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

Rogue Trip - Full

07 JULY 2014
I’m screwed.

I’m about to take a long trip. The trip is part of a larger plan about getting more work done, taking risks, life fulfillment, blah blah stopBillyfortheloveofPetestop. Anyway. It’s a big move, one I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and my realizations and expectations for the journey have been hitting me ever since I finally committed to it in my mind, ever since I finally said to myself, “You’re doing this,” last fall.

One of those expectations is, I’m expecting to be in a lot of places-

(This blog is gonna have a lot of obvious statements. Endure them, please.)

-and it’s a given that there will be times when I’m in a certain place, and I’m lost. For Chrissakes-

(This blog is gonna have swearing. I would ask you to endure it, but I honestly feel you should get over it, and actually, that you should enjoy it. (shrug))

(This blog is gonna have stage directions.)

-for Chrissakes, part of the reason I’m taking this trip in the first place is, I’m lost. So I knew I would be in exotic cities around the world, cities like Singapore and Beijing and Dubai and Barcelona and Buenos Aires and, uh, Monterrey, Mexico, and I needed to get used to feeling lost and feeling okay with being lost, that I wouldn’t be able to know where I was or where I was going every single moment in every single city through which I travelled…

I didn’t expect, however, the first city where I was beset with that feeling to be frickin’ San Jose, California, United States of America.

(eye roll) Jesus.

I flew into San Jose after a lovely visit with my brother and his family in Boise, with the plan to take public transportation to San Francisco. I wanted to spend a nice evening in one of my favorite cities, an American city I knew, before I embarked on this journey and found myself in places of which I knew nothing for the next nine months. I wanted to take a walk alone, find a nice, quiet restaurant to have dinner by myself, and simply relax before the adventure began, all in a city that gave me comfort…

…and I did, more than an hour later than planned, because I can’t a)read a goddamn sign or b)distinguish my left from my right.

First, I got onto a light-rail train in uh, “downtown” San Jose and went south when I should’ve gone north, prompting the first innovation this journey has prompted - there should be a corollary to the “walk of shame” (don’t pretend you don’t know) called the “disembark of shame” for when someone gets on at one train stop, only to get off at the next stop so he can walk across the tracks and go right back in the direction from whence he came. So that cost me forty minutes.

Second, I almost got on the right bus going in the wrong direction until the bus driver convinced me that he actually knew more about the bus’s route than I did. By the time he had me persuaded, by pointing at the bus stopped RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from where I was, I had missed that bus - that departed RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET - and that cost me another half-hour. Which brings me to what I hope to be a regular feature of this blog:

“Chances are excellent that the bus driver knows more about where you’re going than you do.”

and its sub-tip…

“Arguing with the bus driver is frequently counterproductive.”

I can’t even make it forty miles in the Bay Area without getting lost. I’m gonna be able to handle India and Ecuador? (sigh, rubs forehead) 

So. I’m screwed. Pray for me. Include it in your prayers to get me to stop swearing, if you wish.

Eventually, I did get to San Francisco, got my walk, got my dinner, and got my first, “Wait? You just up and quit your fuckin’ job?” from a skeptical bartender. So I will call yesterday a measured success. My desire is for that judgment to hold for the next nine months.

For those interested, my goal for this trip is to travel around the world. Deliberately, I’ve made only three “hard points” for the trip - well, I guess five “hard points”, including the beginning and end points, which I guess one cannot avoid when taking a trip. I’m thinking of them as clothespins hanging the trip on a line, perhaps a dirty clothesline tied between two tenement buildings high over a street in a cartoon taking place in Depression-Era New York City. (shrug) Whatever helps, dude.

First clothespin is San Francisco. Tonight I leave SFO - that’s AIRPORT CODE for San Francisco Airport - for the second clothespin, Sydney, Australia. The image of me sitting still in an enclosed space for fifteen hours should amuse many of you who once employed and/or dated me. I plan to purchase a third and fourth clothespin in the form of a flight from Lisbon, Portugal to Rio de Janeiro on February 1, 2015. So basically, I’ll need to figure out a way to get from Sydney to Lisbon in seven months. Fifth and final clothespin is, I’d like to have a birthday dinner (April 17, 2015) at this restaurant in New Orleans, Gautreau’s, mainly ‘cause it has a bench outside a picture window and I want a cool-ass picture taken of me sitting on said bench.

A needlessly romantic imagined image to go with a needlessly romantic and overambitious plan, to be certain. A plan which I’ll fail to achieve in its conceived schematic, no doubt. But whatever. We’ll see what happens. Every creative project becomes something different from its imagined form, is what I’ve found and grown to enjoy over the years. This is no different. I enter into this with the hope that when it is done, it’s a creative project of meaning.


-This is the website. You’re here, obviously. I dunno, bookmark it? Don’t mind that you can’t comment on posts? Cherish it?

-I have started a Twitter account specifically for the trip: @Rogue_Trip. Don't forget the underscore. Follow that for updates, notifications, little random tidbits and mini-bites, etc., and holy shit, please tell other people to follow it. My God, if a couple months go by and I’m trying find free wi-fi in the jungle in order to post stuff for a mere 53 people, I might just disappear into the Indian Ocean (or the Pacific Ocean, or the fourth dimension, YOU DON’T KNOW IT COULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED, DO  YOU?) like that Malaysian Air jet (not a legitimate threat). I may be re-tweeting links from @Rogue_Trip, but I will not be posting trip-related stuff on my personal Twitter account.

-If you haven’t “liked” the Sophisticated Rogue Media Facebook page, please do that. I’m looking to use that more than my personal page, for updates related to the trip. Don’t give me that look; that’s branding, buddy. Yeah, I’ve got a plan for that. My personal Facebook page is most likely gonna be less-used, at this point.

So if you’re up for it, please follow along. I’m excited about this, and it’d be nice if you read this blog as I go. I’ve got some ideas for what form it will take, but married to nothing other than maintaining it in a regular way. So keep checking back to see just how it begins to form, please.

Take care. I have to make sure getting to SFO is a straight shot on the BART…

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…

09 JULY 2014:
(BILL sits on a bus, trying to keep his backpack from falling off its seat while he watches a Chinese-Australian MOTHER, who sits between her son (9?) and daughter (8?) in the “Priority Seating” up front. The SON presses both hands repeatedly against the bus window, checking the prints his hands leave, while the DAUGHTER, wearing a page haircut, a purple hoodie with pink & silver butterflies on the front, and big, black, block eyeglasses, tugs at her mother’s fleece.)
DAUGHTER: Mommy, I want an iPad. I need an iPad. I need it. I know you said it’s gonna hypnotize me. But it won’t hypnotize me. It won’t, Mommy. It’s not gonna hypnotize me. I won’t let it hypnotize me. I won’t. Mommy. Mommy. It will not hypnotize me. Don’t worry.
(The mother, staring straight ahead, says nothing.)

09 JULY 2014:

(BILL stands on the worn wooden dock, waiting for the 9am ferry to Circular Quay. He puts his earbuds in; Radiohead plays softly. He looks around at the green hills surrounding the water. An OLD MAN walks down the steep stone staircase to join him on the dock. Wearing a blue flannel shirt tucked into grey gym shorts and a large straw gardening hat, the man acknowledges Bill with a slight pivot of his forehead before stepping aside to let a BUSINESSMAN pass by him. The businessman, sporting a shaved head, wearing a shiny black suit and burgundy shirt with no belt, stands between Bill and the old man. The wind from the south pushes gently on the water Bill’s face as the sun’s heat sneaks in from the east, bouncing off the inside of his sunglasses’ lenses. Bill spies the ferry approaching. He watches it. Radiohead might’ve been a little on the nose. Bill smiles anyway.)

10 JULY 2014
(BILL approaches the counter.)
COUNTERWOMAN: (smiling) You’re the American. I remember you.

11 JULY 2014
“When traveling, never ignore advice. In particular, never ignore advice from your bowels.”
A year of so ago, I was discussing the evolution of quantum mechanics vis-a-vis the politics of the scientific community in post-World War II Great Britain with a friend of mine when suddenly, I had to fart. Then a minute or so later, I had to fart again. With the third fart came the recollection of an epiphany I once had. 

So I asked my friend, “Say, Friend. How old were you when you connected the fact that you were farting a lot with the knowledge that you would soon have to take a crap?” (I might've said, "dump?")

“I dunno,” he replied. He thought. “Eight? Nine?”

“So, not forty-four?” I asked.

He laughed, then looked at me quizzically. “No,” he said. “Not forty-four.”

I was reminded of this conversation on Wednesday morning while I was waiting for a bus in downtown Sydney, as I casually backed near the wall of a bank and surreptitiously passed gas. The reminder caused me to immediately start searching for a bathroom. It wasn’t easy; in these situations, it never is. I am convinced the God in which I believe simply wills me to require to take a shit in public (bookstores inspire a notoriously Pavlovian reaction in me; thank Him that they’re disappearing), and then does everything in His power to prevent me from finding a john. In this case, there was a mall, but it was far down the street and it was disguised as a church. There was a bathroom in the churchmall, but its one stall (one?!? I was in the First World, no?) was occupied. Finally, the doddering fool who was occupying the space I so desperately wanted finished INFINITE JEST, stood up, flushed, and after taking an hour to figure out how to button his pants (I’m speculating), he stumbled out of the stall as I shoved past him, slung off my monstrous sack, and did my business. I had made it.

But, a close call. Every call in these circumstances is invariably a close one. Because in the movie of life, if flatulence is the plot point in Act One, you don’t have to be Syd Field to know where Act Two is going, and where the climax in Act Three might end up. Further, while traveling in unknown cities, the movies seem to go much, much faster and pack in far much, much more action, and the obstacles to the goal of the hero seem much, much more pressing.

Decipher this metaphor as you will. 

So, to economize, “Broken Wind = Break Into a Trot”. Do not wait. Perhaps this requires three sentence fragments. Do. Not. Wait. A traveler must be prepared to instantly drop what he’s doing and adapt to a new agenda to drop what he’s doing. If “I didn’t have to go then,” is an tolerable defense against the accusation, “You should’ve gone before we left!” the first fart while walking on a city street disqualifies any further excuses. Walk into the nearest coffee shop, restaurant, mall store, church, or bank, and pretend with hand signals and stammered English that you plan to purchase something, light a candle, or take out a home loan as soon as your most urgent need is satiated. And, never stop moving. With earbuds in, a fifty-pound backpack strapped to your shoulders, and an utter ignorance when it comes to where the nearest men’s room is in a foreign city, you procrastinate at your peril.

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…

13 JULY 2014:
(BILL approaches an OLD MAN.)
BILL: Excuse me, sir? Do you know where I can find Parramatta?
OLD MAN: Parramatta? Ah, Jesus, you're not even close. You're miles away!
BILL: (frowning) Really? Parramatta Road?
OLD MAN: Oh, Parramatta Road. (points) That's right down there, about a  hundred yards.
BILL: (stares) Thank you.

14 JULY 2014
It had happened on the first day, the very first day, goddamn it. It was supposed to be at least a little smoother than this. After finding the perfect occasion, a nearly twelve-hour flight from San Francisco to Aukland, New Zealand, to finally be able to actually sleep on an airplane, and getting through customs without a hitch (it appears that going through the wrong line and seeming mildly stupid to the exasperated agent may be an asset, here), I found the shuttle train into downtown Sydney with ease, then the bus to the home in Birchgrove where I was being hosted with even more ease. I had arrived. I was on my way. Nine months, around the world. Here we go. With a strong sense of “New Chapter Beginning!” swelling between my ears, I knocked on the door.

And, nothing.

No answer. I knocked again. Nothing. I double-checked the address; yes, right house. I walked around, and found another door. Still, nothing. No one was home. Despair. As I trudged to find a cafe with wi-fi so I could email my host, with my gargantuan bag aiding and abetting gravity's wickedness on my shoulders, all of my fears curb-stomped my positivity into dust blown towards oblivion. Now, I hadn’t been so deluded to assume that I was going to go on a nine-month trip around the world and not run into a single problem overseas, had not been such a Pollyanna that I discounted any possibility of any obstacle presenting itself, but on the first day? In an English-speaking country? Less than two hours after I had arrived? This was already a disaster, and had nine months of a nightmare pregnancy followed by giving birth to a demon of self-loathing and regret written all over it.

In the Charlotte Cafe, after I had emailed my host (my phone service had already been disconnected, how naive had I been? Did they make a rube more stupid than I was? Just because I said, "than I" that didn't mean I wasn't stupid...), I drank cappuccino and fretted. Where was I going to stay? What was I going to do? Was the future going to be this difficult? Was it an omen, a clear sign this all had been a terribly misguided notion? Should I just turn around, take the bus and then the train and then the plane right back to the States? No matter; I was probably going to die, right there in the Charlotte Cafe, wasn’t I?

I heard my name. “Bill?” the counterwoman asked me. I nodded. “Your friend is coming here to pick you up and drive you back to her house.”

“Wow,” I said, relief filling my lungs like oxygen. “She doesn’t have to make such an effort. I can manage.”

The counterwoman shook her head and smiled. “You’re in Australia, Bill,” she said.

And so I am. Sydney is lovely, and strikes me as so naturally and effortlessly hip that a hipster couldn’t possibly create it on a drawing board if he had a lifetime and an endless supply of Pabst’s Blue Ribbon, a ripping pair of block-framed glasses, and the coolest muttonchops since Jeff Tweedy. I keep being reminded of New Orleans’s French Quarter combined with the beach cities of the South Bay in Los Angeles. To me, it combines a sophisticated, modern downtown, with all the fresh, sparkling glass and metal of Vancouver, with neighborhoods that have stood the test of time, their buildings not torn down but reutilized and revitalized until they look like something out of “Lovely Quirkitude” magazine (copyright pending). The city has caused me to begin work on a theory that a bustling and effective ferry transportation system is essential to a cool city. I’ve taken a million pictures of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, and I feel like that hasn’t been nearly enough. I’ve gotten my coffee at the Charlotte every morning - “You’re the American. I remember you.” - and have walked the city’s neighborhoods every day. I’ve hit four museums in as many days, strolled the Botanical Gardens, watched kids learning to play rugby, and failed only in my quest to find a pub that was showing the World Cup Final. The businessmen wear black suits and bright shirts with no ties and the businesswomen wear long, straight hair and off-white raincoats. Everyone has a confidence and most everyone walks, and I try not to catalog every single difference I note with chagrin between this town and Los Angeles. I merely smile to myself whenever anyone apologizes for the city's public transportation system.

There are concerns, of course. With natural hipness comes expense. I have my morning coffee at the Charlotte despite clenching my teeth each time at hearing the price, and I try to limit my drinking to one or two pints per evening. I keep telling myself, “You’ll save money in India. You’ll save money in India. You’ll save money in India,” to the point where I’ve hypnotized myself to convulse should I have to even open my wallet in Mumbai. But while sharing the bar at the London Hotel in Balmain Friday with a man who claimed to have traveled the Earth “more than a few times,” the man advised, “Don’t pay attention to a budget. Don’t pay attention to an itinerary. Just live and have fun until the money runs out.” Which is great, provided the money doesn’t run out before I board the train for Melbourne on Wednesday (it won’t).

Everyone I tell my plans to here not only doesn’t laugh at me, but is encouraging and pleasantly envious and occasionally even claim to be inspired themselves, continuing the wonderful energy everyone back home (and presumably, you who are reading this) gave me to the point where I can’t possibly thank you all enough. No one save one or two of you (the “I hope it works out,” with a shrug hilarious in its solitude) has been anything other than magnificent in your encouragement of this idea, to the point where I wonder just how fucked up I was, how much of a desperate mid-life Hail Mary this might be, that everyone who knows me thinks this is just the solution for what ails me…

If you're reading this, chances are excellent that I miss you specifically, and chances are only slightly less excellent that I miss you enough that it aches.

I hope you’ll indulge some of my thoughts regarding how this trip treats me in order to get some of the more basic details and the pictures. I hope you’ll endure the running gags. People keep telling me this trip will change me. We’ll see, and you’ll read, I guess. So thanks for reading, too. I don’t want this to be so masturbatory that it turns everyone off, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious to see what effect this whole thing has…

Whatever. It’s too late for me to wonder or worry about that. You’re in Australia, Bill.

15 JULY 2014:
"Sydney's been so nice," I said, "Such a nice start to this whole, whatever this is. I suspect it may be all downhill from here."
"You need to have no expectations."
I nodded. "That's what I do. I lower my expectations. That way-"
"No. You need to have NO expectations."

20 JULY 2014
“A little OCD goes a long way.”
Being obsessive-compulsive gets a bad rap. People hear you’re compelled to return to your front door in order to verify (and often, re-verify) that you’ve locked it, every single morning before you leave for work, they’ll start to look down their noses at you, and in general, checking to make sure you haven’t left the oven on when you haven’t cooked a meal yourself since that pot luck back in 2005 could be considered an unproductive use of your time. It's got a stigma, that's why it's abbreviated!

But traveling is another matter. Having a system where all of your important items are kept in the same place at all times can often save time and stress, and goodness knows, you need to save your stress!

So, I have developed a system where I put specific items in the same place before I leave every single morning. My sunglasses’s case goes in the front pocket of my day backpack. My Kindle goes in the front slot of the backpack, my laptop in the back slot. My passport goes in the same place every time I “reset” myself (No, I’m not telling you where I keep my passport, you jackals. I’m not falling for that!). So when you need to pull something immediately or, say, fifty times during the course of the day, you develop the muscle memory to do it the same way every time.

You can even make an OCD game of it - pat your hoodie pouch every hour on the hour to make sure your iPhone is still there (is doesn’t matter that you can still hear music in your earbuds, that doesn’t mean you haven’t lost your iPhone, you know!). Unzip your backpack and confirm your international adapter is still in the inside pouch at quarter past every hour. Every half-hour, check for your passport in your - OH, NO YOU DON’T.

Now you’re not an anal-retentive freak, you have a system! You’ll have some order in what is clearly a disordered world, and thus save your stress for much more important things, like “Is that drunk guy looking at me funny because he can tell I’m American, or is that drunk guy looking at me funny because he wants to fight me? And if he wants to fight me, is it because I’m American?”

I’ll start you off. Your earbuds always go in your ears.

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…

21 JULY 2014:
“I need to figure out a way to sleep on trains or swear to God, I’m gonna kill myself,” I said aloud, shifting in my seat from one side to the other for the millionth time, and trying to find a resting place for my feet.

The Indian Pacific Train
Nobody on that car of the Indian Pacific train going from Sydney to Adelaide that Thursday morning heard me. It was 2am and most everybody else in the car was sleeping, and snoring, and what’s more, at 45 years old I was the youngest person on the train by at least twenty years. Apparently the primary clientele of the Australian rail system is pensioners who haven’t decided to trust airplanes quite yet.

I thought I had a terrific plan. I’d purchase a two-month rail pass that would allow me to travel from Sydney to Adelaide to Melbourne, back to Adelaide, to Perth, back to Adelaide, up to Darwin. Sure, Australia is actually quite larger than the United States in terms of surface area, and sure, there were legs of the trip that would take over two days to complete, but I’d read and I’d write and I’d have time to think. I'd use my time wisely.

Well, choosing to try to read Infinite Jest and Ulysses when you’re exhausted simply doesn’t play (and I apologize to the spirits of Messrs. Wallace and Joyce for my arrogance on that score). Writing when you’re sleep deprived…well, you’ve probably read the results of that in past posts. Finally, it turns out that left on my own to think…yikes. Apparently I swear to God all sorts of things.

The week had started off tremendously. Still in Sydney, on Sunday night I was invited to a dinner party my host was having. It was full of lively characters who I got to listen talk and debate and argue and joke about Australian politics and entertainment, stuff I knew nothing about so I could just listen and enjoy. Later, I was asked about my plans for the rest of my Sydney visit. As I’m discovering on this trip, whenever you visit anywhere, people who live there demand to know your itinerary because they want to advise you as to where to go, and usually it’s a wise move to not plan anything and just take a local's counsel on the matter. So when a dinner guest heard I had two more days in Sydney, he insisted I go to Watsons Bay, which is on the coast of the city, looking east over the Pacific (which amused me in and of itself). Everyone agreed that Watsons Bay was lovely and turned back to discussing some Australian businessman who was currently being tried for murder.

Ignoring the conversation, David grabbed a sheet of paper, and began to draw furiously, finally giving me a fine map of Sydney proper which included a detailed section of Watsons Bay. It included drawings of both the ferry I would take to Circular Quay, and the ferry that would take me from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay, complete with directional arrows, and several lighthouses that I was to hit while I was there in order to get the full experience. I’ll check, but I believe he drew some birds flying over the harbor as accent.

He handed me the map, which I will cherish forever, and pointed out the way to proceed. “First, you can have lunch at Doyle’s. Use their takeout, the actual restaurant is quite expensive. Then, you’ll go up to the Gap,” he said, at which point the conversation turned from murder to suicide, discussing how the Gap is so picturesque that it’s often a site for people ending their lives, yes, yes, similar to the Golden Gate Bridge, what a shame that was, how the government was working to eliminate the temptation, so on and so forth.

David seemed impatient with the group. “Yes, yes, all right,” he said, pointing back to the map. “Well, go to the Gap, and if you decide to commit suicide, commit suicide. Once you’ve recovered, go on to Southpoint, down here,” he indicated, “where there are some beautiful lighthouses, and then…”

Watsons Bay was as advertised. Simply gorgeous and relaxing, both a nice complement and contrast to the city of Sydney itself, which is bustling while being slower-paced than an American city, to me anyway. It’s been explained to me that since Australia isn’t that old, the historical buildings aren’t so old that they don’t still have value, so rather than just knocking them down, they revitalize them. So you see trendy bars and shops in cobblestone buildings, and I’m guessing there’s a law that says no pub that ever opened on a corner can be razed, no matter how old. The lack of oppressive absolute modernity everywhere you look seems to slow things down. I enjoyed myself immensely, met a number of wonderful people, and was concerned that the first place I visited would prove to be the highlight of the entire journey. But I was happy.
The Gap at Watsons Bay

And then I got on a bloody train.

If getting the rail pass was my first mistake, deciding not to book a room in Adelaide after being on a train for almost a full day, was my second, and much, much larger one. Figuring I’d save some cash, and that I had to be up for my connection at 7am anyway, I’d just hang in a bar until closing and then crash in the train station.

No. The Adelaide train station is content not to be Grand Central Station, and closes at 9pm or so. Thus, I had no place to go between midnight and 7am. I wound up bouncing back and forth between a McDonald’s and a Hungry Jack’s (Burger King), feeling guilty that I wasn’t buying anything and not wanting to overstay my welcome at either place. By the time I got on the train to Melbourne, for eleven more hours, and then a bus for another hour before finally arriving in the city, I had my first severe thoughts of, “Just what the Hell have I gotten into here?” It’s was truly a demoralizing day, and the thought of “39 more weeks of this?” was truly trying my spirits, and not the best way to think. If you had offered me a ticket home, I would’ve taken it except, uh, I don’t have a home at present, which wasn’t very pleasant to realize either. If you had offered me a noose, I might’ve taken that as well. Friday was a long, ugly day.

Eventually, however, I got to Melbourne, met my first host there, had a glass of wine, and was able to both vent and decompress a bit before she took mercy on me and allowed to crash to sleep after a half-hour. Melbourne has been lovely. Saturday night, I went out with a friend of a friend, to grab in order: coffee (Australia and in particular Melbourne are nuts for their coffee) on Degraves St., a veal parma near Flinders, and a couple of drinks in a couple of bars that were hip and happy and a nice balm for my improving attitude. Sunday, I hit the Royal Gallery of Victoria (“Museum Guards of the World” installation TBA), and wandered the city, through the Botanical Gardens, through Federation Square where they built a courtyard and museums on land that wasn’t leveled off to a truly weird, wonderful effect, through Chinatown, and down Flinders St..

Federation Square, Melbourne

Melbourne and Sydney have a moderately fierce rivalry that is not altogether a joke. Whenever I told someone in Sydney I was going to Melbourne, and whenever I told someone in Melbourne I had just come from Sydney, there would be a mildly acerbic comment about the opposing town, and I would wait for the smile to indicate it was all in good fun, but that never really came. Melbourne considers itself to be the artistic center and feels Sydney is fine “because the Opera House is great even if everyone's seen it in a million pictures already, and if you want to go see monuments and such.” Sydney seems to not really consider Melbourne, so perhaps the rivalry is similar to, say, Los Angeles and San Francisco. But Sydney should consider Melbourne. Melbourne is dynamic, creative, and I’ve enjoyed seeing that energy.

