Eurasia: Austrian Express

This is the eighth installment of a story chronicling my travels in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 20 countries in Europe and Asia.

Wednesday, March 2, 1994

I stood freezing on the platform at the Rosenheim train station awaiting the train to Austria and chilling under the bright morning sun too cold to warm the air. My frozen breath swirled thick over the tracks at the platform’s edge. Bystanders waiting nearby chatted with hearty laughs.

“How can they be so cheerful at a time like this?” I grumbled to no one. Shivering, I let out a faint cheer when the diesel train with a handful of passenger cars chugged into the station and screeched to a halt in front of me. It waited long enough for me to toss my life on board before taking off again. Pausing in the sheltered breezeway, I cupped and blew on my gloveless hands to warm them. The frosty air trapped inside my jacket and pants rebuffed attempts to unthaw.

In a passenger car filled with commuters, I found one seat next to a friendly, sixty-something German woman named Gertrude. She seemed excited to serve as my impromptu tour guide while the train chugged through the Bavarian countryside. A native to the area, she gave names in English to the scenic towns and villages, forests, meadows, and lakes that passed by. I marveled at how beautiful and orderly the southern German landscape was. Every town was like a Potemkin village and every farm a tourist showcase. Even the jagged, frosty mountains looked fashioned by hand. The grazing cows that shrugged off the cold weather seemed to have their own assigned places in the pastures; every forest tree planted by hand. Bavaria was like all the gorgeous rural scenes I’d ever seen rolled into one, from the grasslands of the Midwest to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the soaring peaks of the Cascades, with picturesque Alpine villages thrown in for good measure. Daylight painted Bavaria in a broader, more colorful brush than its reputation for beer, sauerkraut, and Oktoberfest.

bavaria 3

As Gertrude described her home, she piqued my curiosity about what life there must have been like in days past. Peaceful and pristine, Bavaria was once wracked by the tumult of two World Wars, instability, Nazism, division, and a Cold War. Fresh from reunification, Germany had only recently undertaken its most recent post-war transfiguration. For a moment I wished that I could have glimpsed the past through her eyes. She kept talking about the beauty of her country, unaware that my mind was contemplating the past as much as listening to her present.

Gertrude said farewell at her home village not far from the Austrian border. I smiled and bid her Tschüß. Once again, the luggage resting above my head was my sole company.

In the early afternoon, Austria appeared in the window as the German train ended its journey at the border. Reluctantly vacating the warm compartment for the brisk winter air, my belongings weighing me down, I felt like a penguin waddling on a frozen beach on the way to Immigration and Customs. A policeman and two plainclothes officers stopped me in front of the Salzburg train station and demanded to see my passport. Handing it over, the thought crossed my worried mind that they had singled me out for special scrutiny because I looked like a vagabond. The fear that they would strip search me or rifle through my bags nagged me. I stood stoically, silent, as they examined my travel documents. They handed them back a moment later and waved me on without a word. Out of earshot and across the border in Austria, my exhaled sigh of relief billowed like a cloud.

I barely made it on the train to Bischofshofen before it started moving. Winded and feeling fatigued, I sank into a seat and glanced out the window at my adopted homeland. The quaint city of Salzburg filled with baroque architecture evoked images of Mozart and The Sound of Music. Then it disappeared like every other beautiful place I had seen. Feeling a bit despondent, I lamented that the trip was so rushed it left no time to enjoy what could have been a spectacular visit.


As the train crawled eastbound through the valley away from the Alps, the rugged landscape crumbled and gave way to decaying terrain recovering from dormant strip mines and unsightly factories strewn between the towns of Leoben and Brück an der Mur. The grayish Mur River followed the train like a shadow. Uniform pine trees marched by like a dispassionate military parade.

The village of Bischofshofen was little more than a quick stopover to catch the train from Vienna to Graz. As I sat alone with my thoughts at the deserted rail platform, loneliness and longing for my fiancée weighed on my mind. The realization that she wouldn’t be waiting dawned on me as my final stop drew near. We wouldn’t see each other again for six long months until our reunion on the other side of the world in Shanghai, China. No one, friends or family, would be there when I arrived in the city of Graz. Nothing would be the same for the next six months. This unfamiliar world promised to be new and different, yet the newness would undoubtedly grow old.

