Stories from Nearly Disastrous Days

As a travel professional, you learn that experiencing nearly disastrous days is a given. Heck, sometimes you even have actually disastrous days, like the unmitigated disaster of leading my clients through a blood-sucking leach-infested forest, which you can read about here. It’s what you do with these experiences though, that either puts a positive, memorable spin on them or just turns them into plain old crappy days.

I began my summer guiding in Colorado last week, and already we’ve had some minor incidents. The first day, I took a Japanese high school group to remove graffiti and clean streets in a low-income neighborhood. Part of their American educational experience was to learn about the different facets of American society and interact with them. We leave Union Station in downtown Denver and are supposed to alight at Perry Street, 6 stops away. Just before Knox Street, I hear the words “Next Stop Perry Street”, panic, and tell everyone to jump off the train. I then discover that we’ve gotten off a station too soon, feel like the dumbest tour guide in the world, and have to wait 15 minutes for the next train. Luckily the students and teachers were nice about it.

Arriving at the streets we were going to clean, we discover that there is almost no graffiti or garbage to throw away. Instead, it is blazing hot. We doodle around for two hours, picking at some candy wrappers, pulling weeds and my favorite – playing baseball with balled-up work gloves. Since it’s still early, we head back to Denver, give the students some free time to go shopping, and call it a day. I suppose flexibility is another essential trait when working in the travel industry.

The next day, I meet a different group of Junior High girls and their teachers, who want to go to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, then go shopping. Ready at 12:30 for a bus that is supposedly leaving at 1:00, we wait and wait for a bus that does not arrive. Apparently the driver had received instructions to leave at 2:00. I am apologizing and doing my best to keep the girls entertained, but there is only so much you can do.

The bus finally arrives, and we’re off to Red Rocks. I tell them all about the outdoor amphitheater and how great it is – only to discover that a) we only have 10 minutes to see it, b) it’s raining and c) it’s not even open because the band that is playing in the evening is tuning up. I’ve learned that it’s best not to hype things up that you aren’t sure about but when you’re going to a specific place to see something and it’s closed, you’re toast. We continued on the shopping, where thankfully a monument to capitalism – the American shopping mall – is open rain snow sleet or hail.

It’s been a fun summer so far and I continue to learn. Whether in Japan or America, my attitude dictates the experience for my entire group – dealing with the inevitable challenges and managing their expectations makes their experience so much better.

After going to Rocky Mountain National Park again on Wednesday, I leave for Nebraska and the State Games of America pickleball tournament on Thursday. Wish me luck!

This is what it's all about

The people are what it’s all about

Life in Limbo

I have been traveling a lot. I love it and I chose to do it, but it gets tiring just the same. Since my last post, I flew to Oita Prefecture on Japan’s Southernmost major island of Kyushu for a work seminar. I learned all about the Walk Japan business in what was the largest gathering of foreigners fluent in Japanese I have ever attended. Later I flew to Tokyo and took the bullet train to Nagano where we had a 4th of July pickleball event (not really, we just happened to be playing pickleball on July 4th). I came back to Tokyo, only to wait all day for a plane to Portland that I was destined not to board (I’m flying standby). I then got a great last-minute deal on a hotel close by, waiting the next day for another doomed attempt at Portland. Frustrated, I got a bus to Tokyo’s international airport and flew to Seattle, where I am currently staying in a youth hostel waiting to take the bus to Portland in the morning. It is an elusive city.

Sunset in Ooita

Sunset in Oita

All of this waiting, however, provided me with plenty of time for reflection and for work on my travel website, which I will reveal soon. My conclusion upon pondering is that I am thankful for where I am right now. A year ago after coming back from Africa I didn’t know what I wanted to do. More importantly for me I think, I didn’t know where I wanted to do it. I now have a couple of jobs I love and creative, interesting projects. I am working towards bigger and better things. Life is crazy but it is so much better than being bored.

Some people mistake my like of Japan for dislike of America. I don’t dislike the States, it just never felt like home for me. It doesn’t make me want to dig down and stay. I am a little fish in a very big pond, and while speaking Japanese makes me an interesting novelty, it’s not necessarily very useful. Sometimes I describe it to people like this: “In America, I look like I should belong and as the conversation goes on people gradually realize how different we are. In Japan, I obviously don’t look like I belong, but as the conversation goes on people realize how similar we are.” I like that. People tell me all the time that as a foreigner, you can never fully be accepted as Japanese. Perhaps that’s true, but instead of trying to be accepted as Japanese I think I’m content with just being accepted.

