Coming Home

Like Lebron returning to Cleveland, I’m coming home. Home in this case is Columbia, South Carolina, my first home away from home. I’ve got some pretty fond memories of my years spent in the Palmetto state three distant decades ago—a bachelor pad overlooking a lake, a red Chevy Camaro, a stereo tape deck, and fledgling cable TV—everything a twenty-something dude earning a real paycheck could want or need living out on his own for the very first time. I eventually met my wife and got married in Columbia, in the shadows of Gamecock football and the hundred-degree heat of the basic training brigades at Ft. Jackson. But unlike Lebron, I’m not returning to the adoring cheers and accolades of my hometown fans. I’m returning in a far less celebratory and festive role. I’m coming home to bury my mother-in-law.

Thongkrue “Jenny” Contreras died peacefully on the afternoon of July 4. During her time here on earth, she was as kind and as loving a person as anyone could have hoped for (Sorry, they’ll be no mother-in-law jokes here). Born in Bangkok, Thailand, she overcame tremendous odds, somehow made it to the United States, and carved out a living for her family with minimal financial resources or English skills. She loved her son, daughter, and granddaughter with unfailing passion. I remember her being as generous as she could be, always welcoming people into her home and volunteering her fabulous Thai meals to whatever worthwhile charity that beckoned. It seemed she forever had a special place in her heart for the downtrodden and sick. Even in death, she selflessly continued to give by donating her body to scientific research.

Standing by her bedside, listening to the rhythmic hiss of the life support ventilator, I felt many of the usual emotions experienced when watching a parent die—sadness and sorrow, gratitude and gratefulness, remorse and regret—wishing that I could have spent more time in her presence, getting to know her better, and telling her I loved her like a dutiful son-in-law. As I held her hand and kissed her forehead for the final time, I also felt an unexpected surge of confusion and uncertainty, bubbling over into a sentiment of exasperation bordering on outrage. My mind races and head spins. I’m upset and embarrassed as I find myself shaking my fist at a suddenly distant and uncaring God.

For Jenny was a devout practicing Buddhist—through death, supposedly confined to an endless dark cycle of hopeless reincarnation. As immediate family members gather around to stare at her lifeless body, I silently pray for the Holy Spirit’s mighty presence to allow me to minister to her the Blood of Christ and His Eternal Kingdom before her last breath passes. As she lays there unresponsively, I’m torn inwardly, secretly wondering how such a loving and benevolent God could possibly allow her soul to so unfairly perish. For the reality is that Jenny was born into a culture where being Thai is synonymous with being Buddhist. Let’s face it—had we been born in Thailand, all of us would most likely also be burning incense and seeking enlightenment from Lord Buddha.

According to the tenets of the Christian faith, the only way to eternal life is through Jesus Christ. As I sit in Sunday School class with other believers, it’s quite easy for me to accept this reality as truth. We banter freely about predestination, free will, salvation, and damnation on an intellectual plane. We’re grateful for the saving grace of our privileged lives and are quick to acknowledge our role in spreading this privilege to others. We go on mission trips, sharing our faith and resources with those who are hungry and thirsty. Everything seems crystal clear as we nod our heads in agreement and praise God for his goodness, grace, and mercy. We feel good about ourselves. It’s only when we are forced to reconcile the tenets of our faith with the reality of the eternal lives of our unsaved friends and family members that those irritating seeds of doubt and frustration begin to creep in.

LORD, WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON HERE? Jenny identified far more with her faith than many of the Christians here in America. She led a far more virtuous earthly existence than most professed Christ followers I know. She prayed and attended temple worship far more frequently than I’ve ever spent in church pews. She definitely displayed more generosity than I could ever muster in ten lifetimes. And yet, she (and 33 million other Buddhist) are doctrinally damned to eternal hell. WHERE’S THE JUSTICE IN THAT?

I know in my head that Christians are saved by faith and not by pious works. I know in my heart that I’ve probably sinned more than Rick Pitino on a Vegas bender. I don’t really want JUSTICE. What I really want is MERCY! Honestly, I can’t profess to know who God chooses to save and who he allows to perish beyond the veil of death. I can only hope and pray that his mercy and grace extends to other “non-believers” in the same compassionate and loving manner that none of us “believers” deserve.

