Monthly Archives: December 2011

99 Problems

*Written early in the morning of Christmas Day 2011 in the Chongqing North train station whilst waiting for my train

My Friends,
   Anyone among you has ever done dirt with me (or hung out wth me for any appreciable amount of time) probably knows that “99 Problems” by Jay-Z is one of my favourite songs of all time.  The beat, the lyrics and the delivery combine into one dope package which never fails to pick me up. 
   I have often wondered though, “What are these fabled 99 problems which allegedly plague Jay-Z’s existence?”  Sure he gives some examples during the verses, and to his credit he does take those few examples and really run with them, painting vivid and nuanced pictures.  However, if only for the sake of the verifiability of the claim in the song’s title I have long thought he should have provided a numbered list of each specific problem (in the album cover perhaps for all of us true fans who bought it). 
   Since I can’t comment on what that man’s problems might be (prolly not being able to wear skinny jeans cause his “knots” don’t fit) I thought long and hard about what I could provide; namely, a similarly itemized list of my own prblems. 
   Now I must qualify this list before I kick it off: For starters, many entries are very introspective as I like to think my greatest strength is a realistic appreciation of my limitations and shortcomings.  Second, some of these things are problems which do not currently afflict me but which I try and remain constantly vigilant against.  Finally, as I wrote it while traveling, many of the problems may seem a little pecualiar and applicable only to someone living a similarly transient lifestyle.  However, I think even these entries have some applicability in everyday life (we all want a safe place to sleep even if we take it for granted)..
   So without any further ado:

If you havin’ girl problems I feel bad for you, son.  I got…

1) My Woman’s dog. A useless toy poodle named Lacy
2) Too little time in life
3) Too many options in life
4) Never enough money
5) Maintaining my street cred
6) On again/off again athlete’s foot
7) Turn the other cheek & feel like a bitch or fight and feel like an asshole
8) The shitty state of the world
9) Not seeing my family enough
10) Changing the mindset of those around me
11) My mother and her whole side of the family
12) Self-doubt
13) No career
14) Stolen rhyme-book
15) Negative self body-image
16) A certain constantly-evolving relationship in my life;  I never quite know where I stand in this one
17) Zipping my beard into my coat
18) No shower in over a week (as of Dec 24/11)
19) Getting Portuguese citizenship
20) Liquor
21) Pipe-smoking
22) My uncertain future in the military
23) Finding a decent place to shit
24) Keeping my feet warm
25) Remembering the words of my favourite songs
26) Suppressing feelings of superiority
27) Not behaving wretchedly when I feel wretched
28) Keeping my finger out of my nose in mixed company
29) B.O.
30) Speaking only English
31) Blank pages in my passport
32) Thinning hair
33) Mangled feet and toes from a lifetime of wearing traditional shoes
34) Naivete
35) Cynicism
36) Finding safe place to sleep
37) Losing my composure when I’m excited about something
38) Sentimentality/”hoarding” tendencies
39) Cops
40) Not being able to wash hands after dookie
41) A picture of my dick that may be floating around from Mardi Gras 2009 in New Orleans
42) Disdain for flaws in others which I see in myself
43) Crooked Jaw
44) My shitty Riddler tattoo
45) My right knee
46) Laziness
47) Restlessness in stable situations
48) Conspicuousness in foreign lands
49) No patience for differing points of view
50) Stubbornness
51) Incomplete private pilot’s license
52) Keeping my rhymes fresh
53) Internet porn
54) Making extraneous attempts to curry favour with those I view as gate-keepers
55) Short-sightedness (not literally, but in life)
56) Quick temper
57) Braggadociousness
58) Trying to make certain rituals/events too perfect (“The perfect is the enemy of the good”)
59) Thinking of new experiences (and life in general) in terms of what would make a good facebook status or profile pic
60) Judging those I care about particularly harshly
61) Over-complicating simple things
62) Relating every situation to a rap lyric (maybe not a problem in itself, but someone who’s upset prolly doesnt want to hear, “Well, it’s like 50 Cent once said…”)
63) Taking too much satisfaction in deconstructing and manipulating social situations
64) Wanting to be liked by everyone
65) Being variously too stingy and too generous
66) Jealousy/Hating
67) Lack of ambition
68) Losing touch with friends and those who have helped me along
69) Getting discouraged after a failed first attempt
70) Enjoying the companyof people who make me feel better about my life relative to theirs
71) Preaching at others about my beliefs (not religious)
72) Getting quickly bored after initial enthusiasm
73) Enjoying garbage television
74) Swearing too much
75) Being automatically resentful of authority
76) Insensitivity
77) Always playing devil’s advocate for the sake of arguing
78) Dwellling on the path not taken
79) Dwelling on past mistakes
80) The inability to receive praise or admiration gracefully
81) Not remembering the names of my extended family (unless they’re on facebook)
82) Waiting for my turn to speak in conversations
83) Letting my mind wander while ostensibly listening attentively
84) Being slow to swallow pride and apologize
85) Fitting oddly shaped objects (read: bottles of wine) into my carefully organized backpack
86) Lack of hiding places on my person for wads of money and passport
87) My travel sensibilities often take me to ghettoes
88) Overzealous third-world types who aggressively try to sell me their wares and/or swindle me
89) Curious foreign types (or “local” types as I’m in their country) who invade my personal space to get a closer look (Looking at you, Chinese people)
90) Blisters
91) Losing pens
92) Never knowing for sure what the meat/food substance in Chinese snack foods is when I buy them (sometimes even after I eat them)
93) Talking too fast
94) The constant work (twisting) that goes into maintaining an exquisite handlebar mustache
95) The gigantic balls of belly-button lint which accumulate when the only time you take your shirt off is for your (bi)weekly shower
96) Killing time at airports, train and bus stations before departure
97) Finding stores which sell English-language books
98) Countries with travel advisories (or who declare a “state of emergency” after I have already entered the country)
99) The ultimately self-destructive compulsion to engage in, as an adult, all the mischief and stupidity I did not partake in as a relatively well-behaved and rule-abiding child

…but a bitch ain’t one!

