All images in this feature are courtesy of Marco Ferrarese himself
This feature and book review is long over due – or as Marco Ferrarese puts it eloquently “Almost as long as it took Chthulu to rise up from the outer space”.
The freelance travel writer based in Asia for more than 11-years had released his latest book, “The Travels of Marco Yolo: Blazing Trails where Marco Polo Feared to Go” and asked me in August last year to write a review on it.
He was kind enough to provide us a free copy which I took close to seven months to read! No, the book was not at all boring. I was just being a procrastinating piece of shit.
Consisting of travel stories Marco had written for travel magazines and websites between 2013 and 2016, the only beef I have with the book is that the stories are short.
Too short because Marco is one heck of a writer!
Most of travelogues I’ve read are excruciatingly boring and mundane but Marco’s writing has a zeal that bring out the colorful details in his less traveled adventures.
Born in Voghera, Italy, the 38-year-old writer cum musician is best known for his debut novel, Nazi Goreng and his “metal punk memoir” Banana Punk Rawk Trails.
Some of his short stories are in several local anthologies as well such as Fixi Novo’s KL Noir Blue, PJ Confidential, Lost in Putrajaya and many more which can be checked out here.
This third book of his showcases a different aspect of Marco’s personality. Documenting his experiences along the same travel route once taken by the old explorer, Marco Polo (and even some places even ancient Marco dared not go), Ferrarese stamped his passport through Mongolia, Russia, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, China and more.
The strength of this book lies not only in the telling of unique experiences but also insights from a traveler’s mind, well soaked with the philosophy and culture of the places he visits.
The book has also been aptly titled based on Marco’s favorite mantra; You’ll Only Live Once (YOLO).
Marco’s lovely wife, Kit Yeng Chan and his brother from another mother, Rizo Leong (who designed the front cover) lent extra charm to the book with their artistic illustrations.
After taking eons – as Marco puts it – to finish his book I decided to email him a few questions. Some of my personal reflections might have crossed your mind, especially if you’ve got wanderlust but not yet the wings and privilege to act on it.
How did Marco accomplish all that he told in the book? Through this honest, raw and enlightening email interview, Marco puts his thoughts on the table.
One thing I’ve observed in all of your stories in this book is that you have a knack for having faith in the unknown. You allow yourself to try out something different and go to an off beaten path, a road less traveled — what drives you to be different?
Thanks, I am glad you got this. It’s clear that by doing the same thing and following the same paths one — especially in a niche like travel, that’s so saturated and bland — wouldn’t go that far. I am not consciously looking for attention though: I truly like to go the road less traveled because I truly do look for unique, groundbreaking experiences few others before me have written about. Stories that, later, make for great travel tales. But it’s actually not a given, for you need a knack to make things stand out on paper, and even a bigger ability to find those places/experiences in the first place.
I’ve heard many times that in life there are leaders and followers, and I try to belong to the first category. As the book’s title says, “blazing trails”… you don’t blaze anything, if you stay on the beaten path. And there are unknown angles everywhere you look at, even between the things most ordinary.
I am thankful that your stories are mini essays. But I am not at all happy that they’re short at the same time. Do you have any plans to expand on some of these stories? The one on the musician turned terrorist from Bangladesh really got to me.
Not really. Let me put it this way, as it’s also written in the introduction, but it doesn’t seem like many people cared nor got that particular explanation well (sorry Marco!): “Marco Yolo” is a bleak commercial operation. I wanted to make my best published pieces of travel writing available to the Malaysian public who, I am certain, would appreciate them more if collected into a book of sorts, rather than scattered across the internet. So I have simply compiled the collection, re-edited it, added a few details to some stories (like in the case of the black metal Bangladesh story you enjoyed so much), and asked my brother Rizo Leong to be so kind and grace me with some of his artworks. So, again, the stories are republished, and are short because the original assignments have always a tight word count. Believe it or not, a magazine story won’t run more than 1000/1300 words if you are lucky, and that’s what you got.
The introduction states it, saying how I want to give a snapshot of the diverse range of travel writing assignments available to the freelancer these days. I believed that would be enough to help readers understand why I chose that particular short format. As you say, the stories are short enough to retain your attention, and exciting enough to make you “want a bit more”. Like Russ Meyer’s “7 minutes that counts” in sex, or — as I love to say during my readings — the perfect toilet companionship: read one story during each dump, and you got one month-worth of exciting scatological adventures.
I plan on writing more on traveling in the future, something that will describe more of what happens inside of my head, but I kind of enjoy the magazine format. It’s quick, fast, dry and at the same time, a good challenge, because you have such a short space to craft a narrative that must necessarily be compelling, otherwise you blow it, and an editor will never want to be working with you again.
I can bet my million ringgit (if only I had them), that you get asked this alot. For someone working 9 to 5, it would be absurd for them to quit their job and go into the wilderness like you do. Any tips for aspiring thrill seekers who wish to explore the world on a shoe string budget?
Actually it’s the first time I have been asked in an interview, so thank you for asking 🙂 Sure: 9 to 5 or not, it all starts with a desire. Do you REALLY want to get out and explore the world? If you do, there won’t be any excuse or any issue. You will start exploring your backdoor on the weekends, get on short trips abroad when you have a week worth of holidays, then you will save the whole month of your leave for a longer trip, and then you’ll ditch your desk and travel for a long period of time.
But I keep hearing excuses, especially from Malaysians. They say that they can’t travel because they have a job. First of all, big bullshit, because this country is gifted with the gift of unlimited job opportunities: ditch a job, you’ll find another. Go to Italy and see if the same applies. The fact that most Malaysians are so spoiled and lazy that they won’t take up a bartending or a restaurant job just speak volumes of how much pussies you all are, travel or not. So let the Banglas do it, and you can all remain white collar slaves, and “travel” to Publika on weekends to feel more liberated by your hipsterism. That’s all good to me, but then don’t fucking complain about this and that 9 to 5, because the problem is just inside of your head.
I wanted to travel from day one. I took any opportunity to travel since I was 13 years old and followed my friend’s mother to a sit-in in Geneve, Switzerland. I followed my parents to the Italian seaside every damn summer. Then I set off by myself, playing in a band all over Europe since age 18. It brought me to 45 American states, as well. Then when I was so sick of music and Italian life and decided to have a break, I found a way out and landed a teaching job in China. I didn’t know SHIT of Asia, China, Chinese culture, nothing. I just wanted to travel: I used every weekend and holiday to travel all over China. I never stopped. Now, I go on holiday when I sit at home in Penang or I help my wife cooking a meal. Trust me, that’s a big change. But it doesn’t happen overnight. You gotta earn it.
Suggestions: if you want to travel, don’t be a fucking Malaysian wuss and get your ass out there. KL is connected by 1,000,000,000 cheap flights to everywhere in Asia and beyond, so stop with the lame-ass excuses, save some money and spend it for the best form of education that will REALLY change your life forever. Or shut up and die 50 years later, regretting how a low-life form of scumpuss you have been all this while. I got nothing else to say. The revolution starts from the inside. You get over your fears when you are more scared, so get out and be scared. The world is such a wild, dangerous place full of people who just want to see your blood spilling in every direction and then fuck your corpse silly. Of course, this last bit is just what you needed to hear to get started, isn’t it? Well that’s all crap, get out and be yourself and enjoy the world before it explodes… we are almost there.
I will always believe it’s better to be a lion for a day, than a pussy for a lifetime.
English is your second language but you write as though it has been your first language for like… eons. 29% of the population of Italy speaks English. That’s a small number for a population of 60 plus million people. How were you introduced to this language and what led you to continue writing in English?
This truly is an amazing question and I thank you for that. Thanks for the compliments and yes, you are right. Italians speak Italian, read in translation and watch foreign movies dubbed in Italian. And if you go to Italy expecting to speak fluent English, you’ll be sorely disappointed — my wife Kit Yeng knows something about it. Homer Simpson and Robert De Niro have Italian voices that have never changed for 30 years. There’s nothing like subtitles or stuff like MTV in original language. Nope.
Add to this language situation is the fact that the literary world is dominated by translation or by Italian writers who sadly write cookie-cutter copies of American books, even setting their own novels in the USA when, most of the times, they have never been there. Fuck Italy, the country is rotten to the core and is dying, their intelligentsia has moved elsewhere and is working for other foreign nations that at least appreciate some talent — that’s my case, as well.
Travel media in Italy is the same: run by lobbies, impossible to break in unless you happen to fuck someone important (I have no tits, sorry, so I am barred from the category of groupie) or are blood-related to some of those who have power. My father worked in oil and lubricants so I was no match for writing.
Guess what? There were more opportunities to play music in English, so I started doing that. I ended up touring the world. I had, in truth, written in Italian for a bit when I was 13/14. I self-published a short story collection called “Canniibal”, 10 splatterpunk short stories, and got quite a critical acclaim amongst the pulp scene. But I got disappointed very early for the reasons above mentioned. I quit writing seriously for 15 years. Then, when it came time to get back to it, I was already living in Asia and I looked at English as the natural choice: in Malaysia, most of the relevant stuff is published in English. The best travel writing is in English/American. You can write for Indian publications, as well. So why not?
I learned my English thanks to punk and metal records’ lyric sheets. That’s why I use ‘fuck’ and ‘nuke my balls’ more than ‘rose’ and ‘madam’, but hey, that’s what I am. I am the Rocco Siffredi of travel writing, and if you don’t like it, bend over, for it’s coming, hard and throbbing… oh yeah. Let’s face it, even pornstars Rocco and Valentina Nappi had to find their real success and vocation abroad and in English, so I don’t see it as much of a problem. Italy, unfortunately, does not appreciate its own talent and if it did, it would possibly be the best country in the world, period. We have everything, except for a modern culture and people who can appreciate it.
Would it be incorrect of me to say that you were lucky many a times (in your travels as well as your life)?
Very incorrect. I just never wanted to be a pussy that complains about everything she doesn’t like — note, I am using SHE here not because a pussy is female, but to avoid gendered language, as they say. Let’s not offend females, please… 🙂 — and took the reins of my life and steered that the right way. Luck has NOTHING to relate with this decision. When you wake up in the morning and you feel that shit is flowing down the sky and entering into your soul by seeping through your face’s pores, and it makes you suffocate and suffer, fuck, you better just get out, is it? That’s how I felt in Italy at many points of my life. So I took the reins, and steered the reindeer the right way. Each time I had a similar feeling I got away on a trip and that eased it for a while, until it stopped. Shit stopped flowing down, anywhere. And I had won the battle.
People most often confound LUCK for DETERMINATION, because they are not determined in taking risks to improve their existences. Hence, they end up slaves of bosses who fuck you up the ass 9 to 5, and keep at it for so long, thinking that by advancing their careers, they will stop this situation. In the end, they spend their whole lives not being free to do what they want.
But I EARNED my right to be free, and it’s something that it’s not a given: it comes with tremendous hard work and determination to not allow yourself to fail. Too many people say “this is impossible”, “this is too difficult” and listen to all the naysayers — nothing else that other losers who say ‘no’ because they have failed themselves, and hence say ‘impossible’ as a moral booster to get away with another day of their shitty existences — and then give up.
But freedom is also not a dream, like real travel cannot be done when you are 60 and on a pension. We live here and now so here and now we must do choices that, yes, may have a little bit of influence because of mere luck, but again… they stray off the path to a false security. Destiny is bullshit: stars are there to help actions, I agree. But if one doesn’t take full advantage of those actions, nothing happens. In other words, if I don’t pitch ¾ times per day, there’s no money at the end of the month. Luck? You are lucky because you have a salary, but then complain because you are a slave so… make your choice. Stay pussy, and slave, if you are afraid. I’d prefer to die now rather than be doing anything I don’t endorse 100% with every single inch of my body and soul.
Last and final question, which piece of essay did you enjoy writing the most in this book?
Probably the first, “Cutting the Cheese Mongolian Style”, because it was the first piece I ever wrote for American website Perceptive Travel, which I really respected back then (also now, of course). It marked a change in my writing career. It was the first time I got paid $100 for a story (after slaving away for no pay or much less to build a portfolio, and then pitch editors), and that’s one of those stories I really put a lot of care in writing. Maybe it doesn’t read as such, as my style has improved overtime; but I really took so much care to make it look perfect. I think it’s a funny story, too… that was also the moment I made the transition, understanding that yes, I COULD make a living out of this, if I truly wanted to. So that story has a very important value, to me. I’m happy, each time I open the book and see it first… it really makes my smile like a fanatic werewolf.
If you thought Marco Ferrarese’s interview with us was bad ass, then you MUST purchase his latest book, The Travels Of Marco Yolo which can be purchased at major bookstores nationwide as well as via Gerakbudaya Bookstore. To know more of Marco, check out his portfolio, his guide to Penang, and his travelogue. To get in touch with him, you can do so via Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.