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!

A sinister warning

Rare shot of a government plotting.

Since I know everyone is just having the times of their lives right now, I thought I’d add on to that with this sinister warning: Stay diligent. Not only about the whole COVID-19 thing, you know, observing all the necessary protocols to help contain and defeat it. What I mean is: Stay diligent about your governments.

Why? Because any singular event that draws the attention of the news cycle over an extended period of time can be an excellent tool for power politics. Usually there are two ways in which this happens, and if you want to recognize your respective countries when you get out of the pandemic, then you’d better pay attention to both.

First, it is a distraction. While COVID-19 is going on, only very few newspapers are going to talk about things that people just don’t care as much about in comparison right now. Like a thief who steals your purse while you are busy watching a car crash, so your government at any level can steal your rights while you are busy watching COVID-19.

Second, it is an excuse. People are scared right now. Once people get scared, they are suddenly much more willing to let the government get away with things that they would otherwise have a problem with. Privacy laws, for example – you just have to track people to make sure that they follow social distancing, right? Right, but who says those government rights are going to be taken away after the crisis? The only person who can make sure of that is you, and for that you have to pay attention.

It is easy to take what we have for granted. But just like the outbreak of COVID-19 suddenly changed the core realities of their very lives for millions of people in a matter of days, so can sneaky or would-be emergency measures change the very DNA of the countries we live in.

So, be diligent. None of this has to happen, but it can. And it can happen to any country, anywhere in the world. If you believe it cannot happen to yours, then you are already losing attention. But once you do pick up on something, make sure to share it with others. Even under this article, if you have already seen examples of this in your countries around the world. Because sometimes, just shining a light on it can already be enough to make it go away – or at least make it less sinister.

How to not be a serial killer

IMG_2226I exercise every day because I eat a magnificent amount of snacks it clears my head. When I am stressed, physical exertion allows me to vent. Catharsis. Free therapy session. Drug with no side effects. When I am not stressed, well, mainly I am just not conscious about the stress and the lighter feeling I have post-work out alerts me to it working out gives me a sense of productivity, like I have done something nice for my body, like I have my shit together.

These days, I exercise at home, in the balcony, surrounded by plants, first thing upon waking up. I do a mix of cardio and bodyweight exercises, and finish with yoga. If I did not snack like a champion, I may or may not be super hot by now. Working out is the most important part of my day, a crucial pill that keeps me from killing myself or murdering other people for self-care, especially in this most claustrophobic time. My personal values are freedom and peace, and I am infinitely sensitive to a lack of space and agency.  My ability to enjoy life then equates to the capacity of a teaspoon. I know things could be worse, but that does not make the challenges I face any less valid. I just cannot breathe. Physically, not dramatically.

So I work out, every day, for at least an hour and a half. Sweat the negatives off. Get my endorphins going. Try to put some sense back into my head and focus on the beautiful things remaining in this life. Like my Crayola-green plants, pink roses in bloom, and tiny purple basil  flowers attracting pollinators to our tiny garden, or the gang of yellow birds with red eyes that hang out on the chico tree daily, their chirping so joyful I am certain they are having a corona virus party.

Cross-body mountain climbers. Burpees. High knees. Squat with kicks. Plank with hip dips. Things will be okay, soon. Deep breaths. Stretching. Humming breaths. I got this. Just like every other extinction event I survived by exercising.

Case in point: When I was having a depression almost a decade ago, the only normal thing I was able to do was train muay thai (shout out to Phuket Top Team). Of course, it eventually turned out abnormal as it was the only thing I did for six to eight hours a day. But that is a story for another time. Stay sweaty and healthy, my friends. Do 10 jumping jacks if you feel the overwhelming urge to murder anyone.

Get off the disaster porn

The tiny cat judges you.

“Hi everyone, my name is Markus and I am an addict.” “Hello Markus”, reply the voices in my head.

I may have a problem.

When I started travelling three years ago, one of the first things I did was to stop keeping up with the news. I got rid of all my news apps, deleted all my bookmarks and cleaned up my browser history. Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems I’m right back where I started.

Sure, there are lots of stuff going on out there. But why do I have this crazy urge to keep track of every second of it? Am I going to jump into the PPE that I totally do not have and start tending to hospital patients? Not fucking likely. Even if I did, what would I do there anyway? I’m not trained for this, I’m just some dude rambling on an internet blog.

