Friday, December 27, 2013

The "motorsai" experience - Bangkok, Thailand

Taxi "Motorbaaai"
Have moooob! Taxi no gooo, mo-ter-saaai gooo! OK mai krab?
You say OK, and you hop on, with all your luggage, guitars, saxophones, dogs, pigs, chicken coops, bread, cheese and ham, radio, TV set, satellite dish, dad, niece and grand mum...skirting cars, bikes, food stalls, protesters, cops, journalists, office workers, tourists, hookers and ladyboys, from the airport link terminal to your hotel, air, chili vapors and smog on your smiling face.
And that's when you suddenly remember why you liked it so much the first time you came here...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Conflicting rights - Bangkok, Thailand

Seated on the tables barring the passage
Sometimes we have a lot to learn from the simplicity, the humanity and the flexibility of South East Asians (for an example you can take a look at the last picture below). Or better, to re-learn, as fifty or sixty years ago we were pretty much like them.
For some other aspects though it is better for us to go and take our lessons somewhere else. I realized that when I was having a bite and a beer at at table near the edge of a street in Bangkok. The restaurant management had placed their tables on the section of the sidewalk in front of the entrance. Normally people prefer to walk on the road - especially in this area and in the evening - turning it into a sort of pedestrian area. The road was jammed though, as it often happens here: a taxi, a tuk-tuk, a street stall and a few people ordering their food. The passersby were forced to move to the sidewalk. Notice that this is exactly the opposite of what should normally happen. This is a very common thing in Asia though, and it is not what I intend to point out here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The discrete time dimension security - Moscow, Russia

The Moscow metro
Last week I was watching a video at a contemporary art exhibition at the Moscow Manege. According to what the author claims as soon as the users of the huge city subway system set foot on the long escalators they suddenly enter a different dimension, where time ceases to be a continuum entity and becomes a sequence of discrete quantities: those of the intervals between two consecutive stops and those of the long waits at the exit gates. The only thing we can do to regain possession of our personal time experience - we read on the exhibit caption - is leaving the flock, walk in the opposite direction, do something unusual, different, original. 
Maybe. It seems to me though that the plastic masses of people that clog the bottlenecks of the escalators mouths - not discrete at all, actually rather continuous, uniform, almost liquid - can be a useful source of security, confidence, physical and human warmth, especially when you are wedged between the soft paunch of a boozer and the prominent ass of a beautiful Moscow girl
Then you recall that a few years back a group of fanatics launched a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, causing a massacre, and you realize that in cases like this the larger the mass the higher the number of victims, so you tend to agree with the artist, not really to reset the hands of your personal clock but rather to save your precious ass. 
Still, dropping the nipple of that huge, sensual and wobbling - albeit time-upsetting - breast is not easy at all. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Funny signs/9

156783 people like this, only Mark Zuckerberg is not so sure about it...(Boracay, Philippines)
Cupid was here (Florence, Italy)
You! (Bangkok, Thailand)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Yet another cynical post: the Thai prostitution myth

Penis rock and vagina rick at sunset, how romantic! (Koh Samui, Thailand)

This is the cynical post that I promised here.

Next time I see one of those cheese TV reports on prostitution in Thailand I swear I am going to puke. Of course the majority of western journalists are good professionals and I wouldn't dare say anything about them or their work. There are some, though, who should have their pens, laptops and tablets confiscated. A bunch of low level word-workers who rely on trite myths and stereotypes to justify the salaries their editors give them.
Those that for years have told us the story of the poor Thai girls taken advantage of or even enslaved by old and slimy sexual tourists are among the most sly.
It's hard for me to believe that they have really been in Thailand, collected evidence, looked around, tried to understand and finally got it all wrong that way. It must somehow be intentional. They must have based what they wrote on hearsay, relying on some urban legend or isolated tear-jerking case in order to achieve some sensationalist effect and exploit the overwhelming Western hypocrisy. Reading Michel Houllebecq could provide some inspiring ideas on the subject. On the other hand it is quite unlikely that over the years I've only come across exceptional cases. I got to an apparently arrogant yet unequivocal conclusion: I just know more than them about this subject.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to fuck up a nice place - Koh Samui, Thailand

Beach party
My fingertips are itching. I need to write a couple of cynical posts, and the first one is going to be about the Thai island of Koh Samui: the perfect example of a heavenly place that have been fucked up in just a few years. 
I've been coming to Chaweng beach for about ten years. I remember well the impression I got the first time I got here: a beautiful bay with white sand, clear water and tropical vegetation. Lively at night: a few pubs with live music and screens for sport events, a couple of discos where you could spot a certain number of hookers but also a lot of "normal" customers, including Thais, and a few bars. The general atmosphere was still very simple, in line with the rural origins of the country: a lot of street food stalls, mototaxis that could take you anywhere for a small fee, songthaews - something in between a taxi and a bus - authentic local markets, nice people, some funny odd ones, smiles, coziness. I liked it a lot. I'm neither the no-electricity-faraway-island type of tourist nor the luxury resort one. Koh Samui was just the right mix. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Wrong signs, with photos - Suzhou, China

