You are what you is.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Harbin Hot Springs

Harbin Hot Springs is a place I've written about very little but have gone to often over the last twenty years, my own personal place to regroup & ground after lengthy periods on the road or whatever. At some point a few years back I tried to figure out how many times I'd been there but couldn't really get an accurate tally, remembering only that the first time I'd gone there it was on a borrowed motorcycle loaned to me by my friend Jeff in San Francisco, sometime in the mid 1990s. 

When I lived in San Francisco for about a year, working for a company called Mr. Taiwan in 2001, I went there a lot, riding my single-cylinder Suzuki Savage from the city in a few hours, camping out overnight, soaking in the meditation pools, going from warm to hot to cold over and over again. Walking the trails. Hanging out in the library.

Once I went there to camp, but it was so cold I crawled into the library and slept. A no-no, more strictly enforced over the last few years, but nobody every bothered me. Other times I'd sleep in the dorm. Later, as my financial resources grew and I started going with other people - girlfriends, mostly - I'd rent out the dome cabins on the hill. Had some pretty awesome experiences, spiritual, sexual, magical. But mostly I went there alone. It was a good place to share with other people, but also a good place to just be. 

In 2012 I applied for residency at Harbin, with the idea that since I was planning to give up travel writing and travel in general for a while, I might as well live at the place I'd been coming for years to ground myself. 

The process involved my being interviewed by three Harbin managers. Two of the interviews were pretty straightforward. The third was with with a woman who had that sort of strong with the force way of looking right into people. At some point in the interview she asked me if I thought I was ready to actually stop moving.

You're always in motion, she said. You're moving right now, even though you're sitting still. 

I had to admit that I was. I was planning an upcoming trip to Malaysia for Lonely Planet.

I didn't think I'd be accepted, but a week later I got an email welcoming me to come on board as a provisional resident for three months to see if Harbin and I would be a good long-term fit. I wrote back and told them that I'd contact them when I was back from doing my last round of guidebook gigs.

One book turned into two, which turned into an extended stay in Taiwan, and by the time I got back to America some priorities had shifted. I wound up putting my plans to become a Harbin resident on the back shelf for a while and moved to Portland, returning to Harbin Hot Springs only once since - a few months ago, in fact.

My partner and I drove down and spent three days and two nights, living in the dome tents, soaking, hiking. It was good to introduce her to the place. It felt like coming home, like it always had before.

This Saturday, Harbin Hot Springs was evacuated as a massive forest fire spread across the county, threatening to destroy everything in its path. By Sunday, reports and pictures were already starting to trickle in, and by Monday morning it was confirmed that Harbin Hot Springs - the buildings, at least, had all been destroyed. 

Photo: CBS News
Words fail me.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Thoughts on seeing a confederate flag in Oregon

Driving on Sauvie Island today, a farming island north of Portland. A pickup truck drives by with a confederate flag - not a bumper sticker, but flying from a post from the bed. I found it jarring, not just because I live in a state that, while historically steeped in racism (about which this article will tell you more), is about as far geographically from the deep south as its possible to be.

While we've no shortage of rednecks in Oregon, I've not seen many confederate flags. Certainly not in Portland.

A few minutes after spotting the truck with the confederate flag, I ran into a black family shopping for fruit at one of the farm stands. I couldn't help but wonder if they'd seen the truck as well. If so, how did it strike them, so close on the heels of a horrific crime made in the name of much of what the confederate flag stands for.

I know there are many who believe that, no, the confederate flag stands for state's rights, rebellion against a central government, what have you.

A (former) friend of mine, an avowed libertarian, holds this opinion.  During a recent trip together, we had many heated conversations in which he tried to convince me that the the confederates were the wronged party in the Civil War, that Lincoln was a fascist, and that slavery was never really the issue.

Strangely enough, this person was from upstate New York, and for all of his bad points (a handful of which eventually led to the ending of the friendship), wasn't someone I considered racist. How he came to be a born-again Confederate I believe has to do more with the tenets of the Libertarian philosophy to which he fiercely adhered. But I digress.

To a black person in America, the confederate flag must represent something similar to what a swastika flag would represent to a Jewish person. A sign that the person flying it wishes ill upon both them personally and their entire race.

