Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A new lease on death...

Last weekend, I visited the famed mummy museum here in Guanajuato with a friend. Apparently, the soil conditions here are not conducive to decomposing bodies, and thus, many well-preserved remains have been extracted, and for some reason, put on display for all to see. It was an absolutely sickening experience, eerie beyond words, yet one of the most profoundly important experiences of my life.

Once I encountered the first body, I was not scared, not disgusted, but oddly uncomfortable because I felt I was viewing something so far-removed from a human being. This is primarily due to the fact that a dead body at a funeral is made to look alive, napping peacefully as we pay our respects. However, seeing this state of decay was quite divorced from anything resembling a living human being. I was left to ponder the question: What is the main difference between the decayed mess of bones and flesh underneath the glass and the person taking pictures of it from the outside?

So for the first time, I became aware of what I consider to be the "animating spirit" which exists within all living creatures. I realized that I am carrying around the same crumpled mass of bones and flesh, yet have a real living presence within me that is allowing this mechanism to function in this world. The existence of this energy is the only thing separating me from the horrendous mess under the glass.

Yet these were all real live functioning people at one time. One was of a French doctor - his beard, fancy coat, pants, and book still intact. The spirit that inhabited his body had come and gone. All of his joys, sorrows, accomplishments, awards, failures, and sufferings were now represented by a ghostly shell. It made me really question the amount of anguish and pressure I put on myself, knowing that in the end, I will also be under that glass.

So I think the experience of the mummy museum has given me a new appreciation for life. I always intellectually knew that life is so temporary, but to see a visual reminder of it made me really feel my own impermanence. Yet at the same time, I truly experienced the precious energy or life force that so uniquely inhabits this soon-to-be crumpled pile of bones.

Show and Tell

The city is sooooo picturesque!

Another view of the city....

What could everyone be waiting for???

Race cars of course!!! Gto. was the starting point for a famous rally in the nearby mountains. Beats me...

The fascination of loud, obnoxious engines is beyond my comprehension...

Beautiful vistas at "Cristo Rey".

Me at the massive "Cristo Rey" monument.

Some close friends of mine from the school...

The weather here always keeps me on my toes.

Me overlooking the city.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Painfully delicious....

One day at the supermarket, standing in the bakery line with several other people who had compiled trays of "pan dulce" (sweet bread), I noticed a massive, gooey sheet cake sitting uncovered in the counter, with a serving spatula in it. It was a self-serve Pastel de Tres Leches, a cake with 3 milks, and of course my sweet tooth over-rode my common sense about sanitation. Also, it was a very clever marketing scheme, placing such an enticing item right in front of where people have to wait to get their bread weighed.

So despite several days of intestinal pain and suffering, I returned two nights ago for piece #2. I don't know if piece #1 caused my illness, but I'm not willing to experiment with the cake's absence. I hear it's just a rite of passage, getting your system all fouled up so that it can tolerate a constant barrage of poor sanitation, hygiene, and over-spiced foods. I think I am over the worst of it, and am preparing to visit a street vendor who sets up his cart near my house, who I saw the other day stuffing cooked chicken into tacos with his bare hands. If I submit another post, then you'll know I survived the next level.

Home Improvement

So as I had mentioned in a previous post, it was necessary for me to change homestay accomodations. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, the school where I am studying Spanish arranges a homestay with a Mexican family so that one can get the full immersion experience. But my first week here was not ideal, as my accomodations and family were not hospitable. I was living in their basement, with no door, just an open staircase. It was a nice room, with great views, but the mattress had a massive depression in it, and required several layers of towels until I got it level. The family consisted of a mother and father (both about 37 years old), and 3 kids, ages 17, 16, and 5. However, once they discovered that my language ability was so low, I think they gave up trying to communicate with me, and therefore, I spent most of the meals eating silently. As both parents were working full-time, meals were simple and hastily put together, and left much to be desired. But again, what did I know, as I thought this was the norm.

After talking about my situation to the school and other students, it was apparent that my homestay situation was not healthy, so I decided to switch, requesting a family who might exercise more patience with my child-like language ability.

The new family consists of an older couple and their divorced older sons, plus their kids. However, I live separately in a castle-like addition overlooking the city, mid-way up a mountain slope in the historic city center, and have complete independence. I only visit their house for meal times.

Celia, the mother of the family, is an incredible woman. She cooks gourmet vegetarian meals for me, sometimes involving 4 different courses. She meditates 2 hours per day, and we often discuss the meaning of life, the painful emptiness, and the futility of chasing after "things". Of course, I only comprehend about 40% of what she is saying, but she speaks slowly and clearly enough and is patient when I finally decide to attempt a response.

Also living in the main house is one of my better friends from the school, and we walk to school together every morning as if we were in gradeschool. So I am really glad that I had the courage to change families, and to act on what I felt was a bad situation. Here are more photos of my new, temporary home, shabby exterior and all.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

¡Bienvenido a Guanajuato!

I am here in Guanajuato, Mexico, for the purpose of studying Spanish for one month. I have successfully survived a week of using my brain for something actually beneficial to my well-being. But I am dismayed at the language learning process. When I first arrived, I was actually quite impressed (as were others) with my Spanish-speaking ability, as I somehow managed to keep up with questions and answers with my Mexican homestay family. Ironically, after a week of schooling and exposure to native speakers, my ability to communicate has dropped severely. I think there are many psychological factors. Now I am second-guessing myself all the time, and have to pre-screen every word that comes out of my mouth to make sure it makes some sort of sense. But this over-processing is actually quite detrimental to free-flowing, correct conversations. I find myself making mistakes that I would never make otherwise, such as telling people in Spanish: "I am here to study English." There is an endless list of embarassing mistakes I have made thus far, so the pressure to speak correctly adds to the mistakes, and on and on it goes.

I have attached some pictures of this lovely city for your enjoyment. It is meant for walking and exploring, but not so much for driving. Most of the traffic is diverted under the city in a series of tunnels that were once used to handle rivers of access water that would drain into the valley that the city occupies. All of the pictures were taken from my living quarters here in Guanajuato. I have had two different locations because I had to switch homestay families, but I will write more about that in another post. !Fue muy traumatico!

Seoul crushing....

Welcome to my blog!!! Actually, I do not anticipate that I will be posting for very long, so please enjoy it while it is here. Thanks for checking it out!

Although many of you already know, some of you do not. My plan to teach English in South Korea did not work out as anticipated. It is a long, lovely story, but in short, Korea just was not my thing. Many have asked: "Why did you give it only 4 days!?" The sad truth: I really missed the great meals served on the 14 hour flight, so I just had to return. Being back in Madison for 3 months was a good experience, and I got to witness the change in seasons, but I still had the itch to travel, since spending 4 days in Korea (3 of which were in the air), did not quite satisfy it. However, I will maintain my Korean references as seen on my profile page, just as a reminder to me that life rarely goes according to a mind-made plan.