This story began when I was cleaning out some old folders on my laptop and I discovered some original article drafts I'd written for travel magazines many years ago. Reading through these articles, I'd realized that some of my favorite passages had been cut from these pieces for various editing purposes, so I pasted these favorite passages into a new file. Then, almost by accident, I read through this file from beginning to end and realized that -- with a bit of rearranging -- these passages fell into a rhythm and progression that felt like a whole new story. The result is a little collage of a story that absurdly veers all over the globe, yet yields epiphanies and payoffs along the way.
The Varanasi details that frame the story were cut from a short piece I wrote for National Geographic Adventure in 2002. The editor liked the descriptions, but wanted more of a service-information angle for the article, so the descriptions were dropped.
The poolside malaria conversation was cut from "Room With a Skew", a humorous essay about the idiosyncrasies of staying at Bangkok's posh Oriental Hotel after two solid years of crashing in the budge flophouses of Asia. This story appeared in National Geographic Traveler in 2002, but the poolside sequence was cut to save on word-count and avoid detracting from my riff about the hotel itself.
The passage about the Vietnamese mother and her toddler was set in Saigon in the spring of 1999. It was cut from a Salon.com story called "The Barbecue Jesus and Other Epiphanies" because the focus of the story veered off to the Vietnamese central highlands, and my editor thought this made the Saigon details seem superfluous.
The vignette from Leephee Falls in southern Laos comes from an entire story that was dropped by Islands magazine in 1999. My editor there had encouraged me to do a spec article about the 4000 Islands region of the Mekong, but she cooled on the idea when I contracted cerebral malaria during my travels there. Since it was too difficult to ignore the malaria issue in my narrative, she dropped the whole story.
The Los Angeles fragment was removed from a Las Vegas story that appeared in Salon.com in 1998. As with the Vietnam piece, this portion was geographically too far removed to fit into the central narrative, so it was cut.