Scenes from the Asian road – 3

Delhi. I am travelling in a tuktuk to a conference venue with a young American colleague who is profoundly deaf. He is possessed of a wild shock of red hair. I tell him to expect a lot of attention in a country where black is the new black when it comes to hair colour.

I regale him with a tale from my student backpacking days in Thailand, when my mate and I (both redheads) hired a motorised canoe to travel a section of the Mekong. The young crew were fascinated with our ginger body hair and kept stroking the hairs on our arms as they shared their bottle of Mekong whisky. (They were deeply disappointed that I and my Scottish-born mate did not immediately start coughing and spluttering as the fiery brew did it’s work.)

My tuktuk companion is clearly skeptical as to why I would be counting myself as a member of the ranga brethren, given that my hair is almost completely white. So I offered to prove my bona fides by showing him that the curtains didn’t match the drapes that still adorned my nether regions.

Due to my colleague’s disability, the entire conversation has been conducted at a level of many decibels and this final revelation almost steers the tuktuk driver into a nearby canal.

Manila. I am returning from visiting The Enchanted Farm, a social enterprise and farming community on the outskirts of Manila. I begin to discuss families with my hosts, starting with the woman who is their leader. She tells me how much of an inspiration her mother continues to be. I ask after her father and she tells me he is dead. I express my sympathies and she tells me he was shot dead in front of her as a small child when he unwittingly opened the door to members of a rebel group. She sees the look on my face, laughs, and says ‘Yes, I know, it’s a real conversation stopper’ and then instructs the driver to stop for cool drinks and snacks.

Approaching greater Manila, gridlock sets in and, knowing that my hosts’ homes are a long way in another direction, I insist in getting out and finishing my journey by taxi. It soon becomes apparent that my driver is as drunk as a skunk but at the pace we’re moving I figure my life is hardly in danger and the driver is very entertaining.

About then the many cool drinks consumed during the afternoon start to insist on being removed from my bladder. There are no public facilities and progress towards my hotel seems minimal at best. Eventually we get there and when I try to pay him he says the note is too large for him to change. I know there is an ATM beside the hotel so I leap from the cab and head for it. Thinking I’m about to do a runner, he chases me yelling at the top of his voice. Fortunately the hotel concierge intervenes and assures him I will return with his money.

I return with smaller notes (try remembering your PIN when your bladder is about to explode), pay the cab driver and sprint towards the hotel lifts. All ended well, dear reader, but I feared for a long time that I may have done myself a permanent damage.

Jakarta. I am attending a gathering hosted by a multinational corporation for their charity affiliates around the Asia-Pacific region. A select group is invited to have dinner at the ‘top table’ and I grimace as I find myself seated opposite the CEO of a competitor on our patch in Australia. To say that I loathe and despise this man is an understatement by any measure. He attempts to ingratiate himself with the hosts by loudly announcing his intention to visit my home State and asks me to escort him around some of our fine vineyards and sample a few of their products. I smile graciously and make a mental note to research whether rat poison is detectable in red wine.

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