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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

Other People Are Hell

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 12 August 2010 | Views [281]

It's been great watching how the people change as we move from region to region, slowly shifting from Chinese influence to Indian.  The crossing from Japan to China was the longest and appropriately marked the biggest cutural shift.  Politeness and decorum abruptly gave way to vulgarity and crudeness.  From thereon it was very gradual changes as, like Europe, there isn't much difference between many of these countries.  Cambodia was the point of greatest valance - Thailand very Indian and Vietnam very Chinese.  It was also interesting to note the difference between China and Hong Kong - the latter bear a great deal of suspicion and dislike towards their masters.  Many newspaper articles decried the lack of culture and civility on the mainland and complained at length about pollution and ruffians coming from Guangzhou.  Malaysians have the Arabic desire for cleanliness, possibly an Islamic import.  Of course, Malaya is the epitome of emptiness culturally, everything being imported from various different places.  The identity crisis there is being combated by 1Malaysia, a policy to bring unity.  Almost everywhere else was more-or-less racially homogenous, often coupled with a vague dislike or outright mistrust of foreigners.  In terms of religion, we've moved from Mahayana to Theravada and thence to Islam.  Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia were quite strict in their religion, the others less so.  Of the religions, Mahayana Buddhism or Shintaoism seem to be the nicest and all the others pretty grotesque in various ways.

All through Vietnam, and to a lesser degree Cambodia and inaka Japan, people would yell out hello to you.  The Chinese stared and gaped lots - that continued into Vietnam too.  The Japanese mostly couldn't care less about us until we created problems or said hello, at which point they were very friendly and above all extremely polite.  Cambodians were friendly too, though there are apparently major mental health issues in the country resulting from the horrors of the past.  Malaysians were the most outgoing, happy to yell across bars in order to spout opinions and hold forth on various different topics including a number one might think taboo.

It's interesting to compare the countries' views of the past.  Vietnam do a pretty good job of honouring their war, treating the survivors as best they can and getting on with it.  It's really not an issue for Yanks to visit.  They don't hide from it or try to play it down.  Cambodia seems to practise collective memory loss as best as they can.  Given that the killers still live with the survivors, it's a difficult thing to confront (although Duch has just been convicted).  The Japanese continue to present very different views of WW2 which is both good and bad.  HK links itself as much as possible to British rule and seems to pretend that reversion to Beijing never happened.  Outside the big two in the north, there's not a great deal of ancient history, most of it concentrated in Cambodia at the heart of the old Khmer empire.  False-old monuments abound, especially in Thailand which is desperately trying to create a culture for itself.  

Westernisation is taking place rapidly and throughout the regions.  China and Japan have retained their old customs and traditions, the others less so.  The Malaysians are very quick to adapt and pick up new ways of doing things from others and often use English as a first language.  Manchester United in particular are also huge in Malaysia - football is very much the sport throughout the region and the World Cup was followed avidly.  In Cambodia there is so much of an NGO culture that it distorts the reality around the place, and the tourist divide is huge.  In most places though, shopping malls and western (or Japanese) shops are the future and what people aim for.  Vietnam eschews those things the most and also seems to have the brightest future.  The split between tourists and locals is often marked and you can gfeel like a walking ATM a lot of time.  In the countries without price tags (most of them) it's very hard to get an honest price for anything.  It's sad, most of all because it creates an 'us and them' mentality among many travellers and does mean that many people simply won't return.

The foreigners have changed too though.  In Honkers, China and Japan there were mainly expats.  Japan and China also had a noticable absence of backpackers.  By contrast, Indochina was swarming with backpackers.  We didn't really see any other type of tourist until Thailand, which was diverse.  Sexpat, budget traveller, flashpacker, 2-week tourist, package holidaymaker, all of these archetypes are to be found in Thailand.  Your backpackers are usually young, have a [Chang/BeerLaos/Tiger/etc] t-shirt, Thai fisherman's trousers and flipflops on.  They tend to congegrate around the chepest bar in town and ill-informedly pontificate about crap with a joint in their mouth.  Accordingly, we've stayed mostly away from these ne'er do wells and sought out slightly more intelligent/interesting characters.  Lots of dive folk seem to have taken interesting paths.  We had an image of bronzed young australian airheads with ridiculous names, like surf shops, but in fact it tends to attract older fellas with a bit of nous about them.  Lots of builders working all winter then diving all summer, some folks whose businesses went under and came to try something different, even one French gypsy type who'd caravanned between Asia and Europe for 5 years.

Nights out have been strange and varied.  We've been through a stage of getting very drunk just before we leave places, which was stupid.  Having to exit Osaka, Peking and Ko Phi Phi with hangovers wasn't very much fun.  The people have been fairly easy to talk to when we've been out - in fact our biggest real failing has to be not mixing enough with fellow travellers.  It's not a huge loss - for reasons outlined above.  Heart of Darkness in Phnom Penh was full of rich khmer as well as westerners and most places in Thailand had Thai custom.  Malaysia was the same, though for obvious reasons it was mainly the Indian/Chinese Malaysians drinking.


Best backpacker friends - Bella and Lauren who we met in Kampot (CM) and hooked up with again in Siem Reap (CM)

Best mad balkan barowner - Aleks from [email protected] in georgetown (MY)

Most odd karaoke session - onboard the Japan-China ferry

Most persistent touts - Nha Trang (VN)

Biggest stalker - the German guy who we saw everywhere from Hanoi (VN) to Bokor (CM)

Best serving wench - Zee at Blissful in Kampot (CM)

Biggest collection of twatpackers - Halong bay (VN) tour

Best scrabble-playing barkeep - Neil at Magic Spong, Kampot (CM)

Most enthusiastic about his new country - Roy, at above

Most waxlike person - Chairman Mao (CH)

Cheekiest bargaining start - 50,000 dong ($2.5) for a small pack of crisps in Hue (VN)

Most overdressed barowner - Crazy Kim, Nha Trang (VN)

Most inspirational hotelier - Hak Try, Jasmine Lodge (CM)

Most irascible hotelier - Dr Henn, Atlanta hotel (TH)

Most irritating Belgian - Ko PP beachside (TH)

Biggest personality lapse - Guy with his feet on the shared table in Siem Reap (CM) who got arsey when challenged, ended up with accusations of racism and having used the e-word, whatever that is

Strangest couple - The guys in Hue (VN) who were polar opposites, one thoughtful, knowledgeable and calm, one hot headed and ignorant

Best diving instructors in the world, ever - Chris and Taffy, Pattaya (TH)

Best divemaster at finding things - Andy, Ko Phi Phi (TH)

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