In Sikh Territory(Amritsar)

The rain began to fall in Pushkar as I waited for an Uber to the city of Ajmer, where I could catch a train on to Amritsar, in the Punjab region.

When the Uber arrived, a tall Indian fellow with long black hair fashioned into a topknot wearing a red tracksuit showed up and asked if we could share the fare.

As soon as he started speaking, I could tell that he was only Indian in appearance. The red tracksuit should’ve given it away; of course he was from Amsterdam.

His mother and father were from Surinam, in South America, but his mother had immigrated at a young age from India, hence his Indian complexion. They moved as a family to Amsterdam, where he had spent his entire life.

Together, we boarded the train to Amritsar, and found our seats. When we woke up in the morning, men in colorful turbans with bushy mustaches dotted the train platforms.

A man in a bright yellow turban called our top-knotted Amsterdammer over to his cabin, asked if he was Punjabi, then gestured to his hair with a smirk. This was the beginning of a long day.

I’m used to the stares that I get being a pasty-white, blonde-haired, tattooed weirdo in Asia, but nothing could prepare me for the magnetized glares that the topknot got us.

People were gawking at the Amsterdammer like he was a sparkly unicorn with bowling shoes on. His complexion in conjunction with his hair gave people the impression that this guy was either bat-shit crazy, rebellious, or both.

Little did they know, he was neither, just uninformed. So here’s the part where I give all of you “uninformed” the lowdown on why we saw drool streaming from the gaping mouth-holes of bystanders that day in Punjab(I had to google this by the way):

People in Punjab wear the Pagari, as it is called, in order to “take care of the hair, promote equality, and preserve the Sikh identity.”

We went to the Golden Temple, and the head covering they provided the Amsterdammer with did a really poor job of concealing the massive bulb of hair on his head. Nothing to do really but laugh at the absurdity of the situation; It was like showing up to a Pentecostal worship gathering in goth-wear.

All in all, we remained unscathed, with a great story to tell. The more that I travel, the more I realize how important understanding and awareness are in an ever-globalizing world.

Even more important is the capacity for respect of others, regardless of belief, regardless of what they choose or choose not to wear. The beauty of life in a free society is choice.

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The camel walla from France

In Pushkar there is a hostel set on spacious grounds just outside of the heart of town. At seven in the morning, the birds begin chirping, and Ali Baba the camel is lead through the gate, past three curious dogs, down the narrow path shadowed by towering moss covered palms, to a gigantic Beel tree, which also happens to serve as the base of the hostel reception desk.

He grazes for awhile on the leaves before the guests wake, as his walla has the first toke of the day. The walla checks his phone messages, has a coffee, then leads Ali Baba back out to his domain, a vacant sandy lot a short walk from the hostel.

The walla continues walking down the road to a small field filled with bristly weeds and curious orange-beaked myna birds, where he diligently spends the two hours before the hot sun hits cutting 40 kilos of suitable eating material for Ali Baba with a small hand scythe. I tried this during one of the days of my stay, and I took a lot of water breaks; It is tough work. The tediousness of lower back involvement combined with the logistics of remembering where I put my pre-cut grass bundles makes for a generally grueling experience. For wallas however, this is just a daily routine.

Ali Baba’s walla is from France. He is twenty-five years old, sports a pony tail, rectangular spectacles over squinty eyes and a toothy smile. If he is wearing a shirt over his athletic torso it is unbuttoned.

He bought Ali Baba for 400 euros from “some guys that agreed to the sale after five days of negotiations… And partying.” Of all the camels that the walla inspected, AB was the only one that showed him affection, nuzzling into his shoulder with his head.

The walla-to-be sealed the deal with the camel salesman, and he and Ali Baba were off to the races. They left from Jaisalmer, covering a 100km stretch, but the trip was cut short when AB injured himself on some broken glass on the road. For now, the pair are stuck in Pushkar until both make a full recovery. “I expect 100 percent out of Ali Baba, and he expects the same of me”, says the walla.

Many that know the walla back in France voice their disbelief at his decision to him. “Some of my friends say what I am doing is crazy, but this is my journey, not theirs. I want to travel on my terms, in a way that is different from the normal.”

Traveling by camel is a way for the walla to connect to the environment and people of Rajasthan. Camels serve an important function in this area, where many people rely on the animal for their livelihoods. So seeing a Frenchman on a camel locals can’t help but stare, smile, laugh, and interact with him in a unique way.

Follow the French walla’s alternative journey on facebook  at his page alternatrip

Food for thought(Painful pleasures)

Five days ago marks my third year of continuous travel(woohoo!).  Thirteen countries: Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Australia, Nepal, and India, where I now reside.  All of these countries abound with an eclectic variety of cuisine.  From dosas to dim sum to som tam thai, all are enough to make your taste buds tingle, and your belly rumble with anticipation.  Japan and Australia maintain a strict level of hygiene bordering sterility.  The others, well, that’s left up to the individual’s standards of cleanliness.

