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Just use your imagination

Round the world in 80 ways, with Grizzlies, Great Danes, Bach, The Beatles, and no air ticket

Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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INSPIRED BY THE JULES VERNE CLASSIC “Around the world in 80 days”, I decided to embark upon a perilous voyage of my own, an endeavour of epic proportions to boggle mortal minds. I would circumscribe the globe in just 12 days. The announcement had the desired effect. People everywhere, including the blokes at Ripley’s, went scrambling. The world was agog. Such is the power of lofty ambition. “We just don’t understand,” friends entreated. “What does circumscribe mean? Is it the same thing as circumcise?”

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And thus it was I commenced my 12-day round-the-world trip, clutching my Indian passport, standing in a long queue, at the US embassy, to get a visa. I would also need visas for Europe, Britain, Japan, UAE, and possibly my ex-wife’s home. In the end I travelled west, changing my clock five to seven hours every flight. My eyes sank so far back in my head, it seemed I was stranded in the Eurotunnel.

I have nothing against grizzlies who experiment on humans, but right now I was trying to watch a movie...

I lost my voice somewhere over Memphis – home of the King – en route to LA and was therefore at a loss when a six-strong family fed on caribou from Somewhere-Up-North-Where-Grizzlies-Mate-With-Humans, plonked down in front of me and proceeded to guffaw loudly, slap their thighs, and swap seats with an enthusiasm approaching seven on the Richter scale. I motioned for a stewardess. “Excuse me miss, is this 32F, or the San Andreas Fault?”

I have nothing against Grizzlies who experiment on humans but I was trying to watch a movie on the big screen. Right now, head craned to one side, I was trying to steal glimpses of half the screen in the hope that on a later rerun I could watch the other half and thus put the whole story in place. At one point a black-jacketed elbow jabbed at the left corner of the screen and something blue whizzed by. Seen that one? Perhaps you were too busy watching the WHOLE SCREEN. But that’s boring as you fail to get into the detail.

There 30,000ft aloft, I thought deeply about life and whether I should get hold of a small serrated plastic knife, the sort that airlines like to hand out to maintain the fiction of cutting bread, and to prevent terrible terrorist acts – like a long and dramatic family circumcision. The pilot announced he had to land. For fuel. Planes cannot fly without fuel. Fortunately he remembered this en route and not after we’d had to land in the Grand Canyon, which can be a bit dodgy, especially if you’re trying to watch HALF A MOVIE.

In Europe, lifts do not have "door-close" buttons. Can you imagine what this does to an average Hongkonger?

Round-the-world flights are far from seamless. Crossing over from a Cathay Pacific or a soft-focus Singapore Airlines to American Airlines is akin to having someone hit you over the head with a frying pan. Maybe I’m old fashioned but it appears to me that there’s a lot more work to be done out there before travel becomes a truly whisper-smooth global experience. But it is precisely these idiosyncrasies that enliven long journeys and give us the right to bore friends over dinner.

In most of Europe lifts don’t have “door close” buttons. Can you imagine what this does to an average Hongkonger? In Milan, in the shadow of the splendid Duomo, a bunch of rag-picking urchins came up to me out of the Dickensian winter gloom. My heart went out to them. So did the contents of my pockets. I was mugged in broad daylight. By kids. My air ticket was gone. But wait. Moments later, one of the urchins returned, hand held high, bearing an envelope. She thrust my ticket in my hand, smiled, and was gone. I didn’t know whether to call the police, or weep, hug her and adopt the whole bunch.

In Paris I was sniffed over by a humungous Great Dane, in a music store, in the classical section. Presumably his Bach was better than his bite. Later in London at my clapboard hotel in the whiffy armpit of London’s west, I contemplated spending the night in perhaps the ugliest building west of the Urals. It had been booked by a knowledgeable travel agent. The solitary phone was chained to the desk. It couldn’t be pulled to the bed. So I moved the bed closer instead. I fled Hammersmith in a fever of haste the next morning to continue my “circumcision” of the globe.

The world is different. Thank heavens. That’s why we travel, to experience difference. It will be a sad day when American Airlines offers tasty food, lap dancing and flights that depart on time. Till then use your imagination. Columbus did. He sailed west to discover India, imagining North America to be a sea. That was in the days before global warming. And in Tokyo at the Cavern Club the band sings The Beatles. “Rub me do”. Just use your imagination.

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