Time crept to a near standstill in the late afternoon as the train I caught in Bischofshofen approached Graz. It coasted casually into the Hauptbahnhof train station as if it didn’t have a care in the world. The city spread out and fell away from the train window into a valley where the old town clustered below a tall hill adorned with a clock tower. The view seemed to shimmer in a postcard panorama lit up by the sun peeking through the clouds. Seeing my adopted home for the first time triggered the same emotions — anticipation, weariness, impatience, curiosity, and frustration — that I felt when I touched down in Europe.

Suddenly, the city disappeared behind a grassy knoll. The train slid into the station and ground to a clanging halt, an unceremonious end to my journey. Home at last, I thought.

Graz (small)

To be continued.

Previous installments of Eurasia:

1. Leaving America

2. Vancouver to Frankfurt

3. Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)

4. Adventurers in Frankfurt (Part Two)

5. On to Munich

6. A Respite to Rosenheim

7. Rosenheim, Germany

Images of Bavaria courtesy of Microsoft. Photo of Graz property of M.G. Edwards.

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clip_image0013M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Eurasia: Rosenheim, Germany

This is the seventh installment of a story chronicling my travels in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 20 countries in Europe and Asia.

I stepped onto the deserted platform at the Rosenheim train station at almost midnight, the only soul in sight. Silence greeted me until the train roared back to life and disappeared into the night bound for Austria. The bright lights on the platform cast a long shadow over my silhouette. An unexpected feeling of loneliness hit me even though I had been traveling solo for days and miles. For the first time, I was truly alone.

train (small)

My friend Brigitte had promised weeks ago to meet me at the train station in Rosenheim, Germany, a small town 60 kilometers outside of Munich, on vague assurances that the midnight train would arrive on time. It passed through town like clockwork, but in spite of Germans’ penchant for precision, I second-guessed whether our timing or communication was messed up. Across the tracks was a small, brightly lit building with nary a soul. Maybe she was waiting there.

I hoisted my duffel bag on my shoulder, now wrought with painful sores, and dragged my luggage along the platform and into the pedestrian tunnel under the tracks. Emerging inside the station, I looked anxiously around for anyone who resembled Brigitte. My heart raced faster as my eyes scanned the open building but saw no sign of her.

A cold breeze blew through the porous building. On a freezing February night, the frosty air nipping at my body warmed by a heavy jacket and the friction created by unwieldy baggage, I dreaded to think what would happen if she didn’t appear. Perhaps I could have found a cheap youth hostel or waited in the train station until the attendants kicked me out. Freezing outside on a cold winter night was out of the question.

I left the station to look for her and noticed two women waiting outside near the main entrance. One looked like an older version of the six-year-old photo of Brigitte in my wallet. Waddling toward them, I asked, “Brigitte?”

She answered with a warm “Ja!” What a relief! After a long trip half way around the world from America to Germany, I was more than ready to rest. We hugged and greeted each other in a mixture of English and German. Brigitte introduced her mother, who ushered me into her small red Renault hatchback. Somehow, my luggage found room inside the tiny trunk. My not-so-svelte frame wiggled its way into the back seat of their car; tight but a sight better than braving the cold in search of cheap lodging.

As her mom drove slowly on icy roads through the quiet city, Brigitte asked me about my trip and initial impressions of Europe. Her wide eyes listened silently in the darkness as I recounted the journey and adventures along the way in Germany. An occasional chuckle escaped her lips. Curiosity nudged me to steal glimpses of Rosenheim. Its orange lights twinkling like little fires offered limited visibility in the darkness. The car’s dim headlights cast black shadows on the road.

We pulled into the driveway of a house not far from the train station. The dim exterior of the split-level home painted in ghostly hues by the porch light was eerily similar to that of an average American home. I trundled out, pulled one suitcase from the car trunk for my overnight stay, and followed Brigitte up the slick driveway to the front door. The interior of her home was rustic with a detached foyer, polished stone floors, and wood-paneled floors reminiscent of a Bavarian hunting lodge.

“This is cool,” I murmured as my eyes wandered around the house. I fought the urge to explore its corridors and look for secret passageways, coats of arms, and cuckoo clocks.

