Bad decisions.

Regretting my decision in 3…

I picked up the tiny cat again today. Granted, she is not as tiny as she used to be. Especially in the ‘roundness’ department. And she proves it regularly by rolling around the house, discovering new hiding places. Her main nemesis, meanwhile, is me, who enjoys picking her up and putting her down somewhere else, thwarting her plans.

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Everybody dies!

Yes, they will die, too.

Yes, you knew that already. But it helps to put things into perspective doesn’t it? And I don’t even necessarily mean that in a bad way. Sure, it can be depressing: Everything and everyone, loved or not, will eventually disappear and leave nothing behind.

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Tiny House – The Return

A hut in nature. Doesn’t get better than that.

After one month in “enhanced community quarantine”, Micah and I finally ventured out of our cave at her parent’s place and braved the great outdoors – well, mostly just the road to our tiny house. We built this thing since December 5 (exactly) and we were never even able to stay in it yet. It was all thanks to Micah’s mother, who was able to secure a pass for the checkpoints on our behalf.

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How to be in love : 24 months special, Part 1

My bilbil is real.

Yes, it has been 24 months already. 24 months ago, we began our relationship, and a lot has happened since then. So, in good sharing fashion, here are our thoughts on 24 months of relationship, from both our perspectives, in 12 points each! Defying convention I’ll go first, and Micah will bring it home in the next post.

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Essential my ass

The tiny cat sees through your hypocricy.

I can’t help but get pissed every time people go on about the “heroism of essential workers” these days. What, after years and years of having no problem at all with nurses, farmers, grocery store workers, truck drivers and others being underpaid as hell, suddenly they’re “heroes” who valiantly choose to sacrifice themselves for the greater good?

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The end of the world! (As we know it)

Change is inevitable. How will we choose to react?

Comments abound these days of people touting the end of the world because of COVID-19. But I assure you, the world is doing just fine. Better than ever even. It is just us, humankind, that faces unprecedented challenges because of the pandemic.

So, I wanted to list some things that I think are going to lead to lasting changes for us. It’s going to be a wild mix of stuff, so get ready for some wild leaps of topic. Also, feel free to add things or call me out on stuff if some things just don’t sound right to you.

