Well, here I am back after the holiday break and on the road again. I think everyone knows basically what’s been happening since my last post at the end of October — it’s basically been what I laid out (in that post) would be happening over the next few months — but I suppose that a recap is in order.
I hope that clears things up.
This post is going to catch me up to my departure from New York. I’ve been in Rome for a week now, have a ton of photos and stuff, and go to Florence tomorrow, but the Rome stuff is going to have to wait a couple of days. I should have that one out this coming week, though. Florence will, I’m sure, be great, but I’ve got two weeks there and I’ve been pretty non-stop here in Rome. I’m ready for a little down time.
My last entry in this linguistically overendowed travelogue was at the end of October. I was still in Chiang Mai, and due to depart on November 17th for the U.S. Honestly, nothing much happened in those last 3 weeks in Chiang Mai that is worth reporting on, but I’ll hit a few highlights:
I had a few great meals/coffees with my friend Damien Walter, who’s always good for some quality conversation, and they were well worth it. I’m glad I made it back to Chiang Mai for that reason primarily, as it seemed a friendship well worth cultivating. And we’re planning on meeting in Zagreb, Croatia, in late March, so that’s something to look forward to.
I got in one more walking tour with Tony’s tour group, on October 31st, although I can’t say that this one was terribly impressive. We met again at the Kualek Cafe, just east of the Ping River (a little east of the middle of the Old City), and I’d taken my scooter to get there, so at least I was saved the extra hour each way of inhaling traffic fumes and I didn’t suffer too much the next couple of days. It was a large group, of around 12-15 people, including some nice folks that I had some decent conversation with, but much of it was just a long walk south along busy roads with narrow shoulders and lots of pollution. We passed a couple of modest temples/shrines — I took pictures, but let’s be real: they look pretty much like all the other pictures and you’ll get a more impressive set from my previous photos or from a simple Google Image Search of “Chiang Mai shrine”, so I’m going to forego uploading them.
We passed the blue-tiled pavilion dedicated to a King Kawila, which we had hit in a different tour just after I returned to Chiang Mai (described in this post), so I’d seen that already. We did walk past a couple of fields where old temples were being excavated, as part of a general “search and restore” effort of the Chiang Mai central temple organization, and I took a few snapshots, but they really mostly just looked like Wat Ku Khao above, except some were larger and they were spread out over a field.
Just past the excavation was the Lana Rice Barn, apparently the oldest hotel in the Chiang Mai area, a nice complex of old wooden buildings and statuary.
They had a lot of wooden carvings, of boats, of animals, of farm implements,… but, well, mostly of this:
Of course, now that I think about it, these remind me of one of my favorite memes, well illustrated here:
Perhaps this is the secret of why the Thai people are so nice: they still have fucks to give.
We continued on, and stopped at a large, in-use, temple complex called Wat Changkam, and it was cool enough but it literally looked like all the other active temples so I’m skipping the photos. (Google can be your friend there, if you care. I’ve got to catch up to the present day, after all, and preferably in less than 5,000 words.) Our guide Tony had expected us to be able to eat at booths in what should have been a large temple marketplace area, but it turns out the temple was having a holiday that day, and there were virtually no booths. So, we walked on to a nearby restaurant, where they really weren’t prepared for a party of our size. We did eventually get food, and it was decent (I think I had the pad thai, but it clearly wasn’t memorable), and I had some good conversation with my table mates, one of whom was a teacher who’d been traveling for a while and recently taught in Beijing — where she said the air was every bit as bad as we hear, and described the giant tents erected over the high-end English schools’ athletics fields so that clean air could be piped in. From there, a couple of the tour members (who knew Tony well) had brought their cars and arranged to drive a bunch of us back to where we’d started. The driver of the car I was in was a Thai woman named Jume, who’d just returned to Thailand after 40 years in Scotland. She hated the heat, but wanted to get to know her homeland again, which I can hardly blame her for. She also mentioned having been at Tony’s house, at a party the weekend before, and mentioned that it was large and had fields around it, and pretty much confirmed my suspicions that Tony is solidly upper class Thai. So, good on Tony!
That was the last tour; I’d hoped for another before I left, but it never materialized.
By the way, there’s one photo that, to me, sums up at least 1/2 of the Chiang Mai experience, so I’m going to include it here lest it be lost to the mists of time
The only other thing worth mentioning, in my remaining time in Thailand, was the release of the game Fallout 4.
