travel – Fair-Ace Memories of Europe 1976

March 1996

Jots from the 20 year reunion party of 4 friends who traveled Europe when they were 18-years-old.

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• Four highschool pals went to Europe in 1976; Rob fell in love on the plane. I was excited; sleeping only 4 of 44 hours on that flight.

• Rob’s uncle rented an orange (“Drifters”) VW van (what else?) with 8-track! In short order Ron crunched it into a parked car. “Don’t worry Ron. We won’t have any more than the usual objections to your driving”, quipped Rob. (Actually, my diary reveals that the main accident-waiting-to-happen was Glaze driving TOO far on the right side of the road.) The driver chooses the tunes; Ozark, Doobies, or Mott the Hoople?

• Holland; Raw Herring mit onions, Potat Frits with Mayonaise, Emannuele 2. The stunning Monique.

• Germany; Munich, Deutches Museum, Dachau, German beer, 10 CC.

• Austria; Vienna, Innsbruck, skiing, and a blonde hitch-hiker from Mad city, Wisconsin.

• Rich; morning horks and vivid dream tales. One even had a title: “The 500 Million Dollar Bet or The Man Who Beat God”

• Italy; Karen (the Tigress) from Bawston at Florian’s Cafe, San Marco Square, Venice. Easter Diner in a rich Italian villa near Verona, the “King Kong” dance and, later the “Sift”. Calzone. Florence!!; Ufuzi, Michaelangelo. Urbino!. Rome; Saint Peter’s was too grandiose to Grok. I rode the city on a rented Vespa wearing ski goggles. Hey! Ron bumps into Mary Forest! Wow! Flaming Arrows to celebrate!

• Greece; the highlight. Corfu, fireflies, Domestika. Wonderful breakfast. The freedom of our own co-ed dorm. Rob Dunn Kirk Wanvic’s solo dance to Kung Foo Fighting. “Jesus, he’s going to be better than Bruce Lee.” The Greek “snake dance” followed. Kirk later showboated his rented motorbike over a bridge.

• The Bazooki bar with stolen Cami; her brother’s finest. Scotch and smashing plates. Surreal.

• Rob and Kim and a slimy sleeping bag …. The “points race”.

• Papa said, “I love everybody from the orange van.” Of course the Greeks loved Ron best. Fishing trips. Free meals. Beware Greeks bearing gifts?

• Ron kissed the ticket-girl Mary Beth good-bye leaving Corfu. A nice touch excepting that she was passed-out drunk.

• Ron declared, “If I don’t get laid before I get to Den Haag, I’ll cut my wang off.”

Ron waxed poetic …

Whether Blonde or Brunette
Whether sink of Bidette
Man it’s all the same to me,
Whether skinny or fat
I’ll be hanging a rat
And baby it’ll be aimed at thee.

• Cut-offs, tanned youth splashing in white breaker waves.

• Athens; Plaka, Acropolis light show, the BEST way to hold hands, souvlaki, Tiger balm. The night we were were wined, dined and feted at the Discotek until 3:00 am?

• Olympia; who won that race, again? Glaze was Adonis for the admiring Greek tourist girls.

• Ask yourself seriously —
is there life after youth?

• Italy; I remember leaving Pompeii. It was the first time in over a month that the four R’s had the van to themselves again. The exhilaration of freedom.

• Glaze and I searched for the “perfect meat”; marble in the famous Carrara pits. A spooky hostel on the Italian Riviera. My first ugly close look at alcoholism — the ex-patriot anarchist philosopher.

• France; Nice, Driving the Grand Prix de Monte Carlo track with Alice Cooper “Under My Wheels”.

• Remember Ron’s French bread baget sandwiches? Fresh tomatoes, mayo, 4 eggs!, with creamy melted butter.

• Best is the naive enthusiasm of youth. I still love to travel, but I no longer promise to write every person I meet.

more poetry

Sunshine

Memories;
Silent fading shadows of what we were
they are our substance
wilting ever
fading never
they always will be there.