Stay Thirsty
-Andre Guantanamo

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Central Asia Recap Part II: Western China

My Friends,
   In my last entry I detailed my arduous crossing into China.  Here is the account of my subsequent experiences.
   After the bus from Kazakhstan dropped me off at a hotel in Urumqi, China I reluctantly entered just so I could get out of the cold.  I was seized upon by the hotel staff who were trying to peddle a room to me.  The most aggressive of these peddlers was also the most comical in appearance and carriage: he was a five foot tall effeminate Oriental with a soft, creepy voice not unlike Guy la Douche from the show MXC.  His thin pedophile mustache only served to make the comparison more apt.  However, since it was already 2am I wasnt really looking to pay the full night’s accommodation.  I asked for chai and they directed me to the upstairs cafe which I found out was open til 4am.  This was good because it gave me two cost-free hours in warm air to plan my next move (cost of chai notwithstanding).  Also, there was a bathroom which I made exemplary use of (Note: I’m really getting good and squatting for dookie and I actually prefer it to traditional toilets as I have yet to have a bad poop while squatting.  Seriously, its the best for constipation; errrything just comes right out.  But I digress).  Toward the tail end of my stay in this cafe a hotel employee/regular came to me and struck up a conversation.  I use the phrase “struck up a conversation” very loosely because evidently he was mute: he could only communicate by pointing, drawing pictures and grunt/moan/screaming.  He sounded exactly like Peter Griffin’s co-worker, Opie on Family Guy.  You know, the mentally-challenged guy with a shard of glass stuck in his head.  If you don’t get the reference you should google it to give yourself an idea of the communication barrier we had. 
   Still, he seemed intent on helping me get a bus or train to Chengdu.  After taking me around to the various travel agencies located on-site in the hotel (they were all closed; it was just after 4am after all), he finally made me follow him, through a series of exclamatory screams and hand gestures, to the lobby where he hooked me up with a cab driver to take me to the train station.  But Opie was not done with me by any means.  No sir, he insisted on accompanying me to the train station, and thus began the most surreal cab-ride of my life.  See, the “cab” in question was apparently the cab driver’s own personal Suzuki shitbox.  Not only could he seemingly not get it past 20km, but he also had to keep giving it rolling starts as it would stall out without fail whenever he fully released the clutch or had a misstep in the elaborate dance his right hand was doing with the stick-shift.  Yet that was only half of the hilarity: Now the last thing I want to do is detract from Opie and his heart of gold, but he was a bit of a jumpy fellow and became very excitable every time we came within 200m of an exit or turn.  Since he was mute he couldn’t really say, “HEY, GO THAT WAY!,” but instead resorted to pointing and yelling “BLAAWH RRRLLAAAGH RIIIHHH!”  Let me reiterate that these bouts of panicked screaming came when we were only “just in sight” of turns that we were approaching at slightly faster than the speed of park, and also that he was sitting right behind me but leaning forward to scream in my ear.
   I looked at the cab-driver once or twice during this ridiculousness as if to say “dude, is this guy for real?” but he was so intent on keeping the car going that he couldn’t appreciate the humour of the situation.  Also, he seemed to take Opie dead serious so I followed suit and just tried to reassure myself that this was what China was all about, while I made a vain attempt to warm my frozen toes on car heaters which didnt work (did I mention the car was a shitbox?). 
   When we reached the station, Opie and the driver insisted on coming with me and carrying my bags, God bless their hearts.  But it was only when they finally found me the right line to wait in (miraculously, all the station staff understood Opie’s screamings perfectly) that I managed to get across the point I had been trying to make at the hotel: I had no Yuan, only American dollars.  Needless to say, with all the screaming Opie was doing, we were quite the spectacle for the early morning commuters: An exasperated westerner (rarely seen in that part of China), a short little Mexican-looking cab-driver who spoke almost not at all, and Opie, carrying my backpack and raving in moonspeak about God knows what.  The mission was then to find a money-changer.  We dropped off Opie and got some money and I was back at the station waiting in line by 630 am.
   However, the ticket windows for trains werent scheduled to open until 730 and I had a very illuminating hour which gave me some unique perspective into Chinese life.  First of all, I had noticed when entering the station that there were people camped out (like actually sleeping on the floor) in line.  I took this as an ill-omen because it followed that the tickets were going quick.  So I took my spot in the rear of the line and began waiting.  I pulled out my book and started reading and in my peripherals noticed people staring and pointing at me and my shoes.  They soon got bolder and started reading over my shoulder (well glancing anyway cause they didn’t understand English).  Some even got really bold and started tugging my pant legs to get a better look at my shoes.  While this was invasive, I took it in stride; after all, I might be just as struck if it was my first time seeing me too.  The plot thickened when I pulled out some bread to snack on; the murmurs increased, and even the sleep-fucked people who had been camped out woke up and took notice.  I offered one guy who had been eye-fucking me a piece of bread and he declined with an aghast look on his face.  “Whateva nigga; more for me.”  The climax came however when I pulled out my notebook and started making notes of the morning’s adventures; literally everyone in a 20 foot radius went silent and then started murmuring and were soon taking turns crowding around me to see what I was writing.  I smirked at this but kept on writing cause “fuck it,” might as well give ’em a show.  Such was their rapt attention that every time my pen wavered or I took a momentary pause to decide exactly how I wanted to phrase a sentence they reacted with increased chatter.  It was fucking bizarre.
