28 June 2010

don't trust bad news

Can Tho 25Jun10

As we checked in at Hanoi airport the lady at the counter told us our plane to Da Nang would be delayed by 1.5 hours.
The plane would leave at 2pm instead of 12:30.
"OK?" she asked me. 
"Ok!" - what else could I say ?

What if I told her "Sorry, not ok, please fly the plane on time !?"
Of course I said nothing out loud.
"Vietnamese airlines will provide free lunch at the Nasco restaurant" she told us.
She wrote something on our boarding passes to let use collect our free lunches.

My travelling companion and I settled down for a long wait.
I pulled out the old laptop, found a wireless network and logged in (I just love the way Vietnam is wired, all hotels, airports everywhere, wireless internet is standard, no stuffing around with credit card payments and time limits, and its free).

We decided to wait until later with lunch.

Stange, there seemed to be another flight to Da Nang as well, and that flight seemed to leave at 12:30, exactly the same time our original flight was supposed to leave.
I listened again, the flight  code ended in the number nine, our flight code ended in the number nine. This was too much of a coincidence.
I checked my boarding pass.
"S***t !" this was our flight, leaving at the original time after all.

We sat in the plane ready for takeoff by 12:30.

Seventeen passengers were missing, they had wandered off, believing they had time because of the delay.
Now we had to wait for the people who had trusted the bad news.
Ironic, we were delayed because people believed there would be a delay.

After 10 mins a whole group of people entered and we were ready.

Usually a delay is unexpected and drags on and on. I once spent 6 hours in a plane waiting for take off, every hour we were told it would be another hour.

This time the delay was not required, we just took off as per normal.

So don't always trust bad news, be cynical about cynicism   :-) 
Over Southern Vietnam, Mekong Delta June2010- TurboProp ATR72

The 'safe' adventure - or - User Interfaces DO matter

Safe with bad user interface
I was in a hurry.
I typed in the standard four digit code I always use and shut the door of the safe.
I pressed "Lock" and heard the hum of the motor drive the steel bolt of the door across and seal the door.
Inside was my "contains everything" laptop and a small Eee PC.
I raced out of the door and down to the lobby and met my fellow traveller, colleague and friend MM.
We had just checked in, done the Shave S*** and Shower routine and had just one thought on our minds: FOOD!.

We found a nice restaurant, good food. We were famished.
After the first main course I ordered another one and french fries. Then a third main course.  They were  looking at me. MM had two main courses.

Back in the hotel room I was ready to do some more work on my laptop.
I entered my usual code and got "ERR"
I tried again. - ERR
Hmmmm .....
This safe didn't ask you to type the number twice, just enter any four digit number and slam  the door shut and it was locked.
The only problem was: if you mistyped the number and then could not remember what you typed.
I must have mistyped the number when I shut the safe.

This is the reason most safes and passwords on websites ask you to type it twice. In case you made a mistake the first time.

I tried all combinations I could think of.
It's a VERY frustrating feeling when your stuff is locked in a steel box and you can't get it.
You want to tear the safe out of the wall and smash it.
Of course the contents would die as well... arrghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!

I tried and tried.
Then the safe spat the dummy. It refused to let me try anymore.
The number 28 appeared.
I kept trying, the number 28  was still there.
Bugger, now I 've done it.

After a while I tried again.
The number was now 26.

After a while I tried again.
The number was now 23
"Duhhhhh !  I got it !
I was locked out and the safe was counting down...

Just that day I had wondered what the hotels would do if anyone ever did lock a safe and could not remember the code. Would they have some simple key that every room service girl knew or would they call some specialist ?
They called a specialist.

A Vietnamese technician came round to unlock the safe.
He tried for a while, but no success.
The countdown clock started again.
We were locked out for another 28 minutes.

After 28 minutes he tried again. He has special device the plugs into the OS2 port at the front.
Eventually the door opens
Hallelujah.... !!!!!!!
From now on I will test every safe - lock it and unlock it when it's empty, before putting anything into it.
Of course: with better user interface software all this would not have happened. 
Of course with more thought and care and less hurry and silliness on my part this would not have happened.

It could still happen of course, but not as likely.
My online bank account required me to type my  name and password twice. That's standard practice.
For some strange reason when I set up my account I mistyped my name twice. Both times in exactly the same way.
Now every time  I use that account I have mistype my own name to get in.
So nothing is proof against fools. 


I always wonder: we humans try to make things safer, and it makes life more complicated.
Is that really worth it ?
We set up people to protect us from other people.
Who watches those who are supposed to protect us ?
What if they turn bad, who  protects us from them ?

I like things simple (but I'm complicated).
Maybe that's why I like developing countries, they have not reached the ridiculous complexity of developed countries, life is still clear and manageable and living there I don't feel like a part of a huge machine.
The people seem more real, more empowered, strange to say. 
It is chaotic and seems more dangerous and all that.
It's just personal preference I guess.
Cafe 8, Hanoi, near St Joesph's Cathedral

26 June 2010

relating to other expats - musings about this topic

Egypt, Cairo, taxi, Dec2008
I'm visiting Vietnam for two weeks, for work. 
The plan is for me to work and live in Saigon (HCMC), starting at the end of 2010.
A mate of mine wrote   "Getting a grip on HCM? Looking for long term place to live? I'm sure you'll steer well clear of the expats."

