retired S.F. MUNI bus bought for $3000 on Craiglist and converted into a hazy, dusty, green-lit dance hall that took passengers at night.

The first night we arrived we found a huge, spider-like contraption with headlights circling around the Playa and terrorizing passers-by. Intrigued, and not a little scared ourselves, we approached it and discovered it was a yellow velocipede with two huge wheels, two seats between the wheels and two sets of pedals. When they are both cycling forward, the machine goes forward, backwards back, and if one rider slows down while the other speeds up, the contraption either turns or begins to violently rotate, depending on how abrupt the stop is. The perfect toy, that is, for pedaling around the spacious Playa at rapid speeds, pretending to go crash course towards pedestrians and cyclists, then breaking sharply and spinning off into another direction. Well, Johnny and I thought it was the perfect toy until a set of older men on bicycles (who we also pretended to be running over) stopped us and told us they were with an official camp in charge of this machine, and it wasn’t supposed to be out at night. “This isn’t a toy,” they said. Oh.

There were the massive sculptures: the beautiful, gargantuan Woman visible all over the Playa and capable of gorgeous chameleon-esque color transformation, or the Man himself, standing at the center of the Playa. There were smaller, interactive structures like flame cages for warming up at night and spinning kaleidoscopic tubes to stand (and get dizzy) in. And there were those in between—large structures of otherworldly entertainment value, including a tall and climbable honeycomb structure for high views of Black Rock City and Syzygryd, a glowing (and burning) geometric music sculpture with a touchscreen composer’s panel designed to let the participant mix and broadcast ambient noises.

We ourselves had no art, nor any planned performance, to give back to the Playa. Inspired, however, by all we had seen there, Ida and I, one night, undertook to shake things up a little ourselves, Cacophonist-style (or, if you please, Monty Python-style). After a bit of experimentation with spontaneous hypnotism, we discovered that, for the sake of performance and fun, people were willing to do about anything anyone told them on the Playa, so long as it was done in a funny-enough voice, with ridiculous-enough costumes and wild-enough gesticulations—and so long as we believed in our own absurdity.

Suddenly it dawned on us to create a new Playa religion. I turned to Ida, “What is the name of our God?” Without missing a beat, she responded, “Jessidaauooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhh.” “Brilliant!” I said. Almost immediately, we stumbled upon a trellis sitting out in the middle of the Playa, with no signs, props, people or apparent purpose. It was clear to us that the Playa was giving us a gift of this trellis, the new temple for the religion of Jessidaauooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhh.

Ida and I staked out the grounds surrounding the trellis and, upon ‘invasion’ by ‘infidel’ forces, we would storm out and castigate the trespassers: “You have entered the holy land of Jessidaauooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhh. Mwahahaha!” The evil laugh was just for effect. “You may not pass until you have done two things. First, you must devote yourself to the religion of Jessidaauooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhh. To do so, you must pray at our temple!” We would lead the poor, confused infidels to our trellis temple, where, on spur of the moment thinking, we told them that to pray at the temple, they must say the full name of our God while bobbing their head up and down to the rhythm of the name, i.e. “JessiDAAUUooAAHHHooAAHHHooAAHHHooAAHHHooAAHHHooAAHHH.” We would all say it together, congratulate them effusively for being new converts to the religion, then give them the second initiatory task – usually making them laugh in an evil laugh.

We succeeded, all told, in converting around 15 people, though the religion later hit a schism point when a new convert, whose playa name was “Mystical Warrior,” demanded that he, too, become a god of the religion, lengthening the name to a chunkier-sounding “Jessidaaumysticalwarrioraahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhhooaahhh”. And then we got bored with the whole thing and decided to try walking blind for the rest of the night, with the aid of shamans we ran into while groping our way around the Playa.

Burning Man was a “Leave no trace” event, meaning we were to leave the way we found it. We were required to pick up anything we might drop, to bring our trash with us back to civilization, and even to discard gray water off the Playa. The most monumental symbols of the event were burned rather than taken along in the final few nights on the Playa, including the Metropolis, a set of large wooden buildings arranged like a city skyline, the Temple, a magnificent porcupine-like structure that glowed red through its serrated exterior walls, and, of course, the Man. The Playa, weeks after the event, bears no trace of anyone having ever been on it.

