Monday, March 31, 2008

That's ILL!

“So, you’re going to need to lock the door behind you because it doesn’t lock on it’s own…..and I taped your rent on a post it, here ya go.

“Cool, thanks.”

“Helen already showed you where we put food waste right? Okay.” The roommate left, briefly, and then laughed to herself in the living room. She came back into my room. “Oh…and we have mono,” she said, smiling.

At first, I just laughed at her. “Oh! The kissing disease! How awful, I’m so so sorry,” I said. The girls insisted the virus was probably past its incubation period.

“We won’t infect you, just don’t lick our glasses or anything!” they said to me.

“Okay!” I responded.

I liked them. They were nice girls, and I wanted nice girls. And besides, it was just Mono…it wasn’t the bubonic plague or whatever terrible virus would make for an interesting contrast.

Then, hypochondria happened and I found myself listlessly searching “mono” in wikipedia.

Fever—this varies from mild to severe, but is seen in nearly all cases.
Tender and enlarged/swollen lymph nodes—particularly the posterior cervical lymph nodes.
Sore throat—White patches on the tonsils and back of the throat are often seen
Muscle weakness and Mental fatigue (sometimes extreme)

Some patients also display:

Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly, which may lead to rupture) and/or liver (hepatomegaly)
Petechial hemorrhage
Abdominal pain - a possible symptom of a potentially fatal rupture of the spleen.[1]
Aching muscles
Loss of appetite
Skin rash
Dizziness or disorientation
Uncontrolled shaking at times
Unable to swallow due to enlarged tonsils
Dry cough
Supra-orbital oedema—the eyes become puffy and swollen—may occur in the early stages of infection

Wow…those all totally suck.

And this was the kicker:

Individuals in close living arrangements nearly always pass the infection onto each other, although symptoms may not present for months or even years.

Okay, so at first I read that and I was like “nuh uh wikipedia…not this time. You be full o’shit,” I mean, since Wikipedia is peer-reviewed, perhaps that sentence just slipped by some real smart folks who meant to change it but never did. Or perhaps it was written by a monkey, or maybe a cat walked over someone’s keyboard but it just can’t be true.

You mean there’s no way to avoid it, Wikipedia? What if I bathed my dishes in Purell? What if I gargled with hot water after meals?

I felt hopeless. Depressed. This room was by far the best living situation I could have asked for, minus the threat of depression and skin rash. One of the past roommates had worked for Anthropologie and left all her niceass shit in the apartment inches away from my room and I know Anthropologie gets crap from people because its owned by Urban but this stuff was nice, and intricate, and the girls were sweet and we had already bonded over shared music tastes.

That night, as I breathed, I thought about the mono. Was it in the air? I thought something smelled funny. Was I getting depressed? I sure felt tired. Maybe I already had it.

I called my doctor the next morning. “Can I live with these people?” I asked the receptionist. She told me she’d ask someone. The nurse practitioner called me back and left a message while I was babysitting.

“Hi Steve, well I checked with doctor Mann and he said you should wash your hands a lot and never share dishes or glasses or anything with your roommates. He was not sure whether it was definite you would catch mono, but, if you can, you should also try and stay away from your roommates as much as possible. Oh, and ‘good luck.’ Those are his words, not mine. He wrote good luck. Ha ha ha well isn’t that funny. Well have a good day, Steve and we hope to see you in the next week or month or year. Buh-bye.”

Stay away from my roommates? But. I live with them. How is that possible? And what was with this defeatist “good luck” statement. I wanted to know; what kind of tone had my doctor used to say “good luck”? Was it sarcasm? Genuine heartfelt fuzzy good wishes?

That afternoon I had to pick up the kids from soccer practice. I tired to listen to “Matket Watch” on NPR, but my thoughts were all over the place. I called my mother and told her everything. “Move the hell out,” she said to me. “What are you, crazy?”

That night, I told my roommates I was leaving. "This is a break-up. I am breaking up with you because you're sick," I told them. They told me it was fine, they were used to it, and they were surprised that Helen, who owned the room I had moved into, had not told me about their illnesses.

I started to pack all of my books into boxes. That's when I got thirsty. I opened one of the cupboards and stared at the beautiful anthropologie cups for about two minutes, trying to decide which one looked the least infected. I chose an orange one with vines. I decided I'd have to make a hot drink, because I thought heat might kill the mono. I began boiling water for tea, first running hot water over the entire tea kettle to make sure it wasn't still infected. The kettle crackled as water dripped down on to the electric stove.

Next, I ran the cup over hot water until my hands were red and burning. Shaking, I stuck a packet of "calm" tea in the cup and waited for my water to boil. The irony of this did not alude me. After I had poured the boiling water into my cup, I began to attempt to "air sip" my calm tea. Hot water poured down my chin and onto the bottom of my t-shirt, where it made a small pool.

"This is not going to work, even for one day," I thought to myself.

It's now the fourth day. I move out tomorrow. Please don't feel sorry for me.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I Am A 40-Year-Old Woman

Okay so everyone does Yoga. You do, your mom does, your gay bffl does, your professor, that guy on the metro, the pigeon waltzing down the street.

And so do I.

Yoga is enjoyable, kind of. I mean, it's fun to feel all stretched out, but sometimes it hurts like a mofo. You know it.

But I can't help it...I just can't get enough of it. And because of this, I've started doing some things in public I'm not particularly proud of.

Things like downward facing dawg. In the office. At home. During dinner (after I've excused myself). Whilst talking on le teleophone.

I think it's probably annoying people, but I don't really give a shit. I feel like a million bucks afterward.

The problem is, when I'm not stretching, I wish I was stretching, and thus try to stretch in an inconspicious way, like reaching up high, or twisting my body in weird directions, or trying to sit up straight all the time.

Because of this, I am turning into a 40-year-old woman.


We all know about the "typical" fattie foods, but what about Phad Thai? Gyros? Pho? Tikka Masala....the kind of food that UW students eat on the regular.

Thievery Corporation

You know those artists on your itunes you're not especially proud of...the ones that serve a psychological purpose?

For me, Thievery Corporation is like the most relaxing shit ever made in the history of the universe. I could be doing anything; running, laughing, burping, farting...and thirty seconds of listening to the Thievery Corporation and I'll fall asleep.

Its the most played music on my itunes, and not because I even like it. I actually can't stand it. It's so booooring. So deliciously, deliriously boring.

Why Do People Shop At Red Light?

Vintage fashion clings to a selected reading of the past.

Red Light sells to people who want to say something about the past through their clothes. Sometimes, the reading of that past is something people do ironically, like when they buy an old college t-shirt that says something very honest on the ridiculousness of college culture. I'm not talking about wearing one of our own college t-shirts because we want others to realize where we went to school...I'm talking about buying someone else's old college t-shirt because it says something about their life that we find amusing. Maybe its something about beer, or something about homework, or something else entirely...

We buy these kinds of t-shirts because they imply we know something about our own American culture, and we wear it around town as a kind of status symbol. I'm also talking about buying a shirt that says something about the way a city wanted to be portrayed in the 1970's, and wearing it because the city's advertising was so misguided, or ignorant as to why people move to certain cities, that it makes the t-shirt (and it's wearer) appear hilahhrious.

