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Tag Archives: Orient

Afghanistan Oriental Oblong Poppy Snake photograph

The photo shown below was placed on a WordPress blog by one of the most professional, most articulate and most prolific photographers among the legions of photographers on WordPress, and for that matter on any of the other blogs as well. I was intrigued by the plant and by the numerous comments generated by the photo, several of which apparently regarded the image as being other than normal and included such expressions as I have a dirty mind, and at first I thought it was slightly inappropriate. The plant also reminded me of something, not inappropriate but something I felt would be of interest to my viewers. I posted a comment on the photo and requested permission to use the photo on my blog.

This is my comment on the photo—it includes my request to the photographer:

One of the most curiously shaped denizens of the world of plants, one that perhaps Alice of Alice in Wonderland fame would label “the curiousest one of all.” At least I believe it was Alice who said that, but maybe the Queen said it. That’s an interesting photo of an interesting plant. It—the plant—seems be walking a tight tightrope, trying to maintain balance between looking dangerous and looking comical. For some reason I feel that it is driving me towards a posting of my own. May I use the photo for my post? You have my word that I will shame neither you nor the poppy plant.

This is his reply:
Of course you may use it, and I never for a moment thought you might shame my shot.

And this is the photo:
Click here for that post and click here for his latest blog post.

Judging from the numerous comments on this photo, it appears that for some of your viewers it apparently reminded them of something other than a poppy bud, and I believe I know what that something is. This plant—if it is a plant and not a snake— has an uncanny resemblance to the Oriental Oblong Poppy Snake found only in Afghanistan—that name is derived from the oblong shape of the animal’s head and the fact that the snake migrated from the Far East—the Orient—many centuries ago. Being familiar with the poppy snake, I recognized it immediately in the photo, but then I read the post and the blogger identified it as a simple poppy plant. Although I was not completely convinced, I will admit that it is probably nothing more than a look-alike of the poppy snake. One can readily see the danger posed to poppy gatherers by that resemblance. I suppose one could be smuggled into the United States because Customs inspectors of today are not nearly as effective as I when I was engaged in the profession. However, any attempt to smuggle in one of those serpents would necessarily be a dangerous act. Living always in the open among the poppy plants, the snake does not like close quarters and it would have been a life-and-death menace if smuggled as a body carry—one lick and it would mean certain death for the smuggler—and for the snake, of course, but that would be little solace for the dead smuggler.

Natives that have been stricken—licked—by this snake invariably shout Oops when it happens, possibly in an effort to warn other workers of the snake’s presence. Oops is an acronym comprised of the first letters of the four words in the snake’s name, and Oops is the last word spoken by those unlucky enough to be stricken.

This is an extremely rare animal that lives and thrives in the endless fields of poppies in Afghanistan. This snake does not bite its victims but simply licks, usually and understandably on a hand, finger or on the wrist, and one simple lick is always fatal, both to the licker and the licked. The licked one will die from the snake’s venom, and the snake will die from exposure to the licked one’s skin, regardless of the licked one’s age, skin color, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, political leaning or religion.

Yes, in answer to your question, most deaths caused by this snake occur during the poppy harvest season. Harvesting is a slow process because each plant must be visually examined closely before it is touched, because the Oriental Oblong Poppy Snake—Oops—rears its ugly head up and balances on the tip of its tail to imitate a real poppy plant.

Harvesting is so dangerous that some workers opt out of the harvest and volunteer to don a shiny new explosive vest under their outer clothing and agree to mingle among crowds of people and then explode the vest at a time most appropriate to kill the maximum number of people, a deed necessary to allow the wearer after death to mingle among seventy-two virgins in the after-life, virgins that will always remain chaste regardless of the number of times they are mingled among, and regardless of the number of minglers mingling among them.

This is the world’s most dangerous reptile. One lick by this snake would kill an African Black Mamba in two seconds, and bring a full-grown elephant to its knees in three seconds, and death would occur in the next two seconds, a total of five seconds from lick to loss of life for the pachyderm. As for humans, they barely have time to say Oops, and are dead and rigor mortis has set in even before they hit the ground. There is no anti-venom available, neither for the licker nor for the licked.

