water apple sellers
Two sisters selling JAMBU AIR, or water apples, Malaysia (photo:
Paul Mirocha)

After 8 years of working on The Bee Tree, a children’s book published
in April 2007 by Cinco Puntos Press, co-author Steve Buchmann and I, Paul Mirocha,
the illustrator, returned triumphantly to Malaysia with printed copies of the
book to hand out to our Malaysian friends, hosts, and collaborators.

The story takes place among rural Malaysian honey hunters in a remote rain forest location in the northern state of Kedah. The hero of the story is Pak Teh, the”Grandfather” who is hoping that his young grandson will carry on the family tradition of honey hunting and with it, his own knowledge and wisdom about the forest. In the process, we crash an international press conference, meet the Sultan, and witness another beautiful rain forest honey hunt.

I stayed an extra week to visit a new place Angkor in Cambodia. But that is another story.

 

Browse my online photo albums from this trip:

Malaysia travel photos
2007

Cambodia travel photos
2007

Angkor portfolio
2007

 


Going Solo

I USUALLY WRITE “HOLIDAY” on my immigration card in the blank that
asks for the purpose of my trip. It’s not a lie, but it is not really true. I
have a secret mission. I’m not necessarily laying on the beach or sitting in bars
sipping margaritas. Although I might be. I am there to gather intelligence. For
one thing, it’s part of my job. That’s what I tell the IRS and it is true. As
an illustrator it might be my business to know what almost anything in the world
looks like. I might have to draw it some day. And the things I see while traveling
do come up, in an uncanny way, months or years later in my job. So I leave as
many footprints as I can and I make lots of drawings and photographs. I want to
see what the world looks like and what it is doing. I travel to learn.

I think of it almost as a spiritual responsibility, like going to Mecca for
a Muslim, except it does not really matter where I go. It’s an instinct to just
go somewhere. Even if it’s in your own town, to a neighborhood where you’ve never
been before. Traveling, especially alone, breaks things down, and breaks you down,
in a good way. You slowly give up your cultural assumptions, control strategies,
and false beliefs partly because they no longer work where you are. Nobody notices
the concepts you try to project about who you are, the ideas you want people to
have about you, like: I’m the famous but humble author, the involved working super-mom,
the good and kind person, really, the fearless boat captain, the laissez-faire
hippy, the philosophical traveler, the whatever. None of it is true.

Unless you can afford to stay in the best hotels and take taxis everywhere,
and are able to insulate yourself from where you are, you will probably run into
some challenges to your personal reality. You don’t have to, but the opportunity
is there. If you do become honest with yourself, then you might have to treat
others with the same openness and compassion you have for yourself as you come
apart. You are likely to pay great attention to chance encounters, words, and
conversations. You have to attend to very small details. You have an itinerary
but are not too attached to it. The virtues one nurtures while traveling are those
of a spiritual exercise.

Thoughts that occur to me has while traveling, especially out of the country,
are worth a lot to me. I want to remember them before I get sucked back into the
powerful gravity field of America. I may sink back into forgetfulness once I am
captured again by my own cultural bubble of reality. So I carry a sketchbook and
I take notes.

I don’t guarantee any of it except to say that it is an accurate and truthful
record of what I experienced and saw. That is enough for me.

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