Yes, the argument could be made that the German flag of 1933-45 also represents - in addition to untold suffering, racism and death - a sense of pride for some in Germany. After all, the flag flew during the period in which Germany was among the most powerful nations on the planet.

I doubt many Germans would accept this argument, even if they were not legally forbidden from flying the Third Reich-era flag. But that's an argument for another day.

How must it feel for a black person in America to see the symbol of the confederacy flying so frequently, not just from the back of pickup trucks, but from government buildings?  Just another indignity in the hundreds of daily indignities black people in America have to endure? Another paper-cut in and endless parade of them?

I don't think this country will ever heal from the monstrousness of racism, because I don't think we, as a nation, have really acknowledged it.

I have a good friend who's from South Africa. I won't mention him by name, but he reads my stuff.

I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong here, but my assumption about Apartheid is that everyone in South Africa during the decades of Apartheid had, roughly speaking, the same definition for the word Apartheid. The white South African who supported it, the black South African who fell victim to it, and the many people in between.

My assumption is that the word "Apartheid" summoned up roughly the same definition, even if the attitude towards that definition as being a good thing or an evil thing differed from person to person.

We don't have a word like that to describe America's racism towards black people, the legacy of a nation founded with a document stating that "all men are created equal" while at the same time accepting the legal enslavement of one race by another.  Yet it is all around us.

We need a word for it. We need a word that means the same thing to the guy flying the confederate flag from his pickup truck (who might think it a good thing) as to the black family shopping at a fruit stand (who will certainly have a different opinion). In the same way that the word apartheid had a meaning, either to support or rally against.

Maybe I am naive.

I felt sad after seeing the truck with the confederate flag, and wondered why someone would want to fly one while driving on Sauvie Island. I felt like apologizing to the black family at the farm stand, but realized that would be weird.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Book Review: Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure.

Offered a sneak peak at Ruben Bolling's latest, I jumped at the chance! And why not? I've been a massive fan of Tom the Dancing Bug (the long-running political strip for which Bolling is best known) for years.

But Bolling's latest, Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure, is something of a departure from Tom the Dancing Bug.  Actually, it's a children's book.

(In hindsight, I guess the cover was a giveaway.)

As I am biologically incapable of replication by inclination,  I found myself faced with a grim choice in order to make good on my promise to review Bolling's work.

Expecting the worst, I googled vasectomy reversal.

Apparently the procedure is possible, but extremely painful. Furthermore, there are a host of potential messy side effects. Could I go through with it?

Like I said, I've long respected Bolling and his work. But still...

As I considered further, I realized that, even if the procedure were successful, there was still the matter of actually reproducing. This, apparently, involves convincing another person of the overall merits of reproduction. Given my life partner's disinclination to the idea in general, I realized that this would take some doing.

Of course there was the matter of the waiting. How long would it take for my potential hard-won offspring to learn to read? When would he or she be able to type a semi-cogent review of Bolling's Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure.

And what to do with the child after the review was finished? Ship him or her off to Bolling, himself an avowed family man. Would the author take responsibility? Or would I, like so many artists of my generation, be stuck with unwanted progeny, the care and responsibility for whom would be far more than simply providing fine books like Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure. What do children even eat? How often do they need to be watered?

Pondering these questions and more, I realized that there were too many variables, any of which might lead down life paths which I've assiduously avoided.

Then it struck me. Despite the fact that Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure is intended for children, I could simply read it myself.

Turning on a bright light and drawing my blinds (lest the neighbors see me reading a children's book - heaven help me if something like that got around the neighborhood), I opened up my copy of Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure and began reading.

OK, not at first. First I fixed myself a bowl of ice cream, chocolate chip mint, which is my favorite even though it mixes weirdly with orange soda.

Then, after getting my ice cream,  I opened up my copy of Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure.

Initially I was worried, because the very first page contains a scary foreword warning everyone that the book itself is actually a top-secret report for members of the EMU (which is short for the Exploration - Mystery - Unbelievable) club, and since I am not a member of said club I could get into trouble for going any further than page one.

But then I realized that the author himself had sent me my copy of Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure, and since he is basically the head of the club, I could therefore consider myself at least an honorary member. So I kept reading.

