Tag Archives: vacation

83. Rules for the cabin

I’m planning a weekend trip to a secluded cabin in the woods.

Here are some rules:

I’m sorry, but if you know Latin, you can’t come on vacation with us. We can’t risk having you read the text of some ancient evil book that you find in the basement. Please, please, please don’t try to translate that Latin script written in dried blood on any mirror. I know you like to jump at any opportunity to use your knowledge of a dead language, but doing so might leave us all dead by the end of the weekend.

Also, if you have any siblings or distant family members currently locked away in a mental institution for reasons of psychotic rage, then you’re not coming. The last thing we need is for Mr. Stab-A-Lot to escape during a storm and drive a station wagon full of hate to our doorstep.

If you’re the kind that likes to investigate every eerie noise in the dark, then stay home. We don’t need you leading us into creepy basements and foggy caves because you thought you heard “something.” Cabins makes noises because they’re old. I don’t want you coming around making us think every creak is a death sentence.

If you’re asthmatic, stay home. Cabins are dusty.

If you’re mysophobic, stay home. Cabins are dirty.

If you’ve had any brush with the paranormal, then you’re not invited. When windows start rattling and disembodied voices start messing with our heads, then I’m going to blame you. The thing I know about ghosts is that they like attention. If you’ve seen a ghost, keep your sixth sense out of my cabin.

Remember that time people thought you were a witch? There was probably a good reason. People don’t forget. Stay home.

If you think whispering “Bloody Mary” three times in a dark bathroom is a fun way to pass the time, stay home.

If you think “Truth or Dare” is a good game for people in their mid-twenties, stay home. I brought Settlers of Catan and Apples to Apples. The last thing we need is for someone to dare Latin guy to read the ancient Latin text, because he will and we’ll all die (see above).

Leave your scary campfire stories behind.

No pets, if only because zombies don’t usually eat animals and (worst case scenario) who’s going to be around to feed them when we’re all converted into the mindless undead?

If you’re too sexy, too ugly, too virgin, too slutty, too quiet, too loud, too mean, or too nice, then you can’t come. We don’t like the extreme ends of any spectrum. I want bland people who won’t draw attention to themselves. The more you stand out, the less likely you’ll survive the first night.

If you believe in aliens and/or think you’ve been abducted in the past, then I rescind your invitation.

Did anyone in your family ever inexplicably disappear? Did you do something last summer that we should know about? Do you have a criminal record, a fake identity, or a quick temper? Are you in need of an exorcist? Did you ever sell your soul to the devil, even for something as mundane as a parking spot? If the answer to any of these questions is in the positive, then you’re positively not coming.

If you can still claim that none of these rules apply to you, then you’re cleared for the weekend at the cabin.

Thank you.



46. Flight home

When I stepped off the international flight from Beijing to Seattle, I felt like a madman in the making. Not the Don Draper variety but something closer to Charles Manson.

Bloodshot eyes, shaky limbs, unkempt hair, two-day old outfit… I stunk like a zoo and I’d gone more than nine hours without any human interaction beyond what was required to ask for “coffee” and “chicken” from the bubbly attendants.

Over the Atlantic, we were travelling backward through time, and I watched the sun set and rise in the middle of the day, in what felt like a single breath. It was about a nine-hour flight across the ocean, but by my clock it only lasted about two hours.

If you don’t know what that feels like, imagine writing nine essays in a row but only two of them count for a grade and you still get carpal tunnel in your wrists.

What kept me sane was knowing I was almost home.

When I landed in Seattle after seven and a half months abroad, the first thing I noticed was the standard North American plug outlet: two simple vertical slits, like cat’s eyes. I’d spent over half the year using a converter, which was about as useful to me now as an empty Bic lighter.

My mind was filled with the poor quality echoes of gunfights and car chases from the droll I watched on a tiny screen with cheap headphones. Denzel was being Denzel in “Safe House.” Wahlberg made smuggling look easy in “Contraband.” At least I finally got around to watching Cruise meet his autistic brother, Dustin “Rain Man” Hoffman, a classic that’s been on my list for a while. I tried to watch “Juno” again but it felt like a movie made to make itself laugh while ignoring the viewer completely, so I changed the channel and doubted the movie even noticed I wasn’t watching.

