Mexico – The Life and Times of a Travelling Academic
I have the best job in the world, I thought as my plane took off from a
gloomy Narita airport and I sipped my third beer of the day. I can
believe that I have convinced the company to send me to Mexico again.
It seemed like only a few weeks since I had last returned from there,
and besides, I really hadn’t done that much work since. But, not one
for feeling guilty, I asked for another beer and began to relax…
I nearly didn’t make it to Mexico this time with as I once again met
my favorite family of Kurdish refugees. I am sure you will remember the
family in question, the one which is always in front of me as I go
through immigrations. This time, I was in LA and had about 20 minutes
to get from the plane through immigration to the next plane if I was
going to catch my connecting flight. I rushed along the mini marathon
track which connects the arrivals with the immigration, and there they
were, in front of me, 27 items of hand luggage and no documents.
As the time is getting closer and closer to my flight, they are still
arguing with the immigration official about why they can’t put Kurd-land
as their country of residence. Why does it always happen to me, and
why is immigration at LAX so much hassle? I remember one one occasion
they stopped me 6 times between leaving my plane and the check in-desk
for my connecting flight. The only conclusion I can draw from this is
that I look like Carlos de Drug Baron…
I just made it to the gate as the flight was closing. Slumped into my
chair and immediately got into conversation with an American guy who
told me that he had just been travelling all over China. It was great,
he told me over a large scotch, went all over the damn country, we
started in Hong Kong then went to Aberdeen, Victoria Peak and a little
visited country called Kowloon….I feigned sleep at this stage as I
didn’t have the heart to tell him he had never actually left Hong Kong.
And then I am in Mexico, sweeping through customs and immigration and
immediately I feel like I am coming home. After the obligatory Negro
Mondelo in the first bar I rushed to get my next flight. Things had
been going well up to this stage but I was more than a little
disappointed to find out that the national airline of Mexico was not
called something authentic like "Taco Air", but it did the job nicely
and within an hour I was touching down on the gulf coast of Mexico. At
the airport I was bundled into a taxi by a waiting friend and we
switched the conversation to French, which added to my general feeling
After weeks of careful planning, I had selected what I believed to be a
suitable hotel from my guide book. When we got there I was glad to see
that I had not actually lost my touch in choosing hotels and that the
hotel showed great potential, just as soon as the builders had finished
building it. It reminded me of a certain hotel in Amsterdam that I
frequented at one stage, but even in its scaffolded state it still
oozed charm and personality.
What could be better than an atmospherically crumbling hotel on the waterfront on the Gulf of Mexico. I was in heaven and had already renounced my British citizenship several times since the plane landed. No one shouted welcome to me, no one rushed to open doors for me, no one bowed to me, and in all honesty I was definitely less interesting than the soap which was playing on the small black and white TV. Japan seemed like another world away.
The temptation to jump over the desk and kiss everyone in sight was
almost unbearable and I think that it was only that my long suffering
Mexican colleague dumped my suitcase on my foot that I was able to
retain some dignity. "Why are you so excited?", she later asked me, "it’s just a normal hotel in Mexico." Ah, I smiled, normal, normal, normal and absolutely no Japanese in sight.
Later, whilst sitting in a coffee house drinking coffee strong enough
to have its own fan club, I was accosted by every hawker and seller in
the Americas. A woman wanted to take my blood pressure, which I am sure
was dropping; another wanted to have my babies whilst a Maraichi band
turned out another heart rendering number at the next table. After
coming from 4 solid months in Japan I was almost at sensory overload
with the warmth of the people.
I think now as I write from a stuffy office in Tokyo that I am
suffering from withdrawal from shaking hands or kissing people. For
example, when I was at the university (where I was meant to be working),
each morning I would walk across the campus with my colleague. As she
seemed to know almost every person a ten minute walk could stretch all
day, extended by stops every few steps to kiss beautiful women or to
shake hands with the guys. Or, God forbid, I would get it wrong and
kiss the guys and shake hands with the girls. On some days I would
deliberately leave something in the office so we had to walk back and
run the gauntlet of Latin lovelies again.
