The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Parrot's Bubble Gum Ice Cream

Jeremiah was no bullfrog. He was my blue and gold macaw. A parrot originally from South America, his earliest days were spent riding the handrail in the front of a repainted blue and yellow school bus. He rode with my family for 10 days and 5000 miles, looking out the windows on our journey from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, along the Al-Can Highway and ending in Anchorage, Alaska. Jeremiah and I bonded on that trip, sharing perhaps a dozen bubble-gum-flavored ice cream cones, french fries and bags of M&Ms. Before either he or I knew chocolate wasn't good for birds, they were one of his favorite things in the world, although he did tend to eat the peanuts and spit out the chocolate, to my bewilderment.

Jeremiah loved the view from the bus windshield, and seemed to particularly marvel when we stopped to watch a mother moose with calf along the road, or a bald eagle perched in a tree below the snowy mountains.

At the end of the journey and in the years--then decades--that passed, Jeremiah was relegated to the periphery of the house. He wasn't ignored, but 'his corner' was out of the way where his messes (a healthy Macaw is anything but tidy) wouldn't interfere with the rest of the house. He wasn't isolated, but it was perhaps lonely.

I went off to college, and off to work, then overseas to live. One year I came back from Vietnam to visit and was sitting in the living room. While I was watching tv, Jeremiah did something he hadn't done since my childhood. In the back of the house he climbed down from his cage and walked down the hall. I heard the click, click, click of his claws on the wooden floor. He came into the living room, walked around from the couch, and climbed into my lap. I was completely surprised. He looked up and talked to me. Then he looked over to my ice cream and talked to me some more, as if asking permission. I pushed the bowl of ice cream over to him and we shared it. When it was finished he sat in my lap all evening, talking, cuddling and watching tv.

I didn't know that he still remembered those days in the bus to Alaska, so long ago. I assumed he'd hardened a bit in his age. Those times were special to me, but what I didn't realize was how special they must have also been to him, and how the absence of such times with me in his later years may have also impacted him.

I few weeks later I went back to Vietnam. Jeremiah died a soon after.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Concerning Mountain Ponies

I saw The Hobbit again over the weekend. Just as good on a second viewing. The treks through caves, mountain cliffsides and goblin towns really strike a chord with me. My trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, China was the longest, most treacherous, and only two-day walk through the mountains that I have ever endured. Hiking above the Yellow Sands River, which later becomes the Yangtze, my brother and I passed through Naxi villages in hanging valleys along the ancient Tea Horse Trail. The first day we were caught in a storm and the wind howled fiercely through the teeth of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. After a night in a cliffside tavern we continued our trek through waterfalls cascading across the mountain path. As we turned a corner a train of ponies saddled with bags appeared in a bend of the trail ahead. The path followed a cliff that fell thousands of feet to the gorge below. The way was only big enough to walk single file, so I hugged the rocks as the ponies stumbled passed. I looked into the eyes of the last as he came close, wondering what he would think if he knocked me off the mountain to my death in the gorge below. Would he feel any responsibility or remorse? As he passed me, his rump knocked me against the rock face and his hoof stepped on my sore feet. His stomach groaned and then grumbled into a loud fart just below my head. I looked back at him and his burdened comrades as they turned the corner and out of sight, but he did not look back at me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Greetings 2012

Merry Christmas to all my friends across the world; you my new friends in New Zealand who I've been blessed to meet, you friends in the US--most of whom I've known since college days, my dear friends in Vietnam and Cambodia over the last decade, and a few of you who have been scattered elsewhere across the globe. I'm spending this Christmas in Wellington--something quite unplanned--much like a certain Christmas in a small fishing town east of Saigon in 2003. Although I feel most fortunate to spend this holiday season in beautiful New Zealand, a part of my heart will always wander the city streets of Phan Thiet late on Christmas eve, with crowds of friends and neighbors under canopies of colored lights and bright red Christmas stars.