Signs in China are often translated in English. I am not entirely sure about it but I suspect that there might be some law or government guideline behind this. Normally road signs and information boards in public places are correctly translated. When it comes to the private sector though any sign can suddenly become some sort of comic strip, cheering you up when you are in a bad mood or simply a bit bored. Sometimes the mistakes are so funny that one might think they came out of a lousy Google translation or that out of a long list of dictionary entries somebody carelessly picked the first one, regardless of whether it made sense or not.
In order to give you an idea of the quantity of mistakes over the total number of signs I'm only publishing the ones I've spotted in the Suzhou residential compound where I've been staying for a few weeks.
Hundreds of copies put up all over the compound, all of them with the same typo
This is my favorite, it beats them all 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Possibly the best war museum I've seen - Nanjing, China

300000 victims in just one city 
We get off the train at Nanjing central station, take a quick look at Google Maps and get on the subway to Yunjinlu station. After misinterpreting the station area map we end up at the Silk and brocade museum. We understand straight away that we've made a mistake, nonetheless we take a jolly little walk among silkworms, looms and robes. At the end of it we get out again under the Central-Eastern China scorching sun and enter the right museum, the Nanking massacre one. The structure spreads over a number of air-conditioned halls and an outdoor area (more suffering, it would've been much better to come here in spring). The visitors can walk among commemorative sculptures and installations, reconstructions, bunkers, authentic (and rather grim) mass graves unearthed many years after the events took place and an amazing photo exhibition that I recommend you leave as the last part of your visit. 
Obviously, in order to focus on the real value of the exhibition, one has to scratch the inevitable bombast glaze that coats the whole thing and overlook for a few hours the Chinese government exploitation of the historical events (and the subsequent hatred against the Japanese) for slimy regional supremacy purposes. Beautiful sentences of the "forgivable, but not forgettable" type can sound rather shallow in this context. 
This is no doubt one of the best war museums I've seen though. Those in Hanoi and Saigon can also sport first class exhibits but the buildings that house them and the general care for details are definitely of a much lower level. At the Nanjing museum quality encompasses a number of different aspects: architectural, artistic, historical and documentary. And if that were not enough the admission is totally free, for everyone. If you happen to be anywhere in Eastern China (especially in Shanghai or the surrounding region) I strongly recommend you pay a visit to it

A few more photos:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The legendary Suzhou's wind - China

Motherly instinct: her kid can as well burn in hell as long as her princess skin is screened from the sun light
It's hot in Suzhou, a demotivating kind of hot. As a result I've decided to suspend my daily jogging sessions. Who would have thought that I would suffer it like this after all those years spent training at the tropics? Fortunately on our side we have the proverbial Suzhou's wind, as my friend L likes to call it. Besides cooling your skin the gusts can also knock down your parked bicycle, throw a handful of dust in your eyes and uncover a curvy girl's thigh or boob, in case you are lucky and she's not. The best part of it, though, is spotting one of those affected city ladies nervously grasping the handle of her closed parasol, forced to let the sun scorching her skin like a simple mainland farmer girl. Asian girls actually tend to look quite good when they are tan: I find them more sensual, feline and spicy. Far Eastern people in general though, especially the wealthier ones, consider a dark complexion a loss of status, a stain that must be washed away with expensive beauty treatments or crappy whitening creams, which turn out to be mere sunscreen products in disguise. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Funny signs/8

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.
Rest in Peace Eye Steak (Bangkok, Thailand)
That's the punishment for those who violate the rule...(Florence, Italy)
Some kind of energy saving traffic light (Thibaw, Burma)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cakes and birch trees - Suzhou, China

The stack of papers...
In order to sooth L's recurring sugar abstinence crises instead of buying him an ice cream today I've opted for a slice of mille-feuille. I go to a fancy little bakery nested in the basement of a posh shopping mall and I order the cake. Instead of serving me right away a guy wearing a chef hat scribbles something on a receipt sheet. Actually this is not a very accurate term as the sheet works as a receipt only at the end of a long procedure that might make sense if you were purchasing a hundred kg of cement, a case of car sparks or, as we are already at it, a 20kg vanilla bag for your own bakery. Not for a single mignon cake though. The procedure prescribes in fact to take this three-multi-colored-copy form, go to a centralized cash register station serving all the shops of this section of the mall, pay for your order, receive two of the sheets correctly filled by a printer connected to the till and yet another receipt, go back to the bakery where an employee will keep one of the two sheets and give you the remaining one, the extra receipt and your cake. That, in order to make sure that he beats every relevant world record, he has wrapped in a plastic sheet and stored in a paper bag. I reckon that about fifteen birch trees have had to be felled in order to supply the procedure with the necessary raw material. Paper that everyone will obviously throw in the first trash bin at hand right after leaving the shop. The aggravating aspect of the situation is that this is not just a fancy of the managers of this particular mall. It works like that pretty much everywhere: shopping centers, department stores, food courts. You want to buy a lipstick? You'd like to eat a quick noodle soup? You need a bottle of honey? Well, then you have to take the stack of papers through all the steps of the route, until you finally throw it on a heap of garbage.
Hopefully they will recycle it. Well, actually, considering that…alright...hopefully they will…

More photos below:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Do you really eat rice??? - Suzhou, China

