words written in the week of
August 4th to August 10th
in previous years.
This was 1 year, 9 months, 3 days ago

here I am in the moment of tender possibility; here I am also in the present.


what needs to be written?





what else? how to love, how to open, how to keep it there. is it just like this? soft and sincere, terrifying and honest, surprising and exciting? I am learning something that is orthogonal to so much of what I know, I think, an articulation of acceptance and presentness rather than judgment or understanding, of working with whatever is present, whoever we might already be. these logics are incommensurable. one is a finite game; the other one an infinite game, a game that is played in order to be played, played, played--

if I learn how to love then I also learn how to love myself, a lesson learned when I'm not trying to learn.

I am learning that love can also be soft, quiet, easy, smooth, like the wind or the water, undulating but insistent, changing in understandable ways, moving with the terrain. is that me? my mother says my grandmother says I lack water, so my name came to be. here I am, next to this so-called river, really a tidal strait, the conjoining of two oceans, filling and unfilling of water. is this it? is this how it is?

is this it? could this be it? couldn't this be it? why not? one logic asks for certainty, logic, questioning. the other logic asks to be present with what is already present and possible. why not; why not?

or rather: isn't this it? I am in the ocean, my body tossed buoyed waved along. p shares that the task, as we get older, is of the intensity of experience itself but of noting the particular flavors that are present in it, and I imagine our taste buds honing, becoming more precise, specific, to understand exactly what might emerge. the pointed taste of cut grass; the sharp char of thinly-cut beef brisket emerging from pho; the ozone smell of new welding. water, too, has a taste, not just an absence but itself a kind of presence, softness, harshness, texture. so I am in the ocean, looking out at faraway ships underneath a sky softly gradienting until it hits the horizon. isn't this it?

isn't this it? underneath the paving-stones the beach, underneath this all this quality, life itself, the texture of us being, of age and death, of loss and grief, of regret. these are all lofty words, well-worn. like every good cliche, after the experience the phrases make sense, easy language knowingly used becaues language fully becomes simply a signifier, a snapshot-

anyhow, anyhow. an immensity of experience and time this past year. did I not learn immense lessons? am I not emerging and shifting into some kind of new life that I am struggling to birth, contractions and pains and morning (winter, spring) sicknesses? what might emerge? can you believe it, future self, can you, can you? would I have it any other way?

This was 5 years, 8 months, 29 days ago

quick, quick! bottle it before it disappears. this euphoria exploration curiosity cameraderie. what is there? where should we head to? what is this landscape? does it look like mars? feel this scale? are we at the end of the world? (we kind of are). what lies there? who could we be? where are we going?

chatting with d. briefly I mention that I could understand what it feels like to be (t)here, the sense of scale and optimism buoyed by landscape. d: yes, and how it would be possible for a whole earth, or a long new, to be created out of this. yes, yes, yes.

truly feels fascinating exciting. tech in all its incarnations distorting, altering. the sheer optimism and excitement of dynamicland amongst one of them. amongst others; the sense of kindred curiosity. breezes.

a billion things to say. cars and california, apple and technology and silicon valley. being in its birthplaces and enacting simulacra of what it's like to live and to be amongst friends and new friends. to be curious and create things. to live in a compacted version of history, inventions and creations so understandable within a generation's short lifetime. look over there - the inventor of public key cryptography walks by. here we are.

what I take with me is a hope for newness, of the importance of looking out at landscapes, of beaches and sunsets and how actually these things are quite important, quite necessary to imagine how you relate to nature, of things that are longer and larger than you are.

could it be possible, would it be possible to constitute the self via your environment? (is this a highly problematic / classist thing to do?)
- to look at sunsets
- to be amongst sublime nature - beaches, forest, valleys
- to be amongst friends who know more than you do
- to be encouraged by doing things that are mistakes
- to be curious
- to be supported in your curiosity


what is clear: I remain fascinated by thinking about and making spaces, but I no longer wish to be an "architect". which is to say: I want to design interfaces - human/computer/spatial interfaces, hcsi, and some of that will involve designing buildings, but to be an architect feels as narrow as to be a "software developer" -- defined by what the things I do are made of, not what the things I do are.

architecture will forever remain part of me, but architects will be cousins and siblings, but never my selves

so! now what? now we march ahead into the unknown!

This was 6 years, 9 months ago

slowly, growth?


what to say here? what to say. suddenly I am older and younger than I thought, simultaneously. suddenly life stretches out like I am in the middle of a desert. suddenly I realize what opportunity costs may mean, and how choices fall. suddenly suddenly.

