Poetry Corner – The Weathered Backpacker

The Weathered Backpacker

You can always spot him: 36 but looks 47, sunburnt battered skin, sunken hallow face, deplorable teeth, few days beard stubble, the reek of alcohol emanating from him, still pungent from the night before, stayed up all night till 6am (what's a good night's sleep to him anyway?), but already on his next beer today, dirty dingy flip flops (when was the last time you wore shoes, sir?), dirty beat up backup that's been places, oh it's been places, seen things, the backpack itself mirroring the traveler's worn legs and weary eyes, but keep pushing, keep going, never stopping, yet never going anywhere... Do you have a home, weary backpacker? Do you even remember where home is? Go home backpacker, it's time to go HOME. Why don't you go home?

Travelogue: How To Get Fired From A Cruise Ship

Travel-ogue: How To Get Fired From A Cruise Ship
by Cameron Brtnik
     The year was 2009, and I was freshly back from Hollywood. I didn’t make it of course – I didn’t have the drive; to sleep in a car, to live off macaroni and cheese for two years, to go to five auditions a week only to get a call back to a tooth paste commercial – I didn’t get that either. I had been working on my magic – practicing daily, I even enrolled in the world famous Magic Castle Hollywood and partook in a master class with my childhood magical hero Mark Wilson (The Complete Course In Magic was the first magic book I studied). And I wanted to do something with it. I filmed a demo video, sent it off to Carnival Cruise Lines – the world’s foremost pleasure vessel and self-acclaimed party boat – and whadaya know, I was hired!
     It was a 200,000 ton (fifty times bigger than the Titanic), 2000 passenger occupancy vessel. Simply put, it was a huge. She was a magnificent beast. And it was all mine: The Carnival Glory.
 
