Archive for May, 2015

Puzzle Gourmet Store and Café, Serving a Special Need

by on Sunday, May 31st, 2015

The folks at Puzzle Cafe

The folks at Puzzle Cafe

Last November, Girlie Canoy set up the Puzzle Gourmet Store and Café in order to provide a future for her son Jose, who has autism. Her daughter, Ysabella Canoy is the general manager. After graduating from college, she wants to go to the States for a master’s in Applied Behavioral Analysis and then return to the Philippines to help people here. I spoke with both women in the next-door gallery, also owned by Girlie Canoy. The Puzzle Café project has evolved well beyond its original purpose.

Ysabella and Girlie Canoy’s story

Mother and daughter

Mother and daughter

Our son and brother Jose quit school after the fifth grade because it wasn’t doing any good anymore. He found it so boring, and it was exasperating for us when we had to tutor him for exams. Autism had greatly affected his ability to learn a first language, let alone a second, and since English is the language of our home, he didn’t speak Filipino. We couldn’t see a reason for him to keep going to school. He’d already learned as much as he was going to. It was more important to learn life skills like how to cross the street, how to talk on the phone, how to count money—things he wasn’t learning in a mainstream school. Since his education was limited, we were looking for a place for him to work which would still be open in five, ten years from now.

The café just happened. When I took Jose to the grocery store, I noticed he would straighten up the cans on the shelves, lining them up properly. He loves to fix everything. I told the children we should open a convenience store for him. The kids wanted to make it into a coffee shop. Then the interior designer made this place so beautiful that it became a café. One day I opened my eyes and said to myself, “I don’t know how to run a restaurant. What am I doing here?” I called up a niece and said, “You have to help me because we’re opening in two weeks and I don’t even know what to buy.” So she helped me, and now it’s there. Originally, it was planned for Jose, but other individuals with autism came here in the hope of landing real jobs in the future.

Jose Canoy

Jose Canoy

People with autism are all different. Jose happens to be one of those where it takes longer than most people for him to understand and it’s harder for him to talk, to communicate. Basically autism is a neurological disorder. There are various theories about it, but the causes and cures are still unknown. There is no correct answer for everyone. The early red flags are difficulty in communicating, hand clapping, lack of eye contact, great sensitivity to light, sound, smells and noise. Speech is in very repetitive language. People with autism don’t really learn from their environment, and they’re not stimulated by the things happening around them. They probably clap their hands to stimulate themselves. Jose talks to himself for stimulation the way we might talk to each other. They seem to have a hard time processing things around them, so they find comfort in things that happen again and again, such as watching the same video over and over because it seems normal and predictable. People sometimes think that individuals with autism live in their own world, which may be true, but I think it’s because they’re having a hard time processing what’s around them. It’s overwhelming—all the people, sights and sounds and smells—because all their senses are heightened. So they can hear things that we don’t necessarily hear, smell thing we don’t smell. They see things so much differently than we do.

A tabletop

A tabletop

It’s important to realize that autism has a very wide spectrum. Here we have high-functioning kids, but there are also low-functioning people who are thirty years old and in adult diapers because they’ve never been toilet trained. Maybe they haven’t received the proper care and education. Some people aren’t as blessed as the kids we have here. Of these ten people, no two the same, although there are some similarities among all of them. They’re all high-functioning, but at different tasks. You should be prepared to be surprised.

Coming here is a different kind of experience from just sitting in a café and drinking coffee with friends. Customers get to experience firsthand what autistic people are actually capable of. They see that the kids are happy and interacting with others. That’s more than just reading about autism. First and foremost, we’re focusing on awareness. We want people to see that people with autism can function, that they’re not so abnormal that they can’t do anything or communicate at all. We want them to show that given opportunities our kids can actually work. And it’s not just a matter of opportunity. It’s a matter of acceptance. Twenty years ago if we took Jose out in public and he acted a little strange people would look us over from head to foot, saying nonverbally, “You should have left him at home.” Over the years there’s been a definite change, but not everyone has come around.

