The Philosopher Rune: A Wordcarpenter Biography Part 4




Life was fast when I lived in Taiwan: the motorcycling and the cycling from my mountain abode down the valley into the office and back and the all-nighters partying. I had numerous girlfriends and kept at my Mandarin studies but I wasn’t making the kind of money that enabled me to have a more civilized life. I wore the same t-shirts and shoes and couldn’t really afford new things but I worked very hard and of course played hard. I was learning a lot from interviewing business leaders within the computer hardware industry in Taiwan and felt like I was part of the cutting edge. My boss had been very good about giving me my space and teaching me the tricks of the trade but after being chewed out for out-side-of-work behaviour after the tradeshow in Germany, I had lost my respect and faith in him. He had crossed a line and had made some personal judgments about my character so I had started looking in the classifieds and had come across a few new leads. One job was as a Copy Writer at a company called Asian Sources based in Manila. I had a telephone interview and then they sent me a test, which I did so they asked me to fly to Manila for an interview. I didn’t tell my boss but took a day off and flew to Manila for the interview, which went well. The strange thing that happened during that little trip was that after the interview I yet again insisted on maximizing my time there and went out to the bars before my flight back the next morning. I found a few good places and proceeded to get very drunk. I ended up with a prostitute but when she left my hotel room she promptly robbed me. When I woke up my wallet was still there but was empty. In an act of ultimate shame, I called my yet-to-be-boss and told him I had been robbed and that I needed about $50 to pay the airport tax. I actually went back to the Asian Sources office, met him and he gave my $50. I still shake my head about that when I think of it today. My future boss shook his head, could see I was hungover and handed me the cash with an “I-know-how-that-can-happen-here-in-Manila” look. When I flew home I was sure I wouldn’t get the job after my misstep with the hooker.

But a few days later I was offered a job based in Manila and almost double my current salary.

I loved Taiwan for its laissez-faire freedom and lack of convention enforcement and its general cool vibe but I was aware that most of my expat friends were making a heck of a lot more than me and I had been living in Taiwan for three years and had done pretty much everything that could be done. I had ridden my motorcycle all of the country and met lots of people and eaten at all the amazing vegetarian restaurants with the large Buddhist swastikas on the signs, so I was thirsty to move to a different country and explore. I knew I wanted to be a novelist and so I sought more adventures of a different hue. I never thought in a million years I would ever live and work in the Philippines so my instinct was to say yes to this job even if it wasn’t perfect. Living there would give me more to write about. There were things I wasn’t crazy about, such as the fact that the job was corporate and was in a swanky office so I couldn’t saunter into work in my Birkenstocks and wearing an unwashed t-shirt. But it did give me a sense of “arriving,” having paid my dues at a low-paying writing job for a well-respected trade journal known in Asia for producing high quality articles. I would have to go out and buy some ties and jackets and pants and dress shoes but with such a decent salary it was acceptable.

I could still be the playboy adventurer outside of work, or so I thought.

But one of the biggest issues when I took the job in Manila was giving up my Mandarin studies. I was just reaching that point when I could have a full and successful exchange with any Chinese person in a store or on the street and I loved seeing the look on their faces to see a guy like me speak their language. I had taken the time to learn the accents and tones well enough that I was more often than not not laughed at (as they are very open about laughing at others who cannot speak their language well). I knew there were some good jobs right around the corner if I had kept up my language studies so by taking this job I would essentially be moving away from “Greater China”. This weighed heavily on my mind until I landed in Manila and was swept away by the luxury and ease of living there.

I had never seen so many palm trees! Manila was a paradise for colonial Spain and had been left pretty much “as is” by the Philippinos after liberation from the Americans after World War Two. After Spain had been defeated in the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States took control of the country as their first colony. I fell in love with the old colonial churches built by the Spanish and all the beautiful old buildings that peppered the old town in Intramuros. When I first started work I mountain biked down to the old walled city and rode around, each time finding a new crevice or nook to explore. The churches were an endless source of fascination for me, often with me going into them and praying. I had always been a bit religious and had often gone into the makeshift churches on the mountain sides in Taiwan, spending time praying to God to keep me safe during my foray into the reckless pursuit of experiencing life. But in Manila things took on a deeper hue. On Sundays I used to be amazed at how the old churches overflowed with people packed in, singing hymns and listening to sermons. Catholicism had been introduced to many different countries throughout the world but very few countries had adopt the faith with more fervor as the Philippinos, which gives you some idea of their nature.

I loved the Philippinos. They were very kind and open and happy, always ready to serve you or share a laugh. And they all spoke English! It was a real pleasure to finally live in a place where people understood you! Even a simple exchange of buying a coffee was an event that could be done in English. Perhaps the service wasn’t as fast as it was in Taiwan, but that didn’t matter because the pace of life in Manila and in the Philippines in general was much slower than Taiwan. This was the biggest change for me – the change of pace. I had been fueled by a toxic mixture of youthful rebellion and percolating anger and resentment from the years of abuse at the hands of my father. I had given myself the “tools” to live well after having studied philosophy at university for six years. I was sacrificing my life to live a life worth living so there was a huge emotional investment. Many times I could see this emotional investment come out of me in both great moments of joy and brilliance but also in manifestations of anger and bitterness, depending on my state of mind. By burning the candle at both ends I often became tired and cranky, which resulted in me being a dickhead, but now, with a slower pace and a more routine and structured daily life, a lot of this inertia and momentum calmed itself into a steady and productive flow. I took a step back and enjoyed my new surroundings, often mountain biking for hours around the city. And I never once felt unsafe. I joined a private club so I could play tennis and badminton and swim during my lunch hour because it was just down the street from my office. I spent long hours reading and walking to reflect on how I had ended up in this beautiful city with its upscale parts and its rustic and rundown areas where squalor was there for all to see.

I let my pen’s ink flow with gusto, spending countless hours writing in my journals, fully realizing that I was now living in a place that was special for any writer. At first I still had all that craziness inside of me and still thirsted to go out and hit the bars so it didn’t take me long to find out which of my new fellow employees also shared my passion. There were a few guys that went out to the bars that I went along with, fully delving into the life of a rich expatriate who had a thirst for vice. But Manila was a city where the bars were fewer than Taipei so that there was a good chance you would bump into your boss or golf partner of your boss’s boss. And the vice in Manila was of a different type than Taiwan. There were prostitutes in every bar! It was never really my thing – getting prostitutes – but in Manila it was the thing to do. You would go into a bar and girls would approach you. If you bought them a drink then it was expected you would pay for all their drinks and then take them home, after tipping the ‘Mommason.’ But at first I wasn’t interested in taking home call girls. I just wanted the raw manly adventure of drinking and smoking and riding my motorcycle. But I never did buy a motorcycle in the Philippines. The paperwork was a nightmare and I spent all my time reading and lounging at the Makati Sports Club. I took saunas and swam almost every day, getting back into very good physical shape. I sort of recharged my batteries after years of serious abuse. I entered into one of the most productive phases of my life of reading and writing. After all, what was it all about if all I did were exploits without any degree of reflection? I wasn’t there to go headfirst into mindless recklessness. I had a plan that was born in the study halls of Queen’s University and so there was a method to my madness, and it behooved me to employ discipline and to harness my past adventures into something inspiring to those who took the time to read my books. I needed to make sense of it all and needed to see how it applied to Nietzsche’s philosophy: to either prove or disprove his and other philosophers’ life philosophy.

It was a beautiful time for me. The work was easy and somewhat interesting, and the milieu was calming and classy. The company benefitted from my skills and they paid me well, so the big challenge for me was whether or not I would be side-railed by all the temptations that surrounded me. Even in the middle of the hurricane in Taiwan I still had my Mandarin studies, so even here amid all the change and temptation, I still had my books. There were excellent bookstores nearby that I went to often and soon found myself with many very interesting books. I entered into what I would call my ‘Search-for-the-Holy-Grail’ phase, reading books such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail. I licked my wounds and read ‘til the wee hours of the night instead of drinking beer and showing up in the morning smelling like a brewery. I had already used up my Mulligan with my boss during my interview trip so I wasn’t about to give him reason to think I was a lush and scallywag, so I kept under the radar for a while. But soon there were some cracks. I started hanging out with some dudes who were hitting the town hard.

One of the guys had worked for the NSA in Korea. He had become fluent in Korean at the language institute run by the NSA and then was posted to South Korea where he listened in on the North Koreans for years, until one night he had an incident. He was half native and small but could he drink! One night when he was living in South Korea after leaving a bar some guys followed him and attacked him. (Sometimes he was a smartass and I’m sure had said something offensive to these guys). When he woke up he found it strange that he was lying in a puddle when it wasn’t raining but then realized it was his own blood. So for security reasons he had been fired by the NSA but one is never really fired from the NSA. And so he had landed a job in the same department as me. The other chappie was from Toronto. He was hilarious. The three of us started hitting the bars in a rather robust manner. I was sure I could out-party them after years of practice in The City That Never Sleeps. But they put their feet forward and went toe-to-toe with me. We were at least smart to a certain degree, never going out during the week. So our Friday nights were really a work of wonder. From bar to bar and girl to girl, from drink to drink and strange thing to stranger thing, we delved deeply into the Manila night life. The problem was that the NSA guy was good friends with my boss so I didn’t want my exploits being known by my boss because he could easily fire me and I’d be back in Canada unemployed and depressed.

I was very aware of how close I was to be fired and sent back to Canada so this came to be a very serious motivating factor during my year in the Philippines.

I was making almost twice as much as I had been making as an editor in Taiwan and the work was twice as easy so there were some adjustments to be made on my side. I was also not studying on the side so again there was some serious downshifting required. When I first arrived my boss paid for a trip to Sabang Beach for a weekend so the department could meet me and get out of the office for some ‘team bonding.’ Even the term ‘team’ was for me an extreme liberal word that scared me. I was a loner and always had been so to ‘join’ a ‘team’ scared the shit out of me. Plus I was new, but I dealt with it as best I could.

During the trip I was quiet and awkward but as soon as we arrived at Puerto Galera and found our hotel on the beach at Sabang, I chose to drink at a rapid rate and play Frisbee on the beach and swim so I could avoid intimate and candid conversations with my new Philippino co-workers. There were just three expatriates in the department and we all had this unwritten responsibility to take an interest in the lives of our local co-workers, but for me who eschewed phoniness and could not falsely do anything, I found this insurmountable. Perhaps it was simple immaturity or perhaps I still hadn’t reached a point of sincere immersion into the Philippino culture, but regardless of the reasons, I wasn’t comfortable during the trip. I chose to leave them to go say hello to a friend of mine I had met when I was there four years earlier when I had gone to Sabang Beach during my visa run when I was teaching in Tokyo.

I took a water taxi to Sabang Beach where I knew I could rent a dirt bike and then I went for a long ride – alone. I did end up finding my German friend who owned and operated this Shangri-la style oasis retreat for VIPs from Germany. He was the same but was missing a leg. He invited me in and served me dinner and we both drank many beers. It reached a point when I became so drunk I couldn’t return on a water taxi nor ride back into town so I stayed in one of the cabanas. The next day I did return to the work group and was promptly given the cold shoulder by my new boss.

Great way to begin my time with Asian Sources!

A few weeks after this Alex my boss invited me and another new expat to his house for a barbeque. It was on a Sunday night, which I knew was trouble for me. Being a nervous and shy guy by nature, it was better for me to be anonymous and engage in ‘hit-and-run’ style social engagements but my boss I think had taken me for one of these bleeding heart liberals who cared nothing for themselves and everything for oppressed minorities. I seldom delved into these types of conversations as I couldn’t bullshit as a matter of principle. If I did open my mouth I would always argue, taking the position that for example oppression by the Spanish colonial settlers in the Philippines acted in a manner that was a reflection of their zeitgeist etc. Alex, who was married to a Philippina, surely took notice and eventually chose to stay away from me. Independent thinkers who didn’t toe the party line were scary to people who had never learned how to think for themselves.

But one of his friends there was one of those rare types of men who could bullshit on the side of liberals but who harboured sincere thoughts on the other side of the political spectrum, so we hit it off when Alex wasn’t there and went out and hit the town after the barbeque ended. We were at the bars and with girls until the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning. It was very late when the girl I had brought back to my apartment left and I had very little sleep that night. Every Monday morning at 8:30 we had a department meeting so I arrived late and unshowered. I reeked of booze and cigarettes and was forced to sit right beside my boss, who knew what I had done. He didn’t say anything to me during or after the meeting. But what he did do was sniff at me a few times. It was actually very funny but for the first time in years I was scared to the bone. He could’ve easily fired me or at least started down the road of antagonistic boss wanting to fire me. But he didn’t.

What happened was that I changed.

I made a deal with myself that I didn’t break for years: I wouldn’t allow myself to go out partying during the week. I had been partying every and any night for years so this one small event of showing up late for a meeting changed the way I operated because I was so scared of losing my job and being sent back to Canada. This change had a big impact on my life.

I didn’t become less crazy but I did become more productive in different ways.

As I have mentioned, I was never the kind of guy who went out for the sake of getting high. I was the type of guy who went out and went to extremes for the sake of the experience – for the sake of my writing. And that’s what I was constantly doing. I would record events in my journal that were just too incredible to believe. And these are the crazy things readers read in my novels. I would say my novels, with the exception of The Motorcycle Inn, are 98% true non-fiction and a measly 2% fiction. Almost the entire content of my novels are recorded real events. And most of these were written into my novels from re-reading the journals I kept during my years overseas. Of course I remember all (most!) of these events but the details I could read from my journals made all the difference. I don’t know how novelists can create something so visceral if they have not done the thing themselves. I’m simply not that good a bullshitter! The fictional parts in my books are the storylines.

But the smells and settings and action were pretty much all real.

So when I began to mellow out during the work week while working in Manila I refocused on healthy sober things. I would spend hours riding my mountain bike exploring the rivers and slum areas in Manila. I would go watch Jai Li or go swimming at the Makati Sports Club or play tennis or squash with buddies from work, or just read. I read voraciously during this time. And I was sober enough during the week to finally begin to save some of my salary. I met a guy who set up a monthly debit into a separate account, which he then invested for me.

This move would one day change the course of my life.

But for the year 2000 until 2001 I loved the time I spent under the palm trees in the Philippines. I met some good people and partied to the extreme on Friday and Saturday nights but resumed my Jekyll and Hyde ways come Monday morning. My work-hard, play-hard philosophy found fertile soil in Manila. But things weren’t always so rosy. For example, one night I ended up smoking crystal meth for the first time. A few days later we had a work holiday and then a long weekend resulting in me having five days off so I contacted the taxi driver who had supplied the crystal meth and bought five little baggies of the stuff. I had no idea how much it was since I had no experience with the drug except for a few puffs a few weekends back. My plan was to use this new ‘speed’ to write for a few days and then relax a few days before getting back to work on the Monday. There was a girl who was keen on me during this time and I remember her coming to my door during my five days of writing and knocking on my door and then the next day slipping a long letter under my door. I told the guys at the front desk not to let anyone in except for the pizza guy. And then I went at it: I smoked it like cigarettes and became so incredibly high that all I could do was write. I wrote out the events of my time motorcycling in Taiwan after the earthquake and then it morphed into aspects of my undergraduate thesis. I wrote and wrote until my hand cramped, but instead of stopping I smoked more and wrote more. I had a brand new thick journal of perhaps 200 pages and I filled the whole thing! If Jack Kerouac wrote when he was high on speed then so could Pete Higgins!! And that’s exactly what I did.

I outlined the novel that would eventually years later become Earthquake Puppy.

I locked myself in my apartment for five days and smoked it all. Still to this day I don’t know how much I smoked. After four days of this I started sweating crystal meth. Perhaps some addicts have experienced this, I don’t know, but with me I had started to sweat in the crotch and on my chest so that the sweat itself was not salty water but some sort of acidic chemical. It stung. And it soon created a rash or burn marks on my skin. But I kept writing. I was a maniac and I loved every minute of finally having a pure block of time to write. In the midst of all the craziness and recklessness I never once had a pure block of time so when I finally had one I had to squeeze as much as I could out of it. And it produced a book. But in the form it was in, it was perhaps a quarter written and the rest of it was outline – a very frustrating end product. I was still undeveloped as a fiction writer so I didn’t have the creative skills to sit down and hammer out a narrative. But I had – for the first time – harnessed what was inside of me and had put it down on paper in a form that I knew I could use as a guide and notes to finally pen something that was different than Visigoths in Tweed and something that was truly original and interesting.

After that five-day stretch, I felt impelled to find that pure block of time again to finish the book.

On the Sunday night, covered in acidic sweat and red spots I finished the rest of the drug and then expected to fall asleep to be fresh faced and bright-eyed for the Monday morning meeting. Was I ever wrong! I couldn’t sleep a wink that night so I went to the meeting without sleep. I showered but the pupils of my eyes were dilated and red. My voice was so jittery that I chose not to speak. When my boss looked at me in the eye he saw a glimpse of how stoned I was. Again he was gracious enough not to make a scene and let it go because I had been so well behaved for so long.

I didn’t tell anyone of my achievement since it was mired and mixed up with crystal meth. I knew it was a one-off deal and was grateful that I had harnessed all the events and ideas that were hanging out in my mind. I didn’t touch the drug again until many years later in Hong Kong with a guy who used to make it himself.

It was during this time me and a few buddies from the office took a trip due east to the far coast where there was nothing but Pacific Ocean. At this very rustic resort we surfed but me and my two buddies were warned that there had been a British tourist who had died the previous summer from the very serious riptide. I had had experience with a riptide before when I went to California during the summer between my first and second year of university when I mountain biked up and down the coast from Malibu to Huntington Beach. I had been caught in a riptide in Manhattan Beach for 10 minutes after wiping out from surfing, swimming as hard as I could with two lifeguards standing at the water’s edge watching me struggle. I finally was able to breaking into the realm of crashing waves and made it back to shore thoroughly scared, and learned my lesson never to play around with riptides.

But in the Philippines there were no lifeguards and for that matter, no one around who cared whether the current pulled you way out to sea. There was literally nothing past the break line except vast ocean. There were no other huts except for the three belonging to the ‘resort.’ And along the coastline there were no settlements or boats or anything. We were warned not to go surfing between 2 and 5pm so I went out surfing at 12:45pm thinking I had lots of time. Not smart. I surfed for a quick 40 minutes before I was caught in a very fierce riptide that came tunneling from the shore out to the vastness behind me. I paddled very hard to save myself from dying out at sea for perhaps 15 minutes, staying in the same spot with my heart beating as fast as it could.

It was the most intense 15 minutes of my life.

The vast Pacific Ocean had me in its jaws – only my will to skim atop the funneling water on my surfboard saved me from being swept out to sea. Without the surfboard, I was toast. I was convinced I was going to die but for some reason with me on my stomach and using my arms and legs to kick and paddle towards the shore I was able to just hold there and at the same time be pushed towards many big rocks close to the shore. There was nothing I could do but fight and paddle to not be taken out to sea until finally a wave came over me and crashed me into these rocks, which was where the riptide was interrupted.

Only then was I able to get to shore, my arms dangling like rubber hoses.

My two buddies witnessed the whole thing and there was nothing they could have done. We were so remote the resort didn’t even have a boat. And the “resort” was literally a few scattered shacks without any running water or plumbing. It was one my of brushes with death, up there with my hiking incident in Hong Kong and my motorcycle near wipe out in Toroko Gorge.

So I was content to have my binge writing and then return to my rather luxurious lifestyle of eating at the club and swimming during my lunch hour and having saunas and reading. A few months later was Christmas and that was when I took a few of my vacation days and took the entire week off. Having not been spending my time on a motorcycle, I found a place where I rented one. Poised with the knowhow and will to explore on a Honda CR250, I had a few days of riding around town before I left for the Eighth Wonder of the World: The Rice Terraces in the north. But the truth of the matter was that I had met a German who said she was an artist and living in Sagada in the north of Luzon Island, which was very close to the rice terraces. Regardless, I decided to ride north on a long motorcycle trip during the Christmas break to find her and to enjoy some scenery along the way.

I didn’t know that it would turn out the way it did.


Motorcycling in the Philippines


As Paul Theroux once wrote: “Being mistaken is the essence of the traveler’s tale.” And indeed this motorcycle trip was a situation that illustrated this truism. I left Manila in a dusty swirl full of piss and vinegar, determined not to think about work or anything else except to simply enjoy the ride. Armed with a few good maps and a compass and a good pair of prescription sunglasses, I took off without a care in the world. But at first the riding was rough. The ‘Jeepneys’ (leftover American Jeeps from World War Two that were used as taxis) dominated the roads, pulling over on a whim without signalling. It was some of the most dangerous riding I had ever done just getting out of town. But once out of Manila’s claws, the riding was sublime.

I wrote about this trip in detail in my novel The Hellmantle Testament so I won’t get into the details here, but suffice to say it was really a fantastic tour. After my three years of living in Taiwan where I practically lived on my Yamaha motorcycle, I was happy to be back on two wheels. I had chalked up many miles on my mountain bike riding around Manila but it wasn’t the same thrill. That overwhelming sense of freedom I had first felt when I was in northern Thailand returned to me and I went with it.

The girl was an excuse to ride north. In The Hellmantle Testament it made good copy to say I was riding north to see her but the truth was that it gave me a destination. If I had been serious about meeting her I would have taken the direct route and bypassed the Halseema Mountain Trail, but I was after the qualia of the ride more than reaching the end point. This is why in the novel The Hellmantle Testament I created the need to stop at all the churches along the way to look for the Dutchman with knowledge of the map. The truth of the matter was that yes, I did stop at all those churches but I did out of my own fascination with old churches and forts. And I took the toughest and most challenging routes while up north because I wanted a challenge.

I wanted the memory.

I wanted the thrill.

Once I was out of Manila and the exhaust fumes and pollution had waned, I rode leisurely through sleepy town after sleepy town until I hit Baguio City. I had heard that this was where the President of the Philippines went to vacation but I never believed it because it was up in the mountains and there seemed like there was nothing to do there, but as soon as I saw it I could see why. It was a beautiful American Wild West style town in the middle of the Philippines! When America took control of the Philippines from the Spanish in 1898 they had built up Baguio City. The downtown stretch, which was really just one stretch of road, was just like a small 19th-century town in Colorado. The storefronts were very old American style and the roads were well paved and engineered and the golf course was beautiful and the homes were big with large lawns. And it was cool. The temperatures up in the mountains were much crisper than below and made for a very comfortable climate.

I went to Camp John Hay where the Japanese ran a POW camp. It was pretty heavy but at the same time unassuming since it was now a park where there were families eating and playing around. There was a plaque to commemorate the events during the war but otherwise it was benign to the average tourist. I liked the town but didn’t stay long because I wanted to keep rolling. Riding north I had a choice between the newly paved highway or an old mountain trail that the missionaries traveled on last century when spreading the word of God. Of course I chose the dangerous option and loved it. It rained and made the ride more slippery but I relished the ride. The waterfalls swelled in the downpour and the muddy, rocky trail became puddled and sleek with water, I braved the elements and rode higher and higher into the clouds towards my destination. For a few hours it was really spectacular because it was all so remote and the towns were so small and isolated. Jeepneys and trucks were the only vehicles I saw when I was riding this long forgotten relic of a road that cut across the side of mountains in a valley so deep I could not see the bottom. But the slopes were green for the most part, peppered with black rock. I was careful to fill up with gas every time I passed through a small hamlet, which was usually a population of less than 100. I stopped for hot milky tea with lots of sugar that warmed my stomach in the increasingly cold environment. I was smart enough to have brought a large baggie of weed that I used to roll up a few joints for the days ride each morning. I would stop and smoke a joint every few hours so I could delve richly into the surrounding tapestry and experience it all fully.

My riding was at its best, negotiating potholes and slippery corners and all the other obstacles that came my way.

The second night I spent on top of a restaurant in a small hamlet called Mayoyao where there was an old protestant missionary-built church made of concrete perched on the rocky mountain side. I had arrived after dark in the rain and there were no lights on the main street so I rode to the church hoping there might be someone there. A nun yelled to me from an adjacent building and let me in. She didn’t speak English but I communicated that I needed a room for the night. She told me where to go (a restaurant/inn on the main road), which I found in the night. She had telephoned the woman to let her know I was coming over. And it worked out very well. I ate my cold rations that night – peanuts and crackers and several beers that the woman let me take from the fridge. I smoked and drank and wrote in my journal about the day’s ride until I fell asleep. The next morning the woman and her daughter treated me to a plate of eight eggs and toast! They could see the hollow in my cheeks and the wear and tear in my body from the riding and went out of their way to be kind to me.

I gave them a nice tip and was on my way.

