Back in 1995 I left the USA after the death of my younger brother. My plan was to visit the holiest places in Asia to expiate Michael’s sins. I was a non-believer, but felt this pilgrimage would help his soul on the other side.

By late August I was residing in old Yunnan city of Lijiang in Southern China. My hotel room had a view of the Jade Snow Dragon Mountain farther up the valley. Most travelers visited the old stone city with its traditional Naxhi influences and then headed off to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge on the Yangtze River.

I skipped the hike down the swollen gorge. It was rainy season and the footing was treacherous on the dirt paths.

Returning backpackers reveled each other with the legend of a lone Israeli hiker who fell from the trail and broke his leg. His cries for help were drowned out by the rushing rapids and he died of starvation within 20 feet of the trail. The story sounded like a myth, since the nationality, sex, age, and year changed with each telling.

Still I refused many offers from passing tourist to join their trek.

I was happy in Lijiang. The stores sold cold beer and I was friendly with two Frenchmen laying fiber optic cables between Lijiang and Dali, another tourist destination to the south. They asked why I was here. I explained how my younger brother had died of AIDS. We drank beer in Michael’s memory. They said that they had been working on the project for a half-year without a break.

I suggested a day’s holiday.

“Go where?” Jacques had driven most of the roads on Sichuan.

“Chengdu is twelve hours away.” Yves had driven back and forth to pick up a transformer. “All through the mountains and the food is the same as here.”

“My guide book says there is a ski slope on the Snow Jade Dragon Mountain, but none of the locals know anything about it.”

“Pas vrai? Le ski ici?” Yves laughed in my face.

“Maybe they have a chalet with fondue.”

“Fondue. Je reve du fondu,” Jacques whimpered with an often dreamed desire. “Could it be possible?”

“Only one way to find out. We can drive there.”

“Non, let’s bicycle.” Each of us had rented a bike to travel around Lijiang. It was a fairly flat town.

“On Sunday?”

Yves and Jacques were off both days of the weekend and they dedicated Saturday to recovering from a fierce Friday night of beer.

“Weather permitting.” The Snow Jade Dragon Mountain was the end of the Himalayas. The vast expanse of Tibet lay across the provincial border. Storms brewed in the high peaks at all times of the year.

We agreed to this plan and on Sunday morning the three of us met for a quick breakfast of rice and eggs.

“On y va.”

Yves was very fit and led the pace. He was soon out of sight. Jacques and I pedaled leisurely up the slightly ascending road with the wind in our faces.

The Snow Jade Dragon Mountain was to the left.

Clouds wrapped the snow fields. We rode the twenty miles in three hours. The thin air restricted our conversation to grunts. At the pass a badly designed billboard announced our arrival at the ski slope. It was a chute for toboggans.

Yves was waiting at a restaurant was serving rice and noodles in a chicken broth. The Chinese tourists happily slurped at the warm food. Jacques oared his noodles in the bowl.

“So much for the Jean-Claude Killy ski resort.”

“At least they have beer.” Yves had built up a good thirst after the long bike ride.

The ski slope ended up being a sled run. Skiing in Yunnan was a lie, but that came as no surprise, since the Chinese version adapted many western trends to their culture without shame.

The Frenchmen and I rode dirt trails back to Lijiang. Passing through small villages and abandoned monasteries Jacques’ and Yves’ conversation turned to food.

“Je morts de fain.” Jacques was heavy-set, but his clothing were noticeably loose.

“The food here is better than most of China.” Lijiang fare was consisted mostly of noodles and rice with a high quality of vegetables, but after a month’s stay my belt was clinching tighter.

“I can’t live on noodles and rice.” Jacques came from Nice. “I want Oysters and bottle of vin blanc.”

Yves countered by extolling the oysters of his native Normandy, while Jacques praised his hometown’s bouillabaisse. I spoke out for Lobster Newburg from Boston’s Durgin Park. I had been eating at that Haymarket finery for almost forty years.

“Oysters, bouillabaisse, Lobster Newburg.” Jacques spat on the ground. “China has none of that.”

“They don’t even have simple foods like a baguette and cheese.” Yves licked at his lips with a watery tongue.

“There’s no cheese in China or baguettes, but there is a pizza shop in Kathmandu.”

“Kathmandu? That is thousands of miles away.” Jacques frowned at this choice. “We will not be going that way.”