Another tabletop

Another tabletop

The café gets the kids ready for employment. It’s part of their therapy. Here they get to interact with others. It’s not the same as being in school. They come through the Independent Living and Learning Center or through a therapist we’ve been working with for over ten years, Josephine de Jesus. Both the school and the therapist focus on teaching life skills. For us it’s crucial to work to work together with them because they know the individuals they’ve sent to us so much better than we do. We collaborate in deciding what the individual is interested in and what he or she is able to do. Out of all their students the teachers had to decide who was highly functional and not resistant to learning because, as we said, some autistic people just want to stick to what they already know, and it’s hard for them to get used to something new. Others want to work and meet new people. They’re interested in what we’re doing and they’re very good at following instructions.

At first the teachers and the therapist were very much present. In the beginning it’s important that the kids see that they’re being watched. They can’t be left alone. Now we’re doing that less and less. The teachers and the therapist showed us how to handle the kids. We didn’t know much about their individual personalities, and they were only with us for two hours at first. We didn’t know what they were like anywhere else. So that was very important, the transition from the therapist or the teachers to us.

We set the original session at two hours so as not to overwhelm anyone, but in that period of time we were able to identify who could work longer. Some now work every day—like Jose. Some work three times a week, some just once a week. We need to be careful in this setting where customers don’t necessarily know the extent of their condition. Two weeks ago we hired a cook, Carmelo San Diego, who was diagnosed with autism, but he had two years of culinary experience and had graduated from culinary school. He’s working and getting paid. We’re still not sure whether he can actually be left alone to work by himself. But we decided to give him a chance, and he’s doing well.

Customers read the menu and select what they want on this order sheet.

Customers read the menu and select what they want on this order sheet.

The food and drink on the menu consists of house favorites. You have to have good food so people will come back, but we say, “Remember we are not here to make money. We are here for the advocacy.” Of course, we have to make money also because we’re looking at Jose’s future. We don’t want to burden anybody, especially financially, even though he has five siblings who have all volunteered to take care of him. You don’t know whether a future spouse might not agree.

Yes, we have a sign saying “April is Autism Month.” It’s a worldwide celebration which has evolved. Before it was “autism awareness,” but now I think it’s becoming “autism acceptance.” People are aware that individuals with autism exist. So the next step is acceptance. What we’re striving for is a more inclusive community, inclusive in the sense that people are more sensitive to the special needs of these individuals and understand that they’re viable employees in the workplace. So this year we partnered up with a lot of companies who are also trying to educate their staff about possibly hiring an individual with autism.

Message on the front door

Message on the front door

This effort was spearheaded by the Unilab Foundation, which set up a meeting with several schools and companies such as McDonald’s, LBC, Jollibee and all the SM’s. It’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully in the future people won’t need a special Autism Month to learn about it because it’s already very much known in the community.

The companies involved in this effort are aware of how productive individuals with autism are because of their strong focus on the task they were asked to do. Ysabella was invited to join in with the Unilab Foundation’s efforts because of her firsthand experience in an establishment where people with autism interact directly with the public. We know a lot of companies who have autistic employees working in the background, doing this like drawing. But having people with autism who interact, we’re one of the very few. She’s been invited to help prepare a manual for companies who do want to do this. It’s still in the process.

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Following the Plan through Southeast Asia, Part 2

by on Sunday, May 17th, 2015



This is a 2014 interview with a man who went to Southeast Asia looking for something. In the first part he’s on the road in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. Here he returns to the Philippines. Thanks to Joe for the photo.

Joe’s story

In 2003, having just completed my round-the-world trip, I was newly back back in the UK. I decided that rather than go back to work perhaps I should go back to the Philippines as I’d promised my girlfriend. She and I had been sending daily texts, but suddenly the contact just died. So whilst I was calling there was no answer. I started to worry that maybe something had happened to her. Sometimes it would ring and there would be no answer, and at other times it just wouldn’t ring. It never crossed my mind that for whatever reason she just didn’t want to talk to me. I’d been such a catch while I was there (or so I thought at the time), getting drunk every night, being an obnoxious SOB.

Not to be deterred, I thought, “Right. I’ll go anyway.”

On my first night in Manila I bought a new SIM card, giving me a new number, put it in my phone and called. She answered.

“It’s me, I’m back.” I didn’t quite get the happy reception I thought I might. “What’s going on?”

