Random excerpts from a six month world trip I took in 2000 – I wrote mass emails to everybody back home every so often. Below are several of them.
What’s up everybody?
New report here from China. Last time I wrote I was
in Nepal. From there I decided to go to Thailand,
which sounded cool, then I heard Cambodia was
interesting, then what the heck Vietnam is close to
there… one thing led to another, and after Laos,
here I am in China. In this note I’m just going to
tell about some random things I’ve learned, different
personal impressions, and stupid little details that
may or may not be interesting. They kind of follow a
chronological order, but kind of don’t.
In Cambodia one day I was eating at a ratty little
roadside shack, and a policeman came and sat next to
me. He was really excited that I was from America.
It turns out his mother had left during the Pol Pot
regime and taken all his brothers and sisters to the
states except for him. He is now 29. He asked if I
could mail a package for him, which would have cost
him $30 – that’s a ton if you’re a Cambodian cop
making $50/month. He’s never met his mother. Typical
Cambodian though, he laughed and smiled all the time.
He took me around the city and out to this lake, where
he had me buy some roasted cockroaches. I ate two.
You have to peel them first – pull off the wings and
legs, snap off the head. They were salty and sort of
meaty. Tell me that’s not disgusting.
When I first got to Thailand, I thought I had turned
into some kind of moviestar or something, women were
beckoning from bars, waving at me, etc. After a day
or so of thinking I was the man, I was told they were
mostly hookers, working for the bars.
Also in Cambodia I was cruising to Angkor Wat on the
back of a scooter, which is about the only way to get
around, and passed a nice hospital which was
soliciting money. I stopped to donate some, but my
Cambodian isn’t so hot, and their English wasn’t
either, so I ended up in the Blood donation
department. And donated blood. In Cambodia. Brand
new needle though, I watched them unwrap it.
In Hanoi, Vietnam they have all these little beer
places called “Bia Hoi’s”, which means fresh beer.
Every day they get fresh kegs and sell beer for around
30 cents a glass. Being fresh, it has no
preservatives and doesn’t give as bad a hangover. Or
so I’m told.
In SW China the showers don’t have nozzles – the water
just comes out of a pipe overhead in one big stream.
In Thailand next to the toilets they have a little
spray hose, like the one you use to wash your dishes
in the kitchen.
In Laos the largest denomination in the currency is
5000 Kip, which is a little more than a dollar. They
think if they don’t print big money, they won’t have
inflation. So all the banks have a zillion people
sitting around counting these huge stacks of money,
and you have to carry around big wads of cash. And
the 5000 Kip note only came out last year.
In Hanoi they have Ho Chi Minh’s body preserved – you
can go see it. Watch the dead guy lay there. But
seriously, it’s very powerful, I felt like he was
still around, still watching over Vietnam, taking care
of them. It was weird. Apparently they send him to
Russia once a year to get touched up.
It seems holocausts have been a pretty popular thing
to do in the world in recent times. Of course
Germany’s 2 million in WWII (forgive me if these
figures are wrong – I think they are close),
Cambodia’s 1.5 million under Pol Pot, the English
killed off or starved around 5 million Irish, China
had at least one, in the millions, and keeps 15-20
million people in jail all the time, the Nepalese
mountain people enslaved the plainspeople at one
point… Chile, Rwanda, Kosovo… the list goes on.
So if you’re ever a dictator, the cool thing to do is
have a holocaust, though I don’t think it’s quite as
hip as it used to be.
Riding around in these third world buses, they have
these super loud horns, and use them CONSTANTLY. Even
if they are just passing some lady on a bike who can
certainly hear us coming, they fire up the damned horn
and let her know we’re there.
In Vietnam, you must leave your passport at the hotel
desk overnight because the police come around and
check who is there and track people’s movements
through the country. They’re paranoid.
I went to Khe San in Vietnam one day – they made the
Americans look like giant morons. We had an airstrip
there in a valley with hills all around (I guess
that’s the definition of a valley) that apparently the
Vietnamese would climb and casually shell us all day
and all night. And they call it the “American” war,
not a Civil war or whatever.
I bought a cheap, small pack in Hanoi and shipped a
bunch of stuff home. I am so proud of my little pack
now, I talked about it for days to my traveling
companions at the time and the Bundy’s who were there
as well. It’s so nice. You should see it.