Other items at Red Light are not bought out of a love for ironic humor, but out of a genuine love for something in the past that is no longer made; something like a particular brand of cowboy boots, or a band's old t-shirt, or a suit you can no longer find tailored a specific way.

Or maybe some people are looking for a particular color that went out of style, or really anything that went out of style. Red Light also attracts throngs of people during Halloween because there are so many people who want to embrace a figure of the past during Halloween.

I do not think that people will stop shopping at Red Light but I'm starting to have less and less interest in shopping there myself. Unlike most shops, Red Light cannot suddenly adopt a new style, or court fashion designers or labels who are creating new and interesting fashions. Because Red Light is a store that is all about the old, it will forever be filled with the old.

Unlike Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads, and Value Village, Red Light doesn't traditionally accept clothes someone bought just last year. No no no, the clothes must be from the early 90's, or the 80's, or the 70's.

Every time I go into the store, I see pretty much the exact same fashion, the exact same ideas, the exact same ironic jokes.

Is this what we want from a fashion store? Or do we want stores that can evolve?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I Think We Need to Admit

that, as white people, we don’t really talk about our own race at all, and how the color of our skin affects our lives. I'm guessing some people just read that first sentence and already pre-judged me as some out of touch hippie college student. Yes. I'm talking about race. No. I'm not a moron.

When we talk about racism, we’re labeled super ultra liberal or radical, too college, too academic, too theoretical, too honest. “How could you live with yourself if you believe you’ve been helped by your skin color?’ other white people ask us.

It doesn’t make sense to them why we would want to try and learn more about the history of black people in our country. When we bring up racism, everyone gets really uncomfortable. It’s totally taboo in most circles. “Why should you be talking about racism?” is what is covertly asked by the people who are silent. “You’re not black. It doesn’t affect you.”

Obviously, it does.

My skin color has affected everything in my life, and I’d be a shitferbrain fool if I ever discounted this privilege. God, even using the word ‘privilege’ and I can hear the hipsters hiss. Even the hipsters are afraid of being labeled too “hippy” because we’re all such pansies about completely embracing our liberalness, our commitment to understanding ourselves in relation to others (or at least this is what liberalism used to mean to me- most of us are now too cynical to talk about it in those terms).

Because we’re afraid to talk about our racism, nothing ever gets said, everything is covert and nothing changes. Racism is something that happens in other places, its something we have no relation to, since all of our friends are white and we don’t beat black people up or anything.

But in Seattle, we’re also very afraid of talking about black people because we’re also afraid we’ll be labeled racist just for bringing the subject up. We’re afraid we might be labeled ignorant so we just laugh at race jokes in an ironical tone. “Dude, look at how insanely racist that conservative guy is. Man I’m glad I’m not like him,” we say when we see a piece of racial comedy. Or we decry Sarah Silverman for being racist just because the program makes fun of racism.

In all of the times I’ve seen race talked about in national publications, it’s always surrounding Obama, or it’s talking about racism in the past, as if it was something that we somehow got over and moved on from. But we haven’t gotten over anything. We’re still racist and we just don’t talk about it. And then, when someone talks about it, all the sensitive white liberals get a their panties in a bunch. “Oh that’s not what I think, Trey Parker and Matt Stone,” and blah blah blah, one ignorant white guy says “I think that’s racist,” and suddenly we’re all barred from laughing at racial or ethnic jokes. The over-sensitive white liberal, has, instead of truly embracing his own position in the socioeconomic ladder, has stalled the conversation altogether with his shocking assertion (that he intends to be shocking, for he himself is terrified of how he saw himself portrayed in the comedy or piece of writing about racism and he sure as hell doesn't want people to talk about it, because he wants to repress these thoughts instead of airing them in a place where they can be refuted).

And it’s not being talked about in the newspapers, and it’s not being talked about online, and when a prominent reporter like Charles Mudede brings it up in a post, commentors ridicule him for focusing too much on racism, but I don’t hear anyone shouting at David Schmader for talking too much about Britney Spears, and which subject do we really think is more important to talk about? I think race, quite frankly. I actually think Charles should talk about race in everything, because it's really fucking important.

If that means its going to make you a little bit uncomfortable, I see that as a good thing. It’s the beginning of a great conversation, really.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Port Elizabeth Makes it to the Cover of the New York Times!


PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa — The Jose Pearson TB Hospital here is like a prison for the sick. It is encircled by three fences topped with coils of razor wire to keep patients infected with lethal strains of tuberculosis from escaping.

But at Christmastime and again around Easter, dozens of them cut holes in the fences, slipped through electrified wires or pushed through the gates in a desperate bid to spend the holidays with their families. Patients have been tracked down and forced to return; the hospital has quadrupled the number of guards. Many patients fear they will get out of here only in a coffin.

“We’re being held here like prisoners, but we didn’t commit a crime,” Siyasanga Lukas, 20, who has been here since 2006, said before escaping last week. “I’ve seen people die and die and die. The only discharge you get from this place is to the mortuary.”

The article is about balancing the rights of the sick vs, the rights of the community when dealing with diseases as deadly as extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis

It's easy to be critical of the way South Africa is handling the disease, but I wonder what the American government would do, today, if people started dropping like flies from a highly infectious disease? From a public health perspective, quarantining the sick makes sense. But for the people quarantined, its another kind of hell.

Micro Micro Local Blogging

This is where the magic starts! Get updates from a blade of grass hanging out in the sunshine! Revel in our daily cloud movement reports. Read a daily column from the cat down the street, and a road congestion report from the traffic circle at the end of our block. Welcome to micro-micro local blogging. We leave no rock unanalyzed!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's Moment

Instead of writing anything (so late in the media cycle) about Obama's speech, I am going to tell you what's wrong with reading something about what someone thinks about Obama's speech. Obama's speech was a work of art, it was an interesting gutsy speech BUT the best part about the speech was that, for a thirty seven minute period, everyone who thought anything about Obama was watching him speak into a camera. They weren't reading what I thought about Obama or what you thought about Obama, they were simply absorbing him with no gatekeeper journalist influence.

Blogs have become wonderful tools for self-expression, and have given a lot of smart opinionated people the place at the media table they deserve.

But reading a personal political blog must never replace someone actually watching and listening to a particular candidate.

Unfortunately, in this election, (and in most recent elections) I've heard more about what "media experts" think about a candidate than I've actually heard words directly from a candidate. I've read blogger's opinions on Clinton's policy points. I've read stupid rants on Clinton and Obama that revealed the one journalist's particular biases more than anything about the candidate.

Usually you don't hear a Clinton speech or an Obama speech or a McCain speech in full. You hear sound bites of the speech, edited with media commentary telling you what to think about the sound bites. Often you read about inane things, like whether a candidate seemed sleepy, or on edge, or angry during a speech. You don't hear what the candidate said, but rather you read a psychological profile of the candidate in the moment. A boring pyschological profile that would fit any one of us if we were on the road for weeks with zero sleep.

