Slow it right down.

I’ve been back in Canada for two weeks now. The biggest shock was my first day here, when I was convinced that it was sometime around 5:00 in the afternoon until 9:00 at night– habituation to equatorial living and all that. I spent an amazing few days in Vancouver and have since been working at an apple orchard for ten or so hours a day– thinning out the crop so the remainder will sell at market. It is simple, and completely mindless. The perfect job for your amateur vagabond to fill his time with upon returning from abroad. Time to actively sit back and appreciate what I am returning to, and it all runs right down to my bones– they know I’m home. There is a quality of light, of air and of people that just doesn’t exist anywhere else. Every country has its own particular character, but it only really makes itself known if you’ve spent your life growing up there, steeped in the whole affair.

Coming back when you are really ready is the best part about leaving without an agenda. No sense of urgency, no return parade, no climax. And, as a person who is completely unemployed or otherwise gainfully at work– no routine blinders to don and muddy up all this… Wholesome emptiness. I work with people who do the same job year in and year out. Who live paycheck to paycheck– putting down-payments on their new (used) motor-homes or trailers. Farm hands born and raised, instead of our enlightened bohemian friends who have run off and jumped into rural living. The Canadians who vote conservative– then wonder where all their help (employment insurance, pensions, wellfare, etc.) went. People who drive Trucks.. I spend my days within earshot of people recounting stories about local characters like Two-dollar Debbie and Billy Potash (about whom my co-worker Carol said: ‘He’s tall, mean and uglier than hell– I’d like to throw rocks at’im..’). Conversations about engines, cars and motorcycles, crops, construction, odd jobs, odder jobs, apples and everything else Concrete. About things you can point at, things you can touch. I listen lots, and say relatively little.

There is something very fitting about returning to basic labour after a personal odyssey come iliad. About making food happen– so the rest of the country can enjoy the spoils. Not only the peace that orchard work affords, but a sort of poetic return to basics after seven months spent with my head in various clouds around the world. Again, this calm sense of belonging– even in a place I’ve never actually been. It is home. Here in this little trailer, with its little propane stove and broken screens that let All of the mosquitoes in. Practically surrounded by poison ivy. And these northern summer nights where the sun doesn’t really give any honest effort to setting until well past ten o’clock.

Apart from the people I miss on the other side of the country– I doubt that anything else would bring me an ounce more satisfaction than all that I do and don’t have right now.

Oh, Canada.

My first campsite after hitching into town

Between rows– 48 acres of apples

What the world looks like from the dirt pile next to my trailer

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Homeward bound.

So.

Plans changed and then changed again. Then a few more times before they settled on something that sits Really well with what I’d like to be doing and, realistically, need to be doing. My time in Bali has officially been fantastic, not so many adventures or mishaps or explosions (there have been no explosions) as other countries and places I’ve stayed. But for me, it has been important. Time to decompress from the complete isolation of riding a motorcycle for close to three months, time to figure out what is/was going on in my head. Time to not worry about where I need to be. To organize thoughts and futures. Time to cogitate. Externally unproductive, internally– mountains have been moved.

I was planning on staying here for two months, which I admit was at least a little optimistic. Two months of doing Absolutely nothing was something that looked awfully good on paper, but when it comes to practicing what I’ve planned, well, it tends to drag on. Dragons. So, I’m heading home over a month early. Not Toronto, not Montreal– but home to Canada. Where I don’t have to hazard my way through another language, where I don’t have to explain who or what a Canadian is. Where I can be Completely and wholly Normal. Unexotic. Heck, unremarkable even. Not foreign, not some wayward traveller. But just a person among people. Wow.

To add to that whole Let’s Be In Canada thing, I can work and earn some money picking fruit in BC to help me function as a person after this travelling thing concludes. I still have lots to do before that eventual conclusion. I have to get to Toronto, build a bicycle, go to Montreal, find a place to live for the foreseeable future, bike to Halifax with my friend Jenny, save the world. And then, of course, make my way back to Montreal and officially move in before finding work and applying to school for the following year. So. I’ll be more or less detached until mid September, which suits me just fine.

But only because I am comin’ Home.

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Bali.

I’ve stumbled into a pretty hilarious lifestyle.

