"A sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees." - Kurt Vonnegut

Friday, October 8, 2010

One Thousand Eight Hundred Ninety-One Dollars And Thirty Two Cents

"D.B. asked me what I thought about all this stuff I finished telling you about. I didn't know what the hell to say. If you want to know the truth, I don't know what I think about it. I'm sorry I told so many people about it.  All I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about....Don't ever tell anybody anything.  If you do, you'll start missing everybody."    -from The Catcher In The Rye 

My passport has run out of usable pages.  My remaining clothes are torn and stained beyond recognition.  My pack is in need of repair.  My copy of Siddhartha is being held together by packing tape and faith.  My sleep schedule is a mess.  I'm sitting on a comfortable leather chair sipping a perfect double-espresso.  I'm back in the United States of America.  In all honesty, it feels pretty good.

There is the fact that everyone speaks English and I can understand the conversations of nearby strangers and I'm understood when I ask where the tofu is, and there's the odd single-color currency, and there's the outrageous prices for everything and my barely-suppressed horror in the face of pervasive consumerism.  Of course in a few weeks or months I suspect that none of that will seem strange anymore.  But as I scan the internet for employment and read job descriptions that use the word "vacation" and ponder the notion of travel, not as a lifestyle, but as a short break before returning to a well-defined collection of constants, part of my consciousness rebells and I realize that I already miss the road and I wonder if that feeling will ever go away. Or if I want it to.

That's all I'm going to tell you about.  The balance will continue to decline but I assume I will find a job before it reaches zero.  In any case, my travels are over and so this journal is finished.  It's been fun.  Thanks for reading.                        


Monday, October 4, 2010

Hornets! Hornets!

Three days ago I attacked a nest of wasps.  I was hacking out a trench between two mounded planting beds that, by appearance, hadn’t been attended to in several seasons, when the world suddenly receded to the distant background and what can only be described as a sting, bright and urgent, flashed through the muscle between my thumb and forefinger.  For a few seconds there was only me and the hand, which insisted on my undivided attention.  I never saw my attacker.  I responded by voicing a randomly selected profanity, stepping away from my work, and rubbing some mud on the painful spot.  Then I stupidly went back to hacking at the same location.  Ten seconds later, I simultaneously saw at least 5 wasps fly out of the brush, felt another intense sting explode on my cheekbone near my ear, and another on my calf near my knee.  I looked down and swatted one of the combatants away from my leg while clumsily jumping out of the trench and through the mud, away from the source of the pain.  I stayed away from that trench thereafter and spent the next thirty minutes flinching away from dragonflies.  About two hours later, my hand looked like the hand of a giant baby; pudgy and lacking knuckles, and I had difficulty making a fist.  The hand continued to look ridiculous for two solid days and it still doesn’t look the same as the other one.
Today, after one more day of work on the farm, I’ll pack my bags, get some dinner and try to sleep for awhile; then at 2am I’ll get into The Captain’s Honda, where I’ll ride as a passenger to Bangkok Airport, from whence I’ll take a series of flights that, over the course of 32 hours, will chase the sun, bringing me to Boston on the same calendar day that I left Bangkok.   It will be my first time on U.S. soil since July of 2009. 

Several travelers have asked how I feel in anticipation of this event and after answering vaguely a few times, I have come to realize that I look forward to it without reservation.  After almost two years in Dubai and almost a year on the road, it feels like an adventure of sorts to return to the homeland for an extended period.  I am anxious to see friends and family and I am equally anxious to see how it feels to be there, to examine myself and notice subtle or dramatic shifts between my current self and the self that left, or possibly to find that I’m still exactly the same.  Although I doubt the latter.   

Sunday, October 3, 2010

See You Soon Nice Tomorrow

I am a man and Nui is a woman and so of course I drove the motorcycle home, in spite of the fact that she knew the way, I didn’t, it was dark, and she didn’t speak much English.  Later she told the group about how “sloowwwly sloooowwly” I drove and that I flinched when the dog jumped out of a blind corner, barking furiously.   She pantomimed the whole trip in an exaggerated fashion, and everyone laughed and then they poured me another shot of Thai whiskey.