I spent the entire day smoking joints and riding along what seemed like a mountain ridge. I hit a sign that said the highest point in the Philippines so I stopped and took a selfie. But it was stunning up there. My rain gear and waterproof boots pulled through in the rain, as I was warm enough with my wool sweater and wool socks. But I felt like I was in another world. No foreign tourists ever stepped on this part of the Philippines because of its remoteness and toughness to get to. For long stretches there was nothing but steep cliffs on both sides of the trail and no guard rail. Mile after mile I rode along this mountain ridge until I reached a part of the country so remote that the local people still practised headhunting. I thought it was funny but I came to realize that it wasn’t funny at all. I kept riding and I think only stopped once to fill up my tank but the overcast day had soon turned dark when I came to the turn off from the trail to get to Sagada. The trail turned from rocky trail to soft, almost sandy road to finally a semi-paved road that led into town.

Sagada was an oasis in the mountains, and one of the most beautiful little towns I had ever seen with its one main road and little cafés and wall of rock with caves and wooden coffins hanging outside of the caves. It was a surreal place but it had electricity and a hotel and dry sheets and an American-built missionary church so I felt safe again. The problem was that there were no rooms available that night. Since it was during the Christmas break all the hotels had no vacancy. I saw a guy walk up this long stairwell to a very large house that I mistook for a hostel and followed him up the stairs. When I reached the white gate he asked me if he could help me.

“I’d like a room for the night if there’s one free,” I said to him. He replied that it was a private residence! But suggested to try to the hospital to see if they would rent out a bed to me for the night, as they did sometimes during high tourist season. So I rode a few kilometers down the road and found the hospital but the women there were extremely unfriendly and I found myself without a place. The man had said to come back to his house if they had been full so I returned and he put me up for the night. We had a big dinner and drank a bottle of Scotch and he told me about his life, which I recount in The Hellmantle Testament.

I slept like a log that night.

The next morning I went to the Shamrock Café to see if I could find this German artist who lived in town. The manager knew of this painter but told me that she had left for Germany a few days before for Christmas, and that she would be back in Sagada in a week! I wasn’t that bummed out because I had only met her once so I left her a note with the café manager. I had a huge breakfast and drank an exquisite flavour of coffee and then left for the rice terraces that were only a day’s ride east from where I was.

I never heard from the German painter.

For the amount of riding I was doing I expected there to be some mechanical trouble. I hit a snag when I left Sagada. They had run out of gas in Sagada so I left with only half a tank on my way to the main town Bantoc where I would turn south to reach Banaue – the home of the eighth wonder of the world. But on the way the potholes were really bad and the chain buckled, much like it had when I was riding in northern Thailand. I was able to take an old water bottle and shimmy it between the chain guard and the bike frame to prevent the chain from buckling a second time and was able to make Bantoc – but just barely. My engine seized from lack of gas and oil as soon as I parked it. It was a very tough day of riding so I checked into a motel and smoked a doobie and found a mechanic to fix up my motorbike, so as the mechanic worked on my bike I wrote in my journal and then walked to a café where I met a group of scooter riders who had ridden from Manila. They were very enthusiastic to meet a fellow rider who had braved the Halseema Mountain Trail on his own. They were quaffing beer, which caused me to up my intake and we had a great time speaking in choppy English about motorbikes and scooters.

They were like a tribe on scooters, all wearing leather jackets and smoking cigarettes and drinking with purpose.

The next morning I was very relieved when my Honda CR250 started. The tank was full and the oil had been topped up and the chain had been operated on – the mechanic had removed a link so the chain would not buckle again. I once again felt confident in my motorbike. One thing I knew was that the enjoyment factor of extreme riding like this was entirely dependent on ones confidence in the motorbike being used. And I was indeed determined to enjoy this ride because it was so extreme. The environment was extreme and the roads and trails were extreme, but they were pale in comparison to what I was about undertake.

Reaching the rice terraces was a bit anti-climactic. I had seen rice terraces before and thought they were kind of cool but nothing too tremendous. The day was again overcast so my view of the rice terraces was obscured. But I was determined not to let a few clouds ruin my trip! So I promptly bought a new map showing more detail of the area. There were tourist buses that came this far north that had reached Banaue from the south. Coming from the north on a motorcycle, I didn’t want to share a new highway with tourist buses yet I wasn’t really done with checking out the rice terraces. I had a few days left and wanted to maximize my time off before returning to the office in Manila and begin 2001. I found a small line on the map indicating a trail going into the mountains due west into the heart of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. But for some reason the line on the map just stopped. Something told me that the trail went all the way across the mountains to the other side where there was a main highway that went north-south along the east coast of Luzon Island. I went down to the local market and found some betel nut and rolled up a nut and began to chew. It was much stronger than the betel nut I had tried in Taiwan. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. In the flush of warmed cheeks under the canopy dripping with rain in the outdoor market, I decided to try the trail into the heart of the mountains where I might be able to meet up with the main highway several hundred miles due east. It was a huge gamble and extremely dangerous but I wanted to do something extreme in such a beautiful part of the world. And I was determined to see the rice terraces despite the overcast skies.

So I bought some more peanuts and crackers and water and left the town, crossing the river and then up a narrow, muddy trail.

The trail was for oxen, not for cars. It was all mud but it was perfect for my off-road CR 250. In fact my dirt bike was designed for this type of terrain. But man was it slippery. I put my best foot forward and attacked the trail with enough caution not to wipeout and put myself and my bike in harm’s way but certainly fast enough to maximize the thrill factor. I didn’t see one person on the trail for hours except for a heavily tattooed woman walking her ox pulling a cart with produce. But I found myself along the way stopping now and again because the rice terraces were so breathtaking. I simply had to enjoy the scenery. I took a few photos of the rice terraces hidden from the public and realized just how special they were. The amount of work that had gone into carving out level ridges flat enough to plant were a humbling sight and something that warmed my heart. Human achievements across the globe made me proud to be part of the human race, and this was certainly one of those moments. Small clusters of red-roofed shacks made up these small little hamlets that were completely inaccessible by car. Only a steep trail connected these clusters with the trail I was on. These micro-hamlets of wooden shacks were surrounded by the watery rice fields so that only raised walkways allowed people to move across the fields.

And each cluster was protected from the sun by palm trees as if created by an artist.

But these little clusters became fewer and fewer as I climbed the mountain on this narrow trail, riding through thick bush and sparse rocky mountain sides, with no guard rails or lines or anything other than an au natural off-road mud path. I began to fear that indeed the path would end at some insurmountable rocky impasse but it kept rolling forward, my clutch hand getting a workout from the constant changing of gears to tackle the variable terrain. It was pure thrill, not knowing whether the trail would end or take me over the mountains to the other side. I had food and hopefully enough gas to take me as far as the end of the line according to the map. But there was nothing – no people or clusters – for a long stretch as the sun overhead began to fall behind me. I came to a bridge running over a creek that was originally maybe ten planks wide, but now was perhaps only two planks wide. It was the moment of truth because it was wide enough to pass but one slight wavering on my part and I would drop ten feet into a swift-flowing creek. I had to take a moment before I gunned the throttle and used my momentum to sweep me across the bridge along the loose planks. I did make it and on the other side decided to study the map, smoke a joint and eat some peanuts.

I felt I was only a few more hours of riding away from the end of the trail so I pressed on.

When the sun fell there was an unwanted fear in my gut. I wasn’t really sure if it was fear or thrill since the two were very similar in feel. But when it went pitch dark the game was no longer about play. It was about survival. I was scared for real. I couldn’t see the bumps and turns in the trail and my headlight was weak relative to the extreme darkness. I cursed Honda for putting such a sub-par headlight on such a great machine but my cursing was short-lived because I reached some sort of small settlement with no lights on. When I rode through it I saw one light so I kept riding expecting to see more lights but I found myself on the other side of a river and in total darkness. I had ridden right through the village! So I doubled back and stopped at the only light. I climbed the stairs and when I walked in I realized it was an old police station. I was very relieved. I asked about accommodations and was given directions to a store that doubled as a hotel right across the main square from where the police station was located. But I was skeptical. The cop was obviously suspicious of a foreigner showing up in the middle of the night on a motorcycle stoned on weed and betel nut looking for a place to crash, but I was skeptical about the cop, paranoid that I was about to be mugged. So I quickly rode across the square to this store and knocked on the door.

A light came on and a woman came to the door.

“Do you have a room?”

“Yes, yes,” she said and motioned that I go to the side of the building, which I did. There she opened the door and there was a hallway that had three rooms, each with a name from the Bible. One of the rooms was named Leviticus, which was the one I took.

The woman was very friendly and she opened the store to let me buy some food and most importantly beer. I was very happy with her allowing me to buy so much stuff and then asked where I could get some gasoline for my motorcycle. She told me that there was a place in the square that sold gas in the morning. I was very happy and relieved to have found such a hospitable spot in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains. In my room there was a massive mural of a rice terrace with the name of the town written across it. I ate and drank and wrote in my journal and tried my best to dry out my wet clothes and had a great sleep in the room of missionaries.

I didn’t see the woman in the morning because I woke up early and went to get gas and be on my way. I knew it would be a make or break day for me and I felt some degree of worry about time. I had only a few days before I needed to be back in Manila and was now concerned about how slowly I was moving in relation to the distance I needed to travel to make it back. The trail was proving to be slow going but at the same time it was like a dirt-biker’s paradise so I tried not to think about the time factor.

I found the gas and was off to an early jump of the day trying to figure out if the trail kept going. Was my map simply wrong? Did the trail keep going east? Would it connect with the main highway on Luzon’s east coast? These were all serious questions that would be answered during the day so I was excited to get going.

There were no clusters of shacks and no people on the trail – just a narrow walking trail that kept moving due east. My morning doobie really brought out the dirt-bike rider in me that morning and I attacked the trail with gusto. I focused on good riding technique, trying to increase my speed as I descended the mountains, the farther east I went the more enthusiastic I became because the closer I was getting to the main highway, and then out of nowhere the trail hit a beautifully paved four-lane highway. It was midday and I found myself riding in top gear along a freshly paved highway without any vehicles at all.

It was one extreme to the other and I welcomed some easy cruising after such a test of my mettle.


Brush with Death


I was loving the ride and so the rain didn’t bother me. I was now on safe ground and the scenery was still beautiful. It didn’t take as much concentration to negotiate each kilometre so I made good time. I stopped at all the forts and churches I saw; any evidence of Spanish colonialism was of interest to me because of the fascinating architecture and it amazed me to see exactly how deeply they penetrated this land. But for a long stretch along this road there were no churches or forts to speak of because the Spanish simply had not penetrated this far inland from the east or from the north, not until I found a very old church-fort tower. It was a very old relic, and proved to be the farthest south (from the north) that the Spanish reached. It was on the Cagayan River so they likely used the river as transportation. But it was just past this moving north towards the ocean that I came across one of the coolest things I had ever seen: an old colonial pub called Fumes & Bubbles. It was built on the river’s edge and was made of stone, with all the accoutrements of a Spanish pub for officers. But what made it so eerie was that it was almost completely overgrown with foliage. Bushes and trees had more or less covered the entire building. It was really just my keen eye that had spotted it. I dismounted off my motorbike and approached the old pub when I saw the words “Fumes & Bubbles.” Perhaps the Americans had changed the name back in 1898 and used it but I was still very remote that it was astonishing that there was even any evidence of colonial history this far inland in this desolate part of the country. There were no towns or settlements in the area until much farther north. It was surreal and a memory I still cherish today. I took a photo of it but to me the photo doesn’t do it justice.

I stood there and let my imagination run for a while thinking of the Spanish officers who used to drink here after a long day’s journey on horseback, now completely forgotten to modern man.

Riding north I soon saw the Cagayan River flooded but it didn’t affect the roads. I rode on through towns until I reached the sea in Aparri. But Aparri was a desolate and angry town. People spat on me as I rode past them and yelled at me. The town had been bombed by the Japanese three days after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1940 but the town was still decimated. It had never been rebuilt. I could plainly see there had been a beautiful community of old colonial homes in the bay but it was still all rubble. Old churches were still in ruins as if frozen in the aftermath of the battle. I’m sure funds had been allocated for rebuilding but somehow the monies had never made it to rebuilding the town. I turned around rather quickly, disliking the vibe of the town and the anger I sensed all around me. I feared for my life as I kept hearing locals yelling at me.

I rode back out of town except this time I turned due west along the northern coast aiming for Laoag City where I would turn south and ride back to Manila.

It was a great trip. The ride was smooth on the paved roads and there were so many churches and small forts to see that so few foreigners ever see because it was all so off the beaten path. Aparri was like a dead end so tour buses ended at Laoag City on the northwest tip of the island. The entire north shore was a wonderful experience of very few people and many untouched churches and open fields. As soon as I crossed the major river past the Cagayan River I felt the anger subside and was back to the warm, welcoming vibe of the Philippinos. I knew it was going to be a relaxing ride and smoking doobies and sitting back in the dry weather riding along the coast and enjoying the sea view. When I finally made it to Laoag City on the northwest tip, I checked into the hotel and bought a few beers realizing then that it was New Year’s Eve. I spent a solo night on my balcony thinking of all the crazy New Year’s Eves I had experienced in my life and thought that this one might be the most unique. I thought of my friends in Toronto drinking and partying, which contrasted with my current situation. I felt immensely proud of myself for not letting five days off work slide by like so many people do. Again I had rebelled by taking advantage of time by taking advantage of the time and opportunity I had. I was rebelling against idlers and what I had come up with was surprising even to me.

I calculated that I needed to leave very early if I was going to make it back to Manila in time for Monday morning, so the next morning I left at 2am, which gave me enough time to ride all the way down the coast to Manila. It would turn out to be my crowning achievement, riding so far in 24 hours of non-stop riding.

But also my most dangerous.

I didn’t like riding at night because I couldn’t enjoy the view so I rode reluctantly in the dark for a few hours but was well rewarded when the sun rose and I could marvel at the sparkling sea to my right. The bridges and the highway was good enough for me to make good time but I still couldn’t help myself stopping at the massive churches I saw dotted along the coast. These churches were different from the more lavish ones in Manila and in other towns because of the elements. They were more basic in structure with massive flying buttresses, and they were made of a mixture of stone and coral. This mixture gave the buildings more integrity against the salty winds and rain and very obviously had stood the test of time. What amazed me was that they were all abandoned. The front doors were hanging off the hinges at an angle so I could walk into the church and survey what once must have been an awesome sight. All the riches and paintings and gold had all been looted, which gave me a heavy heart. I loved these old cathedrals of worship where the human spirit could go and recharge, so to see these jewels crippled and left to rot was a bit upsetting. But I persevered and kept riding south towards the capital, crossing long beautiful bridges over the many inlets and rivers that reached the west coast of the Philippines. In a few places I stopped to explore old forts that were so massive it surprised me that they were just sitting there unknown to the outside world. The walls were unbreakable and the churches within the walls were still adorned with fascia and the delicate touch of the priest and their masons.

From the turrets I could see for miles out to sea, again letting my imagination run wild with the history of it.

There was a stretch of road along the west coast where houses were built in trees. Never had I known man to have built such sturdy and sophisticated tree houses! The trees were short and squat, and for a stretch of perhaps 50 or 60 miles, the view inland was only of treehouses. I never stopped to take a photo of these houses and regret it still to this day because their design was so cool and people would simply not believe me if I ever tried to explain to them about these houses in trees. Even now when I type these words I am sure that my descriptive powers fall short of how innovative, sturdy and wonderful they were.

I stopped in Vigan City, which was said to have been left untouched by the hand of man since its founding in the 18th century with its cobbled stone roads and storefronts that resembled medieval towns in Spain. It was very cool to walk the streets of Vigan City but the high point of January 1st 2001 was when I stopped at the cathedral in Agoo down the road, where there was a service and the church was overflowing with people. I was passing on the main street when I was lured to the church from the music. I stopped and entered the church and experienced a special feeling. In my novel The Hellmantle Testament there is a scene that takes place at this cathedral.

I was a special moment and filled me with enough energy to fuel my last blast into Manila.

I rode with renewed purpose south and soon hit a flow that I would ride for eight hours. The traffic and roads were horrendous on the outskirts of the city, especially after night fall, but since it was late Sunday night the traffic wasn’t insurmountable. But something happened that I still marvel at to this day. I was so exhausted from my ride and I was so in the zone riding along the road that at one point after it became dark I fell asleep as I rode my motorcycle. My eyes started closing as I was riding but instead of stopping and maybe lying down for 20 minutes, I kept riding. I didn’t think it was possible for a human being to fall asleep at the wheel on a motorcycle. Well, I was wrong! I fell asleep as I was riding about an hour outside of Manila and began falling over when I hit a bump on the shoulder beside the ditch and swerved as I woke up. I don’t know how long I was out for – perhaps a second or two or three – but it was the innate alarm of balance between the ears that went into action and reignited my mind to consciousness. I didn’t go off the road but I was certainly on the shoulder. At first I didn’t know where I was or what was happening but I could feel my wheels slipping as I swerved back towards the road.

Again there is that moment when you calculate whether you are going to wipeout or not and for me it was a quick calculation. I dropped my left elbow and steered the CR250 back onto the road and increased the throttle and kept riding, well aware of what had just happened. I had that familiar fuzzy feeling in my face when you fall asleep so I took a moment as I rode and thought about how close I had been to killing myself. The more I thought about it as I rode in the darkened and dusty night air, the more alarmed I became, which was the perfect way for me to remain awake and alert for the rest of the ride back to my apartment. I did arrive safely at 2am and did make it to the office the following morning without a scratch on me. The last day of the trip was 24 hours of non-stop riding, a test of endurance and a show of will. Falling asleep on my motorcycle while so close to Manila was a very close call and still sticks with me now as an example of how far I pushed myself while in my prime. So many people plan to travel and see the world when they retire or go to far-off countries with their families but for me it was never about that. I never wanted to be infirm and weak and see the world. I wanted to suck the marrow out of life and face it head on in my prime and on my terms. I wanted to make my mistakes by myself and endure the consequences of my recklessness but to also soak in the moments of joy of successes only experienced alone. This five-day journey had all of these ingredients and stands as a great example of what I stand for as a person and as a life philosophy. Wasting five days in front of a TV was poison to my spirit. Instead I went out and lived life. I wanted to live a life worth writing about. And I was able to write a short story about this trip but then I included it as the first of three parts in my most meaningful novel: The Hellmantle Testament.

I often go back to this journey and think about some of the moments of joy I felt, reliving those moments now as I face old age.

A co-worker asked me how my Christmas was and I replied: “Fine, yours?” I didn’t tell a soul because how would I answer why? Besides, my teeth had turned red from all the betel nut I had chewed. It was high time to go see a dentist for a cleaning.


The Coup


I spent the next few weeks writing in my journals about my trip because I wanted the nuance and detail demanded by discerning readers. So I kept my Honda CR 250 to keep the riding ethos alive within me. I never really followed the politics of the Philippines but it was hard not to follow the impeachment proceedings against “Erap” – the beloved movie star-turned President who now faced the humiliation of being charged with lying in court. But before he made it to court, there was a coup. I had joked when I moved to the Philippines that I was bound to experience a coup.

Little did I know!

I did go see a dentist to have the red scraped off my teeth but I ended up having a terrible dental experience! Expecting just a routine cleaning and check-up, the dentist was very preoccupied with several other patients while I was there so I was left in the hands of a new dental assistant. I had been out the previous night drinking and smoking so I was hungover when I was there. The dental assistant made a comment when she was looking at my teeth that I “had a hairy tongue” so she proceeded to take the drill and mow my tongue, in the process cutting off most of my taste buds! It must have been her first week of work and she just lost control and scraped off my tongue! I couldn’t even yell with that sharp instrument cutting down all my taste buds so when the dentist came back into the room the dental assistant stood aside very sheepishly because I think she realized what she had done.

I have had a fear of dentists since that day.

This happened right around the time there was a lot of political unrest in the country and there was talk of Erap (Joseph Estrada) leaving office as he was expected to go to court to answer questions of embezzlement. My boss Alex called in the four expats into his office on Friday afternoon. He looked serious and shut the door.

“I just got off the phone with a guy named Andrew from the embassy. He said he isn’t CIA but he said there is going to be a coup this afternoon and that you are to remain in your apartments until it’s over. It’s very unpredictable out there and he said there is a good chance there will be fighting.” I looked at my colleagues and there was fear on their faces but for me it was a thrill.

A coup! How can I check it out?!?

This Andrew ended up being right. That afternoon there was a coup. The “People’s Power Revolution” happened when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took power after the president Erap left office in a boat and sailed upriver to a safe house where they left him alone with his millions of dollars. There were celebrations on the “success” of the coup, which I found rather surreal. I still had my motorcycle from my trip so when I went home after work I hopped on my CR250 and explore Manila. Usually a bustling city with a very high density, Manila was empty. There were no people on the streets, no merchants selling their wares or anyone walking or driving or riding on the roads. It was if the entire city was at the Presidential Palace. That was where the tanks were and the military and all the action, so I tried to go there but the roads were closed. It was a very, very eerie experience to ride through Manila and not see a soul. Literally the streets were empty that night. I rode around and became a bit freaked out and simply returned to my apartment, not wanting to cross a barricade and encounter uptight soldiers with machine guns during a coup.

It was perhaps one of the few sensible things I did while I lived in Manila.

My time in the Philippines was great. It was very hot but I took advantage of the Makati Sports Club and the pool and ate well and sort of got myself back into shape. I became centered again. I focused on work and knew there were opportunities for advancement if I played my cards right. At the Christmas party I went out of my way to meet the COO, who I thought looked pretty cool with his beard. He was a young guy from Kentucky who I had followed in the company news and who seemed like a sharp egg. I shook his hand and asked if we could perhaps go out for lunch. I was drunk so it was easy for me to ask. He said it was a good idea so I waited a month before contacting his office. The next day I was in his office sitting next to him at his desk.

We had a Philippina bring in food on a tray.

I was full of ideas and I sketched right in front of him how I saw the flow chart of how things worked in Corporate Marketing. He was sufficiently impressed to give me several questions as homework. I spent the weekend working on the questions and then submitted them to his secretary, too shy to knock on his door and present them in person. He reviewed them and within the month I was interviewing for a new job based in Hong Kong. I had even started growing my beard in honour of this guy’s kickass beard. I hoped to be transferred to the company’s headquarters in Hong Kong because everyone wanted to work in Hong Kong. It was the place to be in Asia but very hard to land a decent job, especially if you were a foreigner. But I did well at the final interview and got along with the guy. So I was offered a position as Copy Editor in Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island working in the same office as the owner. They sent me to some workshops and courses and I played the part well, finally getting sober and loving my bushy beard. I stayed sober for many months and found it to my liking. With so much time free of hangovers, I became more productive and a better person. I started going to church and did a heck of a lot of reading. I met a fellow expat during this time who encouraged me to begin saving some of my paycheque. I had always spent the money I made on adventures and travelling so it was a tough decision for me to shave off a percentage of my income to put into an RRSP. But I did. And this one act would change my life in the years to come.

But I spent loads of my free time reading, particularly about the Prior de Sion and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel during this time. I did most of my research for what would end up in my favourite novel The Hellmantle Testament during these early months of 2001.

I moved to Hong Kong in March, having spent one year in the Philippines. I knew it was a promotion and was happy to get out of Corporate Marketing under the nose of my boss Alex, and was very excited about living and working in Hong Kong. I knew I had it good in Manila with the Makati Sports Club so close to the office and the lush environment and the old churches and the beautiful countryside. I had become accustomed to working in the morning and then walking from the office to the club, swim for thirty minutes, have a sauna and then return to the office and eat my lunch. The pool was surrounded by mature palm trees and the club was posh like the Granite Club in Toronto. Erap was a member of the club, so it was the place to be in rich Makati. But I was also aware that Hong Kong was truly the epicentre of Asia for expats and that new doors were there waiting to be opened. I was proud and happy to make the move, and it was around this time that I started to reconnect with my mother and father after years of being estranged. My father was still brutal and critical of my life so I didn’t speak with him much but I did reconnect with my friends through email and began to live a somewhat more normal life. I followed my rule of being sober during the week, which worked well in Hong Kong that had bars that were open 24 hours a day.

But it didn’t take me long to run into some serious trouble soon after I started my new job.


Hong Kong and Touching the Empyrean


For the first year I played it well staying in the straight and narrow, doing well at work and even playing badminton at the local club in Aberdeen. I had played a lot of badminton and squash and tennis in Manila at the Makati Sports Club so I was still in good shape to play badminton at the Aberdeen club. I did a lot of mountain biking and stayed in good shape and remained sober for the most part, but then I met some partiers who showed me the town. I got to know the bars and regulars in Long Kwai Fong and down in Wan Chai. These new friends were serious drinkers who had been living in Hong Kong a long time. My sobriety soon melted away and I found myself delving deeply into the culture of Honk Kong.

I was making a lot of money and so I felt I deserved to spend a little.

Most people try to make money and become corporate but my big conflict had always been the opposite: try not to become corporate and try not to make decisions for the money. My aim had always been for my writing. My purpose had always been to live my life like a work of art. My philosophy had always been Nietzschean and thus my focus was to live a Nietzschean life. Never did I want to become a prude and avoid the richness of what life offers. Never did I want to simply go to work and save my pennies. For me it was to deny life to live this way. So my biggest conflict was to balance my need to earn money with my pursuit of empirical data. Never was this more illustrated then my first years in Hong Kong.

