Around the world in 48 days*


* For more substantive reporting on the trip, read the datelined pieces displayed on https://yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com

It was intended as my last hurrah!

For after all, at 86, my friends and my life companion, initially, thought it was not only foolhardy but dangerous. And there was the bionic argument – a pacemaker, unstabilized glaucoma beginning to take my sight, and still adjusting to hearing aids.

Still, the urge to try my hand at my old profession of reporting on the scene and acquiring new prejudices in the process was still too strong to resist. And so, off I went, from Norfolk to Norfolk [and remember we pronounce it naw-fawk down heayah] via Tokyo, Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, Delhi, Bombay, Jerusalem, Vienna; Zurich, Washington.

The first problem, of course, was setting up the itinerary. I had only two months before I had to meet a contractual deadline for a piece of writing. So that gave me only six weeks after the necessary pause for the long yearend holidays when Japan, first stop on my round-the-world, would again open up. It immediately became apparent I would have to leave out my old and beloved stamping ground of Southeast Asia – Hanoi [where I spent a year during “the French war”] to Dahha [where I sat in on the creation of what Henry Kissinger said would be the basketcase at Bangladesh’s emergence in 1971]. There were the China and India points I had to cover.

Then I remembered, too, that once passed the breakeven point from North America at Bangkok, a round-the-world ticket was cheaper than a roundtrip. So I would have to include some points beyond Asia which contributed to my research.

The task of putting together nine countries and ten stops with some call center of one of the airlines, maybe in India or the Philippines, was daunting. I called the son of an old friend – alas! long since deceased – who had for a couple of decades been the forward man for an international hotel chain, opening one new hostelry after another. I said I knew travel agents didn’t exist any more, or at least not the old-fashioned ones, so what should I do. He said, to the contrary, and gave me the name of two agencies in New York City.

And, thereby, hangs a tale and a hypothesis on the state of analyses today: when in the course of negotiations, I remarked to the agent that it didn’t make any difference whether I was stopping in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem since it was the same airport, she expressed surprise. Working backwards, I understood. Outsourcing of the itinerary, hotels and visas was the new modus operandi for a successful travel agent. No need to have that nasty old data stored in one’s head if, as a travel agent, you could punch a key for an outside data bank and get it.

But what about judgements made on subconscious data burrowed in the brain? Is that what might be happening to our thought processes with the digital revolution?

Since I had no Passepartout to help me on my way, every decision became onerous and difficult. What to take? Little shoes [that fit] and big shoes [for swollen feet], coldweather clothes for north Asia, tropical raiment for India, more formal wear for the critical Swiss, omiyagi [souvenirs] for the Japanese and other Asians, a birthday present for a friend reaching 90 in Austria – and the medicines, for the eyes, for travel’s malaise, for other emergencies. And how to keep it all manageable size for the long stretches of walking in the cavernous new airports in north Asia.

Japan

Norfolk depart, Dulles transfer without a hitch. But then arriving early over Tokyo, my pilot suddenly faced a sudden “snowstorm” – or so Tokyoites viewed three or four inches. We circled for hours, had to set down in Nagoya for fuel, then back over Tokyo to finally arrive on the ground eight hours late. Tokyo’s Narita airport, always a problem with its distance from downtown Tokyo, was closed down: no one could even tell you when the road into Tokyo would be open Normal Japanese discipline collapsed; finally earthquake storage was opened and air mattresses, bottled water, and riceballs, were passed out to the thousands who bundled down to wait for clearance to move out. Finally, next morning – after four hours on the highway – I arrived in the Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo, 18 hours behind schedule, broken appointments for dinner, and exhausted from a night dozing in a very hard chair.

China

A busy schedule in Tokyo for five days and then to Beijing: again setting something of a record by arriving on the worst pollution day in the Chinese capital’s history which meant you couldn’t see across the street. My chief contact, a wheeler-dealer of the new China scene had literally disappeared. Virtually every other spokesman person allocated by the regime to speak to foreigners was off on junkets in the West [about the only reward, I take it, for mouthing the regime’s line to foreigners]. Only the sushi [I checked; imported fish from New Zealand] in the Japanese-run hotel relieved the monotony. An extremely interesting and informative interview at Peking University [yes, they still call it and spell it that way because of its pre-Communist reputation] although a bright, young student –translator of the English-speaking professor and politician had to be squelched to get y questions answered. [I note in passing that female liberation is not helping what was once the highly touted reputation of Chinese women for modesty and quiet diplomacy.] The fantastic forest of new skyscrapers were a testimony to the material progress in the post-Deng Hsiaoping state-capitalist society, but gone is the old charm of Beijing and its moon-doored old tenements.

