I had initially intended to visit the National Museum that abuts Tiananmen Square, but someone informed me that it might be closed. When I spoke to the concierge in my hotel, he suggested the Capital Museum, which had apparently opened in its present location in May 2006, and so, being relatively new, was not as well-known.

 

Let me digress for a moment and note that the title “concierge” was an incongruous one for this hardly post-pubescent youth, obviously a recent arrival to the big city from the countryside. All the workers in the hotel, which was located in the north of Beijing away from the tourist areas, were startlingly young and lacking in English skills, which, since I am even more lacking in Chinese ones, made communication difficult. Questions such as, “Can you do something about the strange… More…

“Go to a place, report on its culture, foibles, distractions, and bring it back to entertain your readers…it’s not enough just to say what happened — you have to make people understand what it felt like to be there when it happened.” This seems like a pretty good description of travel writing, right? It wouldn’t seem out of place as advice given by an editor to a first-time travel writer. But actually, this quote is by a video game journalist named Kieron Gillen, taken from a manifesto he wrote not too long ago on what he calls “The New Games Journalism” (after Tom Wolfe’s famous term “The New Journalism”). In his manifesto, Gillen exhorts his video game colleagues to become “Travel Journalists to Imaginary Places.”

When I was a teenager in Los Angeles and newly licensed to drive, my friends and I began to tentatively road trip up and down the California coast, ostensibly looking for surfing breaks, parties, girls, but really just driving as far as we could on the $25 it took to fill a gas tank and the few dollars more we could scrounge for food. We would head south to San Diego and, when we were adventurous, beyond that to Tijuana, Mexico. To secure parental approval we assured our mothers and fathers that our trips had a purpose: to visit potential colleges.

San Francisco represented the outside range of the voyages possible for unchaperoned, Southern California minors. Eight hours by car along the 5, past the other university towns of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Cruz, it was always a mysterious destination for Angelino boys like us. For one… More…

 

The boy had the kind of ears no human could possibly hope to grow into, and when he showed up at my restaurant table, just tall enough to mouth-breathe into the backside of my newspaper, I told him to eff off. I had become the anti-Mother Teresa in my first month in India. I knew from experience that if I gave a street kid food from my plate, it would lead to him asking for more food, money, and eventually, I feared, a piece of my soul. So I took to regularly telling the kids, beggars, and even the monkeys of Mysore to piss off while I was eating.

As the kid with the ears breathed on the other side of my paper, I read English-language personals to my friend Carly across the table. She was reading the… More…

Once, in Brazil, I ended up eating dinner in a section of Salvador called Pelourinho, which my Lonely Planet said was the old slave auctioning and whipping site, but that was now filled with charming, overpriced tourist restaurants. I was with a Japanese girl I had met in Rio. She swore like a Yakuza member, but she read her guidebook diligently. I was alone as usual, and she allowed me to follow along as she took the right buses to the beach and showed up at the bank to change money during business hours. In exchange for my freeloading she occasionally demanded we must eat some of the “must eat” dishes in some of the “must eat” restaurants pictured on the shiny pages of her Japanese guidebook. Monika, a Canadian who was model gorgeous and fluent in her parent’s Portugal-style Portuguese, but had trouble walking on all the cobblestone in… More…