Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Disease

My smart phone broke in a bakery the other day, but instead of being upset about the situation, I sighed in relief. It’s funny, the timing worked so perfectly because I had spent the previous hour researching good cameras online. I vowed to get a flip phone back in the U.S. and just use a camera to document my travels. And then this happened - I can’t afford a new phone, a contract when I get back to the states, and I don’t want to feel connected all the time. I don’t want to be distracted when I am hanging out with my friends - scrolling through newsfeeds, instagrams, looking at mindless bullshit while hearing a conversation, not listening. I see it everywhere.

Aside from pulling a person away from the present, for me at least, it also creates this narcissistic desire to feel loved, liked, and to feel validation for what I’m doing. It’s shallow.

It’s because I’ve been raised this way. It’s engrained in my mind. Do well in school? Pat on the back. Do well in soccer? Parents and coaches love you. Team members want to be you. Desire for fame, perfection, and praise - all decadent. Why is it like this today?

Why do we want to be famous? Why do we want to be movie stars? Professional athletes? Headlined in the newspaper? Why? WHY, god damnit, Why?

I am guilty. I crave these desires. I want to feel loved. I want to be loved, but in the most shallow way. Before, it was beauty. I would look at magazines of the Victoria Secret girls and wish, hope that I could be beautiful like them, then maybe a would find the right guy for me. I grew up in Orange County, a place where beauty is above all. I didn’t have boyfriends in high school - I barely had any friends. All of the boys would turn their attention to my childhood best friend, and I always felt like an outsider, jealous.

My best friend, Gena, taught me to love myself, to feel ok in my body, to embrace each day, and to stop dwelling on wanting something else. I thought I was in the clear. I felt good. I went to college, worked part-time, exercised regularly and ate healthy. I was happy with my life and my decisions. At one point I thought to myself, life can be pretty damn easy.

A few years have passed since this epiphany and now I’m struggling to find how life is really that easy all the time, how it was that easy. Media, social media, social pressures - it is even more abundant today than it was 5 years ago when I was drooling over magazines.

And just as present in the climbing community. Instead of wanting to look like someone else, I fantasize about climbing just as hard or harder than people I know. I wonder what a life in those peoples shoes would like. Everyday, facebook and instagram yield thousands of cliche posts with pictures of people climbing about ‘living the dream,’ ‘follow your passion,’ ‘live for yourself.’ Like everyday is some grand epiphany! And people eat it out of the palm of your hand. 200 Likes, 30 comments of how much of a badass you are.

But really, it’s not that glamorous. I am upset because I am a part of it - I have been a part of it. I am, too, another dirtbag in an alternative lifestyle. We want to be so unique, so different. Like living in my van and traveling across the West is so unique...It’s so not.

And when things aren’t perfect in my life, I question what I’m doing wrong. Why do people like that person so much? There’s nothing special about them. Why is this person getting a sponsorship? They don’t even climb hard. Why can’t I get sponsored?

Climbing has impacted my life in so many positive ways, especially with the incredible people I have met, but it has also made me sick. I am green with jealousy and envy. I want to do these things, to prove to others and myself I can to do them, to gain notoriety, to feel accepted into a community, to feel loved.

It’s so shallow. I’ve been fooling myself for the past two years, but not anymore.

This thing, media - it’s a disease. It’s not going away. With each day, we are becoming more and more connected. With a smartphone, you get service almost anywhere, and you get facebook messages on long routes in the Sierra or in Yosemite.

I don’t want to live like this. I don’t want to be envious of my friends - I want to support them. I don’t want to wish I was someone else - I want to be me. I want to take a stand for myself, and stop wanting something else. I want to free climb the Salathe Wall because it looks fucking rad, not because it will be a ‘badass’ tick. I want to climb big walls because they’re inspiring, beautiful, and in remote locations, not because I think people will be impressed. Deep down, I know this, but sometimes my mind is so clouded with sensory overload that my motives become an illusion to how I feel - jealous and envious.


***

This is a stream of conscious I wrote the other day after I decided that buying a camera was worth it if I didn’t want a smartphone anymore. I write because I love writing, I always have. And using this blog is a share to share how I feel with the world and I know sometimes people will relate and other times, not. That’s ok. And please don’t feel like this writing is any attack on your life or lifestyle. I have just found that social media has been more of a burden on me than anything else. Thank you!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Taking It All In

I gaze intently at Half Dome and beyond. Large, granite peaks and domes fill my view in the distance. It’s a clear day and I am on the Valley rim staring at my home. This is my home, my sanctuary. Yosemite is the first place that has ever truly felt like my home. I love biking down the beat trail to the Cathedrals, gawking at Sentinel along the way. I love hiking aimlessly in the dark through the forest and stumbling upon the spot I will sleep in. I love hiking the trail off of Half Dome.  I love sleeping on top of Watkins. I love sleeping on top of Middle Cathedral. I’ll admit it, I am fond of shiver bivying on top of formations in Yosemite, cuddling up next to my partner after an exhausting day on the vertical frontier. 



