Remember the Infinity

The hostel is the state of nature. It is our reality but it is not real. We govern ourselves. We sleep together, we play together, we drink together, we smoke together and we laugh together.

What happens when you throw one hundred young travelers together? Inside these fences — which provide us with a pool, sauna, spa, volleyball court, table tennis, slackline, guitars scattered about, free breakfast, soup and bread — we have our paradise. But how long can this last? Is this sustainable? Mentally? Emotionally? Financially? I don’t know. That doesn’t matter. We are a family of friends and travelers, we care about each other and we learn everyday.

I teach impromptu yoga lessons in the park to whoever wants to join. An ever-changing assortment from France, Argentina, Greece, Uruguay, Germany, Holland, England and Canada. The sexy girls bow to me and say Namaste while the boys stay and smoke joints. I practice Spanish and correct improper English grammar. We are vigilant with language. We play soccer and I scored two goals and got a ball kicked in my face when I was goalie. We play music and sing.

The park.
In the park.

We all have a unique story. No one is here by accident. Some people are running away from their problems. Some people just need a break from their careers. Some people are trying to find their careers. Some people just graduated high school and they want to get drunk and party, yeah! Some people are lost souls trying to find a purpose.

Que rico.
Que rico.

No one is happy all the time, but some people are better at pretending.

What will you find within these walls? Sexual frustration and desperation.

Philina walked in to the kitchen and flashed me the innocent, pure smile that can only come from the gentle faces of the young, female warrior-angels traveling the world on their own.

I know this smile. I’m used to it. But it catches me by surprise and I think about what she is thinking about and what she thinks I’m thinking about and what if we are thinking about the same thing?

[REDACTED], you live in your own little world. None of this is real. But what if it’s not? I can’t stop thinking about a line from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, “Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”

We cooked on the same stove in the empty kitchen. I was making pasta with vegan eggplant Parmesan, substituting ground almonds for cheese topping. She was cooking pasta with beans and spinach. Clean.

She talks to Johannes in German. She has a slim face with shoulder length brown hair, strong eyebrows and dark eyes. Tiffany, the hostel manager, interrupts our silence and asks me why I am vegan and I tell her for the environment. It’s one change I can make as an individual to lower my carbon footprint.

When Philina hears this, she tilts her head down and whispers, “I’m vegan too,” with that smile.

She is the first vegan girl I’ve met. We share a moment and I continue my conversation with Tiffany. But all I can think about is, what is vegan sex like? My body feels better than it ever has. What is she like? I expect many vegan orgasms.

She sits down at a table by the window, alone. I join her.

We talk. She likes to eat, but she doesn’t like to cook. She makes the simplest vegan meals possible. Raw veggies, pasta, rice, beans. She looks at my salad of spinach, cucumber, tomato and sprouts with fresh squeezed lemon juice and my baked eggplants with tomato puree.

“I used to have a gourmet vegan cookbook,” she says. “But now I just do what is easy.”

The next day, we meet again in the kitchen. She is eating a plate of free bread after the communal vegetable soup has been devoured by the masses. I’m cooking a tasty concoction of crushed tomatoes, butter beans, Portobello, onion, garlic, spinach and oregano.

“Just bread tonight?” I ask across the table.

She says she is too lazy to cook. I ask her if she wants some food and before she can reply I fill her a bowl. I sit down next to her at the long wooden dining table.

“Oh my god, I am in heaven,” she says. I don’t think she is used to other people cooking for her.

I am awkward when I talk to girls that I have any interest in. Juan walks by and saves the day. He tells me how good he feels from yoga that morning. “Philina, you come tomorrow?”

Once darkness falls, I am the night porter. The watcher on the wall. The shield in the darkness. Protector of the realms of backpackers and hostel managers. I don’t tell the managers who has the weed connection. I don’t tell the backpackers what the managers do when no one is around. The bourgeoisie hides from the proletariat and the proletariat hides from the bourgeoisie. I am in the middle of these realms for three nights every week, in exchange for a private bedroom in this house and a bit of cash. Drink your beers and smoke your joints, no worries. But if you have the audacity to leave your pots, pans, plates and cutlery, I will playback the video footage and I will find you. And I will smite you.

I see everything and I keep the secrets.

Philina, you are sitting by the pool drinking a bottle of vodka with your roommate, Anthony, the French guy with a topknot and manicured goatee. You are laughing together while I pick up beer bottles.