   The party ended soon thereafter however when security came in for the morning shift half an hour before the ticket booths opened.  Armed with a megaphone, the lead security guy, a stout, bald-headed, middle-aged man who looked like he was a big softie once you got past his officiousness, started bringing order to the ticket lines.  He woke up all the campers, told people with a surfeit of luggage to move it and phyiscially pushed line-jumpers out of the way.  It seemed a little heavy-handed to me, but I thought that it was hypocritical for me to think that way as I would have given anything for this guy to have been around the previous day at the Chinese border crossing when line-jumping seemed to be the order of the day.  What really struck me though was how the people accepted the harsh treatment; he would push someone or yell in their face with a megaphone and they would meekly submit or shuffle away.  It gave me the impression that Chinese culture is very submissive to authority.  I think the Chinese government is wise to this as well because it seems as if every civil servant, no matter how mundane their job (i.e. the ticket sellers), wears some sort of military-reminiscent uniform with officer’s cap.  It certainly makes them look more important than they actually are and evidently it works. 
   When I got the front of the line all of the train tickets to Chengdu were sold out (hence the camping).  I then had to resort to the more expensive bus to Chengdu.  Now communicating that I wanted to go to the bus station to the next cab driver was a difficult process and I almost got into a fight.  Then he almost drove away with my stuff.  But mercifully there was a guy who spoke just enough English to tell me the name of the station which I then communicated to the next cabbie.  Long story short, I got my ticket (after a laborious money-changing process at the Bank of China.  I should have just changed it all that morning) and spent the rest of the day hanging around in the vicinity of the Urumqi bus station trying to stay warm and waiting for my 5pm bus to depart.  The departure itself was a bit of a process as I had paid for a sitting bus but at the last minute they switched it to a sleeper (the sitting bus broke down apparently) and demanded another 130 yuan (22 USD).  I was miffed at this, feeling that the bus company should absorb the cost of their fuck-up, but Inua, the English-speaking bus-mate who explained the situation to me just shrigged and said, “Yeah, but its China.”  This confirmed my earlier suspicion about the Chinese fear of authority.  I relented, deciding I didnt want to be stranded in Urumqi and paid the extra money.  It turned out to be a good choice though as it was a two-night ride and it would have been murder sitting up that whole time.
   The 48+ hours on the same bus with the same people was good in that it allowed me to make friendships but bad in that it led to drama; particularly a love triangle that I wanted no part of.  I already mentioned that Inua spoke English, and being the only English speaker on the bus aside from me, she was naturally the person whom I conversed with most.  But little minx that she was, she also sat up with the drivers and talked to them for hours at a time.  Now one of the drivers, a young, good-looking guy, already had it out for me I think for my abrupt manner when I boarded the bus for departure (I was cold, I hadn’t slept in 24 hours and he was looking at my passport gawking at the stamps.  I, not being in the mood for such fuckery, grabbed my passport, pointed to the Chinese stamp, and said “there it is; happy!?  Not my finest moment but like I said, I was in a bad way).  Regardless of his disposition toward me at the outset, it only worsened when he saw that I got on well with Inua (who for the record had a boyfriend).  So he formulated a plot to win her over which ultimately worked out in my favour: On the second day, she told me that he had invited us to eat meals with him and the other driver at the meal stops.  I was reluctant but agreed.  He took every opportunity during these mealtimes to pull out wads of money and and insinuate what a baller he was.  Inua seemed impressed by it.  And me?  Well, I just enjoyed free meals for two days and let him woo her.  I think he realized I wasnt a threat when I showed her a picture of my woman on the evening of second day and then she showed it to him.  At that point I think he realized that we had both misunderstood each other from the get-go and we were cool after that; cool to the point that he still copped this weary traveller’s meals for the rest of the trip. 
   We made it to Chengdu on the evening of December 23, parted amicably and I began walking east to the outskirts of the city, basking in the significantly warmer weather.  I camped behind a gas station that night and had a chilly but good sleep.  The next morning (Christmas Eve) I awoke and held a sign which said “Shanghai” for an hour before I got a ride to the next city of Chiongqing.  My ride dropped me in the middle of the city and convinced me to take a train the rest of the way because the hitching to Shanghai would probably be no good.  Normally the hitch-hiking advice of non-hitch-hikers goes in one ear and out the other but since it was Christmas eve, I was already alone and didnt wish to be cold as well, I agreed that maybe a train to Shanghai would be good. 
   I had an awesome motorcycle taxi ride across the city of Chongqing to the Northern train station and bought a train ticket for Christmas morning.  The rest of my Christmas Eve was detailed two entries back (“It Wouldn’t be Christmas without a Trip to the Police Station,” 26 December 2011) but after that entry was submitted I also got some cool pics with my new friends in the Chongqing police force and a cop car ride back to the train station.  What with all the motorcycle rides, police car rides and dog-eating, it actually turned out to be a pretty dope Christmas.
   That more or less concludes my adventures in Central Asia/Western China.  Next time around I will go into the trip to, and time in Shanghai.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Central Asia Recap Part One: Kazakhstan


