Notes for a Memoir – Addendum

So far, I have written Part 1 and Part 2 of my notes for a never-to-be-written memoir. Before I hopefully start Part 3, I would like to sketch out a few chapters that either could be slotted into Parts 1 and 2, or that cover recurring themes that might not fit nearly into any linear chronology. In past instalments, I wrote brief summaries of what each chapter might cover. From this point forward, I would rather leave the chapter titles/descriptions even more vague, in the hopes that sample chapters will actually appear in this blog within the lifetime of the Earth’s Sun. And so, with only a little bit of further adieu…

Part 1

  • Going back to playschool after kindergarten, skipping a grade, and “special” classes, or: How to Disorient the Living Shit Out of a Child
  • Mr. Moskalyk, the Visionary Teacher Who Quite Possibly Left No Permanent Imprint on my Life, Because Life Is Pointless and Dumb
  • My violent mother-abusing alcoholic uncle who is totally dead now
  • My many schoolboy crushes (or: A study in proto-adolescent sexual repression)
  • All about autism, and what it can do for YOU
  • Dogs are, and always will be, better than people
  • Almost every dream I’ve ever been able to remember in my entire life has been unpleasant, or: Dreams
  • My A&B Sound Family (In retrospect, I already wrote at least one chapter of my memoir without even realizing it)
  • Temporary autistic obsessions:
    • Catalan music
    • Trains
    • Hip-hop
    • Terrible early ’90s techno-pop
    • Classical music
    • Cinema (As discussed in the newly-added chapter “My Hot Psychologist”)
    • Learning languages
    • [Redacted]
  • My Failed Career as an Early-Teen Filmmaker
  • Johann Sebastian Bach is the G.O.A.T.
  • Staying Up Til 3 AM playing Nintendo 64, Eating Potato Chips and Drinking Pop: A Study in Friendship
  • Beautiful Lady from the Dollar Store, Beautiful Lady from the Coffee Shop, and Other Beautiful Ladies Who I Spent A Lot of Time With But Was Afraid to Kiss
  • Watching Grandparents Die

Part 2

  • Almost getting shitcanned during pre-departure training for Manila because I was a hot, sticky mess of anxiety; bonding with the cutest gay guy ever during a starry post-training night on Parliament Hill
  • The existential rot of the autistic introvert trying to enjoy nightlife
  • Failed Pygmalion: How an eccentric rich Filipina made me her temporary, honourary son-in-law
  • Five Months in a Dilapidated Mansion
  • Living With Two Hot Sisters, Or: The Worst Mistake I Ever Made
  • Computer Programming: The Least Objectionable Profession
  • How I easily succumbed to shitty alpha male mind games, and hope I won’t again: pre-departure training for Vietnam
  • Loneliness – So, So Much Loneliness
  • That Time My Landlord Tried to Entice Me Into A Gay Orgy
  • Filipino Dentists and the Joy of Unnecessary Fillings
  • My five year pseudo-romance and its nightmarish end (related chapter: Breaking Up in Myanmar)
  • Khao San Road, A Beautiful Blond Danish Girl, and the Dying Gasps of My Youth
  • Am I Gay? And Other Conversation-Starters

Rushing Regretfully Toward Ivanovo

What follows is a travel story, about a trip where I took a great many photos. However, I may not post any photos in the article. Why? Well first of all, I am a profoundly lazy person, and the drudgery of digging through thousands of photos to find the least blurry ones, cropping them, and then resizing them hardly seems worth the nothing I am getting paid to write these posts.

And second, because photos would only get in the way of this self-pitying reflection on the bitter impermanence of all things.

I visited Bulgaria for the first time in 2016. I staggered in by bus from Thessaloniki, Greece with few expectations, and was immediately charmed. It was my first time in the Balkans, and I was fascinated by the characteristic intersection of the Slavic and Turkic worlds. I was intrigued by the combination of post-Communist stodginess and Mediterranean warm-heartedness. Also, it probably didn’t hurt that all the women looked like supermodels.

I spent some time in the capital of Sofia, where I managed to destroy my new phone while struggling to figure out the intricacies of a Southeastern European washing machine. (In case you’re wondering, you have to, like, put your clothes inside some sort of suspended cage while water sprays willy-nilly in every direction. And while you’re panicking, the lid comes crushing down and smashes the screen on your brand new phone.) And finally, with my barely operable phone, I left Sofia to continue on my journey. Read More

Nights of Melrose

As a connoisseur of the Great American Layover, I am always looking for interesting places to stop on the way from Canada to Mexico. Last year, I was lucky enough to find a cheap ticket from Boring City, Canada to Los Angeles, and another cheap ticket from Los Angeles to Mexico City. And so, my latest American adventure began.

