Why I Wear Hawaiian Shirts

Really, if there’s one comment I hear more often than anything else, it tends to be, “Wow, man. You wear a lot of Hawaiian shirts.”

This habit has, whether fortunately or unfortunately, been one I’ve engaged in for most of my life. It seems like my tendency to wear these bright and colorful shirts is a source of curiosity, since it often elicits comments, both positive and negative — but always entertaining. I’ve received many questions about why I wear them: if there’s a deeper reason, a cause, a role, whether I lost a lifetime bet, and so on. You get the idea.

Well, actually, there is a deeper reason. A few, actually. So, why? Well…

Reason #1: Sentimental Reasons

Nicholas Conley

Basically, when I was a kid, my father often wore Hawaiian shirts. He enjoyed the look and feel of them, and like most sons, I liked the idea of being a little more like him, so I picked up the habit.

As longtime readers know, he died when I was 17; though I was already wearing Hawaiian shirts by that time, after his death, they took on a new significance for me. Continuing to wear them felt like a way of celebrating his legacy, a tribute to who he was.

Reason #2: Catharsis


When I was younger, I had a lot of social anxiety, difficulty fitting in; you know the story, and many of you experienced your own version of it. Anyway, this all came to a head in high school, where at first, all I wanted to do was disappear into the background. I wanted to seem normal. Quiet. Nondescript. I felt horribly eccentric, incredibly weird, like I couldn’t fit in anywhere.

Then, I changed my mind about trying to fit in, and instead, I decided to wear my eccentricity on my sleeve.

During the summer, like many teenagers in the past and many teenagers in the future, I grew my hair out long. I grew a beard. And, of course, I decided to ditch the bland, basic, flat-colored t-shirts of the past, and make Hawaiian shirts my personal trademark.

Immediately, I started feeling more comfortable socially. I grew out of my shell. I became more confident. I started walking out there a bit more boldly, stating my thoughts aloud, openly being who I was on the outside as well as the inside. Ever since those days, I’ve never stopped wearing the shirts, nor would I ever want to.

Reason #3: Because Yeah, You Know What? Hawaiian Shirts Are Awesome

Nicholas Conley Sahara

Honestly? Hawaiian shirts are just really fucking cool.

Seriously. It’s not always easy to wear something so bright and colorful everyday, turning yourself into a walking billboard for a Caribbean vacation company. But Hawaiian shirts are fun, enjoyable, and people who wear them tend to make great company. A good aloha shirt is comfortable, iconic, timeless. They look great, and feel great. Why would I not want to wear them?

Nicholas Conley Bangkok Thailand

Really, this is probably what it comes down to, in the end: I just like Hawaiian shirts.

I like the way they look, and how they feel. I like the fact that they instill an automatic trust in a person, a sense that no matter how serious that person is, they know how to enjoy life and see the good in things, at least on some level. I have yet to meet a bad person wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and I hope I never do.

Nicholas Conley radio WSCA True Tales Alzheimer's audience

True Tales: Past the Horizon Line

Back in February of 2016, I was honored to have the opportunity to share a true story on the radio station WSCA 106.1 FM, and in front of a live studio audience.

That story, which I called “Past the Horizon Line,” was about my real life experiences working in a nursing home, and how my friendship with one particularly amazing Alzheimer’s patient had a profound impact on my life.

As longtime readers know, much of my writing — including my novel Pale Highway (which deals with Alzheimer’s), as well as Clay Tongue: A Novelette (which deals with post-stroke aphasia) and my upcoming book, Intraterrestrial (which deals with traumatic brain injuries) — has been based on my experiences working in healthcare, but it’s not often that I get to share too much about what those real experiences were like, and how they shaped the person I am today. For that reason, I’d like the share this clip with you all, where I tell my story, “Past the Horizon Line.” Thank you for watching.



My Writing Space

As any creative professional knows, the zone where you create things is your castle. Some people have roaming workstations, while others need a specific spot at a specific time, but there’s always a place where the magic happens — whether it’s a physical location, a psychological one, or (most likely) both. It’s the same for all forms of creative passion: we all have our desks, our studios, our work tables, or whatever else we may need.

For me, while I do enjoy getting some work done in local coffee shops every so often, the primary place where the writing happens is in my office, at home. Whenever I sit down here, as I am now, I feel a sense of purpose, belonging, a focus. With a mug of coffee in hand, I feel ready to conquer the next manuscript before me.

