April 29, 2010

Shanghaied By the Tea Party


It was a sunny June morning, and I was walking the streets of Shanghai after picking up my new passport....

This story is pending publication.  Please check back later.

April 26, 2010

Back massage, hold the steam.

I was face down on the massage table when the masseuse tapped me on the shoulder.  “Look,” she whispered into my ear.  Five minutes into a massage, it seemed like a strange request but I did what she said.  When I lifted my head, the girl was pointing to my wife, whose neck, as I recall, was on fire.

"What a great story! And wonderfully written. I’d love to try a fire massage sometime. Also, I had always wanted to try cupping, but that icky photo makes me rethink… "  -- Reader comment

This post has been published at The Matador Network.  Read it HERE.

April 21, 2010

The Irrigation

It was spring break and my wife and I were in Bali when my hearing began to fail.  It was only in the right ear, thankfully, but the condition was definitely getting worse.  I might have blamed the tropical heat or the humidity, but we had flown a long way to enjoy these things, and I wasn’t quite ready to curse a foreign god...

  This story has been published at BootsnAll


April 20, 2010

Call of the Wild, Carnival

We were standing on the platform amongst the crowd when the doors swung open.  Everyone charged the damned thing like a herd of spooked cattle.  Fran, my bartender friend visiting from New Jersey, doesn’t like enclosed spaces.  He may be scarred for life.  Takayo was perched at the top of the stairs on the top level.  We’d lost sight of Michael, Fran’s coworker, somewhere in the crush.  How do you tell a mother, “Your son’s been trampled to death by clowns?”  We were packed in with the bastards shoulder-to-shoulder, along with pirates, aliens, captains, etc.  Everyone had a painted face and wig on.  You couldn’t even raise an arm.  The smart ones were intoxicated, holding their beer overhead.  This included nearly everyone but us. 

    Cologne, or Köln as the Germans spell it, is usually 30 minutes by train from Düsseldorf.  However, during Carnival, the drunken celebration prior to Lent, it felt longer than a wet week.  The air was vaporous with booze breath.  I had been baby groped several times.  Silly looking heads blocked by view of the window, and it was too loud to hear the stop calls over the loudspeaker.  I asked King Drunk, who was squashed against the door, what stop we were at.  We would soon have to transfer at the Mülheim station, and there was still no sight of Michael.  Fran, Takayo, and I squeezed out the train at our stop.  Just before the doors slammed shut, Michael popped out like a zit. 

    “I don‘t know,” said Fran, shaking his head.  “Being packed in a train like that…in Germany.” 

    At least it had been warm on the train.  It was below freezing outside.  We checked into the hotel and ditched our bags.  This was crucial for Fran and Michael, whose grossly overstuffed packs could have clothed an entire gypsy clan.  I made an inventory list between the two:  20 pairs of socks, 18 pairs of jeans, 18 pairs of underwear, 10 button-up shirts, 6 hooded sweatshirts, 1 suit, 1 pair dress shoes, 2 windbreakers, 2 toiletry bags, 2 iPhones, 1 iPod Nano, 2 speakers, 3 one-liter bottles of liquor, 3 bottles of cologne.  Early on, the theme of this trip was “Consume like an American.” 

    And consume we did. 

    When we arrived to the Cologne main station it was positively trashed.  The only people occupying it were bands of brightly dressed youths beating bucket drums.  We gravitated outside, admiring the nightmarish spires of the Dom cathedral.  We found a beer tent with a massive flaming spit dripping with steaks and wieners.  Roving mobs chanted drinking songs that spiked loudly and ended abruptly.  The sound of braying horns echoed through the cobblestone streets, giving the impression of elk in heat.  “Oh, I need that,” said Fran.  I found a pair of aviator sunglasses on the ground by the wiener stand, fashioned them back into shape and stuck them on my face.  It began to snow when Fran bought this red and white plastic horn.  The thing looked like a peppermint tornado.  It took him a couple of tries before getting it to blow right.

