Backpacking is a commercialized form of traveling, but that’s okay
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 7, 2016
Recently, there have been a lot of critics against the popular youthful form of travelling known as backpacking. What people are saying is that backpacking no longer represents what it once did, when it came into prominence in the 1970s during the “hippy trail,” when hippies traveled across Asia and Europe in search of… themselves. Backpacking is now as much a part of conventional tourism as all-inclusive resorts and walking tours. It’s not an independent experience, but rather an experience composed by those who run businesses around tourism. Nevertheless, you should still try it.
Let’s be honest: no matter what we do, we cannot get the same experience as those hippies in the 70s. We cannot have Woodstock, no matter how many music festivals we go to. We cannot experience the thrill of special effects, no matter how many Star Wars movies we make. And we cannot expect the world to revert to a time when tourism was as new as virtual reality is today. All we can do is set off and have our own experiences, even if they are tailored for us.
The tourism industry is huge in countries where the hippy trail originated. Today, it supports the livelihood of millions of people in regions where earning a living is not always easy. Even though backpackers are known for their thrifty form of traveling, the locals recognize that an American dollar can go a long way in a place like Cambodia or Myanmar. So they want you to spend as much as possible. They don’t care about the genuine backpacking experience. They want you to buy. The genuine backpacking experience, to them, must sounds like the most pretentious piece of bullshit. Just go to their country and have fun.
Travelling is a great way to gain a perspective in the world. It’s a good way to learn independence and communication skills. However, I don’t believe going on a trip will change a person significantly. The old cliché of finding yourself in India or having an Eat, Pray, Love moment is something that doesn’t change who you are when you return home, even if you want it so much that it seems to exist in your mind. So to say that your backpacking experience is less because you planned everything on Expedia is a terrible way to look at travelling in general.
Backpacking sounds like a lot of fun, but it is also a rigorous and sometimes frustrating experience. There are brief moments of spirituality now and then, but those moments can occur in your apartment condo as well. So go backpacking, and don’t think about all the baggage that the travelling style carries with it. Go with the flow of the journey. If that means taking a flight instead of a bus, do it. If that means going on a tour instead of venturing alone, do it. If that means staying in a hotel for a few days instead of a hostel, do it. It’s your trip; there doesn’t have to be rules.
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016
When it comes to art, there is nothing more impressive than a city that sparks imagination with its façade while also facilitating practicality. There are countless unique buildings of great significance in the world that we can identify in a flash: the Pentagon, the Burj Khalifa, and the Petronas Towers, for example. These aren’t monuments like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower, these are functioning buildings where people work and live everyday. So what’s wrong with making them look interesting?
On February 21, China’s State Council announced that there would be stricter guidelines for urban planning. What does that mean? Well, in the past few decades, China has been erecting odd buildings all across the country, many without any links to cultural heritage or functionality. In another word, China was making buildings weird for the sake of being weird. Buildings shaped like pants, coins, and even a pile of debris can be found in China.
Now, I love art. I don’t always understand it, but I like the fact that it exists. I live in a city full of art instalations that serve no purpose but to take up a spot where a bench or a garbage bin could have been. But it gets people talking, so that is a positive.
However, I always question the monetary value of a piece of art. I know artists need to get paid and all that, but when the money is coming out of taxpayers’ pockets, there better be a damn good reason for the art. China, of course, is now faced with the same predicament. They want to construct interesting buildings, but when the production to make them “original” is costing more than the façades are worth, then the projects need to stop.
A building at its most basic is a box. No matter how interesting a building is, once you are inside, you are in a box. The world would be a pretty awful place if all the boxes looked the same. Take a look at suburban America, where every house is constructed from the same blueprint. That is something we must avoid at any cost… even if the cost is saving money.
Economically, keeping buildings cube-shaped makes sense. It saves room, and in a world with limited space, that’s important. But we need landmarks. Humanity is built upon landmarks; that is why we have the Great Wonders of the World. But greatness is not just about being strange or impressive, it’s backed with history.
