Click a picture and enjoy.
Time to turn up the controversy!
After having my fair share of uncontroversial rants (such as selfie sticks), I thought of a comment made by John Cleese while making the movie Life of Brian and realized that there are people that I too want to offend. Therefore, I really don't like flags. I get really skived out when I see those rectangular cloths of nationalism flapping in the wind or stuck on as bumper stickers for pick-up trucks. And the fact that were basically expected to worship them as these sacred artifacts only increases my overall aversion and disdain. As I continue, I can assume that some of you (especially if you've stayed with the blog for a while) probably have similar feelings, while others are preparing to lash out at me in a trolling rage. Either way, I thank you both for increasing the internet traffic to this blog. Now please enjoy this rant.
First off, I want to make it clear that this is not a rant against one particular flag. I'm not singling out the stars and stripes, the maple leaf, or any one of the hundred-plus three stripe flags. I'm ranting against all flags because, when you break it down, they all have the same intention. They're meant to represent a nation's identity, and in turn, we're supposed to treat it with the same respect as we have for the place and people as a whole, which is awful. A flag is just a symbol. It does not reflect the people, culture, history, food, nature, or any of the other interesting an amazing things a place has to offer. Yet, they're presented as if they're higher than all of that, which is absolutely not true since all the above mentioned things are real. Flags are artificial constructions made by various governing bodies some time in the past.
Likewise, flags are all to often used as a distraction. We're told from the time we were toddlers to stand with our hands over our hearts and pay the inanimate cloths respect as if it's something divine. Yet, how often have you seen politicians or business tycoons wear emblems of flags, or hang the said rags outside their house or office in order to convince the general public they care about them, when in reality, they're trying to push through legislation or make a deal that will stuff their pockets at the detriment of society as a whole? Associating someone with a flag to being a benevolent citizen would be like associating someone with shoes to being a marathon runner. Sure, it could be true, but just as likely, the person with the flag could be a manipulative scumbag and the man with the shoes could weigh 500 pounds (230kg) and stuff his face with McDonalds every day. Unfortunately, we often fail to realize the all too prevalent second possibility.
Worst of all, though, is how flags are used, both now and throughout history, as devices to divide us from one another. Think of how they've been used throughout history. All the most repressive totalitarian regimes had laws requiring citizens to hang flags outside their houses, and throughout traditional warfare, one group of people would carry their flag into battle as they marched forth to fight and kill other people carrying a different flag.
We're all supposed to honor ours as if it's better than all others and exclusive to only us... which is entirely stupid. Flags are all symbols that nations use to categorize people, which is tragic because it takes away from all the intricacies, subtleties, and quirks that make live and people so interesting. We need to stop things like this from getting in the way of actual humanity. Forget the categories, forget the symbols and throw out the preconceived notions. Go out and get to know someone for who they are regardless of which political entity claims dominion over them. And maybe, you can actually make a new friend.
This one's personal.
I like coffee. More accurately, I need coffee. It is my life blood, my warm blanket on a cold night, my comfort in times of difficulty, my kind friend in times of sorrow, and my shining light when all other lights have gone out. Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that I have a severe caffeine addiction (medical help is being sought), and if you've read any of my previous stories or posts, you'll see that I drink it like a fish drinks water. (I assume they drink it a lot since they always seem to be living in it). I cannot begin my day without it, and I have been known to carry around packets of instant coffee in my pockets for whenever I need a pick-me-up. Coffee shops are even my go-to place when I take a girl on a first date. Coffee is very important and special to me... Therefore, I thoroughly despise Starbucks.
Back when I lived in New York, there were three really nice mom-and-pop coffee shops on my block that each served uniquely delicious cups that helped me function as a normal human being. I considered them all to be second homes, therefore I was devastated when all three were shut down within a year to make way for the evil science experiment from Seattle known as Starbucks. This terrible trend isn't just happening in New York. I've found these demon factories across Europe and even on the block where I lived in Moscow. It spreading like the Bubonic Plague, infecting every manifestation of human civilization.
I particularly despise this fact because when I travel, one of the first things I like to do is check out the coffee of my new location in order to get a feel for the place, but Starbucks in all of its evil machinations keep coming in and flattening all the unique little places that once stood for generations in order to make way for its quest for world domination. Nowhere is safe. All that was once good and pure is now being defiled. It's an affront to culture and unique creativity.
