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July 24th, 2006

Earning a Living or Living to Earn?

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

As we stepped off the plane in New York City we walked straight into a wall. At least that’s what would have happened if the lady with the heavy accent hadn’t directed us to turn before hitting the wall. She had a look in her eyes that I recognized as one of a person who knows what needs to be done to accomplish their goals. Just days earlier as the cars passed me by in the direction of my ever-waving arm I’m sure the same look could be found in my eyes.

Next time you see someone working a job that you think anyone could do that just may be the point. Anyone at anytime could do that job. That person might be stoned and is only working for the cash to buy his next fix or that person may be traveling the world doing what needs to be done to fund his experience. I now prefer to think it’s the latter.

Scottish HighlandsScotland is a beautiful country with many gleat people. I have always dreamed of traveling the highlands and now I have. The same can’t be said of wanting to park cars, but now I have done that as well. The first however would not be possible without the second. I could stay home and do work that I’m not ashamed of, but then I couldn’t tell all the stories and see all the things I’m so proud of.

Those simple jobs… that simple work is earning a living at it’s most fundamental. I want to live and sometimes waving my arm in a painstakingly obvious direction is the best way to earn it. Next time you see someone working a job you wouldn’t be caught dead in, consider the fact that may just be the means to an adventure you could only dream of. New York City is a great place and I think that lady is going to have a great time spending her hard earned money to find that out.

July 12th, 2006

Get a Visa and Get a Real Job

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

It’s not that Europe is any less fascinating than Asia… ok, it is sorta, but stay with me while I make my point. It’s not that I haven’t had any posts since Asia because Europe isn’t interesting, there are just different financial obligations for the long term traveler here.

Approximately 20 days can be spent traveling in Asia on a day’s wages from the U.S. (See cost of living), while here in Scotland, a days hard earned wages might, might get you some fish n’ chips and you’d still be left without enough shrapnel for a pint to accompany it. In other words if you aren’t working for a living here, you are basically camping and foraging, or to be less forgiving, sleeping on the street and begging (there are some people here who have gone this route by the way. Probably recent arrivals from Thailand). So what’s a jack of all trades to do? Draw up a CV and hit the cobbled streets of course.

First, let’s have a goal so we know what to shoot for. The minimum wage of 5.05 pounds per hour should be sufficient. This is almost ten dollars an hour after the exchange rate so things are looking up… oh yeah, the fish and chips thing. Damn. If only I could work here and eat in the U.S. Anyway, 40 pounds a day is more than enough to cover housing and food which come to about 15 pounds a day on the shoestring.

Next, let’s see if there are any restrictions on working here. Just one: it’s illegal. Hey, my kin came over to Wisconsin not too long ago and pulled the same stunt so I figure it’s pay back time… literary. All Commonwealth and EU nations can get a work visa but I can’t? Kiribatians can work here. I don’t even know where that is! I’m sure I can wash a dish as well as any of them though. Heck, I can even make a dish. So, let’s pass the Midwestern accent off as Canadian and try to fly under the radar.

If they have a sign in the window, apply for that job. That was my method of job searching. Here is a list of some of prestigious jobs I offered to render my services for:

Get a Job Dishwasher
Cook
Actor
Art supplies salesperson*
Travel writer
Sword salesperson**
Bellhop
Web designer
Online marketeer
Photographer
Receptionist
Bartender
Car parker***
General laborer
(I am happy to say that I did not apply for any jobs appearing on the same page as the words: Earn 500 pounds a week while working from home!)

The only jobs I actually landed, car parker and general laborer (dishwashing being scooped up by Rachel the very day she applied), are easily the lowest-skill jobs requiring little beyond non-comatose brain function and at least 3 moveable limbs.