“I met somebody else after you left.”

At that point it would have been understating it to speak of my ego as a bursting balloon. So I did what any self-respecting man of the world would do, went out and got shit-faced. I went to probably one of the worst places in Malate, a joint infamous for foreigners and “hunting girls.”I sat at the bar. Whenever any girl came up to ask if I wanted some company, I’d tell my story, and she’d bugger off. Then I got this idea that rather than slink back to the UK with my tail between my legs, I’d stay and make a success of my trip (or at least try to). After a few months bumming around Manila and some other places, including Puerto Galera, I decided to fly down to a province in the south.

There I met another lady who seemed quite intelligent and had a job with a respectable organization for a regular salary. We got on, so I decided to open my own business down there. I’d get my own bar. My business plan was non-existent, my research on how to get a return on my investment was non-existent, and I hadn’t considered the fact, which is blindingly obvious now, that I really had quite a drink problem. I thought with my own place I could drink with friends and close when I wanted to. A recipe for disaster in the making!

I was still traveling back and forth to do the odd contract in Europe or wherever else and earn a bit of real money. Having decided to settle down in the Philippines, I demolished the bar on the inside and rebuilt it. Afterwards people said, “Wow, this is such a nice place. It’s something we’d expect to see in Greenbelt in Makati.”[Greenbelt is an affluent urban mall with trim, pristine greenery, while Makati is the urban financial center.] This I took as a compliment, but what they were actually saying was it didn’t fit the environment. I was about five years too early with my grandiose scheme.

Finally the bar opened. It was a nightmare. Everybody who came in wanted to have a drink with me (or so I thought at the time). Everyone expected me to be there (or so I thought at the time). I was there trying to be the disc jockey at night, staying open until three or four for the late drinkers and then opening back up at seven for breakfast. Sometimes people driving home would see me asleep on the porch where I’d not managed to finish locking up.

One night a quiet, self-assured guy came in. I went over to talk with him and found out he was an active-duty soldier, an Englishman named Fletcher who was stationed in Iraq. He was on leave, and he’d come to the Philippines to meet a girl he’d gotten to know online. If it worked out the way he believed it would, he was going to marry her.

So I said, “Don’t you think that’s a bit rash? You’ve not even met her yet.”

“But I know her heart. She’s the same faith as me, and we talked a lot. I asked God to show me if this is meant to be.”

Over the course of the next year or so, when he came back on leave to see his fiancée he’d always come to have a drink with me. I got to know him really well. Fletcher was by no means a saint, but he had a real working version of the faith I’d known when I was younger. When it was time for him to go back, I’d drive him to the airport with my girlfriend and his fiancée. Before he left we’d pray together. I told him I’d kind of been searching. He always said, “Jesus hasn’t turned his back on you. Just petition him for help.”

I wasn’t ready.

Then, finally after two and a half years, my bar business was gone, along with yet another relationship. Looking back I can see I wouldn’t have wanted to stay with me either. But at the time all I could see were the wrongs everybody else had done to me.

One day in August I packed my remaining personal possessions into my car, said goodbye to my few friends in the province and drove onto the super-ferry bound for Manila. It was raining and gray and horrible. The ferry sailed along the coast, past the bar I’d once owned that was now no more, the place where I used to live, the place where my ex-girlfriend worked. I told myself to start looking to where the ship is going, not where it was coming from. Try to be positive. I wasn’t. In Manila I met a housing agent through some friends of mine. For five days she took me to look at different apartments in Makati. I was in a trance, saying no, no, no. In the province I’d been able to get a three-bedroom villa with two bathrooms and a garden for about 7,000 pesos a month, yet in Makati they wanted upwards of 20,000 for a shoebox. I just couldn’t see it. Late Friday afternoon the agent said, “I’m sorry, but my patience is gone. I’ve spent five days showing you everything in my portfolio. If you can’t pick one of the places we’ve looked at, I’m finished with you.”

I just picked one of the last two we’d seen. For a few months I stayed in that apartment and didn’t want to do anything. In the province I’d been given a medication to help with my depression. Combined with the alcohol it took me on a roller coaster ride, up and down. Every time I went out and walked around Greenbelt, I only saw happy couples everywhere I looked.

