Giving, Receiving and Power Adaptors

Until recently I had an adaptor which took many different countries’ power plugs in and converted it to fit into the Japanese sockets. The person I lent it to, however, neglected to give it back before returning to Germany which in turn ticked me off for a little while. I have, however, come to the point where all the electrical devices I use have Japanese plugs, so the loss of the adaptor is not so much a pain as an annoyance since I paid good money for it.

As a side note, prior to that I also owned a big, green, round universal adaptor, the kind that accepts any country’s plug and can convert it into any other country’s plug. In that case though I forgot it and left it in Okinawa at the farm I was WWOOFing at. I hope that future international visitors there get good use out of it.

I bring all this up because my friend, Sand Dreamer, asked me if I would sell my single remaining adaptor, a simple one that would take an Australian or New Zealand plug (two sloping prongs) and convert it to fit in the Japanese sockets (two vertical prongs). As I mentioned I don’t currently need any adaptors but I did want to hold onto it just in case something came up and I needed it, I wouldn’t have to go out and find another one. I asked Sand Dreamer to let me think a bit about it, also saying that I couldn’t remember the cost. I think it was either 200 or 300 yen which is about $4.

I gave it some thought and realised that I was holding onto it for a potential but improbable event need arose but otherwise it would just reside in my backpack unused. My friend needed it because his own chunky universal adaptor (the same type I left in Okinawa) was falling apart and he used it to power his laptop. His need was certainly greater than mine. Certainly he could have gone out and found something in Akihabara (this is Tokyo!) but that is besides the point I think. I had something which he could really use and it would even mean less useless crap being lugged around in my luggage, negligible though it may be.

The only decision left was what price to sell it at. I really can’t remember if the cost was closer to two or to three hundred yen but then I realised that the difference was a mere 100 yen and agonising over it was a waste of brain energy. More than that though, the entire cost was small; why not just give it to him for free?

It comes to me that the easiest and cleanest way to not worry about the price of something is to give it away for free. I can’t go giving everything away for free but this was definitely a good opportunity to do so.

I don’t know what value Sand Dreamer will put on this whole affair but it’s worth something to me to make a gift of it. There is something that just leaves you feeling better when you give something away rather than sell it. It’s not about how much something costs. It can’t be measured in dollar terms. It is simply a gift or it is not.

It reminds me of a lesson another friend, Ricardo, an American/Mexican, taught me when I was travelling in central Europe around Serbia & Montenegro. He noticed that when it game to giving and receiving I had a tendency to get hung up on keeping things even. At the time a chance-met backpacker was selling his hiking boots which were in mint condition. He’d just bought them but it turned out they were too small for him.  They were a pretty sturdy pair of boots and the weather was turning cold and wet. Unfortunately, even though they were better than my boots, I too had just recently bought mine and I didn’t want to spend any more money. I decided not to buy them.

As that backpacker was leaving the hostel dorm for the last time I awoke from my bunk and he said that I could just have the boots for free. He certainly didn’t want to carry the useless boots around in his backpack. Did I accept his gift? No. Rather than that, I offered him the little money I had on me at the time. I think I got the boots for around ten euros, an absolute steal, but that’s still a lot of money for a backpacker like me.

Later Ricardo commented to me that my view of gift giving and receiving was different from his. When I gave a gift, maybe bought a friend a coffee, in the back of my mind I was making an entry into a log book, keeping track of who bought what and how much was spent, who owed who. I was giving with the expectation to receive. Not only that, I was receiving with the burden of reciprocating in kind. I think it has to do with how I was raised, it may be a bit of a Chinese cultural thing. Everything is kept balanced on the books. Favours. Gifts. Everything.

Ricardo’s view was the complete opposite. When he gave he gave, he told me, he did so without the expectation of receiving something in return. He was backpacking like me and so was also tight with his money so he added that he didn’t just give anything away but that when he could afford to part with something he didn’t need then he would give freely. The corollary to this was that when he received he also received without burdening himself with some obligation to pay the person pack. When he was offered something he felt no need whatsoever to pay that person back. He received freely.

In the case of the boots, Ricardo thought I should have taken them for free and not felt some vague sense of guilt about it. Later in my trip around Europe I realised that if I had taken those boots for free, then I would not have felt obliged to sell my original pair of boots and recoup some of the money I had paid for them. If I had received the boots for free I would have felt much more easily about giving my original boots away for free. Instead, I lugged them across the breadth of Europe looking for someone with the same boot size to sell it to. In the end I just left them in a hostel for free, without even a recipient in mind. It might be that the hostel staff just threw them out with the trash.

