Suburban Nightmares

I always told myself that if I wanted a tattoo, I should write it down, put it in a drawer, and pull it out a year later to see if I still wanted it. That saved me a lot of unnecessary laser removal bills when I was younger.

Still tattoo free

Still tattoo free

The same is true in life. When I was younger, I really thought I had THE plan. Get a good job, move to a big city, marry a pretty girl (whose mom still looked good, this is chess not checkers) and raise some cool kids in a nice suburb. I’d seen it work for other people, or at least thought I had, and I wanted that American dream for myself. I was getting the hell out of the podunk town where I grew up and goddamnit I was going to drive a nice Lexus crossover SUV to get there, and I’d park it in a garage with real wood garage doors.

Someone else got that life, and I hope he’s happy with it.

Mostly for her sake.

I got this, and I’m thrilled.

Giving rice noodles a shot

Giving rice noodles a shot

Then life happened. I watched my model for this lifestyle completely blow up. I watched what a lifetime of “doing the right thing” and “playing it safe” had done to a couple who I considered an absolute example in this life.

I saw the suburbs be a defective competition of people who had tried to eliminate all risk from this life, and in doing so had manufactured a game of “keeping up with the Joneses” to stay engaged at all. The delusion that fulfillment can be achieved through the high regard of others is dangerously fragile.

One day they woke up and neither one felt fulfilled. The only way to get out of the trap was to blow it up completely.

The collateral damage of that is staggering. Kids, spouses and extended family all feel the repercussions of a life that just couldn’t bottle up the pressure anymore. It is no one’s fault, just the consequences of taking the safe road one time too many.

We’re meant to throw off the bowlines, test the high seas, and fail occasionally. America’s suburban class has made failure an outcome that must be avoided at all costs, with the victim being greatness. We tell 14 year olds to do 3 hours of homework a night so that they can get into a “good school” and do the same for another 4 years. Then we immediately go to work and work as hard as humanly possible to “get ahead.” Eventually there will be a payoff, some magical Kathmandu which will make it all worth it.

Making woven sleeping mats

Making woven sleeping mats

Then we see the All-American Dad die one Thursday night on the treadmill. We stand around a casket and wonder how life is so unfair that he never got to reach that magical “retirement” so that he could see the world and finally enjoy himself.

That really throws some people for a loop. Now we want fairness, we want to know why, and we want to protect ourselves from a premature end like that.

Life isn’t meant to be lived at the end. It isn’t supposed to be safe and riskless either.

Life’s goal should not be a destination, it is the journey that should be enjoyed.

That isn’t found in a Lexus SUV behind a wooden garage door beside a perfectly manicured lawn. It isn’t an Instagram picture with 112 likes of a $15 cocktail from an urban rooftop. It isn’t having your kid go to an Ivy League school, or having the prettiest wife at your 25 year class reunion.

It is appreciating a laugh with your best friends.

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Laying under the stars and pondering your own insignificance.

Put down the iPhone

Put down the iPhone

It is sitting across from an Argentinian girl and temporarily forgetting the names of every girl you ever thought you loved in this life.

Eating a meal on a 12 inch tall plastic stool in a dark alley where no one speaks English, and not pulling out your phone to check your text messages.

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It is sweating your ass off in 95 degree heat in a concrete shell of a house making rice noodles with a mother and son who don’t speak English, and understanding why they smile so much.

83 and happy, in a house with dirt floors

83 and happy, in a house with dirt floors

It is going to a beach without a single tourist, and watching four generations of a dirt poor family play in the waves and sand while eating dinner, smiling like a staged picture at Disneyland.

4 generations eating together nightly

4 generations eating together nightly

Life is meant to be enjoyed everyday. Not at some point in the mythical “future.” If your life isn’t fulfilling, don’t wait for the next pay raise or girl in the bar to make you happy. Go find a way to do it.

A wise man with an uncanny resemblance to a former American Vice President once told me that he’d promised himself two things when he was younger. That he wouldn’t sell things for a living, and he wouldn’t live in a suburb of Chicago. At the time he told me that, he was doing both.

I always wondered if he ever thought about the road not taken.

We rush and we rush, and we tell ourselves it’s worth it. We consume heaps of nonsense that we don’t really need, in order to save face with our neighbors.

Not beating the Joneses

Not beating the Joneses

We sacrifice our dreams on the altar of safety and get nightmares for our trouble. We work ourselves ragged 50 weeks a year, so that we can go “enjoy” ourselves the other 2.

