Table of Contents

Prologue

It was women who led me to travel. In 1982, there was the Eurail trip across Europe on discounted trains. I swept through Paris, Geneva, Milan, then a bit of Germany before Amsterdam and back. A Gilded Age Grand Tour. But the following summer, Sophie stayed on a kibbutz and then travelled through the West Bank to Jordan and beyond. Going further afield was a thing, no matter what the news reported. And when I met up with Peggy, she showed me photos of 15 months around Asia and the world opened up.

وا حد. First Sight

Took the death plane from Heathrow, a numbing multi-stop ride, first Schipol then Sofia, which only a few of us survived, before we arrived, 2 o’clock in the morning. On each land the empty seats flopped forward, their backs pointing to the ceiling, crash position. Was that the best position to make it through?

สอง. Rubies and Rucksacks

A well-dressed man in a formal gray suit came up to me to ask where I was from. I was standing in Sanam Luang park in front of the Grand Palace when he approached, and he had a generous smile, was fluent in English. It was my third day in Bangkok and up until then I had been alone.

三. Hong Kong, a Love Story

I’m a-walking down Nathan Road with a strut in my legs like I’m dancing, the crowds thick as steam off the paving. Cars are pressed cheek to cheek and blowing fury and the neon billboards stretch into the middle of the road ends touching and bouncing fire red and orange; and I’m seeing all this on my toes, alive with the noise rattling in my ears, the clatter of kettle drums and disco beats, and high pitched screams like noodle sucks and slurps and the slice of a gaggling chicken throat.

Apat. Life in Paradise Part 1

Karin skipped through the barriers and past a security guard. She took one final look back at me, over her shoulder and her eyes were green as the misty slopes of her Cambrian childhood, glistening despite the cold neon lights.

Lima. Life in Paradise Part 2

Karin was with a friend. They came over together, grabbed another chair for our table, and then they sat down. Karin looked pleased to see me. Her friend looked at me with contempt. I didn’t look pleased to see Karin.

Anim. Life in Paradise Part 3

Rory sensed that I wanted to be alone so he arranged to meet me later that evening, then he flagged a jeepney to take him to Smokey Mountain. I just wandered around town.

Pitu. The Moon Dance

A pale moon, the color of muslin, lit the town with the soft touch of cat’s fur. It remained un-wavered by thin grey wisps of cloud that passed in front; the streets were dark with shadows that bulged and re-formed as the figures moved through them, slow stately figures gliding like statues on air, and the women treaded with the soft pat of thongs as girls who kicked puffs of dirt around them flitted this way and that behind serene mothers.

Escape to Singapore

Lapan. Escape to Singapore

I arrived in Singapore after being burnt in Jakarta. And I had been told how dangerous it was but after six months of travel through already dubious locations I had become complacent. The late-night bus from Bandung was just pulling into Kalideres. A short trip and I had the whole bench, rucksack above, daypack below. Normally I would have used the daypack as a pillow, but the bench was wooden and not cushioned. It could only seat two and it was not possible to lie across it. Still, this time I was not thinking.

Three Continent Disease Conversations

Sembilan. Three Continent Disease Conversations

“Cholera is not that serious. You can cure it easily…”

Sepuluh. The Boat and the Brothel

We unfolded the map for crossings into Thailand, spread it across the table in the center of the dorm and held up the guidebook to see how it would match.

สิบเอ็ด. Our Selfish War Part 1

To the left, the broken dam had caused the valley flood… The water chased the road around each curve, disappeared behind cleared out mounds of mud then came back to swamp them in a pall of grey mist. Black trees stuck out leafless and drowning, isolated stick creatures stretched out as frozen cracks on the surface. Wooden huts sat like fat shining slugs on gnarled logs in the water, some huddled close, linked with rotting planks, while others were pushed away from the pack, as if they had quietly lost their mooring and had absent-mindedly floated away.

สิบสอง. Our Selfish War Part 2

A Thai soldier adjusts his steel-rimmed sunglasses. He stands legs astride, feels the tension in his thighs, holds the gun from the hip. He raises a bottle of whisky to his lips, eats glass he does and watches old American war movies. Likes to sprinkle bullets in the air when he’s alone, and when he’s not he fucks with boots on. She can see her face in the shine.

ဆယ့်သုံး. Reporting from Rangoon Part 1

Dressed in faded denims, he wandered past bottles wrapped in shining glittered paper for the connoisseurs of fine liquors. His shirt was stained and punctured with wear. Jeans stretched, they hung loosely around his buttocks and were frayed at the ankles. Sweat gathered in black shavings where the plastic straps of his thongs rubbed his toes. And he shuffled around the aisles, parted the hair away from his eyes and stared along the display for the right whisky.

ဆယ့်လေး. Reporting from Rangoon Part 2

All around the walls hung heavy sequined tapestries. Scenes of death, love, of the battle; of evil and good; of the demons and the heroes of the Ramakien, all portrayed in relief. Rich gold embossed details on coarse brown fabric. A Burmese man sat at a table tuning a receiver to the World Service.

བཅུ་​ལྔ་. No Limits

It would be a long bus journey from Lijiang to get there and it was not clear where I would stay once I was there. The guide books did not show anything. And it was not certain why it was off limits. Perhaps it was a route, albeit circuitous to Tibet. Perhaps it was because the society who lived there was matriarchal.

