The expat’s life: Why I left Ecuador

One of the most popular destinations for American expatriates is Ecuador. Thanks in large part to websites such as internationalliving.com, Ecuador has become a hot spot for gringos  looking to relocate, particularly over the last ten years. The majority of those moving to this small South American country have been retirees, mostly baby boomers.

Though I am not a baby boomer and am nowhere near retirement age, I was enticed by the information I came across on the internet regarding Ecuador. I was already leaning heavily toward South America as my ultimate destination, so I just had to narrow down my choice of country. Ecuador offered many inducements; the climate was tropical to temperate. The geography varies  from tropical beaches to spectacular Andean mountains to lush Amazonian rainforest.  Ecuador is considered a ‘megadiverse’ country and has more biodiversity per square kilometer than any other country. Its political leader is left-leaning and independent minded , steering clear of U.S. hegemony. The cost of living is relatively low, compared to the U.S.A. ,and the country uses the U.S. dollar as its currency.

I chose the southern Andean city of Cuenca which is where the majority of North American expats settle in Ecuador. Within a few short weeks of my arrival, I was feeling disappointment in my new home. It seemed like every day there was a new problem. Some of those problems were the normal circumstances which a new expat can expect to encounter in a foreign country; however, a realization was quickly growing inside of me that I had chosen the wrong country.

Note: The following observations are generalizations and certainly do not reflect all the people of Ecuador. I met some wonderful people there and made a few great friends. There are always exceptions to any rule.

Lying, cheating, stealing

The prevalence of lying, cheating, and stealing in Ecuador was far beyond anything I had experienced previously. The general standards of ethical behavior were quite low.

Theft is rampant throughout large swathes of South America, and Ecuador is no exception. In fact, it seems to be a way of life for many, not just juvenile delinquents and thugs. Most people I met in Cuenca, both locals and expats, had been robbed at least once. During my second month there, my colleagues were robbed at gunpoint after leaving  class at 9 p.m. in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood less than one kilometer from the downtown. The experience severely traumatized a young female teacher. My backpack which contained my computer was stolen right out from under me in a cafe, in the middle of the day by a group of professional thieves. The house where I lived, which was located in an upper-class neighborhood, was broken into and robbed. A pair of young female tourists in Quito related to me their horrifying experience of getting robbed their first day in Ecuador. 

Some of my friends and colleagues started to carry weapons with them when they walked around at night. I contemplated doing the same. Expat newcomers and tourists learn quickly to carry nothing of value with them when they go out and avoid most areas along the riverfront. Some of my Ecuadorian friends told me that they didn’t even trust their own family members when they came to visit. After the family members returned home, my friends discovered something missing from the living room or bedroom.

The high occurrence of robberies in Ecuador has had a number of sociological effects. For example, every bank has two or three armed guards standing in front with machine guns. The guards stand at the ready, with fingers on the triggers, and have severe expressions on their faces. When an armored car pulls up to take cash out of a bank or an ATM, at least a half-dozen heavily armed guards jump out and hold their machine guns tightly, looking extremely tense and frightening. All houses are heavily fortified. Nobody takes chances. A typical house, even in a lower-middle-class neighborhood, has a ten-foot -high concrete wall with embedded glass shards surrounding it. This wall is often supplemented with razor or barbed wire above the glass shards. A large and vicious dog such as a pit bull is often present as well.

To live in a society with such a profound level of paranoia and fear was a jarring experience for me. I reflected on what this fear did to human relations. If people are hiding behind their fortified compounds, what does that do to neighborliness and interaction with strangers? What does this fear do to street life itself? To community?  In my neighborhood, I never saw neighbors talking to one another.

I also pondered the root causes of robbery. I came up with some rough hypotheses. First, there appeared to be few consequences for those caught stealing. By law, any theft in which the stolen item has a value under 500 USD is punishable only by a small fine and perhaps a night in jail. Juvenile offenders are usually set free with a fine, a warning, and possibly probation. That’s not much deterrence, is it? Furthermore, most boys and young men in Ecuador, and South America in general, are overly coddled , especially by their mothers. They understand intuitively that no matter what they do, their mothers will only give them a mild scolding, and go right back to cooking and cleaning for them, even when the boys are well into their mid- to- late 20s. Finally, the Catholic church, which plays such a prominent role in people’s lives in South America, does nothing to stem the rate of robberies. Boys and young men know that they can go to confession and obtain ‘forgiveness’ from a priest.

With little to fear from the government, family, or the church, young punks, juvenile delinquents, and professional thieves are free to roam and prey on the populace.

Lying is commonplace. Trying to get a straight and honest answer from most Ecuadorians was exhausting. Some long-term gringo expats justified this behavior by stating that Ecuadorians spoke in a ‘circular’ manner instead of a ‘linear’ manner, and furthermore they preferred to give a ‘good’ answer instead of the right answer. Well, I’m not a psychologist nor an expert on Latin American culture, so I must  rely on my common sense and the values I was brought up with. To me, this talk of circular conversation and good answers smacked of shallow apologetics. A lie is a lie.

An example of this behavior is the reply you will get if you go looking for something in a store which doesn’t have what you want. Instead of the owner telling you, “Sorry, we don’t have that and we can’t get it,”  they will smile and nod and tell you to come back in ‘a few days’ when the product will be available. So, you return in a few days to see that it is still not there, whereupon the owner will repeat the line. A few days later, you return and the scene is repeated yet again. It took me a while to catch onto this silly little dance, but it reflects how the people operate. I now live in a country where the store owner will wave me away rudely when he doesn’t have what I’m looking for. While I despise the rudeness, I much prefer it to the fake smiles and lying that I encountered in Ecuador because the end result is a much greater waste of my time.

