broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Archive for the tag “Heather Bradford”

100 Resolutions for the New Year

100 Resolutions for the New Year

H. Bradford

1/30/18

I like making New Year’s Resolutions.   In the past few years, I have had about 50 resolutions.  I accomplish about half of them.   And, to be honest, my New Year’s Resolutions tend to be more like a a giant “to do” list.  So, many of the things on the list are things I hope to do over the year.  Another portion of items on the list of resolutions are things to track.  For instance, last year, I tracked the books that I read, birds that I saw, and political events that I attended.   This year, I am going to be even more ambitious and have made a list of 100 New Year’s Resolutions.  (I am a little short of 100 in case I think of anything important to add to the list).  Some of this requires data tracking.  Some is more like a check list.  There is no science behind this.  I don’t expect that it will make me a better person.  Perhaps, it just creates a weird frenzy in my life to check things off or write down data.   But, I think it does shape the year and gives me things to think about or plan.  Here is my 100 Resolutions for 2018!


    1. Travel to Romania and Moldova:  This will be my big trip of the year- in late August.  I will visit a few other countries as well on this trip.

 

  • Take an additional trip:  I am not sure where else I will travel, but I would like to take a mini trip somewhere….

 

 

  • Read 30 Books

 

 

  • Read a Classic Non-fiction (among the 30)

 

 

  • Read a Classic Fiction (among the 30)

 

 

  • Read a socialist feminist book (among the 30)

 

 

  • Continue Ballet Lessons

 

 

  • Attend Yoga Classes

 

 

  • Play Soccer in the Fall or Summer

 

 

  • Take up Fencing Again

 

 

  • Run a 5K

 

 

  • Try Fat Tire Biking

 

 

  • Go to Two New State Parks

 

 

  • Try Paddleboarding

 

 

  • Go Camping Four Times

 

 

  • Go Snowshoeing

 

 

  • Go Skiing

 

 

  • Practice Violin

 

 

  • Study Russian

 

 

  • Study Spanish (so it is easier to travel to Central and South America)

 

 

  • Study Romanian (for my trip)

 

 

  • Find 50 Geocaches

 

 

  • Add 50 New Birds to My Life List

 

 

  • Substitute Teach

 

 

  • Visit the Planetarium

 

 

  • See a Meteor Shower (this did not make my list last year, but was on it the year before)

 

 

  • See the Northern Lights

 

 

  • Create a Painting

 

 

  • Celebrate International Bog Day

 

 

  • Celebrate International Squirrel Day  (I already failed at this goal!)

 

 

  • Write a poem about each book I read this year.

 

 

  • Get a Snowy Owl Tattoo

 

 

  • Get an additional tattoo

 

 

  • Take saunas for self care

 

 

  • Plant a tree

 

 

  • Attend Zumba

 

 

  • Do Polynesian dance with my DVD or in a class

 

 

  • Watch a Classic Film

 

 

  • Plant a Free Garden

 

 

  • Attend 50 Political Events 

 

 

  • Keep a Food Log

 

 

  • Try a Vegan Challenge (1 week?  1 month? Every Monday?)

 

 

  • Really Clean my Room

 

 

  • Donate 2 bags of clothes

 

 

  • Get rid of one tote bin of belongings

 

 

  • Try to survive one month on the USDA food budget challenge

 

 

  • Try to spent Less than 10% of my income on food  (yeah, yeah, I eat out too much…)

 

 

  • Attend the ballet

 

 

  • Attend a musical event

 

 

  • 365 Mile Challenge (hike, bike, swim, kayak, canoe, etc. 365 miles in one year)

 

 

  • Volunteer

 

 

  • Write 50 Blog Posts

 

 

  • Regularly Floss

 

 

  • Reduce Junk Food 1/2

 

 

  • Try a New Activity

 

 

  • Regular Dr. Visit

 

 

  • Regular Dentist Visit

 

 

  • Regular Gyn visit

 

 

  • Save Seeds

 

 

  • Successfully Dehydrate garden produce

 

 

  • Visit a New State

 

 

  • Visit a National Park

 

 

  • Attend an artistic event

 

 

  • Visit the Museum of Russian Art

 

 

  • Finish Book 5

 

 

  • Promote the Christmas Spider tradition

 

 

  • Focus on a Fungi of the Year

 

 

  • Focus on a Butterfly of the Year

 

 

  • Focus on a Spider of the Year: White Lady Spider

 

 

  • Attend a Conference

 

 

  • Hang out with someone new

 

 

  • Hang out with someone old (someone I haven’t spent time with for a while)

 

 

  • Send Valentine’s Day Cards

 

 

  • Focus on a Fern of the Year: Lady Fern

 

 

  • Focus on a Tree of the Year: birches in general?

 

 

  • Learn to Make Jam

 

 

  • Learn to watercolor

 

 

  • Grow in Domestic Violence advocacy

 

 

  • Grow as a patient educator

 

 

  • Try something new each week

 

 

  • Make a travel album

 

 

  • Start buying for x-mas in July

 

 

  • Do something towards teaching re-licensure

 

 

  • Try a new fitness class

 

 

  • Try a new food

 

 

  • Put more money away for retirement

 

 

  • Buy a kantele (this has been on my list for a long time, but I don’t really need any new hobbies…)

 

 

  • Read the news each day (already failed, so perhaps just try to do it more often!)

 

 

  • Try a new restaurant

 

 

  • Create a podcast

 

 

  • Go Shooting

 

 

  • Take a self defense course

 

 

  • Write an article for S.A.

 

 

  • Write something monthly for the Northern Worker

 

 

  • Take vitamins

 

 

  • Study Finnish (I have to many languages on my list, but we can dream…)

 

 

  • Learn to identify 50 birds by their song

 

 

  • TBD

 

 

  • TBD

 

 

  • TBD

 

 


There you go!  I am sure I will fail at some of these resolutions.  Perhaps others will create new patterns in my life.  A few will just continue the trends that I have already started!  Overall, I am always hoping to be a healthier, more knowledgeable, broader, more creative, and more traveled person each year!  I hope that 2018 is a great year.

