Transpacific Laments for Starry Skies

Private Beach

Always looking for the right patch of sky.

I was always a terrible sleeper.

Anxious and constantly thinking by nature, my childhood mind was a churning furnace of thought and story and all the many possible futures. I remember lying awake and thinking of any number of things – of possible futures, of stories I wanted to tell, of places I wanted to go. I was socially awkward for many years, so I remember sometimes lying away, my scalp sagging into my tiny pillow, planning out possible conversations I might have with peers the following day. Turning my brain off was never something I could fathom, never mind attempt. A mind, in my experience, was a tire fire, an oil slick, a great uncontained thunderstorm. Turning off my constant thinking would mean, almost certainly, that I had simply expired sometime in the night. Sleep usually overtook me only when I became so exhausted with thinking that a fuse shorted somewhere in my brain and the systems took a break.

Childhood insomnia meant I spent a lot of time staring out my childhood window into the night sky. Being unable to sleep anyway, I hated the idea of blinds or curtains, of casting myself in a caul of black, of throwing my eyes into darkness and giving myself nothing to ponder on. I always asked for the blinds to be up, for the curtains to be drawn, for the windows to be slid open to let the night in.

I needed night sounds and night skies. The sound of city buses has always been the perfect white noise to me, a loud parking brake the closest analogue I’ve ever had to soft rain or the aquatic songs of blue whales. A choir of crickets and the soft pat-pat of the few walking the roads late at night, looking up at the same dark skies.

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The Malltown and the Cloud Forest

I felt vastly unprepared for Singapore.

Watcher of the Mountain Orchid

A lonely guy on a simulated mountain top.

In the Pudong airport waiting area, burrowed deep into a quiet wedge of carpeted flooring and poorly-attended restaurants, I surfed what internet remains available behind the Great Firewall. My gentle drift towards travel slackerdom has usually left me charmingly flighty. I’ve grown accustomed to doing things by the seat of my pants, planning excursions and travel just hours or moments before I disembark. It has become so second nature that I generally assume that the world will be unlocked by a glinting smile and a double-wide Canadian passport with several years before expiry.

But saddled with a heavy workload, Singapore had completely flitted from my grip. I had a ticket and a bed, and that was the extent of my forethought. The journey from one to the other, how I might fill the days, the kinds of foods I might try to eat, the dimension and value of the local currency: all of it was pure mystery. All of it was murky and vaguely Malaysian, at least according to the foggy ghost Singapore springing up in my cortex. What language(s) did they speak there, and how kindly were they to how little I probably spoke of them? How easy was it to get around, and where exactly did I want to get around to? Were the people more Malaysian or Chinese or Indonesian or foreigners, or were they green, acid-spitting space aliens from somewhere beyond the Andromeda galaxy? I wasn’t terribly certain, and hadn’t done any of my usual legwork before stepping aboard the plane.

It wasn’t until getting on the ground, the sunny sunny ground, that I knew quite how okay I would be.

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Singapore Photoglut: An Expensive Beverage and a Filthy Blood Pond

Singapore Photoglut
As discussed in the previous post, travel has just sort of become a fixed aspect of my life. When presented with any significant period of time off of work (with “significant” meaning “more than three consecutive days”) my fingers naturally bring up flight search aggregators. I mentally tick down the list of visited countries, and those other nations and cities nearby to which I have no trudged. I mentally pack a bag, think of how sunny and monsoony the destinations around me might be, and calculate necessary SPF. I am barely capable of planning what is for dinner each night, but I planning a vacation is as easy as drawing breath.

As such, a week-long break off of school seemed like the perfect time to jet down to sunny Singapore. Singapore: that place I realistically could not have jammed in while travelling either Malaysia nor Indonesia. Singapore: that nice-sounding city state with money and palm trees and a famously expensive and expensively famous eponymous beverage. Singapore: the place I am definitely buying plane tickets for. Away!

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Flight of the Douchebag

“I heard that Christmas in Germany is lovely,” one of us murmured, his or her mouth pursed, as though brimming full of caviar and Zinfindel and self-satisfaction. “The Germans just know how to truly celebrate. I think we should all holiday in Europe next winter.”

