The Philosopher Rune: A Wordcarpenter Biography Part 3


Graduation and Visigoths in Tweed


I think that because of my situation – being so fulfilled and happy in Australia – that I chose never to let this Reiter’s Syndrome defeat me, so it really didn’t bother me mentally. I had been on crutches lots of times from sports injuries over the years, and I still had my dynamic mind searching for meaning, so I found it comforting to return to university to campus and to the study halls after having traveled China and Southeast Asia and Australia. Most of my friends had graduated but some were still there. After all, it was the fall of 1991 and I was in the class of 1990. I had taken two years off university and was very psyched to redouble my efforts to study hard and learn for the sake of learning. I didn’t think at all that I was moving backwards in my development. In fact I felt the opposite: that I was now wiser with life experience and with the novels I had read more equipped to extract more out of my education. The philosophers I had studied valued life experience as paramount to ones’ development and education, so it was like a homecoming for me. I felt university was exactly where I needed to be – that this was phase two in my evolution.

I shared a house with a good friend from my rowing days, right beside the library. I wasted no time diving into my studies. I spoke to my faculty confidant Professor Fell and we discussed my experiences and Nietzsche and art and all the things that were important to me and on my mind. These chats helped me immensely fit everything into a frame of reference and build a new web of belief after having smashed down all my earlier beliefs from childhood. I had passed through the dangerous gateway of nihilism and was now building my own world view but I still needed more mortar and bricks to build a solid foundation.

I decided to focus on philosophy rather than film. I had grown towards the writers and authors that had kept me company on my travels and decided to invest further in knowing and understanding the story of philosophy and canon of literature. But in order to flourish in academia I had to overcome my paralyzing fear of speaking in class so one day in October, while with a girlfriend of mine, we went to a first meeting for the Queen’s Debating Club. She had been on the debating team the previous year and she was keen to have me join, so when the person running the meeting asked if there were new people who wanted to join, she suddenly grabbed my arm and raised it. I know I would not have done it and I think she did too so I feebly tried to lower my hand but didn’t.

And that was how I joined the debating team.

I liked it from the get go. I liked the academic aspect of it – that we were given a subject and had to take a side and then argue our side. The subjects were chosen for their topicality and contentiousness and I found that I could focus on one aspect and speak off the top of my head. I didn’t need notes. I didn’t need a script. I just spoke rationally and clearly. And it worked. I discovered that by focusing on the subject matter instead of how I sounded or how I looked that I could speak in a classroom or a debating hall. There wasn’t much to it but it had a huge impact on my as a person and as a student. At the same time I took a public speaking course and I found the same thing: that by focusing on the subject matter all my other worries were out of mind. The most valuable thing I came away with from the public speaking course was that if I mimicked a professor of mine – spoke and used my hands like a professor – then I could have fun with speaking in public. And people love to watch a person have fun while speaking. There was a danger of mimicking too much so that you came across as a buffoon but I never went that far.

Once the initial fear was overcome, the butterflies went away and left me with only the determination to communicate.

The debating team was like the rowing team and the badminton team: we competed against other universities, which appealed to my sense of adventure. With rowing we were on their waterways and rivers and lakes and used their boathouses and rowing clubs as our home base. With badminton we were usually in their gym, which wasn’t usually that sexy. But with the debating team we went into their most coveted halls with crests and oak lecterns and leaded window panes, all very highbrow and Oxford. It was a nice change after China and the rustic nature of being a shoestring traveler. I enjoyed it immensely, not really caring whether we won or not. There were some who were very keen and took it very seriously – future politicians who were very knowledgeable on the subjects – who usually won the debates. But this wasn’t of interest to me. What was of interest to me was that act of debating – the skill to think and speak clearly on your feet.

And this is was I learned, which translated itself beautifully into the classroom.

My courses were more interesting too. The higher you went in university the more interesting the course material became. From the thorough studying I had done the previous years and the constant reading I had been doing while off school had solidified my base of knowledge, helping me in referencing ideas and footnoting authors. Now armed with more references and the new skills of speaking up in class, the daily experience of university really became something richer. For the first time I was able to speak to my professors both in their office and in the classroom in front of others on the same level. Traveling had given me confidence in myself and the debating team had given me the tools to communicate effectively, so now I was harnessing more of what the school offered me. My learning went into overdrive.

My marks went up and my essays were better structured and argued, and my shaky academic legs became muscular, giving me a lighter step and more purpose.

Something happened to me near the end of the year that had a big impact on me. The pain in my knees and ankles were constant, something I had adapted to. I didn’t mind walking on crutches because I knew it was all temporary. But one morning when I woke up and got out of bed when I took my first step the pain was so overwhelming I fell back onto my bed. I laid there silent and defeated for a long while. I felt for the first time that I couldn’t bear the pain any longer. The pain had won. I had succumbed to it. I just could not endure the bone-aching sharp shards of pain anymore. In that moment I was humbled. I was defeated.

After all the mental toughness and bravado, I just could no longer overcome the pain.

Of course I did muster the energy to tackle the day once again but I was different after that. I was gentler, and more empathetic to others in pain. I had lost my arrogant swagger of youth. I had been humbled by pain. I could hear the change in the softness in my voice. I could see it in how I moved. I was slower, more careful and much more human.

And so I hobbled around for the year on my crutches from class to my favourite study halls with a massive backpack full of books. I did even more journal writing so that I spent more time writing than I did reading. There were fewer rowdy friends at Queen’s so there was less partying. I spent more time at the Grad Pub, where I sported tweed and disheveled hair, looking the part of graduate student. And I started hanging out with grad students, mostly drinking coffee and talking about ideas. I really hit my stride. But the eight months back at school went by quickly and soon I faced a decision of what next. I still hadn’t found that magic bullet of finding my calling but I was a more fulfilled individual with my own ideas, so being the practical person I am I took a job in downtown Toronto working at an investment house called Burns Fry. I had graduated with a BA in Philosophy so I was thankful to have a job in business right downtown. I knew it could lead to better jobs within the company. The best thing was that I had lots of friends in Toronto working downtown so it was a very social time when we all had money to spend. I shared a house with two other friends who also had good jobs. We went to parties and burned through out paycheques as soon as we had them, having a blast and enjoying the optimism of youth and hope. Wearing a suit and tie was a far cry from the disheveled student I had just been and the world traveler I had been while in China and very far away from the days at Vancouver Film School, my story of Nick Shaw gathering dust in a box somewhere in the basement at my mother’s house. But working at Burns Fry was a necessary step for me to take. I needed to be with my friends. I needed to experience the domestic office life. I needed to feel like I belonged somewhere. And this is what I did: I experienced what it was like to work as an adult downtown and came to know the morning experience of being sardined in a subway going to the office downtown.

It wasn’t long before I yearned for something more than earning a decent paycheque. I loved the parties and how everyone looked so good but there was a hollowness that seemed to expand after every weekend of parties, until one day I came to a point when I knew it was all temporary. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could but there was such a profound sadness in its emptiness. Too much philosophy studies maybe? Who knows, but this life was lacking some necessary and vital ingredients that I required to live a meaningful life. And when the opportunity came it was an easy decision. But the reason for the change was the most revealing moment in my short life. When offered a promotion at work, I refused it. When confronted with unemployment I chose unemployment because I was eligible to receive unemployment insurance, which would give me almost a year’s partial salary. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse because finally I would have the time to finish my novel. So that’s what I did. I walked away from Burns Fry to finish writing my novel and then looked to return to university in the fall to earn my honour’s degree in philosophy with an eye on a master’s degree after that.

I felt the right decision was to return for more philosophy studies at university.

It wasn’t a tough decision because when I was traveling all I wanted was to have the time to complete projects. I had had so many half-completed projects that all I wanted in life was some money coming in to cover my costs so I could dedicate my days – my entire days – to following through with these projects. I wanted to have my days free to read and write and go for a walk, just as Nietzsche did. Having a half-written movie script was frustrating because it would just remain there forever incomplete unless I could manage to find a pure block of time. So this was the first time in my life I could capitalize on this much-sought-after pure block of time. And when I got it I seized the hell out of it. I loved having the time to wake up early, drink coffee and type my film script into a 64-page novel. It grew over time to a 260-page novel but I recall finishing the first draft at two o’clock in the morning thrilled as I’ve ever been with an accomplishment that changed me forever.

In the wee hours of the morning in 1992 I walked around the block several times and said to myself: “I did it. I wrote a book.”

The inspiration during that time was reading Lust for Life by Irving Stone as well as Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. Both books influenced me greatly. Particularly the biographical novel about Vincent van Gogh – it really inspired me to tap into my creative side and take a chance by just doing it. My girlfriend at the time Jennifer, who I really liked, was very unsupportive, which made me mad but had the opposite effect on me: it caused me to prove her wrong. I broke up with her and buried myself in the little study I had off my bedroom and wrote it on my slow, sluggish computer in Word Perfect software.

Everything for me after that was different.


Graduate Work and Writing Zeitqualia


I learned from writing Visigoths in Tweed that the first draft is written with the heart and therefore spent the weeks and months afterwards rewriting and expanding the book, but found interruptions to be my biggest obstacle. I was living in a house with very social friends, so writing and rewriting a book while having housemates and living in a house in Toronto was next to impossible. Eventually forced to put it down until I could find solace in a house in the country or something like that. I found I required uninterrupted chunks of time to be able to concentrate fully on the writing of the book, fully aware of the nuances and subtleties that a novel demands. I needed complete immersion and I couldn’t get it in Toronto. This might have contributed to my desire to return to university after my year working downtown in Toronto.

But I mentioned, I also wanted to earn my honours degree so I could do a graduate degree and thereby get away from the arbitrary nature of bad bosses and crappy jobs.

I hadn’t let my Reiter’s Syndrome slow me down for nearly two years. I had been defeated that one morning from the pain, but still I persisted in my efforts not to let it get the better of me. I had spent more than a year and a half on crutches but had weaned myself off them to now only walk with a limp. But I couldn’t fully ignore my battered knees and ankles and toes from the Reiter’s Syndrome, and the defeat I had suffered that morning from all the chronic pain. I had felt different after that morning. And I think this defeat contributed to my decision to step away from the rat race and to delve deeper into the world of intellectual development and evolution far away from my friends down on Bay Street. Adding to this was my shoulder. During the winter our neighbour had been stuck in the snow so I helped push him out of the snowbank but when he finally had traction and shot away from me I fell onto the snow-covered road and popped out my shoulder again. I had been told that there was a high likelihood that my shoulder would dislocate again and sure enough it happened. And after that it popped out of its socket once a month eight months in a row so in the early winter of 1993 I went for surgery. It was a terrible experience start to finish. I didn’t like my surgeon but apparently he was the best. When I woke up after the surgery I was freezing cold and alone in the hallway of the hospital with a thin white sheet covering my naked body.

I lay there shivering in the February cold with concrete walls and that sickening smell of hospital illness.

It was just after I had penned Visigoths in Tweed so I had time to recuperate since I was collecting unemployment insurance. But this had a tremendous impact on my life. My shoulder never really healed properly. Even the after-care was terrible. I had staples in my skin instead of stitches but when the Philippino nurse came by the day after my surgery she rubbed Vaseline on it so the incision never really healed. I had a stitch from within my arm sticking out between the staples. The actual cut widened to the point that it left a scar nearly a half an inch wide. I’m pretty sure the nurse didn’t know what she was doing because it seemed it was her first week on the job, but this added to a growing and simmering anger that was permeating within me. I wanted to desperately to get back to my life traveling but I kept encountering problems. I had had a crappy boss who kept giving me tasks at Burns Fry that was destroying my eyesight. I had to check all the US bond trades one by one through pages of trades and the print was miniscule. I’m sure it was given to me because I was so young but I found that I was having trouble seeing after I left work. And of course eyesight is a big deal. Nietzsche was almost blind for most of his life from overuse and bad light and I have always been afraid of going blind. It didn’t take long for me to begin to skim through the trades so that soon there were problems. This led to me being transferred to the RRSP department, which I declined and therefore lost my job.

As I mentioned, it was finally a golden opportunity for me to finish my novel, which I did.

So just as my two years on crutches ended I had shoulder surgery. And with the crappy follow-up care, I had problems with my shoulder, experiencing pain every day for the next 15 years. I was happy to return to Queen’s, where I immediately hunkered down and spent all my time reading, studying and attending lectures at Watson Hall. I took graduate courses and spent a lot of time drinking coffee and meeting grad students, really living the dream of being a university professor wannabe. It was exactly what I wanted to do and what I had always wanted to be – a full-time student studying to become a professor.

And that’s what I did during 1993-94.

I didn’t join the debating club or play on the varsity badminton team or write for the Tricolour Queen’s newspaper, I simply studied and wrote in my journal. My journal writing had evolved tremendously. I was not only copying long passages into my lineless journals, but I was sketching ideas visually, with graphs and certain words written differently, with long and precise definitions of words complete with their etymology. I didn’t know it but this practice of journal writing was illustrating to me my passion for writing. It had started as a means for me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and yet – right in front of me – it was showing me my true calling. But being a writer was never an option for me because my father always told me artists starve. “Do you want to starve son?” I would always answer “no,” and that would be the end of it. If I were to be a writer then it would be a part-time thing on the side. But I didn’t know writing was more than a full-time job. It is a lifestyle that you live and breathe, reading and writing all the time, thinking and creating and polishing and then sitting down and hammering away on the keyboards. Just look at James Joyce or William Blake. They starved for their art. You can’t do this while you hold down a full-time job working as a chef in the kitchen or sitting down in an office working as an editor.

Writers can’t write if they are fractured.

But during my year at Queen’s I was not fractured. For the first time in my life I was wholly focused on ideas. I studied more Nietzsche as well as the more nuanced branches of philosophy like morality and epistemology and metaphysics. I liked it all. I began to apply ideas from novels to fundamental ideas prevalent in philosophy, very much like Robert Pirsig in Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I went deeper and deeper and was as happy as I’ve ever been, but at the same time I knew I was on borrowed time. One of things that dominated my thinking was whether I was an academic or an artist. Was I cut out to be a professor or was I an artist? After much reflection of this question, I concluded I was an artist with an intellectual bent. And I think I was right with that. When I wrote essays, evaluated ideas and how they fit into the philosophical canon I seldom criticized the ideas. I almost always praised the ideas. I was a man who loved ideas and who relished them, so shooting down their weaknesses went against my grain. I could see budding young professors all around me who loved to critique ideas of big thinkers, and they were the ones who scored As.

I scored Bs but I came away with a richer booty of knowledge that I still use in my life.

I read The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant and was thrilled that I was finally able to understand the fundamentals of Western Philosophy, things like objectivity and logic and the problems with mutual understanding (epistemology). I agreed that Wittgenstein had put it on all its head when he introduced language as the culprit – the hermeneutical problem and the slipperiness of solipsism and subjectivity, but this was where I soon lost interest because people did communicate and understand each other, and to nit-pick was to defeat the purpose of philosophy, which for me was finding meaning in life and finding out how to live a good life.

It was during this time I met a guy who would open my mind to something I would later write about in my favourite novel: The Hellmantle Testament. I met Mostapha Zahir. He was a guy I met one night at the pub – The Duke of Kent. I can’t remember what it was that brought us together, but I remember he was wearing a white turtleneck that contrasted against his dark skin. I thought he was from India but he was from Afghanistan. And he was the prince. His grandfather was the king of Afghanistan during the 1973 coup that killed most of his family. In fact he was there in the imperial palace when the massacre took place, hiding under the couch and surviving. He had gone to Harrow boarding school in the UK and had ended up at Queen’s University where he was studying political science. So we started hanging out, me picking his brain about his life and he enjoying me as a friend. I included him in my group of friends, which he really enjoyed because I think he was quite isolated at Queen’s, living far off-campus and seldom attending his classes. He was busy running his own organization that brought injured children to Canada for medical help and surgery, who were injured and maimed from the countless landmines the Russians put in their country. This was during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan so there were many kids who recovered in one of the houses in Kingston that had been purchased to run this NGO.

