A new cycle begins. The school year in Austria has started again. And traditionally with that, the new scout year starts again as well. More than overdue to write a few paragraphs on the big highlight of every scout year: The summercamp. If there are actually some among you, that have never had anything to do with scouting (Where are the rotten tomatoes? Into the pillory with them!), the following video might give you a glimpse of what Scoutcamps are all about.
„Try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.“
This quote goes back to Sir Robert Baden-Powell, a British Army officer and the founder of the world-wide Scout Movement. And if I may say so: It is very ingenious in it’s banality.
As some of my loyal readership might know, I joined the Scout movement when I was about 7 years old. Or my parents made me join, I should say. As you can imagine, I’ve certainly been made fun of for saying that I am a Scout. „Have you helped an elderly lady across the street today? Do you sell Girl Scout cookies?“ You get the point. Kids can be assholes. However, today I am convinced it has been one of the best decisions my folks have ever made for me. Shoutout to Irmi and Klemens, I’ll be eternally grateful!
30. The big Three-O. Three decades. A round one, as the Austrian would say. „How does it feel to be 30?“ I’ve been asked that quite a lot over the last week and even before my birthday. A question and an occasion that seem important enough to bring this slumbering bear of a blog back from its years of hibernation. Perhaps at the end of this text it will have become more obvious what bears have in common with butterflies. Or – if you know me, you might have guessed – not.
My instant reaction to that question has been something along the lines of “Stupid question, next question!” (Please don’t feel offended if you’re one of those people who’ve asked me that recently. Love you anyway!) But how do you answer this question as a 30-year-old male animated pile of flesh? It starts with the fact that for the longest time of my existence I haven’t even been aware of what I was feeling whatsoever.
The feeling of change
The reason for this circumstance is certainly worth a blog entry of its own. I’ll just boil it down to a mixture of „difficult social relationships between men and feelings“ + „fear of confronting one’s own emotional world (greetings from childhood (micro)traumas) + „lack of (self) awareness“. Which makes it all the more difficult to answer what a birthday feels like.
Some may (or have to, depending on perspective) count themselves among the illustrious circle of those who get to regularly enjoy my mumbo-jumbo. If you do, you probably know that in the last few weeks, months, maybe even 2 – 3 years I have tried to learn more about topics such as personality development, psychology, philosophy and also spirituality. And – who would’ve thought – that brought a whole lot of insight with it. I have already shared some of that in previous blog entries. With the end of the bearish hibernation, there will also be a lot to come. Buckle up, it’s gonna be a wild fucking ride!
One of those insights is definitely that everything is constantly changing. If the scales in my parents‘ bathroom had vocal cords (I don’t have one myself for good reasons 😉), they would sing you a song about it. Most of you will now think “Duh Captain Obvious”. But it is still a realization that – for me at least – comes along with a whole bunch of interferences.
Above all, the fact that there is no way to avoid and escape change. Therefore, we better embrace and accept aging and at some point our own demise. Sorry, if this happens to trigger existential fears in anyone. (The great team of Kurzgesagt has summarized this in a lovely clip) However, it’s part of the game as long as Silicon Valley doesn’t discover the philosopher’s stone. And as long as one doesn’t put their faith in reincarnation. But more on that in another post.
Returning readers may have noticed by now: This is not a good ol’ bearnecessities-travel blog entry. Just like myself, bearnecessities may well be going through some changes. But you’ll know what I’m talking about eventually.
In the first draft of this post, this is where I started blabbering about feeling like a cocooned chrysalis about to become a butterfly. Because change and metamorphoses and ladeeda. But to be honest: fuck that, butterflies my ass!
Frankly, I would have every reason to think turning 30 was really shitty and awful. Don’t get me wrong. I am quite aware of how ridiculously privileged I am. However, there’s a but. I am still being confronted with societal requirements, norms and expectations. And between us, sometimes I struggle coping with that.
“What? You haven’t accumulated any significant property? What, you still haven’t climbed the second step of the corporate ladder? What, you don’t even have someone by your side to increase life on this earth? Well, big PHAT “Yeeearp!” Social media takes it one step further. Stories, reels et cetera essentially suggest to constantly compare ourselves to others. Add some pinches of global circumstances that, all optimism aside, are going to challenge us. Et voila: Ready is your homemade Third-Life-Crisis.
Follow the honey, get stung by bees
Luckily, since last time I looked in the mirror – alongside marvelously thick chest hair – I still had a bear and not a butterfly tattooed on my chest. That is to say: Yes, loving all that change and development. But me personally, I don’t want to be irritated, seduced and led by my own social conditioning.
Again, I am aware of my extreme privilege. But my perspective is the only one I can authentically talk about. And to be frank: Your own conditioning, the oftentimes wrong believes we’ve taken on and the goals imposed by society is something that one may want to dismantle at some point anyway. Regardless their personal perspective and privilege.
With all the change in my metaphorical backpack of a character I’d much rather continue to follow the scent of honey, even if at the end of the day there is a hive full of bees waiting for me. I’d much rather screw up and learn from it. I want to go my own way and create my own timeline in this life. I want to collect experiences and memories that nobody can take from me at the end of the day. You catch my drift.
Embrace the paradox
On some given days, this works really well. On others, it does not. At all. Sometimes this… let’s call it “way to live one’s life” feels extremely motivating, almost euphoric. And on other days it feels depressing and sucks ass big time. But if the last few years have taught me one more thing, it’s that life is full of paradoxes and contradictions. It teems with dichotomies and duality. For me, it was a tough pill to swallow but life as an animated pile of flesh on planet Earth is goddamn ambivalent. And the way I see it, the only way is to endure, even embrace that!
Now you have your answer. That’s the essence of what it feels like to be 30. Getting older is awesome and awful at the same time. But once one has accepted that our earthly lives are finite and – loosely based on the Stoics – once one has internalized the concept of “Memento Mori”, one can really begin to live! And now I’m getting a butterfly tattoo, maybe even on my ass!
I’ve managed to write my biannual Blogpost. If you’ve got precisely 16 minutes during these interesting times, I invite you to take in my latest attempt at coherent words, aka a blogpost. Hope you enjoy and leave a comment or a message if you like it or don’t 🙂
Most people I know have certain mottos they follow and hold high in their lives. Some people, who are a little bit more in touch with their spiritual side might even call it a mantra. Multiple of these mottos and mantras combined make an ideology or philosophy and if you add a little spoonful of supreme power you get a religion. I find the particular definition of these terms less important than what unites them: It is something that different people to different extents believe in order to get through life more easily. “No risk, no fun!”, “No pain, no gain!”, “Eye for an Eye!”, “Carpe Diem!”, “Hakuna Matata!”, “Don`t worry, be happy!”, “YOLO!”, “Just do it!” or one of my personal favourites “Just the bare necessities!”. There are countless motivational speakers, authors, self-proclaimed Gurus, spiritual leaders and other influential people out there that teach people about their personal mottos every day and are actually able to help listeners or readers to improve their own lives by implementing certain mottos and the attached moral guidelines in every-day practices.
Don’t get me wrong, neither do I claim to be an influential person whatsoever nor am I great at meticulously following any of the mottos I have implemented in my own life. Remember, “Nobody’s perfect” so naturally, I fail almost every day at sticking to the bare necessities and instead stuff my face with chocolate and spend hours on social media procrastinating. Sometimes I forget about the fact that “what goes around, comes around” and I mistreat people that I’m supposed to love on any given day. Occasionally, I don’t “leave the world a better place than I found it” and mindlessly leave places a mess. But even if I do follow these guidelines imperfectly, I am still being a better version of Jakob than the version that doesn’t follow any of these maxims at all. I try to be a better version of myself than the day before and if I can’t manage to do that every day it’s absolutely fine. At least I tried.
Naturally, these Mottos and Mantras change. What seemed important to me 10 years ago doesn’t really play a significant role to me today. The world changes, we change. Every day. And that is fine too. Over the years maxims have come and have gone. “Bare necessities” took over from “Probier’s mal mitGemütlichkeit” (the oddly loose official German translation of Bare necessities). Even my spiritual belief of early-indoctrinated “Our dear god in heaven wanted it that way” has turned into the question of “Why are we here and what is my purpose?”. You get the point. Things change.
The latest addition to my personal repertoire of mottos is “Remember to breathe!”. So simple, yet so powerful and potentially life-changing. That is exactly why I’d like to dedicate this blog post to this new motto of mine. How I learned about it, how the last few months helped me to understand its ingeniousness and why I think it can especially help us in times like these.
