The 1970s. Man, what a trip.

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Who am I?  The traveler.

Mike’s first true foray into true travel writing.  As an expat, I’ve always been travel writing through emails to friends and family, or the occasional local magazine, but, what with long subway rides to and from work, and with the true desire to do this so since forever, I figure no better time than the present.

Today is actually not a long commute to and from work, but a short jaunt.  Anyhow, I digress.  Where to begin?  I’ve traveled to every country in South East Asia, every country in East Asia, except for North Korea (not counting the DMZ), and now making stabs at South Asia with Sri Lanka and the Maldives last summer and Nepal and India this summer.  I’m currently living in Korea for the third time since 1997, and have lived in Taiwan for six or seven years, twice, since 2000.  We, Taiwanese wife Carol, and I have lived together in Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and Mongolia, as well.

Let us go back to the beginning. Since 1973, I’ve been looking for places to visit with Colleen (Mom) and Jim (Dad) and two years later, Erin (sister).  We started traveling in Ottawa, making short trips around Ontario to London Waterloo, Toronto, Port Stanley, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and other places I’m sure that I don’t remember.  We also used to visit (Great) Grandma Becky in Montreal from time to time, while picking up a smoked meat sandwich and bagel. We also visited Lak George, NY, but I barely remember that trip.  We also visited Florida in 1978, a trip I remember a lot about (yes, I do have a great memory).  Tampa Bay’s Bush Gardens, Disney World (Epcot Center was just being built), Alligator World, as well as visits with (Great) Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Morty, as well as Cousin (Auntie) Benita and Steve. We also went to Circus World, where Erin and I had our faces painted like sad clowns, that had tears streaming down our cheeks.  There are photos of these on slides, which we may one day see.  I also voluntarily had a snake draped across my neck (a poster was made). Later, back in Ontario, Canada, we also travelled to Silver Lake often with Uncle Sean and Sandra.  Once, we also visited Rob and Joy at their place in the woods, where I stepped on a nail.  Luckily, Joy was a nurse. We moved often in Ottawa, at least once every two to three years.dad

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THE 1980’S: TRIPPY

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In 1980, we moved to Kirkland, a suburb of Montreal, Quebec. These are some of the trips we took in the early 1980s.

We visited the Laurentian Mountains often, as well as a cottage in 1981.  There, we shot at bats and frogs with Gary Ross, and of course, Uncle Sean visited, as he always did.  We spent that summer swimming in the lake and playing with the owner’s kids.

We visited Toronto in 1982 with Dad’s broken foot.  We went to the CN Tower, as well as Marineland and Canada’s Wonderland.

In 1985, we also stayed at a cottage, where more of the same ensued.  We also ate at Au Petit Poucet, where we had their signature ham. Otherwise, summer vacations and weekends were spent going to Ottawa to visit family.  I did not like having to move to Montreal, so the 1.5 hour trips to Ottawa were regarded as a highlight of my youth.  I also spent some great summers and winters with Brian Daly and brother Jason, building tree forts or going camping in Boy Scouts.  We had great times in the summer parks programs (easy going day camp), and many days talking about Star Wars or playing pitching machine.  In 1984, we won the championship game against a team we were never able to beat in the regular season. Brian’s mother, Victoria, was from Saint Vicent and Brian had visited when he was younger.   It’s always been a goal of mine to eventually visit.  Maybe this winter…  The other Jason, Jason Forbes,  also became a lifelong friend when we were 10. We met at a YMCA Saturday morning cooking class.   He eventually travelled somewhere, which would influence my life, which I’ll tell you about a little bit later.

