The Time That a Pillow Took Precedence Over a Passport

The year 2016 is rapidly coming to a close (can you believe it??), which means that now is the perfect time to share a story about some New Year’s Eve shenanigans. The following tale took place in Korea on December 31, 2015. Enjoy!

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As I stepped up to the ticket window at Daejeon Station, I couldn’t help but feel excited. After all, I would soon be boarding a train to Busan, where I would then catch a ferry across the East Sea to Fukuoka, Japan, to ring in the new year.  I politely presented my passport to the ticket window dude, because that’s the way foreigners’ reservations are found on the KORAIL computer system–via nationality and passport number. Simple, right?

At this point, I noticed the bewildered look on the dude’s face as he stared into his computer screen. He then called out to his boss, who strolled over and proceeded to stare at the screen with an equal level of perplexity for four full minutes. Meanwhile, the line behind me was teeming with anxious teenagers who were eager to get their own tickets out of town for their New Year’s celebrations, and they were all growing impatient with the pasty white foreigner who was momentarily preventing them from getting to their destination to watch their balls drop (errrrrm, I mean, “the ball drop”). To top it off, some old bag started to panic because her novelty “Happy New Year” ice cream cake was starting to melt, and she’ll be damned if she had 240 seconds to spare (lady, what the hell did you do with it once you got onto your train–put it in the ever-so-readily-available “freezer car”???)

At this point, the two rocket scientists behind the glass informed me that they were unable to find a reservation that matches my “Australian citizenship”. HUH??? 😬 Incredulous, I pointed to the front of my passport to indicate that I am, indeed, an American. These two Rhodes Scholars let out a synchronized and comedic “Ohhhhhhh!” before turning three different shades of red. Turns out that they thought I was an Australian because I was wearing an Australian flag NECK PILLOW. 😳 You friggin’ buffoons, it might have been helpful to consult the gosh-darn PASSPORT that I presented to ya at the beginning of the transaction!! CRIKEY!! 😡

(Ice cream cake soup for everyone!!)
🍰🍰🍰🍰

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The Time That I Walked Around the Block

In 1996, I was 14 years old and in love with hockey. In those days, it was actually quite normal for kids to play outside (gasp!) in the streets (GASP!), and one of my best friends at the time was a fellow street hockey guy named Dan. Dan lived around the block from me and was–and still is!–a fellow New York Rangers fan. He knew I had never been to Madison Square Garden for a Rangers game before, and apparently, this was not okay with him.

One night in late March, there came a knock on my mother’s front door. Standing on our porch was Dan, accompanied by his father, Phil. They proceeded to invite me to the April 2 Rangers game against the New Jersey Devils. I was beyond ecstatic. I was going to be seeing some of the greatest players in hockey history…Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Adam Graves, to name a few…IN THE FLESH! The game was awesome…at the height of the Devils-Rangers rivalry, there was fast-paced action, plenty of exciting moments, and the crowd was simply electric. Alexei Kovalev scored 2 early goals and Messier sealed the deal with an empty-net goal for a 3-1 Rangers win. During the car ride home, I thought to myself that I should somehow find a way to repay Dan’s father for bringing me to my first-ever game. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t forget.

And then I forgot.

What can I say? When you’re 14 years old and growing up, life is a blur, and it’s very easy to forget things. After all, EVERYTHING is a distraction. You have to start high school…classes are difficult…teachers are intimidating…there are so many faces in the halls…girls’ legs grow longer…you get your first car…you hang out at the mall every weekend…etc., etc.

Years and years went by, and Dan and I fell out of touch. And, during all the countless times that I returned to my hometown to visit my mother, I never did think to simply walk around the block to reconnect with Dan’s dad.

Until one day…I did.

Although it took me a bit longer than I would have liked, I’m pleased to share that I did indeed make the walk around the block. 17 years after my first Rangers game with Dan and Phil, I strolled around the block to my buddy Dan’s house. Dan has long since moved out of our hometown and is making a life for himself in San Francisco. But that’s okay, because I wasn’t looking for Dan…I was looking for his father.

