A.D.M. Was Here: Cambodia

Aside from me, there were four men in the bus from Bangkok to the Thai-Cambodian border. I think we were all in mid or late twenties. As prudent humans tend to do, we spread out to give each other space. I wound up resting my eyes most of the ride, and didn’t talk to the other guys until we disembarked.

We made some introductions and small talk while the folks at the border took our passports, presumably to make copies. Three of the men on the bus were English. Two had set out from Norfolk together: J was tall and outgoing, and F was not so tall and soft spoken. Both of them were friendly. The third Englishman coincidentally came from the same town as the others, but had only just met them in the bus station in Bangkok.

The third Englishman, D, wasn’t as friendly as the others, but he was civil enough. D came from a bit of money. According to J and F, D’s father owned a nightclub or some such back in England (maybe several nightclubs).

Despite D’s caustic demeanor, he shared a long story about how he wound up in Bangkok with the rest of us. D was afraid of flying, but managed to make the journey from England to Australia via commercial jet. His original plan was to take a cruise ship from Australia up East Asia, then take trains all the way back to Europe. However, there was a bit of an incident on the cruise.

The ship, apparently, had a casino on board. He was playing one game or another when he noticed an Australian man looking at him in a way D didn’t particularly care for. D asked the Aussie if there was a reason for the stink-eye. They exchanged some unfriendly words.

Annoyed but not wanting to escalate, D picked up his chips and moved to another table. The Australian followed him. Rather than flinch or waste any more words, D took a preemptive swing and knocked the Aussie on his ass.

The cruise ship sided with the Australian and kicked D off at the next port in Malaysia. Still afraid of flying, D decided to try to make it on time for his train rides by getting through Southeast Asia by land. So, he took a number of buses until he met the rest of us in the station in Bangkok.

That was D. Aside from sharing this story with the group, he didn’t speak all that much. He generally sat there with a beer and a scowl, and sometimes burst out with a hearty laugh.

The other English guys, J and F, were different. They smiled more often and were fond of conversation. This was particularly true in the case of J. For the short time I spent with him, I thought of J as the type of guy who jumped in first and thought about it later. He had a t-shirt wrapped around his foot that told a similar story:

Earlier in his travels, J had the opportunity to try his luck with a flaming jump rope. A jump rope was lit on fire, and drunk tourists took turns skipping. J not only tripped on the rope, but the thing caught on him and swung around the entirety of his ankle and left a significant burn. Nothing a t-shirt couldn’t fix, apparently.  Despite the constant pain he must have been in, J smiled almost all the damn time.

J’s buddy F was quieter but still friendly, and he and I had a shared interest: the Uncharted video game series by Naughty Dog (an exclusive to Playstation consoles).

So, those were the three Englishmen: Friendly J, quiet F, and afraid-of-flying D. The fourth guy was an American expat who’d been living in Phnom Penh for quite a while. The American served as a sort of guide as we made our way from the border to the capitol, starting by figuring out which bus to take. In retrospect, we may have been better off doing our own research.

J and the American Expat

J and the American Expat

The bus we got on was, quite possibly, the worst form of transportation I’ve ever experienced. Apparently, we’d gotten to Cambodia in the middle of some sort of holiday—a holiday in which the entire country migrated back to their hometowns. The bus was packed, so the aisle was filled with stools for additional seating.

You could say I was lucky to be in a regular seat. However, the air conditioning was blasting the entire time and the vent over my head was broken. There was no way to shut it off or redirect it. I stuffed it partially with some paper, but it didn’t do much. My attempts at sleep over the next several hours were fruitless. The cold air rushing over me made sure of it.

Still, I didn’t have the worst seat out of the five of us. D was sitting across the aisle from me and, after a while, he noticed a slow stream of fluid creeping toward his shoes from in front of him. He pointed it out to us but left the most important detail unsaid until we got off the bus at the rest stop: it smelled like piss.

The rest stop was essentially a hybrid of a restaurant and would-be convenience store. Since it was the middle of the night, I think the kitchen was closed. So, our only options were bags of chips, canned drinks, and the like. While the rest of us were stretching our legs and buying some junk food, D got to work.

He approached the driver of a shuttle van—a much nicer vehicle. D asked if there was space and, as if it were written by a lazy author who didn’t care about events being too convenient, there were exactly five open seats.

So we grabbed our junk from the bus and jumped ship to the shuttle van. Leaning back in a comfortable reclining chair, with the vehicle’s A/C set to an appropriate temperature, I finally got some sleep. The contrast was tremendous.

We arrived in Phnom Penh in the day and the first thing we did was eat. The American expat brought us to a restaurant where he knew the manager—the manager also being the tuk-tuk driver that brought us there. I ordered the Shaking Beef and we all had our morning beer.

