Saturday, May 31, 2008

Singapore will survive -Singapore 1986

Most of 1986 was spent in Singapore, except for some short trips to India and Malaysia. Those were mere blips on the travel radar. I don't think I can categorize Singapore as a 'travel story'- because Singapore is home. Maybe it would be better to
classify it as a trip down memory lane.

The stairs in this postcard (courtesy of Singapore Tourist Promotion Board) remind me of my growing up. The mystery of where the stairs would lead. The realization of countless adventures once the stairs were taken.

Singapore has many titles or names. "Pearl of the Orient," "Gateway to Southeast Asia," "Lion City," "The Fine City" and "The Garden City." I'm sure the list could go on and on. Many names for such a small island. This small island proved itself to be a giant of sorts, pulling itself up in the 1960's from post-colonialism to a nation to be reckoned with today. A mighty feat furthered emphasized by the sheer amount of odds which were against the tiny new nation. No natural resources except people, even the water comes in from neighbors. Amazingly enough, Singapore has proved to be a significant actor on the world stage.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Guest Traveler Story - Mercy Mercy

Guest Traveler: Max Griffin*

I arrived via train from Ramstein AFB in Germany where I had been teaching a course in statistics. I felt a bit intimidated since I speak no French. So worried was I, that I had memorized the phrase "I have a reservation" for use when I checked in at my hotel. The desk clerk responded at once in English without batting an eye. In fact, I found everyone I met in France to be delightful and more than happy to speak in English -- perhaps because I at least made the effort to initially attempt to communicate in French using a phrase book.

Now to my story. I checked in to my hotel in the early afternoon and was most eager to begin sight-seeing. It was a short walk -- perhaps a mile -- from my hotel to the Louvre. I memorized the route on my map and found my way with no problem at all. I even passed by the residence of Blaise Pascal, the famous 18th century mathematician.

As I walked along the Seine, enjoying the sights of this marvelous city, I happened to pass a Metro stop. I paused for a cafe au lait and people watched for a bit; I found it amazing that I could spot nationalities by their walk. In fact, the cowboy swagger of Americans was the most distinctive.

Finishing my coffee, I strolled on toward the Louvre, now feeling somewhat conspicuous with my typical American gait. About two blocks from the Louvre entrance, I heard a voice behind me, in a most distinctive Bronx accent, "Excuse me! Excuse me, sir!"

I turned and saw two ladies staring right at me, holding guidebooks in one hand. I pointed to myself and raised my eyebrows and their faces broke into ingratiating smiles. "Do you speak English, sir?"

"Why, yes, I do," I responded, giving them my best Iowa farm boy smile.

I saw relief wash across their faces. "Oh, thank heavens," one exclaimed. "Can you tell us where to find the Metro?" She spoke with a precise and loud intonation, as if volume would improve my comprehension.

Having just seen the Metro stop, I replied, "It's just two blocks down this street." I pointed the way and continued, "You can't miss it."

"Mercy, Mercy!" one exclaimed.

I beamed and nodded to them. "Glad to be of service, madam," said I. It began to dawn on me that these two ladies thought I was a native of this fair city and "mercy" was really "merci." I guessed that my American gait made me seem somehow more approachable than those with the German shuffle or the French prance.

"You speak such good English," exclaimed the lady with the most pronounced Bronx accent. I could barely understand her. "How did you ever learn to speak it so good?"

I beamed at her. "I went to school in Iowa, madam."

She looked blank for a moment, no doubt thinking Iowa was that place where they raise all those potatoes. "Ah, you must have been an exchange student! Well, thank you very much, mon-sewer." The two toddled off to the Metro and I proceeded to the Louvre, having done my good deed for the day.

No doubt the two returned to New York to regale their friends with a tale of the nice French exchange student they met in Paris who learned such good English in Iowa while eating potatoes. At least, I hope so.

*If you are interested in reading more of Max Griffin's work, please go to:


I believe everyone has a travel story to tell. It might just be a story about a trip to a nearby lake, or it might be a story about a trip to Timbuktu; nonetheless, it is a story which needs to be told. With this premise in mind, I will be inserting guest traveler stories along with my travel stories. These guest travelers might be friends or they might just be people I meet on the street. No matter who they are, I know the stories will be both enlightening and entertaining.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

India and beyond-1985

Taj Mahal
The trip was over and life had to go on. I returned to India. After six weeks of traveling through various countries, it was nice to be back in a familiar place. I took time to stroll up and down Janpath.

Mango shakes made in a blender right there on the side of the road...who was thinking of germs? Not me! A nice samosa or two from the corner shop and then a flat plate with a huge dosa draped across it. Food was only a small part of India I was going to miss when I left.