I don't know what to do about clojure. which is to say: I have been playing with it, and it feels great, shimmering, toying around, my mind flexing. but, to what end? clojure is not a programming language, just a metaphor, just an analogy to the fun of pure thought and exercise, of knowledge seemingly wrought out of thin air. what does this mean? where does this come from? where is knowledge and understanding? how is it inside both me and my environment?

part of what I have to resolve with myself is the clash of knowledge, fascinating and messy and wonderous and joyous, and of implementation/action, which is so messy and slodgy and shining and also brilliant in its own way. knowledge feels like iridescent gems, emitting pure tones, harmonies intersecting when they overlap. implementation and action feels like walking through snow and feeling cold water everywhere in your cold feet, and finally entering home, taking your shoes off, and sitting with a cup of tea, and feeling your toes warm amongst friends.

having drudged through implementation and knowledge recently, I feel like I am now at a crossroads. politics is all implementation, I think, information and beliefs and minds are fickle and fast and sway instantly, this way and that way. we are dipoles, asymmetrically charged particles held in the lattice structure of a metal. if we can turn slow, then our alignments move slowly, buffered and delayed, swinging around slowly to create localized eddies, dead zones, stable spots. If we turn fast, then we align instantly, the entire metal piece instantly swinging from one orientation to another, partial synchronicity generating unstable and chaotic feedback loops. which way do our political beliefs swing? this way, that way, anyway, any day. and I don't mean left/right directions, I mean attention; where do our political attention rest? alignment quickly oscillating.

voting as a mode of politics thus seems insufficient, purely belief/information/attention-based. there should be a mode of voting where you vote once a month, and those votes are all tallied up for the next term's vote, or something, where attention input is muted, dampened, less susceptible.

but either way. politics as voting generates politics as attention. attention ecologies generate attention economies.

meanwhile I wonder. how is it that we all live to a) sustain our body (reproductive labor power) and b) to do things that we think are important to us, yet we use one currency of exchange or system of value expression to do so?


stretched out across cultural, generational, spatial, linguistic contexts, here I am. I wander down alleys, drive down highways. I replicate the forces upon myself, I resist them, I create forces upon myself, I alter them.

(I (having been influenced by the (environment, which (I, having been influenced by the environment) designed to put around me)))


This was 9 years, 9 months, 1 day ago

On the news I read about Gaza, and rockets, and UN schools being bombed, and how Hamas is firing rockets in residential areas. I remember driving in a car with _______ (oh how my memory fails me) and him slowing down near a hill around Ramallah, and suddenly pointing a finger forward at a shimmering sliver of silver in the distance: "There's a saying that goes: this country is smaller than a scorpion's dick. That's the Mediterranean sea over there, barely 50 kilometers away."

And I read about Hamas firing rockets in residential areas, and the primary secondary tertiary quaternary arguments that ripple out with always-skewed evidence and language, and I think of that landscape, and I wonder what Gaza looks like, how it feels to walk its streets, whether it is cramped, whether such a thing as a crosswalk exists.

Biking westward on Flushing Ave. earlier today I feel suddenly anguished at the impossibility of communicating experiences. Or -- that experiences are never really objects or entities or discrete phenomena that you can exchange and hand over; they're more like alchemic creations, chemical reactions, baking soda and vinegar or something a little bit more extreme on the ph scale foaming and fizzing over, always involving a pinch of the world and a dash of the self, always constantly in relation to one's own being. Around this we have a series of bad words, shitty words like "road" or "door" or "crosswalk" that fail so hard that they actually stand up and become sovereign entities themselves, demi-gods, incantations become material and affecting the world in strange, unpredictable ways.

Maybe this is India having its way with me. After crossing streets there, how do I talk about streets and crosswalks? When I say "street" or "highway", 1) how do I know what you mean, 2) how I know whether or not you know how different our meanings can be? I mean, yeah, signifier vs. signified, semiotics, sure, but this goes a little beyond that I think; this goes to the heart of networks (Latour's worknets) and how one grasps any part of it and clutches it into a first and gives it a name to share with the world. Or to be less vague: You say "street", but do you mean a tree-lined streets? With cobblestones? Do you mean the kind of street that exists when you're 18 and kind of creeped-out and exhilarated by NYC? Or the street that you walk on during dusk that's a dirt road walking by opulent diplomatic residences barely a hour's drive from the Mediterranean Sea? Or the winding street of some little hamlet-like valley village in Korea where your family will go to stay at some inn, full of waggy-tongued stray dogs and dimly lit convenience stores?

When they say, 'Hamas is using civilians as shelter by firing rockets in a residential zone', I want to see the inside of your home, your neighborhood; I want to know how you grew up, what kinds of cars you drove to the nearby supermarket to pick up groceries, how you got on the metro, what relationships you have to parking lots, highways, streets, and space. Do you live in the country, where houses are separated by acres and acres of land? Are you in a newly renovated Manhattan apartment somewhere with aluminum appliances and a new corian countertop? Do you live in a house in the suburbs, with bus service that could always be better? When is the last time you got lost?