Taiwan

A lunatic taxi driver took me in tow in Taipei and we swept through the traffic into the city with every expectation that life and limb were in jeopardy. Still he had been given a number and a fixed rate by the starter, a welcome respite from the old days of hard and lengthy bargaining for a just price. The lauded Government Information Agency which I remember from the Taiwan Straits Crisis of 1958 headed by that quintessential Shanghai wheelerdealer Jimmy Wei. [Later he was to play an important role in the movement away from martial law and toward Taiwan democracy, the first in China’s lomg history, under his “capo” Chaing Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, proof again of Jeane Kirpatrick’s thesis that there is hope for authoritarian governments but never for a Communist regime but implosion and the desert it leaves behind.]

But a Ministry of Foreign Affairs minder – after some considerable browbeating on my part of the Washington Taiwan reps – and with the help of old friend Parris Chiang, I had a full schedule of official and unofficial appointments. The news was not good. President Ma Ying-jeou’s effort to pump up Taiwan’s economy with extensive agreements on trade and exchanges with the Mainland is eroding Taiwan’s de facto independence. Pro-Mainland elements have taken over some of the media. A well-publicized intelligence figure tried to persuade me that the new Mainland No. 1 Xi Jinping was charismatic, knowledgeable about Taiwan because of his long Communist Party apprenticeship in Fukien province facing Taiwan, and that he would successfully use “soft power” to propel China’s growing role in world affairs. He argued that Xi might even be more acquainted with the West than the old Maximum Leader Deng Hsiao-ping because of his frequent overseas travel. That seemed unlikely to me; after all, Deng was one of the indentured workers taken from China to France during World War I who fell in with the Communist organizers. It was as foolish his claim that Xi was infatuated with Western movies. [They haven’t trotted that one out since the Soviets used it to prove that Andropov, the old NKV/KGB warhose was “pro-American” because he liked Westerns.] This continued “intellectual” infiltration, tied to such growing economic ties as investment by Mainland government banks, the last stronghold of Kuomintang statist economic policies, is towing Taiwan across the Strait just as its strategic position again assumes new importance for the U.S. and Japan in the face of growing Beijing naval expansion efforts in its huge military buildup.

Hong Kong

The old traditions of the Connaught Hotel, when it was a resting place for my friends coming in from “up-country”, are being maintained in the Mandarin Oriental – even if its vaunted position on Victoria Harbor has been eroded by blocs and blocs of newly filled in building sites between it and the water. The long walk to the Old Star Ferry, much diminished by Hong Kong’s neat underground railway, was almost a walk to the Kowloon side. Despite CNN International’s opening morning vista, the old harbor view is gone.

So are the old rocking chairs at the Peninsular Hotel, although the Rolls Royces used to ferry guests back and forth to the airport, are still lined up outside. The price of a cup of not too good coffee was ferocious when I drifted in after a session with my old friends, the Markbrieters at the offices of their still monumental The Arts of Asia. I guess Hong Kong is still a shoppers’ paradise – I wasn’t buying – but the smog was drifting down from China, and it is clear that – as a Special Administrative Zone official admitted at a public meeting – the old carefully controlled immigration of labor from China has gone awry. Government land sales, the other leg of Hong Kong’s psot World War II prosperity, gained when Mao’s China cut itself off from the world, is still going however. And for the moment at least, it looks like Hong Kong is maintaining its role as an economic powerhouse, substituting financial and other services for the cheap-labor manufacturing flown off to neighboring South China. [It has a convertible currency to the U.S. dollar it is tied to and acts increasingly as a middleman for Mainland nonconvertible yuan, and Singapore;s attempt to supersede it has long since been forgotten.] But the political situation is deteriorating – after two Communist hacks in the executive – and I was not surprised when a taxidriver in my four [repeat] four trips to Kowloon to pick up an Indian visa, told me he yearned for the old British days and could not “understand” why people wanted to do away with London’s colonial rule.

The Indian visa? Thereby hangs a tale: I had forgotten that even for a short stay, New Delhi requires a visa. [Even Beijing now gives a 72-hour sight visa for transients.] In the name of efficiency [it appears New Zealand was the pacemaker, the Indians have outsourced their visa-clearing to a worldwide travel agent. [Thereby must hang another tale given the incredible corruption which has hit the Singh-Gandhi government.] The forms are stultifying, pages and pages, including such questions as the names of other countries you have visited in the last few years and a host of other “security” questions. I called a friend in New Delhi who knows where and how to press buttons, and at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, I got a telephone call at my hotel announcing I could get my visa if I came Monday morning at 9am. In fact it took two more trips – including a stumble and fall in front of a hotel, of course the Shangri-la – where else with such an accident occur! The denouement of this little adventure was that at the last moment I was asked to present a hard copy of my original application file originally on the web. When I protested that would mean another trip back to my hotel in Central, the waspish lady in the said, “You can get a copy downstairs.” I said, “Where?”. “”Downstairs”. “What’s the name of the place” for the ground floor of the building was the usual busy Hong Kong chaos. “Downstairs. You will see it”. Down I went, and after some searching I found a smiling, friendly Chinese man sitting in a six-by-six glass cage with a small sign on his window announcing he could print Indian visa forms. I gave him the number – the second one, by the way – of my visa application, and abracadabra he pulled downmy whole file, printed out the original application, and gave me a receipt for a few HK dollars. I was somewhat flabbergasted. Security? He and I joked: I volunteered that Indian visas were given when the total amount of the paper, weighing what he had printed out in my palm, reached a certain point. He laughingly agreed. I wonder if they found anything interesting in my file in Beijing?