Friends;
when we meet again
and search
together
for treasured memories
the sunshine
will still make me cry.

– Ron, Europa (1976)

James Taylor

Long ago a young man sits
and plays his waiting game.
But things are not the same, it seems,
as in such tender dreams.
Slowly passing sailing ships
and Sunday afternoons.
Like people on the moon, I see
are things not meant to be.

Where do those golden rainbows end?
Why is this song I sing so sad?
Dreaming the dreams I’ve dreamed my friend
Loving the love I love to love is just a word I’ve heard
when things are being said.
Stories my poor head has told
cannot stand the cold.
And in between what might have been
and what has come to pass,
a misbegotten guess, alas,
and bits of broken glass.

Where do your golden rainbows end?
Why is the song I sing so sad?
Dreaming the dreams I dream my friend
Loving the love I love to love to love.

Only dreams, it seems;
to hesitate
to pause and think,
to alter fate.

Faces to save,
but more to lose,
a saving grace,
another bruise?

– Rick, ‘76

travelogue – Malaysia

I travelled to Thailand from Singapore overland as quickly as I could. Later I came to regret my rush. Under-rated Malaysia is a much better country for the tourist than Thailand. …

Malaysia mapMalaysia has a superb expressway which runs the length of the peninsula from the Thai border in the north to Johor Bahru in the south. I was impressed with the terrific bus service.

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02I had no interest in stopping in KL which I perhaps wrongly assumed was another polluted Asian megalopolis. But I did glimpse the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers. The architecture was inspired by the Five Pillars of Islam protecting it, I assume, from terrorist attack.

Malaysia is considered a Muslim country but I found it a charmingly pluralist place, including a fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous cultures and customs.

We spent some time talking to a Muslim student, son of the owners of a guest house. What I remember best of what he told me was that his most important class was morality (religion).

I headed directly to Cameron Highlands, in the centre of peninsular Malaysia, a series of hill stations at altitudes between up to 1800m (5904ft). The climate is wonderful here when it is sweltering on the coastal plains.

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Hill stations in Asia have a rural, colonial, relaxed ambiance. Nice.

Attractions include jungle walks, waterfalls, beautiful gardens & plenty of wild flowers.

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Malaysia was my first experience in touring tea plantations. I learned this lesson: wherever tea grows, tourists are happy.

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Tea trees look quite normal unless workers start trimming them to the height of bushes. It is an amazing, labour intensive process.

Some trees are hand picked, some trimmed by scissors and workers even use a simple machine trimmer.

Intensely scenic. Textured trees on steep hillsides, terraced, irrigated steps.
My only other stop was Georgetown, on the island of Penang, off the northwest coast, the oldest British settlement in Malaysia.

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Everyone enjoys Georgetown.

Georgetown is an appealing contrasting hodgepodge of influences. The compact town is a delight to wander. Old Chinese houses, vegetable markets, temple ceremonies, mahjong games.

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I‘ll remember just hanging out, playing my Big Dave McLean cassette at the Sidewalk Blues Café.

Farewell Malaysia, the most pleasant country in Asia.

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travelogue – Singapore

I flew to Singapore unexpectedly much against the advice of backpackers.

Unexpectedly, I quite enjoyed the city state.

Though Singapore is only 100km from the equator, the weather was lovely while I was there.

It’s ultra-modern, ultra-clean and impressive to look at. Many credit former leader Mr. Lee for steering Singapore to juggernaut economic status.

Many blame Lee too for creating a police state. I chewed gum when I was there — a crime in Singapore.

000It’s known to be expensive — but not if you if you stay in Little India & eat on Arab Street. Masala Dosa at famous Komala’s. And the street food at the night markets is the best I’ve ever found.

Raffles Hotel Singapore.

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All the fables of the exotic East.

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Cockatoos

The Russells told me to visit the zoos of Singapore, perhaps the best in the world. The beautifully landscaped Jurong Bird Park expanded my appreciation. I’ve been a closet birder ever since.

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Jurong Bird Park is very well done. Beautiful landscaping.

