A beautiful mess of contradictions

Donnerstag, 27.09.2018

John Oliver, a famous British comedian and host of the very popular US-American political satire show “Last Week Tonight”, once said that the US is a “beautiful mess of contradictions”. And it’s true! After now almost six weeks here, my time actually begins to feel like a “beautiful mess of contradictions”. That is not necessarily a bad thing, though. 

Well, were to begin? As I am both working for the College as well as studying at it, my life here is a bit confusing. Officially, I am both part of the faculty and a student – a conflict best made clear by the fact that I once had to attend a faculty meeting at 12.15pm despite my class ending at 12.30pm. This scheduling problem reflects a big chunk of the work I have to balance each week. I have class for 3 hours each day and after that I need do finish my homework (which is easier said than done as the entire course material of one semester is compressed into 3,5 weeks at Colorado College…imagine studying for an exam, but like…always), prepare our weekly “Kaffeestunde” (where students are invited to the residential house I live in to enjoy free coffee and cake that I both have to prepare and thankfully didn’t poison so far) and an additional cultural event for every student who wishes to learn something about German culture. This is, to put it mildly, quite a bit of work. But so far, I enjoyed every second of it! It’s just kind of confusing when you suddenly have to teach students (did I forget to mention I am teaching a German course as well?) that I usually spend my afternoon drinking coffee with. Am I supposed to be the very serious and responsible adult, or can I just hang out with them and kind of be who I am? How knows…maybe I’ll find out some day. Until now everything worked out perfectly. The people in my house (or…my students??) are very friendly and I enjoy my class way more than I expected. But, as I said…being both faculty and a student is both confusing and feels a little contradictory. One aspect that reflects this conflict perfectly is that, as a student, I am (theoretically) not allowed to drink alcohol on campus (even though I am 22!) but as a member of the faculty I am, and as there are regular faculty parties, I have to admit that – to my shame actually – I’ve been drinking more alcohol with my professors so far that I did with my fellow students. As I said…my life is a bit weird.

Well, that’s is that. Originally, I planned this blog entry to be much longer but as I don’t want to cover too many unrelated subjects in one post, I will split my idea up into a couple of different parts. You’ll hear from me again soon…

 

Update: Under comfortably numb pressure

Donnerstag, 16.08.2018

Years ago, I started a little tradition. Every time I come back from a bigger trip to any place in the world, I reset the timer of my iPod to zero. And every time I start a new trip I take a screenshot of that timer to find out exactly how much time passed since my last bigger trip. It’s kind of useless but I enjoy doing because it’s nice to reflect in moments like that on how much actually changed in my life between trip A and trip B. The last trip I wrote about in this blog was to Vietnam in 2016, so when I checked the timer on my iPod on 12th Aug at the airport in Munich I was not surprised to see that 16338 hours had passed since I returned home from Vietnam…almost two years. And boy, those years were quite intense.

Maybe you remember: in my last blog entry I said that there were “things back home I have to tackle”. Well, the things I was talking about back then were (a) shooting a 90-minute feature film and (b) organizing a semester abroad. And now, as I am sitting on the bed in my student apartment on the campus of Colorado College in Colorado Springs, I look back on the last two years and feel happy that I managed to achieve both of that. After I came back from Vietnam I finished my screenplay called “About us, time and everything else” (I wrote it in German, though). It took me half a year to find a crew and the actors and then, in the summer of 2017, we shot the movie (which had its premiere just two weeks before I left Germany). During that time, I had to organize the movie, study for university, work on my application for the exchange year to Colorado and manage the long distant relationship with my lovely girlfriend that I met shortly before travelling to Vietnam. Obviously, those extremely stressful two years left their mark. Especially in June and July of this year I realised that I was completely overworked. I had troubles finding rest and sometimes I would be awake all night because I simply could not fall asleep. I felt being under pressure constantly because every time I did not study I had to take care of things related to the movie and every time I was not busy doing that I had to organize visa stuff and similar things for my upcoming trip to the US. Anyway, even though I was overworked and even though I was looking forward to getting out of that constant cycle of pressure and even though I was struggling to keep up with all the amount of work I loaded onto myself – I enjoyed every second of it. Thanks to this time and all the work I put into it, I achieved two very important personal goals: I shot a movie and I was accepted at an exchange program that allows me to spend almost ten months of my life working, studying (and travelling) in the United States. The sole fact that those two things worked out are the reason why I couldn’t regret a single second of the last couple of years, even if that was the most stressful time of my life.

