Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Random Clearing House and South East Asian Wrap Up

Bobby’s Random Clearing House

We spent 2.5 years in South East Asia and not every idea I had fit cleanly into a topic thesis, or supported a through line of thought. Here are those left-over orphaned ideas and half-baked musings.  They are the underdeveloped notions that refused to sit down and wouldn’t play nice with others. Let’s just acknowledge that not everything can be an anecdote, but, for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to abort these zygotes with the delete key. Congratulations folks, it’s another unrequested episode of Bobby’s Random Clearing House. 

Lonely Planet

I would put forth the theory that 2 people have impacted this region’s economies and futures more than any US sanctions or UN contributions or any single politician, or world event.  Tony and Maureen Wheeler are responsible for armies of youth deploying themselves throughout a hippy trail of SE Asia.  Is it a good thing that they sent millions of kids into the developing nations of tropical Asia? Maybe. I find it to be an interesting topic. If you google them, you agree.

On the topic of backpacking – I think everyone should live out of a backpack for a year. You'll stop buying things you don't need. When you have to carry it on your back you have a different criteria to judge it by. Soldiers and backpackers – humping the rock. 


Why can’t we get fitted sheets in Asia? You always get 2 flat sheets. Wrong! One night of sleep and everything is a ball of wrinkles with the mattress showing. Fitted sheets guys – it’s the simplest of solutions. Hell – all our sheets are made in Asia anyway. Just save some for yourselves, or rather - just for me when I visit. 

Embracing Bad Examples

You think China is a success story but their road map was Singapore. China is just following the example of the Chinese overlords of Singapore who left their root country and created a new one in southern Malaysia decades ago. Singapore: A perfect example of how people will relinquish personal freedoms for economic opportunities. Affluent Asians emulating the worst of the West: consumerism, ostentatious displays of wealth and shopping malls. God how I loathe the shopping mall. It’s Mission Valley on an island. Completely soulless. Apparently, all humans really want is a modern apartment complex in close proximity to a shopping mall. Why don’t we just build apartments in malls? Or does it really even matter where we live when we can order UberEATS and watch Netflix on a comfy couch? Let’s just all save ourselves a little time, take the shortcut, and move directly to the hospice bed with the colostomy bag and the VR goggles. Isn’t that the real dream? Singapore - pass. I love the Indian food but otherwise - hard pass on S’Pore. Waiting for Tobin to box my ears on this one, and the next.

The Chinese

One can graph the arc of American prosperity. You could climb the rise and descend the fall as if hiking a gentle rainbow. It starts with the depression that the second world war pulled us out of, then the booming 50’s, the globalization of the capitalist countries of the 60’s and 70’s. The decadent 80’s might have been the peak and then we began the decline, but at least our ramp up was in a manageable clump of decades and it took a long time before we got fat and lazy (as the Asians are happy to point out). Not China. They went from an agrarian society with no more than subsistence living to middle class overnight. These Chinese have gone from 0 to 60 in about 4 seconds, and it shows. You put a thrifty genotype in the middle of a food court and you get exactly one thing – exploded fat youth. The cultural reveal is more telling. They don’t know how to behave internationally. They are the equivalent of the horrible Americans who went abroad back in the 70’s. Loud and brash. Sure, they can buy it all while thinking their cash excuses their poor manners. It doesn’t. They just haven’t been middle class long enough to learn how to do it in a humble fashion. Its why old money looks down their nose at the nouveau riche.

Investors look for growth industries. Here’s a million-dollar tip - In the near future there will be CEZs: Chinese Exclusion Zones: places that Chinese people are not permitted. They will grow in popularity with the affluence and crushing number of the Chinese population. Invest now and watch your money grow! 

Reader Q & A 

Get ready! It’s that part of the show again where I answer questions I’ve collected from readers. Let’s begin!

Q:“You sure have a lot of opinions. What’s your criteria for deciding if a place sucks or not?”

A: The 4Ps: People, Place, Price, and Plates (Food) are my criteria that make or break a country or city.

Q: “I thought the best coffee in the world is supposed to come from Sumatra and Java. When I was in Bali I hated it. Do you like it?

A: I call the Indo joe “black hole coffee”, no matter how much cream you pour in, the color never changes. It’s cowboy coffee. They don’t use a filter so there is an inch of mud at the bottom and you need to dental floss after chewing your way through the grit. Just like Colombia – the good stuff gets exported. Most of what you drink “Bali style” is low grade shake. 

Q: “I don’t really know any Indo food. What’s your favorite dish?”

A: Rendang. It’s a tough cut of cheap meat seasoned with the world’s greatest spices. Don’t ask me what they are, I appreciate the mystery. I can tell you this: No one ever stops eating rendang because they get full. No chance. They quit because their jaw gives out.


Whenever a person makes a blanket statement in this ridiculous epoch of political correctness, they invite harassment. If I haven’t lost you yet, hold on tight because I suppose I’m going to push past that and type this anyway: There are exceptions, but for the most part, Asians, for me - aren’t the ideal of beauty. There – I wrote it and I’m feeling brave enough not to delete it. I also don’t like the art of Mark Rothko. I am entitled to have an opinion on matters of subjectivity, aren’t I? My blog, my opinions. You’d be hard pressed to find a leading Asian man who wasn’t a martial arts expert. I believe that’s what Chuck Norris built his career on. For the longest time he was the only white guy throwing kicks. (My mom and I had lunch with Chuck Norris. It was 1986. Ask me about it.) But regardless of my personal bias I think the objective truth is that they all have perfect lips. Pre-puckered, genetically ordained perfection, and overinflated by 30 PSI just for maximum thrill. Then pinched for a blush of color.

