Ripples Following Ripples ~ A FALSE
I was still in Malacca, I got an email from Anita,
on behalf of Sheila, saying:
“We would like you to come here and stay with
us when you come to Australia. We know that you have
many friends in Melbourne but you have family here
on the Sunshine Coast! You are welcome to stay with
us if you desire, we have a room for you with a bed
so there are no worries there. In fact, it's even
a 2-storey room!! (it’s the tower room you may
have noticed on the front of the house), although
small, it has the top level that you could store some
of your stuff.”
Needless to say, I was pleased to hear this, as I
honestly thought we’d never get back on track
again. At that time, I didn’t know if I would
take them up on the offer, but it was there; I told
them I had no plans, but would see how things went.
Actually, I had so much stuff stored in Tuan’s
garage, and it was really a burden, as his health
was far from good; in fact, he’d had a heart-attack
a few months earlier and needed an operation to insert
a stent in his almost-blocked arteries. I
needed to shift that stuff.
My Medicare card had expired, and when I went to renew
it, I was told that since I had been out of the country
for so long, they could not issue me with one. Apparently,
it is valid for only five years from the date one
first leaves the country, regardless of how many times
one has been back since then. I've been out and back
several times since I became a citizen in '93, but
there was no stamp in my passport for the last two
exits and entries. They advised me to write to the
head office and explain my circum-stances. I told
them that I had no such problems with the National
Health Service in England this year when I went to
see a doctor there for the first time since the end
of the '60's; they still had my records and I was
even able to get an exemption from medication fees.
Many people leave the country frequently and for prolonged
periods; what's happening here? I wrote to the head-office.
In early November, I decided to go to Queensland,
mainly to visit my mother for her birthday, so got
a ticket on special for A$289, and flew up to Brisbane.
Before disembarking, I gave one of my cards to a stewardess
addressed to the Pilots and Crew. As I was waiting
for Huy to pick me up in the baggage-claims area,
she came up behind me and said, "Thanks for the
card." Well, it's a small thing, but it makes
a difference, and it's obvious that few people do
more than verbally thank them. We pay for the ticket,
and assume that we'll reach the destination safely;
usually we do, but it's not a guarantee, and we shouldn’t
take it for granted.
I spent two days at Bayview Café with Thuy
and her family. They were very kind, as they always
were to me. Huy drove me to Nambour. Sheila and Frank
welcomed us warmly, and after Huy left, Frank went
to bring Mum home for her birthday-tea. She was pleased
to see me, and I her, but she was very frail and slow
and couldn’t walk unaided; she could follow
what we said, but her mind wandered immediately afterwards.
I bought her a dozen red roses on the way in; I also
took a box of mangoes for Sheila.
My room was cramped, being rather small, so as this
was to be my home, I decided to make a new bed to
maximize on space. The room had a semi-circular alcove
by the window. Frank took me to a demolition-yard
where I bought some cheap second-hand timber, and
with it built a box-bed in the alcove, in which to
store stuff. Above this room was another room, topped
by a coni-cal roof; this upper room was reached by
a ladder. These two rooms would be adequate for me
when I'd arranged them to my liking. I also bought
a new jig-saw, which was very useful; I didn't need
to rely upon blunt hand-saws. Most of Dad’s
tools were still there, but it was hard to find anything
when I didn’t know where to look. I had wanted
to build a self-contained hut for myself in the back-garden,
but they wouldn’t hear of it, probably thinking
I’d make an eye-sore. They said I could have
part of a big shed there and fix it up to my liking;
it would require a lot of work.
Their place was lovely, although the area of land
was not as much as the last one; the house was much
bigger, with Anita oc-cupying the downstairs, and
S & F, Sharona and Luke upstairs, and me, too.
They’d constructed a sewing-room on the front
for Sheila to work on her quilts in, and boy, did
she spend time on those! It had become an obsession
with her, and with orders coming in, she was on the
tiger’s back, wanting to get off, but un-able
to. They had a stall at a craft-market every Sunday,
and sold from 5 to 10 quilts a week, at A$70, including
4 matching pillow-cases, which wasn’t very much
considering how long it takes to make them. Anyway,
it certainly enhanced their pensions.
Anita was fine with me, but Stuart refused to see
me, although he came twice while I was there. Well,
that was okay; I didn’t mind. Anita was planning
a trip to Egypt, paid for by her parents. I saw how
they tried to please her, afraid that she would leave
them on their own. She didn’t always reciprocate,
however, and Sheila told me that one day, because
she had arthritis in her hands and couldn’t
write well, she’d gone downstairs to ask Anita
to address an envelope for her, but she was working
on her computer and refused, saying, “Mum, this
is my time now; I’m busy.” How long does
it take to address an envelope?