Applying to be a manual laborer turns out to pretty simple. Get yourself a pair of steel-toe boots and a hard hat and make sure you’re in the line-up at seven a.m. This felt a little more like the ethnic trade-off with my ancestors than I anticipated. Standing in line blowing on my hands (June in Scotland is not summer) surrounded by hulking men in their steel-toes muttering to each other in Polish was less like an interview and more like a Steinbeck novel. Fluent English turned out to be a skill in high demand considering the company so after a full week of early morning line-ups, I was able to put bread on the table. “Honey, it’s a tough world out there, but we can make it. Jimmy will have a roof over his head if it’s the last thing I ever do.” (Jimmy is our laptop by the way.)

Turns out, speaking English wasn’t as straightforward a skill as say… chewing as I hoped. Have you ever heard the word polyurethane pronounced in a think Scottish accent? Well, I’m here to say even after having it repeated five times, it doesn’t get any clearer. The first job was to figure out exactly what words were being said by Davy the foreman who would have had a good chance at landing the part of Mel’s ginger bearded, rock throwing friend in Braveheart. “Ok I got it, I’m supposed to put the bin in the skip. What the hell is a skip?” Luckily, I was watching the World Cup at our hostel every night so was able to pass, although somewhat suspect, in general conversation. Once over the spoken language barrier, it was much easier to integrate into the universal construction worker language of exposed bellies, pack lunches and the occasional wedgie.

On a somewhat related note: when I was picked out of the line to help a rigging crew set up one of those big music festival tents, I came to realize that rigging crew are just narcissistic construction workers. These are the people who follow around bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and bolt together all those beams that they hang the lights on. They don’t set up The Chili Peppers’s gear, they don’t even set up the lights, they just build a temporary structure in which The Peppers will occupy for a brief moment in time. Your average construction worker on the other hand can’t realistically believe that The Chili’s will ever set foot in whatever it is they are building. Being able to associate yourself with a well known band’s literal stomping grounds is the difference between going to work with the same pair of “durable” clothes you wore five years ago and an unshaven face, and going to work with three different outfits, a hard hat that accommodates your dreads and an unshaven face but in that really cool way.

So I made my money. I paid my bills. I built something The Chili Pepper’s might stand in. I even learned a new language. But as my forefathers’ would be saying in the U.S. of today: “It’s all in a day’s illegal immigrant work.”


*Having a degree in art and not even getting a call back to sell pencils n’ stuff was a little humiliating.

**One requirement of this job was to wear a full Scottish kilt outfit. Um… yes!

***Don’t confuse this with being a valet. That would be a dream job. These are the guys that stand in one place with a day-glo orange vest on and wave their arms usually to point you in the direction you obviously would have gone anyway. Basically, a traffic cone that is rented for minimum wage.

June 12th, 2006

Bob Marley’s Big Boy

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

When I was in Tokyo in 1996, I observed a strange thing: massive amounts of used clothing were being imported to be sold in second-hand stores. The one requirement seemed to be that the clothes bore some reference to America’s past, and the more obscure, the better. More than just being obscure though, the items in highest demand were t-shirts with intimate references to a life passed eating apple pie and playing baseball.

Algoma, WI - Swim Team 1983

Hardy, Kansas - Boy Scout Troop 162

Numerous Funny-Named-Race to cure high profile disease sponsored by a bunch of banks and sports bars t-shirts.

Bob's Big BoyUpon further inspection, I found a complete history of American pop-culture imported and reassembled in the shops and on the youth around Tokyo. There were crowds who dressed strictly in the 50’s greaser style (Japanese hair makes a perfect pompadour with enough pomade). Playing guitar and being in a band were on the top of everyone who’s anyone’s to do list. Icons like Bob of Bob’s Big Boy with his burger held high could be found in the keyed glass cabinets of a shop’s most prized possessions. (After bankruptcy in America, Bob has reopened and is now holding his burger high in guess where?) If they never had greasers, didn’t eat at Bob’s and definitely weren’t on the Algoma swim team, why did they want all this crap?

