"All the time I'm not writing I feel like a criminal." -Fran Lebowitz

Saturday, September 27, 2014

#RogueTripSOTD - 27.09.2014

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia - 26.09.2014, 4p

Readers Be Forewarned...

...tomorrow (28.09) I am flying out of Phnom Penh to Shenzhen, China (hopscotching Vietnam for now; long story involving visas, scheduling, and user error). I'll be in China for at least two weeks, in rural China for one of those weeks. Bear in mind, Internet is bound to be inconsistent. Fret not. I will try to post when I can, and will let everyone know when we're back at full speed. I hope you're enjoying the blog. Thanks for taking a look.

#RogueTripPOTD - 26.09.2014

A very sobering day at Chueung Ek, one of Pol Pot's "Killing Fields"..

Chueung Ek, Cambodia - 26.09.2014, 10a

Thursday, September 25, 2014

#RogueTripPOTD - 25.09.2014

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - 25.09.2014, 3p

#RogueTripPOTD - 24.09.2014

Some random thoughts during this 7 hour bus ride over approximately the same distance between New York City and Washington D.C....on a dirt road:

"Should my bus driver really be wearing a neck pillow?"
"You can't pass this guy, dude, you can't pass this guy, du-Jesus."
"Should my bus driver really be talking on his cell phone?"
"Watch out for that cow!" (multiply over 1000 times)
"Should my bus driver really be trying to grab the cell phone he just dropped under his seat?"
"Man, these bridges are really, really narrow...But at least they're paved."
"Don't be sad, Billy. Forty-five plus years of never getting car sick - that's a pretty nice run."
Somewhere between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia - 24.09.2014, 1p

Monday, September 22, 2014

#RogueTripPOTD - 22.09.2014

Angkor Wat deserves two Pictures of the Day (it deserves a hundred, but...)
Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia - 22.09.2014, 11a

#RogueTripSOTD - 22.09.2014

Bayon Wat, Angkor, Cambodia - 22.09.2014, 7a

#RogueTripPOTD - 22.09.2014

Ta Prohm Wat, Angkor, Cambodia, 7a - 22.09.2014

Monday, September 15, 2014


“How long you been here?” the waitress repeated.

I answered her, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I’ve long ago gotten used to every question-and-answer exchange in southeast Asia needing at least two laps to accomplish understanding. Besides, the bar on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok was crowded and noisy, and I was too busy watching the band onstage absolutely butcher a rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. The lead singer, the only white guy in a seven-piece band (two members of which seemed to have no job responsibility other than standing and occasionally snapping their fingers) was doing his impersonation of Robert Plant, perfect if Plant was wearing a bald pate, a turquoise Greg Norman golf shirt, and forty extra pounds - and if Plant sang like he was gargling a blender. The singer gesticulated, thrust out his pelvis, shook loose the excess energy off his shoulders. It was a truly offensive performance, but I loved it. “This is one of those moments,” I thought. “A unique image, a chance to be where you are. Just enjoy it.”

The waitress repeated my answer. “Ten weeks?” she asked. I nodded. She nodded too, and frowned, impressed. 

And that’s when I realized. Shit, I’ve been traveling for ten weeks now. That’s kind of a long time, huh? I’ve spent so much mental energy focusing on the theoretical length of this trip - forty weeks - that I don’t think I’m giving enough credence to the time that’s already passed. Most math majors can tell you that 40 > 10. Slightly fewer math majors can tell you that 40 - 10 = 30. Now, thirty weeks is a long time. Theoretically, there’s a long ways to go. But in hearing myself tell that waitress (well, hearing myself repeat it to that waitress) “Ten weeks,” it hit me.

That’s a healthy chunk of time, isn’t it?

I’ve seen a lot in those ten weeks. I’ve traveled over 18,000 miles, seen five countries, stayed in fifteen cities, seen a lot of things. I’ve climbed the steps at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lampur, swam in the Andaman Sea, and started a new novel. I've heard the worst rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” possible in Bangkok.

You’ll notice I use the word “theoretical” earlier. I’m not going to lie. There are moments when I don’t know if I’ll be able to make the entire time I’ve mapped out for this. There are moments - plenty of moments - when I want to stop the trip and return home. I don’t know what will happen, I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow or next week, how my money will last, how the holidays will hit me.

Those thoughts give me a lot of inner turmoil. I worry that if I come home before the forty weeks I planned out, people will consider it a disappointment, term the trip a failure.

