The Beauty of Uncertainty & Chaos

The Beauty of Uncertainty & Chaos

What first attracted me to physics was how nice and predictable it was.  You could use the kinematics equations to predict exactly where a ball would roll off the table, and as long as you chose a dense enough ball for air resistance to be negligible, Ta-da!  The ball fell in the cup.  Once you understood the language of mathematics, could turn words into numbers, you could predict how nature would behave.  For an ambitious student who loved to plan, whose life vision was a constant refinement of a decision made at the age of 5 (teacher->physics teacher->physics professor), I found tremendous comfort in the predictability and order of the universe. The last day of my freshmen physics class, this simple worldview was blown out of the water by a day long teaser discussion on special relativity.  Sure, my teacher debunked the twin paradox (where you could send a twin on a super sonic spaceship and he’d return to earth younger than his land-loving counterpart) as an incomplete analysis of the situation, and thus not a paradox.  But still, the day left me full of questions and a little bit angry, “How could quantities as fundamental as space and time be measured differently for different observers?  How can the perceived storage of energy depend on your reference frame?  How can basically everything be relative except for the speed of light?!?!” Well that led me down the worm hole, so to speak, and reading about special relativity inevitably morphed into learning about quantum mechanics which turned out to be even more frustrating.  Supposedly, you couldn’t even determine the most basic properties of a subatomic particle and the process of making the measurement affected the outcome.  If you tried to make a confident measurement of position of a particle, you’d lose information about its speed and moment.  Even more frustrating, our measurement abilities couldn’t be attributed faulty apparatus, it was an intrinsic property of these tiny particles.  Instead of absolute outcomes, the best you could do was speak in probabilities, probabilities that are affected by initial conditions, nearby particles and the actions of the observer.  For someone who loved knowing things, predicting things, planning things, quantum mechanics was deeply upsetting.  A “shut up and calculate” approach got me through my college courses but anytime I slowed down to think about things, the idea that the universe wasn’t innately knowledgeable disturbed me. It disturbed me until I realized that it corresponded with reality much more accurately than a predictable Newtonian universe.  Despite all my planning and micro-managing my life aspirations, the vision rarely corresponds to reality.  The universe isn’t always a logical progression of cause and effect.  Life is random, and a lot of the time, the best you can do is predict that one outcome is more likely than another, based on certain initial conditions.  You can adjust your behavior to maximize the chances of achieving something, but life can always interfere.  Certainly, trying to predict the behaviors of other people is nearly impossible, and if they know you’re observing them, that will almost certainly impact their actions. The real revelation wasn’t realizing that a quantum mechanical view of the universe made intuitive sense but it was recognizing the beauty in unpredictability.  This took much longer, probably not until I started traveling longer-term, when I dealt with uncertainty and chaos on a daily basis, when a lot of my expectations for my life were turned upside down and replaced by new dreams. “Perfectionism is merely an endless treadmill of self-destruction that’ll only build momentum until you’re running at unsustainable speeds.  Rather than remaining a slave to the illusions you perceive as safe, step off the treadmill and live as the piece of art you are: messy, colorful, fluid, adaptable to change, mistakes, shifts, surprises, pain and of course immeasurable moments of beauty. It is there, outside the enclosed walls of perfect self-imprisonment that you shall touch the meaning of freedom” -Victoria Erickson Life was so much more fun when I embraced opportunities as they arose, took advantage of serendipitous encounters and spent time enjoying life instead of waiting to control it. “Our anxiety doesn’t come from thinking about the future but from wanting to control it” -Kahlil Gibran Rarely were the highlights of my trips hitting the tourist attractions that were on the itinerary I designed for myself.  Instead, it was accepting a daughter’s invitation to learn to make dumplings from the Chinese lady who barely spoke English on the Singapore subway.  It was hopping on the back of “Rasta Roberto”‘s motorcycle in El Salvador and enjoying metaphysical musings as he shared his piece of paradise.  It was spending two weeks sailing with a guy who I...