Mostapha was quite an extraordinary man. Truly altruistic and a man proud of his family history who wanted above else to serve his people like his grandfather did.

One night we ended up drinking and talking about his life and his family. He told me about his grandfather and how he used to dress in peasant robes and wander around the Kabul markets listening to his fellow man and learn what they thought of the royal family and to listen to their concerns in their lives. It was quite fascinating for me to hear this, and this led to his theory about the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. He pulled up his pant leg and showed off his skin.

“See, my skin is the same whiteness as yours,” he said. And then he explained to me about the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. He believed the Afghan people were descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel that were lost to history around 650BC. There are many theories about it but this was the first time I had ever heard of it. And it would lead me to research and read as much as I could later in my life, and become the basis of my best novel The Hellmantle Testament.

I am still in touch with him today.

I soon graduated with an honours degree in philosophy from Queen’s University after five years. It was a four-year degree but I had done so poorly during my third year in 1989 that it took an extra year. I was now set to apply for graduate school, however that was not how things played out. I had had such an awesome time that I enrolled for another year! My sixth year. I took graduate courses but didn’t even bother applying for the master’s program! I just enrolled in four graduate-level philosophy courses, with the permission of my professors (who by that time all knew me) and took a second-year German class. During the summer I decided I wanted to learn German so I could read Nietzsche in German, as well as Hegel and Kant and many of the biggies. I took two half-courses that lasted half the summer and did well. I loved German because it its long words and similarity to English. Etymology (the origin of words) became a keen interest of mine and I often spent long hours studying the dictionary. I was truly having my time.

But again I knew I was on borrowed time.

In my parent’s divorce agreement it was agreed that they would each pay half for my education, which left me able to study full time. I didn’t have to work part time at school. It just meant that I was very poor but that kept me away from the pub. I drank a lot of coffee and still walked with a bit of a limp from my Reiter’s Syndrome. I ignored the pain in my ankles and knees and my shoulder and immersed myself in serious study. I believed I was on my way to becoming a philosophy professor. The problem was that I hadn’t met anyone like me in the philosophy department. They were – for the most part – nerds and intellectual stoners. And since I had become such a fan of Neitzschean thought I knew that the success of studying philosophy lay in how man applied it to living life. This growing tension gave rise to more and more sleepless nights the closer I came to the end of my sixth and final year at Queen’s. I knew that it would all end and I also knew that I didn’t have the interest or patience to apply to graduate programs in philosophy. The higher I went the more I found the students to be half-people – super smart and knowledgeable yet imbalanced and odd. I thirsted to become a full man – a Man in Full to borrow the Tom Wolfe term. I still read novels voraciously and dreamed of trekking mountains and exploring unknown lands. My fellow grad students dreamed of getting good marks.

I kept up with my journal writing so much that I soon spent more time writing than studying.

My decision to return to Queen’s for one last year came rather suddenly, so I didn’t tell my landlady until very late that I was returning. I had a room in a small apartment at the end of the hall, sharing the unit with a retired old Irish woman. I was that dedicated to studying that there was no Tom Foolery of any kind. Occasionally I scored a bit of hash and did bottle tokes in my room, carefully slowing the smoke out the window but this was more towards the end of my sixth year. For the most part it was study, writing and reading.

During the summer between my fifth and sixth years my landlady had rented out my room (because I hadn’t told her I was returning) so I had one month without a place to live. Heading into what I regarded as my graduate year I had arranged to write a thesis as a special project with a world reknown professor. I chose him because he was a big fan of Robert Pirsig and his book Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He had taught me Kant, and in particular his Critique of Pure Reason – a work of sheer brilliance. So I had an idea to combine the ideas found in Kant’s magnum opus with Pirsig’s Zen. And in order to do this I planned to ride my mountain bike from Kingston to Montreal and back, which would take a month. I would simply pitch my tent and sleep in farmer’s fields. Of course I didn’t have any money but somehow had enough to score a big chunk of hash that I smoked economically during the month, helping me think through the ideas that would make up Zeitqualia, my novel about the my life philosophy. The month of July found me cycling along the Heritage Highway along the St. Lawrence River writing my undergraduate thesis. The project would blossom into a 130-page opus with illustrations and sketches, and recording historical plaques for good measure. It was a masterpiece and I scored an A on it. The problem was that it was so original and unorthodox that the universities would think it was weird. The significant thing about it was that for the first time it showed my style of writing and creativity.

It was a template that I would later use to write other books.

I was obsessed with getting everything into it. I argued that where Kant touches upon how we perceived empirical data (a posteriori stimuli) there is an interpretation there in terms of quality. I used the word qualia to illustrate this important aspect of how we think. (Qualia can be defined as ‘the chocolateness of chocolate, or the redness of red’). And I introduced the importance of time when making philosophical decisions and interpretations. One decision can be rational for one person who has an entire life to live, but the same decision can be regarded as irrational if that person has very little time to live. The importance of time I thought had been overlooked. So this original idea found fertile soil as I illustrated the idea as I cycled from Kingston to Montreal along the St. Lawrence River, just like Robert Pirsig did on his motorcycle in Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I also introduced another idea of how symbolic logic in philosophy (binary logic) fell well short of how we actually think. I argued that if we could extrapolate the inherent logical structure in language we would have a better logical system that illustrated how we actually think ndurely. I drew a matrix that showed a bending where each line intersected with the other. It was a pretty decent piece of work for an undergraduate. I was proud as hell of it.

And I later made it into a book titled Earthquake Puppy.

I spent so much time on this work that the German class I was taking had to be sacrificed. The professor, who I think had taken a liking to me, found it in herself to fail me. This all but destroyed my chances of getting into graduate school. I hadn’t gone to German class for two weeks during the stretch I had been writing Zeitqualia and she had taken it personally. I hadn’t gone to my philosophy classes either but they didn’t fail me. In fact I scored As in all my classes except for that bitch German class.

But it didn’t matter because I had a great work from all my studies.




That summer following my final year at university I decided to stay in Kingston to rewrite and finish Visigoths in Tweed. I went down to the welfare office and was on welfare for three months! I was that determined to live the life of a writer and immerse myself into my novel to finish it before I started work. I loved that summer because I got so much done on my novel, finally threshing it out and developing nuance and the depth of the characters. All that stuff was still fresh in my mind, the events surrounding Nick Shaw and the setting of the university. I was still finding my legs as a novelist so that summer I learned a lot writing the novel over and over until I found it satisfactory.

I made the decision that summer that I should try teaching before following through with applying to graduate school. I had to see if I even liked to teach. So I spent time at the guidance counsellor who told me I would not like teaching in Ontario. She was right. I was transparent with her, telling her honestly my interests and why I wanted to teach at the high school level. And she was adamant that it was a bad idea. I found it odd that she said that. I told her that I thought being a high school teacher would give me the chance to test myself teaching as well as give me the summers off to write. She likely looked at me and saw someone who was a far cry from the typical high school teacher.

And she was totally right.

It would have been a terrible move on my part. I was not the type of person to become involved in afterschool programs or attend parent-teacher nights or to prepare class plans. I was wearing frayed t-shirts and shoes with holes in them, looking the part of the extreme philosophy student. My religion was ideas and higher thought, not the pedestrian left-wing liberal pinheads who strictly adhered to rules and regulations. That put me in a bit of a situation. How would I earn a living? So I made the rash decision to go to Sheridan College to study computer programming. I had studied computer programming in high school and scored a 93% in the course, and found all math very easy. My rationale was that I had written my novel so now it was time to get a skill so I could work and afford to buy a new pair of shoes.

My life at this point was a wreck. My sister had dropped out of university and was now with a boyfriend who was a creep. My brother Mike had dropped out of the University of Toronto and was now traveling in Europe. My father was now remarried and living outside of Toronto. And my mother was now separated from her husband and living in small flat in Vancouver. My family was dispersed. I had no money. My clothes were in threads. I had grown my ‘philosopher’s beard’ and looked like a tramp – all the while my peers were working in high-paying corporate jobs, clean cut and fit.

Deciding to become a computer programmer was a reaction to my current state.

I found a co-op program at Sheridan College in Oakville called the Systems Analyst Program. It included programming in C++ and using the UNIX Red Book. I was a seasoned student when I arrived in Oakville and fit right in. I had my hand up constantly and found the material simple. The problem was again my eyes. I had spent so much time reading and studying that I still had a real fear of losing my eyesight so after spending long hours in front of those old CRT monitors staring programming code, I knew it was very bad for my eyes. It wouldn’t be for another five or six years that laptops with the LCD screens would come into the mainstream so I’m sure many of those early programmers suffered from eye damage.

It made sense on paper that I would end up studying computer science at a community college after graduating with a degree in philosophy but my heart wasn’t in it. I enjoyed it but my dreams were still of far-off lands and my head was full of Nietzsche and Kant and Hegel. I lasted two months at Sheridan before I dropped out, took my loan money and took a bus to British Colombia where my mother was now living. I stayed with her for a week before I found a house for rent and shared it with my brother, who was also in Vancouver. It was a bad time for me because all I wanted to do was write. I had just come from two glorious years of writing and thinking and had now ended up on the west coast with a novel that I wanted to publish and an undergraduate thesis that was gathering dust. I felt like the world was going on and I had made a wrong turn along the way and ended up at the roadside. I knew I didn’t want to work at a company like Burns Fry in Toronto and I knew I didn’t want to get a crappy computer programming job in a stuffy office, so I did the next logical thing. I went to teach English overseas. I was still interested in a career as a teacher, possibly at the university level or possibly at the high school level. It fit my personality yet didn’t fit with my artistic temperament.

But teaching overseas did feed my desire to travel and have adventures so I worked and saved and soon bought a ticket for Japan.

The problem was I couldn’t find a job. I was destitute. My dire situation exposed a deeper dissatisfaction within me in terms of where I was with my life. Had I made the right life choices? Where was I in terms of my career goals? I had put my stuff in storage in Ontario and was now in British Columbia without a job. It didn’t take me long to miss a payment for my storage fees, so when I had the phone call that all my things had been thrown out, I was furious – not just at what had happened but with myself. Everything I owned from my childhood had been put into the bin. I took it as a sign from God to begin anew and go forth.

So I asked for a $2000 loan from my father and flew to Japan to work as a teacher.




It was 1996 and Canada had been overrun by affirmative action and there was no meaningful work for me as a white male so by taking off and teaching English as a second language in a rich country like Japan, I could get ahead and save money so I would have the means to create a career for myself when I returned. It would save me from having to work at crappy jobs in Canada and try to save money, which I knew from my time in Vancouver was virtually impossible. I was excited to go to Japan. But I was totally ill-prepared for the culture. I brought t-shirts and jeans instead of suits and ties. I was still very much in the poor student inertia from my university days and had failed to grasp the serious corporate culture of downtown Tokyo. I loved the energy of Tokyo but found the city to be very claustrophobic and suffocating. I didn’t find out until years later that because Tokyo had been bombed to rubble during the Second World War that the entire city had been rebuilt. But for some reason when they rebuilt it all the buildings were two-stories. This meant that you couldn’t see down the street or across town at all. There were no open spaces except for the odd park with cherry blossoms and coy fish in manmade ponds. I just couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t ever get a glimpse of the city despite living there. Sure Shinjuku was the epicentre and full of lights and action but it was all gloss and modern architecture. I thirsted for rustic landscapes and traditional architecture.

It was simply not a good fit for what I wanted.

I found a great job teaching business English right downtown. I had one or two button-down shirts and one tie, which I wore every day. I liked teaching and the art of communication, and they paid me way too much money for basically just talking. I was given a little cubbyhole and had one student who came with English material from work that they wanted to learn, so there was no class plan or textbooks for me. It was very easy work and I met some very cool people. I didn’t know at the time that the Japanese were the worst English speakers in Asia but that didn’t concern me. I was living in a hostel and working seven-hour days making very good money and paying no income tax. But this also led to my downfall. The money was good but living in a hostel with many international travelers coming a going led to some serious partying. My drinking had slowly become more and more of an issue, with me binge drinking whenever I had the chance. I never just sipped a few beers. I had to quaff them and consume many, something I had learned at university.

I soon discovered that it was very hard to teach effectively and be hungover.

I found teaching to my liking and I absolutely loved living and working overseas so in that sense my time in Japan was a success. What I really disliked were the Japanese. I found them arrogant and unfriendly, though they could be friendly to your face. Being an empath I felt there was still serious resentment and humiliation in the air from the war, a tumultuous event that still hadn’t fully healed. I was amazed there were signs in front of restaurants that said “No Foreigners Allowed,” especially when in Canada I was being turned down for jobs because I was a white male. This unfair aspect of my generation sparked something in me that festered for years. I was aware that history was at a crossroads and that perhaps Canada was further ahead in the evolution of morality but it still stung me to no end that I was the fall guy and victim of these incongruities. And I came to meet many other white males from Canada who felt the same way. I became rather resentful at Canada for treating my demographic unfairly and years later when affirmative action was declared unconstitutional found some comfort, but at the time I’m sure it fostered an entire generation of rebels.

And these rebels chose – like me – to live and work overseas.

I had found my niche.

But it didn’t last long. My time in Japan was cut short. And the reason for it was revealing. I had worked for three months at my job teaching business English to “salary men” and had survived my three-month probation, so I was – by law – required to leave the country to get my visa. Most ESL teachers flew to South Korea to get their passports stamped and returned the next day. I however, wanting to maximize my experience, chose to fly to Manila in the Philippines to get my passport stamped at the consulate there. I was told that it was more efficient to get it done in Seoul but I didn’t want efficiency – like Singapore – I wanted adventure, so I flew to Manila. I think I planned it so that I would have long weekend so I could explore the islands and hang out on the beach, but nothing had prepared me for how backward it was there in terms of paperwork and bureaucracy.

Any sane and rational person who had a high-paying and cushy ESL teaching job in Tokyo would have flown to Seoul and returned three days later with a stamped passport and a work visa but my motives were different than most: I sought adventure. Unmentioned so far in this narrative is the fact that I had become interested in joining the Canadian Armed Forces. At the surface it feels incongruous with my life as a writer but when you dig down deeper there were many things that pulled me in this direction. In Kingston, there was the Royal Military College – the West Point of Canada. Kingston had been the first capital city of a young Canada before moving the capital to Ottawa, so there was a lot of history in Kingston. I had graduated with a degree and therefore would have become an officer if I had joined, and it promised to be an adventure. I had excelled in a regimented structure when I had been in grade eight at boarding school so now, without any structure in my life, I thirsted for direction. Also, my favourite uncle had landed in France on D-Day and had survived, and had even become a war hero. And he often encouraged me to join the armed forces. I did in fact drop by the recruitment office that final summer in Kingston, but I never returned. Sure I wanted adventure more than wealth and to become an officer would have given me the potential to have that adventure, however, there were things that didn’t fit at all. During my fifth and sixth years at university I had started using marijuana pretty regularly, often rolling a joint and then hopping on my mountain bike and riding into the trails until I came to a spot hidden and private, where I would smoke the joint and write in my journal. There was always something to write, whether ideas for the essay I working on or additions to my novel or poetry. I loved doing this, and when I thought about it after having an interview at the local recruitment office I simply could not reconcile the doobie smoking and the straight-and-narrow life of a soldier. Plus there was the fact that I wasn’t a tough guy in the macho sense – a bully or a warmonger at all. I was able and competent and brave but I was also sensitive and too compassionate to kill.

