2 Weeks in Bangaldesh – Drugs, money, slavery, and beauty

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As I begin writing this I am sitting in the Dhaka airport, my flight just delayed 3 hours (they don’t tell you until after the departure time of course), but hopefully I’ll be back in Bangkok tonight. By the time I finish I surely be at home in Bangkok. I always try to write while my memories are fresh, since I know I’ll forget the small details.

Everyday throughout this trip I’ve written a summary of the day, with some observations here and there. This trip has been fascinating and eye-opening in many ways. It certainly didnt go as planned, but I’ve learned a lot from this trip. The downsides of the trip were money being stolen from my card at the ATM, being drugged by a group of people trying to rob me, talking to a woman at my hotel a lot and later realizing she was a drug dealer and all our conversations were recorded, protests and strikes happening during my travels which limited when and where I could go, and lastly nearly running out of money after having to pay for my friend and his girlfriend during our travels (after my bank account was locked and therefore I had limited funds to travel with).

The positive sides of this trip far outweighed those issues. While it wasn’t the most comfortable trip, often times the best things come when I push my comfort zone. From this trip, I’ve been able to further understand the culture, which was my main objective. Being empathatic to different cultures has been my goal of traveling for quite sometime, and it continually blows my mind. While I did spend a fair amount of time in a hotel in Dhaka, I was able to explore the area quite a lot, spend lots of time with my Bengali friend and his friends/family, and I was able to travel to the tea fields in the north near Sylhet. I also made a business contact in the garmet industry, which is something I will pursue in the near future. Aside from that, I’ve come much closer to seeing and understanding this part of the world. I’ve long studied it and thought about it, but seeing it first hand and interacting with the people is really the only way to realize the exisitance of such a place. The way the people live in Bangladesh I think is quite representative of how about 1/3 of the world currently lives. It somewhat reminds me of how I imagined the US in the 1800’s, except with a few modern technologies like cars, machinery, and phones, and then of course mass-produced clothing, and food. But most of everyday life is still something that is quite old – mostly handmade food, lots of rice, farming as a main profession, etc.

The other facsinating piece to Bangladesh is that it is known for it population density, which is one of the highest in the world. It is hard to understand how dense it really is until you are part of it for a few days or weeks. It is very very crowded, especially in Dhaka and in the villages/towns throughout. Traffic jams are amplified by the lack of organization – no lanes, no laws being enforced, huge buses crowding tiny roads, poor road quality, and simply the sheer number of people and vehicles on the road. People here travel by bus, car, rickshaw, CNG (small car that runs on compresses natural gas), and walk. All of these means use the same roads and therefore it causes major issues for transport. Rickshaws are everywhere, and a 10 minute ride on one will cost about 10 taka (1/8th of a US dollar or so). The combination of these transportation methods, along with the density makes for a really crowded and unorganized place, and it is quite an experience. People here are used to it, so they don’t know how unique it is, but coming from the West it is very bizzare. I remember one rickshaw driver asking “are there rickshaws in America?”, haha.

The Trip

I spent about 2 weeks in Bangladesh, arriving in on September 11th, and leaving on the 26th. I was planning on spending more time, but my Bengali friend Jawad suggested 2 weeks was enough. On September 11th, I left Bangkok in the afternoon, had a short layover in Chittagong (didn’t even have to get off the plane), and then landed into Dhaka in the evening. After getting off the plane, I had to get my visa-on-arrival.  There was a booth clearly marked to get it, and when I arrived there I requested one.  They had to fill out some paperwork, and then pointed to a “bank” like 20 meters behind me and told me to pay.  After paying the $50 USD fee there, the guy told me to go back to the booth for visa on arrival. I was the only one on the plane who was doing this, but if there were more than a few people this process would be chaos.  After getting the paperwork sorted, a man guided me to customs, opened a new desk for me, and asked me a few more questions.  5 minutes later, I proceeded through customs to the baggage area and went to the Dutch-Bangla ATM (important later on), which was in an area with many other ATMs. Shortly after I met my friend Jawad, who came to pick me up.

Meeting Jawad's family

Meeting Jawad’s family

He took me to a hotel and checked me in, then we got into his car (in Dhaka people hire drivers to drive since it is very cheap and driving is quite a burnout there) and explored a bit.  We went for some Indian food, and he invited a few other friends who joined as well. Afterward we drove to another place (near the Westin hotel) and had some tea, which is common after almost every meal from what I noticed.  The tea there is excellent – it has creamer and condensed milk in it, so it is hard not to enjoy. While drinking the tea, poor children with missing limbs were surrounding me asking for money and food – a common sight (perhaps a whole other post on this later).

After dinner and tea, we went to a hangout area on a bridge, where loads of people where dancing to music that a guy had blaring out of the back of his truck. Some people danced, but most just sat there for hours and watched. Since it was a Thursday night, it was the beginning of the weekend (their weekend is Friday and Saturday).  It was cool to see, and also cool to hangout and chat with some friends. After a couple hours there, we dropped Jawad’s girlfriend off at her house, and then headed home.

Jawad’s friends were military guys, which makes them quite powerful there.  The military seems to have a lot of respect. 1 of the guys was a Swat-like member (intelligence), one was infantry, and one was military police.  They were telling me about how they will get deployed into the Congo soon. Very interesting guys.  Even more interesting is that even when they aren’t in uniform, they can still use their power on general society. For example, on the way to the bridge a car was just sitting in the middle of the road, so they pulled up to the side and told the guys to move. Apparently it is common for things like this to happen, even though it is impossible for general society to tell who is real military and who isn’t when they aren’t in uniform (and even then you can’t always tell, haha).

Another interesting thing that happened this night and became very normal throughout the trip was the power constantly going in and out.  When I was in Myanmar last year, the same thing would happen – power goes out, 30 seconds later a generator kicks on, power comes back on.  The same exact thing happened everywhere I went in Bangladesh.

Dancing along the street at midnight

Dancing along the street at midnight

The next day I woke late, around 11am, since I was quite tired and Jawad mentioned he normally sleeps in.  We had stayed out quite late the night before, and after a full day of travel I was exhausted. I worked for an hour or so, ate some lunch, and met Jawad at the hotel around 1pm. We took a rickshaw to his house so I could meet his family, and eat lunch. The first thing I noticed was trash everywhere. It is pretty chaotic – people walking, driving, or cycling the rickshaws everywhere. Many of the roads are dirt and bumpy – surprising no one makes an effort to flatten them as it would make everyone faster and more comfortable.

After lunch, we planned to watch a movie, so we drove to the cinema. It literally took like an hour to get there, then another hour to wait to get into the parking garage, then another 30 minutes to find a spot. Once we finally park, we find out tickets are sold out. During this entire time, Jawad is constantly on his phone talking to people, which was common throughout the entire trip.  It is probably one reason why it took so long. It is crazy how reliant he was, as were others, on their phones.  It is common for people to have more than 1 phone that they use everyday – Jawad had 4 that he used.

After discovering we couldn’t watch the movie, we bought tickets for the following day, waited for 1.5 hours or so so Jawad could get his phone fixed at a shop, then headed to dinner at Nandos. One of Jawads friends who ran the largest DSL provider in Bangladesh came and met us. He was a friendly guy, and bought us all a nice dinner. After dinner, we dropped Jawad’s girlfriend off and I got dropped off at the hotel.

Another thing I noticed about Bangladesh in general is that most people dress quite well – everyone is wearing pants and nice button down shirts.  Rickshaw drivers don’t wear pants, but I often saw them wearing pollo or button shirts.  I assume the reason for this is two-fold, 1) how you look greatly affects how people see you, much more so than in the West (this is common throughout Asia, but especially common in Bangaldesh), 2) Bangladesh is one of the worlds biggest producers of clothing, so nice clothing is very cheap.

The following day I woke, worked a bit on my laptop, ate lunch, then went to watch Guardians of the Galaxy (3D). Halfway through the movie the screen gets paused and the lights come on.  Apparently there is a 10-15 minute break in the middle of most movies there.  I’ve watched movies at the cinema in many countries and I’ve never seen this. The movie was good, and it was a good experience to see it in Dhaka. After the movie, we grabbed dinner at a kebab place, and called it a day.

Later that night I checked my online bank account to confirm the ATM withdrawal at the airport, and noticed another few hundred dollars were removed the following day, even though I didn’t go to another ATM. I immediately knew that someone had rigged the ATM since the name of the withdrawal was some Russian or Ukrainian name, so I called my bank immediately.  They basically had to lock my card, and I had to file a claim for the lost money.  Prior to using the ATM I did check it a bit, and I also always cover my hand when I enter the PIN.  The only way for this to happen was if the ATM was rigged, such that they could capture my PIN and swipe the card.  Not so surprising considering how unregulated it is there, but bad luck on my end as my primary card for travel was now locked.  Luckily I had brought another card (which does have quite steep fees), along with some cash so I was fine for the trip.  This was the first piece of bad luck from the trip.

The rickshaws

The rickshaws

It was common for days to be long, but short. We started late most days, and then we’re stuck in traffic most of the time, and then waiting in line or somewhere else the rest of the time.  Because it is so crowded, this is normal in their lives.  There is almost no concept of time – we often ate dinner around midnight, and rarely were plans made on a time schedule. Looking back, it is crazy how much time was actually wasted vs. actually used for the purpose.  For example, I’d guess a normal day probably included 2-3 hours of actual enjoyment, like watching a movie and eating dinner, and the rest was filled with traveling across the city, waiting in line somewhere, waiting on someone, etc. Since I’ve been all about efficiency and making the most of time for a few years, this was fascinating to see.  This was the opposite of that, and as a result, people there are far far less efficient, and therefore output less in much more time.

The following day, September 14th, Jawad, his girlfriend, and I went to Jamura Future Park, a massive mall, which is the 11th largest in the world. Upon entering the parking lot, I saw 2 guys guarding the entrance with guns, which is somewhat of a common site throughout Bangladesh – probably due to the massive poverty.  The mall was definitely massive, and the car park was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen.  Most of the mall seemed empty.  We were in 1 shop and then I saw a white woman, the first white person I had seen all trip.  I then noticed several other white women walking around the same store.  After exiting, I noticed lots of guards.  Apparently these women were the spouses of some US Generals who were in Dhaka for a conference, and these women were being escorted around with heavy protection.  It was definitely a bit over the top, but from what I heard they want to make foreigners feel safe here, which makes sense. After exploring the mall a bit, the group wanted to eat at KFC, so we ate there (I had a late lunch so didn’t really eat).  I also had some excellent Bangali dessert at a shop nearby. After that, we called it a day.

