How did I become a Citizen of the World? Why do I have these itchy feet? Where does this greed for exploring come from? Why this fascination with foreign customs’n’cultures? Was there a specific moment? Or did I get injected this yearning for travel in homeopathic doses?
I’ve put together five anecdotes about my earliest – and most impressive – travel memories that might explain a thing or two.
It’s really amazing what my brain remembers, how these trips sank in and anchored in my mind and soul.
I’m often asked how it is to travel by myself. If I’m not scared. If I don’t get lonely. If I’m not afraid that the sky may fall on my head tomorrow.
The answer has always been no – and meeting Sri Lanka’s only ski instructor was clearly another proof that travelling solo is a great chance to come across people that open up to you in a blink of an eye.
Yes, Cuba is a wonderful place with days on endless beaches and nights at hot bars. Nevertheless, brace yourself for Cuba.
Obviously, the difficult monetary situation and the unimaginable economic difference between locals and visitors might lead to misperceptions. Grub first, then ethics – as a matter of fact, in Cuba, you are often reminded of this sober truth.
Location location location: This is a roundup of some of my adventurous accommodation choices. I’ve actually made them in search of the best price-performance ratio.
After all, who doesn’t want to stay at a nice, comfortable hotel at an exceptionally low price? I do! However, very often, these accommodations are located in – euphemistically speaking – remote locations. The Spanish call it en el culo del diablo – in the devil’s butt.
…and what I am needs no excuses – the beginning of Gloria Gaynor’s evergreen is the perfect intro to this post, which deals with my perspective on the Carnival in Rio, an extremely gay event – gay in every sense of the word.
Bar on the Copacabana beach
Carnival in Brazil – yay or nay? Spoiler alert: I am what I am, and what I am is not a person who likes carnival; anywhere in the world.
Brazilian carnival is world famous, on many travellers’ bucket lists, so you probably have to be a major grouch not to have a great time and enjoy yourself like crazy.
However, I don’t like carnival.
You might think I’m just a pathetic loser with no sense of humor whatsoever.
But that’s not true, you can ask anybody who has known me for five minutes that I am great fun and ready to say the darndest things. I’m just not the dropping pants-falling water buckets-smashing cream cake-red nose-funny hat-kind of humorous.
Party crowd at the otherwise rather idyllic Largo dos Guimarães in the Santa Teresa district.
And I detest crowds. Even if I would participate in a freedom march, I’d prefer to march by myself than in a crowd. But especially vinous party crowds give me the creeps.
This pretty lady – a street vendor in Belo Horizonte – came closest to the image I had of the carnival in Brazil.
I do like the carnival-ladies in the micro sequin bikinis shaking there not so micro behinds. I like the drummers drumming with vigor. But this takes place only at the Sambadrome where the Samba schools compete.
The real carnival is a bender at every corner in the city.
I’m actually not that crazy about ridiculously accessorized drunks. Nowhere in the world.
There is a carnival in Germany, too. Fortunately, it’s outsourced to the Rhine-Main-area so you can give it a wide berth. Surprisingly the German carnival is pretty much the same thing like the one in Rio: Hordes of disguised drunks are stumbling and staggering through the streets, their make up slowly dissolving, bumping into each other, blocking roads. Since in Germany it’s cold at carnival season, they mostly cover up (big thumb up!). In Rio, it’s 32 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) at 9 p. m., so people walk around basically naked.
It’s only February and I’ve had my share of bare chests for the rest of the year.
Bare chests – unadorned version…
….bare chests – glittering version.
The latino macho’s favorite costume is a skirt. Skirts seem to be the most hilarious – or maybe coolest – thing a man can wear. I wonder whether the Scots are aware of that.
….group tutu – and of course bare chests.
You might think at least the music is rhythmic and latino and hot so you cannot stand still.
Well, it’s not, take it from me.
Some tacky techno-merengue-mix-songs are blaring from boom boxes and the crowds are blaring along. My Portuguese is sufficient to understand that some of the lyrics must be quite X-rated.
Makes me wonder whatever happened to Barry Manilow’s Lola, the showgirl, with yellow feathers in her hair.
Nope, no yellow feathers.
The worst thing is that as people drink a lot, nature calls; and as soon as they hear it calling, they open the door naked; metaphorically and unfortunately literally.
