Advice, Ideas, Inspiration, Life, Random Thoughts, Self Reflection, Short Story

The Choice

It was one of those mornings…

The sun was sneaking its head above the fog. A lone car could be heard reducing its speed at an unseen stop sign then slowly accelerating down an unknown street.

Pure beauty. It was peaceful, it was quiet, it was… 



It was ghostly silent.

A morning scene had just been converted into a messy crime scene. Harmony was upended. Order was overthrown. The smell of chaos and citrus lingered in the air.

The victim was an innocent kitchen floor. 

A clean blue-tiled floor once occupied this house. What remained was now a soupy coalescence of orange juice, fruit, and leafy greens. The plastic cup that once protected the ingredients of the supposed breakfast was laying motionless on the floor. Standing above the destruction I could feel the smooth plastic lid of the blender gripped tightly between my fingers. It could have been a few seconds of standing there or possibly an eternity as I blinked in silence. 

Perhaps I wasn’t silent. Perhaps a few four-letter words escaped my tongue almost as quickly as the smoothie’s contents dove from the countertop and crashed onto the surface beneath my feet. 

It was supposed to be a healthy morning consisting of daily servings of fruits and veggies mixed with positive energy but inside I felt an unhealthy amount of stress. I could feel the volcano inside of my consciousness starting to boil. The magma was there and it was ready to explode, wreaking more havoc to a landscape that was already in a state of disrepair. 

I wanted to do a lot of things at that moment. I was furious, I was sad, I was thirsty. More than anything I just wanted the satisfaction of creating a smoothie. 

Why me? was the first thought that flashed to mind. Why did this happen to me? For a moment the world felt over to me. I was done with planet Earth and ready to move to Mars. I paused, took a few deep breathes, my eyes feeling watery, and then I asked a different set of questions to myself. 


Why did this happen? 

I pressed the lid too firmly onto the plastic cup. And why did I press too firmly? I wasn’t paying attention. My mind was somewhere else, thinking of everything on the planet but the smoothie. Heck, I was already planning my day for after the smoothie. It wasn’t the lid’s fault, not the ingredients, and not the chirping birds outside. It was an open and shut case of user error. 

Standing alone in the kitchen, I didn’t have a smoothie or clean shoes. I felt empty inside my belly and in my heart. Abruptly, however, out of the wreckage and vitamin-infused debris of an experiment gone wrong, something emerged in what at first appeared to be nothing. 

In this morning of utter failure, I actually did have something: 

A choice

This was a moment for me to make a choice, which could either benefit or severely hinder the day. The options felt clear: I could say yes to the internal magma and have a loud and even more destructive tantrum. I could walk away, avoiding the problem at hand. I could give in to the urge to call my mom and ask for help. Or, gulp, I could remain calm, clean up this filthy mess, and ask myself one more question:  

What is this moment teaching me right now? 

I was feeling so tempted to scream but let out an aggressive exhale instead. Three or five more breaths followed almost automatically.

Nothing I did could put the juice back into the blender. The deed was done, the past was now history, and what remained was how I wanted the future to look like. I lost my power to make breakfast, but I still had the power to control my emotions. I grabbed some paper towels, collecting the strawberries and banana slices. 

What was this teaching me?

I needed to be present, to pay attention, to be in the now. I wasn’t appreciating what was in front of me. 

Many years ago I took a yoga class and the instructor kept saying the same mantra: “How you do one thing, is how you do everything.”

I felt like she was exaggerating at the time but as I grew older I began to agree with her statement. This morning felt like her words we being tattooed onto my brain. The way I made breakfast this morning was the same way I brushed my teeth, the same way I talked to people on the phone sometimes, and the same way I drove a car. I wasn’t fully there. Part of me has always been somewhere else. 

My stomach was growling but my mind felt full. Wow, I thought to myself, did I just freaking learn something at 8am on a Tuesday? Heck yeah!

The day would turn out alright.

Long story short: 

In 2022 I want to feel more present in everything I do, in every interaction I have, and to more fully appreciate who I’m with. I will also try to not be so hard on myself when I make mistakes and keep remembering that everything has a silver lining. What I mean is, there is something positive we can create out of moments that appear dark (aka moments when our smoothie decorates the floor).

Thank you for reading. I sincerely hope you had a great 2021 and start the New Year in amazing fashion. If 2021 wasn’t what you wanted, then I’m sure you grew a lot and learned a great deal about yourself so that is something really positive. 

Take care and much love!


P.S. If you believe in NY resolutions, what are yours for 2022?

Asia, Life, Random Thoughts, Short Story, story, Vietnam

Existential Side Conversations

Somewhere in Vietnam in 2019.


“So where do you live?”

It was such a simple question. How could I know that this would open up Pandora’s Box?

I blinked for a what felt like the longest second of my life. 

It was early, too early to hastily register the words being digested into my brain but not early enough to know that the coffee I just drank wasn’t very strong. 

My eyelids were burning, but not from a lack of sleep or a flame dancing in front me. 

Well, a flame was dancing, but it was millions of miles away. 

The sun. Its crimson and blood orange grin pierced into my line of site.

I had happily continued the small talk with this woman from the moment we exited the terminal on foot then stepped onto the transfer bus that would drive us to a resting aircraft. 

It started with a remark I made about her husband’s University of Washington hat, an odd sight to be been in Vietnam. 

The conversation was jovial until she had to ask me where I lived. 

Internally a mental conflict started to sprout. 

I could have simply responded that I lived in California but my heart wouldn’t let me say those words.  

I was too far away from home, already weeks into a trip that didn’t have an ending date, living out of a backpack, under caffeinated, and not in the mood to just continue with the typical flow of conversation. 

The truth of the matter was that in this precise moment in my life I didn’t know when I’d be settling in a place to call home. I just knew that somewhere in Danang there was a hostel bed reserved for me.

The rattle of the shuttle finally jerked the words out of my mouth. 

“Well, ma’am, I guess I don’t really live anywhere.” 

I blinked and she blinked.

Damn. Do I really not live anywhere? When was the last time I felt at “home?” Where is my place in this world? 

The words came out and I felt my face turn red, probably not from the sunshine erupting into my consciousness. She looked at me like suddenly we’d entered a networking event. Maybe this woman who was sitting a few feet away from me was a guidance counselor in a previous phase of life. 

