Dan and Ian Wander Europe: Paris wrap-up

As we sit in our Roman hostel, munching on the fruits, meats and cheeses we acquired to serve as dinner, it seems a good time to reflect on our experiences in Paris. Look, it doesn’t HAVE to make sense, it’s just what’s going to happen.

Hostel picnics

Tonight’s dinner was inspired by a trend we started in Paris. Yes, we were in the city of lights, in a country famed for its cuisine. Fifteen minutes’ walk could (and did) take us to meals that would make a foodie weep. They would also be between 20 and 30 euros. Each. For 15 euros total, we could gather a sampling of cheeses and sliced meats and an entire bottle of wine that would still be better than most meals we could get at home.

Most meals we do get at home.

Most meals I get at home.

Seriously though, the cheeses alone would have run us $10-20 in Calgary, so it was worthwhile. Especially since that hostel (unlike this one) had a fully stocked kitchen.

Monumental sights

There was a trend amongst the landmarks we visited in Paris. We were never, ever prepared for just how big they are. Each time at least one of us (usually Ian) would be taken aback by the scale of what we were seeing. The Eiffel Tower is massive, looming above nearly the entire city, visible from nearly anywhere. The Arc De Triomphe is nearly a city block wide. The Invalides building, home of a military museum, a hospital for wounded soldiers and Napoleon’s Tomb was huge.

You’d think I’d have been ready for the Eiffel Tower. I was there once before. But my teenage years feel so distant. I have trouble connecting to the memories. I know I’ve been up the Eiffel Tower, I know I’ve seen the Roman Colosseum before yesterday. Tomorrow will not be my first trip to Florence. But it all still feels new.

Which is all the justification I need for re-visiting these places instead of restricting myself to new cities. Thanks, cruel and merciless march of time!

Language Barriers

Ian speaks enough French to get by in most circumstances. I do not. I studied French for 12 years, but just like the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum it’s all a blur now. So I left communicating with cabbies up to Ian. He was our Cabbie Whisperer. I remember enough French that I could basically follow along, but not enough that I felt comfortable diving in.

That’s over now. We’re in Italy. The best I can say about my skills in Italian, gleaned from one semester of lessons back in ’96, is that it’s better than my Swahili. Thankfully, like Malaysia, people working in tourism related industries (including restaurants) tend to know their fair share of English, so we do okay. But it means that after two days of me knowing the lay of the land in London and four days of Ian knowing the language in Paris, we’re well and truly strangers in a strange land now.

Which is what makes it an adventure.

The Meanest Thing I’ve Said to Ian, Apparently

A big benefit of travelling with me now as opposed to back in high school is my adoption of Mr. Wil Wheaton’s motto of “Don’t be a dick.” Lines may be long, mornings may be early, and my feet may very well be quite sore by the end of the day (blisters the size of Twix bars on my dang heels), but moaning about it won’t help me and will ensure that whoever I’m with has a miserable time because of me. This cannot be allowed.

That said, I did apparently hurt Ian a touch.

We were making our way back to the Eiffel Tower. An easy enough task given how it looms over the city. As we approached, Ian said, jokingly, “Found it. All by myself.”

“Well spotted,” I replied. “Ten points for Hufflepuff.”

He stopped in his tracks, as if struck. Finally speaking in a sad whimper:

“I… that… I’m not a Hufflepuff! I’m not.”

Oh, Ian. There’s nothing wrong with showing badger pride.

Next time: Rome.

For more of our Paris hijinks, check us out on the Youtubes:

Dan and Ian Wander Europe: Rapid Fire

The problem with trying to blog about a trip is that cool things happen to you way more often than quiet moments when you have the necessary time and wi-fi access to write about them. And I’m not about to skip out on good times and adventures just for internet time. That can’t happen. So with that in mind, let’s play catch-up!

Reflections on Montmarte

So I believe I touched on Montmarte and Sacre Coeur last time. Fun detail I forgot: as we ascended the last of many, many staircases to reach the hill’s summit (there was a tram, Ian. There was a god damned tram), we noticed a stream of… let’s call it fluid coming down from the plaza on top of the hill.