Phil came to the door, and I could tell right away that he didn’t quite know who I was at first. I said to him, “My name is Steven Feigenbaum, and believe it or not, you took me to my first-ever Rangers game when I was 14 years old. I’m here all these years later to return the favor.”

He smiled, politely accepted my offer, and I’m pleased to share that the two of us were in attendance at Madison Square Garden on December 15, 2013 (exactly three years ago today), for another Rangers game.

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Madison Square Garden–April 2, 1996

The Time That My Father Bought Some Bagels

Today is Father’s Day in my home country, which means it’s time to celebrate the goofy charms of dads from coast to coast.

American dads are a special kind of special. An American dad can tell you how many home runs Mickey Mantle hit in 1961…but then forget the birthdays of his own children. An American dad also has no problem yelling at his kids to “Grow up!”…while simultaneously clutching a Superman comic book under his arm. And, finally, only an American dad would ever deem it logical to forbid his offspring from playing with toy guns (for safety reasons)…while he goes out and plays with REAL ones. Yessiree Bob, American dads are a funny lot, and chock-full of zany idiosyncrasies.

Which brings me to my own dad…his name is Gary and he is without a doubt the most idiosyncratic man I’ve ever known. In fact, if it was possible to count them up, I would confidently wager that my dad has more idiosyncrasies than your dad (unless you’re my older brother Eric, in which case it would be a tie).

With that said, I give to you “The Time That My Father Bought Some Bagels”.
Enjoy, and happy Father’s Day to all!

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Setting: April of 2014. Man decides to sell house in Florida and move to New York. Man recruits younger son to help him with cleaning, packing and driving.

Day 1: Son arrives at 11:30 PM and is less than pleased to find that there is virtually no food in the house. Man apologizes profusely and promises son that food will soon be purchased.

Day 2: Man enters local supermarket and decides to purchase six-pack of Entenmann’s Bagels for $2.99. Man seems satisfied with purchase. Man announces to son, “We’ll keep these with us throughout the week…in case we’re hungry and we need something to nibble on.”

Day 3: Man and son eat cereal and milk for breakfast. Bagels go untouched. Man acknowledges this by muttering, “Maybe we’ll get to these tomorrow.” Man then proceeds to relocate bagels from the countertop to the refrigerator so that the cockroaches don’t get to them.

Day 4: Man and son again eat cereal and milk for breakfast. Bagels go untouched. Man matter-of-factly declares, “I may have overplayed my hand when I bought these bagels.”

Day 5: Man and son once again eat cereal and milk for breakfast. Bagels go untouched. Man and son then commence 3-day road trip from Florida to New York. Man stubbornly insists on bringing the bagels in the car rather than leaving them behind, because…”You never know.” Man chooses to keep them up front with him “so that they don’t get lost in the back of the car.”

Day 6: Man and son take advantage of complimentary breakfast in hotel dining room. Bagels go untouched. However, man instructs son, “Without drawing attention to yourself, go over to where the food is and grab some small containers of butter…just in case we finally end up getting to those damn bagels.” Man returns to hotel room and, perhaps too proud to admit defeat just yet, insists on putting the bagels back into the car. Sighing audibly, he avows, “We have one more day tomorrow. Maybe we can salvage one or two of these.”

Day 7: Man and son consume leftover Middle Eastern takeout food for breakfast. Bagels go untouched. Man stares dejectedly at bagels, emits a sigh audible from Abu Dhabi, and declares, “These bagels were a tremendous mistake.”

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The Time That A Mid-Twenties Revelation Turned Into An Insatiable Passion

AUTHOR’S NOTE REGARDING THE APRIL 1st BLOG ENTRY: I want to thank all of you who read my April Fools’ Day treatise about my conception. I would like to have shared more with you about my life-creating moment, but as the old travel saying goes: “What happens in utero stays in utero.”
Better luck next time, people, and enjoy blog entry #3.

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By the time my freshman year of high school rolled around, I already had my mid-twenties all mapped out. At some point during the year 1996, when I wasn’t firing spitballs at my classmates or wondering why hair was growing in strange places, my naïve 14-year-old self imagined lofty ambitions for my mid-twenties: I figured that by the time I was 25, I’d be living in a penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park in Manhattan, and I would be able to afford such opulence because I would be making millions as the starting center fielder for the New York Mets.