This clearly deserves its own section. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that it was coming, and anyone I stayed with over these last couple of months knows how much I was playing it. It came out on November 11th in Asia (the day after its US release, and don’t think I didn’t hate that 1 day delay). It’s a game not unlike Skyrim, very immersive, impressive graphics, great writing, and from Bethesda Software, the same company and team that makes the series of games that Skyrim is a part of (and that the online game I play, Elder Scrolls Online, is related to). This one, instead of being set in a fantasy milieu, is set in a post-apocalyptic alternate future — imagine that the stylized World of Tomorrow imagined in the 1950s had experienced nuclear war in the year 2077, and your character experiences a world set 200 years afterwards, surrounded by the wreckage of the old world, partly-devastated cities and towns, leftover technology (some quite futuristic), mutants and monsters, and groups of humans trying to rebuild a life — with a fair amount of irony and flat-out silliness baked in.
The Fallout series has been running since the early 90s, and if you enjoy reading the occasional Cliff Notes of book series that you’re unlikely to ever read, the Fallout storyline on Wikipedia (the link to the Fallout 4 entry is here) may well be worth it. (That’s how I read James Joyce’s Ulysses, and it saved me *so* much time.) I’d been looking forward to this since they announced it in June, and although I wasn’t sure if I’d really be into it — post-apocalyptic isn’t really my genre of choice — I did love the game studio’s work on Skyrim and ESO, I’d seen bits of Fallout 3 gameplay online and knew the writing was decent, I knew that others I knew would be playing it, and I liked the idea of being part of an “event”, so I preordered it. In truth, it has been far more successful at hooking me in than I expected, and I’ve spent nearly all of my free time since then immersed in the game — 310 hours so far, over 3 months, so an average of 3-4 hours a day. Of course, there were many days when I didn’t play at all (like pretty much all of the last week), but they were more than made up for by some days where I did nearly nothing else. It’s been tremendously enjoyable — and a great chance to bond with my niece Brianna, who was also playing the hell out of it. Mind you, I wouldn’t have minded spending more time reading, or doing any of a handful of other enjoyable things. But no regrets in the slightest, and in fact I’m rather looking forward to getting back into it, once my current sightseeing rush wears down.
I did read a couple of online articles on game psychology, one in favor of quitting games to do something more “productive”, and the other basically responding, saying, “Yeah, like anything else, if you’re addicted it’s a problem. If you’re not, it’s just recreation so don’t sweat it.” As a guy who hasn’t seriously considered touching the game in a week, I’m lumping myself into the second category. Feel free to debate this amongst yourselves. 😉
So, Fallout 4 came out on the 11th, I played the hell out of it all week (an excellent alternative to roaming about in the Chiang Mai heat and humidity), didn’t get nearly enough sleep because my mind was spinning around game goals and strategies, and I flew back to the U.S. on the 17th.
The Travel Year, in Review:
This is probably a good point to look back over the year and see if I can’t offer a little summary. So, here are the significant points:
- Leave the US, thinking I’m in Chiang Mai to stay (more or less). This was actually a pretty useful viewpoint to start with, because, as much as I complained about the heat later, I was pretty comfortable at first. Partly because it was dryer, which helps. But also because I thought I’d *have* to be comfortable, and I changed my viewpoint to match. I’m pretty good at adapting to necessity; it’s when I have viable options that I’m never content until I’ve settled into the optimal one.
- If only I’d been able to breathe…. Leaving Chiang Mai for Khanom and Koh Samui, and then reading that the air up in Chiang Mai wasn’t getting any better, really changed what I had to do and thus my viewpoint on the rest of my life. I definitely wasn’t staying in Koh Samui, but I wasn’t settling in Chiang Mai any more, so, basically, I was traveling — so then the fun new game became, where do I go next? Changing from being a simple expat-in-Thailand to a nomad transformed everything else. That’s also when I really started using Airbnb, and that has been a vast improvement over hotel-hopping, mostly due to the excellent hosts and other guests.
- Sapporo, Japan made it crystal clear that, whether I can tolerate hot weather or not, cool weather is really my thing. It was *beautiful* there, lush and green, clean, friendly, pleasantly cool when I arrived and only modestly hot when it was broiling everywhere else. If I was willing to knuckle down and properly study the language, it might be worth staying in. But, then, I’ve seen almost nothing else yet, so it’s way too early to make that call.
- My trip down through Tokyo, Taipei (which I saw far too little of), and Kyoto in late summer was worth it, but it convinced me to never do that again. I’ll come back in a friendlier season, and NOT at the peak of summer.
- My last two months in Chiang Mai were a nice way to wrap up what I started, and worth it for the time with Damien, but also for the lessons it gave me about (a) again, how much better Airbnb is, and (b) how much more tolerable a place can be when you’re determined to make your life there, versus just being there for a couple of months after leaving someplace you really loved (Sapporo).
Favorite Place: Nakajima Park, Sapporo
Favorite place, ever.
Least Favorite Place: That beach cottage on Koh Samui
Hot, humid, lousy beach, nothing much within walking distance. At least it was a decent cottage, though some screen doors would have been a gods send. And it had a nice produce market/stall nearby. But, wow, that 2.5 months there was almost 2 months too long.
