Transitional period

There’s still quite a while before my contract here finishes, but psychologically I’m already starting to wind down. (Actually, I started winding down pretty much the day I came back from my trip to Southeast Asia and realized I was far more interested in doing that sort of thing than in hanging out in the English room for eight hours a day, but up until lately that was just sort of a low-level background feeling.) Recently I’ve been preparing in various ways for the next phase of my life, the one that involves me traveling constantly for an unfixed but long amount of time.

To start with, I figured out my schedule in probably as much detail as I’ll ever have it planned, so why don’t I just post it here so you can see what I’ll be doing?

  • 8/25 Sat— My contract finishes. I go to Incheon in the morning in time to catch the 19:00 ferry for Weihai, China. 
  • 8/26 Sun— I arrive in Weihai in the morning and take a train to Beijing, find my hostel, and wander around.
  • 8/27–29—Time for exploring Beijing. I wish I could allot more time, but my four months of travel in Eurasia, which originally seemed to me like a practically endless stretch of time, became alarmingly fast and cramped when it actually came time to cram them into a calendar, and I have to hurry somewhere.
  • 8/30–31— In transit to Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia. 
  • 9/01–18—Time to explore all over Mongolia and try to learn how to be the best nomad I can be.
  • 9/19 Wed— Board the Trans-Siberian in Ulaanbaatar. 
  • 9/24 Mon— Arrive in Moscow in the afternoon. Look around.
  • 9/25 Tue— Another day in Moscow.
  • 9/26–29— Stick that thumb out and start hitching, allowing four days to get through Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany, to arrive in München in the evening on the 29th.
  • 9/30 Sun— Watch the brass band concert at Oktoberfest. Drink beer and eat sausages and pretzels.
  • 10/01–03— Continue drinking beer and eating sausages and pretzels, but with a focus on seeing München and the places around it. 
  • 10/04–16— See as much of the rest of Germany as I can in thirteen days, and possibly spend a day or two in Prague.
  • 10/17–19— Hitch (and/or take a train, since research suggests Spain is lousy for hitching) to Lisbon, and meet Grandma and Grandpa there. 
  • 10/20–21— See Lisbon with Grandma and Grandpa.
  • 10/22 Mon— Set out to see the rest of Iberia, mainly Spain, probably starting with the Way of St James. 
  • 2 weeks later?— Move on to Italy.
  • 2 weeks later?— Move on to France.
  • 2 weeks later?— Move on to England. Meet Sean’s friend who does parkour, and spend some time in Southampton doing that. Also see Stonehenge and such, and eat British Christmas food, which apparently is delicious.
  • Late December— Fly out of London and go home. Christmastime. Tell everyone story after story until they wish they hadn’t asked me about the trip. 

Anything further than that is far too cloudy to assign numbers to it. But after I’ve caught up with the family and with the few friends I still keep in touch with in town—mainly Aaron and Keith—I’ll probably head down Florida way to start my grand tour of America. I get more questions about this. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but maybe not very comprehensively. Basically, the plan is that after Christmas, I’ll just start traveling full-time so I can see all the parts of America that I haven’t visited yet or don’t remember very well from those road trips my dad took me on when I was twelve. It’s a big continent, so this could take a year or more.

The instinct upon hearing about a period of travel that long is to wonder, What about me getting a job and becoming a responsible part of society? There are a couple different ways to respond to that. One is the predictable rebel response that I don’t believe in becoming a productive part of our society, since that would mean that I’m complicit in American culture’s continuing destruction of the planet and of healthy communities and minds, and since I think that selling off half of your waking day for most of the year, year in year out until old age, is basically tantamount to taking your one absolutely irreplaceable allotment of life-force and burning it up.