New Delhi

The new [to me] Delhi airport is cavernous and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying a briefcase increasingly full of accumulated papers. The driver who was to have picked me up and I did not make contact and I had one of those typical bumpy, fast and a little frightening rides to the my old standby, The Imperial Hotel. [I had been warned there were better and cheaper places to stay but nostalgia is nostalgia. I still remember the “bearer” so many decades ago when we complained of the mice running in the old dinning room, saying “Sahib: they are cogile {small} and don’t eat much”.] But welcome to India: the shower didn’t have hot water until I remonstrated, the business center was in another building to which I had to lug my netbook and all its cables since there was no IT cable connection in the room, etc., etc. But the old colonial building was as charming as ever and while there must be people waiting for their food since the 19th century when the hotel was opened under the Viceroy’s wife auspices, it was good when it came.

Old friends are gone but the son of one of them set up a program for me and with my own additions, I did get a feel for the current political climate. It is one of those periods of growing Indian somnombulance after a period of relatively high growth rate, with the danger that the economy is drifting back into “the Hindu rate of growth” which dogged it for some some 30 years when the sainted Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, always haunted by his student British socialist days, adopted Soviet-style planning.

And the almost inevitable arrived: at a dinner at my old friend’s widow the last night in town, I gorged on the exotic spicey Indian foods and came away with the oldtimey “Delhi-Belly}, to cripple me for another week. Under instruction, I took a taxi to the new satellite town where a series of the international glass boxes now houses a number of multinational companies, weaning away business from Bombay [Mumbai in the new attribution], so long the commercial capital of the country taking over from the earlier but moribund Calcutta. But I suspecdt they are something of a Potemkin village.

Bombay

Driving in – again a hassle at the much too small airport but at least assigned a taxi with a number and a fixed amount for the fare – it seemed to me that Bombay has become a little too much like Calcutta. My old friends, the remnant of a group who fought for market economics and representative government after their struggle for independence from Britain, confirmed. “We have deteriorated”, a knowledgeable observer said, matter of fatallism and with a touch of remorse.

But the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, now completely restored after the 2008 Bombay Massacre, is as much of a leading world hostelry as ever. I was amused that I was given a “body person”, a member of the staff who was assigned to meet my every want. I was reminded of the “batman” assigned to British army officers during my World War II attachment to the 8th Army in Italy. These were orderlies assigned to typically upper class officers who took care of their bodily comforts, to the extent that was possible, even in combat. My young man was a Maratta, of course, a native of the state into which the Old Bombay Presidency was relegated after the series of language agitations in the mid-1950s which redrew the boundaries of the old British Indian provinces, and eclipsed the domination of the minority Gujarati elite in the old Bombay , alas! probably contributing to the deterioration of governance.

Jerusalem

I have always thought that much of the miracle of the spectacular rise of the new Jewish state had to do with its drawing on people, although all Jews, from cultures all over the world. This visit reconfirmed to me that despite the relatively smaller intake of new immigrants, this was still the case. My taxi driver – I took a trip through a good part of the northern part of the country to visit old friends near Haifa along a new impr4essive toll road which also demonstrated how close Israel inside the old green line is to the so-called Occupied Territories. My driver was an Azeri Jewish immigrant, fluent he said in his own Azeri, of course, but also in associated Turkish and learning Arabic. He was something of a character, telling me in detail his recent breakup with his “Russian” girlfriend. When I purchased a piece of jewelry in my hotel, I learned the chain of shops had been initiated by a German Jewish refugee who had fled Hitler to Brazil where he had begun to trade in jewels, then immigrated to Israel where he founded his store. My salesperson was a lady who called in Russian to a taxidriver to bring an article from another store. Her replacement at the desk was a young and very pretty Turkish Jewish girl who told me she had followed her brother in making “alliyah” [ascending] to Israel only a year earlier, sent by her Turkish Jewish parents who said there was no longer a future for Jews in that country. The manager of the store was Romania-born. I cannot but believe all these people bring their own special gifts to a marvellously varied society, despite its singular dedication to being “Jewish”. Nor would I leave out a lunch site – the hotel is kosher and thus my lunch on the Sabbath was going to be poor so they sent me to “Notre Dame”, a Vatican-owned institute for religious study — which also operated a hotel and a very good dinning room in its building, not that far from the heights overlooking the Old City and The Western Wall [the principal remnant of the former Hebrew Second temple].