My Friends,
   Due to the unreliable internets access I have been made to endure as of late, I havent been the prolific bloggeur I normally am.  Let me perhaps rectify this by filling in some of the blanks of the last couple of weeks. 
   I left the balmy beach weather of Israel on 16 December.  This was a significant departure because it was my final good-bye to my beloved Mediterranean.  More than simply a sea to me, I had swam in its warm waters, interacted with its peoples and used its coastline as a navigational aid for months.  I treasured my last Mediterranean sunset walking on the beach in Tel Aviv and even got a lil’ misty.
   My plane from Israel took me first to Kiev, Ukraine for a 9-hour layover.  I had planned for this and I used the extended downtime to make a foray into the former Soviet-bloc city.  Luckily, by entering the country instead of simply waiting in the designated layover area I copped some pretty new bling (read: stamps) for my passport.  The bus ride to Kiev took awhile but I actually like the city a lot.  It was very beautiful and the people seemed really friendly.  The food and drinks were cheap and although wet, it was not too cold.  My only complaint was how cozy and warm all the little shops seemed: the Christmas spirit was in the air and watching happy couples gazing longingly into each others eyes over hot cocoa/coffee by a warm fire really drove home the point of my loneliness over the holidays.  It was far easier to stick to the cold air of the outdoors than torture myself by going into these shops and getting a closer look at what I was missing out on.  I have resolved that I will one day go back to Kiev with my woman during the Christmas season and enjoy it like I was not able to during this first visit.
   Went back to the airport, waited some and got on my plane for the four-hour flight to Astana, Kazakhstan.  I had heard from a chick in my hostel in Israel that Kazakhstan was like -20C and I joked that I was going to freeze my balls off although I was secretly concerned.  But having already submitted my passport for the visa I could do little with this knowledge except steel my nerves against the expected onslaught of cold weather.  I began to think to myself that -20C wasnt that cold.  After all, I have experienced that in Canada and survived.  If nothing else, the cold weather would be a boon; people would be more likely to take pity on this hitch-hiker and pick him up.  In retrospect, such imaginings and self-reassurances seem sheer folly, but you’d be surprised what you can convince yourself of when you need to.  So, “prepared” as I was for -20C, I was dismayed beyond words when, as we pulled into Astana airport at 530am, the captain said the weather was -27C.  I hadnt planned for this, and this extra 7 degrees of coldness may as well  have been an extra 50 degrees of coldness.  I took a glance around the airplane and saw everyone pulling on their bubblegooses (puffy coats) and furs, while all I had was a Von Dutch zip-up sweater and a wind-breaker.  What the F had I gotten myself into?
   Still, maybe -27C wasnt as cold as it was cracked up to be.  I hadnt experienced it since last winter so I really shouldnt be so quick to judge, as my faculties of memory might have been flawed.  They were not.  Just getting off the plane and feeling the slightest touch of outside air chilled me to the bone.  I realized this simply wouldn’t do.  I thought long and hard about my options after clearing customs and waiting in the front entrance of the airport, shivering in spite of myself every time the door opened and someone entered.  I resolved that I would get the fudge out of the city by means other than hitch-hiking and to the former capital of Almaty, as it was at least a manageable -7C or so.  So I cabbed it to the Astana train station (of course the cabby had to be parked at the other end of the parking lot) and got a ticket for that night’s train to Almaty.  Having to wait 15 hours in the Astana train station was a trying experience: the multitudinous police and security officers present were so unaccustomed to a Westerner that they took me aside and detained me while they looked through my passport and joked about my shoes, my manner of dress and prolly my facial hair.  This particular incident happened in the morning but I had passport checks all day and was continually harrassed about where I sat, lying on my foam mat while waiting and charging my ipod.  It got to the point that I started being a little bit of a prick and whenever they would make eye contact with me I would hold up my passport and ticket and insist they check it while cursing at them audibly (they didnt understand Englirsh anyway). 
   It was so bad that my only reprieve from this intrusiveness was the dreaded cold; I made the arduous 60 second trek to a nearby cafe, almost died in the process, and spent an hour or two there drinking coffee and keeping warm.  I noticed the sun (which had gingerly risen around 10 am) during the walk to this cafe.  It sat so low on the southern horizon even at “high noon” that I swore I had entered the Arctic circle (and who knows, maybe I had; I really didnt do much research on Kazakhstan before deciding to go there as foreknowledge and preparation often preclude wacky adventures).  I dont want to overstate the cold weather but you must understand my situation: My upper body and legs were perhaps warm enough to survive for protracted periods of time in the cold (not comfortably mind you), but my footwear of choice is Vibram Five Fingers KSO Treks.  These are a barefoot equivalent shoe which mimic the barefoot very well, particularly in their almost complete absence of resilience to cold weather.  There was only 6mm of rubber between me and the snow and my toes were separated which made them chill that much faster.  I literally may as well have been walking out there barefoot.
