Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Travel: Memories of Beijing, China

© 2010, 2022 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

It was December 2010, and I'd been home from Europe 12 whole days, which was just enough time to unpack, do laundry, rest, and recover from the 5-hour time change. Now, it was time to head off again, in the other direction, for two weeks in the Chinese capital Beijing. Although I'd been to several of the Chinese Special Administrative Regions—Hong Kong (twice, once when it was still British) and Macao (once, when it was still Portuguese)—this was my first time to the mainland.

The Unplanned Routing to Beijing

I'd planned to fly Business Class from Washington Dulles International (IAD) via Tokyo, but the price was very high. However, if I flew with Air Canada via Toronto, the price was almost halved. Unfortunately, my flight to Toronto was delayed once, then twice, then a third and fourth time as a host of mechanics swarmed over the small Embraer jet. After a delay of more than two hours, the flight was cancelled, and I would miss my connection to Beijing. So, I was rebooked, on United Airline's direct flight to Tokyo, which continued on to Beijing. The ironic thing was that was the flight I initially wanted to take!

We landed at Beijing City International Airport (PEK) in light fog well ahead of schedule. The terminal was quite new and rather interesting, architecture-wise. After a long walk, I reached immigration, where after a cursory check of my visa I was passed through. It was another long walk to the baggage area and just as I arrived, bags from my flight started coming out. I stopped off at a tourist office desk to get a city map and information about a cash machine and taxi service. Customs was a formality, and at a money-exchange desk, I changed US$200 cash into Yuan (CNY).

I went outside to the taxi line where it was below freezing. I drew a young guy who apparently wanted to drive in the Indianapolis 500, and he showed me his "skills" on the way to my hotel. Throughout the 30-minute ride, I doubt we stayed in the same lane more than 15 seconds (I kid you not), and he was tailgating cars at 120 kph! To make it interesting, I couldn't find the piece of my seatbelt to clip my harness in. I found it best not to look at the road ahead and to sit back and think happy thoughts, like, "Is my will up to date?"

We arrived at my hotel/convention center around 11 pm, local time, where three young desk assistants eagerly awaited me. Between their minimal English, we managed, and I was given the key to Room 1603, a so-called luxury apartment on the top floor. My home for the next two weeks was a large apartment with a bedroom, a bathroom, a large lounge/dining room, and kitchen with all the appliances, a bit of glassware, but no cookware. There was also a large glassed-in balcony. Breakfast was included as was internet access, and all for about US$72/night, a very good price.

A Look at Some Sites

[Next day] Breakfast was served from 6:30–9:30 each morning, and I went down at 6:45. There were a couple of other early birds. I showed my room key and made the rounds to check out the buffet offerings. It was quite a bit like breakfast buffets I'd visited in Japan and Korea: a generic Asian section involving salad and dressing, and various other "local stuff," and the Western part with bacon, eggs, sausage, and toast. There was also a Chinese section with fried rice and various kinds of noodles. The day broke while I ate, and I had my first glimpse of China.

Around 9 o'clock, I phoned my local contact, Li Ning, who had offered to drive me around the city. (He was head of the Chinese delegation to one of the committees in which I participate.) At 10 am, he and his wife arrived, and we drove by the Olympic village, through Tiananmen Square, and then to a large shopping district where we walked through local markets, department stores, and the country's biggest bookstore. Along the way, we stopped off for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Then it was on to a large supermarket to lay in a few supplies for my kitchen.

[Next day] I worked some hours to prepare for my up-coming conference, which then ran for three days.

Off to the Great Wall

[Next day] The day after my conference ended, I booked a tour. Our minibus pulled out at 9:15 and we were on our way out of the city to the Ming Tombs. Our guide was a young Chinese woman named Pan Jiao with an English name of Sally, and thus we became "Sally's Group," and followed our fearless leader and her yellow flag. It was quite cold out with a strong wind. We were a small group with people from the UK, the Netherlands, and the US. We stopped at a jade carving place with the requisite (enormous) showroom where we were all encouraged to buy. The pieces ranged from the very small to the truly gigantic, with none of them being cheap. We lunched in the attached restaurant.

We drove quite some distance along the bottom of a very old valley and, finally, started to see glimpses of the famous Great Wall, and very great it surely was. We parked at the base of the mountain. To get near the top we each sat in a sled-like device and were pulled up 20 people at a time, through a tunnel and then out in the vicious cold wind. At the end, we were right next to the base of a section of wall, where the really serious work began. The goal was to hike/climb to the top-most point, which didn't seem all that far away. And, horizontally speaking, it wasn't. But the vertical climb was a different matter, especially as we not only had to go up but over each rise, we seemed to go way down again. I decided to concentrate on the walk rather than take pictures and video, and to do those on the way back. The wall is one heck of a structure and was built over a 2,000+-year period. Although it was supposed to keep out the Mongol hoards, I kept asking myself why the Mongols would want to attack over those mountains anyway even if no wall existed. (I think it was built simply as a way to keep unemployment down!) Although the whole walk was very steep, I did okay on the sections that had steps. At least they were level, and I could rest occasionally. However, some parts were just flat stones at a steep angle, and coming down those was difficult. The surrounding countryside was harsh, almost semi-desert. I had dressed warmly with a knitted cap and windproof hood over that, plus gloves. However, each time I took my gloves off to take pictures or video, my hands got cold very quickly.

Back to Work

[Next day] After eight hours of solid sleep, I was awake around 6 am. I felt like I'd recently hiked a section of the Great Wall! However, a hot shower helped loosen me up. I went down for breakfast around 7 o'clock. Back in my room, I sipped coffee and worked some more on this diary before preparing to attend a conference.

At 8:30, I went down to the meeting room floor where I registered for the 1-day "2010 Conference on Document Information Processing." My colleague Li Ning was the organizer, and he welcomed attendees, then a number of Chinese dignitaries each spoke. About 150 people attended. At the first break, we went out into the cold for group photos, and then had tea/coffee. We reconvened soon after 10:30, and I was the first of the keynote speakers. I gave two presentations, which ran for 40 minutes total. After each sentence, I paused while my English was translated to Chinese. And this process was repeated for the other English presentation. For the presentations done in Chinese, I donned my headset to get the English translation, which was simultaneous; that is, the speaker did not pause. Two women sat in a booth at the back where they took turns translating, changing every 10 minutes or so. (I chatted with them later, and complemented them on the great job they did, especially given the technical nature of the topic.)

Lunch was a Chinese buffet served in the hotel dining room. I met some of the delegates, quite a few of whom were young graduate students. I was approached by one of the administrators and asked to fill in a form with information including my passport number. It turned out that I was being paid an honorarium of 2,000 Yuan ($300) for speaking, and I needed to sign for it. I did so, and in return, I received a plain brown envelope that was stapled shut. I decided it wouldn't be polite to open and to count it, so I stuck it in my pocket until day's end. (It did indeed contain twenty 100-Yuan bills.)

Most of the afternoon presentations were in Chinese, as was each corresponding slide show. Speakers had been asked to submit their papers and slide decks in advance, and these were distributed in both paper and DVD form. Cameramen took stills and video of much of the presentations. It was all very professionally done. Throughout, waiters came by each table to top up our cups of green tea.

Visiting the Nationalities Museum

[Next day] I rugged up against the elements and left my hotel at 10:40. In 10 minutes, I was near the Olympic Park main stadium that the world had come to know as the Bird's Nest. I was headed for the China Nationalities Museum, a showcase for the 56 nationalities that live in China. (The groups range from fewer than 10,000 members to many millions.) The open-air museum/park was right on the other side of the fence next to me, but it took some time to find the entrance. After a long walk, I came to an entrance, but it was locked tight. Don't you just hate that when that happens! I asked a woman passing by if she spoke English. She didn't, but when I pointed to the entrance, she seemed to understand and very confidently pointed me in the right direction. So back I went the way I had just come, and there in an obscure spot was the ticket booth and entrance.

The park covers more than 100 acres and is split into two parts, one of which is closed in winter. So, I paid my 60 Yuan and entered the half that was open. For the whole three hours I was there, I didn't see any other staff, and only a handful of visitors came through. The gardens were dead or dormant, the numerous water-based parts had been drained, and the large stream/lake was frozen. In all, it looked pretty drab and uninviting. However, I soldiered on shooting a few photos and some video. The land of the Dong was especially interesting with respect to its buildings and an impressive wooden bridge. Apparently, in high season, the place is full of performers in ethnic costume, but that was not the case now. However, I heard some music and followed that to the Tu village where a group of teenage boys and girls danced around a pole that was attached to strings of brightly colored flags. Some dancers wore costumes, and I stayed, watched, and shot video. The buildings were also colorful and interesting. In the Tibetan area, I chatted with a young woman who had a souvenir shop. Her English was decent, and she wasn't at all pushy, and we negotiated over the price for a pashmina, some scatter-cushion covers, and a wall hanging.

Having had a large breakfast, I hadn't planned to eat lunch, but as I exited the park, I spied a McDonalds and thought I should at least look in and see how it was done in China. No surprise, it was pretty much like home, but with a few twists. I ordered a small burger, French fries, Coke, and four chicken nuggets for the grand total of $3.50, and I went upstairs to eat with the locals. At the table next to me, a 5-year-old girl patiently practiced writing Chinese characters in a workbook under the direction of her mother. English-language Christmas music was playing, and I got my fill of Elvis and Mariah Carey, and decided to leave after the music tape started repeating. The 40-minute break had been most welcome not to mention nice and warm.

As I went outside, I spied a huge sign on the wall that said, "Chinatown." What a treat thought I at having located THE Chinatown of Beijing! It turned out to be a shopping center, and I went inside to see how the locals shopped. The ground level extended a great distance and contained stores selling mostly shoes and clothing with all stores looking very western. I rode the escalator upstairs to a huge place that was half department store and half supermarket. I grabbed a shopping cart and tried to blend in with the locals although I did happen to notice that none of them was tall, carrying camera gear, or looked much like me. I browsed up and down many aisles and noted how many things were quite cheap. Many things looked familiar, but the Chinese writing gave no clue as to the contents. Those Chinese have names for everything! (In fact, many signs and product packaging had English writing as well as Chinese, which made it easier for me to read some details.) I topped up my emergency rations with some peanut chocolate bars, cherry-flavored fruit rolls, and potato chips. Chips came in many flavors including sweet and sour fish soup, cucumber, and Mexican; I kid you not!

By the time I got back to my room, it was 4:15, and I was ready for a rest. The Great Wall expedition was catching up with my body. Much of my laundry was dry, and my bedding had been changed in my absence as I'd left the "change me" card on the bed. I watched a bit of TV, sorted through my new photos, and worked on this diary. For supper, I delved into my emergency rations. Then it was on to a long soak in a hot bath before bed. I put out the lights quite early.

Tiananmen Square and Olympic Park

[Next day] I had nearly 10 hours sleep, which was great. Around 7:30 am, I went down to breakfast where I had a fried egg with fried noodles. I'd half made the transition to a Chinese breakfast! Back in my room, I sipped a cup of Twinning's finest English breakfast tea while catching up with some world news.

At 10 o'clock, Chinese colleague Allison phoned me from the hotel lobby, so I packed my gear and headed downstairs. She'd hired a car and driver for the day, so she could show me around. It was bitterly cold out (-2C). We drove to Tiananmen Square, the world's largest square. It was built after the Chinese Revolution and occupies the space between the main South gate of the city and the main North gate, just on the edge of the Forbidden City. The driver dropped us in front of the People's Congress building. We crossed the street and went through a security checkpoint into the square where we went to Chairman Mao's mausoleum, but it was closed on Mondays. Don't you just hate that when that happens! We walked all around the square and looked at the elaborate gates and the buildings that housed them. On the north side, we went through three sets of city gates and their accompanying plazas. In one, we watched groups of soldiers engaged in some marching drills. Whenever I took off a glove for more than 30 seconds to take pictures or video, my fingers took some massaging to get warm again.

An hour exposed to the elements was more than enough, so Allison phoned the driver to meet us, and we headed out of the downtown area for lunch. I had expressed a preference for Szechuan cuisine, so we headed to a restaurant specializing in that. It was a very nicely appointed place. The best way to describe it would be "nouveau Chinese," with very nice modern furniture and décor, but a strong hint of traditional Chinese style. I sensed it was upscale, but it didn't exude an exclusive feeling, and prices were quite reasonable. We looked over the menu, which had lots of pictures and English descriptions. We shared a variety of dishes with meats, vegetables, rice, and noodles, along with oolong tea. It was great, and I ate quite a bit more than I needed. A colleague of Allison's, Pine, joined us for lunch, as did our driver.

After lunch, Allison went off to work while Pine became my guide. We drove to the Olympic Park, where the driver dropped us near the main Bird's Nest stadium. We got admission tickets and went inside for a look around. The 80,000-seat stadium was functional as well as a piece of art. During the games, an athletic track went around the ground while the inside space served as a soccer field, among other things. However, now, it was covered in man-made snow, which was being produced by a number of machines. A large crew was setting up for a Snow Festival. There were small and large ice-skating rinks, a castle, and various buildings for kids to visit, and a large space for families to play in the snow. We climbed a lot of stairs to the upper deck and walked around to view the arena from several angles.

After a short walk around the plaza, we headed to the Blue Cube, a large cube-like building that housed the water sports. It contains a large swimming area with wave pool, and many people were swimming there. The public can also use the practice pool, and a number of people were swimming laps. The main pool is only used for competitions and is next to the diving pool. Out front, Pine and I parted company and I walked the short distance to my hotel. Given the cold, I was very happy to be back indoors for the night. By the time I sat down in my room to sip a café au lait, it was 4:30. It had been a busy day, and as an honored guest, I hadn't been allowed to pay for anything.

I certainly didn't need to eat for the rest of the day, but that didn't stop me from snacking. I spent the evening watching TV, listening to some music albums, and playing games on my laptop. Lights out at 9:30.

Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven

[Next day] My alarm went off at 7 am, by which time I'd had a very good sleep. For the first time, I forewent the buffet breakfast choosing instead to drink tea in my room and snack on my emergency rations. At 8:20, the phone rang to let me know that my tour bus was minutes away from the hotel.

Once again, it was freezing outside although the sun was shining brightly. The Chinese tour guide, "Helen," welcomed me aboard her bus. There were five tourists: a couple of Chinese men, a young Portuguese couple who had been in Macao for a conference, and me. First stop was the summer palace, a place where emperors "escaped" the Forbidden City from spring to late summer. It consisted of some 600 acres three quarters being a man-made lake the soil and mud from which had been used to build a very large hill. The lake was frozen over, and the wind started to blow. I looked around a few buildings, but when I heard music and singing, I made my way up a hill to locate the source. I found a very enthusiastic group of pensioners and others singing from songbooks. A choir performed, and a number of musicians played wind instruments and drums. I captured a whole song on video. An elderly man approached me and asked me where I was from, shook my hand vigorously, and welcomed me to China and Beijing. Next stop was a pearl store, which had a lot of very nice pearls mounted in a variety of settings. We watched a guide open a freshwater oyster, which contained 20–30 small pearls. Those too small to use in jewelry are ground into powder, which is used in hand and face cream, among other things. Upstairs was a restaurant at which we ate lunch.

After lunch, we drove to the Forbidden City where the extended families of 20+ royal dynasties lived for some hundreds of years, and which was off-limits to all others. A series of very large and elaborate gates lead to the inner sanctums. There are more than 8,000 rooms! I shot some video, but each gate or door led to an even bigger and fancier set of rooms and courtyards that it really was too much. Very quickly, I had overdosed. It certainly was impressive, however. It has only been open to the public for 20+ years.

Next was a silk factory and that's where I got very close to spending some serious money. We watched silk being spun from cocoons, each one containing more than a kilometer of thread. I looked over some pure silk bed "blankets," and was on the verge of buying one, but thought that would need a zip-off cover. And, of course, what else to use but one made of silk. I saw exactly the one I wanted, but once I saw the cost and that of two pillowcases, I swallowed hard. It came to more than $700! As a consolation prize, I bought a nice silk scarf.

Then, it was on to the Temple of Heaven, a place that was visited twice each year by the emperor who took part in major ceremonies to pray for a good harvest and on the winter solstice to pray for a good next season. Nearby was a teahouse, and we dropped in for a tea ceremony. The hostess explained the process and prepared five different teas for us to taste. I particularly liked the leechee and rose petal. The staff tried hard to sell us all kinds of tea and tea-related utensils, but the prices were quite high.

Our guide left us then and the driver took us back to our respective hotels. I was last, and we took more than 45 minutes to get there through slow traffic. We kept off the main highways, which moved even slower. I gave the driver a small tip, which made him smile and give me a big handshake.

I was happy to be back in my room with the heat turned way up. The first thing I did was to boil the electric kettle and make a large bowl of vegetable soup. I watched some TV while snacking, and then brought this diary up to date. Lights out early.

Travel Day!

[Next day] After another 10 hours of sleep, I was up and at it! I went down for breakfast, picking up a copy of the English-language China Daily newspaper at the front desk. I took my time reading that while I ate. As I had covered all the sites I'd planned, and it was very cold out again, I decided to stay indoors for the day and work and play as the mood took me. For the first hour, I pulled together all my hand-written notes from the last 10 days, and updated my work and play action lists, so I could see just what it was I needed to do and in what order. After that, I paused for a cup of tea.

For my final breakfast, I had noodles and stir-fried egg. I figured that if I'd stayed another day, I might have "gone native" and started eating breakfast with chopsticks. Sacre bleu!

While eating, I scanned through some articles in the China Daily, and came across the following text in relation to American diplomacy: "Historians know well that the US has never been half as idealistic as it likes to see itself; … The spirit invoked by the Statue of Liberty, embracing the poor and huddled masses, still shines brighter than all the lights in New York City, but somewhere during the transition from an ordinary nation to an overextended military power, the US lost touch with its better angels and set itself on the road to being the new Rome." Hmm, some food for thought. "Bloody Communist propaganda," you say. But no, it was written by one Phillip J. Cunningham, a visiting fellow at Cornell University, New York.

At 11:30, I was on my way to the airport. It was clear that the driver was passed his racing prime. He didn't speed, he didn't tailgate, and for the most part, he drove quite safely. It truly was a miracle. And he adjusted the seat in front of me to give me maximum legroom. En-route, he even managed to stay in the same lane for minutes at a time. Out on the highway, I noticed a very strange phenomenon; numerous drivers were actually using their indicators to change lanes, although some of them were halfway into the adjacent lane when they turned theirs on. The sun shone brightly through the thin layer of smog, and we were at the airport in 30 minutes. I'd expected it to take at least an hour.

What to do with my 6:45 hours before departure? As it happened, the Air Canada check-in desk didn't open until three hours before flight time (at 3:45), and their customer service agent didn't arrive until 2 pm. And I couldn't get through to the business lounge until I'd checked in. I secured a luggage cart and proceeded to walk around the cavernous terminal looking for a place to "set up shop" for an extended period. I didn't need much, just a comfortable chair with a table and a power outlet (and maybe a hot tub, massage, and café au lait machine). Along the way, I found that the terminal provided free wifi internet access, but that required registration. I did so by scanning my passport in a machine, which then printed out my access username and password. I took an elevator up to a dining section in the hopes of finding a table at which to work, but found myself in an upscale restaurant area with lots of private dining and meeting rooms. So, I switched to the fast-food section on the other side of the terminal where I spied an electrical outlet near a spare table in Burger King's spacious eating area. I was operational in minutes.

After three hours of writing and editing, I packed my gear and headed to the check-in area and, lo and behold, it was open for business earlier than I expected. Check in went smoothly and quickly although I had visions of my return leg having been cancelled after the carrier and route change on the way out. I went through document control and then onto a train that took me to a satellite terminal. There, I went through passport control, security, and customs. My carrier, Air Canada, had reciprocal business lounge rights with Air China, and their lounge was close by. It was very large and nicely appointed with deep leather chairs all over the place along with quite a few sleeping rooms. I setup my computer at a table and sipped a cold glass of pink grapefruit juice. All the food on offer was awfully tempting, but I declined. It was a big step up from Burger King! I had about 1:45 hours before boarding time, so I worked on some documents I'd been writing. I made great progress.

At 5:45, I left the lounge to find a place to spend the last of my Yuan. In a duty-free shop, I spied some blocks of Milka chocolate with hazelnut. At 44 Yuan each they were no bargain, but my chocolate level was low. At the register, I managed to come up with only 85 Yuan, but the assistant accepted a US dollar bill to cover the difference.

I arrived at Gate E10 a few minutes before the scheduled boarding time, where I struck up a conversation with a Quebecois from Montreal. Soon afterward, we boarded Flight AC32, a nice new Boeing 777. There was no separate First Class, just a large Executive First Business section, which contained some 44 suites. I took up residence in Suite 4K, a starboard window in a 1x2x1 configuration. Each suite was angled at 45 degrees with the window suites pointed into the aisle. Each suite was appointed with all the facilities one might expect.

Once we pushed back from the gate, the pilot announced that flying time to Toronto would be 12½ hours, and that in Toronto it was -6C with light snow. We waited in line for takeoff for some time. Soon after we were airborne, the drinks service arrived followed by mixed nuts and a hot towel, much like on United's flights. I studied the menu making the hard choices. There was dinner, a mid-flight snack, and breakfast.

The appetizer was gravlax tartare timbale with marinated cucumber. What the heck is gravlax you may well ask. I did. (It's salmon.) That was accompanied by a green salad. The main course was a choice of beef, chicken, fish, or a Chinese pork dish. I went with the pan-fried breast of chicken in thyme jus with wild rice and Mediterranean vegetables, and boy was it good. I followed that with Camembert, cheddar, and Gouda cheese with water crackers and a good-sized glass of Portuguese port. Two nice tall cups of decaffeinated coffee chased it all down. Being somewhat disciplined I declined the chocolate lava cake and ice cream.

