Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Fidel Castro Ruz and select moments in an otherwise forgettable week of Gulag living

November 26.

Fidel Castro is dead.

He was born on Grandma's birthday (8 years after her) and he died on mine.  (Now if these are not two tickets to instant fame for Grandma and me, I don't know what is ;-)

It's time he died.   

You know the phrase 'the good old days'?   Fidel Castro was the son of wealthy Cuban land owners and studied  law.  Most Cubans were mere slave labour serving rich landowners, including the US sugar companies, already in those days 'maximizing shareholder value' on the backs of the poor.  So Castro started a revolution.  NOT out of a position of being powerless or unprivileged or hungry. But simply because he saw injustice.  Consider THAT. Also consider that Cuba has FREE housing, FREE education, and FREE healthcare.  Sure if you live in a multi-million-dollar mansion in West Vancouver you can put on a smug smile about that,  But if you're a homeless resident of the explosively growing tent cities along the West Coast, that has an unbelievable ring to it.  I think it might be time for a Tracy Chapman comeback soon.  And that thought leads to another one:  WHAT IF all those events usually classified by those in power as despicable TERROR incidents are actually the first skirmishes of that revolution?  

These good old days when people had principles or believed in something other than MONEY are OVER. That way of thinking is unthinkable in present times. Consider: Privileged White Americans have just elected a Privilege-Elephant because he promised to get those pesky underprivileged off their back.  And most of these voters would even consider themselves Christians.  LOL.

I'm glad Castro doesn't have to live to see the outcome of all that ;-)

November 27

I'm having breakfast at Cafe Crepe on Robson Street. OMG, what a step up from Denny's, LOL, but I miss all those Denny's waitresses ;-).  The Beaujolais is a tad too warm, but an ice cube quickly fixes that problem.  The White Bear that comes after breakfast doesn't need ice ;-)  The wine at Denny's doesn't even have names, I just think of it as Wine Squeasel, LOL.

I try to call my mother, who failed to call me on my birthday (no reason for worries; it's not the first time), but get an answer on none of her TWO cell phones. Hey, I only have ONE cell phone and I'm sending HER money?  Wacky World !

A gorgeous pashmina-type scarf that I had bought in Luang Prabang (I just could NOT resist the colours) but had realized an hour later that I would NEVER wear found a very happy new owner in Chantal.  She wraps herself in it and just purrs "soooo sooooft".  When I call her few hours later and jokingly ask "Are you still wearing it?", she says "of course". Cat Person, LOL.

November 28

I read the news and wish I hadn't.   The present Canadian Prime Minister's name might also be Trudeau, but his father wouldn't have given the slightest damn about the niggly-wiggly politically correct criticism from the rows of the always goody-two-shoes politicians at his comments about the death of Castro.  
Margaret Trudeau, Fidel Castro Ruz, Pierre Elliot Trudeau..  AKA, the good old day, LOL
But as I said before, the good old days are gone for good.

The political climate in North America is getting closer to that of the times of the Spanish Inquisition, where you could say anything, as long as everyone agreed with it.

On a funny note:  I was talking to the broken-back homeless man that calls the local paths his home, and while he didn't know that Castro had died, he knew that Trudeau had just visited Cuba (which I didn't know, because I was in Laos), and with reference to Castro's over 300 survived assassination attempts he added with a grin "Maybe Trudeau poisoned him".  LOL.

I finally get a hold of my mother and after a few seconds instantly wish I hadn't. She never made much sense before and that doesn't seem to have improved with advancing age.  I don't even bother mentioning that her only son had a birthday that she forgot about.  What's the point?  It's moments like this when I fully realize what exactly I had in my Spare Mom (TM) and what it really means to have lost her.

I call the German consulate in Vancouver to see whether they still have my birth certificate in their files.  The person on the phone sounds almost like my mother. I can distinguish words but there is no real meaning in them. She tells me it would be easier if I order another birth certificate in Germany.  WTF? Easier for whom?  These people get paid to help Germans in Canada and instead she first tells me to go somewhere else and after I say "NO, Easier would be if you already have the copy!" she dares tell me to send an e-mail. 

