Butterflies

I feel nervous. I don’t like this type of nervousness. 

I’m leaving Vietnam and unless I get trapped in some freak storm at sea, It’s unlikely I’ll ever return. I’m going to Hong Kong for a few days. After that, life is utterly uncertain. If plans go according to themselves, I will be in Shanghai within a week. If they don’t, well, I could be in Korea, back in Vietnam, England or Colombia. I don’t have a clue. 

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                                            The place I am leaving

The problem is I only have 2 passport pages left. This was never an issue before, because I just needed one visa into China where I could use my 3 month visa to get the passport replaced. However, as of the start of this month, I suddenly can’t get a 3 month-er anymore. I’m limited to 1 month. On top of this, as of 2014 the UK only allows to renew passports in England, extending the waiting time to a guaranteed minimum of 4 weeks, as if we have reverted back to the ancient times when passports were just being figured out. 

They are doing this to ‘save money’. 

Combined, I no longer have enough time at any point to get a new passport and thus a longer-term visa for Shanghai. 

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                                               Potential port of arrival 1

This isn’t why I’m nervous.

How many times have I gotten on a plane to an unknown realm now? How many times have I flown to Hong Kong? These places aren’t even unknown anymore, I have friends at each stop I go to. Being unsure often comes with the territory and I have the money to simply vanish into Colombia where two good friends will await me and I would suffer no problems in life. Aside from maybe a few gunshot wounds. 

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                                            Potential port of arrival 2

There’s nothing to fear other than a loss of material wealth, and that’s why I’m not nervous about it. This nervousness I dislike so much is a kind of feeling I can’t rationalise, and that irks me and makes it feel worse. 

I’ve been in Vietnam since around November 2012. This is the longest continuous stint in any country I’ve had since Leaving England in 2010. Not only that but I haven’t been very outgoing here, I’ve had my own  little hole and stayed in it for the vast majority of time. I have become *very* familiar with this hole I’ve created.

Suddenly, I’m giving up my apartment, I’m giving up my bike, I’m selling my boots and keyboard. My keyring is just that; a keyring. There are no keys anymore. It’s not even my keyring, I stole it from my now lost apartment. Tomorrow I will leave behind the only person in 1.5 years that actually meant anything to me in the entire country (see some other post I wrote about the pains of leaving people like this).

Once again I have gone from having everything including a feeling of stability and reliable income to having a burst of fast-draining income and the stability of a unicycle mountaineering marathon. But it’s not that lack of stability that is hitting me so hard.

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                                            Potential port of arrival 3

It’s the leaving. And in particular the fact that this conclusion makes no sense. I’ve been wanting to leave for months. I’ve been excited and is has dragged out more than I could handle, yet when it comes to the eve of fate, I walk home, bikeless, departed from the meaningful one, past the Chicken place I ate at so frequently, past the senseless crossing I drove through every day to work and back, past the western style outdoor bar with the same guitar-singer performing in the same purple lights I would see every night. Then I would turn right instead of left. To this hotel which is cleaned back to its original state every time I leave it, all essence of me militarily removed. 

I should be glad to see the back of everything, but I’m suddenly not. Of the choices I have, all but Colombia are grey. The weather will be converted to grey smog and rain, cold and wind. The greenery and the laziness will convert to more grey and rushed individuals. The sweet and relaxed chirping of birds will become few and far between strains of birdal cords, struggling to be heard over human activity and locked in caged for good luck.

The language will become, well, less annoying. 

The prices of drink will go from 30 cents for a bottle of beer to somewhere over the rainbow. A meal, drink and dessert at a restaurant will go from $2 to $15, pizza from $5 to $20. A home will cost 50% more for 50% less home.

It suddenly seems kinda stupid that I’m giving it all up for nothing more than uncertainty. 

These are the feelings in my gut, the ones that make me feel so terrible right now. 

The feelings in my head tell a different story, however. The allergy to the entire country that I have suffered for a constant 6 months, a perpetual sneeze fest, cured only by permanent tissue up each nostril, head under a pillow and significant complaining of hate, will vanish. I will be free from ailments once more. 
The useless methods and slow, late, careless fools that dominate the country will be replaced by smarter, slightly more developed beings. 

