This episode’s remarkable guest is Paul Theroux–whose name I mispronounce throughout the interview.
He is one of the best-known travel writers in the world. The Great Railway Bazaar, a book about his epic railway trip from the UK to Japan and back, is considered a classic in travel writing.
You’ve probably also heard of The Mosquito Coast. This book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1981, and it was made into a movie in 1986. The movie, directed by Peter Weir, was a relatively faithful adaptation of the bestselling 1981 novel starring Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, and River Phoenix. It’s now inspired a new Apple TV+ series starring Justin Theroux, who is coincidentally the author’s nephew which will be out at the end of April. And if that’s not enough excitement, Paul has a new book called Under the Wave at Waimea coming out this month too.
In 2015, the Royal Geographical Society awarded him the Royal Medal for “the encouragement of geographical discovery through travel writing.” Other recipients of this medal include Sir Edmund Hillary, Admiral Richard Byrd, and Dr. Thor Heyerdahl.
In this episode you’ll learn:
Why getting your book banned isn’t necessarily a bad thing
How travel teaches you that you’re small and the world is big
The power of walking and biking to encourage the writing muse
How to survive a year of travel along the Mexican-US border
Paul currently lives in Massachusetts and Hawaii. This interview was conducted while he was on the North Shore of Hawaii, where people may know him more as a paddler and a farmer than a writer. We went a little over-board with our discussion of Hawaii, but Hawaii is a remarkable place.
This starts with a discussion of a Hawaiian term: “boolai.” It’s the pidgin word for a lie. I think it’s a slightly cleaned-up version of “bullshit.”
Listen to remarkable author Paul Theroux on Remarkable People:
I will be live streaming on April 14th at 10 am PT, watch then or catch the replay.
Text me at 1-831-609-0628 or click here to join my extended “ohana” (Hawaiian for family). The goal is to foster interaction about the things that are important to me and are hopefully important to you too! I’ll be sending you texts for new podcasts, live streams, and other exclusive ohana content.
Don’t forget to grab a copy of Under the Wave at Waimea, Paul Theroux’s new novel. Set in the lush, gritty underside of an island paradise readers rarely see, Under the Wave at Waimea offers a dramatic, affecting commentary on privilege, mortality, and the lives we choose to remember. It is a masterstroke by one of the greatest writers of our time.
Thank you for listening and sharing this episode with your community.
AI transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with prolific author Paul Theroux.
This is an automated transcript. It is sometimes incomplete and inaccurate because of the limitations of transcription services. However, we wanted to provide it for people who have hearing issues or prefer to read the interview.
[00:02:54] Guy Kawasaki: [00:02:54] I have not heard I read or heard the term “boolai” for about 40 years. And so when I read your book, I just loved it and I’d never seen it spelled out. So I had to look that up. I love that term. Yeah.
[00:03:08] Paul Theroux: [00:03:08] The term mind is hard. It’s hard actually to find a definitive spelling. Cause sometimes say boo-lai , but yeah, well, anyway, that’s good.
[00:03:20] So you’ll recognize a lot of. The book of this particular book that other people won’t. Oh yeah. Yeah. And I do have a
[00:03:29] Guy Kawasaki: [00:03:29] question though. Like, why do you spell how’s it H O w apostrophe S I T as opposed to H O w Z I T
[00:03:38] Paul Theroux: [00:03:38] I think that was probably the proofreader, uh, corrected it.
[00:03:46] Guy Kawasaki: [00:03:46] Yeah. Okay. Yeah, because you certainly have pidgin down pat in that book.
[00:03:50] Paul Theroux: [00:03:50] Well, thanks. I’ve lived here more than 30 years, and I hear it all the time. Most people I know, speak pidgin surfers, I paddle, I have a Outrigger canoe, so I go paddling twice a week with guys. They don’t know I’m a writer. I mean, they’re just, I was paddling and I’m an old guy in a, in an Outrigger. And they said, how is it?
[00:04:15] You want to run with us, run with it. I said, okay. So we, now we paddle, they speak pidgin all the time. So, and so that’s kind of, I’m always hearing it.
[00:04:25] Guy Kawasaki: [00:04:25] I have never completely lost it. And at one point in my life, I decided that people don’t try to rid themselves of their British accent or their Southern accent. Why should I have to try to lose my pidgin accent?
[00:04:40] Although I don’t think it makes you necessarily sound too intelligent, but I completely lost it.
[00:04:44] Paul Theroux: [00:04:44] Well, I’ve had these discussions with, with these guys. So this paddler is Hawaiian, and one of them speaks Hawaiian. And we, we talk about that a lot of not only pidgin, but, but Hawaiian. And I said, if you lose your language, you lose a whole vocabulary of culture, which is essential to who you are.
[00:05:11] That the first thing that colonialists do is take language away from people and. When the missionaries came to Hawaii, they didn’t allow Hawaiians to, to speak or pidgin, but also Hawaiian in the schools. When you lose your language, you actually lose your culture. If you want to find a way into a culture.
[00:05:35] I went to Africa when I was 22, and I was a teacher. I was a Peace Corps teacher in the middle of Africa. The first thing I did was learned the language it was called Cinianja. So it’s spoken in Mozambique, Malawi, a bit of Zambia. So I spoke when I learned it, I said they not only had a lot of friends, but I had access to culture.
[00:05:57] So you have a greater understanding of Hawaii, even though you haven’t lived here, I guess in much in your adult life, that’s who you are. And that’s. That’s right. Access to that, to the culture. So it’s a great thing.
[00:06:13] Guy Kawasaki: [00:06:13] I think when I take my family to Hawaii, and of course, our first step is Zippy’s. When I drop into pidgin, my family can barely understand what I’m saying. So it’s, it’s quite hilarious.
[00:06:30] Guy Kawasaki: [00:06:30] So you said you have an Outrigger, but are you a surfer because your book shows great understanding of surfing and the breaks and Hawaiian, all the good stuff. How did you come to master all of that? Just by living here?
[00:06:43] Paul Theroux: [00:06:43] I didn’t study it, but, as I said over the thing that we lived in Manoa, Sheila, whom you know, was married before and had had a, a house in Manoa.
[00:06:57] So we lived, when we first got together, we lived in that house. I really didn’t like it. You know, Honolulu, Kali Valley, for example, how’s the very close together there. And what I owe when I craved was elbow room. Now I live here on seven acres. Not many people have this amount of elbow room. I mean, but when I bought it 2022, 22, three years ago, it w it was it.
[00:07:27] No, no, it was 28 years ago. It was, I bought it in 1992, whenever that comes through the 28th. So I thought I got to get out of listening to other people’s radio. You know, you hear the radio next door, or that someone’s saying, pass the tea, you know, that you could smell the teriyaki sauce that talk. I just, the idea of being in such close proximity to other people, people live very close together in a way, and I needed to get away from it.
[00:07:58] So that’s the long answer to when, when I moved. Out of Honolulu. I moved into a place with its own culture, its own rules, actually. And the basically, its surface paradise. Also, there’s a lot of traditional Hawaiian sites here, ceremonial sites, and so forth. I don’t know anything when I’m on the beach.
[00:08:25] I’ve sometimes sitting in a chair, writing people come up and say our local guys. And they said, what are you writing? What are you doing? Because it’s such a crazy thing to reading or writing doesn’t figure in the lives of people on the North shore. So what does is surfing and. The geography of the doors short is defined by breaks.
[00:08:47] If you say it happened at Chuns reef or Lonnie’s or by mayor, or you said pipeline or leftovers, alligators, Himalayas, avalanche. That’s how people define where you are. I saw an accident at Chuns. That’s what done, you know, that’s just the way life goes on here. So it’s not, it’s not hard. Usually if you’re, if you’re reasonably attentive, you kind of figure it out.
[00:09:12] Guy Kawasaki: [00:09:12] But it’s one thing to know where the breaks are and their names, but this book, it goes into the emotions of surfing, which, how did you get that without being a surfer is what I’m asking.
[00:09:27] Paul Theroux: [00:09:27] I suppose, that’s, that’s part of the imaginative aspect of fiction, which is the kind of ventriloquism or becoming another person. I mean, I’ve interrogated people about it, but also, I’ve been a paddler in the 1980s, mid-eighties.
[00:09:53] I took up paddling, paddling, a kayak. It was in the, on the East coast. And I’ve been at, I wrote a book about called Happy Isles of Oceania, where I paddled on 53 islands in the Pacific Tonga Samoa, new Guinea Australia. I went to Easter Island, Tahiti, Marquesas Islands, you name it. And I was always paddling often on unwillingly, but, but of necessity surfing a kayak.