It made me think about how do I relate to expats when " I IS one 'o dem MESELF ?"
I know where I want to live in Saigon, I have the area sorted, just need to find the flat or room.
Might live with a Vietnamese family if I can get my own space, else will get a flat.

Re other expats: I found I cannot ignore other expats,in fact I don't want to, but I don't want to submerge myself into them either. I need other expats, they can help in ways no others can - its a kind of 'we are all in this together' thing,  and the ship will only survive if we all help each other. I'm overstating the point of course.
It's a balance thing.
But there is a need for a kind of support only other expats can give.

Sometimes I talk to students who are lost and have NO connection to their own people in Australia. 
They have cut all ties with their own country men and they get into trouble, have difficulty coping. 
I suggest, "ask one of your countrymen, they will know how to deal with this multicultural relationship - how to get visas, work, deal with this in your culture etc... " 
Because I live in Australia, there are always things I have no idea about that only their own people know.
     Other students get too much into their own people and hide there, their English does not improve and they don't have friends outside their own culture. They live in a ghetto.
I've done that too. Work pressure makes it harder to leave the ghetto.

Now that I think about it again: he key is who you live with.
If you live with your own people (other expats) you don't mingle with the local culture as much. That applies to expats in SE Asia and to overseas students in Australia.
The best balance I've seen was when a Lao student lived with an Aussie flatmate. She still kept up her connection to other Lao as part of her wider circle of friends, but she did not live with them, talk Lao at home, socialize with only her own people.

However: each person is different and what is right for one is not right for another.
Some people need to hide in the womb till they are ready to emerge, others need to leave all their own culture behind and go solo into the jungle. The Colonel Kurtz types I guess.
And then these things change over time as well.

It is not unusual for newcomers, new travellers to fall totally head over heels in love with a new country and culture and go feral and disappear.

The joys of expat lifestyle is discussed here http://heikorudolph.blogspot.com/2009/01/joys-of-expat-lifestyle.html

I wrote this blog to give an idea of the positive and negatives of each choice.
Some of my best friendships have been with expats while living in Japan, Laos, Thailand, visiting Taipei, and Saigon. 

15 June 2010

offer too good to refuse

Restaurant mirror, KL, Brickfields

I just knew, the minute I saw his face.
I was totally one hundred percent sure he'd make me an offer.
I just got into the taxi, at Royal Parade, outside my flat, "Spencer street. Southern Cross station," and deliberately I added,"skybus station."

I was still rummaging around, arranging my two backpacks in the crammed space between my long legs and the front seat. I hadn't had a chance to look at the driver's face.
When I did I was sure.
"You going to Geelong ?" he asked me.
'He's circling to eliminate clear no-goers,' I thought, 'there's no point to show his hand until he has to, clever.'
"No. Tulla. Tullamarine airport." I tell him and wait for it. I'm sure it'll come.
'If I'm right, he'll go for this and come out with it' I tell myself.
"Why ?" he asks me, "we are in Brunswick, you spend 12, 15 dollars going to Skybus. Pay Skybus. Why not go to Airport from here ?"
There it was ! Out in the open !

I have always wondered why no taxi driver ever tried this one on me. Everytime I took a cab to the Skybus I wondered. That's why I always mentioned the Skybus, never just Southern Cross Station.

It looked like I had found my man.
The others just did what I said. Zombie like they drove cabs, resentment of their situation apparent in every movement.
This guy was different.
He was still alive.
I felt I was in SE Asia already.
A good omen, I told myself.

"From here to Southern Cross is only ten dollars," I told him, "I've done this many times."
"But not so far to airport," he replied, " I don't take toll road, I go up Brunswick and Bell street then into freeway."
"Yea, I know that one," I tell him, " you mean Melville road."

My ego wants to make sure he realizes that I'm an old hand at this and know my geography, so no point to bullshit me.
"No, not ....ahh..yes...yes... Melville Road."
"Then left into Bell street and right into the freeway after the tollway section," I complete the description.
"How much is that ?" I ask him.
"Only $28 or so."
The airport bus is $17, the taxi to the bus stop is going to be 10 or 11.

The offer he's making me is attractive.
"No way," I look at him, laughing, "it's more than that. Give me a fixed price. Turn off the meter."
"Can't do that," he shakes his head.
He's quiet for a while. 
"Ok, I turn the meter off at 28 dollars," he thinks another moment, "thirty dollars, we've been driving to the city already," he adds.

It's amazing how many thoughts can go through one's mind in a spit second. I remember AJ's theory of how the first steps in anything set the tone. In a company the first few people set the tone. No matter how big the company gets, it's go the fingerprints and character of those founders ghosting around in it forever. I like AJ's theory.