“I hope that’s water,” said Ian. I caught a whiff of the unmistakable scent of “filthy urinal.”

“Well… parts of it are,” I replied.

Montmarte was also, as I mentioned, where I truly began to buy into the magic of Paris. I thought “If only I’d seen this Paris in 1994, maybe I’d have had a better impression of the city.” Pause. “Wait. Wait. I was here. I was exactly here. We came here after dinner one night. I gave some of the girls a hard time for being drunk at a church.” The realization sets in, as does the memory of how cute some of the girls were. “God DAMN it, Young Me, the SECOND someone invents time travel you and me are going round and round!”

Ian: Stripper Bait

As we made our way to the Moulin Rouge, we had to run a gauntlet of strip clubs and their Engineers, the men (sometimes women) who run up to you asking if you want to see a live show and sexy dance (the implication being that yes you do) and encouraging you to head into their club. Now, we had little interest in this, because Ian was short on money Mom taught me to respect women and avoid dens of ill-repute, but there were legions of them between us and our destination. But I noticed a trend. A trend I kept to myself until we were clear of the district.

Every single Engineer targeted Ian. Not one came at me.

I pointed this out to Ian in a tone that the unobservant might have mistaken for a gloat. (“Heh heh, they all go for YOU” could have many interpretations) He considered, saw the trend, and exclaimed “They DO! Damn it, now I’M the sex tourist!” After years of dealing with the jokes people make about white dudes traveling south-east Asia, this was music to my ears.

Co-ed dorms turn out to be just that

When I was booking hostels, the two room options (aside from private, which is expensive and thus undesirable) were “co-ed” and “women only.” No “men only” option. Which, in fairness, we wouldn’t have asked for even if it existed. Even if it existed and were cheaper, possibly. But since “women only” was an option, I expected that most of our roommates would be dudes.

Not so.

Of the five roommates we’ve had, four out of five have been women. Two friends out of Brazil (who thought they’d booked an all-female room, but didn’t mind), one girl from Kansas that we only met our last morning in Paris (she’d been asleep by the time we found our way home), and one from Seattle we just spent the morning wandering Rome with. Our only male roommate was also from Canada, and also named Ian. Just weird, that is.

Next time, either a sum-up of our time in Paris, or more rapid-fire notes on our time in Italy. In the meantime, we hear that there are street vendors selling wine that you can then drink from the bottle in front of the Trevi Fountain.

I like this plan.

Dan and Ian Wander Europe: Paris, day one

At some point our train to Paris must have gone under the English Channel. This much is clear. But neither of us were entirely clear when. There was one tunnel that was kind of long, I guess, but none of them seemed long enough. Until I looked out the window and noticed everything was in French. Such was the speed of our train.

Step one after checking into our first hostel of the trip (a convenient two minute walk from the train, although it took a further two minutes of staring at the metro map to realise that–we’re quite smart) was to acclimate. Find out what was nearby. Learn the area. It being Sunday, and between three and five P.M. (after restaurants close for lunch but before they open for dinner), most of what was near us was closed, but we did identify restaurants clearly worth returning to, and a handful of supermarkets we could hit up for munchies and cheese. Such glorious cheese.

This completed, I honed in on two of my travel go-tos: observation decks and sunsets. I reckoned that if we moved with purpose, we could make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower by sunset. We hit the Metro, made our way to the Tower (bigger than either of us were ready for and I have been there before), and got in line for the elevator as the sun slid towards the horizon.

Which is when Ian noticed his wallet had been stolen.

So we abandoned the Tower to deal with that instead.

However, we are not of a sort to sulk about setbacks. Once a replacement credit card was ordered, we hit the streets to see Montmarte at nightfall, to explore the magical Paris everyone loves. And it did not disappoint. The spontaneous party outside Sacre Coeur (apparently something that just happens all the time), the view of the City of Lights lit up for night time from atop the hill the church sits on, the vibrancy of the crowd outside the Moulin Rouge (budget and a massive line meant we just saw it from outside), it was a great night.

