Monday, September 24, 2012

Best of the Net Nomination!

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I woke up this morning with the oddest feeling. I had odd dreams. Let me tell you about the dreams. The first one was about a surrogate mother. I'm not sure why she was black (if she needed a reason), but she was. I could still point her out in a crowd even 13 hours later. She was carrying a baby for someone else "only for six months" at which point it was understood in the dream that she would somehow "transplant" the baby back. Huh? I'm not sure why this dream made me feel bad, but it did.

The second dream was clearer, and I actually told it to my partner as I was making coffee at 5 a.m. I have completely forgotten it now.

Point is, I woke up this morning feeling odd. I have been feeling a bit depressed--please don't tell anyone--so this wasn't anything new. Writing has been difficult. It is as though I've been stuck behind a pile up on the interstate for months and nothing is moving.

A few months ago this actually happened to me. It was early in the morning. I had just dropped off my partner at the airport and I was driving home. Three miles from the airport, brake lights from dozens of cars went on in front of me. The accident took the life of a man in his thirties (I heard from the radio). As I sat in my car behind the Karambolage (for three hours), I wrote a story--"Triangulation".

Thank you to Nicolette Wong of A-Minor Magazine for nominating "Triangulation" for Best of the Net. Your encouragement means a lot to me. Nicolette.

I must be off,

Oktoberfest Wies'n Tips

I consider a Wies'n visit therapy for my intense fear of crowds. Yesterday, the first day of Oktoberfest, started with a beautifully blue Bavarian sky. The crowds came, and so did the sun. I almost started stripping out of my Tracht (traditional clothing) even before I was drunk. Though it was unusually warm, the day began like a walk in the park (filled with 100,000 people of course). Here are my Wies'n Tips for enjoying a relatively stress-free Oktoberfest . . .

Tip 1
Book a table at least six months in advance. Don't be one of those poor saps standing in line in front of the tents. You'll waste hours. If you don't book a table well in advance, you should go to Oktoberfest during the week and during the day. You'll have a much better chance of getting a table. Parties of two or three have a better chance of getting in than, say, a party of twelve.

Tip 2
Eat before you go to the tent. Drink something too (water or the same alcohol you're going to drink in the tent)*. You might get served immediately when you arrive in the tent, but chances are you'll have to wait awhile. Your waiter will probably have just gotten ten tables (that's around 80 people who all want a liter of beer). He or she can only do so much at once. If you're thirsty when you sit down, you'll only get thirstier and more irritated waiting.

Tip 3
You'll be sitting for three hours with your back and butt to a perfect stranger. This back and butt will become sweaty and obnoxious. If you're prepared for the sensation, you'll accept it more quickly. My advice is to find someone (a stranger with a large behind) you can practice with. You should both get a liter of beer and practice singing boisterously without sloshing beer all over each other. It can be done, though yesterday the guy behind us spilled quite a lot of beer on us.

Tip 4
Finding a toilet isn't always easy at Oktoberfest--especially if you're not familiar with the lingo. A double 0 means toilet. You'll see at certain places around the Wies'n an angel shooting an arrow, on which you'll see the 00. She's pointing toward the toilet. And men, if you're wearing Lederhos'n for the first time, don't wait until you're bursting to go. You'll be wetting yourself long before you get those big, wooden buttons undone.

Tip 5
Learn the German songs played at Oktoberfest. You can Google "Wies'n Hits" to find them. Play them over and over until you can sing them in your sleep or when you're really drunk. You'll feel more a part of the celebration. And sing. Don't just sit there and eat your Brotzeit (an assortment of Bavarian food) or Händ'l (roasted chicken) like a lump. Get up and make a complete idiot out of yourself. That's why you've come. Why have you come? To make a complete idiot out of yourself.

Tip 6
Here's where it gets serious. When you leave the tent, you are drunk. This is not the time to be an idiot. Now you need to act sober. There are sweet, emotional drunks; loud show-off drunks; aggressive You-looking-at-me? drunks; and unconscious drunks. I think we can all agree that the unconscious drunk is the least of our worries. The loud show-off drunks get up on the table with a glass stein in their hands. Moments later a beer stein lands on your head, and you spend the next three days in the hospital. Aggressive drunks slap their wives on the way to the train. If you want to be a hero, go after the guy. Make sure, though, that he's smaller than you. Oktoberfest can be ugly.