“Well, so what is your….expertise?”

The word expertise rolled out slowly and overly pronounced. Her eyelids narrowed. Her husband offered a soft smile but kept silent. He must have known that this was the wrong lady to strike a casual conversation with. 

I wanted to continue in a slightly sarcastic fashion but already she had struck me deep in my core. 

What the hell am I good at? 

I could have said that I was a college graduate at some point in my life and that I had x experience doing  y and z but once again I stopped myself. Why fluff myself up to a stranger in a bus driving thousands of miles away from what I used to consider a “normal” life? 

“I don’t think I have an expertise yet, I guess I’m still learning what it is.” 

I hoped my travel buddy would interject with a comment but he was smartly listening to music and not paying attention to the conversation. 

A few more words were shared between both sides of the aisle. I couldn’t help but feel sullen. We hadn’t reached the plane yet and already I was feeling a gap of purpose and belonging. 

My mind was circling these concepts so vividly that anything else coming out of the woman’s mouth would have been greeted with the most default answer imaginable just to stop the internal bleeding of my ego. 

“So what do you think about our borders?”

Oh shit. Be full alert Danny. Code red code red.  

The words exited her pierced lips and reverberated in my eardrums. A deluge of tension flooded my senses and soon I didn’t care about not belonging anywhere. 

I just wanted to be somewhere. The airplane, for example, would have been a fantastic place to be but for some reason this damn tarmac happened to be forever long. 

Was it the Vietnamese border she was talking about? California’s border with Oregon? California’s border with Mexico? Nevada? Was it the thin walkway that separated this prying retiree with this overwhelmed and groggy blog author? Did she believe we needed a wall somewhere? 

I wasn’t sure if she was being serious but as I examined her expression I could tell she genuinely wanted my opinion on the matter. She must have mistaken my scruff with Keanu Reeves or someone running for city council. Too bad I was just a thirty-something unshaven backpacker who didn’t know what border she was referring to.

I didn’t ask for clarification and answered in most neurtal and diplomatic way possible.

“..Being in the Bay Area…um…we are very diverse…and uh…we don’t directly see the effects of what’s happening along the border..” 

What the frick did I just say?

She scanned me for a fleeting moment, determining whether my response marked me as friend or foe. I hoped my words were enough to evade any potential tension.

“My granddaughter is a lawyer in Texas…she’s working to help undocumented immigrants…” 

She soon changed the topic and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Whatever missile of awkwardness that was being launched was a dud and the remainder of the conversation reached its organic conclusion once the vehicle’s doors opened upon arrival to the plane. 

We said a brief “good luck” and “good bye” and I mentally crossed fingers to have a seat really far away from theirs. 

She and her husband continued their journey while my friend and I continued ours.

Nearly two years after that morning, part of me still feels the internal monologue during that bus ride: 

What’s my expertise? Where do I belong? 

I’m still going through that process.

In the meantime, a blog post here and there is good medicine for keeping positive.

The biggest difference between me now and then is that now I’m ok with not having everything figured out yet. Life is still pretty damn good.

Have a wonderful day, thanks for reading, and I hope you’re doing what makes you happy.



P.S. Have you experienced any random conversations with strangers during a journey that left a profound effect on you? I’d love to hear about it!

Advice, Guides, Hacks, Random Thoughts, Travel, Travel Tips

Useful Applications To Enjoy While Traveling

Remember the days when we didn’t have Siri or Google Maps?

There was a time when we didn’t have the wonders of smart phones. We needed to print boarding passes, call a taxi, ask people on the street for directions, roll the dice on random restaurants, and consult a bulky guidebook for a list of museums.

Life was more challenging because we needed to work harder for enjoyment, but when we succeeded the feeling was euphoric.

Thanks to the simplicity of smart phones traveling domestically or abroad has become less of a burden. This being said, I still romanticize about being completely disconnected while traveling. In fact, I encourage folks to keep their phones on airplane mode for at least part of the duration of a journey. It will be an exercise of remaining present.

However, there are situations when we need our phone and it saves us time, money, irritation, and sometimes preserves our health.

Over the course of my travel career I’ve found myself increasingly dependent on certain applications. I wanted to share with you some applications that I feel will curate a fantastic travel experience. Some of these you may already know and others hopefully are new. Either way, I hope at least one of these will help you in your future travel endeavors.


One of my favorite aspects of traveling is connecting the dots between destinations. How heck can one get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh then to Hoi An? Rome2Rio is a route planning application that offers every form of transit between nearly every city on earth.


Similar to Rome2Rio, Tripit grants travelers access to transportation information. In addition, it integrates every facet of one’s travel itinerary together in user-friendly fashion. It’s like a personal travel assistant, which makes the hassle of connecting flights and multiple reservations less of a chore. The downside of Tripit is that there is a fee, however it offers a 30 day free trial (good for at least one trip).


Imagine you’ve just arrived into Tokyo or New York and now you need to figure out the expansive train system. Moovit is the application for you. It’s like Rome2Rio as it displays route information between locations. The benefit of this app is that its focus is on metropolitan areas and the information provided is constantly updating. It will abate the sensation of being overwhelmed in a new city.


Scribt is a database of thousands of books, audiobooks, magazines, and newspapers that can be easily accessed for less than $10 a month. Personally I prefer paper books, but sometimes we want to avoid superfluous packing. Selections can be downloaded and read offline on a traveler’s phone and there is even access for Kindle owners. Scribt allows readers to change the font, text size, and background color to cater to the needs of the individual.

Turbo VPN

A VPN was used here…

In some countries like China the most common apps we love (Facebook, Google Maps, Instagram) are prohibited. A trustworthy VPN is necessary and I’ve had the most success with Turbo VPN. The majority of travelers I’ve spoken to are preferential towards Norn VPN, however my experience has been more positive with Turbo.

Uber or Grab

Part of the adventure of traveling is stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Hailing a taxi in a foreign environment falls into that category. It can be a mixed bag. Based on my experience, it can be a challenge to trust the local taxis while abroad. Some can be con men while others might be clueless as to where your destination is located. To avoid unnecessary problems I think it’s best to resort to a ride share service. Depending on where you are headed, it is advisable to research which services are the paradigm for that particular location. Uber has a large stake in this market, but countries throughout Asia utilize Grab.

