Vietnam vs. U.S. Culture, Nursing Homes

I was talking to my girlfriend tonight about which country we should settle down in.  I was getting a bit irritated because I felt like going to graduate school would be pointless if I’m going to live in Vietnam and teach English for the rest of my life, among other sacrifices I’d have to make.  She mentioned the recent Las Vegas mass-shooting and the lack of gun control in the U.S.  She’d be afraid of getting shot by a disgruntled employee at work, during a music festival, etc.  I tried to explain to her why the government is so permissive of gun ownership in the U.S., pointing to the constitution.  She said her government arrests anyone with a gun regardless of circumstances.  I told her my government doesn’t take people’s guns because people are afraid the government will start taking political prisoners or a tyrant will take over.  If I could wave a magic wand and change U.S. culture to be less gun-prolific, I would.  I’m not a gun ownership advocate and I can’t have a gun because of my suicidal tendencies.

We got on the subject of nursing homes somehow.  I told her if I ever become senile when I’m old, I don’t mind if she puts me in a nursing home.  She began crying.  I didn’t understand her reaction at the time, but it makes more sense thinking about the differences (that I’m aware of) between our cultures.  She has this mental image of  discarded, dysfunctional elderly people being thrown in an abusive nursing home like the Island of Misfit Toys.  In Vietnam, they usually don’t send their elderly family members to nursing homes.  I just didn’t want to be a burden on her.  I tried to explain to her that some elderly people just need around-the-clock, skilled care, but I understand her perspective.

In the mental hospital at the VA, they keep geriatric patients with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease in the same ward with the suicidal patients. It’s not a pleasant environment at a mental hospital from my experience.  It’s like sleeping in a school cafeteria.  As someone who enjoys quiet, the banging of the payphone from an aggressive Alzheimer’s patient on the phone with his wife or the constantly shouting Schizophrenic patient is jarring on the nerves.  I’ve never been to a prison, but I imagine it’s a similar experience with less crowding.  Not an ideal place to send your dear loved ones when they’re ill.  But the thought of my family having to run in terror when I mentally become a giant toddler isn’t pleasant either.

Maybe culture shock stems from not understanding the compromises societies make to handle complex social problems resulting from suffering that have no quick fix yet.  When/if cures for Alzheimer’s Disease, Schizophrenia, etc. are developed and ways to make homicidal/suicidal/abusive people less dangerous to live around for their families are invented, these short-handed compromises are the only solutions.  Hopefully, mental hospitals will become as outdated as leper colonies when I’m elderly, but I doubt it.  And maybe I’ll invent some technology with my graduate degree education that will help speed along society’s progress toward developing robot nurses who don’t get irritated when you ask for water in the mental hospital or just burned out from dealing with sick people, some more difficult than others.

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Reoccurring Prison Dreams

I had another one of my reoccurring nightmares about prison a few days ago. Since then, I’ve been obsessed with prison documentaries. I used to think the nightmares were a result of being bullied as a kid, but now I think I may have them because I watched Oz when I was a teen. In the TV series, a former lawyer kills his wife’s lover. Then gets sent to prison where he’s raped by a violent white supremacist.  I was a teen around the time that episode aired in the late 90’s.  Thinking back, I don’t think I started to have the nightmares until after high school.
 
I don’t believe in retaliatory justice or that prison/jail prevents crime as a deterrent. I believe it’s just a place to try to keep people isolated who have a tendency to hurt others. Also, that we hurt each other because we’re genetically similar to chimps. So we all have a tendency to victimize each other, though some are more predisposed to it than others. It scares me knowing I live in an eye-for-an-eye culture, or I will when I make it back to the U.S.  I’m still in Vietnam.  Some day, I may have a moment of monkey rage and act out in a fit of violence because I’m human.  But it helps to know that prison isn’t quite as it’s depicted in the media.  Sweden 
I’m still in Saigon.  I have a “tentative” job offer working as an IT intern at Ft. Leavenworth for the Army’s TRADOC department.  The offer is contingent on me getting approved for a secret security clearance.  I’m just waiting to hear back from the HR department about this issue at the moment.  It may take three months or more.  If my security clearance application is rejected, I may go back to school to try to get my master’s degree in computer science.

Two Interviews; A Market

The cooking class was a bust.  They open the classes in the morning based on whether or not participants have signed up ahead of time and I didn’t sign up before.  So I got to the place where they have classes and it was closed.  I waited until they open at 11 am, but was then told the person who runs it doesn’t hold classes unless more than one person has scheduled one.  So we went to the “Russian Market” instead of going to the classes.  I don’t know why it’s called a Russian market.  No Russians were present that I could observe.  No one was being pushy with their merchandise as I suspected they would be.  Just the tuk tuk drivers were a bit pushy.

