Travelling around the world, I sometimes come across an old friend casually: “Man, you’re here!”. Such events occur more frequently in cities that seem to be part of world routes, as if they were intersections of invisible highways, for example, Athens, Bangkok, Varanasi or Kathmandu. The one who still gets the prize in that respect is Delhi, where the lovers of India inevitably pass, even if we do it at all before we follow our way to more desirable destinations.
It is through the narrow streets of Paharganj that I have had dozens of these fortuitous encounters over the years: an Italian who had just spent a year in Australia, a Dutchman whom I had met on a Thai island, a Scot who was returning from Mexico…
On the stairs of this city’s central railway station I came across the good guy from Bhim, a Swiss I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Then there are the globetrotters like the Occitan friend, with whom, as I have told you before, we have been meeting periodically here and there since we met in 1992 on a beach in Kerala, southern India, and he continues to visit me faithfully year after year since I stopped returning to Europe.
Due to the exorbitant distances that I will have exceeded during my life, at the moment I would not be able to make a weekend trip, and I am surprised that my Valencian friends are not afraid to do so, even though the sum of their kilometres covered must be similar to mine.
After dirtying these thirteen lines I can already clarify the reason for this paraphrase: tell you what happened a few days ago here in Kanchanaburi, in central Thailand, when the journalist Luís Garrido-Julve arrived (I remind you that he is the author of the blog Bangkok Bizarro). Although I waited for him because he had written to me in advance announcing his visit, I was astonished to discover that he was not coming alone, but accompanied by his Valencian friend, who had actually secretly organized this meeting, and had just crossed half the world to spend a few days with me in this pension, where we met four years ago. I hugged him and insulted him. “Bastard!” I told him trying to hide my feelings.
That unexpected meeting also had another purpose: the three of us were going to record (I say film) a new edition of “Una cerveza con…”, in which the Valencian friend would officially present Luís as the new collaborator of conmochila. We celebrated it with a bottle of the fabulous Guatemalan rum Zacapa and the no less fabulous fart we shared. After this party, which ended at many o’clock in the morning, Luís returned to Bangkok in the morning to join his Thai family.
In the afternoon, while our Valencian friend and a servant were playing some backgammon games on the veranda of this pension overlooking the Kwai River (Kwae), we were a little ashamed that, after having come to Kanchanaburi repeatedly, perhaps we should take the famous Death Train, the biggest tourist attraction in this city, which goes as far as Nam Tok, covering part of the railway route that the Japanese built to supply the troops they had in Burma during the Second World War.
The Japanese army carried out this work in record time using slave labour: 250,000 Thais and Burmese of whom, due to subhuman conditions, malaria and the usual embarrassment of these lands, it is estimated that more than 80,000 individuals died. In the West, however, the 60,000 British, Australian, Dutch and American prisoners of war have been mentioned most frequently, who were also forced to work from sun to sun and whip, of whom more than 13,000 died.
We left at dawn and started the excursion crossing the also famous bridge over the Kwai River, which, as I have said before, is not the original one; which does not prevent thousands of tourists from visiting it every day. We made the two-hour trip to Nam Tok in an old car with wooden seats, having as its only company a group of Thai peasants: it was a different version from the luxurious a/c train in which most tourists would go by mid-morning paying three times more. The conductor warned us very seriously not to look out of the window and not even to pull out our arms; a little later we found that he had not exaggerated, because many times the dense wall of vegetation grazed the wagon, since it was precisely the trains that were in charge of pruning it.
As is generally the case with good excursions, the route was so satisfactory that the destination became secondary: plains enclosed by karstic rocks covered by a mantle of greenery, authentic bamboo jungles, extensive sugar cane crops and, to the west, the nearby hills behind which was the Burmese border.
The high point of the tour was when the railway line hung practically over the void, supported by piles many metres above the Kwai River, offering such breathtaking views that it gave me a little bit of kangaroo.
Arriving in the small village of Nam Tok, we discovered that the only way to get to the tourist Erawan waterfalls or the famous Hellfire Pass, which was about 20 kilometres away, was to rent a taxi. Rent that we considered too expensive and decided to simply take a walk around, to the beautiful waterfalls of Sai Yok Noi, where begins the national park of the same name.
When we saw it, it seemed marvellous, so we returned to Nam Tok feeling fully satisfied. We drank some Leo beers and ate a delicious chicken “massaman” curry waiting for the train to return; the train arrived several hours late because, due to an avalanche of earth, a big rock left the locomotive very battered about ten kilometers from Nam Tok and they had to send another one to tow it and bring the wagons later.
– As I write these lines, the Valencian friend is already on his way to Bangkok airport and tonight he will sleep in his little house in the English countryside. –
THIS IS ASIA
Some Senators from Malaysia have proposed to update the law that considers “drug trafficker” anyone who has a minimal amount of pot, heroin or cocaine (a crime for which he can be sentenced to death). As a result of the “intelligent” Chinese rule that forbade having more than one child, the Chinese are now short of marrying girls and trafficking them from Vietnam, Cambodia and even Malaysia, where in the last six months more than a thousand have been rescued on their way to the Chinese “market”. It is the same case that occurs in India after having been several decades selecting the sex of fetuses, which aborted if they were girls, and now they are trafficked from the eastern states, such as Nagaland, Assam, Manipur. As aberrant as this news may seem in the West, don’t forget that arranged weddings are the daily bread in many Eastern countries, and that most girls marry strangers.as in all Third World countries, Indonesian prisons are overcrowded, and now the Jakarta government has had a “great” idea to solve that problem: they are going to move petty criminals to some of the many uninhabited (and uninhabitable?) islands.Although in 2017 the Beijing government banned the sale of dog meat in China’s restaurants and markets, the millennial dog meat festival, which lasts a week and attracts thousands of visitors, has recently been held again in Yulin City and Dashichang Market.
LOOK WHAT I THINK.
Would it be fair to be judged for denouncing what seems unfair to me, or to be judged for telling a primitive guy that his political ideas are worthy of the Neolithic? Would it hurt the sensibility of a group if I called them insensitive? Does the wounded sensibility of an individual have less value than that of twenty thousand sheep who have been washed of coconut? Who has given certain religious people the right to stone those who mock their beliefs?Why am I allowed to burn any kind of cloth and not the ones representing national flags for which thousands of people have been killed? Why am I not allowed to give an opinion in public about a puppet wearing a crown, as I would do with a man on the street?Why is my word worth twice as much as that of a guy, who is a madman, for the simple fact of carrying a baton and a gun? Ha, I’d better shut up before “Law Enforcement” shows up at the door of this cabin leaning over the Kwai River!
And that’s all for today, my dear papanatas. Bom Bom.
The Cosmic Chronicle, by Nando Baba