On my 4th day in Dhaka, my friend told me he wanted to take the day off, and I didn’t want to waste a day so I had his driver take me around. Right after picking me up, we waited for 30 minutes at the petrol station (normal in Dhaka) to buy $5 worth of gas. After, his plan was to take me around Dhaka to various places that my friend had told him.  We didn’t reach the first stop, Sonargoan, for about 4 hours, because of traffic.  It took way longer than expected, but during the drive I was able to observe a lot of Dhaka, which was interesting, and something I wanted to do.  Upon arriving at Sonargoan, I had to pay 100 taka to get in ($1.20 or so), and then I went in to explore. It was basically just a gated area with a museum at the back, and a statue of some leader. There were lots of students hanging out there. As I got closer to the museum, 2 girls (both dressed in their Muslim garb) approached me and tried to have a conversation, which is normal. They don’t see white people here often so they try to ask what your name is, and where you are from since that is practically all the English they know. 1 of the 2 girls spoke much better English than most, and she offered to show me around the museum.

Statue - Sonargaon, Dhaka

Statue – Sonargaon, Dhaka

After about 30 minutes there, they wanted my phone number, my Facebook, they took pictures with me, and all was well. They then gave me a new bottle of mango juice, sealed and all, and out of respect I took it. I had 1 tiny sip just to be polite. Shortly after they all said they had to go, and said goodbye.  I explored the museum for another 20 minutes, and then left the museum and headed outside.  Once I left, about 20 people surrounded me asking questions, taking pictures, some asking for money, etc. It was clear that few white people travel here, and the ones that do probably give money, add that along with Hollywood portraying rich white people, and the result is white people as walking ATMs.

After exiting, I walked to the car, which was oddly parked 100m in the back corner of a field nearby, and I told the driver I was ready to go, though he didn’t speak a word of English. After leaving the field, a group of kids stopped the car and asked for 100 taka, and I asked them why.  It was clearly them trying to get money for “parking” because I was white, when it clearly wasn’t a parking lot.  I sat and argued with them for a bit, and finally about 2 minutes I gave them 50 taka and we left. I’m quite sure the driver and those guys setup this scheme while I was inside the museum. While the money they were asking is nothing, I don’t support the racisism there, and by simply paying out means they will continually do it to any other white person that comes in the future. It is a subject I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, and generally I react on principle and not dollar amount, as I realized long ago actions and ideas aren’t based on money, they are principle. And if you have any principles but don’t live by them, what is the purpose of them?

After leaving Sonargoan, we drove another couple hours past the massive parliament buildings (some of the largest complexes in the world), and then another hour or so to the main National Monument (there are many national monuments around, but this was the main one). I vividly remember something while we were driving past the parliament that I won’t forget – there was a baby, maybe 1 year old, sitting on the side of the road completely alone, literally on the pavement, with cars driving by within 3-4 feet of the baby, and it didn’t even phase the people or drivers.  No one seemed to care, since it was normal. It was shocking to see.

The main National Monument in Dhaka

The main National Monument in Dhaka

After arriving at the National Monument, I gave the driver some money for lunch, and then went and explored the National Monument alone. Just like in other places, there was constantly a group of people around me looking, asking questions, following me, and wanting pictures. I sat down and had probably 10 people wanting to take pictures.  If I started talking, more people would come, and because more people came, more would. At one time probably 50 people were surrounding me wanting to hear me talk.  I’m quite sure this monument very few foreigners go to, and the ones that do probably aren’t alone nor young. These people were absolutely fascinated.

After spending maybe 45 minutes there, I went back to the car, met up with the driver, and it took another 1.5-2 hours to get home. I got back to the hotel around 5:30pm. It was a big learning day, as I saw and experienced so much in a short time, but it was also draining to be in the car for so long. Remember the 2 Muslim girls and the drink? Well about 2 hours after getting home I started getting bad stomach cramps, diarrhoea, fever, and feeling like vomiting.  I asked a few people and they all said those girls were trying to drug me, which is somewhat common there. I got very lucky that nothing happened, but more importantly I learned a big lesson.  That night I didn’t sleep well, but drank lots of water, took some pills, and tried to relax as much as I could. One small sip made me feel awful, very lucky I didn’t have more.

I woke late again the next day, something that I normally don’t do.  When I’m away from home, I try to make the most of everyday by getting up early and exploring.  It is easy to waste the entire day to a hangover or to “relaxing on a vacation”, which a lot of people enjoy, but I can relax at home so I prefer to push myself to explore while my time is limited. However, Dhaka isn’t an easy place to get around. Traffic is horrendous, few people speak English, and from what I’ve seen the transportation isn’t totally reliable. After waking, I explored the area around the hotel, which is quite an interesting area. It is part of Uttara, which is considered a wealthier area of Dhaka, even though it is still very run down by western standards. I saw people eating the sugar cane branches, and pressing them through a machine to squeeze out the sugar, I saw a lot of vendors selling different kinds of fruits, and then inside the malls there are countless knockoff movies, clothing, leather boots and bags, etc. After a couple hours of doing this, Jawad and I headed to a hangout area for some tea. We sat there and talked for an hour or so, and then Jawad’s driver came and picked us up. He dropped me off at the hotel and Jawad went on his way.

This boy loved getting his picture taken while we drank some tea

This boy loved getting his picture taken while we drank some tea

I did some online work at the hotel, and then headed for dinner. The restaurant at the hotel had some great food. While there, a group of like 10 older western people (sounded like from southern US, maybe Texas) came in and ate dinner. They were guided by a Bengali man, and based off what I heard it sounded like they were part of a church doing some work in Bangladesh for a couple weeks.  They were the first group of white people I had seen at the hotel, so it was interesting. One of the funny memories from overhearing their conversation was that they couldn’t pick something off the menu.  They wanted some steak or something, but they couldn’t decide. The Bengali guide finally says “I think it would be easier if we just ordered a large amount of something, maybe some rice and some toast”. The entire group just went silent until one older man said something like “I’d rather take some time and get steak than eat toast”. haha, I was trying my best not to laugh, but it was hilarious.

The plan for the next day was for Jawad to meet me at the hotel at noon, so I woke at 11am, got ready, and started working.  Before I knew it, it was 2pm and still didn’t hear from him. I decided to plan out more of my trip, as I was ready to leave Dhaka. I generally dislike hotels – they provide little culture (which is my objective when traveling), there is little social scene, and they are generally boring.  Since I had my laptop I could work and be productive, but since I was in Bangladesh I wanted to make the most of it. From a person I talked to from Couchsurfing, I was recommended to contact a tour operator.

I googled a recommended tour operator, their website looked nice, and had some excellent tours that I was interested in.  I emailed the guy, and tried to set it up, but come to find out the whole website was wrong, and none of the tours on the site were even offered.  The man offered an alternative, so I set that up for the following day.  The rest of the day I just ate delicious Bengali food, and worked. I didn’t hear from Jawad.

The following day I woke planning to go do the tour, so I call the guy and confirm it. He basically says “there are protests now, and then again on Sunday, so it isn’t safe for you to travel”. Damn, this means I’m stuck in Dhaka another day. As I go eat at the restaurant, everyone there also mentions that it isn’t safe. Basically the story is that during the Liberation War in 1971 when Bangladesh split off of Pakistan, one of the leaders, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, did some really brutal war crimes, like mass genocide of the people, raping women in the war, etc. He was sentenced to death in 2013, and his verdict was supposed to be not long after, but it was delayed. While, as bad luck has it, the verdict came out while I was in Dhaka. The leader was going to be hanged to death, but they decided to sentence him to life in prison.  As a result, people were protesting and lighting stuff on fire. Because of this, people said it wasn’t a good idea to leave the hotel. This somewhat goes back to the time thing I wrote about earlier – people aren’t really on schedules so wasting a day because of the protests to them was normal.

Because of this, I wasn’t able to explore much for a couple days, and during this time didn’t really hear from my friend Jawad, so I basically just read and worked in the hotel, trying as hard as I could to plan out a trip outside of Dhaka.  It got to the point where I decided to actually change my flight home and leave, because I couldn’t travel, I wasn’t hanging out with my friend, and many things had gone sour. I went to the airport to try to do it, but all economy seats were full and there was a ridiculous fee to switch.  I decided to just push out the rest of the trip, and try to convince Jawad to show me some more places or recommend things. I was in a position where I couldn’t really travel alone – everyone recommended getting someone else to travel with, but no one was around.

2 armed guards outside the Dhaka Airport

2 armed guards outside the Dhaka Airport

Around this time, Jawad told me that in order to use the car, I’d need to pay approximately $35/day, plus pay for petrol, tip the driver, and pay for the drivers food.  I found this quite odd since $35/day is a huge amount in Dhaka, and the car wasn’t anything luxurious.  I felt like it was way overpriced.  I expressed my concern and he said it was rented from his company and that was the cheapest it could be.  He then calculated how many days I would be around for and wanted me to pay 50% up front. I was skeptical to say the least.

There was a woman, call her Nove, staying at the same hotel as me who I met at the restaurant. She was an older woman, with an English accent, but also spoke Bengali.  I talked to her a bit and she said she lived in London for 25 years, but was in Bangladesh getting some medicine. Over the course of a few days, I probably talked with her for 5 hours. I asked her if the $35/day for a car was the going rate, and she said that while cars are expensive, that was overpriced and that he seemed to be stealing from me.

The following day, one of Jawads awesome friends, Masood, who was in the Bengali military, offered to show me around old Dhaka. So Masood, Jawad, his girlfriend, and I had the driver take us to old Dhaka (which Jawad told me I had to pay around $35/day for).  Once there, we grabbed some snacks, walked through the very densely crowded roads into a dock where massive ships were coming and going. Masood, having a military ID, was able to get us onto a boat without buying tickets so we could look around from the top, and then after we headed out to the bottom. There were many smaller canoe-like boats that took people just across the water.  So the 4 of us got on one, and crossed the river, headed along the opposite bank, and then crossed back over to visit Ahsan Manzil, a former palace of the royal family. By this time it was nearly dark, and the 4 of us walked around the palace.  We had to buy tickets to get in, but only Masood and I walked through since Jawad had a bag they wouldn’t let him in with. Afterward we took a rickshaw back toward where the car was, and we waited awhile there while talking about what we had just seen.  After the car arrived, he drove us to an area near the university, and another National Monument, and we had some snacks, took some pictures, and relaxed there.

