“When you like what you do, it’s really easy” A morning at Cafe Blé in Guadalajara, Mexico

ble cafeteria y panaderia guadalajara mexico

Photo credit: Blé’s Facebook page

I wake up at 7:11am, 19 minutes before my alarm’s set to go off. My alarm never wakes me up. I’m terrified of the sound, so I always wake up before it goes off. I lie in bed for a few moments, feeling confused. I get up to go to the bathroom, but there’s already someone there, and so I go back to my bedroom and brood. It’s a good morning for brooding. I didn’t sleep that well, I think because of all the caffeine yesterday. Yesterday I drank mate, which I had been drinking from time to time in my favorite cafe, El Rincon del Mate, but now I have a bag of the stuff, I can make it whenever I want, and so yesterday my intake was increased.

While lying in bed someone comes into the kitchen and starts making breakfast. I immediately want to strike them. How dare they make such noise. I think it’s Rodolfo. His phone beeps from time to time from (probably) messages, and I want to get up and scream at him to turn it off. But instead I lie in bed rating Instagram ads for Appen, the job I still haven’t been fired from. I rate six ads in 21 minutes, deliberately taking a long time to do so. If I rate the ads too fast I won’t work the full hour, and won’t get paid the full hour. So I take my time. I minimize my usage of my phone’s speech to text capabilities, since that generally makes things go way faster. While I’m rating I continue seething at what’s going on in the kitchen, the beeping of Rodolfo’s phone, the sound of whatever he’s frying, probably heated-up chilaquiles from the day before. And then when I’m done I get up and get dressed so fast I almost pull a leg muscle, and then storm out of the house in a huff.

And all is well.

It’s cold outside. Daylight savings just kicked in, which means what’s 7:30am used to be 6:30am, which means when I wake up it’s much colder, and in the evening it’s hotter longer. The temperature change came quick. In February it rained and I wore my hat everyday and sometimes even my wool jacket, and now every night while going to bed I lie on top of the sheet with no shirt on, covered by nothing, listening to whatever TV program my neighbors are watching. My neighbors are an older couple often visited by their wayward son who has a dog that might be a boxer or a pitbull. They  mean well, but I don’t know how conscious they are of how close I sleep to the entrance to their house. I essentially live in their living room. I can hear almost everything they say and do. I can hear when they yell at each other. I can hear the dog eating its dog food outside, and I can hear the woman filling up her bucket with water every night, though why she does this I still have no idea. I’m separated from them by a single plate of glass, and in the middle of the window there’s not even glass; it’s just a sheet of plastic. To say the neighbors and I live in close quarters would be a statement.

I get to Ble, the cafe I’ve been coming to lately, and say hi to Ulises, the owner. There’s no one there. I’ve only ever seen one customer there besides myself. We make two seconds of small talk and I order the matcha latte and slice of toast with butter and jam I get every time I come here. There’s good, hipster music playing on the speakers, which he quickly changes to something softer. I wonder if this is for my benefit.

The first thing I do when I sit down is deactivate Facebook, and then I start looking for flights. I think about where I’d like to go in 2018. I decide the following places are must-go’s: Svalbard, Norway, and Bergen, Norway. Svalbard I must visit because it’s the furthest north place in the world that has commercial flights. And Bergen because my favorite author, Karl Ove Knausgaard, lived in Bergen ( for 14 years?)  and wrote Book 5 of his series My Struggle about it. Those are the only two places I must go. There are other places I’d like to go. I’d like to go to Siberia. I’d like to get lost in a small, Russian town. I’d like to go to Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. I’d like to go to Vladivostok. I’d like to go to South Korea. I’d like to go to North Korea. I’d like to go to Bhutan. I’d like to go to Japan. I’d like to go to Little Diomede Island, and Big Diomede Island, and Quebec City, and Chicoutimi, and Ushuaia. But Bergen and Svalbard are the only places I must go.

I sit in the cafe staring out at the street, listening to the music, wondering what I’m going to do until I teach online at 2pm. I’m getting sick of teaching online. I’ve stopped planning the classes, and the quality has suffered because of it. I don’t care. These classes will run their natural course. My teaching career will run its natural course. I think I’ll always be a teacher in some capacity, from time to time, sporadically, but I think what I teach will vary, and that will allow me to keep my sanity. I think about how I have exactly a week until I leave for Lima, where I’ll stay for at least a week. I think about the chess video I’m going to watch when I get back to my apartment after Ble, the mate I’m probably going to drink, and the Instagram ads I’m going to rate. I wonder if something extraordinary will happen today. I decide it probably won’t, and the thought briefly makes me sad.

And then I get up to pay and leave.

 

A special thanks to EAW and RR for their contributions to this blog.

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Struggling

karl ove knausgaard

Sitting in Starbucks in Providencia talking to my friend R. R is a writer, as in R actually gets paid to write. I’m also a writer, in that I also get paid to write, though it’s not my full time job. Someday it will be my full time job. Of this I’m completely sure. But right now it’s not.