“Hast du Hunger?” Brigitte’s mom ushered me into the dining room and asked as if she had heard my stomach grumble.

“Ja, ich…ich habe Hunger,” I stumbled in German. She smiled with a look that said thanks for trying. Brigitte sat on the opposite side of a stout wooden dining table that looked like it had been hewn from a single pine tree. Her mom reappeared moments later with plates of wheat and rye bread, ham and würst cold cuts, four types of cheese, and mineral water. It was a better meal than any I could have asked for at the midnight hour. After a day of airline meals and stale junk food, it was simply divine.

Clad in a bathrobe, Brigitte’s father walked into the dining room and joined us for a chat. We talked in English about life in America and Germany while my taste buds savored the würst. Hearing their stories of idyllic Bavarian life left me regretting I couldn’t stay longer to enjoy the nearby mountains, forests, lakes, and castles. An album of photos from home added color to my stories about life in America.

The conversation crept into politics. With Germany five years removed from reunification in 1994 and heading into one of its first elections as a united country, the family seemed eager to talk about how far they had come since the end of the Cold War. I vowed not to embroil myself in tricky political discussions as a house guest but gave into the urge to debate, a leisure sport popular in Europe.

Exhausted, we retired in the wee hours of the morning. Brigitte’s mom put me in a room with her 18-year-old sister Lisa, who slumbered peacefully. I slept in a different bed but felt awkward spending the night with an unconscious stranger I’d never met. Not wanting to fill the room with the less-than-pleasant odor clinging to my well-traveled body, I took a shower in the adjacent room and savored my first bath in ages. The mirror reminded me of the stubble on my face, but my shaver rendered useless by an incompatible plug, I let it grow until I reached Austria.

My mind wandered as my body sank into bed. Thoughts of places seen and people met — Francisco, Thomas, Koji, Brigitte, and others — drifted through my fading conscious like spirits in the wind. I had finally met a longtime pen pal for the first time. Brigitte was nice but quiet; I wondered if she enjoyed our brief visit or what she thought of me. Perhaps seeing for the first time the boy she only knew through pen, paper, and a single photo was surreal to her too. Our friendship flourished in the days before the Internet made communications instantaneous, when a message’s transmission speed depended on whether it traveled by ship or par avion.

I woke a few hours later feeling refreshed. Searching for my watch, I noticed the time “8:30 a.m.” reflect in my eyes. It was only a few hours before the midmorning train bound for Austria passed through Rosenheim. A soft light peeked through the window curtains. My fingers gently peeled apart the shades for an incredible view of the German Alps just beyond Brigitte’s back yard. The postcard-perfect scene of the jagged, snowy mountains and lush pine forests begged for a castle or ski resort. It would have been an ideal image for a jigsaw puzzle.

bavaria 2

I clenched my teeth knowing that I would soon leave this idyllic place and felt the urge to move in with Brigitte’s family. Looking around with a sheepish grin, I noticed that Lisa was already gone. She’d woken up to find an unconscious stranger she’d never met sleeping in her room. How ironic.

Rolling out of bed, I wandered to the dining room where Brigitte’s mom served a scrumptious Bavarian breakfast of toast, cheese and meat, bread with peanut butter and chocolate-hazel nut Nutella spread), and orange juice. What a life, I thought as I sat down next to my friend, who finished eating before leaving for work. Her father had already left with Lisa. As Brigitte stood, she smiled and said, “I wish you could stay with us longer.”

“I do too,” I replied. “Sorry the visit is so short. I hope we will meet again soon.”

We said a fond farewell, and then she was gone. I wished then that I had the foresight to give my friend something to remember the brief time we shared together.

Brigitte’s mom drove me to the train station after breakfast. Well rested, I enjoyed the return trip. Rosenheim looked beautifully Bavarian in the morning sunlight. The majestic, snow-covered Alpine mountains soaring above the town were breathtaking.

She helped me pile my luggage on the curb and bid me a fond farewell. I gave her a hug for good measure I hoped wasn’t too forward and waved enthusiastically as her red Renault drove away. I was the first American to stay with Brigitte’s family. I hoped the visit was a good one for them too.