Cheating is widespread and rampant in schools. In the school where I worked, teachers learned never to turn their backs on the class when the students were doing an assignment or taking a quiz, even for a moment. The notion that cheating was acceptable was ingrained in many, if not most, of my students. I had to wonder how they grew up with that idea in their heads and how their native teachers dealt with the issue. In any case, given how commonplace cheating is in the primary and secondary levels, it is hardly surprising that Ecuador’s tertiary education is so poorly rated.

Noise

The noise level in Cuenca was horrific. The city is surrounded by hills and mountains and noises are amplified and ricocheted by this configuration.

The city buses are old, diesel models which are loud, dangerous, polluting, and obnoxious beasts. They are manual stick-shift models, so every time the driver violently mashes  the clutch down, the buses make a low, rumbling growl which is audible from a kilometer away. In fact, I could set my alarm from the buses. They woke me up every morning at 5:30 a.m. with their shifting. Lying in my bed, I was able to distinctly hear first gear, followed a few seconds later by second gear, and then third, and so on.

In addition to the bus noise, Cuenca suffers from year-round firework noise. You see, Cuencanos and Ecuadorians LOVE fireworks. While people in other countries reserve fireworks for specific holidays, Ecuadorians love fireworks for their own sake, and see no reason to reserve their use for only a few days a year. Hence, firecrackers, bottle rockets and the like are set off nearly every day, in every neighborhood, at every hour. It makes no difference whether it is 1 p.m., 5 p.m., 10 p.m., or 3 a.m. Somebody, somewhere is setting off some fireworks. If you are a light sleeper, like I am, then you are S.O.L.  Fireworks are sold widely with no restrictions on age. With no noise ordinances governing their use, it’s hell on earth for those who like a little peace and quiet.

Ecuador is a middle income country which means that many people are now able to afford a car. Given the fact that theft is so rampant, naturally people want to protect their asset. Every car sold in Ecuador comes equipped with a hyper-sensitive alarm system. If a leaf fell  from a tree and landed on the hood of a car, the alarm would  go off. If I brushed against a car with my shirt sleeve, the alarm would go off. I lost count of how many times I saw people sitting inside their cars with the alarm going off. Nobody seemed to know how to turn it off, so they would fumble around with the controls, giggling and laughing while their eardrum-shattering alarm went on for five or ten minutes, affecting people for kilometers around. The absolute lack of awareness of noise pollution was stunning to me. One afternoon, I sat inside my apartment and counted 27 car alarms go off in the space of three hours.

If all of that were not bad enough, locals had also decided  to augment all of their  home security apparatuses with yet one more: THE HOUSE ALARM. Prior to moving to Ecuador, I was unfamiliar with this hellish invention. Compared to the house alarm, car alarms are a tiny, insignificant nuisance. The decibel level of the house alarms in Cuenca is comparable to a Rolling Stones concert. While they could, and did, go off at any time, they most often went off somewhere in the middle of the night, just when I was reaching REM sleep. I would bet that they were audible from at least 10 kilometers away. What’s more, the alarms seemed almost useless. I once witnessed one going off in the middle of the day in my neighborhood. I stood in front of the house to see what happened. Did the police or some private security agency come running to the house? Did the neighbors come over to check on things? Did anybody pay attention or do anything? NO, no, and no. The thieves could have been inside, cleaning out the house with their earphones on and nobody would have noticed.

There’s much more I could talk about, such as the lousy weather, lame nightlife, introverted and dour people, graffiti, basic lack of respect for pedestrians and mediocre food. Amazingly, I still see Ecuador and Cuenca mentioned as great landing spots for Northerners looking to relocate and retire. I only hope they are better prepared than I was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten volunteering ideas to benefit your community

Here are ten things you can do now to start making a difference in your community. Volunteering your time, energy, and skills to contribute to the betterment of humankind has always been and will always be a noble enterprise.

Teach kids to swim. 

I live in a country which currently records about 6,000 drowning deaths per year, the vast majority of which are children under the age of 16. Other countries, espcecially in Asia and Africa,  have similar statistics. Even in rich countries in North America and Europe, many children do not learn how to swim.

Becoming a certified swimming instructor is a relatively easy task. Once you know how to teach swimming, finding students will be easy. Walk around your neighborhood and you’ll find at least half of the kids don’t know how to swim. Learning how to swim will enrich the child’s life enormously and prevent him from meeting an unnecessary early death.

Teach English

You don’t need to be a certified English instructor in order to teach English. If it is your native tongue, look around your neighborhood to see if there are people who speak English as a second or third language. They and their kids are likely in need of some instruction. Volunteer your time and assist  them with whatever they need the most help with, whether it be simple conversation, writing, public speaking, or reading.

Teach reading 

Illiteracy is still a huge problem in many parts of the world. Parents who are illiterate will not pass on the habit of reading to their children. If you can teach a child to read and also  share a love of books, you will be giving a gift that will last a lifetime. Help a kid to wean off the smartphone and learn the joy of book reading.

Teach nutrition and healthy cooking

Obesity is spreading like wildfire around the world. We need to start fighting back against the fast food conglomerates, the evil GMO seed companies, and junk food manufacturers. Most people receive no nutrition education whatsoever during their formative years. They don’t know how to read a food label, how to calculate calories, or how to cook a simple, inexpensive, delicious, and healthy meal. People will rarely go to a bookstore to buy a book on nutrition and take it home to read and study. They need a mentor and a counselor to guide them to a healthier lifestyle.