The only meaningful break I had during that time was a wonderful two-week trip to Croatia with my girlfriend back in March that I did not write about because I wanted to focus on her as there were enough distractions during the semester. She is the reason why I made it through the last two years because she always encouraged me and made me not give up and go on working for everything I wanted to achieve – and that despite of the fact that one of the things I worked for meant that we would live on different continents for the better part of a year.

Anyway, so far everything worked out fine. My girlfriend will come visit me on Christmas and we will do quite a lot of travelling that I will write about here. Obviously, I will do some trips before that as well and you can trust me that I will keep you up to date on that. Walking over the campus of Colorado College is a feeling of infinite satisfaction. Hard work does pay out in the end. My colleagues are friendly, my apartment is amazing, the campus is beautiful and all in all it just feels like finally being back in paradise, because – as I already established at the beginning of my blog: Paradise is not some place you can look for. Because it´s not where you go. It´s how you feel for a moment in your life when you´re part of something. And if you find that moment...it lasts forever. To be honest, though, now that I think of it, I never left paradise to begin with. My time at home feels exactly the same but…different. My people at home make studying in Regensburg feel like being in paradise as well but - as this is a travel blog – I have to focus on the other paradise. The one far away from home. That being said: welcome back.

Completed

Donnerstag, 06.10.2016

While travelling I learned that many negative experiences can also have a positive aspect. All the problems you encounter might be annoying, but at least you learn how to deal with them on your own. This attitude helped me in a lot of situations so far, but sometimes - under certain circumstances - there's nothing that can support you while you're suffering through a difficult time. For example if you're on a 14 hour over-night bustrip and your bed is located between an overenthusiastic Canadian guy who won't shut up even though everybody is (clearly) trying to sleep and a Vietnamese guy who's mobile phone is ringing every two minutes. Believe me: this is hell.

But besides of this (minor) disturbance my last two weeks in Vietnam were as fun as relaxing as I was hoping them to be. Before going back home to enter the world of studying again I wanted to rest as good as possible in order to start the new semester with a bunch of new energy. And I'm glad this is exactly what I was able to do. After Nha Trang I travelled further south to a village called Da Lat which is famous for the many outdoor activities you can do there. One of those tours included abseiling and jumping off a 11-meters-high cliff...one of the most scariest and at the same time most amazing things I've done while travelling so far! Even though that was a lot of fun, it's not what most people would call relaxing and that's why I left Da Lat after a couple of adventerous days and went to Mui Ne, a small village next to the coast. Besides visiting some sand dunes alla Te Paki (my kiwi backpacker friends will get this) and playing chess against a guy from Canada in my hostel there was not much to do for me, so I'll skip a couple of days foreward to my last destination: Ho-Chi-Minh. Most of you will recognize Ho-Chi-Minh under its Western name, Saigon. I spent my time there learning about something I managed to avoid so far: the Vietnam War. Various museums, actual battlefields and the famous Ho-Chi-Minh path offer visitors an in-depth insight into everything that happened during and after the war. 

Well...as I'm flying home tomorrow, there's not much left I could tell you. My trip through Vietnam is completed. But as I won't go travelling for a while now, I don't want to leave you just like that. I put a lot of effort into describing the problems you have to face when you stop travelling. And how horrible everything feels when you arrive back home and you're suppost to enter this same old doll routine all backpackers are afraght of. But now I think it's time to talk about the positive feelings you have at the end of your trip, because those are the more important ones...the ones that make you want to come back. As you see your journey slowly being completed, you'll also start to feel completed within. This might sound stupid and corny but that's just the way it is. On 22nd January 2015, a couple of weeks before I left New Zealand, I took a note on my iPod saying "an intense and permanent satisfaction". I was trying to sum up how I felt and actually...I think I nailed it. After weeks (or back then: months) of travelling, adventures, multicultural conversations, parties and new exciting experiences this is exacly how you feel. You feel completed within and satisfied in every way imaginable. And please don't get me wrong now! I am happy at home. I love my time in university, I have wonderful friends and a caring family. Basically that's more than someone could wish for. But this one specific feeling of satisfaction and happiness you get when you know you made the most of the time you had (on your trip) and all of those amazing things that happened to you are now a part of you...it's simply not possible to have this feeling when your're at home. And that's the reason why I'll never be able to quit travelling. I've met many people who told me about their years-long, never-ending backpacking tripsaround the world. I get why they do it, I really do. I can't deny I haven't been thinking about this a lot since I came back from New Zealand. But there are some things in life I want to achieve and I know I can only achieve them at home. And this is probably the most powerful thing backpacking can do: it helps you finding out what you want in life. Besides of your education and your job. And all those challenges that await you back home...once you reached this feeling of completeness...they don't seem that big anmore. What's trying to find out what you want to study compared to the overwhelming beauty of the Fjordland National Park in New Zealand? What's an exam in university compared to travelling through an unknown country on your own? After you've been backpacking many problems you've once been worried about back home will start to look a lot more harmless than before. But still: at some point you have to go back and actually tackle them. And that's what I'm going to do now. There are days in your life on which the most badass thing you can do is jumping off a 11-meters-high cliff and on other days it's badass if you manage to understand this one really fucked-up proof from maths class last week. You can't have it both ways at the same time. But I will continue travelling and I will take some time off after my time at university to continue backpacking around the world for...God knows how long...;)

