Adventure Blogs Notalgia Reflections

​Airline Staff don’t sell only travel​ by Cecil Wagstaff (Australia)

Airline Staff don’t sell only travel

By Cecil Wagstaff (Australia)

When I was working with Air France, Bombay, in 1970s, a young couple walked in one Saturday morning.  I was at the Ticket Counter, City Office, Stadium House in Churchgate opposite Lufthansa Bombay Office.

They held Flight tickets to leave that evening for Paris on some other Airline’s Charter Flight  and wanted these accepted by Air France.  They had come to India to adopt an infant, but the Indian Government’s interminable Paperwork had not been completed.

They wanted to know if Air France would accept these on the following Monday night’s Air France flight. They had not completed ‘some necessary documentation’.

Of course Air France could not, and when I told them this the lady broke down, sobbing hysterically.  I calmed her down, with a coffee and reassurances that I would do anything I could to help, but this was not possible as you know what “Charter’ Flight Conditions’ are, and……,

That’s when they told me the nature of their visit.  They, being childless and unable to conceive had come to India to adopt an infant, and that they had no more money to buy standard Air ticket tickets home.  The Lady started crying again and her whole body was wreaked in trembling spasms.

Having given my word to help, I advised her that I myself was leaving on a holiday to London, the following Friday, and would transit Frankfurt but could divert Frankfurt to Paris – drop off the infant to their care, and proceed immediately to London. AND………that if I had their formal authority, and the completed Documentation, by the India Government Authorities – I would carry the infant with me, at NIL cost to them other than the standard infant fare.

Smiles all around and a relieved couple left on their Charter that night – as you can understand.

Hallelujah, Shock – Horror to one CLWW….. moi mich, ME!

When the Nuns from the Convent bought the infant (Eve) to the airport on Friday for our departure I then learnt the infant was only ten months old – I had assumed just under two years, when I made the offer to assist personally.

I had to honour my commitment, so took charge of the infant and we boarded the flight.

Enroute to Frankfurt/to connect to , infant Eve took very ill and was excreting from both ends.  Eve was getting severely dehydrated, with the skin on the back of her hand standing and not subsiding when we raised it to check the level of dehydration.

With the assistance of a kind Lufthansa flight attendant, we kept Eve alive, feeding her with Cecil Made Sugar Water, fed to her though the medium of a Fountain Pen self filler – thoroughly sanitized of course in a Jug of boiling water in the aircraft Galley.  We had no choice and desperate situations call for desperate action.

Got to Paris and safely handed Eve to her adopted parents, who had come with their family and entourage.  They wanted to take me for lunch – in gratitude but I could not accept this and instructed them to rush the infant to a Hospital ‘Immediately’ – there was no time for pleasantries, albeit greatly appreciated, and thank goodness they did this.

I proceeded to London, had my holiday and flew home….forgetting all about the drama on board.

I did not hear from the couple for seven years. Out of the blue, I received a letter from them begging my pardon as I (in their opinion) must have thought they were the most ungrateful people in the world, after what I had done. I had forgotten all about this.

They advised me that if they had not got Eve to a Hospital in time, she would not have survived, and had been sickly all this time, hence their inability to communicate. Eve had turned the corner and was now healthy, hence their writing.  Air France Bombay, had forwarded their letter to me in Australia, where I had migrated to in 1977.

We kept in touch over the years, regularly, Christmas, Birthdays, and still do.

Now the Epilogue to this lovely story!

In 1993 I directed and escorted the World War1 Diggers (Soldiers) on an Official Australian Government Commemoration Pilgrimage to The Western Front of World War I.

The entourage included The Australian Governor General of Australia of the time, Bill Hayden, John Howard, who was not yet Prime Minister, but held another Ministerial Portfolio, John Faulkner The Minister of Veterans’ Affairs at that time –, Nurses, Carers as these Soldiers (Diggers were all in their Nineties), The Repatriation Commissioner and Senior Departmental Officers of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, TV and Press Media.  We were some 80 Members in the entire Group.

I advised Eve and her parents that I was arriving in Paris, staying at the Hilton Hotel with the Group, and hope to meet them when I was there.

Well, guess what, they arrived in the Lobby, just as I was briefing the entire group of the Order of Service/Logistics.

When they advised the Hotel Reception, that they were there to see me, the Reception with whom I had been working closely for many weeks, ushered them into the meeting room, not even thinking theirs was a personal visit.

Marie Ange, came straight to me, threw her arms around me and gave me a big kiss. Eve, at her side, next did the same.

