Last Sunday, I got up at 6 in the morning. And went to the airport. To pick up my mother in law. Yes, I know, I am a hero. But to be honest – I didn’t mind at all. I was actually awake from 5 – my daughter got her first tooth and told us all about how it feels at 5 in the morning. My mother in law is a darling, so I am happy to do her a favour. Sunday morning is about the only time the roads in a small European country are empty, so driving is actually fun. And finally – I like airports. Being at an airport and seeing all the people coming and going, backpackers, business travellers, organized groups, sports teams, gives me that travelling sensation – and when I’m not the one flying, I can have the joys of travel without the drawbacks like carrying (and losing) luggage or going through security.
Besides – I was going to Schiphol, the brightest, most organized, cleanest airport in Europe. And cleanliness is important. You can easily determine the level of a country’s culture and civilization. Forget about HDI, GNH and GDP. Just check the cleanliness of its public toilets. A country where the public toilets are kept clean, obviously cares about the health, well-being and comfort of its people. Of course, clean toilets by themselves are not enough. Its what we scientists call “a necessary yet insufficient condition”. But as a first approximation its a good indication for the quality of life in a country.
Speaking of which, public toilets also de-facto demarcate the borders of Europe. As you probably know, the border between Europe and Asia is poorly defined and has shifted repeatedly in the past centuries. Well, its actually very easy to tell whether you’re in Europe or in Asia. Enter a public toilet. If you have to squat – you’re in Asia. If you can sit – you’re in Europe. If you don’t have to hesitate whether you can sit safely – you’re in a developed European country. Have a nice stay.
Filed under Europe, Travel
Sunset on the Mekong
The party began already at the train station. Huge stacks of Beer Lao were being loaded into the train. The Lao association of Civil Engineers and Architects was sharing the night train to Bangkok with us and they made sure they’d travel in style – Lao style. Within minutes from departure the beer cans and bags of chips were being distributed to everyone within reach, including conductors and Thai border guards.
Morning alms in Luang Prabang
Communication with the increasingly drunken engineers and their secretaries (Lao professional associations travel as real communists – all or none) was somewhat difficult. Until one of the engineers started apologized for his poor English and sighed: “if only someone could speak Russian…”. To which I could only reply by saying “Так что ж ты раньше молчал?” (“why didn’t you just say so before?”). Seldom have I seen a person become happier at the sound of the Russian language. Apparently, he has studied in Kiev in the 80’s and was rather proficient in my native tongue. Although his Russian was a bit rusty after two decades, several beers and a bit of practice made wonders and we were soon singing Russian songs together as the night train rolled through the Thai countryside.
A solar panel in front of every hut in every village
Unfortunately for him, the beer and the constant switching from Russian to English to Lao also made him lose focus. In a slip of the tongue he has mentioned his wife. Before we could blink, one of the women in the party was beating him on the head with her purse. She was kind enough to explain to us what we already understood: “The bastard told me – he not married!” Apparently, he was working his charms on her the whole evening, and was making considerable progress. Until that fatal slip of the tongue. Fortunately, Lao are laid-back, cheerful people, and the whole incident was over in seconds and cheered to by another round of Bee Lao. For all I know, they might have ended up in the same bed after all. I didn’t stay awake long enough to find out – we’ve had a busy schedule in Bangkok for the next day.
P.S. Apparently, the “tubing” party in Vang Vieng has been shut down – hurray!
I have promised to do my best to write personal stories about our Grand Tour Around the World. Well, here’s Vietnam – a colourful story in 12 pictures.
Cao Dai temple
Cu Chi tunnels amusement park
Mekong Delta – still a death trap for foreigners
Floating markets – not only in Bangkok
“Here, hold this!”
Mui Ne coast
Hue imperial palace
A shop in Ha Long Bay
Monkey Island in Ha Long Bay