lunedì 25 novembre 2013

The Wisdom of a Californian Retired

When I arrive in my beloved Bangkok I like to stay in Hotel Sananwan for many reasons: it is a cheap, clean hotel and has a friendly, english speaking staff, it has a nice swimming pool (Woraburi Hotel in Nana has only a roof "puddle"), it is sited in a very Thai and cheap area called Bangplee Yai, it is near a lovely old floating market and last but not least there are so many interesting travellers you can meet and have a talk during your stay.
This time it happened to have such a very interesting meeting a few hours before my departure (leaving Asia and BKK is always a sad story), while I was waiting for my lap top to connect skype. This guy whose name I can't remember, I'll call him, John (...I hope he won't get offended) is from California and has been living in Asia for 7 years as a retired. He travelled extensively in central and South America then he eventually chose Asia as his safe "retiring nest". Once I told him I am Italian he approached me with some spanish words as it usually happens, maybe because Spanish is a more charming language ahaha but I can speak it so I didn't mind his excuses. John told me that the best country for an American retired is certainly Thailand because this country is very well organized and reasonable cheap as far as the rate exchange keeps at this exchange rate (31THB for 1 dollar). Hospitals are clean, modern and well maintained, Internet connection dirty cheap and widely available, BKK  in particular and the country in general has good roads and transport system, people well educated, friendly and even poors are not starving and can use hospitals for a scrap of the real price of the service (in The Philippines he said that poors are just given a lethal order to send them fast to the heaven!) BUT he also added, and I totally agree with him, that Thailand is a very closed country, with bad relationships with its neighbours, closed in itself, not eager to learn english or other languages. If you are a Farang (foreigner) you can feel it always, everywhere and everytime, there is a kind of virtual barrier that keeps you as a second class cityzen, a barrier that you will never ever be able to cope with. Yet after a few lovestories, he fed up with Thai women because even those who can't speak english (too many even among Bangkok graduated young students), even those who have never had before a relationship with farangs, sooner or later tried to exploit him spurred by their friends or their family, especially if the lady is the oldest daughter, which means that her duty is to provide financial support for all her mother's family! He added that because of this, many retired farang friends have split up with their Thai girlfriends and prefer to be alone. John has also a house in Cebu City, in The Philippines, country that he seems to know very well and that he tried to explain me. He said that "Pinay women are the sweetest and the most beautiful of the world...but remember that their mum comes FIRST" and they live in a wonderful but very unfortunate country for several reasons: the politicians of The Philippines are very corrupted, much more than anywhere else, the country belongs entirely to a handful of families, there are regularly thyphoons and eathquakes ravaging and destroying houses, hospitals, churches and schools which will not be rebuilt by the government unless they are privately restored, there are many gangs of armed "bandidos"like in Mexico he said. Yet there is no middle class there, you are fucking rich or you are desperately poor like those very small kids sleeping on the roads of Manila which has a population density higher then Calcutta (!!). His favourite place in The Philippines is by far Palawan island where their is a slow pace lifestyle, natural beauties and also very low population density. But of course also a very low nightlife scene.
He has a beautiful Pinay girlfriend who, helped by him, is going to graduate soon, and he's also planning to take her in Thailand. Let's say that in his opinion a perfect combination would be to live in Thailand with a Pinay girlfriend.
What about Indonesia and Indonesian women I asked. He said to forget about this country full of fucking muslim fondamentalists who obliged their government to displace the 2013 Miss Universe Beauty contest from Jakarta to Bali (where several years ago there was a terrorist attack). He added that being an American they would immediately recognize him (how can they???), such a different and pleasant experience I had with Indonesians however!
I hope to meet John next year, he's a very good buddy and this is one of the most rewarding side of travelling around the world with open mind and smiling lips, receive something and give something to everyone you meet on your path of life.

