Herunterladen A Beginner's Guide to Paradise: 9 Steps to Giving Up Everything – Albawater.co

No one really wants to hear about your trip unless you were the victim of a crime, in which case, they want to hear all about it So from the start I should say that during the two years or so that I lived in the western Pacific, I was the victim of only one crime It was minor but culturally revealing Ill get to that in time, but first a little backgroundBack in , I was running a small Internet company in New York City and, confronting a sort of quarter life crisis, I quit my job and bought a one way ticket to Yap, a small island about five hundred miles south of Guam My plan read the one hundred books I was most embarrassed not to have read in college and, hopefully, find ParadiseWhen people hearusually by standing too close to me in a grocery store linethat I once moved to a small island with only three letters in its name, they all have the same questions How did it go Was it a mistake How did you afford it The short answers to those questions arepretty wellfor the most part, it wasnt andby subletting my apartment and office in a good real estate market But responding that way isnt much fun Nor does it make me rich, rich, richthe main reason people go into writing So I decided to create thisa kind of how to manual for escaping from it allMy hope is that it might inspire you to do something similar or betterchoosing an island with, say, only two letters in its name Or you might decide that staying at home is the best choice all along, which is good tooTo make thisfun, Ive broken the process of moving to a small island in the Pacific into these nine easy to follow steps StepMake Some Big ChoicesStepShow UpStepFind the Right IslandStepStop Being So Picky and Just Pick a Damn IslandStepSettle InStepMeet SomeoneStepRegroupStepBuild a HouseStepLive Pretty Much Happily Ever AfterFeel free to skip around For example, already have an island picked out Take a pass on the first four steps Have a partner to do this with but dont have an island yet Ignore StepMost readers, however, will just start at the beginning, read a few chapters, and then do somethingworthwhile Like help people Or make some toastEvery so often, usually by strangers with a conspiratorial bent, Im asked, How much of this is true The answer basically all of it I kept a journal the entire time I was in the Pacific, and Ive tried to be as accurate as possible with everything that gives the reader a grounded sense of time and placeisland histories, politics, physical descriptions, place names, etc Also, there are no composite characters here thered be no need to mush personalities togetheras youll see, the Pacific is home to plenty of loons But I have taken liberties withNames Most of the names have been changed, especially those belonging to people I really skewer Bruces name, however, is really Bruces name This will make sense laterDialogue Ive tried to convey dialogue faithfully, but anyone who has ever read a court transcript will understand why Ive had to make some adjustments As the writer H H Munro said on this subject, A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanationTiming There isnt much correlation between the number of pages devoted to a place and the amount of time I spent there Thats just the way life is sometimesOK, enough of that Photographs, maps and superspecial bonus materials are available online at either abeginnersguidetoparadise or facebook asheshunoffAODUCTIONSO THERE I WAS, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PACIFICTen days aboard the Microspirit, an aptly named freighter not so much threatened by rust as held together by it, convinced me that it was time to pick an island Any island So I picked Pig Part travel agent calendar and part Far Side cartoon, the island of Pig, itself an outer island of Yap, already seemed from the pictures like a destination so familiar that I wondered why Id even bother showing upI figured I already knew what I was in forId come in search of capital P Paradise Not a unique mission, but I needed to know if Paul Gauguins Paradise still existedthe one with the flowering trees glistening with recent rain, the beautiful women carrying baskets of fruit, the smiling tigers And if it did still exist, why didnt people just move there Was it lack of ambition or too much ambition that kept them away Or was life simply too hardor too easyin a place like Pig I didnt know But I had a hunch that an ideal life is not something you just back into An ideal life would require some arrangementsFor me, those arrangements finished here, in a small cabin of the Microspirit, with me trying to tie on a thu According to custom, I was supposed to wrap eight feet of blue cloth in such a way that it covered the right places without making me feel, well, ridiculous I failed in both respects Flamboyant hoops of extra material draped off my hips, yet I could feel cool air in increasingly funny places Unsure what else to do, I crammed the extra bits inside an inner loopsufficiently loosening the outer loop to send the cottony contraption sliding down to my anklesThen genius struck a safety pin In a humbling moment of desperation akin to looking for a misplaced wallet in the freezer, I scoured the floor under my metal bed perhaps a safety pin had just fallen down there I was in luck Sort of Along with a few ramen noodles, some dust, and a Pop Tart wrapper, I found the safety pins pot selling, high school dropout cousin a paper clip Not perfect, but with optimism and a little pluck, I managed to bend the paper clip in such a way that it nicely accessorized, if not actually fastened, my loinclothI next grabbed a Ziploc bag of Lucky Strikes and headed to the deck My plan present the cigarettes to the islands chiefs, take a look around, andassuming it was the Paradise I pretty much expected it to beask if I could stayGiven the Microspirits tight schedule, Id have only an hour to make a good impression, ask for permission to stay, and rush back to the boat to get my bag of clothes and books But I was too focused on my slipping thu to notice the absurdity of the plan Im pretty sure what my answer would have been had a guy from Yap showed up at my door in New York and said, Do you mind if I stay here I have this idea of Paradise, and it looks almost exactly like your apartmentOne problem I wasnt quite onshore To actually get the last quarter mile to Pig I had to board the Microspirits dinghy, a sort of Nanospirit, which rocked in the waves thirty five feet below the deck I hesitated for a long momentGetting into a small boat is always a tricky proposition Getting into a small, rocking boat in the open ocean even harderDoing so on a rope ladder in a thu seemed unwise, at best Even if I somehow made it down, I worried there would hardly be room the Nanospirit was loaded to the rim with elderly, topless women, and a wooden coffin Baskets of fish and clothes and toothpaste filled the remaining pockets of spaceBut this was my Pacific coming out party I wanted to wow them Thu