Mates, this memorable event brought the House down, with the Diggers all cheering – Why, you may ask?

Eve being originally from India, a beautiful 22 years old young Lady was swarthy in complexion, closer to mine. Marie-Angel being French, and also closer to my age, was extremely fair in complexion.

The group had decided for themselves that Eve was my daughter and the two had come to meet the ‘reprobate’ dad of when I would have, in their opinion, sown wild oats.

Could I convince them otherwise – you decide!

On a subsequent trip of mine to Paris, about six months after this, Eve’s dad came to meet me, and we spent some time together.  Sadly he died of an unexpected heart attack barely months after we had met and the Family rang to advise me immediately.

Then, and only then did they tell me that they had always, as they always considered me as Eve’s ‘other’ dad, with a special place for me in their hearts, as Eve would not have been with them, had I not done what I have mentioned earlier.

A few years later, Eve, Marie-Ange, my wife Perveen and I met for a ‘Family’ Reunion in Bombay.

We even visited the Orphanage, from which Eve had been adopted, in Mazagaon, a suburb of Bombay, and believe it or not, there was one old man, now retired, but a nurse/orderly when the adoption had occurred, who recalled it.

We are still in contact regularly…..and Eve got married to her Prince Charming, to live Happily Ever After.

When she sent me her photo, as a Bride, leaving for the Church to get married, it was more than just another bridal photo. – Yes, I did have the proverbial ‘Lump in My throat and Tear at the Corner of my eyes’.

Adventure Blogs Posts Reflections




This article was posted by Charmaine Craig on Literary Hub.

I do not speak Burmese, yet I understand from my late mother that pon is one of those Burmese words that are impossible to translate. “Power. Wisdom. Karma. Insight,” she once explained to me cryptically. “When your pon is elevated, you think on an elevated plane—very little about yourself, and always about others.” She hesitated. “Pon can also mean memory. You were born with too much of this type.”

This was nearly 15 years ago, when I had begun interviewing her in preparation to write a novel based on her experiences in Burma, the country of her birth, renamed Myanmar in 1989. I pressed her—I always had to press my mother, gently, to elaborate on a past that she seemed unwilling to revisit—and asked what she meant by my having been born with too much memory.

“You were just about one year old,” she said. “Not out of diapers, yet talking. You convinced me that you had once been my mother.” With a shift of her gaze, she seemed to push away the thought, just as she had apparently tried to push away my pon with a ritual aimed at making me forget my past life. The ritual had been simple, she said: feeding me rice from the lid of a pot under a stairwell when I was a baby. Was this dulling of my memory the reason that I was called so strongly to untangle the truth from the legend of her life?

Disparate details of that life had been sketched for me by Burmese expatriates living in places from Bakersfield to Paris—details emphasizing my mother’s iconic status as both a beauty queen and a revolutionary. More than once I heard, “When she wore slacks, we wore slacks,” or, “Because she had curls, we wore our hair curly.” My American father often reminded me that the Burmese government had placed a price on her head—a thrilling and terrifying tidbit, as it underscored my mother’s importance in her homeland and the fact that, if she were to return, she could forever be taken away. When I was an undergraduate, a photography professor, having recently returned from a shoot in Asia, indirectly accused me of lying about my mother’s whereabouts. I claimed she had been a longtime resident of Los Angeles; he looked me in the eye and told me to stop the charade—“She’s been spotted riding a white horse through the jungle, protecting her people,” I remember him saying.

Even as a very young child, I’d been aware that, somewhere out there, a nation of citizens regarded my mother as something of a queen, and I’d felt heartbroken when strangers in our California home assumed she was my nanny or our family maid. Yet my mother wasn’t proud of her status among the Burmese. Her disregard for image and popularity became a lesson in self-respect, one that eventually encouraged me to walk away from a burgeoning career in film and television in the 90s, when I was most often sent out on calls to play “exotic” types and aliens from outer space. Writing afforded me dignity—a dignity I felt I could endow my mother with in prose, if only I could get beyond her reticence, her humility, and her desire to keep my pon low and my memory of the past shadowy.

Known by her maiden name, Louisa Benson, my mother was not Burman, the majority race in Myanmar. Her father was Sephardic, and her mother was of the Karen ethnic nationality, one of Burma’s indigenous and chronically oppressed peoples.

She was born on the eve of Burma’s involvement in the Second World War, when the Japanese invaded, led by a band of Burmans wanting to oust the British. Her father led the family out of Rangoon on a nightmarish 900-mile trek to northern Burma. Strewn everywhere along the mountain roads was evidence of the massacre of minorities: corpses missing an arm, legs, a head, a breast, genitals—always the genitals—mutilated, chopped off, impaled, abdomens ripped open and disemboweled. And the screams. The screams and groans of the not yet dead whom no one dared to help.

