Friday, September 30, 2011

Couchsurfing Khabarovsk

Marjana was the first person I ever couchsurfed with. She lives in Khabarovsk with her husband who later taught us how to play backgammon. It was a good thing we had arranged to surf with her, otherwise Adam and I would've showed up to town, been tired as shit from a lack of sleep on the overheated train, and probably just wandered aimlessly around town until we were fed up with being dirty and tired and clueless and we probably would've had a terrible time.

Fortunately we got to have a rest, a shower, and a tour thanks to Marjana. We went into town and saw the American Corner where she works. It's an office in a beautiful old library filled with all sorts of American comforts like flags and books in English. She brought us to an auction in a run-down orphanage, and also helped us work out our onward train ticket which would've been a huge mess if we had had to do it on our own.

Original post for more details.

All Aboard

I'm a day late again. And a dollar short. Oh well, here is a photo from a year ago yesterday.

This is a Russian man named Igor who speaks no English. He wandered into our compartment looking for conversation and drinking buddies. He spoke for hours, it seemed, and all we could do was say "da" and smile and wonder what the hell he was talking about.

Igor was intent on smashing down any language barrier by constantly repeating things he said until we pretended to understand. The only thing I did grasp was "vodka", a word he uttered just before disappearing to fetch us a bottle.

Nice enough guy, I think, but I was still relieved when another compartment mate of ours got on. This guy spoke English and eventually our English-only conversation cut out Igor enough that he decided to wander back to his own compartment.

The rest of the evening involved more vodka.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Day on the Town

If you want to be an ass about it, I know it's already the next day and this is late. Just relax, there's a time difference or something.

We managed to drag ourselves out of bed and walk around the city, which is pretty small. We started at the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway, what would really be the start for us. There's a decorative locomotive sitting on the platform, and this post with the kilometer marker. It's a long ride to Moscow.

We moved on to mingle amongst a bunch of old people on land for a few hours off their cruise ship (traveling by cruise ship, pff, who does that?), walked past Yul Brynner's birthplace, hung out at a festive section of sea side and rode a funicular up and down a hill.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The San Francisco of Russia

The San Francisco of Russia. That's what the proverbial "they" call Vladivostok. It's the harbor, the hills and the diversity. Really, Vladivostok is apparently one of the most diverse cities in Russia, being so close to other east Asian countries and about half the world away from the extreme racism supposedly found in European Russia.

Last year today we stepped off the ferry and waited our way through customs, bags sniffed by a spectrum of mongrel drug dogs and intimidated by stern women in crisp uniforms who were decidedly unsexy.

This day was also the night of finding ourselves in a sort of speakeasy cinema pub located in an unlit nook behind an unmarked door down a dark alley off an obscure parking lot reached by an unassuming driveway tunnel that we were led to by a waitress-turned-tourguide whom we fortunately over-tipped in our new-country naivete.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I'm On a Boat

Sometimes people get confused when I say I traveled from Korea without taking a plane. "Did you go through North Korea?" No I did not, that place is fucking nuts.

I left on a boat, and went to Russia. This is the room of bunks Adam and I had shared with two other people. It was really comfy and a surprisingly nice boat. You could buy bicycles made by Hummer or Porsche in the lobby, and there were colored fiber optic lights and a big open deck.

We met some other American travelers and some Russian girls coming back from studying in Japan, and hung out in the otherwise empty nightclub.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Train to Donghae

Adam and I took an evening train to the port city of Donghae on the evening of last year's today. I should have appreciated the beauty of the the countryside more, but I was preoccupied with dealing with a last minute phone crisis until the sun had gone down and a genial but bad-breathed trainmaster decided to chat up us waygooks and show us cell phone videos of his wife driving in their car.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Adam's Birthday

Today is Adam's birthday, and it was Adam's birthday a year ago too. Happy birthday Adam. Here's a picture of you riding a mechanical bull near Suseong Lake in Daegu. After making rounds of the little amusement park which included shooting pellet guns, riding a mechanical dog, and me rear-ending my ex-girlfriend into a wall after she cut me off on the go-kart track, we hung out with a dog in a bow tie trained to ride scooters, ate Russian food for dinner and spent the evening with a voice actress from Seoul and her chubby friend. Ah, sweet memories.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Retrospective Begins Because I Have Nothing Better To Do

Compared to traveling, not traveling kind of sucks. That's why I've been sitting around twiddling my thumbs for three weeks.

I decided to start writing up my notes and journals from the last year of travel. I'd like to write a book eventually, but what I'm doing now is just cleaning up a lot of sloppy diary entries and organizing thoughts and memories that aren't written down before I forget them.

What I'm writing now will not be a book itself. If it was, it would be boring as shit, and long as hell. I've written 15,362 words so far, describing only 18 days of travel. And most of those days aren't even interesting. A lot are from when I was sitting around in Korea recovering from an inguinal hernia surgery. When I get to the interesting shit, I'll probably be writing five or six times as much per day on average.

Either way, at this rate, my notes will work out to more than 300,000 words, or the length of about three novels if I ever finish.

So here's something easy I know I can do: each day I'll upload a photo I took exactly one year ago.

Thrilling, I know.

