Mo, a small yet resilient woman, lead us through the thick jungle. Wielding her long and sharp machete, she sliced away the lower hanging branches and the bushes taking over the path. Swiftly and without sound she paced on whilst her head moved in all directions. She was using all the senses she was gifted with flew over the paths carrying the eager of a kid on exploration. Then in sudden freeze, she’d bring us to a halt and hold her hand up to say both “quiet” and “listen”. The ground shook at sporadic beats. I held my breath out of intensity awaiting the stomp to come. Boom… Boom… With every shake I felt the presence of something huge. Something of immense size. Moments afore, we had stood inside the footprints left by this creature causing the vibrations. A quiet shiver glided over my back as my eyes gazed through the jungle. Going off of the sounds, we knew surely that it was close. They were close. A whole bundle of it. Excitement grew, placing my mind in those of the explorers of Skull Island, awaiting the appearance of King Kong. But nonetheless, despite size and proximity, the thickness of the jungle had them well hid.
A capital over-flooding with traffic that peak hours cause overwhelming traffic jams bringing the whole city to a hold with taxi rates inflating. Smog is now the air you breathe. Popular streets are crawling with people. Stands and stalls and drivers and vendors everywhere, actively selling you stuff that you most likely do not need. Food at the ready wherever you go. With the slightest downfall, streets are filled with a lingering river of rainwater. Music bounces through the thick, humid air amassing the tourists as a single dancing crowd. Bangkok, A city where sex sells and alcohol flows.
Whether this sounds like your worst nightmare or a paradise of debauchery, if you have been to Bangkok and thought it to be dull, you haven’t truly experienced it. Often, I am the advocate of quiet towns, breaking free of the crowd and being away from the noise. But these nights, we jumped right into it. We found ourselves wandering around in the AM with a glass too tall and too many munching away on what seemed to be a fried cricket and maggot before hopping onto separate reckless Grab motorbikes. We flew over the near empty roads as our chauffeurs did all but obey the laws, flying over bumps and shooting through the lights illuminating the road in red. We cackled in the wind and blessed the drivers for their speedy drop-off before ambling back to our hidden hostel. The day before, we danced in the rain, flopping our slippers through the stream of rainwater and shuffled with the crowd. Laughed at the wristbands and shirts with lewd words on them and sipped the cheap cocktails – seemingly more sweet than alcoholic. These streets were filled with smiles and joy and it was a blessing to for a day be part of it.
On days of sobriety, we scuttled to the many temples and did all the tourists are meant to do in Thailand (apart from anything elephant related). We even got a Thai massage from a parlor hidden away, thus we knew, with the lacking of an active salesperson, to be getting the real deal – no surprises. We cruised wet markets and food markets and the exclaimed largest market there was. Admittedly and without loss of face the Baht flew as fast out of our wallets as it came sliding from the ATM. A cutesie souvenir here, a new accessory there and double the lunches.
Then we changed residency and moved to a cosier accommodation shockingly bargained. Heck, our surroundings were of fancy restaurants and apartments with hefty price tags filled with businessmen. And in between we sat, at an incredibly comfortable room bearing a price budget-traveller-friendly. We loved it, though it meant long walks to get in range of the affordable diners. When the evening came, we ambled the pink streets with bare women tipping about and signs luring you in with a witty, slight offensive joke. The ordeal was a bewitching, short alley for the businessmen as they came in packs feasting like ants on a syrupy picnic. We, however, knew to leave with a pace as the flirty ladies were touchy and the men in the back had stares of dollar signs.
In short; Bangkok had it all and within the downward of a week we had, we attempted to experience as much of it as we
could would want to. Bangkok was fun. Not simply for the visit and a picture or the sights, but the full package. Bangkok brings the true experience.
At the airport near Amsterdam, the haul of hell to come had shaped its form through the airline Lufthansa declining my attempt at checking in due to a lack of proof of exit. Naive me had been cocksure that, similar to the precedent visit, no one were to bother controlling and thus clueless I marched the queue-less counter as I waved my passport. Soon after, my lady on the other side of the world armed with a laptop and I on my handy, scavenged the web for the cheapest exits possible. After all, it was unsure were I to actually depart on the particular date. Thank heavens then, when we found a bus hauling tourists over the border for a bargain of a price.