One can clearly identify the snake by its small tongue that can be seen in the photograph, slightly protruding in the ready-to-lick position, similar to the s-shape position assumed by rattlesnakes ready to strike. This animal has only one eye, but that eye can rotate and cover a full 360 degrees of vision, a field even wider than that of rabbits. The Oops’ eye can clearly be seen at the top of his head, slightly off-center to his right. Yes, this is a male Oriental Oblong Poppy Snake, readily identifiable by the overall shape of its head and its small nose, located slightly off-center to his left.

Note to burstmode: I intended to post this as a comment on your blog, but because of its length WordPress would probably consider it spam and throw it in the trash pile, and people would not learn about the Oriental Oblong Poppy Snake and potentially lives could be lost, particularly among tourists traveling to Afghanistan during poppy harvest time. Thanks, and a tip of the kingly crown for posting the photo and allowing me to use it on my blog. It gave me the opportunity to discuss one of the rarest animals on earth, found only in Afghanistan and only in the poppy fields. Should those fields be eradicated, the species will quickly join the ranks of extinct animals and mankind will be the worse for its absence.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to  it.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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A two-week boat ride to Japan . . .

In 1950 I traveled from San Francisco to Japan in 14 days, and back to San Francisco in another 14 days, with a considerable amount of time spent in Japan and South Korea between the trip to the Orient and the return to the United States, somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 months. Fifteen of those months were spent in bad neighborhoods—they were spent at Taegu in the south and Kimpo in the north, two of our US airfields in South Korea during the Korean War.

I refuse to call it a conflict. It was a war, one in which more than 40,000 members of our armed forces died during four years of fighting—that qualifies it to be called a war, not a conflict.

I traveled by bus from my mother’s home in Midland, Texas to Alpine, Texas, then by train to Los Angeles and up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. The month was April, and the trip up to San Francisco—a distance of almost 400 miles—with the blue Pacific Ocean on the left and the green mountain slopes on the right was memorable. In San Francisco I boarded a ferry and was taken to Camp Stoneman. I was quartered for a week or so before boarding another ferry to the Port of San Francisco where I boarded an army troop ship bound for Japan.

Camp Stoneman, located in the city of Pittsburgh some forty miles from San Francisco, was a staging facility for military personnel traveling to foreign destinations to the east from the Port of San Francisco. Arrivals from oversea assignments and those departing for such assignments traveled by ferry to and from the Port and Camp Stoneman. Opened in 1942, the camp was shut down in 1954. Click here for images of Camp Stoneman and its brief history.

We departed for Japan on the USS Daniel L. Sultan, a U.S. Army vessel named for an army general, a ship that on this voyage would be loaded with 5,000 troops, 500 dependents and an indefinite number of cats and dogs, pets of the dependent members. When we pulled away from San Francisco, we headed north instead of west to pick up the dependents and their pets in Seattle, Washington.

My brother Larry, an army Warrant Officer, was stationed at the Yakima Training Facility and I obtained permission to debark in Seattle—yes, debarking, that’s what they called it—in order to make a phone call to him. No, I did not have a cell phone—they had not yet been invented. Our conversation was brief, limited to expressions of how are you, how have you been, how is everyone else, where are you going, and good luck.

On my return to the ship I ran afoul of the Officer of the Day, the worthy that stands on deck by the gangplank to greet boarders, to inquire as to their reason for boarding and to ascertain whether contraband is involved in their boarding. I had no problem answering the questions, but I committed a serious breach of military protocol.

As any sailor knows, when one boards or debarks a military vessel, courtesy must be given by saluting the United States flag flown by the vessel. I had been briefed on that courtesy and I saluted accordingly, but I was chastised—chewed out—by the Officer of the Day. It seems that I saluted the prow of the vessel instead of the stern. I had been below decks ever since boarding the ship and had no idea which end was which, so I took a guess—I guessed wrong.

Other than that, the two-week voyage was uneventful. I was seasick for the first two days and spent a lot of time hanging over the rail, and I learned to gauge the wind—one had to watch one’s output closely because one’s output had a bad habit of almost reaching the waves and then riding the wind all the way back up, often to its origin. I learned early to heave and then quickly step back from the railing. Some others weren’t that lucky. There’s an old joke that goes like this: The admiral asks a young sailor if he has a weak stomach, and the sailor says, No, sir, I am throwing it just as far as the others are.

Every GI on the ship had a daily detail. Some worked in the galley, some in the heads, some did laundry and various make-work tasks, but I was one of the very privileged—I was assigned to the poop deck detail. No, not that poop deck, not that flat-roofed cabin that is erected at the stern of old-time ships for storage and to serve as an observation point. The word poop is derived from a French word poupe, meaning stern, the back part of the ship.

