Chapter 9 - Blue Eyed in China

Chapter 9 - Blue Eyed in China

Postby Tom Jeffries » Mon May 06, 2013 7:45 am

I wanted to step off the Mexico leg, after a run in with the Policia. Matter of fat I had a few scrapes with the law and I did absolutely nothing illegal – except being terminally stupid.

In Zihuatanejo – you are the main highway on Mexico’s West Coast –is the continuation of 95 in California and runs eventually, through British Columbia, all the way to Alaska and south to Chile.

(*Those American War Engineers, literally moved mountains, during WWW2, to be able to cross the Continent, North/south and vice versa).

Zihua, as we leaned to call Zihuatanejo, is about 150 K north of Acapulco. (*A City that I found to be like a set from a Bogart Movie – right down to the kids signing for pesos on “La Condesa”, at night.

It is where I found out – FOR SURE – that Tequila was not going to be part of my life again. It had been a place where I had found myself sitting in a Hotel room, alone – waiting on friends, Stephanie and her husband to come to Zihua for a few days. She has been my co-host on CJCH in Halifax, and her husband, Sean is a Doctor now….and smarter than a whip. Nicer people, you will never meet. Steph and I worked together for two years and we became fast friends from the first shift. Very vivacious, attractive and a great advertisement for the delight that are Nova Scotia ladies – Stephanie had decided that she and Sean should find out what I had been writing them about.

I flew down to Acapulco and then we flew back on a, (GULP) DC-3 that an amigo was trying to turn into a commuter line! (Proudly made in Springfield, in 1951)

I lived in a Pension on Playa Madera called ‘Bungalows Alec’. Believe me it was no Marriott – but serviceable with a killer view of the bay. I was stupid – because this was where Jo Ann and I had stayed the previous year. Had Steph and Sean, next door.

After they left – I hooked up with a neat cat from the UK, Toby Swann and we decided to ‘hit the road’ in his combi – all I had to do was chip in gasoline money.

Puerto Escondido was a town trying to become a big time tourist destination. I had been there the season before and fell in love with the Beaches and the Sante Fe Hotel.

We went from from Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca, City and back – in a VW bus. I was NOT driving. Toby was the acerbic, Brit lead singer of “The Wives”, and along for the ride was his inamorata, Soozie .

It was the Main Highway and then a hard left at Puerto Angel and then up into the stem-winding highway, that tales you high into an Atimirano – like a mini bowl of Mexico. Oaxaca City is about 1600 meters above sea level.

Through jungle at first with a few PEMEX gas stations and Small huts whizzing by the open back panel of the Combi.

It was stifling, and the only way to keep from turning into one of Colonel Sanders finest.

The City of Oaxaca is a Colonial marvel. It included the side benefit of the ruins at Monte Alban – where I had an eerie and rather profound spiritual revelation.
Yes, I know. I can hear you groan and slam the computer case shut – but before you do – let me tell you, dear eyes, that Monte Alban is HEAVY DUTY – I’ll get WIKIPDEDIA to give you some details
[Monte Albán is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán Municipality in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca (17.043° N, 96.767°W). The site is located on a low mountainous range rising above the plain in the central section of the Valley of Oaxaca where the latter's northern Etla, eastern Tlacolula, and southern Zimatlán & Ocotlán (or Valle Grande) branches meet. The present-day state capital Oaxaca City is located approximately 9 km (6 mi) east of Monte Albán].

As I stood and gazed across the mythical “Ball Yard” a courtly gentleman presented himself to me, seemingly out of nowhere. (*I was dead sober, ok? LOL).

He smiled and said “welcome home” – in English.

I was floored. I looked at this small attractive, dark gent in his huaraches and Mexico Tee-shirt and then I looked again, out over the ball field that is the centerpiece of this magnificent place. In a trice I started to hear people yelling and I swore I saw a pack of naked men running below me…. across the wide sandy alley – heading for the hoop at the other end. The smells and a salty taste in my mouth shocked me. I was there. It was Monte Alban as it was, and then I heard the voice. It was the man standing peacefully next to me. “Your choice is immortality, or poisoning yourself to death. You know that your brothers will miss you, if you pick the wrong path”.

That was something that laid me flat out on my psychic ass.
In a nonce he was gone. That’s how it happened..