The usual metaphor for the universe expanding is a polka-dotted balloon being blown up and the distance between dots slowly expanding. Maybe some version of this happens as time passes and my own universe expands, as experiences become more distinct, more sharp. Experiences translate into translatable/understandable tastes that one can use to summon or sympathize with an external, foreign encounter: "Oh, this is like that time I was there". At the same time, the more experiences I accumulate, the more differentiation happens, and the more the gaps between experiences become apparent. One experience becomes a source of empathy for every experience. A million experiences becomes a field of distinct moments, each never quite approximating or being close to a single one. This isn't some 'paradox of choice' argument but rather the inevitable dilemma of being acutely aware of how differed and varying the world can be.

Long story short: all experiences seem incommensurable, incommunicable other than through a series of metaphors, analogies, skew lines being tied together by the spidery thread of "___ is like ___".


1) It is you with your projects and your motion, I will say to myself in the future, it is rolling ahead and movement.

2) The common cry of "I want to work for myself" really translates into directly a kind of political power, since not everyone gets to work for themselves, or not everyone gets what they want in a society, so the workings-out of allocating "not-getting-what-one-wants", or unfulfillment, becomes a game of resource allocation -- in this case, debt-distribution. Where does debt slide around to? Who holds the hot potato? I want to work for myself, or with collaborators, on projects, I will assert cheerfully and calmly, and I have been, so for that I am blessed, and now I understand to good extent how much political power it takes to achieve that state of being.

3) By 'political power' I don't mean much and I mean everything, in the way that a crosswalk in NYC or in India means very little in regards to one's conception of where one should cross, and so the question of "crossing-the-street" and its relationship with "crosswalks" is a tricky one not because the former is always 'transgressing' the latter, but because the latter is just a feeble desire to be ignored, aligned with, rejected, acceded to, etc.

By political power I mean more like relational issues; everything is relations, a knot of relations, all things are mass of agreements, explicit structures, implicit dynamics, rulesets, etc. It may be that the emergent properties of incentives amidst scarcity spawns an agent-based simulation; it may be that certain agent-based simulations generate behaviors that appear like flocking, oscillation, stability, instability. If I look at flocking or avoidance behaviors in a group of simulate birds and think, "oh, the politics of flocking", this would be a little myopic; if I look at incentives and scarcity and think, "oh, the politics of resources" this would be a little over-analytic, reading something from everything.

Politics is a bad word. Let's say, agent-based behavior.

Agent-based behavior is everywhere, that is, if you have agents; there are movements, dynamics, directed graphs, following movements, gravity, there are things like Katz centralities, eigenvector centralities, betweenness and connectivity measures. Nature is full of agent-based behaviors, and highways, and everything, all of these things.

Horizontal assemblies with collaborative decision-making processes attempt to distribute unfulfillment equally, because unfulfillment is often initially distributed unequally (privilege), but is sometimes a problem when unfulfillment is actively generated by a few, which is bad, because unfulfillment is not a zero-sum game, so it is possible for two people to be more unfulfilled and discontent in a negotiation than they started out with. Of course, the opposite is also the case.

This was 12 years, 9 months, 5 days ago

at the airport, the guard, who the kind of person who probably has two eight-year-old daughters, checks my boarding pass and does a double take, looks it and exclaims at me with arched eyebrows: you're going far! and so I say: I'm going far! with a shrug.

once I get here, though, I am here. there is nothing else. I am, obviously, not far from where I am. what was here is now there. there was a flight, and then another flight, and then the flight touched down at sunset, orange light penetrating through the cabin and exiting out the other end like a neatly fletched arrow. arabic everywhere, and I roll them around in my tongue, trying to remember each letter of the alphabet.

after customs, and the immigration counter (which is two meters away from the customs counter), we get our bags. we are eleven people, a little pool, coagulating in corners, high surface tension. we move like amoebae. we get into a van. Hassan drives us to this hotel, and he is quiet, but we are talking, and meanwhile the world passes us by, a sliver of a crescent moon. it is Ramadan, which means that everything is open late because everyone has just started eating, drinking, talking. there are many cars on the street. (beautifully paved asphalt, I think, thinking about Mongolia.)

and then we go and eat, and it is full of hummus and baba and tabouleh and all these familiar things, and then my itching legs take me down and I wander, we wander down the street. what is jordan, amman? what is this place? again, of course, what comes to me directly, bluntly, is the differing quality of infrastructure, the colors of license plates, power plugs, these small little things.

but this time - this time - something about this seems immensely familiar, and I can't decide whether it's good or bad, whether it means the shock of the new has receded into a healthy appreciation of the different, or whether it means a numbing-ness of wonder. but look, you see: there are underpasses, there are roads with and without lanes, there are the usual western franchises, the black-and-white striped road curbs. this makes sense. this kind of sidewalk, this makes sense.

what is important to note, I think, may be not the difference, or the not-difference; it's not surprising that starbucks, or chilis, or kfc, mcdonalds are here; it's not a tragedy, not so much the sign of an extreme american imperialism. someone with money wanted to make a restaurant here and thought it would be popular if it was a foreign brand. gucci bags and prada operate the same way, except that 'identity' for items are thought to reside within the item, while 'identity' for a restaurant may probably always be thought to refer back to the originating country. but that's not so much it. the natural forces of desire, business, imagery, and idealization working in concert. in other words, the change is not top-down; it's bottom up. it's probably better or interesting to think of, maybe maybe, a country as having these very specific levels of development; and these are not incongruities but just a different list of expressed priorities. for example, 'wireless internet without drinkable tap water' is not necessary weird, it's just an inversion/flipping/change/reordering of what is possible and what is done.

tomorrow, we cross the border into palestine.

