Friday, February 17, 2012

I'm an American, Get Me Out of Here!

Last week I received an unexpected Facebook email from Mike, an old New York City colleague. He'd recently quit his job at Apple and come to Australia for a few months with his wife and young daughter. He figured that his little girl would be starting school pretty soon, so it was now or never.

He chose now.

How funny, I thought, as I read his message. He had crossed my mind earlier on that very same day. I'd read an interview in one of the Melbourne daily newspapers, maybe the Herald Sun, with Daryl Hall, who was touring Australia with John Oates for the first time in aeons. I know Mike is a huge fan -- possibly the only admitted one I know -- and I'd wondered if he knew they were here. (He did.)

But then, isn't everyone these days? Oprah Winfrey's first trip to Australia was announced while I was here for the first time in 2010, and since then, the stars, past and present, seem to keep coming. I just saw a TV news teaser about Roxette's first Oz concert dates in 17 years; Adam Ant arrives in March for the first time in 30 years; and New Order was here a few minutes ago. Considering Australia's fertile contemporary music scene, and that it's not nearly as nostalgia-obsessed as Buenos Aires, in my mind, it wouldn't be an obvious host to acts like Hall & Oates, Roxette, Adam Ant, or New Order, all of whom are so 20 years or more ago.

Yet here they come, joining Rod Stewart, right here right now, Soundgarden, who recently played Oz for the first time in 14 years, and Erykah Badu, who's coming through next week. Madonna has announced that she will be swinging down under for the first time in 20 years in early 2013, just in time to wave goodbye to Lady Gaga, who's coming around before 2012's up.

Australia: now or never. Well, maybe not never. But why not now?

For ex-colleagues as well as for pop stars. Earlier this week, Traceye, another former co-worker, contacted me on Facebook after talking to Mike. She's in Melbourne, having recently embarked on a six-month world tour that had already taken her to Sydney, and would bring her to Southeast Asia in the coming weeks. She was ticking off all of the boxes there: Bangkok, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma.

While debating internally whether I should tell her that nobody calls it Burma anymore, I mentioned that the country now known as Myanmar might not be the safest place for a woman traveling alone. But here's someone who is planning on going skydiving and bungee jumping in New Zealand. Clearly this single lady doesn't need a safety net any more than she needs a guy to put a ring on it.

Australia is not the only destination for Americans desperately seeking something different. It seems not a week goes by that I don't hear from a friend who has a friend who is taking a few months off to spend quality time in Buenos Aires, in India, in Bangkok.

There's restlessness in the air back home. Just last week, Andrew, an Australian, told me that the general consensus among Australians is that Americans don't like to travel, that they have no real sense of adventure. No, we don't live to go trekking the way all Aussies seem to (why rough it on the side of a mountain when you can luxuriate in five-star splendor, I always say), but we're starting to get out more.

"The new 'get me out of here!' is also tied to New York and the U.S. no longer being the promised land," my best friend Lori wrote to me in an email this morning. "There are no jobs and no money. One can live cheaply on the other side of the world."

And maybe Eat Pray Love -- the book, not that tired movie that only had soon-to-be Academy Award winner Viola Davis going for it -- had a far more profound effect than I'd previously dared to imagine. As someone who has spent nearly six years on my own personal journey of enlightenment in search of a way to live far from the maddeningly crowded New York City rate race, I know where they are coming from.

My fantastic voyage will take me back to Bangkok in a week and a half, where I will dive full-time into writing the book that I've been intending to begin ever since I launched this blog nearly four years ago as a means to learn how to write like David Sedaris.

"Where do you think you'll end up after you've finished your book?" Andrew, who lived in Bangkok from February of 2010 to April of 2011 and, coincidentally, will be going back there for holiday on March 2, asked me last Saturday morning.

His guess is as good as mine, maybe better. I'm too close to my own story to look at it with any objectivity. Lately, I've been considering Africa, one of two continents I've yet to visit, one that became even more appealing last night, while I was having drinks with Traceye. She told me about her last three holiday seasons in Cape Town and showed me photos of her recent trip to Zanzibar.

Ah, the joy -- and beauty -- of wanderlust, I thought, gazing at all that blue. How lucky am I to get to decide where I'm going to be? How lucky all of my fellow wayfarers are! The beauty of living without a game plan, without a final destination, is that when life becomes an open road, you can end up anywhere.

Yes, I'll be back in Bangkok soon. Other than that, I can't say where I'm going. But I'm sure I'll know it when I get there.
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