In Taiwan it was easy for me to throw myself into the scrum and thrive in the chaos of its laissez-faire fray and in the Philippines there was a very relaxed attitude towards work and much emphasis on play, but in Hong Kong it was very corporate so I constantly struggled to stay separate from that attitude and look. I kept growing my beard to Moses proportions and I started to stay out all night and then spend the day in the office glued to my computer monitor trying to get through the day and be productive despite not sleeping. This growing conflict was bound to produce some problems. Nietzsche loved the idea of “to philosophize with a hammer,” so I was constantly taking out my sledgehammer outside of work and then switching to a finely tuned chisel during the weekdays.

I was able to do this for a long time but soon cracks began to show. My work colleagues wanted me to be clean shaven and well-dressed but I wanted to be a Viking with a beard and long hair so how was I to reconcile this? As a philosopher I believed in the au atural look so I kept my individualistic look. I also shunned conformity fervently so I continually took the devil’s advocate role in almost everything I did. To make up for putting my individuality on display at work, I did a very good job with my work, becoming indispensable as a worker in the mix. I was producing the same amount of productivity as three employees I bet, making myself a valued member of the “team” despite my unconventional look. But my co-workers knew I was a scallywag who spent long hours hanging out in biker bars and girlie bars in the wrong side of town. For me it was “research” but to them it was wrong. I was bread on being beyond good and evil and defining my own moral code based on what I saw in life and on my own reality. I believed Schopenhauer was right in his life-defining thesis in The World as Will and Idea and I was determined to live my life according to these brilliant minds. I would live my life on my terms and would lead an original life, even if it put my professional life in peril because my true work was my writing – like all true writers do.

Others cannot take the art out of the artist and no one was going to alter the course of my life if I could help it.

This stubbornness took a deeper form during my transition in Hong Kong. It was a city of stimuli and I loved its international aspect where I could walk into a bar alone and spend ten hours drinking pints of beer and learning more during those ten hours talking to people from around the world than I could from years of watching mindless TV in Canada. I knew I was in the right place for what I wanted out of life and so I spent those hours in the bar listening to businessmen and engineers and ex-soldiers – anyone I thought was interesting.

And by doing this I had a wonderful and unique education during my four and a half years in Hong Kong.

At times I think I was more suited for the military than for professional writing/corporate life because of my penchant for extremism. But my constant drug use and drinking would have caused me to be kicked out of the armed forces so I was continually in a situation where I had to fight to fit into a world that really didn’t have a place for me. Or, to be more precise, I had to fight to create my own niche by somehow creating a monthly income that would enable me to live recklessly and travel and write. My predicament has always been a struggle. So Hong Kong was no different. I loved the international aspect of the country, with the many travelers and the international perspective. But I didn’t like the mass conformity all around me and thus fought against the flow. I dressed down and wore my Birkenstock sandals with my shirt and tie outside the office. I always told people when they commented that I had had arthritic feet, which was half true since my Reiter’s Syndrome when I was 22.

But there were deeper issues. I liked being alone and apart, like my time on the Penghu Islands. I was part of the school but I was very apart from everything else. Hong Kong made me feel claustrophobic when I was first there, which caused me to search for a space that was my own. When I was an editor in Taipei I still went out on my motorcycle around Taiwan and visited factories and negotiated my map and compass and it was interesting. And in Manila I was part of the corporate office life but I still had my many long explorations in the city on my mountain bike and motorcycle, still feeling that rich sense of adventure. But Hong Kong was saturated with people and I couldn’t find my beach. But I knew it was a great job for me and the promotion meant a lot. So I slowly started to party more and more, staying out later and later so that finally, after almost a year in Hong Kong I finally went overboard.

It wasn’t intentional but it was a result of me being stubborn and insistent on being extreme.

It was another weekend and I had spent it in Long Kwai Fong – the drinking quarter – where there was no traffic in a quadrangle of streets with nothing but bars. It’s the famous drinking district in Hong Kong, which was a guaranteed good time. I went from there to Wan Chai where I drank at the historic Old China Hand – one of the oldest bars in Hong Kong. I met some people who were going to Lamma Island, which I learned was where the cool hippies hung out. On Lamma there are no vehicles of any kind and is only accessible by ferry. There was a full moon party on one of the beaches on Lamma so I joined them. As soon as I landed there I knew I was in a magical place. Most of the people were expats and the beach was cool, with a DJ blasting music and no cops to be seen for miles. We had taken a water taxi on a Sampan to get there and the girl I was with knew some people on the island. With the full moon lighting up the night sky, we danced and swam and smoked drugs all night. The music was not rock – it was more trance or club music so that’s when I clued in that there might be some drugs around. Me and my girl – Marija – found someone selling ecstasy so I bought some. Instead of buying one pill I bought three. I took one pill – chewed it actually – and thought it was fake because it tasted awful and didn’t affect me after an hour. Dangerously I wasn’t with someone who was a trusted wingman so I found myself recklessly chewing up the other two pills and thinking that the drugs were weak or fake. I still didn’t feel anything for the next little while so Marija and another couple and I decided to climb the hill behind the beach to smoke a doobie.

The sun was beginning to rise so we could follow the trails up the steep grade.

Lamma island, like Hong Kong Island, is a steep mountain top sticking out of the sea. Steep and rocky, the trails and the hills around this beach were a challenging hike but we found the little spot we wanted to go to and sat comfortably there and smoked the joint. The ecstasy pills that I had taken still had not really kicked in but I had never really done ecstasy before and I think I was expecting more of a swoosh than the slight tingling it gives you. I was happy as hell sitting there snuggling with the redhead Marija but then all three of them stood up and said they had to take the next ferry back to Hong Kong Island. I tried to tell them to stay because it was Sunday morning and sunny and hot and we were in a great place. They had things to do so they left but I was determined to enjoy my free Sunday and so I decided to follow the mountain trail and explore to another higher spot I could see. It was still beside the beach so I followed the trail and loved the vibe there. It was so dry that the foliage was like a dry moonscape, scraggly plants with sunburnt branches and sharp rocks and a steep grade. I was feeling so good that I wanted to go write in my journal – perhaps some poetry – and so I aimed to get to a nice spot on the opposite side of the mountainside I was on. So I left the trail and descended down the hill so I could get to the other side. Immediately I thought I had made a mistake but I dug in my heels and doubled my efforts to get to a spot that looked perfect to write. I was wearing my Birkenstock sandals, which were terrible for off-trail hiking with this type of dry, unforgiving underbrush. But I went on, soon descending most of the way. I had had purchased a bottle of water that was in my knapsack that was on my back and had drank a full litre of water before I had started my walk but sometime during my descent I fainted. I had been off trail for nearly an hour and was sweating very badly. That day was one of the hottest ever recorded I was to learn later, but still I was determined to get to that spot across this dip in the land.

But when I fainted and came to, I was disoriented and a bit scared.

For the first time I thought I might be in danger. I thought that if I fainted again no one would find me. I stood there and looked at this most perfect spot, still yearning to get there to write but sense came into my mind and told me it wasn’t worth it to faint again and be so far off the main trail that there was a risk that no one would find me if I fainted again. I didn’t know why I had fainted either but I was so frantic that I didn’t think it through as to why, other than dehydration. But when I turned around to climb back up the mountain side to the main trail, I realized that when I had fainted I had also fallen down the mountain, losing one of my Birkenstocks. I looked for my sandal but it was no use. I felt my forehead burning so I reached in my knapsack and saw that my litre of water had fallen out. I looked for my bottle of water but couldn’t find that either. I became scared because I had no idea how far I had fallen.

And I was very far from the main trail.

And to make matters worse I was suddenly very wasted from the ecstasy and could hardly stand up. I would stand and then fall over. But I was pumped up and pretty impervious to pain so I took a deep breath and started walking back up the mountain to the main trail wearing one sandal. And because I could hardly stand I would stand up and then lunge forward, grabbing the dry, prickly underbrush to prevent me from falling down the hill. It was very slow moving. My skin was so sunburned that every twig and branch and jagged rock cut me but it didn’t matter.

I was on a full adrenaline rush, lunging up the mountainside foot by foot.

At some point I came across my bottle of water but instead of opening it and drinking from it I made a mental note of “Oh, there it is” and kept going. At one point I was standing up and then falling backwards, losing ground, so I began to crawl on my stomach up the hill. Since I was falling all over the place I was soon covered in blood from abrasions and cuts. Just when I thought I was close I stood up and saw that what I thought was the trail was just a mock ledge and that the main trail was still a long way off. There was a moment there when I thought I would just take a rest and then retry after a break but somewhere in my mind I knew that I was in serious trouble and needed to keep moving. What scared me the most was how hot I was but that I wasn’t sweating. My forehead was very, very hot but it was dry.

I was so dehydrated that I had no more sweat!

Plus I was physically expending myself to such a degree that I was quickly overheating.

So I kept on inching up the mountain until finally I saw the main trail, lunged one last time and landed on the dusty trail. I looked up and could see the beach below. I had made it! But when I stood up to walk down to the beach I only made it two or three steps before I fell over and passed out. But as I was falling I remember throwing myself into the nearby bush for shade. This happened at around 12 noon on Sunday. It wasn’t until a hiker walked by and saw my bare feet sticking out of the bush that I was found. This was at 1:30pm on Tuesday.

I had slipped into a coma and was there alone, not a soul in the world knowing I was there, for over two days.

This Chinese man who discovered me called the police and they came up to grab me, and I was then helicoptered off Lamma Island to the hospital in Kowloon where I was taken to emergency and given a lifeline right into my heart. This needle kick-started my heart and the IV hydrated me. I came out of my level six coma on Thursday night. Doctors from all over Hong Kong came to look at the guy who had survived such an ordeal, because medically I shouldn’t have lived. I had had a temperature of 106 degrees, which no one had ever survived. My muscles had melted and my kidneys had stopped. I had second degree burns all along the right side of my body from exposure.

It was most certainly my closest brush with death I had ever had.

And I remember vividly what I experienced while I was in my coma. I experienced what I would call “an infinite moment” of all my best and warmest memories in my life in a flash of images in bright colours that overwhelmed me with joy. I didn’t feel anything other than pure joy. And these images went before my eyes in a film reel of highlights from my life, ending finally on a memory of me running after my twin brother in a field during a grade six field trip, laughing very hard. When I finally came out of my coma it was like I was sucked downwards from this perfect state of joy back into the heaviness of my body and the pain associated with such a banged-up and burned body. When I awoke I proceeded to pull out my IV and several other needles because I was still in the act of climbing up the mountain. They gave me something to calm me down and I slept for another day before fully coming into consciousness on Friday night.

I had nearly died.

But I had survived.

Here is an excerpt of how I described this event in my novel Prophecy Seekers:

Like a kaleidoscope enriched with bright light and meaning, a succession of mind pictures took him far away towards a bright light as if to a higher plane of being. The images before him were memories from his past seen in vivid clarity with a fullness of unhindered emotion of fulfilled joy. Despite witnessing this rapid-fire warmth of sentimental recollections of scenes from his life, he could not, as it were, bring them closer for dissection. It was as if he witnessed it from above, slightly removed, yet completely immersed in each scene’s emotional force. It was a form of joy and unrivalled glee he had never known before, distilled and pure, and infinitely personal. The final and most enduring image was him seeing himself as a ten-year old boy running across a meadow full of wildflowers chasing his twin brother Josh and laughing so intensely he thought he might explode. It was pure and hopeful and innocent – a moment of Aristotelean happiness that epitomized the innocence of his childhood – a time before shadows of doubt clouded any possibility of pure joy. It was as if it was engineered in such a way to create a synergy of warmth that overwhelmed his heart and pulled his spirit towards the light of pure joy.

It was a profound warmth of quintessential equilibrium that calmed his center in a whirlwind all around him that simultaneously threatened to rip him apart.

The sharply lighted memories in his life nurtured him throughout this infinite moment of weightless happiness. He coveted the absence of pain and the absoluteness of pure joy he felt, so when he began regaining consciousness he resisted. He felt like he was being sucked away from a womb – an ancient center – that left him exposed and weakened and vulnerable. The closer he moved to awaking, the farther away he was from the rich light of color and heat that soothed his burning soul.

His greatest desire was to remain with the joyful brightness of pictorial emotion that gave him a timeless and profound exultation and that perfectly matched everything he sought subconsciously. In this state somewhere between life and death, he wanted to remain in this perfect state of bliss.

He was aware of all this the moment he regained consciousness in the intensive care unit. As if forced to the surface of the sea by buoyancy, he fought to stay below the surface and savor the beauty and personalized richness of the colors and pictures in his own subconscious utopia.

When he finally awoke, after having his hand on the door to death, he was immediately aware that he had shared his intense experience with all those whom he loved. Beyond the bluntness of words, he knew it was an entry into a world of pure feeling where absolute understanding brought absolute communication, which in turn brought him into an absolute oneness of being.

It was, perhaps, a glimpse of heaven.

Alone and so high up on the mountain, unseen and unknown to anyone, Thomas fell at noon on Sunday and was discovered by a hiker Tuesday at 2:30 in the afternoon. The hiker noticed a foot sticking out of a bush as he was hiking along the main trail. Thomas was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in critical condition for ten hours, and it was during this time that he experienced a series of mental images.

Somehow he had been born again by the unknown power of light.


Finding the Tomb of Jesus in India


The coma experience took a lot out of me but I didn’t let it take me down. I was put on warfarin for 13 weeks after my coma because I developed a blood clot in my arm precisely where they inserted a needle to hydrate me. Essentially what happened was that because I was so dehydrated, as soon as they inserted the needle, small scabs began to form, which caused near clotting. When I came out of my coma on Friday night I slept a lot but the following morning my burns didn’t bother me as much as the crux of my arm. It was an unbearable pain. I had developed such a high tolerance to pain that I only casually pointed out to the doctor that my arm hurt but when he took note of the location of the pain, he knew immediately what it was. So the doctors and nurses proceeded to poke me with needles three times a day until the warfarin (also used as rat poison) thinned my blood down sufficiently to “water down” the scabs and prevent a blot clot. (I calculated I had over 100 needles during my three-week stay at the hospital).

I developed a serious aversion to needles during my time in the hospital.

Instead of walking out of the hospital a few days after my coma, I ended up remaining there for over three weeks. Since I was a large man relative to the Chinese population, they were very timid to give me too much warfarin to avoid thinning my blood too much. This created more problems than it prevented because not only was I being poked three times a day with a needle by nervous nurses who didn’t like dealing with a foreigner, but I was exposed to a strange contagious disease within the hospital. It was a very unsanitary hospital and very dirty and I was afraid of picking up something serious so I finally began to complain and so they put me in a separate wing and kept stabbing me with needles. The pain in my arm subsided and I was discharged from the hospital back to work and told to remain on warfarin for 13 weeks. It was so toxic that I finally took myself off the drug after only six weeks. My arm was fine and the tremendously poor medical attention I received after ICU was a shamble.

But I will always be indebted to the staff there who saved my life.

The “hiking incident” as it came to be known was indicative of my serious drive for adventure and my fear of becoming too corporate (too benign) so I made a few decisions that proved to be wise. I thirsted for the fast lane of Taiwan where I motorcycled everywhere and partied all night but I knew I could never do that in my present job. I often did drink all night and then – without sleep – go into the office and put in a full day but these were rare. So to feed this self-created demand to live a dangerous life I chose to utilize my vacation time and travel. My first year of working for Asian Sources was spent motorcycling around the northern Island of Luzon (as described in the previous chapter), so my second year of vacation time I chose to travel to India. I had had a lot of time reading and had come across a very good book that I trusted – all about the Holy Grail and the hidden bloodline of Jesus. Many of the ideas I came across from the many books I read during this phase in my life made it into my most significant novel The Hellmantle Testament. In one of these books I read that Jesus had survived the cross and had lived out his life in northern India where he was buried in Srinagar in Kashmir Valley. I liked and trusted the author and from my extensive research decided to go see for myself.

So I booked a flight and left for New Delhi.

This was in November of 2001, only two months after 9-11 in New York but this didn’t affect my choice of going to a very dangerous area in the world. I was only slightly aware of the dangers in Kashmir Valley along the “line of control.” I knew that Hindus and Muslims in the region had been at each other’s throats for decades but I didn’t think it would affect me too much. It would not prevent me from doing my own thing.

My hiking incident had humbled me but I still carried some arrogance.

I landed in New Delhi and did not expect it to be so polluted. The haze of the night when I landed at two in the morning was a very strange experience. The pollution was so think I thought it was fog. The heat was pretty harsh still in November, but the begging children were very aggressive so that I felt an unusual fear when I went for a casual stroll after my morning coffee the following morning. There is an inherent racism when whites are chosen as money-givers and it rubbed me the wrong way. But there were at least a dozen children dressed in rags that rushed at me and assaulted my person, not in a friendly way, but in a desperate way that was incredibly offside. The manager of the hotel where I was staying had actually followed me outside because I suppose he expected something like this to happen. It was still very early in the morning and so the swarming of the kids was almost violent. It must have had something to do with their violent hunger. I was up so early because a baby had been crying all night. But what was so eerie about the crying was how desperate it was: it was a baby crying because of starvation – a bone-chilling experience that left me unable to sleep.

When I had arrived the previous night I was full of beans and eager to begin a new adventure so like I usually did I asked my taxi driver if he knew where I could buy some drugs. I said I was interested in buying some weed, but was also interested in anything else he could find. I trusted him because there was some hardship in his face and there was something man-to-man in his tone. So that morning after being swarmed he came to my hotel room and sold me some heroin. I had only tried heroin once in my life (snorted it) and didn’t really like it but I bought it anyway because I was hell-bent on being extreme.

Having run into an issue before in the Philippines of having weed but no rolling papers, I had wisely brought some rolling papers with me from Hong Kong hoping I could score some hash in Kashmir Valley, but I didn’t dare snort any heroin before I hopped on the bus to begin the long two-day journey north to Kashmir Valley. I never flew to a destination if I could help it because you bypass the adventure. I tried very hard to find a motorcycle to rent but there weren’t any and I was told I wouldn’t be able to get through the many military checkpoints on the way to Kashmir Valley. And they were right. There were at least a dozen military checkpoints and all sorts of old gun turrets and sandbagged gunner trenches built into the mountainsides along the way, and the soldiers were all on high alert since the 9-11 attack.

There was a crazy Israeli on the bus who was fun to talk to so we found a way to buy a bottle of booze and fill up our “water bottles” with alcohol. I paced myself because I had had experience drinking on foreign buses and it could become pretty severe if you over-imbibed so I coasted as we climbed up the foothills of the Himalayas but my Israeli fellow traveler didn’t pace himself and he had a rough time. He became really loud and a bit out of control and subsequently fell into a stupor that was not appreciated by the others on the bus. And then he suffered from a very harsh hangover and was subjected to severe border-crossing scrutiny when we hit Kashmir Valley. There were many tunnels and at the entrance of these long tunnels were the sandbagged checkpoints with many soldiers standing around with very stern facial expressions.

I was able to smoke doobies whenever we stopped for food by walking away from the crowd and being careful not to generate any suspicion but it was a nerve-racking experience.

When I finally arrived in Srinagar I was tremendously relieved. Some bus trips can be brutal from the constant noise and vibrations and this trip was one of those harsh experiences. But Srinagar was really a very beautiful place. So high up above sea level (6000 feet above sea level) yet surrounded on either side by the Himalayan Mountains, the air was refreshing and crisp and the scenery was stunning. I was there to see if Jesus really had survived the cross so when a chappie picked me up at the bus station and took me to the houseboat where I was staying, I could easily see why a guy like Jesus would “retire” to a place like Kashmir Valley. The theory soon started to take root that in fact the author of the book might have in fact been right.

I soon became very serious about this research trip I was on and kept a keen eye open for anything that would point out this theory possibly being true.

There were no youth hostels or hotels in Kashmir Valley – only houseboats. This is because Kashmir Valley was never taken over by the British. It remained a separate territory within the British Empire that was run by a maharishi. So any foreigner who visited the land was not allowed to stay on the land. They were only allowed to stay on water and thus houseboats. And the houseboat I stayed on was very cool – right out of the movies. It must have been from the 1920s – complete with four-post bed and smoking room. It was dank and dusty but it was a very neat experience. And the guys who ran the business were cool too. When the two men showed me my houseboat I ordered cold beer. When they came back I shared some cold beers with them and we talked about my plans to find the tomb of Jesus. They were very matter of fact. I told them I was looking for the tomb of Jesus and asked them if they knew where it was.

“Yes, it’s just down the street past the market.” Obviously I was surprised. He informed me that the locals were all aware that Jesus had lived in Srinagar during his final years with his brother and disciple Thomas and that they were both buried in town. The city council had built a roof over the tomb to protect it from the elements. He was happy to show me the way.

Almost in the same breath I asked them if they could find me some weed or hashish.

“Oh yes, hashish sir. No problem.” An hour later one of the guys returned with a large hard chunk of blonde hash that I bought for very little money. It was so high quality that I didn’t have to take a lighter to it to break it up into a joint. I just ran my thumb nail along it and it crumbled into something like sand. When I smoked it the taste was subtle and perfumed and the high really kicked in after about ten minutes. So the chappie and I walked into town to the tomb of Jesus.

What I didn’t expect was being yelled at by perfect strangers.

Obviously angry, men who sat around the marketplace yelled at me. I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky guy who really hates conflict so I was really taken aback. I’m sure the men would have been a lot more aggressive if it wasn’t for the man I was with. I know I was being called an American so my guide kept replying that I was Canadian. It did have some effect on the severity of the yelling, but clearly I wasn’t welcome. It was like walking into the lion’s den. Jesus, like Mohammad, is a well-respected prophet of God and there is a lot about Jesus in the Koran, so they likely felt like I was trespassing on their holy ground. I had a beard but it was still pretty weak, at least showing some effort to be respectful to their beliefs. I adopted a meek and humble posture, which I think my guide appreciated. It all seemed like a powder keg with one wrong word or insensitive move and the whole place would go up in flames. And it wasn’t just one or two people. Most of the men were smoking hookahs and yelling at me with mean, angry emotions on their faces.

There was no irony or happy faces to be seen.

So when I finally encountered the tomb, I was amazed at how non-descript it was. Some small ramshackle building with a tin roof and a sign outside it was all it was. But inside was really cool. There were two coffins that were raised off the ground and covered by glass so no one could touch them. The coffin of Thomas was bigger than the coffin of Jesus, but right beside Jesus was a very old sculpture that was very weathered from centuries of exposure to the elements. It was supposed to be a sculpture of Jesus’s face. There were Muslims on their knees praying all around Jesus so I couldn’t take a photo or be careless in anyway. Below the sculpture was a foot print in concrete. There was also a hand print and something written in Arabic. I was pretty blown away. It was simple yet very old and I felt in my heart that it was the real deal. Forgotten and hidden from the rest of the world, here was the final resting place of Christianity’s biggest player yet ironically nowhere in Christianity could this be explained or promoted. Only serious readers would find out about it.

I was proud of myself for coming all this way to witness yet another example of history being wrong.

I sketched the sculpture into my journal quickly and admired the setting, thinking seriously about the significance of being in the presence of both Jesus and Doubting Thomas. It was a very solemn experience and one I cherish to this day.

Back outside we avoided the angry men in the marketplace and took the long way back to the houseboat. I arranged for more beer and then made plans to go trekking in the Himalayas the following day on horseback. That night at sundown the minarets across the lake at the mosque blared music from crappy speakers and the entire town stopped and prayed. It was pretty cool to witness such dedication to a deity.


The Himalayas


The next three days I trekked in the mountains with my guide and another guy on horseback, who helped pitch the tents and make the meals and start the fires. It was very cool and mellow, especially with the hash I had. My guides didn’t mind me smoking hash because it was such a normal part of Kashmiri life. I loved the peace of the mountains and the dramatic setting. I yearned to gallop on the horse but it was an old thing that wouldn’t even trot. I won’t bore you with the trek as it was pretty uneventful except for the time when we were ascending a mountainside when suddenly out of nowhere we were surrounded by infantry troops from the Indian army. They were doing drills, running around the mountainside with rifles and sweating pretty badly when they came upon us and surrounded me. They pointed there rifles at me and were not happy, thinking I was a spy. For some reason I was very casual and unafraid, perhaps because I knew I wasn’t a spy. (And perhaps due to my hash buzz). But my guide jumped into action and forcefully began to exchange words with the leader of the regiment. Every soldier had a bushy moustache and being blissfully unaware of uniforms couldn’t tell if they were Indian army or Pakistani army, until afterwards.

We were right on the disputed border with Pakistan, and since the 9-11 attack tensions had been running high in the region.