It doesn’t matter how the world sees it, it matters for the people who walk in and out of those buildings every day. Yes, tourists will come and go. They’ll snap pictures, and they’ll share the image with people all around the world. Yet, for the people who work and live there, buildings need to be a structure of pride. We spend so many hours of our lives in buildings. Let’s create ones that aren’t just weird, let’s create ones we are proud of. And pride is worth paying a premium for.
How to Take Control of Your Nomadic Lifestyle
Originally published on Medium.
There has always been this negative connotation to the phrase: “Taking work home with us.” It’s as if the act of working is a burden to our lives. It’s as if our unfinished assignments are keeping us up at night. It’s as if our profession is harming those we love and ourselves.
I like to believe that while some of us work to live, many of us live to work. Our professional accomplishments are not just our livelihood; they’re a part of our identity. Sure, our jobs bleed into everything else we do, but that doesn’t mean we are shackled to the desk, or that we have to omit time with friends and families to meet deadlines — and it sure as hell doesn’t mean we have to miss an episode of our favorite television show just to send a last-minute email.
Yes, work is home with us, it’s in the car with us, it’s on the airplane with us, and it’s turning down our hotel room beds when we are at an out-of-town conference. No longer do we need an alter ego for the work we have. Ourwork follows us around because it is something we are proud of, something we want to share, and something portable that we can manage in a coffee shop in Los Angeles or a bar in London.
“Don’t think what’s the cheapest way to do it or what’s the fastest way to do it… think ‘what’s the most amazing way to do it?’” — Richard Branson.
Get A Life
A high school bully once told me to get a life after I finished talking about all the novels I’d read and how I wished I had more time to read more. Life? What the bully didn’t understand was that his values — video games, aggressively loud music, and misogynistic jokes — did not align with mine. Because he hated reading, he assumed I was flawed for enjoying it. How we spend our lives is up to us, not some argumentative bully.
At times, it can feel as though a job can become this bully, telling us that our camping trip is less important than the next deadline. It is and it’s not. When I use the word freedom, it does not mean doing anything whenever we want. Freedom comes when we are able to control and prioritize our work, interests, and, of course, life accordingly. Why shouldn’t we be able to have a three-day weekend if we hunker down and got the job done on Thursday? Why can’t we bring our work on the road trip when we know we can accomplish it in the hotel after the drive? Why must we drag ourselves so early into the office just to lounge around sluggishly?
For every quality worker in our area there are probably hundreds of equally talented people who are scattered around the country. Most aren’t willing to just pack up and leave their lives. Work has become mobile, but many other things aren’t. If you want to attend a prestigious school, go for it. If you want to take up a new hobby, do it. As long as you find the time to work, the sky is your limit. And don’t let bullies tell you otherwise.
“Self-employed people work where they live. Entrepreneurs live where they work.” — Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Make Time For Office Hours
I’m not your boss so I’m not going to tell you that all your work should be done remotely. I’m also not telling you to quit your job to become a travel writer — although that would be pretty cool. I’m saying that we don’t need to be centralized anymore to accomplish significant tasks.
Still nothing that matters happen in a vacuum. Good things can be done independently, but world changing, disruptive innovations are often collaborations between talented people. So take that into consideration. Although email, instant messaging, Google Drive, Skype, and other digital/telecommunication tools have connected us together, there is still nothing more important than face-to-face real time conversations.
Communication with four people in the room is hard enough, but communication with 10 people in message thread is just pure chaos. In a global survey, 67% of senior execs and managers believed that their organization was more productive when superiors communicated with employees personally. Emails, instant messaging and all the other technology slows down the decision making process. Passing the conch around might work, but when a problem needs to be solved, meet in person.
Understanding when it is appropriate to take the conversation offline is probably the most important aspect of working remotely. Sure, the work will get done through the cyber networks, but there is nothing that nurtures camaraderie and team bonding like face-to-face problem solving and celebrations.
