Sunday, December 30, 2012

Home Reading: 'Lost at Sea' by Jon Ronson

I've talked about my fascination with the lives and experiences of others. Its the premise of the podcast and is highlighted by the way I like to travel - "Ego-Tripping", the exchange of stories and CouchSurfing.

Jon Ronson is a British writer that is a inspiration of mine. The back of his latest book 'Lost at Sea' aptly describes him as being "fascinated by madness, strange behaviour and the human mind, and he has spent his life exploring mysterious events and meeting extraordinary people". A man after my own heart.
'Lost at Sea" The Jon Ronson Mysteries' by Jon Ronson
Jon Ronson on the power of the mind, spending time with NLP Co-founder Richard Bandler and TV Hypnotist Paul McKenna
Don't worry, get therapy by Jon Ronson (The Guardian. May 2006)
... The NLP training manual we delegates have been handed is a confusing mix of psychobabble and diagrams marked "submodalities" and "kinesthetics", etc. But from what I can gather, NLP is a way of "re-patterning" the human brain to turn us into super-beings - confident, non-phobic, thin super-beings who could sell coals to Newcastle and know what people are thinking just by their eye movements. It is the theory that we are computers and can be reprogrammed as easily as computers can. You were abused as a child? Forget therapy: just turn off the bit of the brain that remembers the abuse. You want to become a great salesperson? NLP will reprogram you. Our winks, our ticks, our seemingly insignificant choice of words - they all make up a map of our innermost desires and doubts: read the customer and make the sale.
Jon Ronson on Hyperreality, spending time with Real life Superheroes
It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's...Some Dude?! by Jon Ronson (GQ. August 2011)
... It's the next afternoon. There's a comic convention in town, at the Washington State Convention Center in the business district. There are something like 30,000 people here, families and costumed comic fans, packing the modern glass building. I spot Knight Owl and another Seattle superhero named Skyman.
He is only semicostumed. He's unmasked and goateed, and he's wearing a white T-shirt with a Skyman logo of his own design. "Ooh, look, the Rocketeer!" he says at a passing costumed attendee. "You never see Rocketeer costumes! That is priceless! I gotta get me a photo of that! Ooh! Lady Riddler! Nice!" Skyman approaches a Batman. "Is that a real bulletproof outfit?" he asks him. "No," Batman replies a little apologetically.
"This place," I tell Knight Owl, "is full of costumed people who would never confront drug dealers in the middle of the night. You and Phoenix and Skyman exist in some shadow world between fantasy and reality." "Yeah," Knight Owl replies. "What we do is hyperreality!"

Ego Tripping: (A vacation from yourself)
- Louis Theroux, Couchsurfing and Holland
- Other people's stories - Tales of: Adventure
- Trigger: Ego Tripping in Portugal - Sintra, Obidos, Ericeria, Coimbra
- Trigger: Egotripping II - England, on the road again
- Albert Camus on the Writer, the Actor and the Traveller

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Scams in Istanbul: The reality of trusting (3 of 3)

<< crossposted on 'The 30 Home Games' blog
Are your Spidey Senses tingling?
My mood definitely shifted, I became suspicious of everybody. I even began questioning the authenticity of my hostel roommate, a down-on-his-luck Canadian traveler borrowing money from newly made running mates. I knew I had to find a way to get out of this mental funk. Attention is a double-edged sword. Being a traveler, a lot of possibilities were opened because people were curious and drawn to me as an outsider. I was welcomed into homes and friend circles, now this attention was being used against me. I was afraid to go out, the simplest chores would be interrupted by the constant initiation of conversation. I imagine this is the reality celebrities and hotties live in every day.

My running mate who escaped the scam unscathed was someone I befriended on the trip from Goreme to Istanbul. We bonded over our love of basketball, he was a diehard Laker fan and former intern for the team. We played a game with locals at the courts in the Nike Beyoğlu store the morning after his ordeal as he briefed me on what happened. I had my epiphany, I would convert scammer invitations into a game of hoops. It dovetailed with my 30 Home Games mission, my quest for a Basketball experience in each Country. He was skeptical, it was asking for trouble.

