Unlucky Charm


Have you ever been on a flight where even your amateur eyes tell you the rickety plane’s propellers shouldn’t look bent? But you get on anyway, trembling, because if you didn’t, you might not find a way out of the jungle for another 2 weeks?



What about hopping on a crowded dinghy manned by 8 very drunk people on open seas with no life vest when the best swimming you can do is the backstroke from one side of the pool to the other at the shallow end?


Or, I know! What about having to hitch a ride back from the Blue Mountains on an ice cream truck because you wandered off from your tour group and they decided not to wait for you?



If you’ve not had such charming experiences, it’s probably because you haven’t traveled with me.  Those who have had the misfortune of traipsing around the planet with me have crowned me the unlucky charm. 


Floods, rabies, frostbite, false imprisonment and other such silliness seem to dog me at least once on each trip. But the truth is, I think mishaps are part of the anecdote–my travel vernacular, as it were.


But when, after a particularly challenging trip, I wake up in my own bed with all body parts intact and a lucid mind, I tell myself those things can happen to anyone. Maybe not in one lifetime to one single person, but sure, they happen.


Besides, if I hadn’t gotten on those planes or boats or ox cart (don’t ask), I never would have had the experience of scouring for the opium pipes you see above, or the calfhair and snakeskin babouches, or carnevale masks, or Moroccan wool felt tote:


Most of all, I would have missed out on one of my treasured finds, a guitar hand made of deerskin and intricately carved wood that I bought from a very cross-eyed Berber shepherd who tried to out-math me by speaking French. In my defense, the desert sun was frying my brain, I didn’t know where I was, and I generally find it very hard to count in any language other than Vietnamese, especially while having a fierce haggling session. If my house were on fire, this would be one of the items I’d cry over losing. I bet you thought I was going to say I’d rush in to save it, but what am I crazy? I don’t even know how to play the guitar.


Musical instruments and large art are two of the primary things I collect on my travels.   Yes, I’m that annoying person who now hovers around the overhead bin to make sure other travelers don’t cram their oversized bags against my yueqin or dan nhi or art tubes. Because the one time when I didn’t do that, this poorly constructed and extremely heavy cedar guitar from Sapa arrived in LA with broken strings.


Granted, it’s most likely the ugliest guitar ever made but I know somewhere, somehow, some poor soul had lovingly made it and now I was its steward.


So if you don’t mind encountering some Act of God or putting up with my paranoia over my fragile luggage on every trip, pack your bags and come on the road with me.  On second thought, maybe it’s safer to virtual-travel with me from your computer.


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