As some of you might know, I have recently started to meditate regularly. I did occasionally practice towards the end of last year but really took off this year with a ‘challenge’ called “21-days of abundance by Deepak Chopra” (shoutout to my boy Jürliv aka DJesus for that one). I really started to make it a habit this year and have been able to take out at least 15 minutes of my day and dedicate to just being still and mindful. That’s, as far as I understand it, meditation in a very small nutshell. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would add myriad of other aspects to meditation but for a beginner like me, this is what meditation comes down to. Taking a chunk of time to be MINDful. Pay attention to your mind, your thoughts and most importantly your breath! This sounds very easy but I believe it is much harder than it sounds. Properly paying attention to your thoughts and then not following that thought and lose your attention is something I have found to be very tricky. If you yourself meditate regularly or occasionally, you might be able to relate (Send any tips and tricks my way if you have them ?). ‘Properly’ (if there is such a thing) meditating requires a lot of practice, patience and discipline. Personally, I find that meditating helps me to be more content with the moment. I find myself drifting off less frequently and I find myself to be more okay with most situations, no matter how uncomfortable they are. I seem to be clearer about what is really important in life and what is actually just being suggested by our society, our culture or our media and the attached ideologies. And if I ever lose track of my thoughts or drift of mentally: Just remember to breathe!
Some of you might also know that I just got back from my most recent adventure in Indonesia. I had already started planning this trip with my partner (in crime and elsewhere) Franzi in December to celebrate her finishing her undergrad studies and because… well, me lovey adventures! We were going to travel from Bali all the way to Komodo National Park, home of the last dragons and the beautiful island of Flores, once home of real-life hobbits a.k.a. Homo Florensis. It was going to be a great, exciting Backpacking trip including some hiking, snorkeling and possibly some diving – which we both had never done before and were somewhat anxious about (well, at least I was).
Then a big, crown-shaped turd hit the fan in Europe and the rest of the world and pretty much screwed with all of our plans. Cancelling the trip completely did cross my mind in the beginning, but driven by youthful folly and a good portion of “no-fucks-givenitis“ we decided to go ahead with our trip and see how it goes. 5 days before Austria and Germany went into an official lockdown we got on a plane to Denpasar. If you are thinking “You irresponsible morons, how could you?” I honestly don’t blame you. I’m the last person who light-heartedly wanted to become a super-spreader of a deadly virus in a country that already has quite a bad reputation in terms of healthcare and medical infrastructure. However, please trust me when I say that not a single move, we made over the last 6 weeks came easy. Every thought was much rather turned and twisted like a Rubik’s Cube in order to find the correct decision. A lot of my peers were surprised and some highly critical that we ignored the call-backs by our foreign ministries and I can totally understand that. Others were supportive, wished us best of luck and were hoping that we are going to be safe. Heck, I wasn’t even sure if we are doing the right thing or what the right thing even was? Who wants to cut their 8 – week trip short by seven weeks? Who wants to get trapped in a 8m² Hostel room for 4 weeks? Who wants to get stranded on an island with no clinic while coughing their lungs out? None of these scenarios sounded particularly fun. The first week of our trip basically consisted of me trying to stay as informed about the Covid-situation in Indonesia as I could, and Franzi getting more and more annoyed with my rising concern slowly but thoroughly turning into low-key panic. Just remember to breathe!
Five days into our trip a turning point happened. We had rented a moped from our Homestay in Ubud and were planning to do a little road trip to the nearby Tegallalang Rice Terraces. Socially distance-approved, of course. First stop was a 900-year-old Temple/Graveyard called Pura KunungGawi. Usually somewhat of a tourist trap with endless gift shops and little Warungs (typical, family-owned Indonesian restaurants). Not this time around, as we were the only tourists besides an older hippy lady from Switzerland and a fellow Russian backpacker. Corona had already hit the place hard. Once we stepped down the few flights of stairs, we suddenly entered this really idyllic world where the only thing we could hear was the river flowing and the birds singing. My first thought was: I am going to meditate the shit out of this rock next to the river, right there! A short climb later and there I was, sat on my Sarong, that the ladies in the gift shop basically coerced us into buying. Legs crossed and ready to enjoy the stillness of this place.
Not that anyone cares, but it’s relevant to the story that I use the App Headspace for guided meditation. So, I had my phone lying on the rock next to me contemplating about how a Virus shouldn’t be causing fear and panic within us. It is a natural thing for parts of a population to die from disease and that it’s really our system, our society, our media and culture that is practicing fear-mongering at its finest. I’m aware that this might not be the most popular opinion out there, but in that moment I was thinking, that maybe this is a harsh way of Mother Earth showing us who is still running things around here. We have advanced so far in technology, science and innovation that over the last decades Homo Sapiens has somehow started to think we are demi-gods and therefore above nature. I’m really not trying to sound cynical here but I genuinely believe that we are currently being brutally confronted with the mirror of our reality: Life is always followed by death and it’s around the corner at all times. No matter how much you meditate, how healthy you eat or how careful you are not to get yourself in a dangerous position, nature doesn’t care.
I was thinking, that we have become slaves to our technology, the true virus is a small device in our pockets. We barely put the phone away and even in beautiful, serene places like the very one I was sat at, I’m still holding my phone to take pictures and have it sitting next to me to run a meditation app. The next thing that happened, sounds like it’s made up but I shit you not, during that exact thought I tried to switch my crossed legs and *plop*. A few seconds pass and my Headphones stop working. I open my eyes and the realization hit me: my phone just fell in the river. I call over to Franzi who was sitting on the next rock to give me some space and she can’t believe it either. Within a few seconds I’m in the river retrieving my phone that was luckily just sitting there in the river bed. I couldn’t help but laughing at the situation that had just unfolded. Such kind of irony can just be painted my life. Not having a phone, not getting news about the Covid-Situation and not being confronted with everything everywhere else was a huge relief. I was much more able to be in the moment and see the untainted beauty of the place we were in. After getting a bag of rice from the closest Warung in order to try and rescue my phone, we went on to the Rice terraces. Little did I know that this event wasn’t going to be the only revelation of the day. Just remember to breathe!
Next stop were the Tegalallang Rice terraces, which are another very popular tourist spot but again, there were just a few handfuls of tourists around and definitely enough space to be safely distanced from each other. As we were enjoying the view over a few free tea and coffee samplers we got into some small-talk with the barista. Dewa – by the way one of only a few common names on Bali – was a very talkative young Balinese and super friendly. As the conversation went along, naturally the topic Covid-19 came up. I asked Dewa how he thinks the virus is going to affect Bali. Obviously, having barely any tourists is going to have massive consequences for the communities that rely mainly on tourism. At that point in time, tourists were still allowed to fly in and out of Indonesia but shortly after, the government forbade any foreigners from entering the country. However, Dewa was not afraid. Bali is a very spiritual island, also sometimes referred to as the “Island of the Gods”. Most homes almost remind you of mini-versions of temples and people prepare offerings for the gods multiple times a day. Dewa genuinely believed that Bali will not be devastated from Covid-19 because they are good people with good Karma. He told us he wouldn’t be sad if he or his relatives died from the virus because he knows, they lived a good and happy life and will be fine in their next lives. I can’t and won’t say that my belief in anything is strong enough to support that theory but what I can definitely confirm is the kindness that we encountered in Bali. Even in times, where many communities will have their main source of income completely wiped away by a virus that might stick around for months, they remained friendly and helpful. Even in times of crisis, just remember to breathe!
I can’t really explain why or what happened, but that particular day changed something in my mind and demeanor. For some reason I was more content with being where I was, I wasn’t so worried about what would happen if the Virus hit Indonesia. I know it sounds weird, but I was thinking the worst-case scenario is for Franzi and I to get stranded somewhere without drinking water and die from dehydration or alternatively be within the tiny margin of people in our age group that die from respiratory failure because of Covid-19. Regardless, somehow, I was fine with that thought. If it ends it ends but at least it ended while I was doing something that I love with someone I love.
We spent the next few days in and around beautiful Ubud and in a quiet town called Sanur. We only stayed there in order to get our Visa sorted for an additional 30 days and because we had planned to meet my good friend Willis, whom loyal readers might remember from some blog posts from China. Major shout out to you, brother! Together with Willis we headed to Nusa Penida, a much smaller island just off the coast of South-East Bali. Admittedly, the ferry ride over was anything but Corona-safe and anytime I heard someone coughing I cringed inside but hey, we survived. Willis was an absolute gem and pretty much organised everything for us while he was with us. As it happened to be Franzi’s birthday that weekend, he had arranged for us to go diving with Sanctum Dive, a dive shop he had done trips with in the past. Since diving for the first time isn’t already treat enough, Willis organised for us to go to a dive site called Manta Point. You might be able to guess, why that sounds particularly exciting. Before we were ready to go on our first so-called “Discovery Scuba Dive”, we got a little introduction session in the pool. What are the most important dive signs to indicate you are fine or have any problems, how do you handle your gear correctly and most importantly: Don’t panic and just remember to breathe!
The next day I felt like a little kid on the 24th of December. We got our equipment on the boat, got a little briefing with all the fellow divers about the topography of the dive site and were good to go. Being excited is probably an understatement. I was hyped. The 40-minute boat ride to our dive site, felt much longer because I couldn’t await to hop in the water. All of a sudden there it was. In beautiful, oriental-mandala style letters: REMEMBER TO BREATHE! Tattooed on the lower arm of a gentleman from Finland with his wife who were on the same dive. There and then I decided to close my eyes and just repeat that sentence to myself like a mantra. After a while our dive master and instructor told us to get the equipment on, when I realized that I wasn’t just excited and hyped. I was bloody nervous! I was nervous that something might go wrong, that my ears won’t be able to handle it or that I might not be able to equalize properly. But then I remembered what I just had repeated to myself like 50 times: Remember to breathe and you’ll be fine.