Longtime readers will recognize little touches like the Spider-Man poster and the coffee mug; the desk is never complete without that mug there and filled with hot coffee, as you might imagine. The dinosaur is an old childhood relic that reminds me of my father, and which has been on my desk for over 10 years. It has taken on increasing importance over the years, as childhood relics tend to do. As for those “slugs” roaming around the plant… well, those are the marvelous creation of my endlessly creative wife Veronica, and readers of Pale Highway will know why they’re there.

But let’s not stop with me. What about you guys? What sort of creative workstation/s do you have? Let’s hear about ’em!

Southeast Asia Part V: Southern Thailand, the Final Chapter

And at long last, the saga of our 2017 Asian adventure comes to an end.  I was intimidated at the prospect of first writing these entries, but I hope I’ve properly gotten across just how amazing southeast Asia really is. This was easily one of the most unbelievable trips my wife and I have ever been on, and we can’t wait to go back one day.

Before I get started, some catchup:

Southeast Asia Part I: Thailand

Southeast Asia Part II: Thailand

Southeast Asia Part III: Laos

Southeast Asia Part IV: Cambodia

So, after our travels in Cambodia, and with less than a few weeks left in our trip, we boarded a flight right to Phuket, the most famous island in Southern Thailand. Phuket is definitely the Los Angeles of Thailand. It’s huge, constantly moving, with a myriad of events taking place in any direction the eyes can see.

It’s highly commercialized, of course, far more than the rest of Thailand. It’s definitely a carnival, but still worth seeing, if only for the mesmerizing beaches.

From there, we then escaped to the shores of Ko Yao Noi. This remote little island, which has a 90% Muslim population, is one of the most amazing and beautiful places in Thailand. It’s quiet, simple, rural, with very little going on, and that’s the beauty of it. Veronica and I spent our time there riding around the island on a scooter, laying on hammocks at the beach, and loving the peacefulness of it all.

And of course, there’s always excellent coffee if you know where to find it. The scene pictured below, again on Ko Yao Noi, definitely qualifies for an updated list of Top Coffee Moments™. (you veteran readers of this blog will remember these Coffee Moments, as well as your top ones!)

Nicholas Conley coffee Ko Yao Noi Thailand

We felt so at home at Ko Yao Noi that it was heartbreaking to leave, but there were still adventures ahead. Most importantly, scuba diving off the coast of Ko Phi Phi.

This was my first time ever scuba diving, and I absolutely loved it. I have to admit, the first few moments were terrifying, but once I’d adjusted — thanks to the calm, relaxed training of my instructor —  it easily become one of the most fantastic experiences I’ve ever had. While I’d often imagined what scuba diving might be like — who hasn’t dreamed up seeing the mesmerizing coral reefs and sea creatures up close? — I’d never imagined the experience would be so calm and meditative. The focus on breathing, exhaling and inhaling at a slow and steady pace, puts one in a mental state very similar to meditation or yoga. Combine this with the unbelievable thrill of seeing blue starfish, moray eels, mountain ranges of coral, swimming through schools of fish, and even seeing a blacktip shark(!)… and, well, the whole thing was unforgettable.

Luckily, the ship had an underwater camera man on board.


After a few more days soaking up the sun, islands, and more, our time in Thailand finally came to an end. We finished the trip by heading back to Bangkok for our last few days, where we ate our final dinner at a restaurant with a fantastic view of the city, reminiscing on everything we’d seen and done.

And now, we come full circle, back to where I began — writing about the time period in which we first came back, which is when I started writing this series, and which now seems so long ago.


Thank you, all of you, who’ve continued reading this series from the beginning until now. After over a month of southeast Asia posts, next week will begin something new. As for what it is, who knows? We never know what stories the future holds for us.

Southeast Asia, Part IV: Cambodia

Southeast Asia Part I: Thailand

Southeast Asia Part II: Thailand

Southeast Asia Part III: Laos

The Kingdom of Cambodia is a country with many deep, significant differences from both Laos and Thailand, and a feel all its own. Once the center of the ancient Khmer Empire,  Cambodia spent much of the latter half of the twentieth century embroiled in bloody warfare, military coups, occupations, and so on, and some hints of these scars still show. Cambodia also  still suffers from widespread poverty, higher crime rates, child labor, and governmental corruption. There’s a visibly unfair disparity between classes, a noticeably wide gulf between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of society, with many people visibly struggling just to get by.

It’s a very raw country, but also one filled with much beauty, wonderful people, and fascinating centuries of history that show in every ancient temple, wall, and tree. It’s unlike anywhere else, and you can see how much the culture and the people has fought to survive against numerous hardships, and how strong they are.


