Final Thoughts on Michael Crichton’s Travels

Loved this book.  How he sprinkled tidbits about his life and philosophies within a series of chapters about medical school and his exotic treks.  I skimmed through the last final chapters (the final 20%), but that is not uncommon for me.  My impression of Michael Crichton from reading this is that he was incredibly intelligent and driven, and incredibly restless.  What an amazing life that led to, and I can’t imagine writing a best selling novel while in Harvard Med School then leaping into Hollywood, etc.

Some final notes from his journeys: My favorite part was the section about climbing Kilamanjaro.  I didn’t realize that it was so tall (19K) and was so challenging to climb.  I love how there are three stages to the climb, including the rainforest at the base, then the meadows. It reminded me (kinda) of The Green Lakes trail in Bend, Oregon…  I thought the section about New Guinea was interesting, where the island is the second largest after Greenland, and is dominated by high mountains at the center.  Crichton mentions a couple of times in his book that high mountains – like those in Nepal — creates diversity in areas separated by short distances as the crow flies.  I thought New Guinea was interesting in that every piece of land is owned by someone, and they had to obtain permission to hike to a waterfall.  His description of the battles was interesting too, where time and intensity have a different meaning there, to the point where German tourists standing in the middle of a battle between two clans didn’t see one warrior behead another right next to them (OmG!!)…  He had some close calls diving, yet continued to dive.  In one, he lost his mouthpiece and was worried he was going to pass out; in another, he dove too deep and ran out of oxygen just as he surfaced and had to bypass safety procedures for avoiding the bends but avoided the bends, and in another he was carried by a fast current through a cloud of sharks (terrifying for him)…  He did not get along with his father, calling him a Son of a Bitch…  I loved his takes on Sean Connery, who he respected and sounds like both a talented actor and a man who is both direct and comfortable in his own skin…  They had an experience in Jamaica where a convict slipped into their car in Spanish Town, claimed he was a guide, refused to leave them, and in the end escaped with their watch and extra money through intimidation. Crichton later learned two tourists had been killed in the same area, which reminded him how lucky he was to escaped for so little cost (cheap watch and 10 pounds, I think)…  He experienced some incredible psycnics at the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain… He saw Mountain Gorillas and was shocked by how *huge* they were (bigger than theones we see in the zoos, which are the smaller lowland variety), and it dawned on him that they (the group) were the guests in the gorilla’s home. THeir numbers are rapidly shrinking (just 100s left when he wrote the book) and was heartbroken by that.  He learned that if a gorilla charges, it is important to stay in one place – to flee is the classic inspiring it to chase you.  He was charged once (the gorilla didn’t like his camera — and it was terrifying…  He visited “Shangri-la” (Hunza) and was surprised by how unpleasant it actually was…  Stepping just a few feet off the path in the jungle, he was immediately lost.  Yet, there are tribes who are never lost in the jungles…I liked that he called the Malaysians the Danes of Asia (low key and easygoing) except when it comes to religion. And I liked that he pointed out that in the culture life is out of our control, so it is better to adapt to what comes our way then to try to control everything.  

Just some initial thoughts.  There is so much more in the book and about so many places.   

Final Thoughts on Michael Crichton’s Travels

Continuing to read “Travels” by Michael Crichton – he visited Malaysia and Venezuela

In Travels, Michael Crichton describes a few more trips he took…

Bonaire is an island off the coast of Venezuela where he went diving.  In a night dive, he lost his air hose and his sister had to help him find it, barely finding it in time when he was 60′ under water.  This scared him, since he could have died.  But a week later they went diving very deep (200′) down over a few days to a shipwreck.  At this depth, you can get the bends, and he pushed his luck and his tank was out of oxygen by the time he surfaced. He was nervous he’d get the bends but did not.  He wondered later why he’d dangerously pushed his luck and realized he was unhappy; he began keeping a daily journal about how he was feeling and realized that every day his thoughts were negative. He realizes that the only way to measure how a person is doing is to keep a daily log then go back and review that log for trends.

He travels to the jungles of Malaysia, hoping to see tigers and other wildlife.  He hears a tale about — and later meets – little jungle men who never get lost in the dense jungles (even Crichton’s guide is not this good) who were until the past century hunted for sport by Malaysian rulers (wtf???). He hears the story of a deer that adopts the village, but kicks the village’s goats to death, so the village no longer keeps goats.  He ralizes that these people have learned to adapt, that when life changes it is out of their control so they adapt with it, and he himself has not had that ability, that he needs to learn to stop trying to control what he can’t control (lung disease did this for me 🙂 ).


