Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Truth can, indeed, be stranger than fiction. Often it is more interesting than your everyday run-of-the-mill Monday. In the case of Bob, there are just too many incidents to remain untold. The real Bob isn’t interested in telling them unless he’s sitting with a small group of friends in a relaxed situation. But I’m going to change that. These are too good to lie dormant.


In ”A Thousand and One Nights”(”Arabian Nights”) an Asian king, wishing to protect himself against his women’s faithlessness, decides that he will kill each woman who has spent the night with him. The daughter of Scheherazade, one of the king’s ministers, tells him a story each night which requires her to continue the story the next night, and the next night, until he has forgotten his original decision. The minister's’daughter saves her own life and the lives of the other women in the harem.

In suburban New Jersey in the 1950s, Bob saved his own skin in the same way.

He began attending a new school, and every day the two school bullies selected a new victim to beat up. After lunch in the cafeteria, all the students had to move out to the playground. Away from the supervised lunch room, the bullies could operate freely.A victim was chosen, and the two older boys moved in on the unfortunate student.

One day Bob realized it was his turn. Out on the playground the two bullies scanned the crowd of kids for a fresh victim. Bob felt their gaze fix on him, and he saw them approaching. He had to think fast.

Instead of cowering in the dust and accepting his fate, Bob took the initiative. He met the boys with a ”Hey, you guys, have you heard about the….?” – and began the first of a long series of stories which would entertain others. The bullies listened with interest, and when the bell rang and the teachers herded the kids back inside, Bob was not yet finished with his story.

The next day the process repeated itself, and each day Bob grew less and less afraid of the two bullies. As for them, they became more and more interested in hearing the daily continuation of the running saga Bob had begun days before. Eventually Bob made himself an object of their appreciation instead of their cruelty.

It’s the same story as the comedians who avoided trouble by making fellow classmates laugh. Or the charmers who appealed to the vanity of the bullies. The others had to take their punishment and be relieved that their ordeal, in most cases, was over after one round.

A friend of mine, while out riding his new Triumph Bonneville 650 in 1970, stopped at a scenic overlook in the hills east of San Diego, California. As he gazed out across the landscape, he heard the unmistakable distant thunder of a pack of Harley-Davidsons approaching.

It was too late to make his getaway, and, as fate would have it, the motorcycle gang pulled off the road into the parking lot. Instead of being a potential victim with an English motorcycle, surrounded by greasy Hell’s Angels, he singled out the alpha male and walked right over to him at once. Without hesitation, Andy started in with a litany of praise for the leader’s motorcycle, and for the motorcycles they drove in general. He followed up with a score of questions to demonstrate his interest and to give the wolf pack an opportunity to start talking about what they liked most in life.

Andy listened intently, ignoring his own motorcycle. The members of the motorcycle gang gathered around to follow, interspersing the conversation with comments of their own. Within a half hour Andy had almost become an honorary Hell’s Angel, and when the gang and their women roared off down the road, Andy was still in one piece – as was his Triumph.

Bob had been much younger when he achieved his own feat of diplomacy. He continued his storytelling, and at the same time began a life which lent itself to stories. Bob has lived on three continents and traveled extensively on many more. He is not a missionary, nor is he a hero, an explorer, a mercenary, or a spy. He merely has wanderlust, and is not afraid to explore places and situations which others would perhaps shy away from.

This, then, is the story of an extraordinary story-teller with a bag full of stories to tell.

Air Male

The scarf around the neck, the goggles, the open cockpit and the biplane. This is the image we have of a World War One aviator, or perhaps a circus aviator, a cropduster, a Lindbergh or an Earhart. But no, this deals with Bob’s stint in the United States Peace Corps while in the West African country of Liberia.

Liberia got its name from African slaves in America who had received their freedom and had formed a nation of their own in Africa. The capital, Monrovia, was named after the American President, James Monroe. Over a century later, the USA was sending in Peace Corps volunteers to shore up the faltering infrastructure.

