Posts Tagged ‘desire’

What a world of contradictions we live in. My own self administered paradox is incomprehensible, even to me sometimes. “How can you live like that?” an engineer we met in Dallas asked in astonishment when Trish and I  explained that we hadn’t been ‘home’ more than a few weeks in the preceding few years. In fact we’d lived in the Hyatt Las Colinas in Dallas for almost three years running when we bumped into him at the poolside BBQ one afternoon.

He’d just bought a house in his native country, the Slovak Republic, it was his goal to have security and a sanctuary. The mindset of our engineering friend is common, it just isn’t for us. “I don’t know”, I replied. “Things just have a way of working out”….and they really have. Our recent and free week long stay at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap Cambodia is an example of how ‘things’ can ‘work out’ if you’re organized and travel savvy.

Some people envy us, they covet what we have, but have no understanding of how we came to be the nomads we are. I wouldn’t describe what we have done as sacrifice, we just want different things. As a friend of mine once quipped, “You have to be very organized to be as lazy as I am”. That sums up our lifestyle succinctly, though not entirely accurately.

Trish and I have foregone many things. We don’t have a long term mortgage, own a boat or a car lease. We haven’t renovated the house and stuffed it with material goods. We have never been consumers of ‘stuff’, instead we collect experiences. Our life is personalized, we do only what we choose, and yet we have achieved a level of success by enjoying the banquet and the open bar, but never eating the worm.

I haven’t felt like writing since I wrapped up my last novel. That two year experience was arduous, and I’m not feeling the energy to do that again any time soon. My daily life is consumed with personal thoughts about today and tomorrow, but nothing too far down the line. I feel like I’ve done enough scheduling to last quite some time.

Planning the next act of travel is my only obsession these days. I have fantasies and dreams that don’t include security or pride of place. I don’t work anymore, and with retirement I have allowed myself to exercise a degree of ‘I don’t give a shit’, that I haven’t allowed reign in the past twenty five years or so since becoming a husband and father. Getting older is somewhat like being a teenager again, feckless and cynically disorganized.

I just got back from a trip to Cambodia. I was less impressed by the poverty than I used to be. I looked for happy photographs instead of images of misery and neglect. Trisha and I fed the children beggars instead of artfully ignoring them as many tourists do. I saw far too many people working way too hard at ‘getting everything done’ as they grow closer to the end. The simple facts of life lay strewn on the sidewalks and gutters like cast off flowers . I saw  tell tale signs of utter exhaustion, fear and desperation, disconnected people, no where near the completion of their guide book inspired ‘bucket list’. I seek no such frustrations.

When I was young(er) I  left ‘home’ to travel. My passions took me away for so long that I became disassociated from everything and everyone I’d  ever known. After years away I returned a stranger to family and friends who’d moved on. I remember the impression that the streets of New Delhi were more familiar than those I returned to.

Today I live in Bangkok Thailand, occasionally struck by emotions of longing and separation. Returning to BKK from Cambodia was a homecoming to familiar territory.  I walk around my neighborhood and realize I know everyone, everyone knows me. People noticed I was gone. My favorite soup stall vendor, Khun Fa, remembers what I like, it’s endearing.

I’ve lost the familiarity with what was once my home, once again I will have to start over in Canada, where communities change rapidly with new immigration endlessly churning the population and neighbors last for minutes until they’re replaced with someone elses great expectations. I have no idea what to expect if and when I return. Here in Bangkok, people reside in the same area for generations in giant family units, and give life a sense of continuity. That’s how things are going, I’m floating from one day to the next, unwinding myself. The end of the road for a happily homeless traveler has no stop signs. Fringelords

Our little perch in Bangkok is surrounded by a wide green space. I can smell the Gulf of Thailand on the morning breeze. The rising sun resembles an expanding supernova. Bird song and Soi Dogs are the melody of this neighborhood. 7 AM and already 90 degrees F. I hung our towels out last night and they haven’t dried. Humidity during this late monsoon month is well over 100%. What a shock to have transitioned so completely from Dallas in such a short time. We were away two years and it feels like we never left. This is the anniversary of my 40th year of coming to Thailand.

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Have you figured out how to travel for free yet? Have you got a plan to get you out and never come back? There’s lots of ways of doing that, you just have to apply yourself. The lucky ones will inherit an obscene amount of money from a parent or grandparent, that’s number one on everyone’s list. And believe me, there are more of these types than most people imagine possible. Next, there are plenty of people who have defined benefit pensions whose cash flow will never fail due to the crazy courtesy allowed by a broken system of government. Some of us have to be smarter and more creative to achieve our goals.