The conservative race that limits my conversation to polite small talk will be upgraded to slightly less conservatism, and indeed liberalism around the friends to which I am already acquainted. Ambitions can at the very least be traced and hunted, not put on annual holds whilst I teach my way into funding myself (although that will inevitably take a role in all this). 

Convenience will rise, unreliability will fall. Variation will bloom, routine will wither. 

I’m not going to spend the night convincing myself of the brain’s or the heart’s way. I’m just going to sit here fretting and get it over with. Irrationality irks me and its bumbling around in my gut like it owns the place.

 

Not for long.

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Hairdressers

Before I start I’d like to make sure people know that I’ not by any means disrespecting the career choice of a hairdresser. I’m just saying, people who choose to be a hairdresser are a bit… different. 

There is a stereotype that to be a hairdresser you have to be female or gay, but that doesn’t explain the difference I’m referring to.

When I go, I hate it. I wait 6 months a time if possible and let my hair grow to the point that its not only unacceptable to society, but annoying as hell to me. I don’t usually hate it because of the result, per se. I hate it because I inherently dislike the change from what I’ve become used to, and I hate the conversation that inevitable goes with the cutting process. 

I know they’re trying to make the environment warmer and friendlier but like mahy others, it simply makes things worse for me. Just ask David Mitchell (or view his funny podcast about it).

But who, as a child, dreams to be a hairdresser? Who even grows up to suddenly feel like they want to get behind a pair of scissors and some dead brown cells on somebody’s skull? 

I acknowledge that hair feels amazing, and it’s mysteriously appealing to play around with and for many people to style and dye and create an image for themselves, and impressive, decent, stylish hair is vital for confidence and attraction. I get it that people like to mess around with hair.

images-35But to go through rigorous training, under pressure of the person watching the whole time in the mirror, to have their lives in your hands only to get yelled at for doing an awful job or just a quick thanks for doing the right job, it just seems odd. But not wrong. Just because I don’t see the wonder in it doesn’t mean there is no wonder. 

Hairdressers seem on average quite cheerful people. Once you get into the pattern of not screwing it up for people I guess its totally stress free and reliable as a source of income. i just think you really, REALLY must like hair beyond what is normal in order to dedicate your life, or at least the next 5-10 years to cutting hair 8 hours a day. 

Personally I find it a harrowing idea to put myself through such inane small talk over and over again day in, day out, too, but maybe that doesn’t bother as many people as I think. 

Anyway, I’m not saying this is the weirdest and most unusual choice of jobs, it’s just one I happen to be thinking about because I just got myself the worst haircut since the time they made it look like I had two skulls fused together underneath somewhere, several years back. 

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‘different’

Applying for a Chinese Visa abroad, March 2014

This topic is so devoid of updated information online it takes hours for anyone to get any remote answers, so I’m just doing this with plenty of tags below to hopefully come up on Google and help some people out.

Being In Vietnam, the most updated information about this seems to be way back in 2012. The Chinese consulate has changed address and not informed anyone aside from one place, their email and phone numbers are dead and its closing time is actually before the one stated, which is already a very narrow window between 8:30am and 11:00am. 

So just using what I know from now – which isn’t to say anything over 5%. I’ll do Vietnam first.

People applying in Ho Chi Minh City. You will need more than you might in Hong Kong or Singapore. There is no trustworthy agency that can help you out that I am aware of and so you will need to go to the consulate. 

Once you arrive you are ok to stay there beyond 11am within the office since there are so many people. I was rejected by 10am but I complained to the guard enough that their address was a lie and was actually a chicken restaurant around the corner that he let me in. Of course, not before telling me to park my bike in a place I wasn’t allowed to park. Eventually I got in and the man inside told me there are too many people and asked me to leave.I complained a bit more and I was in. Thankfully someone else just decided to leave and left their ticket which I took and got a sneaky way through the huge crowd and was served in about 10-15 minutes, but expect a much longer wait.

The important information is this, however. Unlike Hong Kong, you WILL need:

  • Airport booking confirmation, entry and exit (whether you like it or not, I’m afraid. If you wanted to leave by land or boat, well…)
  • Hotel reservation or Invitation from, well, see below
  • Bank statement of the last 6 months proving you have enough funds (this is mostly for extensions in China but be safe by having around $100 a day’s worth of money in your account)
  • 2 passport photos. One should be enough but be safe. (they will not take it for you like in other locations)
  • photocopy of passport pages
  • The 4-page form filled in exactly and completely. If you don’t have an answer for a part, say, emergency contact, you’ll have to make it up or they’ll say go home.