I thought my guide would simply tell the sergeant that I was a tourist and they would leave but the argument when on for ten minutes, with the army chaps being very unhappy with me being in the area. They simply could not understand why a white guy like me would be walking around in such a dangerous area. I was wearing a beret and was muscular and fit so they were rightfully suspicious. I could have been a spy or some recce for Special Forces so they had a legitimate beef, but my guide really pulled through and they reluctantly left us there without taking us anywhere. I don’t know to this day what was said between them nor do I fully appreciate how much danger there was in the air that day. Even when they left they resumed running. Adrenaline was running high that day for sure.

I was very thankful to my guide for speaking up.

One of my favorite books is The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maughm, so when I was there in India I wanted to have a Larry Darrell moment and witness the sunrise in the Himalayan Mountains. And the next morning I had a very special moment as I witnessed the sunrise in this magical place. When things don’t go well or clouds of depression sneak in from other skies, I think of this powerful moment when the sun sneaks up on the mountaintop and bursts forth illuminating the soul in man.

As a memory it still has the power to warm my heart during cold days.

I eventually made it back to my houseboat in Srinagar and then reluctantly chose to fly back to New Delhi so I would have a day to make it to the Ganges River but when I went to the airport I had completely forgotten about the heroin in my pocket. Sure enough the security was very steep so I was forced to empty my pockets. There for the security officer to see was a folded up piece of white paper holding my small hit of unused heroin in it. He actually picked it up and looked at it, likely wondering why there was no writing on it. He looked at me and I was suddenly very nervous but kept my veneer casual so he threw it back on my pile of coins and told me to take my stuff and get on the plane. I spent the entire flight in shock at my stupidity and wondered what would have happened to me if the security officer had opened it up and found heroin. Thoughts of Indian prison meandered through my mind for days.

I still shake my head when I think of it today.

Back in New Delhi I found a taxi to take me to the Ganges River at Haridwar, where the water was still clean but cold. There was a leper colony above the water on a hilltop in a huge British-built building that lent the scene a surreal quality. The Ganges itself was a swift-flowing wide river with a concrete platform on the side of the river where there was a bell tower in the British colonial style along with pools for people to bath in. There was also a tributary of the river that ran along the outside of the platform that made the concrete landing like an island in the Ganges. It was one of the two main dipping areas on the Ganges, the other being downriver at Varanasi. (Varanasi was the main spot to dip into the Ganges but it was way too polluted there.)  I wanted to spiritually cleanse myself after having such a serious brush with death in Hong Kong so I was very happy to observe a holy man sitting cross-legged near the river who proceeded to take a dip knowing full well I was watching him. It was if he showed me how to do it, which I did exactly as he had done it. He dipped his head under the swift-flowing water three times in a manner that was full of finesse and with a solemn gait. I followed suit, which he watched, and felt refreshed and spiritually rejuvenated. I vowed to put behind me the recklessness that had led to my near death and to employ more wisdom in my travels. It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life and soon doors began to open.

It was right after India that I met the Australian Michelle.

I ended up flushing the heroin down the toilet but not without taking a small sample hit and then spending my last night in India rubbing my face all night in my hotel room.


Michelle and the University of Hong Kong


Back in Hong Kong I was settling into the life of an expat. I had survived my brush with death on the mountain on Lamma Island and I had weened myself off warfarin to go looking for the tomb of Jesus in northern India, so now, during December of 2001, I was fitting into my new role as copy editor at Asian Sources, which had now been officially changed to Global Sources at the headquarters in Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island. I was very active in Hong Kong, wanting to stay busy so I could feel I wasn’t selling out and becoming too corporate. I went to the Dragon Boating races and had a blast and had met up with some friends. One friend was from South Africa who had once been among the first Westerners to ever have lived and trained at Shaolin Temple in China. He was the strongest guy I have ever known, a man who could do countless push-ups on his fingertips. But more than that he could amaze me with the things he could do. He was all about the chi. Having been trained for years at the birthplace of King Fu, it was if he was full of magical powers. And could he drink! I never once saw him drunk but he would constantly outdrink me. We had met in Taiwan years ago when I was a DJ at the expat bar DV8, but he had business in Guangzhou and often went through Hong Kong.

It was with South African Frank that I met the beautiful Michelle Hopkins.

It had been my luck that most of the nice women I had met were already married. I always planned to marry in my forties because I was simply too reckless and immature to marry in my twenties or thirties. There was too much living and traveling and writing to do, and I didn’t want anyone holding me back. But Michelle caused me to rethink all that. We went out and hit it off, sharing a magical chemistry together. At the time I had gotten into watching ATP tennis and it happened that her brother was a tennis pro and her father had been a professional rugby player, so we were both inclined to sport. She was playing on the Hong Kong soccer team of expats. We started a relationship that was very meaningful to me. I was still very fractured from my unusual upbringing and my bad experience with Ginny Ray, as well as having an abusive and mentally ill father and being so rootless during my childhood. It was the constant moving around during my upbringing I think that caused me to accept the notion that moving around so much in my adult life was normal, something that is foreign to most people. I had baggage and I had some emotional issues that were being covered up by my fast-lane life so these things started to appear during our relationship. It scared me that I was still a very immature guy who thought I was a big-time traveler and had lots to write about.

It was a moment of looking at the mirror and it freaked me out.

Michelle was very down-to-earth and very understanding and I think I made every excuse to try to get out of the relationship with my crazy plans of traveling and fighting to live a writer’s life. I was convinced that to live a writer’s life one had to be alone. I still didn’t understand that some writers can have a girlfriend or wife in their life and write too. This relationship scared me because I only had a bunch of journals and half-baked novel ideas. To suddenly be confronted with a serious relationship and the prospect of marriage and therefore a full-time job and career threatened the writer’s life I had envisioned for myself since university. Typical of me I pushed her away for no other reason other than to protect my dream. But Michelle was smart and she knew my ‘push’ was weak and that there was love between us, so she moved from Hong Kong Island to Lamma Island, where I was now living. Since Lamma Island was so small we would often see each other at the cafés.

Michelle remained part of my life for the years I lived in Hong Kong and even after I had returned to Canada.

I had had many girlfriends over the years but Michelle was different. And she was the one who made me look at myself the most. And what I saw was both good and not so good. Yes I had become a pretty decent traveler and had gone to some cool spots and done some cool things but still I was a little boy who spoiled himself with a pretty paycheque. There were some changes that needed to be made. I needed more balance in Hong Kong I thought so I figured I could use a motorcycle, so I bought a motorcycle. I found a great Honda CB1 400cc street bike that was the ideal bike for Hong Kong. But it was a bloody scary thing riding in Hong Kong because the traffic was swift and there were no shoulders and everyone drove on the wrong side of the road!

All my instincts were going against what I knew about riding.

I was able to get a license and all the paperwork to ride the bike but it was that first time on the road that I really felt the thrill of riding. Like Taiwan, my time in Hong Kong riding a motorcycle really made my life there a fascinating daily experience. I lived on Lamma Island, which was a small island south of Hong Kong Island, which itself was a large island south of Kowloon – the mainland. So I had to take a ferry to work every morning and night as there was no bridge and no vehicles on Lamma Island. There were some of us who kept our motorcycles there near the ferry dock locked up so it worked out well. It was Michelle who was the one who really suggested I get a motorcycle in Hong Kong because it was what I liked talking about and she thought it might take me away from the extreme drinking and partying I was doing.

And she was right.

The bike gave me that option of having an adventure right after work. I could hop on my motorcycle, fill up with gas and ride the roads in Hong Kong that would take me under Victoria Harbour and across the skyscrapers in Kowloon and into the mountains of the north. I was able to explore Hong Kong’s little forgotten corners and maintain that adventure that I thrived on. And it was cool. There were lots of tunnels and neat nooks and crannies in Hong Kong that tourists never see. There was one spot where the road in downtown Kowloon went above other roads to the point where the civil engineers just decided to run the road right through the middle of a skyscraper. It was a very weird feeling to come speeding across the road above stores and people and then get swallowed up into the heart of a high-rise building and then come out on the other side.

There was a golf range right near the exit from this high rise, which made it all very surreal and cool.

The other big change was enrolling in a master’s program at the University of Hong Kong. My relationship with Michelle had revealed that I was still not finished with my education and now, with a stable job and good income, why not enroll in part-time graduate school and study at night for my master’s degree? At the time I was very keen on global politics so I decided to study international relations. My thinking was that if I could get a master’s degree it would enable me to teach English in Saudi Arabia, which is a place that fascinated me. Ever since I read a book about St. John Philby (Kim Philby’s father), and how he crossed the largest Saudi Arabian desert and learned the language and lived such an incredible life, I’ve wanted to go there and teach. But in order to do that you had to have a master’s degree. And the other reason I chose international relations was because I was interested in working at a political think tank or for Canada’s CSIS – Canada’s spy agency. I thought it would be cool to become a Far East Analyst. (I even applied after I graduated but was sent back a letter telling me that I had to be a Canadian citizen! I still have the letter. Just because I had a Hong Kong mailing address they thought I was somehow Chinese!!! Really turned me off re-applying when I returned to Canada).

So I was accepted into the master’s program and went on Tuesday and Thursday nights for two years. It was an excellent experience and I did very well, scoring straight A’s and even getting into the PhD program in 2004. But to pursue the PhD program was a very big commitment and it wasn’t really in the cards for me because it would mean remaining in Asia for another eight years. And also it most likely would entail me to live in Asia for most of my life. It would require a huge investment for me in Asia, and at that point in 2004 there was still too much to do with my writing. But before university began for me at the University of Hong Kong I had one more trip to take. I had been reading voraciously for years, not having a TV since 1993, and had become pretty obsessed with the French Foreign Legion so I became very interested in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnam when the French army were surrounded and decimated, and France lost control of their Asian empire Indo China.

The French had controlled Cambodia and Vietnam and were the colonial masters there until 1954 when they lost the battle at Dien Bien Phu. I read how the French Foreign Legion had parachuted in 2000 Legionnaires to almost certain death to try to save their compatriots during the 53-day siege when the Viet Cong surrounded them in Dien Bien Phu. My imagination had been sparked with this scene and so I booked a flight to Hanoi to see if I could rent a motorcycle and get to the site of the battle.


Motorcycling in North Vietnam


I left Hong Kong in February, 2002 for Hanoi not knowing what to expect. Part of me would have liked to bring along Michelle but a trip like this would require extremism that she wouldn’t have liked.

I landed in Hanoi and immediately liked the vibe. It wasn’t hostile like some countries I had been to, and the streets – dirt streets mainly – were filled with motorcyclists. It was strange how the main road would cross these massive fields full of people working the rice paddies. The road was the only thing that “disturbed” the pristine agrarian vibe of the rice fields, almost incongruous against the bright green fields and the peasants in hats working the fields. And Hanoi was a colonial gem. Huge French colonial buildings stood with noble posture along tree-lined roads, but were inundated with squatters. Windows were boarded up with wood and the paint was chipping off the facades but the rustic charm was still there. Unlike Hong Kong, the government were not systematically destroying colonial buildings, so wherever you went you could enjoy the immaculate urban style of Hanoi. It was said the French made Hanoi their capital in their Indo-Chine empire and it was plain to see how beautiful Hanoi had once been. The French certainly had a flair, as seen in modern capitals like Pnom Penh and Hanoi. Both of these cities were called the Paris of the East; both were beauties. The old French Market was a treasure trove of goodies, a market where I found old coins dating back to the eighteenth century from the United States and from France.

But very plain to see along the roadsides of Hanoi were the war vets who sat with missing legs and scars on their faces. But even here, when I walked past them there weren’t stares of hostility and resentment. But rather there was a noble pride in their demeanour and a politeness in their expressions that showed respect and tolerance to me – the tall foreigner who was now traveling in their country. It’s always hard for an Asian to determine whether someone looking like me is an American or Canadian or from Europe so there wasn’t the kind of outright bullying and danger as there was in the markets of Srinagar in Kashmir Valley or in the bombed-out city of Aparri in northern Philippines.

I liked Hanoi right from the first day and thought it would soon become a good spot for adventurous backpackers like me.

And on that first day I found a place to rent a motorcycle. They weren’t top of the line Honda CR250s but instead a rare and strange Russian model that looked stout and sturdy. Out on the road I found the bike stable and reliable so I rented it for the week. I then tried to find weed but wasn’t able to but I was able to find opium. Taxi drivers had again been the best source of finding contraband. But the problem was that I had no pipe. I rode all over Hanoi and drank beer and looked for a pipe to buy but couldn’t find anything. I’m sure there was a shop that existed where people could buy a pipe but man, I couldn’t find it. So I spent the first day drinking loads of beer and riding around Hanoi, getting lost often but always able to find my way back from the surrounding rice fields to the hotel near the old French Quarter. My experiences in Vietnam were recorded in my novel The Hellmantle Testament, with much detail of the trip that is not the scope of this autobiography to cover here.

Now armed with a rented motorbike and several good maps, a compass, and a baggie of opium (with no way of smoking it), I left the following morning for Dien Bien Phu. Almost immediately I was riding past open rice fields being worked on by farmers. There were no factories or malls or suburbia; just straight into the farmland. I rode past countless red communist flags that seemed to be hanging from every building I passed. Since I wasn’t able to find a baggie of weed, my usual drug of choice for such an adventure on a motorcycle in a foreign land, I bought a large bottle of Jamieson’s Irish Whiskey for the trip as an experiment, which turned out to be a bad idea. I rode for long stretches and then drank from the bottle but found it too dangerous for my liking. First of all motorcycling in unknown terrain can be stressful. It’s a game of looking for details in the landscape and road signs, but with the whiskey burning in my gut and sweating in such a hot tropical climate I soon found myself wavering on the bike. Wiping out on a motorcycle in a place like rural north Vietnam was not a desirable scenario so it didn’t take me long to rule out the Jamiseons. It was too big for my kit as well so when I spotted a guy walking along the dirt road I was on I stopped and approached him. He was friendly like so many were in Vietnam. I took out my bottle, carefully and demonstrably took out the cork and drank from the bottle, then handing it to him. At first he was very sceptical but after I took a second drink and started to laugh, he took the bottle from me and drank. We were at a bridge so we looked at the dried stream bed below us and giggled, not having any language connection between us. I could see he worked in the field and had no experience with foreigners so I was very careful how I communicated. I took another swig and gave him the bottle and then motioned that he take it. I then tried to point to my motorcycle and then to me drunk and trying to show that I might wipe out if I drank more and then again handed him the large almost-full bottle of Irish whiskey. He nodded in understanding and started laughing, fully understanding why I, as a stranger, was giving him the bottle. It was a special moment because he was so happy to have it. He was such a small guy that when he walked away from me with the bottle in his hands the bottle seemed so large. And he had left the cork on the bridge’s railing! I do believe he understood why I gave him the bottle and he went away laughing. I was happy to get rid of it because high test alcohol like that is not part of my motorcycle kit and would only introduce a reckless element of danger.

Besides, I was a beer guy, not a whiskey guy.

The first night I found a strange place to sleep – a tourist spot where tourists day-tripped from the capital to watch Vietnamese dance around a campfire. There were a number of tourists there that I avoided at all costs, taking to my separate room where I drank beer, ate a chunk of opium and went to sleep. When I awoke I thought I heard the distant sound of bagpipes. I went outside of my hut on stilts and was amazed to see this little camp or hostel right in the middle of rice fields. Totally and completely surrounded by rice paddies except for one road that connected to the main road. I saw for the first time why Vietnam is the world’s number one producer of rice, and China’s main supplier of rice. Wherever you looked there were productive rice fields. And this contrasted against the unproductive and dry rice fields in the Philippines and Burma.

In Vietnam they were smart enough to ensure all the field were worked on and productive.

That second day was when I hit the mountains. And they were beautiful. I followed a long river valley that went northwest towards Dien Bien Phu and the border with China. Jagged rocks defined the valley yet the roads were well made, with each corner done according to the principles of good civil engineering. The roads were French-built and even paved, making the ride in northern Vietnam one of the most enjoyable and beautiful rides I had ever had. Along the dips and curves along the mountain roads I wouldn’t even have to turn my handlebars the roads were so well angled. For short stretches the road would hug a river and then cling to a steep mountainside, each constructed so well that there was very little worry as a two-wheeled rider. It was very underpopulated in the interior of North Vietnam along the Red River Valley. The few hamlets I came to were very small, with just one ‘gas station.’ These were outdoor tables beside the road with old recycled soft drink plastic bottle filled with gasoline, just like Cambodia. Mile after mile of beautiful riding through the mountains along this valley and I reached an odd site: an old colonial hotel at the meeting of four rivers. It was an intersection made by God and the French had chosen to build a hotel that was like a fort.

It wasn’t yet night but I could not let this amazing site pass so I rode to it and took a room for the night.

A family ran the hotel but it wasn’t really a hotel. It was like a fort and a house and a restaurant – an all-purpose building that was designed to service people like me: those who had traveled far by horseback (or now motorcycle) and who needed a place to eat and sleep. The family lived on the main floor where there was a long front porch facing the confluence of rivers and the only road. This main room was where there was a long table and a kitchen, where I was fed. And upstairs was like an open room full of bunk beds – like a big room for soldiers to sleep in a fort. Of course I was the only person there and so I had my fill of lots of beer and lots of food until the sun set and this amazing scene of beige coloured sun-burnt mountainsides all descended to a point where four rivers met. There was not one other building to be seen. This building was built in the French colonial style and was that same yellow colour on the exterior and rich wood beams in the inside. That night I was determined to smoke the opium I had but still could not figure out how to smoke it.

But I was determined to figure it out the next day.

That following morning I drank French coffee and studied my maps and ate some opium thinking “The Opium Eaters” was enough for me to think I would get high by eating the opium. I had a good supply of betel nut so I wasn’t hurting for a buzz while riding but the opium was most definitely a risk. I was pretty slow that morning after all the beer and enjoying such a surreal scene at this odd confluence of rivers that I spotted another strange building nestled up on a hillside. I didn’t bother asking the nice family what it was because they didn’t speak English and I was all packed up and ready to ride so I went myself and discovered it was an old colonial French-built prison. And I could see that it had most definitely seen action because half of it had been blown up. Only the foundation remained of the main part of the prison but still the courtyard and hallways remained where the officers had lived. It had been turned into a museum but no one would be able to see it from the road without knowing it was here. And it clearly didn’t see a lot of visitors because when I went in I walked around the entire prison without seeing one person until the very end when a woman came out of a small part of the prison where she lived. But all the splendour of the old colonial days were still there to enjoy in the officer’s wing. Above the front gate was the word Penetencier.

I made use of this “penitentiary” in my book The Hellmantle Testament.

I wasn’t sure but I thought the opium was kicking in as I was walking through this old relic so I hopped on my motorbike and rode off towards Dien Bien Phu very aware of the beauty in the air and the perfect weather for riding through a very inaccessible part of Vietnam. There was literally no traffic. Certainly there were no trucks or cars, and perhaps the odd motorcycle but I had the roads to myself and leaned back and let the excellent engineering and design of the roads pull me around steep corners and down steep slopes. Like the previous day, there were so few hamlets or towns that the day passed with nothing but road and mountains and rivers and valleys.

That third night I reached Dien Bien Phu after dark. Eerie because it was like a city in the middle of nowhere, with an unpaved central street wide and French with shops along the sidewalk, which were mainly all mechanics focusing on repairing motorcycles. I found a hotel where I think I was the only person there for the night and I feasted on boiled eggs and crackers and peanuts and beer. I wrote in my journal until I couldn’t stay up anymore and planned to see the battle site the next day. I had the whole café to myself in this ghost city in the middle of February – obviously the off-season. But even after sucking down several beers and needing to sleep I did get on my motorcycle and ride down that main street. It wasn’t that long and it was quiet like a church with street lights on and empty and about as surreal as it could be. Once a bustling French town where soldiers lived to protect the frontier from rebels, this town whispered its history to me as I held the clutch and coasted down the main street listening to the silence and whispers from its forgotten history.

I often think of this eeriness all these years after.

The next morning I rode a short distance to the battle site and found the trenches still there and the artillery guns still on the grass pointing at the ridge where the Viet Cong hid and shot from. Along this ridge was the old contraband trail that traders used for centuries taking goods from Vietnam to China and beyond. It was like the Silk Road except it was for the Vietnamese. And this intricate trail system was what ultimately lead the Vietnamese to entrench themselves along a circular ridge and surround the French. Twelve thousand French soldiers were killed or taken prisoner during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Just to be there and see where French Legionnaires had parachuted in during the height of the battle was enough justification to have spent three days motorcycling to get there.

I went to the memorial and the trenches and saw where so many had been killed and the spirits in the swirling air pitted my gut with nerves. It was a scene of horror and tragedy and not a tourist spot in the slightest. I don’t really know why I had chosen to come here to see such a horrible moment in history – perhaps just to confirm that these places did in fact exist in reality rather than just in history books. Regardless, I experienced the strange haunting of the battle site and didn’t want to loiter longer than necessary. In a long century of wars, historians agree that the Battle of Dien Bien Phu was one of the most significant because it turned the tide of colonialism in the post-World War Two era, the indigenous people of a colony beating its colonial power in a fight so dramatic that it sent shockwaves around the world and led to the disintegration of France’s colonial empire as well as Britain’s and Spain’s. For me it was the scene where 2000 French Legionnaires parachuting into a battle where it was almost certain death in an effort to save their countrymen. For that it was a place I needed to see, even if it cost me hundreds of miles of riding a motorcycle through mountainous terrain requiring my best in navigating and riding.

Satisfied and a tad freaked out at the heavy vibe at Dien Bien Phu I was faced with the decision to either retrace my route along the south side of the Red River Valley or to go a little farther north to the Chinese border and ride along the northern flank of the valley back to Hanoi. I had a policy of never retracing my path so I opted for the longer ride around the river and back along the northern side of the valley. This route was even more remote and had fewer little towns and fewer rice fields because of the steep mountains but the roads were still fantastic and I experienced some of the best riding of my life. Careful to fill up on gas whenever I saw a little table kiosk selling gas, I put on some serious mileage as I rode mile after mile along very scenic roads first due north to within 40 miles of China and then due east towards the Gulf of Tonkin and the watershed land of Hanoi. Two full days of really fine motorcycle riding took me all the way back through the rice fields to the capital city Hanoi, on the way riding through little towns with almost every single house hanging a red Vietnamese flag. Never had I seen such nationalism nor had I ever seen a country so well suited to an agrarian governmental system. Sure communism has its shortfalls but Vietnam showed me how geography sometimes determines what governmental system is best. I don’t think I saw one rice field unattended or unproductive. And the workers on fields seemed happy enough or at least not demonstrably miserable in their cotton Mao outfits that used to be the norm in the People’s Republic of China when I traveled through there in 1990, three years after opening up to travelers. Northern Vietnam was an agrarian utopia and because of that it was a special ride through the northern wing of the Red River Valley in February 2002. The image in my mind’s eye of riding through these small towns with a flag hanging off a flag pole on every building along the main road is one of those moments that pops up in my dreams more than 20 years later.

Back in Hanoi I went directly to the pub to eat and drink, dusty and worn after the thousand or so miles I rode to Dien Bien Phu and back. There was a neat little corner near the lake in the centre of Hanoi near St. Joseph’s Church that had a little cluster of French cafés and restaurants where foreigners were. Inside one of the nicer cafés I remember seeing tourists sitting at the bar watching TV in their shorts and bright t-shirts and occasionally looking at me and wondering who I was and what my story was. How could a foreigner like me look so dusty and worked in? I remember looking at them with equal curiosity, wondering how a foreigner could travel to such an exotic location and sit in a café and watch TV? It was such a classic contrast that we sort of surveyed each other for some time as we drank. I smoked the local cigarettes and drank beer as they sucked down garnished cocktails and marveled at their traveling prowess simply by being in Hanoi and gawked at the television. I had no interest in sharing my story with them. I felt I had earned my memories from my trip. But more importantly I realized that I had become one of those types of people who didn’t need to tell others about my adventures and brag about what I had done. In fact in the years since motorcycling in Vietnam I have seldom told anyone of my travels, preferring instead to enjoy my memories myself. I found that trying to share memories like these always falls short and is seldom appreciated for what they were by others. I agree with those philosophers that say that a man’s greatest moments are always experienced alone, so this book is my testament to the life I have lived, everything written in these pages being true. I had finally become modest. Coupled with my humility from the pain I endured when I spent two years on crutches, I was finally becoming a more reserved, less-loud and less-self-centered person.


Attending the University of Beijing


Returning from Vietnam I began my master’s degree at the university in the fall of 2002. For the first time in years I felt like I was really getting ahead. Coming from a family that valued education above all else, I knew both my parents would be proud of me taking a master’s degree. Having been so far away and out of range from my parents, I became more in touch with them, regularly sending emails and calling both of them. I still never had the pat on the back from my father that I had hoped for all these years, but I knew I was bettering my station whether he expressed his feelings to me or not. In fact I recall he criticized me for studying international relations! But I loved it. I read all sorts of essays and became much more in tune with what was going on in the world, especially with China. My focus became China and I thought that one day I would apply to a political think tank where I could offer my insights into the growing influence of the ‘Middle Kingdom.’

