Thursday, December 27, 2012

Adieu Pattaya!

The luminous sign on the hill overlooking Walking Street
It's time to leave Pattaya. The Italian friend of mine who works here and who often had me as a guest at his place this year has been transferred to the Chinese branch of his company. The relocation activities are almost over, we just have to complete some immigration paperwork for his dog and then we'll be done. He will fly to Shanghai, I will switch back to my beloved semi-nomadic mode. I can foresee lots of traveling, when I won't have to teach my courses. Mostly overland, the only way to enjoy what's in between places A and B, besides A and B themselves.
I cannot complain too much about this city. My friend was very hospitable and his house is fantastic. The pace of life, distances, traffic and even landscape are more on a human scale than, let's say, Bangkok, which is just 2 hours away. The beach and the sea water are not that good, actually they are rather bad but, hey, it's still the sea. The type of tourism and nightlife, invasive prostitution, corruption, rampant materialism and the heavily sleazy atmosphere will soon turn it into an unbearable place though. 
I'm fuckin' outta here. As some guys who are more interested in the model of bandanna or tank top they wear, the visibility of a tattoo or of their pectorals, their dreadlocks or the right tilt of their caps than the quality of the stuff that comes out of their mouths like to say. 
Goodbye Pattaya! Bizarre and often indecent anecdotes...you've told me a lot, and a lover of stories as I am can only be grateful for that. One thing is sure though: I don't think I will miss you, for a while at least.

PS I won't hear any new creepy Pattaya stories for a while, but that doesn't mean that I've already written every one I know. There will be other posts-humous on the subject. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Customer care-less - Thailand

This is another accusatory post. I'm publishing it for the benefit of those who are facing the same problem I had. And to try to affect as much as I can the reputation of the company involved, so that they can learn a lesson and act fairly in the future. For those who are not interested in the matter it might actually be a bit boring: just skip it and move on to the next post of this blog.

This time my target is the IT City group, a Thai store chain, specializing in computers and electronic products.
Before I start I actually have to admit that these probably are the best-stocked and fairest priced stores in Thailand. Unfortunately though, when I had a chance to test their attitude towards customers who have some problems (the so called customer or post sales service), the flunking was inevitable, immediate and absolute. And it definitely wasn't an isolated incident: the sequence of unacceptable situations was too long and serious to make any sort of extenuating circumstances applicable.
Here are the facts. My iFox USB internet card is out of order. It's my fault, it has been subjected to an unbearable sequence of blows and torsions, something inside was damaged and my PC doesn't recognize it anymore. It's a shame, I used to use it with a cheap AIS 3G plan and it never gave me any problem. I also tried to repair it: if possible I even made it worse. I'm a bit ashamed of that, but I was only trying to do what I had to do. My engineering qualification required me to try, success was hoped for but not to be taken for granted. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Like Rocky Balboa - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Every evening, after the class is over, I take off the teacher cloths, I wear shorts, a t-shirt, trainers and I go out for a jog. From Brickfields, near KL central station, to Bangsar, a half hour along the streets of some residential area. 
Malaysians exercise too, of course, but I suspect that they do it at those nice air-conditioned gyms or in some other area: in here I'm the only one trotting about. And those who I meet on the way must think that I am an eccentric westerner or a serious athlete who's preparing for an official contest (in the second case they probably didn't look carefully at my body). Anyway I must appear like one who you ought to smile, talk or show your sympathy to. The illegal parking attendant giggles and says: "He he...running, running...yes, yes..." The luxury condos security guards greet me: "Good evening, Sir!" And the passersby ask me, a bit rhetorically: "Going jogging, right?" Everybody laughs, sympathizes, encourages me. I normally set out to mind my business, stretch my muscles, do a couple of push-ups and then go back to my room, tired and satisfied. 
But I can't pretend that all this doesn't mean anything. So I reply, smile, greet, and their approaches infuse energy into me. I didn't know I needed it, but their humanity enters my bloodstream, invigorates, refreshes and excites me. I gain speed, lift my gaze and move more smoothly. I almost feel like Rocky Balboa training on the roads of Philadelphia, and when the street goes uphill it's as if I was climbing up that famous stairway, surrounded by kids. And when I am on top I could stop, throw my arms up in the air, jump and scream: "Come on Apollo Creed! I'm right here, your Italian Stallion, ready to kick your ass and rip that golden belt away from your waist!" 
But I don't do it. I turn around and get started on my way back instead. I also start to feel a bit tired actually: that damned hill, and that meaningless acceleration are taking their toll. Fortunately physics is coming to rescue me: what used to go up must necessarily go down on the way back. I just have to control my strides and watch my joints. 
Rocky Balboa my ass, right now I feel more like Danny Devito, Benny Hill or Mr. Bean. Still, what an adrenaline injection a stranger's smiles and nice words can be, especially in an alien place. Just like some kind of doping, only without side-effects.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Day trip to Genting Highlands, photo gallery included - Malaysia

Cable-cars or, as they call them here, gondolas
This could have been one of those foolish posts describing what one did on a day-off. If there is a fool here though, that one is me, as per my posts...never! They have to be taken over by humanity, with its good and evil ones, cynicism, hope, irony, preferably aimed at myself. Otherwise after a few lines I get bored and I throw everything in the trash bin.

