Tag Archives: travel

The final word (for now) on dating in Buenos Aires

GAY&LESBIAN Jeremy-page-001My four-and-half-year stint in Buenos Aires has finally come full circle more than four years later…I think.

Maybe it’s half circle, for I’m back where I started a few years after my arrival in BA…but not quite. For a time while I was living there I wrote the Gay & Lesbian section in Time Out Buenos Aires’s quarterly magazine, which was called Visitors at the time. Now, some six years later, I’m its main feature, the front page story…of the Gay & Lesbian section, not the Time Out Buenos Aires magazine.

Fun fact: Some of my editorial touches, remain, like this one, under “INFORMATION AND SAFETY“:

“A word from the wise to the horny: male prostitutes (taxi boys, as they’re known in BA) continue to be an unavoidable – and illegal – fact of the city’s nightlife. So if you’re not leaving alone, choose your post-club escort carefully. Now get out and have fun!”

Mine, all mine.

The Q&A to the left represents a major accomplishment for me. It’s more than a very nice plug for my book Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World. It’s also a sort of coming home. Now if only I could get Time Out Melbourne and Time Out Bangkok on board, it would be the perfect threesome!

Click here to check out the full interview.

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Filed under Buenos Aires, Travel

Rules of Travel (Why I Love Sleeping Single in a Double Bed in a 5-Star Hotel)

My bedroom at the Pullman Bali Legian Nirwana in Bali

My bedroom at the Melia Dubai in Dubai

The view of Bangkok from my bedroom balcony in Lebua at State Tower

When you’re right you’re right, and I can’t remember the last time anyone was this right. A friend sent me an email this morning in which she laid out her key travel preferences, namely accommodations and the company she likes to keep. I nodded the entire time I was reading it, delighted that our taste in travel are in as near-perfect alignment as our taste in movies. It was almost as if she’d been reading my mind. I easily could have written the same thing and called it a blog post. Her point of view was so me:

“When I travel, I’d rather spend money on lodging than food. For example, if I had $200, $190 would go to a hotel and ten bucks for dinner at the grocery store.

“Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for finding the best pizza in town, or the best ice cream in town, or the best whatever. And when I’m home, I do sometimes drop a couple of hundred on a nice meal a few times a year.

“I also don’t like traveling with people because I always wind up having to wait for them. I’m always the first one up, and they inevitably lose something.”

Ain’t that the truth. Where I stay (and with whom I stay there) and whether it has perfectly functioning Wi-Fi and a spotless bathroom has been able to make or break any city/holiday since I was old enough to know and afford better. When I used to travel to Europe on a pauper’s budget in my 20s, I stayed in a series of dumps but loved most of the cities anyway. I was fine with staying in nice hotels only when I was traveling for work, and Time Inc. paid the bill. But after I treated myself to a 5-star experience at St. Martin’s Lane in London shortly after turning 30, this beggar started to become a lot choosier.

I wonder if I would have loved Dubai as much as I did had I not had a 5-star base there, and I can only imagine how much more I might have appreciated Phnom Penh, Cambodia (which I enjoyed immensely as it was), if I hadn’t had to go to sleep there in a windowless room with terrible Wi-Fi. Perhaps I wouldn’t have despised Koh Samet in Thailand as much as I did had I upgraded from that mosquito-infested dump on the beach. To this day, I credit LoiSuites Recoleta, where I stayed during my first three trips to Buenos Aires, with setting the scene for the blooming of that particular love affair.

In all my years of travel, I can remember nearly all of the hotels in which I’ve stayed — from the airless hovels to the palatial suites — but I recall few of the restaurants in which I’ve had meals and especially what I ordered in them.

I credit this in part to the fact that I’ve never been much of a foodie. Even with a city that has as many fantastic food options as Melbourne, the edible things I miss most about it are the raspberry and white chocolate cookies at Woolworths and the raspberry and white chocolate muffins at 7-11. (Clearly I have a strong weakness for raspberries and white chocolate down under!)

Whenever I used to splurge on expensive dinners at places like The Place in New York City, I did it more for the company than anything on the menu. Yes, people are more memorable to me than meals, and I’ll less likely recall what I ate than with whom I was talking (or not talking) while I ate it. I recently had two amazing dinners with my best friend Lori and her husband John at two off-the-beaten path restaurants in the rolling hills in Tuscany, but I’m convinced that I would have had an equally memorable time back at the hotel with a cheap bottle of wine and a take-out meal for under 10 euros.