The answer is the same as it is in Bangkok: the current instalment of mid-nineties Tokyo. The youth are exposed to western pop-culture through a global media machine that evaporates every local custom in its path. MTV Asia awards were in Bangkok this year. I’m sure the marketing executives at MTV know where the best place is to focus their cathode ray gun. What it was to be a cool young kid from Bangkok (or Tokyo circa 1990) is something I can’t answer. Why? Because it was never on MTV. American pop-culture has been on a mission to cover the Earth well before Bob put on his very first pair of checkered overalls in 1936.

It seems that as soon as a place is wealthy enough to have a TV in the living room, the countdown begins. These kids, who are now wealthy enough to sit around at home and watch the boob-tube after school, are rewarded with the King’s Golden Buffet of western pop-culture options. Options like 60’s hippy, 70’s classic rocker, underground punk, reggae mon and 80’s metal head.

Like a Halloween store, hair is a major part of the costume. Hair is like the barometer of fashionable youth. You can tell by how much work they put in to their hairdo just how important it is to be cool. Locks for Love may have a bright future ahead of itself considering how much hair growth is going on in Bangkok.

Like a younger sibling, Bangkok rummages through the closet of now fashionably more independent and confident Tokyo. There are markets in Bangkok with loads used All Star and Vans shoes. How could a place so new to the scene have so much used stuff? They don’t. It’s all hand-me-downs from Tokyo’s all-you-can-eat-America days. It’s not from America that’s for sure. I began to get suspicious when I could find nothing above a size 9. And thanks to the numerous resale t-shirt shops, guess who’s now proud to have played little league baseball for The Pennsylvania Wildcats?

What goes with hair like playing guitar? Like Bangkok’s older brother Tokyo, who was in that really cool cover band, it’s soo hip to play guitar. Playing guitar is like a driver’s license to be hip. Once you have chosen a fashion genre, you buy a guitar and get to work learning to play the music that goes with it. Just like Tokyo ten years ago, when you find a gathering of young people, you will find it crammed with bands. The strange thing is that they all stick to the music of their fashion genre. You can find yourself walking through the park listening to Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and Blondie at the same time.

The youth of America are guilty of the same fad-subscription behavior, heck, they invented it. What makes Bangkok so interesting is comparing it to the Bangkok I visited ten years ago. Whereas America has been an endless progression of fashions being served up as a reaction to the prior fad, Bangkok is one of the many places that are going to make the pop-culture leap in a single generation thanks to satellites, cell phones, the internet and TV. This media chef serves up the choices to the hungry viewer while they’re hot: you can be a greaser or a ghetto rapper right now. No need to wait a generation.

To a world of young people who are no longer destined to be farmers and fishermen, America is Barbie and its genres are her outfits. As long as you have a TV, you have a personal fashion consultant who is going to work their ass off for you.

May 16th, 2006

Egg Roll of Independence

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

It is our last night in Asia and I am feeling nervous.

We arrived in Bangkok from Hanoi a couple days ago and I have never felt so happy to set foot in the West. Granted, it wasn’t “The West,” but it was westward.

There is a beauty in the unknown whatever it may be. This is the reason we travel. These places and ways of life that seem impossible while watching the evening news (just kidding, we don’t watch the evening news) are actually real. You can visit them. You can walk there, you can eat there and you can go to the bathroom there (as uncomfortable as that may be). To realize the couch is sitting on a very small piece of the planet and the local news is just that: local, is a beautiful feeling.

Alternatively, there is a beauty in the familiar. This is also why we travel. When you leave your comfort zone to see, smell and go to the bathroom all over the world, you start to forget home. Months pass and you find yourself arguing with a pedal-cab driver about how getting you lost for ten minutes is not an added service to the prior deal made about getting straight from A to B and should not cost an extra ten cents. It’s at this point that you stumble upon something that looks like home and it’s beautiful. It’s normal, downright boring because you’re so used to it, but it’s beautiful. A song. A Midwestern accent. A pastry.