This morning I woke up and prepared mate. First I poured a bit of the leaves into my gourd, and then poured room temperature water over the leaves several times, not drinking it but rather spitting it into the sink to get the powder out.  The powder’s a result of the leaves being in packaging and getting ground into a fine dust; too much powder means an upset stomach. While I was doing this I heated the water, close to a boil but not quite, and then sat in the living room sipping the delicious, barn-flavored tea.

While I was sitting there I began to think about my upcoming trip to Lima. I’m staying in an Airbnb for $10 a night in a neighborhood called Magdalena del Mar, near San Ysidro, near Miraflores. Whenever I’ve gone to Lima I’ve essentially gone to the same places, i.e. Miraflores. This is where almost all tourists go. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, right on the top of the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. You feel like you’re in Santa Monica, or Venice, or San Clemente, or Santa Barbara, or Santa Cruz, or Pismo, or Marina del Rey, or San Onofre. But you definitely don’t feel like you’re in El Segundo.

But this time I’d like to see more of Lima. Would I like to see more of Lima? Actually, I might be pretty content just staying between Magdalena del Mar and Miraflores. My Airbnb is two blocks from the boardwalk. I envision myself taking walks every morning on the way to a cafe, smelling the Pacific Ocean.

R’s talking about how she’s thinking about buying some KOK, aka Karl Ove Knausgaard, aka the author you should be reading right now, and I said, “Have you ever read him?”

“No,” she said.

“Christ, R,” I said. “Start now.”

“Where should I start?” she said.

“Book 1.”

I think the frappuccino I just drank has started to kick in, because I feel a little jittery and a little excited. In approximately two hours I’ll feel the opposite. Is it worth is? Absolutely. Because when I get home I’ll just have a little more mate.

“I just ordered it on Amazon,” R says.

“Mother of God,” I responded.

I hope R likes his books as much as I do, though that might be impossible. I think the only who likes KOK as much as I do might be Zadie Smith, who once said, “I need his next volume like I need crack.”

Not that Zadie Smith has ever smoked crack. But you get the idea.

Drinking Topo Chico in San Francisco de Ixcatan

tacos san francisco ixcatan

The day started with me descending into the belly of the beast, i.e. the dark cavern that is Guadalajara’s SITREN, i.e. Guadalajara’s metro. But don’t call it the metro. People will correct you and call it the train, despite the fact that it runs underground, and is indeed a metro in every way possible apart from the fact that people don’t call it that.

But anyway.

My goal this morning was to go SOMEWHERE. Anywhere. All I wanted to do was get out of GDL, and preferably to a small town. I had a few small towns north of GDL in my cross-hairs, one of them being San Francisco de Ixcatan, which looked to be in the mountains, or some kind of valley, next to a rushing body of water, which I believe laymen call a “Rhivjer.”

My plan of attack was this: Take the metro, I mean train, as far north as I could, and look for a bus. This is why I’m not allowed to travel with people. Most people wouldn’t subscribe to this plan. What if there aren’t buses? What if that part of town is really bad? Why don’t we just go to the main bus station and do this methodically?

Bo……..ring. (boring).

I got off the train and started walking north, hoping buses would be going by right there. But when I looked at Google Maps I realized I’d probably have to connect with the main highway before there’d be buses. So I kept walking. I bought a “chocomil,” or chocolate milk, made fresh right there with cinnamon on top. With this glucose infusion I kept walking, and after a few minutes asked a guy sitting by the side of the road if he knew where the buses to Ixcatan left from. He seemed excited. “Right down there, by the Elektra,” he said, pointing down the hill. And so I kept walking. I walked for probably half a kilometer, and the Elektra, an electronics store, came into view. There was a slough of people in front of it, the chaos of buses stopping, the heat, the cars speeding by. I crossed the road and followed people’s lead, taking a seat on a planter in the shade created by the Elektra.

“Good afternoon,” I said to the people sitting next to me. “My name is Mark Thomas, first of his name, and I was wondering if the buses to San Francisco de Ixcatan pass by here.”

“Where’s that?” the woman said.

“Ahhhh, Ixcatan,” she quickly added. “What did you call it?”

“It’s just that it says ‘San Francisco de Ixcatan’ on the map.”

“Why do you wanna go there?” the guy sitting next to her asked.

“I don’t know. To eat. To get out of the city.”

This seemed like a novel idea to them. I gathered from our short conversation that Ixcatan wasn’t exactly on the top of people’s bucket lists.

road to ixcatan

(For the record: I despise the term bucket list. I’m ashamed of myself for using it. It’s kind of a buzz word these days, people always asking each other, “What’s on the top of your bucket list?” followed by a 15 minute conversation about Thailand.)

The bus was glorious. Oh, how I love locomotion. Moving faster than you could under your own power. Is there anything better? Besides chocolate milk, of course.

