October 24th, 2011
Astana, Kazakhstan

Dear Friends and Family,

A fellow traveler recently told me that he heard that only 8% of Americans have a valid passport. (I can hear my crazy cousin Pete saying, ‘8%… wow… that’s almost half.’)

I’m not sure what the exact figure is, but let’s just assume for simplicity’s sake that it’s 10%. As a math and numbers guy, let me put that 10% figure into context for you…

Next time you are at Kroger’s or Safeway buying your groceries, look around at 9 other bored people in the check-out lines with you. Only ONE of you has a valid passport.

Maybe at Starbuck’s the number might be a bit higher. Because if you can afford to park your car and spend six dollars on a Caramel Pumpkin Whippy Mocho-lato, you might be able to fly to Ireland or Costa Rica.

Did You Know:  Wal-Mart’s website claims that only 23 people with a valid passport have EVER shopped there.  In the whole country! It’s true. Since Wal-Mart was founded in 1969, only 23 people with passports have bought crap there. And I am one of them (that’s where I get my underwear when I’m home.)

So let’s just say you happen to be in a Wal-Mart, minding your own beeswax, picking up some new work boots or the latest Mariah Carey Christmas CD. And the manager’s silky-smooth voice appears on the loudspeaker system to announce, “For the next half hour, we’re offering 50% off all rotisserie chickens and deodorant to any person holding a valid U.S. passport.” Bingo! You just won the redneck lottery! As a world traveler and valid passport holder, you might get all excited and start running to the front to cash in on your privileged status. Whoa Nelly! No hurry. Pace yourself… you’re a big fish in that dirty little Wal-Mart pond.

Even if you’re in the back (where they keep the flat screens), take your time. I can assure you… you’re the ONLY person in there with a passport.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… I miss my dad.

It’s all about priorities. Some people like to spend their money on fancy cars or a bigger house. Or maybe they like to gamble or chase women. Or maybe they like to collect porcelain dolphins, exotic animals or midgets. Whatever floats your boat. Knock yourself out.

Me? I like to spend my money on traveling. If I had a nickel for every dollar I have spent while traveling around the world, I would have a bunch of money.

Here in Central Asia, people have a lot of gold teeth. When they have extra money, they get more gold caps for their teeth. Even the seemingly poor people have gold teeth. It’s a status thing.

Last week, as I was walking across the border from Uzbekistan into Tajikistan, I saw a local woman selling a cart-load of cabbage and peppers. When she smiled at me in the afternoon sun, her whole mouth lit up like the 4th of July. She had more gold in her mouth than the Pope!

Question: How many times a week do you hear that sentence… ‘as I was walking across the border from Uzbekistan into Tajikistan’? Seriously? How many times? Once? Twice? Twenty times? Do you roll your eyes every time your know-it-all friend starts a story with, ‘You know, as I was walking across the border from Uzbekistan into Tajikistan…?’ And you think to your self, ‘Oh great! Here we go again… another stupid story about your border crossing from Uzbekistan into Tajikistan.’ Do you stick an imaginary gun into your mouth and pull the imaginary trigger as your friend is telling you once again about their border crossing from Uzbekistan into Tajikistan? Does it ever get old?

Anycrap, for some reason, people here like putting their money in their mouth. Maybe they don’t trust the banks. Maybe they’re afraid to get a tattoo. I’m not sure. All I know is that a whole bunch of people in Central Asian countries have spent a whole bunch of money to buy a whole bunch of gold teeth.

On my 25-hour sleeper train (ouch!) from Shymkent to Astana (Kazakhstan) a few nights ago, I shared my 4-bed berth with a nice family from Astana. It was a wife, a husband and their precious 5-month old baby boy. I shared my dinner with them as we were first leaving the station, and they shared their breakfast with me the next morning. The baby boy was soooo cute. It’s always great to meet the locals on a train, even if I don’t know their language or they don’t speak a word of English. We just point a lot and use a bunch of body language and gestures. Somehow we get by. And I can usually make them laugh and smile a lot. That’s just how I roll.

Here is the family I spent 25 hours with on the train from Shymkent to Astana. Mommy, baby, and Daddy. The baby was a very good traveler… always smiling and cheerful. Very little crying or complaining. Sweet baby.