Bob was one of the them. The year was 19.. and the climate was hot and humid. Kind of like summer in New Jersey, but without the air conditioning. There was a beach, not unlike home in New Jersey. But that’s where the similarity ended. This was real Third World they were dealing with.


The new main post office in Monrovia was a joke. It had been constructed to service the large number of customers. The twenty service windows would cut down on the long lines, and help provide efficient service. That was the theory.

In reality, seventeen of the windows were unmanned, while the remaining three windows serviced lines that were just as long as before. Nothing changes, and that which changes does not always change for the better – in spite of appearances.

Take the case of the aviator with the goggles, sitting in the open cockpit of his biplane. He was the pilot of the sole airmail craft in Liberia. Oh, he was a hero to the populace. Wherever people lived, no matter how far from the capital, no matter how isolated, as long as there was a large-enough clearing or soccer field, he could put that little plane down there and deliver the mail to the waiting throngs. And with luck, he could take off again and fly to the next village or town.

The plane was one of two which had been left behind by the Americans after the end of World War Two. It had been used to spot enemy submarines off the coast, and as parts ran out, one of the two craft was cannibalized for parts so that the other might survive.

The fuselage consisted of a fabric skin stretched over a framework body. The skin consisted of numerous patched remnants of different types of fabric, and when a hole appeared, all that was necessary to repair it was a new patch of material, a needle, and a length of thread.

Whenever it approached a village, the inhabitants could hear it coming. The single engine produced a drone that was instantly recognizable, even to the children. All the villagers ran to the landing field and gazed up into the sky to spot the bumble bee of an aircraft which slowly began its approach, coasting and tilting its double wings, and always seemingly barely making a successful landing.

The crowd was always full of excitement, for with the arrival of the mail came the arrival of fresh hope or renewed acquaintance, good news or bad, or the news of a government appointment in the faraway capital. Love and grief and excitement arrived with the mail, and the aviator was indeed a popular man.

Like a sailor, he had a woman in every ”port.” And because of the unpredictability of his aircraft, he was often delayed by ”engine trouble” and forced to spend the night and the next day in whatever village he happened to have female admirers. As long as the mail arrived, the arrival date was not so important. When it happened, it happened. When the bus came, it came, and there was not schedule posted by the roadside. Twenty or more people might create their own microsociety while waiting for two or four hours for a bus that might or might not arrive. And so it was with the aviator. Yes, life was good.

A Gift to the Postal System

The Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas, USA learned of this situation and generously donated a new aircraft to Liberia to replace the present wartime biplane. It arrived in crates, along with two mechanics who accompanied the unassembled monoplane.

Within a short time the new aircraft was assembled and running, and the aviator was put through a training course. He readily mastered the skills required, and was soon off on his duties again – this time in a snazzy, efficient new aircraft.

But alas, this improvement spelled the end to the good life for our aviator. From that moment he was a slave to the schedule of the Postal System. There was no longer any need to spend the night and the day drinking, carousing, and relaxing. Now the airplane was instantly ready to fly on to the next village, and the next village, and the next. There was no time to sit and talk or even to relax. The schedule had to be enforced.

The mail was now more regular. And the aviator tensed his jaws and fixed his gaze on the horizon, speeding away across the expanse of green below, on his way to the next village.

The Three Wife Club

As told to Mark Mattison

Monday, December 6, 2010


Do you think deaf people slur their words when they’re drunk and sign? I feel like that here in the Ukraine when I’m in a bar filled with beautiful women and one in ten speaks English.
Since man first began to walk erect (I walk erected everyday here) and his primitive communicative system began to develop, I’m sure that’s one of the first things they organized.
Why in the South of France, some of those famous cave paintings actually show what looks like a caveman and woman, lying on a Sabre-toothed tiger skin in front of a fire, exhausted, spent, trying to smoke a stone after sex.
During the course of an evening, surrounded by a sea of women, I feel like the Ancient Mariner: “Women, women, everywhere and not a one speaks English…
I the Cro-Magnon man learn quickly. My new haunts have replaced bars. One, which has reaped (I didn’t say raped) a Cornucopia has been going to bookstores and perusing the English book section of the store. Not only do they speak English, but also they are also well read (at least they’re red after I talk to them)
The other is the University student center and cafeteria. Have a coffee and read Newsweek or a book. Works very well…
The third and final trick is old. This is always keeping a map of the city you are in, quickly available. When you see your target, pull it out (the map you ninny!!) and ask where you are. You can also try a twist on this trick, and that is to have a map of another city, they get really confused, I do this often….Gives you more time with them before they get their bearings…
Well as I said Stranger than Truth…..