The usual words of comfort just don’t quite cut it in my bereavement. I want so badly to believe that Jenny’s no longer suffering, that she’s in a better place, and in the glorious presence of saints. Rather than basking in the streets of gold, however, it terrifies me that she just might be undergoing torture in a burning lake of fire. For many of you, a mother-in-law in hell is the ultimate answer to prayer. Not for me. I’d love nothing more than to be eternally reunited with mine in heaven. Jenny Contreras, one of these days, I’m coming home for good. I hope you’re there to greet me.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs

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Still Awesome After All These Years

I mentioned in a previous post that there are currently only two musical acts I would still pay good money to see. John Mellencamp was the first and I proactively checked him off the list last October.

Just the other night, I finally got to attend my first Paul Simon concert and thus, cashed in my musical bucket list exacta ticket. Unless Michael Jackson miraculously comes back from the dead, I’m now perfectly content from here on in to get my musical fix solely through ipod downloads and YouTube videos. I’m two and done. I’m too old to fight unruly crowds and too picky to settle for bad venues. There will be no more live concerts for me.

I still haven’t fully recovered from my last PNC Pavilion experience where I was forced to endure ninety minutes of Backstreet Boys hell. Listening to boy bands are demeaning enough but just getting in and out of the parking lot* at Riverbend in Cincinnati is usually an ordeal in itself. Doing it while short on time is downright asking for trouble.

That was my predicament as I sped down I-71 from the River City after attending the Kentucky versus Louisville baseball game earlier that day. Stinking to high heaven while lathered in stale sunscreen and sweating profusely from covering a season-ending defeat, I slid into my reserved floor-level seat just seconds before Simon popped onto the stage. Despite being sandwiched between two people the size of sumo wrestlers, I was ready to kick back, relax, and groove to five decades of music from one half of a musical duo that never should have split up.

Sure, Garfunkel was missing tonight, but Paul Simon can still hold his own as a solo songwriter, artist, and on-stage performer any day of the week. The guy is 75 years old, has a bit of a paunch, and looks like your grandfather with a bad back-to-front combover, but he can still rock the house. Wearing a jacket in 83-degree weather and backed by his talented band, he opened with the beautifully rhythmical Boy in the Bubble from the award-winning Graceland album, and finished up with a solo acoustic version of the hauntingly iconic The Sounds of Silence that could put your dog down. In between, he dazzled the audience with an array of familiar tunes such as Homeward Bound, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Obvious Child, and Graceland. At one point in the evening, the crowd became so energized with Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard that he even volunteered to play it twice. When he broke out with back-to-back strains of Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes and You Can Call Me Al during the latter part of his set, I thought the Skyline Chili Vision video boards bordering the stage would literally explode with excitement.

Even during the obligatory newer and lesser known songs, the audience responded with much more than the usual polite and tepid applause. Likewise, Paul Frederic Simon seemed genuinely thankful and appreciative of all the cheers, salutes, and accolades thrown his way. During one of his numerous standing ovations, he looked directly my way and nodded, as if personally acknowledging the one hundred and sixty-three bucks I had surrendered to Ticketmaster for my seat in the pit. As I looked to my left and right, I noticed that many of the fans in attendance were a bit younger than I had envisioned (younger meaning younger than me), but good music is timeless and Paul Simon’s music continues to mesmerize multiple generations. After nearly two and a half hours and two and a half encores, Simon finally sauntered off the Cincy stage for a well-deserved slice of LaRosa’s, a mug of Hudepohl, and a scoop of Graeter’s. Whether composing the soundtrack to The Graduate, or performing with Garfunkel in Central Park, or marrying Carrie Fisher, the guy’s still awesome after all these years.