With my bags packed, I boarded the plane to leave. I thought I might return in the future to India, but except for a brief 10 day visit in 1986, I never did return. I left India, but India never left my heart.

The view from my bedroom window in Nepal
I went to Nepal shortly after India. I only stayed for four months. During my stay I taught English at the Tribhuvan University. My little motorcycle puttered through the streets and alleyways of Kathmandu.

If and when the motorcycle was not working, I would take a taxi into town. A leisurely stroll into Boudha to hire a taxi and off I went.

Four months whizzed by and before I knew it the time came to bid Nepal a fond farewell - at least for a little while.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Now What?-1985

Cheers erupted as we pulled out into the streets of England. We had arrived! I'm not sure when it hit us: the realization this was the end of the line. After all, wasn't this what we had been pushing towards for six weeks? Our entire goal was to arrive in England; now we were there, why did we feel muddled? We felt all, "Now what?"

London's dreary weather matched our inner emotions. Gone were the adventures. No more strange characters cheerfully waving at us from the side of the road. No more camp sites to locate before sun down. Only memories were left to be folded up carefully and tucked away for future perusal.

Within a few days I was boarding an airplane bound for Asia. I had new adventures to create and new memories to make. My life's journey was far from over.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Calais to Dover- 1985

France was just another stepping stone to get to our destination. We situated ourselves on a ferry which ran from Calais to Dover. All we wanted to do was to get to the other side. I don't think I bothered to look out at the water or to gaze back at France.

Clearing the English customs proved to be a tedious process. The custom's personnel looked at our passports and immediately 'drugs' must have come to mind. We had traveled through countries which were known for such things. I'm sure our appearance didn't help; traveling in the wee Morris didn't do much for our attire. We were asked to step out of the car while it was examined throughly. Mirrors on long poles checked out the undercarriage. All the tires were tapped as was the sides of the car. We waited impatiently as the inspection went on, what a relief when we were told we could get back in the car. Off we drove towards our final destination: London.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

parlez vous francais? -1985

Not long after we entered France the sun slid down across the sky and we knew it was time to find a place to pitch our tent. As we circled a corner we saw a lovely meadow sprawled out in front of us. We found a spot hidden from the road; the tent went up easily and we started preparing dinner. A gurgling sound nearby turned out to be a brook running through the meadow. After dinner we sat next to the brook drinking tea and watching the wind play with the flowers. Some cows in a field just beyond us made some polite conversation with each other. If the word 'bliss' could be put into a package and marketed it would resemble this scene.

The rest of our time in France was not as restful. We sped towards Paris where we met up with Stephen's sister, Alison. She was studying in Paris and we bunked with her for a few nights while we took in the sights. Of course we had to go up the Eiffel Tower. I'm not sure why we walked up most of the way, but we did. Unfortunately, Alison stumbled on the way up and injured her knee. She was supposed to be in an orienteering competition the next day but her injury prevented her from participating. Despite the fall, we all enjoyed ourself on top of the Eiffel Tower. We flew paper airplanes down and watched them circle around in flight.

Not being able to speak French was a big hindrance. Note to self: Learn French before going back to France!

What are my favorite memories of the time in France? road side cafes, cute odd shaped cars, and the lovely architecture. The hostel Alison stayed in was a former hotel built 100's of years before. The walls, the windows, and the doors vied to get my attention. They were telling me stories of what once had been. If only I had stopped long enough to listen, I may have written a novel.

Friday, May 23, 2008

zoom zoom zoom-1985

Fast cars, vivacious people and beautiful scenery made up what we saw of Italy. Everyone drove as if they were in a car race. The people dressed like they were going for a fashion show. As for the scenery, I couldn't get enough of it.

We did not take the big motorways. Our decision was once again based on limited finances. We chose the side streets and roads. I think we chose the better path. The side roads gave us a more realistic view of Italy.

The wee Morris found its way to the Mont Blanc Tunnel. It would have been nice to go up into Switzerland, but the little Morris huffed and puffed enough as it was. We decided to go through the tunnel. Bidding 'arrivederci' to Italy- and 'bonjour' to France we were well on our way to reaching our destination.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Square-1985

Venice was the first Italian city we stopped at. We actually stayed outside of Venice in a roadside camping ground. The price we paid included use of the showers, a place to pitch the tent and an area to wash clothes. In the morning we drove closer to Venice.

