Last spotted in San Francisco, USA on March 28, 2003, 1:23 pm
Who is he? Where is he going? Where has he been? David Barrett / Quinthar

Oh, I forgot to mention. I'm back. It's done, all over. On March 1st, 2003 I returned from my trip around the world, exactly one year after my departure on March 1st, 2002. It was a good trip. But I cannot overstate how glad I am that it is done.
Thankfully, my ears have finally cleared from all that flying (and just in time for a bunch more). Starting with Tokyo->Hong Kong, and continuing from Hong Kong->Amsterdam, my right ear insisted that it never left 20,000 feet. Having some experience with clearing ears at various altitudes/depths, I exhausted the full range of techniques to no avail. Now that I'm about back to normal, the world sounds so much better. Had I a bit of musical talent I might be inspired to write a song.
Last night I stayed in a "capsule hotel", which is perhaps as close as I'll ever get to being either in a commune or a space station. Upon entrance you immediately change into a robe and shorts (found in your locker), and other than your key everything else is shared amongst all. Towels, combs, aftershave, toothbrushes (but not toothpaste, as that thing that looked just like a hand-soap dispenser actually was -- the taste took a long time to wash out), and so on. Then you strip off your robe and shorts for a traditional Japanese communal bath, head up to the lounges for maybe a massage, video games, or dinner, and then to your "capsule". The easiest way to describe it is to think of a laundrimat where instead of clothes driers there are little tiny rooms lining the walls, upper and lower rows. You crawl into one, pull down the curtain, unfold the sheets and blankets, and fiddle with your private TV/radio/clock console before going to sleep. In the morning you repeat everything in reverse, and reassume your identity at the door. Very strange.
While I only have one movie on which to base my analysis, I've come to the conclusion that Thai film uses an entirely different formula than American film. Consider this plotline:

A Khmer (ancient Cambodian) princess and her personal witch are captured by a Thai king. The princess and a Thai warrior are in love. The king learns of this and, in a jealous rage, kills the warrior and imprisons the princess with her witch. The princess, mourning her state and fearful of her upcoming execution, is enchanted by the witch with a tremendous spell to bring her immortality. The witch dies in the casting, and the princess's spirit, upon her execution, leaves her body in a glowing form.

Coincidentally, an identical (though unrelated) twin of the Khmer princess lives in a remote village. In the village two boys are in love with her, one of which is evil and plotting. The evil boy attempts to rape the village girl, but the other boy comes and saves her, beating him up. The evil boy g... [more]
Also along the long walk between my guest house and Khao Sarn Road is a bridge atop which farmers and fishermen set up their wares an unbelievably early hours. While I'm ending a long night of wandering and cavorting, they are beginning theirs.
Were I a bit more disciplined, I'd tell you the name of this festival. But I think a more accurate portrayal of the event is to have no idea what the hell is going on, and just go with it. One night I'm walking around, minding my own business, only to find that thousands of people are arranged down by the river for some festival. A stage was set up and traditional dancers were presenting a rhythmic, hypnotic dance performance. Perhaps I'm just a late bloomer, but this is when I discovered that some Thai girls can be really hot.
Bangkok is a huge, vibrant city hosting untold millions of people and countless exciting things to see and do. However, to many a visitor, there is only one place in Bangkok worth seeing: Khao Sarn Road.

Now, in the ethos of the international backpacker, there are roughly two types of people: those who are hypocrites and deny it, and those who are hypocrites and embrace it. I probably fall into the first category, as the second category spends all its time on Khao Sarn Road.

Virtually all international backpackers are hypocrites. On one hand we pretend we want to see exotic sites, learn about native cultures, and get to know the local culture. We claim we want to discard all the material trappings of the modern Western world, leave behind our fast food and convenience machines, and learn to live like a rice farmer in the remote minefields of Cambodia.

