Our Asia Trip
After I left Trio (November 28, 1968) Clare and I decided to take a trip to Asia. We started planning, and had a private itinerary prepared for us. We believed in freedom for our daughters and felt that they would handle themselves well making decisions for themselves while we were away. Joan had her driver’s license and we left two cars here for them to choose from, our big station wagon and the tan convertible.
We arranged for our cleaning lady, Gertrude, to stay at the house to take care of food and the housekeeping and we had neighbors who would keep an eye on things. Dad was just a block away, so leaving Joan and Cathie here in their senior and sophomore high school years did not seem like a problem to us. On Joan’s 18th birthday, March 11, 1969 we left town for ten weeks.
Shortly after we left some of the girls’ friends picked on Gertrude in some sort of a racial way, and she left. But everything went all right, with Joan and Cathie making dinner for Dad, or he took them out to eat. We heard almost nothing from them until we returned to Tokyo, the last stop of our trip.
Our first stop was in California to visit the Silvermans and Breidenthals.
Then on to Tokyo where we visited Yoshiko Shigematsu and her mother (Yoshiko’s husband Akira was away, in England). But the main reason for our stop in Tokyo was to buy a new camera. Yoshiko’s brother took us to the downtown camera area where we bought a new Nikon single-lens reflex camera with extra long distance and wide-angle lenses and case. We wanted to test the camera, bought a roll of slide film, shot some local pictures, and left the film to be processed.
We had supper at the Yoshiko’s mother’s house in a Tokyo suburb. After we had dinner Yoshiko took us for a walk to a nearby park and on our walk back to her house we saw an interesting sight. Just a few doors from her house was a house with the sign “R. Bunbury” in front. Dad had been friendly with a Mr. Bunbury at work and we had visited each other’s homes a few times. I also knew the Bunbury sons from high school. Dad told me that he thought that one of the sons, Robert Bunbury, worked as a pilot for Japan Airlines. Could this be he?
We walked up to the door and knocked; a woman came out and asked who we were. I identified myself and asked whether Bob was home. She called into the house, “Bob, Jurgen is here.” We introduced their neighbor, Yoshiko, had tea, and reminisced a bit about our high school days. Small world!
Dad also joked about meeting Mr. Bunbury because in the play “The Importance of Being Ernest” (see Chapter 1) John Worthing often used the excuse of going out of town to visit his (fictitious) friend Bunbury. When we sent Dad a postcard about this adventure we said, “We’ve just been Bunburying.”
We stayed overnight in International House, a residence for visiting academics (arranged by Akira before he left).
The next day we went back to the camera district, reviewed the pictures we had taken, and left Tokyo for Hong Kong. We would return to Tokyo again at the end of our Asia travels.
The U.S. was at war with Vietnam and we had broken diplomatic relations with Cambodia four years earlier. We were not worried about any danger in going to Cambodia but we could not get the needed visa while in the U.S. We were successful in getting the visa in Hong Kong, still a British protectorate at the time.
Hong Kong is a crowded bustling city, and fun to wander around. We took a tour of a housing complex where we saw some crowded apartments and went to a kindergarten class where the children sang a song for us.
We walked around the crowded streets, sampled the food, and did a little shopping, but, unfortunately, there was a strict prohibition on bringing any products of Red China to the U.S. We were anxious to get to Cambodia.
Our main objective for Cambodia was to see the Angkor Wat area. Angkor Wat is just one of many temples, large and small in that area. Constructed in the early 12th century (between 1113 and 1150) Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. It was shifted from Hindu to Buddhist use sometime around the late 13th century. The temple is still used by Buddhists today.
We had heard of Angkor when Jackie Kennedy visited there in 1967, and later when our cousin Lillian Wyshak told us of her travels there. Our plane arrived in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and we were scheduled to catch a flight the same afternoon to Siem Reap, the nearest city to Angkor. Unfortunately the flight was canceled and we had to spend the night in Phnom Penh
We were pleasantly surprised by our short stay in Phnom Penh. It is a beautiful city, built by the French during their colonial rule of Cambodia from 1863 to 1953. And it is often referred to as the “Paris of the East”.
The next morning we flew to Siem Reap went by bus to the Angkor area and settled in our hotel directly across the street from Angkor Wat. At night there was a show with Cambodian dancers on the walkway from our hotel to the temple.
Nearby was Angkor Thom, the largest complex in the Angkor Archeological Park and for many years the capital of Cambodia. We promptly went off wandering around the temple-city and over the next few days we took tours to the outlying temples.
At one of the very small temples we were met by a group of about three children ranging from about 5 to 10 years of age. They wanted to exchange some money because Cambodians were not allowed to possess foreign currency. They had American coins and were looking for dollar bills, which they could hide more easily. They handed me 70 cents in U.S. coins looking for a dollar bill. Although they did not understand English they knew what my complaint was, and handed me a Singapore dollar, which was worth exactly 30 cents. They may not have gone to school, or learned arithmetic, they sure could calculate money.
At one of the smaller temples we met a young woman named Petra, who came from South Africa and had a problem. She was out of cash even though she had American Express travelers checks. But if she cashed one of them she would be stuck with Cambodian money, and they would not exchange it back to American or any other currency. So we lent her $20 and said we would get it back when we would see her in Bangkok, our next stop. She was stuck in Phnom Penh another night with a visa problem for Thailand, but we did meet up again in Bangkok.
We arrived at the Bangkok airport and were greeted with flowers and leis by some former AFS students. A major item on our agenda was a visit to the family home of Subin Banharnsupavat, one of our first foreign students (see Chapter 12). His family took us to the coffin of Subin’s father, which sits above ground for 90 days until his burial. We then participated in a ceremony at their home where gifts are presented to Buddhist monks in their orange robes. Since Subin was studying in the U.S. we represented him and got down on our knees and gave his gifts to the monks.