After the meal, we parted ways with the American expat. The English guys and I went to the Vietnamese embassy so we could get our visas for Vietnam. D was in a hurry to get there, and the rest of us went with him since we weren’t sure how long it might take to process. It took about twenty minutes.

Still trying to get back on his original itinerary, D said goodbye and left us as there. Since I had no solid plans, I went with J and F to Siem Reap. We took yet another bus, leaving the capitol to see Cambodia’s iconic temples.

We arrived in Siem Reap in the middle of the night and in heavy rain. Having not done any research about where to stay, we asked a tuk-tuk driver to take us to a hotel. When I woke the next morning, the power was out. That didn’t stop me from showering in the dark before going downstairs for breakfast. With no power, I was a little worried the kitchen might be out of commission, but I was treated to a nice breakfast (though I don’t recall any of its contents—I think, maybe, it was eggs with something).

J and F hadn’t come down by the time I finished eating, so I had a tuk-tuk driver take me to buy a cheap rain poncho, in case the weather turned bad again (it didn’t). After that I had to wait a few minutes for the Englishmen to be ready. We had another tuk-tuk take us to see the temples.

We saw a few different wats, but I didn’t take note as to which was which. Angkor Wat is easily distinguishable, of course. Then there was also Ta Prohm, the temple overgrown with trees where they filmed parts of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life starring Angelina Jolie. However, there were definitely other temples. In between our wat-hopping, we had lunch in an outdoor food court: a bunch of tarps, tables and chairs serviced by a number of different “restaurants.” I had some fried rice which, like most of the food I had in Cambodia, was good.

The front of Angkor Wat’s main complex was having some work done, so there was scaffolding and a faux facade. The same thing had happened when I visited Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, so I wasn’t too disappointed. To make up for the construction, the universe treated me to a show: A fruit stealing monkey. The monkey watched a woman with a plastic bag full of fruits for a moment, then ran by and snatched it from her. Rather than going off to some secluded place to assess his spoils, he started eating the fruits right in the middle of the walkway.

Angkor Wat Undergoing Maintenance

Angkor Wat Undergoing Maintenance

Monkey Thief of Angkor Wat Planning

The Monkey Thief putting together his plans.

The Monkey Thief Enjoying Fruits

The Monkey Thief enjoying his spoils.

Ta Prohm 01

Ta Prohm after some rain.

Ta Prohm 02

Another shot in Ta Prohm.

After a long day of tourism, we had dinner at some grill restaurant which essentially sold exotic meats to foreigners. We ordered a set which included kangaroo, crocodile, ostrich, and snake. I don’t recall any of it tasting amazing, but we grilled our own meat and it’s more than likely that I overcooked everything.

Kangaroo Crocodile Ostrich Snake

Kangaroo, Ostrich, Crocodile, Snake. I’m really not sure which is which anymore.

With our appetites satiated to some extent, we gave the Siem Reap nightlife a try. I think we went to two or three different places before I eventually stumbled back into my room. Soon after that, I left J and F in Siem Reap and returned to Phnom Penh on my own. I was planning to go straight to Vietnam from there, but I missed the last bus. So I checked into a hostel and spent a night wasting more money on alcohol before returning to Saigon.

Angkor Wat at Sunset

What Am I Doing?

Not that you asked, but I’ve been taking courses with the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and am currently teaching English in Seoul. No, I haven’t abandoned my license to practice law—as usual, the legal career is in the backseat while writing drives (life-experiences called shotgun). Before leaving California to go to Korea, I made a few visits to Disneyland.

Disneyland - California Adventure

Okay, this is technically California Adventure, but I didn’t take any photos on the other side.

UCLA Extension

I’ve been taking the Novel Writing series of courses with UCLA Extension. I started with the on-campus class (going back to the old campus is always nice), but switched over to the online version when I decided to go to Korea. Overall, I think it’s been rather helpful.

In terms of craft, the lecture and workshops haven’t taught me anything “new.” I’d already learned much of it via the internet, the Southern California Writers’ Conference, and writing groups. However, the lecture material and workshops have helped me to hone my craft, solidify certain theories (so I can actually apply them more consistently), and develop my ability to read with a writer’s eye.

The instructors at UCLA Extension seem to echo the sentiment I’d read when researching MFA programs: you can’t really teach art, you can only facilitate the growth of artists. So, that’s how the classes have been going. The instructor and other students offer valuable insights and feedback but, for the most part, each writer needs to put in the work to further their own craft.

Teaching English in Korea

The process to get the job in Seoul was a long one. Securing documentation and flinging paperwork back and forth was a bit of a hassle. After months of that, I finally flew to Seoul and was subjected to a highly stressful week of training. The bottome line: if you fail the training, you’re sent back home. Honestly, I did not expect the training to be so taxing.