And perhaps it makes sense that things like hair, facial expressions, and intonation are more interesting to a pack of campaign journalists who have heard the same speech fifty gazillion times in the past 48 hours.

But the rest of the world didn't hear that speech. The rest of the world would like to know what was said, and not necessarily with all the petty nonsense. Okay it sells more newspapers, okay. We get it.

What was beautiful about the Obama speech was that, for one rare moment this year, everyone was hearing the words from the horse's mouth, and the producers, directors of CNN and MSNBC actually allowed us to have that moment without all of their usual talking heads.

After all, nothing is more boring or politically irrelevent than a "media expert."

I've Changed the Title of This Blog

And so it was decreed...

This Blog shall now be called "OH MY GOD SEATTLE" because 'OH MY GOD I AM SO TOTALLY BACK IN SEATTLE.'


I do not promise to write, record, analyze, interpret, quote, critique, or say anything of substance about the city of Seattle, its citizens, its mayor, its voting record, its trees, its architecture, its music, or its mountain.


Don't Let Me Drive Your Car

I'm a terrible driver and I should never be allowed to operate a vehicle.

It's not that I'm reckless (I wish I was reckless)...the problem is that I'm a bad driver. I'm slow. I drive like I'm daydreaming, and half the time, I am daydreaming.

I think about the trees on the street, I stare at cute boys on their bikes, and generally do everything wrong.

You know how visitors from Los Angeles and New York and anywhere come to Seattle and complain because of all the bad drivers? They comment about how no one honks and no one is assertive and everyone drives like they have nowhere to go? Yeah, when they complain, they're usually talking about drivers like me. I'm the bad drivers. I'm the kind of Seattle driver that gives all of Seattle drivers a bad name.

Also- honking freaks me out. When someone honks at me, I take it as a personal offense. I get really tense, and then I feel guilty and ashamed. This makes me drive even worse, because I'm emotionally distressed. I mutter a lot too when this happens, often very quietly, but it is certainly noticeable if someone else is in the car.

No one should ever drive with me. People do, but they're retarded for doing it. Don't you realize I'm putting your life at risk? What are you, insane? Get out of the car! Get out of the car!

Sometimes people will tell me stories about how irritated they were driving home because "some fucker was driving like twenty miles per hour! On an arterial!" I often nod and laugh and say something like "man I hate those assholes" but secretly I'm thinking "Shit..I amthat asshole."

Sometimes I'm a great driver. Sometimes, when I'm in the right state of mind, everything just flows, and I make all my turns effortlessly, merging is simple, and I'm assertive.

But usually not.

And I know I know, I should buy a bike. I know I know, bikes are better for the world, bikes make you feel alive, bikes make you feel connected to your environment, bikes are beautiful beautiful pieces of machinery we should all make love to...but I just don't want to ride a bike. I'd feel even more terrified of the road on a bike. If you gave me a bike and told me to bike to work every day, I'd be dead in a year and you'd have to tell my parents how sorry you are for their loss because you wanted to help the "environment." Well guess what? I'd die faster riding a bike than sucking in pollution every day so fuck off.

For now, I'm going to drive my car and try not die or kill anyone.

To my parents, who are probably reading this; I'm just kidding. That scrape is from someone else.

The Apple Store at University Village Is So Gay

Everyone hates University Village. I know you do, anonymous internet reader. "The village", as it's collectively called by locals who suck, is a big grotesque herpes sore on the ravenna neighborhood and everyone knows it. Recently overheard conversations at University Village included the words "Aspen" and "Botox", the sentance "can't wear this after labor day," and the expression "aww tear."

University Village makes me want to throw up on myself.


(and this is a big HOWEVER)

The University Village Apple Store is the best place to meet gay people in all of Seattle. The salesmen are gay, the customers are gay, the advertising on the wall is gay. The store might as well just put a gigantic upside down pink triangle under it's apple logo and designate itself to be a "safe space" for the gay (and the lesbian? Though maybe not...)

My salesmen was wearing a light blue shirt and had a delightfully highlighted hair cut. He asked me a bunch of questions but I didn't listen because I was too busy staring at his hair. After he was done with my order, he went to join all the other young attractive gay male salespeople in the back of the store. What they do back there, god knows, but it was probably something awful gay.

GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY. If you're a gay, go there. NOW.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

blah blah blah I'm home

It was so motherfucking cold outside earlier today. I'd been taking baths on the regular, salding hot baths, to try to banish the cold from my bones. Today I sat in the bath tub for a good forty minutes, just trying to feel warm. And then the sun came out, and all of Seattle looked like it had been blessed by god, and it was suddenly warm. Now I'm hot.

I've been trying to see and catch up with numerous friends, and it always feels weird regurgitating the epiphanies I've already shared with the world on my blog. A part of me just wants to tell my friends to go and read what I've written, if they really want a window into my soul, but I suppose that's a bit of a laborious task, and blogs are always more fun to read as a day-by-day thing rather than trying to digest it all as some kind of choppy memoir.

I'm totally overwhelmed about starting classes at UW, my first quarter ever there. It's just such a goddamn enormous school. Today I walked around the campus with my friend Tristan and we stopped in a bunch of different lecture halls because Tristan had to meet with all of these different professors, and I was struck by the enormity of it all. Mostly, though, I was bored.

I Went on a bizzare errand with Tristan to pick up 8mm 70's porno that he needed for an art project. Tristan didn't want to go alone to pick up the porn because he was concerned that he might get raped and / or chopped up into tiny pieces from the man with the porno. But the man who opened the door to give us the porno was totally harmless. He was about 45 year old wearing huge bifocals and short shorts. He was also barefoot.

I am now sitting on someone else's bed, in someone else's house, watching the Obama speech half-assedly, checking a bunch of other things out at the same time, paying attention to nothing and everything. Obama is so eloquent, but his voice is just droning on and on and it's making me want to fall asleep..

ALSO! Today Tristan and I checked out Calvary church for shits and giggles. I've always wondered what was in that massive building on Roosevelt, and I didn't realize it was a mega church. Let me tell you; it was weird. The guy who led us around was a twenty four year old youth pastor. He had a self-concious haircut with wind-swept bangs. We walked all around the building with him as he talked to us about Christianity and asked us awkward questions about our faith. We didn't tell him we were Jewish. Oh yeah, and the twenty four year old youth pastor was married.

Inside the church was a nursery, a choir room, an auditorium, a teen area (with a stage and band equipment), a chapel, a reception, a was truly an endless labyrinth of rooms. So much money! So much effort to prove to Jesus that you dig him! You'd think a simple cross would do.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I Was Right

At the folk's. My old clothes, old toys, old books, old self is unavoidable here. All of the things I meant to throw out are still lying around. I need to get out, as soon as possible.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Plane Home Was Death

Three screaming children seated next to me. Twenty-seven hours in the air. In this compartmentalized world, the flat screen TVs take over much of your time and brain space. Trying to find the right movie, fighting boredom, fighting exhaustion, fighting your feet, fighting the space in front of your feet, pretending the air you're breathing is actual air, fighting the voice that is telling you to leap up and do jumping jacks....