Fast forward through the weeks of apartment-sitting, meeting up with old and new local friends, a trip to KL and catching up with a mate under the comfort of drinks in a familiar town and then a final gloom gaze into the apartment. A period that had flown by followed by the final footsteps ticking on the floor of a place we called home as I exit one last time. Out of the premises and into the Grab taking me to the pick-up point where the journey away from home and into travels will commence. Fully aware of it being an excruciating long one, I had been more than slightly discontent with the humid heat striking onto backpack-wearing me causing an already drizzle of sweat to soak my shirt. But the heat is a fight fought on the daily in these harsh countries.
A minivan spurted passed and stunted into a halt before letting me board. A handful of foreigners greeted me and within the hours I learned that I was the only one with a drive into the double digits. What did I get myself into, I wondered, as the distance between Bangkok and I crawled shorter.
As a weary and lost bundle of people we made our way through customs and a hint of anxiety hung on our shoulders. Fortunately, the procedure had gone swift and smoothly and moments after the van was burning rubber on the potholed road of Thailand. A country massively distinct from the country of take-off and it filled my belly with an enticing excitement. The hour we drove to my stop I therefore spent glaring out of the window and at all that we passed by. After manoeuvring myself out of the van, the driver seated me into a wobbly, plastic garden chair for the hour to come. From this point on I would be the sole foreigner and from here I could join the locals within a double-decker carrying a blessed a/c. Now was the start of a dreadful ride passing the fifteen hour mark of head-bobbing, neck-breaking positions and constant switching of positions.
Then, at last, finally, the driver announces the arrival in Bangkok and my miserable joints get their longed for stretch as I stumble out of the vehicle. A crowd of vendors and taxi’s swarmed like seagulls hunting for food on a sunny day and I pushed myself away from the inflated rates and into the lobby. Although the ride had ended and the soil underneath me belonged to Bangkok, I was far from a shower and warm bed. What awaited me was a cruise to the airport followed by some hours of loitering and a tiresome embrace with Kath, who’d land some hours after my arrival. What was perhaps the least enthusiastic reunion followed by yet another hours-long drive into the city for the search of our hidden hostel located in one of the alleys minutes walk from Khao San Road. There, though asked to wait before entering our room, my body screamed relief as they allowed me into the showers. We were back, back into travels and it felt exhausting and exhilarating. Up next, we were to explore touristy Bangkok.
Initially, I welcomed my girlfriend at Penang’s airport with Grab at dial. This was after roughly 2 months apart, which, for us, is a relative short period. Bearing smiles we had tread into our apartment and embraced our new, temporary home to give that ‘living together’, something we hardly got due to distance, a solid try. For weeks, we did our things together within the same confined space and took care of the daily necessities. We weren’t on an exotic island nor in a bubbly city, but a simple, regular town. Some eateries near, a supermarket a walk away and a mall within few arms length away. But that was it. We weren’t together under the guise of explosive passion and riveting experiences that peaked our adrenaline possibly clouding over what is a love existing purely because of the adventures. It is scary to think of, but it’s a possibility undeniable. However, living a regular life, though no day with this Filipina seems to be regular, has left me with nothing more but a longing. A longing of more dull evenings spent planning the coming day’s groceries or munching the local snacks during a binge-session. There is something about a soulmate that simply beats the wandering life in all possible ways – though it doesn’t mean the end of its spirit.
For those reasons, when the final days came peeking around the corner, I felt a bit empty and sad to bid farewell to our apartment – though I’d be back for few lonesome nights later on – as we headed towards Kuala Lumpur for a weekend trip afore her flight. She was heading back to the archipelago for a wedding and we turned it into a fun trip. We got to burn our palette on spicy Indian before pushing through the humid heat to find our tiny hotel located in the corresponding part of town consisting of Indians. Now, as we were camped at the planned-to-detail perfect spot in town, for both getting around and an early exit to the airport, I had the perfect chance to make up for my last trip. On this side of Malaysia, the peninsula, I can confidently say that I have explored most of it. However it was the capital with its thick air and loud engines where I wasted little time and today we’d make amends. So, with an eye on the time, we rode the bus to the batu caves following the footsteps off all preceding tourists. We ambled up the stairs and back down to head into town as a darkened sky became the black blanket over us. Indubitably, as it was my love’s first visit, I guided her to admire the Petronas twin towers and take a swift shot whilst passing all the salesmen wielding lenses. Against the night sky’s black palette, the two towers stood magnificent and bright and precisely as I remembered.