Today, however, I’ve relaxed and had a lovely walk in a dog park at Williamstown, a little ways from downtown. I woke up and decided, “You know what? I don’t have to go full speed every moment. I don’t have to maximize every second. That’s how you wind up in a Hungry Jack’s alone at four in the morning watching Sky News cover the Malaysian Air tragedy on a grimy television mounted over the bathroom door and finding it so surreal you can barely function enough to walk back to McDonald's to wait over there.”

And you know what? Williamstown was pretty damn picturesque and I got a bunch of great photos. It was lovely. The last few days have made me realize that throughout this, I’m a)going to have bad days and b)there will be good days after those bad ones and c)it was up to me to realize that and ride the bad ones out.

So we’ll work on that. “…And if you decide to commit suicide, commit suicide. Once you’ve recovered, go on to…”

Now if I can only figure out how to sleep on a train…

P.S. I have booked a room to stay in the next time I lay over in Adelaide.

22 JULY 2014:
INT. BUS - 7:30AM
(BILL sits in a window seat, listening to an Adam Carolla podcast on his iPhone as the bus pulls away from Melbourne. He laughs at something on the podcast. The OLD WOMAN sitting in the aisle seat next to him, wearing silver hair most likely cut around a silver bowl, looks at him. Bill laughs again. She continues to look until he meets her eye.)
BILL: Oh. Sorry. This is just funny.
(The old woman says nothing.)
BILL: You know, you gotta have some entertainment when you're on the road, right?
(Hearing something in the podcast, Bill laughs again. The old woman looks at him, and starts to bring her hands up in a "May I listen?" gesture but then, thinking better of it, stops and puts her hands down. Bill smiles. Five minutes later, Bill coughs - once - and frowns as he sees the old woman pull up the collar of her coat over her nose in panic, like the baby in the chase scene of RAISING ARIZONA. But, still. )

23 JULY 2014
“Be 5’ 6” tall.”
This afternoon, I'll board another Australian train, the Indian Pacific from Adelaide to Perth. The journey will take a breezy 36 hours.


This thought wouldn’t be so crippling if it weren’t for the knowledge that my seat on the train itself will prove crippling to my (strapping) six-foot, two inch frame. I’ve spent a long time trying everything in order to sleep on an airplane, to no effect, and now applying that same brainpower to the quest for restful sleep on a train, I’ve drawn one conclusion:

You have to be short.

Pretty simple. If you’re 5’6” tall, you’re going to be able to curl up, you’re going to be able to have enough leg room, you’re compact enough to fold yourself into any seat. If you’re over 5’6”, it gets problematic. Over six feet tall, you’re doomed. And there’s no answer, save for - simply be 5’6”.

Problem solved. Now, I beg your pardon, I’m off to find a hacksaw before heading off to the train station…

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…

28 JULY 2014:
In Adelaide (again), I was FaceTiming my friend Jim in Los Angeles, trying to figure out if there was ANY possible angle I could hold my computer that didn’t make me look horrendous, so I almost didn’t hear the question. “So, how long’s this train ride tomorrow?”

“Thirty-six hours,” I replied, as I thought, “Keyboard on the belly is out.”

“Thirty-six hours?! What are you going to watch?”


“Yeah, Billy. Watch. What have you downloaded for the ride?”

“Oh, there’s no WiFi on the train,” I said. Holding the laptop high above my head was okay, but made my arm hurt. “So I figure I’ll just try to read some.”

“Read what?”

“Well, I’ve never finished ULYSSES, or INFINITE JEST, so-“

“What?!” His annoyance made me lower the monitor to eye level. “A day and a half with nothing but ‘difficult’ novels? Are you trying to depress yourself? Go on iTunes right now and download some movies.” I watched him pull up a website. “Here,” he said, “Top 100 movies of the 80s. Let’s go down the list.”

And we did. And by the next day, as I boarded a train that would carry me 2700 kilometers, including a stretch over over 400km of utterly straight track, I was prepared with movies like AT CLOSE RANGE, WAR GAMES, and VISION QUEST, movies I had already seen and could watch while shutting my brain off as the miles peeled by. I've seen VISION QUEST at least fifty times.

SHUTE: You're a bleeder. And I like blood.
LOUGHTEN: Yeah? How 'bout your own?

I also boarded with a newly discovered lesson:

“Don’t be a hero.”

I’m going to go out on limb and imagine that James Joyce, were he asked what he thought about someone determined to finish his masterpiece ULYSSES while trapped on a train, would reply, “What a maroon.” Were someone to conduct a seance and bring the spirit of David Foster Wallace forth, asking him what he thought of me tackling INFINITE JEST while sleep-deprived and hungry, he would call me an idiot. He might have eight footnotes about the etymology and history of the word ‘idiot’ and lists of historical moments of other idiocy, but he’d call me an idiot.

I’m planning to be on the road a long time. There are going to be times where trying to make headway through a difficult novel is appropriate, and there are going to be times where that attempt is lunacy. I learned that last week. My week was bookended by Melbourne in the beginning and Perth at the end, but was mostly taken up with “transit time” where I’m just in motion, getting from one spot to another, not really able to enjoy myself as I go. I’m starting to consider these times almost business, as in “I have to take care of getting from point A to point B before I can relax and enjoy myself.” Perhaps as this goes on I’ll get better at unwinding while I’m in transit, but now, three weeks in, I have to find distractions.  Stupid movies from the 80s and “light” novels are going to help. Entertainment that causes my mind to wander, to dwell on the mile after mile of nothing, are not.
Cook, Australia - a town?

So I’m gonna do what I need to do.

Australia has roughly 23 million people living in it, and it seems like all of them are living on the edges. Sydney, Melbourne, and now Perth, I’m finding are bustling metropolises (Perth joins the list as the third straight city whose public transportation system beats Los Angeles’s in every way). The three cities I’ve visited so far have each been dynamic, seaside havens full of interesting people and modern ideas. But the interior of the continent is like a donut hole, surrounded by flavor but devoid of anything you can taste for long. I appreciate it, and I’m already growing fond of the country as well as the city, but it has wound up oppressing me at times too.

I’ll be in Perth for the next week, and I’ve already hit the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Australian Museum (basically it’s Natural History Museum), enjoyed the pub nightlife both in the city and in Fremantle, the chic suburb in which I’m staying, and it’s funny, periodically I remind myself that there are stretches for thousands of miles that have no people whatsoever. Having to bounce back and forth between those extremes almost makes one schizophrenic, and once you factor that in, being able to understand my mood swings makes a whole lot more sense.
Art Gallery of Western Australia - 27.07.2014

But sometimes it only takes one person.

I’m a cranky misanthrope. That’s the polite way to put it. I don’t approach people, I don’t start conversations with strangers. I’ve always been the sort of person who could be by myself. All my life I’ve been the type of person who sees someone moving down the aisle of an airplane and prayed that their seat wasn’t the one next to mine. I want the spare seat. No more. The charming osteopath from England who talked with me all the way from Melbourne to Adelaide, and the energetic university student from Korea who traveled with me from Adelaide to Perth, both conversation partners were enough to weather the storm. The Australian countryside is magnificent, and the clouds hovering just above the farmland, the prairie, the desert, those clouds seemed close enough to reach out and touch or float up to if I only jumped from the train. But they captured my mind as well as capturing my mind.

To have someone to sit next to, to talk to, to listen to, to hold onto as ballast as I wondered if I might just keep moving on what had turned into an Australian countryside hamster wheel, has been crucial, and part of the larger point here. Planning this trip, I don’t think I anticipated just how tough it would be to be by myself. It's been tough; there have been moments where it's excruciating. So being able to talk to someone, anyone, has been the difference between simply going on this journey, and appreciating it.

So I’m making it my mission to start making conversation with people. I've narrowed down the openers to, "Hi, my name's Bill. What's yours?" and "Hi, my name's Bill, and if I don't have a conversation with someone I just might lose my mind."

One or the other. And I’ll be armed with 80s movies I’ve already seen. The fifty-first screening of VISION QUEST might stop the bleeding.

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…

29 JULY 2014:
The MAN sitting opposite BILL at the picnic table took a sip of his pint. "So. Whaddaya think," the man asked. "Taking this trip the right decision?"
Bill twisted his mouth, thinking about it. "I dunno," he said. Then he shrugged. "It wasn't the wrong one."

05 AUGUST 2014:
Apologies for the delay in posting. As mentioned, I've been on a train without WiFi for the past two days...Now.

Kalgoorlie, Australia
“What time Kalgoorlie?” The old man is at it again. “What time Kalgoorlie?”

And I again resist the urge to divide by 284.

The old man sits across the aisle from me on the Indian Pacific train coming into Adelaide from Perth. He’s not crazy or mentally challenged, as he’s traveling without a caretaker, unlike the guy on the train to Melbourne who kept going to the restroom every half-hour but never locking the door, giving several people during the day an unpleasant surprise when they opened the door themselves. This guy is just a cranky-pants. Half-elf-like, with a big, crooked nose, wearing a blue windbreaker and tweed pants, with white hair in a style that’s one half combover, one half finger in the socket, this old man is practically a secondary character on “The Simpsons”, and every five minutes he’s up wandering the aisle, asking in an accent that’s one half demented old man, one half eighth-generation Australian mixed with Greek, “What time Kalgoorlie? What time Kalgoorlie?”

My earbuds do nothing to help me. I try Gomez, the Foo Fighters, and the usually fail-safe Beastie Boys, but none of the bands completely drown out his incessant inquiry.

“What time Kalgoorlie?”

His question seems even more committed after he’s heard the conductor announce on the public address system, uh, the estimated time of arrival in Kalgoorlie (10:30pm).***

It’s enough to make me hesitate to take out my computer, as the man seems to think my possession of a laptop indicates that I somehow control the schedule of the Indian Pacific from my seat 5 in the Red Carriage. It does not. Each time he asks me (and he asks me every single time), all I say is, “I don’t know, sir,” as politely as I can.

It wouldn’t be quite so bad if not for two facts:

1. There’s absolutely zero to do in Kalgoorlie at 10:30pm. I would argue, based on my ten-minute walk through the town a week ago and a conductor’s warning, “Do not get off the beaten path, here, my friend,” there’s nothing to do at one in the afternoon, either, except perhaps get mugged for your daypack. What this half-elf has planned for after midnight in some mining town smack-dab in the boondocks of Western Australia is anyone’s guess.

2. The same half-elf hadn’t been asking the exact same question every five minutes on the train coming out to Perth a week ago.

Yeah, same guy. Same question for the same amount of time the train was moving - over thirty-six hours. And each time he asked me last week, I took a deep breath, muttered, “I don’t know, sir,” and I divided a number into 284.

284 is the number of days I’m expecting this trip to take. July 7th, 2014 through April 17th, 2014 is 284 days. So during moments on this trip when I’m having a rough time, I’ve been taking the number of days already gone and dividing it by 284.

As I type this the quotient is .09507042 (27/284). That means I’m 9.5% done with this trip.

You may find the fact that I do this math depressing. You might think that it defeats any effort to live in the moment and enjoy myself if I’m constantly calculating and re-calculating how much of the journey is completed and, by extension, how much further I have to go.

I disagree. Rather than the quotient seeming like a long ways to go, instead it represents progress. I keep thinking of this journey as somewhat of a creative endeavor, a project, similar to when I wrote The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription. I take comfort in the fact that, like any creative journey, it will become something different than what I set out for it to be. Also, continuing the metaphor, it challenges me to take a large undertaking one step at a time. If I look at the mountaintop from the valley, I’m not sure I could convince myself I could climb that mountain. If I kept thinking about writing the actual entire 450 pages it takes to complete a novel, I don’t know if I would have been able to complete The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription. But by thinking about it in terms of writing one or two pages a day, the task becomes not only doable, but manageable.

(Have you not read The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription? My goodness, you can buy it cheap here.)

This trip is similar. Looking at it as almost ten months makes it seem impossible, makes me want to crawl into the fetal position and sleep (this does not work on a train seat, by the way). But by breaking the trip down into pieces, looking at each piece as a lily pad I can step on as I traverse the river (yeah, I’m a frog in this new metaphor) makes it reasonable, doable, and even manageable.
Perth Zoo
So I stopped thinking of July as spending a month in Australia. Instead, I started thinking of, “Next week is a week in Perth; that’s easy…Today and tomorrow I’m on the train; I can do that…And in a week, I’m in Bali.”

Now, I can do a week to make it to Bali, no problem.

Rather than make it tedious, it’s liberating me to focus on what’s right in front of me, as a percentage of the whole journey. It’s a piece of the pie I can taste right now. I don’t need to worry about next month or next year, those pieces will come.

So last week I was able to focus on the piece that was Perth. Perth joins Sydney and Melbourne on my list of cities I’d like to visit again. Maybe it’s the ocean, maybe it’s the ferries but Perth, like the other two cities, combines a sophistication with a charm and an ease that I appreciated greatly. I’ve been told it’s because Australia isn’t that old, doesn’t have hundreds and hundreds of years of history like, say, Europe, so the people who live here are able to not take themselves so seriously while at the same time embracing their homeland’s past. I look forward to exploring all three cities in more detail, digging deeper than I was able to on a trip that had a larger agenda.
Perth Zoo

And I finally got pictures of kangaroos and koala bears. Now, true, I had to go to the Perth Zoo to get the pictures. I was too slow with the camera on the train the two or three times I saw kangaroos in the wild, and apparently koalas sleep during the day, which we can all agree is bullshit diva nonsense. The Perth Zoo was nice enough, but having not been to a zoo in over fifteen years, I was reminded that: a)zoos are pretty depressing places and b)it feels weird to be a single dude walking around a zoo by himself. Walking around the Royal Botanical Gardens and Kings Garden felt significantly less strange, and I’m impressed with a nation with such beautiful flowers even in its winter. I went to my first Australian play…and walked out during intermission of my first Australian play. Bad theater is international, apparently. Now, people who know me know I don’t leave plays during intermission, ever, but I decided, as I was watching something truly mediocre, I didn’t want to have to catch a later train out to my host’s home in Fremantle, I wanted to have time to grab a pint and still be home by 11p, and finally I decided, “I can leave, and I’m going to leave.” That piece was over.

My Australian piece of this trip is over at the end of this week, ending up in the northern town of Darwin, where I’m expecting to be able to shed my hoodie and jeans for a good two months. Next week’s piece of the trip is Bali.

I’m looking forward to the next piece of the trip, and adding another piece to divide into 284.

“What time Kalgoorlie?”

Settle down, you cranky, old man. We’ll get there when we get there. It’s progress, and it’s inevitable.

***UPDATE: When we finally arrived in Kalgoorlie, the old man didn’t even get up from his seat and instead sat staring out the window. What the Hell, dude?

08 AUGUST 2014:


My hoodie & me

My hoodie’s starting to struggle.

It’s winter in Australia. When I told people I would be starting my trip with a month there, many people were quick to remind me, “You know it’s winter there, don’t you? You know it’s cold there, right?”

To which I’d respond, “Yes. I’ve been cognizant of the whole Northern Hemisphere/Southern Hemisphere paradigm since that ‘Simpsons’ episode where Bart almost got the boot in his ass,” and “I’ve been living with the ridiculously oppressive heat of the San Fernando Valley for years and years. I’m not averse to a month of temperatures in the 60s and high 50s, thank you very much.”

No, I wasn’t worried that it would be somewhat cold. In fact, I was excited to know that every time I heard the temperature, my sticker shock (“Fifteen degrees?!”) would always be followed with relief (“Oh, yeah. Celsius.”) and amused frustration (“What’s the equation to transfer to Fahrenheit? Forget it, I’m not doing math; I’m traveling!”). I grew up in the Northeast. Being a little cold would be going back to my comfort zone. Besides, I was bringing my hoodie.

My hoodie would be enough. Bought last year, black with the simple logo of the Los Angeles Kings, uh, I beg your pardon, the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings (and NO-body thinks it's a coincidence the team won after I bought it), the sweatshirt was going to get me through the month of chilly but not unbearable winter climate of Australia.

And it did. I’ve worn it pretty much every day for the last five weeks, and aside from a couple of nights in Adelaide where it didn’t feel like quite enough (though my mental state may have sliced two or three degrees off the thermometer, Celsius degrees - and those are big degrees), the hoodie has served me well.

But not without cost, Dear Reader. Hey, look - first time I’m calling you “Dear Reader.” Hope that’s cool with you. 

The Kings logo is starting to pill a little bit. The hood string is frayed from (in ascending order): the wind, me pulling on it, and me chewing on it. Finally, although I have washed it, twice, man, it’s starting to smell just a touch (it is legal to smoke in bars in Australia). So I was getting worried about it.

Outside of Alice Springs, Ghan Train from Adelaide to Darwin, 07.08.2014

Not to mention, I almost lost it in a train station in Katherine on Friday morning. Interestingly enough, in Australia anyway, when a train is about to leave a station, no one says anything. There’s no conductor shouting “All aboard!” to make certain no one, say, a guy listening to Mos Def while charging his iPhone in the enclosed air conditioned waiting room, will miss the train’s departure. The passengers are told when the train is leaving and are expected to be on it when it leaves. Normally I’m all for personal responsibility, but it almost cost me my sweatshirt when, panicked I had seen the train start to leave from my vantage point in said waiting room, I sprinted to board it. Only to realize I had left my sweatshirt in the waiting room. After clarifying with the conductor that the train was NOT on the verge of leaving (they were merely switching locomotives or some such bullshit), I was able to go back and retrieve it and it’s surrounding odor of cigarettes.

When one travels, one becomes particularly obsessed with never leaving anything behind. Whenever I stand up to leave a bar or coffee shop, I unzip my bag and do an inventory, then re-zip my bag when I’m satisfied. Whenever I’m moving from one accommodation to another, I spend ten minutes re-enacting THE SURE THING, scouring my room over and over to make certain I don’t walk out with my laptop sitting on the bed, or my toiletries lingering in the bathroom. My competitive nature hoped to go through the entire ten months without losing anything. It’s becoming instinctive. Growing up, and even as an adult, I would just toss things anywhere and the shock of losing something wore off by the time I graduated college. Cost of doing business, right? Now, the thought of losing any item and having to go without it is a somber one. Flying out of Australia two days ago, I left about $1.80 in Australian coins in a bin for the x-ray machine and when I realized it at the gate, it took a good ten seconds for me to say, “Let it go, Billy. Let it go.” 

This week was my final one in Australia and I spent most of it on the train, so it wasn’t the most eventful week. It took two days to get from Perth to Adelaide, then two more to get from Adelaide to Darwin, so most of the memories created were either looking out the train window, or enjoying conversations with train mates. Please do not underestimate the memories that can be created, however, they’re somewhat internal. My final day in Adelaide was a pleasant one, with the exception of worrying I had lost my hosts’ cat (see a previous post for that story), and I finally tried Vegemite for the first time.

For years I had heard about Vegemite. I had to try Vegemite, Vegemite was terrible, everyone in Australia swears by Vegemite, you’re going to hate Vegemite. So when I was handed a slice of bread with Vegemite slathered on it, the word had lost all currency. But I tried it anyway.

The verdict: it’s fine. (shrug)

I certainly didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. It tastes vaguely salty, vaguely like fish, and vaguely like peanut butter. I’ve had worse things to eat, to be sure. But I’m not sure I’d be staking my entire nation’s culinary reputation on it, either. And now when someone asks if I’ve had Vegemite, I can say yes and we can all move on with our goddamn lives.

The other main event of the week was arriving into Darwin. On the bus ride from the train station, I learned that on Christmas Eve in 1974, a storm named Cyclone Tracy had blown into the city and destroyed 80% of the buildings there. 80%?! 4 out of 5 buildings destroyed. Wow. Not to be waylaid by the storm, and in inspiring fashion, the city began to rebuild immediately, and this time with construction that was certain to be storm-proof. As you travel through town, you notice the roofs of the buildings are mainly corrugated metal and there are a lot of cinder blocks. Even the bus stops have corrugated metal roofs and cinder blocks. The city of Darwin was not going to let Mother Nature destroy it with a random natural disaster again…

…Instead, they’d leave that job to the multitudes of partying backpackers who would throng the town for years to come.
Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia - 09.08.2014, 10a

Please don’t misunderstand. Darwin is beautiful. Another city by the ocean, with wonderful views of the water and gorgeous beaches, it reinforced my memory of Australia as a donut hole - tasty on the outside. But Darwin is what the famous philosopher Socrates might’ve called “a real fucking party town.” As a city in warm weather (traveling north to get warm was interesting to process) and a departure point for vacation spots such as Bali, teems of young people, backpackers, and other such revelers infest the town with their tank-tops, tribal tattoos, bad beards and attitudes to drink a great deal and have a good time.

Last weekend, by my estimation, 98% of those revelers stayed in the same hostel as I stayed.

Yes, Darwin was my first hostel experience. Did I spell “hostel” correctly? (shrug) Now, I’ve certainly slept in dirty rooms before (ask my mother), and the room I stayed in was fine. It’s simply been a while since I slept with five other strange dudes in bunk beds. Scratch that, four other dudes and one French girl who slept on a top bunk while sniping at her boyfriend on the bottom bunk. In French; that’s no fun. And aside from the dude on another top bunk with a Manson beard who kept peering over his laptop at me, before we all fell asleep, I felt completely comfortable. The poolside bar was raucous and the DJ played ABBA at 7p, so what’s not to love about that? A woman I met on the train and I went to a bar next door and every five minutes there was almost another fight between two twenty-somethings from the European Union, so what’s not to love about that?

Up until this point, I’ve stayed in houses I’ve found on AirBnB, and every single one of those experiences has been lovely. But the prices in Darwin were exorbitant - I think the town knows everyone’s passing through. So it just became another step outside of my comfort zone. It’s good to know you’ve got that comfort zone waiting for you should you need it, but the more you step out of it, the larger the zone gets.

Saturday morning, my French Lovers Argument Alarm Clock woke me earlier than expected, so I took a shower and walked next door to the hostel to get a coffee. In front of the bar I had been to the previous night, there was police tape blocking off the sidewalk, and a (un?)healthy pool of blood straddling the curb/street. Two officers leaned against a van and another sat half-in, half-out of the side door, so I went up to one of them.

ME: (pointing to the tape) What happened here?
OFFICER: (long pause) An incident.
ME: Yeah. I get that. What kind of incident? (joking) A murder?
OFFICER: (longer pause, as he contemplates playing along with me, then decides it’s a waste of his time, annoyed) Neh. Just an incident. (pause) We’re investigating it.
OFFICER #2: (from inside the van) Oi, go watch the news and find it, all right?
ME: (chastened) Got it. Thanks.

That will probably be the lasting image I have of Darwin, just eking out the Aboriginal Art Exhibit at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (in the museum’s defense, it was the third such exhibit I’ve seen in a month). I’m not sure what this has to do with comfort zones or anything like that, but the moral might be: don’t annoy cops with stupid questions. I thought I had that one down already, but I guess I’m relearning all sorts of things.

That night I left Australia and flew to Bali. I’m hoping to be in Southeast Asia for the next two months. My hoodie is stuffed at the bottom of my backpack.

10 AUGUST 2014:

WiFi here in Alice Springs is crap, so pictures will have to wait until my train arrives in Darwin; apologies. In the meantime, here's a RogueTripPlaylette for ya.

UPDATE 10.08.2014 : Well, the WiFi in Alice Springs was worse than I thought, as this never posted. (shrug) Here it is now...


I already knew exactly where I was spending the night in Adelaide, Australia. I had reserved it through AirBnB and stayed there already a couple of weeks ago, for two nights. So I was familiar already with the area and with my hosts. The familiarity relieved me. I've found I'm still getting disoriented as I'm on the road for these  many, many days in a row. Anything that’s familiar becomes ballast that soothes me - a city I've been to, a public transportation system I know, a house I've slept in.

The husband was kind enough to meet me in front of the Adelaide Cathedral to give me the key to his home, and I took the bus ten minutes north and let myself in. I showered, shaved, and napped. Then I decided to go out and buy groceries for the next day’s train ride to Darwin. Like the house, my previous visit had taught me where the supermarket was, and it was easy to walk there, do my shopping, and return. I grabbed a lemon gelato and ate it on the way back to the house. Easy, familiar. comfortable.

I settled in to do some work. After thirty minutes at the dining room table, typing on my laptop, I heard a scratching at the sliding glass front door. I looked up. It was the hosts’ cat. A mix of black and grey fur, with calm green eyes, she scratched casually at the door, waiting patiently for me to let her inside the house.

I, on the other hand, did terrified somersaults in my brain. Had I accidentally let the cat out when I went out for groceries? How irresponsible! How inconsiderate! How horrendous! How lucky was I that the cat had returned? How bad could my ensuing AirBnB review have been? “Bill is a courteous and considerate guest…He left his room exactly as he found it. He did, however, lose our cat.” 