Malcolm X

Yes, in younger days I would have sent an e-mail. Just to stick to the principle and make them work.  These, days I can't be bothered with their likes anymore (lucky them; less work) and I use the online service to order a new certificate in Germany.  At least I won't have to deal with a chain of e-mails or soggy German voices. 

No, breakfast at Denny's doesn't taste better than any other time, but the Persian waiter who will visit his girlfriend in Germany over Christmas asks me "How was Vietnam".  Not treating waiters and waitresses as servants is mutually beneficial ;-)

I head over to my 'in-laws'. My 'kookum' promised her dying son to visit him in Edmonton over Christmas and the least I can do for a 71 year old lady who already lost her grandson and gave me a family after George's death is to save her from a 16 hour Greyhound bus ride. Something people forget these days.  Money doesn't have any value in itself. And it only gains material value when it's used to buy material things like Porsches or iPhones.  But if it's used to reduce hardship it becomes a completely different thing.  But that is another entire blog post that's brewing in the back of my head. 

Castro at Pierre Trudeau's funeral

Vancouver traffic is driving me mad.  The rental car that I still have provides the physical comforts of dryness and warmth but takes its toll on the psychological side.   The density of Vancouver traffic has robbed drivers of the need or joy of making decisions.  Drivers are reduced to performers of tasks an organism with very few logical parts could master. You take your foot off the brake once the car in front of you starts moving, and you re-apply it when you see brake lights in front of you.  That's all you have to do 90% of the time, with the exception of the occasional time when you're the first at a traffic light, when your bake foot is not triggered by brake lights but by the colours of the traffic light.  So strange that car commercials still show the product cruising at high speeds over mountain passes or nightly city streets and that the advertised product is always the ONLY car in sight.  But when you buy that shiny new car do you actually imagine yourself sitting in it in rush hour?

November 29

Castro and Justin at the funeral.  To NOT attend Castro's funeral reduces Trudeau to just another hypocritical politician.  His father is turning in his grave, I'm sure.

I talk to the Cuban receptionist of the hotel about Castro's death.  He was no great friend of the Castro regime but is disgusted with the single-sided Western media coverage and the developing system of what is allowed speech.  He acknowledges that he might not have been able to study economics at Moscow university for free if it had not been for the revolution.  And he is no great friend of people who happily enjoyed the benefits of Communist Cuba and complain bitterly as soon as they are out of Cuba.    And the fact that Justin Trudeau won't be attending Castro's funeral because of "schedule" problems only shows the direction that the Western World is heading.  UGLY.  And sad. It seems that Justin Trudeau did NOT inherit his father's balls and integrity.  The statements coming from the US are ludicrous.  The attempt to alter reality by repeating a fictional version often enough strongly reminds me of the book 1984 and Germany's 1000-year Reich. That was only 70 years ago. Do you really people have changed that much?

This new North-American pseudo-reality makes me appreciate another event even more.  In my efforts to renew both my passport and my PR card, there is GOOD news.  Processing times for PR card renewals have been hovering around 8 weeks all year (NO speedy option available), but when I check the Canadian Immigration website, that number has dropped to 31 days.   WOW, maybe they finally hired some more people!  
All that counts though is that I get to leave this nuthouse much sooner !

To close this post: There are the human qualities of decency and integrity.  And there is politics.  These days the two are almost mutually exclusive.   Maybe that's why the West's top politicians shun attending at Castro's funeral. Because he at least tried his very best to improve the situation of the people of Cuba. 

Hasta siempre, Comandante !

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The R-word (LPG to HAN to CAN to YVR)

The R-Word????

NO, the R-word is NOT Right, or Revolutionary or Radiant or Red sun or Recreation or Regeneration.

And YES, all of Return, Retreat, Regret ,Revolting, Rain, Runny nose, Raccoon are contenders.