I'm glad I did, because by the fifth page I was already laughing out loud (or LOL, in kidspeak). I'm not sure if it was Bolling's writing, the sugar high...maybe a combination of the two.

Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure concerns a trio of kids who form a club to find adventures, solve mysteries, and otherwise have fun.  The head Emu, Stuart, is also the narrator. He's eleven years old, a born leader, and a future pyrotechnics expert. Rounding out the club's roster are his best friend Brian and his little sister Violet. There's also a dog involved, but I don't want to spoil the surprise.

The dog is a very important part of the club's first adventure.

Did I mention that the book is filled with Bolling's cartoons, chronicling key points in the adventure? This, in my opinion, makes it worth reading for any Tom the Dancing Bug Fan.

Around page 40 of my reading of Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure, things got weird, both out of the story and in it. My girlfriend came home while I was reading, and saw that I'd left the browser window open to a page on vasectomy reversals.

"Why are you researching vasectomy reversals?"

She asked.

"No reason," I said. "Anyway, I changed my mind."

Then she came over to the chair where I was reading Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure. She made a face.

"Did you just drink an entire pint glass filled with chocolate chip ice cream and orange soda?"

"It's for a book review! I'm a journalist! Let me work!"

"Fine. Whatever. Don't come crying to me when the sugar high wears off."

Then she went out to the living room to knit or whatever, which was a good thing because I wanted to get back into the book.

Because what had started off as a story about a group of children looking to create adventure to alleviate boredom had now turned into a story about a group of children who uncover a mystery involving invading aliens, a household pet who's way more than he seems, a missing remote control device and the unbelievable - but probably true -  truth about cats and dogs.

As I mentioned, things get pretty weird around page 40 of Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure. And they just got weirder!

I don't want to give too much away, because this is a book review, not a book report. Also, my sugar high wore off somewhere in the last paragraph. So here are the salient points:

Fans of Tom the Dancing Bug will find some snippets of Bolling's trademark humor in Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure, which resembles in some ways The Education of Louis, a Tom the Dancing Bug standard.

Though not overtly political, Bolling - like Beverly Cleary, Madeleine L'engle and other authors of fine children's stories - manages to impart the seeds of ethics, cooperation & conflict resolution. This he does subtlety, which is a good thing - most kids don't mind eating healthy foods as long as they're disguised as something fun.

Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure is a fun book. I suspect strongly that Ruben Bolling will be writing many continuing adventures starring the Emu club.

(This, I know, gives away a bit of the plot, since you now know that Stuart and the rest of the club members all live through their first adventure. However, since even Lemony Snicket is loathe to kill off children his his books, I think this is a safe assumption for readers of this review.)

Kids will like Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure, and will want to read more adventures about the Emu Club.

My only complaint about Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An Emu Club Adventure is that the book will create a new legion of fans for Bolling, fans who'll keep the author so busy writing and illustrating new Emu Club adventures that he won't have time to create new Tom the Dancing Bug comics.

To any kids reading this review, I say:

"Back off! We found him first."

Thank you for reading this review. I need a nap.

~ A greatly less gonzo version of this review appears on

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Tale of Two Mothers

Seeing as it's mother's day I thought I'd relate a tale from the early eighties concerning two influential mothers from my childhood. 

                                                                                                                      The first mother is my own:
My mother, sometime around
this story's occurrence.
Quite a looker, eh?

The second: H.R. Giger's Alien:
The image that haunts me to this day.

My mother had been divorced for a few years at that point, and had been dating a guy for a couple of months. 

The other mother's mating habits have been explored at great length, so I'll not comment further on them.  

My mother's paramour - Bill? Chuck? Who can remember these things? - decided to take her to see at movie at one of those second run movie theaters that once upon a time could afford to exist in Brooklyn. 

The movie he'd chosen was Alien.

Mom - my mom, not the Alien - couldn't find a babysitter.

It's worth noting here that the Alien's children would have needed no babysitter, pouncing as they did into the world fully equipped to take care of themselves.

Myself, lacking claws, fangs or acid blood, was less equipped for self-protection from whatever sort of dangers might have awaited a young boy, so Rob or Charlie or whoever convinced my mother that bringing me along would be a reasonable show of good parenting. 

I was eleven.

