When in the autumn of 2008 I heard that the New York Stock Exchange fell to a point unprecedented since the Great Depression of the 1930s and our leaders had decided to pave the way out of the loss of elderly peoples’ retirement funds, middle-class families’ nest eggs and rich peoples’ second summer homes with billions of dollars in no-interest loans to the same monolithic establishments which had caused the meltdown, I was mostly unemployed eating sardines out of a tin can in central Shibuya, Tokyo. Mostly unemployed meant that I worked “freelance.” “Freelance” meant that I had once been the manager of a bar in Shibuya’s infamous “Drunkard’s Alley” while moonlighting as a well-paid teacher of the English language at a well-known corporation making not so well-known “chemicals for living.” I was practically drooling to alter my own chemicals for living when I heard about TARP, which gave me pause:

What is TARP?

I had to look it up, but thankfully, there is the internet, so this was not much of a problem. Wikipedia told me that TARP or “The Troubled Asset Relief Program was the main program of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 signed into law by George W. Bush in October.”

“Hmmm,” I thought, “how can a no one like me get a piece of that?” I read on:

“Its primary function was to purchase assets and equity from financial institutions in order to counteract the sub-prime mortgage crisis, itself the main indicator of the entire financial crisis, the rise in sub-prime mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures. Delinquencies occurred, due to the more than 80 percent adjustable rate nature of the sub-prime loans, when these rates rose to levels which could not be paid by the people who took out the mortgages.”

“So a few people lost their houses. Big deal,” I thought, “they should have been quicker on their toes.” Not so fast. It turns out these loans were sold off to other financial institutions looking to make more profit by dividing and repackaging the sub-prime loans into triple-A rated securities, such as stocks, mutual funds and bonds to resell to groups and individuals looking to invest. Needless to say, when these new homeowners stopped paying their mortgages, foreclosures rose and became worthless, poisoning the assets which backed a very large number of the questionably rated securities that had been sold to clients worldwide. The financial institutions suddenly had a diminished capacity, as well as a willingness, to lend, slowing the rise of credit and contracting economic growth. A perfect economic storm.

My reptilian surfer mind took over, “But like, hey brah, um, what does it mean?”

What I thought it meant was with a little over 309 million people in the United States, the 700 billion dollar TARP bailout equated to roughly $2258 for every man, woman and child. Living abroad I was deluded enough to think that the government was paying that much out per person, in order to spur spending or something along those lines, rather than paying that money out to the few consolidated companies that had caused the financial crisis, and I wondered if that included me-expatriot extraordinaire. Was I still a part of America’s new legacy to the world? Way over here in Japan, Long Beach, California-born U.S. citizen, did I count too? I had missed the boat on the $300 checks everyone received from the Bush Jr.-era tax cuts, but I did get a chance to see one. Printed on rainbow treasury department paper and featuring “Blind Justice” as if cut from some magical Willy Wonka candyland money tree. Did I want to miss this one, as well? Even if, in the end, I would be proven wrong, and have to cough up my own $2258 portion to the customs agent once I crossed the border, wouldn’t the trip itself be worth it? In the meantime, I asked myself, “if the country’s coffers were to cough up a little over two thousand per person, did I want to get my piece of the subprime pie too?”

Tripping Overland – Prologue

Of course I was completely wrong. I found out the next day over happy hour double gin and tonics that instead of paying that amount out to each person, the government, in all of its apparent benevolent wisdom was taking that much per person from the tax coffers of the future and paying it out to the financial institutions whom had sold the bad stocks and mutual funds and were now in danger of going bankrupt. Oops.
If you look at it honestly, on a micro level, this kind of cowboy thinking, fueled by austere hedonism of bonus season made sense: If you are idiot enough to let me take something, then it’s your fault, idiot, deal with it.
In a way, this was how the idea for Tripping Overland was born:

I decided to use my imaginary $2258 TARP bailout money for the everyday victim of the recession to travel from Kyoto, Japan to San Francisco, California. Easy you say? It is after all the era of cheap international flights. JFK to Heathrow for $300. O’Hare to Suvarnabhumi for $750. There would be a flight from Kansai International (servicing the greater Osaka and Kyoto areas) to Los Angeles for close to $500 if I looked around a bit in advance and were willing to sit like one of the gutless sardines in the tin of soybean oil that I snacked on. Sure, I could save money and get home fast. But that’s when it hit me: What am I going home to? That’s also when my self-correcting English grammarian inner voice spoke up and said, To what am I going home?: soaring unemployment? The dying breath of print journalism? Prepackaged Costco spicy chicken parmesan bites? OK, fine, I get it. America is broken, but broke or not, she’s still my home. If I give her up to the greedy Wall Street swine without a fight what kind of American would I be? So, why fly? Why not take my time? Why not go not just over land, but completely over board? If I am honest, the thought had been wrestling around with my frugal better half for a while. I was due for a bit of the hard trek. I popped the cork on my beer and poured the amber-colored nectar into a glass, admiring the dizzyingly effervescent and fruity aromas, as I asked myself, “So then, how does one go about getting off of an island anyway?”

The Trip Around The World

The Trip Around The World

After hitchhiking to Kyoto and taking a ferry from Osaka to reach Shanghai, I will begin traveling in a north-westerly direction overland across China, into Mongolia, past Lake Baikal and deeper on into Ekaterinburg and other Russian territory, ending in St. Petersburg (the end of the Trans-Siberian Rail) where I will begin the difficult journey of avoiding the expense that Western Europe presents, heading south into Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania and from there to Copenhagen, which is where The Trip will get interestingly tricky.

I had initially planned to go by boat through to Seyðisfjörður in Iceland (I don’t know how to say it either), which was supposedly possible via Bergen in Norway, Esbjerg in Denmark and Scrabster in Scotland for way too many €uros. A few problems presented themselves since researching The Trip west from Iceland and onward into Greenland, Newfoundland in Canada and the continental U.S.

  • Iceland is prohibitively expensive. The cheapest price for a hostel I found was €55, which would be about $75. No wonder their banks failed first and were hardest hit in the economic “downturn” of late 2008, their Big Macs are $10 apiece…
  • Apparently there are no connecting ferries to Greenland, because, also apparently, no one wants to go to Greenland. The world has found out about Iceland’s ruse of misnaming the big, roadless block of ice as “Green” and decided that, well yeah, actually, why would we go there? And if we did, why would we take a boat?

So with the looming possibility of conquering China, marching through Mongolia, rouletting Russia, and skirting Europe to make it all the way to Iceland, only to get stuck in one of the coldest, most expensive places in the world, doesn’t seem as attractive as it did, well, hell, even before writing this (despite the solid research time already put in, I’m kind of winging it here). So the question remains: How will I cross the Atlantic Ocean?

I am open to any suggestions and / or other possibilities, of where to procure revenue:

Unsure of how much information possibly exists “out there”, but if anyone knows of any methods (including possible employment opportunities), commenting would be greatly appreciated.

“To while away the idle hours, seated the livelong day before the ink slab, by jotting down without order or purpose whatever trifling thoughts pass through my mind, truly this is a queer and crazy thing to do!”

Yoshida Kenko – Tsurezuregusa