I have two interviews today.  One is a Skype interview for an intern position at Ft. Leavenworth helping develop Army learning content, sounds like.  The other is a phone interview for a computer engineer position at Marshall Flight Center for NASA.  The Skype interview is at 11:30 pm.  The phone one is at 2:30 am.  I wonder if I should bother mentioning I’m in Cambodia or if they’ll notice I’m dead tired being up that late.

In Phnom Penh, Day 2

Met my designated tuk tuk driver that took me from the bus station yesterday when I arrived from Siem Reap.  I wanted to go to the S21 genocide museum and the killing fields.  He told me the gun range is near the killing fields and we should go, so I went.  I chose to fire an AK-47 for $160.  It was a steep price, but I figured since I had come this far, might as well go all the way.  I gave the range officer $20 for coconuts to fire at.  It hurts to burn money like that, but eh.  I’m not sure if I’m stingy or if I’m very frugal.  A bit of both I guess.

19657488_1589946591029711_1648634331637008055_nAfter the gun range, we went to one of the killing fields.  Over ten thousand people were killed and buried there.  They estimate around 150 of these fields exist around Cambodia.  Some of them are surrounded by landmines, so they haven’t been accessed.

19731966_1590002241024146_3853905335445262049_nThe pits in the picture above were filled with dead bodies before they were exhumed.

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Above is the inside of a large memorial building set up for the victims of the genocide.  Inside are skulls of victims.

Caretakers of the killing fields usually pick up the bones and clothes that pop up from the ground sometimes after rain, but towards the end of the audio tour, they left some of the bones and scraps of clothes.  The section is shown below.

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Then we drove to S21, which was a high school-turned-into-a-prison for the Khmer regime.  They said thousands were taken to the prison, but only around 12 inmates are known to have survived.  The inmates were tortured until they confessed to crimes they didn’t commit, then were killed.

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Above is a metal bed inmates were shackled to while they were being tortured.  They were given an ammo box to defecate and urinate in.  Brutal.  They estimate starvation and genocide caused a quarter of the Cambodian population to be eliminated in the 1970’s.

After this, I went back to the hotel and gave the tuk tuk driver $50.  I don’t know how much the standard rate is and I’m usually not good at bargaining.  Tomorrow, I’m planning on taking a Khmer cooking class and getting my teeth cleaned.

Still waiting for word of a job offer or an update about the VA’s proposal to lower my disability rating from 100% to 0%.  Someone called me from Comcast about a software engineering job, but all he said was that he was letting me know he received it.  I called him back, told him I was still interested and that I was in Cambodia so that’s why I didn’t answer when he called.  The time difference is 12 hours.  I told him to send me an e-mail or call me.  I’m still depressed as hell, but working will at least keep me mentally busy while doing something productive.

Got a Job at NASA;Self-Righteous Political Rant;Etc.

I got an internship at NASA at Kennedy Space Center in May.  Here’s a video clip of me in a technical speech presentation describing how it happened: https://www.flickr.com/photos/13606204@N04/shares/2ra1t8

Since I started working full-time, my free time is much more precious on weekdays.  It’s difficult to devote my time to causes like the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy workbook I perhaps should be working on when I’m obsessed with planning my Trans-Mongolian Express trip from Beijing to Moscow in December-January.  I’m thinking the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula and Chinese occupation of the South China Sea (sounds ironic) may preclude the closing of diplomatic relations with the U.S., so I’m trying to get visas to and visit both countries before that may happen.  Or maybe that’s just my excuse to visit countries that seem forbidding, but not too terribly deadly to visit or overtly hostile to U.S. visitors.  Or maybe they are.  I’ll find out.  I doubt it.

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This is my three-year visa to Russia.  Luckily, they gave me three years to spend in Russia 180 days at a time just based on a “letter of invitation” for a tourism visa I got from the Hilton Leningradskaya hotel after I reserved a room.  This gives me a bit more confidence in my ability to get a ten-year China visa.  A salesman from the tourism company in China I was trying to get to buy my train ticket for me ahead of time (CITS) told me I can’t buy a train ticket until November.  So I’ll have to wait until then to buy one and hope I can use the confirmation of that purchase to get a China visa.  It seems insane to me now how I’ve spent hours and hours trying to get a “letter of invitation” from CITS the past few weeks sending e-mails back and forth instead of just waiting until November.  I think my subconscious mind might reinforce the idea that whatever journey I’m taking in the future will be my ticket to happiness.  Reinforces it with images of sexy Russian women falling in love with me without all the weird consequences of that even if that happened like odd cultural misunderstandings that would make communicating precisely what we have in mind very hit-and-miss.  More likely, I’ll drink too much and hopefully not make a fool of myself or end up in some nightmarish gulag prison; try not to make eye contact when approached by prostitutes or pressured into buying knock-off junk in Beijing.

