Failing to Trek

I’ve been to Nepal twice and have yet to make it on a serious trek. What I did instead was hike smaller trails, walk around cities and towns, talk to people, think about where I was and what it meant, and write.

Below you will find the opening paragraphs to seven vignettes from Nepal. I have not included the entire text as these stories will be published in the near future. If you wish to read the full text or enquire about publishing rights, please contact me here.

1. Off to a Good Start

It could have been worse. I was in Thailand; I could have been rolled.

The first morning of the trip, I woke with a jolt and a fierce chill running up my spine. I fell out of the clean bed, the three-star bed chilled by three-star air-conditioning, and stumbled into the bathroom to vomit into the beige porcelain toilet. I stared at the spiral stains in the bowl, stains made from high mineral deposits that have flowed through the bowl for too many years, and waited for my stomach to empty. The wake-up call – a shrill double ring of the hotel phone – sounded again from the other room as my head continued to droop forward. I stood up and coughed, then washed my face and hands. I was afraid to look in the mirror.

2. Something in the Air

Katmandu had shed its night, the dark that descended as I walked alongside the Royal Palace, the dark that brought out the gargantuan bats, the dark that hid broken sidewalks and breaking streets. But as I walked the sleepiness out of my system that first morning, the monochrome grey light at six AM showed nothing more than small carrion birds fighting with the garbage. The city moved barely a twitch. With no real light, it didn’t seem alive.

3. Perambulations and Pick-me-ups

There’s an aspect to Asian travel I learned of personally during my days of shoestring hitching, but which I’d forgotten in these last few years: it involves never getting to your destination in the way you intend.

4. Double Chubby Chuck and a Side of Fries, Please

After flying into Katmandu with my guts significantly strung out, I was appreciably apprehensive about the food. I tried a single grilled cheese sandwich, and this led tentatively to soup, then rice. After my first morning walkabout, I stopped at The Bakery Café, a well-lighted restaurant near Durbar Marg, to test my constitution. Scrambled eggs should be safe enough, I thought, then paused to contemplate the bacon.

5. Walk on the Wild Side

“If you meet bear,” Kamal said, “be aggressive.”

Our group of five stooped low to the ground, the better to see below the brush that thickened at chest-height. The Chitwan jungle was a maze of animal paths that ran helter-skelter under a thick canopy above – boars, tigers, leopards, and bears lived, walked and fed here. Trees were coiled with vines and choked with thick, sweaty leaves; the sky was a forgotten blue; dark, green nature surrounded us. We walked slowly, cautiously, crinking our necks to see forward.

6. And Then There’s The Himal

Tal and Ina were staying in a bungalow next to mine. At first I thought they were French because they stared as I came and went but silently refused to respond to my greetings. Tal was medium-height and slightly overweight, he had thin black hair and was almost bald on the top and back. Ina was a Mediterranean beauty, small and buxom, innocent eyes, skin like olive oil, long wanton hair and a penchant for wearing skin-tight t-shirts and spandex leggings in bright colors. They were playful with each other, and too young to be passionate.

7. All Day, Doing Nothing

Pokhara is a comfort zone. It has the rocky roads of a frontier town, the oxen carts in the street, the piles of cinder blocks, the blacked-out nights, but it also offers hot water showers, fresh croissants, and the tranquil Lake Phewa to drift on or gaze across while contemplating nothing important at all. It is a silk cushion on an up-country train.

Stories and Whatnot

284In the 90s, I was Managing Editor for a small magazine in Tokyo called The Eye. During this time I edited, supplied stories to our magazine, and wrote for outside publications. The focus of stories in Japan was typically on the new-ness of Japan and what impressions this left on newcomers.

1. The Pitfalls of Headhunting

You come home and your spouse says there was a call today from someone calling themselves an Executive Placement Counselor. You’ve heard of this happening before, perhaps when one of your colleagues left the office last year, and you never did find out the juicy details. There was a sizable raise involved, wasn’t there?

What do you do? You’re here on a two-, three-, or four-year hitch; you love your work; your bosses stateside give you anything you want; and your knowledge and performance continue to improve with each new accomplishment. You hadn’t given a thought to leaving the company. “I’ll just see what he wants,” you say, and take the note, phone number scrawled in pencil, to the den.