*It took me a good 50 minutes to clear the parking lot even though I was parked near the Belterra Casino.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs

Why I Like Tim Tebow

I like Tim Tebow. If confession is good for the soul, then I feel better already. No star athlete has been more polarizing than the former Florida All-American quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner, and current TV broadcaster turned minor-league baseball celebrity. We’re all familiar with his life story—rescued as a nearly aborted fetus, born to missionary parents, returning as a teenager to the Philippines to serve the needy, and destined as a young adult for on-the-field stardom—his experiences and exploits are worthy of any Spielberg masterpiece. However, despite his incredibly good looks, engaging personality, and charitable works, not everyone’s a fan. Whether you love him or hate him, one thing’s for certain. People are drawn to Tim Tebow like dogs to their own vomit.

Nowhere is this more evident than on a random Thursday night in Lexington, where the Columbia Fireflies—the single A affiliate of the New York Mets for whom Tebow roams the outfield—are playing the Lexington Legends. Tonight, over 7500 fans flood into Whitaker Bank Ballpark, a testament to Tebow’s star-drawing power. Although he takes the time to patiently sign a slew of autographs for fans in the stands, on this particular evening, he can’t get it going on the field. In four plate appearances, Tebow grounds out, walks, and strikes out twice as the Fireflies dispatch the Legends 3-2.

Earlier this afternoon prior to batting practice, Tebow met with a gaggle of about 25-30 reporters hanging on his every word, all jockeying for position to ask their pointed questions in search of that perfect sound bite. Tebow was patient, respectful, thoughtful, and courteous in the short ten-minute free-for-all. You would think that having to deal with so many overzealous media members repeatedly asking the same mundane questions every single day would send any normal athlete reaching for the Xanax. But Tebow keeps his cool, poised regally over your microphone with his chiseled physique, looking you in the eye and flashing you that disarming, square-jawed smile. I like Tim Tebow.

So why does someone so perfect still have so many detractors? Critics claim that he’s a fraudulent spaghetti-armed quarterback who charmed his way into the NFL. His weak arm strength, lack of passing accuracy, and inability to read defenses has been dissected ad infinitum. As gaudy as his stats were in college, he simply never lived up to the expectations and hype in the world of play for pay. But neither did Vince Young, Tommie Frazier, Matt Leinart, Doug Flutie, and Tim Couch—all of whom had less than stellar professional careers but receive far less hate mail than Tebow. Achievement wise, one could argue that Tim Tebow is the greatest college football quarterback in the history of the game. Even as a controversial NFL passer, I thought his skills and acumen were greatly underappreciated while leading the Denver Broncos in 2012 to their first playoff victory in six years. Furthermore, as my fantasy football quarterback that year, Tebow was more than serviceable. Another reason I like Tim Tebow.

Seriously, I think the real reason for his numerous detractors has nothing to do with his football prowess, but rather his personal values. Tebow wears his faith publicly on his sleeve, just as all Christians are challenged to do. He unashamedly shares his religious beliefs openly, boldly, and confidently—and that offends many in this world of political correctness and moral relativity. “Tebowing” to acknowledge God after a big play on the field or imprinting Hebrews 12:1,2 on his eyeblack on gameday is viewed by many as shameless self-promotion. Raising money for pediatric cancer patients, building Timmy’s Playrooms in children’s hospitals and providing care for orphans is somehow dismissed as disingenuous piety. Just listen to Tebow on the Jimmy Fallon Show talking about sponsoring a prom for people with special needs and you can judge for yourself. Most in the secular world view Christians as judgmental and hypocritical. In all these areas, Tim Tebow is neither. Those who know him well, say it’s all real, genuine, and sincere. I really like Tim Tebow.

When I asked him why he thought he was so passionately loved and hated at the same time, his response was predictably diplomatic. “I’m not sure,” he chuckled. “Passionate is a good word on both sides. I’m grateful for all the support… They’ll be people holding up posters saying they’re praying for me while at the same time they’ll be people who may have had a little too much to drink and they’ll egg you on.”

Tebow really lit up when I queried him about the importance of his athletic achievements giving him the necessary platform from which to speak. “Having a platform gives you the opportunity to talk about things that really matter,” he answered with conviction. “I know regardless of what I do over there at that plate tonight, it doesn’t really matter. But if I can take the platform that football and baseball and whatever else has given me, and I can go into a hospital and make a kid smile, if I can put on proms around the world, if I can inspire people, if we can change lives in the hospital with our playrooms, or if we can give kids wishes…We’re doing something that’s worth talking about, that for reporters are worth being here—not for a silly baseball game.”

