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.