Personally, I’ve found that the more dingy a street stall, the better tasting the food is. This could be for a multitude of reasons, but I have narrowed it down to two: maybe the coat of residue of thousands of previously cooked meals adds a special essence, similar to a grill master refusing to clean his grill grate since the beginning of time.  The second being that the chef feels a need to compensate for the shoddy visual aesthetic of their stall, giving it all of the culinary passion they possess.  For whatever reason, my personal experience has lead me to these conclusions, and generally speaking my nose wins out over my eyes.  My olfactory preference has lead me to the nirvana of my tastebuds.  Unfortunately, it has also lead me to experience the wrath of Dante’s Inferno as I crawl painfully to the porcelain throne.

The story that I am about to tell might unsettle a western audience.  Frankly, I don’t give a shit, pun intended.  In the east, where I have spent most of the last three years, digestive experience is just part of the natural dialogue.

Before I left for Asia, I read in numerous travel blogs and books about the warnings: don’t eat it if it’s not in a well-established restaurant.  Don’t even think about drinking the water or brushing your teeth without a 3 dollar bottle of Dasani.  Therefore, I commenced my journey with a healthy dose of paranoia when it came to consuming anything for fear of contracting some rare third-world disease.  Japan was no problem.  Considering I only got to experience the airport in Tokyo, everything was clean and up to western standards, if not exceeding them.  When I got to Singapore and Malaysia, I stuck to my guns; if it didn’t come from a restaurant or sealed bottle, I wasn’t going near it.  Krabi, Thailand is where my real adventure began.

My travel partner and I were enjoying the sunset on the beach, smoking a joint of some low-quality marijuana that one of the paragliding boys had swindled us into buying earlier that day.  We sat for quite some time, taking in all the sights and sounds of this exquisite foreign place, so different from the lives we had always known.  By the time we headed back to our hostel, we were deep in the throes of the munchies.  However, by this time, all of the somewhat hygienic restaurants had closed up shop, leaving only the option of streetside noodles.  The sheer number of locals eating there combined with our insatiable hunger pushed us to the edge and we caved.

The noodles were delicious.  We slurped down the noodles, broth, vegetables, fish balls, red pork, and bean sprouts, leaving not a morsel behind.  One bowl wasn’t enough, so we each ordered another, hungrily munching it down as quickly as the first.  Our bill came to 140 baht, equivalent to 4 usd at the time.  Cheap, delicious food; I could get used to this.  Or so I thought…

I slept soundly through the night, but woke at first light to the sounds of my rumbling tummy.  I quickly made my way to the toilet, but before I could unzip my pants, I was violently spewing from both ends.  I discarded my jocks in the nearby wastebin, and spent the next two hours experiencing the most painful cramps in my life.  They consumed every part of my body, to the point where I could no longer sit upright, so I slid sweatily to the cool tile floor.  I laid there, praying to all gods, for the pain to end.  Despite numerous knocks on the door, all I could do was groan, so I just laid there.  Minutes turned to hours.  And thus began my sweaty, charcoal-tablet filled culinary journey.

Over the next six months, this became a regular occurrence.  Though decreasing in severity, this just became a regular way of life.  I couldn’t go back to my standards of sterility; the food was just too good.  Fast forward three years later, and my stomach has become fort knox, fortified by warrior-like gut bacteria.  Bring on the greasiest dim sum, the Ganges-washed chai glasses, the shadiest chicken joint one can find.

Since coming back to Asia, starting in Nepal and then coming to India, I have been sick one time, and the experience pales in comparison to those three hellish days in Krabi.  I don’t tell this story to advocate the tempting of fate; it is up to the individual to find a healthy balance between the extremity of the west and the nonchalance of the east when it comes to hygiene.  All I’m saying is, don’t let fear dictate how you live your life.  Draw the line where you feel comfortable, and then push the boundaries.  Personally, I would take all of the pain in the world for the joy I have experienced with fork and knife.  Life’s for living, so go out and live it.

Damien Finch part 1

Damien Finch was a round peg in a square hole.  Everywhere that he went, he never quite seemed to fill the space, to stand in one spot, to feel the contentment of fully occupying that one space.  His mind was was constantly elsewhere.  He was a loner.

Damien liked to listen to music.  It did not depend on the genre – he could never fully commit to confining his tastes to one particular genre- he listened to anything and everything that he could get his hands on.  He used to joke to himself that music was his only friend, because of it’s universal accessibility, and for the wisdom that it offered to him.