His answers are a reflection of the world we currently live in, a world where suffering abounds and persecution runs rampant. It’s a world in need of good people with servant hearts—convicted, passionate, and loving role models armed sufficiently with courage, charisma, and a world-wide platform on which to share–people exactly like Tim Tebow. It also really helps if you can throw a football or hit a baseball. In those areas, Tim Tebow still has a lot to prove—and despite his critics, he continues to persevere for the right reasons. That’s why I like Tim Tebow, and hopefully you do too.

This blog posting was originally submitted as an exclusive column for Bluegrass Sports Nation publications.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

 

Reds Rejuvenated

Everyone loves a winner. The Cincinnati Reds are currently on a surprising uptick, and just like Manager Bryan Price, I want to ride this wave of improbable victories for as long as I can. That’s why I’m headed to the Queen City to watch the Reds before they plummet into the abyss of seasonal obscurity. This unexpected surge of momentum will no doubt fade into the stark reality of mediocrity, so I want to catch the Redlegs while they’re still pumping life and before the remaining games this year become totally meaningless.

You see, it wasn’t always this way. I fell in love with The Big Red Machine growing up in the 70’s. Rose, Morgan, Griffey, Bench, Perez, Foster, Concepcion, Geronimo…I had the entire lineup down. I knew all the stats and kept every single box score before anything was remotely electronic. The love affair with my beloved team was not only intense, lustful and steamy—but both of us were also committed and sacrificial. I rooted like crazy for the Reds, and in return they filled me with unsurpassed contentment and joy. I vividly remember Pete Rose hitting the game winning homerun in the face of the Met’s fans in game four of the 1973 playoffs in New York, Joe Morgan’s back to back MVP awards in ’75 and ’76, and of course, George Foster and all his towering, game-winning homeruns. Can anyone say “Yahtzee”?

When the Red’s fortunes subsequently went south, though, my obsession with Major-League Baseball did likewise. I still watched with great interest as Pete Rose broke the all-time hits record, I still occasionally tuned in to Marty and Joe broadcasts during the dog days of summer, and I still felt glimpses of pride when the Reds resurfaced to win the World Series back in 1990. But it was never the same. Something was terribly missing, especially after Sparky got fired and Pete became a Philly.

I guess you could say that our relationship wasn’t an actual breakup. I didn’t start dating the Cubs or Cardinals. There was no infidelity or cheating on my part. I think we simply drifted apart, the initial spark and exuberance of youth gradually extinguished by the passage of time. I still cheered half-heartedly for Eric Davis, Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr., but by that time, the passion had soured. It wasn’t genuine, born more out of a sense of filial responsibility rather than true love.

I want to recapture that passion of yesteryear, but I know that reconciliation often takes an arduous path—especially when dealing with unknown entities. I’ve got a bit of a jump start as I’m already somewhat familiar with Billy Hamilton, Zach Cozart and Joey Votto on the current roster. However, I know I’m also going to need some help as I probably couldn’t distinguish between Eugenio Juarez or Jose Peraza if my life depended on it. I still know more about Julio Iglesias’ song lyrics than Raisel Iglesias’ ERA. You mean Bronson Arroyo is still pitching? You have to be kidding me. Are Jack Billingham and Don Gullett still available also?

I do know one thing. Relationships take time to repair, and you have to start somewhere. Great American Ballpark provides the perfect setting to reconnect for an amorous tryst—the surrounding riverfront promenade and postgame libations beckoning to this love-starved geezer. Even though I’m older, more jaded and weathered this time around, if given a chance I know I can still hang with these youthful Cincinnati hipsters. I’m not talking about a short fling with a little blue pill. I’m talking about falling in real love again—the type of love that’s patient, kind, trustworthy and everlasting. It’s exactly the kind of love I expected from The Big Red Machine the first time around. Hey Cincinnati Reds, I’m coming for you again.