Teach gardening, fishing, and hunting

‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever.’ If you possess skills related to procuring your own food outside of the global capitalist food chain, then you can help others to do the same and gain a freedom they didn’t know existed. As more and more people move to the cities, these skills are rapidly being lost. Keep them alive by teaching the next generation.

Teach music

Everybody would love to play an instrument, but most need a nudge to get started. It’s not the money factor; second-hand instruments can be had for a dime. The time can be easily be found to practice. Even so-called ‘super busy’ people waste time during the week doing silly things like updating Facebook. What most truly lack is a good teacher who is affordable and available. You can be that person.

Teach martial arts

You don’t need to be an expert or a black belt to teach, especially to kids. This is not about opening a martial arts academy. If you possess some competency at a martial art, and you are willing to teach for free, then you can have a class  in your back yard or basement. Share what you know. Some knowledge of a martial art has enormous benefits. Your students will learn self-defense, get in shape, and gain self-confidence.

Teach CPR

Every town has a Red Cross chapter or a local clinic which offers CPR classes. Go one step further and become a certified trainer so that you can pass the skill onto others. When tragedies happen, the vast majority of people freeze like statues. They are scared and have no idea what to do. You can be the hero who jumps into action immediately.

Be a mentor

Millions of young boys around the world lack fathers and father figures. They long for the company of an older man who cares about their development and growth, even if they don’t consciously know it. Spending a few hours on a weekend afternoon with a fatherless boy and exposing him to some culture will often work miracles.

Teach money management

It’s a sad fact of modern life that our world revolves around money, yet most people don’t have a clue about how to manage their own finances. They have difficulty balancing their accounts and planning for the future. They don’t understand how, when, and where they should use a credit card. On a higher level, they don’t really even understand what ‘money’ is. Bonus points if you can explain the banking system.

 

Bonus: Pick up trash and litter

It has always perplexed me how people will ignore the trash and litter that blights their neighborhood. I think it has something to do with people’s notions of private property, space, and responsibility. Folks mistakenly believe that their ‘home’ extends no further than their front door. Therefore, that trash across the street is ‘not their problem.’ It is someone else’s problem, usually the city or municipal government. They will walk by that trash day after day after day, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the problem and to act on it. By taking action and collecting trash and offering your neighbors an example, you just may start a chain reaction. Be extra bags and gloves to give to curious onlookers.

 

Why you should never use the ‘shuffle’ function on iTunes

The introduction of iTunes in 2001 created a huge shift in how people bought, organized, and played their music. There’s no way to overstate how profound these changes were for the music-buying public. Before iTunes, music consumers had to buy an entire album, either on vinyl, or later, on compact disc. With this new technology, people could purchase individual songs from the comfort of their living room, and organize those songs into unique playlists.

I have purchased many songs and albums from iTunes over the past ten years and I love its ease of use. I created playlists of my favorite dance music, romantic music, and study music. It was fun and, at times, exhilarating, to play dj and create playlists which I could share with friends or simply enjoy in my car and living room.

One of the functions of iTunes and other similar media players is ‘shuffle,’ or what I like to call ‘random play.’ I have never used this particular function and I never plan to. In fact, I despise random play and I include it in my list of the worst inventions of the past century.

In the days when we used to purchase albums, it was understood by the general listening public  that some thought and effort went into the arrangement of the songs . The band members, along with the producer, sat down and decided the order of songs. Furthermore, they needed to figure out  which songs would go on side ‘A’ and which on side ‘B.’  If they did their job well, the album would form a cohesive whole, a unity. While the individual songs could, and did, stand on their own merit, the whole was even greater than the sum of the parts.

In this sense, radio was the enemy of the artist, as it had no need for albums. It wanted only songs and specifically, hit songs. Hence, radio became something of a double-edge sword for musicians and bands. On the one hand, it gave them necessary exposure which translated into more sales and thus more money. On the other hand, radio chose only the songs it deemed worthy of air-play, using its own skewed commercial criteria. The one or two songs extracted from most albums for heavy airplay were probably not the best songs on many albums, and most likely were not the favorites of the musicians either. In the best case scenario, listeners who enjoyed the songs being played on the radio went out to buy the album. Once they owned it, they could play it at leisure and experience the entire album, as it was meant to be experienced.

Although iTunes is wonderful in many ways, it also has a dark side, as does every technology. By enabling us to pick and choose songs to buy, divorced from the album and the context of that album, we are missing out on something important. To take the songs in our music library and then to play them in a random order, chosen by a computer, well…that’s going too far.

I remember well the first time I realized that I had a problem with random play. I was in the car of a new friend who was in her 20s. She was driving and her music was playing on the stereo; she had a USB plugged in. I asked her a few questions about the artists, the songs, and the albums. She couldn’t answer any of my questions. She just giggled stupidly and said, “I just turn on random play. I don’t know anything about the albums or anything.”

Nowadays, when I go out to a coffee shop or restaurant, I can always tell when the owner has his ‘random’ setting on. The sequence of songs makes little to no sense.

Yesterday I ate breakfast at a cute little cafe that I like to visit. I should say that I like to go there for the food, not for the atmosphere. The owner is a French hipster who imagines himself to have great taste in music. He instructs his staff to play his computer playlist, on random play, of course. So, I was treated to a hip-hop song, followed by some French pop, followed by American pop, followed by an 80s pop song, followed by some rap music…..and on and on. While the owner imagines that he’s serenading his customers with his exquisite taste in music, in reality we are being subjected to a jarring and discordant mess. This is standard at many of the places which I visit and otherwise like.