But let me backtrack a bit here….
     That summer I was at Sorcerer’s Safari Magic Camp (I know what you’re thinking, and yes they do manufacture real life Harry Potters there) and one of the special guests – a world famous magician cruise ship by the name of Sean Farquhar – regaled us with stories of magic on the big seas…I was hooked. I approached him later that day to ask him more details. He told us the story of a a cruise that involved certain Playboy Bunny guests, and an onboard magician who woke up one day at the ungodly hour of five o’clock a.m. to a knock at the door to find one of the ship’s officers just stopping by to say hello. He admired the photos taped on his wall, mainly noticing the X-rated material of said rabbit ear-wearing guests. He also recognized who they accompanied, and more specifically, the location of where the photos were taken: in that very bedroom.
     Now this all seems fine and well, even a good story perhaps if it weren’t for one G-darned rule: There’s NO frolicking with the guests – even if they are Playboy Bunnies. So this lucky, damned SOB was fired on the spot. No one heard from him again…or so I say. Foreshadowing anyone???…..
I excelled at my job. it was a perfect fit; magic, entertainment, customer experience, and….women. No shortage of them. It was like a haven, a floating forbidden island, an open buffet, a melting pot of American, Asian, African, Mexican, you name it you got it, it was….Paradise. And I? Zero willpower. I met a smart man early on – the wisest of men and the absolute manslut of the cruise: The Pianist. He knew things no other man did – or should – and more importantly, he knew how to manipulate the rules of a pleasure boat. He gave me one simple piece of advice: If you don’t want to get caught, meet the female guests off board the ship. Book a hotel for a few hours, meet the single, university frat girl, divorce or married woman off the premises, have your fun, and return onboard as if nothing ever happened. Because in the eyes of everyone aboard (including the ignorant) husband, nothing out of the ordinary happened; just another drunk guest enjoying her time on land, probably shopping or getting drunk off three dollar martinis at some cheap local beach bar somewhere in Belize.
     Good advice – advice I should’ve taken to heart, considering that was the second unofficial warning. But me being me, never heading the advice of others, never listening to the warnings of previous perpetrators, always wanting to learn the hard way, me -stubborn, selfish, self-absorbed, egocentric, narcissistic – had to learn the hard way….
It was a warm evening – I know because I was getting a BJ on the balcony of th—wait, I’m getting “ahead” of myself now…. It was a regular night. I was working the martini bar, performing close-up magic for Carnivals guests – couples, newlyweds, singles and some curious staff – and this spicy Mexican broad was making eyes. I’d seen the look before: sultry, exotic, flirty, curious, all come-ons, and I knew i could have her that night. It was all part of the process: Girl goes on cruise for first time with friends, girl gets drunk, girl hunts for boys, girl finds no boys, girl goes in search of something more attractive, more charming, more dangerous: the staff. Not just any staff – no, sadly the housekeepers, chefs and servers are not allowed in the guest area – for entertainers. And if the piano man got laid the most, the magicians (and even comedians believe it or not) were a close second. I just happened to be on her radar, or more fittingly, menu that night.
     Here was my problem: I thought I had out-smarted security – I had not. To rub this obvious truth in even more, a friend co-worker who sold paintings at a gallery onboard warned me not a week earlier: “Be careful: they have their eyes on you.” I scoffed at the thought. Around midnight, the time I usually wrapped up my show, I met her at the ship’s nightclub. We drank. We danced. We left about 2am and hurried back to her door. I had been here many times before; “Should I or shouldn’t I?” were always the thoughts that repeated through my mind. On one hand, I’m sacrificing my job and career (and an exciting one full of future possibilities at that!) On the other hand, this chick is hot and horny and that’s also, in it’s own way, full of future possibilities. Many times in the previous few months I had turned this enticing offer down; this time I overruled my silly worries, and discreetly stepped into her room…
     Fast forward to getting a glorious BJ on the deck off her room, under a full moon, the night sea breeze filling my nostrils full of optimism…then a loud knock at the door. Security: “We know you’re in there and we’re coming in.” Me: (Thinking) “I could totally Spiderman down the side of the ship onto the balcony below and not get caught…” The gig was up – I was caught. Now, the thing is I was friends with these security guys – really nice dudes from India who I said hi to and conversed with daily – so it felt surreal as they handcuffed me and led me into a small, windowless room to interrogate me. I was forced into admitting my actions (and a couple others) and writing an apology, promising that I would never commit such an unspeakable atrocity again. (The rules are in place to prevent the cruise line from being sued by guests. Think “unwanted pregnancy” or “mysterious std”.) I was then freed to go with the ominous warning: “One day you may hear a knock at five o’clock in the morning.” So it was true….
     Four days past without incident; I thought I was in the clear! Day 5: Port stop, Miami. 5am: Knock at the door. I thought I was dreaming. An officer standing at the door; it was told to pack my bags. I was escorted off the ship by the sympathetic officer. It was like doing the ultimate “walk of shame” in front of my fellow shipmates whom I had become close with over the six months I had been aboard. I was met by a local Miami officer – a pleasant, religious woman who gave me sound advice on the way to the airport (something about not drinking too much) and waited with me until my plane home arrived. I learned an important lesson that day: The “Five O’clock Knock” is a real thing.
-Written by Cameron Brtnik
cambrtnik.wordpress.com 

Travelogue: Penghu – Taiwan’s Beautiful and Boring Island

Penghu

Penghu

Taiwan’s Beautiful and Boring Island

by Cameron Brtnik

Penghu, September 8, 2014 – My thirty-third birthday. I’m currently sitting seaside at a port in a small city on a tiny island off the coast of Taiwan, enjoying a glass of “The distinctive flavor lager beer,” also known as Taiwan Beer, and gorging on delicious freshly caught oysters and imported salmon. I feel at peace.

    I needed a vacation – Not from work overload, but because in the three years I’ve been living in Taiwan, I’ve never left the island (except for my trip back home to Canada). So I decided to take a trip, alone, to a pretty neighboring island to the west of Taiwan called Penghu (actually a cluster of islets). Warning: This is a couples’ trip, so only go alone if you want to experience cabin fever…without the cabin. Albeit a beautiful island, there’s not much to do besides visit the gorgeous local beaches – I suppose everything’s “local” in Penghu – to surf, dive, or (like me) finally get through that worn paperback you’ve been schlepping around everywhere. And that’s about it. “No matter, I’ll meet people!” I thought. Unfortunately, I came to this isle toward the end of the Moon Festival holiday when people were already returning home. Oh, not to mention the plane crash that killed 48 people (including two foreign exchange students from France) just two weeks prior to my arrival. That never helps an already flailing tourism industry.

    Undeterred (I had caught wind of this news the night before, but I was drunk enough at the time that I accepted my destined, likely watery fate), I took the first flight out of Taipei – which, by the way, I caught the same night of my birthday celebrations, or should I say following morning after leaving Halo, the club we were partying at, bottle service in tow – still inebriated, but somehow functional. I had smartly packed that evening and took my luggage straight to the nightclub. The plane ride was short, just an hour, and I felt safe (which I can’t say for those unfortunate souls who got caught in the typhoon), perhaps because I was passed out the whole way.