I began to see the possibilities when as a young traveler I spied opportunities to trade goods between countries where things were abundant and cheap and transport them to locations where they could be sold as rare and dear. I stole that line from Adam Smith who had this figured out in 1722 and wrote about international trade in The Wealth of Nations, still a best seller. I was very impressed by this philosophy as a teenager and applied it as a young adult wanting to travel and escape. In most western countries there are open city markets, with the exception of commercial dead zones like Vancouver,  where goods from all over the world can be sold for a profit. A simple way to increase your travel opportunities is to buy trade goods in the third world and sell them to people browsing away their boredom on the weekends. Trust me, bored shoppers will buy any kind of crap that reminds them of the holiday they had in the past.

I paid off my travel lifestyle for decades doing exactly this. My first purchases were leather products in South America.  I later branched into manufacturing jewellery from India and Thailand…even selling Indian goods in Thailand using all the same dynamics of trade I had learned along the way. I sold these items all over the world. I acted as a purchasing agent for people who wanted a steady flow of such goods to their home countries. I traded goods from Pakistan to Afghans in exchange for items of value hard to find in India. I also carried bales of cloth from one boutique to the next selling items in countries as diverse as Switzerland, Spain, Canada and the USA. Shopkeepers need unique products to draw the shoppers into the store. The more unique your products, the higher the margin you can ask. Only during major global recessions did my business ever fall off and I was forced to hunker down.

Nowadays we have become more sophisticated, we are technical specialists and visa holders practicing our trade and getting paid well for it. I miss the old days of being a traveling merchant, but that’s not to say I have foregone my old habits. In every town I go to I visit shopkeepers and ask them what they want. I go to trade shows and find out whats available. It’s best to collect as many business cards as you possibly can. There are opportunities that sometimes appear from out of nowhere and you want to be the one that takes advantage of those opportunities.

Do you hold an undergrad degree or similar certification? If so the world is at your feet. Teach English in Koh Samui with a simple TOEFL certificate. The add on is a weekend class on line but is recognized world wide. There is always a lot of turn over in teachers, and there is a hungry world wanting English teachers….from Spain to China and all points in between. Teaching English is a no brainer and less complicated than trading but not mutually exclusive…..we’ve done both simultaneously. Are you headed for a place where a great many foreigners congregate….have you thought about finding work as a rental agent or a real estate agent selling local properties? Your ex pat community has special requirements that a local doesn’t understand and your knowledge of the language is in demand. Working as a bartender or waitress is a thing of the past in places like Thailand or Mexico…but have a skill and you can obtain a legal visa to work.

At the top of the food chain are the technical specialists who can reside legally. Even the rich ex civil servants on a pension can’t live in Thailand or elsewhere permanently…they will have to abide by the short term of a tourist visa. These types have to leave the country on a regular basis to renew their status. If you are trading in a country don’t mention this to the immigration police at the border, a working visa is difficult to obtain. However, if you can achieve an ‘ex patriot’ status, where you are paid, your bills are covered and the visa is taken care of by the company you work for, then your troubles are behind you. Trisha and I have done all these things, and enjoyed every one of them. The travel lifestyle can be yours. You just have to want it.

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ex pat perks abound if you plan your life around travel

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trade goods can be found in every country…almost

 

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and by all means…enjoy yourself along the way

 

“Be careful what you wish for…you just might get it”, so goes the old saying. Ever since I was young I wanted to travel. I was impressed by two books, The Wealth of Nations , The Travels of Marco Polo and  any documentaries/photojournalism work from the wild world outside my tiny corner. By the time I was eighteen I had been infected by the travel bug so that as soon as I was able to get my first passport and the inoculations necessary  I was gone. I have been traveling or planning to travel ever since.

‘Getting away’ has always been a personal obsession. The preoccupation with foreign countries and cultures has been a distraction. While I should have been in university with my cohort I was exploring my fantasy world. I missed all the usual benchmarks anyone of my generation strove to achieve and the knowledge of those that did has faded like a mist. I have never attended a wedding or a funeral. To my family I existed only as a postcard or a phone call at Christmas time, appearing only in the event of  some catastrophe.

I learned so many things on the road that I can’t share with anyone. My relationships are transient by practice. Time away has severed all ties.   I pay a price for my wayward ways. I am more comfortable in a hotel room or short term rental bungalow than in the house I own. I prefer the company of strangers. I go home and feel like an alien when nothing looks familiar . The cross streets of New Delhi or Bangkok are more recognizable than the place of my youth.

And yet I get emails from people who say they envy the travel lifestyle. I say to anyone who considers what we do as a permanent choice for themselves, “Be careful what you wish for… because you just might get it”.

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November is a month that brings change to thousands of peoples lives who live in northern latitudes. Call them snowbirds or escapee’s, they all have one thing in common, a driving compulsion to leave the northern latitudes for sunny southern climates. The exodus of Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, is as predictable as the migration of birds. Leaving Canada or Finland for the winter months has become a cultural norm… a statement of your financial status. Those left behind are considered ‘unfortunate’.