“But I will and I’ll write to tell you all about it, because there is no better food in the world than pizza. My younger brother and I ate pizza at Villa Rosa in Wollaston once a month. I hoped that they served it on the other side of life.

“Peut-etre.” Yves wasn’t a true believer in pizza, but Jacques said, “J’adore le pizza.”

“Moi aussi.”

A month later I bid fare-well to the Frenchmen. They were stuck in Lijiang for another half-year.

“Write us about the pizza. We will be waiting.” Yves wished me well.

“Better yet, mail us one. It can’t be any worse than noodles.” Jacques was serious and gave me $20.

I waved good-bye from the bus and traveled north to Chengdu, where I caught a flight to Tibet.

I stayed in Lhasa two months.

Everyday I lit candles at temples, circled the Jokhang every day counter-clockwise and clockwise, and spoke with rinoches or reincarnated monks. I told them about my dead brother. They said that they would pray for Michael. I wrote a letter to the Frenchman telling them that the food in Lhasa was even worst than that of Lijiang.

“Burnt hairy yak meat and rancid butter tea loaded with salt. Next week I’m heading to Kathmandu for pizza.” My visa for China was at an end.

I hitchhiked on the Sino-Nepal Friendship Highway across the bone-dry desert to the rim of the Himalayas. A tourist van picked me up in Gyantze. The highway wound along the Bum-Chu River. The only signs of civilization were the Chinese checkpoints. We passed through Tingri and the road climbed 16,900 feet to the Yakrushong La. The snowy peaks stretched from east to west without a break. The pass was higher than any mountain in Europe. It was almost impossible to breathe.

The driver stopped at a caravansary.

Noodles and broth.

I ate nothing. The walls of the inn were covered by dusty flies. Even the beer looked dangerous.

By evening I passed through customs and booked a cheap room in a cheap hotel in Zhamgnmu. The filthy dining room served rice and noodles. I drank beer from the bottle.

In the morning caught a mini-van bound for Kathmandu. I refused all food on the road. Pizza was on my mind. We reached Nepal’s capitol within five hours. I checked into the Yeti Hotel. The cheapest room was $20. I asked about the pizza. The desk clerk gave me directions and I hired a rickshaw to drag me to Fire and Ice on Tridavi Mag.

The restaurant was located in a new building close to the Royal Palace. The clientele was divided between rich Nepalis and homesick westerners. The menu offered l’Americano with pepperoni. I ordered a small pie with a Chinese beer. The waiter brought a glass filled with ice. I wasn’t scared of amoebae. I had survived yak meat in Tibet.

A half hour later the pizza came with a knife and fork.

I stared at the plate for several seconds. The Villa Rosa served something else.

“Is there anything wrong, sir?” The waiter must have seen my expression of disappointment on the face of other pizza lovers.

“Nothing at all.”

The pizza was nan covered with clouts of goat Nepali cheese topped by a thick ketchup sauce. The pepperoni sweated on the heated pizza. I lowered my head to the plate. It smelled like pizza and I picked up a piece. My first bite told the truth. This was Nepal and there wasn’t any better pizza within several thousand miles.

“How do you like the pizza, sir?” asked the waiter.

“It’s the best in the Himalayas.” I ate every crumb. My younger brother must have been laughing from the other side, but I asked the waiter, “Can I have two to go and packed them really well.”

“Yes, sir.”

I reached the Kathmandu Post Office ten minutes before closing.

The clerk secured the pizzas in a shipping box and I wrote the Frenchmen, “I love pizza.”

And the pizza in Kathmandu certainly tasted better than yak meat, then again anything tasted good when you’re hungry.

Three days later I was stricken with giardia. My intestines had been poisoned by bacteria. The source of infection couldn’t have been the pizza, but I accused the ice for the beer.

It was the usual suspect in the Orient.

I suffered an assortment of unpleasant effects for a week: diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, loss of appetite, passage of gas from more than one orifice, and horrible weakness. My planned trip to Annapurna was delayed by the illness. The hotel staff was very helpful. They dealt with giardia on a daily basis and knew of one cure.

Tea and toast was my diet for 7 days.

Once I was better, I put myself on the scales at the hotel.

175 pounds.

I had lost nearly 15 pounds.

And my first real meal was pizza l’Americano.


No ice.

Nothing was better than pizza and my younger brother knew that too.

Especially at the Villa Rosa.

Both in this life and the Here-After.

Lhasa-Nepal 1995

I spent September-October 1995 in Tibet.