This is the start of my journey to Kuala Lumpur, part of a quest, part of another story.
Do I want to be bloody minded about a few bucks here and there ?
How do I want to start this journey ?
What direction do I want to give this trip ?
"Ok. If you turn the meter off at thirty dollars, lets go."
We do a U turn and off we go the path I'd outlined.
I'm a little surprised at myself. 'What if he doesn't stick to the deal ?'
'The world won't end' I calm myself. I can live with it. So I pay a little more, and I learn something.
But I trust him. I feel that he's honest.

"Good for me, good for you," he tells me as we turn off Royal Parade into Brunswick Road.
"You have comfortable ride," he continues, "I have good fare to airport."
"I go shortest way," he tells me as we drive, "one passenger isn't going to make me rich."
"No, that's true," I agree.
"Whats a few dollars here and there ?" he asks me, "doesn't make big difference."
'True' I think, I've often thought the same. 'What's the point of stressing and straining like crazy for that extra 10% ? If I really want seriously more money I'd have to change my job, do a business, do something totally different. This guy understands that.'

I like his philosophy.
"I tell you truth," he tells me, "other drivers tell you, 'go freeway', pay tollway far, another four dollars. Its' not faster."
"No, you're right," I tell him, " I used to drive taxis, and they told us that freeways are not really faster unless it's exactly the direction you want to go. Too much time and effort getting on and off them. They were right. It's easier just to go slower and the direct way."
"Yes," he agrees," you drive fast, you feel you go fast, but you take time to get there, time to get out."

Exactly. I'm happy to have found someone who understands this.
it just fell like this, by 'chance'
Not a big thing, I know that, but I'm happy.
I'm warm, I don't have to listen to the airport bus's taped messages, advertising and the anally retentive safety warnings.
And I don't like that UV blue light they have at night on the bus. 

"How many miles on the tacho ?" I ask him.
He mumbles something, not sure why I ask.
I tell him about a taxi I took which had 950,000Km on the meter, still with the same engine.
The driver told me the car was on the road 24/7, the engine never cooled down.
"This car, not like that. I drive it until 12 o'clock. I'm not young, I'm 54," he tells me.
"What's the point of a few more dollars, if you get sick ? The young guys they can drive until 5 o'clock," he adds.
We are on the freeway no, the non toll way part.
The meter gets to $30. I point to it. He turns it off.
The computer dispatch panel beeps.

"When I drove cabs in 1983 they didn't have computer dispatches," I tell him, "I had to be fast on the radio button, but they always gave the jobs to the old guys. I didn't bother much with radio work then."
"Nothing's changed," he tells me, "The good jobs go to the staff cars and people they know."
"Yea," I agree," that's why I used to just cruise. I loved to just keep moving, check out the places where I thought people would be."
"That's the way you do it. If you drove now, you be a good taxi driver," he tells me.
I laugh, "Yes, I liked the freedom, the choice to go where I wanted, where I thought I might find work."
"I used to drive while doing my Grad Dip. After lectures, I wandered down the Astoria depot and get the oldest most beaten up depot cars. Kingswoods that leaned to one side and floated all over the road in 'S' curves."
'....and the reason you didn't do radio work was because you hate competing, hate fighting others...' my little voice of honesty tells me.

The little voice is right. I loved  cruising, and I avoided the messy business of fighting for radio work, it reminded me of sea gulls fighting for bread crumbs.
No thanks.
I know every job has that competitive part, and every job I've had I've run from the sea gull bits.
'One day I'll join in and ...' ..that thought always scares me, I might be too good at it, do too much damage... well perhaps one day.... .

"Do you own the car ?" I ask.
"No, we lease. Two people. He drive daytime, I drive night."

I've had trips in which the cabbie never said a word, never looked at me, just drove. 
I like this guy, and give him a tip that totally blows the hard negotiated economics out of the water.
For me, it's a donation at a temple.
A good omen. 

Selling the Buddha

Masala tea, - love it ! :-)

The rain is bucketing down. You would be soaked in 5 steps if you went out.
I didn't.
I had time.
When was the last time I didn't mind being delayed by nature ?
A while ago.
Everyone is waiting under shopfronts.
This is Kuala Lumpur, Brickfields, the Tamil/Indian center next to the huge Central station complex.
To use the waiting time, I decided to have my hair cut, back to a number #1.
Lest I forget.
It's amazing how many guys have shaved heads. I see them everywhere.
Never noticed it before.
Back in 1977 my mates and me almost were expelled from High School for doing that. Talk about being ahead of the times ;-)

After the haircut, the rain continues.
I order a Masala Tea in a restaurant and sit up near the entrance.
Going to wait it out.
A guy inside the restaurant waves at me and grins as though I was his best mate and he was happy to see me.
Never met the dude.
'Bit sus' I think, smile back and shake my head. I'll stay where I am.