[00:10:23] So I can, I can surf a kayak. I’m not great at it, but I can do it. And when you see people surfing. It’s something you need to watch. You, you, you can’t actually get it out of a book. You get it from other people and from the experience of it. As a paddler, as a resident, I think probably that accounts for it, but it does help to have some sense of the water.
[00:10:49] And here’s what I think about Hawaii in general. Hawaii is not inhabited islands. It’s not. Just volcanic islands. It’s the surf. It’s the water. That’s that? It’s everything around Hawaii. A lot of people come here, and they think, especially I suppose tourists. So, but other people too, because they think you’re just, you’re on land.
[00:11:16] You’re not on land. It’s like being on a boat, and the water matters to you and the father; you go out in the water, you realize there’s a whole life in the water, peep, fishermen, swimmers surface, and you get out. And you actually, the best view of Hawaii is from the water when you’re, when you’re offshore, and you see it.
[00:11:34] So the water is also part of the Hawaiian experience. I always felt that to be the case, but also I conscientiously studied it to try to understand the relationship between the water and the land. And I mean, that’s actually, that’s the defining aspect, I suppose, of, of the book. Although the book is really about a guy who has a problem.
[00:12:05] I mean, he kills a guy, he hits a guy on a bike and doesn’t know who it is. Nick has to kind of figure it out. But so it’s not about surfing, but it’s about, I would say it’s also about aging. You know, it’s about getting older.
[00:12:22] Guy Kawasaki: [00:12:22] Is Sharky your alter ego?
[00:12:23] Paul Theroux: [00:12:23] In one sense, yeah. He’s kind of an alter ego, maybe evil twin because he doesn’t read.
[00:12:32] There are a lot of people have they just think a book is just a problem. You know what, like don’t give me a book. I’ll have to read it. So. In a sense, an alter ego, I suppose, but I, a lot of what I feel about aging or losing your mojo, you know what I mean? When these Hawaiian guys said, um, you can run with us.
[00:12:53] I thought, great. You know, because if I have a problem, they’ll help me. And, and in fact now, and then you do have a Hooli, you, you, and you go over and you get to get back in the boat and these guys are good. They’re strong. They’re very good. Um, you know, they, they work, but they work at Scofield, the cleaners and handymen.
[00:13:13] So there’s aggressive. I mean, I don’t want to go paddling with a bunch of writers. That would be horrible. It’d be horrible. There’d be a bunch of selfish, unbalanced people, but the idea of real paddlers. So that, that, so in that sense, yeah. Shocking is. Shaki fields. He’s, he’s losing it. You’re a young guy.
[00:13:37] So you don’t know this, but, there’s a tipping point, I suppose, where you think there’s things. I have a kayak that’s very heavy. It’s hard to put on the roof rack. Wasn’t always that heavy. It used to, I used to, you know, sling it on the roof rack.
Guy Kawasaki: Maybe it’s waterlogged?
Paul Theroux: No, it’s not just heavy, but 65, but that’s the kayak that I took. I paddled all around New Guinea and the trophy on the islands with that. It’s a kayak that you can assemble. It’s a folding kayak, a German it’s the German military used it. So it’s a great, great tie. You can fix it, you can paddle it, but anyway, you notice it. I mean, I suppose maybe surface at a certain point, say my, my board is getting heavy.
[00:14:17] I got to get a light-up or something.
[00:14:20] Guy Kawasaki: [00:14:20] I put a handle in my board because it’s too long.
[00:14:21] Paul Theroux: [00:14:21] But you know the other thing about it is. There’s a whole aspect of surfing. That’s changed that, that I know the oldest Sur the surface who are over 65, 70, especially the ones over 70, they still surf jock Sutherland.
[00:14:41] For example, who’s a tremendous surfer was surfing, has been surfing. He’s 74, I think still surf, but he makes his money fixing. He’s a roofer. So it’s also, that’s part of the book too, which is the whole nature of surfing has changed so that what people used to be fun. Who’s the best surfer? The one having the most fun.
[00:15:00] That’s the great surfer. Now it’s surf. It’s the one with the most endorsements. So there’s a lot of competition out there and a lot of fancy moves that people make. So the book is also about that transition, that a guy feeling what’s not, it’s not. Young guys out shredding the waves anymore. It’s it’s guys wanting that picture on surface journal and getting an endorsement, you know, cause it does money for a very, very small number of surface does a lot of money for the others.
[00:15:38] They’re just all the waves, but it’s also dangerous. It’s risky. Yes, just yesterday a guy, but he’s in the hospital now, Shauna, see, he was at pipeline and he wiped out and it badly banged his head on the reef. And he was unconscious guys went out for him, but he was wearing a helmet, but his helmet was all smashed.
[00:16:03] So the average person doesn’t realize that. No one surfer did that. You’re better off wearing a helmet on certain places that you know, that they think, Oh, it’s just a bunch of, you know, like dudes just running, but actually you do need protection at some places. That’s kind of interesting, but that you can not only drown, but you can have you have your head cracked in.
[00:16:29] So my friends and acquaintances have always up here have generally been surfaced. You get a plumber and the plumber will say I’m coming tomorrow. And then he doesn’t come. And because the surf’s up stuff, I was surfing, but I’ll come. I’ll definitely do it tomorrow. So everyone’s a pop time surfer. I think the great guys are actually the people who do it for fun pop time.
[00:16:58] I love it when the. When the plumber says, I’ll definitely come. And then he’s, he’s surfing. I think, well, there’s a guy living his life. I could, I could wait another day. I don’t care. I’ll fix it like jock on the roof. Or
[00:17:11] Guy Kawasaki: [00:17:11] Do you hang out with John John Florence and Jamie O’Brien?
[00:17:13] Paul Theroux: [00:17:13] Not with O’Brian I know John, John and his mother. Garrett McNamara is a very good friend of mine.
[00:17:23] Yeah. Yeah. He lives doesn’t he have a house in Mongolia or I know, or someplace locally and yeah, but he’s part of his income. It’s like Airbnb, but I wrote a piece about him for Smithsonian about riding the big wave at Nazare. And when I knew him before then, but then I, I saw him and I said, did you write about this?
[00:17:45] And he said, well, yeah. So hit someone wrote a book about it, but I said, I wanna, I wanna write about it, but in a way to use it as a motivational piece, how to ride a monster. And in fact, I, I suggested we write a book together, how to ride a monster. What do you do? Cause a lot of it’s mental it’s, it’s psyching yourself up for it.
[00:18:06] Would you have an, a 78 foot wave? It’s not just about experience. It’s about where is your mind at, where is your serenity? How do you, how do you stay calm on the way, you know, going up and down the way? Well, so we talked about that. We never wrote the book, but I wrote the piece. It was in the Smithsonian about maybe two years ago.
[00:18:27] It was a compass story. I love the guy. I think he’s a great guy. And his brother Liam is also a good surfer. He’s a much tougher character, but, um, you know, the other thing about surfers is they come from nowhere. They’re just from NOAA. They’re not necessarily educated or anything like that. They’re just, they’ve just been, they started out skateboarding and then they end up and then they stop.
[00:18:55] Leave sick, eight boarding and they start surfing and they just do it with a passion. So that’s kind of admirable. So I understand people who do things with that amount of passion.
[00:19:09] Guy Kawasaki: [00:19:09] Thank God that I took up surfing at 60, because if I had taken up surfing, when I was a kid in Hawaii, there is no way that I would have accomplished what I accomplished in my career.
[00:19:21] I am truly addicted. I’m going to go surfing right after this, this recording.
[00:19:23] Paul Theroux: [00:19:23] Will you wear a wetsuit? Oh yeah.
[00:19:30] Guy Kawasaki: [00:19:30] It’s 50 degrees in the water.
[00:19:31] Paul Theroux: [00:19:31] Okay. No, but you’ve surfed in Hawaii when you were 60.
[00:19:37] Guy Kawasaki: [00:19:37] I never surfed until literally I didn’t never surfed until 60. That’s a little late to start.
[00:19:42] Paul Theroux: [00:19:42] Oh yeah. But surfing without a wetsuit and a lot of paraphernalia that, that might make it easier.
[00:19:57] Guy Kawasaki: [00:19:57] Well, but I don’t live in Hawaii and you know what Hawaii has coral and S and C or choose that I don’t have to deal with here.
[00:20:07] Guy Kawasaki: [00:20:07] Garrett and I were both Mercedes-Benz brand ambassadors. So we know each other that way
[00:20:11] Paul Theroux: [00:20:11] . How were you, uh, a Mercedes brand, but I know he was, but how would you, in what sense?
[00:20:19] How did you become a Mercedes brand?