It was quite hot and very humid for the first few
days I was there, then it cooled off a bit and was
quite pleasant. At the bottom of their back-garden
is a large pond, fed by a stream; about 30 wild ducks
had made their home on it, and didn’t have to
go far for food as Frank fed them devotedly. There
were also some bush-turkeys, a family of kookaburras
(so tame that they would eat out of your hand), magpies,
and many other species that I was not familiar with;
there were some wild animals, too, but I didn’t
know what they were, either. There were also quite
a lot of mozzies.
Anyway, they took care of me well and I enjoyed my
week there, though I gained some unwanted weight.
I went to visit Mum twice in the nursing-home; Sheila
visited her on alternate days. I de-cided to make
my base there, and thought of spending 6 months of
the year there and the rest elsewhere, maybe between
Mel-bourne, Adelaide and Sydney.
Before Huy came to pick me up and take me back to
Brisbane, I got the number of an old lady I'd not
seen since '78 in Moonta ~ a friend of Mum and Dad;
her name was Mrs. Babidge. We used to write to each
other, and I knew she was in Queensland. Lucky that
I called when I did, as her daughter was just about
to take her to a nursing-home; had I called a little
later, I’d have missed her. She was delighted
to hear my voice, and I told her I’d try to
stop by and see her in the afternoon. When Huy came,
I asked him if we could visit her and he said it wouldn't
be a problem.
Taking leave of Sheila and Frank, therefore, we set
off, and an hour later, reached the nursing-home.
It was good to see her again. At 93, her memory was
remarkable, and she talked almost non-stop for an
hour; I'm glad I went, as it made her so obviously
happy. We promised to write to each other again.
After 2 more days in Brisbane, I returned to Melbourne;
before doing so, however, Thuy and her sons, knowing
that I intended to go to Sydney by bus next week,
insisted on buying me a plane-ticket so I wouldn’t
have to sit for 10 hours in a bus.
On the flight back to Melbourne, one of the air-hostesses
came to talk with me about Buddhism; originally from
Serbia, she said she had become Buddhist about 20
years ago. She was the third per-son I’d touched
on this trip, making it well-worth going. The other
person was an elderly lady I met in the chip-shop;
she suffered badly from depression and appreciated
a bit of sympathy.
My new Medicare-card was awaiting me when I got back;
they had responded favorably to the letter I wrote
explaining my cir-cumstances. Of course, I was glad
about that. It’s valid until 2008.
Over the next few days, I started to pack up my stuff
in Tuan’s garage (well, repack it, as it was
already in boxes there) and sent most of it up to
Nambour. This done, I flew to Sydney, to be met at
the airport by Iman, my Lebanese friend, and taken
to his home. He had rejected Islam at an early age
(though couldn’t be open about it while he was
in Lebanon) and embraced Buddhism a few years before,
and is sometimes more Buddhist than I am! I included
two articles by him in the last edition of BECAUSE
I CARE ~ Dream Come True and Morning Glory. When
he knew I was coming to Sydney and intended to stay
in a temple he invited me to stay with him, and I
accepted. He was living with his sec-ond son, separate
from his wife and other son and daughter, but still
on good terms with them; in fact, I met them several
times, and even corresponded with his wife for some
time, but our inter-ests were different, and we stopped
writing to each other.
He was hospitable, and I had quite a nice time during
the 10 days I stayed with him; it was good to have
a change of cuisine; I like some Lebanese food; they
eat a lot of beans. He also likes Indian food, so
I ate out in Indian restaurants with him a couple
of times. He arranged for me to speak at the same
Buddhist Society, too, as he’d become a regular
member there, and was even a com-mittee-member.
The real reason I went to Sydney that time was to
meet Cu and Thi who were visiting from Dallas. They
were staying not very far from where I was, so I met
them a couple of times, and it was good to see them
again. They’d had a lot of trouble with the
Customs at Sydney airport, flying in as they did from
Vietnam, and their bags were thoroughly searched,
delaying them by an hour. They also arranged a talk
for me in a friend’s house, but this was not
very successful. From Sydney, they went to N.Z. for
ten days, and their email informed me they’d
had a pleasant time there, in spite of frequent rain.
Their next stop would be Mel-bourne, where they would
visit me again.
After a few days with Iman, I moved to stay with a
young Viet-namese couple named Toan and Loan, who
had earnestly invited me, and I had a nice time with
them, too; they were very kind to me, getting anything
they thought I might like. Toan was a whole-sale fruiterer,
so there was an abundance of fruit on the table: mangoes,
peaches, mangosteens, lychees, bananas, apples, and
even the King of Fruits: Durian.
Well, I had two other talks in Sydney ~ one in the
home of Bok and Pearl, to a large group of Malaysians,
and the second in a Chinese temple where I’d
spoken the previous year. Both talks went very well.
