But First, The Dream
Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
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Some people wedge themselves into a life, into the confines of western society and cocoon themselves in percale predictability and mind-numbing comfort; I have shunned that all my life. I never quite understood the American Dream, but I certainly don't have to masturbate with an eggbeater to know that engaging in either would be downright unpleasant.
When I was a child there was a family photo in on my grandparents' console television set. I can still see it now: father's beet-red face hovering over the grill, and then there's mother in her Laura Ashley knock-off in the background, beaming gumball-eyed as she glops another glass of sherbet punch for her adoring children. It was those asshole Jehovah Witnesses, the Chandlers who lived across the street -- bastards didn't even celebrate birthdays or Christmas. I don't know what was more depressing, a cake-less birthday or the madras headband but I was hell-bent on fleeing DoucheBagistan just as soon as I could.
I always dreamed of the life of an expatriate wearing terrific costumes, living in balmy colonial splendor scribbling the day's adventures in notebooks on a decaying verandah; the sounds of clinking ice in my late afternoon gin and tonic, and a parrot's caw in the distance. I used to daydream of crouching low in the savannah wearing a pith helmet adorned with a terrific Pucci scarf, cigarette held high above the tall grass; the next day scaling up stone steps to temples strangled by jungles with heat as thick as syrup. Then, later in the evening, lounging in a white linen cheongsam at a café straight from a Somerset Maugham novel I'd while away the sultry night with exotic tales to my footman, who later screws the living daylights out of me and steals my handbag. It wouldn't all happen quite like that, but hope springs eternal.
Last year while in Vietnam, I immediately fell into a snare of liberating rituals, daily planning my adventures over breakfast in guesthouse lobbies, then venturing out into the throws of another world. In the day I strolled though marketplaces meeting locals, took a boat trip through a fog-curtained Halong Bay, crawled through the back-scraping tunnels of Cu Chi, and even drank snake whiskey as the guest of honor at the funeral of my cyclo driver's mother. At night, however I sought the comfort and familiarity of round-eyes, and booze. In the Pham Gnu Laos section of Saigon I hung out everyday at a sort of cleaned-up Platoon bar called, Allez Boo. Sometimes in the afternoon I would stop by for cup of viscous coffee at one of the outdoor tables and read the paper, but not one of my 10 nights in Ho Chi Minh City passed without at least a nightcap there - or several.
One night at a table of 8 solo-travelers from all over the world, someone asked the respective lengths of everyone's journeys. There were a couple of gap-year kids from the UK, the Swede had been traveling for over a year and a half, a Canadian beer ad executive was in the first few months of his one year adventure, and the rest ranged from 3 to 6 months on average. I was the only one who answered, "two and a half weeks." Someone that night said to me, "You should see the world while you're still here." I wrote it down. It became my mantra.
When I got back home I printed out my favorite quote by fellow Sagittarian, Mark Twain and taped it to my computer:
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
I'd never saved more than a thousand dollars in my life but another quote inspired me further. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "You must do the things that you think you cannot do". I was determined to live my dream. Nothing would stop me now.
I began by aggressively cutting my paycheck in half and funneling my earnings into a savings account. It wasn't easy, for while I paraded about in expensive Japanese designers while managing one of the city's finest restaurants I earned less than most waiters and a fraction of the bartenders. I had to make some cuts to my daily budget. I no longer looked in the windows of the Issey Miyake boutique on Prince, and I wouldn't even walk on the same side of the street as Kee's Chocolates on Thompson. I stopped going to the theatre, which has always been one of my greatest loves, and even a cursory glance at the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times was painful. While a tremendous fan of independent and foreign cinema I now refused the ten-dollar admission and ordered films from the library instead.
I quit smoking. After 14 years of two and a half packs a day I quit cold turkey; my desire to travel had now superseded my desire for the sophistication of shivering outside New York nightclubs in sub-zero temperatures swaging a smoke.
I stopped taking taxis, and even at four in the morning with my head bobbing in and out of Asian and Middle Eastern history books I took the subway instead. I once awoke to the rustle of a vinyl jacket. A man was standing in front of me, his crotch at eye-level; he was viciously chaffing his penis, which looked not unlike a gherkin pickle wrapped in black cheesecloth. As if that weren't bad enough, he was wearing a Members Only jacket -- a club of dwindling membership, no doubt. "OH, my word, how unsightly! This is not the sort of thing one does in polite society", I told him "These shenanigans are inappropriate! For the love of God, I'm trying to sleep here"!
I even cut food portions in half. While I ordered from the from the same Thai restaurant once a week, I requested extra rice and put half of the Masamaan chicken on my plate, then refrigerated the other half for my next meal. At the restaurant where I managed I would fill up on bread then eat half of my dinner and take the rest home for lunch the next day.
I gave myself a budget of fifty-dollars a day for my journey. I then counted out the weeks prior to leaving and calculated how much I'd be able to save before flying out on New Year's Eve. I was now committed to 111 days. The dye was cast.
Armed with every travel guide from Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe I set about planning my journey. The most important criterion was that the countries have something interesting to see, do or buy, but of equal importance was the budget. With the exception of Prague, if the country did not have clean, en suite rooms with air-conditioning for under $20.00 USD they were swept off the list.
In October, I had a rough plan, and after months of searching online for around-the-world tickets and speaking to travel agents, an open-jaw ticket was clearly my best option. I booked a flight from JFK to Bangkok, Prague to JFK. The rest of the journey will be up to me as to how and when I get there - mostly overland when possible.
To ensure that I didn't slip up and start blowing my savings I was obsessive about remaining focused; I read only what pertained to my trip, watched only films set in, or filmed in the countries where I will travel, and often I imagined myself walking through the streets of Cairo, Bangkok, Mandalay, and Prague and what they might sound and smell like.
I gave two months notice at my job and consequently found myself wadding through a trough of guilt. The proprietor took it well however and I was lauded for my decision. In my three-year tenure at SoHo's Aquagrill I'd been lucky -- fortunate even, to have met and gotten to know on so many levels some amazing people there from the Mexican dishwashers who've called me their Corazon to the Sunday brunch regulars who've called me their friend. So many people were supportive, and several gave me envelopes to, as one said, "Have a couple of drinks on me". What one of my regulars thought would buy me a "couple drinks" was actually my entire daily budget. I would at least have a couple of days of splurging to be sure.
And so in four weeks I will venture onward to Bangkok and work my way around this globe in one hundred and eleven days. In that time I know that I will not only be traveling around the world but that my world itself will undoubtedly change. I may not fit in once I'm there either but one thing's for certain: I found a way out.
[Please visit my new online magazine: www.glittersnipe.com, as well]