This was 12 years, 9 months, 6 days ago

at moments of departure little moments of the mundane become amplified, emblematic, representative. this car is going fast, too fast. it is doing a dance.

buzzing twin tremolos. here we go.

This was 13 years, 9 months, 1 day ago

and here I am, waiting. in the meantime: the smell of mosquito coils, the sound of rain outside, the ticking of the clock. the midnight shift manager's sleeping on the couch with a dim light falling on her shoes. a car passes by and I can hear the sound of rubber treads falling into a puddle.

here I am.

This was 13 years, 9 months, 2 days ago

music: carsick cars, you can listen you can wait.

We are in Beijing, the royal we, we are wandering, seeing.

I have so much to say but have no idea where to start.


Tonight I was walking around Nanluogu Xiang, wandering into shops, picking up little trinkets. The night is nightly night, and there are tiny little cafes that are just lit so nicely, that make you want to take the arms of your dearest friends and pull them in, sit down in a lovely worn couch, have a beer and talk into the night with your faces aglow from a side, half-silhouetted, noses casting shadows across a cheek, yellow lamps in the corner, the sound of glasses against a wooden desk, the stirring chords of some appropriately familiar music. Amidst this all I was alone, walking, and very happy to be alone, but feeling very lonely, feeling a sudden ache wash over me.

It struck me at one moment walking along the street, as a specific choice available to me, that I could have jumped into a bar somewhere, had a beer, met someone randomly, injected myself into the conversation, could have started laughing together and said something like, 'let's go to another bar!', and all of a sudden things would change, and I would be drifting together within a group, happily. I could have done that, like I did in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Ulan Bator, or the night before in Beijing, but tonight this night for some reason I didn't want to, was too tired to. When I say tired I don't mean physically tired, of course, I mean people-tired, I mean I'm not super eager to meet people, and this comes and goes in waves, sometimes I am, really am, but tonight I was content to be here and curl into myself, content to move on a whim.

And so tonight I walked alone in the streets, just me, and my thoughts, and there are thoughts:

a) I don't know why every time someone does something really great I look at their age and mentally calculate the difference in years between me and them. I don't think it's a good thing. b) I think desire is a muscle, I have this theory, and I think it's a good one. c) I dream worryingly of impending heartache. d) I've been having crazy irrational dreams lately, like yelling furiously at people because they bought the wrong kind of bottled water, or greeting people I've never met before. e) This place feels like home, lately I feel like home to myself. f) I love the city slipping by g) what is it to live and have ambition? what should my relationship to ambition be? ambition is desire solidified as a direction, a concrete arrow cast and stuck in the ground, both productive and constraining, and I can feel myself wanting things, and I want to want things, and I want things already, but also I worry that the path of wanting things all the time = constant nervewracking narrowmindedness (the calculating age difference stuff, and more), and this pace right now is so precious, a few hours at a time, a walk here and there, a little slowness so precious. h) everything can be thrown away, a little, and when you start to think of something as absolutely necessary, that's where I should question it and nudge it a little, because there's always something larger. i) I need to go back to new york and get rid of everything in storage; just throw it away; it's such a metaphor. j) maybe I should meditate regularly, find a method, fall into a routine, thank you herman hesse for the tip. k) maybe I should have routines for routines and routines that are anti-routines of me-not-doing-things-I've-done-before. 

and there's l) and m) and n) and o) and p) which are so so so very important but I can't mention here.

later tonight I took a taxi home and the world slid by and we passed by a street with restaurants and lit red lanterns everywhere, and I took out my phone and recorded some video, and the driver noticed and slowed down, and so we glided through this street, awash with red flecks moving rearwards, leaving trails, going 'home' coasting on streets to the sound of carsick cars. now, now, I go to bed dreaming of bikes, trains, ferries, and a loved city halfway across the world.

This was 13 years, 9 months, 4 days ago

no, more accurately, I am sleeping in an empty apartment looking at the lights of a city that reminds me of being alone. Soon I will wake up with the sun and wander in the Forbidden City, go through art districts, talk with an old teacher, and that will surely be nice. Even later in the night I might go through streets and dream of meals, friends, companions. I am so used to the rhythm of meeting people so freely, that I am tempted to jump into a hostel and fish some people out of there. More than anything I want a few good friends on a rooftop, drinking and smoking and talking fervently about things we care about, late into the night, I want the vigorous intensity of desire, want want want want want, not the limpid dead rotten aroma of everything made fun of, jeered at; I want the vivacity of things smelling alive and dreaming.