I turned a page and even cut my beard and cut my hair and bought some better office clothes but this was only a passing phase. I had always dressed down instead of conforming to the corporate conventions but I had always done very well at my job. I loved the contrast of looking like a rebel yet doing the best job in the office. I reckon that this period was a very good one for me – with my production in the office likely worth three other employees. I accomplished an incredible amount each day, having energy to spare. When I started my night classes, my focus became my studies and I took a step away from my journals, writing and partying. I was responsible and was saving money, looking to remain in Hong Kong long term and possibly building a life there. But things didn’t work out that way. The writing bug niggled at me no matter what I did. I had made a decision long ago to live a writer’s life and to throw myself into living life as a writer of the world, living a life worth writing about. I had always eschewed the corporate life with its conformity and cookie-cutter mentality.

As I slipped towards this cookie-cutter mentality, I soon caught myself and resumed my rebellious ways.

Michelle and our possible long-term relationship scared me because it took me away from the writer’s life I had wanted for so long. I didn’t want to get married and see her working and me at home writing. It just wasn’t the template I wanted to be a part of. For her part Michelle was very supportive of my writing because she truly loved me but I felt like I would be taking advantage of her money and hard work. My writer’s life entailed me figuring out a way of earning my own income and building a life around me living in a writer’s cabin and writing. Cheating would threaten the integrity of this enterprise so I did what most immature and reckless young men did: I broke up with her. I knew I was doing something that wasn’t right yet I couldn’t help pushing her away. But to her credit, she said she understood amid her tears and stayed close by to me living close to me on Lamma Island. She didn’t engage in any emotional wars of any kind, even when I went out and started seeing another women soon after we had broken up.

She never once said anything about this.

This was when I met Allison Ridley. Allison was very different from Michelle. She was British and a bit of a snob but there was something about her spunk and recklessness that I liked, so we went out for the next year or so, building quite a good relationship and culminating with talk of having a child. She had a very good job and she was in Hong Kong for the long term so there was some security with her. But when she told me that she was pregnant and then promptly miscarried, that was the end of it for me. It scared me to no end to be beholden to her forever because there was definitely a nasty side to her that would have pushed me away in due course. I have not spoken to Allison in 20 years, but I am still in regular touch with Michelle. Some decisions haunt me to this day.

But from the fall of 2002 to the spring of 2004 I went to the University of Hong Kong two nights a week, studied and wrote very good essays. I studied papers written by security academics and immersed myself in China’s domestic and international policies thinking one day I would work for Canada’s spy agency. I worked hard at Global Sources and saved money but I still drank at the local cafés on Lamma Island and spent a lot of time with Allison. The year and a half I spent studying was all borrowed time because the reckless and raw animal within me wriggled through and thirsted for an outlet, eventually trumping the apple-pie persona I had adopted upon attending my master’s program. I began partying more, smoking more and yearning for new vistas like I had before. I chose to graduate a half-year early by taking two weeks off work to attend the University of Beijing in the summer of 2004 to complete my course of study. There were about 20 of us from different universities around the world attending the intensive two-week summer course in Beijing, at the most prestigious university in all of China. I had been to Beijing before but this time I found it very polluted. So much had changed since I had been there in 1990. The old style ‘hutongs’ had been demolished in favour of countless office buildings that took up so much space because of their elaborate and grandiose designs and landscaping, with way too much concrete and not enough trees. It had become a metropolis and a capital city near the brink of self-destruction vis-à-vis air pollution.

I rented a bicycle for the two weeks I was there and cycled all over the city, going down countless dusty roads and coming to countless intersections where cars coughed out leaded exhaust in a country with virtually no environmental laws. The city was schizophrenic insofar as it had these beautiful old pockets of old Beijing with vast swaths of new corporate ‘first-world’ China right beside these ancient relics. Each time I came across a hutong I would lament that their days were numbered. I felt like yelling at the Chinese government to stop taking down these beautiful enclaves in favour of becoming like all the other cities in the world but I knew it was wasted breath.

But I enjoyed my two weeks living in the dorms of the university. It was very old and very beautiful with so much history. The British had really caused a lot of heartache in the heart of Beijing during the colonial era in China, the Chinese preferring to leave the wake of destruction for their citizens to see how barbaric the European race is. The summer palace very near the university served as a reminder of how the British really socked it to the Chinese during the Boxer Rebellion. We stayed in the dormitories on campus and immersed ourselves into the old culture of Beijing. It was a very cool vibe on campus because studying there is a very big deal and the Chinese have always respected teachers the most of anyone within society because Confucius had been a teacher and philosopher and this had remained in their culture has man’s highest attainment, something I totally agreed with. I flourished in the classes, which were taught by specialists. We had someone come from the Ministry of the Interior come to speak with us and then a retired general from the armed forces, and then a retired ambassador from the UN. Each specialist spoke with poise and expertise as they led the discussion in class.

I felt very fortunate to have been part of such a special moment in my education.

I wasn’t up to my usual shenanigans of partying to the wee hours but I did fall in love during that trip. There was a girl from Michigan who was attending Georgetown University in Washington who I thought was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. Yes, I was still seeing Allison but I couldn’t help myself. I took her out to lunch and found out that she was working for the NSA and was taking this course as part of some educational upgrading. Only later, after she had returned to Washington, did I find out that she had had to write a report to her superiors reporting all the people she had been in contact with. Of course I was on that list, which I didn’t really like. At the end of the course I took her out again and we walked around the old markets and bought a bunch of stuff, with Leah finally retiring to a four-star hotel to treat herself before flying back the next day. I had told her about a film that she had to see so after saying goodbye I literally walked across half the city of Beijing to the markets near Tiananmen Square where I was able to buy her the CD of the film I had spoken about. I then proceeded to walk all the way back to her hotel and I left it for her with a note.

I had walked so far that day that my feet were bleeding.

A man will do almost anything when in the throes of love.

During the few days we had off in Beijing I went to the Great Wall of China a second time and explored the Forbidden City again, but the coolest thing I found were the network of underground bunkers built during the second world war that were still there. I read about them in my little travel book and the book gave instructions to the entrance, which was down some small street that was like a back alley. The entrance was very nondescript, which added to its mystery. With not a single person around, I descended the stairs into this labyrinth of tunnels below ground that had old communist posters on the walls and countless little rooms leading from the endless halls that ran right underneath Beijing’s heart: the Imperial Palace (The Forbidden City) and Tiananmen Square and the People’s Hall where the communist party and the Standing Committee met to debate and make policy for the 1.4 billion Chinese. Over the years the tunnels had become moist and dank so that was likely the reason why I didn’t see anyone down there. But I was fascinated, walking through these tunnels and finding weird rooms that included a movie theatre. I didn’t see one person!

It was a forgotten hiding place that existed underneath the citizens of Beijing.

This trip culminated with me graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a master’s degree in international relations. There had been a lot of energy expended earning this degree so I was proud. My work had not suffered – in fact it likely benefitted because it had brought me closer to the ‘apple pie’ life that so many sought. But once I graduated I felt I deserved a trip. For this vacation though I wanted to go somewhere really off the beaten track.

And that’s why I chose to go to Burma.


The Mad Dogs Motorcycle Club

But before we get to Burma…

This narrative has been written with a swift pace so far, and this is because my life has been lived in a swift manner since the very beginning. Being born an identical twin brought with it a built-in playmate and fellow mischief-maker, which had a direct impact on my life and how I lived it. Sports, camps and adventures dominated the early landscape of my life that carried through throughout high school and then well into university. There were a few years near the end of my university days that were much calmer than the first years of post-secondary schooling, but then these years were spent exploring books and writing in my journals with tremendous passion. But when I was doing this I was chomping at the bit to go forth and see the world. I was born with an innate strength for mathematics and logic and as such had a high degree of business acumen. I always thought I would become a businessman like my father, but when I took philosophy at university, and studied not for the sake of good marks but for the sake of trying to figure out how to live a life of meaning, I learned that the great thinkers of the world all came to the same conclusion: that creativity and following your dreams was the best way forward. So despite having gifts for business, I chose to live a different life: that of a writer. I chose the Hemingway template: to live a life worth writing about. I chose to go forth like Larry Darrel from the Razor’s Edge, and I was inspired by the life of Vincent van Gogh.

And so I did go forth and travel China and Australia and Thailand first, and then Japan and Taiwan and the Philippines. I was sure to travel to other countries too where I was not working, such as India and North Vietnam and Burma. I did it all on my own. I worked hard to earn the money to life this kind of life. And I was careful to write about it in my journals. There was a plan and I kept to it. I knew that Canada was not the right place for me because of Affirmative Action and the strange interpretation events in life that gave rise to a strange morality that would eventually be called ‘woke.’

And so I loved my life overseas. When I felt threatened in terms of my job, I doubled down and worked twice a hard because I feared I would lose this ‘grand adventure’ if I ever returned. And it were the people I met who made this grand adventure such a special experience. I had many interesting and cool girlfriends. I had Inka from Namibia when I worked in Taiwan, and then Katharine from New York when I lived in Taipei. And then there was Michelle from Australia in Hong Kong, promptly followed by Allison from Oxford when I lived in Hong Kong. Allison was in her late thirties and wanted to have a kid, so I was open to the idea. My thoughts about having a family were quite different than most others. I always thought the best way to have a family was to have kids while living overseas because the education they would have would be invaluable. The countries they would see and the cultures they would be exposed to would be second-to-none.

And this is what nearly happened.

Allison told me she had miscarried after the fact, and the way she went about it really turned me off. There was such an undercurrent of intrigue and deception that really went against my grain, and it made me see quite clearly that she and I were not compatible. It was sad it happened but good at the same time so know that our relationship was not going to work.

So I ended it. And she was damn mad.

But I went along my way and became even more entrenched in my expat life in Hong Kong. I was living in Pak Kok Village on Lamma Island on the main floor in a big house that overlooked the harbour. I could watch the container ships every morning come into the harbour and dock. Some mornings I could see the aircraft carriers stationed in the strait, protected by a fleet of smaller vessels. Usually they were US aircraft carriers. And only when I passed them on the ferry going to Hong Kong Island did I fully appreciate how humungous they are. Like a floating airport, they are truly impressive engineering feats. They were so big that the airplanes looked small, all parked neatly atop the carrier.

After riding the ferry to Hong Kong Island I would hop on my motorcycle and ride to work. First I had the HondaCB-1 400 street bike: a superb street bike that was safe and easy to ride. One of the best motorcycles I had ever owned. But then, one of my motorcycling buddies from Northern Ireland told me he was selling an old racing bike. I checked it out and thought it was too small for my six-foot-one frame, but he said it wasn’t. So I took it for a spin and it was perfect! This was a real MotoGP racing bike. The thing was a two-stroke YamahaFZRR 400. The second ‘R’ in the name denotes a real racing bike. It had the decals and number and the unique high-pitched hum of a racing two-stroke engine. I bought it and had myself a blast riding around Hong Kong. The streets didn’t have any potholes and were fast. Once I had become used to riding on the left-hand side of the road, I loved it. I became to good riding this thing that I would take corners like I was riding in a MotoGP race. One time I took a corner so fast I scraped the top of my shoe on the road!

The angle of my leaning was so steep!

The other thing that happened was that I became one of the boys on Lamma Island. There were a lot of pretty interesting dudes who lived there. With no motorized vehicles and populated with bars and restaurants and beaches, Lamma Island was where the hippie expats lived. And of course I fit right in. I met old war vets from early colonial campaigns in Africa who hung out at one of the bars there, and picked their brains from those early times. They wore their mustaches and drank their beers with aplomb, eager to regale in their youthful exploits. It was truly a special place where the expatriates had their own turf and could relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of the fast life of the corporate world on Hong Kong Island.

One day, me and a bunch of my riding buddies decided to go riding on a moto-cross track that was built near the border of China. It was way out in the sticks but the dozen of us went and rented the bikes there. The guy who ran it was an ex-professional rider. He was pretty cool. When confronted with a ragtag bunch of expat motorcyclists he said that the best rider of the day would receive a prize, so we all went out on the track and burned it up. I loved it. There was a jump on the track that at first was way too high for me but after a number of laps, I warmed up to it and began to hit it hard. I flew in the air! After each lap I hit it faster and faster until near the end, when I was the last guy on the track, I really hit it. But when I did I didn’t raise my handlebars enough so when I landed I balanced on my front wheel for several seconds and entertained that moment of wiping out. I held on and landed safely, relieved I hadn’t broken my neck. Sure enough when he gathered us all at the end, exhausted and dusty, he handed me the prize for best rider.

It was a t-shirt.

My stock went way up after that.

Most of the guys were members of a motorcycle club called The Mad Dogs Motorcycle Club. And their hangout was The Handlebar in Wan Chai. So after the moto-crossing afternoon, I started hanging out with them. Many were from Europe and several of them were pretty damn hard core. I wasn’t that guy – the tattooed dude with the leather, but I did share their passion to ride. I regaled my trips motorcycling in Cambodia and Thailand and the Philippines and they were keen to hear about the riding. I’m sure many of them went on their own having learned that it was easy to rent a good bike while you were there.

Most of these guys in the club worked corporate jobs so they were part-time club riders. But they had the bread to by the latest Harley Davidson bikes and their gear was the best. They all wore their leather vests with the insignia and had the Mad Dogs tattoo on their biceps. I wore my Alpine Stars motorcycle jacket with the thick leather and padded elbows and of course had my hair long and sported my usual goatee, so it wasn’t a stretch that I fit in as one of the boys.

When I told them I was a writer they asked me to join them on the trip to the Philippines. They had hired a filmmaker to document their initiation ceremony and so it was the filmmaker who hired me as the writer for this documentary. He was a small, wiry dude from Scotland but we got along well. So we departed for Manila and then went to Angeles City – the city of sin. There we drank at the bars and the new guys went to the tattoo parlour and had their tattoos etched into the arms. I spent my time jotting notes in my journals, but mainly drank with the cooler guys at the bar. What was so interesting was that these guys generated so much attention – and girls! They had their own bar on the strip – a small place that only served bikers. There were some who didn’t like me because I wasn’t a member but I could’ve cared less. I loved being back to Angeles City and the beer was cold and refreshing.

But then one of the guys became a little belligerent and challenged me to a fight.

A compact German guy grabbed me firmly by the arm and yanked me out of the bar and took me across the street and drank and few beers with me to safely protect me from this guy. The German was a very well-spoken, educated guy who told me this bald-headed Canadian member was a hothead and it was best if we stay here for a few beers to let him calm down. I could see this German was soon swarmed by girls and so we had a good time there, and when we returned he was right: the bald Canadian hothead had calmed down and the night went off without a hitch.

The next day there was the ceremony. It involved each new member standing up and reciting the oath of allegiance to the club and then proceeding to drink a beer. It was all very fraternity to me and I enjoyed it. Some of the guys were pretty rough but then some were rather genteel, like the compact German guy. I wrote some good copy and at the end of the weekend submitted it to the filmmaker but he said back in Hong Kong he wanted me to record the voiceover myself. So that’s what we did. Near The end of the weekend there was some discussion of me joining the club but there was a rushing phase of me getting to know the members. I didn’t know it at the time but I was nearing the end of my time in Hong Kong and never reached that point of joining the club.

What is ironic is that at the end of the three-day weekend it was me and the bald Canadian hothead who were the last two standing at the club’s clubhouse in Manila, the two of us laughing and drinking the last pints before getting our flight back. This guy lived in Manila so he just stayed at the clubhouse.


Finding Orwell in Burma


I didn’t really know a lot about Burma before I left so I had picked up the novel Burmese Days by George Orwell and read it. I was amazed to discover that George Orwell had been an imperial cop in Burma from 1923 to 1928 after he had graduated from Eton. He was one of my favourite authors so I had a keen interest in his life. I read a biography of him just before I left. I also discovered that he had sketched a map on a cocktail napkin and had handed it to his publisher for the publication of Burmese Days, which the publisher had included. When I studied the sketched map and had figured out what town he had served in, I took it upon myself to stop there on my way to the Himalayan Mountains in the north.

I found Burma to be very fascinating. As an old British colony, Rangoon was just as it had been when the British had left. There had been no violent reaction of destroying the old colonial infrastructure as there had been in the old French resort town of Kep in Cambodia, or like the Chinese were doing in Hong Kong. It was a city that had remained an old British colonial capital in every sense of the word. I found Rangoon run down but beautiful at the same time, with little weeds growing out of the sides of walls from these priceless buildings that lined the streets, with fascia carved by an expert’s hand. It was untouched by modernity in the way that adventurers like me loved – there as it was when George Orwell landed in 1923. The city was very British colonial, as were the trains, left there without improvements or upgrades. I wandered around for the first day I was there loving the narrow streets and the big mansions and quaint corners with palm trees and colonial architecture. I did my usual by hailing a taxi and asking if they knew where I could buy some weed but Burma was much different from other countries I have traveled. Firstly it was run by a fascist military junta. There were no democratic elections and the local newspapers were rife with racist rants by the government against the colonial pigs etc. I was aghast when I was able to find four editions of the local English newspaper. I was perhaps fortunate to have not been caught and thrown in jail for even inquiring about drugs. So I left the second day for the north – my aim to get as far north as I could to see the Burma Road built during World War Two by Merrill’s Marauders, who would one day become the CIA.

So I hopped on the train and went north.

I had just graduated from the university and wanted a break from my life in Hong Kong but hadn’t really done my homework yet of what Burma was as a country. I knew it had been British and part of India but didn’t know much about it as it was in 2004. I saw only one other foreigner the entire time I was there and he was a friend of mine Andrew, who I had met while living in Taiwan. We shared some beers the first night and then he stayed in Rangoon, not sharing my zeal and recklessness going north on the train. There was still a lot of unrest in the country, with the rebel Karen tribe still fighting the Burmese near the Allywaddy River in the north. I had read newspaper articles about the Karen insurgency but hadn’t realized how “live” it was. He told me I was crazy to go north on a train to a military zone where no foreigners went, but for me that was precisely what I wanted to do.

I wasn’t able to find weed so I decided I would chew betel nut as my drug of choice. Each country in Southeast Asia had its own way of packaging and selling betel nut but none sold it like Burma. You could go to a kiosk and ask for the various condiments on your leaf and nut – sort of like a hot dog stand with a bun and wiener and the various condiments like ketchup and relish and mustard. I didn’t know what to choose so I guessed, and what I ended up with was a very strong concoction. As mentioned before, the betel nut cuts the gum so that the intoxicant seeps through your gum into your bloodstream, filling you with a warming sensation that leaves you pleasantly buzzed as well as stimulated in the mind like coffee. The issue with the drug is that it destroys your gums and turns your teeth red.

But I had nine days and I thought I could rough it.

I enjoyed the scenery going north, occasionally reading Burmese Days and becoming more and more curious with the sketch at the beginning of the novel of where George Orwell had lived in relation to the church, the fort, the hospital and the officer’s club beside the Allywaddy River. In the introduction to this Penguin edition of Burmese Days, I noted that the publisher made the point of saying that when it was published Orwell had used real names and places in the story so the publisher had changed these names and towns. The publisher pointed out that the fictional name in the novel was actually a town on the Allywaddy River about halfway to the Chinese border to the north. I began to study my map to see if I could identify a town that fit the description and found a small town halfway north on the river that was many miles from the nearest train station. Becoming excited at the possibility of tracking down George Orwell’s old house in Burma, I decided to stop at the train station to try to find where he had lived.

But the first stop going north was Mandalay.

I found Mandalay to be very cool with the large Fort Dufferin in the middle of everything. It had been an old royal palace surrounded by a moat protecting old beautifully built buildings but it had been taken over by the British and made into a military fort. They had added turrets and serious walls and military-grade fortifications that dwarfed the old wooden palace buildings. And there were a number of Buddhist monasteries surrounding it too. (I record many of my experiences in Mandalay and in Burma in my novel Prophecy Seekers). And as usual I found a place to rent motorcycles but it was a little different than usual. I asked this guy where I could rent motorcycles and he offered me his own motorbike for a daily fee. It was obviously unorthodox but I was happy to trust him in order to get some wheels. So I rented a motorbike and proceeded to ride around Mandalay. Very dusty. The roads were semi-paved and the dust was everywhere. And around every corner was something different. Little pockets of real colonial Britain still remained in Mandalay, where small markets still functioned in the same way as during its imperial heyday. The churches were still there but very run down, but I still managed to visit every one I saw, most of them being open. And they were a real step back in time.

I visited so many churches during my time in Burma that I made churches a major theme in my novel Prophecy Seekers.

Mandalay was the last stop of “civilization” before going into the remote bush of northern Burma but I was fit and healthy and keen to throw myself into the unknown. Fortified with my betel nut buzz, I put on my jacket and began to climb into the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains mile after mile in the rickety old colonial train. I read more of Orwell’s Burmese Days and studied the map and finally decided to make the stop to try to find his old haunts. So as the train weaved and shook on the old railway tracks back and forth and rattled over countless bumps on the tracks, I changed my plans to stop. The train started to climb towards the Himalayan Mountains in the north and it became noticeably colder. The train stopped at an old colonial train station in the middle of the night and didn’t leave the station in the pitch dark because there was a football (soccer) game on that the train driver wanted to watch. (I found this out from rich fat guy I sat beside). Trying to sleep on this old train was near impossible so the next day, after leaving that strange and lonely train station in the middle of nowhere, when we came to the nearest train station, I was happy to get off the train.

I was able to communicate using my map that I wanted to get to the town on the river so I was instructed to climb on the back of a big truck with a bunch of others. We stood there for a few minutes before the truck took off, speeding down a dirt road at a very high speed. The potholes and washouts made this trip perilous, even to my standards. There were low hanging branches that the truck hit and the people with me in the back had to duck. I was the most susceptible to possible injury because I was the tallest. This was the local transportation into the town of Katha. It was a lot of fun – like a real-life rollercoaster and bumper cars ride – but after a half hour I began to fear for my safety. There were some guys who were drinking rice wine and smoking and chewing betel nut and I was getting farther and farther away from the ‘safety’ of the train – going into the unknown. I was fully aware that there was no reason or incentive for any travelers to go so far off the beaten track so the locals were not used to seeing a white face. So I made a real point of relaxing and as soon as I arrived, I bought betel nut and beer. It was exactly what I should have done in retrospect because where the truck stopped was like the processing point into town where all the big wigs were.

And when they saw me – long hair and a very long droopy moustache – buy betel nut and beer, they took a liking to me.

At the kiosk they joked about what condiments I asked for but instead of being offended or indignant, I was light-hearted and jovial. I chose to show no fear and show that I was there as a happy-go-lucky tourist. I was dressed in very humble clothing – clothes that were the opposite of a neat Polo shirt and pleated slacks. I was good enough to speak to each man who spoke to me, whether a smile or nod or offer them a cigarette. I was well aware of the strong Buddhist beliefs and chose to exemplify a Buddhist demeanour of treating everyone with respect. And from that point on, after being let off at the ‘truck station,’ wherever I went kids would wave at me and adults would smile.

I was instantly a sort of groovy, hippy celebrity – a white guy who was cool enough and respectful enough to visit their small town on the water.

And the town showed that it wasn’t a tourist town. There was hardly even a place to stay. I did find a room on an old colonial hotel that was so dusty that I was scared for my lungs. I made sure I drank enough beer and stay out as long as I could so I would be able to sleep in that dust-filled old colonial room. So that’s what I did. I bought six beers and put them in my knapsack and smoked and chewed betel nut and took a tricycle taxi around town. I had my copy of Burmese Days in my hand and asked to putt around town to get a feel until I found this old quadrangle on the water with old colonial buildings and a jail. It had once been gated and there was a massive gold pagoda in the middle of the field. I knew instinctively that this was the same pagoda that was on Orwell’s map. It was a very surreal moment for me. I took out the cocktail napkin sketched map and identified the pagoda. My next step was to find the church but I couldn’t find any church. The jail I could see was once the old British fort with its high walls and gun turrets and wire fencing. The river was there and there were several classic looking buildings that when I was beside them I realized were old colonial military. One of these buildings had an old tennis court that was all overgrown and a flagpole holder in front of it that was also decimated by foliage. I walked up the stairs and peeked in and saw a massive old oak bar!

It was the old officer’s club where George Orwell had drank his oily gin!

Now there were squatters living in there.

Being a big fan of his novels, I savoured the moment to be standing where Eric Blair, known by his pen name George Orwell, had hung out as a British colonial cop and drank his gin fizz and smoked his cheroots and dreamed of writing Animal Farm and 1984. He was just a young guy and was full of life and optimism and he had drank with his fellow officers in the heart of colonial India (Burma) right here beside the river where there used to be a veranda and tennis court, as if right out of a film. The quadrangle was empty except the odd squatter. Desolate, the other buildings were derelict too. I identified the old hospital and a mess hall that were in the cluster, as well as some sort of administration building. They had been built in the Tudor style.