Although the United States is not a cheap country, I do find a certain adventurous joy in trying to find ways to travel it cheaply. Perhaps it’s because the country’s seamy underbelly is so utterly enthralling, and there’s no better excuse to come up and close with said underbelly than by doing America on the cheap – which for me mostly means riding public transit and eating gruesome quantities of fried food. Regardless, one crucial ingredient of a cheap LA trip was cheap accommodations. In that regard, I got more than I could ever hope for from my Melrose Flophouse. One of the weirdest Airbnbs I’ve ever encountered, this $25/night West Hollywood wonder came pre-sold with reviews from people who essentially described it as either the greatest or worst place ever, depending entirely on one’s perspective.

And indeed, after arriving at the waking nightmare that is LAX and wading through Welcome Traffic on an airport bus and an Uber, I discovered that the flophouse was all I dreamed of and more. I was warmly received by the host, a woman who appeared to be from mainland China and had limited English skills to match. We had a pleasant chat, and she told me how the flophouse business was more lucrative than her previous business ventures – Truly, living the American dream. Soon enough, I was escorted to my “room”, which was basically a converted tool shed. Compared to the longer-term accomodations offered by the establishment, however, my room was strictly VIP. My neighbours appeared to be sleeping on mattresses on the ground, with whatever privacy they had provided by hanging sheets. Along with the sheets, the common area was scattered with assorted junk, brickabrack and deteritus, although amidst it all, the bathrooms were freakishly clean.

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Initial Thoughts on the Maldives

So, it’s my third full day in the Maldives. And one of the most interesting things about going to the Maldives is the reactions you get when you’re telling people you’re going to the Maldives. Here they are, ranked from most to least frequent, and with my own responses:

  1. “Maldives! Oh em gee, you’re so lucky – that’s my dream destination!” – Well, in principle I recognize that I am lucky, but mostly I’m just dead inside. How I wish I could feel the kind of joy that you seem to feel – even vicariously! Please weep for me.
  2. “Maldives! You need to send me pictures!” – Well, maybe later…
  3. “Maldives! Isn’t that, like, where movie stars go?” – Well, yeah but not only, not anymore…
  4. “Maldives? Where’s that?” – Well, basically south of India…
  5. “Maldives! You must be rich!” – Well, not exactly, because…

In the last few years the Maldivian government has moved beyond the ultra-deluxe private island resort market and begun allowing tourist development on local islands. It’s still not a cheap place to travel – the logistics of providing anything close to western amenities in a remote archipelago of tiny islands remain daunting. And this is still a country that emphatically does not cater to the 21-year old Party Hostel Banana Pancake Gap Year Finding-Yourself Party Party Party Party Party Party demographic (a group for which I clearly have the utmost affection). So, if you can’t afford the debauchery of the private islands, where apparently anything goes; if hate alcohol and nightlife as much as I do, and love being on a traditional island where strict Islamic values prevail; and if don’t mind skimping on some frills like formal transportation, here’s how you can survive, if not thrive, in the Maldives on a Bloggerbels Cheapo budget:

    1. Pick an island that’s big enough to have a few local food options – Those tourist restaurants can be scary expensive. (Or, the same prices as in Canada, which is basically the same thing.)
    2. Pick an island with enough beaches that you don’t need to get on a boat everytime you want to go for a swim.(I chose the agricultural island of Thoddoo – one of the “biggest” islands in the country at about 3 kilometres across – for both of those reasons. Also, because they’re known for growing delicious papayas! Also, because I hoped it was far enough from the airport to not yet be totally inundated with mass tourism – but I only partially succeeded on the last point…)
    3. Instead of taking a speedboat like all sane people do, ride the much slower midnight fruit transport ferry from the capital of Male. Actually, after waiting for a while at an incredibly dodgy pier, one of the boatmen informed me that the boat was in fact leaving at 5 AM, and that I should really sleep on board until then so that nobody robs me. After mulling over whether I should accept a strange man’s invitation onto an unlit boat, I finally decided to be touched by his concern. However, I still had considerable difficulty hopping onto a gently swaying, fairly tall fruit transport without the benefit of a ladder. (Visions of my laptop falling into the Indian ocean!) Eventually I got onboard, had a surprisingly comfortable sleep on a floor mat as the boat rocked back and forth, woke up both refreshed and alive, and finally made it to the island by 10:30 AM.
    4. Go to a resort’s Facebook page and engage in an endlessly drawn-out Messenger conversation to get a better-than-listed deal on a room. I managed to snag an air-conditioned room with breakfast included for one week at $300 US, cash. Unfortunately, this is a very good deal for Maldives. And very importantly, and unusually, the hotel also has a public kitchen!
    5. Breakfast: Free hotel breakfast, but not until after going to the beach to buy fresh fish from a fisherman.Lunch: Cook attempted Maldivian fish curry with rice in the shared kitchen. Ingredients: Curry powder, coconut milk, onions, garlic, chillies. With most vegetables costing more than fish in this land-starved, marine life-rich country, you’d better really love eating fish… And I do!Dinner: A whole lot of tasty snacks and hot black tea at the local tea houses, which are exclusively patronized by men, most of whom seem to be Bangladeshi workers. (Although if you’re a woman, hopefully you won’t get anything worse than a whole lot of attention if you do go… I understand that they crack down hard on crimes against tourists here.) Even the various samosas and curry puffs are filled with fish – and I ain’t complaining!
    6. Of course, the worst way to save money in Maldives is to not go anywhere. The local beach is nice, but you do need to shell out a few USD to visit deserted islands, swim with the manta rays, and all that stuff – That is, after all, largely the purpose of being here.

