Friday, December 1, 2017

From ‘There are no Gods in North Korea’ by Anjaly Thomas

Mongolia is a country of less than three million people and for each person there are five animals, most of which are roaming free across this vast and so incredibly beautiful country. …Friendliness is ingrained culturally among the Mongolians and the harshness of their daily life hasn’t changed that unique quality. …The Mongolian psyche and persona, as well as its fledgling tourism industry, appear to be based almost entirely on Genghis Khan and his exploits, from the name of the airport to his face on the currency and the most popular brand of beer. …In Mongolia it is said that in life you should ride your invisible horse of luck. ….Of all the places I’ve visited in Mongolia, the Gobi is by far my favourite….because its forbidding beauty challenges the imagination, and because the Gobi people are the hardiest, yet friendliest people in the world. ….Ulan Baatar ….It is easy to get around, either by a bus, taxi or if you like, walking…..What surprised me most about this city was that culture shock was almost non-existent. I suppose their friendliness breaks down this barrier quite easily …..

There was no escaping the chipathi in Kampala, a legacy of the Indians who came to Uganda years ago with their chapathi. Idi Amin may have shooed away the Indians, but he couldn’t kill their flatbread which eventually overthrew posho (a starchy meal made of maize flour or cornmeal, with millet flour and is a native east African dish) as the national dish…… I fell in love with the Ugandan beans….

…..the only existing proof of Ugandan history – the Kasubi tombs …..the burial site of the Kabakis, the kings of Buganda which is a sub-national kingdom enjoying autonomy from the State.

….Africa. It is as different and as varied as nothing else in this world……Tanzanians liked Ugandans a little more than Kenyans who saw themselves as the ‘ruler’ of the three because of higher tourist footfalls, volunteers and charity organizations and because they were more often in the news, whatever the reason. Ugandans and Tanzanians did not place much trust in the Kenyans, who drew the last straw when it came to honesty.

….the Nile cruise was the best ever decision I have made in my life…..I could never have imagined this vastness. It was mesmerizing to have the world’s longest river flowing around us.

…..they giggled in that strange Chinese way….

Why are the Chinese not like the Thais who start their day with a smile and a purpose that is so tourist-centric? It would be so helpful if they did. I wish there was a way to get them to react.

…..China …..People spit too much, even around food. So, so disgusting….What is worse is that here they don’t really care about the tourists. Its definitely not like that in Thailand or Turkey. Here if you think you should get special treatment for being a tourist, you can think again ….Food on Chinese trains is quite uninspiring and I want something that does not look or smell like noodles. Railway platforms here do not have food stalls – like in India. ….I often felt the Chinese lacked in hospitality and inquisitiveness. …Why did the Chinese lack the curiosity so common to other South East Asian countries? ….China definitely is not a solo-traveller destination …..It is a land of frustration, fascination and some fun ….Taxis in general have been a constant source of disappointment. They never stop, never arrive on time and never go where you want to …if they speak your language, your options are limited to paying a lot over the meter…….

Indians who miss their flights when on a holiday are not the best people to be around……

There are some things I miss about Africa in general, starting with laughter. Every person I have met will always greet you with a loud, belly-deep, thigh-slapping laughter….I have never met a happier person than a laughing African.

From ‘Hitchhiking to India in 1962. India, The Balkans and Greece in 2015’ by John Waller based on the diaries of Andrew Macalpine

The Yugoslavs are the most wonderful people we’ve seen. Very poor, but cheerful.

Yugoslavia is remarkable in its variance from the flat plains of Croatia to the patchwork quilt of Serbia and finally to the barren harsh beauty of the mountains of Macedonia. The Slovenes in the north and the Macedonians in the south are cheerful and friendly but otherwise our feelings have been blurred by the poverty. The communist system is a failure and one can only wait for the change.

Tragically, few countries in Europe lost a higher proportion of their Jewish population in Hitler’s Final Solution than Greece. ….The personal costs of the war in Greece were immense: the elimination of the Jews; the 250,000 people that died directly or indirectly as a result of the famine between 1941 and 1943; and the anti-guerrilla campaigns of 1943-44 when villages were wiped out as acts of revenge….It was also the economic cost to the Greeks that turned the Greeks against the Germans. ….After the war and the Axis defeat, the Communists fought on against the elected government leading to the Civil War which ended in 1949. In the Greek mountains from Western Thrace in the east, through Macedonia, where the guerrillas were strongest, to the Pindos in the west, Greeks killed Greeks. Over the 5 years of civil war at least 60,000 Greeks were killed. On top of this, more than 50,000 Greek speakers were refugees, mainly to Communist Yugoslavia….The exodus from Greece continued in the 1960s; there was no work and little food in Greece.

