Sometimes 

Sometimes things are not easy.  Sometimes things don’t go as planned.  Sometimes you are not prepared. 

I left Bangladesh with a little sadness in my heart.  My 2 weeks spent there had been fantastic and although I really wanted to visit Nepal I was a little sad to leave all the people I met there that have been so kind to me.  As usual I didn’t bring any money across as I prefer not to change currency.  I arrived at Kathmandu airport and after all the paperwork for visa (that luckily I could pay by card) I was ready to start my journey. 

At the airport there is only one ATM.  And it was out of order… Thankgod the taxi driver agreed to take me to my hostel anyway and stop along the way to let me get the money.  I tried a few ATM but none would work. As we were getting closer to the hostel I was starting panicking.  I had only a few rupees that Joy,  my host in Bangladesh had given me.  And that was it. 

We arrived at the hostel and the guy at the reception was nice enough to pay the taxi for me.  Obviously by the time all this happened the driver was already asking for more (1000 instead of the 700 agreed at the airport). 

I paid without saying anything because I was too stressed and didn’t want to make it worst.  After checking in at Pomelo house hotel I went around the city trying desperately to get money from ATM.  Without any luck.  The stress at that point was sky high and I was on the verge of a breakdown.  One of the CSer I was in touch with contacted me and invited me to his place for dinner.  I was so thankful because with the little money I had in my pocket I wasn’t able to buy any decent food. Shalik lives in a two rooms apartment.  And when I say two rooms I really mean two rooms.  Adjacent but not connected.  The bathroom is on the stairs and common to the floor.  In one room there is the “kitchen” and one bed.  In the other room,  the kids’ room,  there are 2 single beds. His wife doesn’t speak a single word of English but she’s been very nice and prepared a lot of good typical Nepalese food.  When I asked Shalik how they met,  he explained to me that his was an arranged marriage.  They actually met 10 minutes before the ceremony but they’ve been together for 8 years now.  In Nepal divorce is legal but not well accepted.

 

After dinner I went back to the hostel and I was so tired by the day’s events that I fell asleep right away. The day after I tried again to withdraw money from ATM but without any success.  So I resolved to call my bank and after a long chat and many explanations the guy on the phone told me that my card was not compatible with Nepali ATM machines. I was desperate.  Shalik was so nice to lend me some money but I couldn’t go very far with that.  I could have a decent meal and then some but nothing more than that.  It was so frustrating.  I had the money in my account but there was no way for me to get it out. I wanted to cry.  In the meantime another CSer contacted me and he also tried to help me.  Gokarna invited me for coffee and drove me around the city in his motorbike.  But my problem was not solved and I couldn’t really relax and enjoy the country.  I thought of “cashback” but in Kathmandu very few places have card machines and those that have it don’t even consider cashback. It was a catch 22 situation.  I managed to pay the hostel by bank transfer and they agreed on giving me cashback. It wasn’t much but it was something. 

 

And then I thought about money transfer something that I have always considered with horror.  But I had no choice.  I downloaded the app and tried to make a transfer to myself but the stupid app only allowed me to make the operation in cash.  I was stuck again.  So I called a friend in Spain and he agreed to do it for me.  Earlier I had moved to Gokarna house so at least I didn’t have to worry about rent and food. 

Joan made the transfer right away but his credentials needed to be checked.  So the money was not available for a couple of days.  I was a little more relaxed now but still I really wanted to get the money.  Chances are that theses days is holiday here, “Thiar Diwali” some sort of feast of lights,  so almost everything is closed.  Western Union included.  So at the moment I’m still waiting to get hold of my money.  Hopefully tomorrow the situation will be back in order and I will be able to start to enjoy Nepal.

 

I’m so grateful to have good friends.  It’s the most important thing in this world. And you know that you can count on them especially in hard times.  And it warms the heart. 