I want to know what it is like to live here, wander in these streets, I want to know what it is to grow and wake up and have a studio and to create, to live in the atmosphere of fervor and growth. I want this in Seoul but am not sure if it exists there, I want this in New York because I know it and will find it back home. I want deep nights, I want close friends. I want want want want. I want, want, want want want.

This was 13 years, 9 months, 4 days ago

I am here and it is a center and I am in a whirlwind and know not what to think.

This was 13 years, 9 months, 5 days ago

The thing that strikes me lately about me is how incapable I am of believing that I have been anywhere else than where I am currently, and how incapable I am of really foreseeing that I will be anywhere but where I am currently. I don't mean that I'm oblivious to my travel schedule, of course, or that I don't imagine things to be different. Rather, it's that when I'm someplace I'm so very there, so very in the presently there that I find it hard to imagine myself as anywhere but there. This is troublesome when buying gifts or souvenirs, for example, because once I'm there I look at small trinkets that say MOCKBA and think "why would I get that? I could get it some other time.." and pass it on. Later, of course, these baubles hold value regardless, their value comes in their separation from their element, valence from having-been-displaced, but it's as if I can't realize that in the moment, I'm not displaced from myself currently. I can't foresee myself being there, looking back at me having-been here. As such, I really haven't bought anything from Moscow, a few things from Mongolia. What I do have are the receipts, the cast-off residues of plastic bags and scraps of signed paper that mean so little but are so very rare, unobtainable. How else would I find a Russian receipt from a decrepit corner store in Irkutsk, now that I'm in China? When I'll be in Korea, Japan, New York?

Back to this sense of displacement -- I can think of cases when I moved or traveled from place to place, and having-just-arrived would walk around for a week in a daze, thinking: 'I am not there? I am not there.' Eventually things would set in, and I would walk around being present. In my skin. Maybe it's the train that makes these transitions so graceful, so natural. Maybe.

Currently the train is at the Mongolia-China border, on the China side. We've been here for a few hours, now, changing the gauge of the trains, as the Mongolian/Russian train axle width and the Chinese axle widths are different. It's quite the complicated operation, separating the train into two, then separating each car from each other, lifting each train car up in the air, pushing all of the axles/carriages out of the way, bringing new carriages in, lowering each suspended car back down, and then finally connecting all the cars together. Everyone's been peering out of windows, craning their necks, taking photos. It's a fun sight to see a car full of people hovering six feet above the ground.

This car is full of tourists, about 80% tourists maybe. It makes sense, as it's relatively expensive and time-consuming -- I think there's a cheaper way that costs about 50 USD (a fourth of the price) that involves taking multiple trains and buses across the border. Or, if you're adventurous, you can hitchhike part of the way. Anyways, not surprisingly, my willingness to talk to people/other tourists is inversely proportional to the amount of tourists on the train. Moscow-Irkutsk was fun, because there was about one tourist per twenty locals, but this is a little different, feels a little bit contrived, maybe. Or maybe it's that going from car to car saying "where are you from?" gets tiring when there's about 40 groups of people all doing their own thing. Again, not surprising, but it makes me turn more inward, be more content with reading, typing, thinking. There are two groups of people on the train, though, A and P, and J and E, both from the Irkutsk - Ulaanbataar train, and so I've been wandering around and having beers with the former, playing cards with the latter. It's nice to have these points of contact, they're there if I want to, and they're all wonderful people. At the same time, of course, it's good to have my own time. And so I do, because time's all there is..

The train started from Ulaanbataar and made its way down south-east towards the Mongolian-Chinese border. We passed through (or skirted) the Gobi, which was miles and miles of sandy grass, or grassy sand, as far as the eye could see. After this axle-changing operation we'll keep on going a bit more eastward. Apparently, a few hours before Beijing, we'll get an engine attached at the rear that will push the train up and down steep hills, and we might get a sight of the Great Wall, which will be fun.

So, Mongolia.

Mongolia was interesting, in that I had too little time there, and I feel like I would need maybe two more weeks to get a better grasp of the country; one more week to see the place, another to understand it a bit more.

From the train from Irkutsk to Ulaanbataar I I got into the station at 6:30 am, in the early morning. There were throngs of people milling around asking for the usual taxi rides and offering tours, pushing cards into my hands. I didn't have any reservations, and had figured that I'd play it by ear when I arrived, and would probably have walked to one of the guesthouses that I had looked up. A and P were staying at a guesthouse, through, and there's nothing like a personal recommendation, so I tagged along on the van that came to pick them up (how convenient!) and got to the guesthouse that way.