Standing on my seventeenth-story balcony, I’d have very negative thoughts. Then at a quarter to ten on the morning of Friday, on September 1, 2006, I felt the overwhelming need to ask for help. I got on my knees and asked Jesus to help me. It wasn’t like suddenly something lifted, but I did feel able to go out, and that evening I went to get something to eat. On Sunday I went to the same church that I’d been to two weeks before, the same denomination Fletcher belonged to. He’d said, “If you want to go to church, choose carefully. Try to find one that really does teach from the Bible and practices what they teach.”

The first time I went, a loving, warm, engaging pastor greeted me, shook my hand and gave me his phone number and said to call if I had any questions and wanted to get together. That was Pastor J.

So on Sunday I went to evening service. Afterwards when Pastor J asked how I was I admitted to being a bit down. He took me home to have supper with him and his wife. I told him I’d really been struggling and that on Friday morning I’d gotten on my knees and prayed for help. He asked me to reiterate what I’d said, and when I told him a beaming smile came across his face.He said, “On Friday morning my wife and I were praying for you.” We worked it out, and he and his wife had been praying for me before I got on my knees. “I can promise you now that God will help you.” He told me about a loving God who cares about me and will always love me.

Within a few weeks I asked to be baptized. We went to a condominium belonging to some people in the church, and I was baptized in their swimming pool. That was September 17, 2006. With my new-found fire and passion, I went north in the Philippines, sharing the good news with as many people as I could. I found myself in kubos in the north, sharing passages of scripture that had given me hope. For a while I was alive and felt reborn.

I brought a friend down from the north to visit their friend in Hospital in Manila. That’s when I met Celina, a young lady I quite liked. She was helping to look after my friend’s friend in hospital. I left my phone number pretending it was for the patient, her uncle. She picked it up, we communicated a few times and even went out on a date, but it really didn’t work very well, partly because I was still an obnoxious, self-centered, selfish, very mixed-up person. We did get in touch occasionally.

It was wonderful for a few months. I stopped drinking. I stopped womanizing. But little by little I started struggling, and then started going back to bars that I’d been avoiding. Basically, over a period of four years, things declined. Sometimes I still tried to go to church, but the closeness I’d felt before with God was missing. I was spinning out of control again. At the time of the 2010 World Cup, I was at my lowest ever, just going from blackout to blackout, not knowing what day of the week it was or being able to distinguish one day from the next. Then one afternoon I was sitting on a bar stool outside my local bar, not knowing why I was taking another drink when it was the last thing I wanted.

A guy walked into the bar. The guys I was sitting with made a joke. “Oh, that’s Clem. He doesn’t drink.”

My ears pricked up.

Then one of them said, “Yeah, he’s something to do with AA.” They were joking and laughing.

I followed Clem into the bar, and I said, “Excuse me, are you with AA? I might have a bit of a problem.”

“Well, do you want to stop drinking?” When I said yes, he said, “That’s the only requirement if you want to give it a go.”

He gave me a phone number, but I think it was another two weeks before I called. I went to my first meeting on August 5, 2010. That morning I took my last drink. Since that day, I’ve been learning to live my life a different way. I now have what I believe is a real relationship with my higher power whom I chose to call God. I have a conscience now.

After I had been in my recovery program for a few years, Celina and I met for coffee and had a real heart-to-heart. I told her that I wasn’t really the godly person I had pretended to be when I was going around trying to share the Bible. I said that although I’d liked her when I met her in the hospital, I’d thought I could never have a relationship with someone like her. I’d thought she was better than me and that I wasn’t worthy of anybody decent. I told her that I was now in recovery and was different to what I was like before. Something changed in our friendship. She told me she struggled to live up to the image other people had of her as a pastor’s daughter.

I saw her again just before I had to leave the Philippines–my mom was really sick and I had to look after her. Then on the Christmas of 2012 I asked Celina if she’d be my girlfriend. For a year we had a long-distance relationship, communicating every day. In 2013, I came back, and before I left I asked her to marry me. We recently married and are expecting our first child together.

I can’t believe how blessed I am. Being able to love somebody I know loves me as well, that’s a gift of recovery. I know I would never have gotten into recovery had my higher power not heard me when I asked for help. This is a new beginning. So now I know, I went around the world trying to find the answer. The answer, that the whole time was hidden deep within me. I just had to ask God for it.

