“TAKE THE TRAIN”

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

“TAKE THE TRAIN”

 

“Take the Train” is the title of a popular song, an advertising slogan for Amtrak, the name of a patented card game, and who knows what else besides. We’ve taken lots of trains.

North American trains have generally gotten a bad rap. True, they run late more often than trains in Europe, but that may be because slow freights are given precedence over passenger trains. In some cases it’s the freight line that actually owns the tracks, so who can blame them?

I have had generally positive experiences on American trains. Many years ago I rode the old California Zephyr all the way from Omaha to Oakland. After retirement I worked for five years as a volunteer train host on the Piedmont, which runs every day from Raleigh to Charlotte and back. Twice we’ve been up the narrow-gauge line winding through river valleys and mountain heights from Durango to Silverton in Colorado.

Yet we’ve ridden trains a lot more in foreign countries than in our own homeland. Speaking of narrow-gauge, most lines don’t really deserve that name, compared to the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in England’s Lake District. Believe it or not, the tracks of this miniature marvel are only fifteen inches apart. We’ve ridden the tiny R & E from Ravenglass on the coast, up seven scenic miles to Eskdale in the hills.

In Indonesia, the early-morning run from mountainous Bandung down to the port city of Jakarta includes some of the most scenic vistas anywhere on earth. You seem to be gliding along through the clouds as you look down on neat terraces of rice and other crops. Tapioca plants have five-pointed leaves, so you feel as if you’re gazing down on fields of fallen stars. 

One of the most interesting and scenic (not to mention expensive!) days of riding the rails anywhere on earth is in Switzerland, the route from Interlaken up to Jungfraujoch. You have to board four different trains during the journey. The waiting times between them are so brief that you might despair of making all your connections. But (shall we say) everything runs like clockwork in a Swiss watch. The last of the four trains is a narrow-gauge cogwheel that climbs up through a glacier.

We took this incomparable day-trip when our younger son was still so tiny that he remembered very little of it – not even two kind fellow passengers, a genial magistrate from the Australian Outback and his wife who treated our little boy like a surrogate grandson. So when it happened that his fourteenth birthday would be coming up as we were crossing Europe yet again, we decided to give him (and the rest of us as well) a return trip to Jungfraujoch as a special birthday present.

Our reward?

A spectacular view of an avalanche just across the valley.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“AND LEAVE THE DRIVING UP TO US”

 

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

“AND LEAVE THE DRIVING UP TO US”

 

A certain American bus company used to advertise:

“It’s such a comfort to take the bus / and leave the driving up to us.”

On our safari trip in East Africa, we were happy to “leave the driving up to” someone else. “Roads” (if you could call them that) in the game preserve were unspeakable; you could have held a baptizing in many of those mud-puddles. But we had an able, brave, and cautious driver, and so we didn’t have to help push our way out but three or four times.

The vehicle he was steering had conventional two-wheel drive, and he seemed to look down on other safari vans with four-wheel drive. Sometimes when we would successfully splash past a deep-mired vehicle, he would point back at it over his shoulder and say with sarcasm and contempt, “Four-wheel drive.”

Once when Indonesia had been racked by revolution and banditry, we couldn’t find anybody willing to drive us from an East Java airport to an especially hazardous location. Then a large fat black Amboinese – a traditionally Christian tribe – said, “I trust in the Lord; I’ll drive you!” He did, too . . . even though threads were showing through the rubber on the slick tires of his taxi.

One Sunday morning we left early from a prayer retreat in the mountains of East Central Java, so our boys would not miss school on Monday morning in faraway West Java. We had hired an inter-city taxi to take us down to the airport at Yogyakarta.

The driver seemed to be going much too slowly for us to catch our flight. Then we realized that the steering linkage on his ancient taxi was temperamental, if not nearly nonexistent. The driver had to make several complete spins of the steering wheel in order to coax his car around a curve. No wonder he was driving so leisurely!

We decided we’d never make it to the airport in time. Instead, we urged the driver to head toward the city home of a missionary colleague. When we finally got there, our colleague and his family were just sitting down to Sunday dinner. Yet he jumped up and loaded us into his big white van.