Some stacks of small Chinese rice bags
I'm at a convenience store to buy a couple of ice creams. If L doesn't take his daily sweet poison dose he's gonna be in a bad mood until the following night. And I'm the one who has to give him that shot.
When I'm walking by the rice corner I suddenly remember that we run out of it last time we cooked some leek and sausage risotto(*). I can't see the prices though. I ask the cashier how much the small(**) packs are, I get one of those and I drag it to the counter. It takes the girl a while to come to, she looks at me with a stunned expression and when she finally decides to scan the bar code she says: 
"Do you rice?"
"Of course I do, why?"
"I thought..." she places her hand down on an imaginary table and then brings it up to her mouth to mime the action she's referring to "...that YOU only ate bread!"
That's funny: if you talk to a Chinese in Chinese like a Chinese he doesn't turn a hair, taking it for granted, but if he finds out that you eat rice he looks at you as if you were Yuri Gagarin who just disembarked from the Sputnik. 
I mean, of all foreigners, to me! I was born in the Po Plain, a land of rice fields, rice weeders and risotto. Chinese people are really great at surprising you by getting surprised at you. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The least artistic way to promote art - Shanghai, China (with photos)

The former power plant converted to a museum
Thanks to the astonishing high-speed railway system that China has implemented in a matter of few years Shanghai can be reached from Suzhou in less than thirty minutes by train. The first time I covered that distance in the opposite direction, back in 2005, the cattle convoy trip I traveled with took almost twice as long, and the atmosphere was way more picturesque. Today our journey's goal is the "Power Station of Art" museum, where the "15 minutes eternal" exhibition, entirely dedicated to Andy Warhol, will be held until July 28.
The Power Station of Art, as the name suggests, is a real power plant, no longer in use, converted to a museum in a very interested way. A fascinating structure and a well realized project indeed. One of those works that nowadays are built (in a reasonable time) only in China, the only country that can afford a large number of almost non repayable investments just for status or strategic reasons. You can take a look at some of the details in the photos I'm publishing below. You won't find any of Warhol's works though, as I was one of the few visitors who respected the "no-photo" rule. Besides the event venue I obviously liked the exhibition itself. The thing that surprised me the most though was the entrance fee: 20 RMB, equivalent to two and a half euros! And I'm talking about full priced tickets here, not the discounted ones for students or retired people. Although the exhibition has already been opened for one and a half months and this is not likely to be the place where the American artist's fame reaches its peak there were a lot of visitors and most of them seemed to be extremely interested. Asia is a place where it is very easy to be charged up to five times as much for attractions that are way less worthwhile, if worthwhile at all.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Panic exponential function - Shanghai, China

My guitar, my bag and Luce, the ear-licking chihuahua
I'm at the last X-ray luggage scanner. I'm traveling from Guangzhou to Suzhou along the following route: subway to Bayun airport, flight to Shanghai-Hongqiao, subway to Hongqiao Station and train to Suzhou-Yuanqu, the so called SIP (Suzhou Industrial Park), a mixed residential, industrial and university area where both L - a friend who works near there - and D - another friend who teaches maths - live. 
This should be the last scanning, since the platform where the train to Suzhou leaves from is right beyond the machine. I can't remember how many of these checkpoints I've gone through so far. In any other place they shouldn't be more than a couple, as I only took one flight. Considering the Chinese authorities paranoia though, and their fondness for this type of technology, it's safe to multiply the aforementioned number by a coefficient ranging between 1.5 and 2.5. Let's say 2: four scanning points is a reliable estimate then, which for just one flight and two subway trips is not bad at all. 
Four of these procedures in just a few hours and a considerable number of bags are really testing my absentmindedness to the limit. Normally I manage to keep it under control by means of a set of automatisms that I have acquired over many years of nomadic life, during which I have come to consider my bags as my only belongings. I have a backpack where I store my clothes and other giblets (after many years of drudgeries I finally realized that wheels are actually useful but as I hate traditional trolleys, as well as hard baggage, I bought a hybrid one, soft with back-straps), a shoulder bag where I keep my computer, electronic devices and other not extremely important personal things, an acoustic guitar in a soft case that I still don't know how to play, and a money-bag where I keep my passport, bank cards and other documents that I don't carry in my pockets for convenience and security reasons. 
I greet the security staff with a nihao and a smile, both unreciprocated, I put the backpack down, I take the guitar case off my back, then the the money-belt and finally my shoulder ba...WHERE THE HELL IS MY SHOULDER BAG? 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Those mainland Chinese - Hong Kong

View of Hong Kong skyline from Tsim Sha Tsui
M is about to complete a Master in Educational studies at a famous Hong Kong University. She is from the People's Republic of China, we've know each other for years. She a nice, sweet, extremely well-mannered girl. Nothing to do with the stereotypical Chinese who expectorate everywhere, clean their ears, nose or something else in public, chew seeds and radishes while they're sitting next to you, sucking noisily and spitting out broken shells and crushed fibers. However, since she came to Hong Kong, that stereotype has never stopped frustrating, embarrassing and humiliate her for a moment. 
Sometimes at a shop after she asks the second question about the product she intends to purchase the salesperson will tell her that "this is not mainland China, this is Hong Kong!" She tells me that the Chinese immigrants are accused of "stealing" job positions that should actually be given to the local citizens or - and this is something that directly involves her - master or doctorate posts at the best universities. She is paying for her studies, much more than what a local would by the way, and she finds this type of generalized accusations rather irritating. 
We are taking a walk in Kowloon and when we get to a junction as there are no approaching vehicles I go ahead and cross the road, as I always do, regardless of what the traffic light color is.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chinese standing in line to take a photo with the white leads to another - Hong Kong