and carton of smokes in hand, I stepped toward the edgebut, seeing the boat so far below, hesitated againUse the ladder, a man said behind me His tone was helpful, not sarcastic, as though Id been considering making a leap I turned It was my cabinmate, Chief Chuck from Chuuk An enormous man, even by Pacific standards, Chief Chuck had a preference for snug whitethusWatch, he said and, just as a wave raised the dinghy closer, Chief Chuck stepped in front of me and slid down the ladder, skipping every single rung He landed on his side, rolled across half a dozen baskets, and came to a heavy stop against the side of the coffin He gave a jaunty wave for me to followWith one hand holding both the cigarettes and my thu, I took a few steps down the ladder that now swung across the side of the ship Then a fewstepsWith twenty five feet still to go, I discovered why the inventor of the paper clip, Walter Hunt, later built Americas first sewing machine paper clips bend My thu covered me in the same way that holding up a pair of jeans in front of a mirror covers youit worked well enough, but not all angles were created equalWhile in the Pacific, Id hoped to reduce the number of variables in my life to find out which were the most importanttake away electricity and friends and see which I miss the mostbut clothes were never supposed to be on the list On my way down, I found myself fixating on the physicality of things the handles on a woven basket, the sun reflecting off the dinghys small outboard engine, the scar on a womans ankleThen gravity took over That, frothing fear, and the basic instinct not to dangle nearly naked in front of twenty elderly women I slid down the ladder Effectively naked, I tumbled into the dinghy, managing to hold on only to my Lucky Strikes Not exactly Fred Astaire, but Chief Chuck from Chuuk was hardly Ginger RogersI had arrived And I was pretty sure Id wowed themEP Make Some Big ChoicesCHAPTER What You Can Expect to Learn in This Chapter When do you know its time to pull up stakes Is it motivatingor depressingto be ranked ninety sixth in a small trade magazines toplist Four months before landing on Pig, the all caps subject line of an email pulsated in my inbox It read HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT The email was from Shannon, a computer programmer in her late thirties who worked just across the roomWhile waiting for Shannons email to load yes, we once had to wait for such things , I glanced over to the office foosball table yes, that too The company Id started with friends in college, a few years earlierback in wasnt supposed to be like all the other dot com cash ins instead, it would be a better use of a new medium The plan was to use the Internet to help people connect to their government via a database of , officials Using just their address, users could find their council members or their dogcatchers or whomever and send them an email or an online petition Advertising, along with a service to pay parking tickets online, somehow would pay for the whole thing We even had a late nineties pun for a name E The People Based on a description not much longer than the above, we raised money from venture capitalists A California investor once sent us a check for ,printed on the check were half a dozen very happy clownsShannons email finally came up on the screen Her complaint was about the new programmer, Brian Specifically, his screen saver I was surprised Id thought all screen savers were pedestrian like minejust the standard tropical island with a few palm trees Brians screen saver, however, was different Its a woman in a bathing suit, her email reported and shes squatting on a soccer ball Hmm, I thought, thats not goodShe continued Im formally informing you that its creating a hostile work environment A Hostile Work Environment is a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ofand other federal authority ps Ive hired a lawyerI took a deep breath and stood up to take a walk around the office As I passed various desks, I thought how our open, uncubicled floor plan had felt so progressive, so fittingly democratic But now that plan felt forced and naive, like the cheery yellow paint Id so carefully chosen for the walls And not unlike the idea that people really wanted to participate in their democracy, but only lacked the time and the toolsI paused by the desk of a youngish salesperson named Kevin He looked happy enough, if not especially busy Id hoped the business would make money while making the world a better place, but it wasnt really doing either Most Americans were finding plenty to do other than write their congressmen The few users we did have tended to be older and from rural areas The kind of folks with time to write letters to politicians And not the kind of folks high tech advertisers were scrambling to reachBack at my desk, I closed the email For five years, my reservoir of optimism had been slowly leaking Id found that starting a business was just another way of going into sales Like any salesman, my job was to convince people to do things they didnt really want to do investors to invest, citizens to participate, government officials to respond to letters, advertisers to choose our site from among a million others And, apparently, convince programmers not to download screen savers with women squatting on soccer ballsI looked at my to do list I had a brochure to write, a consultant report to review, and a Christmas party to organizea party I didnt want to attend, much less plan I noticed that beside my phone was a message saying one of our investors had called just to check in That cant be good, I thoughtNext to that message was the latest issue of theSilicon Alley Reporter, a lightly read trade magazine devoted to the technology industry in New York Somehow, Id been ranked ninety sixth out of the hundred most important people working in the industry in the city Though surprised to be on the list, I also found the ranking a wee bit depressing In a way, better to not be included At least then you could think youd been overlooked or were the secret Oz like power behind the powerIn theory, my life in New York had all the best ingredients I was living in a nice apartment in Greenwich Village, I was dating a pretty Spanish woman, and I was running a little Internet company It should have been great But it wasnt I wasnt destitute or bedridden or addicted to heroin Just unhappy Flipping through the magazines pagesfirst looking at the four poor schmos behind me, then the ninety five ahead of meI realized I had two career choices spend the rest of my life working my way up the magazines list or cancel my subscriptionAPTER What You Can Expect to Learn in This Chapter When you go to the hospital with severe chest pain and a crew from the Discovery Channel asks you to sign a release to be on their show about New York City emergency rooms, should you What if its three am and you arent thinking clearly On the way home that night, I passed a bearded man selling Christmas trees near the corner of Hudson and Leroy