Culture Trip

This bowl of ramen comes from a hole in the wall restaurant found on Culture Trip.

In my opinion the premier source of researching a new city or country is Culture Trip. This portal was designed by travelers and is filled with fascinating articles about history, nightlife, traditions, dining, and whatever else you might be keen on researching. If you want to take their trip to the next level with prime experiences, download Culture Trip and let your inspiration roam. I wouldn’t curate an itinerary solely on information from this site, but it is a quality source. At the very least, the articles are interesting and something to read while waiting for a flight.


I’ve written about Meetup in a previous blog post and my opinion since then hasn’t changed: This is one of the best applications for traveling abroad. Imagine yourself on a trip to Lisbon, not knowing anyone. Meetup is a site where people post gatherings based on all sorts of interests. These are typically pubic events, so anyone can partake in the revelry. Language exchanges, happy hours, movie nights, salsa dancing, you name it is on this site. It’s ideal for solo travelers or even those interested in discovering a new circle of friends with similar interests.


Most of the people here are on Couchsurfing, maybe you will meet them 😉

Couchsurfing, along with Meetup, is a fundamental resource for travelers who wish to A. make new international friends and B. potentially lower trip costs by staying for free in people’s flats. The focus shouldn’t be to save money and take from others; it should be to share and learn about cultures. It’s a wonderful platform if used with the right intentions.


Lastly, when we travel our senses become bombarded from all corners. We become exposed to exotic sites, smells, and sounds. One of my favorite parts of being abroad or even in a new bar is keeping an ear out for interesting music. If we have wifi or data it’s now seamless to scoop up songs via Shazam. There are numerous apps which help listeners identify songs but I’m partial towards this one. If we feel like being brave and adventurous there’s an even better program: it’s called going to the bartender and simply asking what that last song was. 🙂

Thanks again for reading this blog post!

Hopefully you found this interesting and helpful. I can’t promise that these applications will elevate one’s travel experience. Trying some or all of these out will without a doubt at least add some comfort for a future escapade in a faraway place.

Have a wonderful day. Whatever you’ve been doing, keep it up I think you’re great. 🙂


Photo by Link Hoang on Unsplash
Ideas, Inspiration, Random Thoughts, Travel

Books That Inspired Me To Travel

So there I was…

Stretching my legs along the couch, I was half-watching a black and white movie. On the surface everything was fine. It was a typical succession of events to a routine evening. After trying to understand the plot of the film my mind abruptly went somewhere else.

I was drifting, flying as far as the eye could see.

A flash and a jolt later my mind landed back onto the couch. Possibly the effects of too much marinara from a pasta dinner was playing mind tricks. Whatever had just happened, I knew one thing for sure:

I was restless and wanted to go somewhere. Anywhere.

Despite a large dinner I was still ravenous. A handful of goldfish crackers or popcorn wouldn’t suffice. I needed to wander. A simple walk down the street wouldn’t cut it. Where could I go? A plane ticket was out of the question. Driving at night wouldn’t provide any scenery. There weren’t any bars, cafes, or restaurants open. At this hour, there existed one solution to abate the rising tide of wanderlust.

I went to my room, opened one of my favorite books, and started on page one.

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux (2002)

Image by Simon Matzinger from Pixabay

“All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there…”

I felt like an addict getting my temporary fix. Oh hell yeah, baby is what I thought to myself.

This is an excerpt from the first line of Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, an account of his epic journey from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt (over 6,000 miles!) on land. Not only did reading a few pages help me wind down, but a thought bubble popped into my head.

Maybe next year I should go to Egypt?

Woah woah woah, hold your horses Daniel.

I put the book down and refrained from browsing Skyscanner for cheap flights to the Middle East. This is the power of Paul Theroux; He not only makes you feel like you’re next to him on his adventures, but he makes you want to quit everything and escape to the great unknown. I’m a huge fan of his books and Dark Star Safari was the first one I read back in 2010. This book not only inspired me to see the world but it also motivated me to write.

It made me think about the other books have inspired me to travel.

On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

On The Road was required reading in high school so my introduction to Jack Kerouac was not out of pleasure. Being a teenager living with a curfew and little desire for rebellion it was difficult to pick up what the author was throwing down.

Years later, while literally on the road, I stumbled upon this book (seen in the above photo) in a hostel book exchange shelf. I donated a recently finished book to the shelf and gave the story a second read. It was mesmerizing and eventually became a fixture to my room. I’m thinking that it’s time to donate this book yet again..

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2003)

Image by DARSHAK PANDYA from Pixabay

A copy of Shantaram was gifted to me by my friend Kelsey sometime in 2016 (I think) and it couldn’t have been welcomed at a better time. The story of an Australian fugitive who flees to Bombay, India to create a new life, Shantaram (by Gregory David Roberts) is a novel loosely based on the actual life of its author.

The story of the protagonist named Lin resonated with me because at the time I was in life transition and searching for a place where I felt like I belonged. I was feeling lost, so reading about a man who rediscovers himself in India gave me hope. It’s a wonderful story filled with countless characters and twists.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1988)

Image by Nico Wall from Pixabay

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

The Alchemist is the only novel I’ve read three times. The first time I was emotional and inspired to see the world. The second time I felt that it was best to find happiness at home. The third time I became hungry and ate a salami sandwich. However way you interpret the book’s message, it’s a captivating story and has the power to ignite a fire in a reader to make a major life decision. Be warned, the third time around will induce heart-burn.

Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson (1985-1995)

One of the most impactful books of my life wasn’t a novel but a comic strip. I first put my hands on a collection of Calvin & Hobbes back in elementary school. Back then I didn’t know how to read yet but the illustrations had my eyes racing from page to page.

The story of a mischievous kid and his best friend Hobbes, his stuffed tiger doll, the comic defined my childhood. I felt like I was Calvin: we both were an only child, about the same age, vivid imaginations, and oddly had similar looking parents.

Over time, when I finally learned to read, it became my favorite comic strip of all time. Calvin & Hobbes would go on adventures through outer space, the Yukon, and through time. Bill Watterson’s creation was one of my first ever escapes and it fed my growing desire to see what this world was all about.