I was drinking every day. I was not sober by three PM and would knock myself off with Halcion at night

As we blasted around the lovely Colonial Cities Mercado and Zocalo -Toby was busy with his babe – but we managed a trip to Arasola – where bizarre other worldly wooden figures sell for thousands of dollars – from this wee small shack, home of the maestro and his family. I will never forget the gaggle of buses and vehicles in its crowded courtyard. I bought three of them and they were cheapies, like $75 bucks a piece for a reindeer like beasts and a few turtles. The whole place was spooky.

We wound up camping one night with native folks that sold Mescal. I forget how we dumped the hotel in the Zocalo – and wound up with an American woman and her Mexican paramour, at a ranchero, about 45 miles outside of the City. Sleeping on the ground, looking up at the stars after 5 Mescal shots, is something I won’t even bother to describe.

I was a drunk and also, I confess, smoked cigarettes, until 1986, and then chipped FINALLY stopped permanently I think in 1991.

I smoked Bob Marley and I was very prone to bouts of stimulants. I do not mean coke.
I made a lot of bad choices - and they never let you off with anything.

I was driving back with Toby, past Huatulco and Puerto Angel and it came crashing down on me, that I was now alone and probably not going to have much of a real life, from now on. I had been spoiled. Gail had provided me a sanctuary and a home. Damn fine woman, but we were poorly matched.

I won’t go over Ramsey again, but, things would get a lot better in that department – that * for another day.

Oaxaca is a beautiful and rather heavy-duty place. The cops run the show, or they did then. We got stopped at a checkpoint. This is a formality – the Federales want to see your Carta (Your Entry and Exit VISA – mui importante, or else, fuego - and the Passport. It is also a subtle shake down. You learn from instance one, that you never say a word and act really stupid and you don’t understand what he is asking - if el Commandante makes a comment about the Rolex. (Tell me you won’t wear it when you go, if you do). I never wore a watch.

The cops and the drivers –Toby handled it with skill and verve. He was a burly gent and a very good singer. His gal pal was much younger and I liked her. We all drank, but I was at the pitch of a Mitsubishi – heading into an Aircraft Carrier. I was to the point that I could NOT, not drink. The threshold had been crossed. I was an alcoholic and now medically heading for a grizzly end, or a physical crack up.

I left Mexico and came back to Vancouver, as I mentioned before. It was still a year, no, two years until got lucky.

My friend and ex roomie from Prince George days was Kirk Wilson, aka DJ Rick Shannon. He had done well - working his way up to being CJAZ’s first morning man., So – another brother. At this time, he was very close and like Phil Mackesy – had always been a cool – caring friend. The promise was that I would take Kirk to Thailand on my dime – if he would play tour guide. He had been to Asia with his girlfriend and he saw places, I wanted to see. Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong…. etc.

We left for Hong Kong, after we got our Visas. I had returned home to Vancouver a sick puppy – a duty free bottle of tequila in the bag. Phil Mackesy was kind enough to pick me up at the airport. It was the start if of a night that nearly killed me. That is the usual result of drinking huge amounts of booze on an empty stomach. Add in the feeling of jet lagged, alcoholic system is five alarm. When you are into it – the whole thing is really a blur and you lie like a son of a bitch about how much you are consuming. You lie to yourself, that it is normal to throw up every morning. I was still saying and doing stupid things…I was smoking weed. Thank GOD I never liked coke. When Kirk and I left for Asia, the poor bastard didn’t know how fucked up I was.