[00:20:23] Guy Kawasaki: [00:20:23] Oh, well, you know, Garrett McNamara is a world-class surfer. Roger Federer is a world-class tennis player, and somehow Mercedes believed that I was a world-class evangelist or marketer or something, social media user. I wasn’t going to disavow them of that.
[00:20:37] Paul Theroux: [00:20:37] Oh, I see.
[00:20:38] So, yeah, that’s great. Yeah. Yeah. Um,
[00:20:44] Guy Kawasaki: [00:20:44] I have to also compliment you that, that section about the Puno hole and Roosevelt dynamics. That was just brilliant. I mean, it’s like so true to LA. I went to Iolani, which would have been even worse, but Oh my God, the foothold Roosevelt dynamics in that book is just fantastic.
[00:21:01] When I was a kid I got hijacked on a public bus twice. I could just relate to almost, you really were saying.
[00:21:06] Paul Theroux: [00:21:06] Who hijacked you?
[00:21:13] Guy Kawasaki: I dunno, two mokes. It was, it was a formative experience. Have you, have you come to embrace eating spam? Have you, has that entered into your culinary repertoire?
[00:21:24] Paul Theroux: [00:21:24] No, I’m not a fan of spam
Guy Kawasaki: So you’re not local yet.
[00:21:28] No, you mentioned Zippy is I’m down with Zippy’s Zippy’s all the time, but, spam, no. Here’s my take on spam. Okay. I wrote about, I told you, so in this book, uh, the happy Isles of Oceania, it’s all about Ireland, Ireland, culture, spam, corn, beef, pea soup of, they call it in the summer, all that.
[00:21:56] And I reached a conclusion, maybe a flawed conclusion that where are the great spam eaters? Islands noted for a history of cannibalism. I started to think that spam approximates the taste of human flesh. They call it New Guinea. They call humans long pig for the angel. And I thought spam just reminds me of something.
[00:22:29] It’s like. There’s something like so where do you find spam? TFiji? They used to be cannibals. I dunno.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay. I see where you’re going.
[00:22:59] Guy Kawasaki: [00:22:59] I’m friends with Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods. He goes all over the world, eating bizarre foods. And spam is one of the only foods that Andrew Zimmern will not eat.
[00:23:10] Paul Theroux: [00:23:10] So tell him what I said. Yeah, I will. I will. I absolutely will describe that. I described that in the book.
[00:23:18] I mean, you could point them to the book, but it’s a fact, it’s what I’m saying is fanciful, but it might have a grain of truth.
[00:23:29] Guy Kawasaki: [00:23:29] Last question about Hawaii. I read the article that you wrote in the Smithsonian about Hawaii being such a closed society. And I was kind of in the reality distortion field.
[00:23:40] So can you explain that? Because when I read that, I said, what is he talking about? So how is Hawaii so closed?
[00:23:44] Paul Theroux: [00:23:44] It’s closed because all islands are closed. An Island is not one for all. All for one an Island is, is. Typically a very divided place. This Easter Island is probably the best example of it. Easter Island, although it’s, it’s small, and it’s only one Island it’s one little island in the Pacific was constantly at war.
[00:24:18] Those big ice Easter Island statues were pulled down by islet by Islanders, not by missionaries, not by Captain Cook. It was by people fighting. What’s the, what is the most common material culture item on an Island? It’s a weapon clubs, Spears, knives made of sharks teeth club. I mean, I collect them.
[00:24:47] Actually. I have them. Here’s one, here’s one from Samoa. Okay. You see this?
[00:25:01] I truly do. Yes. Yes, I have. I have I collect, I have maybe a hundred of them here. I was going to write about them, but so why is it divided? It’s divided because people are very suspicious that what’s a characteristic of Hawaii is different weather systems.
Microclimates cleave Valley weather is different from why Palmer, whether it’s different from why, whether it’s different from Kailua weather.
[00:25:33] So people live in different weather systems. They live in different landscapes, some fertile, some not fertile, some hot, some dry, whatever. So you say, what are the ethnic divisions? Religious divisions, where the divisions, that piece was about how an Island. Is divided into separate islands, even these it’s divided into
And why is it like a pie-shaped section, but you know what? Two of them, it is a Moku, an Island. So there are islands upon islands. Why is it true in Hawaiian? I would say every succeeding person who, all ethnic groups that comes on the Island is suspicious. Did anyone come to an Island with a good intention?
[00:26:29] Seriously? Do, can you, yeah. So you’ve got people on an Island Nantucket Island, Martha’s Vineyard, the Isle of Wight, Ireland, Iceland, wherever it is, someone comes to shore. Does that person coming to ashore to do good, too improve the lives of people? No, they come to take something away. I either ought to create something for themselves.
[00:26:52] No one ever comes on an island with altruistic motives that come to convert to develop, to do some. So the natural suspicions of people on the Island make them fractured and divided. So that’s one thing that, and that’s not true if only of Hawaii. It’s true of all lines. So Island life Island are suspicious.
[00:27:19] People they’re not welcoming. They’re not like people in Iowa, Nebraska, Northern California, wherever come, you know? Yeah. Set up, build up the golf course. Everything’s fine. And people have, have a very good reason to be suspicious. So I think that’s, that’s true of all islands, but I also think in Hawaii you have the Kanaka Maoli, the native people.
[00:27:45] The Island has been here for thousands of years, or anyway, almost 2000 years. No one’s quite sure of the number, but as much as two and they’re diminished.
My grandmother was native American. She was from a tribe called Menominee. She was born in Canada. She’s French spoke French, but, but she was Native American.
[00:28:11] I’m very keenly aware of what happens to native people. They get decimated, they get diseased, they get converted, and things happen to them. So the other suspicion in Hawaii, and I also, part of the piece is Hawaiians, who are not only suspicious of other people, but very reluctant to tell their story saying, believing that, that you’re, you’re taking this story from them and you might.
[00:28:41] You might get it wrong. You might, you, you might prefer it. The preferred I’ll use it for your own. And so there’s, there’s lots of reasons for this division, but it exists and it’s, it’s perfectly understandable. So it’s very hard to write about Hawaii. And when you do, people will say you got it wrong, or that’s not how you know, that’s not how it is.
[00:29:08] A previous novel of mine is called Hotel Honolulu. And when Hotel Honolulu came out, it was well-reviewed everywhere, except Hawaii. The worst review I got was from Hawaii, and it was from, from a di at the University of Hawaii. Holy guy, you know, saying I got it wrong. So, but there’s a little bit of overlap with Hotel Honolulu.
[00:29:35] And, and this book under The Wave at Waimea, there’s a, there’s a couple of episodes that, that connected. But anyway, so you read the piece. I think it’s really hard to write about Hawaii and, uh, and it’s a thankless task to that, that anyone who writes it, but that, that, that when someone writes about Hawaii, the worst Hanya Yanagihara is, has no reputation in Hawaii.
[00:30:04] Susanna more is kind of unknown, right as here or not, this kind of suspect. It’s not a great thing to be a writer in Hawaii because you’re seen to be someone taking something away, profiting on the, on the wisdom or the culture of being a kind of a parasite. Well, I mean, that’s partly true. I mean, a writer is sort of parasitical, but for all these reasons, Hawaii, I see Hawaii as very divided.
[00:30:31] And when you think about it, If you let’s say you’re a moment you would live in late. Let’s say you’ve recently come from the Philippines. Where would you go? You’d go to YPO where you’d find lots of people speaking. Ilocano. Would you go to Kahala? No. No. Who speaks Locarno in Kahala. And when James Mitchell was married, his wife was Japanese extraction.
[00:30:59] He was forbidden to buy a house in Kahala because his wife was Japanese. That’s another story. They use segregation. And there were stories from the 1960s of Holy girl with her Japanese. Nanny going to the Outrigger canoe club. And they say, well, okay, you can come in. But the, but then, the nanny has to stay out there.
[00:31:24] They wouldn’t let you come to that. I mean, this, there they’re shameful stories. And when you tell them, while you remind people, people get very, very defensive about it. But my father-in-law, my father-in-law was Chinese, but fourth-generation or third generation anyway. And we were on set the, at the Elks club.
[00:31:46] And he said, when I came back from the war, he was fighting in Guadalcanal. He said, I couldn’t join this club. I said, why? He said it was very exclusive, meaning it was. They wouldn’t let a Chinese guy join it. That’s another reason for that memory is also another reason for other divisions. And as a person from Japanese extraction, you may have heard stories, or you may know this yourself, but there’s a whole, this is secret history of Hawaii, just known to locals, just known to love, not to the smiling travel writers, writing about my ties at sunset.