But in reality, what we want is Khao Sarn Road. We want cybercafes, recognizable food, cheap beer, a... [more]
One day I decide to take a break from my normally regimented schedule and just wander through an area of town where "there's nothing to see". It turns out there are things to see, such as this friendly volleyball match between four boys. In a littered clearing between cramped housing is a packed-dirt court overstrung by a slightly-tattered volleyball net. On each side of the net are two older boys (or younger men, my eye isn't trained to discern well), vying for control of a small, hard, wicker ball. The ball is probably as big as a grapefruit and made of a woven wicker, so it's more like a wiffleball than anything else I've ever seen. The rules look to be about the same as the volleyball with which I'm familiar, with one glaring exception: you can't use your hands. For anything. As a result, all serves, bumps, sets, and spikes are performed with acrobatic flips and impossible flexibility. The more impressive moves were impossible to catch on film, and just a "normal" return is shown in the pictu... [more]
Way across town from where I am staying is my favorite cafe, a quaint boutique of tea and snacks and antique furniture run by an English expatriate. Though a long trek, I made it frequently in order to enjoy a quiet cup of Earl Grey with fruit tarts and biscuits and whipped cream.

Next to this cafe was a Bank of America, which I was overjoyed to discover due to (what I perceived to be) a banking irregularity with my checking account (which turned out to just be me spending my money faster than expected). I went to the BoA and asked for some help. The conversation went something like this:

"Hi there, my bank card claims I have no money, but I'm sure I do. Could you check my record to see what happened?"
"I'm sorry, we can't do that here. You'll have to call the central office."
"Oh, ok. Can you call them from here and figure out what's the problem?"
"No, we can't call from here. We don't know the number."
"... I'm sorry, did you say you don't ... [more]
Nowhere else have I been where such support for the dominant religion was built into the daily life of the city. On the water taxis, a section is set aside for orange-robed Buddhist monks to stand. They get the best seat on busses. They have tons of sweet, huge temples all throughout the city. And due to the religion, everyone in the city gets up at the crack of dawn and stands outside their front door with neatly prepared packages, ready to perform their obligation of feeding the monks as they come around door to door. But despite its pervasiveness, it's more of an undercurrent to the culture - something that's always there, but in the background or just off camera.
One of the more appealing aspects of traveling through Thailand is how everything is so cheap. I mean, really cheap. I was hard pressed to spend more than $5 on a multi-course meal. As such, I took many liberties and experimented with any good looking restaurant I could find. This one in particular jumped out, and did not disappoint.

Basically, on one road in Bangkok there are a few identical restaurants set side by side, each touting a bigger selection fresher fish and seafood than the next. Hawkers would come up to your side and assure you that a steamed salmon or fried trout is just what you need, and by the way, the best place to get it in town is right here. So I bit on the offer, and walked up.

The first step is to pick out the fish you want. The picture shows about a third of the selection that this particular restaurant held. I decided that a small red snapper would do the trick just nicely, and pointed it out. Next I was asked how I'd like it prepared. I aske... [more]
I'd always heard that Southeast Asia was THE place to buy cheap electronics. Now, I really didn't need any cheap electronics, but I figured, hey. If I'm here, I should at least look. And the place to look in Bangkok is a huge mall that (I was told, but I put little trust in) is named "Computer City". Basically, it has everything that blinks and beeps, put under one roof. It has cameras, computers, laptops, electronic components, new stuff, old stuff, indescribable stuff. It has it all. Unfortunately, I didn't need any of it, so the window shopping grew boring pretty quick (though the free Internet cafe to be found inside came in mighty handy). My favorite part of the mall actually has nothing to do with computers at all. Rather, it was the ultra-cheap sushi restaurant with a surprisingly good selection at incredible prices.
Running through the heart of Bangkok, indeed through the heart of all Thai history and culture, is the river. Lots of cities have rivers, but Bangkok has one unlike any I've ever seen.

In general, cities with rivers use them to make scenic waterfront property, host cargo movement, or allow pleasure cruises. It's a pretty, albeit mostly cosmetic accoutrement to an otherwise land-locked city. For Bangkok, however, the river is a crucial and daily component to many peoples lives. The most interesting way it touches the Thai routine, in my opinion, are the water taxis.