1453 is a year etched on the heart of every Greek – the year Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. On Tuesday 29th May, the final vestige of the over one-thousand-year-old Christian Eastern Roman Empire was ended. Tuesday is still an unlucky day for the Greeks…The Ottomans were respectful of the other ‘Peoples of the Book’, welcoming for example, the huge Sephardic Jewish population after their expulsion from the Iberian peninsular in 1492…..At the peace conference in Lausanne in 1923, it was agreed that 1.3 million Christians, both ethnic Greeks and Turks, were to be expelled from the new Turkey in exchange for 480,000 Turkish-speaking Muslims stayed in Western Thrace and slightly more Greeks remained in Constantinople, though perhaps only 2,500 still live there today. ….The only good thing that came out of this tragedy was that Greece, as a country, became the most homogenous in the Balkans.

…at the Turkish-Iranian border……the truck drivers waiting to clear customs….were from Pakistan …..With great charm and perhaps some concern, they agreed to take us to Tehran…..a theory I was formulating: the further east one travelled, the more friendly and hospitable were the locals.

Almost as soon as we were in Iran an impressive and dramatic change occurred in the landscape. From moderately cultivated land even in the remotest parts, we came across enormous expanses of semi-desert. The only thing relieving the monotony of the brown was the arid green scrub. We saw our first camels……this country is very dusty….Iran is a great plateau of desert and barren mountains.

…an Iranian proverb, which says, ‘Isfahan is half the world.’

…..Iran…..the further east we go the less we see of the peasant woman, who remains in her home all day and only goes out for shopping. When she does, she is so heavily veiled that one can only see the eyes peeping out from two slits in the great loose gown she wears. This seems to be the source of the Latin conception of women for especially in poorer Italy and Spain they are very much the housewives and child-bearers.

Persia is by far the dirtiest country we have visited so far….Although the food in Turkey was very greasy it did at least have variety. Kebab was only one of the many dishes. In Persia, kebab is the only dish. It is eaten with a pancake-like bread, which is always tough unless absolutely fresh…..In Turkey, there were salads. In Iran there were none. The food is quite expensive.

In Turkey, the Moslem religion didn’t seem to have any hold on the people. Whereas in Persia it seems very strong.

….old Persian proverb: Oh God, having made Multan, Sibi and Dadar, what need was there to make hell.
Another Persian proverb: People found shivering in hell were from Multan.

…Multan…The people are very primitive. No cultural tradition at all which there was in Persia.

The Pakistan people have a code of hospitality, which must be seen to be believed. This is the most wonderful country I have ever been in.

Indian music has much that is rhythmically similar to West Indian music……Aurangabad …..Two Moslem friends had known each other for 8 years yet had never met each other’s wives

…convoy of Sikhs….all three lorries stopped ….they were set to do their weekly wash in the nearby mountain stream ….Modesty…prevents them undressing further and they always retained the towel-like cloth around their loins. It always strikes me as paradoxical that men who exhibit as few inhibitions amongst themselves as the Indians – they seem unable to forbear to handle each other when talking and to see two men walking down the street in Bombay holding hands is as common occurrence as it is in Iran – that men who show so little restraint in their day-to-day physical relations should fall short of an act that even the most conventional of Europeans would consider normal – namely exhibiting one’s naked body before friends.

From ‘Meeting the Middle East. Travels in Arabia’ by Jason Smar

Doha had one of the best skylines in the world.

Aside from its roads, Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world for Westerners to go about their business. …but its not to say the Qatari criminal justice system isn’t busy….the prisons are full to bursting, mainly with inmates from India, Nepal, the Philippines and Pakistan, incarcerated for petty crimes that wouldn’t even warrant a caution in most other countries…

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women from driving. Saudi law also forb its women from getting inside a car unless they are with their husband or a close male relative. …..Saudi women are not normally allowed to travel on public transport either. If they are permitted, perhaps in a medical emergency, they have to sit in a special rear compartment so as not to offend the male passengers.

….the cheery young Pakistani taxi driver…..Omar….. “Mostly. Western passengers and Filipinos are very respectful. Not Arabs though. Very rude people.”

….Dubai….the least Arabian of all the major Gulf cities, yet the one easiest to enjoy.

Beirut….was a city of contrasts….there were the bullet-ridden buildings and crumbling backstreets, areas that looked war-torn and ragged, and then there was the sparkling affluence of the cornice. I could not recall a city where the contrast was so stark….

“Lebanon has some of the best-preserved fossils on Earth,” the young woman told us…..

Like their counterparts in Beirut, the local women of Istanbul favoured T-shirts, jeans and uncovered hair instead of hijabs and abayas.

Jordan….Amman…… the street got busier and the traffic did too. The beeping was almost on a par with India…..

……Jerusalem… I’d never seen so many soldiers hanging around a city, except for perhaps in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital…..