  1. Hygiene habits. Washing hands more, shaking hands less, etc. I think it’s here to stay, and it might even help us become more resilient towards other bacteria and viruses in the long run.
  2. Remote work. As companies discover that many jobs can be done remotely without losing productivity (or even gaining), it will become more prevalent. It’ll save on office space, too.
  3. Fossil fuels. Demand now is at an all-time low and the industry might change forever. Even a small percentage of the workforce doing home office every day will noticeably impact demand, but greater changes are coming – we’d better prepare for them.
  4. Technologization. Is that a word? Anyway, more remote work means more demand for adequate digital infrastructure. Better internet for everyone (yay), more power for the already-powerful tech companies and service providers (boo) and a further decline of fossil fuel companies.
  5. Health care. Deep structural issues with healthcare systems all around the world are being revealed by COVID-19. The question is not if changes are needed, but if we will be able to implement them.
  6. Industry changes. Less demand for fossil fuels means overproduction, which means lower prices. OPEC-countries will be affected, Russia won’t be happy, but US-based fracking will take the biggest hit, as it needs the highest price per barrel of the lot to remain profitable.
  7. Shifting businesses. Especially many small and medium ones have already gone bankrupt, leaving a hole in the economy. Even if things normalize, the damage already done is complex and this hole will take much longer to stuff.
  8. New demands. As consumers find what they really need, they also find what they can do without. The result will be an altered economic landscape. Personally, I hope it will be a more sustainable one.
  9. Surveillance and control. I have talked before about how governments can use a crisis to increase their power and influence. COVID-19 is a god-sent for leaders who just waited for an excuse to ramp up measures. Be vigilant, because no country is immune to authoritarianism.
  10. Universal Basic Income. I don’t think it’ll be the first thing after the crisis but talk about it has increased in the past weeks. At the very least, new ideas are being considered for a post-crisis world, and I’m happy that UBI is one of them.
  11. Terrorism. It was never gone, but globally weakened governments will give new impetus to non-governmental militants everywhere.
  12. Africa. Just after releasing the last Ebola patients, here comes COVID-19. Even with global support, this would be tough. Now, despite World Bank support, it will get even tougher.
  13. Europe. Solidarity seems in short supply, as countries scramble to fight COVID-19 by themselves. EU-level responses are being discussed, but will it be too little too late? I hope not. Also, there may be new refugees, and a better reason to turn them away. Another humanitarian disaster in the making?
  14. Russia. Oil and gas sales are one of Russia’s largest revenue streams. If sales drop, while NATO and EU continue to encroach, dormant conflicts may quickly spring to life. Crimea is not done, and Kaliningrad has yet to truly begin. All the while, Russia’s COVID-19 situation is uncertain.
  15. USA. What started as a health crisis now reveals the cracks in every part of the country. An overburdened and broken healthcare system, unprecedented unemployment, a likely recession, social divide, struggling leadership… the list goes on. A lot will be decided in the coming months, and the pandemic may only be the beginning of rapidly approaching changes.
  16. China. Things may well be more volatile than they seem. The CPC lost trust and authority and scrambles to rebuild it. Internally, social unrest could quickly spiral out of control and COVID-19 may yet return for another round. Internationally, countries could rethink their dependency on China. The last word will only be spoken once the world emerges from the pandemic.
  17. The UN. The WHO, too, faces accusations of mismanagement and stumbles over the Taiwan-question. But the UN at large has been all too quiet as the pandemic unfolds. While General Secretary Guterres desperately pushes for global peace and unity, the Security Council has yet to act at all. None of this helps UN authority one bit.
  18. Pandemics. After years of unheeded warnings, a global pandemic has come. Will it come in several waves, like the 1918 flu pandemic did? Will it ever truly disappear? I hope we will at least go for more than token measures to increase our preparedness for the next one.
  19. Leadership crisis. Shocks to normalcy always trigger criticism. What seems different this time is that criticism is raised against leaders all around the world simultaneously. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate how we define a leader and who should fill that role.

Of course, this just scratches the surface of how COVID-19 could and is changing the world as we know it. At the end of the day, change always poses threats and opportunities. The only way to realize the good while avoiding the bad is if we tackle it together.

A haircut in times of crisis

Going in. Café Domingo open for business soon.

In stark contrast to the rest of me, my hair seems to have taken advantage of these weeks in enhanced community quarantine to put a lot of work into growing as much as possible. Now, having hair that grows is great and all (as my father tends to remind me), but skyrocketing temperatures of summer in The Philippines, combined with an inability to visit the barber’s made for an increasingly desperate situation.

Imagine my delight, then, when I noticed that Micah’s father managed to get a haircut somehow. I immediately asked her about it, which led to her asking him, which led to him not wasting any time and calling the local barber, again, for a home visit. One chair in a shady spot, in front of the outdoor aquarium in the back garden later, and we were ready to go.

Of course, inviting people into the house comes with a bit of an infection risk, but since the whole place here has been in enhanced community quarantine for almost a month now with zero reported cases, I was pretty confident that things would be okay. On top of that, he admirably wore a mask for the entire performance.

Besides, my biggest worry was that he would just give me the same treatment that he gave Micah’s father, namely the quick and painless full head buzzcut. I don’t consider myself a vane person, but my last buzzcut goes back to my military days 10 years ago – and I don’t remember particularly liking it.

Coming out a changed man. Success?

Fortunately, though, things went perfectly well. He came, cut and even shaved things nicely. At least I think so. Micah seems happy with how things look (which, realistically, is what actually counts) and I’m quickly getting used to not constantly having hair in my face and being able to feel the occasional breeze more vividly than before. Even better, the whole thing just cost the equivalent of four dollars.

