Curiosity at its finest


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Travelling Away From Labels

In life people are constantly seeking definition. Whether it be from a hobby, job, band, partner or friend circle, we all seem to want to be something definable, something recognizable, to call ourselves. Lawyer, teacher, artist, hipster, engineer, surfer, buff, musical; there are so many brands all with a multitude of connotations, and it is often these associations that inspire us to do certain things. Personally I had always been enamored with the image of surfing. I longed to be that chilled out, tan, rugged chick that rocked up to the beach in her old bashed up VW Kombi. Driven by this fantasy I convinced a friend to take me to the beach and teach me how to surf. After battling brutal waves on an icy winters day at Piha, my hazy golden conception of surfing was quickly destroyed. Instead of instantly becoming tan, hot and awesome my first time surfing only left me frustrated and freezing. However despite my initial disappointment I persevered, taking every opportunity I could to go out and wrestle the waves. I soon began to love the sport, not just for the label but purely for the enjoyment of it; for that feeling of riding a wave and being apart of nature.

As well as the surfer girl persona, the idea of becoming an intrepid traveller had always caressed my heart strings. I thought that no matter what happened, even if I had nothing to do, no friends or even no food, it wouldn’t matter if I was in a different country because I’d just be loving everything no matter what. After recently doing some travelling I quickly realised that this was another misconception I had. My experience overseas was a hard battle and only now-after being home for a little while and reflecting-has its beauty been able to reveal itself to me.

My most recent and most challenging journey took place in the summer holidays which have just past. I went backpacking around Asia for a total of two months, a fascinating and challenging experience. First I journeyed to Korea and spent a month there in the snow. Then I flew to the sunny Southeast Asia, spent a week in Vietnam and a month volunteering in an orphanage in Cambodia. I travelled solo and met up with various people at different stages of my adventure.

Firstly, I had now idea just how shocking culture shock could be. You know that feeling of meeting someone new who is totally different to you and they disagree with what you say and make you feel awkward for saying the wrong thing? It can be like that times one hundred. In Korea I was unaware of the large power distance which separates old and young people. Respecting your elders is of the utmost importance and me, being the outspoken Kiwi girl I am, totally disobeyed this custom and I even argued with some adult Korean’s I met. This caused some tension, to say the least.

Another thing which I struggled with was being away from my ordinary life. This is an obvious burden of travelling, however I didn’t realise just how much I would miss things that I wasn’t even aware of possessing. Like having someone to talk to who can speak your language, at times of my journey I missed that. I missed eating a carb other than rice and drinking good old english tea with milk and sugar. I missed being able to do little things with ease, like being able to take a bus which wasn’t as complicated to figure out as the Da Vinci Code. I missed having a bed a lot of the time and having warm showers. Most of all I missed being around people who loved me.

All of these issues and more made my trip depressing and lonely at times. I found myself continually doubting the concept of travelling and it’s usefulness. Why do people go on about how cool travelling is when it actually just sucks? Well now, looking through the clear vision of hindsight, I think I have a fair idea of why travelling is beneficial, or why it was at least for me. Firstly, trying anything new and exiting your comfort zone helps you grow. This is painfully obvious however hard to grasp when you are shivering and alone, sitting in that unknown place outside of your warm, cozy zone of comfort. However by taking a step out into the cold your understanding of what you can achieve and what you are capable of experiencing stretches. By increasing your awareness of your own abilities and shattering that fabricated box we all sometimes put ourselves in, we grow, and this growth enriched my existence. 

Also, when dwelling inside your comfort zone it becomes easy to stop noticing things and start acting simply on autopilot. I don’t know how many times I’ve walked up and down Queen Street without anything exciting happen to me, however when walking through a street in Korea or Cambodia, every road led me to a new adventure. Sure my adventures are largely accredited to my alien blonde hair and pale skin, which made me rake up a heap of attention, but they also occurred because I was curious and open to what was around me. Since travelling exposes you to a whole new environment far away from all of your own heavily treaded in understanding of the world, in a sense travellers become like new born babies. They are able to soak up everything around them with wide eyes and spongey brains. This fresh childlike purity allows travellers to see and experience everything around them, enhancing their growth and enriching the pure beauty of their experience.