Thinking for a while longer, I tried to come up with another favorite travel book but contemplation was greeted with quietness.

Perhaps it hasn’t been written yet…

A flash and a jolt later, my attention landed back onto the couch.


Thanks for reading! I appreciate your time and hope you’re having a wonderful day.


Covid-19, Hacks, Ideas, Life, Random Thoughts

The Universe According to Zoom

It’s 8:25am on a Tuesday and I’m not wearing any pants.

I am wearing boxers and but they shouldn’t be seen in public.

The good news is that I’m indoors – only my fridge can judge me.

The bad news is that in five minutes I’ll have to meet my Spanish teacher for a class.

The disaster is escalating.

I need to put on a pair of pants, brew coffee, and brush my teeth. There’s not enough time to do all three in five minutes so I do what any logical human should do:

Make a pot of that sweet, delicious coffee nectar.

After pouring a cup of Joe, I race to my room, flip open my laptop, then connect to where my teacher hasn’t even started the lesson yet.

Sitting with my coffee, I tried to picture the last time I had to physically arrive to a classroom.

Back in the day (pre-lockdown), most of us had a routine that revolved around leaving our houses.

The world feels considerably different now and the feeling can be increasingly lethargic. Rather than focus our attention towards going out, we now need to stay inside. This is tough but doesn’t signify that our lives are finished. Despite being sheltered in our places, we don’t have to stop doing what made us feel connected.

The wonders of modern technology are here to the rescue.

Warming up to Zoom

unsplash-logoPhoto by Gabriel Benois

If you’d asked me a month ago what Zoom was, I would’ve responded that it was perhaps a pop group from South Korea. Little did I know but this videoconferencing application has nearly become a household name.

I was always a Skype guy so the mere thought of downloading Zoom made me want to shower away the guilt. Since most people I knew were now keeping in touch via Zoom I felt obliged to cross over but this was a rocky voyage. Luckily, the support of my girlfriend and dozens of repetitions of the mantra “Zoom is great, Zoom is better than Skype” led me to finally accept it into my life. I can now admit that Zoom is (gulp) useful.

Thanks to Zoom, Skype, or Google Duo, we can connect to our friends and family circles without the hassle of brushing our teeth.

Additionally, Zoom can also mitigate the yearning to break free of the shelter-in-place which in turn reduces putting ourselves (and loved ones) at risk.

A big reason why I’ve (semi) converted to Zoom is that the majority of hobbies I enjoy can still be done on this particular platform.

Dance Classes

For folks who used to attend weekly dance classes, chances are high that their teachers are now offering lessons online. Before social distancing, I used to frequent Fernanda Cedeno Dance & Fitness in San Rafael. Thankfully, Fernanda, Camillo, & and Jhonatan are teaching their classes on Zoom.


Many gyms across the US such as the YMCA are now providing various workout classes like yoga and zumba on Zoom. As a secondary option, Instagram is swarming with personal trainers and fitness influencers who post easy stay-at-home routines.

Meditation & Yoga

Spirit coaches, healers and life coaches are finding a spike in demand these days. Zoom has become a primary medium for them to lead free or inexpensive meditations. Additionally, a great source for virtual yoga classes is a portal called The Ranch.

School & Beyond

Schools worldwide have closed shuttered their doors and locked away their projectors. Students aren’t off the hook as Zoom has stepped in as an essential tool for teachers to keep the semester rolling. Also, educators who work for now closed private language companies are now offering group or individual classes via Zoom. Verbling is also a valuable resource for private language classes.

Cooking Classes

Expanding our knowledge in the kitchen is a great way to pass the time. A simple search on Bing or Google can yield exciting recipes. For those who desire some guidance, why not book a Zoom class from an interesting source like The Seasoned Chef? Food-centric website Delish also offers cooking classes through their Instagram account. Also, the Tasty Youtube channel is loaded with mouth-watering recipes.


Khuong Nguyen

To my knowledge Zoom or Skype haven’t been used for concerts, but Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have. Since the outbreak, countless singers, musicians and DJ’s have set up miniature stages in their living rooms to broadcast their music to their fans. A practical source of streaming live music can be found at the Stay at Home Fest website.

Zoom isn’t perfect; various reports of security flaws and data leakage have opaqued this service’s reputation. Because of this, sensitive information should not be shared on Zoom. If you feel uncomfortable about it then here is an interesting article for keeping keeping your Zoom meet-ups secure.

Thank you!

We don’t have a clear idea yet about when this lockdown will be lifted, but at least we have ways to remain occupied and maintain our hobbies.

Thank you for checking this post out! You’ve just spent five glorious minutes of your day reading.

If you’re looking for more to pass the time, here’s an article about staying positive during this situation we’re all in!

Have a wonderful day, and that mask you’re wearing is very becoming. 🙂

Also, if you use Zoom what is your opinion of it? Is it better than Skype?

Take care!

Fiction, Random Thoughts, Short Story

The Case of the Sneaking Rut

Once upon a time, under the covers of a bed not so far away, I found myself trapped.

Outside, the fall air was blanketed in fog and I was groggy, struggling to get the morning started. 

The sheets weighed like cinderblocks – they usually do but on this particular morning they were oddly stronger than normal.  

My arms trembled to break myself free. After a few revs the cerebral engine kicked into first gear as I launched the covers off my body and in a daze I lumbered downstairs. 

A series of steps later and soon I was face to face with my daily rocket fuel.

My loyal french press.

Without focusing, muscle memory had me opening a cabinet and twisting off the lid of a mason jar filled with ground coffee. My vision was blurry and hands were shaking. I erratically started digging and scooping tiny mounds of coffee into the press, and the blue linoleum all around me became tarnished as grounds escaped to the floor.  

It didn’t matter; this was time for coffee and to wake up.  

Not one, not two, but three massive scoops of Safeway Select ground coffee were necessary for this batch of brew. 

Water boiled on the stove then my frantic hand swirled the mixture together. A voice echoed from some far off corner of my consciousness as the liquid began to steep. 

Daniel, you’re in a rut.

I blinked and didn’t break eye contact with the metallic press, ignoring whoever that was who said that. 

In the background, the kitchen clock’s metallic hand became maddening. Once every second my serenity would become disrupted by a tick. 