    We were in the downtown shopping area.  Large men in industrial overalls boarded up storefront windows with slabs of plywood.  This would protect the shops from the parade of drunks scheduled for Monday.  I led everyone to the Altstadt, or old town, to a bar renown for having rude servers.  There was another wiener stand set up outside the bar, attracting all types of night creatures.  A band of latex-gloved surgeons handed each of us a bottle of beer.  To thank them, Fran blew the horn.  The surgeons and drunks within earshot went wild.  A man with a handlebar mustache began speaking to us in German.  He was wearing short pants and looked like the Goodwill Ambassador of Bavarian Fruitcakes.  For all we knew, he might have offered to lop off our ears for us.  We just said “Ja! Ja!” to everything and he handed us a post card that had a picture of him and a similarly dressed man standing together at a cabin. 

    My night vision was pitiful on account of the shades.  We found a narrow bar to thaw out.  The mood was a cross between Halloween without the spooky, and Mardi Gras without the graphic nudity.  Like so many bars in Germany, there was 80’s rock blaring over the speakers.  One group of girls all carried whistles.  For the girl in a ladybug costume, the whistle replaced all verbal communications.  She made a warbling bird call to order a beer, and a shrill squawk when she told Fran “go away.”  Unfazed, Fran leveled his horn within inches of her face and blew.  The girl answered back with a bitchy shriek.  The bartenders stopped pouring to frown at them both. 

    Takayo and I slid into a booth behind a table.  In a mindless act to give the crowd more room, a bartender came over and slid the table into our guts.  A conga line had formed.  Lizards and bugs -- even a cross walk sign -- slithered through the bar, sending glasses crashing to the ground.  A drunk construction worker in a white tee shirt and suspenders took off his hardhat and handed it to Takayo.  He gurgled something before walking out the door, never to return.  Michael stuck the hardhat on his head, and I overheard Fran teaching a German girl to say “suck your mother dry.”  When she said it, Fran lifted the horn to celebrate, but the bartender pointed at him.  It was time to go.

    By the time we hit the door, Fran was about to burst.  He blew the horn till he was red in the face.  This caught the attention of someone up the street, who reciprocated with a call of their own.  This strengthened my association of elks in heat.  We continued walking toward the call, each of them blowing in six second intervals, until a group of excited German youths stood before us.  They couldn’t believe that their horn calls had seduced a group of Americans. 

    “Fuck zie Bush!” one of them shouted.
Steam rose up from their horns.
    “Suck your mother dry!”
Again the horns echoed through the alleyways.
    “Socks your moder droy!”

    It had begun to snow again when we found an underground bar that looked like the inside of a cave.  For some odd reason, I’ve never had good luck with cave bars.  There weren’t a lot of people there, and if I had to guess, it was because of the Spanish techno blaring over the speakers.  Takayo and I pressed our butts against the radiator.  She took off her hat and put it on the table with the beers.  We danced for a bit and came back to find that someone had lifted her hat.  I ran upstairs to the sidewalk but didn’t see anyone wearing it.  I cursed the cave, collected our crew, and then left.

    We went into a convenience store for cans of beer.  There was a short dark man dressed like a Mexican next to the beer cooler.  He tilted back his sombrero and told us he was Iraqi, had traveled to the States, but now lived in Cologne.  Fran could hardly believe it.  “This guy’s from Iraq!”  The beer prices were inflated on account of the festivities, so we each got one and said “adios” to the Iraqi.  Outside we walked past a large man in a rainbow jester hat.  The rest of his outfit was black leather. 

    “I’m going to talk to this guy,” Fran said.  “I think he’s Russian.”

A few days earlier, Fran tried to convince me that he spoke Russian.  He lived in a house full of Russian exchange students a few years back, when we had fallen out of contact.  I had my doubts, but he seemed hell-bent on speaking Russian.  He walked up to the man and uttered a phrase.  It was like watching a kid ride a bike.  As it turned out, Fran knew some Russian.  He reported a piecemeal translation of border crossings and the man’s life as a widower.  Everyone just stood around for a moment, pondering the most appropriate way to shake Boris Buzz-Kill.  Eventually, he gave us a dismal-looking business card and we parted ways.  Fran and Mike spoke with nearly two dozen people before reaching a consensus:  Everybody in town was crazy. 
    “Oh, man.  I could live here.” 

