Two years ago, two backpackers came to me with an ambitious proposal. They were two American guys who just quit their high paying, Bostonian jobs to pursue the dream of having their own travel show. They had no money and no connection. Like all protagonists of rag to riches stories, all they had was an idea, load of enthusiasm, and–this and is different–an “eye candy.” Ray, the aspiring director, playfully pointed at his friend Mark, who was tall, lean with tousled hair and a sun-kissed smile. They wanted to have Anthony Bourdain on their show. They needed Anthony Bourdain on their show. The entire existence of their show banked on the participation of Anthony Bourdain. I didn’t quite understand their reasoning at that time–I didn’t even know who Anthony Bourdain was. But I figured it was some sort of fanaticism, and I’m drawn to fanaticism like a moth to a flame.
A travel show had always been my dream: you see faraway lands, meet new people, be as weird as you could possibly be, and have something to show for it. It’s a brilliant excuse to bum around without feeling like a complete jackass who creates nothing and contributes nothing. I was so down. But, there is always a but, I was just about to embark on my magical journey at Stanford. People told me I could be pretty weird at Stanford too, so I turned the boys down.
During the last two years, we stayed in touch as best as we could. Being a college student means that I sucked at communicating with anyone who didn’t live within a convenient walking distance from me. Being travelers means that they were having fun and people like me gradually faded from their world like slow, acoustic background music in a massive grocery store. We exchanged sporadic emails. I learned that they launched a KickStarter campaign to raise a modest sum of $1,000 to buy an hour of Anthony Bourdain’s time. They didn’t know how much a TV star made an hour–why would they?–but they thought $1,000 was big enough to make it not look cheap and small enough to make the fundraising feasible. “Can you please share this on your Facebook? We really need to make it work,” Ray called me a couple of times. Turns out he didn’t need to. People on KickStarter loved their project. The boys raised more than $6,000.
Money in hand, now all they had to do was to go to a convenience store where they sell Anthony Bourdain’s time in chunks. Except that this kind of store didn’t really exist, and Anthony wasn’t exactly the kind of guy you can just pick up the phone and casually suggest a hang. They had to find a way to get Anthony Bourdain’s attention. As luck would have it, Anthony Bourdain was in Vietnam at that time. They decided to track him down using a sophisticated pre-Craigslist lost and found method. They printed out a bunch of papers with Anthony’s face on it, put them up in every corner of the country, and asked every person they met: “Have you seen this man?”
Not many Vietnamese people have seen Anthony, unfortunately. However, the boys’ enthusiasm caught the attention of Tim Williams, often known as the Trivago Guy. Now, Tim is an interesting character. He is the lone star in a series of ads by the German booking site Trivago. But he is no ordinary adman. There is something about his mannerism and his disheveled hair that made his videos trending on Twitter, landed him interviews on A-list Hollywood magazines, and inspired Internet memes as well as fan fictions. Tim hooked the boys up with Anthony’s assistant. The TV star was impressed enough to check out their show and subsequently send them a video of himself saying: “What’s it? Hostel Living?” As if it was an educational video that helps college kids adjust to a dormitory living situation. The boys had to correct him. “It’s ‘Hostile Living’,” they said. It’s a travel show not only showcase the locality but also the brutal process of how the travel filmmaking sausage is made.
Then I heard through the grapevine that they had just won the “Best Experimental Film” at the Manhattan Film Festival. The backpackers put on their nice shirt, got some nice shoes and even a suit. They appeared on the Boston Globe and NPR. “Things have finally picked up for me,” Ray told me on the phone.
After Vietnam, they went on to film their travels in Iceland, Mexico, Panama and even Colombia. But “Vietnam is always my favorite,” Ray said. He gave me some reasons why it was his favorite but I couldn’t hear him so well on the phone, but I assumed it was the food, the smiles, the cultures, the history. It’s funny that we always seem to be talking on the phone, and it’s only when Ray gives me a call when he’s back in the US. I never know where else he is. He’s not on Facebook and he’s barely on Twitter and Instagram. “Social media is something I never understand,” Ray told me. “You have my email. Write me if you want to talk to me.” I wanted to correct them, but then I thought maybe it takes a certain degree not understanding how normal things are done to be able to create a show from nothing and then win an award for it.
Kudos Ray and Mark and the Hostile Living team. It’s no easy feat. You can watch the trailer for the film here. They don’t know when the show will be out yet because the whole show business is a mess, but Ray promised to let me know when it’s out. And I will let you know when he does.