But for now I have to say goodbye. There are things back home I have to tackle. Thank you for joining me on this marvellous drug trip through Bangkok and Vietnam. I'll see you back in paradise as soon as possible. And until then: 

Save and happy travels to all of you (at home & abroad). My name is Michi and I have been your guide...

 

An old enemy returns

Sonntag, 25.09.2016

One of my bigest problems while backpacking through New Zealand was the random and crazy weather down there. During my time as a fruitpicker both heavy rain and 35 degrees sunshine sometimes occured after another on one single day. And believe me: both of them are horrible if you're working outside for many hours. On my way south I wanted to do a very famous hike to the summit of one of the highest mountainson the North Island, called Mt. Tongariro. I wasn't able to do that until much later, because of the bad weaher conditions on the summit. And while travelling through the South Island many hikes I was planning to do were ruined by the rainy weather at the west coast. To keep a long story short: Fuck rain! It can mess with your travels really bad and this is what the following story is about...

When I arrived in Hanoi two weeks ago I quickly realised that it's basicly the Vietnamese version of Bangkok. Too loud, too busy, too much traffic. I left as fast as I could and after a five hour bus trip heading east I found myself being on a cruiseship on it's way through the majestic landscape of Ha-Long bay. Because it's off-season right now, me and the six other backpackers I was travelling with had the entire ship for ourselves and therefore were able to enjoy one of Vietnams' most famous sights without being disturbed by other tourists. One day later I travelled north to a small village called Sapa. It's surrounded by mountains and that's why many people gothere to do some hikes. After staying in two big cities like Bangkok and Hanoi it was a welcoming change for me to be able to enjoy my day without having to listen to the annoying honking of Vietnamese drivers all the time. A 16-hour bus trip (!) south of Sapa is a village called Phong Nha. This is where I went next and this is where my troubles began...

It's not more than 10 years ago that the villagers in Phong Nha weren't familiar with the concept of money and had to suffer through famines regulary. Now Phong Nha is hugely famous among tourists in Vietnam because it's surrounded by a lot of caves which were opened to the public a couple of years ago.The entire region is called the Ke-Bang National Park and the landscape is dominated by beautiful rivers and hills. And when I stayed there it was also dominated by rain. While my first day there was still sunny and filled with tons of activities, all the other days were rainy. In fact, the entire centre of Vietnam had to endure heavy rain for a couple of days. The rainstorm was so intense that all the caves I visited and all the roads I explored on my (rented) motorbike on one day, were completely flooded on the next day.

It's raining guys. And it's raining a lot.

With those words and an omnious sounding voice the manager of the hostel I stayed in started to explain to us that the entire public transportation system from and to Phong Nha stopped running for an uncertain amount of time. Until they'd start running again, we'd be trapped in Phong Nha. Hue, the city where I intended to go next, was completely flooded and the streets weren't safe to use anymore. Luckily the rain stopped after two days and so I was able to continue travelling south to Hoi An, the town I'm currently staying in. With only 12 nights left I'm now slowly heading towards Ho-Chi-Minh (Saigon) from where I'll fly back home to start the third semester at my university. Going back home always is the most difficult part of a journey. So after having to deal with horrible weather lately, I'll still have to face yet another old enemy of mine very soon: actually arriving back home. The difference to New Zealand is, by now I learned how to deal with it and I also have a lot to look foreward to as well. So instead of sitting around and moaning about the upcoming end of my trip, I still have a lot of things left on my to-do list. The first thing is Nha Trang, a city 14 hours south of my current location. Oh, boy...you can't imagine how exited I am about that bus trip tomorrow!

 

Lost in Translation (together)

Donnerstag, 08.09.2016

Before I started my trip to Thailand and Vietnam I asked myself if travelling through Asia would be different from travelling through New Zealand or Europe. As I found out by now, the answer of this question is tricky.