    People’s costumes were all but falling apart by this point.  There was a collar here and hats in the gutter, as if a costume form of leprosy had fallen over the town.  From seemingly out of nowhere, we stumbled upon an open street dance.  Folks were stomping and dosey-doing to a hyperactive remix of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”  Empty kegs were piled up next to the beer tent like a tribute to the Pyramids.  When the song was over, they played this sappy love song and everyone disbanded.

    With the streets clearing out, we worked our way back to the train station.  Mike snapped an eerie photo of the Dom cathedral.  We stared up at its spires from the shadows and talked about how gothic it looked, trying to give ourselves the heebie-jeebies.  It wasn’t too hard since we were already half-buzzed and shivering to the bone.  We entered the train station, which seemed to be hanging on by a thread.  Glass crunched under our every step.  We passed street people collecting returnable bottles for, what must have been, the jackpot of the season.  When the train pulled up on schedule, I could hardly believe it.  Fran blew the horn one last time and I think somewhere in the distance, I heard the sound of an elk answering softly.

April 16, 2010

A Fun Guy In the Casino, Macau

From the lobby of our hotel, I could see the Venetian, the world’s largest casino.  Hell, you could probably seen the thing from Mars.  Takayo, wanted to get her nails done, which seemed like a good enough reason to go over and check it out. 

    The Venetian looms over the horizon like a desert plateau.  It has that strange ability to distort distance, making objects appear much closer than they really are.  The first thing I noticed upon walking in was not the gold archways or the seemingly endless marble floors.  I was expecting that.  No, it was the air that impressed me.  Sounds strange, I know, but it brought to mind an image of orange blossoms, falling softly upon a baby’s head.  God, they must’ve put something in the air for me to go on like that. 

    We got a little gambling in before heading upstairs to the shops.  It’s just like a real city:  blue skies, restaurants, and of course a canal full of pool water and Chinese gondolas.  We found a nail salon and Takayo decides that I need a trim, “since we’re here anyway…” 

    The place was brightly lit with techno music throbbing from the stereo.  A girl brought over two cups of green tea, and led me to a chair in back.  “Tony will be cutting your hair,” she said.  As if summoned, Tony stepped out from the back room.  He was your typical Chinese hipster -- wild bangs, flashy tee shirt, shredded jeans -- the type of guy who could make anyone over twenty-five feel old. 

    Tony seemed nice enough, but he never asked me how I wanted my hair cut.  It never came up.  Maybe it was the air, or not wanting to feel old, but I decided to just sit back and give Tony free artistic range.  He’s a professional, I thought.  Let’s see his vision.  This was the Venetian, after all.  They wouldn’t let just anyone work here.  That’s what I told myself, feeling a bit like a maverick.

    So he starts cutting and tells me that he’s from Hong Kong.  I tell him that I’m American but have been living in mainland China for ten months.

    “You ever been to Hong Kong,” he asks.
    “Nah, I’ve been meaning to visit, though.  Went to Thailand over the summer, Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi.”
    “Did you like?” 
    “Oh, yea.  It’s great down there, love the beaches, the beer.”
    “Did you go to Full Moon Party?” 
    I smiled.  “Nah, wish that I had though.”

He stopped cutting, looked left, then right, and leaned in toward my ear.

    “Did you have the mushroom?” 
    “No, but I heard that they pick them right off the elephant dung.” 

He seemed to ignore this, and began cutting again.  My hair was dry.

    “Do you know what kind of mushroom I speak of,” he whispered. 
    “Yea.  The MAGIC kind.” 
    “Nooo.  Drugs.” 
    “Yea.  That’s what I’m talking about.  Magic mushrooms.”  Still, he didn’t seem convinced, so I recounted to him this quasi-religious experience I had involving a key and a pillow.  “The key is your mind.”  He stopped cutting my hair.

