Ahimsa Kerp is a self-proclaimed peripatetic language mercenary who has written travel articles for BootnAll and Traveldudes, short fiction for numerous publications, and the award-winning horror screenplay, The Cannibal (co-written with Garrett Calcaterra.)
Give us a roundup of all the places you’ve been in the past 24 months.
That’s a tough question actually. Two years ago I was finishing my contract in South Korea. In October I flew (with a few days in Japan) to New Zealand, which is where my then-girlfriend lived. We spent those summer months biking and hiking and swimming and tramping. Then I flew to Malaysia, explored the peninsular part and Borneo, went to Myanmar, then on to Nepal, down to India, over to the US for 2 months, back to Thailand, met up with my sister and some friends from Korea, visited Laos and Vietnam before settling into Northern Thailand for 3 months. From there I headed back to Nepal to hike to Everest Base camp, then spent a month and half in Indonesia, then went to the Roskilde festival in Denmark and ended up spending 2 months in Scandinavia. Now I’m back in Portland, completely broke and looking for jobs in Korea. I’m ready to renew the cycle one more time.
As a peripatetic language mercenary, how do you think your world tramping has shaped your writing?
Seeing and experiencing different cultures–really experiencing them, rather than just taking a photo of “exotic” looking locals–is an invaluable tool for spec-fic writers. So many genre books change fauna and flora and climates and planets but keep our mores and ethics unchanged. Not only does that make no sense, it’s also really boring. Exploring the way people think and understand their world is, to me, way more fascinating than people with 21st century ethics that just happen to fight dragons.
How is the emersion different, staying abroad as long as you have, versus shorter sprints of vacation-style travel?
Well both have their places, for sure, but their two very different things. It’s almost the difference between reading a book and writing a book. One gives you a cursory understanding of the basics, but the other can (should?) change the way you think and see the world and understand yourself and your place in it.
Settings often evolve from tiny nuggets of actual culture or history. When you’re traveling, do you seek out such nuggets, or allow them to surprise you along the way?
I don’t seek them out as an end to themselves, but usually the stuff I’m interested in leads me to them–historic buildings, museums, architecturally quirky places (like the “Crazy House in Dalat, Vietnam) are of course great, but there are just as many stories in market place or on the 23 hour train ride to the next city.
What are 3 random cultural or historical tidbits you’ve stumbled upon that surprised you?
The history of Rajastan was fascinating. One example among many: I met the Bishnoi, people for whom trees are sacred, opium is legal (and served as tea from the elder to visitors), and orphan animals are nursed by human mothers.
Norwegians traditionally close their shops and stores and markets on Sunday so that everyone can go to their cabin in the woods. (This is changing now, as the modern life demands more convenience and the heterogeneity of the culture is lessening as more people move in, but that’s an amazing cultural assumption built into daily life.)
I learned this story in a museum in Kathmandu.
Ganesh, the famous elephant headed god, used to just be human. His mom Parvati left him to guard his house one day, and then his father Shiva came home. When Ganesh refused entry to Shiva, it made his father so mad that he chopped off his head. Parvati came home and was pissed off to see her son beheaded, so she made Shiva get him a new head. An elephant happened to amble by and with some quick sword work, Shiva created the (now famous) elephant headed god.
(My second favorite thing about Ganesh: he is a huge, elephantine lummox of a god, but his steed is just a little rat. How it carries him around is a mystery, but if you look at Hindu statues you can usually see his rat hanging out by his feet.)
With your love of musical mashups, do your foresee any cultural or historical mashups forthcoming in your writing?
Well, depending on how you define mashups, everything written probably uses elements from multiple sources. The story I’m working on now is sort of set in an analogue of 3rd century Pakistan, but there are elements from today, from medieval Denmark, from ancient England and of course lots of Taoist thought as well. I also just wrote an update of the “The Musicians of Bremen” where the animals are DJ’s (it’s germany, remember) and while they are routing the robbers they run afoul of a Lovecraftian menace.
You can find more about Ahimsa’s travels here: http://arewethereyeti.wordpress.com/
And more about his fiction writing here: http://obscureclearly.wordpress.com/