His clothes and hair style were generally unimportant to him.  As a young boy, he had paid little mind to his physical appearance, quite happy to let his mother part his hair in the middle and brush it to the back with a smear of hair product, just like his father’s.  One day, that all changed.  One hot muggy late summer morning during his 7th grade year, Damien was on the outskirts of the playground, happily playing alone in the dirt amongst the bugs and animals at the edge of the forest.  Mother insisted that he not do this, as he would soil his clothes, thus further alienating him from the boys his own age that already found him quite odd,  even if he did show up with clean clothes at the morning bell.

While attempting to climb the tree to pay the birds nest up there a visit, Damien’s footing slipped.  He ended up being hung by his pants quite painfully on a protruding branch.  In order to get down, he had to take his pocket knife out of his pantpocket and cut himself loose.  On the fall down, he scraped up his knees, landing with quite a thud.  He began laughing, and pretty soon he was bent over laughing uncontrollably at his own stupidity.  When he finally recovered, there was a boy standing in front of him.  He was wearing the school uniform, only it was covered in patches, pins, and paint.  His hair was cut short on the sides, leaving only a shock of burnt-orange fur up the center of his scalp,  from rear to front.

“Nice fall.  What the fuck are you doing, anyway?”

Damien hesitated.  This word was strictly forbidden in his family, particularly by mother, who had washed his mouth out with dove bar soap on quite a few occasions before, one notable string of washings after he’d discovered South Park on late night television.

“Paying the birds a visit,” he said with confident gusto.

“Hmm… That’s fucking lame.  Have you even read the Anarchist’s Cookbook?  Don’t you know who the Dead Kennedys are?  Nature is fucking lame..  It’s all about being down with the establishment.”

“What’s the establish-…”

“Never mind, you’ll find out…”

Three months later, Damien was knee-deep in hatred for the establishment, his school, and anyone who respected authority.  He too had taken on a sense of independence, an air of rebellious individuality, so reflected in his new-found clothing and music tastes.  Patches, pins, paint, and a spiked mohawk were his uniform.  Mother dearest couldn’t get within arms grasp with the hair brush anymore.  He had seen the other side.  He had smoked his first cigarette, urinated on a bible, cut the cords to people’s Christmas decorations in the neighborhood for kicks, all out of sheer spite for the capitalistic regime and the religious dogma that seemed to dictate the lives of everyone around him.  There was no going back, or so he thought.

One day, Damien’s life of beautifully organized chaos that he had insulated himself with was torn away from him.  At school, he was busy marking up the walls of the bathroom stall with graffiti:  Fuck school, fuck politics, fuck fuck fuck.  That’ll show them, he thought to himself.  As a beautiful crescendo to his antics, he decided to light a stray m-80 that he had found while digging around in the dumpster behind the adult bookstore that morning on his walk to school, while looking for pictures of naked ladies.  He lit up a cigarette, and used the tip to light the fuse.  He dropped the firecracker into the toilet bowl, and quickly exited the stall to avoid getting splashed with fecal matter and toilet water.  It was a long fuse, long enough to give him time to prepare for the blast.  As the moment drew closer to the explosion, the restroom door swung open to reveal Mr. Mike P, the school janitor.  BAM!  What perfect timing!  The massive blast sprayed the ceiling above the stall with brownish liquid chunks and chips of porcelain from the bowl.  The report of the firecracker left a ringing in Damien’s ears, slowly drowned out by his fits of laughter at the scene before him.  Mr. Mike P however, did not find this funny at all, considering he was going  to be the one to clean it up.  He grabbed Damien roughly by the shoulders and dragged him to the principal’s office.  They searched him, and what they found shocked them to the core of their wholesome Catholic foundations.  A crumpled page of a magazine showing a naked lady, along with a pack of camel light cigarettes.

The principal was unable to get in contact with Damien’s mother, and therefore called his father.  He answered on the third ring.  Mr. Finch, at that very moment, just so happened to be in the most important financial meeting of his life.  He was catering to the most important client of his life at the time, a Russian oligarch who had five hundred million dollars to invest into diversified markets.  The meeting was cut short, as Finch felt the obligation to tend to his rebellious son, much to the chagrin of the impatient Russian on the other end of the conference call.

Finch Sr. showed up at the school to quell the flames his son had stoked to the point of hostile inferno.  His charismatic smile and a handsome donation towards the construction of the school’s new library ensured that the matter was resolved, in addition to paying for the m-80 damaged toilet bowl.  He escorted Damien home, and that night gave him the worst beating of his life, with the same belt that his father had taught him lessons with.  After that, he withdrew Damien from school, locked him in his room, only to be visited by his private tutor, a retired military colonel with early onset dementia and a passion for war, until the age of eighteen.