Image result for 2018

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How to Be a Sneaky Secret Santa

How to be a Sneaky Secret Santa

12/31/17

H. Bradford

The internet is full of tips of how to figure out what gifts to buy for a workplace Secret Santa gift exchange, but there are not a lot of pages with advice on how to be a sneaky Secret Santa.  That is, what if you want to put extra effort into hiding your identity as a Secret Santa or want to make the gift exchange itself more mysterious?  This holiday season I felt like being a little extra sneaky in our Secret Santa gift exchange at my job.  Here are some ideas of how to add a little ho, ho, ho to the average ho hum gift exchange:

The False Flag:

I did not set out to do anything special this year for our annual Secret Santa gift exchange.  However, I became aware that one of my co-workers was disappointed that she had not yet received a gift from her secret Santa.  Worse, she believed that I was the negligent party!  I didn’t want her to believe that I had forgotten to give her a gift (over a week into the exchange), so I concocted the idea that I would give her a secret Santa gift- even though I was not her actual secret Santa.  This spiraled into the idea that I should give a gift to another co-worker who had been pretty vocal about having been forgotten in the secret Santa exchange.  From there, the idea grew even bigger…


The first rogue secret Santa gift to my coworker “S”  was designed to be a false flag.   Well, not in the very literal sense.  A false flag is a an operation that is designed to appear that another group, organization, nation, etc. has carried out the action.  In this case, I wanted to make it obvious that I was the person behind this Secret Santa gift.  The idea is that by doing so, I would mask my other actions and confuse my ACTUAL secret Santa recipient  into believing that I was “S”‘s secret Santa.   I wanted S and my other coworkers to think that I was her Secret Santa even though I was not her actual secret Santa.   It was false evidence meant to distract from my actual activities.  While it does not quite fit the military or cyber definition of a false flag, I will use that term since I used my identity in one context to conceal or distract from my identity in the other context.


My first false gift involved a Scavenger Hunt to find two gifts hidden in my work place.  This Scavenger Hunt comprised of a message left on her desk, a second clue with a gift, and a final gift hidden in a hard to find location.  The clues in the Scavenger Hunt were written in three foreign languages and also provided GPS coordinates to the final gift.  Since my coworkers know that I like to travel and that I also do geocaching as a hobby, the Scavenger Hunt was purposefully made to make them believe that I was the Secret Santa behind “S” ‘s gift.   I think that this worked out pretty well since “S” sent a group email thanking the Secret Santa for the scavenger hunt and gift- which was helpful in making everyone aware of the ruse.   My only regret was that the Scavenger Hunt may have been a little too difficult.  It took two days to find the final gift (since reasonably most of my coworkers would not be able to use GPS to find a location in the workplace).

Big Idea: Pick someone to be your fake secret Santa gift recipient and provide obvious clues that you are the one behind this false gift.  Better yet, provide clues that lead everyone to believe that another one of your co-workers is behind the gift!

Image result for spy santa


 

The Informant:

Early on in my Secret Santa schemes, I enlisted a co-worker who works on the night shift with me to provide me with information and collaborate.   I don’t often speak to all of my coworkers, but “C” the informant, is much more social and closer with them.  She had a lot of great information that I would never have had access to.  For instance, many of my coworkers had confided in her who they had been paired with in the Secret Santa gift exchange.  I took notes based on her information (which helped me to plan my own actions).   Aside from providing me with information, “C” helped me by writing notes for me.  Obviously, I didn’t want to use my own handwriting when writing messages to the recipients of my gifts.  Therefore, I had her write some of the notes for me.   This was also useful as it might have led coworkers to believe that SHE was their Secret Santa (a distraction that benefited us both). Big Idea:  Enlist a trusted coworker in the schemes.  However, be careful, as they could spill the beans to your other coworkers!


Disinformation:

There is always the chance that “C” would tell others about my Secret Santa shenanigans.   To avoid that, I told her that I was “S”‘s Secret Santa.  Since she had already told me the gift exchange pairs that she knew, I knew that she did not know who “S” ‘s real secret Santa was.  So, I pretended to be “S” ‘s secret Santa when talking with “C” so that she would spread disinformation if she happened to tell others who I was paired with.

Big Idea:  Strategically plant false information.

Image result for secret santa


 

Dead Drop:

One of the challenges to being a secretive Santa is that workers have set schedules.   I have a very predictable and repetitive schedule wherein I work for eight days on and six days off.  Anyone with deductive reasoning can start to figure out who their secret Santa is or is not if they pay attention to work schedules.  For instance, if a gift always appears in the morning or afternoon, there is a good chance that it is from someone working one of those shifts.  If a gift only appears on weekdays after 10 am, it is easy to start to narrow down potential secret Santas.  Because I have six days off, I had to be a little bit creative about what to do about the long stretch of days that I am not at work.  I had two solutions to this, but I will only share one of them, which was the Dead Drop.   Basically, on the last night of my stretch of shifts, I hid gifts within my work place.  These had to be good hiding spots, as they would have to remain hidden for several days.


My first Dead Drop a hidden a gift card behind a poster in our office.     The other hiding spot was in an empty metal dresser in the maintenance room.  Finally, a third gift was hidden within our staff conference room.   With the gifts hidden in the shelter, I could choose the time and day that the secret Santa gift recipients would learn of their gifts.  This liberated me from relying on my work schedule.   However, this meant that I had to create secret communication channels to let my co-workers know about their gifts.

Big Idea:  Hide gifts to avoid reliance on a schedule or in-person exchanges.

 


 

Create Secret Communication Channels:

To inform the gift recipients of their hidden gifts, I had to create secret communication channels.  The first one that I created was a fake email account.   I used the fake email account to email “L” about the hidden gift card.   I did this at noon on a day that I did not work.   I figured that noon would be a good time, since as a night shift worker, she might conclude that I would be sleeping at that hour.   Using the fake email account, I sent an email to her which provided the following clue:

She is the one with the cheerless eyes,

 

She is cloaked in porpoises,

 

But what is her purpose or plan?

 

There are many things that start with the letter P

 

Look beyond the painting,

 

Hiding behind Patricia Wyatt

 

You will find a surprise or a disappointment.

The clue was meant to lead her to the framed poster in the office, behind which the gift card was hidden. Image result for patricia wyatt art she dreams in the rhythm of the waves

This is a copy of the poster that we have hanging in the office.

Several days later, I used a friend’s phone to inform another gift recipient (N) that she would find the gift in the maintenance room.   I felt that N would not be offended by getting a text from a mysterious number, since she seems like a pretty good sport.  I would not advise this method for a coworker that you don’t know well or who is not as into the gift exchange, since they may feel violated by a mysterious text message from an unfamiliar phone number.  In my case, N seemed pretty happy to be informed about the gift and intrigued rather than threatened.   My friend has a phone number from out of the area, which added to the mystery.  I made sure the friend immediately deleted the number from the phone and that it was someone that I could trust not to misuse the phone number.


Finally, I used my secret email to email my supervisor to make an announcement at the beginning of our staff meeting.  The supervisor was told to announce that an anonymous source had informed her that there was a gift hidden in the conference room.  Staff searched for the gift at the beginning of the staff meeting, which was turned over to the gift recipient, who also happened to be “N.”   Again, using a fake email to email a supervisor is only advisable if the supervisor is a good sport and on board with the Secret Santa gift exchange.  My supervisor happens to love the holidays and likes to coordinate the gift exchange, so I wasn’t too worried.  The only downside was that my coworkers had a hard time finding the gift, so I had to pretend to help them find it (to avoid taking up too much meeting time).