The invitation letter, I was told inside must be from a chinese organisation or government person, or some other form of official. When I said my friend, I was flapped at and said it doesn’t count. I argued and the guy left me alone and I never got far enough into the process to find out whether or not such is sufficient. However, What I had – an email invitation – was not enough anyway. I saw multiple official examples online which used ‘my friend’ in their invitations so it should be fine. It would be moronic if it wasn’t, it’s a TOURIST… visa. But Vietnam rarely makes a lot of sense.

In your invitation from whoever – family, friend, work – they will need to write

  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Nationality
  • Passport Number
  • Gender
  • Job
  • Reason for visiting
  • City of visitation
  • Entry and exit dates
  • Type of visa requested
  • How you will support yourself financially
  • The relationship between the two of you
  • Address of where you will stay
  • They will need to provide their own address, proof of residence via copies of their passport pages inc. photo (or other Chinese ID)
  • They need to print it, SIGN it, scan or send a photo for you to re-print and hand in with the other absurd amount of documentation.

EXAMPLE LETTER:

I, Xiao Xiao, invite my friend, Richard Smith, male, born on December 1, 1980, to visit me in China. The
purpose of the visit is for a friendly reunion. Richard Smith and I met while I was a student in the U.S.
Richard will be arriving in China on July 1st, 2012 and will depart on July 5th, 2012. Richard will visit cities
of Beijing and Shanghai. Richard is responsible for the expense he will incur during the trip.
My home address is 12345 #1 street, Beijing, China 67890 and my telephone number in China is 123-
456-7890.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Sincerely,

This information is required for China no matter where you are coming from if you do not have a hotel reservation.

Despite the form offering several months of stay, the new Chinese Visa rules everyone is so unaware of is that 90 day visas are no longer an option for China. You may get a 30 day double visa or variants of this which allow 30 days in China, but you have to leave and return before fulfilling a further 30 days. This actually means you can go to Hong Kong for 1 or 2 hours and fly back. Why? Who knows.

The part I am about to confirm for myself is the problem of having visited China before in the last 12 months. If so, you may come across problems. If you go to Hong Kong for your Visa, you may only get a 14-day visa. If you have done a Visa run from China to HK a few times (perhaps 3) you are likely to be rejected completely, as evidence shows with my friend who had to return to America due to trying that trick too many times.

If you are going to Singapore for the Visa, the maximum stay is 30 days no matter what. Websites say different but in more detailed questioning via email, these are not up to date, or only apply to actual residents of Singapore. The Chinese rules changed as recently as March 6th which is how I’ve been caught so off guard by this, today being 21st March.

Hong Kong is still the best bet, but you might want to go Singapore if you already attempted Hong Kong in 12 months, for variation on the passport and a lower risk of a short 14 day visa. Singapore is expensive, too, but more open to things like couchsurfing which would mean free accommodation while you wait. HK people live in incredibly crowded locations so it might set you back.

Hong Kong, however, has a faster visa system. You can apply for a visa at the airport (for a slightly higher price I think) in the morning of Monday and get it back on the morning of Tuesday as a rush service. There MAY be places in Singapore the same, but many take no less than 3 working days.

Anyway, I still have yet to succeed in entering, having been rejected with my lack of air ticket confirmation and detailed invite, but your family or friend can actually fill in a tourist visa invite sheet found online so you don’t have to worry about structure or formalities. 

As for the ticket. This is my main issue because with such a high chance of things going wrong, it’s ludicrous to purchase a several hundred dollar ticket only to end up missing it from stupid visa rejections and issues. Of all the people I saw leave the building, none of them left with a smile and most were on the phone looking worried as they left. There is an absurdly high failure rate with the documents. It just isn’t clear enough online where and when rules have changed. People don’t always have the hours to spare to slog away on Google getting it right. I don’t think you need the airline tickets in Hong Kong but I was there a year ago, so again, things may have changed for the worse. Definitely not for the better.