That’s an answer that I do believe in. But the other one is this: This year of traveling isn’t just going to be a year of marking time and putting off the beginning of the rest of my life. I’m going to be spending it actively thinking about what I want to do afterwards. Visiting so many places in America—I have a growing list that so far has a dozen cities on it, plus living in the wilderness and working on farms—will allow me to figure out which one I could be happiest in, and what I could do there if I decided to live there. A year is long, and I’ll have a lot of time to think about what kind of work I’d like to do in order to have the money to live in whatever kind of place I’d like to live in. I expect I’ll learn about a lot of things I don’t know about right now. To me it makes much more sense to look for an American job by traveling around America and meeting people who can tell me about their interesting jobs than by sitting here in Korea looking at Craigslist or LinkedIn or whatever and hoping I stumble upon something that interests me and is obtainable through submitting my résumé online and maybe doing a Skype interview. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, they say, and as I travel I’ll come to know so many more people.

That, by the way, is important to me for another reason as well: I’m not going to be looking just for people who can give me jobs, which would be a pretty depressing and mechanical way of thinking about people during a trip all around the continent. I’m going to be looking for friendships that will last and last. Friendships like that are what make life enjoyable, basically what make life life. And if I travel the way I want to, the gregarious vagabond’s way, I’ll be meeting a lot of people who think along the same lines, who I can learn a lot from and who I can have incredibly enjoyable times with. So I think I have ample defense for a year or so in which I won’t be strictly economically productive.

Anyhow, I was ostensibly writing about preparing mentally and physically for all this travel I’m talking about. On the physical side, I’ve been getting my things ready. There are a surprising number of them to take care of. Visas are one of them. China and Russia, our old Red rivals, both apparently really don’t want Americans entering them, so they make it as inconvenient as possible. As of now, my passport is in New York waiting for a company called VisaHQ to receive it so they can take it to the Chinese embassy. VisaHQ is doing this for the sum of $49.95, and for the privilege of having my documents glanced at by the Chinese embassy, I’m paying that country $140. I had to send the documents home because just within the last year China has decided to enact a new, inconvenient, byzantine rule that stipulates that foreigners living in Korea can’t get a Chinese visa from the Chinese embassy in Seoul if their Korean visas will expire within the next six months. Basically this ensures that no one can finish their time in Korea and then go straight to China. Why China wants to prevent this is a mystery. But apparently I can get around this by sending my passport and visa application to New York and keeping quiet about the fact that I live in South Korea at the moment. Once I get my passport back, I’ll have to get the Russian visa, which is annoying in totally different ways. I have to get an invitation to the country from a citizen (travel agencies will do this, of course for a fee), and get official documentation that I’m invited to Russia. Only then can I take that to the Russian embassy in Seoul and pay a fee a extortionate as China’s to get my visa. You may not be surprised to find out that I think national borders are a stupid concept.

I’ve also been amassing the gear I need for traveling, and at the same time paring down my collection of other belongings. Recently I dumped a bunch of clothes in a donation bin here. (Where they go from there, I have no idea. There’s basically no such thing as Goodwill or used clothes shopping in this entire country. The best guess I can come up with based on internet research is that they get shipped off to the third world.) I’m throwing other stuff away, anything that I can do without, and as I get closer to leaving, I’ll have fewer and fewer things. Meanwhile I’ve gotten a new backpack, a big one made for carrying heavy stuff comfortably for long periods, and which has a compartment in the bottom that’s perfectly sized to fit my sleeping bag. I’ve bought a tiny, lightweight tent from eBay, and it’s on its way to me. I’ve made my journals: in a departure from the 500- to 600-page journals I’ve used since Volume II, I’m splitting Volume VIII into four (possibly five) subjournals of 100 pages each (except VIII-A, which is 160 pages to fit in all the time between when the current VII fills up in early August until when I get home around Christmas). That way they won’t take up so much room in my backpack, and if I lose one of them I’ll lose at most 160 pages of life history, rather than possibly hundreds. Over the next few weeks I’m going to be practicing using campfires and homemade camp stoves, and cooking road food that won’t debilitate me. The idea is that by the time August rolls around, I’ll have most things pretty much figured out and won’t have to learn by annoying or dangerous or expensive trials and errors while I’m out on the road. I’m bombproofing myself, basically.