Lastly, travelling allows for unexplainable moments of ecstasy to occur. These instances could stem from an unusual coincidence, stroke of luck, moment of appreciation, a large realisation or anything really, and would not be possible of occurring had you not been out there getting your hands dirty, experiencing the gritty reality of the world. Perhaps if we were able to adopt these clear eyes to our normal lives people would probably experience similar moments of ecstasy. However our understanding of our home is already so heavily ground into the fabric of our existence that it is hard to detach and let your surroundings truly effect you.

One moment which stands out to me was when I was totally sick driving across Cambodia in an old bus. I was lying at the back of the bus getting throwing up and getting thrown off my seat at every turn, yet during that seven hour journey I was totally content. It was like my brain and my physical body had become disconnected and I was able to be full of joy despite it all. I’ll never forget that bus ride and the pure joy I felt. 

Another memorable moment of interest was one of my last nights in Cambodia. I was driving home in a tuk tuk with some Australian travellers I had met when all of a sudden we saw a bunch of people surrounding a man who was lying in the middle of the road, bleeding and still. We stopped our tuk tuk and ran over to him. I saw the mans beaten up motor bike a few meters away from him, he had been hit head on my a car. With no one reacting I put my lifeguarding first aid skills to use and jumped into action. I commanded someone to ring for an ambulance and checked for his pulse. He wasn’t breathing, so I began performing CPR. I pounded on his chest and he spluttered back into life before I had to perform a rescue breath. After the ambulance came we went back to our hostel and then, when I was washing the mans blood off my hands, the seriousness of the situation dawned of me.

To sum it up, unprecedented growth and spontaneous moments of adventure were the real unadvertised joys of travelling which I experienced. In life our expectations and reality do not always stack up, that’s pretty standard analysis, but if you are able to understand the real beauty of things, your expectations can often be surpassed. Sometimes we are attracted to do things for the image we think we will attain by doing it. I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. We’re all social creatures and it’s not awful to want to do something that will give you good connotations to your peers. However the stereotypes we give activities are just as absurd as the ones we give other people. Things are far more complex than we perceive and just because someone surfs or travels that does not necessarily make them cool or hot or anything. We are who we are and yes what we do impacts this, but that’s it, it impacts us. Who we are is far deeper and more elaborate than an activity.

Is our Culture an Industry?

Have you ever watched a Hollywood movie and after the first ten minutes been able to foresee the entire plot line? All it took was a good looking guy to make extended eye contact with a beautiful girl and instantly you knew that they would eventually fall in love, have a problem, resolve the problem and then ride off into the sunset living happily ever after. Or have you turned the radio on and listened to a ‘brand new’ pop song which you have already heard a thousand times? The structure a generic arrangement of verses, bridges and the all-important chorus consisting of inspiring lyrics about partying and big booty’s. ‘The Culture Industry’ is a theory that seeks to explain why all mainstream media has become the same standardised and meaningless crap. Though this theory was created in the 1950s its fundamental concepts are still super relevant in today’s society.

Theodore Adorno was a Jewish-German philosopher influential post World War II. With fascism on the rise in Europe, Adorno fled to the US where the great thinker completely expected a communist revolution to occur. It didn’t; instead he witnessed the rise of rapid hyper-capitalism. The Culture Industry is a theory Adorno created to illuminate why capitalism spread so infectiously across America and how this has affected the nature of western culture and living.

Quick history lesson; during the 50s America was reaping the financial rewards of winning war. Under President Eisenhower’s intelligent presidential reign, the country’s economy boomed. The adults of the 50s had lived through the horrors of the Great Depression in the 30s and war in the 40s, so basically, people were ready to spend. Nuclear families flocked to the suburbs and bought motor vehicles, televisions, appliances and other such luxuries.

Once everyone had everything they already needed, companies made newer and better versions of pre-existing products and advertised them like crazy, perpetuating a general need to purchase more. People bought goods, disposed of them when they became out of fashion and then bought more, thus giving birth to the consumer. All of a sudden, though America only constituted 6% of the world’s population, they consumed one third of the goods and services.

