You are what you is.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Review: Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures

Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures

As a travel writer, I've dabbled here and there in what might be called adventure travel. Still, for the last several years the majority of my trips - mostly guidebook gigs for Lonely Planet - have had precious little in the way of elements that might prove fatal. 

Oh, I've been stung by scorpions in Belize, leapt over poisonous snakes in Taiwan, faced drowning on shoddy watercraft in Malaysia, flown on (and once, jumped from) tiny airplanes. 

But for the most part I haven't had weeks-long adventures in the wild, the stuff of legend often resulting in glory, and sometimes in the adventurer being found years later in a cave, having spent their last hours gnawing sherpa jerky, final doomed entries scrawled into the battered leather-bound journal that will eventually be found alongside their corpse by some future (hopefully more fortunate) adventurer.

No, I'm not that sort of adventurer. I like comfort too much, and sherpa meat is bad for my gout.

Leigh McAdam, on the other hand, is that sort of adventurer.  She's lived her life in the spirit of Earnest Shackleton and Amelia Earhart, and I should know, having followed her adventures on Hike Bike Travel  from the comfort of hotels, hostels and less transitory homes for years.

Leigh writes about doing the sort of stuff that I wish I did, and probably would do if only they were a bit easier.  She snowshoes in Alberta in -20 Celsius temperatures, goes cross-country skiing in Quebec and kayaks in the icy waters between Newfoundland and Labrador.  And that's just for starters.

(To be fair to myself, I did that last thing in 2001. But it was summer, and I wound up seasick and barfing on a baby seal.)

Leigh not only does all this stuff, but she writes about her adventures beautifully and takes amazing pictures along the way. So naturally, my expectations were high when she sent me an advanced copy of  DiscoverCanada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures.

Also, I was a little jealous. And since this my blog (and my readers expect no less), allow me to digress:

It all started around 1990…

I was getting my BA degree in Brockport, New York, clocking crazy bicycle miles daily through the dull and flat terrain of western New York State. I was dreaming of traveling someplace else, someplace with hills, ocean and nautical cuisine.

(I was sick of chicken wings.)

At some point I found a book at a yard sale, a 1978 publication by Mandy Joslin called How do you bicycle across Canada? Slowly, very Slowly.  An avid cyclist since the 13, Joslin's book gave me focus for the adventurer I wanted to be. 

I was most interested in the final stage of Joslin's journey, which took her across Newfoundland. I vowed to repeat the Newfoundland part of her adventure, and headed out with a fully loaded GT mountain bike that June, intending to make it to Newfoundland by July.

I only got as far as Prince Edward Island (a lovely place, but hardly a substitute) before my money ran out. I hopped a train to Montreal, where my friend Lewis picked me up and brought me home. 

Though I didn't make it to Newfoundland (I did eventually, but that's another story), that trip marked the start of my life as an international traveler. Since then I've circled the globe a few times, become intimate with several exotic lands, written hundreds of travel articles, authored two books of short stories and authored or co-authored thirteen travel guides for Lonely Planet (not to mention hundreds of travel articles from strange and interesting spots around the globe).  

So much for bona-fides; point being, it was a book called How do you bicycle across Canada? Slowly, very Slowly that put the travel writing bug in me (as well as my penchant for cumbersome titles).

So back to this review, eh?

Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures hits all the notes of great travel writing, being  informative, inspiring and fun. The book is chocked with information from the obvious how much stuff costs to more esoteric - but ultimately more valuable - tidbits like what to do when you run across predatory animals while hiking alone in the Canadian Backwoods.

(At the risk of digression, let's again revisit our juxtaposition of regular travel writer with adventure travel writer, shall we?

A few years back I drove from Boulder to Denver and wrote about interviewing Bobcat Goldthwait. Around the same time, Leigh McAdam  was riding her bicycle halfway across Canada and writing about almost being mauled by an actual Bobcat.

A subtle difference, I know…)  


The information Leigh gives for each of her hundred adventures is so detailed that she could have gotten away with just providing the guidebook-type facts; this alone would have allowed any adventure-minded reader to follow in her footsteps (or tire-tracks, ski-trails or kayak paddles, as the case might be), and Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures would still be well worth buying. 