Big Idea:  Use a fake email, alternative phone, posted message, or other employees to create secret channels of communication.


 

Data Smog:

As my Secret Santa operation evolved, I eventually decided that I would give gifts to all of my coworkers.  Some would be elaborate, such as the scavenger hunt, hidden gifts, poems, anonymous letters, thoughtful cards, etc.  Some would be low-key, such as small gifts that randomly appeared in staff mailboxes with nothing more than a note that it was from Secret Santa.   I decided that I would try to give everyone a gift as a matter of fairness but also Data Smog.   Data Smog is the idea that it is hard to determine what is true or false when there is too much information to sift through.  By providing a lot of information and gifts to everyone, it would be hard for anyone to know which gifts were from a Secret Santa and which were from me, Rogue Secret Santa.   In the last two weeks of my Secret Santa operation, I mostly gave out subtle, anonymous gifts.   On Wednesdays, when all of the staff were gathered for a meeting, I chose to do a more elaborate gift exchange. Big Idea:  A variety of information, including obvious clues that it was Rogue Secret Santa as well as subtle, anonymous gifts given without fanfare was meant to obscure my actions.


Puzzles, Poems, and Messages:

One of my favorite parts of my Secret Santa operation was devising a number of poems and messages for my coworkers.   For instance, prior to our regular Wednesday meeting I baked two dozen cupcakes and set them on the table along with a typed message.  The message told my coworkers to eat the cupcakes and that under some of them, they would find a letter that spelled out the name of the coworker whose gift was on the table.   Everyone helped themselves to the cupcakes, eventually spelling out the letters in the co-worker’s name (which could be found on the bottom of the cupcake wrapper).   The gift itself included a Finnish language Christmas card and a poem by the famous poet, A. Leppanen.   There is no Finnish poet with this name.   I wrote the poem, but attributed it to a fake Finnish poet.  (The recipient of the gift had a Finnish background).   I created several poems or rhymes during the course of my secret Santa operation.   Each used a different style.   For instance, when “L” complained that she had been forgotten by her secret Santa, I provided her a small gift and the following typed Haiku:

Forgotten no more. I was called out for neglect.  Santa is Sorry

Image result for secret santa


 

Miscellaneous:

Aside from the techniques listed above, I tried to remain sneaky by keeping notes of my activities.  This helped me to keep track of what I had done, who I had given gifts to, how they reacted, and plans for the future.  This aided in the timing of my gift giving and make sure that no one was forgotten.   I typically typed my messages to my coworkers, as this disguised my handwriting, but on two occasions I had other people write my messages (one was C-the informant, and the other was my housemate).   I also used pre-made Secret Santa labels that I found on the internet, with one of my Secret Santa gift recipients.  Generally, I tried to be consistent.  For instance, I typically used decorated brown paper bags and printed labels for my gifts to N. Big Idea:  Take notes to keep track of your activities, use a variety of styles of packaging and messaging.  Avoid using your own handwriting.


Conclusion:

My Rogue Santa activities did concern some staff.  A few staff were worried that they had the wrong name in the exchange or were somehow doing the gift exchange wrong after mysterious gifts appeared from the Rogue Secret Santa.   The panic meant that my supervisor had to send an email warning staff not to worry and that there were some pranksters in their midst.  I genuinely enjoyed watching as the staff discovered their gifts, especially if they liked them.   I also enjoyed some conversations with staff.  For instance, one of my coworkers told me about a poem and gift card she had received.  She was convinced that they came from B., our supervisor.   I had to laugh a little to myself.   I also enjoyed doing little things such as hiding bags of candy under the seats of my coworkers before a staff meeting and making them the cupcakes.  My actual Secret Santa recipient did not know that I was her Secret Santa!  So that was also fun.  The main drawback is that I can only be a Rogue Secret Santa once!  Next year, if I do anything tricky, they will all know that it is me!  Another drawback is that because I bought at least a small item for each of my coworkers, it was a costly little operation.   While I won’t be playing the role of a Rogue Secret Santa next year, hopefully this list of ideas inspires someone else to make Christmas a covert operation.

Image result for secret santa

Plants Remember

 Plants Remember

H. Bradford

12/16/17

 

Plants forget birthdays,

where the car is parked,

and the hierarchies of life

that put them below animals,

but above fungi and bacteria.

 

Plants forget Lysenko’s science

and spirituality.

They forget the stress of the dark and dry.

All the things we can do without.

 

Plants Remember…

winter so they can bloom,

their neighbors,

and an unkind touch.

They keep memories stored in their

roots and leaves,

like sugar,

water,

and pain.

 

Related image

image from https://phys.org/news/2014-03-greenhouse-long-term-memory.html

Fall Camping! Camping Fail.

Fall Camping! Camping Fail.

H. Bradford

10/15/17

I like camping since it offers me a mini- adventure and time alone.   I like this new ritual of leaving for a day or two and unplugging from Facebook, activism, my phone, and people in general.  So, I was looking forward to camping at Savannah Portage State Park.   I visited the park back in August and March, but had not camped there.  It has become one of my favorite state parks due to the fact that it is not very busy, has great bog walk, and some nice trails.   Thus, I made it a goal that I would camp there this fall.   Here is how it went:

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and nature

Firstly, the forecast called for clear, sunny weather when I made my reservation at the campsite.   However, as it grew closer to the date, the weather looked like rain, more rain, light rain, clouds, and thunderstorms.  I am not a huge fan of being wet, but the days are getting shorter and my opportunities for camping will come to an end by the end of this month.   So…I looked up tips of how to comfortably camp in the rain.   I decided that it would not be a big deal and made plans to go birding and hiking- rain or no rain.


Like always, I stopped at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the way to Savannah Portage.  I immediately felt chilled by the rain and wind.   Nevertheless, I spent almost the entire day birding and hiking.  I was wet, but not not drenched.   Despite the inclement weather, I saw many birds.   One highlight was a flock of Pied billed grebes.  These grebes are adorable.  They have cute little fluffy white bird butts, big eyes, and a compact shape.  Another highlight was dozens of Trumpeter swans, even though they were pretty far away- near an island on Rice Lake.   I took a stroll down a service road and came upon two Sandhill cranes.  At first, I thought they were gray stumps or poles.  I guess I wasn’t expecting to see the cranes.   There were many other birds as well, including more ducks than I could hope to count- or identify.  The ducks were some distance away and I am not knowledgeable enough about birding to identify ducks by their flight pattern or shape.   While walking along the service road, I spotted a Lapland longspur.  This isn’t an uncommon bird, but the first time I have identified one.   I thought it was a fun and productive day of birding, but traipsing through wet grass, soggy trails, and drizzling rain left me feeling chilled.