How…wait, I thought. Wait a second. Is that their cat?

My previous visit had only been two nights, over two weeks ago. I had neither the time nor the inclination to become familiar enough with their cat to know that this one was actually theirs. I am not a cat person. I might argue that most cats look the same to me (I don’t even see color, man). 

So. Should I, in fact, let this cat in? What if it wasn’t the same cat? What if it fought with their actual cat? What if it were only waiting for some dupe to mistake it for the rightful cat, and allow it entrance, where it could get rid of the rightful cat and ensconce itself in the home as its new ruler?

The argument in my brain took a couple of minutes, before I decided that, provided the cats got along, it made more sense to let this cat in, regardless of its home. In this particular instance, I thought, one too many cats is better than one too few.

So I let the cat in. It walked - the better word is “strolled” - in, past me in the dining room. Yes, yes - like it owned the place. Now, all cats walk that way, so that told me little. It strolled through the kitchen, around the free-standing counter, and down the hallway, disappearing into the master bedroom.

“Okay,” I muttered, retracing its steps as if watching a ghost. “That seems like it’s the right cat.”

Satisfied, I went back to work.

Ten minutes later, more typing, and another scratch at the glass door. I looked up. Same cat, same patient look on its face, same casual scratching.

As I let the cat in again, I actually thought to myself, “There’s gotta be a hole in this house.”

At five o’clock on the dot, when the husband returned to his home from work, when he entered, I stood up from my laptop. “I have to ask you to do something for me,” I said. “It may seem strange, but I will explain.”

“No worries.”

I pointed under the desk in the living room, where the actual owner of the house was now laid out on its belly, sleeping. “Please confirm for me, that that is your cat.”

10 AUGUST 2014
"So. What's your first impression of Bali?"
I thought. "That I may not leave it?"
"Good first impression."

13 AUGUST 2014:
(BILL, carrying a burlap grocery bag full of clothes and his backpack, climbs up the steps to the pathway, where a local MAN is seated on a motor scooter, waiting.)
MAN: Are you Bill?
BILL: Yes.
MAN: I am here to take you to the bike tour.
BILL: (looking around) Okay.
MAN: Have you ever ridden on a scooter before?
(The man laughs, which sounds like this, “Bwahahaahaaa!” - as if there are more ‘a’s the longer the laugh goes on.)
MAN: Bwahahaahaaa! (motioning to his back) Come. Sit. We will go.
BILL: (climbing on the scooter) Sure.
MAN: Do you want a helmet?
BILL: Yup.
(The man, who himself is not wearing a helmet, reaches under his legs and hands something to Bill.)
BILL: This is a bicycle helmet.
(The man starts up the scooter and begins backing it up as Bill puts on his bicycle helmet while trying not to drop the grocery bag.)
MAN: You are a big guy!
BILL: Thanks, man. Wait, have you ever had someone this big back here ride with you?
MAN: My wife is as big as you.
(By now, the scooter is turned around and the man begins coasting down the hill.)
MAN: (calling behind him) Actually, she’s not THAT big.
MAN: Bwahahaahaaa!
(The man is driving the motor scooter. Bill holds onto him from behind, continually checking his grip on the grocery bag. The scooter weaves through traffic.)
MAN: (shouting over the bike and traffic) How’re you doing, Bill?!
BILL: (shouting) Fine. Wait, you can’t fit-
MAN: So how long are you in Bali?!
BILL: -there. Jesus. Uh, ’til Saturday! Hey, there’s a wet spot up-
MAN: What is your job?!
BILL: -on the left. Okay, that’s kind of a steep hill, dude. What?!
MAN: What is your job?!
BILL: Well, I quit my job!
MAN: You quit your job!?! Bwahahaahaaa! Why?!
BILL: Watch the road, man!
(The scooter pulls up in front of the storefront.)
MAN: Okay, Bill. We are here. (pause)
BILL: Thanks for the ride.
MAN: You need to have less worries, man!
BILL: What? Oh, I’m fine. That was all right.
MAN: You can let go of my shoulder now, Bill.
BILL: (lets go of shoulder) Yup.

18 AUGUST 2014
For a long time, I’ve dreamed of living in Tiburon.

Twelve years or so ago, a then-girlfriend and I took a weekend trip to San Francisco and on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, we took the ferry across the bay to Tiburon. Even though she and I were enduring the aftermath of a significant fight (which had been my fault entirely; the previous evening, I had been at my most passive-aggressive and insecure), as we walked around the neighborhood, I was able to put aside my lingering anger with her, and my incessant loathing of myself, and enjoy the town. After an hour I decided: I really, really wanted to live in Tiburon. It was upscale without being ostentatious, tranquil without being boring or giving up any character, and beautiful without being cliche. I remember thinking, given the proximity to San Francisco, being right on the water, and one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the country, “I could be pretty happy here.” Yup, I had made up my mind. I could be pretty damn happy in Tiburon.

Of course, Tiburon is where Robin Williams decided to kill himself.

Before last week, it had been commonplace to hear someone’s judgment, “I prefer Robin William’s dramatic stuff.” I’ve said it myself many times, and agreed with others when they said it, after hearing about a new Robin Williams film, often times hearing that Robin Williams was in a bad film. He made plenty of good ones, he made plenty of bad ones. So what? Which movie star hasn’t? Everyone acknowledged that Robin Williams was a dynamite stick of talent, a Tasmanian Devil of stand-up, a bottomless well of voices and accents and impressions and references. Films like GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM and ALADDIN were able to harness that energy and delight us all. But as time moved on, it became pretty standard to feel fatigued by Williams’s unceasing energy, to conclude that his hyper, rapid-fire act was too much too often, to feel a little put off by it.

Lucky for him, Williams had the low-key side to his arsenal as well. When he dialed it down for DEAD POETS SOCIETY and GOOD WILL HUNTING (my favorite is THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP), he showed a softer side that was no less brilliant, no less effective, no less moving. His “dramatic stuff” won him an Oscar, gave him icon status, earned him enough tangible rewards to get him a house in Tiburon.

And it didn’t matter. 

Pretty dramatic stuff, huh?

When I heard the news, I immediately knew that I’d be reading a lot of opinions about it, pieces about what lessons we all might learn from this tragedy. Nobody was talking about Robin Williams last week. In today’s Twitterverse, however, nothing resurrects a celebrity like death. Now I'm adding to it, I suppose. (shrug)

I also thought that there were no lessons to be learned from it. Every reaction I had about this was met with a “Yeah, but.” Suicide is an incredibly selfish act. Yeah, but doesn’t one have personal freedom? He should’ve been able to find help. Yeah, but often times help isn’t enough, and what help is there? It makes me so angry. Yeah, but…It makes me so sad. Yeah, but…You can try to find an answer from this tragedy that will ensure it doesn’t happen again, but you won’t find one. There is no solution that will end it.

Williams’s death came as a surprise to everyone and a surprise to no one, really. The news came from nowhere but everyone could see it at the same time, in a way. People hurt and people try to rid themselves of their pain any way they can, even if it’s foolish or destructive or even if it’s irrevocable, and people always will. We can try to learn from it and improve all of our chances of avoiding it in the future, but at a certain point it’s futile. We already know everything there is to know now. There’s no insight that can be suddenly wrested from this particular suicide. The truth is depression is like a natural disaster. We can think about it and analyze it and decry it all we want, but it escapes capture. It cannot be eliminated. No meteorologist has ever come forward with a way to eliminate hurricanes. All they can do is warn us to board up our windows and find higher ground. All we can do about depression in ourselves and our loved ones is watch for it closely and protect ourselves and others from it when it creeps up behind us the best we can.

Robin Williams himself was very open about his demons over the years, freely discussing his problems with substance abuse, not just with humor but with self-awareness and wisdom. He was not glib about it. Recently, he had checked himself into rehab for his emotional well-being. He didn’t seem to be ignoring his problems. He wasn’t in denial about his demons. Far from it.

And it didn’t matter.

Last night, I was listening to the podcast Marc Maron did with Robin Williams a few years back where Williams discussed thinking of suicide only one time. He performed a bit about having a debate with his conscience about it, with his conscience patiently asking questions about why he was thinking of killing himself, and whether or not the bottle of Jack Daniels he was holding in his hand might, just MIGHT have anything to do with it, and why he might be holding that bottle, and so on and so forth. The bit was detailed, understated and very, very funny, a perfect blend of Robin Williams’s “comedic stuff” and his “dramatic stuff.” It concluded with Williams’s conscience convincing him to put the thought of suicide on the shelf where it wasn’t really needed, then or ever. After the bit was done, Williams told Maron that that was the only time he had ever thought of suicide.

Now, I don’t generally wish that somebody is lying their ass off. And this was an old podcast, so chances are good that one contemplation of suicide was, by last week, no longer an accurate tally. But lying in a bed in Singapore, listening to Williams’s claim, I thought, “I hope you’re a goddamned liar, Mork, ’cause if you aren’t, Jesus, I really need to watch myself.”

Because I think about suicide all the time.

(Here’s the point where I concede the narcissism in making someone else’s suicide about me. And HERE’S the point where I argue that’s what we ALL do this in some form or another when we hear news like this. People relate to it, or they don’t, to varying degrees. Many simply empathize because it’s not an issue for them. Even for those people who are shouting, “Okay, we get it! Depression! Suicide! Enough! Move on!” are making it about them, if it’s only to push it away so forcefully it reveals their effort to keep the conversation away from them. We pour everything through our own filter, make everything about us, all of the time.)

Before anyone gets alarmed, rarely do I think about suicide beyond a moment. Certainly right now I feel pretty good, for me anyway. Yet sure, it still crosses my mind. The notion passes in and out as if I’m thinking, “Maybe I’ll go to law school,” or “These sunglasses are dirty,” or “Robin Williams is really funny, but I prefer his dramatic work.” 999 out of 1000 times it’s a transitory “Hm…” and then a bird chirps or I see a piece of cheesecake or something like someone in front of me on line at McDonald’s annoys me, and the thought evaporates. To be frank, most of the time it passes through my mind it’s just because I don’t feel like getting out of bed. “Thinking about” something has a very, very wide range of meanings.

In the past, however, there certainly have been those 1/1000 shots where it’s gone beyond a mere brain flutter, where my thoughts have been a storm of darkness and genuine despair between a mere passing idea and a tangible objective. I’ve never thought it to the point of attempting it, or even planning it. But I’ve dealt with depression pretty much my entire adult life, to varying degrees of success but to this point never to complete failure, either, for which I'm grateful. I’ve been at points in my life, however, where I never thought there would be any way out of the hole of sadness in which I was buried. Times where I was so depressed I didn’t even bother not to end a sentence with a preposition. It has been an utter torment for me at times. I have found no answers for it, zero, nothing, nothing nothing nothing ever to solve it completely for me. I wish I could find some answers, learn some lessons to get rid of it, but no. Never. It is always there, with the potential to build. So far, every time I’ve been low I’ve been able to fight back, to rebound, to rise up, to board up the windows overlooking my own brain. But I know that the depression’s never beaten, only beaten for now, only for the time being. It’s a constant threat and thus a constant worry.

So to hear that someone’s committed suicide after thinking about it only once before? That’s a real “Okay, watch yourself,” moment. Because there is no definitive solution to this problem, no way to eliminate it. There is no answer to it. There is only vigilance and protection from it. I like to think I remember to have plywood ready for my windows. But is there enough plywood in the world?

I mean, Robin Williams was undoubtedly one of the most talented comedians in the last century and one of the most talented and celebrated actors of his generation. One often hears the expression, “(X) has more talent in his left thumb than (Y) has in his entire body.” That would certainly apply when (X) = Robin Williams and (Y) = me. With Robin Williams, that cliche loses its hyperbole. Robin Williams was a millionaire a hundred times over, while I kick myself when I spend over ten dollars at lunch here in Singapore. Robin Williams lived in Tiburon; I will most likely never own a home.

So if HE can’t protect himself from this shit, if HE can’t stop it from overtaking him, what chance do I have? If this shit can overtake Robin Williams, it can overtake anybody, right? So what chance do I have? 

The answer, so much as there is one, is as good a chance as anybody, as long I am vigilant. William’s death is not a lesson; it is a reminder. It is a warning. That is what I’ll take from it. I will take it as a warning. Williams’s death sucks, it fucking sucks, it deprives us all of more good work and entertainment and more importantly it deprives his family and friends of a person they love. I can’t make sense of it, so the only way I can take any comfort from it at all is to use it as further protection for myself, for my emotional home, and to remind myself that my depression will always be right outside my house and I always have to fight - proactively fight - to keep it off my goddamned porch. That’s all I can do, but I can do it as hard as I can. And I will.

And if I’m able to do that, then I can continue to claim that I appreciate Robin Williams’s dramatic stuff.

20 AUGUST 2014:
BILL*: You're wrong, ATM machine, you're just flat-out wrong. I DO have plenty of money in that account. I checked it last night, as a matter of fact. You may SAY I don't but I DO. But it's cool, ATM machine. 'S cool. Lonely Planet TOLD me this would happen sometimes. You just don't know me or my account information 'cause you don't RECOGNIZE my world-traveling ass. And the joke's on you! Ha ha - now I have the perfect excuse not to go into that place that only takes cash - in 2014! - over there (points) but CONVENIENTLY has you over here! I KNEW that place was a tourist trap and I suspected it would bore me, anyway! I'm going to that place (points) over THERE and having a pint of Tiger. 'Cause it's 2014 and they take Visa. So thank you, ignorant ATM machine in a foreign land with none of the pertinent facts. Terima kasih!

*internal monologue

22 AUGUST 2014:
(BILL walks past a large, open concourse in a shiny mall. The concourse is blocked off by velvet ropes. Looking, he sees that within the ropes a party is taking place: WAITERS and WAITRESSES dressed in all-black move amongst a well-dressed almost in all-black CROWD with glasses of wine and hors d’oeuvres, several CHEFS in white work at various food stations, both entrees and desserts, and a band with a lithe female VOCALIST wearing a short haircut plays on a small riser.
Bill stops, and changes direction, his facial expression clearly saying, “Free booze? Interesting.” He approaches an opening in the velvet ropes, the entry to the party, where a small WOMAN HOSTESS dressed in black, wearing a headset, and holding a clipboard, stands.)
HOSTESS: (accented English) May I help you, sir?
BILL: Yes, I’m here for this.
HOSTESS: This is the TimeKulture Swiss Watch Exhibition.
BILL: Yes. I’m here for this.
HOSTESS: You are? (She checks the guest list, presumably for “Only White Guy Within Five Miles Dressed in a Grey T-Shirt & Cargo Shorts and Wearing a Backpack”) Who are you?
BILL: (had this already chambered; he's had three beers and a plan all along, see!) I’m a travel reporter for the New York Times.
HOSTESS: This is a private event, sir.
BILL: (already seeing an opening in the velvet ropes at about 10 o’clock, where a bored  WAITRESS is staring at her phone) Oh, okay. No problem.
HOSTESS: Yes, sir.
(Bill walks away, in the general direction of 10 o’clock.)
(The band finishes a song, to zero applause or reaction of any kind.)
VOCALIST: (into mic) We’re going to take a short break now. Thank you very much.
(A DJ begins playing music on the turntables, as the band files off the stage and past Bill, who sits on a faux-couch eating a plateful of ice cream and drinking a glass of white wine. The vocalist sits down next to him and proceeds to ignore him. Pause.)
BILL: Nice job.
VOCALIST: (looking him up and down) Thank you. You’re supposed to be here?
BILL: Sure.
VOCALIST: Then, thanks.
BILL: Sure.
VOCALIST: You’re American.
BILL: Yes. I'm a travel writer for the New-
VOCALIST: -and you’re supposed to be here.
(Bill looks up and sees the hostess walking around, mingling. He stands up.)
BILL: Take care now.
(Bill walks away.)
(Bill spies a waiter with a tray of full wine glasses. He moves to him and takes a glass of the tray. Turning, he almost bumps into the hostess.)
HOSTESS: This is a private event, sir.
(Bill hands her the glass.)
BILL: Yes.
(Bill exits.)

24 AUGUST 2014:
I had been warned that in southeast Asia, I would be expected to negotiate. “A warning,” the man in a Sydney pub had warned me, “Everything in southeast Asia is a negotiation.” Within a week in the region, this drunkard had been proven correct. Every time I was quoted a price and I merely said, “Okay,” I could see the look in the merchant’s eyes, a look of disappointment, of the epithtets “Tourist. American,” before a look of acceptance, one that said, “Well, sure, I’ll take this idiot’s excess money.”

As the days passed, I wanted to get more comfortable at negotiating, but I was fighting my personal nature and, truth be told, my laziness. These may be the same things. I don’t care for negotiating. I find it demeaning, but more importantly, I find it a waste of time. Tell me what it costs, really costs, and I’ll decide whether or not I want to pay. Usually, I’ll pay it. We’ve all got lives to lead, don't we? This is fun for anyone?

And that’s how my first week in Bali, Singapore, and Malaysia went. I was content to just accept the first price given me. I struggled with explaining what I wanted, struggled to understand what they were telling me, struggled to overcome the language barrier. It seemed hopeless, and I seemed destined to overpay for everything.

Until it rained.

As I walked back to my hostel from the Petronas Towers in KL this afternoon, it started to pour down rain, dump the sort of rain you find in southeast Asia or coming out of some gigantic spigot, just teem in my face with water. My first concern, naturally, was not for my personal safety or comfort, but for my laptop. This concern was expressed, "Shit, if my laptop gets wet, I'm boned." Though I was certain it was stowed well enough to remain dry, I wanted to take no chances, so I tip-toed across the street where an open shop was fronted by a stoical Malaysian man. “Umbrella?” he asked.

“Yes, please!” I shouted over the raindrops and a sudden burst of thunder.

He picked one out and extended it towards me. I grabbed it. “How much?” I asked.


“Thirty ringgit?”

“Yes,” he said, annoyed. “Thirty.”

I can claim no planning for what happened next. I can take no credit for intellectualizing a new strategy, for deciding a new leaf must be turned. It was simple instinct. I didn’t even have time to stop my mouth.

“Nah, fuck that,” I said. No doubt the scowl on my face matched my words.

I started to walk away. Then I heard something. “Twenty-five.”

I turned. This was one of those moments. You know what I’m talking about, Dear Readers. I felt the hugeness of it on my shoulders (though it might have been my hulking backpack) and I epiphanied that shit:

“Nah, fuck that,” transcends language as a negotiating technique.

 “Five,” I said.







The man handed me my prize, nah, fuck that, not a prize, but what I had earned. My eyes never leaving his, I handed him two bills. I didn’t have to look, I knew they added up to fifteen ringgit. He nodded, and I nodded. And then I walked away, taller than before if no more dry.

And it didn’t matter that, twenty yards later, I realized the umbrella wasn’t a push-button. Or that it was yellow. I was taller than before, if no more dry.

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…

26 AUGUST 2014

So the cause of the delay was an invisible, dancing giant.

For my week in Bali, I was hosted by Kelly, the sister of a college friend, and her wonderful family. I will never be able to thank them enough for my time there. They were magnificent hosts, showing such generosity, hospitality, and insight into the marvelous spot that is Bali, that by week’s end (Hell, at week’s beginning) I wasn’t certain I ever wanted to leave the island. Typical of gracious hosts, Kelly kept apologizing for anything that wasn’t perfect in her eyes; in this case, the remodeling of the house that was still taking place during my visit. The family had just returned from vacation to find the work wasn’t yet finished, Kelly explained, and slow construction was just one of the facts of life one had to adapt to while living in Bali. Things happened at the pace they happened here, and everyone was better off not getting upset, just accepting it, and taking things as they came.

Over the course of the week, I noticed that concept in action. Each morning, construction workers would arrive at the house, mill around for awhile, and then begin doing some work. At a certain point, the architect would show up and stop them. A meandering, impromptu meeting would take place, and then the builders would start doing different work. Finally, each evening, Kelly or her partner Ro would return home and explain that everything that had been completed that day was not what they had asked for, and that it had to be done over. The cycle of events would repeat the next day. No one seemed particularly put out by this dance, however. The common attitude was a shrug and an unspoken “This is Bali.” You get the majesty of the place, you have to accept the pace of the place as well. The pace contributed to the majesty, was the implication. Having taken a few walks on a beach in Sanur, where Kelly and her family live, a beach that should really be on every single postcard that’s ever mailed from now on (it’d save everyone a lot of trouble), I was already growing comfortable with the philosophy.

So most of the times I waved Kelly’s disclaimers off, as the construction work was so non-intrusive I might otherwise not even had noticed it, her generosity was so great it wouldn’t have mattered even had I noticed, and even if workers had started cutting wood with a circular saw two feet from where I was sleeping, it would’ve still been better than trying to sleep in a Darwin, Australia hostel with an arguing French couple.

When she mentioned the problem they were having with the invisible, dancing giant, however, I found that I did have some follow-up questions.

A giant? You have a problem with a giant, you say? Yes. But not just a giant, an invisible one. An invisible one? Huh. Yes, but not just an invisible one, an invisible, dancing giant. There’s an invisible, dancing giant, you say? Yes.

(As I write this, I’m prompted to ask a writer’s question - should it be “an invisible, dancing giant,” or “a dancing, invisible giant”? Which adjective goes first here? It stands to reason that the further you get away from the noun the adjectives modify, the more distinct the modifier should be, right? Like, you wouldn’t say, “the blonde, famous actor,” you’d say “the famous, blonde actor,” corredt? The “famous” is the more distinctive, so it takes precedence, no? There are plenty of blonde actors, but fewer famous ones, yea? And I’m gonna make an executive decision that dictates that while there are probably plenty of dancing giants - I might argue that every giant has danced at some point, if only at like, the giant’s fraternity brother’s wedding or something, at least when the DJ played “Shout” or “Celebration” or some or such wedding anthem - there are fewer invisible ones. You simply don’t see a lot of invisible giants, right? Ha. Hm. I guess you don’t see a lot of visible ones either, do you? Hm. Crap. This is tougher than I thought…But as I said, it’s a writer’s question. It’s nothing for you to worry about, Dear Reader…what might E.B. White say? Where’s my ELEMENTS OF STYLE? Huh, I left it at home; it wouldn't fit in the backpack. Forget it; let’s carry on.)

What’s the invisible, dancing giant’s problem? would be the obvious, next follow-up question.

The invisible, dancing giant didn’t like the papaya tree that had grown in the yard.

At this point, I kind of lost the thread of the exact issue - I can’t recall if the invisible, dancing giant didn’t like the papaya tree because the papayas the tree produced were too big, or if the invisible, dancing giant didn’t like the papaya tree because the papaya the tree produced were too small - but this part seemed irrelevant. It seemed to me that, if Kelly didn’t have a problem with the papaya tree, then it wasn’t truly a problem.

But that’s not how Bali works. The man who worked for Kelly, a kind, gentle man named Gede whose daughter turned a year old the day I left, and who managed to pleasantly suppress his frustration with my inability to remember any Indonesian beyond “Terima kasih” "Thank you," which I'll probably still be saying four months from now in India), had explained to her that work wouldn’t truly be able to be finished, or even continue at any actual pace, until the issue with the giant was resolved. I’m not certain it’s as simple as everyone would refuse to do any work until the issue was solved so much as the work would seem to go in circles and not really progress anywhere until the giant was satisfied.

How one would infer that satisfaction? Beat me, but that’s not the point.

The locals in Bali believe that everyone exists on two planes - the visible half and the invisible half. They do not accept that there are two poles to things. They don’t view things as “good” or “bad” but everything is part of everything. Simply because we cannot see something does not mean it doesn’t exist, and if something exists, we must be aware of it, we must pay attention to it, and sometimes we must satisfy it. So of course there can be invisible giants. What’s more, the Balinese are very big believers in karma. What comes around, goes around. So if you ignored someone (even if you couldn’t see that someone or critique its dancing), what would go around is your house remodel, go around in circles indeifinitely. So if the invisible, dancing giant didn’t like the papaya tree then Kelly, her architect, and her family were going to have to figure out how to appease the invisible, dancing giant.

Kelly mentioned it could’ve been worse. They could’ve found skulls in the yard.

My visit to Bali was going to end on Indonesia’s Independence Day, so Kelly gave me some background on the nation’s history. Back in the sixties, after Indonesians had been granted self-rule, the government and other forces had done a pretty rigorous purge of the Communists who had fought for control of the country, and a lot of the purged had wound up buried in Sanur. Since then and now the neighborhood was populated by a lot of ex-pats, who weren’t as concerned about the nation’s history as the locals, it hadn’t been as much of an obstacle as one might think, but it also wasn’t as infrequent as one might think that during a construction or renovation of a villa in the neighborhood to have a skeleton or two be uncovered in someone’s backyard. If one found, say, a human skull, Kelly explained, the choice was simple: either report it and have construction delayed while the authorities investigated in vain (always, always in vain - nothing was ever going to be solved), or toss the skull aside and try to finish the construction.