That night, we squeezed one another extra tight. Because come morning, we rushed to the airport where we kissed goodbye once more. However, this time around it was a kiss less morose and leaning towards excitement. A wedding attendance for her would soon follow by a rejoice in Bangkok. But first, it was a man’s night out and the perfect town for it was miraculous Malacca. And what makes Malacca such a wonderful town is the same reason Malaysia gets all my appraisals; the ambience and the people. For they are the opposite of Butterworth – no offence. The moment I wandered back in the familiar streets amidst many a tourist and local all I faced were genuine and affectionate smiles and waves and greetings. Sitting at a diner for lunch, a local Chinese couple joins my table and soon we converse away before they paid for my meal. Waiters and waitresses carried broad smiles without the intention of a possible tip nor to come across professional. People here were loving and warm. Genuine. Transforming this historic town into a place where everyone can feel at home.
Though my return here was not for this reason. It was a cold brewski with an old friend of mine that called my name. And though I had been sorrowful that my preferred bar had changed owners and no longer carried the same homey feel with a push of interaction with others, for the short time it lasted it felt delightful to sip the same beer in the same old chair where my buttocks had left a print over a year aforetime. This with a guy responsible of a friendship that led me to Pakistan and a mind full of riveting tales on the island of Langkawi. A guy I gladly call a friend and if any, one of a lifetime long. I hope by now, at the time of writing, my fellow LDR-er has had the chance to go abroad just like I did.
Overall, my second time in Malaysia had been completely different. I stayed somewhere unknown and mainly visited the known. Introducing Kath to places I had been, people I had befriended and generally what I loved about the country. New places had been explored, however it wasn’t done in a traveller’s attitude, but one that resembles a weekend trip to the next town or a drive to the park. It felt more comfortable. Thank you Malaysia for allowing me diverse experiences.
If only I had burned out some months before and Malaysia would have gotten more credit. But no, my burnout peaked after a late post on the Philippines and with that, Malaysia was already in the past. Three whole months wrapped up in a single blog post. Was it a country so dull then? Is it lacking of enticing tales? Neh, unfortunately my creativity was what was dull and lacking. All that was written had been a story of hitchhiking, as I could not imagine a story involving anything other than the unusual. In my mind, no memory performed well when written, however that mindset has changed and the answer to the question on Malaysia: No. Malaysia was everything I could wish it to be. Hence the time spent there. Hence the return to it. Strangely enough however, when asked what to visit, though there are many allurements, I was shockingly speechless. Nothing stood out intensely to the liking of mesmerising beaches, snorkelling with whale-sharks, lonesome islands boasting their flora and so on. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot about Malaysia that is breathtaking, picturesque, impressive and on. Some of the most incredible sunsets took place there, the Petronas stand tall and mighty, Cameroon Highlands provides a charming view of the world of tea and towns like Malacca and Georgetown offer architecture, art and history that is more than fascinating. But, what it comes down to, it’s not what I reminisce about when afar and definitely not the reason I returned.
The appeal to this peninsula lays in the resemblance of being home. A home that is away. It’s the homey feeling that made me initially extend my stay and book a ticket after draining jobs and a growing longing for my love. The locals and their amazing cuisine do their part by welcoming each and every person setting foot on Malaysian soil. A dish served with a smile is their motto. At least, I dare to think so. Everywhere you go, smiles are granted and dishes are to delight. For these reasons, it made only sense to this time around stay put in one place and coat the insides of an apartment with our precious belongings. Incontestably it was not at the throw of a dart, as our residence came with a planned view of the nearby harbour perpetually hauling its passengers for few dimes and pennies from side to side. That other side was Georgetown, Penang, where I knew the streets like my hometown. With a place so familiar and filled with comfort for me a boat-ride away, I felt valorous enough to dive into an unknown town by the name of Butterworth to unpack our backpacks.
The haul there had been long; as a lonesome trailblazer I initiated the journey from the airport in the Netherlands. A foreshadowing terror when I was denied at check-in, lacking an exit-ticket not requested or asked for last time, resulted in a 20 or so minutes back and forth messages and exchanging information with Kath ending in a booked bus proving exit from Malaysia. Delightful. From there on, the saunter to my gate went surprisingly effortless and before I knew it, the sleepless flight had started.
After an endless voyage, the wheels of the – second – plane finally graced the runway and with a squealing sound the arrival was announced. It was a late afternoon and I knew I had two options at this point: One, I depart the airport in search of a cheap hostel, stay there a night resting in the comfort of a soft bed and then during twilight scurry off to the town of destination. Two, head to the bus straight away, taking on an immediate six-hour drive in the hope I get to rest and arrive in the dead of the night to only wait until the hour grows at an acceptable stance for calling someone awake. Those that know me well enough will know I opted for the second choice.