You both disappear and I hear you giggling together in your bedroom, just down the hall. You both emerge with red faces and sex hair. The topknot is now a mop. You play card games together in the kitchen. The two of you ignore the crowds of international travelers.

You go to bed and Anthony comes out for a cigarette. He talks to friends while I clean the kitchen. They make fun of him, “Who was that? Your girlfriend?”

He is disappointed. “Psh, I spent all day and all night with that German girl and nothing happened.”

I laugh inside. C’mon man, think about this. She is your roommate for the next week, what did you expect? Girls in hostels have to be guarded. Don’t shit where you eat. Yeah, a bottle of vodka, that will definitely make her want to have sex with you. C’mon man.

I don’t proclaim to know how to win a woman’s heart, but I do my thing and sometimes it works and sometimes I am hurt. But what is hurt? It is a teacher. It makes you stronger and you learn and try to avoid the hurt next time. Maybe that means avoiding a woman, or maybe that means kissing her at the exact right moment.

Elevate yourself above the momentary and remember the infinity. There is an endless supply of females on this great Earth. Just stay at this hostel for a week, see how many warrior-angels flash you the smile that makes you melt. Put in some time and get to know her.

Anthony says she is 19 and she is cute. Nineteen. I’m twenty-four. As the week progressed, Philina and I shared more conversations over soup and bread. I see her young face and her young clothes. She is probably tired of every guy making a move on her. She’s too young. On her last day at the hostel, we say goodbye and I tell her to keep being a good person and now she is just a memory. I don’t know what she expected from me or what she wanted from me or if she wanted me. All I know is that I am different from the stocky South African lout who flirts with girls by splashing them from the pool. Different, not deficient.

I am back in college. But this is far from the homogeneity of Virginia yoga pants, north face and ugg boots. Here, everyone has a story. Everyone is from somewhere. But all people are pretty much the same. We all share the same desires and urges. We are all here for the same reason, to find paradise in ourselves and in others.


Climate change will increase global inequality

Professor Tord Kjellstrom gave a lecture and Q&A about the effects of climate change on workers for the Nelson Science Society on Tuesday night.

Kjellstrom, director of the Health and Environment International Trust and visiting fellow at NMIT, spoke of the “extraordinary inequality” between hot, poor countries around the equator and rich, cold countries in Europe and North America in the coming decades as a result of climate change.

Countries in South East Asia and West Africa will lose billions of dollars in productivity and work capacity, while countries like Canada and Russia have calculated that their economies will actually benefit from the effects of climate change.

Kjellstrom provided the example of the Le Lai shoe factory in Haiphong, Vietnam. During the summer, workers stay two hours longer everyday to produce the same output. It’s so hot and humid they have to take more breaks.

“The trends are always going up,” he said.

In the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, scientists and world leaders will make plans to limit the global temperature change to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years.

The graph below shows four plans for the expected global temperature change. The top blue line is unsustainable and the bottom line is not currently feasible. Kjellstrom says we can expect the temperature to rise somewhere around the green and red lines in the middle of the graph.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.58.07 PM
Four plans to limit global temperature change. Most predict we will end up somewhere around the green and red estimates.

Kjellstrom added the expected life span of his two-year-old grandchild (yellow), and the successive generations. This child will almost certainly live to 2100, when the global average temperature is expected to be 2 degrees Celsius higher than it was in 1995.

“I imagine the sort of world he is going into,” Kjellstrom, who grew up in Sweden but has lived most of his life in New Zealand, said.

Kjellstrom and his research team have compared the temperature increases in places around the world and gauged the effects on working people in fields and factories.

Here in Nelson, with a booming fruit picking industry, the temperature has been increasing at a rate of 0.16 degrees Celsius every decade. It won’t make a huge difference in labor productivity.

Compare that to Singapore, where it is rising at a rate of 0.29 degrees every decade.

Or Istanbul, at 0.97 degrees.

Or Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico, where the temperature has risen at a rate of 1.29 degrees every decade since 1980. This is not a prediction, this is what has already happened.

It is clear that as the temperature rises, productivity falls. Workers have to start earlier in the day, take more breaks, take naps during midday or, in some cases, work becomes impossible.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.29.54 PM
WBGT is a heat stress index created by the American Military. It takes into account temperature, humidity, wind and other environmental factors. As WBGT increases, productivity plummets.

With a wide disparity between hot, poor countries and cold, rich countries, scientists and economists predict mass migration, massive loss in labor productivity and mass fatality. Entire countries will become unlivable in coming centuries.

The Climate Vulnerability Monitor expects a global loss of $2.4 trillion (USD) in global labor productivity annually by 2030.