I was up with the sun and had finished my first cup of coffee, made, as always, with a packet of heavily-sugared Nescafe, so with breakfast still a distant prospect and plenty of packets available, I had another.  Toon walked into the dining area, looked from me to my cup, raised his eyebrows and held up two fingers.  I said, “Yep.  This is two.”  He said my name, laughed and used his thumb and forefingers to make “open wide” motions around his eyes.  The next morning, when we ran out of coffee, Nui was all over it.  “Stanleee!  Twooo!”  I told her that was yesterday, but she insisted, with gestures, that it was both days.  I told her, half with gestures, that I believed it was she who had taken two and she laughed.  This became a running joke which we repeated every morning. 

Nui asked if she could come with me to America.  I showed her my wallet and told her I had no money.  She tried to give me 60 baht (2USD) and then she stuck out her lower lip and pouted when I told her it wasn’t enough.   She was joking, of course, but then again not completely. 

Toon asked, with some difficulty, if I would transfer some music onto a flash-drive.  The drive in question was only 1GB so I gave him about 20 songs that DJ Nik had sent me.  He plugged it into the DVD player and soon Ida Maria was belting out “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked”, loud and clear from the formidable speaker system.  Toon and a few of his Thai companions busted out a few dance steps.  A moment of embarrassment passed before I glanced over at the 13 year-old girl in her Sex Pistols T-shirt nodding along with the rhythm while she studied English and I realized no one present could understand one word of the lyrics. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sowing Seeds

For the last two days I have planted rice, first in my host’s fields and then in the field of his friend.   I have been walking barefoot, calf-deep in the mud and water, employing the technique I had been taught:  Using my right hand, I’d extract two rice stalks, along with their roots, from a densely packed hunk of sod that I carried in my left hand, and then use my thumb to press the stalks into the soil.  After I had adequately mastered this technique, there were still a variety of subtleties that my Thai companions in the field did their best to illustrate:  One should position one’s hand with fingers pointing down when separating the stalks so as not to necessitate turning the stalk to utilize the thumb-press planting method.  One must be ever mindful of the entirety of the row, remembering the line between two points is always straight but the line between one hundred points can meander embarrassingly.  One must try to keep one’s steps between the lines where rice will be planted; remembering rice planted in a footprint will likely be underwater. 

After the field was fully sown, I sat beside Toon, my Thai co-worker, on a pile of coconuts in the back of a speeding pickup, both of us sweaty and covered in a fine layer of dirt in spite of our attempted ablutions, and I watched the farms and the city streets roll by while the wind beat against my face and I wondered why this moment felt so normal.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

New Farm

I loitered in Chang Mai for almost a week; wandering between one-dollar-eateries, indulging in the occasional banana shake, and repeatedly sitting down for a few beers with girls that always, frustratingly, turned out to be nineteen, before I finally took the advice of my friend and constant inspiration (Micah) and contacted Daruna Farm.  “The Captain” emailed me back right away saying he had abundant room and work.  I carefully reviewed my finances, trying to figure out how my visa run (required between the 21st and the 24th) and the Full Moon Party (Ko Pagnan on the 23rd) worked into the equation.  I finally turned to Microsoft Excel, taking a few moments to chart my expenses in four scenarios, and decided that my most frugal course of action was to leave for the farm immediately, do the visa run to Cambodia, and decide later about The FMP. 

I had some difficulty getting here.  I missed my train connection, tried to inform The Captain by phone but got, “The number is not available.”, ended up on a packed local bus along with 6 giggly American college students, still couldn’t reach The Captain, couldn’t convince the conductor that I sincerely wanted to get off in Bang Phra, was forced to backtrack by tuk-tuk, became convinced I’d written down the wrong phone number, found the train station, walked around asking people for the white guy who has a farm, gave up and hitched a free ride back to the main road, found an internet cafĂ© where I established that I had written the number correctly, and received a reply email from The Captain that he had given me the wrong number and he was on his way. 