There isn’t much to it. I don’t spend much money or have many passtimes beyond surfing, playing music and reading. And who knows if I will get sick of it– but it is just Exceedingly relaxed. Like if you take away every concern that could possibly exist, then plunk yourself down in a tropical paradise. That is where I am. Maybe part of the serenity is that I am settling back into a life at a walking pace, but all sense of urgency, the feeling of needing to be somewhere or trying to reach a destination is completely gone. Because, I’ve arrived. I’ve been here for around a week, and I feel grounded already. Simple and great. Simply Great.

The southwestern arm of Bali is roughly separated, from South to North, into three areas: Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. Which are The Tourist Trap, The Undeveloped Milieu and The Resort Capital of Indonesia, respectively. Kuta is a complete zoo with massage parlours every thirty meters, then tattoo parlours and pubs between them with a hundred thousand Australian tourists often touting Impressive mullets, walking around in wife-beaters and carrying bottles of beer while the women get fleeced at vendor’s stalls. The vendors are pretty great at playing like they are giving them a good deal. It is both fun and frustrating to watch. Seminyak is a block of resorts where people just sit and slowly melt into the sand. Not much action, but that is exactly why people go there. The food is comparably expensive at five to fifteen dollars a dish instead of one to two dollars to fill you up just right with Indonesian tasties. But, the beach and properties there are well manicured and there are far fewer people trying to hawk their about-to-break wares. Legian (pronounced Leggy-ann) is a residential oasis tucked between the masses, and that is precisely where I’ve installed myself. Small restaurants with incredible food and labyrinthine alley-ways to get lost in– and at any point during the day, there are between ten and thirty kites flying above the neighbourhood, all within eyeshot of my balcony.  Definitely my kind of Haven.

I’ve found a great group of Indonesian beach-boys, also widely known as the Kuta Cowboys– but that is for another post. They surf and play with a wooden tennis set and lounge around making music, selling drinks and renting out beach-chairs and surfboards for people to use at/for their leisure. Fantastic people. None of them are Balinese, instead they tend to come from Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi or East Timor to just enjoy Bali. They don’t make a ton of money, though no one does, and they don’t complain. One really interesting thing that I don’t think I’d expect from a North American beach-boy is that they all, every one of them, has a plan for what they want to do next. That lazing about and playing on a beach is something that is temporary. Great for a couple of years, but that real life is very present in the back of their mind. That they want families, to start a real business, that they want to go back to their respective villages or abroad, that they all want a sense of stability. One that surfing will realistically never provide. I feel that North Americans, though I am basing this off nothing, would try and prolong that low to no responsibility adolescence for as long as possible– instead of recognizing that the lifestyle is more or less time sensitive. But, then again, maybe the ability to delay any and all worry is a gift in and of itself..

Anyway, It is nice not to have to worry about where I will be going next. To know that for the next Long time, from a traveling perspective, I will be right here. The time will probably pass pretty quickly, especially because I sleep around twelve hours a day and spend the rest in the sun, slowly moving my chair to stay under an umbrella’s shade, but for a while, at least, it is all pretty satisfying. And, God, it feels good to be active after three months firmly planted to the seat of a motorcycle.

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Sweet sorrow

I’m on the first bus I’ve been on since Nanning, which was about three months ago, now. And while it’s nice to be driven around, to not have to worry about where you are going, how you are going to get there and the number of times you’ll break-down along the way… There is obviously something Awfully removed about it. You don’t need to know where to find north, what route you’ll take and what might be most interesting to see along the way or where you need to be at the very end. Between the points you step on and off, you are just lost. Hopelessly lost and relying on the man in front of you– the one holding the wheel. Which is fine, but, well, I will miss it. The independence. The freedom to leave when you want and go where you want. To stop for a pee. To take a wrong turn and have to ask someone for directions as a result. Not much can compare.

Yesterday was my last day riding. I arrived on Pennang, an island just off the west coast of Malaysia, as the sun set the day before– after twelve hours and two hundred kilometers of frustration. The piston seal went with a Gurgle, and the engine started burning oil at a pretty alarming rate. I had to take out and clean the spark plug four or five times between the Malay border and Pennang. At one point the spark plug blew out entirely, half-way stripping the threads and ensuring it would pop out with a BANG every time I accelerated. So, for forty kilometers I held the spark plug in with my booted foot while trying to strike a balance between keeping my bike moving forward, and braking to navigate the traffic. Interesting, but it got old quickly. Eventually I tied it in with a piece of cord I’d been carrying around since the start of my trip. Bound and gagged, we limped into Pennang.