[00:32:23] Guy Kawasaki: [00:32:23] I’d say to this day, I won’t set foot in the Outrigger canoe club.
[00:32:25] Paul Theroux: [00:32:25] There you go. Yeah, absolutely.
[00:32:29] Guy Kawasaki: [00:32:29] Absolutely. And going to the wildlife country club was just off the table. I have to tell you a little insight into my personality. So a few years ago I started bringing my family to Hawaii and using VRVO or Airbnb or whatever.
[00:32:46] We would always rent a house at Diamond Head because we wanted to be near the Waikiki breaks. And I will tell you, there was a part of me that says, Guy, you have truly arrived because now you are in a house in Diamond Head. So from Kalihi Valley to diamond head, that was a long journey.
[00:33:07] Paul Theroux: [00:33:07] No, I totally understand that.
[00:33:11] But, but if you don’t come from a person who had doesn’t come from it, doesn’t understand. Imagine the journey, imagine the distance from Y and I to Kahala it. It’s an, it’s an unbridgeable distance. It’s an unbridgeable distance. And I mentioned this in my piece. I think how a women was saying how a dance, a group of singers from Y and I were going to the mainland and I said, well, they went to the Maynard.
[00:33:38] Would you ever have them in Kahala? And she could look at me like, well, why would any from, from Y and I want to come to the car. So anyway, that’s that’s history, that’s the culture. My wife said that, that, that the, uh, The Honolulu, the advertiser was not delivered to local homes. It was only delivered to howleys.
[00:34:03] She said it was certain really? Yeah. So that’s why chin ho started the star bulletin. Really?
[00:34:14] Guy Kawasaki: [00:34:14] What you said, earn something. Anyway. So now let’s go from Hawaii to Mexico because I want to hear about the Genesis of on the Plains of snakes.
[00:34:26] Paul Theroux: [00:34:26] Okay. That’s pretty simple. I was working on this book, the white male book and a novel, a novel text is hard.
[00:34:35] You sit down every morning and he was, well, now what, you know, when you’re writing, it’s not like it doesn’t flow. It’s you’re, you’re, you’re really kind of, you’re going very slowly and deliberately, although I’ve written 30 plus works of fiction. It’s never easy. It doesn’t get easier. So I’m working on it.
[00:34:56] And Donald Trump starts running for president and disparaging Mexicans. And I remembered that one of the things, a formative experience that I had on the Mexican border was walking and being in Southern Arizona and walking across the border from Nogales, Nogales, Arizona, then zipping a fence. I mean, a really big steel.
[00:35:23] Rusty fence and with a door in it, I walked through the door and I think, Holy God, I’m in Mexico and people are eating tacos and singing. And then I walked back. So I was thinking I’ve, I’ve traveled my whole life, but I’ve never had the experience of go through the fence. And suddenly you’re in another company, you walk through national borders, not like that you, if going in African countries or India and Pakistan or wherever China and Russia, there’s a, there’s a road.
[00:35:53] And there’s a, and you could see what this kind of no man’s land, but I’ve never had the experience of going through. But so then, so Trump saw, it says they’re rapists. They’re murderers, that gang bangers they’re coming, they’re taking jobs. And I don’t know all this stuff, which it wasn’t true. It was also saying the border is terrible.
[00:36:13] So I. I put my novel aside, and I thought, here’s what I’m going to do. I want to write about Mexico. I speak Spanish, but I could improve my Spanish and I’m going to write about the border. And then I’m going to buy a car, an old car and drive around Mexico. Now the last road trip book was a book called deep South where I drove around the South.
[00:36:42] And I discovered road trips are really fun also because I live in Hawaii where road trips are unthinkable. I thought, well, drive to Kahala. Yeah, you can drive to Carla it’s it’s 45 miles, you know, but, but, but I recently drove from Boston to LA in six days, 500 miles a day. I did it, um, just after Thanksgiving to get here and, you know, it’s the most fun, you can have five nights, six days.
[00:37:16] So, but anyway, I thought I’m gonna drive up and down the border and then I’m going to drive into Mexico. And then the real incentive was people saying, don’t do it. Oh, don’t do it. It’s dangerous. Don’t do it. Or you’re an old guy. What’s the point. And I was thinking, you know whatever since don’t do it, I think, well, have you done it?
[00:37:34] Do you know? It’s like people say be careful surfing and you say, well, are you a surfer? No, but it looks like I hate ignorant advice. So the book to answer your question came out of that. Trump, my ignorance about. Mexico, although I’d been there, but I’d never really spent a lot of time there. I’d never talked to a lot of Mexicans.
[00:37:57] I never lived in Mexico, and I’d never driven in Mexico. And I realized there’s a lot of complications to take a car into Mexico. You need insurance, you need an import vehicle import permit. You need to bribe people. There’s a lot, a lot, a lot of paper, but once you do it, then you’re Bulletproof. You say, I got all my paper, I got all this and that.
[00:38:18] And the cops hassle you. And they asked for bribes. So you have to play ball. But, but I thought the other thing was travel is great. When you’re discovering something. And every day I was in Mexico, I discovered something, a new word, a new phrase, a new friend, a item of food. I was constantly discovering.
[00:38:38] And that, that helps you on your way. So I thought I’m going to write about Mexico and destroy the stereotype. So. So right about Mexico so that people see their people, Mexico you’re sitting in a town that was once Mexico, it was Spanish. It was a Spanish town full of Mexicans and Spanish people. The whole of California was Mexico.
[00:39:00] Texaco was Mexico. New Mexico is Mexico. Arizona was Mexico and Ivana was Mexico until 1848. So we have West sitting on, we took this away from Mexico though, but the whole, the West and the Southwest, and people don’t understand that either. So having a sense of history is also important that Mexico it’s a neighbor.
[00:39:23] And the other thing I thought I’m going to be a teacher. I’m going to be a student. I’m going to teach writing or English or something like that. Then I’m going to study Spanish. And then I wanted to go all the way down to Chiapas and meet the Zapatistas. So I did the whole thing and I drove, I never had a problem driving.
[00:39:40] Although I was in some, you know, bad weather and bad roads, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t bad. And it was an experience that was so wonderful. And the book, you know, it was well-reviewed. It did well. It’s still, you know, you can buy it at it’s there years later. And I th I felt it’s, it was kind of an anti trumpet book cause, cause the Trump has hate Mexicans, but now I understand the whole immigration issue is complicated, but certainly.
[00:40:11] To bring Mexicans into it is racist and horrible. The idea for Chinese illegal immigrants paying $50,000 to two guys to get them through a tunnel into San Diego. That’s a different story than that’s not, that’s not the Mexican story or Afghans Nigeria, it’s Congolese, Syria. It’s going over the border.
[00:40:34] They’re called special interest aliens. That wasn’t my subject. That’s a different subject. The idea of, of Mexicans with a rich culture, great writing things that people don’t know about Mexico, right? Musicians, great playwrights break artists as well as really clever people, building Chevrolets for us, all that.
[00:40:55] And I told Mexicans constantly we’re on the same road, the road that I took. From my home in the East Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I drove, I said, it’s the same road I get on the road. I drive down across the border. That’s the same road that we’re on. It’s always been the case. So that’s where the book came from.
[00:41:15] Politically. When I finished the trip, wrote the book, you know, writing a travel book. It isn’t a big problem. The trip is the problem. Getting through it, getting. Alive and all that. Then you sit down and you write the book. Well, I finished the book, then I resumed writing this novel and then I finished this novel and that’s so my last book was about Mexico and then I finished this novel and that’s where it came from.
[00:41:42] I put it aside
[00:42:11] Guy Kawasaki: [00:42:11] bad. Quote, unquote, bad happened to you after all the warnings of don’t go across there, don’t drive there. All the warnings that you wrote about in that book, nothing happened.
[00:42:22] Paul Theroux: [00:42:22] Yeah, a lot of it. Yes. I had a long, my main problems were from the police. So police stopping me and saying your license plate is called
[00:42:32] Uh . I said, yeah, what’s the problem is, is said, it’s not, it’s not Mexican. I said, no, it’s Massachusetts. I messengers. But I said, I have these papers. I have my impro permit and I show the paper and they just brush them away. And I said, what do you want? The phrase is how could, you know, putting a resolve at I still, how, how, how can, how can we resolve this issue?
[00:42:56] And then the cop says, sub is, look, whether I said, do you know what I could do to you say, no, what? I can take your car. I could impound your car. They call it a quarter loan. I can impound your car and you’ll have to pay money. You’ll have to get a lawyer to get it. Would it be simpler to, I said, well, what do you want?