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At the excellent raptor show, I was first to volunteer. A number of impressive carnivore birds landed on my gloved fist. They pack a surprising wallop.

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Singapore Zoo is best known for its orang-utan enclosure. They are so human, even super-human, that it’s scary.

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Singapore Zoo allows close contact with animals. I spent all day there, following the feeding schedule. A fantastic place.

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I took a break for dinner, then returned to enjoy the zoo at night. You can both walk the enclosures and take a small, slow train.

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Some day all zoos will be like the one in Singapore.

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An important site for me was the Changi Prison memorial, out near Changi airport.

James Clavell’s King Rat, based on his own experiences as a Japanese POW there, is one of my favourite books. It was a pilgrimage for me, inspired by instructions from IB.

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travelogue – Thailand

I was really looking forward to Thailand in 1996, undoubtedly the most exciting destination in Asia, in my mind. It was my first visit.

Great beaches, sexy women, great food, breathtaking natural beauty & ruins of fabulous ancient kingdoms.

Right?

But transport from the airport to the backpacker centre of Khao San Road was insane, one of the least pleasant airport runs in the world. It was an inauspicious start.

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Bangkok is one of most polluted and congested cities in the World.

The climate is great — between November & February. The rest of the year it is either sweltering or flooded.

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Sooner or later, every Asian traveller arrives at Khao San Road.

Khao San Road is one of the three Ks of Asia: Kuta Beach (Bali), Kathmandu and Khao San Road.

I was overwhelmed at first. But later grew to love the scene.

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I met Sin on Khao San Road, a lovely guy & very organized 26-year-old Japanese backpacker who was travelling 50 countries over 3 years. Sin was the first serious traveller I spent time with.

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I was impressed. He definitely influenced my growing love of travel.

Sin’s girlfriend had caught malaria in Africa and was suffering a flare-up in Bangkok. Every second day she needed to lay in bed. Alterrnate days she toured with us, completely healthy.

The Japanese doctors advised her to stay in Bangkok for treatment rather than return home as the doctors here were far more familiar with the disease.

The infamous Tuk Tuk, symbol of Bangkok.

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A louder, smellier, more dangerous mode of transport is hard to picture.

Beware anyone who offers you a free Tuk Tuk ride. There are scams aplenty in the sleazy city.

Khao San Road grew up because it is close to major tourist attractions of Bangkok; the National museum, the Grand Temple & Emerald Buddha, and my favourite, Wat Pho.

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Wat Pho.

The second largest Buddha image in Thailand is housed in this, the oldest and largest wat in Bangkok.

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Built around a brick core and covered with plaster that is finished with gold leaf, the eyes and feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

This Buddha is huge. And the first reclining Buddha I had come across.

Wat Pho is my favourite temple complex because it is alive, full of monks, kids, students, festivals, soccer games, yoga classes & massage tables.

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It houses a bizarre collection of salvaged Buddhas and statuary.

I read more about Thai culture than any other in Asia. Fascinating.

Insects are a popular treat though I passed on the fried scorpion.

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Kids catch huge flying insects with butterfly nets, then roast them over the open fire as snacks.

I first saw a Mantis in Thailand, easily the most impressive insect. (Might be tasty too, I wouldn’t know.)

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I was keen to visit Patpong, the famous Red Light district of Bangkok.

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But by 1996 it had become more tourist attraction than brothel. Families wandered about clicking pictures.

I had a beer in one bar featuring Kick Boxers as entertainment. And I saw the famous clubs where bored topless girls sit behind glass walls watching TV — identifed by felt pen marker like triathletes.

But I left only with fake designer watches. Patpong has become the best night market in town.

Shopping for Buddhas is a popular pastime.

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My strong interest in Buddhism started here in Thailand. I like the philosophy & was struck with the contrast between the tolerant Eastern God symbol of the wet paddies as compared with the harsh, unforgiving God of the desert.

I loved a tour to Ayuthaya, one of the ancient capitals.

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It’s easy to day trip from Khao San Road. Buses and vans roll in day & night.