   Whatever though, I survived the day and made it to the train (although the walk on the platform was another trying experience).  The compartment I was in had two young guys and two old ladies on it who became essentially my Kazakh aunts, insisting that I eat with them and drink tea with them.  It was a very pleasant train ride considering noone spoke English.  Also, I finally got warm.  The train itself bears some mention because it was incredibly old-looking and it seemed to me that it was very possibly a Soviet relic which I thought was kinda cool.
   We arrived in Almaty the next night and one of my aunties insisted on taking me to the international bus station so I could buy a ticket to Urumqi, China.  Almaty was warmer but still not as warm as I would have liked, and I was forced to walk outside for over half an hour, poorly-equipped.  We got me set up for a bus leaving the following night and I stayed in the bus-station dorm.  It was a fun night as I got invited to drink with some Kazakh taxi drivers taking a “vodka break” in the kitchen of my hotel (I didn’t write that last bit as a joke, but its actually kinda funny).  We crushed their whole bottle (smoothe stuff) then I figured “fuck it”, and busted out my bottle of cheap scotch from the Kiev duty-free.  We crushed that too and smoked my pipe and I woke up feeling like shit the next morning.  My wake-up was even worse because it was conducted by the Kazakh cleaning lady who was yelling at me to get out in a voice that sounded like a cross between a cat being strangled and a little girl being raped.  I had to kill the day in Almaty waiting for my night-time bus departure.  I spent a good three hours internetting across from the station.  It was during this time that I learned from FB friends that Kazakhstan had declared a state of emergency in response to unruly labourers in the Southwest who were protesting the government for something (higher wages, better hours, more jobs, etc…).  We had passed near this region en route to Almaty while I was sleeping on the train two nights before.  Leave it to me to sleep through a conflict. 
   Around 10 pm on my third day in Kazakhstan I boarded my overnight bus to Urumqi, China.  It was awesome because I was expecting to be sitting up for the whole 24+ hour ride but it was a sleeper bus stocked with thick fleecy blankets.  I dwelt on the cleanliness of the blankets for less than an instant and got to the business of sleep real quick.  My awakening the next morning was a rude one: my busmates telling me to get my passport out because we were getting boarded by the Kazakh miltary.  Fortunately this was no random passport check; it was the first (of several) passport checks to go through the border to China.  The border crossing took about two hours as all the bus companies seemed not to co-ordinate their schedules, so there was a surfeit of people trying to get through the border, and these people had seemingly not grasped the concept of “a line:” I literally had to occupy my whole border lane to prevent little Asians from pushing past me.  In this instance my backpack came in handy for occupying space as it is roughly the size of a small Asian.
   Much more pleasant than exiting Kazakhstan was entering China.  There was a 5km or so “no mans land” between the two countries which was traversed only by my bus apparently.  What this meant in practice was that all of those people from the various buses that came through all piled onto my bus and I almost didnt even get a spot.  Plus this old man who was mad that he didnt get on the bus before me kept pushing me from behind.  It took all of my patience not to clock the Kazakh fuck.  But like I said, entering China was fine: in fact because I was so conspicuous in the crowd of Asians, the Chinese authorities pushed me to the front of the line which happened to be right on front of the pushiest fucks from the bus ride over, much to their Kazakh chagrin.  It was a small victory but a victory nonetheless.  The process was delayed a little by passport control who kept looking back and forth between me and my passport pic.  He even called a friend over to get his opinion on if it was really me.  That was really the only hiccup. 
   Clearing customs was a lot like clearing customs in Egypt though; as soon as I was free of security the hustlers and hucksters wanted a piece of me.  Many were holding wads of Chinese money to change but I had read about rampant counterfeiting in China and opted not to change my money with these disreputable seeming characters.  We had a quick lunch China-side and were on our way.  It wasn’t until after midnight that we reached Urumqi, and the bus saw fit to drop us off at a hotel instead of the bus station.  This was problematic because Urumqi was not much warmer than Almaty and I really wanted to be on my way further south to the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan province.  In the next few hours I had one of my weirdest experiences thus far, but alas, that’s a story for the sequel.
Stay Thirsty
-Andre Guantanamo 

