Sunday, November 01, 2009

[Backpacking Travelogue]: People I met

Continuing on the travelogues of my backpacking trip, I am going to write a bit about the people I met. A few days before I was to leave, I was chickening out at the thought of spending an entire week alone, but D steeled me saying other backpackers are always a great source of quality company and some interesting anecdotes. How true did that prove!

Pretty much from the first day of my trip, I had some great interactions with people of various nationalities, traveling/living in these areas for various reasons. I am going to list them out here (of course in brief). As you can understand, there wasn't much identification involved - nobody asks your name and you don't ask theirs. You just keep talking to them and move on!

  • The Kiwi Couple: I met them first on the ferry ride from Penang to Butterworth and found them to be my neighbors on the train ride from Butterworth to Prachuap Khiri Khan. The couple had got a cheap deal to come to Malaysia, but realized they could enjoy a bit of Thailand too and they decided to just take the short ride to Bangkok. The lady was most enamored by the idea of meeting an Indian and asking some thankfully-not-the-stereotypical questions about India and I enjoyed the company.
  • The Vietnamese Salesman: A young lad of early 20s, this guy had come from Vietnam to Penang, malaysia in search of greener opportunities. As it turns out, he admitted, it is just a case of grass being greener on the other side. With a compensation attached to the number of book sales he made, the slowing economy and the inflation had ended him up with a bad financial state. On top of this, he was sorely missing his family back home. I hope the next time I see him, he is in a better state.
  • The English Marketing Dude: This dude was awesome company. A Brit by birth, but lived in France for too many years. A advertising creative person in his past professional life, he says he is in Asia because it is cheaper to live. He has two apartments in France, which he has rented out which supports his life in Asia. He has been to pretty much all countries in Asia and speaks very highly of the whole continent. He was traveling to Bangkok to pick up his wife who was coming back from a quick trip to France. Apparently, tickets from France to Bangkok are much cheaper than those to KL.
  • The American English Teacher: A english teacher by profession, this person has written a couple of yet-unpublished-books. He has been spending his time in various asian and south american countries. He has a financial support arrangement, which I am not going to reveal for privacy reasons, which ensures that he can live in these countries without having to work. The man revealed too many interesting anecdotes during our bus ride from Prachuap Khiri Khan to Bangkok, which I shall not reveal, partially because of privacy reasons, and partially because I believe I can morph those stories into something more creative. Again, a very good company.
  • The Malay-Portuguese: I met him while eating roadside breakfast in Bangkok. This person is a Malay national with his grandfather being a Portuguese. He wants to change his nationality to Portuguese so that he can find greener opportunities in Europe. He has been struggling with all the red tape involved in the process as he detailed me the horror of having to work with a system where the Portuguese embassy is only in Bangkok, while he has to shuttle between Malacca, his home city, and Bangkok and work with documents printed in 3 languages - Malay, English and Portuguese with translations thrown in and the typical delay with these organizations to get this done. His frustrations was turning out to an interesting anecdote to the unattached me, of course.
  • The Australian traveler: I met him at the same spot I met the Malay-Portuguese the next day. He is an Australian who spends six months of his life working in Australia and making his money while he spends the other half of the year living and traveling and enjoying Asia. He is a spiritual traveler and has spent multiple weeks in India too being a regular to Ramana Maharishi Ashram.
  • The Swiss-Postman: This former swiss posts supervisor was kicked out of his job a while back, but with his 6 month severance in pocket, he headed to Asia to spend some time here. He has been liking the area so much that he is planning to start a garment export-from-Thailand-into-Switzerland business. I met him on the train ride from Bangkok to Nong-Khai, while he was heading to Udon Thani, where he was going to visit a swiss friend who had married a Thai and had recently built a new house. A little convincing from my side was enough to get a promise from him to visit Tirichur in India to see if it is a better place to get his garments made rather than Thailand. You see, you got to be a good ambassador/salesman of your own country!
  • The German Girl: I met her on my ride across the Mekong river and into Vientiane city. She is a german by birth, but lives and studies in London. She was interning in Cambodia for the past 3 months and was currently on a backpacking trip across Thailand and Laos. She had just come off a few days with her german boyfriend who is living in Thailand these days. Like me, her partner wasn't interested in Backpacking while she was. So, she headed off alone to enjoy Vientiane, Luang Prabang and the likes that Laos has to provide. An Asian-Australian kid on the same ride was so excited about her german antecedents that he started shooting of questions about the concentration camps and such and the lady was mst graceful and patient in her replies. She says she gets a lot of these.
  • The Indian cook and Waiter in Vientiane: After a tired afternoon, I headed into an Indian restaurant to find some familiar food and Beerlao. I wasn't surprised to find Indians working there, but the anecdotes were definitely interesting. They are hired directly from Tamilnadu, India, with one of them being from my hometown - Tirunelveli while the other was from Nagapattinam. They are paid a fixed salary back in India, while they are provided boarding, lodging, a little pocket money and a once-in-two-years-return-ticket-to-India-to-meet-family. Getting a little comfortable, I chatted up in Tamil and asked why they wouldn't take their wares and start a small business in India and get more independent. On of them said the little salary he gets isn't enough to save up for something like that and taking loans from the sharks wasn't worth the risk. It just opened familiar stories I have heard in the past.
  • The Boxing Secretary from Malaysia: On my final day I met a gentleman at the lobby of my hotel. He is the secretary of a malaysian state's boxing association and was in Vientiane to check out the preparations for the SEA games to be held later this year in Vientiane. I couldn't help getting a little lecture on history of the sport in the region and the way the Laotians were preparing for the games.
The Indian-Connection: It would be an injustice to cut out the fact that pretty much all of them are highly respectful of India, her traditions, cultures and the traveling opportunities. Multiple of the people I met were also in love with the spirituality in India, while others were enamored with the Architecture in India. Its a different perspective of India, which I touched down upon in an earlier post.

There were a few more interesting stories, but in the interest of brevity, I am stopping here. Also, a few not-so-successful attempts were made to strike conversations with locals at many places, but most of them ended up being short conversations with not much of an anecdote to report. I guess the span of the conversation and the language barriers were the problems.

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