I sort of started the cooking part yesterday. We had a big barbecue by the river with all the foreigners in Sachangni and even a couple from Hwacheon, the next town over. I made myself a hobo pack. This is something I learned about from my friend Molly. The recipe is this: take some potatoes, onion, carrots, and meat. Cut them up and plop them on a sheet of foil. Put some butter and salt and stuff on top. Then wrap it up so it’s waterproof and stick it in the coals of a fire for like 40 minutes so it can turn into stew. Pretty simple, but I’m glad I’m getting practice with it, because mine was pretty underdone. Instead of the coals of a fire I substituted the inside of the barbecue where the charcoal was. But the charcoal apparently wasn’t very hot or didn’t stay hot long enough. Lesson learned for next time. Even underdone it was pretty good, though.

But that wasn’t even close to the coolest thing that happened yesterday. Obviously another great part was how we all hung out together and swam in the river and had a smashing time. I could write all about that, but really, you can probably imagine it pretty well with just the basics. Just picture a barbecue on warm sand next to a rocky stream with a bunch of friendly people, and we’ll both have saved some time. More significantly for my transition to travelerhood was what happened just afterwards. There were too many people to fit in one car—some of us had taken a taxi to get there—so Sean, Amanda, and I walked back along the little rural road. I decided it was high time that I tried hitchhiking for the first time. So I flew the Asian version of an upraised thumb (one palm flat toward the ground, waving slowly). And the very second car to come by stopped for us. A grinning guy invited us into his car and I pushed his badminton equipment to one side and thanked him a bunch and told him we’d like to go to Sachangni, please. He took us the few minutes into town and we all got out and thanked him again several times, and he turned around and went on his way—which caused us to realize he’d actually gone out of his way for us. We all thought that was pretty splendid. And it gave me a huge boost of confidence for my upcoming hitchhiking-heavy travel plans. It seems it’s not nearly as hard as I imagined. Now I can actually picture myself doing it. I love it when things become real like that.

File under: deep thoughts, adventure, plans


Anonymous

History

Can your year there really be almost over? Glad to see you looking ahead now. We're looking forward to seeing in Portugal!

Aunt E.

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Anonymous

History

Sounds pretty epic. Most gregarious vagabonds I've known ride Harleys or hike the Appalachian trail. Have fun!

Dave

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Anonymous

History

Keeping clean is a bridge that I figure I'll cross when I come to it. There probably won't be one single solution. Couchsurfing might help. That's when you use www.couchsurfing.com to connect to someone in your target city and see if they'll let you stay in their house in exchange for you doing their dishes and telling them stories. So if I do some of that I'll have access to showers. Otherwise, there are such things as: truck stop showers, scrubbing with a shirt at a bathroom sink, bathing in rivers and lakes, and taking a shower from a bottle held up with one hand. I'll be washing my clothes in sinks.

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Anonymous

History

The trip sounds awesome although as your MOTHER I don't like the idea of your hitchhiking. Wish I could go with you on your adventures.

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Chuck

History

I think keeping clean is just a bridge that I'm going to cross when I come to it. It'll probably be a bunch of different strategies. Couchsurfing might be one of the more useful ones. That's when you use www.couchsurfing.com to find people in your target city who are willing to let you sleep in their place for a night in exchange for you telling them stories and doing the dishes and whatever. So if I do some of that, on those nights I'll have showers available. Otherwise, such things as: truck stop showers, bathing in streams and lakes, scrubbing with a wet shirt at a bathroom sink, and just being dirty sometimes, though I'd like to avoid that. (Not least because no one wants to pick up a filthy hitchhiker.) I'll do laundry in bathroom sinks, most likely.

I might find the time to do part of the AT while I'm in the US… but then again I might not. There are interesting people everywhere, though.

Mom—here's a little anecdote about hitchhiking. I was on an internet forum today about hitchhiking, the sort of place where big news would pop up. Someone posted a link to a story about a hitchhiker who was shot randomly in the arm by a motorist in Montana, while cooking his dinner beside the road. Then, a couple comments later, someone else found the latest on the story: the hitchhiker was a photojournalist working on a project called The Kindness of America, and evidently he was also a bit wacky, because he confessed that he actually shot himself, apparently in a bizarre attempt at self-promotion. So, the only story of violence against a hitchhiker that I've recently found (not that I've been looking all that hard) turned out to be carried out by the hitchhiker against his own stupid self. I don't think you need to worry too much.

