It’s hard to separate Paige Parker from the image of her husband, Jim Rogers, the American business heavyweight who rode around the world on a motorcycle in 1990 and wrote about it in Investment Biker. And did it again almost a decade later – this time in a car with Parker – with the adventure documented in Adventure Capitalist. Both trips were in the Guinness World Records.
But this isn’t Rogers’ story. It’s Parker’s, as she emphatically states in the prologue of her book, Don’t Call Me Mrs Rogers: Love, Loathing & Our Epic Drive Around the World, out this month. She is every bit his partner in life and on the road as she is a proud mother of two daughters, a board member of UN Women, a gemologist, a supporter of local arts and, now, a published writer. “When I read Jim’s book, I thought it wasn’t my story, and I wanted mine out there for my daughter, Happy, whom I was pregnant with at the time (2003),” she says. She completed it in 2006, four years after the end of the record-breaking trip through 116 countries, but publishing her account of it took a back seat to other priorities, such as moving to Singapore, raising her children Hilton Augusta (who goes by Happy) and Beeland (also known as Bee), and training to become a gemologist.
“Three years ago, a writer friend of mine and I were talking about my book and he suggested that I at least bind it, so that my daughters would have a copy to read. I thought it was a great idea but, when I went back and read it, I realised I could make it better.” With the perspective she gained over the past two decades, she cut the story length by half and rewrote most of it to include her relationship with her family, as well as her growth from a small town Southern American belle to a woman of the world. The streamlined narrative, coupled with some truly remarkable experiences, makes Don’t Call Me Mrs Rogers a compelling read.
Because despite the custom-made Mercedes in which they toured the world and the deep pockets they had in order to fund the trip, much of it was light years away from a Relais & Chateaux experience. “We were held at gunpoint in Angola and stuck in a military camp that night. The soldiers – who were really just boys in uniform – were carrying machine guns and rocket launchers and we weren’t allowed to leave. We had to sleep in the car and I was so scared that when I needed to go to the bathroom that night, I did it right out of the car,” she says. “But we found out the next morning that we weren’t allowed to pass because they had placed mines on the bridge. If we had gone through, we would have been blown up.”
But there were just as many moments of levity as well, such as camping in the Sahara Desert with nomads while enjoying a bottle of vintage port they received from a friend in Spain; having a woman on the Ivory Coast kill a chicken for them while they danced to Marvin Gaye; celebrating the finding of the True Cross with a large bonfire in an Ethiopian village. “We really lived in the moment during those times, but, unfortunately, we were often preoccupied with planning.”
A round-the-world trip which doesn’t skirt war-torn areas and politically unstable zones is hard enough on a person, but to do it without decimating one’s relationship with a fiance requires a considerable amount of commitment. “We actually called off the marriage while we were in Italy, though we were okay the next day. That was difficult to write about, because I wondered if I wanted to be that honest with the reader. But I thought there would be no point otherwise. The only thing I changed was the word ‘bastard’ to ‘schmuck’ or something, for the sake of my kids,” she reveals.
There were, understandably, countless times she wanted out – except she couldn’t. “One time, we had to wait three weeks for a boat to take us up the Nile to Egypt. I wound up visiting a girls’ school and befriended a young Muslim woman who made me eggs and tea every morning. There was always some ‘rainbow’ that fed me enough to keep going, so I’m thankful for the times I was stuck.”
The reason Parker is able to recall the trip in such detail is because she wrote every day of the trip. “We never knew what was going to happen, what we were going to eat, whom we were going to meet or where we would sleep, so writing was my constant,” she shares. And the sharpness of those memories has kept her deeply connected to the experience. “I did a reading for the first time for three of my best friends earlier this year, and I just lost it. I cried so hard. Even a passage that wasn’t supposed to be emotional was emotional for me.”
Obviously no one goes through something like that and comes out of it unchanged. “The Paige before the trip was quite pleasant, but a bit naive. The Paige after is more thoughtful, confident and knowledgeable,” she says. “The trip has also affected me as a mother. I want to make sure my girls are exposed to life beyond this Singapore utopia we live in. When Happy and I climbed Kilimanjaro in June, I made sure she saw how people really lived in Tanzania.”
So have her daughters read the book? “Happy’s read it. She said it is the best book she’s ever read. And that it is better than Daddy’s.”
Don’t Call Me Mrs Rogers: Love, Loathing & Our Epic Drive Around the World is available on Oct 9 at all major bookstores. Parker will be speaking at the Singapore Writers Festival on Nov 7 and 10, 2018.
He said, she said
WHAT WAS JIM’S REACTION WHEN YOU TOLD HIM YOU WANTED TO WRITE YOUR VERSION OF EVENTS?
PARKER: He said do it, go for it. He was very encouraging.
ROGERS: Because there were many times when I’d remember something and she’d say, “What are you talking about?” and she would recall something and I would say, “Was I on the same trip?” When you spend three years together on the road, you remember different things, so I thought it was a good idea.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THESE MOMENTS?
PARKER: Jim just got back from Vladivostok this morning and met this gentleman we’d encountered on the road trip. Jim remembers our time with him but I don’t remember the man at all.
ROGERS: The only beer we could get in Russia for three months was his beer, and we drank gallons of it and she doesn’t even remember.
I remember the beer.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF ADVENTURE CAPITALIST?
PARKER: One of the reasons I love Jim so much is that he’s a renaissance man. He covered travel and our relationship and the geopolitical, and he brought it altogether so beautifully. It was great but, still, it wasn’t my story. He loved to go to the stock exchange and find out about different companies, but for me it was about going to the women’s market, a school, or maybe an orphanage. So I love what he did and I love what I’ve done.
HAS THE WORLD CHANGED IN THE WAY YOU EXPECTED SINCE ADVENTURE CAPITALIST?
ROGERS: I got some things right, like the rise of China, and the rise of Asia in general. I even wrote about Singapore at some length but I didn’t think when I was writing it that I would be living here in 2018.
WHERE IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO NOW?
ROGERS: I’ve never been to Chad so I want to go. I have no idea what’s there. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Iran and North Korea, too.
PARKER: What about the Maldives? (Jim chuckles.) It’s a family joke. We all want to go but Jim is certainly not a beach resort person.
Don’t Call Me Mrs Rogers | How well do Paige Parker and Jim Rogers know each other?
Photography Vee Chin | Art direction Denise Rei Low