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Can’t find the words

I’ve been in Bangladesh for more than a week now and somehow I can’t find the words to tell my story so far.  To begin with Bangladesh make me think of several different countries : Laos for the poor state of the roads, Vietnam for the constant annoying use of horns to communicate in the traffic,  Myanmar for the men in “skirt” and finally India (although I haven’t been there yet) for the amount of people and the chaos everywhere. But at the same time Bangladesh is just Bangladesh.  Full of colors,  trash,  contradictions and most of all its fantastic people so welcoming and generous I have not words to describe. 

During my trip I have been blessed with the friendship of many beautiful people but Bengals are another story. Without them I could have not survived Bangladesh.  This place is a mess (I hope this will not offend anyone).  There are no rules and the few that have been enforced are constantly broken. In the words of one of my local friends “we like to break rules”. And it’s clear everywhere you look.  But then the generosity of people is something I have never seen in my entire life.  Bangladesh is a very poor country.  It’s story is a sad one and this relatively newborn country has been catapulted in the 21st century without any parachute.  People are noble but have no money.  Everyone dreams of travelling away from here.  Everyone dreams of going abroad.  Foreigners here are a miracle and I felt like a start here with the pros and cons that this carries with it.  People stare at me and I  mean STARE.  Sometimes I feel like an alien,  been scrutinized to check if I behave somehow differently. I also kinda learn how to eat with my hands (the custom here)  to feel less alien.  But still people stop me in the street to ask where I’m from and why I’m here as if they couldn’t even consider the idea of someone wanting to visit their country just for the sake of it.  They ask you very personal questions (how much do you earn?),  they’re extremely curious towards all that is “out there”. 

But the didn’t let me pay for anything.  They turn their place upside down to make me feel at home.  I cannot even buy a bottle of water because “I’m their guest” so they take care of everything. I’d been hosted mainly by students and unemployed and still wasn’t able to pay for anything.  

I’ve spent 2 days in Dhaka as I’ve arrived.  The city is simply horrible.  Once again no rules,  in traffic and in construction.  There is no city center and to do 5 km it can take you up to 2 hours. Despair has had the best of me a couple of times but there is really nothing you can do about that.  The streets are shared between cars,  rickshaw,   goats, CNGs cows and some stray dogs.  There is no direction for circulation.  You can go anywhere.  I thought I would die more than once here but apparently I’m still alive.  I’m so surprised I still haven’t seen any street accident but I guess they got very skilled at driving in chaos.  The heat is scorching.  They keep on telling me that I should have come in winter,  in a couple of months.  And I agree with them.  There are no trees on the streets so walking around during daytime is a torture. So I took an offer from one CSer to visit his university campus and stay with him a couple of days.  Jahanginagar university is an hour out of Dhaka and comparing to the city is heaven on earth.  The stretch of the area is equal to a small village.  There’s green everywhere and in some corner you have the feeling you’re in a forest more than in  University campus. 

 For a few days I felt I was back in school and for a moment I longed to be a student again,  when life was without worries and everything was still possible. Shariful and his girlfriend took me also to see the liberation monumentBaliati Palace and on a trip on the river. 

 Than one of my CSer host has invited me to Sylhet and there I  met a lot of his friends that have taken care of me as if I was a king.  We went to visit his campus far smaller than the previous one but still very green and an oasis comparing to the oven that the city is. Then Joy had to go back to work so I stayed a few days more in Sylhet where his friends have invited me to dinner at their place and prepared a specially cooked for me vegan dinner.  It was delicious!  Shammi is an excellent cook and very passionate about food. 

The following day they took me to Sreemongol where there is a protected area of a forest some 3 hours train ride outside Sylhet.  At the train station I was of course the main attraction to a point that it was very uncomfortable.  People were staring at me and kids were flying in flocks like flies to honey.  The train ride was an adventure by itself and once arrived in Sreemongol we needed to rent a local “van” to take us to the forest of Lawachara National Park

 

Once again as a foreigner I had to pay 10 times (literally) what the locals paid but it was worth it.  The park is beautiful and still pretty wild.  In it you can see a train passing through,  monkeys and if you’re lucky enough other wild animals.  Inside the park live some local tribe that are pretty much self sufficient with what the forest provide and from the selling of betel nut (yuk!) 