Oh, and I almost forgot – how is it? Well, the beaches on Thoddoo would be considered very good, but not the very best, by the standards of the Philippines – a country which is, needless to say, much cheaper to travel. I’ll reserve full judgment until I go on a boat tour, which will be in a few days. It’s quite possible that the Maldives still has the Philippines beat in the marine life department, and there’s only one way to find out. Either way, however, it’s definitely a pleasant place with a unique culture, and I love observing local life – I’m fascinated to see how people live in a place that is so remote and where land is so incredibly scarce. Local people are a bit hard to figure out, but I’m working on it – I enjoy seeing their reactions when I greet them on my walks, which range from friendly to bewildered to totally deadpan.

And did you think I was joking about not showing any pictures? Nope – It wouldn’t be fair to do that before my island-hopping trips.

100 Reasons Mexico is the Greatest Country on Earth – Part 1

With absolutely no offense intended towards countries #2 through 195… (Except for maybe numbers 190-195, because damn, they must be really terrible places.)

    1. In its Spanish form, the name “México” is fun to both say and write
    2. Being able to choose between five kinds of salsa for your tacos. My favorite: habanero en escabeche!
    3. Mexican guitar gods hopping onto public transit to give amazing mini-concerts of Mexican folk music – or, if you’re really lucky, electric blues – in exchange for a few pesos
    4. People in restaurants routinely saying “Buen provecho” (Bon appetit) to complete strangers
    5. Wide open spaces, out on the road without a soul in sight
    6. Cities that are lively but not overcrowded
    7. Smiles, so many smiles
    8. Also a lot of laughter
    9. Totally awesome-sounding indigenous place names. You’ve got Xochimilco and the Plaza of Popocatepetl in Mexico City, Xcaret (pronounced “Shkaret”) and Tixkokob in Yucatan state
    10. A lot of the states have amazing names, too: Hidalgo, Durango, Michoacan, Aguascalientes, Sinaloa, Guanajuato…
    11. Having no choice but to spend your day practicing and improving your Spanish with the local people on the street, and then being able to turn off your brain and speak English at the end of the day with your fancy local friends
    12. Almost all of the music that you’ll hear everywhere (except for reggaeton). Almost everything is in Spanish, almost none of it is the western pop you’d hear in other countries, and almost all of it is awesome (except for reggaeton).
    13. Cheese! I mean real, good, almost-European-quality cheese…
    14. Read More

Cat and Car: A Study in Ethics

Last night, I went hunting for a late dinner in Mexico City. It was a Sunday night, so most of the food shops in my neighbourhood were closed. I decided to roam a bit more than usual, and had to cross a busy main road. While waiting at the light, a black-and-white cat ran recklessly into oncoming traffic. Before it could go past the midpoint of the road, it got knocked flat by a car.

A local man waiting at the light with me glanced at me with shock and horror. We watched the cat lay limply on the road as cars continued to zoom past it, their tires coming horribly close to its immobile body. The seconds I spent waiting for the light to change felt like hours.

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How To Get Banned From A Houston Karaoke Bar

Whenever I fly to Latin America from Canada, I try to get the longest layovers that I can in the United States. I will strategically tweak my flight times on Google Flights so that I can stay in one city for as close as 24 hours as possible – but not more, because going over 24 hours will effectively make it count as two separate tickets and easily double the ticket price. There’s an art to it, but I’ve gotten quite good at squeezing in these little American mini-vacations on the way to my actual destination.