But still I harboured an interest for years.

This is important to my narrative for several reasons, mainly that at every turn I would choose the more adventurous option when confronted with these types of decisions. I chose to fly to Manila to get my work visa instead of the tried and true method of going to Korea. And I got what I should’ve known to happen: delays and line ups. I went to the consulate on the Friday, applied for my visa and then made arrangements to pick up my work visa on the following Monday but this didn’t happen. The visa wasn’t ready so I had to call my place of work and postpone my return flight, and then once I was able to get my work visa a few days later I couldn’t book a flight until a week later.

So I had, in effect, two extra weeks in the Philippines.

Telling myself that it wasn’t my fault I turned off my worries about my job and went about my business of enjoying myself while in the Philippines. Compared to Thailand, the Philippines was the Wild West. I had never seen so many palm trees in my life, and beaches and islands. Of course I didn’t remain in Manila and wait in my hotel room. I went to Puerto Galera where many international travelers went for some fun and sun. I loved it there, sleeping in a cabin on the beach for next to nothing, drinking sugary drinks on the beach with crazy foreigners eager to spend money. I stayed in Sabang Beach and then White Beach, where it was rumored Eric Clapton had written one of his famous albums. I swam and partied, able to secure a baggie of weed that I liberally shared with the other travelers there. I couldn’t find any rolling papers so when I went back into Manila to pick up my work visa for Japan I bought an exceptional British-made pipe. I smoked nothing but weed in it all week until I reluctantly had to return to Tokyo to resume work. I had loved the laidback atmosphere of the Philippines and wasn’t looking forward to the rat-race of Tokyo but before I made it back to work I had an incident at Narita Airport that shook me up.

When I arrived in Tokyo I was smelly and tired from a long few weeks of partying, clothes wet in my knapsack and full of sand. I had smoked the last remaining weed before getting on the flight and had handed off the rest to a Belgian who I had met while staying in Sabang Beach. When I walked to the customs area a German shepherd came up to me wagging its tail. Not thinking clearly and clearly still stoned, I patted the dog. As usual I was the last one to leave the plane as I always avoided the rush to exit a plane or bus or train or whatever it was. The dog’s master pulled the dog back and before I knew it there were five custom’s officials surrounding me, ushering me to the customs gate. At first I thought it was just good service but when a senior official came out of nowhere and spoke to me in very precise English, it dawned on me that I might be in trouble for something.

They went through my bags thoroughly and I was embarrassed that my clothes were wet and smelly. When they discovered my beloved pipe they held it up and smelled it.

Then the senior official asked me if it was mine.

“Yeah, it’s mine,” I replied, but then added. “But I’m sure others used my pipe during my time at the beach.” I was suddenly very nervous. I thought of Paul McCartney being busted in Tokyo for a bag of weed back in the seventies and then thought of the prisons in Japan.

“I will test it with this,” he said, holding up a vial and some liquid. “I will scrape some off into here and shake it in the liquid. It is turns blue you are in trouble. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” I could tell he had done this before. I stood there in my Birkenstock sandals and long hair and goatee and tried to be nonchalant. He had seen the likes of pseudo-hippies like me before.

“Yes sir, I understand.” And so he did exactly what he said and scraped off the inner residue from the pipe and then shook it in this vial. He shook it and then shook it some more, and then a bit more but the colour of the liquid in the vial was yellow.

“Okay sir, you can go.” I stood there for a moment sure I had misunderstood him because nothing had touched that pipe except marijuana. But I didn’t utter a word. I repacked my moist clothing into my knapsack and walked swiftly through the doors to freedom. Sweat on my face dripping off my nose.

I still, to this day, don’t know why that vial didn’t turn blue.

When I returned to my hostel and went to work I found that I had been replaced. My boss simply could not stand by and have a teacher take two weeks off instead of the allocated three days to leave the country to get a work permit. But I didn’t argue because my heart had turned against Japan. I was disgusted at the non-stop racism against foreigners that I saw. Being a victim of affirmative action in my own country, I had developed an extra sensitivity to racism and I found that Japan was a very racist country. As is my nature I tried to make excuses for this – arguing with myself that they were justified to not like Canadians or Americans or Europeans because of what had happened during World War Two. But then I saw how they treated Indians and Blacks too. And again I saw signs in front of restaurants and spas that said: “No foreigners allowed,” and that pissed me off. Because of this I started to see more and more subtle unwelcoming looks on the faces of Japanese on the subways, and after my scare in Narita I wanted nothing more than to leave Japan. So that’s what I did.

And I entered into one of the worst years of my life.

I realized two weeks after returning to Canada that I had made the same mistake I had made when I had left Vancouver for Toronto during the fall of 1989 after my time at Vancouver Film School. I had made a decision based on emotion rather than an objective, well thought out decision using reason. And so I lived in Vancouver for a month before moving to White Rock in the extreme south of British Colombia where I shared a house with my twin brother Mike. During this time I did a lot of reading and worked on my novel Visigoths in Tweed, and did a lot of mountain biking. But the best thing I did was take a desktop Publishing course in Vancouver that was a full-time course and three months long. My rationale was that since I wanted to be a writer I should learn the trade of how to publish. I learned all the software required to publish. It was a very off-the-cuff decision to take the course but this proved more valuable than my undergraduate degree in philosophy since it gave me a toe hold into the market for writers.

When I did finish the course, I was in a very depressed state. I didn’t even look for work in White Rock because there wasn’t anything available and I was too proud to work at a café or movie theatre. Instead I went on welfare, which lead to a further deterioration of my self-esteem and misery. I tried to convince myself that I was a writer and that writers starve but it wasn’t the life I wanted to live. My brother still had lots of money left from his eye accident so he lived off of that, but together we were miserable. And when twins are miserable and sharing a house together it’s a recipe for a fight. And that’s precisely what happened.

Mike and I got into a bad fight.

And it was over the stupidest thing. Mike never did the dishes and he relied on me to do his dishes because I can’t live with flies hovering over stale tuna left on a plate. So I yelled at him to do his dishes and he became mad. I can’t remember exactly went down other than he took off out of the house and told my mother! I was fed up and refused to live like this: broke, alone in British Colombia where I didn’t know anyone, and dying to live a life worth writing about, I researched English schools in Taiwan and soon had an interview. I had heard Taiwan was the best place to teach English. And the school paid for the flight. I was hired and was gone in two weeks. When I left that morning to fly to Taipei, I remember my mother saying to me: “I don’t think I will ever see you again.” I was so angry at Canada and at myself that I just left without saying anything.

I didn’t speak to my mother or my father or my brother or my sister for three years.

Years later I learned from my brother that that afternoon on that day in April after I had boarded the plane my mother attempted suicide again. No one told me because I was gone out of their lives. I didn’t see or talk to my family for a very long time after that. I left with the plan of not coming back until I was ready. And I was determined not to make the same mistake by returning to Canada to nothing – no job and no life. The crappy year in White Rock living with my brother had a profound impact on what I would do for the rest of my life.

After many years of trial and error, it had taken me 29 years to finally get enough backbone to make the decision to find my own niche.




As soon as I arrived in Taiwan I knew I had made the right decision. It was exactly what I had been looking for all these years. It was rustic and honest without any sugar coating or colonial influence, houses weathered by typhoons and mountains pristine and palm trees wild along the side of the roads. Rice paddies were everywhere. It wasn’t manicured like Japan or Hong Kong, and yet it was more progressive and industrial than mainland China was in 1990.

It was now 1997 and I was starting my career as An English teacher.

The first thing I did when I arrived was buy a motorcycle. A foreign teacher who had just left Taiwan had given his motorcycle to a fellow teacher who was tasked to sell it to the next crop of foreign teachers that arrived. And that was me. It was a nifty 150cc Honda sport bike, perfect for the roads and sporty enough to have some spunk and charm. I loved it as soon as soon as I took it out on the road. And I didn’t even have to give the guy any money when I took it home.

“I trust you,” he said. So I spent a week teaching and handed him the cash for the bike. It was that easy. I never had to endure the mayhem of the bus system in Taiwan, a slow and trying experience. Most people rode scooters but only the intrepid few had a real motorcycle.

Things just fell into place for me there. I had arranged a good teaching job before I left so when I arrived the school set me up in an apartment near the school with some other teachers who had just arrived. We stayed in the apartment for about a month before I landed a more long-term apartment with another English teacher – a German girl from Namibia.

The school paid the teachers in cash every night after the teaching day was over so there was no waiting for a paycheque. Everything made sense to me in Taiwan. The food was spectacular. The lack of driving laws and enforcement suited me as well so I could pass cars and trucks on the right or the left on my motorcycle – it didn’t matter. The people were so friendly compared to the Japanese. And there was no corporate attitude like there had been in Japan and Hong Kong. It had the Wild West feel to it, which appealed to my overriding sense of adventure. Bars would stay open as long as there was business, so if a bunch of people wanted to drink until 6am then the bar stayed open. In this way it was very civilized. To me it epitomized the laissez-faire free market economy: if there was a demand then there would be a supply. It wasn’t too expensive either, whereas Hong Kong and Tokyo were very expensive. When I was handed a big pile of cash at night after my classes, I always felt guilty that they were paying me too much. I enjoyed the teaching. And the students liked me. The teacher in the Chinese culture is the most respected job, more so than the President or a celebrity or fireman. This is because Confucius was a teacher.

All teachers were given a respect that was lacking in the west.

And the Taiwanese were smart enough to recruit from Canada because Canadians were known to be friendly and polite and were educated and well spoken. The school administration were very happy to have me and I did very well at the school. It didn’t take long for them to give me a coveted teaching post at a private school where I taught seniors in high school. I became John Keating from Dead Poet’s Society in that class, taking my students outside and preparing unusual lectures that captured their imagination. I’m sure some of my old students still talk about me as that crazy and creative and passionate teacher from Canada who was so effective teaching English and yet also a bit eccentric the way he dressed, in a t-shirt and Birkenstock sandals with a goatee and long hair.

It didn’t take me long to find my niche and really enjoy my time teaching in the classroom.

I found teaching in a classroom to be a very emotional experience. There was a big emotional investment the teacher had to make in order to become an effective teacher. Without that emotional investment the teacher would be flat and uninspiring, so one was wise to make that investment in order to generate an interest in the student body. I was equipped with the right education and background to really let go and be at the top of my game. I found I could discipline students if I had to because I understood the idea of losing face, which was a very important thing in Chinese culture. If a student misbehaved I would never yell at them because losing your cool was not something you wanted to do in a classroom. I would ask the offending student to stand up and leave them standing up as I continued to teach the class. It worked very well. If the student continued to disrupt the class I would ask them to stand in the corner so they couldn’t disrupt any students or friends they had in the classroom. I was surprised how well it worked. The offenders very quickly realized they didn’t get any special attention from me and therefore disrupting the class was an unprofitable business. And some of these offenders ended up becoming some of my best students. They weren’t resentful that I had disciplined them. They were in fact thankful I didn’t humiliate them. They had humiliated themselves and then got the cold shoulder from their fellow students.

Most of the time was spent playing games and learning English – learning how to speak English.

I had learned from Nietzsche that the “ear is the organ of fear.” Speaking French when I was young was a horrifying experience because when I heard myself try that silly accent I embarrassed myself. So instead of burying the accent issue under the carpet I made it front and centre so that I would say the proper way of speaking a word and they would have to repeat me three times. I would exaggerate the “r” and the “l” because these were the problem areas for Chinese speakers. And they loved me for it. I never once humiliated a student. If someone was having difficulty I would usually treat them very softly and carefully, using the louder kids to help drown out their fears of speaking a foreign language in front of others. You hear teachers say how rewarding it can be being a teacher, and they’re not wrong. Over the course of a term you can begin to hear your students sound EXACTLY like you. It’s a pretty special feeling when you can see and hear the impact you have on young eager students. And because I was having such a good time, they were relaxed enough to try to have a good time too. And then the parent’s would love to meet me because I was the teacher their kids were talking about.

For a while it was a very good situation, but like all good things, they do not last.

Drinking. I had always been a binge drinker so when I went out drinking I would drink to get drunk. I did the same when in Taiwan. I tried to nurse beers and write, which I did rather well for the first year, spending long periods of time writing in my journal a sipping beer, but sometimes I would meet someone at the bar and drink too much. I loved my days of teaching and being paid at the end of the day in cash. Nine times out of ten I would not return to my apartment. Instead I would ride my motorcycle to a bar where I would drink and write. Oftentimes I would write non-stop for five or six hours and then return home and sleep, waking up the next morning after a long sleep to do it all over again. I knew I was being productive because there was so much to write about. But sometimes I would drink a lot and have a very difficult time in the classroom the following day. Teachers cannot teach well if they are hungover. It can be a very difficult day for a teacher. There is no spark if you are hungover. I became more and more aware of this so I tried harder to curtail my extreme bouts of drinking when I had early classes the next day but I was the type of guy who was very hungry to burn both ends of the candle, sometimes not even getting to bed.

One time I met this Canadian who shipped computer motherboards to the North American market and made a lot of money. He was a pretty interesting guy so one night we dipped into the tequila. Hard alcohol makes me pretty wild but tequila makes me crazy so the night passed pretty quickly with lots of laughter and cigarettes and carefree recklessness. I had almost forgotten that I had a class to teach at the high school so when I showed up I was still drunk. The problem was I had the hiccups too. It was awful. I tried to joke around and give them some assignment that would remove the need for me to teach but I failed miserably. My jokes were slurred and interrupted with hiccups, and the assignment I gave them made very little sense, so the next day there were several complaints from the students, saying I was drunk. I tried to argue I had been out drinking the previous night but my boss at the school said they could smell it on me and that I was visibly drunk. I had humiliated myself and I was removed from my teaching post immediately. In a sense I had lost too much face to return to that high school, so my John ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ Keating class was taken from me. But I owned it and took it on the chin.

I was embarrassed but not heartbroken because Taiwan was a big place and I could easily find work at another school.

My first teaching job was in Chungli, which was about an hour outside of Taipei – the capital. It was an industrial suburb full of factories as if in some post-apocalyptic film. There were many foreign teachers but no one in the area spoke English so a Taiwanese guy who had grown up in the States had opened his own bar where there were several English schools (called bushibans). The bar was called Soundgarden. He had three picnic tables inside this very small building on a busy street with an entire wall full of vinyl albums. The guy was super cool and let us request songs whenever we wanted, so at night all these foreign English teachers from all over the world (Canada, South Africa, England, Australia) would show up and drink at this run down little bar and blast music. There were no people around because it was surrounded by factories. Without the music blaring it was a really creepy vibe but the place was always hopping because we had so much money to burn. The beer was cheap and the company was good and the music was awesome – a good way to spend the night. When I wanted to really party on a Saturday night I would go there and drink all night. But I could never go there and write in my journal, and increasingly I wrote more and more. I drank and rode my motorcycle all the time, never really thinking twice about it.

I told myself I was an excellent rider, which I was, but sooner or later there would be a crash.

As time went on and I had more money in the bank and more confidence as a teacher and writer, I became more and more reckless. My roommates in my apartment staged an intervention telling me I was drinking too much, to which I replied: “Yes, I am. But I’m not going to stop because I’m working while I drink.” Brilliant rebuttal to an intervention, but in a way – in my mind at the time – it was true. I was spending hours and hours writing in my journals. Finally I could live the life of a philosophy tester and test all these philosophies I had studied at university. I could see if they were sound or not. I loved this aspect of my life. It was dynamic and exciting and contrasted heavily to the terrible life I had been living the previous year in Canada that was saturated with affirmative action – in my mind essentially racism against white males.