Phil had a feeling I was making a mistake. I could feel him just about tell me, few times. Kirk had not been working much and his Passport had three months on it, he’d neglected to rectify the situation. To be fair I barely gave him any warning that I was serious about Asia.
We left on Cathay Pacific, from YVR and I had a kid kick my chair, all the way to Hong Kong. This was when they were still landing at Kai Tak Airport (built by Canadian forced labor, during the Japanese occupation, BTW( The airport approach was literally between high rises. You could look out and see what people were eating for dinner). You leave in the afternoon, Vancouver time, and the flight is so long that you have two brekkies – two lunch breaks and two dinners. Then you arrive a day ahead, in the evening, and the body goes, huh>? Even at forty. I drank lightly on the plane and was on my best behavior. We hit the fabulous YMCA in Kowloon, and decided that would be our cheap accommodations. We walked some of the area and the next day took the ferry over to Hong Kong and wandered around “Central”. I had always dreamed f taking the Hong Kong Ferry – ever since I saw Robert Mitchum do it, in some movie. I loved Hong Kong and was shocked at how horrid some of Kowloon was. Right out a Dickens novel, Kirk showed me both sides of the coin.
Then we were off to Singapore. Interesting City. We stayed in shabby quarters near the Bugis Street Market. I loved the place – as my body had become used to a humid, hot climate, from my time in Mexico.
We then proceeded on “one of those Bus rides”. Heading across the Land bridge, through Johore Bahru – on the way to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. The bus was built just after the Civil War. We were packed into the machine, with seats built for the midgets from “The Wizard of Oz”. Kirk and I got the last row. I was sitting over the transmission. Did I mention it was about 35 degrees? Consider this -100% humidity, NO AIR CONDITIONG on the bus = a real dandy experience.

We loped along, with stops in Ipoh and other dreary towns. The Rubber plantations were fascinating for the first hour out of Ipoh, but it sure was a steam bath. People were singularly nice to us, all over Asia. I am always pleasantly surprised, how far a smile and friendly body language can take you. I didn’t speak Malay. The kids were a delight. They found it kind of funny to have two Farangs (Thai word for Foreigner), on the bus…and both of us had blue eyes. That was a big deal in parts of Asia I visited.
The trip ended, and we decided to get a decent hotel – and rest. I was paying the weight. I didn’t mind, because I told Kirk I would handle it, but it was becoming apparent, that wasn’t the smartest move. Must have made Kirk feel second class – which would not be the case and also, I realized that by the time we hit Thailand, we were really burning through my stack of traveller’s checks (remember them?), was getting down there. I had 10 K to start…but it goes, believe me.
KL was unimpressive, but I did break down and have a hamburger, at of all places, Burger King and thinking nostalgically of food I could eat.

That was a problem in Asia. Food. My stomach had been given a real, pardon the pun, run, when I lived in Mexico and I was leery of getting Hep or something nasty. Washing hands is mandatory, anyway.
So I ate carefully and shed some pounds. I am over six feet and I was about 180. At my heaviest, I was over 220, for a brief time. Effexor and a booze habit will do that to you.

After KL, we got on another bus and headed for Georgetown, to take the Ferry to the Island of Penang. In 1989, this Island had already started to become populated with large International’s factories. GE and Rayethon had huge tracts. We stayed in Georgetown.

This Island has become a huge success and bounty for the Malaysian people. It is very livable, and although being Muslim, the City, at least at that time, was very peaceful – and we, as Christians, and from the other side of the world drew polite curiosity and a welcoming spirit.
I got my first and last rickshaw ride from the bus station to the flea bag Hotel. The poor porter had two large North Americans – and he just abut had a hernia. I tipped him well.

The Creepy Hotel was run by a fly swatting Chinese gent. The room was small and very cheap. The Mozzie curtains (necessity) were full of holes. It was also, (as we found out to our audio horror, next to a Mosque).
The call for prayers starts reaaaaaly early. It was not what you would call the ‘Hilton’. We wandered through the old Fort, and the town looked like a set right out of “Pirates of The Caribbean” – Asian style. Junks in the harbor - but a modern and bustling part too. It has become, as eluded to earlier, a big time place.

We flew to Phuket Thailand, to begin our trek to Koh Phi Phi (it was one of the little islands that was swamped in the 2004, Tsunami).

Phuket. Interesting place. Bustling. Phuket is quite a jumble. – Chock full of gold shops, and tourists from every corner of the globe, all fargling about this crazy Town. I loved it and yet, I was starting to realize that I had been living in fleabag hotels and living on rice and fruit, to save my touchy stomach and it was starting to get old. That was a warning sign I should have paid more attention too. Booze is expensive in the Kingdom, and the Country reveres the Royal Family. I liked that. The first time I ever saw elephants and their mahout, walking on a street where I lived. The Hotel was yet another colonial age dump – that was at least clean and there were a ton of people that has said, in our Frommers’s that is was good value.

Two days in Phuket and we then decided to head to Ao Nai Harn, where Kirk had stayed before. The cabins,were just awful. The place was run down, but Kirk had so many memories. I decided to shut up and carry on.