Tip 7
If it starts to rain on a busy Oktoberfest day, DO NOT run to the U-Bahn (the underground). Three thousand people will have had the same idea. If you like being trampled to death, be my guest, but if you love your life, walk as far away from the Wies'n as you can and catch the tram or the bus or a taxi. You'll get wet, but you won't get crushed. This nearly happened last night. I'll be writing a post about this incident later.

Tip 8
Are you staying with friends? Do you know where their house is? Will you remember where your hotel is after five liters of beer? Prepare yourself for the ride home before you leave for the Wies'n. Make sure you have some cash in your pocket. If you have an expensive phone, don't bring it to the Wies'n if you tend to lose expensive phones when you're drunk. Consider all of this beforehand--when you can still have the capacity to consider things.

Tip 9
Have fun. Oktoberfest is the largest gathering of drunk people in the world. It's sad that not everyone gets happy when they get drunk. If you come to Oktoberfest to have fun, make sure you stay safe as well.

I must be off,

* Wine is sold in several tents, and there's even a Wine Tent now.


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. His fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in numerous places. Click About above to read more.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Conversations with S. Teri O'Type -- Blog Tour

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Hello, adorable IMBO readers. In the coming weeks I'm going to be blabbering on and on about a book I've just published. Please bear with me--and stay with me. I'll still be posting about my travels. And I'll still be posting interviews with interesting Expat Authors.

If you're so inclined, and of course I really hope you are, join the fun over on Facebook. The official launch of the book and blog tour was September 14, but you can still join in.

The Conversations with S. Teri O'Type Blog Tour:

Confessions of a Watery Tart   Sneak Pique!     
Tracey Upchurch                                                   
From Jen's Pen                                                        
Gill Hoffs                                                                
Referential Magazine  
Life as a Journey,                      Sneak Pique!         
Dan Powell Fiction                                                   
Quiddity of Delusion                                                
Kate Brown                                                              
Glow Worm, Michelle Elvy                                     
Kim Menozzi                                                            

Find out more HERE. Or just go hog wild and buy the book HERE.
Conversations with S. Teri O'Type now has its own home: HERE.

I must be off,

Monday, September 3, 2012

Worlds Apart -- an Interview with authors Dorothee Lang and Smitha Murthy

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I've recently had the great pleasure of reading the epistolary book Worlds Apart by Dorothee Lang and Smitha Murthy. While the book is a compelling mix of travel insights, photography and essay (that I could not put down), it is also a story of two strangers becoming friends through the almost-lost art of correspondence. Worlds Apart is available from Folded Word Press.

IMBO: Hi, Dorothee and Smitha! When did it occur to you that you had something more than an email exchange? It is certainly much more. It's a compelling and insight-rich dialogue interspersed with poetry, essay and photography. 

Dorothee: It would be difficult to define a single mail, but I think one impulse to collect the mails came when Smitha started to tell about her journey in form of the personal and reflective travelogue that starts with her hopes and fears: “China? China. A land unknown. A land shrouded in mystery. Where abound dark whispers of communism. Rumours of hostility. News of deadly illnesses. These thoughts and more swirl in my head as I prepare to embark on a ten-month voyage to discover the unknown.“ It inspired me to include more personal travel memories or diary-like notes myself. With that, our mail conversation moved to another level. And seen like that, it makes sense that those first lines now form the preface of the book.

Smitha: For me, I don't think I ever thought of it as more than an email journey in the sense that the exchange was already part of an exchange of life, philosophy, questions and unresolved answers. The emails were the medium for the dialogue.

China mountain gate flower and fruit mountain
IMBO: Well, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the depth of the exchange. I've met Dorothee in person, so I know what a beautiful soul she is, but I feel I have met Smitha as well now. You both give so much of yourselves in this book.