    “In Phuket, you can go to the boy in hotel and say ‘marijuana’ and he says ‘wait here’ and comes back in five minutes with it.” 

It had become a contest of one-upmanship, and I could see where the conversation was headed.  It was being discussed in seedy college dorms all over the world, but did I really need to get involved with an international drug confession with a stylist?  Then I said something that I instantly regretted.

    “Look, I don’t do drugs any more.  My wife doesn’t like it.”  Now I felt really old. 
Tony had a glazed look in his eyes, and my head was looking lopsided. 
    “No more?”
    “Once you invent a religion, it’s kind ’a hard to top that.”

He got back to cutting and was quiet for a while. 

    Halfway through the cut, he brought me over to a sink and washed my hair.  With that finished, he asked me about my wife.  I told him that she was a school teacher, but his scissors were moving so fast that I don‘t think he was really listening.  I’m not sure why exactly, but shortly after he began drying my hair, my head started taking on an odd shape.  My top notch was, for lack of a better word, blossoming.  I told myself again, It’ll be OK, this guy’s a professional.  But now I wasn’t so sure. 

    When Tony broke out the Aqua Net, I lost all hope.  But I was in too deep to turn back.  The only thing to do was hold on to the armrests and let him finish.  He cupped his hand over my eyes and let the hairspray rain down upon my bangs.  Yea, I had bangs now.  They were combed straight down to my eyebrows.  And crooked.  My top notch was in full bloom.  With all that hairspray, it would have taken a therapist to talk it back down. 

    “OK,” Tony said.  “It is finished.” 

I stared at his wonder in the mirror, and it seemed to stare back. 

    “Should I sweep it to the side a little,” I asked, concerning the bangs.

His eyes were completely glazed over, brushing individual hairs into place.

    “No.  The front must stay straight.”

Takayo had her nails in a drying machine, reading a magazine on her lap.  I sat in a nearby chair and waited for her to look up.  When she finally did, I’d never seen a more confused expression.  And then came the laughter.

    “What did he do to you,” she said.
    “I just let him do whatever.  I thought he was an artist.”
    “Alright Sebastian.  Let’s go.”
    “Yea, that’s what you look like.  Sebastian, my ‘special’ shopping companion.  Here, take my purse up there and pay.  I don‘t want to scratch my nails”

Before we left, Tony came up and handed me his business card. 

    “Gee, thanks.”  I accepted it in the traditional Chinese manner, pinching the corners with both hands. 

I couldn’t walk past a single mirror that day without admiring the new shape of my head.  When we returned the gaming floor, I struck a pose for the blackjack dealer.  Yea, there was something in the air all right.  There’s no other explanation for it.  Why else would I pay good money to come out looking like a mushroom?