“People are strange, when you’re a stranger…..
Faces look ugly when you’re alone”
The Doors

Ranger Bob signing off,

Kiev, Ukrainia

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Today is the 1st of May and has always been the biggest holiday of the Soviet calendar. A workers holiday the world over, the first of May was actually introduced by Adolf Hiltler, the day before he abolished all of Germany’s trade unions.
I’m staying at the Hotel Dnipro right on Khreschatyk and Kiev’s “Red Square”. Russian marching music being played so loud, perhaps so that the old veterans can hear it or to drown out the rhetoric gushing from the other speakers?? Many of the old men have on their army uniforms or suits and have so many medals hanging on their jackets; they could easily be recycled into complete washing machines or dishwashers!! Here 90% are old people and their signs are hand painted on old cardboard boxes, their red flags with hammers and sickles are faded almost pink and worn on the edges. The main parade led by a fleet of rusted Lada’s and Moscoviche’s. The picture’s I took here should have been black and white and colour on the other square.
The other square around the corner is facing the monstrous Hotel Ukrainia, where I stayed last time. It could not be more different here.  Everything is yellow, being the colour of the ruling reform party. Giant plasma screens show the speakers and  the pretty girls handing out flyers, yellow balloons for the kiddies. Their parade was lead by top of the line BMW’s and Mercedes’, the music was modern Ukrainian pop.
The ruling party need only to walk into the nearby Metro station or the pedestrian underground crossways to see “Pravda”(the truth). Old women selling 3 potatoes in torn and worn out slippers, many more just begging, young women with babies begging, perhaps only a scam, then the oppositional political spin doctors have done an excellent job setting up this scenario.
Perhaps the ruling reform party has forgotten one thing. Like the old man sitting with more medals than Bresznev ever had, sitting fiddling with his hearing aid. Perhaps the truth of the Ukrainian economy falls upon deaf ears in the ruling party. They seem to have instead of turning their swords into ploughshares, have turned their swords into colour televisions.
As for me I feel a bit schizophrenic walking from Red Square in to the lobby of the 4 star Dnipro Hotel. But, yet again, maybe I should go back down there, as the Young Bolshevik Brigade had some pretty girls in tight red T-shirts, perhaps I should get some volunteers to “Liberate”  my room on the 12th floor, rip out the flowers on my balcony and teach me to plant a victory garden, or at the very least sow some wild oats for the revolution, while playing the International full blast!!!!!

This is Ranger Bob signing off

Kiev, Ukraine

Friday, March 26, 2010


The speed boat to Koh Lipe from Langkawi is fast… 4 x 225 horsepower engines.. It’s an hour earlier in Thailand and the trip is an hour long, so for the 25-30 passengers the trip is over in about a minute and a half.

Immigration in Malaysia was a breeze, people there are so relaxed, smiling and yet efficient. I guess that’s what English schools and Cadbury will do to you after a few generations. The Thais are relaxed too, so much so that it takes over an hour for 25 passports to be processed…

We had booked in at the Sanom Beach Resort, now remember the word resort… what does it conjure up in your mind? Koh Lipe is fully booked for Chinese New Year weekend and it’s getting very popular now late into the season. We had friends who helped us. Their friends run Sanom Beach Resort. Boy and Jeng are the friends. We looked down the beach, it didn’t seem too far. Now Rangerette had a backpack so big and heavy that we could have had the entire crew from Avatar in it. Why don’t they just fly us over? She’s muttering at the bag, never again, never again…