I feel so alive in Yosemite, so small and so big at the same time. I love putting in a long day and I love the feeling when my body is worked and tired, and I have the excuse to eat a half gallon of ice cream. I love sitting in El Cap meadow with a box of wine in one hand and the big walls guidebook in the other, gazing at the routes I fantasize about freeing. It’s simple. It’s rewarding and it’s real. Yosemite is a magical place filled with passionate people and the most inspiring landscape I have laid my eyes on. Like the goosebumps you get from a powerful song or message, I get this feeling being here, just being.

But I am not there. The Half Dome I am gazing at is on my computer screen. Day dreaming and job searching fill my free time because my landscape has become a concrete arena with narrow, crowded alleys, scooters whipping by, and street vendors yelling in Chinese.

Ah, my view from home.



 Before I left California, I spent my final day soloing the West Ridge of Conness. We saw two other people on our hike, but that was it. There were granite domes as far as the eyes could see. With cold feet, I was questioning why the hell I was leaving the place I loved most to go to Taiwan. 



“I just don’t know, I don’t why we’re leaving here. I don’t want to leave.” I sighed, resting my head on Jim’s shoulder. We were watching another incredible sunset in Tuolumne, sitting in the meadow in front of the store.

“Alix, Yosemite isn’t going anywhere, and we’ll be back in no time.” Jim assured me. 

“I guess you’re right. If we don’t leave now, we may never want to leave.”

I had the same conversation with many other people that month. Why? Why? WHY?


***

To be honest, I never had any intention of going to Taiwan in my lifetime. China? Yes. Taiwan? No. I didn’t really know anything about it, but one day in August, someone posted on facebook offering their position as an English teacher with good pay and a free flight. 

My mind was turning. Well, I’m just futzing around the Sierra with no money to go dirtbag anywhere else, maybe I should try this out for a few months. Learn about another culture, make money, and then go travel for a while. 



I did some research and found that there was a climbing destination and it even had a guidebook filled with pretty pictures and detailed descriptions. And to my surprise, a friend in Bishop, Matt Robertson, wrote the guidebook and had lived there for 10 years. I took that as a sign. Maybe this could be fun and it will certainly be interesting.

One evening at the Zoo, I bought flights to Taiwan. We had no plan, no work lined up, and barely enough cash to stay afloat while job hunting, but we did have a willingness to dive into the unknown and get uncomfortable.

“Worst case scenario, we travel Taiwan for a month and come back dead broke.” Jim commented, sitting on the couch next to me as I clicked the purchase button. “Best case scenario, we get jobs fast and fall in love with the place.” 




“I guess there’s really no reason not to go then.” The purchase confirmation button popped up. I sighed, “Here goes nothing!” In the click of a button, we had two one-way non-refundable tickets to Taipei.

Before we left, we encountered our first issue in the airport.  


We were packed and ready. 

“Return flight? Why do we need that?” I had that itch in my voice.

“Ma'am, you cannot enter Taiwan without an exit flight. I’m sorry, but you have to purchase a return flight.”

After we begrudgingly bought our flights to China, I called Daniel to tell him about our first ‘incident.’ He told me one very solid piece of advice, “Don’t go to Asia with any expectations and just take it all in.”
 

*** 

 Taipei and New Taipei City (where I live) together have a population of 6.7 million people, and nothing is really that far away from each other. Thirteen kilometers is “far” in a city, but objectively, it’s not far at all. In Bishop, that’s less than a 10 minute drive.  To compare, Bishop is home to 4,000 people with two major streets. The contrast in life between Taipei and Bishop is monumental.  



I live on the 7th floor of a 14-story apartment building with a nice view of more housing complexes. There is rectangular foyer as you pass the security gate with pools of water and sitting areas. A street cat with two different color eyes and striped orange fur, rolls around on his back every day as I walk by. I stop to pet him, but he just claws at me. One day, I will win him over. This is the yard of the apartment building, and it’s charming. But that’s it.

 As I step into our apartment, we have to take our shoes off. The living room has three tables filled with our roommates sewing stuff as she is a fashion designer, a big flat screen T.V., and no couch to sit on which makes the area feel more like a sweat shop rather than a cozy home. My room has a bed, a desk, and two dressers. The walls are white and bare, and they will stay this way because I’m not allowed to paint the room. I did get to make one house improvement and that was my addition of “Salathe Free,” my new hang board. This sits right over my doorway with a photo of El Capitan on one wall and a photo of Cerro Paine in Patagonia on the other. The kitchen is small, but comfortable, and in Taiwan, there are no ovens - just woks, fried food, and the Taiwan tummy roll. 