Favorite Food/Drink: For food, the open-face breakfast sandwich at The Larder in Chiang Mai, with egg and grilled zucchini and tomato and basil and humus and… I’m salivating again thinking about it. I’ll miss that place.
For drinks: the Iced Irish Coffee at Ristra8to in Chiang Mai (see above), and pretty much every $6.00 bottle of sake I had in Japan. (Though the $20 bottle was especially stellar.)
Least Favorite Food/Drink: Some sort of gooey noodle dish in Sapporo that I don’t remember the name of, tied with a seafood ramen dish also in Sapporo. Had some good food in Sapporo, but also didn’t, so it was sort of neutral food-wise, overall.
Favorite People: Damien, and Kenta (one of my Airbnb hosts in Sapporo)
Least Favorite People: The main guy at my favorite sake shop who, while he did give me good sake, just never seemed happy about it.
Best choices I made: Doing all of this to begin with. Going to Sapporo, and, separately, choosing Kenta’s place there. Ending the house search in Chiang Mai when the barriers seemed to high; it felt like a sign that I wasn’t meant to do it, and that turned out to be true.
Worst choices I made: I’m tempted to say my time in Koh Samui, but, honestly, it seems kind of integral to the process, and the fungus went away eventually. Let’s call that the worst experience, not the worst choice. Maybe the canceled trip to Nepal, just because of the airfare that I never got back. It wasn’t a bad choice in itself, but it didn’t work out. Choosing the seafood ramen at that restaurant in Sapporo.
Best experiences: Seeing Avengers 2 in Tokyo, near the end of a long day of walking in the summer heat and humidity. Going to the Nippon Ham Fighters baseball game with Kenta. That week in Khanom, in the Swedish lady’s condo on the beach. Going to Tokyo Tower. Drinking with Spaniards.
Worst experiences: Aside from my time in Koh Samui, I’ll say every time I didn’t do something because of the language barrier. It continues to discourage me from going into places that I think are interesting because I’ll have to deal with people as a hapless idiot. I’ll have to get over that. Sometime in the next 5-10 years. Also, that week I stayed in the Chiang Mai Old City, dealing with the pollution-induced headaches. Wow, that was miserable.
Favorite Airline: Cathay Pacific. Fantastic business class.
Least Favorite Airline: None, during this year. Asian airlines know how to treat their customers right.
Favorite Book: The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher
Least Favorite Book: Consider Phlebas, by Ian M Banks.
I could regale you with the gory details of my travel from Chiang Mai — I departed freakishly early, aggravated by an overly early rising (4 hours sleep, maybe?), aggravated by a week of super-short sleep due to my mind spinning around Fallout activities. (“Ok, so I’ll need to do X and Y, and then I really should do Q before I do X, but how will I manage R, and wouldn’t it be better if I…”)
But it was, in the end, just a flight. A long flight, Chiang Mai to Hong Kong, several hours in Hong Kong’s very comfortable Cathay Pacific business class lounge (playing Fallout), maybe an hour’s sleep on the plane (along with watching recorded shows on my iPad, getting to see the Ant-Man movie that I’d missed in my travels, and playing Fallout), and then a freakishly long delay leaving customs at LAX. It did yield this 2001-esque sequence, from the airplane’s undercamera as we took off from Hong Kong:
Sadly, I did not evolve into a Starchild during the course of the flight. But friends Jane and Jenni picked me up at LAX, so that was a solid second choice, and I proceeded to stay with Mark and Jane through Thanksgiving.
A few days after Thanksgiving, my sister flew down from Seattle, and Mum and Sarah and I drove up to SF, stayed with my Aunt Florida for a few days, and then continued on up to Seattle for a few days more. Then I flew on to Bozeman, MT, to stay with Lynne and Roger (while Mum and Sarah drove back down to LA), had a great time there, and then returned to Mark & Jane’s around December 14th, where I stayed until January 6th (and had the chance to finish a Sorry game that we’d been playing for — what was it? — 3 years?). (There was also an excellent and far too abbreviated lunch get-together with my friends and former coworkers on the 16th.) Then I flew to New York, to stay with Brandon and Sallie until Saturday, January 30th, had a trip or two into the city (including a lunch with friend Holly), and I got to enjoy some modestly cold weather and one really big snowstorm that cancelled some city plans (10-15 inches in Bedford Hills, 15-20 in the city). But, mostly, it was mild and scenic:
One thing of particular note: a few days before I left LA, my Mac became super-flaky, often refusing to start up. This had happened a couple of times during the past year, but now it was happening every day, starting (thank the gods!) right after I’d done a complete system backup. So, I made reservations at the Genius Bar in the Apple Store inside Grand Central Terminal in New York, for 5pm of the day I was flying in. I made it just in time, and the excellent Apple employee, AJ, had a good long look at it and concluded that it was due to a known Apple hardware issue, qualifying me for a free repair and motherboard replacement even though I was a good year beyond my support agreement. We also had a great talk about the new Star Wars movie, so it was a a win-win all around, and the Mac was ready 2 days later. Apple, as a company, has its quirks, and I don’t love everything about them, but their customer support is pretty damned stellar, and uniformly gets the highest ratings of any of the computer companies. I’ve always found them fantastic, and it’s why I keep coming back and buying their stuff. Such a relief to be able to get that handled before I left for Europe (and obscure, Apple-Store-less places like Split, Croatia)!