While I ate, I watched George Clooney in "The American." Although the story was rather slow, it was okay. By the time that ended, it was 10 pm, Beijing time, and we were 1,600 miles into the trip with 5,300 to go. We were flying at 33,000 feet at a ground speed of 583 mph. The outside temperature was a cool -61.6C. I set up my bed, put in my earplugs, and closed my eyes. After a while, I went off to sleep.

Some five hours later, I awoke feeling almost rested. It was 3:30 am Friday, Beijing time, and I set my clock back 13 hours, to 2:30 pm Thursday. According to the in-flight route map, we'd flown northeast from Beijing into Russia (north of North Korea), over the Sea of Okhotsk, the Arctic Circle, the North Bering Sea, just touching northern Alaska near Barrow. Then it was on to Yellowknife, North West Territories; Churchill, Manitoba (the polar bear capital of the world); and down to Toronto, Ontario. We had 2,000 miles to go in four hours. I sat back and watched "Takers" starring Matt Dillon.

As it was 6:30 am back in Beijing, our final meal was breakfast, even though it was 5:30 pm in Toronto. First up was a fruit plate, croissant with strawberry jam, and strong coffee. Then came an omelet with sausage, tomato, fried potatoes, and a floret of broccoli. After my sleep and movie, I really needed a big meal, not! But then it would also be my supper.

I filled in my customs form. Those nosey Canadians wanted to know if I was bringing in any firearms or other weapons, such as a switchblade, Mace, or pepper spray. (Does a Chinese-made AK47 count, I wondered. Probably.) As the form was bilingual, I had a little French lesson.

Overnight in Toronto

As we approached Toronto, I sang along and tapped my feet to the 70's channel on XM radio: Blood, Sweat, and Tears; Chicago; John Denver; and so on. We had a textbook landing and soon I was through immigration and customs waiting for my luggage. Along the way, I rode a 300 meter-long, and very fast-moving, sidewalk. I phoned my hotel for a pickup, which took 30 minutes to arrive. It was very cold out with light snow on the ground. I was in my room by 8:30, and after a nice hot shower, I handled email until lights out at 10 o'clock.

[Next day] After four hours of sleep in a very comfortable bed, I was wide-awake. I ate the last of my emergency food and then watched TV. By 5 am I was checked out and waiting for the 5:20 airport shuttle. Seven other guests rode with me to Lester B. Pearson International airport (YYZ), named for Canada's 14th Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Despite the early hour, the airport was quite busy. I checked in and pre-cleared US immigration and customs. On the way to my gate, I stopped off for a piping hot chai tea latte. At the gate, I chatted with some fellow passengers. Later, a passenger came on the PA system to announce that his wife was having a birthday and he'd like to sing "Happy Birthday" to her publicly. Of course, we all sang along. They had just gotten married and were headed to Vietnam for their honeymoon.

Our originally scheduled plane had been replaced by a bigger one, so I got a seat with more legroom. Don't you just love that when that happens! I was first aboard the Embraer 170 jet and settled into Seat 3A. We pushed back from the gate and taxied over to a concrete apron where something happened that I'd not experienced in all my years of flying. Our plane was de-iced. Two large trucks pulled up, one by each wing, and a large cherry-picker platform raised up from which each operator hosed down a wing and then coated it with some bright lime-green liquid. The whole process took 30 minutes. The 90-minute flight down to IAD was smooth and uneventful, and we landed around 10 am to find light snow on the ground. After a short wait for my luggage and a taxi ride, it was good to be home.

Signs of Life: Part 26

© 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from a trip to Munich, Germany, in December 2017, and elsewhere.


Banner from the Munich Summer Olympic Games Stadium.


Across the road from the Olympic Stadium was BMW Welt, BMW's "futuristic distribution center and exhibition hall." As they now own the Rolls Royce brand, I stopped by to check out the latest models.


In 2016, the city of Munich launched BeeZero, the first hydrogen-powered car sharing program.


I found it interesting to see the kangaroo with joey in her pouch.


A gay pride symbol. (A family of lions is called a pride.)


"Work shall set you free."

Sign at the entrance of the Dachau concentration camp.


Yes, "Smoking is deadly," and you see signs like this all around Europe, but the countries still sell cigarettes and people still smoke them!


Perhaps it's the German branch of the Italian "O Sole Mio" chain.


Purveyors of "fair, organic, and vegan fashion."


"We have to stay outside."

Some shops provide a place outside their entrance to tie up a dog's leash. Some also provide water dishes.


At the entrance of the unacompanied-minors' lounge at Munich Airport.


An interesting depiction of the US flag on a poster at Munich Airport, by Ogilvy, "one of Germany's most successful creative agencies in the field of marketing and communication."


A backstreet in Whitby, Yorkshire, a town where I spent four delightful nights.


Where refined Whitby residents walk.


Tiles on the front of a house, also from Whitby. In all my many trips to the UK, I have yet to eat a kipper, for breakfast or at any othertime.


A clever take on the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." See pitcher.

A pottery exhibit at a small gallery in Winchester, Virginia, USA.


A Little Bit of Music

© 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

For many years, I've said, "There is nothing really important in life, but if there was something, it would be music!"

Although I am musical, I do not play any instrument, but if I were marooned on a dessert island with an instrument, I'm sure I'd eventually figure out how to get it to make some pleasurable sounds.

In this essay, I'll talk about music during my formative years, how I got my son into music, and the ways I experience music. But before I begin, off the top of your head, write down the names of 10 of your favorite singers/performers and/or musical pieces.

My Early Exposure

My earliest memories of music go back to 1961, when I was seven years old. We lived on a farm in rural South Australia (SA), 30 miles from the county seat, Loxton. In our kitchen, on top of the fridge, we had a battery-powered AM wireless (radio, that is) with a circular clear-plastic disk with a red arrow that we used to rotate to select a station. We were located 150 miles from the state capital, and the federal government was very much involved in radio (and later TV) broadcasting via the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), which relayed programs to antennae in rural areas like mine. [Like in the UK, one had to pay an annual wireless license for the privilege of receiving radio (and later, TV). This was discontinued in 1974.]

All AM radio stations in SA had a 3-character designation, 5xx. In my region, the commercial station was (and still is) 5RM, which my Mom (AU: Mum) disliked intensely "because it didn't play real music, just that terrible rock-and-roll!" It mostly broadcast music with some news and sports. Being commercial, it had advertising breaks. The ABC made available 5MV, which being government funded, had no commercials. It carried news and current-affairs programs, agricultural market reports, with little, if any, music. I listened to it after school for several kid's programs whose serialized stories had some music and sound effects.

Although we heard and knew a lot of songs by American singers, by then, Australia had a strong and growing music industry of its own, in both pop and country (among other) genres. However, it wasn't until many years later I learned that lots of the hit records made by Aussies back then were in fact covers of songs that were previously made popular by American (or British) singers. [BTW, I didn't come across the word "cover" used in this context until I moved to the US in 1979.]

Our first record player was a battery powered model made by Kriesler that sat on top of a cabinet in the lounge room. It played at speeds of 33⅓, 45, and 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). It even had a stacker, which allowed multiple records to be loaded. At that time, the more up-scale households were buying radiograms, which were as much furniture pieces as music machines.

Mom played organ, mouth organ, accordion, and acoustic guitar (sometimes with steel strings). However, I don't think she ever had any formal lessons. As she played the organ in our church, she practiced that each week at home. However, she only played the other instruments on rare occasions, and then only at parties. When we lived in Loxton, Mom sang in the church choir. [To this day, I like a lot of choral music, and I have fond memories of hearing youth choirs sing a capella outside Notre Dame in Paris, and attending an evening concert in a cathedral in Budapest, Hungary, where a woman gave a moving rendition of Ave Maria. I also like listening to Welsh men's choirs.]

In winter, my rural community participated in sports matches against neighboring towns, and about once a month, the home team would host a community dance and supper (a light snack late at night). The dance band consisted of a piano, double bass, and drums.

Some small exposure to music appreciation was provided to rural students by the ABC, which distributed records containing episodes of a program called "Let's Join in!"

When we lived 30 miles from town, two of my siblings boarded in town from Monday through Friday, and each had private piano lessons for a term or two, although I think they viewed that as a form of punishment! In any event, neither continued. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to have such lessons.

At 15, I bought a stereo record player with twin speakers. When I left home and started work at 16, I took it with me, but it was a few years before I could afford to actually buy many records, and then only singles. [Some trivia: As I discovered in the US, 45-rpm records had a center hole about 1" (2.5 cm) across. In Australia, the hole was the same size as for a 33⅓. My first record player came with a plastic insert that I never knew what to do with. As I discovered years later, it was to put inside the large hole of a US-distributed 45 record, so it could be played on an Aussie player!]

I clearly remember when cassette tape was introduced in Australia in the early 1970s. This allowed portable recording units and recording from records. Unlike the US, in Australia the 8-track tape format was not popular.

Australia's second attempt to introduce FM radio came in 1975, but broadcasting licenses were strictly controlled. The only (ABC) station I had access to mostly played classical music, much of which was not my cup of tea!

My home state's capital, Adelaide, where I lived for 10 years, is a progressive city, and very arts oriented, hosting an annual international Festival of Arts. In 1976, it converted a major downtown street to a pedestrian mall, which gave rise to buskers (street musicians and performers, that is). [I am a great fan of street musicians, and I usually stop to listen, chat, and put some coins in their collection box.]

My Top-10 Songs/Singers Right Now!

Here are some favorites I thought of just this minute:

  1. "Georgia on my Mind" by Ray Charles
  2. "Crazy" by Patsy Cline
  3. Anything from Susan Boyle's album "I Dreamed a Dream"
  4. Something by Willy Nelson
  5. "Hotel California" by the Eagles
  6. Carol King's album "Tapestry"
  7. "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen and any other song from his album "Live in London"
  8. A Welsh men's choir
  9. Roy Orbison and "Oh, Pretty Woman"
  10. Etta James and "At Last"

Of course, if you ask me again tomorrow, I'll have a completely different list!

Playing Music Through My Son

With regards to parenting, there were two things to which I vowed to expose my children, and one of those was music. (The other was foreign languages.) I had one child, a son, Scott. He got a steady dose of music from radio, TV, recordings, and live performances from Day 1. As mentioned in my September 2010 post, "Making Allowances," from an early age, he had a cassette player to play prerecorded tapes of books, music, and games, to entertain himself while traveling. He was also an uninhibited performer!

By age six, he was tall enough to be able to sit at a piano, and he started piano lessons with Mrs. S for 30 minutes each week. I bought him a 5-octave electric keyboard to practice at home. He was an enthusiastic learner and willingly practiced.

After a year or so of lessons, we spent Christmas on the Netherlands Antilles island of Saba. One day, as we were walking past a small church, we heard organ music, so we went inside and sat quietly in a pew. An older man was getting to know the new electronic organ that had recently been installed, and once he noticed us, he stopped to chat. Being gregarious, Scott very quickly announced that he too played keyboards and his had an organ mode. So, the man invited Scott to sit with him on the seat to watch him use the keyboard, stops, and foot pedals. Scott then offered to give the man a lesson, to which the man readily agreed. Scott played a short piece, the man tried it a few times, and Scott announced that the man did quite a good job, and suggested he practice a few times each week. (Scott sounded exactly like his own teacher when she was speaking to him!) Scott's student was very gracious, and when we parted company, we invited the man to come to lunch a few days later. He accepted. When he joined us again, he gave Scott a nice music theory book, and it was then that we discovered he was a retired music teacher!

When Scott was eight, we traveled to Russia, stopping in Finland on the way. As was often the case when we traveled, he'd come across an "unattended" piano, which, of course, was just begging to played! On this day, he found one in a public room at a small hotel at which we were staying, and he sat down and started to play from memory. After playing a few pieces, when he stopped, people clapped, and he turned around to find he was in the hotel dining room and a group of tourists had arrived for lunch while he was engrossed in his playing. After his initial embarrassment, he enjoyed the attention and learned the valuable lesson of music as a means of international communication. (His elderly Finnish audience didn't speak English!)

When Scott was in 6th grade, he joined his school's chorus. That year, the county formed an All-County chorus made up of 600 voices, and his was one of them. For some weeks, they practiced in small and then larger groups, and on the day before the public performance, they rehearsed as one group for the first time with a professional pianist and conductor. The end product was exceptional!

After some years of lessons with Mrs. S, it was time for a change in teaching approach, and Scott moved on to Mrs. M, who was a concert pianist. She had a baby grand piano in her house, and that's what she used for teaching lessons. Each year, she hosted a concert for the families of her students, and each student performed a solo piece, and some performed duets with her. By then, I'd gotten Scott a new keyboard, so he had more octaves.

By the middle of high school (to which he had a 40-minute commute, each way), he had so much homework that he discontinued music lessons. However, he kept on playing, and I especially enjoyed occasional private concerts with him playing various tunes by Enya, Billy Joel, and Eton John, among others.

Scott now has a 6-year-old daughter, and he's passing his love of music on to her.

My Mainstream Musical Tastes

I like a wide range of musical styles, but the one I prefer today depends on my mood today! And it also depends on whether the music will be in the background and won't disrupt my foreground task, or whether I'm actually listening to the music.

I can be quite at home listening to rock and roll, some country, certain kinds of jazz, some blues, easy listening, folk, light classical, baroque, and even very light opera, especially of the comic kind produced by Gilbert and Sullivan. [Regarding G&S, I'm happy to admit that 45 years after the fact, I can still sing the words to a TV commercial for a used-car yard in Adelaide, that were set to the music of HMS Pinafore. They included the following, "He fiddled with the steering so very hard that he soon became the owner of a used car yard."]

Live Musical Performances

I attended only a couple of live concerts in my youth, one of which was the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Once I lived in the US, I'd occasionally pass through Las Vegas on a business or personal trip. Over the years, I saw the following acts there: The Righteous Brothers, Barbara Mandrel, the Pointer Sisters, Mac Davis, and Jubilee! (a spectacular production, complete with a very large Titanic sinking on stage).

A few years ago, I discovered some small/intimate performing places with no more than 200 seats. They sure beat trying to see the stage way off in the distance at a concert with 50,000 others!

I love live theater and musicals, the vast majority of which I've seen in London, England, as I've passed through on business and personal travel. A quick look at the past 20 years' worth of my travel diaries shows I took in the following musicals while there: Cats (also in New York City), Jersey Boys, Dreamgirls, Everybody's talking about Jamie, 42nd Street, Kinky Boots, Let it Be, Singin' in the Rain (50th anniversary, complete with heavy rain on stage), The Lion King, and Monty Python's Spamalot.

Once when visiting Adelaide, friends John and Kathy improved my "Kulcha Quotient" by taking me to a performance of Handel's Messiah. [On a previous trip there, I took in Cabaret.]

Turning the International Dial

From time to time, a recording sung in a foreign language becomes a big hit in the English-speaking world. Examples I remember and still enjoy, include the following:

  • "Dominique" by the Singing Nun (French)
  • Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" (Spanish)
  • Santana's, "Oye Como Ba" (Spanish)
  • Nana Mouskouri; according to Wikipedia, "Over the span of her career, she has released over 200 albums in at least twelve different languages, including Greek, French, English, German, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, Welsh, Mandarin Chinese and Corsican."
  • Charles Aznavour (French)
  • Julio Iglesias (Spanish; he also sang in French, Portuguese, and German)
  • Demis Roussos (Greek, German, and other languages)
  • "La Bamba" with Ritchie Valens (Spanish)
  • Andrea Bocelli (Italian, French, Spanish, Latin, and Portuguese)
  • Gloria Estefan (Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese)
  • Linda Ronstadt (Spanish)
  • ABBA (Swedish, French, and German)
  • Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki" (Japanese)
  • Enya (who has sung in 10 languages)

As a traveler and host, I've been introduced to a number of international artists, for example:

  • While with an adventure tour group crossing the Patagonia in Chile and Argentina, the bus driver constantly played tapes of Mexican singer Ana Gabriel. Later in the trip, I bought several of her albums.
  • I hosted a Brazilian woman who gave me a great CD by Tom Jobin, who sings in various languages.
  • On a day trip to the famous Italian hilltop town of San Gimignano, I came upon a woman dressed in traditional Florentine clothes playing harp. She was recording artist Antonella Natangelo, and I bought one of her albums.
  • While traveling through Mexico and various Central American countries, I got to like mariachi music, especially performed live in parks in the evening by strolling musicians.

When I play these albums today, in my mind I am transported back to the events that caused me to get them.

Things don't always work as one might like. I'd been in Japan for a week and each day as I went to my local train station, I saw many vendors selling cheap cassette tapes at stalls. However, not being able to speak the language or read the writing, I couldn't figure out what the tapes contained. However, I did like some traditional Japanese music. On the final day, I randomly chose a tape. Unfortunately, when I listened to it back home, it was of European classical music; don't you just hate that when that happens!

For some years now, I've had iTunes installed on my computers. However, I've never bought any music for it. Instead, I use it to play CDs I've ripped to disk, and to access the hundreds of on-line radio stations. For the first couple of years, I listened a lot to one from Bavaria, Germany, but that disappeared. Since then, I've alternated between old-time country, 70s and 80s popular music, and sometimes favorites from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Occasionally, I'll try various Arabic, French, Italian (among other language) channels, just for some variety. Now, it's mostly a German channel with hits that span 40-odd years. And if I just want to relax, I'll switch to a traditional Hawaiian channel.

My Top-10 Songs/Singers, Several Days Later!

I just couldn't resist:

  1. Something from Jim Reeves
  2. The 2-CD set "The Essential Tony Bennet"
  3. Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon"
  4. Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable"
  5. k.d. lang's "Constant Craving"
  6. Enya's "Orinoco Flow"
  7. Elvis and "Love Me Tender"
  8. Queens' "Bohemian Rhapsody"
  9. Barry White and his Love Unlimited Orchestra
  10. The Beatles and "Yesterday"


Once Scott married and had some discretionary income, he purchased a new keyboard, and I inherited the previous one, even though I don't play. My thought was that if it was in full view in my house that, one day, I might get inspired to learn to play it. However, after many years, that still has not yet happened. (I think I'm stuck on the idea of having to practice and that it would be too much work to get to the level of proficiency I would want.)

Several years ago, at a private party, I met a man and I asked him, "What do you do for fun?" He replied that he ran a Beatles singing group. Several months later, I joined his group for its monthly Saturday night singalong, and I've enjoyed it ever since (until the COVID pandemic hit). We meet for 2½ hours and sing pretty much nonstop, going through all the songs on a given album before going around the room having attendees select their favorite piece from the Beatles' catalog as a group and as individual performers.

For some years, I've hosted amateur folk-dancers from Denmark, who bring their own musicians. I have very much enjoyed seeing their performances, and I've been to stay with several of the group members and "seen them in action" in their own country.

I've been known to tap my toes to music in Irish pubs, which was especially enjoyable once smoking was banned there! Jams by players of Celtic music has been, and still is, popular in my area here in Virginia.

By the way, to my initial statement, "There is nothing really important in life, but if there was something, it would be music," I have added food. Not just the eating of, but also the shopping for, and the preparation as well, especially when doing it with friends.

If you are passing through Prague, Czech Republic, and are looking for a musical performance, every night of the week there are 4–6 available, all at reasonable prices. In my experience, there is no language barrier: the musicians enter, they sit down, and they play non-stop for an hour or so, and there is little or no talk. The one show I attended that had singing involved Broadway Hits in English.

When I visited my ancestral homeland in Western Poland, the cultural highlight was a visit to a small village that had a very old wooden church, and that very night, it was packed for a concert of "Musica Sacra and Musica Profan," Music, Sacred, and Profane. By the time I arrived, the 150-seat church was almost full and 200+ more people were seated outdoors where they could watch the indoor event via closed circuit TV projected on a large screen. We squeezed into the back row of the church and settled into a musical treat as comfortably as one can on hard wooden benches. The first act consisted of six nationally known singers who sang a capella, and from time to time, made sounds with their mouths like a variety of musical instruments.

First, we had some classics, including wonderful renditions of parts of the spring suite from Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Ravel's Bolero, neither of which ordinarily has lyrics. Then came Polish-accented pieces in English written by the Bee Gees, Paul Simon, Phil Collins, Ben E. King, Freddy Mercury (of Queen), and Gene Pitney. There was a particularly good rendition of Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World" and "Hello Dolly." At the end, the singers got a very long-standing ovation, after which they sang an en-core. Then after another ovation, they gave a second en-core. It was a most enjoyable experience.

In August of 2010, I spent a few days in Cleveland, Ohio. The highlight there was the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame." I walked around the main exhibit floor for several hours looking at guitars, cars, clothes, and other memorabilia from numerous well-known artists including Elvis. And I listened to many song snippets at various audio stations as I learned about the artists who had influenced the more well-known stars. Then I moved to a theater with a very large screen to watch several hours of a 4-hour concert filmed earlier that year. It featured many of the hall's inductees all performing at the same place. I came in near the end when Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel played. After a few minutes break, the video re-started, and I watched a lot more. The seats were comfortable, I got a stage-side view, the price was right, and the volume was LOUD! I really enjoyed it. I looked at more exhibits on other floors before sitting in another theater watching a 60-minute video that covered the highlights of all the hall's inductions, which started in 1986 well before the hall was completed. While I was familiar with most inductees, there were a few I'd never heard of. The Hall closed at 5:30 pm and I spent a bit of time in the gift shop. After six solid hours of high-volume Rock and Roll, my ears were ringing a little.

While I was reading Brian Greene's "Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe," a book I highly recommend, I came across the following quote from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "Without music, life would be a mistake." Amen to that!