It’s hot and we finally get to the other end of the beach and find the bamboo walkway around the rocky shoreline. Now I’m big and heavy and I’m carrying two bags. The sweat is pouring down and we start over the rocks with pounding surf beneath them. Now Indiana Jones would have thought twice about the cracking and moaning bamboo slats we had to maneuver. Lara Croft would have run in terror and hid in a temple. But no, Ranger Bob and Rangerette move on and just before Ranger Bob passes out, we make it to the other side. We are at a small secluded beach totally isolated, yet so close to the most popular beach on Koh Lipe. A beautiful sandy cove, ringed with trees for shade. I start looking around for Leonard Di Caprio, where’s the camera ? We find Jeng, he tells us Boy is outside our bungalow up on the mountain… Argh! I had just caught my breath, and now we have to hike up the hillside to the top and meet smiling Boy who shows us our bungalow. Now remember the word Resort. After leaving the beautiful Temple Tree Resort not more that 4 hours ago, this was a big change! Woven bamboo mat walls that you can see light through, a bed as hard as Devil’s Island. And, dah da! There’s no sink, only a toilet and a shower hose. Going out the door to talk about our circumstances with Rangerette on the terrace, I step out and go crashing through the floorboards.. Now we are in a pole house on the side of a mountain, the drop is steep and ends in those big rocks with the bamboo walkway below. Rangerette says, the view is great, we have a deal. Boy is smiling, and promises to fix the terrace immediately, which he does. I promise to lose about 20 kilos within the next few hours, which I don’t. We also find out that there are steps going down just in back of our bungalow, Dah!. Leaving our very humble abode, we throw our things in our room, change to swim modus and are down the hill in a flash, where we find cold beer, shade and a beach… All is forgiven …

That evening, we dined at our favorite fish restaurant Daya. Tiger prawns, the size of the adults on District 9, shells to delight the Queen of the Netherlands, and squid to tickle the fancy of Captain Nemo…afterward wander down the beach to watch the fire show and drink some cold beers on

Monday, March 22, 2010


It’s a short flight from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi. We flew Air Asia, the Ryan Air of the Ricelands… we used them several times and thought they were very good, friendly and service minded. We even had excess baggage with us on the way home( a 12 meter long   reclining Buddha), no problem...
We stayed at the Temple Tree Resort, as I had been ogling their website for ages and couldn’t wait. We arrived at the reception, which is an old merchant's villa with a covered verandah. We had a cold drink and were told about both Temple Tree and Bon Ton -- the more established sister resort next door. After a friendly chat, we were taken to our room or rather rooms. Though we booked a regular room, there is an entrance, a lounge, our room, a huge bathroom with water fall shower and our own walled in courtyard with a wooden tub and shower and sun loungers. I’m sure our mouths were open…We were not disapointed… We stayed in Colonial 2

The Temple Tree and Bon Ton Resort are the well-managed children of an Australian named Narelle McMurtrie. She started Bon Ton about 11 years ago and Temple Tree only three years ago. She collected old houses from all over Malaysia. The villas at Temple Tree are between 70-110 years old. But the reconstruction is superb. The ventilation carvings, the colors, the high peaked ceilings are gorgeously restored, but never to the point of overindulgence. There are paddle fans on the ceiling, but all are also cleverly air conditioned. It was more than 40 degrees when we were there in Febuary, and we appreciated this nod to modernity and comfort.

That evening we enjoyed cocktails at the Bon Ton with tapas appetizers, to die for rock lobster satays with peanut sauce and a crisp glass of Riesling.Watching the sunset over the rice paddies with the surprising appearance of dozens of lotus flowers, we felt pampered and privileged. A fantastic three course diner followed, mmmm…. Oh,the pleasure…the pleasure.

Now T.T and B.T. have three wonderful pools. Both resorts are inland and about 10-15 minutes from the beach. The kind staff will take you there, and you can take a taxi back for 8-10 MR($2). This is where the shopping is, but also a decent beach and beach clubs to hang out in. Pssst! Langkawi is duty free, so beer is cheaper than coca-cola. But back to that gorgeous sunset over the rice paddies....