The sharp stench of ammonia is everywhere; sometimes mixed with the stink of vomit.
#CoisaBOA is a campaign by Antarctica beer dealing in a fun way with different issues that might occur during the carnival. Here it says that it’s a good thing (= coisa boa) to make xixi – I presume that you don’t need a translation for this one… – only in a bathroom. The bad thing (which for the record would be coisa ruim) is that obviously, not many people took notice of this billboard.
This makes me think of another song, the first big success of one of the earliest hip hop bands, namely Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: “….people pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care” (from “The Message”)
Furious Five – that sounds pleasantly grumpy. I think I would spend a great carnival in the company of the Furious Five: We would drink just a bit, maybe get a hit or two from a spliff and roll our eyes on all these self-proclaimed clowns.
We would use the mobile toilets that are everywhere at people’s disposal – and I bet the Furious Five would keep their shirts on.
Wanna know what happened before? Here are the previous lessons:
Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Cambodia, while travelling, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections on my stay. At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. Until then, just enjoy some special moments with me.
If you choose to pin this post, please use one of these pictures:
Coming from Europe and remembering how things were back in the socialist days, the way Vietnamese are dealing with history and politics baffles me.
Uncle Ho’s Cabin – and Uncle Ho’s Statue in Ho Chi Minh City.
In Eastern Europe, politics were a serious, serious thing. No cracks about the government, no doubts, and certainly no marketing schemes with the emblems. One wrong remark and you were in big trouble.
This seems not to be the case in – still socialist! – Viet Nam. Although there is pure and utter pride and propaganda everywhere you look – the red flags with the five-pointed star, the super animated young pioneers cheering into some glorious future et cetera et cetera et cetera. On the other hand to our standards, the memories and its symbols are not treated with much respect.
Red flags are flying in bulks.
In Hoi An, which happens to be one of the most touristy places, at one of the many souvenir and knick-knack stores along Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, one of the most touristy streets, they are selling communist propaganda posters from the 70s -which, besides possible dates, do not differ a bit from today’s propaganda that you see everywhere.
I know this phenomenon e. g. from Berlin where it’s the big hilarious thing for tourists to get their picture taken with a communist soldier’s hat – it seems to be something between the forbidden fruit – the demon’s hat on my head, hahaha – and a caricature, because, honestly, still hearing the same old lame slogans makes the whole thing a caricature. So while I get this in Berlin where it’s a mocking look back at their past, I don’t get it in Viet Nam where it’s still everywhere – in a serious sense – and a great part of everyday’s life in the present.
A revolutionary on sale: Ho Chi Minh in all stages and ages.
But as a matter of fact, the Cuban revolution with Che Guevara at their side had definitely the hotter symbol.
So my question is: What’s the difference between the ‚old’ propaganda posters and the recent ones? Why are the old ones knick-knack and the new ones a serious message to the people?
Because it’s not the motives and even not the style and graphic. And although I cannot really judge whether the wording changed, I strongly doubt it (because e. g. in Cuba I was able to judge it, and there the only difference is that now they add Chavez to Che and Fidel).
Propaganda in Cuba – it’s rather the message than the design (whereby the whole thing looks like they didn’t put much heart in it)
Communists tend to be quite conservative when it comes to marketing and PR.
To me, selling the ideology at a souvenir store is mocking – because, come on, nobody will buy a poster like this thinking „Oh, young pioneers should follow the lead of Ho Chi Minh – that’s an interesting thought, I think I want to hang this next to the TV set to not forget about it.“ They will buy it because they find it hysterical.
So obviously it is ok to sell out the great communist idea to create a better world and ‘new humans’ for a souvenir to some tourists – in a country where people are brainwashed every day by the very same ideology and designs?!
Another good example is the famous Cu Chi tunnels where the Vietnamese partisans hid from the US troops.
You can visit them on a day trip – that also includes a visit to the Cao Dai temple, which actually makes sense since the Cao Dai fought together with i. a. the communists and the buddhists against the French-oriented catholic oppressors.
So anyway, once you get to the site, they first make you watch a film that should be called “Viet Nam’s way to socialism for total morons”. It shows in an extremely simplified thus slightly tendentious way how great life in Viet Nam used to be: Women in traditional Ao Dais are sashaying over fields, mildly humming cheesy tunes, hardworking farmers happily working their rice paddies – it was pure harmony.