The giant inflatable duck floating on Victoria Harbor, just before it is found deflated
I've walked a lot today as well: I lean on a fence and look at the people walking by. Avenue of stars, that's how they called it. And they even placed the handprints of the stars of the flourishing local cinema industry on the pavement. Actually I don't know any of them, except for Jacky Chan, that little clown, and the excellent Wong Kar Way. At least I don't know their names. It's just my fault, I admit: I really liked the main actors of In the mood for love, I should remember them at least. Of course I know who Bruce Lee is. Due to chronological reasons they didn't manage to take his handprints though, therefore they erected a bronze statue of him and named him the star of the century.
Let's get back to our story. The promenade is rather busy, mainly with tourists. I relax my back and legs, stretch my neck and watch. People watching, close or from afar, in front of me of from above, has always been one of my favorite hobbies.
Suddenly a Chinese tourist (I mean from mainland China, not from here) draws near me, holding a point and shoot camera.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Unexpected hostility against the pedestrians - Hong Kong

A fisherman at Hong Kong harbor and the hazy skyline in the background
It's Sunday night and Lan Kwai Fong is not very lively. To be honest I'm not very fond of the place. In the weekends it gets crowded with assholes all dressed up, driving their fathers' expensive cars and, stamped on their bulldog faces, an arrogant expression that seems to say: "I have all this because I deserve it. Because I am what I am and you are a heap of shit!" And the bouncers - poor bastards who get paid nothing and treated badly, maybe with their work permit hanging from that lousy job - who back them up, always watching whether your shoes are shining, your shirt is freshly ironed and starched, if you smell like misery or have a misfit look, a wanker one or, even worse, both of them. On workdays they can't afford to be too picky though; they invite you to go in, and if you're wearing flip flops and undershirt they will still try to humiliate you, but in a more pathetic way: "Hey, that's not good..." they'll say as they spitefully pinch your shirt with two fingertips " time you dress better, OK?" Yeah, sure, next time I'll spray a couple of drops of Eau de Manure on the redneck shirt I'll be wearing. Get out of my asshole, minion and pitiful loser.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A passport photo is NECESSARY! Unless... - Hong Kong

An old 20 HKD banknote and a passport picture
Usual stop in Hong Kong to get a Chinese visa. Usual stay at the Nathan road mansions, where the foreign hasslers who come here to start a new life are getting more and more annoying and the smell more and more pungent. The beehive cell-like rooms haven't gotten bigger by a bit though. Only the prices might actually have been increased. 
The Forever Bright agency at the New Mandarin plaza by Tsim Sha Tsui East MTR station is way more crowded than the last time I was there. They have even hired a guy who wears a suit and a tie and stands by the door and mounted a movable structure for the customers to form an ordered line. 
The situation at the counter is chaotic: it's a mess to receive the forms, to get information about the fees and to hand in the application papers.  I was planning to get a six-month, multiple-entry, business visa but in just a few years the fee went from 600 to 2000 HKD. I opt for the three-month, single entry, tourist one which only costs 500 HKD. 
"You need to give me a passport picture."
"Here you go!"
"No, this one has a white background, we need one with a blue background."
Shit, the blue background...

Monday, April 29, 2013

They just have different rules - Thailand (with some photos) rules! Actually they only seem to have guide books
One arrives to Thailand and soon starts to spot the differences. How hot…in December! It was snowing back home. Everything is so cheap, you can eat with a dollar…with that money I can't even get a coffee where I come from. And finally the most surprising of them all: everything that is forbidden where we come from is allowed here, or at least tolerated. In the worst case scenario you can buy it with a bribe.
You can purchase pirated DVDs and software in broad daylight. Fake driving licenses, university degrees and membership cards of various type. Imitation jeans, shirts and bags. You can display the sign of an illegal business and nobody says anything about it. You can spot four people without helmets and a dog riding a motorbike, and the police is fine with that. Twenty kids in the back of a pick up truck, instead of hiding, are all laughing and singing. After 2am bars cannot sell alcoholic drinks but if your beer is poured in a paper cup or a coffee mug then it's alright. Nightclubs are competing for who pays the biggest bribe to the police, so that they can stay open until late and the competitors are forced to close early. And then sex, orgies, viagra, cialis, kamagra, women…young, old, fantastic, horrible, shameless or chaste women. Yeah, here you can even find chaste hookers. And then homosexuals, bisexuals, transexuals. Even asexual ones.
Hey, I can do anything I want here - the newcomer inspired by promises of freedom and impunity will be thinking - this is great! Hooray! And his holiday soon turns into a sequence of troubles.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The grotesque artist street - Pattaya, Thailand