I drink my masala tea. My eyes stray in his direction and he's smiling and motioning for me to join him.
But I wonder, am I passing up one of the amazing travel stories, by being overly anally retentively cautious ?
'Whatever. I stay put.'
The rain stops, I pay and wander outside.
Mr Smiley pops up next to me, "I like English speaking people, they helped me for seven years when I had a hard time."
The bait dangles between us, waiting for me to ask him how and what.
It's too obvious so I don't.
But I am curious if my first gut reaction was accurate. So I let him walk beside me as we head for Central station.
"Where are you from ?"
"Australia, Melbourne."
"How long you been here ?"
'Too many questions, too fast,' I think.
"Arrive today." Not good policy to be that honest but I don't mind.    
"How long you stay ?"
'Definitely too many questions,' he's not a real pro,' but let me see where this is going.' 
"Oh a week or so, not sure," by now my Moroccan lessons have kicked in and I'm giving fuzzy and vague answers.
"Which hotel you say at ?"
'Ok that's way over the limit. No way am I going to tell you that.'
"Oh I forgot, have to check the itinerary..." I mumble.
A normal conversation would not accept such evasion. He accepts the vagueness. That's another sign he's after something else.

Time to go on the offensive.
"Where do you work, what do you do ?" I ask him.
"I work in the market. Morning market."
"What do you do there ?"
"I sell Buddha statues, little ones. I have small stall there."
"Really ? You sell Buddhas ? But you are... not Buddhist."
"Anyone can sell," he tells me.
"I like little Buddha statues. I have a few in my house." I tell him.
"Yes, people buy, I tell them to put flower to them. Bring luck."
Allright, I've figured out where he is coming from. I want to have it out and in the open.
I decide to grab the bull by the horns, save him time and effort to find some complicated way to try and sell me one. 
"Show me. You got some ?" I ask.
He's a bit surprised, but he opens a bag he's been carrying and pulls out a fat laughing Buddha, Chinese style.
It's nice. A good souvenir.
I'm tired of playing a lonwinded game.
The Buddha at home
"I'll give you 10 Ringgit," I tell him. I surprise myself, that I have a clear and reasonable figure in mind, and that I push the whole transaction.
"Can't," he says,"it's good quality. Blessed by the temple."
'Yea, sure,' I think, but I say nothing.
He pulls out another two.
"Take a set, is very lucky."
"Its resin," I tell him, "it's injected plastic. Here look, you can see the marks of the file."
"Its specially blessed plastic."
I laugh. It's too funny.  
"No, just one," I tell him, "ten Ringgit."
He realizes I'm not going to take more than one, and that the talk of blessedness is not making an impression.
"Ok, fiveteen."
'What's five Ringgit ?' I think.
I pull out two ten Ringgit notes, but hold them.
"You got five ?" I ask him. Basic training says to see the change first.
He hasn't got five Ringgit.
I thought so. Bangkok taxi drivers never have correct change either. He reminds me of them.
"Fourteen." he tells me and shows me four one Ringgit notes.
I understand that he really means sixteen, not fourteen, can't be bothered telling him.
"Ok." I give him another ten Ringgit and take his four one Ringgit notes.
Deal is done.  
He murmurs about "change money".
I had asked him about money changing earlier on, to sus him out.
'Time to get out of here,'
I tell myself.
No point to pursue that one now.
It would not be a good exchange rate.
"I'm off to Central," I tell him and motion across the road.
He's happy enough.
His white smile is enormous. Very intense.
He looks genuinely happy and smiling.
"See ya," I call out as I cross the road to the median strip, "may the Buddha bless you,"I call out over my shoulder.
We both laugh, he walks off down the road and I change money at Central.
Best rate I found in KL. 
So, I was right.
My first gut reaction about him was correct.
But it was fun and a good lesson.
Worth the 15 Ringgit and I got to keep the little Buddha as well.
It's a real souvenir now, something to remember.

He was just a guy making a living.
There are worse ways and and there are better ways.
Who's to say ?

the black cat at KL airport

Sleeping cat, not healthy, is it still with us ?

An hour to kill before I have to go through passport control.
Too many poeple, too many trolleys.
I need to get out and do something.
Ok, check out the Tune Hotel, take a look.
"It's hot, humid. What's the point of walking to the Tune Hotel, you have to book it online anyway ?" I argued with myself.
But I went.

"Central ?" the guys at the bus stop ask.
"No,"I point ahead.
This is the main walkway to the busses, restaurants and Tune HOtel.
It's sweltering, I'm sweating already.
On my left is a sleeping black cat, quite young.
I take a closer look: it's really really skinny, and it's paws gummed up with infection, ears eaten away.
It looks on it's way out.

By the time I get to the Tune Hotel, I'm really hot and sweaty. It's clean, zen like in its simplicity. Everything from towels to aircon by the hour can be purchased. Prices are up front and no extra hidden charges. Unlike  the swish places, where they charge by stealth.
"Breakfast is 55 Ringgit plus plus.."I was told when I asked at the Swish hotel.
"Plus plus ? what's plus plus ?"
"Oh, Value added tax, service charges...."
"Ok I get it. All that stuff." I wave it all away.

Ok well I know what to expect from a Tune Hotel now, a bit like the Formula One Hotels in Australia.

Might as well have lunch and take some food back for the cat, if it's still there and still alive. 

I choose stuff the cat might like, egg, rice, fish and set a little bit of each on an old business card, hidden under a paper tissue.