I’m glad to say, however, it’s been a considerable while since training and I’m feeling fairly comfortable here now. I’m more at ease in front of the classroom, have been referred to as Handsome Teacher a number of times (the girlfriend says this has been inflating my ego), and am slowly swapping out American fast food out of my diet in favor of kimchi jjigae. So, yeah, I’m getting settled and finally feel like I have the time to start posting here again. Hopefully, I’ll also get to write a lot more and have something to report on that end.

Take it easy, folks.

Namsan Seoul Tower

Namsan Tower (AKA Seoul Tower)

Kyle from Last Man Standing = Jeff from American Dad

jefffischerandkyleanderson

A few episodes into Last Man Standing, I realized the character of Kyle Anderson reminded me a lot of Jeff Fischer on American Dad!. They’re both super-nice and kindhearted, have similar amounts of facial hair, are loyal partners to their women, have a noticeable lack of wit, are partial to Hackey Sack, and are more likable than most of the people around them. Oh, and I guess they’re both twenty-something white guys.

Of course, they’re not exactly the same, but listing differences doesn’t seem as fun.

After pointing out the similarity of these characters to my girlfriend, I jumped onto Google to see if anyone has written about it. Finding nothing, I decided I’d write this myself. My best guess as to why no one else has noted this (in an easily Googled space) is because the shows seem to appeal to different demographics (or, you know, something to do with American Dad!‘s recent ratings).

American Dad!, like other Seth MacFarlane shows, leans liberal and has a mostly “young” male audience. Last Man Standing is a bit closer to center thanks to a balance between Tim Allen’s conservative views and a somewhat-left writing room, and it’s probably more appealing to “older” folks (I watch it because I loved Home Improvement as a kid—whether or not I’m “old” may be up for debate). Ironically, the “liberal” American Dad! is probably less PC than the “conservative” Last Man Standing.

Back to my point: People who know Jeff Fischer have probably never heard of Kyle Anderson, and vice versa. Then there are weirdos like me who enjoy both shows and use Google to see if people notice the same crap I do.

Luke Cage! I’ll binge-watch you soon enough.

luke-cage-netflix-premiereDespite the somewhat disappointing Jessica Jones and second season of Daredevil, I’ve been looking forward to Luke Cage. The trailer they dropped a while ago did its job hyping me up to see Cage become a Hero for Hire (and beat a bunch of bad guys up in the process). So much bulletproof awesomeness.

Still, I somehow managed to forget about the launch of the series until NPR, of all things, reminded me it was available for streaming TODAY. When I heard the piece on the radio (discussing mostly race, the creation and evolution of Luke Cage, and how his bulletproof skin brings up certain thoughts in relation to current events), I was in the midst of running errands. I was too busy to rush home and watch.

I’m about to go out right now, too, so it doesn’t look like I’ll  get through a single episode tonight. I’ll probably burn through half of the episodes tomorrow, though. Then, perhaps, I can find some time to share my thoughts about the Defenders shows (Cage, Jones, Daredevil). Hm—I also have to finish blogging about my previous travels before I start traveling again.

Eh, one thing at a time. Luke Cage!

Note: I enjoyed Daredevil‘s second season and Jessica Jones but they weren’t as good as the first season of Daredevil (I really liked it).

Mini life update: I’ve been fairly busy working on re-writing last year’s NaNoWriMo project; I signed up for a writing class with UCLA Extension; and I’m setting things up to work abroad in 2017.

Need to Change My Writing Process

Given the time it’s taking to revise my manuscripts, it’s pretty obvious my process kind of sucks. I know some writers approach their first draft as the “junk draft” so they aren’t pressured to produce a masterpiece right away, but I’ve given myself entirely too much freedom to suck.

With my first novel, some drafts actually made its way to several agent desks, but it didn’t get much further than that. A handful of agents bothered to read the MS before they realized the hooks of my first paragraphs weren’t replicated in the following chapters. According to most of my test readers, the interesting bits are in the latter half. Though it’s a fairly obvious inference, superior plotting would probably have made the thing more consistently interesting (hence my current desire to revise the whole thing).

The more I write and revise, the more I believe I should go full Plotter and stop being an unholy Plotter-Pantser hybrid. That’s to say, my novels could benefit from having the major plot points laid out from the get-go.

Anyway, I’ve been somewhat busy—with my non-writing career(s), traveling up the eastern seaboard, and spending quality time with the people in my life—but I won’t pretend I haven’t been lazy in revising my novels (e.g., I’m writing this post instead of working on the MSS). I need more discipline, and I need a new process.