streets My girlfriend, Lorena, and I could certainly use some holiday cheerWed met at a wedding in Spain She was a friend of the Spanish bride I was friends with the American groom That weekend, wed danced for hours and hours She was a lovely dancer And I was smitten by her light blue eyes and long, curly black hair We first kissed on the roof of a seventeenth century castle A few weeks later I returned to Spain Well never know if this is going to work, if we dont live near each another, she said as we walked together one night in the walled city of Avalon She was right She visited New York not too much later, and said shed love to live there A month later she moved inBut now, as the Christmas tree vendor pushed a six foot blue spruce through a narrow metal tube, all of that seemed long ago The tree came out the other end neatly wrapped in a tight fitting plastic net With one hand on the trunk, the other buried deep in thick branches, I hoisted the tree over my head and began the nine block walk to our Greenwich Street studioA block later the tree slipped off my shoulder Then it started to rain If this were a movie, I thought, snow would be falling Instead, it was raining Not a pouring rain, but not a drizzle either Just a steady, cold rainMy arm was tired, so I tried carrying the tree under my arm A few blocks later the tip must have drooped a bit because it got caught on something I yanked Still stuck I looked back The netting was snagged on the sharp stub of a former street sign Other cities have trash on their sidewalks, but we have three inch shanks of serrated metal sticking out of ours I glanced at the boutique cupcake store across the street Despite the rain, a line curled out the front I wondered who waited in line to payfor a cupcake Well, I did Or I had Id even convinced myself that overpaying for cupcakes and just about everything else in New York signaled my refined good taste and not, say, what a schmuck I was I yanked harder on the stuck tree It stayed stuck As annoyed by the jerky materialism of New York as by my own jerky materialism, I yanked harder still This time, I tore a seam in the netting, causing my new blue spruce to pop open like a giant, spiky umbrellaWhen Lorena and I met, she was twenty eight and still living with her parents in the familys flat in Madrid Her father was a recently retired submarine captain Given that Spain had only two submarines, that wasnt an easy job to get Even with my crappy Spanish, I could tell he was charming Her mother, however, not so much I heard once that women whove had five children go slightly insane Lorena was a twin, the sixth or seventh of an eventual eight kids Almost all of the others lived within a four block radius Her moving all the way to New York was a scandal mitigated only by the fiction that we maintained separate bedrooms Every time her mother came to visit, wed plug in an alarm clock next to the couch to suggest that was where I slept I said it was silly she was thirty She said it was important she was SpanishThe rain picked up Seven blocks to go I couldnt see anything with the branches scratching at my face Screw this, I decided Ill just drag it And I did I dragged that tree up Hudson, across Christopher Street, then across Charles Street, and down the sidewalk of Eleventh Street through oily puddles with floating cigarette butts, through the garbage juice of an all you can eat deli, probably through dog barf and late night pee, and up a flight of stairs to our apartmentHi, honey I smiled wanly Im homeshe picked a ketchup stained napkin out of the branchesand I brought you this No vas a traerlo aqu, she said in her Castilian accent Youre not going to bring that in here The plastic sheathing trailed down a dozen stepsUmm, OK, but the people across the landing may want to leave somedayFine, she said I kissed her on the cheek and propped the tree against the wall It fell moistly against the couch I dont think she saw the coffee cup stuck in the lower branchesColleen and Jason still havent called back, she said from the bathroom, just a few steps away in our small apartment Dont you think that is rude Or is it an American thing We are supposed to go to dinner with them on ThursdayHmm, I guess it is rude, but maybe theyWhat I cant hear youYes, I said, that it is rude butSo rude, Lorena said In Spain you always call people backI was too self centered, too busy, too American to see just how independent she was for a woman whod grown up in a pro Franco, Catholic military family Instead I focused on her lack of doubt and how few questions she asked of me, of herself For her, New York, the Salamanca district of Madrid, the stone walled compound and gnarled olive trees of her familys ancestral home in Mallorca, werent places of wonder to be explored, but a set of rules to be navigatedI told her about Shannon and the soccer ball Lo has visto antesHad you seen it before No, I hadnt seen it, I said, resenting the implication Either I was negligent for not having noticed, or worse, I had noticed it and chosen to ignore itIf I dont like this dumb little business, I said, and our employees, users, and advertisers dont either, then why am I bothering In Spain, you always call people back Right away Even if just to tell them she said, her voice trailing off Id hoped our cultural differences would lead to exciting, unknown possibilities Shed make paella I would barbecue we would be happy But for three years those cultural differences had only masked a deeper problem After finally becoming fluent in each others language, we discovered we didnt have all that much to say So inappropriate, she saidWhile waiting for Lorena to finish brushing her teeth, I realized I wasnt happy Our relationship wasnt what I felt it could and should be My rent was going up The company was struggling Employees were quitting or suing or both And it didnt seem like increasing the length of my fourteen hour workdays was going to help anythingTwo days later, I was lying in bed at about midnight, when I felt a searing pain in the left side of my chest Sweat streamed down my forehead and pooled in the middle of my back I was twenty eight A few weeks earlier Id fainted in the shower and woken up on the bottom of the bathtub This wasnt good I told Lorena to call While lying in the ambulance, I thought, I cant believe Im going to die for this company no one cares about Screw this If I live, Im out of here Not just out of New York, but out of everything elseThe pain in my chest was still intense as nurses attached an IV and all sorts of monitoring equipment Multiple lines ticked across the heart monitor One was flat Sticky pads pulled at my chest hair A plastic mask pumped oxygen The nurses looked at the machines only Lorena looked at me Her face was pale, her blue eyes alert and concernedSlowly, my breathing began to return to normal and, though still dangerously high, my heart rate steadiedYou had a panic attack, the doctor said nonchalantly while unclipping something Well watch you for an hour After that, you can leave whenever you