I've been in Kuala Lumpur for almost a month and I haven't enjoyed a day of leave yet. On weekdays I teach from 9:30am to 4:30pm. On Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 7pm. I believe I am one of the few people who can't wait until Monday to have the chance to relax a bit. Today is my first day off and I wanna go somewhere for a day trip. I have to choose between the Batu caves and Genting Highlands. I've already been to both places some ten years ago. Well, let's see: the caves...very hot, al lot of steps to climb and all those monkeys jumping around. Genting can boast a cable car gliding over the jungle and the green-mountain-cool-weather. I'm gonna go for the latter.
As I still don't know what time I want to come back, at the ticket counter they convince me to buy a one way trip. "You'll buy your return ticket over there, it's a mere formality." It might sound like a prediction full of dark implications, but let's not start to be paranoid.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bizarre images/2

Bizarre and/or funny scenes from the world, personally seen and captured

Flies also fuck, you didn't know that? (Burano island, Venice, Italy)

Balanced rock sculptures (Zurich, Switzerland)

Wow, how original! Tourists lining up to hold the Leaning Tower (Pisa, Italy)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Merry shopping! Christmas wishes from Citibank - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Citibank Malaysia sincere christmas wishes
Merry Shopping, that's the christmas wishes that Citibank decided to extend to its customers in Kuala Lumpur this year.
How sad! Irreverent! Offensive! So materialist!
These are some of the first things that people might think upon reading that ad, especially those who have, or pretend they have, an entirely different idea of christmas. And yet, come to think of it, this is exactly what it is all about. Christmas, for big firms and retailers, is just an instrument to boost their sales. And the majority of their customers share the same opinion. Everybody knows it, and everybody acts accordingly. Why hiding behind a bunch of hypocritical expressions, thoughts, images and tunes then? This year Citibank decided to steer clear of all that, getting straight to the point. Maybe it was an unintentional excess of candor. We'll never find out. But if we only take notice of the actual effect, without questioning of anybody's motives, as far as I am concerned this is perfectly fine. 
Merry shopping to you all then!

Re-read last year's Christmas poem here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

An ancient Venetian saying applied to a luxurious shopping mall - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Look at that fine round toilet bowl...
An old Venetian saying goes: "The weather, your ass and the rich will always do as they please." (Original version: "El tempo, el cul e i siori li fa sempre quel che vol lori".)
And in fact, no longer than ten minutes ago I was surrounded by a crowd of arrogant little assholes on the hunt for christmas presents in the luxury shops of this fancy shopping mall, while a monsoon storm was raging outside. There you have it, you proverb-loving readers: as expected, the weather and the rich are doing their part. Only my ass is missing, I was thinking, but I was underestimating the jet of plutonian atmosphere that was hitting my guts while I was absentmindedly watching those fanatics coming and going. I kept thinking about it while that cold air was working away at my ribs and, most important, at my belly.
And that's probably why I'm conceiving this silly post in a restroom while, seated on a toilet bowl, I'm trying to relax my stiffened bowels. Finally my ass (never before so proverbial) has started to do as he pleases too. Fortunately in these shopping malls even the bathrooms are spotless and luxurious. Moreover, though it might seem paradoxical to someone, the pieces of shit that float in here are less sniffy than the ones that trot out there.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Passage-brothels in Brickfields - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo of a passage-brothel, taken hurriedly and on the sly
Brickfields is a neighborhood close to Kuala Lumpur central station (KL Sentral, yes, with "S"). Unlike other areas of the center it has remained rather untouched by the waves of modernity that altered large parts of the city, even though the imposing lines of skyscrapers and infrastructures besiege it assiduously. The district is home to a picturesque Little India, budget hotels, little multi-ethnic restaurants, street stalls and places of worship, including numerous Christian churches. 
The most bizarre joints, though, are a series of long and narrow passages facing the sidewalks. The entrance half-hidden by a rag used as a curtain, a pale pink light coming out of the clear sides, from which it is possible to peep at a sequence of run-down doors, each one watched over by a scantily-clad lady leaning on a doorpost or seated on a plastic stool. A pimp with the typical attitude of a human-spider (I was about to write spiderman, but I've read comics and watched cartoons and I know what the difference between good and evil is) is sitting or standing just outside. The customers enter and leave the places quite hurriedly, perhaps to comply with their embarrassment. Other people, with countenances ranging from the shady to the cutthroat, loaf around yelling, laughing, jeering at or shoving each other. A summary of urban social dreariness.
Family-run tiny brothels: in some of them you can even catch a glimpse of a kitchen and, in the back, as in every respectable Chinese house, a small and colorful Buddhist shrine. There are dozens of them, shameless, dismal, dirty, undisturbed. 
The pimps invite the passersby to take a look at the offers of the day. I often walk past some of them and am systematically ignored. I might cherish the fond hope that I am different from those other men, that I don't have the whoremonger's demeanor, but I know better than to fool myself like that. The shares of sexy man! and handsome guy! - all of them strictly fake -, that over the years the Thai bar-ladies have yelled at me too, wouldn't allow me to do that. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Durian: the real forbidden fruit, i.e. the measure of freedom - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A durian, split open with a machete, one of the flesh-beans still intact and a pulp-less seed
What does durian, a tropical fruit, have to do with freedom? Maybe nothing, maybe a lot.
Durian. I tried it for the first time many years ago, when I had just arrived to S.E. Asia. It might have been in Singapore: at Bugis Junction in fact, where I was staying, as soon as the picking season was under way the area filled up with street-stalls selling it. Even though I didn't find it disgusting, like the majority of the other westerners, I was not particularly impressed, but I wouldn't be able to tell why. I was not even stricken by its supposed, terrible stench. And to think that in Singapore, due to their bad smell, durians are forbidden at hotels, subway stations and other public places, even with illustrated prohibition signs. Then again, in Singapore it is even forbidden to import chewing gums, imagine eating stinking fruits indoor. In Asia I have eaten much worse smelling food than durians. Some varieties of chou doufu (stinking tofu) in China and Taiwan forced me to hold my nose when I was still fifty meters away from the source-restaurant. An intensity similar to the one that 20 years ago, in a small Appennino Lucano's town, was rising from a cliff where the carcass of a cow was rotting, and entered through the broken window, saturating the room, keeping my brother and me awake all night, looking for dead rats under the bed and checking our retches, while we couldn't stop laughing incredulously. Durians vaguely smell of kitchen gas, but it's not an unbearable odor.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