Vendors along the river by the palace.

Vendors along the river by the palace.

In the evening, Jawad’s family invited his friends for dinner. It was me, Masood, Mufrad, Jawad’s girlfriend, and then Jawad’s family. It was odd at first, as they served the 4 of us dinner, and I was waiting to eat and they said to start eating.  So we started, and him and his family just stood around filling up drinks and talking.  I asked if they were going to eat with us, and they said it was culture to let guests eat first.  Interesting part of the culture – I wonder why it is like that.

I woke the next day, September 20th, a bit frustrated that I still had been stuck in Dhaka, and along with all the other events. After getting ready, I met Jawad and he took me shopping. He took me to a clothing store called Astorian, which basically sold name brand clothing at a fraction of the cost. Apparently if a factory produces some clothing for say, Nike, and Nike complains, they remake everything, and all the clothes they already made gets given away or sold at stores like this. I was able to pick up $80 pants for $15, and some nice shirts at a similar price. I generally don’t shop much or buy clothes, but Jawad convinced me to buy some new pants and shirts, so I did.

In the evening, we had plans to eat at the Westin, what they call a “5 star hotel in Dhaka”. Jawad’s girlfriend worked there, so was able to get a 50% discount on food at the restaurant there. One of thing to note about Dhaka was that the hotels seemed to be the “nicest places” in Dhaka. They were some of the only buildings that were modern and clean, and also where white people stay. Everyone I talked to would keep mentioning the hotels as places to visit in the city (almost as if they were landmarks or something), which I found funny. Prior to this night, I had only seen maybe 5 white people the entire trip, but at the Westin, almost everyone was white.  The hotel was heavily guarded, and inside it was quite modern, something you’d see in the US.  We went to the top floor and had dinner at a window table, which was very nice.  We splurged and had appetizers, along with a few main courses. After dinner, we went down a few floors to a buffet area and watched some Spanish dancing for an hour or so, before calling it a night.

To backtrack a bit, on the drive to the Westin, Jawad and I are sitting the backseat of the car. He gets a phone call, seems quite serious, talks for maybe 10 minutes, and then hangs up.  He then turns to me and starts basically reciting the conversation I had with Nove, the Bengali woman from the UK. He said that she was a known drug dealer and all our conversations were tapped. He said that she had been smuggling heroin and cocaine, but not yet busted, and he said I shouldn’t talk to her. It was quite scary, and made me wonder if the whole hotel was run by drug dealers, as a few things seemed suspicious.  Either way, after hearing this I wanted to check out, so after dinner I would stay 1 more night and checkout first thing in the morning.

The next morning I was looking forward to checking out. I generally hate spending time in hotels, but this situation I was more or less driven into so I didn’t have much choice. Jawad offered to let me stay at his house for the night, as I would leave Dhaka the following day to travel north. After checking out, I took a rickshaw for about 15 minutes to Georges Cafe, a nice little cafe in Uttara that had excellent sandwiches and brownies. I pulled out my laptop, and read/worked for a few hours. In the afternoon Jawad and Mufrad came by and chilled there for another hour. Mufrad was leaving to Saudi Arabia to go to Mecca for the Hajj, and his flight out was the night before mine (back to Bangkok). Mufrad was such a generous and caring guy – it was great hanging out with him.

Excellent Bengali food served on the bed at midnight.

Excellent Bengali food served on the bed at midnight.

In the evening I stayed at Jawad’s house, and watched the Eagles vs. Redskins NFL game. Afterward music videos played for hours until 3am or so, while Jawad talked on the phone to his girlfriend. I slept well, and it was very generous of his family to host me for the night.  The food was incredible, and his 2 maids were very kind.

We woke Sept 22 at like 1pm, which seemed somewhat normal for him. He told me that we wouldn’t be able to travel due to the political situation, so I would need to spend another night in Dhaka, and that I was welcome to stay at his house. During midday I woke and then just sat around, and in the evening we watched some live music and grabbed dinner.  We also bought the bus tickets toward Sylet for the next morning, which was relieving to me since it finally ensured I would be able to get outside of Dhaka.  Jawad insisted that I’d have to pay for his ticket as well, which I did, along with buying him dinner. After all of this, we went back to his house, I watched the UFC while he chatted on his phone for hours to his girlfriend.  It was quite surprising how much he used the phone – he had 4 phones, and there was rarely a set of 15 minutes where he didn’t use it the entire trip.  He was constantly talking or making phone calls, texting, or browsing the internet.

On September 23rd, just a couple days before my flight back to Bangkok, we woke early, grabbed some breakfast, and waited for the delayed bus north to Sylet. Because of how poor traffic is, along with the poorly conditioned roads, it took us around 7 hours.  We actually got dropped off before Sylet, as we had someone waiting to pick us up there who would take us to our accommodation on a tea plantation.  The 7 hour bus journey could have taken maybe 1-2 hours if the roads were decently kept, but similar to many places in Southeast Asia, the horrible roads become gridlocked and therefore a short journey takes forever. Aside from that, I think most westerns would be blown away by how dangerously they drive. Buses and trucks are the kings of the road, and if they are going down the road every other vehicle gets to the side. It was very common for the bus to pass traffic going into oncoming traffic, and because it was a bus, all cars and CNG’s would nearly come to a stop on the side of the road to let it pass.  If there was another bus oncoming, they would be slightly more cautious, but we still had many very close head on collisions.  I’m not sure what the data says, but I imagine the accident rate is very high, and much of it probably goes unreported.

People carrying wood and greens on the way to Sylet.

People carrying wood and greens on the way to Sylet.

The tea plantation was owned by Mufrad’s family, and he let us stay in one of the small houses on the plantation, which they normally rent out to tourists. The house was right in the middle in all of the tea forests (if you can call it that), and maybe a 10 minute walk from the tea factory.  In addition to the tea, they owned land which had many rubber trees, and about a 20 minute walk away they had a rubber “factory” – which was a small area where they processed the rubber trees. The place itself was called “Amtali Nature Resort”, and was near Sreemangal Upzaila, near Sylet, Bangladesh.

After arriving at the house around 3-4pm, we ate some food, and relaxed as the sun went down. Jawad and his girlfriend spent much of the evening in their room, and I sat out on the porch and played chess on my phone. It was quite relaxing, aside from the massive beetles that would land on me every 10 minutes.  Not only that, the power would go out every half hour and a generator would kick on.  Around 9pm, we had dinner and called it a night.  I still find it interesting how tiring it is to ride in a bus.  Even though you’re sitting on the bus not really straining any muscles, it really wears the body and mind out, and after that 7 hour trip I was burned out.

The following day Jawad said to be up and ready by 8. So I woke at 7:30am, got ready and waited for him and his girlfriend. It was nearly 9:30am by the time they got ready, and once they got ready we had breakfast. The driver came and picked us up, and drove us to the Grand Sulton Hotel, which Jawad’s girlfriend wanted to see.  It was “5-start hotel”, literally gated on the side of a village. It seemed very out of place. There were tennis courts, basketball courts, pools, a golf course, a helicopter landing pad, several restaurants, and more.  When we entered, it was dead empty.  Jawad lied to the manager and said he was a military General, and the people believed him so we got a grand tour of the place.  It was somewhat entertaining.

Afterward we went and got bus tickets.  Jawad insisted I pay for his ticket as well, so I gave him money to get the tickets for the next day. By the time we got tickets, it was already around 1pm. We had to stop for 30 minutes or so because Jawad’s girlfriend had to fix her ripped shirt, so I took the opportunity to take some photos of the area. Once that was sorted, the driver took us back to our accommodation so we could eat lunch.  The food was excellent, and well prepared.  I wish I could eat more of it outside of Bangladesh.

Beautiful tea forests

Beautiful tea forests

By the time we finished lunch it was 3pm or so, and together we all walked to the tea factory, which was about 10 minutes away. The factory itself was fascinating – we walked the entire production line, and I took pictures. As we were leaving, all the people who picked the tea leaves were arriving. Surprisingly, they were all women, ranging from very young, like 10 years ago, up to quite old, probably 65 years or so. They were all carrying bags on their heads, and they queued up right in front of me, where a man brought out a big scale, and sat down next to it with a notebook.  Each woman then weighed their bag, then walked to the bin nearby and dumped the bag, and then left. Within the 15 minutes or so we were standing there, probably 50+ women were dumping their bags, as it was the end of the day, probably 5pm or so. I was told that they get paid around 65 taka (about $1) for 23kg of leaves, or approx. 3 taka per kilogram, and 1.5 taka per kilogram after 20kg (which doesn’t make sense, the more you pick the less you make?). It was quite moving to see this, as these women would pick an entire day and make maybe $2.

After the leaves are dumped, they run down the line and at the end get bagged into these massive tea bags, probably 50kg or so. I was told they are sold at auction for around 250 taka per kilogram, and this factory is the 3rd best tea in Bangladesh. The #1 and #2 best are sold for around 350 taka per kilogram, and bought almost entirely by foreign companies.

After viewing the factory, we headed back to the accommodation, relaxed for a bit, and then drove about 10 minutes away to a small village, where they produced rubber. The family that owns the tea factory has a total of 1,200 acres, with 350 acres of rubber trees and the rest being tea. I had never known how rubber was made, but have always wondered.  From what I understood, they cut the tree, drain the liquid from the train, put it into a big bin and mix some other things into it.  They then put crates in, almost like the wooden boxes that bee hives form in.  They let it sit a bit, then press the slabs through a machine, and then let the pieces hang dry.  I think this produces the most basic form of latex, as these white slabs were hanging all over the trees.

The village here had a Hindu temple, and the manager was a half Indian hindu. It was interesting to see, as 85%+ of the country are Muslim. While there, it got dark, and the group was just chatting (in Bengali so I didn’t understand anything).  I was constantly asking if Jawad or his girlfriend could translate for me, but neither really cared to. Some guy brought over some excellent tea for us, which I really enjoyed.  Around this time, many of the women who were picking tea were herded into a massive dirt truck almost like cattle or buffalo.  They were all starring a me.  After abot 5 minutes, the truck started and some man started shouting at the women. They were literally packed into the back of the truck like animals, and they were all women.  It was difficult to tell if this was slavery or not, but it was clearly a common thing. I expressed my concern to Jawad and he immediately said “no, they want to do this”.  He then started telling the others in the group how I suspected it was slavery.