wantLorena went to the waiting room as a nurse dimmed the lights and the late night hospital routines began A bearded man in jeans approached my bed He held a clipboardHello Im with the Discovery Channel, he said Were filming a documentary about New York emergency rooms Would you be OK signing this release What We wont necessarily use your material, but just in case well need a releaseNo, thanks, I said, confusedId been screwing up my life, I thought, pissing away years on this failing company, this failing relationship, this fucking materialistic city and its dead end ideas of success, this hope that enough hours at work could make me rich, my parents proud, and democracy stronger Worse still, Id embraced the time sucking illusion that loyalty to bad choices would somehow make them better And now Id seen how it would end in a hospital, clutching my chest and wondering about all the bad choices Id made Best case, Id die on TVLorena and I didnt speak for most of the taxi ride home She looked out the window at the wet West Village streets, the closed florists, the open but empty pizza by the slice places I scratched at the plastic hospital bracelet wrapped tightly around my wrist The stakes were too high for tweaking I needed to toss the whole thing, baby, bathwater, and allAll I could think to tell Lorena was that I needed to make some changes She nodded, held my hand, and continued to look out the window Her skin felt soft but coldI later got a bill in the mail That trip to the hospital cost meBut it was a pretty good valueit made me realize I needed an escapeI knew my problems were First World problems At least I had a job At least I had an apartment But simply accepting my particular trajectory, or tweaking some things on the margin, felt dangerous At twenty eight, a flat relationship, a hypermaterialistic city, and a job in sales werent turn your life upside down bad, but in thirty years they would be And by that time, the cost of change, the cost of a lifetime of compromises, would be unbearable In thirty years, Id be Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman or Sinclair Lewis Babbittdepressed middle aged men who begin to realize theyd wanted the wrong things But by that time itd be too late Better, I figured, to make a break for it nowAPTER What You Can Expect to Learn in This Chapter The Pacific has , islands How do you choose one When making huge life decisions, how much should you rely on the casual Internet musings of strangers I dont have statistics to back it up, but my hunch is that the three most common escape from it all fantasies arerunning a bed and breakfast in Vermontmoving to a tiny island in the Pacific andopening a bar I had little interest in quilting and homemade preserves, so the first one was out And though profiting from other peoples addictions is a better business model than online democracy, it doesnt exactly set the heart aflutter So that left the island A lazy mans fantasyand not especially creativebut Id stared at the same screen saver for five years, only to see it disappear with each move of the mouse And my brief stint in the hospital reminded me I had a limited number of spins around the sunbetter make the most of the ones I had left In other words it was time to make the screen saver real Or at least tryBut which island The following Monday afternoon, I sat down at my desk and looked at my computer Any island Id heard of I wouldnt want to go to, I realized, but how do you brainstorm a place youve never heard of My screen saver, not surprisingly, didnt list a photo credit or a place name So I did the next most reasonable thing and turned to the Internet, or what I like to call cyberspace Turns out, the Pacific has a lot of islands,, in factso I needed to narrow my search I typed nice Pacific island into Google The first recommended site was something called Concealed Weapon Talk God save us from the gun grabbers it readWill my supply of brass, bullets, bullet molds, primers, and powder suddenly become contraband If so, does anyone know of a nice Pacific island I can move to Preferably one with some good hunting and fishing opportunitiesHelpful The next site began The Pacific Islands Business Network PIBN is a project of the United StatesPacific Islands Nations Joint Commercial Commission JCC being carried out by Pacific Islands Development Program of the East West Center in HonoluluSurprised they didnt go with the catchier USPINJCC I obviously needed a new approachI typed in Really nice pacific island A message on a travel site came up There were some really nice Pacific islands, but my favorite was Yap The weather was steamy but pleasant Best of all, the people speak English ever since it was a US territory , they use stone money, and the women are toplessJungleBuffI knew next to nothing about Yap, but as my grandmother used to say, If its good enough for JungleBuff, its good enough for meThe main difference between teen rebellion, postcollege wanderings, and midlife crises is the amount of money at your disposal Teen rebellion is largely a budget affair expressed by cigarettes, bad haircuts, and worse decisions Postcollege wanderings, however, are often financed by parents fearing a lapse into the bad haircut years unless they provide sufficient funds Midlife crises are the best funded stage of rebellion, because, finally, the rebel himself can lavish the amount of money he feels befits the depth of his self pity Given my financial state, I figured I was facingof a quarter life crisisI knew there were plenty of better uses for my savingsa new sofa, say, or a donation to just about any charitybut after five years of fourteen hour days, I felt Id at least earned some tokens from lifes Skee Ball machine Instead of the spider ring or bubble gum, Id cash them in for a little time, time to be alone with my own thoughts and, possibly, create a better life for myself I knew that many people had it much, much worse, but that didnt mean I shouldnt try to improve my own situation, only that I shouldnt whine or feel sorry for myself in the processI started typing my resignation letter But I had a problem If youre running a company and have no board of directors, to whom do you address your letter of resignation I walked by Shannons desk Umm, Shannon, can I talk to you OK, she said, reaching extra slowly for her mouse to close a program on her computerWhere would you like to talk Because of our open offices, the only place for a private conversation was either the supply room or the Caribbean diner around the corner I opened the supply room door for herShannon, I said against a backdrop of blank envelopes and extra toner, Im quittingYou cant quitWhy not I saidBecause you started it, she saidNo, you started it We both twisted our faces a little Shannon, I said, the company needs someone different This isnt right for meOK, she said, looking at a box of staplesWell, I guess thats it, then, I saidWhatever, she said A reasonable reaction Why should she care about what I needed anythan I cared about Brians screen saver We reached