But Leigh goes deeper, crafting each entry in a way that makes every destination pop to life and seem not merely worth visiting, but worth reading about as well.  And then there are the pictures, which are spectacular enough to make the book excellent coffee table gift book material for that special someone in your life with little or no travel adventure aspiration. 

Of course, the fact that Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures starts in the best of all Canadian provinces only serves to make it a must-own on my list. 






Sunday, November 09, 2014

Contemplation...Portland...an acquired taste...

Had a moment of quiet peace today in between tours, standing in the Potemkin village that is Portland Chinatown, just a stone's throw from the Hung Far Low Chop Suey sign marking the place where no restaurant has been for years. Walking down the block I decided I wanted to a cigarette, and that I'd let myself have one. And why not? In this of all vices I have always proven more than moderate. So I found an older white lady with dreadlocks and a tie-dye, maybe homeless (who can tell?)and gave her a dollar for a Camel. Good deal for her, not a terrible one for me. And I stood on the street and watched the sun getting low behind Big Pink and thought,
Jesus man, I'm home, I really am.
I think I've managed to make this place home, asking no more than a fair return on what I've put in.

台北。。北京。。。昆明。。。阳朔。。。

All those places hit running, expertise gained quickly, books and articles written, pictures taken. (Hell man, don't even get me started on Belize, on Singapore). Years spent, camera hanging heavy around neck, angling for the perfect shot, carving paragraphs to craft perfect summaries.

I don't do that here. Here, my job is to tell Portland's stories verbally. It seems somehow cleaner, less contrived. This gives me the right to say ich bin ein Portlander. There is no next book, no update, no constant rush for the next top ten list.

Ah yes, the rush. Sometimes I find myself missing the rush. It was a two-way street. Lots of ego involved in getting it done right. The spoken word is forgiving, the written word far more demanding.
(And this is why I don't blog much anymore, friends. This character I've created on Snarky Tofu... he's best consumed in constant motion, outrunning his expiration date. You can read more of his adventures -- with illustrations -- here).

But not in motion...another matter entirely. Was Henry Miller happier in Paris or Big Sur?

I am getting overly philosophical here, so let's call it a night. If I have any readers left from the travel days, please be advised that an adventure or two might be on the near horizon, as I'll be heading off to Norway (with a stopover in Iceland) at the end of the month to teach a course in travel writing, to visit the Reykjavik's famed penis museum, and to knock an item (eating Lutefisk) off the bucket list.

It's an acquired taste I'm told. Like me, I guess. And I'm OK with that.

Now go buy my book How Not To Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness from Amazon.






 










Saturday, October 25, 2014

How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness





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What's the road-toasted travel writer to do after leaving the road behind? 

Why not put together a series of insights and observations from Belize to Shangrila, have each illustrated lovingly with a one-panel cartoon and put together a collection of short stories with a memorable yet slightly unwieldy title? 


Announcing How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness by Lonely Planet Author Joshua Samuel Brown, nineteen stories ranging from new journalism and creative non-fiction to surreal dreamscape and exotic hallucination.

"I've often thought that guidebook writing attracts the mad, the bad and the slightly crazed. If he didn't start that way – perhaps a pre-writing career as a bike messenger helped – his years on the road have certainly contributed to Joshua’s off-kilter take on the world." - Tony Wheeler, Lonely Planet Co-founder.


  • My Parents Are Little People, a story of the bizarre lengths a travel writer will go in pursuit of a hotel review;
  • Supper in Uyghurville, a gritty tale of menace, drugs and journalism from Beijing's darkest hutong
  • The Milky Teat of Serendipity, a hallucinatory flight of fancy featuring Singaporean Prime Ministers, Taiwanese presidents and a wandering goat-milk salesgirl; 
  • The Worst Place in the World, strong contender for the 2015's "travel story most likely to garner a cease and desist letter from Ikea" award.



How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness: Nineteen stories, observations, and exotic hallucinations from the increasingly demented mind of Travel Writer Joshua Samuel Brown, with illustrations by David Lee Ingersoll. 

Click here to order Kindle version from Amazon.com.
If you don't have a Kindle, download the free app (just below the book cover).