So up above, there you have it, the first photo of my daily photo retrospective. Go ahead, click on it. It's much bigger that way.

It was taken from Kristin's roof in Daegu. She let Adam and I crash at her place while she was off on vacation. The 23rd of September was the day after Chuseok.  The sky was incredibly clear this day last year, compared to Chuseok the day before which was rainy and gray. Looking south, the mountains were especially crisp in the clear air. I recall that even the ugly cement high-rises looked nicer.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How It Ends

I really meant to stay up all night so I could watch the sun rise over New York City and watch Brooklyn Terminal approach, but I slept in a bit. Deciding to have a quick nap at four AM never works out the way you plan it.

Still, I did get up early enough to see the sky brighten as the ship backed in to the terminal. The Statue of Liberty was off in the distance, looking far more impressive than the first time I saw it, as a speck from a Greyhound window over the appalling pre-dawn roofline of Newark.

It was after five AM and the whole ship, all 2,400 passengers and 1,200 crew, were up. The Queen Mary 2 was restocking and leaving the same day, a pretty impressive feat when you think of how much food, fuel, water and so forth it takes to support three and a half thousand people for a week.

Only the stiff wasn't up. Someone died on the cruise. A "Code Alpha" was broadcast over the ship-wide PA as I was waiting around by the planetarium one day. The voice sounded of forced calm, and it was the first ship-wide announcement of the cruise other than daily transit updates from the commodore at noon. I figured one of the old people had a heart attack, especially after the "Code Alpha" was repeated not long after.

It's not such a strange thing, people dying on a cruise ship, especially this cruise ship. My estimate is that at least half of the 2,400 passengers were over 60. You're stuck at sea for a week at minimum, odds aren't bad that one of the 1,200 geriatrics will croak.

Up on deck in a hot-tub conversation, I was told that on the average transatlantic crossing six people die. The same guy also said in another breath that he was a 21 year-old retired mainstream gay porn actor ("300 scenes at $3000 a scene, you do the math") who'd been living on his own since he was eight and owned homes in Florida and San Diego. This was the same kid who claimed he would kick down his door if he got locked in his cabin when he found out to his shocking disbelief that the ship has no jails.

He wasn't a very reliable source.

But back to the stiff. After I met my father at the terminal and we got ourselves organized, he mentioned that he'd heard about a death on board and wanted to know what I knew about it, which was nothing other than a suspicion. He'd been told of it by a member of the terminal staff, and suddenly the "Code Alpha" made perfect sense.

I wondered if the hearse that passed us on 95 just outside of NYC was carrying one of my former fellow passengers.

Getting carted off on a gurney and taxied away in a funny-looking car was how it ended for one of the passengers, but for most of us, we just got off the boat early in the morning with none of the ceremony that greeted us as we embarked. No flag waving, no band, no gauntlet of servants in epaulettes. We stepped off onto the pavement of Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, and everyone went their merry ways, and it was as simple as that.

For me, it was the end of more than a cruise. I'd traveled roughly 30,000 miles without airplanes, stepping foot on four continents. I'd been happily lulled into an unshakable state of sloth on the Queen Mary 2, and was in no mood to haul my shit around New York City. I ditched plans to meet up with friends for a week before heading back to New Hampshire, and got into the car with my father who drove down just to watch the ship come in, and who was heading right back home with or without me.

It was one of the few times in the last year that I took the easy way out, but I felt I had earned it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Coming To This

Article number seven has been published in the Exeter News-Letter. The link is on the right as always, or just click here. In this month's edition, I talk about language.

Though my trip is finished, I'll continue writing articles for the next five months to make the column go an even year. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An Arduous Crossing

It turns out that at least two of the seven sins are alive and well on cruise ships: gluttony and sloth.

I wasn't really too sure how the cruise would be, in terms of eating or dressing or drinking or whatever, since I'd never done anything so luxurious or white before. I brought my suit for dinners and seven bottles of wine for my cabin.

Life was not hard on the ship. Besides actually forcing myself to visit the gym throughout the week in a pale attempt to make up for a year of self-indulgent travel and consumption, time was mostly taken up by eating and sleeping and napping.

The food was good, but more importantly, there was an infinite amount of it. At the dinners whereat I snazzed myself up in my suit, I feasted in the Britannia, my assigned swanky (but not most swanky aboard) restaurant.

I dined on delicious and pretentiously named dishes such as cauliflower polonaise, pont neuf potatoes, chicken and wild mushroom terrine, fig and apple chutney, Indonesian vegetable bahmi goreng, tamarind-glazed duck breast salad, and herb-crusted rack of lamb, to name a few.

There was always a buffet elsewhere, usually with Asian food or grub classics like ribs or fries or roast pork. Room service was also available 24 hours a day, always a nice option at three in the morning after killing a bottle of wine and having a dip in one of the pools.

I came to eat so much that I eventually just started ordering two entrees at dinner, eating two breakfasts in two different restaurants, and eating when I wasn't hungry. If there is any place I can realize my fantasy of jumping into a swimming pool full of fettuccine alfredo, the Queen Mary 2 is probably it.

As far as sloth goes, I'd tell you all about it, but after all the naps and late mornings facilitated by the absence of windows in my cabin, I just don't feel like it.