Showing posts from July, 2001

Why not head to Vietnam?

Taipei | Taiwan Plans change, most certainly mine. One day I was sitting at my desk in San Francisco trying to figure out what to have for dinner. Two months later I found myself living in Taiwan, trying to figure out what I just ate for dinner.

I had intended Taiwan to be a short stop on my journey through Asia. It wasn't, and if I could share with you all the wonderful people I met and the places and things they shared with me, this journal entry would never come to an end.

I can say this though. It's just incredible how quickly the time has flown by and how much I've learned in just ten months. When I first arrived I wouldn't walk out of my room without carrying my translation book. One time I missed my stop on the MRT because I couldn't remember if "excuse me" was pronounced "dubotchie" or "duboch". Not that it mattered because both are wrong.

Now I feel like Taipei is as much my home as anyplace I've lived. So how do yo…

One Night in Asilah - Chapter Ten

Jump to Chapter One When midnight appeared we quickly made our way back out into the night and to the train station. Our train arrived late, but it arrived. Someone had told us our Eurail tickets would work in Morocco; but the conductor wouldn't accept them. He charged us an extra fee for buying the tickets from him. We grudgingly paid. But it was worth it to leave Asilah, a sleepy little town on the coast of Morocco.

We were now on a train bound for Marrakesh and beyond. None of us could sleep so we told each other stories late into the night. Johann told us about "The Long Walk" by Stephen King. A grisly tale of a mythical sport. A seemingly simple contest where hundreds of contestants walk until they are too exhausted to continue. A sport where the losers are shot and there's only one winner. He and his friends had even attempted this sport but with far less dire consequences. It was a good story and we wanted to laugh.

A man popped into our compartment to ask fo…

One Night in Asilah - Chapter Nine

We said good-bye like we were the best of friends and headed into the unknown streets. Abdelarif apologized that he could not take us to the train station because he had to visit his mother who was very sick. Everyone was following us. Everyone was a cop.

Donna Marie kindly offered to show us how to get to the train station. Following us from behind she constantly tried to give the bag of Marijuana back to us. Even going so far as to try and stuff it in our packs. She finally let off when I reminded her I had the Hashish.

Hank and I and had developed a hyper sensitive form of communication. A single glance and nod of the chin could communicate volumes of information. As we made our way through the maze of white adobe walls Hank and I mysteriously began to horse around. When I spied a small crack on my side of the wall I whispered "now" and Hank pushed me extra hard so that I stumbled into the wall.

Earlier I had slipped the brick of Hashish out of my pocket and into my le…

One Night in Asilah - Chapter Eight

Of course when we returned Donna Marie came into our room trying to help us out, but not before we had agreed to get the hell out of Asilah. As cryptically as possible we tried to discuss our options by identifying things that could help us. We quickly realized that we had no options, because quite frankly we didn't know where we were. If there was a road that lead out of town we didn't know where it was. And even if we found the road what would we do then? We couldn't even sneak away and hope to wander in the desert because Abdelarif knew everyone. Everyone watched us.

We needed money though. And Abdelarif was more than happy to show us the way back to the bank. It was a different way than we had gone before. The narrow alleyways we first thought were quaint now seemed to be a disorienting maze. Now and then men would pass us in their long dark robes. Their faces hidden in the shadows of enormous pointed hoods. Not even a nod of recognition as they swiftly passed our pat…

One Night in Asilah - Chapter Seven

I wanted to shout. I was tingly and relieved and all I wanted to do was leave this room as fast as possible. No one moved. Abdelarif and my salesman sat back and looked relaxed.

I lit a cigarette and pretended to be relaxed as well. I didn't really want to smoke, but I thought it looked cool. In my mind I had already returned home and as I retold the story to my friends I could picture myself coolly taking a drag on my cigarette. A warm ray of light slips through the narrow window and strikes my face. Catching the smoke as it trails from my lips. Somewhere in Morocco in a tiny room.

Abdelarif wanted to look at my watch. "How much did it cost in U.S.?" he asked. He offered to trade a chair for my watch. I was firm and insisted I needed the watch. After many different angles they finally backed off.

After another long silence Abdelarif began to talk about the magnificent Couscous he was going to make for us tonight. He described this feast in great detail and then talk…

One Night in Asilah - Chapter Six

When we had exhausted all possibilities we finally made our way up to the mysterious third floor. Opening a heavy wooden door we stepped into a tiny room. On the far end was a sliver of a window to let in just enough light to view my my pile of goods. I was instructed to sit at the far end of the room with my back to the window. My personal shopper leaned into the door and closed it behind him before sitting opposite me.

He thoughtfully contemplated a fair price for each item and carefully wrote it down on a piece of paper. He then asked if I would like to barter in Dirham or U.S. dollars. We agreed on U.S. dollars.

Quickly he recalculated the cost and handed the piece of paper over to me. I gasped. On the paper was written $3000. I quickly recovered and considered that perhaps he had made an error. As diplomatically as possible I enquired if this was indeed the price he had intended.