My brief self-righteous political rant: I don’t know how my co-workers and other people on social media can be so self-righteous about their own choices in politics.  But here I am being a hypocrite too.  It seems everyone forgets every national election year how little they participate in local politics and how futile it is voting for the next plutocratic/kleptocratic/soulless-attorney President.  I’ve thought it might be better voting a general like Eisenhower into the presidency, but even if the war they fought isn’t a fight for control of petroleum reserves like the “War on Terror”, you sell maybe no less of your soul ordering men to sacrifice their precious lives for a few yards of soil.  I guess someone has to do these dirty jobs.  I’m just not sure what the reward should be for that, if one is warranted at all.  Maybe just acknowledgement of the disillusionment that is involved with sacrificing more priceless lives for someone else’s misguided ambition.  And obviously enduring the raw horror involved in warfare.  Facing our own brutality.  And wow, are we capable of being brutal to one another.

I slept over ten hours yesterday.  Maybe it’s because I stopped taking Prozac.  My doctor weaned me off it in anticipation of trying a new anti-depressant called trintellix.  I faxed the pharmaceutical company that makes it (Takeda) my 2015 income tax form indicating spending $320/month on antidepressants is not a trifle.  I think I qualify.  I need to call them tomorrow and ask if they got the fax.  Thanks for the reminder, me.

Poverty

I can’t sleep.  I’ve tried meditating to keep my mind from grasping firmly at any of the thoughts endlessly passing through my stream of consciousness, but I’m not having much success tonight.  The difficulty seems to stem from a urge to control and fix problems in my life I’m mostly powerless over.

In my life, as in most people’s lives, I’ve had to contend with poverty in some form.  The poverty seems to shift to another area of my life just as I seem to have climbed out of poverty in another.  I have enough money in my life to breath easy.  Enough income to live independently and enough savings to live off of for at least six months.  I’m certainly not in freedom-related poverty.  I could move anywhere I would like because I have few social connections or obligations.  But this is a poverty in itself.

I’ve been too busy during various stages in my life to look at my past in order to gain an insight as to why I make certain choices.  Much of my poverty has revolved around my constant attempt to break my internal emotional compass before it steers me toward pain and humiliation again.  Waking up one day when I was nine in a horrible mood that never left me has been a major contributing factor.  That was the snowball.  Nearly everyone deals with trauma in their life, but this issue of clinical depression seemed to really steepen the learning curve.  The kids in fifth grade humiliating me daily when they learned how easily they could make me cry led to a distrust of everyone.  After that happened, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t trust my classmates through high school enough to care about them.  The mental fog of depression also contributed to my apathy.

My impulsive desire to divert my attention away from the pain of loneliness, apprehension and rejection led me to focus on computer games, philosophy and any other distraction I could find.  I studied computer science and engineering in college as a result.  I’m not much more intelligent than average and didn’t have much aptitude in math, so it was very challenging.  When the courses stopped demanding nearly every waking moment of my life in study, I lost interest and focused on something else that would distract me.  My poverty of happiness has given me an insatiable desire to stay mentally busy.

After college, I enlisted in the military because I couldn’t maintain the motivation to devote myself to study in the local community college nursing program.  I attempted suicide after basic training not because it was stressful, but because my mind raced in a depressed mania when we had comparatively more free time in job training.  The only career I could find that would give me a decent salary without experience or an education was truck driving.  Being away from home so often further isolated me socially.  When I was fired from that job and my owner-operator trucking business busted, I was back to square one again from the point I graduated high school.

One thing I can take solace in is that my life is not circumstantially catastrophic.  I have plenty to eat and shelter that offers privacy and comfort.  I am lonely, but I have been lonely for so long, I have become accustomed to it.  This isn’t a good thing for improving my condition because I’m in a state of learned helplessness.  But when I reveal my true thoughts with all their entailing pessimism and negativity, I become a burden and people cut me out of their lives.  Eventually, my negative perspective will surface with spouses and girlfriends.  It’s inevitable.  I just wish I knew how to carry this burden of loneliness and longing easier.  I read religious literature and pray every day hoping religion and spirituality can fill this void in my life.