During his time in captivity, young Damien developed a serious interest in politics.  He studied all the great generals, spanning all corners of the globe, studying their habits, analyzing their strategies.  Sun Tzu’s Art of War became the manual for how he lived his life, aside from all of the scenarios where attacking the enemy or material conquest were not the objective; he glossed over all that boring stuff.   He also loved to watch old war movies, and every night would enjoy a double-patty cheeseburger and an extra large glass of warm milk, wolfing them down as he sat transfixed on the big screen television in his room.  Over the years of his later adolescence,   He  watched people through his window as they walked by his house on the streets below.  He would create scenarios in his head about where they would go.  He would pretend that they were his minions, there to do his bidding.  They would go out and conquer land for him, and come back to tell them about the nice things that they had done for him.  They would tell him nice things all the time, and he began to believe them.

Damien believed in himself.  He believed in himself so much, that when he turned eighteen, he decided to become a man.  His father gave him one million dollars, and he realized that he was destined for great success in commercial enterprise. He decided to start a business.  One business lead to another.  He began to tell others what to do, in real life.  He became successful in domestic and international markets, just like his father.  One million lead to five million lead to ten million.  With his financial success came power, and his childhood ambition of telling people what to do was really happening! Instead of shying away from those antiquated ideologies that involved peaceful compromise, rationalism, or playing the long game, he began to loathe them, refusing to read any book with a cover that looked remotely hippy or progressive.  He didn’t want to be distracted.  He wanted unlimited power, and he wanted it now.

Out of suburbia, into the land of the Weird.

I had just recently moved to South Austin to work for my aunt’s company as a delivery expert.  After a few agonizingly boring days of living with them in their suburban home, I realized that my life was going to be purgatorial boredom if I didn’t go out and take a look around.  It was a Saturday, and so I decided to look up the bus schedule and venture out into the metropolis of Austin city limits.  Earlier that day I had received a package containing one of those electronic cigarette kits.  This was early 2009, so this technology was relatively new.  I was bored and paid and boredom for me often manifests itself in frivolous spending on useless new age crap that I don’t need, when I’m getting paid.

With e-cigarette in hand I boarded the Austin Public Transit system.  As soon as I sat down, a homeless guy that smelled like raw fish and Chuck-E-Cheese began talking to me about the various extra terrestrial encounters that he had witnessed, just that morning.  I smiled nervously and began to sweat.  He obviously noticed because in his sweatiness he had the audacity to tell ME that I was “mighty sweaty”, and then questioned my nationality, claiming that I was one of “them.” I could only assume that he was implying that I was an extra-terrestrial.  I pondered the thought of asking him where I could find his dealer but then decided against it as I watched him lick the entirety of the back of the seat in front of him.  He finally got off, and another Austinite shortly took his place.  This man began asking me questions about my intentions of riding the bus.  I again nervously smiled and told him sheepishly that I was exploring Austin.  By the time I had answered he was already asking someone else what their intentions were.

I didn’t know whether to be offended or to laugh at the hilarity of these social interactions I was experiencing, within such a short timespan.  After the fourth interrogation session, by a wispily-bearded man in Superman pajamas, I felt like I could take no more. I pulled the cord alerting the bus driver to stop, and got off the bus.

Austin can be hotter than hell during summer, and I immediately regretted my decision to leave the comfortable AC bus oasis.  Before I could hop back on, the bus was gone.  No turning back now.  I began walking and imagined what would happen if my shoes melted and stuck to the pavement.  Would some city service technician come help scrape me off of the sidewalk?  Or would people think that I was just doing some artsy fartsy street routine like another one of the weirdos.  The last thing I wanted was a bunch of nikon-snapping tourists that weren’t even from Austin up in my face documenting Austin’s most recent art fixture.  I walked briskly, So I wouldn’t look like a weirdo.  Go figure.

The walk down South Congress was a refreshing change from the monotony of suburban life.  I ducked into a little coffee shop on the corner of Soco and Riverside to grab something to drink and test out my ultra cool new e-cig.  With caffeinated drink in one hand and electric smoke in the other, I felt like a made man.  Very suave, grown-up, and confident looking.  I made my way over to one of the outdoor booths and sat down.  Not three seconds passed before a skinny, shaky, elderly little man came and asked me for a cigarette.  I replied that I was an “electric cigarette smoker”, gesturing to the hi-tech gadget in my hand, but he continued to put two fingers to his mouth in a puffing gesture.  I spent about five minutes attempting to explain to him the process of how an e-cigarette functioned, but this proved futile, like explaining why the sky is blue to a toddler.  The man finally sat right next to me, and I mean RIGHT next to me, and didn’t say anything for quite some time.  I pretended to mind my own business, taking a puff of sticky sweet tobacco-flavored vapor in between sips of scolding coffee, but this guy was literally sitting one foot away from me on the same bench, boring a hole into the side of my face with his stare.  When I scooted over, he scooted closer.  Finally I asked him if he had anything in particular to say and he gave me an incredulous look of bewilderment, almost to imply that he didn’t remember how he had come to sit down there, as if he had been teleported there from some past or future dimension.  I smiled sheepishly, for the fifth time that day, and tried to initiate small talk.  At least by talking it wouldn’t look incredibly strange for others to see this old man basically sitting on my lap.  I asked him what his name was and he responded by getting up and moving over to sit across from me in a rusty old red chair.  This gesture lightened the tension a bit.  I sipped my coffee.  We can work with this.