Christmas in Pattaya
There is a little street in Pattaya: it's the last section of Walking Street, on the port end. If Walking Street were an intestine, a long bowel full of feces and sludge (both metaphorical and real), we would be talking about its rectum, its short, its asshole. 
It's a rather dark place (not surprisingly, considering the anatomic analogy), without bars, restaurants and clubs. Just the sea on one side and a few hotels on the other. The music is muffled: you could almost say that this is a silent place. In the evening a few Thai guys come here with their guitars, they sit on the curb and start singing some songs. Not in Thai or in English, as most of us would expect, and as they used to do until three or four years ago. They sing in Russian. The young Russian tourists who come to Pattaya like to go to a couple of discos (Mixx and Lima Lima) located a few meters away and they are the ones these buskers are performing for. In Russian, of course. Groups of Russians stop by and the boldest among them start to sing along. Not very well to say the truth, but as they leave good tips they are born with and pardoned. 
A few meters away there are some portrait and caricature painters: they produce the usual second rate stuff that can be found pretty much everywhere. Just before the big lighted banner, with a little luck one can run into two of the most picturesque characters of the area.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The house with a nice Asia can forget about this view...
If you've just moved to Asia and you have based the choice of the apartment you're renting on the great view that you can enjoy from the bedroom might have made a gross mistake. 
Check the adjacent lot. In case it's empty, or used as a parking area, a new building can pop up and darken your house in a matter of few months.
And you'll regret the other option, the one with a view on tangles of electricity cables and a trafficked thoroughfare, the one you rejected with haughty contempts, taking your leave from the agent that recommended it with one of your hateful sarcastic jokes.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An original character, maybe in spite of himself - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

...he slowly walks away.
Among the herds of businessmen, office workers, tourists, shopping girls, immigrants looking for a better life, losers of various types (and this is the category I belong to), looking carefully once in a while in Kuala Lumpur one can spot some original characters. Original in spite of himself maybe, as in this case.
Jackson 5 hairstyle, a pair of trousers ripped right where his asshole is, stitched (so to speak) with a piece of ribbon of the type used for christmas presents. One of the numerous patches on his torn jacket is a fake dollar bill: a sadly ironic detail, considering the guy's conditions. He's wearing a sport glove. Only one. Maybe he's a discus or a javelin thrower. I've been looking at him for some minutes and he's never stopped sucking his fingertips. I don't know whether he's only imagining that they are smeared with chocolate or whether there actually was some, a few hours ago I mean, as right now his fingers are as polished as German sausages: come to think about it that curious optical illusion might exactly be the reason why he's licking them. 
After a while something captures his attention, he takes his hands off his mouth and, with penguin-like step, leaning left and right, he slowly walks away. 

Monday, April 8, 2013


- Some people trade freedom in exchange for wealth. Whenever I can I do exactly the opposite.

- A a young boy I was such a failure with girls that, when overcome by frustration I finally decided to masturbate, I found it hard even to seduce my hand.

- You are reluctant to use a muzzle and then you train him like a Gestapo dog? That way you are not only caging his mouth, but his whole soul!

- Yeah, sure, making decisions is easy...when they are not your own.

- Some say that a reasonable dose of stress is good for one's health. However, while they're saying it they shiver, stutter and wriggle in a dreadful way.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What...what...what? What do you totally understand? Bangkok, Thailand

The 0 km marker near Democracy Monument
There are some expats in Bangkok - not all of them of course, but still a lot, I would say too many - who walk, move and even stand still with an arrogant air, as if they had a tight grasp on the city's handles. As if they had looked at it for long, studied it carefully and finally managed to understand it completely. Grasp on the handles? Sure! The city's love handles, maybe. Or rather the sex ones, probably those of the local prostitutes. The other types of handles, well, I'm very skeptical about that.
I think that is a very feeble illusion. Few immigrants find themselves in as shaky a position as those who live in Thailand, or most of the nearby countries for that matter. Looked at with hostility by a relevant share of the local population (you don't really believe that all those smiles are a display of cheerfulness), with precarious visas and statuses, forever non-completely-welcome guests of a society that maintains clear barriers between itself and those who are nicknamed, sometimes with a bit of contempt, farang, which actually means "French". There actually are dozens of rights granted by most western countries to their least desired guests that even the richest, most cultured and cunning foreigner can't aspire to around here. How could such a pride and touchy nation reveal itself so easily to a bunch of arrogant know-it-all braggarts of that sort?

Friday, March 29, 2013

An impertinent pertinent question

A happy family...such alert expressions!
I'm writing this post when I am in Kuala Lumpur but it is just a mere coincidence: I could be looking at similar scenes anywhere else. In any other big Asian city for sure.
Look at them, bent over their screens with a blank expression on their face. How many are they? A lot, too many, almost all of them actually. Gathered around cafe tables, in the subway, at the restaurant. Checking Facebook updates, playing games, chatting, even taking photos of themselves, smiling in front of their same outstretched arm. 
I won't add yet another criticism to an already long list, a new pedantic opinion on this absurd addiction. I'm just asking myself a question: what the fuck were these people doing when these devices didn't exist yet? I don't mean when there were no mobile phones at all, as most of them were still little children back then, but a few years ago, when the expression smart-phone would have sounded like some sort of oxymoron to most of us, when the screens used to be green or gray and the text plain black. When all you could do with a phone was calling or texting someone.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Funny signs/7

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.
Unbelievable...he was not from Venice...he was Irish! (Kostanz, Germany)
It looks like ordinary filthy rubbish but actually it's...e-waste! (Pattaya, Thailand)
Prohibitions, tiresome...(Florence, Italy)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Italians in Thailand/7: the human sewage keeps flowing down

It looks like sewage but it actually is a stream
And it keeps flowing precisely from here...

