Don't give naked answers. This was the advice of my friend Max Sperber. To be fair he garnered the wisdom from a book, but he put his own nuance on the explanation, as I will now do.
In a previous post I recommend asking better questions to dive deeper into knowledge and connection. But what if you're being asked something mundane? You can still adjust the depth of the conversation with this trick. If you want to engage with the querier, don't give a naked answer.
A naked, or stripped down, answer is straight to the point and superficial.
Now try this:
Now let me ask you this:. Where are you from? What do you do?
Earlier this month, on the beaches of Sri Lanka, an Indian man asked me this: "If you were to summarize all the collective wisdom and experience you've gathered in life into one thought, what would it be?"
Wow. I decided not to overthink and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Most people in the world (including myself) want to do good. They want to connect. But we are all terribly blinded in the snowstorms of fear."
Now I'm passed this question on to others.
The lady at my Yogyakarta homestay quoted the Roman Virgil "Fortune favors the bold."
Another said, "Live your life. Enjoy the experience of existence."
One of the many things I learned at Burning Man is that by eschewing perfunctory questions (which are frowned upon) we have to search for more unique ones. "What's your job?" will get a well polished answer. To ask "Who are the kinds of people you most respect?" would immediately plunge the listener into contemplation, create appreciation for a well crafted inquiry, and produce a genuine bit of knowledge. The conversations I had in Black Rock dove immediately into the profound and vulnerable. They brought out real insight gained from a wealth of life experience different than mine. They created a stronger bond between the discoursers.
How would you answer the above question? And what is a question you employ to get a better answer?
To my great embarrassment I get a message like this every once in a while:
This was a big mistake made on the second season of RLT, and ultimately my fault. I was up late writing the voiceover for our first Philippines episode, looking for a clever way to compare Manny Paquiao with other rags to riches boxers. Googling "Mexican boxers" I found a list which came from an obscure blog and I copied three of the names over. Unfortunately Roberto Duran, a famous Panamanian boxer, was on this list.
The mistake has been fixed for all deliveries of the show to new networks. But TLC and Discovery World HD, which airs the program from Mexico down to the Tierra Del Fuego, still run the old version with the error. I apologize to at least one Panamanian every month.
In the same season I made another gaff. We were filming in a mall in Jakarta without official permission. Security was tight. I spoke to camera, distracted by approaching guards, and said "... just like Karnak in Luxor, Egypt or Machu Picchu in Brazil..."
I'd spent 4 days hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru. I have a great memory from that time. A park ranger popped out of the dark as I was setting up a tent on Inti Punku. He told me it was forbidden to camp there. I tried to bribe him, but he refused. He told me to hike all the way down to the river. It was almost dark and the mosquitos were out in full force. I begged him to let me sleep closer. He generously offered the use of his guard shack while he worked. He woke me up in the morning, we had coffee together, and I was in Machu Picchu 2 hours before the tourists arrived.
Yet, when we filmed in this mall my brain misfired and spit out the word "Brazil" in place of "Peru." No one from the cameraman to the editors caught my mistake. Luckily I saw this error month later and we fixed it. I have not yet apologized to a Peruvian. Either the network is running the corrected episode or they are super chill about it.
There have been some mistakes in editing. I once introduced Tokyo's most urban neighborhood by saying, "This is Shinjuku!" in voiceover. Shinjuku is like Blade Runner. The editors put a shot of a rural village on the screen at that exact moment. Like two bamboo shacks in a field. To be fair they have never been to Japan and the video file was accidentally in the folder labeled "Shinjuku". This mistake was caught before the episode got on TV. However, if it did air, 99% of viewers would think I was an idiot. Only 1% would detect an editing error. This is why I went ballistic when I saw the mistake and wrote an email to the editors in all CAPS.
I am keenly aware that these kinds of errors can erode the audience's confidence in me as a host. No one wants to be misled. I pride myself on presenting ideas that inform, inspire, and occasionally challenge stagnant opinions. My goal is to create material which is accessible to the person who has never left their hometown, but I am always conscious that all of you know something I don't. I'm aware some of you are seasoned travelers, expats, or locals who are familiar with our locations like the back of your hand.