Image may contain: bird, outdoor and nature

After leaving the refuge, I headed towards Savannah Portage State Park, picking up some campfire wood along the way.   I spent most of my day birding and I arrived a bit later than I had planned.  The park is remote enough that it is not well staffed and the park office closed at 2pm.  However, there was a notice on the door of what to do if I needed anything.  There are over 50 campsites, but only two were in use that night.  So…I pretty much had the whole state park  AND campground to myself!  There wasn’t even any staff.  Since it was drizzling rain when I arrived, I decided not to set up my tent.  The wind was also picking up.  I concluded that I was already soggy and wasn’t going to enjoy setting up and taking down a wet tent.   Instead, I would save time and effort and sleep in my car.   With nothing to set up, I set off for another hike (as I wanted to make sure that I visited the Bog Walk and did the loop trail around Lake Shumway).   I quickly did both short hikes, beating sunset.   After sunset, I decided to take advantage of my solitude and hike in the dark.   I haunted part of the Continental Divide Trail before the wind picked up again and I decided that hiking in the dark…alone….makes me feel a little uneasy.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, tree, plant, outdoor, nature and water


Back at my campsite, I pulled out my firewood and did my best to make a fire.  For whatever reason, this didn’t work out.  The wood that I had purchased was a little damp from being outside.  But, I had purchased some eco-friendly firestarting chips.  These did little to help the flame sustain itself on the wet wood.  I tried burning notebook paper and furiously fanned the flames.  Sometimes the fire lasted as long as five minutes, but after an hour of trying, it never really took off.   This was disappointing because I was going to make myself some hot tea, s’mores, and instant soup.  Instead, I ate cold snacks and drank cold water- which didn’t really do much to dispel the chilled feeling from being outside in the rain all day.   It hadn’t been a particularly cold day and I didn’t get drenched- but there is a certain, demoralizing chilled feeling that rain can bring.


Since the fire wasn’t going to work out, I decided to change clothes, read a book, do some journaling- and snuggle into my sleeping bag- in the backseat of my car.   It wasn’t exactly comfortable- but it was warm and dry.  Also, it was nice to be out of the wind.  Even though it wasn’t that late, I started to feel drowsy.  The wind rustled the leaves outside and droplets of water fell from the foliage onto the roof of my car.  I decided that I would head to bed early- feeling like my camping adventure was a bit of a fail (in terms of setting up the tent or making a fire anyway).  I had strange dreams.  I even had a frightening dream wherein I awoke to the sound of a male voice shouting my name.  It was an auditory hallucination- the sort a person has when they are half dreaming and half awake.  This is not a usual sleep occurrence, so I pondered it for a moment (maybe I had felt anxious being alone?).   I curled up into my sleeping bag and drifted back to sleep.  The rain and wind increased during the night, which again made me feel okay with the decision to sleep in my car- even if I was a bit bunched up.


The next morning, the sky was overcast, but the rain had stopped.  I got ready for the day and set out on a hike.   My goal was to do the Continental Divide Hike (which was perhaps 3.75 to 4 miles round trip from my campsite).  This was a nice hike.   The forest was yellow and the park was entirely empty (spare one other camper).  It was odd to be the only human on the trail.  The trail itself followed…well, a continental divide…or a ridge.  On one side of the ridge, water flowed into the Gulf of Mexico.  On the other side of the ridge, water flows into the Atlantic Ocean.  The trails were wet so it was interesting to think about the long journey the water could take- on either side of me.  Although the hike was often up hill and along a ridge, it was pleasant and not particularly challenging.  I hate hills- but none of them were that steep.   Towards the end of the trail, there was an overlook deck- where a person could admire the lowland Tamarack forests and Wolf Lake.   I spent some time there reading the interpretive sign, then finished the rest of the trail before turning back.

Image may contain: 1 person, shoes, sky, tree, outdoor and water

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor and nature

With the trail done and little to pack up, I left the camp site.  I headed back to Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge to see if I could catch a few more birds.  The sky cleared a little and I did see several birds, such as a Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue heron, Trumpeter Swan, Pied Billed Grebes, and what I believe was a pair of Blackducks.   I didn’t spend as long as I had the day before, but managed to devote a few hours to it.  I turned my phone back on.  I left the wildlife refuge and I started listening to radio news.  The first story that I heard about was the mass shooting in Las Vegas.  I was only gone Sunday into Monday, but it seemed that I had been gone much longer.  There is so much “world” to digest on a daily basis.   I like to escape it all.  I am not sure how others remain so engaged and yet sane or even happy from day to day.   Maybe I am weak for always wanting to run away.   On the drive home, I listened to the news coverage.  I saw a hawk perched over a swamp.  I turned the car around and watched it until it flew away (harassed by another bird).   I then headed home to change clothes and go to a feminist meeting.

Image may contain: bird, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: bird, sky, tree and outdoor

It wasn’t much of an adventure and I pretty much failed at some of the most basic elements of camping (setting up a tent or making a fire).   I was also somewhat miserable, but encouraged by my hardiness to at least TRY to be outside.  Yeah, I am not much of an adventurer.  I think about my co-worker who just spent two and a half weeks hiking the Superior Hiking Trail.  She was probably wet and muddy most of the entire time…without a place to warm up.   I wish I was more like that.   Maybe someday.  Who knows.  For now, it was nice to relish an opportunity to be outdoors- as winter is just around the corner.  With colder and shorter days, I won’t be as enthused to be outside.  We’ll see if I can squeeze one more camping trip in this fall.  Hopefully it won’t be as wet next time!

Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water

 

 

Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, flower, outdoor and nature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Old House

This Old House

H. Bradford

9/13/17

Paint blood on the door.

They’re coming for you,

and your soul,

and your sins.

Howling for more than you can possibly give.

Prepare your confessions for the crimes that were his.

Take the lashing,

bow low your thick head.

Hold down the old house,

its your will

and their wind.

Give them some fat, give them some skin.

