|Why Take A Sabbatical
by Daniel G. Cannon
Twelve years ago, when I was a tender sixty-five years old and my wife was sixty, we did the unthinkable—we back-packed around the world for six months. Yes, back-packed. Our kids said something like, “Aren’t you supposed to do that when you are eighteen?” What’s the matter with kids today?
At any rate, this was my last chance to take a Sabbatical and I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to do research on Asian art for a course I hoped to write on Asian art history which then could be introduced into WOSC’s art history offerings. It’s impossible for me to imagine why faculty members don’t take sabbaticals whenever they are offered. What a way to increase your knowledge and understanding of the rest of the world.
I’ll get the bad part over right now: we were pick-pocketed on the train in Madrid and the thieves stole my carry-on with thirty-six rolls of exposed slide film, my two cameras, and my notepads with names, dates, information and EVERYTHING else collected on the Asian part of the journey. We sat down in the B&B that night and wrote down everything we could remember, and my wife, wiser than I by far said, “We still have three months to go, so let’s sleep on it and decide tomorrow.” We did.
Back to the trip. Monmouth experienced one of those unforgettable storms the night before we left; a storm that blew down half of my hundred foot firs, pulled the whole deck off of my house, and eliminated all of the fences around my yard. Undeterred, we loaded our backpacks and one small carry-on for each of us and off we went to PDX the next morning. The trip went from PDX to Japan and our first surprise was at the Narita airport—a voice called my name and there was a former OCE student who heard that we were coming and met us at the airport. What a treat! He took us to our pre-determined sister college and there we stayed, in a snow storm, for a week. We stayed in the home-management house (Gail, my wife, was a home economics major and taught at OSU) and delved into Japanese art for our stay there. One special place we saw was the modern art museum just north of Tokyo where the director, a collector of contemporary chairs, gave me a catalog of the pieces he had collected and that were out for everyone to sit on in the museum. We saw many, many museums in and around Tokyo and met numerous people there in the art areas. I took hundreds of slides and myriad notes (all lost in Madrid).
I must say that the first part of the journey found me giving lectures at various colleges and universities in the countries we visited—a method I discovered from a colleague in Ohio: offer to give a lecture, and be provided with the trip from the airport and free housing in return for a guest lecture. Try it; it works nearly every time. Next we flew to Hong Kong and stayed in a Salvation Army Inn—very cheap, very clean, period. This was when Hong Kong was still under British rule and Macao was still under the Dutch and the New Territories were the only things solely Chinese. The latter were fascinating; we walked through totally primitive houses, took photos of ancient Chinese men smoking what I’m sure was stronger than tobacco, and bought a beautiful egg shell porcelain bowl—we sent it home from Jakarta and mended it when we got home. But back to the trip:
From Hong Kong airport, after a minor mishap there, we flew to Taiwan, where, once again, we stayed at our sister college, again in the home-management house. We had no idea what an advanced country this was and were totally impressed with the ancient and modern art seen there. The main museum contained thousands and thousands of articles brought over by Chiang Kai-shek and his wife when they fled the mainland. We saw tons of beautiful articles and were told that the collections we saw were a tiny part of the whole collection, most of which was in underground storerooms. There was also a museum housing contemporary art, and the Madame Chiang Hotel, while a tiny bit fancier than the home management house, was something to see. Our hosts were wonderful and we really hated to leave. But push on we must.
Our next stop was Jakarta, in Indonesia. A friend taught journalism at Western Washington University in Bellingham and he had a friend on Sabbatical in Jakarta who was married to a native Jakartan named Femi. We had written ahead and asked if they could find a CHEAP hotel for us. After reading three paragraphs listing hotels from 200 to 300 dollars a night in a letter from Bob, he wrote, “Now that I have your attention, would you consider staying in our guest house?” We forced ourselves to agree and our hosts were fantastic (keep your contacts up to date) and not only toured us around for a week or so but told us if we saw anything we wanted to buy to just let them know and they would go in the store and get the “native” prices. Wow!!!
I had a bad cold, so Femi took Gail out touring one day and when they came back Gail told me to sit down because she had something to tell me. She had purchased tickets on Garuda Air to Bali, so we went there a few days later. The Indonesian Airline, Garuda Air, is named for the great Garuda Bird who, when he saw the Indonesian islands suffering from plague, starvation, and disease, flew down and pulled them to a safe location—folk lore around the world can’t be beat. We survived the heat in Bali without mishap, bade farewell to our friends in Jakarta, and flew to Singapore.
Now, that was an experience of a different kind. A student in International Education at OCE had family in Singapore and insisted that we stay with them. What gracious people We were told that the bedroom was ours and the dad, mom, and sister slept on the floor in another room—and that was it. The city is under absolute control and the fines were enacted immediately: for instance, spitting on the sidewalk, not washing your hands or failing to flush the commode were strictly enforced and needless to say, Singapore was probably the cleanest city we ever saw. There is very little left of the original city and there are huge complexes of apartments everywhere. You need to sign up years in advance for an apartment, and couples planning on marriage must wait until something is available before they can tie the knot. It was here that Gail became ill after eating in a Hindu vegetarian café.