They sold the shopping mall entrance - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The late mall entrance, recently replaced by a shop
In Bukit Bintand, right in the heart of the city, there is a shopping mall. Like any other shopping mall this one also used to have its entrance, with large automatic glass doors, fancy lights and stylish floor. Those who run the mall decided to sell it. Yeah, they sold the entrance. The mall is still open, as usual, but the entrance was replaced by a clothing shop, that you have to walk through in case you wanna go in or out of the mall. With its smaller doors, aisles and the typical shop-feeling to be an intruder.
Let's try for a moment to go back in time and imagine the following scene. The steering committee of the company that owns the mall is having a meeting. An important client is willing to open a new outlet and wants a lot. 
"We've got nothing to offer him."
"What do you mean we got nothing? The upper floor is half empty!"
"You don't give this kind of clients the upper floor. They want the first one, possibly close to the entrance..."
"Moreover we don't have any rental contract expiring before the year 2020."
The room is suddenly wrapped in silence. Nobody has even the slightest idea of something to say. A young assistant, a recently hired graduate, rather bored leans over the map of the structure and points a finger at it. Then, almost to himself, he mutters:
"There is a vacant space right here.."
The boss quickly looks at him, starts to laugh in an arrogant way and dismisses him with a scornful remark:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

KL Monorail: the world's sweetest means of transport - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The KL Monorail mouse-like nose
KL monorail looks like a toy, a model city train, a sort of Lima elevated railway line.
With its tiny stations, tiny tension structures, tiny bulbs, tiny signs, tiny traffic lights, tiny stairs to move between the tiny platforms, tiny cars, tiny mouse-like nose, tiny headlights, tiny seats, tiny doors, tiny alarms that signal when they are being closed, tiny voice announcing the tiny stops, tiny wheels, tiny rails, all those tiny curves that make the tiny route so winding. As a matter of fact the monorail, poor thing, has to adapt to everything and nothing in this city ever bothers to budge even a little for it. On top of that they only gave it one rail: for such a train two would have definitely be too many.
In Bangkok the Monorail has a bigger cousin: the bulky, self-assured, haughty Skytrain, which proudly advances in a straight line over the main city thoroughfares: few curves and obstacles to get around.
The Monorail, on the other hand, is some kind of a joke, and a tiny one at that, of course. Yet, it is so sweet: every time I get aboard it's as if a ghost pinched the corners of my mouth, stretching a big smile across my face. The further I walk into the car the stronger the ghost's fingers pull my flesh and the more that smile expands. Torrid heat, monsoon rain, traffic, smog, the situation outside can be desperate indeed but the KL monorail never lets you down: every time you use it you get in a good mood.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The business class humiliation - Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur

I had often heard people talking about it as a quality choice, as compensation for overbooking or damaged seats issues or even as a shortcut to making useful acquaintances. I had always managed to stay away from it though. A proud member of the common people as I am, prompted by wild aversion for the parvenus' habits: golf, exclusive clubs, showy cars, jewels, middle class cottages and, precisely, business class. Finally, after a lot of uncomfortable and dusty journeys, cattle trucks, groups of prisoners, buses in unstable balance on the brink of deep ravines, long waits in no man's land, anti-illegal immigration control procedures, I ended up suffering that ignominy. I can't believe it was me, the same person who complained about getting from Venice to Bangkok in only 32 hours and who intends to do it overland one day just to make up for it. That guy, me, in business class, sneaked in on the sly. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't my choice, of course. The people who hire me to teach the courses booked my flight at the very last minute: all the economy seats were already sold out and they had to opt for an upgrade. Hadn't they done that they would have had no teacher for the first day's class: definitely unfeasible.
That's how I found myself stunned by a sequence of privileges that I have never needed before: dedicated check-in desk, outbound immigration premier lane, luxury lounge, priority seats at the gate, priority boarding, flying sofa, wide selection of glossy magazines, flight attendants stopping by to have a casual conversation (you have never noticed me when I was packed along with the other sardine-passangers there in the back of the plane, are you on the hunt for a rich husband? Well, you can keep looking then...), cool drink after take off, selected nuts (less than 30% peanuts!!! Isn't that great?), brocade tablecloth, tungsten cutlery, crystal glasses, a neighbor that smiles, thanks and nods like an Eton student and then again immigration premier lane upon arrival. Had they caught me walking the few hundred meters separating the airport shuttle station from the hotel, carrying a big bag and a guitar on my back, they would have banned me from their luxury club for life. 
Don't get me wrong, it is all very convenient: those details can totally change the way you travel. They actually make you feel as if you were not traveling at all. Yet, I have to say bad things about them. Even though these whims are not my cup of tea one can easily get used to them. When I come across anything that shines too brightly...I prefer to adopt the tramp's mistrust.