According to Greek philosopher Plato, "Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything."

Finally, here's a challenge for you: As you come to the very end of your earthly life and you are lying waiting for the Grim Reaper to take you to the next stage, whatever that be, what music would you like to have played? As for me, I'm thinking Pachelbel's Canon in D major, the theme from the movie "Ordinary People." And if I wasn't dead by the end of that, Vivaldi's Four Seasons could follow, as well as any Baroque music with brass, and then maybe some Spanish guitar. By the way, my mother probably thought that in Hell they'd play 5RM radio non-stop; after all, it was the Devil's music!

Travel: Memories of Normandy, France

© 2009, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

I had business in Paris, after which it was playtime in Normandy, followed by more free time back in Paris.

Heading to Caen

It was a cold and rainy December day in Paris. My taxi arrived at my hotel, and as I got in, I noticed that the meter started at nearly €10. Holy frog's legs! It took us 15 minutes to get to Gare Saint Lazare station where, after some searching, I found the main ticket office. A very pleasant woman sold me a one-way, First-Class ticket to Caen. The next train was in 30 minutes, but the track number was only announced 15 minutes before departure, so everyone stood by the main departure board waiting. Voila, up came Track 23 for Cherbourg with Caen as the first stop. For a pleasant change, the First-Class carriages were the closest and I boarded helping a young mother with her luggage.

The carriage was very nicely appointed, and I grabbed a single seat by the window, facing forward. We pulled out right on time at 13:10 and after a slow start through the inner city, we soon picked up speed. The sun broke through and came right in my window no doubt making a halo around my saintly head! A Malaysian man sat in front of me, and along the way, he shared his English-language newspaper with me.

We had a smooth ride through the countryside and the carriage was nice and quiet. We passed numerous lakes, rivers, streams, and evergreen and deciduous forests. The farms all had manicured fields of green with cattle, sheep, horses, and even some donkeys. One farm had quite a few miniature horses, which was appropriate, as it was only a small farm! On one farmhouse roof sat a team of reindeer pulling a sleigh. We passed through numerous villages and one large town. Quite a few homes looked like gingerbread houses. As we got closer to Caen, I saw several clusters of wind turbines. First, there were 14, then 16, and then another six, most of which had their 3-blade propellers turning. The weather improved as the day progressed, and by the time I reached Caen, the sun was out.

Caen and Surrounds

We arrived in Caen, right on time. I exited the train station and crossed the street to the tram stop. The two lines were laid fewer than 10 years ago. The instructions for buying a ticket were in French only, but after I watched a few locals go through the process I had it figured out. The fare was a flat €1.20, which was a pleasant surprise. I rode to the stop called Académie in the town of Herouville Saint-Clair. My host had emailed me directions and a local map, and everything went well to that point. However, it took me some time to reconcile the local directions with the town map at the tram stop. Once I figured that out, it took 15 minutes to walk to the house of Jean-Claude and Brigitte. A few raindrops fell along the way.

Brigitte and her husband had been members of Servas International for more than 30 years, but had not had any guests for more than two years. She showed me to my room in the basement with a work desk, high-speed internet connection, and bathroom all to myself away from the others. Soon after, Jean-Claude came home and chatted a bit. He was a mechanical engineer by training, but now worked with a lot of information technology. He had numerous interests including beekeeping, alternative energy sources, and the problems facing poorer countries. Brigitte worked in integrated-circuit production. A year earlier, she reluctantly gave up ballet. They had three children, aged 25, 22, and 19, and the youngest, Tony, lived at home. The parents were a few years younger than me.

Around 17:00, nine people arrived for a 2-hour bible study program. (Jean-Claude was a Huguenot.) Several brought food, and after they ended their discussion we shared some strong—as in, alcoholic—apple cider (Normandy is a major apple producer), some savory snacks, some cake that contained bits of ham, and a traditional Normandy dessert consisting of rice baked for six hours in milk and cinnamon. After the guests left, we managed to squeeze in a small supper of split pea soup and bread. Jean-Claude and I talked until late.

[Next Day] For breakfast, we had large bowls of tea that one lifted with both hands, and toasted bread rolls with margarine and honey from Jean-Claude's bee hives. Throughout, the rain was very heavy, but it soon eased.

Mid-morning, Jean-Claude drove me to the famous Pegasus Bridge and the adjacent museum. On the evening of June 5 1944—the day before D-Day—British forces in gliders and parachutes landed in the general area to pave the way for the invasion force in Operation Overlord the next day. One of the main missions of the advanced party was to destroy most bridges and to capture, and stop the Germans from destroying, three important bridges that the allied forces would need to get inland from the coast. The Pegasus Bridge was one that was to be saved and it was the first target captured. Three gliders landed right next to it with 28 soldiers in each. (Three others landed not far away.) They captured the bridge and crossed it, and the house on the other side was the first one liberated in the Battle of Normandy. The restaurant now opposite that house was called "Les 3 Planeurs," that is, "The 3 Gliders."

Some years ago, the original bridge was replaced with one that opened up to let larger boats go up the canal. The old bridge was moved to land nearby and a museum was added. It was most interesting and included a 10-minute film about the landing and capture. We walked around the grounds, which contained half of an original glider fuselage (made entirely of wood) and a full-size replica of a glider. At the bookstore, I bought some brochures and a "cricket," a small metal clicker that the invading force members used to signal each other.

After lunch, my hosts dropped me off at the "The Memorial, a Centre for History." I started out with a 35-minute film on the Battle of Normandy. The very large screen was split vertically with different original black and white movie footage shown on each side. One side showed the Allies preparing and executing the landing while the other showed things from the German perspective. Original and augmented sound made it very realistic, and I kept thinking of the opening scenes of the Tom Hanks film, "Saving Private Ryan." In one especially moving scene, the gun cameras of a German fighter showed allied soldiers literally being "mown down" as the plane raced along the beach with guns-a-blazing. Then halfway through the run the film cut to the present day in a light aircraft going at low altitude up the same pristine beach all in color. Then it switched back to the fighter's deadly run. There was no dialogue to speak of just the original English and German in some scenes and a few titles and newspaper headlines. The soundtrack was quite loud and very effectively portrayed the "fog of war." To be sure, it was a stunning start to my visit.

From there, I moved to a display called, "The Failure of Peace (1918–1939)." That involved walking down a gentle spiral ramp reading text and looking at photos on a timeline for that period.

Next came an interesting exhibit on the Cold War and I spent quite some time reading the text (which was shown in French, English, German, and occasional bits of Russian). I was especially impacted by the following paragraph: "The Allies, united against Hitler during World War II, were soon to split in two antagonistic blocs (1947–1991). On the one hand, the USA, whose ambition was to win over the world to its liberal model and establish a social order based on the law of supply and demand, private enterprise and faith in God. Against this messianic stance, on the other, the Soviet offspring of Marxism-Leninism promoted the idea of a fair deal for all in the best of godless worlds. In a state-run, planned economy, the individual gave way to the collective. The classless ideal of the Soviet giant and its satellites faced American hedonism."

Some exhibits were temporary and a new one had recently opened for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was most interesting. I browsed in the bookstore until the museum closed at 18:00 and after nearly four hours there I stepped out into the cold night air and walked several hundred meters to the bus stop.

Back home, I entered a nice warm house with wonderful smells coming from kitchen. Supper was served soon afterwards, and we had soup with bread and cheese—Normandy is the home of one of my favorites, Camembert—and salad with oil-of-walnut dressing.

[Next Day] I got off the tram at stop Saint-Pierre right in the heart of town and there right by the stop was a bank with a cash machine. And it was every so ready to hand over €240. (Don't you just love that when that happens!) Next on my To-Do list was to visit the town tourist office to see if there was anything special going on. Well, don't you know, a sign on the door said it was closed on Mondays. (Don't you just hate that!) As I was translating the sign, a couple came up to get information as well. He was Irish, and she was French, from Breton, the neighboring province. They lived in Dublin, Ireland. We exchanged local information and went our separate ways although I did bump into them several times more around the town. (In 2010, I stayed several nights with them in Dublin.) Fortunately, I had enough maps and information, so I headed off.

I walked some back streets and came across a Christmas market, but it was still being set up and nothing was open. Right opposite I spied a bakery that opened out onto the street and although I really didn't need to eat anything, the food looked so good and the food sirens called me over. Resistance was futile, so I bought a baguette with ham, cheese, and tomato, which the young woman toasted lightly on a grill. It tasted every bit as good as it smelled! Ten minutes later, I was at the Hotel de Ville (town hall), an impressive building. I went in, got some tourist brochures, and sat in a nice warm lounge reading about the things I was about to see.

First stop was Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men's Abbey) and the adjoining abbey church Saint-Etienne, which William the Conqueror started building in 1064. He was buried there in 1087 and I paid my respects telling him that he wouldn't believe how the Brits had let things go since his day. And except for the Channel Islands, they didn't even own Normandy anymore! And as for their international cricket team, well "girly men" came to mind! I took photos of some great stained-glass windows.

Next, it was back across town and up a hill to Abbaye-aux-Dames (yes, you guessed it, Women's Abbey). That was the creation of William's wife, Mathilda. It was a much smaller affair, but then she wasn't Mathilda the Conqueror either! She was buried there in 1083.

William was born illegitimate and took over as Duke of Normandy at age eight. He married Mathilda, a distant cousin, against the wishes of the pope, and later, William built the two churches as a sort of penance to get back in the graces of Rome. Of course, that all happened before he hopped across Le Manche (the English Channel) and kicked Harold's butt at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066. (The battle actually took place at Battle some six miles inland. Soon after, William authorized the construction of Battle Abbey on the edge of the battlefield.)

I went back down the hill to mid-town and there dominating the center set on a rocky hill was The Château. William built it as his fortified castle and lived in a palace in the grounds. I spent time in the small but interesting "Museum of Normandy," which traced occupation of the area from way back in pre-history. I stopped in at the bookstore and bought booklets on William and Caen. I also toured a small exhibition on the reconstruction of Caen after WWII. (Apparently, 75% of the town was destroyed.) The churches and castle were impressive, and made even more so as admission to all was free.

Light rain fell as I left the castle and headed back into the shopping zone. I stopped off at a Spar Markt (a German convenience store-cum-mini supermarket chain) to do a little shopping. I looked over all the shelves of products not so much as to buy but rather to have a basic French vocabulary lesson. I bought a mid-priced bottle of red wine for my hosts, a bottle of tawny port from Portugal for me, two blocks of Milka hazelnut chocolate, and a bag of salted peanuts. That pretty much took care of my four food groups!

I had a 3-minute wait for my tram home, and managed to get a seat. A few raindrops fell as I walked home. By 16:00, I was dressed down, sipping coffee, eating chocolate, and working on this diary. It had been another good day and I'd covered all I'd planned. I got comfortable on the lounge and read one of my new booklets, on William the Conqueror, while sipping a small glass of port. The wine was adequate, which meant I had only four small glasses in the evening.

Brigitte came home from work, and we talked while she prepared supper, a bacon and egg pie baked in the oven. Cream is a major food in Normandy and the egg was whipped into lots of it. Brigitte went off to a yoga class, and Tony ate early as he had guitar lesson. Jean-Claude had been in Paris all day at a meeting, so he came home late, and he and I ate together while sipping glasses of port. We talked about many things. Everyone was back home by 21:00, and Tony gave us a little concert on his acoustic guitar. Lights out at 23:00.

[Next Day] Breakfast consisted of tea and bread with jam and honey. By 08:15, everyone was out the door, and I packed my gear. It was moving day. Some high-priority email had arrived, so I slipped into work mode for a bit. By 09:15, I was packed and ready for my 09:30 pickup. It was 7 degrees C out and calm although more than a little rain had fallen during the night.

Moving to a New Host

My next host, Martine, arrived right on time, and we drove to her house where we talked over coffee. I unpacked in my nice room, which had a big skylight that let the sun right in on me as I sat at a work desk. At 12:30, we lunched on breast of turkey with mushrooms in cream followed by fresh fruit. Martine was a retired librarian who kept busy on numerous projects. She had a steady stream of guests via Servas (mostly young people), and she provided housing for immigrants without papers. Mid-afternoon, she had a meeting during which I settled down to several hours of work.

Rain fell steadily but at 16:00, we decided to go for a walk anyway. We went to the canal and then along it for quite some distance before finishing at a retired friend's house. He invited us in for tea. We hung our wet coats in front of his nice big fire. Another friend was also visiting him, and we all chatted for some time before we were driven home. It was still raining gently.

Back home we worked at the dining table, Martine writing Christmas letters and me working on this diary. We sipped glasses of port to stimulate our creativity. Early evening, Martine's friend, also called Martine, arrived to join us for dinner. She was a retired teacher of children aged 5–10. We ate fresh-made crepes, filling them with cheese, ham, or applesauce, and washed them down with some strong apple cider. We talked of many things.

Later, I read an English-language newspaper that catered to the large and growing population of expat Brits living in France. (In Normandy alone, it was estimated that they owned 11,000 properties, and with a planned 10% increase in top-income tax brackets in the UK slated to start soon even more were considering a move across The Channel.)

[Next Day] I had a nice, large, comfortable bed and I slept quite well. And I was almost enthusiastic about getting up when my alarm went off at 08:00. By 09:00, I was seated in the kitchen sipping a cup of Joseph Tetley's finest tea and having a French vocabulary lesson from the teabag box. Several slices of toast with strawberry and pomegranate jam and a glass of grapefruit juice rounded out the fare. I read a few brochures in preparation for the day's adventure.

Mid-morning, we drove north to the coast and went west to the village of Colleville sur Mer, the location of one of the two US war cemeteries in Normandy. I talked at length with the young Frenchwoman at the information desk and once she figured I was really interested she opened her "private" drawer and gave me a detailed booklet on that cemetery as well as one that gave an overview of all 24 spread around the world in some 15 countries.

We started the tour with a film that followed the lives of several soldiers who died there and included interviews with members of their families. Next came a walk through a large set of panels each with text and photos and/or video about some aspect of the whole landing and push east. I found one story in particular very interesting. It was about the four Niland brothers. Two were killed at Normandy, and a third was captured in the Pacific. A fourth was also in the armed forces but the military command had him shipped home. This formed the basis of the movie, "Saving Private Ryan."

The rain was still coming down steadily and as it didn't look like easing off we headed out with our rain gear. The cemetery was located on a plateau 100 meters higher than the beach and 1 km inland. We walked down a path that lead to the dunes and then out onto Omaha Beach, which along with Utah Beach were the two US beachheads during the invasion. It would have been a challenge to go from landing craft through the shallow water 100 meters across the open beach to the low dunes and then up the hill even without having someone shooting at you!

Back up the top, we walked to a large memorial then out to the edge of the cemeteries. Some 10,700 Americans were buried there. As with my previous visits to US war cemeteries—in Luxembourg and the Netherlands—it was a very moving experience. After that, I had no interest in visiting any of the invasion museums in the area, as they were somewhat commercial and romantic about the whole episode, not to mention full of cheap souvenirs.

We started talking about how a bowl of soup and bread would be good right about then, so we set out to find a restaurant. Being low season there were few tourists out and almost all eating-places were closed. We finally found one open in the heart of the village of Arromanches, site of the Canadian landing at Juno Beach. (We'd passed the British Gold Beach on the way, and their Sword Beach was just a little further east.) We each had a rather good omelet. Just in front of where we parked we could see ruins out in the water of the temporary "Mulberry Harbor" breakwater and docking facility that the allies brought with them and assembled there as part of the invasion.

Back in Bayeux, we stopped by the museum for several hours to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry. It was 70 meters long and 1 meter high and was made around 1070. In 68 panels, it depicts the events up to and during William the Conqueror's invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings. Included in the admission price was an audio wand in a variety of languages. The narration was most interesting. We also toured an exhibit on the life and times of Normandy in that period. I stopped in at the bookstore to rescue a booklet on the Domesday Book (inventory of England) that William commissioned in 1085.

By the time we drove home, it was quite dark and there was heavy traffic and rain. Once inside, we hung up our wet clothes and sipped glasses of port to warm us up a bit. Just for something completely different, I picked up a book Martine had on the invented international language Esperanto and gave myself a lesson. Not long after, a series of guests arrived, and we chatted over glasses of port. One brought a large bowl of soup that she'd made, and we ate that with bread, cheese, and pâté. Afterwards, the group started a meeting of a charitable activity with which they were all involved, and I retired to my room to write up this diary to the sounds of Andrea Bocelli.

On to Avraches

[Next Day] Martine's friend, Monique, a medical doctor, joined us for lunch. I spent several more hours writing in my room. Then at 16:00, Martine drove me to the Caen railway station where we chatted for 15 minutes before saying our goodbyes. It had been another great hosting experience. As I waited for my train, a young woman sat next to me with her pet carrier basket. I thought she had a cat, but when she opened it on her lap out popped Gary the very fluffy rabbit. They were off to visit her parents who apparently just adored Gary.

Train number 52817 arrived at Track D, and I boarded. My carriage was very nicely appointed and even had vertical racks in which up to six bicycles could hang. We headed northwest and then south stopping at Bayeux, Lison, St.-Lo, Courtances, and Folligny.

We arrived in Avraches right on time, at 19:07; so far, so good. I got off the train and went into the station. I found a timetable on the wall and looked at the possibility of going closer to Mont Saint Michel the next day by train. However, as I was writing down some notes the stationmaster came over to tell me that she was locking up the station. Fortunately, there was another timetable posted outside. I turned around to see how to get into town as someone in their infinite wisdom had built the station some distance from the town, or vice versa. And there right in front of me was a thick fog. Don't you just hate that when that happens! Just then, an African man came waltzing over from a house across the street desperately in need to help me despite the fact that he didn't speak any English. Then he called over his friend who was quite drunk, but who tried hard to help by flapping his arms to show me that the shortest way into the city center was to fly. Very funny, I thought and thanked them for their wisdom.

I headed out on what looked like the exit road and just when I thought I was lost, right out of the fog shone the beacon of "Our Lady of the Hamburger," McDonalds. Yes, I was back in civilization or perhaps in Heaven! Needing some sustenance as well as directions, I went in, and don't you know, the manager was ever so helpful and spoke English quite well. I rested for 10 minutes eating a bacon cheeseburger and sipping Coke.

With my batteries recharged, I headed back out into the fog. Now the internet site had stated quite clearly that the hotel I'd booked was 2 km from the station, so I was ready for a hike. However, what they omitted to mention was that it was uphill at an incline of 75 degrees. (I exaggerate, of course; it was probably only 60!) I got to what I thought was the top of the hill, but found that was just the resting point for the Everest Stage 1 climb. I saw a sign going off to the left indicating the town hospital and with my heart jumping out of my chest that seemed the way to go. However, I pressed on in the opposite direction to Centre du Ville up several more inclines. I failed to find the street I was looking for and asked a series of locals, but they gave mixed signals, and I went around a bit until I came to the tourist office, which had a town map, yes! That got me headed in the right direction, but things still didn't look quite right, so I stopped to ask a man walking a dog for some help. The dog replied, "Go straight ahead to the roundabout, woof! Take the second right, woof! Then you'll see the hotel on the left, woof!" Wow, I thought, a streetwise dog! Well, I took his woof for it and headed in that direction again up an incline. However, the street name still didn't match my written directions.

As I walked up the dark and foggy street, I had visions of nefarious creatures lurking in the shadows ready to knock me unconscious, take my blood, and sell it for money to buy drugs. Just then, another beacon shone through the fog. I had come upon a pâtisserie and it was still open. And, don't you know, the owner was every so kind as to step out into the street and show me the hotel sign some 200 meters down the road. I thanked her and bought some juice and pastries.

I was running on empty when I entered the lobby of the Hotel Altos. The front desk clerk had been expecting me and welcomed me in English, and had just started to dial the phone number I'd given in my on-line registration. Of course, that was my home number, so it wouldn't have done him or me any good if he'd gotten through. Anyway, I had reached my destination for the day and my underclothes were soaking with perspiration despite its being very cold out. (Don't you just hate that!) My reservation was prepaid, so he explained the breakfast rules, gave me a wifi internet access code, and directed me to my room. I asked about getting to the abbey the next day and he replied that as it was off-season my only option might be a taxi the round-trip cost of which would rival my two night's hotel bill! I decided not to think about that until the following morning.

I entered my room, and the temperature was such that I looked in the closets for some antifreeze just in case my internal plumbing froze up during the night. The room itself was decent although in the middle there was what looked like a bed only it was smaller! I fired up my laptop and tried to connect to the internet. No luck. I tried repeatedly without success. As I'd had a similar problem at my last host, I decided the problem might be at my end, so I gave up for the time being. On to Plan B.

I ran a hot bath and got in only to find that the tub was quite short at one end. (Don't you just hate that!) It hit the spot though and I soaked awhile. Then as I got out of the bath, I slipped and had a fatal accident. Ha, got you, didn't I? With my luck that evening, an accident would have been a natural progression, but I digress.

I consoled myself with one of the pastries I'd bought on the final stretch to the hotel, while listening to an album by Duffy. Then I worked on this diary. What really pulled me through was knowing how much pleasure my readers would have reading about my trials and tribulations. (The Germans have a word for that, "Schadenfreude," pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.)

I worked on this diary and then on an essay I'd started writing the day before. Lights out at 23:15, ready for a long and deep sleep.

A Visit to Mont Saint Michel

[Next Day] Unfortunately, the sleep was neither long nor deep and I was wide-awake at 08:00. I snacked on the remains of a pastry and the last of my juice. I walked (uphill, of course) the 1 km to the center of town passing my local bakery. I waved to the proprietress as I passed, and she waved back. I arrived at the tourist office soon after 09:00 and waited until it opened at 09:30. A very helpful young woman pointed out the possibilities with regard to getting to and from Mont Saint Michel. As I was too late for the morning bus and train, I had to take a taxi there, but could return via bus-bus or bus-train. She called a taxi, which arrived in 10 minutes.