I strive for your respect, I appreciate your comments, and I am deeply grateful to those of you who follow my journeys. One day, if I meet Mr. Duran in Panama, Peru, or a rice paddy in Tokyo I'll hope to shake the hand of a boxing legend.
I woke up this morning to news from home I didn't expect. Transitioning from shock I began to comfort friends at home about the new Trump era we are about to enter. Clearly few of us knew how much anger was simmering under the lid of America.
The election is over so my first advice is this: Amor Fati. Embrace the stoic perspective of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and philosopher Seneca. We suffer trying to resist or deny the unchangeable. This is the new reality, we must operate within it. Let's begin with some empowering perspective.
1. The system was already corrupted: Last night, on the eve of the election, I watched the Netflix documentary 13. Moments before going to sleep I was enraged to tears for what our country has done to the African American population (and is now transitioning to do to immigrants). Bill Clinton, who I voted for, is as culpable as Nixon or Reagan. Corporate influence and the growing prison industrial complex have been running out of control. Neither candidate was poised to stop it.
2. Hillary would have likely continued hawkish policies overseas: According to a recent report the United States dropped 25,144 bombs on six countries last year. None of these bloody shenanigans have benefited the average American. Will Trump be less aggressive than Hillary? Putin seems to think so.
peaking of Putin, many countries surrounding Russia are chewing their nails over our next president's lack of defense support. However, there is a solid argument that NATO's encroachment of Russia has exacerbating the threat it was designed to contain. There has been escalating armament on both sides of Russia's borders recently. Hillary did not look to change this trend. Trump might. Let's see what happens.
3. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better: After Rome fell the western world dropped into the Dark Ages. It was a time of fear, superstition, ignorance, and brutality. A huge step back for humanity. YUGE. It lasted almost 1,000 years. That's four times longer than the United States has existed. Then winter finally broke into a glorious spring known as the Renaissance. Science and innovation flourished like never before, leading to the modern age we all enjoy. Sometimes history takes a step back before taking an enormous step forward.
The next four years may see big regresses for certain issues I cherish. Rights for women, minorities, and the LGBT community could suffer. We don't know this for sure, but it seems likely. However, the bounce back might see growth that blows way past what the current political ceiling allows.
We now know the majority was determined to shatter the old structure by voting for an outsider. The democratic party took a miscalculated risk by backing an establishment candidate and inhibiting their alternative choice. Both parties are now crystal clear that the game has changed. For progressives this means that in the upcoming years we'll have more candidates who better represent us.
4. Progressives needed an ice-bucket wake up moment: Who would really choose anger, fear, and isolation over love, hope, and connection? Who would rather sit alone in their living room fuming at Fox News than dancing under the stars and hugging people at festival?
Negativity and division are winning the day because many people don't feel like they are invited to the love party or they don't know how to get there. That means we need to design better maps and warmer welcomes.
A small example came to my mind this morning. PLUR centered music festivals and intentional communities like Burning Man are perhaps the most transformational places on earth right now. At Lightning in a Bottle this year I heard someone refer to these things as "the new church." A church in which no one goes to hell and we can collectively raise our consciousness and vibration.
Let's look at the marketing for these events. What do you see in their media? Youth and beauty. Fantastically attractive women dancing in bizarre and erotic outfits. Statistically most of America is overweight. They dress in t-shirts and jeans. Will they feel like they would fit in to this good time?
Let's talk about ticket prices. Most cost around 300$. Burning man is 400$, but unless you have a coordinated camp you'll pay double to a hawker. Does the average red state voter have the funds to go to to a place where they are uncertain to be welcomed?
I'm a big fan of the crazy outfits and a bon vivant appreciator of beauty, but how can we get more outsiders to "come to Jesus." I have friends who aspire to be influencers in the festival scene. This is a question which now, more than ever, needs to be considered.
