domenica 12 luglio 2009



Alarm clock was set quite early, as we didn't want to waste any time queuing at the custom, but for me it has rang in vain as I could manage to get very little sleep the night before: Luca is laughing and pulling my leg “Ha, ha, I told you... watch out from negative person... You don't believe in such things, right? But you will see if you'll get rid of her in your dreams so easily”! His allusion to supernatural entities and existence of many phenomena we cannot explain make me smile, but I admit the episode of last night somehow shook me.

Anyhow is the time to cross the little river that separates Thailand to Myanmar. At the immigration office they confirm what we suspected: it's possible to enter the country overland, but with insane restrictions: maximum 15 days of permanence, registration of each movement, hotel, and mean of transportation, absolute interdiction to go further the tiny region broadening west of the province, mandatory exit of the country by the same border point. Nonetheless (I think it is the only country in the world) they TAKE YOUR PASSPORT, and give you a peace of paper in change, just to be sure that you'll respect that requirements.

No much choice is left so we just hand our passports and walk through the bridge into this land of mystery and its first town: Tachileik.

“Myanmar”... I laugh as possibly most of the people don't even know what I am talking about (and even me I guess I've just got to know this place little time ago). A rein of great battles and

trades during the centuries, became “Burma” under British Colonization, and later on would have been renowned for the japanese construction of the “death railway” during the second world war (everybody at least once whistled the tune of famous “Bridge over the River Kwai”, You haven't seen that film then shame on you). Since 1968 Myanmar is under a strict knuckle duster military regime, even a pacific demonstration held by monks walking around with their begging bowls upside down has been recently washed in blood. Communications are restricted and the government takes a snapshot of each computer connected to internet every 5 minutes (even if the access to many website is censured). Why? Well... golden triangle baby... Many people say that most of the drugs circulating in asia (and possibly a big share in the world) have their source right here...

These thoughts crowd my head while we are walking to the bus station.

(Tip number 1 for those going in Myanmar: in thailand they will tell you that only currency circulating is dollar or thai bath: true only a few meters from the border, i.e. where most of the people spend their time as they just come here to renovate visa, but absolutely false elsewhere, where local kwess are the best way to buy.)

Once at the bus we realize that transportation, beside being extremely slow (6 to 8 hours for 200 km), it is also ridiculously expensive (almost 10 times thai prices compared on mileage).

But the most interesting thing for me is the confirmation of some old perception of mine: burmese people (as all the asians) think with a logic that is structurally unlike ours. Exhibit one: two guys can buy two bowls of fried noodles with vegetables for 2000 kwess but not 1500 kwess, so far nothing strange yet one single guy can buy the two same bowls for 1500 (but only if he orders them in the right sequence of noodles-veg-veg-noodles). Exhibit two: they are absolutely unable of even pondering contradiction in the same term, but a sequence of clearly opposite utterances (even alternated, and even repeated and confirmed) appear as clear as the sun is shine. I suspect their logic lays on an odd seriality which crosses our aristotelic minds...


One way or the other, we manage to give our ass some sit on a bus: folks look at us as Martians. Before leaving the driver takes the microphone and talk to the people that we see strangely excited to listen... as he starts giving toothpaste to one woman, shampoo to a man, a soap to another, all jumping and smiling with people around clapping we understand: is a lottery with the ticket number, the big truck-bus roars and starts to hit the road, I try to get some sleep.

I am waken up by some water splashing on my face abruptly: confused I look around and I see people smiling and cheering, the guys sit by the window are completely wet... some kids stationing by the road were shooting everyone passing (buses included) with buckets of water, apparently here song kran is still celebrating.

Anyhow is time to get off the bus for one of the numerous check-point (in a 200km trip we would stop something like 10 times), they don't bother too much foreigners, facing us they just limit to shake their heads wondering what the hell we came there for, and I get the chance to stretch my legs.

All over broadens green and beautiful vegetation, charming mountains stand out at the horizon... beyond them there are lands that nobody has ever seen: poppy plantations? Military bases? Drugs laboratories? Simply breathtaking landscapes? Who knows... I wonder if we'll make it to bypass the strict controls and sneak a glance at that unseen places.

A couple of hours later is now the time for the lunch break, we stop in a local “service area”... the life is revolving around a water hole: people get refreshed, trucks are checked, booth sells expired chinese biscuits, who can afford 1000 kwess (1$us) is having a proper meal (see the picture of my favorite: yellow noodles stir-fried with eggs, vegetables, and pork), the majority just linger on.

mercoledì 1 luglio 2009

The road to Myanmar: encounter with the evil.


After two weeks spent here in Chang Mai, is now again the time to rock. I met Luca, who's heading north west on the way to Myanmar, and as I always wanted to go there too, we decided to travel together. We'll try crossing the border overland even if there are discordant rumors about the visa's requirements and the actual possibility to travel about the country.
Luca has been traveling quite a lot, not in a single row as me, but in the past few years he organized his life in order to work six months and spend the rest of the year enjoying long distance trips: another example walking on two legs that life has not necessary to be work and weekends.

Anyhow, the night at the roof bar for the last round of drinks and the goodbyes to the others, and the morning after we met up ready to go to the bus station, heading the border.