That is basically everything I know. There is a lot more, and I am full of questions but this should suffice for now.

 

Oh, and the prices vary but in HK I believe it’s cheaper to leave the airport. Either way if you do it in the morning, you get it back in the morning. If you do it in the afternoon, you get it back in the afternoon.

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The following is more related to getting a new passport and not really relevant. 

The only other shit I’ve had to go through are rule changes in the UK which mean I cannot renew my passport in HK anymore, and must send it back to England. This will take a minimum of 5 weeks. There is no. way. around this. There is no speedy service for extra charge and there is no document you can use replacing it unless for emergencies. Any businessmen out there who travel a lot to China are essentially fucked, I’m afraid. This has been a major concern for Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong since 2011 when these rules were announced, and further enforced in 2014, but of course, UK wants to save money. This also explains how a new passport now costs 175 pounds compared to 150 a few years ago and under 100 a few years before then.  

There is an emergency document for those whose family or friend has died but you they’ll be damned if they let you off without paying a nice hefty sum for it.

For me, I have 2 pages left. Most will require a minimum of two pages, understandably. One for the sticket, one for the stamps. This wasn’t an issue 3 weeks ago, because I could go to China, apply for a new passport and then I had 3 full months to await its return to Shanghai. Not anymore. Now I only have a 1 month window, and since it takes 5 weeks, I don’t have enough physical time to get the process done. 

The Shanghai consulate responded to an email and said the ETD (Emergency travel document) can be given to those who do not have their passport and are in need of travel, but they did not specify what constitutes as emergency (such as visa running out like mine, or extremes like family death), nor did they reveal what can be done about visas being attached to this document. This means I am unsure whether or not I can attach a working visa on the ETD allowing me more time to await my passport, nor an ability to leave after the first month and return after visiting HK on a double-entry visa. I simply do not know and will have to cross my fingers and see what happens as I go along with it. I have booked an appointment well in advance, a week on Friday with the consulate to discuss matters, but I’ll probably get kicked out for having such a niche scenario.

Of course, this also wouldn’t have been a problem if the UK didn’t want to save a few quid by setting their visa process back to the 1970’s. Who knew putting a little security device with some pieces of paper could take over a month, eh?

Virus Pt. I

This is a story I just started whipping up is inspired by something I read in the news. Scientists discovered a virus 30 metres under permafrost that had been frozen for 30 millenia. Upon thawing, the virus sprung back to life.

This is part 1, so I can break it up into readable chunks and maybe add some pointless pictures of certain real information involved.

 

Virus

Норильск, Сиби́рь

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‘Come on, move it! We’re all gonna freeze to death at this rate!’

Such a cliché line that felt all the more satisfying to yell for it. It’s around this time he would get attacked by Velociraptors or become an unwitting host to a horrifying shape-shifting alien parasite if Steven Spielberg was a man to trust.

The permafrost was a ball ache, much like everything else in this part of the world. The food, the booze, the women; complete ball aches.

Does nobody appreciate a good lager in this city? Vodka can warm your bones but beer warms the spirit, so to speak. As the boss of this operation, he was determined to find a single bar containing a single droplet of appreciable booze. To him, vodka and other transparent drinks were nothing but poison – including water – especially in this corner of the world. Water comes in ice or brown, no alternative.

Barrel, as they call him (due to his striking resemblance to a certain Final Fantasy VII character, not because of any particularly impressive drinking ability or gun yielding prowess, both of which he severely lacked), was British. He was therefore accustomed to a supply of water from all directions that he could swim in, drink or insert anally without any concern of consequences.

Here, water was about as risky as his job. He was a whaler. What the fuck he was doing here, hundreds of miles from any whale was anybody’s guess. To be the boss in charge of a bunch of low-risk criminals was even more suspect, but it paid the bills.

 

Manchester, England

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Paper was strewn wildly around the room like there had been a spontaneous act of tree passion after a party in the woodlands. Shattered glass speckled itself on and around the desk, reflecting pathetic amounts of light upwards from the only surviving 40-watt bulb. The air was filled with discord as an angry drunken youth rebelled against his own decision to send his father on a perilous journey.