Alright, thumbs up… errrm I mean thumb and index finger together to form a circle and let’s fucking do this! (Because thumbs up in dive language means “going to the surface”) Weight belt on, Oxygen tank and BCD on, mask on, fins on, regulator in, legs crossed and off we go. Everything okay? Everything okay. Let’s go down. Oh shit, squeeze in my ears. I got a problem. Wiggle your hands. Alright, let’s go slower. Equalize, deflate, equalize again. HOLY SHIT there are two 4-metre-long Manta rays swimming directly beneath me. Shit, the GoPro wasn’t recording yet. Switch on the GoPro. Equalize again. Holy fuck, another 6 Mantas swimming right in front of me! Remember to breathe!
There is SO MUCH going through your head and so many things to think of during the first minutes of your very first dive that it becomes a real challenge not only to safely conduct the dive but to enjoy yourself while at it. Once you are in the water for a while and kind of get the hang of it, it becomes almost meditative. You breathe in, you breathe out and you just enjoy the moment of being 15 metres underneath the surface looking at life forms three times your size. It’s absolutely astonishing and I completely understand why diving is so addictive to so many people. After doing an open-water course and getting in a few more dives you start to stop thinking about everything you need to be doing underwater in order to survive. You just be! Remember to breathe!
For the next five weeks I thought about that dive and especially that mantra often. If you ask me, it’s the single most suitable motto there is. Stressed because you’ve got three toddlers at home, waiting to be fed? Remember to breathe! Received a bitchy email from your co-worker with the whole company in CC? Remember to breathe! You are getting into fights with your significant other because you’ve spent the last 5 weeks socially distancing together? Remember to breathe! Someone throws an insult at you in front of your squad? Remember to breathe! Your sibling annoys the shit out of you because they are bored? Remember to breathe! Anxious before an important presentation? Remember to breathe. Existential crisis because you haven’t achieved the same things as everyone on social media and your life seems shit? Remember to fucking breathe!
You catch my drift. I do realize, that this might sound easier said than done and like I’ve said earlier, by no means am I an expert at staying calm and just breathing. I’m just here because I feel like sharing this. Because to me, it seems important to get this message out. If at least one person reading this gains inspiration on how to possibly improve their own lives, I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.
Kisses on your belly from the friendly neighborhood bear!
Since I was writing this on the plane next to my good friend Benjo, he made a few „edits“ to this text. Let’s consider them to be three easter eggs. So be aware of that and if you can find all 3 of them you might get a reward!
A little over five weeks in Europe and I haven’t even considered taking the few hours it takes me to write a blog post. I am writing this sitting on the next plane. Accompanied by my good friend Benjo, I am heading to the next destination namely Costa Rica from where I will eventually be making my way down all the way to Ecuador (at the time of publishing I am already in Colombia… I knew this was going to happen.) in order to attend a course for teachers of English as a Second language. As you can read, I am certainly not running out of material to write my blog any time soon. I just occasionally struggle to find the time and motivation to sit down and write something. But! There is always a big butt and mine is that when I promise something I intend to keep that promise and therefore the next few paragraphs are going to be dedicated to one of my favorite activities and more specifically to one of my favorite events I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of: The 24th World Scout Jamboree!
If you are reading this, there is a good chance that I know you through Scouting or that you know at least somebody that is or has been a Scout at some point in their lives. If that is the case you may or may not skip the next two paragraphs until you see this: (*)(*) (yes, I am very aware this resembles the female breast and chose this sign-combination for that exact purpose). For those of you who are under the TV-induced impression that Scouting is just selling cookies and collecting badges I’ll take a few minutes to explain what Scouting actually is. The “World Organization of the Scout Movement” is the largest voluntary-based organization for youth in the world. There are only five countries on our planet that have no Scouts and there are more than 40 Million active members all across the world. The idea of Scouting and its leader, Lord Robert Stephenson Baden Powell is relatively simple: “Leave the world just a little bit better than you found it.” This quote may very well be a poignant summary and certainly a huge influence for my own personal “Knowledge movement”. The ways, philosophies and methods of Scouting aim to do exactly that, leaving the world a better place. Personally, I have been an active Scout since I was seven years old and I am so very, very grateful that my parents made the decision to send me to a Scout meeting back then. It most certainly has impacted my life in many different ways and I would probably not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Scouting.
If you ask me, a World Scout Jamboree (WSJ) is the epitome of Scouting and the highlight of any Scout career. The first Jamboree was held in London almost exactly 100 years ago with only 8000 participants. Nowadays Jamborees are held in a 4-year rhythm and host countries are determined by application. Participants are between 14 and 18 years old which gives every active Scout the opportunity to be a participant exactly once. I had the chance to be part of the 21st WSJ in 2007 in the United Kingdom, which also happened to mark the 100 year anniversary of the Scout movement. That very experience 12 years ago for me was the “gateway drug” to the life of a global citizen. As a regular 15 year old Austrian you don’t usually get to build rafts, go climbing, shoot a bow or be part of a sustainability workshop with other young adults from countries like Mexico, Brazil or Zimbabwe. That event 12 years ago left a very deep and everlasting impression on me.
(*)(*) So I hope you got the overall picture. Now more to this past Jamboree, the 24th version of this gathering. This Jamboree was quite special in terms of its host country. It was the very first Jamboree that has been hosted by not only one but THREE host countries: Mexico, Canada and the US. Since it would be quite counterproductive to split the 30.000 participants and additional 10.000 adult volunteers into three locations, the three hosts agreed to actually hold the event in one of the most spectacular action- and adventure reserves I have ever seen: The Summit Bechtel Reserve in the naturally marvelous state of West Virginia (proof of the beauty of this reserve were the countless deer that were to be found all over and the occasional black bear visiting our campsite curious to see what is going on here) From the options presented to me, it seemed most practical to fly into the city of Charlotte in North Carolina as an entrance point to the camp. Being an IST, your job is to set up the camp, prepare logistics and infrastructure and make sure everything is up and running before all participants arrive. That obviously means arriving a few days early and even though Charlotte airport was probably comparably empty, I was immediately able to spot many Scouts and was led to the shuttle bus that would take us to West Virginia by a very friendly steward, a Scout as well of course.
I had already been offered a job on the “Green and Recycling team” months ahead of the Jamboree and had happily accepted the offer to be on their “communication and liaison squad” thinking I would be leading workshops about recycling or something like that. Well, little did I know my main role for the upcoming two weeks would be to empty trashcans and remind people what needs to be recycled and what doesn’t. Nonetheless, I quickly realized that I probably would have one of the best jobs on the Jamboree. That was due to a few important factors: first of all I was part of an amazing team that included Scouts from the US, Sweden, Italy, the UK, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic (special shoutout to the heart and soul of our team: Momma Kay, one of the finest ladies at the whole Jamboree who took such good care by bringing in snacks and sweets to make sure nobody loses any weight on the camp and acting as my personal driver over the first few days of the camp). The second factor were the UTVs that our special role entitled us to. Summit Bechtel Reserve is a huge area of almost 50km² and most people either walked to their job allocations or had to line up for the shuttle buses. Not the Green and Recycling team, bitches! The third and probably most important factor however was the nature of our job: Being in charge of the different Program Areas also meant getting to actually see all the amazing activities this Jamboree had to offer. A quick highlight reel: A 2km long Zipline, Mountainbiking, Skating, Kayaking, Rafting, a Faiths and Beliefs Zone, a Global Village and (because we were in America after all) a huge ass-gun range. And finally the fourth factor is that I thoroughly enjoy having my snacks next to trashcans, thus I would always bring my lunch with me on my working hours! Before the camp had been officially opened I had already seen most of the area. Setting up bins, labeling them and instructing other adults about the procedures in place. Unfortunately, word apparently didn’t spread very well and overall the results of accumulated recycling vs. general trash were… not very uplifting. There were a few things about this Jamboree that were anything but perfectly organised such as the huge usage of single-use plastics among other things. That goes to show that nobody’s perfect and hopefully a lesson was learned for next time.
Working, volunteering and getting to do some of the activities offered are great fun. But what keeps attracting me like a magnet every four years (and why I have promised myself I would try and make it to every single Jamboree as long as I am physically able to) are the amazing people and the special environment they create. Let me paint you a picture real quick: 40.000 people that mostly have never met each other before. People from 150 different countries. People of different skin color, different ethnicity, different faith, different social background, different field of expertise, different upbringing. Different fucking people. The majority of these people are proud of where they come from and they are (rightfully so) not ashamed to show their pride. They will sing songs in their native language, play games from their countries, cook food from their region, dance folk dances and so on. However, as far as I’m concerned there is one major difference to any given community that may be this heterogeneous: Every single person is as open-minded as they come! In Scouting there is no room for hatred, political conflict or judgment driven by prejudice. For me, a Jamboree is as close to a judgment free zone as it gets. Attending a Jamboree I have never gotten the feeling that I am being told who to be or pushed in a role I don’t feel comfortable in. I can be myself and there will be people around me that appreciate me for who I am. If I fuck up, there will be people to tell me that I fucked up but they will also tell me how to do it better next time and if I have done well they will make sure to celebrate me for that accordingly. You do actually make friends for a lifetime. At this Jamboree alone I ran into friends that I met 8 years ago in Sweden, 4 years ago in Japan and 2 years ago in Iceland. For me, this is the Spirit of a Jamboree. That sort of tolerance, that is rarely achieved anywhere in the world, is what makes it special and why I am so keen to return to the 25th Jamboree in South Korea in 2023.