A final note to please use common sense and at least gain a cursory knowledge of world events when traveling abroad. Also, eavesdropping makes for great blog material. The other day in Narita Airport, I overheard a 19-year old American kid from Texas chatting up three Russian girls. After hearing they were from Russia, he couldn’t remember if Russia was still communist and said he vaguely remembered something about a wall. He then asked if they were Sophomores or Juniors in high school, at which point they had no clue what he was saying and the conversation started falling apart. I’m not saying everyone needs to be expert world historians – just be interested in the world around you and aware that language can be a barrier or a bridge.

That’s all for now. I’m headed tomorrow to my brother’s wedding in Eugene, Oregon. Congratulations Jon and Makaya, I’m happy for you.

Koh Tao, Japan and a Crazy 72 Hours

My story begins in Koh Tao, Thailand, where I vacationed for two weeks and got my open water scuba certification. What a magical place. The main part of the island is a single strip of beach with dive schools and restaurants scattered evenly. They say it’s the Mecca of learning to dive – and the cheapest place to do it – which piqued my interest. I dove every day, ate Thai food by the beach, met fellow vagabond travelers and perhaps played a little too hard…

After the last day of diving, some new friends and I decided to celebrate. There’s this thing called the Koh Tao Pub Crawl where you buy a ticket, get a matching tank top and meander with a huge group of people to the best bars in town. The most interesting of these is called the Queen’s Cabaret, a Thai Lady-Boy show. It’s honestly not a strip club, more like a transgender dance or a drag queen performance. I’ve never been to anything quite like it, I’m still a bit confused by what’s going on with their gender, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to call these women? but it was one of the most interesting experiences of my journey. They are certainly loud and proud.

It was getting late after the show and since my ferry was leaving the next morning at 6:00, I decided I would stay out all night. Poor choice Daniel. Although I never did these things when I was 21, I discovered that I am no longer 21. I didn’t drink enough to go too far past tipsy and I did manage to get about half an hour of sleep before catching a taxi to the ferry, but the next day was rough regardless. I caught the ferry+bus to Surat Thani Airport, took a plane to Bangkok, hopped on a shuttle for an hour from the domestic to the international airport, waited all day for my red eye flight to Korea, and met my friend Cory in Seoul. We chatted about the future, ate¬†Kimbob and watched¬†Jurassic World before I endured my final flight to Japan. I’ve done some long trips in my life but dang. Did I mentioned that I caught a mystery cold during this time and felt like crap?

I recuperated the following day in Tokyo, going in the evening to pick up my bag from a coin operated locker where I had left some things I wanted to keep safe. There I discovered that I had gone past the allotted number of days you can leave a bag in a coin operated locker, the office shuttered for the evening. Since I was leaving early the next morning to go to a work seminar in Kyushu, I wouldn’t be able to pick it up for another 5 days… Refusing to concede to this unfavorable development I changed my flight to Kyushu, visited the coin locker office early the next morning and claimed the bag.

The coin locker office guy was hilarious. He took 20 minutes to process my bag recovery, giving me a rehearsed but “I don’t actually give a crap because I only get paid $7 an hour” lecture about reading the information on the lockers. He also went through his procedures list several times to make sure he had taken out the bag correctly. I apologized profusely and left as quickly as I could, thankful that in Japan you can trust complete strangers to take care of your stuff. At this point, I realized that I needed to leave some other things in the locker that I didn’t want in Kyushu. Hanging my head in shame, I returned to the locker dude, asking him timidly if I might be able to put the same bag he had just taken out back in… He agreed to keep it safe.

My final interesting experience occurred on the way to Narita Airport. A Japanese family got on the train next to me. There were parents, a kid and what I assumed were grandparents, an aunt and a cousin, everyone speaking Japanese. Suddenly the kid starts talking perfect English. He must practice his pronunciation a lot, I thought. Then he started joking about the glasses made of grass and making fun of his aunt for not knowing the difference, which I found humorous. At that point I noticed mom’s Golden State Warrior’s shirt and her – to put it nicely – unJapanese body. They probably lived in California. Then I thought, “this kid is exactly like me – only flipped… two sides of the same coin!” Or were we? While his aunt spoke to him in Japanese, the kid in question would only reply in English, all in second grade potty humor. If he said the word toilet one more time I swear I would have slapped him. I was mortified as a kid to ever speak Japanese in front of my aunts and uncles and hope I didn’t think calling myself Mr. Toilet a thousand times was funny. Maybe that’s what growing up as the only kid that sticks out in a society of conformity does to you. In a final twist, the aunt told the kid in Japanese to cut the English potty humor because someone was sitting next to him (me) that might understand… Little did they know that their secret language was my secret language muhahahaha

That was my last 3 days. Now I’m in Kyushu at a company seminar and in Japan for a total of 10 more days. More of that in a future post.