And finally, after I had popped another betel nut into my mouth, I followed his map and finally found the church. It was an old wooden church with a rusty metal roof built on soft ground because it was sunken into the grass. On the map there was a cemetery beside it but I couldn’t see any tombstones until I walked it and found the remnants of a cemetery. The tombstones were gone but the dead were still there hidden under the grass. And finally, when I had found the church I followed the “X” on the map and found George Orwell’s old house! Very strange experience! The house was built in the same old Tudor style as the military buildings in the quadrangle across the street. It was small two-storey with beautiful hardwood floors. I was able to peek through the windows but someone was living there, so I stood there for a moment to savour the moment without being a peeping Tom.

George Orwell spent five years in Burma, leaving with shattered health at the age of 25. He had suffered from dysentery and malaria as well as many other tropical problems and it was said he never fully recovered from his years in Burma. Having lived in the house I saw before me so close to the river and so hot and humid, it was easy to see how mosquitoes and other infections pre-antibiotics could decimate a young man. He died young at age 46 after having written his best works Animal Farm and 1984 in the last few years of his life. After fighting in the Spanish Civil War, he had managed to buy himself a writer’s cabin in the country and write his novels, but his health after his time in Spain was even worse after he was shot in the throat by a sniper. One morning he had stood up in his trench to light his cigarette and was shot in the throat. He spoke in a whisper for the rest of his life.

Buoyed by my discovery and worn out from all the betel nut, I slept in the dusty old room and left late the next day for the train station, but the next train was leaving early the next morning so I was left with nowhere to sleep for the night. There was only one building beside the little brick colonial train station that still had the old style telephone and the old steel safe in the office. The guy at the station directed me across the train tracks to this little wooden building where a woman opened the door, clearly ticked off at being disturbed. The train station manager spoke in quick Burmese bursts and it was arranged that I could stay in one of the old rooms that she rented out to passengers left without lodgings for the night. But this was far from a five-star hotel. In fact it was literally a wooden shed. And since it was dark I used a candle. There was a massive bed with a very thick blanket. I was sure to leave all my clothes on because it was dead cold. When I slipped under the covers still to this day I don’t know what it was that skittered across the blanket as I lay there trying to fall asleep. Could’ve been a rat, but I have a feeling it was one of the very large spiders that I saw in Burma. There were chickens underneath the floor that I could hear as I tried to fall asleep.

It was one of the most bizarre places I have ever slept.


The Burmese Colonel


The next morning the roosters woke me up just as the train station manager ran across the tracks to knock on my door. A real gentleman he was. And when I crossed the tracks I saw that the train platform was covered in Burmese who had slept outside in the cold all night with these very thick blankets.

They looked like little Hebrew tribes.

One of the main reasons I had traveled to northern Burma was to track down a tribe that was named after one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel called ‘Manasseh.’ I had come across a theory in my readings that a tribe in northern Burma were the remnants of the Tribe of Manasseh (one of the sons of Joseph), or at least descendants of a splintered group from these lost ten tribes. I had become pretty obsessed with the mystery of the Ten Lost Tribes and this was another effort by me to find an answer to where they went. My theory was that this offshoot of the Tribe of Manasseh made it to northern Burma where they lived and then some of them crossed the Bering Strait into North America and became known in history as the North American Indians. This is the fundamental belief of the Book of Mormon though for the Mormons they believed two of the Tem Lost Tribes came across the Atlantic Ocean. This, of course, is not part of this biography and is instead dealt with in my novel Prophecy Seekers, so please refer to this book for further details. But for me it was the first evidence or reminder of the possible connection between wandering Israelite tribes and this region of northern Burma.

The designs on these blankets were very similar and reminiscent of the Hebrew blankets and designs we see among the descendants of the Tribe of Judah.

I caught the train and traveled north into the heart of the Himalayas, climbing the mountainous foothills into the dense forests of northern Burma. The forests were very thick and full of massive teak trees, which gave it a science fiction feel. For me it was bizarre how large these trees were. When I was at the train station I was only able to get a ‘fourth class’ seat going north, which meant it was a space on a long wooden bench. So I chose to sit right in the very corner of one of the cars, fully stocked with betel nut and beer and peanuts. The car wasn’t very packed but all that changed after about a half hour. At the second stop along the way a military regiment boarded the train but it wasn’t really just a bunch of military personnel. Led by a man with a weathered face and knee-high jackboots, this “colonel” barked orders to his men and promptly ordered everyone out of the car except for two or three monks. And then he came up to me in the corner.

He sat right beside me and everyone in the car watched.

“Who are you?” he asked. I said I was Peter Higgins.

“How tall are you?” he asked. “I am six-foot, one-and-a-half” I answered, knowing full well he had made a mistake speaking his seldom-used English, and certainly not about to laugh at him.

“Why are you here in my country?” I told him I was a traveler. I didn’t tell him I was a writer.

“What country?” He pointed at me. When I answered Canada he seemed to relax. Then I offered him a cigarette, which he took. I lit his cigarette and we sat there for a few minutes and looked at all the people staring at us. I offered him a betel nut and he shook his head, no. After a minute of me trying my best to be cool, he turned to me and said: “You okay. You stay. You have a problem, you talk to me. Okay?” And I found myself saying to him in very clear English for everyone to hear: “Yes sir. Thank you.”

That showing of respect had a palpable effect on the 20 or so young soldiers under his command.

When he stood up he resumed barking orders and by the next stop the train car was empty of everyone except me and the two monks. Then, out of nowhere, his boys started hauling in big bags of coal that were beside the train tracks. For the next 20 minutes they laboured, pulling these bags into the car and filling every conceivable space. When a guy came to my area I barked at him to not put the coal at my feet because I knew I’d be cramped for the next twelve hours so he listened to me and let me have my leg space. Several times the train started to leave the station yet for some reason it was stopped and backed up a little, until finally the car was packed full and we left. A few stations later a train station “master” came onboard with his clipboard and his arms covered with old-looking tattoos, started to yell at the colonel about the coal. He worked himself into a frenzy in front of a betel-nut crazed crew of 25-year old soldiers, directing his rage at this colonel. When he was done screaming, in the absolute silence that followed his tirade, the colonel said two words.

And the train erupted in laughter.

The train master straightened his posture for a moment but seemed to buckle when the colonel stood up. Just looking at his weathered, hardened face was enough for me to feel fear. The train station master saw reason, deflated his posture, tucked his clipboard under his arm and walked out of the car.

Once the train began to move north again, his crew were very proud of their leader, becoming very boisterous. I kept chewing betel nut, spitting out my window and laughing where appropriate, being sure to show my reddened teeth to the soldiers. I needed to show them I wasn’t some wimpy tourist. They needed to respect my dedication and commitment to being a true traveler. And they gave me that respect. For the next ten or so hours we shared that train car they left me alone. The colonel sat near me and kept an eye on me but his body language showed me that we were partners in crime. He had brought me into his domestic special op and I was giving him the respect he deserved to carry it out. Looking back on it now I think it was how I handled myself when he sat beside me. I didn’t say too much nor did I correct his English nor did I come across as nervous or immature. I simply was as cool as he was. And when he saw my betel nut stained teeth, there was something in that that showed him I didn’t care what I looked like just as he didn’t care how hacked up his face was from living a hard life.

There was something shared man-to-man in that moment so he chose to trust me man-to-man.

When we hit the train station at the Allywaddy River, which was where the front line was against the Karen rebels, the colonel and his deputies sprang into action and started unloading the hundred or so big bags of coal. Working in unison, the soldiers worked up a serious sweat in the night air, passing each bag to the other until there was a big pile of coal on the train platform. I even got off my ass and held up a candle near the doorway so they could see. These guys were very physical and the sweat and adrenaline and the betel nut made this time a very dangerous and flammable moment, so I was careful not to step too far.

But holding up the candle so they could see in the pitch blackness was enough for them to give me a nod.

Being beside the window I witnessed the payment. A huge man came out of the train station café with a noticeable swagger, reeking of booze. The colonel’s deputy met this large man and after exchanging words, a large wad of cash was given to the deputy. No envelope or cheque. It was a big wad of cash. But the huge man was not happy. He began to raise his voice and so the colonel came to the doorway of the train and raised his voice at the big man. It was like a bark. And this drunken big man with the money recoiled, and lost his swagger. The deputy, who was a slick guy with good bone structure, kept talking to the money man as he strolled back to the café, I think hoping he wasn’t too pissed off at being barked at. Regardless, the big man went back into the train station and I’m sure resumed drinking and the deputy and all the rest of the guys settled into their spots on the wooden benches, smoking and chewing betel nut. They calmed down for the next 20 minutes until we reached the next station on the northern side of the Allywaddy River, where they all disembarked.

For the last few hours of the trip there was just me and the two monks in the entire car. It was a very eerie night of travel.

When I finally made it to Myitskina at the end of the line for the train, I felt like I had landed on a different planet. Cold and crisp with a very unique vegetation, the town was a simple congregation of markets and simply designed homes. There were many Chinese there who seemed to dominate the commercial aspect of the town, but there were still examples of the colonial era. Churches were still as they were a century before. I spent time in many of these churches, which found its way into the novel Prophecy Seekers, one of my favourite novels. I would have liked to stay longer as there were so many neat nooks and crannies to explore but my time was running short. All the time it had taken for me to travel so far north on such a slow rickety old train left me with a predicament I had not foreseen. I planned to take a plane back to Rangoon, breaking one of my rules of flying but I also seldom backtracked along the same trail I had just taken. But the railway was really my only option because the flights were all booked because there happened to be a big annual meeting of party bigwigs in Rangoon that weekend – all the military colonels and generals talking about how to run the country. I went to every little airline and they were all sold out so I was forced to face the very real fact that I was about to miss my plane back to Hong Kong. When I checked the train I learned there was no room on the train going south! So I sat there in the train station slouched over and drinking a beer in the morning when a very polite man approached me. We spoke and he said he was the old train station master and that he could help me try to get a ticket the next morning. He asked if I could show up at 6:30am the next morning to ensure I could find a seat. I was defeated and resigned to missing my flight back to Hong Kong but he insisted.

That night I went out and ate a huge meal and drank many beers and wrote in my journal at a huge restaurant that was entirely empty.

The next morning the train master actually came to my hotel and woke me up! Very reluctantly I got up, packed and met him at the train station within ten minutes and in the scrum of people who had lined up before sunrise, the ticket manager invited me into the office and spoke to me, telling me there was one ticket available but it was a bit more expensive than normal. I expected a huge increase in price but it was only about ten dollars more! Thankful, I paid for the ticket and was thrilled to have a nice seat at the front of the train in one of the modern cars. John, the old train station master, approached me at the window. I thanked him profusely and offered him a tip, which he politely declined.

“But what I would like is if you could write to me.” I promised him I would and promptly forgot about it. Not intentionally but I literally forgot about it until perhaps five years later. So I did write John a letter and sent it to the train station but I still haven’t heard from him. I wrote and sent him two letters, sending each letter to the train station in Myitskina.

The train ride back I was super happy to have a seat. I didn’t last long sitting in the quiet, comfortable car of the train. Whenever there was a stop at one of the many train stations along the railway in Burma vendors would approach the open windows and sell things. So it didn’t take me long to buy more betel nut and beer and other supplies. Once I had a few beers in me I became eager to socialize so I decided to look for the bar car. A few cars down I found the bar car, an old classic and rustic and simply designed place where people drank. I promptly ordered a large 750ml bottle of beer and sat beside a window, watching the sunset over the dried, drought-stricken fields. The bar car was virtually empty but what I found was that the waiters who took food to people sitting in their seats would come to this bar car to sit and relax. I soon ordered another beer and made friends with the bartender. He was friends with the waiters, so when I started to offer cigarettes to the bartender, his friends came over to ask for a cigarette. I would always say yes no matter where I was because to me a cigarette was the best way to make friends when traveling in someone else’s country. To a smoker it was a very polite and effective way of shaking hands. It was cheap and didn’t cost me much and it gave us time to talk, even if we both spoke different languages.

After a few more beers, I was invited to the waiter’s table where I bought beer and handed out betel nut. It was amazing to see such hard-working guys go from being overwhelmed and underpaid to happy go-lucky young kids after a few beers. None of them could really afford to drink the expensive foreign beer or smoke the foreign Marlboro cigarettes but for me it was a currency and an international language that bonded men together, and this was certainly one of those moments. We laughed and used sign language and sounds to communicate, and played drinking games until we laughed our worries away. Soon though some of them faded to the nearby bench where I was amazed to see that that was where they slept. A few of them stayed up with me until the late night drinking and smoking until I realized that I was keeping a few of them up. I left a few of them there with some smokes and a beer and left for the comfort of the first-class seat. I didn’t sleep on that train ride, preferring to stay up all night and chew betel nut and joke with the vendors who approached my window at every stop. I knew I could sleep on the plane back to Hong Kong later that day. I fell in love with the romance of the rustic old colonial train and the scented fields of Burma as I rode into the classic train station in Rangoon, still with a beer in hand to keep the hangover at bay.

I did make it back and did make my flight, all thanks to the kindness and help of my pen pal John.


End of the Line


Having returned from Burma and having graduated from my master’s degree, things were going well for a while but things soon changed. I was settled in my duplex on Lamma Island with the great view and balcony overlooking Victoria Harbour, and had some good friends from around the world living on Lamma, other expats who chose Hong Kong to work and hang their hat, but with more free time after graduation, and with a new boss at work, I became restless. I proved I could earn a master’s degree and pay for it and carry a full-time job and still maintain a meaningful relationship and social life. Alison and I at the time were very close. It was one of those relationships that begins strong and continues on a very intimate and intense level until the explosive split. Combustible, wealthy and opinionated, Alison was a great Bonnie to my Clyde during 2004 and 2005, never once saying no to the more adventurous evenings out and about in the expat and Chinese enclaves hidden in Hong Kong.

Having had many things going on at once, life was fast so when my boss was transferred to Singapore in late 2004, it affected me more than I expected. My new boss had fewer qualities that could extract the best work from me so soon afterwards I moved to another company for much more money. Integrated Device Technology (IDT) was one of the world’s largest electronics companies in the world that no one really knew about, making many brand names popular in the world today, such as Sharp, Sanyo and Radio Shack. However the move proved to be difficult. I had always valued my work because of what it gave me: a life overseas where I could take trips and see the world and pay for it at the same time – live a writer’s life – but soon after I moved from Global Sources to IDT I knew I had made a mistake. I was paid twice as much to do half of what I had been doing at my last job. It didn’t make economic sense. I knew the job would not last. I lasted one year before I was told my contract was over. It was done abruptly but it felt like it was the right thing to do.

I was happy to walk out of that old, decrepit office and face my chances.

I had gone from a teacher in the industrial area of Taiwan, to the Taipei Christian College in downtown Taipei, to being the first white person to live and work on the Penghu Islands. Then, when I took the professional writing job at Eurotrade Computer Magazine, I was for the first time a professional writer. I loved the work there, but I was paid very little for all that I did. When I took the corporate writing job in Manila I finally earned a decent wage, making enough to save a little on the side. When I was promoted to the headquarters in Hong Kong, I could not say no to living and working in the epicentre of Asia. There, Global Sources -an American-owned company – was smart and gave me tons of writing jobs, every one of which I took on and succeeded. It was a very good job looking back at it today, but what they failed to do was to give me my own office. Perhaps it was an ego thing with me, but when an office became available they gave it to someone else.

And I was pissed.

So that was when I went to IDT. But when I was hired there I was now officially a senior technical writer – a handle I am still proud of. The issue with IDT was my boss. He was a Chinese Canadian who had no idea how to manage me. I spent most of my days doing nothing. The few user manuals ha gave me to work on were completed quickly and he didn’t give me more work. I was simply costing the company too much so they canned me.

I applied to several jobs to see if I could extend my stay in Hong Kong, but my heart was set on writing novels. I had met a very interesting guy at The Fountainhead Pub on Lamma Island and I decided to ask him his advice. My situation was clear: either I find a job and remain in Asia or I will need to leave. (I had no income other than my job income). Adding to the situation were the several half-written novels that filled my journals and laptop. Many weekends I tried to hide in my duplex and write a half-dozen chapters of an adventure story, and then put it down come Monday morning. I was frustrated by my lack of pure uninterrupted blocks of time to work on my writing more and more, especially after my trips to Vietnam, Burma and India, so I thirsted for the opportunity to finally write out all these stories before I forgot them all. When I explained my situation to this interesting guy who had traveled the world and seen life, he told me I had to write the books.

If I didn’t then I would need to face the truth: that I would never become a writer.

It was exactly what I wanted to hear, and yet it was exactly what I dreaded hearing: that I would have to disconnect from mainstream work to cocoon myself in a writer’s cabin to write novels. My first thought was to go to Thailand and find a little guesthouse, baggy of weed and my laptop and journals and write, but the cost of this – and the potential distractions – made it unfeasible.  In my heart I knew it was time to pull a George Orwell and buy a writer’s cabin in the country, work the summers and write in the winters for a few years. Then I would return with some books in hand and publish them and make some money and then I could call myself a novelist. I would finally have what I had wanted since I was a 13 year old kid: producing real adventure stories. This had always been my goal. I knew I had to give it a try. But there were so many things tying me to Hong Kong and the mainstream. The good news was that I did have some money saved.

This would buy me some time to find a place to write.

But during the same time I had applied to and been accepted into the doctorate program at the University of Hong Kong to pursue a PhD in Public Policy. The incongruities were there but for me they just highlighted the varying interests I had: academia as a career and motorcycling as a source of joy. To accept the offer was to open the door to at least six years of further studying while working full time, or four years of full time study on a very low stipend. I knew the decision was bigger than whether I wanted to continue my studies: it was a decision of whether I wanted to remain in Asia for my adult life. I would be required to study Chinese as well. It was an immense task and one that my heart liked but didn’t love. My mind loved it but my heart loved writing novels. I felt others could become a professor writing academic papers but only I could write about those things I had seen. Perhaps I didn’t know exactly who I was but I had had a glimpse of my true self when I was riding that Honda CR250 through the Sierra Mountain Range in the Philippines and when I witnessed that sunrise in the Himalayas that morning in India, and when I found Howie abandoned and covered in burs beside that river in Toroko Gorge and balanced him on my gas tank for 500 miles back to Taipei. Philosophy had taught me that to see life – to experience life – was to learn about yourself – about your true self – so that you could engineer your life so that you could magnify and amplify those qualities that are your true self.

And this was what I wanted to do: take my experiences from my time overseas and use it to create novels that illustrated Nietzsche’s philosophy. The stories I had created with each of my adventures were ways to make my non-fiction exploits fit into a fictional story with historical context, but they also each have a philosophical underpinning showing the protagonist overcoming obstacles to become stronger and to know himself better. This ‘self-knowledge’ was what propels the main character forward, which results in the adventure reaching its climax. Structurally sound, the stories serve to illustrate the “philosophy testing” I learned during my intense years overseas of the philosophies I had learned at Queen’s University. It was the fervor of those years of serious studying in Kingston that still provided the incentive to explore and the drive to live. The questions that had besot me during my early twenties still demanded full explanation for those who will come after me. Since I had spent so much time seeking answers to these questions in my own unique way, I felt I ought to leave a record for those who are looking for books to help them understand the chaos they’re feeling and perhaps show them a way forward for those who only want to go forward but don’t know the first steps.

It struck me as a shame to let all this knowledge fall fallow and lost, and assume others learn the same lessons.

At the time everything was happening at once. In 2004 I had my job and university degree during the week and Alison and my partying and motorcycle riding. It took me three ferries to get to work when I worked at IDT in 2005, surely indicative of how complicated my life had become. Maybe some of the guys at the Mad Dogs Motorcycle Club had a negative influence on me, but I did meet several strong personalities during my pubbing hours during 2004 and 2005 in Hong Kong. We went on rides and did that dirt biking on that professional racetrack in northern Hong Kong when I won the t-shirt for best rider. I was spending more and more time riding and drinking in the bars with other riders that Alison and I soon were spending more and more apart. We had spoken often about having a child. Alison was 40 and wanted to have a baby before too much more time passed. We agreed that living the expat life in Hong Kong with a child was a cool life so it was all very rational and groovy but our attempts soon became less frequent, especially after she told me she had miscarried. Something in the pit of my stomach dropped and never really returned. It scared me to the core, and slapped me in the face into the cold reality of being responsible for baby clothes and Pablum. I still had the scar tissue from that experience with Ginny Ray in high school. I think was I suspicious of woman who wanted to have my baby.

Or perhaps I was still a child.

What was I doing? 

So this added a pressing ingredient to my year in 2005. The thing with Alison was that she was one not to beat around the bush. She couldn’t anyway. Having a child was her mission and we spent so much time working on it up until I heard that word “miscarriage.” It highlighted how much of a scared child I was. To be honest I don’t know how it would have turned out with Alison. It could have gone either way. I knew our personalities were compatible but I also knew she wasn’t a very good person and therefore it was just a matter of time before we split. I let fate take it for a month or two until something happened that complicated everything: I was in a bar fight.

Like every word in this biography, this is a true story. This is how it all went down. One night I was out drinking at the bars and ended up at a small café that always stayed open as late as there are paying customers – like the Irish do. It was late and for some reason there were a lot of people out that night. There had been another party up in one of the condos that lined the Lamma Island beaches. There was a guy who was really drunk and who was being loud. For some reason I too was standing tall and being loud, almost competing for alpha male status among the patrons lining the curved bar. I had seen the guy around the island and was aware that the guy taught mixed martial arts at the local fight club. What I didn’t know at the time was that this guy was the three-time European MMA champion who was internationally known and worshipped.

This night however, he was being a loud dick.

The bartender leaned over to me and warned me to stay away from Pierre because he had already drank a bottle of brandy. I knew that Pierre had been in a fight a few months before when he picked up a chair and threw it at a girl who then required 23 stitches. The injured party was a friend of Alisson’s. I had returned from a long motorcycle ride and was feeling cocky in my heavy motorcycle jacket with the padded elbows. I know Pierre had been looking at me after we had met at the previous bar across the laneway, but I took it as comradery. Someone told me he was from Belgium and that he was a dangerous guy. This was how it stood when Simon the Scottish baker and I decided to leave the café to roll a doobie on a table beside the beach that was only about 30 feet from the café.

When I left the café I told Pierre to join us for a joint. Just as finished rolling the joint Pierre appeared. I said “Ah, the Belgique is here,” and stood up a little too abruptly. He took it the wrong way. With his drink in his hand he kicked me in the balls in a sudden movement that caught me completely by surprise. Immediately I buckled over grabbing my bag. That was when he grabbed my head and smashed it into his knee. Whack! I heard the breaking of bones. Blood poured out of my nose in a gush. Simon told me later that Pierre then grabbed the heavy metal chair and lifted it to hit me on top of the head but he stepped in. I heard Simon step in and stop him but I was kneeling on the ground with blood pouring out of my nose. I was so shocked by this violent outburst I was completely speechless. I was literally stunned. I had not foreseen any inclination to violence.

I had invited him to smoke a doobie!

I staggered away from Pierre and Simon without looking at them, still bent over and dripping blood. I walked quickly around the café not to be seen and then walked home, fearing I had broken my nose. Being drunk enabled me to deal with the pain but I didn’t realize how serious the injury was.

The next morning I somehow peeled myself from my blood-soaked sheets and went to work. My eye was completely swollen shut. It didn’t look like a normal shiner. They were horrified at work and told me to go to the hospital, which I did. There I was told I had three fractures of my orbital socket in my right eye.

After the incident there were two camps that came into play: “Sue Pierre because he is dangerous and has a long history of violent assault,” or “Hey man, it was just a bar fight. Take it on the chin.” Alison led the “sue him” camp but soon that proved to be dangerous. Through a middleman I was approached by Pierre to make a deal. He would give me $20,000 Hong Kong dollars not to press charges. I declined and went to the old colonial police office on Hong Kong Island and picked him out of a police line-up. It was just like you see in the movies. I picked him out and told the police, but what happened was I met Pierre’s lawyer. The lawyer didn’t say a word to me but he said everything through his eyes. This guy’s skin was so pale and pock-marked and his eyes had deep dark circles around them but his cold brown eyes never left mine. I had heard Pierre was involved with the mafia in some way, but until I saw his lawyer I never believed it. Pierre was half Turkish, which I didn’t know and I think lead to his misinterpretation of my “Belgique” comment. The more and more I discovered about Pierre the more I feared his connections to the Turkish or European mob. Pierre was a tough dude – tattoos on his arms and built like an ice block, the guy was among the best fighters on the world.

Jean-Claude Van Damme, the actor, had been Pierre’s sparring partner in Belgium.

It was considered a serious injury so I spent a number of weeks recovering before returning to work. My twin brother Mike came to Hong Kong to help me recover and he ended up spending three months at my place. This I knew might have been the beginning of the end but the beginning of a new era, but at the time I was thrilled to have Mike there to talk to. We had years to catch up on and we took that opportunity to compare notes, drink and reconnect as twin brothers. The three months were great. Mike ended up meeting all my friends on Lamma Island and is still friends with some of them today. He fit in and it proved to everyone that I was an identical twin! As a twin, it’s funny how others are quick to doubt that you have a twin when you say you do – at least with me. And actually, to share a thought, I think I can guess why: because of the way we look. When I saw Mike in the airport after five years of not seeing him I was amazed at how he looked. He was so tall and had such a big head and such long hair and large torso that there was something very Dutch about him – something solid. So one’s reaction to that body type is naturally: “No, there can’t be two of you.” Mike had a beard so I grew my beard, taking the full three months to grow in. By the time Mike left in the spring of 2005 we looked exactly alike. It must have been quite a sight to see us together side by side.