Finally I pushed on the steel lid on my coffeemaker, plunging it deeper into the canister and dividing the grounds from the hot water. 

A wonderful waterfall of caffeine poured into a white mug.

One sip, then another, then one more for good measure. 

Usually the mere flavors of coffee would instantly perk me up but this morning was different. 

Nothing, absolutely nothing. The tide of drowsiness wasn’t receding; it was flooding all over the morning’s picnic. 

I poured a second cup of java. 

Oh frick I thought to myself. This was the moment I was fearing since the day I started my successful passion project many years ago of drinking an endless supply of coffee provisions: the caffeine stopped working.

After multiple tastes it became clear that that no matter how many cups of coffee were drank that it wouldn’t be enough to mask the hard truth: 

Maybe this was a rut.  

It was time for a new plan of action. 

I plopped my torso and legs onto the floor. I started to push myself up and back down in fury. If the sweet nectar of caffeine couldn’t galvanize my body then surely some bursts of physical activity would.

Up, down. Up, down. Up, down.

My arms creaked in harmony with the floor as momentum started to dissipate. Gravity became the victor as my body went limp. The only place that escaped the muscular burn was the right side of my face as it pressed against cold kitchen. 

Damn my feeble 32 year old body I cursed. In a pant I lifted myself up and down a few more times but it wasn’t to any avail. Exercise wasn’t doing to dig me out of this internal hole that seemed to be shoveling dirt into my face. 

I sat up feeling lost and already missing the good old days of a caffeine buzz. 

This was a textbook case of being stuck in a rut.  

Neither coffee nor exercise could appease the inner vacancy. There was something missing and I needed another remedy. I needed…

…to write. 

Natural light entered my world as I opened the blinds, returned to the coffee table, flipped open my laptop and oxygen seeped into the deepest corner of my lungs. 

A blank Word document. 

Without thinking my fingers started to dance across the keyboard. 

In times like these what the heck could I write about?

A flurry of tapping and spaces and periods started to consume me. My roommate aka-my dad walked by and I only greeted him with a neanderthal-like grunt. Somehow words crept into the territory of sentences and eventually something happened:  

I started to wake up. 

The kitchen clock was probably still ticking but the only important thing was filling the blankness of the word document in front of me. Moments later I looked up and noticed that hours had passed. Whatever it was I had written was suddenly finished and a wave of relief came over me. My hands needed a break and inside the flooding was at bay. 

This exercise was firstly just a form of therapy and way to distract myself. However, after a quick skim of the draft I actually liked it.

A thought bubbled up into my head:

Dare I share this with the universe? 

I decided to not wait a second later and publish it in my blog, before waves of doubt started to swell. Clicking open my page I noticed that it had been months since publishing anything. 

My blog didn’t need to give me a lip service for its lack of attention because the aftertaste from all that coffee was from a blend called remorse. It had been a neglected digital puppy from a lazy wannabe verbose owner. The inspiration garden had been suffering a drought so nothing had been motivating me to write. 

After copying, pasting, and finally clicking the “publish” button I realized that we don’t have to be inspired to create something, we just need to start and eventually inspiration will come. Going with the flow and seeing what happens often times works in interesting ways. 

A small green notification told me that the article had been successfully published to the world. 

Looking out the window the fog was fading and it appeared that the day would actually be beautiful. A mental scan told me that the rut was thankfully gone. The voice came back.

Daniel, this might be one of the best days ever.

I was going to brush my teeth, get the day started, but impulsively I sat back down, opened the laptop and clicked open the article. 

I had to read it again…just one more time for good measure. 

I read the opening sentence to myself:

 “Once upon a time, under the covers of a bed not so far away, I found myself trapped.”

After a moment I decided to close the laptop and get going. This was all I needed. 

It ended up being a truly wonderful day.


Thanks for reading, I like your style!



Asia, Life, Random Thoughts, Travel

Chapter One: Two Friends in Asia

There exist few books that I can say are a personal favorite, but some stick out in my often fleeting memory.  Everything I Never Told You by Chelsea Ng, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez are three that I like to recommend friends in need of a page-turner. 

In all honesty I couldn’t tell you the major plot twists or who were the main characters. Despite this, there’s something that I remember: The first sentence from each opening chapter.

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

-Everything I Never Told You by Chelsea Ng

“I was thirty-seven then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to the Hamburg airport.”

-Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez 

The first time I read these lines, I was like holy cow. These three sentences created an instant infatuation with their respective story and for me they proved that these authors are, or were, masters of their craft. In fact, reading these lines again brings a small tear to my eye.  They not only offered a reminder that reading physical books is an enjoyable experience, but they also inspired me to write this blog.

Now that I’ve shared these three opening lines, what the heck do I write about?

The main reason for this blog post isn’t to only express enthusiasm for three great writers.

I also wanted to share an update about my life and for a story that hasn’t been written yet. The epilogue started in 2009, when my best friend Jack Colombo and I made a promise. We agreed that one day we would take a break from our normal lives and backpack through Asia. Back then it was easy to say, yeah man let’s do it, even though we never had an actual Where, When, or How actually established.

Well, it’s been almost ten years since we pinky-sweared. It was our scout’s honor to fulfill this personal quest and, despite years of different plans, Jack and I didn’t forget about this dream.

I feel truly fortunate to say that after months of planning, it’s official; He recently left his job, and I just put my notice in at mine.

On January 6th, 2019 Jack and I are grabbing our backpacks and leaving the United States. I can’t tell you the plot twists, who all the characters will be, or how this story will unfold.

The only thing I can give you is the first sentence of our book’s opening chapter:

“It all started on a one-way flight to Bangkok.”



Europe, Life, Murcia, Random Thoughts, Spain, Teaching, Travel

Dear Murcia,



fullsizeoutput_26f5Hey, how’s it going?

Did you get a haircut?

We’ve met a few times but unless you’re regular of MuyBici stations, El Palmar, Esparragal, or various plazas that serve cheap coffee, you probably don’t remember me.

I normally don’t write letters to cities, but today I’m in the mood to get some things off my chest.

Since 2014 you and I have had an on-again, off-again relationship.

I’d crash in one of your pisos for six to eight months, work as an English teacher, then head back to the United States filled with good memories and ready to continue towards something else.