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SIX WEEKS IN THAILAND 1999

In late July 1999, I flew to Thailand for good. Earlier that week, I had gone to the airport to buy a one way ticket for BKK. Hany and Russ came over to take some of the things I wasn’t bringing to BKK, such as my winter clothes and exercise equipment. They talked about turning 40 in Korea. The yogwon (hotel) adjama complained about how she would remove the sofa in my room, so I told her that I had paid well beyond the day I was leaving and to just use that extra money to pay for a mover to remove it. She laughed. When I checked in at Kimhae, a bunch of people were standing by the door, so I used my luggage cart to barrel through them. They laughed it off. I had to pay an extra 100$ for my 2nd bag. I had not yet realized that I was only allowed one piece of luggage (it was my first time moving countries within Asia). I had met a super hot flight attendant on the flight and she gave me the number of the person who hired English teachers for Korean Airlines. She even asked me where I was staying, Ohyo was waiting for me at the airport with her parents. We went out for pork, even though I had specifically stated that I would not eat pork and I rudely picked the pork (moo) out of the dish. I should have just been thankful, but at the time, I wanted to prove a point that I was not going to eat unhealthy meat. They then drove us to a huge room or studio apartment, where many of her classmates were sleeping on the floor communally. They were all doing internships again at various places related to tourism, such as hotels. Her father owned that room, so it appeared that I had hit the jackpot. The next morning, they all applied baby powder to their faces. I thought it was to lighten their skin, but it was to prevent sweat. They hired a motorcycle taxi to go find more motorcycle taxis for the rest of us. They all went their separate ways and I went to the Japanese International School for an interview. I first met with the principal, and he was a really genuine nice guy. I met with many of the English teachers there, who were mostly from Britian. They were sure I had the job, and were already giving me tips on how to get privates and that they’d help me get an apartment. The outgoing teacher said just show them flashcards. I had what I thought was an excellent lesson-demo, but the principal thought otherwise and offered the job to someone else. Therefore, I ended up getting a job in Ohyo’s department as a professor of tourism management, for which I was under-qualified, and it only paid 30,000 baht (1000USD) a month. It also started in November, so I’d have several ideal weeks. Ohyo and I moved into our own one bedroom studio the next day. While she went to work during the day, I’d usually go to the nearby Don Muang Airport to use the free internet to look for work. Sometimes, I’d use the internet cafe doesn’t the road. Otherwise, I watched a lot of TV. I opened a bank account at the Thai Military Bank and even got a pager. We’d often go out at night to nearby malls to eat or watch movies. Sometimes, we’d eat locally at soup meatball and noodle places. We’d go to Chainat every weekend to see her parents. Each room in her family home had walls, but they didn’t reach the ceilings. I also met her sister and her boyfriend, who lived in a far off province, teaching poor students. Sometimes, we’d hangout under the house in the hammock, which I broke from my weight. Neighbors would come and go through this area freely to socialize on their way to or from somewhere. Other times, we’d hangout at her aunt’s home, which was just next door. Her uncle was a sailor, who was away a lot, but made great money. They had a baby, too, with whom we played with often. We always ate THE BEST home cooked Thai food. One morning, we even ate frogs, as her father had a frog farm (and a gun). Ohyo lived on a large river (the Mekong??). I wanted to swim in it, but they wouldn’t let me. I also wanted to go into the “poor” area, but they wouldn’t let me. Finally, after a month of pestering them, I went there by myself. The people who lived there were really friendly. There is a serious divide between the rich and the poor in Thailand, meaning that the rich do not see, talk to or interact with the poor. W did once go into that area to eat pad-Thai, because it was cheaper than the other places. One a different day, I remember Ohyo introducing my to a farmer who had a huge oxen with horns. The farmer was proud of it and wanted me to video tape it, for which I was more than happy to oblige. Later that night, we also went to a carnival of sorts, a night market. We ate insects, and saw a car drive around a curved runway, so that it was driving sideways. There was a Thai man there who was so dark, he was darker than most black people. One day, on a Saturday, I had a premonition that the mailman was coming that exact moment and had mail for me. First of all, how many times does mail come on a Saturday? Secondly, why would I be getting mail in the jungle? Well, guess who showed up not a second later, but the mailman on his motorcycle with mail for me! After I had met Russ Dew, he made me aware of my spiritual side or workings of the brain we have not yet tapped into. Back in Bangkok, I lent Ohyo’s friend money for an abortion. Later that night, we went out downtown to party. As we walked around outside, three large Russians walked by us and pushed Ohyo really hard on the chest, so hard, it left a welt. The Thai people looked at them with an incredulous look, and I wanted to retaliate, but what could I do? There were three brutes and one skinny tall English teacher… Ohyo even told me to just walk away. I wrote an email and after writing the letter (email) to Russ, I printed it out, as I liked to read and reread my messages on paper back then. On the way home, I had another premonition that I should check if my money was there or not, and it was! I went home, saw at the local pool, and met a Dutch guy there. He loved Thailand so much, but didn’t really know about the English teaching scene. After our conversation, he sounded convinced, and was going to give it a shot. Later that night, as I was watching “She Bangs” by Ricky Martin, as well as TLC’s She Ain’t got No Scrubs on the tube, and eating tropical fruit. On the way out of the airport, where we had eaten dinner, a frantic mother and her son didn’t have the money for the departure tax that they needed to pay, so they asked me to buy their jewelry. At first I said no, as I thought it was a was, but Ohyo said to buy them, as the lady was crying and it was actually true (I sold the jewelry the next day for a profit at a pawn shop). That night, Ohyo’s father drove us back to Chainat and he changed lanes without checking his blind spot, nearly running over a guy and a girl on his motorcycle. We were done, though. Our relationship had taken a turn for the worse, so her friend bought me a one way plane ticket to Montreal. I called Mom, but she wasn’t home, so I called Dad and Sharon, and they agreed to pick me up at Dorval (Montreal) Airport.