After the park we visited some beautiful tea plantations, a crop very common in this country, and we took the 8.30pm train back to Sylhet.  We were exhausted.

 

Summing it up – Myanmar 

So I finally moved out of Myanmar too.  I stayed a little less than a month but it felt longer.  And not because I didn’t like it but rather the opposite.  Myanmar felt good,  I made a home for a little while in Yangon and I was really having a good time.  People are nice,  food is good and cheap.  The land of men in skirt (it’s actually called longyi) where men (them again!) chew all day long betel nut and get their teeth burned out by limestone (an utterly disgusting habit), where blood red spit is everywhere, where they drive on the right and the steering wheel is on the right also (second hand cars from Japan) made me feel welcome. Not a single moment of insecurity,  not a moment where I felt I was in danger. But as we know all good things come to an end and it was time for me to move on.  I was on the stage where it’s either you settle down and find a job,  or you leave.  And I left. 

To close my adventure with a bit of a heartbeat I realized when I was half way to the airport that I left my passport back at the hostel where I spent my last night.  Luckily I left well in advance so I had the time to make a U turn,  go back to the hostel and make it to the airport to catch my flight.  But jeez my heart raced!!!! 

So now in Dhaka Bangladesh I think about my days back in Yangon and for the first time I am nostalgic.  Dhaka is very different from Yangon,  it’s a crazy city and people look at me as if I was an alien.  Buy it’s fun,  my CS host is extremely nice and I’m sure that by the time I will get use to this new dimension it will be time to take my next flight. 

The Yangon miracle 

So even my time in Myanmar has come to an end.  Tomorrow I will be on a plane direction Dhaka,  Bangladesh.  I have to admit that I had a very good time here.  Myanmar is a very nice country,  I expected to like it and I haven’t been disappointed.  My time in Yangon has been a revelation.  I spent my days at Adrian’s,  a Filipino guy that have been living here for the last years.  He lives with a Filipino girl accidentally named Adrienne.  During the time I spent at Adrian’s and Adrienne’s I took part in a surprise birthday party (for Adrienne) a house warming party and to the FAB party,  LGBT community party in Yangon that takes place one a month,  last Saturday. 

So Adrian has taken all the pain to take me around,  show me the city, take me to the cool places in town (GekkoRangoon Tea HousePenthouseSharky’s) and then convinced me to go to FAB (never been a big fan of disco parties).  But I’m SO GLAD I gave in and went to FAB party.  The place was packed with LGBT people and friends.  The crowd is very mixed and people are there just to have fun.  In a way it made me think of my early years when I used to go dancing with my friends on Saturday nights. I haven’t done that for ages, until yesterday.  All the people met during my stay were there and it made me feel happy,  people were having a blast and so was I.  And I didn’t even drink!  There were boys and girls (and all that’s in between)  of all shapes and sizes and I was not even the grandpa of the party! 

Yangon and the people met here managed to give me even if for a while the sense of home, comfort zone limited in space and time that I needed. Now I’m ready to move on.  The time has come for me to move to another place,  time to meet other people, time to live another adventure. 

One night in Bangkok… or maybe four 

So.  My next move was to go to Myanmar.  I checked the flights from either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.  The prices were ridiculous.  So I thought that probably it would be much cheaper to fly from Bangkok.  I wasn’t planning to go to Thailand again but I thought… what the heck!  So as I figured flights from Bangkok were 3 times cheaper.  