Within 15 minutes we were out of Guadalajara and a large valley stretched before us. For some reason I had expected everything to be green and florid, but it was decidedly arid. Dry. Parched. And we weren’t going UP in altitude. We were going down. Down a steep, winding hill, further into the heat. Out of the city, but not out of the heat.

Even before getting to Ixcatan I was thrilled by the trip. Thirteen pesos and I had gotten a world away from GDL. Why have I not been doing this every weekend? Or every day, for that matter? Why don’t I live in San Francisco de Ixcatan, keep goats, and tend to them? This last question would plague me for most of the day.

plaza ixcatan iglesia church

Upon arriving to the town, which was quiet, a few old men sitting in the main plaza under the shade of a jacaranda tree (I have no idea what kind of tree it was), I sought out tacos. I was rewarded with a stand next to the church that sold tacos dorados for 10 pesos each, of which I had two. After this I drank a Topo Chico, Mexico’s premier mineral water, and headed for the hills. I took a cobblestone road that seemed to lead out of the town, and indeed in less than 10 minutes I WAS out of town, listening to the sounds of the insects, the birds, the sounds of the country on a hot day in old Mexico.

After my foray into nature I walked back into town where I spotted a horse standing on the sidewalk waiting for its owner. I sat next to the horse, and next to a dog that was taking refuge from the sun in a tree planter. There I sat for some time, observing the town. There was a group of people to my left listening to music and drinking beer. A man road by on his horse followed by his son, who was riding a pony, and then they talked to the people and went by me again. The dog, when I sat next to it, stirred for a second, looked at me, and went back to sleep. The horse seemed annoyed at having to wear a bit, but content to be in the shade.

And then I went back to the main plaza, where I continued to sit. When I heard the sound of the bus, I ran to get on it. It didn’t leave for a few minutes, however, so I walked over to a guy selling fruit and got a bag of mango and watermelon covered in chile and lemon for 15 pesos. And then it was time to get on the bus, and time to leave San Francisco de Ixcatan.

horse ixcatan

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Presidente Mujica

“Either you’re happy with very little, without all that extra baggage, because happiness is inside you, or you don’t get anywhere.” – Jose Mujica

I have a new idol. A new hero. And his name is Jose “Pepe” Mujica, the former president of Uruguay. How did it take me so long to listen to this guy, to learn what he was all about?

If you’re not familiar with Jose Mujica, the first thing you could do is watch this video:

And then after that you could watch this video:

And then, if you speak Spanish, you could watch the best video of them all:

And then finally, if you really want to know more, you could watch this video:

When Presidente Mujica was in office, he donated 90% of his salary to charity. Instead of having a presidential plane, he spent that money on having a rescue helicopter located in the middle of Uruguay that could respond at a moment’s notice to people in dire need. And then you look at (if you’re American)…our president. And you want to cry. You see the things that he thinks are important, like fighting with people on Twitter…and you want to cry. You hear that he doesn’t read books, or read at all for that matter….and you want to cry. And you think about all the people that voted for him, all the people that thought, I have options, BUT THIS IS THE PERSON I THINK SHOULD BE THE LEADER OF MY NATION…and you don’t want to cry. You want to weep.

I don’t usually talk about politics because when it comes to politics I’m very ignorant. But I will say this: The earth would be paradise if people just did the following: take only what they need, and nothing more. This was and is the message of president Jose Mujica. I am as guilty of this as anyone, of consuming more than I need. But another message from president Mujica is that the most important thing (the only important thing) is not to give up. If you want something to change it doesn’t matter no matter how many times you try and fail, only that after the 1,145th (or 2,900th, or 8.623rd) failure, you get up again for another try.

On that note I’m going to go out and get a coffee, i.e. participate in more consumption, and probably berate myself because of it. But I’m not going to give up.

The Desert of Nostalgia

hitchhiking northern chile desert

I feel strange this morning. A bit disconnected. But not that disconnected. I think, to be honest, I’m a bit bummed I’m not working this morning. I have the entire morning at my disposal. A vast chasm of space.

Last night I continued my current theme of not drinking alcohol during the week. I went to the grocery store where I bought an empanada, some cooking oil, and an avocado. The goal was to make burritos a lo gringo, but I forgot to buy tortillas. So I ended up having rice with onion and avocado smothered in Valentina sauce, accompanied by a Dr. Pepper, and watched the first episode of Black Mirror. I found it quite disturbing. It actually almost ruined my night. I’m sensitive.

I’d be a bit surprised if I’m still in Guadalajara in a month. And it’s not that I’m desperate to leave, I just think there’s a good chance I will. Every time I think about the world and it’s vastness, all the places I could see, all the places I don’t even know exist, it seems a shame to stay in one place. I wonder what’s happening in a cafe right now in Vladivostok. I wonder how it smells to wake up in London. I wonder what it would feel like to be drinking mate in the southern Chilean town of Coyhaique. To wake up, have an espresso, and take off down a dirt road in Sardinia.

