by Niall Doherty


She’s close to tears watching Allan Savory speak, a man quite literally saving the world. After that I show her Maggie Doyne’s story, which leaves her speechless. I can relate. You watch such heroes and you feel half-inspired, half-worthless. There you are, well into adulthood and nothing much to be proud of, not compared to these people. They have a calling, you don’t. They’re making a difference, you aren’t. But these feelings are good. These feelings are fuel.


I leave her apartment with a warm heart. In the elevator I meet a pleasant neighbor who insists I speak Thai ver’ good based on my ability to say “I don’t understand.” I jump on the steel pony and ride home listening to reggae, stopping off at the supermarket and a fruit stall along the way. Back in On Nut I fix a green smoothie and get to work on my finances. Turns out I was more than $2k in the red last month, and I feel fine.


The critical comments are still coming in from my post about quitting veganism. I went through many of them today and felt sincere gratitude. I got a good buzz from going back and forth with some of the vegan folk, flexing my debate muscles and identifying shortcomings in my own reasoning. I also succeeded at ignoring the trolls and not taking anything personally. I’m left stronger and smarter than I was a week ago.


I used to be addicted to video games. Grand Theft Auto 3 was my gateway drug. I knew my way around Liberty City better than I knew the streets of my hometown. A friend used to call me up for directions when he got lost in the game, and I’d see him right from memory. One day I woke up and tried pressing triangle to get out of bed. That’s when I knew I had a problem. I don’t play video games at all these days. I don’t trust myself.


Dinner has eyes. I open a carton and there’s a whole fish there staring at me. I’ve never eaten fish that looks like an actual fish before. There’s also skewered shrimp, and she has to show me how to pull the heads off. She laughs and tells me I’m like a child, which I take as a compliment. I’m quite conservative when it comes to food, adventurous in my eating if only someone else leads the way.

Dinner with a view of the bridge over the River Kwai. Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

Dinner with a view of the bridge over the River Kwai. Kanchanaburi, Thailand.


Jack seems impressed with the jumps we’re making. I point to a shorter jump and tell him how it used to scare me, jumping that gap, two feet forward. Then I point to another one, a little wider, same story but broken more recently. And now the jump I’ve just completed, a jump that was beyond me ten days ago. I don’t think I can jump any farther now than I could then. It’s mostly a mind game. First it breaks within, then without.


I aim to send my mother a text message every day, and have done so almost unfailingly since I left home twenty months ago. I didn’t always keep in regular contact while away, excusing myself with the belief that she should worry less and trust more. But now I think of it like this: It takes me literally two minutes to send that text, and it means a lot to her to know I’m okay over here on the far side of the world. Tiny investment, big payoff.


We get up later than planned, as usual, and set out for Kanchanaburi at around noon. Once we’re out of Bangkok I take the wheel, my first time driving a car in Asia. Later we catch a double rainbow and the sunset alongside the River Kwai. I was at the same spot a couple of months back regretting that I had nobody to share the experience with. This time it’s not just that I have somebody, but somebody pretty damn fantastic.


Beyond the park attendants, after closing time, seven levels high in the Thai wilderness, and there we are, all alone, swimming in pastel ponds at the source of Erawan Falls. We hid out of sight downstream for a half hour to beat the curfew, broke cover too soon and had to sweet talk our way past Employee of the Never. Now tiny fish nibble at our toes as we encircle, embrace, and kiss. This is fucking awesome.


Still not sure how I feel about zoos. The main attractions at Tiger Temple today appeared happy and lucid, with lots of space to move around. In many ways they probably live better than their wild cousins. But I also saw obese bears and grounded eagles, squeezed into small cages with filthy watering holes, looking through sad eyes and criss-crossed steel at fawns and piglets roaming free. Predators jealous of their prey.

Aboard the sleeper train from Bangkok to Nong Khai.

Aboard the sleeper train from Bangkok to Nong Khai.


I’m packed and out the door in ten minutes. I spin the scooter up to the skytrain and read Dan Ariely’s take on dating until Asok, where I change to the metro line and ride it to the train station. From there I buy a sleeper ticket to Nong Khai and eat two meals in the food court before departure. All aboard I get the hotspot hookup and respond to blog comments until the world outside begins to move.


I’ve been walking for almost an hour in the hazy Vientiane heat, beginning to regret passing up the tuk-tuk ride from the shady character outside the embassy. I wanted to walk and I knew the way. Or so I thought. Now, with nare a phone signal, I’m resorting to the compass app to find the Mekong. I’m sweating through my shirt and can feel my skin burning. Where the fuck did they hide that river?


I’m on one of those thirst-for-knowledge kicks, immersing myself in books and blogs and apps and podcasts. This morning Dan Carlin walked with me to the Thai embassy, a logical fallacies app made me less wrong while waiting in line, Michael Ellsberg schooled me on connection capital as my visa application was being processed, Patrick McKenzie kept me company over lunch, and if the wifi was better I’m sure I would have squeezed a TED Talk in there somewhere.


“Most people don’t realize, but Laos is the most bombed country of all-time.” She’s telling me this as we putter towards the Friendship Bridge in the back of a tuk-tuk with her husband and two sons. “Literally every day there’s a limb, an eye or a life lost in this country to land mines and cluster bombs. The mining industry should be booming here, but it takes so much time and money to clear a mining site that investment is hard to come by.”

Sunrise in Vientiane, Laos.

Sunrise in Vientiane, Laos.


We lie in silence afterwards, until she asks me what I’m thinking about. “Science,” I reply. And she looks at me like I’m made of geckos. “I was thinking about how men are more physically dominant than women, and then I was thinking about evolution, and wondering if it’s that way for all species. And then I thought of spiders, and how the females are often bigger than the males. It’s fascinating, don’t you think?”

In the comments below, let me know which of the above is your favorite. Which can you relate to?

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