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'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.