Posts Tagged ‘The Beach’

43. Reading the book about the place

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

alex-garlands-the-beachBackpackers are a pretentious lot. Actually, people who travel, in general, are full of shit. Some will tell you they’ve lived somewhere, but they were really just visiting. Or they’ve been to a place, but were actually just on a layover there, and didn’t leave the airport. These types of people insist they are into photography, global culture, art, film, music, and of course literature.

They’re remarkably insecure, which is why they constantly attempt to reaffirm their sense of enlightenment on all topics. “Have you see that movie?” Oh yeah, it’s fantastic. “Have you been to…” Yes, three times. “Have you seen Buddha?” Mm-hmm, when I was in Cambodia. “Are you better than me?” (Unspoken: Yes.)

Just as they will refuse to see the movie before they read the book, they won’t travel somewhere without having read THE book about it. Some will be leafing through the book while on the plane, train or bus en route to the place. But make no mistake, there is only ONE BOOK you simply must read before you go somewhere. Some examples:

Thailand: The Beach
No book has tickled the global backpacker imagination as much as this Alex Garland neo-classic, and the Leo DiCaprio movie didn’t hurt either. Poignant use of Nintendo metaphors amid differing interpretations of “paradise” and the “parasites” trying to find it ring true for anybody born after 1970. Ko Phi Phi has the movie to thank for the millions of parasites that descend upon it every year.

Spain: The Sun Also Rises
What Garland has done for Generation X, Hemingway did for young people in the 20s and 30s, members of the “Lost Generation.” His book is still doing it today. After all, the book is about love, partying and living overseas in France and Spain, so it should come as no surprise that it inspires countless readers to pack up and give it a go. Just as DiCaprio put Ko Phi Phi on the map, Hemingway informed the world of Pamplona’s frenzied San Fermin Festival.

India: Midnight’s Children
I tried reading this a few years ago and couldn’t get past the first 70 pages. If Rushdie were employing his own version of “magical realism,” I wish he would have used less magic and more realism. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. It was convoluted and senseless. Maybe if I finally get to India, it will all become clear… or at least I could find some enlightened backpackers who would be able explain it to me.

South America: 100 Years of Solitude
This book confirmed it for me: I’m not a huge fan of magical realism. Too much extraneous detail. But just like you have to try the chicken feet at the dim sum restaurant, you have to read Marquez if you want to do right by South American literature. Thankfully, the copy I bought didn’t have the Oprah’s Book Club logo on it. I’m pretentious like that.

Vietnam: The Quiet American
Like Hemingway and Orwell, Greene is a foreign correspondent-turned author who likes the sauce and in this case, opium. F.E.T. enthusiasts (i.e. white guys who like Asian chicks) will dig the protagonist, who locks down a primo local gal and enjoys the spoils of expat life and moral superiority during Vietnam’s French colonial war in the early 1950s.

The United States: On The Road
Garland to Generation X = Hemingway to Lost Generation = Kerouac to Beat Generation. The underlying theme to this wanderer’s journal is that it’s fun to hang with arty rich kids who drink booze like it’s water, listen to black music and drive wildly down the open highway. Sounds a lot like the backpacking scene to me. Oh and that San Francisco was the shit in the 50s. Still is today.

Any other geographically-specific books you’ve seen while traveling? There are tons. Please post comments to let me know which ones you’ve run into.

1. Aussie Guys

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

pamplonaAnybody who’s ever been to San Fermin in Pamplona knows what I’m talking about: Most people are hung over from all-night partying and nauseous from the stench of leather-winebag-induced vomit and urine filling the narrow cobblestone streets. Yet these perpetually sunburnt ruffians are still drinking at 6 a.m. when the wooden retaining fences swing open. Those who slept slept poorly, cold and in the streets for chrissakes.

The Aussies are already rowdy as hell. They’re chanting, slapping each other across the face, wrestling, laughing hysterically - getting pumped up. One Aussie is literally climbing up the wall as we wait for the bulls to be released. His buddy is spraying beer into the crowd. It’s six in the morning. We, the foreigners, the parasites (à la Robert Carlyle in The Beach), have been flocking to this quaint, Basque, mountain town for decades to experience an event Hemingway beenoued* so eloquently about. The Aussies are reminding the locals and staunch traditionalists what a sham it’s become. Aussie guys are backpacking culture cranked up to Volume 10.

The gunshots fire and chaos ensues as the bulls and people run through the town to the bullfighting arena.

Once the bulls have crossed the arena and are locked in their pens, the excitement subsides. But the capacity crowd wants blood. So the event organizers release smaller bulls into the huddled mass of dazed bullrunners. The crowd is delighted as the little bulls run amok and disperse the frightened men, many of whom climb over the guardrail and out of harm’s way. But the Aussies are wily and unafraid. One of them grabs a little bull by the horns and wrestles it down to the ground. Another Aussie gets a hold of a bull’s tail, then its hindquarters and climbs on for a few thrilling seconds. Meanwhile, the locals in the stands are jeering and whistling (Spanish for booing) their disapproval. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Remember the World Cup 2002 Beckham faux-hawk? You know the haircut. Everybody outside of North America was rocking it. (Canadian guys weren’t cuz it was gay and jived with neither hockey nor Mountain Equipment Co-op. American guys didn’t cuz they’re style oblivious and rocked faux-worn-in Abercrombie hats instead. Mexicans like soccer enough to but prefer to slick it all back.) Swedish guys enjoyed the haircut, but not as much as the Aussies. THEY ALL HAD IT. Perhaps it’s a testament to how trendy Aussies are (think trucker hats during the Kutcher/Pharrell era), but seriously, they are still rocking the haircut to this day. Seven years later, they just turned it into a mullet.

Speaking of mullets, Aussie Rules Football is rife with them.

aussie-rulesAussie guys steal all the broads. It’s not hard to figure out. Their accent is pretty money. I can admit that. For the most part, they’re ripped, largely due to knowing how to surf and excelling at summer sports, much to the chagrin of other backpacking males. They’re a nation of X-Gamers. They’re fearless and cheesy. Chicks dig fearlessness and cheese. Canadian guys are particularly prone to hating Aussies since, given their propensity for board sports and presumably cool personae, Aussies regularly invade the Canadian slopes to snowboard and bed local girls - enjoying much success in both pursuits.

I have no reason to dislike Australia, save for a few racial issues I’ve heard about but never witnessed. Vegemite is disgusting. I know that much. I don’t mind the taste of a fried egg on a burger, but it’s still weird. You produce damn good Hollywood actors and actresses and your endemic wildlife is neat. But please Australia, please. Tell your backpacking male travelers to calm the F down. And don’t even get me started on Crazy Israelis.

*Beenou (verb, onomatopoeia): To toot one’s own horn. To boast, brag or draw attention to one’s own superiority. A common flaw among backpackers. Can be done both explicitly (e.g. blatant beenouing: “I am awesome at Ultimate.”) and implicitly (e.g. back-handed beenouing or fishing for compliments: “Have you seen me throw a Frisbee?”). Can also function as a noun (e.g. “This blog is a huge beenou.”) Origin: Mimicry of jazz trumpet sounds, scat singing.