[00:43:17] $300, $300 is quite a big bribe. I mean, the first time they asked me for 300, I said, no, I don’t have 300. And then they said, then they start screaming at you. Well, a policeman with a gun. And, uh, and, and, uh, you know, he’s got a belt with all this stuff on it. Bullets, handcuffs, mace starts screaming at me. Do you know what I could do to you?
[00:43:42] So I had to stick to my story. So I basically, I gave him a bike. He basically said, open your wallet. I opened the wallet. He just took all my money away. Very scary experience. I don’t know whether you’ve had experience with a cop, have you? No, no. I have in the States several times. Where I’ve made the mistake of contradicting them, and they start screaming at you.
[00:44:06] And it’s very bad. If you, if you raise your voice for the cop, that’s a felony, you know? Cause you raise your voice. That’s you’re a white guy. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. So you can imagine if you’re not, not a white guy and you, you give them lip. So I’ve had experience getting screamed at. Okay. But I never, I never felt intimidated.
[00:44:29] I thought, well, I’m going to get a lawyer. I’m going to report you. I’m going to, I’m going to get even with it, but in Mexico, you’re in a foreign country, and you’re screaming and also threatened. So that happened. You asked prob that happened four times the most w 300, two 5,200. And then just a guy saying, Oh God, one 80.
[00:44:50] So he wrote one 80 on his pump bribe. So I had, I had a, uh, envelope of money, bribe money. I had it. In various parts of the car. I didn’t want to have it in one place. So the next time I was stopped by a cop, I was just said, what do you want? And he said, I want $250. I said, okay. And I just counted out the money and I gave him the money and he said, Oh, I said, okay.
[00:45:14] I said, I’m going. He said, Oh yeah, just get on there. Take a left ticket. Right. It was just like a attacks for being a gringo gringo tax. Oh, with a car, with bad license plates. Um, I on the border, I met a lot of questionable people, but I never had a problem. I never went out at night on the border. I never drove at night.
[00:45:42] Mexican say, don’t drive at night. Didn’t always put your car in a safe place. If you’re stopping at a motel or hotel, make sure that it’s behind a wall. And that there’s a God that don’t leave your car on the street. It was. A 2011 Nissan Murano. I drive a 4runner on the, on the mainland. I have a Toyota four runner.
[00:46:07] If I had a Toyota four runner, it would have been gone in 60 seconds. You know, the pumper just come up and say, I want you to clock. And then you say, yo, okay, here’s my keys. I’ll take my car. But other than that luck, um, paying bribes when, and not putting myself in situations where there was serious danger, the border is a dangerous place, but if you’re going a daylight, I usually went with someone else.
[00:46:35] If I was in a, in a tricky situation, I’ve been in dangerous places. I’ve had people shoot at me in Africa. I’ve had people pointing guns at me in New Guinea and the Tropea donnas. I was attacked by. I was in my kayak. Some boys would spit jabbing Spears. So I’ve been in ticklish situations, but I didn’t have a problem in Mexico.
[00:47:03] Actually, a Mexican told me your problem is speaking Spanish. You should pretend that you’re a German and say, I don’t know what you’re talking about. And I said, what’s your suggestion. He said, try to win a Golden Globe for acting when you’re talking to a cop. In other words, I don’t know what you’re saying.
[00:47:24] Like, I’m a German. I don’t speak Spanish because they don’t speak English, but it’s literally, you were not kidnapped or murdered. No one, many people are, but it tends to happen in certain places. There are certain places in Mexico where. You cannot go Vera Cruz, Nia Vera Cruz does it there. It’s controlled by a cartel that will, they see me in my car.
[00:47:57] They’ll take my car. They’ll what will they do to me? They’ll kidnap me that want money. They want my car. That’s certain tampoco, Veracruz Acapulco around the state. They’re Aero, state Acapulco, very bad for kidnappings abductions theft. Uh, but there’s places in California. I wouldn’t go either. Well, there’s places in that true in any country.
[00:48:26] It’s true of every city in the world. I think every state in the world has an area where it’s probably a good idea not to look conspicuous. I have a friend in Hawaii of Japanese extraction. Third generation, I guess, was driving a BMW in, I think it was Arizona, but it might’ve been Arkansas. And he was as Japanese looking as you are.
[00:49:01] And he had the BMW and a man came up and it said, nice car. And he said, yeah. I said, I want to buy it. And my friend, it was at a gas station. The guy said, it’s not for sale. He said, yes, it is. I want your car. And gave him a hard time. This guy, he was hassled because he, he, he was conspicuous and was driving a nice car.
[00:49:24] And the guy gave him a major hard time and was going to take his car from him, hijack him. In other words, carjacked him. And somehow he got out of it, but he’s told me I will never drive a BMW. In middle America. Again, he’ll go to places where he’s not so conspicuous. Where do people have problems? When you look conspicuous?
[00:49:49] My wife is of Chinese extraction on Cape Cod. She’s so conspicuous. I mean, people stare at it that you’re like, Whoa, they’d be wilted that a black person in a white community, a white person in a black community, an old person among young people. I wrote a piece about the New York subway. And I said, who gets mugged?
[00:50:12] They said, conspicuous people, if you’re old, if you’re sitting by the door and you’re old, you’ll be robbed because you’re old, you’re old. And you’re among a lot of punks or, you know, an old person walking in an area where just there are a lot of punks, you know, they’ll say, well, here’s a sitting duck.
[00:50:33] We’re going to take you. It will take your, your handbag or whatever it is so that it being conspicuous. Can be fatal in Mexico, in Mexico City. It’s less possible in Mexico. City’s a multi-racial place. But in other places, a gringo is conspicuous. Gringos in Mexico tend to live in communities, though. I mean, this computer is where they just Canadians this community with this Germans, whether it’s just Americans and San Miguel de Allende is full of gringos, safe place, other places, not so safe.
[00:51:05] But if you travel saying, I look conspicuous, therefore I can’t go there. You’ll never write anything. I’ve been conspicuous. My whole life. I lived in Africa for almost seven years. I was the most conspicuous person there, but I manage by speaking the language. Actually, one time a guy was pointing a gun at me, fortunately, It was in a country where I spoke the language in Malawi and I could speak the law.
[00:51:30] He’d been in the Peace Corps and I could speak. And I said, I’m not your enemy. I’m not going to, I don’t have a gun. It’s not a problem. Just relax, you know, talking to him. But he had a gun pointed at my face. Not, not an enjoyable experience at all. So
[00:51:45] Guy Kawasaki: [00:51:45] let’s suppose Joe Biden calls you up and says, so Paul, what’s your advice for the U S Mexico immigration issue?
[00:51:55] Paul Theroux: [00:51:55] would you tell him? The first thing he has to do is appoint an ambassador. Who’s really good. And this is true of all countries. He needs ambassadors in Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Mexico. Really good diplomatic relations. That’s the first thing you need. Trump decimated the foreign service.
[00:52:19] So the foreign service was full of political appointees Trumpers. And Korea diplomats were phased out of the foreign service. So the Trump presidency did destroy the foreign service, but we could it so that our relations with other countries with terrible it have been terrible. So the first thing I’d say with the immigration process, we need diplomacy.
[00:52:47] You need someone who could talk to the Mexican president and about the border, the border. I mean, strangely enough, NAFTA is profitable for American companies making stuff in Mexico. Mexican companies don’t make stuff in the States. So NAFTA is very, very one-sided. And actually, it hasn’t really helped Mexican workers, but it really has helped Bose headphones Chevrolet.
[00:53:23] People making audio equipment, plastic toys, rubber tires, and all that stuff, stuff, and they make it a hundred yards from the border. So the border is a very, very important thing. The immigration issue is interestingly enough, not a Mexican problem. Illegal Mexican immigrants are not the problem. Mexican immigrant illegal immigration has diminished.
[00:53:50] It’s mainly from central America. So the reason why you need diplomacy is that central American Hondurans watermelons, Salvadorians are coming into Mexico and they’re they’re in the border. They’re desperate people. What does, so the solution has to be diplomatic that there has to be some sort of regulation.
[00:54:08] It can’t be open borders. Obviously, if you have open borders, it will be. Open season for Nigeria and South Africans, Indians, Pakistan, and the prisons in Arizona, a full of Indians and Pakistanis and Africans, not full of Mexicans. So it’s a category called special interest aliens and then mixed in. So there’s desperate central Americans, there’s Chinese, there’s special interest aliens.
[00:54:39] And then this Mexicans who are coming to Santa Cruz to fix your roof, but Mexicans aren’t the problem. But immigration is a problem. How you fix it is, is with regulation obviously, but also with diplomacy because the border belongs to two countries, Mexico and the United States. The other problem is the cartels and the cartels I discovered on the border in most places.