April 14, 2010

Don't Forget to Flush

It was raining the Monday after Easter when we arrived in Vienna, Austria, so Takayo and I headed over to Museum Square, following the Andy Warhol signs that plastered the subway walls like some plastic yellow brick road.  The Museum of Modern Art‘s current exhibition focused on Art and Television, which , given the state of today‘s programs, sounded like a shameless oxymoron.  However, television here would consist of homegrown endeavors by early-era media geeks, between 1963 and 1987.  On account of Austria’s close proximity to Eastern Europe, there were hundreds of old, bubble-screened television sets pumping out video relics on a continuous loop.  Moments after handing the woman our tickets, we were transported to another dimension. 
    Most often, I find museum goers just as entertaining as the exhibits.  My favorite pieces are the armchair critics, those folks who openly discuss how an artist “bridged” some gap while petting their scarf.  They use words such as ‘oeuvre’ seven times a minute, and they really feel the artist’s pain -- as does everyone else in a twenty foot radius.  We’ve all got our quarks, but I have to tip my hat to someone for behaving this way alongside a Schiele. 
    And that was my initial gripe.  Finding any type of voyeuristic pleasure here was like scouring a room full of duplicate screensavers.  Everyone just sat around, watching television.  The museum accommodates this couch potato mentality.  There were padded seats everywhere.  At the bottom of the staircase, a plaques revealed our location not with a ‘Floor’ number, but rather by ‘Lounge.’  As in, there was a plastic bucket under a leak on Lounge 3. 
    It was hard to imagine anyone sitting down to actually watch these videos without the help of hard drugs.  The rush we got after hearing the ticket price would have to do.  Films ranged anywhere from 10 seconds to 75 minutes, the average running about seven minutes.  When the artists made these films, their motives were geared toward consciousness and expression.  In a sense, these were the quintessential doodles inspired by childlike madness.  Within these walls it became apparent:  Television grew up to become a boring, middle-aged slob on the couch. 
    Watching television in public wasn’t exactly my idea of a well spent vacation.  Then again, I’m not exactly the type of guy that spends his vacation building schools or scrambling mountainsides with a rucksack full of orphans.  A happy medium might be somewhere in between.  My wife and I don’t even have a TV in our home.  But like all old habits, the groove was easy to get back into.  Too easy in fact. 
    I stood before a showing entitled The Medium is the Medium, in which black and white slides flashed upon the screen in trance-rousing succession.  An off-screen voice, that of the artist, instructs you to turn off the TV set at the end.  I took off the headphones and thanked God that I wasn’t epileptic.  I walked over to another TV and watched a length of yarn being flushed down a toilet.  Just when you thought the film was over, they gave it another flush and the string danced wildly into the unknown.  On another screen, a man steps out of the shower to have his hair blown dry, literally, by a chorus of women.  These movies were appealing in a raw sense.  Here were folks fearlessly exploring a new, virtually unlimited media.  You could tell they were on the verge of greatness, but the presentations all seemed to lack that certain ‘something.’  Thanks to these TV pioneers, today kids on acid have something to stare at during Phish concerts. 
    We headed upstairs to Lounge 4 and came across Kevin Atherton’s Video Times, a movie in which our hero, illuminated by a television screen that is our viewpoint, sits on the couch watching us.  At 32 minutes long, this might have been suicide-inspiring if not for the TV-guide magazine that complemented the movie.  It gave a play-by-play description of the man’s activity in 5-second intervals.  There is a timer in the lower right hand corner of the screen.  We arrived at minute 23, second 10.  I opened the guide: 
    Knee Moves:  His right knee which is crossed over his left leg moves slightly from the left of the picture towards the center.  Uneventful. 
I looked to the screen and, sure enough, that’s what happened.  The film was made in the 80’s and had an edgy feel to it, similar to those public service announcements about drunk skeletons that scarred me for life as a child.  Sometimes, I have to drink just to forget them.  Thank a lot, America. 
At minute 24, second 45.  I looked back in the TV-guide:
    Silence:  (The man) Continues to bend his toes as if in an attempt to crank up some music from somewhere, succeeds.  An amusing coincidence.
Coincidently enough, I passed wind. 
    The great thing about this exhibit was that it’s basically a big ‘Screw You’ to TV, its viewers, and the artist himself.  I just loved that.  My grandfather used to record everything my sister and I did on our summer trips to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  He had one of those over-the-shoulder contraptions, but when the camcorder was developed, that thing never seemed to leave his hand.  He captured endless amounts of footage:  Pastel putt-putt balls rolling over Astroturf; overweight children slogging around water parks (“where’s Noah?”), and my grandmother, mouthing her signature phrase “Get that god-damned thing out of my face.”  My sister and I admired the way she bridged the gap between repressed animosity and family bonding. 
We were at minute 27, second 50:
    Knees Up:  First the right knee goes up quickly followed by the left.  No respect for the furniture. 
There were a couple of TV-guides laying on the bench.  I rolled one up and stuck it in my pocket, figuring I’d get some pleasure from looking at it later, perhaps on the toilet.  Four hours later, we had to get the hell out of there. 