The man said that his name was Alfred and that he was from Mexico.  He explained that his father was a part of the aristocratic Santa Anna family, and they had come to Texas in hopes of conquering land and accumulating great fortune, but the battle of the Alamo had been the nail in the coffin of that dream.  That, and alcohol, he said.  The reek of malt liquor that worked its way up to my nostrils confirmed that Alfred too suffered from that curse.  Despite that, his story actually seemed pretty legit and the eloquence of his delivery made me examine my initial impression about Alfred.    As his story wore on, I changed my mind and concluded that this guy was also nuts.  It involved more extra-terrestrial beings, The Grateful Dead, and how I was predestined to assist him in conquering West Campus, but first I would have to pay the Santa Anna membership fee, only $19.95, with five dollars shipping and handling on top of that.   I told him firmly that I would not like to continue the conversation, nor did I have any desire to understand the concept of how one ships and handles a membership.  He said the least I could do was let him shake my hand.  I respectfully declined, twice,  but on his third plea, I gave him my hand, either to humor him, make him go away, or a little bit of both.

Alfred began by slowly shaking my hand up and down, but quickly increased the shaking to a violently vigorous motion, almost shaking my arm out of the shoulder socket.  I gave him a stern look of disapproval, but his grip would not subside.  An even more crazed look came over his face and I realized that he probably found this amusing, scaring the daylights out of some freshman from suburbia!  With one final attempt I managed to wrestle my hand out of his grip.  I awkwardly fumbled my e-cig in my hand and took a nervous inhale that left me coughing my lungs out.  Alfred took advantage of the moment, grabbing my coffee, and quickly guzzled it down before hobbling out into the street.  As he shuffled away, I could see the soles of his shoes were beginning to soften; the beginning stages of sole-melt.

“Poor fella,” I said to myself.  “He’s gonna get stuck for sure.”

I walked up to the front of the cafe to pay my tab.  When I reached the doorway to leave, I became overwhelmed with laughter.  The laughter intensified.  I couldn’t stop.  It was an effort to sneak a mere breath in.  Uncontrollable fits of rolling giggles.  One guy in a black turtleneck wearing a suede stetson hat with a feather stuck in it, a bushy moustache, and his front right tooth knocked out, made a lispy comment to me about how it wasn’t funny to laugh at the misfortunate.   I simply couldn’t stop and, I wasn’t even really sure what it was I was laughing at.  Was it the vibe of the Weirdos rubbing off on me?  …was it Alfred’s chaos infecting me?  I mean, after all, these weirdos were probably having a better time than the rest of us in the alternate realities they existed in anyway, free from constraint; from the burden of established society’s shared rationality.  As I continued to walk up South Congress towards the bus stop, I thought to myself how crazy it was that I had ended up in this place, how crazy it was to live on this rock sometimes.  Maybe it’s just safer to stay in Suburbia, with the “normal” ones.

The Unrequited Lover

The day I met Willy Bones is a memory that will forever be etched in my mind.  I was walking down the street of the Main Bazaar across from the New Delhi railway station, looking for a place to get my pants fixed.  Men eagerly attempted to herd me like a lost sheep into their stalls, coaxing me to more purchase more articles of knock-off stuff that I don’t need nor have room for in my pack.

A little back story:  Just 48 hours prior at “The Fitness Dude” gym center in Varanasi, I was working out, in the hopes that if I worked out to the point of exhaustion, I would be able to sleep through the incessant honking that forever permeates every nook and cranny of my hotel room and the holy city; in Varanasi, tomorrow never comes.

All eyes on me as I worked out.  Who in the hell is this white guy in north-face cargo pants, sopping sweat all over the floor?  Focus.  Ek. Do. Teen. Chaar, Paanch!  With exercise, confidence, and intention, my ambition to be a super villain in a Bollywood film is bound to be!  There was no kettle bell, so I opted for a dumbbell instead.  Before I began, the song that Breaking Benjamin did for the Halo 2 video game soundtrack came on.  A wave of euphoric nostalgia came over me, and I got in the fucking zone.  I grasped the dumbbell, and in a cloudy stupor of nostalgic misjudgment, I swung deeply into a squat.  “RRRRRRrrrriiiiiiiip!!”  My pants split violently from back to front, the sound of roughly torn polyester left hanging in the hot moist air.  All eyes on me.  Haha!  Look at this crazy westerner!  Laughs all around, mostly coming from my own mouth.