The dictionary defines random thusly: ‘proceeding, made, or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern. ‘ Why would anyone want to have their sequence of songs occurring without any reason or pattern? Why would anyone want to have a computer program choose what song is played next? These are questions I will probably never have answered satisfactorily.  In the meantime, all I can do is ask the manager to turn the music off.

 

5 Reasons to hate Seattle

I recently came across a website created for people who hate Seattle. I read through a number of the entries and found myself nodding my head vigorously at each point mentioned. Yes, yes, yes! All true. For a moment, I considered adding my thoughts and posting them at that site, but since I already have my own blog, why not share my feelings right here with my readers?

To put it simply, Seattle sucks. I spent just over two years there from 2009 until 2011.  Before Seattle, I was living in Portland, Oregon where I had hoped to settle down. However, the job market there was not what I had anticipated and when I was offered a decent job in Seattle, I had to accept as I was quickly running out of money.

I had heard some negative things about Seattle before arriving, of course, such as the lousy weather and the traffic. But I figured I could make the best of it. It’s a big city with some world-famous attractions, after all. Seattle has Mount Rainier, the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, distinctive neighborhoods, Puget Sound, professional sports teams, and a waterfront. Plus, it has a reputation for musical innovation (Jimi Hendrix, Grunge etc.)  and liberal politics.

My expectation that I could  endure the bad aspects of the city and maximize the the positive attributes turned out to be wishful thinking. Actually, I knew times were going to be rough when a colleague of mine gave me a welcoming gift a few months after I arrived. It was a book titled ‘Dont Jump. The Northwest Winter Blues Survival Guide.’ The ‘don’t jump’ part of the title refers to jumping off a bridge in the attempt to commit suicide.

The Weather 

Simply reading about Seattle weather cannot prepare you for the reality of it. Nothing can, really. It is as bad as you have heard. Even a normal year in Seattle is difficult to withstand. However, during the time I was there, a record was set for the longest number of days when the temperature failed to rise above 60 degrees. I can’t find the article online to give the exact record, but I think it was six or seven months. Furthermore, during that dreadful spell it rained nearly every day and the sun became a distant memory. My skin, deprived of the warmth, vitamin d, and healing energy of the sun, became extremely pale. Looking at my face in the mirror, I realized that I looked unhealthy and unattractive. My pallid skin seemed to reflect perfectly my inner misery.

SeattleWeather

The clouds, rain, and cool temperatures are not the only phenomena that must be endured in the far Pacific Northwest. People sometimes forget, as I did, just how far north Seattle is situated. From November until February, the sun remains very low on the horizon and during the depths of winter in December and January, days have only seven hours of sun. When I left for work at 5:30 in the morning, it was still dark outside with sunrise being a couple of hours away. And when I got back into my car at 3:30 in the afternoon to come home, it was already dusk. The entire day had passed by while I was in my office. I was lucky if I could go outside during my lunch break to get a few minutes of sun. Only a masochist would want to put up with that kind of climate for long.

To rub salt in the wound, the NWO also sprayed the Seattle skies relentlessly with chemtrails. On many days, the skies were so thick with chemtrails that I got nosebleeds. Seattleites, being too busy staring at their smartphones or just being tuned out of reality altogether, took no notice.

 

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Politics 

I am a veteran of ‘The Battle in Seattle,’ the famous uprising against the WTO which set in motion the movement against corporate globalism. I came away from that experience with the impression that Seattle was city of radical leftists, revolutionaries, and liberals. The impression that Seattle is a ‘liberal’ city is one that is constantly fed by not only the mass media organs, but also the so-called ‘alternative media.’ What I quickly learned was that, in fact, Seattle is not a liberal city at all. It is a corporate town to the bone, and deeply proud of it.

Seattle is, in many ways, defined by its corporate nature. It is the birthplace and home of Starbucks, Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon, among others. These are not small players on the international stage. A large percentage of Seattleites work for these corporations or their ancillaries and are not about to speak out against globalism or corporatacracy when their  paycheck depends upon it. The liberalism that you so often hear about in Seattle is only the social liberalism variety, sometimes referred to as cultural marxism. In other words, if you live in Seattle, you are probably pro-choice, pro -gay marriage, pro -LGBT, pro- multiculturalism, and pro- Democratic Party. If you are not in favor of those things, you learn to keep your mouth shut.

The Traffic

I grew up in Washington D.C. and have lived in Austin, San Francisco, and Portland. Additionally, I have visited some large cities in Asia and South America so I am not unfamiliar with heavy and chaotic traffic. Seattle is the most unpleasant place to drive a car and get around that I have ever been to. The combination of geography, weather, city planning, and population makes Seattle an absolute nightmare for driving. There is only one major north-south route through the city and it is always congested. Traveling east-west is no better. Sitting in your car in traffic is a daily fact of life in Seattle. Traffic is so bad that most of the time I would do anything to avoid it. I would stay home instead of going out on weekends or evenings. The parking situation in downtown Seattle is beyond bad. There is little to no street parking and the rates at parking garages and lots are exorbitant.

The never-ending construction in downtown Seattle only made matters worse. There were a number of major projects happening in 2009-2011, including the construction of an underground subway system.

traffic-mess

If I wanted to visit downtown Seattle on a Friday or Saturday night to enjoy some dinner, drink, and maybe music, I was confronted with a nightmare scenario. First, I needed to drive on the interstate from my apartment in South Seattle, never knowing how bad the traffic would be. Then, I  needed to negotiate the tangle of downtown streets, including many one-way streets and streets with steep hills, never a fun prospect with my stick shift. Next, I had to find a parking space or be willing to shell out 10 or 15 bucks for a spot in a lot. If I managed to successfully do all of that, I then had to walk a few blocks in the rain to finally arrive at my restaurant.