There was no requirement for Burning Man to leave no trace on us. It would have been a very difficult rule to follow.

This post was originally published at Painting the Passports Brown.

They Burn Men There, Don’t They? Part 3: Pushing Boundaries

November 18, 2010

Burning Man can make you feel dirty in more ways than one. Burning Man has a peculiar kind of social dynamic, where you don’t feel any amount of judgment for doing things that flout social conventions, but you do if you don’t do enough to flout social conventions. There is a period of time where I did get a little overwhelmed with thinking if my costumes were ridiculous enough (I was assured they were), if I was experimenting enough with *ahem* new modes of perception and *cough* new ways of interacting with others, and if I shouldn’t just be naked 24/7.

Social judgment is inescapable, of course, and eventually it seemed infinitely better being judged for not having enough fun than being judged for having too much.

The costumes were most people’s primary form of radical self-expression. My friend Marco and I cadged some costumes from co-ops around Berkeley, which conveniently fill designated ‘free pile’ rooms with discarded clothing and goods. His wardrobe included a purple dress with multicolored sequins, beads and quills, a cowboy hat, a thick Scottish black weaved rope belt appropriate for a kilt, and already-perfect Jesus-length hair. Mine included stockings, pink and purple hot pants, a mesh shirt, a black corset and leather cap and, occasionally, a fake flamboyant German accent.

Our other companions were similarly flamboyant. Johnny usually wore nothing but cut-off jean shorts, though he was usually the most extravagantly lit-up amongst us during nighttime dancing and raving, with two to three LED light halos and 8-12 glow rods attached to him at any given time – this after a stranger called him a ‘dark-wad’, a derogatory term for someone not lit up enough at night. Jess and Ida donned pink and blue tutus, sometimes on their heads, and varieties of spandex, white and yellow sequined shirts, animal spot patterns, fairy wings and furry bug-eye goggles.

Then there were the workshops and theme camps. Many theme camps were fairly innocuous, featuring free food, ice cream and coffee, workshops about things like chakra meditation or making sock poi, or activities like a detective agency game. Others were a bit more edgy. The fellatio and cunnilingus workshops were off-limits to single men. The coffee enema was quickly crossed off of most of our lists. Marco and I attended a bondage workshop where a gregarious dominatrix named Madame Butterfly picked audience members to come up and get tied to the metal supports of the tent – she made sure to always demonstrate what would cause the least pain but provide for the greatest ‘access’. I was later able to practice my skills on willing friends and strangers after finding an unrelated tent that gave away free hemp bondage ropes.

The coup de grace was, however, the “Human Carcass Wash”. A theme tent that, on approach, looked like the start of a mass orgy where everyone is too afraid to make the first move. The Human Carcass Wash was a Burning Man-style communal bath. Participants shed their clothes, stood in line for a few minutes (a necessary period for mental preparation), then joined small groups of about five people who took charge of specific stations – soap spraying, scrubbing, rinsing and squeegeeing (like on a car windshield but without a squeegee tool). My group included an almost bald septuagenarian, a large talkative older woman with curly ginger hair and a short, squat younger guy with a beard and a chest tattoo that said, “Yay!” in rainbow colors. Using only our hands and bottles of water filled with Dr. Bronner’s and water, our group washed several bathers in small kiddie pools, rotating through all the stations at three minute intervals before passing back through and getting bathed ourselves. And, before each group went to work on the naked bather, we asked them: “What are your boundaries?” – i.e., what was off-limits to being touched? Everyone said, with a mix of pride and awkwardness in their voice, “I have no boundaries.”

A girl putting her clothes back on when I arrived pointed out that the naked body in our society is so highly sexualized that an experience like this strikes us as strange and off-putting – we don’t want to touch others, especially those we find ugly, creepy or old. But in many societies, communal bathing is a normal part of the culture, and one that isn’t strange for people because they don’t feel sexually awkward about bodies like we do. After confronting that common but unspoken gut reaction to the Human Carcass Wash – “I have to bathe him? Look at her…” – and taking part in it freely, I realized what she meant – it made no difference, in this setting, if I was bathing someone skinny or fat, old or young, attractive or unattractive, because it wasn’t about that. It was simply about a bunch of Burners coming together who all badly needed a bath.

(Upcoming – Part 4: Leave No Trace)

This post was originally published at Painting the Passports Brown.