I don’t believe I’ve ever asked for a restaurant recommendation in my life, and I’ve certainly never paid attention to an unsolicited one, but I’m always interested to hear about where people stayed. Food pictures on Facebook inspire me to keep scrolling down, while I can spend hours looking at photos of the interior design of five-star hotel suites in luxury-travel magazines.

My predilection for traveling solo has less to do with my loner, semi-reclusive tendencies than the difficulty in finding friends with a comparable travel ethic. When I’m in a new city, mindlessly running around town, crossing things off my to-see list, is hardly my idea of a good time. Sure there are always must-sees in certain cities, but in general, I like to allow a new place to unfold as I casually and aimlessly wander its streets. Some of my favorite moments — the magic ones — of my recent stint in Rome arrived when I was wandering around, often lost, with no particular place to go.

Lori and my friend Dave are two of the few people who share my vacation view, and I travel with either of them perfectly. (Incidentally, along with my brother Alexi, they’re the only two people I can think of whose homes I’d choose over a hotel.) As for tripping with boyfriends, they say it’s the best way to kill a relationship. I’ve never murdered one of mine on the road, but with one exception (and if he’s reading this, he’ll know who he is), I can’t say that I’ve ever felt compatible with a boyfriend on holiday. I approach love on the road in pretty much the same way that I approach love at home: You do your thing on your side, while I do my thing on mine. When our desires converge, we can meet in the middle.

Incidentally, that also applies to what happens in bed — on and off the road. But at the end of the day (on and off the road, but especially on), when I lay me down to sleep, and my head hits those two fluffy white pillows stacked one on top of the other on a queen-size bed with the AC at full blast, I prefer to be on the right side, on my right side, with an empty space beside me. Good night.

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Filed under Australia, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, hotels, Melbourne, New York City, Travel

You Want MY Life? But You Can Do So Much Better!

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” — Henry David Thoreau

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” — Anonymous

In other words, you never really know. Just because you think your friends and neighbors are living it up in the penthouse on the top floor doesn’t mean they don’t feel as if they’re way down in the depths below, digging in the dirt, up up up to rock bottom.

Frankly, I’ve always despised the latter quote. It’s such a pile of hackneyed drivel, a hopeless (and for anyone with a quarter of a brain, useless) cliché. “The grass is always greener…”  People, often my friends in the UK, used to always say that to me back in the mid to late ’90s when I was obsessed with trading New York City in for London.

I knew it was their way of saying they’d exchange home bases with me in a second (or that any exciting, exotic city on earth is merely home to the people who live there), but to me, the way they said it, the curt shortening of the cliché, carried the unmistakable whiff of dismissal and condescension. It was like they were saying that my desire was inconsequential. It didn’t matter what I wanted because someone else (them?) wanted what I already had.

Well, it mattered to me. So what if people on the other side might have looked at my lush, fertilized lawn and thought they would have preferred to have been stretched out on it, and I looked at theirs and thought the same thing? That didn’t invalidate our shared desire to jump over the fence from opposite sides. It certainly deserved to be acknowledged with more than a passing cliché.

One shouldn’t give up dreams and aspirations just because what one already has is good enough for someone else — which is what the dumb cliché seems to be trying to sell us. Here’s some far more constructive guidance: Never lose perspective of what is already right in front of you. Try to take that trip to the other side, but always remember, once you’re there, life still won’t be perfect. It never is.

That’s what I’ve wanted to tell a few people recently when I’ve mentioned my upcoming travel plans (Dubai on July 10, Berlin on July 15), and they’ve said, “I want your life.” I’m glad my travel itinerary sounds exciting, but I’m not sure why anyone would want to walk in my uncomfortable shoes. For one thing, my feet are so big and bunion-ridden that they wouldn’t fit most people. But more than that, despite what other people might perceive as endless travel and excitement, my life is no more extraordinary than anyone else’s.

We aren’t where we are, but what’s inside. Just because I’m in Bangkok or Dubai or Berlin doesn’t mean that life magically becomes a no-problems zone. If you get on an airplane with a cloud over your head, it travels with you to your next destination. There’s no outrunning it. Travel can give you a new perspective, and it’s sometimes better to be miserable in a different setting, but the mental benefits of temporary relocation are mostly ephemeral.

If you stay long enough, more than a few days, routine begins to set in. If not, you’re just looking at more packed suitcases and another empty room that you’re about to leave, packing and unpacking, driving to and from the airport, going through security at the airport, waiting in the airport, waiting on the runway, taking off and landing. Not that I’d dream of knocking frequent travel (some people are so well suited for it that what I see as downsides hardly register), but on the list of things in life that give me the most pleasure, it has a lot of competition, which, I suppose, is another thing to be thankful for. A lot of people only have food and sex.