Smitha: Writing a letter -- especially to someone you don't know -- brings that out sometimes. I have always spoken more to strangers, for some reason, than people I know -- is it the easy conviviality of knowing that what is shared is unknown? I don't know. But when I look back upon it, I think to myself now, Oh no! My parents are reading this, what shall I ever do?

Dorothee: I think it’s an effect of the journey – like Smitha said, when talking to fellow travellers, it’s a different kind of conversation, outside the usual frame of the everyday. Often, travel talks start with the question “Where are you coming from?” / “Where are you going to?” – but of course, beyond the geographics, these are also deeper life questions.

And maybe the ongoing conversation also came from lucky timing: at the start of it, we both were constantly arriving and leaving from places, which put us both in the same kind of mind tune, I guess.

Dorothee in Rajasthan
IMBO: Seeing that you come from different mother languages, was there ever a time in the collaboration when the lingua franca of English didn't work?

Smitha: I think English was the common unifying factor. I have always been comfortable 'thinking' in English -- it's been the language of communication for a while to me now, and I don't think I would have or could have expressed thoughts better in my mother language.

Dorothee: I just tried to remember a point in our conversation where we talked about this – language as a theme moves through the whole dialogue, with Chinese and German and Hindi peculiarities and expressions – but I think we never really discussed the fact that we are talking in English. I guess that’s because English is the base of the dialogue, and we both felt comfortable in it - otherwise the conversation probably would have got stuck at an early point.

One thing I do remember, though, is writing a mail in which I used the term “Second World” or “Third World” (I think that was in relation to some news from Africa). Smitha wrote back and was upset about the way these terms categorize the world, and pointed out that actually we all live in exactly one world. It was one of those revealing mails that showed how sometimes, we use terms that have become so common that we don’t even notice the prejudice they carry.  (That was at a later point in our conversation, so the lines aren’t included in the book.)

" . . . there are lessons we learn on journeys, and then note down, and are eager to bring into our everyday life . . ."

Die Kaufingerstrasse in München. My hometown! 
IMBO: Since living in Germany for 17 years, I've become aware of my own "category". Before I moved away from my country, I never realized that I was "American" and all the stereotypes being so brings with it. Has there been a time in your travels when you became intensely aware that you were "German" or "Indian" to the people you came in contact with?

Dorothee: One thing that I both found fascinating and irritating while travelling in Asia: in almost every interaction with guesthouse owners, taxi drivers, tour guides, shop owners, even kids on the street – I first got asked: “Hello! Which country are you from?” – To which, of course, the answer was: “Germany”. But mostly, that was also the end of the country-related conversation – just in a few cases, the theme then moved on to either the German Reunification, or the German football club FC Bayern. Which was interesting, to learn that these 2 themes are the first associations with Germany. But I didn’t really feel categorized by that. I’m probably not the very typical German either. But then, I guess that’s true for most individual travellers that venture into another culture on their journeys.

Smitha: I think I have never felt Indian. This search for something Indian in me -- I think I stopped that search long ago. I feel often like a cross between cultures that I don't know, don't exist in, yet feel more comfortable there than here. Does that even make sense? But that's how I look at my Indianness -- there is nothing I feel Indian about myself, but to others around me perhaps I was. Or I am.

From Worlds Apart by Smithy Murthy and Dorothee Lang
IMBO: While reading the book, I made so many notes. They're like gifts I wanted to take with me from the reading. "Relax into the tension. Do something different every day. Your impression (of a place) depends of your own point of view." There's more of course, but these are three of the lessons I've learned from my own life of travel. I know there's no question here.

Dorothee: Thanks for quoting those lines. Reading them makes me realize once more that there are lessons we learn on journeys, and then note down, and are eager to bring into our everyday life – and then they fade in time again. Which now leads back to your first question: I guess that’s another reason Smitha and I started to collect the mails, and edited them – to keep those lessons. And probably the ones who handed those lines to us – the yoga teacher, the other traveller at the breakfast table – again have been carrying them, and handing them forward.

