Australia, Asia, South Pacific …

It’s been called the wanderlust.  Everyone has felt the call beyond the walls of humdrum existence in the spring.  For most it passes, for me it never has.

Standing on a railway bridge in the warm spring sunshine as a locomotive roared  underneath, pulling a string of empty boxcars.  Was anyone hiding in the cars?  Where was the train taking them?  Why couldn’t I be there, instead of here, slogging through undergraduate college?

On a high ridge near Los Angeles, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Restless at the sight of expensive homes along the shore.  Looking west across that blue vastness . . .

Come with me, as Something drove me to answer that call, to explore land and sea, the near and far reaches of the planet.

Move with me, from frozen Minnesota to the elite world of western Connecticut.  Listen to a teenager named Bob Dylan, as he struggled to find his talent at the Gaslight in Greenwich Village.  Hear young Noel Paul Stookey, as he introduced Bob, the ‘new talent’.   Carry a banner in the great March for Jobs and Freedom.  Stand by the reflection pool and hear Martin Luther King shout “I have a dream!”

Work as a deck hand on a German freighter sailing to Australia.  Search that continent for hidden riches.  Work with native crews exploring Bougainville Island, where riches in the rocks brought heartbreak and death.  Find land for high-rise apartments for poor boat people in Hong Kong.  Pick up whale bones in the Aleutian Islands.

And Egypt, Yemen, India, Indonesia, Israel, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Paros …

Come along with me as I relive my life . . .

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The Agra Fort and other sites at Agra

The Taj Mahal is certainly the world’s grandest tomb.  The sultan built it for his wife, who died young.  His residence was the Agra fort.  It was a grand structure in itself, only overshadowed by the great Taj Mahal.

Lunch was at the hotel where we had to cancel our reservation.  We were the only ones at lunch, it being the off-season for tourists.  Nonetheless, a small orchestra entertained us at lunch.  They started singing, which caught our ears.  They were singing ‘Karl’ and ‘Erik’, our sons’ names.

The Taj Mahal is covered with inlays of precious stones.  A visit to a craftsman’s shop allowed us to buy a small jewel box, carved in marble, inlaid with stones similar to those adorning the Taj.

On the road were people trying to attract our attention with different things.  One gentleman waved a huge snake at us.

That evening we flew from Agra to Jaipur on an Air India plane.



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Agra and the Taj Mahal

Not long after we departed Delhi it was daylight.  Then we noticed that many of the people on board were very physically fit and they carried assortments of odd metal artifacts.  After Agra, the flight was going on to Katmandu, Nepal, the gateway to the Himalayas.  These people were ‘trekkers’, i.e. mountain climbers — bound for Mount Everest?

Arriving at Agra, another guide met us.  He had already realized that we were running a day late, and probably could not stay at Agra that night, which was correct.  We were booked on a flight to Jaipur that evening.

So he drove us out to the beautiful Taj Mahal.  The road there was covered with walkers, cyclists, and goats.  Our driver weaved through the melee, honking his horn continually.

The entry to the Taj is a caravanserai.  Sure enough, they had camels there, perhaps only for show; but maybe, for actually carrying and trading goods.

The Taj Mahal is a real ‘be-there’ experience.  I don’t care what pictures you’ve seen, the perfect symmetry and the perfection of the gardens are breathtaking.  From the entry you see the Taj in all its splendor, reflected in the long pools extending from your position to the tomb.  The layout of the grounds is in the shape of a cross (really!).  at either ends of the cross are two stone buildings.  The entire layout is positioned so that the building on the left, which is a mosque, faces directly toward Mecca.  The building at the other end of the cross is identical, but is only there to make the layout symmetrical.  It is used for storage.

It was good that we made the trip when we did.  The Taj, made entirely of marble (structurally), has been worn down where tourist traffic has gone so they no longer allow tourists to enter the building, or even to climb its (marble) steps.  We, however, did get inside, right into the central room where the sultan’s sarcophagus is located.

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Delhi airport at 2 AM

Our stay in India had been shortened by one day, sadly, and we had to rush to get back on schedule.

We arrived at Delhi airport about 2 AM.  The place was packed with throngs of people.  Because of India’s position on the earth, most international flights arrive there in the early morning hours.  Happily, our tour professional had arranged for a guide to meet us as we deplaned.  He guided us through the crush of people and got us to our flight connection in time for departure.

Next stop, Agra and the Taj Mahal!

(Agra is in Uttar Pradesh.  In Hindi, Uttar means ‘state’, but few non-Indians know that.  In the following years I loved to tell people, “When we visited the Taj Mahal we were in a state of Uttar Pradesh.”  People would look at me so queerly.  What was Pradesh?  An Indian disease?  Is this double talk?  OK, so I’m being foolish.  So what?)

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To Hong Kong

Although I had been to Hong Kong twice and Elle once, our boys had never been there.  I was able to have them meet all the people that had been to the Willans’ prayer meeting.  The Christian, former Triad leader, training to be a barber, cut Karl’s hair.  We stayed at the Princess Hotel, where I had stayed, and had a couple of days to absorb life in Hong Kong.