All that brown hair!

It was during this visit that Alison and I finally broke up. I wasn’t that upset. It felt like Mike stepped in and saved me from making a dreadful, costly mistake. The reasons for having a child were all intellectual with nothing stemming from the heart. Alison eventually had a baby later that year with a guy she met during the time Mike was visiting me in Hong Kong. When I arranged to meet her for dinner before I left Hong Kong for Canada in the summer, I was unable to make it and was without a phone. We arranged to meet again and she didn’t show up. Touché! I felt very badly about missing our date but when she did it to me on purpose I really felt it. An anger resulted that stayed with me for several years. The betrayal and sharpness of her rebuke left a bitter aftertaste, but to be honest I understand why it ended the way it did. She had a baby and is still in Hong Kong. I, on the other hand, still had so much to do, so leaving Hong Kong was for me not an end to my grand adventure; it was merely a change in venue to finish what I had started 15 years before.

It was time to remember my experiences and write them down before the lustre wore off.

My dedication to the idea of becoming a novelist was complete so making the decisions to make that happen fell into place rather easily. I packed up my things and sent them to Canada to a friend’s place, where I would then send to my new address: the writer’s cabin I would buy. I would go forth and find a writer’s cabin to buy in somewhere in Canada. My plan was to land in Vancouver, buy a van, and drive to Prince George in British Columbia to meet Mike where we would begin a search for a property to buy. I had $25,000 in the bank to spend but I didn’t have a job so I had to buy a writer’s cabin in cash. Because I didn’t have much money to spend, I knew my writer’s retreat would have to be pretty far out in the country to be affordable. So after I sent my stuff to Canada and the Mad Dogs Motorcycle Club sent me to the Philippines to cover their initiation ceremony for the motorcycle documentary, I left Asia for Canada.

I found it was a good close to my years overseas.


Finding my Writer’s Cabin


Finding a writer’s cabin was more challenging than I had figured, so much so that I decided to write a novel about the experience. Road Sailors is a true account of my road trip with Mike but there were some slight exaggerations I added for dramatic emphasis. Out of the whole, only one or two percent of the novel is fiction. It is a real account of the craziness and mischief we engaged in during that trip. But we were both two happy twins reuniting after years apart. The emotion of our coming together was a tremendous event. We both were able to express our thoughts about life safely with each other – safe in the sense that he knew I would never laugh at whatever it was that was eating him. This time spent together as brothers was a long overdue. If I was honest I might say it was the best three months of my life. Homeless. Mobile. Money in my pocket. Partying with my twin brother. Seeing Canada.

There were magical moments on the road that I hope I captured in Road Sailors.

Since my trip to Burma the previous year my interest in George Orwell blossomed, so I had read his biography. I learned about his days in Burma and then back in the kitchens and restaurants of Paris and London before he was able to buy a writer’s cabin in the country. He stayed there seven years before he sold it, a mistake he bitterly regretted the rest of his life, or at least until just after the war when he bought another writer’s cabin on that remote Scottish island. It was where he wrote Animal Farm and then 1984 in 1947 just before his untimely early death likely the result of the poor health (TB) he picked up in Burma. But what stuck with me was how his writer’s cabin – the simplicity of it with the wooden table and the paper and pencil and the woodstove – was the only home he ever had. Having attended boarding school at age 10, he only had the cold dormitories and impersonal guesthouses and male hostels of the day.

I always knew a writer’s cabin was in the cards but now armed with such convincing evidence that a writer so similar to me had had such profound success with a simple place to live in the country.

After visiting friends in Vancouver I decided to take a bus north to Prince George to meet Mike rather than buy a van. After a beautiful trip along the Thompson River I arrived in Prince George in the middle of British Colombia and immediately smelled the pulp and paper reek in the air. It was gross – and way worse than anything I experienced in polluted China. I met Mike and within the first 24 hours bought a pick-up truck with a camper to use in our trip. I bought a black Ford F150 with a white camper and Mike had a brown Chevy pick-up truck with a white camper. Classic touring vehicles. We called them our road buggies. We went everywhere! Never paid for parking or an overnight during the entire three months on the road. Even today I would like to revisit this nomadic life in such a road buggy to explore Canada’s hidden corners where the geography is intense.

Our plan was to explore Atlin in northern British Columbia because it was so close to the 60th parallel and because it was located in a spiritual epicentre of sorts. Mike believed there was a strong ‘geomancy’ there and therefore a good location for a writer’s cabin. When we reached Atlin, after driving north through the heart of the Cassiar Mountain Range to the Yukon, it was very refreshing. It was a classic old town from the Klondike era, complete with original saloon. The first thing we did, after an eagle swooped down and brushed my shoulder with its wing, was go into the bar and drink beer. It had been a very long drive but upon exploration I found it too remote, so we decided to drive farther north to Whitehorse. And it was in Whitehorse that I first saw the plight of the Natives strung out on drugs. There was East Vancouver on Hastings Avenue but that was all races, but in Whitehorse there were many Natives stoned and drunk and homeless in such a frigid location in the world.

I was shocked.

I met one of them and her story broke my heart. Sometimes the government, who might mean well, does not listen to the needs of those they want to help, and this was one of those cases. It would not be the first time I would encounter this situation.

And it was in Whitehorse that I experienced the classic Mike Higgins moment on the dancefloor. Without going into too much detail, as it is detailed in the novel Road Sailors, Mike was very drunk and went out on the dancefloor in front of this live band, single-handedly transforming this sleepy clientele to join him in a frenzied dance. He had just smoked a doobie with the band members and so they all were high as a kite. But instead of being braindead, they hit a crescendo that I witnessed as I was slouched at the bar hardly able to lift up my head.

It was an incredible scene in one of the most iconic bars in all of Canada.

We thought about going farther north to Dawson City but it was another 1000km there and back and I knew I wouldn’t be buying a writer’s cabin so far north, so we decided to explore the Yukon and headed to Watson Lake. There we again visited the local bar and engaged in some mischief, buying a Winchester pellet gun and then proceeded to test it out in the biggest campground we had both ever seen. After many beers we fired the pellet gun at all sorts of targets, eventually aiming at each other’s campers.

I still have my camper and I can still make out the marks made by these pellets that day in Watson Lake.

When we reached Fort Nelson there was a decision we had to make: do we proceed farther east with the aim of reaching Manitoba and Ontario, or do we remain in BC and aim for the Okanagan Valley. Having spent our childhood summers in Kelowna, there was a strong lure to finding a writer’s cabin in the interior of BC along Lake Okanagan but most of our family and friends were in Ontario, so I decided Ontario was where we should head. It was a significant decision and a risky one because the prices of homes in Ontario were among the highest in the country. I wanted to be close to my friends and my university, so that’s what we did.

We drove east towards northern Alberta, had a food fight in Dawson Creek and then getting into mischief in Saskatchewan. I met Mike’s friends in Manitoba and we drank again at the local bar there, but forged forth. I was spending money earmarked for my cabin and didn’t want to find myself short of funds. I was paying for Mike’s fuel and so I could see my savings waning rapidly.

I felt in my heart I should be in Ontario because my mother and father and sister were there as well as most of my friends. I liked the west but I didn’t have a real base in Vancouver and had no connection to the remote northwest. I came to an odd realization: I loved the green coniferous forests of western Canada but I desired to be in the boreal forests of Ontario. There was something about the mixture of Poplar, Spruce, Cedar and Birch that touches something deep within me. And interestingly it was also in this boreal forest setting that I was in when I was chasing my twin brother Mike through the fields in grade six during my vision while in a coma in Hong Kong. I remember the surrounding forests there as being boreal. My most joyous moment in my coma had been me running after Mike surrounded by the boreal forests of Ontario. I used this as my guide as I regarded it as significant.

Things were good between Mike and me. In the novel Road Sailors I do exaggerate some differences for dramatic purposes, especially things that happened when we were in Manitoba. For the book I needed some event to spark the run up to the end of the book. This is the aspect of being a novelist that leads to confusion when readers discuss the true events behind the book. The true record of events was recorded with accuracy except for the Manitoba chapters, but even so those events happened but not quite the same way. What’s important to take from the time when Mike and I were in Manitoba and met his friends was a lot of drinking and a lot of cold weather, but we didn’t stay there long before drove east to Ontario where we lost each other near Lake of the Woods. I kept driving towards Toronto where I was hoping Mike would show up for Thanksgiving at our mother’s apartment. And this was precisely what happened.

It was a great reunion as I hadn’t seen my mother for any years.

I was only in Toronto for the night. I was scared to get sucked into the Toronto life where I could very easily spend my $25,000 savings very quickly on rent and parking. So I left the following morning after a fight with Mike and explored the Bruce Peninsula and Muskoka before trying Manitoulin Island. As soon as I crossed the swing bridge and landed on the island I could feel the difference in the brightness of the sky. Somehow the surrounding waters of Lake Huron, Georgian Bay and the North Channel reflect so much light that the sky – and the air in front of you – is brighter than on the mainland. I immediately understood why “Manitoulin” meant “Where the Great Spirit Lives.” Indeed it was God’s Island. There was almost a palpable magic. And it didn’t take me long to find a house that was almost within my budget and in need of some TLC. I made a lowball offer and it was refused and I left for three weeks, hanging out in Key River with Mike for a while where Mike had rented a cabin. Frustrated with the first snowfall and still no writer’s cabin, I made one last offer on the house on Manitoulin Island and I heard a few days later that I was now the owner of my own house. 

I had my own writer’s cabin.


Manitoulin Island


Moving to Manitoulin Island was just what I needed. I went from a congested, polluted urban setting to a relaxed, clean and calm country setting on a big island surrounded by fresh water. It was extreme, just like me. It was one extreme to another. And it was very welcome. For the first six months I just slept. I had the opportunity to sleep in for the first time since university. I slept 12 to 14 hours a night! And I dreamed for the first time in years. For some reason I never dreamed when I lived in Hong Kong.

Manitoulin was – for me – a magical place. It was full of lakes (102 lakes), many of them spring fed. Manitoulin Island is the world’s largest freshwater island and is nestled in the heart of the Great Lakes. It lies on the Canada/US border. And there is no industry on the island so there is no pollution. It has a population of about 12000 people all year, or about 70000 people during the summers. It is a cottage destination, but for me living on the island full time was incredible. I finally had the time and space to lay out my journals and brew pots of tea and tinker with my woodstove and write!

When I finally landed on the island I only had $25000 left in my bank account, and because I wasn’t working I had to buy my house in cash. I was able to find a house for $39000 that was in need of some TLC but had a good foundation and limestone chimney and mature cedar trees around the property. It had a covered front porch and private backyard with patio and hardwood floors and two bedrooms. It had all the ingredients for a great little writer’s cabin. It was small but that was okay. 900 square feet was manageable, and I was to learn quickly easy to heat! My first offer was rejected but my second offer was accepted but I was $2000 short.

My step father lent me the money so I could close out the deal. Not my father; my step father.

I didn’t have anything – not a stick of furniture or a bed. The first night I spent in my new house I could barely sleep. It was minus 20 Celsius and I didn’t have any heat! I had much to learn and I learned fast. I grew to rely on my neighbours for advice and soon one of my neighbours in the small hamlet of 30 people was my girlfriend. It was great because she introduced me to many people since she was from one of the old families on the island. There was an unwritten code on the island that any new arrival was not accepted into the fold until they had survived three winters. And that was pretty much what happened. I spent three years just writing, not really getting out much other than to exist and buy food and wood, and then after writing several books I began to emerge into society and meet people.

After three winters, I was accepted as a Haweater (local).

The years I spent in Sandfield writing those first few years was a very special time for me. I remember drinking pots of tea and eating tons of pasta and writing all day. I learned quickly to take every Sunday off no matter what or there was a good chance of going crazy – or loopy – so I wrote in the mornings six days a week. And I wrote non-stop. I would look around at my woodstove and my border collie lying on the couch thinking “There’s no other place in the world I would rather be right now.” And this sentiment lasted for five years. I didn’t stop writing really for that entire time. I went through each journal page by page and then again line by line ensuring all that note taking was utilized to capture the detail I demanded in my stories. Some books were very complex and were tough to write, like The Hellmantle Testament, but I kept writing and re-working it until I was happy with the end product. Some stories, like Road Sailors and Prophecy Seekers, were easier to write because I could see the arc of the story clearly. And then something happened I had not expected: the writing of a book became a more polished skill, and I had a faster typing speed, so therefore I started to write new books created here in Canada after my grand adventure had ended.

Books like The Motorcycle Inn and The Leaky Hourglass and PortalLeaks were written rather spontaneously.

I wrote the following books during the years from 2006 to 2011: Road Sailors, Prophecy Seekers, The Hellmantle Testament, Earthquake Puppy, The Viking-Poet Handbook, Choppy Waters, The White Farms of Eden, Radisson: Hero of the New World, and The Motorcycle Inn. I wrote The Leaky Hourglass and No More Waiting to Die after the year I spent in Ecuador from 2011 to 2012. It was a productive phase in my life but also one of great adjustments. As I mentioned, I went from living in one of the world’s most populated and polluted urban areas to a very sparsely populated and clean rural area. Instead of spending so much time in bars and taking trips I hunkered down, poked at the woodstove and typed out 12 books in the first ten years I lived on Manitoulin Island. I wrote PortalLeaks, The Ripple Effect, Dying Overcome, Louis Riel: How I Became an Outlaw and this book: The Gambler Rune: The Biography of Wordcarpenter in the remaining seven years here on Manitoulin Island. The aim with my autobiography was to have a written record of what happened before losing the clarity of details that would occur over time.

And I wrote it to let go of those decades so that I might once again step forward to ride the roadways of new continents.

Also, when I was living in my writer’s cabin in Sandfield on the island, I was also busy fixing up the house. I did basic upkeep and made it look better and function better. Soon I found a duplex that was for sale in the neighbouring town of Providence Bay on Lake Huron on the south of the island. I met the owner and over a case of beer and a handshake, I agreed to buy his house for $56000. It was a cheap price but the house was again in need of repair and upgrades. Since I didn’t have a mortgage on my writer’s cabin in Sandfield, I managed to have it appraised and was able to take out a loan against it to buy the duplex. Within three years I now owned a small house and a large duplex. I was able to rent out the two flats in the duplex to offset my fixed costs.

But that was not all. Two years after this I found a large farmhouse for sale for $56000 near Gore Bay, so I did the same thing: renovated the duplex, had an appraisal and then took a mortgage on my duplex and bought the large farmhouse. I now had three homes, and enough money to live. I was focused on writing but I never forgot what that actress said to me when I worked at the Royal Automobile Club of Australia: to hedge my bets. ‘Yes, I understand you want to be a writer, but don’t let the business side of you go. Take a two-pronged approach.” She inspired me to take on these landlord responsibilities, and to this day I am indebted to her for her wisdom. Without these properties I would be destitute.

It is true that I undertook a six-week canoe trip in Lake Temagami as written in Choppy Waters. Again it is a very detailed non-fiction account of a six-week canoe journey that brought me face-to-face with the extreme mental illness of a dear friend of mine who at the time I did not know was ill. It was true that we undertook a 20 mile portage in one day. And this is a testament to the physicality of my life during these years. I was 41.

It was also during this time when I was living in Sandfield and I had just finished a novel when I hopped on my mountain bike and took off for a spin. I was about minus 5 Celsius outside but there was very little snow on the roads, so I rode to the boat launch and was impelled to ride out onto the frozen lake. The scratchy now surface gripped the tires and there was nothing but space in front of me so I spontaneously decided to ride my bike from the Sandfield boat launch to the Silver Bay boat launch about 10 km away.

I had no idea how dangerous this was.

When I had ridden more than half way there (5km), I reached Eagle Point, which was the crossing of two currents. The ice had piled up so I had to step across open water with my bike on my shoulder! I thought about turning back but the wind was so bad I thought I was closer to the Silver Bay boat launch. Sure enough when I reached safety my hands and feet and ears were frozen. I don’t think anyone saw me do this, nor did I tell anyone of this exploit until years later. It was a simple reaction to cabin fever people get in the middle of winter living in the country in Canada.

I was still a pretty reckless guy who had some bad habits that I had learned living overseas so it wasn’t surprising that I would be arrested and charged with drunk driving in 2010. I lost my licence but instead of suffering on the island, I bought my new house in Gore Bay and promptly rented it out and left for Ecuador. (A few years later I would receive a pardon for the offence). If they took my licence for having a few drinks, then fuck ‘em. I would spend the year in South America.

And that’s precisely what I did.

This was an extraordinary time and a highlight in my life story because so many things fell into place for that year in South America.




After spending five years living in my writer’s cabin on Manitoulin Island, I flew to Ecuador where I immediately felt a great vibe in Quito. I felt it the whole time I was there. I kept trying to ride away on a rented motorcycle but I found it very difficult to extricate myself from the drug-riddled underbelly of Ecuador’s capital city in the heart of the Andes Mountains.

South America was different than I expected. Usually I would travel to a place with a goal in mind, such as Vietnam and Dien Bien Phu, but with Ecuador I went there because it was one of the cheapest places to live and I was living off my rental income. What I didn’t expect was the vibe. I read that many travelers that landed in Quito never leave. They plan to travel to Peru or Colombia but they cannot find it in themselves to leave beautiful Quito. When the World Heritage Organization started in 1977, Quito was the first choice to have world heritage status. The old town is spectacular. It is a town that was never sacked. I went to a church in the old town with seven tons of gold on the walls. I didn’t even think it was real! So many gems in Quito, coupled with a vibrant party culture and world-class drugs, it was a hotpot of energy and a place where I met many unique and special people.

My aim was to live there for the year so that when I returned to Manitoulin Island I will have served my year suspension for my driver’s licence, and I could return to normal. Little did I know this was never going to happen.

Because Quito was so cheap it attracted lots of people like me: living off a pension or in my case, rental income. They could live a party life and still have monies left over at the end of the month. It was as if everyone there shared a secret of how great Quito was and no one outside of Quito knew about the secret.

I met many Dutchmen there because of the robust flower trade. Quito sits about 10000 feet above seas level right on the equator so it has a special climate to grow flowers, especially lilies and roses. Every week Ecuador exports countless flowers to all over the world, Russia being the biggest importer. Bananas were the other big export. But since the Dutch were the foremost flower experts in the world, many of them lived and worked in Quito. I had always found the Dutch to be very cool people and so I fit right in at the local bar called The Corner Pub on Amazonas Avenue. (Years later when I did a DNA test I discovered I was 48% Scots-Irish, 37% Dutch, which explained my liking of the Dutch).

When I arrived I immediately fell in with a Dane named Kenneth. He was a pretty hard-core dude. He was retired after selling his business in Copenhagen and was now just living off his savings. He used to play drums in a band and had many friends who were Hell’s Angels. He had lived for a few years in Colombia but had recently moved to Ecuador. And he was a ladies’ man. Some guys were, and he was one. He always had a girl. But like me he loved to party, and we soon found that we had very similar party etiquette. If one of us were low or out of nose candy, we would supply the other so that we were never short on our supply. It worked great. It was interesting that we would never drink too much because it would wreck the coke buzz. This was new to me. I had never really known the drug except for one or two occasions before, so now for my year in South America I granted myself full licence to partake.

And partake I did!

I had grown a droopy moustache and nurtured some cool sideburns and had grown my hair long in an effort to look like Harry Flashman from the Flashman novels written by George McDonald Fraser. And it sited my facial architype. I looked cool and I felt cool. I was centered, confident and definitely on my game. I had a magnetism about me that people were drawn to. Could’ve been the drugs but I think it stemmed from the fact that I owned three properties and was now living off the income it generated. I was self-sufficient and had money leftover at the end of the month. I wasn’t saving my money like a squirrel every month because I had this non-stop monthly income. It had long been my plan to have this lifestyle so that I could write full time.

And so I was tasting the fruits of my labours for the first time and this showed in how I carried myself.

I met all sorts of people. The novel I wrote that year No More Waiting to Die, captures the characters I met, from the stuntman sitting on the patio of The Corner Pub, to the Dutch flower expert who drank rum. And the retired and active military personnel as well. These were real people. And I was the guy who was spending my time partying on three-day binges followed by a few days of reading and then another three-day binge. I loved it. It was the first time I ever had free time like this. It was true that after arriving in June, I did make an effort to find work as an English teacher in September. I was hired to teach high school at a private school on the other side of Quito, a long way from where I was living in Mariscal. It was not to last. The headmaster was new and didn’t even have textbooks and I wasn’t paid for three weeks so one morning, after partying late, I went to my class and became fed up with the curriculum. I was doing verbs and I had a complaint from a parent and I just said ‘fuck it.’ And left.

It was either teach or party, and I chose to party and write.

The truth was I didn’t need to work, and if I didn’t need to earnt the money I couldn’t justify the pain and struggle and time needed to teach. I made the right decision as I had the best year of my life.

But it was also the worst year of my life.

Just before I had flown down to South America I had felt some pain in my hands and wrists. I thought it was carpal tunnel syndrome because I was typing so much but when I saw a specialist she said it wasn’t that. She said it might be rheumatoid arthritis. She said if it persists I would need to come back to see her. This was right before I left for Ecuador, and so come Christmas my hands were swollen and painful so I went to see a doctor and she confirmed that I had something called ‘scleroderma.’ It was traditionally known as ‘the Viking arthritis’ since it was a common affliction among the Norsemen, but for me all the way down in South America, it scared the shit out of me.

I was scared because I was told that it is a fatal disease with no cure.

For a guy with his whole life ahead of him, it was devastating. It sent me into a rather serious tailspin. All moderation and balance went out the window. My three-day parties turned into six-day parties. And the people I began to hang out with were dangerous. I was invited to the African Club – the first white guy ever. I befriended local criminals and partied with anyone who wanted to get high. I was playing a very dangerous game and it would soon catch up with me. Even the Dane commented on my recklessness.

One night while returning from a multiple-night bender I was walking through one of the parks at four in the morning and I was approached by two guys: one in front of me and one behind me. I knew it was a mugging and I was so high and on edge I didn’t even stop when the guy showed his knife and asked for my wallet. I walked right up to him and punched him in the neck. The guy wasn’t expecting it and yelled to his friend to let me go. I suppose they expected a shy, timid foreigner who would hand over their wallet, but not me. I was on edge for months.

I went to the coast for some time off from the city and went swimming in the strong currents along the Pacific coast but even there I was scared and sick and hooked on coke. I had morphed from snorting coke to making my own crack because my nose was bleeding. But even mixing the cocaine with baking soda didn’t do enough for me after a while so I began smoking what everyone was smoking there in the underbelly of Ecuador: base. This was the yellow residual flammable, diesel-tasting stuff that they couldn’t sell because it was so lethal. But the locals could by little baggies for a few bucks. And it was very addictive. The taste and smell of it was very pungent. And so this was what I was soon smoking.

My pipe became my world.

But at the time I was lucid and having a great time. But I couldn’t make sense that I now had a fatal disease that had no cure.

When I returned from the coast I found an apartment and decided to hunker down and edited my books. I went through and rewrote Visigoths in Tweed, The Hellmantle Testament, Prophecy Seekers, The Viking-Poet Handbook, Earthquake Puppy and the recently written Motorcycle Inn. Once I had done all this I started a brand new book: No More Waiting to Die.

The title was indicative of my state of mind.

If I was dying then the least I could do was to do some final edits on my books to make sure they were readable. And I was sure as hell going to record my life in South America.

No More Waiting to Die is likely my favourite book because it is written with such pure, real passion.


Brush with Death


I suppose before I explain my life with scleroderma that culminated with a stem cell transplant, I need to address what happened when I exited Ecuador.

Unless one has experienced the horror of learning he is dying of a fatal disease with no cure one can never know how ones behaviour truly changes. Add to that an environment where I wasn’t working and with the only drug available cocaine, one is left in a hefty mix of toxicity and dangers. One night I was partying with an Argentinian friend of mine when I met an ex-SAS bomb expert who was retired and living in a big apartment just outside of downtown. We immediately hit it off. Once we were out of drugs he called his supplier who dropped by and I shelled out for another round of goodies, which kept us up for another few days. He was so taken by my stories of motorcycling overseas that when we again called his dealer, he introduced me to him and I was then approved to become his customer.

This was a huge development because I no longer had to rely on the shifting and dangerous grounds of downtown drug dealers.

