Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Unintended Consequences

By Chester Campbell

The so-called Law of Unintended Consequences is usually quoted regarding some unfortunate occurrence that came out of a well-intended action. In my case, however, the results were quite favorable all the way around. The case in point was a month-long junket about the Far East my wife, Alma, and I took in the spring of 1987 with our younger son and his Korean wife. Mark had just completed a tour as an Army Special Forces team leader based in Okinawa. He had spent most of his time helping train Special Forces troops in Thailand. We arranged to meet them in Seoul to begin our wandering journey.

I had retired a couple of years earlier from the Air Force Reserve and took a month off from my association management job (from which I would retire a couple of years later) to make the trip. With my new retiree ID card, we decided to travel space available to South Korea. At the time, it cost $10 each for the transportation. We flew commercial air to San Francisco and took a bus to Travis Air Force Base, the jump-off point.

C-5 Galaxy

Our experiences on the trip over would fill an article in itself, but I'll make it brief. We flew one afternoon to Hawaii on an Oklahoma Air National Guard C-130, lounging on web seats like paratroopers. After an overnight stay near Hickam AFB, we caught a C-5 headed for Tokyo. If you're unfamiliar with the aircraft, it's a monster, the largest flown by the USAF. Its cargo hold can carry five of the Army's huge Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and it has seating for seventy-three passengers on the upper deck. Looking out the window, you're nearly sixty-five feet above the runway. You have to climb spiral stairs to get there. I tried to swing Alma's carryon over my shoulder, but they said she had to be able to carry it herself. Though in the early stages of Parkinson's Disease, she made it like a trooper.

We overnighted on Guam for crew rest, then flew on to Tokyo the next day. After a few hours at the Military Airlift Command terminal, we caught a C-141 bound for Korea. Landing there, we spent the night in Suwon, then met our son at a Seoul hotel run by the American military. Although the calendar said early spring, the weather was cold. Our first visit was to the home of our daughter-in-law's parents in Inchon, the port city on the west side of the capital. It was a typical home of Koreans who shunned Western styles and lived as their ancestors had for centuries. Shoes were left at the entrance door and we sat on pillows on the floor, which was heated by ondol,under-the-floor brick flues that carried the warmth from a wood fire in the miniscule kitchen.

Mark and I Pun had married a few years earlier when he was stationed at the DMZ (demilitarized zone) separating North and South Korea. It was the only place where soldiers got combat pay at the time. The wedding was a civil ceremony. She took advantage of our visit in 1987 to have a full-blown ceremony at a Wedding House in Inchon, a place with chapels, room for many guests, and a videographer to record the event.

The visit to a Korean home and the wedding ceremony turned out to be among the unintended consequences of that trip. At the time, I didn't think of our tour as involving research for novels. It would be the middle of 1989, when I retired from the Tennessee Association of Life Underwriters, that I started to tackle the job of mystery writing in earnest. The first two manuscripts I wrote found a home for many of the locations and events I encountered while roaming about the Far East.

One of the more fascinating places we visited that I used in the second book was Chiang Mai, Thailand, which was known as Chiangmai back then. The first place my character saw on his arrival was ours also, the Top North Guest House. It catered to trekkers who were accustomed to roughing it. As a Ranger-qualified Special Forces officer, Mark had found it quite adequate on previous visits. We were used to a bit more upscale accommodations, but we toughed it out. The room had only enough space for two single beds. Jalousie windows opened on either side, and a large ceiling fan loomed overhead. Chiang Mai wasn't as bad as Bangkok, where the temperature hovered close to 100 degrees, but we didn't need any cover at night.

Steps to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

We were fascinated with the local transportation, which was mostly a device called a samlor, a three-wheeled motorcycle with a canopy and a bench seat in back. The slang term is tuk tuk. We puttered around town on them, and for longer ventures took a samlor, literally "two benches." It was a pickup truck with a wooden bench on either side. That was our conveyance when we visited Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, the famed Buddhist temple high up the mountain west of the city. Getting there from the parking area required ascending 290 steps flanked by the undulating forms of naga, or serpentine, balustrades. Dragon-like multiple heads reared up at the base of the stairway.

I used all of this and more in the book titled The Poksu Conspiracy, much of which takes place in South Korea. I'm currently revising the manuscript with the intent of putting it up as an ebook. The first book featured a later part of our trip when we visited Hong Kong. During the month we went from South Korea to Okinawa, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Manila in the Philippines. I shot scores of color slides, which helped greatly when I took my characters on their fictional journeys.

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Jean Henry Mead said...

Sounds like quite an adventure, Chester. My husband was stationed in Morrocco and later Dover, Delaware, where he took me on a tour of a C-124 cargo plane that could have housed two Greyhounds buses side by side. I couldn't imagine how something that huge was capable of getting off the ground, let alone staying airborne.

Chester Campbell said...

It was quite an experience, Jean. One twist on the C-5 passenger cabin is the seats face backward rather than forward. On the C-141 we sat next to the cargo. In the article I didn't mention anything about our stay in Bangkok, which was quite interesting. Maybe another blog.

June Shaw said...

I love this journey, Chester, and can't wait to take it in your upcoming book!