Eventually, my grandfather was captured and tortured—terribly—yet he survived; they all survived. The family even went on to flourish in the post-war years, as my grandfather established an empire of trucks, ice factories, and bottling plants that would make him one of the wealthiest men in Burma. Their living room housed a beloved concert-grand Steinway, the mango tree-lined path to their portico welcomed a daily parade of vendors, and their home, like my grandfather’s businesses, was staffed with Karens—an increasingly downtrodden people to whom he now gave himself out of gratitude for their protection of him throughout the war. In 1946, he financed a Karen goodwill mission to England to plead the Karen case to the British government. When that had no effect, he joined other Karens in peacefully appealing to the government for equal rights for all of Burma’s peoples. But the Burman-dominated government proved to have another agenda.

In early 1949, civil war erupted. One night, at the age of seven, my mother was secretly sipping crème de menthe out of a little liquor glass before one of her parents’ parties—she remembered how the servants had powdered and polished the floor until it shone like a mirror, how the guests streamed into the house, and how a family friend, wearing a cravat, swooped her up and twirled her around to the strains of Nat King Cole—and the next night shots were being fired across their estate. It was the beginning of a second season of violence, loss, and exile: my grandfather would be tortured and imprisoned for years; my grandmother would disappear for months at a time, searching for ways to support her refugee family. Upon the fatherless family’s return to Rangoon in 1951, blood covered their looted villa’s walls and bullets fell from the trees whenever it rained.

My mother’s foray into the world of beauty pageants at age ten was a direct response to her father’s imprisonment. The plan, hatched by her mother, was to captivate the wife of the district commissioner. So taken was the woman with the tender pleas of this “doll-like” girl in Burmese court clothes that my grandfather was released at once—though soon he was put under house arrest.

Ironically, as her family’s freedom and financial assets were stripped away, my mother’s fame skyrocketed. Her particular combination of artlessness and “exotic” Jewish-Karen beauty—black curly mane, dewy wide-set eyes, and Sophia Loren-like curvaceousness—became a phenomenon of national pride. When she was 15, she won her first Miss Burma title; at 17, she won her second. But she was a reluctant beauty queen. “I had to be taught how to walk in heels, how to pose. It was a nuisance,” she told me. “I’d much rather have been out playing soccer in the mud, or climbing trees.” In order to fund her brother’s American education, she at last agreed to star in a Burmese film, which catapulted her into the kind of fame that can be crippling for one who values unselfconsciousness. Nevertheless, after a stint studying in America (where she met and briefly dated my awestruck father), she starred in another film: she had her family’s welfare to consider, and she learned to tune out her celebrity.

Still, fame defined her life; she was courted by the country’s political heads of power, including Katie Ne Win, wife of General Ne Win—Burma’s Prime Mister and the military leader responsible for my grandfather’s imprisonment and decades of atrocities committed against the country’s peoples. Katie Ne Win was a socialite who enjoyed having an entourage of young stars around her, and she used her power to force my mother to attend her extravagant parties. My mother’s proximity to the Ne Wins caught her in a round of political mud-slinging: Accused of being Ne Win’s lover, she escaped to Hong Kong, where she was rumored to be having an abortion. Hospitalized later for an emergency appendectomy, she was said to be recovering from a stabbing by Katie.

Brigadier “Brig” General Lin Htin was a Karen 16 years my mother’s senior and one of Burma’s most notorious rebels. He had a bullet lodged in his skull, illegitimate children scattered across the country, and the distinction of having been reported slain countless times. When he asked my mother to marry him in 1964, he was in Rangoon pursuing peace negotiations for the Karen—negotiations that would soon irreversibly break down. The marriage was a sensation, and before long the spies following them numbered in the tens and twenties. My mother and Brig were forced underground, to the jungle war zone. “I would open my eyes at night,” she told me, “and see Brig beside me, looking up at the ceiling, strategizing.”

A year into their marriage, Brig and my mother lost their only child, an infant boy; and then Brig, too, disappeared. Before leaving her in the jungle to attempt another round of peace negotiations, he paused, as if prescient, and cautioned her never to believe rumors that he had been killed. He would someday resurface, he promised. When he didn’t return, she received communication from Rangoon authorities declaring him dead and urging her to return to the city to be reunited with her family. But her father-in-law radioed her conflicting information: “Do not come back. They will chop you into one thousand pieces.”