To be continued.


Previous installments of Eurasia:

1. Leaving America

2. Vancouver to Frankfurt

3. Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)

4. Adventurers in Frankfurt (Part Two)

5. On to Munich

6. A Respite to Rosenheim

Images courtesy of Microsoft.

Map picture

clip_image001M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Eurasia: Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)

This is the third installment of a story chronicling my travels in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 20 countries in Europe and Asia.

After a 19-hour journey from the Western United States to Germany (26 counting the 9-hour time difference), I landed without fanfare in Frankfurt. The transoceanic flight, the longest flight I had ever taken, was uneventful and monotonous. I hoped that something, anything, memorable would happen when I reached Frankfurt, although I had no idea what I wanted to transpire. Perhaps some imaginary people could wait for me at the gate to welcome me to Europe or congratulate me for surviving my first long-haul flight, although I thought nothing of the sort would occur after I touched down. I should have been happy to be alive. Not that I was at a major risk of being involved in a plane crash, mind you, but it would have been just my luck for my trip to be cut short by death.

I landed at Frankfurt International Airport (Flughafen) at about 3 a.m. local time. The time difference messed up my internal clock. Even though I arrived at the wee hours of the morning, my head thought it was noontime, and I was wide awake. I knew that I would be worn out long before the end of the day and that inevitably drowsiness would set in sometime after noon. I needed to conserve my strength for the long day ahead and straighten out my days and nights as soon as possible. I was on a new continent and needed to get used to it.

Far from extraordinary, Frankfurt at first glance did not look much different than what I left behind in America. The aircraft landed smoothly and taxied from the runway to a stop on the tarmac far from the terminal building. Except for the German phrases on billboards and runway markings, Frankfurt’s airport seemed like any other. I bid goodbye to my seatmates, disembarked from the plane, walked down the airstair, and hopped on a shuttle bus that took me for a ride to the main terminal. It dumped me off at an entrance, and I went inside without fanfare.

I followed a herd of passengers to Immigration and Customs and waited my turn to flash my passport at an immigration official. He waved me on without a word. Although I didn’t need a visa to enter Germany, I was surprised that he did not make me fill out an entry form. Incredibly, I had more trouble entering Canada, where the Canucks bogged me down with declaration forms and confiscated an apple that I brought from home. (Never mind that the apple grew up in shadow of the Canadian border – disallowed). Passing through German Customs without so much as a cursory baggage check, I made my way to the baggage claim and waited more than 45 minutes for my belongings. There was something to be said about being held up by border control while waiting for bags to arrive.

At the baggage claim, I met a nice Hungarian lady waiting for her luggage named Rosa, who spoke a little German and even less English. I enjoyed talking to her with a mixture of German and hand gestures. The time passed quickly while chatted. Finally, my checked-in baggage spilled on to the conveyer belt and passed twice around the baggage carousel until I collected them. I had two oversized suitcases, a large duffle bag, and a carry-on bag that must have weighed more than 45 kilograms (100 pounds). While I should have grabbed an airport luggage cart, I opted instead to use my own luggage carrier that I bought for my trip. I piled the mound of bags onto it. The thin metal frame designed to accommodate far lighter bags groaned under their weight.

I pulled my poor luggage carrier aside and recounted my plan to travel from Frankfurt to Rosenheim, Germany, a city outside Munich where I would spend the night with a friend. I would depart by subway from the airport to the Hauptbahnhof, Frankfurt’s main train station. I would leave my luggage in a locker at the station and spend the rest of the day exploring the city before taking an evening train to Munich, where I would connect with another train bound for Rosenheim. With this plan in mind, I set off with my overloaded baggage cart and headed for the subway level.

My trip took a turn for the worse when my fragile luggage carrier broke as I tried to pull it into the elevator, spilling my bags on the floor. Embarrassed, I abandoned the elevator to reclaim my luggage. I groaned and pulled them out of the elevator’s path. I squatted next to the pile that had once been my carefully crafted plan and set my most important possessions — my passport, Europass train ticket, traveler’s checks, and plane ticket — on the floor as I contemplated what to do. In my distress, I forgot that I brought along a fanny pack to secure my valuables. Suddenly, I had to figure out how to transport two suitcases, a duffle bag and shoulder bag — virtually my entire life — hundreds of kilometers to Austria. The luggage carrier lay at my feet in a twisted heap. I thought about using an airport baggage cart, but it would only get me as far as the airport subway station. I wished I traveled light, but it was too late to shed all those things I thought I needed but could have done without.