Cambodia is absolutely a place worth visiting, but it’s definitely one for the experienced traveler. It’s not as easy or simple as getting around Thailand, and things are certainly more rugged, but there are lots of experiences to have. The people here are strong, resilient, the centuries of history pervade every corner, and the land itself is something unique.

Admittedly, we were only in Cambodia for a short time, so outside of Siem Reap, there’s still much of the country we didn’t get the chance to see on this trip — areas which may have their own individual feel, tone, and so on. But in any case, we began our trip by exploring Siem Reap itself, and the surrounding area.

The next day, we took a tuk-tuk to see one of Cambodia’s floating villages. In the wet season, these villages are literally right on the water. In the dry season, which is when we were visiting, they are simply elevated, as you can see below:

Finally, we did the big thing that most visitors to Cambodia do: we went to see Angkor Wat. This ancient temple complex, famously depicted on the Cambodian national flag, is truly a wonder to behold.

Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in the 12th century in dedication to the Hindu god Vishnu. The sheer size and scale of Angkor Wat is truly unbelievable. You can’t properly capture it in photos, though we tried the best we could.

Other than Angkor Wat, there are many other temples around Siem Reap, each one quite remarkable. One of our favorites turned out to be Ta Prohm, a temple that has been overtaken by trees. It’s quite a dazzling, otherworldly sight; the trees are like alien creatures that have proven their dominance over man, by crawling over and entrapping these ancient walls. Amazing stuff.

Cambodia was quite different from Laos and Thailand, but that difference certainly made it stand out. It’s a place where history meets the present day. For those of us who have been born and raised in the world’s more privileged and “developed” countries, it’s really important to go to places like Cambodia — places which have struggled and survived through numerous traumatic events, and where people today experience hardships, poverty, and economic inequality on a level that few of us could even imagine. Without question, I’ll remember Cambodia for the rest of my life.

After that, we then flew back to Thailand, where we began the final leg of our journey: southern Thailand, which is a totally different land than the north. Next time up, it’s Southeast Asia Part V: The Final Chapter!

Huay Xai, Laos

Southeast Asia, Part III: Laos

Southeast Asia Part I

Southeast Asia Part II

Laos is similar to Thailand in many respects, but also quite different. Laos is calmer, quieter, more peaceful. It’s also much more rural, less developed. Laos is a country too often overlooked on many people’s trips to Southeast Asia, and it ended up being one of the highlights of our adventure.

After crossing the Friendship Bridge and going through immigration, we spent the rest of our first day in the village of Huay Xai, right on the Mekong River. Our plan was to then embark on the two-day slow boat cruise up to Luang Prabang, but since the boat left the next morning, we spent the rest of the day in Huay Xai. I’m glad it happened this way, because it ended up being a wonderful place to spend some time.

Huay Xai is small, quiet, and there isn’t much going on as far as activities, but don’t let that deter you from going there, and staying for a bit; if anything, it would have been nice to spend even longer there. The village is right across the river from Thailand, and while it’s definitely a border-town-in-the-way-that-border-towns-are-always-border-towns, it’s also wonderfully real, honest, and down to earth. There’s a lot of warmth to be found in Huay Xai, if you know where to look for it.

We ate dinner at the Daauw Village, a guest house and restaurant that doubles as the base of operations for the Kajsiab Intiative, an organization which provides women from Lao villages with a shop to sell their handmade products. Kadsiab also takes on interns from the local mountain villages, letting them work for the restaurant, and providing a place of shelter for any villagers in need, or for families of patients at the hospital. Visitors to the restaurant are also greeted with a pamphlet describing the many tribes in Laos, and the various cultures, in great detail. You can learn more about the Daauw Village here.

Unsurprisingly, the Daauw Village is a truly fantastic place. Immediately upon approaching, the stairs were covered with playing children. As the night went on, and we enjoyed a homemade pizza with some Beerlao, the families gathered around the firepit and hung out, traded jokes with one another, played instruments, and so on. These sorts of multicultural experiences are the thing that makes traveling so important. Cultural exchange. Human capital, instead of cold capitalism. Next time we make it out to Huay Xai, we’ll definitely want to stay at the Daauw Village for longer.

Huay Xai, Laos

The next morning, we set sail on the slow boat, a long wooden vessel that would be our bus for the next two days. The slow boat is the perfect illustration of both the wonder and the hilarity that intertwine themselves when one embarks on these journeys into other countries. While one might picture a luxurious affair, the reality is that the slow boat’s seats are actually just re-purposed car seats, and the boat itself was so overbooked and crowded that the next day, the passengers were split into two boats.

