Book of Lists


Those of you who know me well know that I love coincidences.  For example, I might think of a movie or song that I haven't seen or heard in months, or even years.  Then, within a day or so, I'll see it on TV or hear it on the radio.  But it can be anything coincidental - like what happened one morning during my motorcycle tour of the Western U.S. (with Kumiko)...

We were camping in the Rocky Mountains and it was very cold, even though it was August.  I woke up before dawn and wanted to know just how cold it was, so I reached for my watch (which had a thermometer on it).  When I pressed the button to illuminate the dial, I first noticed the time - 4:44am.  Two seconds later, the time read: 4:44:44.  I then looked at the temperature - it was 44° (Fahrenheit).

Anyway, you get the idea.  So here are some that have occurred during my world travels...

  • During my visit to Korea, I went with Megan, an American girl I met at the hostel where we were staying, on a day-trip to the DMZ - the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.  At the end of the tour, as we stood at the northern-most train station in South Korea, a couple of hundred meters from the DMZ, Megan asked one of our guides about the mines scattered throughout the DMZ.  He had explained that there was a crew working to clear the mines from a narrow path prior to completing the railway up to the demarcation line.  She asked if the wildlife which now thrives in the DMZ ever trip the mines.  Our guide confirmed that it does happen occasionally.  No sooner than the words had left his mouth, we heard what was unmistakably an explosion off in the distance.  Our guide said, "That was one just then."
  • While in Singapore, we stopped in a bookstore so Kumiko could buy some Japanese-language books.  I was browsing through magazines waiting for her to finish making her selections.  I picked up one that had the 100 greatest moments in film.  One of the films mentioned was The Blues Brothers.  The next evening, sitting in a bar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I noticed a poster for the movie hanging on the wall.
  • During our auto tour through the western state of Rajasthan, India, I switched the camera to video mode to capture a 15-second example of typical Indian traffic.  As I pointed the camera through the windshield to film the constant stream of noisy cars, buses, trucks, scooters, bicycles, and pedestrians (not to mention the ever-present cows), I was quite surprised to see an elephant (only the second one we saw on our entire tour) coming down the street towards us.  So the video turned out to be a rather atypical, yet quite appropriate, example of life on the streets of India.