The Delta amenity kit calls itself earth-friendly because most of the products in it were made from natural, biodegradeable and recycled materials, produced in a facility in China and distributed to people like me who already have toothbrushes, headphones, lotion and eye-patches in their bags. I would have refused the amenity kit, had I not originally thought it was some delicious snack.

I watched like a gajillion films. Michael Clayton. Enchanted (until the Grey's Anatomy guy started to fall for that one girl and I was like 'oh no he wouldn't' and started watching the "Office" instead). No Country For Old Men. My Kid Could Paint That.

Michael Clayton was my favorite.

Okay and now I'm home.


Friday, March 14, 2008

One Thing I Won't Miss About Being Here...

Is the country-wide obsession with the song that repeats "suicidal" "suicidal" "suicidal""suicidal" over and over again. I wonder how many people have committed suicide because of Sean Kingston and his stupid stupid song.

What the Fuck Am I Going To Write About When I'm Back in Seattle?

This is what totally sucks about a travel blog; unless you say fuck you to the ol' US of A and stay forever traveling, the travel blog has an expiration date. The expiration date for this travel blog is coming up soon, and then I'm going to have to find something new to blog about. I can just see the rest of my posts:
"I hate America. It is raining outside and my parents are irritating me. Went to Grateful Bread, came home. Saw a pretty flower."
Uch. I'm going to have to do something crazy when I get home, something consistently crazy every day, so I can have a steady stream of things to talk about here.

The First Time I Tried To Write About South Africa...

This is the essay I submitted to my professor in the second week of class, when we were still getting ready to go to South Africa and I didn't know jack about the country. It's funny to look back on this essay, since I'm leaving tomorrow.

I still can't believe this essay didn't get me kicked out of the program...

South African Narrative

Whoa there colonialist cowboy! Where in the hells do I start? Ok so South Africa is this country at the southern tip of Africa. Like a million years ago there were only blacks that lived there. Then (unfortunately) white people from Britain and Holland and Denmark (and other places where white people come from) settled in the area. They were terrible to the blacks. They forced them to live in townships and clean their bathrooms. They would take aside blacks who did not follow their commands and mercilessly beat them to death.

Then, Steve Biko arrived on the scene! He educated himself with the whites and was able to articulate what he saw as forced subjegation.

Biko was also not such a fan of white liberals. He thought that the black movement must come from blacks, not Whiteys who “sympathized” with blacks but didn’t want to give up their shit in the revolution. Biko was eventually killed by whites….

But now South Africa is a rainbow nation! And everyone lives harmoniously together! And Apartheid has ended! Right? RIGHT!?

No. There are many colors of the rainbow in South Africa but they do not all get along. Blacks are still poor, and whites are wealthy. Lack of education, AIDS, and racism still affects blacks who live in the townships. The people who live there are now free to vote and travel, but poverty affects many. There is a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor.

But we’re going to help solve this right?


We’re going to South Africa to listen and learn, We are going to try and understand what the political scene is like in South Africa without judging individual actors. We are going to try and open our hearts and minds, and engage in “Socratic conversation” or something. We are going to try to not be ethnocentric. This is easier said then done.

And then there’s tourist South Africa. The wildlife! The hotels! The casinos! The beach! The flora! The fauna! The waves! The surfing!

We will be trying to enjoy these aspects of South Africa while remembering what’s really going on politically. It will be a troubling contrast to many of us.

The crime:

Some of us are worried about the crime….but….lord almighty have you been to the Ave recently!? Like actually walked down the ave at night alone!? Hells no you haven’t. That’s because at Tommy’s Nightclub, peeps get shot on the daily!

So there are unsafe areas in Seattle just like there are unsafe areas in South Africa. We will be careful.

Then there’s the music. My god the music! Has your soul ever been stirred awake by the sound of one woman’s high-pitched vibrato? Mine hadn’t until this one girl from South Africa came into our class and sang for us. Jesus Mary and Joseph. I died.

Okay so you may think this South African narrative is a bit…well…under researched. But this is honestly all that I’ve learned so far from this class. I’m not going to bullshit you and tell you I read up on everything I could. I went to travel stores…I read lonely planet….lonely planet is a TOURIST guide! I learned nothing from it. I’ve honestly read the Wikipedia entry on South Africa about five times. These are all the insights I’ve had. This is what’s been on my mind. This is what I think about when I think about South Africa. Please don’t hate me.

I think I got a warning and a tentative "C+" from my professor.

Newsflash! "AIDS Can Be Cured By Fruits and Vegetables"

I have seen many public service announcements for AIDS during my time here. I’ve seen advertisements for lovelife, an organization which seeks to inform young South Africans about how to protect themselves from infection. I’ve read pamphlets about AIDS in Church basements, hidden from view. I’ve seen a South African movie where AIDS played a central role. I’ve heard an African scholar tell me that some of the students I teach are probably infected, and I may not be able to see them when I come back to visit because they’ll be dead. I’ve lead a dramatic play about the virus with 9 and 10 year olds, who begged me to include a section on how to use a condom. I’ve talked with fellow teachers who had just returned from a funeral of one of their closest friends, but didn’t know the cause of her death. I’ve met an openly HIV positive woman who spreads the gospel of Jesus to help soothe and calm those infected by the illness. I’ve heard about a political leader who believes one can wash the AIDS away, and a health minister who believes there are herbal remedies for the virus. I’ve heard people tell me the cause of AIDS is poverty, and I’ve heard others tell me the cure for AIDS is fruits and vegetables. I’ve met gay people who have told me they know no one with the illness. I’ve watched a gay pride parade in the center of Cape Town roll by without a single mention of the virus.

AIDS is visible, and it’s not. It’s out in the open, and completely hidden. It’s the main story of South Africa, and it’s a side note. It can be cured by Jesus, and it can be cured by pills. It can be prevented by condoms, but condoms can’t always prevent it. It’s associated with heterosexual sex, and it’s associated associated with homosexuality. It’s something to be ashamed of, but it’s something we “must stop.” It affects 20% of the population and it affects 30% or does it affect 50%?

I came hear partially to learn more about AIDS, but I feel like I know even less about the virus than I did before. I know it’s still spreading, but I don’t understand how and why. I know it’s a visible pandemic, and yet it’s still so invisible. I understand why people associate it with poverty, and lack of nutrition, yet I still don’t understand why people don’t associate it with sex. I understand there’s a taboo around the illness and yet I don’t understand why it is still there. I understand why no one talks about it, but I don’t understand how they could afford not to.

A New Tag

I've added the tag "CS" and a tag search tool on my blog so that my professor, Gene, can easily find the posts that refer to Community Service (CS). This way he can read my community service journal and see all the great things I've learned....

I've been getting some comments from South Africans and others who are reading this blog in preparation to travel here, and if you're one of those people, and you're interested in working in a school or doing anything with locals, you might also want to check out the CS tag because it's S.A.-centric.