And with that, I’m calling it on the rundown. Clearly, I am giving somewhat short shrift to the details of those 2.5 months, but this is mostly due to 3 reasons. Firstly, Fallout. It occupied quite a lot of my time, as mentioned, and I could spend some hours recounting my experiences playing it, my impressions of the game, characters that I fell in love with, or persuaded not to fall in love with me, and the like, but there are limits to how much of that you’ll be interested in reading, and so I shall exercise some rare discretion and edit that out. Nonetheless, I might have had more to describe, if I’d been doing more of other things. And you might have gotten more blog entries about all of this along the way, as it was happening, if I hadn’t been absorbed in the game. I was basically either hanging out with friends/family, or gaming, and very little else.
And, secondly, in many respects, these last 2.5 months are a repeat of what I did last year: excellent people and places, richly enjoyed on my part (and hopefully on the part of my hosts). But, as Tolkien said in the Hobbit,
“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway. They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave. Bilbo would gladly have stopped there for ever and ever—even supposing a wish would have taken him right back to his hobbit-hole without trouble. Yet there is little to tell about their stay.”
This is proving to be very true. And, in truth, I did find it hard to leave each place, more so than last year. I could have stayed with my friends far longer than I did and been perfectly content. Last year, I had the adventure of setting out on my new life, so the regret of the partings was overshadowed by the adventure I was on. Now? In truth, my life has a weird kind of routine. Yes, I’m going to new places, and they’ll be cool and interesting. But it’s not a mystery. I know the outlines of how it’s going to go, and I’m just following along that track. And that’s a good thing, to be comfortable with the pattern of your life… but it’s not a cosmic shift in my universe anymore. The universe shifted already, found a new pattern, and now it’s all trade-offs. “Yes it’s time to go. Here’s what I’m gaining, and here’s what I’m losing.” And, as much as I’m an independent fellow, and even start to chafe at more than a few days in constant company with anyone, I’m still leaving friends behind to be alone. And the very large amount of alone-time is more than even I need. (Friendly Airbnb hosts help to alleviate that, but it’s not the same.) What I really need is to be able to be able to teleport. Hang out with friends, and then BAMF! off to Rome. Then BAMF! back to stay with other friends for a week or two and BAMF! off to Zagreb. Alas, that seems unlikely to happen. So, I’ll just have to make do.
Before I end off, in keeping with the theme of the blog, I should report on something I read during that time; not the only thing, but definitely a standout: Nimona.
I’d been waiting for this book for a while; it’s a collection of a web series by Noelle Stevenson that I’d read maybe 2/3 of, a couple of years ago. I’d stopped when I caught up to the last page she’d writtten/drawn, and then didn’t read any more because I hate reading a page at a time. I figured I’d come back to it when she was done, and then I heard that she’d worked out a publication deal — which was perfect, because I’d liked what I’d read so far, and I wanted to support her. So I put it on my Amazon Wish List, and waited.
In the meantime, Noelle has created another brilliant series called LumberJanes, about a girl’s summer adventure camp that keeps turning up eldritch creatures and mysteries, which is now up to something like issue 20 and has won two Eisner awards (the comic’s world’s equivalent of the Hugos, or Oscars). And she’s started doing work for Marvel, and just keeps doing better and better, and seems like a delightful person. So, yay her!
Nimona is set in a fictional world that’s part medieval and magic and part super-technology, and it’s about a girl with shape-shifting powers who takes (that is, insists on) a job as sidekick to a super-villain. It’s mostly comedy, but as the story progresses it gets more serious and, in places, rather dark. Never excessively so, but it doesn’t go to the places you might expect from it’s beginning. It’s very original and creative, and well worth the read. Since its formal publication, she’s taken the full series off her website, but you can still read the first 3 chapters here, and I recommend doing so:
As to where I read this, in truth, I’m a little blurry on that part. But it was in New York, and I’m going to claim that it was at the Grey Dog Cafe, near Union Square in Manhattan, my favorite breakfast place in New York, because I was there and because I remember reading something and it was very likely this. So I’m going with it.
And so, that’s how I spent my winter vacation. As I say, I left New York on January 30th, for Rome. I’ve been here a week, head to Florence tomorrow, and in a few days I’ll have the write-up on my Rome adventure. Stay tuned!