‘You fucking… fucktastic fuckerly… fucking… ngg… FUCK’. The last expletive was slowly drowning in blubbers of inebriated tears as his throat closed up and his vocal cords scraped across each other, as if the last 6 hours of vodka consumption had done nothing to lubricate him. The vodka was complimentary of course. Its poor quality was hardly surprising, practically symbolic of the Norilsk people.

The project, as laid out so meticulously on the floor, was a drilling expedition. Researchers were troubled by the rate of permafrost recession and decline, and they needed to confirm or dismiss their concerns of potential risks the scientific community hadn’t yet taken into consideration.

Methane pouring out of huge gas pockets that had been frozen over for millennia was already a major concern, but one researcher in particular was worried about a recent discovery of a large amoeba virus found far below the ice, frozen for 30,000 years.

Upon observation, the virus thawed and sprung straight back to life and was immediately in need of a new host, as if nothing had ever happened during its extended leave. As far as the virus was concerned, nothing really had, but its discovery was a dark omen of troubles to come as some of the inhabitants of the world continued to pump its life force into the atmosphere, helping the earth remove its own virus – the Homo sapiens – from its skin.

Dr. Lemuel Gengulphus, virologist and researcher at Nottingham University was confident in the robustness of these ‘creatures’ that are only debatably living at best, and yet have managed to ingrain themselves into our very DNA, wiped out millions of us on mere whims, and bottle-necked countless other species in history. He needed an adventurous team to join him in an endeavor of truth, no matter what that truth may unveil to be.

But to his disappointment, there appeared to be no competent team that could tolerate his bloody awful personality. Of course, that’s not how he saw it. His grimy pride enabled him to see through a new spectrum, one which safely assumes they all actually had equally high-level concerns of the world to be dealing with. His foul but inconspicuous temper and judgmental preconceptions towards everyone he worked with, however, resented them bitterly for it. Satisfied with demeaning everyone internally, his pride would then take the pedestal once more to assure him that their work couldn’t possibly be as vital as his own.

He visited Manchester University months earlier for a last ditch effort of collaboration with an ex-student, who was one of the few people he found he could relate to and respect both as a person and as a partner-in-crime. He was in particular need of a partner-in-crime in this instance; since nobody qualified would take the job, he would need to edge around some loops, let the loyal dogs do the performing and hopefully they would work to distract from his potentially evil deeds in the process.

If he knew ‘Dr’ Lemuel as well as he knew himself, some imported vodka would go a long way.

 

To be continued.

Dilemma

Bread. An uncertain age, and the pack has been opened since the day of purchase. 

Air is not bread’s friend. Air allows things to breathe. Things that breathe can live, and things that live can grow. 

Fungi, disgust. These things grow. But I can’t see any of them on my bread. 

Still… I can’t bring myself to eat it. If there was one thing school taught me, it was that bacteria and microbes are small. Too small for me to see with my naked eyes. Who’s to say that all the rot and growth isn’t happening right now at a manic rate, just out of eyeshot? 

There could be festering disease slapped all over the surface of the crust and I wouldn’t have a clue. 

Meh. the bread looks clean but so does an expensive prostitute. Not worth the risk if you ask me.

 

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Perspectives

Perspectives have surprised me at many corners, and it frequently demonstrates to me that our minds are simply not well wired for the things we discover via outer-mind processes such as maths, science and history. The problem that arises, is that we assign the problem of the unknown to the things we can know; fear and paranoia. To me, it’s apparent that this is exactly where religion and conspiracy thrives. But that’s for another post.

We cannot possibly know with our brain alone what happened 1,000 years ago. We cannot possibly see the stars behind the sheet we see in the sky, nor can we know what those dots we do see actually are, without science. We cannot fathom almost anything of the modern era without maths propping us up.

It’s really fascinating, and perspectives have given me a new fascination in history.

I was recently discussing and being corrected on some ideas of Russian/Ukranian history including Normans, Vikings, Germans and Mongolians, and to me it was fascinating that the area of Crimea has been interwoven by so many different battles of culture over the centuries, ones you don’t even remotely relate to that area. 

When you see the spread of the Mongol empire, for example, you just have to sit there in awe. You know that massive land called China? Mongol Empire. You know all of those countries ending in -stan that dominate the Middle East? Mongols. You know the entire southern half of Russia, and Eastern Europe? Mongol Empire. 