Despite the very cold temperature, the sun shone brightly as we left the town. In the low-lying areas, the fog was still thick. My driver seemed to be training for a Grand Prix as he put the cab through its paces on the narrow country roads. The temperature down near the coast was 1-degree C. The bay was shrouded in fog, but the upper part cleared for a minute, and we got a spectacular glimpse of the abbey and island seemingly floating on the fog.

The driver dropped me right at the base of the Mont and cheerfully charged me €40, about what I'd expected. I dropped by the tourist office to get a small map and brochure. There was no fee to enter the walled town and no English guided tours were available, so I was left to make my own plan. The many tourist shops were opening, and the patisseries were setting out their freshly baked goods. It seemed to me a good idea to find a nice warm place and a hot drink. Auberge Saint Pierre looked as good a restaurant as any, so I went in and in my best French ordered a large mug of hot chocolate "si vous plait."

The narrow main path meandered up a steady incline through the little town between the shops and restaurants. However, when I got to the entrance of the abbey near the top a sign informed me that it was closed just for the day. And all because of a monument/museum workers strike. Don't you just hate that! Well, they say that something good comes out of everything and, in this case, I saved the €8 admission charge. I chatted with other disgruntled tourists, which included a group of young Japanese guys from Tokyo and a Dutchman from Nijmegen.

Plan B involved walking around the town's ramparts taking photos of the church on the rock above and the mudflats exposed by the low tide. At sea level, I walked several hundred meters along the causeway to get a good photo of the whole island, which was about 1 km around. Then I walked out on the mudflats near the base of the fortifications. A sign warned of quicksand, so I made sure I followed the footsteps of the people ahead of me, that is, right up until those footsteps disappeared!

Although I'd seen and done everything, I had several hours to wait for the next bus. At 13:00, quite by accident I was back at the same restaurant I'd visited earlier. I had hot soup on my mind and the menu there offered three kinds of potage: vegetable, onion, and fish. My bowl of vegetable soup came with a basket of bread and a spoon so large it was almost too big to fit in my mouth (and we all know how big that is). The soup was just like my grandma would have made if she had been French. When I'd entered, the restaurant was quite busy, but I spied a table for two (for me and my imaginary friend) right next to the open fire. Now when I say "next to" I was almost on top of the fire, and boy was it toasty. When it died down a bit, I grabbed the hand bellows and blew some life back into it. All that was missing was a dog at my feet (and maybe some hazelnut chocolate, potato chips, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree).

I ordered a café au lait and tried to explain that I wanted less coffee and more milk plus extra sugar. That seemed to work out okay, and I enjoyed the coffee although I had to use up some of my own sugar supply as well. (My travelling jacket and outer coat have many compartments in which I carry a stash of emergency rations and equipment. Over 30 years of travel, I've made quite a list of things to take on each trip and to carry on my person.)

I bought a nice souvenir booklet and a small poster of the island for my office wall. Then I waited for the 14:35 bus to Pontorson. An older Italian couple was also waiting for the bus, and they asked me if I was German. Once we figured we had Spanish in common, we switched to that and chatted until the bus came. The 9-km ride was through the countryside in the sunshine. I got off at the train station to wait more than 90 minutes for a bus to Avranches. Inside, I got talking to the stationmaster who was very friendly. He told me that he could get me to Avraches 40 minutes earlier, so I bought a train ticket. Then I asked him about the projected go-slow train strike the next day and I think he was so bored there having nothing much to do that he made some phone calls to find out the latest news. Some 20 minutes later, he came out to the platform to give me a copy of an itinerary he thought should work to get me back to Paris. Such service!

A young Japanese man approached me on the platform to confirm he was waiting at the right place. He'd left Japan more than three weeks earlier and had ridden the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostok to Moscow, which took a week. He rode 3rd class and shared a day/night compartment with soldiers going home for a break. He was headed to Cherbourg to catch the ferry to Poole, England. In a week, he'd fly back to Tokyo. He graduated university back in September and would start his job in April next year. We chatted on the train until my stop.

It made a big difference when I arrived in Avraches in daylight and without fog. And apart from those advantages, I had found out about a shortcut to town, so I headed off on that. The good news was that the distance was halved. The bad news was that it was even steeper than the way I'd gone the night before. Maybe more than 90 degrees! Well, not quite.

I stopped off at the tourist office to pass along information about the abbey's being closed and the actual cost of the taxi ride. I also picked up some information about hiking the cliffs on the old customs inspectors' trails near Cherbourg. Then it was up Constitution Avenue to Patton Circle in the middle of which was a large monument to General George Patton, famous U.S. tank commander in WWII. A tank from that war stood next to the monument. Once he'd liberated Avranches, Patton pushed out across France to Germany. On the edge of the circle stood two lesser "monuments," Boulangerie (Bakery) Patton and Pizzeria Patton, of which George would have been ever so proud. I stopped in at my local bakery to report on my day's activities and to buy drinks and some food. The proprietress cut a very long baguette in half and filled it with ham, cheese, and tomato.

As I approached my hotel, I found a group of 20 people blocking the entrance and holding a large banner. Apparently, they were protesting about something, but with the front desk clerk's limited English I was unable to find out what their grievance was. As far as I could tell there were no "Go home Yanqui!" signs.

After I freshened up and rested, I took my laptop downstairs to the lobby where, lo and behold, the wifi signal was very strong and I was connected to the outside world. A lot of business and personal email was waiting, and it took some 90 minutes for me to deal with it. The manager dropped by to chat and to offer me a ride to the train station the following morning, but only if the breakfast rush was over and he had a spare body. It was a generous gesture. Back in my room, I got into some writing on my laptop and had to force myself to stop and go to bed. Lights out after 23:00.

Back to Paris

[Next Day] Being a Saturday, there was less traffic on the main street outside my window. However, I still woke up before my 07:30 alarm. I packed my gear and took care of some email that had arrived overnight and was down at the front desk by 08:30. As there was no one available to drive me to the station, I set off for my 2 km morning walk.

The town of Avranches was coming alive and the coffee bars were busy, and I stopped at a bank to refresh my Euro supply. Then I got to the steep shortcut to the train. The good news was that there was no ice. That would have resulted in a very quick trip down the hill and numerous broken bones. The bad news was that an earthquake must have occurred during the night and made the hill even steeper. (Don't you just hate that when that happens!) The trip was slow but uneventful; however, at the bottom, the footbridge over the freeway was rather slippery. I managed that, but in the last few steps did an unscheduled "pas de deux with pirouette," which earned me a respectable 8.2 score from the judges standing nearby.

The train station was dark, and things looked ominous. However, it was unlocked so I went inside happy to find two others planning to travel. The good news was that the 09:49 train to Caen was running. (The only other trains scheduled that day were at 17:55 to Caen and 19:08 to Rennes.) At 09:15, the ticket agent arrived, and he was ever so happy to sell me a ticket to Caen and then on to Paris with only a short stopover. So far, so good, and I settled down to my petite de juener (breakfast) of pastry and lemon drink. (The last of the great gourmands!)

There was frost covering the tracks as the six of us stood on the cold open platform. The 09:49 arrived on time and was a very warm and comfortable train. I faced forward at a table and spent the 1:45-hour trip looking out the window. The sun shone brightly as we bumped along picking up speed. There were farms, farms, and more farms with green fields and contented cattle and goats. The aftereffects of all the rain were evident. Creeks were swollen, and fields were flooded. A conductor came along and as he spoke to me in French, he waved his hands, so I thought he wanted me to sing. Apparently, he was not that kind of conductor!

In Caen, I had a short wait for the train to Paris. The train was an express, and we raced through the countryside arriving in Paris Gare St. Lazare right on time at 13:45. I quickly found the Metro station nearby and headed out on the Green Number 12 line. I changed to the Yellow Number 10 line and after a few stops, I came up to street level right across from the house of my friend Stéphane. The second part of my Paris visit had begun.

Signs of Life: Part 25

© 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from a trip to Munich, Germany, with a day trip to Salzburg, Austria.


Herr Hirsch's piano store (Klavier is piano in German). The keyboard faux awnings were a clever touch.


I never did figure out what this sign was trying to say, but it was on the door of a hookah shop.

[Reviewer John said: Perhaps it is a reference to the hookah-smoking caterpillar in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland where he is rude and confusing.]

In any event, A Google search of "come in we're closed" was illuminating.


This plaza floor was a giant sundial with the church steeple nearby casting a shadow to indicate the time.


Would you buy your menswear at a place with this name? Apparently, someone does!


When you are a regular customer at the famous Hofbrauhaus, you keep your beer stein there, under lock-and-key. There were thousands of them in racks in several rooms.


An unusual name for a German womenswear store.


Music, anyone?


Sign outside a candy store.


What caught my eye in this public garden was the prohibition on street musicians and entertainers.


According to Wikipedia, "A love lock or love padlock is a padlock that sweethearts lock to a bridge, fence, gate, monument, or similar public fixture to symbolize their love. Typically the sweethearts' names or initials, and perhaps the date, are inscribed on the padlock, and its key is thrown away (often into a nearby river) to symbolize unbreakable love."


In this neighborhood in Salzburg, all store signs were of the old-guild type, which signify the nature of the product sold therein. No guess as what this one sold.


While I do like my chocolate, I'm not sure I'm ready to go that far!


If you are in a German-speaking area in the weeks leading up to Christmas, look out for a Christmas Market.

"Get your potato slices, chicken wings, sweetcorn, ribs, and hot drinks at this stall!"


In the world-famous Getreidegasse in the heart of Salzburg, Austria, in the immediate vicinity of Mozart's birthplace.


Salzburg, Austria: "A [clothing] collection for women who like fine materials, play with contrasts and enjoy true fashion."


A clash of food cultures!


Odds and Ends: Part 1

© 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.


Thus far, all the essays I've posted on this blog have each covered a single topic. Since I started writing installments, I've maintained a list of potential topics; however, for more than a few of them I'd be hard-pressed to write a whole page let alone 6–8 pages. And then there are the many hundreds of topics about which I could only write a few sentences or paragraphs.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I spent time going through my bookcases, and I found some long-forgotten treasures. One of these was "Jack's Reference Book for Home and Office: An Encyclopedia of General Information; a Medical, Legal, Social, Educational, and Commercial Guide; An English Dictionary." My copy was published in 1908. I bought it in Australia in the mid-1970's, and it came to the US in a shipping container with my 1,000-book collection back in 1984. [When I went to the Wikipedia page for this title, I was delighted to find an "External link" to a site containing all 1,100 pages of the 1909 edition. Take a look, especially if you'd like to know about proper business and personal etiquette!]

Along with numerous other books, I'd had this reference book alongside my bed for several months, and every now and then when I saw it, I would pick it up—it's very heavy—and browse a few pages. Every so often, I'd come across a new word, a new idea, or some interesting or obscure fact, and for no particular reason, I started making notes. [See my essay, "Books by My Bed," from October 2010.]

In March of 2021, a year into the pandemic, I had an epiphany, which according to Wikipedia, is "an experience of sudden and striking insight." The idea that came to me was, "Why not start a series of installments, each of which contains short pieces about completely unrelated topics?" Not only would I use up some of those many notes I've been making over the years, I'd be encouraged to make even more notes as I read things in future, and I'd have "something for everyone" in each such installment. And with copious links to Wikipedia, the reader might be encouraged to research further.

But what to call the series? I started out with "Bits and Pieces," but I knew that was just a working title. After looking in a thesaurus, I found numerous possibilities, including the following: miscellaneous things, odds and sods, hodge-podge, all and sundry, mingle-mangle, mishmash, oddments, ragbag, remnants, eclectic mix, grab bag, miscellanea, miscellany, omnium-gatherums or omnium-gathera (Latin for a collection of everything), and farrago (a collection containing a confused variety of miscellaneous things). What struck me about the last one was the derived adjective farraginous. I thought, "There's a fine word to inject into a conversation!" "I say, Your Highness, thou art looking most farraginous this evening!" Or, perhaps, "Don't be so darned farraginous!" Try it the next time you are attending a dinner party with guests most of whom you have never met before. By the way, the word means random, miscellaneous, or indiscriminate.

In the end, I settled on "Odds and Ends." According to www.idioms.online, 'Odds and ends probably derived from an earlier term from the mid-1500's, odd ends, referring to short leftovers from bolts of cloth and then later to short leftovers of any material, such as "odd ends of chain" or "odd ends of lumber." By the mid-1700's it had morphed into "odds and ends" and become more generalized, acquiring its present meaning.'

[Another treasure I came across while searching my shelves was a very large Rand-McNally New Standard Atlas of the World, published in 1900, when many national borders were very different than now.]

Here then are this month's topics, all of which have "crossed my desk" in recent times:

  1. Santa Claus is a corruption of Saint Nicholas, "the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, prostitutes, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students in various cities and countries around Europe." Having been raised in a British Commonwealth country, my Christmas gift giver was called Father Christmas who has his own tradition. [Regarding Christmas presents, I'm reminded of the story of the father who, early on Christmas Eve, spends all the family Christmas money at the pub, and when he gets home, he remembers he was supposed to buy a present for his son. Luckily, there, right in the front yard was a load of horse manure that had been delivered for the garden. Quick thinker that he was, he got the boy's Christmas stocking and filled it from the pile. The next morning, the son is out playing with the boy next door, the latter of whom says how he got a cowboy costume, complete with toy gun. When he asked the first boy what he'd gotten, the optimistic reply was, "I had a horse, but it got away!"] For more than you ever wanted to know about Christmas and northern winter gift-bringers in various countries, click here.
  2. Nova Scotia is a Canadian Atlantic province. Apparently, some early settlers from Scotland decided it looked a bit like home, so they named is using the Latin term for "New Scotland." As for me, I visited Nova Scotia some years before I set foot in Scotland, so when I was travelling around Scotland, I remarked how it reminded me of Nova Scotia! I've had just the one trip to Nova Scotia, but am very much looking forward to going back, especially to Cape Breton Island.
  3. Lots of people celebrate St. Valentine's Day, but what is it and why? "It originated as a Christian feast day honoring one or two early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine and, through later folk traditions, has become a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and love in many regions of the world." The date February 14 was set way back in AD 496. Of course, one cannot be allowed to have too much fun; the day is banned in some places.
  4. My mother was quite musical, and among the numerous instruments she played was what I knew as a mouth organ, which, I discovered many years later, in many places, is instead called a harmonica. The early wooden, Chinese mouth organs (sheng) date back to 1100 BC.
  5. Many of us know the tune "Scarborough Fair" made famous by Simon and Garfunkel back in 1966. One of that song's lines is "And tell her to make me a cambric shirt." Just what the heck is a cambric shirt? Apparently, it's "one of the finest and densest kinds of cloth … originally from the French commune of Cambrai." Later, cambric became known as chambray.
  6. There is an old saying that goes something like, "He's as old as Methuselah!" He "was a biblical patriarch and a figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam." He was also reportedly the grandfather of Noah, but when you've lived for 969 years, you probably don't remember all the children you fathered! As for the credibility of this age claim, "Bible commentators have offered various explanations as to why the Book of Genesis describes him as having died at such an advanced age; some believe that Methuselah's age is the result of a mistranslation, while others believe that his age is used to give the impression that part of Genesis takes place in a very distant past." Click here to see Methuselah's supposed family tree. The ten oldest people in modern-recorded history are listed here. [It is my understanding that old is halfway between your current age and 100.]
  7. Lewis Carroll is a well-known author whose main claims to fame are his books, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass." His real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and he was a faculty member of Christ Church college in Oxford. Alice was a real person, a daughter of the college dean. According to Wikipedia, his pen-name "was a play on his real name: Lewis was the anglicised form of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll an Irish surname similar to the Latin name Carolus, from which comes the name Charles. The transition went as follows: "Charles Lutwidge" translated into Latin as "Carolus Ludovicus". This was then translated back into English as "Carroll Lewis" and then reversed to make "Lewis Carroll"." If you should ever find yourself in Oxford, do tour Christ Church and stop by the dining hall to see the dodos and other characters from Carroll's works pictured in the stained-glass windows, but don't go at lunchtime, as the hall is in use by students at that time. [BTW, that dining hall was the one featured in the Harry Potter movies.]
  8. When watching a movie or TV police show, unidentified men and women, especially dead ones, are often referred to as John Doe and Jane Doe, respectively. Apparently, "John Doe and Richard Roe were the fictitious plaintiff and defendant, respectively, in the quaint system of ejectment procedure that was followed [in England] until 1852 when the legal farce was abolished." Ejectment is a process followed to recover the possession of, or title to, land.
  9. After watching a travel program on the Isle of Man, I went on-line to learn more. It is not part of the UK, but, rather, is a self-governing British Crown dependency. And QEII happens to have the very-Butch title of "The Lord of Mann." (She is also the Duke of Normandy of the Channel Islands, another Crown Dependency.) "In 1881, the parliament became the first national legislative body in the world to give women the right to vote in a general election, although this excluded married women." The island hosts a well-known, international motorcycle race, and the people and their language are called Manx.
  10. Are you up to speed with your vexillology? According to Wikipedia, it "is the study of the history, symbolism and usage of flags or, by extension, any interest in flags in general." I came across this term when I found a book on my shelves that was "all about flags." Who knew there was so much to know about that subject! There are fields, fimbriations, finials, flies, headings, and hoists, and that's just for starters. Of course, the International Federation of Vexillological Associations just had to have its own flag!
  11. Anyone who's seen a British movie or TV show involving a policeman, likely has come across the term Bobby, slang for a member of London's Metropolitan Police, and the distinctive accompanying helmet. The story goes that the name comes from Sir Robert "Bobby" Peel, founder of that force in 1829.
  12. The name William the Conqueror is well known, but was his name really William? Actually, no, but that information had been kept a secret from me until I visited his grave at the Abbey of Saint-Étienne in Caen, France, in 2009. On his tombstone was written Guillelmus, Latin for the French name Guillaume. So how ever did that become William? To learn about the history of the name William, click here. Oh, and more fake news, the Battle of Hastings did not take place at Hastings. Instead, it happened some six miles west at a place that is now called Battle. The 1066 battlefield has never been developed, and one can walk it listening to an audio recording of a re-enactment from the perspective of various participants, including Harold's queen, who was helping the hospital corps.
  13. Here's another word to drop into a conversation, drupaceous, which Wikipedia happily tells you, "of, relating to, resembling, or producing drupes." A drupe is a fruit with a stone or pit, and a drupelet is one of those little outer pieces of a blackberry or raspberry. You can make it sound good or bad.
  14. As for the nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill, some say its origins are from the time of King Louis XVI of France who lost his head (he was beheaded) and his queen who came tumbling after. Also suggested is some connected story idea from Iceland. In any event, mending one's head with vinegar and brown paper was a treatment for bruising, with the paper acting as a bandage. Anyway, when I was a wee lad, I learned that "Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. Jill the dill forgot the Pill, and now she has a daughter!" But that might just be the rural South Australian version.
  15. If you know anything about the Garden of Eden, you'll know that Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel, one of which killed the other. It came as a complete surprise to me when I read in Wikipedia that 'A third son, Seth, is born to Adam and Eve, and Adam had "other sons and daughters" (Genesis 5:4).' Now, a question I've had for many years has been, "If there were no other families in existence, with whom did their children beget their own children?" One (unauthorized) lesson I remember from Sunday School was, "How long did Cain hate his brother? As long as he was able!"
  16. The modern meaning of dictator is, "a political leader who possesses absolute power." However, back in the Good Old Days of the Roman Republic, it was a form of magistrate given absolute power for a set time during which they had to account for their actions." BTW, I've often said that I think the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship. However, most dictators do not start out being benevolent, or if they do, they don't stay that way.
  17. Just where did the English names for days of the week come from? Sunday – the sun, Monday – the moon, Tuesday – the one-handed Norse god Tiw, Wednesday – the Germanic god Woden, Thursday – the Norse god Thor, Friday – the Anglo-Saxon goddess Frīja, and Saturday – the Roman god Saturn. [Numerous Romance and other languages chose instead, to name what in English are Tuesday through Friday, using words derived from Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus, respectively. BTW, I started my list/week with Sunday. Is that normal? Some cultures start it on Monday.]
  18. Recently, I was rewarding myself with a good-sized portion of milk chocolate with hazelnuts because I'd gone a good long while without having committing any of the Seven Deadly Sins! Apparently, these, are "a grouping and classification of vices within Christian teachings, although they are not mentioned in the Bible. … they are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth, which are contrary to the seven heavenly virtues." It seems that a mortal sin is something yet again. [Regarding sinning, in Ireland, two priests—one a Catholic, the other Protestant—worked in the same area and were friends. One day they met, and one saw the other walking. "Where is you bicycle?" "Someone must have stolen it." "When that happened to me, the next Sunday I gave a sermon about the Ten Commandments with particular emphasis on 'Thou shalt not steal!' And lo and behold, my bicycle was returned." "OK, I'll try it." The next time they meet, the priest is riding his bike. "I see my advice worked." "Yes, it did. Just as I got to the bit about not committing adultery, I remembered where I'd left it!"]
  19. A word that is often in the news here in the US is gerrymandering, "a practice intended to establish an unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district voting boundaries, which is most commonly used in first-past-the-post electoral systems." It's named after an American politician, one Elbridge Gerry, in conjunction with the humble salamander amphibian; really!
  20. Did you ever sit on a divan, a "long, cushioned seat?" Apparently, these seats can be found along the walls in Middle-Eastern council chambers. The word is Turkish with Persian and Arabic origins.
  21. Where did the name "England" come from and when was it first used? "It takes its name from the Angles, a Germanic tribe deriving its name from the Anglia peninsula, who settled during the 5th and 6th centuries." So, England is the Land of the Angles! [I vaguely remember learning about the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in elementary school.] Related is Anglo, "a prefix indicating a relation to, or descent from, the Angles, England, English culture, the English people or the English language, such as in the term Anglo-Saxon language."
  22. What do you suppose is on the menu at a death café? As Wikipedia states, this "is a scheduled non-profit get-together for the purpose of talking about death over food and drink, usually tea and cake. The goal … is to educate and help others become more familiar with the end of life." I've attended two, and found them most interesting. Most attendees spoke about dealing with their own parents' decline and death. At the first one, there was a couple younger than 40, and the husband was terminally ill. Once they explained their situation, that changed the whole dynamic.
  23. We are familiar with people listing the pros and cons of some approach, but just where did this saying come from? Quite simply, the Latin word pro means for or on behalf of, and contra means against.
  24. On several occasions when spending time in London, I've visited the British Library, which I highly recommend doing. They have developed a system for digitizing various old manuscripts and allowing you to look at them, by turning virtual pages. The one I perused was a notebook of Leonardo da Vinci's. A most interesting thing I learned was that he wrote letters in reverse and words from right-to-left, so you need a mirror to read his writing. Of course, the page-browser reverses it for you. In a separate exhibit, I saw a Lufthansa airline napkin with the original, hand-written words—including edits—of one of the Beatles' songs that they wrote while flying. One time, I attended a series of business meetings at the library, which involved software for preserving documents. I was given a tour of the restoration rooms where people were working on some 1,000-year-old Japanese scrolls.
  25. Countries have national anthems, and that for the UK is, of course, "God save the King/Queen." The US has a well-known song, "America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)" set to the same tune. Australia used to use the UK anthem as well, until Australia had a competition to replace that song with "Advance Australia Fair" in 1984, after I left. Although I am an Australian citizen, I must confess that I don't know the new anthem. That said, I do remember a version of the old anthem from elementary school, "God save our gracious cat, feed it on bread and fat, God save our cat." Apparently, New Zealand and Denmark are the only countries with two anthems of equal standing.
  26. In modern use, a neophyte is someone new to a particular subject. However, back in the old days, it was someone recently baptized into Christianity. (From the Greek néos [new] + phutón [plant, child].)
  27. When I was a young lad living on an Aussie farm, we kept cows, some of which were Friesian. For many years I was blissfully ignorant about how this breed of cow got its name. Then after a few trips to the Netherlands, and being a map lover, I discovered the Dutch province of Friesland, where the Friesian language is widely spoken (among cows as well as people). [I have to say that the Friesian flag is one of my absolute favorites.] A few years later, I became very good friends with a Friesian couple. Now here's a travel tip: when travelling by train from Amsterdam to Groningen, halfway there the train splits in two with one half going to Leeuwarden (in Friesland), in which case, it's best to be in the correct half! [I've since learned that Guernsey and Jersey cattle come from the Channel Islands of the same respective names.]
  28. If you are trying to find an underground water supply, you might try using a divining rod (also referred as a dowsing rod). Such a rod supposedly can help locate water, mineral ore, oil, and even graves. In the US, dowsing for oil is called doodlebugging.
  29. Rugby is a well-known code of football, especially enjoyed by New Zealanders, Japanese, Samoans, Fijians, French, and Brits, and anyone else wanting to have their nose broken, repeatedly! Apparently, it was invented by a student who attended Rugby School, which is located in the English town of the same name.
  30. Recently, I watched the 1973 Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman movie "Papillon" (which is French for butterfly). Late in the film, McQueen is sent to Devil's Island, a penal colony in the Salvation Islands of French Guiana, on the north coast of South America. Being part of France, that territory uses the euro. It is also the launch site for the European Space Agency.
  31. The term Yankee is often heard in movies, especially those set during the US Civil War. It often refers to Americans from the (northeast) New England states. [For many years, my neighbor was a retired US Navy pilot born and raised in West Texas, part of the South in that Civil War. He claimed that he only learned that Damned Yankee was two words when he left Texas!] The contracted form Yank often refers to any American. Back in 1979, after I'd arrived in Chicago to live for a year, I was explaining rhyming slang to someone, and they asked if we (Aussies) had a nickname for Americans. I replied, "Yes, septic tanks, Yanks!" Of course, that is hardly flattering, but if an Aussie really likes you he insults you. Of course, he also does that if he really doesn't like you!
  32. More fake news! For many years, there has been a rumor that Columbus was the first European to discover the Americas in 1492. It turns out that he was well and truly beaten by the Vikings, who set up camp in Newfoundland and surrounds 500 years earlier. You can read all about it here.
  33. Many countries have only one official language (think US and Australia), more than a few have two (think Canada and Belgium), and some even have three or four (think Switzerland). Of course, numerous countries have minority languages. Wikipedia states, "Papua New Guinea … is the most linguistically diverse country in the world. … [There are] 839 living languages spoken in the country." Back in the 19th Century, the northern part, German New Guinea, was a Germany territory. After WWI, it was administered by Australia. The southern part had long been British New Guinea, but in 1905, they handed it over to Australia, as Papua. Both parts continued with completely separate administrative systems until they combined and became an independent country in 1975.
  34. During my first trip to Vienna, Austria, I learned about Friedensreich Hundertwasser, "a visual artist and architect who also worked in the field of environmental protection." He is famous for Hundertwasserhaus, an occupied apartment complex that is one of Vienna's most visited buildings. There is limited access to that, but a visitors' center is only a few blocks away. Do drop by if you are in town, take some photos, and buy the wonderful guidebook.
  35. Many people talk about the country Holland when they really mean the Netherlands. And more than a few Dutch people are sensitive to the difference. In reality, Holland refers to the two Dutch provinces North Holland and South Holland, the former containing Amsterdam. The Netherlands is the largest of four constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands: the 12 contiguous provinces in Europe along with the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba; Aruba; Curaçao; and Sint Maarten. I've had the pleasure of visiting the six Caribbean islands each once, and the home country many times. When asked why I love to go to the Netherlands, I reply, "for the vla!," which is Dutch for custard.
  36. Speaking of "things Dutch," there I was driving through rural Netherlands when I saw a large windmill off in the distance. I got off the main road and went in search of it, so I could get a good look up-close. I finally found it, and it was magnificent, its huge sails turning in the wind. It was located in the village of Breukelen. Before New York City was so named and became English, it was called New Amsterdam, and was Dutch territory. One area, Brooklyn, was named after that Dutch village back in the old country.
  37. When did we start using surnames (that is, family or last names)? According to Wikipedia, "Examples of surnames are documented in the 11th century by the barons in England. Surnames began as a way of identifying a certain aspect of that individual, such as by trade, father's name, location of birth, or physical features. It was not until the 15th century that surnames were used to denote inheritance." Many Spanish family names begin with de/del (meaning of/from): examples include De La Cruz, De Los Reyes, Del Rosario, De Castro, and De La Rosa. Italian names have a similar custom: De Laurentis, Del Monte, and Di Caprio. Some families have compound surnames, that is, names made up of more than one word, which are sometimes hyphenated. Spanish people often have two surnames, the first of which comes from the father's first family name, the second from the mother's first family name. See also Double-barrelled name.
  38. The word nostalgia is Greek for homesickness.
  39. Many of us are familiar with nuns, those women in a (sometimes very strict) religious order. And most often they seem to be Catholic. When the Church of England broke away from the Catholic church under Henry VIII, it retained its nuns. Nuns also exist in eastern orthodox religions, as well as Buddhism. I highly recommend the autobiographies (and other works) by Karen Armstrong, an Englishwoman who left her convent, and has since become a respected authority on various world religions. Perhaps the world's best-known nun was Mother Teresa, an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic. [I recall that she died only a few days after Princess Dianna, whose death hogged the headlines, sadly relegating coverage of Mother Theresa's life to page 5 or 7!] And then there was the Singing Nun, whose hit record "Dominique" was huge!
  40. I've been known to sprinkle a dash of nutmeg on my pumpkin or rice pudding. That spice comes from the ground-up kernel of a stone fruit, often found in Indonesia.
  41. According to Wikipedia, "Vandalism is the action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property." It comes from the German tribe, the Vandals who, apparently, went around destroying things (at early-history soccer games, apparently).
  42. Have you ever witnessed someone or something "running amok?" It's not an uncommon term. It's "sometimes referred to as simply amok or having gone amok, also spelled amuck or amuk, is the act of behaving disruptively or uncontrollably. … The phrase is often used in a less serious manner when describing something that is wildly out of control or causing a frenzy." From the Malay language, it means "to go on a killing spree."
  43. A term sometimes used in American film and song is Dixie, a nickname for the southern states, typically those that were part of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It can also be referred to as Dixieland (as in Dixieland jazz). There is no clear agreement on the origin of the term, but one interesting possibility is that it came from the label Dix (French for 10) on ten-dollar bills issued by a bank in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
  44. The title Dalai Lama is "given by the Tibetan people to the foremost spiritual leader of the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism." The current Dalai Lama lives in exile in India, and is well known around the world, and respected by people of all (and no) faiths. Successors to the title are deemed to be reincarnations. Now, there are lamas and there are llamas, and it's best not to confuse the two. The following poem (by Ogden Nash), which I learned in elementary school, will help. "The one-l lama, He's a priest; The two-l llama, He's a beast. And I will bet A silk pajama There isn't any Three-l lllama."
  45. You've probably heard of a vendetta, an on-going feud between two people or families. This Italian word comes from the Latin vindicta (meaning vengeance). A couple of well-known feuds are the Wars of the Roses (England) and the Hatfield-McCoy feud (US).
  46. It is common knowledge that nitroglycerin is a powerful explosive used to make dynamite. But did you know that your heart doctor might prescribe it to you as a medication? (And, NO, I don't mean as a laxative!) It seems to me that taking too much of the stuff for chronic heart failure may well cause your heart to fail catastrophically! So, just who and how did this medical treatment get discovered? Did someone say, "I'm having chest pains. Let's see if things improve if I chew on this stick of dynamite."?
  47. If you know something about WWII in Europe, you likely will have come across the term Vichy France. This was a French state that tried to maintain some French independence and neutrality while Germany occupied much of the country. It was based in the town of Vichy. François Mitterrand (President of France 1981–1995) served under the Vichy Regime.

Travel: Memories of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

© 2007, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

After working full time the previous year, I was delighted to be back on a much-reduced schedule, allowing me to take advantage of cheap airfares that came available at short notice. So, when flights to Cancun, Mexico, went on sale, I snapped up a ticket muy pronto (quickly) for a 10-day trip in January, during the northern winter.

[Diary] Flying time was 3:11 hours, mostly over water, the Gulf of Mexico. As Mexican time is GMT-6, I turned my clock back an hour. Although I was tired, and I had a good pillow, my attempt to sleep was unsuccessful. I had a snack and drink, and then looked over my small, but adequate, guidebook, making a plan for where to go from the airport, how to get there, and where to stay. I had no accommodation booked, and it was high season, but I planned to make it up as I went. And, of course, to follow my golden rule, "Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B!"

The plane arrived at Cancun International on schedule. I had filled out the customs and immigration forms that were handed out during the flight, but was given a replacement form as I deplaned. I filled that out while waiting in line. The young passport officer asked if I lived in the land of the "kangaroos." I said that I was from there but now lived in "los Estados Unidos." He stamped my passport, and I was on my way to the baggage claim. My backpack had a priority label and actually came out with the first pieces!

I stopped at a cash machine, but after several failed attempts to navigate it, I gave up and went to the American Express counter. I changed $120 cash into pesos at a rate of 10:1. So, a peso was worth about 10 cents. To make it a bit interesting, the symbol for the pesos is $, the same as for the dollar. On the way to the bus stop, I found another cash machine, and this time I figured out what I was doing wrong. I soon had 2,000 pesos in my hand in a combination of 500s, 200s, and 100s.

Minutes later, an ADO company bus to Playa del Carmen was getting ready to go, so I threw my backpack into the hold and got a seat. It was very comfortable and cheap. However, unfortunately, to compensate for the high humidity, the driver had the air conditioning turned down to freezing level. The movie "The Wedding Planner" played on a number of large screens in English. The 4-lane divided highway was in good shape, so the ride was smooth. The countryside was quite flat and filled with dense scrub. The whole coast relies on the tourism sector, which has only been thriving there for 35 years.

An hour later, we pulled into the Playa del Carmen bus terminal, I bought a ticket to Tulum, boarded another bus (getting the last seat) and we were off, all in a few minutes. The second bus was a notch below the first with respect to quality, but it was nowhere near as cold. I sat next to a very dark-skinned, young mother who had a young baby girl on her lap. The girl's hair and eyes were jet black, and she had a great smile.

Another hour later, when it was well and truly dark, we pulled into the bus station at Tulum. I bought some apple-flavored bottled water and fruit bars. I chatted with a young couple from Berlin, and we agreed to share a taxi to the hotel area on the beach some distance from downtown. The driver was very friendly and spoke basic English, which he had learned in Texas. The place where the Germans were staying had no single rooms available, so I had the driver take me to some other places nearby. I soon found a room at "Cabanas Condesa," and checked-in for two nights. I thanked the driver and gave him a tip for his troubles.

Check-in consisted of my writing my name and nationality in a ruled schoolbook, I paid for two nights, and that was that. Then I got a tour of the shared toilets and shower rooms out under the trees. I was also given a strong padlock and key to lock-up my room, the first time I ever had that happen. On seeing my room, my first reaction was that it was the house of sticks, straight from "The Three Little Pigs." The walls of the room were literally large round sticks, going from floor to ceiling. The breeze came right in between them, as did the humidity. (Hopefully, the Big Bad Wolf wouldn't come huffing and puffing!)

A double bed was fixed to one wall and was suspended from the roof on new strong ropes. It had a big mosquito net, a pillow, and a bottom sheet only. Also provided was an electric fan on a stand. The room cost 300 pesos ($30) per night. Not cheap considering what I got, but it wasn't very far from the pre-Columbian Mayan walled-city Tulum ruins I'd come to see, and it was right on the beach. It was also really quite quaint. The waves crashed all day and night outside my window and off the small restaurant patio.

In the restaurant, I met a French couple who had also just arrived. We got talking and agreed to share a table where we negotiated the menu between us. Between our English, Spanish, and French, plus the occasional bit of sign language, we managed to communicate well enough with the waitress. The food took a good while to come, so much so, that I thought they must have been making it! Anyway, it was plentiful and cheap, and I kept some leftover soft tortillas for emergency rations.

By 9 pm, we said our "bon nuits" (Goodnight in French) and parted company. I took a short stroll on the beach, but found it was strewn with large boulders, and without any light, I couldn't go far. So, I settled into a chocolate bar for dessert. I read the first chapter of a novel by Len Deighton. Lights out at 9:45 pm.

[Diary] I woke off and on throughout the night, which was quite normal for me. However, a pair of dueling tomcats certainly helped disturb me. By 8:45 am, I was wide-awake and feeling refreshed. It was then I discovered that the electricity was off. On inquiry, I was told it was on from 6 pm to 6 am. I also found that the hot water came from solar panels, so the shower might be lukewarm at best. But that's okay as I was on vacation, and it was warm out.

I had my first daytime look around the place and was not disappointed. Apart from some staff, the only other people around were four women guests reading and sunbathing. I shot some photos and video then found the cook and ordered some breakfast. Although I ordered something different to what I'd had for supper the night before, the two meals looked remarkably similar: scrambled eggs, green peppers, rice, and soft tortillas. However, on closer inspection, I found ham.

Mid-morning, I packed my daypack with the essentials: water, leftover breakfast, first-aid kit, toilet paper, novel, and Spanish vocabulary book, among other things. Then I applied a liberal dose of suntan cream, and put on a light long-sleeved shirt and floppy Aussie hat.

The Tulum ruins comprised a wall on the north, west, and south sides, with the sea being the natural barrier to the east. The interior part was at least twice as long as it was wide, and was very nicely preserved with lots of cordoned-off areas to protect the ruins themselves. In fact, tourists can't walk on or in any ruins. There were quite a few iguanas sunning themselves on rocks, in the grass, and on the ruins. I spent several hours walking around and reading all the signage.

The coastline there is very rugged with well-worn cliffs. There was one small horseshoe-shaped beach, although that was closed. A steep set of wooden stairs allowed visitors to get down to another small strip of beach, so I went down to have a look. Well, what can I say? There were all shapes and sizes of human-like creatures sunbathing and swimming, quite a few of whom should never have been allowed out in public dressed as they were. There was plenty of shade and seats or rocks on which to sit, so after I walked all around, I sat and people-watched for quite some time. Since I had nowhere to go, I went nowhere. Mission Accomplished!

Back at my budget haven, I bought a nice cold can of Coke, and read my novel on a deckchair in the shade looking over the blue/green sea whose waves crashed 10 yards from me. It was my idea of winter! I sat there and read until 4 pm, by which time I was tired. After all, it had been a busy day! So, I lay on my bed and had a solid 90-minute nap.

At 5:30 pm, I ventured into one of the shower cubicles. As the power didn't come on until 6, I was a little bit "in the dark" back under the trees. Anyway, the solar heater had done its job and the hot water tap gave off water that was quite warm. The problem I often have with showers when I travel, especially in Latin America, is that they come out the wall at chest height. But this was an exception. Imagine if you will a circular thatched roof hut about 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter, divided into two cubicles. At its peak, the roof reached 18 feet (5 meters). About 9 feet (3 meters) up, a shower protruded, clearing the top of my head by more than 30 inches. I thought perhaps that the water might get cold on the long drop down.

I pulled up a front-row seat next to the rocks and watched the last of the daylight fade. My hair dried quickly and took on a certain rugged, wind-swept look of a beach bum. The dim, red light bulbs under the thatched roof beach shelters came on at 6, and the stars soon came out. Right then, it was just a little bit of Heaven. A party of Canadians from British Columbia came and sat with me, and we exchanged news of travel in the area.

[Diary] The night got a little cool, and without a top sheet or blanket, I improvised with some clothing, which, for the most part, was successful. I awoke for good soon after 8 am. First stop was the shower to wash the fine sand off my feet before putting on clean socks and my hiking boots. Good walking gear is my absolute Number 1 requirement in my travels. I decided to stay a 3rd night, so parted with another 300 pesos, and signed in to the ruled-book register.

After several meals at my place, the very limited menu became quite uninteresting, so I went to the place next door. Their restaurant and menu were many times more interesting, and their prices only about twice as much. I settled into a table in the large circular thatched roof building. Quite a few people sat out in the sun drinking coffee. I ordered a cafe con leche, but this time, enquired as to how it came. My French waiter explained in Spanish that it was Mexican style, not European style. In any event, when it came, it was very strong percolated coffee with a jug of milk on the side, so I've figured out that cafe con leche here is nothing more than black coffee with milk added.

I ordered a ham and cheese omelet, and read my novel. The meal arrived, and the omelet was "to die for." On the side were the obligatory black beans, and two slices of lightly toasted bread. Oh, and a large slice of cucumber; perhaps that's the "parsley garnish" of that restaurant.

I hailed a taxi out front after only a few minutes wait, and driver Jose took me to the Tulum bus station for 45 pesos ($4.50). I asked about his taking me to the ruins at Coba, and he quoted me US$25 each way while waiting there two hours. I declined, and, eventually, he dropped the price to $20, but I still declined.

At the bus station, I negotiated the purchase of a round-trip ticket to Coba with three hours stopover there. Cost was 58 pesos ($5.80), a lot cheaper than 400 by taxi. The first passenger I saw sitting there was a young woman who had sat near me at breakfast. We chatted until her bus to Playa arrived. She'd just finished grad school, and after this holiday, was going back to Chicago to start a job.

My 11 am-bus arrived at 11:15 am, which is "ahead of schedule" for this part of the world. The bus was very comfortable and only lightly air-conditioned. I sat in the front seat, so I could shoot video along the way. The view was pretty much the same all the way: thick scrub/jungle, and wildflowers galore along the roadside. The new two-lane highway eventually gave way to serious road works, and, finally, a rather narrow, but good, road.

It took 45 minutes to get to Coba, and then it took 10 minutes to figure out which way to its ruins. Most people seemed to be headed off in the wrong direction. Although the walk was two kms in and two more back, it was all in the shade. However, I perspired a lot. At its peak, the Mayan city held 50,000 people, and was spread out around several lakes. There were quite a few near-complete buildings and then there was the main pyramid. Its steps went all the way to the temple on top, at an angle of 45 degrees. I climbed it in three stages, with breaks along the way during which I put my heart back in my chest. At the top, there was a small room, which was very cool and dark. The view went for miles with only the top of a much smaller temple to be seen in the near vicinity.

On the walk back to town, I saw a freshwater alligator in a pond off the lake, with some tourists trying to photograph it; however, it went under water. An enterprising young local girl then threw in a fish head on some string to get the gator's attention. It did, and they took their pictures, and then paid her a coin or two.

My 3:30 pm bus was waiting when I arrived in town and left 15 minutes later, right on time. It was First-Class service with light air conditioning. We took about 50 minutes to get back to Tulum, and it rained steadily for the last 15. In town, I strolled along the main street in light rain, and shot some video of life in a provincial town that lives pretty much directly and indirectly from tourism. From across the street, I spied a panaderia (bakery), and was surprised to see so many good things still on the shelves given it was late afternoon. I was looking for something not entirely sweet, and, eventually, found it: empanadas con queso. Although they were a smaller and sweet pastry version of what I knew as an empanada from Central America, they were filled with cheese, so I procured three along with a small carton of strawberry milk. I then ate one and had the milk at a table outside while the world passed me by.