This blog posting was originally submitted as an exclusive column for Bluegrass Sports Nation publications.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

 

Scaling the Heights

I’m fascinated by heights. No, not the man-made kind such as the view from the Empire State Building or the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m talking about real heights—like those from the tops of majestic mountains. There’s nothing like looking down on the rest of the world from the summit of Pike’s Peak or the tip of the Matterhorn to get your blood pulsating. Ever since Sir Edmund Hillary scaled the heights of Everest, I’ve heard the beckoning call to climb. When UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart successfully summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, the gauntlet was thrown down for me to do something just as dramatic.

You’ve no doubt heard of the Seven Summits challenge, where an adrenaline junkie with a death wish tries to climb to the top of the tallest mountains on all seven continents? Well, for somebody approaching sixty with bad feet, I’m going to try something almost as daunting. Rather than Everest, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, Elbrus, Puncak Jaya, and Vinson, I’m going to try and scale 13 summits—the thirteen highest peaks in my home state of Kentucky. Rather than the lack of oxygen in the death zone of Mt. Everest at 30,000 feet, I’ll be dealing with the thistle and bramble of rhododendron on Pine Mountain at 3,000 feet. Instead of frostbite, I’m worried about snakebite. Although there’s no chance of altitude sickness, I’ll still be dodging salmonella, sunburn, and shotguns. After all, we ARE talking about the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

This is not an expedition you want to undertake alone, so fortunately I’ve found some other brave souls who’ll be sharing in this experience with me. The core group consists of my Saturday morning running buddies. It shouldn’t surprise you that we came up with this harebrained scheme together during one of our group runs when our beer muscles were flexing and our brains were hypoxic. I thought about changing some names in this blog to protect the innocent but decided in the long run that none of these characters are really innocent.

Our expedition leader is Lee Meyer, Ag Economics Professor at UK, who in his sixties, remains an athletic freak. Lee is the only one in our group who can still go shirtless in public without shame. Politically, he’s a bit of a socialist but he had a swimming pool put in his backyard last summer so I always try to remain friendly with him.

We’re joined by Tony English, UK Physical Therapy Program Director, whose countless sidewalk consultations have undoubtedly prolonged the functioning of our geriatric joints over the past decade. Tony will serve as our medic. Although he also leans left on his political views, he’s a Texan at heart who can spin tall and entertaining tales. A bit of a renaissance man, Tony will talk your ear off–a useful addition when traipsing through bear country (or when we’re just plain bored).

Also recruited to join our escapade is Bob Stoops, chief architect of the recent upgrades at Rupp Arena. My hope is that Bob’s technical expertise will make him a modern-day mountain MacGyver, with the ability to turn shoestrings into snares and trail mix into trail magic.

Lee Edgerton, another retired UK faculty member (Do I sense a pattern here?), will also be along on this journey. Lee’s been slowed by a recent leg injury, so he’ll be playing hurt—but his penchant for common sense planning and practical advice will be critical to keeping our remaining testosterone levels in check. A gifted orator, Lee will be our spokesman should we encounter difficulties, delay, or ultimate demise.

Of course I’ll be there also to report on all the action, or to offer assistance should someone accidently break a bicuspid or muck up their molar. You just never know what might happen over the course of the next few weeks, or months, or years–or however long it takes for us to complete this treacherous adventure. Following our first climb, we might already be one and done—but I wouldn’t bet against us. Like Sir Edmond Hillary and Mitch Barnhart, we’re dauntless dudes looking to scale some perilous heights. You’re more than welcome to join us.

John Huang is a retired orthodontist turned wannabe sports journalist and travel writer. You can follow all his adventures on twitter @KYHuangs. He can be reached at www.huangswhinings.com.

 

In Sickness and In Health

I recently attended the wedding of the son of a very close friend of mine. The ceremony was beautiful and the bride and groom were dazzling. Embarrassingly, I found myself crying while sitting awkwardly alone in the pews without Kanisa–my beloved bride for the past 32 years. I thought of our own wedding day as the subsequent events of three decades of matrimony flashed through my brain like a hastily constructed time lapse YouTube video.

