Thailand – about dollar bills and false love

“For Thais, we are nothing but Dollar bills” is what Neil, in his mid-forties and from England, claimed. I had met him in a hotel in Trat, south Thailand and close to the Cambodian border. He had been living in South East Asia since a couple of years. “When I first arrived here when I was 23 years old, young and handsome, a wise man warned me, ‘never fall in love with the girls here. They will play a game with you, pretend big love. And then they will rip you off, they will get all money out of you and finally leave you when you have nothing more to give.’ I followed his advice, and I was never taken in by one of those ladies.” He then told me about a waitress that used to work for him, “she was married to a Thai. At the same time, she had ten lovers, all white, none of them living here. She spent her time with her lovers whenever they were in Thailand so to get money out of them. Her husband even knew about it. I met those poor fellas, who of course all thought they were the only ones, completely fallen for her.”

His words made me sit up and take notice. I remembered James, who I got to know in Vietnam and who had told me a similar story. He had spent a couple of months with a Vietnamese girl, who apparently was married but separated from her husband. He told me that he cannot remember ever having had so strong feelings for a woman in his life, although he had been married before. They had even made plans together for the future – but then things were to turn out quite differently. She somehow changed her mind, got back with her husband and stopped talking to James who, at that time, had already spent several thousand Dollars on her.

James and Neil were not the only ones telling me those things. Of course, I had heard stories like that before, even seen a documentary about German men leaving their country and hoping for a better life with young and beautiful girls in Thailand. When I came to the country though, my intention was anything but getting involved into that topic and I definitely wasn’t going to spend time in Pattaya, Thailand’s party city and famous for exact those stories.

Island Koh Chang – anything but local

My plan was to relax at the beach, discovering beautiful landscapes and learning about local life. That was why I chose to travel to Koh Chang, one of the beautiful islands my travel guide from Lonely Planet had recommended.

Unfortunately, the guide is not appropriate for people who seek places off the beaten track. I had a very good time there, but rather thanks to two lovely girls from Germany/Switzerland, than for the reasons I had chosen this place: Because of its beauty, the island also became a very touristy place and beaches were filled with huge hotels and night bars. What I did not like about the place was the obvious distribution of power between tourists and locals: I didn’t feel that the girls were actually seen as real human beings. When they sat with us at table, it was rare for them to participate in our conversation, and no one really tried to make them get involved. The rule apparently was easy: I pay for you, you look pretty and do what I ask you to.

Don’t get me wrong – I am the last person to criticize that kind of relationship, if both are happy with the situation. But here’s the thing: To me the girls didn’t seem to be happy. It’s just the easiest, if not the only way to make money for themselves and their families. Once again, a proof for the unequal world we live in.

Thailand’s capital Bangkok probably is most famous for these inequalities. My time in the metropolis therefore was accompanied by situations that reflected those extreme contrasts.

I got to know two local girls from Couchsurfing. They showed me the city’s best places to go out, we had great fun together and I slept and their place – for free, the only “payment” they accepted was to listen to my stories and share travel experiences.

Bad decision: Looking for a ping pong show

On my last night however, I decided to go to see what tourists do in Bangkok. It might be inappropriate or morally wrong, but I was being too curious: I wanted to see a Thai ping pong show. Together with two English guys we made our way to a hidden and gloomy night club a man that had talked to us on the street brought us to. He mentioned a “happy hour”, and said that we would pay 100 Baht (about US$ 3) per entrance and per drink. Inside the club except for us there were only a few (old) women, some of them ladyboys. One started to dance on stage, or whatever you might call dancing. She put a cigarette between her legs and asked one of the guys to light it. When her vagina had finished to “smoke” it, she insisted in getting tips which made us feel uncomfortable and we decided to leave the club. At the exit door however they surprised us with the bill: 5200 Baht was what they wanted us to pay! Included were entrances, drinks and the “show” we had just watched. They showed us their price list: First drink 300 Baht, second about 600 and so on. When we refused to pay that huge amount, all women started to get really aggressive and said they would call the police. Insisting that we did not have that money, they finally opened us the door and let us go after having paid 500 Baht each. I spend more than I was prepared to, but it was worth it – now I got an impression about Thailand’s sinister nightlife and I know that it really is not worth time and money.