Yet, with all that considered, I would have some understanding if their coffee was any good, but in that regard, I cannot even attempt a joke. It's like they took old, stale, burnt water and let it sit in a pot for weeks before injecting it with caffeine and black-dye food coloring. Then they make these Frankenstein concoctions like a quadruple mocha-vanilla-backwash-pumpkin spice frappacuino. AND THEY CHARGE SO MUCH MONEY FOR IT!
Well, anyway, as much as I'd like to continue this tirade, I'll instead showcase some images from my stories that show me drinking coffee that isn't from Starbucks. Please enjoy.
The world is full of different kinds of places. Some are welcoming, others dangerous, some memorizing and others comfortable and relaxing. But then there's this one place on the edge of Queens, New York that has a category all its own. It's a place of sorrow, resentment, and distrust, where regular people often get treated like criminals, soggy old sandwiches cost $15, lines move slower than paraplegic sloths, and sweaty middle-aged men can legally grope you as they see fit. I am, of course, talking about the dreaded JFK Airport.
To say I detest the place would be a drastic understatement. Every time I go there (which unfortunately has been a lot), I can't help but quiver like a dog that knows it's on the way to the vet to get fixed. Sometimes, the horror begins even before I walk through the (occasionally broken) revolving metal doors. I kid you not, this past January, my mom and I were quite literally hit by a car (well, technically our car was hit) as we were parked in the parking lot outside the place. We weren't even there yet and were already saddled with motor vehicle damages. And yes, I blame JFK because we were hit by the airport's own car service. They were already out to get us!
However, without fail, the worst of it always occurs once I'm inside. I've gotten so used to being 'randomly selected' while going through security check that getting groped by sweaty security guards now feels about as common as brushing my teeth. Yes, despite me acting relaxed by now, the guy always talks as if I'm a criminal. "Sir! Stand still! Do not move. Keep your arms up, spread your legs. I will now run the back of my hand up and down to see if you have any illegal substances. If you so choose, we can do this behind closed doors."
That last part is the part the drives me crazy. Behind closed doors? No! We're doing this right here. In front of everyone. If you're gonna grope me, I'm gonna make it just as awkward for you as it is for me. Closed doors? What kind of fool do you think I am!
And it doesn't end there. That is only the beginning, because one I'm through and have to walk towards my gate, I have the pleasure of making my way through hordes of angry, stressed people. I guess I can't really blame them since they're dealing with the same horror as me, but it still doesn't make things any easier. Not to mention, the several times I've bumped into people (I am a very clumsy person with a poor sense of spacial awareness), I'm met with curses and raised fists. That is, of course, unless I'm lucky enough for the person to be Canadian. Then it's an "I'm sorry," despite the fact it's usually my fault.
Worst of all, however, is the potential of what can happen next, after I reach the gate. Delays, cancellations, and all the associated insanity that comes with it. I've had delays in other places, but nowhere has it happened so frequently as in JFK. And if you so happen to have a night flight that gets cancelled, do you know where they send you? A Holiday Inn in Queens! (I shutter internally at the mere thought). It's something I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy, yet according to the airport it is common policy.
I know what some of you may be thinking, 'Hey, what about LaGuardia or Newark airports? Why don't you just look for fights there instead?' Well, I have thought of that, and unfortunately LaGuardia does not have flights where I happen to be going and Newark... well... it's New Jersey (just let that info sink in). Therefore, I am often left with no other option. Sometimes the world can be cruel.
Dedicated to those who use the excuse 'This is a hostel' to defend being terrible
An overwhelming majority of people I've met in hostels have been friendly, interesting, and respectful, but unfortunately some have not. Today, I just so happened to come across such a person who made that apparently clear, so, while the memory is fresh in my mind and the rage is still flaring, I decided turn negativity to entertainment and compose this rant. Please enjoy.
It was eight in the morning and most of the people in the room were still asleep. That is, seemingly everyone except myself (I'm a bit of an insomniac) and this other man in his mid 40s on the opposite side of the room. Upon seeing me stand up, he called out rather loudly, saying, "Hey. What the hell is there to do around here?" Noticing his shout had just woken up about half the room, I asked his to talk quietly since people were trying to sleep. But he didn't like that. Not one bit.