What I drew from this experience was either that a) it is slavery, these women are forced to do it and it has been that way forever, or b) they aren’t “forced”, but because it is part of the culture, they are used to it.  There is no doubt in Bangladesh and many Islamic countries that women are at a severely lower social class, and this case was very very clear. It was sad to see – just another reminded of some of the crazy things religion makes people do.

Tea leaves drying about to be produced.

Tea leaves drying about to be produced.

After finishing our tea there, we drove back to our accommodation, and relaxed.  We ate dinner, played some board games, and called it a night.

I woke the next morning at 7:30am, packed, and waited for Jawad and his girlfriend to get ready. We had an excellent breakfast, and then we had to pay the bills. Because of the generosity of Mufrad, we only had to pay for food, which was definitely worth it.  The bill came out to something like $60, and Jawad insisted that I pay for 80% of it while him and his girlfriend pay a total of 20%.  After that, the driver took us to the bus stop about 20 minutes away, and we waited for the bus. As soon as I got out of the car I got swarmed by people begging for money.  Even when I sat down inside tons of people sat 3 feet away staring and asking for money.  You get used to it after awhile, but it seriously reminded me of animals in a forest – never feed a bear in the woods because they’ll always want more.  Same exact thing here.  I’d love to help them out, but if I do, every other white person that comes is now a target, and every person that didn’t receive help will beg for more. As a result, no one gets any help.  It’s the sad truth.

We got on the bus around 9:30am. The ride back to Dhaka was similar to the ride from Dhaka. We didn’t arrive back to Dhaka until near 4pm. Traffic was once again a stalemate for a lot of the way, and we were dead stopped for over 30 minutes due to a massive truck full of bananas that tipped over.  The roads are so narrow that people drive slanted in the gutters along the roads.  As in this case, the truck went too far into the gutter and just tipped.  I’m sure this is a common occurrence, and it is a wonder that no one makes an effort to widen the roads.  The result would be so much better for everyone. During the ride back home, at a checkpoint, the bus got stopped and some normal dressed guy came onto the bus.  He started opening the bins above our seats and just digging through them. He would firstly look at a person, and then dig. He dug into mine, then looked at me and I said it was mine and he immediately stopped.  It seemed quite clear they he would target certain individuals based on how they looked.  He didn’t find anything, and about 5 minutes got off and we went on our way. That has corruption written all over it.

Women weighing their tea leaves.

Women weighing their tea leaves.

After getting back, I dropped my bags at Jawad’s house with his family, and we went out and did a bit of souvenir shopping. On the way back we stopped for Fukshka (Bengali snack that I loved) one last time, which was excellent. Once back at Jawad’s, the maids prepared some excellent food which I thoroughly enjoyed and was very grateful for.

In the morning, I was about ready to leave when Jawad’s mom insisted that I eat. So they prepared one last quick Bengali meal, which was ever so delicious. Jawad then took a rickshaw with me to find a CNG, where he dropped me. It cost around $1 for them to take me to the airport 10 minutes away.  My flight was scheduled to leave at noon.  I arrived a bit early, so was just listening to music.  Around 11:50am or so I see a Malaysian Airline flight pull into the gate that I was sitting, so I ask around. They say the flight will be delayed. So I wait until 20 minutes or so, and they then announce that the flight won’t leave until 3pm.  I found it odd that they didn’t announce the delay until after the scheduled time, when surely they would have known it was delayed for many hours.

One interesting thing at the airport that I hadn’t seen before was a stray dog near the runway.  One of the guys directing planes into the gates was trying to chase it off.  I’d imagine in the west animals on the runway are strictly prohibited due to them possibly interfering with the flight takeoff/landing, but here I imagine it is quite common.

After the delay, I went to the gate where they said it would be, which was moved, and just sat and read for a couple hours. I arrived into Bangkok in the evening.

Observations/Notes

I wrote down lots of observations throughout the trip into my phone and scribbled on paper.  It is hard to fit them all into a report nicely, so I’ve just went through and listed them all here:

  • People are less caring for each other (outside of family). Families are close, but communities are apart, such as cutting people off everywhere, not caring for the poor, etc. We took a rickshaw for 10 minutes, and the guy wanted $0.20 instead of  $0.17, and Jawad argued over it. Not only this but car drivers and maids were treated like second class citizens.
  • There is a restaurant called “Subpoint” that looks just like Subway and sells sandwiches.
  • Upon entering the biggest mall in Dhaka, there were guys with big guns standing around. Found out it was the spouses of some 4-star generals from the US.
  • They know America as USA, which is different than say Thailand, where they know the USA as America.  If you say USA in parts of Thailand, people don’t know. Similarly, in Bangladesh many people didn’t know America, but they knew USA.
  • Lots of people called me boss, like the car driver. It was somewhat sad to see these guys think of themselves as a lower social class too.
  • I saw police office popping tires of rickshaw bikes because it was parked in a bad spot. These rickshaw guys are very poor, and the police take full control over them.
  • Buses often have no lights or blinkers, and even if they do, they don’t use them.
  • It is common for 2 guys to be holding hands – shows friendship. It definitely doesn’t show sexual desires as being homosexual is very against their religion.  With this said, I met several people during this trip who seemed very homosexual, but couldn’t be open due to religion.
  • A car driver (like the one that drove me around) makes 10,000 taka/month, which is about $100. Odd considering Jawad was charging me $35/day to ride with him.
  • Traffic is insane – it is difficult to describe by imagine LA with no lanes, on dirt roads with holes, and then added in people walking on roads, CNGs, richshaws, buses, and cars all mixed.
  •  Generally noticed that their is no thought of plans or time wasted. It is the opposite of the west, and especially me, where I try to plan everything out to get the most out of my time.
  • The car driver takes a few taka on gas bill – says it cost 450 taka when it is atually 420.  Not a big deal, but annoying that they aren’t honest.
  •  Fukshka is a delicious snack – it is a Bangali appetizer – beans inside of a small round taco shell. Covered in a lime juice.
  • Just after I left was Eid, where people slaughter animals to sacrifice a “valuable” possession. The day I left they were setting up all the cages for the animals.
  • Chatpai’s are also delicious, especially with a fried egg and vegatables. So is:
  • Paratha (parata) – crepe like thing for breakfast. Can dip in tea or eat with potatos and meat – delicious.
  • Lots of women had a nose piercing, such as Jawad’s mom – marriage? religion?
  • Jawad said a Prada car costs $187,000 in Dhaka due to import tax. True?
  • The maids and drivers like second class people – give orders, yell, treat like shit. They weren’t treated as equal human beings, and that bothered me.  Never forget we’re all the same, some are less more aware than others. It doesn’t make one better than another, and you can’t control where you’re born.
  • Jawad and his girlfriend would eat food and then take stomach pills as precaution in case it was bad.  Not sure if this was common, but it was kind of funny.
  • I would you say hello or nod to acknowledge people like maids or drivers or rickshaws, but they aren’t used to being treated as regular class people so it was awkward.
  • I saw people welding in bare feet and no glasses – somewhat common in SEA.
  • This trip made me more aware that humans like just animals. It’s like the sin of giving – would offer money or food but then would get surrounded, and they would expect it from every foreigner. Similar to feeding a wild bear food.
  • Because of money being stolen and needing to unexpectedly stay in a hotel and support Jawad and his girlfriend, I spent more in 2 weeks than what people there make in 2 years. Mind blowing.
  • People live like humans did 1,000 years ago, but with cars, phones, and machines. It is a wild combination.
  • Petrol queues are huge, like 30-40 minute wait is normal. Some sell gas like in the US, others sell CNG, which is much cheaper (compressed natural gas).  Makes me wonder why more cars in the US don’t run on CNG.
  • As much as I read and thought I knew what to expect, the trip was vastly different.  Makes me more aware that most things you don’t realize until you experience them.

If you want to learn more about Bangladesh, there are many other good reports. I found Joel’s blog great, with good observations and pictures:

http://joeliscurious.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/welcome-to-bangladesh/

The trip overall was a big lesson, and a big eye opener.  To start, the whole situation with Jawad was unexpected. While I wanted to help Jawad for helping me, he seemed to be taking advantage of me – charging me for me way more petrol than I used, having me pay for him and his girlfriends food and train tickets, taking money from the car rental, etc. They were subtle, but obvious things when I thought about it.  I wish he would have been more honest. It was a mind fuck because his friends and family were so generous, but he seemed to almost constantly be trying to get more money from me. There a few main events, all unexpected that shaped the trip:
– was planning to stay with his family as his suggested, but got put into a hotel for 10 days instead.
– wasn’t planning on having money stolen from the ATM on the first day, nor having to support him and his girlfriend.
– The protests happened at a bad time, which forced me to spend most of the trip in Dhaka, and had to waste a couple days in the hotel, which I very much dislike.  Luckily I was able to be quite productive on the work side of things.

Would I go back? Absolutely, like most places I’ve been I’d love to explore more. I didn’t even scratch the service with Bangladesh, and I can’t imagine how beautiful of a country it is from a landscape perspective.  I would like to spend more time with the people and understand them more, as hanging out with Jawad I think gave a very biased view – he was western educated, living with a wealthier family, and with his girlfriend, and funnelling money from me.

The trip was well worth it.  While it wasn’t the most enjoyable or comfortable at the time, most of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far in life have come out of the situations like these.  I was in enlightened in so many ways during this trip, and I’m a better person because I went. I would highly recommend going, but definitely be ready for some roadbumps, be prepared to push your comfort, and study the country a lot ahead of time. If you do a tour it will be far easier than creating the track yourself, but with the tour you miss out a lot on the true pieces of the country.

Thanks to Jawad’s parents, brothers, maids, drivers, and friends for making a great impression of the people and for their generosity.

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Nov 30th, 2014 | Filed under Adventures

6 Things I Learned from 2 Years in Asia

thailand-doi-life

This month, on October 24th, marks 2 years since I arrived into Asia for the first time. My initial plan was to buy a 1-way flight to Bangkok, stay for a couple months, and if I liked it, stay for a year or so and travel the area, and if I didn’t, travel to another city in the area and try the same. Like many people, plans changed and I ended up staying longer than a year.

It is fascinating looking back seeing how perspectives change. I remember arriving day 1 very well, and the following weeks, with my certain expectations, lack of awareness and understanding, and a vision of the future. My perspective today is completely different than it was then. It doesn’t mean that it went from good to bad, or bad to good, it is just that I’ve been able to further understand the world, especially Thailand, and as a result things that originally felt really out of place now seem normal.