And these same people will know my exact luck coming in the shape of a night’s visit from Insomnia. For reasons unknown, this devil’s terror only appears at worst timings and such was this bus ride after an already lacking of sleep. The air-condition was on, and though I praise the lords when the first breeze of cool air gently strikes my skin, hours in I had regret the sweater still recessing inside my backpack as now the bundles of hair on my arms had risen into a goose-bump and my body occasionally shivered. Once we arrived, wistfully precise by clock, the night had struck and the town was asleep. As the apartment would officially be under my name by afternoon, I felt it unfair to waken the owner on the night before and therefore I watched the hours pass inside the harbour’s cooled building and even managed to sneak in a tiny, awkward nap. Then, delirious on a growing hunger and need for sleep, I contacted the pick-up and within the hour I stood inside the spacious room. With a stomach expected to remain satiated and restrain from protesting on a single meal doused with the wrong spices taken half a day ago, I hadn’t felt the greatest. But, to be back on known land under these rough traveller’s conditions with mere days separated between me and my love, the feeling of bliss overshadowed the wailing body and after quenching my thirst by hosing a glass of water down my throat and gorging on a snack of dry cereal, I waddled to my bed carrying a smile. It feels great to be home.
The thought of a plane awaiting her at the runway loomed over her as our final month had commenced. Sudden combustions would ignite her mind and cause her eyes to bawl tears of sadness with the passing of days. Her eyes plead and begged for her, as they expressed melancholy and simultaneously anguish for the long and tiresome flight taking her away from the Promised Land to sit forlorn staring out of the small window and weep as paradise sadly, for the two of us, comes with closing hours. As I had once sung during her gloomy days of dysphoria: “I’ve got two tickets to paradise”; duo tickets turned out ridiculously optimistic. With regulations and visa’s keeping us captive from being with one another, we required an entire box of entree tickets. To tease and perhaps with genuine intent I suggested hopping the fence or digging a tunnel. But when one returns to reality, how does one hop a fence from the Philippines to the Netherlands and in such a way she can still return? Releasing herself from my grip, she snivelled once more before wiping away the wetness from her cheeks reddened by the Dutch cold.
I bemoaned the whole ordeal too, however the rainy days remained rather intern. Only days after the take-off of the plane I’d lose my sanity attempting a panicky depart like a rat in a lion’s cage that is on fire. However, the exit-strategy, nor the doleful distance that was an onset imminent is not today’s story. We had found solace in my abundance in free days which was the genesis of a trip to what every tourist considers to be the Netherlands; Amsterdam! To me it’s known as a city compulsory to pass by when bound for the airport, others viewed it crucial for a visit, though these are interchangeably drunkards partying in Amsterdam with only remembrance a hazy state and those that admired the awing parts of the capital whilst oblivious to there being anything within the dot of a country besides it. But besides passing by and waving, the city already had given me some memories before the arrival of our train.
One was a young boy staring into the daunting eyes of a police officer seated on his tall horse preparing for battle and a bloodthirsty hound with darting eyes held by his fellow soldier on foot. The kid in me got filled with excitement and I stepped forward as my father and stepbrother bounced back. I peeked passed the horsed men and saw a tank of water rolling by shifting its gun towards the congregated hooligans spewing words of fury and nastiness ready to destruct, cause havoc and if possible beat the man responsible for this uproar to a pulp. They were out for blood and the men in blue stood ready to fight the chaos brought on to the calm square. A square which ought to have been one of serenity for another hour as all the shouting and spilling of beers should have been inside the arena whilst men and women enjoyed a game. That remained until a man of low intellect had attempted to plant his flying foot into that of the goalkeeper’s neck, failed and received a pounding in return with a result of a red card for the goalie. What followed was a team protesting, a crowd howling and roaring and taking their anger forcibly outside in hopes of finding the arrested wrong-doer and showing their maliciousness to the town’s property. At last, my father’s words had reached me and I turned my eyes from the chaos to walk beside them as we retreated the battle ground.