It was an evening show on a school night, and I think the ticket seller looked askance at my mother and her date as they brought me into what was considered among the most frightening movies made to date. But the eighties were a more permissive time, and would get more permissive still.  

My mother and her date settled in the back of the theater. Bob or Eddie or whoever gave me a few dollars for popcorn and soda, encouraging me to sit as far away from the grownups as possible. Perhaps there was a wink involved. This is not the part of the evening that sticks out in my memory.

Neither, ironically, do the next 98 minutes. It was just a surreal nightmare of blood and terror as the crew of the Nostromo were stalked and killed by the titular Alien, described by the Nostromo's android shipmate as "the perfect organism".

Actually, this line was said by the android's severed head, through a pool of its own semen-like goo after being reanimated by jumper cables. 

Also, there was a computer called "Mother" in there somewhere. "Mother" the computer was about as much use to the crew of the Nostromo as my own mother was to me at that point in the film, being fondled by Archie or Jughead or whatever his name was twenty rows back. 

They were younger then than I am now. Who can blame them?

When the movie ended, I had to be pried from my seat.  I think the imprints made by my fingers clutching the armrests tightly for 117 minutes were there until the theater itself was gentrified along with the rest of Brooklyn.

I remember the drive home, not to my own home (which would have been a small comfort), but to the Brooklyn home of Jones or Brett or whoever. He'd managed to convince my mother to spend the night, and thought that my sleeping on the lower bunk in his daughter's bedroom was a reasonable idea. 

I spent the entire night with my eyes open, staring at the underside of the upper bunk, listening to a stranger's breathing mingling with unmentionable sounds from the rest of the house.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.


Like my writing? Dig exotic Places? Buy my Ebook, How Not To Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness, 19 illustrated stories, observations, and exotic hallucinations from the increasingly demented mind of Travel Writer Joshua Samuel Brown, with illustrations by David Lee Ingersoll.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lonely Planet Brunches

Arrived home from a brief road trip to find two copies of the just-published Lonely Planet: the World's Best Brunches, on which I worked last year. My contributions to this collection of culinary histories & recipes (the third such tome on which I've worked) include eggs Baked in Avocado, Dim Sum, Waffles, Buttermilk Pancakes, Congee & Steak & Eggs, all traditional brunch-type dishes from various spots across the globe. Other entries into the book include dishes from across the globe that are traditionally eaten sometime between morning and afternoon, usually in a relaxed fashion.

A major facet of the book is the recipe portion, and every entry within also includes a tried & tested "how to" for the dish itself. Here's a secret for you, oh loyal Snarky Tofu reader (or my ten or so mysterious visitors daily who've stumbled upon this blog as a result of the entry I did on Thai Ladyboys waaaaaaay back in 2008) - all of the dishes I created for this book were made gluten free.

For some of these - congee, steak and eggs, eggs in avocado -  it wasn't an issue. For others - pancakes, waffles & dim sum (for which I made Chinese style dumplings using an old Yeh family recipe from my days living with the Hakka people of Shuang Shi, Taiwan) - it was tricky.

So for you, dear readers and fellow gluten-free diners, here's the secret: Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Flour. No changes in recipe needed, just use the 1-to-1 as normal flour. Worked great for the pancakes, waffles & especially well for the dumplings (steamed and fried).

Buy Lonely Planet: the World's Best Brunches here.

Also, here's a photo of Twilight, Me & Bob (of the Red Mill) himself.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

KBOO Radio Interview

Interviewed last week by the great Ken Jones for KBOO's Between the Covers. As usual, I managed to not make a total ass of myself, but just barely.

Click here for the interview.

Among the subjects discussed were travel writing in general, my work for Lonely Planet, the difference between the Chinese and Taiwanese languages, where to get good hot sauce, and of course, How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Lena, Bellybutton of Norway

Author's note: Last month found me teaching a four-day seminar on Travel Writing at a “folk school” in Lena, Norway. On the final day some of the students and I walked around the town of Lena, where we collected bits of information to be used for a short article about the town. What follows is the collaborative effort of the dozen or so students who took part in the exercise.