Yup……this was my plan.

But as I grew older (and presumably wiser), two grim realities reared their ugly heads:
1) Becoming a Major League Baseball player is really, really, REALLY difficult (yes, even making it to the crappy Mets).
2) If you fail to become a wealthy professional baseball player (or movie star, or pop music icon, or fat cat CEO, or bigoted blowhard Republican presidential nominee), living in a luxurious penthouse apartment in New York City is damn near impossible.

Okay, so I would never hit a game-winning home run and circle the bases at Shea Stadium with 55,000 people chanting my name. But even so, by the time I actually reached the age of 25, it still seemed like I had the world by the tail. I was young, healthy and energized (still am, actually). I had a Master’s Degree in my back pocket (still do, actually). I was working as a gainfully-employed middle school history teacher. I’d plugged myself into a variety of post-college social pipelines and made some great friends. I played roller hockey in several leagues throughout New York City and New Jersey. The house that I shared in Staten Island with my buddy Rocco was a few blocks down from a fantastic, enormous bookstore. By night, I went out for a few beers with the guys. I prowled the bars and chased the skirts. I was livin’ large and lovin’ life, and on the surface everything looked great.

But only on the surface.

You see, something was missing. On or around my 25th birthday, it dawned on me that I’d been around for a while…indeed, it had been a quarter of a century since I popped into this world. And, so far, my global travel had been lacking. Check that…my global travel had been SEVERELY lacking. In fact, I’d only been to the USA and Canada, and I wasn’t okay with that. Sure, the USA and Canada are two nice countries to visit, chock-full of countless incredible places to explore, but there are also more than 200 other countries in the world that I yearned to see. Hell, I’d never even been to Mexico…even drunk on a dare you make it into Mexico! There was only one way in which I was going to have the time, the money, and the opportunity to travel extensively: I would have to live abroad.

When I first got the idea to live overseas, some of my friends thought I was flat-out crazy to leave the USA. Especially my friends from New York. See, many New Yorkers–nay, MOST New Yorkers–think that if a person chooses to live somewhere besides The Big Apple, then that person is, in a sense, kidding.
And I heard quite a few bemused inquiries:
“You’re kidding. Aren’t you going to miss your family?”
“You’re kidding. Aren’t you going to miss your friends?”
“You’re kidding. Aren’t you going to miss going to baseball games [as a paying customer]?”

The answer to all of these questions, of course, was yes. But as the old saying goes, “Ya gotta give somethin’ to get somethin’.” And, no, I wasn’t kidding. I needed to get up. I needed to get out. I needed to see the world.

I also knew that I needed to do this sooner rather than later, for one very simple reason: if I waited too long, there might not be a “later”. You see, as we get older, we get tied down to the domestic life of spouses, kids, mortgages and minivans. And, while it’s definitely still possible to take fun and fulfilling trips as a family, it’s simply not the same as traveling when you’re young and single. After all, it’s not very easy or cheap to travel with your nagging wife/stubborn husband, not to mention your hyperactive children. If you don’t travel while you’re young and single, then you can’t get the opportunity back. Indeed, the four worst words in the English language are “It’s too late now” (narrowly beating out “Whose panties are these?”).

Before I took off for another country, I needed to do my homework. I had to figure out who I was, what I wanted, where I was going, and how to get there. Choosing which country to move to is not like opening up the fridge and going, “Hmmm, what should I have for breakfast this morning?” No, it’s a lengthy, drawn-out process that must be calculated and mustn’t be rushed.

Many people don’t know this, but my first choice was Japan (shhhhhh, don’t tell Korea!). However, every time I asked people about living abroad in Japan, they always gave me the same exact feedback: “You’ll make a lot of money, but you’ll spend it right back. The cost of living is very high in Japan, and it’s pretty hard to save much money.”  So much for that…sayonara, Japan.