Yes kitty is still there, still sleeping.
After the first dose of fish
I feel a bit self conscious, like some stupid do-gooder, or some idiot.
My time as a loon club member doing embarassing things on purpose helps me out now.
I put the business card next to her face.
Will she eat ? is she strong enough or too close to the other side already ?
She gets up, wobbles around and looks at the food.
The scientist in me watches and wonders what she'll go for, the egg, rice or fish ?
Only fish.
All the fish.
Rats, I'll have to get some more now.
I hear people stop and talk about the crazy foreigner and the cat.
I feel selfconscious and silly. Stupid do gooder.
Here's this guy in a biz jacket feeding fish to a stray cat on the side of the walkway to the busses.
I've ignored the people who stopped wheeling their luggage cart and watch me, talking in some unknown  language.
The cat is eating, the last of the fish. Mission accomplished 007.
I get up enough courage to look at the audience. An elderly Chinese couple are watching with fascination, smiling and talking to each other.
"your cat ?"
'My cat ?' I think, 'would anyone bring a cat on a trip and feed it outside like this ? Look at it, it's half dead and just skin and bones,' thoughts like that flash through my mind but I say nothing. They mean well.
I smile, "No, just found her here."
I took all the free bottles of water from the hotel, so now I have water to spare.
I pour some into the lid.
She doesn't drink but she starts to clean herself.
One side of her neck has no fur any more.
I leave to get more fish.

"Take away fish.“
“Rice ?”
“Just fish."
I get a white styrofoam container and a plastic fork.
“No, no bag,” tell the cook, “enough plastic already.”

The cat looked  more lively as I left her,  she might have wandered off by now.  So I hurry back.
Still there.
She  sees  me coming and  starts  meowing.
Like a typical cat she gets in the way as I unpack the food, walking between my hands and brushing up against me.
I  try not to think of what infections she has.
“Ok, Ok, just wait a bit.”
I pull  all the meat off the fish with the plastic fork, spread it out on the hot concrete.
Flies gather from all around.
She  starts eating.
One of the guys working on the busses  comes over to watch.
He says  something, I can't  remember what.
He's interested though  and he's watching me feed the cat.
I stand up and pull out a ten Ringgit note, give it to him.
"FOr the cat."
“No, no,” he backs off.
“For the cat,” I repeat and wave at her eating.
“Buy her some fish,”  I point to the restaurant and then to the floor where the cat is busy.
He nods then, he's got the idea.
When I push the note back to him he accepts and smiles, he has totally understood.

Those guys work here, they are the best ones to take care of her.
That's the best I can do for her.
“Thank you,” he calls out after me.
He really looked pleased to be handed the responsibility for the cat.
He smiled from ear to ear.
And I'm happy to have found someone.
Much better than just walking off to catch my flight.

13 June 2010

Brickfields, the Tamil area of Kuala Lumpur

Check out at the buffet restaurant Brickfields
Brickfields, the Tamil area of Kuala Lumpur (KL),
smells of incense, strings of flowers hanging from stalls,
Indian music blaring from speakers, atmosphere is lively, noisy but unexpectedly I like it.
Intense looking guys who give me polite gentle answers about "where are the batu caves ? " how to do I go there ?"

All night flight from MELB,
    Air asia be blessed,
    thou makest the distant possible,
    thou bridgest the cosy clubs of travel agents,
    mixer of humanity be blessed,
    en el padre i el spriritu santo...

Nothing touristy here at Brickfields,
its all real. Old Tamil guys eating under trees in side streets,
An Evangelical Zionist church around the corner,
right behind it the Buddhist Maha Vihara (whatever that is, it's big though)
An Ashram teaching third eye and kundalini awakening at the corner of the side street. Statue of the 'master' in bronze in the middle.
Green energy efficient high rise office block going up on the opposite side of the main road.
KL's Sentral (Central) Megacomplex train-bus-monorail station is next to it all.

I write this in a dark cool internet cafe.
Young guys, playing games all day, Indian music beating from the ceiling.
Just off the plane, I'm headed for a swish place to stay, but this is my first port of call in KL.
I need to touch base, feel real, ground myself before I face the rest of the city.

So here I am in a dimly lit, cool, music filled filled internet cafe writing this stuff.

I'll see if the guy who sold me the pocket watch last year remembers me.
Watch doesn't keep good time, went on strike after 7 weeks, but not his fault.
Luck of the draw.
Ce'st la vie...

Will head for my hotel soon.
Luxury makes me nervous, it feels fake underneath it all. I've paid for all those smiles and politeness.
But I've decided to give it a bash.
No reason, just because I CAN, because life is short and I blow heaps of $$$$'s on other stuff without thinking twice (two days ago $800 for a new electrical switchboard in my flat, 300 for insurance, 700 for rego, 250 for electricity bill, 200 body corp fees, 800 for conference... and so it goes on and on and on and on ....
when's my turn ?!@*(## !
right NOW
so here I am ! he he he )

I'm 50 now, anything can happen anytime,
Noticed my body isn't 30 anymore...
who knows what happens in 5, 10 years....
can't save this kind of thing for the future.
The "libido" of the "joie de vivre" might evaporate by then ...
..so who knows what happens in 5 years.