Although not one crowd of people burst into a choreographed musical number outside the Moulin Rouge.

And not ONE magical limousine turned up to whisk me away to a party filled with famous writers and artists in the 1920s.

Needless to say I’m outraged.

On a positive note, our roommates at the hostel are not terrible. Despite a sudden infestation of douchebros on night three, our roommates since arrival have been two Brazilian women whose only flaw is a tendency to chat at full volume if they can’t sleep at 3 A.M.  WE WERE SLEEPING JUST FINE, THANK YOU.

Next time, Paris on a budget and Vimy Ridge.

Dan and Ian Wander Europe: Back in Blighty

As I write this, my associate Ian is on the phone with his credit card company having his card replaced. Six hours in Paris and he got pickpocketed. Lovely. Really thought we’d make Italy before this became an issue. While he deals with that, I’m looking back at happier times: our arrival in my favourite city, London.

When I’ve been to a place before, it feels instantly familiar when I come back. Within minutes it feels like I’ve never left. But London’s special. Get me anywhere in London I recognise and I feel like I’m home.

London was the one spot on our trip where I felt like an expert. I haven’t been to Paris or Italy since 1994. London, or at least central London, I know like my own city. So I simply tried to make myself a resource for Ian. I made suggestions of where we could go, pointed out spots my adventures had taken me previously, led the way when we had a destination in mind… and tried to pretend I wasn’t half dead from exhaustion.

The plan was simple: take some sleeping pills on the plane, awaken rested and ready to tackle London. Didn’t quite work out. All the pills got me was a three hour nap and a revolting aftertaste that stuck around and tainted everything I ate or drank for like eight hours. So I was not exactly fresh or rested.

We started at St. Paul’s, crossed the Thames and headed east. It was like my final night there in 2011 only backwards. I spotted the 400 year-old pub where I’d had my birthday dinner of scampi and chips, the Greek restaurant I’d been looking for, the Clink prison museum (which, after 23 years of near-misses, I finally visited), and eventually arrived at the Tower of London. Ian gleefully suggested we head in, having been eager to see a proper castle.

Partway through the beefeater tour I came alarmingly close to discovering what it’s like to pass out while standing. Thankfully I caught myself before falling. Both times. After seeing the armoury and the crown jewels (tired or no, admission was like 20 quid and we were getting our damn money’s worth), it was time to head back to my cousin Roy’s, have a quick nap, and grab dinner.

Cardiff proved just as easy to navigate. Had we wanted to go anywhere I hadn’t been in 2011, that would have been different, but we were there for two things: the Doctor Who Experience (my second visit, Ian’s first) and Cardiff Castle (which we arrived too late to see properly).

Two days in which I could play expert. Two days showing off my favourite city. And now it’s done for a spell. Paris is still largely unknown to me, being a distant memory of school-led tours. But one annoying theft aside, I look forward to seeing what it has for us. Now that my wallet is more secure.

Dan and Ian Wander Europe: To Do

My flight to London and the beginning of our shenanigan-filled European odyssey is, as I write these very words, 28 hours away. Which means we’re into final prep and errand time. So for a refreshingly short post, I thought I’d take you through my to-do list for the next day and change.

1. Haircut. This is just overdue as it is and I’m gonna want to be wearing my adventure hat without worrying about hat hair.

Atop the volcano
It is the source of all my power.

2. Banking. Need to move some money around in my theatre company’s bank account. And maybe get some British pounds. And Euros. Or do I want to stick to ATMs? Not carry around stealable currency? BAH. I have given this NO thought. WHY was I born a fool?

3. Drug store. Running low on synthroid. Can’t have that.

4. Laundry. Need maximum clean socks.

5. Printing. Need hard copies of our hostel reservations, if only so we have the addresses handy. Also need to write my cousin’s address on something.