A reader writes:

What a beautiful story of Joe. Inspiration, trials, courage, inner strength, faith, success. Found his way to Celina.



Following the Plan through SE Asia, Part 1

by on Friday, May 1st, 2015

Cambodian Temple

Cambodian Temple

This is a 2014 interview with a man who went to Southeast Asia looking for something. In this first part he’s on the road in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. In the second part he returns to the Philippines. Thanks to Joe for the photos.

Joe’s Story

Cambodian Temple

T Cambodian Temple

In 2001 I was living in an apartment in Amsterdam when friends told me about their traveling experiences, meditating in ashrams in India and wats in Thailand. At that point in my life I was earning good money as a contractor, I had a nice car, and my house in the UK was rented out. But I had a deep sense of wanting to get in touch with myself. Apart from a few typical package holidays in Europe and a three-week trip to Thailand, I hadn’t done any travel abroad. I was thinking about Southeast Asia.

I said, “I can’t travel because I have a contract and a job and a house.”

They said, “You can if you really want to, although it will take a bit of organizing.”

Cambodian Temple

Cambodian Temple

I started making preparations so I could put my important stuff in storage, sell my car, finish my contracts and go. Then my mum had a minor heart attack, so the trip was delayed for a year. When I set off I was in good shape, and I’d been gym training regularly. I’d been told to take as little as possible because I’d have to carry it. So in March 2002 I’d got my life down to one 35-liter backpack with an extra eight-liter pocket. I had a round-the-world ticket, a package deal with Virgin Airlines, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines—all really good airlines—so I could take as many flights as I wanted as long as I kept moving east and got back to my point of origin within a year.

My first flight was from Manchester to India. From there I was going to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Los Angeles and back to the UK. The first night I took a train from London to Manchester, and I kept thinking, “This is it.”

The first two nights in India I was using the privilege card points I’d saved up from a hotel chain —so two nights in the Holiday Inn, a five-star hotel, in a resort area near the beach, where there were six and even seven-star hotels. From the airport in Mumbai to the hotel I saw people sleeping in the middle of the road and cows wandering around on the highway. I’d never seen anything like it, either the abject poverty or the luxurious, six and seven-star hotels.

The plan was to get over the jet lag and then go backpacking. Since I’d earned good money over the years, my idea was to keep a credit card in my back pocket so if it got too rough I could check into a nice hotel. But I did plan to hang out with backpackers and do what they were doing. I loved India, particularly not knowing what was around the corner. It was one surprise after another; people were always smiling and had a sense of playfulness about them, although things were not always good. After six weeks, I realized that my 35-liter backpack wasn’t big enough, so I asked my sister to DHL me my 70-liter backpack. I sent the little one back, even though I felt I was cheating a bit.

After Mumbai the next stop was Goa, where I knew there were ashrams, but also parties. I found all these western, modern-day hippies who were doing all the drugs that were available and having hill-top, full-moon parties. During my first week I washed the pair of really expensive trekking shoes I’d bought in Holland and put them outside my cottage to dry. I was so green that the next day I couldn’t understand why they were gone. I started to learn some valuable lessons.

I traveled all through Goa, down to Kerela, where I made friends with a local guy who owned a hotel and was planning to study in Europe. Then I came down with amebiasis—a parasite like dysentery, which I must have gotten from something in the water or in the food. In the space of two weeks I lost about ten kilos (twenty-two pounds). In photos I looked skinny. I was not eating properly, drinking a lot of alcohol and partying. I read the books I’d brought on the Dali Lama and all sorts of things that I thought were spiritual. Although I didn’t actually get into anything spiritual, I did spend quite a lot of the time out of my head, partying and waking up on beaches.

Angor Wat

Angor Wat



Then I flew to Thailand and met up with a contracting friend who was there for the 2002 World Cup. I put the backpacking on hold for two weeks, checked into a nice hotel and went out to clubs with my friend and pretended to watch some football. I got into all sorts of scrapes.