His wife also arranged by phone for another missionary colleague who lived nearer the airport to go ahead of us to the terminal and try if possible to hold the plane. After breaking the laws of God and man on our way to the departure gate, we arrived to see that other colleague frantically waving us in.

Thus by the hardest our boys made it to school the next day. And Fran and I asked the Lord to forgive us for cutting the time so close.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

 

 

“IT’S SUCH A COMFORT TO TAKE THE BUS”

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

 “IT’S SUCH A COMFORT TO TAKE THE BUS”

 

An American bus company used to advertise:

“It’s such a comfort to take the bus / and leave the driving up to us.”

Sometimes it IS comforting to board a public vehicle and let someone else do the driving . . . but then again sometimes it isn’t. Do you remember that decrepit old stagecoach driver in the comic Mel Gibson film Maverick? Or that drunken helicopter bush pilot in the latest remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?

A favorite means of intercity transportation during our early years in the tropics was the bis malam, or night bus. It cost a little more than traveling during daylight hours. The bus itself was a bit nicer, and the relatively cool night air helped make the long ride more tolerable.

Once I decided to try this popular mode of travel. Along with an Indonesian friend, I needed to attend a meeting in a city about a day’s drive away – or in this case, about a night’s drive away. Coached by my local friend, we both managed to get seats at the front of the bus. So far, so good. Then the driver and his assistant plopped down huge gunny-sacks of rice on our feet.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t traveling alone. As a light-skinned foreigner I might have hesitated to make a scene. Instead, I probably would have just tried to grin and bear it. My Indonesian friend, however, was polite but firm in urging that the rice be loaded elsewhere. “We have paid extra for a little bit of comfort,” he insisted, “and we stand on our rights.” He didn’t say “We stand on our rice,” and so the rice was removed.

In Kenya we rode a large modified van that took us out on safari. We noticed similar public vehicles on the streets of Nairobi; East Africans called them matutu – probably an onomatopoetic name. Noting how often during our time on safari the van would slam into rocks and underbrush and mud-holes, we asked the driver how long a new vehicle could hold out under such harsh treatment.

“We use them for about eighteen to twenty months,” he explained. “Then we sell them to the matutu drivers, and they . . . .” (hands flailing as his English failed him) “. . . they finish them!”

Names of Indonesian buses can be colorful. Once Fran and I couldn’t help bursting into laughter when we saw an especially noble name on a certain Indonesian inter-city vehicle. We seriously doubted whether those who rode on that rickety old bus would indeed be kept “Eternally Secure”!

Another favorite name for an Indonesian bus is “Always Prosperous.” The label “Dust of the Revolution” seemed to fit with bumpy roads in a Third World country. But surely the ultimate in unsuitability (or perhaps suitability?) was the Indonesian bus bearing the name “A Mother’s Prayer”!

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

“FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES” (II)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

“FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES!” (II)

 

A major international airline used to feature this beguiling slogan: “Fly the friendly skies of ________!”

Here are a few personal experiences of times when the skies haven’t seemed to feel very friendly.

Once as we were boarding a small plane, a member of the flight crew asked us, “And where are you flying to today?” We answered quickly, hoping that the questioner had a clear intention of flying to the same place.

Once I was in Malaysia on my way to a work-related engagement in Thailand. The flight I had hoped to get on was a regular daily run between the two countries. The trouble was, all of the economy-class seats had already been filled, even though not all of us who held economy-class tickets had been boarded.

Two first-class seats were still available. So the boarding agent started going down the standby list. Not for a free upgrade, mind you, but for the privilege of paying extra! That time I was on expense account and really needed to make the trip. So, when those ahead of me in line declined to fork over the extra money, I managed to say yes, paid up, and thus got on board.

Two major languages in Malaysia are (as you might imagine) Malay/ Indonesian and English. I speak both. Wouldn’t you think that with a regular daily flight out of Malaysia, somebody at the Thailand end of the trip would be able to speak at least one of those two languages?

Guess again.

No one met my flight, because there hadn’t been time to send word as to when I was arriving. I might still be stuck at that muggy airport in southern Thailand, if somebody hadn’t finally had the bright idea of connecting me with an international telephone operator. Her English was quite limited, but she did succeed in getting me into contact with local friends.