I took a bus from Siem Reap.  Travelling time 6 hours.  Wishful thinking.  Another 13 hours on the bus and I was in my host’s place by 8.30pm

The trip was not bad,  just VERY long even considerin the fact that we spent 2 hours at customs. My first host was Art, a theater director / actor and artist of many kinds.  Unfortunately his English is pretty basic so the conversation wasn’t fluid bit he’s been super nice and took good care to make me feel at home. 

My second host was Hall,  a Thai guy who lives for four years in Sweden.  Leo very kind and very careful to details,  dedicated to make the guest feel very welcome.  They both bought me food and took me out to dinner.  I also had one random girl buying me juice at the food stall.  This is why I loved Thailand so much last year.  Thai people are very generous and helpful.  That’s why even though I could have just spent one night in Bangkok I decided to stay four.  That’s why every time I come to Bangkok I like it more. 

Angkor Wat 

So.  My little bucolic adventure was… interesting. It RAINED  like crazy for the whole week I was there so I was not able to do as much as I could.  Roy is a very nice man from Britain who’s lived in Asia for many years and married this young Thai lady that spends here whole day cooking.  I mean literally – the WHOLE day.  And so their freezer are stuffed with food waiting to be served to customers that don’t show. 

The place has a lot of potential but it really need plenty of TLC.  The amount of spiderwebs present in there could cover the entire planet earth.  If you stand still for more than five minutes you end up completely covered in spiderweb. 

Due to the nearness of the river and the amount of rain that falls everything is covered in mould.  My backpack that rested on a bamboo shelf for the week was all spotted in white and had to was it straight away lest I would have to throw it away.  Your laundry never gets dry and all is wet.  But the atmosphere there is nice,  very quiet and relaxed and I could enjoy the countryside for a while and have fun with the animals around. 

After I left Ream yacht club I spent a couple of days in Kampot on my way to Siem Reap.  Kampot is a nice little town three hours south of Phnom Penh.  Nothing much to do here but relax and chill.  I had the time to go to a couple of places for food.  Once again I was craving for pizza so I tried my luck at “Ecstatic pizza ” (after reading the reviews in TripAdvisor) and the truth is that the pizza was not bad (for an Asian pizza that is).  Then the following day I tried “Simple things ” a vegetarian place high ranked in Happy Cow and although a little bit more expensive that the usual place or was worth it.  I had a veggie burger with fries and I had a hard time to finish it.  Delicious and the service was really friendly.  

The following day I had lunch at this Indian place run by an American guy.  It is called “Adwa I-tal kitchen “. The food is 90% vegan and it is delicious. 

It was time to hit the road again to finally get to Siem Reap and finally visit the famous temples. The trip from Kampot was supposed to last 10 hours.  But in a good Asian traditional way that was just a dream.  I arrived in SR almost thirteen hours after my departure all sweaty and exhausted.  At a certain point the driver decided that we didn’t need the AC anymore and he just cut it. The bus was full and the day was finally (!!!!) sunny and hot. 

We arrived in SR around 10pm and instead of dropping us by the night market as he was supposed to do,  the driver dropped us in the middle of nowhere where by chance there was a number of guys waiting for us to take us to town by tuk tuk.  (another tradition here…) 

I was furious and really tired so I refused to get left there and told the driver to take me to the night market. Thankgod I had my phone with me so I could check the way. Obviously he didn’t take me to the market but close enough to the place where I was supposed to meet my host. 

Chantha was working until 11pm and afterwards we went to his place and took a shower.  I was tired but needed some relax time so we went out and met some friends of his and had a beer.  For the following day I had contracted a tuk tuk to drive me around the temples.  The weather was really hot and sunny and I drank more than 2 litres of water. I actually sweat my heart out.  By the end of the day I was exhausted. 

But the temples are magnificent.  For the most part they have crumbled down and all the stones are laying around.  Men are working to rebuild them but it’s a long and meticulous job and it won’t be quick.  There was obviously a lot of people around but I still enjoyed the visit.  It was just amazing how theses temples were built thousand of centuries ago and they’re still there.  For the most part at least. Nature has made her way through the ruins and now gigantic trees are growing into the midst of the stones. I was speechless in front of such beauty. 