Each time I reunited with the place where I grew up, discovering what should have been that something else was quite a challenge.

Each summer, after saying farewell to you, I’d find myself in limbo and not really knowing what to do next.

This being said, my overall goals have never changed:

I want to challenge myself, to keep learning, and I also want to pursue as much happiness as possible.

Keeping this framework in mind, I have found myself gravitating into your city limits for four consecutive years.

Each experience has been different and the people who I’ve encountered, the bonds that have been created, and memories that have been shared are all things that I feel truly grateful for.

You’ve stood my side as I tried my first tapa, rode my first ALSA bus to Alicante, danced in Sala Revolver, drank my first Estrella Levante, and taught my first class of students.

You’ve helped me grow as a Spanish speaker, English teacher, salsa dancer, traveler, friend, and overall as a person.

I wouldn’t be the man I am right now if it wasn’t for your patience and willingness to accept me.

I’m saying these things because I want to say thank you for everything.

I’m also writing this letter to you because it’s time for me to say goodbye.

My contract for this school year has expired and for the past five day’s I’ve been enjoying temporary retirement.

In fact, as you read these words I’ll have already moved away from Murcia and taken a train to Barcelona, where a scheduled flight back to the US will take off on Thursday.

“See you later” has been said to friends, suitcases have been stuffed to the brim, and anticipation for seeing family and friends back home has been growing.

After being away for seven and a half months, it’s time to come back to California. It’s time to reconnect with my family, to catch up with childhood friends, and to create new memories.

It’s time to take what I’ve learned this year and apply it towards new things, and new challenges. It’s also time to start focusing on a new set of goals.

I can feel the limbo creeping back into the front page of my mind as I write these words.

Inside I can hear a song repeating in my brain.

It’s called “what the f*** am I going to do now?” and honestly the melody needs some fine-tuning.

I’m looking up at the sky to see if there’s a smoke signal or perhaps a carving in a tree that’s meant to point me in the correct direction.

Right now my future goals aren’t out of oven yet, and the ingredients I have at my disposal are lots of research, self-reflection, advice from loved ones, and frankly just living.

I hate to say these words, but there’s a chance that you won’t be part of these future plans, at least not immediately.

Maybe we won’t live together anymore. Maybe we’ll just visit once and while. Instead of generating income with you, maybe I’ll spend my generated income from somewhere else to come and say hi to you.

We met by coincidence, and honestly I couldn’t have ever predicted that we would have spent so much time together. Life can be interesting that way, and it’s as unpredictable as the restaurant service in your restaurants (sorry that was I low blow, I know).

Inside I know that we are destined to meet again. It’s just too early to know when yet. Right now the only place I want to be is back home.

I hope from the bottom of my heart to continue to learn, love, make mistakes, grow, and simply be alive with you again.

Until that day happens, thank you once again for everything.

Un beso and abrazo,

Daniel Catena

p.s. Thank you to everyone at IES Marques de los Velez, Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, and Vicente Medina for helping me be a better teacher. Thank you to Lola, Jesus, Pepe, Toñi, Elena, Marga, David, Paco, Lucia, Lindsey, Matt, Ambra, Lisa, Lieven, Estela, Asun, Rali, Maria, Jessica, David, Zamai, Maria del Mar, Isa, Susana, Jose Antonio, Maria Jose, Ascension, & many others for being great friends and for helping me be a better person. If your name isn’t mentioned here, I apologize and want you to know that you are still important to me too.

I hope to see you all again soon!

Coffee, Europe, Ideas, Life, Murcia, Random Thoughts, Spain

The Smartphone App Purge

Author’s note: No phone applications were permanently harmed during the writing of this post, and everything you are about to read definitely maybe happened.

Sitting in Santo Domingo Plaza, under the protection of a dark tinted cafe tent, I was scrolling through the touchscreen of my smart phone when suddenly a crazy notion pinched me on the arm:

All of the apps on the phone are starting to stress me out.

Maybe the effects of caffeine hadn’t quite hit my system yet, but in that moment I felt that it was time to go back in time, back to the days when I hardly used applications. Looking at the screen, I felt overwhelmed by all of the programs that I’d been collecting like vintage Pokemón trading cards. Scanning a rough estimate, I counted about forty apps. In my mind most of them were purely used out of convenience, and not out of necessity.

I took a deep breath and hopefully it was only a lack of coffee that was making my index finger shake.

The first victims were my travel apps: Hostelworld, the ALSA bus app, and Skyscanner. Screen press, click, click, click, and soon all of my news apps disappeared into digital oblivion as well. The phone swamp was getting drained. Flashes of 2012 started flickering in my mind, or maybe even as far back as 2010. I was feeling lighter and maybe a little bit younger.

However, the sudden crowning of absolute power caught me off guard, and without thinking I deleted my Gmail app.

Shit. I probably still needed that one.

This cafe didn’t have wifi and my Vodafone data plan was running on fumes, so I wouldn’t be able to redownload Gmail from the app store until I found a hotspot somewhere.

I thought oh well, and continued weeding the crystal glass garden sitting in the palm of my hand.

I decided that Spotify and Whatsapp were two untouchables, but why not delete Facebook Messenger? One press and click later, I remembered that a lot of friends back in the United States exclusively communicated through Messenger. If they didn’t think I was dead yet, or at the very least trapped in a well somewhere, then now they absolutely would.

Shazam? Gone. Skype? Bye bye. Instagram? Gulp, let’s see what happens.

Oh wait.

Before I knew it, the display on my phone had downsized to merely one page. I didn’t need to scroll anymore, everything was right there in front of me. The trauma of a couple unnecessary deletes left me a little rattled, but a sip of coffee swished away the temporary grief. I could finally breathe, and the stress that these apps had for some reason caused me was starting to finally recede like a reverse lava flow.

Without having time to enjoy my recently achieved weight-loss, a really cool song started playing in the cafe’s background stereo system.

Damn, I would have liked to know who that was.

Now I’d never know because the space on my screen where Shazam used to raise its family was now occupied by a square-shaped icon of absolutely nothing. I could have asked some cafe employee, but pressing a blue button on my screen seemed more appropriate. Also, usually the people working there didn’t even know that there music was playing. I remembered a funny picture that a friend tagged me in on Instagram, and soon I felt like a criminal. Had the power been taken too far? What kind of calamity had I just committed?