5. It's a call to action for doubling down in our spheres of influence: This entire presidential campaign has bled an enormous amount of my energy out. I wasted hundreds of hours looking at news, reading articles, and worrying about things that were out of my control. Now I have an opportunity to put all that energy back into my circle of influence. Anything I can affect is in the circle. Anything I can't affect is out of the circle.
Anyone who is upset about the election could do the same. Amor Fati. Don't waste one more second bemoaning things you can't control. Put every shred of vitality into what you can. Minimize time wasters like browsing nonsense websites or binge watching Netflix.
If we are going to rebound into a new Renaissance of inclusion, compassion, and understanding we need the Lockes, Newtons, and Galileos to be ready. In the next four years how can you become a better man or woman? How can you expand your circle to have a voice that reaches farther and wider? How can we communicate to those afraid of a changing world, "Don't worry. Take my hand. You will be part of this." How can we help each other to ascend?
The Japan episodes turned 5% of my hair white. I used to “act” in Japan. Tokyo was familiar turf. But, this time things were different. We were on a time crunch to wrap up the season, the production house was experiencing sticker shock with our bills, and the collision between Japanese mentality (super formal) and Road Less Traveled style (very loose) had my teeth grinding like a wheat mill.
There were no formalities as I approached a seedy host club in Kabukicho and asked to film on the spot. I shadowed a male gigolo. His main customers: ladies from the adjacent hostess club. These women spend all night lighting cigarettes, pouring drinks, and laughing at terrible jokes; then they blow all their earnings conversing with a handsome young host who can relate. I was amazed at how fast my mentor could put his audience into a spell. I could have transformed into a werewolf and she’d have payed me no attention. Unfortunately the footage came out too dark (they wouldn’t allow lights) so we had to scrap it.
There is a lot of pressure to conform in all societies, but in Japan the level is high. This must have something to do with how peaceable the country is. One can walk across the mega-city of Tokyo in the middle of the night, or get off on any subway stop, and be fine*. But there is a dark side to this conformity. A look across the long aisle of grey suits and dour faces as "salarymen" come home on the subway will make it obvious that some of these guys could be happier in another life. In fact, an alarming number end up jumping in front of the same trains that carried them to work everyday**.
I wanted to showcase Japanese who were brave enough to changed their lives and embrace their true selves. You'll see that I found perhaps the bravest in a neighborhood that confirms the expression "your vibe attracts your tribe."
If we vibrate on an inauthentic frequency (in an effort to conform), we’ll never meet the friends and lovers who would truly understand us. There’s a palpable optimism around people who are resonating honesty because they’ve found their clan.
I'm excited to share this inside look into Tokyo with you, full of phantom samurais, extreme nerd culture, spooky robots, and compelling ideas taking power in real lives.
* Not only are you physically unthreatened, but your possessions are safe as well. I've seen plenty of Japanese set their cell phones or purses on a table to save it, and then walk around a corner to order. Japanese are known to bring cash found on the sidewalk to the police station. The one exception is the neighborhood of Roppongi where foreigners go to drink. Don't leave your purse on a table in Roppongi.
** There have been some clever measures taken to prevent people from jumping, some of which you'll see in the episode.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM
When I think about the times I came closest to death, I think about Vietnam: Almost mowed down by traffic, almost blown up by explosives, almost bit by cobras.
Vietnam was also memorable because of a unique idea: riding a tandem bicycle around Hanoi, picking up a variety of passengers, and gathering a piece of their life story. It's an idea any traveler can adopt and I highly encourage it.
Transporting the bike from the store was a rectum-puckering experience. Neither the cameraman nor I had been on a tandem before, so we negotiated the technique as we crossed through the heart of Hanoi at rush hour. Thousands of motorcycles, lorries, and cars galloped past us. And if you know Vietnam, you know these vehicles can be coming from every possible angle. Don't just look left. Don't just look both ways. Look 360° all the time.