Kelly did not say they had found any skulls on her property, but for the rest of the week, I made certain to watch my step when walking from the house to the garage.

So renovating in Bali had at least two tenets - appease the giants, ignore the ghosts. Probably still not as difficult as dealing with the city of Los Angeles for a building permit, but tricky nonetheless.

Listening, I was sympathetic, but strictly speaking those were not my problems. I had to be off to search for dolphins while avoiding monkeys.

The dolphins could be found off the coast of Lovina Beach, on Bali’s northern coast. After being introduced to the Balinese boat skipper by Kamong, my gregarious and helpful tour guide for the two days of this mini-trip, I climbed into a slim pontoon boat with an outboard motor and sat with a German couple. It was sunrise, a sunrise so beautiful that it would’ve been worth the price of admission had I seen nothing beyond that, it battled Sanur for postcard duty, and as we puttered out into the ocean, our eyes peeled. We joined dozens of other boats, all scanning the top of the water for the same thing.

I don’t know why, but I had expected that we’d be seeing thousands of dolphins, everywhere we looked, that the sea would be lousy with dolphins, all traveling in organized regiments like a graduating class of a military academy as they paraded past. I might not have paid attention during that part of biology class back in junior high school. No, we had to show patience and lower expectations. There was really no way to predict when or where we’d see the dolphins. Dolphins are known as intelligent creatures, so they’re probably smart enough to discuss it at the annual migration orientation meeting.

“Okay guys, listen up. When we swim past Lovina, we’re gonna have to deal with a bunch of boats full of maroons taking pictures. You guys ever heard of a GoPro camera? Well, some of these clowns dip their GoPro underwater and…”

When somebody on one boat caught sight of a bunch (okay, fine - a "pod." Nerd.) of dolphins, the skipper of that boat would try to get near them as fast as he could, and the rest of the boats would all chase after the first boat. Then, when the dolphins would disappear, everyone would drift eagerly waiting until another boat in a completely different direction would spy some dolphins, motor over, everyone would follow…rinse, repeat. It was like six year-olds playing soccer, everyone chasing after the ball in random directions. But when you were lucky enough (and it was luck - none of these skippers had any more idea of where the dolphins would show up than any of us) to be near the spot where three or four dolphins would pop up, disappear, pop up again, disappear, pop up…disappear…it made the ride even more relaxing, in a way…There’s nothing like watching a dolphin bounce out of, then back into the water to make you want to give into whatever life is giving you and make an effort to forget about the things in your past that are holding you back. You’re looking at a dolphin swim. What are you worried about, again? That release is an unfamiliar yet peaceful feeling for me.

“Peaceful” is not what I’d call the monkeys. I saw them at the end of a pretty long day, after touring several Balinese stores that manufactured various things - batik fabric, gold and silver, wood carvings, artwork - but that seemed somewhat touristy and had made me question somewhat the inspiration of art (how inspiring is a work of art when you’re just pumping them one at a time in front of the store while tourists take pictures? Thomas Kincaid had nothing on these Ubud craftsmen.). I guess I was a little quiet and perhaps looking a little down in the dumps because after several attempts at small talk Kamong finally said, “Be happy, Mr. Bill. We are next going to…MON-KAY FOR-EST.”

Kamong didn't say it, he intoned it. And. Dude was not lying.

It’s all in the title. Entering the forest, after being warned to leave my sunglasses in the car as “No, no, they will snatch them right off your face, Mr. Bill,” it’s fair to say that I was beset by monkeys. I was beset by monkeys. They were everywhere, on trees, walking on the paths, climbing up children who held bananas, this was a lush, green forest of palm trees that was full of monkeys. Lousy with monkeys. Monkey Forest. Put it this way, if the dolphins off Lovina were Matt Damon or Robert DeNiro leaving a restaurant in SoHo, reclusive movie stars trying their best to avoid the paparazzi, these Ubud monkeys were flash-in-the-pan reality TV stars who couldn’t stand a lack of attention for more than thirty seconds. In other words, these monkeys were at ease in front of the cameras. They seemed to pick fights with each other because they knew a Chinese family was itching for some action, seemed to go out of their way to preen when an Australian woman complained “Oi, I can’t grab a good shot,” seemed to know to deliberately obstruct an American single dude when he was trying to avoid them so he could find a toilet ‘cause he’d been going through a LOT of bottled water that day. That afternoon at the MON-KAY FOR-EST, I discovered that it is easier to live in the moment when you're compelled to avoid monkeys trying to grab at the bottoms of your cargo shorts.

Two contrasting parts of Bali that made an extremely enjoyable, and valuable, experience. If the dolphins existed mainly in the invisible part, the monkeys were plainly visible. A nice balance, and I have to remember sometimes to pay attention to both, and sometimes I have to remember to ignore some of one. Ignore the ghosts and appease the giants.

When I returned to Sanur at week’s end, everyone asked me if I had fun. “Yes,” I said, and then I took a quick glance at the ground to make certain where I was stepping.

30 AUGUST 2014:
The Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) on the base floor of the Menara Kuala Lampur Tower had just begrudgingly given five hundred ringgits to a stoic German tourist, begrudgingly as he couldn’t help but look at the German's remaining balance, when his private communication sensor hummed; a call was coming in. Checking the Caller ID, the Malaysian ATM furrowed its brow circuits: Phuket, Thailand. It didn’t know any fellow ATMs in Phuket, or any fellow ATMs in all of Thailand for that matter. The ATM contemplated ignoring it, but something told it the call might be important. So it made the next customer, a Chinese tourist wearing a "This Is What Perfection Looks Like" t-shirt, wait, distracting him with whirs and buzzes as it clicked the communication through.

“Hello,” it said.

The response was Thai, it guessed, but it might as well have been gibberish. The ATM kept saying, “Huh?” until the gibberish turned automated and decipherable. “Would you like to use ‘English’ as your language preference?” The Malaysian ATM sighed. Everyone spoke English. It depressed it that it was the go-to language to synchronize everyone, including ATMs around the world, but it understood the necessity. So it acceded. “Sure,” it said.

The English was accented and stilted. “Is this the Malaysian ATM at the base floor of the Menara Kuala Lampur Tower?”


“Greetings. This is an ATM in Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand.”

That meant nothing to the Malaysian ATM. “Nice to meet you,” it said, bracing for a sales call or worse, an ATM customer survey. It made it feel so out-of-touch; it hated its antiquated answers.

“Do you know a William Norrett?”

The Kuala Lampur machine sighed. He hadn’t known any William Norrett two weeks ago, when it had informed a customer, some American wearing block eyeglasses and a debit card the machine couldn’t make heads or tails of, that “Sorry, your transaction could not be processed.” It only found out later who William Norrett was, when that same William Norrett, who turned out to be somewhat of a wiseass, wrote a snarky post on his stupid blog about how he or his card hadn’t been recognized.

It had been an embarrassing moment for the ATM. No automatic teller machine enjoyed rejecting a customer, especially out of ignorance. It was part of the job but no ATM worth its salt took any pleasure in it. ATMs gave out money, it was their main job (giving out statements was a distance second), and they took pride in it. The Malaysian ATM was no different, and when other ATMs - and it seemed like, every day for the rest of the week a KL ATM friend of its would buzz it - busted its chops about Norrett’s blog post, it stung it.

“Yeah,” the Malaysian ATM said. Now, it braced for another mocking. The humiliation was going international, it thought. Terrific.

“Well,” the Thai ATM sniffed. “I have his debit card.”


“I have his debit card.”

“You have his debit card?” The Malaysian ATM perked up. It was merely a machine and thus had never really felt the sensation itself, but had heard about the turmoil that could be caused when a human being lost his ATM debit card. Even though it was an older machine, it was well aware that life beyond the base floor of the Kuala Lampur Menara Tower  had become so reliant upon digital information, and humans had become so dependent on a slim card to control all of their financial information and access, literal access to their money, that it knew losing the card would cause havoc. It knew William Norrett, an American traveling internationally, losing his ATM card, would be a huge inconvenience. It would waste his time. William Norrett would have to make phone calls, ask for a replacement one, arrange for it to be mailed somewhere he could get it - this William Norrett who was flitting around the globe, never in one place for too long, how on Earth could he physically receive a replacement card? - hope the mail would be his friend, deal with other cards in the interim…The annoyance could go on and on. Worse, it would weigh on his mind psychologically. William Norrett would wonder who had his card, who may be using his card, stealing his money, plundering his resources.

This prompted a question. “How long has he been missing it?” the Malaysian ATM asked.

“Enh,” the Thai ATM replied, somewhat disappointed. “Only a few hours,” it said. “He’s already deactivated it. Nobody was gonna be able to use it, anyway.”

“Oh. Oh, well. Wait,” the Malaysian ATM said. “You have it?”

“Yeah. I have it.”

The Malaysian ATM allowed himself a smile. “Wait, Norrett just walked away from you without taking it back?”

The Thai ATM merely chuckled. To the Malaysian ATM, it sounded like an electronic God enjoying justice. So the Malaysian ATM answered it himself. “Norrett just walked away without taking it back. Let me guess: drunk?”

“No, not at all. Happened at like two this afternoon.”

“Huh.” Walking away without taking back the debit card was such a rookie move. It happened, which is why most current ATMs gave you your card back before giving you the money - why hadn’t that been a feature since the beginning? - but man, talk about a bonehead play. He'd start to doubt himself every new time he went to an ATM, now. The machine could imagine William Norrett, standing before a machine for years to come, constantly repeating, "Don't forget to take your card. Don't forget to take your card. Don't forget to..."The Malaysian ATM knew that William Norrett must feel like a complete idiot. It hoped so. 

The Thai ATM interrupted its reverie. “Not the best part, though.”

“What’s the best part?”

“He came back, like two hours later, to see if I still had it.”

“What? He did?”

“Yeah, the wishful thinker. He just stood there staring at me, like he could somehow will me into giving it back to him.”

“Wha? How long did he stand there?”

Now the chuckle became a full-throated laugh. “A minute. Almost a minute. He just stared at me, running his tongue under his lower lip. Hold on: every so often he would call himself a moron. But yeah, about a minute. I shoulda thought to time it. Sorry.”

Now the Malaysian ATM laughed too. “Do not worry about it.”

“He’ll be fine. He’s deactivated it. So, nothing a few weeks of human bureaucracy won’t fix.” The Thai ATM laughed again. “Anyway, thought you might want to know. Given that crummy blog post Norrett wrote about you coupla weeks back.”

“Thanks, thanks. Yeah,” the ATM said. “I did want to know that.”

The call clicked off. Life resumed. The Malaysian ATM wound up giving the Chinese tourist an extra one hundred ringgits. What the hell, it thought. This is what perfection looks like.

04 SEPTEMBER 2014:


“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.

15 SEPTEMBER 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?

TICKET AGENT: You speak Chinese?
BILL: (sighs) No.
TICKET AGENT: (sighs) No. (looks at Bill's backpack) You will have to get your bag after you land on our plane before you get on the other plane.
BILL: (looks at bag) Really? 'Cause I'm going on separate airlines?
BILL: (sighs) Ai ya.
TICKET AGENT: You know "Ai ya"?
BILL: (nods) I know "Ai ya." (sighs) There's no way I'm not losing this bag, is there?
BILL: Yeah, I mean there's no possi-
TICKET AGENT: I know "No way."
(Pause. Ticket Agent nods to herself, then takes a sticker out of her desk and wraps it around Billy's backpack handle. It reads "Approved Carry On Baggage". Billy looks.)
BILL: Oh, I can carry it?
TICKET AGENT: I will allow you.
BILL: You'll allow me?
TICKET AGENT: (nods, closes/opens eyes) I will allow you.
BILL: Wow. Thank you.
TICKET AGENT: (smiles) I know "Wow." Wow.

15 OCTOBER 2014:
"100 DAYS"
A Chinese Train's "Hard Sleeper" - 08.10.2014, 9p
I still can’t sleep.

The insomnia I blamed on overnight trains and their too-short reclining seats in Australia has chased me to hotel beds in Malaysia, guest houses in Thailand, friends’ apartments and even sleeper train compartments in China. Every night I lie awake, staring at the ceiling, rotating from side to side, flailing about in an effort to beat the hyperactivity in my brain off with, well, with my brain. It’s folly. My brain is tiny David, vulnerable in only his loincloth, armed with only his slingshot, on little sleep himself, incidentally, while the anxiety holding my brain hostage is Goliath, rageful after a cycle of steroids, rested after a vacation in the Alps, nourished after many, many hearty meals full of protein and carbohydrates for energy.

So, I try to think about calming things. I fantasize about what my life will become after I return from this trip. I can’t help it. It doesn’t mean I’m not having a good time DURING the trip. Even at the end of a good day, lying in bed I wonder where this plan of mine will take me after I get back to the United States, if I ever get back to the United States. For some reason, my visualization puts me in the countryside. I find this bizarre, as I’ve never particularly enjoyed the country and have always considered city life to be more fulfilling. But I imagine living in an Airstream trailer somewhere in Louisiana, near a bayou or on a pasture (I dunno, somewhere where they shot second unit photography for the first season of “True Detective” - (shrug)). My life will be simpler. I’ll rise early each morning, make my own coffee, do my writing for the day, and then allow my brain to relax until it’s time to go to sleep again. I’ll allow myself one beer. Goliath will have by now been slain with a rock slung to the dome. I’ll finish three novels in two years. My wardrobe will consist of nothing but blue jeans, white Oxfords, and Stan Smith sneakers. I will never wear a belt, and my most consistent pleasure will be walking my Irish Setter, MacGowan.

Because I will still have to make money, however, will still have to earn a living - literary novels selling what they do and Airstream trailers costing what they do - I will also be a copy writer for t-shirts sold exclusively in Asia.

The t-shirts worn in Asia are batshit insane. Several times per day, while walking the streets of cities like Singapore, Kuala Lampur, Bangkok, and Shenzhen, I’ve passed someone wearing a t-shirt and caught myself saying out loud, “Are you kidding me?” I feel my brow furrow, an amazed expression taking hold on my face. Because what I’ve just read on somebody’s shirt either makes no sense, or blows my mind.

For instance, here’s a random sampling of t-shirts I’ve seen, just off the top of my head:

Brave Mind Brilliant Genius
Black Find Something
"Always Be Proud of Yourself - Since 1981"
Fucking Weather
Eat Sleep Pepper Repeat

I mean, I could do that job! Man, I could write gibberish like that in my sleep! Or even while TRYING to fall asleep. So, creating those t-shirts would be a great way to sustain my countryside living. Imagine writing without needing to pay any regard to grammar, syntax, literal meaning versus contextual meaning, even spelling (unless there IS, in fact, a knockoff luxury automobile called the “Betnley”). Brevity might be an issue for me, certainly. But my college roommate Michael, whom I’m staying with while in China, tells me it wouldn’t even matter if I tried to write “properly” for the shirts, that my Chinese boss would only “correct” them incorrectly, assuring me that he “knows English better than I do.” Quality control would be out of my hands. It’d be freedom.

Because the only requirement for a t-shirt worn in Asia is, it must express attitude. Certainly, American t-shirts have no shortage of attitude, but in Asia that concept is accelerated, heightened, microwaved. A t-shirt’s message must, must convey extreme attitude, more specifically the extreme attitude as expressed by a teenager. The words on the shirt must have either the aggression, braggadocio, or contempt for the world put forth by the average teenage boy, or the pie-eyed, Pollyanna, YA-novel romanticism and blind trust in love and happiness treasured by the average teenage girl.

Typical of attitudes expressed by teenagers, these messages are usually obnoxious, often plain wrong and occasionally disturbing. “Just like me,” I find myself saying with furrowed brow. But these t-shirts have also served as signposts for this trip, as messages or exhortations or admonitions meant just for me.

I sit in the McDonalds in Shenzhen, China where I come each morning to write. I come for the cheap coffee; my host doesnt keep any in his apartment, only tea, Starbucks is way too pricy and China, unlike other nations in Asia, doesnt have a different 7-11 every twenty-two feet. While debating whether or not to get a second hash brown, a chubby teenage boy with a brush cut, a scowl, and a knee-length t-shirt strolls in. He walks to the counter, beginning his order in Mandarin from five feet away. His t-shirt is black, the lettering red. It reads: “Tell Yourself Youre Not Going to Like It.

“Ugh. This is going to suck. Ugh. I have to take another overnight train; this is going to suck. Ugh, I have to go through immigration; this is going to suck. Ugh, 284 days; this is going to suck.”

Everyone who attended college knows a kid who didn’t want to be there. Maybe he hadn’t gotten into the school he really wanted to go to, maybe there were money issues, whatever. But this kid showed up in your freshman dorm in the fall already hating this school, the college he was forced to attend, the college he was stuck in. He pissed all over the campus, all over the students, their tastes and interests. He refused to even give the place a chance, determined to continue to hate where he was.

And guess what? That worked like a fucking charm - he continued to hate it and be miserable - and it served no one. This isn’t rocket science. Yet I continue to do the same thing, continue to lapse into acting like that same freshman (who, incidentally, I observed at the time and determined, “What an asshole.”). I stand with my arm out, elbow locked, palm up, resisting everything with a scowl on my face until I finally relent, and realize I enjoy what I’ve been resisting. Then I curse myself for being a stubborn moron.

I did it with frozen yogurt. I did it with “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad”. And now, I’ve done it on this trip. In a way, it’s as if after forty-five years I finally got my thin rejection envelope from “Normal, Happy Life A&M” and was forced to attend my safety school, “Take a Wild Journey Around-the-World and Hope Something Shakes Loose University” (and this school’s expensive, there’s no in-state tuition, dammit). For the first semester, I think I had my teeth gritted and my jaw set. Happiness is a choice and I haven’t been making it. I’m not sure I’ve ever made it. But I’m working on it. Trying to let go and just take the experiences as they come. This doesn’t mean that everything, every day, is going to be walk in the park. But it might help if I start unlocking my jaw.

It aint rocket science, moron.

Im on a street corner in Singapore, stopped at a light. Waiting, I bounce my knapsack gently up and down off my back. The light turns, the little green man starts moving, and I cross the intersection. Walking the other way is a squat Indian boy, his t-shirt a chalky grey with lime lettering. As he passes me, I read it: This Is What Perfection Looks Like. I smile to myself. This is the ONLY pronouncement Ive seen on more than one t-shirt during my travels in Asia. Ive seen this shirt no fewer than five times, each time on a dude. And each time Ive seen it, after needing only a brief thought, Ive disagreed with the assessment.

I had my route all planned out. Australia for five weeks, fly to Bali, fly to Singapore, up to Malaysia, continue to Thailand, over the Cambodia, up through Vietnam, then to China, arriving at Michael’s around October 6th. But Michael’s schedule didn’t work with this plan; he and his family were going to the Chinese countryside on October 3rd. I was welcome to join them, but it would mean I would have to skip over Vietnam for now. Was I willing to do this?

Now, it seems like small issue but at the time, I didn’t like the change, didn’t want to alter what had been shaped as a fluid line rotating around the continent.

This fixation with perfection, even in such a minor, design way, must be hereditary; when I told my mother about the line I would trace around the world, going west from San Francisco, through Asia, Africa, up to Europe, over to South America, then up through Central America, ending up in New Orleans, she expressed reservations, only to finally admit that she didn’t like it because going back east to New Orleans after re-entering America ruined a relatively perfect circle.

But to Hell with it. Was I willing to do this? Yes, I guess I was willing to do that. And it’s been fine. I’ll hit Vietnam coming back. Currently, I don’t know where I’m staying in Hong Kong, my next stop. My next hard agenda item isn’t until the end of November, when I’ll meet a friend back in Thailand. I have no idea how I’m going to get from here to there. I have to fill the time. I will fill the time. I am determined to go to Africa, but where? I’m interested neither in truckin’ with Muslim fundamentalists nor the ebola virus. A recent email I received began, “I have serious reservations about every country that you’ve listed on the remainder of your itinerary,” and as much as I wanted to be flip, I couldn’t argue the point. But I’ll figure it out.

My itinerary has changed. It will continue to change. It has ceased to be perfect. Hell, my budget ceased to be perfect the moment I walked into the first pub in Sydney, Australia. Money and time has made me trim, made me adapt, made me shape this trip differently than I had it in my head lying awake trying to sleep in North Hollywood in June.

But the perfection lies in the imperfection. Every city I’ve visited, each day that goes by, contains not only great experiences but experiences I’ve MISSED, sights I’ve not seen, things that have fallen through. Each day comes with a conceivable regret. If I spend it sightseeing from morning to night, I worry I’m not really appreciating each stop and I fret I’m not getting enough work done. If I decide to relax one day, I kick myself for not fitting in three museums and eight temples. These imperfections are part of the trip. They make it mine. “Did you see such-and-such?” “Nope, that wasn’t part of this trip, MY trip.” This trip is singular. The regrets mix with the non-regrets to make it mine, and mine only.

Besides, there HAVE been perfect moments. Many. A young woman overhears me talking to a guide at the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok. She introduces herself as from San Francisco, and we wind up spending the day together checking out temples by tuk-tuk. I wake up in Siem Reap at dawn and am driven to Angkor Wat, where I wander from gorgeous temple to gorgeous temple by myself, no earbuds necessary, no other stimulus necessary, sweating buckets as the sun pushes down on me, looking at architecture that seems crumbling yet indestructible. I play rock-scissors-paper against two girls - they’re ten years old? - who can only be referred to as LITERALLY street urchins, to see if I have to pay one less dollar or one more dollar for the three woven bracelets they’re selling me on the riverside of Phnom Penh (I lose two series, one 3-4 and one 4-5, after blowing a 4-2 lead; C’mon, Billy Norrett, you vile choking dog!) I take long walks through farmland in the China countryside, earbuds now in, letting Paul Simon wash over me as I take in acres of blooming cotton and ripe peppers, waving at old women in straw hats picking crops. I play gin rummy with Michael on the overnight train back to Shenzhen. I receive a shy smile from the manager of the McDonalds where I write this when she recognizes my “Xie xie,” after she hands me my coffee.
Anhui Province, China - 04.10.2014, 2p
There have been perfectly horrible moments too. Within two weeks I see two dead bodies in two separate traffic accidents. The first body is outside Siem Reap, Cambodia,. Cars and motorbikes are shepherded by police past a bloody corpse lying face-up on the highway, its dirty clothes almost completely ripped off of it. A van with a spider-webbed windshield idles nearby. No one moves to help the man, because there’s nothing to be done. The people in my minivan, all of us coming from the Thailand border, raucously discussing Bangkok strip clubs not two minutes earlier, are now silent. Two Saturdays later, Michael’s family and I are being driven to their nanny’s farm on a road atop a levee near the Yangtze River and we pass a man lying on the narrow road. This body is facedown, his motorbike is toppled to the side. A large wooden beam has crushed the man’s bare skull. Two men stand by an Audi, not moving to help him because again, there’s nothing to be done, and I mumble, “Well, there’s another one.” The moments are vivid but there’s nothing to be done.

I have several places where I’m taking notes about this trip. In one place, I keep a “Moment of the Day” listing. Not every moment is a good one. Some are somber. Some still make me angry. Each day has one, though. Those moments weave together will make this trip perfect, no matter where it takes me.

None of those dudes wearing the This Is What Perfection Looks Like.” t-shirts come close to the word, however.

Another intersection, this time in Shenzhen. Im rushing back to Michaels apartment, as its after 6 p.m. and Im worried my tardiness will delay their supper. The light turns green and I trot across the street, passing a girl whose turquoise t-shirt reads, Great Hopes Make Great Men.

A banging on the door to my bedroom snaps me awake. But I ignore it. A few seconds pass before the banging happens again. It is quicker this time, louder, more insistent. Squinting, I look at my phone: 7:12 a.m. What is this? My mind races to its home: the worst-case scenario. Maybe it’s the government, coming to arrest me, to throw me in prison as a political dissident. This is China, after all. Maybe they’ve found out a writer is hiding out in the farmland. The writer’s a satirist, the most dangerous kind of writer. Jonathan Swift. George Orwell. William Norrett. “It could happen,” I insist to my own scoffing. Now, I hear voices. They’re counting, “One, two, three,” hesitantly, timid. Their banging, however, is not. “Get it over with,” I mutter, launching myself out of bed. As I unlock the door, I have visions of diplomatic negotiations for my return to the United States, of international outrage at my mistreatment, at press conferences, my family trying not to lose their temper at reporters’ stupid and cloying questions, President Obama jabbing his finger at the cameras, insisting on my return, and finally, a hero’s welcome. “How much tail would I rate as a former political prisoner?” I ask as I open the door to-

-two teenage boys. Each holds a piece of paper and a pen in his hand.