Once at the restaurant or bar, I didn’t dare have more than one drink, for I knew that awaiting me on my drive home was a hornet’s nest of cops on street corners waiting to nab their quota for the night. Unmarked police cruisers were everywhere on the roads. One wrong turn down a one-way street or one forgetful moment of not turning on my blinker was enough to get me face-to-face with one of Seattle’s finest. I had plenty of experience with Seattle cops during the WTO protest and I witnessed firsthand what they are made of, and capable of.  In 2010, a big local story was the cold-blooded shooting death of an unarmed, non-aggressive, innocent Native American artist by a Seattle cop.  The young cop simply stepped out of his car, barked a few words at the man ,who was mostly deaf, pulled out his gun and shot him dead on the street.

The Dating scene

Do not, under any circumstances, move to Seattle if you are single and have any hope of finding a spouse, a partner, or even a date. Seattle is, by a wide margin, the worst city for dating I have ever visited or lived in. In general, people are cliquish, aloof, superficial, rigid, and uninteresting. I was neither a hipster nor a corporate drone, so that ruled out about 95 percent of the population. As a single man, I found myself hitting constant roadblocks, whether I tried the online dating route or the bar/club/restaurant/ scene. Many of the young women I met seemed  uninterested in dating, men, and sex. They seemed almost asexual. Maybe it’s the weather.

Image versus Reality

Seattle’s liberalism  is only one example of how the myth of the city does not match the reality. I was initially excited to shop at Pike Place Market, an icon of the city. Sure, the market is probably useful for those lucky enough to actually live close to it, but for those of us who need to drive into the city to get there, it’s not worth it. It’s mostly a tourist trap and has a generally unfriendly vibe. Pioneer Square feels run-down and depressed. It too is mostly frequented by tourists. Elliott Bay Bookstore moved across town and now has a much more corporate and sterile feel to it. The waterfront boardwalk is boring and lifeless.

If you decide that all of the above are not enough to deter you from moving to Seattle, remember too that you will have to pay through the nose for the privilege of living there. It was not cheap when I was there a few years ago and I read recently that rents have gone up steeply in the last few years. Prices are now approaching the level of San Francisco.

 

 

 

 

The sad decline of youth hostels

Youth hostels have been transformed over the last twenty to thirty years. The physical and structural changes seen in the hostels themselves are less dramatic than the changes seen in the people who frequent them and who have destroyed the wonderful feeling of camaraderie which formerly existed there. I believe that the negative transformation of hostels can be traced to three major factors: the popularity of Lonely Planet , the baby boomer generation, and the smartphone.

Before Lonely Planet and Rough Guide arrived on the mass market shelves, information on hostels was more difficult to come by. Sure, there existed some travel guides which listed the hostels in various countries, but you had to search them out, especially in the pre-internet days. After LP and RG became extremely popular, followed soon after by the internet and its plethora of travel sites, hostels became known to a much wider audience, far beyond  their traditional base of young backpackers. One of the many consequences of this was that millions of first-time hostel guests were now flooding the market and few of them knew anything of the traditional culture of hostels. For this new wave of hostel-goers, it was about one thing: money. Hostels were seen as the cheapest accommodation available, and for those on a tight budget, it was an easy call.

Some of my younger readers may be wondering what this ‘traditional culture’ of hostels was. Quite simply, it was a culture of openness and friendship. Saving money was only one of many reasons for people to stay in youth hostels. Equally as important was the opportunity to make friendships with others from around the world who shared a passion for travel, exploration, and discussion.  The communal kitchen, the dorm rooms, and all the common areas were places where you could meet fellow travelers and make instant friendships. Traditionally, hostels were one of the few places in society where it was not only permissible to approach and greet a stranger, it was encouraged.

I have stayed at a handful of hostels in South America and Asia over the past few years, and I have witnessed the rapid decline in the old camaraderie and sharing which used to define the hostel experience. Hostels may have been able to withstand the onslaught of the new breed of budget traveler and even instill in some of them the hostel ethic, but they will surely not be able to survive the invasion of computers and smartphones.

Most hostels still have small libraries or reading rooms with worn copies of old Kerouac novels and LP guides, but nobody reads those anymore and certainly nobody gathers there to talk. Nowadays, people only sit at the computers which more and more hostels are offering.  The remainder of the guests sprawl on the couches staring into their smartphones, lost to the world and oblivious to their fellow guests and the happenings in the hostel. Animated conversation and the excited retelling of adventures are rarely heard today inside the walls of hostels.

Baby boomers need to take their share of blame as well for the decline of hostels. Remember, these establishments were always known as YOUTH hostels in the past. These days, the ‘youth’ part is frequently dropped and they are referred to simply as ‘hostels.’ Why? When and how was ‘youth’ dropped? Was there a vote taken? Was it simply an acknowledgement of the new reality? That reality being that many older people are now enjoying the benefits of hostels.

I don’t know exactly when middle-aged and old people started to frequent youth hostels in large numbers, but I suspect it was sometime in the 1980s, right when boomers were reaching middle age. Not wanting to let go of their youth or acknowledge the arrival of middle age, staying at a hostel affirmed to them that they could still hang with the young crowd.