Korea, on the other hand, is a place in which I could make a first-world salary and pay third-world prices. I could live rent-free with a minimal amount of monthly bills. I would be able to make a pretty good amount of cash as an English teacher/professor, and more importantly, I would be able to SAVE a pretty good amount of cash.  It’s also a very strategic geographical spot for wanderlusts: China to the west, Japan to the east, Mongolia and Russia to the north and a plethora of Southeast Asian destinations to the south.

After five or six months of research, studying, cultural swaps, language exchanges, job interviews, visa applications and airfare purchases, I was ready to roll.

It was time to chase a dream.

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ABOVE: On my way to Seoul in November 2008…
…my plane’s wing and a beautiful sunset over Alaska.

The Time That I Took My First-Ever Trip

The first trip I ever took truly prepared me for a life of travel. It was an extremely challenging adventure with many nerve-racking moments, and rendered me completely and utterly spent.

The journey started out in my dad’s scrotum, took me to my mom’s cervix, eventually into her uterus, and finally through her fallopian tubes toward my final destination. The whole thing started out as a pleasure excursion (so my dad tells me), but in the end it turned out to be quite a serious mission. In fact, when I got to the “What Is The Purpose Of Your Trip?” section of my customs form, I bypassed checking off the typical “Tourjism” and “Study A Broad” options, and instead opted for “(M)Other:_____________”. And in the little space provided, I wrote down, “InsemiNATION, bitches!”

Fast-forward nine months and thirty-four years later, and I’m pleased to announce that I was indeed able to fertilize my mom so that I could come into the world. Reflecting back on it now, I suppose what I’m most proud of is that I managed to beat out millions of others to get the job done. And through it all, I learned so much and made so many memories. I like to think of it as a classic cumming-of-age tale.

(Happy April Fools’ Day, y’all! Stay tuned for some great post-birth travel stories.
But for now……ovum and out.)
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ABOVE: My first passport photo.

The Time That I Paid My Respects

I owe all of this to my mother. All of it.

My mother, Jean, is the most travel-obsessed person I know. I’ve never met anyone who is more passionate about experiencing cultures and customs, lifestyles and languages, food and festivals. Thankfully, she has passed this love of travel down to my brother Eric and me, instilling into us from a very young age that there’s more to the world than what we could find in our small New Jersey hometown. And she has not only taught us how to travel, but more importantly, why traveling needs to be done.

It’s always fun for me to watch my mother research a destination and plan a trip, because she digs deep down into the heart and soul of each place she wishes to visit. If you’ve never been to my mother’s house, allow me to tell you what you’d find in there: bookshelves and coffee tables stacked to the ceiling with travel guides. I can tell you without exaggeration that my mother has probably purchased THOUSANDS of travel guides in her lifetime. Nobody does their homework like my mother. Nobody. She even managed to get herself banned from our neighborhood library for failing to return some travel books that she had borrowed. Now that’s dedication.

One of my favorite childhood memories is going to museums with my mother and watching her explain to the employees about the museum. No, that’s not a typo–SHE would explain it to THEM. She literally knew more about the exhibits, events, deals and discounts than the people who actually worked there. And if some hard-headed, know-it-all clerk or curator tried to refute her claims, she would whip out some kind of brochure or leaflet, proving herself correct. It was hilarious to watch her absolutely school the employees at their own museum.

Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve always loved to listen to my mother rattle off the places that she’s been to–cities, countries, you name it. The list seems to never end. I marvel at the priceless works of art she’s seen and the exotic foods she’s tasted. But the most impressive thing about her travels is not the sheer number of cities and countries that she’s visited–after all, traveling doesn’t belong on a scoreboard.  No, the most impressive thing is that she traveled to most of these places as a young woman (a quite attractive one at that), often by herself, chasing her travel dreams and ambitions no matter how difficult or dangerous. And this was well before Trip Advisor, Google Maps, and the Internet in general made traveling so much easier.

My mother has passed her passion for travel onto the next generation, and for that I am eternally grateful. There are many people whom I can thank for the awesome travel tales which you are about to read, but there’s only one person to whom I dedicate these tales.

Thank you, Mama Jean. This blog’s for you.

Mama Jean LA