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Bangkok, Khaosan Road

That evening, Neil’s words came into my mind again. Was he right after all? For those people in the club we were nothing but dollar bills. But surely there must be more lovely people like my Couchsurfing friends in Thailand! I was disappointed to have to leave the country with this bad last example on my mind.

Good ending story

The next morning, I had to take a cab from my hotel to the airport. I had problems with my phone, so the receptionist called a taxi for me and made sure that the driver knew where I needed to go. When I sat in the car already, the lady from the reception suddenly ran after us and knocked on my window. I opened it and she gave me my purse – I must have lost it in the hotel! Inside, there was probably as much money as she would have earned during a week or two, not to mention two credit cards. I was relieved and thankful – not many people would have been that honest.

Yes, Thailand is famous for sex tourism, which is a huge problem for many young women, and not acceptable, especially when it comes to children sex tourism. Many women see white people as dollar bills, because this is the way they were brought up. Sad but true, it would be hard, if not impossible for them, to earn enough money in another way. However, my Couchsurfing friends, as well as the receptionist and all the nice and smiley people I had met in Thailand throughout my journey, proved what I actually knew before – there is no “Thais”, just as much as there is no “blonds” or “blacks”. Everyone has their own character and their own decisions to take – and those will define their lives. Apparently, Neil had met so many people all behaving in the same way that he forgot that not everybody is the same and that generalizations never can be true.

I am so happy to have gained these experiences and met these people. Not only the good, but also the bad memories taught me life lessons and always will make part of me.

Positive balance about New South Wales’ Liquor Act

15/09/2016

Eight years ago the government in New South Wales, Australia, decided on a new legislation that should reduce consumption of liquor in public premises. Today, the situation in bars and nightclubs has changed a lot from the years before, as for example in a suburb of Sydney.

Loud music is coming out of the club whenever the door is being opened. The queue of people waiting in front is getting longer each minute, but this does not disturb the doormen of the nightclub “Northies” in Cronulla, South Sydney. No matter how much time it takes, everybody needs to show an evidence of age. Two young men are refused to enter: Their European ID is not accepted. “I really can’t believe they don’t let us in although we’ve got our European IDs”, complains twenty-one-year-old Christophe from France.

New legislation restricts use of alcohol in public venues

However, the doormen act in the right way. On 1 July 2008, the “New South Wales Liquor Act 2007”, the “Liquor Regulations 2008” and the “Gaming and Liquor Administration Act 2007” came into effect. They regulate the sale of Liquor in New South Wales (NSW), as well as “certain aspects of the use of premises on which liquor is sold and supplied”, according to the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR). For instance, one of the laws lays down that there are only three approved forms of proof-of-age: Driver’s licences, NSW photo cards and (international) passports. And the doormen have every reason to check each document twice: A bartender who supplies liquor to a minor on licensed premises can be penalized with a fine of eleven thousand Australian Dollars or twelve months of imprisonment – or both.

But Christophe and his friend, like many other travellers, could not care less about the strict legislation. And they are not the only unfortunate people this night. Many more almost-guests are refused entry, and most of the time because they show signs of intoxication. “We always have to pay special attention to our patron‘s speech, balance, co-ordination and behaviour”, explains George, who works as an RSA Marshal in the bar. Tonight, as a “Responsible Service of Alcohol” (RSA) guard, his role is to make sure that the law is being followed. “As soon as we recognize one of our guests is slurring, swaying or dropping drinks for example and that the reason is a result of drunkenness, we will politely ask him to leave.”

The presence of RSA Marshals is not the only change that has been carried out at the nightclub since the laws came into effect eight years ago: Signage that prevent minors without a responsible adult to visit the premises are displayed at each entrance door, free water is provided at the bar, and employees are instructed to record each incident in a register book, the so-called “incident register“. Violent or anti-social behaviour, people removed from the premises and patrons needing medical treatments must be written down and presented in case the police asks for insight.