When I start compiling my list of biggest thrills, travel never comes out on top. That honor would go to writing. Nothing in my life lifts me up, pulls me out of my sadness, turns a frown into a smile, quite like writing does. It’s my lifeline, the reason I jump out of bed in the morning, full of energy and fire. Sometimes love takes its place — and then I want to write even more. Most people probably see writing as a means to the wrong end — making a living, not emotional rescue. What emotional rescue could I possibly require? I get to spend so much time in Bangkok!

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” — from the traditional spiritual

Those people who think they want my life don’t even know the half of it. All they know is what I tell them, or what I share on Facebook, or what I write in this blog — if they even bother to read more than the titles of my daily rants as I post them on Facebook. Nobody knows whatever other trials I may or may not be going through — whether they’re love-related, family related, health-related or something else — because as much as I admire the ability of people like Fiona Apple to put it all out there, be naked to the world, I’m not particularly comfortable with public emotional nudity.

Hell, I imagine that if I were to get an unfortunate medical diagnosis, I’d be like one of those stoic characters in soap operas who keeps it all inside and suffers in silence. It wouldn’t be so much because I’d want to spare anyone the pain of worrying about me (the conventional soap thinking), but because I couldn’t bear the sorrowful looks and the rote though well-meaning words of comfort. They might be okay when I’m suffering from a cold, but with serious illness, I’d probably need something more substantial than “Get well soon” and “Feel better.”

Don’t worry. As far as I know, I’m in tip-top shape. My point is this: The tricky thing about other people’s lives is that they’re never as great as they seem in photos, in emails, in Facebook status updates, or in your imagination. And even if they are, so what? Once when I was comparing my life to the lives of rich celebrities in the same age group, my best friend told me to just live my own life and stop worrying about the lives of people I don’t even know.

That can still be so hard to do. When I’m depressed or down in those aforementioned depths, it’s easy for me to feel like everyone else couldn’t be happier. The world keeps turning, and life begins to feel like a party I wasn’t invited to. I’m thankful that it’s never a prolonged state — I think that might be what is known as clinical depression — but it’s one that I fall into as regularly as anyone else does.

When I’m in despair’s tight death grip, I imagine that everybody else is doing fine. But somebody once told me that after a break up, when you’re at your lowest point, wondering if the other person is suffering, too, always remember, if you’re thinking about them, chances are they’re thinking about you, too. I’m not so sure that’s true, but I’m pretty sure that in love and in life, none of us suffer alone.

I know what it sounds like, and no, I’m not suffering — a lot. But I will admit to being a little lost. Recently, someone, after hearing about my last two and a half years of wandering, asked me what I’m running from. The truth is, I’m not running from anything. I’m running to something — more accurately, searching for something. I just haven’t figured out what that something is yet.

“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” — U2

No, it’s not the most dire strait one can find oneself in. And I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to spend so many years toiling in New York City so that I could be lost in some really cool places. I realize that I have it better than so many people, so my point here is not to complain, “Woe is me,” because at the end of the day, I know that woe barely knows me.

I’m just saying that no matter what they read on Facebook — and don’t believe everything you read on Facebook! —  nobody should want my life, especially when theirs is probably equally fulfilling, only different. There is more than one side to any story worth reading, and just because one flaunts the glamor shot on the cover doesn’t mean there isn’t disappointment and heartache all over the tear-stained pages within.

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Filed under Bangkok, Entertainment, Music, New York City

I Travel: Why I’m in Bangkok Again (Again!)

My new (old) view from the sixth floor in my Bangkok home away from home (wherever that might be)

“Travel round
I travel round
Decadence and pleasure towns
Tragedies, luxuries, statues, parks and galleries”
— from “I Travel,” Simple Minds

This morning I had a brand-new epiphany (actually, several of them), some unexpected insight into what has been a primary motivating force in my life over the course of the last nearly two and a half years. It’s been driving me around the world in trains and boats and (mostly) planes since I left Melbourne in July of 2011 for what was supposed to have been a one-month holiday in Bangkok and Southeast Asia and turned into a six-month continent-hopping adventure. My co-pilot: the thrill of new.

The epiphany came while I was jogging around Bangkok at 6am, less than 12 hours after my arrival back in town after five and a half months in Melbourne and Buenos Aires. I was huffing and puffing hoping all that oral exertion wouldn’t blow whatever fuse was keeping me going on only four hours of sleep after the nine-hour flight from Melbourne to Bangkok.