  • All through our travels, especially in the larger cities, we would see people on the streets handing out flyers advertising various businesses - hotels, restaurants... whatever.  I would just wave them off and not take what they were trying to hand me, since it would just end up in the nearest trash can anyway.  With that said, however, while walking the busy streets of Delhi one evening, something made me take one such flyer from a man on the street.  As I looked at it more closely, I saw that it was an advertisement for a computer training company named SSI.  What makes this one so amazing is that, before I sold everything and started my travels, I was one-third owner of a software company in Austin named Switch Solutions, Inc. - which we simply called SSI.  I sent the flyer to my former partners and told them I didn't realize they had a branch in India now.
  • As we neared the end of our tour of India and started looking forward to the European portion of our trip, I was looking through the Lonely Planet guidebook for Western Europe.  As I thumbed through the pages, place-names would catch my attention.  One such name was Edelweiss - and I immediately thought of the song from the movie The Sound of Music.  The next day, I heard the Muzak-version of another song from the movie in, of all places, a restaurant in India.
  • After my first visit to Japan in April of 2000, I sent a series of emails out to my friends containing details of my trip.  One friend wrote back and suggested that I read Memoirs of a Geisha.  When I was preparing to depart for my extended tour, I was trying to decide which book to take with me to read during the long hours of travel I knew were ahead of me - and, of course, I considered buying a copy Memoirs of a Geisha.  But, in the end, I decided I was already carrying too much stuff and didn't take a book at all.  [Before I left my sister's house, however, she corrected my oversight by giving me a copy of Hannibal.]  While on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand, I was talking to one of the three British girls staying in the bungalow next to ours.  We hadn't even been talking about books or reading but, out of the blue, she says, "Have you read Memoirs of a Geisha?  It's a lovely book.  We ended up with two copies, so you can have this one."  And with that, she handed me the book - which I started reading that very night.
  • It's been years since I've seen or even thought about the movie Bridge on the River Kwai.  That is, until our trip on the Oriental Express - during which we had an excursion to go see the famous bridge - and watch the train crossing it.  Since then, I've been whistling the theme song from the movie - which I'm sure has a name other than The Theme Song from Bridge on the River Kwai, but I don't know what it is.  On two separate occasions, in two completely different countries, I've heard passersby whistling the same tune.
  • Kumiko and I were exploring yet another new town - this one being Trapani, Sicily.  As we walked through one of the many piazzas, something on the ground caught my eye.  It turned out to be two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle - interlocked and ready to be put in their proper place in the larger picture.  They were lying face-down on the pavement - and the greyish underside blended quite well with the color of the concrete - so it's a wonder I noticed them at all.  Now, I don't recall ever running across pieces from a jigsaw puzzle outdoors at any point in my life prior to that time.  About three hours later, back in our hotel room, we noticed that the wall decorations were actually completed jigsaw puzzles - which was a first for our trip as well.
  • At our apartment on the island of Gozo in Malta, I was working on the web site - specifically, the section for the Most Interesting Sight (of 2001)...  Angkor Wat.  Kumiko had no idea what I was working on - yet, no more than an hour later, out of the clear blue, she said, "You know, I think that Angkor Wat has been the most interesting sight so far."  I was floored!  I even asked if she had seen what I was working on and she said she hadn't.
  • I finally got around to reading the book my sister gave me before I left - Hannibal - the sequel to Silence of the Lambs.  When I'm traveling, it takes me a long time to get through a book since I can only read a few pages at night before I fall asleep.  As we were nearing the end of our visit in Sardenia, I reached the point in the book where the setting moved to Sardenia.  The two cities mentioned specifically, Cagliari and Arbatax, were two of the three places we visited during our stay.  Then from Sardenia, we spent a couple of days in Rome on our way to Florence.  During this time, the storyline moved to Florence and went on for several chapters, describing places in the book that we were seeing at the same time.  At times, as we strolled past the Duomo, through the piazza of the Uffizi Gallery, and across the Ponte Vecchio, I felt like I was one of the characters in the book - hoping for all the world that I wouldn't be one of ones that ended up dead.
  • Just before we got to Berlin, scenes from Dune came to mind, just out of the blue.  While we were staying with Helmut, yet another of our many new-found friends, we listened to a lot of his great music.  Ayako (a Japanese girl we had met in Taipei and who was traveling with us through Germany) described it as techno-jazz, but Helmut was quick to correct her, though I don't recall what term he used for it.  One song had a line that was spoken, not sung, and was repeated throughout the song:  "Whoever controls the spice, controls the Universe."
  • Also while we were staying with Helmut, he took us wild boar hunting one evening.  The next day, again in one of his "techno-jazz" songs, I heard the line: "I'm going hunting."
  • We met up with some more new friends, Curt and Helen, in Ljungby, Sweden.  One day, they took us for a hike in the woods looking for mushrooms.  As we walked along, I had the Don McLean tune, American Pie, going through my head.  I wasn't humming it aloud or whistling it - mainly because I wouldn't be caught dead actually humming a Don McLean song - so I know none of the others could hear it.  Yet, when we got back to the house, Helen was singing another Don McLean song - Starry, Starry Night.
  • We got to Norway in late-August, and it was already getting quite cold, especially at night.  Our camper had a heater that worked by burning diesel fuel and had three timers you could set to have it come on at different times during the night.  It would come on, bring the temperature up to the preset level, then shut itself off.  I had it set to come on at 3:00a.  During one particularly cold night, Kumiko and I woke up at the same time.  She said she was cold and I told her the heater would probably be coming on soon.  I had no idea what time it was - yet, at the exact second that I said the word "soon", the heater came on.