Kanisa and I had met through a mutual acquaintance and it was love at first sight. (Well, maybe second sight.) The courtship progressed quickly and we spent the next seven years in wedded bliss, traveling frugally around the world on a military member’s budget. After Katie was born, Kanisa became the perfect doting mother, pouring her heart and soul into raising our only daughter in the most creative and imaginative ways possible. We continued to travel extensively together as a family, making frequent trips to all sorts of exotic destinations far and wide. All the while, my business flourished and life with family and friends was grand. I didn’t quite appreciate how good I had it at the time.

Things are quite different now. Katie has grown into adulthood and is living in California running her own successful small business. When she left for college 7 years ago, Kanisa suffered an emotional breakdown from which she has yet to recover. In fact, she suffers from severe anosognosia, or lack of insight as a primary symptom of her mental illness. Because she doesn’t realize how bad off she is, she is unwilling to see a doctor for treatment, refuses any sort of anti-depressive or anti-psychotic medication, and has basically isolated herself from the rest of the world. This beautiful, vibrant, and loving person who was so passionate about traveling, gardening, and decorating is now a shell of her former self–literally and figuratively. She spends her days camped out in front of the TV or computer, frequently staring off into space or ranting aimlessly about this or that. Her friends and family rarely drop by anymore, understandably frightened by the bizarre behavior of this emaciated stranger they no longer recognize.

My heart is broken. I’m constantly burdened by multiple levels of pain and guilt. I often feel a deep personal sorrow and a sense of utter helplessness and isolation. It’s an agonizing experience to see someone you love perishing right before your eyes and not be able to do anything about it. It’s especially difficult having to bear witness to Kanisa’s own daily anguish and agitation of being trapped in her own sick mind with no escape. Most tragedies in life, including death, offer some opportunity for closure and peace. Unfortunately, the hellish cycle of chronic mental illness does not.

Pain of this intensity is debilitating. It affects my health, my relationship with others, and my faith. It deeply colors my entire outlook on life. For this is the time that Kanisa and I should be enjoying our golden retirement years together, reaping the fruits of a life well lived. Instead, I spend my days planning for a far different future than what we had ever envisioned. My periods of self-pity and grief usually hit me at odd times–like when I see a happy couple enjoying a simple meal together at a restaurant, or when I run across an especially poignant social media anniversary post, or like when I’m watching a young couple at a beautiful wedding ceremony with families intact and the world at their fingertips.

I think frequently about the sanctity of my own marriage vows repeated all those years earlier…. “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as we both shall live.” It’s especially difficult embracing the “in sickness and in health” part, and I know it’s only through an undying love for Kanisa and God’s loving grace for us that I even stand a chance of upholding those vows. I seem to be surviving for now–proceeding day by day, taking on the immense challenge of caring for myself while also having to provide for all of Kanisa’s essential needs. Often times I feel I’m just one small temptation away from crashing and burning. I covet all your prayers.

But what can you do? Life goes on. Through the relentless support of family and friends, and from organizations like NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness), I press on–facing my grief head on by writing and sharing personal thoughts such as these in hopes of exposing the stigma associated with these cruel and unrelenting diseases of the brain. Writing is therapy for me. Whenever I put fingers to keyboard, I feel an overwhelming and unexplainable sense of gratitude as I’m able to openly share my struggles with those who may not fully understand the devastation caused by mental illness. Through my writing, it also suddenly dawns on me that I’m not alone after all, that many others are battling their own personal trials and private demons. Despite our hardships, we all seek the assurance in our hearts that life on earth is still worth living, even as we long to grasp the healing that is sure to eventually come.