I was unaware that I was developing a toxic mixture of anger and resentment coupled with the freedom to do what I wanted in a country that was afraid of arresting foreigners. (Very few cops spoke English and many times I had been pulled over on the road and let go because I didn’t speak Mandarin – the police didn’t want to lose face by trying to speak choppy English). It was a potentially lethal mix. I would leave the bar very drunk and instead of being boring and going home to sleep I would hop on my motorcycle and ride up into the mountains just to explore. Gifted with an exceptional sense of direction and always having a compass, I could go on very long rides and come back at the end of the day after drinking all night and riding drunk all day, then returning to my apartment and sleeping until my next class on Monday morning.

This went on and on.

One night I, and another Canadian, left for the beach. We wiped out several times because riding drunk and doubling someone on the back is a very dangerous thing to do. He was drunk too so when we wiped out and saw the blood dripping from our knees or elbows we shrugged it off and kept going, laughing hysterically as we came closer to the South China Sea. We ended up damaging my motorcycle so badly that we had to call a taxi to get back to Chungli. The motorcycle was placed in the back of the van and dropped off at the local mechanic and repaired. Another time I wasn’t so lucky. I was alone and had a bag full of cold beer and heading west to the ocean after a night of drinking. I had taken some pills that night and felt extra pumped to get to the water for a swim and to write in my journal though I never made it. Drivers in Taiwan never signaled when they turned so foolishly I was tailgating this car that ended up slamming in the brakes and turning without signalling. I ended up ramming into the back bumper and went flying over the car. I woke up in the hospital, still to this day not knowing what transpired. I was likely lying on the road all bloodied up, curled in the fetal position with my long brown hair all over my face. Local Taiwanese farmers were likely looking at the unconscious foreigner foolish enough to be riding a motorcycle in their country without a helmet. It probably took an hour to get an ambulance there to such a remote area. They must have found a card in my wallet with the name of the school so they called the number and the owner and the manager were there at my bedside when I woke up two days later.

I banged up my knee and had some scrapes and bruises but was otherwise fine.

It was in such a remote area that the clinic could barely be called a hospital. I remember it being very cold when I woke up and it was all Chinese. Only the two people from the school spoke English. I never knew for sure what had happened and whether I had been in a coma, or just dead drunk. Not wearing a helmet I was fortunate not to have suffered a brain injury. I had no bruising or soreness on my head. When I woke up I think it was just a really long sleep from the booze and the pills. And I’m sure they had given me some morphine or something for the pain.

I returned to teaching a few days later and never spoke about it again. The owner of the school was tremendously relieved that I was all right as the legal vulnerability to his school must have scared him though the school was surely not a fault. Both of them treated me a bit differently after that, a bit scared of my recklessness and drinking and skeptical of the ‘apple pie’ image I presented to my students. They had discovered that I was a scallywag who drank on the weekends and took unnecessary risks. But this event did nothing to dissuade me from my scallywag doppelganger that came out when I partied.

In fact it fueled the fire that I was on a mission and in a way protected in some divine way.

A friend of mine at the school had discovered a pharmacy that sold Ritalin. I had heard of this drug as something given to youngsters who had Attention Deficit Syndrome, and therefore thought it would be some sort of relaxant. But I found out very quickly that it was like speed. And speed and motorcycling went hand in hand. Your head is clear and reflexes are tuned in and you can ride all day without any hampering fatigue. For a while that first year in Taiwan I had found a dangerous narcotic that could boost my energy so I could accomplish even more.

But I never took Ritalin and taught. I was pretty disciplined when it came to teaching. I had learned my lesson when I didn’t sleep and showed up drunk on Tequila that one time and lost my high school teaching gig. But what I did do was pop pills. I popped valium sometimes or I would pop Lorazepam. I didn’t even really know what it was except I could perform like a stand-up comic and get the kids really excited and not feel embarrassed. It removed any anxiety – and that’s what they were called: anti-anxiety pills.

At the time when I was teaching I had a lot of time off yet I was still teaching enough to be making a lot of money. It was a good life but one that was full of stress and emotion, yet this tension gave rise to a lot of good writing. Firstly, teaching is an emotional thing to do. You put yourself out there to teach. Speaking in public, whether to young adults at college level or little kids in kindergarten – it’s the same thing. But once this was over and I was paid, I was still wound up so I would never go home to relax. I would always find a café to write. It was a truly dynamic time for me. I spent almost all my time on my little 150cc motorcycle that looked like a little sport bike with it cool faring and striping. I never followed the rules of the road. Instead I did what the locals did on two-wheels: I weaved in between vehicles. Looking back on it now it was crazy dangerous but I was damn good at it. One had to be good at it otherwise you would be killed pretty quickly. The only thing I stopped for were red lights, but even these were optional. Like the other motorcyclists on the road, we would slowly pass the cars in between the lanes right on top of the lines until we had our own motorcycle queue in between the lanes. Exhaust spewed out from the exhaust pipes that went right in our lungs so that at the end of the day my face was covered in black exhaust. The helmet I occasionally wore was like a mini biker’s helmet – a hat really that had no protection. And in the three years I was on the road in Taiwan I was only pulled over twice, and both times let go because the cops couldn’t speak English. In other words there was no traffic enforcement.

The behaviours on the roads epitomized the laissez-faire capitalism of Taiwan.

In my free time I studied Mandarin. Like Japan I had to leave the country to get my passport stamped for my work visa except this time instead of going to Manila I went to Hong Kong. And I stayed with my Uncle Peter who was still living there as a professor. It had been seven years since I saw him and I had grown up a lot. I spoke to him not as a child to his uncle but from a friend to a friend. And it was great. He liked being treated like my friend and I felt much more at ease. I had always been a shy kid and sensitive to criticism but now I was full of Nietzschean philosophy and had the confidence of a teacher. We liked hanging out. During that weekend we hung out by the water and shared beers and swore and talked about women. For the first time in my life I felt that confidence of a young man finding his voice. My uncle sensed that and encouraged me in the many subtle ways that an uncle could with his nephew. I think he shared the bond of family with me living and working so far away from where we were born so that that bond strengthened over the years. I thought if I were even have serious problems I could call him.

When I did run into serious problems I never called anyone.

Once I had settled in and got my mojo teaching, I polished my technique of my persona: cut-off shorts, t-shirt and Birkenstocks. I grew a droopy mustache and goatee because it hid my mouth, which further protected me from ridicule by rogue students. And thus I had found my look.

And soon this look would be copied by many of my co-teachers.

I bought a compass on put it on my watchstrap so I could use it as I was riding whenever I encountered a fork in the road. I took on other classes at different schools to make more money and they all paid me in cash at the end of the day. I taught kindergarten, which was really about being happy and smiling and singing songs. I had one class that were entirely new to English so I walked down each row of desks and gave English names to each student. I was on a bit of a Bible kick so I named each kid after the disciples, including Bartholomew and Thaddeus. I really enjoyed singing ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ because I knew how much money I would get and how far that money would allow me to ride up into the Central Mountain Range to explore the vast stretches of middle Taiwan.

In Taiwan I never smoked drugs but was often drinking beer, and I didn’t take Ritalin unless I was riding a long way.

One day when I was in the faculty office preparing for a class a friend of mine approached me with the idea of going to a concert in the south of Taiwan called The Spring Scream. I had heard about it from other expat teachers but it was so far away that the possibility of me going was remote, but upon this guy’s urging at the last minute we boarded a train and left for the southern tip of the country. Through mountain tunnels and across foothills of the never-ending mountains, we enjoyed ourselves drinking and smoking as we made our way down to the weekend concert on the beach. I was overwhelmed by the event. The weather was perfect and the stage was built on the water’s edge with expatriate bands playing for three days straight. The women went topless and everyone was drinking and dancing like it was Woodstock except in one of the most remote spots in the world. I met a girl who was topless the entire time. We fell in love and then promptly lost each in the melee. My buddy and I rented scooters for the second day and explored the rough coastal roads and cliff faces, revealing a part of the world seldom seen by foreigners or Taiwanese.

Again it was an example of never letting any bit of time slip through my fingers without seriously utilizing it for experience.

I knew that there was so much to explore and I hated for it to end so again the idea fortified within me to find a way to generate a monthly income so I didn’t always have to return to work. I began to rack my brain for ways to make enough money so I could live as a full-time shoestring traveler. There was nothing more I loved than exploring on a motorcycle with a baggie of weed and a compass and my journals.

But how to sustain that was a problem I would face for many years.

My uncle was a practical man and he encouraged me to study Mandarin. He said if I could learn how to speak Chinese jobs would open up to me I had no idea existed. The logic was sound and I was naturally an intellectually curious dude so my studies went along well. The Chinese were usually very respectful when they encountered foreigners speaking their language because it showed respect. There were some who liked to take the piss and laugh, but for the most part I could practice my Chinese speaking every day. My classes were good and then something happened to me that made me double my efforts. I soon found jobs in the newspaper that were a great fit for me but always required the native English speaker to be fluent in Mandarin. It was a time in history when many western corporations were establishing offices in Taiwan and the mainland so there were many opportunities. The bigger question I had to answer was whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life living in Greater China. I had in my mind the vision of traveling the world, not just Asia, but I kept up with my Chinese language studies and became rather good at Mandarin.

That same friend who was the instigator to take a train due south to the tip of Taiwan to the Spring Scream was the same one who proposed the idea of traveling to Cambodia for a couple of weeks as a vacation. I knew nothing about Cambodia so it appealed to me greatly. I had been at the school for just over a year and they were asking me to take two weeks off or lose my vacation time. Nine out of ten expat teachers flew home for two weeks to describe the chaos and beauty of their place of teaching but for me going “home” was the last thing I wanted to do. Going to Cambodia to explore suited me to a tee. And so I left for Cambodia solo, expecting to be there for nine days.

But like most things in life, things never go to plan.


Motorcycling in Cambodia


Some people become professional athletes and some people become accountants, but for me I was becoming a serious adventurer – not for money or fame but for the sake of adventure. I loved the act of exploring – the thrill – and putting myself into situations that required good judgment and common sense. I had put in my time studying philosophy, not for the sake of getting good marks, but for the sake of learning what life was and how to live a life of meaning. (My final year at Queen’s I had straight As, which in contrast with my first year, showed how I had evolved). I had taken a special interest in the philosopher themselves and their lives, what they did and how they lived. I knew that after Socrates killed himself by drinking hemlock instead of losing his freedom and going to jail at the age of 79. I knew that Plato, his student, left Athens at age 26 and decided to travel the known world. He went everywhere. He didn’t have a fortune or did he really have any means at all but he just did it. He explored the world and saw what life was for 14 years – two life cycles – and then returned to Athens and founded his famous school: The Academy. This was the type of template I looked to during this phase of my life. I thirsted to go deeply into the unknown with my eyes wide open to learn by taste and smell and touch. There was a method in my madness but this didn’t mean I wasn’t at times immature and reckless.

There was plenty of that too.

So when I decided to fly to Cambodia from Taiwan for nine days, I ended up spending all my time exploring on my rented Honda CR 250 motorcycle. Cambodia was unlike any country I had ever known. It was so pure because there was no pollution, which was because there was no industry in Cambodia to speak of. The city of Pnom Penh was stuck in time. The old French colonial city was just as it had been during the time of Indochina, when the French empire was at its peak in Asia. There were elderly Cambodians drinking French coffee at cafés and speaking French. The French architecture took my breath away. Called “The Paris of Asia,” Pnom Penh was an utopia for backpackers and hard-core travelers alike. The backpackers still hadn’t discovered Cambodia so even the number of tourists there in 1998 were very few.

Lush tropical foliage encircled the statues and beautiful buildings in a slow dance that had me stopped to soak up the beauty at every second turn.

Going to Cambodia was the first vacation I had taken in my life. I was 31. All the adventures I had taken up to that point were done not as a vacation but as side tours and weekend jaunts. Having been teaching for just over a year in Taiwan and being forced to use my two weeks’ vacation, it was the first time I had chosen to go somewhere while employed. I had spent my life studying and working at various jobs but had never been at a job long enough to warrant an actual vacation, so this put added fuel in my pocket and I wanted to make the best of it.

I sought to squeeze as much toothpaste out of the tube as I could during this nine days, but I was to find out that doing this required concentration and care.

I hadn’t been a day at my hostel before I found a motorcycle rental shop and rented a very good bike – the Honda CR250 – the ideal touring bike for my purposes. It was a powerful bike but not too big, with fantastic shock absorbers that could go anywhere. Then, as I rode around the Russian market downtown where local vendors sold food, I bumped into this woman from France who was leaving that day. She offered me a huge baggie of weed that she said she couldn’t smoke before her flight left. She was perfectly casual and serious at the same time, assuring me she was telling the truth. So we smoked a joint together and shared a laugh in front of a beautiful old building in downtown, no cops around to spy on us. Just as soon as we smoked it she left on her motorcycle and left me there stoned to explore on my own. Armed with a baggie of strong weed I found the hip bar to hang out called Apocalypse Now that had blood red walls and a few scattered chairs and a hacked-up pool table. I sucked back a few beers and met some other intrepid travelers.

And that’s how I came to meet a number of far-out travelers.

Comparing notes with the travelers who were there I decided I would ride my motorbike to Sihanoukville in the southwest of the country beside Thailand in the Gulf of Siam– the only spot where there was ocean access. I thirsted for a few days of beach life where I could relax and smoke doobies. Scanning the map the distance didn’t appear that far. The previous December two foreign travelers had been kidnapped and killed while traveling on the train from Pnom Penh to Sihanoukville so travelers were being warned of the danger. Seldom did I heed these danger warnings but for some reason I really feared taking the train to such a remote area in such a remote and unpoliced country, so I chose to go there anyway except on my rented motorcycle. I didn’t travel with anyone because I enjoyed traveling alone and besides I couldn’t find anyone else crazy enough to go through the wild countryside to get to Sihanoukville.

I left in the morning. The first problem I encountered but something so basic it hadn’t occurred to me: gas stations. There weren’t any. Getting lower and lower on fuel, I slowed down as I passed through villages and soon realized, after pointing to my gas tank as I saw a person pass, that there were little tables at the side of the road that sold gasoline that came in old soft drink containers. Locals would get barrels of gas and would pour the gas into large plastic Coke Bottles. So I found these incognito gas stations along the way. Mile after mile of countryside that was so green it hurt my eyes. Oxen used the road to travel between towns and there were wash outs from the heavy rains that would come in the afternoons. After the countryside being flat I encountered some mountains that popped up out of nowhere – the classic mountains of rock you see in part of southern China around Gulin. It was awesome. I rode right into these mountains, somehow the road finding its way around them. I knew from my map that I was close to the coast but as I stopped for gas I became disoriented because the gas station was on the other side of the road. I was more focused on the mountains so when I went back onto the road I started going the wrong way. With no discernable landmarks or signs and with darkness starting to fall, I rode hour after hour while thinking I was still so close to reaching the ocean.

I kept telling myself I would hit Sihanoukville in a few minutes over and over again but I never did. This is why I kept riding as the sun fell and the bugs came out. Now riding a dirt bike on the country road in a country like Cambodia is a little different than you might expect because the number of bugs that come out of nowhere is pretty shocking. The air in front of me – for nearly an hour – turned gray with bugs. One of the pieces of equipment that I did not have were eyewear. I always road with sunglasses because never did you want to get something in your unprotected eye while riding at high speed on a motorcycle, but that’s precisely what happened to me. I kept assuring myself that I would get to the beach in a matter of minutes that I kept pushing myself to ride. That’s when a bug of some kind smashed right into my left eye. It wasn’t just a bug that went into my eye – something sliced the white of my eyeball as it hit. It might have been the bug’s wing but whatever hit the flesh of my eyeball cut it.

