miércoles, octubre 29, 2008

Last days...

Today we are leaving Belgrade. We left Sofia last Monday, heading for Serbia. It was a big mess to get here indeed, after the bus driver passed through Belgrade and forgot to leave us until we asked him where he should stop. After some arguing, he dropped us off in the middle of a road, having to walk back to Belgrade ourselves. I'll get back to this story on a yet-to-come post.

Belgrade has sincerely surprised me. Sometimes I wonder what can I really get to know spending a few days in a city. Thinking I could really understand what is people like, what are the concerns of Serbians, etc is simply naive. I could even spend a whole year in a country, but as a foreigner my perspective will always be subjective. But I am not ambitious, with these short trips I am just happy having a glimpse of the countries I visit and feeling the spirit of the cities I have been.

Considering that, I found Belgrade people kind and warm-heart. Still not prepared for crows of tourists (which in some way is positive), you can get your way through easily, since people in average can communicate in English (at least those we dare to talked with). Lastly, despite walking the streets carrying our bags and with a bag in our hands, in a very tourist way, we were more than once mixed up with locals, which is a kind of flattery, at least for me.

Today we are leaving. I wouldn't mind come back to Serbia again in the future. I got the feeling I am missing many things to see here... Next stop: Skopjia.

jueves, octubre 16, 2008

The Bulgarian smile

Finally, me and Servando got to Sofia last Wednesday really earlier in the morning. Once again, our flight arrived before the expected arrival time, so far so good!

Lili kindly came to the airport to pick us. It was very gently from her, because although we got some little information on how to get to the town by taxi (we were warned several times to stay away from the bad taxis, I mean, those were you most likely be ripped off), I wouldn't imagine managing ourselves explaining the taxi driver where we wanted to go.

My first impression is that Bulgarians are somehow kind of rude. Maybe they are not, but I do not why, maybe is because of their tone or gestures but it seems that when they are speaking to you they scold at you and look really angry and with bad manners. I give you an example...When we caught a taxi, the driver opened the trunk so we could put our luggage in. It seems that most taxis in Bulgaria run by metanol, so they got a big tank of metanol on the rear of the car, which occupies half of the trunk, so the room left to put stuff is very narrow. Servando was bringing a big suitcase. He put his suitcase the best way he could, but it seemed not to be best position, as the handler was sticking out a bit. Suddenly, the driver gazed at Servando as if he was retarded and flipped the suitcase over to a better position. Then, it was my turn. Bearing the driver reaction, I tried my best. I managed to fit my handbag inside the trunk, but once again there was something wrong. The driver said no word, but he killed me with his eyes. I felt insulted.

Later, already inside the car, the driver took us to Lili's house. Servando recalled me a Simpsons episode, "Lost our Lisa", where Lisa gets lost and finally ends up at the Russian district. There she asks for help to two Russian guys who seem very concentrated playing a chess game. The game seems to be in a stalemate. Suddenly one of the chess players stands up, and starts yelling to his opponent in some Slavic language. Actually, instead of bitching his opponent, he is in fact congratulating him. So here it looks the same, when you address to people they seem to be always angry. By the way, all the way down to Lili's house I couldn't stop laughing.

In Bulgarian, the word for "thank you" is "merci". Sad but true, they had to import a way to say "thank you" from a foreign language (French), as it seemed they didn't have one in their own language. So rude!

martes, octubre 14, 2008

When in Rome...

So, we got to Rome on Sunday evening. For the first time in my life, we arrived earlier, 30 minutes before the estimated arrival time. I usually get on time, other times my flight is delayed but never arrived earlier and with such a difference.

I still haven't made the switch in my mind, and understand that I am on holidays. I wake up at 7:00 AM everyday, as I do everyday, which is kind of annoying to the other guests in the room I guess, but what can I do...I do not feel like sleeping more.

Nothing much to tell by now, Rome is great, food is enjoyable, and there is plenty of things to see, at least for two days we will be busy. Tomorrow we are leaving really early in the morning heading for Sofia. Our mates in the room are going to hate us.

Well, Servando most likely keep his blog more updated than me, so if I am late to post anything here just check his (Dietario de un apátrida). Whatever he says, I second it.

jueves, octubre 09, 2008

Facebook World Tour 2008

Have you ever used that application from Facebook, for pinning on a world-map the places where you have lived in or visited? If you are hardcore Facebook user, most likely you know what I am talking about...

Besides it's one of the most useful Facebook widgets in my opinion (stop throwing sheeps guys, I do support him) I have to admit a find this application a little bit funny, and I tell you why...