Alcohol consumption as a preventable public problem

What is the reason for these strict regulations? According to New South Wales Police Force, alcohol is the most commonly used drug in Australia. Young people are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol, and it plays a vital part for death among adolescents. Alcohol therefore constitutes a serious threat to people’s health. The government’s laws have however shown effect: Statistics from the “NSW Population Health Survey“ prove that the rate of alcohol consumption from 2006 to 2015 at levels that pose a long-term health risk significantly decreased from 31.4% to 25.9% in New South Wales.

Yet there are more considerable negative effects of alcohol: Its misuse has not only economic consequences – in 2013, alcohol related crime cost the NSW Police fifty-five million Dollar –, but also physical and social effects. For instance, clubs and bars have to deal with violent guests who are under the influence of alcohol. In order to reduce this problem, assault incidents should be recorded in all 18 000 venues that sell liquor in New South Wales.

Success of the law in Cronulla

Alicia Pusell, manager of “Northies“, is satisfied with the legislation from 2008: “We have far less incidents to note nowadays“. Indeed, the club’s amount of assaults per year has decreased from twenty-eight in 2007/2008 to less than eight since 2011.

These numbers are quite important because they decide on whether the venue has to face restrictions or not: Licensed venues can be categorised as level one, two or three depending on the amount of alcohol-related incidents. While in 2007/08 forty-eight licensed premises recorded nineteen or more assaults – and were therefore listed in level one – in 2015, the only club in this level is “Home Nightclub“ in Sydney’s CBD. The latter has registered 19 assaults during one year, whereas eight years ago the highest number of assault incidents in one venue was 73. Nowadays, “Home Nightclub“ is the only club that has to obey some special rules, such as a mandatory 1.30 am lockout of guests and no use of glass containers after midnight.

Little by little, “Northies“ became a secure place to go out at night and today, its number of venues has declined to such an extent that it is not listed in any level anymore. “I know what the atmosphere was like a couple of years ago“, remembers Monica, a regular patron of the nightclub, “and now it’s calmer in a way, less aggressions. But I think it’s a shame the staff became so serious. The other day a German friend couldn’t get inside because the doorman thought he was drunk – but it was just his accent that made him believe it!“

Tonight, Monica and her friends were luckier than the French. After all Christophe has learned a lesson: “Next time I will bring my international passport“, he declares, before he leaves with his friend, hoping to find a nightclub that does not take the law so seriously.

Cambodia

I must admit that before visiting Cambodia, I really did not know a lot about it. Now however I understand why this country will teach you so much about history, politics and humanity and why it is really worth going there.map_of_cambodia

From Vietnam I arrived in its capital, Phnom Penh, where I was hosted by Apollo, Nigerian and from Couchsurfing. He and his flat mate live not far from the centre in a really nice and big apartment.

Illegally in Cambodia

Apollo told me something I was quite surprised of: In Phnom Penh there are actually quite a lot of Nigerian people living. For many of them this country is more like a prison though: Back in Nigeria, they sold all their belongings just to be able to live in Asia, in hope of having a better life, which is what migrant smugglers told them in order to get their money.

Once arrived there, they suddenly realize that what people told them was wrong and that they cannot work legally with their visas. After a certain time their visas expire and they start staying in the country illegally, but they cannot return to Africa after having sold everything. And the worst: With each day they illegally stay in Cambodia, their fine when they finally leave the country would get higher – the longer they stay, the more complicated it is for them to leave. Because of their hopeless situation, many Nigerians become criminals or end up in prison.

Khmer Rouge and Autogenocide in Asia

Probably one of the most important things to do in Phnom Penh is to visit its Genocide Museum called “Tuol Sleng” or “S-21”. It certainly will not be a happy day for you, but a very important one.

This museum shows and explains in a very good manner, with audio guides and a lot of documentaries, to what extend their former regime, the Khmer Rouge, destroyed the country and their own population by torturing and killing millions of innocent people.