Story 3) A third whoremonger was loafing around the dolphin square with a fancy new videocamera. A pretty girl approached him. After a brief conversation the two of them left together. His whore-monging colleagues looked at each other, amazed by what they had just seen. How come such a knockout left with a loser like him? (a personal note: I was not expecting that, but it seems that even to pick up a hooker you need to be cool and attractive) None of them saw him for a whole day. When he didn't show up for another night they suddenly remembered about the videocamera, put together the pieces of that puzzle, got worried and set out to look for him. Finding him was not such a difficult feat: he had been sedated and was still noisily snoring in one of the rooms where they all had been so often, with other women of the same kind. For a few days (!) they took care of him. As he was always half asleep they continuously tried to keep him awake, dragging him to take a breath of fresh air at regular intervals. Neither the victim nor anyone of his wretched friends had (or wanted to spend) money for a hospital. Besides his videocamera that moonlighter (whore and anesthetist) robbed him of all the money he had on him. Without needing to take even her shoes off. We can accuse her of a lot of wickednesses but not of been someone who sells her body for a song.

Story 4) Even S was drugged by a whore once (or maybe more).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Italians in Thailand/6: the escalating squalor

As I've already explained you, even though I left Pattaya a few months ago I am not done telling you all the anecdotes I've learned when I was staying there. 

These are the latest stories S told me (we first met S here). I hope they also happen to be the last ones, as the escalation of their squalor doesn't seem to subside.
I jotted them down immediately after I listened to them, careful not to forget anything, using low level tone and terminology, sticking to what I had just heard. I meant to polish them all later on but then I thought that this kind of trash deserves expressive tools of a comparable quality. "Prostitutes" are therefore called "whores", "having a sexual intercourse" is "fucking" and...etcetera etcetera, we don't really need to open a vocabulary section here. If you cannot digest this hodgepodge (content and style) I really am sorry about it, I hope you can find other posts in this blog that you like better than this one. I had to write this one exactly the way I did though. Under certain circumstances you need to have an armored soul even to try to be politically correct. At the time of writing, mine is like a soap bubble that wavers and gets deformed while it glides downwards, bound to explode if it gets hit by just a gust of dusty air.

Story 1)
Mr. Gallina (a made up name that means "Hen" in Italian. Actually it's a different bird, but he's still Italian) got married with a whore and then bought a house where they went to live together.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The pope's lesson in style (in politics)

I've never really been what you may call a devoted believer. Come to think about it, I might not have a religious side at all, in the most orthodox sense of the expression. Unfortunately the only aspect of my character that invades the sphere of mysticism is my bent for blasphemous outbursts, something that would make my mother, a rather sober-minded woman, quite sad.
However, there is a thought of a theological kind that has been gnawing at my attention in the last few days. It's about the recent pope's resignation and the relevant jokes I've heard and read about it. I honestly can't understand how come the thousands of Facebook and Twitter users who post daily indignant comments about greedy, corrupted and immoral politicians unwilling to give up their posts, inviting them to "go home", didn't celebrate in unison the news of the pontiff's resignation, opting for a pointless kind of pub-like humor instead.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The chicken choir - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Look at those nice dresses
Just a few seconds after I've entered a clothing shop someone yells something that I don't understand, some other guy repeats the same thing, then it's a lady's turn and after that many other voices overlap. It seems that they are all shouting the same sentence: "Welcome to Uniqlo!". Yeah, sure, that's exactly what they are saying, and as I am the only one who's just entered the place they must necessarily be talking to me. Gosh, what a silly prank. In order to clear any doubt I turn towards the entrance and watch what happens next. Another customer gets in, an employee spots him and shouts: "Welcome to Uniqloooooo!" He's done it with a pseudo-nice tone which actually turns out to be irritating. It's as if he were focusing more on his performance than on the greeting itself, thus making the gesture not only insincere but ridiculous as well. His colleagues, who are all busy hanging shirts or folding t-shirts, hear him and repeat the sentence, parrot-like, without taking their eyes off what they are doing, using random techniques such as falsetto, trilling, rising and falling. They are using the old dazing-sales-technique, but it feels like being back at kindergarten again, or rather to have entered an tropical aviary.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

First they say "Welcome Sir"...and then they search you! - Manila, Philippines

An unlikely "iPost" at a shopping mall
There is an enormous mess of shopping malls around the Makati and Ayala Avenue crossroads, apparently evergrowing, like some kind of urban benign tumor. The inevitable SM and Parkson malls can be found there, while Glorietta and Green belt have five branches each. They are laid out one next to the other, forming an uninterrupted commercial island a few square kilometers big. Shops, restaurants, department stores, cinemas, alfresco cafes, discos: hundreds of business venues and thousands of customers every day. A gold mine for the rich investors and the usual salary-eating trap for the middle classes of Asia, that when it comes to advertising and the call of the ephemeral don't have any form of self-defense and fall for it like little kids.
This avidity of the storekeepers runs counter to the general paranoia induced by the increasing criminality rate and the permanent sensation of political instability. This conflict takes place mostly at the mall entrances, where the clientele is channeled through narrow passages patrolled by security guards equipped with metal detectors.