The B.T. treats its wine with respect: It has an enormous wine room -- both air conditioned and with wine refrigerators showing proper temperature and humidity. I was impressed at the selection. It was a little Australian top heavy, but otherwise some very good wines at affordable prices. After not having decent wine in Melaka ,

Ranger Bob kicked off his snake boots and enjoyed the pleasure of Bon Ton's bountiful grapes with the Rangerette that evening.
Oh, the horror… the horror… thinking about the cold and snow we have to face when we go home …
It's taken me two years to put on the weight to play the sequel, Kurtz didn't die and it's based in Afghanistan, they rebuild the Bamiyan Buddhas........ Blah! Blah!

Late to bed, early to rise. Speedboat to Thailand was scheduled for the very next morning....

Thursday, March 11, 2010


It is the year of the Tiger, and the eponymous beer company seems to be the major sponsor. We hung out in a place called Geographers Café on Jin Hang Jebat, a corner location with outside seating and icy cold Tiger drafts. The food, the service, everything seems to work at this place. We especially liked the Nasi Lemak here, which is the national dish of Malaysia.
Rangerette had her fortune told by a parrot. The guy lets it out of the cage, and he has a stack of cards, he says her name, and the bird picks a card, he keeps this up until the parrot doesn’t pick anymore. He thereafter reads the message on the card, which luckily for us was one of good fortune and some money coming in!
The Karabau Rock bar was our alternative late night bar, very local and friendly place. They have live music on the weekends.
Every Friday and Saturday the Jonker Street Night Market is held. Early in the afternoon they start setting up the stalls, and by the time evening falls you can hardly walk down the streets of China Town. They have everything from soup to nuts, sewing needles to deserts that glow in the dark. They have creams and ointments, that will either make your skin soft or you can wake up in the morning looking like the Elefant Man. We liked the Hawker food stalls. We started at one end and ate our way up and down the streets. From Dim Sum to deep fried eggs in batter, we ate dried meat that was grilled(rougan), baby squid grilled on a charcoal grill, Mmmm! My favorite are Pao(steamed pork buns), giant dim sum. Rangerette's favorite was a concoction called Cendol, made of of shaved ice, with green day glow jellies, syrups and coconut milk, looks digusting but tastes, well, less disgusting. By this time, Rangerette started, she said “Ranger Bob you keep grazing like this, and they’re going to start Homesteading on your butt”…“Hate to plow that lower 40” I retorted…
Sitting in an outdoor café, we watched the colorful trishaws decorated with plastic flowers and blinking lights. Some even had disco music. The people go by on motorbikes with their jackets on backwards as protection from the cool night air and insects, it’s quite quiet, laid back and calm for a major Malaysian town…Life is good, but where am I going…Guess I’ll take another Tiger by the tale