“You think you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s only some bugger with a torch bringing you more work.” — David Brent
Home Is Where Your Work Is
There are countless distractions when you are working out of the office. After all, the world is a beautiful place; it’s hard to stay focused when your desk is beside the window or when you are one click away from YouTube. So needless to say, the most important aspect of working independently is self-discipline.
Without supervision, it becomes ever more important to be entrenched in a project you are actually passionate about. If you aren’t motivated to get up in the morning, brew a cup of coffee, and sit down and actually work, perhaps home is not the right environment for it. Working at home might be convenience but sometimes good work happens in a less ideal environment. Many people who live in apartments with fitness facilities don’t actually use them. It doesn’t matter if its convenient, what matters is if you find it meaningful.
After all, what’s worst than waking up to an undesirable workload, already waiting for you at the foot of your bed?
“To get GoPro started, I moved back in with my parents and went to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day. I wrote off my personal life to make headway on it.” — Nick Woodman
Work’s A Beach
We’ve all had this romantic fantasy of bringing our work on vacation with us. We’ll be by the pool, soaking up the sun, and catching up with our assignments. Approximately 60% of US employees have worked while on vacation. While it might be worth an attempt, working and relaxing are separate entities and even though you love your job and the scenery, you can’t enjoy both at the same time.
In 2013, I had an opportunity to escape the early spring rain of Vancouver and visit Brazil. While I choose to limit my workload, I still had a few assignments stored in my carry on for me after I landed. With three weeks aboard, the job needed to get done. No excuses! So I had to treat the work time as sacredly as I would treat my flight’s boarding time.
I split up my work schedule. In the mornings while everybody was milling about getting ready for the day, I’d check my email and tackle the less stressful tasks. Then I’d disconnect completely. There is no place for work on the beach or on a scenic hike to a waterfall. In the afternoon after the excursion, I’d find a quiet spot, plug in and work a bit more while some took naps and others started pre-drinking or preparing for dinner. Truth was, I didn’t miss much while working. In fact, I made money while on vacation. It didn’t pay for everything, but it was rewarding.
“If you live for weekends or vacations, your shit is broken” — Gary Vaynerchuk
How important is your work?
Is it more important than a text message from a friend? Is it more important than your favorite sports team making playoffs? Is it more important than your high score in Candy Crush? Probably. So treat it as such. If you can respond to your flaky friend cancelling a dinner date with you last minute, you should be able to respond to a fraudulent payment. You should be able to notify your team about a large successful transaction. You should be able to see your company’s analytics on the go and make actionable decisions on the fly.
Control, a mobile app dedicated to supporting the nomadic lifestyle of modern day entrepreneurs, artists, and business managers. The app utilizes the API of mobile payment platforms (i.e. Stripe) and enables users to track transactions, manage payments, and ultimately take full control of their company anywhere in the world.
Many of us want the freedom to live and work simultaneously; Control is a tool that flourishes on this idea. Start your 14-day trial with Control today and see where it’ll take you.
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published for the 1976-themed issue of the Other Press. January 13, 2016
A few years ago, my mother’s side of the family emigrated to Canada, France, and the United States from their home country, which had been torn apart by the Vietnam War, in the hope of starting a new life. So here I am now. What my family went through must have been tumultuous and frightening. Hopefully they can put those experiences in the past.
The following is some advice I have to give to not just my family, but to all immigrants, from all over the world, because there is so much to learn in this new world.
Language: One of the first things I would tell them is how important proficiency in English is. It’s true that Canada is a multicultural country, but only in select parts of it. The majority of Canada is still predominantly English speaking. Having a strong command in English is the first step to getting work that isn’t in a kitchen or warehouse.
Owning property: Homeless to homeowner in a few years. It can happen. This is the country of opportunity. Get a job, save up, and buy property. Invest in the suburbs surrounding the urban core, where property prices are very reasonable for families. Canada loves immigrants, and our population will surely boom, thus increasing the value over time.
Travel: I don’t believe travel is a practice you learn in your latter years. I think it is the best form of education both personally and socially. I understand that being immigrants means that at one point they were put through an arduous trip, but traveling in all forms is an opportunity for growth. My family members are citizens of Canada now, but they could be citizens of the world (even though there is much to see in Canada).