At night you could see the banks of lights on the shrimp boats. During the blistering day, we tried swimming, but the jellyfish were out. Wow, this was a real drag. It was way too hot to lie in the sun, unless you were a blonde European. We would be shocked to see beet red Germans, frolicking on the beach. Melanoma City, BABY!

I was always careful – wore a hat, but my sun glasses were lost in Mexico, so I would have my regular specs and clip ons. They were terrible, and my eyes paid the price.

We would have to take a local jitney back to Phuket City, and we would see the Saffron robed priest and the temples and I was always confused, because there are NO SIGNS in English. It is all Thai – and the cryptic scrip made no sense to my dense mind.

After a few more nights in Phuket, we got on a crammed to the gunnels boat and headed for Koh Phi Phi.

The trip from the Phuket docks to the small Koh (Island), was about three hours, give or take. The darn boat was so jammed – that we had about 5 inches of freeboard on the stern. If the Coast Guard had seen this operator, he would have been arrested. I spent a lot of my life on deep water, and I treat it as a harsh mistress.

I keep alert and I am respectful. This whole way to the Island, I was just sweating, and I told Kirk to keep an eye on me – and if I tell him to get off, we jump. I was wearing a life vest and not ashamed to say I was nervous.

We made it to the small Island and I was greeted with a bustling little tourist trade, with small shops and restaurants and bars (of course) and a main “drag” that connected with paths to the other side of the island and more touristy places and Inns.
You could walk from the landing dock, and across the small isthmus and there was one of the most post card beaches in the world. It was right out of the movies.
We stayed in huts, run by a young guy – dressed his sarong and with his wife and three babies. A shower was hose and an open circle surrounded by a tarp. It made me wonder, when I noticed that when people showered, the owner made sure that the kids were nowhere near the shower.
I wonder where the water source was? A well?

The huts were terrible and we had to literally run a gauntlet to get out of this hodge podge of huts, to get to the shops and restaurants.

The coco palms, were so dry – they were dropping their fully grown nuts from about 30 feet – “POW”.

I could hear them land at night, just about anytime, and they must have weighed ten pounds. I hoped that one wouldn’t hit my thatch-roofed hut.
One of those babies landing on your head would mean all kinds of fun. I asked the owner about the “terror of the palms” and he said, “ If you are a good person, you have nothing to worry about”.

Where’s my helmet, when I needed it?

Kirk and I were getting testy with each other. He was a moody guy and I am a writer type and like my space. We had been friends since 1970, and the squalor of Prince George – but there was something in the wind, and it smelled like old socks.

Jeff Fee, an old pal from the early 80’s- had decided he wanted in on Thailand, and we wound up having Jeff show up. He is of Chinese lineage, but went to school with Kirk. A heavy smoking, talkative and charming man, he went on to become a real Estate agent, in red Hot Vancouver.
Jeff came over to Phuket and we left Koh Phi Phi to meet him and bring him over.

Well, I wasn’t imagining things. Kirk was getting sullen and withdrawn, and even Jeff wondered what was going on. We had two huts on Phi Phi, with Jeff in one, and Kirk and I in the other. I forget how it started, but Kirk and I started building a frosty wall between us. It happened subtly at first and picked up speed. I found Jeff to be so easy going, while I was dealing with this morose dude. Now, to be fair, he had memories of the one woman he loved, in the same place a few years before, and here he was stuck with a friend, BUT – that being said, it was getting ugly.

It came to a head when I handed Kirk 500 bucks and told him that we were no longer going to bunk together. We had a JAW ticket, which meant he was fully capable of getting back to Vancouver on that ducat (JAW was a one way round the planet ticket and I am not sure if they still even sell them – they saved my ass more than once.)

Jeff and I struck out for Ao Karon, when we got back to Phuket and I settled into three weeks of the biggest whoop up, I have ever had. The place was nuts. The nice, newish place I rented actually had air conditioning. The pubs and nightclubs were filled to the brim and I was even taking time to get some beach bum time in.

Thailand is a fascinating place, but I was getting to the end of the line. I wanted to see more than Bar lights – I decided that a trip to China was a smart move. I said goodbye to Jeff as he whizzed off with a sloe eyed beauty he had met in some dive – and I flew back to Hong Kong.
It was time to realize my dream and go to Beijing. Look at the “Big Mao”.

Ooops.
Tom Jeffries
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