Find Happiness in a New City: 3 Secrets

Find Happiness in a New City: 3 Secrets

After a month and a half of “real life” in Auckland, New Zealand, I’m finally starting to feel settled and find my groove but it wasn’t not easy.  I’ve met others who have been for years and still doesn’t feel completely adjusted.  Whether you’ve moved to a new country or just relocated to a distant new city, you’re never going to have as much history as in your hometown.  And it’s always hard to be away from friends and family, especially if they still reunite regularly. When I first got here, I struggled, which might have been obvious when I wrote this post.  A couple weeks ago, I started to appreciate New Zealand more and, thanks to a change in attitude, I’ve continued to embrace this place.  Although I’m by no means an expert, here’s three secrets that have helped me find happiness in a new city, with specific suggestions for ex-pats in Auckland, New Zealand.  Well, maybe they aren’t secrets, but sometimes simple suggestions can be effective! 1) View Each Day As An Adventure When you are living in a new city, it’s the best of both worlds… the adventure of traveling and the financial stability of working… unfortunately, a lot of people get wrapped up into new jobs, new responsibilities and new habits that they forget to take advantage of the fun parts of being in a new habitat.  Or they think they have time to explore so they postpone doing it.  I recently read an article from CNN  18 things we love on vacation but hate back home that playfully exemplifies how different people react differently on vacation than at home. “When we travel, we become children again — every experience is box-fresh with a new-car smell. Public transportation? A magic train ride to awesome. Grocery stores? An Aladdin’s cave of unfamiliar vegetables and hilarious brand names.   Back home, we have our security filters on high alert. That friendly stranger must be a lecher, lunatic or bore. A carnival parade is a sequined traffic disruption and street performers are bell-ringing pariahs. But on vacation, we let ourselves be open. We’ll taste that testicle souffle, we’ll sample that snake-venom liqueur. And when our stomachs rebel later that night, we’ll still be glad we tried.” When things go wrong traveling, you’re more likely to view it as part of the adventure, and laugh off bad experiences as a good story to tell back home.  When you run into similar situations in “real life”, it can ruin your whole day (for example, the spontaneous parade that delay your trip to the beach or the random person talking to you on the metro, ruining your nap).  Things aren’t always going to go smoothly when you’re in a place with different cultural norms, values and tradition.  You can often respond by laughing or crying.  Although crying can be tempting when you’re stressed and struggling to adjust, adopt the traveler’s reaction, giggle then share your “crazy story” with your friends back home. This weekend, 9 of my physics co-workers and I decided to hike one of Auckland’s most beautiful tracks, the 10.3 km Te Henga walkway.  The forecast looked beautiful, the sky looked beautiful when we left Auckland but as soon as we got far enough into the trek not to turn back, it started raining hard.  Before we knew it, all of us were drenched and spent the next couple hours slip, sliding through the mud.  Some of the people who lived in Auckland to anticipate finicky weather were prepared, and the Italian even bust out an umbrella, but I got soaked to the skin.  But, we all had a good laugh, and it brought back memories of mud sliding through Sapa, Vietnam. My French friend took this lesson a step further.  He was tired of getting blasted by the wind and soaked by the rain during his bicycle commute to work so he decided to use the wind to his advantage.  Now wind surfing is his new favorite hobby and it makes him appreciate less-than-ideal weather. In addition to adapting a traveler’s attitude toward mishaps, go exploring!  Immerse yourself in the new culture, recreation like the locals do, try the regional cuisine.  The Internet is great for creating “little bucket lists” to consult when you’ve got a free weekend and nothing to do.  Instead of being depressed about your lack of immediate best friends, maybe you’ll meet one if you do something from 16 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do In Auckland, The Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List or 50 Things You Should Have Done if You Live in Auckland. 2) Adapt to Your New Surroundings If you’re going to settle in to a new city, you’re going to have...