If it all falls apart,

no one will win.

https://fineartamerica.com/images/artworkimages/medium/1/that-very-old-house-murphy-elliott.jpg

“That Very Old House” art by Murphy Elliot

Some Things I’ve done to Travel

Some Things I’ve Done to Travel

H. Bradford

9/13/17

One of the things that I really love to do is travel.  However, I don’t have tons of money.  So, over the years I’ve done a few creative things- and some ordinary things- to afford travel.  Of course, the internet abounds with advice about how people can quit their job and travel…or how anyone can travel if they are simply determined enough.   This is absolutely untrue.  I can’t quit my job.  My bills will not magically evaporate.  I am extremely fortunate that I currently have a job that has allowed me to travel- far more than most Americans are able to.  I am also fortunate that I don’t have children, pets, or anything or anyone to take care of other than myself.  This gives me far more freedom to leave- and to save.  I have a lot of privilege in terms of health, nationality, race, ability, etc. that also allow me to travel.  So, even though I am a working class person- I have traveled much more than most Americans and most other members of my class.  These are a few of the things I have done to travel.  Perhaps some of them might be helpful to some people.  A few make for unusual stories.  And certainly, I don’t want to spread a narrative that with hard working and dedication dreams can come true.  They often don’t on account of systems of inequality.  Thankfully, I have been able to obtain a few of my dreams.  Here is how…

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(One of my favorite pictures- outside of Chernobyl Reactor 4)


1. Donate Eggs:

I discussed this in an earlier blog post, but back in 2008 I donated eggs to pay off some bills and to help save up money for a trip to Cuba.  At the time, it was illegal for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba because of the trade embargo.  However, there were a few exceptions to this rule.  It was possible to travel to Cuba for research (as well as journalism and cultural exchanges).  So, I traveled to Cuba with Global Exchange on a research delegation.  It was designed to be a research delegation centered around education.  To qualify, delegates had to be working full time in an education field or a graduate student.  Back then, I worked as a tutor for Americorps in a program that served homeless youth in my community.  It was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable jobs I have had.  The trip was rather spendy (especially considering that my Americorps stipend was pretty meager), so donating eggs helped with some of the cost (though I mostly spent that money on bills).  Interestingly, I was in the midst of donating while I was visiting Cuba.   Yep…so I was giving myself daily injections of Gonal-F while touring schools and universities.   The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Center for Sex Education, where I learned about how Cuba approaches sex ed.  Shortly after returning to the U.S., I made me third and final egg donation.  I definitely wanted to donate eggs more than I did, but medical complications got in the way of that.  It was disappointing, but a good lesson that you should not put all of your eggs in one basket.

https://brokenwallsandnarratives.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/my-adventures-as-an-egg-donor/

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2. Medical Study:

I didn’t actually do this to save up for a trip, but to cover my living expenses upon my return.  So…back in 2010 I spent a semester in South Korea, followed by half the summer in Beijing and a visit to North Korea.  The North Korea trip was rather expensive.  At the time, there were fewer companies that traveled to North Korea.  I went with Koryo tours for a ten day trip during the Mass Games (if I remember rightly).  And, while I earned a small stipend while in South Korea, it was hard to survive six months in Asia without regular work.  I literally had spent all of my money upon my arrival back to the U.S.   Worse, a new semester was about to start and I needed money for books.  For some quick cash, I volunteered for a two week medical study.  Although it is closed now, there was a medical research facility in Fargo- which is about a four and a half hour drive from Duluth.  Their website advertised several studies, but I tried for one that was about two weeks long because it paid a few thousand dollars.  So…I went to Fargo, was screened for the study, and was accepted.  The study itself involved trying out some sort of respiratory spray.  Twice a day, each of the patients was administered medication through an inhaler.  Honestly, it was a horrible time.  We sat in a room full of hospital beds.  We were not allowed to leave the beds (to go outside, exercise, etc.) and experienced several blood draws daily.  It was torturous to stay in bed waiting for time to pass.  Our only entertainment was an endless parade of terrible movies.  I remember a LOT of romantic comedies.  I wrote and drew, but was terribly restless.  The days seemed to draw on forever as I watched the sunshine turn to night from a hospital bed.  I also hated how regimented life was.  We had to eat our meals without waste or extras.  Of course, this was all to control the conditions of the experiment.  And, I should also be happy that my inhaler never actually gave me any of the medication.  Others complained of a bitter taste, but my inhaler didn’t have a taste.  I lucked out and was probably a control subject.  I made it through the ordeal, but it was one of the most boring things I’ve endured.  On the bright side, I met a medical student studying in Cuba during the experiment.  She joined the experiment for extra cash for visiting her family, since even though her education was paid for- she did not have money for travel expenses. Image result for black guinea pig

(Random guinea pig image from Pinterest)


3. Work Illegally:

While staying with my friend Rose in Beijing, I worked.  Because I was there on a tourist visa, this was technically illegal.  I didn’t work that much.  I just did some English tutoring for extra spending money.  Rose connected me with the opportunities to do a little tutoring.  She also connected me with an opportunity to earn $200 by pretending to work for a school in Xian.  What happened next is a long story, but it involved a very long train ride, fear that I was being trafficked, and NOT actually ending up in Xian.  If you want to know the long story….well, here it is (copied from an earlier blog post).  If not, read on to the next heading.


“While in Beijing, I did some English tutoring for spending money. This is illegal, as it is illegal to work on a travel visa, but it was done in private homes and at a café. Another way that some people make money is through “white face” jobs. Basically, you can get paid to be white (isn’t that the epitome of racial privilege?). These jobs are temporary positions given to white people, wherein they pretend to work for a school or company to bolster the image of the organization as more international and therefore prestigious. Rose called me about such an opportunity. All I had to do was pretend to be an English teacher. In exchange, I would be taken on a 2 day trip to Xian and paid $200. Sounds good! An opportunity to leave Beijing and see Xian, where the Terra Cotta warriors are….and get paid. So, I arrived at the train station to meet “Chuck” the head of a language school. Chuck bought my train ticket, but didn’t tell me much about the trip or what is expected of me. I asked Chuck if there will be time to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. He became quiet and thoughtful, then stated that we are going THROUGH Xian but our destination is actually Yan’an. We needed to take the train to Xian to get to Yan’an. This revelation marked the beginning of my Kaftkaesque journey.


I got on the sleeper train, which if I recall took about twelve hours to get to Xian. The additional trip to Yan’an was another five hours or so. So, after seventeen or eighteen hours on a train, I was pretty exhausted. I still had no idea what was expected of me. My only instructions were that I was supposed to pretend to be a teacher for his school. The arrival in Yan’an was hazy. We took the train there and visited a temple. However, I was informed that Yan’an was not our final, final destination. Rather, it was a smaller city about an hour away. We travelled there by car, but were now joined by an entourage of unfamiliar people whose position or relationship to Chuck were unknown to me. Chuck sped along at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour, even passing a police car that was travelling too slow for his taste. As undemocratic as China is, there does not seem to be as much policing of everyday things such as driving or littering as there is in the U.S. or this policing is less consistent. As such, not only was speeding by a police car to pass it seemingly acceptable, so is driving on the sidewalk from time to time. We arrived at our final, final destination and checked into the hotel. Chuck informed me that there would be a dinner at six.