I managed to get it back into pretty reasonable working condition with a bit of tape and by playing with the air intake to compensate for the oil leaking into the chamber– these older bikes are Unbelievably easy to fix as long as you are patient and willing to work at it. My friend Tumi, a woman I’ve met up with four times since Cambodia, and I went off for one last ride around the island. A beautiful place with roads that hug the shoreline almost all the way around. We found and wandered around a spice farm, then stopped at a little roadside stall for some food. The bike was a star. I asked an older Malay man sitting in a house next to the stall if the food was any good– he said that the fish and coconut sauce was worth my time, then invited us in to sit with him while we ate.

His name is Rabbi. He was born on Pennang as the son of a fisherman, but now works at the national park, his wife runs a clothing consignment store and they donate most of their proceeds to the salvation army. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to work for the last couple of months because of an infection on his foot and the eventual amputation of three of his toes. He didn’t ever finish primary school, but learned English by talking with foreigners who passed by– and he spoke beautifully. As long as you are willing to learn, if it is in your heart, you can do anything– he said. We started talking and he said that the biggest difference between Malaysia and other countries in south east Asia is that Malaysians tend not to care about skin colour. That they fundamentally believe that people are all the same, all equal, no matter where they come from. That honesty was the way that we are brought together, and that treating people differently would only ever divide us. And, it shows. All the Malaysians I’ve met so far have been wonderful. Smiling and willing to help without asking for anything in return. After we had finished eating I asked Rabbi a question:

Do you want a motorcycle?

He looked at me, understandably confused. I told him that it wasn’t perfect, and that it certainly needed a bit of work– but if he wanted it, it was his. He asked me what I wanted in return. I told him that inviting us in for lunch was already good enough. He turned to his wife and started speaking to her in Malaysian, she doesn’t speak English, she came over and looked at Tumi and I with raised eyebrows, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled in response. I told them that we were going to go out again to see a bit more of the island, but on our way back I’d stop and drop everything off for him. Motorcylce, registration and the key. Then, it was his to own, for good.

We went out along one of the roads that snakes its way through the jungle, up and down mountains. Then just sat for a bit at the side of the road. It was the end. And everything felt right. All of it. All of it felt okay. For the last few days I’d spent on the road I’d been wondering how I was going to sell my little motorcycle. Maybe I could cover the cost of my flight to Indonesia, though I’d settle for fifty bucks… But, while riding, the more I thought about selling it, the more I turned the idea round in my head– the less it seemed to appeal. How could I accept money for this? For this tiny motorbike that I had nursed through four countries at sixty kilometers an hour. That I had sat with for days and days and days on end. Selling it seemed cheap. An unfitting end for me and my pygmy stallion.

We got back to Rabbi’s little bungalow and walked in. His children were all there and all shook my hand. He told Tumi and I to go choose and take any of the clothes we wanted– we tried to refuse, but he wouldn’t have any of it. I took two t-shirts, Tumi took a skirt. He urged us to take more, but we told him we were traveling, and just couldn’t. I handed him the registration card and the key and told him about some of her particularities. He then asked if we would take a picture with him. And that was it. As we shook hands he started crying. Trying to hold back tears he repeated, Thank you, thank you– telling me to come back whenever I wanted. Whenever I could. And. We walked off. Silent. Shaken. But overwhelmingly content.

After a minute or two.. I started laughing. And just couldn’t stop. That motorcycle meant Nothing. Nothing to me at all, and everything at the same time. But to them? It means so much more. Worth far more than any dollar sign I’d have plastered to it to sell. In this life I’ve been living over the past little bit, I barely own a thing. I have some silly bits that I carry around with me, a few articles of disintegrating clothing, but practically nothing to my name. And giving something away when you have nothing to begin with is just so easy. You start with nothing, you end with nothing. You gain small items as you go and others eventually move on. If anything I had was more expensive, more costly, my experience traveling would be completely different. I would covet my possessions more, horde them, keep them for myself. Refuse to settle and be disappointed at every endpoint. Frustrated. But it isn’t like that, and I couldn’t be more happy with the result.

So, I’m without my own transportation anymore. And that is okay. It was perfect. The whole trip was perfect, I learned soso much– and I’d do it over again if given the opportunity. For now all I have is a pair of boots and some feet that fit in them. And, for the time being, that is all I really need.