My time in Asia has drastically shaped how I view the world. You have huge extremes on every level, whether it is the mega-malls in Bangkok where you can buy a Lamborghini on the top floor, to the very poor and underdeveloped areas of much of the surrounding areas and countries. I’ve always been someone who doesn’t really mind what someone thinks, but more why they think it. I don’t mind that someone is Buddhist, or Hindu, or Christian, or Muslim, but what is the reason? What led them to those beliefs and why? Because of how many things I see that are unique from the West in Asia almost on a daily basis, I’ve been constantly asking the why for the last 2 years.  It has led to some of the most enlightening thoughts and conversations in my life.  Some things are amazing and fascinating, others are disgusting and vile, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is how it is.

The last 2 years have also taught me that it is difficult to understand without experience. I recently got back from Bangladesh and as much as I’d love to describe in great detail how it was (which I will try in an upcoming post), I don’t think it is possible.  My friend Mark recently was in India and posted on Facebook about his experience, and what he posted I think can represent much of the world that is ever so different than what we’re used to:

India is without a doubt the most interesting, fascinating, crazy, beautiful, disgusting, dirtiest, gem buried in a pile of trash, ever! It has been the biggest positive surprise for me on this whole trip and maybe in my life. It is a land of ultimate extremes! I didn’t think I would like the chaos of it before we came and at first, I didn’t. But we started it off in the beautiful,small villages in the Himalayas and surrounded ourselves with some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. When we went back to the major cities, in particular Varanasi on the Ganges River, I began to see so much life and color and beauty hidden underneath the uncontrolled filth that comes with a country of 1 billion people mostly in poverty. You can literally close your eyes, point your camera in any direction and take the most unique and interesting photo you’ve ever seen. I don’t know how many times we said “you don’t see that every day”. Farm animals walking through every city street, shitting everywhere alongside people doing the same. People spitting tobacco, pissing in the streets, sleeping on the sidewalks. And many of the people can be some of the most vile, disgusting, shameless people ever with so much kindness, love, life, and beauty shining through it all. We watched the most amazing local concert of sitar, tabla and sarangi in a hole in the wall down a random alley and then just down the Ganges watched bodies being cremated and dumped into the river next to people and animals bathing. It is impossible to understand it until you see it and you could spend a lifetime exploring this country with only scratching the surface.

I haven’t been to India yet, but I think if you replace the city names with others, that description could definitely describe my trip to Bangladesh recently. I’d imagine lots of the undeveloped world could be described that way from a western perspective, because we share this planet yet we live such vastly different lives.

thailand-life

The reason I came to Bangkok originally wasn’t to setup such a life here, but was more to travel. Bangkok is centrally located in Southeast Asia, and from it you can easily access the rest of Asia, especially Southeast Asia. I wanted to explore this area of the world, hence why I chose Bangkok. At the same time, I wanted to have a place I could call home. While I could just constantly travel and explore, I’ve found that it becomes overwhelming and you lose many of the benefits of travel because you can’t properly reflect on what you see and do. It also means that you don’t get the chance to somewhat understand a single place. As I’ve written about in the past, it takes 2-3 months for me to overcome a culture shock, and then many more months to get comfortable in a culture. With constant travel you never get passed that, so as a result you only get the skim the surface. I know that you have to pick and choose what you skim and what you live, so I decided to spend 1 month traveling every 3 months or so, which I’ve consistently done for the past 2 years. This has enabled me to have a proper home in Bangkok, with all the amazing food I could want, massages, beauty, diversity, and people. And at the same time, has allowed me to explore much of Southeast Asia, where I’ve spent a few weeks in almost every country in the area.

What’s the future hold? I find myself very comfortable in this area of the world. If I was to write down the things that I want in life right now, Bangkok has almost all of it (aside from my family). With that said, it is easy to get comfortable and stop exploring.  I learned this when I lived in England, and told myself that whenever I get real comfortable, as great as it is, it is a sign I need to change.  The change isn’t to dirupt something great, it is change to push myself to keep exploring. In a couple months I will head back to the US for Christmas and spend a couple months with my family, which I’m really looking forward to. Early next year I will backpack some of central America and/or South America. I may move somewhere in South America, but not sure yet. In May I have a flight scheduled back to Asia, which I may or may not cancel. It is tough to predict what will happen by then, and only time will tell.  I’m excited.

Aside from the countless life lessons that you get from growing up, and then all the ones I learned on the side living in a foreign place and traveling places, below I’ve tried my best to write down some of the lessons or things I’ve realized since moving to Asia.

1. People are just animals

It sounds odd to some people if I say that, but it is true. In the West it is easy to think that humans are these superior beings that are completely different than animals we see every day.  But as you get out of the West and see what the rest of the world is like, you begin to realize that humans are just animals.

2. People are very different

It’s easy to say we are all just humans. And we are at a very flat level. But with that said, humans can be very very different from each other. I heard an analogy the other day: when you think of a plane and a paperclip, you would classify them as a plane and as a paperclip, not as “both are just metal”. If you compare two books, A and B, people generally will classify them as books, not as “writing about X” or a “poem about Y”. Humans are the same, we seem to classify everyone as a human, but they can be vastly different, like a plane and a paperclip.

3. Seek out people with different beliefs

It’s easy to surround yourself by people who think like you, because it is comfortable and the people relate to you. But it creates a massive confirmation bias. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a Christian or Muslim say “but the people around me all believe the same, it must be true”.  Think about how strong of a bias a church is? If you want to understand the world, surround yourself by different beliefs, you’ll learn a lot as long as you go in with an open mind.

4. The value of money

Money to me is an external thing, man-made and not something “natural” – this is why I think money should never play a role in a relationship – love is internal, money isn’t. Today people sacrifice their lives for money, all over the world.  In Thailand alone I’ve seen countless woman give up everything in their lives to marry a rich man, even if he is twice her age.  The value of money is so strong that she will sacrifrice everything for it. In the West you see countless people work for half of their conscious life just to make money which supports some artificial lifestyle that society has pressed on them. At the same time, you see people living on a $1/day perfectly happy, enjoying every day with their family and friends. The last 2 years have showed me that money shouldn’t really dictate anything in your life.

5. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind

2 of the things I’ve learned have been better stated by someone else, so I will borrow them from BrainPickings, an excellent blog of observation and thought. “We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.”

6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity

(also from BrainPickings) “Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.””

I could go on and on about more, but I’ll leave my thoughts at that.

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Oct 29th, 2014 | Filed under Adventures, Thailand

Being Indispensible & Bad Science

Reading comic

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and recently finished 2 books, which I want to write a quick review about here.  We’re in the age of information, where abundant amounts of information is available. It is crazy, and constantly fascinates me, how much you can learn from a book in a few hours that took someone or a group of people a lifetime to learn. Reading a simple book makes you so much more aware of the realities of the world, and a lot of it is mind blowing.

Bad Science (Amazon)

The first one is Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre.  From 2008, it “criticizes mainstream media reporting on health and science issues.” While the idea of the book is good in that it exposes reality and dismisses the sugar-coated bullshit in the health and science world, the book was a bit redundant in its critizism.  Chapter after chapter seemed to be pointing out specific people and experiments, without looking at the underlying ideas. There are countless examples in the world, and I think the book went overboard with examples.  However, I did like the chapters on the placebo, Why Clever People Believe Stupid Things, and bad stats, all of which intrigued me. I was quite familiar with the topics in the book before I read it, and it didn’t enlightened much, but I think for people curious about the health and science world who aren’t familiar with the shady reality, it is definitely worth the read.

Comic about wisdom and knowledge

Linchpin (Amazon)

The second book is Linchpin, by Seth Godin.  I’ve known of Seth Godin for many years and have enjoyed a lot of his writings online and speeches, but never actually read a book of his until this. It is excellent, and I will definitely read more of his stuff in the future. The book seems to be targeted at companies looking to grow and at employees looking to create stability, but this is a good read for anyone, and I’d highly recommend it.

It talks about people shifting from the “factory worker”, someone who goes to work following more or less a set of instructions, to someone who is indispensable and creative (a creator of “art”, as defined in the book – see below). He calls this person a linchpin. He suggests that anyone can be a linchpin, and it is more about recognizing and utilizing your creative side as opposed to simply following instructions.  He brings up some good points in that following specific instructions started after the industrial revolution when companies wanted to create factories which employed people who simply followed instructions, where cheap to hire, and easily replaceable or depensible. This way of life has carried all of the way to today. Today, however, jobs like this aren’t safe anymore and are disappearing.  Work is either being taken over by computers and machines, or outsourced to someone cheaper. He recommends becoming a linchpin. It is an excellent book and would recommend it to anyone – the audiobook is read by Seth himself and very enjoyable to listen to. Every segment of the book is very interesting, and format of many short segments makes it an easy, yet though-provoking read.

“Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.

What makes someone an artist? I don’t think is has anything to do with a paintbrush. There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions. These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artists who works with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.

An artists is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artists takes it personally.

That’s why Bob Dylan is an artist, but an anonymous corporate hack who dreams up Pop 40 hits on the other side of the glass is merely a marketer. That’s why Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, is an artists, while a boiler room of telemarketers is simply a scam.

Tom Peters, corporate gadfly and writer, is an artists, even though his readers are businesspeople. He’s an artists because he takes a stand, he takes the work personally, and he doesn’t care if someone disagrees. His art is part of him, and he feels compelled to share it with you because it’s important, not because he expects you to pay him for it.

Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.

Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”
– Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Currently I’m reading “The Art of Thinking Clearly”, and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” which so far are excellent.

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Sep 30th, 2014 | Filed under Other

A small part, in 3 weeks – the Philippines

Sunset in Siquijor, Philippines - December, 2013

Sunset in Siquijor, Philippines – December, 2013

As I began writing this, I was in a hotel in Bacolod, Philippines. However, this report has turned out not only to the one of my longest (7000 words), but also the most delayed – it has been over 8 months since the trip! There are a number of reasons for this, but nonetheless I’ve finished! One of the reasons I write reports is for me to a) reflect on the trip, b) record what I remember to look back on. I normally start writing during the trip and finish within 30 days of arriving home in order to write when memories are vivid.  Sadly I failed on this one. Luckily I had outlined in detail the trip throughout, and with the guidance of that and my pictures, I’ve been able to recall it quite clearly.