We went sightseeing with Chakrapand Wongburanavart to the usual places in and near Bangkok and had dinner at a restaurant where he had taken my Dad during his visit in 1968. At that time Dad proposed to the hostess that she return with him to the U.S. but he was turned down. Another friend of the Frankels, Supapan, took us on a tour of the summer palace, a short distance out of Bangkok.
We then flew North to Chiang Mai, the summer city of the king. Checking in at the hotel we met another couple from New York and spent most of our time in Chiang Mai with them. He had a problem with one of the lenses for his Nikon camera and I fixed it with a small jeweler’s screwdriver I had brought along. He had some connection to the UN and so we went along with them to get special tours of the Northern Thai tribes and various places where silks, pottery, and umbrellas were made.
At a Buddhist temple we met a young trainee (who spoke English) and at one point got in a discussion about John Kennedy. As with many others we met, Kennedy was greatly admired. He had given us a pamphlet about meditation and we wanted to give him something. We had brought with us some Kennedy half-dollars and wanted to give him one but he shied away saying he could not accept money. We told him that most people kept the coins as souvenirs and did not spend them and he then accepted it happily.
We then flew on a local airline to Bangkok and then to the island of Penang in Malaysia. On the flight from Chiang Mai they served small sausages wrapped in dough. I hesitated to eat them because they were unheated, but I ate some anyhow.
We took a tour of Penang and at the zoo they had Clare participate when they put a viper around her collar and a baby viper in her hand. Little did she know that they were still poisonous with their fangs in place. While in Penang Clare threw up from the Thai airlines snack.
From Penang we flew to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia and by the time we got there I was violently sick from the Thai snack. The doctor, whom the hotel summoned, fed me a mixture of neomycin and clay that got to work and in a couple days I was back to normal.
After sightseeing the city we went to a remote area to visit the parents of AFSer Puri Subramaniam. Some time later they moved to the United States where we again had the pleasure of seeing them.
Then on to Singapore. We stayed at the famous Raffles Hotel and enjoyed walks and tours of the small island-city. Part of time we were guided around the city by the brother of Puri, seeing interesting areas and shopping. In his home we saw an oil painting of a Eurasian girl and when we were in Djakarta we bought a similar painting by the same artist.
Next stop Djakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Here we were met by friends of our neighbors, Sora and Aaron Frankel. The Frankels had gone to Indonesia two years earlier and taught school for a year during the revolution. These friends were very kind to us, taking us to see the sights, including the Indonesian shadow plays, and shopping. In addition to the painting of the Eurasian girl we also bought a painting of a woman in native Indonesian costume.
A two-hour flight brought us to the beautiful remote island of Bali. In 1969 Bali was not a place often visited by tourists. We stayed at the only modern hotel in Bali, the Intercontinental, which was newly constructed after the overthrow of the Sukarno communist regime in 1967. They had just trained their new staff for two years before opening.
Back when we were sightseeing in Singapore, carrying a cassette tape recorder and the camera accessories (Clare was taking most of the pictures) I dislocated my back and it was increasingly painful. By the time we got to Bali all I wanted to do was lie in the sun and bake my back.
Clare went without me to take the tours of native villages and artists. Fortunately the hotel brought local artists and dance groups to the hotel for the guests, so I did get a taste of the island.
We had a short stay in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, and took a tour to the outlying areas. For years we had been collecting napkin rings for mementoes of our travels but we could not find any on Taiwan. During the tour we stopped at a marble mine and factory and I saw a typical Chinese cup. I asked whether they could cut the bottom off a cup and they were able to do a nice job of that. Then back in Taipei I went you a place where they engraved marble seals and had the cup/napkin-ring engraved with some Chinese characters. Of course I have no idea what they say.
Clare came down with a cystitis infection which persisted until after we got home.
We planned on taking a tour of Kyushu island before returning to Honshu, the island that is the most popular tourist area. Our flight from Taipei went directly to Kyushu but we discovered that all tours originated in Osaka (on Honshu island) so we went to Osaka and booked the tour of Kyushu. We found that the once-a-week tour had several days before it left so we did major sightseeing out of Osaka.
The main trip was to Kyoto, a city that for a thousand years had been the capital of Japan. The most memorable site was the garden composed of a flat area filled with neatly raked sand. On the sand were thirteen interestingly shaped rocks arranged so that one can never see all the rocks from the same vintage. The Zen lesson is that you must view a scene from many different locations to understand it completely.
We then went on the tour of Kyushu, and while in Nagasaki we went to the hospital to get some medicine for Clare’s cystitis. Unfortunately they did not prescribe the correct medicine so there was no improvement.
We then toured Kyushu island, ended back in Osaka, and returned on the Bullet Train to Tokyo. Yoshiko had left Japan to join Akira in England so we were guided around Tokyo by her sister.
Now that we were back in Tokyo we were able to get mail that accumulated during our travels. In the mail we learned of the deaths of Gordon Breidenthal, who we visited on our way through California, Jimmy Barry, a close friend of Cathie’s, and our cat Sammy. Additionally, Clare was having a lot of problems with cystitis so, at that point, we decided to end our trip and fly home.
The flight landed to refuel and go through customs in Seattle. During the layover we called Aaron Frankel to ask him to picked us up at JKF airport, and he went to the girls’ classes and told them to go home and straighten up the house.
There is much more to tell about this trip, where we went, who we met, and pictures. We shot about 1100 photos during the trip, which I still have to sort through.
© Copyright 2021 Helfand Retreats, LLC.