It was still raining so we walked under the umbrella to a pizza shop.  My brain was muddled from hours of television, but I was feeling inspired.  We had just finished eating when a family of four came in.  From behind me, I could hear coats being unzipped and dropped on the booth.  The kids were huffing and judging by the voice of the parents, I pegged them as American.  One of the pizza boys walked into the dining room.
    “Hello, do you take credit cards?”  Said the dad.
    “Nein,” said the pizza boy.  I could hear him bussing a table.
    “Do you take American money?” 
The whole conversation was loud.  The family let out a collective sigh and then gathered their coats off the booth.  Takayo had a look of apprehension in her face.
    “Should we offer them some money,” she whispered. 
    “Of course not,” I said, but that was just a knee-jerk response to the idea of feeding white folks on a European vacation.  Offering to trade Euros for dollars did cross my mind, but they were already heading out the door when the mom announced, “Back to McDonald’s!”  She really said that. 

    We occasionally hear stories of the inept American traveler, and maybe that’s why a lot of us don’t leave the country.  When a few brave ones finally do venture out, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I tried to imagine how a family of four managed to find themselves half way around the world with no appropriate currency.  What were they doing here, and why did the parents have to drag the children into this sick experiment?  There’s probably no straight answer, but tune in next week for all new storylines, subliminal messages, and other 'neat’ things swirling the toilet bowl for your enjoyment.

April 12, 2010

Rough Road to Paradise, Philippines

Boracay Island, Philippines was not just our first overseas trip together, it was also our honeymoon, albeit six months after tying the knot.  We couldn’t have chosen a better destination, but my God, what a logistically awkward destination to reach.  Takayo has been asking me to write about Boracay for some time now.  Instead of just sitting down and doing it, however, I made excuses, claiming “It’s too touristy,” or “It’s already been covered.”  And while that may be true -- the white sand beaches, crystal blue waters, and apocalyptic sunsets deserve every bit of tribute -- there isn’t much about the adventure that is ‘getting there.’  Isn’t that supposed to be half the fun?  We had been living in China for four months, so perhaps I was desensitized.  Catching a red eye from Shanghai to Manila just didn’t seem all that strange at the time. 

    The first leg of the trip was a harrowing cross town taxi to Suzhou’s train station.  Next came the fifty minute train ride to Shanghai.  We putzed around Shanghai for a bit, taking in the culture and catching a fistfight in an alleyway before an hour-long ride to Pudong airport.  I distinctly remember how excited I was to see 10-Yuan beers in the terminal vending machines.  The shops in the terminals were closed and all the lights were off, except for the floodlights that shone down on the waiting area by our gate. 

    We landed in Manila around 4a.m. and collected our overstuffed duffel bag.  God, we didn’t forget anything.  Manila’s national airport is across town, so when the shuttle finally pulled up to the curb, a fairly sleep-weary mob bum-rushed it.  We somehow found a seat and made it to the other airport just after dawn.  As we pulled up, I saw a chicken strut out from the terminal doors.  People were standing around everywhere, fanning themselves.  Every chair was filled with the extremely old or young.  The girl at the check-in counter offered to put us on the 6:15am flight to Caticlan.  At the thought of waiting in that jam-packed airport, we gratefully took it.  We passed a clock and realized that it was 6:01.  The security check line was nearly out the door, so we did something you can only do in a small airport in an island nation:  Cut.  And boy did we ever.  A short, broad-shouldered security officer stood between our flight and us.  We showed him our ticket. 

    He looked at his watch, then eyed us up and down.  “OK.”
One thing about flying in the Philippines is that there’s a tariff at every departure gate.  This airport charged two hundred Pesos a piece, so I forked over a 500 bill. 

    He handed me the payment stubs and said, “So, that leaves one hundred…”  A grin came over his face.  “You understand?”  He winked.

    “Sure,” I said, and winked back. 

It was nice to know that, in case of emergency, a small bribe could save the day. 
We found our gate and crossed the tarmac to our twin-engine plane.  The little thing buzzed on up and before long we were looking down on the lush rolling treetops of a Philippine jungle.  We landed an hour or so later in Caticlan.  The airport is a quiet one-story building made of plywood.  Some men in tee shirts brought our bags over; no conveyor belt necessary. 