At the first, I met a Malaysian woman who I'd not
seen since 1974, when she was still in school. I'd
heard she was in Sydney, married, with two children.
We were pleased to see each other, and she promised
to keep in touch, but ….. At the other talk,
I paid homage to George Harrison, who had just died,
saying he had found a way that suited him and died
peacefully in it; as a Hindu, he requested that his
ashes be scattered on the River Ganges.
After two weeks in Sydney, I returned to Melbourne
on Tuan’s 50th birthday, and I presented him
with a book by the Dalai Lama that I’d bought
in Sydney; it had the most wonderful picture of the
Dalai Lama on the front, sans glasses, so that if
he didn't read the book ~ which I doubted he would;
he's not a big reader ~ the pic-ture would be enough;
it was called, "An Open Heart".
By this time, I’d decided to make another trip
to Egypt, as Anita would be joining a tour there in
January, but that it would leave her with 5 days on
her own in Cairo when it ends, and that’s not
a good place for a woman to be alone. I didn’t
need much of an ex-cuse to go to Egypt again.
Needing to get an aching tooth fixed, I visited my
dentist-friend, Jamie, but he couldn't complete the
job the first time, even though I was in his chair
for about an hour, he asked me to come back, but wasn't
sure he'd be able to save the problem-tooth as it
was very far gone. I think he was surprised at how
well the sec-ond bout went, and as for me, well, there
was no pain for a while. I didn’t want to go
overseas without getting it fixed first.
Cu and Thi arrived from N.Z. and had had a hard time
with the Customs in Melbourne, too; they were detained
for over an hour, while their bags were thoroughly
searched again, and told that it was because of the
events of Sept 11th. Now, they were middle-aged, and
didn’t look at all suspicious, but you cannot
argue with Customs and Immigration, so they had to
submit. They were staying not far from where I was,
and came to visit the next day.
On Xmas Day, Nhi took me to see the first episode
of The Lord of the Rings, and I thought it
was fantastic ~ well, it literally was, of course.
I’d read the book almost 30 years before.
Coming out of the cinema, I got a call from Trung,
who I’d not heard from for a while, and when
I told him of my Egypt plan, he said he would go with
me, and even offered to pay for me. Well, I thought,
it would be good to have a companion, but felt it
would also be a burden on me, as I’d not forgotten
~ how could I? ~ what had happened with him in India
in ’96. Would it be a repeat of that? I asked
him why he wanted to go to Egypt, and he said because
he’d never been there before; but that was not
a good reason, as he’d been almost nowhere else.
However, I agreed, and he got the tickets ~ about
A$1500 each ~ and also travel-insurance, which I wouldn’t
have got had I gone on my own. I fig-ured he owed
me plenty, so let him pay, even though I later found
out he had to borrow the money and was heavily in
debt. He had his reasons for wanting to get out of
Melbourne for a while, as the girl he’d been
living with was threatening to kill herself if he
broke up with her, and had already tried several times.
I told Anita she now had two body-guards
instead of one. She should have felt honored, but
showed no appreciation, and with hindsight, I wish
I’d let her go on her own and face all the risks.
We were booked on the same flight as her from Sydney,
and duly met up with her there, but I could tell that
Trung took an instant dislike to her. The flight,
via Singapore, took about 16 hours, and we arrived
in Cairo the next morning, cleared Immigration and
Customs, and haggled for a taxi to take us to the
Sun Hotel, where Trung and I would stay. That was
quite a ride for her, as she’d not experienced
such hectic driving before. We checked in, then accompanied
her to the hotel she was booked in at, and left her
there; her tour was to start the next day.
Next day, after my early-morning walk and breakfast,
I took Trung to the Museum, and we were among the
first in, before it became crowded. He was not interested,
however, in spite of all the won-ders there. Had I
expected to turn a sow’s ear into a silk-purse?
We saw Anita there with her group as we made our way
I signed up for a taxi-tour of the pyramids and tombs
at Saqqara; these had been constructed before the
pyramids at Giza, and cover a vast area, much of which
has not been excavated. We climbed to the entrance
of one of them and descended into the tomb-chamber;
it was incredible. We circumambulated the Step-pyramid,
and went into a number of tombs alongside. We saw
craftsmen cutting limestone blocks using ancient techniques.
On the way back to Cairo, the taxi-driver told us
he was a school-teacher, but was unable to earn his
living that way, and barely managed to support his
family by driving cabs.
We wanted to climb the Great Pyramid of Giza. Although
this isn’t allowed, there are ways around the
prohibition if you’re prepared to pay enough.
We found someone who offered to arrange it for us,
but the amount he asked for doing so ~ $700 ~ was
too much, and we abandoned the idea.