[00:55:05] So if you want to get across the border, you see a cartel member. And no matter who you are and you pay them anywhere from 2000, 3000 up to $80,000. But if you’ve got the money, Syrians were selling their houses and their land, getting a chunk of money, going to Mexico and just paying a lot of money to a cartel to get across the border.
[00:55:28] Some people have money, the Mexicans or the central Americans go across don’t have money, but they become slaves or that drug running and so forth. It’s a very, very complicated problem exacerbated by a gun-running too. So all the guns come from the States and there was that scandal under the Obama administration, where it was called the fast and furious, where they were allowing cartels to buy guns in the States thinking they could trace the guns.
[00:56:00] One of those guns was used to kill a border patrol officer and that, and because that was associated with, with Biden, And Trump politicized. The border patrol unions are Trumpers. Border patrol officers are Trumpers because they associate weak border policy with, with Biden and Obama. But at first has to stop with diplomacy and a policy, a policy on the border.
[00:56:32] And cause I’m not for open borders. Won’t help if you have open borders, what’s the point. You’re my husband. You don’t really, it can’t be unregulated, but so I’m not a knee jerk on that.
[00:56:46] Guy Kawasaki: [00:56:46] So it seems to me that you were abandoned Malawi, you were banned in Singapore, let’s say that Trump administration banned this book.
[00:56:56] Would, would that be just like the hat trick? Do you have a little bit of pride being banned?
[00:56:58] Paul Theroux: [00:56:58]My problem but being, I was deported from an hour, I was in the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps said make friends. So I made friends, I could speak the language. I made friends with a group of people who became rebels of the gut and they, they had a plot to assassinate the prime minister unwittingly.
[00:57:19] I did a favor for this group of gorillas and when the plot unraveled. But the prime minister at the time who was going to be assassinated, he was called Dr. Hastings. Bunder told the ambassador that I was in with plotting against him. He deported me. I was kicked out of the pay school. I was fined a lot of money, and I was screwed.
[00:57:44] It was 1965. I was on the verge of going to Vietnam. So I did what any rebel would do. I contacted the Africans and I said, you got me in this fix, get me out of it. And they said, okay, we will get you out of it. We’re going to get you a job at a university in Uganda. We have contacts there. We’re going to make you a professor.
[00:58:05] So with a BA degree and just having helped these Marxist guerrillas. I then had a job at one of the most prestigious universities in East Africa, the University of Macquarie University. And I was there for four years as a distinguished professor because these guys were connected. And that led to going to Singapore, where I had a job at the University of Singapore, which was great actually, because I was then, although I still had this crappy degree, I had to distinguish career as a university professor got to Singapore, my contract wasn’t renewed and it wasn’t renewed because I was a Holly and they wanted to, they wanted local people in the thing.
[00:58:52] But also then I wrote a book about it. St. Jack, the book was banned. I wasn’t banned, the book was banned. The movie was banned, but now everyone’s, we’re all happy at the book is read widely. It’s available in Singapore, my life, you know, You know, the game snakes and ladders snake, most lives of my life, more than others up and down, up and down.
[00:59:14] So it’s been a very interesting life. I haven’t written my autobiography, but I’ve written about this. I’ve had some extremely unfortunate experiences, but I’ve also had some break luck. I’m now knocking on wood everything’s hunky Dory. Now I’m fine. But my books were banned in South Africa. They were banned.
[00:59:34] And because my first three novels were set in Africa when, and I couldn’t sell a book in South Africa when Nelson Mandela became prime minister, they changed the educational system. My books were unbanned, and my novel, The Mosquito Coast, became a textbook or a set book in schools. My publisher called me in about 1990 only, or no, and he won and he said, we’ve just sold 200,000.
[01:00:08] Copies of The Mosquito Coast. We’ve had an order for 200,000. You mind 200,000, each book is 10 bucks. I’m making 20% of it. He said, we’ve just had an order for 200,000. It’s going to be in the schools in South Africa. So from no books to book, so I’ve met South Africans. They say, Oh, you’ll pull through. We studied your book The Mosquito Coast and the moon, and then the luck of it.
[01:00:37] And so down sometimes up other times, it’s not the worst thing in the world to, you know, your life doesn’t end when you’ve been declared a prohibited immigrant. Oh, you’ve been fired and I’ve been, I’ve been fired at two times. The best thing is, do you have a job? Do you have an actual salary job?
[01:00:58] Guy Kawasaki: [01:00:58] Not exactly, I’m chief evangelist for a company out of Australia called Canva, but I decided to take all compensation in stock.
[01:01:19] And it’s worked out quite well. I really don’t have a salvage. My kids, I have two boys. One of them makes documentaries in England, Louis and my other son Marcel writes novels. No one in my family has jobs. So I’m a very bad example actually. But, but your question was about being banned, getting deported, being fired and so forth.
[01:01:43] Guy Kawasaki: [01:01:43] But if, if the Trump administration had banned planes, it would be, I think.
[01:01:51] Paul Theroux: [01:01:51] An honor. It would be actually the best thing that can happen to you is that someone in an influencer reads your book. Do you know how James Bond became such an important book, an important writer, the films, the books of what? No, you may not remember it.
[01:02:14] John Kennedy was asked who’s his favorite author? He said my favorite author is Ian Fleming. And people were saying, who is Ian Fleming? And said, he writes Jane Bond book. Jack Kennedy loved James Bond books. This would have been about 1962 61 or 62. If you look at it, Kennedy was the opinion former that made James Bond famous.
[01:02:40] I have a friend, Bill Finnegan. He wrote Barbarian Days. Have you read it? Yeah. Okay. Oh God. Yes. Who was his biggest cheerleader? Obama. Obama. Well behind said, and by the way, Bill Finnegan gave me a blurb for this book. It’s a great blurb. It’s on the cover. Extraordinary blurb.
[01:03:01] Wonderful. So that’s going to be very helpful. I get Bill Finnegan in my corner, but so if Trump w D the question is it’s a no brainer. Trump says this book is crap. Trump, a man who has never read a book in his life. It says this book had bands that, yeah, actually I was a reader when I was very young read, a 13, 14 years old, lots of books were banned.
[01:03:26] Henry Miller was bad. DH. Lawrence was bad. William Burroughs was bad. And I sought out those books. Those are the books that I wanted to read. I thought, well, they’re bad. Uh, James Joyce’s Ulysses was bad. Those that you think, why are they bad? Because they have power. Someone’s afraid of them. Aleksandr Solzhenitsynonce said no great writer was ever honored by a government. Because writers are like a second government. The only writers that a government or regime recognize a minor is second-rate writers. They were afraid of the great writers. I’m not saying I’m a great writer, but, but yes you are, but none of them, but. But government, when you look at it a government never recognizes an important writer that the groundbreaking Solzhenitsyn himself, for example, but James Joyce, Herman Melville, Melville died. They misspelled his name in his obituary. Three people came to his funeral. He was nobody, no one recognized him, but I’m not putting myself in that class.
[01:04:35] But I’m saying that it’s in the government’s interest to honor the writer that’s not going to cause a problem for them to ban the writer. I like Trump banning my book for being dangerous.
[01:05:11] Guy Kawasaki: [01:05:11] The RNC bought hundreds of thousands of copies of Trump’s son’s book. Right?
[01:05:18] Paul Theroux: [01:05:18] So that’s the kind of thing that happens. But I mean, yeah, but, but that books, that book has no, no future. I tend to think, no matter what happens, if a book is good, it will find an audience. It will, it will do well. You don’t really need a Obama to love it or candidates to love it.
[01:05:37] Good things will happen, but they happen quicker with social media opinion, formers and, and someone’s selecting it about Biden though. His question, I mean, I don’t know, this is just an aside. I don’t have any indication that Biden is a big reader. I think he’s a, he probably reads policy books. And he probably reads political biography, but I, I don’t have any indication that he’s the reader that, for example, Obama is a passionate reader, reads everything.
[01:06:06] I met Obama and Haleiwa at the Kua Ainahamburger place. I said, what I said to him was, um, it was, um, before 2006, I guess. And I said, you have Senator Obama. And he said, yeah, I said, can I, can I make a suggestion to you? And he said, what? I said, please run for president. I’ll vote for you. And I’ll give you money.
[01:06:34] He said, who are you? I said, Paul Theroux. He said, I’ve read your book. He said, sit down. I want to talk to you. He was there with his sister and his kids. And we were having hamburg because yeah. Yeah. Right, right. So he’s a reader. Kennedy was a reader. I think Carter was a reader. Reagan, wasn’t a reader.
[01:06:54] Maybe the Republicans aren’t readers. But I don’t know about it. It’s an interesting speculation of, he doesn’t show any indication that he’s a reader. Does he to you? No, but, but he’s a great guy and we need him. We need him. But I think, I think if it, if it was introduced to me and say Paul Theroux, what do you do, Paul?
[01:07:26] I have a chicken farm in Haleiwa.
[01:07:30] So I have three more questions for you. Okay?
[01:07:34] Guy Kawasaki: [01:07:34] So question number one is you are arguably one of the world’s greatest travelers. What’s your advice on how to travel?
[01:07:41] Paul Theroux: [01:07:41] This is a bad period, obviously. And I wrote a piece for the New York times exactly a year ago, about a lockdown. It was about being locked down in Kampala and Uganda during an emergency.
[01:07:59] And we were stuck under a curfew for almost a month and it was 10. It was amazing. It was made, but we were just stuck. You couldn’t go out. It was dangerous fighting, but it was like a pen. It was like a virus. It was like an infection. It lifted. And I said, we’re all going to learn something from this.
[01:08:19] And here it is a year later I wrote the piece we’re still locked on more or less. My advice obviously is you have to be ingenious and like read about travel, travel vicariously. The problem will be solved in the way. I believe that it was solved in the 1950s and sixties, when there was tuberculosis, yellow fever, sleeping sickness, various malaria, various ailments, for which you needed a passport, you needed yellow card.
[01:08:54] When I went to Africa in 1963, I had my arm was swollen with shots against diptheria, yellow fever, sleeping sickness, everything. I got them. I was in Syracuse, New York, at the doctor, and we went there, and we had so many shots that I remember it took days to get them all. And then they were all written up in the little book.
[01:09:18] So when I arrived, and I went roundabout, route Nairobi and then Rhodesia, and then Malawi, I was always showing this passport, this little thing that will that’s the future. I’ve had my first jab of Moderna, and I have a little card that resembles the passport. Then, the solution is that everyone is vaccinated.
[01:09:41] How you get everyone vaccinated? I don’t know. And especially with the mutant strains, but the future is, is going to be no, one’s going to be safe until they’re vaccinated. And no one’s going to be able to travel unless you have proof of vaccination. When I came to Honolulu from LA on December 3rd, last year, I had to show a piece of paper that I had been tested and that I was negative and I had it and I, I had to have the test within 72 hours of coming.
[01:10:13] The answer is a lot of paperwork. Then people will be able to travel, but
[01:10:17] Guy Kawasaki: [01:10:17] now that’s at one level, but assuming we handle all this administrative stuff, I mean more philosophically, how do you travel? What is it? It’s not just about staying at Ritz-Carltons and Airbnbs, and how does one truly travel on an intellectual level? Like to really understand someplace?
[01:10:43] Paul Theroux: [01:10:43] I think it’s a greater opportunity than ever because the pandemic has been transformative. Every country in the world has been changed by it. Some for the better, some for the worst, and a writer, a traveler is doing nothing. If he or she is not writing about change about discovery, about and reporting back about it.
[01:11:08] So how you travel is. Not for pleasure. I’ve never really traveled for pleasure. I’ve always traveled, looking for a story and looking for change, trying to make a friend, make it discovering whatever. So the traveler from now on every traveler with a brain is going to be writing about the infection, the effects of it, deaths, crowded, hospitals, tragedy, or people overcoming it, right?
[01:11:42] This kind of, there’s a move out of cities now. So country life is more attractive to people than it ever was. And I think that that’s a big, that will be a big factor. The problem I’m in touch with an African doctor, he, he emailed me today and he said he doesn’t think that cause I want to go to Africa. I, first country I went to was in central Africa 50 years ago.
[01:12:09] And I want to go back there because I’ve been writing about all these years. I want to see the effects of it. He said, I don’t think you’ll be able to go there until 2023, but he said, but maybe 2022, it might be possible. He was talking about mutant strains of the disease chain, different variants of the disease.
[01:12:32] But the answer is you travel to write about it, and it will be about the plague about the pandemic, about them. It won’t be about a golf course. It won’t be about a new hotel. It won’t be about a great meal you have at the background will always be the infection, probably for the foreseeable future, certainly for the next five to 10 years.
[01:12:56] And I have one more travel book to write one. I really do want to write. And it’s about visiting. Revisiting countries I’ve been in and visiting new countries and also about teaching. I would like to teach in a lot of different places. I’d like to teach in Africa. I’d like to teach in Pakistan and in China and the Philippines and some will, and also in Chicago, in a cities, I would just like, and I would like to teach a short story, the same story at different places.
[01:13:25] So that’s my, my ambition to go to different places to talk. What do people to find out? What do people want? What are they worried about? But I know that the subject is going to be the pandemic and okay. And I don’t know whether the vaccine will protect it, you know, was it total prophylactic against the, against the disease, but we’ll know, because I think, think of how events have moved that a year ago.
[01:13:51] Trump said gone by the summer. Even some people were saying, well, maybe we’ll get over it by Easter. Maybe the summer, maybe the hot weather, maybe a year later, people are still speculating. So. We’re in this very interesting period of, we don’t know anything. We don’t know anything month by month. We’re discovering today. The death deaths in the United States is half a million. It’s all. I just looked it up. It’s half a million. It’s mind-boggling unbelievable because I started tracking it when it started every week. How many cases, how many deaths and I look today? Yeah, half a million.
[01:14:33] No one guessed this. And I think that one of the ways of looking at the future is to seize the present, to look at the present intensively and because the seeds of the future in the present, which, but not everyone sees them. Maybe a year ago, if people had looked at it and looked at other plagues, other pandemics, they would have said a year from now, we’re still going to be in trouble.
[01:15:09] But people were saying, cheerleaders was saying politicians and there, you don’t need a mask. It’s going to be okay. Or Trump was saying, you know, drink hydrochloric acid or whatever the hell it was. But so we don’t know, but I think it makes travel more interesting. It will make it more of an event and adventure.
[01:15:28] And the frivolity of travel is disappearing. The seriousness of travel is, is the important thing, because the thing that you learned in travel, when you were a little guy just setting off and you go to a foreign country, you realize how small you are, how unimportant you are and how important other people are and how you have to listen.
[01:15:51] A travel book isn’t about Eat, Pray, Love. I had a great meal. I went on a wine tour down the Rhine. I played golf in 50 places. That’s not travel. Travel is your small. The world is big. There’s a lot to learn, and the pandemic is a tragedy, but it’s also an opportunity for a writer to get in inside it.
[01:16:21] And what is the real story? How is this actually affecting people? And it’s affecting people profoundly.
[01:16:30] Guy Kawasaki: [01:16:30] Second to the last question. As the writer to another writer, I’d love to know your tools of the trade. Are you writing it down on a legal tablet? Are you working in Microsoft word? How do you write a book?
[01:16:42] Paul Theroux: [01:16:42] I wrote a book with this, and this is a ballpoint pen. Every book I’ve written. The first draft I’ve written with a ballpoint pen, this pen, this is Alami pen, and I’ve written it on. I don’t have an example here, but I write in longhand, this book the Waimea book about surfers is all written. I sold my papers to the 110 library.
[01:17:13] Four years ago, they had to send a truck to pick up my papers. They sent not thumb drives they literally they sent a truck. It was this small van truck, but it was a truck and three guys. And it filled the truck with papers. I have a paper archive, I may be one of the last people with a paper archive. You could talk about we’re processing programs.
[01:17:40] I wouldn’t know what the hell you were talking about. I use. I guess I use Microsoft word. I use a program because I write in longhand, and then I make a scribble draft. Then I recopy it in longhand. And then when I have a manuscript, which is all written, but then I photocopy it for safety. When I have the whole thing written out, then I put it down and then I type it.
[01:18:06] I used to use a typewriter, and now I use a word processor, but I don’t write on a word processor. I don’t write on a computer. A computer is to me is just, I use for typing, which is very relaxing. A typewriter was very exhausting, banging a typewriter. So traveling, I don’t have any technology. I have a phone, but, but I don’t tape record anyone.
[01:18:31] I take notes and I’ve trained myself to transcribe people’s conversations. After the fact. So I have a conversation with you about all the things we’ve talked about, and then I go away quietly, and I write down the conversation. That’s been, that’s a mental exercise that I’ve practiced over the years.
[01:19:00] It seems to work. I I’ve never tape-recorded anyone I’ve never done Zoom or Skype with him. I traveled with notebooks, and I fill up notebooks, and I have the notes. Then I take the notebooks, and I write it out. So it’s all pen and ink pen and ink pen and ink and okay. And then the pleasurable thing is, is typing it and it’s work, but I don’t have a secretary because the secretary wouldn’t be able to read everything.