I got robbed one night. Actually, there was a real good Samaritan, an Australian guy who’d seen it all happening and who waited for the police to come and went with me to the station. He spoke Thai because he’d lived there a long time and had a Thai wife. He was translating. It didn’t help that I’d had quite a few drinks that night and didn’t really know what was going on. I was a bit wound up, but he told me to stay cool and calm. In the police station the police officer invited a camera crew to film me and the culprits who’d robbed me. I had cameras waved in my face, and I think the results were transmitted live on television. The police took one of the perpetrators into a back room and beat the crap out of him.



In Vietnam I met Louis, a really cool French guy and traveled for a while with him. We went to Cambodia together. I then left Louis and went on to Laos alone. In Laos I was backpacking, and for 50 cents a night I was staying in tiny, dimly-lit nipper huts on the side of the Mekong River. I went off on two three-or-four day treks up into the hills. On the first trek there were four of us: the local guide, a Uruguayan guy, a girl from Israel, and myself. After two days we came to a hill village where we saw a lad running around playing with his friends, but limping and wearing a really dirty, triangular neckerchief tied around his ankle. When we took it off we saw a huge gash which had obviously gone septic. Kio, his name was. I squeezed his toes, and he couldn’t feel anything. We concluded that if he didn’t get treatment for it soon, antibiotics or something, it was probably going to become gangrenous and maybe he would lose his foot or even worse. We asked the guide if we could take this lad back down to maybe the nearest field hospital, which he told us was about a day’s walking. The lad didn’t want to go, he said he was fine, but you could see he wasn’t. In the end he agreed. His parents let us take him, but they couldn’t come because they had to go harvest rice the next day. It took us about a day to get down to the valley, where there was a field hospital, which was staffed two or three days a week. They did have antibiotics. The three of us came up with about $20 to get this kid what he needed. Straightaway the nurse hooked up an IV. It felt like we’d done something worthwhile. The guide said the people in the village we talking about what we did. We stayed there for three days. Some of Kio’s cousins came down to fetch him, and last we knew he was making a good recovery. I kept his contact details. He’d be in his mid-20s now and probably has a family. It would be nice to go back one day and see him.



On the second hill trek, I was with the same Uruguayan guy and a different local guide who kept saying, “Yeah, this way, this way.” We were convinced he didn’t have a clue where we were. We walked for hours and hours through the jungle, and there were leeches attaching themselves to us. Seriously, we thought we were going to be lost in the jungle in Laos. The guide was showing us animal crap on the ground and telling us that it was tiger poop,that a tiger had passed through not long before! It felt like a real adventure. We stayed with locals in hill tribe villages and sampled the local Lao-Lao, which is rice whiskey.

When I went back to Thailand, I got the name of a wat that I was going to visit to practice Buddhist meditation, but I never quite got there. I thought I’d gone in search of myself, but I was really just running away from myself.

In October, my sister’s fortieth birthday was coming up, so I thought I’d just get a quick return flight back to the UK and surprise her! It just seemed like a good idea at the time. Without telling anyone in my family, I booked a return [round-trip] ticket from Bangkok to Holland, had a couple of days with my friends, caught up with some other stuff, took the boat to England and got a taxi from the ferry. I was two minutes from my mom and dad’s place when a car crashed into the back of the taxi and gave me a little whiplash. I got out, put my backpack on and went marching up the road and round the corner and just rang the doorbell. My mom nearly had another heart attack to see me standing at the door!

“What are you doing back? You’re not meant to be back until March!”



“Well, I just thought I’d come back for Sophie’s birthday. But you can’t tell her, it’s a surprise!”

A few days later I went down to the pub where Sophie was celebrating with her friends. She was absolutely gob-smacked.

Back in Thailand, I was emailing with Louis (the French guy I had traveled with in Cambodia and Vietnam), about my next stop, which was Indonesia. The first of the Bali bombs had gone off in Kuta, where all those tourists got blown up in a restaurant. I’d missed it by two weeks. I’d been planning on going to Kuta, so the news of the bombing was like an advisory not to go to Indonesia.

Louis said, “Well, maybe you should try the Philippines instead.”

“Really, why the Philippines?”

“It’s a really good place, like Indonesia but easier because they all speak English, and the girls are pretty, and everything’s cheap there as well.”