6. Packing. Clothes. Towel. Day bag. Chargers. Power converter. Swimsuit. Kindle. Physical book for if Kindle’s unavailable. All of our flight info. All of our hostel info. All of our train tickets. Pillow if there’s room.

7. Stop by rehearsal? Maybe? If there’s time.

8. Finish the second draft of my new script? Maybe? If I’m able.

9. Sleep a bit. Not too much, I intend to drug myself unconscious tomorrow afternoon.

10. Job interview. I don’t know why I thought applying for jobs two days before I left the country was a good idea, but hey, it worked.

11. Last-minute packing. Meds. Toothpaste. Contact solution. Spare contacts. Toothbrush. Glasses.  Razor. Shaving cream.

12. Try to figure out what that thing I’m forgetting to pack is. Hopefully it’s not the train tickets. Need those.

13. 11:30: Get picked up. Earlier than I’d like, but that’s when he’s available. Lunch at the airport, I guess.

14. Actually remember what that thing I forgot to pack is. Hope it wasn’t my passport.

15. 2:00: meet Ian, check in.

16. 4:00: wheels up.

17.  4:05: drug myself into unconsciousness.

18. Land in London. Commence hijinks.

See you on the other side, everybody.


My Night as an Old West Extra

I have, for the past week, been besieged from things ranging from “somewhat interesting” to “so very awesome,” all of which I wanted to write about but also tended to leave me too drained and exhausted to make the attempt.

The first such example: my night as a background extra on the TV series Klondike.

I know almost nothing about Klondike. I assume it’s set during the Yukon gold rush. I know it stars Tim Roth and Sam Shepard (neither of whom will be playing a role in this narrative). And I know that it shoots in Dawson City, the replica 19th century western town located out in the foothills between Cochrane and Banff.

Tuesday night I had agreed to stage manage a one-night show for a friend. I’m killing time before audience starts to arrive and anything needs to be done when another friend tracks me down, asking if I have any experience dealing cards. As it happens, I took a blackjack dealing class back when (I neglected to mention that this was at least 13 years ago and attempted to skim over the fact that I didn’t get hired). Next thing I know, he and a casting agent we know were debating whether I’d be suited to play a croupier on Klondike.

My first thought was “Gee, I don’t know,” but I ultimately decided “Damn it, Me, that’s your answer for everything! Do a thing once in a while!” and agreed, despite the late notice (I would be on set the following night). And despite the fact that the gig took a long while to be confirmed. I got the details of where to be and when to be there about four hours before my call time. But, you know, wasn’t doing much else, so off I went.

After a long ride over dirt and gravel… let’s call them “roads…” I saw the rows of cars and gathering of trailers that indicated I’d found the set. I pulled in at 6:40 PM, twenty minutes early. A lone parking attendant was able to point me in the direction I had to go, that being wardrobe and hair. I was decked out in croupier-worthy old-timey clothes, had some gunk put in my hair, was told that if I needed makeup they’d see to it on set, and was driven up the hill to Dawson City.

Dawson City is an interesting place to see. From the outside, it almost looks like a fully-functional mini-town. Some of the buildings, the hotels and taverns, look usable. Fully furnished, glassware and everything. Others, less so. The Monte Carlo casino, for instance, is nothing but a small room with a roulette wheel and some decidedly modern lighting instruments. I’m guessing any scenes in the casino have to go to a sound stage elsewhere. Above it hang these huge lighting cubes, which give enough light to shoot without making it look less like night. Well, those aren’t there all the time, but they were a defining feature for me.

I was taken to the holding area, a shack with heaters where the extras waited until needed. The men in the room fell into three categories: rugged cowboy (including one guy who was authentically bow-legged: difficult for everyday life, gold for a western background extra), Chinese, and less-rugged (myself and the guy in the muttonchops). Nobody checked to see if I needed makeup, but I was signed in and the crew members in charge of extras made a note that I was there to be a croupier. After 15 hard-fought minutes of sitting in a shed, they called lunch.

Hours pass.

