by Niall Doherty


I’m not seeing the reflection of a happy man. These past few days have taken their toll. Thought I had it all figured out, only to have everything come undone. Out of the bathroom, I start putting my clothes back on. There’s a heavy silence, me resisting the urge to apologize yet again. Once dressed, ready to step out, I go to her. She turns, smiles a compassionate smile, and puts a gentle kiss on my lips. And my heart sinks a little deeper, wishing I was a better man.


One thing I’ve learned this week is what not to say to someone who’s feeling down. “Chin up! These things happen for a reason! When life gives you lemons… yada yada yada.” Yes, I know all that shit, but let me be bummed out for a day or two, okay? Sometimes we need to feel sorry for ourselves a little while. Let someone know you care and that you’re thinking of them, sure, but save the platitudes. They’re annoying.


I leave again in the morning. For good this time. I’ll take many memories with me, but one I’ll never let slide is that image of her sitting on the bed, cute as ever, fingers dancing up and down a violin bow while listening to radio voices discuss the extinction of the dinosaurs. Altogether weird, beautiful, and awesome. (She’ll read and hate that first adjective, likely with a smile.)


Last few weeks shaved away, I go up on deck and stand solo watching the sun set behind Tsushima Island, staying put until golden edges of clouds give way to grey and lights wink on the horizon. Headed back to my cabin two young Korean men offer some friendly banter. One tells me I’m very handsome, a comment I’ve gotten used to in Asia. Really just another way of saying, “Tall, white and well-groomed.”


First day in Japan. Highlights were sitting across from a Ryu-looking chap on the train from Osaka, and sitting on a heated toilet at the hostel. Didn’t get out and explore much after arriving, instead settling in the lounge and catching up on work for several hours. Latest word from the agent in Yokohama is that my ship won’t leave until February 14th, which gives me a good week here in Kyoto.

Sunrise on the Busan-Osaka ferry

Sunrise on the Busan-Osaka ferry


I’ve learned in recent months and years that beautiful women don’t have it easy. You’d think it would be a breeze for them to have hot sex with some random alpha, or find an Atticus Finch for the long-term dealio. But no. And the reason why? Because most guys act weird around beautiful women and come across creepy. We’re either socially awkward or trying hard to look cool, afraid to be real and vulnerable. Opt out, tune in, turn on.


An hour on the phone this morning with a web design client, talking him through WordPress so he could get to grips. I didn’t have to call him up and do that, but I like being social in my work these days, actually talking to people, hearing where they’re stuck, seeing how I can help. Enjoyed today’s session so much that I threw up a consulting offer on Facebook: $80 for an hour. Two bites. Good times.


My favorite part of travel is never the monuments or markets or mountains. It’s the people. Great cities turns shitty without good company. And often it’s the other vagabonds you meet who make the trip most memorable. You find the coolest Americans outside America, Irish outside Ireland, Austrians outside Austria. Ended up clubbing tonight with a hostel crowd seven nations deep, a ninja on the decks at a club called Sex.


I haven’t been free writing much lately, and suffering on account. The practice is incredibly useful for going back through situations I handled poorly and figuring out a rule or system for handling similar in future. It’s pretty dumb that we don’t do this more often. We screw something up and berate ourselves but never take the time to sit down and make a plan for next time. When X happens again, I’ll respond with Y. Gotta define that Y.


On the bus back from Arashiyama, nodding off between grasps at Seneca’s differentiation of pleasure and joy. I was up early this morning for a consulting call, then away to see northernmost monkeys and a tunnel of bamboo. If I had to describe Japan in a single word, it’d be dainty. Everything delicately beautiful, from the women to the rooftops to the sushi. Makes my rugged self feel a tad uneasy.

At the famous Fushimi-Inari Shrine in Kyoto, one of the coolest places I've seen on my travels

At the famous Fushimi-Inari Shrine in Kyoto, one of the coolest places I’ve seen on my travels


Latest word is Friday to embark. I’ve booked my ticket to Yokohama, and reserved a slot at a capsule hotel near the port. Two weeks ago I was excited for this cargo ship trip, eager to get aboard and settle into a routine, start writing a book. Now I’m just hoping the whole thing doesn’t fall through a second time. Should I get dock blocked again, I doubt I’ll have it in me to persevere. Tis a fine line between fortitude and foolishness.


Exhausted, coming down with a dose. Great timing. Mind running wild with worst case scenarios. What if I’m too sick to get on? There’s no doctor aboard. Even a hint of illness and they’ll hold me back to cover their asses, meaning $4.5k down the drain. I ventured out on the Kyoto streets this eve in search of healthy food to pick me back up. Would have killed for a green smoothie. Best I could find were three bananas and a carton of orange juice.


Leaving Kyoto. I walk to catch the bus. By the station I pause and wait for a cyclist to let the footpath come free. Standing there alone, all my worldly possessions on my back, on the dark side of a strange street. It used to feel like a thrilling escape, this leaving town thing. Now it feels lonely. Or I might just be feeling sorry for myself again. I’m cold and I’m sick and I’m nervous about tomorrow.


A blizzard welcomes me to Yokohama. I go check into the capsule gaff, like a cross between a morgue and a regular hotel, with tiny doorways designed to decapitate a man not from Japan. Agent Capslock later emails to let me know that La Traviata can’t dock in the storm, must wait til tomorrow. But of course. I hole up in pigeonhole 219, catch up on sleep and start writing a book. By the way, today was Valentine’s Day. Most romantic thing I did was spend $25 on condoms.


Just boarded, met the first officer and sayonara’d Agent Capslock. Now I’m squeezed into an elevator with four Romanians, one escorting me to my cabin on F deck. On the wall I notice a printout of mugshots, a snap of each crew member, and remark something forgettable. Next I notice a printout listing the day’s lunch and dinner menu, framing a big image of a tropical nude, licking her lips and laying back on a blanket with a feather in her lap. “Any chance she’s crew, too?”

Boarding the beast, at long last...

Boarding the beast, at long last…

One more thing…

If you like these Momentos, you’ll love the book I wrote while crossing the Pacific. It’s called The Cargo Ship Diaries, and it will be published on March 31st. Click here to pre-order it and get a sneak peek at the first two chapters.

The Cargo Ship Diaries