Many younger women in Vietnam wear a mask over their
face when they are out, so they look like bandits,
with hats pulled down low over their eyes as well.
The reason for this you ask? So they don’t get tan.
Being white is considered more attractive.
Also in Vietnam there are almost no cars – the tax on
a car purchase is 100%. Everyone is on a scooter.
In Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, US dollars are used as
much or more as a medium of exchange as are the local
I swam in the Mekong in Laos. It was gross.
It’s not too often I get to use a western toilet – one
I can sit down on. Usually they are just holes in the
Going from Hanoi to Laos, the bus left at 7pm to Vinh,
and arrived at 2am. We had heard they was a bus to
the border at 4am. A little skeptical, on arrival in
Vinh we waited up until 4. No bus. And we were not
where the next bus left from, so we took a bike taxi
to the main market, where we slept until 6 on the
sidewalk. We bought our tickets (at 3 times the
locals’ price. They weren’t buying it when I tried to
convince them I was a local) around 6:30. The bus
left around 7:15am. It dropped us about 5 miles from
the border and we had to catch another ride. We
turned down several minivans because they were too
expensive (My Brazilian friend had lived for 5 months
on $2,000) and started walking. We then flagged down
what passes for a pickup truck in Vietnam, and rode it
for about 10 seconds, the driver changed his mind and
thought we should take a minivan and made us get out.
So we walked along the road some more in the blazing
sun. The minivan guys would drive in front of us,
stop, and wait. When we passed they would go roaring
by and wait again. After they had given up, an old
van came by and stopped for us. Filled to the brim
with Vietnamese, including at least 7 on the roof, we
got it for about half the price of the other minivans,
saving us around $2.50. Big money in SE Asia,
honestly. So we crammed in with these fellows, who
had a heyday pulling our long leg hair, remarking on
our light skin, and laughing at anything remotely
funny we did. Much to their delight I climbed out the
window and joined the guys on the roof, as the scenery
was really beautiful. They were all exceedingly
strong, which was odd. The mystery was solved when we
neared the border and saw men coming down a mountain
trail with refigerators and TVs strapped to their
backs. These guys were smugglers. We had hitched a
ride with a van full of smugglers.
I’m in Chengdu China now, and I leave for Tibet in a
couple days. To be honest I’m getting the itch to
come home. Call me crazy. With everybody saying how
great America is, I’m excited to get back. I’ve
become quite proud of our country since I’ve been
traveling, it kicks ass.
And that’s it from here, look forward to hearing from
Hey everybody- Hope you're all doing well. Sorry I haven't written in so long, I'll try and make up for it in the future. In this letter I'll give an update on the highlights from Delhi to Kathmandu, in another e-mail I'll tell about trekking near Everest and my Island Peak climbing experience. Last I wrote I was in Delhi. We traveled by bus from there towards Nepal to the bordertown of Banbassa, where we spent the evening in the rattiest hotel I've ever been in. Cheap though! $1.50 for a double I think it was. Very few tourists go that way so we were very interesting to the locals. One kid knocked on our door in the evening and would say nothing, only stood there and watched us. He just wanted to see the white guys in a hotel room. We cracked up. It wasn't so funny early the next morning when he was watching us sleep through a crack in the door. Apparently that wasn't entertaining enough so he repeatedly banged on the door to get us to wake up and move around. A flying shoe discouraged him after a few minutes. Crossing into Nepal, we caught a bus to a small village a few miles from a national park we were planning to visit. In a hotel in Agra we had met a Nepalese guy whose family lived in a village near the park. He had written them a letter and we were to deliver it for him. We began walking toward the village and befriended some kids on their way home from school. One happened to be going to our village so he led us through numerous rice paddies and villages to his village. Along the way we gradually gathered an entourage of more and more children, eventually totalling around 50 excited kids. Our guide led us and our entourage to the house he assumed we wanted to go to, and lo and behold - two more white people! Of course the white people want to go see the other white people, right? They turned out to be a Danish couple teaching English in the local school for a month, and they were very happy to see us. We were invited to join them for supper by their very excited Nepalese host, Madan. He and his family were apparently pretty cool in the