Suntan holidays became popular when soldiers returning from the tropics after WWII arrived home from the Pacific with ‘sunshine skin’.  There was a huge demographic shift  in the late 1940’s when rural populations moved en mass to the cities. The balance flipped from 80%  rural and 20% urban to the exact opposite. The changing economy and increased post war wealth introduced a new aspect to the North American culture…recreation. Suntans on the streets of New York and London became a status symbol. It said you could afford to get away.

It was fashion mavin Coco Chanel that put tropical leisure on the map for the masses. She appeared on the cover of Life magazine sporting a suntan. This was a shocking display at that time, rather like a Lady Gaga moment. The confluence of adventure seeking ex-soldiers, sudden wealth and a new found societal acceptance of sunburn bloomed into a tourism crush in between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. It was suddenly cool and possible to winter in Mexico and the Caribbean. Aviation technology produced long range commercial passenger planes and locations like Hawaii and the South Pacific became accessible.  The cruise ship and retirement community industries were born.

In November the Boomer generation of Europe flock by the million to the southern shores of the Mediterranean, the North Americans focus is on Florida, Mexico and S.E. Asia. The post war economy has been very generous to the Boomer generation. It was a time when education and competition for seats in university was cheap and easy. Industries were still wanting for a few good men and opportunity for advancement was abundant. Inflation has made many Boomers rich with the passive holding of real estate investments. A prosperous and beneficial retirement is within sight for a great many  because defined pension benefits were once the norm.

We take the tourism industry for granted but it didn’t always exist. It wasn’t until the advent of ‘sunshine skin’ that it became possible to visit the undeveloped islands and continents of the third world. Now when  millions of tourists flock south for the winter they have forgotten the struggles of a preceding generation who didn’t enjoy the access to infrastructure available today. I shouldn’t take for granted that I can fly to Mallorca or Bangkok on a whim, because it wasn’t always  so easy. When the cold wind begins to blow we should thank a diminutive fashion mavin named Coco for the birth of modern tourism and the post war economic boom that produced the incredible wealth and leisure we enjoy.

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Texas has affected me in many ways, but most notably in the art of civility. Trish and were initially taken aback at how friendly and complimentary people were generally in Texas. Simple conversations between Texans begin with mutual compliments. Whatever the circumstance people will compliment your hairstyle, clothing, shoes, eye color, personal style or whatever as a way to begin a conversation or  transaction. It’s really endearing.

Coming back to Vancouver I realized I was doing the same as I would in Dallas….be overtly friendly with the people I encountered. The Texan culture is egalitarian. It doesn’t matter what your social position or employment status, people acknowledge one another with a compliment…”I like your hair”…or some similar greeting. And that’s where we made our discovery….that compliments are how Texans say hello. Whether Wallmart or a bank… people greet you on a personal level as equals….without the jealous or obvious envy and covetousness  we experience in uber materialistic  ‘futterneid’ ( German for the envy of another’s possessions)  Vancouver. I have noticed that by practicing this complimentary style I have shocked many Vancouverites out of their downcast closeted shell and they visibly brightened….. as if they haven’t had a kind word or compliment for a very long time. It’s obvious to me that people in Vancouver are starving for civility.

As I said, Texas is an egalitarian culture, perhaps because they have a history of overcoming common hardships. Perhaps it’s because people haven’t been suppressed into isolating and tension creating ethnic ghetto’s by short sighted political mavins as is the case in Vancouver. But this much is true…the mood among people in Texas is always polite and positive and living there is especially refreshing for a transplant Vancouverite accustomed to the surly rain soaked masses of the left coast. There is no doubt in my mind that the friendly relations people enjoy in Texas is a by-product of growing up in an atmosphere of common courtesy… ( it’s always Miss, Ma’am and Sir) Vancouver could learn a life lesson from Texas… and maybe someday lose the tag as being unfriendly and uncivil.

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I’ve seen where  people go wrong. They fade into  the misery of a life unfulfilled, as if living is a pulp fiction novel that must reconcile predictably.  Trish and I surmounted every false dictum society set in our way.  We did the parenting, the home buying, the career chasing, and the suburban drudgery…. We managed to avoid the usual traps of china figurine collecting, filling a garage with useless junk and hunkering down to wait for old age. We are self-made, having relied on no one and never having received an inheritance by waiting for someone to die. The trouble with inheritance cases as I have observed is that they always live the rest of their lives knowing they haven’t deserved or earned what they possess. Our fight for success has given us self-confidence and we enjoy the crap out of what we’ve earned. Trust me… enjoying yourself when you can stand on your own two feet is the best revenge. If you’re past middle age and you’re not having fun… you’ve done something wrong. It’s late September here in Dallas and life is good.