venerdì 22 novembre 2013

Jakarta here I am

We often face a choice between what you already have, what you already know and what is totally NEW. It may seem a simple choice but it is NOT: My friend Mario for example spent 40 years of vacation among 3 countries and eat ALWAYS at the same time and almost the same meal, another friend, Maury can spend half an hour looking at the menu but you already know that he will eat a ham and mozzarella always! Changing is always a risk, it always implies you can get wrong while keeping in the same place, with the same meal means you already know your stuff. But you never know what is out of the door if you never open it;-)
My friend Ale was on the verge to go back home while I had one more week and I was totally undecided. Should I stay and relax in thailand eating Pad thai and swimming in Sananwan Hotel pool??Or maybe should I return to Phnom Pen and finally meet again my nice friend Khonty???Or should I fly to Jakarta and start the discovery of Indonesia??? There I just had a couple of local penpals and an italian acquaintance living in jakarta but too busy with his business to care of me, nothing more. Moreover the flight ticket was not so cheap being a lastminute decision.
Thanks to Ale's spur I resolved to get my fisrt Indonesian experience and I didn't regret this decision.
Jakarta is a huge, ugly, polluted, metropolis engulfed by a crazy traffic jam which can make seem other big cities like Milan or Rome as a small town with some traffic problems. Early in the morning the road in front of Maharani Hotel was just a long endless queue of cars and motorbikes, a metal snake crawling toward the city center and even at nighttime when it was supposed to be a relaxing time, there still was a high level of traffic so that when I was eating something in a small tent-stall on the sidewalk, I could hear a big noise and breath lot of smog. So what?? So I loved Jakarta and Indonesian anyway. They were very fine, curious and friendly, smiling and always eager to help me, from the hotel staff to the motorbike guys, from the veiled shop assistant of Seven Eleven Lulù to my penpals' friends. Educated people can speak english very well and those who can not will help you in any other words Indonesians are much much more similar to us than Thai people. Also I noticed that many foreigners who have never been to this huge country are misleaded by the fact that Indonesia is a muslim country and by the cruel and bloody terroristic bomb attack of Bali in 2005. Sure there are many mosques, sure there are many strict muslims and sure some of them must be some fucking asshole planning something similar, BUT most of people are as fine as I have just written. Yet in a 11 million city, as you could expect, there is also a considerable number of agnostic, moderate muslims, buddhist and catholic people who like to enjoy the life and hang out exactly as everywhere in the world. Jakarta is definitively not Jedda ahahahaha
Food is also tasty and genuine, tasty, simple and very cheap especially if you eat it on the road stalls or in simple small restaurants. I tasted Nasi Goreng (rice) with cuttlefish, with tiny dried fish and with vegetable and loved it. Also gado gado (a cucumber salad) is nice, pity that my friend waluh couldn't find a place to make me taste her favourite food Bakso, a kind of meat balls soup.
The highlights of these few days in Jakarta were the flea market in Jalan Surabaya where you can find so many lovely second hand things: from huge embalmed sea turtle to 2ndWW english helmet or gas mask, from crystal(or glass???) chandelier to old balinese puppet. It's a wonderful small world where you can spend a pleasant afternoon and with good bargaining skills can get lot of cheap and lovely souvenirs. The second highlight was the only mall I visited, the huge ITC in kunigan area, not as modern and flashy as bangkok ones but also filled of too many stuff and nice people to have a talk.
My first friend Starcy was fine and kind to help me find a decent inexpensive hotel in south Jakarta and to introduce me to other funny friends who are very liberal, smokers and in search of a foreigner good deals. But the very unexpected meeting was with my second penpal Galuh who is a stunning, lovely, open mind, easygoing girl always ready to asnwer my questions about Jakarta and Indonesian language, about local culture and tradition, to take me to the flea market, to Pepe Nero restaurant (I almost never eat in Italian restaurants while abroad ahaha) and to be a wonderful, great and sweet mate with whom I had a total syntony. Such a pity she has a naughty, dark and scaring twin sister.