Photo by caribb (CC)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Being a heroine might not be enough

Besides a few fake stories Facebook can also be used to spread some interesting bits of news. Most important, true ones. The following one for instance.
During WWII a Polish lady, Irena Sendler, saved 2500 Jewish children from certain death at the hand of the Nazis by sneaking them out of the Warsaw ghetto in small groups. Eventually she was caught, tortured and sentenced to death. Fortunately somehow she managed to survive. In 2007 she was among the nominees for the Noble Peace Prize, with the official support of the Polish and Israeli governments. She didn't win: the 2500 innocent lives she saved, the risk she took, her courage, the tortures she suffered, the death sentence she escaped and the illustrious sponsors did not prove to be enough. As far as the awarding commission was concerned there was a worthier candidate that year: the former vice-president of the US, Al Gore. Oh yes, I didn't write the wrong name, you got it right. The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was not awarded to Irena Sendler, but to Al Gore instead. The guy who managed to squander the great advantage that the Democratic party was enjoying at the end of Bill Clinton's presidency and let the ordinary George W Bush win the elections and play the bully guy around the world for eight years. And then moved on to shooting movies.
I already explained why I thought the prize had lost a big share of its credibility when it was awarded to Barak Obama. Fortunately the application for Silvio Berlusconi's nomination was not successful, if not at stirring up lots of irony and loud laughs (including mine). Al Gore instead of Irena Sendler, though, is unsettling. If this is how the commission selects the award winners then that prize is just a huge pile of rubbish.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The legend of the "good" German policemen

Demonstrators and police have recently clashed in numerous Italian cities. As usual, the country is torn over matters of this kind: who is right, who is wrong...probably the truth is that both among the demonstrators and the agents there are a few hotheads, not very interested in the issue at hand and willing to make some noise, show off and get into a fight. Just like those bare chested guys at the football stadiums, yelling into a bullhorn, a scarf wrapped around the face and their backs always facing the field. This is not the main point of this post though.
After the incidents many Italian Facebook users have decided to post a few-month-old photo, taken in Frankfurt, whose caption states that those smiling German cops have just removed their helmets and are marching shoulder to shoulder with the demonstrators.
That picture, or at least that kind of interpretation of it, is a fake. Proven by an online newspaper, linkiesta.it, in an article published few days after the photo was taken, in May 2012. Everything is backed up with statements by the paper correspondent, the same AP photographer and the leaders of the demonstration.
However, those who like to spread this kind of stuff in Facebook are not interested in this details at all. What matters to them is playing the part of the know-it-all educator and ending their posts with a "WAKE UP ITALIANS!!!" call, yelled by means of those arrogant upper case letters. While continuing to sleep unperturbed in real life. Well...sweet dreams then!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Soi Country Club, the right place for adultery - Pattaya, Thailand

The name is misleading: Soi Country Club. Soi in Thai means alley, but this is a road, long and crowded, lined up with shops, restaurants, resorts, a golf and a polo club, a riding school, the Pattaya Utd stadium and a lake - the Mabprachan - where people come for a short trip, sometimes even at night. Yes, at night. Along the southern shore, in fact, there is a line of bars with nice ladies who won't resist like a sieged medieval fort if a man approaches them, and then beer, music, pool tables, even ladyboys, just like the red-light districts downtown. That's the interesting part: who would want to come here, from downtown? Who is going to drive ten kilometers just to enjoy a lousy and limited version of what can be found a few hundred meters from home? 
The answer is not a secret for those who've been living here for years: it's those men, engaged or married, who need a safe place to surrender to the pleasures of adultery without feeling paranoid. The area also offers short-time motels and sauna/massage centers where the hands - and maybe something else - of other obliging ladies will take care of each single spot of their customers' bodies. 
Two kilometers ahead the motorbike noise is partially muffled by the cries of some school children. Not only the bike is slowing down here: progress also downshifts and starts creep driving. It's not so much a matter of technology or fashion, as of details and atmosphere. Red dust, flip-flops, corrugated roofs, slanting bamboo poles, the conflict between those old shacks and the surrounding vegetation that still seems it might end either way. It smells like Cambodia, Laos, maybe even Burma, right here in old Siam!
Then a truck puffs black smoke and raises a cloud of dust. In a matter of seconds the road becomes a swollen torrent of motorbikes, cars, traffic lights, with whirlpools of horns, whistles and concrete, that flows all foamy into the six-lane basin of Sukhumvit, with its megamalls, supermarkets, interchanges, crossroads and service areas. 
We're back to the beginning…it's already the end. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fresh as a daisy - somewhere around Urumqi, China

A guy sleeping on the street in Saigon
Memories from summer 2006

Hey, look at that!
Everybody draws near the window and watches outside, amazed, in utter silence for a few seconds. Then anxiety gradually creeps in.
He fell over! He might be injured, we need to stop the coach and help him!
I think he fainted!
Maybe it was an accident!
No, no, he's just sleeping...
What...sleeping? On the ground? In the middle of the road? It cannot be...
Look carefully at him. His bicycle and cart are nicely parked along the edge of the road and he's also lying on the dirt, right next to the lane, parallel to it. Besides that, he's put something soft under his head and he's found a nice place in the shade. He's definitely sleeping. Obviously in the west nobody would do it, but here, in the Xinjiang countryside, it makes perfect sense. You're drowsy, therefore you sleep, no matter where you are. If you think about it and try to leave conformism and hypocritical petty rules aside, it kind of has its own logic. It might not be too safe, but the Chinese are as anarchic as brave a people, this type of danger is not a big deal for them.
Maybe he's been awake since 4am, a short rest can only be good for him. Soon he'll wake up, get on his bike and ride his way back home. Fresh as a daisy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The end of the month - Pattaya, Thailand