Wat Pra Sri Samphet in Ayuthaya, Thailand.

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I prefer ruined ruins. They are more evocative of the past than those restored.

The lovely and bizarre Bang Pa-In Palace in Ayuthaya .

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Back in Bangkok, I learned to commute by river taxi. Quick, convenient and scenic. The only way to go.

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Somewhat disappointed with the crush of Bangkok, right up my alley was the lure of a hill tribe trek in the rugged north.

Our guide was Tien, a former kick-boxer who had travelled in France, fought the Lao in the army, worked for the mafia, & shot tiger with a head torch.

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He led us on a three-day trek in Doi Inthanon National Park; Meo country.

We had a good group, all pleased to be getting out into the jungle. This is a very popular tour — over a million take it every year!

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The raft trip is a blast. We floated and poled our way through jungle for several hours.

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After sleeping in an authentic Karen village, the big highlight was an elephant ride.

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Later I travelled to South Thailand and visited a butterfly enclosure. Wonderful.

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I’ve taken every opportunity to commune with flutterbys ever since.

I made every effort to avoid it but still somehow found myself in sleazy Phuket, haunt of European sex tourists.

Actually I quite enjoyed a day trip from there to James Bond Island, one of the striking limestone formation typical to this part of the world. We stopped at a Cashew factory & a unique Muslim fisher village on stilts. Sea food dinner was great.

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In 1996 the next big thing in Thailand was Ko Tao, a comparatively unvisited and undeveloped island known only to scuba freaks.

I love snorkelling so it immediately became my destination.

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Wow. Ko Tao.

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The Koh Nangyuan Dive Resort is paradise — the triple bay layout of the island means good snorkelling regardless of weather.

I floated many wonderful hours here.

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On a whim I decided to kayak around Ko Tao, a trip which took me about 8 hours.

Unfortunately I got sunburned, so badly so that I felt I should seek medical attention in civilized Singapore.

Farewell Thailand.

I would return many times.

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Last word: Thailand is often noted for the warmth of the people. I had the opposite experience. I found the Thai cold and aloof, perhaps sick of tourists. The folks in Cambodia, Lao and Myanmar are much happier & more patient with us.

 

 

 

photos – Hong Kong

I consider Hong Kong my home away from home in Asia. I could live there.

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In 1996 jets still landed at the infamous Kai-Tak Airport (closed July 1998). This approach over densely populated apartment buildings was scary spectacular!

I was forewarned of the high cost of travel to Hong Kong. Backpackers held the city state as a place best missed.

Wrong. I loved Hong Kong instantly and found it quite affordable for the careful penny pincher. This was the first of many trips here.

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A typical scene in the tourist ghetto of Tsim Sha Tsui, at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula. Shops, restaurants, pubs, topless bars and camera stores.

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Kowloon is also home to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, the Space Museum, the famous Peninsula Hotel and the Museum of History.

The Promenade, in East Tsim Sha Tsui, is a great place for a stroll, and has wonderful views of Victoria Harbour, particularly at night. The liveliest night market in the territory is on Temple St in Yau Ma Tei.

06I stayed first at the infamous Chung King Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui.

I ended up on a top bunk bed with a window looking down 45 floors. What if there was a fire? An earthquake?

It’s amazing these buildings have not been torn down.

I made every excuse I could to hop on the Star Ferry, an inexpensive commute across Hong Kong harbour.

East meets West here. It was the confluences and contradictions which most attracted me.

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The public transportation system is terrific. It is easy to get anywhere quickly.

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I made the manditory tourist pilgrimage up the cable car to Victoria Peak. 552m (1810ft)

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The vista is amazing.

My second night in Hong Kong I moved to Mt. Davis Hostel, high up on Hong Kong island with a harbour view. What a discovery! It became my hostel-away-from-home in Asia on many future trips.

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At the hostel the talk was much focused on the hand-over from the British to the Chinese which was to happen a year later in 1997. Many residents were nervous. Affluent Chinese families bought homes in Vancouver and Sydney … just in case.