April 4 2017
Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean
Pesach starts a week today. This can mean only 1 thing: “Let my people go …. home”. And so, our Exodus from SE Asia begins. We’re at the airport in Bangkok now and, all being well, we leave Bangkok today and arrive back in Edmonton before we left. I love the International Dateline. In between will be 3 flights (via Hong Kong & Vancouver) involving around 18 hours in the air over a variety of seas & oceans & more than 28 hours of total travel time.
But that will be a lot less than 40 years of wandering in the desert, in all likelihood. We are flying Cathay Pacific from here to Hong Kong and Air Canada the rest of the way. Air Canada isn’t likely aware that Passover is just around the corner and yet, in all likelihood, they will serve us something that resembles matzah for a meal. (I’m praying for manna, but with them I know it’s gonna taste like matzah no matter what they call it).
As thoughts turn to the Seder meal (although that’s hard to believe because I’m still full from the breakfast buffet) I think it’s fair to say that our visit to SE Asia could be characterized as a “Let all who are hungry come and eat” sort of thing.
When I was growing up (this goes back to the last century, just around the time they invented electricity and colour – man it was so great when the world turned to colour from black & white), it was common for parents to cajole children to finish their meal by invoking a stark reminder of all the hungry children in Asia.
The past couple of months we have seen many thousands of the children of SE Asia. Some of them are indeed still very hungry and dirt poor. And many more of them would have been back when I was a child but, through what is termed ‘progress’, they now have enough to eat.
The countries we’ve visited each present a variety of contrasts amongst one another and within their own borders. While Laos & Cambodia are clearly in the category of 3rd world developing countries in every sense of that phrase, Vietnam has passed or soon will pass into what we can call 2nd world status and Thailand is clearly there. If that status is conferred based upon the number of KFC, Starbucks, Circle K and 7-11 outlets, anyway.
Hong Kong is first world in every which way… but then there are the ladies who lunch together every Sunday seated on the pavement in Victoria park – all of the foreign worker nannies from Indonesia. They may be well be working in luxury apartments for their Hong Kongian (I just made that up) bosses, but on Sunday they sit all day on a blanket on the concrete visiting with each other. Do we have such gatherings in Edmonton? Maybe, and I just haven’t been invited.
There is one constant that we’ve noted with the children of SE Asia. They smile a lot. This is what happens with children. It may be their natural state in the wild. I don’t know this for sure as I’ve never done any empirical studies other than making a goofy face at one and getting a smile back. Often accompanied by its own goofy face. This works almost every time. Is that empirical? Do I need that peer reviewed?
Seriously, I have done this in airport lineups, countless vendor craft stalls, restaurants (both indoor & outdoor as well as both the kind where you sit on a chair and the kind where only people under 3 feet tall can sit on those stools). I’ve done it just passing them by on the street and other times I’ve done it when I am seated in a tuk tuk and they are seated (in some miraculous and precarious fashion) on a motorcycle that is putt-putting along next to the tuk tuk.
I have smiled at so many children that my face kind of hurts. I’d like to just frown at a few, to be honest, if only to sort of get the yin & yang thing back into balance. But it’s just not possible. Even when I tried a frown, the kid still smiled back and made a goofy face. No matter what idiots us adults are, the children are going to smile. Astounding. There must be something wrong with them, no?
But (and this is a big, big but) here’s the thing. For the past 2 months it hasn’t just been the children who smile. It’s been almost every person. And that means …… well, I’m not sure what it means. Is there something wrong with the people here? Or is the zipper on my pants perpetually not done all the way up? What is it that makes people happy and willing to give back a smile or, even better, lead with one? No matter their own personal or life circumstances or the ‘world status’ of the country in which they happen to live.
Well, this is a mystery that I haven’t solved yet and so we will need to return to SE Asia as there are many more smiles to be collected. For now, check out the smiles of SE Asia on today’s set of photos that accompany this final journal entry.
And also, have I mentioned the food?
I can’t end this journal without mentioning my wife. She has been the best smiling person. Every day she absolutely wants to kill me. And every day she doesn’t. This means a lot to me. Especially the not killing me part.
In the past two months we have compared notes constantly about what we’ve seen, done, heard, met, climbed, survived, eaten, experienced and (mostly) sweated. (Sorry, that’s glistening, for her, but sweating for sure for me).
She still can’t turn around in a circle and remember which way is which but that’s okay. She always finds me and I always find her, no matter how many times I get lost wandering around taking a photo of something or other. Usually ‘other’ rather than something.
This journal is for her. She can read it to me when I can’t remember stuff anymore. Oh, well …. maybe that makes it for me. Until then, though, she can have it. ILFY.