Sometimes circumstances can generate some problems. Within the scope of these problems a new saying is born, a thought that captures, even with a little irony, a photo of an era. In Italy these times of crisis have given birth to the expression non arrivare a fine mese. It is a metaphor, a play on words, in fact its literal translation in English - "not being able to reach the end of the month" - makes little sense. Everybody, unless they die, can reach the end of the month. What people who use that sentence actually mean is that their salary will not last until the end of the month, as due to the high cost of living they will have spent it all before that. However, is that really so?
I am under the impression that - leaving a number of extreme, real and tragic cases aside - most of those who say that are indulging in one of Italy's favorite pastimes: dramatization of events.
On one hand it is true that due to the effects of the economic crisis and price increase the spending power of an average salary tends to decrease, on the other hand it must be noticed that many people don't easily give up their satellite TV subscription, touchscreen phone, expensive car, classy scooter, drinks at expensive bars, dinners, nice shoes, trendy jeans. Quitting a few of these habits would allow them to reach the end of the month with no need to hold their breath. 
R - an Italian guy who came to Thailand to spend his holidays - met T at the fruit stall where she works. They soon started dating: she often goes to see him at his hotel and he also had a chance to visit her place. A studio apartment in a condominium, or I'd better call it a mini-studio apartment, as it's just a four by three meter cubicle.

Monday, October 29, 2012

15 hours: a patched-up guide to Moscow International Airport (Sheremetyevo)

What a terrible connection. I just landed at Sheremetyevo airport and my next flight is leaving in fifteen hours. When I bought my ticket I didn't worry about that, as I had an entirely different plan in mind. I had a ten days stop in Moscow all planned out, staying at a friend's who is teaching Italian to Russian students. I did it last year and really had a great time: I still have in mind all that Moscow bizarre stuff and the time-machine-like St. Petersburg charm. If I close my eyes and concentrate I can still feel in my mouth the vodka fire blast and the sour taste of borscht. I would have paid a small fee and the problem would have been solved. Unfortunately the ticket I bought was a super-discounted one and the small fee turned out to be equivalent to half the initial price. Considering that I would have had to spend money for a visa too and that I recently had to face some other unexpected expenses, I had to give up my plan. 
Fifteen hours then. I had time to visit every single part of the airport. I moved around terminals D, E and F, the only ones that can be reached without clearing immigration. It's a very large area: depending on the crowd and distractions it can easily take more than half hour to walk from the eastern side of terminal F to the western tip of terminal D. Moreover, the place has its curious side.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A reality joke about jobs in Italy

A friend of mine recently told me a new joke...I find it fantastic!
This friend and the company he has been working with for years are redrafting his contract. When he enquires about the termination clause the HR employee tells him that he shouldn't worry too much about that, they don't need to be too specific and cautious when writing the clauses as the right to work in Italy is absolutely guaranteed by the constitution. HAHAHA! isn't it a great one?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mini Venices

Yesterday was the first dull, grey, rainy, chilly and humid day since I arrived to Padova more than one month ago. I spent it entirely at home. I was afraid that the mild and luminous great time I've had so far was over and that the Po Valley fall would have taken me as far as the Marco Polo airport, where I'll board my flight back to the tropics in three days.
I was wrong. Today is a sunny day, the sky is clear, I can finally put into effect that plan that I thought I had to postpone until next year. 
I get off the coach in Chioggia and I take a walk downtown while I wait for the vaporetto to leave. Chioggia is very nice, with its calles, canals, Istrian stone bridges, red houses with white decorations. It looks like a little Venice, only with cars. I didn't see many tourists, other than two North Europeans drinking a spritz. I sit in the stern, out of the cabin, and I watch the rotten wood of the briccolas, the slightly rippled surface of the lagoon and the rugged islets, covered with a bristly greenish beard, while I let the breeze massage my face. At Pellestrina everybody gets on the bus bound to Lido, using their combo boat-and-bus tickets. I spent a few more cents and bought two separate journeys: that allows me to take the bus where and when I want. I could have rented a bicycle; I know, it's faster and the route along the murazzi - between the sea and the lagoon - is a charming one, the fact is that today I don't feel like that sort of visitor, I don't wanna speed through the little towns, I have to penetrate into the calles, stop at a corner, watch the people and the houses, smell the intermingling perfumes coming from the water and kitchens: my means of transport, cheap and flexible, is once again a pair of rubber shoes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

There's a good and a bad way (to become rich...in Italy)

Who wouldn't like to become rich? Not necessarily very rich, just moderately wealthy or at least well off, possibly in a (respectfully) abundant way. Being able to leave the most tedious engagements behind, to jettison that heavy ballast of ordinary working life, devoting oneself to one's own interests without worrying about the limited resources. Or perhaps go on working like mad, but not just for a meagre salary: it would be nice to be finally able to do it for one's own ideas and projects.
Rich, it's alright then. But there is a good and a bad way to achieve that goal. The first is the noble one, based on great ideas, innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, genius, intuition and good will.
And then there is the other one. I mean the other way to make a lot of money. Italy is full of rich, mediocre people with only one skill: unscrupulousness. Money is their only goal, the ultimate purpose of each one of their acts, thoughts, words and breaths.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lingua franca - Zurich, Switzerland

Even though my brother has been living in Zurich for years, he's never been able to learn German the proper way. He can say a few things, ask questions, tackle some basic conversation, little more than that. There are many reasons for this: he's often abroad and, even when he's in Switzerland, he only speaks English with his colleagues. Secondly, in Switzerland they don't speak "official" German but some sort of "mountain" dialect, not too easy to understand. There is also another reason why he never really studied the local language thoroughly, and it's a surprising one: anywhere he goes, a restaurant, a shop, a public office or even on the street, the probability that he meets someone who can speak Italian is very high indeed. And we're not talking about those coming from Ticino, the Italian speaking part of the country, 100% Swiss from many generations, proud of their origins and in some cases not too fond of the Italians. These are real Zurichers, people who come from the German part of Switzerland. One has to remember that most of the Italian immigration to Switzerland took place between 1945 and 1975, mostly from the north until 1960 and from the south later on. Nowadays in Zurich those who will address you in Italian are the children or grandchildren of people who came from Italy, or sometimes there won't even be a drop of Italian blood flowing in their veins: they just learned the language at school, from their friends, on holiday or out of interest.
When my brother first told me these things I couldn't realize what the magnitude of the phenomenon was. I have met quite a few Argentines, Brazilians, Americas or Australians whose ancestors came from Sicily, Veneto or Marche. They have an Italian surname, maybe an Italian passport as well, but they can only speak a dozen words in Italian. When I got to Switzerland I soon realized that the situation in that country was very different indeed.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bizarre images/1