So, all in all, a successful day. Not much, perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, but especially in times of crisis you have to take what you can get. And maybe tomorrow I’ll write about cutting my fingernails!

How to eat cookies correctly

This is how the cookie crumbles

We can probably all agree on one thing: Cookies are great. I will admit that brownies are pretty great, too, but few baked goods manage to combine tastiness and versatility like a cookie does. Cookies are clearly the superior guilty pleasure, compared to pretty much everything else.

Unfortunately, far too many people are dangerously under-educated about how to eat cookies correctly. And since I just can’t stand for this any longer, here is what you can do to make sure that you eat cookies correctly.

1. Get the setting right.

What, you were just going to grab a handful of cookies and cram them into your pie hole? Why don’t you just stuff a fistful of sugar in there, if all you wanted was that quick dopamine high. No, to eat cookies correctly, you need the right setting. Make sure you can give the cookie the attention it deserves. Put it on your favorite plate, sit down in your favorite chair and avoid anything that could distract you from the explosion of goodness that you are about to experience. Me, I like to sit on the terrace and enjoy a calm sea breeze to fully appreciate my cookie.

2. Have the right supplements.

Now, you might think that a great cookie can stand by itself. You are correct, it can – in the same way that bread can be perfectly fine without butter. But we want to do things correctly here, and what is butter to the bread is milk to the cookie. Or hot chocolate, if you want to be decadent. If you feel cheeky, add some honey. In these crazy times, feel free to be a bit crazy with your supplements, too – for example, rum or red wine works really well with hot chocolate, and it will create a great contrast to the sweetness of the cookie. The traditional way will always be good old milk, though.

3. Have the right amount.

Nothing ruins a good thing quicker than having too much of it. I get that having only one cookie is probably too much to ask of anyone – we are mere human, after all – but do yourself a favor and avoid stacking your plate with a whole box of cookies. Because otherwise, you may not be able to stop before that nauseating feeling sets in and the magic of cookies will be denied to you for the foreseeable future. For me, the rule of three has proven superior. Three feels less limiting than two but it’s still far from the abomination of greed that would be four.

4. Take your time.

What is the crucial ingredient for an amazing cookie-eating experience? Time. You can have the best setting, supplements and number of cookies in the world, but if you wolf them down like a degenerate then you’ll just ruin everything. Now, whether your way of ‘taking your time’ is fellating every crumb until it dissolves in your mouth, or just being chill enough about it to make sure that cookies and supplements stay in a healthy balance until both are gone is up to you. The point is, this is supposed to be an enjoyable thing, so don’t rush through it like you’re getting timed.

12 Interesting Books to Read While on Quarantine

The current quarantine has got us thinking about interesting books we have read during far better times. If you are looking for recommendations, or just anything to do while at home, here are some books that you can check out to add some value to your days spent indoors.

Markus recommends:

1. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harrari

Success at taking a global view is rare and difficult. One quickly finds oneself not saying anything at all. But this book not only managed to retain focus, relevance and meaning. It perhaps even set a new gold standard for what taking a global view should look like. Especially if you love perspectives as much as I do, you are definitely going to love this book.

From more obvious points, such as Nationalism and Education, Harrari also tackles more conceptual, but far deeper issues, including the question of how to find meaning in absence of a unifying story.

2. The Kingkiller Chronicle – Patrick Rothfuss

Technically, these are two books, hopefully soon-to-be three. Like George R.R. Martin, Rothfuss has been frustratingly slow and opaque about the final installment of the series. But if you can live with such uncertainty, then picking up the first two books will send you on a journey into a world brimming with richness and depth. Legendary heroes, fantastic adventures – and the truth about what really happened.