The rest of what I post is all over the place...which is just the way I like it.

Gay Children On The TeeVee

I was just watching some shitty movie on network television called “Yours, Mine and Ours”. It was directed by Owen Wilson, and I just stopped on the channel long enough to be introduced to one of the characters in the film; a gay effeminate asian child. In the scene I watched, he was helping his mother pick out an outfit. “How’s this color?” she asks him. “Fabulous,” he responds.

Blaahhh! Stereotypical gay children on TV makes me want to throw up on myself.

Sometimes I wonder if America will remember the early portrayal of gay children in the movies as a shameful period, like the period they’d rub black make-up on white people’s faces to symbolize their blackness, or the days of Aunt Jemima and the chuck and jiving “negroes.” But while portrayals of African Americans in major motion pictures have moved beyond the blatantly stereotypical and racist (into a more covert, subversive kind of racist), portrayals of gay children are especially heinous in their blatant BLAAHHH LOOK AT ME! I’M A GAY CHILD!

Somehow I doubt this child would be so comfortable with his sexuality at such a young age. While his mom was a hippie, she certainly did not look like one of those PFLAG hippie mom, though I guess you never really know it.

I should probably admit right here that I was also a flaming gay child, and of course I didn’t realize it. Gay children are sometimes flaming, and I was a flamer. At first I wondered if perhaps my own discomfort with the gay asian stemmed from the tinge of recognition I felt when I saw him in the movie.

But not really…While a well-acted portrayal of a gay child may have brought back memories, this gay asian child struck me as some bizarre poorly-imagined homosexual, The actor is totally straight, the mannerisms forced, the movements awkward and false.

Also, the child did not act like a gay child. He acted like an adult gay man trapped in a child’s body. Clearly a focus group had been convened, and had listed all the traits they associate with gay males, and then the child actor had to adopt all of these characteristics.

This is a lazy movie, using lazy stereotypes. Forshame Owen Wilson, forshame.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Short Story, Care of Facebook News Feed

Laura Umetsu added "Guns Germs and Steel" to her favorite books.

Phillip Nathan Spitzer wrote on Graham Stockdale's Wall.

Graham: Haha what the fuck is Yass doin

Morgan Corr went from being "single" to "married."

Michelle Nguyen: I am fucking frustrated right now.


Do travel blogs irritate you? Do you ever wish the madness would stop?

I can't believe I'm coming home soon

That's all.


I don't know why...maybe there's something very sick with my brain, but I like to read about the last school I went to, GW, on their newspaper's website. This is literally the most boring website I've ever read, and I have no interest in anything there. But I can't stop reading it.

Also- how is this news?

College sucks.

Rift Over AIDS Treatment Lingers in South Africa

Interesting story in New York Times about reducing mother to child transmission of HIV.

Found in a Township Health Clinic:

The "answer" from "God": stop having sex.


South Afrika: What the Fuck Have I Learned?

It’s very very hard to sum up all that I’ve learned in one essay, especially just as I feel like I’m starting to realize all that I’ve learned. In many ways, everything I’ve learned has been covered in class. I’ve learned a lot about poverty, about AIDS, about white supremacy. I’ve learned about my role as an American in another country. Most importantly, I’ve learned about how I react to certain situations, I’ve learned how I shut down, how I act cowardly, how when the going gets rough, I continually yearn for some kind of comfort. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve been reading so much about Buddhist thought, but the way in which human beings react, over and over again, with such regularity, seems to be the most important epiphany of all. White people in South Africa react to the daily news by building gates around their homes, hoarding their wealth, terrified that black people will come to their homes, stick their guns in their mouths and steal everything they own. The Africans have reacted to their situation in surprising ways. They are open to strangers, as we’ve discussed. Sume, the principal at my school, has reacted to her circumstances by building libraries, and computer labs, painting her school a brilliant orange, and courting tourist dollars from places as far away as Germany.

But it isn’t fair to Sume that she should have to react like this, literally picking the bones thrown to her by the whites. Sometimes I think she should be angry, more angry than she is. Sometimes I think if all the Africans in South Africa were really truly educated like the whites, they would be just as angry as the whites are about losing their jobs to black people. Economics in South Africa operate in incredibly unfair ways by eradicating the voices of the poor, the voices of the uneducated. For weeks here, I would walk around turning over the same tired phrase in my head; “South Africa; land of contrasts.” But it’s true! This is a land of contrasts. The gulf between the rich and the poor is crazier than the gulf in America, or at least more visible. The fact that 13% of the people control 87% of the wealth is staggering. As Frantz Fanon said, in the colonial state “the economic structure is also the superstructure. The ends are the same. You are rich because you are white and you are white because you are rich.” The fact that Fanon has been unfortunately pushed to the fringes of academia, even in liberal liberal Seattle, illustrates just how uncomfortable most white people are with antagonizing their own socioeconomic position.

And I have no idea what the answer is. I keep on thinking about how the Nordic states use progressive taxes to spread the wealth around. The idea would be to charge a rich person a few thousand rand for a speeding ticket, while charging a poorer person only a few rand. But, as the director of the Steve Biko Foundation pointed out to me, the Nordic states have homogenous populations, and it’s much easier to convince people to give money to other people who look the same as them, who haven’t been so viciously otherized.

I just got back from Cape Town two days ago, and I’d like to bring Cape Town into this essay. Cape Town is the tourist face of South Africa, and what a face. Cape Town beckoned me for six days, beckoned me to shop, eat, hike, and try to fill up my brain with the prettiest images possible. And sometimes I feel like that’s what traveling has become to many; trying to fill up your own mental reserve with the prettiest pictures, the best smells, the most comfortable things. And here we all go around trying to capture everything on our cameras so we can give a detailed narrative slide show to our friends back home, full of inflection, pointing out all the pretty things we’ve seen. And the funniest thing, to me, is that we’re all taking the exact same pictures of the exact same things. Table Mountain. The Waterfront. The Beaches. We all go to the exact same places, but stand in different angles, attempting to really capture the space we’re in.

So a lot of this trip I’ve spent analyzing tourism in South Africa. Where do tourist dollars go? How does the government present itself to tourists? How do tourists learn about apartheid? How do they learn about poverty? Sometimes I feel very cynical about the tourism industry here. I feel like tourists come here to go on safaris, but don’t venture into the townships except on highly sheltered tours. In one of the essays I wrote on my blog, I made a satirical joke about creating a special Oprah package for all the thick-skinned strong-gutted tourists. Think you can handle the real world? Here, hold my baby, feel my warts, smell my garbage. But I guess this kind of poverty tourism doesn’t really go well with the whole safari theme.

I’m not even beginning to cover all that I’ve learned on this trip, so here I’ll try to sum up some more epiphanies. I’ve learned that to be a teacher in South Africa, especially an American teacher, you have to be tough or the kids will walk all over you. This was hard for me to learn. I wanted the students to respect me because I was awesome, not because Sume told them they had to. But, in the end, I felt more and more like a clueless hippie loser and less and less like the celebrity teachers I’d idolized in movies, like Whoopie Goldberg in Sister Act, and Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson. No no no, you can only be friends with the students after you’ve earned their respect, and they will only respect you if you act strong and powerful. It’s all an act, really, it’s all theatre, but I think I’m learning how to fake it.