You know why I think I keep watching the news? It gives me a pleasurable illusion for a few seconds, in which it seems that I’m on top of things, instead of staring into an empty void most of the time. And yeah, it feels great while I’m doing it. But it also makes things all the emptier when I switch it off. So I switch it on again, but every time I need more to feel satisfied.

And yes, it does sound a lot like jacking off, thank you for noticing. But you know, come to think of it, it actually really is that. Because when I really come down to it, watching the news does nothing for me. Absolutely zero.

Think about it. If things get a lot worse, then I’ll know. People will tell me about it for one, but just looking outside my window will probably tell me that shit is going down. If things get better – same story, really.

For most people out there, this is probably even more true than for me. Because they have a boss who is going to call them in. Especially if you work in retail, hospitality, or anywhere in the service industry, you can bet your ass your boss is going to ring you up at the slightest whiff of COVID-19 not being a thing anymore.

I don’t know. Point is, the news suck. Sure, you can get a rise out of them for a bit. But all they’ll really do is drain what little meaning these days still hold. Next time I feel that itch, maybe I’ll do pushups instead. Or color something in. Maybe I’ll surprise myself, who knows.

The art of not wasting time

Not pictured: Inspiration.

Do you know how many hours of videogames I played last week? Because I completely lost count. Every time I start gaming, I think that it’s not a big deal. We are living through an epidemic, there is nothing else to do anyway, so why the hell not?

Well, because all of these statements are absolute horseshit. To start with, we are not living through an epidemic. At least not in the sense that all of us are constantly, directly and intimately experiencing COVID-19. Instead, most of us are sitting at home and our only contact with COVID is whatever we gobble up from the news trough.

Also, there is a lot to do, actually. If I look at the things I could do every day, and then look back at what I actually did, it almost makes me physically sick. And it’s not just the gaming, either. It’s also sleeping until noon and pointlessly watching the news or binging on reddit. 

Finally, why the hell not? Because it’s driving me insane, that’s why. I saw someone on reddit today saying that (I’m guessing) he wonders why gaming feels so much like work these days. Well, because it is. For me, anyway. I just need to make that progress, only for it to seem completely meaningless when I finally do make it.

So much for the art of not wasting time, then. But there has to be a better way, no? For those of us who don’t have to worry about food or rent, or being infected, who are not fighting the pandemic on the front lines in the hospitals, this is the one time in our lives that we actually have time.

But how do we not waste it? Well, this is what I’m doing, starting today. First, no more sleeping in, period. I don’t care if all I do in the pre-noon hours is watch the newborn kitten fall over, staying in bed until noon stops right now. I can only use time productively if I have the time in the first place.

Second, no distractions. This one is going to be the hardest. Because it’s already hard on a regular, non-apocalypse day. But it’s also the most important one. This is what’s going to decide if I come out of this with my head held high or strapped up in a straitjacket.

I just deleted the reddit app. I’m going to keep one news app, and one only. And I’ll ration my gaming – two hours a day, max. After all, doing anything for two hours straight is pretty intense. After more than two hours of blinking lights, it’s frankly a miracle that my brain doesn’t start dripping out of my nose. More changes pending.

Third, fill the time well. Some things here will be easy. I want to improve my French, exercise again and write every day. But even if I do all of these things, check the news once and then game for two hours, I’m still going to have at least half a dozen waking hours left. That will be the true test.

Wish me luck, internet. If any of this sounds familiar, or you have a silver bullet you want to share, please do let me know. There must be some things I haven’t tried before, and at the very least, we might as well suffer together – as long as it’s a minimum of 6 feet apart.

The Ultimate Quarantine Snack

Snacking is an integral part of any half-decent stress management program. It is a pillar that props up our COVID-19 home quarantine life. But while the pleasures of the usual big bag of chips are undeniable, we thought the present time demanded more than a bomb of preservatives, fat, sodium, and sugar.

Enter the ultimate quarantine snack.

Thin slices of sweet potatoes, potatoes, and plantains, all crispy, delicious, nutritious, cheap, and quick to make. Not sure if it is legal to use these adjectives in the same sentence really. But the point is, if you want a satisfying treat, you have whole food options like this that deliver comfort without wrecking your body. Think of it as next level snacking. All the pleasure and none of the guilt. You are welcome.