Idre's guest house was okay, located on the side of a dusty road, and the atmosphere was a little funny, as if Idre himself was a businessman, rather than a hotel owner, but it was fine and friendly and worked out okay. I dropped my bags, and asked him for any tours; he thought a bit and told me that there was a tour going for two days and three nights, leaving in an hour at 7:30. After mulling it over I said sure, so I repacked my bag and left my large backpack in the storage room, checked my email, sent out some urgent replies, and by then it was time to go. I didn't take a shower though, but I should have. (So, it turns out, email takes precedence over personal hygiene)

By the time the van jumped on the roads heading out of Ulaanbataar, there was an woman in her 60s from Holland, who seemed reservedly excited and amused, and a very friendly guy in his early 20s from Kentucky with bushy eyebrows, a monkey printed on his tshirt, and jeans that were in danger of becoming shorts. After talking a bit (she's a sculptor/interior designer, he's an English teacher in Korea), everyone sort of fell quiet as we watched the dusty and trafficky roads of UB slide away to the outskirts of the city, then less dusty fields, then grassy fields, then grassy fields with mountains, blue skies, and herds of horses, sheep, camels, cows. None of us had really seen anything like this before, and so we spent most of the ride looking at things, craning our necks, turning around, left, right, peering out of windows, looking out at the sky, and so on.

Interestingly enough, the outskirts of the city had a poor-ish area, where people lived crowded together in yurt/gers. It's interesting how gers are traditional and absolutely practical nomadic housing systems, and at the same time within the setting of an urban 'slum' operate as cheap semi-permanent housing. To my understanding, a ger in its nomadic usage (just under half of the country is still nomadic) is moved around about four times a year, and it'd be impractical to use anything other than a ger on the plains. Practicality aside, it's very traditional, operates as a symbol of Mongolia, and I imagine there's a certain degree of 'respect' or esteem accorded to the ger in its nomadic usage. At the same time, in a urban setting, a semi-slum, with tiny yards cordoned off with panels, the ger operates as cheap housing, is belittled, almost. It's strange to have this conflation of traditional-nomadic-ger and cheap-housing-system align together: in one setting, it's a wonderful system of living; in another, it's a poor city dwelling. Or is it? And it's all too easy to read into this a narrative of 'the nomad, chained at home, loses some sense of 'nobility', tradition', etc. Part of me wonders if this story isn't the conflict in Mongolia's economic and social growth in general, and part of me is so very aware of the dangers inherent in generating this sort of narrative, of treating this country as an aesthetic object that loses some of its charm in progress, and so on.

And that's what I mean by wanting to have more time to grasp an understanding of the country. There was a surprising amount of underpinning conflict that I felt about the country, or how things operated, and I wanted to know more, but it was just too quick, too short, to know anything but the most superficial of tastes, a quick bite, a short taste test. Mongolia's appeal for outsiders is its vastness, the traditional nomadic life, supposedly, but at the same time on the other side of the see-saw of this this appeal lies a lack of infrastructure, few paved roads, and so on. There's very little production that happens there; in a supermarket I saw tissues(!) imported from Germany, for example. There's a rich, rich history that Mongolia lives in the shadow of -- when I went to a temple that was the biggest temple of its time in the 13th century, everything felt a little worn, a little weary, as if the palace walls were ready to say "well, come on, let's try something new." But then, see, here I am again, reading into things. What I mean to say is that there's a lot going on here, a lot of tension, a lot of concerns, a lot of interesting things at play.

For example: what to do with a country trying to modernize itself, that knows that its appeal for outsiders is its untouched vastness? Or is this at all a conflict? Now, herders use motorcycles, have cell phones, use solar panels and have satellite TV (sometimes). It's tempting to think of this as somehow incongruous with the idea of herdsmen, still herding on horses, milking cows and horses, drinking airag (fermented mare's milk), dealing without refrigeration. Or maybe it's not, and it's a productive and positive syncretism. And to continue this syncretism further -- what is it to be a modern nomad? Is nomadism compatible with modern progress? And what will 'modern progress' be for Mongolia? The nomad system is both a lifestyle and an economic process -- but the process is undeniably economically 'inefficient' (compared to the horrific meat farms of the US), while the lifestyle is traditional, cherished, respected. How to deal with these two sides of being a nomad? How to channel the economic process into a powerful force for Mongolia -- yet at the same time continue to uphold or support the lifestyle that also provides a great draw for tourism? Mongolia must be aware of its projected image of nomads living under a large blue sky, herding livestock in peace and wonder, and to know that the attractiveness of this image is synonymous with a 'lack' that is also romanticized by more developed countries... Lack of hurry, lack of social constraints, lack of property, lack of hierarchy, and all of these combining to create a dream of independent, 'simple' living...

After five hours of a jittery, jumping, bucking, rocking car ride, the unpaved dirt roads gave way to unpaved grassy roads, and we traveled like that, through the countryside, like in a car commercial: suspensions-a-working, cylinders-a-firing. Plumes of dust billowing out from behind the car, bouncing up and down. Eventually we rode up to a ger, and we met two friendly French girls from Paris, had lunch, chatted a bit. And there it turned out that everyone (except for me) was going on a eight-day tour of Mongolia, and realized that this two night, three day tour of mine was a little bit non-existent.