"Oh, you're gonna be like that! This is a hostel and I can be as loud as I want. It's the morning and people should be up now!"
"Dude, relax," I replied.
"Look!" he continued. "She's not sleeping! She's checking her phone!" he said pointing to a girl who had clearly just woken up from the commotion and was checking the time. "I'm gonna talk as I want." He said, now working himself into a frenzy.
"Can you please be quiet?" asked the girl who had just checked her phone.
"You weren't sleeping!" He bellowed. "You were on your phone! I thought this was supposed to be a fun hostel. I don't have to listen to you." He then stormed off. I thought of replying but realized he was probably in the midst of a mid-life crises, so I exercised some restraint.
There was one thing though that pissed me off most of all. It was his use of the phrase, "This is a hostel," in order to justify acting like a complete dick. Now, I would like to say this was just a one time incident and that this was just one person, but it's not and he's not. Every once in a while, there's someone who thinks that, because they're in a hostel (as opposed to their own home or an expensive hotel), they have the right to do anything they want and completely disrespect anyone else who happens to be there. I'm not exactly sure why such people do this. Maybe it's the general relaxed atmosphere, maybe because they feel that common decency doesn't apply when they're away from home, or maybe because their parents neglected them as children. But for some reason, every once in a while, someone comes along who thinks that because they're in a hostel, they can do literally whatever they want.
This goes for the belligerent doughy guy in the knit hat that relentlessly hit on the girl working reception as she was busy trying to check people in and do her job. It goes for the pretentious 'aspiring musician' who decided to play Wonder Wall (tries not to vomit) at 8:00 in the morning as people are trying to sleep. It goes for weaselly guy with the high, shrill voice who thought it would be a good idea to Skype someone at 3:00am in the dorm room, and it especially goes for whoever ate my food in the fridge the other night.* Every one of them attempted to defend their actions by saying, "this is a hostel," as if that somehow justifies everything.
*You know who you are!! I had it labeled!!!! My name was on it in multiple locations!
Here is my message to them and anyone who makes the same excuse: How can you possibly think that staying at a hostel means it's fine to do whatever you want regardless of those around you. Do you think that just because it isn't you home or an expensive hotel, it becomes your own personal playground/trash can? What's next? Will it be, 'I just threw mayonnaise on the bed, but that's ok because this is a hostel.' Or, 'I use people's shoes as toilets and like to vomit on the elderly, but that's ok because this is a hostel.' Maybe, 'I've got a severed human hand in a jar, but that's ok because this is a hostel.' I'm not sure what went wrong in your cognitive development, but sometime around 5 or 6 years old, you should have started to perceive at least some level of empathy, but apparently you did not. Maybe you're parents neglected you and this is your way of trying to make up for those years of lost attention, or maybe your uncle dropped you on your head one too many times as a child. I'm not sure. Whatever the cause, just do everyone else a favor from here on out and stop being an insufferable dick.
Myself and all those who have had to deal with such experiences.
So, yesterday was a nice, warm and sunny do (a rarity in Moscow), and I decided to enjoy it by taking a walk in one of my favorite parks, Tsaritsyno. While the park was gorgeous, lush, and full of green trees and ornate fountains, there was one problem. Every so often, my path would be obstructed by someone holding a long metal pole out in front of them in order to stare at their own face in a screen (as opposed to appreciating the views of the surrounding nature). This made me angry. So much so, that I became compelled postpone all other posts and dedicate my time to writing this rant instead. Therefore please enjoy!
First of all, to those who frequently use these elongated, metallic eyesores, I have one simple question. Why? Is it because you want a picture of yourself from a bit of a distance? Well, I've got some news for you because, believe it or not, you already have mechanisms built for extension. They're attached to your shoulders, are flexible, and can bend rather easily at the middle (unlike selfie sticks). In common language, they're referred to as 'arms.' And also, these 'arms' have something special attached at the end that is pretty good at gripping and holding things. These are called 'hands.' They're much easier to use and they cost nothing because, as crazy as it sounds, we're actually born with them.
But wait, let's say you want a picture of yourself that's just out of arm's reach. What then do you do? How about actually using your vocal cords and asking another human being to do it? Not only will you likely get a more level, balanced picture, but you'll also not be seen holding some bizarre metal pole as if you're ready to enter a jousting competition or fight off a horde of zombies. Plus, if gives you the chance to actually interact with another person, something so rare these days.