But I DO know what happens right NOW :-)
Time for lunch, real Indian.
There are no other tourists, no 'whiteys' or gringos here.
Stuff isn't glitzy and polished and ritzy here,
Its not for show or dazzlement, just sit down and eat ....
Mostly everyone speaks English, if not, I just point at stuff, mime the rest.
more later...

Ahhh...back from lunch.
That was good.
Went to a local restaurant next to the Crescent hotel.

First time I went there I expected to be pointed to a table to order stuff from a menu and to eat with cutlery.
No way.

Now I know the drill:
Grab orange plate - put banana leaf on plate.
Help yourself from one of the buffets by the wall.
HUGE range of stuff.
Rain in Brickfields
There is a Chinese Vegetarian buffet, a pure Indian buffet and others I've not worked out yet.

Sit down.
Use hands - sorry: use hand_. Right hand.
A guy will come round and look at your plate and write down what you owe on a piece of paper he gives you to take to the cashier on the way out.

A lady comes round and asks me about drinks.
"Drink ?" 
"Masala tea please."
Masala tea appears a minute later.
Drinks are a separate business within the business. All the Indian restaurants work that way. Don't know why.

It's all low fuss, all self help, all designed to run smoothly.
Food is GOOD.
Cheap. Approximately 10 Ringgit ( AUD$3.50 ) + 5 Ringgit for two Masala teas.

Ok - time to drop stuff at the swish place, then the Batu caves.


I already have a SIM card for my phone, thanks to Air Asia: they sell SIMs on board the plane, so you can hit the ground running.
So you never get away from it all totally ...but that's ok, I need to call a few people in KL. Melbourne people don't know the local number :-) I didn't know it till I got off the plane.

First time I was in Malaysia, 1978, the only way to find out information was to ask other travellers at the backpackers in the evening.

Letters took 2-3 weeks and were sent to Poste Restante http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poste_restante

Phone calls in those days cost the equivalent of one days travel budget for ~3 minutes. About $35/minute by today's standards.
"Hi Mum, Dad, I'm fine, in Kuala Lumpur."
"Good, all fine here too."
That's it.
Was it less than 60 seconds ?
55 seconds, great!

If you are up for more reading: At the end of this email is a post from a traveller who spent the last 3 years just travelling and working in IT while on the road.

Links for places mentioned above
Brickfields: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brickfields

Hotel Grand Crescent hotelgrandcrescent.com

Travel - Kuala Lumpur:

04 April 2010

Saigon shoe shine man... - middle class guilt... - life the universe and everything

The rich guy. At Fanny's Café, Saigon CBD.
"Excuse me Sir, Shoe shine ?"     
"Ten thousand."
My usual reaction has always been, NO!, mixed with a healthy dose of annoyance that I was being targeted, pested and seen as a rich tourist. Add to that a touch of guilt.
After all if you give in to 'them' they'll pester you all the more. 
But then there was that touch of guilt. 

Today I realized, I was rich.
I wasn't travelling as a backpacker.
I had enough money. I was sitting at Fanny's ice cream palour and Café spending 30,000 Dong for a ball of ice cream.

Yea sure compared to the pundits of superannuation in-security back home I was poor. 
I didn't have the AUD $800,000 I needed for comfortable retirement. 
I wasn't even trying for it. 
My contemporaries had houses and investment portfolios, I made $122 daytrading in shares in 4 weeks. 

But compared to the guy asking to polish my shoes, I was unbelievably wealthy. I have money, knowledge, degrees, abilities, experience, and friends and family who would support me in tough times. 
I have nothing to worry about.
Top left corner: my sandals being polished.

But what got me today were two things: 

1) I realized how much I had. He was humble. I felt no resentment from him. I'd be damn resentful if I had to work as a shoe shine boy.
2) I'm 50. I'm not going to be here forever. I'm mortal. 
Life is NOW!.
I didn't care about keeping up some great system of "don't give in to 'them' ". 
I didn't care about "it won't solve the problem at its deepest root"
No it won't. 

So I gave him my sandals. Old worn leather Teva sandals. 
He spent a long time on them, polishing them better then they ever been polished.

"Thanks they look great"
I paid him, 10,000 Dong and some extra. 

I'm not used to be being called Sir. 
"Who is he calling Sir ? Why ? I'm not a 'sir' I'm just an average scared little kid backpacking round the world."
There's a little boy, inside me, an eighteen year old backpacker who hasn't grown up yet.

The world is too big for me to fix it all, this is all I could do.
Let Gandhi and the heros do their stuff, I don't worry about big system, big picture anymore. 
The Universe is smart enough to work it out. 
I just gotta do what I can NOW. However small that is. 

Saigon, 4Apr10 Easter Sunday.

The view from the office desk: 
Working at Fanny's Café, Saigon, CBD.

07 February 2010

KL taxi driver - a la natural - a contented man

It's pissing down with rain, a real tropical rain storm, buckets of water coming down. It's warm, this is KL (=Kuala Lumpur - Malaysians LOVE TLA's). We are undercover at a petrol station.
People on motorbikes flock to the petrol station to stay dry and wait it out.
A friend and I were on the way to KL Menara, the tall Lookout and TV communications tower overlooking the whole city.

