Weird things and surprises constantly occur in my life — I have often found that I know less about others than I realise and other people seem to know about me than I realise.
How does this happen? Is it because I simply jump in and talk to anyone? I have no idea.
This is a story about the synchronicity of flying to distant places with an odd story about the “THE HOUSE OF BOOKS”.
Once I was waiting in the departure lounge of the Bangkok airport for a flight to London. I noticed a man I recognised from the streets of Fremantle also waiting for the same flight.
I would often see this man his wife and children walking together around Fremantle. When ever I saw them I imagined that he was a kind supportive partner and father.
The plane was a jumbo with hundreds of seats and as life would have it — he ended up being allocated a seat next to me.
The flight was 12 hours so during that time I was able to get to know this man fairly well — particularly as he seemed extremely happy to talk about himself.
I learned that my imagination was wrong and that this man was unkind and abusive. He said things about his wife that made my thick straight hair curl.
He told me that he was leaving his wife and I could only think how lucky she and the children were to get away from him. What a lesson about my imagination!
On another flight which was to Indonesia from somewhere I was seated in the middle row of five seats.
In the first four seats were my daughter, then me, an Asian man and a blond Australian surfie who was in his 30’s. I have no idea who sat in the fifth seat.
The Asian man sat there with his coke bottle glasses, his quiet demeanour, his beautiful jet black hair that was completely in place. He was quiet and tried to keep a low profile.
The Australian Surfie had wild blond hair bleached by the sun and rarely done! It was quintessentially “surf hair”. He was happily drinking beer. He would call the air hostess as soon as one can was finished to get another one. Can after can went down the hatch.
As he drank he became happier, louder and friendlier so eventually he started trying to talk to the Asian guy.
The Asian guy was extremely shy and he kept looking away from the surfie. In doing that; he would turn towards me and then feel even more awkward. Finally he tried to not look either way and simply tried to make himself shrink back into his seat. Surrounded by Australians seemed simply too uncomfortable.
The surfie guy was oblivious to his affect on the Asian guy so he kept drinking and getting more or more “friendly.”
Finally I decided to join in—who can resist such an awkward situation?
I started quietly by asking Surfie about himself. He told me that he was a professional surfing promoter and was going surfing with his clients in the back blocks of Indonesia.
He garrulously talked about the terrible lives and conditions in the villages in that part of Indonesia.
He spoke of the health problems and about an Australian Surf Charity that he belonged to that was helping these people. Immunisations, medicines and all sorts of practical help was flowing from that charity to the people who owned the beautiful surf beaches. Rahdah, rahdah … on and on he went.
The Asian guy stopped shrinking back and started to look relieved and then finally became interested. With my chatting and the Asian guy joining in the Surfie relaxed and he proved to be a kind and good-hearted bloke who was simply a loud, chatty, friendly drunk.
Finally the Surfie started talking to me and the conversation went like this —
Surfie: “Where do you live?”
Me: “In Fremantle”
Surfie: “Where in Fremantle?”
Me: “Solomon Street.”
Surfie: “Oh, I know you. You live in the house that is raised up from the road with a view. You have a the limestone wall at the front and you go up the stairs to the front door.”
Surfie (oblivious to my response)
“I call your house — the house of books— Your house has books stacked everywhere… You had so many books about all subjects it was the most interesting house ever. You have so many books — yes the house of books.
I was feeling rather strange at this stage, as he was thoroughly correct about all of this.
Me: How do you know my house?
Surfie: “I went out with Libby who lived across the road from you. She was a really great person and I still think the world of her.”
Well, Libby she was the daughter of the people who lived across the road from me and she was also a surfer.
Surfie: “When you went away once you had her looking after your house and dogs so we stayed there together.
When I was 18 and my little brother Kim was 16 my parents sent us on a JETSET tour around Asia for about 18 days.
We had both been in boarding school since we were twelve so I guess the oldies thought we could handle the trip together without supervision.
I imagine that they thought that I would keep an eye on Kim and him on me? Who knows what was going thought their heads?
I will be forever grateful that I had this opportunity and I guess that is all that matters, it shaped me in some way.
We went to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand back to Malaysia then down the coast to Malacca then through the jungle to Singapore before we flew home to Perth.
I only have three photographs of the whole trip. In those days before social media and digital cameras photographs were not a high priority. Experience was where it was at and we had 18 days of intense experience.
In 1972 when you flew over Asia it was just miles and miles of verdant green trees with meandering brown rivers cutting arteries thorough the jungle.
A few days before we left I was at a party in Perth somewhere and met two young American women about my age who had been picked up for drug trafficking from Thailand. They were out on bail until the court case was heard. I later heard that they ended up in jail for about 4 years as they were found to be guilty.
They actually had been staying at the Thai hotel that I was planning to stay in staying at in on my trip. They asked me to speak to the manager about what had happened to them here in Australia to see if he would help them. I think he was the guy who set them up.
My parents were completely unaware that I met drug trafficers at neighborhood parties and was stupid/young/naive enough to consider this request.
Kim and I flew off to Malaysia oblivious to any threat or problem that could happen to a person on a trip such as the one we were on.
In those days at each air port in Asia we had to walk down the steps of the aircraft onto the hot tarmac and around us were the custom’s people with machine guns at their hips.
At that time in Australia Police didn’t have guns, only farming people had guns and they were shot guns that shot rabbits, not semi automatic machine guns. It was scary to see smartly uniformed men with such powerful guns.
Our first stop was Malaysia. Once outside the airport Kuala Lumpa was a sleepy place, it had the Asian infrastructure problem of smelly plumbing in the 5 star hotels where huge cockroaches would crawl up and enter the room through the bathroom drains.