[01:19:28] And when I’m typing, I’m also expanding and lodging upon it. The process of writing is very mysterious. And when I don’t think you can teach someone how to write fiction, you can teach them methods. You can’t make them funnier out more intelligent, but you can tell them. And sometimes when people ask me, I wrote this thing, but I’m not happy with it.
[01:19:53] My advice, I’m not a teacher, but I say, I said, well, do you want my advice? Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I said, well, here’s what you should do. You should put, sit down at a desk, put it down and recopy it in longhand. And do you know the answer I always get? Oh, that’s too much trouble. I couldn’t do that. It’s 5,000 words or 10,000 words, arts truth or whatever it is.
[01:20:15] That’s too much trouble. I couldn’t do that. I’ve done it my whole life. And when someone says that, I say, you’re not a writer. You will never be a writer. I don’t tell them that, but I think you will never be a writer because writing is, is labor it’s work. It’s, it’s very hard writing, thinking rewriting and writing in longhand slows you down.
[01:20:38] So I can’t tell you the number of times, I said, Oh, you got to copy it on long and Oh no, I couldn’t do that. Well, Shakespeare did it. Herman Melville did it. You know, I did it. Lots of people do it. The computer tends to speed things up. It doesn’t, you need, most of it writing is thinking, it’s thinking, what am I going to write?
[01:20:58] It’s not tapping away. You know, what the effect is. So I think the whole thing is I write at the beach, as I told you, I said, I have a folding chair. I sit at the beach, and I’ll write on a clipboard. And then I recopied, and I recopied and, and you know, in the end, yeah, the day, look at the first page of this book.
[01:21:18] I rewrote that page.
[01:21:23] I won’t say 50 times, maybe 30 times I sat down and rewrote, I rewrote it in longhand. I re-typed it. I corrected it or we typed it. So just the first page, I thought I wanted the first page to set the mood of it so that, you know, the guy, where is he? And I could say even maybe the first chapter, I rewrote, he wrote it.
[01:21:45] Wasn’t just typed. And I don’t know whether it shows or not, but you, I could tell. I mean, if I read the book, if that was somebody else’s book, I would say this book was written slowly and carefully, whether it’s a success or a failure or not, it’s beside the point, but it’s written with care, it’s not just typed.
[01:22:12] So technology has not served me very well. I accept that. I mean, I think that. A word processing program is stupendous. I think it’s the best thing ever. It’s beyond Gutenberg way beyond Gutenberg. So, I mean, that’s a great thing to write with light rather than type.
[01:22:35] Guy Kawasaki: [01:22:35] I’m going to send you something that may be, maybe we’ll help you, but that’s, I won’t get it.
[01:22:39] It’s a tablet pencil-based that you might like, and it’s called a reMarkable tablet and it sponsors the Remarkable People podcast.
[01:22:48] Guy Kawasaki: [01:22:48] Well, that was a smooth in-context plug for the reMarkable tablet. And now we have the reMarkable tablet sponsored question, which is how does Paul do his best and deepest thinking because the remarkable tablet will help you do the same?
[01:23:06] It is a single-purpose tablet. It doesn’t, de-focus you with email social media, and all the other craziness that can take you off track. My very last question, although we’ve been touching on this for quite a while, it’s a very direct question, which is how do you do your best and deepest thinking?
[01:23:29] Paul Theroux: [01:23:29] Very, very good question.
[01:23:30] But I would say. Two ways. One is the ordinary meditation of just sitting quietly at the beach, looking at kind of point looking at the Pacific Ocean, just sitting there reflecting, but there’s actually a better way. It’s for me riding a bike, paddling, a kayak, walking, walking, especially, but I sometimes ride my bike to Mokuleia.
[01:24:03] And then I go up to Peacock Flats up the Ridge. I did it on last Sunday. I got a flat tire actually, but riding my bike alone up a steep grade. But so you have to go slowly that I think, I don’t know this true for everyone, but for me, the reflect that, that there’s something about exercise, maybe runners feel it walking definitely is one that my mind begins to solve problems. I get ideas, and I can’t write them down, but I refine them as I’m exercising. And I’m not talking about vigorous exercise, riding a bike. I’m talking about what might be riding along a road or paddling a kayak on a smooth ocean, not fighting the waves, but, but there’s something about the evenness of exercise.
[01:24:53] I compiled an anthology of travel 10 years ago, maybe it’s called The Tao of Travel. And The Tao of Travel is about every travel book that made an impression on me. And one of the chapters is called It is Solved By Walking. It’s from a Latin Solvitur ambulando. Solvitur ambulando means it’s solved by walking.
[01:25:20] You have a problem. And your wife is doing the dishes, and the kids are watching television. You believe the house when you walk and you walk and the more you walk, you will be solved by walking so that there are a lot of books about walking. Henry. David Thoreau has a great essay about walking, but there are many great Russo was a Walker.
[01:25:41] Henry William Wordsworth was a walker, a lot of walkers. And so the answer is sitting quietly, but I’m restless. And I find it hard to get a meditative pose, I suppose, doing yoga might help, but definitely there’s a certain kind of exercise. It wouldn’t be weightlifting. It wouldn’t be surfing, but it might be swimming.
[01:26:06] It might be walking. It might be riding a bike that would, that would allow you allows me to reflect and to have good ideas.
[01:26:24] Guy Kawasaki: [01:26:24] Curious. So does Paul Theroux, does he ride like some $25,000 road bike that weighs about two pounds or is it a beater bike Schwinn that one-speed coaster brakes
Paul Theroux: [01:26:34] I have two bikes. Neither one is the guy I ride with has a $9,000 buy a seven. It’s called a seven. It’s a great bike. Nine grand. The most expensive bike I bought was a Merlin titanium bike, $4,000 bike.
[01:26:51] I bought it in San Francisco it’s city cycle. So it’s a great bike, but it’s not a climb bike. It’s a road bike. And now you could buy it for two titanium bikes and out a cheaper the bike I was riding the other day is just a, probably costs 1500, 2000. I bought it second hand. It’s a good climb up by specialized height, but it doesn’t prevent you from getting up.
[01:27:17] I got a thorn in the tire and I, so I went about three and a half miles up and I had got the flat and then I had to walk three and a half miles back to the road, back to my top. I was looking at bike when I would get my tire fixed yesterday. I was looking at bikes. One bike was 10 grand.
[01:27:39] My question, I was going to ask the guy, but I’m not. My question was going to be, if I buy this $10,000 bike, will I be able to get up that mountain quicker? The answer is maybe, maybe not my, the happiest day of my life in Hawaii. One of them was riding my bike to the top of Haleakala. So I wrote, I started down a place called campground and I camped, and I rode to the top and it, I just remember going very, very slowly, particularly above 8,000 feet.
[01:28:18] And I do think that type of work gardening makes you think certain activities induce meditation. And so I’d be, I’d be down with that as far as expensive. My Outrigger canoe cost five grand. I got it new. That seems a lot of money for a kayak, but it’s Kevlar, carbon, carbon fiber weighs 19 pounds.
[01:28:52] Guy Kawasaki: [01:28:52] That’s great. Speaking of small world. So one of the people that I interviewed for this podcast was the founder of Specialized. If you will ever consider an electric Specialized bike. Oh my God. I have a Como electric bike. It’s a life-changing bike.
[01:29:09] Paul Theroux: [01:29:09] I don’t want an electric bike, but I would like, I would like a top of the line.
[01:29:13] I’ll even endorse it. But the one that I saw the other day, it might’ve been a specialized. So the top of the line Specialized by, I have a special ed. I mean, I get a lot of money. It’s not about money. It’s just about the bike was, was good, but. It’s not about money, but it’s, but what I’d like to know based on the bike that I have, which is a great bite, but it’s, it’s beat-up bike.
[01:29:43] I mean, but the guy goes in and says, your bikes rusty what? I said, well, it’s Hawaii. This is the North Shore. Of course it’s going to, it’s got rusty parts, but it goes, go. But I’d like to know whether I can get by not an electric bike, whether I, whether there’s a Specialized bike, better than mine, that can get me up quicker, like more gears.
[01:30:03] Guy Kawasaki: [01:30:03] I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed interviewing Paul. Lots to learn from Paul. Writing, traveling, hanging out with locals, all kinds of good stuff here. My thanks to Rick Smolan, the famous photographer and guest in a previous Remarkable People podcast. He made this interview possible. My thanks to Jeff Sieh and PegFitzpatrick who has always helped make this podcast great until next time I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People, Mahalo and Aloha.
Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.