Saturday, December 31, 2016

Singapore

By Rob Watson

Back in 1977 Big Electronics Inc. sent me to teach computer repair to their customers in Southeast Asia. Recently a friend from Denmark went to Singapore and her Facebook pictures and comments reminded me of my own experiences there.

When I was told of my assignment, I began to think of one of my life's goals: to circumnavigate the globe. Singapore, as you may know, is exactly half way around the world from Texas, where I was working at the time. So I went to my boss and ask if he would mind if I went one way and came back the other. He replied that he would give me money for the fare for a normal flight and I could make my own reservations  to go where I wished, with me paying any difference. DEAL says I!

When I was making the reservations, the cost was somewhat more than $1,000 over what I had to spend. (that was back when $1,000 was a lot of money) When I asked the lady for my itinerary, I noticed I landed in New York an hour after I left London.

 "Say", says I, "that plane from London to New York  is moving right along."

"Yes," She replies, " I booked you First class on the SST." (The SST flew at just under 1,000 miles per hour)

"Well, what would it cost if I took a regular airplane?"

" Oh, About a thousand dollars less."

As I look back, I regret that I did not take the SST.

The flight over took 24 hours. I landed just after dark. A company guy was waiting for me and drove me to my hotel. The first thing I noticed was the cars there drive, at night, with their lights off. The street lights provided limited illumination... but we made it without mishap.

I arrived on Saturday. Sunday morning I found a church near the hotel and went to the service. I knew Catholic services were the same world wide, except these were in Chinese. Despite the differences in language, I realized I was not really that far from home... The alter boys all wore tennis shoes and blue jeans under their robes.

 I was introduced to my guide, and the plant manager, the next morning. The plant manager was a good old Texas boy and my guide was a young Chinese woman. She had been educated in England and had a degree in engineering. My class was made of 28 people from Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and one guy from Australia. I later learned that 6 of these spoke no English at all. I was disturbed by this but my guide said not to worry... so I didn't.

At this time I had made only one trip outside The US of A and decided I would only eat local foods. The cafateria had two areas, I ate Chinese food on that side... American food was served on the other side. The class thought I was strange, but they weren't the first. For breakfast the Aussi and I ate together at the hotel. In the evening, my guide, at my insistence took me to local, non tourest, resturants around town. The food was always great and different. We also ate at a "Food Court"... way before they were invented here. It was in a park and there were dozens of food booths. I loved it. I ate way too much. That experience has caused me to be disappointed by the ones in the malls here. The night before our last class, the manager took us all to an outdoor, all you can eat, seafood establishment. The 32 of us, 28 classmates, me, my guide, the manager and his wife, ate all we wanted, drank all the beer we wanted, and when the final bill came it was for $120 American. Whenever I remember these things, I want to go back, just for the food.

On the weekend I was on my own and went to see some of the sights around town. One was Fortress Singapore where they detailed the Japanese takeover of the area during World War II.

Over there, and I suppose in most foreign countries, there was an American enclave. Many Americans lived in this one huge, and very nice, building. The plant manager invited me over to his apartment for dinner on Halloween night. American kids were running around the place having a ball, all dressed in their costumes. As I was leaving, the manager pointed out that the Chinese were not into the celebration. They had placed little ...whatever... all around the building to ward off the "evil spirits."

I cannot say how much my students learned, but I had a blast. I was invited to stay another two weeks... and would have except I had scheduled my first Texas deer hunt for the week I returned.

On my flight back to the US we stopped over in Bahrain. when the plane came to a stop ti was immediately surrounded by heavily armed soldiers... to protect us from... well, I don't want to know.

I had planned my itenerary such that I would have a day to spend in London and go back to the Tower of London to take pictures. But, London was fogged in and we landed in Manchester instead. The airline put us on a train to London. On the train I went directly to the dinning car and ordered a meal. Because of this I was one of the few who got to eat. The train ran out of food. I got to the Tower about 4:30. The it closed at 5, so I ran around madly taking pictures and did not get to hear the Beefeaters talks.

