Well, here it is! Tonight is my last night in Beijing. — notes from seattle through anchorage
I wrote this during an eight hour layover in Tacoma airport, part of a 40 something hour journey from Alaska back to New Jersey. It was not an entirely easy trip. I present it here for posterity, unedited.
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… Of course, if I’ve learned one thing it’s that “last” is a concept so vague as to almost not exist. Nevertheless, I feel that with the end of this latest journey there’s been some sort of sea change, some change in my atmosphere I can feel if not describe. And so, for the benefit of my adoring fans as well as for my own sanity, I will lay down the most pertinent parts of my story here.
As you well know, traveling the world as I’ve done this past year wasn’t actually my original intent — rather, it was a pleasant byproduct of a different goal. No, the only reason I first started this whole affair was so I could die violently in a fiery plane crash. You see, I was born under an ill star: while my sun is in Libra my moon is in Scorpio, and together those two signs hold 3 of the 5 letters in ‘plane’. In short, I was doomed, and I knew it from the time I first learned to read.
Having completed my bachelors last year, and having been told by all my friends that I peaked in college, I thought that I may as well get my prophesied death over with, and so I spun the globe and booked a plane ticket to the most remote place I could think of: Kathmandu. Fourteen hours, I thought, would be more than enough time to crash. I packed my three biggest bags with my best clothes and other most valuable belongings, deciding that like the pharaohs of old I would ascend to the afterlife in style.
However, somehow things didn’t end that way. Instead the entire fourteen hour trip passed uneventfully, and I found my soft, supple flesh had made it entirely unmarred to the capital of Nepal. Lacking a plan and yearning for spiritual guidance, I made my way to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. This was where I first met Ezekiel Maben.
Zeke (as he was known to his friends) was much like me: he’d come to Lumbini hoping to become a monk, but when he realized he’d have to shave his head his fear of impending (genetically fated) hair loss kicked in and he backed out. Now that we were both in Lumbini with nothing to do, we got drunk and, on a whim, decided to become teachers — seeing how it’s the profession which garners the least respect in America, it seemed somehow fitting of our position as outcasts.
Zeke took to the position with fervor, though I was slightly reticent. We invented fun games to play with the children: our favorite was seeing how many lies we could tell them about America before we lost their trust, a competition Zeke repeatedly trounced me at by convincing an especially gullible boy that the USA had cultivated a plant which was half tomato and half potato.
However, even taking advantage of children eventually loses its charm, and four months into the position I found myself yearning for new horizons. This was aggravated by the fact that my room was consistently filled with mosquitoes the size of golf balls, and the grounds of the monastery where I stayed were prowled late at night by a monk known only as “The Mongolo”, who was suspicious of anyone who didn’t meditate at least seven hours a day.
Since it seemed that one big plane crash wasn’t going to do me in I decided to change my strategy, and I booked a series of quick flights from Nepal to China to Japan and back to Nepal again — calculating that, on average, any individual plane has a 50% chance of crashing meant I was at least 150% certain to die this way.
Of course (as you may well judge by this post), I once again passed through the sky and out the other side in one piece. And, by the time I’d reached Japan, a strange thing had happened: rather than becoming frustrated at finding myself alone in a foreign country with no plans, I started to enjoy it.
I spent my days climbing mountains, eating raw fish and meditating under waterfalls, which is practically all they do in Asia, and as I settled into a pleasurable series of bus rides to different cities I decided I quite liked the traveling life after all. So much fun was I having, in fact, that I barely thought about dying in a plane crash more than twice a day.
However, not all journeys have a happy ending. My latest trip to Beijing is not just another tale of a happy-go-lucky hooligan. In fact, this tripped was spurred by something love: though I had been in China only briefly, I discovered I had fallen head over heels for hot pot.
Yes, my friends, I missed hot pot every day of my life in America. My thoughts would constantly circle back to it and I wondered, at the same time, if it was thinking of me in the same way. Three months later I was on a plane to Beijing, capital of China, to reunite with my beloved.
Unfortunately, it couldn’t last. While hot pot and I had real affection for each other, my microbiome was just too different to handle hot pot efficiently. Each encounter with hot pot would inevitably leave my guts churned up, and though with time perhaps I could have adapted or hot pot could have tried new ingredients it wasn’t a sacrifice that was in the offing. Eventually hot pot and I split relatively amicably and I focused on roast duck for the duration of my time in Beijing.
Now here I am, on the road again, and yet as I said at the beginning I almost feel like something has changed. Despite my adamant view that I, like the great sage Socrates, know nothing and am a total fucking dunce, you could say I learned a bit from this latest journey. Namely, when I had to leave Beijing, I really didn’t want to. You could attribute this to any number of reasons; my love of the food, the wisdom of some people I met, or even the fact that I finally realized I didn’t want to die in an airplane and have resolved to never fly again. Whatever it is, I think that I have discovered the value of “community”, “having a home”, “getting drunk in the same bar every weekend” and other terms which, to me, have only ever appeared as abstract concepts. Perhaps it is only by marching forward into the future that I will shed some light on the situation.
Farewell, my friends.
I remain ever yours,