No, my detail involved poop, the real McCoy. People with pets were required to exercise them every day on the rearmost part of the top deck, and the poop naturally followed. Every morning the call came over the intercom—first a series of shrill whistles, then came the words, Now hear this, now hear this—sweepers, man your brooms, clean sweep down fore and aft.

I never knew what was swept down at the fore, but I learned over two weeks about sweep down aft. It wasn’t that bad, though. There was always a strong breeze, if for no other reason than the forward motion of the ship. We used high-pressure hoses to wash down the deck, and we used the brooms to loosen poop reluctant to go into the Pacific Ocean.

I was quartered on Deck 4C, four levels below the top deck and three compartments aft of the head, or latrine. My bunk was second from the floor in a tier of four canvas bunks stacked from the floor to the ceiling. I was lucky because the fellow in the bunk above me was slightly built. The unlucky ones were those with a heavyweight sleeping in the bunk above them. In some cases, it was difficult for them to turn over without bumping into the weight hanging above. Bummer!

Speaking of the head—it’s at the extreme front end of the ship, but it would have been far better situated for use had it been located amidships. The bow of a vessel rises and falls with every wave, and one that is urinating must be ready to stop and restart the stream as the bow rises and falls. If not, one will be hitting one’s shoes as the bow rises, and splattering the wall as the bow falls.

If you have traveled on a ship you’ll understand what I mean, and if you have not, just ask any seasoned sailor how the system works. In the event of heavy seas, one would be advised to perform the act in a seated position—not very manly, but much safer and much easier on one’s shoes—and the wall.

We arrived at the Port of Yokohama, Japan two weeks later and docked in a harbor festooned with jellyfish. Just form a vision of Monet’s ponds covered with lily pads, then multiple it by thousands, perhaps millions, and you’ll have a vision of the Yokohama harbor.

A short time later—oops, let me rephrase that. The words short time have a very different meaning in military lingo, so I’ll say that a bit later a dozen or so of us were on a GI bus headed for Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo in Northern Japan. The bus ride, Yokota Air Base, Fussa and Tachikawa merit a separate posting—stay tuned!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2010 in Military, Travel, wartime

 

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Third time is charm—but not always . . .

In March of 1969, I had the privilege of taking a 13-month tour of South Vietnam with all expenses paid—my tour began in the the capital city of Saigon and ended at Da Nang Air Base in April of 1970. While at Da Nang I made two week-end visits to Hong Kong. The first was rather harrowing, but turned out okay. To read my posting on the first flight click here.

The second week-end trip was even more harrowing, and I wisely declined  all invitations for additional trips. Had another aircraft been available—another model a bit less vintage, I perhaps would have returned—no, belay that—the only circumstance that would have gotten me on a third flight to Hong Kong would be the imminent fall of Da Nang to North Vietnamese regulars. In that case I would have made a third flight to Hong Kong on any conveyance that could get me off the ground, whether on the Gooney Bird, in a lawn-mower-powered ultra-light or under a parasail towed by a child in a rowboat.

This posting will reveals the details of the second flight, details that would cause anyone, particularly my mother’s youngest son, to forego a third flight to Hong Kong.

Saturday dawned bright and clear at Da Nang, South Korea on a day in 1969,  and we lifted off for our flight to Hong Kong, the star of the Orient. We were ensconced in a C-47 transport plane affectionately nicknamed Gooney Bird. Powered by two reciprocating engines, our Gooney Bird was assembled in the late 1930s or the early 1940s—a durable bird, but not exactly a state-of-the-art conveyance. However, its age and its continued use by the United States Air Force were testaments to its reliability.

Our flight from DaNang to Hong Kong was routine, uneventful, with nothing to portend the nature of our return flight to South Vietnam. We arrives at Hong Kong in mid-morning and passed the the day shopping—I purchased a a reel-to-reel tape recorder, one of the finest units available at the time, along with a plentiful supply of tape, some jewelry for my wife, and a wooden model of a Chinese junk—the recorder was junked, the jewelry is part my wife’s heritage to our three daughters, and I’m still stuck with the Chinese junk—it’s still accumulating dust and it’s still an eyesore. I can’t decide what to do with it—I’ve offered it as a present to several people—all expressed their appreciation of the offer, but none accepted it. I hate to give it up, and I hate to keep it—bummer!