I found out sometime after midnight my shot was titled “Count’s POV.” The Count, as I learned from a quick IMDB search, is Tim Roth’s character. “Cool,” I thought. “I guess I’ll be dealing cards in the background of a Tim Roth scene. There’s a story!”

Yeah, no.

What was actually being shot that night was a scene in which the Judge (no idea, don’t ask me for context) walks into the rain and nails a cross to the roof of a building. The croupier shot was part of this process. When it finally came time for my shot it was between 2 and 3 AM. One of the crew checked my costume. It required straightening. She informed me I had become quite disheveled. “It was a long sit,” I replied, allowing “I’ve been waiting for seven hours, what did you think was going to happen” to remain implied. The look in her eye showed understanding and sympathy, and once my shirt was re-tucked we said no more on it. We made our way to the set, as they gathered everyone for the shot. They asked if I could come back in one or two weeks, when they’d be shooting a scene happening at the same time.

Now, the agent friend I’d spoken to said that if they asked me if I could come back, I should say yes. But they asked if I could come back at a time when I knew for a fact I’d be in Italy. Or maybe Switzerland. I chose not to lie. As such, they decided to use someone else as the croupier. Continuity reasons and all that.

Given that the scene was being shot from the far end of a street, and the Monte Carlo would be as far in the background as it was possible to get, there was some questioning amongst the extras as to how big a deal this really was, but the crew was authentically apologetic, plus I’d made it nearly eight hours without making a nuisance of myself and I wasn’t starting now. Given that nobody told me to leave… or gave me any idea where I should go… I watched the shot unfold. Saw the rain machine fire up to drench the street and felt the temperature drop when it did. Saw the lighting instruments used to simulate lightning. Watched the whole process unfold, or as much of it as I could while trying to remain off-camera and out of the way of people actually in the shot. Eventually they sent us back to the holding shed.

It was now after 3 AM. I was pretty tired, but still nobody had said to leave. So I kept reading comics, kept not volunteering for shots that needed rain gear (I had none), confident that I was getting paid one way or the other. Eventually, they said they needed everyone for the last two shots of the night, so I hopped in to walk back and forth in the shot with everyone else. Didn’t get all dressed up for nothing, after all.

Finally, at just before 5 AM, they called it a wrap. The sun was about to rise, after all, so no more night scenes could be done. I handed back my costume, signed out and tried to get home before the sun crossed the horizon. My time as an extra was done. It went better than my last extra experience, back in the 80s, when my young brain was only able to process “Walk from here to there and back again, then keep doing it,” but not such other key details as “Only when the camera’s rolling,” or “And when everybody leaves you can stop.”

Dull? Yes, for long stretches. Late night? No question. But I never lost sight of how I was but one small cog in this machine. Every extra in that shack was dealing with the same long waits, and pretty much all of them started before I did. And some of them had to be on a different set for Hell on Wheels at 7 AM, whereas I could sleep until Friday if I really wanted. And there was also the crew, who actually had to work for all those hours we were just waiting. Perspective, friends. All about perspective.

See you next time, for either an installment of Dan Writes Plays, a summary of my Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo fanuerism, or, if I can’t update before Thursday, the beginning of Dan and Ian Wander Europe.

Danny G Writes Plays: Prologue

So I’ve always been a creative sort. No, that’s the the wrong word: imaginative. I’ve always been burdened with an overactive imagination. As I grew up, stories and adventures that were at best loosely based on what was actually happening in real life were constantly playing out in my head. Spies and super heroes and fantasy versions of me that were less easy to bully. Also Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Specifically from the claymation special that runs every year. Don’t ask me why I thought Rudolph needing to be rescued by the Justice League was a tale worth telling over and over. I don’t know anymore. Like you were oh so clever at age eight or something.

Given that, creative writing classes were a perfect outlet. I could take these characters and stories that were flying through my head and put them all on paper, possibly even to be enjoyed by others. Possibly. Not probably. It took some time before I really started learning to make storytelling something I did for the reader’s enjoyment in addition to my own satisfaction.