Now you may ask, how much can you really do in 23 hours? And if you ask this, you’ve probably never spent 23 hours in Houston. Hell, even a layover at the unfortunately named George Bush Intercontinental Airport(!!!) tends to be an experience: The airport is an incredible mix of different kinds of people, with a preponderance of gregarious Latinos traveling through this major gateway to Latin America. I also enjoy seeing how many Wendy’s I can find throughout the many terminals – I’d estimate there are about 4-5, though I feel like I’m just scratching the surface. One of my great American memories remains landing in Houston en route to my first trip to Mexico and having a Real American Breakfast at Wendy’s: a piece of fried chicken wedged between two biscuits, soaked in pancake syrup. Canadian Wendy’s is way too passive-aggressive to serve anything that awesome.

But if you can get into the city itself, Houston is really something else. I’ve tremendously enjoyed American friendliness and hospitality in comparatively sane cities like Seattle and Chicago, but each of my 23-hour stopovers in Houston has been an experience too intense and delirious to easily describe. In fact, my visits to Houston greatly strengthen my suspicions that I am actually living inside a simulation (more on that in another post). Read More

Why Do Serbian Buses Hate Me?

As an ideal alternative to being responsible and saving money, I have been traveling Europe since the middle of September. Although this continent generally lacks the vivacity of Asia and Latin America, something keeps me coming back – maybe it’s the dairy products. I traveled with my father in Paris and Budapest, and we spent a rather intense month together in Italy. I could talk about Paris, which was charming, electric, but probably not worth the 3 Euro espressos. Or I could talk about Budapest, a city I had reviled after an earlier visit, when a drunk Hungarian threatened violence against me for reasons too dumb to explain, but which I have now realized is filled with quirky, acerbic, and weirdly charming personalities. I could talk about Naples, which stunned me with its unexpected and delicious pizzas and its sidewalks filled with garbage and poop. Or about Pompeii, which amazed me with both its sheer size, on the one hand, and with the intimacy and detail of its domestic wall paintings, on the other. I could share my trite and predictable love for Rome, with its mix of millennia-old sophistication and inimitable Italian liveliness, and the miraculous fact that even the poshest restaurants in the center will still sell you a cappuccino for a Euro. But really, I’d rather talk about Serbian buses.

You might my say my real adventure began when my dear father flew back to Canada, and I flew out of Rome for the somewhat arbitrarily-chosen destination of Timișoara, Romania. Being located near the Serbian border, it was a cheap gateway to the Balkans (thanks, Wizz Air!), and also an opportunity to give Romania a second chance after my rather dispiriting first visit. Even with the beauty of the snow-covered Transylvanian forest and a certain railway cop’s charming disregard for protocol during my last visit, it was not a country that I had any desire to return to – but as it turned out, my weekend in Timișoara was absolutely delightful. I could talk about Timișoara’s low-key charms, its tranquil riverside, and its amazingly friendly women who disproportionately resemble supermodels. But obviously, none of this would be as interesting as talking about Serbian buses.

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Coffeepacking the Coffee Desert

My name is Bloggerbels, and I have a problem. No, I’m not talking about the problem of being a horrible person – that’s a topic for another post. The problem I want to talk to you about today is my debilitating coffee addiction. You see, I have an addictive personality, something that may or may not be related to my Asperger’s Syndrome. I have been addicted to food, to alcohol, freight trains, classical music, “the ladies”, and now, to coffee.

I developed a taste for coffee a while back. I enjoyed a daily cup or two for several years, but as soon as I stopped drinking alcohol I noticed that, like some sort of Alcoholics Anonymous stereotype, my coffee consumption went completely through the roof. At this point I realized that my restless, addictive mind just needed something to latch on to, and if I wasn’t going to become addicted to making people smile or to curing cancer, I may as well just embrace my addiction to the mostly harmless drug that is caffeine. And embrace it I have!

Another of my addictions happens to be travel, although it might be less of an addiction and more of a bright, multi-coloured distraction from the yawning emptiness of my life. For a time, my addiction to travel meant that my coffee addiction could not always be properly fed – some travel destinations don’t have much of a coffee culture, or good coffee may be prohibitively expensive. Or, in the worst-case scenario, one may find oneself in a veritable coffee desert, where good coffee is simply impossible to find. (Ironic, since the desert-filled lands of North Africa and the Middle East did much to spread coffee throughout the world!)

That all changed the moment I discovered the espresso pot. I was traveling around British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies with my dear father, who surprised me on the first day of our trip by yanking a coffee pot out of his suitcase. At first, the idea struck me as ludicrous, and I ladled untold scorn and derision upon the man who brought me into the world; but over the two weeks of the trip, I learned that the pleasure of starting every morning in your hostel or Airbnb with a good cup of coffee is easily worth an extra kilo of baggage. So, who’s laughing now? Nobody, because coffee is serious business.

An awkwardly shoehorned-in photo from this trip

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