Vienna

I am not a particular fan of the Austrians. I spent a part of the summer of 1945, after the European victory, in the southeast of the country, among the marvellous lakes which were the summer holiday site for many Viennese. But then, as on more recent trips, I have rarely met an Austrian of my generation who wasn’t a Nazi, and then a very enthusiastic one. It is no accident, perhaps as the Communists would say, that Hitler, himself were Austrian.

By the quirk of fate and history – and the oncoming Cold War – the Austrians manage to convinvce the world they were victims of the Nazis, and profited in the postwar period in no small way from that.

But seeing an old friend, whose upcoming 90th birthday celebration I would not be able to attend, brought me to Baden, the summer home of the old Hapsburg royalty where she had snug little apartment. It is within commuting distance of Vienna and she gave me the grand tour, wheeling around the Austrian capital in her Cadillac like a spry youngster. We had lovely meal atop a skyscraper where we got a view of the Vienna skyline, actually not that dramatic a scene compared to other world large cities. The food was splendid as it always tends to be there – one of their characteristics, incidentally, the Austrians do not share with the Germans whose cuisine leaves much to be desired in the vast panoply of European food.

Zurich

I am not a fan of the guttural grunts of the German language, which because my East European Jewish immigrant parents spoke Yiddish at home when I was child growing up, I have some understanding. But the growling of Switzerdeutsch is even more unpleasant. That’s the patois spoken in the German-speaking cantons of the Confoederatio Helvetica, that unique little country sitting on iots high mountains in the middle of Europe.

I suppose the first and last subject which hits the foreign visitor is the incredibly high prices the Swiss have managed to move their economy into. They prosper – so much so that the German immigrant population has doubled in the past few years. But even the young women at my small [and by Zurich standards, modestly priced] hotel told me they shopped in neighboring Germany to save money.

The second most striking thing was to see how the Swiss, supposedly so atunned to the world’s economy and any of its problems, were blasé about what I see as the deepening crisis of the Euro economy which surrounds them and on which they hamg like a leach. The business and economics editor of one of the most prestigious papers told me, confidently, that somehow the Europeans would blunder through their current and continuing crisis. I wonder. It disturbs me to see that Spain now looks far too much like the country that [eventually] moved the world into World War II, with its current one-third of its workforce out of work and no hope of an early recovery.

Dulles

It would be the height of understatement to say that by my final touchdown in this seven-weeks trip at the Dulles Hilton, I was dragging. But after a fitful night’s sleep [which time zone was I in anyway?]. I did manage to get into Washington for a morning meeting and a luncheon with an old friend at Dupont Circle.

It could only happen to me: when the lunch was over, I hailed a passing cab for the trip back to my hotel and to take the afternoon plane for Norfolk, the last air leg of my journey. I asked the driver, obviously a recent arrival but one who spoke English without an accent [Indian?], if he knew where the Dulles Hilton was, and when he said yes, we sped away. Sped? Some three hours later, we were still lost and I missed my 5:30pm flight to Norfolk, keeping a friend waiting there for six or seven hours until I managed to get on a late evening flight later, running late of course. Thus a long and extremely demanding trip ended in a minor muckup. But, given all the problems that can befall a traveller in 2013, I suppose I came away lucky.

It took a month of doing little more than eating and sleeping to recuperate.

sws-04-28-13

Around the world in 48 days*

* For mor e substantive reporting on the trip, read the datelined pieces displayed on https://yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com

It was intended as my last hurrah!

For after all, at 86, my friends and my life companion, initially, thought it was not only foolhardy but dangerous. And there was the bionic argument – a pacemaker, unstabilized glaucoma beginning to take my sight, and still adjusting hearing aids.

Still, the urge to try my hand at my old profession of reporting on the scene and acquiring new prejudices in the process was still too strong to resist. And so, off I went, from Norfolk to Norfolk [and remember we pronounce it naw-fawk down heayah] via Tokyo, Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, Delhi, Bombay, Jerusalem, Vienna; Zurich, Washington.

The first problem, of course, was setting up the itinerary. I had only two months before I had to meet a contractual deadline for a piece of writing. So that gave me only six weeks after the necessary pause for the long yearend holidays when Japan, first stop on my round-the-world, would again open up. It immediately became apparent I would have to leave out my old and beloved stamping ground of Southeast Asia – Hanoi [where I spent a year during “the French war”] to Dakha [where I sat in on the creation of what Henry Kissinger said would be the basketcase at Bangladesh’s emergence in 1971. There were the China and India points I had to cover.