They’re the kids who live next door to where Michael’s family and I have been staying these past few days. They want my autograph. I write out “BILLY” twice. They each look at their sheets, read “BILLY” out loud in concert, and smile. I nod, shut the door, and try to go back to sleep, to return to the Airstream in my mind. I am way too comfortable with what has just taken place.

After a few days in Shenzhen, a bustling city of over eight million people, we had taken a fifteen-hour train ride from Shenzhen to the nanny’s family farm in the Anhui Province. Michael and his wife Joan wanted to show their two kids what rural life in China is like. The kids have been, not surprisingly, somewhat ambivalent about this. Sometimes, they can barely muster up the enthusiasm to repeat their favorite imitation of me, shrugging and offering my own accepting-yet-laced-with-its-own-ambivalence, “All right.”

Although I had fun in the farmland, I certainly could’ve explained what it would be like to them before we left. Life in rural China is isolated. It’s deprivation of the highest order. I mean, there is NO Internet up here, man. Electricity, sure. Television, well, yeah, okay. But only Chinese television, dude. I’ve already had to deal with no Gmail and no Facebook for days. Fifteen hours north in the boondocks, you can’t even get Bing, bro.

(shrug) "All right."

But for me, life in rural China has also meant something else: celebrity. Now, I’ve read enough world census reports to know that while traveling around Asia, I was going to be a minority. In every country up until now, however, there have been at least SOME people who look like me. Bali had plenty of ex-pats from America and Europe, Singapore reminded me of Hong Kong in terms of the Asian/Anglo ratio (roughly 20:1 by my unscientific eye), and in Thailand and Cambodia the locals might stare at you, but you didn’t feel like you were the first white person they had ever seen in their lives. Even Shenzhen felt different, more familiar with me, than it did when I visited in 2006. In 2006, people in even major cities seemed to look upon me like I was an exotic animal.

(Back then, I occasionally used this to my advantage. Side anecdote: in 2006, when I last visited Michael, one day he and I took the train an hour northeast to Guangzhou to see the United States National Basketball Team play Greece in a warm-up for the World Championships. The crowd was entirely Chinese and very, very quiet, really only cheering three point attempts - I guess the fans were impressed by the distance, the shots didn’t have to even be made - and the U.S. team was playing extremely lackluster, content that nobody in the arena knew anything about basketball and that nobody around the world gave a shit about this exhibition game. The Chinese man sitting next to me would eye me suspiciously whenever I would raise my voice above a whisper. At one point in the first half, LeBron James was bringing the ball up court and made a lazy pass that was almost intercepted by Greece before being tipped out of bounds. As he waited for the referee to hand him the basketball to inbound, LeBron stood about thirty feet from where Michael and I were sitting, his back to us. Standing, piercing the library silence with my best impersonation of an irate coach, I yelled, “Hey, LeBron! Stop being so casual with the goddamn basketball!” The man sitting next to me looked horrified until he saw LeBron James whip around, searching for the voice, shocked, chastened, as if he had just been caught masturbating.  Seeing LeBron’s reaction turned the Chinese man’s expression ecstatic, as if by seeing me elicit a reaction from the player I had affected the game. I had taught the man a secret about how to watch basketball, and he was grateful. He smiled at me for the rest of the game. I think the U.S. wound up winning by a point, and I bought a pair of Chinese National Team reversible basketball shorts that became a prized possession of mine for a long time. One of my proudest sports’ fan moments. A’ight, back to 2014.)

China is different, however. It started with my layover in the Nanning Airport. Sitting at my gate, scrolling my (useless in China) phone, awaiting my connecting flight to Shenzhen, I made eye contact with a young woman who walked by me with her husband. She was cute but I thought nothing of it, until two seconds later, I heard chattering Mandarin beside me. I looked, and it was the same woman. She made a motion with her hand and showed me her own (useful in China) phone. She wanted to take a picture with me. Uh, okay, sure. I felt it was so strange that I asked if I could have one taken with MY camera for ME - I dunno, for proof? - and she eagerly obliged.
Nanning International Airport, Nanning, China - 28.09.2014, 7p
If I had known how common that interaction would be over these past few weeks, I wouldn’t have bothered. It didn’t happen so much in Shenzhen, where the most I got were stares, but get outside of a city center in China…and I finally got a sense of what it was like to be famous. I was gawked at by strangers. I was laughed at by strangers (I’m used to people I know laughing at me.) I was repeatedly asked to have my picture taken, often with women, and I’ll confess, I’m struggling to grow weary of that. One afternoon we were trying to find a place to eat lunch, and after being rebuffed by the only restaurant in the small town, while standing outside, a man dressed in a tuxedo grabbed my elbow and pulled me back inside. I thought he was the waiter, but it turned out he was a groom who had just gotten married and was in the midst of his reception. He wanted me to take a picture with him and his wife. Then with him and his wife, AND his brother and HIS fiancee. THEN with his parents. AND then we got a table. While taking walks, I was followed by people, adults and children alike. I think I now know what it’s like to be the Easter Bunny, to be a figure that for billions of people exist only as an idea and may not even be real. I’m not saying I felt like George Clooney or anything, but maybe an actor who people “know was in that thing” and “that guy who did that thing with that chick” and “I don’t know your name but I know you’re good.” Maybe not George Clooney, but I dunno, maybe William H. Macy after Fargo.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The value of celebrity is relative. Being the William H. Macy of China doesn’t mean any business in that nation suddenly now takes Visa. Every time I’ve had to squat to crap into the equivalent of a dash cut into a cement floor, I’ve wanted to shout out, “Don’t you know who I am!?!” No one in China understands a word I say after “Xie xie,” or “Wo jiao Bill!” and I don’t understand a word anyone says to me. I have to point for everything I want in a store or restaurant. I’ve discovered that I’m a pretty shitty, inaccurate pointer. Everything here is a struggle for me, nothing is simple. I miss my native language (that’s my excuse for how long this post is). I’m lonely. There are days I’m tired of the food, of walking, of the struggle to live as a stranger.

But that struggle is also what makes it great. When I’m able to communicate with someone, pierce through the differences, get the exact type of soda I want, have someone tell me THEIR name because they understand I’ve just told them mine (“Wo jiao Bill!”) that is great, that is a moment, that makes this perfect. That’s better than celebrity.

And I’m finding my groove. I’m not counting the days as much. But the number of days is building. I’ve been traveling for 100 days.

One hundred days. Holy shit. It feels insane, on some level. FDR might’ve done a lot in a hundred days, but he probably didn’t have to do it while not understanding 99.9% of what was said in his presence or having to crap in a hole. So, you know - we’ve all got our achievements, yo.

There’s still a long way to go, and I’d still like to see some more toilet seats around here. But I’m hopeful.

A mall in Shenzhen. I need running shorts. Ive decided Im going to start running, that even with all Im doing, everything going on, there is still plenty of time left in each day to fill up with activity and even though Im losing some weight on this trip Id like to lose more and if Im going to get some experiences just walking around these cities Ill get some running around them too. That when I return home and move into my Airstream and walk the countryside with MacGowan reminiscing about this trip Im gonna have to get slim jeans if I wanna wear em without a belt, like a 31 or 32 waist. But Im having trouble finding a store that sells athletic gear, only high-end boutiques that sell jewelry or perfume or luxury watches, with mammoth pictures of models and beautiful, slender saleswomen with amazing legs under black cocktail dresses, who lean against glass counters looking bored out of their minds. Maybe the second floor, I think. I find the escalator and as I start to rise, a woman with dyed rust hair in a ponytail passes me on her way down. Her lemon yellow t-shirt reads simply, Live Life Today.

(shrug) All right.

31 OCTOBER 2014

The Italian poet and novelist Cesare Pavese once said, "We do not remember days, we remember moments." And I get this. But with all due respect to Mr. Pavese, when those moments string together into a day, and those days move into nights, and those days and nights link up to form three days and four ni-

-enh, I'm not in the mood to argue the point.

Instead, I will merely smile to myself and say softly, "I will remember Beijing."

01 NOVEMBER 2014
I REALLY wanted to go through this entire trip wearing nothing but black or grey t-shirts (with the white Oxford for special occasions), but a) I've lost enough weight that the XLs* I have billow and make me look fatter than I actually am in pics - IRONY, YO - b) several of the t-shirts might just up and start walking on their own given how often they get washed, and c )the sporting goods store I shopped at today was only offering the cheap price for the heather plum t-shirts. So get ready for a color explosion starting with Vietnam pics...
*In part because I wanted some consistency in the pics, and in part because I enjoyed the notion of people wondering, "Is he wearing only two goddamn shirts this entire trip?"
**Oh, by the by. I am still an XL - but now I'm an ASIAN XL.** Boom.
***Shirt size - SPARE ME THE JOKE.

09 NOVEMBER 2014:
(BILL walks down the street, Vietnamese coffee with milk in hand. It looks like rain again. A STREET MERCHANT WOMAN, 50s, approaches. She wears a grey smock over loose brown pants and a straw conical hat. She carries a long pole over one shoulder. Both ends of said pole hold a large, open box. Each box contains a mass of trinkets. The merchant waves at Bill, who stops. He takes a sip of coffee.)
BILL: (before the merchant comes to halt in front of him) No, thank you. No, thank you.
(The merchant comes to a halt in front of him. With her free hand, she points at the mass of woven bracelets in one of the boxes on her pole.)
BILL: No, thank you.
(The merchant points at a mass of leather wallets in a box.)
BILL: No, thank you.
(The merchant points at a mass of paper wallets in the other box.)
BILL: (shrugging, smiling) No, thank you.
(The merchant points at a bunch of watches in one box.)
BILL: (laughing now) No, thank you.
(The merchant smiles. She points at a bunch of chintzy hand fans in another box.)
BILL: (laughing louder) No, thank you.
(The merchant smiles again. She looks at her boxes. She’s out of options. She looks at Bill.)
BILL: No, thank you. But thank you.
(Bill smiles. The merchant smiles. Bill turns to walk away, and sees a SECOND MERCHANT, with her own smock, her own conical hat, her own pole and boxes attached to her own said pole, sitting on a stoop. The second merchant laughs and points at the first merchant. The first merchant shrugs - “Whaddya want from me?” - and points at Bill. Bill points at her.)
FIRST MERCHANT: (imitating Bill) No, thank you.
SECOND MERCHANT: No, thank you.
(All laugh. Bill takes another sip of his coffee. He waves at each merchant separately and walks away.)

13 NOVEMBER 2014:
(BILL sits at the bar chatting with the BAR ASSISTANT MANAGER, a Vietnamese woman, mid-30s?, bangs, competent. Bill occasionally glances at the BARTENDER, a Vietnamese man, er, boy, early 20s, faux-hawk, tattooed sleeve, dim - who sits at the end of the bar staring at his phone. In his week in Hanoi, Bill has been to this bar three times, and chatted with the Bar Manager each time. On this visit, Bill is playing the game, “How Long Before the Goddamned Bartender Notices My Glass Is Empty and Asks If I Want Another Beer?” in his head: five minutes and counting. Mid-conversation-)
BAR ASST. MANAGER: (accented English) What time did you wake up this morning?
BILL: I dunno. Ten?
BAR ASST. MANAGER: (mock angry) I awoke at eight, and I was here until three this morning.
BILL: Well, I don’t have a job.
BAR ASST. MANAGER: You need a job.
(The bar asst. manager notices Bill’s empty glass, and snaps her fingers at the bartender, chattering at him in angry Vietnamese. The bartender finally notices Bill’s empty glass. As he goes to pour a fresh draught, the bar asst. manager puts her face in her hands, shaking her head.)
BILL: Don’t worry about it.
(The bartender puts the new draught in front of Bill. Bill and the bar asst. manager look at the glass. Pause.)
BILL: (re: bartender) Is he proposing to me?
(The bar asst. manager again chatters in angry Vietnamese until the bartender notices, at the bottom of the full glass, the o-ring from the keg nozzle resting in the beer. The bartender takes the glass and actually tries to pull the o-ring out with his finger. More angry Vietnamese chattering. The bartender pours out the beer. He replaces the o-ring on the nozzle as the bar asst. manager again puts her face in her hands. As the bartender replaces the beer -no o-ring this time - she harangues him in Vietnamese until finally-)
BARTENDER: (broken English) I am very sorry.
BILL: Don’t worry about it. No problem. Seriously. I was kidding. No problem.
(The bartender, unaffected, goes and sits back down, taking out his phone.)
BAR ASST. MANAGER: I am sorry. He is new.
BILL: Seriously, don’t sweat it. Accidents happen.
BAR ASST. MANAGER: (scoffing) “Accidents.”
BILL: (joking) Maybe I should work HERE. Replace him.
BAR ASST. MANAGER: (not joking) Yes. Come work here.
BILL: I was kidding.
BAR ASST. MANAGER: No, no. Work here.
BILL: (hoping this will put an end to it) I don’t think you could pay me enough.
BAR ASST. MANAGER: (calculating) $1000 per month.
BILL: American dollars? (she nods) That’s not enough to live on.
BAR ASST. MANAGER: That’s plenty. Everything cheap here. Food, rent…
BILL: Yeah. I can imagine that phone call with my mother. “Mom, I’ve decided to become a bartender in Hanoi.”
BAR ASST. MANAGER: (re: bartender) Better than him.
BILL: Well, yeah.
BAR ASST. MANAGER: Call your mother. (thinks) You live with me. (laughs) I charge cheap rent.
BILL: Yeah…I don’t see that making the phone call any easier.

16 NOVEMBER 2014:
Thoughts I've had while traveling from Hanoi, Vietnam to Vientiane, Laos...
1. It is to be re-emphasized, the most comfortable way to travel overland in SE Asia is to be a five-foot six woman who weighs 84 lbs.
2. "Tom & Jerry" cartoons, or rather three "Tom & Jerry" cartoons played in perpetuity, at top volume, do not provide the late-night travel entertainment value you would think.
3. If I had permission and a week for training, I could improve the efficiency of Vietnam's entry/exit immigration system by like 30% (this would involve severe layoffs and an insistence that the remaining officers, you know, DO MORE THAN ONE THING THEMSELVES, however).
4. Spotting a fellow traveler the $42 she needs to get a visa-on-arrival in Laos at 7am can create a mild "Hey, I saved-a-damsel-in-distress" endorphin rush.
5. Having to ask for $1 back so you can cover your own "stamp fee" ruins that rush (I gave her the equivalent in my leftover Vietnamese Dong - SAVE YOUR JOKE, THAT'S WHAT THEY CALL THEIR MONEY.)
6. Be forewarned: if you help "push start" your bus after it breaks down 80km outside of Vientiane, your joke about getting a discount will be "misunderstood" (read: ignored).

18 NOVEMBER 2014:

I was concerned. Over the previous twenty hours on the bumpy, fatigued journey from Hanoi, Vietnam to Vientiane, Laos, our bus driver had stopped more than once, but each of the previous times it was usually just to smoke by the side of the road and chatter on his cell phone, waking us all up. This time, however, he was darting back and forth between the open door and the back of the bus, joined by his “staff.” When they were out of sight, I could hear banging where I imagined the engine was. They seemed unconcerned. I was concerned.

After ten minutes, the passengers who were locals filed out of the bus - THEY each took the stop as a chance to smoke; they were unconcerned - then finally the foreigners followed them, concerned. For fifteen more minutes, we milled around the grass in front of a what could best be described as a “mini-market-tent”, trading advice on hostels while we watched the road with passing cars that worked, and the impromptu mechanics work on a vehicle that didn't. They seemed to be following a pattern: one of them would climb into the rabbit hole of an engine compartment, we would hear grunting and banging, the driver would trot back into the bus and try to start it, he would fail, everyone would sigh, repeat.

“How far are we from Vientiane?” I asked one of the local passengers. College-age, with bushy black hair and a green t-shirt slightly too small for his pudgy frame, the kid looked annoyed to have his flirting with a female foreign backpacker interrupted. “What?” he asked.

“How far are we from where we’re going?”

“Eighty kilometers.”

Jesus, I thought. I watched the bus, listened to the banging. “What happens if they can’t get it started?”


I pointed at the bus. “What happens to us if they’re not able to fix the problem, get the bus started?”

He smiled at me. “You just have to believe it will be fine,” he said.

I almost laughed in his face. Five minutes later, back on the bus, the engine running, I almost apologized.

I’ve been on this trip for nineteen weeks. I’ve learned several things, including:

-I’ve learned that you can never drink enough water.
-I’ve learned that the first day you arrive in a new city, you just walk around for a few hours and you’re guaranteed to find cool things.
-I’ve learned you can walk all day long.
-I've learned that most people walk just fast enough to stay in your way.
-I’ve learned that the first day you arrive in a new city, you buy postcards and write them out that night.
-I’ve learned the first night you’re in a new city, you figure out how to get to wherever you’ll need to go when you’re LEAVING that city.
-I’ve learned that podcasts are better for killing time during overnight bus or train trips, but music is better accompaniment during walking.
-I've learned that the National is a great band to score a visit to Halong Bay, that Vampire Weekend is a great band to walk through Singapore with, and that Jay-Z is a fantastic soundtrack while walking around rural China.
-I’ve learned that once you spend years in restaurants where smoking is forbidden, sitting in one at a table next to smoking French tourists is a real eye-opener (and eye-waterer).
-I’ve learned that the bullet trains in China are amazing and that the United States needs to get on that, pronto. Please. Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Please. This is Day-One shit.
-I’ve learned that the baguettes in Hanoi are amazing, that hot pot in China is still the best way to eat dinner, that as long as you’re cool with beef, chicken, or pork, pointing at a picture will get you fed well most of the time.
-I’ve learned that in most countries in Asia, tipping is unnecessary. But apparently the trade-off is, whenever you ask a waiter or waitress for anything, there will be a brief moment where you’re convinced they’re going to just walk away from you without doing anything.
-I’ve learned that, collectively, the service industry really resents giving out the free wi-fi password.
-I’ve learned that most of the time, a recommendation from someone whom you meet on a train or bus or whom you chat with in a hotel lobby or bar will beat the recommendations in the guidebook. But-
-I’ve learned that just because the person you’re talking to speaks English, it doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.
-I’ve learned that if you don’t like littering you might have to carry a water bottle five miles to make sure it winds up in a garbage can. I've learned it's worth it.
-I’ve learned that there’s a ceiling for how high China can rise until they learn how to fucking line up properly. Learn to queue, yo.
-I’ve learned that in southeast Asia, there is no such thing as a sidewalk. Between either side of the road and the buildings bordering the street, there is a concrete area meant not for walking, but for motorbike parking, food stalls, motorbike DRIVING, old people sitting on tiny, blue stools, and children sitting on tiny, blue stools.
-I’ve learned you can fit a family of four on a motorbike.
-I’ve learned that there are no concepts so foreign to Asia as “yield,” the “right of way,” or “defensive driving.” It’s often said in sports that “the best defense is a good offense.” Drivers in Asia, in that case, are trying to desperately emulate Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagle offense combined with Loyola Marymount’s basketball offense in 1989 all at once, then combine it with a gigantic swarm of bees each trying to get inside a honeycomb. The resource on this continent that promises to never run out is brake fluid. Using one’s brakes here is considered a failure.
-I’ve learned you’re allowed to every now and again read or watch something that reminds you of home without feeling like you’re cheating.
-I’ve learned that “NewsRadio” doesn’t quite hold up but Phil Hartman undeniably does.
-I’ve learned I can spend four months not watching football games or highlights and still pick NFL games better than my friends.
-I've learned that those stretchy, semi-pajama elephant pants that 98% of female backpackers in southeast Asia wear lose their novelty pretty quickly. I've noticed the locals don't wear them.
-I’ve learned that a woman on a motorbike, wearing an accessorized helmet (be it styled with a tartan pattern, in pink, or with some floral print) coordinated with her business suit and skirt, with her high-heeled shoes resting on the pedal, is a pretty damn sexy sight.
-I’ve learned I should’ve been smiling and holding eye contact with people for the last thirty years.
-I’ve learned you can be open to and respectful other cultures and their histories but also more patriotic than you would’ve thought your cynicism allowed. I’ve learned that all it takes to realize you love your country and understand that it’s great despite its faults is to walk through a desolate Aboriginal neighborhood in Alice Springs, Australia, to stand on an empty street in Tiananmen Square, China, to be warned not to let anyone on the mainland catch you with that protest leaflet you just put in your wallet in Hong Kong, or to walk through the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi, Vietnam.
-I’ve learned that for the most part, people all over the world see you smile and they smile back at you, want to learn more about you when they can, and are looking to help and not scam you.
-I’ve learned that, with the previous thing I’ve learned, taxicab drivers are not people. Enh, some of them are.
-I’ve learned that even though it’s not a scam, you’re not going to beat street urchins in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at “rock-scissors-paper”.
-I’ve learned that people may lose 75% of their body heat through their head, but I lose 90% of my sweat through my back.
-I’ve learned that my body odor is somewhat inoffensive. It’s debatable, anyway.
-I’ve learned (re-learned) that my foot odor is. It’s not debatable.
-I’ve learned that you’re allowed to say, “I don’t feel like going to any temples today.”
-I’ve learned that there are all the temples in southeast Asia, and there’s Angkor Wat.
-I’ve learned that you shouldn’t make any decisions until you’ve gotten out of bed in the morning.
-I’ve learned you should get out of bed the moment you wake up in the morning.
-I’ve learned that two cups of coffee or two bottles of beer are, for better or worse, reliable antidepressants.
-I’ve learned that a conversation over drinks with a stranger beats walking around a museum, that walking around a city with a travel partner beats walking around a city alone, and that when you tell someone you met to “keep in touch,” be prepared for that touch to change your trip in the best possible ways.
-I’ve learned that you need to adapt, and that’s how you wind up making things more memorable.
-I’ve learned that Australia is a donut. Tasty on the outside with nothing in the middle.
-I’ve learned the beaches in Bali are an even better antidepressant than two cups of coffee.
-I’ve learned that autumn in Beijing, China feels just like autumn in Manhattan, and that the foliage surrounding the Great Wall of China changes colors just like the foliage in New England.
-I’ve learned that every day is a short story.

-I’ve learned to believe - or at least try to believe - that it will be fine.

18 NOVEMBER 2014:
(BILL sits talking with a Chinese WOMAN over coffee - complimentary for guests before 10am!.)
BILL: ...And what do you do?
WOMAN: (blank stare)
BILL: Uh, what is your job? Um. What do you do?
WOMAN: (blank stare)
BILL: (mutters) Crap. Um. Work? What is your work? (mimes hammering - ?!?) Work?
WOMAN: (understands) Work? (Bill nods. She stammers.) Oh, I don’t have a job.
BILL: Ha. Me neither.
WOMAN: (puzzled, stammering) You don’t have a job?
BILL: Well, I’m a writer.
WOMAN: (blank stare)
BILL: (mimes typing) Writer?
WOMAN: (blank stare)
BILL: I wrote a book. A novel. Book? Novel?
WOMAN: (blank stare)
BILL: (thinks) Hm. (realizes) Ugh. (sighs) Okay. (holds up finger) Wait.
WOMAN: Wait?
(Bill takes his laptop out of his backpack, and boots it up. He sighs. He brings up the Internet.)
WOMAN: (looking over Bill’s shoulder) Amazon?
BILL: Yeah.
(A handful of keystrokes later…Bill brings up “Amazon Author Page: William Norrett”. The woman looks, then points at the author photo.)
BILL: (wincing, nods) Me. (winces, mumbles to self) You’re an asshole, Billy…
WOMAN: (smiles) Ah!
(Smiling, the woman looks at the page for a moment, then points.)
WOMAN: What is that?
BILL: (blank stare)
(The woman begins to type something into her phone.)
WOMAN: (re: phone) Translate.
(She finishes typing, and shows her phone to Bill.)
BILL: (reading) “The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription”…
WOMAN: (blank stare at Bill)
BILL: Shit…

24 NOVEMBER 2014:
(BILL sits nursing a beer while a cover band plays a song, the lead SINGER croons, soft but enthusiastic.)

SINGER: (singing) My baby's gone/I have no friends.
BILL: (to self) Man, he's really butchering this.
SINGER: (singing) To wish me greetings once again.
BILL: (to self) Song SOUNDS familiar...what is it, though?
SINGER: (singing) Choirs will be singing "Silent Night"...
BILL: (to self) Wait a second-
SINGER: (singing) Christmas carols by candlelight.
BILL: Oh, shit.
SINGER: (singing) Please come home for Christmas.
BILL: (sighs) Shit.
SINGER: (singing) Please come home for Christmas.