My goal was to create a safe space where the students at Charles Duna could discuss their hopes and fears, and analyze their own cultures in an atmosphere that encouraged creative risk and honesty. I think, in many ways, I have succeeded. The students have broken down barriers between each other, and I have pushed them to deconstruct their own creative interpretations of township life by constantly interrupting their skits and asking them “why?” Why does the mother refuse to reveal her AIDS status? Why does the boyfriend refuse to wear a condom? Often, the students have no idea why. They are so young, and they are acting out the perceptions of township life from a young perspective. But in many ways, they are wiser than I. One boy, Msimalelo, I will openly admit, is more comfortable with his sexual orientation (at age 11!) than I am. He is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met, and I will never forget him. I hope to send him through college, but not through a patronizing organization like Chirtian Children’s Network.

What have I learned about study abroad programs? I think we’ve all learned that groups continually fall apart, then come together, then fall apart again. I think the secret is letting yourself have all the emotional reactions you need, and to give yourself time to process things. I’ve been getting better at that.
Of course, I’m proud of our group. While we’re not always honest with each other, we always try to be. I’ve been getting better at getting pissed off at people, which is a weird skill to acquire.

I have no idea how this program will affect my life. I think I’ve made some life long friends, so hopefully I won’t get sucked into my daily routine in Seattle and lose contact with all of them. I’m sure I won’t. I also hope that I don’t hate white people when I get back home, but I think I will just a little bit. I’m going to feel angry at my parents for being overprotective all over again. But I went bungee jumping! I’ll tell them, and they’ll say “yeah right, ok, you gave into peer pressure. Get good grades.” And I’ll tell them, “But I’ve changed, I’m not as fearful anymore!” and they’ll say, “fear is there for a reason. Fear protects you.” I don’t think they’ll use that language, but they will definitely say something to that effect.

I guess I hope, more than anything in the whole wide world, that I don’t listen to them, and instead continue to listen to the very healthy, sometimes anarchistic voice that says, “go there, do this, try that.” If anything, living here has helped this voice to grow a bit stronger. For that, I am incredibly thankful.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Reading Malcolm X

When I read his book, it made me want to write my own book, and it made me a little bit sad that I haven’t worked as a pimp or drug dealer for a period of time because then my life would be so much more interesting to read.

Instead my life is a bunch of fragmented experiences, with no anti-semitism or homophobia thread to tie them all together. Yeah, I’ve experienced both, but not to the extent that Malcolm has experienced racism. I also don’t know if I’ve even reached the point where I can spot homophobia or anti-semitism unless it is blatant, and it’s most usually covert.

Usually, I just assume people don't like me because they find me irritating, and being gay and Jewish doesn't mean you're automatically irritating, right? RIGHT?

UPDATE: I think this was what they call a false epiphany.

Friday, March 7, 2008

New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks

Maybe I should skip all this "thinking" and "analyzing" and "writing" and just rip all my headlines from

Also...this. I feel like Dad should subscribe to the Onion.

Speaking of Straights

There are all these hot rugby players just wandering around the hotel today and I'm wondering...are South African rugby players just as gay as the rest of the world's rugby players? Would any of them mind if I hit on them?

The Hot Men on Cape Town Pride Floats....

....are apparently straight, according to one source. They were hired by the gay bars here and paid to dance on a float.

Do gay bars do this at Seattle Pride as well? Aren't there enough hot gay men in a city of three million to fill up one puny float? How do straight men symbolize a city's gay pride? What do they have to be proud of? Their straightness?

One day. We only get one teensy eensie day and the straights have to go and steal the best float with their unfortunately perfectly-sculpted abs.

The Gay Muslim Float at Cape Town Pride

In case you can't read it, the float reads, "I am a gay muslim, not an alcoholic, nor do I lic alcohol."

Does the float suggests that Islam equates the homosexual sin with the sin of alcoholism or do muslims view gays as both sexual deviants and also alcoholics? And why does the float need to enumerate 'nor do I lic alcohol'? Isn't that redundant? Perhaps there's an English barrier at work here.

Grammar confusion aside, I applaud the emerging community of out gay muslims for risking homicide and showing up.

"Facebook, eh?"

As I was sitting here thinking of something to write, one of the hot rugby players who is staying at Garden Court this weekend wandered past my computer, shot a look at the blue and white screen (I'm sure he couldn't actually see what I was doing) and said to me "Facebook, huh?"

I slowly turned my head around and looked into his eyes, bleary from staring at the screen for twenty-five minutes.

"Nope. Not Facebook," I replied.

The man sort of laughed, and left.


It still feels weird being online in this country, and sitting alone next to a computer. People look at me like I'm some kind of idiot savant. Why would I chose to be alone and write when I could be out in the sun, frolicking in the water? Where are my friends?

I doubt anyone would bat an eye if I was typing alone in a coffee shop in Seattle.

Pictures of Cape Town

Stas and Meheret laughing on Table Mountain

Table Mountain, again.

Part of the Twelve Disciples.

Sunset on Table Mountain

Stas on Clifton Beach.

A float at Cape Town Pride

University of Cape Town, shrouded in clouds.

There are more, but I feel too lazy to upload them...

Shameless Plug

My friend Thea Chard just published her first article in the Los Angeles Times about an inquest into Princess Diana's death and it's fabulously written. You can find it here. Good Job, Thea! Keep writing!

Post #102

I didn't congratulate myself for breaking post #100 when it happened but oh my god, look! This is my 102nd post! I can't believe it!

I'd like to thank my parents for their constant email encouragement, my college English teacher Lisa Page for always laughing at my short stories, and everyone on this trip who's been reading along with me. I plan on continuing to write when I go back home to Seattle, in some capacity, every day because it's been so much fun to share my words with all of you.

In other news, I will be home in eight motherfucking days. Crazy.

The American Students Who Study at University of Cape Town

Brain dead. I don’t use that term lightly. The people Melanie lives with are brain dead. The sort of jet setting liberal so prevalent in the new South Africa. I want to kill them all, just as they are killing me with their fake smiles, nervous laughter, and Gucci bags.

I hate them.

They epitomize everything that’s wrong with the American educational system. How the fuck did these brain dead bimbos get into Penn and Pomona? How many thousands of more qualified black applicants did they beat with their community service essays on building a well in Uganda, a spring break trip they took on their parent’s expense specifically to have the kind of profound moments great college essays require.

These brain dead white people, who go to class at University of Cape Town, then come home, then get drunk and get stoned with their other brain dead white friends. And they’re in Africa, motherfucking Africa. But this Africa looks a whole lot like Palm Springs. This Africa is not really Africa at all. Those dirty cabs the white kids bemoan because of how they don’t obey the speed limit, the ones African people actually use? Those cars are what I associate with Africa.

There is no Africa to see here. I am living in a fortress surrounded by an electric fence.