Then, both the boys started running fevers, and we were due to leave Hong Kong for India in the evening.  Worse, we had heard that our British Air flight had been canceled due to an airline workers’ strike in Sydney.  So I telephoned British Air and asked them what we should do.  “Report to the airport two hours ahead of the flight,” was all they would say, even when I pleaded that our boys were sick.

So to the airport we went, that evening.

After a few minutes, a British Air official entered the room and said, “Your flight has been canceled, doe to a strike in Sydney.  Your tickets for tomorrow’s flight ae confirmed.  Tonight you will be guests of British Air.  Please board the buses outside.”

The buses took us to a leading hotel in downtown Hong Kong, gave us two double rooms, and invited us to a meeting room for complimentary buffet dinner and floor show.  We fed the boys and put them straight to bed, where they fell asleep immediately.  Elle and I went down to the floor show, but stayed only a short time and returned to our rooms.

The boys rested most of the next day and their fevers were gone.

That evening we boarded the British Air flight to Delhi.

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From Sydney to Bali

Our church had missionaries in Bali.  They were about to begin construction of a church there, so our first stop in returning to the US was a stop in Bali for about a week.

We flew from Sydney to Bali on Garuda Indonesian airline.  The airplane was an old Boeing 707, and the autopilot gyros weren’t in good operating order.  For the whole trip the tail of the airplane kept moving around slowly, in a circle.  The plane would be climbing a little, then banking to the right and settling, then descending slowly, then banking to the left and returning to the climb.  This continued through the whole trip.  I was glad when that was over.

The missionary had started a Christian village at a place called Blimbingsari, in central Bali.  I took a seismograph along to do some foundation tests at their church site.  It turned out that the site was directly on top of a fault scarp, a bad place to build a church and particularly so in earthquake-prone Indonesia.  I told him so.  I don’t know what he did about that; we were only there for about two days.

At Blimbingsari, nights were noisy.  Dogs in Bali were nearly wild; they went around digging through the garbage, which seemed to be everywhere, and fought all night.  Geckos in our sleeping room sang loudly.  Every evening the Balinese played their traditional music until about two AM; they napped every afternoon, then worked until sundown and slept about four hours until sunrise.

Back in Denpasar we stayed at the Legian Beach Hotel, a quiet place away from the big international hotels surrounded by tourist traps.  Bali is almost entirely Hindu, as opposed to the rest of Indonesia, which is Muslim.  Every footpath at the Legian Beach Hotel was straight and only about a hundred feet long, with a Hindu idol at the end of it, ‘guarding’ it.  Then you’d turn onto another footpath of about the same length, with another idol at the end.  But the hotel was comfortable, and it faced onto a coastal beach.

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A final trip to Perth

As we were making plans to migrate to the United States, we drove from Sydney across the Australian continent to Perth, to visit Elle’s sister and family.  On the way over I stopped in Kambalda, a mining town, and visited friend Terry Potts and family, where we spent the night.  Next day we headed on to Perth.

Raina and husband Arnold suggested we take a trip down the west Australian coast to Cape Leeuwin.   The cape is a craggy promontory where you don’t want to lose footing and fall.  Beneath you, as you stand on the rocks, is a raging, crashing surf bashing away at the rocks below; it’s the confluence of the Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, and the Indian Ocean to the west.

Just north of the cape is one of the world’s greatest surf beaches.  Arnold and I had to have a swim there; the waves were perfectly shaped, coming around a point of land about a mile away.  The waves were about a hundred yards apart, separated by flat ocean; as they came ashore they piled up into ten-foot-high surf and crashed ashore.  Absolutely perfect for surfing competitions.  Arnold and I swam out a few yards and caught an incoming wave.  What a ride!  And what a crash at the end of it.  Well, we deserved it.  It was a part of manhood bravado.

When we arrived back in Sydney we learned that our little toy poodle had died.  Karl took it hard, but he was resilient and got over it.  Bimbo had been a puppy-mill dog and had serious physical problems.  His death was timely, as we were trying to work out how to take him with us back to the US.  His death meant that we could make a more leisurely trip out of it, which we did.

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Project for the Mount Newman Railway

The Mount Newman Railway, a private railway owned by BHP Billiton that transports iron ore from Mount Whaleback to Port Hedland, Western Australia, needed some seismic work done as part of a grade realignment.   We stayed at a field camp about midway between Newman and Port Hedland: At the time it housed about twenty men, had a good kitchen with full-time cook, air conditioned, comfortable sleeping accommodations, and a swimming pool.

It was a desert climate.  Daily temperatures climbed to about 110 deg F (43 deg C).  It didn’t cool off much at night.  Meals were good.  Using the swimming pool was an experience: the low humidity kept the pool water chilly.  When you first dipped in, it was a shock, but you soon got used to it.  When you climbed out, the hot, dry wind, which was always blowing, chilled you to the bone.  You were tempted to return to the pool, which, comparatively, felt warm.  When you finally left the pool, chilly, but your wet skin quickly dried and then you felt the heat of the dry wind.