Then I remembered, too, that once passed the breakeven point from North America at Bangkok, a round-the-world ticket was cheaper than a roundtrip. So I would have to include some points beyond Asia which contributed to my research.

The task of putting together nine countries and ten stops with some call center of one of the airlines, maybe in India or the Philippines, was daunting. I called the son of an old friend – alas! long since deceased – who had for a couple of decades been the forward man for an international hotel chain, opening one new hostelry after another. I said I knew travel agents didn’t exist any more, or at least not the old-fashioned ones, so what should I do. He said, to the contrary, and gave me the name of two agencies in New York City.

And, thereby, hangs a tale and a hypothesis on the state of analyses today: when in the course of negotiations, I remarked to the agent that it didn’t make any difference whether I was stopping in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem since it was the same airport, she expressed surprise. Working backwards, I understood Outsourcing of the itinerary, hotels and visas was the new modus operandi for a successful travel agent. No need to have that nasty old data stored in one’s head if, as a travel agent, you could punch a key for an outside data bank and get it.

But what about judgements made on subconscious data burrowed in the brain? Is that what might be happening to our thought processes with the digital revolution?

Since I had no Passepartout to help me on my way, every decision became onerous and difficult. What to take? Little shoes [that fit] and big shoes [for swollen feet], coldweather clothes for north Asia, tropical raiment for India, more formal wear for the critical Swiss, omiyagi [souivenirs] for the Japanese and other Asians, a birthday present for a friend reaching 90 in Austria – and the medicines, for the eyes, for travel’s malaise, for other emergencies. And how to keep it all manageable size for the long stretches in the cavernous new airports in north Asia.

Japan

Norfolk depart, Dulles transfer without a hitch. But then arriving early over Tokyo, my pilot suddenly faced a sudden “snowstorm” – or so Tokyoites viewed three or four inches. We circled for hours, had to set down in Nagoya for fuelm then back over Tokyo to finally arrive on the ground eight hours late. Tokyo’s Narita airport, always a problem with its distance from downtown Tokyo, was closed down: no one could even tell you when the road into Tokyo would open Normal Japanese discipline collapsed; finally earthquake storage was opened and air mattresses, bottled water, and riceballs, were passed out to the thousands who bundled down to wait for clearance to move out. Finally, next morning – after four hours on the highway – I arrived in the Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo, 18 hours behind schedule, broken appointments for dinner, and exhausted from a night dozing in a very hard chair.

A busy schedule in Tokyo for five days and then to Beijing: again setting something of a record by arriving on the worst pollution day in the Chinese capital’s history which meant you couldn’t see across the street. My chief contact, a wheeler-dealer of the new China scene had literally disappeared. Virtually every other spokesman person allocated by the regime to speak to foreigners was off on junkets in the West [about the only reward, I take it, for mouthing the regime’s line to foreigners]. Only the sushi [I checked; imported fish from New Zealand] in the Japanese-run hotel relieved the monotony. An extremely interesting and informative interview at Peking University [yes, they still call it that because of its pre-Communist reputation] although a bright, young student –translator of the English-speaking professor and politician had to be squelched to get y questions answered. [I note in passing that female liberation is not helping what was once the highly touted reputation of Chinese women for modesty and quiet diplomacy.] The fantastic forest of new skyscrapers were a testimony to the material progress in the post-Deng Hsiaoping state capitalist society, but gone is the old charm of Beijing and its moon-doored old tenements.

Taiwan

A lunatic taxi driver took me in tow in Taipei and we swept through the traffic into the city with every expectation that life and limb were in jeopardy. Still he had been given a number and a fixed rate by the starter, a welcome respite from the old days of hard and lengthy bargaining for a just price. The lauded Government Information Agency which I remember from the Taiwan Straits Crisis of 1958 headed by that quintessentiasl Shanghai wheelerdealer Jimmy Wei. [Later he was to play an important role in the movement away from Martial Law and toward Taiwan democracy under his “capo” Chaing Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, proof again of Jeane Kirpatrick’s thesis that there is hope for authoritarian governments but never for a Commuinist regime but implosion and the desert it leaves behind.]