I gave Trung enough space, not expecting or even wanting
him to be with me all the time, but he didn’t
take advantage of the oppor-tunity to see any of the
sights; instead, he spent hours in a cyber-café
chatting with friends back home
We took an overnight train to Luxor, and compared
to the trains of India, for example, it was almost
luxurious. After checking into a hotel, however, Trung
announced his desire to go off on his own so as to
have more adventures; apparently, he found my company
dull. I did not agree with this, but could do nothing
to change his mind, so I had to let him go. I moved
to another hotel, but didn’t stay long, as I’d
been there before. I didn’t see him again, as
it seemed he returned to Cairo almost immediately.
Of course, I visited the Karnak Temples again, and
the Valleys of the Kings and Queens; I also took a
one-day taxi-trip to the well-preserved temples of
Edfu and Esna further up the river.
After 4 days, I got a night-bus back to Cairo, only
to catch a bus out to Alexandria, on the coast, where
I stayed for two days, seeing some of the few sights
which that place has to offer; I didn’t enjoy
it. A fortress stood on the site of the famous Lighthouse.
Back in Cairo, I later met someone who had befriended
Trung, and he told me that he had been in his shop
a few days before and had already left for Singapore,
with the idea of going on to Vietnam from there. Was
this part of his plan from the beginning or not, I
wondered? Whatever, it was an awful waste of money
on his part, as he saw almost nothing of Egypt while
he was there.
Anita had greatly enjoyed her tour, and returned to
Cairo at the end of January, and I met her as we had
arranged, to show her around until she should fly
out. While doing so, I suddenly decided to abort my
trip and return to Australia on the same flight as
her on Tuesday, if I could get a seat at such short
notice. I'd had a cold for over a week and had resorted
to antibiotics to clear it up; no doubt they were
partly responsible for the degree of fa-tigue I felt,
but there was a sense of meaninglessness about the
trip, too, especially as my responsibility to her
was over. I went to the Egypt-Air office, but was
told that all their twice-weekly flights to Sydney
were fully booked until the 20th of March. I asked
to be wait-listed and said I would check back regularly,
as the office was only five minutes away from my hotel.
Anita was hard to please ~ in fact, I came to see
that, like her dad, she was cold and hard, and not
much fun to be with (as if I’d not known that
before). During her final day there, she was very
particular in shopping, and really took her time,
so that by the time she'd finished and I'd put her
in a taxi to her hotel, I was very tired. Making my
way back to my hotel, I napped for almost an hour
before going to the airline office again, but there
was no change. I called in again at 7:30, and was
advised to go to the airport and take a chance on
getting on; they said there was a 70% possibility.
I resolved to do this, so prepared my stuff and at
11 pm, went over to her hotel far away, to go with
her to the air-port from there.
I had to wait in the airport to see if I could get
on, until all the other passengers had gone first.
Anita went ahead, not knowing if she would see me
again or not, but before going through the gate, she
said ~ very reluctantly, I could see, so
reluctantly that she almost spat it out ~ that it
had been good to have me accom-pany her around Cairo
the last few days, but there was no word of thanks.
Well, I’d known for many years how mean-spirited
and stingy she was, and there's no sign that she’ll
change. Too right, it was good for her to have me
show her around; it saved her a lot of time, hassle
and money. I think she enjoyed the attention and compliments
~ however phony and insincere ~ she got from guys
there, as she obviously doesn’t get much in
Oz. One time, while she was buying something in the
bazaar, I stood aside to let her deal, and the guy
began to get fresh with her, saying, “How beau-tiful
you are! Felesh!” (the last word meaning, ‘flesh’).
He offered me 100 camels for her. I wish he’d
meant it! Another time, in an artist’s shop,
the owner ~ a great fat guy ~ offered me ~ jokingly,
of course ~ 100 kgs of gold plus 10 kgs of bananas
for her, and couldn’t keep his hands off her!
The bananas would have been more than enough! No need
To cut the tale short, in the end, I did
get on, and found that there were many empty seats
~ so many, in fact, that I had the four middle seats
to myself and was able to stretch out for some time.
Not only this, but in spite of having to go 'stand-by'
(for the first time in my long history of flying),
there was still vegetarian food available, whereas
on the flight to Egypt, even though I’d
ordered it in advance, there was not.
Anyway, the flight back seemed much faster than the
flight out, even though I spent most of it quietly,
on my own. We got to Sydney about 8 am, where going
through Customs was a breeze, too; I always dread
having to unpack everything, not that I have anything
to hide. I wasn't checked-through to Melbourne, so
had to make a booking, but this was soon done, too,
as there were flights between Sydney and Melbourne
every 30 minutes. I got there around 12:30, and caught
a shuttle-bus to the City, from where I got a taxi
to Tuan's house; it was good to be back.