Beijing, Nautica Cruise Ship, Africa……… Good Bye!
We are at the airport, leaving China, ending our Africa, Cruise, China trip for 2014/15. We have been on the road for 104 days. I had new experiences that will take me some time to absorb. We mostly only saw large towns, cities, coastal harbors. We had guided tours, almost all of the time; the entire time we were typical tourists.
While I wrote what I felt at the time, I already know that a lot of it is just a surface report. One can simply not look at one place briefly and offer an opinion. It was fun though. I’ll keep these blogs as a memory; I posted them so they do not get lost. I trust that this internet blog will be around as long as I am alive, and if someone else reads this, well, enjoy my stories.
To recap the whole trip in just a few words seems impossible. I led a ‘spoiled’, rich man’s life for the last few months. I know it. It kind of bothered me to see others try so hard to make a daily life for themselves while I had the luxury to idle away time and money. But then all this might be just in my head, reality is different for all of us. I seem to forget the 14 to 16 hours working days I put in for nearly 30 years. The no weekends, no sleep days.
The people I met in Africa were very nice people. Most of the men and women I met spoke 2, 3 or more languages. Not European languages of course, but African Dialects those are very different from each other, as different as French is from German. It takes smarts to be able to do that. Most folks I met worked hard; wanted to make a better life for themselves, were smart.
Africa was the most difficult place to make a decent living. There is simply too much corruption on this continent, it is said. Everybody, even a lonely security guard in Cape Town, asks for ‘favors’. I remember one instance where I asked a man for direction and he walked with me for 2 city blocks but did not really show me the spot I asked for. Never-the-less, he wanted to be paid for his ‘kindness’. He was upset that I did not pay him for what I took as a nice guy gesture.
There is nothing free in Africa, it seems. On the other hand, people worked hard, very hard indeed. Not so much with their brains but physically, for sure. The vendors in Cape Town who set up their stands on Green Market Square and work there every day come to mind. They do not have any money to speak of, only selling items that are available everywhere and not really needed by anyone. All the vendors seemed to be selling the same articles. How about innovation folks; something new, please? I found this to be the same everywhere on my trip though; to walk around selling postcards or toys? Selling big books when everybody can look things up on the internet? Their reality of what customers want to buy is certainly different from mine.
I saw people selling wooden carvings that they blackened with shoe shine paste to look like Ebony Wood. I saw hand painted, simple postcards priced at U.S. $ 5.—apiece. Way too expensive. Even in the U.S. nobody would buy them at those prices. Frustrating! Carol told me to stop worrying about it. We are here as visitors only, we are not here to change the people or the country. The World has tried to help Africa for the last 500 years, Africa still needs help. But how to you help Africa? Whatever the world tried so far does not seem to be working.
Indo China, what little I saw, was all about making money. Making money seems to be their hobby. Every family, it seems, has a business, or knows someone who has a business that might give them a kickback if you buy something through their recommendations. Family is a big part of their culture. Naturally we were the outsiders and the objects of their pursuit for business. I obliged to a point. Looking around me while being in their streets, I saw many things I do not understand, like having a street with one shoe store next to the other, all bunched up. I called it a Shoe Street. There were Electronic Streets, Food Streets, etc. We went to a Pearl Market Store, where3 stories of the building sold pearls. Not jade, not diamonds, gold or any other jewelry, no it was a Pearl Market. Carol was looking for jade earrings and had a hard time finding them. She finally did but it was a fluke, this was a pearl place and pearls were mostly what were offered. Talk about single-mindedness. My guess is there were 60 or more jewelry stores just selling pearls. Amazing? To my mind, yes, it was amazing. Where is the individuality?
There is always competition but I do not understand the concept of multiple stores with the same thing in one building at all. Sure they offer different foods, different shoes, different sets of pearls, etc. in each area, but your competition can see all your merchandize, every second of the day. Where is the uniqueness of your product, your innovation? Where or what is your edge? The concept was a mystery to me.
Indo China, the countries of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam especially are worth another visit. Their history shows that they have very different ideas from China and India, the 2 giant countries that squish them on both sides. I did not have enough time to see those countries in detail but it seems worth a trip. I would like to see the smaller to medium size cities, not the mega cities we visited, that are more or less a copy of western cities. I’d like to explore the different life styles, talk to them about how they look at the world. Many of these countries seem to be just waking up from a Cinderella sleep. For hundreds of years they were in the back of peoples’ minds, but today with the internet bringing countries together this area would be good to explore.
Japan was unique, in many ways. Japan has their way of life. Japan is not China, nor Korea and for sure not any country in Indochina. Some voices around me said Japan was too bland, not colorful enough. Well, their culture is not flashy, true, but sophisticated. I felt the people were happy, smiled easily and were smart. Many things were different in Japan. Yes they had some food streets too and their buildings were skyscrapers but the Department Stores for example, had Help stands, Help people who would try to steer you to the right floor. Everything was neat and clean, orderly. I liked Japan.
China? Oh, China! China is huge, crowded, busy and proud; too proud? For sure China is too crowded. I know this is controversial but this is my report, so I say it. Their one child policy is a disaster. The one child is being spoiled rotten; to the point where those babies are turned into ‘me first’ people. The babies know they are the king of the family and are therefore as demanding as any king. They are, since birth, made to believe that they are the center of the world; that they are very important people. Everyone around them caters to them. Only them. China lately is flexing her muscles, getting more demanding in adding lost real estate back to the mainland. I stepped very carefully when I was in China. I liked the people, most of them. But I was a bit nervous with the amount of police and military I saw around me. The media is controlled, the internet is censored and there are checkpoints in the subways and on the sidewalks. From what I experienced one is always reminded that this is a communistic country. Liberty? Freedom? Those are rhetoric words and for sure are not part of China today.
I found China dangerous. Not the individual people per say, but the regime, the set-up, the underlying atmosphere. Not as bad as I remember the former East Germany but close enough to give me the hebe geebies.
I had a good time travelling, I kept these blogs; I learned a lot. Let’s see what the next trips will bring.
Auf Wiedersehen, Tschuess.