Another Asian airline treated us to a different kind of less-than-friendly flying experience. We were only about an hour on our way for an international trip. The cabin crew was serving cocktails before the meal; we, as usual, counted ourselves lucky to get some orange juice.

Suddenly the plane hit a totally unforeseen pocket of turbulence. It dropped so far and so fast that the drink of the passenger sitting in front of me made a gleaming arc through mid-air and doused me with booze.

Alcohol dries quickly. But that wasn’t the end of our troubles: The jolt had also thrown down a female flight attendant so hard that her arm was broken. Safety rules demand a full and able-bodied crew, so the plane had to turn back toward our place of departure. We sat and waited several more hours before taking off again.

Ah, what fun to fly the friendly skies!

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

“FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES” (I)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

“FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES” (I)

 

A major international airline used to feature this beguiling slogan: “Fly the friendly skies of ________!”

Skies did used to seem friendly. At least this was our usual experience of air travel back during the 1960s and ‘70s.

For one thing, planes weren’t so crowded several years ago. Many times you could expect to spread out into vacant seats. On a long overnight flight, three of four empty seats across meant you could really stretch out and get some sleep.

For another thing, everybody on a commercial airliner used to look – and act – fairly nice. There were no sloppy or grungy or blatantly impolite passengers. Flying used to be a rather elite way to travel; not just anybody would turn up on an airplane. You could generally expect good manners.

Meals aloft used to be wonderful. Even in economy class (the only way we’ve ever had the money to fly), we would sometimes be served with real china and silver and snowy cloth napkins. And the food! Often it seemed fancier and more expensive than anything we would have ever dared to order in a restaurant.

Those days are mostly gone forever. International flights still offer the free food that has disappeared from domestic flights. But generally speaking, the glory has departed from air travel.

Yet I must confess that some things have gotten better with the passing years. For example: When I first started flying in the late 1950s, any passenger was allowed to smoke – any seat, anytime except during takeoff or landing. Before business trips, I used to pray – literally! – that I would happen to draw a nonsmoker sitting beside me.

When separate nonsmoking sections became the rule, one Asian airline divided the whole aircraft front to back: Smokers on the left, nonsmokers on the right. Somehow it never seemed to occur to them that cigarette smoke could waft across the aisle.

We’ve had some other less-than-friendly experiences with that same Asian airline. Once we had purchased our tickets well in advance, but before we flew, the national currency had been devalued. Would they honor our reconfirmed tickets? No, indeed . . . not until we paid them about four times extra.

I don’t want to be too hard on just that one particular Asian airline. Several others — in the Third World and elsewhere — have also given us less-than-friendly experiences in flying.  Find out about some of these in  next week’s blog post.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

 

 

 

OFF TO A SLOW START

 

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

OFF TO A SLOW START

 

When I was young, my favorite movie was the 1956 version of Around the World in Eighty Days. At that time I had never traveled farther east than Raleigh, farther west than Fort Worth, farther north than Chicago, or farther south than Jacksonville. If somebody had told me that someday I would look back on traveling six and a half times around the world, I’d have said, “Who, me? Not likely!”

For one thing, I’m susceptible to motion sickness. Childhood trips by road and rail brought agonies of humiliation. Yet an unexpected job offer gave me many opportunities to hit the road. I discovered that air travel, when it’s smooth, can be easier than land or sea travel for people with my kind of problem.

Four times our family flew from Southeast Asia to Europe. Four times we enjoyed a European family holiday before traveling on to North Carolina. Then after each home assignment, we returned to Indonesia via the Pacific. This is how we got in four complete trips around the world.

The fifth time, though, we went the other way. During a period when our Indonesian residence permits were in limbo, I accepted short-term assignments in several other countries. So my itinerary looked like this: from North Carolina to Europe to West Africa to East Africa to India to Thailand to the Philippines to Indonesia. Then when Fran and I flew eastward across the Pacific for home leave again, that made five times around the world.

By late 1994 we were nearing the end of our time in Southeast Asia, just as our younger son and his wife were beginning their time in North Africa. So we flew westward from Indonesia to Spain, where they met us and then accompanied us across the Straits of Gibraltar.