How fascinating to be in a city where your only means of transport is either by boat or by foot. St. Mark's Square, how do I describe it? How can I bottle up the sensations which washed over me as I stood in the middle of the square? I didn't want to do anything except lean against a wall absorbing everything around me....the laughter...the life...Everyone so exuberant. People marching across the square in a hurry to go no where. Others lingering by the columns chatting, laughing and enjoying life. Where did so many beautiful people come from? These were not necessarily beautiful people in the sense of their facial features; these were beautiful people because of how they carried themselves.

Closing my eyes I allowed the voices to flow over me. The sounds mingling together to create a wonderful symphony. I didn't want to move. Unfortunately in life, we can't just stay in one place no matter how wonderful it is. There was sights to be seen, stores to shop at, bridges to cross and alleyways to explore. There would be no Gondola ride, as it was not in the budget. A lovely pair of Italian shoes managed to 'make it' in the budget. Budgets are funny that way; they dissolve when necessary.

My dreams were invaded by thoughts of Venice for weeks afterwards.

Monday, May 12, 2008

skinny houses- 1985

Yugoslavia had skinny houses. They fascinated me. I was wondering how people fit into the thin houses...all lined up in a neat row. What should have astounded me was the fact I drove through history in a united Yugoslavia.

One of the unique experiences while driving through the nation was trying to buy eggs. How do you buy an egg when you don't know how to say it and you can't see it anywhere so you can point to it? The answer is: you use alot of body language and noises. We cluck like a chicken and acted like we were laying eggs, we waved our 'wings' up and down, and we formed our hands in a cupped fashion to signify an egg. We would not have won any prizes in charades and as a result we never got the eggs we so desired.

We saw a magnificent waterfall.

The campsites proved to be both challenging and beautiful. One particular site was nestled amongst some trees. The next morning we woke up to the sound of chainsaws cutting trees down. We peered out of the tent only to see some men heading over to us. They politely told us to leave the vicinity as soon as possible-- unless of course we wanted a tree to fall on us. Oh my!

Yugoslavia presented herself in all her beauty and she captivated us. Although we would have loved to linger a bit longer to find out more about her, we knew our journey must go on....and we crossed over into Italy.

Bashes in Bulgaria-1985

Lazy atmosphere. The whole way through we saw people sleeping at the sides of the road. It was like everyone worked in slow motion. These were not just a select few, but the majority of those we passed by were in this stupor. It gave us some food for thought.

We stopped to buy bread. It fascinated us to find the bread was round. I remember the bread well because of what happened after we purchased it. The wee Morris was bouncing along on the wrong side of the road-- it was necessary because all of Bulgaria was driving on the wrong side, the poor Morris was built to drive down British roads and thus the steering wheel was placed in a position suitable for the correct driving position. Unfortunately trying to pass vehicles became a challenge-- remember you have to pass on the left and yet you are sitting over on the right side driving.

I'm not sure exactly how it happened-- seems like we were pulling out to pass a truck-- or we were just driving along-- who knows. What I do know is the big truck slammed into the wee Morris. Crunch!! All the glorious body work which had been accomplished in New Delhi crumbled before our eyes. Stephen's heart broke. The belligerent truck driver jumped out to start a fight. It was his fault but he wasn't going to admit it. The whole thing looked like it would escalate into something very sticky with police arriving demanding our passports. Thankfully, we were able to calm everyone down and we squeezed back into the Morris....driving in silence....heavy silence for miles.

We were somewhere over Sofia when we found a campsite to stop for the night. The tension in the air was heavy. Then it was time to eat our bread.

"Where is the bread we bought?"

"Uhm, I think it was in the back seat of the car."

I rummaged around looking for it only to find a very flat item which resembled what used to be the nice round bread we bought earlier. I had been the one who was sitting in the back seat; after the crash, I accidentally sat on the bread. Sheepishly I took the bread disc and shoved it into Stephen's hands.

"Uh....I think this is the bread...or was..."

All three of us stared at the bread and I can't remember who started laughing but soon all of us were laughing. We laughed and laughed until tears streamed down our faces. It was like a great release.

I can't see round bread today without remembering Bulgaria with a smile.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

present day ponderings- 2008

Where does time go? One minute you are holding this tiny baby in your arms. She can't do anything without you. You blink and the next minute she is turning 18! sigh.

She has grown up into a wonderful young lady. I'm thankful for this. She has dreams of becoming a surgical nurse. She studies hard. She plans to go to Nepal this summer. I can't even fathom where this young woman came from. She is and has always been a blessing.

Now she follows her elder brother and sister out into the world. I know she will make her mark there. She has already chipped away at my heart, sculpting her unforgettable image for me to hold onto forever.

Where do I begin?

(written on March 28th 2018) For someone with so many words...words that just tumble out even when they are not wanted...words that jump h...