Monday, March 11, 2013

We gave up - Puerto Princesa, Philippines

The escape
Only a limited number of people are allowed to access the underground river each day, six or nine hundred, we're not sure about it. Anyway all the slots are booked out for a few days ahead. At the service center they let us know that if we go to Sabang by ourselves and stay at the "right" hotel there might be some available permits not yet assigned. We buy two seats on a minivan for the following day. Judging by the price we paid and what the travel agent said it should be a decent transport service. 
The next morning they come to pick us up at the hotel with a rather run-down minibus. There only are two other tourists on board besides us. They take us to the bus station, where they intend to pick up more passengers: no problem about that, we were not really counting on travelling sprawled across three seats each. The incoming procession is interminable though. There only are nine proper places available, plus two folding extra seats, but these guys are letting ten, fifteen, twenty passengers in, and there are some more lined up in front of the van door. Six or seven people are sharing four seats in the back row, more people are seated on wooden planks resting on the edges of the seats, the armrests or the doors. The luggage space has been taken up as well: our bags are being piled up on the roof.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The reverse sunflower technique

Maybe I'm the only unlucky bastard. I don't know about you, but to me it happens all the time. You've just caught a glimpse of a girl's face and you are under the impression that she might be very beautiful. Maybe it's been the gleam of a profile, the promise of two juicy lips, a pair of slide-shaped lashes, shiny and jet-black. The problem is that it only lasted a moment and you're not sure about it: how many times in the past they didn't pass the second-glance-test? Now she's turning her back on you and doubts remain. In order to dispel them you move along the arc of a circle having her as center, as short as possible of course, not to be noticed. It's a vain hope: you keep advancing and she rotates in sync, turning her back on you all along. Changing direction doesn't help, she is doing it as well, as if there were a magnet or rather an axle connecting you to her, forcing your bodies to move in an integral way. If you try a diversionary move some idiot will interpose his figure, nose up in the air, as if he was attracted by the smell of roast chicken coming from a shop nearby, unaware of your strife, therefore inculpable, nonetheless damned.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Yeah, I understand...actually, hold, I didn't get it! - Philippines

This message was written on a wall in Puerto Princesa. Not sure what that means.
We're watching a program on a Philippines TV channel: a beautiful and fast-speaking lady is interviewing two students at some event. She speaks English as if it was her mother tongue, with a heavy American accent, maybe too heavily American.
I'm not surprised, a lot of Filipinos, especially the well educated ones, speak English like this. Many of them might use the sound P instead of the F one, so that a coffee and a copy sound pretty much the same, but the level is still very good. 
Back to the TV program. The students answer the first question in English, with ease. The lady proceeds with a second question, and her accent sounds more and more nauseating. Surprisingly the two girls answer in Tagalog, the official language, or rather the other official language, as English is also widely used: in the airport announcements, ad signs, TV programs etc.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rustic casino (with photos) - Puerto Princesa, Philippines

We are walking near Junction 1, an important crossroads here in Puerto Princesa, Palawan island. There are some kind of wooden shacks close to the road, next to a bar, and a small crowd in and around one of them. We draw near, slowly, keeping a low profile. When we are close enough we understand what that is about. It's some kind of a makeshift roulette, it looks like a stand of a town festival but it actually is a countryside version of a casino. The other shacks are used for other games but they are all closed now: people are all gathered here.
The croupier is holding a stack of banknotes, ordered by denomination, he looks like the conductor of a Laotian countryside coach. There are some chips in a basket next to him but everybody seems to be using their own banknotes. The spinning wheel of a real roulette is replaced by a fixed matrix of colored squared, of various hues and all with some kind of round hole in the middle. The edges of the structure are covered with colored tiles, the same colors used for the squares. There is a fence half a meter away. the players are leaning on it and gamble by throwing their money on the colored tiles. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

There is a smelly key attached to our ankles

My left foot
Look at them, more sectarian than the fascist, classist, racist people they feel they are so different from, as a result of self-proclamation rather than their actual way of life. They look down on you because you don't wear the same fluttering rags they do, they snob you because you don't take part in their rituals, maybe they even despise you for the fragments of your conversations they manage to overhear. If you only dare include them in the varied "tourist category" that you feel every westerner passing by a tropical island belongs to they will interrupt you, indignant, and they will point out with arrogance and conceit that "I will never be a despicable tourist!" Not even a budget tourist? "No! I am a traveler!"
They manage to give the worst of themselves when they walk, actually glide over the world barefoot, with the air of a modern Jesus who finally learned to walk on water, free from that bourgeois burden which is a pair of shoes, receiving the light of an ultimate answer to an existential question each time they step on a thorn, a dog shit or some city sewage.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A minor (and kind of grotesque) version of Pattaya, - Angeles, Philippines

Same as Pattaya, worse than Pattaya
Dingy hotels whose customers get back drunk at night hanging from the boobs of some hooker, short-time rooms smelling like various types of body waste, fake viagra and cialis dealers, mignon beggars, midgets or kids, with hands constantly outstretched, their half-hidden wives or mums watching and poking them, soul-cannibals driving creative taxis, the local version of Walking Street announced by a giant banner at the entrance, bar-beers and bar-ladies (almost all of them single mothers), go-go bars where naked girls with flat, shrunk or operated breast pole-dance on a imitation marble counter, and then a sequence of indefinable places, in an unstable balance on the edge of too many categories, cops who pretend they are keeping order in the middle of absolute chaos, bald whore-mongers, swollen with steroids, wearing leather jackets, chains and tattoos, old disabled guys to whom the prostitutes are more caretakers than sex partners. 
The same humanity adrift, putrescent soul scum along the perimeter of a floating social dump, that same last-stop-before-the-psycho-spiritual-terminal feeling. Even the word "decadence", here, cannot be used as an explanation, but has to be explained itself.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Biting insects, with photos - Thailand

Fucking insects/0
Are you obsessed with mosquitos? In this post I'll give you a reason to be glad you haven't come across something worse than that. Maybe even to start liking them a bit. You don't believe me? Hold on a second, read the rest of the post before you start making fun of me.