It was. I explained that this was well out of my price range. To even put a quarter of his price w…

One Night in Asilah - Chapter Five

Before we knew it we where back in our private taxi and headed to Asilah for some more sightseeing. We were beginning to think only a week in Asilah would be a crime. We walked along the water, playing on the ramparts and pretending to man the ancient cannons set up to guard against long forgotten wars.

From a stone pier we could look down at what was left of the beach and waves that crushed against rocks. A barefoot boy soaked bread in the water to use as fishing bait. Between us was an enormous crypt covered by a colorful mosaic of glazed tiles.

Somehow we dragged ourselves away from the sea to explore more of the city. As we walked back into the maze of narrow alleys Abdelarif stopped to play with some children. There was something magical in that moment. If I were to make a movie I would have to leave this event out because it was just too perfect. But this was a moment when time and space suddenly met to dance. The giggles from the children could never have been planned, and I r…

One Night in Asilah - Chapter Four

It was absolutely amazing how many people Abdelarif knew. Everywhere we went he ran into someone. They would quickly exchange a few words and then he would turn to us and explain that that person was a cousin, the other an uncle or second cousins brother.

We hopped into a taxi that was of course driven by another relative, and headed straight out into the desert. The road never turned and the scenery never changed. Until suddenly far off in the distance a spec grew into a tent, and then into an city of tents. A city where no one lived. This was a Suk, an entire market that could pick up and move in a day. Why it was out here I could never guess. But here it was, and so were we.

The sights and smells overwhelmed us with wanderlust. Truly we had stepped into not only another country, but another time in the history of our planet. We forced our way through the mass of people, inhaling fragrant blue smoke from shish kebabs grilling inside heavy canvas tea tents.

Making our way to the …

One Night in Asilah - Chapter Three

This was Donna Marie's friend she had talked about. He introduced himself to each of us and asked hundreds of questions about where we were from and what we did at home. He was incredibly interested in us and shared with us a library of information about his culture. He was charming and endearing. Simply one of the most genuine people I have ever met.

Taking us all by surprise he suddenly began to speak to Johann in Swedish; explaining that years ago he had worked for a Swedish company in Morocco.

When we had all had our fill, Abdelarif showed us the way to our pension. It was like a fantasy. We stepped into a painting of everything I had ever imagined Morocco to be.

Even though it was well after one o'clock the entire household got up to welcome us. The house appeared to be filled with rooms, but in fact it was really a single room broken up into several small alcoves by carefully constructed arches and columns. Each room was decorated so that its appearance was dramatical…

One Night in Asilah - Chapter Two

On board the ferry we sat down together to swap adventures and a few pieces of fruit. Donna Marie told us that she had been living in Morocco for several months and assured us that once past Tangier the people where the warmest you could meet anywhere.

Another fellow traveler from Sweden passed our cheery group and Donna Marie invited him to join us. Johann looked every bit the typical Nordic countryman. A head held up by blond curly locks and an easy stride to his long legs. He had just finished his obligatory military service and was off to see the world. Our international group had now grown from three to five.

As we sailed for Tangier, Donna Marie eagerly shared her amazing tales. After two years in medical school she set out to travel. Her medical background led her into holistic medicine, which she had practiced for the likes of a Prince from Jordan and movie stars like Goldie Hahn and Tina Turner. These people she had met at extravagant parties in "La". "That…

One Night in Asilah - Chapter One

A year had passed and I was leaving Taiwan for Hong Kong. I decided to write out my journal from an earlier trip to Morocco. It was a few hours after dinner when I sat down in an internet cafe, surrounded by a steady stream of cigarette smoke, machine gun fire and grenade explosions from teenage gamers.

Soon I was deep into my adventure and the sounds and smells of Taipei were far behind me. As I relived the night ferry and the rush of people on the docks in Tangier I came to a simple truth, I could never finish the project in one night. I found a stopping point, called it chapter one, and emailed it out to friends.

The next day people wrote back and said they couldn't wait for chapter two. After chapter two even more people wrote to say how they couldn't wait to check their email and see what trouble I would find next.

I had created a monster. I was now obligated to write a chapter a day, no more, no less. Each evening I dug deep into my memories to uncover details I had trie…

Peking or Beijing?

Taipei | Taiwan
The apple pie was a success!

Well the finished product was. I did however have a little mishap during the baking process. My kindergarten school was kind enough to lend me their oven so I turned my baking experience into a teaching experience as well.

After all the ingredients were laid out on the table I would pick up each item and tell them what its name was in English. I also like to practice my Chinese a little during the process so periodically I'll switch back and forth from Chinese to English.

When I picked up the apple I asked them "Shei shi hwan pi goo?". "Who likes apples?" The kids fell on the floor laughing. Maggie, who assists me in my class, turned as red as the apple. She started to stammer something and then suddenly decided against it. Leaving me with an awkward silence and a strange grimace, or smile, on her lips.

And don't you just love those little children who aren't the least bit shy. One of those little darli…