Mixed Impressions in Kathmandu

So many things that characterize our time in Kathmandu already happened in the first hour in Nepal. At the arrival you have to pay 40 US$ for the visa. When I put the money on the desk, one official took it away and then an other one asked me to pay the fees. I told him firmly that his colleague already had taken the money, which he first denies before – by miracle – remembering he had put the 40 US$ in his pocket …. welcome to Nepal!

Out of the airport, we were soon surrounded by taxi driving touts, who wanted to bring us for a huge amount of money to a hotel of their choice. We got so annoyed that we decided to look for a public bus instead, and indeed, one person explained us where to go. Entering the bus, all the locals looked at us extremely surprised, obviously wondering whether we were on the wrong bus or whether they were. But anyway, they kindly offered us their help to find our way to Thapatali.

Everyone knowing Kathmandu may now be attempted to ask “Thapatali? I thought the name is Thamel?”. Exactly that was the reaction of all the taxi drivers and their enthusiasm faded remarkably when realizing that we do not want to go to the tourist-ghetto of Thamel. Yes, we were going to Thapatali, because there we met Tamara, Steve’s former fellow student in Mannheim, who is currently doing an internship at the GIZ, the German organization for development aid. And luckily we had the chance to stay at their guest-house, because this Kathmandu upper-class district was much more original than Thamel’s “Europe Town”. Continue reading

A birthday coincidence in Kuala Lumpur

The day we made it to Kuala Lumpur was a special one – the 18th April, my birthday. Even though the plane was late, our Couchsurfing host Charles was so kind to wait for us and drove us to his flat. We did not tell him about my special day, because that might have seemed a bit demanding. But anyway, Charles made my birthday a great one. In the evening we went out for dinner to a typical Malaysian street food market.

Malaysia is a very multicultural country: about two third of the population are Muslim Malayans, twenty percent are Chinese, a bit less than ten percent are of Indian origin. It is a peculiarity of the country that traditionally the minorities are economically much more powerful than the rest, but over the last decade the Malayans have caught up, mostly due to government initiatives. Nonetheless, the distinct ethnicities have almost always lived together peacefully since the independence from the UK in 1957. We really think that we could still learn from the coexistence of all these different groups, because culture or religion does not prevent them to behave in a respectful and tolerant manner.

In KL, there are even more Chinese and Indians, so the city is in a simple charming way international. When we say international, do not think of westernized, like Shanghai or comparable cities. Internationality does not mean modernity here, the city does not have to prove its multinational character – it is simply rooted in the country’s tradition. English is extremely widespread, not only the educated ones speak it. So even though we were new to the city, we never felt alien or strange, but in a certain way we felt at home from the very first moment. Continue reading

Avec 50 jours de retard ….

…. joyeux anniversaire pour tes 50 ans de la part de nous 4!!!

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China at a glance

We know that we our previews posts on China might have been a bit contradictory, which partly depends on us but mainly on the country. China is a nation full of contradictions. So now we will try to give a more general view and put some structure. First, after refuting so many prejudices about China, it is time to corroborate some of them:

  • Chinese are loud: definitely true, and even worse when on the phone ….
  • Chinese travel in groups: true, but the younger ones start changing that.
  • Chinese follow the rules: true, but in the traffic, there seem to exist some rules we have not figured out yet!
  • Chinese are consumption and status-orientated: true, but it would be an exaggeration to say that advertisement by European companies actively tries to change that. And by the way, this does not prevent Chinese from being curious.
  • Chinese are always gaming: true. Always.
  • Chinese cities are ugly: unfortunately often true, especially the suburbs and the smog. However, some cities have large parks and local neighbourhoods with a nice atmosphere.
  • Chinese officers are terrible: often true, in fact everything in which state is involved seems rather unkind.
  • China is overcrowded: true. For example, if you want to do a day trip to a small town on a weekday, you will travel with two to three thousand other persons in the train.
  • Chinese are organized: true, in good and in bad. Sure there are some exaggerations, especially everything which includes government’s participation becomes cumbersome and people are inflexible. But we have also experienced that often it is necessary, see one point above. For instance, you have to check in at the train station as if it was an airport. At first sight this seems tedious, nonetheless, when seeing the masses, you realize that it is inevitable.