village, having FOUR white people at their place. We had a meal of rice and vegetables, camped on their front porch, and rose the next morning to a breakfast of rice and veggies again. Apparently that's all the Dane's had for their entire month, rice and veggies, three meals a day. Madan was a teacher at the school and thought it would be really excellent if we taught a couple classes about America, and of course we obliged. After causing quite a commotion at the school we eventually taught 2 classes, an eighth and a ninth grade one. It was fun, the second class went much more smoothly as we got a routine down. Afterwards we hitched a ride from a passing car to the park. On arrival at our lodge, we were going to go on a quick couple hour safari. I came out of the room with a red jacket on. Scott yelled across the courtyard "Red bad color in jungle!" He was repeating what the guide told him, apparently red will also "make rhino many angry." Not a good animal to have angry with you. Apparently tigers look red from a distance and they eat rhino babies, so rhinos go after them when they can. I changed my jacket and wasn't attacked by a rhino. Speaking of, a couple German girls were staying at the lodge also and had a close call. The guide suddenly disappeared from in front of the one girl, and peeking through some grass, not more than 3 feet away she saw a huge black rhino. She quickly put the hood of her sweatshirt up (?) and dove into a nearby clump of grass. The rhino didn't see her, and she eventually found her guide, up a tree. The next couple days we went on safaris and saw 2 rhinos, an elephant, and lots of deer and monkeys. Also lots of tiger excrement but no tiger. We took an overnight bus to Kathmandu, where we set about getting our Island Peak climb/expedition together, which turned out to be a major hassle. At one point we had 4 porters, a cook and a guide going with us. After several days we ended up hiring only one Sherpa climbing guide. To continue my study of naming conventions around the world, his name was Mingmar. That means "Thursday" in Sherpani, the day he was born. And those are the highlights from Delhi to Kathmandu. Island Peak stories are coming up. I look very forward to hearing what's going on with you all back in the states, please don't hesitate to write. Talk to you soon- Tom
Here’s my latest. The random interesting stuff format
of the last mail was more interesting, at least for me
to write, so I’ll stick with that again. I’m in
Turkey now, on a beach by the Mediteranean. I believe
the last letter I was in either Laos or China. For a
quick recap of my path since then, I went into China,
the Yunnan province in the southwest, travelled for
about a week north to Chengdu, caught a plane into
Tibet, took a 4-wheel drive essentially overland from
Lhasa to Kathmandu with a stop at the Tibetan Everest
base camp, took it easy in Kathmandu for a week or so,
then took a bus to a national park for an elephant
safari, then by bus to Varanasi, India, flew to
Bombay, then to Nairobi, went on a couple longer
safaris and climbed Kilimanjaro, then to Cairo for a
one-day layover, saw the pyramids, and on to Istanbul
to meet up with my sister. And here I am on a Turkish
So some random thoughts and observations from that
On one safari in Tanzania we saw a buffalo that seemed
to have been very recently killed by about five lions.
They were busy chewing on the rear of the buffalo,
about three lions at a time, with bloody faces and
front legs, sometimes crawling on it and playing with
it. To our horror and amazement the buffalo raised
its head and and looked back at the lions, startling
one and causing it to quickly leap backwards. The
buffalo was still alive. And they were eating it. It
lay back down, and a few minutes later raised its head
On my second visit into India I went to Varanasi, a
holy city on the Ganges river. Many old Indians go
there to die and be burned outside and have their
ashes put in the Ganges, hoping to stop the cycle of
reincarnation. Only trouble is it is very difficult
to fully burn a human body completely. Which parts
remain unburnt after 3 or four hours in a fire you
ask? On the women it’s the pelvis, on the men it’s
the chest. They throw these chunks in the river,
where not more than 150 feet downstream people are
swimming, bathing, etc. I watched these bodies being
burned and ashes and chunks being thrown in the river
in 115 degree heat. Northern India in June is best
avoided. I took six showers one day trying to keep
cool. I suppose I could have just jumped in the
One of my favorite activities in Kathmandu was renting
a motorcycle and riding around the city and the
Kathmandu valley. It is very challenging riding,
reminiscent of playing a video game. Pass the truck,
avoid the fruit cart, around the rickshaw, play
chicken with the cow walking at you down the middle of
the road, etc.