3. Differently Morphous – Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw

In a unique twist on humor, social commentary and cosmic horror, Differently Morphous is hard to box into any established literary genre. An excellent character-centered story that will test your assumptions and provide an answer to the question of what would really happen if a cabal of intergalactic blobs suddenly appeared in a world of secret government magic-wielders and passionate social justice advocates. A very interesting read.

4. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Surely everyone wonders what their life’s calling is. This book has us follow a shepherd who, in a defiance of prudence but moved along by mysterious encounters and unexpected wisdom, decides to leave everything behind several times over. Sometimes confusing but always inspiring, The Alchemist can teach us to persevere in the face of overwhelming adversity. While it arguably has only one point to make, it makes that point very well – and the point is an important one. Maktub.

5. Through the Language Glass – Guy Deutscher

Does language determine the way we think, feel, even perceive reality altogether? Mostly no. But as you will read in this book, it has a profound effect even on mundane, every-day situations nonetheless. Reading it will certainly make you think and perhaps even inspire you to learn another language.

6. World Order – Henry Kissinger

Anyone who wants to understand contemporary global politics is going to find a treasure trove of observations, analyses and explanations in this book. It has its biases, of course. But whether you are looking for historical context or a brilliant insider take on why things happened the way they did, you will rarely find today’s world (or rather, the world of roughly five years ago when it came out) explained anywhere more accessible than in this book.

7. Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Thomas Edward Lawrence

War stories always offer valuable perspectives to those of us who have had the luxury of a lifetime of peace. But what I liked most about this book was how it contextualizes what is possible. Desert-crossings, asymmetric warfare, surviving against impossible odds and emerging the victor in the end – an amazing story, made all the more enjoyable by being based on what really happened. You are reading the man’s own account, though, so don’t expect 100% accuracy. But whatever it lacks in the faithfulness-department it more than makes up for with authenticity. And you can even read it for free!

Micah Recommends:

8. Big Wolf and Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme

I cried the first time I read this book. A sobbing cry reserved for the bereft. I repeatedly read it, because it is just lovely, and sometimes, I still cry. The other times, I pretend not to. Fortunately, the tears from rereading it are not born out of grief, but of gratitude.

This little story constantly reminds me of the purity of love and how it chips at the ego, an experience both terrifying and liberating, if we are brave enough to submit ourselves to it. If you are broken hearted, in love, or looking for love, I highly recommend Big Wolf and Little Wolf.

9. The Missing Piece Meets The Big O by Shel Silverstein

A lot of my relationship with Markus is aligned with this magical, minimalist book. Similar to the Missing Piece, we were both looking for something more, but not from another, but within ourselves. Similar to the Missing Piece, we thought the only way we can be happy next to someone is if we are whole, without the need to use another person to fill our holes. Similar to the Missing Piece, we met, and kept meeting, until we were like the Big O, and now we are finally rolling together happily. Read this if you are tired of disastrous and disappointing relationships. More than an interesting book to read, it is life changing.

10. 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

Some people read for pleasure, while others dive into books for learning. You can learn a lifetime from 33 Strategies of War. It is history, politics, self-help, tragedy, strategy, romance, and even comedy, rolled into one.

I remember writing and taking a lot of notes while reading this book. It is what I wished The Art of War by Sun Tzu to be, at least structurally, then I would have distilled its wisdom better instead of having my brain wrestle and writhe in an attempt to decode it. Get this book to fortify your mind in an enjoyable way.

11. The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Watts

I believe that Alan Watts, to be experienced, must be heard, not read. Fortunately, there are tons of his lectures on YouTube, and in fact, it is one of the first things that connected Markus and I when we first met in Boracay in 2017. He introduced me to Alan Watts, and with excitement, I do the same for you, if you have not already. Markus also lent me this book, fast forward several years, and it is an important read to take your mind off the ‘chasing mode’ and into the ‘enjoying mode’.

12. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This is not just a story, but a life, rich, deep, and colorful. There is art, culture, and vivid characters that I adore to this day. But great as these qualities are, what I like best about The Goldfinch is its technicality. The way it is written mesmerizes me. The narration, how it unfolds, the choice of words, the structure – it is so smooth, like eating a satisfying dark chocolate mousse. This is the one if you want an interesting, elevated adult read that remains genuine and sincere. Actually, I might reread this book soon, or force Markus to read it.

Where I would rather be right now

The future looks orange. With any luck.

Sitting in quarantine for almost a month now got me thinking. Where would I rather be right now? I’ve seen some pretty amazing places over the years, and having a lot of time to reminisce every day made me remember a lot of them. It’s fun to think that maybe I’ll come back there one day – and who knows, maybe after reading this you will want to go, too?

1. Boracay Island in The Philippines.

Can you spot the odd one out?

Boracay Island is where I started my travels and where I met Micah. After a 6-month closure and with no travelers coming these days because of COVID-19, Boracay’s white-sand beaches are probably more pristine than ever. But Boracay has a lot more going for it than just the beaches. Micah and I met at Legacy Gym, where Micah was staving off urges to go on murderous rampages doing Muay Thai, while I just went for Boxing to try out something new. If martial arts are not your thing there was also dragon boat racing, beach fitness and yoga everywhere, incredible restaurants, infamous Exit bar where fighters, backpackers and holidaymakers met, as well as a really nice fish market where I had the best tuna of my life. Neither Micah nor I have been back there since, so maybe it is finally time?

2. Thakhek in Laos.

This was after Thakek, right by the Cambodian border. I was in a hurry.

Last time I was in Laos I mainly saw the north. Vientiane does not offer much, but Vang Vieng is backpacker central with amazing nature to boot, Luang Prabang is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, but my favorite was Nong Khiaw, which is even north of that. Next to the beautiful nature, it offered that unique mix between some infrastructure but not too many backpackers that can make a place super enjoyable. After Nong Khiaw, though, I realized I was running out of time and pretty much b-lined it to the southern border in 30 hours or so. This meant that I missed out on the famous Thakhek Loop, which is a must if you are comfortable on a scooter or motorbike. So, I have technically been there, but not really – high time to do something about it, and I enjoy driving Micah around anyway.

3. Phuket in Thailand.

Thailand’s night markets – always worth the trip.

Time to fight again, this time Krabi Krabong. You know, since I was a child, I always wanted to do stick fighting. Just because it looked so cool in the movies. And this was my time to do it. So I searched for ‘stick fighting Asia’ and eventually found out about Tiger Gym in Phuket. I loved the excellent coaches and the intense training sessions, but more than that I liked meeting Micah for the second time, completely by accident. Now, Phuket can be nice if you avoid the touristy areas, but I would mainly like to come back there with Micah so we can reminisce about what it was like back in the day and then go and hit each other with sticks for a few weeks.

4. Soulac-sur-Mer in France.

Shaky beach selfie featuring camping beard.

I love camping, and that love started in France. More specifically, it started at the Atlantic coast around Soulac-sur-Mer, where my family and I used to holiday every summer. Now, I’m really looking forward to bringing Micah there, because not only are the beaches incredible, but the French food, markets and little towns are just something that you cannot find anywhere else in the world.

5. Hội An in Vietnam.

I lost my old phone, so enjoy this photo by Patrick Pellegrini on Unsplash

Another place I only saw for a day, because my visa was running out and I spent too much time dawdling around in the north of Vietnam. Historic Hội An, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a Southeast Asian trading port and Mediterranean village all at the same time. The city has cafés, tailored clothes (kind of a huge thing there), cheap beer and just a really nice feel that is hard to put your finger on. It would be amazing to come back and spend more than a few rushed hours there.

These are the places I have been thinking about, anyway. They probably have a strong connotation with freedom for me, which makes them extra appealing right now. Always happy to hear recommendations for other places though! I know the internet is full of travelers, who must all be reminiscing about freer times right about now. So, if you have a story of an amazing place that you would really like to come back to, I’d love to hear it!