From 1975-1979, the communist regime under Pol Pot decided that they wanted to change the whole country by destroying anything modern and industrialized and creating a form of agrarian socialism. Academics and people that were considered as being intellectuals, for example if they wore glasses, were tortured and executed in Security Prison 21 (“S-21”) among other places. Any signs of religion and industrialization were destroyed, like machines and temples. People were resettled out of big cities to the countryside – Phnom Penh for example became a ghost town. Whoever was opposed to the Khmer Rouge or being suspected of opposing the regime was tortured and finally killed.

I spend my whole afternoon in the museum, which used to be a school before it became this place of horror. When I finally left, I felt like every smile was a smile too much.

Angkor Wat and temples – more exhausting than interesting

After the capital, I moved on to what Cambodia is most famous for: Its temple complex and the largest religious monument of the world, Angkor Wat.

Since I am the kind of person to never organize my journey, I was lucky to arrive early in the morning in a hostel in Siem Reap and to meet a young American lady, Kelsy, who offered me to share a “tuk-tuk” (three wheeler taxi) to the temples. We succeeded in watching the beautiful sun rise, and then moved on to visit the biggest and oldest temple, Angkor Wat, and two more, one where the film “Tomb Raider” was made, “Ta Prohm”.

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Again it wasn’t me who took this wonderful picture of Angkor Wat, since with my phone all my photos got stolen, too.

I don’t know if it was because of the sweltering heat, or the fact that we didn’t want to spend our money on a guide, hoping that our tuk-tuk driver was knowledgeable, or even more probable for the fact that I got my phone stolen – this day surely was not my favourite one in Cambodia. I think for a next time I’d definitely pay for someone who could teach us something about the place and even more definitely I would pay more attention to my valuables: It was only when we had left the temple already when I realized that my mobile was gone. At least everything took a turn for the better: In a phone shop in Siem Reap I soon found a new and better one, for which I paid AU$200, worth AU$700. And on my last stop in Cambodia, Battambang, I decided to just relax and watch some documentaries, where I finally learned why those temples are actually worth a visit.

I do not regret at all having visited Cambodia, as I had the chance to learn so much. However, after being confronted with topics and incidents that wouldn’t really make me feel as being on holidays, I was looking forward to doing something more cheerful and pleasant – beach time in Thailand!

The only thing in life achieved with effort is failure.

“The only thing in life achieved without effort is failure”

was what a young man in Bangkok had written on his T-Shirt.

Possible that he did not even understand these English words, but just wore the T-Shirt because he liked the colours. Also possible that this was his personal statement, that these words give him motivation to work harder and that he believed in what the T-Shirt told him. Anyways – I don’t.

I thought about these words for a moment until I realized how untrue they are.

Our world unfortunately works not like that at all, and I realize that almost with every single journey. Here in Thailand I am privileged, because I am white, because I come from Europe – and even more, I come from Germany. What effort did I do except for being born there?

Thailand is the third most unequal country in the world – 58% of its wealth is controlled by ONE percent of the people. How would those people ever do enough efforts to be able to hold more than half of the country’s wealth?

When I see old ladies selling food in the street here in Bangkok, or men working on construction sites, I think, they are doing the best effort they can, for themselves and their families. But neither will they ever achieve real financial success in their lives, nor their children and probably not even their grand children. Just because they were born that way.

Everyday life in Bangkok

Learning shopping rules in Hoi An

From Ninh Binh I took the night train to Da Nang, and from there a cab to Hoi An. First time for me to sleep in a bed in a train, I was really looking forward to it and it was fun I have to say. Better than the bus for sure, at least I could stretch my legs.18160552_405827193119698_342471122995904512_n

Hoi An was lovely and I wished I could have stayed longer than only for one day. Beautiful, empty beaches and a very cute downtown, especially at night when Chinese lanterns light up the town in all sorts of colours. Hoi An also is the right place to buy souvenirs and more – dozens of shoe and clothing shops that produce on your request and to your size for very few money. Although I had not intended to spend money on clothes, I couldn’t help but bought one Asian style shirt and two pairs of shoes.