I could go on and on and there are so many stories to tell from just two weeks of soaking in everything that this special event has to offer but I would like to tell one specific anecdote that captures why it is so important to have more global events like this. My favorite days of any international Scout camp are Culture Day and Pizza Monday. This Jamboree’s Culture Day was no exception. Imagine walking around all day and trying traditional dishes from all over the world, listening and watching performances that easily must have taken weeks and weeks to rehearse, and just being proud of where you are from. In a healthy non-nationalist way of course. That’s Culture Day. But this time all of that was topped by the so-called “Unity Ceremony” that closed the day. Ceremonies are also an important part of a Jamboree and I am sure a big junk of the organizing budget went into the three main ceremonies of this Jamboree. However, the part of this Unity Ceremony that left a huge impact on me was most likely almost free. The three presenters of the Ceremony, one from each of the three host countries, had a guest on stage to lead through the show. A tribe elder from one of the native American tribes that have lived in West Virginia for thousands of years. This tribes elder had a personal agenda. His goal was to “invoke the Spirit of Humanity” in the 40.000 people present. Now some might say this sounds a little bit cult-ish and I won’t even disagree that Scouting in a way is not super different to any given cult, but that is not the point here. This tribesman called upon the Spirit of Humanity by inviting members of different religions and faiths to recite prayers from their respective religions. I made it a point to try and listen very carefully to each and every prayer and after it all was over I was absolutely astounded: Every single prayer had the same core message. Be it Buddhism, Catholicisim, Islam or lesser known faiths like ‚Science‘. The message of all of these prayers was to neglect the differences of our human race. They emphasized that we are all brothers and sisters, that we all sit in the same boat. A boat called Earth and that we don’t have an emergency raft. That we need to take care of this boat, no matter where we might go after our lives as we know them are over. That we need to do this together and we need to do it now. That we need to leave behind ethnical, racial and religious differences so that we can go ahead as one human race. Now I know all of that sounds very tacky but hearing all these prayers sent me on my way contemplating hard. Thinking about it logically, there aren’t really any arguments against this way of thinking. Even if the whole ceremony ended in a ridiculously humongous white blow-up eagle being released across the whole stage (‚Murrica, fuck yeah) I believe it was an amazing ceremony that underlined the core values of Scouting: Being responsible members of our society, taking care of our planet and ignoring those people out there that try so hard to drive us apart to gain personal benefits from it. For me, this is what makes Scouting the most valuable thing at least of my life and why I would recommend anyone to suggest to their kids to start Scouting or even start themselves. Because one thing is for sure: It is never too late to create a better world!
I’ll leave it at that for now but as you can see I could probably go on for a few more pages. If you are curious and would like to hear more anecdotes from this Jamboree experience I am happy to oblige (like that one time I got my junk stuck in a coffee machine). There are many, many more but since that would probably get boring for most I’ll stop here.
This time I won’t promise anything since I struggle finding time to write while I’m traveling but the next Christmas break is coming so be patient, beloved and loyal readers of bearnecessities.
So far so good, bear hugs and much love all across the globe!
******** Wer ob der sommerlichen Hitze und Schwüle sein Hirn nicht noch weiter anstrengen möchte, möge nicht verzweifeln. HIER gibt es die deutsche Version des Posts *******************
The same story year after year. Just like past winter I did not take my muse with me to China after the holidays and therefore haven’t written anything in ages. Since my last blogpost about my Bicycle horror story there were of course a bazilion of things that have happened. In the meantime, I have finished my contract and therefore the chapter „Beijing“ for now. As you can read I also finally have had time to smash some thoughts in the keyboard. You are welcome!
The story with the bicycle and the lawsuit ironically ended up having a very happy end. After a “form A38”-esque bureaucratic obstacle course (are there any Asterix and Obelix fans among my English speaking readers that will get this reference?) from court to finance department back to court to see my lawyer to bank back to finance department back to bank and so on. In the end I finally did get back the deposit of roughly 36.000 Euros that I had paid to the civil court of China and somehow I ended up with an additional 1500€ on my bank account. A gift of the plaintiff? A compensation by the Chinese government? Hah, good one. The mystery was quickly solved: in fact the Renminbi, the chinese national currency, has gotten a lot stronger during the three months the civil court was holding my deposit. So when I got back the significant sum – that my deposit certainly was – there was a little pleasant surprise to be found after exchanging the money back to Euros. I’m just going to claim that this is the epitome of good Karma finally striking back. Suck it, Mr. Zhu! That is all that I still want to say about this ordeal. At the end of the day I am left with a good story, the revelation that with enough positive vibes and support you can overcome even a Chinese lawsuit including a travel ban. Thank you, next!
Other than that, I have done fair bit of traveling since Christmas and to be fair, each trip probably deserves its own blogpost – and who knows, maybe I shall be kissed by my muse again during the next few weeks back home in Austria. But until then just a quick but honorable mention of the absolutely amazing, childhood dream fulfilling and highly rewarding trips of the last few months:
The first big gig of 2019 for Chinese New Year took me to Cambodia. Featuring the most chill and amazeballs travel companion one could imagine, the girl with the many nicknames: Franzi aka Francik aka Srhanzeska aka Franny. Not to forget our extraordinarily handsome host, Alejandro who was kind enough to let us crash on his couch and made sure to show us the expat scene and nightlife of Phnom Penh. Then there were the touching and deeply impressive visits to the so-called Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum (formerly known as the S21 prison, from which there are only a handful known survivors). And as a stark contrast, the breathtaking temples of Ang Kor in Siem Reap, where we got to see the sun rise and set in one day. (writing these lines I’m getting goosebumps and have the feeling this certainly needs a delayed post…)
A couple a months later I spent our school’s ’spring break‘ with Julian in Malaysia, mostly on the beautiful island of Borneo (and of course – being the travel hub for South East Asia – a couple of nights in Kuala Lumpur). The pictures Julian took actually speak for themselves but all the wild animal encounters, including Proboscis Monkeys, a submarine elephant and a extremely depressing Orang-Utan sighting in a palm oil plantation also go in the category ‚childhood dream‘. At the same time they were very eye opening regarding our consume-driven society today. I would like to say this needs a few more words as well.
The following couple of months were full of Volleyball, farwell-, birthday-, summer- and other parties (there was some work involved as well, work hard, play hard and such) And just as suddenly as the whole adventure in China began, it already came to an end. With the 2018-2019 academic year ending, so did my contract with the British School of Bejing. Naturally, at the end of such an adventure – which the two years in China certainly were – one should take some time to reflect. As I briefly mentioned in my last blog post, you intake so many different experiences in any given chapter of your life but in the end the outcome of that experience-equation is what matters. A few of these experiences I have briefly touched upon in previous blog posts but I would like to give a short summary and personal reflection here as well.
(Disclaimer: That this is a purely subjective and personal depiction is implied by the word reflection. I do realize, that there are millions of people out there that have had very different and unique experiences during their X years as an expat in China. The following are just my own impressions of the last two years of the Middle Kingdom)
Things I am going to miss about China:
For someone who likes to refer to themselves as a social butterfly, China and specifically Beijing are a true paradise. The amount of leisure activities, travel destinations, restaurants from all over the world, historic and natural sights, and night life seem just infinite. There are so many great and lovely people that I have had the chance to meet over the last two years but over the last half year especially my l beloved volleyball girls and boys made life in Beijing very fun and entertaining (shoutout to my Panthers squad!). What goes without saying are the many colleagues who became really dear friends, whom I had the chance to learn a lot from professionally as well as personally and who it was always a blast to be with in- as well as outside of work. You guys know who you are and I genuinely hope our paths will cross again! I already miss all of you!
That creates a good bridge to the second aspect I am going to miss a lot: my job at BSB! It is going to be very unlikely that I am going to find an overall package, as good as the one offered here, anytime soon. Even though it was a lot of work and I had to work school days of 10 hours regularly, I am very happy with the overall experience. Sometimes it was not easy to walk that thin line between satisfying the needs of the German curriculum and (especially) the German parents and the demands of the British school, that we were still a part of. However, once I had found a good balance it was very rewarding. And let’s be honest: It’s hard to top working with 10 students and having your personal teaching assistant. On top of that, and I am not going into details, the financial aspect definitely helped as well. Realistically it probably doesn’t get much better than this.