    I arrived at the small airport, where I passed out for another three hours on the uncomfortable, yet somehow comfortable seats. When I awoke it was only 10:30am, and I asked about cheap hostels. Soon a van arrived to escort me, and a lovely girl named Julia, whose family owned a local hostel called “Big Fish House,” drove me straight there. It was a very cute inn, more of a Bed and Breakfast, and wasn’t very cheap – $1500nt for the night. But it was well worth the stay, with a bright, spacious room to myself, breakfast, and a scooter (for an extra $300nt) included. I spent the next two hours sleeping (still working off that hangover, or tequila, or both) then hopped on my scooter and hit Shanshui aka “Mountain Water Beach.”

    The first thing I noticed along the way was that sea smell; the salty air hitting your nostrils like it was the first fresh breath of air you’ve taken in years. I was told there’d be “lots of foreigners there.” I was optimistic, as I wanted to meet some new friends to share my adventure with. There was one – he and his Taiwanese girlfriend – and he didn’t look the sort I was interested in meeting (or vice versa). So I kept to myself and got into my book – Freakonomics, a former yet still-popular bestseller I always intended to read, but never got around to till I found myself on a lonely island.

    At dusk, I jumped on my scooter and headed into town; if I were to find any action, it would be in the heart and centre of Penghu! I was wrong. I found one bar that I recognized from the Taiwan Lonely Planet called Freud. It was modelled after a fishing boat, with the same charm and décor as any Canadian seafood tavern, but it was missing that one asset I was looking for: people. I ate the mediocre “Thai-style shrimp” and enjoyed the choice Heineken beer. The mood was dark and depressing, so I left soon before it “got busy.” I went back to my commodious, Japanese-style room, and passed out for the fourth time that day..

    I woke up too late for breakfast, but it was still available: dried up bread loaf and two choices of spread: Nutella and peanut butter. If you know me, you know I enjoyed the shit out of it, more so because it was included (although not served in a bed). Julia, the friendly hotel manager – she and her mother manage two locations of Big Fish House, and she plans to leave in three weeks to study English in Australia for six months – drove me in her Big Fish van to the north end of the island to catch a ferry to a smaller islet fifteen minutes away. Exotically called Chikan (or “chicken island” as I preferred to call it), it’s a little paradise get-away, punctuated by stone weirs – oddly-shaped stone walls in the water originally built as fish traps – and small beaches. I visited Aimen Beach, famous for its jet skiing and banana boating. I did neither, and instead collected coral fragments that had washed ashore, and that’s what the sand was mostly composed of. A nice way to spend the day, but I was sunburnt and happy to catch the last boat back to “civilization.”

    Walking along the beach I noticed one thing: I love long walks on the beach (not a cheesy dating site description). This goes back to my cottage days of walking the shore of Georgian Bay all the way to Balm Beach, over an hour’s walk, and feeling happy as a sand boy (an expression my mother often used, but I never understood. I had to look up the etymology and discovered sand boys were actually “men who drove donkeys selling sand,” and were reportedly always happy). I also noticed something else: I felt utterly alone. It wasn’t a good feeling. I realized right there and then that life is better with friends, or family, or a significant other. That feeling faded though as I thought about how lucky I was, and started plotting world domination.

    I took the ferry back across the straight, caught a cab back into town, and checked into a shitty cheap hotel. I put a generous helping of aloe on that inexorable “Brtnik Burn,” grabbed my laptop, and headed down to the port where I’m currently sitting, two tall beers in, writing this diary entry. It’s my birthday, and I’m surrounded by drunken fishermen and the feeling of loneliness. I think I’ll try and bump my return ticket to tomorrow, as another day on this beautiful and boring island may make Jack a dull boy. As of right now, I feel content, but I wish my friends were here… My friends from Taiwan. My friends from China. My friends from Toronto. My brother and sister. A stranger. But all is well, and let’s all feel lucky we’re alive and not on a plane destined for doom (God bless their souls). I’ll see everyone soon. Oh, and happy Moon Festival!

-Written by Cameron Brtnik, September 8, 2014 on his 33rd birthday

taiwan-penghu

Cameron is a freelance writer living in Taiwan and part-time explorer cbrtnik.com