Funny and/or bizarre scenes personally seen and captured

It's so hot today...I need to find a cool place. A basin full of ice is exactly what I'm looking for! (Bangkok, Thailand)

You need to pee? Just climb up the toilet-tree! Saigon, Vietnam)

Where did I put my cake? Ah there it is...OH NO! (Bangkok, Thailand)

hmmm...sushi, yummy!! (Pattaya, Thailand)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Point-based Italian citizenship

Now and then I happen to meet the children of some foreigners who migrated to Italy before they were born. It still gives me a strange feeling. This is not America or Australia, where people have been used to this kind of situations for decades. In here this is still a recent phenomenon. Listening to what looks like an Indian gentleman speaking with a Bolognese accent or a Chinese lady using open and closed vowels the wrong way, like a perfect Milanese, can still surprise and fascinate me a lot. In cases like this I am not able to flaunt imperturbability.
They carry the obvious signs of their origins on their skin, countenance, hair and height. Then they tell you that they feel Italian, in big percentage at least. Many of them can't speak the language of their parents, they are ill at ease when they sit for lunch with their distant relatives and prefer to have a pizza with their Italian friends instead.
Still, they are to be considered foreigners in every respect. They have their parents' nationality and live in Italy on a residence permit. They are fluent in Italian, they attended Italian schools, from the very beginning, they studied Italian history, literature, social studies and civics. Some of them didn't understand much of it, true, but one must admit that so did lots of "real" Italians too. Well, it all doesn't make a bit of difference. They are almost never granted Italian citizenship. Their applications get lost in a sea of intricate procedures, absurd quibbles and layers of dust that settled on the desks of recalcitrant government officials. The Italian government prefers to grant the nationality to a South American or an Australian who can claim a great-great-grandfather from the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia or the one of the Two Sicilies - perhaps even a fake one - who can't speak a word in Italian and doesn't even know whether Italy is a republic or a kingdom. As a matter of fact thousands of Italian passports have been given away like that in the last ten-twenty years.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Work of art - Padua, Italy

We Italians often complain about our local authorities, their incompetence, disorganization or bad faith. And with good reason, of course. Sometimes though, a government manager or employee does something nice. In that case it's the common citizen the one who will settle (i.e. mess up) the matter the Italian way.
Last year, in downtown Padua, my attention was caught by some municipality billboards providing historical information about the city in the middle-age.Very interesting, at least for those who promoted the initiative and myself, and hopefully for some other local citizen and tourist as well. One year later I went back to that same place to refresh my memory on the subject. I could remember an item - in via Zabarella - about the Carrerese slaughterhouse, the fraglia dei beccai (guild of butchers), the licenses and procedures used in that sector back in the thirteen century.
Well, if you take a look at the photo above you can see what I actually found. An unknown local artist decided to embellish the panel with one of his renowned chicken-scratches. Reading the original text is now impossible, but in order to admire such a refined masterpiece we are obviously willing to make bigger sacrifices than that.
Getting inside the delicate role of an art critic for a minute (even though I don't have any relevant competence) I have a couple of questions that I am going to list below:
1) Baby...why didn't you paint the wall of your children's room instead? Even using a dark shade of that special paint obtained from animal pigments that also have excellent fertilizing characteristics?
2) And then, what does it mean...how do you read it...I mean, WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU WRITE THERE???

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Funny signs/6

I often come across some funny signs, billboards, notices and labels. When it happens I always make sure that I don't leave the spot without a photo. I'll post them here a few at a time.

From outside this looks just like another Pattaya Go Go bar, with pole dancing girls, erotic shows, keen hostesses, etc...but then you spot that sign and you suddenly have some doubts...maybe it's something else...a Western steak house or a Korean barbeque restaurant...(Pattaya, Thailand)

As this is a fixed road sign the accident must be permanent. Meaning that there constantly is an accident ahead. (Pattaya, Thailand)

We sell you sweet corn, you thank us...NOW! (Koh Samui, Thailand)

Hey, have you seen that bar?
Ah, yeah, I've been there a couple of times...
Really? Cool! How's that beer then?
Beer...beer?! I got no idea...nerd...

(Pattaya, Thailand)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Creative passport renewal - Bangkok, Thailand