  • We encountered more rain in Norway than we had so far in our travels.  One day we were driving through the rain listening to one of my MiniDiscs - and, as usual, I was singing along with the songs I know so well.  I heard (and sang) the line, "...teach him to be a wise man and how to sing in the rain."
  • Just before we got to the channel tunnel (on the French side), I stopped the MiniDisc we had been listening to just as a song was finishing.  After we got through the tunnel and settled on the proper highway on the other side, I started playing it again.  The first five songs we heard in the U.K. were by British artists.  In order, they were: The Beatles, Gentle Giant, Genesis, Jethro Tull, and Peter Gabriel.
  • We went to a pub in London for fish and chips.  Actually, we searched long and hard for one that had fish and chips and was still serving in mid-afternoon.  The one we found had great fish and chips, and a very friendly waitress.  We talked for a while, mostly about travel, and finally exchanged email addresses.  When she saw the URL of my web site, she asked if my last name was Fowler - I said it was - and she said, "So is mine."
  • Yet another musical coincidence...  In France, we visited Chateau Chambord.  One of its main architectural features is a double spiral stairway which is said to have been designed by Leonardo de Vince.  In my explanation to Kumiko about why it was so unique, I described it as a double-helix (as did the guidebook).  As we continued southward after our visit, while listening to a Steely Dan song, we heard the line, "Double-helix in the sky tonight."
  • On the Milestones page, you might have noticed that the date that I first left my homeland was December 11, 2000.  Well, that's when I actually left the U.S.  But my home and birthplace is the wonderful state of Texas - from which I departed on December 5th to go visit my sister in Indiana for the last few days before starting my journey.  As I relaxed at Chalet Martin in Gryon, Switzerland the following November, trying to decide where to go next in my travels, I finally realized I needed to return home for a short while.  I called American Airlines and booked the first available (and affordable) flight to Texas.  The date turned out to be December 5th.  So even though I didn't plan for it to work out that way, I returned to Texas exactly one year to the day from the date I departed.
  • Speaking of the date I started my travels (in the previous item)...  One day at a Starbucks somewhere in the Philippines, the two girls taking my order were asking about my travels.  This was in December, 2011 - the 11th year of my travels.  When I mentioned that I had started traveling in December, 2000, one of the girls said, "Oh, so this is your anniversary month."  At that point, I asked, "What's today's date?" (because, like, you know... Doug "doesn't know, doesn't care." - hehe)  When they told me it was December 5th, I said, "OMG!  TODAY is the 11th anniversary!"  That's the first (and only) time anyone has every made a reference to that particular anniversary, so it's quite amazing that it happened 11 years to the day after I started my travels.
  • There's a song called "Turning Japanese".  I don't know who it's by - I'm not even sure if that is actually the title, but it's the line repeated most often in the song.  I had never heard this song - I only knew of it because my former roommate was fond of singing a particular part, which goes: "Turning Japanese; I think I'm turning Japanese; I really think so."  On the morning of December 28th - the day I was to catch a flight to Japan to visit Kumiko - I was awakened at 5:00a in a hotel room in Houston, Texas by a radio alarm clock.  As I lay there listening to the music, trying to force myself to get up and get going, the second song I heard was: "Turning Japanese".
  • One morning, for no apparent reason, I started thinking about how, whenever they have to show or say a phone number in an American movie, they always use 555 for the exchange (the "middle" three digits, if you will).  Later that same day, I was talking to my Chinese girlfriend, Jackie.  I think we may have been talking about movies - our favorites and such - when suddenly, out of the blue, she said, "I've noticed that all phone numbers in American movies have 555 in them.  Why is that?"  I couldn't answer because my jaw was hanging open in amazement.  [The actual answer, for those of you who don't know, is that it makes it a "fake" number.  555 is reserved for special uses by the phone company.  They use it in movies so people who like to call phone numbers used in movies just to see who answers, won't be bothering a real person.]
  • I was in my room at a guesthouse in Hong Kong, working diligently to get my web site in a somewhat finished state so I could upload it to the 'net.  I had the TV on to provide background noise while I wrote some of the many stories from my travels.  I happened to be working on the story about visiting a former concentration camp (one of the items on my Bucket List).  There was a sitcom on TV called "Living with Lydia" - which is not that great, but as I said, it was just background noise.  The "plot" of this particular episode had to do with the high cost of water and electricity in their Singapore apartment - so the whole family had to try not to be so wasteful.  This meant that they had to eat dinner in the dark.  One family member came home and saw everyone else sitting in the dark and said, "This looks like a concentration camp."  Now, I can't recall ever hearing the words "concentration camp" mentioned in a sitcom (since sitcoms are supposed to be, like, you know... funny) - and I've never written a story about visiting a concentration camp before.  So for those two events to happen at the same time is, well... quite a coincidence.
  • I met a Thai woman on the beach on Koh Samet (an island off the northeast Gulf Coast), and at one point we were discussing my Native-American ancestry.  I told her about how members of the Navaho tribe were used as radio operators in the Pacific conflict during World War II.  Not that I'm Navaho - I'm actually Cherokee - but I couldn't think of anything interesting to say about the Cherokee people.  The Navaho radio operators relayed messages using a code based on their own language - which turned out to be unbreakable.  The next day, while online at my hotel, I was checking my favorite news service.  One of the headlines under "entertainment" was: "Navahos Approve of Code-talker Movie".  The article described a new movie to be released that told the story of the Navaho radio operators.  Two days later, back in Bangkok, I was having dinner with a Japanese woman I had met briefly before I went to Koh Samet.  She was telling me about herself and how she had spent several years in the U.S. going to university.  And, for a few months just prior to her return to Japan, she had lived on the Navaho Reservation, learning about the Native-American culture.
  • I was reading the book Isle of Woman by Piers Anthony.  It follows the history of mankind on Earth from 3.7 million years ago to modern times.  I got to the chapter about the Hittite Empire (about 3300 years ago) and read the following passage in the intro to that chapter:

    One of the major powers the Hittites encountered was the north African kingdom Egypt, intent on building an empire.  Finally, about 1300 B.C., Ramses II of Egypt marched north with a force of 20,000 men to establish Egyptian supremacy in the Levant. The Hittite ruler Muwatallis went to meet him with a similar force.  They met at the trading city of Kadesh, in what was perhaps the greatest military clash of the times.

    When I read this part, I was in Egypt, sitting in an outdoor restaurant near the entrance to Abu Simbel; which contains two temples built by, and in honor of, Ramses II.
  • As if that wasn't enough (referring to the one above), after I finished that book, I started reading The Geographer's Library by Jon Fasman.  In it, each chapter begins with a quote.  The one for chapter two was by Sanoplus of Alexandria; and not far into the chapter, there's a reference to the great library of Alexandria.  As you've probably guessed by now, I was in Alexandria (not far from the library) when I read this.
  • I reached 100,000 miles in my travels on 13 Aug 2003, and hit the 1000-day mark on the 31st.  See the coincidence?... 13... 31... same month, same year. :p
  • In the later years of my travels (starting in 2010), I've been working along the way - doing web development, which means I can work wherever there's access to the Internet.  My favorite place to work is at Starbucks, because they have comfortable chairs and don't seem to mind if I stay all day.  At the various Starbucks I've visited in the Philippines, they make a concerted effort to learn the names of their patrons so they can greet them whenever they come in.  They are also fond of using Sir/Madam along with the name, just to be polite - though they usually say it before the name, which means I end up being "Sir Douglas".  At one such Starbucks, after I had been there several hours, I heard the girl behind the counter say, "Hello Sir Douglas".  I couldn't understand why she was greeting me again when I had been there for such a long time, but when I turned to look, I saw that she was greeting another "Sir Douglas", who also happened to be an American.
  • Perhaps the most amazing one of all... as I've traveled the world, I have (obviously) been working on and updating this web site.  The version you are browsing now is a totally-rewritten version of my original site, which was created with 2001 Internet technology.  In this version, I decided to add statistics about my tour of the world - such as, how many times I've visited each country/city, the cost, etc.  After I complied all those statistics, I decided to add the distance traveled from/to each place, which meant I then had to go back through ten years of travel destinations and, using Google Maps, determine the distances traveled and enter them into my database.  Needless to say, this took quite some time, so I would work on it a little at a time over a period of weeks.

    When I was in Cluj-Napoca, Romania in July, 2011, I was sitting at a desk in the reception area updating distances for parts of my trip way back in 2001.  A woman from Sweden arrived and was going through the check-in process with the clerk on-duty.  While they were chatting, he asked her which city in Sweden she was from.  She said, "It's a small town south of Stockholm that you probably haven't heard of... Göteborg.  I looked up from my work and asked, "Is this how you spell the name of your hometown?", pointing to an item on my screen.  She came to see and said, "Yes, that's it!" So, ten years after I had spent a night in that city, a woman from there happened to walk into the hostel where I was staying in Romania at the exact moment I was editing that part of my itinerary.  I say... call Ripley!
  • Ok, they keep getting even more amazing...  I'm not really that fond of Facebook, but it's impossible not to have a profile there in this everyone's-gone-Facebook-crazy world.  So, while checking the latest notifications in my profile one evening, I happened to glance at the right column, where Facebook offers a list of "People you might know".  I was shocked and amazed to see the name "James Fowler" (for those of you who don't know already, my first name is "James").  I looked more closely at the profile photo and was even more shocked and amazed when I realized it's my father.  Out of more than 7 million members (at the time of this writing), Facebook offered up my father as someone I might know!  An amazing coincidence indeed.