All of a sudden – and to emphasize the shock, the film at this moment turns darker – American villains came and dropped bombs and erased villages and razed the country to the ground; sadly, that’s the only part in the film that’s true.
But GI Joe didn’t reckon the brave Vietnamese’s – who of course were all devoted communists – resistance.
Not only the film itself, also the content is in very, very, veeery black and white.
Yes, it was bad that there was colonialism, yes, it was bad that the US got involved in the war, but no, Viet Nam and its people were not one big bundle of harmony. There were also many Vietnamese people who were not desperately longing for a communist government. It was not only an uprising, it was also a civil war, after all.
Not everyone was longing for a communist government; yet the red flag is waving everywhere – like here over the picturesque Halong Bay.
Anyway, I knew I was at a memorial site, so of course, they tried to feed me their broth. What confused me, was the entertaining Disney World-ish side to it: Getting down into the earth holes, there were puppets involved in all sort of crafts and chores – and once everybody entered the hole, the guide flipped the switch and the puppets got busy.
Let me tell you, the mechanism was not exactly the latest state of the art. Not only the bad technics ridiculed the whole scenario.
Then there was a couple of ruthless Viet Cong puppets in their fighting apparel to take your picture with.
So that’s what became of the Viet Cong now? Just another Minnie Mouse and Goofy at Disney World?
To top it off, at the gift store, they are selling the Viet Cong scarf and other goodies. I mean it’s clear that people will only buy it for fun – for mocking, not because they want to be ready as it’s time to join the Vietnamese army.
So first they are torturing the visitors with this tacky, bold propaganda and half an hour later you can mock them?! Come on, guys!
Viet Cong dummies at your disposal.
But there was another thing that for me personally took the cake: While walking along the trail and watching the dummies – I’m talking about the puppets here – doing their work and climbing into the narrow tunnels – I made like twenty steps and got out at the first possible exit; they wouldn’t have won the war with me at their side, that’s for sure – there was a constant gun fire in the background. Naiv me, I thought it was some sound effect to make the visit more realistic and dramatic.
Nope, turns out, there is a shooting ranch right next to the Cu Chi tunnel memorial!
Sorry, but placing a shooting ranch – yes, real guns, real bullets – next to a war memorial leaves me jaw-dropped.
Have you been to Viet Nam? How did you perceive the presence of religion, politics, and history?
Share your experience in the comment section below.
There were more incidents that left me a bit irritated – and I wrote about them here:
Well, in Hoi An I heard a very different story:
I went with a small group to the ruins of My Son, guided by a very sweet young tour guide. Very fit, very smart kid, great command of English.
Since private Ryan and his fellow occupiers thought it a good idea to also destroy part of the ancient temples we were looking at, the topic of the war came up and the smart kid told us about his father who fought in the war. Not only did that man fight with the Viet Nam National Liberation Front (also known as Viet Cong), he also lost his six (six!) brothers in the war.
So from then on he has hated Americans. All Americans.
But since he cannot distinguish Americans from other Caucasians, he simply hates white people. All white people.
I’m sorry for the guide’s father who lost six brothers and still couldn’t prevent cultural occupation: First American fastfood chains are here to infest Viet Nam.
„If he knew what I’m doing for a living, that I am working with foreign tourists, he would kill me“, laughed the smart kid. „He knows that I’m a tour guide, but he believes I’m working exclusively with Vietnamese people.“
Once he took some Dutch friends to his fathers house. The father obviously freaked out and swore at them. The smart kid allowed to get a great deal of what the man said lost in translation – and modified the rest to „My father welcomes you to Viet Nam; and now we have to go“.
I told you he’s a smart kid.
Monument in the Hàng Đậu flower garden honoring the Vietnamese freedom fighters.
Yes, these stories are funny. But I ask myself how people who feel that strongly about this topic – and I presume that these two are not Viet Nam’s most extremist but probably represent the average population – manage to live side by side without going for each other’s throats. Is it the aftermath of the war trauma? Is it the Buddhism? Do these people live and hate each other side by side as neighbors, or does the old division between the North and the South still exist so that they can hate each other from far?
I’m really curious.
To get the complete travel info on Viet Nam just click here. There you also find a precis on Viet Nam’s recent history.
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