Like a constellation, home always looks the same from home. Once you move to the side a bit (astronomically speaking, a few million miles), you realize that the stars of the Big Dipper are nowhere near each other and in no way resemble a serving utensil. They do however, resemble something new. From every direction you look at them they resemble something else new and different.

To put it another way, the background to your world view may not be flattering to the object you’re trying to view. Michelangelo’s David would look flat and boring if he stood in front of a white marble wall. If you moved around him until there was a black background his… um, features would pop out. If you never bothered to “check him out” from this angle, you might not appreciate his qualities. Um, ok enough of that analogy.

I’m nervous because this perspective is fragile. Once I change the background of my view, things will start to loose their contrast. America may be disappointing at home right now, but when I see an American flag here I think of old faded documents and curly haired idealists. When I see a cop here choose to arrest someone who he knows will bribe him because he needs a new uniform (which he has to buy himself), I don’t think about illegal wiretaps. When I walk on the bones of citizens slaughtered because they were musicians and academics, I don’t think about our president, I just think about how great home is. I know I still care about the troubles of my own country, I just don’t right now and I want to savor that feeling.

Just like the smell of the bathrooms, this perspective will stay here as we head farther west until Asia is a memory. We will carry some with us, but it will slowly erode as the faces on the nightly news rehash the same story for the millionth time and turn the stars back into a dipper. We will fall into our comfortable habits and enjoy easy life for while, and then one day while eating a pastry, I will wish it was an egg roll. I will remember that this a great place but it’s not the only place in the world and wonder: what makes it so great anyway?

May 11th, 2006

I’ll Be Here

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

“Where are the Davauers?” you ask.

“Probably on a beach somewhere” I answer.

“What beach?” you ask.

Well, thanks to our friends at The Internet as well as Google, you can now login and see for yourself. All of those satellites, fiber-optics and mice have come together to show you exactly where we are at any given moment. Well, not exactly I guess. It’s more like a big blob on a tiny map. We could be out for a walk, at the The Hoffmassage parlor or well… you know. Let’s say you can see where we are - within a appropriate radius given a midwesterner’s respect for personal space - at any given moment. Located on the right side menu of this site is a little map of the world with dots all over it. You can mouse-over the dots and click on them, the latter will take you to our travel blog (yes I know, my name is Nat and I am a blogaholic).

Please don’t use Davauer Global Positioning Technology to plan any air strikes, ambushes or jumping out of the bushes to say “BOO!” missions. Try to stick to appropriate uses of this technology such as: food/resupply drops and surprise birthday parties. Remember, DGPT is not a right, it’s a privilege.

Now you can sing the praises of Mitch Buchanan and friends…

‘Cause I’m always there. I won’t let you out of my sight.
I’ll be there–never you fear. I’ll be there–forever and always.
I’m always here.

And remember, don’t Hassle my Hoff.

April 29th, 2006

Holy Hong Konger

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

Do you know what a person from Hong Kong is called? Hong Kongese? Hong Kongian? Nope, they would be a Hong Konger. Really.

What the Hong Kongers have is really a fascinating city. One of the most densely packed cities in the world. As you walk down the motor/sub/hall-ways you wonder just how many people are matching your stride above or below you on another level of the city. What they don’t have is any room left to improve. The city looks the same as it did almost 20 years ago. Cities like Beijing and Shanghai might as well be on different planets compared to their former selves.