for the door at the same timeAs a society, we know how to respond to people who say they need a vacation Those who are going on sabbatical, slightly less so But indefinite idleness in a place called Yap That was unsustainable at best, subversive at worst At the least, it was weird When I started telling people, from friends to my dentist, I found myself falling back on the same limp phrasestake a break or recharge my batteriesbut those werent good enough As much as I wanted to chuck it all and move to Paradise, I felt I needed a mission, something responsible sounding While walking home one evening, I began thinking about what Id learned while running this Internet company namely, dont start an Internet company Useful, I supposed, but preferable to learn from the mistakes of others rather than my own Passing a familiar deli that Id never actually been inside of, I thought, What better way to do that than books I could save lifetimes of bad decisions if I just read enough books I liked the structure that reading one hundred great books would give my trip, a purpose to my potentially unpurposeful time in the Pacific But which ones That night, while Lorena slept, I started a list of the books I felt most embarrassed not to have read Crime and Punishment, Moby Dick, War and Peace, etc That came to about fifty For the remainder I started emailing friends, even acquaintances, If you could take just one book with you to a remote island, which would it be As each reply came in, my online shopping cart filled up with compelling if rarely purchased together titles like the Old Testament and Dave Barry TurnsA few days later and still years before the e book, I had about eighty volumes lined up on my kitchen table I then bought ten books that sounded like they might provide some context for my sojourn eg The Catholic Church in Micronesia Words of the Lagoon I decided Id pick up the remaining ten along the wayIt was only after all of this that I realized I had a problem How would I carry ninety books Id have to take a dozen or so and have the rest sent But sent where And by whom It was time to call my motherAPTER What You Can Expect to Learn in This Chapter Among the qualities one looks for in a mother, where does efficiency rank Is the American Egg Board a reliable source of health information when it comes to eggs Bullshit, she said over the phoneWell, Mom, thats the plan, I saidWhen are you coming back Not sure Soon soonish Im bringing a lot of books Maybe you have one you could recommend Soonish Books What are you talking about That, apparently, was a rhetorical question And where is Yap You know how dangerous Africa is, right I guess Africa has some dangerous parts, but Yap isnt in Africa Its to the left of Hawaii Way left Anyway, I think some time off will be good for meGood for you How is it good for you to wake up in someones soup What You know, like that Rockefeller guyMom, that was in New Guinea and that was, like, fifty years ago I really dont think Im going to be eatenHe didnt eitherMom, no one ever thinks theyre going to be eatenExactly, she saidI took a deep breath before continuing, I feel really good about this choiceYou know I love you dearly, darling Im just worried Do you want to, you know, talk to someone Mom, I just need to recharge my batteries, take a break, that kind of thingI assumed this was the end of the conversation until Jon Krakauers Into the Wild arrived in the mail I immediately called my mother I got the book you sent The one about the guy who heads into the wilderness and diesGood, she said I suggest you read it before you goHad you peeked into my childhood kitchen any late August of the s, you wouldnt have been surprised that someday Id buy a one way ticket to Yap With its stout cedar beams, dark wood flooring, and off white stucco walls, that neo Tudor kitchen belongedto the old Westmount neighborhood of my mothers native Montreal than the suburbs of Austin, Texas The refrigerator, the walls, the countertops, the cabinets, the table, and the dog underneath were all the same dark, musty brown The only thing that wasnt brown was the charcoal black stove at the center of the room It was ignited only once a year The last Saturday in AugustThat was the day my mother made a nine month supply of scrambled egg sandwiches for my brothers lunch Being nine years older than me, he was on the front lines of what would become known as the Sandwich WarsMom, please, noscrambled egg sandwiches, my brother would plead as he watched her quickly open a dozen bags of Wonder Bread lengthwise with a sharp knife, as a fishmonger might the last crate of salmon at the end of his shift She wasnt the type to waste time with twisty tiesEgg sandwiches are good, shed sayBut not every day, hed sayThen trade them for something, shed say That my mother would suggest such a thing to my brother revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of the market Then, as now, I suppose, the social economy of elementary school revolved around trade, and trade required having something marketable at your disposal Just as a Phoenician merchant might sail the Mediterranean for years and over time parlay olive oil, wine, and slaves into a villa, careful trading around the lunchroom could gradually raise ones social standing and overall position Hence, an orange could be turned into two Fig Newtons, two Fig Newtons into an Oreo An Oreo, plus a little talent, could land one a nonstarting position on the recess kickball team But a defrosted scrambled egg sandwich He was through before it beganHer first step was to turn all six burners to highshe didnt so much want a cooking surface as a full slab of heatwarm up the skillets, then start tossing in tabs of butter Butter that turned immediately into smoke Then, as though in the final round of a country fair competition, shed grab an egg in each hand and, with a quick whip of her wrist, crack its calcium carbonate shell, flinging the contents into the superheated skillet Shed do this over and over until the heat and the force of her will transformed gallons of embryonic fluid into fluffy yellow clouds of fat and protein Shed then pour in salt and stir To save time, she never stirred that skilletthan onceOne year my brother came prepared He showed her an advertisement ripped from a magazine It had a picture of two fried eggs The text read Two eggs a week is fine for your healthWell, if two a week is fine, she said, two every day should be greatMom, he pleaded, the ad was paid for by the American Egg Board He was wise that way But she couldnt hear Shed already flipped on the giant wind turbine above the stoveAs the eggs cooked, shed begin whacking off crusts, not slice by slice, but in whole clumps squeezed firmly in the middle Cutting off the crusts was her parsley on the side, her way of saying she cared But to us, it spoke only to a deep appreciation of efficiency And of the qualities one looks for in a mother, efficiency is rarely at the top of the listI grew up thinking working long hours was just something you did Unlike