This trip report is on my trip to the Philippines from November 21 – December 11, 2013.

I flew out of Bangkok (BKK) on Thursday at 9am to Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. The night before I left, I stayed up quite late after a night out, so with 3-4 hours of sleep, I got up at 5am to finish packing, and was off to the airport by 6:00am. I arrived into Manila a few hours later, and taxi’ed to the hostel. I had booked a hostel for the first night, and planned to couchsurf the other night or two in Manila. I had a great conversation with the taxi driver about the recent typhoon that hit the mid-eastern part of the Philippines.  When I arrived at the hostel, the meter showed 274 pesos, so I gave him 300 (normal to tip).

The hostel was located by A Venue Mall off Makati Avenue (the business district). Decent area of town. After arriving, I unpacked, and in the room met a Columbian girl. She seemed friendly enough. We grabbed some food – I had the classic sisig. I then went home and napped for a few hours. When I woke, I got online a bit, and noticed a fellow, Zig, who offered to host me wanted to get together for dinner. So the Columbian, me, and Zig went and grabbed dinner. Later in the evening we met up with some of her friends at a bar/restaurant. Zig and I decided to leave after realizing all her friends were prostitutes, and perhaps herself. The next day I woke early, planned out the upcoming trip, checked out, and then grabbed lunch with another couchsurfer, Mike. He was a friendly Filipino who runs a food blog. He bought us a nice buffet lunch near A Venue Mall. A few hours later I metup with my friend Ayan at Wingman, who I had met in Vietnam in March and again in Bangkok (he lives in Manila). We had a few drinks, and then metup with Zig for dinner, who I’d be couchsurfing with. Dinner was excellent. Afterward, we walked for 20 minutes back to my hostel to grab my bags, and then grabbed a couple more drinks while watching some live music near A Venue Mall. We called it an early night.

 

Quiapo Church - Manila

Quiapo Church – Manila

I headed to Zig’s flat, which was located about 15 minutes by taxi away.  It was in the corner of the business district near “the Fort” area of Manila, which is the newer, more clean area of Manila.  I only planned to stay a night or two, but ended up staying 3 nights.  Zig was an excellent host, and because of him I was able to see much more of the city and nearby.  We explored the fort more, Chinatown, and old church (Quiapo Church).  We spent one day to travel to a waterfall about an hour out of Manila (Daranak Falls in Tanay Rizal).  While exploring Manila, Zig was telling me the horror stories of the city – such as the jeepneys (extended jeeps used all over the Philippines as public transfer) being held up at gunpoint, pickpockets everywhere, etc. I wasn’t too concerned until I realized I was the only white person in most of these places (which makes you a target), and the fact that Manila has one of the highest crime rates in southeast Asia.  When we got into the metro train in the evening, Zig warned me to watch my pockets, and when we need to get out, we would have to shove.  Sure enough, as soon as our stop came, we tried getting out, but as soon as the doors opened to let people out, everyone from the outside tried pushing in without letting anyone out.  No idea of the logic, it baffles me to this day.  However, we had to really drop our arms and power out.  It was quite difficult.  While we’re doing this, people are trying to pickpocket me, and I almost lost my sandal that someone was stepping on.  Once finally out, I look back and see one of the security guards also trying to push people in.  It makes no sense, and it was shocking how many people were doing such a mindless thing.

The trip to the waterfall was very neat.  Beautiful blue water, nice spots to jump in, and a beautiful day.  Coincidentally, in the morning was the Paquio (who is from the Philippines) boxing match, and I saw signs for it all over Manila.  We spent several hours at the waterfall, and with transit, it took the entire day.  While at the waterfall, I had a couple different people wanting to take a picture with me, almost as if they had never seen a white man in person.  I gladly allowed them to, but I found it is a bit funny.  The waterfall was quite out there – we had to switch to all kinds of homemade motorcyles and crammed vans to get there.  I saw guys holding chickens on the side of the road, and people farming with cows.  It was the classic image of rural Philippines.

Daranak Falls in Tanay Rizal

Daranak Falls in Tanay Rizal

The next morning I woke early, and caught a taxi to the bus terminal.  Taxis in Manila have a reputation for not only being some of the worst in world, but also quite dangerous.  I heard lots of horror stories of drivers putting chemicals into the AC to make the passenger pass out, and then they rob them or rape them.  I was a bit sketched out, but all ended up fine at the end.  It took quite awhile to catch a taxi, but once in, it only took about 15 minutes to get to the bus station.  Once there, I caught a bus up north to Bagio City.

I arrived near sundown with no idea where to stay.  About 5 minutes before arriving, I asked the guy next to me if he lived there and could recommend anything. Sure enough, he offered to help.  He said to follow him, but first I went to the information booth nearby and asked.  The guy followed me and started negotiation with the information guy about what rate he should try to get and how much commission he should get.  It was frustrating because I was hoping the guy next to me was legitimate, but unfortunately he was into me for the money (which is common all over southeast Asia). I didn’t want to spend much time looking, so the guy walked me 10 minutes away to a place, and I ended up paying 500 pesos for 1 night in a tiny little bedroom of a guesthouse.  After dropping my stuff off, I went and grabbed some dinner nearby, and headed back to the house to relax.

In the morning I woke early, taxied across town to a buddhist temple I wanted to see, but unfortunately it was closed.  I ate breakfast at the place next door, which was called AB Kitchen.  After that I explored that part of town for a couple hours.  Bagio City is interesting – apparently it has developed very quickly in the last few years.  There is something like 250,000 university students in the city alone.  It is built all over the mountains, and many buildings are tight together on steep slopes.  It was fascinating to me.  There wasn’t too much to see in the city though, and I wanted to spend a bit more time in the further north, so I walked to the bus station and bought a bus north to Sagada.  I had to wait about 1 hour for the bus, but once on it was about 7 hours north to Sagada.

Houses covering the hillside in Bagio City

Houses covering the hillside in Bagio City

While waiting, I met an American guy (who was with his Filipina girlfriend).  He was the first foreigner I had seen in many days.  He was quite friendly.  The bus we got on was pretty raged and haggard.  No AC, very crammed and old, but it honestly wasn’t really uncomfortable.  The ride itself was spectacular.  We would drive on very narrow roads but the views overlooking the mountains and villages was incredible.  I sat next to an older Italian guy and had lots of great conversations.  He had lived in Burma for 5 years, and traveled all over southeast Asia.  The American guy was the director of a cruise ship and had traveled extensively over the last 20 years.  I really couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of people to share the bus ride with.  The Italian man got off at the town near Sagada and was planning on spending a night there before going to Sagada.

Rice terraces on the drive to Sagada

Rice terraces on the drive to Sagada

Many younger school students got on the bus where he got off and rode the bus for 20 minutes or so to another town.  The rest of us arrived into Sagada toward the evening, and we went searching for some decent accommodation. The town was quite empty since it was low season.  I ended up picking a place pretty quick, and the woman running the place greeted me with some tea.  In the evening, the American guy, his girlfriend, and I metup for some drinks.

I woke the next day somewhat early.  The place I was staying was empty, so I pulled out a map and decided to hike around myself.  I first went to the big cave down the road.  I didn’t see any other tourists the entire time, and the jungle was very quiet for the middle of the day.  At the entrance of the cave lies many coffins with mummified people in them.  It was a bit odd, but interesting nonetheless. After maybe 20 minutes there, I hiked back toward my accommodation, passed through the town, and decided to hike the nearby echo valley by myself.  Most people hire a guide, but after doing a bit of reading I found that I could do it myself.  I spent most of the day out and about, hiking through the thick trees, getting lost a few times, seeing the infamous hanging coffins, and getting myself quite muddy.  I entered in on one side of town, and exited on the far other side of town.  It was only a 15 minute walk back though along the main road.

The classic Hanging Coffins of Sagada

The classic Hanging Coffins of Sagada

In the evening, I met the American guy again for some drinks, and also met an older (probably 70+) Canadian guy who has been traveling the world for the last 50 years.  He joined us for some drinks, and a bit later the American guy and his girlfriend headed out for dinner.  The older man and I stayed and talked for at least another hour, having a fair number of drinks.  The older man drank 3 750mL bottles of beer that were 7%+, called Red Horse.  It was quite surprising, and needless to say I helped him in the dark up to his accommodation.  He had some great stories, and his wife is Burmese, where he also owns some land.  Meeting someone like that not only inspires me, but also is someone who I can learn so much from.  It was great to meet him.

This guy has been traveling the world for 50 years. Lived in Myanmar and Thailand in the 1970's.

This guy has been traveling the world for 50 years. Lived in Myanmar and Thailand in the 1970’s.

Like in most Asian tourist cities, you can tell the locals don’t particularly like foreigners. They accept them since they give them money, but otherwise, they wish they weren’t there.  It is somewhat understandable considering the shear number of foreigners that visit some of these places each year, but what I think is really happening is a bit cultural disconnect.  The locals don’t quite understand why and how foreigners travel there.  Many of the people traveling through are friendly, young, mostly broke people.  Yet the locals often try to suck their wallets as much as they can.  I especially noticed the negatives perspectives in Sagada.  With that said, I still had a great time, and didn’t let it bother me.

The next day I caught a jeepney to Bontoc, which took about 30 minutes.  From there, I switched to a truck with benches in the back, and took that from that Bontoc over to Banuae.  I arrived into Banaue in the mid afternoon.  The truck I was in had about 10 people – 9 Filipinos and me.  As the truck was driving into the town of Banaue, a woman along the side of the road yells to tell the driver to stop.  The driver then gets out, comes around to the back, and tells me to get out here because I have to pay an “environmental fee”.  I got out, and the truck and the rest of the people carried on.  Come to find out they charge anyone with white skin a small fee of approximately $2.  It frustrates me racism is so widely accepted here, but it is the nature of the area.  Aside from that bit, Banaue was an excellent experience.

There were lots of nice accommodation in the small town, all with great views of the river and valley, all reasonably priced with great food, and all the people I met in the town were friendly.  They even had working wifi, which was surprising since the previous week wifi was rarely found.  For the rest of the evening I ate some great Filipino food, caught up with some business online, explored the town, and met a few other fellow backpackers.  I stayed at a place called the Halfway House – funny name, but very nice and clean place.