The pain was immediate.

I very carefully eased the throttle back and slowly stopped in the darkness. There were no street lights or any lights at all so I could see my hands in front of me. I was scared for the first time in my life.

Taking some deep breaths I calmed down and told myself I had to keep going. I was low on gas and had no choice but to keep moving. And that’s what I did – I kept going forward with one eye closed. Fortunately it was only another hour before I began to see lights. I was so excited but then I became crestfallen when I realized that the lights were not from Sihanoukville but from Pnom Penh! I had just ridden 14 hours on my motorcycle but had come back to the capital by mistake. Instead of being really bummed out though I was proud to have ridden so far. I settled in to the bar and drank a few beers and nursed my eye back to full functionality.

Still today I can see the cut on the white of my eye from that day.

The next day I set out on exactly the same ride except wearing cheap sunglasses. I made the trip in seven hours, getting through the mountains without getting turned around. When I arrived in the dark I was shocked at how small it was. There were no lights on except a few, and there was only one bar. I wanted more than anything was to find a bar and have a beer and relax before finding a place to stay. So when I walked into this bar that was empty, the first thing I saw above the bar was a beautiful pewtered coat-of-arms of Queen’s University! There were so many landmines around in the area that engineers from Queen’s University in Canada had been hired by the UN to find them and get rid of them, and they had I’m sure spent lots of time in this tiny bar and left this as a memento! I stayed for a few beers and not one person came through the doors. It was just me and my journal writing under the Queen’s University coat-of-arms!

Sihanoukville was a very small village with only one place to stay for foreigners wanting to enjoy the beach, but it was fantastic. I saw only one other traveler during the few days I was there, an older man who had married a local Cambodian and who lived there full time. He ran a restaurant there that served good food, safe to eat. (Years later Sihanoukville was the place where many gallons of toxic waste had been dumped just outside of town. A rich Taiwanese company had paid a local company lots of money to bury these barrels of toxic waste but the local company hadn’t buried them properly or deep enough so the toxic waste had seeped into the ground water and caused many deaths and illnesses to the local population. This of course was a real shame because of the pristine beauty of the beach and untainted nature of the village).

I stayed and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of this little untrammeled nook in the world and its warm water and decent surf until the day before my flight left. That morning I hopped on my motorcycle and went to the beach to take a dip before riding the seven hours back to Pnom Penh. It was a hot day so I thought it would be wise to go for a swim and let the water keep my head cool. I had refused to even bring a helmet with me so I was a bit worried about possible sunstroke. The beach was empty. I went to a small area of the beach where there was no one around, except for a father and young daughter. I left my small knapsack and my larger knapsack beside my Honda and left my Birkenstocks there, and the key in the ignition. There were lots of palm trees around but I was sure there was no one there. I was worried that someone might take my bag but without anyone there I felt safe. I walked out into the calm water and looked back and only saw the father and young daughter on the beach. I dove into the water for a minute knowing that after this I would be returning to the hectic pace of teaching in Taiwan. When I walked back to my bike I noticed that one of my bags was missing. My Birkenstocks were there and the key was in the ignition and my small knapsack was there but my bigger bag was gone! I ran around the beach and again saw no one but the father and daughter were also gone. I ran frantically around but didn’t see a soul!

Someone had nicked my bag.

This was a problem for several reasons. Firstly my passport and wallet were in there. And secondly my air ticket was also taken. But the worst thing was my journal was in there. I had spent a good deal of time writing in my journal and that was the thing of most value to me.

I took a moment to figure out what to do. I told myself not to think about the lost journal because there was nothing I could do about it. But the most pressing thing was that I literally didn’t have one dollar. I needed to get to the Canadian consulate in Pnom Penh so I decided to return to the hostel where I stayed and asked them to lend me 10 dollars. This would cover the gas for me to get to the capital. The woman felt very badly for me and was happy to lend my 10$ but I knew that this was a very big amount for her to part with.

I promised her I would return.

So I hopped on my Honda and rode in my swim trunks to Pnom Penh. It was so hot that day that I arrived seriously sunburned. The bag that was stolen also had my long shorts that I wore, my swim trunks were short shorts that exposed the white skin at the top of my legs. I was very red when I arrived in Pnom Penh. I was able to get a room in the hostel without paying and I had a few dollars left over so I went to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia (FCCC) for a cold beer. I would be able to charge food and beer to my account at the hostel until I could wire for money from Taiwan, so I could rationalize going out for a few beers. It turned out being a very good decision because that’s when I bumped into Rita.

There I was in my tiny swim trunks with beet-red thighs and a tiny moustache that I had decided to grow standing on the landing of this old colonial masterpiece of architecture, thirsting for a cold beer and there is Rita, a tall, strong and beautiful photographer who was there doing freelance work. I had met Rita tree planting and we had immediately become friends. She was like me – independent, original thinker, artistic temperament and innovative, and not afraid to use her life to experiment with philosophies. She had “taken the step” to become who she is – that Nietzschean fundamental underpinning that is the mark of all true originals. She was becoming a world-renown photographer, having covered war zones and humanitarian crises all over the world. (Rita would later become one of my generations most celebrated and important photographers of our time). The last time I had seen Rita was walking out of her bedroom downtown Toronto after our second summer tree planting. We had consummated our relationship and had fun doing that, but our lives went in different directions until this moment, when across the ocean we were to bump into each other just at this moment.

And thank God it did. She was happy to see me as I was very happy to see her.

The first thing she said was: “What’s with those shorts?” We both broke out laughing and I explained to her my story over a few beers.

She was living in Cambodia for a few months covering the UN-monitored elections that were to finally happen next week. She was sharing a house with the editor of the Pnom Penh Post – a daily newspaper published in English. When she learned of my predicament she asked if I wanted to crash on her couch, which being so independent I declined. I would wire the school for money (that they owed me) and all would be fine, but even this plan was to fall short.

Again my life philosophy of making the best of things came into play. I wired the school the next morning and they confirmed they would send $500, which was a lot of money. Instead of staying in the city and wallowing in my misery of having been robbed, I planned instead to continue on my motorbike and explore north of the lake to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. I wasn’t about to sit around and wait for money and my temporary passport to arrive! But the owner of the school in Taiwan decided $500 was too much to send – that I couldn’t possibly need $500 for a week! So come the end of the week when the wire transfer of funds came through I received only $300. Having planned on receiving the $500 they owed me I was now roughly $50 short. I owed the motorcycle rental company money and needed to pay for my airline ticket etc. But instead of being pissed off that I again needed money to get out of Cambodia, I took it as a sign that this was my time to really dive in and see the nooks and crannies of this exotic old French colony.

I contacted a friend of mine in Taiwan who I knew had lots of money and he wired me the money I needed. When all was said and done I spent six weeks exploring Cambodia while waiting for money to come in from Taiwan. The country was still very backwards in terms of computer technology. In fact I don’t think I saw one computer the entire time I was there, so things like wiring money moved at a snail’s pace. But this didn’t stop me from making friends and riding all over Cambodia with fellow riders and a shitload of drugs.

Rita was plugged into the scene there in Cambodia so I tapped in on this. There were many intrepid people who were there early in Cambodia’s new tourism trade, similar to when I traveled in China in early 1990. They loved being the first ones there after decades of civil war and strife. The Khmer Rouge had only been out of power for barely 20 years and many of them still rode around on their little motorbikes with AK-47 machine guns strapped on their backs. In fact that was a common sight: men with machine guns strapped to their shoulders like a traveler would have a backpack. There was some fear I felt when I saw them because so many were stoned on betel nut, which could make you pretty crazy.

The red teeth and decaying gums were the telltale signs of a betel nut addict, and there were many.

I learned a lot during this trip. I learned from the best. I observed ex-cons running hostels and how drug dealers dealt with hostel owners and taxi drivers, and how to stay away from stoned men with machine guns. I was able to see the good from the bad and develop a good instinct to protect myself from potential harm because Cambodia during the late 90s was a dangerous place. When I finally moved in with Rita that’s when I really let my hair down and immersed myself into the daily life of being an expat living in Cambodia. I became used to waking up to the sound of roosters and how to sleep in during the hottest days without air conditioning. I learned how to pace myself and to hydrate and to navigate through the dangers of the local food. I met through Rita several hard-core people, a few of who joined Rita and me as we rode around Tonlé Sap lake in the heart of Cambodia up to the stunning Siem Reap and the famous Angkor Wat. Erik “The Flying Dutchman” DeBeer and I became tight as two reckless Vikings hell-bent on seeking danger. Before we went north we found a trusted taxi driver who was connected enough to find most of the drugs we asked for. We each bought a baggie of weed and some hash and some powdered speed but declined the heroin.

The drugs were super cheap but the speed was rather pricey. I had never done speed before except as Ritalin in pill form so this was a whole new experience. Snorting speed was what the Hell’s Angels did during their heyday in the late sixties in California – and I could soon see why it was the drug of choice for anyone riding on two wheels. Everything went at 200mph! The riding was sublime. Attuned senses made riding safe despite riding at such high speeds. It was the opposite of riding while drunk, when things were sluggish and in slow motion.

Rita and the Dutchman and three others headed north not only to explore northern Cambodia but we would also take part as UN monitors during the country’s first democratic vote. Hun Sen was the favorite but there were some opposition candidates who were receiving death threats. I couldn’t care less about the election but it was fun to take part. We stood around and watched people walk into polling booths to vote. That was it. It went against what I wanted to do, which was to get high and flirt with danger on the country roads. There was one guy with us from Texas who was working on his PhD in Cambodian history from Rice University, and he wasn’t so into the manic partying as the rest of us. The Dutchman and a guy from the States who lived off a military pension after being badly burned when he was in his early twenties. Pico was very cool and was very casual and funny when we partied. It stuck with me how cool he was and what a great life he had living off a pension and living full time in Thailand. He was in Cambodia only because he wanted a break from Thailand!

Again it touched on my ambition to also achieve a permanent monthly income so I could in effect live as a backpacker full time and write.

I didn’t want my time in Cambodia to end. I had drugs, new vistas, cool friends and a motorcycle. I was 31 years old and made a good living teaching English to respectful little Chinese kids. I had a girlfriend who happened to be a photographer of renown and who was cool enough to join me on my motorcycling. I was learning Mandarin with hopes of landing a high-paying job that required a native English speaker who spoke Chinese and who wanted to live in China. Most of my friends were working at crappy jobs back in Canada or had antagonistic bosses who made their lives miserable. I had studied what interested me and was forging my own path. I was writing about my adventures and hoped to eventually write a novel based on what I had done. I had been safe enough not to crash or otherwise get hepatitis or dengue fever despite going to pretty far-out places. So when I was high on speed riding my Honda CR250 on/off road dirt bike all of these thoughts floated through my mind. I wasn’t rich by any means nor did I think I would ever be rich, but I looked at it all as a type of wealth very few people experience. I was using my philosophy studies to justify this life. I could harness all the hours of study to rationally assure myself that my Cambodian predicament was part of me forging my own trail in life.

This was what it was to make my own decisions and to think for myself.

But where would it all lead?

I had been raised in upper middle-class neighbourhoods in various cities in Canada so I had tapes as to where I should find myself when I was 31. This was not one of them. Sometimes I thought this crazy adventure was one major wrong turn I had taken somewhere along the road but my true self knew that it was precisely the road I knew as a 13 year old I was destined to take. Taking into consideration that I had chosen badminton as my primary sport and that philosophy had been my choice of subject to study, there was some rhyme and reason to where I found myself based in Asia studying Mandarin and motorcycling in exotic countries all the while obsessively writing in my journals. It both comforted me and scared me that I had found myself here but the more I experienced this kind of life the more my confidence built upon itself so that I went forward with poise and knowledge that I was following my dreams and living the way I wanted to live. I made decisions based on the principles I had created after I had demolished the principles of belief I had inherited from my parents and friends. I had single-handedly smashed my old belief system and rebuilt my own belief system from the rubble using the insights and wisdom of the world’s greatest thinkers. It was not all a fly-by-night whim. There was a method to the madness.

And so I forged on as I rode my motorcycle to the heart of Cambodia: Angkor Wat.

This mysterious complex was truly astonishing. Our original group of seven riders had dwindled down to just the Flying Dutchman and I who finally made it so far from Pnom Penh. I played tourist and walked around this massive complex of temples and walls not understanding its significance. I often went to places without doing the requisite research and this was one of those times. But for me it didn’t matter because most don’t do their homework but can still be in awe of its magnificence. The detail in the illustrations and carving in the walls struck me as examples of a people who cared about art. Yes, these buildings were used as some sort of measuring points to the elliptic and the stars above but the accuracy and angles and precision of these buildings were nothing like I had ever seen.

I took my motorcycle between the buildings, not fully aware that there were land mines surrounding Angkor Wat. Usually TV or history books show the main building but there are 14 such constructions that make up the complex. And the main building used to be covered in gold leaf.

I met a woman while we explored, who was the daughter of a French professor who had been in Angkor for decades researching. We hit it off and spent some time together there, with her interested in following me back to Taiwan. This posed a number of challenges to me: my lifestyle was such that to have a girlfriend was to infringe on my new life. The woman would have to be cut from some solid stock to keep up with my insane pace, which included motorcycling and drinking and me spending hours writing. I could see that she had some very admirable qualities but didn’t have the package needed to hang out with me.

This was to happen many times during my decade living overseas.

Eventually money was wired to me and I was able to pay my motorcycle rental and hostel bills as well as purchase a ticket back to Taiwan where I resumed my classes but not without some raised eyebrows. The management saw me as a rogue teacher who took advantage of vacation time but to me it was them who had engineered my time down there from two weeks to six weeks. I loved every minute of my Cambodian trip but to work in an environment where my employers regarded me with suspicion was not a situation I would tolerate, especially when I hadn’t done anything wrong.

Living in Chungli I often met European engineers who visited the area because of all the factories that made parts for European cars. They would ask what the hell I was doing there in such a dank place but I would tell them I was teaching English. Not all of them could see why I was there but I felt I was in the best place in the world. I was happy. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I enjoyed teaching and loved the lifestyle of the lawless riding on the streets that lead into the mountains and to the lagoons and sprawling bridges and long winding mountain tunnels. It was a dreamland in a fairy tale with pollution and exhaust and mayhem on the streets and the raw smells of street vendors selling every part of domesticated animals. It was exotic and I was part of its fabric and it was the breeding ground for something bigger: a higher-paying job in Shanghai.

I had really enjoyed teaching English but there was one thing that – for me – was better than this: to become a professional writer. So when I came across an ad for an editor of a computer magazine I took a train into Taipei for the interview. I liked the owner of the magazine but he wasn’t convinced I had the writing skills because I didn’t previously have a professional writing job or portfolio, so he gave me a writing assignment. I can’t recall the questions he gave me but I attacked the assignment with all the fervor I knew I had learned from Queen’s and spent the next few days writing it up. When I sent it to him I thought I had a pretty good chance of landing the job. Sure enough a few days later he called me to tell me I was hired and that my first day of work was on Monday. I had four days to pick up my stuff, find a place to live in Taipei and to resign from all my teaching jobs. I knew it was a life-changing moment for me because to become a professional writer was to do what I loved, but I hadn’t realized how tough it would be to say good-bye to my students. I had developed close bonds with a few of them, seeing them morph from awkward little kids into medium-sized humans who spoke with a Pete Higgins’ accent. I’ve never been one for long good-byes so I was brief with my good-byes, leaving them to the end of the class. It was a very emotional experience and many of my students simply could not understand why I would leave, so that weighed heavily on me for quite a while. Still to this day, 25 years later I wonder what my students are like now – grown-ups with their own families and still speaking Pete Higgins’ sounding English with all sorts of odd words and phrasing and English expressions, but hopefully with the confidence of speaking clear, concise and crisp English.