Chinese culture! Historically as well as geographically, China offers one of the richest cultures and some of the most diverse landscapes on our planet which make it an extremely interesting destination to visit and live in. Not even speaking of all the different local cuisines that offer so many outstandingly delicious and unique dishes. May it be the dancing Qigong groups of elderly Chinese women or the street Musicians or the Hutongs, theres always something to hear or see. As a naturally curious person one never fails to find wonder and surprise within the many facets of Chinese culture, tradition and nature.
Things I am NOT going to miss about China:
Chinese culture! Or should I say anticulture? The constant spitting and snotting everywhere or the terrible traffic situation in Beijing and especially the proximity to the communist government are certainly some of the things I won’t be missing at all. Ever since my personal experience with the Chinese justice system, thinking about Chinese authorities handling things the „Chinese way“ makes me a little bit sick . Not only that they can and will easily screw over helping hands, especially when they are foreigners, but also the constant surveillance and concepts like the infamous ‚Social Credit System‘ – which has been running silently for a couple of years now – are utterly against my principles.
Another aspect of that (Anti)culture is language. Many times over the course of the last few weeks traveling I had been asked whether or not I spoke Mandarin after having lived in China for two years. Shamefully I have to admit that I am limited to “survival” Chinese skills even after such a long time. Admittedly, to a great extent that is my own fault for not being more pro-active in my Chinese learning or not taking classes from the very beginning. However, I my defense: Chinese is not exactly the easiest language just to pick up by being immersed in it. Of course the more specific your everyday problems become, the bigger the language barrier gets and quite frankly that barrier sits quite high in China to begin with. Furthermore, I want to say Chinese people are not the most forgiving for not knowing Chinese. I was lucky enough to have had many good friends or colleagues around me who were able to support me with Chinese translations of all kinds. (Special shoutout to Kasia and her outstanding Chinese skills who got me out of many pickles!)
And then there was a tiny little App called “WeChat” that you might have heard of. I was actually considering to write that I „miss WeChat” and to be fair, I am actually still using it so it might be a bit hypocritical to talk bad about the favorite tool of anyone living in China. After all, pretty much everything runs through WeChat at one point or another. Paying back your friends, order food, make appointments, tickets to the movies, paying in the restaurant, activating your Mobike, top-up on your phone bill etc. etc. Convenient, isn’t it? As convenient as it may be – one has to be aware that, by using WeChat for all these services, one becomes a digital slave of the Chinese government who certainly are having a huge slice of the personal data cake that we are creating constantly. Who does not appreciate this “infringement” (as some would call it), is probably better off avoiding China.
What insights am I taking away from this experience in China?
The knowledge! By now the knowledge is an appreciated meme among friends and admittedly I probably use it in a way too inflationary way but I still want to say I have gained some. I am proud to claim that I have improved as a person over the last two years. Even if I still have to overcome that “inner demon of lazyness” that – among other things – has prevented me from writing this blog, starting to meditate and becoming an Adonis in the gym, I still believe I have developed professionally and personally. A lot of that development is certainly connected to the so-called ‚growth mindset‘ which is being taught and lived by the curriculum as well as many colleagues at BSB for instance. It is the sort of mindset where mistakes, set-backs and downswings are part of your life but it remains important to learn from those lessons and find your way in your own pace.
Those downswings take me to the next point. Especially the story with the bike and the lawsuit have showed me that one does not need to be scared of absolutely anything or anyone as long as you have the right people around you and have a positive mindset. What’s the point in being afraid of certain things, worrying about something and spreading bad vibes throughout the day? The answer is easy: There is none besides spreading this disease of negativity. I don’t actually remember the last time I was thinking “Oh no, but what if…” (except for in love, I’m still an idiot overthinking everything when it comes to that). Life is full of “what if’s” and one should strive to learn to deal with them in a healthy way.
Many infinitely rewarding friendships! As mentioned above, I had the chance to make countless great friend- and relationships with many amazing people of whom I have learned so many things over the last two years. This very well may be THE most valuable thing to take away from these sort of adventures and quite possibly the explanation for why I am going to continue doing what I’m doing for the foreseeable future. I can highly recommend anyone to leave their comfort zone. Regardless your age, your occupation or your family situation. I strongly believe it is those new experiences (and there will be good and bad ones) that keep us mentally healthy and that give us the opportunity to grow.
It is safe to say: The last two years in Beijing were a unique experience with all its Up’s and Down’s that I am very grateful to have had! Huge thank you at this point to all the people that have made it possible (feeling a bit like the Academy Awards here). Special shoutout to Kasia, without whom China wouldn’t even have been anywhere on my screen off possibilites. Also to Joe and especially Silke, who have helped me to find a job in Beijing at have supported me throughout. Of course to my parents who have been there at any given point when I needed them. And to each and every one of you who have supported me physically or mentally!
So far so good. And for those of you who are actually still reading: What have I been doing since the end of June? Some of you might have seen my posts on various social media platforms of my adventures in Australia. I spent three weeks traveling and discovering the continent down under in a speed itinerary. From Perth via Melbourne and Cairns to Sydney. The trip was filled with plenty of reunions and one more childhood dream off the list in shape of the Great Barrier Reef. After that it was time for the fourth continent this year: North America. After two short but nonetheless very refreshing pit stops on Hawaii and in California the destination for the next couple of weeks was the naturally beautiful state of West Virginia (mountain momma)! Located there – in the Summit Bechtel Reserve – was the 24th World Scout Jamboree. The biggest peaceful gathering of youth in the world. Roughly 45.000 people from 150+ different countries gathered there “to unlock a new world” (Which happened to be the official theme of this Jamboree). This special event definitely deserves its own blog post which you hopefully are going to get to read very, very soon!
********** Die deutsche Version von diesem Post gibt’s HIER ************
We are currently floating somewhere in between the Christmas holidays and the end of the Gregorian calendar. Nobody is quite sure what day it is. Only the re-opening of shops and stores let one guess that the main gluttony – that the holidays undoubtedly are – is over and the town is becoming alive again. The presumably most peaceful time of the year oftentimes becomes the most stressful. But I’m going to spare you with sentimentalism of if and why we don’t even celebrate Christmas for its original reason and values anymore. That one is for another day. Because to the loyal readers (and surprisingly enough, there actually appear to be a few rare ones out there) I still owe a Christmas story of my own. I realize some might have heard that story being told already once or twice (and if you were lucky enough to hear it already feel free to skip to the second part of this blogpost) but there might be a few who are curious and have not heard the story of how I had to ransom myself out of China for 40.000€. (Btw probably one of the sentences I’ve said the most over the course of the last couple of weeks!)
I’ve already teased some of it in previous posts but as a disclaimer: since this is a Christmas Story the beginning might be ridiculously outrageous but there will indeed be a Happy End. Maybe a couple of plot twists and – in the name of Philisophbear – a few drops of knowledge.
But let me start at the beginning of this wild ride, that the last four months most certainly turned out to be. Those of you who have been reading my blog since last year might remember the (presumably) more or less harmless bicycle accident I was involved in last year in September. I haven’t heard anything of it ever since and thought, it may be all water under the bridge already. But as the Beijingers among you certainly know, the winters in Beijing are dry and not much water runs anywhere. When I unsuspectingly returned to Beijing this past August in order to start my second year at BSB, the first evil tidings were already waiting for me. A co-worker of mine who kindly helped me the day of the accident was informed that a letter from the Chaoyang District People’s Court was on its way to school, content to be determined. So let’s wait and see and in the meantime have some Jasmine tea. (cuz I’m right at the source ya know).
Fast forward to a good month and a half later, end of September: Said colleague gets a call from the court. Allegedly I had refused to accept the letter from court and had also refused to answer any attempts they made to call me on my phone which is why I am being summoned to appear at the People’s Court for a reading of said letter. Ummm, alrighty. Since the letter was never delivered to me in person and Chinese authorities wrote down a 1 in my phone number as a 7 I could have hardly accepted calls to a wrong number or the letter. But anyhow… One doesn’t simply defy the Chinese government (insert Boromir meme here) so a week later I followed the summon, and together with a colleague as a translator (Shoutout to my amazingly helpful colleague Wenqiao) made my way over to the court. After a short but thorough security check I was invited into an empty court hall by a very sour and seemingly annoyed court clerk who proceeded to read the content of the letter which Wenqiao kindly translated: Supposedly the Chinese gentleman who got injured during the accident had to admit himself to the hospital two days after the accident without any feeling in his extremities and consequently had to undergo spinal surgery. Since I had already been deemed guilty on the the night of the accident (quite frankly, probably rightfully so) I am to compensate the plaintiff for his medical bills and other potential compensation costs.
