Monday, December 27, 2010

Scattered thoughts/11

Photo "Thinking?" by galo/* (CC)
- Being content with one's common life is still better than putting up with it.

- When you are in an alien place you shouldn't turn yourself into a problem: you never know how people could decide to solve you.

- Sometimes it feels like you're left with the fishbone of your heart.

- You are in Asia, sitting at some restaurant, looking at the local customers who are interacting with the waiter: there's something elusive, a cultural nuance, a linguistic detail, a custom difference. You think about it and all of a sudden you realize what it is: since you can remember you have always asked for your food, you've never really ordered it.

- I've often been saved by my ability to fill voids with enthusiasm.

You can find more thoughts here.

P.S. This year I haven't published any Christmas post. Last year though, I've written three on the topic. You can read them here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Paradigmatic chameleons

I still remember, how could I forget, those new graduates who used to write to the companies exactly what the managers were expecting to read, with their perfect resumes, their career paths drawn with great attention to detail, based on forecasts of a future that has never come true. And their great deal of information on the job market, which they almost seem to be able to manipulate. They used to praise the coming of the new economy before large parts of its body became gangrenous and finally turned into premature fossils, to lecture us on safe and profitable investments before the hail of the stock market crises, to declare the dominance of finance over industry, work, service, innovative ideas before the tricks and the rottenness of that world emerged like excrements from the bottom of the sea.
And they used to climb - they probably still do it - organigramme walls, planting their feet on rungs of human ladders, insisting on calling them "resources" when "means" would have been more appropriate, swimming like sharks that devour smaller fish in the executive private aquariums of predators much bigger and ferocious than themselves.
Nowadays they often languish on careers that are static, stagnant, stale, sta-various-other-things, floundering in the corporate mire that little by little has swallowed their souls. They pretend they have never failed, avoiding any reference to the past and wrapping the present with an enthusiasm which by now is nothing more than a trash sack. Their empty words meant for effect can't amaze us any longer and they only end up proclaiming the calcification of their approach, while our smile - mute and deafening - simply declare our unwillingness to humiliate them, certainly not fear, reverence or lack of courage. 
Years back our letters have often been ignored, thrown away or shredded. We didn't even understand their false advices, confused by our innocence and dazzled by their technical nonsense. We fell back on jobs that we might not have liked, but one way or another one has to go on living. 
Our lack of preparation and planning has made us vulnerable to the calamities of precariousness, but little by little we have adapted to the new conditions, we've learned, gained experience, we've grown up. A new species was born out of this process. In a world that devours today what only yesterday looked like science fiction - swallowing, gushing out, ruminating, digesting and expelling new horizons at a dizzy pace - we have managed to make some room for ourselves: the paradigmatic chameleons. 
We could become extinct before we even find our space in the market biosphere. But that's not sure, not yet at least. Unlike them we still have some cards to play, and you can count on that: we will play them, some of us will do.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Relaxation - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Beer on a table at Jalan Alor
The plastic stool is small and hard, the table is tilted and shaking, walking vendors are hassling the clients with wooden baskets, laser pens and paper tissues. The street is rather dirty and messy and at any time you can expect a rat to come out of a hole in the curb, bound for a bone that lays not far from your shoe. 
Still I sit down: at once newtons of tension start to pour out of some point located deep in the center of my body, emerging to the surface, running along the skin of my limbs, the line of my spine, until they reach the plastic of chair and table, descend towards the asphalt and disappear into the city sewers. Some toxic matter sublimes from my head too, as if I'd just been walking under the tropical rain and once I'd reached a shelter thin pillars of vapor were slowly lifting from my scalp. 
Suddenly I'm relaxed, I can feel it especially in my back, that thanks me by way of a gentle tickle. And I didn't even know that I wasn't. 
It's not only for the variety of the food or the cheap beer, it's also to watch this reaction of my body that i come to this restaurant in Jalan Alor so often.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Only in South East Asia - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo by Mugley (CC)
I'm walking along Jalan Alor, a semi-pedestrian street lined up with traditional restaurants. I look at the signs on my left, then my attention gets caught by a girl with a menu approaching me from my right when my foot slips on something: the object is slimy underneath and soft on top. It felt like walking on a rug that was resting on some engine oil. I take a quick glance at the ground. There only seems to be a spot of a slightly darker shade of gray than the one of the asphalt. I stoop and take a better look at it: it looks like some animal's fur. Then I notice two little star-shaped things, a long and thin protuberance, some chiaroscuro effects here and there...every doubt is dispelled by now: the thing I stepped on is the mashed body of a rat, disgusting.
The idea of walking into the house with the contaminated sole is upsetting me. A few meters ahead I come across a puddle, it's stagnant water from a recent storm: it's dirty, alright, but for a rat it might well be a posh Jacuzzi tub. I place my foot into it, I shake it a little and then I move on.
Some drops are falling from a balcony onto the sidewalk, forming a tiny stream between the slabs of cement: I don't know exactly what the nature and the source of the liquid are but I still use it to give the filthy rubber a second rinse. Then chance hands me the weapon for a coup de grâce. A restaurant has just been closed and the waiters are throwing buckets of soapy water on their section of the sidewalk. My trainer passes through the suds like a vehicle at the car wash.
With the tropical heat the synthetic material has dried up before I enter my building. 
South East Asia is dirty, no one can deny that, but in what other place the same elements of its untidiness also provide what you need to clean up?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Homage to the pedestrian/2: the mutation - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo by Steve Webel (CC)
"Green light, let's go!" We used to say it when we had just got our driving licences and our underage brothers were in the car with us. In Kuala Lumpur, on the other hand, if you are dressing the part of a pedestrian you'll need to say that sentence at any age. Actually the slower your reflexes become the more you'll have to anticipate the traffic conditions. 
I'm waiting for the green light before I can cross Jalan Sultan Ismail Road, a wide city artery cutting the business district into halves. Here it is, with long strides I try to kick away a bad premonition. The green man has been blinking since it showed up and it really seems that there is no time to waste. As soon as I get past the center line curb what I was fearing actually happens: we get a red light. I reckon that it is one of the tricks of those cunning city officials, who want us to clear the junction as quickly as possible. I am still confident that they'll leave us a sufficiently long interval to reach safety before they release the vehicles that are screeching by the stop line. Hell no, they give them a green light! I'm forced to complete the crossing with three mighty chamois-like jumps. 
How did they calculate the timing? Did they hire Carl Lewis as a test-consultant?
Maybe they count on the fact that people will stop at the curb, making use of two green light turns to complete the crossing. But behind all this there might also be a sordid conspiracy with a ghastly ultimate aim: the total extermination of the pedestrians, a cumbersome and annoying species, not strictly necessary anyway. They lure the biggest possible number of specimens into a trap settled right in the middle of the road, like the one that I just fell into, just to release their motorized beasts, thirsty for pedestrian blood after having been forced for long seconds into a cage made of white lines that was nailing them down to the junction.
But they didn't take into account the interposition of Mr. Charles Darwin, outstanding man of science as well as friend of every pedestrian. Natural selection will turn us into sturdy groups of two-footed gazelles paradoxically crossbred with a slightly washed-out breed of cheetahs. Under the new guise we shall survive and proliferate: through leaps, rushes and crossed lanes the fight will continue for long.
Dear exterminators, you won't make it: the genocide you're dreaming of is not around the corner yet!