“I feel so bad for our house cleaner,” Melanie says to me. And maybe this patronizing talk about black housekeepers is the extent to which Melanie has analyzed her own relationship to the black community in South Africa. Maybe she is the only poor black South African woman Melanie has ever met. Who am I to judge, right?

But who is Melanie to judge either? And that’s what pisses me off more than anything about these private school douchebags; they’re willingness to judge everything and everyone that doesn’t fit into the prep school mold. Actually learning about the culture? Weird. Actually writing self-critically about your experiences? Why?

But there’s a much subtler, and more subversive control element I am having a hard time putting into words. Maybe it’s just the look I got when I told one of the girls I took the cab cab alone downtown. It was a look like, “why would you do that?” It was a look like, “weren’t you afraid?’ Finally, it was a look that said, “Don’t you know and respect your own position in the economic food chain?”

And that’s the difference between me and these girls. While they seem to be fairly comfortable with the life they’ve created for themselves, in the leafy green university bubble, I am not at all comfortable with my own race, my own privileges, and my own position in the economic superstructure. I am not complacent. I am agitated. I am peeved. I am angry. I am sad. I am alive.

Don’t wear your I-Pod headphones. Don’t travel alone in a cab cab. Don’t walk alone at night.

I am sitting in a beautifully upholstered house. My couch lies on tiles that were set by Africans. This room was cleaned by an African maid. I have been touched by an African, but I am not in Africa.

Don’t forget to lock the house. Don’t give money to homeless people. Be careful walking down the street. Don’t talk on your cell phone in the street. You might draw attention to yourself.

This house is all that’s wrong with America. This house is all that’s wrong with international tourism. This house is an island, an American island, where no one has to feel like they’re actually in a new country.

I’m sorry. It must sound like I’m being a terrible hypocrite. I live with Americas, too. I know. We’re all Americans. We can’t escape that. We can’t apologize for it over and over. We’re Americans. That’s just who we are.

But you don’t have to live like this, Melanie. You have so many options! Go live in a township! Make friends with African people! Stop being so judgmental of everyone! Stop building up walls no one can climb up! No woman is an island, so stop building a moat. Soon you will go hungry on your island and die. That is the cold hard truth.

I hope you find peace. I’m out of here.

If I have to spend five more minutes here my head will explode.

I don’t like your roommates. The one from Penn State, the one you told me was a Christian? She asked me to sum up my entire study abroad experiences “one good, one bad.” Uh, bitch please. I can’t fucking sum up my experiences in one good, one bad. What do you think you’re my fucking camp counselor? What a stupid, empty question. Don’t pretend you’re interested in what I have to say. Spare me the acting, please.

And the girl that goes to Pomona. The whiny one who smokes. Don’t get me started on this one. Who the fuck let you into Pomona? You’re an English major? Really? Don’t you have anything intelligent to say about the newspaper beyond…

“Yah. It’s kinda like weird.”

What do you mean?

“I don’t know, the writing is just like really weird. I don’t get it.”

Weird. Writing. That’s all you have to say? That’s all 150,000 dollars of education has taught you to say? Are you playing dumb? Are you afraid I won’t like you if you act smart? Do you really think that I, as a gay man, enjoy talking to dumb pretty girls? Be smart with me, I can take it. Challenge me. Debate with me. Don’t just sit there and tell me the writing’s weird. Is this what you write in your essays for English class? That the writing is weird? Do you just submit a paper that says:

“This book was weird but kind of funny?”

Are you a complete moron?

I know this sounds harsh, and it is. The world has every right to be harsh with you, to turn our cold critical eyes on your actions. You are our future. You are our American bourgeois. You are the next best-educated leaders of the most powerful nation in the free world. You must be held accountable for your lack of inner-brain activity. Your education cost more than a township school building. So get out there and get some fucking perspective, bitches.

Welcome to Township Hell

I think I’ve finally realized why the American media machine doesn’t write stories about third world poverty. It’s because, after you write about it once, what else is there to say?

The people I work with are poor. The most defining experience of my trip has been learning about the poor in South Africa. The most important things I’ve learned are how the poor in South Africa, somehow, manage to survive.

Some of the poorest people in the world are in my classroom. Many of them live in shacks. Some of them have parents who are infected with HIV. Some of them are probably infected with HIV and don’t know it. It is quite possible that I won’t be able to visit some of them when I come back because a few may be dead. That’s how widespread the pandemic has become.

AIDS is everywhere. It’s on everyone’s minds. The funeral business in South Africa is booming. It’s one of the most lucrative township businesses. When you drive to the New Brighton township, all you see are ads for funeral services and the different families that own the different companies. Ultra Funerals. Fish and Sons Funerals. Shwarma Brothers Funerals.

The graveyards are overflowing. On the ride to Sapphire Elementary School, which is located in a colored township, we drove past the largest graveyard I’ve ever seen. For a good ten minutes, all I could see were tombstones. They looked like small rocks littering the fields. The land looked looted with rocks.

Funeral services have become stream-lined. Multiple services take place right next to each other. Big buses transport thousands of mourners from the townships to the graveyards, which are often located far away because they require such large plots of land.

Every week, the teachers take off work from Charles Duna Primary School to go to a funeral. Every week, someone knows someone who has died.

A violent flu. Tuberculosis. The names are different, the cause is the same. They are code words for HIV; no-name fever.

I’m not even sure if the government here keeps tabs on who’s infected, and who’s not, who’s died of AIDS, and who’s died from something else. In a country where the health minister still believes folk remedies will cure the virus, and the presidential challenger believes you can wash the AIDS away by taking a shower, it would be foolish to trust the government with providing you with any kind of reliable AIDS data.

But one thing is certain; people are dying like flies. They are dying from diarrhea ten minutes away from five star beach resorts.

Today I was passed a note by one of my students (I must withhold her name). In it, the girl told me that she had enjoyed my acting class immensely. Her mother had recently died of AIDS and her brother was in the hospital because of diarrhea. She told me she thought about killing herself sometimes, but my class brought her hope.

I still don’t know how to respond to her. I feel so overwhelmed. I’ve never thought of myself as having a healer-type quality. Was this girl sure it was me she was supposed to give the note to? Maybe it was the other American Steven.

But I suppose I’m not really addressing the heart of her note, which is a cry for help. I’m going to leave my address with the kids, and encourage them to keep in contact with me. If they get good grades, I’m going to figure out a way to pay for their high school tuitions. If they pass matric (12th grade), we’ll see about college. They’re fucking smarter than most college kids I’ve ever met. They deserve an education that will truly challenge them. They deserve good jobs, too. Good homes, clean drinking water, strong communities. They deserve everything, but most cannot afford to pay 100 rand (15 American dollars) for just one year of high school. Welcome to the violent inequality of post-Apartheid South Africa. Welcome to a real world, modern day, biblical kind of hell.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I Vomited on a Shark

Shark diving is unethical and I regret doing it.