One change I have noticed since I’ve been there is the erection of the fifth tallest building in the world. To be more accurate, I barely noticed this enhancement considering the amount of tall buildings on the Hong Kong skyline. Like kids who drive tricked-out Hondas though - once you fill every possible space with something, the only thing left to do is make it light up. If you happened to look out your window in Kowloon and past your drying laundry around eight p.m. you might think it’s finally happened. The stress has finally gotten to the office workforce and they’ve lost it. Window lights blink like computers in the Bat Cave computing the Joker’s current position, and then entire buildings blink on and off. Soon enough though you would stop worrying about the workforce and start worrying about the mothership. Bright laser beams start shooting out of buildings in every direction. Large green lines divide the clouds above Hong Kong island. Within milliseconds Kowloon shoots it’s own red beams back across the harbor frying the retinas of any unlucky souls left in their office (being a Star Wars fan I can’t help but wonder if this makes the Chinese the Empire, which would be reasonable if it wasn’t England on the other side of the water). It would all make sense however if you happened to be down by the harbor where they blare awful pop music (think: half-hour cell phone ring) to which the entire Lite Brite Orgasma is computer-choreographed to the cheers of the tourists who have come to Hong Kong to shop until they drop.

A better solution to the running out of land problem is just to make more land. The waterfront facing Kowloon on Hong Kong island is in the process of being reclaimed. I suppose you would have to consult a geologist to see who, historically, really had the spot first. Being some of the most polluted water in the world (remember all of those people packed together? yeah.), it won’t hurt to reclaim some. The Hong Kongers are in the process of building a beautiful new waterfront on the island side of the harbor. In the near future you will be able to go for a pleasant stroll through the gardens, sit in the grass, have a bubble tea and enjoy the battle for the galaxy from the island side. Although, maybe by the time it’s done the grass will light up and the flowers will shoot laser beams.

The real beauty of this city to me is its function as a natural archive. It is a port city that holds a world of useless antiques from the consumer age. It is a veritable museum of junk. What hasn’t been made there has been shipped out of there. Naked Batman People have small shops that are just crammed with every item that’s ever been sold. Being from America makes it especially fascinating as we’ve purchased every item that’s ever been sold. The complete line of Panasonic TV’s from 1977 to 1993: all boring, all with no intrinsic value whatsoever but here they are, like a family lined up for a family photo. A lightly used set of WWF Happy Meal toys complete with souvenir cups. Every out-of-date camera ever made including a Kodak “Disk” camera with a used disk of film still in it! A few gems can be found buried deep in the cardboard boxes that are all the stores have to show for organization - see naked Batman. Originally to have been painted black as the Caped Crusader we all know, this key chain was mistakenly painted semi-naked by some poor guy who wasn’t aware that The Dark Knight doesn’t go around fighting crime in red underpants. What does leave me confused however is the nonchalant hand waving pose. Maybe he’s supposed to have a garden hose in his right hand as he stands watering the bat-garden and waving to the neighbor. “Oh, Gladys you wouldn’t believe what guano has done for my hydrangeas!”

Since no one will ever buy most of this stuff, it will just sit there forever. Newer junk will push the older junk lower and lower in the cardboard boxes until one day the alien archeologists will be able to come and dig through the sedimented layers of Hong Kong to learn all about us.

“Look see this layer that’s all polished, white plastic?”

“Yeah, the one with the flecks of optional blue and white?”

“Yes, that is the iPeriod.”

“Fascinating.”

April 14th, 2006

Fry Powder

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

Fry the expensive!” I hear bouncing off the plate glass windows and back into my ears as I jerk myself upright. Panting, I begin to look around the room for the source of the scream. As I catch the reflection of a man covered in sweat in the full length mirror, I realize it was me.

I drag myself through the sheets and over to the medicine cabinet where I sift through the empty orange canisters that spill into the sink. I stare deep into the eyes that stare back feeling like a slippery chicken in the bowel of la casserole dish. I find the right container when the words printed on the sticky label slowly come into focus: Laver four treasure pill. I pop four, then two more for good measure.