Dangers of Solo Travel But Why It’s Worth It

Dangers of Solo Travel But Why It’s Worth It

Warning: This Post is… Intense Yesterday, I shared on Facebook Leah McLennan’s article “Why I’ll never stop traveling solo” which was written in response to the rape and murder of two Argentine female travelers in Ecuador earlier this month.  I didn’t follow the actual incident closely at the time because I stay away from depressing news but basically  Maria Coni, 22, and Marina Menegazzo, 21, did something many travelers do. When running low on money in Ecuador, they reached out to their friends for help with accommodation and were put in touch with two men who offered them a place for the night. When one woman resisted the advances of a drunk host, he hit her over the head and she was instantly killed.  The next morning, both women were found dead in garbage bags on a beach. Apparently, this event caused the Internet to erupt in discussions about solo female travel (even though these girls were traveling together) and caused many people to conclude that these women were to blame for traveling alone, or their parents were to blame for letting them travel alone, or other ridiculous accusations placed in all the wrong places.  Of course, this caused female travelers to respond speaking out against violence against women and victim blaming, with the use of #viajosola (I travel alone) hashtag trending on Twitter and a poem written by Guadalope Acosta from the perspective of the victims, (translated from Spanish) “Yesterday I was killed… But worse than death, was the humiliation that followed. From the moment they found my inert dead body nobody asked where the son of a bitch that ended my dreams, my hopes and my life was.  No, instead they started asking me useless questions… What clothes were you wearing? Why were you alone? Why would a woman travel alone?  They questioned my parents for giving me wings, for letting me be independent, like any human being. They told them we were surely on drugs and were asking for it, that we must’ve done something, that they should have looked after us… By doing what I wanted to do, I got what I deserved for not being submissive, not wanting to stay at home, for investing my own money in my dreams. For that and more, I was sentenced”.  As someone who has traveling extensively alone in dangerous countries, couchsurfed and spent time alone with probably hundreds of “strangers”, it’s pretty heart wrenching to read something like this because it could have easily happened to me, if God and my family’s rosaries weren’t keeping me safe.  Obviously, what’s even worse than thinking that I could be dead is thinking that if it did happen to me, people would blame me for being stupid or my parents for being irresponsible. Why I’ll never stop traveling solo Leah McLennan, the Australian solo traveler whose article alerted me to all this, came to a few relevant conclusions in her article, “Why I’ll never stop traveling solo” but I want to add my two cents and take it one step further.  She writes that she’s been in a few sketchy situations before but fortunately, “Fortunately, I can easily recount these travel stories as none of them turned into an assault.”  She concludes that the good experiences outweigh the bad and “Ultimately, there’s no one secret to staying safe while travelling, it’s a process of being wise, planning ahead, conducting thorough research and keenly listening to your instincts. While random and shocking, the murder of the two Argentine backpackers should not hold us back from living life to the fullest and exploring whichever part of the globe we choose.” She also announces, “I have decided I will not let these negative experiences keep me at home. Besides, violence against women is present in every country in the world, including here in Australia.” I agree with all this but want to come clean about what happened to me in Kenya because, while this is true, I believe there’s even more to it. My experiences traveling alone “By leaving our safety net, we have thrown our souls upon the wind, exposing ourselves to all the fears and dangers that we sought to protect each other from, and in doing so, we have made ourselves available to experience things that… border on the magical” -Wanderlust, Elisabeth Eaves Part of the scariest, but also most magical, part of really traveling is how vulnerable it makes you.  You’re in a foreign country by yourself, potentially surrounded by unfamiliar languages, different customs, different values and if you’re a blond and blue eyed, there’s practically a neon sign floating distinguishing you as a foreigner, someone who doesn’t belong.  Whether you want to find a place to eat that won’t give you food poisoning,...

Ex-Pat in New Zealand: Appreciating This Quirky Country

Ex-Pat in New Zealand: Appreciating This Quirky Country

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable.  It is designed to make its own people comfortable” -Clifton Fadmiman It seemed that my last post made people conclude that I’d be happier with ex-pat life here if New Zealand had more issues.  Not exactly, I don’t wish more pain and suffering on this world and that’s not what I was trying to say. But I followed their advice anyway, started reading books and asking around even though I was skeptical. Weirdly, it was a productive exercise. I came here with high expectations, because everyone loves New Zealand, and that usually sets the stage for disappointment. Also, when you know you’re going to a developing country, you’re prepared for discomfort, chaos and that’s part of that fun.  Coming to New Zealand, you don’t expect it to be much different than America and at first glance, it isn’t.  For example, I asked one of my American friends who moved here three years ago what was hard for her to adjust to. She laughed, “there’s no culture shock. Well, maybe the ketchup. It’s sweet and tastes weird here.”  Because it didn’t seem different, my first conclusion was that New Zealand was a lame, lazy version of America (a very arrogant American thing to conclude).  This is a different country and does NOT want to be like America.  I needed to rid myself of this ridiculous notion before I could start appreciating what makes this place special.  It’s easy to do when you travel to a country that looks visibly different, but it’s much harder in a country that seems so similar. So on the surface, New Zealand appears like any mostly white, developed country but, while not so obvious upfront, it has a whole different set of values and priorities.  It felt so familiar that I thought I’d have nothing to learn by being here and I’d get frustrated when things didn’t work the way I expected them to.  But the differences run way deeper than just a funny accent.  Compared to Europe, America’s idea of “history” is almost laughable, but New Zealand is one of the last places on the planet to be settled by humans. Similarly, New Zealand is a rural, island nation at the bottom of the world so you can’t expect people to be as worldly as those in countries that can drive to another nation. Unlike competitive countries, New Zealand prioritizes quality of life over being the “best” at anything and seems quite content flying under the radar. For example, I think recently New Zealand signed a free trade agreement with the US, Canada, Mexico, parts of South America, Southeast Asia and Australia but it a lot of people were against it because they want to maintain a less capitalistic, competitive nation where maximizing money isn’t the first priority.  Honestly, at times, money doesn’t seem to be a main motivator at all.  According to the ladies at the science craft lunch session today, it’s a place you go to a rural craft shop (in someone’s house) to buy some wool, and its “in the sticks” and the internet doesn’t work so she gives you the wool and tells you she’ll send her bank information so you can pay her later.  Then you have to aggressively remind her to give you bank information so you can pay her. Anyway, since identifying some of the problems here helped me realign my expectations for this country (and made me appreciate how quirky this place is), I’ll share a few then discuss how I’m growing to appreciate Kiwi living. Gangs.  Prior to my arrival here, I was talking to someone about choosing between Auckland and Johannesburg.  They replied with fear in their eyes, “Auckland?  Have you heard about the gangs?!?!”.  I almost laughed because how could anything in sheep country be more dangerous than infamous Joburg?  I never figured out what movie alerted them to the issue but when traveling the country in November for my interview, I did see one computer printed sign taped on the door of a sketchy looking Wellington bar; “Those displaying gang colors and insignias will be denied entry”.  Once again, it seemed almost laughable to see the suburban surroundings.  After finally joining the local library, the first book I checked out was Patched: A History of Gangs in New Zealand.  Yes, the book contains tales of group rape, murder and other debauchery but it still seemed like the gangs here seem to be more bark than bite.  While the book Gangs by Ross Kemp claims New Zealand has more gangs per head than any other country in the world (seventy major gangs and over 4,000 patched member in a population of 4 million people), gangs vary...

