On the road – Jack Kerouac book

Okinawa, Japan, 1997
Okinawa, Japan, 1997

I remember I first heard about the book “On the road” when I was travelling in Japan and sitting in a hostel in Naha, Okinawa. I had just met this Australian artist who was probably in his forties or fifties. He had taken pity on me, because I didn’t know any Japanese words, was lost in Okinawa and suffered from culture shock. He graciously agreed to teach me the most basic phrases to get by and explained that “no, this was not Southeast Asia where you still find people who speak basic English”. If you want to get around and make your way to the next destination, you better learn some Japanese. So we sat together night after night in the hostel and he taught me. He wrote out the important phrases, so if I got in trouble, maybe I could show my notes to someone and they could get me to the next point, to a telephone, a hospital, the embassy… I was not planning on using any of this during my travels and luckily I did not have to. During those nights, he also told me about books that I should read for my “travel education”. One of them was “On the road”. I made a whole list of what he recommended, because I was so grateful for his presence, his help and I was in awe of his travel experiences. My trip through Japan had gone extremely well, the artist had painted my name on a grain of rice which I carry with me to this day and I was settled back in comfortable, safe Switzerland. A few months later back home, I tried unsuccessfully to find this book. It was out of print. And I forgot about it. On other travels and in travelogues that I read, people made references to “On the road”. Nothing specifically that I could remember. Just that it was a book that needed to be read. That was essential for any serious traveller. But I kind of forgot about the “On the road” book as I was on the road myself – moving from continent to continent. When I finally settled in my apartment in Bangkok, I started listening to podcasts and read blogs from famous people. “On the road” was mentioned several times by people like Tim Ferriss or Rolf Potts (“Vagabonding” – yet to be discovered and read) and I finally found it on the internet. Over the past three months, I made it my practice to read a few pages every Saturday and Sunday. On the road I am a book junkie, so it is no surprise to understand that I was not smitten with the book, otherwise, I would have read it in one go. I tried to figure out what the fascination with it was and kept on reading, but often got distracted. The story is about this young, struggling writer (ok – interesting) who travels across the US several times on a shoestring budget (ok – interesting as well) with his absolutely crazy friend who abandons him and his other friends repeatedly when he finds a woman (ok…). For all of them, there is a lot of booze and women involved. They party along the way and spend all their money thoughtlessly. Maybe I am too old? Maybe the book is not for women? I continued reading to the end searching for the reason why this book became world famous. I couldn’t figure it out, but then I have not read the cliff notes or Wikipedia – maybe I need to do the homework and get the backstory on all of this. Or maybe I downloaded a pirated copy of something else from the internet that was titled “On the road” and was not the real thing. Who knows? Although there must be something about it that eludes me, because also on the artist’s list was “Slow boats to China” (also out of print) which I found and loved. I think if I’d find the list today, I would realize that I have gradually read most of the books that he recommended.

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