Back home, for some variety, I walked to a different neighboring compound to checkout its Thai restaurant. At a glance, the menu and ambiance looked interesting, so I sat at a table outdoors on a balcony overlooking a pool. The breeze off the sea was wonderful! I order a Tropical Moon smoothie, which consisted of pineapple, mango, and coconut juice blended together with ice, and a large wedge of pineapple. It was just right. Then came four chicken satays grilled on skewers, along with a vinegary cucumber salsa and spicy peanut sauce. It was to die for! Finally, I had a latte to wash it all down. Cost, 154 pesos ($15.40), including tip.

Back home, I stopped by the restaurant to sit and read in the brighter light, but, instead, got talking to two young Brits and a Frenchman. The discussion centered mostly around European politics. We all agreed on the benefit of foreign travel with respect to peoples of different countries getting together and enjoying each other's company even when they agree to disagree on some issues.

[Diary] In a taxi, it was Toad's wild ride from "Wind in the Willows." Soon we were doing 110 km in a 60-km zone, one car length behind another car. If I had to lie in a ditch waiting for an ambulance, it certainly was the right weather for it! At the station, I bought a ticket to Valladolid, a large provincial town in the center of the peninsula. Cost, 50 pesos ($5), with the bus to leave in 30 minutes. The station was quite new and well appointed, with a nice breeze blowing through the waiting area.

After a couple of hours, we pulled into the new bus station in the middle of Valladolid, and I struck up a conversation with a woman from Quebec City, Canada. She had her passport stolen, so had to head back to Cancun ahead of schedule to get temporary documents to go home. In any event, I asked where she'd stayed in town. She told me, and I went for a look. The hotel "El Mason del Marques" was only a few blocks away, facing the large park in the center of town. It had a very nice-looking restaurant and swimming pool, air-conditioned rooms, and even TV. A bank and post office were nearby. Oh, did I mention the free book exchange?

I asked if I could see a room, and a bellman took me on a tour. "Bellman?" you say. What kind of budget hotel has a bellman? While it was much more upscale from my previous very humble abode, it cost only 550 pesos ($55) per night, and I didn't have to haul my valuables with me when I went to the toilet or shower as the rooms had en-suites. I even got a good exchange rate on US$ cash, so I paid for two nights that way.

Check-out time was 1 pm, and my room was not yet ready, so I stowed my luggage there and went out in the street. I found a supermarket in which the piles of boxes were literally spilling out onto the floor. I bought a bottle of grapefruit soda, and found a seat in the shade in the park, where I pulled out my leftover omelet and started to eat. This attracted a very thin, stray dog, which came over to me and sat and begged respectfully. So, I shared my rations after which the grateful thing stood guard in front of me and barked at anyone who came near.

Here's what my guidebook had to say about the town. "Valladolid combines distinguished colonial architecture with the easygoing atmosphere of a Yucatan market town. Whitewashed arcades and 17th-century houses surround the main plaza, and among the town's many fine churches is a fine Franciscan monastery. Right in the middle of the town is a huge cenote (sink hole), which once provided all Valladolid's water, and nearby at Dzitnip are some of the Yucatan's most spectacular cenotes for swimming." While the essence of this likely is true, it conjured up a far more romantic picture than what I'd seen so far.

When it was well and truly dark outside, I ventured out. It was a pleasant evening, so I walked around the main plaza and went into the Catholic cathedral where a service was in progress. From there, I walked the back streets stopping off occasionally to look in some shops. There was a lot of traffic, and whistle-blowing wardens controlled several intersections.

[Diary] It was 10 am when I made my entrance to the hotel restaurant, and a young waiter immediately reported to my table for orders. I started with a nice hot cup of coffee while I studied the menu. I chose one of the combination breakfasts: orange juice, coffee, toast with butter and honey, and cereal, but only if the waiter could heat the milk a little, don't you know! The alternatives to the cereal were boiled, fried, or scrambled eggs. However, since I was in the city and could find snacks at any time, I decided to order so there would be no leftovers.

The juice was fresh-squeezed and wonderful, as were the surroundings. The restaurant was under a verandah, in a square wrapped around an open courtyard garden. A large cascading fountain splashed in the center, and some flowering plants, trees, and vines added contrasting colors to the cream and white plastered walls that lined the courtyard. The walls were lined with large paintings, large ornately carved furniture, clay pots, big brass light fixtures, including a big chandelier. From my table, I could see out the huge wooden double front doors to the plaza across the street. There, the craft markets had been in full swing for several hours. And if all that wasn't enough, the sound of Spanish guitars was piped in to soothe me as I ate my toast and honey. All that and more for a $5 breakfast! I could get used to this.

I walked around the plaza shooting video, and then headed for Cenote Zaci a few blocks away. I paused to look at the birds and animals in a small zoo in the grounds, and then paid my 150 pesos ($1.50) to go down steps, through a tunnel, and into the caves that surrounded the sinkhole. It was very humid down there. I circled the water on a stone path going up and down many steps. It was definitely worth the effort.

I went back to my room to dress for dinner, which involved taking off my socks—leaving hiking boots on bare feet—my wrinkled shorts and T-shirt. Very chic! I stopped off at the front desk, got the key to the book exchange cabinet, and perused the titles. While there were several possibilities, only one jumped out at me, "Mrs. Poliak on Safari," by Dorothy Gilman. I'd read at least one title in this series, and was ready for something a bit light-hearted. And with only 200 pages, I'll be able to swap that over before I left.

In the restaurant, I took the same table that I had for breakfast, and I got the same waitress, Rosa. I asked if she lived here in the restaurant as she was there every shift, but she said that she really did have a home. There were quite a few possibilities, but I finally settled on the fish with rice and carrots. It was served with half a lime, which I squeezed over everything. I also added some of a hot sauce over the rice. "How hot?" you say, "Bloody hot!" Fortunately, I'd also ordered a tall glass of watermelon juice, so that helped quell the flames.

The fish was delicious and filling. So, I paced myself by reading and doing several Sudoku puzzles. By that time, there was almost some room for dessert. Rosa recommended the flan, so flan it was; a small light dish of custard with a burned sugar/caramel topping; a very popular Mexican dish. Of course, I just had to have coffee. Combined, they "took me over the top," and I waddled back to my room after a very civilized 2-hour supper. Back in my room, I started on my new book. Lights out around 11:15 pm.

[Diary] By 10 am, I was ready to eat, so I put on my "Going to Breakfast shorts and shirt," and went down. At the front desk, I extended my stay for a third day, changing $100 into pesos. Although I got the same room rate for the extra day, I noticed the posted rate had gone up 25 pesos/night since I arrived.

Being adventurous, I chose a different table, on the other side of the courtyard. However, waitress Rosa still found me and gave me her big "Buena dias" smile. (I think I was taller than her when I was sitting down.) Not wanting to eat too much, I ordered what I thought was a-la-cart. I started with coffee, and then my two fried eggs "over medium" arrived, along with some local sausage, refried black beans, and some fried vegetables. It all looked just right, but then Rosa reappeared with orange juice, toast, butter, and jam. So, there were leftovers after all.

Out by the pool, I ran into Howard and Val, a couple I'd met the previous day. They were planning their next move, and, like me, were at the hotel for one more night. They had a rental car, and were headed out to Cenote Dzitnup, several kms out of town. They offered me a ride, and I accepted. As soon as we arrived there, some enterprising young boys, of no more that 6 or 7, offered to watch over our car, for the small fee of five pesos. We gave one two pesos in advance with the remainder due when we left. We went down some steps quite steeply, and come out in a large cave. There was a small hole in the roof, but, otherwise, it was rather dark. Howard and Val took a short swim while I shot video and photos. Then we walked through another large cave outside the cenote entrance, and toured the small zoo, which included some forest deer and a family of wild pigs.

I read some more before taking to the streets around 8:15 pm. I had seen an American-chain pizza parlor, but thought that a bit non-native-like, so settled into a local joint at one corner of the main plaza. I ordered a bottle of Coke then pored over the menu, finally selecting spaghetti alfredo with bacon and olive oil. Tortilla chips and a reasonably fiery salsa came as an appetizer. The food was quite good. Midway through, there was a firework show in front of the cathedral just outside the restaurant's front door. The restaurant had a small stage, and a young man arrived with his guitar, hooking it up to a PA system, along with an electronic drum machine. Then he proceeded to give us an instrumental concert. In-between sets, I finished my novel, which was, as expected, rather lightweight, and not at all taxing.

[Diary] In the 400 yards from my hotel to the bus station, I went from being cool and dry to hot and sweaty, because of the hot sun and my packs. I had two choices to get to Chichen Itza: First-Class bus for 36 pesos ($3.60), or Second-Class for 20 ($2). Having been spoiled in recent days, I took the First-Class bus, and while I had plenty of room, the air conditioning was sadly lacking. The 40-minute ride was uneventful, and we stopped in only one town. I got off at the ruin/pyramid site, and soon found a taxi. The driver was very polite and informative, and drove me the three kms to the Hotel Dolores Alba. Yes, they had a room for me for two nights for 450 pesos ($45) per night. The hotel was highly recommended in my guidebook as well as by travelers I'd met.

The main building was concrete with a high roof. Down one side ran a very long and tall thatched roof with the long side open to a swimming pool. This housed the restaurant. Two rows of dark, pink-painted rooms went left and right across the back. The gardens were well-kept and contained lots of bottle palm trees, numerous tropical shrubs, flowers, and some fruit trees. Birds chirped, and butterflies fluttered by, and all was right in the Garden of Eden. There were no serpents in sight. A second pool was built over a large rock formation with all the edges smoothed over the years. This was more of a wading pool. Deck chairs and thatched shades abounded.

I unpacked a few things, and turned on the air conditioning. My room had two double beds, basic but serviceable furniture, TV with 11 channels (three in English; two movie and one news), ceiling fan, and brightly tiled en-suite bathroom.

I sat by the pool savoring a bowl of chocolate ice cream while perusing the menu. As I was a ways out of town and not near the main tourist sites, the hotel restaurant was it as far as meals went. I shot photos and video then settled by the main pool. After a 15-minute workout in the water, I relaxed on a padded deckchair, and "took in some rays" as it were.

Two young women sat sunbathing, and from the sound of their conversation, I guessed they were Dutch. They were indeed, and from the province of Zeeland. [That's the only one of the 12 I've not visited.] The sun was very pleasant; not too hot, not too cold, just right, ala Goldilocks. A few people lazed around the pool reading and sunbathing. A family of black birds came down to visit and sit on the edge of the pool.

For supper, I had fish with vegetables and salad. Surprisingly, I was served both mashed potato and rice. The freshly baked rolls were warm, and the butter melted over them. On the side, I had a tall glass of pineapple juice. The pool pump gurgled in the background while Spanish music was piped softly around the tables and pool.

[Diary] At 8:30 am, the hotel van took five of us to the eastern entrance of the park, where I paid my 125 pesos ($12.50) for admission and for being allowed to use my video camera. A red ID tag was tied around my wrist to allow me to go out of the park and re-enter on the same day.

It is impossible to capture here what I saw. Chichen Itza is by far the best known of the Mayan cities, and its main pyramid is recognized around the world. I started with some of the lesser buildings and temples. The observatory was impressive, and the Maya had an excellent understanding of the seasons. Their calendar was very accurate. They studied Venus and the sun, and like numerous other peoples around the world, constructed buildings aligned with the sun on equinoxes.

The main pyramid had been closed to tourists for some years since one fell from the top. It was in a very good state of repair, and some people were working on it during my visit. There were several cenotes, the main one of which was open to the sky. The Maya played a ball game, and here was the largest arena in the Americas. On occasion, the losing team, or at least its captain, was executed. There was a large temple with two long sets of columns going off in different directions. Many of the columns were covered in elaborate carvings. A prominent figure carved all over the site was a serpent's head.

I took a lot of photos and video, and it took about four hours to cover the whole compound. I had several breaks, during which I recharged my batteries with frozen mango juice and grapefruit soda. I ran into people from all over the world, and spent time talking with Americans, Canadians (both French and English-speaking), and Germans. A particularly interesting couple were from the Seattle area, and had recently spent time in Kenya with the Masai people.

After a rest back at my hotel, at 6:30 pm, the hotel van took five of us to the ruins to see the light show. It was a pleasant evening with a light breeze. Several hundred people attended, and the price was included in the day's admission.

[Diary] It was my lucky day. I waited less than 10 minutes when a Second-Class bus came along. And, don't you know, it was headed all the way to Cancun. The somewhat surly driver sold me a ticket for 91 pesos ($9.10), then took off at speed while I tried to navigate the swaying aisle with two pieces of luggage and a camera bag. Fortunately, my backpack fit in the overhead rack. I got a window seat. The air conditioning was c-c-cold, so I got out my zip-off trouser legs, and zipped them back on, "muy pronto." Then I put on my light-weight parka as well. Between them, they stopped me from freezing over.

Fifty minutes later, we pulled into the bus station at Valladolid. Then three minutes after that, we pulled out again. Such efficiency seemed quite out of place! We took the secondary highway and stopped at quite a few places. Although the second leg took 3½ hours, I was comfortable, and I daydreamed pretty much all the way. We certainly passed some ram-shackled houses and dirty towns, with trash everywhere. Once we reached the outskirts of Cancun City, the commercial activity increased, as did the traffic. Eventually, we pulled into the main bus station, which had more than 20 bays.

I got another 1,000 pesos from a cash machine, and crossed the main highway where I waited in front of the huge McDonalds Golden Arches. Within minutes, a collectivo local bus headed for Puerto Juarez came along, and I waved it down. Cost to the port was five pesos ($0.50). It was a tight fit getting in the little van with my backpack on, but I managed. We bumped along, alternately racing and braking. Within five minutes, we were at the passenger ferry terminal. I paid my 35 pesos ($3.50) for a ticket, and boarded the high-speed catamaran. Seconds later, the crew pulled in the gangplank, and we were off to La Isla Mujeres, "The Women's Island," not far off the coast. My incredible luck with respect to transportation scheduling continued.

I picked up a local map at the tourist office, and enquired about cheap hotels. The streets near the dock were full of restaurants and souvenir shops, and a variety of hotels. At the first hotel I tried, the receptionist had the audacity to tell me he didn't have a room for me. So, I moved to Plan B, which involved walking to the next block. There I spied "Los Arcos," The Arches. And, don't you know, the young woman was happy to have my business, and as I was so cute, she offered me a room with a King-size bed for the price of a Queen.

The room was large with a basic kitchen containing crockery and cutlery for two, a small fridge, a microwave, and table and chairs. The cable TV had some 70 channels, mostly in Spanish, and my favorite, DW-TV from Berlin. There was a wall safe big enough for my camera equipment, and plenty of storage space. The bathroom was excellent and even came with monogrammed towels. All of the counters and cabinet tops were at just the right level for a tall person like me. Of course, there were the usual air conditioning and ceiling fan. Internet access was free. Total cost $65/night, tax included, so I signed up for two nights to end the trip in style.

[Diary] Late morning, I ventured out from my air-conditioned cocoon. It was hot and more than a little humid, so I kept to the shade as much as possible. I went north along the waterfront. Some fishermen were stacking nets into a small boat, the dive and boat tours people were busy, and people were lazing in the sun on the beach. Once I got to the north coast, the hotels went a bit up-scale, with nicer beaches and deckchair and umbrella rentals. I came across a topless bathing area with more than a few women airing their differences.

Over on the east coast, which is open to the Caribbean Sea, the waves were much stronger, and large parts of the beaches had been washed away. Some reclamation was underway. On the way back to my room, I paused for a treat, frozen mango juice covering vanilla ice cream. By the time I was back in my room, I was dripping wet. I switched on the ceiling fan and air conditioning, and, during the next hour, drank several liters of juice and cold milk. I spent the afternoon indoors, watching some news and current affairs programs. I also finished my novel, which turned out to be way more interesting than I'd expected. And I used the free internet access to check-out some newspapers.

The sun was down by 5 pm, so I went for a walk around the north end of the island. Without the sun beating down, and with the cool breeze, it was most pleasant to be out. However, with each outdoor restaurant menu that I looked at, I got less and less interested in eating much of anything. Eventually, I bought milk, juice, and some noodles, and ate a light meal back in my kitchen.

[Diary] Back home in the US, it was bloody cold! With the wind chill, it was predicted to get down to zero degrees F, that's 32 degrees below freezing! Right about then, I was longing for Mexico again.

Signs of Life: Part 24

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from a trip to San Francisco, California.


Well now, apparently there is a market for everything!


Now don't say that you weren't warned!


Well, if I'm already standing at this point, I guess I'm in danger!


I saw this on a moving van parked at the beach. To be sure, the two (friendly) guys having lunch in the cab looked like Heavy Metal music fans, complete with tattoos.


I guessed that this was one of the poor, homeless people who could barely afford to clothe herself.


Out of all the languages spoken in the SF area, only English, Chinese, Spanish, and Russian were covered by this beach sign.


Sign outside a "Women's clothing & accessories boutique offering flirty vintage & vintage-inspired designs. "


Come on in and bring your pet with you! (And, NO, it was NOT a bring-your-own Chinese or Korean restaurant!)


The name of a company that provides portable toilets.


I have just one question for you: "Is your Mom worth more dead than alive?"

Beware your seemingly well-meaning kids!


As George Orwell might have written, "All drivers are equal, but some drivers are more equal than others!"


"No 3-legged, black dogs allowed!" But perhaps I am being too literal. More likely it means, "No doggies going potty, thankyou."


An up-scale apartment complex, actually called "L Seven" although like you, I first saw what looked like an upside-down 7.

BTW, rent started at only US$3,450/per month!


The first parking meter I recall seeing that took a credit card. At least it still took coins as well, something many no longer do; they just operate via a text message from a mobile phone.


Just the thing to have in your neighborhood when you get arrested. And open all hours as well; very convenient.


What more comfortable place to sleep than a feathered nest!



My Formative Years: Part 3

© 2015, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

This is the third part of a series of essays about my life from age 7–16, from 1961–1970. In Part 1, we covered the farm at Nadda and its annual cereal-growing cycle; domestic animals and pets; wildlife, game, and hunting; personal vehicles; the fuel supply; utilities, appliances, and services; and radio, TV, and newspapers. Part 2 covered market day, the farmhouse, the outbuildings, the food we ate, the local towns, church and Sunday school, sports and social activities, and the Big Car Crash.

Pata: 1966–1968, age 12–15

Early in 1966, we moved from the farm at Nadda to Pata, a "town" nine miles from Loxton on the paved road running south along the railway line to Veitch, Alawoona, Murray Bridge, and on to Adelaide. At that time, the general store/Post Office was owned by Johnny Scholz who also had the store/Post Office at the neighboring town of Veitch. Dad bought the Pata business, the attached house, and surrounding land.

The House

The house was huge! The front faced east, and although we never used the front entrance, here's the house layout entering from that place. Facing the front of the house, it was two large rooms wide. Attached to the right side was the store/Post Office. Walking through the front metal gate, one went under a large overhead trellis covered with roses. There was a wide verandah along the front dead-ending on the right at the store wall and around the left-end, all the way back. The front garden had many bushes and flowers.

The front door led into a wide passage. The room to the right was my bedroom, and the one to the left was sister Pat's. The passage ended at a T-junction with another wide passage. The right arm went to Dad and Mum's bedroom and then to the side door of the store/Post Office. The left arm went to a door out to the side verandah. Along the way, another door led off to the right to the lounge room, which had an open fireplace.

On the opposite side of the lounge room a door led directly into the kitchen. A short, narrow passage off to the left from there led to the bathroom and then to a small bedroom that was brother Terry's. (Sometime after we moved in, we installed a hot-water system in the bathroom. I don't recall where we got hot water for bathing before that.) A door from the right side of the kitchen led to a small room that had two refrigerators (and later, a refrigerator and a large freezer). Next to those, another door led to the shop storeroom. Yet another door from that little room led to a very wide passage that ran along to the door leading out to the garage. Off this passage were two large rooms. Mum used the first as an ironing room, while I used the second as a "play" room. The left end of the passage had a door to the outside.

The left-back door of the kitchen led to the long, narrow laundry, one side of which was a long bench that was actually part of the roof of the large, underground, rainwater tank. There were doors to the outside at each end of the laundry.

Attached to the right side of the house was a very large 2-car garage, complete with an in-the-ground pit for servicing a vehicle. A tool bench ran all the way across the back wall.

Not counting doors in the shop or storeroom, seven doors led directly outside; eleven more went between rooms or from passages to rooms.

The Outbuildings and Surrounds

In the immediate back yard, there was a shed that housed a 32-volt DC electricity generating plant, and the back half of the house was still wired for that. However, that served only as a backup, as the house was wired with 240-volt AC mains power. (As such, this was the first time we could have a freezer, and TV-on-demand.) To the right of that room was the toilet. When we first moved there, it consisted of a seat on top of a large container that had to be emptied every so often. Sometime later, we had a flush toilet installed with a septic tank buried out back. Behind these small buildings was a vegetable garden.

Beyond the garden fence was a large, open area with several long, wire clotheslines. Then behind all that was a long row of sheds that housed chicken runs and nesting areas, and chicken feed. Off to the right of those was a large shed built high on stilts. This was used to store 44-gallon petrol (US: 55-gallon gasoline) drums in former days when the shopkeeper sold bulk fuel.