Memories from August 2006

I've decided to subject my passport to yet another one of those intensive sessions I've imposed on it so many times in these past Asian years.
This is the plan: fly from Bangkok to Hong Kong where I will meet Lu and Lo coming from Venice. Get a Chinese visa, cross the border overland and from Shenzhen take a flight to the western limits of the country, in Xinjiang - with trips to Urumqi, the desert, Turpam and a couple of amazingly filthy rural markets -, then head back East landing in Chengdu and from there descend on Yunnan to stop in Kunming, where I'm still renting an apartment with some school mates (Chinese Language at the Yunnan Normal University). My guests will then go back to Hong Kong where they will board their return flight to Italy. I will spend one or two more weeks there before heading back to Bangkok, where I also have to catch a return flight to Italy. Every year I go back once for a month, to visit my family, friends, and the places where I grew up. Finally from Bangkok I will fly back to Kunming, where I'm planning to spend a few months.
I always do that: I live through periods of immobility, enjoying a city or a beach where I like to loaf around or have some work to do, then all of a sudden I leave, without saying goodbye (normally just because there is nobody to say goodbye to) and during the following weeks I let some nice guys at the immigration points or at the embassies lash the pages of my travel document with powerful strokes of their seals or stiffen them with stickers that look like giant revenue stamps. My movements become even more frenzied when someone comes to visit me from back home, as in this case. In the last few years I've become a fairly slow traveler (or maybe I should say tourist?): if I don't click with a place I leave at once, otherwise I'm gonna stay there one week at least, if only to stroll around or read a book in a cafe that after a few days already feels like my own living room. That's not the case of my friends and relatives though, who can only enjoy a twenty-day vacation and are eager to see as many places as they possibly can. Traveling in good company is well worth some adaptation efforts, as in this case.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The beggar with a bike - Pattaya, Thailand

In Pattaya there is a beggar with a run-down bicycle and a lot of plastic bags hanging from the handlebar, where he stores all his belonging. He must be used to fight for the meager space that he normally enjoys, little by little, with caution. You can tell by the way he's crossing the road right now, for instance. If he just waited on the curb nobody would stop for him. On the other hand if he acted with haste he would be punished, scolded, maybe even run over. That's why he advances with short leaps, stopping often to make sure that those who are driving the cars have acknowledged his presence and intention, while his lips relentlessly bring out a sad mantra, apologetic and reverent, a prayer that escapes his mouth almost as if he didn't even notice it. Is he apologizing for crossing the road? Or because he exists? Maybe he is thanking everybody for not having knocked him down (yet). Come to think of it, though, it might not mean anything at all: his jaw only fueled by the twitching of one who has already lost all his teeth.

Photo by {e u g e n e} (CC)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Remarkable skill - Thailand

Two things can surprise Asians when they first meet me.
One is my age, and I'm pretty used to that: since I was ten I've developed (esthetically speaking) much slower than the other kids my age. At junior high and high school this was causing me problems. I was often treated as a lower grade child, especially by the girls...and I couldn't take comfort in the attention of the younger ones: at that age a two year difference is as important as a geologic era. The only thing I could do was wait and hope: there were no other solutions. And fortunately it worked. From the age of twenty on my babyface has become less and less of a problem. Nowadays it can even be a relief, especially when I meet some old friends from school or university, white-haired, bald, wrinkled and bloated.
The other thing that can make many Orientals goggle is my nationality. Italian? Really?! I would have never said that. I thought you were...and then they start listing an incongruous sequence of countries I might come from: France, Switzerland, England, Belgium, even Holland! Total confusion, any place would do, except Italy.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bottled - Koh Samui, Thailand

I found a capped bottle, half full of water, rocked by the waves on Chaweng shore-line. I noticed something black tossing inside so I got hold of it and...my jaw fell to the floor when I found out that those one centimeter-long tiny stars writhing among water and leaves were actually baby frogs, as small as tadpoles! I wonder how did whoever it was that put them there managed to do it...

Some pictures of the bottle:



Obviously after taking those pictures I released them. I was expecting them to rush to the water but they actually strove up the sandy beach in the opposite direction. I foresee an invasion of croaking frogs at the resorts nearby.

Some photos of the freed baby frogs:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

We almost gave up - Annapurna, Nepal


Memories of spring 2003
My initial plan was to do it all by myself: if one has to embark on a foolish adventure, I was thinking, it's better to do it in style. Well, foolish, so to speak. Maybe just for me, as I'm not really a fanatic for mountain trekking. Actually I feel more like a city animal: I do like a trip in the country now and then, but only when it's not too long, and venturing into a Himalayan trail that will take about ten days to complete, well, it is a bit of a foolish thing for me. Generally speaking though, it is a rather safe experience. The track that from Pokhara leads to the Annapurna base camp (ABC) is very popular, long stretches of it are paved with stone steps, the next village is never more than two hours away on foot and if someone is suffering from altitude sickness he can always turn back and rest at the nearest center.
I was planning to take it easy, look around, read, write, talk with someone met at a hut, maybe proceed together for a while but then getting back into the intimacy of the little group formed by myself, a backpack, a novel, a pen and a notebook.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Italians in Thailand/3: more on the seafront clique - Pattaya

Continued from here

And then there are non sex-related scams as well.

- "What did you say? Your visa is about to expire? No problem at all, we can arrange a return trip to the Cambodian border. It won't take more than two, three days at most. You pay us and we'll take care of everything...great, isn't it?" And then it's all a sequence of inflated prices: transportation, accommodation, immigration procedures, duty free, casino, meals, revelries, imitation Viagra and, if one cannot stay away from them even for a couple of nights, more hookers, just to have a taste of Khmer culture as well, besides the Thai one, because after all you don't get to know the world just by listening to what other people say, looking at it from behind a car window or reading a few pages of a travel guide: you need first hand experience, meeting the locals...that's the secret!
"Give me two more boxes of that generic Viagra then..."
I suppose that the whole trip will cost him no less than 10000 to 15000 baht (about 300-500 USD), but it might be much more depending on the vices the dupe will indulge on. If he only knew that various agencies in town organize visa runs by minivan, leaving at 6am and returning at about 3 pm on the same day, for a total of just 2000 baht (70 USD), including the Cambodian visa. They would only need to know ten English words. Or the help of an honest Italian, of course...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Italians in Thailand/2: the seafront clique - Pattaya

If you haven't done it yet you can read this propaedeutic post before you proceed.