I'm always excited to come back to the taco trucks of Los Angeles, but there are certain travel destinations where I never tire of the food. Vietnam falls into that category. I could slurp pho for weeks straight. One thing you should not slurp is the tap water. A crew member drank out of the shower nozzle and had stomach problems for half a year.
Overall Vietnam can be a tough destination for the independent traveler. Destinations like Sapa and Halong Bay have been overbaked in the tourism oven. Yet, the places we feature in the episode are packed with genuine people and moments. If you avoid the popular hotspots and take unique angles to your approach, Vietnam is an extremely rewarding destination.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM
“We can’t get on the flight??” I said to the agent. The flight to Hanoi was in final boarding.
“Sorry sir, but you don’t have the proper visa,” the agent replied firmly.
We were in limbo at Changi Airport, half way between the Philippines and Vietnam. Someone on our team screwed up and we didn't have our ducks in line. Vietnam would have to wait.
We went to a cafe in the airport and flipped open our laptops looking for a new direction.
Seven hours later I found "Shoe Dating" in Kuala Lumpur and we left the airport to pursue the lead.
From the shoe dates the whole Malaysian episode evolved. One date invited the crew to a party. Some of her friends were speaking about a political situation in Sarawak and I joined the conversation. I knew at once that this was an issue we had to cover. The episode took a dramatic turn.
While in Sarawak I experienced a really gratifying travel moment. We'd just arrived at the longhouse of some displaced locals. These structures embrace the concept of community in their design. Dozens of families reside in the longhouse; their spaces connected by stairs, bridges, and a gigantic back porch. After we dropped our bags the producer went to find the toilet and the cameraman and I decided to take a stroll along the porch. About 50 meters down I saw a sign on a door in English which said "Welcome! Come on in!" I pushed it open.
"Oh." exclaimed a man with his feet propped up on his desk, surprised at the two Caucasians entering his space.
It appeared to be a small convenience store for the residents of the longhouse. He had closed for the day.
"Sorry," I said, "the sign on the door said to come in."
"No, it's ok," the man replied in broken English, "my sister and wife are in the back. Come with me."
He led us to a room where the two women were making embroideries out of beads.
A large bottle of rice wine was opened and stories we shared. After an hour of this, it was hard to leave. I mean it was literally hard to leave. Every time I drained my glass and began the farewell speech (“Well, it was a real pleasure.. thanks so much for..”) the glass was immediately filled again. Both the cameraman and I made several failed attempts and were becoming progressively more inebriated. One or two more chances were left before we’d collapse right there on the floor.
With refined technique I shot the liquor down, lowered the empty glass to the table, and simultaneously stood up with a mouth full of gratitude. I was two steps from the table before anyone could top me off. The cameraman set down his empty glass but was too slow rising, so he got another one. I grinned back at him as I edged for the door.
Imagine yourself walking down the hallway of an apartment complex in your country and pushing open a random door. What are the chances you'd get invited in for some wine and a good conversation? In my city the odds would be slim. That's partially because of the design of the housing. There have been several studies that demonstrate how the shape of neighborhoods affects one’s sense of community and overall happiness.
You'll notice as you travel that you gain a new appreciation for the things your country does well, but you’ll also realize that other places do certain things better. Staying with the tribes of Sarawak convinced me that they have designed housing that fosters connection, and solid community is a key factor in keeping myself positive. I don’t want that house way up on the hill looking down on everyone else. That home will become my lonely prison. I want to be down in the community relating with people. I can hike up the hill to get a view.
The tribes of Sarawak need all the community they can get to overcome the recent challenges they've faced. As you'll see some are handling the difficulties better than others, but there is true beauty in the sacrifices made for a better tomorrow.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Tuesday night at 10.
Do you believe in Monsters? How about demons? In the Visayas, a series of islands in central Philippines, plenty of people do. They can even point to real life cases.
In this episode of Road Less Traveled I took a dark dive into investigative journalism. A school was afflicted with a case of mass demon possession. Kids howled and fought with the strength of adults. Not far off a village was allegedly attacked by a Filipino vampire called a manananggal, a beast that rips in half at night when it looks for blood and flesh. A child was found dead and another man was ambushed on a road in the middle of the night.