“May I help you?” a voice asked me. I looked up and saw a man standing next to me. He was casually dressed in a t-shirt and jeans with a small shoulder bag. I immediately answered, “Sure, thanks.”

“My name is Francisco. I’m from Venezuela but live here in Frankfurt,” the man said, holding out his hand. I shook it and introduced myself. “Nice to meet you. Thanks for your help.”

Unsure whether he was trustworthy, I scooped up my papers and money and stashed them in my fanny pack. Francisco helped drag my suitcases to a money exchange office, where I changed U.S. dollars into deutschmark (DM), Germany’s currency until it adopted the euro in 1998. Francisco waited patiently for me. As I gathered my belongings to go by myself to the subway, he said, “Look, I’m going that way. Let me give you a hand.”

I appreciated the help and agreed, giving him a suitcase to carry. We took the elevator down to the subway level of the airport. I bought an all-day pass for the Frankfurt subway at a kiosk. Again, Francisco waited for me. We took the train to the Hauptbahnhof. As the train barreled toward the city, the nondescript suburbs passing by in a drab blur, my newfound friend explained that he grew up in Venezuela but came to Frankfurt to study architecture and never left. He spoke excellent English with a Spanish accent. When I asked him how he learned the language, he responded that he needed it to communicate with colleagues and clients from around the world.

Frankfurt 2

I started warming up to Francisco but was still on my guard for suspicious activity. Something about him gnawed at me. Perhaps it was because he was willing to go beyond the call of duty to help a stranger for seemingly nothing in return. I heard stories of tourists who were conned and fell victim to scams — or worse. Nevertheless, I figured that I was relatively safe accompanying him in a high-traffic area of a low-crime city. And his story seemed credible enough. He explained that he had dropped someone off at the airport and was on his way home. He needed to take a train home from the Hauptbahnhof and did not mind accompanying me. He said with pride, “Frankfurters are friendly people who go out of their way to help those in need.”

After we arrived at the main train station, Francisco happened to meet his friend Thomas, a German man with unkempt blond hair who was dressed in fatigues, strange attire for someone living in a European city. Their happenchance meeting seemed to be more than a coincidence. Thomas had a look in his eye that told me he was a streetwise sort. The fatigues made him look as if he were ready for jungle warfare. I could not help but be suspicious of my new acquaintances. I wanted to trust these would-be Good Samaritans but could not get past the nagging feeling that I was being set up. Francisco had one of my suitcases. I had to find a way to get it back and say goodbye before they separated me from my luggage — or worse.

I asked them where I could find the lockers in the train station, hinting that I wanted to go alone. My apprehension turned to distrust when Thomas said, “You have to be careful here, man. The train station is in a bad area of town where a lot of people get robbed. We can help you out.”

Alarm bells went off in my head. I needed to get my belongings and bid them adios as politely as I could, fast.

Click here to read the previous installment of Eurasia.

Frankfurt 5

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Eurasia: Vancouver to Frankfurt

This is the second installment of a story chronicling my travels in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 20 countries in Europe and Asia.

In February 1994 I waited at the international airport in Vancouver, Canada to board a plane bound for Frankfurt, Germany. Vancouver’s airport had a more international flavor than many airports in the United States, perhaps because its position as Canada’s gateway to Asia and francophonie influence gave it an aura de mystique. For the first time, I felt like a foreigner and an ignorant one to boot. I had trouble getting through immigration and customs because I didn’t know I had to fill out a customs declaration form when I first entered the country; I was lucky I wasn’t turned back by an overzealous official. Having lived most of my life near the U.S.-Canadian border, I always drove to Canada and had never experienced the rigor of flying to the Great White North. At the time, Canadian immigration officials at land border crossings merely asked you a few questions and waived you through without documentation.