A year and a half ago I left the apartment where I was staying in Seattle, took the ferry to my parents’ house, and then set off for the Olympic Peninsula. The goal was to surf a well-known river mouth that night before sunset. When I got there, there were no waves. Or there were BARELY waves. But I got in the water anyway. I was so happy. Overjoyed, actually. I got in the water and it was already almost an inky black and I sat in the stillness by myself, looking out at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the pine-tree covered hills of Vancouver Island in the distance. Finally, a tiny wave came, just big enough to ride, and I stood up, pumped once to the right, , rode it for a second, jumped off, yelped, and stood there on the rocks, feeling the water around me. And then, looking back at the sky that was changing from dark blue to black, I walked back to my 1995 Honda Civic and started my journey. That night, I slept in a Walmart parking lot in Tumwater, WA. The next night I slept in Oregon, and within two weeks I was crossing the border into Mexico, and driving south, south, to Guatemala, Honduras, Central American and beyond. And so when I say I think about what it would be like to be drinking mate right now in the southern Chilean town of Coyhaique it’s because on that trip I remember leaving Coyhaique, having just bought a pack of Lucky Strikes, right around sunset, and on the way out passing the huge statue they have in the roundabout that’s a hand holding a mate gourd and a sign that says something like, The Mate Capital of Chile.

When I say I think I might be leaving Guadalajara soon it’s because of memories like these.

But enough nostalgia. There’s no need to be nostalgic. You can’t get the experiences back, though I’ve certainly tried to do so. And most of the time when you’re living an amazing experience you don’t even realize it in the moment. In fact, the best experiences are by definition the ones you don’t realize are amazing in the moment. In fact, they could kind of even suck in the moment. This has happened to me plenty of times. This might even be happening now, with Guadalajara. It’s never possible to know. And plus, our brains have a way of shielding us from painful memories, like going over an area of lump sand with a rake and smoothing it and smoothing it until it’s beautiful and you could never tell a storm took place. Our brains are like a forest that replants itself in the wake of a forest fire. After an unpleasant event everything is black and charred, but with the first rains the seedlings sprout, and then the trees start to grow, and in few years you have a juvenile forest, and with enough time you can’t even tell a forest fire took place. The very fact that the past is deceptive, that are brains are tricksters, is a good reason not to dwell on it. But sometimes it’s nice to dwell, at least a little. To look at pictures and remember a particularly special surf session, or a statue of a hand holding a gourd of mate.

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The Jalalabad of Central Ohio

ordinary nomad

I’m kind of digging the more journal-themed posts lately. They’re certainly easier to write because I just talk about myself. What I’m thinking.  What I want to do. Where I see my life going.

I’ve been thinking for awhile now how I can get the hell out of Guadalajara. And not necessarily to leave for good, but at least to travel more, at least to take a vacation. I would love to go to Seattle, for example, at the end of April or early May, and combine that with my cousin’s wedding in Chicago on April 28th. But the problem becomes financing that trip. Luckily, I have a bit of a plan. I often participate in research studies in Seattle. You go to the hospital, you surrender your body to science and in turn they give you large sums of money. I did one last time I was living in Seattle where they took out my red blood cells, infused them with a radioactive marker, and then put them back in my body to see how long they’d live. I love stuff like this. This hustle. I’d so much rather make $800 talking to the wonderful pathologist and exposing myself to the kind of danger that’s equivalent to six chest x-rays than expose myself to the danger of having a stagnant life. And so apparently there might be a one-day study at the end of April or the beginning of May which would essentially pay for my flight to Seattle and onward to Chicago. I don’t know how I’d then get back to GDL, or wherever I went, but there’s always hitchhiking.

So that’s been on my mind.

Another thing that’s been on my mind is not leaving this area, not leaving Mexico, but moving to a smaller town. It’s been disgustingly apparent for awhile now that I’m not a city person, that I’m country folk, and yet for some reason I continue to live in cities. But I can’t really think of a better place to live than a small Mexican mountain town (except actually about 100 other places), and I think I’ve found that town. It’s called Concepcion de Buenos Aires. It’s about two hours southeast of GDL, and it’s apparently called “The Switzerland of Jalisco.” People love to call places “The Switzerland of (Insert place).” Apparently Kyrgyzstan, for example, is “The Switzerland of Central Asia.” But what about comparisons between places with not so obvious similarities? For example, what’s the Fort Lauderdale of Eastern Washington? What’s the Des Moines, Iowa, of Northern Manitoba? What’s the Tokyo of Beijing? The Jalalabad of Central Ohio?

I found out about Concepcion de Buenos Aires because of a wonderful blog called Fulanito Viajero that’s inspired me to add a “Blogs I like” section to Ordinary Nomad at some point. In the blog post he talks about 11 impressive municipalities that most people from Jalisco don’t even know about.  There’s one called Bolaños, nestled in a canyon in the middle of nowhere north of GDL that looks not only enchanting but almost shares the same name as one of my favorite authors. And about Concepcion de Buenos Aires it says it’s a place “surrounded by forests and mountains where the faint scent of pine drifts throughout.” In other words, perfect. In other words, ciao Guadalajara.