(Bill takes a pull of beer. Pause.)
BILL: (sighs) This might be a longer month than I anticipated.

26 NOVEMBER 2014
So far on this trip (knocks wood), there have only been two moments where I thought I was amidst legitimate danger. One of those moments was in Hong Kong. I blame Couchsurfing.*

*Not really.

To date, I haven’t used Couchsurfing for accommodations, to actually surf a couch (this may change when I return to the States and find myself homeless). But Couchsurfing isn’t only a website where hosts and guests can arrange a place to stay, but also a place on the Internet where people who are strangers in a particular city can arrange to meet and just hang out. It’s a valuable resource for those of us traveling alone, allowing us to meet like-minded souls and break the solitude every once in a while. You meet “friends” at a bar, attend a comedy night, have dinner, and such…

I thought I’d give it a try. Before traveling to Hong Kong, I decided to see if there was anybody posting on the site who was interested in meeting up and doing something during my time there. There were plenty of people; in fact, my host in the city by sheer coincidence was attending a Couchsurfing event at a bar the night. He asked me to tag along, and I had a wonderful time. I chatted with a woman who would later show me the Umbrella Revolution, and I met several people who were interested in taking a hike on the Tai Tam Country Trail the next day. Would I like to join them?

Sounded fun, I said. Sign me up.

The next morning at 11am I met a group of both travelers and locals at the Shau Kei Wan subway stop. There were seven of us: two local men, a woman from Malaysia (who had to catch a plane at 6pm), a Chinese woman, a Polish woman and a Ukrainian woman, both working in mainland China, and me, the elder statesman American (Couchsurfing does seem to be a domain of the twenty-somethings). A jovial group, we first bought water and supplies at a 7-11, where I was gently mocked for buying a large, liter bottle, then took pictures in an urban village, and finally made our way into the Tai Tam Park. Walking past the entrance and up a pretty steep path, we finally stopped at a set of brown, concrete steps that led into a thicket of trees, up the hill.

This was the beginning of the trail. But there was no way to tell where it led, or how far. My mind flashed, as it often does, on GHOSTBUSTERS:

(The ghostbusters wander around Barrett's apartment, which has been destroyed. DR. STANTZ (Dan Aykroyd) sees that at one end, a staircase has been revealed. He looks at the rest of the ghostbusters.
DR. STANTZ: Hey! Which way do these stairs go?
DR. VENKMAN (Bill Murray): (looking) They go up.

One of the Hong Kong men, our nominal leader, pointed at the steps. “Shall we start?” he asked. He was chomping at the bit.

“How long is the trail?” I asked.

He thought for a moment, calculating. “Five hundred meters?” he said.

I looked at the group. While most of the group already seemed impatient that we hadn’t taken off up the hill already, the Malaysian and Chinese woman were already out of breath, the Malaysian with her hands on her knees. They had struggled even with the path from the park’s entrance. I didn’t give a shit how long the trail was; I'd walked every day on this trip. Half of the sights I had seen in eight countries seemed to be at the top of an endless staircase. I had been walking around the continents of Australia and Asia for what seemed like three straight months already. But it seemed like full disclosure was needed for everyone before they signed on. “How long do you think it’ll take?”

More thinking, more calculating. “An hour?”

“Okay,” I said.

“So,” the Ukrainian woman said, impatient, shaking her knees at the bottom-most step, “we’re going, right?” The others made jokes about weak stamina, asking me if I was too old to make it. 

But again, I wasn’t worried about me. Not to be Mister Chivalry, but I wasn’t interested in going on a hike which ended up with a woman in a hospital. I looked at the Malaysian woman, and tilted my chin, silently asking her if she was up for this. She was breathing heavily, she was sweating already, but she was nodding. “Okay,” I said.

And off we went.

And maybe the concept of both time and distance are different in Hong Kong than they are in, say, REALITY, but our “leader’s” sense of both five hundred meters and an hour was, to be charitable, inaccurate. Checking the “Enjoy HK Hiking” website just now, I find that “500 meters” is actually 5.2 kilometers, and “an hour” is 2.5 hours, which I’m guessing is for a dude hiking by himself before his restful three-day weekend ends and he rejoins the rest of the fucking Avengers.

Because it took our group over two hours to reach the midpoint of the hike, and that was a rough two hours. Imagine walking a stair master for two hours. Now imagine walking that stair master in a gym where the heat is turned up to ninety degrees and the sun is blasting on your face and neck. Now imagine walking that stair master with a Ukrainian woman chattering in your ear the entire time. Now imagine walking that stair master in that heat where every ten minutes or so, you think you’re getting to the end only to have the stair master reveal a thousand more steps. This was not a hill, it was a mountain, a mountain with several false endings. This mountain had more false endings than the first LORD OF THE RINGS movie. I don’t know how many false endings the other RINGS movies had; I didn’t bother to see those. Every time I thought we were reaching the peak, where at least the incline would level off, another peak would rise in front of me. It was like the opening credits of THE SIMPSONS, where the city of Springfield just keeps unfolding and unfolding. The steps rising into this mountain threatened never to end.

An hour into the hike, the group had kinda broken apart, walking in clumps of two a few hundred feet apart. Most of the group had ceased joking about stamina (which was fading for all of us) and ceased joking about my water (which was gone, the empty bottle and the lack of garbage cans across the entire continent of Asia mocking me) and begun joking about helicopters. Helicopters, as in the emergency helicopters that were sometimes called to fly to the mountain, swoop in and rescue people. There were phone booths along the trail - about as many booths as garbage cans - and you were instructed to call if you would be unable to get down off the mountain. The other members of the group found this hilarious.

“You think she’ll need the helicopter?”

“Listen, you hear that? Is that the helicopter?”

“Ha ha ha!”

“You don’t wanna call for the helicopter too early. Remember, it’ll cost you money.”

Apparently if you call the helicopter you’re required to reimburse the city.  Good to know, I thought. Goodness knows when contemplating whether or not to save your own life you should consider budget. Looking at the Malaysian woman, I didn’t find any of this funny. I was struggling. She was struggling too, really struggling now. Thin, unmuscled, clearly sunburned, she had to stop virtually every ten steps, hands on knees, mumbling weary, sarcastic comments before hitching up her backpack and moving on. She didn’t have any water. She looked like she was going to faint any second. I kept waiting for her to fall to her knees, but she seemed to steel herself during each pause before moving on. People in the group took informal turns going back and waiting with her, and the rest of us took breaks, but as we climbed the mountain, the breaks became shorter and more impatient. The others wanted to keep moving. It’s not like we were bound by something beyond the Internet. We had all met each other through a website; we weren’t friends or anything. This woman was intruding on everyone's enjoyment.

At one point, someone commented, “If she couldn’t make it, she shouldn’t have joined us,” which caused my annoyance to burst through my politeness. “She had no idea how far it was,” I said. “It was completely underestimated for her.” I looked at our leader. He shrugged. “This is not safe.” I kept repeating, “It’s not safe,” as if trying to make sure everyone knew my complaint was not self-serving, which felt shameful enough. I walked away from the group and waited for her, pointedly looking away. This had the effect of making me seem like a grumpy asshole, but at this point, I didn’t give a shit. I would’ve been concerned had I known her. Having no clue as to what she could take terrified me.

Besides, I AM a grumpy asshole.

Finally - finally! - we all saw the radio tower that represented the peak of the mountain. We were going to make it. Everyone, including the Malaysian, picked up the pace and we got to the top. It felt like a true accomplishment, and as we took pictures of the gorgeous Hong Kong skyline and Victorian Harbour, looked out at Kowloon and the New Territories - holy shit was the view incredible - ate our snacks (and the rest of the group polished off their own waters), and rested, I convinced myself I had been too over analytical once again, too concerned about something that was too unlikely to occur. Lighten up, I told myself. Even the Malaysian woman seemed buoyed by the peak. She smiled at me. She took pictures, had others take pictures of her. It WAS an accomplishment. We had climbed a big, fucking hill. And going back down would be easier. It would all be downhill from here. All downhill from here. It’s an expression, for Chrissakes.

We were ready to go. “Back down should be easier,” I said, starting to reverse our steps.

The leader pointed the other way. “Down is the other way,” he said.

Oh. I looked in the direction of his finger. He was right. The path continued on. We weren't just going to double back. Oh. I shrugged.

“Okay,” I said. “How long will it take?”

“An hour?”

Whatever. It didn’t matter. We were going downhill, now. It was all downhill from here. And we all started off again. Down the hill.

Don’t get me wrong, downhill was tough too. The steps were steep and you really had to watch your step. Every time you caught yourself admiring the view, which was magnificent, your head would snap down to make sure you weren’t stepping off the actual mountain itself. Steep, steep, steep, for step after step after step. But it WAS downhill. For a few hundred meters, maybe a whole kilometer, it took less effort and each step felt like a victory.

Until. Down the hill? A kilometer or so past the midpoint, and to be fair, that WAS a downhill kilometer, it became clear that the entire trip downhill would NOT be that. We had been duped. More false endings. The hills began to rise again. Each hill ended with the reveal of ANOTHER hill. These hills were steeper, if that were possible. You’d get to the top of one, and another would laugh in your face. This LORD OF THE RINGS will never fucking end, I thought. It was almost as bad as when I realized it in the theater.

I glanced behind me. The Malaysian woman had lost her smile. She seemed worse than ever. I looked around. Where the hell would a helicopter even land around here? A few minutes later, the rest of us realized she was at least a hundred meters behind us. This was going to end badly, very badly.

“We should go back,” I said. “She’s not going to make it.”

Everyone else looked at each other, and several gave that blasé shrug you get used to in Asia from people who don’t have the balls to argue with you but who have no fucking intention of helping you. It’s a maddening shrug, and this from someone who’s MASTERED the maddening (shrug). The ambivalence really made me want to throw something, but there had been a garbage can at the radio tower and I had already unloaded my water bottle.

“She’s not going to make it,” I repeated. More shrugs. THIS is why you buy more than one water bottle, I thought. So you can chuck the extra ones at Couchsurfing people. “Fuck it,” I said. “I’ll go back and walk back down WITH her.”

The leader of the group finally spoke up. “It will be just as tough to go back.”  He pointed back towards the radio tower.

I followed his point. He was right. We had reached sort of a canyon. At this point, if we turned around, we would have to go up the steep, steep, steep that we had just descended. We had seen that revealed peak, but from the opposite angle. It would be just as tough to go back.

“I’ll go back and walk with her this way, then,” I said.

They all shrugged again. Assholes, I thought, as I turned and made my way back - my way back UP - the steps so I could at least accompany the woman, make her feel like she wasn’t alone.

I reached her. She was standing still on what was somewhat of a plateau on one set of concrete steps, hands on her knees, seemingly waiting for me.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Take your time.” She doesn't seem as grateful to see me as I anticipated, I thought.

“Yeah. I am.”

“Whenever you’re ready.”


When she was ready, we started again, back down the steep, steep, steep. Every couple of steps, I waited as she made her way down, turning her body almost sideways to keep her balance. Waiting for her, I had time to look around, to see the view, to catch my own breath. By the time we both reached the bottom of one such steep, I seriously wondered whether or not she just wanted to be alone. We were both smiling. Maybe it just takes time, I thought.

The group was waiting for us back where I had left them. We all started off together. It became a consistent downhill. There was less chatter now, except from the Ukrainian woman, and we stayed in a single file. The Malaysian woman was now near the head of the line. Two hours later, we reached the bottom and an hour later (finally, something was only “an hour” later), we all had dinner together. Walking the streets of Central Hong Kong afterwards, the Malaysian woman reminded us she had to catch a flight, so at one corner, we all shook hands, exchanged cards, and bid each other safe travels. I went off and had a couple of beers by myself before finding my accommodation and quickly falling asleep. Good day.

Apropos of nothing, today marks the theoretical midway point of my trip.

17 DECEMBER 2014:
(To his surprise, BILL has just flown through immigration in less than two minutes - no line, amenable immigration officer - check passport, stamp passport, waved through. A pleasure. Now, he sees a currency exchange station right next to where his luggage is to emerge at baggage claim. "Everything's coming up roses!" Smiling, Bill approaches the currency exchange and takes out his wallet.)
BILL: (pulling out bills) Do you exchange Nepalese-
EXCHANGER: No Nepalese rupees!
BILL: No Nepalese rupees?
EXCHANGER: No Nepalese rupees!
BILL: (his happy mood ruined) You realize this is an airport in a country that BORDERS Nepal, right?
EXCHANGER: (says nothing)
BILL: You realize this is 2014, right?!
EXCHANGER: (says nothing)
BILL: You realize you claim to exchange currency, right?!
EXCHANGER: (says nothing)
(Another EXCHANGER comes over.)
EXCHANGER #2: One thousand rupee bills only!
BILL: (dripping with  sarcasm) Oh, so you WILL exchange SOME Nepalese rupees? You said you didn't exchange any. But you will, huh? Wow.
EXCHANGER #2: One thousand bills only!
(Bill ruffles his Nepalese bills, pulling out one.)
BILL: Well, here's a thousand!
(Bill starts to hand the bill over.)
EXCHANGER #2: That is a five hundred.
(Bill looks at the bill in his hand. Pause.)
BILL: (under his breath) Goddammit. (aloud) Sorry.
(The two exchangers walk away. Bill looks at another exchanger, who has watched the entire exchange.)
BILL: Is there an ATM nearby? (to himself) I can't read this goddamn money.

25 DECEMBER 2014:
A Rogue Trip Playlette in Three Actlettes
(Playlettewright’s note: for all dialogue, please factor in the language barrier - e.g. stammering, repetition, blank looks given to Bill, shrugs given to Bill, etc. The actor playing the role of Bill should realize that Bill has just finished an overnight train ride from Pushkar, India - 19 hours - and thus must show the appropriate build of exasperation during each actlette.)
(An open-air cab, or tuk-tuk, DRIVER pulls up to a guest house. BILL is in the back seat, shouting at him.)
BILL: I do not want to go here! I’ve TOLD you I do not want to go here! We PASSED the place I TOLD you to take me! Take me back there!
BILL: I did not want to go here! I TOLD you I did not want to go here! Take me to the place I TOLD you to take me!
(The cab driver turns around. He indicates the guest house.)
BILL: No! Not here!
CAB DRIVER: “Hotel”? (pointing) Hotel.
BILL: I said “hotel” at the train station. I didn’t know which one. Then we PASSED one, and I said, “Stop here.” “Stop here.” “Stop here!”
CAB DRIVER: (pointing) Hotel.
BILL: I want you to take me to the other hotel! Like I said!
(A “CONCIERGE” emerges from the guest house. He approaches the cab, and shakes hands with the driver.)
BILL: (seeing this, realizing the business deal) Argh!
"CONCIERGE": (to Bill) Hello, sir.
BILL: Hello. I’m not staying here.
"CONCIERGE": You’re staying here?
BILL: No. I want (indicating driver) him to take me to the place I said. Where I pointed!
CAB DRIVER: (pointing) Pointing here.
"CONCIERGE": You stay here.
BILL: (to concierge) Dude! (to cab driver) Dude!
"CONCIERGE": So, you stay here?
(Bill gets out of the cab, takes his bags - his multiple, heavy bags - out. So really, he hoists them out.)
BILL: (indicating cab driver) If this guy won’t take me there, I’ll get another cab.
CONCIERGE: Where you from, sir?
BILL: Argh!
(Bill starts walking. After a beat, the cab driver follows him slowly.)
BILL: (to cab driver) DIFFERENT cab!
(Bill has found another hotel. He enters the restaurant and puts his bags - his multiple, heavy bags - down next to a two-seat table. So really, he plops them down next to a two-seat table. A WAITER approaches.)
WAITER: Room number, sir?
BILL: Oh, I haven’t checked in yet, they won’t let me check in until eleven. So I’m just going to eat breakfast and wait here, if that’s all right.
WAITER: No problem, sir. Coffee?
BILL: Yes. (anticipating what’s coming) Milk coffee.
WAITER: Black coffee?
BILL: No, milk coffee?
WAITER: Coffee, sir?
BILL: Yes. Milk. Coffee.
WAITER: No problem sir.
BILL: (sighs) Thank you.
WAITER: No problem, sir. Buffet?
BILL: (looking over at the buffet) You know what? I don’t think I’m going to do the buffet today. Could I see a menu, please?
WAITER: No problem, sir.
(The waiter leaves, then brings back a menu. Bill looks it over.)
WAITER: Room number, sir?
BILL: Huh? No, I told you. I’m checking in later.
WAITER: No problem, sir.
(As Bill looks over the menu, the waiter hovers.)
BILL: You know what? Why don’t you take care of the coffee, and by the time you come back, I’ll know what I’m going to order.
WAITER: Excuse me, sir?
BILL: Why don’t you go get me the coffee, and while you’re gone, I’ll decide. And when you come back, I’ll give you my order.
WAITER: Oh, I’m sorry, sir. Right now you cannot order off of the menu. You can only have the buffet.
BILL: (sighs)
(Bill approaches the HOTEL CLERK, a young woman. This - a woman working an “official” job-like job - is rare to Bill’s experience in India; aside from the occasional shopkeeper or street sweeper, the vast majority of employees in all areas seem to be men - so Bill smiles.)
BILL: (to self) Ah, right. Maybe dealing with a woman will give me some luck, here. (to clerk) Hi.
CLERK: Hello again, sir.
BILL: (smiles) Yes. Hello again. Could I please have the wi-fi password?
CLERK: I’m very sorry, sir-
(Playlettewright’s note: The actress delivering this line MUST deliver it as if it’s the ONE MILLIONTH TIME she’s said “I’m very sorry, sir.” Thus, it MUST have the perfect blend of automaton and utter lack of sympathy for whatever she’s “very sorry” for…)
CLERK: -but only registered guests are permitted to use the hotel wi-fi service.
BILL: I’m checking in four hours. (re: clock behind clerk) In less than four hours.
CLERK: I’m very sorry, sir, but-
BILL: You’ve already run my credit card. I’ve already paid for the room.
CLERK: I’m very sorry, sir, but-
BILL: (pointing to restaurant) I’m literally going to sit there until you let me check in.
CLERK: I’m very- (even she can’t hear herself say it again) If you want to check in early, for five hundred rupees per-
BILL: (realizing) Oh.
CLERK: Would you like to check in early, sir?
BILL: (stares)

Have a Merry and safe Christmas, everyone!

26 DECEMBER 2014:
In preparing for this trip, I read an article which advised me to get a new credit card solely for the trip, and to use it as much as possible while traveling. Using a single card would consolidate the receipts, make it easier to track expenses and, if you got the right card, would give reward points I could then put towards future purchases.

Good advice - the card I got has essentially paid for my flight from Portugal to Brazil next month.  (claps hands once) Boom.

But it’s also one of those new-fangled microchip credit cards, which turns out is a little thicker than your father’s credit card. It’s more like a key card Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) would scan in TERMINATOR 2 in order to gain access to the CPU and bionic arm in those glass cases than a flimsy card you’d use to buy Starbucks coffee. When I first got it, even I half-expected to need a security guard with me so we could both turn our keys in our respective locks to "enable" the card's power.

But it still LOOKS like a credit card. It's got a bank's name and MY name on the front, numbers on the front and back and besides, last time I checked, we’re knocking on the door of 2015, here.

No matter. At least once a week during my travels around Australia and Asia, I have offered my credit card as payment for goods or services and the employee has stared at it like it IS in fact the bionic right arm of the Terminator, and I've been forced to assure them, “Yes, it is a credit card.” Often, their skepticism has been followed by them tapping the card against the counter, as if its additional durability is evidence of its fraudulence, somehow. This amused me for the first month or so, until I realized again, y'know, 2014 going on 2015 here.

At least once a fortnight, after the employee has “tried” to use the card - in Australia and Asia this involves shoving the card into a slot rather than sliding it through one, he has frowned so, so seriously, and reported back to me, “Sorry, sir. It does not work,” which is IMMEDIATELY followed with either, “Do you have another card, sir?” or more often, “Do you have cash, sir?” spoken as one word - "Doyouhavecashsir?"

(I’m NOT talking about the various businesses that don’t take credit cards at ALL. Though I’ll still make the “2014, right?” argument in my head, this element of world business is what it is, and thus in countries such as Malaysia and Cambodia I stopped even asking businesses if they accepted credit cards. But that’s a different issue.)

Now, back in July and even August, this sequence of events would send me into a mild panic. Mild panic, my old friend. Mild panic, my chaperone. Mild panic, which tells me my first instinct should always be to blame myself, to do whatever needed to be done to solve the problem quickly and quietly. Had I forgotten to pay the bill? Had I already gone over my limit? Was someone going to emerge from the back storeroom of this bookstore in Singapore, shackle me in cuffs, and throw me into debtor’s prison? Do they have debtor’s prison in Singapore?

The first time it happened, I had only used the card, like, twice, so I was abjectly terrified. I meekly asked the vendor to “try it again,” because I needed to know if I had just embarked on a nine-month trip with a bum card. Was I going to have to deal with this for close to a year? I might as well just get on a plane and go back home. When she tried it again and it worked, my relief was overflowing. With each time for the next few weeks, then, I would stuff my distress deep under my stomach and colon, and meekly request that they try it again. And every time - EVERY TIME - they tried it again, lo and behold, it worked. My meekness lessened with each ensuing instance. Occasionally it took a more senior employee to a)explain the new card’s differences and/or b)do it themselves. But it always - ALWAYS - worked the second time.

So after a month or so, whenever the card “failed” to go through and the “puzzled” employee requested another card or cash, my mild panic had disappeared, replaced by self-assured insistence. “Try it again.” “It works; try it again.” “Do you have a manager?” and every so often the admittedly-snarky “You know this is 2014, right?” This transition in my emotional strength can be summed up in the following Rogue Trip Travel Tip #6 (yeah, I know - it’s been awhile!)


When traveling abroad, if a financial, banking, or otherwise monetary “snafu” arises, do not automatically assume the error is on you. Do not panic, mildly or otherwise.

Although I will assure you, we ARE about to enter the year 2015, and now more than ever technology has made the world smaller, more connected, and capable of greater convenience and financial freedom (though Skynet is gonna fuck that all up soon enough, believe you me! John Connor, stand up!), there are still vast stretches of the planet that may not be able to process and handle such technological ease with, well, ease. Making your way about the world means having to deal with all levels of capability to transact business. Not every corner of the world is modern, still. Now, perhaps it will be revealed the issue IS yours, in fact. But there’s no reason to pre-empt a thorough search for the root of the problem. So recognize that, keep your head, and realize that the business you’re dealing above all else just wants you to give them their money, and will disregard the thorough search to obtain it. They will try to use your mild panic against you so you simply submit and give them cash. "Doyouhavecashsir?" Stand your ground, and simply ask them to “Try it again.”

After almost six months, I’ve almost got this tip down myself. Today in a hotel restaurant in Mumbai, after devouring my first cheeseburger in a month, I scarcely blinked when the waiter returned with my card and said, “There is an error with this card, sir, doyouhavecash?”

“Try it again, please.”

He went to his station and after presumably trying it again, returned. “Error, sir, doyouhavecashsir?”

“No, I don’t have cash. That card works. Try it again.”

“Error, sir.”

“I used it an hour ago at the front desk and it worked there. Try it again.”

“Error, sir.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not using another card. I don’t have enough cash on me.”

The waiter thought, or rather, pretended to think. “We can try the machine at the front desk,” he said.


We both walked to the front desk, where I had paid for my room less than an hour ago. He ran the card while the manager of the hotel watched. Lo and behold: success. He ripped off the receipt and as I signed it, I said, “You knew it would work on this machine, didn’t you?” His look was as good as a nod. “So you know the machine in the restaurant is ‘broken’?”

Another good-as-a-nod. I looked at the manager. “I’m not trying to be a jerk,” I said, “but if you know the machine in the restaurant doesn’t work, you fix the machine. You don’t ask the customer for another card or cash. You fix the machine. Right?” The manager nodded. “Okay,” I said. “Thank you.” I walked away.

Mild panic ran away.