Being so inclined to writing I had started writing a book of English Expressions because when I had started teaching I was amazed at how often I used an expression rather than speaking proper English. My aim was to equip the Taiwanese with enough English expressions to at least understand their use in conversational English and to recognize an English Expression when they heard one. They were fun to teach because the textbook English could be pretty boring. And I enjoyed acting out the meanings. So much of ESL teaching is acting and I let my classrooms become a stage. Having been a student for so many years myself I knew the importance of gaining the student’s confidence and decreasing any tension within the classroom because students cannot learn when they’re stressed out. Making an impression on a student with an open and relaxed mind was my aim, and for the most part I succeeded in this. So I would act out and explain these English Expressions to my students as a sort of bonus to the day’s teaching. I amassed over 1000 expressions in my book but never completed it to publication. I suppose it would be a retirement project for me at this point.

But moving from the classroom to an office was more difficult than I expected, as was moving from the sticks into the heart of Taiwan: Taipei – the city that never sleeps.


The Heart of the Dragon


I hit the ground running in Taipei. Having spent a year and a half teaching in Chungli, I had enough experience with the Chinese culture to fit into Taipei rather well in comparison with neophytes who had just moved there from places like Seattle or Manchester. I knew the customs of the Taiwanese and I could speak the language enough to get by. I had tapped into their extreme kindness and empathized with their predicament with communist China. It was a relationship that worked for me, especially in contrast with the lofty and racist Japanese. I appreciated their get-up-and-go, and was in awe of their work ethic and their down-to-earth appreciation of the working man trying so hard to get by, complete with the temples and heavy emphasis on the spiritual life. I was very aware that Taiwan had the highest temple per capita ratio in the world, so that when I rode around on my motorcycle past the temples and pagodas and little tiny shrines for worship I was experiencing something special. Taiwan at times had become a spiritual utopia for me amidst the honking horns and melee of the cities.

It was a diamond in the rough during a time in my life when I wanted rough.

Taipei was a dynamic city that never slept. The bars and kiosks that lined the alleyways stayed open all night. If there was a demand there was a supply. It was capitalism on steroids. It was polluted like most Asian big cities but also charming in its architecture and old world relics. Most people aren’t aware that 73% of Taiwan in uninhabitable because of the mountains, and that the Central Mountain Range that runs down the centre of the country is higher than the Rocky Mountains in North America. The Portuguese, when they colonized the country back in the seventeenth century, called it “Ilse Formosa,” or “the beautiful island.” And they called it that because Taiwan is breathtaking in its geography. The more and more I drank all night at the bars and pubs downtown and popped Ritalin and rode my motorcycle into the mountains, the more I witnessed this beauty firsthand. The palm trees and steep mountainsides and winding roads and snake-like tunnels made it all like a fairy tale where people like me slipped through the stringent red tape and were allowed to be bohemians under the radar.

As I mentioned the police would not pull me over for the countless traffic violations I did because they couldn’t speak English and didn’t want to lose face trying to communicate with a foreigner. They just let us pass – those of us who rode around without helmets and had long hair and beards. We were expat hippies riding motorcycles with Birkenstocks sandals and stoned half the time. I couldn’t help compare myself to my friends back in Canada who were working their way up the corporate ladder and stressing over promotions and mortgages. I felt I was in the best place in the world and didn’t have a care other than to pay my rent and score more dope. I justified it all by working hard writing in my journals, jotting down ideas and hoping to have enough material to write another novel. I wanted to live a life worth writing about so I kept throwing caution to the wind and stretching each day out as much as it could be stretched. One of my favorite quotes at the time was from the French writer Montaigne who once wrote: “The day is the epitome of a year.” Many of my days during this time were like a year. Whole swaths of new experiences were had, and I met all sorts of interesting people at the bars from all over the world.

The bar was my classroom and beer was my wake-me-up coffee.

So when I landed in Taipei I was ready for it all. I was now making the transition from teacher to professional writer – a step I had wanted to do since I first left for Japan three years ago. I had always regarded being a professional writer as the ideal career for me. I knew I was obsessed with reading and writing and that every spare moment I was either reading or writing, so why not be paid to read and write? I knew my craft would evolve over time so if I could be paid to do some sort of writing then I would be on the right track.

The magazine was called ‘Eurotrade Computer Magazine.’ They wrote about the computer hardware being made in Taiwan. It was a trade journal with a subscription of roughly 6000. The content was targeted at European buyers of computer hardware, everything from high-tech motherboards to graphics cards and keyboards and monitors and PC cases. We covered it all. It was a big break for me and I loved it right off the bat.

However the problems were apparent right from the first day at work.

There were three new expatriates who had started that month. Our boss – a big wig Chinese guy – let his new editor-in-chief run things but this new editor-in-chief was new and not a people person. His big story was that he had retired from the US air force and helped write user manuals for the high-tech helmets the pilots wore. He was a dick right from the first time I met him. Some guys are all ego and this guy was skinny and small and wimpy yet sauntered around like he was Attila the Hun. He paraded himself around the office like a peacock and carried himself like he was a good writer. It’s interesting at this point that I already knew I was a good writer. From the sheer volume of writing, not the mention the endless number of essays I had written, had given me the confidence and writing skills to give me enough knowledge in the craft of writing that when I read what he wrote I immediately knew there would be a problem between us. Like teaching, either you have it or you don’t. And it’s my belief that those who have it also have the passion because it’s the passion to teach and the passion to write that gives a teacher and a writer that extra urge and courage to find their original voice and to stick with it and polish it to make it their own. This guy did not have the passion.

He was a math guy who had wrote a few manuals.

The other writer who had started was an Oxford and Cambridge graduate from Ireland who was a very good writer. His style was simplicity, which I favoured. Bill was smart and kept to himself, perhaps knowing at that early point that his new editor-in-chief boss would soon be discovered as a fraud. But I wasn’t so smart. Brash and eager I wanted it all when I started, almost immediately ruffling the feathers of this ex-military air force guy. He fired me after three weeks and I was devastated. He told me I was fired on a Friday and told me to come into the office the next day to get my stuff. Something about it was very wrong. I didn’t even have a chance to speak to the Chinese owner Harvey. But I did what I was told and I was very distraught. It was the first crisis I had during my two years in Taiwan. I thought of returning to Canada but to what? I had left there so adamantly and determined not to return that to go back was to be defeated. I had so much hope to become an editor at Eurotrade Magazine that I didn’t really have a plan B. However, after a weekend of drinking I bounced back and found a job teaching at one of the local schools in Taipei. I even found a night teaching post at the Taipei Christian College where I taught college level students in a small classroom. This was when I was able to really excel at teaching my English Expressions to students with already a good base of English.

I was living life in the fast lane in every way during this time. My girlfriend used to hang out at an expat bar called DV8. One night when we were sitting at the bar the bartender/owner approached me and asked me if I wanted to be the DJ for Thursday nights. It was a cool little place with three picnic tables and nicotine-soaked flags hanging off the walls. There was a pool table in the basement. At the top of the stairs was a small circular DJ booth complete with shelves full of CDs. I asked the owner how much I would be paid and she said “free beer.”

I agreed.

It was a lot easier and a lot more fun that I thought. So every Thursday night for the rest of the year I spent there at DV8 drinking beer and playing music. Needless to say I met many expats hanging out in Taipei in 1999. Many were studying Mandarin since Taipei was the preferred place for spies to learn Chinese rather than the mainland. I met corporate executives that would sneak away from their corporate lives to get down in a small, dusty bar off some side street off another side street in the heart of the nation’s capital. I learned a lot about music but I already knew enough to have hit the ground running. But what also came with this new role of DJ in Taiwan’s hippest and coolest underground expat bar was a lot more partying. I hit the bottle hard. Sheer volume of beers consumed during this year was high. I was also consuming various pills that I could easily get from pharmacies that preferred money to prescriptions.

Things were moving so fast that it seemed like it was all just to keep up.

I was teaching at a bushiban grades five to seven full-time as well as at the Taipei Christian College. I had the DJ gig and was studying Mandarin and motorcycling every chance I could, whether it be up in the mountains or riding to the coast. I was making lots of money but spending it on a fast life. I was doing a hell of a lot of writing as well in my journal and even had time for reading.

I never saw a TV at all.

For a few months I was staying in this place that just rented basic rooms. It was literally just a big room with a bed. There was no closet or bathroom or kitchen – just a room. There wasn’t any WiFi at this time nor any Internet connection because it was 1998 so I spent long quiet nights in that room right in the heart of downtown Taipei. It was a very bad time for me. My teaching friends were two hours away in Chungli and I didn’t even have the basic amenities I needed to live in a reasonable way. I was able to find accommodation with a fellow Canadian who I met at the school I was teaching at. He was a dark-eyed red head who was married to a very overweight Chinese woman. I didn’t really care for him but she was a terrible person. Bossy and arrogant, it was plain to see she didn’t want me in their apartment but I guess they wanted the extra income for rent. It was so tense in the apartment that I only last one month until one night I returned and found all my stuff outside in the hallway. There were several problems. I liked to play music and since the rooms were right beside each other she objected to me playing The Bare Naked Ladies CD over and over. The other issue was that I didn’t like eating with them. I would prefer to eat on my own but she regarded this as rude. It was just bad chemistry but to find that someone had gone through all my things and put them in the hallway was way beyond. I was angry but just for a moment as I realized it was the best thing for both parties. And it gave me an excuse to go out and find my way.

I did end up sleeping on my mattress in the dusty hallway that night though, a rather odd experience.

But this indeed did give me a push to find a teaching position outside of Taipei. I was worn out and thirsted for something different. The pace had been very fast in Taipei and I was exhausted. I wanted something more dynamic and that’s how I landed the teaching job on the Penghu Islands in the South China Sea.


The Penghu Islands


Sometimes when a traveler really is open minded they can find themselves in situations that are surreal, and when I was hired as the first-ever English teacher on the Penghu Islands it was a very odd and surreal experience. There had only been one other foreigner to ever live on the islands, a missionary who worked at the local leper colony. This new English School needed a native English speaker and so they hired me. The owner and I, a large Chinese woman who spoke English like a native, were the only two teachers at this very small school that was situated across from the big military base. The Penghu Islands, a series of five islands right in the centre of the South China Sea between Taiwan and mainland China, is over 75% military. There are a few scattered fishing villages but it is mainly a military base.

I was the first white person many of the Islanders had ever seen.

When I first stepped foot on the island my first impression was that it was very old. The settlements there were still like the original hutongs in China, with old four-foot high fences made of coral and stone, and the dwellings that were made of the same materials built small and compact and strong to fight the sea winds that constantly swept over the flat islands. I was amazed at all the sandy beaches that were just open bays of long stretches of beautiful beaches that had no development at all. Locals culminated around the bays with the sandy beaches but the little houses were built far from the beaches due to the typhoons that regularly hit the coast. One of the first things I did was ride my motorcycle to one of these large beaches and swim but little did I know there was a massive military base right beside it with a huge turret on the end of a long concrete wall with guards with binoculars watching me – this crazy long-haired foreigner swimming in the surf. I also didn’t know that this was where the military conducted their amphibious drills with tanks and water vehicles.

I can’t imagine the military debris under my feet as I swam and dove like a seal under the windy skies.

When I went for long walks I was continually amazed at the F-15s that buzzed overhead, so close to the ground that I constantly waved at the pilots. I could see their helmets as they flew overhead, often in pairs.

It was right out of Top Gun except it was all in Chinese.

I had been hitting the bottle pretty hard during that phase of Taipei so when I arrived on the islands I sobered up and spent my nights reading. I had many good books I had brought from the mainland so I was happy to teach and read and write. I had a very good time there, relaxing and teaching kids and adults. Most of the kids I taught were the sons and daughters of colonels and lieutenants from the surrounding bases so there was an added drama and sense of responsibility that accompanied my teaching. I was a natural in the classroom and I didn’t need any lorazepam or valium or anything to help me perform. I was calm and really into the whole experience because I knew it was a special place and that it was an honour to have been hired to teach to this generals of tomorrow.

The school set me up in this old house that was three stories. It was huge. Since the school was just starting out there was so furniture of any kind except a big bed. I outfitted the house with the basics and took the large master bedroom on the third floor. There was no TV or Internet but I was happy reading and going on long runs. I also spent a heck of a lot of time riding my motorcycle. The old reliable two-wheeled vehicle that had been with me for the two years proved to be invaluable as I crossed bridges and causeways from one island to the other, discovering pill boxes made of concrete and other fortifications that had been built for the Second World War and before that. The entire island was a museum of military defenses, built and worn down or destroyed by bombs from successive campaigns. I was told that after the communist revolution in 1949, the communists lobbed over 58,000 bombs on to the Penghu Island in 1958 since the two sides were at war. As sovereign Taiwanese territory, which is still the Republic of China, the People’s Republic of China were trying to provoke Taiwan (the nationalists under Chen Kai Shek) to retaliate, which they didn’t.

The Penghu Islands are the first line of defence and the most likely spot for Taiwan’s military.

I ran and grew a moustache and wrote a lot in my journals and finally was able to save money. I also kept up with my Mandarin studies. I found it peaceful and a great respite from the fast-paced craziness that I had been living. I enjoyed my adult classes the most as I found these students to be very keen and intelligent, very willing to ask questions and to learn my English Expressions. I gave them interesting tests and assignments that they completed with alacrity, which spurred me on to create more unconventional tests. I wrote short stories and gave them out as reading exercises. But not all were crazy about my unconventional methods. Many were military personnel and wanted to learn the basics, which meant they wanted to overcome their fear of speaking. And so I emphasized the repetitive rote learning that many of the Chinese are used to from their own schooling.

This proved to alleviate my detractors.

I did occasionally imbibe with booze. I found that I would drink and then explore on my motorcycle since there were no drinking and driving laws. I was a pretty fearless guy so with some booze in me I wouldn’t hesitate to ride down roads that weren’t really public. One time I found myself in private land with military equipment so being a practical man I turned around to make like Wayne Gretzsky and get the puck outa there except when I turned around I lost my balance and brushed against one of the many walls on the island. It was a small scrape but it was deep and bled profusely so I rode a little farther until a local saw all the blood and stopped me. We spoke in choppy Mandarin and he directed me to a small medical clinic in the vicinity. I was so drunk that they didn’t bother giving me any anesthetic but when they stitched my knuckle back into shape it hurt. This just made me more animated and loud, which brought more medical personnel to my corner. It was right around this time that I realized I was in a military infirmary surrounded by army. They were laughing at me because they knew how painful it was to be stitched in the knuckles without anesthetic so I was earning their respect. But they liked my get-up-and-go and gumption. They regaled at how I could have the doctor stitching my knuckles and cracking jokes in choppy Mandarin at the same time.

They weren’t really laughing at me; they were laughing near me.

But I was relieved and happy to get out of there without being arrested. I’m sure the people in power knew I was only the local English teacher and not a US spy. I was the eccentric Canadian teacher who liked to ride his motorcycle and occasionally went for long runs.