Boat builders in Com Kim

Boat builders in Com Kim

The finished product

The finished product

As scared as I was to start the Conquest, the factor that pushed me to buy that first plane ticket was the fear of ending up like that All-American Dad in the casket, who had done everything right, but always put the rewards off until tomorrow. He was one of the best men I ever knew, and he deserved better than that.

I hope when they put me in the ground someone doesn’t cry for the things I didn’t get to do, but quietly appreciates the things I did.

I’m trying to live life in a way which makes each day a reward unto itself. Just because it doesn’t work everyday doesn’t mean that it is wrong.

Naperville please don’t be expecting me anytime soon.

“Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness. If they are happy by surprise, they find themselves disabled, unhappy to be deprived of their unhappiness.” Albert Camus

Lessons Learned

So when I started on this journey, I threw up the obligatory WordPress site and decided to be a diligent blogger of the trip. So far I’ve had 19 posts in 40 days, and while that isn’t amazing, I’m not totally ashamed at my laziness either.

However, I’d never really been a blogger before this, so it has been interesting to see what works and what doesn’t.

Lesson 1: People go goddamned bananas for any post involving food.

I started to notice this early, when I was posting pictures of the seafood feasts from Hamilton Island. Quite frankly yes, it was one of the more unbelievable meals I’d ever had both in terms of Nick’s cooking ability and the preposterous freshness of the food.

Mudcrab in Shanghai Sauce

The scenery didn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth either.

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People went bonkers over the food. I got more comments and emails about that that just about anything else I’d posted about from Australia. People wanting recipes, more pictures, the whole 9 yards, so I decided to be a little more accommodating here in Hoi An, by taking several cooking classes at local restaurants.

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I was pretty excited to expand my cooking horizon, but Lord, people love reading blog posts about food they aren’t eating. Crazy to me but there’s something about food porn that reminds me of crack fiends. Guess I need to sprinkle a little more around.

Lesson 2: If there is water in a picture, everyone likes it better.

The whole time we were in Australia, I think that we were a maximum of 5km from a beach of some sort. Good country Australia, but they don’t get off the coasts much.

The Lookout

The Lookout

People seem to love the pictures of water, wherever it is. Murky river in a rice paddy outside of Hanoi? Yep, I’ll like that. I don’t get it, but give the people what they want. The Conquest hasn’t been properly dry since I landed here in Vietnam anyway.

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Lesson 3: If it ain’t on the front page, people aren’t fooling with it.

The blog posts on a daily basis are half me getting things down so that I remember them, and half so that other people can take 10 minutes at their computer to zone out and imagine being somewhere else. I’m glad that it is a symbiotic relationship from that perspective.

However, the whole point of the life transition was to work into more serious writing. The short stories on the site are really what I’m trying to develop more of (my current effort on one about the Alligator Man is coming…someday…I think.) People don’t tend to wander around on the ancillary pages though.

I guess that is my shameless plug to get people to read some of the short stories. There’s the link. Click it. I dare you.

Hopefully more will be coming soon.

Until then, food porn and water shots. The bread and circuses of the blogosphere.

On the Beach in Byron

Sorry for the delay between posts. 5 days in Byron and some additional travel have kept me away from solid internet and my computer, so heaps have happened in the interim.

Byron Bay

Got up to Byron on Thursday afternoon. Took a bus from Ben’s grandmother’s down to Byron, which took a little over an hour and a half. The drive down was beautiful but strange. The landscape reminded me very much of home, but with more variation in elevation. Most of the land was agricultural, probably 90% pasture and 10% cultivated. Cattle were everywhere on the green rolling hills, and the cultivated land was mostly sugarcane.

Bit of a difference however, between the “beach” at the Williams Dam, and the outstanding coastline that abutted the farmland in New South Wales. The agricultural land went all the way to the ocean, only being bisected by the highway. This concept seemed absolutely mental to me as there is no where in the States that has good weather and 70 consecutive miles of beautiful coastline that hasn’t been developed. Not sure whether it was the sea air or the cowshit, but the Conquest smells an opportunity. Might need to recruit a Spreen for this one though. I’m still rating “Unsatisfactory” with my gentleman farming skills, so I’ll defer to the experts.

The Lookout

The Lookout

Upon arriving in Byron, we checked into our hostel and went to have a look around. Again, the beaches were beautiful, but Byron was the busiest beach we’ve seen by far since I’ve gotten to OZ. Between 35-40k people a day attended the Blues and Roots Festival, and Byron Bay is a town of 9,000 people. It was absolutely packed to the gills as it was also the Easter Holiday weekend, and families from around the area converged as well.