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It Wouldn’t be Christmas Without a Trip to the Police Station…

*Written Dec 24/11 in Chongqing, China

My Friends,
   I apologize for not having blogged since I left Israel.  Plenty has happened in that interval and merits telling but the internet in Central Asia is … complicated.  Rest assured that this is actually a blessing in disguise, as when I finally do get around to posting these omitted adventures at a later date, the filter of time will serve to edit out those which are far too mundane for a blog which proclaims itself to be as interesting as this one does.  (Note: this entry has been typed on hotmail and sent to a trustworthy colleague in N. America for posting to get around the filters here).
   Now, let’s get down to brass tacks.  I am currently sitting in a police station in Chongqing, China (pronounced “Chong-Ching” …pretty much the most racist sounding shit ever).  Now normally I dont frequent the police station unless they got me on a bogus murder rap (not guilty, yall got to feel me) but a peculiar series of events led me here.  For starters, I went to an internet cafe here in Chongqing to…um, internet and they insisted on seeing my Chinese ID card.  Since I was fresh out of one of those and they wouldnt take my passport as proof of my me-ness, one helpful patron insisted I follow him to a solution.  Since he spoke no English, communication was difficult but I gleaned from his gestures that we were going to get me a Chinese ID card.  Being a Canadian citizen and a first-time visitor with no Chinese blood to speak of I was dubious about our chances of success.  But after following him to three different police stations (each one insisting that the one we wanted to go to for ID cards was further up the road) we finally landed at the one I am at now.  However, the one lady here who speaks a bit of English confirmed what I suspected all along: I am not eligible for a Chinese ID card (although it would have made a dope souvenir).  
   This left me in a pickle as there is no public internets in China without an ID card and I had a flight home to book.  The police assured my frantic guide (he was a very excitable young chap with a limp in his left leg, no doubt sustained during a previous tragic foray into Chinese ID procurement) that I was taken care of then they arranged for me to use their internet for a couple of hours so I could conduct my affairs (book flight, xmas emails, etc…).  So I started typing out the draft for the entry you are reading right now while “Jianxing Q. Law” watched over my shoulder, but was interrupted when they invited me for dinner.  I said “sure” and they took me across the street to the copper chow hall.  It was beautiful: rice, noodles, different stir-frys and even DOG.  When they told me it was dog I was a little incredulous to be sure.  I remember thinking to myself “No, its not you f–king stereotypes!,” but they assured me it was.  I took the female-cop’s grimace and aversion to it as proof that it was something unkosher at the very least.  Dog it was. 
   So, thousands of miles away from home on Christmas Eve, away from my family and our yearly dinner, I still managed to have a Christmas feast of dog and rice with my second family, the Chongqing police force.  I tried to explain to my dinner mates that I never thought that I would be having dog for xmas dinner with the police, but with their poor grasp of English they just assumed I wanted more dog (which I did) and shovelled some more into my bowl.
   This has truly been the unlikeliest of Christmas miracles for me.  Missing Christmas has weighed heavily on me but the police really came through (They also let me play with their riot gear FTW) But if you will excuse me I have to go book a flight to Los Angeles for later this week. Yes, I will be taking a train the rest of the way to Shanghai tomorrow morning, having only hitch-hiked part of the way.  And after a few days there I will be flying back to North America to begin the last leg of my trip.  I wont be getting any more internets till LA But I will be sure to do some catching up where possible.
   To those back home and everywhere else; have a very merry Christmas.  I hope you enjoy time with your family and some amazing food.  I look forward to seeing you all when I get back.  Dog Bless us Everyone!
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo







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Israel: Wholly Holy

My Friends,
   Been kickin it Mad N up in the Holy Land for the past few days.  I has been feelin it for the most part I suppose but the fact remains, I have primarily been trying to kill the time til I got my Kazakh visa.  After a Monday morning spent in Tel Aviv consulting with the Kazakh embassy I went to the Kibbutz office to see if I could do some volunteering whilst I waited for my visa to process.  It turns out that to work on a kibbutz there is more ground work to do than I am normally accustomed to doing and I couldnt actually apply to work on one if I was already in Israel on a tourist visa unless I was Jewish. It was the first time I ever experienced open and condoned descrimination in my life and it didnt feel good.
   I think there’s a joke here about the irony of the Israeli government not letting me go to a labour camp because I am not Jewish, but I’m not sure if I can make it tactfully so I’ll just move right along.
   With my hopes of volunteering dashed I headed to Jerusalem sans a passport (Kazakh embassy insisted on holding it).  Jerusalem was cool I suppose but I didnt love it.  I can appreciate the history and the religious significance but it was a little too pious for my tastes.  I spent the better part of the day actually looking for a place to rest my head and settled on a cemetery of all places.  It was actually a pretty good sleep considering the fact that I was in the middle of the city and it was quite loud.   
   From Jerayo I headed to the hamlet of En Gedi which is a blink and you missed it town on the Dead Sea.  What I liked about it though was the fact that it was a free for all as far as camping went.  I swam in the Dead Sea which was an experience to be sure.  If you’re not familiar with it, the Dead Sea is the saltiest body of water on Earth (and also the lowest elevation as I later found out) and it makes you incredibly buoyant.  I kind of just chilled there floating effortlessly for a bit till shit got old then I got out.  To my dismay, when I got out of the water it was only 10 am and I still had a whole day to kill in this little roadside stop.  I opted to start drinking as I figured it would make the day pass quicker.  As I was also reading a book the time passed quicker still and before I knew it it was dark.  I was trying to settle on a nice flat plot of real estate when Robert asked me if I wanted to come chill by the fire he was making.  WIth a resounding “oh sure” I helped him gather wood and we chilled by our little fire while drinking the little wine I had left and eating the snacks he had on hand.  As we were running low on firewood and empty on vino we decided to re-up on both.  The wine was no problem even though the aspie snack bar vendor wanted to argue with us on the exact pronunciation of the name of the bottom-shelf bottle of dry red we were purchasing for the sole purpose of catching a buzz.
   As if this weren’t insufferable enough he gave us a hard time about gathering firewood because it was techincally behind a gate that said “No Trespassing.”  It was a dick move because he tried to play it like we were in danger if we went back there but when we assured him it was ok because we both had headlamps to see in the dark he threatened that he would call the cops.  Eventually it was nothing but his aspie pride which caused him to stand in our way because we thoroughly made him look like a douchebag rendered even douchier by the lick of responsibility he felt he had. 
   As it turned out though we were more than ready to sleep by the time our existing wood burned out (two bottles of wine will do that).  Robert was a cool dude; an artist from Seattle, we talked about art, music bitches and shit like that and caught the bus back to Jerusalem in the morning.  From there we parted ways as I headed back to Tel Aviv.  I really like this city but I can’t stomach all the security.  Anywhere where there might be a concentration of people (train station, mall, etc…) has metal detectors in front of it with guards who pat you down.  It seems so short-sighted to me that in the face of potential violence they would treat everyone like a potential criminal but that seems to be the M.O. for most overbearing governments.
   Still there is a certain quality which appeals to the traveler here; I have met many people who started by traveling here and loved it so much they decided to move here.  For my part, I can see why: Tel Aviv has amazing beaches, its pretty clean and there is a certain cosmopolitan-ness to the city.  Perhaps you just get used to all the security measures
   Well, I just booked my flight to Kazakhstan as I got my visa today.  I have a nine hour layover in Kiev, Ukraine so I’ll get some borscht or something and do some sightseeing there.  I found out from one of the girls at the hostel I stayed at last night that I can expect a brisk -20 degrees Celsius when I arrive in Kazakhstan which will certainly be a shock after this relatively balmy beach weather in Israel and the rest of the Middle East but subjecting myself to misery is all part of the adventure.
   First Kazakhstan, then China, then North America for the home stretch.  Watch me crush a couple thousand kilometres real quick.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Mixed Feelings About the Middle East