By the time we get to Mae Sae the border was already closed so we have to wait one night in this land of nobody. No big deal, we eat something at one of the many food stall along the street: repugnant use-to-be-fledged animals of all kinds are hung up in any stall, but we go for the classic (stir-fried noodles with vegetables).
After a few beers is still to early for the bed, even in a ghost town like this, so we just take a walk around. In the worm night the only pungent noise is the bark of some dog echoing in an alley.
Almost on our way home a wooden hut, slightly enlightened by a flabby flame of a yellow candle attracts our attention. On the threshold a weird woman invite us to get in: all around is dark and we follow her in the back, where she start to arrange some candles in odd disposition.
“Now pray” - She announce with a sneer, and with one hand she untied behind her neck the veil that covered her chest.
Shortly we realize something is wrong about her: “I felt she was a negative person” utter Luca with a side glance.
Her body is covered in bizarre tattoos: a devil like skull evily laughing and some daemons fighting on the hips, a black hooded death on her shoulder... dulcis in fundus when she turns, her back shows a huge representation of Cali, the god of destruction in the Hindu religion, kicking with all her legs an armless Shiva.
The excitement of the beginning is now slowly turning into discomfort as the situation gets odder and odder: a young guy enter the room. He is clearly impotent and his pupils show a recent deep encounter with some kind of opiate, with smooth movements he execute all her commands.
Now he is laying on a red mattress and she is starting her weird ritual on him.
“So how's called this kind of ritual among Hindu?” - I ask sarcastically in the attempt of deemphasize the odd situation.
She wriggles forward me staring my eyes like she wanted to enter from my pupils and she pronounces something in a language I don't know. In that second I remembered the black eyes of the shark pointing me in that pacific island, her eyes recalled the intense dark depth of the ocean... I felt a gelid shiver running down my back into the stomach...
Never believed in witches or ghost stories, but I knew was better to go.
That night I didn't sleep well.



And here we are: take the most surreal situation you can ever imagine, the heat of a summer day in the most humid and hot part of the world, the excuse of the new year to wash away all the bad things of the past, thousands of tons of water, all the children, adults, and graybeards of at least four countries poured in the streets to water fight each other, and you will have the song kran.
A 5 days water battle, for the sake of which shops close and people get crazily happy, is something you don't see everywhere... but at least once a year in this amazing continent of south east Asia.

Chang Mai during these days turned into a great laud fest, and sure enough we didn't miss the call.
The more malicious use ice cold water, the more kind use water scented with flowers, the more ugly use the water of the river, and the worsts one the water of the canal, but everybody, everybody has great fun!

During the last day a parade with the monks from all the temples in the city and the surrounding area sneaks through the streets with people dancing and carrying images of budda or standards of their clan.

The water is not only for fun and celebration, and chilling in the hot summer is not the only reason: is more like a general blessing delivered each others, a great message of peace and friendship shared by all the people that wash one from the other the bad things of the past year: a lustral soul purification that anyone can give to anyone.


Sulla via del ritorno sono stato ispirato da un certo dialogo...
meditate, e occhio all'imps...

lunedì 29 giugno 2009


In Chang Mai I met up with old friends (Lali and Ives) and new friends (Nicoletta, Marco, Jane and Leo). We discovered the town, with its temples and great food stalls, but also an unexpected wide range of excellent bar and clubs: my favorite are the North Gate Jazz and the roof bar. In the first one is nice to listen to good jam session with artist from all over the world, you can also meet interesting people and make some good chat. On the terrace of the latter, you can have a nice and refreshing view of the city gate, waiting for midnight when the atmosphere gets hot and crowd of tipsy tourists dance till sweat alcohol off...
Chang mai is very nice, and beside the terrible pollution, is one of the best place to hang around in thailand (still cheap but developed enough to get everything you could look for) with thousands of little nice spot to read or chill at the shadow of a tree in between one temple and the other. Is also the capital of massaging and cooking schools, two fields who definitely deserve some attention.
Coming up is the SongKran, the south east asian new year, during which this whole part of the world just turns into the greatest water war in the history of human kind, something hardly describable to a settled western intellect.

sabato 27 giugno 2009

29/03 Playing Joseph Conrad: ORIENTAL HOTEL.

Is there one place in Bangkok I cannot miss to visit every time I come to this amazing capital of Thailand, the cypher of anything civilized: the Oriental Hotel.
I could abstain from eating for weeks to have the pleasure of coming everyday here to have my coffe and cake... It is also my favorite place for writing: and that's why by now I feel like home here. Coming
recurrently for my afternoon snack and for writing I became a regular, as waitresses started to know me by name and address me as “the writer”, I play ball as I love to act Joseph Conrad in an elegant environment.... My personal attendant is Ina, every time she comes to take my order or to assure that everything is good she kneels at my side... even if she already knows my favorite cake and cup of tea, she knows also (and even better than me) that I like to choose, so she bring me the whole cakes tray to show me the daily delicatesse...
I know, I know... somebody there would now disagree and say that all this luxury doesn't match the adventurous spirit of my travels... well nothing wronger: time to time even indiana jones needs to restore isn't it? And what is better than having an aperitif on that beautiful terrace on the bangokok river?
What is better than the warm and wealthy atmosphere of the palatial lounge with elephant statues and livery attendants? After all the “artist lodge” isn't my natural place?
I need it time to time... especially as tomorrow I will get a 36 hours train north to changmai...