Hobbies: In developing countries, hobbies are for survival. In the developed countries, hobbies are for survival too, but in a more personal way. In this new world, my family works, comes home, watches television, goes to sleep, and repeats those steps. They don’t have hobbies per se. My mom is a practicing Buddhist, so she is a part of some communities, but she doesn’t have any personal projects—except for raising me, I guess. I believe personal projects, be they reading books, building miniatures, learning to cook, or working on puzzles, are a substantial record of accomplishments. Finding an area of interest to focus on helps create an identity, not just for other people to view you, but how you view yourself.
Refugees, like my mom, are still finding homes and creating their lives in Canada. They walk among us every day. In this country, there is so much freedom, and I wouldn’t want any new citizen to squander it by living only to pay their bills.
I’m ready for an international food chain in Canada
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. April 7, 2015
The world is full of interesting fast-food restaurants, all with their little unique flares and flavours. And I’m ready to taste them all. However, when you are travelling abroad you might not want to sample fast-food. It’s not exactly the glitzy, adventurous choice. Nevertheless, making a detour to see what they have on the McDonald’s menu in some foreign country is always a must.
With the news that the famous Filipino burger joint Jollibee and the US chicken hotspot Chick-fil-A are joining the Canadian market, I am thrilled. New fast-food restaurant openings are my World Cup and Olympics; they don’t happen often, and it’s not really that big of a deal, but still it makes me happy. Let’s take a moment to remember how happy we were to see Carl’s Jr.
That was a nice moment.
Now let’s take a look at some fast-food joints that I look forward to having, or would love to have in Canada—Vancouver specifically.
Jollibee (Philippines): In 2011, I had the opportunity to visit the Philippines. One image that stuck in my mind during that trip was all the signs with a big-eyed, red-faced, cartoon character. It was essentially the McDonald’s golden arches. The fact that they served spaghetti could not be ignored; I had to try it. Although the experience in the Philippines was lacklustre to say the least, the novelty stayed with me. There was a lot of charm to Jollibee that was absent in some other fast-food restaurants. For a lack of a better word, it was cute—like going to a Build-A-Bear store. It’ll be a treat to visit one in Vancouver.
In-N-Out Burger (US): It’s unlikely that we’ll be ordering from an In-N-Out Burger in Canada anytime soon. Owners of this popular American fast-food chain don’t believe in franchising and have high-quality standards, meaning none of their products are ever frozen. They cannot expand effectively without lowering standards. The fact that everything is processed and delivered locally is really what makes it so awesome. I’ll just stick with Carl’s Jr. for now.
Voodoo Doughnut (US): If you’ve ever been to Portland, you’ve probably seen the long lineup for customizable doughnuts. Purely a tourist attraction, I’m still intrigued by how a doughnut with random toppings on it would taste. Still, I’m not going to waste my trip to Portland standing in line for doughnuts. It’s just not going to happen. Nevertheless, I feel like buying a bag of Skittles and going to Tim Hortons wouldn’t have the same effect.
Bob’s (Brazil): The fact that there is a restaurant with such a generic name—which also might have inspired the popular animated series—is charming enough. In Rio de Janeiro, Bob’s is almost everywhere. It might as well be McDonald’s number one competitors there. Aside from the name, there isn’t much differentiating them from any other fast-food restaurant. We don’t need another Americanized fast-food joint, but variety is as nice as an Ovaltine milkshake.
Shake Shack (US): Why do I want to go back to New York? Because the last time I went there, Shake Shack was closed when I walked by. The world-famous burger shack—strategically placed around the city and in various states—was well-praised for its burgers and hot dogs. You’d think I’d get sick of burgers, but with so many critically acclaimed burgers in the world, I must make sure that it is in fact better than the classic Big Mac.
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 16, 2015
Younger generations are no longer putting car ownership as a top priority, and because of that the attitude towards learning to drive or earning a driver’s licence is left idling. Many have even accepted that they will never own a vehicle and that public transit is just something that will be a part of their lives forever. It’s true that owning a car is a big responsibility and learning to drive is a hassle, but while the economy may place a roadblock in our plans, we cannot be ignorant towards a fundamental skill of urban society.