This feeds into one of my problems with this entire effort, indeed, something I wanted this trip to address - my concern with other people’s expectations. When I started telling people about my plans, more than one friend became very concerned that I would be doing things that other people wanted me to do. When I told people about this blog, more than one friend advised me to not worry about what others wanted me to do with this site. These concerns were echoed by enough people, and with enough concerned vehemence that I realized, there must be something to it. Other people's expectations are something I’m too concerned with. Part of what I want this trip to accomplish was helping me give myself permission to do what I wanted to do, each and every day. I want to take this journey and allow myself to live it as it comes, not worry if I don’t hit a dozen tourist attractions per day, not be concerned if I stay in a city one more day, or one less day.

“Do you want to sing?” the waitress asked me.

I reared back slightly. “What?”

She indicated the stage. "Karaoke,” she said.

Suddenly it made a lot more sense. “No,” I said. “No thanks.”

This is my trip. I need to do what I want to do with it. And if that means it doesn’t last forty weeks, then that’s my decision.

Not that I’ve made that decision yet. But in always focusing on what I’m not doing, what I’m not going to finish, what I’m not accomplishing, I too rarely focus on what I have already accomplished. I may not last forty weeks. But I’ve already lasted ten. 

Maybe I should give myself credit for it, huh?

#RogueTripPOTD - 15.09.2014

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok, Thailand - 15.09.2014, 1p

Saturday, September 13, 2014

#RogueTripSOTD - 13.09.2014

Dawn of Happiness Resort, Ao Nam Mao Beach, Thailand - 13.09.2014, 5p

#RogueTripPOTD - 13.09.2014

Last night in the Dawn of Happiness...
Ao Nam Mao Beach, Thailand - 13.09.2014, 4p

Thursday, September 11, 2014

#RogueTripSOTD - 11.09.2014

Dawn of Happiness, Ao Nam Mao Beach, Thailand - 11.09.2014, 2p
(Takin' care of the eyebrows tonight; yikes)

#RogueTripPOTD - 11.09.2014

Afloat just off the Dawn of Happiness, Ao Nam Mao Beach, Thailand - 11.09.2014, 2p

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014

#RogueTripPOTD - 06.09.2014

Ao Nam Mao Beach (low tide), Krabi, Thailand - 06.09.2014, 5p

#RogueWMWD - 07.09.2014

Written every day this week...
Dawn of Happiness, Ao Nam Mao Beach, Krabi, Thailand - 06.09.2014, 2p

Friday, September 5, 2014

#RogueTripPOTD - 05.09.2014

Dawn of Happiness, Ao Nam Mao Beach, Krabi, Thailand - 05.09.2014, 6p

#RogueTripWMWD - 05.09.2014

Three novel pages today...essentially the same pic applies...
Dawn of Happiness, Ao Nam Mao Beach, Krabi, Thailand - 05.09.2014, 3p

Thursday, September 4, 2014

#RogueTripWMWD - 04.09.2014

Three novel pages and counting, and the weekly Travel Disptach. (shrug) Same spot, might as well use the same pic...
Dawn of Happiness, Ao Nam Mao Beach, Krabi, Thailand - 04.09.2014, 3p

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Travel Dispatch - Week Eight - "Three Questions"


“Are you alone?”

As I travel, I find myself being asked the same three questions over and over. Whether it’s on a train or in a coffee shop, in Australia or Malaysia, from a local or a fellow traveler, whenever I get into a conversation with someone these same three questions pop up. I’ve learned to expect them.

The first question is an obvious one. “Where are you from?”

The second one seems straightforward. “Are you on holiday?”

The third one, I never would’ve guessed before I left on this journey. “Are you alone?”

That one always gives me pause.

Now, I don’t feel I can properly answer the first two questions, either. I mean, I’m from America. (I feel obnoxiously grandiose responding, “America,” like I’m mentally throwing my arms out to the side as if to shout “Ta-da!” but saying what I feel is the more technically correct “The United States” doesn’t seem to get any recognition if the questioner’s English is poor, whereas “America” gets a big smile or knowing frown and “Am-er-ri-ka!” response. Minor point, however.) There have been no real repercussions, positive or negative, to “admitting” this, no recoiling at the Ugly American, no cursing of the Imperialist Empire that is my birthplace, none of that bullshit, but on the other hand, no warm hugs or free meals. I have been greeted as neither liberator nor oppressor. Even were me being American treated with some visceral reaction, happiness or anger, I wouldn’t care. I was proud to be an American before this trip started, and I still am. Not more so, not less so. Seeing other parts of the world has only made me appreciate what my country has as well as what it could improve, but those emotions haven’t hit me as strong as I might have guessed. It seems besides the point, somewhat. 