Waiting in the airport terminal at the Lufthansa gate was a memorable experience for a novice traveler like me. Passengers waiting in the lounge spoke in German that I couldn’t understand, even though I had studied the language for more than three years. I wondered whether I was the only nonnative German speaker on the flight. The lounge was a small enclave of Germanity in a sea of English and French. Listening to German whetted my appetite for more, a desire I would fulfill soon enough after touching down in Europe.

I waited to board my first transoceanic flight to the Old World, trying to suppress my anxiety. There I was, stuck in limbo between the United States and my new home in Europe; a very lonely place. I did not know what to expect after I arrived in Frankfurt. It would have been easy for me to succumb to my fear of the unknown: the fear of having no one to meet me at the airport; of having to speak a foreign language to get around (of course, lots of Frankfurters–the people of Frankfurt, not hot dogs–spoke English, so that helped); of being alone in a strange new city; of searching for the main train station; and of getting settled in my new home in Austria. No textbook could have taught me what I needed to know en route to ease my trepidation. I was on my own.

Lufthansa finally put me out of my misery when they called passengers to board the flight. The aircraft gangway, where you submit your ticket and passport (and in later years, your carry-on luggage and body) for inspection, can leave you feeling as if you’re heading to the gallows. Add to that a fear of flying, and boarding a flight can be an ordeal. These thoughts crossed my mind as I handed the attendant my travel documents. She waved me through with a rushed smile, and I walked solemnly to the aircraft.

The flight from Vancouver to Frankfurt was as comfortable as a long-haul flight could have been. I enjoyed the experience of flying on my first twin-aisle 747 with its jumbo-sized cabin. I paced the aisles like a curious kid, testing the lavatories, gliding my hands across the smooth overhead storage bins, and checking out the snazzy controls built into the seat. That I felt like a country bumpkin was an understatement; I might as well have been raised in the wilderness the way this incredible feat of engineering dazzled me.

I met my seatmates, a friendly couple from Hannover, Germany named Rita and Ludwig. We spoke in a mixture of German and English, mostly German, which I enjoyed practicing after speaking English for most of my life. Returning from a two-week trip to “Havaii,” Rita and Ludwig recounted their visit to America and told me about their life in Germany. I have never seen anyone head-bang while listening to classical music, but Ludwig, a fortysomething fan of the opera, somehow managed bring out the purest essence of the music by gracefully bobbing his head. I wondered the airline had backmasked the Bach tracks! Rita and I chatted while Ludwig entertained himself. By the end of the trip, we were both ready to muzzle a three-year-old boy who had whined and screamed nonstop for over eight hours. Much to our chagrin, the angelic brat fell asleep during the final thirty minutes of the flight. I wanted to try out the Bill Cosby’s “Jeffrey” routine and wake the child up as we disembarked, but I was much too kind.

A novice traveler and poor college student unaccustomed to enjoying in-flight amenities, I took full advantage of it. I indulged in the “free” beer, wine, mineral water and in-flight entertainment is if I had never been treated to such luxury. There’s nothing like “free” movies and a pair of “free” headphones to excite a young guy. The all-too-familiar dinner was a choice of beef or chicken, salad, bread and rolls, shrimp, and a drink. I chose the chicken and beer. While the meal was forgettable, I enjoyed the beverages. Although I thought these amenities were “complimentary” at the time, I later realized that I had paid more than $1,000 for these bennies when I bought my ticket. At least the beer was wunderschön.

Click here to read the previous installment of Eurasia.

A Long Break

I spent the time during the holiday break studying Korean.  The department was kind enough to let me work one-on-one with two instructors who came into work during the break.  It helped me substantially improve my Korean conversation.  I wasn’t able study outside of class as much as I would have liked, but at least on Monday when classes start again I’ll be better prepared.  I have one month to polish up this infernal language, and after four days of tutoring I feel much better about my ability to meet the language requirement.  I’ll never complain about learning German, Spanish, or Chinese again (until I start learning Chinese characters again).

