Ripples Following Ripples ~ A FALSE INVITATION

While 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 out.

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 for camels!

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.

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