But when I went back to teaching the next day, the redness in my knuckles spread to my hand. The next day the line of redness spread farther to my wrist and the pain was unbearable. I could be pretty stubborn but I finally had to face the fact that my hand needed more attention so I went to the normal hospital on the island where the doctor took one look at it and slashed it open with a lance. Blood spurted everywhere and the pain didn’t subside at all. But he took hold of my finger and with a pair of tweezers took out a far size chunk of coral from the cut. He explained to me that coral is dead organic matter and thus has harmful bacteria that causes infection. He waved his finger at me saying I should have come in to the hospital earlier and that I was very fortunate to keep my hand. I thought he was being a bit dramatic but he then proceeded to open the cut even more and remove several other pieces of coral. He must have got right down to the bone.

But this time I did get a needle for the pain.

After having been so social for so many years I found the time alone to be therapeutic and strengthening to my spirit. I thought I had found a very unique situation that I could use to my benefit by teaching and studying and getting into good shape and writing. But it didn’t take long before I became restless for action. One night I drank some booze and hopped on my motorcycle and went to what I thought was a public bar. It was a bar but it was for the military. When I drink I have quite a swagger so it was with this swagger that I sauntered into this bar not caring whether it was off limits to me or not. I am a friendly guy and not the type to posture with antagonism. And I had brought my CDs. I sat at the bar and bought a few beers and soon bought some beers for a few of the guys there in their military caps. Taking it upon myself I put in a few of my CDs and cranked my music. They boys loved it. Soon they came over to socialize with me, realizing I was an amenable and friendly chappie who could speak Chinese rather well after a few beers. I had become rather well-versed in Taiwanese history and fluent in the current dynamics between the mainland and Taiwan so they were pretty surprised to hear my thoughts and hear my empathy with their situation. I could charm when needed and that night we all fell into each other as one large mass of drunken laughter and dancing. It was really an epical moment for me, especially now when I look back on it. The gall I had to walk into a military bar and play music and buy beers and talk politics with army personnel in top physical shape in the midst of their training and for it to coalesce into such a feel-good night of fun and partying was something really special both for me as the lone wolf and for them as Taiwanese military with very little exposure to westerners.

It was a fine moment.

And I left my CDs there for them to play, including my favourite Bob Dylan CD.

Right around this time, as I was making myself welcome and getting ahead financially and academically, I had a telephone call from Eurotrade Computer Magazine. It was Bill who was now the editor-in-chief of the magazine. He asked me if I wanted to come back to the magazine.

“What about the air force dude?” I asked. He explained that he was a dickhead and that he firing me was an abomination, and that Harvey was sorry it all went down like that and he and Harvey both wanted me to return to the team. Surprisingly I told him I needed some time to think about it. I told him I would call him in a few days. Then I asked how he had found out my phone number. He told me he had called my mother in Canada.

This was when I called my mother. I had spoken to her for the first time a few months before when I had landed the job on the Penghu Islands. I was ecstatic at having found such an exotic job that I felt impelled to share it with her. I hadn’t spoken to her in two years. I still hadn’t spoken to my brother or my father or sister – not one phone call. So it was serious luck that my mother even knew my telephone number at the school.

I took this as a sign of fate.

I knew this decision would have huge ramifications for me because if I continued along this path I would become fluent in Chinese in a matter of a year or two since there was nowhere to speak English on the Penghu Islands but at the same time I had always wanted to become a professional writer. And I knew a lot about computers and fostered a sincere interest. So when I spoke to my mother she asked me one simple question: “Do you want to be an English teacher your whole life?” That’s when I knew I had to accept the offer in Taipei so with a heavy heart I gave notice to my boss at the school and packed up my things (except for a few dozen of my books) and took the ferry back to the mainland to start my life as an editor.

My life was about to change profoundly.


Professional Writer


I was warmly welcomed back into the Eurotrade family when I returned. Harvey was very apologetic about the previous expat who thought he was king shit and didn’t have any authority to fire me the way he did. He made it a personal apology and asked for forgiveness, and that he had been very impressed with the writing I had done during the three short weeks I had been at Eurotrade. Harvey was a smart man and he knew that writers were a sensitive lot so his apology went a long way with me and fostered a sincere desire in me to work as hard as I could for his magazine. And I soon found out that a writer can only succeed as a professional writer if their interest is truly sincere. And Bill the Irishman was also contrite about what had happened and made it known that he was super happy to have me back. He was smart guy and liked other smart guys so we got along very well. He was trusting and supervised me with enough finesse to keep me happy without suffocating me. And he taught me many of the tricks of the trade. There are certain turns of phrase that make the writer’s life easier and certain points of perspective in article writing that make it easier for the reader. He was a great boss and we worked very hard in that office, often working well past the required hours of the working day.

But at the same time he would grant me enough space and leeway so that I could motorcycle to factories or office buildings to interview the engineers or product managers for new products hitting the market.

Having been such a keen student of philosophy during my university years, and having become such a fan of the philosopher Nietzsche, I was well aware that this morphing from teacher to professional writer was an important step in my life. I had always wanted to be a writer, whether a writer of films as I had been as a young dreamy 13 year-old, or as a writer of novels like Hemingway or Hesse while in my early twenties. At one time when I had graduated from Queen’s and was thinking of work I reckoned that becoming a technical writer was the highest attainment for me with my interests and background and natural abilities. And by accepting this new job as editor for a computer trade journal I was gaining the expertise I would need to become a technical writer – or at least as a writer of technical subjects, such as computer hardware.

In short I was very eager to begin my new life as a paid writer and felt I was in the best situation I could be for the career I wanted.

The magazine was a successful business enterprise but like other trade journals at the time the company was run on a shoestring budget. I actually took a significant cut in pay from my life as an ESL teacher. And my days were longer and were spent for the most part in a stuffy office but it didn’t really matter to me because I was a writer.

Harvey the owner took a liking to me and I think felt guilty about how I had been treated by the ex-air force chappie who had taken it upon himself to unceremoniously fire me when Harvey was out of town, so he let me stay in a penthouse he owned in the mountains just outside of Taipei. The city is surrounded by mountains and the penthouse was actually quite close to the office. The Taiwanese have a very special gift when it comes to claiming land from Mother Nature. The penthouse was on top of a four-storey concrete apartment complex built right against the mountain in a valley so narrow that you felt you could throw a stone across from one mountainside to another. There was one main road that snaked down the valley to a main feeder road leading into Taipei that was packed with traffic every morning but I didn’t care because I had mastered the art of dipping and weaving through traffic on my motorcycle. Most motorcyclists in Taiwan never stop behind a car that is ten cars away from a traffic light. We instead slither through the traffic until we are right on the line or grudgingly behind another motorcycle. Much finesse is required not to scratch a car door or nip a bumper while meandering through stopped traffic but one does learn this finesse in order to execute good motorcycle etiquette to reach the optimal place at traffic lights.

The road that somehow climbed up the valley along the river was packed with odd buildings and temples, like little factories and artificial fishing ponds. None of the buildings were retail, which made the road a rather interesting thing in itself. The area was very rural yet very close to Taipei. It was across a long bridge from the city’s core and then through a tunnel and then over some steep climbs but it was still close enough to reach work within half an hour. To stay in good shape I rode my mountain bike that I had brought from a wholesaler nearby. It was a very good bike but since I had purchased it locally, it was cheap. I had learned the hard way in Japan that a bike is required. Otherwise you were forced to walk or take a taxi or bus. I got a lot of use out of my mountain bike over the years but when I moved to this remote mountainside penthouse, I rode almost every day. I was adamant to stay in good shape so I rode and weaved and fought against the exhaust fumes of the motorcycles that I still loved. I would arrive at the office soaked in sweat but otherwise ready to work. But the ride back up the mountain road was very tough. Looking back on it I wonder if it did more harm than good.

The pollution never left that road because it had nowhere to go.

But the editor job at Eurotrade Computer Magazine was fantastic. If Nietzschean philosophy can be summed up as “become who you are,” then I most definitely thought I was becoming who I was. I rode to factories all across the Taipei plateau where I met and interviewed managers and engineers and business owners who wanted to get some good press about their newest product. Their English was, for the most part, very good so the job was a very good fit for me. I had some of them want to take me out for lunch and others who shared a beer and many who gave me the product to “test.” I was treated with the utmost respect because they wanted a favourable product review. I met a whole new demographic within Taiwan – the bilingual businessman. It motivated me further to studying Mandarin harder. I enrolled in a course and covered my walls with the sounds of the “Buh – Puh – Muh – Fuh (the phonetic Chinese alphabet). I tried to speak as much Chinese as I could and became rather fluent for a while but soon the fast life of living in the big city caught up with me.

There are certain sections within Taipei that never close and it was in these areas I soon went to explore. I could do anything with a few dollars in my pocket and a motorcycle and a map of the city, and soon I met many interesting people that would lead me on some extreme adventures. I met like-minded expats who were just as full of piss and vinegar as I was and just as angry at the world. This made for some nights of partying that were pretty reckless. And with bars that didn’t have a last call, restraint was up to the individual. If restraint was left at the door you could be in for a nasty surprise because there were no good Samaritans there to help you in the wee hours of the night or the morning.

I was back to the fast life in the big city but I was now a professional writer so there was some air of restraint. Before I played the role of Birkenstock-wearing hippie teacher who wore a t-shirt that was seldom washed but now things had to move up a bit so I wore Birkenstock shoes and short-sleeve dress shirts that seldom saw the washing machine. I was disciplined enough to survive the switch from the classroom to the office but I was still pretty wild. My goatee remained and my motorcycling remained but my focus became the articles I wrote. I took it seriously because for the first time in my life I was being published. I published hundreds of articles in Eurotrade, ranging from simple product reviews to company profiles to more ambitious and complex articles about trends in the industry and new technologies. I had programmed in Waterloo BASIC in grade twelve and programmed in C++ at Sheridan College after graduating from Queen’s so there had been a long history of computer-related studies. With my quick mind and broad intelligence I found the work to my liking. And the owner Harvey was also happy to see his apprentice spreading his wings and leaving his clientele – the business leaders in Taiwan’s computer industry – happy with the new foreign writer.

One day I had rode my mountain bike to the office and then went to meet some friends at the local pub, choosing to stay later than I expected. And drinking more than I should have. Once the bar closed, I faced the task of riding back up the mountain to my penthouse in the valley. A monumental effort when sober, drunk it was insurmountable. About halfway home I just couldn’t ride any more so I found a playground at a school and laid down on the wooden platform at the top of the slide. When I woke up there were little kids all around me staring at me, and a goggle of mothers looking at me. Embarrassed and dishevelled, I stood up and waved at them that I was okay and proceeded to tuck in my shirt and ride off towards my apartment. I suppose I should’ve been more embarrassed but I think I was still a little drunk. It’s a memory I still carry with me and that I revisit often. I think that moment stands as the one where I had finally bit off more than I could chew.


Germany and the Taipei 9/21 Earthquake


The magazine sent me to Hannover Germany to attend the CeBIT tradeshow for a week – an annual event for computer hardware manufacturers to show off the latest computer hardware. It was 1999. I loved my week in Europe but my aim that week was maximizing the amount of partying I could squeeze in while there. My focus was incongruous with what the magazine wanted, sort of like Hunter S Thompson being sent by Rolling Stone Magazine to cover a motorcycle Rally in Nevada and getting caught up in partying along the way. I went out every night. When we landed in Amsterdam it didn’t take me long to meander down to the waterfront and find the red light district and sample the weed and the women. That first night in Amsterdam I was walking past a few beautiful churches that were right beside the red light district near one of the canals and was surprised by a woman who stepped out of a doorway from a building right beside one of the churches. She grabbed my arm, pulled me and took me to a small room and proceeded to strip me naked. I didn’t resist that much but before I knew it I was walking out to the canal fifty dollars poorer.

But it didn’t stop there. That night I went into one of the cafés with one of our most respected editors who worked from his base in California and full of bluster I asked the bartender if they sold weed. He pointed to a booth behind me and there was a chap there who was selling little baggies of weed. There was a list of the different types of weed, ranked from the strongest to the weakest.

“I’ll take a small hit of the white knight,” I said, selecting the weed at the top of the list. The guy laughed and sold it to me. We took a seat and I rolled one up and we simply could not finish it. We were both so high we left and went back to the hotel room where it was even worse, so I went for a walk, trying several times to enter one of the many pubs but I was simply too high. Terrible experience. I had never smoked such strong weed, and thinking I was a weed connoisseur I was properly humbled.

And then in Hannover it didn’t take me long to hook up with some other drinkers and find the hip bars once the day was done at the tradeshow. I burned the candle at both ends that trip and it really hit me hard. Everything caught up with me one morning, an experience that still makes me squirm. One morning after drinking all night with a local German and then going to a local brothel where we literally chased these dark black prostitutes around the brothel, I drunkenly stumbled into the CeBIT exhibition centre amid all the sober Germans and I lost my cool. That night, after the brothel we went to this guy’s sister’s apartment but she didn’t take a liking to me at all. This guy’s sister had really upset me so after I left I started yelling at the taxi driver and then at strangers as they entered the exhibition hall. I yelled and screamed for about a minute or two, crazy like those drunks you see sometimes. No one said anything because I was well-dressed but when I finally sat down I was ashamed. After all the partying and fast living and all the brushes with death on the road motorcycling, I had finally lost my cool. It was one of the worst moments I had ever experienced and something I’m still ashamed of today. I had expected Germany to be so much different I think and I found the people to be suffocating and judgmental and I felt betrayed and frustrated. I suppose I had always considered Germany different than other countries perhaps because of their long history of producing great philosophers, so to be so humiliated by this overbearing woman while having such a jovial time drinking beer I felt I was at the end of my line.

How could I have been so wrong?

Were there bad spirits in the air?

Were the people still uptight from the war?

I don’t know still to this day but whatever it was, it sent me over the edge.

No one said anything to me about it but I’m sure some of the Eurotrade people or their clients said something because after I returned my boss gave me shit. He told me I had to do a better job but I had been doing a great job. I didn’t take the criticism well and promptly started looking for other work once I had returned from Europe. Again it was a pattern that was to follow me around – receiving criticism and then instead of accepting it I would turn around and look for work elsewhere. Overly sensitive and unfounded or erroneous critique and I simply left.

Very immature but nonetheless true.

During this time living in Harvey’s penthouse in the mountains just out of Taipei there was a massive earthquake that hit September 21, 1999. It hit the city at around 1:30am. I remember because I was still up reading a book. I was lying on the couch when the apartment started to rock back and forth. There had been several earthquakes I had experienced in Taiwan but these were just mini earthquakes. This one was different. First there was a shaking but after a second or two the flex of the apartment gave the movement a weird rocking motion. I stood up from the couch and immediately feared the concrete ceiling would cave in because of the swaying motion. So I ran to the doorway, which was worse because there at the balcony I could see the surrounding buildings and had a vision of the entire side of the five-storey concrete apartment breaking off and falling to the street below. It was a very odd experience. I held on and hoped it would stop but the earthquake kept going. I closed my eyes and expected a big piece of concrete to break off but then suddenly things stopped. Because it was so late and since I had no TV or telephone I went to bed and then rode to work the next morning on my motorcycle.

But what was strange was that there was no traffic.

And no power.

I arrived at the office and there was one other guy there – a cool looking salesman who I think had been at his girlfriend’s in the mountains cut off from the world. He called a few people and in his broken English told me there was no power in Taipei and that there was no work until Monday. Monday! It happened on a Tuesday night! Being Wednesday morning it was great news for me because I finally had a few days off. So I went home, packed a bag and left for Keelung on the East coast. I wanted to see the tidal waves rolling in. Little did I know how dangerous the ride would be with no electrical power and the rocks and debris lying on the pavement.

