I finally got to writing my Memoirs. In the process, I remembered my many cultural shocks. If you traveled the world over as I did, you may recognize some of your own experiences.
THE “WEST” AND “SORT OF WEST”
- USA: Americans think only they are sane. The rest of the world thinks Americans are insane and they are sane. And everything in America looks and tastes the same, and their girls are xenophobic.
- Russia: Taking a bath is against the rules unless you do it in vodka.
- Holland: Bikers don’t look right or left and run you over, yelling YOU are stupid. Plus ample dog poop and the only place where I got robbed three times over the years by the same people. Guess once: Starts with an “M”, Holland’s most popular ethnic Moroccan invaders.
- Belgium: Toilet paper cut from old newspapers and no sinks to wash your hands. Language either Flemish or Walloon, either way unintelligible. Breakfast: French fries, mussels, and beer (or “rouge”, red wine). Lots of smokers.
- France: Toilets with black holes, no seats, and pissed-over footsteps and no sinks to wash your hands. Plus subway stink is the world’s worst. And heaps of dog and pigeon poop. Food is way too expensive and waiters are rude. And French love is a myth. Americans in Paris made that up because they don’t know what love is either, only in the movies. But I made some very good friends and had lovely moments.
- Spain: Males can’t leave a girl alone. Females are locked up 24/7. And I can’t sing serenades in Spanish.
- Portugal: As many windmills as in Holland. They look spooky. Don Quixote traveled from Spain to Portugal to fight them.
- Italy: Males can’t leave a girl alone. And females eat too much pasta. And there’s too much pigeon poop, too.
- Germany: One menu only: bier, wurst, und sauerkraut. And too much hoompa hoompa.
- England: no menu at all, only rain, and after joining the EU they still drive on the wrong side of the road. Maybe that will change after Brexit.
- Ireland: All Irish have gone to New York to join the Democratic Party. Only Poles and Romanian pickpockets are left.
- Scotland: Rain, cold weather, smoking chimneys, and nobody speaks English.
- Switzerland: Swiss-French unintelligible; Swiss-German unintelligible, Swiss Italian, well, who knows; I don’t speak Italian. Traffic priority signs for frogs, cows, and turtles. The Swiss put holes in their cheese to attract American off-shore money. Raclette sits in your stomach for two weeks and causes terrible farts that kill your co-worker in seconds.
- Rwanda: Twice destroyed in thirty years with old colonial help.
- Burundi: Twice destroyed in twenty years with old colonial help.
- Central African Republic: snakes in and/or under your bed, wasps in your toilet, and pygmies running between your legs.
- Cameroon: The food looks great but you can’t eat it.
- Congo-Kinshasa: Everybody cheats.
- Congo-Brazaville: Nobody cheats. It’s forbidden by law.
- South Africa: Go visit a shopping mall to get shot at and run for your life.
- Tanzania: Dar es Salaam has too many SUVs and nobody knows how they were paid for.
- Kenya: Wildlife is for tourists and the airport road is to kill the tourists.
- Ethiopia: The table cloth is edible but you wouldn’t think that when you go to bed.
- Mali: That’s where Timbuktu is and when I got there I finally understood why everybody says it’s nowhere.
- Guinea: Why for heaven’s sake did the colonialists put that country on the map?
- Ivory Coast: Must be called Côte d’Ivoire to show it was once French and that’s why it is what it is.
- Ghana: The only place in Africa on the West Coast that seemed to work because it had a direct KLM flight from Amsterdam.
- Nigeria: The one place in Africa that should work but doesn’t. Night flight out to safety.
- Bangladesh: Delicacy: cockroached curry. Eating with your fingers; spit reservoirs in every corner of every corridor; toilets are bastions of urine, providing the main perfume in office buildings; and beware of the Dhaka “run” if you want to survive.
- India: more of the same, but a little bit more sophisticated and the best food in the world. And heavenly Kashmir should be declared neutral territory for everyone to enjoy, not just Islamists, not just Hindus, not just Pakistanis. Just let it be.
- Malaysia: A mushroom garden with millions of multicolored edible mushrooms and a McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur. What a place to live.
- Singapore: The country that everyone wants to ape but only Singaporeans know how to run.
- Taiwan: The only place where China is not China but everyone speaks Chinese and a tree you can slide through to become rich if you don’t fear getting stuck in the middle for the rest of your life.
- Philippines: Manila TV is like American TV – just as awful. In the countryside you find its beauty, but you may get struck by a typhoon.
- Indonesia and Bali: Djakarta is like Lagos, but outside the city, Java is a jewel. And on Bali, they serve the best suckling pig on earth. Go visit Bali’s interior to see the real Indonesia and its terraced rice fields. Heaven on earth. But the hotel bills are hellish.
- Hong Kong: British geniality mixed with Chinese Confucianism. Foremost a good cuisine, especially on the street, but everyone wondered how long the good life of one country two systems would last when the Brits handed it over to Communist China. The day of reckoning has come.
- China: More bikers than in Holland, and I never had real Chinese food before, not even in Amsterdam or NY China Town.
- Macao: Beware! Bought my wife a sapphire ring that turned out a piece of colored glass.
- Japan: Plastic food in the window is for show and not for eating. You must bow when meeting people in the elevator. And even a GPS can’t find where you’re going.
- Hawaii: advertised as little Asia but no, it’s pure America.
- Saudi-Arabia: The place where beautiful women are kept in hiding and your head gets cut off if you dare looking at them when they come strolling out after 11 p.m., or for saying something about their beauty.
- Lebanon: A Falafel tastes as good as a bomb.