I’m not sure how long it took for me to really understand this new concept but now it’s a concept I try to embrace fully whenever I can. The acts of giving and receiving haven’t changed but my way of thinking about them has. It’s liberating to not have to constantly keep some book of accounts in the back of my mind, to both give and receive without attaching any unnecessary mental and emotional baggage to those acts. It’s kind of like karma. Hopefully my giving away of gifts will have a ripple effect and flow on to the next person and the next and so on so forth. That’s a good enough reward for me.


The Valencia Incident

Last night the police contacted my parents about an accident involving my brother’s car. Thankfully for us they had made a mistake in the number plates of the car involved and my brother is safe. Following this scare I am sharing this account of my own brush with death. I’ve wanted to pen it since reading Stephen King’s account of his own life-threatening incident where he was struck by a van and was severely injured. Thankfully he survived. I got lucky too.

My account may not be completely accurate. Memory is not so reliable and hell, I got hit by a car. Besides, I’m a writer. I’ve a creative license and I like to use it.

The Valencia Incident

Spain 2009. My friends and I are holidaying and that morning we had taken part in La Tomatina, the famed tomato fight that takes over the Spanish town of Bunol. After heading back to our hostel in Valencia and cleaning the tomato juice from our ears we headed out to a club for our final night on tour. The previous night was the Water and Wine Festival in Requena and I had imbibed copious amounts of the latter libation. It was a wild night and suffice to say I nursed a terrible hangover the next day which meant I was not touching alcohol this night out at the club.

A quick aside. If you want a hangover fix, try a tomato fight amongst thousands of people crammed into a single street. Maybe it doesn’t have to be tomato. Oranges perhaps? The adrenaline will brush aside any of the lingering symptoms of hangover. But wear expendable clothes.

I was tired and bored at the club, so me, Smack and his fiancée, Queen decided to take a taxi home. As we crossed the street outside the club a car came around the corner. It was a pedestrian crossing so I assumed we were safe. Assuming that others are following the same rules as you is a great way to get yourself in trouble. But of course that’s what society is so what can you do?

We saw that the car was not slowing down despite our incredulity so we hustled to get off the road. I remember reaching the safety of the curb (another silly assumption) and thinking to myself Alright. We made it.

How wrong I was. All I remember is the sensation of something pressing into the back of my leg. My foot seemed stuck to the ground and so I toppled forward.

The next thing I remember is the gurney being raised and then I was in the back of an ambulance. At some point someone tested my reflexes by running something along the base of my foot but that might have happened on the ground. At this point I was lucid enough to text message Smack, GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW. I was scared by the unknown and wanted the support of my best mate.

I’m told that the car was being driven by a drunk driver. It had mounted the kerb and struck me; I had hit my head on the ground and was lying in a pool of blood. I was unconscious and having a fit for a couple of minutes, my breathing slow and shallow. Smack thought I was going to die. Then I relaxed and my breathing strengthening.

One more metre per second, one more metre or maybe just a foot and maybe I wouldn’t be here right now to type this. It was a close thing. There is a world of difference between life and death but the line dividing them is a thin one indeed.

Queen had rushed back to the club to get help and my other friends had soon rushed out. My good friend BFG had stripped out of his new Zara shirt to wrap it around my head to staunch the bleeding. Thanks BFG!

I was taken to hospital where I remember my black CK jeans being removed, shorn right up the length of the legs. You know that old piece of advice from someone’s mother. Always put on clean underwear when you leave the house because you never know when you’re going to be struck by a bus. Well it turns out it is good advice. I distinctly remember being pleased to get compliments from the nurses on my blue satin boxer shorts with red love hearts all over them.

Only one of the nurses spoke English and in a mad world of the unfamiliar I grabbed on to her like a lifeline. She translated the doctor’s words for me. I remember her telling me that they were going to have to insert a not-so-thin probe into somewhere thin and not-so-used-to-entry-of-foreign-objects. They said that it was not going to be comfortable. Scared, I asked them if it was going to hurt. It did. But apparently whatever reflex they were testing for was still working and to this day I’m thankful for that.

I remember having my head shaved so that they could stitch my scalp together. I think I remember the eight staples going in.