- Let's start with the chapter on sleep.
I'm not a very demanding person when it comes to looking for a room to spend a night at. At least when I am on a pleasure trip, especially if I am touring a developing country. I think it doesn't make much sense expecting rich-country standards in a place that is not actually rich.
The only phobia, nightmare, paranoia that makes me clench my teeth and shut my eyes tight for a few minutes after lying down has a slightly funny name: bedbugs! In the west we have nearly got rid of them when we used to lightheartedly spray the content of an entire can of DDT to kill a fly. After this extremely toxic product was banned, so that we didn't get rid of a few million human beings along with the parasites, in some areas the problem has started to emerge again.
Bedbugs then.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lingua Franca/2 - From Hua Hin to Koh Phayam, Thailand

My friend IZ holding a mini praying mantis on his wrist in Koh Phayam
Besides German speaking Europe Italian can work as a Lingua Franca in S.E. Asia as well. 
We're in Hua Hin, in the Gulf of Siam, two or three hours south of Bangkok. A little restaurant with a terrace on the sea, fish on the dishes in front of us. We're having dinner with a group of Zurichers and, as usual, at least two of them are able to speak almost perfect Italian. Switzerland is funny place: all those official languages and not even one that unifies it, the people sometimes forced to speak English among them. I find them fascinating, but they don't surprise me anymore. 
A few hours later, while we're waiting for the bus to Ranong, a guy asks me if I know something about the bus to Phuket, which is already quite late. He spoke Italian correctly, there is some noise and I haven't been able to focus on his accent. It turns out that he's English, from Cornwall. He lived in Caserta and Ravenna for many months. He remembers that at the beginning he even used to speak with a Neapolitan accent.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Burma in a bulleted list (with photos)

Spilled tea and spare cigarettes at a teahouse
Tea and coffee cups are filled to the brim. While they are being taken to the tables the liquid is spilled on the saucer. It happens all the time, as if it was done on purpose.

In the teahouses besides drinking tea you can also eat some food, very good stuff by the way.

Betel nut vendors, teahouses and other shops normally sell spare cigarettes. 

There are mobile phone shops everywhere. They are really a lot, too many maybe. In fact most of them are often empty.

In some teahouses lighters hang from retractable cables connected to the ceiling. They can be pulled down and used by the customers at will.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Elusive information - Mandalay, Burma

Three bonzes looking cool with icecreams at Maymyo botanical gardens
We're done with Mandalay. We've visited it our own way of course: no monuments, castles, old capitals, things that I already saw many years ago, for which you have to pay a fee in dollars, brand new bills, of course. Just lots of walks, bicycle rides, getting lost in dirty and noisy quarters, taking photos, looking around, talking with someone, sipping liquified sugar served in a teacup. 
It's time to move on. Next step: Maymyo, also know as Pin Oo Lwin. We've read in a guidebook that those nice pick-ups with two benches in the back, to be shared with a dozen people, bags, rice sacks, chickens and pigs, leave from the clock tower crossroads. Just to be sure we ask the girls who work at our hotel. They are confident: "You need to take one of the buses leaving from 83rd road." We don't want to take the bus though, as it's too slow. We decide to go for the pick-ups anyway. At the clock tower we enter a bank to change some dollars and we ask the clerks where the stand is. They are very confident as well: "From 84 and 23!" Which is not here. Out of the bank we ask a motorbike taxi driver. "Maymyo? You need to take a bus..." Same advice we got at the hotel. Only the station seem to have changed address: according to him sometime in the last two hours is was moved to 79th street. We decide to follow the bank clerks' advice and we walk to 23rd street. The pick ups don't seem to be leaving from here either. It's quite hot and we start to feel tired. We sit at a teahouse table and we talk with the waiters. "Maymyo? No, took the wrong way, you need to go back to 28th street..." Which is before the clock tower. This is already the fifth version of the story, and god knows for how long it might go on. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Politically incorrect and probably a little pessimist on development, globalization, rich and poor countries, etc. - Burma

Some kind of "energy saving" traffic light in Thibaw
Burma is an opportunity. An opportunity with a blurred expiration date printed on. A chance, a model, a concrete example to reflect on matters such as development, globalization and international relations that in a few years we might not have anymore. Getting out of Rangoon airport means entering a world that in the last sixty years has developed very little, almost nothing at all actually. A system that for some aspects has even gone back in time. A place where people move on foot, by bicycle or with run-down cars on dusty roads that cut through expanses of trash, get on the bus with a sack of rice and two chickens, don't complain if the train travels at twenty kilometers per hour bumping on undulated and badly connected rails, cook their dinner on a wood fired stove, if a tooth is aching because of a cavity just pull it out, are not much interested in fashion and the latest technological devices (actually, nowadays this last statement is true only in part). Yet, they seem to be little stressed and moderately happy, they smile a lot and live with optimism. 
Still, if one looks carefully around, it is not possible not to take notice of the first signs of a wave of development that in a few years will probably wipe all this out. And every time something like this happens you can hear some foreign visitors mutter their usual trite comments.