The Truths in Travel: Paddles for Feet-How Seoul Pushed Me in the River
As the feisty fists of the land shall have it, I ventured over to Seoul at the glorious commence of her monsoon season. Armed with an internet-capable device and an old uni accomplice in my address book offering up her digs for retiring during my eves, I was better off than usual.
Let me brief you through to the truth: I arrived. South Korea, you exquisite girl, with your fancy wires and connectedness… look at you go. Hongdae District. (We’ve got uni’s, we’ve got bars, we’ve got street food to disable your mornings, we’ve got mazes, hell, we’ve even got Taco Bell! Come, come, be inside of me). I oblige.
A drunken gaggle of young Korean men invite my two lady companions and myself to drink with them in nearby pub. I vehemently offer, as I sip my own spirit on the curb: “Only if you dance for us!” As truth would have it—they were break-dancers. So, off we went. They order us a bottle of tequila, and one of them feeds me peaches from a spoon, and asks me to speak more slowly. Home.
Morning. Museums. DMZ… and the rest. Nightfall, and the rain takes hold…
I venture out the next eve with a group of local expats who I’d been graciously introduced to via my old college mate, all decorated in umbrellas and better, I follow their lead…
Whiskey bar. Riot. Downpours (of rain and whiskey alike). I break for the bathroom. Exit. No friends in site. I discover that everyone who I knew in this entire country had been there one moment and were now utterly and entirely irretrievable. Along with my umbrella, and any inkling of sense that I might have about where I was.
I come to terms with the fact that I must enter into the mad streets of rivers of people, of rivers as streets to attempt to orient myself. And…go. After a small jot, I take cover in a shop and search for an umbrella to acquire… in a way, I accomplish this task… while huddling in a small mass, another expat, English-speaking group engages me and invites me to join them to the next club - and they have umbrellas! Of course I’ll go. One man agrees to share his with me… arm around my back he small-talks and smiles sincerely at me, tells me I’m lovely, and mentions his wife.
Enter club. I’ve got to use the bathroom again. Exit bathroom. No one insight. Twice in the same night. I decide I shall piss my pants from now on.
I have a drink alone.
It’s 2am. I go to the street. There is frenzy for taxis.
And the thing was, my friend’s place was only 3-4 kilometers away, and no driver wants to pick up that wee fare that time of night. If I could manage to pull myself from the bowels of this fucking maze, (tiny alleys and streets, congested paths, all intertwined in each other’s guts and seeming to lead only back into each other)… I could walk back. If I can just get directions to the subway… I could find my way, but no one will oblige, no one understands why I’d go to this closed station…
I inject myself into the madness of a curb… the river is pulsing in its ribs, and I try to get attention of any driver… one, two, three reject me. Two more. Another.
I turn a corner, maybe 2, or more, there’s no way to know anymore. I make eye contact with a driver, tell him my destination, he shakes his head. I put my hands together at his window, and go to a knee and beg. “More money” I tell him, “more money”. I could tell only that I was crying because my tears were warmer than the rain. I grimace as the downpour makes it hard for me to see. Finally, he lets me in.
Inside, it’s warm, and the seal of the taxi makes the outdoors seem to hum. His dash is decorated with his family. Beautiful children. I pay more than my fare, as promised.
I trudge up the steep hill to where I will rest. It’s nearly 5am, I can’t tell my flesh from my clothes, but I have arrived.
I woke up to find I was one pair of shoes down this trip, and nearly all of my money gone.
And that is the truth about Seoul.
The Truths in Travel: The Gobi Desert v. My Every Bit of Insides
Fast forward and rewind to Mongolia.
It was the Gobi Desert. I was one of six others I’d just met within a day or two (barring one, who was my companion for the vast majority of this particular segment of smog surfing) who had signed up to hitch a ride out into the desert to dune surf, and do as we please, and retire into a traditional Mongolian Yurt by night’s end.
We explored the desert, in amazement, watching the sunset in a way that nearly asphyxiates any human with awe unparalleled… until the dark takes over and the sunset is trumped by the cosmos of the Gobi Desert in July… (this, to be sure, is one of those things that can’t be tainted with language here). Needless to say, I ate dinner over a fire, and opted to sleep, bare, open, in the sand, in bed with the sky.