Being able to drive is more than simply having an alternative to walking or taking the bus, being able to drive is being fluent in the rules of the road and having a lifeline for travelling. If you don’t know how to drive you will always be a passenger—always. It doesn’t matter if you are taking a taxi, bus, or if your friends are chauffeuring you around, you are always governed by someone’s driving habits and navigation skills. In a way, you are someone’s luggage.
Having the skills to drive gives you the freedom to travel. If you decide you want to—in a split second—rent a car and visit another city, province, or country, you can. The ability to drive will take you further in life.
You become a more valuable, respectable, and dependable person when you know how to drive. Pedestrians who don’t know the difference between a turn signal lever and a windshield wiper controller have little sympathy toward drivers and behave as though they own the roads. They are blind to what drivers have to deal with on a busy street and seldom give them a benefit of the doubt.
People who have never driven also have weaker navigational skills and direction-giving abilities. Often they will tell the driver to take a turn too late or have no idea where they are because they are not travelling along a bus route. Driving enables people to understand the layout of a city better. Getting lost is not a big deal when you are in a car, unlike if you take the wrong bus.
Not everybody needs a car. In fact, if you have spent time pondering life in rush hour traffic, you would believe that fewer people should actually drive. But that does not change the fact that cars are one of the most valuable technologies of the past century. Traffic is the pulse of a city and we need to help it beat. Knowing how to drive is the ability to see how a city functions. It’s a language we should all understand.
Five things you should purchase if you actually have money
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. January 27, 2015
Youth is wasted on the young, but money shouldn’t be. I know we might be a little strapped for cash here at the moment, but that is not going to be the case forever. We have our five-year plan and all our investments are in order. No time to worry about the future. That’s why we should take advantage of our current disposable income. The question is, what should we actually spend it on? Booze? Rent? Food? Those are all legitimate options, but here are my top five purchases to make if you are lucky enough to get a sudden influx of cash.
Plane ticket to anywhere: Any extra money I have I deposit into a saving fund dedicated to plane tickets and other traveling expenses. I’m passionate about traveling and I can’t imagine my life without the anticipation of another trip. Instead of spending money on more things around the house, I choose to go somewhere, see something new, and create worthwhile memories and experiences. There will come a day when I won’t get the opportunity to travel, but before then I want to see as many different places and experience as many different cultures as possible.
Better, healthier meals: It’s easy to get into the habit of eating poorly. Fast and unhealthy food is convenient and cheap and that is why we gravitate to it. When we receive some extra cash, why are we still making excuses not to eat healthier or fancier? Buy some vegetables or go to a restaurant that requires reservations. I enjoy fine dining as much as I enjoy McDonald’s. I have to tip more at one, and that is why I’m not a regular at Tojo’s, but I like treating myself and my friends and family to an evening of extravagance when I can.
New furniture (especially bed): Nothing symbolizes growing up like purchasing your own furniture. The day you decide to throw away your parents’ hand-me-downs and go shopping with the mission to create your own space is a monumental milestone that many people fail to commemorate. Obviously you can get by with what you have. You know, the couch from Craigslist, the table from your aunt’s garage, and the cheap, squeaky IKEA chair that pretty much grew up with you. I don’t care how sentimental you are, things get old, and you deserve new furniture that represents your taste.
New “comfy” pair of shoes: Few things in the world can guarantee to ruin your day: missed opportunities, regrettable comments or actions, and painful shoes. You might have one pair of shoes, you might have a thousand pairs, but what is important is that you have at least one comfortable pair of shoes. If you have one, then buy another one. Buy one in every style that you need. If it’s not comfortable, throw it away! Live a life where every step is enjoyable.
