Perfect, But with More Distractions
Another place where I was convinced that I would be able to write was aboard my schooner, Third Sea. That’s what I thought when I built the vessel in Singapore and sailed her with my five-man crew to Bangkok to be fitted out. I had everything I wanted-my own private cabin and a big saloon. Just imagine, if I didn’t like my neighbors, I could move. In waters around Southeast Asia, there are endless coves ideal for anchoring. I found coves every• where. One cove in particular that I liked was on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula. We dropped anchor, and I set up my Hermes (I had bought a new one after selling my old one in Tahiti) in the main saloon and sat down to work. But then, as it often happened in that cove, and in others as well, I’d hear a shout from above -“What’s that, look, over there!” It was one of the crew. Of course, I had to rush up on deck to see what it was all about. There might be a school of porpoises that had come into the cove and begun frolicking around the schooner. They are always a grand spectacle, fun to watch as they leap so effortlessly. Or, if it wasn’t porpoises, maybe it was a manta ray gliding along the surface. They are wonderful to watch, too. The water in those coves was so clean and crystal clear that we could look down and see the anchor resting on the bottom thirty feet below. We were also likely to see schools of fish swimming by. Now that I was up on deck, I reasoned I might as well put on fins, grab a snorkel and take a short swim. The swim would last for hours. So much for writing that day.
Then, there was the problem of the crew. It’s most difficult to tell the crew that there are chores to be done while I sit in the saloon at my typewriter. “I have some writing to catch up on, too,” they would invariably say and plop themselves down with letters to write or a journal to bring up to date. To keep a crew working, I had to set the example and work with them, or else I’d have to find a place on shore where I could escape to write.
I learned I could do very little writing aboard my schooner. For me, boats are not the ideal place to write, believe me. I found this to be true once again when I crossed the South Pacific aboard a Messageries Maritimes freighter.
I spent hours reclining in a deck chair staring out at the blue Pacific. Other than keeping a journal, I didn’t write a single word on any of those voyages but I did a lot of dreaming.
Is there such thing as the most ideal place to write?
In the end I chose Bangkok. Why Bangkok?
Chance brought me here. I was making a motor trip around the world and got caught in a war between India and East Pakistan, or Bangladesh as it is called today. The U.S. Air Force airlifted me, along with the staff of the US Embassy in Dacca to Bangkok in Thailand. A reporter at the Bangkok Post interviewed me about my motor trip and the evacuation, and through him I met his editor. When the editor learned that I didn’t know how long I had to wait for the India-East Pakistan war to end, he asked if I would like to write a few travel stories for the paper while I was detained. I accepted. Bangkok turned out to be an excellent hub for writing. It is within easy reach of tropical jungles, unexplored seabeds and exciting cities with skylines of domes of mosques, Buddhist temples, Hindu shrines and Christian churches. I wanted to write, and here was material to write about. Bangkok suited me fine. The India-East Pakistan war ended, I completed my motor trip around the world and returned to Southeast Asia where there were endless stories to write .
When I began writing for the Bangkok Post, the editor offered me a desk surrounded by a hundred other desks where journalists sat. Fortunately, as a travel writer, I had to spend more time traveling than sitting at a desk. In time, however, at the Post I learned how to close out the world around me. There could have been a shootout or a team of wild horses thundering through the office and I would not have noticed them. More important, from that experience, I found I could write anyplace. Most newspapermen can do it and so do most office workers. Hemingway wrote most in the morning sitting in La Closerie des Lilas in Paaris and drank in Cafe de Flore at night. That requires true dedication. However, I still contend the place to write is in a room without a view.
It all comes down to the premise if we want to write and we are sincere about it, we can write anywhere. For the moment I like Bangkok. Tomorrow, however, is another day.