Tales of a Nomad “Settling” in Auckland

Tales of a Nomad “Settling” in Auckland

I’m about three and a half weeks into my “new life” as a Professional Teaching Fellow in Auckland, New Zealand.  And I’ve been meaning to write something about it, something about this place, something about living life the way most people exist, something about unpacking suitcases and a building routine.  But I didn’t have anything unique to write about the place, but more importantly, I don’t think it’s hit me that I’m here,  and going to generally be here for 49 weeks (not that I’m counting…).  So I decided to write about this weird “in limbo” mental state, where I’m still meeting dozens of new people, still entering people in my phone “first name+city” (so now I’ve got dozens of people last name Auckland), still tagging Instagram photos of my new city as #travel, and still keeping my backpack by my pillow, half packed.  #InDenial.  The wanderer might not be wandering right now, but my nomadic tendencies are still strong. In thinking about what to write here, I was flipping through “How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors” Edited by Dan Crowe, where contemporary authors send in photos and descriptions of meaningful objects in their workspaces that help them battle writer’s block. Everything from their belly button lint collection to special pens to photographs to quotes from authors that inspire them.  One passage, written by Turkish author whose lived all over the place, struck a cord and contributed some insight why I’ve been fighting myself over settling here. “A bird can use its wings either to reach home or to run away from it,” says my grandmother, knowing too well which of these I have opted for all these years.  And she adds in haste, “Even birds take a breather to build a nest.  No rest, no nest”.  A nomad is not an immigrant.  While the latter is future oriented and aspires to settle down once and for all, the nomad lives a perpetual present with few possessions.  To live the life of a nomad means to be able to make new friendships, meet new challenges, but most of all, to let go- of your possessions, of your old self.  A sorrowful enrichment attends the soul along this quest… Just like every nomad, deep inside I harbor a fear of orderliness and pure tranquility- both of which remind me of nothing but death” -Elif Shafak, A Purple Pen  Unlike a friend who walks into an hotel room and two seconds later, his clothes are neatly folded on the shelf, shampoo is in the shower and toothbrush by the sink, “settling in” doesn’t make me comfortable.  I’m the exact opposite… I leave everything in my suitcase so I could zip it up and be on my way to somewhere else in two seconds flat.  Changing, evolving, growing, moving and teetering on the edge of my comfort zone is where I feel happiest. Repetition, routines and commitment is what terrifies me and makes me feel trapped.  Like the author quoted above, I associate orderliness and tranquility with stagnation, complacency and sluggishness.  And now, I’m in one of the most perfect places in the world where one third of the population owns a boat, the biggest issue is whether to make the flag look less Australia and a tenant who drops the f*bomb when his landlord lets out his dog makes front page news.  New Zealand is a gorgeous, laid back and lovely… the perfect place to raise a family and let the kids run wild, camping, beaching and “tramping”. But for someone who has seen the world, who knows that happiness is just a small part of the spectrum of human emotion, it’s hard to find this place satisfying.  The fact that there’s nothing wrong with it disturbs me.  You need heartbreak to inspire great art and music, you need conflict in order for inspiring public figures, you need controversy to write important books.    Struggle, conflict and challenge lead to growth and development.  Living in New Zealand is like living in Disney World (maybe except for the Maori people) and I find it hard to connect to, because it doesn’t feel real.  I keep wandering around, looking for a soul, a spirit, an imperfection in this city to make it more relatable…. I still feeling like I’m traveling, even though I’m supposed to be creating a life.  It’s easy for me to be fully present in a fleeting moment, but harder for me to feel alert and alive in familiar settings. “Travel can induce such a distinct and nameless feeling of strangeness and disconnection in me that I feel insubstantial, like a puff of smoke, merely a ghost, a creepy revenant from the underworld, unobserved and watchful among real people, wandering, listening while remaining unseen.”...