My Friends,
   After a protracted stay in Beirut, Lebanon I departed Wednesday evening for Egypt.  The flight was pleasant enough but I found the lack of alcohol served to be a bit bothersome.  I soldier’d on though and made it to Cairo.  Now, the gentleman whom I had attempted to arrange accommodation with on couchsurfing.com warned me about the cabbies waiting at Cairo airport and I thought I was ready; I was not.  These dudes were like locsts, completely blocking off the exit door from customs.  I had five mobbing me and not fucking off when I was saying, quite clearly, fuck off!
   Took the airport shuttle to a bus station but these ignorant, cab-driving motherfuckers were lying in wait there too.  I ended up relenting and taking a cab to the Pyramid site at Giza, but not before doing some serial haggling.  10 USD for a half hour ride aint too bad I should think.  Also, the cabbie tried to fuck me on the exchange right but I was on my guard against shenanigans, having looked into exchange prior to leaving.
   Getting dropped off at the pyramid site put me in no better position because there were opportunistic tour operators all over the place and little poor kids tugging at my shirt for money.  A little overwhelming, but fortunately my heart is hardened against the misery of children (Ive just seen so much of it at this point) so I was able to tell the kid “Imsh” which is like the Egyptian equivalent of “fuck off and die in a fire.”  However, Moustaffa would not be discouraged so easily.  He invited me for chai (“no money, my friend” -thats how they get you) and I ended up agreeing to a horse-ride to see the sunrise over the pyramids on Thursday morning.  However, since we were kicking it in his shop while we discussed this, I managed to score a free place to crash.  Add that to the fact that he also bought me breakfast and tea and it wasn’t too bad.  As for the horsey-ride itself, it was alright; didnt actually go into the walled compound where the pyramids and the Sphinx are, just rode through the desert but honestly they seemed more impressive in pics….just my opinion.  The highlight was I finally got to gallop a horse (something my gramma had never let me do on her horses when I was a kid).  The horse seemed to be responding more to prompts from the guide rather than my spurring and I found that my lazy fuck of a horse was in no mood to hold a gallop for more than ten seconds.
   Started making my way out of Cairo after the tour and got really mad at how little the locals knew about what directions to take to go where.  Honest to God, how the fuck do you not know the road to the next city when you live in the city?  It wasnt just one guy or anything, but every person I asked couldnt tell me fuck all.  Also, the city was disgustingly dirty and reeked of burning plastic, in that way not dissimilar from Kandahar City.  With all of the squalor and eyesores and numerous occasions of people trying to hustle me I was glad to get the fuck out of that shithole of a city.  The best thing that could happen to it would be a fire.

                                                     Hopefully they got them some of this
  
   Took the bus to Suez where I spent the night at the bus station after making conversation with the proprietors of the cafe at the station.  When they realized I was waiting for a bus til the following morning they offered me a shelf to crash on in their back room, figuring (correctly) that I would be inclined to spend more money there.  It was a pleasant evening, I drank chai and watched back to back episodes of Monday Night Raw.  I realized with some dismay that my #Cenation citizenship may interfere with my eligibility to play for #TeamBringIt.  😦 sadface 
   The next day I took a bus to Nuweiba, a city close to the border with Israel, not knowing that we were going on a 9 hour adventure through all of Sinai.  It was coo though; the scenery was beautiful but I see why it took Moses 40 years to get through that bitch; very rugged terrain.  Also, they were walking.
   Got off at Nuweiba and after asking a guy named Jima for directions from Nuweiba to Taba (border town with Israel) I set out thinking he had said “16 km away” when he had actually said “60 km away.”  Before long he came by in a truck and told me to crach at his place.  It was me him, his bro and two friends, and they ran a restaruant on one of the most beautiful pieces of land I have ever seen.  “Nuweiba Heights” he called it and it backed out onto the Arabian Gulf.  In the distance he pointed out Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, and the (almost) full moon mad it awesome-er.  We crushed some lentil soup, chai and bread and I had a deep sleep, though I woke up with bug-bites all over my face which was inconvenient as my looks (such as they are) are just about all I have.
   Took the bus to Taba and walked from there to the border.  Getting out of Egypt was easy enough but getting into Israel was another story.  Obviously, they had some reservations about my Lebanese entry stamps, and this little. beady-eyed girl working at customs gave me the third-degree about my profession (student, obv), my major, my future plans, my beard.  The suspicion about the beard (I guess it is intifada-esque) made me laugh because in Turkey I had been told it made me look Jewish.  I wanted to say I had been growing it “to blend in with you people” (where “you people” = errybody in the Middle East) but I just ‘splained it was a travelers beard.