Print version available in 2015.








Friday, October 24, 2014

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2015

Extremely proud to announce that Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2015 has arrived (literally, on my doorstep yesterday), meaning that it's in bookshops an available online. My contribution to this year's title (which was top secret pending publication) was an essay encouraging people to visit Belize's least-trammeled district, Toledo (AKA the Deep South).

I'm especially proud to have been able to get Toledo included in this year's BIT, as the district is both both deserving and markedly under-visited in the overall Belize travel picture. Jungles, Cayes, Caves, Maya villages & ruins, the sweet seaside town of Punta Gorda, and of course some of the planet's finest Cacao.

And of course, lest we forget, my Belizean home-base Maya Mountain Research Farm, the hemisphere's preeminent permaculture farm and home to winner of 2012's "Composting toilet with the best view" award.

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Like this view, only slightly lower as I never bring my camera into the bathroom.

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2015 can be purchased online here.










Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Drowning in Chicken Fat

For health reasons I've been on a 2.5 day fast, subsisting on nothing but a slow-cooked broth of chicken fat, skin and bone, with a few vegetables thrown in for extra vitamins before being strained out and turned into a product even the cat refuses to eat. Today is the last day.

The dreams began well before dawn on day one, perhaps motivated by fear of fasting. Food and coffee and candy, impossibly technicolor. Like Godzilla vomiting up an all you can eat neon buffet. I expect things will only get weirder. I did a five day fast once upon a time, at a hose and bucket spa in Thailand not too far from where the backpackers exchange date rape drugs under the full moon, but that was a long time ago. I remember that by the third day I'd achieved a certain peace with the process, but the first two were difficult. This time it was easier, though there was a small bit of cheating on my part.

Cheating during fasts is not unheard of. I came across an egregious case of it a few years back when a BBC-Lonely Planet assignment brought me to Malaysia during Ramadan to research a top-ten story. A travel company had been hired to drive my photographer and I (though the photographer was a straight up pro with way more experience than myself, so in the grand scheme of things I suppose I was his writer) on a fairly grueling whistle stop trek across the Peninsula.

There were two drivers, both Muslims, and I was concerned because they told me they'd be fasting for Ramadan. "But don't worry," one of the drivers, a pretty rotund guy called Aziz, told me. "We always work during the holy month. We wake before dawn and eat a massive meal, which gives us energy throughout the day."  

The men took turns driving, and on the second day I was relieved to note that both were cheating, nibbling from a box of fried chicken they'd kept out of sight underneath the driver's seat.

"We are traveling." Aziz told me. "So it is permitted."

I could use some fried chicken myself right about now. Perhaps an Arby's $10 meat mountain?
Four more hours!

Clearly getting loopy here. Best to end this post with some imagery, perhaps a collage of some sort featuring photos from the trip. The trio walking is the photographer, one of the drivers and our guide. The flowers are called the Rafflesia, quite large as you can see. The hills, a tea plantation in the Cameron Highland section of Malaysia. The tea plantation workers were pretty cool. Note the dude with the EXPLOITED sweatshirt.




Apologies for lack of blogging lately. It's been a busy summer. The work proceeds on the upcoming title, How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & Other Tales of Travel Madness. The book is done, and the illustrations are 3/4 done, with a few left to go. Minor setbacks, but nothing unusual, and my ETA is still Halloween for the book - 19 tales of travel madness, batshit lunacy and a few serious and culturally edifying stories from China, Taiwan, Singapore, America and Belize (and one from Malaysia - mustn't forget about Malaysia) - to be available for download on E-readers around the globe.

We now return to our scheduled fast.

JSB

Monday, July 14, 2014

Twerk Queen at The Farmers Market

Earlier this very day my partner and I were blessed to find ourselves in the presence of royalty, as evidenced by this photograph taken surreptitiously by smart-phone.

T'was sublime honor indeed to find ourselves in her royal presence. Her Majesty the Twerk Queen carried herself with grace worthy of her station in life, especially given the unusual circumstances of the demise of her late father (Reggie "Smooth-T" Honeybon, Twerk King and first of his name), found poisoned in his royal Twerk chamber only hours after a heated confrontation with her majesty, (then Twerk Princess Amber Jade Coors Light Honeybon the Third) over issues of curfew and the late king's discovery of discarded condom wrappers in the back of his majesty's Ford pick up.

