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In the last year, how have you changed?

Last year I was stranded on a farm in the Pacific Northwest. The house we stayed in was light blue and surrounded by a blooming garden, cherry and apple trees. It had newborn kittens in the barn. Friendly and curious cows paraded outside our windows. And two beautiful snobby horses came by to beg for apples every afternoon.Now I’m in Europe - after visiting London and Berlin, we are wrapping up our stay in Athens and will move onto Southern France. Gardens were replaced by the buildings and objects that are thousands years old. Kittens and cows - by pigeons and tram rides. The environments are so vastly different, sometimes it feels like we’re travelling in time.However, in the most important respects nothing changed. I get to spend personal time with the three people I love more than anything in the world. I appreciate every minute of it, cows or no cows.

What was that "one big moment," a turning point, that changed your life?

I asked the right girl to dance.I was about seven weeks into what would become a five-year trip through Asia-Pacific. Had $100,000 saved, was 28, no obligations to anyone or anything. I’d quit my horrible but lucrative job, sold my car, given away all my crap and apartment and begun the trip on a one-way ticket from Toronto to Western Samoa in the South Pacific.I spent five great weeks there, then flew on to Tonga. Tonga’s main island was dull, so I’d booked a flight to its more dramatic northern island group, Vava’u, but had some days to kill before departure.I saw her with a group of travelers in a Chinese restaurant in Nukualofa, the capital. She was tall, blonde, buxom and sounded American. I tried to talk to her, but she took no interest. Then it was announced everyone was going to a nightclub, the only one in the land. I went, along with a German guy I’d met some days earlier and was sharing a hotel room with, to economize. I’d begun to believe he might well be gay and was feeling nervous about this realization, as I am not gay.In the club, I clocked her laughing with her pals, beer in hand. I walked up, asked her to dance. She was the standout there, not flashy — just a girl in a short jean skirt and a t-shirt. And I was but a delusional horndog — in my classiest moments. She seemed wholly nonplussed to see me there asking her to dance, but said OK. We moved to the dance floor.I am not one to dance often, because I possess no detectable rhythm and tend to look like a mentally incompetent twat on a dance floor. So I’ll usually just do it to please someone for a couple of songs, get through it, sit down and call it done for a year or hopefully much longer. But sometimes the devil gets inside and I dance like my clothes are full of murder hornets. And this was what I did.To my relief, the girl began smiling, then laughing, then matching all my moves — as cheesy as that sounds. Some three long songs later, handsomely soaked with sweat, I suggested we step out to cool off, as it was winter there and thus around 20deg C outdoors. I got us a pair of cold beers and we walked out to the parking lot. She was not American but Swedish, and had just sailed up from NZ on a crippled yacht, barely making it, on the final leg of a six-year round the world journey. She told me all about that adventure, that she was almost out of money and would either head back to Sweden to figure out her life or try to get a job on a yacht as a cook.I kissed her, then a few days later, moved in. She later told me she’d seen me walk in with the gay German and assumed I was his lover. It would’ve been better of me to realize a touch sooner that the German was in fact gay, and gay looking, and that people assumed I was too, due to my hanging with him. But I was young, and a doofus. Anyway, had I not asked her to dance, the life I came to live would not have come to pass.For this woman was a traveler of the old order, meaning she did everything the hard way, the cheap way, the local way — no matter how basic, long or miserable the experience might turn out. I was not that guy. I was easing into cheap, having just come from a comfortable life in downtown Toronto. She got the sailing/taking-local-boats-instead-of-flying notion into my head, the eating-local-food-instead-of-pizza-and-burgers one and countless more — from sleeping rough, to 80-hour bus rides, to learning immensities of patience, to sleeping on humble people’s floors, to tolerating humans you’d prefer to kill, to learning the local language everywhere you go. She’d done it all herself and had learned how to make her money last, and how to make the travel and the destination the real experience (long before that became a cliche). And she was pervy. I had to respect her.At my cash burn rate I was good for maybe two years, but because of her, the money lasted five. Because of her I would also learn to speak Indonesian, Malay, Lao, Thai and Spanish with enough facility to travel without English entering into it. And because of her I started looking for a boat to hitch a ride or work on in every port town I went to — Auckland, Perth, Jakarta, Singapore, Bangkok and a hundred smaller towns. Yachts, small wooden inter-island cargo boats and global freighters — anything would do. This would lead to countless mad experiences and decisions that took me off the tourist-as-consumer path and into wildest lands, experiences and adventures with eccentric and brilliant lunatics.Her traveler training led me to doing yacht deliveries all over the world, to truly engaging people instead of just trying to impress or shag them — but here’s to the well-engaged shag as well. I suppose she also paved the way for me to take up writing as a profession. A mixed blessing, but better than a shitload of alternatives.She taught me a certain fearlessness, with hearty measures of forgiveness, open-mindedness, an instinct to find the comedy in everything good or awful, and to milk it in order to win over locals, other travelers and potential threats like cops, customs & immigration officials and the weirdos you meet on the road.Could even be said that she urged me not to fear death, but to assess the threat and outmaneuver it, which she had done while at sea and in other moments, and which I have had to do on various occasions since.I lost her when her mother got sick and she had to rush on back to Sweden. But her work was done. And for this I remain stridently grateful.P.S. To those who’ve asked what happened to her:We spent nearly two months together in Tonga, traveling the outer island groups and doing day trips to the islands and beaches in the Tongatapu region, based out of the small blue house just outside Nukualofa she shared with an American girl, who herself had hitched a yacht passage from California. Epic stories, and quantities of booze, flowed nightly.And I was now wrestling with the strange experience of being among two quietly confident, unfazable women who’d lived considerably more extraordinary and adventuresome lives than I, with all the knowledge and experience that ships along with that, and yet were several years younger than me. Talk about forcefully resetting the old ego. Not a lot of mansplaining going on in that household.There were a number of coconut palms in the garden, and I spent an inordinate amount of time studying and mastering the many uses of the coconut tree and fruit. She was a great chef, and having spent all those years in SE Asia and India, had learned to make different curries. I would render her the rich coconut cream used in some of them.Being close to broke, she opted to return to NZ, to find work as a bartender or waitress and replenish her travel funds. I’d broached the notion of covering her expenses should she want to continue with me, but she preferred to move on her own dime. Fair enough.Failing to find a boat headed in that direction, she flew to Auckland and found work. Meanwhile, we’d hatched a plan to meet six months later in Papua New Guinea, a feral, backward country we were both keen to explore.It’s over 30 years ago, so the details may have fogged over, but I recall a letter from NZ saying her mum had leukemia, that she was going home and that PNG was off. A second letter came on my arrival in Fiji, via poste restante weeks later, informing me she’d stopped in NYC on her way to Sweden, reconnected with an ex and had re-fallen in love with him. I believe they were married, then divorced some time later.I very clearly remember standing outside the GPO in Suva, Fiji, tearing through that second letter and reading the words “I’ve decided to settle down with him,” sensing a sharp crack akin to a concussion grenade. Then ringing and numbness.I was a walking disaster for months. I tried to make the best of Fiji, but just couldn’t shake her. I was meeting all kinds of women from everywhere, but no one anything like her. This made it worse. If such creatures had been common, it might’ve been easier to leave thoughts of her behind, but she haunted me wherever I went, whatever I did, whomever I was with.I joined a yacht as crew along with a soft and sweet-scented Canadian girl — her polar opposite — and its Aussie skipper, a hardened man who cared not for my hurt little feelings and mocked me constantly, as we cruised Fiji’s reefs and islands. This helped straighten me out some.But the spell of her wasn’t truly broken until Adelaar, a 35m ketch, which I joined after three months in Fiji. We sailed from Suva to NZ, through a six-day hurricane, with 35-foot breaking swell and most of our crew down below, puking their guts out, and me with a vicious attack of skin boils. The presence of mind required to get that boat safely to its destination at Bay of Islands, was enough to chop the cord once and for all.In years to come, I’d meet traveling women with qualities akin to hers, but circumstances would not favour the formation of relationships with the power and resonance of that first one.I believe she and I wrote a few letters back and forth over the following years, but once our correspondence dried up, I did not attempt to raise her again.