Before I could really ask the guide about this all, though, I was whisked onto a camel ride about five minutes after finishing lunch, so everyone clambered out of the ger and watched people to try to get the camel to sit. The camel kept on spitting rudely (and very deliberately) and being very obstinate, which fulfilled all of my stereotypes about camel personalities, and I found myself liking the idea of a domesticated animal (with a steel rod piercing its nose) being feisty and independent enough to resist all attempts to make it behave. Eventually, after enough tries, and this girl walked off into the distance to a camel herd about five minutes away to swap camels. Ten minutes later, she came back with the herder, who brought a different camel -- but instead to everyone's amusement the original camel sat down quite promptly at his urging.

I got the new camel, anyways, and hopped on. (Camels have two stages of movement when getting up: the back legs, which tumbles you forward, and then the front legs straighten, which rights you again.) This girl, Soda, led me around, and in the barest of English we talked and I learned that she was fifteen, played volleyball, her boyfriend was seventeen and drove a motorbike, she goes back to school in Ulaanbataar in the fall, and she asked me questions likewise. All in all, though, I was content to walk on sand dunes and cross small rivers, and was really very content just feeling the gait of the camel, being grateful to it, and having the world pass me by.

By the time we circled around to the gers, about an hour had passed, and none of the other travelers were there. They offered me a giant bowl of mare's milk, which was sour and sour and milky. Not really pleasant at first taste, but interesting indeed, and out of politeness I tried to down the whole thing -- until I realized that I didn't have to, that the bowl wasn't 'my own serving' but simply a way to drink. Another calibration, readjustment here: bowls not necessarily as individual servings but as simply mechanisms of serving, and I read into this (only slightly) the family-oriented culture of Mongolian life.

And then just as soon as I put down my bowl a van pulled up. I hopped in, and for another hour: dirt roads, unpaved, rocky movement, green grass, a blue sky, unyielding sun: and I inevitably fell fast asleep to the rocking motion of the world.

After that ride, I joined onto the last day of a four-day tour with some other people.

My new tour-mates were four friends from Switzerland, and I won't talk about them too much save to say that they were certainly friendly but mostly aloof, and altogether too close-minded for anything to be of any interest to them. I felt a little bit sorry and mostly exasperated at their limpid presence, their insolent gaze, and I couldn't stop but think inwardly: why are you traveling? I wonder what it must be like, to travel so clustered, so helplessly and desperately together. The world sliding away underneath, maybe. They told me that they'd been to Iran a bit before last year, and I couldn't really believe it, wondered if they went out of a flippant whim, clambered up into the simulation chamber titled 'Iran' and watched the world projected onto all six walls/floors/ceilings, and walked out after the credits. They didn't eat milk, cheese, didn't like yogurt, and that's pretty devastating in Mongolia, especially. They ate everything Mongolian with a grimace and the barest amount of gratitude. It turns out that the tour guide also does all the cooking on any of these tours, and most anyone I care to be friends with has more thankfulness towards a waiter than they had towards the guide who stayed with them, slept nearby, and cooked the food for seven people herself. But they would wait impatiently for the food, then eat half-heartedly with forks dangling from their fingers as if the food had been sitting on the table all along, sit back, and would wait for the next thing to happen.

Here's an anecdote: we were in a temple, and the local guide was explaining to us the history of a few paintings, eight or so, painted in the eighteenth century with natural colors, depicting different deities. Ornately decorated, deliberate palette of colors, fantastically detailed. And one of them steps forward, and with a pretty shitty streak of mischievousness, says in front of the local guide, in a temple that's the pride of the country: "Ah, it's ugly!" And right then, I knew that the day would not be fun. Later that day, we had some boiled milk for the dinner's dessert, which turned to take the shape of a semi-solid pancake. The four kids ventured in with pronounced grimaces, and it tasted like sweet (and very goaty) goat cheese, but nothing completely out of the blue. No-one else liked it, and that's fine, but one of them said (after much grimacing and laughing at the food) "I'm not used to eating things like this," and I snapped back, "well, that's why you travel in the first place." I think food pickiness gets at me more than an anything, that and music pickiness, when people can have the gall to look at each other and say, "this music is so weird", 'this is so bad'. It made me want to punch them in the face, right then and there.

But really, I got the sense that this all happened out of a certain... passivity, more than anything. One goes, and one sees things. There's the travel where you're the intact self and you go to see things, monuments, landmarks; and then there's the travel where you manage to let the world in and you talk to people, find out what they're like. They were headed to Russia, and secretly I hoped that they would find it hard, impenetrable, that they would encounter interactions that they found rude -- more than anything because those interactions would be punctures in the little enclave of their moving zeppelin, detached, hovering above travel and movement and actually being anywhere. I have this image of them slowly crashing to the ground and emerging, dazed, with a few skid marks here and there, eventually having to deal with real people. Reprimanded, lost, frowned at, stabbing at maps, finally asking people, learning how to use the language, approaching the world with a little bit less of a sneer. Maybe.