Above: sign in a KL taxi,
kissing not allowed

The traffic is crawling along, its 5pm and rush hour.
I spot an empty cab, and we make a run for it.
The driver is smiles and beckons us in.

The car inside looks old , loved and well used like a favourite pair of shoes.
The driver smiles and nods as we give him the address of the hotel up the road.
We're happy to be out of the rain.

Traffic crawls slowly along, the windows are open and he has a cigarette, one of those nice smelling clover cigarettes.
Sitting back, making conversation, "Driving Taxis is a tough job".
"No, not hard," the driver turns his head and smiles at us.

Uh... what do I say to that ?
I had tried to sympathize and I had  I assumed every taxi driver would feel their job was hard.
"I get to travel round," he adds.
"What time did you start this morning ?"
"Six. I'm going home now, after I drop you two".
"Wow, 12 hours a day"
" I meet my friends for two hours every day for lunch, we chat and talk".
I can really see that he has a close circle of mates who all meet up together. He looks relaxed and happy - a sign of good friendships.
I remember lots of Astoria Taxi drivers in Carlton meeting at Genevie's restaurant at 11am every day. That was in the 1970's.

"Not so much money though," I persisted in pursing that track.
He didn't hear or didn't bother.

We talk about the traffic, how it's got heavy especially in the rain.
There is not frustration in his manner. 

"Your car ?" I ask him. The car looks old, but well cared for.
It does not have the slickness of a depot car. There are little nick-nacks of his everywhere, reminds me of the nick-nack's in my own office.
"Yes, my car." He smiles and nods.
"I've been driving taxis since I was a Bachelor", he tells us.
"Before you were married ?"
He nods.
"How many kids ?"

We pull up  outside the hotel.
The fare is 6.20 Malaysian Ringgit, that's  $2.30 Aussie dollars, it wasn't far.
"I give you a discount make it six Ringgits"
He smiles and and leans back.
No hurry.

I'm stunned.
This is a happy man, a contented man.
I'm used to taxi drivers trying to get every little bit extra.
I'm used to rush rush rush....
This guy is not bothered.
"Make is seven", I hand him a ten Ringgit note.
He just smiles and says something I've forgotten by now.
"Here's my card, if you need to go anywhere you can call."

I've still got his card, his name is: Badrul Hisham 019 245 8678,
yes, if I needed a driver I would call him for sure.
It wasn't a clever marketing act that he did there.
He was just being himself.
A la natural!

I wonder why I assumed that everybody was unhappy in their job or felt underpaid.
Meeting a contended man.. was such a shock.
what happened to social expectations, ambition?
How dare he just be happy where he was ?
How dare he just see the good in his situation and accept it with a smile ?
Wow... A great taxi ride.

Always look on the bright side of life http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1loyjm4SOa0

Taxi drivers the world over are an odd bunch.
Talk about taxi drivers and everyone has a story of how they got ripped off by a taxi driver,  and luckily  there are also a few  stories about how NICE a taxi driver was to them.

this was an actual  story on a recent trip.

...at age 23, I drove taxis for Astoria Taxis in Swanston Street - after my lectures at Melb Uni where I did  a Dip Ed I would walk over and see Mr Gange (the Gange family had 110 taxi licenses)
"you got a car for me Mr Gange ?"
he looked at me over his glasses.
"How long you want it for ?"
"Just tonight, bring it back in the morning."
"Check with Paul."
Mr Gange alwasy wore satin shirts, dark red, smoked like a chimney.
He had style of sorts.

I'd wander over to see crusty old Paul. Paul looked like a war veteran, with bits shot off and missing, scars and a limp.
His outward manner was rough but he was a good bloke.
He "did the cars" for the depot.

"Paul,, you got a car for me ?"
No answer just a quick wave of the hand to the corner where two ancient dilapidated, creaky old Kingswoods stood.
Bench seats, suspension like a see-saw.
This was the rock bottom of the pile.
Fair enough, I was a greenhorn, a young kid doing this part time.
I didn't want fancy cars either.
Small scratches wouldn't matter on these cars.
Its much more relaxing driving a heap. Even if I did break down a sometimes and I needed to radio the depot for a tow home.
Another car would come and get me using a tow rope.
I was a student, it was all part of the adventure.

If you have any good Taxi driver stories... send me an email.

TLA's = Three letter acromyms

'dance me to the children who are asking to be born....'  - Leonard Cohen
"Well done", he said, "it is good to stand against the darkness, yet sometimes we must even stand against the light in order to find our true selves."
              from "Shadows & Illusions  conversations with Master Serapian" Bk3 p37,
Haiko's - blogs -(o)- metaphysics  -(o)- travel -(o)- stories -(o)- travel-tips
 One often meets one's destiny while trying to avoid it. - Anon.

comments from readers

My most interesting taxi story is about a taxi I caught from La Guardia Airport in NY when I was attending Cornell U.. We had a good conversation and I think he had some connection to Colombia. I was returning from Colombia. A year or two later I came into La Guardia (now JFK?) and caught a taxi. Conversation developed and it turned out to be the same taxi I had caught before. He remembered me and I him, after we started talking about Colombia. I don´t know the odds of that happening, but JFK is one of the biggest, if not THE, airports in the world.  by JA

06 January 2010

Taiwan TW3 - things that hit a foreigner in Taiwan

  • - all pedestrian traffic lights have a countdown panel of how many seconds before it goes red. As you approach you know how much you have to hurry or dawdle. The green light is an animated green man running.As the countdown hits 10 seconds he starts running faster and faster.