They Burn Men There, Don’t They? Part 2: Day and Night

November 18, 2010

Burning Man is often so hard to describe because one’s experiences there are not only so different from the outside world, but also from each other. It is not a music concert, a rave, a flash mob, an art festival or a costume party, though it contains all of these. And any given day might be radically different from another – so, too, are the days and nights, afternoons and mornings (if you actually manage to wake up for the mornings) and the beginning and the end. The only unifying thread is the utter contrast to the ‘real world’ (a place frequently discussed – and feared – at Burning Man).

The nighttime is the easiest to explain, though the hardest to recreate without several hundred tons of LED, glowstick and l-wire, several million watts of speaker power and, depending on your preference, whatever you decide to put in your system to augment those. The night is sound and vision, and a lot of it. The sound could be bassy and vibrating – dancing at one of the many stages scattered around the playa at night, to techno, trance, house and the occasional pop and hip-hop. It could be rhythmic, acoustic and local, a guitar and African drum picked up and played at one’s own camp with neighbors, friends and whomever wanders by. Visually, it is the pitch dark of the desert sky contrasted by the most impressive neon light display this side of Tokyo. Everyone is wrapped in glow cords and shining, blinking LEDs; the stages, buildings and ‘mutant vehicles’ (jury-rigged art cars) emit colorful spotlights, impressive and sometimes bizarre psychedelic displays and many, many bursts of propane-propelled fireballs. On one edge of the playa, one can often see Dr. Megavolt in his iron-cage-suit producing white-hot bolts of electricity using his homemade Tesla coil.

The desert daytime is hot – even without the help of the ubiquitous flamethrowers – and one either sleeps off the night or stumbles upon something strange to do, usually while searching for something else. On a daily basis, you don’t plan, don’t shave, don’t check one’s cell phone, don’t check e-mail or facebook or mirrors, don’t buy or sell anything, don’t bathe (with interesting exceptions…), and don’t even pay attention to time, though this makes attending Black Rock City’s many workshops more difficult (I successfully made it to only one of these). You don’t have to think about who one is going to hang out with or what you are going to eat for lunch. You’ll run into someone, or something, and it’ll all be free of charge, a gift given by a generous someone. You’ll strike up a conversation with them, learn something or have a good laugh, then leave and probably never run into them again, and this will repeat itself over and over the whole time there.

On the other hand, trying to meet with specific people, even during the day, is a mess. Over half of the plans that I made with a friend of mine, Theo, in a nearby camp, fell through. We finally made it out together on a slow afternoon worthy of an aimless walk – the best kind at Burning Man – and took off towards the playa. A large throng of people had gathered near the desert-empty Outer Playa. Curious, we walked out towards it. The large throng turned out to be, specifically, a large throng of topless women who were finishing a topless women’s marathon. Some of them boarded a mutant vehicle with a dance floor and were celebrating to music. A gruff older man with a blender hooked up to a chainsaw motor loudly made the ladies margaritas.

Neither of us being topless women – and therefore not welcome to either the margaritas or the naked runner’s after party – we decided to leisurely stroll back. While walking along one of the wide ‘boulevards’ at the quarter hours – 3, 6, 9 o’clock – we suddenly notice something small and fast moving towards us. Looking down, an RV truck has stopped right in front of our toes. Some trick, or a stray toy car terrorizing sandaled toes? After rubbing our eyes for a moment, we see that on top of the car was a bowl of chips, a bowl of guacamole, a bottle of tequila, salt, limes and shotglasses. On the front of the car was painted, in bright green and red letters “El Guaco”, bordered by two cartoon avocados. We laughed, took a shot and exclaimed the universal prayer of burner gratitude, “Thank you Playa!”

(Upcoming – Part 3: Pushing Boundaries)

This post was originally published at Painting the Passports Brown.

(Special thanks to Ida and Jess for the pictures)

They Burn Men There, Don’t They? Part 1: Intro

November 18, 2010

The question people ask you the most is, “What was it like?” As if aware that the experience must have been more than the sum of what was done, eaten, performed, seen, worn or taken while there, people instead ask for everything: what it was like¸ as if one could compare it to a type of weather or a universal childhood experience. What was Burning Man like? It was like being a gypsy circus child where your whole 50,000+ circus family dressed in drag and nets and leather and chains and ribbons, glowed in the dark at night, and gave you free ice cream, quesadillas or ‘candy’ wherever you happened to be. Where you live like a nomad in tents next to caravans of water gallons, canned soup, trail mix and camp stoves and rode beautiful fire-spitting metallic monstrosities around a huge expanse of desert in the center of the camp – the Playa, the largest sand playpen ever created, and perhaps the only one ever specifically designed for partying adults.