After junior high, there was a lull in my writing habits. English class may have had the occasional creative outlet (especially under one of my favourite teachers, the incomparable Mr. Bowen), but nothing really devoted to creative writing. In grade 12, though… an opportunity presented itself. I teamed with two friends to write a short detective parody. I learned the thrill of hearing a full audience laugh at jokes I’d written. Of seeing a script of my own creation brought to life on stage.

And I never looked back.

I’m now working on my 30th script, including short plays and things co-authored. Over the days, weeks, and months to come, when I can’t think of any other story I’d rather be sharing with you all, I’ll be telling you about each of them: the basic story, how they came to be, memories attached to the productions. And for the scripts where I came up with a wacky premise and saw where it took me (this happened somewhat often, for good or ill), we’ll be joined by Dave and Kevin of Premise Beach.

Hopefully this will also serve as a chart of how I’ve grown as a writer, and maybe give me some reminders of where I still need to go.

Oh god. I’m going to need to re-read some of these. Including my early work. I’ve made a terrible mistake, haven’t I… well, too late. I said those words on the internet. No going back now.

See you next time, with my first (co-written) full play, The Amazing and Almost Accurate Adventures of Trigger Dandy.

Curse you, Young Me!

I’m currently three weeks out from my next trip, a European vacation over a year in the planning, a journey I shall refer to a “Dan and Ian Wander Europe.” Works better if you picture it to the tune of “Troy and Abed in the Morning.” You know that one, right? Anyway…

There are two reasons I wanted to go back to mainland Europe for my next big trip. First of all, as discussed in my last post, as much as I love what I’ve seen of Asia, I grew weary of the assumptions  of sex tourism. Second, I haven’t been to mainland Europe since high school. Every year from grade 10 to 12, as part of my high school’s travel club (yes, that was a thing at my high school), I’d spend spring break on the Mediterranean. Italy, Greece and Turkey primarily. They were all great trips, including my first time on a cruise ship…

And in many ways I blew it.

To begin. I’ve long been a little bit obsessive-compulsive, and until I was twenty was a horrifically picky eater. These two things fed into each other. I distrusted sauce (except ketchup and mustard), and could not allow sauce from one food to touch another. Now I live for sauces, but at the time it was quite the problem. The relevant problem is that instead of eating local food in Greece (I now love Greek food), Italy (who doesn’t love pasta?) or Turkey (eh, why not), I sought out the local McDonald’s experiences.

I regret that.

I did not have the best impression of Paris when I first saw it in 1994. It rained a lot, for one, and for two everything was being renovated. I didn’t drink wine (unlike most of the group) and honestly believed Eurodisney to be the best part of our stay in France.

I regret that.

Every year, I got a little older, but the club had to open its doors to the junior high school a little faster. Which meant I routinely roomed with 14 years olds. Have you met a 14 year old? They’re terrible. Some were okay, some I couldn’t stand by the trip’s end, but you can’t always pick your companions.

And so I looked forward to this chance to revisit some places I once loved, like Rome and Florence, places I’ve been meaning to give another look, like Paris, a few places I’ve never seen like Venice, Zurich and Bruges, and a couple of stops at my favourite city on Earth, good old London. And this time around I’ve got a partner in crime to keep life interesting.

I look forward to telling you all about it. Hope you stick around for the journey.

Dodging prostitutes around the world part 2: Electric Boogaloo

Let’s be real. The last subtitle this post needed was “Secret of the Ooze.” Creates some interesting and unnecessary visuals.

I also considered making today’s post a blow-by-blow account of removing a rubber tube from your own kidney, but I think I could best summarize the experience with “Try not to put yourself in a position where you need to.”


This was in me. Now it is not. The rest of the story is unpleasant.
This was in me. Now it is not. The rest of the story is unpleasant.

So let’s return, as promised, to tales of international prostitutes and my attempts to flee from them.

