In 30 days my life as the CouchSurfing Cook will, metaphorically speaking, come to an end. That’s because on August 31, I’ll be leaving on a jet plane for places unknown, or more accurately for whatever places the CouchSurfing fairies, Warm Shower angels, hostel gods and goddesses, and generous but unwitting friends of friends allow me to crash over the next six months.
After four years of scheming, scrimping, and slaving (over a hot stove and computer keyboard) I am, amazingly even to me, becoming a traveller again, biking through Asia on a still-evolving journey that – as of today – has me traipsing from Japan to China, China to Hong Kong and Macau, Macau to Cambodia and Laos, Laos to Vietnam and Thailand and, finally, Thailand to Singapore and Malaysia.
It’s been a fascinating ride hosting people in my Brooklyn apartment these past few years but if, as they say, all good things must come to an end, then now is that time, and urgently so, as my own time on earth feels as if its speeding ever faster toward that inexorable end.
I’m ready to see the world, or at least as much of it as I can soak into my pores (through a water-resistant, wicking, insect-repellant jacket) while pedaling on a loaded recumbent, tearing after the occasional fast-departing train or bus, and begging rides as the need arises.
Many have assured me to expect a warm welcome in Asia, even if my communication skills are embarrassingly limited to pointing at manga images of body parts to convey that I’ve just fallen off my bicycle and need to be transported to the nearest hospital. After all, I’ve earned bucketfuls of good karma by playing host to so many, though what I’ve received, as I’ve often noted, more than recompenses for my middling generosity.
Why just in the last few weeks (since I haven’t published…), I conducted food therapy with Oshara, a blond ex-Californian who proudly acknowledged eating only junk food, although until our “session” she never fully understood why.
Invited a 40-something-year-old vegan skateboarder (whose first act upon entering my house was to open my refrigerator and declare, “Do you have an organic cucumber?”) to a Bushwick garage for a night of trapeze artists, acrobats, and burlesque pole dancers, where she was happily plied with vegan appetizers.
Drank beer and ate non-halal tacos with a Kurdish engineer from Kurdistan who, in two nights of staying on my couch, taught me more about Shiites and Sunnis than I’d learned from ten years of watching the Iraq War play itself out over the American airwaves.
In other words, if there’s one thing about life as the CouchSurfing Cook that I know to be true it’s this: It is NEVER dull.
Which is how I also know that travel for me isn’t about relieving boredom. Nor is it about the novelty of the undiscovered, though being in the presence of as many UNESCO World Heritage sites as I can squeeze into my travels will surely inspire awe.
No, for me travel is about ensuring that I live a life guided by my two favorite quotes. The first by Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” And the second by Irish playwright, author, and activist, George Bernard Shaw, who in describing the aspirations for his life wrote, “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die.”
What spurs me to relinquish the safety of home, the solace of friends, and the security of a steady job is nothing less than fear. Fear that I won’t have lived a rich enough life, and fear that I’ll die having never challenged myself in ways that force me to grow.
Now it’s not necessary to travel to live such a life. And if there’s anything that playing the CouchSurfing Cook on the Internet has taught me, it’s that simply opening up one’s home to people from far-off places is its own lesson in mind and heart expansion.
But there’s something about finding oneself on unfamiliar terrain, surrounded by strangers, that’s a test of self and the universe like few things I know.
Am I running from something by traveling? Of course. All travel involves an element of escape. Am I running to something? Most likely. Although what it is I don’t yet know, and therein lies the suspense.
And what about food and cooking? How does that play into this trip? And what will I do when it comes to sharing recipes, now that I’m the guest and others the hosts? That mystery, too, remains unsolved.
It just so happens though that CouchSurfing.org, the organization that inspired this blog, is less than keen these days on my calling myself CouchSurfing Cook, so perhaps a name change is in order, and a writing shift, as well.
For the moment though, I’ve not yet arrived at a new name, and there are many people who’ve offered to host me who also want to share recipes, so I remain open to continuing the blog in some as-yet-to-be-defined form. I’m playing with the idea of moving to Tumblr, where I can post quotes, ultra-short stories, photos, and videos, and the occasional recipe; a sort of travel montage that may one day morph into a book.
Before I head off into the proverbial sunset though, I wanted to thank some people, starting with two CouchSurfers who, for different reasons, never made it onto the blog. Both are from Northern Europe and both gifted me, interestingly enough, with aprons, aprons I now wear while cooking, which, of course, happily and regularly reminds me of them.
They also both post regularly to my Facebook, Google and Twitter pages, and in so doing have kept our friendship alive, despite our continental divide. The fault of having never posted about them is my own, the result of poor recipe notation in one case (Marianne) and poor early photography in the other (Renia).
So Renia and Marianne, thank you, for the aprons, for your support, and for your friendship. I also want to thank Canadian Dave and Brits Tom and Mick, my always cheerful cheerleaders in the world of long-distance biking; I couldn’t have considered this trip without you. A big shout out as well to Robert from New York City Recumbent Supply, the man who sold me my Volae and then, beyond patiently, coached me through taking it apart and putting it back together, among many kindnesses. To my friends and co-workers (with big hugs to Channaly, David R., Diego, Jeanine, Julie and Bryant P., Kurt, Liz, Louise, Miah, Oshara, Rachel, and Rita), I love all my friends more than they’ll ever know. And to mom, who taught me a love of travel, and dad, who got bitten by the biking bug long before I did; don’t worry, I’ll be fine.
Finally, I’ve been blessed to have some extremely generous sponsors for this trip, all small companies and creators of products that I believe in wholeheartedly. They include:
Against Malaria, a dedicated U.K. nonprofit that provided me with a super-strong, long-lasting mosquito net. Please give generously to this nonprofit through my donation page!
Alana Rose, the uber-talented designer behind the Etsy shop Run With the Tribe, who’s making me the MOST AWESOME travel dress ever.
Clever Travel Companion and its generous owner, Johanna Denize, creator of amazingly cute and TOTALLY PICKPOCKET-PROOF clothing. Thank you so much for your gifts!
Paul Roberts, the owner of Terre Vista Trails, who gave me a nicer-than-nice discount on a silk sleep sack without knowing me from Adam. Thank you, Paul!
Eye-Fi, a very cool product that lets you store up to 4,000 photos or 3 hours of video (8GB) and includes built-in WiFi, to let you send your photos instantly and safely to your computer, smartphone or tablet. Love it!
BikeShopHub.com, a small, local bike-lovin’ outfit in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I’m getting my bike bags and related bike accessories. I’ll soon have an affiliate link where you, too, can buy bike products via CouchSurfing Cook.
And to all the CouchSurfers I’ve loved before in various ways, shapes, and forms, and to those couchsurfers not yet encountered who are seeking sustenance and a warm bed in Brooklyn, rest assured that one day I will return to this fair city.
Until then, if you could hold that recipe and story a while longer, I’d be most appreciative. With promises to reheat some leftovers for you when I return, and a recipe from Alexandra, the raw foodie and vegan skateboarder in the meantime to tide you over.
Safe Travels to Every One!
Recipe: Alexandra’s Delicious Raw Onion Bread