When I decided to write about our travels in Asia over a several-week period, I envisioned writing about the multitude of challenges faced by aging adults in an unfamiliar international venue. I am ever the optimist, but so far there have been relatively few difficulties.
As I say that aloud, my husband reminds me, "It would have been abundantly easier to travel to Angkor Wat when we were younger." But he's smiling when he says it.
Angkor Wat, the huge, eighth-wonder-of-the-world, stone temple built a thousand years ago and one of 90 temple sites around Siem Reap, Cambodia, is one of our primary reasons for coming to this part of Asia. We are unswerving in our love for this part of the world, but my always-the-realist spouse doused my ebullient-about-Asia spirit just a bit, even before the trip started, by reminding me that Cambodian temples require constant climbing over crumbling, uneven paths, and a day of temple-hopping in the hot sun can be extremely debilitating.
I had an early and positive sense of how our visit would evolve when we arrived at the Bangkok airport and observed an expedited ticketing line labeled "infant/disable/monk." There were very few saffron-robed monks in that fast-track line, possibly because they had already moved through quickly and were in the "Monk Prayer Room" also available to them at this busy airport.
We arrived in Bangkok at midnight on a Saturday, exhausted after 30 hours of travel, and I quickly realized Southeast Asia's 90-degree temperatures and matching humidity do not abate after dark. A large Asian city at night is a mass of lighted billboards and the same kind of swarming bicycle, motorbike and the small-vehicle traffic you see throughout the day.
In the muggy, early-morning light, we set out for an exploratory walk past the food venders who clog the garbage-strewn, hole-ridden sidewalks. Eating street food is risky, but the smell is incredibly seductive. What is far riskier, to the point of perilous, is crossing any street on foot, especially as the morning traffic swells. Always embedded in my mind will be the recollection of standing at a bustling, Bangkok intersection and witnessing countless young Bangkok families on motorbikes. It is typical to have a family of four aboard with an infant sitting in the lap of the father who is driving the motorbike. Another small child is tucked between the parents and the mother is perched (sometimes barely) on the back edge of the bike's seat.
Asian people are incredibly resilient and seem to accept impossible living situations and huge environmental difficulties with placidity. My husband has experienced Asian hospitality many times in his life, and I am now well introduced to what has become unfailingly true throughout the visit. Thai and Cambodian people are smilingly gentle-spirited and ever-courteous. Their enduring nature is represented by many behaviors, but for me most vividly by the persistence of street children selling woven-grass bracelets using persuasive English words.
Our positive Asian experience was further reinforced in an unexpected fashion when my husband experienced a minor health scare that required us to become acquainted with Bangkok's hospital system. The care was incredibly responsive and the situation quickly addressed. The large sign as we exited the hospital encouraged us to "Have a Good Health." Wherever you travel today, may that also be true for you.
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. You can reach her at 541-261-2037 or Sharon@hmj.com