My old running partner Sylvie and I were darting from topic to topic, and around the 5K point, we landed on unfaithful lovers, more specifically, her ex-husband. He’s a Taurus like me, given to certain traits normally associated with that star sign. We agreed on loyalty. Despite his penchant for infidelity, Sylvie said that he was a loyal in every other way. Me, too.

“It figures,” I said. “We’re like that. Loyal to the end. As for the cheating,” I continued, “we’re like that, too. Not Taureans, men. It’s not an astrological condition but rather a gender one.”

That’s when it hit me: Although I’ve never had a spouse to cheat on, in a way, I am driven by the same impulse that I suppose drive many people who cheat, the thrill of the new and the pursuit of momentary happiness through it. (See Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz for the perfect cinematic representation of how it works.)

It’s the way I am with cities. I love the way I feel the first few days I arrive in one, even one I’ve been to many times before. On a first trip, or on a return trip, a town feels the way a new shirt smells — clean, fresh, blank. The possibilities are endless.

Right now I feel that way about Bangkok — again. Although I’ve spent some 16 months here over the course of the last two years, and very little about it has changed (unlike the prices at the 7-11s in Melbourne, where a cranberry/white chocolate muffin has gone from $2.50 in January to $2.80 now, those at the 7-11s in Bangkok haven’t budged in two years), it feels like the first time (again), almost like I’ve never been here before.

Five and half months away was just enough time for me to recover that feeling of newness. I’m staying in the same place I’ve been calling my home in Bangkok since halfway through my first trip here in 2011, in an apartment on the very same line as my previous one, only four stories lower. Despite the similar view (see the photo above), everything still feels so new.

I know it won’t last, and my eyes will wander yet again. As I ran around the jogging track, I realized that after going through the same experience with Melbourne and with Buenos Aires this year, I’m desperate to make this feeling of newness last longer with Bangkok, to fend off the wanderlust for as long as possible. This, I figured, might be how unfaithful spouses feel when, once they’ve sown their wild oats on various other farms, they return to the barn they call home, contrite and prepared to make amends with the one they temporarily neglected, who suddenly seems like a brand-new conquest. After traveling outside of the marriage for romantic gratification, what had previously felt old and routine suddenly feels new and exciting again.

But would it last? I knew in my case, it wouldn’t, and I knew it from the moment I told Sylvie how good it was to be back in Bangkok and she asked a two-part question: “Does it feel the same? Isn’t it funny how it immediately feels like the same routine as before?”

Only it didn’t. Not yet. But I knew that eventually, it would. I had known it when I felt the same way after returning to Melbourne in January and after finding my way back to Buenos Aires in April. Though I’d previously spent significant time in both places, I’d been away long enough (10 months in the case of Melbourne, two years with Buenos Aires) to recapture that rush of newness and rediscovery when I returned. It hadn’t lasted then, and I knew it wouldn’t now.

That’s when I realized that my latest travel plan — 12 cities/countries for one month apiece over the next year — wasn’t just a possible theme for my next book. It was a sign of my addiction: I’m a junkie for the thrill of the new, constantly chasing that high that arrives only upon your arrival in a new place or a place you haven’t visited in a while. It’s like living a life with multiple rebirths.

The great thing about revisiting old loves (as I’ve been done four times now in 2013, once with a human one) is that you can skip that awkward getting-to-know-them phase. But it’s also the bad part of retracing your footsteps. I secretly love that awkward getting-to-know-them phase, in travel and in romance. I’ll get to experience it in Berlin for the first time since I went to Bali for the first time in December. (What is it with me and B places?!) Although I’ve been to Berlin, it’s been 18 years. They say (well, Sade did) that it’s never as good as the first time, but it will feel just like it.

This obsession with rebirth through travel has been a recurring addiction over the course of my lifetime. I believe that all frequent travelers have it to certain degree. It’s the reason why many of us go on holiday in the first place. But it’s dominated my life and thoughts for two years now, and at the moment, I see no end in sight.

But I’m open to one. They say the first step in kicking an addiction is admitting you have one. Done.

My particular addiction isn’t life-threatening, though, so there is no pressing need for me to kick it. (It’s also not as expensive as one might think, if you know what you’re doing.) However, I’m not sure I want it to be a primary motivating force in my life for much longer. I’d be happy with once again being happy with going on holiday a few times a year. I know those sort of happy days will be here again.

“Who knows?” I told Sylvie. Maybe this adventure won’t last a year. Maybe I’ll end up in Cape Town, or some other city, and I won’t want to leave.” There is, after all, a first time for everything, and it wouldn’t even be mine.