IMBO: I remember having the same "breakfast table" experience when my father and I traveled together through Scotland and Ireland a few years ago. Invariably, we ate breakfast with German speakers. There is no better way to travel than staying in bed and breakfasts if you want to meet people. What has been your most surprising and most satisfying encounter with another traveler?
Smitha: I think there are many. That chance conversation you have with someone in a pub in Shanghai -- memories of that always stay with me. The kindness of unknown friends -- the experiences you garner -- there is no particular encounter I can recall, but just that every time I travel, I am reminded often why I travel through the people I meet -- good, bad or ugly.
IMBO: Thank you, Smitha and Dorothee, for this discussion and this fascinating book. It's one of those books that I know I'll keep coming back to.
I must be off,

Read the Author Q&A on GOODREADS

Dorothee Lang is a writer, web freelancer and traveller, and the editor of BluePrintReview. She lives in Germany, and always was fascinated by roads and by abroad places. Recent projects include the start of >language>place, an open, collaborative blog project. For more about her, visit her at

Smitha Murthy lives in Bangalore, India. A restless wanderer in the wilderness of this world, she worked as contributor to the Deccan Herald, as teacher in a school in China, and in the Global Markets Research department of Thomas White International, India. Currently, she is spending some months in Chengdu, to learn Chinese, and blogs at Musings on a life half-lived.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hiking in South Tyrol -- Day 10

The Dolomites are a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason.
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I take one last swim before breakfast and dream of stepping on the scale when I get home late tonight, knowing that I will be noticeably two kilos lighter. In the past nine days I have sweat not buckets but industrial rubbish bins of sweat. My hiking clothes are stiff with salt. I feel athletic.

For the ten days in Merano, we booked an apartment with a kitchen, so Andreas the mountain goat breeder insisted that we bring enough food for a nuclear holocaust. The following is the inventory of food that we are lugging back home after 10 days in South Tyrol:

3 bottles of white wine
2 bottles of aperol
1 bottle of very very cheap sekt
6 cans of mushrooms
5 cans of tomatoes
4 cans of green beans
6 cans of baby green peas
(We had fresh vegetables, so I don't really understand the need for all the cans, but I wasn't the one who came up with the nuclear holocaust theme. I kept telling Andy, "I think they have food in Italy," but the message never seemed to get through.)
3 jars of vindaloo curry paste (You have to understand: one jar of curry paste is enough to make three dinners. Did Andy the Goat Guy think we were going to eat Indian every night?)
1 jar of sundried tomatoes
2 cans of mandarin oranges (Huh?)
2 cans of pineapple (I never eat canned pineapple. These cans will probably be in our pantry when I'm 90.)
A box of arborio rice

We ate all the fresh food and all the food that would have spoiled. In addition to all this food that we--and I guess when I say "we" you know I mean "I"--pack up and schlep down to the car, we also stock up on the following at a local discount store:

6 jars of sundried tomatoes
6 jars of capers
6 jars of artichokes
1 bottle of olive oil
2 bottles of something we think is a lemon liquor but turns out to be a non-alcoholic lemon syrup. It's yummy.
2 bottles of an aperol-like substance that's 5 euros cheaper than aperol. It's not yummy.

While I pack all this shit, I mean stuff, into the car, Andy decides we're going to do our last hike up the same mountain as yesterday.

"I don't like to do the same hike twice," I say.

"You need to reread Days 5 and 6," he says.

"Oh yeah."

Sadly, I never had time to lie in this hammock.
We bid farewell to the holiday apartment house. The people at Zea Curtis Aparthotel are really very nice. I don't want to sound like a commercial here, but we enjoyed being in this place. We felt appreciated as guests. There were kiwis growing near the pool. I know "kiwis growing near the pool" probably isn't on your top ten list of Great Accommodation Criteria, but it's my Number 7.

Yeah, yeah. I'm going to get to the hike. I see you making the universal sign for "wrap it up". Thing is, I don't want this to end. South Tyrol is a place where you hope "this" never ends. Someone hand me a tissue.

For the first time in ages, we take the gondola to the Mittelstation (middle station). Andy says it will take us six hours to hike to the top if we don't take the gondola. We're actually going a different way today after all. We're going to hike on the mountain next to the tsunami wave of yesterday because there's a funicular railway that goes back down the mountain, and we love the sound of funicular.