Returning to a Western World WITH Trump but WITHOUT Castro is not really my cup of tea.  I now know that there is more to life than just owning the latest iPhone, so returning to a place where that is high on the list of priorities is depressing. The following picture (not mine) says it all:

The existence of this picture proves that there are at last some SANE people left in this world ;-)
It is 5 pm in Luang Prabang. My plane leaves at 7 pm and I managed to find more amazing things in the 9 hours since this morning.  I mean, HOW did the waterfall people know before they left out a road to get there that one of my yet unfulfilled fantasies was to ride in one of those long skinny boats that is propelled by what looks to the untrained eye like a weed-wacker with a looong stem?

I flag down a tuk-tuk driver (I’m getting better at this) 

The way the rays of the sun hit the Stupa on top of Mt Phousi and the road dust that every movement generates literally leave 'golden' memories.

Leaving Luang Prabang by way of riding a tuk-tuk away from the setting sun is a way to make sure that I will come back. 

The airport is uneventful. The check-in lines are SLOW (I can see at least one person being taken out of the line, being shown the Visa-Approval Letter, and being told to come back tomorrow. Been there, done that, LOL) and I start talking to a young German woman in front of me.  She’s a traveler to my heart.  She also took the time to travel the dirt roads AND visited the water falls.

Security check is funny.  I don’t take my laptop or anything out of my bags. No complaints, but the woman at the X-ray machine holds up a cigarette lighter as example.  Why not?  I dig out the lighter out of one of the backpacks and hand it to her.  Now she’s happy. I’m also happy because I learned NOT to travel with less than 2  cigarette lighters.  
Luang Prabang International Airport DOES have a smoking lounge (a roof terrace without lighting, but barely anyone is smoking. Wonder why? Unlike China, there are no airport-installed electronic lighters.  Later I overhear a young Aussie couple telling their friends that they want to have a smoke but can’t because they have no light.   I just flash them my cigarette lighter and say “You want to follow uncle into the dark and have a cigarette?”.  NO, NO, I’m kidding, LOL.   But they do come have a smoke with me and my lighter just before the plane takes off.

At first I am delighted.  I have a seat in the row behind the emergency exit. Good travel karma is with me again.  

At least Mrs Bouquet had Chutzpah. 
Her copy was more of a gray mouse with a whiny voice
Then I notice this very strange woman with affected manners floating around the emergency exit area.  Finally, she finds a stewardess and says loudly to her "I would like to sit next to my husband. I would like to know who that man is that is sitting in this man’s seat!" Her intonation sounds a bit like Ms Bouquet (Bucket) from that British TV show, sad really. I only clue in what is going on when the stewardess asks me for my boarding pass bit and it turns out I'm THAT MAN.  I'm sitting in the seat of a young Asian man who then sat down in the crazy woman's seat.  Why the woman or the guy didn't just talk to THAT man directly to tell him that he was in the wrong seat is still a mystery to me.  Do I look THAT scary or have people reverted to a pre-monkey state where using language as a communication tool no longer works?  Very ODD that !

Google Maps screws me again at Noi Bai.  It says that the way to walk to my hotel is complicated and long.  So I look for a taxi. All the taxis lined up and waiting for passengers DO NOT want to exchange their $30 fare to Ha Noi for guy that just wants to go around the corner. At least they are somewhat aware that they are violating their professional code of honour because none of them looks me in the eyes when they wish me away.

Google Maps is wrong.  It’s an 800 meter walk straight along a road to get there.

I head to the restaurant next door.   
After pointing at the pictures on the wall and the wine glasses on the menu front (both not available), and asking around, I slowly realize that I speak more Vietnamese than the waitress speaks English.  But she seems delighted with that (takes the pressure off her, LOL) and she brings me my Bia Ha Noi and a SCHNAPPS.  Good thing I live right next door, that thing almost knocks me off my feet. No wonder the Vietnamese are always smiling.   I order Pho Ga (that’s all they have apparently), but it must be the end of the day leftover special, because besides the chicken I discover beef, something balls, and at least 2 kinds of unknown Squeasel in the yummy broth.
They must like me because my Pho Ga turns into a Pho (Ga + bo +various kinds of Squeasel)

Total cost of this ‘I can’t finish it’ meal: 65000 Dong.   It’s nice not to eat on Highstreet in Luang Prabang anymore ;-)

I paid US$ 18 for my hotel.  It’s about 800 meters from the airport, has two huge beds, a water kettle, a clean functioning bathroom, air-conditioning and a cat on the roof across the street that decides that I am worth observing me when I smoke out the window.  Smoking out the window is a necessity, because when I decide that it’s time to have a real smoke outside at 6 am, the family is still sleeping on mats in the hotel lobby.  I knew well why I was smoking out the window ;-)

Leaving the hotel at 6:30 on foot as usual was the right decision.  In a taxi cab I would have never experience the feelings and sights of this amazing morning.