I lived in a low-income neighborhood until I was ten or eleven years old.  Some of my neighbors were the most strong-willed, genuine and empathetic people I have met since.  Perhaps their difficult circumstances necessitated them to build on those qualities.  I’m hoping my happiness and social poverty will have a similar effect on me by improving some other beneficial characteristic of mine so I can better be of help to people.  At least until maybe my mood lifts one day.  Depression is one of the most treatable chronic illnesses.  I still have hope it will become at least a more manageable condition.

Trying to Do the Next Best Thing

I picked my coat and quilt up from my tailor’s business today.  She recommended sewing some reflective clothing on my coat and repaired the quilt my grandmother gave me as a graduation present.  I’ll paraphrase the conversation:

“Hello.  You look more attractive when you smile.  Is your life that bad?”

“I have clinical depression.”

“Oh, what are you taking?”

“Nothing at the moment.  Other than stuff to keep me from drinking.”

“Oh, no wonder you’re depressed then.”

She then pointed out to me that naltrexone, the drug I take as an alcohol craving suppressant, also suppresses dopamine.  So she wrote me a note saying: “Instead of suppressing the negative stimulate the positive meds“.  She also pointed out to me that three out of four of her brothers died of a cause relating to their depression illness.  I felt that maybe I should not have brought up my depression issues.  But I didn’t want her to think I was just choosing to be a grump.  It’s possible that’s what I’m doing subliminally, but I’m certainly not consciously doing that.  It’s a devastating illness.  I’ll try to do what I can to fight it.  I may never be happy.  But trying my best to contribute to society and be useful may the the closest I come to grasping meaning and purpose from my existence.  I’ll try to do what I can to be functional.  I mean exercise, therapy, medication, eating nutritious food, etc.

Love

I’m taking a course on the study of religion.  This quote by Freud is a very eloquent way to describe the benefits of love in my opinion.

“I do not think I have made a complete enumeration of the methods by which men strive to gain happiness and keep suffering away and I know, too, that the material might have been differently arranged.  One procedure I have not yet mentioned – not because I have forgotten it but because it will concern us later in another connection.  And how could one possibly forget, of all others, this technique in the art of living?  It is conspicuous for a most remarkable combination of characteristic features.  It, too, aims of course at making the subject independent of Fate (as it is best to call it), and to that end it locates satisfaction in internal mental processes, making use, in so doing, of the displaceability of the libido.  But it does not turn away from the external world; on the contrary, it clings to the objects belonging to that world and obtains happiness from an emotional relationship to them. Nor it it content to aim at an avoidance of unpleasure – a goal, as we might call it, of weary resignation; it passes this by without heed and holds fast to the original, passionate striving for a positive fulfillment of happiness.  And perhaps it does in fact come nearer to this goal than any other method.  I am, of course, speaking of the way of life which makes love the center of everything, which looks for all satisfaction in loving and being loved.  A psychical attitude of this sort comes naturally enough to all of us; one of the forms in which love manifests itself – sexual love – has given us our most intense experience of an overwhelming sensation of pleasure and has thus furnished us with a pattern for our search for happiness.  What is more natural than that we should persist in looking for happiness along the path on which we first encountered it?  The weak side of this technique of living is easy to see; otherwise no human being would have thought of abandoning this path to happiness for any other.  It is that we are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love, never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object or its love.  But this does not dispose of the technique of living based on the value of love as a means of happiness.  There is much more to be said about it.” – Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents

Politics

I saw a post on Facebook about Hillary and women/feminist role models. Reminds me of Ann Richards, our outspoken feminist and Governor of Texas from 1990-1994 (I think, I may be wrong about the dates). Lost to George W. Bush. It seems to indicate Texas, the state I grew up in, has a tiny bit of a progressive streak.  I watched her speech at the 1988 Democratic Party Convention.  She made a remark about George W. Bush having been born with a “silver foot in his mouth”.  Perhaps that attitude contributed to her inability to do the necessary inflating of egos required to attain the campaign donations needed to stay in office.

Living Situation

This constant rain is not too great for depression. Impulsively moving across the continent because of a divorce and noisy neighbors has had at least one good outcome: I know to use sunny weather as a filter for potential places to live. But number one is still not sharing a wall with a neighbor. Hearing spouses argue when one cheats on the other, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch coming home from work with their bass speakers thumping, crazy drunk people yelling, rednecks operating their construction business/motorcycle gang/family reunion next door…I’d rather contribute to urban sprawl and pollute the earth with my gas-guzzling car. I don’t see any other solution at this point. Other than creating my own apartment complex with extremely thick walls made with noise reduction/absorption materials. And maybe white noise emitters when a drunk white guy randomly “WOOOO!”s or guy-on-meth cranks up his bass speakers.