It’s very rare that I get stopped by customs when returning to Canada. Very rare that I get suspected of any crime, really. When I moved into my current home, we only got one copy of the front door key. The key clearly read “Do not copy.” Despite this, a locksmith agreed to make me several copies even though I couldn’t produce a single piece of evidence that I was the legitimate owner of the property I claimed this key belonged to. Clearly I have a very trustworthy face, which means I have missed out on a very lucrative life of crime.

With one exception.

I am unlikely to ever be able to smuggle anything out of Southeast Asia. Because people hear that a white male of my age group is going to Thailand, Vietnam, anything in that area, and they assume “sex tourist.” The less charitable amongst them will add in an assumption about “ladyboys.” Given that I made two trips to that part of the world within two years, it’s actually become a bit of a nuisance. Especially given the time Canada Customs spent nearly an hour searching my luggage and computer for proof that I was a sex criminal. But this isn’t about that. This isn’t about Canadians who leapt to unwanted conclusions based on stereotypes about the region. This is about locals who came to that same conclusion when they saw a white dude roaming around their country.

Night one in Tokyo, and I’m slightly overwhelmed by this amazing new city and most certainly hungry. It’s around 10:00 PM, but this place makes most large cities look tiny, surely there’s some place with English on the menus where I can grab a bite, right? I’m strolling down the street that leads to my hotel, when I slow to check out the sign for a restaurant. A matronly woman, maybe 40-45, gestures towards the doorway in a welcoming fashion. Now, I’m from a far less condensed city. I see restaurant signs outside a door, I tend not to assume it’s also a high-rise apartment building. Also, if a see a matronly woman gesturing at said restaurant, I assume she’s saying “Come inside and have some food, weary traveler,” not “Come inside and have some sex for money, white boy.”

I was incorrect.

She took me by the arm, but when we broke left away from the restaurant and headed for an elevator, I realised what was happening. I quickly made some panicked excuses and pulled away while she quoted some (probably quite reasonable) prices, found out the restaurant we’d passed wasn’t even open, and moved swiftly for my hotel, deciding I wasn’t even hungry anymore. Fortunately from there I only had to worry about strip club promoters. Well, “worry” likely isn’t the word I want.

It’s 5:00 AM, partway through an Asian holiday known as “Dan and Sean’s Excellent Adventure.” Well, that’s what I call it, anyway. Sean may or may not have branded it differently. Sean and I are about to catch a bus into Cambodia, and I’m in search of an ATM to get cash for the border. The wee hours of the morning are about as close to quiet as Ho Chi Minh City gets. The constant stream of honking motorcycles dies down to a trickle, many of which aren’t even honking at things. Shops and restaurants are just starting to open. As I emerged from the alley our hostel was in, looking for signs of a cash machine (the directions the guy at the desk gave me were unclear but I was far too tired and awkward to ask for clarification), a scooter suddenly emerged from goddamn nowhere, pulling to a complete stop right in front of me. There were two people on the scooter: a driver and the girl behind him.

“Hello,” says the girl, a half-second after the scooter stopped. This all happened in an instant, mind you: just ZOOM. SCREECH! “Hello.”

“Uh… hi,” I manage, then I swiftly turn away, attempting to convey lack of interest and deciding to move my search away from the side streets. No sooner do I round the corner than it happens again.


Same scooter? Different scooter? I DON’T KNOW. Didn’t stop to find out. I like to think I avoided yelping in alarm. I am pretty sure I flinched pretty hard. And that’s where I abandoned my search for an ATM. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to ask the prostitute and her scooter-pimp where I could find money, that is sending entirely the wrong message.

Later, that same trip. It’s Christmas in Siem Reap and Sean and I have been joined by two of his friends from Hong Kong. We’re partying on pub street, a hub of cheap bars catering to visitors to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. After many, many beers and shots we decide it’s time for karaoke. One of the ladies thinks she knows a place, but it quickly proves to no longer exist. So we choose to hire out a tuk-tuk (somewhere between a cab and a rickshaw) to take us to a karaoke bar. Sean attempts to indicate what we’re looking for by repeating the word “karaoke” while waving his fist near his mouth as though he were holding a microphone. Well, that’s what he wanted it to look like, anyway.