Just hanging out on the "Salathe Free"
 “Alix, I’m not qualified for anything. I’m just wasting away in the city and playing too many video games.” Jim walked into the living room with a frazzled look on his face, fingers running through his thick, curly hair. “I want to go home.”

“Jim, we haven’t been here long. I don’t think we can make these judgements so soon. It’s a rough start.” I hated hearing him say this. I feel the same way and I often glance through photos of Yosemite and tear up. I wanted to feel hopeful, I still am hopeful, but both of us yearn for something so different from this. 




Jim grew up in the wilderness and a running joke is that he rappelled out of his mother’s vagina (Sorry Mary). He spent his days scrambling peaks in the Trinity wilderness and biking through rolling track hills. One time -Jim was in 5th grade-, in March as things were starting to thaw and snow was turning into frost, he left home after reading The Hatchet to embark on his journey to the snowy mountains. He had a bow, a hatchet, and a couple of matches. His friend and him managed to survive the night and he was found cold and shivering the next day. If there is any story to portray his sense of adventure and personality, this was it. Jim is a man of the mountains, but somehow he ended up on a tropical, humid island.

***

Enjoying some beautiful, hot sandstone in Golden Valley
 The Golden Valley in Long Dong is enclosed on three sides and it overlooks the ocean. The rock is red with yellow and orange varnish, and salt crystals form beautiful intricate patterns that can be used for feet or handholds. The most striking feature in this area is a steep, left leaning arete that requires both dynamic, powerful movements as well as precise technical footwork, The Real Legend (13a). It’s considered the most prized sport climb by many in Taiwan, so it was fitting we decided to project this route.

“They keep saying it’s going to get cold, but I don’t think winter ever comes.” Jim greased off a hold and was being lowered to the ground. Beads of sweat were dripping off of his nose and face. “I mean… come on, it’s a fucking sauna here and it’s October!”


 

“Yeah, I think we’ve had one day of good conditions since we’ve been here. It’s either raining or a furnace…” I could feel his discontent, I felt it too. It’s like you perpetually get blue-balled with the hopes of climbing amazing rock in a perfect setting, but then, the forces of nature taunt you with extreme humidity and heat, so extreme for me that I considered buying bigger shoes because my feet couldn’t fit into my comfy shoes, OR it’s humid and rainy, where the water and chalk form together into a foamy paste that makes your hands slime off every hold.

 

“Maybe we’re just soft. Everyone around us is climbing at their limit.” I sighed, taking him off belay. It seemed like a losing battle. I was so used to 10+ pitches a day at home with good weather and rock I could read, but here, I had a hard time onsighting, a hard time figuring out movements, and a hard time with the heat. 



“I miss winter. I wanna go home.” Jim was frustrated and it was increasingly obvious that he needed to leave.

Room with a view, our bivy in Second Cave

 ***

 After a lot of deliberation, we both agreed that being in Taiwan was not in his cards. It just made sense, especially since he doesn’t have a college degree, to go back home; no point in trying to save money here if you’re not qualified to work.

And for me, well, only time will tell. Despite these adversities in the city, I am finding more solace with each day passing. I find beauty in the dense, crowded streets during all the hours of the day. People are alive and invigorated. They are enjoying the bustle of their market stands, a cigarette break with friends, a gathering in the park to play ancient Chinese music. They are happy.

The loveliest children around!


I am finding joy when my students surprise me with their creativity, when the little vegan diner allows me to order food even though they closed ten minutes before, when the lady in the local bread shop notices my pack and asks if I climb mountains, when an old man has his son translate that I am beautiful, and when I zoom off on the bicycle and pretend like I’m on a scooter whizzing past others in traffic. I find solace when I’m greeted with warm smiles at the bus station where new friendships have blossomed out of our love for climbing. I find solace in the fact that everything is temporary and I choose to live this life every day. I am not forced. 




I would be lying if I said I was ready to tackle Asia alone without my best friend flanking me. I’m scared. I’m really scared. But I know that this is the way it has to be and that it is temporary. I’m excited to continue to feel uncomfortable, to make crazy gestures in hopes that someone will understand what I’m trying to say, to laugh when things go wrong, to grease off holds 50 times, but stick it the 51st time. I’m excited to put myself out there and meet new people. And hot damn, I’m excited to go to China to climb sandstone splitters. 



But most importantly, I’m excited to really focus on my well-being again, to learn to love myself all over, and to be happy with my life because I choose it. I’m just going to take it all in, one step at a time.
New friends at LD. Peter (to the left of Jim) was perpetually stoked!