I wake to UV assailants etching freckles into my face. I collect a bottle of water and apple from the yurt for meal. I contemplate the life cycle of apples. Finishing.
Our small group awaits our carriage out of the desert—a string of camels that some locals have agreed to arrive with, and show us the way out…
As the apple, still fresh in my teeth, makes its way into my insides… something horrible begins to happen. My insides shift in a way I’ve only known on possible deathbeds… I imagine that if my body were to give way to death, I’d be coming close to this level of control and intestinal fury…
Luckily, we’d camped near an (albeit rather petite) oasis of patches of vegetation about. I quickly survey where others are located, and in which direction I should escape to spare them.
I haul ass-literally- over a dune in the distance in the company of sparse shrubs, a handful of tissue, and the fear of forest mouse in the night owl’s talons.
I find a small shrub, behind which I seek refuge for my ass. I expose it to the desert and brace myself. And here… I will even spare you. But I will reveal that I watched the horrific (shitty) deaths of many petite insects who were just in the wrong place and time… I struggle to keep myself unscathed by the horror blasting from my bowels.
I’m worried that the camels will be arriving soon; I try to finish. I begin to panic thinking that I may not be equipped with enough tissue to clean up this crime scene. I do the best I can… with mostly enough supplies.
I return to the camp.
Within seconds I am sprinting toward the hills. But the camels are coming.
I’m sweating. I’m panicked. I find a new, nearby shrub and destroy it, too.
I walk back, seeming nonchalant. I lead on that I’m just interesting… I’m just off photographing, or examining vegetation…
Camels arrive. I’m stuck.
“Good grief”, I think, and cry on the inside, “I’m going to have to shit myself on top of a camel, in the fucking desert, and be stuck there for hours, marinating in my own shit.”
I want to tell you that I did. I want to tell you that I shit all over my very white camel, too… But I didn’t. And that is the truth.
Gobi Desert/Mongolian Poison Eats: 1
Untimely shrubs and insects: -10
From the Perch
It wasn’t until the late 80s that I could really run. Really, really run.
To run: A way of going.
So, I went. I went a lot of other ways than running, too. And after some years, I took all the mechanical things that go, too.
I went. So far, it’s just been Earth. And there’s a lot to see around this place, so I’m happy (and beside the point, but nevertheless, otherwise unable to do otherwise…) to be here, going.
After I went East (and west, and east, and north), I went back West. And then I went to the east of West.
A land called Baltimore.
And from my perch…
I will (E)at the (E)ast… Coast.
Cheers to the American September.
On Axing a Moose in the River: Life in Canada.
Far from home, but even further from another home, I’ve eaten fish everyday, along with the buckets of blueberries we handpicked. In Canada-Ontario, I am again in Central Standard Time zone, but now 13-15 hours difference from the others who, quite dearly, I love.
In Canada, I am staying just outside of a small town known as Sioux Lookout (the town having acquired its name, as it sounds, that I learned from the fascinating anecdote about competing Natives, of the region, and the area of “Sioux Lookout” once used as just that, against the fierce warriors of the Sioux Tribe).
Whilst reading (I’m doing a lot of that here) up on the history of the area, I came across what is, currently, one of my favorite stories of any region: the story of Mary “Minnie” Sugarhead. This little gem lived to be 110 years old. Somewhere in that century+, she, as one local publication described, axed, and killed a moose as it crossed a river. I have, of course, filled in the lines of the brief description with my own speculations with details such as:
-Minnie (I fondly call her by her nickname) did this task in her 80th year
-She was out on the river sun-bathing, in a fishing boat (as an, albeit older, participant in the Roaring 20’s, she was still consumed with a sass that screamed “I’m fucking fabulous”).
-She then, after spotting the moose, proceeded to swim to it, mounting its hind end, axe in hand.
-With the rage of a Sioux warrior, and precision of a surgeon, she thrust it (again and again) in the jugular.
-Luckily upstream from the Butcher’s lot, she rode the moose down the current to his shore.
-She spotted him on his hill, trying to perform his taxidermist “expertise” on a partridge (which was actually only a petite knowledge of the craft, but nevertheless a service in which he provided)
-She called up to him “Come get this son-of-a-bitch”, and pointed to the moose, floating beneath her. “I’ve got to go get my firewood”.