十六. The Mao Cap

We’d gone to Dali, to a market on the lake, but Ben had fallen ill with dysentery so we hadn’t been able to stay long. In fact it had gotten so bad that we had to get him to Xichang to find help. I too, had run up a fever after we’d been caught on the hills in the rain with only our T-shirts… It was only Darius who was OK.

семнадцать. The Mule

Jed took hold of the dried lizards, I took the bong and together we ran to the train. A three foot bong is difficult enough to handle without having both hands occupied with plastic bags of food and drink, and a rucksack on your back. I pinched it under my arm and stepped out from the tourist waiting room into a calm night heat. The sounds of Beijing eluded us on the platform.

じゅうはち. One Night in Shibuya

The countdown had begun; music span from the speakers, clubbers jumped up, arms in the air, shouted each number, thirty-nine, thirty-eight, thirty-seven, music beating each second with its rhythm. Alone in a corner, slumped against the wall, thinking, I was trying to remember the year that was nearly over. How apt it was to be single, now, just as I had been when it had begun.

Another Japan

Out with the new and in with the old.

تسعة عشر. Girlfriends and Sisters

Haroun was of a naturally nervous disposition. Already self-conscious and clumsy, this also made him appear stupid in other people’s eyes which then exaggerated his already scattered behaviour.

Twenty. Tears for the Wedding

It was on a new continent that I pushed past the hustle and bustle of the main streets and followed the line along the shore. Further from the town piles of rejected drums lay like scattered rocks by the roadside. The Garifuna are famous for their drumming. On a boat to Caye Caulker a man had advised that the only good accommodation was three bamboo tree houses hidden away in a small bay further south; he kept repeating, “Go to the tree houses, go to the tree houses.”

La Ruta Maya

It was Karin who advised me to go.

Veintiuno. Alice Part 1

When the woman I was making love to turned into a pig I knew that I had become too cynical. I watched her face fill out, her cheeks lose their definition and her nose turn up at me to form a perfectly cylindrical snout. Her skin became rough. It became pockmarked and covered in fine grey hairs and then her mouth widened and opened up to reveal a coarse and unclean set of teeth.

Veintidós. To the Interior

I needed to venture beyond the safe confines of the Gringo trail. I had spent Christmas in Utila with an incongruous group of travelers and I was getting frustrated that the trip was turning more bar hop than adventure hop. A flamenco dancer from Amsterdam and a group of university students from Cork were my group then and we gathered nightly in the one or other of the two bars which had ‘Pirate’ in the name.

Veintitrés. High Lands

Alone again, and I had all the time to look at the room. It was unseasonably hot and I switched the fan to circulate the heat from the walls. It started slowly, each blade cutting the air in steady breaths until it spun into a whorl that swept the hair away from my face. The light was off and from the window, dusk shifted a red and orange hue across the walls. I looked out and beyond the river. The silhouettes of corn terraces scanned the valley, black mountainside beneath red shimmered light, a dying sun that left colours in the water like blood on oil.

Veinticuatro. Alice Part 2

Alice slipped her arm under mine as if to seek protection in the folds of my body but I felt like a child warmed in her embrace. Each step we took through the mist revealed a new tree broken from its roots and lain flat on grass that shone with the morning dew. I asked: “Why does your father always talk to me about religion?”

Vo’ob Xcha’-vinik. Alice Part 3

I wandered out into the cool night air and headed away from the quiet end of Roma Norte towards the bars along the Avenida Álvaro Obregón. Then I stopped to look at a bulletin on the door of a jazz café when suddenly a man pulled me by the arm and shoved me inside.

Twenty-Six. The Language Divides

Washington DC was the murder capital of the US. The deaths peaked in 1991 when almost 500 died that year out of a population of 606,901. Lafayette Park, next to the White House, was unsafe at night. Needle Park, a few more blocks up was also not recommended. East of 14th, forget it. So when I drove to DC from North Carolina, I was terrified of making the wrong turn.

A Blossom in the House

ยี่สิบเจ็ด. A Blossom in the House

And the blossoms swung gently descending, gently suspended and gently falling through the air until they slid to a halt on the floor, each laid open and silently breathing.

Hai mươi tám. The Blind Rickshaw Driver

My rickshaw driver was unable to see clearly, was continually adjusting his ill fitting glasses, and with our near accidents on the traffic roundabouts, I suspected he was half blind. But every day he was there to pull me through dusty, noisy back alleys to the market for a breakfast of yellow mangoes. He was my go-to for all the sights around Saigon.

二十九. Hong Kong Handover

I’m hurrying down Gerrard Street, hunched shoulders, first stop, the Loon Fung supermarket. It’s to pick up the South China Morning Post, like I do on a weekly basis. The sounds and smells are the same as Hong Kong, the scent of street market, five spice and cinnamon. Only the air is cooler, not humid, nor is the air thick with sidewalk steam, nor is it 30 degrees, nor real feel 40.

Epilogue

Two months after my arrival, Teddy and I moved into a single-story concrete hut at the top of a hill, the other side of Yung Shue Wan. It was fortunate because when Tropical Storm Helen blew in we would not get flooded; though we might be buried under a mudslide. The streets leading to the hut were concrete channels two person wide, and by the time the 5th bell had rung to stop all the ferries, the drains were clogged and all routes home were fast-flowing rivers of rain.