The Travel

Saturday, November 30, 1996

Flying west. Somewhere over the Pacific. On our way to Narita Airport in Tokyo. Where it’s crowded and dirty and smokey, I hear. We arrived at Sea-Tac at 10:30 this morning. With 20 bags of luggage.

Now we’re at the top of the world. Leaving the western coast of Alaska with it’s ice cliffs and huge sheets of ice and winding frozen rivers and long afternoon shadows. I wonder what time it is down there. The shadows aren’t much help; that’s probably as high as the sun gets. Besides, it’s about to become 24 hours later anyway.

Sunday, December 1, 1996

It became December 1st somewhere over the Bering Sea. The flight to Tokyo was comfortable. We each had a whole row to ourselves. The sun was setting when we arrived in Japan. The Japanese countryside is a composite of geometrically precise neighborhoods, rice paddies, forests and golf courses. I found myself wondering if the servicemen who dropped the atomic bombs on this country saw the same sights as I was seeing. Or did they see only a target.

Narita Airport was much less crowded and dirty than we had been expecting. We rested in a noodle bar until it was time to board the plane to Thailand.

The flight to Bangkok was very full. We were packed like sardines but we all managed to sleep pretty well. After the 10 hour flight to Tokyo, the 6 1/2 hour flight to Bangkok didn’t seem very long. We flew from 35 degrees latitude to 15 degrees, and when we got off of the plane, it was 80 degrees and extremely humid.

Alf and Jean met us at the hotel and we had some ginger ales and french fries before looking at our beautiful uniforms and going to sleep. It was 1:00 a.m. here, but only 10:00 a.m. in Seattle.

Monday, December 2, 1996

Marya and I woke up at about 7:30 a.m. and spent a couple of hours looking out the hotel window marveling at the palm trees and the people riding to work on little motorcycles through narrow alleys and the shacks built on a small river running through the neighborhood with the laundry drying on clotheslines.

We all ventured into Bangkok at about noon, via the new freeway that’s been in construction for several years. From the Shangri-La Hotel we took a little boat up the Chao Phraya River. Our boat driver was a Thai woman with a very cooperative 2 or 3 year old daughter.

The River is dirty and brown and faintly malodorous. We sputtered past a series of hotels and shacks, Naval facilities and vegetable markets, heavy equipment and greenery, warehouses and Buddhist temples. Bangkok appears to know no zoning.

The look and smell of the river sure didn’t stop some young kids in bathing suits from jumping off of a big crane into the water, splashing and giggling and waving at our boat. A woman in a boat full of soft drinks, coconuts and fresh bread pulled up alongside our boat and tried to sell us something but we weren’t very cooperative.

We stopped at the Wat Arun temple (Temple of the Dawn). for a brief visit. Jean explained that in Buddhism, the head is considered holy and the feet are considered dirty. So you walk into the temple with your feet behind you. I was glad that the little monk was too busy talking with his buddy to look at us, because I couldn’t figure out how to do that exactly. The little Buddhist temple contained a mixture of the very crass and the very pious, from tacky fortune-telling slot machines to beautiful Buddha statues.

After our journey I was feeling a little nauseous, and Alf and Jean were feeling hungry, so we ate a relaxing lunch at the Shangri-La while Annie, Christy, Patty, Marya, Chris and Cameron went shopping. When they returned, Jean and I walked around the streets a bit and did some shopping.

The streets are crowded and dirty and the traffic is somewhat threatening but the smells of the city and the faces of the people are a delight to the senses. We passed several children of all ages in school uniforms. The Thai people are very attractive. It’s hard to believe, when seeing the school children and the office workers bustling through downtown that there are over a million prostitutes in this city and that families in the north sell their teenage daughters into prostitution regularly in order to supplement their family income. But that’s a different story. I hope we find time to visit Patpong Road on our return trip.

We were a tired bunch at night. We had dinner at the hotel and all turned in early.

Tuesday, December 3, 1996

Marya and I have to go get passport photos this morning unless we want to get sent back to Bangkok from Nepal. We found a little shop across from the elementary school next to the hotel. The school was beautiful. A manicured courtyard and garden; children wearing different colored uniforms, playing and singing. I wish we had time to go look at it closer.

Our plane was scheduled to leave for Kathmandu at 3:10, so we all (and our 20 bags of luggage) went to the check-in area at noon, and this is where we stayed for the next 6 hours.

It really wasn’t a bad wait. The floor was clean, there was a bar close by, as well as a Pizza Hut and a Burger King. And as I came to discover when traveling with the Ericksons: As long as there is beer, ginger ale, ashtrays and french fries, everyone is happy.

The only stressful time during the wait was when we realized that we had been steered into a line that wasn’t a line and were treated quite rudely by from some young snotty women from some obscure country. Things were looking gloomy for us until Alf explained to the First Class check-in people that we were a polo team on our way to compete in a world-class tournament. They checked us right through, an hour ahead of the snotty women from an obscure country. That made us happy.