Here's what happens: basically, you venture out on boats and the captain lures sharks to the boat by pouring fish blood into the water to simulate a fresh kill. The shark then thinks that some animal was attacked by another shark and decides to swim over to the site of the fresh kill and eat whatever was killed. But nothing was killed. The blood was an elaborate ploy used by the people that run the shark tours to lure real live sharks to the boat. Then the shark gets angry (understandably) and leaves. There is a underwater cage attached to the boat where tourists can put on their snorkeling goggles and stare at the confused and misled sharks through metal bars and take pictures.

I wanted to get in the cage. I wanted to see the sharks close up as they swam toward me. I wanted to stare into their bloody mouths. But I was too nauseous to slip on a wet suit.

I spent most of the trip on the boat staring at the horizon and trying not to think nauseous thoughts. It was all a head game, and a head game I was clearly losing. It didn't matter where I stared, all I could think about was how wonderfully satisfying it would be if I threw up all over myself.

It didn't help that everyone else was throwing up. My friend Shauna was staring into the sea, with a sullen look on her face, and every now and then she coughed and threw up into the water. Some French chick threw up over and over again right next to the cage where everyone was snorkeling. I imagine they were not pleased as chunks of her throw up floated on top of the water next to their bobbing heads.

I asked the captain what to do since I felt nauseous and he told me to "stand under a palm tree." Hahaha. Really, Captain. You're fucking hilarious. I see no palm tree. I think you were just irritated that one more tourist was asking you what to do about their nausea, and you thought it would be funny if you gave me bullshit advice. Well guess what? I hate you.

After lying on my back in the center of the boat and staring at the ceiling, I finally reached a point where I could no longer contain my throw-up. I grabbed the hand rail and walked up the stairs to the front part (the mast?) of the ship, where Shauna was vomiting. We both vomited. Just then a shark swam by, opened it's mouth, and swallowed some of our vomit. I kid you not. I have now vomited on a shark. I really don't know how I feel about that.

Then the boat floated over to a seal island, where tens of thousands of seals were chilling, barking, pooping, and fucking each other. This island was the reason why there were so many great white sharks here; sharks eat seals. I'd always thought seals were adorable fumbling hilarious creatures, but seal island island smelled like shit. Imagine someone taking a dump on your face. That's how seal island smelled. It smelled like the entire world just took a fattie dump on my face.

On the way back, I chatted with the videographer on the boat. He was creating a movie of the entire trip to sell to us afterward for a few hundred rand. He interviewed me about the trip and I told him I was miserable. Shark diving had been a huge disappointment and I just wanted to go home. I told him I didn't realize we were going to be luring confused animals to our boat. For some reason, I thought the sharks would be naturally attracted to our big white boat. I didn't realize we'd have to fuck with them to get their attention.

When we arrived back at the shark lodge, we watched the video that the videographer had hastily assembled with bad techno music (seems to be the trend). Of course, he edited out our interview.

Shark diving sucks. Don't do it.

Cape Town

I really have no idea what to say about Cape Town.

It was a city. A large city. Much larger than Port Elizabeth. The houses were colorful. A large mountain loomed over us all. There were white people and black people talking to each other.

Most of the time I spent there was stressful. It was stressful trying to fit into a new group, it was stressful trying to fit in all the touristy things without actually becoming a tourist. It was stressful thinking about how much I was missing of my community service project. It was stressful trying to meet gay people, and be outgoing and myself at the same time.

I think I like smaller cities. I like where you don’t have any options but to sit, write, and talk to other people. I like the arts, and I want to be in a city that supports the arts, but I no longer think it’s a necessity. Cities distract you, with their endless assortment of pleasure-gathering activities. They beckon you to come, spend, get lost in the sea of people. Cape Town beckoned me for six days, beckoned me to shop, eat, hike, and try to fill up my brain with the prettiest images possible. And sometimes I feel like that’s what traveling has become to many; trying to fill up your own mental reserve with the prettiest pictures, the best smells, the most comfortable things. And here we all go around trying to capture everything on our cameras so we can give a detailed narrative slide show to our friends back home, full of inflection, pointing out all the pretty things we’ve seen. And the funniest thing, to me, is that we’re all taking the exact same pictures of the exact same things. Table Mountain. The Waterfront. The Beaches. We all go to the exact same places, but stand in different angles, attempting to really capture the space we’re in.

And that bores me, it really does. It becomes grating. It becomes a race against camera battery life, against the elements of sun, wind, sand, and time. We must take the perfect picture before the sun goes down. Must capture a smiling face before it turns into a neutral expression. Must mix the avante garde with the post card, with the avante garde again.

And of course, this wasn’t my entire trip. I did not spend my entire trip attempting to record everything…but there was a rushed feeling to my vacation, a feeling that I must fit in everything, lest I regret missing something. Oh how terrible it would be if I went to Cape Town but didn’t go to Table Mountain. And this pressure is doubly reinforced from everyone in the entire group, who asked me over and over again “Where’d ya go? What did ya do?” Lord. I went somewhere. I did something. I sat. I read. Isn’t that good enough for you?

But now I’m back in Port Elizabeth and, thankfully, there is nothing to do, and nothing to see. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the pyramid, the only tourist attraction downtown. I’ve seen the casino that was robbed a couple weeks ago. I’ve seen the townships. I’ve had all those experiences, so it’s OK if I just sit here and write and sleep and do nothing. It’s alright if I take a bath. It’s OK if I just stare at these billowing palm trees scratching my window and think about nothing, because I have some fucking time to think about nothing.

But this doesn’t answer anyone’s questions about Cape Town. What is Cape Town like?

I suppose the answer differs depending on who’s asking the question. Are you an out-of-towner hoping to spend a few days in a beautiful city that just happens to be in Africa? Are you looking for world class dining, luxurious spa treatments, great art galleries, a good theatre community, a bustling African market, gorgeous scenery, white sandy beaches with boulders and the purest tasting water in South Africa? Then yes, by all means, come to Cape Town, soak it all in, relax, enjoy your self.

Are you a study abroad student from America looking to experience a new culture, something radically different from the culture where you were born? Are you looking to antagonize your own relationship to black people? Are you looking to get invited into black people’s homes? Do you want to get to know the locals? Then don’t come here. It’s overspoiled. There are no areas left to be explored. There is no feeling of adventure, just a feeling like you’re walking down a path warn with the soles of tourist feet. It’s all here for you. You don’t even have to raise a finger. Just ask and someone will arrange for a private tour of a game reserve. Just drop a couple hundred rand and someone will show you the entire Nelson Mandela Trail of Tears starting at Robbin Island and looping through the entire city; each and every museum carefully designed to maximize emotional impact and intensify your sadness. You won’t even need to draw your own conclusions, because that might be too time-consuming, so just pick up a copy of lonely planet and familiarize yourself with the taste and feel of every neighborhood, perfectly captured by some broke Harvard grad.

This is Cape Town. Cape Town does tourism, and it does it well. It’s the Los Angeles of South Africa, according to the New York Times. I don’t know if I understand what that means. Are the people there vapid? Materialistic? Cliquey? I don’t know, that’s just what the New York Times said. I was too busy planning my life around the tourist attractions to really even meet any locals.