This shopping trip taught me a lesson though. Since all the shops have so many competitors, it is quite common to negotiate prices. I was looking for sandals and talked to a couple of sellers to know about their prices.

Finally, I found one who went lower and lower with the price, she absolutely didn’t want me to leave without buying one pair. I negotiated with her without really wanting to and finally accepted her very low offer. I felt that I would have been rude to leave although she made me such a good offer.

However, after leaving the shop I realized that I had just negotiated for a couple of dollars, something less I would have spent on a coffee in Australia. I got so much used to Vietnamese prices that this amount of money seemed a lot to me. Later, when I went back to fetch my shoes, I paid her more than I had to and she offered me a big smile, which was more worth than those few bucks.

Discovering landscapes in Sa Pa and Ninh Binh

Having spent a couple of days in Vietnam’s heat, I decided to take a sleeping bus (beds are in Asian size, not so comfortable for me) further north in the mountains to Sa Pa, which is known as one of the most beautiful landscapes in Vietnam, with huge rice fields and lots of green spots.

Unfortunately, I was unlucky enough to spent almost all time in rain. No beautiful sights at all, so no reason for me to stay longer than a day and a half. At least I met James from America who had been travelling for four years and who knew Vietnam very well. He showed me some nice corners in town and shared with me his sad ending love story with a Vietnamese girl who apparently was particularly interested in his money. Later, Dong told me that this sort of story is not the only one she had heard of.

Because of the bad weather I decided to leave Sa Pa earlier and had one day more, which I spent in Ninh Binh. Beautiful little city!

And also the first time for me to try to ride a motorbike by myself. I was quite nervous before I started, since traffic rules do not exactly work as I am used to. But soon I realized there was nothing to worry about as long as you know how to beep the horn.

I think this day was probably one of the best: Even though I got to know a very nice group of French guys and we took a canoe together to discover the cliffs and caves in Tam Coc, 9km from Ninh Binh, I couldn’t wait to be alone on my bike again and just drive without any destination. I didn’t want to follow big streets but rather enter in small lanes, where local life took place. Again, people welcomed me with a big smile and a “hello” on every corner.

At some point I saw a big tunnel and although I was on my way home I changed plans and entered. Behind I spotted a big lake and steps to something that looked like a temple. I climbed the steps and discovered a big cave illuminated with golden lights. Inside there was an altar decorated with Buddha statues and jags, all in gold. The temple smelled great thanks to joss sticks someone had lightened. I was really impressed by its beauty. In front of the cave, from the building I had seen downstairs, I had an amazing view all over the lake and the mountains next to it. I was almost the only person, and it felt great.

Leaving down under, Starting far east (Saigon)

Another farewell, another new begin. I think I got kind of used to it now, after almost six years of travelling. I was looking forward to my trip to South East Asia so much when I bought my plane tickets to Vietnam. However, my last month in Australia was probably my best and therefore leaving Sydney was not as easy as I had hoped.

Luckily exciting Vietnam makes me change ideas and I did not at all lay in bed nostalgically.

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Saigon – learning about motorbikes, money and war

My start was in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, south of the country. Getting out of the plane, driving to my hotel (first time to have my own room since months!), discovering the neighbourhood… all that was a wonderful feeling! So much culture, so much going on! Almost too busy, with all the motorbikes and noises everywhere. Quickly I had to learn how to cross a Vietnamese street – best is eyes closed, drivers will stop anyway and apparently the most common reason why there are accidents are pedestrians hesitating where to go while crossing the street. If I crossed a street like that in Germany I’d probably be in the newspapers on the next day, here it’s just everyday life.

Also, I had to get used to their currency – no coins at all, since they would not be worth a “penny”. One Australian Dollar is about 17.000 Vietnamese Dong, one Euro something like 25.000 Dong. To give you an idea about what life costs: One bottle of water between 9.000 and 15.000 Dong usually, a one course dish depending on the food and if it’s in a touristy area or not between 15.000 and 120.000 Dong. Amazingly cheap!