However, that said, the ultimate reason why I decided to write this is not because of the impracticality or irrationality of selfie sticks. The main reason was because everyone I came across that at the park that had one in hand happened to be transfixed upon the screen at the other end, as if they were in a state of hypnosis. They turned the pole this way and that, trying to get the best background image to show off to whoever checks their Instagram of whatever else they use.
It bothered me because this was the single focus of these selfie stick people. They were surrounded by this giant, beautiful park on a sunny day, yet they wanted to do was photograph themselves. It seemed that creating the image to make others think they were having a good time was more important than actually having a good time in reality.
And this didn't just happen today either. I have unfortunately come across many of these occurrences throughout my travels. Particularly in Milan, I remember, it literally felt as if Blake and I were the only two who were actually looking at the real city instead of making duck-faces into the screen at the end of the metallic rod. It was infuriating and ridiculously obstructive (usually people using these devices are completely oblivious of their surroundings and of other people. Hence views and pathways are often blocked.)
All that said, I have some advice for those of you planning a trip and considering buying one of these things. Don't do it. Take in the wonder of your new surroundings from a first-person point of view. You've probably seen the location on a screen already as you were planning the trip, so now see it with your eyes and interact with it. Live for you're own personal experience, not for the experience of the hypothetical person who may possibly scroll through your Instagram page. And if you really do want to take a picture of the surrounding area or of yourself (i.e. to send to family or to put on a travel blog), snap a quick one or two using your opposable thumbs, then put the phone/camera back into your pocket and appreciate your surroundings.
Finally, think about it this way. When you think back upon your trips, do you want all of your memories to be about taking selfies in front of monuments or do you want them to be of meeting interesting people, going to underground bars, climbing mountains and swimming in seas? Save your money and live in the moment.
Do you like spending a lot of unnecessary money? Do you like walling yourself off from local cultures and populations and instead prefer to be surrounded by obnoxiously wealthy and miserable families that spend significant amounts of time yelling at eachother? Do you like having a manufactured experience while being waited upon by a demeaned staff, creating tensions and an unhealthy power balance. If so, you'll probably like resort hotels. And if so, please get off this site now. But if you think all that stuff is absurd, please read the following rant and enjoy!
Personally, I despise resort hotels. You pay significantly more to avoid experiencing any authentic part of the actual culture or place to which you are travelling to. You're gated off along with a few other wealthy individuals who decided to either escape their families or their work for a few days (aka, the people who throw fits if their cocktails aren't mixed just right). There may be some parts of the resort set up to resemble something different and exotic, like a pool surrounded by tropical looking decorations, but all of that is manufactured. It is all set up to create a false perception. And in that circumstance, you are not traveling. You're taking a trip to the zoo. It does not make sense, it's not real and it's not worth it.
And this whole manufactured experience is, as I see it, completely destroying culture and the characteristics that make a place unique and interesting. It turns it all into a stereotypical characteristic that, most likely, doesn't really exist in the first place. Let me break it down this way. You are traveling to a country, and instead of seeing and feeling what it is actually like, you spend a fortune to have someone create your idea of it. It isn't something special and you'd be better off staying home. There's plenty of people there who can put on the act and you won't have to buy the plane ticket.
Which brings me to my next point, and probably the thing that pisses me off most of all about resorts. If you go there, the only local people you'll meet will probably be the wait staff, and instead of having a genuine interaction with any of them, they'll be too busy having to serve you and the other gusts while simultaneously putting on an act, just so everyone can get the 'cultural experience.' It is a terrible relationship of inequality. You'll be dependent on their service and they'll be dependent on you for their salary. No interaction will be spontaneous or meaningful. It will be structured and artificial. Sure, it may seem enjoyable if you're the type who likes to assert power over others, but no matter what, you can't deny that it will be superficial.
Why don't you try something different instead. How about next time you go to a country, try your best to interact with what's around you and be a part of it. Challenge yourself and push you're comfort zone. Observe, explore and take part in what is around you. Who knows, maybe you'll even learn a new perspective and even, dare I say, make a friend or two along the way. At the very least, you'll be able to get a drink for $2 instead of $15, and that in and of itself should be worth it.