Paul S. Davey (writer and traveller)

Several decades ago, snow-fresh sober, I heard a chattering telling me that I needed to fix things — break through the ice and trudge off.

Perhaps it was the voice of Buddha-like Marlow, Conrad’s narrator drawing me into the Heart of Darkness, plying me with fantasies of the Congo; or the voice of Inspector Wilson, the gin-soaked ex-patriot from Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, whispering tales of West Africa. That voice beguiled me with the exotica of distant lands and warned me not to die decades later, cold, having wasted my life chained to a desk, a wife and a mortgage; having wasted my life wayfaring vicariously around the world in the company of fictitious heroes; without having had my own drinks in Raffles at sunset, my own bivouacs on the banks of the Nile and the Ganges, or my own whores in Bangkok.

So I did depart on my own odyssey, not with a head full of literary adventurers (I left them on the shelf at home) but with a sense of true freedom. Freedom from everything.

Several decades later, warmed and satisfied, the chattering had stopped. Destinations, however, had proved elusive. Habituated to wandering, I enjoyed departures but never seemed to arrive anywhere, and after a time I began to regard destinations as illusory. I was free at the outset of my journey not at its end. There is nowhere to go.

Is my journey through life creative, a form of freedom? You decide. But I do know that if you move too quickly, you’ll pass life by, stay too long and life will pass you by. Either mistake is deadly. Just try to reach a balance, moving and stopping, maximizing the pleasure and minimizing the pain. I write about such things, sometimes, but I never stop for too long.

It all began in …

Well, don’t worry, it not that kind of blog. I won’t bore you with the trivia of my life. I’m still here and that’s really all that matters. I’m trying to keep my mind open and ready to learn from what I find. If you look around this site you’ll find some of the things I’ve noticed along the way.

© Paul S Davey 2013

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Hunter S. Thompson and Scratching the Surface.

Whatever the ballpoint does, it’s just scratching on the surface.

‘The voice of his generation,’ trumpeted the blurb on the back cover of a dog-eared Hunter. S. Thompson collection of letters. This sentence and its accompanying bombastic hyperbole spun my mind — I had to sit there on the beach for a while and collect my thoughts. The beach was in Thailand, on a small tropical island, close to the border with Cambodian (for a while, I’d had my eye on an escape route around the cape that separated us). As I sat there on the white sand, looking out over a clear, blue lagoon, I tried to think about what I was doing with my life and put a few things in perspective.

Why the melodrama? Uncertainty, the sudden feeling that ‘hell, I’m wasting my life’. Everyone gets it, even people who are filling thoroughly useful roles. I’ve known surgeons, enterprising businessmen, chefs, loving mothers even — and they all regret having wasted their lives in unfulfilling toil. Right there on that beach, I realised that I too was wasting my life by trying to write. At least it wasn’t too late… Continue reading

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Pedalling Taipei

Roadside insurance claims: Blood money

Summer was an overripe melon that year; it dropped heavily and without warning and flattened everything beneath it.

But that wasn’t unusual, here in Taipei: seasons don’t slowly fade into each other in the subtropics; you can’t watch the frigid sleep of winter wake and yawn and transform itself into the new growth of spring. It’s more precipitous; one day it is cool and cloudy, the next it is fiercely hot. And don’t expect the joy that accompanies sunshine in more temperate climes; nobody here is rushing out to gleefully soak up the summer warmth — the sun is an enemy: avoid it.

Let’s not get carried away; this enemy, big and yellow, is mostly benign, and does little more than subdue the commuters and residents as they slog their way around this vast city. It saps their strength and leaves them overcome with lethargy. The sun, however, is cunning and quick to find any fleeting frustration or annoyance inside such a listless mind and bring it instantly to the boil. Behaviour then becomes erratic and unpredictable. I mean, those stupefied citizens can suddenly go crazy out in the summer sun. And that just adds another deadly variable to the already combustible practice of pedalling the streets of Taipei. Continue reading

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Tryin’ to Get to Mexico

Part 1: North into the Jaws of El Nino

I was still cold from the night on the sodden earth and the spitting rain looked like it would wax into torrents. I got off my bicycle.

“Let’s turn back south,” I said. “Hell, let’s just go to Mexico.”

Cortes couldn’t have said it better.

California was supposed to have been the Sunshine State with golden-haired goddesses frolicking on warm, sandy beaches. Carefree and tropical. As usual I hadn’t checked this fallacy at all and my Hollywood image left me out in the cold and wet on this inclement December morning.

The problem was El Nino, or so the owner of the campsite told me. He took my twenty dollars without even looking me in the eye. Not because he was shifty or ashamed to charge so much for his meagre services, it was just that one of his eyes was fixed on the flying TV above the counter, watching the gripping weather situation unfold on a local station, and the other one was missing.