"They are wretches, living hand to mouth. They loaf around the dolphins statue and are often arguing over one baht (equivalent to 1/30 of a dollar, or 3.3 cents, Fabio's note)"
That's how S' story starts. Not because this is the first thing he told me but as this is the most accurate and to the point description that he managed to give me of those scoundrels. Few key words with heavy implications: wretches, hand to mouth, loaf around, arguing, one baht.
Among the waves of the rough sea of faults that I've always tried to fight back, one of the few qualities I know I can count on is that of making people who have a story to tell trust me. Perhaps it's because I have never turned anybody down and people can feel that I don't have any intention to use their words against them: vibrations that reach their hearts, brains, souls - or whatever the element is where these sensors are hidden - and reassure them. Because S has got a whole sack of manure to empty: he has carried it around on his shoulder for too long but he doesn't want to unload it in front of someone who will use it to throw excrement at him. I only intend to take a look at it, maybe a little sniff so that I can tell you about it, but I definitely don't wanna handle it and hurl it at his face. That's why for the whole length of the story S will simply be called S. Which is not the initial of his name but of the word someone, just someone. And I will be very careful not to disclose any information that might lead to his identification, even though he did provide lots of details about himself and his past, some of them rather embarrassing. This post only wants to tell a (nasty) series of stories that in five or six years happened not only to S but to other Italians he met, and who knows to how many other people. And hopefully to forewarn those who might fall into the same traps. That's all. Here are the stories then...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Neglected promenade - Pattaya, Thailand

Pattaya's promenade could really be a nice place. Its wide walkway where one can stroll, jog or sit down and watch the bay, its palm trees and the colorful multi-ethnic turmoil behind. Even the scant depth of the beach, only a few meters, from this point of view can become an enriching element in the composition of the picture: those looking at the sea will enjoy the deceptive impression of a single-phase horizontal plane that, although veined and streaked with ripples and shades, within the macro-element framework (water, sky, headlands and hills) appears pretty much like a uniform body, with hues that depending on the hour and the weather conditions can vary from dirty sleet to rhino armor, passing through the various standard gradations of flask glass and summer alpine sky.
It could be a nice place, indeed. But it turns out to be one of the most decadent (if not even degraded) areas of Pattaya, which in turn is one of the most decadent cities in South East Asia. One should wonder why the authorities have decided to loosen their grip on it to such an extent, to ignore it altogether in a way, when there already are lots of red light districts in town, catering to vice lovers of various kind, and this area could be the perfect haven for the innocent side of the city tourism.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Italians in Thailand/1: the restaurateurs

Brain drain, one of the various plagues that have hit Italy in the last few years. Actually I think that it only hit the Italian media world, as scientists, economists, physicians, engineers, architects, artists and professionals in any sector have been leaving Italy to seek their fortune elsewhere for decades, maybe centuries. Not all of them, of course, but not just a few either.
I'm definitely not one of them. Maybe my brain did leave indeed, not Italy though, if it really left some place...that was my skull! At least that's what many people who know me affectionately thought after some of my reckless decisions.
Anyway, these waves of gray matter, unlike the oceanic ones of the 2004 tsunami, haven't hit the coasts of Thailand yet. Instead of highly gifted brains Italy sends over here swifts legs, delicate hands, sensitive fingers and extra fine taste buds: chefs, restaurant owners and managers, these are the professions that offer career opportunities for those Italians who want to move to Bangkok, Pattaya, Koh Samui and Phuket.
We're definitely not talking about a uniform host of good food professionals here. Personally I have identified four macro categories, probably still subdivisible into smaller groups, sometimes overlapping, with blurred edges and fluid definitions. Here they are:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cinnamon cappuccino - Bangkok, Thailand

A few days ago I was served a cappuccino with cinnamon powder sprinkled on top. I asked if they happened to have some nutmeg as well but they advised me against it: with cappuccino it's not a good match - those experts claim - unlike cinnamon, of course. And I should also have paid a surcharge, whereas cinnamon was totally free. Checkmate: at that point the only thing I could do was thank them.

Photo by Bao Tri | P h o t o g r a p h y (CC)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Free time by-product

A few years ago, when I suddenly found myself with an increased dose of free time at hand, I instinctively started to use the increment to do the things I liked the most. As soon as my enthusiasm started to dwindle though, I realized that I was unconsciously undertaking another project as well.
There are no longer any doubts: I was born with lots of shortcomings. As the years went on they grew up with me, becoming heavier and ever more cumbersome. As if that weren't enough then, others were added to the list of the congenital ones. For a very long time I didn't take care of them: when I was a teenager I was too busy trying to fit in with the world that surrounded me and later I found myself entangled in a skein of activities that, even though I had chosen to do them myself, felt as if they had been somehow forced upon me.
When I gave most of that up and had more free time to rely on I almost unintentionally started to identify those aspects of my personality that I didn't like or were giving me problems, especially in relation to other people, and I tried to tackle them, to come up with a way to fix them, or at least to smooth them down. I don't wanna boast about having so far been very successful, but at least I can say that I've started to try. 
Started to try...it sounds like a tiny, almost insignificant goal. And maybe it is...but only after you've achieved it.

Photo "Montmartre" by John Althouse Cohen (CC)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Funny signs/5

I often come across some funny signs, billboards, notices and labels. When it happens I always make sure that I don't leave the spot without a photo. I'll post them here a few at a time.

Why can't we squat? It's way more hygienic! (Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia) 

Elderly and disabled can seat inside, and what about everybody else...on the roof?! (LRT train in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

"No thief" Only for civilized, well mannered and law abiding thieves (TukCom Mall at Pattaya, Thailand)