giovedì 21 novembre 2013

Thailand with Ale

Finally I returned to Thailand after 2 years of Africa.  I missed this country as much as I loved Africa, this is the "curse"of travellers who leave part of their heart in each country, better, in each town or hamlet they visit. I didn't miss too much Thai people, I know it's a pity saying it, but I missed so much Krung Tep or Bangkok. This huge, frantic, polluted, megalopolis so greatly described by Lawrence Osborne in his "Bangkok Days". I also missed the delicious Thai food or better I dreamed it for so long that it really couldn't refrain from spending all the time eating and tasting food, although I was not brave enough to taste "maeng da"...insects!
It was an interesting travel ,even if we rushed everyday to visit too many markets and malls, because this was the first time of my African friend in Asia and NOT  a bad place to have a start! Whenever you talk with a friend of a country you put your experience, your feeling, your pieces of infos and advices in order to let him/her understand what he's going to expect and find BUT that's not enough, even at this time of internet, googlemap, youtube and so on, a first times will definitively have his cultural shock in the same moment he puts his foot on the soil of this new country, and it exactly happened to Ale too.
I could see his marvel and suprise everytime we were walking around Bangkok downtown at 2am without any kind of problem, any kind of danger, any kind of stressful encounter. Sure we were meeting plastic penis and viagra sellers, hookers (Nigerian ones pretending to be from Kenya ahaha), arabic tailors inviting you inside, bargirls asking your to have a sit and drink, Brazilian tourists but everytime "mai pelai", no problem. And We are talking of a 13 million city. His wonder increased whenever we took the skytrain (bts): It is a frequent, clean and perfect way to move fast around Bangkok, not to mention the huge and modern shopping malls, the clean and inspiring assorted food or the stunning educated people on the street or in the subway, entering in a perfect queue and keeping quiet during the trip (almost everybody was playing with his smartphone or Ipad actually, it seems a national sport here).
Sometimes I shared his amazed and bemused attitude...I was here in Thailand twice, didn't I remember it???? Maybe I did not, maybe I forgot it. Of course I was tantalizing myself that Thailand has not his load of corruption or traffic or pollution problems, of course Japan is probably a far better organized country but definitively we both appreciated so much our 2 weeks stay and we wished that Italy could be more similar to this country than the sad, corrupted and shabby place it started to be some years ago.

martedì 5 marzo 2013

Tabou and Izhak

Last week we visited my friend's sister in law; in Africa (as it is in South Italy) it's extremely important if not vital to keep a strong connection with every member of your huge family.
When we got there we met a young couple also waiting for the arrival of the homeowners. We started to make some questions until my friend, with his Senegalese attuned feeling discovered the real reason of their visit.
Tabou and Izhak, both 21yo students (a good student should finish his college studies at 18-19), the boy comes from Kolda, in the south region of Casamance, while Tabou is orphan and comes from Keur Moussa, on the outskirts of Dakar. "By fault" they got a small baby and immediately their families stopped their financial support. Senegal is a traditional muslim country and despite its tolerant culture from many points of view, to get a baby out of a marriage is considered a deep shame for all their families.

My friend had a serious, honest and frank talk with them in order to understand how they could manage this situation, what would they do, how could they be so foolish and irresponsible? Didn't they know about the existance of condoms which are given for free in the hospital? Izhak seemed more sincere than her, he realized how silly were they and added that she didn't want to use any condom, she confirmed it saying that she was virgin and that she "didn't want to be a woman for every man". We were just astonished, they had no money for food nor for transport, they were desperate and...dangerous. Their tiny baby, that ebony angel was sleeping in my hands, this newborn kid who still had no name (they had no money for the traditional offer of a slaughtered mutton during a baby baptism) was risking to be killed and thrown away in a black bag.
The following days we called them to offer to adopt their baby or at least to take him to a catholic monastery where the noons could take care of him...we were so sad.

giovedì 14 febbraio 2013

Omar the businessman

Last week end we decided to exit the frantic and polluted city of Dakar in order to find some rest and relax in Saly, near Mbour where my friend and his brothers own a huge wonderful villa. The beach is nice and the rythm here is much slower and relaxed, we spent a lovely week end although Saly is a resume of all the consequences that an incontrolloed and unplanned Tourism growth can bring; prices are extremely expensive, a rush in buying a piece of earth where to build your manor often attached to the neighbour wall, concrete buildings invading the sandy beach, lot of discos and bars mostly populated by foreigners and hookers came here to find their life chance with a toubab. RDC, Etage, King, Zanzibar are all pretty similar with these ingredients, We just passed through Somone which anyway seems a more populated and more african spot than Saly as it seems also Mbour, this is definitively a side of Senegal I dont love.
I have just assisted an attempt of theft on a collective bus, called Car Rapide, its my first time but my friend says it happens quite often in these small buses which are the cheapest way of moving around. I will never justify a thief however life in Dakar is extremely expensive even for a european, imagine for a local earning 30 or 40 euro a month.
That weekend in Saly gave me also the opportunity to meet Omar who is a very nice and friendly man. He is in the beginning of his forties, married with a french lady and living in Paris with their lovely metices kids, hes a businessman importing and exporting African clothes. He loves living in a luxurious style, spend all his time answering one of his many mobiles, travelling around the world, eating in expensive restaurants, staying at top level five stars resorts and driving very nice cars. So far nothing special you would argue....and I would agree with you, anyway I reazlized that other than his French wife he has an African woman who knows he is married with the french lady and suspects he has some other women...yes he also likes a lot women. In the following days I met a second African wife and I have been told that he has many more in Africa, I was astounded for how to difficult his life should be, how careful he should alwys be with them, how expensive but also probably rewarding should be to have so many kids around Europe and Africa. What really puzzle me is the reason he like this kind of game. I dont blame him, as far as he feels confortable with his mind and with his heart, there must be no problem, also every woman probably feels whats going on but accept it because he is heavily supporting them, letting them a few days of luxurious life a few days per month and give them all they needs to grow their kids. But why to copmlicate your life is such a strange African way?????