We took a train from Singapore to Kuala Lampur and were met there by a young Chinese student from the University of Oregon who took us in his Mercedes to a cheap hotel in town. I explained Gail’s illness to him and after we put her in a room, he asked me if she believed in Chinese medicine. “Of course,” was my reply, and we went into a Chinese “drug store” with thousands of totally unknown “things” hanging from the ceiling and in myriad bottles and piles all about the room. He spoke to the “pharmacist” and came up with two vials of tiny little seeds. He told me to have Gail take them with water and she would be fine in the morning. He was right. When Gail recovered, we climbed one of the steepest hills I have ever encountered and explored the Batu Caves—a wondrous experience despite the fact that our journey started at high noon and the temperature had to be at least 150 degrees with no shade. It seems that EVERY time we are anyplace on earth with a climb involved (like the Sun Pyramid near Mexico City), it is high noon and VERY high temperature. It makes us better people. We attended a performance at the cultural center one evening and saw acts from all over the far east and, of course, saw the incredible twin towers right downtown in Kuala Lampur.
We returned to Singapore, said our farewells, and flew to Bangkok. I had done a Fulbright there, and we were met at the airport by the parents of one of my students who had then transferred to OCE where she completed her bachelors degree and then went on for a masters at Willamette. She is now an executive for a Chinese firm in Vietnam. At any rate, her parents put us up in one of their apartments with bedroom, living room, kitchen (fully equipped even down to beer Singha, my favorite) and insisted on picking us up every day and touring us around. What a time. We went to many of the familiar places and felt like visiting royalty. We found that Asian people are about the most generous people in the world.
We flew from Bangkok to Bombay, India, and arrived there about midnight. Now we were truly on our own. We didn’t know a soul and had never been in India before. There is always a tourist stand in every airport in the world and this was, thankfully, true in Bombay. The people all spoke English because of the long British rule there, and we got the name of a hotel in the downtown section of the city. The ride there was fascinating; they light the main streets with about 40 watt bulbs every fifty feet or so, and through the dimness we saw literally thousands of people sleeping up against buildings along the way. The taxi stopped and we got out in front of a truly seedy looking hotel. After checking in we would our way through partial construction and up to the second floor where our room was located. It was sort of clean and we were tired so bed felt good. Next day we explored Bombay and Gail was really upset by the poverty. Some folks really do cut limbs off their children so they can beg more effectively. Too, there were dozens of contemporary art galleries in Bombay, and I continue to receive announcements from them today. We were invited to a wedding one evening; the event would require another whole story, so suffice it to say, it was stupendous.
Our next flight took us to New Delhi and here the airport was even more congested than the one in Bombay. There was, however, the tourist window and we found a hotel in town. This was a facility under construction and we got a room on the sixteenth floor. I’m not really good on heights and would have done okay until we got off the elevator and found our room was accessed only by walking across a plank sixteen floors up. We did survive and the next day began to explore Delhi, a huge city and very cosmopolitan. I was impressed with the art in Bombay, but Delhi eclipsed Bombay—a lot. On returning to our hotel one evening, we were confronted by an enormous crowd of people and all dressed to the nines. As we couldn’t get to the hotel door, we joined the crowd. In a few minutes, a white horse rode up carrying a splendidly dressed young man who turned out to be the groom. His bride then arrived on another beautiful mount and joined the groom-to-be, and they entered the hotel for the ceremony (we weren’t invited). We found a bus the next day and drove up to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal). The ride was, in itself, a wonder. We found out, first-hand, what labor intensive means. ALL of the work was done by hand: freeways, bridges, underpasses, everything—thousands upon thousands of people using the most primitive tools doing the work. Unbelievable.
The Taj Mahal, from a distance, was beautiful. The walk up to it, sensational. But to the western eye it appeared rather sterile, design-wise. I should qualify that statement: architecturally, the building is magnificent but decoratively it fell flat, in my eyes, because NO figures are used on the surfaces, only geometric designs. Please understand that this is fine and works with the culture there; I just prefer other approaches. We did get to go down to the tomb area and, again, all embellishments were geometric. We spent a few more days in Delhi on our return and prepared for our journey to Turkey. But that’s another story for another day. All planes leave Delhi around two or three in the morning so they can be in the European cities early for the business day. But you DO survive.
So, why take a sabbatical? The primary reason: you get to meet people wherever you go and, if you relax a bit, you find that people all over the world are as nice as you. Sharing the experiences you have with others when you return goes far beyond what you do in the classroom; it permeates your whole life and, actually others, too. My advice: go for it.