Before dinner, I asked Chuck what I should say to his company. He told me not to worry, as none of them spoke English. So, once again, I knew nothing about my position as a fake teacher. No idea about the school or what grades I taught, how long that I worked there, or anything. Oh well. Weary from the long journey, I attended dinner. Of course, I was seated by a diplomat, who spoke English. And, while everyone else watched my reaction to the food, eagerly hoping that I enjoyed it, he asked me questions about my job. The surreal dinner, wherein I felt that I was the dinner entertainment….there to please everyone with assurances that the food is good and eat more as I am given it….stared at the entire time…continued. Only, each time I tried to answer the questions posed in English by the diplomat, Chuck answered for me in Mandarin. They conversed about my position….in front of me….in Chinese. This left me entirely in the dark about the lie that Chuck was concocting about me. It made me anxious. All of it made me anxious. The dinner went on forever. The food was actually pretty good, which seemingly pleased everyone that I ate it. On a side note, I hate feeling the pressure to eat and even more, I hate it when people watch me eat. But, I suppose we all do this when we have guests….eagerly hoping they will like what has been introduced to them.


We all returned to the hotel and I was informed that I must be up at 6 am the next morning. I talked to Chuck at the door of my room about this. He tried twice to push himself into my hotel room, but I blocked him with my shoulder and door. I really didn’t want to be alone in my room with Chuck. The next morning involved an award ceremony to celebrate the anniversary of a school. This is why so many politicians, school administrators, and important people were there. This cleared up a little what exactly we were doing there. At the same time, the two day trip had already been three days. Oh well. I assumed that we would return after the ceremony the next day.


The following day there was a ceremony, complete with children singing and dancing. There were speeches and a band. It was all a pretty big to-do for the anniversary of a school. When it was over, I asked Chuck when we will return to Beijing. He told me that it might be a day or two. He doesn’t know. A day or two?! After my very long train ride, enduring a couple of meals, complete isolation from everyone that I know- in fact, no one in the world even knows where I am, a ceremony, and now an uncertain return….things fell apart. The whole thing had been pretty uncomfortable to begin with. Never have I felt so powerless and isolated. I began to think that maybe I would not be returned to Beijing. Chuck went on to inform me that I must attend another meal with him.


I snapped. I informed Chuck that I would not eat until I return to Beijing. He said that if I don’t eat it will embarrass him. I told him that I want to go back to Beijing and can’t eat until I return. This was my only tool. A hunger strike. Chuck begged me to eat. I reluctantly agreed to at least attend the lunch. I attended the lunch, but only nibbled. The Chinese guests offered me some apple juice that was made locally. It tasted warm and fermented. More misery. However, at the end of this meal, Chuck magically produced some train tickets and announced that we would be returning to Beijing that afternoon.


17 long hours later. I enjoyed the crinkled yellow brown landscape of the Loess Plateau and the snaking Yellow River. The landscape became less like a curtain of sandy mounds and flattened. There were farms and nuclear reactors. Yan’an was the end of the Long March. I feel as though I had been on a long march of uncertain roles, awkward meals, fear, and isolation. We arrived back in Beijing. Chuck asked me if I wanted to grab breakfast with him. I said no. I took my $200 and left.”

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(Image of Terracotta warriors from the Chicago Tribune.  I never did get to see them…)

4. Work- Really Hard:

This heading is not as interesting as the others, but there were times that I just worked really, really hard.  One of those times was…once again…when I was saving for the Cuba trip.  Despite the money from egg donating, I still ended up working WITHOUT A DAY OFF from March until June.  This was hellish.  But, it was back when I was doing a year of Americorps service.  The monthly stipend was about $800 a month after taxes.  Still, going to Cuba was important to me.  Everyone who I knew who had visited Cuba tended to gush about it- with the exception of Adam.  He hates being warm.  Travel to Cuba seems to be a leftist rite of passage.   Activists often want to travel there to see for themselves what this tiny, embargoed, island nation has done in terms of healthcare and education- against all odds.  So, I worked very hard that spring.  I did my Americorps services on Monday through Friday, then worked double shifts at a hotel over the weekends.  It was exhausting.  And, there is something quite demoralizing about looking at a calendar and seeing an endless stretch of work without a day off.  But, I survived it- and definitely earned that trip.

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(Random image stolen from a google search.)

5. Join a Mission Trip

This is pretty embarrassing at this point in my life, but back when I was 19 I was still religious.  My friend Libby invited me to join her church on a mission trip.  I joined the trip more for the travel experience than any calling to save souls.  Yep, so I went on a bus trip to Mexico with her church.  Although I was religious at the time, I really didn’t fit in.  I didn’t dress conservatively enough and had to be told to cover up more.  I also wasn’t socialized into her church, so I suppose there were theological and behavioral norms that I didn’t conform to.  But, we did help with some minor construction on a church and I was able to see a really awesome cave in a mountain while everyone else went to a water park.  The cave was called Grutas de Garcia and was fascinating in that I took a cable car up the mountain, then entered a cave which at one time was under a prehistoric sea.  Various marine fossils could be seen on the walls of the cave.  The mountains were pretty and it was an interesting social experience.   Still, in retrospect it was a weird thing to do, especially since it hardly seems that Mexico is in need of spiritual or religious help from U.S. missionaries.   But, it was a two week trip to Mexico for under $500.  It was also one of the last memorable religious activities that I was involved with (as I stopped going to church or attending religious events in the subsequent years).  Finally, it was a happy memory with my friend Libby- who was my best friend since the first grade.  Maybe I wasn’t the best at being religious, but it was certainly worth it to share an experience with her.

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(Image from Tours in Monterrey)

6. Tax Refund

I usually spend my tax refund on travel.  To ensure that I actually get a tax refund, I claim zero on my taxes so that more money is taken out of my paychecks each month.  I have read that this is not good financial advice, as if a person simply saved more, they would earn interest on the savings.  However, since I am not always that great at saving- having more taken out of my paycheck in taxes has resulted in much larger tax refunds at the end of the year.  I think that this scheme will dwindle once I start substitute teaching and now that I can’t claim a credit for being a graduate student.  But, in previous years, I usually received $1000- $3000 back in taxes.  I used that money towards going to Eastern Europe and the Balkans for a month back in 2014 and the Baltic Countries/Ukraine/Belarus in 2015.