But I have digressed—back to our return flight:

We left Kong Kong in mid-morning on Sunday. Our flight was routine until a short while after passing the point-of-no-return to Hong Kong—regardless of circumstances we were required to press on to Da Nang—if an inflight emegency should 0ccur, our options would be to ditch into the ocean, land somewhere in China, either on an island or on the mainland, or land somewhere in North Vietnam.

An emergency did in fact occur, and a mayday call—a call for assistance—was made to DaNang. Our #2 engine—that’s the engine on the left if one is facing the nose of the aircraft—began coughing, a series of sounds indicating a problem with fuel intake or ignition problems. The coughs were infrequent and minor at first, but soon  became more frequent and longer in duration. I was privileged to be seated at the window closest to that engine, and each time it coughed the propellers would stop, only for a tiny instant at first, but the stop  was clearly visible.

Our loadmaster told us that a mayday message had been sent to DaNang and that a Navy PBY, an aircraft with the ability to land on water as well as land, had been dispatched to meet us in the event that our aircraft had to be ditched in the ocean. The loadmaster began moving all our luggage and our Hong Kong goodies to the cargo door. I asked him why, and he said our load had to be lightened to help the Gooney Bird remain aloft in case we were reduced to only one engine. I protested—mildly, of course—and was told something to the effect that the load had to be lightened, one way or another, and that it was either my new reel-to-reel tape recorder or me. Naturally I chose to remain on board and sacrifice the recorder.

However—and that’s a really important however—I, my tape recorder, the passengers, the crew and the aircraft landed safely at DaNang. The ailing engine stopped completely several times–all three prop blades became clearly visible for a few seconds—but the engine recovered enough each time to contribute to the other engine’s efforts.

Following the loadmaster’s explanation of our current situation and his description of possible changes to that situation, the passenger section became eerily silent, with each of us enveloped in our own thoughts. I venture that my thoughts were identical to the thoughts of others.

Yep, I prayed. I prayed to my god and to the gods of others, regardless of the nature of their gods. I prayed that the engine would recover, that the PBY would arrive soon, that ditching would not be necessary, and that we would land safely in South Vietnam. If their prayers were anything like mine, then they made promises they knew the would not—or possibly could not—keep.

I have no doubt that our combined prayers were answered, all except my prayer that the engine would recover—it was still coughing mightily when we landed at DaNang. The PBY soon arrived—its pilot made a 180 degree turn and placed his aircraft near our starboard wingtip—a position taken in order to observe the ailing engine—and escorted us to a safe landing. Made all the gods bless PBYs and their pilots!

A quick aside at this point, just in case a viewer is unsure of the difference between left and right in nautical terms—port is left, starboard is right. Running lights on vessels are red and green—red is for left side, green is for right side. Here’s a memory aid that may help one remember which is which—memory aids seem to be items for which I have an ever-increasing need as I advance in years!

Just remember that port, left and red are short words with fewer letters than starboard, right and green, so port and red are on the left side—starboard and green are on the right side.

Got it?

Below is an image of today’s Da Nang—it did not look like that when I was there!

Speaking of inflight aircraft malfunctions, Brother Dave Gardner (1926-1983), an old-time stand-up comic, created a skit to use in his comedy routines, a skit dealing with an inflight emergency on a commercial flight in the United States. An engine caught fire inflight, and a little old man seated near the burning engine prayed long and loudly for his god to rectify the situation, saying “Please get me on the ground safely and I’ll give half of everything I own to the church.”

The fire was instantly extinguished and the plane landed safely.

When the little old man deplaned he was met by his minister and the minister said, “Brother, I heard what you said up there! I heard you tell God that if he got you on the ground safely you would give half of everything you own to the church, and I know you’re going to start right now!”

The little man said, “Nope, I made a better deal—I just now told God that if I ever get back on another one of those things, I’ll give Him everything I own!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Turn around and bend over . . .

I wonder how many people out there remember Dragnet, an early black-and-white television show starring Jack Webb and Ben Alexander. That law-and-order series was my very first exposure to television, viewed in an Atlanta, Georgia motel on Peachtree Street in 1952, the same year that I returned from a two-year tour of the Orient (Japan and Korea). Oops, I forgot something—I watched part of the 1947 World Series, the very first time it was broadcast in color. You can read all about it here.