“Okay, why not? Something different, give it a go.”

So I arrived in the Philippines in November 2002, a week after my thirty-sixth birthday. I landed at NAIA Airport in Manila with my faithful Lonely Planet Guide in hand. I’d read everything it said about getting ripped off by taxi drivers and decided that wasn’t going to happen to me. I walked out of the airport, got in a jeepney, a conveyance of a type I’d never even seen before [inexpensive public transportation originally made from US military jeeps]. I rode to an LRT [Light Rail Transit] station—to this day I don’t know where it was. I’d never in my life seen so many people queuing up a stairwell, and there I am with my 70-liter backpack. I got to the security desk where they were checking bags and giving passengers the mandatory pat-down. They wanted to look inside my backpack. I argued that there was no way I could start taking it apart with my whole life inside and all these people around. I was sweating and tired and had probably had a heavy night in Bangkok the night before I left. In the end I allowed them to poke around in the outer pockets with their wooden stick. Then I got the LRT to probably Taft and walked from Taft to Ermita.

Laos, Mekong River

Laos, Mekong River

I thought, “What on earth is this place?” Guards were standing in every doorway, with pump-action shotguns. Nowadays Ermita and Malate are okay compared to twelve years ago when there wasn’t as much development. It was pretty grungy. I was walking up Mabini Street, looking for a place to stay. All of a sudden a head popped out of a window and said with an English accent, “Where you off to, mate?”

“Looking for somewhere to stay.”

“Aw, right.” He told me where to have a try.

I said I’d come back and have a drink with him later that night. So I did. He was peeling potatoes, chopping up chips up and doing the short-order food in a dingy bar in Malate. While I was there I met a “guest relations officer,” a girl who worked there. I got on quite well with her. I persuaded her to come on a trip with me. We spent Christmas and New Year’s in the Philippines, basically two months of partying. Then I realized that, shit, I’d only got two and a half months left to fit in Australia, new Zealand, Fiji and LA. The new plan I came up with was to spend maybe six weeks in Australia, six weeks in New Zealand, skip Fiji altogether and just get a transit through LA. I’d fallen for this girl even though we hadn’t met in the best of places. I was determined to make it work.

I said, “I have to go to Australia and new Zealand and finish my trip because I can only go one way. But I will be back, probably by April or May. So wait for me.”

Lao Hill Village

Lao Hill Village

Lao Temple

Lao Temple

In Australia I hired a camper van and drove all the way up to the coast to Byron Bay and Airlie Beach and did some scuba diving, because I’d taken two diving courses in the Philippines. But after the Philippines I found Australia a bit boring. You drive for hours, and hours and nothing changes. New Zealand I liked. It was so much more compact. I did all the really crazy, high-adrenaline stuff. Sky diving. Bungee jumping at what was then the world’s highest bungee jump.

On a bus tour they said, “Whoever wants to do the bungee jump, you need to let us know now because it’s got to be booked in advance.” So I signed up for it, then spent the next week not sleeping or having bad dreams and cold sweats. Actually, I don’t like heights. But if I get an idea in my head and then I start to question whether or not I can go through with it, then I’m screwed because I’ve already entered into a contract with myself. I can’t have the feeling that I’m afraid of something.

It was like 143 meters over a gorge, like the Road Runner cartoon where Wily E. Coyote goes over a cliff and he’s falling and getting smaller and smaller,and then there’s a crack where he hits the bottom. It was like looking down one of these gorges, sheer rock on either side and a little streak at the bottom. A massive gondola was suspended on a cable across the gorge. To get to it you had to cross on a little cable car. The gondola had a glass floor so you could see the bottom of the gorge. Between the time you stepped off it into space to when the cord started to stretch was nine seconds of free-falling. It was horrifying. But I did it. I was really ecstatic at having overcome my fear.

Links to copy and paste on your navigator bar:

Indonesian bombing,

Nevis Bungee Jump

A reader writes:

Loved it.

Another reader writes:

What a horror show he was at the time! I assume things get much better for him in part II.

A reader writes:

This blog is such an education – Paul Theroux, travel author, hasn’t got anything on you.

A reader writes:

Read it. You always make the story interesting, while keeping it true to the person’s narrative.