My adventures in Greece with my brother have left a memorable imprint in my mind in 2008 – a story that is just too colorful not to share. Before we even boarded the plane, there were a few mishaps, starting with me being locked out from both my apartment and car, and the slip of the hand with a razor that left my brother with a streak of buzzed hair. Upon arriving at the airport, my brother realized his luggage was tagged incorrectly with a woman’s name, but it was no surprise to me, since Air France has never had the greatest customer service.
The overall flight to Greece wasn’t too bad, and we also managed to find the hotel without a problem. Just when we thought things were looking up, we realized that someone had stolen one of our cameras, in which precious moments—our dad’s retirement party and certain birthday celebrations—were stored. That put a damper on things, but we decided that there was nothing we could do and went out to have a nice, authentic Greek meal. We picked a local restaurant a few blocks from where we stayed and requested octopus, and the waiter quickly looked at us doubtfully, asking if we really wanted to eat the creature with lots of legs, as he motioned with his flickering fingers. We gave a nod of approval and both thinking the same thing, “We’re Chinese – we eat everything!”
After a somewhat good night’s sleep, we headed downtown to carry out our duty as tourists: we hiked up to the Acropolis, got a bird’s eye view of the city and visited the Parthenon. It was probably one of the few times we were genuinely having fun and smiling in photos in Greece. Everything that happened after we had landed Greek soil was, to say the least, disastrous. As we found our way down towards the remaining must- see sites, which we were furiously trying to cover in a day, my nose started to bleed nonstop, which later became an ongoing problem during the rest of the trip. I had packed every possible medicine you can imagine, but nothing that could resolve my nosebleed. Meanwhile, my brother ran into some bad luck where he trampled on his only pair of sunglasses after a fumble.
As we continued the path hoping to find the underground cemetery, Kerameikos, we spent a lot of time getting lost. Along the way, we found the two Agoras (market places). I dropped my camera trying to take a photo, but thankfully, my camera only suffered a few scratches. What became a common theme for us was being a magnet for trouble.
I’m not saying I’m the type to break the law, but Greece is one place you can most definitely do it without trying. One Sunday, as we watched people of all ages run the marathon, we slowly made our way to see the Temple of Zeus (our third and successful attempt), and began taking pictures in front of landmarks. At one such location, after my brother had taken a photo for me, a man with a machine gun jumped from behind the bushes behind a fenced garden, greeted my brother politely, but told us we were breaking the law and would be arrested if we didn’t leave immediately. We left in a flurry and didn’t look back. Monitors constantly warned us as they blew into their whistles and yelled at us for stepping on forbidden grounds or taking photos we weren’t allowed to. There was even one time when my brother accidentally tripped over a rock and landed sitting on part of a wall, for which he got yelled at. In retaliation, I touched the archway wall in defiance for the photo.
We grew tired of the eating Greek food after a few days because everything tasted the same to us, and we tried desperately to find any type of Asian food, but to no avail. Then we found our safe haven for food – McDonalds in Syntagma Square! I’m not one to indulge in fast foods, but it was truly a blessing to have normal food. One thing we found ironic about Greece was that people are known to have longevity due to their diet, but they smoke everywhere and all the time! We also realized there was a large dog population. This is truly sad because many owners abandon their pets on the streets, which leads to an even more distressing problem for us. There is no other way to say it, but the country smells like feces. It’s EVERYWHERE and totally unavoidable. I’m not even going to start talking about the sewage problem, but I’ve learned to appreciate toilet paper – something that seems so trivial. There’s also a cat problem too, but not as prevalent, but one thing I learned was to not play with the cats with semi-closed slanted eyes. Originally I had thought their eyes were different because they had to survive on the mean streets on Athens, but in actuality, we later found out that they were infected with the cat flu! Needless to say, my brother didn’t appreciate me constantly feeding stray cats while we ate lunch.
We had taken several day trips, to and from small mountain cities, such as Delphi, one of few days we almost had no trouble, with the exception of my brother accidentally ripping the strap off a duffle bag when he had offered to help a woman move her luggage, after insisting she didn’t need help. We managed to make it to a few islands, but it seemed like everything was against us at that point. On one of the days we decided to go island hopping using the infamous Flying Dolphin (speed boat), we purchased our tickets and handed it to the woman at the port who informed us that the ports to the two islands were on strike for two days (the two remaining days we were to stay in Greece).
This leads me with the two stories from the trip that has left me scarred. The first was a last-minute decision to go to Corinthos because of the port strikes. Other than Athens, most cities had non-English speaking people, and more importantly, this city was dangerous. As luck would have it, not only did we miss a few buses going to Ancient Corinthos, but also the people were rude to us since we weren’t Greek. They usually flagged us as “stupid Americans,” which was pretty disheartening. We decided to pretend to be from China, since people became more welcoming once they thought we were Chinese tourists; however, on the flip side of things, ironically, fellow Americans harassed us the most. Once the harassment got so bad that we lost our appetite during breakfast and cut our trip short.
Anyway, as we made our way to Corinth, we came to our breaking point. I had prayed hard that things would be better and I said to my brother, “Things can’t get any worse, right?” Then bus driver dropped us off at a stop, and left us stranded on a dirt road. My brother was angry at this point, on the verge of cursing, and I was frantic and almost in tears. Thankfully we found our way to the site, and upon entering, we both started to feel nostalgic, walking where the Apostle Paul defended his apostleship in Corinth.
Finally–the story about the island Agia Marina. According to a guidebook, we would be able to enter this particular town if we took a shortcut. At the time I felt really uncomfortable taking the route, considering the sign consisted of blue marker writings and an arrow, pointing towards a steep, forty-five degree angle, winding pathway. We finally both agreed to take the pathway since it would save at least thirty minutes of walking time. When we were almost towards the end of the road, when three vicious dogs cornered us. At that moment of panic and fear, we were paralyzed and trying to figure out what we should do. I ended up falling twice after one of the dogs lunged at me, leaving bruises on my leg. My brother and I took alternate routes to see if we could escape from them. I scaled over some miniature walls while my brother went through a patch of trees and we managed to find each other on a small roadway. We met a local along the way who kindly walked with us to the small town we had intended to visit. We thought our luck had finally changed, but we ended up being stranded in that ghost town for nearly three hours, and all the stray dogs followed us; we felt somewhat like the dog whisperer. My brother later told me that during his life of knowing me, he had never seen as much fear in my eyes as the time we were harassed by the dogs. Bad luck had haunted us like a ghost since Day One and still showed no sign of leaving–on our last day in Athens, we were robbed once again. At that point, we were already feeling numb and immune to anything bad that happened. I arrived at Logan Airport exclaiming, “I love Boston!” and “Boston Rules!” to which the Customs agent found amusing. My brother vowed never to leave this country again, and for myself, I felt like I needed to have a makeup vacation. We found out later that shortly after our departure from Greece, people were rioting in Athens. I guess we were lucky to leave before it happened.
Although the trip wasn’t what I had expected, I had learned that no matter how much you plan for anything, unexpected things can happen. And when you are in your most vulnerable state of mind, you begin to realize who matters most. As the saying goes, “The past is a history, the future is a mystery, and today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present.” Be appreciative of those who love you and live your life to the fullest everyday. You never know what’s going to happen next! Happy New Year, Everyone!
(This article was originally published in the SAMPAN newsletter on January 16, 2009.)