The Peak of Mt. Popa

Let’s weekend in Burma, shall we? I hear the spring there is divine.

What a horrendous, decadent assemblage of words. What a cock-eyed, over-privileged, obscene collection of phonemes, ordered in such a way that their construction seems pornographic and vile. I cringed internally, even as I think I probably said it.

That we could even fathom to use the word “holiday” as a verb seems to galling and horrific that our tongues should probably be taken into custody by government officials. That all of my articulators, my teeth and my cheeks and my vocal chords, should excise themselves from my body and escape to Tijuana. People didn’t say things like that, nor did they squint and primp just so. We barely qualified as humans anymore; no, we were douchebags, anthropomorphic pond scum from another planet far away.

Reorienting myself to view travel so cavalierly has taken time and effort. As a child I watched documentaries about people jet-setting around the world, I sat through countless seasons of the Amazing Race. I envisioned the kind of people who took wing and journeyed through the skies: they always wore scarves. They purchased insanely expensive bottles of cognac, used the contents as mouthwash, and spat the leavings on the people who flew coach. They slept on beds made of chilled Alaskan salmon and cashmere puppies, soft and rhythmic and alive. The people I thought of were not so much people as they were personified luxury, walking and talking chequebooks with no personalities and a constant, burning desire to wear berets and eat large baguettes.

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A Brief Delay in Our Programming

Dearest friendship,

As you know, it pains me viscerally to leave you without your regularly scheduled discharge of verbiage. Whenever I know I will be out of comm range for any length of time, I usually write like a frenzied madman, churning gems of linguistic fortitude out at a wearying pace to slake your thirsts while I am away. As a travel blogger I must, occasionally, travel to fill up the think tanks. And very occasionally I am also behind on my typical writing output. And thus we are at a conundrum: I must give you this filler, this meandering replacement succour, and hope that you will be patient with me until I can cram more words and pictures down your gullets in about a week.

In short: I am off to see Country #27 in my lifetour of this great planet, and I’ve got nothing for you. The first post in my queue for when I return is about said jet-set lifestyle and how it makes me ludicrously irresponsible and probably unpleasant to talk to. Huzzah!

See you on the road.

Adventurrhea: The Eternal Battle Between Splendour and My Intestines

Jantar Mantar I

How lovely! Do you suppose there’s a Port-o-potty at the top?

Fireworks rocketed heavenward, fizzling and popping, exploding into colour and light. They shone across the curvaceous roof of the Golden Temple, out across the nearby streets, and all throughout Amritsar. Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim alike were celebrating the festival of lights under a blanket of stars, walking barefoot in the night, necks craned back to scoop up so much of the fiery sky.

It was beautiful and serene and majestic. At least, I’m pretty sure it was, as I mostly watched through my hotel window.

A day before I had ordered something called “stuffed potatoes” at a restaurant, assuming that it would be maybe one potato, jammed full of spinach and curd and curry paste. In fact it was a half-dozen potatoes, stuffed with this and other such delicious detritus, and also possibly rocks and moustachio trimmings and shaved gold, and I felt duty-bound to at least make some sort of valiant attempt to consume the mighty offering placed before me. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea at the time.

 

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Wear Your Beanie This Arvo, It’s Cold Outside: My Growing Pan-English Accent

Have you filled a bucket today?

Sometimes it’s pretty, but I’ve been taking pictures of language stuff just so I can have stock images for language-related posts.

There are times when my mental world grinds to a halt after something I have said. A phrase so particularly and enigmatic that I must stop and consider the universe; a trick of words so hilarious or stupid or amazing that I must marvel at my own tongue’s ability not to fall out of my mouth in horror. At other times I stop because I am not sure what has happened, how the words have emerged from me. I wonder at how it is that I have just said such a thing, as though my mandibles were possessed, as though some ghost was in the machine of my articulators.

Sometimes, it is a menu-item so amazing my life halts: “Multiflavoured razor clams.” At other times, it is something that emerges naturally from a conversation, a perfect, globule summary phrase that tickles me beyond comprehension: “Porcelain dildo artisanry.” When the words finally tumble free into the ether, my existence seems to take a sharp inhalation, as though the world has started to rotate in alternate directions.

Never has this been so apparent as when I am picking up Australian lingo.

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