Regardless of my excitement to be so near to where this lovely broad resided, my indulgence in a sinful diet, and days punctuated with naps on the dock, I continue to miss, like hell, my sweet east. China, don’t you go running off in my absence.
On Learning to Become Temporary
You always knew. But you didn’t know.
I am discovering, in an increasing fashion, that the art of the temporary is a learned maneuver. In Tianjin, the seasons reflect those of the Midwest, and you see them go, go, and come. And come again. Just like the people. Life here is a perpetual flex and influx of life and lives. A boy died last month. He fell from a roof. The expat community is a swivel. Some of us are boomerangs to China, some of us are just sticks, some driftwood. None of us can ever be Chinese in China. But I began to call the petite room that holds me, no longer “room”, but home. Whilst in Italy, I referenced China as home. This concept: home, is one of the cleverest shape-shifters, a science-fiction devil.
You discover shape-shifting in line for the bathroom, the line-piled high, decorated with, had it been a map, an intricate pin design, tracking the globe, a cacophony of languages banging against the walls, you challenge yourself to “name that language”.
What I haven’t learned yet is if the condition of temporary is temporary or perpetual; I suspect it will be a virus that cakes in your marrow.
On the This is How it Went: Tianzhu Timpani.
When the brown gave way to green, I had been sleeping, it seems. But sleeping is never really sleeping, when you exhaust yourself in dreams, being chased by cows giving birth, with the person who became schizophrenic with you and the grass for weeks at the mountains you were last.
But this time, the mountains sold ponchos for the rain and offered bamboo hiking sticks. And this time, you got lost, but getting lost is never really getting lost when gravity guides the way: somehow, down is always down; and you’re going down. And getting lost un-alone, with a promise of an acapella Queen partner, somehow reassures you that you are not “just a poor boy”, anyway.
There are no bears, or lions, but the birds speak Chinese in bird dialect, so you can’t ask them for directions.
It’s the fog too: the lace dress that the sky sways in, letting the peaks poke their heads beneath it, lifting it up, like a temporal ceremony: tossing it aside when nakedness bombards the night.
She sees the peaks in the morning, in a full nakedness that the sun blushes at before the roosters crow.
The next day I got slapped in the face by white water, in conjunction with a raft. Paddle-less, we were prisoners of the “rapids”. Unlike the level 4’s and 5’s that I’ve braved before, if there was a moment of 4-5 in these rapids, there was a promise of padded rocks at the bottom. The most alarming thing of this battle was the neon, beetle-like, clawed, thing, pinching into my leg through my runners; who I, unabashedly, ruthlessly, threw to the fish, (if there were fish).
Finally, in the bamboo forest, I contemplated throwing myself into the trees from the red-ribbon, petite wooden plank swings, whose protectors scraped fruit from muddy rinds with their bottom teeth.
I told the sky to get undressed so I could be naked with her in the waterfalls, but neither of us obliged.
I found song on the journey “home”; And slept like that milkman, with that bullet in his brain.
In the Woodwork.
Lessons grasping for 26: when a machine is coming right at you, don’t move.When you discover, again, that the sun will explode, rub it into your face while it still falls in finer cascades.
Etch your name is wet cement while they build the subway.
I’d have asked for directions, but my drawing, I discovered, really did look like a bag of 1859 railroad coins, and how would they ever know how to tell me how to get THERE, with a series of gestures and what are dismissed as gentle gags.
When, one day, you wake up and discover that you live in China, you aren’t Chinese, you don’t publicly gorge out your nose, your spitting is no better than it was when you were 8 years old, using your Ninja Turtle’s tee to wipe blood from your elbows, your “looking like a million bucks” is obsolete, but have learned to settle for “looking like a million Yuan”, in the dark, and you’ve taken it upon yourself to scream “Ni Hao!” to the people who stare at you, but when, while riding your bicycle, a person departing from a taxi opens the door between you and the curb, you instead scream “Ah, ni hao, bitches!”
While composing innumerable passages, because you have lost touch with the ruler-upon-knuckles-grammar obedience due to nighttime fits in Poetry Month, you again become bitter that Benjamin Franklin always got away with the most atrocious 5-page-long sentences.