(Maybe the neutral reaction stems from no one around these parts ever seeing Americans anymore? I realize that’s not possible but while visiting five countries in two months, I haven’t run into any fellow Americans. Australians, of course. Europeans by the boatload. But no Americans. Perhaps I’m going to the wrong hotspots or something, but I’m at a point where if I see a group of white faces in a museum or on a beach, without any further information to go on, I assume they’re German. Minor point, however.*

*UPDATE: on the ferry from Phi Phi Island to Krabi Beach in Thailand, I rode on the sun deck and finally saw some fellow Americans, a group of young women, early 20s, on an extended vacation. Overhearing their conversation, which dealt mainly with hangover cures and henna tattoos, I felt at once liberated and oppressed myself.)

It seems that “Am-er-ri-ka!” is only half the answer to the question, however. “Where I’m from” right now is without question up in the air. I don’t know where I’m going to live when I return from this trip, whenever I do return from this trip. I’m determined not to make any decisions on that score while away, and though I’m content not to worry about it traveling, being asked causes a little panic to flicker in my stomach. The question only emphasizes to me that I’ve got a real life full of uncertainty in my hands, uncertainty that I signed up for willingly. I did this to myself; what was I, nuts? This trip is only the first part of the plan. The plan when I return is to find a place to live cheaply and try to write as much as I can before heading back to the cubicle world with my tail between my legs. But I don’t know where that cheap place will be, so I feel the only true answer to “Where are you from?” is “I don’t know.” and that causes a slight dread in me which the shopkeeper in Perth, Australia trying to hand me my change with my potato chips doesn’t quite seem to appreciate.

Keeping this loose plan I’ve laid out for myself still in mind, the second question “Are you on holiday?” seems unanswerable as well. I’m not punching a clock while I’m traveling and I’m certainly not getting paid to watch dolphins off the coast of Bali, enjoy noodle soup in a dingy food stall in Penang, or take pictures of the Kuala Lampur skyline from the top of the Menara Towers (I’m willing to entertain offers, though). With the exception of writing every day, a demand I’ve met surprisingly often, I have no responsibilities during these months on the road. My time is mine. 

This is not quite the liberating feeling one would expect, and although the “plan” only lingers in my mind as simply a gentle worry and isn’t debilitating, isn’t oppressive, this whole thing doesn’t quite scream “holdiay” to me either. Quitting my job, giving up my apartment and my city and setting off on this time seems more Important with a  capital “I” than a holiday, more fraught with uncertainty and risk than a vacation. What is this trip supposed to accomplish?

“This trip will change you.” Everyone says it will change me. Fair enough. I'm tempted to respond, "Care to let me in on some specifics, genius?" What will those changes be, how big will they be, and why can’t I feel myself changing right now? Will it only be when the Earth spits me back out onto “Am-er-ri-kan” soil that I’ll notice and appreciate these changes? Will it only be after somebody rears back and spits out, “You’ve changed, man”? Worse, what if this doesn’t change me? Or what if it changes the two or three things I actually liked about myself? All of the “Importance” of what I’m doing, or what I’m trying to accomplish, or what may or may not happen, all of these thoughts fly through my head and again, I wind up saying, “I don’t know,” and again, I’m thrown into a mild panic, which the bartender in the Raffles Hotel Bar just trying to make small talk while mixing my Singapore Sling doesn’t quite seem to appreciate.

“Are you alone?”

Obviously, this third question has different connotations depending on the questioner. The guy riding across the aisle from you in the train from Butterworth, Malaysia asks you that question for a different reason than the go-go dancer who asks it in some sleazy bar on Bangla Street, who asks you for a different reason than the waitress serving you your fish balls on rice in Ubud, who asks you for a different reason than the “concierge” at the Dawn of Happiness on Ao Nam Mao Beach near Krabi, Thailand. Sometimes a question is just a question, sometimes it’s the announcement of an agenda. But every time the question is asked of me, “Are you alone?” my over-analysis muscle, which I’ll concede I periodically exercise to fatigue, starts doing enough reps to “burnfatnotbuildmuscle.” If they held a Mr. Olympia for twisting and shaping and convoluting things and events and thoughts into every possible (well, every possible negative) result, I’d reign as champion.

“Are you alone?” Well, I guess I am. I’m making this trip by myself. It is just me. There are days that pass when I have no conversations longer or more meaningful than, “How much for this?…Okay?…Could I have a water too, please?…Thanks…” It’s been four days, and I’m not convinced there are any other guests staying in this simple but painfully beautiful set of bungalows here at the Dawn of Happiness. I may as well own it. For the past four days, I’ve come out and written in the open restaurant and the waitress and I are now at the point where she brings my coffee, eggs and toast and I pay her without words. I write my pages at a picnic bench and try not to look at the unbelievably turquoise water lapping at the beach twenty yards away. I finish my pages and take a swim in water that almost makes me mutter, “Too warm,” and then drink a Singha beer in a hammock. I go back to the restaurant and the waitress picks something for me to eat for dinner, and I pay her. I drink another Singha. I go to bed. No one talks to me. It's fantastic and it's terrifying. For the past month I’ve walked around a world where I barely need to listen because I know I won’t understand anything I hear. I’ve sat on subway cars with groups of people chattering away around me, and I might as well be sitting on the car by myself. So “am I alone?” Sure.

