Question: Where have you been lately?
Answer: For this purpose I have a quasi news/blog page that I update. Have a look-see!
Question: How many countries have you visited?
Answer: It's not so easy to answer. How do you define a visit? How do you define a country? (Should I be further Clinton-esque? "It depends on what you mean by 'you'".) For example, I have been to Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Is that 3 countries? 1? 2? (I say 3). What about a 2 hour layover in Tahiti airport? Is that a visit? (I say no, though the airport band at 2am with dancers in grass skirts and flowers was quite memorable.) What about the stamp in my passport for Bophuthatswana, a South African autonomous homeland until the early 1990's? (I still don't know about that one.) The Trans-Dniester Republic? And so on. Therefore, depending on how you count, I have probably visited 95-105 countries.
Q: What's your favorite country?
A: This is always a tough one and an impossible question, really. Besides, if I had one favorite I would be there right now! Just about every country can sustain my interest for a good period of time. Often what happens and the people I meet play a big part and this might not be representative of the country. If I had a gun to my head and had to answer, I'd say my top 5 (obviously in no particular order) were Hungary, Malaysia, Japan, Zimbabwe and Brazil. The bottom three would be Israel, India, and either Morocco or South Korea, but I have met so many cool Korean travelers recently I need to give it a second chance.
Q: What country do you want to visit that you have never been?
A: This is easy: Iran and North Korea. Loose talk has it that in Erzurum in eastern Turkey there is a guy who knows someone in the Iranian consulate whom can get independent travel visas for Americans, but the thought of trudging way out there on the faint hope of getting the goods discourages me. The way my government alienates everyone, it seems that it will be a long time before such trips are possible.
The next best thing to traveling to Iran and North Korea is going to their embassies in other countries, which I have done in a few countries. At the Iranian embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a stern-looking guard broke out in fits of laughter when I told him I was an American and wanted a tourist visa. The North Korean embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia was just perplexing.
Digressing a bit, one secret little thrill I get is visiting embassies to see if I can overcome the system. I will never forget popping by the Russian embassy in Rangoon, Burma, and having the consul general answering the door. You want a visa? Sure, come on in. When I went to pick it up later, he was sitting on the front step, smoking and looking very bored. Normally Russian visas are a tremendous pain to acquire and involve a letter of invitation, pre-booked hotels, etc, but in Burma, I got it in a snap. I really had no plans to visit Russia, but when I got the visa that easily, I had to go.
Q: What's the capital of South Dakota? (Really, my inbox overflows with this one.)
Q: Window or aisle?
A: Please. You think a restless person like me can handle being trapped in a window seat? If I could sleep, maybe a window, but I can hardly sleep well on a bed, much less non-ergonomic airplane seats. The exception to this used to be a flight into Hong Kong's Kai Tak airport, where it was imperative to sit at the right window seat away from the wing. When the plane descended through the middle of Kowloon and then swooped right, you could almost see what people in their apartment blocks were watching on TV. Sadly, they moved the airport way out of town a while ago.
Q: How much money do you make? How can you travel so often?
A: This might be my parents' most frequently asked question. Click on the chart on the right. The government sends me this every year. Only until recently did they warn me that I hadn't earned enough in my lifetime to receive social security. I don't even get this. Why doesn't my summer camp work appear?
As far as having the money to travel, It's not how much you earn, it's how much you save, and traveling is often cheaper than staying at home.
Q: How do you keep track of your trips? Keep a journal?
A: Yes, indeed. A photo:
Q: What are your 3 favorite countries for hitchhiking?
A: New Zealand, Germany, and Japan, each for distinct reasons. New Zealand is for fun, Germany is for distance and speed on the autobahn, and Japan for ease. I just had a nice time hitching around Malaysia, too.
Q: Is Japan expensive?
A: Since I don't want to encourage mass tourism and ruin the country, yes, it is horribly expensive. The horror! I suppose the high prices do scare everyone off since I always feel that I am the only tourist in Japan. Think about it: have you ever met someone who has decided to go touring around Japan, longer than for just a few days as a stopover to somewhere else? It is almost one of life's truths that no one visits Japan for the sake of visiting Japan. I have visited 7 times.
How does $45 for a melon sound?
Q: What food from home do you miss when traveling?
A: Without fail every time I come home I always immediately get sick from the food or water or I don't know what. After this passes (a-hem!) I find myself craving chips and salsa. I always lose weight when I travel and gain weight when I am home. I miss garage sales more than I miss food.
Q: Is there anyone worth reading on the Internet?
A: Two guys of pure genius that I know about are Henry Rollins and
Bill Simmons. Henry "sang" for Black Flag and tours now primarily with spoken word performances. Incorruptible.
Bill Simmons writes about sports for ESPN, but infuses his columns with generous doses of pop culture references and interesting tangents. You don't need to be a sports fan to appreciate it. That is my test of a good writer: someone who can write about something you wouldn't normally be interested in and still enjoy it.
He sees right through to the essence of sports and makes points that need to be made, such as asserting that the glory days of NBA basketball were the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, and he pays rightful homage to the underappreciated George Gervin, Bernard King and Paul Mokeski. He is very funny, too, uncannily coming up with nuggets about the weirdest things. Most importantly, he keeps me sane while I am on the road.
Q: What are your top 10 favorite movies of all time?
A: This is what first comes to mind. Some of these I haven't seen in a long time and maybe they don't hold up after all these years. Alphabetically:
All the President's Men (1976)
Chicken Rice War (Singapore 2000) The whole movie is here
Cunnamulla (Australia 2000)
Decline of Western Civilization (1981) The whole movie is here
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Hands on a Hard Body (1997)
The Lives of Others (Germany 2006)
Sherman's March (1986)
Interjection: I need a song right about now.
Response: I was in South Africa in 1994 and this song blanketed the country. It's a Zulu pop song called "Amadamara" by Freddie Gwala. I can listen to this song all day. The internet is the greatest invention. For years I have been searching for this but now I can relive the good old days through this video that cost about 3 cents to make.
Q: What are your favorite websites no one else seems to know or care about?
A: Call me a freak, but I like www.phonespell.org and I really like the spirit of these nuts in Lithuania.
Long live hitchhiking!
Q: When are you going to get a real job?
A: Hey, what's with these insolent questions! The nerve! I am stopping this right now!