mercoledì 6 febbraio 2013

An interesting afternoon chez Tierno

Being a curious, or maybe a nosy, guy I often bisiege my Senegalese host with too many questions. Yesterday I exploited Tierno patience and sympathy; we were sitting on his sofa while his lovely child Bigue was watcing some cartoons on the lap top and his huge nighbour family rushing frantically and noisilly preparing for their new born baptism ceremony. Tierno explained that in Senegal getting pregnant out of a wedding is still a huge taboo, a shame for all the family and its not uncommon that the gulty woman is asqked to leave the house and run away. As a result Senegalese men generally don't like to get involved in a relationship with a woman who already has a child letting these women with a very few options like searching for a Nasaran  or white man (this is the real African Dream) or for the same purpose but also for getting a better paid job, they start a prostitute career in those centreville or Almadie or saly disco and bars filled with foreign tourists. When I went to Le Patio bar with Mario, I liked to talk with these girls perceiving immediately the huge difference between those professional, cold, tough ones and a bunch of still nice, discouraged but sill hoping others.
In Senegal too habits are changing fast, especially in Dakar, anyway, if you go to smaller town like Kaolak or to the villages, virginity is still considered a great symbol of purity, respect and honour to the point that in some houses a first night wedding blood stained  sheet is proudly hung on the wall for years.
I didn't dare to ask my friend if his nice spouse, who actually is a cousin of him, got virging to the wedding, but I do suspect she was.

venerdì 25 gennaio 2013

Senegal nekh ngama

Here again, despite my mum and friends insistance that I changed plan, I returned in my beloved Senegal. This time with Mario, e new friend who was also a good buddy.
My plan was to come here with Ale but her cute small baby wanted like to spend a few more weeks in the cold Italian weather thus I finally spent these first 2 weeks with Mario.
It was a completely different vacation, so far we just visited saint Louis and Dakar but we loved to meet new friends and get new experiences. Last year Ale was a protector angel more than a brother while this year despite plenty of help and planning from Italy, we deeply entered in a new African dimension in the good and also bad side. As Ale previously explained me, I realized that in Africa a toubab is always considered a rich guy who can spend for himself and his friends, this principle is apply for almost any African man or woman, rich or poor, in fact Doctor Diof gave me a warm welcome to dakar by asking me 5 or 6 times more than a taxi would have asked me for the same trips to the airport, not enough he and his staff took us to a small inexpensive restaurant to have lunch and obviously to get their lunch paid. Often when someone take you somewhere you will be asked to pay for petrol; which is quite wierd in our culture anyway if you keep relaxed; understand their different point of view and learn from previous mistake you will gradually start to adjust and adapt to all these new situations enjoying every moment of your stay.
Since most of those local friends revealed unreliable or unefficient chaperons, I and Mario shifted to become independent travellers. In Sanit Louis campus we met a pretty and fine spanish speaking girl Magui as well as a lawyer student Nikolas who introduced us to Awa and other students, he took us to the cheap restaurant La Source where we had delicious and cheap faco brochette. Yet the nice student Marie Gaby took us to the gendarmerie to explain how Mario was stolen of his Samsung Galaxy Note in the market before SL bridge.
In Dakar too we met lot of new friends and step by step we started to filter the few good and honest ones from the mass of those who would have taken advantage of us only. Nicolas suggested that we go to Le Voyageur discoteque on fridqy night and it was a wonderful place to meet good friends being fed up with Le Patio or Yengoulem or Chez Willy filled with prostitutes, whereas Le Farou Beach was a disappointing spot for a saturday night, bad people and bad music. Doctor Julienne, a colleague of doctor Badiane, also a good friend of us, suggested The Castle nightclub as well as Just Four You, since she is a very kind and serious person I am almost sure that we can also enjoy those places.
Dakar is a very frantic interesting city and senegal, once you learn how to walk alone properly, is a fantastic country.