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I can’t resist the open road. My Camaro is like a fresh horse kicking the stall, anxious to run. The weather is fantastic,  I feel driven to burst out the door with the morning light. My most recent road trip included Gainesville, Decatur, Krum and all points north on the TX HWY 35 towards the Oklahoma border. In the past thirty days we have shot our silver arrow into Terrel, Wills Point, Grand Saline, Mineola, Hawkins, Big Sandy, White Oak, Longview, Hallsville, Marshall, Jefferson, San Antonio, Blanco, Johnson City, Marble Falls, Burnet, Lampassas, Hamilton. Hico, Glen Rose, Cleburne, Alvarado, Rock Wall, Grande Prairie, Greenville, Farmersville and Midlothian….among other market towns, gas station stops and historic markers along the way. We passed the Frank Buck Zoo…..a holdover from a TV show in the 1950’s called ‘Frank Buck-Bring ’em back alive’.  What a hoot !

The Texas landscape is dotted with tall water towers announcing clusters of civilization in every direction like mushrooms rising out of tall grass. There are so many freeway off ramps that it’s easy to veer off and see what might have been unplanned for. Often it’s the happy accidents that make a road trip truly special. This is another reason why I like having my own transportation, unlimited time and not be stuck on airports, trains or bus schedules….it’s necessary to have the freedom to discover whats beside and between major cities. I have talked about the tactile experience of an open cockpit. The road-song of screaming rubber on melting asphalt and passing traffic is an exhilarating cocktail mixed with burning sunshine and turbulent wind. We talk about directions we might never have considered as they come into view. Turnpikes are like a sirens calling us into the unknown. There are moments during our passage through small town America when life is transcendent.

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Armadillo’s are nocturnal creatures, the only ones I’ve seen have been laying dead by the side of the road . I am  a crepuscular creature, preferring  the twilight and  dawn hours when it’s cool. I like to head out early and come home late, before the sun explodes and showers it’s violent burning radiation onto the world . It’s the singular intensity of  radiation that really turns me on. I love the incredible color separation at high noon when every blade of grass, tree and golden hay bale in the field is glowing  and redefined as if by HDR Photoshop effect. I come from a place where the sun rarely shines…and when it does it’s weak and apologetic.

I have developed a special appreciation for the sun after growing up in sun starved Vancouver BC Canada where people walk with their hidden heads bowed submissively and that element of their miserable existence has become an aspect of their societies wider personality. It’s not called ‘No-fun Vancouver’ for no good reason. Events are contrived and politically managed….there is no spontaneity there…people are never free to be …outside. Its the sunshine and being able to live out of doors that makes places like Texas so cool.

When we drive down the Texas highways and the clouds pop out glowing white against an intensely cerulean sky as if we’re sitting in a moving IMAX 3-D theater….it’s otherworldly. I can imagine coming to an understanding why people see the face of God more often in places where nature is such an intense experience. This weekend we visited historic Jefferson in Johnson County on the Louisiana border and Greenville…further north towards Oklahoma. The higher elevation of Johnson County produced a surprise… tall pines forests as opposed to the dry deserts of southern plains. Jefferson is where the bayou’s begin and steam boat travel was once possible from Baton Rouge on the Gulf Coast.

On the way we stopped in McKinney for lunch…. a sweet and well preserved old west  town north of Plano on the 75 Hwy North of Dallas.  We stop as much as we can in whatever local phenomena happens along the way….this time it was the Dairy Queen in Farmersville, maybe one of the last whitest places in America. We caught the lunch crowd as the Baptist church across the road was getting out.

Strangers are obviously unusual in rural Texas, we turned the conversation down to a whisper when walking through the door. I wanted to apologize for Canada burning down the White House in the War of 1812….but  a mixed couple with strange accents and glowing sun tans was as much as  this crowd could handle.  I learned something….I now know you can order biscuits and peppery sausage gravy at the Farmersville Dairy Queen.

Road trips through small town America have to taken in convertibles. Its true….you can drive for days and still wake up in Texas. The open roof adds intensity to the tactile experience… like taking communion with the world around you. The scenery and sounds blast by in motion and audible parallax while wind buffets and slaps your face and  sunshine burns your skin raw so that you glow…and exhibit raccoon eyes in the rear view mirror… it’s exhilarating. Before settling on  Camaros we drove many different vehicles. I find the Camaro Convertible to be the best road trip car I have ever driven.

Having the top down eliminates the bubble effect of an enclosed vehicle with a favorite radio station keeping you anchored in the past. The open road is life being lived…most times without conversation, you sit in awe as the planet spins by beneath you….you’re tied to a strip of fading asphalt so you don’t lift off and fly. After every road trip we return home to see ourselves in the mirror…sunshine silly and smiling like delighted children….before plunging into our pool….. knowing we’ve done something important with our lives by living for today.

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