New technology: If you are the kind of person that says, “Yep, the Motorola flip phone from 2006 is still good for me, I don’t need smartphones,” then there may be no saving you. Technology is here to make our lives better. For it to improve we must continue using it, even as consumers. We must continue learning from it. We might not be the innovators, but we should be able to identify with the latest software and certain standards of technology usage. So buy a new desktop, buy a new tablet, and subscribe to digital media. There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored.
I’ve never been much of a late night barhopping kind of guy; give me a nice book any day of the week—even weekends. And in Taipei, Taiwan, that is exactly how many people feel as well.
The Eslite Xinyi Store, a 24-hour five-story bookstore, is a haven for bookworms and night owls. People of all demographics are welcomed to sit around reading tables and simply enjoy their books in peace. No loud conversations, no heavy bass “unch-unch-unch” music, just the tranquil ambient sound of turning pages and soft classical background music.
In North America, books retailers such as Indigo and Barnes & Noble are still limping as they struggle to find relevancy in brick and mortar establishments. Starbucks, home décor, and other fashionable and eccentric items can now be found in bookstores as a means to sustain themselves financially.
But perhaps North American retailers can learn a lesson from their Asian counterparts. Eslite has turned their store into more than just a place for business; like a café, it’s a stylish place to hang out and chill. The all-day bookstore reported an approximate $425 million revenue in 2013, with 40% coming from book sales. In 2014, revenue is projected to increase by an estimated 8%.
Eslite has created a community where cool and intellectual people can gather, read, share ideas, and even flirt. Those in Taipei proudly compared the bookstore to New York’s SoHo.
While critics say that Eslite is in fact harming the publication industry by allowing hundreds of hours of free readings, a spokesperson for the store, Timothy Wang, claims it is the hospitable attitude of the company that enables success.
So what do you think? Would you like a bookstore open 24-hours around your neighbourhood? Will you be there at 3 a.m. reading the latest issue of Ricepaper Magazine?
In 2010, all eyes were on Vancouver as it hosted the 21st Winter Olympic Games. Fans, athletes and everyone else crowded the downtown core celebrating and enjoying the event. In preparation for the grand occasion, Vancouver went through upgrades, introducing new sport complexes and public spaces and a safer highway to Whistler. Most of what was created for the Olympics is still in use today, such as the Convention Centre and Richmond’s Olympic Oval. While those locations became a regular part of the city’s landmark, the Olympic cauldron is still able to spark memories of the crowded streets and national pride.
Since the day it was unveiled, the cauldron has been a famous icon in Vancouver. So much that organizers were unprepared for its popularity during the two weeks event in 2010. A fence had to be constructed to keep spectators back, until a viewing spot can be built on higher ground. Today, the best spot to see it would be on the upper level of the Convention Centre.
Built to resemble five pillars of ice leaning against each other, the Olympic cauldron is now accessible for anyone eager to get a closer look. During the night, the transparent pillars will illuminate blue and green. Set in the centre of a fountain, against the Coal Harbour backdrop, the cauldron is a photogenic image of the city.
On special occasions, the cauldron would be re-lit. But the initial lighting is what most people remember. During the opening ceremony in BC Place, there were two Olympic cauldrons, the one we know now outdoors and another one in the stadium for the show. At the end of the ceremony, four famous Canadian athletes were supposed to light the pillars of the BC Place cauldron and have the flames travel up to the top of the bowl, but due to mechanical issues, one of the pillars did not rise. It was embarrassing for the organizers and awkward for the audience. Having two cauldrons meant that there would be two lightings. So a pick-up truck transported hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky with the Olympic flame from the stadium to the site of the outdoor cauldron. There, he fulfilled one of the greatest athletic honours in all of sports — lighting the Olympic Cauldron.
The La Mariscal district is notoriously dangerous for travelers on Sunday mornings. While everybody in Quito is in church or sleeping off a hangover, troubled locals prey on the ignorant and arrogant. Perhaps more the latter than the former, we found ourselves heading down a deserted street toward the bus terminal out of the city.
