Tag Archives: Buenos Aires

We have quit our jobs to travel the world!!


We’ve never done anything this huge: My wife Jammie and I have turned in our resignation letters, quit our jobs to travel the world, write and do service projects for 12 months. We have picked four major world cities – Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Mumbai – and we are going to spend three months in each. We are ridiculously excited.

Why are we doing this?
Years ago we started planning for this kind of a move. We had always wanted to live and work internationally, to get involved with international humanitarian nonprofits. We did not want to be stuck in one town or country working office jobs for the rest of our lives. We had always wanted to free up our location and really live the tag line for CultureMutt: savvy, global do-gooding.

Why now?
This huge step was easy to put off. We had already put it off twice. Twice we had told ourselves that we were going to take the bold leap to travel and work oversees. Twice we backed out.

It took a dramatic, late-night conversation with one of my closest friends to finally decide to activate the plans we kept postponing for a “better”, “more convenient” time.

“You are young and you have so much to offer!” my friend, shouted in my ear over the din of a rowdy San Francisco lounge. “Why are you playing it safe as if you were middle-aged with a mortgage and kids?! You are selling out! This is the time to go for your dreams and take some risks. If you fail you can rebuild but if you succeed you will be living the dream. Do it!!”. That conversation was the final push I needed. Within days we decided to finally act on our plans and go for our dreams 100%.

How can we afford this?
How are we paying for 12 months of international travel and living without jobs? For starters, we picked very affordable cities that we had either lived in, visited or at the very least, researched. Then we put aside enough of our savings to cover the basics of tickets, rent, food, etc. For any additional expenses we will make money the way both of us have in the past: through freelance writing, consulting and teaching. The beauty of making money using these methods is obviously that you can use them to make money anywhere in the world.

Why Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Mumbai?

Bangkok  – We both love Southeast Asia. And there is no Southeast Asian capital with quite the same dynamic mix as Bangkok. The food is amazing, the country is beautiful and we already have a non profit that works to prevent sex trafficking that we are going to be volunteering for in Thailand.

Buenos Aires – I spent four amazing months studying Spanish in Buenos Aires in 2005. Weeks before leaving I was already missing this awesomely stylish city. The tango dancers in the streets, the amazing artistic scene and the roar from the “futbol” stadiums are unbeatable. Also, on the volunteering front, I have friends in Argentina that are well-connected to some education and healthcare nonprofits for which we would love to work.

Berlin – The buzz about Berlin as a European youth culture and arts capital is well-deserved and growing. Not only do we want to sample this but we want to establish relationships with some of Berlin’s emerging, young entrepreneurs. Young creative minds have descended upon Berlin in droves in recent years. This a city on the move and we want in.

Mumbai – Mumbai is India’s biggest, baddest city. It is also home to Bollywood, the second largest film industry in the world. Put simply, we want connections within this industry. They could be very helpful in our quest for savvy, global do-gooding. So far we have some friends who have worked in Bollywood. We aim to make more of them. We might even land a cameo:)

When does this all start?
After Christmas in England with my family, we fly to Bangkok in the first week of January, 2013. There starts our series of four, 3-month world city relocations. This is happening!

There – now you know. Wish us luck and if you have world travel tips for our gap year or any specific advice on navigating our four world cities, leave them in the comment section.



Bjorn Karlman

Should You Give to Beggars?

The most recent run-in I’ve had with someone begging was last week when I gave a man a dollar outside CVS in my current hometown of Chico, CA.  He turned around and said, “to be honest, if I scrape together enough tonight, I’ll go get myself a beer.”  I regretted my donation.

Beer and Begging

I first started seeing signs about beer and begging in downtown LA several years ago.  “Broke and Need Beer”, or something to that effect is what one guy’s sign said at his regular station just off Wilshire Boulevard.  I remember thinking it clever and worthy of some spare change but then as I started to see the line used in other parts of California and I got over my amusement and grew indifferent to the signs.  Was my indifference wrong?  A lack of compassion?