The TV blinks on and I sink back into the bed with the remote. What happened last night? Like a Google search memories start to list themselves: Old wine in Shanghai, good to eat fish egg. My eyes stare at the headlights weaving like an electric cow river on the interstates threading along the horizon. The list continues, “Five food chun, fresh cloud swallows, harbor type cow shi…

The TV is white noise when I wake up. Is it still the middle of the same night or did days just pass? I mourn to burn the laurel blossom firm. The light of the TV implodes into a black hole as I press the “off” button. I slide my head under the pillow but jerk back when I hit something cold and hard. A .58 revolver. It weighs heavy in my hand as I watch my reflection bend grotesquely around its edges. I notice a white corner sticking out of the barrel. A small note threads out spinning with the rifling. Smoothing the note out it reads in a thick, red lipstick scrawl, “Sauce of XO explodes the green bean explodes the fresh you.”

Just as I start to check the chamber of the gun for bullets the door barks twice at me.

“Room service” the voice of the dog says.

I didn’t order any room service. Or did I? I don’t even know where the hell I am. I hold my breath trying to decide if I should respond.

Ginger spring onion fries the bullfrog” the door says.

Without missing a beat “Sand farmland frailty skin squab!” jumps out of my throat. What the heck is going on here? Who is this guy? Who am I?

The door groans as it’s smashed by a size 13 on the other side. This guy either wants his tip really bad or maybe, just maybe this isn’t room service. The revolver slides under my shirt and into the small of my back. It feels like home. My belt hugs it tight and I know it’s been there before. My roundhouse kick sends the TV through the window and eight feet of deadly ice shower the floor.

Before the TV even reaches the tenth floor I have two lengths of bed sheet tied together. The door splinters just as I sail out of the window on a 500 thread-count lifeline. Room service fires what sounds like a 12 gauge and shot flies out over the city.

Thai onions turn Eyes fish ball!” he yells, reloading his boom stick.

Butter many privates!” I respond as I head for what is going to be a painfully intimate view into my neighbor’s window two stories below.

My left hand whips behind my back and returns with the .58. It is pumping rounds into the glass while I’m still thinking “Well, great wall f*cks red. I’m a lefty.” My identical twin swings straight towards me and then dissolves into glittering confetti like a retirement party.

I crash into the bedroom feeling the glitter dig deep into my back. This should hurt, but it doesn’t. I shouldn’t be alive, but I am. What shocks me as I stand returning the .58 home is that I’m not shocked at all. My mind feels clear and even happy. Happy of the fact that by the weight of the revolver I knew I only had five shells and only used four to “open” my neighbor’s window leaving one in the chamber for room service.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing!?”

I look up still grinning to see a man and woman huddled under their own 500 thread-count life line. “Well, it’s like my uncle always used to say,” I answer. “Fry the pig pick the idea powder.”

April 7th, 2006

Mongol-Krome

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

Finally, we got to leave the bitter cold of Siberia as the train snaked into Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia: the coldest capitol on Earth. So much for heading south for the winter. Mongolia was a beautiful country that is still mostly just that - country. There are only a few paved roads around the capitol while the rest of the entire country is off-road territory.

This fact was hard to ignore as our taxi stumbled and skidded across the steppes to our ger camp. It was well worth the trip though because we had a chance to take some real ATV’s for a ride. How do you pass the quiet nights on the Mongolian plain? Why, sheep’s knuckle marbles of course!

Camera batteries froze and LCD’s blurred but the cameras kept going. I’m very happy with many of the pictures especially those from the Buddhist temple. Check out the collection of images on Vitreous Humor.

Well, that’s one more country conquered. Next country.

April 6th, 2006

Cost of Living: Part 3

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

Disclaimer: These statistics, though not made up, are only as accurate as time allows when doing research on a computer that costs two baht a minute.

The Census Bureau shows the cost of living in the USA broken down this way: Housing: 29%, groceries: 13%, utilities: 10%, transportation: 9%, health care: 4% and misc: 35%.

So let’s take a financial peek into the home of a backpacker.