One of Kjellstrom’s colleagues estimates 100 million refugees will seek entrance to Europe by the end of century because of climate change. Compare that figure to the 280,000 refugees who entered the EU in 2014 and 350,000 from January-August of this year.

That’s a lot of people with no where to go. He says they might be resettled in the cold, safe climates of Siberia or Northern Canada.

“I hope you are educating this government,” a woman from the crowd says during the Q&A, alluding to the conservative Prime Minister John Key. Everyone laughed and one man quipped, “Is that possible?”

The discussion lasted longer than the lecture. I appear to be the youngest in the crowd of about 60 in the auditorium style classroom at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Most of the attendees are the type of Kiwi mothers and grandmothers who wouldn’t allow you to refuse a cup of tea or coffee and homemade biscuits. Rumbles of mmm, mmm, mmm and head nods spread through the crowd when Professor Kjellstrom makes an especially poignant remark.

“Is there anyone here who doesn’t believe in climate change?” he asks the crowd. Just laughs.

One member said, “It’s not a belief system…We should not use the word belief.”

Unfortunately, many people don’t see it that way. I find it sad that we most certainly have the ability and technology to stop climate change, but capitalism is preventing progress. Too many corporations and lobbyists are simply making too much money from fossil fuels, agriculture and livestock. They like the status quo and aren’t willing to change.

Kjellstrom said with his age he has learned to be patient. He said it is difficult to find funding for research and even more difficult for people to believe your work if it is not published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s clear this fight will take time, but by the time we take action, it might be too late.

P.S. I just watched Cowspiracy on Netflix. Holy shit. Mind blown. If you really want to be an environmentalist, stop consuming all animal products and go vegan.

A Night Out in Nelson

I had no interest in drinking with the kids at the hostel on a Saturday night, so I set off into town with my backpack and camera, not knowing what to expect.

Invisible cars.
Invisible cars.

The city of Nelson was quiet at 9 pm. I heard live music and headed in that direction. All of the sudden I see hand painted signs, tents, a circle of camp chairs, raggedy people standing around wrapped in blankets and a guy playing Neil Young on his acoustic guitar.

“Hello!” one of the white-haired ladies called out. “We’re protesting the TPPA.”

After a momentary hesitation, I realize this is the place I need to be tonight.

I take a seat and ask the woman who greeted me, “So why are you against the TPPA? Gimme your spiel.”

She began to answer and I interrupted, “You don’t want to give up your sovereignty.”

“Yes, exactly,” she said.

I think some of the protesters thought I was homeless because everyone asked me where I am staying. Don’t worry, guys, I’m staying at a hostel and I’m not crazy. I’m from D.C. and I understand politics and I just want to talk to you all.

I was introduced to Graeme, the organizer for the event. On August 16, New Zealanders all over the country protested the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Nelson had a strong turnout of about 750, according to the NelsonMail. This Occupy Nelson protest was a continuation of those protests, to show that support is still strong.

Earlier in the day, several protesters dressed up in Kiwi — not Kiwifruit — masks with Uncle Sam whipping them into line while he led Prime Minister John key on a leash.

I must say, these Kiwis certainly earn extra points for enthusiasm and creativity.

They proceeded to mob their Member of Parliament, Nick Smith.

By the time I arrived, there were 12 protesters at the Occupy site drinking tea, having pumpkin soup, and dancing to the music. Roughly half of them camped out overnight.

The problem with the TPPA, Graeme explained, is that we don’t know what’s in the agreement. It is a secret document, and more importantly it is above the high courts of the undersigned nations. It would be above the Supreme Court of the United States of America and the Supreme Court of New Zealand. What?

If passed, it would cede power to the rich assholes who run the big asshole corporations that are raping the Earth. That’s not democracy.

With an ominous red and white striped flag hanging over the stage and the Uncle Sam imagery from earlier, it is obvious that these New Zealanders are largely protesting America. But Graeme said they like regular Americans like me.

I laid it out like this: There’s the American citizen, then there’s the American government, and then there are the large corporations who have the real power.

Just take a look at TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, signed by President Bush in 2008. Matt Taibi of Rolling Stone, wrote in 2013, “the bailouts were pushed through Congress with a series of threats and promises that ranged from the merely ridiculous to the outright deceptive.”

Congress didn’t really have a choice. The reckless investment bankers who got us into this mess were now telling the elected representatives of the United States that they have to pass these bailouts, or else something very bad will happen.