My favorite part of any flight is the complimentary meals.

I love the creative ways they manipulate chicken and pasta and fish and vegetarian dishes into plastic containers. I love the tiny plastic silverware. Everything, wrapped in plastic. Today I ate something like a sausage with something like an omelet with what might’ve been mushrooms. Nothing you eat at cruising altitude is the same as what you’d eat at sea level. It’s hardly food. It’s an experiment in culinary efficiency and you are always a guinea pig.

My second-favorite part of the flight is the view out the window: the way clouds over China look like puffs of cotton floating in a murky gray soup, the way you can see the curve of the planet, the way you can see other planes below you and ocean liners are but little tic-tacs on a glimmering blue table cloth.

Coming back to my home country was bizarre, just like they said it would be. Americans surrounded me in all their various colors and shapes. The English language was readily available. People were impatient again.

I found myself surrounded by my native language but with no real urge to use it.

You become surprisingly accustomed to being away from your home country after a half-year abroad. This includes being quieter and more introspective. You’ve forgotten what small-talk feels like.

Strange, the feeling that gnaws at you in those final days before your departure, when you wish for just a few weeks more to do all those things you never got around to doing abroad.

Word of caution: international transfers in Beijing are a doozy.

On the approach to Sacramento, I realized that my travel story was truly coming to an end. I could feel the lightness of that final page in my hand, the last few paragraphs flashing by too quickly, and the tender closing of the book as the wheels touched down.

Like most travelers, I can’t recommend traveling enough. I know it can be expensive, but the cost will soon be forgotten and the reward will be priceless. Aim for some place beautiful. See a foreign waterfall. Meet a foreign friend. Eat a foreign meal you can’t pronounce. Fall in love with (or in) a foreign city.

My adventure began with an arrival in snow-blanketed İstanbul and it ended with a warm summer day in California.

Tomorrow it will all feel like a dream.

37. Road trips

I’m not speaking from experience, because I’ve yet to take the quintessential road trip, but I’ve thought about it a lot and the more connections I make with people across the country, the more plausible the idea appears. The road trip feels like something that all of us who live in the United States are supposed to do at some point in our lives.

I’m not talking about an eight hour drive from San Francisco to San Diego. I’ve done that.

I’m talking about the two-week voyage from coast to coast. I’m talking about miles of flat farmland and desert between the peaks and valleys of our country’s expansive landscape. I’m talking about seeing stars at night on the side of a desolate highway. I’m talking about roadside diners and sleeping in back seats and eating canned beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m talking about listening to the radio on full with the windows rolled down as you pass borders at back-to-the-future speeds. I’m talking about getting behind the wheel with the beach at your back and not stopping until it’s in front of you again.

The road trip.

I’ve idolized it plenty, but I’ve come at it logically. I wanted to meet people that I could visit along the way. I wanted to save up the money I’d need to get there and back again. Sure, you could just wing it, but I wanted to make sure it would work.

I’ve got some rules, too, for whenever I get on the road:

  1. No GPS. Only the old-school folding maps allowed.
  2. No Mp3 devices. Only radio, static and all.
  3. No backtracking. If I miss a turn, then I change my route.
  4. No computer. It’s time to look up from the keyboard.
  5. No giving up. No turning back.

The whole idea is very romanticized, especially in the media. One can be wary of such a portrayal. But from those who’ve made such journeys before, I hardly hear any big complaints. The challenges they faced made them stronger. The people they met changed them forever.

Maybe it reminds us of life back in the days of the Oregon Trail, or Lewis and Clark. We are an adventurous culture and we quest for the great unknown, or to search for new life in distant lands. I’m not looking to migrate permanently. I just want the adventure.

Someday, maybe next summer, I want to do this.

It’s a test of endurance. It’s a test of improvisation and patience. It’s somewhat insane and altogether a big expensive vacation, but there’s still something magical and respectable about the idea.

It’s you and the road, through thick and thin, through rain and shine, through popped tires and stomach aches and sleepless nights and bug bites. It’s you and your country, one in the same, and you’ll see things and meet people you’d never see from cruising altitude in a plane, or blazing along in the coach section of an Amtrak train.

Mark your calendars. Set aside some time. The road is calling.