Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Illini Hoops! Live in India?

I woke up Wednesday morning to perhaps the most bizarre sight I’ve seen since arriving in India six weeks ago. I flipped on my TV and the ESPN/Star sports network showed the live Illinois vs. Purdue men’s basketball game. I have been traveling abroad fairly consistently since 1986 and this is the very first time I watched one of my teams involved in a real live television broadcast. Sure I’ve seen scores of US Olympians and international teams play, but this was MY university playing on MY home court.

As I was watching the 2010 Illini miss shot after shot, I thought of how much my existence outside of the US has changed since my first long trip in 1987. That November I was on my way to work a high diving show in Hong Kong’s Ocean Park. When I said goodbye to my parents at O’Hare, I didn’t expect to see anything familiar again for the next five months.

Just one of those India things - this guy walked into my hotel the night before the game. First Chief I'd seen since leaving the Midwest.

I wasn’t far off either. The only connection Americans living abroad had were the two international newspapers, the International Herald Tribune and the USAToday. Somebody on our team got the IHT every day and everyone read it cover to cover. On Tuesday I would grab a USAToday to check out the NFL scores (games weren’t over in time for the Monday edition) and read the paragraph news summaries on Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri – the three states I’d lived in up to that point.

I wrote close to a dozen letters a week to my family, my close high school friends and my college team mates. To their credit, I don’t remember one single time anybody left me hanging – they always wrote back. Which made the lunchtime mail call at Ocean World Dolphinarium in Yeilui, Taiwan (I got transferred out of HK ten days after arriving) the highlight of my day.

I did bring along a few comfort items on that first trip that I continue to bring – although their format has changed wildly. I brought along a walkman recording deck; a case of Grateful Dead bootlegs I’d recorded; a crappy camera of some ilk (kept losing them) and my guitar. Looking around my room today the guitar is still there albeit an $800 Epiphone, a much better axe than my $200 Lys. Thanks to my sister Sue, The camera has been upgraded to a snazzy hi-res digital that shoots video and fits in my pocket; and the walkman & case of tapes have morphed into an 80-gig Ipod. There’s more music on that puppy than I’ll be able to swallow by the time I leave India. And thanks to my friend, Tom, instead of 12 Grateful Dead tapes, I’ve got almost every show they played from 1967 to 1975.

On that first trip to Taiwan, the only television I saw was a bunch of MTV videos on small TV screens hung above the tables at our local pool hall – which was called ‘The MTV Bar’. Three months into my stay I found out the Tien Mu (the western enclave we lived in) American Legion post had NFL games videotaped and Fed Exed to them from Los Angeles. Unfortunately, by the time I discovered this, it was Super Sunday so I only caught one game.

I'm pretty sure nobody in my nieghborhood got up early to catch the Illinois game.

As the years went by I took long contracts in Holland and France with the only immediate home-spun gratification continuing to be the two newspapers and mail call. The only time I ever had any daily contact with the U.S. was when I lived in the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai). We were on a four-month tour and stayed in hotels with TV’s. This was 1987-8 and cable TV usually meant a dozen channels coming in without having to adjust the horizontal hold. Saddam was in power in Iraq and he declared war on the U.S. which compelled Reagan to send a few battle ships into the Gulf. Along with the Navy came Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS).

In Abu Dhabi, if I bothered to get up at 7 a.m., I could catch Carson followed by Letterman. If I really wanted to make the effort they aired live US sports, but it came on at 4 a.m. For some reason the head of AFRTS couldn’t find it in his head to repeat the games later in the day, so I never caught any of them. Again, I settled for a taped Super Bowl, this time at a Mexican bar run by Philippinos (the resemblance to Mexicans was 100% convincing). The idiot local business man who videotaped the game just so he could hang out with the Americans, cut it short in the 4th quarter. Thank God it was the Doug Williams, Redskins v. Broncos blow out otherwise the guy would have had plenty of angry sailors in his face. Instead they were all just drunk and didn’t notice. We, on the other hand, had evening shows and soberly let the guy know what a dill weed he was.

Our choice of live sports in Abu Dhabi was limited to waiting for the field to cross the line at this camel race.

For the most part I spent six years knowing very little about the daily lives of my family and friends or the fate of my teams – Packers, Brewers, Bucks and Illini.

Fast forward to 2010 and the world that seemed to be so huge, is only as far away as my computer; the new comfort article I’ve been traveling with since 1997. Through FaceBook and email I’m in constant connection with everybody I’ve ever met. I can be as avid a fan of any of my teams as I care to be. If I had a quicker connection – which is coming here within the next year or two – I would be able to video conference and watch The Daily Show. And I’m 6000 ft. up in the Indian Himalayas!

Oddly enough the newspapers are gone now, but when I go on-line at work I’ve got more information than I care to digest. I can even pay my car insurance online and pull money out of my bank from the local ATM. Did I mention I’m in the freaking Indian Himalayas?

When I caught the game from Assembly Hall in Champaign (The House of Paign!), it was a nice surprise, but also a reminder of how tiny the planet has become. And incidentally four days later I even caught my new team, the WSU Cougars, get spanked around by UCLA

So is it a good thing? Sure it is. Pining for the no-contact days, would be like an old NFL QB saying how great it was in the days of the weekly concussion. I can’t tell you how much easier it is to get medical supplies up here than it was in even 2000. But I can’t help feeling that students traveling abroad are missing a big part of game. When I was diving off a cliff in the Gulf of Oman, I really felt like I was on the far side of reality. Nobody I see in the internet cafe where I'm typing has any idea what I'm talking about.

Today I found out a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in fifteen years had a broccoli omelet for breakfast – and hated it. I’ve been here for six weeks and I don’t know the price of a stamp. I'm not giving back any of my gadgets, but I do have to remind myself from time to time that I'm 12,000 miles from home!

Maybe I shold look through the telephone, DSL and TV cable lines and see if I notice anything...


  1. Just get enough bandwidth in there so we can rehearse virtually.

  2. 1992, I was in Galway for St. Patrick's Day. The parade came down the main drag toward the river, and what do I see? The Fighting Illini Marching band! On the that trip, I slowly traded all by GD bootlegs for English language books. Now, I suppose I could go on-line at hostel and have a book (anyone I want at that) delivered overnight by Amazon.com. In Galway, I picked up a Jane's Addiction bootleg on the street. I left it with Pat in Paris several weeks later.

  3. Holy shit!!! Let this be you'r last hospital adventure!!!! Linda

  4. I agree. Having gone from writing as small as I could on those wafer-thin blue air mail sheets to checking the traffic on the web to see if the drive out of O'Hare's parking lot would be dicy after I land is not an uncomfortable jump. Technology is moving fast, but only as fast as you want it to. Love your postings so we get a slice of your life and hear your comments as if you were still a couple time zones away. Nothing wrong with that! Can't wait to "watch" the Olympics with you!

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