The genius of these scams are that they're only asking for your time. Its essentially rapport building through good conversation, a few shared drinks which sets the table for the manipulation to take place. Its only when the betrayal happens at the Clip-joint that one begins to question everything. A fellow traveler equated it to a relationship break up, especially one dissolved through infidelity. We start tracing its history, which parts were real? Was any of it genuine? Then we start looking inward, was it my fault for believing? I figured I could entice them to a game of basketball during what they thought was the "real" part.

The following few days I was upbeat, returning to my old self. Instead of shooing people away grumpily, I was looking forward to interactions but surprisingly the attention had waned. I can't pinpoint whether it was my change in energy, my familiarity or random chance. Interestingly I had begun to mutually greet one of the scammers like Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog would in the cartoons. He was a fellow in a blue/green puffer jacket I would regularly cross paths with, usually alongside a new Asian tourist. Our original encounter he tried to open me at Sultanahmet with the line "Hey you look like Michael Jackson".

In the closing days of my fortnight in Istanbul I did manage to find a genuine connection, befriending young artists at a Jazz bar. Over several days we hit the town, was welcomed into homes for dinner and tea and got to crash at a few places. The locals were understandably removed from this reality, they explained that some Current affair shows had shed some light on the scams in Istanbul. As it was a crime of opportunity, Turks from the east unfamiliar with the big city were also being scammed. Most attention was paid to non-Turks because they were ideal targets, distinct, lucrative and crucially - naive.

The charming person I spent most of the time with mindblowingly did her major thesis on 'Hyperreality' - a pet topic of mine. On my final day I was welcomed into her friend's apartment, we discussed scamming and reality as we smoked and drank in their attic. Their roommate, a Syrian revolutionary taking refuge in Turkey arrived late into the evening. He began in the front lines for the cause but decided his powers were best served in media relations. He weighed in on the conversation by showing videos he'd filmed that day presenting two versions of reality for the same event, one for dissemination now and the other truth to be released after the revolution was won. 

It was a memorable way to close my experience in Turkey and it gave me a sobering take on the scamming experience. I've always been fascinated by the power of charisma and the bending of reality but this underlined for me that its ultimately playing with fire. My running mate who escaped the scam had himself conceded, "As bad as it could have turned out, it'll likely go down as the most interesting that happens on this trip".

During this time creating genuine experiences with amazing new friends, the basketball mouse trap was the furthest thing from my mind. I never did get to hoop it up with a scammer, I didn't even come close to as invitations had dried up. I'm still intrigued by the prospect of holding court with a scammer but the idea served its purpose as it shifted my mood and I found the genuine experience I was searching for. I'll file it as 'Incomplete' and still hope to achieve it if I ever return to Istanbul. If someone is able to execute it on my behalf I would love to hear your story.

After a great evening capping off my time and saying my goodbyes the morning after, I had one final rude awakening. As I checked in at Atatürk International Airport the teller informed I wasn't in the system for any flights that day. I scanned my ticket, checked my phone everything seemed fine. It was then I realised that my Calendar settings were set to 2011. My Turkish friend had borrowed my phone 5 days earlier to use her SIM, I must've mistakenly applied the wrong settings when I turned it back on so the dates corresponded to the wrong days. I had been operating a day in advance this whole time, my flight was actually for tomorrow.
Everything is real until the moment it isn't.

- Scams in Istanbul: Why I trust people (1 of 3)
- Scams in Istanbul: Why people trust others (2 of 3)
- Scams in Istanbul: The reality of trusting (3 of 3)

The folks at IndieTravelPodcast have a comprehensive discussion on several possible scams travelers might encounter - Indie Travel Podcast Ep 212: Travel Scams, cons and Travel safety

Have you ever been scammed whilst traveling? Has your sense of reality ever been shaken?

Monday, December 17, 2012

'Loz in Transit' on the radio: Talking 'Waking Life' and existentialism

<< crossposted on the 'Loz in Translation' blog

I had the pleasure of being on community radio to discuss the Richard Linklater film 'Waking Life'. I was given the opportunity to curate the song playlist and touch on themes covered on this blog (travel, reality).

