Austin? Boulder? Portland?

If you want a San Francisco vibe (stereotyped: organic food, good coffee, hippie-culture, good music and chill communities) without the baggage of one of the most insane rents in the world, three American cities typically come to mind: Austin, Boulder, and Portland.

Having spent significant time visiting San Francisco and lived in Austin for the past two years, I can confidently say that Austin gives SF a good run for the money (except the year round 70 degree weather which is hard to replicate honestly). Most Austinites will agree, along with the 150 new people who move into Austin every single day.

I have always been curious though – what about the other two? Portland? Boulder? I have heard great things about them both. Portland still remains a mystery until I get to visit, but I finally got to experience Boulder first-hand this past weekend. The verdict? If you want a “perfect” life surrounded by the most gorgeous hiking trails, then yes. Otherwise, Boulder is nowhere close to Austin in terms of a good balance in all areas of the scale.

Here are a couple of reasons why Boulder < Austin, in my humble opinion…

One. Boulder has one of the most homogeneous communities I have ever seen. Ok, put in another way, everyone is white. The lack of diversity in today’s world made Boulder feel like an extremely foreign place. In contrast, both due to Austin’s proximity to the border and the ability to attract internationals, one will find a wider spectrum of diversity in Austin that is represented through food, culture, and people!

Two. Boulder is too perfect. Everything is nice, neatly laid out and generally perfect. That’s the issue – it is too perfect! It felt like a Hollywood set, artificial to a certain degree. If you live in Austin you will under this reference – Boulder represents just Terrytown, period. In contrast, there are parts of Austin which are slightly less-than-perfect, but along with that comes character and “grunginess” that allows one to feel a lot more relaxed, even if you’re wearing pajamas to your favorite grungy dive bar.

I could come up with another ton of reasons why Austin > Boulder, but I also wanted to give Boulder some credit for some pretty amazing things!

UC-Boulder: Yes, my thoughts exactly – why didn’t I go to school here!!!? 

This view, a 30min drive away.

Legal dispensaries: #4/20win

General craft beer, valet bike parking and other #hippiethings

What do you think?

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A tribute to an inspiration

My last post about the freemasonry of the Central Asian road was largely inspired by a gentleman by the name of Taylor. I met Taylor 4 years ago in Singapore. At that time, he had just arrived from Rome. Yes it sounds pretty normal, except he did not arrive by plane. It took him 2 years, overland, through one heck of a hitchhiking journey (except for one leg across Afghanistan where he had to fly due to extreme safety concerns). He had hitchhiked cars, trucks, ice-cream vans, animals, basically anything that moved. When he told me he had done this from Rome to Singapore, I remarked “you are one crazy dude.”

We met at a local CS gathering, and of course he had plenty of stories to share. The most surprising thing I recall him telling me was that he had hitchhiked from the Botanical Gardens to Little India (2 locations in Singapore), and I did not believe him. I said that people in Singapore are too busy and careful to allow random hitchhikers on board their cars. He proved me wrong. Before we bid farewell that evening, Taylor issued me a challenge – “Baby steps my friend, begin by trying to stick your thumb out and hitchhike in your own country!”

The following day I tried to do that outside my apartment, to no avail. I was disappointed, but I guess it was a tiny victory as sticking that thumb out felt a lot more difficult and awkward than I thought it would be…

… 4 years on, I have since hitchhiked in Singapore, Myanmar, Indonesia and most recently Kyrgyzstan.

Today I received a note from a friend, telling me that Taylor had passed away last year. While travelling back home to Canada, he was hit by a truck in Africa. 6 years of his hitchhiking vagabondage across the world came to an abrupt end.

What exactly did we talk about that one random night in May of 2011? I honestly don’t remember much. However, I do recall how he inspired me to do something as simple as sticking my thumb out, and to let the road carry me home.

Through my travels, random encounters such as the one I had with Taylor inspired me in a small way, but grew to have such a large impact of my outlook in life. RIP Taylor!

To Taylor!

To Taylor!

Here’s his letter from 2012 and his couchsurfing profile.

The freemasonry of the Central Asian road

“That is the freemasonry of the road, which obtains all over Central Asia, and to my mind, it is a very sound principle to go upon. It amounts to this: that you look upon every man as your friend, until he proves to be your enemy; whereas, the outcome of our much-vaunted civilisation in Europe is, that you look with suspicion upon every man you meet, until you have proved him to be your friend. There is an almost childlike trust and utter absence of suspicion displayed by these people, which is very refreshing after the stilted conventionalities and etiquette of Western Europe.” – Unknown author.

It was getting late in the day, and after getting quoted ridiculous prices by the taxis, we headed over to the Aftavazal to look for Makshrutka options from Osh back to Batken. One Mahstrutka driver was clearly not going to Batken town, but agreed to take us anyway. “I will drive you the rest of the distance from the final stop to Batken, don’t worry,” he said. For an extra 100som each, we happily agreed.

Except, things sometimes do not turn out as you have agreed. At the final stop about three hours away, he tell us that he has decided not to take us any further. He points us to another Mahstrutka going to Batken, but cautions us that we need an Uzbekistan visa because, of course, that route involves going through the Uzbek enclave towns. Why would we randomly have Uzbek visas? “ok good luck and good bye,” he mutters, and proceeds to walk away for his late lunch. We were about 100km away from Batken town, in the middle of nowhere, with little clue of what we could do.

Stuck in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in Central Asia.

Hitch-hike.

After a few unsuccessful flag-downs, one kind man picked us up in his rustic old Daewoo mini-van. “I am not going to Batken but I can take you a lot closer!” he remarked. So we hopped on, and after some time going at a top speed of about 50km/h (the van seriously sounded like it would fall apart any time), he drops us off at the sign that read “Batken 57”. Alright, 57km more for another kind soul to take us.

Riding in the Daewoo!

The second leg was a huge upgrade, when a Hyundai stopped for us. “I am going slightly further down on this road for about another 20km!” he said. We took it – every additional kilometre he will travel is an additional kilometre closer to our destination. We hopped on again and this ride went quick as it was a relatively modern car that actually managed to overtake other vehicles! 20km closer! Of course, he drops us off at his turn-off, and we were again in the middle of nowhere.

Kind soul no. 2

After many more rejections, a goods-delivery van stopped to take us on our final leg of the journey back to Batken. “We are going to Batken, hop on!” the driver shouted cheerfully. Oh thank you dear kindness of Central Asia! It was a van full of ladies and their wares from the weekly market in the town closest to Batken.

I am sitting next to all their goods at the back

We ride back to the Batken market and help them unload their supplies back to their respective stalls! Hitch-hike success! But of course, we were in Central Asia and a free ride back was never going to be just it. We were showered with more hospitality. The driver first proceeds to buy a bunch of snacks from the store, and then invites us back to his house to meet his family!

We drink tea, have snacks, watch Russian TV, and we comment that the preserved salad made by his wife was delicious. As we were about to leave, he hands me a full jar of the preserved salad. I profusely try to reject it but he says, “for health, you must take!” The hospitality of people in Central Asia just amazes me…

Very delicious jar of preserved vegetables

You receive a free ride from sticking your thumb out along the road in the middle of nowhere, get invited back to his home to dine with his whole family, and be given a parting gift of probably the one jar of preserved vegetables they have left in their household – the freemasonry of the road in Central Asia.