The rest of my trip home was uneventful.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Boy Scout Fourth of July

By Rob Watson

For those who may not know, Boy Scouts is an organization made of a core of paid professionals. Their job is to organize the various units and recruit adult volunteers to run the units. A good portion of their money comes from the United Way and other charitable organizations. Each unit ( Cub pack, Scout troop, Explorer post) is sponsored by a local civic volunteer organization or church. Sometimes the sponsor will have more than one or all of the above. Most nations have their own Boy Scout organization, making Boy Scouts the worlds largest free youth organization.

I joined as a Cub Scout at the age of 8. I progressed through the ranks and earned my Eagle badge a few weeks before I graduated from high school. (for those who may care, the Eagle badge is one of THE markers for future success... All 7 Mercury Astronauts were Eagle scouts.) During my first semester in college I found a Boy Scout troop near campus and joined as an assistant scout master.

The highlight of each scouting year is 'Summer Camp'. One of the problems with getting every boy to summer camp is baseball Little League. The kids don't want to miss the games, so they skip camp. The other problem is money. Our scoutmaster was an exceedingly clever fellow. He became a Little League coach and drafted all the scouts onto his team. For game night the parents came and hauled the kids over for the games and back to camp again. For money, he recruited the kids of the richest family in North Louisiana... Problems solved. It was quite unusual for even one of our boys to miss summer camp.

About the summer before my fourth year of college, we took about 100 boys to Summer Camp with us. Friday night is the closing campfire for summer camp. The awards are presented, songs are sung, etc. When I woke up that Friday I realized it was the Fourth of July. On asking the folks in charge, I discovered there were NO plans for celebrating the day... Sad for an organization dedicated to God and Country.

I asked if they would mind if I could 'cook' something up. "Sure" was the response from the head guy. I figured, with a hundred kids, I should be able to get something going. One of the staff took me to the library of a large, nearby city. There I found a one act play on the debate over the Declaration of Independence. I made several copies and headed back. At camp I handed the copies to the Senior Patrol Leader, a kid of about 16 and told him to "Make it Happen"

In the mean time word got around camp that things were in the works and I was approached by a member of the Louisiana National Guard. It seems he had, with him, a 'supply' of flares,  hand-launched star shells, and a few simulation hand grenades, along with a very large American flag.

It went like this: After the regular events of the final campfire, an Indian Chief announced the play. As the actors paraded onto the set, a simulated grenade went off out in the lake, with a big bang, a flash and an impressive column of water. Five seconds later a second went off nearer to shore, then one went off at water's edge. These were followed by a flare igniting the logs for the campfire.

As the play reached its climax, rolecall of the colonies voting YEA for independence, across the lake, 10 flares ignited to illuminate the huge American Flag, while the sky was illuminated with exploding star shells.

Thanks to a dedicated 16 year old kid and the Louisiana National Guard, I have heard that was the best Fourth of July they ever had at Camp KiRoLi.

( only trained adults handled the fireworks)

Monday, April 11, 2016

More Civil War Reenactments

By Rob Watson

If this is the first time to read some of my stuff you might look through the list on the right for other Civil War Reenactment pieces.

I expect Civil War reenacting will eventually become boring. But this passed weekend did not contribute to that expectation. First, I read about the events and movements of the original battle. This contributed to my understanding of how the reenactors were trying to recreate history. In one respect it was a little silly. In the original, a good portion of the Confederate forces were cavalry fighting mounted against three thousand Union cavalry; represented today by three guys on horses in gray against seven guys in blue. As one might guess, cavalry is a very expensive proposition. Along with all the equipment, pistols, swords, leather goods, and uniform, there is the horse and it's equipment, transport, and upkeep. Hence, the small numbers.

