Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Better segues needed

I've received several emails from confused followers. Not like the folks that donned the white Nikes, put a roll of quarters in their pocket(for making alien phone calls, toll booths, the jukebox where they stop to quench their interplanetary thirst?), and drank the Kool-Aid. But apparently I never overtly mentioned that I am currently on leave(it's always slow in Botswana this time of year so we take leave and charge our mental batteries for the coming busy season). The last post's title was a pretty good clue, though. Hopefully at least some of you "got" the reference to "Holiday in Cambodia." Thailand, Cambodia, and soon Hong Kong. Might as well get some city time, it's gonna be a while.

So I apologize, my brain merrily marches on serious tangents and sometimes I forget that not everyone can follow along. But as long as I'm back already, here's some stuff I meant to share yesterday. Though Cambodia is much more popular than even five years ago, one can still shoestring it with hostels and street vendors for about 7 bucks a day. Wanna live large? Forty bones oughta do it. Corruption abounds, from cops taking payoffs to teachers leaving early unless students throw some cash. They use American dollars and Cambodia Reil with all prices in dollars. People smile easily. Children wave. Motorbikes often carry four humans, several 100kg bags of rice, or about a hundred chickens slung by their feet to a bamboo pole.

My guide/tuk tuk driver asked me what I did for money. He didn't know the word helicopter, so I did my best Huey sound effects and moved my hand about. "Ahhh, you drive akamthomroy." Akamthomroy? What's that mean? "Flying dragon. All Cambodians call them that." Because we sent flying spitters of fire to stop the march of Communism and the lines on the maps got awfully blurred. Really? What do they call airplanes? "Airplanes just airplanes."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dead Kennedys

I sat over beers with some ex-pats in Phnom Penh the other day. That's the trick, isn't it? To find a pub with lots of ex-pats but few tourists. A good number of them had moved to Cambodia after years in Thailand. Thailand recently outlawed and cracked down on marijuana. Who wants to live in a place where it's acceptable for a couple of fifteen-year-old girls to get up on a stage and shoot ping pong balls(the modern celluloid ball discovered by James W. Gibb in 1901) at each other but will jail an individual for smoking a naturally growing plant whose medicinal and ritualistic uses have been documented for more than five thousand years?

One day in the capitol city was enough so I hopped on a ferry to Siem Reap. The trip took three hours longer than it should have. I noticed from my perch on the roof top that the lake was shallow enough that one could see the ripples caused by wind over sand close to the surface. The channel was marked by bamboo poles with empty plastic bags affixed to them. But one must have been missing cuz we grounded with a fright. Getting unstuck involved a bunch of fisherman wading over from their nets(nets that used empty aerosol cans for the floats) to push while all the fatties in the private cabin at the bow waddled to the stern.

I saw the sunrise at Angkor Wat the next morning. The experience was marred by the crowds, but stunning nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Meat on a stick

A handful of years ago, some friends and I over-nighted in Bangkok on our way to India. We found a sweet lurker deck above Soi Cowboy to imbibe while people watching. We all chuckled at the middle-aged men holding hands with young Thai girls(and a fair number of young Thai boys.) So I'm sitting in a bar in Bangkok yesterday. I look around and see middle-aged men and young Thai girls. No boys cuz they kick them out of the establishment, just like the sign says. But are they rubbing each one, looking for the Adam's apple as they walk through the door? Unlikely.

Anyway, I don't think I'm over the hill but...I must be near the top because the view from here is outstanding. I decide I've had about enough of the old man, young girl scene. Not because I'm prudish or anti-anything. But because I'm afraid loneliness might be contagious. So I decide to get out of the beer joint.

Ahhh...the martini. It's the quintessential cocktail, served in a distinctive glass. Some debate surrounds it. Ian Fleming's character says shake it while Kingsley Amis says stir. I like to shake it just cuz it's more fun. No one can agree on who said that they are like breasts, one isn't enough and three is too many, but whoever said was right.

I walked into a 'check out that fucking hipster' joint in San Francisco once. The place had twenty televisions(actually it's safe to guess that there was one in the ladies' room, too, so maybe twenty-one) all playing Charlie Chaplin movies. Speaking of black and white, I was the only one shaded in something from the middle of the rainbow. That place screamed martini. It came with the requisite two olives. Sinatra said one was for you and one was for the next beautiful woman to walk in.

The Nest is a roof-top bar in downtown Bangkok and definitely a hipster joint. You walk over a poi pond through a bamboo forest into a lounge back-lit with red recessed bulbs. An attractive woman wearing headphones with speakers bigger than Princess Leia's hair spins records. The five by ten meter movie screen behind her is mounted askew. The movie is some futuristic anime full of characters created by a coupling of Thor and Lucy Lu.

And the martini? Two olives on a bamboo skewer. The stem of the glass broken off so that it could be nested inside a globe filled with ice. Like drinking a cool cloud. Two was perfect.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Happy Anniversary

What a difference a year makes. I woke to what I thought was a lion roaring this morning. I ran out onto the veranda in my skivvies. I heard a bunch of commotion. Dammit. Just the kitchen crew messing about. Wait. There it is again. Yep a lion, two actually, calling to each other. And no, they don't sound anything like the one at the start of the MGM movies. That's a lion yawning with sounds of something else laid over the top. Like the sound of buffaloes running in 'Dances with Wolves,' total bullshit. Or cars peeling out, gravel doesn't make a squealing sound when it flies out from under a spinning tire.

My dad said he wanted to see someone make a Western that had streets full of horseshit. When the bad guy flipped over a table to hide behind, the good guy would just shoot the dumbass through the wood and be done with it. But that would put the special effects guys out of business.

Anyway, a year ago today(technically, 364.5 days considering the time change) I passed the check ride for my private pilot's license. While I was happy to pass, I was also quite concerned that the guy sitting next to me felt that I had the skills needed to fly a whirly-bird. I said as much. "Yep, you know enough to get yourself killed." Shit, I've known that for years.

Now I'm paid to fly a turbine machine over one of the last great wildernesses on the planet. Lucky. One in a million? In the words of Han Solo right before he flew up the bunghole of a gigantic space worm, "Never tell me the odds." My dad's friend Bob Zimbal says, "The harder I work, the luckier I get." And for the most part that's true. Luck of course plays a huge part. If I were born an untouchable in New Delhi the best I could hope for would be to rise from the sewer to become a rubbish collector. But I would have found a way to grab a broom and sweep bags of Marsala Munch from the sidewalks.

I sent out resumes the day I got my commercial license and fellow students in the professional pilot program laughed at me. I told them that I was holding a world-wide contest and whoever hired me first would win. They were concerned with minimum experience required and the like. What they didn't understand is that you hold the upper hand over anyone that has to advertise a position. They don't know anyone with the qualifications or the people they do know are folks they don't want to hire.

The tricks I learned in college like calling the secretary to make sure that they had received my cover letter so it would go back to the top of the pile went the way of the dodo with the rise of the internet. But not really, more like the way of the ivory-billed woodpecker. They're still out there. Those tricks work again. Hand someone your packet. Shake a hand. Drive the four hours from Phoenix to the heli-base on the North Rim. Say, "Yes I can be in Africa in two weeks." You can figure out how you're gonna pull that off after you hang up the phone. Work harder, get luckier.