You can read part one here

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The missing bowl - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

"[...]The three bowls represent Malaysia's multiracial culture living harmoniously in unity. Ascending to signify the growing aspirations of the people. Serenely the water converges from all directions, an endless source of blessing and prosperity[...]"
It's written near a sculptural fountain installed at the entrance of the Pavilion, a luxurious, modern shopping mall right in the center of Kuala Lumpur business and tourist district.
I guess that the three bowls represent those Malaysians whose forefathers came from the Indonesian archipelago, Eastern China and Southern India. How funny, they seem to have forgot to add at least another bowl: the one for the ethnic group that was already here before the pioneers of the other three arrived. The Orang Asli, the real Bumiputra, the sons of the land. 
The name will probably remind some of you of the famous apes that live in the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra: the Orang Utan. Well, the majority of the Orang Asli also live in the jungle or in rural areas and, come to think about it, considering that the poverty rate among them is 76%, the omission of their bowl is quite appropriate, if that sculpture is meant to represent those races  that share the political and economic power of the country, who live in the cities, patronize shopping malls like the Pavilion and for whom the water of the fountain is an endless source of blessing and prosperity.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Random thoughts/10

A gondola in Venice, by Fabio
- Pride is a problem, not a virtue: one needs to solve it, not boast about it.

- If one goes to Venice and only notices the odor of the stagnant water he doesn't have to worry about his sense of smell: it's working fine! He might need to see an eye specialist though.

- In order to gauge a person's stinginess level the rate of loyalty to consumerism is not a good indicator, the income/expenses ratio is much better. Between one who earns 100 and spends 100, and another one who earns 1000 and spends 200, who is the stingier?

- Some handphones and laptops are great electronic devices. As conversation topics, though, they are quite dull. Using them is much better than spending time talking about them.

- Single=solitary=alone=sad...this sequence of equations is largely overrated. If one wants to know what real sadness is, he just needs to look carefully at some couples' lives.

For more thoughts click here

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Those nice guys - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo by slimmer_jimmer (CC)
There is an illegaly parked vehicle at Bukit Bintang Road. A police car approaches it from behind and when it stops just few centimeters from its bumper the officer at the wheel starts to honk. Actually, rather than a horn this sounds like a siren. A piercing howling that captures the attention of numerous people who are crowding the area, including the owner of the car, who quickly opens the door and gets on. For a few seconds he nervously fumbles with the key, under the amused gazes of the onlookers, while the officer keeps teasing him intermittently pressing the horn button. After a while he manages to ease his panic, he starts the engine and drives out of there. The police car also starts to move, finally silent. When it's passing in front of me I look at the four cops who are laughing their bellies off.
I still don't understand whether they are really bored or patrolling this area is lots of fun.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The solitary traveler's nightmare/2 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

"Nightmare", by brentbat (CC)

Continued from here

The nightmare materialized again in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at an open-air restaurant. Two minutes after having ordered a soup and a fruit juice a doubt got hold of me, I put a hand into my pocket with that usual scared-cat-jump of mine, I didn't take out money but my cellphone instead and while I was pretending to read an urgent message I called the waiter and canceled my order.
Once I was outside, shame and sense of guilt suddenly fell on me, like a monsoon rain. How can it be - I kept saying to myself - such bad manners. Leaving like that, after having ordered. And how I did it...with that ridiculous coupe de theatre.
Half an hour later I was already back, my pockets full of Ringgit. I apologized and ordered again.
"Did you actually make some of the things that I ordered earlier?"
"Well, your juice, but don't worry about that..."
At the end I asked to be charged for the fruit juice as well and I left a good tip.
They knew me at that restaurant, I could have explained the situation, stay, eat and later on come back and pay. I could have but I wouldn't have been able to, because embarrassment, paranoia and ancestral complexes are often more difficult to face than those rebels in the desert. Well, perhaps not the rebels, but the kids in the dark alley, maybe...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Homage to the pedestrian/1 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo by sinkdd (CC)
I join the crowd that is waiting for the green light at the pedestrian crossing. Bukit Bintang is a busy area. Cars, motorbikes and people of various nationalities are competing for those precious square meters. 
It's time for the vehicles coming from our right to cross the junction. When they finally stop, the ones in front of us start to move forward, turn right and drive past us (in Malaysia, a former British colony, they drive on the left hand side). Shortly it should be our turn, I look at the vaguely anxious expressions of the people who crowd around me. I turn to face the junction again. What happened? The cars coming from our right are advancing again! Maybe our turn started and ended while I was absentmindedly looking around. Weird, nobody else has crossed the road either.
During the next cycle I focus and carefully follow the sequence of the green light turns. The cars coming from our right stop now, alright, the ones coming from in front of us start to move forward, as expected, red light for them now, they stop, a little suspense and...they fooled us again! Damned cheaters, just because you think we're the weakest? We'll see...
Together with two young Arabs and a Caucasian man, I lead the counter-attack, a couple of girls scream but finally everybody is walking behind us. We advance along the zebra crossing with careful but resolute steps. The red man look at us from the top of his road perch, haughty and glittering. We defy his authority and disobey his order with the pride of someone who has had to endure injustices for years and finally rose up, has already set off and now can only keep going with inexorable madness. Lots of vehicles arrive very near us, but there's many of us, determined and irritated. They stop to let us cross, no one honks, nobody complains with grimaces or puffing. 
We made it, we got to the opposite sidewalk. The formation disperse, the braves exchange knowing looks. Today's battle is won, but this war is tough, dirty and still long. Many will have to interrupt their advance, forced to withdraw and take shelter in the trenches of their starting sidewalk. Others will fall, run over by cars or by the invectives of those who drive and don't recognize their right to cross. We shall remember them, we shall respect their fervor and courage, we shall honor their sacrifice by fighting to the end to reach the other shore, the longed-for-sidewalk. And we will fight again, always, everywhere.
Other battles lay in wait for us, but today we can enjoy the glory for our conquest: the well deserved landing to the other side of the road.
Our barricade. Our front.

You can read part two here

Aung San Suu Kyi, I'm begging you: don't sneeze in public!

Photo by Breff (CC)
Like thousands of other people around the world I was also moved when I saw Aung San Suu Kyi walking out of the house where she has lived as a prisoner for so many years, finally free.
I don't trust those old rogues of the Burmese military junta though. In the past they found the most grotesque excuses to jail her. I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to put her back under house arrest the first time she catches a cold, for the sake of her own health.
Aung San Suu Kyi, I beg you: don't sneeze in public!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The solitary traveler's nightmare/1 - Tokyo, Japan

The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781
What is the most common nightmare of a person who travels alone, far from home, in an unknown place, where people speak another language and think in a different way, a country with alien customs, traditions, values and laws? Is it being assaulted in a filthy and dark alley by a gang of kids, high on crack, with bulging and wet eyes, empty bellies, holding shiny blades in their hands? Or that someone slips two hundred grams of heroin into your bag, a few meters away from the customs, in a country where drug dealing is punished with death penalty? Or perhaps it is boarding a flight of a secondary carrier in a developing country and starting to notice creaking, squeaking, vibrations, failures and draughts when the hatches have already been locked? Or will it be running into a group of armed rebels in a desert area, a hundred kilometers away from the nearest town?
Not for me. Not that I am what you would call an intrepid globetrotter but this kind of misfortunes - maybe because I haven't personally experienced any of them - seem quite unlikely to happen to me.
The nightmare that can cover my forehead with beads of cold sweat, my inexhaustible source of panic, the only reason why I might not want to hang around alone or out of my customary routes, what really frightens me most is the thought of being in a restaurant and after having ordered my dinner - just when I'm about to relax, looking forward to tasting one of my favorite dishes - realizing that I don't have even a cent with me.
It happened to me twice. The first time in Japan, in the outskirts of Tokyo, fortunately not far from where I was staying. That time I managed to finish a whole bowl of beef and rice before putting a hand in my pocket only to fish out the hope to possess a bundle of Yens. As it's often the case in Japan, the cook/waiter/cashier who was standing behind the counter at which I was sitting couldn't speak a word in English: he was just looking at me with a baffled expression while he kept chopping his vegetables with a large knife. I rummaged through my bag and I thanked my good luck when I found my passport inside. I handed it to him and with theatrical and slow gestures I tried to explain that I would be back in no time. 
I got home without breathing, I grabbed all the money I could find and I rolled down the stairs. When I entered the restaurant I was purple-faced, soaked with sweat and on the verge of dying of asphyxia, holding a tangled mass of Yens as if it was a relay baton. After I paid, the cook, with the impassible expression of a Kabuki mask, laid down the machete, took my passport from under the table and gave it back to me.
I gave him my passport, I kept thinking while I was walking. My passport...well, in Japan you can trust them, here at least. But then I was at that again: I gave him my passport, my passport...well, if you don't trust somebody even in Japan, could I do that, my passport...

URL change

As you have probably already noticed I finally decided to get a custom URL. The new blog address is now:
You can update your links and bookmarks!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Barriers of an (almost) intangible type - Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok Government Center
World citizen, cosmopolitan soul, international attitude, free spirit. All of these are very evocative expressions. They recall images of poets and thinkers sitting at a table, a glass of absinthe near the notebook and a goose quill pen in the hand. Self proclaimed as such as you can be, you still have to face the ones who don't agree with you...and there's loads: lawmakers, members of central and local governments, police officers, immigration officers, customs officers, independence and separatist movements, chauvinists, extra-parliamentary groups, xenophobes, religious fanatics, nationalists, localists, regionalists. Everyone, in their own fashion, will tend to make you feel like an alien, a stranger, a citizen of a faraway place, not yet of the world but of a small town, a district, a neighborhood or a block.
I currently hold a Thai student visa, which I got by joining a language school, after having paid the fees for a whole year in advance, as it's normally done here. It's not so bad though: at least here I can pay the rent every month, whereas when I was in China I had to settle the twelve-month account, plus deposit, on the spot - with a stack of filthy 100 RMB notes - before the keys were handed to me.
Let's not stray from the topic though: in order to give you an example of how the aforementioned saboteurs will act in order to make you feel like a (not too) welcome guest all the time, I'll tell you about my latest visit to the Bangkok immigration office.
I need to kill two birds with a stone: an extension of stay and a re-entry permit for an upcoming trip to Malaysia (for an explanation of these terms you can refer to the addendum at the end of this post). In brief, two applications, two numbers, two queues, two counters, two stamps, two pains in the neck, two everything you can think of. I need an almost perfect combination of events and an auspicious alignment of stars not to be forced to spend the whole day at the office.
I choose the time of arrival with rather accurate randomness: not too early, to avoid the annoying queue in front of the closed door - all those people throwing defiant looks at each other and silently scheming - and not too late, in order not to be given a three-digit number.
A number is not handed out unless a form has been correctly filled. I get the proper one, I fill it and I stick my photo on it, using a glue that smears my passport and the school papers. Every time I try to remind myself to use just a little of it, but it's always too much, too watery, too greasy and smelly.
I still haven't got the passport copies (they're essential! The original document is never enough for some people...), but I decide to try my luck and I face the guy who hands out the numbers anyway, otherwise a lot of people will get ahead of me. I'm lucky, I get number 37, then I go to the photocopy shop and after I'm done I reach the counters.
A newly installed screen is broadcasting a video explaining the procedures and why every application needs about fifteen minutes to be processed. The possible reasons for a delay are also listed (to make it short: it's always the applicant's fault).
It's a complicated routine and an application has to go through a considerable number of hands before it can be approved by the supervisor, but taking into account the quantity of open counters and the number that I got I should be able to make it in the morning. It's better not to count too much on it though, unexpected events are always lying in wait: when I'm in the hands of bureaucrats I never fail to feel like a partridge in a wood beaten by poachers.
The situation is fluid, the sequence of numbers is running smoothly, when number 30 is called there is still a long way to go before the dreaded twelve o'clock deadline, lunch break time. A woman is given a passport, but instead of leaving happy and relieved she gets back to her seat. After a few minutes they give her another one. And she sits down again. Damn! She represents a group of Burmese immigrants, which means that she's submitting many applications with only one number. I'll have to wait much longer than expected. But I should still be able to make it.
In fact my moment of glory arrives very soon: I hand passport, documents and cash, and as everything is alright I can go back to my seat. The employee will enter some data into a computer and check them. I keep an eye on her, there doesn't seem to be any problem and everything is passed on to the Financial Officer.
From now on it is difficult to monitor the progression of the process as the applications are piled up and a lot of people are bustling about the table. I can just use my intuition.
When I reckon that my passport is already on the supervisor's desk - the final step of the procedure - the machine calls the number of a lady who walks with an arrogant pace and a threatening look, the obvious signs of a person who has got a problem but is poised to fight to the last breath before giving up. In fact the greener who is in charge of the first procedural step slightly shakes her head and starts to say something, but the other shuts her up with a couple of sharp remarks and has her call her manager. And he happens to be the supervisor who was about to stamp my passport.
I fear the worst. The supervisor sits at the greener's place, takes a look at the papers and then, smiling and without haste, starts to explain the regulations to the woman. She answers point for point, haranguing, pointing at some place, referring to something and quoting someone. I walk around, hop and mumble to give vent to my irritation. They go on like this for a long time, before the supervisor decides to give her one more chance, sending her to a colleague of his. Why didn't he do that earlier?
It's my turn, they give me my passport with the extension stamp on it, but it's already twelve o'clock. I try to get started with the re-entry permit application before everybody goes out for lunch, but it's too late, I'll have to get a number after one o'clock.
I get down to the basement of this brand new and imposing Government Center, which looks like the airport of a main Chinese city: a parade of might and wealth, a striking showdown.
I stroll, look around, eat something, have a coffee and then I go back to the immigration office. One more form, the glue, the photos. Where are my photos? Damn, I must have lost them this morning: I'll have to go downstairs again. It doesn't take long: God bless the digital era. A few years back I heard somebody using a curious expression: "digital crisis". It was the owner of a photo developing and printing shop. Those people are the only ones who could call it like that.
I get back to the office. This procedure is easier than the previous one and by two o'clock I'm already done.
When I'm getting on the cab I take a last look at the building and a painful thought crosses my mind: I will have to return here soon, way too soon. The veggies and rice patter on the pit of my stomach. World citizen, free spirit: I wonder if Diogenes and Voltaire also had to extend their visas every three months.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The tap - Burma

Photo by malla_mi (CC)
The last supper in Pagan took place at a restaurant facing a dirt road, in the tourist district. Few customers, no apostles, just some fellow travelers that I recently met. But a Burmese Judas hidden somewhere in the kitchen had already betrayed me.
Fortunately the coach stops at a rudimentary filling station, a few more kilometers and I wouldn't have made it. The passengers are slowly getting off, they light up their cigarettes, stretch their backs, buy something at the small shop. In a downhill position I slide towards the toilet in the back. I shut the door with haste, nervously fiddling with the rusty bolt. I tear my pants away, rip up my boxers and squat over the toilet. I look at the wood of the door in front of me, its wide grains and its ruts polished by the years. It looks like the doors of the stables that I used to see when I was a child, during the weeks of summer holidays at the Southern Apennines. Impromptu thoughts of an uncomfortable position. This state of absent-mindedness is interrupted by a sound: like water gushing out of a tap and falling into a capacious or very deep container, causing an echoing sound. Actually there is a tap: it's supposed to be used to fill the bucket for the flush. But it's tightly closed right now: not even a drop is pouring out of it. How strange. I quickly look around but I cannot spot any other ones: then a very light sensation located somewhere near my lower back raises a surprising doubt. What the hell...the tap is me! This diarrhea is so watery and smooth that I can hardly feel it. The flow keeps going for a while, giving me the impression that I've become a full goatskin and that someone has just opened the nozzle. Then - all of a sudden, without reducing its speed first - it stops. When I stand up I look at the china and I cannot see any trace of the stuff. 
When I go out the drivers have just finished fixing some technical problem (there will be many more later on, and all the foreign passengers will get mad about it, except me, of course, for obvious reasons).
We stop two more times because of some other damage and I punctually open the tap and let go the pressure that is swelling my guts. 
Unfortunately the next attack doesn't match a mechanical failure. I hold on, clench my teeth, as the unwritten traveler's textbook says, but after a while I cannot stand it anymore. I ask the driver if he can stop the bus. He cannot speak English but an old monk helps me out. In a country of devote Buddhists like this, his words sound like an incontrovertible order and the driver stops the bus at the edge of the road. The crowd disperse over a large field, under the shade of some huge tropical trees. While everybody is looking for a trunk or a bush to pee, I find a hidden corner and re-open my valve. 
I've become a celebrity among the passengers, who have seen me talking with the monk. Back on the bus he recommends me to be careful when I choose where and what to eat. I am also approached by a Thai businessman who starts to whispers because he doesn't want to be recognized - the Siamese, even though a few centuries have passed since the devastating Burmese invasions, are still very suspicious - and tells me that some Burmese restaurants can be extremely unhygienic, as if this was actually a secret.
Halfway through the trip - which will last almost ten hours more than expected - all of a sudden I feel well again. I even manage to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night when the bus is parked once again and the driver is hitting some piece of metal with a hammer. The Burmese endure it in religious silence, the other tourists wake up and swear. Finally I can focus on this kind of details without having my attention jerked by my guts every five minutes: I turn towards the window, I look at the moon that light up the rice fields, the palm trees and the desolation of this service station, I lean my greasy forehead against the glass, I mist it up by breathing out a long sigh and then, without being noticed, I start to giggle with extreme pleasure.

Burma, September 2002

This post is part of the of the Saga of the runs, the other episodes can be found here

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's here, among us, all this - Northern Laos

The Plain of Jars is already behind us. The journey from Phonsavan to the main Vientiane-Luang Prabang route is many hours long. Actually it's only a short distance, more or less a hundred kilometers, but it will take a day to the Korean bus to cover it. These roads have not been asphalted yet, they are made of a clay that becomes a bog with the rain, and weave with curves and switchbacks in and out the mountain range that wrinkles the body of the country. The roadway is very narrow, like an ordinary lane that has to accommodate the traffic going both ways. Looking out of the window, on one side you're faced with the rugged wall of an excavated mountain, on the other your eyes can span across the landscape that dominates a steep and deep ravine. There is not any protection and it looks like the soil is going to yield at any time. When we cross another vehicle the bus is forced to proceed along the edge of the road, with its wheels dangerously playing between the rim and the air. The passengers often get off the bus, partly because they want to stretch their legs and partly because of the apprehension caused by the acrobatic maneuvers. Sometimes the bus drives so slowly that it is possible to follow it on foot at a normal speed. 
The aisle is jammed: sacks, bags, baskets and boxes are heaped on the floor. I'm sitting in the back and I'm thinking that walking all the way to the door is like advancing upstream on the rocks of a creek. I take a look around, I open the window, I climb up the seat and jump outside. We have to proceed side by side with a column of cars, bulldozers, trucks: the traffic jam will last for a while. Together with the other passengers I walk along some kind of path that runs along the flank of the mountain, one meter from the road. We chat, walk and look around. Only a few old people and a bunch of ladies are still on the bus. The driver is steering the wheel with care, just missing the other vehicles, utilizing the narrow space between metal, soil and slope, making the bus slide like an eel amid rocks. He manages to get past the difficult parts of the route without complaining or making faces, while he's eating a cucumber without even chopping it, as if it was a banana. The remaining passengers advance along the path with the same sort of fatalism. 
The sky is shiny, your eyes need to get used to the light before you can look at it right in the heart. Even the clouds are of a fluorescent shade of gray. The scenery helps to fend off boredom, which at any rate is - and must be - present as an excipient in the composition of traveling. 
Luang Prabang is still far, but Laos is here, among us, all this.

Northern Laos, November 2001

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What makes the difference - Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor Roads, by Un rosarino en Vietnam
60 dollars for a weekly pass. A heavy blow, well, at least if you're trying to stretch your budget - a tight one - on a two-three-year-long bed of travels. On the other hand I don't feel like visiting Angkor like the majority of the tourists that I've met so far does. Just one, two or three days. Wake up at dawn, sprinting from a hill to a temple, panting from a hut to a monument, back to the hotel at dinner time, with confused memories: where were the roots of those centuries-old trees, that wrap up the walls and the statues? And the bas-reliefs? What was the name of the four-faced-heads temple? Wat...Wat...Wat something...
Well, I'm willing to leave the "Wat something" experience to someone else. The weekly pass will allow me to take it easy - which, by the way, is my favorite hobby. I can see the temples at dawn today and at sunset tomorrow. I can focus on Angkor Wat one day, on Bayon and Ta Phrom another, on the circuit of the minor temples later on. Easy, relaxed, spending the morning or the afternoon at the guest house, reading, studying and planning my next visit. Or in Siem Reap's colonial quarter, taking photos, scribbling, peeking, nibbling, browsing, chatting, getting lost, watching, daydreaming - which happen to be my other favorite hobbies.
To tell the truth, I will start to use these tactics only on the third-fourth day. At the beginning the charm of Angkor will get hold of me and - victim of an irresistible greed for experience and atmosphere - even i will be swallowed up by the dust and the heat that choke this place. The first day I follow the standard procedure: I rent a motorbike with a driver who leaves me at the temples and picks me up once I'm done. I feel like a bag with arms and legs, hat and camera, only lacking brain and totally character-less. At the end of the day I feel uncomfortable: it's an indigestion of notions without the experience seasoning.
In the evening I meet a Japanese backpacker, dressed up the typical way: sunglasses and a small white towel wrapped around the head. I'll call him Akira, after an animation movie that I watched many years ago. Akira is visiting the temples by bicycle. Everyday he rents one downtown, rides it along the road that leads to the site and pedals his way around the temples.
"What's the difference?"
"You try first, then you'll let me know!"
"Alright, I'll join you tomorrow then..."
Obviously a bicycle is cheaper than a motorbike, good news for my savings. I'm not fit and the bike is not like the ones they use at the Tour de France, so I can only progress very slowly. Akira is right though, compared with the motorbike this is another story. I couldn't imagine that the sound is what makes the difference. It's as if I were in an old recording studio and a technician had turned off the engine's frequency switch, turning up the others. I can listen to the birds chirping, the children playing, a man who is sawing a piece of wood behind his house, a dog barking at a mole. Angkor, in perfect oriental style, is an archaeological site surrounded by people who keep living their lives, with houses, small shops, schools. It's a magical atmosphere that I would have completely missed hadn't I listened to all those sounds. It takes long to reach each temple, but the journey is not boring at all. I have time to look at the vegetation, at the fauna, the life, the colors, the shades. Sometimes i sink into this new Angkor, its hypnotic atmosphere, so deep that I cannot re-emerge before I get to a temple, and I proceed to the next one.
I get back to Siem Reap in the evening. I look at myself in the mirror: it's as if I had crossed the Sahara on foot. I'm soiled like a ridiculous chimney sweep of the fairy tales. The blanket that is covering me is not made of soot but of dirt-road's dust hardened with sweat. My shirt, which I would normally put in the washing machine, is beyond reclaim: I take it off and directly throw it away. I take a half hour-long shower, and I have to scratch very energetically to take off the crust that is wrapping me up.
Starting tomorrow there will not be any more day-long expeditions. I'll enjoy the temples two-three hours at a time. But the bicycle, that simple and clever idea that I owe to Akira, well, nobody is ever gonna take it away from me.

Angkor, Cambodia, March 2002

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A new breed - Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Japanese bridge, Pai, by Fabio
September 2001. The Twin Towers collapsed a few days ago, as well as my prospect of a solid career, a secure job, promotions, a guaranteed salary, a pension at the end and all the things like that. When I say collapsed I mean that I tore it down with my own hands, not that it came down by itself or that someone else helped me to demolish it.
Let's not stray from the point though. September 2001, we were saying. I've just landed in Asia, determined to visit as big a portion of it as I can before my savings run out. The road that connects Chiang Mai and Pai is the same thin and winding path marked by the Japanese along the hills and the valleys of Mae Hong Son province during the second world war. Pai is starting to develop: there are a few guest houses, some agencies that organize trekking tours and rent bicycles, a number of restaurants and a couple of bars with Siamese cowboys playing live country and folk tunes. Waves of Thai tourists will start to flood this small town in a few years, for the moment only a few dozen foreigners a day arrive. And they do it by means of a run down micro-bus, probably built to accommodate baby midgets, gaudy colored and rusty, loud, burning-hot and full like a constipated bowel. The air-conditioned minivan service doesn't exist yet, let alone the small airplanes that land nearby nowadays. Unless you have a car or a motorbike the Playmobil bus is the only option available. The foreign passengers are mingling with a disproportionate number of Thais, who are not Thais in the real sense of the word, as almost all of them belong to the various minorities that inhabit the area: Shan, Karen, Akha, Lisu, Lahu. They are divided - or united - by sacks of rice, food, boxes of electrical appliances and utensils, poultry, fish and other mysterious objects. The one-and-a-quarter-person-seats are accommodating three-four people on average and the standard-sized foreigners have to find a way to handle the uncomfortable presence of their own knees. Others are sitting on a sort of big scorching bench that covers some mechanical parts of the bus, right next to the driver. The remaining ones are cramming the aisle.
I offer my seat to a woman overwhelmed with a huge basket that she carries on her shoulder as if it was a school-bag. Smiles and compliments are flooding me. It's low cost popularity, luxury that one can indulge on just in situations like this. After a while the bus starts to sputter, it slows down, then catches up, coughs again, jumps and halfway through a rather steep slope it finally comes to a stop. The driver is working hard on the ignition system and the starter is assisting him by screaming out loud, trying to wake the engine up, but there is nothing to do, the latter is deaf. We have to get off and considering the temperature, space and smell related issues none of the foreigners really take it badly. The locals, as it often happens in Asia, endure the events without any noticeable changes of facial expression. After half an hour though, the initial relief gives way to some puffs, that in a few minutes turn into outright restlessness. Then something happens. A Japanese pick up drives by, the only Thai tourist around (with hindsight I should call him a pioneer) stops it, asks for a lift and then waves to the bunch of people behind him. A dozen foreigners manage to find a place on the truck that a few seconds later has already disappeared behind a switchback. The ones who were left behind got the trick and are planning to stop the next car. I'm stunned by the heat and the cramps and I haven't decided whether I'm going to stay here or follow them. As usual I postpone the decision and I wait for something or someone to give me a cue. The oracle presents itself under the appearance of Makoto, a Japanese guy, all smiles, energy and clear ideas. Ten seconds next to him work better than a jar of Redbull. 
"I'm definitely gonna stay. Can you see how they are working hard to repair the bus and take us to Pai? I can't possibly leave them like this!" 
For a moment I don't react, then the power of the sentence and the purpose hits me like a Mike Tyson's punch. I think that it would be nice to start crying when facing this kind of demonstrations of humanity, but this doesn't seem to be the most appropriate situation, so I opt for a smile. 
"Well then, I'll stay as well. There's no hurry, nobody is waiting for me..." 
It doesn't take long to fix the problem and in a couple of hours we're already in Pai.
Normally, when we think of stereotypes, negative images tend to occur to us. Italians are cunning fellows, Germans are boring, French are snobbish, Japanese are credulous tourists who take photos of everything. Well, Makoto represents a stereotype of Japan that I'm crazy about. Sticking to an idea, to a principle, not necessarily related to politics or nationalism but, as in this case, to human solidarity, good manners, gratitude, understanding and compassion. Resisting temptations, avoiding easy ways, not making excuses, even when dealing with oneself. Maybe it's a legacy of the samurai culture, or at least that's how I like to think of it. And all of this is always accompanied by smiles and positiveness. That's why after five seconds of bewilderment I was almost moved to tears. 
The Great Makoto. We'll continue traveling together for a few days. He's the one who will organize a mini-party at a restaurant for my birthday, involving the waitresses who will contribute with a succulent and colorful fruit platter, free of charge. And he's the one who will make me laugh again when, on his way back from a rush to the toilet of a bus station, breathless, panting, the forehead covered with beads of sweat, holding his belly while his mouth was twisted in grimaces of pain, to apologize for the delay he will come up with: "Sorry was an e-me-ru-gen-cyyy!"
The Great Makoto, exceptional stereotype. Representative for South East Asia of a new breed of samurai.

Mae Hong Son province, Thailand, September 2001

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bogged down - Muang Ngoi, Laos

American unexploded bombs, by Fabio
You set down a foot and control your muscles in order to be ready in case you slip. But you got it all wrong. The clay of Muang Ngoi streets is of an unusual type: after weeks of monsoon rain it turns into glue. A mixture that some chemistry laboratory - if they still haven't done it - should definitely analyze.
You don't have any problems when your sole touches the ground, as that slush clings to the rubber of your shoe like the almost dry concrete of a new sidewalk. At that stage your balance is guaranteed, your foot doesn't slide by a single centimeter. The situation changes when you take a second step and you shift the barycenter of your body to advance. Your head moves forward, your chest as well, your hips follow suit, your thigh and knee are also dragged along. But at ankle level something goes wrong. The first foot is anchored, stuck, welded, thermofused. You still don't realize how strong that bond is and you give a sharp tug, thinking that you can make it, as you have made it pretty much everywhere so far, with or without monsoon. The only thing that seems to yield though is the structure of your shoe: obviously its body is more likely to come off the sole than the latter is to get unstuck from the street. You fear the worst. You know that a violent move will leave you barefoot, so you try to keep calm while you carry out an outflanking maneuver, something that you learned long ago when you were lying on a dentist chair: a sequence of gentle circular pulls, hoping to loosen the grip before proceeding with the extraction. You already quit being afraid of looking ridiculous when you took a look around you a moment ago. You can't spot any Laotian stuck to the ground: either they are all at home or they have found out the way to skate on rubber cement. On the other hand the street is full of foreigners in the same situation as you. The scene makes you think of a museum hall where some kind of Blue Fairy by means of a few skillful touches of her wand has brought the statues to life, but has also played a dirty trick on them: one of their feet is still petrified, connected to the pedestal. All of them are flinging themselves about, maddened with joy for being finally able to move their limbs after so many centuries, but at the same time panicking for that last constraint that nails them down to the ground.
Finally you make it, the sole gets unstuck, you lift your foot and manage to take a step. You know that you won't go far though, that sooner or later the straps of your sandal will give in. Your intuition is confirmed by the footwear graveyard that lies in front of you: soles of other sandals, flip-flops, trainers and even trekking shoes appear here and there, thrust into mounds made of something that resembles home made chocolate ice cream, with a thousand times higher thickness and adhering power. 
I had already been in Muang Ngoi a few years ago, in the dry season: a completely different story. It's a little village built around few dirt roads, without any traffic, where you can only get by boat from Nong Khiaw, another small place not far from here. A little paradise, slightly spoiled by tourism maybe, but still retaining its charming atmosphere. Now it's unlivable. Hanging around the houses built with the American bomb shells is complicated and visiting the caves and the hills nearby is unthinkable. Tomorrow I'm gonna get on a boat and go back to Luang Prabang. 
By way of some grass paths and often walking barefoot I manage to reach a temple: some chicks are scratching around the yard and in a corner I can spot a gong-bell made with the remains of a bomb. I meet some nice guys from Bologna who manage to convince me to stay one more day. Alright, come to think about it with some nice company this place is not so bad.
The next morning after waking up I go and look for them to have breakfast together. They have already checked out of their hotel. I take a look around and all I can see is leaden clouds, leaves dripping with rain and a never ending expanse of quick-setting mud. Hard as I try I can't recall what the nice side of it that I could see yesterday was.
The next boat is leaving tomorrow, I'll have to stay here another day, bogged down in every sense of the word, with the only company of a book and a jug of coffee, while the Italians who convinced me to stay are enjoying the comforts and the French-colonial atmosphere of Luang Prabang. 
As for myself, the only French thing that is left here is a vaguely mocking saying: c'est la vie!

Muang Ngoi, Laos, August 2007

Friday, September 10, 2010

The dividing line - Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok-Pahonyothin Rd. traffic on a rainy night, by Fabio
I’m on a bus, standing, holding a pole with my hand. I’m the only foreign passenger on board, as usual on this line. I used to feel vaguely embarrassed about it. I was aware of the looks of the Thais, I could almost read their thoughts: “What is this farang doing here? Why doesn’t he take a taxi, or drive, or live downtown?” Although it’s true that this is what people here often think of foreigners, a slight breeze of paranoia was definitely blowing on my thoughts, making me feel that almost everybody was looking at me when it was not like that at all. Most of the passengers in fact were just dozing off after a long day at work, or chatting, reading, listening to music. Anyway with time my sensors have developed some sort of filter for this kind of sensations and I don’t notice all that anymore.
The bus is stuck in the third lane of a traffic light jam. My stop is just past the junction but I know myself well: I will start to daydream and I’ll be carried away by a chain of thoughts, numerous, rusty and battered like its links, and I will forget to get off. I approach the door and press the stop button in advance. The conductor looks at me and so do other people nearby, and this time I’m sure that I haven’t just imagined it. Oh, maybe…no, it can’t be…then the driver presses a button and the door opens. A devilish, unexpected example of the principle of cause-effect: I pressed the button and he opened the door. Just like that, just for me. It’s exactly what I was afraid of, even though my mind hadn’t had the time to develop a clear picture of it. Normally one rings the bell to request the next stop, not to have the doors opened right away. By the way, it’s written everywhere that buses can only pick up and drop off passengers at the official stops. This is a junction, trafficked and dangerous. But I pressed the button and the driver opened the damned door. I wait a moment, maybe someone gets off, erasing me from the picture like a little man in an unfinished cartoon. Unsurprisingly nobody moves. What do I do now? I’m going to get off, better than remaining on board, putting up a silly smile to let them know I was not aiming that high and make a fool of myself. A little jump, like that, look out for the motorbikes and that’s it, I’m already on the sidewalk, camouflaged with a discreet veil of purpose and determination, as if to say: “That’s exactly what I wanted to do!”
Now the Thais will be thinking: “Hey, look at that farang, how easy, he seems to be so used to the various details of the local customs!” Like this or with their own words, let them think what they want. They can't even suspect what the shameful truth is.
Well, who would have thought, sometimes the dividing line between fool and cool can be very thin!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

High-altitude scalpers - Medan, Indonesia

Crossing the morning sky, by Docbudie (CC)
We're done with Sumatra, we tick the item in the list and we proceed with our next destination: Java. We get back to Medan and we start to look for a flight. At the first travel agency a bored employee tells us that the flights to Jakarta - and to any other Indonesian city - are all full, for a few days.
"How...all of them?"
"All of them!"
This guy doesn't want to work, we all think at once while we start to look for another agency. Maybe the workers of the local tourism sector are lazy and bored, but this has nothing to do with flights availability. Due to some holiday the Indonesians, the students in particular, are traveling, migrating, flying. To go home, on vacation, to visit some friends, nobody knows where exactly, what we know is that they have completely jammed the national air traffic.
But we belong to an ancient breed of tough travelers and we won't give up that easily. We reach the airport with a rickety taxi. The national departures area is a bedlam of people who are camping everywhere, hoping for a waiting list to be cleared soon. We try the ticket offices of some airlines but this time we are not surprised by their answers: all full! A female scalper who got wind of the opportunity to cheat three pale-faced fools draws near us and offers us three boarding passes for a huge sum.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The answer

Heart of Satan, by Stuck in Customs (CC)
Sometimes the leaden cloud of doubts reappears in the sky of the mind. And it starts to pour down a heavy rain of questions. Questions that you have already answered in the past, so many times, not only with words or thoughts but with frustration, suffering and mild states of depression as well.
For a moment, though, you're at a loss, and you can't remember what that answer was. Stability, jobs, fixed salaries, professions, insurances, pensions schemes, health coverage. Why give all this up? What for? You could answer with words but it would only be the performance of a parrot, a meaningless rigmarole. You can't formulate the answer, you need to feel it.
Then you wander through the city, in those alleys and corners where restlessness meets the night, you have a beer too many, you watch the unlikely unfolding in front of you. You wake up too early or too late and you don't have to care. You read a book, and it might as well just be a paragraph, a dialog, a sentence, a thought...and all of a sudden it comes back to you. Now you know exactly what the answer is.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Trapped - Malaysia

Sign in a Thai tourist coach, by Fabio
I detected the first signal when I was strolling in the terminal. The jerking of a muscle, a small wave, nothing much. I ignored it like one does with the sudden pulsation of a vein, a nerve of an arm that goes off by itself. Or one of those thoughts that leave behind a sensation but not a clear memory. I probably brought it to the surface from the bottom of the Sea of Conscience by association of ideas, connecting events. The events, precisely, let's see how they unfold.
An hour later, when I was already trapped between the seats of a freezing bus, that first movement has started to reproduce: waves and jerkings now follow one another like bubbles in the water inside a pot. Unfortunately though, the pot is my belly and the boiling water is a stabbing bout of diarrhea. At first you try to keep the situation under control, tactfully releasing a little pressure, breathing deeply, contracting and relaxing in a continuous cycle. You can try to keep it under control as much as you like though, it's not going to help when you're crossing Malaysia lengthwise. In a few minutes you run out of degrees of freedom. 
I walk along the corridor, I approach the driver and ask him if he can stop the bus, but he doesn't seem to hear me. I say it again, nothing, I beg him but he looks like a mustached Sphinx perched on the steering wheel. He can hear me alright but he doesn't care: he just wants to reach his trusted gas station, where he'll get a commission for each unloaded passenger.
I would love to be like the hero of a legend of India's backpackers. In a similar situation this mythological traveler went to talk with the driver, the Indian guy smiled and stopped the bus. Then he got a second bout and asked for another break. This time the driver snorted but stopped again. The third time, though, he didn't listen to his request anymore. The foreigner mournfully took his shirt off, spread it out on his seat and then unloaded on it three good minutes of cramps, among heat, flies and the disgusted looks of the other passengers. Then he picked it up, like a picnic bundle, glanced outside and finally threw it out of the window. 
But I don't have the stuff legendary heroes are made of and this is not India, where the unlikely takes place. I have to wade through the twinges of pain, counting the contractions. I do it at the entrance, next to my torturer, so that some sense of guilt can erode his arrogance. When we get to the station I elbow my way to the toilet and then I feel well. After the initial disbandment my antibodies reorganized and mindful of the Asian months of hard training they quickly reunited to drive back the assault. 
But sure enough for a while I did fear the worst.

Malaysia, September 2003

P.S. As my regular readers will have surely noticed, for some unfathomable reason various anecdotes with a common topic keep coming back to my mind lately. It seems that I'm writing a sort of Saga of the runs. The other episodes can be found here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Never the same again, Bangkok - Thailand

Cockroach, by Rizalis (CC)
It used to be one of my favorite Isan places and I won't be able to eat there again. The husband of a friend of mine got a serious form of food poisoning and according to the doctors the bacteria that transmit it usually proliferate in cockroach feces. Feces that he is supposed to have come in contact with at that same restaurant. 
Unfortunately the consequences of this event are way more devastating and I'm not only talking about that poor guy's intestine. Since the day I heard about the infection, when I am eating at a simple restaurant I often imagine some cockroaches sitting on a mini-toilet bowl fixed to the edge of my plate. Little reddish-brown multi-limb creatures in unnatural postures browsing micro-glossy magazines featuring stars and actresses with feelers on the front pages, while they make efforts and almost human-like grimaces in order to expel dark specks of feces, ready to wipe their bottoms and throw the soiled toilet paper on my plate. 
Damned cockroaches, it will never be the same again: my passion for street food is seriously compromised!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The inoculation - Kunming, China

Making noodles, by Fabio
It's a warm summer night, a light breeze is sweeping the terrace and through the clear sky the vain moon is reflected in the still and dense surface of the lake. 
Some Italian friends of mine have just arrived to Kunming. After having hanged around the city for a few hours it's time to take them to dinner. To mitigate their cultural shock I'm trying to avoid the simple places where I normally go to eat, not because I'm worried by the quality of their food but for the boundary conditions that might upset the newcomers. Finally we've chosen this nice place with tables on the roof of a building facing the Green Lake, right next to my house.
A cute and refined waitress surprises us with a rather good English: among smiles and good manners we order a number of national and local specialties. 
About twenty minutes later - long enough to prepare each of the courses that we've just ordered - a different waiter walks towards our table. The conversation stops but our cheerfulness doesn't. We expect some kind of impeccable move, in accordance with a mood drugged by the atmosphere that is fluttering around us: that he refills our glasses, moves the salt container or a chair, or that he asks whether we would like some more beer or a particular sauce to go with our food.
"I'm sorry, the duck that you ordered is finished."

The past keeps knocking

Neurons, by Hljod.Huskona (CC)
Ever since I started to post on this blog - or even earlier, when I used to update an old website in Geocities - the idea has been to write down anything that strikes me, a detail that I've noticed, an original character, a nice scent or a revolting smell, or just a thought, a fancy, an impression. Normally I stroll, look around, daydream, then something reaches my radar and I jot down a line. Later, once I'm in front of a PC, I write a post out of it. Recently though, I've been haunted by events from a more or less distant past that I didn't even captured on a paper napkin. And I find myself writing about my life in China, in Laos or in Singapore. Fortunately the memory is often quite vivid. Or maybe sometimes I produce a mix of reality and imagination so realistic that I even manage to deceive myself. 
But this is all of minor importance. The question that arouses my curiosity is a different one: is this all fortuitous? A strange trick of the brain? Mnemonic streams trapped in those canals of gray matter that like orbits of celestial bodies intersect now and after that, who knows, in a hundred years, two glacial ages or never again? Or does this past that sticks its head out of the darkness of oblivion represent something? Do these images, anecdotes, people from years ago that I thought lost forever come back to knock at the door of my memory to communicate something, a general meaning, besides the one of the single stories? Probably an analyst could give me an answer, but I have neither the money nor the wish to go and ask for it.
And then who knows? At the end there might be an easier explanation. My relation with the past is a special one: I've always been a chromosomal nostalgic. I've already told you here and more recently here
Well, let's move on with the next post from the past then.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Strictly based in Chengdu - China

Sunday at the park, Chengdu. By Fabio
Our taxi - that metallic green Volkswagen sedan that is only manufactured and distributed in China - clatters and smokes on the elevated roads that cut across the center of Chengdu. We absentmindedly look at the squares, the parks, the giant screens and billboards. There is also a boat-restaurant, moored along the bank of what can be either an agonizing river or a filthy canal. To be a Chinese metropolis this city is not bad at all though: you can stroll around, people are nice and friendly, prices are reasonable and the cuisine is good, as long as some chili doesn't blow your tongue out.
It's weekend and we are headed for one of those areas where the authorities of every Chinese town love to confine (in accordance with some party guidelines?) the majority of nightclubs and bars. As these places are basically supermarkets of fun they usually belong to chains and big corporations and therefore have the same names everywhere: you can change province, hear new languages, see different faces or customs but you will find a Babyface, a Mix or something like that wherever you go.
"Guess where Luca is right now."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Think and think and think/9

"Mine is not insomnia, it's just a little carelessness: sometimes I start to daydream and I forget to fall asleep."

"The language section of my brain must have a limited capacity: when a Thai word sneaks in a Chinese one slips out."

"Did you ask since when? I've always been nostalgic! When I was born I cried because I already missed my mum's womb."

"When they ask me what my job is I say that I'm a freelance...then I think to myself: 'very free...and little lance'"

"After having born shyness for so many years, would you be able to point out something good about it?"

For more thoughts click here

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

They made it - Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou Airport, by Fabio
It's one of those nights when you abandon yourself to the fragrance of the wind, to encounters, to what life can offer you, not for next year or tomorrow, but right on the spot, on that sidewalk, many hours before the day will come and make you rationalize it all. And this process, at least in my case, is most effective when I am abroad, better if in a place where I don't know anybody, where I don't have any connections, any buoy to hold on to when the current is taking me adrift. If the events unfold in Asia then, or even better in China, where not even one's normal cultural grips can be of some help, it's even more risky, succulent and exciting. 
The right place, for this night at least, is Guangzhou, a city where the majority of the foreigners come attracted by a disproportionate giant that people here call fair. To try their luck, to make money, to squeeze one of the southern tits of this cow, China, that seems to be growing out of any control, a victim of some cell that must have gone mad. And where I, not to be the original type but because of a genuine helpless nature, have arrived by chance, on my way from Hong Kong to Kunming, a place in the South-West in whose tranquility I have let myself be lulled for more than a year.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Around KL - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Old houses in Kuala Lumpur. By Fabio
Unlike the European city centers, too heavily restored, the Asian colonial quarters retain a genuine air. In the back of the Chinese taverns the battered utensils relentlessly hit the woks with hypnotizing tok-toks. In the Indian restaurants curry-stained fingers keep stirring rice and vegetables on banana leaves. After a while though one gets hold of his glare, aims it at the facade and sees the pastel colors, the cracked and blackened plaster, the decorated balconies and a date in relief.

The models at my condo beside beauty and nice dresses possess some amazing superpowers as well: when I meet them in the lift and smile at them they appear to be able to see right through my body and they keep staring blankly at the wall behind me.

At the gym
A: What's the best part or working out for you?
B: [Seriously] The sauna...
A: hahaha...OK, I like that as well...and the second best?
B: [More seriously] ...the hot shower...

A few days later I met the models again. As the corridor is narrow I made some space for them. They walked past me without acknowledging my existence as if they were some princesses in an ancient kingdom and I just a simple untouchable pariah. Next time I meet them I'm gonna walk on their bodies. Considering their height, I might actually have to climb them...

Still at the gym
A: Hey, why don't you put some weights on that barbell?
B: [As serious as ever] Because then it's hard...

If the rain in KL stops when the sun has just set you can watch the city through an HD screen: the atmosphere is high-tech, as in a computer game, and the edges are shiny, as if they were sprinkled with gold dust.

They call it planning, they call it development, but these are words with a positive connotation. And the planners in KL are developing a mess...