Talking of perspective, the Roman Empire, an empire we consider one of the greatest due to its duration, at its largest covered a mere 6.5 million square kilometers, or 4.3% of the earth’s land. The Mongols in comparison total a monstrous 22.29% of the world’s land, second only slightly to the British empire at 22.43%, or 33 million square kilometers. 

Over 1/5th of the world, dominated by Mongols at a point in time, and I wasn’t even aware of any mongol empire until some self study occurred a few years ago. It’s surprising something like this just wasn’t mentioned in school (perhaps in later, choice courses of history, prepping for university, who knows).

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Here are some more unreal perspectives:

  • The British Empire was at its Greatest when my granddad was alive and walking around, accounting for 20% of the entire world’s population.
  • To the Romans, Egypt was as Ancient as we consider the Romans ancient to us. We are taught that the Romans came into Egypt and changed things around, and so we (or at least I) get this kind of overlapping feeling that the two ages were at least in the same general area of history, but realistically the Egyptians were just… Before. Before everything. By a long shot.

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  • Except dinosaurs. However, the Stegosaurus was even more ancient to the T-rex than the T-rex is to humans, The T-rex being 65 million years before us, and the Stegosaurus being over 80 million years before the T-rex. Again, school and education from media has shown us that these two walked around hand in hand, had their fair share of rival battles of attack and defense and died together somewhat romantically in a burst of fire. We clearly had no idea.
  • We all know there are perhaps 100 billion galaxies, but what people don’t realise is the sheer size difference in these galaxies. The IC 1101 galaxy is up to 5–6 million light-years across, compared to the milky way, at around 100,000 light years across. That’s 50 times the disc size of our entire galaxy.

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  • A Great Basin bristle-cone pine in North America is a 5,000 year old tree. This single tree, sitting on its roots, unmoved, undisturbed, has watched all the aforementioned empires come and go, rise and fall. It was there to see the Egyptians build their pyramids and it remains today. In fact, its leaves are almost twice my age, at over 4 decades a piece.

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  • There are 10 times more bacteria in you than there are actual cells. That means you, as a person, are a fraction of what you think you are. 90-odd percent of you is foreign species, living rent free off your already 70% water existence. In fact, over 4,000 species of bacteria were found in a few swabs of belly buttons. Over 1,000 of which were likely new, undiscovered species.
  • If the world’s population was equally distributed with a density of New York, the whole 7.1 billion of us could fit into Texas, leaving the rest of the world to vegetate. 
  • Voyager 1 has taken 40 years to leave our solar system at 62,000 kilometers/hour, faster than anything we can even imagine on earth. It will still take another 300 years to reach the Oort cloud – the very outer edge of our solar system, and a further 30,000 years to actually get through it. In 40,000 years, it will reach a mere 1.6 light years from the next star, Gliese 445. If you want to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, it will take a mere 73,000 years at this speed. Unfortunately it’s going the wrong way, so we’re gonna be waiting, probably longer than the material of the satellite can exist without decaying, before reaching anything other than blackness.

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  • The famous Black Death Pandemic was minuscule, if you find the right comparison. Influenza, in a year of The Great War killed more people – up to 40 million – than in five years of the black death – around 25 million.
  • This image is the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field, created in 2012. An enhanced and 20% further zoomed update (using 10 years of previous images) of the Ultra-deep field photo, it shows over 15,000 galaxies across an area of the sky barely 10% the area of a full moon.

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I’m not going to make this become a listical or infographic, I think that’s enough to get my point across. To be honest, The last few months I’ve come across such perspectives magnitudes more ridiculous than any of these may come across as. You can find them all the time if you spend some time listening, watching various documentaries/articles/podcasts. 

We sit here so sure of ourselves all the time. Those slightly more bored than others realise that we are tiny and insignificant when watching Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’ scene, but really, we have no clue. We sit here acknowledging our hopelessness but somehow, even that just fails to grasp the comparative ineptitude of our minds. It’s not just about size we can’t comprehend, it’s age, variation, numbers, diversity, cause and effect, practically every corner of our life is inconceivable, and we just do our best to live in the little cracks in the walls, away from the light, concerned it will fry us to a crisp of utter confusion.

Awesome.

 

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