Continuing to read “Travels” by Michael Crichton – he visited Malaysia and Venezuela

Read More Travels By Michael Crichton.  Notes about his travels from Travels :) regarding his trip to Bangkok…

I am really enjoying the book Travels, by Michael Crichton.  In fact, I read it all the way home on the bus last night.  Some notes:

His first trip was to Hong Kong and Bangkok.  He said there is nothing like flying into Hong Kong at night: with the sea, lit buildings and mountains it is like flying into a bright jewel.  He comments that the Chinese love fresh food, to the point he saw a woman carrying a live fish home in a plastic bag so it was alive to the last possible moment.  In Bangkok, he mentions several times how easygoing the people are (they are called the Danes of Asia), except they take their religion very seriously (you can be jailed for climbing religious statues in temples).  He struggles a little bit with his height: people openly stare, plus it is a custom that no one should be higher than a buddhist statue so often he has to duck to avoid that.  He makes the mistake of smoking too much Thai grass and goes temporarily blind.  He also is taken to a massage parlor where a soaped up woman massages the client with her body, and to a brothel of underage children, and he finds both disturbing (he does not stay in the children’s brothel).  When he flies home, he mentions the trip was almost traumatic for him, and he realizes how sheltered (my word, not his) he is despite having traveled to nearly every US state and several times to Europe.  A personal note, he mentions the humidity (“steamy”) twice, and for some reason that sounds pleasant to me, the heat and humidity and fresh air.  I am also craving a Thai coffee, which I don’t normally do 🙂

I INTERRUPT THIS WITH COMMENTARY: He was troubled by the brothel and left his friend who took them there, as did another friend.   I find it shocking that we — including myself — allow children’s sex places to exist.  We proudly storm into Nazi territory to liberate concentration camps, but we allow in this day and age brothels to exist where we know in fact there are sex slaves, including children sex slaves. OMG those poor things…  America is funny: if you threaten our Corporate interests, we will invade you.  But want to buy children and young women and use them as sex slaves?  We turn a blind eye.  Crazy.

Read More Travels By Michael Crichton.  Notes about his travels from Travels :) regarding his trip to Bangkok…

“Travels” by Michael Crichton notes: his time as a resident

Before he was the author of Jurrasic Park, Crichton was a doctor. The first few chapters include (often humorous) stories about his residency.  In his first rotation, he is in the neurology department, which they refer to as a museum since it is mostly patients with neuroses who can never be cured and seem mostly on display for medical students to observe.  The chief resident seems like a prick, a well-dressed sadist with a pressed neck tie who takes glee in pricking patients with a needle he carries.  Crichton is responsible for drawing blood each morning, a task he must get used to and takes time to do on time.  One patient insists on taking his own blood (he is an addict), and takes the blood from an unconscious man as well.

He spends several weeks in psychiatry and is assigned to a young seductress who he tries heroically to feel comfortable with. There is a humorous exchange with his mentor in the ward, who tries to get Crichton comfortable with the fact that he can admit on a secret level he wants to “fuck” the girl, but that he must not.  Crichton, who is young but married to his high school sweetheart and believes very strongly that doctors should not exploit their authority by sleeping with patients, resists the woman.  But she seduces him in another way: he is convinced she will be okay, when in fact she is manipulative and uses her high IQ to her advantage.  She will need more therapy, and when he tells her this on his last day with her she storms off and he never sees her again.

He spends time in the maternity ward, where in the 1960s it is the rage to give to-do women an amnesiac drug (one where it doesn’t reduce the pain, but they’ll not remember it later).  He is disturbed by all the women laying on rubber sheets who are writing and screaming in pain, referring to it as Dante’s Hell.  Another area has the unwed mothers, who aren’t treated well by the nurses (in judgement), but he is moved by them and feels like it is more natural than the other section where the women writhe in drug-induced states. He hates this ward, and is glad that it is now closed.

He had a woman approach him and greet him once, and it took him a few moments to recognize her.  He pointed out to the reader that as a doctor you see soooo many patients it is difficult to remember or recognize them out of context. 

He mentions the story of a patient who came in with spot on his lungs.  They recommended surgery and the patient agreed, but then backed out last minute saying he need time to review the paperwork.  The same thing happened the next day. For a week this continued.  Finally, a visiting somewhat famous and blustery doctor more or less forced the patient to have the surgery.  The spot turned out to be benign, but the patient didn’t trust or believe them and killed himself two days later, convinced he had terminal cancer.

Finally, he brings up the story that there was a statistical fluke where they got a lot of heart attack patients at once.  He spent time talking to them, and asked why they had a heart attack, and almost to a person they blamed something they’d done or something in their life, such as cheating on their wife or stressing about an upcoming event.  It made him reflect on how much of diseases are related to the mental state, and in some ways by telling patients to leave it to doctors they are doing damage by essentially telling the patient they have no control.  Over the years, he has come to believe that all diseases are caused by something we do (i.e. we are to blame as an individual), primarily because he wants to believe that he has control and therefore will take responsibility for his heatlh. 

Link To Book

“Travels” by Michael Crichton notes: his time as a resident

Started reading Michael Creighton’s autobiography – so far, very good.

I was never a monster fan of Michael Crichton (which is in no way a critique of he or his writing) although I enjoyed Jurassic Park as a vacation read, but was pointed towards his autobiography “Travel,” which is quite good so far. He traveled to remote places a lot to refresh, and his intro states this is a book about that plus Med School.

Right now he is in med school, studying cadavers, and has experienced a “click” where he stops thinking of the bodies as a human being. He said that is important for a doctor, where they are not overwhelmed by their feelings but not estranged from them. I can imagine that is important – my lung surgeon probably should not think of my lung on emotional terms as he cuts into it 🙂

Started reading Michael Creighton’s autobiography – so far, very good.

“With the Old Breed” running notes

My first old-timer autobiography is “With the Old Breed,” for the simple reason it was already in my kindle library…

Meet EB, our hero.  He was in college when World War 2 broke out, and wanted to join the marines although his parents wanted him to finish college. They compromised, and he enlisted in officer ROTC, meaning he’d have another two years of college before becoming a marine officer.  But the campus was peaceful and you’d never guess there was a war going on, so desperate to get to the fighting, E.B. and 90 other comrades intentionally flunked out and were sent to the marines as enlisted men. Their commanding officer, a salty and swaggering Guadalcanal survivor, praised the 90 men for their determination.  EB was a step closer towards war.  It would be 2.5 years before he returned home.

He spent 8 weeks in basic training where they were drilled 18 hours a day with the discipline I’d expect from a WW2 marine boot camp and later they spent 2 easier months in weapons and combat training, where he was trained on the 60MM mortar.  They were trained that gun saftey was critical, as was following commands.  The commanding officers had keen, observant eyes: when one marine’s attention wavered briefly with his gun, the captain kicked him so hard in the rear the marine fell down; another time, a bomber crashed near the training grounds and many of the marines ran over, but were promptly punished for not seeking their officer’s approval for leaving the area.  They were taught how to use their knife, and the trainer guaranteed at least one of them would kill an enemy with a knife in hand-t0-hand combat, something that came true.  EB said most of the men weren’t thinking they might be killed – they were worried about being too afraid in combat to perform, something EB attributes to ignroance of what was awaaiting them.  It became clearer that they were being trained to be cannon fodder, to be repplacements for the increasing number of marines who were getting killed overseas.  Finally, was realizing that war was not like hunting, since animals aren’t shootingn back — he would neve hunt again.  

They were loaded aboard a former passenger liner, and sent overseas.  Most of them had never been away from home, and now it was starting to sink in that for some of them this would be a one-way trip (i.e. they would die in battle).  Below deck was crowded, smelly and hot, and the chow line was long and the food awful, and because it was so crowded they ate standing up.  EB caught a glimpse of the officers eating in comfort, but was comforted later because officers received no such comforts in battle. During the day, they had calisthenics, had “bull” conversations and stayed above deck as much as possible.  

They were initially stationed on a small island that looked like a postcard from the distance but was choked with rotting coconut trees and covered in soft mud.  THe smell of rotting coconut was so bad, EB could never eat coconut — even fresh coconut — again.  And the entire island was infested with hand-sized crabs that got into everthing.  Showers were completed during the many intense showers, which started immediately but ended immediately; the trick was to soap up and rinse off before the rain stopped (without warning).  They also felt completely isolated on this tiny island so far from home, like they were cut off fromt eh rest of theworld.

They spent their time training (invasion and combat exercises as well as weapons training) with more training, and on labor duty to clean up the island.  They saw many veterans, and they friendly but were all thin, exhausted looking with that distant detached look.  Their was an esprit de corp, and the men felt an intense bond with each other that helped some of the misery, plus the veterans did not tolerate complaining from new marines who had not yet experienced the hell of combat. In the group was an infamous marine who had fought in World War I, taught school in Arkansas, then returned to the marines to fight in the jungles of World War II.  The man was a gruff seargant, but seeemed beyond rank to the point he once physically confronted a careless lieutenant during weapons training, and seemed to occupy his own world.  

As D-Day approaches (for their attack on Peilelu), training intensifies as does discipline.  A veteran explains discipline always increases before an attack, since the Marines want the men bitter/angry.  They are reminded repeatedly — get off the beach fast; they are told to expect four days of intense fighting (like Tarawa) before victory, but the men worry about an extended campaign (like Gaudalcanal).  As the sun sinks on the eve of their attack, EB is stricken to think it may be the last time he sees the sunset.  They are given final instructions by a drawn-looking lieutenant, then sent to bed.  They rise early, have traditional steak and eggs, then prepare to depart.  The men are nervous, and it may be the last chance to “move their bowels” for awhile, so there is a long line for the toilets.  

EB spends some time describing the setting as the battle begins: including the stench of diesel and explosives, the defeaning noise of the big guns that requires them to shout, the explosions and fire that make the approaching beach seem like an erupting volcano, the strong nervousness that makes his knees buckle and chokes his throat, and the fury that is felt as he helplesssly watches marines slaughtered in the first minutes on the beach.  He realizes all of them are afraid, even the veterans.  He trips and falls just as machine guy bullets spray the area around him, and as he lays in the sand a worried-looking marine leans over him to make sure he wasn’t hit by the bullets.  He scampers for cover off the beach and waits while the NCOs try to herd the men. After 15 minutes, they are given the orders to move out.

Every man on the front lines spends time every day as a stretcher bearer (a few behind the lines volunteer, too).  Because of the terrain, heat and because the Japanese snipers try mercilessly to pick off stretcher bearers, it is a dangerous job that requires four men at a time.  It is a terrifying and exhausting job, but they do it and very few men are dropped.  He is amazed at how trusting the injurred men on the stretchers are of their comrades.

The men at the front occassionally encounter men from behind the lines.  It is strange, since the men from the front are so haggard, filthy dirty (hans are black from oil, clothes have holes and are coated in gray coral dust, eyes are sunken from fatigue and horror) and the support staff are so clean.  They resent the souvenoir hunters, men from behind the lines who sneak up to find souvenoirs from the dead Japanese; one front line officer Shanghais these men, forcing them to serve time on the front line. 

Every single night, starting almost immediately at dark, Japanese infiltrators sneak into their fox holes. Becuse it is so dark, and because of strict fire discipline, they often hear struggles of hand-to-hand combat but have to wdait before shooting.  One man, going off to relieve himself, steps on an enemy soldier, and both react immediately in a furious hand-to-hand duel; another time, a marine has to kill his attacker by poking his fingers through the man’s eyes. These are brutal, to-the-death fights that occur nightly.  (Oh my God, if you were involved in this, how could you ever sleeep in the dark again without nighmares??  The answer is, probably couldn’t).

“With the Old Breed” running notes

Going to start reading autobiographies by random old-timers

One of the most amazing books I’ve read was “The Trail Led North,” which I first heard about in The Seattle Times in their series of articles regarding the 1897 Alaska Gold Rush  This book was dictated by an older man to his grown granddaughter in the 1940s, and it was about his journey to the Yukon to search for gold in the 1897.  Not in a million years would I have heard his story, but it was interesting and I learned a lot of things.  (Note: I think this is the book, although it has been 20 years and I got it for free from the library).

For example, he worked in a Portland timber mill when Portland was a young and small town, and at one point a man shot another man in cold-blood when the first man issued an insult to the man; the man went to trial for murder but the jury ruled that the killing was justified, since the man had it coming to him for issuing insults like that. 

Later, he decides to try his luck in the gold fields, so has to purchase many many crates of supplies to house him while he was there, then took a steamer to Skagway.  Along the way, a steamer ahead of them just sank and disappeared without a trace – all the riders were drowned and forgotten in time.

When he journeys to the fields, he relies a lot on pancakes, but can’t find the syrup, so has to eat his pancakes dry. He promises to exchange words with the shopkeeper when he returns home, but then later finds the syrup in another crate.  

Finally, at the fields there are many people he meets (in fact, it seems quite crowded out there with people hoping to find their fortune).  At one point they are crossing a frozen lake, and a man and his young son fall break through the ice and drown. 

These are just some stories I remember off the top of my head outside of facts that I already know about the Yukon Gold Rush.  It was a fascinating book, like having an old man tell you about his experiences of long forgotten days.  How many books are out there like that?  Of interesting stories told by forgotten people?

I’d like to — and plan to — invest some time in the coming months/years to read these kinds of stories.  The first one – for the simple reason it is already on my kindle – is With the Old Breed, a book written by a World War II marine about his experiences in the Pacific.  I believe this book was used to research for The Pacific, which is why it’s on my kindle, but still, a book written by someone I’ll never meet or hear of again about his personal experiences as an everyday person in The Pacific.  

Going to start reading autobiographies by random old-timers