But a Ministry of Foreign Affairs minder – after some considerable browbeating on my part of the Washington Taiwan reps – and with the help of old friend Parris Chiang, I had a full schedule of official and unofficial appointments. The news was not good. President Ma Ying-jeou’s effort to pump up Taiwan’s economy with extensive agreements on trade and exchanges with the Mainland is eroding Taiwan’s de facto independence. Pro-Mainland elements have taken over some of the media. A well-publicized intelligence figure tried to persuade me that the new Mainland No. 1 Xi Jinping was charismatic, knowledgeable about Taiwan because of his long Communist Party apprenticeship in Fukien province facing Taiwan, and that he would successfully use “soft power” to propel China’s growing role in world affairs. He argued that Xi might even be more acquainted with the West than the old Maximum Leader Deng Hsiao-ping because of his frequent overseas travel. That seemed unlikely to me; after all, Deng was one of the indentured workers taken from China to France during World War I who fell in with the Communist organizers. It was as foolish his claim that Xi was infatuated with Western movies. [They haven’t trotted that one out since they used it to prove that Andropov, the old NKV/KGB warhose was :”pro-American.]. This continued “intellectual” infiltration, tied to such growing economic ties as investment by Mainland government banks, the last stronghold of Kuomintang statist economic policies, is towing Taiwan across thed Strait just as its strategiv position again assume new importance for the U.S. and Japan in the face of growing Beijing naval expansion efforts in its huge military buildup.

Hong Kong

The old traditions of the Connaught Hotel, when it was a resting place for my friends coming in from “up-country:”, are being maintained in the Mandarin Oriental – even if its vaunted position on Victoria has been eroded by blocs and blocs of newly filled in building sites between it and the water. The long walk to the Old Star Ferry, much diminished by Hong Kong’s neat underground railway, was almost a walk to the Kowloon side. Despite CNN’s opening vista, the old harbour view is gone.

So are the old rocking chairs at the Peninsular Hotel, although the Rolls Rouyces used to ferry guests back and forth to the airport, are still lined up outside. The price of a cup of not too good coffee was ferocious when I drifted in after a session with my old friends, the Markbrieters at the offices of their still monumenta; The Arts of Asia. I guess Hong Kong is still a shoppers’ paradise – I wasn’t buying – but the smog was drifting down from China, and it is clear that – as a Special Administrative Zone official admitted at a public meeting – the old carefully controlled immigration of labor from China has gone awray. Government land sales, the other leg of Hong Kong’s prosperity, gained when Mao’s China cut itself off from the world, is still going however. And for the moment at least, it looks like Hong Kong is maintaining its role as an economic powerhouse, substituting financial and other services. [It has a convertible currency to the U.S. dollar it is tied to and acts increasingly as a middleman for Mainland nonconvertible yuan, and Singapore;s attempt to supersede it has long since been forgotten.] But the political situation is deteriorating – after two Communist hacks in the executive – and I was not surprised when a taxidriver in my four [repeat] four trips to Kowloon to pick up an Indian visa, told me he yearned for the old British days and could not “understand” why people wanted to do away London’s rule.

The Indian visa? Thereby hangs a tale: I had forgotten that even for a short stay, New Delhi requires a visa. [Even Beijing now gives a 72-hour sight visa for transients.] In the name of efficiency [it appears New Zealand was the pacemaker, the Indians have ousourced their visa-clearing to a worldwide travel agent. [Thereby must hagna tale given the incredible corruption which has hit the Singh-Gandhi government.] The forms are stultifying, pages and pages, including such questions as the names of other countries you have visited in the last few years and a host of other “security” questions. I called a friend in New Delhi who knows where and how to press buttons, and at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, I got a telephone call at my hotel announcing I could get my visa if I came Monday morning at 9am. In fact it took two more trips – including a stumble and fall in front of a hotel, of course the Shandrila – whereelse with such an aiccident occur. The denouement of this little adventure was that at the last moment I was asked to present a hard copy of my original application on the web. When I protested that would mean another trip back to my hotel in Central, the waspish lady in the said, “You can get a copy downstairs.” I said, “Where?”. “”Downstairs”. “What’s the name of the place” for the ground floor of the building was the usual busy Hong Kong chaos. “Downstairs. You will see it”. Down I went, and after some searching I found a smiling, friendly Chinese man sitting ina six-by-six glass cage ith a small sign on his window announcing he could print Indian visa forms. I gave him the number – the second one, by the way – of my visa application, and abracadabra he pulled my whole down, printed out the original application, and gave me a receipt for a few HK dollars. I was somewhat flabbergasted. Security? He and I joked: I volunteered that Indian visas were given when the total amount of the paper, weighing what he had printed out in my palm, reached a certain point. He laughingly agreed. I wonder if they found anything interesting in my file in Beijing?

New Delhi

The new [to me] Delhi airport is cavernous and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying abrifcase increasingly full of accumulated papers. The driver who was picked me up and I did not make contact and I had one of those typical bumpy, fast and a little frightening rides to the my old standby, The Imperial Hotel. [I had been warned there were beter and cheaper pl;aces to say but nostalgia is nostalgia. I still remember the “bearer” when we complained of the mice running in the old dinning room, that “Sahib: they are cogele {small} and don’t eat much”.] And the shower didn’t have hot water until I remonstrated, the business center was in another building to which I had to lug my netbook and all its cables since there was no IT cable connection in the room, etc., etc. But the old colonial building was as charming as ever amd all there must be people waiting for their food since the 19th century when the hotel was opened under the Viceroy’s wife auspices, it was good when it came.