And yet. Almost every day there is a moment where I have an experience, an interaction, no matter how brief, where I don’t feel alone at all. Long train rides back and forth between Sydney and Perth, Australia suck for trying to sleep, but they’re marvelous for finding a temporary friend and holding hours-long conversations where you talk about anything and everything, going past getting to know someone but commiserating over a shared experience. These conversations will linger with me more than any museum I wander around. Using AirBnB instead of going to typical hotels may result in staying in less-luxurious locales and an occasional dirty towel, but it also results in a host who loves to talk, loves to recommend things for you to do, loves to make you feel comfortable in her hometown. The memories of those hosts will stay with me past any recollection of a skyscraper I enter. In two months traveling**, I’ve discovered my favorite parts are the conversations, the interaction, the social animal created when two or more people ask each other questions and listen to the answers. I’m told that this trip will change me. One of the changes that needed to happen in me was to be more social, to be more outgoing. Traveling by yourself forces you to do this, or you implode. So “am I alone?” Is anyone, really, when all you have to do is ask the person at the next table, “Where are you from?”

**SIDE NOTE: Two months? Geez, that's a long time.***
***SIDE NOTE to SIDE NOTE: Only two months? Geez...

And yet. I miss. I miss while doing this trip. Goddamn it, I miss people. If you're reading this, chances are good that I miss YOU, specifically. Why haven't you called?! (smiles) And you that know me will find this ironic, as it has seemed to many that I’ve spent the last two decades trying to live a life where I missed as few people as possible. I’ve been tagged with the “curmudgeon” label and I embraced it. "Don’t drop your hands, Billy," was a constant admonition. So In July, as my departure approached, people would ask me, “Will you miss Los Angeles?” half-expecting me to say, “Are you kidding?” with a disdainful shake of my head. Even before I left, however, I started to suspect what was coming and would respond, “Not the city. The people in it, though...yeah...”

Um, yeah; I might’ve underestimated that a touch. I lived in Los Angeles for twenty-two years and suspect I felt comfortable there for an aggregate of sixteen hours. I didn’t really want to move there to begin with, didn’t really know why I was moving there, and I certainly didn’t want to leave my friends and family back East. But there was a point, years after I had moved to LA, as curmudgeonly as I strove to be, as much as I wanted to keep my guard up, to not drop my hands, that I realized that if I left, I would miss as many people as I missed when I moved there…

…and then I flew halfway around the Earth to spend nine months in either a bus or train seat. I've covered almost 18,000 miles in two months and haven't split a check once.

That’s called a lack of foresight, yo.

So “am I alone?” Christ, yeah, sure feels that way. I feel like I’m on my own and will be forever, and I’ll never see the people I’ve grown to know and come to love ever again, and I don’t like that one single bit.

And yet. That’s bullshit, I know. That’s Mr. Olympia, flexing. I toss out a needy request for a kind word on Facebook, and dozens weigh in. Many more sent emails. Even without my whining, friends and family check in, say they’re reading the blog, claim to be enjoying it. The Internet enables me to talk to anybody I miss, at any time, at any Starbucks on the globe. The laptop I carry in my small daypack allows me to stay in touch with all of those people I miss, and lets me know that people miss me (this is why the moment it looks like rain, I wrap that sucker up in a giant ZipLoc bag).

I’m not sure I believed that would happen.

So “am I alone?” Hell no.

And yet. And yet. And yet.

“Are you alone?” We’ll see, I guess…

…The shopkeepers and bartenders don’t seem to know what to do with this response, either.

#RogueTripSOTD - 03.09.2014

Dawn of Happiness, Ao Nam Mao Beach, Krabi, Thailand - 03.09.2014, 4p

#RogueTripWMWD - 03.09.2014

Wrote 8 novel pp. today - didn't take a picture, but it was the same spot as yesterday...
Dawn of Happiness, Ao Nam Mao Beach, Krabi, Thailand - 03.09.2014, 11a

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

#RogueTripWMWD - 02.09.2014

Didn't write yesterday (travel day), but wrote five novel pp. today...
"Dawn of Happiness" at Ao Nammao Beach, Krabi, Thailand - 02.09.2014, 11a

#RogueTripPOTD - 02.09.2014

"Dawn of Happiness" at Ao Nammao Beach, Krabi, Thailand - 02.09.2014, 11a