MexicoHe called his business an RV Park, a good way to dignify little more than cleared scrub, but it made me feel better about wasting such a sum to sleep on a few square feet of Californian desert. The sign out on the highway fooled me and I almost missed the campsite, not realising at this point the extremes to which Americans have gone in bastardising the English language. It wasn’t until the next morning that I plucked up the courage to ask someone (his wife as it turned out) what the R and the V stood for. Continue reading

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At the River Kwai

One-way Ticket
Gracefully, a smiling, blue-shirted employee of the Royal Thai State Railway proffered a ticket over the counter. Victor Offord, gruff and unshaven, snatched it back through the semicircular hole in the Perspex that separated the two of them. Without words, he squinted at the ticket, making sure of the destination, tucked it into his shirt pocket, hoisted up his bag, and began walking to the platforms.

‘Please, you take bus to station,’ the man at the ticket booth called after him.

‘What?’ Offord replied, turning his neck. ‘Isn’t this the railway station?’

‘Yes, same same; old part, new part; you please bus to new part.’

Offord let go of his bag. It dropped heavily with a thud to the concrete, pushing up motes of dust. Sighing, he straightened his back and scrutinised the surroundings, focusing for the first time on what had been there all along. The ticket-seller had a point: if there were indeed two parts, this could only be the old one. It looked more like a shanty town than a station. The only train in sight was far off to the west side, resting, or dying, along a grassy track. It could not have moved in a decade, and probably would never do so again. Along the east side, a market had asserted itself, as happens in poor countries when land is left idle and unsupervised. It seemed to Offord that the vendors and stalls had stealthily and gradually sneaked in, past what little security there might have been, and pushed out the trains. All that remained of a functioning station was a ticket booth and the solitary, smiling state employee. Offord dropped his eyes and turned his back on the ugly mess. He was agitated, sweating, and in no mood for delays; he wanted to be rid of Bangkok as soon as possible. He retraced his footsteps out of the filthy station and boarded a red bus parked up in a pile of refuse.

Kuai2The bus ride was short but succeeded in elevating his blood pressure further and adding more sweat stains to his already-malodorous cotton shirt. Offord suffered in silence, closing his eyes in an attempt to reduce the pain. He reached platform three and his ride to Kanchanaburi by crossing two tracks, or rather by hopping through the two trains that were sitting on the two tracks. Finally, he heaved his big black bag up into the luggage rack and slumped down onto the bare wooden seat, trying to catch his breath. He fingered the mobile phone in his pocket for a moment but was distracted by dazzling light. The glass window had gone but a wooden shutter remained; this he heaved up into the window frame, blocking out the intense sun. Sitting again, he withdrew the phone and flipped it on. He called up Fong’s number on the small screen then pressed the dial button. Continue reading

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O’Keefe’s Dog Day

The company man’s GRV Corp. tie clip clanked against the smoked window of his car, a  company car, as he stooped to unlock the door. He’d had the electronic key disabled after successfully copying the signal into his own home-made device—a kind of electronic skeleton key to be used for his own nefarious misdeeds—and now he trusted only the old, mechanical locks—customised by himself, of course. He slammed the door behind him with the vigour of a slaughterhouse meat-packer, cleaving into the first carcass of the day. The crack startled a cat that had spent the night down with the cars in the underground car park; it looked up from its breakfast: a skinny, bloodied mouse. Pressure often got the better of this company man, but at least he knew that a mind in equilibrium was essential for his line of work and accordingly his stress management skills were exemplary. He opened and slammed the door again as if to prove a point, cutting more bone. He followed up with his right fist—clawed, heavily ringed fingers—driving into the charcoal-coloured dashboard. ‘Bitch,’ he cursed the woman he lived with, grinding the word out of his smoker’s throat, noisily opening another pressure valve. He growled the word again, followed by her name, flung at the windscreen.

pablo3
Feeling a little better, he put the pad of his thumb into the security lock; the device liked his print and blinked a green light. The company man twisted the key in the ignition and started the engine; pushing hard on the accelerator, he squealed the tyres as he let in the clutch. The cat was quick, but not quick enough in front of a fully revved-up V6 turbo-charged engine at the hands of a similarly wound-up GRV Corp. company man: Mason O’Keefe killed the cat. Continue reading

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The Fate of Ivan Bidditch

For no other reason than a profound taste for the absurd, Ivan Bidditch liked to trace back the important events in his life and discover the preposterous coincidences on which they depended.