Any suggestions?

writingwouldbegreat

A.D.M. Was Here: Bangkok

After making my way up the length of Vietnam via bus I booked a last-minute—and surprisingly cheap—flight to Bangkok. I arrived at Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Aiport in the middle of the night. From there, a taxi brought me from a wide, empty highway to the lively streets of the infamous backpacker hotspot: Khaosan Road.

Bangkok01

The setting for the beginning of The Beach (2000) starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The place isn’t as crazy as the movie makes it seem (though, to be fair, the movie was made over ten years ago). 

The taxi driver couldn’t actually drive onto Khaosan Road as it was blocked off for pedestrians and street vendors selling everything from pad thai and clothes to scorpion-on-a-stick (side note: the scorpion is more to exploit tourists seeking the exotic; it’s not food locals normally eat, so I hear). When I got out of the cab, I wasn’t quite sure where I was in relation to my hostel and asked one of the clothing vendors to help me out. I wound up with an awesome hand drawn map on the back of a scrap of cardboard. Continue reading

What’s this WB Writers’ Workshop?

wbwritersworkshopbanner

I realize I’m setting myself up for an unnecessarily public failure by posting this, but last Tuesday I submitted an application to the WB Writers’ Workshop.

The WB Writers’ Workshop is a program which takes writers looking to get into television, teaches them pretty much everything about being a TV writer and ultimately tries to find staff writings positions for the program participants. As I understand it, the program gets over two thousand applications a year and only has ten seats; it’s highly competitive.

The central piece of the application is the writing sample. At minimum, they want one spec script of a show on their approved list; and, optionally, you can include a second script (i.e., either an original pilot or a spec of another listed show).

When I decided to apply to the program in April, I set forth a plan: binge watch the second season of The Flash and write a spec about the adventures of Barry Allen; and, simultaneously, consider other shows for my second writing sample.

Weeks went by, and thanks to work (and my one-hour-each-way commute), I’d only watched five episodes of The Flash and hadn’t written a single word. On top of that, I had yet to choose a second show. At the start of May, I looked at the program’s website again and realized the list had been updated.

Marvel’s Daredevil was an option.

I changed my plans. Rather than attempt to catch up on The Flash, I went with Daredevil, a show I enjoyed (well, the first season more than the second) and was entirely caught up on. Also new on the list was another Netflix Original, Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, and I had that queued up to be the subject of my second spec.

My first step in writing a Daredevil spec was re-watching the latest episode and reading up on the character’s comic book rogue gallery to find a proper villain. It took me at least a full week (again, thanks to work and other obligations) to finally decide on a villain. When it came to the weekend before applications were due, I only had ten pages of script: less than 25% of what I needed. So writing a second spec was out of the question, and I focused entirely on Daredevil.

Around 11:30 P.M. on May 30th, the night before the submission deadline, I had twenty pages done. As a break from writing, I logged onto the writing program’s submission page. There, the submission deadline was stated to be at 11:59 P.M., May 30th.

I was screwed. I had less than half my script finished, and only half an hour until the cutoff time. I gave up.

Within minutes, I received an email from my supervising attorney for whom I’m doing contract work at a fancy high-rise office in Downtown Los Angeles. He wanted me to come in the next day to handle a quick assignment. I told him I’d be there.

As I sent the email, I tried to reconcile the different deadlines on the program’s website. The login page said it was due before midnight on the 30th, and the information page said it was due at 5:00 P.M. on the 31st. I decided one of these was a mistake, and it was likely the earlier deadline was wrong. If so, I could sleep, go to work, and finish the rest of my script before 5 o’clock.

Sure enough, the next morning, I checked the program’s Facebook page which reiterated that the submission deadline was at 5:00 P.M. on the 31st.  I still had hope. However, I couldn’t start writing again until I drove from Orange County to Los Angeles and finished my work assignment. I got to the office at 7:00 A.M., did my job, and finally got back to my script.

Five or so hours later, at around 3:00 P.M., I had an unpolished spec script done. In order to submit my application to the program, though, I needed to print and sign a release form. And, in order to even print the form, I needed to upload my script. So I uploaded the damn thing as it was, emailed the release to myself and headed down to the nearest FedEx to print it. There, I was informed that this particular FedEx did not have a scanner. So then I had to run to the next nearest FedEx, two city blocks away in the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. After scanning the signed release, I picked up my first meal of the day from McDonald’s and went back into my office and submitted my application at around 4:30 P.M.

All of that, and I am 99% sure I am not getting into the WB Writers’ Program.

Yep.

My script is slightly shorter than average and barely more than a first draft, it would be a wonder if I beat out 2,000 other applicants. Still, I learned a lot about writing television scripts, and a valuable lesson: get $@#% done early. Time to plan for next year.