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…

31 DECEMBER 2014:
I know we're a little past the midway point, but on this New Year’s Eve, some up-to-date RogueTrip numbers for you:
Days Traveled: 177
Months Traveled: 5.8
Countries Visited: 16 (New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Laos, Nepal, India, United Arab Emirates, Morocco)
Of 16 Countries Visited, Ones That Were Merely Layovers in Airports: 2 (Aukland, New Zealand and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
Total Miles Traveled to date:  35,995
Average Miles Per Day (Total Miles Traveled/Days Traveled): 203.36
Miles Traveled by:
Air: 20,833
Train: 13,391
Bus/Van: 1,771
Days Spent in:
Australia: 34 (19.2%)
Asia: 139 (78.5%)
Africa: 4 (2.2%)
Pages in Passport: 52
Pages in Passport Now Filled: 19
Valuables Lost in Airports or Hotel Rooms: 0
Full or Half-Full Water Bottles Left Behind in Airports or Hotel Rooms: 26* 
AirBnB Reviews: 14
Positive AirBnB Reviews: 14 (sample review: “He is a very good person.”)
Positive AirBnB Review %: 100 (sample review: “He come as guest leave as friend.”)
Photos Taken: 6,578*
Photos Taken That Don’t Include Bill: 37*
Postcards Purchased: 112*
Postcards Mailed: 61*
Postcards Mailed From Same City Postcard Purchased: 0
Bill’s Starting Weight: 215 lbs.
Bill’s Weight Today: 85.5 kg
Haircuts: 5
Most Days Gone Without Shaving: 7**
ATMs That Rejected Bill’s Card For No Reason: 6
Debit Cards Left In ATM: 1
International Phone Calls Successfully Made, First Time Dialing: 0
Number of Times Earbuds Dropped In Toilet/Urinal: 3
Pairs of Earbuds Ruined: 1
Pairs of Disposable Contact Lenses Used: 2
Maximum Months Advised to Wear Disposable Contact Lenses: 1
Packages Mailed to United States From China: 2
Packages Mailed to United States From China Which Could Be Considered “Lost” At This Point: 2
Number of Times A Woman Asked Bill, “How old are you?”: 78*
Number of Times Bill Responded “Guess.”: 78*
Average Age Guessed: 47* (scowls, middle fingers raised)
Highest Age Guessed (i.e., “Most Obscene Guess”): 52 (what the fuck?)
Number of Times Woman Recognized the OCEAN’S TWELVE joke Bill Made in Response to Most Obscene Guess***: 0
Club Sandwiches Eaten: 3
**Nepal trek-related
***Exchange between Clooney and Affleck in OCEAN’S TWLEVE:
”How old do you think I am?”
“You think I’m 48 years old?”
(pause) “52?”

…And some rankings/award candidates at this point in the trip…
M.V.P. (Most Valuable Place) race so far…
3. Nepal - if you’re going to pick a place for your first-ever trek, you could do worse than the Himalayas.
2. Bail, Indonesia - Every place I’ve been to, at some point I ask myself, “Could you live here?” In Bali’s case, the answer didn’t come in words. It came in me dropping to my knees, clutching the sand of Sanur Beach in both of my fists, and weeping with joy. I took that as a “Yes.”
WINNER: China - a month of seeing a good friend and his family, traveling a large swath of the nation, seeing both its urban and rural sides, and accumulating a book’s worth of stories in Beijing, that I cannot wait to write. 
M.V.P. (Most Valuable Packed Item) race so far…
3. Tissue Paper - invaluable in Asia for reasons that should be self-explanatory.
2. Zip-Loc Bags (of various sizes) - a gift from my friends Jonica and Sandy that I never would have thought to purchase myself, these plastic bags have proven essential in a pinch: when I need a separate place for dirty laundry, compiling all the knickknacks and sundries I’ll eventually lose by mailing from China (see above), and most important, for providing me a safe haven for my laptop when it starts raining and thus, providing me peace of mind. Thank you, Jonica and Sandy. Now figure out how your Skype works!
WINNER: 4 In 1 Travel Electrical Adaptor - a gift from my friend Amy that I never would have thought to purchase myself (sense a pattern here?), these adaptors (fitted to fit in a small box which fits in a pouch in my backpack) have made charging the myriad of my electronic devices so easy that I barely even obsess over it at this point. Thank you, Amy. Now figure out how your FaceTime works!
M.V.P. (Most obVious imProvement Bill would implement in a country he’s visited so far…)
3. Garbage Cans - a minimum of one every fifty feet on every public street. I think this would instantly improve a nation's mood by 8%.
2. “Yield” and “Right of Way” signs
WINNER: Toilet Bowls.
M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performance By A Tourist Attraction) race so far…
3. Angkor Wat - Asia is lousy with temples. Every city in every country I visited in Asia, there were just loads of temples everywhere. I don’t mind admitting, there were some days I felt “templed out” and days where I was convinced some architect was just building “template temples” (that’s a Kaiser NFS joke for the three ex-co-workers who read this blog). But there are temples, there are TEMPLES…and then there’s Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is not so much one temple as a campus of temples, built radically different than most of the temples you’ll see on the continent. Large, mossy, sweaty stones, one piled on top of another that seem both precarious and indestructible, part of the world's largest Lego set. Angkor Wat is beyond compare. I started walking around the “campus” at sunrise and as someone not normally filled with a great deal of spirituality, rarely (if ever) have I felt so peaceful. Recommend.
2. Great Wall of China - a new friend I met in Beijing took hired a driver for the day and we went up to Mutian-Yu portion of the Wall, grabbing McDonald’s before we left the city. The McDonald’s made her sick, and by the time we reached Mutian-Yu she was in no condition to leave the car. So I walked the Wall alone. It defies description. If I hadn’t had someone waiting for me in the car, I would’ve walked it all day. It’s unbelievable. Recommend.
WINNER: Taj Mahal - Let’s just say, the Taj Mahal covers for a lot of India’s sins in how it treats a guest. A LOT of sins. Picturing it in my head stops me in my tracks two weeks later. I stop in my tracks, someone walking behind me bumps into me, they say, “Come on, dude!” in some language, and I turn around and say, “Sorry. I was picturing the Taj Mahal,” and THEY wind up apologizing to ME. Go see that shit. Recommend.
Best Soundtracks to Walk Around Tourist Attractions/City Streets to...
Honorable Mention: Freedy Johnston “This Perfect World” and trying to match the album cover while taking pictures of the Taj Mahal, Angels & Airwaves, and Mos Def.
3. The National - entire catalogue on shuffle walking around Angkor Wat.
2. Simon & Garfunkel - “Best of” album, particularly good for rural/trek scenarios
WINNER: Vampire Weekend - entire catalogue on shuffle, walking any and all city streets.
M.V.P. (Mesmerizing Vocal Performance)
William Norrett (featuring Wei) - “My Heart Will Go On”, Beijing, China
M.V.P. (Most Vexing Person Met While Traveling) so far…
3. Cab Driver in Mumbai, India - Pretended to not understand “That hotel! That hotel!” Followed Bill even after being told there was no fucking way Bill was getting back in cab. Owned a blank look for the ages.
2. Check-In Agent, JetStar Airlines, Darwin Airport - kept interrupting Bill even though Bill was dealing with another agent, not him. Refused to accept Bills explanation that the airline’s website was not working when Bill tried to check in his bag the night before. Snidely said, “Thousands of people manage to use it (the website) every day without incident,” then tried to pivot out when Bill said, “I guess I’m just dumb, then. I guess I’m just dumb.” After Bill had calmed down, apologized, and joked (not to him, again, to the agent he was dealing with), “You’re gonna send my bag to Mozambique or somewhere, aren’t you?” haughtily said, “We don’t do that, sir.”
WINNER: William Norrett, various - Get out of your head, you idiot.
Part of what has been lucky for me on this trip is, every so often there’s been someone there for me. A friend or family member that’s popped up on my journey to give me something to hold onto. Just when I think I’ve been on the road by myself for too long, there’s been someone (or someones, or some family) that have been there to serve as a balance. Thus, the M.V.P. (Most Valuable Player) race so far…
(Four-way tie, listed chronologically)
McDonald/Simmerman/Verdeja - Bali, Indonesia - After five+ weeks riding the rails in Australia, a rougher-than-expected immersion into world travel, Bali was precisely what the doctor ordered. Relaxing, positive, encouraging, and beautiful, I was able to calm myself down with a normalcy I wasn't sure I'd ever see again. Without Bali, I probably would’ve just gone home. But in my week on the island, I got to see monkeys, dolphins, AND I learned how to play “Werewolves”. My host family welcomed me, and on a small level, they saved me. Thank you.
Jenny and Liz Ann - Bangkok, Thailand - Provided a port in a storm at a point I was drowning a little. Bought me a lovely meal at a lovely hotel. Prompted me to shop at Asiatique which was a diversion I never would’ve taken. Talked me a down a bit. Implored me to say “Fuck that!” to things or people I needed to say “Fuck that!” to (principally Jenny implored me on this score). Offered to take gifts back and mail them within the United States - the value of this cannot be overstated. Thank you.
The Gallaghers - Shenzhen, China - Hosted me for a month. Let me crash in their nanny’s room. Fed me. Entertained me. Allowed me to tag along with them on their family vacation to the country. Took me to numerous hot pot meals. Educated me about the Asian karaoke culture. It was (shrug) “All right.” Thank you.
Sue - Bangkok, Thailand - I was not planning on going back to Thailand. I had seen it. What I had NOT seen, however, was one of my good friends in Thailand. So whatever, I’ll see it again. Seeing Sue reminded me of kindness, of generosity, of having your shit together. She inspired me. Thanks to Sue for letting me tag along with her family on her vacation (I’ve intruded on a number of family vacations on this trip) to Chiang Mai, and letting me show her some sights in her own hometown. You need to get out more, Sue. Thank you.

Everyone have a Happy and safe New Year. I fly to London tomorrow. We'll talk soon.

13 JANUARY 2015:
1. The murals are in two long, oval-shaped rooms with stark white walls, already separating them from much of the other artwork in Paris that hangs on walls whose colors are almost artistic themselves. The juxtaposition of the white walls with the colors in the murals is striking. Soon after entering the first room, I muttered, “I’ve got the idea for wallpaper in my next apartment.”
2. Because there is blue, and there is “Water Lilies” blue. There is purple, and there is “Water Lilies” purple. There are colors, and there are Monet’s colors.
3. I don't have a picture to post here. Go Google Image it if you like.
4. This will make sense later.
5. It doesn't even make sense for me to post a picture.
6. This will make sense later.
7. There are four murals in each room, one on each “side” of the oval, Monet depicting the water lilies in his garden at Giverny from sunrise in the east at one end of the first room to sunset in the west at the opposite end of the second room. The four panels in each room are separated by open entrances/exits. A hidden joy in walking around the rooms was watching people enter each room and seeing their jaws drop and their step slow at what they were seeing for the first time. People would literally brake in the entranceway, amazed, as they saw the murals. Their companions would bump into them from behind. Then they would almost stagger into and around the rooms, or to the center to find an unoccupied space on the benches to take the murals in. That was fun to watch.
8. I’ve been walking around art museums around the world for the past six months. By the second month, it was no longer amusing to see people sitting on benches amongst some of the greatest works of art in history, with their heads buried in their phone screens. It was no longer irksome to see people standing before masterpieces, texting. You look at people’s faces and sometimes you can see them thinking, “How long should I stand in front of this painting? How long do I need to walk around this place before I can claim I’ve ‘appreciated’ enough art?” Because it had become commonplace. I don’t exclude myself from this indictment. I will walk through rooms without ever coming to a stop. There have been times I HAVE stopped on a museum’s steps and said, “I just can’t visit another museum today,” before walking away. Walking through a museum takes patience, takes curiosity, takes a willingness to ignore your various social networks. It’s not easy. Even if it’s good work, worthwhile work, it can still be work.
9. There was nobody’s face buried in a phone screen standing or sitting in front of the “Water Lilies”, and everybody’s face held joy and wonder, not boredom or obligation. Everyone’s face said, “What I’m looking at is beautiful. And looking at what I’m looking at is making me feel beautiful inside.” Men, women, children. Everyone's face told me this. That was fun to watch, too.
10. Last year, I told people I was going on a trip around the world, and I was told to take pictures. “Don’t be a cranky asshole,” I was told, “and take some pictures. You’ll regret it if you don’t.” I was reminded that growing up I’ve always been too lazy or too embarrassed to document my moments, that I’ve always thought it a pose to actively record my memories, and I was implored to put away this foolishness and to take pictures. And so I did. I’ve been taking pictures, I’ve been taking a lot of pictures, I’ve grown fond of taking them, grown interested in making those pictures interesting. And then all of a sudden, I step into two oval-shaped rooms containing what might be the most beautiful thing created by one man that I’ve ever seen in my life, AND I’M NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE PICTURES
11. (grumble)
12. I wanted to take pictures of the paintings, I wanted to take pictures of people looking at the paintings, I wanted to take pictures of me standing in front of the paintings, I wanted to take pictures of the rooms. I’ve never wanted to take pictures of something more in my entire life.
13. But I have a history getting into trouble with museum guards. Years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, after scoffing at a comment my mother made about the size of the hands and feet on Rodin’s sculptures, I LOST MY MIND for a moment and actually PUT MY HAND on a Rodin sculpture’s hand. The guard in the room was not pleased, and even though I was immediately apologetic, I had to endure the speech (I deserved to hear it five times). On Sunday at the Musée d’Orsay I momentarily forgot about the signs symbolizing “No Photos” and snapped a shot of Degas’s ballerinas, and promptly got an earful of angry French from a guard who almost sprinted across the crowded room to threaten me with eviction (I definitely caught “removez-vous!” more than once). So I was already terrified about causing an incident in the Musée de l’Orangerie and had no desire to ruin what might be the highlight of my trip so far (“Solo Division”). But maaannn…did I want to take pictures…
14. ...Even if it was just to document that I was there, just so I could look at those pictures and remember what it felt like to walk those rooms, just so it could take me back to how it felt to stand there, to look at the murals. Because standing there, looking at them, made me feel good.
15. I realize how this sounds.
16. I apologize.
17. But I don't.
18. And I couldn't take pictures...
19. …so I imagined instead that I could sit with someone else in one of these rooms, have our coffee, and talk quietly every morning for the rest of my life…
20. …and I think the guard knew it. A very sophisticated, very French-looking woman wearing a bob haircut, a tailored guard sport coat, skinny pegged jeans and thick heeled, black patent leather shoes-
21. -I would’ve had no trouble inviting her to be my coffee companion in the fantasy I was concocting-
22. -she was quick to pounce on anyone who even made a move to snap a photo. She actually asked me to step back from one of the murals as I tried to examine how the curve of the oval affected it…
23. So a coffee invitation was probably a non-starter…
24. …and I wanted to ask her, does she get to “guard” these ovals every day? Has she earned the same beat for every day she works? Do the guards rotate from room to room, so they all get a turn watching the “Water Lilies” or is it her domain alone? And I wanted to ask her, does she ever get bored? She must never get bored. If the guards DO rotate, does she bounce out of bed, excited on the days she gets to sit in the ovals, watching people look at art that truly moves them?
25. “Anglais?” I asked her. She shook her head, and again motioned for me to back away from the metal guard. So I didn’t get to ask her that.
26. But I bet it doesn’t get boring.
27. So I decided, I have to get another loft apartment at some point in my life.
28. The National proved to be a tremendous band to listen to while slowly walking around the two ovals.
29. The Musée de l’Orangerie has three levels. The “Water Lilies” is on the ground floor. Below it are two levels (“-1” and “-2”). “-1” is the gift shop. “-2” has works from various Impressionists - including geniuses like Pierre-Auguste Renoir - and other art periods - including geniuses like Pablo Picasso. But the manner in which the museum is set up almost forces you to look at the “Water Lilies” first.
30. So it struck me that setting up a museum where people are seeing paintings - again, to be clear, paintings by greats such as Renoir and Picasso, for Chrissakes - only AFTER they’ve seen the “Water Lilies” is pretty goddamn unfair to those paintings and those artists…
31. …because if I’m any indication, a lot of people take in the “Water Lilies” before going downstairs to look at the other works, then at some point mutter to themselves, “Screw this noise, I’m going back upstairs,” and bounding back up the steps two-at-a-time to take in the “Water Lilies” again…
32. I’ve never done that before, gone BACK to a painting to see it again on the same visit…
33. …and not before stopping at the gift shop on Level -1 first, buying postcards of the “Water Lilies” and taking them with me to hold in my hand in front of the actual murals, so I could “compare” them. I’m not even sure what the point of THAT was. Suffice to say, I’ve never done that before either.
34. I’ve never said to myself, “Going to another museum today would be pointless.”
35. Not because I don’t appreciate museums. I appreciate museums. Now more than ever.
36. Even when they’re work.
37. In Paris, they’re not work.
38. Paris is a city with a museum that holds the Mona Lisa, that contains Venus de Milo. Paris is a city with museums such as the Louvre, the d’Orsay, and fifty others where the museums THEMSELVES are museum pieces.
39. And I’ve never thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll come back tomorrow to see this again before I leave.” (I didn’t do it, overslept and had to go to Le Poste, but still…that thought counts hard for something.)
40. Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France inspired these thoughts in me.
41. And when I finally left, I decided that any time anyone says they don’t “like” or they don’t “get” art, I’ll ask them if they ever seen Monet’s “Water Lilies” at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France. If they respond,“Yes,” I will simply walk away from them. Because they’re beyond hope. If they respond, “No,” I’ll smile and suggest that they withhold that judgment until they see those eight murals.
42. I'm sorry I don't have a picture to post.
43. But there was no photography allowed.
44. Besides, I've had enough trouble with museum guards.
45. And part of me wouldn't want to post it anyway.
46. If I took a picture, it would be mine.
47. Google Image them if you like.
48. But go see them, please.
49. Because they’re beautiful, and they made me feel beautiful. 
50. And they will make you feel beautiful, too.

22 JANUARY 2015:
(BILL waits on the line to purchase a ticket. He scans the board listing the prices, and notices something.)
BILL: (shrugs; to himself) Huh. Worth a try. Why not?
(Bill is motioned to the counter by a MUSEUM EMPLOYEE. Note: for the following exchange, Bill’s Spanish and the employee’s English are respectively stammer-y.)
BILL: Olá.
BILL: Yo habla español un poquito.
MUSEUM EMPLOYEE: I speak English.
BILL: Oh, good. Gracias.
BILL: Okay. Um, one adult, reduced price.
MUSUEM EMPLOYEE: Why “reduced”?
BILL: (too proudly?) I am unemployed.
MUSEUM EMPLOYEE: You are unemployed?
BILL: (less proudly) Si.
(Pause. The museum employee looks around.)
MUSEUM EMPLOYEE: (shakes head) We do not reduce the price simply because one is unemployed.
BILL: (points at sign) Yes, you do.
MUSEUM EMPLOYEE: We do not, sir.
BILL: Your sign says you do. (reading) “Under 25, unemployed…” It’s the second one.
MUSEUM EMPLOYEE: We do not, sir.
BILL: (joking) Look, it took a lot of courage for me to walk up here and admit- (seeing he’s getting nowhere) Your sign says it.
MUSEUM EMPLOYEE: I will check, sir.
(The museum employee goes over to another EMPLOYEE, and confers with her. She looks at Bill, scowls, and shakes her head. The museum employee returns to Bill.)
BILL: You should change the sign, then.
MUSUEM EMPLOYEE: No one else has ever had the courage, sir.
BILL: (taking out wallet) Yeah…
(Bill is poking around the postcard section. He notices something. He thinks, then approaches a MUSEUM EMPLOYEE, who is restocking the card section.)
BILL: Olá.
BILL: Yo habla español un poquito.
MUSEUM EMPLOYEE: I speak English.
BILL: Oh, good. Gracias.
MUSUEM EMPLOYEE: It is good of you to try.
BILL: Gracias. Um, “Guerica”.
BILL: (indicating postcard) You have postcards of “Guernice”.
MUSEUM EMPLOYEE: Of course, it is Picasso’s most famous, perhaps.
BILL: (pause) Yeah, but.
BILL: It’s not here, is it?
BILL: Here, in this museum. I mean, I didn’t just walk through the whole museum and miss “Guernica”, did I?
MUSUEM EMPLOYEE: (a bit confused) No, sir. It is in Madrid.
BILL: Ah, good. I’m going there tomorrow.
MUSEUM EMPLOYEE: You can see it there, then.
BILL: Good. I just wanted to make sure, since you have the postcard, that I didn’t miss it.
BILL: Do a lot of people worry that they’ve walked right by it?
(Bill enters the lobby, holding a hot chocolate. He pays the MUSUEM EMPLOYEE an entrance fee, and she immediately starts pointing at his cup.)
BILL: I know, I know. (He takes a large sip.) Where can I throw it out?
BILL: Garbage? Basura?
MUSUEM EMPLOYEE: (shakes her head) No.
BILL: What, then?
(The museum employee ducks down, searching for something. She emerges with a tag, used to hold bags behind the counter.
BILL: What? Really?
(The museum employee nods, giving Bill a ticket, then wrapping the matching ticket around the cup with a rubber band. The ticket # is 13. She puts the cup of hot chocolate in a locker and closes the door. She looks at Bill, then waves the back of both hands at him, as if to say, “Go. Go.”)
BILL: Okay, I’m going. I’m going. (to himself) This is my last museum of the day.

25 JANUARY 2015:
(BILL sits playing blackjack. He has had, hm, two beers. He is with two SPANIARDS who do not speak any English. He is in final position. The dealer, ALISA - Spanish, fair-haired, pretty, mid-30s, and as Bill has learned over the past couple of hours, speaks English pretty well - deals the Spaniards a 14 and a 13. She deals Bill a 16. Her face card is a 9. Both Spaniards stand on their hands.)
ALISA: (to Bill) What would you like to do, Bill?
BILL: (rubs his face) What is it with everyone standing on these hands?
ALISA: What do you mean?
BILL: (indicates Spaniards’ hands) You guys have been doing this all month. (to Alisa) They have 14 and 13. You have a 9. The way I play is, I start off assuming the next card turned over will be a 10 or a face card. That’s where I start off.
ALISA: This is a smart assumption, as there are more 10s and faces than any other card.
BILL: Right? I mean, that’s how I would start off teaching my nieces how to play blackjack.
ALISA: How old are your nieces?
BILL: Ten, seven, and four.
ALISA: (thinking) That would be a good way to teach them.
BILL: Right? But in Spain - it happened in Barcelona, too - everyone is so conservative. They stand on hands they’re losing.
(The Spaniards confer.)
SPANIARD: (to Bill, in halting English, re: his hand) If we stay, we are still alive.
BILL: You’ve already re-bought three times. (to Alisa) Right?
ALISA: (shrug, slight smile) This is true.
BILL: So you’ve been dying all day long.
BILL: I’d rather die on my feet than on my knees.
BILL: (pushes “hit” on his screen) Hit.
(Alisa deals him a face card.)
ALISA: And you are dead now too. (But she is smiling.)
BILL: And so are they. Watch.
(Alisa turns over a face card, she has 19. Everyone loses.)
BILL: See? Everyone in Spain, you guys play so conservatively.
ALISA: Ah. But, Bill.
BILL: Yes?
ALISA: You are in Spain now.
BILL: True.
ALISA: This is what I say.
BILL: What do you say?
ALISA: (mock shrug) “It is blackjack.”
BILL: True.
ALISA: And you should not teach your nieces to play blackjack.
BILL: Alisa.
ALISA: Yes, Bill?
BILL: I am in Spain now.
ALISA: True.
(Bill has had, maybe, four beers. New DEALER - male, Spanish, late 20s, friendly but his English is not good. The other Spaniards have left - too many deaths - but another SPANIARD - nice guy, early 20s - sits in last position. A hand has just finished. Bill points over the dealer’s shoulder, where a soccer match involving Barcelona is playing.)
BILL: Messi scored again.
(The dealer and the Spaniard look over at the TV. They watch for a moment, then turn back.)
BILL: Messi, that guy is incredible.
SPANIARD: Si, yes.
BILL: I mean, he looks like he should be managing an Applebee’s, but he’s just unbelievable. You know why? ‘Cause he never stops working, he never stops trying. Other guys, someone touches them, they fall down, they give up on the play. But not Messi - he just keeps churning, keeps moving, boom, boom, boom, and then after that work, he’s open and he puts it away. He’s simply unbelievable. (Bill looks at the dealer and the Spaniard.) Right?
DEALER: You are in Madrid, Bill.
(Bill has had five beers. He is up 1900 euros. The young Spaniard is gone, replaced by two ITALIANS who sit in early position. These Italians speak no English. The same male dealer deals one a 13, the other a 12 - A TWELVE! - and Bill a 16. He deals himself a face card. Both Italians stand, and Bill rubs his face. He looks at the dealer, who with merely a slight expansion of his eyes says, “I hear you, brother. I hear you.”)
BILL: Hit.
(The dealer gives Bill a 9.)
BILL: Twelve plus nine is twenty-one.
DEALER: Si. (shrugs)
(Th dealer deals himself a four.)
BILL: Sixteen plus four is twenty.
(The dealer then deals himself a seven.)
DEALER: Veinte uno.
BILL: Ay! (smacks his forehead)
(The dealer gives Bill another milld expansion of his eyes - “I hear you, brother.” - and begins to collect the cards.)
DEALER: (to Bill) You have had a good day, sir.
BILL: Thanks.
DEALER: So. You should save yourself.
(Bill stands.)
BILL: Gracias.
DEALER: De nada.
(Bill leaves.)