What are some of the best life-changing books?

I love reading books a lot. I read 35 to 40 books a year. The genre ranges from fiction, non fiction to autobiography and self motivation.Here's the list of 5 all time best life changing books of mine.Wild : From Lost to Found On The Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl StrayedIt is an unique novel about a woman (the writer herself), about her uphill and downhill journeys, her losses in life, her divorce, her drug addiction, her multiple physical relationships to discovery of her self esteem, her ambitions, her life partner, her will to live, on the trail of pacific crest. If I like something most next to Harry Potter then it's that book.2. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper LeeThis isn't an novel but a picturesque. You not only read but visualise. You visualise the innocence, the philosophy, the tragedy and social prejudice. It's a must read for everyone.3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniI started reading this after I listened to an interview of Malala Yousafzai. She said that she was reading A Thousand Splendid Suns. I thought to give a look. And as I studied, I remained spellbound. It's like a living document of the women of Afghanistan. It's a story about two girl Laila and Mariam, seperate by war, united by fate. A must read for those who actually want to uncover the harsh realities of life.4. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul KalanithiIt's an autobiography of a doctor, an neurosurgeon, a husband and a father at the same time. And how his life turned upside down one day. The book is incomplete. Because he died while he was writing. But he clearly gave insights about life and how fragile it is against fate. A must read if you want to understand life.5. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life by Charles DuhiggOne of my favourite self development books. The writer writes about how small habits influence our daily works and how changing some of them or including some new ones to our habit, we can bring some influential changes in our life.

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