Agonizing Stories

Begging takes on different forms in different parts of the world of course.  I remember being horrified as a disabled man begged on the streets of Bangkok and was forced to pull himself along on his chest, using his hands to move forward.  I’ve seen similar situations in other parts of Asia where you cannot help but pity those that beg because they are blind, mute or suffering from some other very obvious physical calamity.  What is the compassionate thing to do?


It gets even worse when children are involved.   From asylum seekers in the UK, carrying babies and begging in London’s Leicester Square to the children that would crowd around me even in richer areas of the Peruvian capital Lima, children are often used with great success to prey on the good intentions of the passerby.  I remember a friend of mine who felt like he needed to give and took a whole flock of kids out to eat in Buenos Aires.  I felt bad for him first.  I had grown used to almost ignoring requests for money.  But then I second guessed myself.  Was my cynicism wrong?  What if they didn’t have shady overseers that they had to hand all of the money to at the end of the day?  What if their stories were true?   I brushed my questions off as guilt-induced naïveté.

No Answers?

I don’t feel like I have ever gotten a satisfactory answer to the question of whether or not to give to beggars or the homeless.  I have heard a lot of the quick commonsense reactions – “give to specific charities instead”, “buy them food”, “tell them to get a job”, “show them how to get to a shelter”.  Depending on the situation, each of these common reactions are helpful to an extent.  But none of them make me feel much better.  They may lift the guilt I feel about walking by but they don’t fundamentally help.

A Little Help from Government?

Is the answer legislation?  Some of the left-leaning friends I used to hang out with in college were sure this was the answer.  A bunch of us worked in a very economically depressed town in southwest Michigan called Benton Harbor.  A lot of us felt that, as nice as it was that we were out there tutoring, mentoring and delivering food, nothing would change until there was systemic change in the form of government programs and better educational opportunities.  On some level I still think this is true but the abuse of public welfare that was also evident as we worked with family members that refused to even look for work made me cautious of looking too confidently to government spending for answers.

What do you think?

As much as I write CultureMutt to advance what I call “savvy, global do-gooding”, I don’t like pat answers to complex problems so I am simply going to admit my deep confusion at how to best help when I encounter homelessness and begging.  I have given at times and I have not given far more often.  I have helped out a half-way home.  I have talked to homeless people on the street and at shelters to try to understand their stories.  I’ve tried to read up on what to do.  I’ve talked to those “in the know”.

I don’t know that I am any closer to solutions.  What are your thoughts?  What do you do when you are approached for money?  Please leave your ideas in the comment section



Bjorn Karlman

How Not to Die in a Buenos Aires Fire

close-call: after surviving gulping down smoke and fleeing flames

One of the most harrowing experiences I’ve ever had took place in October, 2005 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Two friends – Mike and DJ –  and I narrowly escaped dying in a fire that broke out in our apartment building.  The tale includes near-suffocation, stepping out of 14th floor windows and scaling an apartment wall high above Buenos Aires.  I thought it appropriate to include this post from a blog, Casi Porteño that my friends and I used to write. It captures some of the madness from that awful night:

First the intro, courtesy of Mike, October 30, 2005

Heads up player!

Hey – just a note. So in a day or so, we are all going to write about the fire experience. Sorry about the absence. Nearly dying, and having your apartment trashed kinda puts a damper on things, especially blogging. However, we found a new wireless zone and will be up and running. Also, I have been working on my med school app like crazy so its been busy. Anyways, get ready to be blown away. Love to all, Michael J.

And now over to Bjorn (enjoy the writing of the college student that I was):

the apartment fire that started it all

“DJ and Mike woke me up with their talking at around 4 AM. I was super tired because Mike and I had come back from a movie at like 1 AM. I didn´t have a clue what was going on but something smelled really weird. Kind of a chemical smell. I joined the guys at our window and saw what they saw – smoke coming out of a window on a floor some ways down. We were nervous but at the same time were fairly calm after a crazy amount of fire drills at Andrews. I put on some jeans and my running shoes. I packed my new laptop and a few other things including money and my passport. Things were crazy with all of us sort of talking at once. I remember yelling that we just had to get out right away, that we did not have any more time.

