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Boston, China Town, and the Columbian

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Boston, MA, USA
July 22, 2007

A vagabond life is the logical life to lead if one seeks the intimate knowledge of the world we were seeking.”
-Richard Halliburton, The Royal Road to Romance

Entrance gate to Boston’s China Town.China Town street scene.

So I hoped the train to take me to downtown Boston on Friday, and in a half hour stepped out into the city with no plan but to go to China Town and see what happens. Being around all the Chinos again got my heart pumping with excitement- I have a bit of a love affair for China- and I walked the streets with a big smile on my face. I was in search of a cheap place to stay. But even though I can read the Chinese signs and communicate with Mandarin speakers my attempt was in vain.
“China Towns are not created to keep the Chinese in, but rather to keep everybody else out,” I read once somewhere, and I found that this is the truth. My English language (most people in North American China Towns speak English fairly well) questions of where one could find a bed were met with rudeness, my Mandarin attempts were usually answer with a slight smile and an explanation that they did not speak that dialect. As my Chinese was next to useless (most overseas Chinese communities speak Canto or Hakka) and my English was met with scorn, on top of the fact that I could not locate a hotel by reading the signs anyway, I concluded my search and gave up my romantic notion of staying the weekend in China Town.
So I was off to find a bed elsewhere. I stepped into the Boston Backpacker’s youth hostel all the way across the city, and they gave me the best rate in town- which was far more than I have ever spent on a bed before. But alas, I was getting paid a big per-diem from the Archaeology project that I am working so I had no real reason not to sleep inside and upon a real bed. The hostel proved to be alright except for the fact that I got the impression that the guys running it would short change a pauper. But what could be expected? It was the cheapest bed in the city.
So I crashed at the hostel for a couple of nights reading books and watching the bands that were playing in the bar below. I think that bars are adequately named as, on those rioting free wine nights, they oftentimes feel like cages. I like my wine on the run- drinking with the moon and the stars, “with the sky as my only witness,” thus spake Kerouac. But on such nights as those I spent at the hostel I was of a bit more mellower disposition, and a beer and a conversation I did not scorn.
This was where I met the Colombian. I had previously met him in passing earlier in the day as he was sleeping in the buck directly above me. We had the preliminary exchange of traveller dialogue: “Where are you from?” “Oh, where are you from?” “Where are you going?” “Oh, where are you going?” and so on into dead-end infinitum. In fear that I might have to keep this head beating charade up for the remainder of my beer I asked him a question that I was sure would take a while for him to answer: How did FARC become so powerful? He then lapsed into two hundred years of Colombian history and I was out Scot free of having to keep on coming up with empty questions to keep asking him for the sake of conversation. But he did say one thing that I liked. After going on and on about the problems of his country, about the conservative government, FARC, the paramilitaries who were suppose to have defended the people from FARC but became just as bad, he said, “but I live in Paradise.” And he meant it. “In Columbia I choose my weather. If I grow tired of being cold in the mountains I drive down to the coast and sit on the beach.” He smiled widely at this, seemingly proud that in a country so volatile he had complete control over something that few people of the world can boast of- he could choose his weather. I returned his smile.
Boston is a great city for walking. In my three days there that is all that I did- I walked from one end of the city to the other and back again. I can think of few things that I would rather be doing than this. In the course of my walks I stumbled into a vintage book store just before they closed. I walked through the scrambled shelves, turned around the corner of one, and nearly ran smack into a BARGAIN rack! Five dollars for each book, which is not so bad in the USA. I look upon the shelves and nearly as soon did Richard Halliburton’s name pop up on the spine of a yellow book. I scooped it up and gave it a little hug. The Royal Road to Romance would be my new companion. I also found a little, very old hardcover called Tales of a Traveler that I cradled in my arms with near equal enthusiasm. Then as I was about ready to split with my spoils I noticed book called, Travels and Adventures in Many Lands by W. Lavallin Puxley, and figured that it was worth taking out of the shelf. As I did so an original black and white photograph fell out of it. I picked it up and and inspected it to find that it was of the author. On the back of it was written, “Miss Puxley aged 90 and three months, June 1957.” I studied the book a little closer and I found that it was also signed by the author as well. Treasure! Then when I got the book back to my room I noticed that in the black and white photo the author is holing a copy of the book- a very good chance that it is the same book that I was holding! Treasure I tell you!
I did find a nice little restaurant in China Town, and most of my ideas happen to be born while eating rice. I have a funny little notion, it even makes me laugh.
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Filed under: Accommodation, Cities and Urban Development, Language, North America, Travel Inspiration, USA

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap

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