When we reached North Carolina again at New Year’s of 1995, that completed the first leg of our sixth round-the-world jaunt. The other leg of it didn’t come till the year 2000, when we made a long-awaited nostalgia trip, flying to New Zealand, Australia, and – of course! — Indonesia.

So that made six. But . . . how about that extra lap halfway around the world?

Well, through the years we made several flights across North America and the Pacific to Indonesia. That’s roughly halfway around the world. And we made the same trip back again that same number of times. Count any one of those transcontinental and trans-Pacific trips, and it brings the total up to six and a half.

What have we learned and experienced while traveling six and a half times around the world?

That’s what the rest of this lighthearted travelogue is all about.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

 

 

WHAT FAR SHORE IS OUR VOYAGE FOR?

 

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World” (plus a bonus of one more short  poem).      ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

WHAT FAR SHORE IS OUR VOYAGE FOR?

 

§ What far shore is our voyage for?

For Hy-Brasil? For Mogador?

For Kalikut? For Serampore?

§ What dreams await in far-off lands

where Prester John extends his hands

and Merlin’s magic burns like brands?

§ The Sallee Rovers sail no more

to this or any other shore;

yet Fancy beckons at the door.

§ For Davy Jones can chart the way

to coasts where night shines bright as day

and Golden Fleece sells cheap as hay.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

 

 

Telling Time

(Some of these short poems see Creation as if through a child’s eyes. Some of them suggest a more mature view of the Creator. A few of them even reflect the long perspective of age. Most are not intended to be Scriptural, sometimes not even spiritual. Yet they may give your spirits a lift: By the middle of the week, who doesn’t need a chuckle or a changed outlook?)
 
TELLING  TIME
 
 (“My times are in Thy hand” — Ps. 31:15, KJV)
 
Telling time . . . tell me, what can you tell it?
Tell it to stop? No, Time will not do it.
 
Tell it to slow down? That’s useless as well.
Time will not pause ’cause there’s something to tell.
 
Tell it to hurry up? Time won’t obey.
There’ll still be twenty-four hours a day.
 
Tell it to make your face youthful again?
Nothing can do that. Not even Time can.
 
Keep telling time just as long as you may –
days betwixt D. O. B. and D. O. A.
 
Tell what you tell to The One who now stands,
holding our times in His eternal hands.
 
Copyright © 2016 by Perry Thomas
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sleep, Sleep, My Little Jesus

(Some of these short poems see Creation as if through a child’s eyes. Some of them suggest a more mature view of the Creator. A few of them even reflect the long perspective of age. Most are not intended to be Scriptural, sometimes not even spiritual. Yet they may give your spirits a lift: By the middle of the week, who doesn’t need a chuckle or a changed outlook?)
 
SLEEP, SLEEP, MY  LITTLE  JESUS
 
Sleep, sleep, my little Jesus; now close your eyes and sleep.
Above your manger cradle my loving watch I keep.
 
Thus did Mary by the manger sing, tenderly sing,
to him who came to save us, to be our Lord and King.
 
All glory to the Father, and on the earth be peace.
Good will from God in heaven; his love shall never cease.
 
Thus did all the hosts of heaven sing, joyfully sing;
the angels’ cheerful voices made hill and valley ring.
 
We bring our lives to Jesus; we give him thanks and praise.
We bring our love to Jesus, to serve him all our days.
 
Thus beside the manger let us sing, gratefully sing,
to him who came to save us, to be our Lord and King. 
 
Copyright © 2016 by Perry Thomas
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Christmas in Sixteen Syllables

(Some of these short poems see Creation as if through a child’s eyes. Some of them suggest a more mature view of the Creator. A few of them even reflect the long perspective of age. Most are not intended to be Scriptural, sometimes not even spiritual. Yet they may give your spirits a lift: By the middle of the week, who doesn’t need a chuckle or a changed outlook?)
 
CHRISTMAS  IN  SIXTEEN  SYLLABLES
 
§  A Child is born.
§  An angel sings.
§  Behold this morn
the King of Kings! 
 
Copyright © 2016 by Perry Thomas

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