To make the ultimate quarantine snack, pick your choice of firm vegetables. Root crops are our favorite: great value for money, very tasty, and easily available, even in a pandemic world. We use a mandolin for slicing, always with a guard to preserve life and limb, but you can also just slice them thinly with a knife.

Fry in oil or bake in a hot oven and season as desired. Hard to believe, but a little goes a long way. We eat the potatoes with a light sprinkling of salt and the rest needs no seasoning to be yummy. Sadly, these snacks are really addictive. Do not let the subtlety deceive you. Proceed with caution.

So you get to choose. Will you use this home quarantine to start a fitness program or will you learn how to make the ultimate quarantine snack? You can do both, too. But we know the more delicious option.

Thank you, Coronavirus

Seeing people get infected with the new coronavirus or COVID-19 all over the world is not the best premise for looking at the big picture. But I still couldn’t help noticing a couple of things that seem to be happening in parallel to the mayhem.

First, nature is recovering. Pollution is dropping everywhere because economic activities have ground to a halt and people are stuck at home. Whether it is fish in Venice or blue water in Manila Bay, the signs are clear: just a few weeks were enough to produce impressive results in the natural world. And these are just the first and most obvious results.

Second, we learn which services are truly essential. The narrative has, for a long time been, that the more value you add to the economy, the more money you earn. But except for a few exceptions, many of the people that are keeping the world running today are part of the lowest-paid segments of the workforce.

Third, the pandemic shows in impressive fashion how important resilient, affordable and available healthcare is. The main thing it highlights is the failure of private healthcare systems. There is probably a bigger argument to be made here, but the fact of the matter is that the main goal of private businesses always is, always must be, profit. Perhaps it is not a great idea, then, to privatize an industry that should prioritize care over profit.

Fourth, a universal basic income or UBI safeguards the economy. Drawing a definitive conclusion about this now is probably premature. But what we seem to be seeing now is that a UBI makes sure the economy will not grind to a halt, even in the face of unprecedented disaster – and is much cheaper than the fallout of the alternative.

Fifth, we can do so much better. As the world scrambles to handle COVID-19, all the missed opportunities of the past are coming back to haunt us. The data, the warnings, the capacities were there to be ready for this. But we chose not to be.

As I’m writing this, the Pope pointed out that we went ahead “at breakneck speed”, ignoring the wars, injustices, and cries of the poor and our ailing planet. It may seem a bit dramatic (he is the Pope, after all), but as we examine the priorities of many societies around the world, perhaps the best thing this pandemic can do for us is to help us reconsider who we are and how we want things to be – both as individuals and as a collective.

So, for these new perspectives, thank you, coronavirus.

What to do during the pandemic

Behold the glory of the (almost finished) tiny house.

Not gonna lie, I’ve been pretty strapped for ideas lately. As an introvert, I always thought that being stuck at home for days on end is going to be easy for me – after all, I pretty much trained for it my entire life. But now that it is happening, I’m mainly fighting the onset of cabin fever.

It did give both Micah and I the opportunity to shift our focus a bit though. For one, we were looking at ourselves more. We did spend a lot of time just with each other in the past, but nothing was ever quite like this before.

Instead of being stuck at Micah’s parents’ house, who are kindly tolerating our neuroticism on a daily basis, we should be living in our tiny house right now. More than that, we should have rented it out, started a shop and café at the beach, gone to Vietnam. I should have finally completed my idea for an online course, that has been sitting on a proverbial shelf for months now.

Now, we are just sleeping in. Keeping ourselves busy with menial tasks like regularly disinfecting the house, doing the dishes, sweeping the floor… Not very inspiring, but it fills the time. On top of it all, I started gaming again. For someone with an addictive personality such as me this is playing with fire, but I’m telling myself that extreme times warrant extreme measures. For now, it seems to be working out.

Oh, and then there is this blog! This is what really made a difference in the past days. I suddenly found a WordPress notification on my phone and already wondered where that came from. As it turned out, Micah had just gone ahead with creating a website, and now I’m all too happy to jump on the bandwagon.

Maybe you clicked on this article hoping to get some ideas for your own self-isolation, but you just read through five paragraphs of feverish ramblings instead. Perhaps this is what to do during a pandemic, though. See if there is something new to be done and just do it, no matter if it makes sense or not. After all, the one thing everyone has right now is time. Would be a shame not to use it.