A second had been waving my sister off on her brave endeavours to the great Canada. With my little brother, mother and stepfather we wandered into town in weak attempt to broaden our world. Though this story revolves around young me finding a longed for KFC to have my first ever indulgence in their chicken coming from small towns previously lacking such extravagant chains, it is one bearing value for me as it was one of the few I have of the man that charmed my mother’s heart before he tragically ended his life. Full of character and spirit he had often gone out of his way to please us. Mention an interest or liking, and the weekend to follow he is smoking up the kitchen with a spicy marinade to douse the spareribs during an hours-long recipe. And thus, we skipped through the busy streets to find me my chicken and then we munched them away on the steps of a fountain.
Those where all my memories and I was keen to extend the list, by meandering the streets and alleys with red ears tipped with lewd excitement, or face painful history within the tiny hide-out of a well-known girl carrying naught but a diary, but also take a walk in the park and imagine the life my father and grandmother and so on had in this bustling city. Though indeed, Netherlands has far more to offer than this capital of coffee-shops, red light district and drunkards, a trip to this world of imaginations is one to be unforgettable. Architecture, though far from the view visitors wish to gaze at, remains beautiful. Canals, though familiar throughout the country, remain picturesque. But there is also an ambience to a place no longer hiding behind pretty words and throwing away its prudeness as signs no longer leave a subtlety with “gentleman’s club”. No, buildings shout “SEX” as red lights paint the streets, shops endorsing and displaying toys large and larger and museums shamelessly depict a history of sex and rock & roll and drugs not minding the nudity coming with it. I find it fascinating when men push a young boy with loud cheers into a door where he will begin his journey to manhood whereas it usually is an activity meant to be hidden away.
But please, for the sake of the Netherlands, when in this wonderful country, leave the capital in search for towns nearby. Take a tour to the Zaanse Schans, quickly visit the Hague or Rotterdam and buy all the cheese you can at Gouda before heading North. There are too many towns that have their own little allurement and are worthy of a visit from the ogling folks. But, so is Amsterdam.
Known as the Dutch Venice to those coming from afar was to me a place of drinking sour milk and getting slobbering kisses as the nearby town of attraction correlates to that of my grandmother’s home. Back in the day, we’d eat our sweetly custard from the bowl-shaped plate still carrying potato and broccoli remainders while they indulged in the sourness the kid-me couldn’t possible keep in unless someone had generously doused it with a rain of sugar. Some years after grandpa passed, she moved, within the same town, to an apartment with caretakers present. Logically, my girlfriend has cycled, taken the bus and been by car plenty a time for a visit, however t’was nothing but a tease as she witnessed the congregated Asian masses stumble out of the buses with lost eyes wandering through the clear blue sky in wonder where to head. She had been fed a fish smothered with onion in a traditionally vertical manner as foreigners took pictures surprised by the act. We walked a few meters along the water, yet no more. Something was there that appealed to a great lot and she was eager to venture in their footsteps. Soon, she’d finally find out. And coming in the right, or for some indubitably wrong season, the tourists will collectively, en masse, storm the waters with their lacking sailor’s experience and turn the waters into one grand bumper
car boat attraction.
Same would have been for us, barring the weather being indecisive. Unsure whether the day wanted to be cold and rainy or let the sun shine through, it struck enough with fright of the water to give us free way. For take-off, I gripped the gas and took off with the speed the little boat could go. Minutes away, my love reached for the cold bottles brought along to quench were the sun to announce it appearance. And for the greatest part it did. Cruising the waters once again, I felt calm. The bouncing of the so-called whisper boat over the waves caused by a strong wind and the coinciding breeze going through my hair and onto my face. Truth is, though many, if not all locals complain about the overabundance of tourists, we are fairly lucky here. Surrounded by beautiful pieces of nature which we get to share with overly excited people from all over the world sharing their journey on to family and friends through mesmerising pictures and tales crowning the town into a worldwide known spot. A reason our train station, a stop at a hole of a town, gets crowded and busy as people climb onto the platform to scuttle off to a bus, taxi or rental bike. People come to our town for an allurement and they get charged heftily for it too, along with anything and everything within the tourist boundaries. We milk these innocent people, yet all we do is whine and complain about their presence.