Byron Bay

The hostel was well appointed. We basically had a 2 BR apartment with kitchen, sitting room, and a deck. Our bedroom was 2 sets of bunkbeds which we shared with a rotating cast throughout the weekend. The other bedroom was a single full bed, which was occupied by 3 different couples. We were about two blocks from the center of town, with bikes and surfboards available for free through the hostel.

Hostel LIving

Hostel LIving

One morning I jumped on one of the beat up beach cruiser and headed up to the beachside market. Every handmade good imaginable was on offer, from hand pressed natural antibiotic from tea trees, to painted concrete mushrooms, all the way to some of the most beautiful sunset surfing pictures I’ve ever seen. The whole atmosphere is one of community first, sales second. There are booths stretched for over a half mile, and people are elbow to elbow moseying through, arms full of artisanal this and that, cash being put into the hand that made the product.

Not a bad little economic system they’ve worked out there on the beach.

Byron is the most easterly point of continental Australia, and on Monday morning, our Kiwi roommate Ryan and I headed out to go take a peek from the point. A friend of mine from home, Jade Wagner, had also suggested this, so I figured it was worth the time. The view was phenomenal, about 200 feet above sea level looking down over Byron and then Tallow Beach to the south.

Most Eastern Point of Continental Australia

Most Eastern Point of Continental Australia

Beyond the point, there is a group of about 800 dolphins that congregate in the area. Unfortunately without a telephoto lens, I couldn’t get the pictures to turn out very well, but I saw heaps of dolphins swimming just northeast of the point. To see 10-15 fins going around was outstanding. We were too early (or is it late since winter is beginning here) in the season to see the whale shark migration, but if anyone ever has the desire to see it, Byron Bay would be an absolutely outstanding place to do it from.

Now onto the colorful cast of characters. From the hostel, we had a super friendly New Zealander and a standard polite but mirthless German. Also had two girls from Brisbane in the second room, who brought along with them a fantastic complement of local professional hippies/buskers (street performers.)

From these guys, I got to hear about Nimbin, the local hippy run town, complete with police force, post office, etc. It is just a wild place where anything goes, drugs are available anywhere you ask, and people just generally hang out and make handmade goods for sale at local markets. I also got to hear about the busking end, one of the guys, Yamos, has been a “professional busker” for over 30 years. He’s a Greek from Devonport, New Zealand originally, and he is absolutely terrified of cities.

“Man, Melbourne. Place just about brought me to tears with all the people bustling around. Scary scary place man.”

“Nimbin, ha. They’ll sort you out man. Just get sorted…then go out to the waterfall.”

Heaps of surfers

Heaps of surfers

Yamos was really interesting though. Coming in sporting a thin blue headband over his neck length white hair, Yamos gave me the flavor of Byron. First he started talking about the population growth in Byron (a town of 9,000 that is aggressively trying to thwart a western “suburb” which would increase the population to about 12,000 total. He also talked about teaching music in Devonport, and his friendship with “Ellie” a woman who would become Lorde. She was a child prodigy discovered at age 9, and would give free concerts in town often until she signed with Universal at the age of 13. Yamos said she is absolutely brilliant scholastically as well and that she’d be the biggest star in the world someday. Considering her fame at the age of 17, I’d say he’s got a decent chance of being right.

Yamos and John also talked about cops and busking. Byron recently passed a shire wide ordinance requiring buskers to be registered. This…displeased the local busking population. After the festival one night, I saw 3 cops busting two buskers on Jonson Street about 2:30, and hiding around the corner in an alley was…John. Just refused on principle to register, so he was playing cat and mouse with the police all night. Yamos told me that he typically makes 250-350 most nights he performs, so John’s ideological purity was costing him mightily.

These interactions are really the best part of travel.

You might have worn the same 2 shirts for the last week and smell a bit like that kid in 3rd grade everyone avoided, because you don’t have access to a washing machine. The limited sleep you catch, on a sweaty twin sized mattress, in a camp style bunkbed, is punctuated by a couple of new strangers every night. Checking in at the airport, tells you you’re going to Sydney, not Melbourne, then routes you back through Adelaide and double charges your card, pushing you off on an exasperated check-in girl at the end of her shift. Two hippies roll up to your unlocked hostel room in the middle of the afternoon and seem to know no one.