At the same time the hotels would have the marble bath, walls and tiles plus impeccable crystal chandeliers. The “styling” of the rooms was flawless. At the same time the ever so slightly out of line walls contrasted with the stone and chandeliers creating a strangely surreal experience for an inexperienced spoiled Western brat such as myself.
After one night in KL where we had my first Malaysian Banquet dinner in the hotel we flew to HONKERS. My parents had given us a small amount of money to spend and this I guess they thought would pay for food and other sort of inconvenient and silly things like that.
For a 16 and 18 year old who had been fed without paying for our whole lives we just expected that that is what would happen naturally.
JETSET tours included breakfast and every few days a “buffet” meal. So, with that paid for that is all Kim and I ate. We drank the free tea and ate the dry biscuits in the rooms and apart from that we starved.
The rest of the meager money went on doing and buying the other things that the tour didn’t do.
Over 30 years later my daughter went to Europe when she was 18 and came back looking anorexic, with the information that she could live off a packet of oats for a week. Only then did I understand that for this age paying for food was not a priority. Eighteen year old people are not focused on food as a heath giving priority, they just want their stomachs filled so that they can get on with being cool.
In Hong Kong we stayed in Kowloon and went by ferry to the mainland daily with the odd (JETSET) tour in between.
I spent my money on hand tailored clothing. I actually bought a ankle length leather coat specifically made for me for a pittance. Plus silk shirts and other silly things that I valued at that time.
Of course I flogged this stuff off at Moulitatas – Robyn’s shop in Fremantle a few years later as who needs such warm clothing in Fremantle?
Kim and I didn’t miss a moment and saw the HK markets at night went to the top of the hill and did what people do in HK.
Being from Chinese heritage I felt really comfortable in HK and many people spoke English so it was an easy introduction to Asia.
The next stop was Thailand.
Bangkok was amazing as we had many days to realise that it was even more different from Australia than Malaysia or Hong Kong. For example the traffic was unbelievable! The streets were buzzing with motorbikes, when the traffic lights went red, the cars would stop but the motor bikes would keep moving up through the traffic until there was a huge group of bikes in front of the cars spilling into the traffic. The roads were so packed that not only was it was impossible for the traffic to cross it was also terrifying for a Western person to cross the road.
Years later I would learn that to cross a busy Asian road you simply stroll across at a steady pace not looking at the traffic, and allow the traffic to swirl around you… at 18 I was too untrusting to do such a crazy thing.
At the very side of the road was an illegal separate lane going in the opposite direction because they were unable to cross the road to get to their correct lane. I guess that I was not the only person too untrusting at the time!
I experienced the brown lazily flowing Kongs with the water markets and homes where people could be seen cooking, washing, playing and defecating into the water, This was like a vision from another planet.
The nauseating smell of fish sauce pervaded the streets and made my empty stomach upset. The JETSET meals were authentic Thai food that were condimentally hot and although I ate every mouthful because I was starving it made my stomach unbalanced. I didn’t get sick just starving and when I did eat it was spicy food.
Everything was so unexpected I was so unaware of other cultures before this trip and I just drew it all in with wide eyes and a grumbling going on upset stomach.
The hotel was five star Asian standard of the time with marble baths, amazing views, starchy linen and enormous cockroaches.
Every day when I left the hotel and walked down the huge flight of steps men would flock to me and chant “youwantaman? youwantaman? youwantaman?” and my brother would say NO! I just thought they were speaking Thai. I had no idea.
On the third day at the hotel I arranged a meeting with the manager. I had his name carefully written on a party serviette by the American drug dealer mules I met in Fremantle.
The meeting was cordial and I was not at the least interested in being a drug runner and I expect that was obvious to him so he didn’t offer me the opportunity.
I felt my duty was done and went down stairs to the shops in the hotel. Kim my brother was out and about. Suddenly he arrived at the shop. His hair was sticking out in all directions, and his eyes were wide and sort of staring. His whole persona was one of stress and urgency.
He said that he needed money. I gave to him and he ran off. Later he told me he had said yes to the chant on the hotel steps “youwantagirl?” “youwantagirl?” “youwantagirl?” and had been driven to a place where there was this glass room where girls were parading around with numbers on them.
He was asked to pick a number and I didn’t let him tell me more, and that is why he needed the money.
Who knows what happened to my sweet 16 year old brother? At least AIDS was not prevalent at the time.
Then on to Malaysia, where things were more relaxed and we took a bus down the peninsula to Singapore seeing the beautiful animals, jungle and Malacca along the way.
Finally we were in Singapore where we saw large five meter long pythons being butchered on the streets of China town, the glamorous transvestites in Bugis Street, had drinks at the Raffles hotel and we were enthralled by the monkeys in the main park who would steal the washing from the balconies of the flats close by.
I found the shop that sold real mainland Chinese products, where I purchased hand embroidered 100% cotton sheets. I have not varied my bedding from that time it just is luxury to sleep in pure cotton and see the beauty of embroidery such is my influence form that trip.
Year after year I would visit this store until China decided to open up more and you could get 100% cotton embroidered sheets at Target!
By this time Asia was magical – the fetid smell of the drains in Singapore no longer worried me – the rats and cockroaches were just fine. The food I found interesting and tasty and I was in love with it all.
Through all of this I got to know my little brother well, he is such a lovely kind being, easy to be with and happy to just explore life.
At the time on the flights alcohol was free and I found that my little brother had a serious liking for whisky that he had naturally picked up at boarding school. I didn’t drink at 18, and I would order him enough whisky for him to swim in…
I am not sure I was a good influence.
Asia felt like coming home to excitement, spice and fun and has felt like that every time I have been back since.