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September 24, 2003

Update continued: Surgery, booze, and my farm in Kansas

In addition to getting a comprehensive checkup at Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital a few weeks ago, I also got a piece of glass surgically removed from my foot. How it got there in the first place is somewhat of a freak accident (something that, in retrospect, makes me appreciate the unambiguity of the walking-on-glass scene in “Die Hard”). What happened was that I managed to drop a beer bottle in my Thailand apartment, and — a couple days after I thought I’d cleaned it all up — I stepped on a tiny piece of glass that imbedded itself deep into the ball of my right foot. For a week, I had a hard time walking without feeling sharp pain. And, for a good part of that week, I spent a good part of each evening digging around in the ball of my foot with a pocketknife and a pair of tweezers, trying to get the glass out. I suppose I figured that, if rock climber Aron Ralston could have self-amputated his arm with a pocketknife in Utah earlier this year, I could at least find and remove a piece of glass from my foot.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. At least one’s arm is easy to find (if not amputate); locating a tiny piece of glass in the tissues of one’s foot is next to impossible. After a week of pulling ragged red chunks of skin tissue out of my foot to no avail, I decided spring the $50 (which, apparently, is what surgery costs in Thailand) and have a surgeon find and remove the piece of glass for me. The glass was so small that Dr. Pricha, my surgeon, had to find it by sound and feel instead of sight. What he finally found was a shard of glass as sharp as a scalpel and about a quarter the size of a grain of rice. It was hard to believe that tiny shard was what had been causing all that pain, but I haven’t had a problem since.

Anyhow, after a couple more days in Bangkok, I boarded a $300 China Air flight for San Francisco via Taipei. I was later told by my friend (and former Paris student) Jennifer Lahue that getting on any China Air flight is a bad idea, since this carrier has a reputation for, among other things, driving planes the wrong way up runways. And the reason I mention Jennifer is that (although my flight got across the runway just fine) my China Air flight managed to miss my onward connection, and I was forced to spend an unscheduled day in Taipei, where Jennifer teaches at the local American School. Fortunately, Jennifer came to the rescue by bringing a bunch of booze and snacks out to Air China’s layover hotel and making me laugh (and not just because of the booze) for several hours. Among other things, she “double-dog” dared me to use the words “sea monkey”, “loincloth”, and “toggle” in a single weblog entry. (Unfortunately, Jennifer, I am not so easily manipulated, and the day I play your little games on this blog will be the day that loincloth-clad sea-monkeys break into the Pentagon and toggle all the levers on the Cheez-It vending machines.)

Eventually I made it out of Taipei, and managed to survive a China Air flight to SFO, where I snagged a red-eye flight to Kansas, where my family lives. I’ve said before on this blog that Kansas is a kind of “home” to me, since I grew up there, but that (as Pico Iyer recently wrote) home can be a moving target if you’re always traveling from place to place and culture to culture.

This return to Kansas, however, was different than the rest, since — for the first time ever — I returned to a piece of land I can call my own. Indeed, some months ago I went in on 80 acres of farmland with my sister’s family, and this was the first time I’d had a chance to see it since we’d been out shopping for land last winter. And I must say that it’s a beautiful little farm: 30 acres of timber (mostly elm, cedar, and Osage orange), and 50 acres of wheat (which is leased to a farmer) midway between Gypsum and Salina in the Smoky Hills of Saline County. (This being Kansas, of course, the “hills” of the Smoky Hills are more like “bumps”.) Kristin, David, Cedar and Luke have fixed up the old farmhouse on the property, and when I stay there I sleep, Mel-Gibson-Lethal-Weapon-style, in a small trailer at the edge of the timber. The September weather was perfect when I visited — cool mornings and calm, sunny afternoons — though David told me that, given Kansas’ infamous weather fluctuations, that was a lucky fluke. “If the weather was always this nice,” he told me, “this place would be crawling with Californians looking to buy land.”

Someday, when time and money come together properly, I hope to build a little writer’s cabin in the timber and live there for a season or two each year. And when I do, you’re all invited out for the cabin-warming party.

In the meantime, however, I have moved on to California, where I have a great new adventure in store for the next several months — one that will take me overland across Mexico, Central America, and South America to Tierra del Fuego. I know I’ve been coy about this upcoming adventure (and my departure from Asia) for quite some time, but I’ve wanted to get the facts and plans down before I announced anything. Expect those details (and the first of many dispatches from this Latin American adventure) sometime next week.

Posted by | Comments (6) 
Category: Rolf's News and Updates


6 Responses to “Update continued: Surgery, booze, and my farm in Kansas”

  1. Rolf Says:

    Lynda Ireland wrote to point out a serious omission regarding my Kansas farm: In addition to Kristin, David, Cedar, and Luke, my parents George and Alice Potts did a mammoth amount of work in fixing up the farm this summer, driving up from Wichita nearly every weekend to clear brush, paint walls, haul junk and take care of the boys. Without their help, the farm (and the farmhouse in particular) would be in a sad state!

  2. Chris Says:

    Rolf-
    Had a question: Do you think you will take a stab at a novel someday? Or are you more comfortable within the ‘travel writing’ genre. Given the relative success of Vagabonding, would Villard give you the lattitude to broaden your writing scope?

  3. Rolf Says:

    Hey, Chris. I’m not opposed to writing a novel, but I have no plans to write one anytime soon. And even if I did, I think Villard mainly deals with nonfiction, and I would have to seek out (and prove myself) at another, more appropriate Random House (or elsewhere) imprint.

    I don’t however, plan to stick exclusively to travel writing. I’d eventually like to delve into other forms of non-fiction, such as memoir and investigative nonfiction. I also have a latent interest in screenwriting, though it will be awhile before I dabble in that again. Too much traveling to do in the meantime!

  4. Chris Says:

    An excellent investigative book is Black Mass written by two journalists from the Boston Globe about the Irish mob and the FBI. Real good stuff. With real life characters like Steve ‘the rifleman’ Flemmi, how can you go wrong? Check it out if you haven’t already.
    Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060959258/qid=1064598762/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_1/102-5265869-3682518

  5. Rolf Potts Says:

    Brent, I sometimes teach courses and/or do events in Kansas, though not on a regular basis. The best way to keep track of possible events is to occasionally check this page:

    http://www.rolfpotts.com/events/

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