Nonetheless, I chose not to dwell upon the vague and unpleasant circumstances of His Late Majesty The Twerk King's passing (and her majesty The Twerk Queen's ascension) but instead to celebrate that for one all too brief moment my partner and I, both lowly peasants in the Twerk Kingdom, were able to bask in the presence of Twerk Royalty.

That such a person should chose to walk among commoners I believe can only bode well for our Kingdom of Twerk's future. It is my deepest wish that God watch over and protect the reign of our Twerk Queen, and that the various Twerk Dukes, Twerk Duchesses and other Twerk nobility (major and minor) put their differences aside and stand arm in arm, buttocks gyrating in unison in unflapping support of our majesty The Twerk Queen.

God Save The Twerk Queen!




Friday, June 13, 2014

Portland Sushi Revolution

Take two of a video experiment I did once in Taiwan, this time at Sushi Ichiban in downtown / Chinatown, Portland, not far from where I work.

More beards and tattoos than in Taiwan. Like the hot chick tongue action towards the end.

video



Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Conformity Rides a Blue Bicycle

My Latest from the April issue of Bicycle Times Magazine. Rather proud to have been able to blend the concept of monocropping with my eighties NYC bike messenger experience in a 600 word article.

Conformity Rides a Blue Bicycle reprinted here courtesy of Bicycle Times. Click here for subscription information
                                                                            ~

heard a noise once while travelling through the heart of Malaysia’s Pahang state, a lifeless staccato trilling. Riding across the peninsula, I took a wrong turn and wound up lost for an hour inside a palm oil plantation so recently planted that my map still showed it as forest. Where ancient jungle had covered hills just years before now stood endless identical trees planted equidistant in unvarying rows.


During a recent trip home to New York City, I thought I heard the same monotonous buzzing emitting softly from the newly-installed Citi Bike pods. Spread throughout Manhattan (south of Central Park) and into the more fashionable areas of Brooklyn, the rows of identical blue bicycles locked into their utilitarian gunmetal-grey holsters unnerved me on a visceral level. Like the palm oil trees, the blue bikes told a story of homogenization in a place where diversity once ruled.

I grew up in NYC in the 1980s. A bicycle messenger for a good chunk of that decade, the streets I rode through were chaotic, teeming with fast-moving anxiety and endless potential for hassle. There was something rebellious about being a daily cyclist back then, and our bicycles reflected this. We wrapped our frames in handlebar tape and inner tube slices, not just to hide true value and postpone nigh-inevitable theft, but also to reflect our individuality, our road warrior ethos.

Messengers were a psychotic minority, of course. But even regular commuter cyclists saw their bikes as something personal, an extension of themselves. Decades later and no longer living in New York, I am now a reasonably law-abiding cyclist. I stop for most red lights and ride against traffic only within reason. Still, the idea of turning something as individual as a bicycle into a commodity no more personal than a factory-molded plastic bus seat strikes me as wrong and unclean. Like getting a lap dance from an ATM.

The program itself isn't bad. While initial fees seem reasonable enough (especially if you go for the $95 annual membership) woe betide the hapless commuter who racks up more than 30 minutes (45 if you've got the year pass) between bike changes. The outlandishly punitive overtime fees leave no doubt to the fact that the CitiBike program is a corporate for-profit venture that, like the bank sponsoring it, aims to profit mightily by slamming the incautious with large fines.

But high fees are part of life in the Big Apple, and really, can anything that encourages people to drive less (deleting a few hundred parking spaces in the process) be all bad?

Why invest in your own bicycle when for $95 a year (plus tax and overtime fees) you can ride any one of 10,000 identical bicycles in 30-minute bursts - anywhere south of 59th street (or in select sections of Brooklyn). Perhaps the program fits perfectly today’s Docile Gotham, where high rents have driven out the rebellious and consumerism passes for culture. 

But is appropriate for the city’s current incarnation a good thing? Don’t ask me, I fled New York long ago. But I like to think that if I had my adolescence to live again in the NYC of the twenty-teens, I’d chose the risk and freedom of my own tape-covered clunker over the control and convenience of a corporate-run bike share scheme.