Right. Time to take a deep breath because it gets even better: Until the whole civil lawsuit is over or until I decide to pay a deposit of roughly 8000€ I am officially banned from leaving the People’s Republic of China! That’s right. Let that sink in for a moment. Travelban, being stuck in China for an unforeseeable time and getting properly bent over by the victim of the accident. Think what you like but most people that have heard this story up until this point came up with words like “scam”, “con” and “milking for money”. Sometimes you do hear similar stories on the news or read about it online but you never really expect it to happen to you. Also, a travel ban is especially useful when you find out about it a week before your planned trip to Indonesia. Not as if that would ever happen to me… So after a short dispute with the sour and ice-cold court clerk there was no other way than accepting my fate, canceling my holiday and finding a lawyer for the rest of this fun ride. According to said lawyer I could have even tried to catch my flight and might have been able to get away with it but my balls only get this big…
The following weeks were spent with a) trying to find out how much money this dude is actually going to get from be, b) how I am going to acquire the money to pay the bozo and c) how to get rid of this ridiculous travel ban until December in time for my holidays back home.
In terms of b) let me mention my impudent luck of having the two wisest and bestestest parents in the world who were smart enough to close a liability insurance deal for me just a few months before this whole thing started. Shoutout at this point to Allianz insurance who were genuinely helpful, supportive and accommodating throughout this whole ordeal. Coming up with the money was luckily temporarily not a major concern anymore (note the temporarily in this sentence).
In terms of a) it was unclear for quite some time how much money the good sir from the Middle Kingdom is supposed to get. In the beginning I had the understanding that he is going to get the 8000 Euroes and is currently being evaluated for permanent disability. In which case the compensation would become significantly higher. Since the guy initially did not agree to a settlement the court decided a judicial assessment would be necessary to determine how severe the injuries are and how much they are connected to the accident.
This judicial assessment was also the reason why c) was not as easy to figure out as I had hoped. After talking to my insurance and my lawyer we had decided to pay the deposit of roughly 8000€ in order to guarantee the travel ban will be lifted so I can go home over the Christmas holidays. But since just that would have been too easy (plus I have always been a good obstacle course runner), the People’s Court decided to increase the necessary deposit from 8000 to a mere 38.000€. The official reasoning: because of the running judicial assessment and the looming higher compensation payments 8000€ are simply not enough of a deposit. Alright, take a deep breath again. I have to admit that at this point for the first time during this ordeal my inner vulcano was stirring. My poor lawyer, who was really just the messenger had to cope with my emotional volcano eruption but in the end that hurdle in the race had to be accepted too.
Another fast forward to mid November. Allianz happily agreed to go on and make a higher payment and quite promptly initiated a transfer to my Chinese bank account so I could redirect the money to the Court. The only catch: Bank of China was just a teensy-tinsy bit less cooperative than anybody else and turned out to be one single clusterfuck of a spanner in the works. Apparently all sums of 5000€ and higher are routinely checked for fraud investigations (admittedly rightfully so). In practice that unfortunately means that the insurance’s transfer got stuck with BOC for a good 4 weeks and I was not able to re-transfer any money anywhere. Thanks. For. Nothing.
At this point I was pretty much already running out of time. The planned flight was getting closer and closer but what would a plan be without a B or a C. The knight in shining armor was in this case the consul of Austria in Beijing. Even though the dear diplomats at the Austrian embassy “do not own a diplomatic wand” to help with cases like mine and have been – diplomatically spoken – “quite useless” up until this point, they came in clutch in the end. As a last minute resort they suggested that I could – of course by way of exception – create a money depot with the Austrian Foreign Ministry which would then enable me to pick up the money in cash from the Austrian Embassy in Beijing. A few phone calls, Mails and one money depot late and TAAADAAAAA Two weeks before my planned flight I find myself holding 3 big fat stacks of 100-Kuai bills worth 300.000 RMB. (Of course they weren’t handed over by the consul directly because he was busy “hiking the Great wall”. On a Tuesday.) My parents suggested that I get bodyguards for the bank transfer but in the end I managed with just a designated driver (Shoutout to my lovely colleague and Beijing-Fostermom, Silke) and my lawyer to head over to the bank. After what felt like half an hour for counting the bills I was finally able to make the transfer to the court
The next few days basically consisted of a lot of wood-knocking and fingers-crossing by my whole famoly in order to retrieve the prodigal son but: IN THE END IT WAS ALL GOOD! A full two days before my flight I had the official confirmation by court that I would be able to go home for Christmas. It’s a holly jolly Christmas and Hallelujah. What an ending to a Christmas story!
(PS: In the meantime it has been determined that the Chinese gentleman did not carry away a permanent disability however will be granted roughly 12000€ of compensations. I’ll take that. Please and thank you.)
********* Now this is the part where everyone who actually skipped the story should feel invited to start reading again! ************
What does one take away from such a semi/fun experience with the judiciary system in a foreign country where barely anyone can communicate with you? Mainly and most certainly: a good story and something to talk about at various family- and christmas gatherings/reunions and a fine chapter for the autobiography. However, that is just the very top of the moral iceberg. There were indeed a few other lessons I was able to take away and if you’ve still got a couple of minutes you are very welcome to take away the next few rather philosophical paragraphs. Beware of the knowledge drop!
A famous chef, who has taken his own life a few months back, once said life is like a theme park. You singlehandedly get to decide which roller coasters to take but the exciting ones all have rapid up- and downswings and if you’re lucky enough it goes in a looping. (Some of that might have actually been said by me but you get the point!)
The point I’m trying to get across – and have already touched in the previous couple of blog posts – is that I believe one has to center themself in way that downswings, bloopers and mistakes, obstacles and unforeseen events can’t get to you or even hurt you. Such bloopers, mistakes and obstacles can actually make you stronger as long as you take something away and learn something from them. I’m aware, that my personal story is not among the worst things that can happen to you but for me personally it has been one of the lower downswings in my life so far.
Regardless I would like to claim, that I have managed to stay mostly positive during this civil lawsuit and present myself in a positive manner. One still has professional obligations and private commitments that still have to be taken care of even if you are in a shit situation. That only works out if you don’t let obstacles and setbacks take you down. Of course that is oftentimes easier said than done but I think there are only two really crucial things to be considered (thanks to Gusl for the wisdom!) On one hand it is the right attitude and mindset that I have already mentioned. You’re gonna get out of it and it’s going uphill again at some point. And, even though I can’t really believe I’m saying this, sometimes it also just needs a little bit of faith. I am not saying that has to be faith in God or some other higher entity, just faith that every situation, no matter how shitty it seems, is going to get better again.
On the other hand it is about the people that you surround yourself with. At this point a MEGA shoutout to the two people, who are at fault that I even exist. I genuinely wish every person out there had such a positive, supporting, patient and enduring family as I am lucky to have. Without the backup and the support of my parents, there is no way I could’ve gotten away as easily as I did. You are the real MVPs of this story! Without you I would probably vegetate on my couch in Beijing! Thank you so much for being in my life! But not only my parents and the whole (greater) family was being supportive the whole time. On top of that I am incredibly lucky to have such great colleagues at BSB that are always willing to help when needed. Shoutout to you, BSB staff! And shoutout to all the other people that were being supportive and helped with positive words and vibes. Even if it might sound cheesy, I am 100% certain your “thoughts and prayers” have helped!
So in the end I was able to return to the beautiful city of Graz and a lot of people have asked me, whether I am actually planning on going back to China after what happened. The simple answer is yes! I still have to finish the school year and my contract. Let alone that reason, the answer would have still been yes and even if it might sound a bit nuts: I am still not really sure if China wouldn’t deserve a second chance and what is going to happen after the summer. Because there was a second great advice I was able to take away from the last couple of months (Thanks Fadderen for that one): It is the sum of all your wild rides that make or break your visit to the amusement parks and even chinese roller coasters can be very appealing.
Until I have to make that decision in a week I am going to enjoy every single moment at home. Because after all, the Christmas time is to most peaceful and wonderful time of the year. Especially when you get to spend it at home with your family and friends after such a long ordeal. If anything, it is a positive kind of stress that you get, when you try to meet up with everybody before the holidays. When you can only move by rolling around from all the family feasts. When you have to finish your Christmas-Foodie list of death before you have to return to Far Far Away land. Because ya know: home, sweet home!
In that regard, I hope that you have been all rolling merrily through the holidays and I don’t really have anything left to say which is why I am closing this last blogpost of the twothousandandeightteenth year of the gregorian calendar. For me personally, it has been a very eventful, oftentimes amazing but not always easy, yet very rewarding year that I wouldn’t want to miss. I am very excited for what the new year has to offer. With all its resolutions and its up- and downswings. To all of you, who have made it this far I would like to wish all the best for the newest attraction of the amusement park: “2019 – the ride”! Enjoy it with all its inclines and declines, its accelerations and loopings.
Take care and one last smooch on the belly in 2018,
*******Für die deutsche Version einmal HIER drücken!******
“November has come which means it is slowly but gradually getting colder in Beijing.”
Scratch that! December has come and it is already freezingass cold in Beijing. Initially I was going to write this blog about something entirely different and a long while ago (I swear!). I have been quite delayed for several reasons, one of which being the topic of that said planned blog. However, the ominous “bicycle lawsuit” (some of you might know what I am referring to, everyone else: I’m afraid you are going to have to wait for a couple more weeks until I have more time during the holidays) is still dragging on and I am going to tell you about it very soon. I promise! Let it just be known, that I now fully understand the viral videos of Chinese people running over someone and then going into reverse to run over the victim once more. You know… Just to be safe!