Sure, they have hard times understanding the rule of one-way traffic and have to get used to on water left being right and right being left causing them to bump other boats and sides. Some get lost and find themselves in someone’s home simply because they do not know better. They’re only humans, wishing to feel that same wind pressing up against their cheeks as they breathe the fresh air and admire the cute and cosy houses. To me, having something people would commute hours for to experience and with that invest their money in businesses, is something to be grateful of, even if it means giving up a piece of serenity during certain seasons. After all, don’t we Dutchies do the exact same during summers in Bangkok? Phuket? Bali? Anywhere the sun shines and beaches call? So I suggest, that next time busy hour strikes, take away the sour hat and smile. Be appreciative of the love the town gets and don’t smear all tourists due to the few bad apples. Especially to the ones profiting off their visits. Life would be a whole lot better for all if we stopped behaving like sour, crabby humans that do nothing but complain.
I didn’t mean to take this post into this direction, but I guess I am leaving it as is. What is a place you consider rude towards its visitors/tourists?
Funnily I wrote this before the pandemic and now it seems they got their rest. Though undubitably plenty are not pleased with the decrease in money spent by tourists.
At last, the tiny Filipina hidden behind her trolley rolled through the gate with tired eyes and a dreary face that screamed to have gone through hell. Short domestic flights with her hand tightly gripped into her lover’s had been an anxiety-riddled adventure. One must imagine the peaking of adrenaline and anxiousness when she stood alone on the Filipino airport, about to embark on a multiple flight journey of over 20 hours. Cheeks came doused with tears, dried over the hour-long flight and a heart was beating at an alarming rate throughout, but she bit down and fought through to finally arrive in Schiphol, Netherlands. A smile of exhaustion and weariness painted her face as she shyly moved closer to me and my father. A father I was glad to still be there and not hauled off by the Dutch military police after a near incident. After introducing the two to each other, we walked the same route I did a month before upon returning home.
I remember the drive home being foggy as ever, diminishing the views of the lowlands from our car, however with a dozing off girlfriend simply pleased to be back in the arms of her boyfriend it hadn’t been the greatest bother. For once, the restaurant on the way as usual stop was skipped and we headed straight for the house. Her to-be home. The pets and cuddles with the dogs were curt, since we quickly thereafter had taken on a horizontal position and caught up on some due sleep before introducing her to the initial Dutch unhealthy snacks.
From the day that I met her til the moment she stood bearing her encharming smile at the airport, I indubitably got to know more about her than anyone can claim. To this point, she seemed a perfect fit for me. For reasons unknown, she puts up with my weird, childlike behaviour and accepts as well as endorses and loves the wandering side of me, which means the acceptance of staying at our future home whilst I am off and to be open to migration more than once. However, the final tests remained within the Dutch culinary masterpieces and her opinion on such. So, the same day and weeks to follow I dragged her to local snackbars, the Wall of Febo and through stands of liquorice, stroopwafels and baked goods at supermarkets. With hopeful eyes I gazed at her as she put her teeth into a soft bread with a long croquette and atop of it a mush of mustard. My prayers and pleas had been answered when she shivered out of giddy excitement and exclaimed her love for the food, along with all other – admittedly unhealthy – that I had shoved down her throat.
After the Dutch delights, it remains without a doubt important how well she fares with my family. Bearing gifts from the marble capital Romblon, the two of us trotted up and down, hopping on the train for a weekend at my mom’s, followed by cycling through town to visit the grandmother, another deceased grandma’s sister and my aunt, meeting up with my sister and bonding with the younger brothers. One of them already excelling in English would understand every bit whereas the other would progressively gain more knowledge during her stay. And besides the grandma, everyone appeared to have a handle on the language and within family she clicked in perfectly, as she learned my trait of weirdness had been an overflowing mixture of that of both my mom’s and dad’s. And having met my sister and younger brothers, it is clear that there runs no exception. Nonetheless, she coped and chuckled along with the jesters.
Though, 18 months had been far too long. And you might take the globetrotter and put him back in his country, but you can’t remove the wanderlust nor stop the flowing of his traveller’s blood. At times, its flow is tranquil and hardly palpable, but with every beat it flows. So, the second the commotion of welcoming and uniqueness had died down and work, the same, unaltered, routinely tasks had reached boiling point of the pot that is monotonous, stale and bleak, my lust for being on the move came to a rise. The only distinction was, with an Asian’s arm locked into mine, I became tourist in own country!
For those utterly confused regarding the timeline, this belated blog post is written about the events on begin 2019, shortly after returning home from my South-East Asia and Australia venture. However, with the rapid speed I am currently writing at, soon, hopefully not too soon, they’ll be completely up-to-date. For now, to the travellers reading this, have you been tourist in own country?