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7. Second Savings Account

One of my strategies in the past has been to have two savings accounts.  The second savings account was located at an out of the way bank (in an area I don’t often visit in Duluth) and did not have an ATM card.  By making my money harder to access, I did not dip into the savings.  It also kept the money separate from my regular savings- so the money was earmarked specifically for travel.  I have since closed the second account, but I found this to be a very useful savings strategy and one that I want to employ in the future (probably a non-travel savings account).



8. Regular Saving and Working…

This is mainly what I do now to travel.  It doesn’t make for a good story.  Save and work.  Blah.  To that end, I picked up some extra shifts at work this month.  I try to pick up extra shifts when I can.  The other day, I worked a sixteen hour shift followed by a twelve hour shift the next day.  I might try substitute teaching in my free time as well.  (Though typically I only work 40 hours a week).  On the saving front, I will admit that I am terrible at saving.  I have too many hobbies and eat out way too much.  But, I’ve been using Mint since March and find that it helps me track my spending and set saving goals.   Each month I try to squirrel away money.  But, it seems that once I save up enough- I spend it all on travel.  So, perhaps I could add “living irresponsibly” to my list of things I do to travel, as I am definitely NOT saving up for retirement or a rainy day.   My goal is to eventually become good enough at saving that I can put money away for BOTH travel and responsible adulthood.


There are probably many other ways that I could travel.  I could work overseas, such as teaching English in South Korea.   I could try to find work that somehow involves travel.  But, for the most part, I am content right now to save, work, and dream of future trips.  Provided that my current job continues to allow me to take vacations each year, I continue to travel as long as I am able to.  It challenges me socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually.  While it is a selfish endeavor, it allows me to re-dedicate to activism and my work.   That is why I like it and why it has been worth the effort.

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I also love this photo-in Kazakhstan, since I look badass- masking the fact that I am a dorky, fearful, and unfit.

The Thinking Universe

The Thinking Universe

H. Bradford

9/12/17

I am the thinking universe.

I am its ego.

Its self doubt.

4.5 billion years of evolution to think the thoughts I thought today,

to write them down,

signalizing to life on earth another syllable in the tongue of infinity.

Words are electricity, pheromones, symbiosis, and erosion.

My joy and my pain,

expressed prettily on paper are the voices of

sharks and slime molds,

cycads and cyclones,

Every thing…

Every living and non-living thing-

exists in me and through me.

The wings of moths are my whisper

And the patter of cat’s feet are my cries.

Yet, everything vanishes

and everything dies.

The universe doesn’t even know it is speaking!

It doesn’t mourn its dead!

Its worth, words, and connections will die in my head.

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an image of slime molds from Wikipedia.

Going Extinct

Going Extinct

H. Bradford

9-11-17

There is an archaeopteryx on my arm.

It matches the fossil in my chest,

the amber in my head,

and the megalodon

that I don as armor

when I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

The more I go extinct,

the more I think about ferns and feathered dinosaurs.

The things that lived before-

leaving impressions in rock

and bones made of stone.

I will leave nothing.

I am too soft and temporary.

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You

(I had a dream wherein someone wrote me a series of “hate poems” on post-it notes.  I found these poems under a table.  While I don’t remember the poems from my dreams, this is a reconstruction of one of the poems.)

You

H. Bradford

9/7/17

You are not a tornado or electricity,

You are an island of nightmares set adrift from the continents.

You are not lips or the stars,

You are the gap between them and the frustration space brings.

You are not a memory or a journey,

You are a beggar passed on the road- whose hands and eyes grasped for more.

You are not for warmth and wanting,

You are yourself….

and that should explain everything.

 

 

How Does Turkmenistan ACTUALLY compare to North Korea?

How Does Turkmenistan ACTUALLY compare to North Korea?

H. Bradford

9/5/17

This summer, I paid a short visit to Turkmenistan.  In fact, one of the big reasons that I wanted to travel on Oasis’ overland trip was the opportunity to visit Turkmenistan and view the Aral sea in Uzbekistan.  In preparation for the trip, I tried to do some reading.  Many travel websites compared Turkmenistan to North Korea.  Documentaries or short videos on Turkmenistan were mostly from the mid-2000s and centered around the bizarre dictatorship of Niyazov, a.k.a Turkmenbashi.  As the trip approached, I became nervous.  I would be joining the trip in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.  Travel websites warned of individuals who had been denied visas or how notoriously difficult it was to obtain a visa.  What if I was not allowed entry?  What if my visa upon arrival was denied?  I would spend my first day or two alone.  What if I accidentally broke a law?  The information provided in travel websites, books, and videos warned of laws such as a city wide curfew, travel restrictions, restrictions on  photographs, bans on circuses or women wearing makeup on television, bans on gold teeth and beards, etc.  If indeed, the country was like North Korea, how safe would I be during the time period I spent alone?

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There are some important differences between Turkmenistan and North Korea.  While Turkmenistan has been called the North Korea of Central Asia or North Korea with oil, a major difference between the countries is how they relate to the United States.   As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, during the Korean war, the United States bombed North Korea into oblivion.  More bombs were dropped on Korea than all of the Pacific during WWII and unexploded bombs are still found in the country.   Thousands of schools, hospitals, and factories were bombed by the U.S.- and when there were but a few buildings standing in the whole country, the United States bombed dams- flooding the country’s agricultural land and threatening the populace with starvation. Civilians were specifically targeted by the U.S., which destroyed 20% of the population in the war.  This created a deep fear and bitterness towards the United States which is used to sustain the repressive Kim dynasty.  Turkmenistan does not have that same destructive and antagonistic history with the United States.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Niyazov proclaimed that the country was neutral.  In fact, there is an enormous monument to neutrality in Ashgabat.  Despite this official neutrality, Turkemistan provided tax and duty free gas/oil to NATO countries engaged in the war in Afghanistan and has allowed NATO to use its airspace and land aircraft at Ashgabat airport.  Furthermore, U.S. corporations such as John Deere, Caterpillar, and Boeing conduct business in Turkmenistan.  Niyazov’s successor, Berdymukhamedov, even sent a personal congratulation to President Obama upon his election.  So, while Turkemistan is viewed as a country that lacks basic rights to organizing, freedom of press, freedom of speech, and a criminal justice system with torture and abuse, a key difference is that this authoritarian regime is a strategic ally of the United States whereas North Korea is viewed as an enemy.   Consequently, the United States is less inclined to call out human rights abuses in Turkmenistan or call for regime change.  In fact, very few Americans know the first thing about Turkmenistan.  Why not?  Well, fear mongering and villainizing Turkmenistan simply isn’t a matter of importance to American foreign policy in the same way North Korea is.   While the United States was an enemy of the Soviet Union and certainly some suspicion may persist, I think it is very unlikely that an American would be kept in Turkmenistan or imprisoned there for political reasons.  The Peace Corps operated in Turkmenistan until 2012 and there is a U.S. embassy in Ashgabat (along with embassies for at least 20 other countries).   In short, despite its reputation as a very authoritarian country, Turkmenistan has fairly “normal” relations with the West.