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Anonymous

History

I think you do need to worry in two places. They are Russia and the U.S. Trust me just one time on Russia. I have been there. Gangs are everywhere and they are dangerous. It is best to never be alone.

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Chuck

History

I'll keep that in mind. I'm planning on taking the Metro for my one day in Moscow and then being mostly out on highways in rural areas the next day. I don't imagine there are too many gangs fighting for that crucial highway onramp turf. But I'll be careful in Moscow and on my way out of it, and I'll make sure potential rides don't look too thuggish.

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Anonymous

History

I wouldn't go tramping around in Russia. It is dangerous. Even in the country, if you don't know a country well, it is best not to risk it. Please PLEASE don't do these hitchhiking things in Russia or the US. I can see places like Denmark. But PLEASE, not Russia.
Mom

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Anonymous

History

Do some more research. When we were in Russia they advised to stay close to hotel and never go out alone. I can't convince you but I am right. You will never get in the car. In a country where there is nothing to lose, they have nothing to lose. The biggest problem is that you will not know where it is safe. The wisest people are the best listeners.

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Sean

History

Holy moly! I can comment now I'm not at work. Woop!

I just wanted to drop in and let everyone know that the world isn't a scary, dangerous place. Sure, it can be, sometimes, but most of the time no matter what country you're in you'll find yourself among kind, helpful and hospitable people.

Tour guides, travel agents and other pundits will often advise their patrons to stay in at night, to not steer too far off the beaten track, to stay locked up in their hotel rooms, if they let on that you could do everything on your own, and not have to worry, they wouldn't be able to charge as much as they do and they may well put themselves out of a job.

Russia is one of the safest and easiest places to hitchhike in all of Europe. I'm staying with a family when I visit Russia shortly after Nathanael, they live in the suburbs of Moscow on an estate. I'd better watch out I suppose. They might kill me. I'd best not get in their car when they give me a free ride from the train station. They might take me hostage.

Spread the love. Lay off the hate. The world and its people are mostly beautiful. We shouldn't let rare cases get in the way of experiencing how amazing life can be. Just look at this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwe-pA6TaZk&feature=player_embedded

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Chuck

History

Thanks Sean, that was great. The same thing I'm thinking. I was in Bangkok, supposedly one of the most insane cities in the world, and I was even clueless and lost late at night there, but the only people I encountered were helpful people who told me how to get on the right bus.

(Blogger doesn't make automatic links, so I've made a link to that video.)

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Anonymous

History

Don't ever sell your rose colored glasses. They make the world a more wonderful and hospitable place. So who is for family your staying with Nathanael? I am wondering 'when is an analogy, not an analogy? Sooo it appears that I will be ignored and that is not uncommon for a person of my age and experience. Thus, I will say what I believe is important, good luck and god's speed. G.Pa

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Anonymous

History

Sorry I let myself get so scared about Russia. I just hear so many things but I know how those things can get blown out of proportion. Believe me because when I lived in Colombia EVERYTHING was blown out of proportion by the time it got to the US. Anywho, I don't know if you remember but we had a Russian from Siberia stay with us for a while when you were a little kid. If I can look him up, maybe you can catch up with him. The last time he saw you was when you were about two.
Love you, MOM
PS Remember it's my job to worry about gangs, aliens, monsters, tyrants, and werewolves coming after you.

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Chuck

History

Awesome as it sounds to meet a real Siberian, time is short already and I'd have to take at least a full day to stop and see him, since the train waits for no one. Maybe more, depending on how far he lives from any particular stop. Although, if he lives in Irkutsk, there's the chance I might be stopping there… any idea where he's located in Siberia these days?

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Anonymous

History

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThoZNxy2JZk

Just stay off the airplanes, LOL!

I wouldn't be afraid of Russia. Just have a bottle of Vodka handy for purposes unseen.

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