Some will argue that this is a good thing. Hostels should be open to everyone and having some older folks around adds a  bit of flavor to the whole vibe. I couldn’t disagree more.  The low cost of hostels and the young clientele was an arrangement that made complete sense. The theory behind hostels was that young people, fresh out of college and jobless,  had little money but still wanted to see the world and they  should have a clean, comfortable, and safe place to stay. Their parents, and older people in general, who did have money and established careers, were expected to stay in regular hotels. Well-off and middle-aged people who choose to stay in hostels to be cheap and save a few dollars or who hope to appear ‘hip’ when they are deep into their 50s or 60s strike me as somewhat vulgar.

 

The destruction of language

In December of 2014, I wrote an article about the destruction of language and grammar. Since that time, the trend has accelerated. Wherever we look- in newspapers, magazines, blogs, emails, textbooks, novels, and everyday conversation- we can observe the rapid disintegration of the ability to use the English language with any degree of facility, fluency, and grammatical correctness.

The English language is under attack from many directions. From the top, it is under assault from the ruling powers, commonly known as the NWO. Their agenda is clear: dumb down the masses by inverting and changing the meaning of words and muddle people’s brains by making a mishmash of all accepted grammatical rules. Since they control all of the media, their power and influence to carry out such an agenda is considerable. Hence, whenever you read a story from any large news organization,  it is quite easy to see the actual workings of this plan. The paragraph form has now almost completely disappeared from news articles, replaced by one and two sentence snippets. Any academic words above a third grade level have been excised, replaced with simple and easy-to-understand words and phrases which will require no one to consult a dictionary.

Academia has been thoroughly and definitively infiltrated and compromised by these same elites and interests. The written word, which formerly constituted 99 percent  of textbooks, now occupies, at best, only half of the course book. The  other 50 percent is now taken up with color photos, mostly of celebrities. What little text there is does nothing to challenge readers.

 

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English is also being worn away from below. English is, for better or worse, the lingua franca of our time. All over the world, English is being learned by native speakers of hundreds of different languages. The vast majority of these students attain only an advanced beginner or intermediate level of speaking and writing. Before they have mastered the use of all of the verb tenses, the paragraph, cohesion, and coherency, they are using what they know in the real world. These non-native speakers combine their limited grasp of grammar with the slang, colloquialisms, and texting / internet lingo they pick up from the media and friends.

Though the attacks from above and below would probably be sufficient to complete the annihilation of English, there are other powerful forces  that we must contend with: tech gadgets such as smartphones and social media. It would be impossible to overstate the damage that has been inflicted upon language and grammar from smartphones, Facebook, twitter, and texting.

Smartphones, tablets, and all touchscreen devices by their very nature discourage not only academic and literary writing but also any coherent thinking whatsoever. How can one construct a detailed and persuasive letter or essay by typing with their thumbs on a flat screen? It simply can’t be done. The technology itself ensures that.

Facebook provided the initial impetus for people to jettison grammar rules and proper punctuation when posting comments. Everyone began to throw up quick comments on their friends’ walls without bothering to check if it looked or sounded correct. Twitter was the final nail in the coffin. Just as touch screen technology actively discourages long, careful, and disciplined writing, Twitter forbids it. Since only a limited number of characters are allowed, subjects, prepositions, adverbs and more must be thrown by the wayside. Pronoun  subjects  have  suffered a death blow from Twitter. Nowadays, instead of “I was elated at the news of his marriage,” we have “Elated. Great news.”  This TwitterEnglish has now  insidiously permeated into many other forms of written language.  More and more, I notice that when my friends and family send me emails, they omit the subject from the majority of their sentences. Typically, the emails  read like this: “Went to the store yesterday. Saw an old friend. Came home late. Considering a vacation out West this year. Worried about my friend…” etc.

 

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Finally, we must also mention YouTube. If you want to see just how far down the destruction of language can go, simply spend a few minutes reading the comments of any popular YouTube video. Every time I think a nadir has been reached, the bottom falls out and it plunges down further still. Probably the most prevalent comment on YouTube is ‘U r an idiot. LOL.’  I’ve been wondering lately if all of the comments like that are from real flesh and blood readers and how many are produced by paid trolls at Langley, Virginia and computer programs. That may sound far-fetched, but it shouldn’t. The NWO wants to discourage, by all means possible, rational dialogue and real, honest discourse. Why wouldn’t they be active on YouTube, dropping millions of dopey and insulting comments, thereby dragging down the overall level of communication and discouraging people from talking to one another?

 

 

 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: shill extraordinaire (and spook)

I’ve written about Neil deGrasse Tyson before and exposed him for the shill that he is.  A couple of years ago when I watched him idiotically  promoting GMOs, I couldn’t stomach it and had to write a short article warning people to recognize him for what he is: a paid agent working for the NWO. Recently, this smug ‘scientist’ has made headlines again, going on a talk show to do a ‘rap’ performance in order to refute a rapper who had claimed that the earth is flat. The most outrageous part of the previous sentence is not the part about the flat earth, but the fact that a country’s most distinguished scientist has nothing better to do with his time than go on a talk show to refute some pathetic ‘musician’ who made waves by writing a song about the flat earth.

Does Tyson actually have a real job? With people like Tyson and Zuckerberg, one has to ask this question. Given the amount of time he spends on radio and tv interviews and self-promotion, he must have precious little time to do any real work, let alone any authentic science. Tyson is simply a front man for the mainstream scientific worldview. He’s a hired gun for the priestly class of scientists who  do not tolerate ANY debate on their theories and models of the universe. In fact, Tyson admitted in an interview that he doesn’t stoop to debating people. He claimed that ‘there are the laws of physics….and everything else is opinion…so I can just walk out of the room when people want to start debating.’ Is this not the height of arrogance and pomposity? You can find the clip on youtube.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has so many red flags flapping around him that it’s easy to expose him.  Look at where he studied: Harvard; Columbia;  Princeton. These schools, along with Yale, are the prime incubators not only for the ruling elite in the United States but also, and more importantly,  for Intelligence agents. Tyson has been educated and groomed at the premier spook schools in the United States and promoted relentlessly to take his fake science message to the masses. See the recent work of Miles Mathis.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Tyson spends more time in Langley, Virginia than he does at a university science lab. So how did this brilliant scientist prove the existence of gravity on the talk show? He dropped his microphone. Wow. Brilliant.