First things first. As soon as I left the airport in Bangkok the heat hit me in the face like a hooligan with a bat. This is not Europe. The intense power of the sun and the wet air are the first things you'll have to get used to down here. And then you can try to get used to literally everything else. People in Thailandare living a completely different lifestyle than Western people. For example: on many occations you don't buy things for a fixed price, but you argue about it. And calling the marketing of Thai salesmen 'aggressive' would be a massive unterstatement. It's impossible to walk along the pavement without being offered 'high quality' suites, tuk-tuk trips around the city, sluveniers or food. The traffic system is chaotic beyond comparison and the only law that seems to count is 'Survival of the Fittest'. Yet, somehow, Bangkok seems to work out just fine. And soomewhere in the middel of this chaos there are we - backpackers - trying to make sense of it.

Before I left Germany I watched Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation. The movie is about an actor and the wife of a succesful photographer who meet in a hotel in Tokio, both overwhelmed by their environment and stuck in their marriage. I don't think it's possible to fully understand that movie without experiencing that feeling on your own: being overwhelmed by the unfamiliar culture that surrrounds you and feeling lost because you simply can't understand what's happening to you. And I think that's how most backpackers in Bangkok feel. In some way we're all lost in translation.

But this is also the reason why I believe backpacking in Asia doesn't make a difference to backpacking everywhere else. Yes, we are lost, but we're lost together. As soon as I arrived in my hostel I was welcomed with the same friendly helpfulness and open-minded amiability I learnd to love so much during my trips to New Zealand and Great Britain. 

So, after all, backpacking in Asia is exactly the way I expected it to be and I'm looming foreward to making the most of my upcoming trip. After five nights in Bangkok I'll fly to Hanoi (Vietnam) on Saturday. The airplane is scheduled to leave Bangkok at 7:45 a.m. which means I have to get up at 4 a.m.. It'll be interesting to see how that goes...

Previously - Part 3: Today

Montag, 29.08.2016

The first two semesters will be the hardest. That´s what everyone told me. And here I am. My first two semesters are over and I really have to admit...they were pretty hard. I want to become a teacher and that´s why I´m studying mathematics and anglistics. But basically I´ve been studying maths until now, because with two super heavy and time-eating math classes, there wasn´t much time left in my schedule to spent on other courses. Most people who start studying maths are dropping out within the first two semesters. You have to get used to a completely different kind of learning and, in a way, you have to learn a new language. That´s what most people struggle with. I heard about that before I started studying, but I was sure that I wanted to become a teacher (and I still am btw) and in order to achieve that goal I have to make it through maths. It took me a lot of motivation to get where I am right now, but luckily it´s not difficult to motivate a drug addict. I swore to myself if I passed all my exams I would go back travelling. And this is where I am right now. This is today. And I think that´s why it´s time I introduce myself.

Hi! :-) My name is Michael, I am 20 years old and there are not a lot of things in this world I love more than travelling. This is my official travel blog. As I´m studying right now I won´t be posting much during the semester but I´m planning a year studying abroad and another gap year after my time in university. I will post everything about those trips on this blog. It´s a long term project of mine. If you want to know more details about my time in New Zealand, you can read my old blog (http://michi-bei-den-kiwis.auslandsblog.de/, it´s in German though) or you can watch my 13 minute long documentary short film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvPANuS0E-w) that I made during my time down there (that one is in English!).

But enough of my backstory. For now I´d like to invite you to follow me through the most amazing drug trips I´ll have in my life. Enjoy the ride, feel free to contact me, travel safe and...

...welcome to paradise. My name is Michael and I will be your guide. My friends call me Michi.

 

Previously - Part 2: Fernweh

Sonntag, 28.08.2016

Fernweh is a German word that can´t directly be translated into English. It describes this half sad, half nostalgic feeling you get when you wish you could be somewhere else very far away right now. Well, as a backpacker you´ll have to get used to that. There is one big problem with addiction: the longer it lasts, the harder it´ll be for you if you can´t fulfill your needs anymore. And that´s why coming home is the most difficult task you have to face when you start backpacking. This is a point where most backpackers share the same experience: you return home after months of crazy adventures, multicultural conversations with people from all around the world, tons of exiting and wonderful memories and the first question you hear after reuniting with your family is: And? How was your trip?