Old friends are gone but the son of one of them set up a program for me and with my own additions, I did get a feel for the current political climate. It is one of those periods of Indian somnabulance after a period of relatively high growth rate, with the danger that the economy is falling back into “the Hindu rate of growth” which dogged it for some some 30 years when the sainted Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, always haunted by his student British socialist days, adopted Soviet-style planning.

And the almost inevitable arrived: at a dinner at my old friend’s widow the last night in town, I gorged on the exotic Indian foods and came away with the oldtimey “Delhi-Belly}, to haunt me for another week. Under instruction, I took a taxi to the new satellite town where a series of the international glass boxes now houses a number of multinational companies, weaning away business from Bombay [Mumbai in the new attribution], so long the commercial capital of the country taking over from the earlier but moribund Calcutta.

Bombay

Driving in – again a hassle at the much too small airport but at least assigned a taxi with a number and a fixed amount for the fare – it seemed to me that Bombay has become a little too much little Calcutta. My old friends, the remnant of a group who fought for market economics and representative government after their struggle independence from Britain, confirmed. “We have deteriorated”, a knowledgeable observer said, matter of factlly and with a touch of remorse.

But the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, now completely restored after the 2008 Bombay Massacre, is as much of a leading world hostelry as ever. I was amused that I was given a “body person”, a member of the staff who was assigned to meet my every want. I was reminded of the “batman” assigned to British army officers during my World War II attachment to the 8th Army in Italy. These were orderlies assigned to typically upper class officers who took care of their bodily comforts, to the extent that was possible even in combat. My young man was Maratta, of course, a native of the state into which the Old Bombay Presidency was relegated after the series of language agitations in the mid-1950s which redrew the boundaries of the old British Indian provinces, and eclipsed the domination of the minority Gujerrati elite in the old Bombay Presidency, alas! probably contributing to the deterioration of governance.

Jerusalem

I have always thought that much of the miracle of the spectacular rise of the new Jewish state had to do with its drawing on people, although all Jews, from cultures all over the world. This visit reconfirmed to me that despite the relatively smaller intack of new immigrants, this was still the case. My taxi driver – I took a trip through a good part of the northern part of the country to visit old friends near Haifa along a new impr4essive toll road which also demonstrated how close Israel inside the old green line is to the so-called Occupied Territories. My driver was an Azeri Jewish immigrant, fluent he said in his own Azeri, of course, but also in associated Turkish and learning Arabic. He was something of a character, telling me in detail his recent breakup with his “Russian” girlfriend. When I purchased a piece of jewelry in my hotel, I learned the chain of shops had been initiated by a German Jewish refugee who had fled Hitler to Brazil where he had begun to trade in jewels, then immigrated to Israel where he founded his store. My salesperson was a lady who called in Russian to a taxidriver to bring an article from another store. Her replacementy at the desk was a young and very pretty Turkish Jewish girl who told me she had followed her brother in making “alliyah” [ascending] to Israel only a year earlier, sent by her Turkish parents who said there was no longer a future for Jews in that country. The manager of the store was Romania-born. I cannot but believe all these people bring their own special gifts to a marvellously varied society, despite its singular dedication to being “Jewish”. Nor would I leave out a lunch site – the hotel was kosher and thus my lunch on the Sabbath was going to be poor so they sent me to “Notre Dame”, a Vatican-owned institute for religious study which also operated a hotel and a very good dinning room in its building, not that far from the heights overlooking the Old City and The Western Wall [the principal remnant of the former Hebrew Second temple].

Vienna

I am not a particular fan of the Austrians. I spent a part of the summer of 1945, after the European victory, in the southeast of the country, among the marvellous lakes which were the summer holiday site for many Vienese. But then, as on more recent trips, I have rarely met an Austrian of my generation who wasn’t a Nazi, and then a very enthusiastic one. It is no accident, perhaps as the Communists would say, that Hitler, himself were Austrian.

By the quirk of fate and history – and the oncoming Cold War – the Austrians manage to cinvce the world they were victims of the Nazis, and profited in the postwar period in no small way from that.

But seeing an old friend, whose upcoming 90th birthday celebration I would not be able to attend, brought me to Baden, the summer home of the old Hapsburg royalty where she had snug little apartment. It is within commuting distance of Vienna and she gave me the grand tour, wheeling around the Austrian capital in her Caidllac like a spry youngster. We had lovely meal atop a skyscraper where we got a view of the Vienna skyline, actually not that dramatic a scene compared to other world large cities. The good was splendid as it always tends to be there – one of their characteristics, incidentally, the Austrians do not share with the Germans whose cuisine leaves much to be desired in the vast panoply of European food.