View into Batad - the infamous rice terraces

View into Batad – the infamous rice terraces

The next day I decided to wake early to do the tour of Batad, a nearby village known for its rice terraces. I went by myself, but met 4-5 other Europeans and 1 older American guy along the way.  It took about 45 minutes sitting in the back of a truck in a foggy morning to get there, then another hour or so hike in, but it was quite easy and relaxing.  I did it in a tshirt, shorts, and sandals, and it was fine.  Upon arriving in Batad after the hike, we ordered food (which would be ready in an hour), then hiked another 20 minutes to the infamous waterfall.  Once there, I went swimming a bit while other relaxed overlooking the waterfall.  As I was hiking back to where the others were, a girl from our group slipped on a rock and gashed her head.  It was pretty much the worst place to fall since we had a long walk back, but luckily she was okay aside from a bloody head.  A bit scary indeed.

After spending maybe 20 minutes there, we hiked back to the restaurant (probably the only restaurant in Batad) and ate, while overlooking the massive rice terraces.  Batad is maybe 20 houses, and I’m guessing less than 50 people live there.  They probably spend most of their days working the terraces.  Tourism has probably brought them quite a bit of extra income.  Interesting place. 2 of the girls (both from Holland who were doing some volunteer work in the Philippines) stayed in Batad for the night, while the rest of us hiked back.  On the hike back, we saw a group of drunken men carrying a pig in a blanket wrapped on a stick of bamboo.  Apparently someone was having a wedding the next day in Batad so they were bringing down the feast.  Friendly guys.

We got back to Banaue in the late afternoon, and I browsed the web for a bit, and then explored the city.  One of the guys on the hike to Batad happened to be from California, but owned some land in Crested Butte in Colorado.  He was a world class mountain biker.  In the evening him and I went out for dinner before calling it a night.

One of the many mudslides in the area near Banaue. This one took out the road.

One of the many mudslides in the area near Banaue. This one took out the road.

The next day was spent mostly relaxing and taking in all the great good and scenery.  I did explore more of the town, including a mudslide that wiped out half of the road (mudslides are very common in this area), and walking across one of the sketchiest bridges of my life.  In the evening I bought a bus ticket from Banaue down to Manilla (450 pesos). In the same bus were the two girls from Holland, who were also heading to Manilla, to then fly south to finish up their volunteering.  So when we arrived into a bus station in Manilla, we shared a cab to the airport.  We arrived into the airport in the early morning, just as the sun was rising.  Unfortunately, the earliest flight I could get south to Negros was in the evening, so that left me an entire day at the airport.  I had booked the flight the night before, since I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go next (I got recommendations from about 20 different people and everyone said something different).  One of the advantages of being at the airport all day was the ability to relax somewhere with a stable internet connection.  For the previous 10 days, the internet was sparse and where it did work it was very slow.

In the evening I caught a flight to Bacolod.  I chose Bacolod because it was in the northern part of Negros, seemed off the beaten path (to get true culture), and there was an active volcano I wanted to hike on Negros.  Negros was formally one of the wealthiest parts of the Philippines from its sugar canes, but during the wars it was obliterated. Nevertheless, today it is a beautiful place with lots of trees, montains, villages, and stunning views on it beaches.  The southern part of it, specifically Dumaguete City, is well traveled and quite touristy, but still quite beautiful.

Chicken Inasal in Bacolod, Negros

Chicken Inasal in Bacolod, Negros

I arrived into Bacolod at night, crammed into a shuttle (literally squeezed into a small van) for a 30 minute ride into town.  I had no idea where I was going to stay, so I asked around.  In the same shuttle I met two very friendly Filipinos from Manila who both recommended a hotel, the same one they were staying it.  So I got out of the shuttle with them, and we checked in together.  They used their business cards to give me a business discount, and it was very helpful.  They got the price reduced from 850 pesos to 680.  After checking in, I grabbed a quick bite to eat, and headed up to the room to sleep, as I had began feeling a bit sick.

I woke around 9am the next morning and spent most of the day walking around the city.  The 2 main places I wanted to visit in Bacolod were Manokan Country, and the “superintendent office”.  Manokan Country was a series of small restaurants which served Chicken Inasal. Everything I read about Bacolod recommended it.  So after waking up and visiting the tourist information center (Bacolod doesn’t get many tourists from what I saw), I walked to Manokan Country and had brunch there.  Inasal is basically marinated chicken legs, breasts, wings, etc.  It was quite delicious, and I ended up eating there several times while in Bacolod. After checking that out, I walked well off my map to find the superintendent office.  At the office I wanted to get a permit to hike Mt. Kantlaon.  However, after spending hours walking and asking everyone I could, I couldn’t find it. By the time the sun went down, I decided to take it easy and relax near the hotel.  I bought some pizza to go (from Jolibee, which is everywhere in the Philippines), and watch a bit of TV (I rarely stay in hotels so it was a luxury).  My plan since I couldn’t get a permit was to go to the mountain itself and try to bribe someone to let me hike it.

The next day my plan was to get to La Carlota, then from there go to Guintubdan, which supposed to have some bungalows that I could stay in near the volcano. So in the morning I walked out the hotel, and got into a jeepney which would take me to the bus station in Bacolod.  It took about 20 minutes to get there, and when I got out, I didn’t see any busses.  So I asked around of how I could get to La Carlota, and a few people directed me.  I ended up getting onto a bus that was jammed packed.  Like 2 people to every seat, plus people standing in the isles.  I also had my backpack on my lap, so it was a tight fit.  For the next hour or so I sat like this until I arrived into La Carlota.  I had to ask people which stop to get off at since they didn’t announce stops and people just get on and off a random times.  The reason the bus took an hour to get there was because literally every 500 meters someone would want to get on or off.  It is the classic southeast Asian way from what I’ve seen.

Similar jeepney used to get to the mountain.

Similar jeepney used to get to the mountain.

After getting off in La Carlota, I asked around of how I could get to Guintubdan, which was another hour into the jungle on the mountain.  They said only 2 jeepneys go there each day, and the next one would be in an hour – I got very lucky.  So I strolled through the markets there for the next hour until the jeepney filled up and took me up to Guintubdan.  As we were heading up, people were getting in and out of the jeepney.  By the time we got to the end of the road and I got out, I was one of the last ones in the jeepney.  The jeepney drops me off, I paid my fare, and they left.  At this point I’m in the middle of the jungle by myself.  I walked down the road  a bit and saw a group of people, and ask them how I can climb the mountain.  Basically a family runs the entire mountain, and manages everything from camping, guides, permits, etc.  I told them I tried to get a permit and couldn’t, and one of the guys told me to follow him.  So I end up following him into his house, and he introduces me to his family, none who spoke really any English aside from his son.  He ends up telling his son to take me to a nearby house (his uncle I think), and we talk about the permit.  The son tells me that he will guide me on the hike the next day.  I then ask him about food/camping, he tells shows me a small little shop that has basic food/snacks.  I end up buying stuff for a small dinner tonight, as well as stuff for hiking the next day.  After arranging that, he invites me back to his house and they welcome me to stay and eat dinner with them.  It was very kind of them and the food was excellent.  I also got to see their cock-fighting farm, and pig farm, both which were interesting to say the least.  After dinner, I rented a tent from another family member, and then we set it up in the dark.  He headed home and I laid now to relax.  The plan was to be up at 4am to start hiking in the morning.

I slept around 7-8 hours, and was up and ready at 4am. The son brought his friend who worked at the house with him along for the hike. The first few hours we moved quite quickly in the dark.  The trail was a bit moist/muddy, and the vines/trees virtually took over the trail. I asked the guide how many times he had done the hike and he said only a couple, but nonetheless he knew his way and I trusted him. We stopped to take breaks many along the way, which I spent mostly taking pictures.  When the sun started to come up I looked down at my legs (I was wearing shorts) and noticed I had leeches all over.  He helped pick them off me and we kept going.  While the first part of the hike was quite tiring, the second half became quite easy since both guides appeared to be terribly out of shape.  They kept telling me that we had to rush so we could get a view before the clouds came in, yet they took breaks every 10 minutes. When we got high enough where we could see the top and the clouds, I started moving up the mountain quicker.  The sun was fully up, the trail was dry and well marked, and I wanted to get a view before the clouds. They both kept taking breaks, but I just pushed ahead.  Once to the top, I took in the view and waited while they came.  About 15 minutes later as they came up, the clouds took over the mountain.  Literally within 15 minutes it went from a mostly blue sky to maybe 20 feet of visibility from the clouds.  The guide said that we could hike up further to the very top, but it would be dangerous (10 years ago someone fell from the top and killed themselves). So we decided to go into the shade in the trees, eat lunch, and see if the clouds would past. They came and gone every 5 minutes, so we decided not to go to the very top and just head back down.  There was a natural spring at the top where we could fill up our water bottles, which was very tasty and fresh.

The crater atop Mt. Kantlaon. Not as impressive as expected.

The crater atop Mt. Kantlaon. Not as impressive as expected.

The hike back down was relatively easy and it luckily didn’t rain on us.  Like most long hikes, the way down always feels much longer, but it ended up only taking us about 4 hours to get down. Once down, the guide asked if I wanted to jump into the spring, and I said of course.  So I went to the room nearby to change, and while changing looked up to see the biggest spider I’ve ever seen just above my head in a web. Quite a shocking sight, but it didn’t bother me. After putting on my shorts, and jumped into the crystal clear pond where the natural spring poured into.  It was ice cold, but very clean and pure (you could drink it).  It was a refreshing break from the long, sweaty hike.

Immediately when I got out of the water (still in a towel), the guide decided that it was a good idea to get my permit sorted and pay for everything.  So here I am, walking around this village wearing nothing but a towel, carrying my shorts and wallet.  We ended up walking around for 10 minutes, which was annoying because I just wanted to change before dealing with this stuff. When we found his uncle, I was about to pay when he said that I needed to pay another $30 or so “park fee”.  It was clearly a way to just suck money out of me, as he didn’t mention this in the cost beforehand.  I argued it a bit, but didn’t want to get on bad terms since the guide was very friendly.  It left me with a very sour taste of this family after such an awesome time with them. In hindsight, the hike ended up costing around $100, and it was a requirement to hire the guide, which was a waste really. Nonetheless after paying, I headed back to my tent, and went down to the small shop to get some snacks for dinner. On the way back to my tent it started pouring rain, so I got a bit wet, as did my dinner, but what could I have done. After 30 minutes the rain stopped and I was able to watch the sunset from my camping area.  It was quite relaxing being so far away from home, alone, watching the beauty of nature before me. At nighttime I relaxed in the tent and listened to some audiobooks and called it an early night. One of the unique experiences I had in that tent was that about 3 hours after going to sleep, I woke to the sound of something moving around outside the tent. There was a light that lit up the area about 50 meters away so it wasn’t completely dark outside. I saw the silhouette of a large cat moving around, likely a leopard, which do live on the mountain.  I shouted a bit and hit the wall of the tent and it moved away. There are also Tarisier’s living on the mountain, but unfortunately I didn’t get to see any.