One day I was trying to get a pocket sewn on the
inside of my pants for my valuables (I heard it was
almost a certainty to get mugged in Nairobi) and I met
a kid with a zillion warts on his hands and arms. I
took him to several clinics and hospitals trying to
get someone to remove the warts. Nobody would. I met
he and his brother the next day. We went to a zoo,
tried some more clinics, and never got the warts
removed, though we did make an appointment for the boy
if the medicine they gave us did not work. But the
zoo was fun, and not near as bad as I thought third
world zoos were supposed to be.
On that safari in Africa I saw an amazing variety of
animals. A dream of mine has always been to go to the
Serengeti and see a plain full of animals as far as I
could see, and this I did. Zebras, Giraffes,
Elephants, Wildebeasts, gazelles, buffalo, warthogs,
jackals, hyens, baboons, hippos, lions – you name it,
we saw it. Really fantastic. We did, however, miss
cheetahs, leopards, and rhinos.
I climbed Kilimanjaro. A far more enjoyable summit
day experience than Island peak, without a doubt. It
was still quite difficult, but not near as scary. The
difficulties were a flashlight that periodically went
out with the possibility of not coming back on and my
guide not even having a flashlight. The fact that we
left at 12 am on the summit day made this a bad thing.
It was also very cold, and I didn’t have enough
clothing, plus a pair of boots 2 sizes too big. It
took us four days hiking to get to the top. The
mountain viewed from the savannah is spectacular,
rising gigantically up off the plain, stretching for
miles and miles across much of the horizon and
climaxing in a giant snow-capped peak. An incredible
I had a few days in Bombay, and my past impression was
that it is a smelly, dirty, crowded place. I wanted
to give it a chance. I spent a day driving around in
rickshaws and taxis trying to find the nice parts of
town. I knew there are plenty of rich Indians, I
thought maybe I could find some really nice section of
the city, or a nice beach or something. Not possible.
I searched all day, found the “famed” Juhu beach, saw
where the famous moviestars and rich people allegedly
lived, and it was still not nice. Maybe nicer, but
not much nicer. Disappointing.
On weather, since it is summer and hot in America in
July and August, I assumed it was like that around the
world, in the northern hemisphere. It’s not though,
those are the rainy months in many countries, and
Nairobi was quite cool in actuality.
Language lesson: In Nepalese kitty=girl. In Swahili
missouri=good. In turkish three=ooch. Humorous for
me, maybe you had to be there.
Got a shave and a haircut in Kathmandu. Got a shave
on a sidewalk in that horribly hot town in India for 5
rupees or 10 cents. The guy threw in a massage
despite my protests. When I found myself lying on my
stomach with this guy starting on my butt, I had had
enough. He wanted 40 rupees for his services though
all I had asked for was the shave. He only got 5
The above was all written in Turkey, now I am in
Germany. I met up with my sis in Istanbul and we had
a great couple of weeks roaming around Turkey.
Highlights were the ancient city of Ephesus where St.
Paul preached, a 3-day sail in the Mediterranean with
a bunch of crazy Aussies and Canadians, and
paragliding. Paragliding means you drive up a
mountain with a parachute, strap it on, and run down a
short slope and hope the thing catches before the
slope steepens significantly. We each had a guide who
flew the things for us.
I went overland from Istanbul through Bulgaria,
Romania, and Hungary, stopping for a half day or so in
Bucharest and Budapest. I managed to get really
really ripped off in Bucharest. I’m too embarassed to
say how badly. I was in a pretty bad mental state at
the time having been up for days with only spotty bits
of sleep on trains and buses. I don’t mix well in
eastern European countries, I got ripped off in Prague
one time too.
I went to my great-grandmother’s hometown in Austria,
Fürstenfeld, which is near Graz. It was really fun, a
small town of about 6,000 people. In most of the
countries I traveled to the people could instantly
tell I was a foreigner and spoke English. Not the
case in Austria. It never fails to crack me up when
someone makes incoherent sounds at me and then I give
them a totally moronic, blank stare and they think I
am a total idiot. And then I say either “I’m sorry, I
only speak English” or “Sprechen zie Anglish?” And
they laugh or look exasperated and then we try and
communicate. Anyways, in the big cities I am the only
one who is amused, they are used to it (or sick of
it). In this small town of Fürstenfeld it was new and
fun for them to have a foreigner. Didn’t meet any
relatives that I was aware of, but it was really nice
to see my roots.
