Asia-Pacific Tour: Return to Paradise

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Journal Entry (In-flight) 8 May 1988: “Once again, the never-ending problem of too many beautiful women, and too damn many fascinating places – unable to decide where to go next, where to stay, and with whom. The flight attendants are cute – one is Oriental, the other two are Islanders, but I’m trying not to think about them because soon I will leave again – far away, but we already know that story. As usual, I want to have it all — to eat it all up. But there comes a time to stop and digest a bit. I feel as though I need a lifetime to live in each place I go. And here I am again, leaving with a heavy heart. Oh man, I die a hundred times leaving. Someday, I won’t leave alone.”

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Waipi’o Valley, Big Island, Hawai’i, USA

Departing the USA in May 1988, I flew via Hawai’i to Western Samoa for a wonderful reunion with far too many friends to see during my short visit there. Simply magical to free-dive in the crystal clear waters of Palolo Deep lagoon.

On Manono island with my Samoan family – the warm, moist air sticking to my skin, a few mosquitoes, delicious island food, lush tropical undergrowth, adorable kids, the family so loving, the sea so soft — waves lapping against the beach, and the early morning smoke of the rock ovens (umus) hanging in the air. Re-living the warm, gentle life in Samoa-I-Sisifo.

Returning to Samoa and the South Pacific was like living a dream. It was hard to believe that I was back in Apia seeing old friends and soaking up the sun and sea at Palolo Deep – although a coral infection in my foot was a painful reminder that it was no dream. I had forgotten how warm and cheerful the Samoans are. Everyone seemed the same, although many had become even bigger – some even twice the size they were just two years before!

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Catch of the day, with my Samoan father Uila, and Luavalu in Apai Village on Manono Island, Samoa

The relaxed pace can brew up some frustration if you try to keep to a strict schedule. But as usual, the physical beauty of the place was astounding – the clouds, the sea, waves breaking on the far reef, lush forested mountains; the absolute silence of Apai village on tiny Manono Island.

Drinking a fresh coconut by Robert Lewis Stevenson’s grave atop Mount Vaia — not to be confused with the raucous Mount Vaea Night Club — a bottle smashes, then you duck to miss being hit by a table flying by.

Transiting through Tokyo to Seoul – back to Asia again — an adjustment from the USA as well as the Pacific, but it felt good. Beautiful women dressed in high fashion, a wonderful reunion with my friends at the Seoul YMCA, and day trips through beautiful countryside and small towns.

On my last day, I was interviewed on the live TV show “Good Morning Korea” for a spot they were doing about backpackers at my guesthouse. I was leaving for the airport and wearing my suit and tie – totally out of character for the budget traveling crowd – but the camera crew seemed drawn to this and came rushing over to interview me.

Then, bathing in the memory of Han Mi Sook – her smiling face and gentle ways – my heart breaking again as the plane lifted over misty mountains, flooded rice paddies, green hills and residential sections of Seoul, Korea.

“Welcome back to Korea!”

On to the Philippines – and back to my delightfully dim, airless (and cheap!) pension house room in Manila where the only mirror in the place stretches along-side the bed. Sadly, I missed Jessie – she had married her former American boyfriend and was already living in the States. But I did manage to score a fine, locally crafted guitar.

Arriving at last in Thailand, this travel weary soul headed north to Chiang Mai city – which seemed so small and peaceful after Bangkok, Manila and Seoul – deep green reflecting in the quiet canals, tricycle rickshaws (samlaw), tiny back streets, beautiful old Buddhist temples – a wealth of history in plain view with a dramatic backdrop of forested mountains. And of course, our memorable ‘haunted’ teak wood house behind the spectacular old temple, Wat Santitham.

Reunions with friends from the Chiang Mai YMCA, and a trip to Chiang Rai province and the Golden Triangle where Thailand,  Laos and Burma intersect at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers – an area known also for its extensive opium and heroin production.

The Golden Triangle, Thailand

After 15 Asia-Pacific countries and a visit to the USA, I had settled high in the rugged mountains in the extreme north of Thailand to manage a primary health care project in cooperation with the Thai Ministry of Public Health.

The journey to this remote outpost — from the USA to the Pacific islands and back to Asia — was like living the most wonderful dream. Thoughts drifted back to warm lagoons, smiling faces, beautiful girls and so many wonderful friends in grand reunion – yet, with a breaking heart — as happy reunions ended all too soon.

But again, the circle had come full. Two years on the road, living out of two small bags. Traveling now in a sharp business suit and dress shoes, and clinging to the back of a wildly pitching pickup truck slip-sliding its way up the deeply rutted muddy track to my new mountain home. It was going to be nice to stay put for a change.

Managing a rural health project in the remote mountains along the Thai-Burma border

Rain had been falling steadily since my arrival at Thoed Thai Highland Health Center. Settling into my spartan, but comfortable room, orientation with the out-going Project Director, meeting the (43) mostly local staff, speaking Thai language — and feeling really good.

Stay tuned for “The Warlord’s Hospital” – coming soon!

You can read more about Jim’s backstory,  here and here.

 

 

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