But I can’t leave Guadalajara right now, because I’ve committed to some classes. That might be the only thing that’s keeping me here, and I’m GLAD it’s keeping here, because before I head off into the unknown again I should be more prepared. In the past I’ve always just left. But maybe I’ll do it right this time. Maybe I’ll really go for it. Maybe…

I just a lonche de pierna the size of a brontosaurus thigh and I feel sleep’s warm tentacles wanting to claim me. But I can’t be claimed. I have to teach a class in a half hour to a Colombian woman who lives in Spain. Have to keep saving. Keep plotting. Keep planning the next adventure.

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Couch Musings with Dandruff

el monosilabo guadalajara

Yesterday was a good day here in Guadalajara. I still haven’t moved out of my current house, which was my plan for this month. But this isn’t all bad, as I’m mostly happy in my current house. Mostly. I still sometimes want to murder the neighbor’s dog, and actually the other night lost it a little bit and screamed, “Por favor!” when their dog started barking at 11:30pm and woke me up just as I was drifting off to my colicky baby sounds.

But that’s OK. 

Yesterday I had two articles published on sites that aren’t Ordinary Nomad: 1) This article on Roads and Kingdoms, a site that’s published three previous articles of mine. This article had already appeared here, albeit in a slightly different form. Roads and Kingdoms likes to make edits, and they don’t like to consult you about them. I don’t know if I’ve ever liked an edit they’ve done, and this makes me feel like a real writer, since apparently real writers flip shit whenever anyone threatens the “artistic integrity” of their work.

But that’s OK. 

The other article was on Fear the Wall, a Borussia Dortmund blog. This blog gets TONS of traffic, because instead of writing about themselves and things like what they had for breakfast (!), they (WE) write about something people actually care about, i.e. Borussia Dortmund soccer, one of the biggest teams in Europe. I got into Dortmund because of Christian Pulisic, who, at 19 years old, is already the best American soccer player to ever exist. And at 15 he moved to Germany to play for this team, and has never looked back. I, and I imagine many other Americans, have never looked back in my devotion to him.

Which is special. 

(Note: The Fear the Wall article has 27 comments. I’m terrified to read them, even though they’re probably only about soccer. This terror stems from the comments on one of the first articles I ever had published.)

Two of my English students have canceled on me today, which on the one hand is good because it makes my day a helluva lot easier, but on the other hand is bad because it means I’ll make less clean, crisp $$$$$$$$. I need $$$$$. I live for $$$$$$. But today I’ll make less $$$$$$, because I’ll be working less.

Which is fine.

The greatest thing about one of the students canceling is now I’ll get to watch the Borussia Dortmund game in its entirety, as opposed to in its partiality.

Which is wonderful. 

And now I’ll go seize the day. I’ve already had my budin, which means my stomach is primed. My brain is primed, too, ready to take on whatever Guadalajara might throw at me. Though at this point I already have a good idea what it might throw at me: mate, a delicious lonche de pierna, a chat with Marta,  a couple of English classes, a bit of writing, a bit of reading, a tamal by the Expiatorio, and maybe even a  night stroll along Calle Libertad.

Which is…

 

 

Turning Left

el terrible juan guadalajara

“The only way round is through.” – Robert Frizzle 

This morning I woke up and did something I’d never done before when leaving the house: I turned left. Now, this might not seem like a big deal, turning left, but since I’ve been living in the house where I’m currently living, every single morning, when I’ve left the house to walk to work, or to walk to Starbucks, or to walk to similar cafe where I digitally scribble in this blog, I’ve turned right.

Of course, my reasons for turning right are manyfold. I love walking down Calle Libertad. It’s leafy, it’s airy, and if the time of day is just right you feel like you’re soaring rather than walking, such is the air of tranquility the street creates, the foliage. I also turn right because the places I usually go to, El Rincon del Mate, el Expiatorio, are most expeditiously reached by turning right. To turn left leaving my house would not only take me into a shabbier neighborhood, it would also add at least five minutes to my walk. To turn left would take me onto the busy Avenida de La Paz (I hate walking on busy streets), and it would also take my by an Oxxo, Mexico’s most ubiquitous gas station.

But of course the main reason I always turn right has to do with habit. It feels comfortable. It’s what I know. And thus any other scenario, turning left, for example, going straight and running into the building across the street, taking off my shirt and standing in the middle of the road screaming, would feel uncomfortable. We’re creatures of comfort — this is one thing I’ve figured out in my 34 years — and change scares even the most intrepid explorers.

After turning left and walking a few blocks I was immediately confronted with an arresting sight. As some of you know may know, I’m currently in the market for new lodging, a new apartment, a new abode, a new dwelling, new “digs,” as it were, and it just so happened that staring me in the face was a big banner that said, “For Rent. Shitloads of space. Roof terrace.”