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Neutrality Monument in Ashgabat


Upon arrival in Ashgabat, I applied for my tourist visa by presenting a letter of invitation.  In contrast, my visa for North Korea was arranged ahead of time in Beijing and  was contingent upon travel with North Korean guides and an organized tour.  My arrival in Pyongyang was heralded by a power outage at the airport- itself a modest building.  Ashgabat’s airport is a much larger white building in the shape of a giant bird.  Tourists in Turkmenistan are free to explore the capital on their own, but a guide is needed for travel outside of the capital.  We were joined by a local guide who stayed with us during our visit through the country.  In Pyongyang, I turned in my cellphone at the airport.  This was not the case in Turkmenistan, where it was common to see satellite dishes and the main indicator of a lack of freedom of information/communication was that I could not access social media.  Because it was expected that tourists are always accompanied by guides and our accommodations were at the Yanggakdo Hotel (on an island), there were no opportunities for independent exploration in North Korea.  In Turkmenistan, I spent two days exploring Ashgabat all by myself.   While traveling around the Ashgabat, no one avoided me but no one went out of their way to talk to me either.  It was common to see police, but they also seemed fairly indifferent to me.  At least on the surface, it seemed that the level of control of tourists or the populace was not the same between the countries.  As of September 2017, U.S. citizens are no longer allowed to travel to North Korea.  This ban does not come from North Korea, but rather our own state department, so a major difference between the two countries at this point in time is that Americans can’t enter North Korea!

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An amusement park in Ashgabat


Both Pyongyang and Ashgabat are showcase capitals.   Ashgabat was hit by a massive earthquake in 1948, which leveled the city and killed 110,000 people.  During the Korean war, only two buildings stood in Pyongyang.   Suffice to say, both capitals are newly constructed since the 1950s.   Nevertheless, Ashgabat has undergone an extensive and expensive renovation since the 2000s, which has transformed the city into a white marble wonderland of fountains and gold.   In this sense, Ashgabat is certainly more luxuriant…as natural gas revenues have been used to remodel the capital.  Even the apartment buildings are marble.  Pyongyang is certainly clean and resplendent with monuments that celebrate the Kim family and Juche, but it is not characterized by the same parks, neon lights, clusters of monuments, and marble.   While Ashgabat is lit up at night, Pyongyang seemed fairly dark.  I think a major difference is that North Korea devotes more resources to the military and developing weapons (20% of the GDP goes to the military).  Because North Korea is embargoed and Turkmenistan is free to sell its natural gas, Niyazev had more money to play with in reshaping the capital (Turkmenistan spends about 3.5% of its GDP on military).  At the same time, North Korea is more developed than Turkmenistan.  Outside of Ashgabat, 80% of the country is desert.  The Karakorum Canal provides irrigation to agriculture (albeit wastefully), but the country, at least from what I could see- is very rural and agrarian where this is possible.  This underdevelopment is attributed to the fact that Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic mainly supplied the USSR with natural gas.  Its economy was not and continues to not be very diverse (though the fact that 80% of the country is desert puts a major geographical limit on development… USSR history and transition to capitalism not withstanding).  The legacy of Soviet gas exploration makes for interesting tourist attractions.  There are three large collapsed craters left behind by Soviet gas drilling.  One is filled with water, the other flaming mud, and finally, there is the Darvaza gas pit, giant flaming crater in the desert- which has been burning since 1971!   North Korea is a country that is industrial enough to…well, have a nuclear program.

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Darvaza Gas Crater


Both countries share a strong sense of nationalism, which plays an important part of the personality cults established by their respective dictators.  Niyazov invented the Ruhnama,  a book that outlined the history of the Turkmen people, but also was a spiritual, literary, and moral guide.  It was required reading for all students and government workers and the book was to be read with the Koran by imams.  Since Niyazov’s death, the book is no longer required reading- but it was meant to help develop Turkmen identity.  Berdymukhamedev has sought to connect Turkmen identity to horses- and Ashgabat features a Ministry of Horses as well as horse head shaped stadium built for the Asian games.  He also built a nearly 70 foot statue of himself on a horse and wrote a book about horses.   Turkmenistan does not have a long history as a nation state with a national identity.  Prior to the Bolshevik revolution, Turkmenistan didn’t really exist.  It was a region of nomadic people who spoke various related Turkic languages, lacked common political institutions, and often in conflict with one another.  This is not to disparage the people of Turkmenistan, as all nationalities are social constructs in one way or another.  It is simply to say that they had not organized themselves into a united people with a common identity and sense of political nationhood.  Despite the seemingly new and artificial construction of Turkmen nationalism, this seems to be the foundation of Niyazov and Berdymukhamedev’s regimes.

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The stadium built for the Asia Games.


Korean nationalism has been around much longer.  The Korean language is one of the oldest living languages, which has had its own unique script since the 15th century.  Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula sparked a modern nationalist, independence movement.  Various kingdoms existed on the Korean peninsula over history, but Korean culture and norms were united by a singular political administration since the Joseon Kingdom of the 1300s- late 1800s.   In North Korea, the juche ideology was used to support self-reliance, self-defense, the leadership of the Kims, and independence.  This is complimented by songun- or the ideology of military first.  Pursuit of military build-up at the expense of social programs or social welfare is undertaken to protect the DPRK from the United States.  So, while it seems irrational and cruel, it does serve the function of deterring direct U.S. military intervention- which has happened in many other countries.

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The USS Pueblo is a tourist attraction in Pyongyang.  It is a captured American spy boat which is a proud trophy in the nearly seventy year conflict between our countries.


There are certainly similarities between Turkmenistan and North Korea.  Both countries are disparaged for human rights abuses and lack of freedoms.   Both are viewed as among the most repressive countries in the world.  But, I think that travel websites overstate the similarities.  There is one major difference- this main difference is how these countries relate to the West (or the United States in particular).  This makes a world of difference in terms of travel, but also in terms of how these countries orient their economies, state ideologies, and social priorities.  It also means that Turkmenistan is largely ignored by the United States, whereas North Korea is on the news daily.  Of course, this could be blamed on North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs- but how much do we know about our own missile testing or nuclear history?  How much do we know about who and what we bombed today?  Because Turkmenistan does not actively defy the United States or our allies, it is forgotten and unknown.  And, because Turkmenistan’s government is not legitimized by a six and a half decade long conflict- it does look differently and act differently.  Thus, as a traveler to both countries, I tend to disagree with the comparison.

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Pyongyang

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Ashgabat

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