Set every few blocks down the riverfront are water taxi stops: floating docks jutting out into the bulging river from layer upon layer of waterside housing. I walk down onto the unstable contraption (which is in continuous motion due to the incessant river activity) and wait just a few minutes until the next taxi arrives (though it's actually more like a bus, given how many people it seats and how the rout... [more]
Cages of birds are easily found in Bangkok markets, as apparently one tradition of Buddhism is setting free a cage of birds - presumably for blessing or good luck. As for what misfortune is wrought upon those that catch and cage the birds, I'm not quite sure.
Buddhism is by far the dominant religion in Thailand, and as such Bangkok is equipped with a huge array of Buddhist temples, large and small. On one hand it's odd to be walking through a modern, bustling city and stumble upon an ancient and ornate temple, but on the other is it so different than the churches scattered throughout any Western city? Maybe it's due to a lifetime of seeing Asian temples only in the context of an old kung-fu movie set a thousand years prior. I mean, I've seen Catholic churches my whole life, but it's rare to see a seated Buddha statue surrounded by electric candles, tucked between a CD stand and an electronics store.
Bangkok is laced with canals, though which rush incredibly long taxis at surprising speeds.
Next stop, Bangkok. I hop a taxi to a nearby city that hosts a train station and while away the remaining hours learning the intricate lives of the "ladyboys" - as the name implies, boys that look surprisingly like ladies. One bought me a cup of tea, and for that price I'll listen to anything.

The train's appointed hour late in the night arrives and I walk to the front of the train peeling an incredibly large citrus fruit with my two free hands. As always, I'm running on the verge of late, but this time I'm not alone. Indeed, walking briskly alongside me is a beautiful fellow traveler with a very respectably light load (I've become rather snooty at this point). It just so happens that we're heading to the same car, and we get to talking.

We board the train and that magic moment comes up where you've gotta make your move or it'll be lost for ever. I make my move and ask her if she'd like to join me up front in the dining car. She accepts. Imagine that.

Th... [more]
Though I cannot speak authoritatively to the subject, I believe I am qualified to some degree to make this judgment. I've seen sunsets in every hemisphere, in all meteorological conditions, and with every combination of land/water/air conditions (excluding arctic). In Thailand alone I was overwhelmed, with anything less than a masterpiece hardly earning a grunt of approval. In short, I had become a sunset snob.

But this just took my breath away. The depth and range of the colors, the vibrancy of the hues played across the sky... The quiet lavender waves rolling onto the beach, the brilliant gradient of cloud and fire. I was simply unprepared to accept that such things exist in reality. I was humbled before the spectacle, just one of the hushed, awed masses lining the still street in a hypnotic silence.
On a hot tip I heard that cheap housing was available on the Ton Sai beach, back down a long trail. Though housing is really so cheap that it just doesn't matter, everyone is constantly seeking the best prices out of a competitive force of habit. It's a great feeling to say "Yeah, 200 Baht a night is pretty cheap... though my place only costs 100 and I wake up every morning to gibbon calls out in the surrounding jungle." So with this in mind, I take up the trek to Ton Sai beach.
Getting to Ton Sai is its own adventure: when the tide is out you can scramble amongst the sharp boulders at the base of a cliff between it an Raily West. When the tide is in, however, you must climb up and over a small mountain or abandon the trip altogether. Or you could hire a long boat, but that's a bit like cheating.
I scramble along the base my first trip around and find Ton Sai beach to be the rock-climbers haven. (My second trip I attempt over the top and find myself stranded a long drop from the sand i... [more]
On southeast mainland Thailand is the town of Krabi, gateway to the islands. I walk down the gangplank and skirt past the gaggle of taxi drivers and assorted hawkers to find a comfortably air-conditioned cafe for a cup of tea. The boat ride from Ko Lanta was only a couple hours long, but it was a beautifully sunny day and the exposed half of my body has taken on a distinctly Red Lobster hue. The cool air feels luxurious on my burning skin, and the hot tea as always soothes my nerves.
Entering a new town is always daunting. "This street that I'm on... is it the main street? Is this just a side street? Can I see before me 10% or 90% of all that I want to see in this city?" It's a terrible feeling to leave a city behind and hear from someone "Did you go to the [insert area you didn't know existed]? Aw man, it was the best!"
By and large, I travel without a Lonely Planet, and thus I'm in a perpetual state of disorientation. Krabi is no exception. I walk a block in what may or may not ... [more]
As the central road crests the hills and starts weaving down to the east coast, a driveway heads off one side and up a steep hill. I park the bike and climb up the hill on foot to find a large and abandoned bar overlooking the ocean. To magnify the view, a pair of extremely scary decks had been built several thousand years ago out of driftwood and approximately three iron nails. From this shaky vantage point the view was magnificent.
Lo and behold, what was my first sight on the Kuala Lumpur skyline? That's right, another tower! And I was pleased to find that yes indeed, this tower housed a spinning restaurant like all the others. I walked up the long path from my Chinatown hostel all the way to the tower base and put on my "friendly rich guy" face trying to get a table. First I asked for a table next to the window, and they said they didn't have one until much later. I said I'd wait, and asked how long that might be. They made a few calls and said it'd be a long time. I insisted I'd wait, and they called again, and for whatever reason, sat me immediately on a great table right on the spinning edge. While in the elevator I checked my ticket and noticed that I'd been upgraded to the VIP class (though I later learned that everyone's ticket says VIP, leading me to wonder what a how a true VIP is distinguished).
I think the restaurant atop the Menara is nicer than most, and perhaps the nicest I've seen. It has an abs... [more]
While in Malacca I was staying in a guest house run by a very friendly Malaysian guy that invited me to out to meet his family one day. I hopped on the back of his motorscooter and zipped out of town to his house. It was a good sized house, perhaps three large rooms and a kitchen, and sprawled out in the living room were three of Amy's sisters (the Malaysian guy is named Amy). On the front porch his father sat smoking drawing a spiral pattern that at first I mistook for Arabic, and only eventually realized that when I asked what it said he replied "It says nothing, it's just art." Amy took off and fixed us all some strong coffee, and even went back into town to get some fried chicken and sweet treats. I'm not sure exactly what the protocol was there, especially with Amy out fetching snacks, but I just sat jotting thoughts into my notebook and enjoyed the quiet countryside. Eventually Amy returned and for some reason I was the only one eating, even though I figured it was just polite because I wasn... [more]
( Mailing List, Week 32)