And it would have been unfortunate missing this sight, because it is just another memory that will bring me back here. 

Whoooa, that can’t be true.  I can’t be in Vancouver yet !    But looking out the airport windows I could swear that I am, it looks EXACTLY the same, LOL.     Hmm.   
So after Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Blenz Coffee (!) the ugly weather also has been imported to Guangzhou ;-(
Looking at the pictures of Guangzhou’s brand-new Singaporesque buildings, I always thought the airport would be a collection of wonders too, like for example Incheon in South Korea.   What I find instead is an international terminal where I can’t even buy headphones to use on the plane.  Sure they have Bluetooth ones, but how am I going to use them on a plane ???

To get Wifi, you have to provide your mobile number and they send you a text with the password.  The last time I have seen that laughable process was in Germany 10 years ago. So first that cost me $1.50 for the text and then the bloody internet doesn’t work properly.  Thanks soooo much !  Guangzhou is heavily advertising its 72 hours visa-free transit stay.  I tried 24 hours of that on the flight here, and that encouraged me to never ever do it again.   If the airport Wifi can work flawlessly in Vietnam, friggin war wreck Cambodia, and even the glorious sphincter of the world, Laos ( I mean it in the sense “The place where Trump’s sun don’t shine ;-), then why can’t China get it right?  

I blame the corroding effect of salt water of the South China sea in 2012
All that rain is a good way to ease me into my Vancouver existence again.  And I might have to stay there for a while.  Because I need a new passport.  Not only do the pages literally hang by threads, more importantly there is only ONE page left for visas.  As for the appearance, I'm not too worried about US immigration officials with stern faces telling me that a passport should NOT LOOK LIKE THIS (I hope my friends down there will visit up here more often because I have no great desire to visit a Trump America), but this passport has had it. At every immigration counter I was worried that the official would hand me back two pieces instead of one ;-)
Look at the guy in the yellow shirt.  How many pieces of carry-on luggage does he have?

Revolting is not only the weather, but how uncomfortably numb the people are here.

I mean if you see this guy standing in shorts at the bus stop with a tan while it is raining at 8 degrees, wouldn't you ask him where on the planet or from which planet he came from ?

I certainly would be tempted.   But then I'm also not sure which planet I come from, LOL.

Grandma actually still thinks that I go to Indochina because it is warm there (Given that I have tried to explain it to her several times this seems another indication that her memory is not the best anymore).   I have to get used to being on a part of the planet again where people have forgotten how to smile. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Colonel Kurtz's footprints and finishing with a flourish (or Luang Prabang day 3)

6 am?  I could roll over and sleep more.  WHAT?   Yes, it finally happened: I have shed the last traces of jet lag. And that can mean only one thing, LOL, departure must be near ;-(.

8 am. I'm having breakfast in the hotel patio overlooking the Mekong.  There is one thing everyone should see once in their lifetime. When the orange clad monks, who usually walk demurely with their heads bowed, operate one of those tree-trunk-like speedboats, no trace remains of that calm serenity.  They gun it !  What do you expect from 20 year olds who have to look respectable all day long when people are watching ?

I'm glad I ordered Western breakfast today  (Omelette with 'Toast' because otherwise I would have never experienced the Laotian round flatbread that I get served as 'toast'. MUCH better than toast.

My plane leaves at 7pm.  That gives me almost 10 more hours in Loas to see new things.   That said, it should be self-explanatory that I should NOT spend that time on Main Street or in my hotel, because I'd only find Same Old Same Old !

In the following right now one only finds LOTS of pictures.   Text will be added bit by bit in the future, but just posting the chronologically arranged pictures and adding text later is my new cunning plan to prevent post-lag.