- Jordan: An oasis in the desert and the only place in the Middle-East where I could ride a horse, have dinner in the open with a lovely woman, and feel at home, and where I might have stayed if she had said “yes.”
- Guyana: Loud. Loud dogs, loud crickets, loud vehicles, loud music, loud people but great curry and the best rum in the world. Drives on the wrong side of the road because the British stole Guyana from the Dutch in the 100-year European wars. Beautiful and savvy women, always showing a pleasant smile; and everything stays the same.
- Surinam: Neighbor of Guyana and awfully isolated but Surinamers don’t mind. People speak fluent Dutch (the only country outside Holland and Flemish Belgium that does) as Surinam was a Dutch colony until 1975. My greatest shock was that while speaking Dutch they are not Dutch at all, and their beautiful women bite.
- Curacao: The place to live but too expensive to retire.
- Bonaire: For scuba divers and iguana lovers only.
- Jamaica: The place where I spent my Millennial and tore both of my shoulder tendons when climbing back into my capsized sailing boat, leaving me burdened with lifelong Jamaicanitis.
While stationed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, between 1980 and 1984, for the World Bank, we traveled with the two kids, David and Samantha, (8 and 6), through India on several occasions, from east-west to north-south: wonderful and unforgettable experiences. Some pictures you may remember from your own travels in that intriguing part of the world.
How did we travel? By air (it takes three hours to fly north-south), taxicabs, and rickshaws. We visited palaces and temples of artful architecture which showed the richness of India in the Middle Ages and earlier, while Europe was building its own cathedrals and palaces.
We watched the Gometeswara statue above in awe on our way from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Bangalore. The kids were still too young to feel ‘shocked’ by the enormous penis, but on a beach in Goya later, daughter Samantha pointed startled at a live male nudist’s penis because to her big shock it dangled precipitously.
Dave and Sam in front of the impressive Palace at Mysore in southern India, a huge complex designed by Englishman Lord Henry Irwin and built between 1897-1912 after the old wooden structure burned down. Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV and his mother Maharani Kempananjammanni Devi, commissioned Lord Henry to build it. The royal family lived in these palaces since the 14th century.
A photograph of the Hoysaleswara temple at Belur. Here is where Sam and Dave disappeared in the dark inside. Worried about child kidnapping in India, we found Sam later sitting with a local family, selling mango fruits as if she had become Indian. They did not want to be photographed. When Sam ran back to us I sneakily took a picture of them anyway.
Notice the natural Indian beauty of the young women selling mangos, squatting with – probably – their mother.
The ancient Indian art of temple sculpture is breathtaking. You see much of that art spread throughout South Asia and the Far East (Indonesia).
Of course, we had to visit the Taj Mahal (“Crown of the Palaces” – in Hindi) in the city of Agra while staying with friends in New Delhi who kindly babysat the kids for this trip. Joy is shown with the Taj Mahal in the background. My grandfather, a great-uncle, and father went there too, so it became sort of a pilgrimage for me. For Joy, all travel in India, in particular Bombay and the south where her family hailed from, was an all-out pilgrimage to visit her roots. Her family name in Guyana being Jaundoo, we searched the English language Bombay telephone book, which listed the name Chandoo. In Guyana, it had become Jaundoo. The pronunciation was exactly the same in Hindi, but spelled differently in English in British Guyana.
The inside of the Taj Mahal glorifies Persian, Mongol and Indian art. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (who reigned from 1628 to 1658), to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (source Wikipedia) Next to the Taj Mahal is the tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, commissioned by Nur Jahan, the wife of Jahangir, for her father Mirzā Ghiyās Beg, originally a Persian Amir in exile. I’timad was an important Persian official in the Mughal Empire, whose children served as wives, mothers, and generals of the Mughal Emperors.
From Agra we traveled to nearby Fatehpur Sikri, a remnant of the capital of the Mughal Empire in 1571 built by Emperor Akbar, serving in this role from 1571 to 1585 (Wikipedia). It is a remarkable assembly of impressive buildings which excel in structural simplicity.
From there, we traveled to Jaipur to complete the Taj Mahal ‘triangle.’ A historic old town with a remote castle on top of a mountain that one can only reach by elephant.
A ‘Joyful” elephant rider: the elephant seems to like her.
Following are two local Indian paintings we bought in Jaipur. The one with the Hindu figures we could not get because the store where we saw it displayed in the window case was closed. Indian friends of ours – thanks again Anand Seth if you read this blog! – who are from Jaipur purchased it for us later. The other painting displays a typical Indian rural scene as we encountered them on our travels by car.
Back to New Delhi to pick-up the kids to travel to Srinagar in Kashmir, a state torn by strife between Pakistan and India, now dangerous for tourists. We spent there a week in a houseboat on the lake at Srinagar, from where we traveled around Kasmir with its beautiful scenery that reminded me of Switzerland.
Following are some more pictures of fascinating Kashmir with Joy, Dave, and Sam:
It was great to relax in Kashmir. But on a day trip with a rented car, we got a flat…and no spare in the back! I had to walk to a nearby village to get some young guys to help me carry the tire to a local workshop to get it repaired. The young guys said proudly: ‘Kashmir is Pakistan.’ They were also proudly Islamic. It reminded me later when I sat with Palestinian colleagues looking over the Dead Sea at the West Bank mountain ridge. ‘There is Palestine,” they said, as proudly. Behind the scenic beauty in the world, strife is not far behind.
Meanwhile, Sam took it easy: she ate an apple I plucked from a nearby fruit yard, with the scenic valley and Himalayan mountain ridge in the back.
Next album: Darjeeling and more.