most moms in central Texas in the s, mine worked outside the house and didnt have time to make a new lunch every day She ran a bank consulting business shed started with my father inThey sold technical management books to banks and, later, hosted conferences on High Performance Banking The first year, they ran it out of the kitchen By , theyd expanded to the living room Two years later into an actual office buildingThough behind the scenes my mom actually ran the back office, my dads name was on the door She was happy to hand over the marquee, as she wasnt especially interested in hanging out in hotel meeting rooms with small town bankers My dad, however, could relate well Hed grown up in Magnolia, Arkansas, and had the Southern accent, folksy sense of humor, and languid storytelling to prove it So he gave the speeches and went to the many early morning breakfasts So many, in fact, that starting in the midseventies, a few years after I was born, he was gone two hundred days a year, giving speeches about High Performance Banking at various state banking conventions The fact that hed never worked in a bank didnt seem to matter much the ideas were concise, and the jokes funny, especially by the standards of, say, the Indiana Bankers Association Unfortunately, the underlying math of the business required him to travel constantly He twice tore his rotator cuff from carrying so many suitcases through so many airports he once told me he spent so much time in Atlantas Hartsfield International Airport that he thought he had a pretty good chance of dying thereStarting in the late s, the business evolved to include computer generated reports for bankers Back then, however, computers were room sized machines that read data from index cards punched with tiny holes To save money, my mother rented the computers at night With my dad on the road, shed stay up till dawn loading cards into little racks I picture her up to her ankles in fallen chadsShe brought that same intensity to most everything, including the preparation of a years supply of lunch in a single afternoon For the final step, shed sweep the egg filled skillets over the waiting formations of crustless bread and carpet bomb the entire eggy battalion Next, after covering each puddle of egg with a second slice of Wonder Bread, shed wrap the sandwich in a piece of cellophane and toss the still warm sandwich into the freezer Every morning for the next nine months, shed fill my brothers brown lunch bags with a frozen scrambled egg sandwich, a Capri Sun, and an apple or a bag of celeryBy the time I came of school age, a new school had openeda new school that, critically, had a cafeteria But that ethos of efficient parenting that gave rise to the nine month supply of scrambled egg sandwiches never really went awayAPTER What You Can Expect to Learn in This Chapter How not to break up with someone you care aboutIs a first kiss atop a castle, you know, enough I had an island I had a list of books I had quit my company Now I just needed to extricate myself from my relationshipThe biggest problem was that there was no problem Thered been no deceit, no affair, no crushing moment of disappointment I wasnt eager to be single Just the opposite But I wanted to be with someone I could imagine having kids with and living a rich, full life together And this wasnt it The other problem was the story of how wed met Id read somewhere that the existence of a romantic story about how a couple met has a crazily disproportionate effect on their long term prospects It doesnt matter if that story is fabricated as part of a courtship mythology, just as long as the story is believed by both parties In our case, we didnt have to fabricate a story It seemed hard to imagine that a relationship with such a promising startkisses on castle rooftops and allwouldnt have an equally happy ending Or, at least, a happy middleI knew that a hundred years ago our comfortable relationship would have been a home run, but today it felt, well, too easy We never challenged and asked hard questions of each other Questions like What kind of life did we want to lead Who did we want to become Instead, we were just a man and a woman going through the motions of a relationship The sum never seemed greater than the partsSo, one Saturday morning in early January, the kind of crisp and clear morning when we would normally have headed to the farmers market in Herald Square to overpay for heirloom tomatoes, I said, Lorena, can we talk Sure, she said We sat down on the bedI dont think this is working, I saidWhat do you mean she saidThis Our relationshipWhat What do you mean Its not working Its not a good fit, I said, and started to cry She started to cry tooWhat Why What can I do This last question made me so sad This wasnt about her givingto the relationship She had given so muchhaving left her family, her language, and her culture, there was littleshe could giveIts not you Or even me Its just us, I saidWe both cried for a long stretch until, finally, she looked up and said, What am I going to do Oh God, Im not sure You can stay here as long as you want Im going to leave the United States The apartment is all yoursWhy isnt it working she said again I thought it was workingI didnt have a tidy answer Were just not a great fit, I repeated lamelyIn retrospect, this answer was completely unfair Id thought the way to avoid a messy breakup was to be clear and repetitive At least that seemed the best way to contain the ambiguity I felt about the breakup But were just not a great fit didnt honor her intelligence or her very real need to understand what had happenedMy panic attack, I said, it made me think I need to do things differently Im moving to Yap, in the Pacific Like I mentioned a while backI didnt think you were serious, she said, shaking her headI tried to explain some of the reasons, but, being unsure myself, I left her only confused With so little else to work with, she was left to conclude that I was going crazy And I started to agreeAPTER What You Can Expect to Learn in This Chapter Assuming you start with the customary two, how many legs can you expect to break if you jump from the top of a coconut tree a b c Why should you always fly out of the country from Newark Airport Two weeks later, in late January, I hailed a taxi and asked to go to Newark Airport On the way, I tried dropping hints to the driver that I wanted him to ask me where I was heading Unsubtle hints like Its strange, you know, leaving a place without knowing if youll ever be back But he didnt ask So I just looked out the window, through oily rain smears, at the barb wired Northern State Prison, its prisoners hunched in wet groups of two or three near the fence At the Budweiser building and its brick smokestacks spewing a brown hop filled haze At a billboard offering Newarks Fastest and Cheapest DivorceThe driver turned down his radios background squelch and muttered something about which terminal I wanted International, I said, looking down at my ticket sleeve It was then that I first noticed the vacation