10 Years of M’s Adventures

Can a blog make your dreams come true? For me, this blog has lead to book publishing. So when my father suggested that I start a blog, he fulfilled my childhood dream to be a published author. Amazing, right? Thanks, Dad.

When I reflect on ten years of writing blog articles and ten years of adventures in food and travel, I feel emotion. I realize all the stories I have heard of people’s lives, the dignity in ordinary lives of hard-working people, and all those other cheesy American ideals. To write a blog is to exercise the very core of the American ideals: freedom of speech, pursuit of happiness, liberty, and the American dream.

The reality of blogging has been many hours writing, editing, taking photos, and thought. It has also included waiting over 3,000 hours for bad food in restaurants, lots of money (my own) traveling, taking photos incessantly, hours uploading, editing, hashtagging, and posting on social media.

Ah, but yes, people want to know one thing. How do I afford it? Please read my “Who Am I?” page.

Many times people (and companies) try to get me to monetize my blog. I laugh at this idea. To monetize a blog requires a certain readership/following (for example on YouTube, one must have at least 1,000 subscribers — I have 12) which I do not have. Also, it would take the fun out of it. Instead, my blog costs me money. Which is really not necessary because a phone camera is all one really needs. One can even blog from a smartphone.

I don’t. I write at a computer. An old fashioned desktop (well, it’s not but the set up is) with a mechanical keyboard because I like hearing the clickety clack of the keys as I type (slowly). I use a Mac and iPhones simply because that’s what I went with and so that’s what I’m sticking with. My keyboard is not from Apple. It’s a “Das Keyboard” that I bought in a kiosk in Vancouver. I use WordPress to publish my blog. I started blogging 15 years ago using Blogspot because it was user friendly. But, I moved to WordPress because that seemed the platform used by professional bloggers. It took 24 hours of hate but eventually I learned to use WordPress. I also find it interesting that almost all social media platforms have begun to resemble WordPress. I guess they got it right.

It was once that a “blog” or weblog was said with some disdain. But, it’s really just a website. It’s an online journal. Like an online book. In South America and Europe, people seem to be less disdainful about blogging. Embarrassingly, some restaurants have given me free food assuming that I was a powerful food blogger. I prefer not to receive anything for free. I like having a normal customer’s experience when I go out to eat.

From my blog, because I have to release my inner marketing demon at times, I have produced mousepads, pens, stickers, postcards, magnets, mugs, t-shirts, and of course, over ten books. I don’t do as much marketing anymore, but I try to keep my blog pages up to date and I work on my books. In looking at the pages of my blog, I am surprised (although not sure why) at how often people read the “about” page which I call “who am I?” — while it’s not a secret who I am, I just don’t think it’s so interesting.

I encourage anyone, anyone, to write the stories you want to tell. Self-publish the books. Everyone has stories to tell and if you can’t tell them as a book, then use social media. It seems like everyone wants to be heard. I have written quite a few books but don’t expect them to be widely read or bought. Some may have a publishing run of ten or 20 copies. But, to me, it’s the joy of writing them that has been the most fun. The production is the journey.

Some of the unintended things that have happened because of my blog is:

My friends wait to eat until I’ve got my photos. Thanks!

My friends often will go with me to places that they say, “is this for the blog?” Yes. Thanks.

And once, I was recognized while waiting for the elevator (through colleague’s photos).

Some unpleasant stuff has happened too but I don’t want to deign to give those unpleasant things the time of day. Trolls and bullies get no play here.

I try to keep the focus of my blog on travel and food. This is a view in Emilia Romagna, near Modena.

What have I learned from a decade of blogging:

  1. Americans (gringos) are obsessed with TexMex food. This is possibly the most common question I get.

2. It’s easy to publish a book. Don’t be held back. Write and publish your words!

3. Don’t write about massage. It brings too many porn hits. Which is too bad because I like massage.

I used to carry my DSLR camera everywhere (where it’s easier to get photos like this one), but I do so less and less.

Almost every day, I check the statistics page on my blog to see which articles are popular and what topics people like. The top searches are to do with Bangladesh. This makes sense. At the time that I was writing from Dhaka, I was one of four expat bloggers writing in English. Even years later, I still receive questions about Dhaka. For a while, I was interested in what countries my blog was being read. I’ve been read by people from almost every country. I think I’m missing a few, but only two or three.

