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.

Monday, February 4, 2013

After a lot of honey, a little mudslinging as well (with photos) - Burma

An inspiring panoramic view of the room
After pouring jars of honey on it, it's finally time to mudsling Burma a little as well. I do it both because I am an asshole and I can't help it and because I think that highlighting the pros of something and covering up its cons is not gonna help promoting it. Whatever that thing is.
As you have already noticed if you've read the previous posts this nice and charming country also has its flaws. First of all Burma is not a clean place. Trash is piled up anywhere, next to the roads, on the hills and the riverbanks: if a Burmese is left with an empty plastic bag in his hand he will throw it away, no matter where he is. However, after all the years spent traveling in Asia, I am quite used to it. You might say I'm a bit nuts but a little rubbish, decaying and colorful confusion rather than depress me often tend to put me in a good mood. The taxi drivers racket at the bus or train stations and the airports though is definitely annoying. Especially when you find out that, after having negotiated the price like a money lender to be ripped off anyway, a few hundred meters away there are a lot of honest guys who are obviously not allowed to ambush the travelers who have just arrived. Solution: look for those honest ones and negotiate a price, with firmness, alright, but a little comprehension as well. The chances to get food poisoning are also high, due the the bad hygienic conditions: you need to be careful but not paranoid, otherwise you will miss lots of the fun the country has to offer. In the worst case scenario you will be pissing a little shit-velouté out of your ass. After a while there won't be anything else to piss and everything will shortly get back to the good old solid state.
For the time being though, the worst aspect of the country for those who visit it is the accommodation scene.