The television in my room on Peachtree Street was activated and kept active by inserting quarters into a coin slot mounted on the set—one quarter bought thirty minutes of viewing—if the minutes ran out in the middle of a show, a viewer had to be fast on the draw to recover the picture by inserting another quarter—not being particularly fast on the draw, I compensated for that deficiency by sitting close to the set.

I slept very little that night—I fed all my quarters to the television, and made two trips to the motel office for more quarters. I was in Atlanta to reenlist in the military, a process I completed the following day, one that was both hilarious and sad.

The next day, December 20, 1952, dawned clear and cold, a day that holds memories both funny and psychologically painful for me. I left my motel room on Peachtree Street early, and arrived at Fort McPherson at 0830 hours to submit to a physical examination required for my reenlistment for another four years in the United States Air Force. On that day 500 men reported to Fort McPherson for physicals, a huge group that included volunteer enlistees, re-enlistees and draftees. After a brief signing-in process, we were ordered to remove all clothing except shorts, and were told that, should we be so inclined, we could remove that item as well.

The provision to retain underwear did not apply to those wearing long-handles, a winter underwear garment that covers everything except head, neck, hands and feet—you know, that one-piece winter accessory that is strategically fitted with a button-up drop flap in back. There were no long-handle wearing participants present, a fortunate exception for the wearer and for the rest of us. It would prove to be a very long day, and having someone’s Johnson or someone’s Willie, depending on one’s terminology preference, staring (or peeking) and waving at us as we moved from one location to another would have been disconcerting—for some, perhaps, but perhaps not for others.

I have spent what may be regarded as an inordinate amount of space and number of words in this first paragraph, but it was necessary because I needed to present some important details. We were told to bundle our clothes, place them on the floor and then form a single line. We obediently obeyed those orders, all 500 of us. That line snaked out the door and down a long corridor, then a 90-degree left turn and farther down another long corridor. Buildings at the installation were connected by those corridors, enabling people to move from building to building without being exposed to inclement weather, including rain, heat and cold. And cold is the operative word for that day. Those corridors were not heated, and their floors were covered with linoleum.

I was near the end of the line that formed, and my feet were bare—yes, I removed everything except my shorts—I have always been one to follow orders unless I stood to sustain injuries in doing so. As a result of leaving my socks with my bundle, I stood on one foot for much of the day, letting one foot freeze while its counterpart warmed up a bit—I felt, and probably looked like, a Florida flamingo.

Now that I’ve laid the stage, this posting will be mercifully short. Our physical exams progressed as the sun reached its zenith, and continued well into the afternoon as shadows lengthened. We filled out innumerable forms and presented ourselves for weight measurement, height measurement, eye exams, dental exams, exams of our privates, rectal exams, IQ tests, blood draws, urine sampling, dexterity tests, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

The only moment of comedy relief came after we marched into a large room and lined ourselves around its perimeter while a doctor stopped in front of each man, had him drop his shorts so the doctor could take a cursory look at his genitals, then pull his shorts back up. The doctor then stepped in front of the next man, and on and on until the line was completed. He then ordered us to face the wall, drop our shorts and bend over so he could make the rounds again, ostensibly making a visual rectal examination.

When he finished that round he told us to restore our shorts to their original position and face front. At that point the doctor made a declarative statement. He had earlier directed a rhetorical question to an individual while the doctor was performing a visual examination of that individual’s genitals: He said, “Damn, boy, have you been driving nails with that thing?”

Revealing the racial composition of the man to which the question was directed should not be necessary, but I will point to the doctor’s use of the term “boy.” This was in Georgia and the year was 1952, long before the passage of civil rights legislation, and long before the concept of political correctness swept the nation.

And in the words of Tom Horn, as portrayed in the movie by Steve McQueen, “I’ll have nothing further to say on the subject.” (I love that movie!)

The doctor’s declarative statement was made just after he ordered us to pull our shorts up and face front after he completed his visual rectal examination. When we were faced front he said, “Well, it’s just as I expected—they’re all brown!” There were several chuckles, titters and giggles, but none from me—my feet were so cold that, had I attempted a laugh it would have sounded like something akin to the “He-haw, he-haw” of an Alabama mule—a bit more subdued, of course.

The long day eventually came to a successful close, and I embarked on my second enlistment in the U.S. Air Force, a career that would end several months after I completed my twenty-second year and retired for length of service

Nope—my retirement did not include even one percent of disability. I had no lower back pain and I even passed the hearing test—bummer!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2010 in actor and acting, grammar, Humor, Military

 

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