Saigon to me was a place where to learn about Vietnam’s interesting and at the same time horrible history. I have never been to a country that had to suffer so many wars. I visited the cu chi tunnels that were constructed by Vietnamese soldiers, the Viet Cong, and helped them to hide and fight against Americans and I also went to one of the most important war museums in the world, the war remnants museum where I learned historical facts, such as about the dangerous chemical agent orange used against the country. Those who were exposed to it, and also their descendants still suffer from serious health problems – during my journey I saw a couple of Vietnamese without hands, arms or other handicaps. Surely country’s history was presented subjectively, but even after my own reserches I strongly believe that the former American government bears the most blame for what has happened. I couldn’t help but felt very angry about how far people go to destroy other people’s lives.

However, and that was something that really surprised me a lot during my journey, I understood later that nowadays most Vietnamese have forgiven Americans and they are even very often known to be their “favourite” tourists: Apparently American culture, whatever that actually is, is something Vietnamese are very curious about and they want to live more this Western life style.

Hanoi – About Vietnamese culture and communism

After Saigon, I headed up to the country’s capital, Hanoi, by plane. Famous for its Old Town, the city is, just as Saigon, quite busy, full of motorbikes all the time, which scared me a bit sometimes.

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I very much appreciated the fact that I could stay at a local’s place, Dong, who is a journalist, too. We talked about French (the presidential elections were close!) and Vietnamese politics and she explained me to what extend Vietnam still is a communist country. In fact, I had been looking for signs of communism, but it didn’t really feel different to any other country I had been to so far. Everywhere you go people ask you to buy something from them, negotiation is quite common and of course there are different sort of social classes – some people only earn one dollar per hours or even less, some much more. However, according to Dong, you cannot say or write at all what you want to: the media is controlled or owned by the government. Reason enough for her to stop working for them and starting her career as a freelancer.

Getting to know true Vietnamese life

The best part of living in her area was the fact that I was the only tourist everywhere I went. People were often smiling at me, waving and telling me things in Vietnamese or trying to communicate with hands and feet. Some pointed at me to their friends, and children, who often spoke better English than their parents, sometimes walked next to me and told me their few words they could say. I don’t think I have ever said “hello” more often in such a short time. Once two men showed me their camera and I thought they wanted me to take a photo of them, but I soon understood that they wanted a photo with me – I just laughed and accepted. Soon I’ll be probably known as somebody like “Julia, my American friend” within their Facebook friends. 😀

I really started to like Vietnamese people. In the beginning, I was probably more cautious, since I wasn’t too sure if they would take advantage of the fact that I was a foreigner and did not understand their language. And although I am pretty sure they sometimes charged me a bit more than a local, I still feel that they were being caring somehow. When the motorbike driver wasn’t sure if the address I gave him was correct, he called Dong and asked her since he couldn’t communicate with me. Very often a big smile was the only communication possible and that was enough for me to appreciate these people.

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A Vietnamese baby, Bao An, I “found” in the plane from Saigon to Hanoi… sooo cute!
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Street food in Hanoi
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Best fruits ever… I went there every day while staying at Dong’s place, and each time the seller cwelcomed me with a huge smile!
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Typical dinner with Dong. I paid $1… for both of us!

Melbourne – last but not least

Melbourne! Awesome city, just as great as I imagined it to be. After talking so often with backpackers about the place, selling travel packages to the Great Ocean Road, Phillip Island and the Grampians National Park as if I had been there already, I finally got the chance to discover the place by myself.

My stay of four days was much too short, since in Melbourne you cannot really get bored: There are just too many things to see and to experience.

It is very different to Sydney, the classical, stylish part of Australia. If it comes to Melbourne, I think about adjectives like alternative, creative and European. In fact much more the way I like to live. Indeed, it reminded me a lot of Berlin, and now I can’t wait to get back to this amazing city!

Melbourne probably isn’t about this one big famous building (although there certainly are some), or following google maps through its main streets. Its famous beaches in Saint Kilda are nothing like in Sydney, on the beautiful Bondi-Coogee walk for example. Obviously the weather also was not the same as in Sydney. (Someone told me, “if you don’t like the weather in Melbourne, just wait for one hour cause it’s going to change”.)