I traveled around Lhasa visiting various monasteries.

I prayed at each one for my baby brother’s departed soul.

Michael had died of AIDS that summer.

I especially liked the Jokhang.

There was no place holier on Earth.

Michael would have liked it.

He was spiritual in many ways and I taught English to monks and workers.

The People’s Army were a big presence in Lhasa, but no Chinese soldiers were allowed inside the Jokhang.

The female cadres were good fun atop the Potala.

They never had guns.

The men carried AK47s.

The ARs had no ammo.

At the end of October my Chinese visa neared expiration.

The Friendship Highway to Kathmandu had been reopened after work crews had finally cleared a gigantic landslide covering the road connecting China and Nepal.

It was time to say, “Kha-leh phe.” to Lhasa.

My English class sang me farewell.

Their choice was SAILING by Christopher Cross.

I thought, “What a silly song.”

Somehow dust got in my eyes and I wished my students well through a shimmer of tears.

Lhasa had been good for my soul.

I hoped my baby brother felt its holiness in the cosmos.

The next day I boarded a bus to Shigatze.

It was the last big town before the border.

I spent a day visiting the ancient monasteries.

I even climbed to the dzong.

The fortress was in ruins.

The Chinese had destroyed most everything Tibetan during the Cultural Revolution.

The next day I detoured off the main road to Gyantze.

The Gang of Four had sent the Red Guard here to cleanse Tibet of the Old Ways.

The Tibetans were in the process of rebuilding the main stupa.

The inn at Gyantze was horrible. The noodles were greasy. The beer was dusty. Fleas ran rampant in the beds and the flies buzzed through the cracked windows. I slept about five hours and woke to a brilliant blue dawn.

The morning bus brought me back to Shigatze.

It truly was civilization after Gyantze, although packs of dogs roamed the alleys.

The Tibetans have a joke about these dogs.

Why do you need two sticks to go to the toilet?
One to stick in the ground and hold onto and the second to fight off the dogs.

They were vicious creatures far from Man’s best friend.

The paved highway ended at Shigatze. No buses ran to Nepal. I hitched a ride from a van heading to pick up backpackers. I gave the driver $20. Tsering was very happy and we set off south.

The high Tibetan plateau was like the surface of Mars.

No water.

No people.

Only dirt.

The dust plumes of transport trucks were the only sign of man.

We saw one every hour or two.

That afternoon dropped into a canyon.

Tsering pointed to the opposite slope.


It was a mile across.

Workers were clearing the road.

“You walk. I drive van. No problem.”

A large stone rolled down the slope. Workers scattered for safety. I ran to the end of the slide.

It was a bad road.

After that road climbed into the high plateau.



North of Lhatze the van became mired in mud.
A Tibetan herder had his horse haul us clear.

Tsering gave him $3.

Two minutes later the herder was out of sight.

Tibet was open to the sky.

My brother’s soul was in the heavens.

I prayed for his happiness in the Here-Beyond.

He would remain 35 forever.

China National Highway 219 split off to Mount Kailash.

I asked Tsering how was the road.”

“Very bad. Very dusty.”

“Really.” My eyeballs were grated red by the road dirt.

“Yes, # 1 bad.” Tsering’s eyes were red too.

This was the Roof of the World.

We passed a French bicyclist struggling uphill.

I shouted out the window, “Do you want a ride?”

“Non, merci.”

I collapsed into my seat.

We were high and getting higher.

After Tingri I spotted a giant snow mass to the south.

It was miles away.

“Chomolungma,” said Tsering in reverence.


“Yes, to the West. Miyolangsangma, the Goddess of Inexhaustible Giving, lives on its peak.”

I offered a prayer to her for Michael.

The icy summits of the Himalayas filled the southern horizon.

I had Tsering stop for a minute at the top of the Yakrushong Pass.

“Not long.”

He was on a tight schedule.

I said a prayer for my younger brother.

We were at 16,900 feet.

My words were few.

The wind carried them to the swirl of Himalayan peaks.

The sun descended to the West.

We drove down to the border and arrived at Zhangmu in the dead of night.

I could breathe easy for the first time in a month.

Trees lined the valley.

I gave Tsering another $10.

We drank beer for an hour and then went to sleep.

It had been a long day.

In the morning Tsering was gone.

I boarded a bus to Nepal.

Tibet was behind me.

The Araniko Highway was good. A restaurant served pizza in Kathmandu. My baby brother liked it with extra cheese. Tears dropped from my eyes. It wasn’t from dust. I was back in the modern world.

The Far West Of Ireland

My grandmother came from County Mayo. Her last name was Walsh. Nana sailed to Boston at the age of fourteen. That ocean voyage was so traumatic that she never returned to Ireland. My mother and her sisters often offered to fly Nana to Shannon.

“I don’t want to travel on that sea again.”

“Planes don’t float on the sea. They fly in the sky,” explained my mother.

“I know that, but once over the ocean is fine enough for me.”

She had a way with words and thanks to her blood I was granted Irish citizenship under the ‘born abroad’ program. My cousin Oil Can also has his passport.

Members of my family have traveled to the Republic. I stayed in Ballyconneeley for over four months. It was the coldest autumn of my life.

Most recently I lived as unofficial writer in residence at a diplomatic posting smack in the center of Europe. Madame l’Ambassador introduced me to the visiting dignitaries as her Irish artist. One British minister was suspicious of my origins and asked, “In what part of Ireland do they speak with that accent?”

“The Far West.” My Irish passport in my pocket was proof of my claim.

“Which is?” He wanted the name of the town.


“That’s in America.”

“Only for those that aren’t Irish. For the rest of us there it’s the Fada An tIarthar and we celebrate St. Patrick’s on the same day as the redcoats evacuated the city for good. It’s the best of days.”

The British minister said nothing, but Madame l”Ambassador stood up for me.
“He’s only Half-Irish, but his accent in 100% Far West.” We are longtime friends. She had been to Boston with me. It’s a lovely town on the water.

My Loved Nana

My Nana came off the boat from Ireland at the age of 14.

She broke her heel coming down the gangway.

Somehow everything turned out all right in that Year of the Crow.

The native of the West refused to pinpoint the date.

WE thought the Year of the Crow had something to do with Chinese Astrology.

Nana loved us more than the moon and the stars.

All of the thirteen cousins.

We were her family.

We still are.

ERIN GO BALI by Peter Nolan Smith

My first trip to Bali was in 1990. Most tourists gravitated to Kuta Beach for sea, sun, and fun. Being a pseudo-intellectual I opted for Ubud, an idyllic village of Legong dancers, ornate temples, and quiet evenings, where I rented a small house overlooking an idyllic stream.

My house servant served breakfast in the morning. I wrote on a Brother Electric Typewriter. There was no phone service with the outside world or TV.

At night I listened to the BBC World News and read tattered used books. Dragonflies buzzed through the room and the stars tolerated no earthly rival. I loved Ubud and stayed in the town for several months.

Nearing March 17th I mentioned to several westerners or ‘mistahs’ that we should have a St. Patrick’s Day. None of them shared my Hibernian roots, however my Balinese friends were enthused to celebrate being Irish by drinking beer.

“And we wear green.”

My house servant Tuut shook his head.

“Can not wear green. This unlucky color.”

“Unlucky.” He had used the Bahasa word ‘blog’. I had never heard it before.

“Yes, my uncle he have green car and have many accidents.”

“Green is good luck in Ireland and Ireland is the European Bali.”

“Ireland tidak Bali. No green and you not wear green too.” Tuut was adamant about this edict, but said, “We drink beer and make music.”

“That is good luck?”

“Drink beer always good luck. Especially if a ‘mistah’ paid for it.”

I didn’t argue with tradition and adjusted St. Patrick’s Day in accordance with local customs.

On March 17th Tuut, his friend, and I drank beer at the Cafe Bali. They brought drums. I sang Irish songs and at sunset we marched down Monkey Forest Road with me singing BY THE RISING OF THE MOON.

Tuut said it was a sweet song.

“By the rising of the moon.” That was the only line that came to mind.

I made up the rest.

Other Balinese joined us. We trooped back to the Cafe Bali and switched to ‘arak’, a strong palm wine. It wasn’t as strong as Jamison’s Whiskey, but it was a good drink for the first St. Patrick’s Day in Ubud and I told Tuut, “Maybe one day you will wear green.”

“Maybe a long time away from today.”

“But not as far as never. Semoga Beruntung.”

I thought that meant good luck and replied, “Go n-éirí an bóthar leat!”

Everyone clinked beer glasses.

And I told myself that maybe one day I’ll get the Balinese to wear green.

It’s a color close to my heart.