The best way I could think of to get out of the building was down the stairs. We were near the top, floor 14 of 15 floors. As soon as I opened the apartment door I was met with smoke. That was a bad sign but I thought I had no other option but to keep going. I was going as quickly as possible but the smoke was making it really hard to breathe and I couldn´t see a lot. I remember seeing a woman screaming for her husband in the smoke. It was getting hotter and the smoke was just ridiculous. For the first time in my life I felt raw desperation. It was horrible. At some point I realized that I was all alone. Mike and DJ had been smart and turned back. For some reason I kept running down. I got down to the seventh floor. A gas explosion had blown an apartment to pieces and as soon as I saw the flames I realized that I could well be facing the end right there.

I was breathing in hard and feeling weak, the combination of the smoke, the heat and just the whole situation was terrible. I remember yelling something up the stairs, hoping the guys would hear me. I don´t even remember what I said, something like, ‘we are not getting out this way!’ Everthing felt so sudden. Five minutes earlier I had been sound asleep. I thought about my family and how unfair this all felt. But there really was no time to dwell on any of it so I turned and started running up the stairs again with my backpack. Even without the smoke this would have been tiring but the fact that I was just gasping and sucking in all the smoke was making it torture. And I really felt that I was running the wrong way. I remember looking up and seeing the sign for the 13th floor. Almost there. I ran up the last steps and made it into our apartments. I saw DJ and Mikes with their heads out of the window, trying to breathe oxygen. I had never been so happy to see them.

I joined them at the windown. DJ thought they had lost me. The breathing was hard because smoke was billowing in from the apartment and from the window beneath us. We had to think hard because the smoke was so intense that we stood a good chance of blacking out. Also we had no idea if the fire would spread or not. I remember praying out loud. I thought about me and God and what would happened if I died. We heard sirens in the background but couldn´t wait. And there was no fire escape. DJ did the bravest thing I have seen in my whole life and climbed out of the window, grabbing some cables that were attached to the wall. He said something like, ‘OK, this is a crazy move guys but I think it is possible.’ Then he just started climbing. Understand, there was no way of knowing if he would black out and fall, if the cables would break or if he would just be electrocuted. He kept climbing and made it to the roof.

the cables we climbed and the height at which we climbed

DJ then started yelling and Mike and I to do the same. We really didn´t want to because falling meant death on impact. We tried waiting to see if the smoke would thin out. It didn´t. We had to climb. Mike went first. I was seriously scared for him. He made it. Then it was my turn. I was seriously freaked out but somehow my thoughts about God and whatever would come next had calmed me down. There was certainly no epiphany but I felt the same kind of peace that I have felt at many times in my life when I have really thought about the bigger things in life. Somehow that sense of peace helped me out and I stepped out of the window, grabbed the cables with my hands and my feet and started inching my way up. I grabbed hold of an AC unit on the 15th floor and somehow got on top of it. But I was exhausted and I couldn´t get a good grip on the ledge of the roof. With all the smoke in my lungs I was really struggling. I will always be grateful for what happened next. DJ and Mike grabbed my hands and, with me climbing with my feet, they pulled me up far enough so I could get one knee over the edge to safety. I scrambled over and there was suddenly this strange peace on the rooftop.

A guard and this other guy on the roof were standing by a door that led down to the stairs of an adjacent building. We ran down the stairs until finally we got to safety on the street. People were crowding around the police, firefighters and ambulances. I told the firefighters about the woman that was still up there. They got her out. I think we actually saw her in the hospital. We ended up breathing oxygen and I had a blood test for carbon monoxide poisoning since I had breathed in so much of the smoke in the stairwell. I was fine though. After an hour and a half or so we left the hospital looking like we were coalminers.

I have yet to make sense of all this or what it means for my life. What I do know is that I am very happy to still be around and that I want to make the best of this new lease on life. I could have died without the help of my friends so I will never forget what they did. I also know God answered our prayers and that this experience has forced me to focus more on what is important.”



Bjorn Karlman