I was inspired to vent about my brash burst of decision making in a blog post, but that wasn’t possible, either. WordPress and the Pages app were only memories.

Did I even have money to pay for the coffee? I could have easily checked my bank balance to make sure that I could pay by debit-card, but the BBVA mobile app wasn’t there to help.

Oh no, did I have a private English lesson this morning?

My Google Calendar app was gone, but luckily no angry Whatsapp messages had flashed on my screen yet.

Digging around with my non app-destroying hand and salvaging one euro from my front jean pocket, I paid a cafe employee and scanned the horizon for a place that might have a public wifi network. I needed to right these wrongs, and I had to do it quickly. If only I had Google Maps to guide me…

I stood up and sent my gaze around the plaza, accidentally making awkward eye contact with a lady who had just ordered a croissant.

Is she really going to put that much butter on that thing?

I decided the best option was to go to the library. I’d pillage their wifi and pretend to read books…

The End?


Europe, Ideas, Life, Murcia, Random Thoughts, Spain, Teaching

This is El Palmar

One morning at IES Marques de los Velez, in El Palmar, Spain…

As the door to the classroom opened, and a flow of sleepy students seeped through the entryway, I tried my best to give each person a smiling “good morning.”

It was 8:25am and English class was this group of twenty-something teenager’s first class of the school day. I was already two coffee’s into my morning, and not even the sweet nectar of caffeine could help me maintain a genuine smile. This indeed was early, and the fuzzy look on everyone’s face told me that this class was going to start slowly.

Chairs began to screech along linoleum floors, chatters of half-asleep El Palmar teens began to rise as backpacks flopped on the ground and people took their seats.

I brought my own chalk, had a powerpoint saved on a pen drive, and had already decided that today we would kick-off with a game that would wake them up.

“Everyone be silent please!”

The other teacher in the room gave the group an authoritative stare as she sat down with the rest of the group, leaving me the only person in the room still on their feet.

These four words would be everything that she would say for the next fifty-five minutes, and now her “assistant” (myself) was in charge to teach whatever the material was for the day.

My job title was on paper “English Language Assistent” however as the most powerful person in the room had just sat down to grade homework assignments, apparently I had just been knighted.

It was the end of January, and promptly being granted this promotion at the beginning of class was to be expected.

Back in November however, when I took a bus to IES Marquez de los Velez for the first time, this came as a surprise.

I paced into this same classroom for the very first time, on this exact day of the week, almost three months ago, with an expectation that I would be assisting a teacher in whatever activities or lessons that she needed.

On this fateful morning, after introducing myself, showing the group a quick powerpoint about where I grew up in America, and fielding a couple questions, I was looking at the teacher with a look of “ok, I’ve done my part now, you can come back up here.”

She didn’t stand up.

She didn’t do anything. She just looked at me like I was a penguin at the zoo.

I was in front of the class, now facing twenty-something blank stares. The comedian had just said his last joke, but the Netflix special still had thirty minutes left.

I felt like I had just been put up to a flame to be sacrificed.

I had to think of something instantly, to act like the sudden awkward silence was intentional and that this was all part of the class that I apparently was now fully responsible for.

There was a foam ball in my backpack, so we started playing a “get to know you” game where each person had to list three of their hobbies.

The fire started to die down and the lamb would live to graze grass a day longer.

After the first hour had finished, I told myself that this was a one time thing, and that the other teachers who I was supposed to “help” would work with me, and I would be their “assistant.”

Sit down. Nothing. Peguins.

I learned last November that I wasn’t going to be an assistant. Not even a co-teacher. I was basically now the teacher.  I would prepare every lesson, and I would be the person in charge for fifty-five minutes while the seven teachers of the English department would grade papers.

Since November, with thirteen different groups, and about three hundred different students, I suddenly had a role that had previously been something from imagination.

I didn’t have time to wonder whether this high school in a town called El Palmar, Murcia had decided to take advantage of the foreigner by making him shoulder all of the responsibilities.

There was only time to to prepare lessons, and to get to work.

I came to Murcia to learn, to make mistakes, and to become a better teacher. This was now my stage. If teaching wasn’t my goal, then things would maybe be different. Maybe I’d be upset or maybe I’d hold a grudge.

This was a secret blessing, because now I got to mess up on a daily basis and more importantly I had been given many chances to build my confidence in the classroom.

Three months later I found myself alone again, in front of a group of the same sleepy teenagers, while the main teacher had just done her job and told them to calm down.

The imaginary spotlight was back on the comedian again.

Perhaps the sun had started to rise already, and maybe somewhere in the city center of Murcia there were people enjoying a tostada in a cafeteria at some random plaza.

In January the training-wheels were officially off my imaginary teaching bicycle. In fact, perhaps some of these young English learners needed a quick refresher of what the word “wheel” even meant.

Warm-up, sliding projector screen, chalk stains on my jeans, workbooks, group speaking activities.

This was how the morning was going to go.

I was ready, and honestly being ready didn’t feel good, it felt great.

These kids didn’t know what they were about to get themselves into.

It was a secret between me and the people eating tostadas.

I could almost smell how delicious breakfast might be as the silence in the room became interrupted by the cracking of my weak vocal chords.

If the warm-up I prepared sucked, I had another in my back pocket. If the projector decided to not turn on, there existed a plan B.

“Alright, everyone…”

Smiling, making eye contact, ok if I did something wrong, this was me, Daniel Catena, doing his best to try and help Murcia’s youth learn English.

Welcome to El Palmar.

California, Ideas, Life, Murcia, Random Thoughts, Sausalito, Teaching, Travel, United States

The Last Bag of Goldfish Crackers

When I was in first grade, my school’s Peruvian Spanish teacher Señora Buckley would sometimes reward us with Goldfish crackers whenever we did something correctly.

Did you count to six? Here are six Goldfish. Were you able to say “dog” in Spanish? Here’s one Goldfish…

Being only six years old, Spanish wasn’t necessarily a subject that I enjoyed. Power Rangers, GI Joes, and Ninja Turtles already took priority in my life so anything else would need to be crayoned into my seemingly occupied elementary school schedule.