Anyway, November is over! Or should I say… MOvember? You have all heard about it and yes, there are still some douchebags out there growing a glorious (or in some cases not so glorious) Moustacchio over the 11th month of the year. To the ones among you, that have somehow managed to miss Movember all these years, it is not just an unusual amount of Hipsters that start leaving their house once leaves come falling. There is actually an explanation to this pheromonenon (yeah, read that again)! The Movember foundation started off trying to raise awareness and money about prostate cancer 15 years ago by growing ridiculous moustaches and, according to their website, is now among the top 50 non-government funded organizations not only supporting prostate cancer but men’s health in general. Among others, testicular cancer, prostate cancer, mental health and suicide prevention are being supported by the cause. Being on the spiritual and mental journey that has been the last couple of years, I found the latter to specifically interesting and engaging. So I thought it would be an amazing idea to dedicate this blogpost to you. You beardy gods, you beautiful brothers from other mothers, you dope mo-bros from other mo-hoes, you MEN! (But ladies, don’t stop reading here because everything that follows just as much applies to you as anyone else so bear with me! #wherearemysistersfromothermisters)
Being a male homo sapiens in our world comes with a lot of expectations. Depending on where and how you grow up on our planet, you might be expected -but not limited – to be a good guy, be a good listener, be a good speaker, find a purpose, find meaning, be supportive of everyone around you, find a partner, be a good partner, raise a family, be successful, achieve your goals, be a teacher, be a learner, be a great role model, be a parent, be a great friend, be strong, be a warrior, be a hero, share your knowledge, share your strength, share your wealth and share your love!
I could go on like that but boy, oh boy… Is that a list! (See what I did there?)
A lot of men are trying to live up to these standards and this weight that our society puts on their shoulders some way or another . A lot of men cope well with the pressure that comes with being a male in our world. They thrive, the “Alpha males” in our society that you see on social media platforms, that dictate our news and papers, the paper in our wallets and screens of our digital devices. We all look up to them, we aspire to be like them, we are eager to be an “Alpha-male” like them. But a lot of men crumble from the weights. They try to be everything on the list above. They go for check mark after check mark like levels of a video game until at some point they are at a level were they keep on missing that one step, or forget crouching in that one right moment and lose life after life until it’s game over. Clinical depression, anxiety, personality disorders, PTSD and so many others are quite common mental issues that a lot of men are facing on a daily basis.
In most countries of our beautiful planet there are 3-4 times as many male suicides than female because so many men break! They break trying to fulfill all of the expectations of our society. A lot of them try to build themselves back up again with various drugs. Be it alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, heroine, sugar, gambling or love. It afflicts all type of men Alpha or Gamma, successful or not. Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Cobain are just a few of countless sad examples of how mental issues can either lead you to suicide directly or to behaviorisms that cause an early death. And they are only the most popular men that we hear about on the news…
But the problem is not that they are facing these issues. The problem is that so many men are facing these issues and ARE NOT SPEAKING UP ABOUT IT! They keep to themselves because it might be seen as a weakness not living up to all of our societal expectations. They shrug off their feelings because it is easier to just be silent and continue to play the game. They quietly drown their sorrows and find relieve in worse ways.
So I urge YOU men (but also women) out there! Don’t keep to yourselves! Speak up, speak to someone – your wife or your husband, your GF or your BF, your Mom, your Dad, your sibling or your friend, your barber or your auto repair guy. Speak up! Share your issues! Share your concerns! Because no matter how negative your spiral, no matter how deep the shit you’re in, no matter how low the downswing, no matter how hard the hardships. There are people out there that can bring you back up again. People that can help you out of any whole, people that can make the roller-coaster of life roll back up again!
There are people out there for you that are happy to listen! There are people out there that wanna talk and might be able to help somehow. Sometimes just listening is enough. Sometimes they can take some of that weight off you and sometimes they just need to point you in the right direction of the way. There are people out there that can give your lives meaning and purpose! Go out and find those special people. The ones that are being good guys to you, that are being a good listener and a good speaker. The ones that help you finding a purpose, finding meaning. The ones that are being supportive of you and everyone around you. The ones that are being a good partner, that help you raise a family, be successful and reach whatever goals you might have. The ones that can teach you and learn from you. The ones that are being great role models, great parents or great friends. The warriors, and heroes out there. The ones that share their knowledge, share their strength, share their wealth and their love! … you see where this is going. I urge you! Go out, speak out and give those people around you a chance to be that special person!
I got to be honest. Due to some unforeseen events and obstacles I might have started crumbling a little bit myself over the last few months. However, I am so endlessly lucky and extremely grateful that I have exactly those special people in my live to support me and take weight off my shoulders. So on second thought I should probably re-dedicate this blog post: this one goes out to YOU! You beautiful wives and husbands, GFs and BFs, moms, dads, siblings, friends, barbers and auto repair guys and everybody in between! Keep on doing what you are doing! Keep on listening, keep on speaking, keep on supporting each other and everyone around you, keep on being heroes and warriors, keep on being teachers and learners, keep on sharing your knowledge, your strength and most importantly KEEP ON SPREADING THE LOVE!
If you made it this far I salute and thank you! I guess there is nothing else to add to this brain fart of thoughts besides promising you yet again: another proper blogpost will follow very soon! Until then, stay positive, spread the love and spread the knowledge!
Kisses on the belly,
your friendly neighborhood bear
PS: If you feel like supporting men’s health and the Movember cause you can hit up my colleague Brian’s movember website and donate: https://moteam.co/bsb-mo-grow-to-know
Wie immer: Falls ihr die deutsche Version dieses Blogposts lesen wollt, einmal HIER klicken.
Of course I did not keep my promise and wrote a blogpost about the summer but… ain’t nobody gonna judge after you all have the knowledge now, am I right? So instead of warming up something that’s already happened months ago and in the spirit of the fall equinox past Saturday I am going to jump right to the present.
I’ve been back in China for 6 weeks now and as some of you might know, the reason why I am in China in the first please, the lovely woman on my side, is back in Poland finishing her Master’s thesis. I would like to take this opportunity for a shoutout to you, Kasia! For being a warrior and finishing your studies at home while studying abroad. I don’t know many people that are crazy enough and certainly none that have enough willpower, perseverance and energy to do so! What you have done is incredible and you have every reason to be so so proud of yourself! Can’t wait to spoil you rotten when you get your ass back over here!
Since I hate being alone and I also happen to have a huge case of FOMO (that is the fear of missing out for you non-millenials out there) I have tried to keep myself as busy as I can and meet people, new and old. For the new part I decided to host as many Couchsurfers as I could during the last few weeks. For those of you who are not familiar with the concept of Couchsurfing a quick explanation: You create a profile on a website called couchsurfing.com, offer your couch or guest bed or whatever you have to offer and have people stay over. Or if you don’t have enough room you can also choose to just “surf” and stay with other people while you are traveling. All of that for free! To some, inviting a stranger into your house, possibly even giving them a key and letting them use your amenities might sound super fucking weird. Granted, you have to have quite some trust in the good side of people and I am sure some might have worse experiences than me. However personally, every experience – surfing as well as hosting – has been absolutely rewarding in my case.
Every single person I have met through Couchsurfing has brought something interesting to the table. They have either shared their views and philosophies or let me share mine (#spreadtheknowledge) and I believe it is a great way to meet like-minded, adventurous travelers. So over the last weeks I have hosted or showed around people from the US, Canada, France and Israel. Taken them to trivia quizzes, cooked together, showed them some cool spots in Beijing and over-all had a really good time. Also I have been invited to come stay in Vancouver, Auckland and Jerusalem which is pretty fucking sweet!
For the old part, I have had two reunions over the last fe weeks. The first one is already a few weeks back and took my to Qingdao. A coastal city in the eastern Shandong province and a good 4.5 hours by bullet train away from Beijing. It also happens to have the same name as one of the most popular beer brands in China: Tsingdao. That is not a coincidence as this brewery was founded by German settlers in Qingdao in the early 20th century. The also happen to host the annual Qingdao International Beer Festival. Which was indirectly the reason I went there for just a weekend. The direct reason was a good friend of mine, whom I have met during my time at University in Graz, Selina. So two Austrians meeting again after two years all the way on the other side of the world in China. What are the odds? Well, Selina was over here for most of the Summer and performed over 30 shows with the so-called Phoenix Fire Dancers at the Beer Festival. Now, going there I wasn’t really sure what to expect of this weekend but I was certainly not disappointed. The Beer Festival itself could be described as a flashy, tacky Chinese take on the infamous Oktoberfest in Munich. Upon arriving there my cab driver almost ran over a group of drunk Chinese men and a good minute after getting out of the taxi a guy fell over with his e-scooter while furiously honking at me to get out of the way. But it’s not only a complete shitshow of drunk Chinese. They actually have a really good mixture of huge beer tents, smaller breweries that offer their beer (a lot of them German actually!) and more food carts than any festival I had ever been to. I guess Chinese don’t believe in the concept of “eatin’ is cheatin’” (shoutout to big daddy Steven O’Neill, you would have loved this place btw!)