It took me a few hours to reach the coast and since it was daytime I could ride around the fallen rocks and trees along the road. When I reached the coast I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The beach was totally gone. Waves – one could say a series of massive waves or tidal waves – hit the coast with extreme force that flowed past the roadway and was hitting the coastal homes. The beach that was usually there was maybe fifty meters wide but it was covered in white violent water. I was being soaked by the high winds carrying the mist inland. The horizon was dark like something out of a film – like doomsday. I stood there for quite a while and watched the chorus of waves smashing against this peaceful beach town decimating the brick homes that were too close to the water. Then I became a bit scared because darkness was coming fast and I realized there would be no lights along the road.

When I rode back along the high, twisting mountain roads I couldn’t see the rocks and trees and mud that marred my path. I slowed down and had to use my headlight and the little moonlight to catch glimpses of the obstacles that threatened to bring me down off my motorcycle. Loose rocks, branches from trees, dirt – everything and anything littered the roadway. I had many close calls riding back to my place in the mountains but somehow I managed to return safely. The next morning, instead of hunkering down and eating and resting and reading, I got it into my head to hop on my motorcycle and ride along the Central Mountain Highway to Puli – the epicentre of the quake. I heard on the radio that an international rescue team was going to Puli in the centre of Taiwan to help rescue the dozens of people trapped under the rubble. I just couldn’t sit and do nothing so I packed a bag, brought my sleeping bag and left for the main road running through the mountains.

I had heard it was closed but I told myself it was closed to cars and trucks but not motorcycles!

I left that Thursday morning and rode south to Puli, my maps packed in my bag. I loved it! It was a true adventure for me and something I thirsted to do. It was spiced with danger and meaning – a lucrative combo to my ambitions. But the higher I rode the more debris I encountered on the road. I didn’t see one other vehicle the entire first day of riding – not even a maintenance vehicle. Not one person. Even the odd shack I passed looked barren and void of life. That day when I rode southwards towards the epicentre, several times I thought I had a flat tire because my tires began to wobble. I kept looking down thinking I had a flat tire but then upon checking them they were fine. It took me a while to realize that these were aftershocks. During the next four days I spent riding through the mountains there would be over 1600 aftershocks. But I wasn’t worried.

I was thrilled!

What many people don’t know about the mountains in Taiwan are that many military installations are hidden up there. When the Chinese nationalists left the mainland in 1949 they took with them all the important artifacts from the museums and of course all the money from the banks, leaving the communists nothing. Where did all the loot go? They were hidden into mountainsides throughout Taiwan. Over 70% of Taiwan is uninhabitable because of the mountains so the Taiwanese were smart enough to use this to their advantage and use the jagged rocks as protection against those who sought to steal their loot. I did pass several of these installations and did see the familiar military MPs standing guard along the road with their white military helmets, but I did my best to ignore these chappies for fear of being considered a spy.

I just rode past them with my long hair flowing in the wind.

I was going a long way so I spent the first day avoiding rocks and debris on the road and getting as far south as I could. I saw parts of the central mountain highway torn open – huge cracks and fissures right in the centre of the road. At one point one of the many aftershocks hit so hard that rocks started falling down the side of the mountain hitting very high speeds as they struck the roadway. Several rocks whizzed by my head so fast they would have blasted my skull apart. One rock came so close I heard the whistle of it as it flew past my ear. This was far from fun but I couldn’t stop because I was in the firing range. I was not wearing my helmet so the only thing I could do was increase my speed. When I was out of range I stopped and looked back and there was dust in the air.

I took a photo of it.

I rode all day and when the sun went down I found a place to sleep under the stars. It was cold up in the mountains and not many bugs so I parked just outside of one of the many tunnels that went through the rock and slept above it. I parked out of the way so no one could see my motorcycle from the road and slept well considering I was lying on hard ground. When I awoke I drank some of my cold green tea and went on my way. There were still lots of aftershocks and I kept getting that wobbly feeling in my tires. I came to one point in the road where there was a massive boulder in the middle of the road. It was easy to ride around it but the size of the rock was impressive.

Reaching a lagoon in the mountains was really cool because the aftershocks were hitting so frequently that I stood at this broken down gazebo and watched as the walls of rock around this mountain lake rained rocks into the water below. Every few minutes there was an avalanche and the rocks and dirt smashed into the lake. It was like a symphony.

And I was the only one to witness it.

I was confident in my riding abilities and pretty fearless so I was expecting to reach Puli. When I was very close to Puli the morning of the second day of riding I saw helicopters overhead flying to the rescue area. I knew I was close. I was maybe less than an hour away when I hit a complete wash out in the road. There were many waterfalls along the side of the road but this one was big and the road had completely caved in. There was no connecting tissue between one side of the road and the other. There was nothing I could do to pass over it. There was white water falling between the north side of the road and the south side. It was literally impossible to pass – even for me.

And I was so close!!

But I knew that it was the journey and not the destination so I didn’t fret too much. I consulted my map and decided to cross to the east side of the country over the mountains to Hualien where I had always meant to visit because it was apparently a beautiful costal town.

I had been careful to always stop and fill up on gas whenever I hit a hamlet or small town in the mountains but I was extra careful to fill up during this very long stretch of serious mountain riding. But I was in great shape and was nursing no injuries to hamper my abilities or spirit. In fact I was completely at the top of my game and was relishing every moment of this ride. I would cross the mountains – the backbone of Taiwan – right in the centre of the country – and then ride through Toroko Gorge to the east coast.

Toroko Gorge is like the Grand Canyon of Taiwan and tourists from all over the world come to visit the cliffs and tunnels that mark its beauty. I was psyched. But before I reached Toroko Gorge I revelled in the absolute stunning beauty of the steep mountain passes as I crossed Taiwan’s backbone. Very few people make this crossing and with no traffic at all it was a real pleasure. I wasn’t stupid enough to go really fast and risk my neck just because there weren’t any cops around. I really nursed it. I knew what I was doing was special. No one in their right mind would risk their life to cross Taiwan’s mountains during the aftershocks of one of the biggest earthquakes in modern history.

But that was exactly what I did.

Soon the sounds of rescue helicopters waned and only the sound of the wind passing through my hair and the buzz of my engine filled the air. There is a moment when crossing a mountain range when you know you’re at the top. When I rode along the apex of the mountains it was a strange feeling because it wasn’t just a point at the top of a mountain; it was a ridge that went on for miles where you could see waves of mountaintops as far as the eye could see in both directions. I still can see it as I write these words. And it was so quiet and I was so unmolested by other drivers that it was a surreal moment. But like so many special moments it could not last and I was very quickly on a serious downwards descent and suddenly concerned about my brakes.

Many motorcyclists don’t know that it is absolutely crucial to use both the front and back brakes, otherwise you risk skidding out (back brake only) or skidding sideways (front wheel brake). But even when using both brakes, you need to do so in concert. As well as downshift. Much finesse is needed and that is what I employed as I hit sharp corners on the descent down to Toroko Gorge and the east coast of Taiwan. Like I had learned the hard way all those years ago in northern Thailand with my Tasmanian lawyer travelling buddy, I eased into these dangerous corners with severe caution. To wipe out was to seriously put myself in danger. With my heart in my throat half the time I rode down into the gorge, half sorry I was leaving the danger and thrill of the top of the mountains and the circus of aftershocks that wobbled my bike. But the Gorge was no laughing matter either. With vertical walls of rock and a swift moving river that seemed to have thick gray water, the roads were narrow and fast and littered with long winding tunnels. And to make matters even more hairy, darkness was falling quickly. I reached the first hamlet on the east side of the mountains and filled up with gas and soon reached the farthest tourist hub for the more adventurous travellers who wanted the real Toroko Gorge experience. There they pitched their tents and could sleep beside the roar of water and the echoing off of the rock faces on either side of the gorge.

I was so wound up on adrenaline from such a challenging descent that I couldn’t help myself and went right down the gorge without stopping. With darkness falling it was a very dramatic unveiling of rock and civil engineering prowess. I followed Toroko River down the canyon through the tunnels and into the darkness, listening to the sounds of rushing water and the sound of my engine buzzing off the tunnel walls. It was a rush but also extremely dangerous. Still there was no traffic but I think there was no traffic because it was dark and now dangerous because there were no lights along the gorge. But when I looked up from the valley the sky was still somewhat illuminated, which contrasted against the cold and dark walls of granite on both sides of me. Soon it was the tunnels that really made the gorge surreal. And soon the descent levelled out and I reached the main highway going north-south. I was too exhausted to begin a new branch of travelling so I doubled back a few kilometres and rode down an overgrown pathway to the river’s edge where I found a flat area of pebbles beside the water, threw down my sleeping bag and fell asleep.

My last memory of that day was looking up at the stars and wondering what I had achieved over the last two or three days since the earthquake.


Howie the Earthquake Puppy


The next morning I woke up early to the fresh smells of jasmine. This smell is such an overriding perfume in Asia that for those who have never been to Asia and its forests, it is difficult to describe just how fresh and beautiful it is to the senses. I was rested but my ass was sore from the many miles of riding so I stretched by the water, brushed my teeth and changed socks just as a little puppy approached me along the water’s edge. The little puppy was covered in burs and looked like it had been abandoned. It was scary thin and unkempt but as it approached me it was wagging its tail so hard that it almost fell over. It walked up to me very slowly, afraid of me but at the same time desperate.

“Gooood doggie,” I said in a soothing voice, which spurned it to come closer. It was dirty with ragged fur but wasn’t smelly or bleeding. I had seen many terrible instances of dog abuse in Taiwan and seen firsthand how the Taiwanese kick dogs nonchalantly. I, on the other hand, love dogs and when I saw this abandoned puppy in such need of help and TLC, my heart melted. I patted the puppy as it squirmed and moaned with happiness. Looking around in the morning light I knew instinctively that this was the perfect place to abandon an unwanted puppy and that it would starve to death within the week.

But how could I take this puppy back to Taipei that was over 600km away?

Since I had gone through the gorge at night I wanted to revisit it during the daytime so I made a deal with God and promised to return to this water’s edge after I had revisited Toroko Gorge. If the puppy was still here then I would save it. And so I hopped on my motorcycle and returned up the gorge, further marvelling at its natural beauty and engineering. I found the tunnels to be very cool. It was if they were made of clay and that that was why the water was a thick gray colour. It’s difficult to describe how far out these tunnels are unless you ride through them on a motorcycle. Cars or trucks would be too big and cumbersome to really enjoy the flow and twists and turns of the tunnels.

Once I had gone all the way up and seen the campground I had seen the previous night, I doubled back and looked forward to seeing if fate would have me save the little abandoned puppy. But on my way back as I was riding through one of the longer tunnels I hit a snag. I was going pretty fast and for some reason took the turn inside the tunnel early so that I was actually over the centre line in the oncoming lane. I was going very fast so I had taken the turn a bit early but because this particular tunnel was so long the middle line had reflectors instead of lines. Not only that but because this tunnel was so dark the reflectors of this tunnel were very large, so as I crossed over to my lane during the long corner I struck one of these reflectors. My front shock absorbers had always been pretty much broken so I hit them very hard. My front wheel went sideways. I knew I was going to wipe out. Now most two-wheeled riders know that when confronted with a wipeout situation there is a split second of decision time that feels like about five seconds. This is when you usually decide to jump off by throwing the bike away and focusing on landing without breaking any bones or fracturing your skull, but for me I was going too fast and without a helmet it would have been very serious and very messy, so in that instant I decided to right my front wheel in the hope that my speed would help it straighten out when it hit the concrete again, which is what happened. I straightened my front wheel and when it landed from being bumped into the air sideways from this oversized centre line reflector, it landed true. It was a very scary brush with certain disaster. I pulled in my clutch and coasted to the end of the tunnel stunned at how careless I had been and at how fortunate I had been. But as I exited this ridiculously long tunnel I saw that I had a flat tire.

I had hit this centre line reflector so hard I had burst my front tire!

Over the years I have had numerous brushes with death but I do believe this was one of the most serious only because of how fast I was going, the angle of the bike in the turn, the fact I was in a tunnel and would have splattered against the tunnel wall and the impact being so direct and hard that the end result was a flat tire. And the fact I wasn’t wearing a helmet, it could have been very nasty indeed. I often think back to that moment when I was about to jump off and hope for the best but at the last possible moment decided to straighten out my front wheel at risking an even worse fate – like being impaled by the handlebars – I do count my lucky stars. Despite being a risk-taker I always have prided myself on having a degree of safety and caution.

I have never really been completely reckless, only semi-reckless.

So I stopped beside the roaring river and waved down a truck driver who took me into town in Hualien not too far away. The local mechanic agreed to drive me back to my bike and he brought with him a new tire. There he changed the tire and I paid him well for his troubles, using my Mandarin to conduct the transaction, and I was very thankful to have a working motorcycle to get me back to Taipei and my life there. I took a moment and had lunch beside the tunnel that nearly killed me and reflected on my trip and decided I wouldn’t push fate too much more by heading north and getting home in time to get to the office Monday morning. But on my way to the main east coast highway I stopped in to see if that little puppy doggie was there – and it was.

Since I had had such good luck with my brush with death, I felt it was my duty to honour my pledge with God and save the puppy. But how?

First I spent an hour bonding with him. I named him Howie and bathed him in the river, cleaning the dirt off and feeding him with some of my crackers and peanuts. I put Howie in my knapsack and then put the knapsack on my chest backwards and that worked for a few miles but the sounds of the traffic and the engine was a bit too much for him. The highway was fast and there was a heavy dose of truck traffic and the turns and bridges were a challenge without having the puppy hanging off my chest so when there was a sudden downpour I took a break and had lunch. I bit the bullet and decided to balance the puppy on my gas tank, using my free clutch hand if I needed to balance him there. I could lean close and pin him a little bit with my chest and use my elbows to hem him in safely a little bit. The trouble was when I turned. So out on the highway I was surprised at how fearless Howie was and how easy it was at first but I soon realized that it was very dangerous. A few times I took a turn and Howie literally flew off my gas tank so I had to catch him by the scruff of the neck in midair. I think I laughed the first time it happened but the second time I caught him near my feet, being very close to a nasty spill. So I readjusted things, brought my jacket into play and made a safe nest on the gas tank for him. And then he got it. The little puppy realized he needed to make an effort to balance himself on the gas tank and manage the G-force factor, and I was amazed to see that after an hour on riding the little puppy had mastered the art of balance on my gas tank!

I knew minimal stops were mandatory to carry on the momentum we had and that my time left getting north to make it back to work by Monday was slim, so I pressed on, mile after mile. I often wish I had a photograph of this moment. It would have been cool to see me, the long-haired, bearded expat without a helmet, and the little white and beige three-month-old puppy balanced on my gas tank. How we must have looked to local Taiwanese who stared at us as we rode past! In no time Howie was standing on my gas tank with its ears back actually enjoying the ride.

Truly incredible.

We rode over 500 kilometres that day right along the Pacific coast, the waters having subsided after the earthquake. As darkness hit I turned off the coastal highway and found a little mountain bridge on a side road where I lay down my sleeping bag and cuddled with Howie to stay warm that night. I woke up at 5am the next morning and rode the final 100 km to my house where I promptly showered and changed clothes and arrived at my desk with five minutes to spare ready for the week’s work. Howie was set up on my balcony with food and water and happy to be safe and out of the wilds of Toroko Gorge.

Yes, all of this is true. I recorded this trip in more detail in my novel Earthquake Puppy but fictionalized it by adding my twin brother joining me on the trip. The truth of it was that I was alone. Well, almost alone. I was with Howie.

Go to: The Philosopher Rune: A Wordcarpenter Biography Part 4