                                           ~

Author and travel writer Joshua Samuel Brown rode for Lightspeed and Rough Riders in the mid-late 1980s. If you were working in Manhattan during this time he apologizes for hitting you even though you probably had it coming. 





Wednesday, April 09, 2014

PUPPET ANARCHY AT KBOO

POST SHOW UPDATE!!!

Chaos at KBOO last night, hereafter recalled as The Night Of Technical Difficulties, Because sometimes everything goes wrong at once. The hard drive which houses many of the station's shows decided to go temporarily into witness protection, the CD that Twilight and I had burned decided to become un-burned (only later to mysteriously re-burn itself) and the computer connected to the control board in which EPISODE TWO was loaded via flash drive (a sensible last-ditch emergency measure in case CD and S-Drive failed simultaneously) went on strike for higher wages, shutting itself down MOMENTS before the show was set to begin!

The result was that, at 9:59:45, with T-15 seconds before showtime, Twilight, Seth & I found ourselves in the studio with a cast of several, including a tech-guy crawling on the floor trying to manually re-connect suspicious wiring, Rolf (of UBU hour fame) waiting to provide assistance / praying it would be fixed in time for his 11pm slot, Roxandra (our slutty French Princess), the DJ from the previous slot who probably just wanted to escape the madness, and possibly a few other folks as well.

So at 10:01, after the legal IDs and such, we had to go LIVE on the air, first to make excuses as to why the much touted PUPPET RADIO THEATER EPISODE TWO was not being broadcast, then to ad-lib comedy in a variety of voices puppet and otherwise, and then, finally in a desperate attempt not to disappoint, to literally RECREATE the 1 hour show from memory.

Mercifully, Eris and her minions (who'd been fucking with us all day...but that's another story) showed mercy, and one by one various systems came back online, more or less.

The result, dear listeners, is that you can revisit the chaos here through the miracle of KBOO's automatic archive function. Had the show gone as planned, clicking that would bring you to the show's start, a painfully awful (and thankfully short) version of THE EAST IS RED being played by my Red Guard KBOO DJ, which is where the show begins.

However, due to the chaos, clicking that link now brings you to the point at 10:01 when we are desperately trying to make the show itself (which starts after about seven minutes of ad-hoc radio anarchy) play.

Oh, one other fun thing: Because we knew we'd go overtime with the technical issues, we had to cut out one sketch - Talkin' Tunes with Terra Berkeley - which will appear on next month's PUPPET RADIO THEATER.

There was one other minor technical issue later in the show involving two versions of EPISODE TWO playing consecutively and out of sync for about a minute. As self-appointed Puppet Fuhrer it falls upon me to fully take the blame for this...

...and place it squarely on ROLF's shoulders, since it was totally his fault for forgetting to take the first version off before cuing up UBU Hour.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast....


Saturday, March 08, 2014

Lonely Planet Spicy Foods

Another awesome Lonely Planet book worked on by yours truly arrives in the mail!

Knowing my penchant for preparing and eating challenging foods, Last summer Lonely Planet asked me to pitch 'em some ideas for an upcoming title, The World's Best Spicy Foods (a spicy sister to the previous year's World's Best Street Foods, to which I also contributed four articles).  As with Street Foods, the catch was that any dish I pitched I'd not only have to research the back-story for, but also be able to replicate on my own.

Which makes sense - how else could Lonely Planet in good confidence tell readers how to make the dishes themselves?

Anyway, I pitched six of my favorite dishes, four of which LP assigned me to write up. (The other two had already been assigned, proving that great minds think alike.)

With the exception of Chili Dogs (or Chile Dogs, and you'll have to purchase the book or go to New Mexico to understand the difference), The four dishes were all foods I'd discovered in my travels. I'm especially proud of my ability to replicate pitch-perfect Fish Head Curry (not once but twice) and create a Jamaican Jerk chicken dish that tasted pretty damned close to the best Jerk I've ever had (in Belize, naturally).

Center photo in collage is of me celebrating book's arrival by downing a bottle of Marie Sharps Hot Sauce. Other shots various pictures from research phase.










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