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Getting Even by Being Odd in One-Upmanship

April 26, 1987|BEN MASSELINK | Masselink is a Pacific Palisades free-lance writer.

"You mean you went to the Philippines and didn't go to Zamboanga?" the man at the bar in the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach asked.

"No . . . Yes," I said. "We went to Zamboanga."

"Oh, good," he said. "And of course you stayed in the Tree House."

"Ahhhhh . . . " I said.

"You mean you didn't stay in the Tree House? Oh, well, if you didn't stay in the Tree House you just didn't see Zamboanga."

"The room in our hotel was on the second floor," my wife offered.

He didn't hear that. He was on to another hotel. "But of course, the Raffles in Singapore."

"Oh, yes," I said. "What a hotel!"

"Did you order the Shanghai Slush from George at the bar? Not Albert. George."

"Well . . . " I said.

"You didn't!" he cried. "Why, you missed one of the joys of rum. Surely you ate in the streets."

"You mean the sidewalk cafes?"

"No, no, no, no, no. The streets. Where they block off two streets or four, I forget what it is, and there are little stands with charcoal braziers, and pretty girls run and bring you broiled things on bamboo sticks."

He could tell by our expressions that we hadn't. He groaned. "You just haven't eaten Oriental food if you didn't eat in the streets."

It seems that no matter where you go, you should have gone some other place, and if you are there or here you should have been here yesterday. That's when the fish were biting, the waves were huge, the prices cheaper.

"You mean you went to Bequia and didn't go out with the whalers?" asked a man in the bar at the Hotel 1829 in St. Thomas. We looked dumb.

He waved at the bar. "You should have seen this place 30 years ago. For $10 a day, you could get a room and three squares plus a snifter of cherry herring thrown in. The finest Old St. Croix rum was a dollar a gallon if you brought your own jug."

We looked into our drinks that we had just paid $2 for and felt that we were being scolded like children.

"Did you ride a donkey up to Christophe's Citadel on Haiti?" a man asked us in a Cuban cafe in Key West. We nodded. He said, "Well, I hope you chose Pierre, the only donkey to ride. He actually brays in patois. And of course you bought a wanga from good old Colette."

"A wanga?" my wife asked.

"You didn't buy a wanga!" he sputtered. "Shame on you. May the curse be on you!" He showed us a small, sweaty bag around his neck. A wanga is supposed to ward off evil spirits. "I'm protected from all evil by the mamaloi (a voodoo priestess)."

"You mean," a woman on a street in New York said, "you went to Rome and didn't look through the keyhole? Only certain drivers know about it. You peer through this keyhole and there is St. Peter's, perfectly framed."

And then there are some tourists who, when you agree to share a car and driver for a tour around an island, Tahiti say, will spend the entire trip as the poor driver is attempting to point out the lush wonders of his island, telling you about Virgin Gorda.

"You didn't fly to Virgin Gorda, certainly! The only way to go is by mail boat. That way you really get to meet the people. Why, we still hear from old Cap'n Billy."

The only way to combat this travel one-upmanship is to attack. Now armed with crib notes from various travel articles, we sit waiting for a victim.

"Nice sunset," he says, settling down at the bar at the Top of the Mark.

"Have you ever seen the sunset," my wife asks, "from the top of an elephant riding to Ankor Thom; not Ankor Wat, Ankor Thom?"

"It's much more personal, Ankor Thom is," I add. "Spelled with an H. T-h-o-m."

"And I hope," my wife says, "that you take the elephant named Sucre."

"Such a sweet elephant," I say.

Our victim looks cornered as we move in for the kill. "First," I say, "you take a pedicab to the Cafe Kim Tanh . . . ."

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