promotion on the back In the photo, a woman was lying on the beach, her smug smile barely visible under the thin brim of her improbably flappy hat Meanwhile, her lover was just down the beach Wearing only a pair of snug red shorts, he was running toward her, the sun glinting off shallow ripples of turquoise sea, his glossy abs, and his bright, bright teeth He might even have been skippingOn the right margin of the sleeve, I wrote what would be my first Life Lesson Always leave the country from Newark No matter where you are goingthe South Pacific, Kinshasa, Jakartathe parting memory of the drive to Newark will be a reminder that you are doing the right thingYet, as we drove, questions swirled Scary questions like, would I become insane or enlightened after so much time with my own thoughts and a bunch of books The books accounted for at least forty pounds of my roller bags weight What if I simply limped home, savings squandered, Paradise unfound, with no further understanding of what had led me to the Pacific to begin with Or what if I came to know myself better and didnt like what I found Surely, there are good reasons whypeople dont just buy one way tickets to Yap For better or worse, I was about to find outAccording to my fifty page itinerary, Id be flying from Newark to Houston, Houston to Honolulu, then seven hours farther west to Guam, before flying another five hundred miles southwest to Yap I usually dont like to talk to people on planes, but the farther west I flew, the worse the movies seemed to become ie Critters followed by Critters II By the final leg, I was chatting up the unlucky Guamanian appliance dealer sitting next to me I mentioned that I might stay in Yap for a long, long timeA lot of people think that, he said But it doesnt always work outHe then told me about a US Peace Corps volunteer whod been stationed on an outer island called Eurapick After a few months he wanted to come home When he radioed headquarters requesting a ride home, he was told it would be at least six months till they could send a ship He radioed a few days later and said he very much wanted to go home and, please, couldnt a ship come any sooner They again declined his request, citing the expense and distance They said he would just have to waitThe volunteer then remembered that the Peace Corps health insurance plan guaranteed emergency medical evacuations With a measure of ambition, frustration, and hope that most of us will never experience and dont normally associate with government employees , he climbed the highest coconut tree on the island and jumped He broke both legs But he got a ride homeEP Show UpCHAPTER What You Can Expect to Learn in This Chapter When greeted by a topless woman in a grass skirt at the airport, will you a stare b avert your eyes while pretending to look for something in the outside pocket of your suitcase c give her a hug When you find out that the previous occupant of your motel room died in the bed, do you a shrug it off on the basis that death isnt contagious b ask for a clean set of sheets It was past one am when the plane landed at Yap International Airport Simply arriving in such a remote place felt like an accomplishment How remote International dialing codes are a pretty good indicator the United States code isAntarctica isYap isThe island is served by just two flights a weekboth from Guam and both arriving in the middle of the night Id quickly learn there isnt demand for muchwith a population of only ,, mangrove swamps for beaches, and a growing leprosy problem, Yap simply doesnt brochure well Nor does it help that the South Pacific island of Yap isnt even in the South Pacifictechnically, Yap is in the Western Pacific With so few flights, the runway lights at Yap International are kept off until activated by an automated optical systemin theory, when the incoming pilot flashes the planes lights three times In recent years, several flights have missed the runway altogetherStepping into the humid heat outside made me feel like Id been given a full body slap by one of those hand towels they heat up in microwaves at Japanese restaurants It smelled about the same too It had just rained, and the smell was of dust and wet concreteOn the tarmac I joined a line of people waiting to pass through customs in a little open air metal shed Planes pause on Yap for such a short time the pilots dont shut down the engines, meaning it was impossible to talk to anyone I looked behind me How silly was it to arrive in such a giant machine in search of something as seemingly simple as Paradise A bit like pulling up to a marina in an aircraft carrier and asking where one might find a Mountain Dew And would Paradise really just be a place on the standard route system After all, it didnt seem quite right that Id be able to just fly away the moment things got difficultYet, almost immediately, I was smitten by Yap Everyone with me in line was smiling They werent strained polite smiles either, but broad glad to be home smiles Some wore T shirts others wore collared shirts Almost all wore plastic flip flops Their thin hair was black and wavy, their skin a light mahogany with an occasional constellation of black freckles Unlike Americans, who seem to gain weight in their middles, the Yapese, in this line at least, gained weightevenly, as though their whole bodies were simply swollen Their faces werent jowly but rounded, such that the flat disks of their cheeks forced their dark eyebrows and brown eyes into a seemingly permanent but kindly squintAs I approached the front of the line, a man handed me a customs form Whatever doubt I still had about buying a one way ticket to a place with only three letters in its name vanished at the ninth questionAre you bringing prohibited goods such as narcotics Yes or NoCircle One Remember, honest answers are important If the charm and optimism of that question wasnt enough to make me burn my passport, the welcoming committee was After passing through customs, every arriving passengerwhether local or touristwas given a wreath of flowers by a young topless woman with long braided hair Sure, I thought, visitors to Honolulu also get leis, but they have to order them for themselves before they arrive And theyre almost never presented by topless women Welcome to Yap, the young topless woman said with a smile, and approached to drape the flowers over my headI didnt quite know where to direct my eyes as she put the lei on was it rude to look at her chest Or rude not to look I started to give her a hug, but that seemed weird Then I reached out to shake her hand, but that seemed weirder, so I just smiled dopily and thanked herOn the curb, I asked the one taxi waiting for arriving passengers to take me to the cheapest hotel in Yap He obliged From first appearances, the Ocean View Hotel was nowhere close to the ocean, but it did have a room with a lamp and a thin mattress I fell deeply asleepThe following day, I stumbled outside The light was completely different from back in New York Perhaps due to Yaps proximity to the equator justmiles