Here’s a list of some of the parts I had to replace along the way. I’ve more than likely forgotten things. Nearly every day on the road meant stopping in at a mechanic once or twice. I think my longest stretch problem free was three days. Anyway. Here: Battery, Alternator, Transformer, Cam shaft, Three spark plugs, Spark plug jacket, Shifter seal, Rack, Broken mirrors, Three clutch levers, Clutch cable, Clutch plates, Ignition, Engine gaskets, Transmission gaskets, Timing levers, Swing arm bearings, Piston seal, Bent rims, Carburator, Rear cog, Two gas leaks (Note: These cannot be fixed with bubble gum), Front suspension seals, Computer unit, One flat tire, Sheared muffler bolt, Air filter, Left indicator and Three spokes.

Oh, and countless lost nuts and a thousands stops along the roadside to tinker.

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Of Course!

I thought I would have figured myself out by this point, or at least have the presence of mind to recognize my present.. mind.. Anyway. This same pattern has played out before about a thousand times, where I can’t enjoy something because I am too stuck in what comes next. The allure of a particular novelty. Also, my camera is broken… Crud.

Untouristed Thailand is a great place. The country itself is singly the smelliest place I’ve ever been. Not that it smells bad, though it does at times, but there are just So many smells floating around. Every five minutes there is a new and distinct fragrance wafting around from somewhere along the side of the road. Always so particular to what it actually represents. It is amazing. The food is spectacular– not as cheap as Cambodia or Vietnam, but it hits the spot. The people in more rural communities are nice, wonderfully engaging and soso willing to help. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, the heavily touristed portions are just cleverly disguised cesspools for reasonably affluent, typically older, men to play Ken with their respective Barbie– Asian edition, 2012. But, I’m sure it is an industry that supports an awful lot of lives. Its just a bit disheartening to have women yell ‘Massage!’ at you, then try to touch your junk. Less of the warm fuzzies, more time spent curled up in a corner softly weeping to yourself. The best part is, when you politely decline, they ask ‘Why not?!’ And. Well, there just isn’t enough time for your (my) brain to mentally rollodex through the Thousand and one reasons why I wouldn’t want to join her back in her room; besides, you just can’t say ‘I’m afraid of Chlamydia.’ So, you get these twitchy responses from a brain that has short-circuited from the mass of information it is trying to distill– like: Oh, I don’t like sex. Or: Aww… Can’t, it’s a Monday… Or: Nono, you have to wait until at least thirty minutes after you eat– trust me, I’m a scientist… Then you slink away with a cocked eyebrow– likely more confused than your lady-boy or lady-lady suitor. Suitress?

Anyway. Back to what I was talking about. ME AND ALL OF MY FEELINGS, naturally. I want to get to Bali, which takes away from everything that I am trying to do or see here. The same thing happened during my last week in Mongolia, same thing during my time in Shanghai. I just have no energy to dedicate to what I am doing now because I am so focused on what is to come. The rain hasn’t helped, either… So, I think I am going to do a pretty cursory sweep through Malaysia, not that my time in Thailand has been in any way comprehensive, but it just isn’t worth dragging my feet for an extra week, growing more and more complacent about the incredible things that I see on a daily basis. Not really that fair for Malaysia either. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I am there. But, for now, all I can do is obediently follow where my feet want to be.

And they want to be on a surf board.

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Honestly,

I’m getting pretty bored of this whole thing.

I want to be somewhere to stay. I want to find a small community and integrate. I want to have real conversations with real people with real stories and opinions. I suspect I am, psychologically (?) right where I should be. It’s sort of interesting that I’ve picked today to complain/vent– I’ve been away for exactly six months. Today is that day. November 7th to May 7th. Half of a year. Six months feels like when there should be a down-turn in drive and energy. Slumps come and inevitably go, I’ve just got to push through and find enjoyment in the smaller corners of traveling. It’s just that I am here in Phuket, Thiland, literally surrounded by 40-60 year old western men with their young Thai bunnies trailing behind them– women who only ever smile when they are prodded for forced conversation. You can see them Squeezing out these exaggerated bursts of laughter at some flaccid, often inappropriate, joke. The whole thing makes me uncomfortable, like I am grouped in with them by proximity and relative pallor. Euugh.