Don’t let this deter you: it’s a one of a kind experience, that every traveler should absolutely embark on. Seriously, it’s a blast. Everyone’s in it together. After a few hours of absorbing the jungle scenery around you, the musicians on board start playing, you start enjoying a Beerlao or two, and you end up with more stories than you could ever count.

What was additionally interesting to see is the way that the slow boat stopped every now and again at these tiny Lao villages in the middle of the jungle, where it would pick up a family, or a few individuals, and bring them to their destination further down the Mekong River. Very cool experience.

The boat docked at the town of Pakbeng for the first night, where we got dinner, got drinks at the “Happy Bar,” and then crashed, in order to get up early the next morning. The next day on the boat was similar to the first, though a further sense of peacefulness began to truly sink in. There’s something magical about having those hours of time to be alone with your thoughts, in a sense; able to journal, think, watch nature around you.

Finally, we stopped in Luang Prabang, where we spent the rest of our time in Laos. Luang Prabang is the cultural capitol of the country, though not the official capitol, and it’s certainly a city that everyone should take a chance to see. It’s small and more rural, like Laos itself, but possesses a certain unique charm that’s hard to describe. The art, culture, and surroundings are unmistakably Lao, in a way where when you are there, you know you’re not anywhere else in the world.

Of course, we had to stop and get coffee along the way, as is often the case when a certain coffee-obsessed writer goes traveling. The drink in the following image is called a Gibraltar, made with rice milk. Highly recommended.

Nicholas Conley Laos coffee Luang Prabang


We also went up to the Kuang Si waterfall, a place of such unmistakable beauty and such dazzling waters that it feels like a different world.

Our time in Laos was truly a highlight of the whole trip, in a huge way, but since we had other stops to make, it eventually had to come to an end. After that, we picked up a plane ticket to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where we would soon see the magnificent sights of Angkor Wat.



Chiang Mai Elephants

Southeast Asia, Part II: Elephants, and the Road to Laos

In the last blog entry, I detailed the first part of our trip to Thailand, where we went up from Bangkok, passed through the city of monkeys, explored a little of Chiang Mai and then spent some time in the beautiful hippie village of Pai.

Chiang Rai Thailand rice fields

After our time in Pai, we hitched a ride back down to Chiang Mai. One of the things that we wanted to do in our time was Thailand was see elephants, but when it comes to elephants, it’s highly important to do your research first, and make sure that what one goes to is an elephant sanctuary: there are numerous abusive elephant camps throughout the country, where the elephants are tortured with bullhooks, chains, and more. In addition, what many people don’t realize is that “elephant riding” is terrible for the elephants themselves; the weight of a human being puts a tremendous strain on an elephant’s spine, which is only multiplied when a heavy saddle is also weighing them down. Basically, elephants should never have to carry humans.

This is why it’s important to not fund these elephant-riding places with tourist dollars, and to instead give that money to the elephant sanctuaries. These sanctuaries work to provide better care to the elephants, better lives, more freedom, no torture, and NO RIDING. In addition, sanctuaries use their revenue to buy elephants away from the riding camps, thus freeing these animals from their abusers.

In the sanctuary we went to, it was clear right away that the workers truly care for the elephants, and are devoted to the cause of better elephant treatment in Thailand. In the sanctuary, we had the opportunity to walk with the elephants, feed them, bathe them in the river, and generally just spend time with them. Elephants are one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, and it shows; they are more majestic than I could ever have realized beforehand. Looking into their eyes, one sees the soul of a noble creature that deserves respect, compassion, and honor.

Pictures? Yes, of course!

After the elephant sanctuary, we went back to Chiang Mai and spent a few more days enjoying the sights, spending time with new friends, and finally getting ready for our trip to Laos.

On the way to Laos, we made a pit stop in Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai is arguably most famous for its bizarre and beautiful White Temple, but we didn’t get the chance to stop in and see it, since we had to hit the road to Laos the next morning. We did get the chance to go to the night market, and indulge in these crunchy grasshoppers. Quite an interesting snack:

Chiang Rai grasshoppers

The next morning, we caught the early morning bus to Chiang Khong, a Thai town on the border —and then, we crossed the Friendship Bridge into Laos, and entered the village of Huay Xai.

In the next blog, I’ll delve into the details of our slow boat ride down the Mekong River, Luang Prabang, and more. Stay tuned!