We met some of our fellow polo players at the gate. James Rawbone-Viljoen from South Africa introduced himself and made me nervous when he said that he and Peter Prentice had been practicing for the match for several days. I was relieved to hear that they had just been practicing their wrist action. We also met some of the ladies from the Canadian Z Team. Actually, it was “Z Team.” Nice folks. Nepal was getting closer.

The flight to Kathmandu was fairly uneventful, except for dinner on Nepal Airlines. Words do not describe this meal. I can’t even try. I have no antacids handy. The flight attendants were awfully wonderful, though. As was the tea. It was chilly in Kathmandu - a refreshing change from the humidity of Bangkok.

We were “greeted” at the airport by a dozen or so very helpful young men wishing to carry our luggage for us. I had to beat them away as they swarmed all over me trying to grab my computer bag. Luckily we were cared for in style by our Tiger Mountain agent, Pravakar Singh. We had a whole bus to ourselves as we rode over to the Yak & Yeti, an absolutely beautiful and famous hotel in Kathmandu.

Friday, December 4, 1996

Our first morning in Kathmandu we made the helicopter trip to the village of Maling, which is described in detail in The School the Alf Built.

After coming back from Maling, everyone went shopping except me. I was too focused on writing about that trip to think about shopping. I sat on Annie’s balcony overlooking the garden and the city for a couple of hours writing about Maling and watching the hotel workers prepare for a gigantic Indian wedding.

The wedding went on all night and it was delightful. I could have listened to the music forever, I think.

The next day we left for Megauli and all order and concept of days left my consciousness.

Saturday, December 5, 1996 through
Wednesday, December 11, 1996

Various accounts of this section of our trip are contained in The Lodge, The Tournament, The Battle for Eighth Place, The Wildlife and The Rogue Elephant.

I didn’t type a word once we got to Tiger Tops.

I had no idea what day we got there, what day we were leaving or what day it was at any moment.

Thursday, December 12, 1996

The days sort of blended together as we made our weary way back to Seattle via Kathmandu and Bangkok. I was in a daze. A calm, happy daze, but a daze nonetheless. I remember sitting on the lawn at the hotel the morning after we returned from Tiger Tops writing a bit, drinking Cappucinos and watching the gardeners meticulously picking up cigarette butts from a big wedding the night before. I also remember hearing some moronic American say “Hey I just realized that the phrase ‘Holy Cow’ has a whole different meaning in this country. Hyuk hyuk hyuk.’” “Geez, what a moron” I muttered into my coffee. I know that it’s unpatriotic to feel such disdain for most of my countrypeople but, hey, I came of age in the late 60’s. I used to patch my jeans with flags. Expatriate me.

We also did some bar hopping in Kathmandu; a rather interesting experience all in all. I remember James Rawbone feeding me my dinner via the airplane fork and Peter Prentice showing me his alternative bathroom and shivering by a fire with Raj and Sunny and sitting on a balcony of some bar at midnight looking at the stars over Kathmandu. Somewhere along the line that night things got a bit too surreal for my little brain to continue to process and I had started thinking about all the Christmas visitation mediations I would be hit with in just a few days, with people lying to me and trying to manipulate me and tugging at me in every direction and the poor kids just wanting to have a happy Christmas and wanting their parents to stop fighting. I remember sitting up there on that balcony for the longest time looking at the stars calculating how long it would take me to pay for my house so I could quit my job and go chasing rainbows and rhinos for the rest of my life. My mood turned morose, to say the least. Somehow I ended up riding in a rickshaw with Randi from the Z Team, driving formation and having rickshaw dogfights with the rig carrying fellow Z Teamers Robin and Catherine all the way back to the Yak & Yeti.

Friday, December 13, 1996

Things got a little stressful at the airport when for a while it looked like Marya was going to spend Christmas in Kathmandu. We were ready for our comfy Bangkok hotel room with its room service, beer and Pay TV.

Saturday, December 14, 1996

We did manage to find some shopping time in Bangkok - I was happy about that and managed to do all of my Christmas shopping in a few short hours. We weren’t really up for Patpong road, given the fact that we had to get up at 3:30 the next day. We did have a wonderful Thai dinner at the hotel before turning in, where I had the opportunity to thank Alf and Jean for the 20 millionth time for this wonderful adventure.

Sunday, December 15, 1996

The flight home was long but painless. I watched more movies than I’ve seen in a year. Well, more adult movies that is. We arrived in Seattle at 7:55 am, exactly 25 minutes after we left Bangkok. I gave up trying to do the math. The customs guy who decided to look through all of my stuff was very excited because he remembered the Screwy Tuskers from last year. I just wanted to go home and there he was calling all of his little customs buddies over to tell them about elephant polo. [groan] Next time I’ll lie about the value of my stuff, that’s for sure.


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