Actually, it didn’t say shitloads of space, but the amount of square meters listed on the banner deserves no other moniker. The most intriguing part, though, was the terrace. Ever since a few days ago walking by a beautiful house with a veritable forest on top I’ve decided that the ultimate thing you could do in Guadalajara would be to have a terrace. I’m talking about terrace with a view and shade and most importantly, obscene amounts of plants. I’m talking about a jungle. I’m talking about a place where you step out onto the terrace and a Virginia Creeper wraps its tendrils around your neck and asks for the password. I’m talking about a place where you get lost and when you finally make it back to society you realize you’re in Belize. In short, I’m talking about the ideal roof terrace.

So of course I took a photo of the phone number for the apartment and plan to contact them sometime later today to see how many gross tons of bio-matter they think the roof terrace could support, and thus figure out if this might be the place for me.

After seeing this apartment I walked down Calle Montenegro, taking in the sights. There was a place called El Comedor that looked peaceful and elegant, with delicious food. There was a hotel called Hotel Isabel that looked suitable for visiting family members or friends, should that ever happen. And finally there was a restaurant called La Menuderia which specialized in menudo, a soup people have told me I must try but that in my obstinacy I still haven’t. And then I got to El Terrible Juan, my second favorite cafe in Guadalajara, and realized I’d been on a veritable odyssey, that my morning had been completely transformed, indeed my mentality had been transformed, and all because I’d turned left.

And so tomorrow, and later today, and for the rest of this week, I might not always turn left when I leave the house, but I will strive to do one thing each day in a similar vein. I’ve been complaining about my life getting stagnant in Guadalajara after just two months, but it actually might not be so difficult to remedy. It might just involve continuing to step outside my comfort zone, continuing to explore, continuing to meet new people, and of course, ideally, a roof terrace with a shitload of plants.

Should I Teach English Online?

teaching english online

“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” – Jim Henson

The first thing you need to know if you’re thinking about teaching English online or anything online for that matter is that teaching online isn’t as good as teaching in person. I know “good” is a vague word, and I’ve used it on purpose, because teaching online loses out in every aspect to teaching in person except that it’s A) super convenient (you can literally do it without wearing pants, like I didn’t do this morning), B) You can connect to students all over the world (like oil barons in Kuwait!) and Z) You can do it from anywhere in the world with a decent internet connection. However, letter Z is the only one of these three points that shouldn’t be underestimated. The other two — unless you’re teaching something esoteric like Intermediate Voodoo where it’d be hard to find enough learners in your immediate area — are not considerable advantages and ultimately lose out to the satisfying human contact that comes with teaching in person (prison).

The second thing you need to know about teaching online is what the different platforms are like. I use Skype. Skype is probably not as good as virtual meeting software like Cisco WebEx and Zoom or Blackboard, but Skype is free and most people are familiar with it. Also, Skype has improved over the last few years. It’s now very easy to do things like type text in a chat box, share images and files, and share your screen. This “share screen” function has paid sweeping dividends for me over the past few weeks, because if you open a blank document, and the other person can see it, it’s essentially like having your own virtual whiteboard right there. Granted, the other person can’t draw on it like they can in programs like WebEx, but honestly, if I’m a teacher, I’d prefer my students keep their grubby mitts off my whiteboard most of the time anyway.

The one thing you’ll find with teaching online is that it’s much harder to connect with the student. It’s harder to read facial cues. It’s harder to read body language. It’s harder to read lips. This comes from communicating via video, and that doesn’t even take into account the fact that sometimes the connection is not perfect. You can do everything on your end to assure your connection will be good, but you have no control over your students’ connection. This means more asking to repeat, and it means that you as a teacher must speak even more slowly, and more clearly. This, I would say, is the most frustrating aspect of teaching online. But you can learn to manage it by keeping everything as simple as possible.

Simplicity is truly the name of the game when teaching online, and this need for simplicity will cause you to either, A) lose your mind, or B) become a better teacher. Lately, I think I’ve become a better teacher. Since introducing new concepts online is more difficult than in person, it really makes you become better at “scaffolding,” i.e. where you teach one thing, then practice it one way, then practice it in another way that’s a little more complicated, and then finally in a way that’s almost as complicated as real life. By scaffolding and making each activity progressively harder the students have a better idea of what’s expected of them, and it also cuts down on explanation time because often the new activity is similar to the previous one, albeit with one or two added elements.

But the best thing about teaching online is that you can do it from anywhere in the world with a reliable, somewhat fast internet connection. Which means that you could teach a class one day in LA, then the next day be in Mexico, and then a week later be in South America. And then maybe a couple weeks later you’re in Europe. Or Brazil. Or Morocco. Or China. And then maybe a month after that you get done teaching a class and go to a night market in Thailand and eat sticky rice with mango for 30 cents (I think you get the idea). So if you’ve thought about teaching online, or have thought about traveling the world but don’t know what to do about money, I wholeheartedly suggest taking the plunge. The best part about taking the plunge with teaching English online is that it’s not that much of a plunge. It’s like slithering into the pool from sitting position on the edge. And boy, is the water refreshing.

