dimanche 3 septembre 2017


Travel is Such a Sad Pleasure
The above sentence brings back several sentiments, first of all, on this trip:
La Habana-Miami-Los Indios-Doha-Casablanca-Doha-Siem Reap-Kuala Lumpur and now to Quiberon in France
This journey was repeated in another fashion two months ago, that time it was a round the world trip, with stops in Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpur, Doha and Quiberon.
I stayed at various hotels in Doha so had a good understanding of the situation with the guest workers in the country, the Qatari outward presence in the public space.
Whilst I can look dispassionately with an anthropological eye the social order of the day, once you begin to know the players on an intimate basis, once stories are distilled, the sadness settles in.
We are a fortunate few, however you look at it, it is a rather comparative exercise and there would always be more or less fortunate, and the workers in Doha might feel themselves to be fortunate than those left behind in their homelands. Our fortune lies in the fact that we have the freedom to travel and the capacity to understand and the freedom to choose.
To be a citizen of Cambodia is not a crime, but it is a liability one that which is not alleviated by corrupt government with its own power in mind. Indonesia or Malaysia or Myanmar or Laos or Thailand are no exception but each country has its own barometric level of individual liability of being a citizen of that country. In Malaysia, one does not get the feeling that the populace is fully satisfied, especially if you belong to the Chinese or Indian minority.
What has happened is that even just a few years ago there was exuberance and hope and slowly that is being taken away, and people are buckling down to accept what is for them the harsh reality: making do, scraping through, difficulties in life, uncertain future and the life bypassing them and the view of a fortunate few.
I have gone far beyond the tourist in these places, and in Siem Reap where people go to experience the magnificent ruins of Angkor, I hardly visit the temples but for me the life is in the streets of Siem Reap and in smidgen of conversations I can snatch from the people who live there.
When I see loneliness I begin to feel lonely, when I see desperation, I begin to feel desperate. I don’t seek solace in the fact that my own life is to my liking but I too fight loneliness, desperation, and homesickness just like the Filipinas in Qatar.
All these has not alienated me, in fact I have become fonder of Qatar than ever before, understanding the desert hospitality and the shared prosperity. It also puts into perspective the current ballyhoo about immigration in USA and UK as well as the refugee crisis in Europe. There is illegal migration everywhere but to what degree? I heard there are 500 000 Ethiopian illegals in Saudi Arabia, and even in Israel which is a Jewish state there are more than 30 000 mostly Muslim illegals from Arab and African countries.
Like all experienced travellers know, people travel for various reasons: the push factor and the pull factor; and immigration legal or otherwise is the same, push factor is predominantly Economic, even though lately the conflicts in Muslim countries Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia has contributed to a large number of illegal migrants or refugees, the dire economic situation in Bangladesh or some of the sub-Saharan countries has produced another deluge. We cannot be insensitive to these situations.
The pull factors are the rich countries with its civic responsibility. It is always to the richer countries (not the richer Muslim countries) that they wish to go. I want each and every one of them to have a better life but inconstantly travelling I have seen the difficulties of immigrants, legal or otherwise to the richer countries and I know intimately the struggle of Cubans who come to Miami from the island which is just a short flight away. They come to a community which is already well settled and well off, speak their language and easier to find a job. Even then, they find the migration difficult, what they left behind was the economic struggle but not the wonderful and caring social and family life which they cannot re-create in their new physical situation however welcoming. I read somewhere that emigration is one of the most stressful events in the life of a person and there are millions of people on the move and I don’t see these numbers decreasing unless something dramatic takes place: the push factor to decrease. Cambodia and Indonesia, Bangladesh cannot blame colonial powers of last century for their troubles, the people responsible for the misery are plainly visible.
The opulence that exists in these countries where misery also reigns is a contrast, which makes me even sadder. As I entered my allotted room at the Hilton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, after being transported there in a short while by a fast moving, less crowded train: I said to myself, I don’t need such luxury.
In Cuba, I appreciate a little relief from the heat in the apartment, running water and reasonable food supply, one becomes very grateful for simple things in life. I have noticed that travel has become an excess: too much food, too comfortable a travel, but then again one becomes used to these things whilst silently protesting it in vain.
I left Qatar for Europe and unfortunately it was in Greece that I landed and I missed Qatar. Greece is very poor, made poor by whom or what is up for debate, but by themselves for sure. The infrastructure reminded me of yesteryears of travel, airports that are so chaotic and primitive, such as the Nikos Kazantzakis Airport at Heraklion. (What an insult it is to that illustrious son of Greece). It is an illusion created for the middle class European, this bit of exotica, and a self hate/extortion relationship of the local Greeks to the visitors who are treated for what they are: an income. It is here that we see the classic package tourist, tourist in every sense of the word, who want to get away (push factor in travel) from their drab Midlands climate or crowded metro journeys, to sit with thousands of others in a beach, not to think of anything else for a week or two. There are no philosophical outlooks on this; there is a sense of entitlement.
Flight attendants who become philosophical about travel can teach us a lesson or two of this sociological divide, in these lands of plenty in the West. One FA remarked: the people who fly Business Class tend to be less demanding, and in general far nicer than the people who fly Economy Class. That sentence was loaded with deep anthropological meaning for me. I fly often so I have learned the tricks of flying Business Class for less (at times less even than the Economy) but there is a whole lot of symbolism encased in that metal tubing that transports you thousands of miles.
Heraklion, Greece was not a solace. I couldn’t wait for the plane to leave. There was a French-Tamil couple from France with absolutely no manners; a burly young black man dressed in the appropriate caricature, reading the Koran, which in this climate inspires a little fear.
I arrived in Nantes, France and once you get out of the airport, one realizes, I have arrived in Europe with its grandeur and inequalities, but at least with a bit of breathing space away from the forced confinements of airports and airplanes

School holidays in France were ending; I took the nearly empty train west to Quiberon.

Travel is saddest of pleasures is a quote from Paul Theroux, the American travel writer. I am thankful for whoever it was in Miami who introduced me to Moritz Thomsen and the book with the same title.