Burning Man began in 1986, when Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a small gathering of friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco and burnt a 9-foot wooden effigy of a man. Harvey and his friends continued this as-yet unnamed ritual for four years while the man grew each year up to its current 40 feet (excluding platforms) in 1989, but the beach gathering was shut down by S.F.P.D. in 1990 for lack of a permit.

The original Man, via Burningman.com’s excellent timeline

Coincidentally, another gathering was being planned at the same time by John Law and Kevin Evans, members of the Cacophonist society, a Situationist-style group dedicated to “experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society” through art, prank performance and “meaningless madness.” The gathering was planned for Black Rock Desert, a stretch of dry lake bed in Nevada, and was originally entitled Zone Trip #4: A Bad Day at Black Rock. In the vein of future Burning Man events, performances and art burns were central to the aesthetic of the event, and, as Law was familiar with Harvey’s ritual, it was agreed that Harvey would bring the man to be burned at Black Rock Desert in lieu of Baker Beach.

The event took off from there. In 1992 the Black Rock Gazette printed its first issue and the Black Rock Rangers were formed by Michael Mikel (A.K.A. Danger Ranger) to ensure the safety of participants at the festival; the first art car (the 504 PM Special), theme camp (“Christmas Camp,” featuring a fruitcake-gifting Santa) and Black Rock Radio broadcast appeared in 1993; major media coverage begins in 1994; and in 1999 the distinctive clock-based Black Rock City design was formed: concentric rings of streets extending back from the Playa and intersected by perpendicular ‘time’ streets from 2:00-10:00, where the remaining space (the “Outer Playa”, 10-2) is devoted to art installations and booming sound stages. Attendance nearly doubled each year until 2000, and the number of art installations and theme camps (participant-created performance, workshop or gift-giving campsites) skyrocketed. And Burning Man has continued to grow since, in size, participation and levels of surreality – this year saw 51,545 ‘burners’, making it, temporarily, the 10th largest city in Nevada.

Aerial view, via the Daily What

I arrived at Black Rock City after the 7 hour ride from San Francisco. The first impression one gets, sitting in the long vehicle line to get into the event, was of being in a refugee procession in a war-torn desert country. Sandstorms lashed against the stand-still cars, piling sand on the windshields, as figures in thick black goggles and bandannas skulked around outside, their makeshift staffs and other props easily misconstrued for weaponry. A woman walked around shirtless, men walked barefoot or soaked in the intermittent rain and drivers sat waiting, creeping carefully along towards what looked, from a distance, very much like a refugee camp. But unlike refugees, we were impatient to get in, not anxious to flee whatever was behind us. Well, that’s not entirely true. We were doing both.

(Upcoming — Part 2: Day and Night)

This post was originally published at Painting the Passports Brown.

(Special thanks to Ida for the pictures)

Back in Brown

November 18, 2010

It’s been a while since I have been posting, but I have a bit more to write about before retiring Brown Passports for a while (at least until my next trip). An upcoming series of posts is going to focus on some trips that I took between Korea and San Francisco. The material will be a little dated – as a writer, I have a compulsion to write about almost any interesting or place I have experienced, and if I miss out some big chunk of time I have to go back and write about it. I promise they will be as interesting to you as they were to me, though…

Also, though the upcoming posts are all about events that happened stateside, I am going to leave this site up as a reference for foreigners in Korea. Please refer to the sidebar on the right for some of the best posts that I have published since starting the site. There are neighborhood reviews that feature attractions, restaurants, art galleries, cafes, bars, clubs and more in neighborhoods like Apgujeong, Ewha, Samcheong, Hongdae and many other gems outside of the typical foreigner spots like Itaewon. There are features about key destinations in town, both those that are included in any travel book (like Gyeongbokgung Palace) and those that take some additional searching (like temple stays in Seoul and Ganghwa province). There are posts with information about life in Korea and teaching in public schools, as well as some humorous pieces like ad-libs with Korean students and a powerpoint game that is great for killing some time in your conversation class post-exams.

Upcoming posts will include:

  • Burning Man
  • Couchhopping USA
  • Wwoof-woofing in California

And shortly, I will be starting a new blog featuring interviews of real people in real careers, intended to be a resource for job hunters who have no idea what the difference is between an assistant management consultant and an administrative human resources supervisor, and will also feature tips on job hunting and interviews as well as resources for pursuing the specific jobs featured on the site. The link and more information is forthcoming.

 

This post was originally published at Painting the Passports Brown.

 

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Back in the U.S.S.A (apologies to The Beatles)

November 10, 2010

Hello and welcome to the special Brown Passports post-Korea “What the hell am I doing now?” chapter (i.e. the Beached ESL Teacher Saga)! Having returned from Korea to America two months ago I am finally at the “end of my travels” in a new apartment in San Francisco. Please don’t ask me about jobs, yet…

Beached whale, or ESL teacher looking for work back in the USA?

I’m sure you are all wondering what you have to look forward to upon your eventual return to America. So what have I accomplished since coming back — that is, if we are going to keep shut about that four letter word starting with a ‘j’? Well, in chronological order, I…

  • Late August: Smoked cigars on a beach in New Jersey and ate nice meals on the largesse of my parents, grateful that I came home to America instead of defecting to North Korea (Well, someone’s got to teach Kim Jong-un English!).
  • Early September: Came back out to California for the Burning Man festival, where I watched Disney movies, ate ice cream with my friends and played duck duck goose for a week in the desert (ha, yea right).
The morning after Burning Man
  • Mid September: Eager to extend the Burning Man euphoria, I stayed on a mattress of Burner friends of mine for two weeks, barefooted unshaven around Berkeley, refused to check my e-mail and wore dusty playa clothes. But the counterculture novelty faded after being mistaken for a bum and the euphoria high-tailed it when my friends and I realized there were bedbugs all over the apartment.
  • Spent one whole day washing everything I owned and walking around in trash bags to try not to recontaminate anything with bedbugs. Felt a paranoid psychosomatic itch for another week, and washed my meager belongings another three times. Lost a sandal, somewhere along the way.
  • Early October: Moved into HiP House (a 55 person co-op in Berkeley), went down to Santa Barbara, went back into HiP House, then onto the floor of my friend’ s SF apartment, then into a pitch-black blood-red basement room at Castro House (another co-op), then onto another friend’s couch in SF, then into another windowless bunkbed basement room back in HiP house. All within less than a week and a half.
  • Bought a bicycle and cycled down to Pescadero, where I stumbled upon a giant beached blue whale, 90 feet long. I somehow knew how he felt, washed ashore and unwanted in a strange land, although I was glad not to smell as godawful as him.
  • Got to the Pigeon Point Hostel and realized I DID now smell like him. As did all of my clothes. And a sniffle I had that morning snowballed into heavy coughing and sneezing after the 55-mile ride, which left me stranded at Pigeon Point an extra day. At least it kept me from smelling myself.
  • Mid-October: Went WWOOFing — volunteer organic farming in exchange for free room and board — at Dandelion Farms in Northern California. Missed my bus up and had to hitchhike with two drivers who both independently told me the closest town, Clearlake, was the “Capital of meth”. Ate squash and apples on the farm everyday for two weeks, built a mud hut, slept in an RV and got three splinters and 11 blisters, five of which opened up.
Clearlake
  • Late-October: Finally moved into a place in San Francisco, the Castro property of a sweet, friendly Filipino man in his fifties, who regaled me with stories about his eventful life before giving me the deadpan look of a military general: “So, you DO love to clean, right?”
  • Early November: Gathered up all my scattered belongings, consisting of headphones and duffle bag full of socks and books at my one friend’s place in SF, two suitcases at my other friend’s place in Berkeley, a backpack at Castro, a bicycle and two panniers at HiP House, two jackets I still haven’t retrieved because they are still bedbugs-infested, and a sweater I lent a friend two months ago that she left in some random woman’s garage in Berkeley.
  • Now: ??? But, at the very least, a few upcoming stateside stories to warm your hearts during Korea’s kimchi shortage…
  • This post was originally published at Painting the Passports Brown.

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