Alas, though I finally worked up the willpower and blocked out some time to post some picture (I've got over 100 good ones lined up), the Internet has foiled my plans. It's not that access is hard to get or even expensive, but just that it isn't terribly reliable.

Speaking of not terribly reliable, I just had the misforutne of learning that my bank account balance has mysteriously gone into the red. Though I had plenty of cash when last I checked, and my burn rate has come down dramatically while here in South East Asia, for some reason my account is overdrawn. Definitely not the way to start your day. That, and it's been surprisingly difficult getting an international phone line to contact my bank to figure out what's going on:

First I find a place that charges about $1.5USD *per minute*, even if the call is collect. The payphones I find are blocked. I go to this ultraluxury hotel and ask for an international line, and t... [more]
( Mailing List, Week 28)

Enshrouded in the clouds of the South Pacific is the north island of New Zealand, the southern coast of which is guarded by the windy city of Wellington, the current home of the intrepid traveler known only as David Barrett.

I've spent the last few days here in Wellington, a nice city by most measures but a far cry from the tea-haven of Christchurch, a three hour ferry and five hour bus ride to the south. Christchurch is a place I could easily call home -- I spent perhaps ten days there, and despite my best attempts I still hadn't the chance to visit all the nice cafes there.

New Zealand has, so far, been really cool. Cold, actually, seeing as how it's just finishing up winter, and my extensive luggage hasn't afforded me much protection from the biting wind and rain. The coldest must have been on the South Island when I visited, in a very brisk rain, the incredible Frank Josef glacier.

This glacier is one of a... [more]
My trip from Ecuador to South Africa was a long, but nice one. Leaving Ecuador was uneventful, though I had a heck of a time convincing them to let me take my knife on the plane (I had to find a big tube and stick it in that, and then send the tube, as they wouldn't just take a small package by itself). New York was, as always, a great time -- I've got to live here some day. The flight to Amsterdam just flew by, as we were in this huge plane with, that's right, a second floor. I of course wasn't on the second floor, but I did sneak up there to take a peek. I even flirted with a cute flight attendant, so it was a good time all around. The Amsterdam airport is simply incredible. Without a doubt the best airport I have yet to find, if for no other reason than they actually have areas with comfortable chairs designed for sleeping! Brilliant! (In New York I had to sleep, like everyone else, on the polished stone floor in the middle of this huge lobby.) Amsterdam, the city, looks to be a lot of fun, tho... [more]
Traveling around North and South America was more fun than I had ever imagined it would be. Now, I knew what to expect from the US, and I basically got that. But Mexico and Ecuador were so much better than I had hoped. Perhaps it was that I just kept meeting great people, or that the places themselves were wonderful, or all of the above. But regardless, I found the whole experience much more entertaining, and much less annoying, than I had expected.
World's Best...

Copyright 2021 - David Barrett -