In an economy driven solely by money everything became for sale, including culture.

Adorno’s theory argued that art was becoming generic and user friendly in order to sell itself to the masses, and thus it essentially lost all meaning. Original or revolutionary ideas were altered in order to become marketable. An example of this is the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Originally a kickass piece commenting on the passionless ‘pod people’ of suburbanised America, the producers forced director Don Siegl to alter the ending so that it was hopeful and conclusive, diminishing the film of all revolutionary qualities.

Or if any new ideas were successful and resonated with a large audience, they would get standardised (copied and made the same), pseudo-individualized (altered slightly) and sold back to the masses as unoriginal genre products. Adorno argued that pseudo-individualism gave people “the illusion of choice”, when really behind the marginally altered veneer the product’s core was essentially the same as every other thing of its kind. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this in terms of how relevant these points are in today’s cultural climate…

For example, a few years ago Twilight hit the theatres and became a huge box office success, the entire franchise grossing over $3.3 billion. Then overnight mainstream media was swarmed with almost the exact same sort of vampire eternal love shit (such as True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Lesbian Vampire Killers and so on). Not saying that Twilight was innovative or anything, just pointing out how profitable ideas get copied, made into a standardised product and changed ever so slightly so that it can be sold back as ‘something new’.

So although Adorno’s theory was created in the 50s it’s relevance today is undeniable. Popular culture is more generic than ever, sticking to genres and formulas in order to ensure sales. The Culture Industry is corrupting art and storytelling, two of the purest and most fundamental forms of human expression. Art allows people to delve into the depths of their imaginations and express themselves with no limitations or intentions and thus through art the human consciousness is able to expand. Commercialising art gives it an objective and thus totally denies the entire essence of expression. Without the ability to share free unrestrained thought civilisation will not be able to grow as a whole. This is bad; however there is something you can do to escape the consumerist mentality, create! Get together with your mates and make some original music, rub your body in paint and hug a tree, think for yourself and create with no restrictions. If you want to take it further record your stuff and share it up on Flikr, Youtube, Soundcloud etc. By doing this you’re able to escape passive consumerism and become an active ‘prosumer’. Hopefully this sort of mindset will be perpetuated and sixty years from now Adorno’s theory will no longer be relevant.

Read Read Read! 5 Brilliant Book Recommendations

There’s nothing quite like getting stuck in a good book. Whether you’re on a hot stinky bus or simply sitting on the toilet, with a captivating novel in your hands you can literally be anywhere or anyone. Novels with excellent character development and/or stunning literary qualities contain the power to touch individual’s souls. When a novel is truly thought provoking and ingenious it can even possess revolutionary qualities. Great authors can expose a generation to a whole new way of thinking, potentially alter a generations zeitgeist and propel societal change (think Nineteen Eighty Four or Catcher in the Rye). Reading exercises and strengthens our brains, helps us concentrate, increases our vocabulary and therefore enhances our capability to express ourselves more accurately. Ultimately it develops our ability to empathise with others and creates well rounded human beings. Studies show that couples who both frequently read are more likely to stay together, and that a common trait of highly successful people is that they all, yup you guessed it, read. There’s a myriad of reasons why reading is so good for us, yet in people’s busy lives it often drops to the bottom of the priority list, below Facebook and even below trolling through cat memes (guilty!). So as my social contribution to AUT students I decided to review my top five favourite novels in the hope of rekindling or perhaps even igniting the inner reading flame living in all of us. As a side note, these books are all regarded as excellent by people much smarter than me, so you don’t just need to take my word for it!

The Beach by Alex Garland

Fast paced, concise and edgy, this book is one seriously epic motherfucker! Garland wrote the screen play for the film 28 Days Later and The Beach is no doubt equally as action packed and intense as that zombie apocalypse number, making it a gripping, never-a dull-moment kinda novel. For those of you who appreciate fowl language dispersed among beautifully eloquent sentences, extremely to-the-point micro chapters and a love/hate relationship with your narrator, The Beach is most definitely for you! Sorry for the cliche but it has to be said, the book is TOTALLY 100 times better than the movie! So even if you’ve seen Leo parade around Thailand without a shirt on I still completely recommend this novel for a fantastic read!