The next year marked the period she would later be most unwilling to speak about. Yet, as I learned in the weeks after her death—when one of her remaining sisters sent me 26 pages of reflections my mother had penned as many years earlier—it was a period about which she had been willing, haltingly, to write. In these reflections she elliptically describes how, after Brig’s disappearance, she donned military garb, cut off her long curly hair, and led his brigade toward a mountain range where another faction of the Karen Army was stationed, one resistant to the peace talks Brig had pursued. “Brig’s men looked to me as a leader who would negotiate for them so that they would not get swallowed up.” She dispatched neutral villagers to the rival Karen brigade headquarters, requesting safe passage, and was permitted to advance with one bodyguard. The two of them had to cross the Salween River to reach the rival brigade’s headquarters, and when they arrived, she was presented with traditional Karen women’s clothing. “But I politely refused,” she writes. “Dressed like a woman I would be at a distinct disadvantage in our negotiations.”

Her written account stops short with this, though I know from what she and others have told me that my mother successfully convinced this general to reconcile and pursue a shared agenda of pan-ethnic peace—an act of huge significance at that critical juncture, when the government was reigniting its ruthless program of dividing and subduing ethnic minority groups. Still, the details of what she went through in the year that followed—when she lived as a soldier on the Thailand-Burma border and acted as a liaison to other ethnic leaders—remain cloaked in mystery for me, as do her reasons for parting from her people in 1967 and marrying my father, who, after eight years of unuttered love for her, had connected with her family (now mostly in America), at last confessed himself to her in a letter, rendezvoused with her in Bangkok, and arranged for her to enter the US as his wife.

“When you do something, you have to think about yourself and others,” my mother often stressed to me. “If you think only of yourself, you’re no better than a cow.” For a time after my birth, she was drawn into the cocoon of parenting. Yet all along Burma called, and with the Burmese military crackdown in 1988, she reemerged as a leader in the Burmese pro-democracy and human rights movements, advocating passionately for inter-ethnic dialogue and protections for children and the displaced, and eventually facilitating the resettlement of what would be over 50,000 refugees to this country.

Not long after I abandoned my first version of the novel based on her life, my mother died, in February 2010. A few days later, I ventured to a modest yellow house serving as a Burmese Buddhist monastery in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles, where I had been invited to a ceremony in her honor. I had never visited the monastery before, but I knew it was a place where my mother—though not Buddhist—had both given and received consolation, a place inhabited by the monk she affectionately called “Pon Pon,” whom she had met while pursuing an internationally ground-breaking lawsuit on behalf of unnamed plaintiffs in Burma (the corporation Unocal had turned a blind eye to the displacement, forced labor, murder, rape or torture of tens of thousands of villagers by the country’s military during the construction of a gas pipeline).

Memory was not yet for me a powerful antidote to loss, as it would become later, when I would write the final version of the novel that will be published this May. As the monks at the monastery, including Pon Pon, recited rounds of discordant prayers, I searched for signs of my mother’s spirit everywhere: in the reflective glass of a cupboard that shelved sacred objects, in the white picture of day through the open window, in the face of the Buddha over the altar, in Pon Pon’s surprisingly innocent eyes.

Following the ceremony, Pon Pon and I sat alone near the altar and he pointed to one of the folding chairs lining the walls. “She sat there,” he said, and then, pointing elsewhere, “and she sat there. And, another time, there. Tell me, do you think she is here with us?”

“What do you think?” I ventured.

“I asked you first,” he countered. “When I heard that you would be coming, I told myself she would come with you, that maybe she would come here.” His uncertain eyes moved from mine back to the edges of the sanctuary. “I cannot believe she is dead. I don’t believe it.”

For a span, we sat in silence, wondering, I think, about evidence and faith, disappointment and disbelief.

“You know,” he continued finally. “She was my friend. And when I speak about my friend, I want to cry. She had a beautiful mind. And she was part of our hope.”

The child in me still yearned for her world to begin and end with mine, though I knew—had always known—that she was Burma’s.

Charmaine Craig is a faculty member in the Department of Creative Writing at UC Riverside, and the descendant of significant figures in Burma’s modern history. A former actor in film and television, she studied literature at Harvard University and received her MFA from the University of California, Irvine. Her first novel, The Good Men (Riverhead), was a national bestseller translated into six languages. Miss Burma is out now from Grove Atlantic.
Adventure Blogs Uncategorized

Mrauk U

This article is from the Borders of Adventures web site. The site has articles on interesting places around the world.