Speaking of lips - It used to take me 4 years to go through a tube of lip balm and since I would lose it in under 3 years, I’ve never used one up. I have almost no lips (You must now admit that “My Thin Cruel Lips” would be a terrific name for my autobiography). Aleja… well, that’s another story. There are only 2 things on a girl you can get away with calling fat: hair and lips, and Holy smacktastic whoppers if she doesn’t have gigantic lips from heaven. We now go through a tube in 3 months.

Beware Of The “Weekers”

Weekers – Those who come out for 2 weeks and think they’ve “done the country”. There are so many people who shouldn’t be allowed to travel. There ought to be a passport test or a series of infractions that could put you in front of the revocation board. Or at a minimum, these people should only be allowed to go to all-inclusive resorts where they wouldn’t be allowed past the property boundaries, which would have to be newly reinforced with barbwire. Don’t be a “weeker”.


All of this trip was spent in the developing third world. We were surrounded by poverty and there is always the guilt that accompanies that. I think I have an apt analogy to explain the difference between rich and poor. Could it be as simple as this: Rich means my phone battery is permanently on 97%. Poor means their phone battery is permanently on 7%. My worries are eliminated and they’ve got to constantly manage that final 7%. Does that resonate?

... If you aren't stubbing your toes and tripping yourself into a hospital the city planners feel as though they've failed

Living In Happy Oblivion

When you live in a foreign country, there's always this haze around the edges of the known. It’s where your true understanding takes a step into the abyss. There's a lot in my daily life that I don't understand. I just go with the flow. Every once in a while, you're confronted with the need to understand deeper: “Exactly what was this vs that? And why change it now?” But mostly I just live in happy oblivion.

Human Zoo

There is something inherently unjust in touring the world, and rewarding the primitives for perpetuating their anachronistic societies. We want them to exist in a frozen time warp; a human zoo. We don’t want modernism to take root. And what do they want? – They want material possessions. They want what every developing society wants after they meet their basic subsistence needs: mobile phones, internet, and a scooter. From The Americas to Polynesia to Asia and beyond– I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  

In terms of tourism in this country (or any country for that matter) don’t mistake acquiescence as affection, or good manners as respect. We tourists are just one more invading army that the citizens of Indonesia have had to tolerate to survive. They have been living off the crutch of other nations for so long they have never really been independent. I’m not an expert on Indonesia, but I am an expert when it comes to being a man of surplus in the developing world. Trust me; they are actors and I’m just a big dollar sign coming their way and they’ll play any part they think they can get paid for. 

So Smart!

The Most Important Word

There is a single word you should learn when visiting Bali that will vastly improve your life: “suda”. It simply means; “already”. As soon as they hear it, they mumble, “ah suda” and leave you alone. “Ya lo hice” is the Spanish equivalent but doesn’t really quite match the effect. It’s like a magic force field and they immediately bow to defeat & squirt off. “You need sarong, Bintang, transport, t shirt, chopstick… ?” “Suda!” “Ahhh suda.” Then my charitable side emerges and I give them 5,000 rupiah and they get to keep their product. I call it a 30-cent exit tax.

How To Be An American Expat

I'm a Millimeter American. That’s a Yank who has lived abroad and understands the metric system. If you want to be a true expat you need to retrain yourself to start thinking metric, not imperial. Kilos not pounds, centimeters not inches. Imperial is absolutely inferior. Why memorize fractions when you can use whole numbers? “Pass me the 11/32nd socket” vs “Pass me the 9 mil socket”. You also have to give up Fahrenheit, even though it’s superior to Celsius. Trust me, it is. You need to learn another language. Doesn’t matter which one. Once you break one code you automatically get a foothold in the others. And remember - Vocab is more important than conjugation. People are very forgiving when you try in their language. They’ll get the gist. Languages tend to swing. 

And yet so dumb!

The Massages

I miss watching their little brown toes claw into the floor as they cantilever into my back, working my lower spine. My face in the horseshoe cutout. I enjoy the anatomy lesson when she works the cables in my forearms and my fingers curl up

From Friend to Novelty

I was a dude from the neighborhood who went on this 6-year sailing trip. I was a point of pride to brag about: “I just got an email from Bobby, he made it to Fiji!” I came home only to rebuild my burned down house and then left again on a new 4-year trip. I came home for a month just to get a change of clothes and then I left again for another couple of years backpacking South East Asia. My friends have figured it out by now. This traveling thing isn’t the anomaly; living in the States is the anomaly. In order to make a real friend you have to put in the hours, and to keep a real friend you have to put in the hours. I’ve moved from friend to novelty. Now I’m the “Where’s Waldo guy” who travels constantly. I don’t share in the common struggle any longer and I’ve been moved to a different column. I’ve gradually become a “Post-American” and even though I have a perfect US accent, I’m not really on the team anymore. It’s very strange to realize that. 

A Final Quote From Skinny

My brother says: “The life of Waldo is not THE dream, it's HIS dream.  But he's living his dream... and THAT is THE dream.” – So maybe I made it after all.

Let’s Do The Numbers!

It was 28 months, 6 countries, & 1 pandemic. 0ver 10,000 miles flown, 6,000 miles driven, 400 miles sailed. One more big trip in the bag. Goodbye Asia – you were absolutely wonderful!

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby

P.S/ See ya in Europe!


Allen said...

As always, a great read. 2024 Careys on the move. Eastern caribe vs Baltic/Greece/Croatia vs ???? See ya out there.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I am on the American team either Captian Bobby but I'm on your side! See ya soon!



When you drive around Europe, you begin to see a pattern: Hard scrabble peasants colonized by the civilized Romans. From England to Spain, F...