Saturday was tourist time in Veracruz and after a breakfast of what can
only be described as an enormous plate of beans and tortillas, we were
off to see the sights. This was done at a run as my friend had put
about 2kg of syrup on her pancakes and was experiencing a sugar rush
which lasted for the next 24 hours. I spent the majority of the time
running behind her trying to catch up, which as the temperature soared
to 40 degrees was not particularly pleasant.
So, off to the beach we went. Wallowing in the crystal blue seas of
the Gulf of Mexico, I did spare a thought for the team back in Japan,
but the moment soon passed and then it was time for lunch at a fish
restaurant. Well, that is too mild a description. It should be more
like, a fish restaurant to die for; it was the fish equivalent of
waking up naked with all the Spice Girls….we wolfed down sole, fresh
tuna, prawns as big as my fist and a few beers, all for less than my
breakfast cake costs me every morning in Japan.
But, seriously, what is it with these Mexicans? They seem to cover
everything with lime (or lemon as they insist on calling it) juice.
It’s like no food is complete without a healthy squeeze of lime; they
even add it to my beer if I am not alert. But, due to the fact that
they seem to have everything else just about perfect, I won’t say
anything if you don’t and we should let them have their fun.
Later that night I found myself propping up a bar once again surrounded
by beautiful people (research, of course). Once I could take my eyes off the bar girl’s cleavage, I realized that no one was wearing platform
shoes, no one was wearing big socks, no one was dressed like a relic
from a grateful dead concert and everyone was having a damn good, but
sweaty time. I pointed this out to my friend who dragged me out into
the street and said "Look, you are not in Japan anymore." I guess I
know how Dorothy felt…
After my 7th Sol, I came to the conclusion that I was just not in Kansas
either and hit the dance floor. From there we headed to another huge
hanger of a bar which once again was guarded by lots of big tough men
with big tough guns. After another round of kissing and handshaking we
were inside and sipping our beers. From there, a friend suggested we
go to a Hotel for some more beers and a few minutes later I found
myself squeezed in between the bar and a ballroom filled with
gracefully dancing couples, no of which were under about 70.
I had to check my watch twice to believe that it really was 4am. Then we headed to a bar called Kareoke, which sounded very Japanese to me and I seem to remember being quite vocal about not wanting to go there. But
thankfully, it was devoid of my Oriental friends and instead I was
forced onto the dance floor to prove that English men really do have two
left feet. As the limit of my salsa’ing had been one night out with a
friend in Tokyo at a Latin club, I soon made a complete ass of myself.
Luckily, the girl I was dancing with was graceful enough for two and
could even make me pass off as natural born dancer. The things I do for
the company, I muttered into another large Sol.
And then, all too soon, the night was over and it was time to watch the
sun rise over the Gulf, to watch the night turn into day and wonder how
on earth I could work the next day with the monster hangover I was
probably going to develop. I crashed into bed around 10 am, humming a
salsa tune and wiping salsa off my mouth…..
A few hours later I was being dragged off to see some more tourist
sights including a fantastic fort, which had been built by Cortez, and
reminded me of the film Assassins. I spent a nervous half an hour
taking photos and wondering how long it would be before Antonio
Banderas would jump out from behind a crumbling wall and shoot me. But,
like all good things, the holiday was all to soon over and I flew back
to Mexico for two days of intense work.
I love teaching at the university, it is just so unpredictable. Kind
of like Russian Roulette of the Academic World. A few hours after the
course finished, I was once again airborne and bouncing back to Japan.
Tired, jetlagged and more than a little sad, I arrived back at the funky
new terminal at Narita, which has now blown away all my rants about how
bad Narita was. Whilst waiting for my bags, I was accosted by a
Japanese girl wearing platform shoes, big socks, a lycra minidress, and
an apron, "Why you Japan come?" she asked me, and as I walked off to
face immigration, all I could do was shake my head, and say "I really
Something a friend had told a few days earlier was echoing through my
mind. "Mexico siempre Mexico…." and I repeated this as a mantra as I
waited in line for my ritual customs shake down…
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