At twelve …

At eighteen, he landed his first job because of a few lines in the small-ads of the local rag. The tabloid had been mistakenly dropped through his letter box by a spotty teen, who was covering for the regular paper boy, who the day before had forgotten his rain coat and had caught a chill . . .  An unexpected rainstorm had determined his whole career. And what a career that was.

At twenty four, he was pressed by an  overbearing aunt into attending an amateur-dramatics production of Alice In Wonderland at the local village hall. On his way there he was caught in a traffic jam, caused by an overturned muck-spreader, and arrived after the curtain had gone up. He was shown to an uncomfortable seat at the back and was soon joined by another late arrival, who a week later became his lover; a year later his spouse. A road plastered in liquidised cow shit determined who became his wife. And what a wife she was.

IvanBidditch.pngTo Ivan, who took a demented view of the past, it sometimes seemed as if whole hideous periods of history turned on things as innocent as an early spring or a late train.

Six million Jews, he once figured out, might have survived the 1940s if the woman who later became Hitler’s mother hadn’t stopped on the way home because she liked peonies and met the man who introduced her to the man, who . . . A simple cluster of peonies growing in a window box—what a sight that must have been. Continue reading

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Urban Betel Adventure: Sex, Drugs, and Spitting

I like those stories in which adventurers go off into the Mexican desert in search of Indian shamans and ancient peyote rituals. Unfortunately, I was staying in Taipei at the time and so my foray into an indigenous drug culture lacked a wilderness.

Betel nut was my chosen narcotic, but finding it was hardly an adventure—it was everywhere, and I could have bought myself a box in any of the city’s grocery stores, or from a  nearby roadside vendor. But I chose to head to the outskirts in search of seedier retailing, beyond the control of a new and self-righteous mayor who had recently banished smut from his streets.

betelbeauty

What can’t be sold without the help of a nubile girl in a short skirt? Coffins, perhaps, but little else. Sex sells, and manipulating a customer’s base instincts to push betel nut seems as obvious as using busty models to sell sports cars. Made-up and under-dressed teenaged girls perch on high stools in glass boxes along all the major roadways flogging the stimulant, an enterprise not hidden away down some dark, dangerous back alley—it is right out there in the open, everywhere. Passing drivers are lured by leggy girls whose skinny tattooed calves extend up to bony knees; whose exposed thighs run up beneath flapping skirts to flashed panties; whose skin stretched over tight-stomachs glistens in the lamplight; whose slender arms and long necks beckon. Why go to Bangkok? It’s all right here on this little island. Continue reading

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Saigon Gary

“You looking for a room?” came the sandpaper voice from above.
I looked up and saw an old man, Western and worn, hanging out of a second-floor window.

“Yes,” I replied, arching my neck further.

“Try the owner of the house on the corner; I rent this place from him; I think he has other places,” the man said. His face creased into what could have been a smile and then disappeared from view.

The sprawling neighbourhood was a mess of small alleys and narrow buildings, jumbled together heedless of symmetry. I wondered which corner he meant and backtracked to a corner-shop cum drinking-den, where I gingerly asked for a room from a toothless Vietnamese hag, who was serving bottles of beer to fat-bellied locals. Suddenly he appeared again — the white man from the window — materializing at my shoulder, like a wisp of smoke, now on my level where I could get a better look at him. He had evidently lost half an arm some time ago — the withered stump was hanging grotesquely out of his tee-shirt. He waved the stump back towards his own building and said that he sometimes sub-let the spare room in it; would I like to look at it. His gravelly words were spare and direct.

SaigonGaryWe stepped back along the alley, and into his narrow, four-story house.

“My wife told me to go out and get you; ah! here she is; Kim,” he said, introducing the middle-aged Vietnamese woman who had just hopped down the stone stairs in her bare feet . Continue reading

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The Collector

Ting, ting.
The horizontal man twitched at the first ring and jumped up at the second; his naked feet stood snugly where his body had just lain, on a hand-woven carpet: Konya, Turkey, 1963. Carpets were still cheap in ’63, before mass tourism, and the lady of this house had certainly got a bargain. A master weaver created the carpet; and although she had ruthlessly cut the price beforehand, he, with the loving help of his family, had still put his heart into it and woven a work of art. Now it lay on the floor of a small room in her big Manhattan apartment, one of many items collected during decades of world travel.

TheCollectorMadame Boursicot began her sojourns in the 50s, when a moderate fund, left to her by a deceased relative, suddenly, and to Mme Boursicot inexplicably, enlarged itself many times, allowing her to cease gainful employment and become something of an aristocratic nomad. She unshackled herself from a pesky husband, who was unsuited to such living, and started with deltas; then deserts, high mountains and tropical islands; and finally, just a few years ago, third world cities — monstrous, sprawling metropili, the poorer the better. Continue reading

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