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A Day at Andares, Guadalajara’s Swankiest Shopping Mall

plaza andares guadalajara

How much does living the dream cost? It turns out 82 pesos, or exactly $4.40. The dream involves sitting in a cafe in Andares, Guadalajara’s swankiest shopping mall sipping a “Green Black Tea.” The dream involves watching a Liverpool Champions League game while you sip said beverage. The dream involves shade. The dream involves disposable income. The dream might involve type 2 diabetes.

Eighty pesos is a lot to pay for a coffee in Mexico. I concede this fact. A fact I refuse to concede, however, is that this Black Green Tea, one of the sweetest substances I’ve ever put in my body and probably causing all kinds of physiological mayhem, is not 100% necessary.

I came to Andares today with the idea of buying another dress shirt, since my current dress shirt count is holding steady at one. I went to H&M, where I had a small crisis due to the fabric makeup of some of their shirts. Sixty five percent polyester? Isn’t polyester for used car salesmen? This crisis caused small amounts of sweating on my part, and also some taking of selfies in the dressing room. If you’ve never taken a picture of yourself in front of a mirror (i.e. are over the edge of 50), I don’t recommend it. It’s never flattering. You always look about 16 times worse than you thought you looked. And sending these selfies to friends so they can tell you which shirt they liked is not a good way to continue the process.  In fact, the more prudent option would be to throw your phone in the garbage can.

One thing I realized immediately upon arriving here is that I really like nice places. I consider myself an adaptable person. I’m currently living a room that costs less than $200 a month in a part of Guadalajara that would never be termed “nice.” My room is next to the entryway to the neighbor’s house, separated by a thin, single pane window. Yesterday, when they left the house, they left their rabid dog in the entryway, who proceeded to bark at any sound he perceived as a threat, which is to say, any sound. At one point I leaned close to the window to shush him, which only resulted in increased growling, albeit in my direction, the kinds of growls that said, “It would give me great pleasure to sink my teeth into your thigh.”

No one would ever call my home luxurious, but I find it completely acceptable, if not ideal. That said, I also love luxury. When I stepped onto the grounds of Andares I said to myself, “Ahhhhhhh, I’m home. This is what life is supposed to be like. Is that a fountain over there? Interesting, that grass looks perfectly manicured. Is that the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen? Is that a Gucci store?”

When I travel, I’m the same way. I’ve stayed in places people would call slum-like. I’ve hitch-hiked many hours on end. Slept in airports. Slept at bus stops. And the thing I like about roughing it sometimes is not only that it builds character and usually you meet way more people the less money you spend and have much richer experiences, but it also makes you appreciate luxury. Even when this blog becomes wildly successfully, I still won’t fly business class (all the time.) I won’t stay in nice hotels (exclusively). Because when it comes to traveling, I can’t think of a single time staying in a luxurious place directly produced a memorable travel experience, but I can think of many examples where roughing it did. The less money you spend, the more you rely on your fellow humans. The more money you spend, the more you shut yourself off from the world.

The problem with living the dream when your dream is a beverage with whip cream on top is that it’s short-lived. I’ve finished my Black Green Tea, whose name I still find mysterious, and will now head back to H&M and purchase the darker of the two shirts, since that’s what my fashion consultants (friends) have advised. And then I’ll get out of here, because if there’s one thing to be taken from this post it’s that luxury should be enjoyed in sparing doses; it only remains luxurious when the rest of your life is not. It will be hard to rip myself away from this place, though. It’s so comfortable. So swanky. If Guadalajara is my frappe, Plaza Andares is the whipped cream.

Roberto Bolaño and the Only Way You’ll Ever Be Great

I woke up this morning at five something because of an intense desire to urinate, and couldn’t get back to sleep for the rest of the morning. That is, I don’t think I got back to sleep. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. On the one hand I like to think I didn’t lay there for two hours, since I didn’t actually exit my bed until 7:30am. And even then I didn’t exit completely. I got out of bed, checked the ripeness of my avocados (I bought a bag of five yesterday for just over a dollar), opened my curtains to let in the fresh Guadalajara morning air, and then got back in bed and rated Instagram ads for exactly 18 minutes.

I still sleep with white noise for colicky babies, because it drowns out most of the annoying sounds sometimes produced by my neighbors and roommates. The shower knob, for example, is about 16 inches from my head as the crow pecks, and makes a terrible squeaking noise every time it’s turned on. Yesterday, my roommate, Rodolfo, must’ve showered for 45 minutes. After he was done he had to mop the floor, such was the deluge produced. And yet, I get the feeling this is normal for him. Maybe he doesn’t bathe often, but when he does, he really bathes. Come to think of it, yesterday was the first day I’d ever seen him bathe. And it’s not like he smells. Rodolfo is a wonderful guy. Our conversations now include jokes on a regular basis. We often talk about Bill, my aloe plant. Today the first thing I did when I got up was check on Bill. He has a new shoot sprouting right in the middle of the two main shoots, and this shoot looks fairly healthy. I still think Bill has a good chance of surviving. His main fronds, though, worry me. One looks like it might be dying. I don’t know what to do at this point. I’ve talked to several people about aloe plant care. I’ve consulted websites (*website). And everyone says the same thing: “Aloe plants are so easy to take care of.” Which doesn’t really help me. Imagine if you went to the doctor because your baby was sick and the only thing she said was, “I don’t know what the problem is. Babies are so easy to take care of.”