I'm glad we've taken a different way. An exceptionally good book I've read recently--Worlds Apart, an epistolary work by Dorothee Lang and Smitha Murthy--reminds travelers to do something different every day. Taking a different trail is my way of doing something different, of seeing more of the world and life. Here are a few impressions of the walk up. It's an easy walk today. It's actually a well-landscaped walk.

When we reach the top, I'm emotional. I'd really like to stay and do this tomorrow and the next day. I'd like to forget about the things that are troubling me and just walk. There's something about the rhythmic left-right-left-right of walking that defragments one's thoughts. But I have things to do, and they have nothing--and everything--to do with mountains.

I must be off,


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hiking in South Tyrol -- Day 9

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It's really hard to believe we've been hiking every day for nine days. Yesterday, I turned to Andreas the mountain goat breeder and said, "Wouldn't it be nice to do this every day?" He said, "Yes, that would be nice." And I said, "Hiking is like Breakfast at Tiffany's. That's one thing we got." And then he didn't know what that meant, so we didn't say anything else.

Today--again--we've decided to drive for almost two hours to get to our hike; and when I say "we," you know I mean Andy, right? I enjoy the time in the car. I know the words to all pop songs, and I sing all pop songs. This is not superficial. This is pop.

When we arrive at the Talstation, Andy is a bit frazzled from the concert. "I am looking forward to the silence of the mountain," he says. "You wanted to drive two hours--knowing that I sing. It's your fault." "Everything is always my fault," he says. "Agreed," I say and look up at the mountain. The Bergstation attached to the cables is a tiny speck teetering on the edge of a monstrous cliff high above the valley.

"Wow," I say. "That looks really really far away."

"Three hours."

"Are we flying there?"

"No. We are hiking."

"We really have to talk about your sense of humor, Andy."

"I'm looking forward to the silence of the mountain." He walks toward the entrance to the trail. I leave a bit of distance between us and start humming Maroon 5's "Payphone".

"I cannot hear the mountain!" he shouts over his shoulder.

"And you think you can hear the mountain over all these bambini?" There are dozens of Italian families at the beginning of the trail, which is a beautifully designed park for children along the river flowing down from the mountain. Senza bambini, we walk fast to get through it. After about 20 minutes, we come to the first mountain hut. As always, there are a lot of shirtless Italians drinking aperol spritz and lounging. We walk fast past this despite Andy's desire to take a break. Already. Seriously.

After a gate 100 meters on, the mountain gets serious. I turn to Andy and say, "I guess here is where the mountain separates the hikers from the Italian families." Andy points to a group ahead of us. The father is pushing a pram up the steep grassy slope. His family of eight are following him. They stop with him as he takes a breather and then pushes a bit farther. "Madness," I say as we walk past them.

From this point, the trail is broad and steep and the sun is beating down on us like an oven. I'm thirsty. Andy has the water as always. I stop to take pictures of butterflies. Have you ever tried to take pictures of butterflies? It's like trying to get a hyper kid to read a book after he's had six Snickers and a Coke. They will not sit still on that flower. And when they do sit still on the flower, they won't open their wings. Here are my pictures of "butterflies". Enjoy (trying to find them):

Andy the Goat Slayer does not understand my obsession with butterflies; nor does he understand my need for water. He's left me to die of thirst, skipping through meadows after the elusive butterfly pic. By the time I reach him 30 minutes later, I have cobwebs growing in my mouth and I'm hallucinating. Not really. Well, when am I NOT hallucinating?

The Bergstation doesn't look any closer. It's still an eensy-beensy speck high above the mountain that looks like a tsunami wave of stone. As we walk past some cows, I'm reminded of the news this morning that a man was trampled by a cow in Austria yesterday, so I steer well clear of them--but I still moo at them.

The rest of the way to the top is a slog. A slow, steady slog--great for thinking. I think about the book I'll be publishing in a few days. Again. It's always on my mind right now. I think about the blog tour. I wonder if I really know what a blog tour is. I wonder if people will laugh. I wonder. My legs are burning. And before I know it, we are at the top and I'm drinking an aperol spritz.

Tomorrow the tenth and final day of hiking. Wow.

I must be off,