The article was forwarded by Cho Set to Alan De Santos who sent it to us.

I am not even aware of the existence of this region until Alan sent it. I thought I would post it just to let other alumni know about this very interesting region. Wish I have the adventurous spirit to travel there.



This article is a guest post from Natalie from the Myanmar Travel Blog. Check it out for more information and a guide on Mrauk U, its temples and details of the long bus journey, plus more advice and stories about Myanmar. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram. For now, she describes her journey into this relatively untouched area of the country…

Having only opened it’s doors to tourists in 2012, Myanmar is still relatively new on the South East Asian travel route. Places such as Mrauk U in the western Rakhine State are a long and uncomfortable bus journey from the country’s major city hubs, making them less appealing to visitors who often prefer the easy infrastructure of the golden triangle: Bagan – Inle Lake – Yangon. It’s a tough 20+ hour local bus ride from any of these hotspots to Mrauk U, with checkpoints and regular bus break downs. However, the adventure is worth it.

Mrauk U. The Other Bagan?

Similar to the tourist hotspot of Bagan, Mrauk U was once a capital city in an imperial Myanmar from the early 15th to the late 18th century, leaving it full to the brim with old temples and Pagodas. These old structures are even more part of the scenery than they are in Bagan, with nature having been allowed to start reclaiming some of the older ones. You will find trees growing out of the temple floors and goats jumping from pagoda to pagoda like a climbing frame. Locals have also made their homes around some of the temples, with kids playing atop some of the bigger ones and women hanging the laundry all around them.

Instead of just being tourist attractions, many of the temples here are still very much in use; I stumbled upon a recently built temple that I named the ‘disco temple’ due to its disco style strobe lighting. It was here where I found locals, as well as monks, praying to Buddha with not another tourist in sight.

That’s Not All – Mrauk U is More Than Temples

A big difference between Mrauk U and Bagan is that the landscape is more hilly than flat and the climate tropical rather than dry. The hills make for some excellent views via a short hike up a densely jungled hill, where many climb to Mruak U’s highest point – Shwetaung Paya – which looks out of the hills and river. Here, at sunrise, a mysterious fog can be seen that blankets the town, where only the temples atop of the hills can be seen and it is like they are floating on clouds. It’s really rather magical.

Another draw card for Mrauk U is to visit the remote tribal Chin Villages along the river.  It’s worth getting a guide for the day to take you out to meet the infamous ‘tattooed face women’ of the Chin villages. There are only a handful of these women left who have a spider-web design tattooed on their faces – a tradition that died out around 60 years ago when the practice, of what is said to tribal identification, was made illegal. It was fascinating to hear their stories and drink tea with them.

There is plenty to see in and around Mrauk U, and after such a long journey to get there it would be a shame not to stay for more than a couple of days. I managed to fill four days and could have probably stayed another one had I not disliked the accommodation we were staying at. Sadly, with lack of any tourism infrastructure, most of the budget accommodation options in Mrauk U are the same – damp, overpriced, with bucket showers and without electricity for most of the day and night. Higher range options are better and some do have generators and proper showers, but they will set you back about $55+ a night per room.

Mruak U is Worth the Journey

Even with two years worth of Asian bus travel experience under my belt, the bus rides to and from Mrauk U are still hands down the most challenging I have ever endured. 24 hours+ crammed into a bus that was falling apart, with livestock and travel sick passengers, and nature’s own air con (i.e. the window) which meant a face full of vomit from the said travel sick passengers in the seat in front. It was tough, yet the hardships of getting to this pretty town in the lesser-known Rakhine State of Myanmar were worth it for the visual rewards and distinct culture that still thrives here.

Mrauk U is too often overlooked by those travelling in Myanmar, as it is so far from everywhere else and requires more effort and planning. But that is really part of the charm of this little town; the authenticity of it is a rare find, especially in South East Asia.

Things to Know:

  • With a bicycle and a bit of know-how of what you want to see, it is easy to get around and to enjoy this different part of Myanmar. There is a scatting of shops where you can rent a bicycle for a day and get local advice. Double-check the tyre pressure and that the seat is secured properly before handing over your Kyat.
  • You can get to Mrauk U via local bus from Yangon or Mandalay. Prices vary but start at around 3,000 Kyat. Be prepared for a long journey; take snacks, and a head torch for when you need the toilet.
  • There are guides in Mrauk U, however it’s not always clear where to find them. There is no tourist office or visitor centre. The best way is to ask at the reception of a few guesthouses along the main road who they recommend.