 

 

The fake stock market, irrational fear, and our manufactured reality

If you follow the news headlines, especially the business news, then you undoubtedly are aware of the recent activity in the markets, i.e. the stock markets of the U.S.A. and other industrialized countries. Various fear-inducing words and the typical hyperbole associated with newsroom headline writers have been employed liberally. The verbs  ‘plummeting’ and ‘plunging’  have appeared almost daily.

Oh, how I tire of this nonsense. Is there anyone out there still who takes this reporting seriously or who remains unaware that the markets are fake? The numbers are cooked; they are rigged. The Dow at 16,000? How is that possible? Under what conception of reality do they operate where the market could be valued so high?

Remember the financial crisis of 2008? Has the U.S. actually recovered from that? Have the root causes of that crisis been addressed and rectified and have the wounds healed? Is the U.S. now a healthy, vibrant economy with strong fundamentals?  The answer is, of course, no to all of the above. All of the fundamentals remain weak. The U.S. still runs a budget deficit and the debt remains astronomical. Unemployment remains high. The economy is supported by little more than consumer shopping which is propelled by the accumulation of yet more debt.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost some of its value since the beginning of the year and people are hyperventilating. However, on Friday, the market ‘bounced back’ and ‘recovered’ some of its losses as ‘bargain hunters’ swooped in blah, blah, blah. This is the good old ‘plunge protection team’ at work. We have seen this invisible hand at work again and again over the last twenty years. Every time there is a hiccup in the market and the Dow  loses a few hundred points and everyone starts predicting that this is the beginning of the end,  it starts creeping back up and within a few days, the Dow is right back where it started! So, what about the cause of the original crash two weeks ago? Was that fixed so quickly? No. I have witnessed this cycle occur every couple of years and now it’s become stale. The Dow Jones and Wall Street is little more than a high-tech reality show meant to keep the masses mesmerized with lots of flashing screens and numbers and to convince them that the health of the banksters and the elite equates to their own health. Time to turn off the television.

Hipsters, the fake left, and misguided youth

It’s never been easy to make sense of the world, but in 2016, the Powers-That-Be (PTB) have turned reality upside down and inside out so that forming a coherent picture of our situation  has become a herculean task. It’s a particularly arduous chore for those under the age of 35, as they are the most susceptible to brainwashing, propaganda, peer pressure, social engineering, and the various effects of the media to which they are constantly exposed. It’s not easy being a youth in today’s world.

For those in their 20s who want to fit in, be cool, and make lots of friends, they must of necessity ‘toe the line’ when it comes to their beliefs and attitudes. Youth today are under more pressure than ever to engage in groupthink in large part due to the effects of social media such as facebook.

Social media is a good place to begin. Even though 80-year-old grandmothers have facebook accounts, it’s the youth who spend the most time online networking on social media. You are simply not allowed to disengage from this MATRIX as doing so would cost you most of your friends and brand you as an ‘eccentric’ at best and ‘fucking weirdo’ at worst. And the higher up you are in the social hierarchy (think hipsters and djs), the more time you must devote to your online presence.

The slavish devotion to social media is a corollary of our unquestioning acceptance and  devotion to technology in general. Anything that is branded, marketed and sold as ‘new’, ‘improved’ or  ‘modern’, especially in the arena of technology, will be gobbled up by the masses in copious quantities. Again, the youth, with their desire to be on the cutting age and be with the hip crowd, will be easy game for the corporations selling their addictive techno toys.

Facebook and Instagram have transformed the notion of narcissism from a negative quality to a positive one. In the past, to be labeled a narcissist was a put-down. It was an insult. To be a narcissist signified that you were only concerned with yourself, that you had little to no concern for your family, your community, or your country.  But the unholy combination of Facebook and the camera phone has birthed the phenomenon known as the ‘selfie’ which has brought narcissism and narcissistic behavior to hitherto unknown levels. We see girls, particularly those from the 13-29 age group, walking around all day taking selfies, for no reason at all. They do it just….to do it. Taking selfies has now become an almost unconscious, reflexive behavior. ‘My friends are doing it, so I guess I need to do it too’. Middle-aged and elderly people engage in this abominable behavior as well, sending a clear message to the youth that ‘it’s ok and acceptable.’

The LGBT agenda, marketed most aggressively by those on the fake left, has snared today’s youth brilliantly. I used to support gay rights, gay marriage, the rainbow flag and the rest of that garbage until I wised up, so I know firsthand how easily one can be duped. When I first came upon information about the  ‘agenda’ behind the gay rights movement, I dismissed it outright. I thought the idea of an agenda or hidden hand was just a made-up story from a bunch of disgruntled Christians and ultra-conservatives. But, by and by, I noticed how the gay rights issue was getting an inordinate amount of media coverage; I noticed that politicians, including Barack Obama  were spending a lot of time giving their opinions on it (mostly in supporting it) ; I noticed that entertainers, especially young pop stars, were singing about their homosexual desires and experiences ; I noticed Hollywood coming out with movies about gay lovers. Gradually, I began to see that the idea of an agenda wasn’t so farfetched after all. Sadly, most 20-somethings haven’t grasped this yet. They march proudly in gay pride parades, waving their rainbow flags and cheering, completely oblivious to the fact that they are being played like a fiddle by a hidden hand that has an agenda to destroy the family and religion.