In sitting about the camp talking, I steered the conversation to larger reenacting events… because I would really like to go to one of the big ones. One of the guys, who has been doing this for 30 years, told of going as infantry to Franklin Tenn. He and 9,000 other reenacters, in gray, formed a battle line facing 6,000 in blue. They formed rank after rank after rank, marching across an open field toward the Union position. He said, for the first time, and strongly, he began to feel the emotions that must have been in the souls of those men and women of that former time… fear, pride, determination, duty, urgency, desperation…

Saturday’s battle lasted 50 minutes, instead of the usual 30. We fired 24 of our 25 rounds. (For safety reasons we do not fire if anyone is within 50 yards in front of our cannon.) Otherwise we would have fired them all… the worry was if Sunday lasted as long, we would run out entirely. (only 25 more rounds were back at camp) We were saved the embarrassment by a lost child. On Sunday, the organizers halted the battle after 40 minutes to search for the child… who was shortly after found.(a deputy later told me a total of three had been reported as lost and eventually found.)(the other fact: the Sheriff's Deputies were unpaid volunteers!!?)

The battle was halted by the organizer shouting over the amplified sound system: "Cease Fire, Cease Fire, Resurrect!" The dead arose and reformed with their units. Several discharges continued for a few minutes as cannon, rifles, and pistols were cleared and made safe. Then the participating units were announced... all of them, blue and gray alike, were from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. (for my foreign readers, All these are Southern {Confederate} states.

 Another interesting note: one crew brought a small mortar. They must have been using a heck of a powder charge because it made a heck of a boom. I wanted to see it worked but they put it at the far end of the firing line. The other cannon were between us. I snuck a peek or two when I could, but it was on the ground and all I saw was the smoke from the blast. From time to time a regular cannon will make a large smoke ring when it fires. This mortar made one nearly every time that I saw.

As I sat waiting for the battle to start I noticed one of the three ‘Tom Green Cavalry’ was riding an interesting looking horse with white writing on it’s neck. So, I wandered over and started a conversation. When I asked about the writing he told me the Bureau of Land Management had done it.

Do you recall news reports of the BLM horse rescue? It was an effort by the BLM to reduce damage to western lands caused by “wild” (read escaped) horses. In this program BLM would round up the wild horses on a segment of their land and offer them for sale, on the condition they not be sold to slaughter houses. (thus reducing horse meat for dog food and sale to foreign countries)… Anyway the rider had gotten the horse from the BLM.

From several feet away, the horse looked big but not tall. A closer look showed it has rather short legs… otherwise a handsome animal. It seemed totally unconcerned by the noise and activity around it… Infantry, standing a few feet behind, frequently clear their rifles by popping caps in them… so, I asked how the owner accustomed the horse to the noises of the reenactments. His reply, “Black Cat Firecrackers”

He said he tied the horse to a post and saddled it. Then he lighted the firecrackers and tossed it away to one side or the other of the horse. At first, the horse jumped and kicked, but after several bangs began to settle down. After a while the horse seemed to shake off the noise. Then the man mounted the horse and continued with the firecrackers.

As we talked, the horse sidled over toward me and began to swing it’s head over to me, ignoring the riders efforts to move him back into position. I began to scratch it’s ears and pat its face. Wife said I looked like I was petting one of our cats.

When there were pauses in my activities during the battle, I would watch this horse. Cannon before him, cannon behind him, hundreds of rifle discharges all around, and his own rider blasting away with blank pistol rounds, the horse went where directed and never seemed disturbed by the noise.

Which brings up a memory from Pleasant Hill four years ago. A cavalry rider had fallen ‘dead’ and was holding the reins of his horse. The ‘dead’ rider had to keep rolling around on the ground to keep from being trampled by his very nervous horse. Eventually, another cavalryman came and lead the horse away so the dead rider could rest in peace.

Before all this was the playing of The National Anthem. It was played to a slow beat by a single violin and accompanied by a guitar. For both Wife and I, it was very moving. If you have ever seen the Ken Burns Civil War series, the background violin is very similar… mournful without becoming a dirge.

Until next time, keep your powder dry.