Chinese New Year was packed everywhere, but I thought we would see dragon dancing and firecrackers exploding all over the place, but alas not one… Apparently, the way to celebrate is to eat a giant meal with your extended family. Every restaurant in Melaka was booked by out of town Chinese from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. The young people go out and drink in cafés and bars afterwards. We sat at the Geographers Café and made friends with an Australian couple. Both taught at universities. Her hobby was singing, and she sang with the one-man house band and belted out incredibly good renditions of many, especially Tina Turner.
They have these beer girls, from the different beer companies. They go around to the tables at the cafés and try to get you to order their kind of beer; they keep pouring the beer as fast as you as you can drink it. In Malaysia, they are very discreet, but in Vietnam, they are a nuisance, too pushy. We ate dinner at the new boutique hotel called courtyard@heeren I had earlier in the day checked out their rooms which were fantastic. The suite especially, with an inside/outside bathroom with Balinese shower at 300 MR was a bargain. The restaurant, on the other hand, was a great disappointment. The food was less than mediocre. My chicken was dry and Rangerette had a pasta that was so small it wouldn’t fill a dwarf in a Fellini Film! My advice: Book the room and eat elsewhere until they get it together in the kitchen…
We stayed out until the wee hours, but knew we couldn’t let completely go, because we were taking an early taxi the next day back to Kuala Lumpur, or KL as the natives call it. We were flying to the island of Langkawi on the Northwest coast of Malaysia. Rangerette and I retired, after two New Year parties within 5 weeks. We were ready to move on and start the Year of the Tiger.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Waking up in the Puri Hotel, Melaka, Malaysia at 5 a.m., I can hear the sound of the mosque. The first thing I see looking up at the ceiling is the brass arrow that points east towards Mecca so you know which way to pray. We are in the middle of Chinatown, and yet the sound travels across the river to our hotel. I’m sooo jet-lagged, feeling like I woke up inside a plastic dry cleaning bag with a mouth that is so dry, and tastes like horse blanket puree. As I stumble to the bathroom to wash my face I look in the mirror and I have a red circle on my forehead telling me“ You are Here”, just like you see on the maps in shopping Malls, but my mind is saying no, I’m not… I’m not here…it’s just a misplaced security baggage marker from the airport.
As it turns out, I am here, and enjoying every minute of it. There’s a heat wave on, over 40 degrees, so we have coffee and get an early start.

This very quiet Malay sultanate was invaded, bought , sold and traded many times over by invading foreign powers. The first was Chinese Muslim Admiral Cheng Ho, known as the “three jewelled eunuch prince”, castrated when he was 13, he wasn’t about to start a dynasty... After him came the Portuguese, Dutch and the British.
We decide to climb to the top of the city hill to St. Paul’s Church-- a long sweaty climb to the top. Built by the Portuguese in 1521,the church is a ruin, only the walls remain, filled with very large grave stones with Latin, Portuguese and English script., Some have whole families on them, mother, father and all the children who died from the fever. There’s a very calm and peaceful feeling standing up here on this hill, a nice breeze with a 360 degree view of the city and harbor below, hornbills, myna and parrots in the trees provide the background.

We then go to Muzium Rakyat “The People’s Museum”. The first floor is a top museum, and lengthy descriptions of the local sport of gasing uri (top spinning). The second floor is devoted to kites, mostly Malaysian. The third is the reason to come, known as “The Museum of Enduring Beauty”, here are displays and photographs of every type of mutilation that humans do in order to look good. From tattooing, brass neck rings, scarification, lip plugs, corsets to make wasp- waisted women and of course bound feet .

By this time, it’s so hot already that the trishaw drivers try not to make eye contact,. Instead we have a cold drink, I recommend the chilled coconuts, very refreshing. There was a picture in The Strait Times, of the Orangutans in Melaka zoo getting 5 showers a day instead of their normal 3, it was so hot I wish I could join them. One banana, two bananas, three bananas… bunch!

We return across the river to Chinatown, the World Heritage part of town is compact and walkable. On our way back Rangerette stops in her tracks, sputtering “There a crocodile in the drainage sewer”, turns out to be a rather large Monitor Lizard ( 1.5 m), just keeps walking unperturbed by us. At the Puri Hotel, Rangerette has booked into the Spa for her Valentine's Day gift. She’s about to get a full body scrub with sea salts and wrapped in seaweed and God knows what else, maybe tickled by Capt. Nemo and a Humboldt Squid…. She returns flushed and refreshed, a new woman, well almost. In the meantime, I go wandering off in the heat of the day. Being neither mad nor English, I seek a cool place to wait out Rangerette’s Herbal Makeover( Buy the way quite a bargain by European prices) I find my oasis, it’s a Café that has ponds under the tables filled with fish about an inch long and they nibble the feet and toes, their mouths are like small fingernail files and exfoliate the skin. I drink cold Tiger draft beer and let the fish do their pedicure work. I now know why there were so many people without feet in front of all the pubs in Melaka, you don’t want to stay too long. It's like a fishy opium den.