ALCOHOL HAS BEEN THE SOCIAL LUBRICANT of choice since a stone-age farmer left a bunch of grapes in a vat to rot. Why they decided to drink it is a mystery. But like a wise man once told me, “At the end of every mystery, is a joke.” And if the advice I’ve received from sharing drinks with drunks around the world is meaningless, then the joke is on me.
Hanoi, Vietnam (2009) — “Don’t take shit,” David said, his grey eyes focusing on some distant memory. We were drinking Beer Saigon at a rooftop bar in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. “Stand up for yourself because most of the time … no one else will.” It’s important to not get walked on, to assert yourself. The human psyche is not too far removed from the animal instinct: showing weakness will make you vulnerable to predators.
Vang Vieng, Laos (2015) — We heard a loud bang at 1 AM and poked our heads out of our room to see what happened. Four or five people had just run by and we asked the last guy what happened.
“He kicked his fucking door down!”
“He ate a happy pizza.”
“Yep, never try shrooms at night!” he said, running after the group to restrain the crazed man we now heard ripping the showerhead out of his wall.
Corfu, Greece (2008) — We were on a pub crawl and we’d just witnessed “plate smashing,” a traditional Greek folk custom co-opted for the gratification of tourists bent on witnessing as many Greek stereotypes money could buy. And we were part of it. It was late, we were buzzed, and in a celebratory gesture I threw my empty beer glass on to the street.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” said a girl on the crawl with us.
“I’m celebrating…” I said, feeling like a child being scolded.
“This isn’t your home, these aren’t your customs,” she said. “You’re a visitor. You need to have some respect and know your place.”
At the time I was embarrassed and outraged. But, she was right. I was an ass, and her advice has stuck with me.
Kathmandu, Nepal (2012) — I was worried I was wasting my time, putting off “real life” indefinitely. Then I found Adam D’s sloppily scrawled “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time – 2007” on the wall of a bar in Kathmandu. It might not have been a cure-all, but it certainly was a band-aid.
Phuket, Thailand (2010) — We had just come back from the hospital and my brother had 7 stitches on the top of his head. War wounds from our flight from an aggressive ladyboy armed with her stiletto, pissed that, though we had bought her a couple of obligatory drinks, we didn’t want to sleep with her and had wasted her time. We were at a bar telling the story to Frank, a seasoned expat living in Phuket.
“Ouch mate,” he grimaced. “You never waste a Ladyboy’s time.”
Dali, China (2012) — I had just shat my bed for the second time that night. It was not a proud moment in my life, and the advice I got from Simon during our drunken wanderings that I’d so recklessly ignored earlier when I saw the delicious looking duck head came back to haunt me.
“Never eat late night street meat, man,” he said. “Normally, it’s delicious, but at night… it’s risky.” The meat sits out all day, being partially heated and reheated over and over again until it’s sold, like a game of street-meat roulette. The loser get’s diarrhea.
Bilbao, Spain (2015) — “Go to the ocean,” said Eduardo. “At night, by yourself.” We were drinking another Spanish Rioja Vino, talking through our problems.
“Because it’s huge.”
“How does that help?”
“It puts life… puts things into perspective. It makes you feel… small, but it’s comforting.”
The rhythm of the waves lapping on a deserted shoreline. The smell of briny air and the moonlight reflecting in tiny flashes across the water. He was right, and later as I stood ankle deep in the lapping waves, I felt just fine. Or maybe it was the wine.