On the other hand, what is definitely wrong is that they always smile. Some do, some do not – just like in Europe. Still, the positive aspects of this country impressed us much more. Whether they smile or not, they are very helpful, at least if they are not working for the government. Even more, when they see we have problems with the language or handling things, they take their time to help us, are really tolerant when we do not behave like expected and are very creative in finding pragmatic or also unconventional solutions. For instance, in a restaurant, if they do not have an English menu, they would take us to the kitchen so we can show them with which ingredients they should cook the meal. In other situations, they phoned a friend who spoke English and many students have a translation app, just in case they lack a word.

Moreover, they were extremely interested and eager to talk with us, no matter whether they could speak English or not. At the beginning, they are often uncertain and shy, which is quite understandable given that after so many years of practising English, this may be one of the first opportunities to talk with a foreigner. Nevertheless, during the conversation, when they see that we appreciate their efforts, they’ll become more confident.
You feel clearly that the nation is open for about 30 years only and that the alien still has a really strong appeal. The country is developing very fast, in some areas they are already competitive or even leading. However, in a certain way it remains surprisingly pristine. You see: China really is contradictory.

Our impression of China also is reflected by the experience of other foreigners living there. Yes, there are many of them who seclude themselves, never learn a word Chinese and are condescending towards the locals. But we have met many other very different people, from the German music professor over the Austrian engineer to the “Wayne Rooney”-like British teacher. They all have in common that despite the disadvantages of the country, they are fond of it and are happy to be there.

To sum it up: although we are not quite sure whether we would like to live in China for several years, we somehow have an idea why so many different persons like it here – it is a pleasure to discover all these many things the country has to offer.

Huang Shan, Huizhou, Shanghai

As promised, we won’t tell you again some stories about the nice Chinese we met (although they keep being friendly, helpful and open-minded). So instead, let’s tell a story about a nice Pakistani we met. After our relaxing cruise we spent a night in Wuhan and headed to “Huang Shan”, another sacred peak in China, also known as “Yellow Mountain”. We were quite happy when we finally arrived there, because our taxi driver – like so many Chinese – seemed to love the risk (actually they drive much worse than in South-America where I was never frightened, whereas honestly in China I am). He overtook the other cars at any place, may it be possible or not. When he tried to do so at a construction site where we had a slow truck in front of us, the road was obviously too narrow, in a bad shape and with limited view. This did not prevent our driver from overtaking and what should happen happened: the stones proved not to be the best underground to drive on and with a terrible noise, they caused some damage in the motor. So the driver had to lay with his designer clothes on the dust under the car to repair it. At least he surprised us with his technical skills. And at the end, the delay turned out to be beneficial because while queueing at the hostel check-in, we met Nabeel.

Nabeel is a Computer Science student from Pakistan, currently terminating his Master’s Degree in Istanbul before hopefully going to the US to do a PhD. More important, he loves travelling and despite the tough visa issues for Pakistanis, he has already seen lots of countries in Europe and Asia. We went out for dinner and did the hike on the “Huang Shan” together. In hours of talking, we learned a lot about reality in Pakistan: the different ethnic groups and everyone speaking at least 5 local languages (REAL languages, not dialects), the problems with the amount of drone attacks and the terrorism induced by that, the remote nomadic tribes susceptible to the Taliban, the pros and cons of the Madrassas, the bad international reputation and the role and consequences of the media reporting false facts (may it be on purpose or not). But we also talked about more positive topics like food, the people and the beautiful and safe areas worth travelling to. Thank to Nabeel we have a new country we definitely still have to visit, and we also know which region better not to got to! Apart from that, “Yellow Mountain” was overcrowded but the landscape is stunning …. we just cannot see stairs anymore and are looking towards trekking on natural trails in Nepal. Continue reading