To the left and back we constructed a long row of pigsties from railway sleepers (US: railway ties), each of which had a small run out the back. Then even further left were very large, open yards where pigs could root around. In front of all those yards was an acre of lucerne (US: alfalfa), which we irrigated by a sprinkler that was moved along. We cut the lucerne in one of three ways: with a scythe (which I never was able to master), with sheep shears (small metal shears used for hand-shearing sheep), and later a self-propelled machine that cut a 3-foot-wide swath. We fed lucerne to the chickens and to the pigs. We also had an old, hand-cranked chaff cutter that, as its name suggests, was for cutting chaff back in the old days. It was very efficient at cutting handfuls of lucerne as well.

An old dirt track ran along the south end of the property. Across it was a 5-acre lot of Crown Land that Dad leased from the State Government. We built several large pig yards there with straw-covered roofs.

Later, Dad leased 50-odd acres of Crown Land that lay between the town boundary to the north and the neighboring farm. We fenced that off, got water connected to it, and ran sheep there.

To the right of the house was a large lot that may well have had a separate title. I recall that we had some grapes growing there and some vegetables, but mostly it went unused. I seem to recall that the wastewater from the kitchen and laundry drained away out there.

The Store and Post Office

The business area consisted of a large, long room. One entered from the street up some steep steps onto a stone verandah. The door was in the center. To its left was a window that slid up to deal with the Post Office, although we rarely used that. Inside the door, there was a long counter down each side with shelving going up to the top of the 12-foot ceiling. Immediately on the left side was the Post Office set into a small room that adjoined the outside service window. That room housed a stack of wooden mailboxes. Customers could not access their own box directly; instead, they asked for their mail. The mail came by train several days each week and was in a lead-sealed bag that was put into a locked cabinet at the station across the road. By this time, the area had automated telephone service, so that was no longer provided by the Post Office.

At the rear of the shop was a staff-only area with some cabinets, a couple of work desks, and a filing cabinet for records. A side door led into the house. The backdoor led into a cavernous storeroom that in older times was, no doubt filled up with all sorts of things. For a time, Dad was an agent for various kinds of animal-feed pellets—which were stored there—but much of the time it was empty. It had a very wide door that led outside for loading and unloading.

Operating a Post Office was a serious business, as it was an agency of the Federal Government. So, Mum had to be certified to do that. There was one so-called remote postal area, at Pyap West, that didn't have easy access to mail delivery. As such, Mum had a contract to drive there each Friday to deliver the mail.

Once or twice a month, someone would drive the 20 miles to Berri to a grocery wholesaler to buy goods for the shop. I went a few times. [Frankly, we didn't do a lot of business, as the death knell had sounded for small, rural shops and Post Offices. Besides, my Dad was hardly a businessman, so I doubt that buying that business was a good decision.]

To the right of the shop was a petrol bowser (US: gasoline pump). It was manually operated using a hand pump and could measure out up to five gallons at a time. I remember well one local identity, Vic Pascoe, coming to buy petrol. Vic lived in a broken-down old house a few miles to the south on the Biggins farm. Now although he owned a working Ford Prefect car, it wasn't registered, and I don't expect he had a driving license or insurance. Anyway, now and then, he risked driving his car the few miles on the main road up to our shop to buy petrol. One day as I was filling his tank, he proudly showed me his new "registration sticker." And yes, right there in the corner of the windscreen (US: windshield), where the registration was required to be, was affixed a large Southwark beer bottle label. [At that time, South Australia had two breweries: Southwark and West End.] So, I guess he was registered by the "State of Intoxication!" But that wasn't the biggest surprise. He opened up the boot (US: trunk) and there sitting in the middle of his spare tyre (US: tire) was a hen, complete with eggs! Sometimes Vic would bring his faithful dog, which would wait outside the store on the verandah. Vic would take out his mouth organ (US: harmonica) and play a tune, and the dog would sing/howl along. Much of the time we were at Pata, he had a woman friend living with him, one Sylvia Bartels. The thing I remember about her is that once each month, she'd receive a package in the mail containing one or more packs of cigarettes. It never was clear to me why she couldn't buy them locally for the same price.

Another local identity was Oscar Schroeder, a retired bachelor who lived several miles away on a dirt road. (I don't think his house had electricity.) Anyway, once a week, Oscar rode his bicycle to the shop to get his mail and to buy a few things. To carry them home he had a 10-pound sugar bag tied over his shoulder with a piece of cord. He was quite a gregarious character.

Another local was Charlie Nicolai who with his wife Sarah and son Mervyn farmed just beyond Oscar's place. Charlie's favorite ending to various sentences was "Thank you please." [Charlie died in the room next to me when I was in hospital with a broken leg. See below for more details.]

Pigs, Pigs, and More Pigs

My guess is that at most times, we ran more than 200 pigs, many of which we bred. My job after school each weekday was to feed those pigs buckets of crushed grain. I also had to clean the cement water troughs. This was made a bit more challenging when I had a half- and then full cast on my broken leg.

All the sties had straw roofs and dirt floors, and in the summer, it got quite hot. At the hottest, we had sprinklers in some of the pens to help the pigs cool down.

I remember one particular incident, which happened so quickly, I had no time to think that I was "going to die." As I mentioned earlier, the smaller sties had a small run out the back, and that was reached by a small opening in the wall at the back. Dad wanted to vaccinate (or do something or other) to a large sow, so he told me to bring her into the main pen from the run, and then to sit in that back opening, blocking it as an escape route. Well, the sow knew the opening was right behind me, and when she wanted "out," she put all her force behind her 200+ pounds of weight and fairly well charged pretty much through me. Fortunately, I was pushed back and to the side, rather than being wedged against the opening wall or trampled. Having me sit there certainly wasn't the smartest idea my Dad had, that's for sure!

We used a large tractor-driven hammer mill to crush grain, which then was augured up into a small silo. That was noisy and dusty work, and I sure don't remember anyone wearing earplugs! And anyone who has worked around certain types of cereal grain will know how itchy that dust can be.

I found pigs to be very intelligent and I liked working with them. [To this day, when I'm at a farm or livestock show, I always reach into the pigpen and give one a scratch on the ears, head, and back, just to hear that contented grunt.]

Personal Vehicles

When we moved from Nadda, we still had the 1966 HD Holden automatic. Next, Dad bought a 1967, light green, HR Holden. The following year, he bought a 4-door Holden Torana, GMH's first small car.

For at least half the time at Pata, Dad owned a cream-colored Chrysler Valiant ute (utility vehicle), which he used to drive to/from work and to haul supplies and animals to/from market. At times, he also used that to pull a tandem (4-wheeled, that is) trailer loaded with animals. Later, he sold the ute and trailer, and bought a small, red truck, which could haul bigger loads.

The Town of Pata

Although the township plan was probably a half-mile square, there was only a handful of buildings, and most lots were still owned by the Crown (that is, the government).

Next to the store/Post Office was a large house and side lot used for a garden. At the back of that place was a former tennis court. (Our lucerne patch ran behind this.) I don't recall this place being occupied when we moved in, but not long after, a family moved in.

Across the dirt road, running east west by the store was the Pata Institute (hall that is). It was rarely used even back then, as there were no longer any sporting or social activities left in the area. Everything was done in Loxton, which was only 10–15 minutes' drive away. [The hall has since been demolished.]

On the dirt road leading in from the highway there stood a one-teacher school with an adjoining teacher's house. The old school was no longer in use and was filled with all sorts of junk.

Almost hidden in tall hop bushes there were the remains of two blacktop tennis courts. The neighbor kids and I tried to clean them off to play, but the surface was too cracked and uneven.

Opposite the store entrance was a large weighbridge, which had been built to weigh full and empty trucks back when grain was handled in bags through the railway yards. Although the large open-sided, mouse-proof, wheat-stack buildings still stood there, they had been retired with the coming of bulk handling and silos (US: grain elevators).

Behind the weighbridge was the railway yard. There was a short platform with a shed to hold the mailbag lockbox, and several lines for shunting cargo trucks. There were one or two railway employee "ganger" houses there when we arrived, but they were soon sold and moved. All railway maintenance men came on caseys (motorized carts) from Loxton or Alawoona.

Church and Confirmation

My family attended St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Loxton, usually at 10 am on Sunday mornings. The right-of-passage in the Australian Lutheran church was via confirmation, a yearlong process of religious study usually done around age 11–12. For me that was calendar year 1966. [The calendar year is also the school year, at least from February to December back then.] Each Saturday morning, I would attend confirmation classes at the Lutheran Day School (a parochial primary school that I had attended from 1959–1961) in Loxton. Classes ran for 2½ hours and were taught by one or other of the Lutheran ministers. My guess is that we had projects and reading to do during the week, and we probably had some sort of tests on a regular basis. Frankly, I don't remember much about the classes themselves other than I was definitely there against my will.

At the end of the year, the whole congregation assembled in the church on a Saturday night and we 24–30 students sat in chairs up on the raised area in front of the altar, facing one sidewall. There stood one of the ministers who proceeded to give us an oral exam, in public, the first round of individual questions being done with us speaking into a microphone for all the world to hear! Talk about pressure. [Of course, I don't remember any of the actual questions we had to answer, but I do remember the ones we joked about throughout the year. "When were motor vehicles first mentioned in the Bible? When Moses roared down the hill in his Triumph!" And then there was "Come forth my Son," but he tripped and fell and came fifth! And "How long did Cain hate his brother? As long as he was Abel!"]

All the kids that year passed the test, and so the following morning, there was the confirmation service. All the boys were dressed in black suits and all the girls in white dresses. We walked in boy-girl pairs down one of the aisles and sat right down the front. And when it came time to take Holy Communion, we got first shot at the port wine and wafers. Yes!

I do remember that the main minister was one John Boehm, a very nice man with a young family. The other minister was a quite old Danish man, Pastor Larson, whose primary job was to minister to the residents of the Loxton Riverview Rest Home (run by the Lutheran church) as well as to rural congregations. He had a thick accent, and he always started his sermons "My Dear People."

Once one was confirmed, one no longer attended Sunday School. Instead, one was a full member of the church with all its obligations. The main thing I remember is that each member was assigned a membership number and was given a box of envelopes with that number stamped on the outside. Each time one attended church and the collection (that is, offering) plate came around, one put in one's envelope with one's contribution sealed inside, and the amount written on the outside. Then after church ended, a committee (that later on included my Mum) counted all the offerings and recorded the amounts against each member name.


In the three years I lived in Pata, I attended my second, third, and fourth years of high school. (See "School Days: Part 2" from October 2020 for more details.) To get to school I rode the bus that went out from Loxton to the Pyap West corner and Pata. It was owned by dad's brother, Uncle Paul Jaeschke.

Sports and Social Activities

In the winter, I played Australian Rules Football for the Loxton Tigers Colts team. In the summer, I played tennis for the Veitch club, which was part of the Brows Well league.


For the last year or so in Pata, I got a job after school and on Saturday mornings at Clarks Foodland supermarket in Loxton. In the summer holidays, I also cut and, later, picked apricots.


Well, after riding a bus home from school and walking from the stop, feeding pigs, and then doing homework, there wasn't much spare time during the week. And then on Saturdays, it was sports time. However, I did spend time playing with the kids next door, and I recall hitting a tennis ball against the storeroom outside wall.

My one passion was to own my very own Scalextrix 1/32-scale electric slot-car racing set. I bought a basic set and then proceeded to build a large table from material I "found" around the old wheat stacks in the railway yard. And as the shop storeroom was huge and mostly empty, I built and set up my table there. Now the set ran off a 12-volt power supply, but rather than spend 12 whole dollars on a 240-volt-to-12-volt converter, I pulled one of the cars up to the storeroom door and ran a cable to its battery. After all, $12 could buy 12 lengths of track or a car or two, so no point wasting money on the transformer! Anyway, I acquired quite a circuit complete with outbuildings, crossovers, bridges, and even miniature people. There really was no end to what one could buy or make. Now my good friend and schoolmate, Peter May, lived no more than a mile and a half away, and he had a set as well. However, in his case, his parents renovated an old cellar for him to house his set, and they bought him a transformer as well. We spent time at each other's houses racing and re-arranging our layouts.

My Broken Leg

In 1968, I was in Year 11 at High school, and my football team—the Loxton Tigers Colts—made it to the Grand Final, which was played at the oval in Barmera. In the dying stages of the game, I was running in to pick the ball off the ground when a player from the opposing team, Berri, ran in to kick the ball off the ground. [Nowadays, that results in a penalty and is referred to as "kicking in danger."] He missed the ball and got me right in the shin of my right leg, and down I went. After a brief lie on the ground, with the help of the trainers (the guys who run out onto the field with water, towels, and to help with minor medical problems) I managed to walk off the field. Not long after, the final siren sounded, and we'd won the game and the championship.

As was always the case, at each local sporting event involving bodily contact or other chances for injury, the non-profit St. Johns' Ambulance Brigade always provided an ambulance and several (usually volunteer) first-aid people. They looked me over, put my leg in an inflatable splint, and figured I'd need to go to the hospital to have the leg X-rayed. However, rather than go to the Barmera hospital and possibly stay overnight in a town away from home, they agreed to drive me back to Loxton, and my Dad rode in the ambulance with me. At the Loxton hospital, the X-ray showed a multiple fracture (without any sideways displacement, which was why I was able to walk off the playing field), so the doctor and nurses put a plaster cast on the lower leg leaving the front open to accommodate the swelling. Several days later, they wrapped plaster around to provide a somewhat thin cover over the front.

I stayed in hospital for a couple of nights. I was in a bed right up in the far corner in the large men's ward. Through a door nearby was a room where male patients were put if they were unlikely to survive. I believe it was referred to as the "Death Ward!" Anyway, while I was in hospital, old Charlie Nicolai from Pata was wheeled in there, and his family came to say "goodbye" along with the Lutheran minister. Charlie was on some sort of breathing device that made quite a sound. In the middle of the night, I woke up and heard that sound stop, and I figured Charlie had gone to that great farm in the sky. So, I buzzed the nurse to let her know. The next morning, nurses were wheeling equipment out of that room and generally cleaning it up, but no one would say that Charlie had died; they had to keep up the morale of the other patients, I guess, lest we thought it was a result of the hospital food.

For some reason, the doctor did not put a heel on my cast, which made it difficult to walk. I'm guessing that was the point, to keep me off that foot. Of course, I had crutches, but I still put weight on the foot. Once I was out of hospital, I had checkups at the doctor's office every two weeks. Given the temporary nature of the first cast with the front closed after the swelling went down, and my general abuse of it, that cast lasted only a few weeks, and the doctor replaced it with a new one. But when I broke that—because I was driving a stick shift vehicle and getting around without my crutches to feed the pigs—the doctor put on a full cast, right up to my thigh. That made it impossible to sit on the front seat of a car, let alone drive, so it had the desired intent, to slow me down. Bugger!

I soon got into the swing of using crutches, but it made it awkward to use them and to carry a school satchel the half mile to/from the bus stop from the house, and to get around school with books and such.

To use the ambulance service, one generally became a member for an annual fee, and that entitled one to unlimited usage, as needed. As such, whenever I had to go to the doctor's office, I scheduled a pickup by an ambulance. And some days, the driver would be a bit bored, and he'd use the siren as we drove the couple of miles from the high school through the town. At the beginning, I rode in a special passenger seat. However, once I had a full cast, I could no longer fit there, so they had to open the back, lay me on the bed, and strap me in. It was quite a production when kids saw me being loaded in at the school. I know I enjoyed it. One nice day, when I was done at the doctor's office the driver said something like, "Where to Sir?" and I said, "It's such a nice afternoon, why don't I skip school for the rest of the day, and have you drive me home?" He thought that was a fine idea, and as he had nothing better to do, we drove the nine miles to Pata where he came into the house and had a cup of tea with Mum.

Other Family Members

Dad always had a job when we lived at Pata. Mainly, he worked as the groundskeeper at the Loxton High School; however, that was not a fulltime job. Each weekday morning and night, he drove a school bus for Kaesler's bus service. (The proprietors were Felix and Hilda, with Hilda being Mum's older sister.) On Thursdays after he'd finished the bus run, he'd go to the new sale yards and hose out the pigpens after that day's market. Sometimes he'd pick me up after work at Clarks and I'd help him. Then sometimes on the way home, we'd pull off to the side of the road where wild turnip was growing in big thick clumps, and we'd dig up a whole ute load and take it home to feed the pigs. They just loved it. Other times, we'd pick up all the kitchen waste from a local family restaurant, The Magpie Café. That too was fed to the pigs. And in season, some fruit growers would grow a variety of pumpkins and marrows in their orchards and drill them into the soil for nitrogen or some such benefit. We'd go by and get a load of them for pig feed.

Brother Ken was living in Peebinga and by the time we left Pata, he was married. Sister Dawn was also married and living at the Aboriginal Mission in Hermannsburg. Near the end of 1968, I took the train to Alice Springs and then stayed with her and her family. Afterwards, we all drove back to South Australia, as they were visiting family and friends before moving to Queensland. Brother Terry lived with us in Pata until he was married in 1967. When Sister Pat came back from Renmark, she worked in the store for a few months, but then went to Clarks Foodland in Loxton. After she met Trevor Lange (who lived in the old Pata school), they started dating, and eventually married.

During the Vietnam War, Australia had the military draft for men aged 20, who were chosen via a lottery to serve 18 months National Service ("Nasho"). To avoid the lottery, one could volunteer to serve six years in the Citizen's Military Forces (CMF), which involved training one night each week, one weekend each month, and two full weeks each year. Terry and Trevor joined the CMF!

On the Edge of Loxton: 1969–1970, age 15–16

Once the Pata place was sold, we moved to the edge of the irrigated area of Loxton East. The house was part of a fruit property (called a fruit block); however, we only rented the house.

The House

When the fruit blocks in the area were developed, each came with a 2-bedroom house that was in one of two styles, with one being a mirror image of the other. The front door entered directly into a short passage with the lounge room through a door to the right. To the left was a long room at the end of which was a partition for a small office where Dad kept his writing bureau, and I had a homework desk. Off to the right were doors to bedrooms for Dad and Mum, and me. The front passage led to the kitchen, off of which were a pantry and a bathroom. I seem to recall that the toilet was outside the back door, which opened from the kitchen.

The Outbuildings and Surrounds

When a fruit property was first developed, a military-surplus Nissan hut (US: Quonset hut) was erected. Half of it was lined and divided into several small rooms to make a temporary residence for the fruit grower. The other end was used to house a tractor and various implements used to work the citrus trees, stone fruits, and/or grape vines on the property. Once the main house was built, the fruit grower moved there and then used the Nissan hut as pickers' quarters; that is, to house itinerant workers who came through the area to pick fruit, to prune vines, or do any number of other jobs. During the 1950's and 1960's, most of these people were of Italian or Greek extraction.

From the creation of the fruit properties until the 1970's, irrigation was by way of concrete-lined V-shaped channels that were 4–5 feet deep and probably 5–6 feet across. One of these ran behind the Nissan hut near our house. [In later years, the channels were replaced by pipelines, which eliminated the evaporation.]

Near the house was a large implement shed used by the grower who ran the block. We kept our main car in one of its bays.

The driveway came in from the road and ran past the house, which was on the right. To the left was a long row of very tall Athol-pine trees. The large front yard was covered in lawn around which Mum had some shrubs and flowers.

Personal Vehicles and Driving

We still had the Holden Torana from Pata. Dad must have sold the truck, as I recall his having a grey Holden ute with a canopy over the back. He used this to drive to work, and to drive people and equipment around on the job.

I turned 16 in December of 1969, so was eligible to get my driving license. However, I failed my first attempt at doing so. Basically, the policeman told me to "drive like I'd been taught" and I did! He failed me for speeding and one other infraction I don't recall, so I had to wait at least two weeks to try again. The second time, I passed. [Back then all written and practical license testing was done by the State Police, which had a station in Loxton. Nowadays, it's done by employees of the State Motor Vehicles Department.]


In the year I lived at the house, I attended my fifth (and final) year of high school.

Sports and Social Activities

In the winter, I played football for the Loxton Tigers Colts team. I was also involved with athletics at school and with the Loxton Harriers Club.


I'm not sure that I continued work at Clark's Foodland, because if I did, I don't know how I would have gotten home after work. I was the only child still living at home, I had no driving license, and Dad was no longer working in the town or driving school buses. I might have still worked there Saturday mornings, however.


With Year 12 came a lot of homework, so even though I no longer had any pigs to feed, I doubt I had that much free time.

I do remember that I'd grown out of my slot-car racing phase, so I sold my whole set, in which I'd invested so much time (and a non-trivial amount of money).

Other Family Members

Each day, Dad worked at a huge American-owned fruit property. Then once I finished high school, early in December 1969, I worked there fulltime as well, until I moved to Adelaide in March 1970. Mum was a homemaker.


In March of 1970, at the grand age of 16 years and 2 months, I moved to Adelaide, the state capital of South Australia. There, I worked fulltime, played semi-pro football during the winter, and attended university as a part-time, evening student.

Travel: Memories of Hong Kong

© 2005, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

My primary airline, United, offered a great fare to Hong Kong, and since I had nothing better to do, I booked a ticket to go and get some Chinese take-away food. Jenny and I had visited Hong Kong for about four days back in 1979 as the first stop on our 5-week trip from Australia to the U.S. I don't remember too much about that visit, other than it was our first time outside our native country. This time, to prepare, I bought a slim Lonely Planet guidebook as well as a more in-depth book from National Geographic.

The day before I left, I threw together the bare minimum gear and packed it into a medium-sized backpack. I took one pair of footwear—my hiking boots—some all-weather hiking trousers with zip-off legs, a few T-shirts, and some socks and underwear; that's it!

The Trip Over

[Diary, August 2005] I woke just before the 7:30-am alarm. I took care of some business things, got my last lot of email, showered, and had a light breakfast. My taxi arrived just before 10 o'clock.

Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) was very quiet with the morning traffic having already departed. Being a Premier Executive flyer with United has its advantages, including checking in at the first- or business-class counters, which have short lines and plenty of attendants. The agent who checked me in was very friendly and set the tone for the day. I cleared security quite quickly and took the bus to the mid-field terminal, where I went to United's Red-Carpet Club lounge. (I get to use these nice facilities free of charge when traveling on international flights, another benefit for frequent fliers.) I looked over the daily newspapers, had some juice, and cheese on crackers.

Flight UA923, a Boeing 737-500, departed on time for Chicago. Since I get to select my own seats, I chose exit rows all the way. On this flight, I was in 10A, and there was no seat in the row in front of me, so I could really stretch out. During the 2-hour 589-mile flight I worked a bit proofing a manuscript, and had a short nap in the sun as it came right in my window.

I had a 1-hour stopover in Chicago, so stopped off at the Red-Carpet Club there for 30 minutes, and had a snack—English toffee coffee, potato chips, and a banana—and scanned the financial daily newspaper.

Flight UA829, a Boeing 747-400 (Jumbo Jet, 2-aisles and nine seats across), departed on time at 3:05 pm about one-third full, allowing people to take over up to three seats each. I had exit seat 46A. Flying time was predicted to be 15:40 hours, possibly my longest ever non-stop flight. Distance, 7,787 miles. [My previous longest flights were Washington DC to Tokyo and LA/San Francisco to Sydney.] ETA was 7:15 pm the next day.

Hong Kong is eight hours ahead of GMT, while Washington D.C. is five hours behind. Allowing for the 1-hour change for Daylight Savings in DC, there was a 12-hour difference, making it easy to remember the time back home when phoning. I moved my clock onto Hong Kong time, which was then 3 am. The temperature there was 80F (27C), and the forecast for my whole time there was hot and humid with a 60% chance of thunderstorms each day, not something to which I was looking forward! [As it happened, the typhoon that was headed for Hong Kong changed direction, so there was little rain the whole time.]

On these long-haul flights, they have a habit of serving food and beverages on a regular basis, which, coupled with inactivity, requires some restraint. For lunch, I had a salad, beef and vegetables, melon, cinnamon cake, and juice. After that, I started making some plans for activities, at least for the first few days.

Three and a half hours into the trip, I looked out my window to see that we were over the wilds of Canada's Northwest Territories. There were countless numbers of lakes all with bright sun reflecting off them. Although the outside temperature was a chilly -47F (-44C), my window frame was almost too hot to touch.

Two crewmembers sat opposite the exit seats, so I got to chat a bit with a Hong Kong-based Chinese attendant who confessed to not being too proficient with chopsticks; can you believe that? The other attendant lived in Denver, but flew out of Chicago, so had to fly to get to and from work. He was also a fill-in attendant, and had only learned the night before that he was headed to Hong Kong the next day.

After five hours into the flight, we were over the frozen Beaufort Sea just beyond the Queen Elizabeth Islands. Although on a map it might look like one would fly west and then south to get to Hong Kong from Chicago, we flew due north, over the Arctic. Whatever it takes to save money on the fuel bill, which, these days, is very high for one of these planes. As usual, in between movies, route maps at various magnifications were shown to let us know where we were. Seeing the earth from the North Pole perspective is quite different. Somewhere around there, we crossed the International Date Line, and moved from Friday to Saturday.

I watched a movie: Sandra Bullock in "Miss Congeniality 2," which I found most entertaining and as good as the first installment. During that, sandwiches were offered. Later, a boxed snack arrived: cookies, raisins, potato chips, chocolate, and a drink.

I always travel with my own full-size feather pillow. I managed five hours sleep, waking at 4:30 pm, Hong Kong time. We were over snow-covered land, which I guessed was Russia. It was cloudy, and as we were now going due south, the sun was to our west, and cast a shadow of the plane on the top of the clouds below. Due to some odd atmospheric conditions, that shadow was surrounded by concentric discs making up a circular rainbow. We were at 40,000 feet (12,000 meters).

An hour out from Hong Kong, at 6:30 pm local time, yet another meal was served; my body clock said it was breakfast, but I think it was actually lunch or dinner. Around 6:45 pm, it got dark rather quickly, and I could see occasional lights in the Chinese countryside. Soon we were over the former Portuguese territory of Macau, which, as they say, was "lit up like a Christmas Tree," with all its casinos and tourist traps.

We landed, the plane emptied quickly, immigration was a formality, and even though the Chinese were now in charge (the Brits left in 1997), Australians didn't need a visa for personal travel for less than 90 days. I got my luggage, some tourist information, withdrew HK$2,000 from a cash machine at an exchange rate of HK$7.70 per US$, bought an Octopus travel card for HK$150, and boarded bus A21 to Kowloon, the peninsular to the north of Hong Kong island. [The new international airport is about 40 minutes from the city, built on reclaimed land on an island. When we visited in 1979, the old airport, Kai Tak, was right downtown and you landed almost literally near high-rise buildings.] The bus dropped me off on the busy main north-south thoroughfare, Nathan Road, right opposite my hotel, the Shamrock. I had booked a room on the internet, and was pleased to find they were expecting me. Room 204 on the 2nd floor was very nice, having all sorts of electronic bedside controls and energy conservation gadgets. I found a convenience store nearby and stocked my little refrigerator with milk and juice. I unpacked and at 10:30 pm local time Saturday night (10:30 am Saturday morning back home) I phoned Jenny. Apparently, she wasn't missing me, yet!

I checked out the TV, finding various channels broadcasting in several Chinese dialects, one in Japanese, and three in English, one of which was Australia's ABC Asia Pacific, whose programming I came to enjoy. At 11 pm, I was very pleasantly surprised to find they were broadcasting a 2-hour game of professional Australian football (no, not that soccer or rugby crap, I'm talking real Australian Rules football). Lights out at 1 am, local time, 27 hours after I left my house!

[Diary] I was awake at 6 am and feeling okay. It was daylight outside with quite a few people on Nathan Road, which was right below my window. I got my early-morning fix of world news and weather, and showered. Then it was up to the 10th floor restaurant a few minutes before 7 o'clock. The extensive breakfast buffet was included in my room rate of HK$650 (US$84.50). I was politely shown to a table and informed that the food will be a few minutes coming, as starting time was 7 am.

I took my time, spending some two hours eating, drinking, and working on a Sudoku puzzle, which appeared in each day's English paper that was delivered to my room.

Hong Kong Island

I rode the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Tseun Wan line (subway red line) from Jordan station next to my hotel in Kowloon to Central on Hong Kong Island. I then walked to the Peak Tram terminal. It was quite hot and very humid. There was a long line for the tram, but it moved quickly. The ride was very steep, and I shot video out the rear window. At the top, I walked around to some overlooks, strolled through a small shopping center, and had a milkshake at McDonalds. The views over the downtown area, across the harbor, and on the south side of the island were interesting, but somewhat clouded in a humid haze.

From there, I went back down the mountain to Hong Kong Park, a wonderful addition to the city. There was a huge aviary with many exotic parrots. One walks through it on platforms raised high in the trees. The whole thing was built into the side of a hill. The gardens were magnificent, and contained a large waterfall, some large ponds, wading birds, fish, and many turtles. Next door, there was a museum of tea ware, which I perused a while, as much to get into an air-conditioned place as for the exhibits.

My First Local Host

Earlier that morning, I contacted Hing Wah Chau (or David; everyone here had an English nickname), a local member of my international hosting organization, Servas, to see about getting together. At 3 pm, I phoned David from the Central subway station. (Local phone calls are free from homes, but public pay phones charge HK$1 for three minutes, while my hotel charged HK$3.50.) We met nearby, sat, and talked over coffee. He's a landscape coordinator who was working on the Disneyland Hong Kong site, which officially opens next month. Like all Servas hosts in Hong Kong, he's a day host; that is, he is able to meet for a meal and/or chat, but not to have members stay overnight. We rode one of the famous Star Ferries to Kowloon, visited a very large bookstore, and then he got me to the stop for bus 219X, an express bus to Laguna City some 30 minutes away. Just as we were walking to the bus stop, the Heavens opened, and the rain came down very forcefully, but not for long.

My Second Local Host

I arrived at the Laguna City bus station at 6:30 pm where I was met by Siu Yin Cheung (Iris) and her partner Ken. She was also a Servas day host. We walked to a restaurant nearby where we were joined by her father. We drank several teas; we ate Peking duck; sweet and sour pork; ground beef and eggplant; pork fried rice; and cucumber with spring onion, sweet sauce, and duck slivers wrapped in pita bread. They very generously paid the bill. We talked about many things. At 8:15 pm, they walked me to the Kwun Tong Line (green line) subway station. I changed to the red line at Mong Kok station. Then it was on to the 7/11 convenience store to buy milk, and back to my hotel by 9 pm. I read until 10:45 pm. It was a very good first day.

Around Kowloon

[Diary] I awoke at 4 am for an hour or so, snacked, read, and watched some TV, then went back to sleep. I awoke again at 7:30 am, showered and dressed, caught some news, and took more than an hour to have breakfast. My caloric intake consisted of watermelon, cereal with peaches and pineapple, sausages and ketchup, toast and jam (with butter from Germany!), and hot tea. Back in the room, much to my dismay, I discovered I had forgotten to bring my digital video camera charger cord, which meant I had less than two hours of battery power for the week; bugger!

I headed out at 10:30 am, planning to have a cultural day. I walked the nearby neighborhoods, watching people unloading and loading delivery vehicles, and tailors working. Soon I came to the relatively new Hong Kong Museum of History. I bought a HK$30 (US$3.90) museum pass for six museums over seven days, which was excellent value. I started on the ground floor, watching videos, using computers, and looking at exhibits on geology, plant life, and early peoples. One Chinese woman attendant wanted to practice her English, and asked me a number of interesting questions. (For example, what are the differences between Australian, British, and U.S. English? What does "overbearing" mean? What about "grounding?" After five hours there, I had a very late lunch in the museum cafe.

Next door was the Museum of Science, so I stopped in for a quick look, but was getting tired. I walked back to the hotel through some back streets, which were filled with shops and shoppers. Back at the hotel, I tried to stay awake, but gave up around 6 pm.

[Diary] I awoke at 2:30 am, had a snack and drink, and caught up with some world news. From 3–6 am, I worked, proofing a technical manuscript I'd brought for just such early morning occasions. I never really slept after that, although I tried to for an hour. Up again at 7 am, showered, and watched TV. At 7:45, it was down to the buffet breakfast: watermelon, cereal with fruit, toast and cheese, and tea. And, of course, my daily Sudoku puzzle.

At 9 am, I called Ed Hahn to set up a meeting late Wednesday afternoon. (Ed was an American now living in Hong Kong. He was a member of an organization I recently joined, www.hospitalityclub.org.) Then I worked another four hours.

My Third Local Host

Another Servas day host, Tse Hin Kwong (Julian), came to my hotel at 1:30 pm. We ate lunch nearby at the Spaghetti House—the lunch special was HK$56 (US$7.25) each plus service charge. It included soup, a main course, and a drink. We spent an hour together.

More Time Around Kowloon

At 3 pm, I walked down Nathan Road to the main Kowloon post office where I bought postcard stamps for HK$3 (US$0.39). From there, it was on to the Art Museum on the waterfront where I had a hurried look around; not quite "my cup of tea." However, I did see a nice 500-year-old serving dish that would go well with my Chinese crockery set; also, a bronze jug from the 13th century BC. (I wonder if it said "Made in China" underneath.)

I strolled along the promenade on the south bank of Kowloon, and shot some video and stills of the harbor. I also chatted with a young English couple who had just arrived from four months in Australia. I consumed ice cream while watching the continuous harbor traffic. From there, it was on to the Star Ferry terminal and surrounding shops. Then I went north through Kowloon Park back to my hotel, stopping off to buy some emergency rations. In my room, I snacked and read the daily English newspaper.

Since the room came with a hot-water kettle, I bought a packet of noodles and ate in. At 7:30 pm, I took the subway south one stop and walked to the promenade to see the nightly 8-pm light show on the high-rise buildings across the harbor on Hong Kong Island. Then back home via the subway. I walked 4–5 blocks along the famed Temple Street Night Market near my hotel. There were wall-to-wall stalls selling clothing, footwear, electronics, and bootleg CDs and DVDs. Home by 9:30 pm, showered, and read; lights out soon after.

More on Hong Kong Island

[Diary] I had a good sleep, then showered, ate breakfast, and worked for an hour. At 9:30 am, I headed out for more culture on the Island. First, it was the Law Uk Folk Museum, a restored house from the Hakka people whose village used to be on that site. There are no others left in the whole city. Second came the Museum of Coastal Defense, built into an old gun fortification. It covered various periods, from olden times through the Japanese occupation in WWII and the takeover by the People's Republic of China in 1997. I spent several hours there, mostly indoors in air-conditioned comfort. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap.

My Fourth Local Host

At 4 pm, I took the red line subway to the Star Ferry where I crossed the harbor riding 1st class (which cost a pittance). Ed met me at the arrival gate, and took me on a walking tour of the area around Central. This included riding on the half-mile-long series of escalators that go up the mountainside through shopping and eating areas. We walked down again and sat in air-conditioned comfort in an English pub, the Bulldog. Ed's wife Pat, also an American, joined us for drinks and dinner. I ate Shepherd's pie, which was excellent. Then it was down to Central and home via the subway. Lights out at 10 pm.

A Day Trip into the Countryside

[Diary] I awoke way too early, watched TV, showered, then ate breakfast at 7 am. The plan for the day was to get a day-ticket to Lantau Island, which included return ferry, minibus, and narrated tour to a few tourist attractions.

By 9 am, I was on the red line to Central. From there it was a short walk to Pier 6, the Lantau ferry terminal. There I met a Spanish couple, Manuel and Yolanda, from Valencia, and explained to them about the day ticket. They hadn't known about it, but were interested, so we all bought HK$150 (US$19.50) tickets. We sat in the cafe talking, and I started to remember my basic Spanish.

We rode First Class on the ferry, which was called "Xin Xing," departing at 10:30 for Mui Wo on Lantau island. After a 15-minute wait, the three of us, seven Dutch tourists and their Flemish guide, two Chinese ladies, and a few other couples boarded the air-conditioned minibus and set off.

The first stop was a nice beach, where we spent 15 minutes. (Like most beaches there, it had a shark net around the swimming area.) The second stop was the Po Lin monastery and huge Tian Tan Buddha statue. We consumed an "interesting" vegetarian lunch, and spent two hours there. The final stop was the fishing village of Tai O, where houses are built on stilts over the water. It was rather rundown and much more like what I think of with respect to a Chinese village. Many stalls sold live and dried fish, drinks, and tourist junk. The ice cream and cream soda were definitely the best things in town. The hour there was more than enough.

Back at Mui Wo, we caught the fast ferry at 4:50 pm. Back at the Hong Kong Island ferry terminal, I said goodbye to my new Spanish friends, and headed home on the subway. I rested, watched TV, and read the paper. At 6:30 pm, I went out to eat, but wanted only a small meal. Nearby was a McDonalds, where the food was ridiculously cheap and filling. I ate a McChicken sandwich and fries for HK$13.50 (US$1.75). I watched TV until 9 pm, with lights-out soon after. To be sure, the highlight of the day was meeting the Spanish couple.

[Diary] I slept well until 5:30 am, got my TV news fix, and was down at breakfast by 7:15 am. I managed to go wrong with my Sudoku puzzle, so restarted it just to make sure I got off to a good start for the day. Back in the room, I worked for a while.

Out and About on Kowloon

I hopped on the subway red line and green line, heading for the Chi Lin Nunnery. Built in 1998, in an old style, it has some 85,000 pieces of timber, but no nails! The 25,000 roof tiles weighed some 150 tons. There were some nice lotus lily ponds. Next door was a very nice city garden. It was very humid; I was dripping perspiration.

Back at the subway station, I strolled through a large supermarket, looking at all the things familiar and not, and bought lunch and more emergency rations. In the subway station, I found a bakery with curried meat in flaky pastries that were "to die for!"

I rode the subway back to the hotel, where I ate lunch in my room while watching world news according to the Australian channel ABC Asia/Pacific. Quite unexpectedly, the phone rang; It was Christy, another Hospitality Club member I'd contacted 10 days earlier. She had just gotten my message, and invited me to dinner with some friends. I accepted. It was a pleasant surprise indeed!

At 1:15 pm, I thought I'd lie back on the bed for a short nap, but woke up nearly four hours later feeling recharged. I had a small snack, read, tried a cryptic crossword puzzle, and shaved, in preparation for my "night out."

My Fifth Local Host

At 7:30 pm, I departed for Hong Kong Island and the Fortress Hill station. Christy met me there at 8 pm. Soon after, her friends Rachel and CC joined us, and we went off in search of a local restaurant. (All three were Hospitality Club members.) We ate and talked for three hours, and an excellent time was had by all. Back home, I watched some TV news, but was wide-awake. Lights finally went out at 2 am.

Over the Mountain on Hong Kong Island

[Diary] I had no more than four hours sleep. I watched TV, had a late breakfast, tried napping, but to no avail. So out I went at 11 am, taking the red line to Central, to Exchange Square, and on to the Number 6 bus to Stanley on the south side of the island. I rode in the top front seat in a modern double-decker bus; if you know Kenneth Graeme's story "Wind in the Willows," this definitely was "Toad's wild ride." The narrow road had two lanes with a steep cliff up on one side and another down on the other. At times, I had to close my eyes to avoid getting motion sickness. Seated next to me was a young Japanese couple down from Tokyo for four days. We chatted off and on.

I went to Murray House, a building that has been pulled apart, stone by stone, transported down here from the city, and reassembled. Unfortunately, the records for how to do this were poorly made, and it took three years to figure out how to put it back together. And then they had six large columns spare, so they stuck them out front in a row. I looked in on a small temple, a market, found a place selling ice-cold cans of cream soda and drank one while eating pork, chicken, and beef satays with peanut sauce. From downtown, it was on to the military cemetery, which required a good walk out of town. It sure was humid. Along the way, I stopped off at St. Stephen's Beach where I sat in the shade eating an ice cream and watching the sunbathers and boaters.

Back in Stanley, I caught the 6X express bus, this time going along the south coast and back to Central via the Aberdeen toll tunnel. From there it was on the subway back home to another long cold drink. I read my paper, watched TV, and ate almost all my emergency rations. A 2-hour Australian Rules Football game came on TV, so I watched that. I packed my gear in 10 minutes. Lights out at 9 pm.

The Trip Back Home

[Diary] There was a noisy party in the room next door until very late, but, fortunately, it didn't bother me too much. My wake-up call came at 6 am, at which time I showered and ate fruit and juice in my room, as it was too early for the hotel restaurant. I checked out, getting change for the A21 airport bus. Although the bus stop was only one block from the hotel, as I stepped outside, the Heavens opened, and the rain came pelting down. Fortunately, I was only out in the open for less than a minute before I reached the bus shelter.

I only had to wait five minutes before the bus arrived. It cost HK$33 (US$4.25) one way. A few stops later, a Dutch couple from Rotterdam got on and sat next to me. They were taking a side trip to Nagoya, Japan, to visit friends. [Nagoya is the main city in Aiichi prefecture, the location of the current World Expo.] We chatted all the way to the airport. They were especially interested in things to do and see in the U.S. on a future trip, so we exchanged contact information.

At the airport, check-in was smooth, although I drew the short straw for a random security check of my checked luggage. Then during check-in, the agent asked if I had any matches in my checked luggage. I said I did, so I had to take them out and put them into my carry-on bag, which is permitted to contain up to four boxes! Then it was on to immigration, forgetting to get my HK$50 deposit back for my Octopus card.

On the airport train to my terminal, I chatted with an Australian couple from Victoria. Then I settled into United's Red-Carpet club for a proper breakfast: cornflakes, muffin with cheese, banana, and tea, plus a "USA Today" newspaper, which was filled with pictures and stories about Hurricane Katrina.

I got to board early and settled into a window seat in an exit row of the Boeing 747-400. Two very pleasant American women sat next to me. We had a great Hong Kong-based Chinese cabin crew. Lunch was served soon after. Then I settled into movies (you can watch a lot on a 14½-hour flight). I saw "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," "Kicking and Screaming," "Monster-in-Law," "Madagascar," and "Million Dollar Baby." Snacks and chocolate bars were served.

The flight home took a different path: out to sea, up the coast of China, over Japan (Kyushu, Honshu, and Hokkaido islands), over a bit of Russia, crossing the International Date Line north of the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska, across northern Canada, and down into Chicago. And as a bonus, we had a short night and restarted Sunday again! Over Anchorage, Alaska, it was -70F (-57C) outside at 35,000 feet.

We landed in Chicago on time, but it took more than an hour to get through immigration. Then I had to ride the train from the international arrivals' terminal to United's domestic terminal, and had a long walk underground from one terminal to the other. I made it to my gate with 10 minutes to spare. We boarded a Boeing 777 for Washington, and during the 2-hour flight, I had a not-very-comfortable nap, my first for the day.

In Washington, I phoned Jenny from the mid-field terminal, and as I walked outside with my luggage, she arrived. The weather was wonderful with humidity and heat gone, and the house windows open day and night. I managed to stay up late in a vain attempt to get on local time as soon as possible.

It certainly was an interesting and enjoyable trip, and I made a number of new friends. I really liked meeting Servas day hosts, so planned on doing that again in the future in other countries. My first experience with the Hospitality Club also went well, and I look forward to hosting and traveling with contacts from that organization.

I shot some digital photos and finished up with a 1-hour DVD of video.

As to jet lag, it would take at least 10 days before I got back on local time. But what the heck, it sure beats working for a living, right? Or does it? The way I felt right then, I'd have to say, "No!"