The other day, as I was struggling with something as simple as paying a bill that was held over in Kanisa’s name, I realized that our lives are intertwined now more than ever—truly united together as one flesh, in sickness and in health. Most of the time it’s a living hell, and I doubt if this is the way God intended marriages to be. But strangely, I also still get momentary glimpses of joy when I’m taking care of her basic everyday needs. It’s a definite conundrum in my mind–all part of this mystery we call life. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m trying to—one “crazy” step at a time.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

 

Turks and Caicos

Goodbye Turks and Caicos, I barely knew ya! And yet, for the past four days, you welcomed me with open arms and beckoned me with your hedonistic calling. I fell in love with all my sunrise runs along your lonely stretches of palm lined beaches, snorkeling amidst your colorful coral reefs, and eating your delectable cracked conch and grilled lobster. I adored cavorting with your friendly residents and drinking your Turks Head lager while dazzled by another enchanting Caribbean sunset. Alas, I’ll always cherish doing yoga by the sea and dining beachside with my feet buried in your pristine white sand. The slightly inebriated Canadian couple who had been returning to this paradise for thirty consecutive years told me on the plane coming over, “You won’t want to leave.” They were right, but leave I must—for every Fantasy Island tryst reluctantly ends when the credits roll.

I arrived in this British Overseas Territory to meet my daughter Katie and her boyfriend Nick. Nick’s a deejay/music producer who’ll be playing a couple of sets at the Tropi Beach and Pool Parties held annually on the island. We’re staying at the brand new luxurious Shore Club Resort right on Long Beach Bay. Most of you know that I’m normally too cheap to pay for such outlandish accommodations but don’t you worry, I’ve been partially comped as part of the official performing party. I’m a two-star retiree hanging out at a five-star celebrity venue.

Contrary to what you might think, the people of Turks and Caicos want to avoid the hard partying atmosphere adopted by some of their Caribbean brethren. There are no “spring breakers” here and consequently, these types of musical events are rather scarce. It’s up to Katie and me to get these people grooving to the beat of Nick’s music. Nick knocks it out of the park. Fueled by our outlandish ministrations together with some timely liquid courage, visitors and islanders alike are soon busting out moves worthy of any Cancun nightclub. Afterwards, I’m exhausted—forsaking any post party carnality for the sanctity of the espresso coffee maker, fluffy pillows, and Andy Griffith reruns back in my luxury suite.

I’m not the only parent along for this ride. One of the other deejays happens to be traveling with his in-laws also. We get to talking and learn that we both love to write. He’s Matt Williams, writer and producer of such hit sitcoms as Roseanne, Home Improvement, and the Cosby Show. It’s a bit awkward as I never really watched or liked any of those programs. But he’s never heard of my Huangswhinings blog either so we’re on equal footing, content to lament the perils of having our daughters fall for up-and-coming musical vagabonds.

At least once a day, I’ve been offered weed on this trip. I’m told by one of the party goers that I give off the vibes of a pot smoker. Come to think of it, I do always have the munchies, and my short-term memory is frequently shot. My lack of motivation or coordination also could be dead giveaways. Or maybe it’s just the ponytail. It is somewhat amusing because it’s not exactly the aura my Sunday School class would want me to project. I guess you don’t really want me going on any mission trips in the near future.

As I venture back into the real world, one thing’s for sure about this marvelous experience. It’s not the beautiful scenery that stokes my wanderlust. If you’ve seen one beach, you’ve seen them all. You can find fine sand and blue water and swaying palms everywhere. I’ve been to the South Pacific and the Gulf of Thailand. I’m about as jaded as an emerald Buddha when it comes to natural vistas. For me, it’s the experiences along the way that you simply can’t duplicate, that keep bringing me back—those personal interactions and precious times shared with friends and strangers alike.

Whether it’s the Jamaican ex-pat bartender, content to forever serve fruit flavored libations at the swim up bar to sunburned German tourists—or the Peruvian born photographer with her Buddhist reincarnation rantings—or the playboy from France with “orgy” painted above his crotch and currently living on a sailboat, I want to discover what makes people tick, and there’s nothing like international travel that’ll quickly open your jaundiced eye. Wherever I go, I’m always fascinated by God’s creation and his wonderful sense of humor. Being reunited with Katie also makes me happy.

Goodbye Turks and Caicos. I’ll be back soon.

John Huang is a retired orthodontist turned wannabe sports journalist and travel writer. He can be reached at www.huangswhinings.com and on twitter @KYHuangs.