After my flight from Bangkok to Helsinki, I take the bus to the downtown station and walk towards my hotel. I finally arrive at the proper street but do I turn right or left? I stop a man and ask directions and he points to the right. I notice he is wearing a Star of David so we chat a bit and he points out that the Helsinki Synagogue stands just down the street to the left. **
The next morning, my very first stop is the synagogue. The security guard is a young Israeli man and he confronts me with a long set of questions before he allows me through the iron gate. The office manager was quite willing to give me a tour. I asked about prayer services and she suggested I return on Thursday morning.
Many years ago I had an American-Hungarian friend. She insisted that Hungarian was “different” and resembled no other language in Europe. Since I was a young man who thought he already knew everything, I doubted my friend’s characterization of her language.
Hungary lies in the middle of Central Europe. Certainly the language is in some way similar to her neighbors’. Surely Hungarian is related to Slovakian Slavic, or Romanian Romance, or Austrian Germanic?
Well I was dead wrong!
My research revealed that Hungarian is not associated with any of the Indo-European language groups such as Slavic (Slovakian, Russian, et al) or Romance (Romanian, French, et al) or Germanic (German, English, et al).
Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language that is descended from the languages that emerged from beyond the Ural Mountains in Central Asia. The Mongols brought these languages with them when they conquered much of Eastern and Central Europe in the Thirteenth Century. The closest cousins to modern Hungarian are Finish and Estonian that are also part of the same language group.
So here in Helsinki, I cannot understand a sign or speak one word. I did learn to say hello – hei, and thank you – kiitos.
Despite the gloomy weather and the potentially muddy country roads, my guide Ilian and I decide to visit a Tibet style temple and to explore the mountain villages above Bingzhongluo here in the upper and remote reaches of Yunnan Province. We hire a local man with a four-wheel drive vehicle.
At the height of the Japanese military power during World War II, their armed forces occupied large areas of China, blockaded the ports, and closed almost all of the roads. “The Burma Road” -the one open route that snaked through the mountains from India, through Burma to western China - was bombed by Japanese fighter planes. Eventually, trucks ceased to transport goods to the Chinese Nationalist Army fighting the Japanese.
“The Hump” became the vital lifeline.
Here at the “Wind and Snow Mountain Pass” I can only begin to imagine what the American and Chinese aviators described as “Flying The Hump.”