    Outside the airport, people hocking ferry tickets to Boracay swarmed around us.  There were chickens and kids with no shoes happily playing in the street.  We hired a man with a motorcycle and sidecar, or trike, to take us to the ferry docks.  I sat up front and read the billboards advertising energy drinks and political candidates, both of which looked like they’d leave you high and dry.  When we reached the docks, a man accosted us trying to sell ferry tickets. 

    “Why shouldn’t we buy them from the ticket window?”  Takayo asked.
He didn’t muster up an answer, so we walked over and got the tickets.

    It began to rain a bit, so we ducked under a shelter near a sign that read, BORACAY PASSENGERS PLS. FALL IN LINE (OBSERVE CLEANLINESS).  A slow, long wooden boat navigated us across the channel.  It was 8:30am when we finally stepped foot on Boracay Island.  Clearly, this was a place where palm trees abound, but there was no sight of paradise.  We hired another trike for the last leg of the journey.  The winding road carried us past lean-tos and constellations of vines consuming everything in its path.  It had stopped raining, but still no paradise.  Every so often, through the trees, we caught a glimmer of hope in the form of ocean blue.  We were at the top of a hill and then, dipping past another grass-hut village, it was gone. 

    If you don’t arrive from Caticlan, boats drop you off at your Dock in waist-high water on the opposite side of the island.  From there, you wade ashore with your luggage overhead.  I was a little bummed when we arrived at a proper marina.  From a young age, it’s been a dream of mine to wash up on a tropical beach.  I must have seen it in a movie somewhere.  The idea of surviving, becoming shaped by the ocean experience -- like a hunk of driftwood -- kind of stuck with me.

    Our hotel was completely across the developed part of the island in an area know as ‘Dock 3.’  As we traveled through Dock 1 and 2, I had this feeling of having traveled back in time.  Aside from the more upscale tourist hangouts, in many ways I suppose we did.  Stilted buildings with palm frond roofs line the narrow unmarked road.  Time as we knew it seemed less significant.  The sign for our hotel, The Strand, was painted on an arrow-shaped piece of wood, perhaps carved by a local wood-carver. 

    The pavement gave way to gravel after twenty yards, as dirty dogs, goats, and chickens scatter to make way.  Our driver opened the throttle and an adolescent chicken disappeared under the sidecar.  I thought the worst of him, and looked back to see the little bugger staggering off to the roadside.  There was a basketball court with a milk crate goal.  An above-ground cemetery jutted out of the hillside like some cryptic staircase.  The stones and tile in a newer cemetery were all shades of blue, as were the cat houses that sat on either side of the headstone.  White cats lounged around or slept at the foot of the tombs.  Kids chased each other outside of bodegas advertising 35 Peso cans of San Miguel and Coca Cola.  We arrived outside the cherry wood gate of our hotel.  It promptly swung open, revealing the tan smiles of two girls.  They took our duffel bag, quietly groaning under its weight as they lead us to the office.  We passed a sign that read:  WATCH OUT FOR FALLING BREAD FRUIT.  Some were as big as footballs.  How terrible it must be for someone to make it through life, only to be taken out by something called a breadfruit. 

    Too early to check in, the staff urged us over to the breakfast hut.  They served adobo chicken and pork, garlic rice, green onion scrambled eggs, fresh mango juice and a blend of thick coffee.  After breakfast, we walked down the jungle road toward the beach.  Seventeen hours after stepping out the door, we had finally arrived to paradise.  The sun had not yet risen above the palm line.  We collapsed in the sand, napping off and on for about an hour. 

    I remember waking up under a sun that had somehow turned the palm fronds overhead a metallic silver.  Tak and I retreated to a cabana bar overlooking the beach.  A smiling bartender carved up little yellow mangos with ease and tossed them into a blender with ice and rum.  We called it a night by five o’clock, ordered two rounds of room service as an early thunderstorm lit up the breadfruit and palm fronds from our balcony.