Thailand feels simultaneously overwhelming and empty. It is Beautiful, for sure. But the concentration of people doing the same thing, day in and day out, without regard to local. Anything… It is just not the most inspiring of places. I want to be surrounded by people who are dedicated to what they love. Dedicated to the people or to their initiative. People that feed each other’s excitement… In a healthy way.. The Thailand that I have seen, apart from the Incredible people on Koh Tao and in Bangkok, has been more stagnant than anything else. A country where the tourism caters to extended vacations. And there is nothing great about vacationing for weeks or years on end– at least not for me. A waste of life. A waste of time. A drain on energy, because it takes everything I have just to keep trudging on. I’m not the person who sits on a beach and melts for days on end– I just wasn’t raised that way. I need engagement, but Thailand only offers that at a premium, which my thinning wallet just doesn’t have the strength to afford. It costs thirty five dollars to go Fishing! To sit around for a few hours and and stare at a string you dipped in the ocean! How is that even possible?!

Anyway. I’m confused. Its also looking more and more like Indonesia Can’t happen on a motorcycle. I just don’t have the documents to make it happen, and what I thought was a glimmer of hope in forging a Carnet de Passage has lead to something that is way beyond my photoshop capabilities. So, we’ll see what happens. From KL I’ll probably just fly to Bali and settle for a while. Find some bike shop to work in, somewhere to volunteer. Work at a hostel for free board. Be busy for the first time in months. Maybe I’ll start up wandering around after I have the energy again. It just means I have to enjoy my last thousand or so kilometers. I do love my motorcycle. For all the grief she’s caused, and all the arguments, it’s been a great relationship. One that won’t be easy to walk away from.

Boof.. Even thinking about it makes me a little upset.

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Back at it

I’m back on the road after a week of repose on the Island, which I think I needed.

Thailand is a pretty strange place. I suppose I should preface saying that I am not actually in Thailand, but on a private island owned by a Burmese resort.. I needed to refresh my Thai visa, and this was the first crossing I stumbled onto. So, I’m having the most expensive coconut shake that I will ever buy Ever, and basking in leather cushioned luxury– wearing my grease-stained flannel shirt and leather boots– before continuing on south. Not so bad.

Thailand though. There is something suspicious about the country. The people are, largely, lovely. But I consistently get the impression that I’m not being told the whole story, and I can’t for the life of me figure out where or how it started in their course of history. Whatever it was, though, must have been fairly early on to be so widespread throughout the country. Thai people are notoriously proud, they like to eat and be merry and have a hundred parties for a hundred reasons, but underscoring the whole thing is a staunch adherence to a sense.. Face? Impression? Respect? All of them wound into whatever you’d call the general (reductive) Thai psyche.

My short time travelling here, I’ve heard the same story about fifteen times, where if you have Any confrontation with a Thai person, no matter how the actual course of events unfolded, you accept the blame without argument. Because, according to a number of people I’ve spoken to, Thais are never wrong. Or, rather, they won’t be wrong. What I don’t know, mostly because I haven’t yet had the courage to ask, is how these confrontations play out between Thais– if neither side is willing to be at fault for an action and reaction, or willing to come to some sort of compromise, how far can an argument escalate? And if not solution can be found– how does it end?. A woman I met, Caroline, said on Koh Tao it wasn’t too uncommmon for people to disappear. And if a Thai taxi driver is willing to hit a woman (her name is Kate) after they disagreed on an agreed-to fare– I’m inclined to believe it is the truth.

But this is just a universal reality. All countries have their darker sides. Russia and the fear the police instill into the people, Mongolia and the growing sense of severe nationalism, China’s censorship and race towards power, Vietnam and the grip the war still holds them with, Cambodia’s Entire history, and Thai pride. Then, Canadian.. Canadian what? Its hard to define our own weaknesses. And for a long time I thought we just sort of, had it right. There were obviously problems that existed within the system, but those would be worked out slowly by the people where were willing to stand against them. However. Canada is quickly becoming a farce. This global fib. The open foundations of the country are being strategically picked apart by an unbridled conservative government, and internationally– we are still thought of as being this haven for progressive movement. And someday, maybe not too far from now, international communities are going to wake up and realize that we aren’t the harmless, apologetic, people the world thought we were. That we have teeth. Because, no matter what way you turn it and oppose it, a ruling government changes the population. Once the flare dies down after a shift in policy, the people accept it as the current norm. As these small shifts stack to make bigger changes in national governance, the country’s people change to function within the system– or grow ignorant of it. This is true of any direction government is chosen/chooses to pursue. Left or right, up or down, forwards or backwards countries will change to meet the shift– and, again, over time this shapes the population.

Gosh, that got political pretty quickly. Can you tell that I’ve been thinking about home?

When I grow up, I want to be a dictator. Then everything would be great~~~. Oh, dear.

Gotta catch a boat back to Thailand.

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