For many years, my article about the Bangladeshi lungi was the most popular. From the search terms that lead people to my article on the lungi, I’m afraid that my article on national dress, with only ankles on display is not what they hoped for (I don’t think I mentioned anything lewd in my article…). I am not tagging this subject for this article because I don’t want to start re-start the mislead hits by those looking for men in lungis.

So, other than that, the most popular article in the past ten years is:

Dhaka-townian’s 100 Eats and the Top Ten Restaurants in Dhaka. Over 22,000 reads of that article/post. When I wrote that article, my blog was the only comprehensive list of restaurants in Dhaka. I even had people write me and ask/tell me that they would use my articles and photos to write their own guide. Imitation is the best form of?

In the past year, the most popular article was an article from several years ago in Bogota about fruit.

Does anyone blog anymore? It was such a thing ten years ago. Now, it has been overtaken by moving words and pictures by way of YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and other video formats.

I have noticed that many bloggers have quit and often leave their blogs as a website. I can see why. It’s sad to see the decrease of readership. My readership peaked in 2014 and has gone down since then. As I mentioned above, Dhaka was a popular topic. No one seemed to care about Bogota (at least not in English) or Lima. But, some of the articles from Bogota are picking up traction, which is strange because I thought the google bots took six months to trawl but perhaps it takes a few years now that there is so much content out there in the vast pacific of the Internet.

For my readers, other than those who know me personally, why should they stick with me when I keep moving. Those who are interested in Dhaka are not interested in Bogota. Of course, my blog has evolved. When I started, there was little content and not much linking. Now, I have accounts on Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, and a podcast. I am not as diligent about keeping all these forms of social media up to date but I try. Yet, I still write a blog article about every week. I try to post on Instagram and Facebook every day. Like any relationship, consistent care is required. But, my readership keeps dropping on my blog while conversely, my followers increase on Instagram. Heck, I even joined Patreon so people can support me in my blogging endeavor… maybe I would do this full time if I could making a living… no, no, no, that way leads to dependency!

When my readership goes down to zero, I may stop. Maybe. Then, it may simply become an online diary. A weblog. Like on the Starship Enterprise.

From Star Trek:

These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise
Its five year mission
To explore strange new worlds
To seek out new life
And new civilizations

…. my blog is twice the age of those space voyages!

So, let’s see where we go. I have plans to sort of “reverse engineer” my blog and write books that are only available as books! Then I can write about massages and other topics that get bowdlerized on the web. But, mainly, I’ll just slip into my comfy shoes and continue to be mad for food and adventure!

Independent Storytelling

A few years ago, when I published my book on my time in Bangladesh, I received so many questions about publishing. Back then, in 2013, self-publishing was called “vanity press” — publishing as if it was for one’s own vanity. That seems an age ago as social media has made us all creators and storytellers — Instagram and its television channel, YouTube, and Facebook Stories (watch my month-long farewell to Peru on those channels or on the video page of this website), are all “vanity press” as they are self-published. Of course the paper book did not disappear as some feared. We simply gained more independence in how, where, and to whom, we can share out stories. Maybe we are more vainglorious…

Even with all these new choices, some media are still harder to edit than others. Take PDFs. Adobe Acrobat owns that format almost completely. One can buy a license for $180 per year. It does, however, make editing PDFs acrobatic (had, had, to play on the words!). As I work on my many projects, and my next book (a paper version about Peru), I am glad to have the freedom to be flexible.

Just as story telling has moved beyond the book, so have other media, like chocolate, taken on the terminology of books. My favorite chocolate shop in Peru, El Cacaotal, calls itself an “edible library” — that should encourage reading!

Keeping up with all the forms of communication is a bit like a chariot race. In between my website/blog, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and podcasting, something may have to go by the wayside when I get back out exploring in my next country…

Food, a Performance Art Form, and We Are All Content Creators Now

With the rise of social media, everyone with a smartphone is now a “content creator.” Most of us have become entertainers as we “direct” the photos of our food (north light is always best!). In Korea, they have “mukbang”, an “art form” where people pay to watch others eat. This has been ridiculed by many… but look at us now, as we all zoom happy hours and dinners with each other.