The Pakistanis did not leave their habits at home as they took off from the Islamabad airport. I noticed this when upon landing in Dubai, the insides of the air-plane at seemed as if someone had run by with a torn garbage bag. Despite the effortless attempts of the stewards and stewardesses to collect everyone’s empty bottles, plastics and other junk, the passengers had hoarded it, to at final minutes litter the entire place. Baffled by the disrespect and lacking of courtesy, I stepped over the left-behind mess and made my way to the exit. Initially, I was supposed to have a few hours on hand, however a sudden change with my airline had left me with half a day in this capital of emirates. Unlike in Oman, I had no intention of heading for the city and attempted to make the airport my temporary home the way Tom Hanks did in the Terminal. For that reason, I took my time and calmly sauntered through the gateway leading me away from the plane.
The last bit of traveller’s spirit had dripped out during my stay in Pakistan and I had been yearning for my home. To make these long-some hours pass by more rapidly, I had entered the well-known Hard-Rock cafe to only be reminded by my second home. A young Filipina welcomed me into a stool and with a broad smile stood before me awaiting the order. As I asked for a beer from the tap, she raised her eyebrow and with an apologetic tone she asked for my passport. A melancholic-doused smile appeared on my face as I slid a hand into my backpack searching for the passport. The hint of her accent had made me beam, however it reminded me I was far from seeing my love again. As she confirmed my age, explaining that here the age is 21 and above, my eyes wandered around and I noticed many a Filipina and Filipino galloping around the bar either scribbling down orders on their notepads of people coming for a meal accompanied with music or carrying trays bearing tiny glasses with inside a translucent liquid most likely to numb the senses and crush the filter of words.
Lily poured me one of the finest crafts, as she answered the question on my mind; “The Filipinos basically run this airport.” I could find a trace of pride when she talked about all her fellow compatriots that went through the same effort to work alongside her on this side of the security. She sighed with a smile as she placed the beer on the coaster. As soon as she did, the tiny droplets on the outside of the tower of a glass descended down and wetted the coaster. With Pakistan’s beer coming in a can and tap beer being scarce in the Philippines, it had been some months since I had a beer so mouthwatering. Taking in my first delicious sip of the golden drink that came in perfect to speed up time, my thumb and index finger folded open the receipt which I studied intensely. Unexpectedly, I had a hefty amount of rupees left from my trip and that what I could, I had exchanged moments before entering the bar. With my wallet full of dirham, I was unaware of its worth. Possibly the distraction of the Filipina and her reminding accent or the bewitching keg of draught beer had me forget the number one rule of travelling; to always check the currency.
As I choked on my lavish beverage upon seeing its costs in my own currency, the bartender had returned and asked me if I had ever been to the Philippines, now that I knew her nationality. This question had been a gateway of topics that had us conversing for the majority of my beer. A beer I nurtured due to its price. Apparently, she and I had a lot in common as we both lived in the torment of a long-distance relationship and the same issues as well as thoughts on how to cope with those. As we talked the time away, a black man had watched us with his perfect, white as snow teeth shining from the dimmed booth he shared with Lily. He wore the same uniform and stood alongside her, though rising far above her, thus I assumed he worked there as well. However he was obviously not one of her compatriots, which rose my curiosity. Seeming eager to jump into the conversation, he grabbed his opportunity when she had to trot off to continue work. During this, I had shamelessly ordered a second posh beer, waving away my guilt by stating it is my last travel money anyhow. Picking up where she had left, the man engaged me with tons of questions before proudly, and warranted to do so, explaining how he, a man from Nigeria wound up serving drinks and meals at an airport in Dubai.
But nearing the end of his tale, he got interrupted by a cheerful blast resonating from a speaker somewhere near. He sighed and chuckled as his eyes averted to the ground. “It’s time”, he said in a voice of subtlety leaving me with a mind of questions. With long strides he marched towards the entrance where there stood a small podium. Taller than all his coworkers, he joined them by stepping onto the stage when a familiar sung began to play. Seconds later, I emitted a quiet cackle as I watched them all dance the YMCA. Where the Pakistanis took their habit of littering into the airplane, the Filipinos carried there culture of singing into this filipino-controlled hard-rock cafe and it was an astonishing phenomenon to witness. Upon the finishing of the song, I had a laugh with the two before parting to lounge on one of the comfy laid-back chairs I had spotted some hours before.