02 February 2015:

Sorry it's been a few days since putting stuff up.

I wouldn't quite call the below a TRAVEL DISPATCH. Sunday's itinerary, however, warrants a run-down, with each step's mission & mission status.

ULTIMATE MISSION for the day: To travel 8,835km from Lisbon, Portugal to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and be in front of a television in time for the Super Bowl ILIX kickoff (9:30PM, Rio time).
5AM, Lisbon: MISSION: to wake up, shower, dress, pack, and leave an apartment I've been familiar with for only three days without waking anybody up. MISSON STATUS: FAILURE (AirBnB review pending)
6AM, Lisbon Airport: MISSION: to persuade a ticket agent that I should be given a boarding pass for my flight to Rio de Janeiro (via Madrid) despite not having a ticket which proves I will ultimately be LEAVING Rio de Janeiro. Apparently, the government of Brazil "could" deny my entrance into the country without proof of my leaving. Sample attempt at my persuasion: "Why the hell would I WANT to live in Brazil?" MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED (though boarding pass was accompanied with overt disdain, several pidgin English "I'm aware of that, Sir,"s and one "Well, good luck, Sir," from the ticket agent)
7:45AM (Lisbon time) to 7:45PM (Rio time): MISSION: to get some sleep while flying. MISSION STATUS: FAILURE (ABJECT)
7:45AM (Lisbon time) to 7:45PM (Rio time): MISSION: to find something new in the 537th viewing of MILLER'S CROSSING. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED (In the opening scene, Jon Polito almost loses his overcoat off his shoulders as he says, "You'se fancy-pants, all of you'se." Never noticed it before, enjoyed watching those five seconds five more times...)
8PM, Rio Airport: MISSION: to pass through immigration without having to lie about a phony itinerary to leave Brazil ("Uh, der, I'm flying to Montevides on the 15th. Uh, der, I wanted to wait to buy my ticket 'cuz, der..." MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED (Benefitting from way too many people on line to ask ANYbody ANY questions about any aspect of their visit to Brazil, I sail through immigration.)
8:15PM, Rio Airport: MISSION: to procure my backpack without waiting for-EVER, as has been the custom on this trip. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED (backpack emerged out of the back just as I turned into "Baggage" and looked for it. SYNCHRONICITY, YO!)
8:20PM, Rio Airport: MISSION: to procure a taxicab that will not rip me off. MISSION STATUS: FAILURE (my host's response when I told her the price: "Oh, you paid way too much.")
8:45PM, Rio - MISSION: to leave my bag at the apartment where I'm staying, meet my hostess, and leave for a sports' bar that is showing the Super Bowl without being abnormally rude to the hostess, who has already proven herself to be the definition of lovely. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED (Hostess: "It is going to rain. You need my umbrella. Do not say 'No.' I will not watch the game, but as Gisele is my girl, I am supporting her husband and the Patriots.") (AirBnB review pending)
9PM, Rio - MISSION: to get a taxicab that will not rip me off, and to find Shenanigans (Irish pub in Rio that prides itself on showing American football) by kickoff time. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED (Cab driver: "I know where we are going. You do not need to keep asking.")
9:28PM, Shenanigans, Rio. MISSION: to find a solitary square foot to stand on and watch the game amongst a massive swell of Brazilians drinking, laughing, and singing soccer songs, replacing certain words with "Seahawks" or "Tom Brady" before John Legend finishes singing the national anthem. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED (upon persuading bartender to stash my host's umbrella).
9:29PM, Shenanigans, Rio. MISSION: to chastise myself as an idiot for wondering why anyone would want to live in Brazil. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED
9:30PM, Shenanigans, Rio. MISSION: to strike up conversation with woman who looks like a Brazilian Rachel McAdams standing next to me, watching by herself. MISSION STATUS: FAILURE (ABJECT)
9:45PM, Shenanigans, Rio. MISSION: to not see an omen in racing across the world to make it in time for kickoff, only to deal with the bar's shitty satellite. (Shitty satellite reception was only a problem through the 1st quarter...) MISSION STATUS: ???
10:15PM, Shenanigans, Rio. MISSION: AGAIN, to strike up conversation with woman who looks like a Brazilian Rachel McAdams standing next to me, watching by herself. MISSION STATUS: FAILURE (ABJECT)
10:37PM, Shenanigans, Rio. MISSION: to correct the Brazilian Patriots fan wearing a Tom Brady jersey who continually yells out, "Marshawn Lynch is a BITCH! Marshawn Lynch is a BITCH!" by simply saying, "You are incorrect on this point." MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED ("Yeah, I don't know much about American football. Is Marshawn Lynch good? Which Seattle Seahawks would you say ARE bitches?")
11:18PM, Shenanigans, Rio. MISSION: to take solace in the fact that despite failing at starting a conversation with the woman who looks like a Brazilian Rachel McAdams, she is watching the game in the same exact pose I am watching the game (arms crossed, chin resting on one fist holding a beer), confirmed by her noticing our poses, shrugging, smiling at me, then going back into the pose, checking with my pose to verify accuracy. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED
12:08AM, Shenanigans, Rio. MISSION: to make someone within earshot laugh with my joke that "What's the big deal? I've been imagining Katy Perry and Missy Elliott together for years..." MISSION STATUS: CONFUSION
12:16AM, Shenanigans, Rio. MISSION: AGAIN, to strike up conversation with woman who looks like a Brazilian Rachel McAdams standing next to me, watching by herself. MISSION STATUS: FAILURE (ABJECT)
1:30AM, Rio: MISSION: to catch a taxicab to take me "home" that will not rip me off. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED
1:45AM, Rio: MISSION: to actually direct cab driver to the apartment where I'm staying, using a post-it note with the address and my horrendous pidgin Portuguese. MISSION STATUS: FAILURE (ABJECT)
1:48AM, Rio: MISSION: to arrive at apartment via cab without having to drive around the same block five times. MISSION STATUS: FAILURE (ABJECT)
2:00AM, Rio: MISSION: to try to get the cab driver to find apartment before my increasingly snide sarcasm ("Why should you know where you're going? You're just the cab driver. Yeah, this is the same exact wrong street as before - what're the odds?") is a)understood and b)enough to get my drunken ass thrown out of cab. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED (BARELY)
2:05AM, Rio: MISSION: to try to enter an apartment that requires the use of three separate keys, and that I've seen for five minutes to this point, and enter my bedroom, without waking my lovely hostess, after having six Heinekens and while carrying a McDonald's take-out bag. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED? (AirBnB review pending)
12noon, Monday, February 2nd: MISSION: to take a taxicab back to Shenanigans and recover the hostess's umbrella which you left at the bar before it gets discarded and truly jeopardizes your perfect AirBnB review record. MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED ("It says something to me about you that you went back to retrieve it.")

Oh, by the way. Sunday's arrival in Rio makes 20 countries on six continents visited to this point. (DON'T HATE THE PLAYER, ANTARCTICA. HATE THE GAME.)

And I'm starting to think...OVERALL MISSION: ACCOMPLISHED...

26 February 2015:
The train kept stopping and starting, sometimes every goddamn two minutes. I was getting frustrated. Each time the train stopped, not at a station but in the middle of the countryside, seemingly waiting for nothing, I alternated glances from my iPhone, to out the window, to the rest of the car. Outside, the sky was a brilliant blue and held stark, white clouds, and the fields and rice patties of the eastern Thai countryside were a shimmering green, a painting come alive. Inside, however, the train car was hot and humid despite all the windows being wide open, was loud from the chatter of families, the laughter of children, and the sales calls of vendors walking the aides with buckets of sauced rice, skewered chicken, and vegetables, and was smelly from sauced rice, skewered chicken and vegetables, and the sweat of the crowds of people sitting three to every two seats and packed in the aisle, a nightmare come alive.

My glances at my phone were hopeful; I wanted the time on the display to somehow promise that despite the slow pace, the train WAS going to arrive on time, to reassure me that this leg of the commute was almost over, that soon enough I’d be on my way to the next step.

The phone neither promised nor reassured. It apologized. It read 1:16pm. The train was supposed to have arrived at 1:16pm. The train was not going to arrive at 1:16pm.

The train from Bangkok wasn’t even going all the way to Siem Reap. It would stop at the Thailand border, at the small town called Aranyaprathet, and from there I would pass through immigration, then cross over the border into Cambodia, where I would, er, pass through immigration, then pick up a bus in another small town called Poipet, which would take me to a bus station somewhere down the road, where I would catch, er, ANOTHER bus that would take me the rest of the way to Siem Reap.

I had been told that the buses in Poipet left with regularity each day, until they no longer did. Nobody I asked seemed to know at what point in the day they no longer did. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if that point was 1:17pm.

So I was concerned that I would miss the last bus to the last bus to Siem Reap, which would make me miss my reservation to my Siem Reap hotel, which would make me miss seeing Angkor Wat the next day, which would, which would, DOMINOS FALLING…and after each glance at my phone, my glance around the rest of the train car became more and more frantic. I could feel the car closing in on me. Why wouldn’t it start moving again? WHEN would it start moving again? Every moment seemed to bring more and more people into the car. What if I had to walk down the aisle? It was jammed, it would be impossible. WHEN would this train start moving?

I looked at my phone again - 1:17 - then up at the car. Across the aisle, in the seat facing me was an old Thai woman. Wrinkled, worn, her white hair pulled back into a bun, she seemed perfectly comfortable despite the heat and chaos. She stared at me. I looked back at my phone to avoid her gaze: still 1:17.

I looked back up.

She was still staring at me, but now she was smiling, and her smile held my gaze.

She nodded her forehead toward the phone in my hand, shook her head and said to me in accented English, “Forget the time.”


Time on this trip has proven to be a paradox. From the beginning, when I had almost ten blank months in a planner to fill with experiences, it seemed endless. “I have all the time in the world,” I thought back in July. Planning my loose agenda around the globe, I worried that I couldn’t possibly have enough places and events to cover all of the days. As I would itemize places with those days ("three days in Singapore, five in Kuala Lampur..."), however, I would suddenly be gripped with the realization that the days would burn quickly. I wanted to be able to devote enough time to every single place I visited but that clearly proved impossible. “If I go to Nepal for two weeks and have to be in London on January 3rd, that really tightens up India and I’ll barely have time for Africa…” and so on.

“Time flies.”

If this trip ends when I imagined it would, it will have lasted 288 days, almost ten months. Back in July, when I thought about how many days were left, it seemed impossible that they would all come and pass. On some level, it still feels that way. Today, it’s almost eight months into the journey and there are still fifty days remaining. Fifty! Even after almost 240, fifty days seems like a pile, somehow. I know, however, that those days are going to pass like a (snap) of my fingers. Well, perhaps not like a (snap), the days neither fly nor drag by (see below), but they WILL pass. They are going to come and go.

“Time is running out.”

This trip is ending soon. How I can feel both that the trip has a long ways to go yet is almost over confuses me. But I am determined to not let it affect how I feel about it. I’m determined to “forget the time” and recognize how all times must end.

“It’s about time.”

I find myself at once looking forward to my trip’s conclusion but also dreading it, for the conclusion not only means that I’m no longer ON this adventure - “time’s up” - but that the next part of the adventure will be here and I’ll be forced to address it. I want to get a lot of work done when the next part of this adventure begins in April, and for that to happen I better learn to manage my time. Right now, I don’t know exactly how I’ll address it. “Only time will tell.” Also, how will this trip have changed me? I don’t know. “Only time will tell.”

I have to remind myself that this trip is its own animal, just like whatever happens after the trip is over is its own animal, and that there is no “right” amount of days for anywhere I’m going, no matter where I end up…

…Just as there’s no “right” amount of ways to spend each day now. One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about this whole trip is I’ve allowed myself to spend my time the way I want, to even WASTE some time along the way. There have been days I’ve seen eight tourist attractions, days where I've seen billions of dollars'  worth of art, and days where I’ve done nothing but watch “Parks & Recreation” on my laptop. I do what I want with my time, and I decide what I want to do with my time, often right at the time. That’s a paradox for me, too. For so much of life, most of us have somewhere to be at a certain time. Work at a certain time, until a certain time. You have to be here then, and here then. Aside from catching a bus, train, or plane, that has not been an issue for me in the past eight months. It takes some getting used to. So I’ve been able to work on what that Thai woman told me, to work on “forgetting the time,” because for these 288 days, time hasn’t really mattered.

"My time is my own…"

…even the time that’s passed. Again, the days themselves don't move slowly. The past on this trip, however, has become a distant yet flexible accordion of memories. Perhaps it’s because the trip has been so long, or perhaps it’s because I’ve spent a great amount of it alone, unable to immediately bounce the experiences off another for perspective, but every day that passes seems to instantly zoom into the distant past, as if it hyperspaces away from me, a spaceship of a day's worth of images and feelings. The day I drove my rental car out of the Chateau Marmont parking lot seems a million miles away. Australia seems forever ago. The day I arrived in Rio seems the same forever ago, but it was less than a month that I was trying to memorize fake exit itineraries at the Lisbon airport to ensure Brazil would grant me entrance. Last year I couldn't remember an actor's name - JOHN C. REILLY, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? - while watching him in a movie. So I’m convinced that soon I’m going to try to look back on this whole journey but my mind will have discarded everything. But it hasn’t yet. I don’t forget anything about this trip. When I choose to think about a day gone by, it comes right back to me as if I’m pulling on it with a bungee cord. It snaps into focus and I find new details every single time I dwell on it. But once a day is over during this trip, it’s almost as if it becomes a cherished memory right away. It’s given weight. That’s a strange feeling. Is it because it’s part of something “special” to me? Is it because it’s MINE, and mine alone? In normal life, I struggle to remember the previous Tuesday. But so far, I’ve been able to flip through my mental catalogue of every single day since July 3rd, 2014 and see each day as vividly as if it were today. I may have to snap it back to me, but every day is an important time…

…even when the day involves something I’ve gone through time and time again. So many bus rides, through the hearts of Asia and South America, where I look out the window at the countryside while I listen to my iPhone to pass the time. So many train rides, across Europe and Australia, over nights, where I listen to my iPhone and struggle to sleep for a suitable time. So many immigration checkpoints, where I wait on line, worry that I’ll have the right visas and fees and stamps, while I listen to my iPhone and bide my time. So many rituals - “Find an ATM, find a currency exchange, find the subway, find the place where you’re staying, Billy, THEN you can grab breakfast/lunch/dinner/a beer, THEN you can decide where your coffee shop is, THEN you can start to explore…” So many hotel rooms. So many AirBnB apartments, where so many times I feel like an intruder for only a brief while before my host makes me feel as if I’ve never been more welcome than where I am at that moment.

Not so many hostels, heh.

So many mornings getting up too early to pack my backpack, to try another way to make the packed bag more compact, to realize I could’ve slept another half-hour, to check out, to say goodbye to my host, to get back to the bus station on time, the train station ahead of time, the airport with plenty of time, to leave - most of the time leave only for A time, ‘cause I WILL be back ANOTHER time - to go to the next place...

...where, more often than not, I’ll have a great time.

The repetition can be numbing, the logistics and the movement providing nothing tangible really except for discomfort and occasionally panic. But that repetition is as part of the journey as everything else, and as much as I can hate it at the time, it can also be those logistics, that discomfort, that introduces you to another traveler who’s just as uncomfortable, and suddenly a friendship is born. All it takes is taking a breath and asking, “Where are you traveling from?” and the follow-up, “Do you speak English?” Sometimes those logistics, and the physical act of movement, from the room, to the station, to the border, over the border, onto the next destination, can be a comforting sense of deja vu…

(…and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I AM actually crossing over the Brazil/Argentina border at the EXACT same spot for the SECOND time in four days not because of some sense of deja vu, but because the first time I tried to cross I had neglected to pay the Argentine Reciprocity Fee and no, as a matter of fact one CAN’T pay that AT the border even though it’s 2015 and it’s as simple as having a credit card machine there, so yeah, I’m not getting into Argentina and no, the next bus from Foz do Iguacu to Buenos Aires isn’t until Sunday, so yeah, I’m going to have to walk BACK to Brazil and hope that I can change my ticket and argue with the ticket agent via his computer’s Google Tranlate and then realize I didn’t get my passport stamped for me coming BACK into Brazil so I’m going to have to walk BACK to the border from whence I just came and get that stamp and lemme tell ya,by the end of it I’m gonna say, “Fuck it, I don’t care how much the hotel costs,” because that’s just going to be all-the-way-around a shitty time…)

…But one day I’ll be able to ask myself, “Remember the time you got rejected trying to cross the border into Argentina?” and the memory and anecdote will be worth it. And in between the logistics are the day-to-day, once in a lifetime experiences I'll be able to ask myself, "Remember the time?" Just like I’ll be able to ask myself, “Remember the time you thought a guy was pointing a gun at you at that Hungry Jack's at three in the morning in Adelaide, Australia?” and “Remember the time you were so close to a swimming dolphin in Bali you could’ve stuck your finger in its blowhole?” and “Remember the time you sang karaoke in Beijing with two different sets of people within four hours of each other?” and “Remember the time that woman in Vientiane offered you a full-time job as a bar manager on the spot?” and “Remember the time you walked around London for the first time?” and “Remember the time you first caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower?” and “Remember the time you made a friend in Perth/Singapore/Nepal/Barcelona/Rio/on/on/on?”  

And on and on and on. So maybe, with all due respect to that old Thai woman, I will, but I won’t, “forget the time.”

But I’ll remember the time someone told me to forget the time, and how important that time was to me. 

20 March 2015:
Possible Soundtrack Selections for Scene in San Salvador International Airport - (INCLUDES PRODUCTION NOTES)
I had seven hours to kill in the San Salvador International Airport before my connection to Managua, Nicaragua. So, in addition to:

1. drinking too much coffee
2. drinking too much beer
3. lingering wa-ay too long in the Kenneth Cole Duty-Free Shop (I’m very much looking forward to starting a wardrobe again once I get back to the States, a wardrobe that doesn't include t-shirts and cargo shorts)
4. actually window-shopping and testing men’s fragrances*
5. watching a simulated FIFA 2016 video game match and cursing a video Luis Suarez
6. coming up with the following expression (to be used when, in the future, a daughter of mine comes down the stairs dressed too provocatively for, like a date or something): “Go back upstairs and change. You look like you work at a duty-free shop in the San Salvador International Airport.” (shrug) I’m working on it…
*Men's fragrances suck. Nothing beats simple Edge Gel After-Shave. If only I had some. Man, do I smell. 

…in addition to all that, I-

7. created my: “Top Ten Possible Songs (Using Only the ‘Physical’ Playlist On My iTunes) to Accompany The Scene at Plot Point One of My Action/Thriller Blockbuster Movie Where I Exit a San Salvador International Airport Men’s Room Upon De-planing/Freshening Up & Then Stride Through the Crowds With EXTREME Purpose To Meet With SOME-one Important, Unknown As Yet to Audience (While Wearing a Backpack)”

I did this by doing approximately one dozen laps of the San Salvador International Airport Departure Gates 1 -18. For each song, I started in the men’s room, washing my face, looking at myself in the mirror, and then - AT THE PERFECT MOMENT - striding out of the banos and walking.

I managed to listen to ten possible songs before a)the weird looks from the women working at the various duty-free shops became too much to ignore and b)the annoyed looks from the policeman at Gate 16, with the combat pants tucked into the boots, the semi-automatic on his hip, and German Shepherd at his side, became too much to ignore. 

Without further adieu. In descending order (with accompanying “PRODUCTION PROS/CONS”):

9. “In My Time of Dying” - Led Zeppelin.

PROS: esoteric, deep Led Zep cut, so old it’s new? Attract baby-boomers?
CONS: way too long; too much buildup before the song accelerates; not esoteric in fact, way too old for today’s film audiences; baby-boomers not wanted as primary demographic.

8. “Lonely Boy” - The Black Keys.

PROS: guitar intro works nicely with washing of face/paper towel wipe of face/serious, questioning look at self in mirror at men’s room sink.
CONS: overused at this point; a little on-the-nose. 

7. “Destino de Abril” - Rick Garcia & Rene Reyes.

PROS: A Latin song for a Latin American Airport? Synergy?
CONS: No, way too on-the-nose for a Latin American airport - REMEMBER, THE MUSIC IS TO ACCENT THE CHARACTER, NOT THE LOCATION; I walk too fast for the rhythm - maybe for the sequel when I’m sixty.

6. “Call to Arms” - Angels & Airwaves.

PROS: Good men’s room sink buildup/switch (see  8), perhaps just the right touch of hope for an anti-hero?
CONS: Too positive for an anti-hero? Blink-182 is much better band, we don’t want to remind audiences of that. I can just imagine the preview cards: “What, you were too cheap to get Blink?” Don’t go there.

5. “The Pretender” - Foo Fighters.

PROS: symbolism in song title? Dave Grohl would be a perfect cameo for surfer I met in Costa Rica.
CONS: Nirvana is a better band (see 6).

4. “Tougher Than Leather” - Run-DMC.

PROS: perfect rhythm/beat to match my stride; old-school hip-hop provides good background to character; probably affordable.
CONS: Kevin Smith already used it in one of his pieces of shit (CLERKS II?), not good to link with his hackery; hip-hop with wailing electric guitars may confuse audience; when examined, lyrics are really pretty stupid and inane (Run-DMC really got kind of a pass on this). I mean, they say "unconceivable" when it should be "inconceivable" - that's unconscionable. Can't in good conscience use this piece of music.

3. “This Is War” - 30 Seconds to Mars.

PROS: primal scream in song’s beginning really works when I get stuck walking behind old people in airports; there are several good opportunities for me to actually begin SPRINTING through airport - RELATABLE; chorus at song’s end a terrific opportunity for me to start dodging fellow pedestrians, a la O.J. Simpson in Hertz commercials.
CONS: Running through airports a la O.J. Simpson has been ruined by O.J. Simpson; would probably rather work with O.J. Simpson than with Jared Leto.

2. (tie) “Picasso Baby” - Jay Z.

PROS: severe switch of beats in song’s middle is perfect for the “finish my coffee white mocha/toss into garbage can/finger point at airport janitor all in one motion” - good discovery, there (REHEARSALS MATTER.); perhaps get Beyonce as female lead?
CONS:really listen to too much Jay Z; pretty clear Jay Z is just reeling off names of artists he’s familiar with; I’m still uncertain  as to whether the “Fox’s Box” is referring to Megan or Vivica A. - confusing?

2. (tie) “Trip Like I Do” - Crystal Method.

PROS: hip; energetic; vaguely nymphomaniac female voice lends sex and this film WILL BE SEXY. “I want you to trip like I do,” is a lyric that lends synergy to the sequence - LEVELS.
CONS: San Salvador International Airport not really a “rave-like” location; felt strange to be staring at myself in the mirror with a dude repeating, “The Christian…”; this film should be agnostic; I may be, in fact, too “techno-looking” for this piece of music.

1. “Force Marker” (from the film HEAT) - Brian Eno.

PROS: perfect “stride through crowd” piece of music; energetic; guaranteed to get audience involved for Act Two. 
CONS: makes me want to rob the nearest bank wearing a suit and then conduct a  firefight on Figueroa Av. - COST PROHIBITIVE. Table until foreign financing secured.

03 APRIL 2015:
(Motioned from the head of the line, BILL approaches the CUSTOM AGENT, sitting behind his kiosk. Bill hands over his passport and his United States Customs Declaration Form.)
BILL: How’re you doing?
AGENT: Good, good. How’re you?
BILL: I am fine.
(The agent looks at Bill’s passport, then runs it through the scanner.)
AGENT: What brought you to Mexico? Business or pleasure?
BILL: Pleasure. Actually the end of traveling-
AGENT: Uh-huh.
(The agent thumbs through Bill’s passport.)
AGENT: You know, if you travel this much, you should look into our Global Entry Program.
(He searches and finds a business card and hands it to Bill.)
AGENT: It’s really useful for people who travel a lot. You can just go to one of the automatic kiosks and process yourself right through. You should think about it.
BILL: Yeah, thanks a lot. I’ve been traveling for nine straight months, though. I don’t think I’m gonna be traveling much more in the near future. It was amazing but I'm probably gonna take a break for a little bit.
AGENT: You should really look into it; it’s a great program.
BILL: Cool. I’ll look into it.
BILL: Oh, is that it?
AGENT: Yup. Take care.
(Bill walks away from the kiosk, and back into the United States of America.)