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''We went weeks without bathing. We spent five days on a tugboat and the only thing we had for the bathroom was a bucket.'' - Paige Parker.

Paige Parker

AUTHOR & PHILANTHROPIST
Oct 19, 2018 5:50 AM

ON JAN 1, 1999, Paige Parker and her soon-to-be husband Jim Rogers embarked on a three-year worldwide road trip that would set the Guinness record for the longest continuous car journey. Mr Rogers is, of course, the famously intrepid American investor who started the successful Quantum Fund with George Soros in 1973. He’s regarded by many as an investment guru. Ms Parker was working as an assistant to the president of Queens College of Charlotte in North Carolina when she saw her future husband speak at an event and was struck by his chutzpah.

The journey that took them through 116 countries was logistically challenging and sometimes perilous. Parker grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, a small town of 50,000 people, and the obstacles she faced tested her and the relationship. Oftentimes she found herself bathing in dirty water or negotiating with nasty border guards, wondering if it was worthwhile getting hitched to a man who marches only to beat of his own drum.

There were moments when, at her wit's end, she turned to him for empathy and found none. These difficult moments, as well as the rest of their adventures, are detailed in a new book called Don't Call Me Mrs Rogers, newly published by Epigram Books.

Though the two did get married, move to Singapore and raise two daughters now aged 15 and 10, Ms Parker had always wanted to write a book about their early years together, and their journey through war zones, blizzards, swamps and deserts.

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Mr Rogers had chronicled it himself in his own book Adventure Capitalist several years back, but Ms Parker stresses that's just his side of the story. Her version contains the missing female perspective, both hers and the unforgettable women they encountered along the way.  

Why the book? Why now?

I had read Jim's book Adventure Capitalist when I had just become pregnant with my daughter Happy who's now 15. And I knew that the story he was telling was not mine. Ultimately, we’re interested in different things. When we travel, he might go to the stock exchange and see what’s happening, while I might go to a school or a women's cooperative. I thought I needed to write my own story so that no matter what happens, Happy would know my version one day. And so that was the catalyst for starting the book… But then life took a turn and we ended up coming to Singapore. And as soon as we arrived, I became pregnant with Bee who's now 10. So I spent a lot of time caring for Happy and Bee and volunteering at Nanyang Primary School so I could get them into the school. And then I spent several years becoming a gemologist and more involved in various non-profit work and philanthropic causes. And so life just kind of took over and the book sat dormant. But now that the girls are older, I have a little more time. So I restarted the book and got it published.

In the book, you describe your vulnerabilities at length, about having to grow up quickly during the journey, and having to shed your naivete because you were seeing the world for the first time. Are you not afraid that people might see you as weak and whiny?

No, I don't mind it at all. I think at the age – I was about 30 then, I'm almost 50 now – I was much more vulnerable than I am now. I wanted the book to be honest, to tell people that the journey was both heaven and hell. There were a lot of tough times – being held at gunpoint in Angola and surrounded by soldiers with machine guns was pretty traumatic. Meanwhile the emotional side of the relationship with Jim was as tough as anything we faced on the journey. So I wanted all that to be there because I don't want anyone to think the journey was easy peasy lemon squeezy. Yes, we slept in places that cost fifty cents a night. Yes, we went weeks without bathing. Yes, we spent five days on a tugboat and the only thing we had for the bathroom was a bucket. We lived very simply at times because that’s the only way there is – that's how people live there.

What effect did that have on you?

You realise when you're out there that where you grow up and who you're born to determine  how your life evolves. I think everyone born in the First World is privileged. Singaporeans, for instance, are very privileged. Even if, like me, you grow up in a small American town with 50,000 people, you might be spoiled with love, if not so much money –  and even that is a privilege. Many people in the world, particularly women, don’t have the freedom of movement, passport or education.  

In regard to your culinary adventures, what were the strangest things you ate?

In Uzbekistan, we ate horse. (see amendment note). Jim had silkworms and dog in Korea. In South America, we had iguanas. In Africa, we had crocodile. There’s a thing or two we ate that I don’t want to tell you... Though I have to say, I really fell for the fried plantain chips that they sell on the side of the road everywhere in Africa. They’re so yummy.

Jim’s public persona is that of a highly astute investor and somewhat eccentric man. Are there things about him the world doesn’t know?

Well, he can't keep to the beat, so when we dance, I have to lead. On one of our first dates, he was all over the place on the dance floor , and I asked him: Why don't you dance to the beat? And he asked: What do you hear? So when I was pregnant with Happy, I played music all the time because I was so worried she would come out and be like him. The other thing about Jim is that he’s a really good Daddy. In the book, he might have little empathy for me but he's paying it back in love to our daughters. He buys globes so he can tell them about different countries. He gives them history lessons before they sleep. He loves being a Daddy.

Don't Call Me Mrs Rogers by Paige Parker is available in bookstores. There is a book-signing and discussion on Oct 20 at 4 pm at Kinokuniya Ngee Ann City.

Amendment note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the couple ate horse in Pakistan. The article above has been revised to reflect this.