The death toll from the tsunamis rose to 116,000 after Indonesia reported that over 80,000 people had perished.  What a tragedy!  This is the single worst event in world history since the 1976 earthquake in southern China that killed more than 500,000 people.  I’m my American mind these events are unfortunately measured by numbers of casualties; in reality the situation is much, much worse than merely the death toll.  This will have substantial repercussions for years to come throughout the Indian Ocean Rim–devastated families, lost livelihoods, destroyed villages and towns, ruined local economies, international economic recession, a huge debt burden for donor and recipient nations.  The prospects just don’t look good.  This event does not impact the average American like 9/11 did because it didn’t hit so close to home, but in the coming years it will have just as much impact on the world as 9/11 did.  What a tragedy.

I’ve been following the Washington State Gubernatorial race very closely.  The Secretary of State Sam Reed (R) just certified Christine Gregoire (D) as governor over Dino Rossi (R).  Gregoire won the second recount, a hand recount, by just 130 votes out of 2.8 million cast.  Rossi won the initial machine count and machine recount by 261 and 42 votes respectively.  It’s been 8 weeks since the election, and this may continue to drag out in the courts for weeks or months.  The GOP is now calling for a revote.  Based on all the potential irregularities, a run-off may be the best option.  Most countries mandate run-off elections when a candidate garners less than a majority vote.  Most Washington voters agree that a revote is the best option based on a recent Elway poll.  It’s a tainted race, and no one can know for certain who won regardless of who becomes governor.  I suspect Gregoire will be governor because Washington State is heavily Democratic, but she will carry a burden that President Bush carried for four years after the 2000 Presidential Election–she will have won the governorship based on state supreme court rulings.  It will be interesting to see what the Republicans do in the coming weeks.  This was the GOP’s best chance in decades to win the governorship, but if they aren’t careful they will come off as spoilers.  The Dems were spoilers when they insisted on a second hand recount, a method that is inherently less accurate than a machine recount and prone to divination to determine voter intent.  The Dems took a risk and won–so far.  It’s politics at its worst, unfortunately.  A run-off is definitely the better course of action than conceding in a tainted race or dragging the fight out in court.  The best results are that it will shine a spotlight on the Washington State electoral process and hopefully improve it before the 2006 election.

The end of D.C. baseball?

My wife passed her Korean exam with flying colors!  She passed 2/2 in Korean in just 24 weeks (level 2 speaking, level 2 reading).  Congratulations!  She is a language learning star.  It’s extremely rare for someone to reach that level in such a short period of time.  Me, I’m stuck at the 1+ level with over 1 1/2 months left to go in training.  She definitely leveraged her mastery of Chinese and might not have been so lucky in a completely unrelated language like Pashto or Finnish, but it’s still an amazing accomplishment.  Hats off to her.  I can only hope to be at about 2/1 in Korean by February.  Maybe next time I can study German!

Is this the end of professional baseball in Washington, D.C.?  I even went out and bought my new Washington Nationals baseball cap to support bringing back to D.C. after the announcement was made in late November that the Montreal Expos were moving to the Nation’s Capitol.  Last night though the D.C. Council approved funding for a stadium with the condition that about half of it would be paid for by Major League Baseball.  Three months ago D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams had negotiated a deal with MLB to pay for a new stadium for the Nationals, but now MLB will re-open the deal and possibly cancel it unless the D.C. Council agrees to pay for funding.  I would really like to see baseball in D.C.  I love baseball and miss watching the Mariners at Safeco.  Rooting for the Nationals would let me jump on the bandwagon early while they’re still terrible.  I’m personally critical of public funding for ballparks, but in this case if Williams had been given the authority to make a deal to bring the Expos to D.C. the issue of funding should have been sounded out months ago.  If the Council was opposed to public funding then Williams could have changed the terms of the deal during negotiations.  A deal breaker after the team move has been announced is a lousy way of doing business and gives the city a huge black eye.  The 2004 election changed the Council’s composition, but the main instigator Linda Cropp is a holdover from the previous council and has been pulling strings behind the scenes to change the terms of the deal.  Now it looks as if the team will remain the Expos and could move elsewhere.  Oh well, I guess that Nationals’ hat will be a collector item.

I dropped off some food and clothing today for the marine guards and families of Foreign Service nationals at the Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Consulate.  A few of us worked together to put together a care package to send to them in the wake of the recent bombings.  It’s the least we can do sitting here thousands of miles away from the Consulate.  It should arrive before Christmas.