You Can't Get There from Here

Travel Scrapbook

 
 
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Nick and I left Los Angeles at 6:30 p.m. on January 31st, a gaggle of west-coast relatives waving us off, and arrived in Fiji at 2 a.m. on February 2nd to an empty airport. We’d flown right over February 1st, passing the international dateline, and though we would recoup that day, hour by hour, on our yearlong westward journey, I never got over the sense of feeling a little cheated.


 

To mix it up further, Tonga’s fakaleiti possessed such distinctly male and female traits. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the netball court where they would prance around, shouting, “Dahling, over here” when they were open for a pass and do that hand-flappy thing girls do when they run. But when the play got going, the going got rough. Makeup ran with sweat, talons were torn off, torsos bruised with body blows.

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All dolled up before a night out at the Blue Pacific.


 

In Beijing, a pair of art students who called themselves Yanni and Alan adopted me for the duration of my stay. They took me to the student neighborhoods, the vanishing hutong neighborhoods, and the Muslim neighborhoods like this one where you could get a tasty meal for less than a buck.

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Nick poses in front of a lovely example of Chinglish posted on the Great Wall. This one reads, “The front not opened sestion road no passing!” Not quite sure what that means. My favorite sign read “The road dangeros becarful your safe!”


 

In Beijing, a sprawling city about the size of Connecticut, a bicycle is a practical necessity. Nick and I scored these shiny new cruisers for about $15 each and boy did they stand out amid all the old black workhorse bikes. We (or rather our bikes) were constantly getting checked out by our fellow cyclists. After three weeks, a Chinese art dealer traded two paintings for the two bikes.

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Spring is cricket season in Cambodia, and every evening biblical quantities of flying bugs blanketed Siem Reap, much to the delight of locals who consider grilled crickets a delicacy. At night the industrious street kids trawled the waterfront, collecting them in water bottles and plastic bags. They took time off to play, though.


 

In India, Nick spent time traveling to the sacred cities and studying the sitar, while, I, on the other hand….

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I went to Bollywood to find fame. I got cast as an extra in a musical and spent a week prancing around in this lovely dress. The slits went clear up to my waist. Here I pose with Fernando, a fellow extra.


 

For Voyevoda, one of the founding members of Kazakhstan’s society of Tolkienists, dressing up like a wizard or warrior is a wonderful way to escape the difficulties of his life. For other young post-Soviet kids, playing these games connects them to their “lost” European heritage.

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Just a little afternoon jousting in the hills above Almaty to commemorate
the autumn equinox.


 

The night of the big AIDS benefit hip-hop extravaganza in the Tanzanian city of Morogoro.

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The bleary-eyed morning after the show. That’s Profesa J in the Yankees T-shirt. He’s one of the most famous hip-hop artists in Tanzania, but he still has to work a fulltime day job with the phone company.


 

In the South African township of Sinthumule, I met the elder members of the Lemba, who claim to be descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel and are thus Jewish. Like so many Jews, they were deeply concerned about violence in the Middle East.

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Marleen shows me the S&M chamber in one of Rotterdam’s private house brothels. Alas, the restraints were too big for my scrawny wrists.


 

Adorable boy prostitute Jeroen manning a table at the sex fair in Amsterdam. Notice his image on the cover of the magazines fanned out on the table. Jeroen’s nothing if not an enthusiastic salesman.

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Traveling together for a year was no honeymoon. At times, it seemed like the intensity of the trip might destroy Nick’s and my marriage, but in the end, it brought us closer than ever.