Around the World at 80 Proof
by John Delach
Part 3: Kula Lumpur, Paris and Home
Our early Saturday morning flight to Kula Lumpur on a Philippines Airlines 727 was uneventful as was checking into the KL Hilton. We waited in the lounge to be delivered into the dubious care of Champagne Tony D, Paul’s successor as station chief in KL. Tony was another professional Brit ex-pat who had previously spent time in Hong Kong and Seoul, South Korea. But, unlike Paul who maintained his colonial aloofness and distanced local culture, Tony prided himself on his assimilation. In addition, he was certifiably insane. Paul never drove totally depending on Manu, his chauffer and favorite whipping boy. (Little did Paul realize that Manu, a wise Indian national, kept track of all of his hours including waiting time, which he faithfully submitted to the company. Over time, this made him one of the best paid employees in our KL office. Not only that, Manu used all of that time waiting for Paul to study local real estate where he made several killings.)
Manu’s earnings declined appreciably under Tony who used him sparingly preferring to chauffer himself most of the time. He fetched us from the hotel Sunday morning for a tour of the countryside, sacred caves, the jungle and scenic overlooks. Our tour included an impromptu stop at a roadside stand to sample a vendor’s coconut juice. Tony picked a dirty stand on a dirty road where he eagerly selected a coconut. The local vendor retrieved his machete from the mud, rubbed it with a dirty rag sliced and chopped a hole into the top of the nut. He extracted three opaque colored glasses that he swished with water that failed to alter their suitability. Tony did the honors and poured the juice. Then he offered a toast “cheers” and downed his share. Alan returned his glass to the stand while I poured mine onto the ground. Unabashed, Tony beckoned us back to his car and continued to drive around like a mad man.
We did have dinner at his home and his wife, Jan, a lovely lady who served an excellent meal. Anchor, the local beer, wasn’t bad either. Tony led the conversation telling us the glories of his previous posting in Korea. At one point he asked Alan, “Have you ever been to Korea?”
“No, no, the closest I got was Japan.”
Blithely ignorant that this happened in 1952, Tony continued: “Oh, dear Alan, what a shame. You really should have pressed on to Korea.”
Alan shook his head, “Tony, I don’t think so, when I was in Japan, people were doing their best to kill each other in Korea.”
We spent three days at morning meetings, lunches, afternoon meetings and dinners, a schedule not unusual for road shows back then. The lowlight was a presentation that Alan was asked to make to some association of junior insurance people on the subject of marine claims. Not an uplifting topic to begin with, the presentation was scheduled for after lunch on a hot afternoon in a room that was better suited for a three lane bowling alley. Alan’s audience was a sea of young Chinese and Malaysian guys and gals all dressed in white tops and dark pants or skirts. The awful audio quality in the room was compounded by Alan’s low gravely voice. The result was a disaster that couldn’t end quickly enough. Thankfully, there weren’t any questions.
Other than that we broke even and got out of KL without further incident. We flew first class on an MAS, (Malaysian Air Systems), 747 that left KL at 11 PM. We both slept most of the way to a scheduled stop in Dubai and I didn’t even leave the aircraft to wander the terminal during our layover. The trip from there to Paris was livelier and I realized that the Malaysian air hostesses were playing a game to see how much we could drink. Alan was drinking Scotch and water and his drinks turned progressively darker and darker as the flight progressed. I was drinking vodka so there wasn’t much they could do to me that I couldn’t detect.
We did have a scary moment over the Alps shortly after it became light. Sitting by the window, I first saw a dot straight out from our flight. As it grew, I recognized it to be an aircraft flying perpendicular toward us. It seemed to be at the same altitude and I quickly said, “Alan, look, this is going to be close.” With that, the jet was above us and gone. But I can report, I was able to tell it was a Swiss Air DC-10, Registration Number SW 22941, the pilot had blue eyes and his name tag was Hans Serbil!
When we arrived in Paris later that morning, the giggling stewardesses looked at us in awe and said, “You two can really drink!”
A cold, wet day greeted us on our arrival at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Neither Alan nor I had ever been to the City of Lights before and the only reason we stopped there was to break the journey. This concept had seemed like a good idea when I was putting the trip together; to have a rest stop along the way, but reality demonstrated that such breaks just provided additional opportunities to get in trouble…and so it goes.
After recovering our grips, we made our way to a taxi stand where I showed the dispatcher the name of our hotel together with an appropriate tip. Even so I was surprised by his efficiency in procuring the taxi for us and dispatching the driver to our destination, Hotel George V. Being rookie travelers, neither of us had a clue that we were booked into one of the finest Paris hotels. We arrived too early to check into our rooms so we dropped off our bags and made our way onto Parisian streets. We walked along the Seine, to the Isle de la Cite peaked into Notre Dame de Paris and enjoyed a light lunch at a local bistro before returning to George V where we both enjoyed marvelous naps before readying ourselves for an early dinner and a night to sample the touristy things first-time visitors do in Paris.
We picked one of those restaurants that caters to unsophisticated diners by using menus with photographs of the food. For all I know the bouef et pomme frites I ordered may have been horse meat. Ordering a drink was easier. I looked at an ad posted on the wall, raised my hand to my mouth imitating a drinking motion and said, “Becks.”
Our first stop was the Moulin Rouge for their early show then on to Le Crazy Horse Saloon for their cabaret performance. Good clean touristy fun, we were home before midnight, had one or two at the bar for the ditch then off to bed. One last 747 the next day, an uneventful and, needless to say, a quiet flight home to JFK on TWA.
I don’t exactly recall how long it took to recover but it countered the old saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I can now add, “Not always.”