The farm is pleasant, even if it’s not as idyllic as the last one.  There are buffalos and chickens and although I’m the only WWOOFer at the moment, The Captain is a great deal more talkative than my previous host, so the solitude is not overwhelming.  This morning I stuffed myself with a huge breakfast then spent the next two hours in a nuanced debate of the practical applications of US foreign policy.  I worked for a couple of hours digging ditches, and then took a three-hour lunch break, once again ending up chatting with The Captain.  The man likes to take his time with a story, making sure I have every possible detail.  The exposition always meanders along until he has all but convinced me that it that has nothing to do with the stated topic, but he always gets there eventually.  “I’ve had two run-ins with the police.” He told me at lunch. “The first one was in 1987.  I was walking down by the river and saw some logs that looked like they had been gnawed by beavers, and I was surprised because I didn’t think there were beavers that close to the city.  Then I was walking there another day and I actually saw the beaver….”  I smiled a little; thinking of Grandpa Simpson, (“I was wearing an onion on my belt…which was the style at the time.”) then I leaned back and waited.  This kind of conversational inefficiency irks me at times, as does The Captain’s intermittent tendency to portray himself heroically, but those are minor complaints.  And it’s good to be back on a farm.    

Sunday, September 12, 2010


After two weeks on the farm it was clearly time to go.  When I arrived I was greeted by a total of 4 WWOOFers and I had expected that number to grow, but after one day the number dwindled to 1 and then four days later I was all alone.  Team Germany stayed only two nights and the expected reinforcements did not show up.  I was alone again for two days, digging up banana trees then planting them in new locations.  The work was not unpleasant and I managed to enjoy those days, but it seemed to be time to find something new.  I left the farm two days ago at 5 am and found 3.22 USD per night accommodations in Chang Mai, a city I know fairly well from my lingering with Sophie back in April. I’ve sent emails to a few other WWOOF hosts and I’m waiting to see where the next few days take me.   

I’m anxious about the future, it seems.  On the road, peace of mind is easy.  The answer to my worries is always in the next destination, or lack of one.  But maybe I’m already finished traveling.  I have become tentative and watchful, suddenly worried that if I make new friends, then I’ll end up buying beers I can’t afford.  I find I have little interest in squandering too much of my precious remaining Balance on visiting another beautiful beach.  And every few nights I wake up from varied but thematically connected dreams, each featuring a new, catastrophic miscalculation of my resources and time.  

I notice that I am checking into a guesthouse in Kathmandu and become concerned, knowing that I must get back to Bangkok before my flight leaves.  I check my accounts and find them all empty and realize I must have forgotten to “carry the one”.  I am being lead by a stranger through the winding streets of an unknown city  and I don’t know where we’re going, but I know I’m lost and that I’ll never find my way back.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


The farm is still the farm, but things have changed since March.  Pets have died and been replaced, projects have been abandoned, and torrential rains have brought growth and destruction.  The man in charge is almost the same as before; still stomping around the fields with a smirking grouchiness that does little to hide his love for the dirty joys of owning a farm, but now his bad back occasionally forces him to the sidelines, a position he clearly hates.  The WWOOFing crowd is thinner, seldom more than 4 deep and prone to three day stints rather than the former seven day minimum.  I’ve was alone for two days before a German mother-daughter team showed up last night, and it looks like I’ll be alone again tomorrow, hopefully building a large trellis out of bamboo or digging up banana trees rather than the tedious alternative of pulling weeds for six hours. 

I still like it though.  The air is fresh and wet and the clouds are rolling over the distant hills and yesterday I sat on top of a ladder after hammering nails into bamboo and I looked out over the bright, brilliant green and my hands felt tired and strong and I breathed as deeply as I could and then I let it out slowly.