The road next to where my tent was in the jungle

The road next to where my tent was in the jungle

I woke around 6am, packed up the tent and returned it, and walked down to the small shop that sells basic snacks.  The jeepney would stop there on the way back to La Carlota. I waited about 30 minutes, and when the jeepney came, it was nearly full, so I went onto the roof (which is common).  Over the course of the next 45 minutes, another 20 (at least) young teenagers found their way on the jeepney to school.  Apparently this is the only jeepney that runs in the morning, and there is 1 in the afternoon, so as a result they get very full.  There were literally people hanging off every part of the jeepney. We passed 2 different schools, and children gradually got off.  By the time we got to La Carlota, there were maybe 4 people left inside.  I hopped off there, payed my fare, and asked where to get a bus down south to Dumaguete.  The man said to walk to the main rode and wait at the bus stop, which is what I did.

I waited around 30 minutes, and the bus arrived, I confirmed it was going to Dumaguete, and then got on.  It didn’t have AC, but all the windows were rolled down.  All was fine on the main road, but about 20 minutes in we started weaving through villages on dirt roads and the bus quickly filled with dust.  The locals didn’t mind because they were used to it, but it was at times difficult to breath. After about an hour of that, we were on paved roads and it was quite comfortable.  The entire ride to Dumaguete took about 4 hours, and the last hour had spectacular views of the jungle and water front.  I remember toward the end of the trip, a group of armed police came onto the bus.  I asked one of them if I could take a picture, and he politely said no.  We started talking and apparently there was an “emergency” at the next town, so they hopped on the bus going that direction.  I found it a bit funny that the police used public transport to go to the next city when there was an issue.  There were probably 10 people, all holding large automatic guns, it was a sight to see.

Rest stop on the way south to Dumaguete, Negros

Rest stop on the way south to Dumaguete, Negros

I arrived into Dumaguete in the later afternoon, and already knew of a place to stay (a hostel), so caught a tuk-tuk there, which was only about 5 minutes away.  After checking in, I went to the rooftop where they had a restaurant, pool table, couches and tables, and wifi.  It overlooked the mountains to the north, and the waterfront to the south – it was beautiful. I relaxed on my laptop a bit, grabbed some food, and met a few fellow travelers. I met Sam S., an English guy from Birmingham, who had started traveling in England, and headed east through Europe, through Siberia, onto the Silk Road, and into Asia.  He then flew from South Korea to the Philippines.  He had an interesting story, and I remember him telling me how cool it was to see developed western Europe transition into less developed eastern Europe into Russia and then the middle east, and into Asia.  He said you could literally could feel history shifting as you passed through.  Very interesting guy.  We played pool, had a few drinks, and grabbed dinner.  I met another Sam (Sam G.) in my room, from London, who also joined us.  I would later host him in Bangkok a few months later – friendly, laid back guy.  The next day Sam S. and I explored Dumaguete, had some drinks, talked about bitcoin, drugs, culture, travel and life. While sitting at a bar, we met an Austrailian named Jimmy. He spent a lot of time in Siquijor (nearby island we planned to visit) because he had a friend who owned a bar/hotel there, and he invited us to stay there.  In the evening we played more pool at the hostel, met a Dutch and Aussie guy, and went out and about on the town. As a group we met an 18 year old American guy (first American I met on the trip) who was living in Dumaguete going to university. He was memorable because of his story about leaving the US at 18 to go to university abroad – very cool.  At the end of the night the group became split and Sam S. and I ended up at some random rave in town. It was an awkward place, with many questionable gender people hitting on us.  Funny, but awkward to say the least. After enough of that, we went back to the hostel to get some sleep.

Locals in the waterfront of Dumaguete

Locals in the waterfront of Dumaguete

In the morning Sam S. and I took a ferry to Siquijor to spend a couple nights on that island (huge island).  It is a beautiful place, and at the time there were almost no tourists there. The first night we stayed on a beach that was quite isolated, and did some cliff jumping. We met another English guy on the ferry over, Guss, who was traveling with a younger Filipina girl. The 4 of us had dinner together and relaxed in the evening by the beach.  In the middle of the night I woke up and was hugging the toilet with food poisoning.  Luckily after a few hours I was able to sleep, and drink a bit of water. Overall I was surprisingly fine, aside from being a bit weak.

Isolated beach in Siquijor - crystal clear water, and a cliff jumping spot. Perfect!

Isolated beach in Siquijor – crystal clear water, and a cliff jumping spot. Perfect!

The next day we wanted to explore a waterfall on the island, but because we didn’t have a motorcycle and there was no transportation from the beach we were on, we had to walk about 30 minutes to the main road and then wait for someone to pick us up.  We waited a good hour, and then found someone with a bike who individually gave each of us a lift to the next town. There we grabbed some drinks/snacks and caught a tuk-tuk to the waterfall.  It was quite the trek, and quite expensive. The waterfall itself was beautiful, and the tuk-tuk driver waited for us there for a couple hours. In the afternoon we got a ride back to the beach, did a bit more cliff jumping and snorkelling, and relaxed. Guss brought out some nice Cuban cigars and we had a very relaxed evening. I didn’t eat anything the entire day – only drank water and juice.

The next night we decided to move to the opposite side of the island, so the 4 of us took a tricycle for 45 minutes to the town of San Juan. Guss and his girlfriend checked into the accommodation they liked, while Sam and I dropped our bags off there, and rented mopeds with the plan to go to the next city for the ATM.  Guss was going to get some food and we would grill at his house. However, after driving an hour and being told to keep driving, we decided to just circle the entire island and explore while we were already 2 hours into the trip. Unfortunately we had no way of contacting Guss, but being such a laid back guy we knew he would understand. Sam and I explored many different beaches, and played basketball with some local kids. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day. The days were practically empty, the sky was bright blue, and the beaches were incredible. There were many small towns throughout, and all the houses and buildings along the road were well built and maintained.  Absolutely beautiful place.

Cambugahay Falls in Siquijor

Cambugahay Falls in Siquijor

When we got back in the late afternoon/early evening, we met up with Guss and made some excellent food. After that, we all headed to “Get Wrecked”, which was the place owned by Jimmy’s friend. There was a pool table and bar, along with a great sunset view of the ocean. They also had some nice rooms available, so Sam and I decided to stay there for the night. After watching the sunset and playing pool for awhile, we had some drinks and talked with others at the bar. Sam and I had plans to catch a 8:30am ferry, so we had to be up and ready by 7:30am, when we had scheduled a pickup. We ended up getting to sleep around 2am.

The next morning, once back in Dumaguete, I ate some brunch, and booked a bus north back to Bacolod, where I would fly back to Manilla, and then back to Bangkok.  The bus left in the late afternoon, and arrived in Bacolod in the evening.  When I boarded the bus, I asked the guy sitting across the isle if the bus was indeed going to Bacolod to confirm. He says yes, and I end up chatting with him for another 30 minutes. His name was Brad, and he was the 1991 Poker World Champion, first million dollar winner in history.  He had an interesting story, and was living in some village in the mountains, with a wife and child. Interesting story to the say the least.

Farming with a water buffalo - Siquijor

Farming with a water buffalo – Siquijor

Right when I arrived in Bacolod, I took a taxi to a hotel (the Pension House), where I would spend the night. The next morning at 9:30am I took a shuttle to the airport, and flew back to Manilla. There I had most of the day to relax since my flight was in the evening. I had to double check on my flight since I had received an email that it had been cancelled, but at the end of the day it worked out.  Because I had already spent many days in Manilla and didn’t want to have to commute in traffic back to the city for a couple hours, I decided to stay at the airport and catch up on the last 3 weeks of work. About 2 hours before my flight, I looked to see which terminal it was in. Apparently it was in a different terminal. I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal to go there, but since I didn’t see any signs for it I asked where it was.  2 different people said I had to take a bus, and depending on traffic it would take an hour.  Confused, I hopped on a bus to get over there.  It was shocking that the other airport terminal was so far away, and there were no signs mentioning this.  Not only that, airports in the Philippines charge “terminal fees”, which means you need to pay fees upon entering (the flight area) a different terminal, around $15. Apparently airlines normally include this in the ticket price, but not here.  It was frustrating to have to pay this in every airport, and I suspect it is just the corrupt government taking money from people flying.  There is no warning anywhere, but you have to pay upon entering customs/security.  It is especially annoying when you have no more local currency left and need to go to the ATM just to pay this fee.

Last solid night in the Philippines - sunset in Siquijor

Last solid night in the Philippines – sunset in Siquijor

While waiting at immigration to leave the country, the customs computers randomly shutdown (while I was at the counter). The friendly office was telling me about the issue and how it has happened before, and the queue of people behind me became very long. The officer told me last time it starting back up quickly, but this time was the longest it had gone down for. People started shouting about missing their flights, and whatnot.  Luckily I was at the front of the line and had a good 40 minutes before my flight. After 25 minutes or so, it started moving and I made it through fine.

It was quite a day of unexpected events, but I made it back to Bangkok fine in the evening. It was one hell of a trip. It was definitely a unique one, with most of the trip spent on my own with the locals.

A few observations I wrote down throughout the trip:
– Saw lots of women smoking with a baby and/or pregnant.
– Saw Denver Nuggets jerseys many times, and lots of people wearing basketball jerseys – shows American influence.
– Many signs are in English, yet speak Tanglish (lots of English words)
– Banks, Western Union, lending places everywhere. Lots of ATMs with people who don’t know how to use them.
– Jolibee fast food everywhere, along with others. All American fast food is there, and every time I saw it was packed. They even deliver.
– Country is very Americanized. I met 1 guy who spoke perfect American english, and even looked like a darker American. Could easily get many people confused.
– Places were crowded – trucks, cars, bikes, people everywhere
– Lots of churches everywhere – saw one that had a sign saying “I give happy endings – god”.
– Terminal fees at airports are lame and scammy. 

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Aug 22nd, 2014 | Filed under Adventures, Sports