  • - Everyone stands on the right on escalators, and the walking or running lane is on the left. This is done on all escalators, of which there are many many many... in the subway system.Little megaphones on autorplay admonish people to this. It's actually a good idea, if you want to hurry and there is an interminably long escalator that crawls up at snail's pace.
  • -The very core of the old city, all the inner city of Taipei has bike lanes and pedestrian lanes, EVERYWHERE. It is simply part of the way it was all built from the beginning.
  • Earthquakes are not unusual, tremors happen regularly. It took me a while to make the connection, but I think that is why a lot of the buildings are so SOLID and heavy constructed.
  • Hot springs easily accessible by local city trains. Go soak in hot strang smelling water, and take the subway home.
  • Taipei is a big city but has a sense of space and dignity, it is not frantic or crazy. 

  • after you make a mobile phone call, you get an SMS that tells you how long your last call was and how much it cost you and your balance, - the sms is free of course.
  • electronic money is used in may places in parallel with cash: wave your card at sensor BLEEEP and the details are on the cash register and your card is deducted the amount of your purchase.
  • Subway: same idea: wave your "Easy CARD" at the sensor and you are IN , wave it again on the way out and the cost is deducted from the card.   A little screen lights up and tells you your remining credit. If you buy your card on English language settings, then all messages from your card are in English. nifty, geeks will appreciate this.
  • Individual flats in a block of flats can be used and  rented out as offices.
  • Crossing at the pedestrianCrossing, I hear a big bus on my left, but I'm confident it will stop for me, and it does. Such are the road rules here.
  • At those pissy little intersections, I have to force myself and be "nice" and wait at the red lights like everyone else, so foreigners don't get a bad name.I'm not nice all the time.
  • Around the world: One tends to avoid parks at night. Walking home a 23:30 hours, past the Da-an park in the center of the city. I took a small peek inside, and there was a lady with her pet dog, people playing guitar, (this is winter here, cool, Melboure winter type of cool). Ok so I crossed the park and use it as a shortcut walking home.

New year's at Taipei's 101, as the world's tallest building is called. Very impressive. Wall to wall people, all major 4 lane streets are open for pedestrians only. Volunteers traffic guards keep order alongside police. No alcohol, no crazy drunks wandering the streets. Hardly any litter. Subways are total crush time of course. I walked for an hour back home. Very nice atmosphere. 


The Presidential palace is well guarded. Wide roads lead up to it, as is the custom for palaces, but I've never seen guards as vigilant anywhere in the world. As I get within 300meters there is a police/army type car and men with drawn rifles in their hands. The rifles or submachine guns or whatever they are called by the experts - have big magazines.
I cross the street and walk past the front of the palace on the pedestrian footpath. Not many people walk there. Every 20m a tall skinny guy in plain boring civilian clothes stands. But he does not just stand, he STANDS and his head moves 180 degrees, sweeping the scene, from side to side. As I pass the next guy, same thing, same facial expression, same type of clothes, just standing there WATCHING. These guys have no guns, no weapons they are the pawns on the chessboard.

The same arrangement goes all the way around the palace. Behind the pawns moving their heads are armed guards, halfway between the building and the watchers with their moving heads. These armed are the bishops or knights of the chessboard. They have uniforms, not civilian clothes and they are armed to the teeth, rifles at the ready, held in both hands.
Right by the walls of the palace are more guards, a LOT of them, also armed (of course). The front door of the palace is open, a wide red carpeted staircase goes up into the interior. Guards all the way up. I slow my walking pace down a bit to check it out but don't want to stop and gawk. Somehow something is not conducive or inviting to do that kind of thing. I don't even pull out my camera.
The vibes walking along the footpath are palpable. I cross the street breathe a sigh of relief and keep walking to Shimending. Shimending is the young people's fashion and clothes and food and movies and buskers area. Full of life and glitz and glimmer. The outrageously expensive next to the dirt cheap.
The end of my Taiwan stay is 8Jan10 :-( feel sad to leave.
Hope to come back one day.

need to plan everything ? travel enthusiasm http://www.roadjunky.com/article/2143/make-extensive-travel-plans-and-make-god-laugh


'dance me to the children who are asking to be born....'  - Leonard Cohen
You ask yourselves, "what is the matter with me ? Why am I not content ?"
Your heart is whispering "Listen to me. This is not Home.
You did not come for contentment. You came to remember." - Emanuel....

Haiko's - blogs -(o)- metaphysics  -(o)- travel -(o)- stories.
           skype ID:       MmePickwick
 One often meets one's destiny while trying to avoid it. - Anon.

Aswan, Egypt, Tombs of the Nobles