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

An absolute classic, The Great Gatsby is a highly rewarding novel to those who relish in a more sophisticated style of literature. The pages are filled to the brim with fluffy and descriptive five-line-long kinda sentences, which are often breathtakingly beautiful if you re-read them enough to understand them. Though some people complain that the story is too simple and needs more dragons, if you look beyond the narrative and read about Fitzgerald’s deep messages hidden within the tale you’ll find it actually harbours a rather fascinating sub context which comments not only on the era it was made in but also timeless themes, making this 20’s piece still largely relevant today.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Oh Lolita, what a polarising novel! Yes the story is centred around a 36 year old and his love affair with his 12 year old step daughter, but it’s so much more than that! Hear me out before you disregard it completely! The charm to this novel resides not within the story so much but rather in the way it is told. The 36 year old is the narrator and his style of prose is so alluring, so enamouring, that he indeed manages to seduce the reader into empathising with him. Though he is clearly a predator whom should be regarded as a villain, his excellent writing forces the reader to enter into the deep confides of his mind, making it nearly impossible not to feel for the poor old pedophile. Lolita is also riddled with symbols and motifs giving it some hefty literary substance. If you’re interested in extremely talented writing and unusual themes I recommend this novel to you; prepare to be seduced by a madman!

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

This novel has won countless awards and for good reason; it will most definitely take you on a journey that you will not see coming! In White Teeth there is no main protagonist, instead the story rotates around a handful of interconnected characters, allowing the narrative to evolve through various lenses. Tackling issues regarding immigration, love, tradition, and intellect this book is extraordinarily nuanced and insightful. It’s a novel that I genuinely wish I could unread so that I could pick it up again for the first time!

Women by Charles Bukowski

If you’re not into sex then don’t even try starting this book; cool so that eliminates no one reading this article? No but seriously, Women is pretty heavy on the sexual content so if Disney and Harry P is your usual forte, I’d stay away from this risqué piece of foreplay. The story follows Henry Chinaski’s life, a boozed up semi-famous writer who seeks fulfilment by fucking every women that crosses his path. But is the animalistic, purely physical aspect of sex enough for any human soul to be happy? What really makes this novel a cult classic is Bukowski’s absolutely brilliant style of writing; direct, easy to read yet extraordinarily profound. Highly recommended read, however I warn you, only start it when you have no assignments due because the second you begin you will likely be physically unable to put it back down!

I hope this list has inspired you to pick up a novel again, give the pages a good old sniff, (we all do that sometimes, right?) and get amongst the reading scene once again! If you end up reading one of these books and would like to tell me how accurate or misleading my reviews were, please feel free to give me a holla at juliecleaver@hotmail.co.nz (yes I still use hotmail, sue me.) Or even if you’re just down to have a good old yarn about a novel, my inbox is always open.

Exploring the Authentic Cambodian Countryside


I swung gently gazing at the pockets of blue hidden behind the canopy of mango trees above. Despite the shade the humidity made sweat accumulate underneath my shirt and on my forehead. The motion of the hammock was relaxing. Earnestly I listened to the unfamiliar Khmer language being spoken. The words bounced up and down and intertwined with friendly laughter, the only sound I could understand. In the distance I could hear the gentle purr of monks chanting. Their voices were mournful as they ceremonially hummed for the dead, wishing them a safe journey to the next life. I sipped my freshly chopped coconut through a straw as I lay back and absorbed my surroundings. This is Cambodia, a majestic, unique and awe-inspiring planet far away from any earth I had ever known.

I journeyed from Ho Chi Minh, the bustling capital city of Vietnam, to the Cambodian equivalent Phnom Phen. Both destinations were over crowded with markets and structures of all shapes and sizes. An unimaginable amount of scooter traffic haphazardly maneuvered and squawked around the city in chaos, like a gigantic flock of aggressive birds. The cities were dusty, cheap and fascinating, however they only offered one side of the heavily contrasted Southeast Asia. I came to see authenticity, not just a big city.