During the night I complained to the nurses who didn’t speak English. Somehow I dredged up my limited Spanish. Frio. Frio. I tried to convey that I was cold or hot or that my head hurt. The compression bandage that was probably keeping my brain from swelling was uncomfortably tight. The nurses did their best and what felt like hours later I think I got some relief in the form of drugs.

I was told that a head specialist was going to come in and run some CT scans on me. I don’t remember much of the scans themselves; a shame, but I in high school I’d done work experience in a radiology clinic so nothing too new there. The wait for the scans and then the doctor’s opinion of them seemed interminable. In fact there’s not much worse than lying in bed not able to sleep when you yearn for nothing more than the oblivion of sleep. It’s the same whenever I have that afternoon coffee.

The news was all good and I was released the next day. Most of my friends had flown on to Ibiza but I went to stay with Smack and Queen. I gave my thanks and said my goodbyes. I even got a photo with my guardian angel though I’ve shamefully forgotten her name.

When I was released from the hospital I had only the clothes I’d come in with so I tried to pin my jeans back together. They didn’t hold together too well and I ended up walking in jeans with incredibly high slits in them, much like an incredibly risqué dress. The fashion hasn’t seemed to have taken hold in Valencia. My white shirt was blood stained and I must have looked to the locals like I’d been in a fight for my life. Well I do like to attract attention when I walk down the street. The blood stains washed out and I still have the white shirt I was wearing that night. Not so my love heart boxers unfortunately.

Ignoring common sense I was desperate to continue my holiday (don’t let getting hit by a car stop you). The next stop was a week of partying in Ibiza. I couldn’t fly for concern over blood clots in my head so I booked a ferry to rejoin my friends. Dancing in clubs with a bandage around the head makes for an interesting spectacle. Many took it to be part of my costume. I had a great time singing and dancing with friends in Ibiza and don’t regret making that decision, immature though it may seem. Even as I write this I’m listening to and watching Big Bang and 2NE1 video clips and I just want to get up and sing and dance. There’s an energy in it; it’s food for the soul and that’s something I hope never to lose as I get older.

To this day I’m not especially careful about crossing roads. I was right back on the horse so to speak. I am more aware that you need to look after No. 1 but it’s impossible to live without making some assumptions about society operating according to certain rules. Down that path lies paranoia. We walk the street taking for granted that we don’t have to be on the constant lookout for rogue cars. And for the most part it works. Truly there is no avoiding some of the things life throws our way. You just have to deal with it. Hopefully we are prepared.

The Taste of Fear

I got a nasty surprise last night when my Dad called saying that the police had reported my brother’s car had been in an accident. I immediately tried to call his phone but it rang unanswered. I tried the house phone but it went to the answering machine. I immediately took the train home and tried to not let my fear run away without knowing any more facts. Still, it was impossible to stop imagining a car accident, hospital and even death.

It came to me that finally I was getting a taste of the anxiety over a loved one being involved in a life-threatening incident. A couple of years ago I was involved in just such an incident while in Valencia. My friends and I were leaving a club and without going into the details here, I got hit by a drunk driver. I had been knocked unconscious. I was taken to hospital, got some stitches and spent the night in observation. For a time it was not certain whether it might have been worse.

However the incident has never filled me with fear or a feeling of mortality. Even right after the incident I showed no signs of shock. I was cautious not to fly immediately but I did end up taking a ferry to Ibiza within only a couple of days so as not to miss out on the partying we had planned. Ah the folly of youth.

It turned out I was in fact too close to the incident to feel the fear. While my friends feared the worse, ironically I was the least worried since it is impossible to worry when you are unconscious. Not so last night. As I ran the streets back home I police van passed me with lights flashing, my anxiety shooting up. Then it turned off down another street and I thought to myself no, the police are not going to be visiting that news upon our house tonight. I trusted that the cops had GPS and were purposefully not driving towards my house. Then a black car coming up the street slowed down as it neared me. I squinted trying to read the number plate. Yes! Some number completely unknown to me. I wanted absolutely nothing new and unknown to me right now. No news is good news right.

I turned into my driveway and there was my brother’s car. That’s something. I put my key in the door but knocked on it anyway to get in as quickly as I could. And there was my brother opening the door for me, safe and sound. He was on the phone explaining to my Dad that the police must have made a mistake in the car owner details. I hugged him in relief. It turns out his phone was on silent and when the house phone had rung he had ignored it. What was he doing at the time? Playing some video game. One can only laugh.