After combing the bazaar for thirty minutes, I finally found a tailor.  I assumed that I would have to leave the pants with him, and return in a few hours or so to pick them up.  However, he sat me down on a sack of rice directly at eye line of his workbench, and began his work then and there, a swift diligence in his movements.  Within three minutes, I was on my way with a fresh pair of north face pants, south face wholly intact.  My next line of action was to purchase an alarm clock.  I continued walking along the main bazaar, maintaining equanimity in my attention, filtering out the so seemingly authentic “hello sir!”s that rang out from each stall as I passed.  Just walking.  Observing.

A scene stopped me dead in my tracks and consumed my attention.  A tall, lanky, stubble-faced white male in front of a closed stall, hunched over, sitting on the curb of the gutter.  I moved closer to get a better look.  His hair was disheveled, he was staring off into the pedestrian traffic of the bazaar with a look of nonchalant disinterestedness painted across his face.  Next to him, two chestnut-skinned Indian girls and one boy in soiled clothes, all about the age of seven, were huddled around and intensely focused on an iphone7 they held in front of them.  I moved closer.  The bright hues of pink and blue and green of Candy Crush cast a luminescent glow over their mesmerized faces.

“Mate… I’m sick of playing chess on my phone.  It’s so goddamn unfulfilling…  I need a girl.  I need someone in my life that I can share life with, can make love to, can be real with..”

“So are you letting these kids play games on your phone?”  My attempt to nudge the conversation towards more topical subject matter, at least initially.

“Yeah, but I keep an eye on the bastards.  They’re sneaky, y’know?  Oi, let the girls have a turn,” he said to the boy in a mock-stern tone of voice.  

I had trouble identifying his accent, but his demeanour seemed pleasant enough, so I sat down with them.

“This girl here,” he pointed to the small girl.  “When she smiles, it makes me forget about the world… Hey, hey,” he gestured to the girl he was referring to with a contrived grin.  She shook her head and resumed her deep interest in the realms of Candy Crush.  The unkempt man introduced his name as Willy Bones, and asked me where I was from.  I told him that I had been living in Australia for the last year, doing my work holiday visa.  He explained that he was born and raised in Queensland, the place where I had been living for the majority of my time down under.  He told me that he had been living in Delhi for about four months, editing a book that he was hoping to finish by the new year.  After that he remained quiet for some time.  The children soon tired of Candy Crush.  

“Food.  Hungry.”  They gestured to Willy.  

“Alright, you fuckin’ scoundrels.  Let’s grab a rickshaw.  Would you like to go on an adventure?” He shifted his gaze to me with a sly grin.  Despite his size, I couldn’t help but see him as a bespectacled boy in a giant’s body; harmless enough.  I nodded and followed the group.  William hailed a rickshaw down, but when the driver told him 100 rupees, he lost his temper.  

“I AM NOT SOME FUCKING IDIOT MAN!!”  He yelled loudly and pointed violently with his index finger to his arm. “JUST BECAUSE I AM WHITE DOES NOT MAKE ME SOME MONEYPOT, YOU THIEVING SCOUNDREL!”  Bystanders began to take notice of the scene.  Willy and the driver argued and haggled for two minutes, finally settling on fifty rupees.  We made our way to the end of the street, crossed the main road, and arrived at a small food cart, just outside of the entrance to the New Delhi railway station.  While the children ate, Willy and I talked.  Everything revolved around romance, or lack thereof: the paralysis of fear that overcame him when he attempted to talk to girls, the paranoia that arose simply at the thought of initiating a random encounter in the street without coming across as creepy or overbearing.  

         He wanted to read me a story at his apartment and asked if I would go along with him.  The many diverse characteristics of his nature, so compassionate to the poor and needy, so impulsively bold, angry, and defensive in daily doings, reclusively shy in his dealings with the opposite sex – the main muse of his art, left me at a loss for conclusive judgment as to the stability of his mind.  Was this man safe to associate myself with?  Am I putting myself in physical danger here?

         We went back to his hotel.  We ascended the stairs to the first floor, where the clanging sounds of a man banging around with a hammer in one of the rooms opposite to Willy’s echoed throughout the corridor.  He opened the door.  The room was in complete disarray. Paint, brushes, and stacks upon stacks of blank canvasses littered the floor.  He explained to me that he had been living in Delhi for three going on four months, most of his time having been spent in this room.  He made no apologies for the mess, quickly moving over to his collection, paintings stacked high like a vast record collection; all depicting females, done in both tastefully and sexually obscene form.