After a few days of exploring the sites and haggling tuk tuks I ventured away from the buildings, tourists and smog of Phnom Phen and took a bus to the pristine countryside of the Kandal Providence. Farming villages, endless green rice fields and an unimaginable amount of Pagodas (Buddhist temples) swept past my window. As I ventured deeper into the unfamiliar countryside a sense of excitement accompanied with an undercurrent feeling of fear came over me. I knew I was travelling into a world totally foreign to my own.

As I reached my destination The Jasmine Orphanage fifteen gorgeous little girls and three barking dogs greeted me. They all ran up to me in an excited cluster of giggles and barking. The orphanage director and his beautiful wife then came and officially welcomed me to their home. One girl came up and held my hand, a tiny gesture of love which overwhelmed me in that moment. We walked around the orphanage together, my fingers clutching hers as tightly as hers were mine. It seems we both needed each other for some reason.

The orphanage was a beautiful place. It was dusty and filled with an endless mob of mosquitos, but stunning nevertheless. Upon arrival I was told that I would be teaching English to the girls four times a day. Two hours of teaching in the early morning and two hours in the evening. This left me with an insane amount of free hours to explore the unfamiliar Cambodian countryside.

Teaching English was difficult to say the least. The girls knew a lot less than I originally thought and I basically had to start from “Hi how are you”. With only a white board and no Khmer (the Cambodian language) skills it was a challenge to communicate what I was trying to teach, however my epic acting skills made things a bit easier. Despite the problems I faced the girls were all eager to learn and repeated my words in booming voices that would have left an old person cringing.

The first time I left the orphanage gates and wandered around the countryside the extent of my unfamiliar appearance dawned on me. In the city locals were more accustomed to seeing tourists however out these ways a little white blonde girl might as well have been a green extraterrestrial creature. Everywhere I went eyes fixated on me. People would sometimes just stop what they were doing and just stare at me in confusion. It was exciting to stand out and due to the randomness of my presence every adventure I had was somehow more interesting.

Most days I would leave the orphanage and visit the Pagoda next door. The site was absolutely phenomenal. Large elaborately designed temples sat in amongst a field of Buddhist statues, ponds and gardens. I always sat on top of one small temple cross-legged and just watch the monks perform their daily tasks. There’s something awe-inspiring about monks and I don’t think it’s not just because of their beautiful orange robes, perfectly baldheads, or peaceful demeanor, it’s more. To me monks possess something indefinably spectacular and silently observing them do ordinary tasks, like washing their robes or pulling out weeds, was a true delight. Also, when the monks were hidden away in their temples meditating I would sit outside and meditate simultaneously with them. The amount of good karma I soaked up from doing that will hopefully enhance the quality of my next life…

I would frequently get lost wandering around the rice fields which surrounded the area. The leaves of the plants were so inexplicably green that it felt like someone had photoshopped them, upping the contrast and vibrancy to 100%. Sometimes deep in the fields I would run into a farmer tending to his crops. His shock to see me was painted boldly across his face. I would always smile, a universally recognized symbol of peace. The deeper I ventured into those fields the further away from myself I felt. I had no concept of time or even space, I was just there in an endless moment, reflecting on life and all it is to everyone.

At any given time you are on earth you are no further or closer to this planet, yet hidden away in the Cambodian countryside I felt solar systems away from any earth I had ever known. We all design our own understanding of this world based on what we see and hear and being in such a foreign environment, observing and assimilating to the Cambodian lifestyle, I was able to recreate my viewpoints about what life is and what it can be. Now I see this existence as an endless amount of opportunities. At any given time if you are unhappy in your situation you are simply a plane ticket away from a totally new world. You will never be able to escape yourself but you can escape your fabricated perceptions and limited view of things.

Einstein; the Plagiarist of the Century


When most people hear the name Albert Einstein they think of a genius, tongue-poking scientist and perhaps the formula E = mc2. Those who know slightly more about him recall that he was an imaginative German physicist who fundamentally created the theory of relativity.  