Going out to eat is a performance art where you as the customer are the audience, but also part of the experience. That is why it sort of makes sense that many actors work in the restaurant industry (a working actor = can be someone who works in a restaurant but also works as an actor) because a live “show” every night is superb practice! Everything in a restaurant from the lighting (lots of dishes now involve fire and smoke), decor, and seating is evaluated just as one would in a theater. In a theater, there is that expression, “smoke and mirrors” and that is also true of most restaurants. But, at a restaurant, on top of smoke and mirrors, there is smell and taste involved along with the other senses (plus that “something” like the umami of the whole event), are engaged as part of the experience.

In a natural segue, some of the food influencers, like David Chang, have their own shows. The Danish influencer, Claus Meyer, did a lecture/show at a theater. With the advent of videos and “stories” on Instagram and Facebook, the food industry has become an entertainment producer online, not just in brick and mortar. Both these chefs/influencers are active daily on Instagram. That’s more interaction than you could ever get back when you had to wait a year for a reservation at one of their fine dining establishments. One of my friends commented that due to COVID, she is able to get food delivered to her house from restaurants where she could not even get a reservation!

In the time of COVID, and all the zoom and whatsapp virtual gatherings, the paradigm has shifted. Perhaps, we have all become, oddly much more connected, but more than that, how we see each other has changed. We are seeing more people in their pajamas and without makeup or dyed hair. This, like things, has good sides and bad sides. Maybe we don’t want so much contact?

I’d also posit that we’ve become more egalitarian as well… well, if you have mastery of social media…

Traveling on the Worldwide Web

During this time of quarantine, many of us are “artist in residence” or “banished from the realm” — all depending on how you want to phrase it. I have been in splendid isolation. Free to travel the worldwide web. Armchair traveling is actually one of my favorite forms of travel because it’s comfortable, cheap, not sweaty, and I don’t have to get on a plane. Deep in the outer galaxy of this blog, is my travel page where I list many of my favorite travel writers and quotes. I revisited my travel page and actually re-bought a paperback book of one of my favorite travelogues.

Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” –- Benjamin Disraeli

Much of the Internet, podcasts, YouTube videos, Instagram, Facebook, IGTV, etc. reminds me of that book, The Diary of a Nobody. Most of us are nobodies. Equal among other nobodies. Driveler among drivelers. So why not add my voice to the cacophony? On my media page (and here on Google Podcasts), there are links to the other platforms from where I’m catching the virtual cyber train. In preparation, I’ve been exploring, adventuring, and I found there are so many new places to visit, people to talk to, and things to eat. After my residence as “artiste in residence” is done (or “digital content creator” as is the new name on the street), I’ll be back out there.

One of my newest gadgets is a tripod/selfie stick with light.

On Facebook, there is a group called, “View from my window” and I’ve enjoyed it. Very positive people and it makes one realize how beautiful, and similar, this world is.

On Instagram, I’ve delighted in the mother-daughter E. and S. Minchilli (yes, that’s their last name!) cook, talk, answer questions, and adore Rome, and everything Italian.

On YouTube, I discovered that I could pay for programs and get really high definition videos (much higher definition than when I watched the original shows in the 1990s).

On Stitcher, I’ve been listening to The Fantastic History of Food (who can resist a title called, “Piracy, Witches and Hot Chocolate.“?) Plus, since I’ve learned so much about cacao from Amanda at El Cacaotal, I see/hear about cacao and want to learn more. Also, on Stitcher, it’s comforting to hear Christopher Kimball (from when I watched lots of PBS) on Milk Street.

On Podbean, I listened to surprisingly entertaining banter about hunting and nudists on The MeatEater Podcast, Ep. 220.

As I’ve explored podcasts, I realized that this is basically radio, that old fashioned technology that like many technologies, can change the world, or bring comfort (like FDR’s Fireside Chats — check out the film of him giving a chat). I would call podcasts, “audio-blogging” and you are welcome to call it that too.

And as the quote above indicates, much of life is stranger than fiction so why not read, see, hear, more of it, without the hassle of airplanes (for now). Happy adventures from splendid isolation!