The previous night seemed endless. Only seven hours ago, the streets were packed with tourists and locals, bonding over a Grande Pilsner and a fooseball game. Memories of making cookies and soup, and smoking hookah were still fresh on our minds. We were embraced by Ecuador; we were accepted, loved and appreciated. But barely knowing enough Spanish to order off a menu, we were disillusioned.
Wearing flashy sunglasses and walking with a North American swagger, we clashed with the dilapidated buildings, the battered streets and the poorly chiseled skylines. We might just get away with it, we thought. And that was the only way to think while traveling.
Then in the distance we saw a boy walking towards us. He was wearing a dirty blue athletic tank top. But he was far from athletic. It wasn’t that he was scrawny or malnourish, he was just incredibly average. The boy approached us with no threatening notion and began speaking in his native tongue.
“No hablo,” said Cody, assuming he was a merchant trying to sell us something.
But he was persistent and soon we realized he wasn’t conversing pleasantries. “Si,” I said, furrowing my brow, shaking my head and shrugging my shoulder, a universal sign for misunderstanding. “Si.”
Frustrated, the boy gnashed his teeth, “Moneys…” he looked down at his fist. Between his fingers was the neck of a broken bottle. “Moneys!” His accent was difficult to understand, but the intent was clear when he subtly directed the weapon at us. I glanced up at Cody and he looked back at me. We understood each other without a single word spoken.
We were down the block when we glanced back at the boy. He was dismissively walking away. Like a salesman accustomed to losing costumers, he displayed no visible disappointment. We cross the street to the bus station, paid the 25 cents fare and waited in the shelter at the middle of the road. We stayed silent for a moment, recollecting what had just been avoided. The rehearsal was over, the warning was heeded and what was once a vacation was now survival.
Soon the bus arrived and we squeezed in. Unfriendly eyes watched as we maneuvered our heavy bags. At the rear of the bus on the opposite side of the door was a three feet by two feet area dedicated for standees. As passengers rotated in and out, we eventually worked our way to that little spot out of the stream of departing and incoming human traffic.
We smiled at each other for a moment of ease. At first it felt like a fortunate turn of events, but then the bus pulled into another station and a large swam of Ecuadorians making their daily commute entered. We crammed against the window, stretched onto our tippy toes and hung on for dear life.
Toddlers accustomed to the commuting fashion thought nothing of it. Between and around our legs they were playing a game of tag. Cody looked up and gave their guardian a dirty look. But the kids continued squirming around beneath our view, laughing and thinking nothing of us foreigners.
“I’m falling over,” said Cody, his fingertips clinging to a horizontal bar above. “I would rather be in your position.”
“I doubt it,” I said, my face pressed against the window. But as terrible as it sounded, for a moment I felt a breeze and breathed fresh air. After a blissful exhale, an idling truck beside the bus spewed out a black cloud that slowly dissipated. A helmetless biker rode through the smog and coughed so wildly that he almost lost balance and careered into a pedestrian.
I looked over and saw agony in Cody’s face. It was comical, but if he saw humour in the situation, he did not show it. The bus lurched and came to a halt. The doors opened and more passengers boarded. “You fucking kidding me?” Cody had a temper and it often got the best of him. As his only companion, the job of consoling him fell upon me.
“Relax,” I said, remembering that there was nothing more embarrassing than being a frustrated tourist. “We are almost there… I think.”
It took us 40 minutes to travel over five kilometers. The bus pulled into the terminal and the people poured out like water from a broken faucet. We were the last drops. After taking in a moment to recuperate and gather in the new environment, we were due for a siesta, but all we could afford on our budget was a bottle of water. I splurged and purchased yellow imitation Gatorade. I was alive. I deserved it.
We purchased our ticket to Cuenca, a colonial city eight hours south of Quito. It cost us 10 dollars and a good night sleep—but it was worth it. It was always worth it. When people back home interrogate me, questioning my ability and reason for traveling, I summed up my answer with beaches, culture and cuisine, but mundane routines was what really get me going. Back home, walking down streets and taking buses are not great survival feats worth bragging about. Elsewhere, every day is a guaranteed adventure. After all, some travel to escape, but I travel to discover and discovery is a great inconvenience.