They spend very little on housing, maybe $5 a day. However, housing is pretty loosely defined. It pretty much means a semi-permeable structure that’s above, around or somewhere next to you. This could be a room in a high-rise building or a mosquito net. It’s hard to cut this cost unless you want to sleep on benches outside. In which case you should read “The Cost of Living for a Hobo.” Needless to say, I am comparing a university graduate or super spy to a common backpacker not a bum.

Grocery cost can vary quite a bit for the no-account drifter. This is the item where you can really cut your costs depending on your resolve. I’ll say this varies from $10 a day to $1 a day depending on location and weight class. Eating what the locals eat can save you big bucks, but you can loose that savings in the hospital bill for E. coli poisoning. Calling food “meals” and trying to eat them on schedule can be dangerous for the pocket book. The miser will eat when the hunger pangs tell him to. Street food is a friend to the pennywise as well. Any food that comes from a “kitchen” that has wheels and handlebars is priced to sell.Utilities? Score one for the backpacker - or don’t score anything at all to be precise. There is no climate control on the road. Sweating and shivering become natural reactions the world around you, like breathing. Sometimes you have to wear all of your clothes to bed and sometimes you just sleep under a cold, running shower.

So much for your savings on utilities, because here we have transportation. This one can be deceiving if you don’t look at the overall picture. A local bus in china can cost as little as five cents while there is no budget transportation across oceans (no, not even freight ships. They charge around $100/day for weeks to bring passengers). So, while we spend $1,000+ a year at home on gas, it can cost that much just to get over the pond. Which, when you add in the affordable local travel costs after you get there, it makes this one even out a little.

Note regarding Transportation: The cost of living in terms of transportation may sometimes include dying. To ease the minds of worried mothers out there, here are some comforting stats: While the chance of dying driving a car is 1 in 17,625 it is only 1 in 6,696,307 on the good ‘ol bus and 1 in 10,283,615 on the romantic rails. Planes come in a little worse at 1 in 440,951 but that statistic includes space travel.

The average backpacker would screw up their eyebrows when you asked them about their health care costs. Most just don’t go to the doctor. I can tell you that after a slow-motion crash on a moped yesterday, I came away all patched up and just 85 cents poorer from the pharmacy. The smart (read: older) ones have travel insurance policies but we don’t tell our fellow travelers about these. The aire of danger is part of what makes backpacking so enticing. There is a reason that the Census Bureau keeps no statistic regarding chances of death while watching TV and eating chips.

Miscellaneous is a tough one. I know what you’re thinking, “I should be doing a lot less misc.” Conveniently, our biggest expense is an undefined money pit called miscellaneous. I shouldn’t say “undefined” because it has a definition:

Miscellaneous in the English language is a word used to describe a thing or a set of things that cannot be categorized into other categories. It can be distinguished from Etcetera as etcetera is a continuation of a set of things while this word deals with the incategorization of things.

So… uh, good luck with that. Miscellaneous would account for all the sightseeing you do while backpacking. Once you get to the paradise island planning to live out the year on your meager budget you realize that you should probably go see that amazing waterfall or that ancient temple or that solid gold Buddha. All of a sudden your budget is doubled with the cost of actually seeing the place you came so far to see. You thought you were just going to go to the lost Shangri-La and live there on a shoestring, but as soon as you arrive there it is: Miscellaneous.

So there it is: the backbacker’s financial breakdown. For yours truly it breaks down something like this: Housing: $5/day, Groceries: $5/day, transportation (this is for all travel costs over all days spent): $15/day, Health care: $1.5/day, Misc: $3/day. We’re talking about $30/day to live on the road. This is no $730 year that dude told you about in college. This is, in fact, a $10,950 year on the cheap end of the scale. OK, to put this in perspective: a liberal arts degree at UW Madison (cheap end of the scale being the four-year-scale) including housing and food would be $12,600. That figure does not include health care, the cost of a car and a whole lot of other Misc. So the costs are close, but you would have seen all of the waterfalls, temples and Buddhas in a textbook instead of in person. That’s if you even bought the textbook. Imagine the temple of Angkor Wat in all it’s photocopied glory.
One expense conspicuously missing from this analysis is the very one that makes it possible: The Internet. Not too many years ago this was not even listed under a backpacker’s expense report. The closest thing was postcards, and you could just throw them in the misc column. Now, this is a powerful force that can make or break entire countries in terms of their stayability. No internet = not sticking around.