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Alone Again, Naturally, in Krabi, Thailand

One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.

It takes two to make a thing go right.

Yeah yeah, I’ve heard it all before in song. But consider this twist on the fear of being alone: Sometimes it’s better to travel solo.

I’ve been doing it more often than not for 20 years, and my treks for one have resulted in some of the best experiences of my life. I have a handful of friends with whom I travel well, but you know what they say about going on trips with boyfriends. Do so at your own risk!

I’ve been lucky so far. I’ve had nothing but a good time on the road with my previous boyfriends. That said, it’s been several years since I’ve taken that particular plunge. And how does one negotiate the awkwardness of traveling with a guy you’ve known for about two months, someone who isn’t quite a friend, not yet a boyfriend?

That’s what I was wondering two nights ago while sitting in a pub in Bangkok across from the guy who’d invited me nine days earlier on a four-day long-weekend getaway to Krabi, on Thailand’s southwest coast. From the moment I accepted his unexpected invitation, my feelings were as mixed as the signals he’d been sending me for weeks.

My excitement was tempered with a fair amount of trepidation, which is why I consulted with several friends to get their take on the situation (they all approved), though in my heart, I sort of suspected that this getaway for two would never happen. I figured he’d rescind his invitation, and I’d be secretly relieved. After all, could a loner like me handle a weekend in tiny close quarters with this hot and cold guy who had such a huge chip dangling from his shoulder?

Three nights before take off, he sent me a text message suggesting that we “not rush into things,” that we look at the holiday as a “chance to unwind, get to know each other better, see what develops.” (See the 12th warning sign in the previous post, which was mostly inspired by you know who.) My gut told me that a cold front had moved in, and he wanted out. He insisted he didn’t, and after some back and forth over the phone, he apologized for overthinking things. He shouldn’t have said anything (his official assessment, not mine, though I agreed).

The next morning, he sent another text message apologizing for “sounding like a dick” the night before. I accepted his apology, though I wondered if he might have been onto something. Later on, he invited me to have after-work drinks that evening, and as I got ready to meet him, I felt like I was preparing for an audition, a moment of truth. Both of us would be trying out for the role of potential travel partner. I wondered what had possessed him to invite me on this trip in the first place. And why, pray tell, had I accepted? I barely knew the guy, and I was beginning to wonder if I wanted to.

As I sat across the table from him while he fiddled with his smart phone, I pretended to be too busy looking at some interesting scene unfolding outside to care that he was being unbelievably rude. I knew that the audition wasn’t going well for either one of us. I started having flashforwards of myself sweating in a bungalow without AC, swatting away mosquitoes and trying to hatch an escape plan as he tap tap tapped on that damn smart phone. My own hotel room (AC included)? The next flight back to Bangkok? I knew a preemptive strike was in order. When he finally put down the phone, I announced that he’d be traveling to Krabi solo.

And so would I. Why should I give up my trip to a place I’d never been just because I knew it would be a terrible idea to go with him? Sitting on the hour-long AirAsia flight to Krabi in the rear of the aircraft with my former would-be travel partner, who hadn’t taken my near-game time decision well (he’d unfriended and blocked me on Facebook within an hour!), somewhere in front of me, I wondered if I’d made the right decision to go, after all. When I landed in Krabi and got into the taxi, I knew I had. Cab rides from airports to hotels are typically flat, drab affairs, but cruising along with high-rise rock formations rising up on both sides of the road, I felt like I was traveling through a post card. How did it take me so long to get here?

“Dear Mr. Helligar & Partner,” began the welcome letter in my suite at Vogue Resort & Spa. I wondered if the proprietors had been spying on me over the course of the last few days and now were taunting me for my hasty last-minute change of plans. Then a text message arrived from my friend Samuel. He was in Krabi. He wanted to surprise me, so at the last minute he and his house guest booked a 12-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Krabi. About a half hour after I received his text, they were in my lobby.

Normally I’m not crazy about surprise visitors, but this one thrilled me. I was happy for the company and the glimpse they gave me over lunch of what might have been. Watching Samuel struggle to communicate with his Thai friend, observing his growing frustration as the guy he’d been spending the past week with paid more attention to his smart phone than anything or anyone else, I knew that despite that awkward “Dear Mr. Helligar & Partner” greeting underneath the Vogue letterhead, I’d made the right decision.

I’m looking forward to hanging out with Samuel in Krabi, but I’m also eagerly anticipating the time I’ll spend alone. For a recovering introvert like me, quality time with a friend is always best when it ends with a quick “goodbye,” and me alone, again, naturally.

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