Welcome to Lena, Bellybutton of Norway

With a population just above a thousand, the town of Lena hardly seems a likely candidate to experience a tourism explosion and is thus unlikely to warrant a multi-page guidebook feature anytime in the near future.
This isn't to say Lena isn't without its bucolic charms. Located in the Østre Toten municipality of Norway, The town sits on the western side of Mjøsa, which is either Norway's largest lake or it's longest inland fjord (depending on who you ask). Surrounding Lena are rolling hills, pastoral farmland and the occasional interesting find for those who take the time to explore.
Should you wish to get a closer look at Mjøsa, the Paddle Steamer Skibladner (built in 1856 and named after Norse Goddess Frey) takes visitors on the lake (or inland Fjord). There's also an excellent restaurant on board. Tickets are 180 KR per person, children 12 and under free. Click here for more details

What to Eat:
A small town with only a handful of restaurants (Lena Grill and Restaurant is on the town's main street, while a few smaller take-out places are popular with students on a budget), you'll not find much in the way of culinary variety in Lena. For that, you'll want to head to Oslo.
A traditional Norwegian meal with Lutefisk
It's possible to get a traditional Norwegian meal in Lena, just not in a restaurant. 
In order to really experience a meal featuring Lutefisk (dried codfish that's been boiled in lye, rinsed, and turned into a fishy, jelly like substance - it's actually quite tasty, especially when served with bacon) or lapsskaus ( a stew made with vegetable, meat, and whatever else is on hand), you'll want to get yourself invited to a family's house for dinner.
Failing this, the restaurant at the Silongen Resort (see below) sometimes serves some of these – and other - quintessentially Norwegian dishes.

Where to stay:
Locals speak highly of the Sillongen resort, which offers offers not merely respite to weary travelers but also amenities such as golf, massage & great meals. Click here for more information (in Norwegian only, alas!): 

Spending Your Crowns in Lena
For a small town, Lena is a pretty good place to shop (especially when one is already used to the ridiculously high prices found in Norway). The town has many small stores, including antique shops and secondhand places. Couples traveling together should check out a place called Nyli. It's a small boutique with lovely clothing and a cozy little café, allowing ladies to shop for clothing while their men hang out and read over coffee.
Skapeglede (Silogata 17) is run by two crafty women who produce about half of the shop's content in their workshop at the back of the store. Selling everything from cups to syrups to decorating-items, tea and woodwork, nearly all the items in Skapeglede (even those not made by the owners) are locally produced. Norwegian People's Aid is a secondhand shop carrying everything from books and toys to shoes and clothing. The shop is run by volunteers, and prices aren't set so bargaining is possible. Some proceeds from the shop go to help people in need in Estonia. The shop is open 10am-3pm on most weekdays, 9:30am-2:30pm on Tuesdays.
If you're looking to get some body art done, check out Lena's only Tattoo Shop (61169766 / Kinogata 10). Owner Ingunn Holte has been doing tattoos for 13 years in addition to running a skin care business in the same location for 26 years. Holte works with two other tattoo artists in the studio, each of whom have their own individual style of tattooing. The owner's specialty is black ink line art style tattoos and shading.

An Afternoon's Wander Outside Town
Wandering the hills outside of Lena on a snowy winter's afternoon, I came across the workshop of Mesterstuen Henning, a carver of wooden figures of characters from Norse mythology, including Thor, Odin, Loki and Freya, as well as trolls of both genders. 

Having exhausted the day's discretionary budget on elk-jerky earlier, I made no purchases but instead walked over the hill and down again until I reached the Hoff Stone Church, which dates back to the Eleventh Century. 

Though built originally as a house of prayer and quiet reflection, something else was afoot on the day of my visit, as there was a small band setting up for what they told me would be a performance later that evening. Whether they wound up incorporating the church's massive pipe organ in their act I never learned, as the sun was setting and it seemed prudent to mosey on to the home of my host family or risk freezing to death.

Trolls (and Floyd)
I never did come across the pile of rocks by the church that a student at the school in which I'd been brought to Norway to teach later told me had been hurled by trolls to prevent the church's construction. 

I knew those trolls were up to no good!

Getting There and Away
Lena's lovely and centrally located train station is alas only for show, the tracks having been removed decades ago. But several daily busses do the 115 mile trip between Lena and Oslo, stopping at the airport on the way.

This project's authors / researchers / participants, December 2014 

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 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.


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


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
If you don't have a Kindle, download the free app (just below the book cover).

Print version available in 2015.

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