“You know… the internet is half as much in Tajikistan.”

“OK, let’s go!”

The cheapest internet I’ve found on this trip was 37 cents/hour while the most expensive is over $5/hour. If you plan to spend three hours on the net every day, $1.10 vs. $9 is the kind of difference that can make the ocean less blue and the mountains less majestic. “You know, this island kinda sucks anyway.”

If you look at spending a couple hours on the internet every day, an average of $5 let’s say, that is now the same as your food and housing costs. If you’re paying normal rent at home, imagine paying $700/mo for internet! What used to be one more of the many things you no longer had to worry about while backpacking has become a guiding force that takes up a sixth of your budget. It seems that the net has made it easier to travel but harder to stay.

I will admit that I have been writing these last three posts from the most expensive end of the internet-cost scale. Now that I see the expense in numbers, cold, hard facts, right here in front of me, I have to end this discussion. I will give in and walk to the beach, just two minutes from where I sit and watch the sun set over white sand and a slow, rolling surf. Only because of the expense involved sitting here in front of the never setting glow of my monitor will I go soak up the intense beauty of the 100% free beach outside.

And that, my friends, is the cost of living.

April 3rd, 2006

Cost of Living: Part 2

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

Back in the USA where we live in a location for more than one week at a time and all our belongings wouldn’t even fit into a backpack the size of a school bus, things are predictable. Not necessarily cheap, but being able to walk home from a bar in the dark and remember where home is exactly has its values. If you’re backpacking, you’ve heard somewhere that there are places in the world where the cost of living is drastically different. (Assuming you did not hear about backpacking in college while living 100% off mom and dad’s dime). “Different” being “cheap. Very, very cheap.”

“There are islands in Thailand where you can live for, like, two bucks a day dude!” I’ve heard this very sentence before, no wait… I’ve said this very sentence before. You could just find a dollar-a-day bungalow on the beach of some remote paradise island; throw in a couple of Coca-Colas and bam! There goes a year. A year that only costs $730 bucks or one month’s rent or 36 tanks of gas or half a root canal or a U2 ticket. I won’t even compare it to the amount of tuition that would get you an ILS degree at Madison.

Of course, like any student, a young backpacker’s mind is full of idealism, full of awe of those who came before him. Henry David Thoreau lived on Walden Pond for mere cents a day putting my paradise iIsland boast on “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Forget buying a Coke. Just grow your own sugarcane, molasses, carbonic acid, etc. The young idealistic Chris McCandless from “Into the Wild” saw Thoreau’s example and figured “why not?” Then he learned why not when he froze to death in a bus in Alaska. Which again leads me to bring up the paradise island offer: Couple bucks instead of free, but no freezing to death.

Alas, it is not to be. The legend of the year possible to be spent in paradise for cents on the dollar only exists in books and smoky dorm rooms. The first person to come back from the island $730 poorer lived the legend while his friends found it was four bucks a day when they got there. They of course quoted Nietzsche and said, “There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths [dude].” Then the proceeded to say that there were now chicks on the beach with no tops on and that’s worth, well, like two bucks anyway.

This cycle goes on until you justify your trip to a place that costs just as much or more than home by buying board shorts at a slight discount figuring you’ve saved some money there. Board shorts that you wouldn’t have bought at home and are prone to fall apart when you get them there.

What this post needs is some statistics to back up this completely off base comparison. Well, it’s not going to have any. However, The Cost of Living: Part 3 will, I promise, be based in some sort of numeric, statistical dataset.

“Dude, I’m tellin’ ya bro, you can’t put a value on topless women!”

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