Instead Melbourne is more about turning into those small little lanes, because it’s the hidden places that will make you stop and admire the beautiful street arts or the cute little shops and cafes. It’s more the people that make Melbourne to what it is I guess. It is a very diverse city, where you see all kind of hair colours, dresses or almost not dressed, painted houses and so many musicians in the streets. Melbourne has its own character.

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Gastronomy also is a bit thing! You will find restaurants from all sort of countries, especially in the lovely area called Fitzroy. Me personally I chose “Afghan Gallery”, not only with really tasty food, but with the best waiters I’ve had in the last couple of months. They made me feel like a real guest, and since I got along so well with them they even offered me free pastries and drinks.

A very good idea if you want to learn about Melbourne’s culture, history and lifestyle, is to go on the “I’m free” tour.

And of course it’s not only Melbourne, but also all the places around the city that are so much worth being visited. Because of the limited time I had, I could “only” discover the Great Ocean Road with the twelve Apostles (that are actually eight). However the tour, our guide John, and the food (great pizza for dinner!) were perfect.

I was looking so long for Australian culture, something typical from the country. Now Melbourne did not show me anything like this at all. I saw all kinds of cultures except for the Australian one, the only language I almost did not hear in its street was Australian English, whoever was a tourist could have also lived there, just because there is no typical “Melburnian” face. But while looking for Australian culture I did perhaps forget that that is what Australia, and especially Melbourne, is about – a mixture of all countries, people and cultures.

After four days only I can say that Melbourne now became my favorite place in Australia and that if I ever was to come back to this country, I would very likely chose this city to live in.

Australia’s Outback – finally culture!

Traveling to Australia’s outback finally allowed me to come closure to the country’s culture, something I really had missed in Sydney. The whole journey only took four days, but it was enough to see a lot of amazing places and learn about indigenous life and traditions.

I traveled in a group of ten, one of them was our guide, a lovely Australian young woman. Already from the plane I could get a glimpse on famous Ayers Rock, or Uluru, the Aboriginal term for the rock formation. We visited it on our first day, as well as the cultural center where we learned about Aborigines, their life and Uluru’s history. Ayers Rock is a sacred place for the Anangu, the locals from the area, and today UNESCO World Heritage. Since European settlement it had been visited by tourists and until few years ago the most important reason for them to go there was to climb the mountain. Nowadays most people recognize and respect the fact that the Anangu people ask tourists not to climb it, since the Indigenous feel responsible for their guests and guilty if someone gets hurt or dies.

We also visited and walked around the other big rock formation, Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, which, together with Uluru, make part of the national park. On our last day we visited Kings Canyon, or Watarrka. Especially Kata Tjuta and Watarrka required long and exhausting walks, we had to climb lots of steps to get to the very top – these walks were accepted by the Anangu, they had even helped to construct the walking ways. Although we started our walks still by night (we go up at 4 am!) and finished them in the morning at around 10, we always needed to take a lot of water with us because of the heat: During he afternoon, temperatures went up to 40 degrees or even more. Once arrived on the top, the view and the whole surroundings were just breathtaking. I cannot remember having ever seen landscapes like that.

In the evenings after dinner we were all so tired that we fell into our swags (mixture of sleeping back and tent) and I usually slept by 8 or 9 pm. It was amazing sleeping under the starry sky, I even got to see a shooting star.

Trying to learn about Indigenous culture

During the journey I saw lots more Indigenous people than ever before, the red centre really is home to lots of them. Backpackers usually do not live there, because there is nothing to do or to see than the Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park. Even in Alice Springs, the closest city to Uluru and about a five hour drive from there, there are almost no other people than the Indigenous living.

Unfortunately it is also known to be a dangerous place, especially by night, because of a high crime rate, and tourists should never walk around in the small centre on their own. Former exclusions of the Aborigines from society have led to serious social problems such as poverty, unemployment and alcohol addictions still until today. