Here you won't find the pages of a pedantic journal, praises to fantastic places or accounts of memorable encounters. This is a collection of stories, thoughts, images, and most of all odd stuff, even though to someone else it might actually look ordinary. To discern its bizarre side, in fact, special filters are needed: cynicism, fussiness, stubbornness, isolation, impudence, nosiness and nerdiness. All flaws that, in different measure, this semi-nomadic being has got embedded in his genes.
Just a few days to go, then 2011 will be over and the dreadful 2012 will start. Last week I was talking with a friend about the (in)famous Mayan prediction when I suddenly had a doubt: how could the Mayas predict that our civilization would end in 2012 if they could not foresee the end of theirs a few centuries ago?
Had they minded their own business they might have lived longer...
Having been a rather regular customer of AirAsia - since the beginning, when they were still using old planes and few people trusted them (“They are always late...they'll lose your luggage.” was the typical refrain people were singing in Malaysia) - I can say that their online booking procedure was fast, simple, transparent and fair, their prices among the cheapest and their brand one of the coolest. Well...not anymore.
Going through just a few screens, filling a limited number of fields and clicking some buttons one could choose date, destination, number of passengers, one way or return, could select their favorite flight among the available options, enter their personal data, the credit card ones and that was it. As I said: fast, simple, transparent and fair. No free meal and no seat allocation, true, but their prices were dirt cheap, really unbeatable on some routes.
This took by surprise the traditional carriers that lost large shares of the market while AirAsia, from a small player of the low cost niche, became one of the sector leaders. A real success story for Tony Fernandes, the Malaysian who, from a Warner Music manager, after acquiring an almost bankrupt state owned airline, got to be one of the richest and most innovative Asian entrepreneurs.
Little by little the disbanded forces of the enemies managed to reorganize themselves, filling the gap, while AirAsia incredibly decided to waste its resources of know-how and excellent reputation accumulated over the years, starting to make some of the same mistakes that had forced their competitors to give up their leading positions, plus others whose copyright its management is fully entitled to claim.
We already talked about Saigon traffic, its rivers of motorcycles, the precautions to be taken when crossing the road here.
Today, however, when I was walking downtown, I noticed that there is an aspect of this traffic, some of its dynamics, a specific circumstance that deserves to be dealt with separately. It's that moment when the light turns green and the motorbikes speed up.
Crossroads in Saigon are often supplied with traffic lights for vehicles only: the ones for pedestrians, normally installed at the ends of the zebra crossing, are missing. You are walking on the sidewalk and when you reach the junction you notice the usual legion of bikes drawn up behind the white line, you sense that they have a red light (even though you can't see it) and you hasten to cross the road.
...even if the light goes green they will wait for me to clear the road first...
This is a wild guess that might cost you very dearly. Re-read these last two lines three times before you proceed.
You're still in the middle of the first lane and the signals that you're picking up are not very encouraging. Engines rev up and down, some wheels advance a few centimeters and suddenly stop. You think of a group of race horses pawing the ground behind the starting line...but it's not the same feeling that you used to get when you were a kid, at the racetrack, sitting next to your dad, holding an ice cream and the bet tickets in your hands. You speed up but there is still a long way to go. Suddenly they all move: it's as if you were a ghost, a soul equipped with a translucent body, but you don't have that feeling of invulnerability you thought you would get when you wished you could have this power. It's like a wave. Nobody seems to have noticed you, yet you are there, conspicuous: the only pedestrian, Caucasian, frightened, in the middle of the road. What more do they need to see you?
Actually they don't do it on purpose, out of arrogance or sadism. They are heeding an automatism, they do this same thing dozens times a day, every day. A Vietnamese wouldn't behave like you: you are the inconceivable exception, they are not.
Obviously, at the very last moment they will do everything they can to avoid the impact: they will slow down, swerve, maybe they will even do the unthinkable - they'll stop. This fact, together with your gazelle-like dash, should help you to bring home your hide tonight.
Don't count too much on it though: even if so far you've been lucky, next time, before crossing a road, glance sideways at the main traffic light. If you see a yellow light hold on, you still have a big portion of life to live.
Photo: traffic light in front of the Continental Hotel, by Fabio
A guy jumps into a hole dug in the middle of the street to repair some pipe. There is a leak and the water is already neck-high. Come to think about it we are near Ben Thanh market, right in the center of Ho Chi Minh City, which used to be called Saigon only forty years ago (and informally still is): back then his ancestors might have been in a similar situation almost everyday, immersed in the inundated rice fields while fighting the American GIs. Some kind of loose legacy then: that might be the reason why he seems to be so completely at ease, cigarette in his mouth, chin tilted upwards, while he works on that pipe and talks to his friends, casually looking around at the passers by.