I took a bus back to BKK and a few hours later was greeted by Ohyo and her mom. They stayed the night and wanted to see me off, to make sure I’d come back! Nope, we were done. I met their friend at the airport, who had a one way ticket for me, on Canadian Airlines. I got the hell out of there. The flight transferred in Hong Kong. At the time, things were lax; we were still pre-9/11. There flight attendant saw me using my video recorder, so he asked me if I wanted to video tape the cockpit. I said sure, but didn’t do it, as I thought I’d have plenty of other chances. I ended up with a window seat, which sucked for the couple sitting next to me, as I needed to use the bathroom quite often. I remember they made an announcement right before we had taken off, asking passengers if anyone would get off their overbooked flight for 100$. I was laughing inside; 100$? That would barely cover a hotel, and remember, back in 1999, trying to call people back home who already had made arrangements to meet you at the airport wasn’t as easy as today. Well, when I got back to the airport at Vancouver to transfer again, there was a dog getting on the plane looking for drugs, knowing thst the flight had originated in Thailand. The immigration guy gave me all kinds of hassle. “Why do you have a one way ticket”, Where’s your furniture and stuff; I mean, you’ve been gone a year”, Why are you coming back? What did you do over there?” I gave him straight and honest answers, who pissed him off, because it made him look like an idiot every time I answered him. Then, while I was getting my bags, some customs guy flashed his badge at me, saying: “You have been signaled out for a search”. Just as he approached me, I missed grabbing my bag, but the nice guy next to me pulled it off for me. I was brought out to a different room, where a nicer lady searched everything in each piece of luggage with a nice combed tooth. She even took out my Thai toothpaste and asked what it was. I turned it around where it was written toothpaste in English and said in elongated English: ” Toooooothpaste”. She was embarrassed, closed the suitcase and let me go. I actually sat in the aisle over from the nice guy who got my bag off for me, but did I talk to him? Nope, I chatted up the cute Chinese (Hong Kong) Canadian sitting next to me the whole flight back. We exchanged phone numbers. Dad and Sharon met me at the airport.

The Maritime Trip of 1984

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In 1984, we took at three week trip to the Maritime provinces. We drove though the first day, stopping in Maine, USA. At ten years old, hitting Maine was a major accomplishment. I only remember the restaurant for dinner, but it is a memory I will always cherish. We then drove the next day to Fundy’s Bay, but did not see Magnet Hill or the famous tides. I think we saw the longest covered bridge. Then next day, we drove to Halifax. We spent a few days there, where we saw the Blue Nose II, the boat on the back of the Canadian Dime (10¢). We saw Peggy’s cove, as well. We also spent a few days in Cape Breton. Then we took a ferry to Newfoundland. I made a friend on the ship. Dad took care of Mom, who had major seasickness, while Erin played games with a sort of “camp counselor”. I played games with him, too, when I was not fooling around with my friend. I remember going outside and throwing coins into the ocean. The waves were huge. Amazing that they let kids roam around freely like that. The 1980s was a different time. We visited St. John’s, the capital, which had Signal Hill, as well as deep fried breaded code tongue (delicious). After eating the cod tongue, I remember a drunk homeless guy telling us they the storefront maniquines we’re talking poorly about him. We also went to Bell Island to visit Nanny and Granddad’s old home. While waiting for the ferry, we looked at icebergs (in July), as well as fishermen cutting out the code tongues. They had also caught a shark that day by mistake, so there was a lot of commotion at the harbour. On the ferry ride over, we looked at more icebergs. once on the island, we found the front steps, as well as the foundation of the old family home. We stopped and asked a farmer if they knew where great-grandfather Stephen Fitzgerald’s home was. He said: “Yes, follow me”. We thought he was going to point to a road or give us directions. We followed him and he pointed down: “Right here”. We also visited a beach full of huge pebbles. When Granddad was younger, he had thrown these same rocks and one bounced off the ground and hit him on the head. Then we visited Uncle Mike. He was quite old and had these Coke bottle glasses. He was married to Nanny’s sister, who was actually in Ottawa, visiting with Nanny and Granddad. He was very friendly, shaking hands with Mom and Dad. Dad later said he smelled alcohol on his breath. I hope it was Screech. After Bell Ise, we went to Gander, where Mom had grown up. We visited her sister Gale’s grave with Auntie Joan, who was also visiting from Ottawa. We stayed at a hotel, but after having visited Mom’s Aunt, we got a phone call and her aunt insisted on us staying over, so we did. We played with cousins in the backyard, while the uncles made jokes. We had to deal with a bee hive, too. All of Mom’s cousins came over. It was a summer of dreams. Memories were made for a lifetime. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about how great those times were. After Gander, we drove to Gross Morn National Park, where we saw a decapitated seal on the beach one morning. The scenery was spectacular. We also played in a waterfall, where some teens were making fun of me for not jumping into the water bravely and that bothered Dad. We made our way back to Prince Edward Island (PEI), where we ate unlimited amounts of lobster in church basements, ate lots of Eastern Canadian potatoes, visited Anne of Green Gables, and also swam in the ocean, which had a red sand beach (actually, all the earth is red on PEI). I had been playing in the water (waves) with Erin and I didn’t tell her that I was going to the shore, so she came back frightened, telling Mom and Dad that I may have drowned. Then I appeared. It was quite distressing for Erin. I’ve always felt bad about. I wonder if she remembers? Well, Erin, if you do, I’m sorry for not telling you I had left the water and for frightening you.