On completion of the project I drove to Newman, the town servicing Mount Whaleback.  Wanting to make the trip during the cool of the morning, I left before first light.  As the dawn was about to break, I passed a high cliff that had a trail to the top.  Driving up the road I viewed one of the most magnificent sunrises I had ever seen, in the cool, cloudless sky of the Western Australian Pilbara district.

Continuing on to Newman, I arrived about mid morning.  Maybe I could find a church somewhere, to attend morning services.  A car passed me, so I followed it, thinking that anyone out this early of a Sunday morning must be going to church.  Sure enough, I followed them into the parking lot of an Anglican church, so I was able to attend church that morning.  After church, a really nice young couple invited me to have dinner with them.

Later that day I caught a plane to Perth, and made connections back home to Sydney.

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The Mayaguez incident

About the time Elle and I were to depart from Hong Kong for Bangkok, a US merchant ship, the S.S. Mayaguez, was hijacked by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge.  President Ford ordered that American forces based in Thailand attack and recapture the ship.  This he did without informing the Thai government, which was angry at the US for what they considered to be an affront to their sovreignty.

Because of the ongoing diplomatic confrontation I thought it unwise to travel to Thailand, as it would be at least uncomfortable for us as perceived Americans (although Elle is Australian).  I phoned British Air in Hong Kong, begging them to change our flight to Kuala Lumpur.  They refused.  I asked the British Air official whether he would be prepared to go to Thailand at the moment, if he were American.  He said, “Oh, certainly, no problem.”  But he wasn’t American, and he wasn’t going.

The trip was enjoyable, although we had some trouble getting taxis to carry us.  We made the usual guided tour of the palace area and a couple of Buddhist temples.  We saw a couple that spoke with a North American accent who sported Canadian flag pins on their collars.  Every time someone spoke to them, the first thing they said was, “We’re Canadian.”

The trip back home to Sydney was uneventful.  We flew on Qantas, the Australian airline.

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I go to Catholic Church with Philip Lui

The day following our extraordinary experience with the rain at Tai Po, I met Philip Lui at the Catholic Church he attended.  As we took our places in Church, he said, “I haven’t said confession for a long time. He said, “Will you excuse me?”, and went to confession.

After confession, Philip and I sat through the Catholic Mass.  Later on, as Holy Communion was being served, Philip invited me to take Communion with him.  Not being Roman Catholic, I demurred.

Afterward, the priest greeted us as we departed.  Philip mentioned that I had not taken Communion with Philip.  The Priest said to me, “Are you a Christian?

I said that I was.

“Well, then,” he said, “you should have taken Communion.”

“But I’m a Protestant.  Wouldn’t it be frowned upon?”

“Technically, maybe so,” he said, “but I wouldn’t question you at the Communion rail.  You should have taken Communion.”

At that moment I resolved in my mind that the next time I was in a Catholic Church and Communion was offered, I would partake of it.

(The next time I attended Catholic Mass, years later, was at a Solemn High Mass at the Basilica of St. Peters in Vatican City, Rome.  And I did take Communion, as did my wife.)

A year or so after my Hong Kong projects, at home in Australia, our doorbell rang.  It was Philip Lui!  We enjoyed an hour or two with him that day.

Just as Philip was leaving, my wife said to him, “My husband told me an unbelievable story about a rain miracle he experienced with you in Hong Kong.  Did it –”

Philip interrupted her, and looking intensely into her eyes, said, “Yes.  It really happened.”

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Rain event near Tai Po harbor

On my second project at Hong Kong later in 1975, we did seismic traverses in the hills around Tai Po harbor, north of Kowloon.  I had a new assistant named Philip Lui.

The last traverse area was on a prominent point of land, where we had a grand view of Tai Po harbor and the hills on either side of us.  It was a Saturday.

As we began to lay out our traverse lines we noticed that half of the harbor was obscured by a gray curtain of heavy rain, which was approaching us.

Philip said, “Look, it’s going to rain,” expecting that I would postpone the work until a later day.

But, emboldened by my earlier experience at Junk Bay, I said, “No, let’s get these lines laid out.”

As we finished laying out the lines, the rain was upon us.

Philip was Roman Catholic, and we had been talking about spiritual faith, so I audibly prayed, “Dear God, please stop the rain, in Jesus’ Name, and thank You for stopping the rain.”

The rain decreased about half.  I said, “Philip, I think the Lord wants you to pray to stop the rain.”

With my hand on Philip’s shoulder, Philip prayed, “Dear God, please stop the rain.”

Instantly the rain decreased to a drizzle.  Philip gasped and staggered backward.  I said, “Philip, you need to finish the prayer,” which he did.  The rain stopped completely, but we were surrounded on every side, by that gray curtain.  It was raining heavily all around us.  But we were dry.

Then Philip muttered something about it being magic.

It started drizzling again.

I said, “Philip, this is not magic, but a loving God answering our prayers in faith.  I would rather postpone our work here and return to the office soaking wet, than have you believe that this was magic.”

And that’s what happened.  It rained heavily as we walked down that hill to the car, and all the way back to the office.

Before we parted that day, Philip said, “I haven’t been to Church for a while.  Will you go to Church with me tomorrow?”

I told him I’d be delighted.  And that’s what we did.

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