                                                           Not one of “these” beards…
  
   Security was actually pretty laid-back compared to the initial round of questioning; they kinda just scanned my bag and had a look inside, but passport control had me go through an additional security questionnaire.  It was cool though, I love answering questions about myself.  After waiting an hour, they finally gave me a visa and let me in.  Took me a taxi to Eilat and crushed the best falafel of my life.  But since it was Saturday afternoon and I didnt really have to be in Tel Aviv til Monday morning (FYI Tel Aviv deadline is the reason I had been bussing and not hitching….going to Tel Aviv for Kazakhstan visa services) I figured “fuck it” (Note: I figure “fuck it” quite a bit.  Its kind of my main justifier for any given action) and walked to Jordan.  The border crossing was simple there but the fuckers made thrifty me take a cab to Aqaba when I wanted to walk.  Once there I headed to the Mountains East of the City and managed to catch the sunset over Sinai across the water.  Got crunked on Enjoyed some Egyptian wine I had picked up from the duty free and went to sleep secluded high above the city under a beautiful full moon. 
   Now I am back in Israel (the re-entry process was thankfully a shade more abbreviated) waiting for my overnight bus to Tel Aviv.  My passport is getting pretty full of stamps and visas and I am feeling pretty good about getting the fudge out of the Middle East.  Its been nice here and all, but too much drama, suspicion and hatred for each other.  Though I will say that when people have been hospitable and helped me out, they have really gone above and beyond.  The problem arises in places like Egypt where abject poverty and lack of government leave the people in such a destitute state that they can’t look beyond the next dollar and be the good altruistic people I know they are. 
   In regards to my Kazakh visa, hopefully it doesnt take too long as I am eager to get out as I mentioned, but should it be a few days of waiting I will simply check out one of those kibbutzes or perhaps one of the Palestinian settlements and see what those are all about.  The world is my oyster at this point and I got enough rope to auto-erotic asphyxiate hang myself with. 
Stay Thirsty

-Andre Guantanamo

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Internet Persecution

My Friends,
   Do you have any of those friends on Facebook who you don’t know at all, but for some reason they have added you?  Did you, like me, accept their friendship because “fuck it, why not?”  Sure you do, we all do, and in most cases you can go on being friends with this person in perpetuity without any clue of who they are and what they are all about.

But then sometimes they try to start a conversation with you on FB Chat.

“Fuck Dude!…Really? You wanna take our friendship to that level right now?  Why don’t you let me not get to know you for a few more years before you take the big step of saying ‘hello’ to me.” 

   And so it was last night when “Amine” (names have not been changed to protect the innocent because fuck them) decided to finally talk with me.  I’m not sure how long me and this dude have been friends (maybe two years), but I can assure you, clicking “accept” for his friend request was nothing more than a vanity move on my part.  My line of reasoning, if memory serves, was something like “Hey, this dude is from Tunisia!  Perhaps if others see I have friends all around the world they will think I’m cooler for being so worldly.” 
   Well as it turned out, having a non-Englirsh speaking, 10-year-old, male friend from some shit-kicker, third-world, Tunisian, backwater, one-horse town like whatever-the-fuck village this kid was from did not do the wonders for my rep that I thought it would.
   So whatever, I kept it cordial.  Heres how the conversation went:

Amine:
لا اله الا الله ارسلها لعشرة و ستسمع خبرا جميلا الليلة و لا تتجاهل
Me: no arabic
english
A: im moslim
Me: cool
A: and you
Me: atheist
A: fuck you    imagine my shock
Me: lol, before I delete you tell me why that is a problem?
A: you are nit a moslim
Me: so?
A: and you dont love llah … allah    I wanted to say “fuck Allah” but I figured why escalate it?
Me: Allah is spelt with a capital A
A: and
Me: its not that I dont love him
I just dont believe in him
is that wrong?
A: wyh
why don belive with him
???
Me: because the universe and life can be explained without a god
A: you are moslim or not        apparently he thought I was joking the first time I said I wasnt
Me: nope
 you asked me that already
A: i sad are you a moslim or not            one last chance apparently
Me: I am not
I am an atheist
I believe in no god or prophet or messiah
A: so how are you            at some point he decided I was real enough to fucks with I guess
!!
Me: Im good thanks
but its late and its bedtime I will catch you later
be ez
A: are you her!!!

   I actually didn’t delete this kid right then, but as I was transcribing the dialogue just now he started spamming my chat so I had to baleet his friendship and report his antics (I know, “snitches get stitches”)
   the only reason this outwardly unremarkable event stayed at the forefront of my mind is because I was having another FB chat conversation while it happened…

A conversation with my woman…

Whom I havent seen for over two months…

   I’m not gonna spell it out for you but seeing as our absence has been a prolonged one the conversation may or may not have been getting a little PG-13

Pictured: What PG-13 Looks Like
So it was kind of an inopportune time for the OL fatwa of death to be put on me.  Nothing kills your erec…enthusiasm like that.
Except maybe the IRL fatwa of death
Oh well, maybe one day this kid will learn to be tolerant.  Til then let him ruin someone else’s amorous internet overtures.
Egypt on Wednesday!
Stay Thirsty
-Andre Guantanamo


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