Zurich

I am not a fan of the guttural grunts of the German language, which because my East European Jewish immigrant parents spoke Yiddish at home when I was child, growing up, I have some understanding. But the growling of Switzerdeutsch is even more unpleasant. That’s the patois spoken in the German-speaking cantons of the Confoederatio Helvetica, that unique little country sitting in the middle of Europe.

I suppose the first and last subject which hits the foreign visitor is the incredibly high prices the Swiss have managed to move their economy into. They prosper – so much so that the German immigrant population has doubled in the past few years. But even the young women at my small [and by Zurich standards, modestly priced] hotel told me they shopped in neighboring Germany to save money.
The second most striking thing was to see how the Swiss, supposedly so atunned to the world’s economy and any of its problems, were blasé about what I see as the deepening crisis of the Euro economy which surrounds them and on which they prosper. The business and economics editor of one of the most prestigious papers told me, confidently, that somehow the Europeans would blunder through their current and continuing crisis. I wonder. It disturbs me to see that Spain now looks far too much like the country that [eventually] moved the world into World War II, with its current one-third of its workforce out of work and no hope of an early recovery.
Dulles
It would be the height of understatement to say that by my final touchdown in this seven-weeks trip at the Dulles Hilton, I was dragging. But after a fitful night’s sleep [which time zone was I in anyway?], I did manage to get into Washington for a morning meeting and a luncheon with an old friend at Dupont Circle.

It could only happen to me: when the lunch was over, I hailed a passing cab for the trip back to my hotel and to take the afternoon plane for Norfolk, the last air leg of my journey. I asked the driver, obviously a recent arrival but one who spoke English without an accent [Indian?], if he knew where the Dulles Hilton was, and when he said yes, we sped away. Sped? Some three hours later, we were still lost and I missed my 5:30pm flight to Norfolk, keeping a friend waiting there for hours until I managed to get on a late evening flight later. Thus a long and extremely demanding trip ended in a minor muckup. But, given all the problems that can befall a traveller, in 2013, I suppose I came away lucky.

It took a month of doing little more than eating and sleeping to recuperate.

sws-04-28-13

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7 responses to “Around the world in 48 days*

  1. Wonderful, Sol. What a trip. Thanks for sending this. Bob

  2. Sahir Asfandyaree

    Great story of courage and endurance. Hope you have many more such trips around the globe Ye Old Crab. I wish you write more in details about the countries you visited. God bless you. Sahir A.

    • Thanks for writing.

      There are a a series of pieces posted for Japan., China, Taiwan, India, and Europe on the site. But I am reorganizing it to make it easier to use == I hope.

      Ye Olde Crabb

  3. Wow! I hope I am moving around like that in 2043 when if alive I will turn 86! One of the earliest observations of the distinctions between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes I have read is in the 1976 biography of Chiang by Brian Crozier, The Man Who Lost China, p. 378: “The distinction is important and is easily put to the test by a simple question: ‘Is it possible for ordinary citizens to opt out of politics?'” I would love to spend more time in Taiwan, but only if there are no ugly red flags flying over the island. More power to you Mr. Sanders.

    • Thanks for writing.

      Yes, it is time for a good new biography of Chiang — although you are right that my old buddy Brian did a good job at the time.

      I have been trying to sell a biography [a project under construction] of Mme. Chiang, “America’s Love Affair with China”, which would go well beyond her own life — but no takers.

      Ye Olde Crabb

      • Gerard York

        Mme. Chiang certainly left some nice gardens in Taiwan! Funny she didn’t stick around after 1975. Imagine that! There are 2 subsequent biographies: Jonathan Fenby’s Chiang Kai-shek: China’s Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost (2003) and Jay Taylor’s The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China (2007).

        My interest in Chiang goes back to the 60s: My Dad was a reporter at the Miami Herald and always brought foreign mail to build up my collection. A letter from Taipei included numerous beautiful stamps including a portrait of Chiang and Whampoa Academy. Having read all 3 books, I can’t imagine how he would have been able to defeat Mao with the warlords, the Japanese, the compromise of American policy, etc….But I sure hope that ugly red flag never flies over Taipei.

      • A Chinese American friend of mine, godson of Mme. Chiang [Soong Meiling]. and I have been trying to sell a biography of her for decades without success. My friend’s mother worked as a secretary for her for some 60 years and so we have material no one else has. Furthermore, we have an interpretation of her history and how it tells a significant part of China’s modern history which is rather unique. There have been two recent biographies, rather mediocre. But that’s the way the ball bounces…

        Ye Olde Crabb

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