And of course they have multiple stages for performances of all sorts. Among these performances the daily acrobatics show of the Phoenix Fire Dancers. I was lucky enough to see their very last show and it was not only absolutely impressive but also happened to be slightly “tweaked” compared to all the other shows which made it even funnier. To shortly summarize the performance: 120 artists dancing, tossing around flaming wheels, cones and what not, a heart-wrenching duo performance by a girl that flies away with a helium balloon. Add an insane light-show, a pounding soundtrack with 6 live drummers (all from Austria as well interestingly enough!) and lots of beer and you get a really entertaining night! Of course all of these amazing entertainers were already quite the close group after being together more or less 24/7 for 6 weeks but they still accepted me “as one of them” for this short but really awesome weekend!
The second reunion just happened this past weekend when my Chilean homie Alejandro came to visit me in Beijing. I know Alejandro from my time in the US when he went to St. John’s University where I was doing my Teaching Assistantship. We kept in touch over the years and since he now lives in Cambodia he took the chance to visit China. Since I work during the week he had to entertain himself on Thursday and Wednesday during the day but on Saturday we took part in one of the countless organized trips that you can find on WeChat. Since Ale really wanted to see the wall we decided to go to Gubei Watertown which is just next to Simatai great wall, a particularly steep and impressive part of the wall. Accompanied by two of my new colleagues, Julian and Katy, we got on the coach bus. Without traffic it takes you roughly two hours to get to Gubei but of course there is always traffic in Beijing so it took us around three.
Gubei itself is very interesting town. If you didn’t know you would probably not be able to tell that this town was only build a few years ago and is a replica of Wuzhen, another town further down south in China. It is stunning and absolutely picturesque but at times feels more like a China-themed amusement park. They have loads of restaurants and little shops that offer anything from traditional instruments to jewellery and clothes. In order to get to Simatai Wall you need to walk, or optionally take a boat ride through the whole town. To get up to Simtai you have two options: hike up or take a 7 minute ride on a cable car. Originally we were going to be sporty and hike but since some us did not bring the correct foot wear and some of us were also slightly hungover we went for the lazy option and took the cable car. Unfortunately larger parts of the wall were not accessible when we were up there so we could only walk between three towers but it made for a breathtaking view nonetheless on a gorgeous day with extremely blue air (air has been really good and regularly below AQI 30 lately!)
Back down in Gubei there is not much to do besides strolling around in between the historical-looking houses, line up for food and wait for the sun to go down. Because once it gets dark Gubei completely transitions its look and becomes the so-called “town of stars”. There is little lights and lanterns everywhere and the whole town seems to glow. Even the artifical church on top of a hill (which btw was the most awkward I had ever felt in a church with Chinese being on their phones and eating snacks inside) is surrounded by LED deer. With the day being so clear the moon and the stars also decided to make an appearance and offered the perfect setting for a romantic boat ride. No homo.
Before we had to hop back on the bus and head back we were able to see a “lantern show” which ended up being roughly 100 drones carrying lanterns to the sky and forming different shapes in the sky. I had already seen a similar but even more impressive show in Qingdao but it just gave Gubei an even bigger amusement park feeling.
After sending off Alejandro back to Cambodia on Sunday I am now all by myself again (insert Eric Carmen meme here) and also switched my Couchsurfing profile on “not accepting guests” for now. The reason being that, I was meant to go to Indonesia on Saturday for our Golden Week holidays. Unfortunately authorities denied that by deciding to temporarily put a travel ban on me. But that is another story for the next Blog! All I’m going to tease is: Do you remember me being in an accident a year ago? Well, it has come to haunt me…
Wenn ihr über die Knowledge auf Deutsch lesen wollt drückt mal HIER
Well, what can I say. It happened again. After half a year of enthusiastic blog-writing followed… half a year of silence. After a wonderful vacation in Thailand for the Christmas holidays (ft. Kasia and one of my lovely bros Lukas) I had a creative blockage. My muse had left me to Poland over the winter and with every passing week it became less likely for me to write a blog post about the holidays in Thailand. February brought the next vacation to Vietnam and when my parents came to visit for Easter vacation it was obvious: There won’t ever be a Thailand blog. Being behind on blog posts didn’t really help with being inspired to write other posts.
So for everyone who was hanging on my digital lips (and apparently that was more people than I thought, thanks for reading btw!) I have great news: Your friendly neighborhood bear is back in town! So open the Champagne bottles and keep your eyes and social media feeds open because I have vowed to write more actively again this upcoming year.
But where do I start again? All the travels from the last academic year have become dusty picturebooks on the shelf and the rest of the school year was not really exciting enough to write a blog about it now. So I thought maybe I’d try something different to get going again:
This year 2018 has made me reflect a lot on myself, made me try to find a philosophical view on our world and find who I really am and who I would ultimately like to be. Friends and family I have spoken to face to face might smirk now but within this blog post I would like to share a concept I have come to really like that I lovingly call „the Knowledge“. Some of you are probably thinking „What the fuck is this guy on about? Did he inhale to much incense smoke at buddhist temples?“ Well, kinda… but bear with me for a few minutes and form your own opinion after finishing the read. Forming your own opinion is a good keyword actually because that is what the Knowledge is pretty much about. For some of you it might be very obvious what I am about to write but for me personally it has been a pretty big revelation. I have certainly had this concept rooted inside me for a long while but haven’t really been acting upon and practicing it. So what is the Knowledge? The quintessence is quite simple, really: Love each other, don’t judge anyone without properly learning about their background and don’t try to change anyone else but yourself! This might sound quite biblical and tacky but I believe it is very challenging to put it into practice.
I would like to share two stories that have happened to me over the last year to kind of explain where I am going with this. The first one is a rather personal one that involves some friends back home and out of respect to everyone involved I am not going to go into too much detail. There was an incident that none of us could have ever imagined to happen and all of a sudden you find yourself facing a very hard test and you have to make a decision: „Do I blindly believe what media or other sources are telling me and am I going to judge upon that right away or am I going to investigate myself, try to find out what actually happened and give someone a second chance?“ I am extremely glad that apparently most people I am surrounded by also have the knowledge and would choose the second option in most situations.
But realistically speaking, how often do we actually get into situations where we would judge people that are very close to us? It is much more likely that we will judge people that we barely know, strangers that step into our lives or even groups of people that we are never actually going to meet personally. It happens everyday all the time to all of us. And there are two possibilities of what to do: either we try to change said person. Tell them what to do, how to behave, how they are supposed to look and what kind of clothes to wear; or we immediately build an opinion after a first impression and „put them into a drawer“ (this is a German expression of more or less pegging somebody as something) from where they are never going to escape again. In a lot of great cases we do one thing and then the other. Both of these options have one thing in common: they are obviously much more convenient because we usually do not have to deal with the negative consequences when we try to change somebody else or make them wear sociological name tag.
This brings me to the second story from this last your. Through Kasia I have met someone who I immediately judged based on some pieces of information about said person. This whole last year I was, quite frankly, behaving like a huge asshole towards her without even trying to get to know her history. Over the course of the year I learned more about her background and her story and I have realized that it was anything but okay how I treated that person. I did exactly what I think people shouldn’t do: I put her into metaphoric drawer without knowing the exact circumstances. I am going to make a bold claim and say that every single one of us has done this, judged a person or a group of people based on their skin color, their religion, their sexual orientation. Or sometimes maybe just on the things they like to do or their Hobbys or something they have done or not done at some point in their life. Tiny tiny things like that are enough to make a person seem likable or not and eventually peg them as something according to our impression. It’s very easily done and very convenient.
But what do I actually want to get across with this gibberish? Maybe we should seriously question ourselves the next time we meet somebody (no matter how well we known them) with negativity based on… what? Maybe we should really think about it twice the next time we hurt another human’s feelings by judging them based on their appearance, their beliefs or their preferences. Maybe we should just try to care more about OURSELVES instead of always trying to butt into other people’s lives. Maybe our global society could become a better place if every single one of us actively would try to change to the better, meet other people with respect, sympathy, positive vibes and a whole bunch of love.
People who are avid readers of my blog might remember the scout camp I attended in Iceland last year. The camp had the theme CHANGE and if we would like to improve our world and change it to the better we probably have to change ourselves the most instead of others.
Obviously this last year has brought a big change in my life. New country, new job, new living situation etc. But I would also like to believe that I was looking for this kind of change and are currently in the process of embracing this personal change. Another thing is quite obvious: Change is anything but easy, it can be scary and it can be quite painful, sometimes change needs sacrifice. But only when we are ready to bear this pain, to make these sacrifices, only then we will be able to stir up something in our world and ultimately make it a better place. Not only for ourselves but for each other and together!
Phew… That was something… else. Friendly neighborhood bear just evolved into friendly neighborhood philosophbear. But enough with this philosophical crossover. I was gonna tell you about my summer as well but I ran out of time and don’t want to waste too much of yours. I promise another blog post about my summer travels are up soon!
Until then, kisses on the belly and #spreadtheknowledge,