A lot of shows on TV which deal with the supernatural feel so hokey I can't help but believe they are simply pandering to the audience. What you'll witness on this episode was completely raw and organic. I got a tip and pursued the story. I struggled for days trying to put the pieces together. The resolution of one case was more complex and fantastic than could be imagined. The resolution of the other was muddled and troubling.
What do you think of these tales? What did you see?
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
"Why is everyone in a tizzy?" I asked my new boxing trainer.
"Because Manny is coming," he said.
Meeting famous Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao was certainly a highlight of our first episode in the Philippines, and, as many things on our show, it was completely unexpected. His arrival was like the return of the king. Eyes lit up, the vibration on the streets buzzed, and people fawned to be near him. Hell, even I felt a little tongue tied when we chatted through the ropes.
A very different kind of tension hummed as I entered the so called "slum" of Tondo. I walked through a gate to descend. A creeping fear ran through my head that it might lock from the inside, sealing me into the neighborhood.
As I entered eyes peered from all kinds of angles amidst the dilapidated alleyways. I could feel people watching. Middle-class conditioning took the stage of my mind and performed a monologue: "This is a place to fear. You can't trust these people."
Some adults came out of a doorway and approached. They offered to show me around. I looked up to my crew, cautiously filming from the freeway above, and called them down. I admit, sheepishly, that I hoped I hadn't summoned them into a trap.
Why does our species have this propensity to create the "other"? The people in that neighborhood, in that country, across the tracks, with that accent, or with that skin color are distinct from us.
Recently I took a small vacation to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. A good friend picked me up from the airport. He’s a kind hearted, open-minded guy. He cautioned me almost immediately about the locals, warning that their disdain for invasive mainlanders could manifest in violent ways. Although his intentions were good, my mind created a separate folder labeled "locals." Anyone in that category would now have the stigma of danger.
Days later I walked, bleary eyed, into a supermarket looking for a coffee stand. A big and strong local cruised by holding a large coffee cup in his hand.
"Hey man," I said, "did you get that coffee in here?"
The guy's rugged face broke into the warmest smile I'd seen on the island.
"Yeah bro, you can get it over there at that counter."
This was an alpha male of the dangerous “other” tribe affably directing me to my nearest caffeine fix. Not so scary after all.
How can we surmount this divisive way of thinking? The answer is to travel. Not all-inclusive, stay in the resort type travel, but get out and meet the people travel. As I mentioned in a speech I would give later in the Philippines, travel is not about the distance you go or the budget you have to spend. It is simply the act of having unique experiences with people different than you. actually, travel is about having unique experiences with people whom you perceived to be different than you. What we inevitably discover is that there is very little which separates us.
We all love something and fear something. We all want to belong. We all worry about the future. We're essentially the same consciousness spread over the globe, born into different circumstances, with different bodies and brains, from no effort of our own. Some were conceived in Peoria, Illinois and some in Tondo, Manila.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM
California reminds us how to dream, play, and dare. In the hustle to keep the engine churning (paying the bills, making appointments, knocking out chores) it's imperative to create moments where we can savor the experience of being alive. These experiences will not knock on our doors. We have to prioritize them.
California makes that process easy. It's a destination where you can find people honoring an Egyptian goddess with python dances a short distance from folks ripping motorcycles around a track. A place where you can spend the morning paragliding off dusty mountains and the afternoon getting an ass kicking from women on rollerskates. A place where the elderly still burn their candles bright as they chug through icy cold water surrounded by sea lions.
California constantly pulls me out of my serious mind. Reminds me that life is mysterious, random, and full of beauty. That we should never lose that child like side of ourselves which is full of wonder, curiosity, and enthusiasm. That it's more than ok to be silly and ridiculous... it's vital.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
I'm Jonathan Legg
I went to college, but I still graduated a closed minded young man. The road, however, has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and facilitating understanding and appreciation for people different from me. I hope the content on this blog and my shows can bring a sliver of that juju to you.