 

He then hurried over to his bed, sat down with legs folded, and from a small black bag withdrew a black laptop.  Scrawled across the back in big white painted block letters read “WORK SUCKS.”  He opened the laptop and began to read a story with clear enunciation and passion.  He read it as a love story, only that two paragraphs into it, an experienced male could easily infer that it was the recollection of a classic escort pickup.  As he read me the story about the hooker, the man in the hallway continued his work, switching from hammer to some sort of a buzz saw.  As Willy read, his tone of voice became combative, tense, and after a few seconds he stopped reading and stormed into the hallway.  

“CAN YOU PLEASE SHUT UP FOR ONE SECOND!! I’m sorry.  I’M TRYING TO READ A STORY TO A FRIEND.  PLEASE, FIVE MINUTES AND THANK YOU.”   

       He returned to the room, slammed the door, and immediately resumed reading the story as if nothing had happened.  The sound of the buzz saw stopped.  The story ended with him painting a portrait of his “lover,” her taking money out of the wallet in his pants, him snatching the bill from her hands and explaining in loud commanding english that he needed that money to pay his rent in the morning, her storming out, him following her into the dark night, being unable to find her, leaving him feeling alone, sick, and right back at square one on some lonely street in Vietnam.  A tale of naïveté bliss and the pain of unrequited love.

       Afterwards, he showed me more of the many paintings that he had created; beautiful, surrealistic paintings of the women that so tormented his soul.  Unattainable, set on a metaphoric pedestal just out of reach.  After smoking a couple of joints and flipping through his paintings, we made small talk.  His recent outburst in the hall seemed far away, and he exuded a sense of likability and friendliness.  Although we talked about our families, occupations, and hobbies, the crux of the conversation would ultimately return to his carnal desires.  A lot of his more frantic-looking pieces were in tough times, he told me.  

“Looooots of pornography.  What a great job it would be, to make love all day.”  

        His wall was covered with collages of Indian and white models from Cosmo, Vogue, and other fashion magazines.  I finally asked if I could purchase one of his paintings for my collection.  He refused to sell me a painting, but offered to make me one instead.  While he painted, I played some music for him that I thought he would enjoy.  After he finished the painting, he snickered and said, “I don’t mean to be a dick, but I am in love with this painting.  Would it be okay to do another one for you?”  He asked me if I had a photo of an ex-girlfriend.  He began painting again.

“I don’t mean to be a dick or anything.”  He said this quite frequently.  He maintained a demeanour of indecisiveness, his emotions tossing and turning like a sailing skiff caught in a cyclone.

“I don’t wanna look at porn.  I mean, I love the women in porn, but I want to share a bed with a real woman.  Maybe when I’m a rich artist, I can have a pornstar to make love to.”

          Willy quickly made me another painting, this time of a girl that looked nothing like my ex-girlfriend, but with a cat, an animal which I am quite fond of.  Before he could get another “I don’t mean to be a dick but” in, I promptly bubble-wrapped it and shipped it to my mother and father’s address.  Willy signed the back as “Satan”, date created 06/06/06, the medium of paint used being “semen and blood,” and the cost being “1,000,000 dollars and one bj.”  After we had bubble-wrapped and turned the package over to the courier to be sent, Willy asked where I had sent it to, and I told him that I had sent it to my parents’ house.  He quickly vocalised his remorse at having written such obscenities on the back of the painting, and he explained to me that I should have told him where it was being sent beforehand.

             Willy suggested that we go eat some lunch for ourselves at a place nearby.  Everywhere we went, he made no effort to acknowledge that we were in a different country.  He spoke in hurried English to anyone and everyone, not slowing down, never attempting to compromise his speech in order to effectively communicate what it was that he wanted.  It all made for very humorous, sometimes cringeworthy breakdowns in communication.  

           Over lunch, we discussed how he could properly expedite the process of meeting up in person with a girl that he had been beating around the bush in quite amicable conversation with on Tinder for the past week or so.  I explained that in order to see results, one must take action.  How wise I must have sounded, myself 26 and single, much to the befuddlement of every Indian that has asked me, “what is your good name, what is your occupation,’ and the dreaded last one: ‘are you married?”  My answer to that last one usually leaves an awkward silence hanging in the air. 

          While letting our food settle, Willy wanted to play a game: two lies and one truth.  I tried to keep it lighthearted, as it was two in the afternoon and I didn’t know Willy very well, but he jumped directly into the deep end.  He used the game as a way to confide in me about the deep sexual pain and frustration that was preventing him from forming the bond with a companion that he so desperately desired.  By way of the game, he confessed to me that he had fingered the family dog and had had sex with another boy when he was nine years old.  