I have here in front of me the most recent copy of slick magazine marketed to rich, urban, English-speaking expats and tourists in Southeast Asia. The picture on the cover is a young transgender. When I  open to the article, I read his ‘heartwarming’ story and his struggle for acceptance in a traditional, family-based society. See how this goes? This type of story in the mass media is not an uncommon occurrence. Moreover, nightclubs here often have benefit shows dedicated to ‘LGBT’ rights. We’re all supposed to come and cheer our queer brothers and sisters.

I could write much more about this topic. I could talk about how the youth have been told to love modern ‘art,’ which is a complete creation of the CIA, how they’ve been manipulated into supporting multi-culturalism, how they’ve been cleverly suckered into supporting a corporate tool like Obama,  and how they’ve been dumbed down to such an extent that being intelligent is not cool and being ignorant and stupid is seen as hip. Even the corporatocracy  itself is no longer questioned, let along rebelled against. Wearing t-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with corporate logos is acceptable and trendy.

What can we do? As a teacher, I try my best to decondition my students from the programming as best as I can. I try to put books in their hands. I talk to them. For those of us who are 50 and over, the best we can do is model sane behavior. Youth today increasingly have no one to look to see how to act in a proper manner in a sane society. If you are 50-year-old father of four, and you are taking selfies and checking your smartphone while you are sitting at a restaurant with your family, you are failing. It’s time to look in the mirror.

 

 

 

 

The decline and fall of conversation:The smartphone’s effect on our ability to meet, greet, and speak

People are quickly losing the ability to talk to one another. A residual  capacity still exists, but it is evaporating so fast that I may witness its extinction in my lifetime. The roots of this problem can be traced back as far as the invention of the telegraph more than 180 years ago but the advent of the smartphone has now vastly accelerated the decline of face to face speaking skills. Oratory, rhetoric, public speaking, and clarity of speech have likewise suffered greatly.

When I was growing up in the time before cellphones, I recall the numerous opportunities I had to meet and converse with strangers. Luckily, my parents never discouraged me from interacting with strangers unlike today’s parents who are told by well-meaning but misguided ‘authorities’ that they should inform their kids to ‘never talk to strangers.’

Indeed, the chances to meet new people, chat, make small talk, and possibly make a new friend or acquaintance  were endless. However, all of those situations where formerly we were encouraged or at least allowed to chat up a stranger are now gone, thanks to the smartphone.

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If you found yourself in an elevator with someone and you were both riding up to a high floor, you may not have had a lot of time, but perhaps it was just enough to offer a “It’s going to be a hot day, that’s for sure,” to the person standing next to you. And that may have led to a reply of “Oh, you got that right. And my air conditioner broke last night and I was miserable because my room was so hot.”  And then you could commiserate with this person. The next time you ran into him you might continue the conversation by asking about the air conditioner. See? It was so simple. Now, I notice that everyone, once they have boarded the elevator, immediately takes out their phone to text to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of standing next to a stranger for a few seconds.

The introduction of televisions into airplanes guaranteed that people would no longer speak to one another on long plane rides though they were a few hold-outs who stubbornly insisted on having conversations with the person sitting next to them. Nowadays, with everyone carrying a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, even those hold-outs have disappeared. Most people don’t even wait for take-off to get plugged into their cyber-world. They cast nary a glance at the person who they will be sitting mere inches from for the next 10 hours. You, the person sitting next to this new species of cyborg, are irrelevant; actually, you don’t even exist.

Buses, too, have now installed televisions and wi-fi, and predictably people now no longer talk there either. I recall riding the Greyhound Bus on long trips up and down the West Coast and making some wonderful friends in the pre-television and pre wi-fi days.

Coffeeshops, bars, and restaurants used to be places where one could meet a stranger and start up a conversation, especially if one of you was reading a book. A glance at the front cover of a book was always an easy introduction into a chat. “That book looks interesting. I’ve heard of that author but have never read anything by her. Is it good?” Your interest in the book, and literature in general, was usually sufficient to show that you were not a creep and could hold a reasonably decent intellectual conversation. These days, nobody brings books into cafes or restaurants. It’s all about the smartphone now and no one is going  to ask you what you are looking at on your phone. Furthermore, when people read books, although they were concentrating, they were still present in the here-and-now world. Not so with the smartphone. The iphone and its ilk draw people deep into a cyberworld, an alternate reality. People lose all awareness of the real world. They don’t know who is sitting in front of, next to, or behind them, and don’t care.

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Because of the addictive nature of the smartphone, people, especially the young, have an extremely difficult time putting it down for even a few minutes. Hence, even if you are able to punch through their psychic wall and begin a conversation, it will inevitably peter out in a short time. The phone being held tightly in the palm of the hand begs to be used. It is insistent. If the conversation lulls for any reason, the one holding the smartphone will start texting or browsing the web and the talk is done. Finished.

Look at people today waiting at a bus stop for the bus to arrive. Look at the poor, lonely souls waiting in the queue at the supermarket or at the bank. Are they talking? No. They are checking their facebook or instagram. Look at the friends and families sitting in cars at traffic lights. Talking to each other? No- all looking at their phones. I used to work at an office where everyone would take their lunch tray back to their desk to  eat while watching youtube. Nobody was interested in sitting at a table and eating with friends and engaging in that age-old ritual called ‘conversation.’