 

 

Here I am holding the baby in our sleeping car. I held him and played with him a lot while his parents ate or took a break from baby duties.

 

 

I ended up smoking crappy cigarettes and drinking beer with the husband and a few other locals for a few hours at the back of the train car. Just another night, hanging with my new Kazakh buddies… Galmjom, Albaz, Mustaffa, and Bobjom. Something like that.

Here is a picture of me with Galmjom at a train station along the way. That’s me on the right.

 

 

I asked Galmjom how much each gold tooth cost him. He told me US$300. He had 4 of those bad boys. That’s US$1,200 all up in his grill. That’s a whole month of traveling for Lexicon. Galmjom prefers his mouth. I prefer a month. Priorities.

I showed Galmjom and his wife some of my travel photos on my iPad. They asked me how much it cost. I told them two of his gold teeth. They laughed. They asked me how I took such great pictures. I showed them my digital camera. How much? One gold tooth. They laughed again. They listened to my sweeeeet Bose headphones for a while. How much? ‘Yes, Galmjom, your last gold tooth.’

Priorities. If I had saved all my coffee and beer money over the years, all my teeth would have gold caps. And my shoes would be made of gold. Ditto with my underwear and everything else in my backpack. In fact, my backpack would be made of gold, and it would be completely filled with gold. Solid gold, baby! But then it would be too heavy to carry… and people would be robbing me all the time (probably Mongolians.) So now, my dear friends, you see why I spend so much money on beer and coffee… It’s a self-preservation mechanism. I’m just saying.

Peace & Love from way over here,

Lexicon

Coffee Monster
Founder of Honyaks Anonymous (Hon-Anon)
Professional Rambler
Inventor of the Cordless Kite

Facebook: Lex Latkovski

11 Responses

  1. Kevala

    YOU are outrageous, Mister Hon-Anon. As I was walking across the border from Wauwatosa to Milwaukee…. I remembered I have an about-to-expire passport. Time to go wave it around at Walmart. Love to you in your travels. Kevala

    • Lex

      Wow… Kevala, you really know how to push the envelope. I heard the Wauwatosa to Milwaukee border crossing is dangerous and complicated, with corrupt border guards, horse bandits, pick-pockets and furry trolls. I hope you made it OK. Pace yourself. Love, Hanuman

      • Kathy

        Lexter,

        Watch your bad mouthing Wauwatosa/Milwaukee; I was born there (so obviously really great things happen there)! Oh crap, now I better check my passport again to make sure I’m ready for my next trip to Ireland. xoxoxoxo

      • Lex

        Hello KW… Wait a minute… you mean to tell me that more than one of my loyal readers/friends from Wisconsin have valid passports!?!?!

        I never woulda thunk. I’m shocked.

        Love,
        Lexicon

  2. Mike MacDonald

    But if you started wearing gold underwear, you wouldn’t have to go to WalMart anymore (unless they have started carrying gold underwear, but I doubt it) and then you’d miss out on your likely chance of winning the Redneck Lottery when they call out the prizes for passport holders. Ah, life is full of choices. I say, stick with the beer and coffee. (But not the Caramel Pumpkin Whippy Mocho-latos. They’ll go straight to your hips)

    • Lex

      Hey Mike… thanks for the comment. I heard an old Genesis song the other day in a shopping mall, and I had a flash-back to the days when we used to sit in your basement and listen to the Abacab album on your monster stereo system. Those were fun days. Take care buddy! Lexicon

  3. KatMa Kelly-Hoffman

    I roast tofu pups on my grill. Not gold….teflon I think…
    I truly enjoy the ride my friend.

    • Lex

      Thanks KatMa. I would LOVE a tofu pup right about now. Every dish in Central Asia has meat and cream in it. It’s hard to find healthy stuff here. Oh well. Love, Hanuman

  4. Tom

    Lex-

    That is a hilarious story. We miss you and hope you are having a great time. Stay safe, Bro!

    Tom

  5. jean dery

    hey lex im the guy hou you lent 100 us on gilli island (and payed you back). we did not rendezvous in louaprabang .but maybe this winter. i saved all my money and im thinking of landing in dear old bbk and check out burma this time .any way hope you well and by the way wen i go to thiland i stay on kho chang island the one near ranong. adaman sea. no motor noise (car and bikes are almost non existant !!! well take care you lucky traveler.