Last night I fell asleep reading the book La sombra del viento (The Shadow of the Wind) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I didn’t like it at first, because it seemed too simple and predictable. It had one sentence that was something like, “The first thing my dad told me….” or “The first thing I remember…” which is such a cliche sentence, something I would write, so I was ready to put it down, but the book was steadfast. What do I mean by steadfast? I mean that it didn’t deviate in tone, that it wasn’t self-conscious, that it didn’t doubt itself, that it gave you the feeling — and I’ve talked about this before — that: “This is real. I mean, it’s a novel, but it’s real. And if you don’t think it’s real, then (expletive) you.” This is how Roberto Bolaño books feel, though Roberto Bolaño takes it a step further in that he doesn’t take it anywhere at all. His books say: “This is real. I mean, it’s not real, but it’s real. And I don’t care whether or not you think it’s real. Thinking about what you thought about this novel would never in several millennia cross my mind.” This indifference towards the reader is key if you want to become a great novelist. You must not care about what the reader wants or needs. But it mustn’t be disdain. It must be indifference. And indifference is impossible to fake.

I haven’t acquired this indifference, and I don’t know if I’ll ever acquire it. I care about what readers think. When someone says they liked a blog post I immediately re-read the blog post in question, congratulating myself on my good writing (all the while wondering whether it’s really good). And when someone says something bad about a post it ruins me, even though a voice deep down wonders whether they’re wrong. And this is what I was getting at with Bolaño. It’s not like he cares about whether he’s right or you’re wrong when it comes to his books. It’s that your right to an opinion doesn’t exist.

A special thanks to Starbucks and it’s kitschy atmosphere for unwittingly supporting this blog.

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A Delicious Scab

I woke up with a feeling of urgency this morning. I’m not sure exactly what spurred it. I checked my phone and saw I had an email from one of the people at Roads & Kingdoms saying one of my pieces had been accepted, and took a small minute to rejoice. I decided the other day that the next time I got an article accepted I’d use the money to buy a year membership to the shared bike program here called MIBICI. It actually only costs about $20, so I’ll have a few bucks leftover. Then I lay in bed for 15 minutes, rating Instagram ads for Appen, and then got out of bed and walked to Pan Regio, where I bought a costra.

I’d been interested in the costra at Pan Regio because costra means scab in Spanish. I don’t know why you’d ever name a pastry a scab. This is probably why the costras are always fully stocked and there hasn’t been budín for weeks. I purchased one for five pesos and once in the street ripped off a chunk and bit in.

It was bland. What else would you expect from a pastry called a scab? But then I kept eating, and kept eating, and by the third or fourth bite it was as if the costra was taunting me, daring me to still call it bland. I did not accept the dare. The costra was a work of subtle beauty. I don’t know if I’d ever buy it again. If there was budín I’d probably still go for that, drawn in by its gravitational pull, but the costra is what I SHOULD be eating. The costra is how I should be living my life.

Back in my apartment I made my bed and got ready to seize the day. I said hi to Bill, my aloe plant, who’s looking better and better by the minute. I attribute this of course to his new planter with drainage holes on the bottom and premium potting soil, but also the fact that he’s now surrounded by other plants. I’ve put him in the courtyard, where he’s last in line in a line of much taller, much greener, much more impressive plants. He’s the new kid on the block. Like any parent, I watch nervously, biting my nails, hoping the others will accept him. Bill is an aloe plant. He’s sweet. He’s sensitive. I just hope the others can see him for the person he really is.

And now I’ll walk to the school where I teach, not to teach but to use their blazing fast internet since I have a Skype class at ten and I’m worried the bandwidth here might be taken up by the Czech couple and also by Rodolfo and Adriana, who are also still here. I don’t think Adriana works on Mondays. My days are considerably better when I give good classes, so for this first class a good internet connection must be a priority.

(intermission)

And now I’m finishing this post, sitting at El Terrible Juan. I didn’t realize I hadn’t finished this post. I’m a bit embarrassed. This blog must be the number one priority in my life. Why does the waitress here hate me? I don’t get it. I bow my head and order as quickly as possible. I would love to just ask her, “Excuse me, I’m just curious. It’s obvious that my presence to you is about as agreeable as repeatedly getting punched in the stomach. Why exactly is this?” But of course I would never ask this.

It would be uncomfortable.

A special thanks to Barry Sevig for his contribution to this “błoġ.”

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