Silence. Yeah...nice...I guess? There´s no satisfying answer on that question. How could you summarize everything that happened to you in a way they would understand? No one who hasn´t shared the same experience as you could possibly relate to this obscure feeling you have when you return home and find everything the way you left it. Your friends still go to the same bars, your room still looks the same and the pizza from your favourite restaurant still tastes the same. After everything you´ve been through, you might expect that coming home is super exciting. That everyone wants to listen to all your stories and wants to see all your pictures. But your trip isn´t as exciting for everyone else than it is for you. You´ve been gone for a while and now you´re back. That´s it. At home everything has stayed the same. And that´s what will be expected of you: fitting into the same old dull routine. This will cause massive Fernweh, believe me. I wasn´t able to withstand that very long, so I promised myself, as soon as I saved some money and figured out what to study I would go travelling again.

And that´s how in August 2015, a year after I headed for New Zealand, I found myself back at the airport in Munich waiting for my flight to London. One last glorious month as a backpacker in paradise before my first semester would start. I fell back into the traveller-mode right away. I spent some relaxing days in London, I found a truly wonderful hostel in Oxford and some nice people to party with, I enjoyed the beautiful nature of Wales and Scotland while hiking through some National Parks and I fell in love with Edinburgh. It was the perfect dose of my favourite drug that I needed in order to be able to motivate myself for my upcoming time at university. And boy, this motivation was more than necessary...

Previously - Part 1: Paradise

Samstag, 20.08.2016

In August 2014, weeks before I left Germany, I already dreamt of those beautiful, green hills and nice, quiet little villages in New Zealand that I´ve read so much about. But no matter how much you read, no matter how many experienced backpackers you talk to and no matter how exited you are to leave home and start exploring a new country for a couple of months - nothing can prepare you for that first moment where your airplane actually arrives at your destination and you realise: Fuck. Now I´m on my own.

The first impression I remember from New Zealand is the grey, heartless industry complex of its biggest city: Auckland. Wow, that´s not how I imagined it at all. I was disappointed and the rain didn´t raise my mood either. You have to know that the first weeks of you trip probably will be quite depressing. Because on your first long journey to a country far from home, you will have difficulties mastering all those new challenges that await you. You have to care for yourself in an environment you know nothing about, you have to organize tons of annoying paperwork and you have to find some friends. You have to learn that you have to make some sacrifices when you´re travelling. Why did I come here? Have I made a mistake? What shall I do next? Is it better if I return home? Those question will stay with you for quite a while. They stayed with me for a while as well. But after three weeks in Auckland getting used to life in New Zealand I headed north towards Kerikeri - a nice, quiet little village surrounded by those beautiful, green hills I always imagined. I found an amazing hostel, I met some nice people and I got a job. That´s how I started working on a farm and it didn´t take a long time to become close friends with my co-workers. For a few weeks my life was just like back home. I had a regular timetable, I stayed at the same place and I had good friends. Here is the thing about travelling though: the most important part of it is not being at home. But this means that you have to make some sacrifices and many people - including me - have troubles to get used to that in the beginning. That´s why I was sad when I started travelling again. Suddenly I had to share my room with a couple of strangers, no matter where I went, I knew nobody and organizing trips and new accommodations every couple of days was annoying the hell out of me. I couldn´t imagine how anyone could live like that for a year or more!

Anyway, on my way through the North Island heading south my view on all those things began to change. The more I travelled the more I began to see backpackers not as a group of individuals trying to survive in the same country, but as a community of friends that celebrate the same lifestyle. And that´s what backpacking actually is. A lifestyle. On top of that, it´s a lifestyle that possibly couldn´t be more different from the one you´re living at home. And even though it´s hard to let your old habits go - once you did, those things mentioned above won´t be sacrifices anymore. Every new person you meet will be a possible best friend, every hostel will start to feel like home and you won´t need anything to be happy but yourself. If you know this feeling you´ve been bit by the travel-bug and it´s almost impossible to avoid that. Some need a little bit more time, others a little less. But once you talked with a complete stranger the whole night long, once you partied with people from all over the world, once you´ve seen the most stunning wonders of nature, once „No worries.“ has entered your standard vocabulary and once you´ve fallen in love with everything around you...you´ll be in paradise. To quote from a screenplay by John Hodge and Alex Garland:

Paradise is not some place you can look for. Because it´s not where you go. It´s how you feel for a moment in your life when you´re part of something. And if you find that moment...it lasts forever.

And as a backpacker you are part of the craziest, friendliest and happiest family on this planet. Everyone is welcome, nobody has to be alone. It´s paradise. You´ll learn about the true meaning of freedom and your life will be a waking dream. The more time you spend backpacking, the more it´ll turn into a drug. And I certainly got addicted to it...