Even fifty six years after his death, Einstein is still globally renowned as being one of the great masterminds of the 20th century. On a personal level he was one of my ‘academic heroes’, his quotes proudly plastered all over my walls. However, when I looked beyond the glowing aura that surrounds him and actually studied his works, I discovered a harsh and disappointing truth. To the scientific community, his brilliance is not actually correlated with inventive discoveries, but rather his ability to plagiarise other scientists and sneakily dodge copyright lawsuits.                                                                           

In 1905 Einstein wrote a long thesis entitled “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”. This article discusses the theory of relativity, part B disclosing the ever famous formula E=mc2. However, Einstein failed to mention a single source throughout his whole thesis. Scholarly journals generally contain pages of footnotes and references; therefore his inability to cite even one source is beyond peculiar, even for his times. Not to mention the fact that Einstein was also a trained patent clerk, making him more than aware of laws regarding plagiarism.

So was Einstein just an inherently gifted scientific prodigy who was able to conceptualize every theory he supposedly invented on his own, without building on prior discoveries? Yeah right. Surely someone with that sort of mind would be intelligent enough to research other theorists’ viewpoints, at least out of interest if nothing else. But if not Einstein, who is to credit for all of the great breakthroughs in relative motion? There are numerous individuals to recognise, in fact too many to name. Theoretical discoveries and creative processes are generally collective ventures, ones where people build on existing ideas adding their own nuance and expertise to the subject matter. Nonetheless there are two major scientists whom Einstein heavily embezzled information from.

Firstly, there is the French mastermind named Jules Henri Poincaré (1854-1912). Keswani, the author of ‘Origin and Concept of Relativity’ (1965) stated that, “Poincaré introduced ‘the principle of relative motion’ in his book, Science and Hypothesis, published in 1902″. Einstein’s thesis which was created in 1905 ‘coincidentally’ features similar discoveries, yet he claims to have never read or encountered Poincaré’s report… how convenient.

There is also the Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz (1853-1928) who won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1902. Lorentz’s findings were the fundamental basis of Einstein’s paper. Bjerknes, who was a meteorologist instrumental in creating the modern weather forecasting system, stated that, “Einstein’s theory is not a denial of, nor an alternative for, that of Lorentz. It is only a duplicate and disguise for it.” Sorry to be like that kid who told everyone in primary school that Santa wasn’t real, but Einstein is, indeed, a phony. He even said himself that, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” He was a blatant cheat, and he knew it.

But how did he get away with this? Why didn’t somebody in the know brutally expose him and reveal his deceitful nature to the entire world? The answer is basic, almost obvious; money. The scientific community was profiting greatly from their new poster boy, receiving generous research grants and attention from the media they never before had. So for the greater good of their society they overlooked the truth about Einstein and falsely praised him regardless.

Keep in mind that all this went down in the early nineteen hundreds, so there were no snarky online bloggers to shut him down and reveal him to the public. If Einstein was alive today perhaps this scandal would not have occurred. Although despite numerous semi-recent attempts to expose him, including Christopher Jon Bjerknes book, ‘Albert Einstein: The Incorrigible Plagiarist’ (2002), his idolised reputation has remained ingrained into the collective public opinion.

Now I’m not trying to entirely discredit Einstein; he still was an innately intelligent man who helped propel a few discoveries here and there. However, the towering pedestal he stands on is unfairly deserved. But Einstein’s story is just one example among hundreds, perhaps thousands, of common misconceptions, thus bringing me to my point; “Interroga Omnia”-which is Latin for “Question Everything”.

It is easy to trust accepted beliefs, but they are far too often tainted with inaccuracies. So unless you want to be deceived your whole life, challenge established truths; delve deeply into matters and find the accurate, objective answers to your questions. Your findings may likely be worse than your initial perceptions, but they also may surprise you for the better. Either way, as an intelligent member of this world it is your right to know what is really going on and to not be unknowingly misled into constructing your reality based upon lies. So do not simply listen to the truth, instead, hunt for the truth. Interroga Omnia.