Maybe the story would have played out the same regardless, but that was an unfortunate choice of gestures.

The tuk-tuk we picked pulls away from pub street, heading towards the city centre… past a bar that really looked like it was advertising karaoke… onto a highway… and as we get further and further from what we’d come to know as downtown Siem Reap (possibly inaccurate, I don’t really know) we began to grow concerned. Sure enough, when we pulled off the road, it was into what was very clearly a brothel.

It’s possible the brothel offered karaoke as well, it looked like it might, but that was not the point. We swiftly and insistently demanded to be taken back to pub street.

Now, I wasn’t even alone this time. I was accompanied by two women and a gay man. How could we possibly have looked like I need to visit a brothel? HOW. Okay, in fairness it wouldn’t have taken much effort to learn that nobody in this foursome had any intentions of sleeping with each other, but still. But still, dear readers.

Also we still totally had to pay for the tuk-tuk. That just seems wrong, but there it was.

Curse you flesh body

We interrupt our previous tale of my repeated efforts to dodge prostitutes worldwide for an update on my ongoing war against the decaying flesh coffin known as “my body.”

You may think it’s an odd attitude to have, war with your own physical self. But we all are, gentle readers. We all are. We live in an age where thin, or at least lean and muscular, are considered most attractive, yet our bodies are still hardwired from millennia of evolution to store as much fat as possible in case nobody’s able to kill a mammoth next week. Oh, but store too much and you’re killing yourself faster than a cocaine addiction. We’re most physically prepared to reproduce in our early 20s but most of us aren’t mentally ready until we’re in our 30s. To paraphrase C. Montgomery Burns, our bodies started the war with their thinning hair and expanding waistlines, and now they want to call “no contest” because they’re losing?

But I digress.

My usual issues with my flesh body, in addition to being heavier and balder than I care for and utterly refusing to react to healthy food and exercise as anything other than low-grade torture, typically have to do with little things. Refusal to shake a cough between November and March. Persistent floaters in my vision that apparently I just get to live with forever now. Refusing to fall asleep when I want to but then even more stubbornly refusing to wake up when I have to.

A bloody hour I spent trying to wake up this morning, while my subconscious flooded my dreams with conspiracies and cabals, sinister agents out to ensure I stayed asleep as long as possible while a noble few tried to see out the prophecy that I would arise at ten and… something something. The exact motivations are a little blurry.

My motivation? I had to hit the hospital and have a centimeter-long stone removed from my right kidney. Well it had shifted slightly out of the kidney but the point remains. This is my flesh body’s current favourite strike against me: every 16-20 months, it fires a tiny rock out of my kidney in order to cause excruciating pain, pain described as on par with childbirth. Sensible, they’re both about trying to squeeze things through holes way too small.

After stone one, I did some research. Certain foods exacerbate stones? Away with them. Raspberries? Easy enough. Granny’s raspberry bushes are a distant and bittersweet memory anyway. Chocolate and almonds? Fine. Chocolate covered almonds weren’t the healthiest snack anyway, shouldn’t be too bad to who am I kidding I miss them so much!

The stones returned. And got bigger.

So I drank more water. Less cola, more water, how can that be a bad idea?

The stones returned. And got bigger.

But today, on stone four, they finally shot themselves in the proverbial foot. Stone four was too big to pass on its own. So was stone three, I admit, but it was able to give it more of a go. I was able to detect stone four before it could cause the usual night of extreme agony and nausea, and then was able to have it extracted before it had its chance. As such, stone four was the least traumatic of its kin.

And now the real work begins. The examination of the stone by medical professionals, hopefully ending with some clue as to how I can stop stone five (already in progress over on the other side) before we have to do this dance again come summer of next year.

And before you say “eat less cheese,” you’d best have your doctorate in urology ready for review because do not come between me and cheese, I will cut you.

Next time we return to the Surprise Scooter Prostitutes of Vietnam. Promise.