I began to feel light-headed, in the dreamy way, as the two tall beers had sufficed to take me on my empty stomach to a state of tipsiness and dreaminess which had made drowsing off relatively easy. Despite a half-day being immensely long and usually seeming to drag on when that time is spent waiting, my Pakistan-Netherlands journey had been one of ease and comfort if you take into mind that I had been gone for 18 months. 18 months and no member of the family, no animal nor human had fallen ill or gotten injured, no grave events had occurred and I was a day away from seeing them and holding the two Belgian Shepherds I cherish so deeply. Going on trips to see my close relatives before heading to the shop for my oh-so longed for unhealthy cravings. To actually ride my rinky-dink bike again that by now, as I write this belated post has been replaced for a superior one. Perhaps most importantly, to be sleeping in my own bed again. With that thought, I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
A minivan stood outside, parked in front of the house with the gate still closed. Loud chatters and cheering coming from a floor up filled the house alongside the stomping and fast steps of tiny feet. Cousins and nephews and nieces had come from afar to spend these merry weeks here and the result was serenity coming in scarce. Shy smiles hid behind parent’s their legs and some more brave had tried their English while others brought me tea. But today, on this early morning, everyone was up and at it, as the mentioned van would soon be filled to the brim with children, some mothers and, of course, me. Wrapped in layers, thick scarves and warm gloves on their hands, the bunch wobbled in enthusiasm to the gate like a family of penguins. Waqas, knowing the kid’s tendency to regurgitate during the excruciating long haul, had snug his blanket extra tight and faked his deep sleep while I was getting shoved into the dark corner of the van to avoid constant passport control. Though aware of the chundering children, with the promise of seeing the white we no longer get in the Netherlands, bless global warming, and that on this special day that is my birthday, I had mentally prepared myself for flying chunks and stepped inside.
Getting used to spending hours on end inside these cages, as Pakistan is a vast land, had proven one of the hardest tasks. Swinging from the left to right on the unending meandering roads with as music the sounds of multiple throats spewing and spitting acidic saliva or parts of breakfast made me regretful. “Danny, how are you?” was the phrase echoing the inside for the dozenth time as the kid with his knowledge of English consisting of a total of three words had demanded once again for my attention. Yet, when I returned the question he’d come up blank to only repeat the question. Later on, he’d simply steal my answer, but for now he rotated only between this question and an unintelligible shout. An absolute adorable kid however. Exhausted before arrival, I sat with my stomach twisting praying for the fresh air and with it an escape of the sounds and smells.
Then, some hours in, snow had been spotted and with that, we were close. Halfway up a mountain we parked the car and went for a slippery walk, with a chain of children holding hands. We kept counting heads with every turn and step to keep an eye on all the kids as they had begun wandering left and right when the first snowball had been airborne. It flew high and landed straight on the back of the sister-in-law of Waqas. War had commenced. I leapt forward, sliding into one of the trenches next to a small stairway leading to a building as I got half of the children on my side and preparing me an artillery of snowballs and, cruel as they can be, a handful of ice-balls. The latter, I had sneakily chucked away before turning the sky into a blanket of white as I flung hundreds of balls towards the enemy. Unsure of where they were landing, I had launched my ammo on the hoodie of the youngest of the bunch, followed by a mouthful to one of the mothers and a maid with white trails covering her jacket. Soon, I had imitated Italy and switched sides as I attacked the ones providing me with snow. Soon, the platoon of minions flanked me and covered me in snow until I finally waved the white flag of surrender.
Exhausted at the end, we retreated down to a cafe for lunch to metaphorically smoke the Indian peace pipe. I was out of breath, but it had been an exciting feeling to relive the moment of grasping the cold snowball, gradually leaving tingling sensations in your fingers eventually leading to the numbing, before you douse your temporary enemy in the precious snow. Then you’d return inside, leaving the cutting, icy outside as you warm your frozen hands on a hot cup of tea with a fire blazing. Today had felt like such and along with the tea had come a surprise as a cake with lit candles came brought out. Together, me and the other celebrant blew out the candles and made our wish. Though, to have been able to play like a kid in the snow as the age grows taller, had been a wish come true.
This concludes my posts on Pakistan and with it, I wish to deeply thank all who have been involved in my trip. Waqas, who shared his room during my stay, drove his car hundreds of kilometres to show me place after place, endured the North with me to admire the massive mountains and faced the secret police when a suited man became nagging regarding the strange foreigner. And his family who welcomed me inside, made me feel at home with small to big efforts and with whom I have had many conversations. This includes close family and further relatives. Thank you all and you are welcome in the Netherlands.