I say passivity because they were passive, yes, but also because maybe the origin of the sneer is an over-solidity of self, a too-sureness of the relation of things in the world ('they eat dog, they eat snails, they will eat everything, can you believe that, they eat things which are not food', as if 'food' is not one of the most fluidly bounded definitions ever, etc) and comes from an unwillingness to participate in the creation of the self actively, maybe. Or, maybe I have to check myself to make sure I'm not just laughing at provinciality, their not being-used-to not-being-used-to things, and maybe I'm the one who's used to things enough that I can comfortably be used to these things because they're not that new. Maybe. Maybe not.

On a completely different note, I have this sudden image of wandering in Chinatown in NYC, somewhere around Grand and Chrystie, buying fish and greens, everyone gazing at piles of greens, iced styrofoam boxes piled with fish, and that image feels like home.

With the aforementioned group we went to a dusty temple, walked around for a little bit, went back to the ger camp. There were other tourists there, and I was glad to go and talk and meet other people, walk around. I talked to two Mongolian guides who were practicing on a Mongolian harp-like instrument with a local musician. They were 22 and 24, and were working as guides during the summer, having studied English and tourism in university in Ulaanbataar. I watched two cats play with each other, mother and kitten, walked around and found a makeshift basketball hoop, watched the sun set.

After dinner we piled into a ger with everyone else at the ger camp and listened to the musician play; he was a former air traffic controller who became devoted to traditional Mongolian music, he said. Part salesman, part musician, he started playing, and it was actually quite nice to have this end my first night in Mongolia, a little bit of the horse-hair fiddle, a little bit of throat singing, a little bit touristy but necessary and nice nonetheless. After we clapped and said our thank-yous I went back to the ger, brushed my teeth and went to bed, trembling in the cold.

The next day we were all slated to head back to Ulaanbataar, which would have meant a very uneventful one-night trip for me (especially since the drive was six bumpy hours both ways), so I asked Alta, the guide, if she could call Idre and explain the situation. She did, and after a few calls, she told me that I could stay at a nomadic family's ger; however, they didn't usually receive visitors, and I wouldn't have a guide, so would be on my own! She was very very apologetic, while I was more than delighted.

After breakfast we drove to the ger, about two hours away. We stopped here and there to ask people for directions -- more accurately, we stopped to ask nearby people if they knew the ___ family, and each time they would either shrug or point to a group of gers far in the distance. Eventually we found our way, pulled up. Alta (our guide) started cooking us lunch, and I dropped off my stuff. After a quick hike to a nearby mountain and down, lunch was ready, and we ate. Alta then worriedly wrote me a list of Mongolian words, gave me her cell number, and then they all left (the four friends, Alta, and the driver) and I was on my own.

The family I was staying with was friendly, but reserved, as they normally didn't really receive any guests. In fact, as it turned out, I was sleeping in their own ger, and so pushed out by me, the mother and the daughter had to sleep in the kitchen ger, which I felt supremely apologetic for. The daughter spoke a bit of English, and she asked me if I wanted to ride horses? And for how long? And I said yes, sure, for however long. So the son rode off on a horse, brought a horse back from the herd, and saddled it up for me, then gestured, 'hop on'. No lesson, or guide, or anything.

Hoping that the experience would be like the only other time I had ridden horses (in Iceland; and there, they were very docile and patient) I got on, and immediately the horse started almost-galloping. "Whoa!" I yelped automatically, but of course that didn't work, as horses aren't trained to 'stop' in Mongolian, only to go ("Chu!"), and so I scrambled at the reins and pulled the horse in, and turned around. I got the horse to trot along, but the horse would stop and start at its own accord, move around, and was a little obstinate. Here and there it would bend down to eat some grass. Eventually I got the right mix of tension and distance on the reins, and found a better balance on the saddle, and all was well. I felt that I had reached an understanding with the horse. It's kind of a strange wonder to ride a horse, to know that you're sitting on an intelligent animal, that avoids holes, steps around obstacles, is surefooted and aware. Initially I kept on trying to micro-steer the horse, but then I realized -- it knows the vague direction in which I want to go; I'll leave part of the path to it, and everything was fine. And I found myself enjoying everything hugely.

More to come, later. We are in the mountains of China, two hours away from Beijing. August 1st, 12:16pm.

This was 15 years, 9 months, 2 days ago

woolfean strands stretching out intercontinental crossmetropolitan

Striations stratifications delineations boundaries thresholds liminals exclusions definitions specifications territories areas groups lines divisions distributions partitions sections slices cuts delineations excisions

Is this uncertainty a blessing? metamorality, metaethics, metafoundations?