Find the radio chat here:
Bernie Burke radio interviews (WOW FM 100.7)
- Download the file directly here, Music & Movie Madness: Dec 11, 2012 (51m 13s, no music)

PODCAST: 'Music & Movie Madness' WOW FM 100.7

VIDEO: 'Waking Life' (2001) trailer

Posts referenced in the radio interview
- Home Reading: 'Myth of Sisyphus' by Albert Camus - On the Writer, Actor and Traveler
- 'A Memento Year' exhibition
- Let's Get Real - Episode 5 preview: Black Holes
- Road Music: Friends, Laura and Monica

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Albert Camus on the Writer, the Actor and the Traveller

<< crossposted on the 'Loz in Translation' blog
'The Myth of Sisyphus' by Albert Camus
For as long as I can remember I've always been curious about other people's lives and being a fly on the wall. Its where my passion for documentaries, DVD commentaries and podcasts stem from. Its also what I've found most fascinating about travel, the dynamic experience and exchange of stories which I've explored through Couchsurfing and 'Ego-Tripping'.

Though I have a good friend who is a big proponent of French philosopher Albert Camus, I've only recently become familiar with his work. A passage on Drama in his book 'Myth of Sisyphus' sheds some light on the root of my fascination.

Myth of Sisyphus
Hence the actor has chosen multiple fame, the fame that is hallowed and tested. From the fact the everything is to die some day he draws the best conclusion, An actor succeeds or does not succeed. A writer has some hope even if he is not appreciated. He assumes that his works will bear witness to what he was...

What more revelatory epitome can be imagined than those marvellous lives, those exceptional and total destinies unfolding for a few hours within a stage set? Off the stage, Sigismundo ceases to count. Two hours later he is seen dining out. Then it is, perhaps, that life is a dream... By thus sweeping over centuries and minds, by miming man as he can be and as he is, the actor has much in common with that other absurd individual, the traveller...

To what the degree the actor benefits from the characters is hard to say. But that is not the important thing. It is merely a matter of knowing how far he identifies himself with those irreplaceable lives. It often happens that he carries them with him, that they somewhat overflow the time and place in which they were born. They accompany the actor, who cannot very readily separate himself from what he has been... He abundantly illustrates every month or everyday that so suggestive truth that there is no frontier between what a man wants to be and what he is. Always concerned with better representing, he demonstrates to what a degree appearing creates being. For that is his art- to simulate absolutely, to project himself as deeply as possible into lives that are not his own. At the end of his effort his vocation becomes clear: to apply himself wholeheartedly to being nothing or to being several. The narrower the limits allotted him for creating his character the more necessary his talent. He will die in three hours under the mask he has assumed to-day. That is called losing oneself to find oneself.
'The Hero with a Thousand Faces' - Joseph Campbell
- Ego Tripping: (A vacation from yourself)
- Louis Theroux, Couchsurfing and Holland
- Other people's stories - Tales of: Adventure
- Trigger: Ego Tripping in Portugal - Sintra, Obidos, Ericeria, Coimbra
- Trigger: Egotripping II - England, on the road again

Update: I appeared on Community Radio discussing 'Myth of Sisyphus'

Sam Harris on Free will and preferences

'Free Will' by Sam Harris
Free Will  by Sam Harris
He played poker not by by accident or while in the grip of delusion but because he wanted to, intended to, and decided to, moment after moment. For most purposes, it makes sense to ignore the deep causes of desires and intentions - genes, synaptic potentials, etc. - and focus instead on the conventional outlines of the person. We do this when thinking about our choices and behaviours - because its the easiest way to organize our thoughts and actions. Why did I order beer instead of wine? Because I prefer beer.

Why do I prefer it? I don't know, but I generally have no need to ask. Knowing that I like beer more than wine is all I need to know to function in a restaurant. Whatever the reason, I prefer one taste to the other. Is there freedom in this? None whatsoever. Would I magically reclaim my freedom if I decided to spite my preference and order wine instead? No, because the roots of this intention would be as obscure as the preference itself.
- Watch Sam Harris' talk at Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2012: The Delusion of Free Will