or the humidity approachingpercent , the light made everything appear richer,vivid, as though a high contrast filter had been applied to the whole island The sleepy streets, at least, could use itA dog lay in the middle of the road, its long ears slumped on the dirt Nearby, a cat slipped into the weeds growing around the base of a telephone pole supporting just two drooping wires The small road in front of the hotel curved by the waters edge, but the motels view was mostly of mangrove forestthick, twisting shrubs with spindly roots growing into the mudand crumbling concrete buttressing a shoulderless roadI approached a man in his midtwenties painting a thin coat of white paint over the faded white paint of the motels front entranceMornin, I saidHey, youre the guy who just checked in, right he said, dipping his brushYesInto room six he saidYa, I think so Why I saidA guy died in that room last week I think he was from Switzerland Maybe Sweden No, I think it was SwitzerlandYou know what happened I said The circumstances seemedimportant than the country of originWell, I know it started with an SDo you know if they threw out the sheets He hunched his shoulders in that way that says, Not sure, but if I were you, Id move to room sevenI thanked him for the update and asked where I might get some breakfast Check the store, he said Before I could ask if there wasthan one option, he stepped around the corner, leaving me with the dog on the street and the whines of crickets In the distance, I could make out a few rolling hills covered in shrubsI started walking An open air Laundromat next to the motel sat empty and idle, maybe closed permanently I passed what appeared to be an abandoned house, its tin roof secured with a scattering of discarded tires A quarter mile or so later, I arrived downtown It consisted of three concrete buildings a bar, a small strip mall kind of thing with a grocery store, and a video store that sold vodka in large plastic bottles In the distance I could see an empty basketball court with a metal roof, just across the street from a harbor made of faded gray concrete protecting a rotted wooden fishing boat Plastic bags lined the road, but with no wind to blow them into the sea or against one of what Id learn were Yaps two stop signs, they simply sat there, the equatorial UV rays breaking the bags down into their most basic elements, just as they appeared to do to most everything else on Yap At least there are palm trees, I thoughtAs I approached the store, I glanced at the eight and a half by eleven sheet of paper posted on the Plexiglas door It was titled Yap TV Guide and listed a mix of crime dramas and sports from no particular network, but all American It wasnt a diverse mix COPSwas broadcast twice a day Monday Night Football on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I opened the door, expecting bells to jingle, the way they do in a mom and pop drugstore, but the door opened silently The only person inside was a topless woman of grandmotherly age behind the cash register She didnt turn as I entered and instead just stared down one of the aisles Broken fluorescent lights struggled to illuminate half stocked shelves A few boxes of frozen chicken wings, some dusty pots and pans, a two week old newspaper from Guam, and some gum I bought a stale Three Musketeersbreakfastand walked back outsideIn the few minutes Id been inside, Yap seemed to have become twenty degrees hotter Heat waves shimmered off every surfacethe tin roof of the bar, the cracked asphalt of downtowns road, the top of the phone booth whose receiver dangled limply, as though its last user had just combusted in the concentrated heat of the booth In the hazy distance, I saw a pickup truck turn down a dirt road Curious what all the fuss was about, I started walkingFor two or three miles, I passed what had looked like shrubbery from a distance, but now I could see was jungle Notjungle with soaring trees and howler monkeys and exotic predatory orchids Instead, just a tangle of green vines with dull green leaves drooping from a thick coat of beige road dust So far at least, this wasnt exactly what Id been expecting, but I didnt want to judge too quickly Perhaps Yap would just take some getting to know And its small size made that seem plausible Just fourteen miles from tip to tip, Yap is roughly the shape of Delaware but, at thirty eight square miles, less thanpercent its size In other words, the entire island of Yap isnt as big as the capital city of Americas second smallest state More of a suburb, perhapsA littler farther along, I passed a small cinder block house, but it was abandoned There wasnt broken glass in its window openingsjust no glass at all A wooden fence surrounding the house had long since collapsed Twenty minutes later I came to a huge white warehouse surrounded by barbed wire and weeds The gate was padlocked and no cars were parked outside A small white sign read Kingtex As Id later find out, Kingtex was Yaps largestand most illicitemployer, but for now, it didnt seem like much of a destination, so I turned around On the way back, I was relieved to see motiona truck trundling toward me Though it wasnt yet noon, the truck had its headlights on Or headlight It had only one functioning light, which, as far I could tell, was onethan needed on Yapday or nightAPTER What You Can Expect to Learn in This Chapter Is a coin that weighs four tons convenient or inconvenient If shed had one, would Goldilocks have used a guidebook As much as I had dreamed of sitting on a small island and reading all day, after a few weeks I found I simply couldnt Each day, Id read for two, maybe three hours, with a warm Diet Pepsi on the wooden bedside table, before needing something else to do For the first few days, that meant simply watching the fan above me wobble noisily against the faded ceiling Amazing, I thought late one morning, that ceiling fans get dusty I guessed there must be little airborne eddies, calm places in a man made storm, not dissimilar to the one Id created for myself out here After the wobbling fan and the occasional dead end thought , Id spend an embarrassing number of minutes watching geckos stalk flies I loved the drama, however small, of prey and predator Then Id go back to reading, pausing occasionally to scratch the early, awkward growth of my mustache and goatee Lacking sufficient testosterone or hairy genes, my facial hair grows only around my mouth and on my neckit isnt nearly as sexy as it sounds Eventually, when my eyes blurred and the musty heat of my little room became unbearable, Id know it was time for the active part of my dayHilarious and brilliantly written AJ Jacobs, editor at large, Esquire A must read New York Post The male answer to Eat, Pray, Love BookPage Charming and ferociously entertainingPeter Mountford, author of A Young Man s Guide to Late Capitalism Witty and immensely entertaining Passport Magazine Sincerely funny Kirkus Reviews Nonfiction Winner Faulkner Society s Words Wisdom Award st Place New Nonfiction Los Angeles Book Festival