2. A Crystal A Day

The first worry I had was: was she reading my thoughts just then. When someone says they are coming over to scan, then balance, your aura, you have to wonder what else they’re going to get up to. And when Agnes Guibout entered the interview room in flowing blue silks, four inch heels, well oiled hair and soul-piercing eyes, some embarrassing first impressions could have jumped to the fore of my mind.

3. Fatty Flier Points

It’s a strategy common to many fliers: don’t pay for a meal if you’ve got less than a few hours before flight time. You can save money, or rather put some level of justification on the over-priced air ticket, by eating what the airline serves. And quite frankly, the fare is good. Business class these days means a five course meal, exotic wines, and dessert, not to mention the snacks and drinks in between.

4. A Firm by Any Other Name

It’s hard to find sympathy for a lawyer. They’re well-educated; they’re well-paid; and if it weren’t for the media, they’d be well-treated. In Japan, for foreign lawyers at least, things are a little different: here they’re well-educated, better paid, and poorly treated. By law.

5. White Water Rafting in Northern Japan

From Numata north, the snow-covered Tanigawa Range – marking the southern end of Japan’s Alps – is visible, home to hot springs, river gorges, waterfalls, and walking trails. It cradles in its rocky grasp the town ofMinakami and the Tonegawa River, well-known to fishermen, hikers, and nature-lovers of all stripe.

Cutting a path sprinkled with Cosmos and Day Lilies, the Tonegawa riffles and dips its way south from Mt. Ichinokura, Mt. Shigekura, and the Naramata Dam. It flows toward Chiba, eventually emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The rock faces surrounding the Tanigawa portion of this river attract world class climbers; the excellent walking trails bring out the walkers; and the river itself beckons the rafters.



I have four novels listed below, and I consider the first two Learners, or what Stephen King calls “drawer novels” – those early writings which were the training ground for a craft. Though I’m proud of the stories told, I have since told better stories, and in better fashion. The fourth novel is now in progress, a situational plot set in Tunisia’s Grande Erg Oriental desert.

1. Puddle Jumper

An editor/friend stated early on he hated the title, so I suggested “Delusions of a Shared Existence?” Sorry, too cerebral. Puddle Jumper is Cam’s hitch-hiking trip from a fictional town in Canada to Texas (during which it rains often, hence the jumping of puddles), and the characters he meets along the way. In Texas, he hopes to meet an ex-girlfriend, and pour sugar in her gastank as retribution for cheating on him then dumping him. I know: puerile, but it was fun, and had a pretty tidy ending that didn’t include sugaror gastanks. I’m saving this story for my family to laugh at when I’m old and infirm and dodderingly unlaughable.

2. The Repatriation

Heavily-plotted and largely influenced by John Grisham’s story lines, less the murders and lawerly wit, The Repatriation is about Lewis Hobbes, a fund manager, and his transfer to the company’s Tokyo office. He meets stubborn and resentful employees, criminal intent (remember Nick Leeson and Barings?), and illicit investment activities that go beyond the provincial borders of Tokyo to span the corporation’s worldwide presence.

3. Lying with Chiyo

Cole Thompson thought he knew Japan. After six years living within Tokyo’s Yamanote loop, he spoke the language, he understood the culture, he even visited the Shinto shrine once a year to welcome the New Year. He had grown… accustomed. But a night of haggis and scotch at The American Club in Tokyo would shatter his complacency. There, amongst drunken foreigners and servile Japanese, he would meet Chiyo Toa — enchanting, articulate, professional, and married — who would change his life forever.

Lying with Chiyo opens the kimono of modern relationships in Japan. Chiyo Toa is an icon of the non-traditional Japanese woman — passionate, determined, funny, fragile. But she is duplicitous in her desire, and her search for satisfaction sends Cole Thompson spinning, halfway around the world..

4. Desert Rats

“Who was it that wrote ‘the tourist must always get screwed!’?”

Thus begins the tentatively-titled Desert Rats, a story of two journalists antagonized by a malicious local then stranded in Tunisia’s desert, the Grande Erg Oriental. Jan Wood and Young Soon don’t understand the forces that have brought and left them in the middle of Hell with a single ratty goatskin of rancid water to survive on, but realize they only have each other to rely on if they want to get out alive.

