The kinds of people you meet while in a world tour (part two)

[Recently I have been travelling around the world for 74 days. I am writing a series of posts about this trip – a list of those can be found here. This article continues from here.]

The barber that came to Australia from Italy 46 years ago. “Back then, you could buy an apartment in the Italian district of Melbourne for nothing, nobody wanted to leave here. Then this place became posh, so Italians that sold their apartment made a lot of money.” “Did you sell yours?” “Me? I never owed one, when I came here I had less than nothing!”

The horse trainer from Victoria, Australia. “So you’re from Italy? I was there last year.” “Where exactly?” “Paris.”

The Facebook enthusiastic. They barely know you, but they already tagged in 14 pictures from what they describe as the best day of their life. Their degree of separation to anyone in the world is 3. The worst happens when two of them meet: then a pictures-uploading competition starts. Where do I find the time for not looking at all of them? (semi-cit.)

Picture from a David Shrigley exhibition in NGV, Melbourne

Picture from a David Shrigley exhibition in NGV, Melbourne

The backpacker. Any shelter is decent enough for spending a night, any food scrap is good enough to be eaten. Doesn’t miss a party, especially during the happy hour. May miss a couple of museums without thinking twice, though.

The working holiday visa traveller. In Australia, they are more common than kangaroos. They work for a few months saving as much as they can, and then spend all their money travelling. They mostly come from Europe, but sometimes from Asia, too. Most of them have just finished high school: “The government cheated us by reducing high school by one year – a German girl I met told me – so we’re taking it back.”

The Greek-American who grew up in Brooklyn. “It was an amazing place to be. Not false like Manhattan. Everybody was there: Europeans, Africans, catholics, protestants, orthodox and whatnot. Communities were very open. My lifelong friends are Italians and Afro-Americans from that time. That’s when I learnt racist jokes and to make an excellent Carbonara.”

The stargazing enthusiastic at Mauna Kea. They live in Hawai’i, but in the coldest and farthest point from the sea, surrounded by a landscape that comes out of some sci-fi movie from the 60s. And they adore it.

Mauna Kea, Hawai'i (Big Island), Hawaii, 45 mins before sunset

Mauna Kea, Hawai’i (Big Island), Hawaii, 45 mins before sunset

The couchsurfers. They will create out of nothing a bed to host you, some free time to show you around, and a crew for you to hang out with. Probably the best way to get a first impression of a city.

The English butcher travelling around Australia. “This travel is a first time for me.” “First time out of Europe?” “First time out of south England!”

The old friends. While in a long travel, sometimes it is good to feel at home again.

The ex-alcoholic and drug addict. “I quitted drugs and alcohol seven years ago. But I need to be addicted to something, so now I am addicted to food and travelling.”

The Italians abroad. They almost unanimously believe in the seemingly contradictory mantra “Italians are nicer and smarter, but life here is so much better.” I am one of them.

The kinds of people you meet while in a world tour (part one)

[Recently I have been travelling around the world for 74 days. I am writing a series of posts about this trip – a list of those can be found here.]

The Italian who saved some money when he was working as a pizza-maker in Australia and spent them to be a volunteer at a family run guesthouse in a small village in Laos. Well, not just an average guesthouse, but one located here.

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The Indian who is too lazy to work, and too rich to need to work. So he decides to write a thriller, and his family sends him for 3 years around the world to get enough documentation to build his plot (and to keep him away from troubles back home).

The “purer” traveller. No matter how cheap you travel, or how much you go back to the nature, or to the “pure essence of travelling”: there will always be someone doing that more than you. Do you eat and dress only local, travel on tourist-free buses, sleep only in guesthouses where no word of english is spoken? You’ll always find someone who only hitchhikes on pickups, gets his food right from the farmers, and sleeps in temples.

The cyclists. The young Swiss couples that biked for one year and half from Switzerland to Cambodia, and are now planning to go back by train, because by plane would be too abrupt, but on the other hand “we cycled enough”. During their trip they spent on average 25$ a day per person, including extra money for attractions, trekking, etc. (but many cyclists travel with much less, see The “purer” traveller above). The not-so-young Australian who sold everything back home and will keep travelling by bike until he runs out of money, or finds a reason to stay. Much to my surprise, they share a very relaxed attitude towards travelling and the risks that come with it.

The Dutch couple that also sold everything they had back home to travel, but after 4 months decided to settle in Laos to build a butterfly garden. The outcome of their efforts is probably the closest place to the Eden I’ve ever seen. More about this here.

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The part-time workers. Every year, they work like crazy for 6-8 months, and in the remaining 4-6 they invest in travels all the money saved. They come from Canada, from France, from Australia.

The Vietnamese girl that is a journalist, that is also a chef, that also writes books, that also translates books from English, that is also a voracious traveller, that also hosts fellow travellers. Not exactly the image of Vietnamese you have back home.

The tourist. The category every traveller struggles not to fall into. He is shipped from an attraction to another as if he were a package, spending half of the remaining time taking nonsense photos, and the other half in places identical to those he can find back home. Saying Good morning and Thank you in the local language is the deepest he gets into the culture, but he is proud of that. His daily goal is to bargain down the prices as much as possible. His cold and abusive attitude towards most vendors is the main responsible (together with The vendor – level one, see below) of the absence of a normal dialectic between travellers and locals.

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The vendor – level 1. To him, a traveller is just a chicken with a big pot of gold lurking somewhere between his wings. Smiles and talking are timed to stop at the very moment a transaction is concluded.

The vendor – level 2. To him, a traveller is still a pair chicken+gold. But he is aware that the traveller may have more gold lying back in the henhouse, or many fellow chicken he talks to. So the vendor is eager to distribute smiles and, in general, every courtesy and attention that won’t cost him anything.

The vendor – level 3. The one every traveller wants to deal with.

The enormous amount of small, young beings that populate every village I saw in Laos: small children running after puppy dogs, chicks orbiting around hens, piglet playing in the mud.

The Khmu village in Laos that celebrates a wedding dancing (at the light and power of a generator) a surprising contamination of dance from the 80s, techno, and melodic traditional music – till 5am in the morning.

The Laotian who studied in the French school in Vientiane, then took advantage of the connections between Laos and Eastern Germany to obtain a degree in Economics from Dresden. Once back home, he became a white-collar in a bank, then a radio dj, then a live dj, then the owner of the first discoclub in Laos, then the first tourist operator finding financial support for removing bombs from the the archeological site of the Plains of Jars. Or at least, that’s what he claims.

(continues here)