From here I go to Zurich, maybe Mt. Blanc, London,
maybe Iceland, maybe Ireland, and then home.
And I suppose that is all for now, this is most likely
my last e-mail as I will be home soon. Soon meaning
maybe in a couple weeks but probably around the end of
July or early August. Can’t wait!
Talk\see you all soon!
> Howdy all-
> The last mass traveling e-mail from me. Whew! I’m
> now actually settled in Chicago, with an apartment and
> everything. My number’s . Here’s a quick
> recap of my last couple of months.
> The last e-mail was from Regensburg, Germany. After
> some fun and going 120 on the autobahn and a weekend
> visit to my Aunt and Uncle’s in Switzerland, I took a
> train to visit Dave Dahl in Amsterdam for a
> few days. Then I took the train under the English
> channel into England and saw a friend in and
> Jarid in (no, he’s not the sheriff). From
> there I met up with Spencer in for a week, and
> then, got to London Gatwick with a half hour to spare
> and made it on the plane back here. I met up with my
> folks on their boat in northern lake Huron/Ontario
> and helped my father sail it back to Detroit. From
> there I was officially back in the states and you
> don’t need to be bored with those details. Only a few
> noteworthy events in that time.
> I was wandering around early in the morning.
> Somebody hit me really, really hard from behind with a
> bat on the side of my face. I didn’t fall down
> unconscious, so the guy ran away. He broke a tooth,
> gave me a concussion, and a giant cut under my eye. I
> assume he was a mugger. I kept wandering around until
> a nice security guard lady called an ambulance for me
> – the cut under my left eye needed some serious
> attention. A plastic surgeon eventually sewed me up
> at the hospital and handily enough, my friend Spencer
> is a doctor and he took out all 7 stitches after a few
> days. You can still see the pretty scar, it’s not
> going away anytime soon.
> Got to drive on the autobahn – there really is no
> speed limit in a lot of places, but it isn’t like
> freeways in the US – every so often you have to slow
> down and go through a town or a roundabout or
> In Amsterdam they have flies painted on the inside of
> the urinals.
> is the only member of Robin Hood’s crew
> whose existence can be proven. In Nottingham one of
> the main streets is called “Maid Marion Way.” (That
> was Robin Hood’s girl)
> Back in the states. The best hamburgers in the world.
> Nobody elses’ even come close.
> In we managed to ride 7 different modes of
> public transportation in 2 days. That includes a
> boat, a bus, a tram, a fenicular, a gondola, a cog
> railway, and something else.
> Answers to FAQ’s:
> 1. What was your favorite place? Why?
> . Really cool stuff to do (safari, trekking in
> Himalayas, climb tallest mountains in world, rafting,
> etc.), very cheap, super friendly and fun locals(they
> laugh at my dumb jokes), pretty rough around the edges
> but still semi-safe food (well, let’s say safe
> relative to India or Tibet) and safe, like you
> probably won’t get clubbed by some random dude from
> 2. Where would you go back?
> India, Nepal, and Africa.
> 3. What did you learn, how are you different?
> I believe there is an inverse relationship between how
> poor the people are and how happy they are, in a
> country by country basis. The poorer the happier I
> found. I felt the countries that were sort of doing
> well (Kenya, Vietnam, Thailand, China) had a hidden
> streak of bitterness and frustration. the poor
> countries were resigned to their fate and enjoyed
> We spend so much money here – there really are tons
> and tons of super-poor people in the world. I had to
> literally step over people (lots of them) on the
> sidewalks in Bombay one night on the way back to my
> I depended a ton on God during the trip and He always
> came through for me – I want to continue that in my
> regular life.
> And there’s lots more I’ll tell you some other time.
> 4. How much $ did you spend?
> About twice what I planned.
> I’m taking over Dave’s lease in Chicago, address is
> . Phone:
> 773-472-4932. The jury is still out on this whole big
> city thing. I’ve been here a few days so far.
> Looking forward to talking with you or seeing you or