Italy Apologia

DSC_9415_JTHRF_sfItaly Apologia

Italy, as any writer who’s been there can attest, is a dream location. Interesting locals, weird tourists, astounding buildings and cities, a history that befuddles the mind trying to comprehend its events…. I spent an insignificant amount of time in Rome, Naples and Pompeii, and from this cursory glance, wrote a series of stories.

  1. Apologia
    We were woken by a swishing, muffled roar. I opened the shutters of the hotel and looked out into the pale light of our first morning in Italy. The highest floors of the buildings opposite were bright with sunlight and shadows hugged the corners down below. The lane was narrow. The buildings across were uniformly five and six stories, and created a canyon of brick and slowly descending light. The cut stones of the lane below were coated slick and dark with the slithering trail of a street washer now passed. The rumble and swipe receded as it crawled down another gorge.
  2.  The Secret of Service
    “You go there.” He was young and not young. A head of black wavy hair, crisp collar on his white linen shirt, an apron, still clean, covering black trousers with a thin silk strip down the outside of each leg. His five o’clock shadow looked unintentional; I imagined him telling the younger waiters to go home and shave when they showed up looking the same. But it gave him a casual authority over the tables. We followed his finger to the wall.
  3. Trading Places
    “Let’s take a walk to the Pantheon, just to say we’ve seen it, then find a restaurant for lunch.” H. has a practical approach to the trip. She wants to see and appreciate the art and culture and history Italy and Rome offer, but she has accepted more readily the schedule we are on. She is making the necessary trade-offs.
  4. Opening Doors
    A single question kept coming to mind as I walked the streets of Rome: how old is this? With monuments and noted buildings, histories are readily available, down to the month and day, but on the street there are no answers. When was this wall put up, this dark imposition with iron bars embedded into its windows and a layer of soot coating the top half of each brick? Or this road? The cobblestones are evenly separated and spaced as if by modern design, but the surface is worn smooth by time, much time.
  5. A Tale of Two Cities

At first glare Naples had nothing that was natural or organic, no subtlety. The only free movement was a shirt sleeve blowing in the wind. In the Quartier Pendino, a valley of grey apartments ran five blocks long and seven stories high. Blotting out the sunlight that fought its way down the narrow canyon was a tangle of tablecloths, towels, shirts, sheets, underwear and black-netted stockings, tied and strung across from building to building. A web of trapped insects straining to escape.


003The Mac Chooser

The Mac Chooser was a monthly column I wrote for Computing Japan, Tokyo’s only English-language IT magazine (now called Japan Inc.) between 1995 and 1997. I only include the first paragraphs below because most of the information is now quite dated.

1. Cutting the Cord

If you can imagine taking a credit card-sized phone out of your wallet, speaking aloud your desired number into the pin head mike, and talking to someone anywhere in the world, you can imagine the future of telephone technology.

2. The Mac – A Cutting Edge Business Machine

“I’ve just bought myself a Powerbook,” said the 49-year old company president. “I’m finally going to learn how to use a computer.”

“First thing you’ve got to do,” I said, “is cut your finger and bleed into the disk drive. You may not know it but you’ve sold your soul to the God of Computers.”

3. Downtime is No Time for Pleasant Chatter

Here it comes again. Another day gone to computer maintenance. You swear office automation and optimum efficiency has got to be easier to achieve, then you curse, a little, then you tilt back your chair and start rebuilding your desktop.

4. Getting on the Internet, and Staying There

Whether we like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. Service suppliers in Tokyo are multiplying like rabbits; everyone and their dog is setting up a home page; and you are the eager beaver raring to get online. In our own effort to understand the system, we’ve put together what we hope is an easy-to-understand set of rules for setting up your home or office computer to communicate online.

5. Office Computing 101

I imagine there are a few office gurus out there, the ones who spend half their days walking over to co-workers’ desks to sort out a “problem.” In most cases, this problem amounts to showing someone how to choose the proper laser printer, or how to indent a series of paragraphs, or how to copy a file directly to a floppy.