And this guy had the goods. Whenever I needed to replenish my supply I would call and tell him where I was and how much I needed and every single time he showed up. He was a tall, fair-skinned Ecuadorian who only served safe customers, and with the SAS retiree’s guarantee, I was part of his clientele. But this was both great and bad. For the first time I had full-time access to very high quality drugs. I was used to smoking weed but I simply could not find any in Ecuador. The only thing available other than rum and beer was the ‘white lady.’ And so I adapted. I went to see the bull fights and wrote a book and did a lot of reading and partied with the Dane as my wingman. We went horseback riding at his girlfriend’s cousin’s place in the mountains but were more concerned about our supply of coke rather than the beauty of the countryside.

I soon became a mess.

I am over six-foot-one and weigh over 210lbs, but when I flew out of Quito in June I weighed 165lbs. Once I had finished writing No More Waiting to Die, I let myself go into the doldrums of the party scene, no longer holding back. I once had a seven-day party – no sleep for a whole week. I was consumed. And I loved it. I was angry I had a fatal disease and I was rebelling against God that He had given me this affliction and had ended my life early. I was on an intensely personal mission to self-destruct, and I was damn good at it.

But I became reckless. One night I was with the Argentinian sitting on a bench on Amazonas Avenue at 5am. We were smoking the pipe of course, and laughing. Then, out of nowhere, I was swarmed by four young guys. The Argentinian just bolted, but they must’ve known him because he often slept on the streets. One guy put a gutting knife for fish against my kidney as two others held me down and one guy ruffled through my pockets. I resisted and yelled so the guy moved the curled razor-sharp blade against my jugular. That when I stopped struggling and let them rob me, but they missed my front left pocket that have about $200 US dollars. They took my papers full of written notes as well as my leather jacket and eyeglasses, so when they ran away I ran after them screaming for my eyeglasses. I knew the Spanish word for eyeglasses so one of the guys threw them in the air for me to catch. They were young Ecuadorians and I think the one guy with the knife was shocked that I struggled with such a sharp knife poised so close to my skin.

Another night the Dane and I were outside one of the nightclubs in Quito when we witnessed a drunken Ecuadorian get mugged.  Kenneth and I were standing outside the club with some girls when this guy wobbled onto the street and then was swooped upon by four blacks. It was as if it was a military op the way they each had a function. Two guys pinned him down on his back, one guy ruffled through his pockets and one guy held a knife at his throat. I was stunned that all these people stood by and watched it happen – as if these guys were untouchable. Granted I had no idea who they were and how things worked in dangerous Quito, I watched as it all went down in slow motion. They took his wallet, his cash and his phone and then left him there stunned. The poor guy had no idea what happened. He stood up and tried to get into a cab but the taxi driver wouldn’t let him in because he knew his didn’t have any money.

I looked at the Dane and I knew what was about to happen.

Kenneth yelled at the biggest of the muggers as he ran away. I stopped to help the drunk Ecuadorian stand up. I grabbed his arm and put him into the taxi and paid the driver two bucks and motioned for him to go. (The largest fare for a ride in Quito was $2 so the driver nodded and left). I then followed Kenneth who I knew was going to have it out with the muggers. Not being a violent man in the slightest, I kept my distance from the muggers and let the Dane do his thing.

“Hey! Come here! You!” He made a racket and bystanders soon watched as the Dane confronted the biggest guy of the muggers. They had robbed the guy and then melted back into the scenery on the next street over but Kenneth called them out. To my surprise the big black dude approached the Dane and cocked his shoulders back as if there was going to be a fight. But to my amazement Kenneth chewed him out and he just stood there scared of this big irate Dane.

“He was a helpless, small man. Is that what you do? Attack weak men? Is that what you are?!?”

The Dane had a knack for attacking a man’s honor and it worked against this dangerous, hulking man. Instead of attacking the Dane, the mugger stood and took the berating in front of his friends, slowly retreating into the shadows like a wounded dog. I stood by Kenneth amazed that we weren’t mauled by all his friends who watched in the darkness, all stoned and ready to fight.

It is a memory that comes to me often, how the trumpet of honour is a badge that should be protected at all times.

Unfortunately the Dane did not survive the year. He had moved out of his hostel and into the home of his girlfriend and sort of lost his way. That was when I took an apartment and wrote No More Waiting to Die. Just as I emerged from my time writing, I heard that he had died. The last time we had seen each other he partied at the hostel where I was living. He had found a bottle of ammonia and with it was started freebasing with the cocaine. Crack is made with baking soda – it sort of distills the best from the white powder. But Freebasing does the same but uses ammonia. The problem is that ammonia is poisonous. But it gets you really high. I did it once – with Kenneth – and that night I thought I was going to die. I struggled to stay awake until the morning so that I could fill my stomach with eggs and bacon and toast because I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

It was absolutely terrible.

But Kenneth loved his little bottle of ammonia, not knowing he was poisoning his kidneys and liver. Three months later he never woke up. I still grieve to this day his death. He was a very noble guy and a very good friend to me that year. But we were playing a dangerous game, and it was about to get just as dangerous for me as I left the country for the safety – and sobriety – of Manitoulin Island.

Since I had had such a regular coke habit for twelve months, I had become very used to snorting the powder in relatively large amounts. I looked at it as my rock star year. I was living the life of a rock star during his coke binge days. I knew it wouldn’t last forever but what did happen was a very nasty lack of good judgment. As I prepared to leave, there was a guy I gave lots of my stuff to. He was poor and he needed the blankets and clothes and whatnot that I had accumulated but that I didn’t need to bring with me back to Canada. So that night we had one last party. Earlier I had bumped into the Dane’s girlfriend who asked to borrow my pipe. Now, any addict knows his pipe is a very crucial item in his kit that he should never lend out. I made the mistake of lending out my beloved pipe. My nose was too hacked up to snort so I was relying on smoking base. But this last night I was missing my pipe and even my supply of base was gone. So this guy said he had some heroin.

In the back of my mind I thought it might not be a good idea.

But I said yes and bought some. I had only done it once in Vancouver twenty years previously and spent the night rubbing my face. Not really my drug. Besides, I liked cocaine and thrived on the buzz. Anyway, these were the ingredients for my final night in Quito. I snorted some of the heroin and immediately felt it. My eyes became little slits. That night we went to the Irish Bar where they wanted to take some photos of me because I had been such a regular for the year, but every time they took a photo I was this squinting drunk with pee holes for eyes. But I couldn’t help it.

My flight left at 6am in the morning so at 2am I found myself in the bathroom stall with the little baggie of heroin. I thought I might as well just consume the rest of the baggie since there was no way I was going to bring it with me. So that’s what I did: I snorted the rest of it. I remember when I did it thinking: “I have just killed myself.” It was truly a surreal moment.

I returned to my hostel and tried to finish packing but I kept falling asleep. I had asked the guy at the front desk to wake call for me at 4am when the taxi was there, which he did. He woke me up. So I proceeded to pack some more and then fell asleep again. He came up to my room and yelled at me to get downstairs to the taxi, which very slowly I did. I left a lot of my stuff for the hostel and was barely able to carry my heavy bag. Man was the taxi driver pissed off. And so was the guy behind the counter. So once in the taxi I fell asleep again. When I was at the airport I lugged my bag into the airport only to discover that I had missed the check-in time. So I sat with my bag at my knees in the waiting room and thought about my next move.

I feel asleep again.

When I woke up there were two security guards standing over me looking quite worried. There was a middle-aged woman there too who barked orders at them. They picked me up and escorted me to the upstairs offices of the airport and laid me down on gurney. I remember the woman asked me if I had taken drugs and I said I was just really tired. A doctor appeared and she rolled up my sleeve and showed me a needle.

“I don’t like needles,” I said. “Are you sure I need this?”

“Yes, I am sure Peter,” she replied, and she injected me with Narcan. Immediately I felt this jolt run through my body as if it were some life-saving force. My eyes opened and I felt saved. I bolted up and then fell back into a deep slumber where I woke up about eight hours later, half hanging off the gurney. She had saved my life. And so had the guy at the counter in the hostel. If I had remained in my hostel room I would have died of a heroin overdose. If I had made my flight I would have died of a heroin overdose. And it would’ve been an international incident.

Never. I mean never substitute cocaine for heroin.

This is a story that hardly anyone knows about. I never told me parents or my friends. The only person I told this story to is my brother Mike. I’m not proud of this event but I include it in my biography because it shows just how extreme one can be when they think they are dying.

I was a skinny wreck when I returned. I stayed at a friend’s in Toronto when I arrived in Toronto and he was shocked at how skinny I was. I kept nodding off when I was speaking to him – truly exhausted from my life in Ecuador. Despite being so reckless I loved my year in Ecuador. It was my last hurrah before I had to face the cold reality of becoming a patient in this long medial dance that would culminate eight years later in a stem cell transplant.


Stem Cell Transplant


Everything changed for after Ecuador. I was no longer a young healthy guy with my life in front of me. I was now a man edging into middle age who had a fatal disease with no cure. It was a brutal change for me and one I struggled with for many years. Of course my first reaction was to eat as well as I could and stay in top physical shape, which is precisely what I did. I had to take prednisone and methotrexate, which as very harsh to the system. Prednisone kept the swelling down while methotrexate kept my immune system down, which diminished the damage it could do to my body. Scleroderma is a rheumatoid arthritis that causes one’s immune system to attack their body. For someone who had always had such great health, this change was very difficult to accept.

But I did accept it.

And I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the woods of this great island where I would spend hours riding my mountain bike or walking the trails. I tried my best to keep scleroderma at bay but it soon did gain the upper hand. My hands swelled up as did my ankles and knees. Walking and working became difficult for me but I didn’t let it stop me from doing what had to be done. Pain soon found its way into almost every aspect of my life. I had known pain when I spent two years on crutches when I had Reiter’s Syndrome so I wasn’t about to let this scleroderma derail me and my life, so I pressed on in 2013, 2014 and 2015 not letting it slow me down. In fact I took on jobs that required me to be physically strong, such as working at a fish processing plant and working on a crew laying concrete. These were tough jobs but they paid well and I was able to get much-needed repairs done to my houses, and stay in good strong shape.

When I went to my 25th anniversary reunion at Queen’s University, I towered over my fellow students in physical strength and power of personality. It was a striking contrast in what I had done and accomplished in comparison to my fellow university students who – for the most part – had chosen sedate lives. Something inside me had – without a doubt – grown, and this growth was on full display that weekend. I felt like I had grown six inches – in height, in posture and my inner man. My education had continued long after leaving university whereas theirs’ had not. It was a silent victory – a victory that writers like Hermann Hesse and George Orwell had known and had tried to express in their books, or like Larry Darrell in Somerset Maughm’s masterpiece The Razor’s Edge. I had taken the step and had explored the world while my peers had remained behind, content to live a life of financial security free from ridicule. Women gravitated towards me and men looked up to me, edging close to me to ask me about my life. I was a celebrity but without fanfare. I had achieved the quiet confidence and surety of a man who had accomplished – a man who had applied what he had learned 30 years ago in philosophy class to life, whereas most of my fellow students had missed the opportunity to really study the great minds.

I had taken a risk and they had not.

I did it. They had chosen not to do it.

I had followed through. They cut it short.

I had studied, but they had merely regurgitated data for high marks and a good job.


When I returned to my house on Manitoulin Island after my 25th Anniversary Reunion, I was a different guy. That Friday I thought: ‘Okay, where am I going to party tonight,’ and to my surprise I didn’t WANT to party. I had partied for 30 years and then my passion to party just suddenly stopped.

It was a very, very strange feeling. I was 48 year’s old.

For me it was time to write in earnest.

It was true my joints were growing worse and more swollen and more painful but still I held fast and pushed through. A few more years went by with me spending a lot of time motorcycling around the island on my BMW K-100 1000cc motorcycle, until one day when I was at my doctor’s office in Toronto I was told that I had been misdiagnosed.

“Stop all your medications,” she said to me.

“What, now? Today?”

“Yes.” And so I did.

This doctor was young and had only recently taken over from the previous scleroderma specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. But she was an expert so I obeyed her. Within three months my scleroderma had spread into my esophagus and into my lungs. And into my GI tract. My skin began to harden with collagen. I would run my hand over my skin and feel ripples of collagen. Soon it felt like I was wearing body armor of collagen. Scleroderma, which means “hardening of the skin” in Latin, has arrived. I was now very sick indeed.

When I laid down to sleep at night I would suddenly breathe in violently as if I were suffocating. So I put myself back onto the medications I still had luckily and my symptoms calmed a bit, but I had become deathly ill. When I went back to the doctor she never admitted her mistake, but what she did do was offer me a lung transplant.

“Um, no,” I replied.

“Well what about a stem cell transplant? There is a doctor in Ottawa who is having success with scleroderma patients. The treatment is for leukemia patients but it appears to work for those suffering from scleroderma.”

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m very interested in that.”

And so she set me up to meet Dr. Harold Atkins in Ottawa. I knew she was covering for her mistake, and it bothered me that she never acknowledged her error. Still to this day I feel anger at her lack of medical judgment to tell me to stop all my medications without doing the proper blood tests. But I only had probably two or three years to live if I didn’t have the transplant so I hoped I would be accepted into the program. But this was a tough procedure. I had to go through many tests to see if I was strong enough to survive the procedure. I had a line inserted into my chest cavity to measure the strength of the blood flow through my heart. I passed this. And the other tests and was soon admitted into the Ottawa General Hospital in January 2020 for the stem cell treatment. I had to stop my medications one month before I arrived so when I did finally show up I was so sick. And to top it all off I had a bad case of pneumonia.

It was terrible. I arrived for my stem cell treatment in a bad state. But I endured, knowing that without the treatment I would be dead in six months. And so I started by injecting two needles every morning into the subterraneous derma of my stomach and legs. This was done in order to bring my stem cells out from my bone marrow. After two weeks of this they inserted a line into my arm and sucked my blood from me collected it in a circular device that whittled down the heavier stem cells into a collection bag. The rest of the blood was simply put into my other arm.

I lay there motionless for eight hours of this, able to collect the minimum number of stem cells in one go.

I had six weeks until my collected stem cells would be ready to put back into me via a line in my arm. So I flew back to Manitoulin Island however I didn’t quite make it back. I still had pneumonia and after they had collected my stem cells, I could hardly breathe. Apparently stem cells are mostly all red blood cells that are responsible for the transportation of oxygen in your blood, but having removed so much of these red blood cells, my body was starving for oxygen. The morning I left Ottawa for the airplane I looked in the mirror and I looked like death. Grey pallor. Nasty. My sister, who I chose to be my caretaker, left me at the airport and I proceeded to board the plane but I couldn’t walk so I was put in a wheelchair. After we took off, I passed out.

I woke up on the floor of the airplane.

The stewardess gave me oxygen and immediately I felt better but she had notified the pilot and they had turned around the airplane. I was returning to Ottawa!

When I arrived the paramedics measured my blood-oxygen levels. It was 75 percent. I was whisked off the ICU at Ottawa General and put on a heavy duty oxygen, one below a respirator. There I lay cold as ice for three days. I was finally given liquid antibiotics for my pneumonia. But I remember experiencing such a shortness of breath that perplexed me. My lungs felt like rocks.

I simply had no air in my lungs.

I was in the ICU for two weeks. During this time I was poked with needles several times per day as if I were a lab rat. I hate needles but I endured it because I didn’t have any other choice. They eventually took me off the blow-in-your-lungs oxygen but gave me the normal mask. I hated it because I felt like a cripple. But soon I was well enough to depart the hospital where I went to the same apartment I was at before the airplane incident. They set me up with tanks of oxygen and I rested. I was still not taking my rheumatoid arthritis medication so with every day that passed I was becoming sicker. But I made an Olympic effort to walk. I was determined to overcome this setback and had my eye on getting the to the transplant phase of my treatment so I could be cured. I walked for four minutes the first day with the oxygen in my nostrils, hiding the oxygen tank in my knapsack. The next day I walked for five minutes. And the next six minutes. And the next seven minutes. And it was cold. It was February 2020 in Ottawa and the temperature outside was about minus 20 Celsius.

Soon I was able to wean myself off the oxygen tank and I went walking on my own. I persevered and could see my lungs getting better. My walks were longer every week, which encouraged me. Soon the spring came and it was time to get my stem cells but then COVID hit.

My treatment was put on hold.

When I went into the hospital it was empty. It was like a fortress. But I managed to live on my own, soon buying a mountain bike, thinking it would help me in my recovery. I explored Ottawa in the Spring days, enjoying myself. But I was still quite sick. I had a terrible sore throat so I finally made an appointment with the doctor and had it checked out. He said it was from my scleroderma. For some reason I disagreed with him. And he was concerned. So this doctor, one of six doctors who ran the Bone Marrow Transplant Team at Ottawa General, suggested that I be dropped from the stem cell program because I was too sick. The treatment already had a ten percent mortality rate, so why would they put me through it if I was only going to die? They needed their funding and another death wouldn’t help their cause. My doctor, who was the leader of these six doctors, said they were going to have a vote on my candidacy for the stem cell transplant on the following Monday, so I wrote him an email and sent it to him on the Sunday before. I pleaded with him to keep me in the program because if I returned to the island I would never make it back to Ottawa and I would surely die. Give me chemo once a month I suggested, because this had been effective in stemming the swelling in my lungs. So when Dr, Atkins called me on Wednesday, the first thing he said to me was ‘thank you for your email.’ They would keep me in the program and use my case as a study to see if the stem cell transplant could work on someone so sick.

COVID postponed my transplant date three months, which ended up saving my life. I think if I had had the transplant in February, as was originally planned, my sore throat would have exploded and my esophagus would have swollen shut. But I started taking CBD and THC edibles and this eradicated my sore throat. It simply disappeared. I was starting to feel much better. My pneumonia was gone and I was walking about an hour a day or biking for an hour a day, so when I went in for my transplant in June, I felt confident.

But the doctors didn’t.

Every morning on the senior doctors visited me each day so check on my progress or regress. I ended up liking this doctor immensely for his no-nonsense appraisal of where I was and where I had to go.

The transplant itself was pretty straight forward. Whenever I had heard the words ‘bone marrow transplant’ I had imagery that turned my stomach. But that was from the old days of giving the person a spinal. They had given me a Pic line: a line that was inserted directly into one of the cavities in my heart. The procedure for this was scary but it didn’t hurt because there are no nerves in the artery. So I had a “port” where the nurses would attach a line for whatever it was they needed to give me. They were giving me all sorts of medication through my Pic line but to me it was just a line that went into my arm. So when they arrived with my stem cells, they attached the bag and inserted the line into the port.

The whole thing took about 30 minutes.

Almost immediately I could taste creamed corn in the back of my throat. The nurses had warned me about this. There were two nurses there that had come from the blood supply centre in Ottawa who remained there for the procedure. This was the time when people died. The reintroduction of stem cells was a very risky procedure, but with me it went fine. But it started a period of nine days when I had absolutely so white blood cells. I had no immune system whatsoever, so the doctor told me not to brush my teeth, told me to watch the way I wiped my ass and told me to tell him immediately if I had diarrhea.

Nothing happened during those nine days except me watching a lot of Netflix.

I knew how precarious I was so I tried my best to get through it by keeping my mind busy. The doctor came every morning and wrote on the whiteboard my latest blood test results, watching for the appearance of white blood cells. For four days before my stem cell transplant they had given me an intense round of chemotherapy to destroy my old immune system. To be clear, rheumatoid arthritis is when your immune system attacks your own body, so they had to destroy my old immune system in order to create a new one. The thinking was the old immune system had been ‘triggered’ somehow to attack the body, so the new immune system would be without this trigger.

On the evening of the eighth day I felt a deep pain in my bones in my lower back and pelvis. This was my stem cells finding their way into my bone marrow. It was right on schedule. They gave me a pain pill for the pain and when I woke up the next morning I felt this warmth all over my body. I had white blood cells! And they were healing all my “scleroderma injuries,” such as my throat. It was a magical feeling to experience. After eight years of having my immune system attack my body, I now had a new immune system that healed me. This feeling was truly indescribable.

But for me it was a beautiful experience. Not only had the procedure worked, it cured me of the rheumatoid arthritis.

Later, during my follow-up appointments, my doctor would tell me that I was “the most dramatic patient” they had ever had. My dire illness and recovery was a marvel even to this seasoned doctor.


In Summary


I recovered well from my illness. I was very fortunate to survive and also very fortunate to live on Manitoulin Island during the pandemic. It hardly hit us here. COVID had saved my life by postponing my transplant date and it made me a millionaire. So many people were negatively affected by the lockdowns and draconian measures taken by the government, they all wanted to flee somewhere far away from the repression. So they chose Manitoulin Island. Owning three properties, each of them exploded in value. Almost overnight my net worth rose to seven figures. And during my illness, I had learned to live cheaply, such as no weed or booze. So I was able to live full time as a writer and spend that time on my recovery.

I have to go for antibody transfusions ever month for a year, and I had to have blood tests every month for two years. It was a pain and it tried my patience but I was stoic about it and did my part. I had vaccines to boost my new immune system and am now a 56 year old with a brand new super-charged immune system. I do wonder if I will live to 100!

But it is not that rosy. I have scar tissue in my lungs so I cannot run and even riding my mountain bike is difficult. I continue to go for long walks to further repair and clear my lungs, but I fear my lung damage will be permanent. I can live normally but my physicality now has limits. I suppose I would rather be alive and have these new boundaries than not. The reason for me getting scleroderma has been determined to be lead poisoning. Right before my symptoms became manifest in the winter of 2010, I had just finished painting a house. The house had lead paint – something I was not aware of. This was the environmental ‘trigger’ that caused my rheumatoid arthritis.

Mike never had scleroderma and he is genetically identical to me.

During my recovery I wrote several new pieces. The Ripple Effect was one of these novellas. I like it for its technical aspects and ending. I wrote two novels about the pandemic but will need to be careful how I edit these. And I wrote The Drunken Shuttlecock, a story that I will revisit in due course. But most importantly I was able to edit all my books and build a new wordcarpenter website and upload all of them. My plan is to offer them all to the reading public free of charge. I my interest is to inspire people, not ask for five bucks so they can read my words. I spent this past year re-reading everything I have ever written and done a final edit of each novel/novella. I now, with the publication of The Gambler Rune, have over one million words published online.

And there are a few more to come…

What does the future hold? More travel definitely. And more motorcycling. More novellas I’m sure will follow. I am a work in progress but I do feel my extreme recklessness is a thing of the past. I was a product of a unique childhood and a time that no longer exists. I have always wanted to record these events as proof of a life lived through my own choices and not those of others. I am still very close to my brother Mike and several old friends from university. I have a girlfriend and a dog but am unmarried. I’m sure I have some illegitimate children in Asia from all my philandering, but there is no way to track them down. This is where The Ripple Effect comes from. I have been on Manitoulin Island for 17 years and have written 17 books. I love my life here and am hard pressed to find somewhere else I would rather live. Now that I have my health back, I will endeavour to travel more, keep a journal and pen a few more pieces. I survive a fatal illness that had no cure and am now armed with a brand new immune system that could take me all the way to a 100 years old. But the cost of this is that I am now much more aware of what a gift life is. Gone are the countless incidents of recklessness that had me encounter brushes with death. Here, now, is a profound appreciation for the daily beauty and muted moments of brilliance seemingly contained in the every day. Perhaps my recklessness will wane but not my passion to learn, explore and write.

I see now that we are all products of our upbringing, but when we reach adulthood at 18 it is up to us to choose a wise path that will develop the person to see what path is best for him to live the most meaningful life. Many get this wrong. I did not. And this book is a testament to the life I have lived as a result of studying philosophy and applying this philosophy to how I chose to live my life. Herein lies perhaps the message of this book. For me, having an identical twin brother surely affected the way I saw life and this, I believe, always separated me from the others. My brother, conversely, has lived an extraordinary life as well, but this account falls outside the scope of this autobiography.

Both my parents are still alive. For all the abuse and turbulence I had with my father, I am now very close to him. I always wanted a pat on the back from him, and to hear him say to me: “Son, I’m proud of you,” but this never really came. He wanted a son who was a chartered accountant and I simply could not sacrifice my life for his wish. I learned over time that this was never to come but not because he wasn’t proud but because he didn’t have the emotional infrastructure to articulate these words. The abuse he dealt to me and my siblings were the result of a chemical imbalance that stopped the moment he started taking lithium. So why would I carry resentment towards this man who was afflicted by a physiological handicap? I have made peace with him to note for the record: he enjoys my books.

As does my mother.

Will I ever get married and have a family? Perhaps. Both my grandfathers had families well into their fifties and sixties, so I have always regarded this phase of my life to be in my later years. I have the maturity and financial means now to have a family. Time will tell if this happens. The almost violent need to go out and explore has died down and now that many of these lived events have been recorded and written about, perhaps now there is time for a new kind of life for me.

I don’t know if I have any wise words for you, the reader, here, at the (current) end of my life story. It seems like all my wise words have been written in my novels. But I can say I did gamble. I did make choices that were antithetical to the norms of society, and these decisions created a unique life lived. And it was from this unusual life that I was able to create the works of art that I will leave behind long after I am dead. It is my legacy and one I hope will remain and inspire readers all over the world one book at a time.


March 3, 2023