During his 29th year, spending just $19,420.68, less than it would have cost him to stay at home, Adam Shepard visited seventeen countries on four continents and lived some amazing adventures. He writes about this year in his new book, One Year Lived. The following is a shortened excerpt from one of Adam's adventures. Learn more about Adam at his website.
Imagine what it might be like to reach through the computer screen to confront a person on the other side.
Years ago, I read some articles and a couple of books on outsourcing, and it changed the structure of my life. The Internet has brought virtual assistance to the commoner on a digital silver platter. The little guy—you with the lawn care business or you trying to sell homemade reversible purses—can now research affordably, manufacture affordably, and market affordably.
If you can somewhat coherently list instructions in an e-mail, assignments will be completed for you overnight, finished by the time you sit down at the table for your bagel in the morning. Globalization allows for a collaborative effort to be affordable and efficient for everyone.
So, a couple of years before my world adventure began, I had plopped down on my sofa and flipped my laptop open. A few clicks and I began my search.
A Rafael Apolinario III’s credentials spanned my screen. I settled on him due to his glowing enthusiasm.
Not only is my boy Raf logging hours for half the cost of America’s burger-flipping minimum wage, he’s doing some pretty advanced computer work for me. I can send him a list of one thousand colleges and universities and say, “Raf, I need the names and e-mail addresses of the vice provosts at these universities. You think you can do that in forty hours?”
He says, “Yes, of course, Sir Adam, but I will try hard to do it in thirty!”
I asked him once whether he knew how to put together a video from a file of pictures, and he wrote, “Not today, Sir Adam. But I can learn by tomorrow!”
I send him money; he sends me quality work. It’s a very simple relationship.
From the outback, Ivana wanted to go to a beach. One with powdery sand and few people. One where we could lounge by the shore and eat filet mignon and drink a bottle of chardonnay. One where she could swim without concern for sanitation.
I e-mailed Raf and he replied almost instantly. “Adam…you are welcome anytime! I am excited to finally meet you personally. I live just an hour and a half ride from Boracay, the most beautiful beach in the world.”
He was exaggerating, kind of. Just this year, TripAdvisor touted Boracay as the second-best beach in the world, just after Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos.
“Adam, sir!” Raf hollered. “You made it!” Around five feet tall, he weighed in at 115 pounds. I was almost literally two of him. He sported a Fisher Price My First Mustache and had curled the top of his hair into a mini-mohawk, the style of the decade among Filipino men.
I learned that he was two years from thirty, though he looked to be between fifteen and seventeen years old. I’d never known his age.
The tide shifted when I met Raf. I was no longer in charge. Raf, the Raf who always apologized for simple, meaningless errors and always asked me twice whether I found his work sufficient, morphed into a man in control. He showed Ivana and me to the cool spots on the beach, he took us to buy fresh spices and produce, he gave us a tour of the creaky but clean office he worked out of, he introduced us to his family, and he helped us to avoid getting swindled. “No, man, don’t buy that one,” he advised when we passed by souvenir shops.
He cooked. Sauteed prawns and pork adobo. He combined shrimp, spinach, string beans, tomatoes, onions, peppers, fish sauce, and a tamarind base to make a tangy traditional Filipino soup. I bought ingredients, he cooked them.
And then we went wakeboarding. Raf spit out Tagalog, the native language, all over that island until we arrived at the only place with the equipment to offer wakeboarding.
I forget where we settled. It wasn’t in my favor but far better than a white man would have been able to negotiate on his own in Boracay. I really didn’t have a choice anyway. This man owned the only wakeboarding equipment on the island. I spent pocket change to fight bulls in Nicaragua, and I was ready to go to the ATM in order to wakeboard, with Boracay’s lounging green hills and rough cliffs as a backdrop. Boats were zipping this way and that under the sun’s full gleam. A few white tufts littered a mostly cloudless sky. It’s irresponsible to spare expense for these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
A half hour later, I was sitting next to this dude, this guy I’d known for two years, but really only a few hours.
“Did you get that one?” I asked, surfacing from a spill after one of my jumps. I shook my head to fling water from my shaggy hair.
“Hm. Yes, man. But I tell you it might be a better picture if you can get off the water a little bit.”
Meeting Raf in such a beautiful atmosphere was an interesting blend of business and pleasure. We have nothing in common, and there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about. He was nice; I was nice. We spoke very little about current political happenings and a lot about Manny’s fight.
Raf lives a world away from me, literally and metaphorically. The people of his country are almost as poor as the people of Honduras. Raf lives in a cramped one-bedroom apartment and cooks his meals—mostly rice and bits of fish. He deposits most of his earnings into his nineteen-year-old brother’s college education fund or into a savings account for the business he wants to open one day. He walks around town, whether his destination lies one block or a couple dozen away.
And in between home-cooked meals and time on the boat, it felt good to be able to step out of the virtual world, establish a real connection, look him in the eye, shake his hand, and thank him personally.