The visit ended at 3 and the rest of the day I was pretty much useless.  The driver came back at 5 to take me to see the sunset at the top of one hill where yet another temple is. After that I had some time to kill before dinner so I invited him to a beer. And he invited his friend.  And we went to a local place where his girlfriend works.  I they ordered a tower of beer (3 litres).  And I paid…of course.  And they asked me if I wanted a girl also…. The Cambodia way. 

The following day I moved to a hostel (the Pension lodge) as my host had another guest coming.  Two dollars a night can give you a pretty clean and decent place to sleep for the night.  During the day o organized my transfer to Bangkok to catch my flight to Yangon and then I booked the flight.  Now I’m waiting for the bus to Bangkok.  It should (should)  get me there in nine hours.  Fingers crossed. 

Summing it up : Malaysia 

Now that I’ve left Malaysia I see how much more westernized it is comparing to the other SE Asia countries.  

I’ve spent around 40 days in the land where number 4 is forbidden (4 and death have the same sound in Chinese),  where English is phonetic (teksi,  polis,  julai… Etc) and the currency has the name of a cartoon character (Ringgit). 

I was not meant to spend all that time there but I decided to extend my stay and take a massage course.  Kuala Lumpur is very cheap comparing to every other big cities I’ve been.  Food is extremely cheap and being multicultural by nature you can find every type of food.  I got stuck with Indian,  and with roti canai in particular (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roti_canai).

The population is composed by Malay,  Chinese and Indian for the majority.  Only a small percentage is made of foreigners (and there are many).  In Malaysia is difficult to meet people (as explained in my previous post)  but I still managed to meet a few very cool characters.  In particular my CS hosts.  The islands are beautiful places and in general pretty well preserved.  Tourism has not corrupted all yet.  

Every nationality is well integrated in Malaysian lifestyle but each of them keep their own specifics.  Chinese feel Chinese,   Indian feel Indian (as opposed to Malay)  but neither of them would like to live in their original country. It’s funny how they insist on the fact that they are this or that although their passport is Malay. 

I volunteered for 2 weeks in Oriental Heritage House and even if nothing went wrong I didn’t enjoy the experience (but the house is amazing!!! https://m.facebook.com/orientalheritagehouse/). I didn’t really learn anything and the communication with the management is very poor.  Also it is in a very quiet area but this means that you’re far from the city center and the public transport is very bad – as in Kuala Lumpur in general.  So,  since I was busy only in the mornings I decided to fulfill a dream that I had for long time and take massage classes in the afternoon. 

After a research in internet I decided to go to Wellness art training centre (https://m.facebook.com/well.ness.3158) in the very center of the city,  a few steps away from the famous towers.  It all started on a bit bumpy way.  I had discovered that my CC had been cloned so my bank blocked it.  Therefore I could not pay the entire price in one go and the management insisted that I had to pay before starting the class.  I told them I could not and if it was a problem I would just cancel the course.  They told me it was OK but the didn’t stop to send me WA messages asking me how I was and when I could pay.  So at one moment I told them that their attitude was very annoying because I felt they didn’t trust me.  And I understood that they don’t know me so why should they trust me but also told them that in Europe you can pay in two or three times and it was not an issue.  And the management replied that in Malaysia things are different.  And so I realized that even in the small things we have to be careful.  We all think in different ways and we should understand that something that is absolutely common for us it might not be for some other culture. 

If I had to choose one Asian country to live in Malaysia would be one of the candidates but honestly I felt a bit lonely there.  People told me that Malaysia is cool,  fold is amazing and places are beautiful.  And it is true.  But still.  There’s something missing that I cannot quite spot.  I still enjoyed my stay in KL and I loved my massage classes.  

I’m still in touch with some of the people I met along the way and hopefully I will see them again some day.