Waking up to see this

Waking up to see this

Then you talk to the two hippies who have made a life of singing on street corners, and have every line on their face and a roach burned thumb to prove it. The sweaty stranger above you becomes a buddy, and you find out about how life is for a gourmet dog food sales rep in New Zealand and Australia. A couple of British birds come in in the middle of the night, and give you an arms length list of things to do in Vietnam. That horsed up flight gets fixed by that exasperated girl, and you end up getting a direct flight that lands 3 hours earlier.

It is all worth it.

The stink, the shitty beds, and the 6AM bus rides, every bit is worth it because you’ve experienced something. You look back in a month and say, “I remember exactly what I did that Thursday, I hiked in the morning, swam in the ocean in the afternoon, and saw an 80 year old named Buddy Guy do things to a guitar that seem impossible. Then I walked over 200 yards and watched a coked out of his mind John Mayer entertain 20k people for 2 hours. Yeah, I remember last Thursday.”

Sure as hell beats your average Thursday.

Byron Bay

After the Storm

Growing up in the midst of cornfields, my experience with hurricanes has been limited to watching Jim Cantore get blown all over Florida, and a dud of a hurricane named Irene while I was in NYC. Tropical Cyclone Ita was a bit of a dud as well. It wasted a full day blowing around palm trees and lashing everything with a deluge of water, but there was never a period where we felt the awe inspiring power that hurricanes can sometimes bring.

Tropical Cyclone Ita

Storm rolling in

Tropical Cyclone Ita

Waking up Monday morning, the sky was an unmarked crystalline blue. Aside from a few rangy clouds on the western horizon, there was no mark of yesterday’s storm. As I read my book on the balcony this morning, the sun poked out from behind the mountain on Hamilton Island and bathed the marina in a gentle light. Gorgeous is not an adequate word to describe the illuminated palate of blues and greens.

Marina the Day After

Birds were everywhere, singing and making up for lost time by eating anything and everything. A cockatoo played chicken with me this morning on the balcony. Lithe as a gymnast on a balance beam, the cream colored bird trapezed along the aluminum rail as if I was the intruder. He would sidle up next to me as I read, only to scurry further away if I paid him any mind. His talons on aluminum made a very distinct noise, keeping time as I flipped from page to page. Occasionally I would look up to see him pacing back and forth, throwing up his neon mohawk whenever I took a few steps towards him.

Good Morning!

Part of the group is leaving today to head back to Melbourne, and the rest will be departing tomorrow. Even with the rain, we’ve had a good time drinking and feasting around the island. Nick seems to want to get out to the reef this week, so hopefully we’ll have time to get out about 50 nautical miles to see the heart of the Great Barrier Reef before Ben and I head down to Byron Bay for the Blues and Roots Festival.

Brisbane Hostel Life

After saying goodbye to Chad in Perth, Ben and I jumped on the overnight flight from Perth to Brisbane, landing at 5AM local time. Needless to say the 4 hour flight wasn’t the most conducive to sleeping, so we headed to the hostel to try to catch a few hours worth of Zzz’s.

Brisbane is a much more mature city than Perth, as evidenced by the architecture and city feel. In the oldest part of the city, streets are named after British Monarchs, with female streets running parallel one direction and males the other. When our waiter told us that at lunch, it definitely made navigation a ton easier.

Queen Victoria

Benny and I wandered down through the center of town, eating lunch near St. George square. Benny had a quick errand to run for some paperwork at the Medicare office, so I got a quick glance at completely socialized medicine. It was in the middle of the shopping center, and run like a DMV. As far as efficiency goes, we were in and out in 10 minutes, so I considered it a win.

We met up with some people for dinner, eating at Breakfast Creek, one of the oldest continuously run establishments in Brisbane. Open for 125 years, it has a fair share of ghost stories, high water marks from floods, and a cracking good petit filet.

Brisbane at Night

The hostel we’re staying at is attached to a bar, which leads to some late night comedy that money can’t buy. Stumbling drunk Asian guys hitting on standoffish British girls, the three angry looking German dudes standoffishly bogartting a corner, two dreadlocked hippies dancing in their own little world and everyone’s favorite, the selfie snapping American girl up from her study abroad program in Sydney.

The best thing about hostel life is that there is no social order going into an evening, so everyone just tosses themselves together with reckless abandon, and sees where the night is going to take them. Tomorrow there will be a whole new crew. Hilarity inevitably ensues.

Heading to Hamilton Island tomorrow en route to the Whitsundays. Looks like Tropical Storm Ita is going to be heading considerably north of us, so we won’t have to worry about that while we’re out on the boat. Internet will be scarce, so it might be a bit before the next post, but it will be full of pictures from the Great Barrier Reef.