After lunch, Willy decided it would be a good idea for us to drink some alcohol.  

             “Let’s get fucked up and loose.  It makes it easier to get the girls.”  I explained to Willy that I was not much of a drinker, but would happily be interested in being his wingman.  He agreed, I agreed: the adventure must continue.  We decided on procuring some hashish before getting the alcohol.  Outside of the restaurant, a gaunt, old Indian rickshaw driver with shiny black hair sleeked to the back gave me a big thumbs up sign accompanied with a toothy grin.  He pulled up next to us, and explained in broken english that he could get hashish.  Easy done.  

             “You better not fuck us over mister,” Willy quipped as I negotiated the price with the driver.  The driver wanted 2000 for a tola, equivalent to ten grams of hashish.  I firmly explained that we only wanted 1000 worth.  Willy would quickly switch back and forth between combative anger and a compassionate, almost playful manner.  Anytime he would jump in to negotiate price, he would physically poke and tickle the man into a playful submission of commercial agreement.  We finally came to a consensus of 1000, and piled into the old man’s bicycle powered rickshaw.  He drove us past the new railway station, every now and again turning back to face us, asking for the money with outstretched hand.  After numerous failed attempts, he finally consented to returning with hash in hand before we put the cash in hand.  

          Willy needed to purchase some rolls of paper towels, so we went into a nearby shop.  Once purchased, the two paper towel rolls became props for a drag/burlesque routine that he began performing in the street, much to the stares and laughs of baffled bystanders.  Willy would see a sign or advertisement in the street depicting a female, and he would become consumed, almost possessed, with angsty lust.  He would lick the women’s faces on the dirty street signs as we passed them, hold the paper rolls at his upper torso to mimic the presence of breasts, and stroll along like he was the star of a Victoria’s Secret catwalk. Many people looked to me for some sort of non-verbal explanation, but I would simply shrug and smile.

            After twenty minutes, Willy suggested that we should steal the rickshaw, forget about the hash, and go on a “REAL” adventure.  I jokingly told him to give it five more minutes and I’d consider it.  Five minutes later, just as Willy was planning our getaway, the man returned and beckoned us into the back seat.  What he gave us seemed decent enough in quality, but seriously lacked in quantity.  When we got off at our stop, Willy asked for the money I had in my pockets, about 500 rupees, combined it with the 200 rupees he had, stuffed it into the drivers hand, turned around, and began walking off in a hurried fashion.  The driver began yelling at me, but I shrugged, turned, and followed Willy.  The sounds of the driver’s voice drowned out amongst the beeping of other vehicles as we put distance between us and the rickshaw. We made it back to Willy’s hotel, shared a chillum, and that is when all hell broke loose.  

The last train ride

5:05 pm.  Friday afternoon in Bangkok. I’ve just gotten off work from my job in Ekamai.  My last student lolligags around in the room, packing up his bag and probably prolonging the only break that his parent imposed study-intensive schedule will allow.  I try my best to get the hell out of dodge as soon as the clock strikes 5, if not 5 minutes before, so I can get home as soon as possible to enjoy the few daylight hours I have before the night time sets in.  Alas, the lolligagger prevents.

I make my way to the BTS metro train, and a lady cuts me off, because she’s on her phone.  Then, the gate security decides to search my bag, even though he sees me everyday.  I don’t say any of this to harp on, only to explain how the universe aligned for me to be at the exact place I was at the exact moment when my perspective on life was forever altered.

At approximately 5:09, I arrived at the the train platform, looked across at the other side, and noticed a man.  His presence caught my attention because of his frantic behavior.  He tapped his foot with fervor and from across the tracks I could see him sweat.  He looked me in the eyes and smiled a look that screamed pain and quiet suffering.  In my commiseration I chalked it down to a long days work in a smelly, smoggy city.  He broke my gaze by pulling out a cigarette, lighting it, and taking a deep drag.  People took notice at this gesture of rebellion, and begin to whisper to each other.  I myself admire this act of bravado, and the rail attendant screeches into his whistle and begins ambling over in rapid steps.

The train is coming.  I laugh to myself at the absurdity of the situation.  When the train looms in the distance, the man stubs out his cigarette. Then he looks up.  Directly into my eyes.  He flicks it into the track, and in that moment, I sense that something otherworldly is happening.  Something unexplainable by rational human thought.

Before I can consider, I feel a sting on my face of wet and grit and warmth.  People scream.  I laugh a whimper of a confused laugh.  I reach up to my face, wipe, and look at my fingers.  A deep shade of scarlet with little bits of white and grey mixed in.  The train whistles a melancholy tone of prevention.  It is too late.  My life and how I view the world has yet again been changed forever.  Corrado by Miles Davis drowns out reality, ringing like a gong in my ears.