Iris Bahr is a New York-based actress and author who has appeared in shows like Friends, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The King of Queens. Her book, Dork Whore: My Travels Through Asia as a Twenty-Year-Old Pseudo-Virgin, is a travelogue seeded with sexuality — it chronicles her travels around Asia as a young woman in search of life and love, and was released by Bloomsbury Publishing in March, 2007.
Fresh out of the Israeli Army, twenty-year-old Iris Bahr decides to follow the footsteps of many before her and backpack through Asia. Only unlike the average traveler, she has more in mind than just seeing the sights: she is on a desperate mission to lose her virginity.
I’ve been traveling since I was a kid. My parents were really good about taking me around on trips, and after my parents divorce I moved to Israel with my Mom. I would meet my Dad in various places around the world for “quality time,” but besides that, Israelis travel an enormous amount. Since Israel is so small and can be covered in an evening or two, and the surrounding countries aren’t what we’d call welcoming, one always has to fly out of the country, which is why one can find Israelis in every corner of the globe at any given moment. It’s customary for Israelis to embark on long journeys once they complete their military service, usually Asia or South America for 6 months to a year. I jumped on that bandwagon eagerly.
Tell me a bit about the trip you took around Asia.
I started in Thailand, then Viet Nam, Nepal, India, Australia and back to Thailand. I covered a lot of Thailand… ended up going back there about five times — up north and the islands which were fantastic — Viet Nam, I started in Saigon and headed all the way up to Hanoi and Howlong Bay. My favorite place was Hoi An. I felt transported to another calmer magical time. Nepal I started in Kathmandu and then to Pokhara where I trekked a bit, went on safari which involved seeing one rhino over the four days. That’s it, just the rhino. Sunsets were nice, though. In India I started in Delhi and then I focused on Rajasthan, went to Agra, Jaipur, Pushkar and Udaipur. I have been dreaming about returning to Pushkar ever since I left. There was something desolate and spiritual about it, and I wasn’t deathly ill for the four days I was there so that was a perk. From there I headed up north to Shimla to escape the deathly hot weather and then to Manali and Daramsallah, it was surreal going from the insanity and chaos of Rajasthan to the quiet almost other-worldy Tibetan community up north.
What area did you like the most?
I loved India and only fully appreciated it after I left. Definitely going back to cover the rest of the country. Australia I started in Melbourne and then headed up the coast, favorite stop there was Frasier Island. I also enjoyed Byron Bay where I cleaned hostel rooms to pay for my stay, nothing like picking up sketchy undershirts and plastic bongs to make you appreciate moola…
Had you done much traveling before you went to Asia?
I had been to Europe extensively with folks and some parts of the US — very very different experience of course.
Travel has always been romanticized… but maybe not as frankly as you approach the subject in your book. In what ways did your original intention of finding you sexuality through traveling bring you closer to learning more about yourself?
I knew something inside me was instilling my fear of intimacy. I was hoping the carefree nature of travel — a new place — would just cure it. Of course I immediately discovered that your baggage follows you around. There is something liberating about starting a clean slate with people that don’t know you but when something haunts you it quickly surfaces, but interacting with so many different people in such an intense condensed fashion really expedited my journey of self discovery. So many human mirrors to illuminate what’s going on inside you.
Do you recommend traveling alone?
Depends who you travel with. Obviously traveling alone allows one more freedom to float amongst people, pick and choose and do as you please at all times, but there is something gratifying about experiencing things with close friends and taking a long journey with them. It’s the same pros and cons of being in a relationship versus single in a way. I loved traveling alone and still do it when i feel the sudden urge to go somewhere. It can get lonely sometimes too and isolating but you embrace that and you are never really alone if you don’t want to be. A lot of people travel alone, the friendships are quick and instantaneous when there’s a good chemistry.
So how did your journey around Asia prepare you for a future in acting?
I was always a chameleon in the sense that I could blend into completely different types of groups and social circles — bring out certain aspects of my personality that fit in with various groups, connect with people on very different levels. I think that serves me well when approaching characters. One has to morph physically, mentally, adapt, take different perspectives in a way in order to connect with others on as deep a level as possible. But always stay truthful, I never pretended to be someone I wasn’t or at least not connected to a certain part of me. When I tried to do that I felt false and uncomfortable. In acting it’s different, I play characters that sometimes have nothing in common with me — that’s when I really have to use my imagination and take their perspective.
Finally, what books inspired you to take a trip like this?
I always enjoyed Paul Theroux when I was younger but I can’t pinpoint a certain book that inspired me. I’ve always been very curious and somewhat fearless in a ridiculous way, throwing myself into crazy situations just to see what happens.
Sounds like it! Thanks, Iris.
Iris Bahr’s Dork Whore: My Travels Through Asia as a Twenty-Year-Old Pseudo-Virgin (Bloomsbury USA, $13.95) debuted in bookstores in March, 2007.
We have copies of the book to give away to three lucky Gadling readers! Just leave a comment below and our magical system will automatically select three random winners — but make sure you use a valid email address, as we’ll have to contact you to get your mailing address. For official rules, please click here. Comments and contest will close one week from today, May 23 at 8:00 PM.