This is the same issue with the TPPA. It’s not only encouraging this type of behavior, it is making it legal and unable to be stopped by the established courts and political structures in the twelve countries involved. It’s the age old problem of money overpowering politics.

One of the occupiers asked me if I was involved in any protests back home. I said all of the support today is behind Bernie Sanders. He is the chosen one. He will save the world. My generation is looking around and saying, Nah, I don’t like this. Let’s change it. Bernie has the answers and we have the votes.

Just watch a video of Bernie.

Bernie speaks with passion. The middle class is dying, people working full-time shouldn’t be poor, healthcare is a fundamental right, income inequality is destroying the country, cut military spending and put it into education, let’s make college tuition free. He drives his point forward and he makes you think, Well, yeah, this is obvious why haven’t we always done this? I trust him to take us in the right direction.

Now watch a video from the Hillary campaign.

I was waiting for the ad to end and then I realized there is no ad. That’s how the Hillary campaign feels. It’s fake and forced. I cringe listening to Hillary. She has no passion and frankly, I don’t trust her. Bernie is genuine and Hillary is so very scripted and focus-grouped.

I told a protester, you want to know the difference between Bernie and Hillary? Look at their donors. Follow the money.

And don’t trust some bullshit blog for these numbers, go to OpenSecrets.

Hillary’s Career Donors

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.33.05 AM

Bernie’s Career Donors

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.33.12 AM

Hillary is the establishment candidate of banks and law firms. Money. Bernie is the candidate of the worker. Humans.

Bernie has refused to accept money from Super PACs and the average donor gives $31.30, according to campaign officials. People like me support Bernie. I’ve always donated my time to the Democrats — but I can’t do that if I’m in New Zealand — so I donated $10 to his campaign. It’s not much money, but if one million young people can give $5 or $10, that really adds up.

An all too common problem with American elections is that people think who ever raises the most money will win. While money is a huge advantage needed to buy advertisements and have a strong ground game to Get Out The Vote, it doesn’t decide the outcome. The only thing that matters is which candidate gets the most votes.

And fortunately, Bernie doesn’t need to spend money buying TV advertisements because young people —  the group who we actually need to get to the polls — don’t watch TV, and if they do, they DVR and skip the commercials. C’mon, it’s 2015.

Young people use social media and the Internet. They watch Netflix. As The Guardian puts it, Bernie is the king of social media. Young people are advertising Bernie on their own. Every election now is a new normal. It’s constantly evolving with technology and enthusiasm.

Yeah, I preached the Gospel of Bernie to these TPPA protesters. I preached hard.

Events like this always attract unique people. The litmus test is their response to the question, “What do you do?”

I asked Jonny the routine question and he said, “I am a child of God.”

I raised an eyebrow. “No, seriously,” he assured me.

As a boy he was sent out to live in the wilderness with a shovel. He dug out rabbit holes with the shovel, killed the rabbits with the shovel, and cooked the rabbits on the shovel.

As a teenager, he relied on trapping possums, hunting, fishing and bartering with the bounty the land provided. He later realized that instead of bartering, it is more efficient to develop skills. Now in his thirties, he writes Children’s books that teach children to never underestimate their own power. He is one quarter Maori and a spiritual guide.

As he explained how he lives in balance with the world, I said, “It’s permaculture.”

“Yes,” he cocked his head and looked at me with a bit of surprise. “That’s a very powerful word.”

I told him I read about permaculture in A Greener Life, the book the English hippies left in the van they sold me. Jonny, of course, was familiar with it.

During my visit to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington, I thought of permaculture when I was learning about the Maori lunar calendar. There is a natural cycle that they have used for generations. The moon tells us when to plant crops, when to hunt, when to fish and when to let the sea urchins and fish grow fat. It means adjusting human life to the natural order instead of making nature change for us.

He told me of a meeting of the Nelson Science Society when one of the presenters wrote two equations on the white board:

1+1=2   1+1=1

He said he came into the lecture hall and saw these two equations and thought, there’s one equation and one unification. Everything works together. He said if you show people a picture of a landscape with trees, lakes and mountains and ask what they see, most people might pick out a few of of the individual objects.

“I see life,” Jonny said.

Jonny is like Ono, they are enlightened. You can feel it as you talk to them. They are on a higher plane of spiritual existence. They aren’t bothered by the day to day troubles, they see the bigger picture in every aspect of life.

I left the Occupy Protest and walked back to the hostel through town. The bars were overflowing with chaos and cigarette smoke. No thanks.