When I was living in Hong Kong, a good friend of mine came to pay me a visit. I showed him Hong Kong around, and as I used to do with almost any guest who came to visit me, I brought him to nearby Shenzhen, just the first city you step in when crossing the border with China. In Hong Kong, it is kind of popular to go to Shenzhen for enjoying SPA and massages at really economic prices.

It's important to mention that to get to Shenzhen you need to apply for a Chinese visa. Fortunately, there is a special visa for visiting Shenzhen (except for Americans and British who have to apply for a normal Chinese visa), but after all it's a VISA, stuck on your passport and with a stamp.

So, my good friend Servando, having real proofs of visiting mainland China, decided to add Shenzhen, and by hence China, to his list of visited countries. Right after that, his percentile of world traveled so far rose from a scarce 6% to a considerable 11%. Yeah, one night in Shenzhen is worth for the whole magic of China. It's not fair, I know, but what is the price for marking a whole country in red? (specially then it comes to China) From my point of view, that's priceless (well, 50 HKD for the bus trip plus 150 HKD for the visa).

Me and Servando tend to make lots of fun about this Facebook world-map application. Fooling about it, we came up with several interesting ideas:

  • The-more-the-better Facebook route. Forget all lists about places you should visit in a lifetime (or before turning 30, if you are still on your twenties). Traveling is not about visiting interesting places, traveling is about visiting many places. If you can visit 4 countries on a weekend trip, why just visiting only one? Following that principle, it's no worth visiting countries such as Brazil, China, Russia or India, whereas routes around the Balcanic countries (where you wake at a new country every day), Baltic countries, or mostly any spot in Europe, are much worth visiting.
  • The cover-the-most Facebook route. It's just the opposite idea. Try to visit large countries, but do not spend too much time in them, since as most people know, as for in China, all cities look very similar, once you have visited Shenzhen, you can say you have visited all cities in China. From that point of view, countries such as Brazil, Russia, China or India should be on your list. But remember, you just need to put your feet on them and you got the right to add them to your list.
  • The optimal Facebook route. It's the sum of those two previous concepts. Try to visit as most large countries as you can. Thinking of going to China? Then the border with Mongolia, Kazajastan and Russia is the place to go.
So, what is all this about? Well, basically, I start my holidays tomorrow, and me and Servando are going on a trip which will bring us to 6 countries and 2 continents in just 20 days. We will be visiting Rome, Sofia, Bucharest, Istanbul, Belgrade and Skopje. And yes we are counting the East part of Istanbul as located in Asia, and that make it two continents (the-more-the-better Facebook route, I guess).

Besides all this stupid random thinking, I must recognize I needed to spend a long holidays traveling as blood in my veins. Hope everything will be fine. More news once I back (luckily the pictures wil be on Facebook :)).

PS: No forget to mention the purporse of this trip is to visit my friend Liliana, who has been living in Sofia for 10 years. I always kept on promising her I will go to visit her one year after another...and I just think it was high time for me to do it.

lunes, octubre 06, 2008

Restless and young

"Young & Restless in China" is a documentary from PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) ) about the life of 9 youngsters and their efforts to strive in blooming mainland China.

The documentary spans over 4 years, starting from 2004, when viewers are given a brief introduction to all the characters: who are they, what's their background and what they expect for their future. Two years later the documentary gets back to them and see how they have been doing. Some got better, others settled with almost no progress, while for others life has totally changed.

I loved the idea of approaching to today's daily life in mainland China through the stories of these 9 characters. Their doubts and hopes are the same as most of young Chinese people, as I could see in them the lives of others I came across in China, mostly anonymous people I never got to meet. I think everyone who had experienced China as it is nowadays will like this documentary. Those of you who are just simply curious to know how real Chinese people do and live, those who have ever wander how much of real is behind that facade of macro-economic prosperity which never seems to end...I hope this documentary may satisfy you inquiries, and raise others as well. Watch it, it's worth a view.

Lastly, some of the quotes I liked the most:

"The spiritual side of China is changing from a very ideal world, from the Maoism time- you know, serve the people and work for others- to an extreme, get rich as fast as you can and have a good life."

"China has a survey called the "Happiness Index." In China, the Happiness Index is practical. When Chinese talk about happiness, it's about whether they can afford the things they want to buy."

"After the June 4th incident, I decided to move to Shenzhen. There was only one reason. I decided that politics is quite a risky and scary business."

"My family's poverty depresses me, makes me ashamed, even desperate. I don't dare have any ideas or ideals."

"China is like a kid from a poor family going into a candy store. He's been hungry for a long time and he'll grab a lot of candy. Even if he has filled his pockets and mouth, he still wants more. But when a rich kid who has candy all the time comes in, he only takes what he wants."

NOTE: Those of you following the presidential elections in the U.S, do not miss out this other documentary: "The Choice 2008" also from PBS. Available on October, 14th.