I’m not sure if treat training was the best way of helping us learn, but it was a great way to introduce a delicious and baked snack into my diet.

Blinking my eyes, all of a sudden I’m not a six year old anymore. The memories of clamors of young learners trying to sputter Spanish have been replaced with the rhythm of some nearly forgotten 90’s pop song being softly circulated through aisle six of a Safeway grocery store.

Blinking again, I’m almost thirty-one years old and for some reason the plastic handle of a shopping basket is firmly gripped within the web of my right hand’s fingers.

The last blink induced a deep inhale, as I needed to recollect myself and bring my mind back to the present.

Standing in aisle six, I reach my free hand outward and grab a bag of Parmesan cheese flavored Goldfish crackers. Señora Buckley flashes in my consciousness as I hold a bag of savory vices and toss it in the basket. I want to take more, but one bag is all I can muster without feeling like a complete lush.

Part of the reason why I’m buying this bag is to feed my tastebuds. Another reason why I’m here is to say goodbye. I’ve come to Safeway to pay respects and bid farewell to some foods that I love, such as, well, Goldfish crackers, Siracha hot sauce, Tortilla Factory brand tortillas, and a handful of other items.

Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be leaving California and returning to Murcia, Spain to work as an English teacher for seven months. This will be my third school year in this part of the world, and it’s hard to believe that it’s happening yet again. I’m excited to be coming back to the place that feels like a second home, but the foods listed above won’t be available in Murcia. This is totally ok, as Spain has some great culinary staples that aren’t available in California either. It’s a fair trade, but saying bye to Goldfish is perhaps the toughest pill to swallow.

With my last bag of Goldfish safely guarded by the shopping basket, I feel grateful to be given another opportunity to work in Murcia. There are a lot of wonderful people who I can’t wait to see upon arrival into Spain, but there are a lot folks in California/Missoula/Bend who made this summer back home truly memorable. Between weddings, catching up with family, reconnecting with friends, and sharing some awesome memories, (and passing subtest one of the CSET), this summer was maybe the best I’ve ever had. There are a lot of people who I would like to thank for making this summer great and also for making this return to Spain possible, but making you read the full list would make you late for something more important.

I don’t know what will happen once I get back to Murcia, nor do I know if this is the best thing that I should be doing with my life. The only thing I know is that being in Murcia, like the bag of Goldfish that I’m about to barbarically tear open, is something that makes me feel happy.  This doesn’t mean that California or living in the US is something that makes me unhappy, I feel fortunate to say that I’m really happy there too. My heart likes being in different places, and right now it’s beating with a sound that says I need to be back in Spain. Maybe I should see a doctor about that…

Either way, I’m excited to see what happens.

I’ve been standing in front of the crackers for way too long now, and that combined with the fact that I haven’t brushed my teeth yet today is putting some protective Marin moms, shopping carts a safe distance away, on red alert.

It’s time to not say goodbye. It’s time to say “see you next summer.”

Friends and family in California and the United States, I love you a lot. Stay safe, wash your face before bed, and see you soon 🙂

Ideas, Life, Random Thoughts, Short Story, story

An Almost Death in the Morning

Blackness at 8:30 in the morning.

My eyes are heavy, my hair looks like a scene from a made-for-tv disaster film, and the taste in my mouth is reminiscent of someone who has just spent seven hours in bed.

Without breathing my right hand claws for an unseen, but instinctively familiar wall switch.

My senses are instantly invaded with brightness.

Eye-lids flicker.

My feet start moving forward.

Who? Me.

What? Walking.

Where? Bathroom.

When? 8:30 in the morning.

Why? Who the hell knows, it’s too early.

Familiar words get picked from the apple-tree of my memory. Bathroom, sink, mirror, carpet, toothpaste, shower…Shower!

Why? Shower.

That’s right. I’m here to take a damn shower.

I’m facing the the curtain of the shower and somehow between the doorway and here my clothes have disappeared. Maybe I never walked in here with clothes.

More vocabulary.

Curtains, tub, soap, shampoo, faucet, water, spider…Oh shit.

Not really knowing how I’ve managed to make the shower function, one foot was about to step into the tub when an unexpected guest was waiting for me to enter: A spider with a leg-span of maybe a nickel. There are only a handful of things that make me fearful in this world: getting attacked by a zombie shark, being ejected out of an airplane, mayonnaise, and of course spiders. There’s hardly any rationality behind this, but many life decisions have been influenced by these fears.

The water has been running for a few moments, and has now reached the ideal temperature for me to lift one leg into warm liquid.

The spider wasn’t perched high enough in the tub, and soon a volley shower drops are rendering it incapable of climbing to dryness. I enter the shower, feeling secure that by now there was no way this little bugger would be able to touch me.

The wave of relief that originally swept through my mind isn’t lasting.

Looking down I see that the spider is soon to be a goner. It couldn’t swim, couldn’t move it’s body, and within a few moments it would surely die.

I try to ignore it and pretend to look for shampoo.

Hot shower water sends streams of guilt down my scalp.

Maybe this little bugger has a wife with little baby spider children, and all he wanted was to find a fly for breakfast. Maybe this little creature on the verge of dying isn’t a spider at all. Maybe it’s someone I used to know who’s been reincarnated with eight tiny legs.

Part of me wants to watch it get sucked down the drain, but I know that this wouldn’t be right. He’s trapped in a massive colosseum in the form of a bathtub and doesn’t deserve this fate. If I ever find myself stuck in a similar situation I would pray to every God that existed for help. He or she is just being a spider, and if I let it die then I would walk out of the shower feeling dirtier than when I entered.

I haven’t even had cereal yet and soon I’ll have a death lingering over my conscious. Let mother nature or a spider-sized lightning bolt decide its future, not me.

We always keep a comb in the shower, so without thinking more I picked up and scoop the motionless creature out of the raging storm, flicking it onto the bathroom carpet. One miniature leg starts to fidget, followed by another. It would live to scare me another day.

Drying off afterwards, maybe that spider was a criminal and had it coming.

It’s too late now.

Maybe he’ll tell his spider buddies not to mess with me anymore.

Looking in the mirror, for the first time in my life, I finally feel like I’m thirty years old..