My Southeast Asia Reading List

So you’re on the road for a few months and looking for some good books to read and don’t know where to start? Here’s what I’ve been reading (so far!) on my travels. A good book can keep you company when you’re missing your home, and gives continuity when you’re constantly changing spaces.  So what follows is my tried and true list.

A short side note – if you’re traveling with someone, especially a romantic partner, why don’t you try this: instead of the two of you being in separate worlds on your smart phones during your down time, try picking up (or downloading) one of these books and read it out loud to each other. Take turns. Make your partner try to read in a different accent. Talk about the book as you read. Read a chapter per night. I promise you, this will be something you can’t get enough of. It’s so much better than TV. It will change your life and your relationship. Do it!

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Part truth, part fiction. It’s sort of an embellished autobiography about an escaped convict who hides in the slums of Mumbai and creates a new life for himself. A lot of crazzzyy shit happens in this book – it’s set in India after all – but what I was really drawn to were the authors insights into love, life, loss, and our connectedness to other human beings. It’s by far by far my favorite book that I’ve read this year.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. OK, so I never saw the movie, but I found myself in Ubud, Indonesia (where one third of this book takes place) trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me, and why I react sometimes the way that I do. And for most of the book, I was thinking..”Yes! I am Julia Roberts!” To be honest, i didn’t finish the last chapter: the ending was turning out to be too perfect. But it’s a great read if you’re in a yoga state of mind.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I love Haruki Murakami. I love how twisted his stories are. I love his references to music and literature (The Centaur is on my reading list now thanks to this book). To be honest, this isn’t my favorite Murakami novel by a long shot, but if you’ve never read any of his work before, pick up a copy of Kafka By The Shore. You won’t be disappointed.

The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. If you like reading books by Eckhart Tolle, you’ll really enjoy this one. Learn how to watch the voices that are constantly babbling inside your head, how to train your mind to think positive thoughts, how to live a happier life without attachment.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Wild by Cheryl Strayed. More to come!

 

Indonesia – What just happened??!

fullsizerender-19My first trip to Asia also happened to be my first trip as a solo traveler. Traveling alone does take some practice. Meeting people in Asia is nothing like meeting people in America, and people here are different than in the west.

For starters, unless your goal is to be by yourself all the time, you have to be comfortable with rejection. Some travelers really aren’t interested in meeting other people on anything other than a superficial level and don’t respond very enthusiastically when approached by someone they don’t know. Others aren’t interested in you because you’re the wrong sex, aren’t good looking enough, or the wrong age. The key is to never give up – to keep trying and putting yourself out there. You can get past that fear of rejection and truly open your heart to traveling in a foreign country, and a wonderful new world of connection awaits that is so different than the way people normally interact with one another in the West.

Keep in mind, that as with everything in life, it’s all about your attitude. The attitude that you project out onto the world is the attitude that you will find being returned back to you. If you greet the world with an open mind and an open heart, then that is what you will get in return. If you are afraid or apprehensive, you’ll get that returned back to you as well.

So first, the obvious: no staying in hotels. Stay in a hostel, in a bunk bed, in a room full of other people. Find a hostel that has lots of public seating areas.

Do something interesting while you’re there. Work on a drawing. Write in your journal. Play with some cards. Read a good book. Play an instrument. Smile and say hello to people when they walk in. Introduce yourself to new people checking in. Ask where they’re from, where they’ve been, what book they’re reading, where they’re going next. Comment on something that someone is wearing. Eavesdrop on people’s conversations and feel free to insert yourself into them. Invite people out for a meal. It’s easy!

Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work the first time, or if there is no one that you really care to talk to or spend time with. That’s OK too!  This is the perfect time to spend some time getting to know yourself. Write, read, draw, pick up a new hobby, start a journal, take an online class.

I was able to meet all sorts of travelers by doing all of these things. But by far my favorite part of Indonesia wasn’t meeting other people doing the same thing that I was doing; rather it was the unplanned part, the part that just happens when you’re open to possibilities. That’s the part you can never plan for, and that’s the most exciting part of travel. So if you’re looking for a list of the best hostels to stay in or where to get the cheapest nasi goreng, sorry, you’re not going to find one here!

The memories that I will cherish about my travels in Indonesia have to do with goofing off diving with Harmain, getting picked up and whisked off by random strangers on a scooter to an unknown destination, meeting Zul on a local commuter boat, and getting on stage in Kuta and belting out some Eagles tunes in front of a bunch of drunk Ozzies.

Up next.. Thailand here I come! 🙂

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Zul hated my scooter driving skills and thought I was trying to kill him.
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Always say yes when random strangers offer to give you a ride somewhere
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Singing Hotel California in Seminyak. People actually clapped for me!
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Harmain thought it was hilarious to wear sunglasses instead of goggles underwater.

What are you looking for?

fullsizerender-17It’s astoundingly easy as a gay guy to meet other guys when traveling through apps like Grindr, Jack’d, Tinder, etc. I doubt that straight people have this luxury, but who knows (Do they? Do tell me!)

There’s one question that invariably pops up any conversation you have on one of these apps: what are you looking for? Usually it means one thing: I want in your pants and I want to find the quickest way to get there. There is an expected response, details of which I’ll skip over since my parents (Hi Mom!) or friends’ children (Hi Sequoia & River!) may be reading. I usually stop responding at this point. Companionship and a partner in crime don’t usually go over very well with anyone who poses this question.

The funny thing is, I actually have been thinking about this question a lot lately, although in a completely different context.

What am I looking for?

In some ways, it’s an unanswerable question that lies in the silence of the spaces between words. It’s like the monster in the closet that disappears the moment that you turn the light on, and yet it’s still there, you know it’s still there, but it’s image fades if you try to focus on it.

What am I looking for?

In Ubud, I started reading Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve never even seen the movie (I know, shame on me), so didn’t realize that part of the story took place here until I was trolling around TripAdvisor looking for things to do. I strongly identify with the main character of the book, with her attachments to relationships, her fear of being alone, her bouts of self-induced depression. She’s trying to find herself, but we hear that phrase so often that it’s become hollow and almost meaningless.

I went to an Ayurvedic clinic yesterday and talked to a doctor there. He was equal parts psychiatrist, herbal pharmacist, and counselor. I had no problem calmly describing some emotionally charged things that have happened to me in the past which are no doubt still buried deep inside, poking at me every time I turn the closet light off. But there was one thing that he said when he was describing what sorts of changes I should make in my life that really hit home hard. I was feeling calm and centered and wondering what kinds of herbs he would prescribe, and he said one thing and suddenly I had to fight back the tears: “You get to close and give to much of yourself. You need to save room for you.”

Ohhhhh.

So I think this is what ‘finding yourself’ means for me, at least a big chunk of it. The answer lies there.

And so the journey continues!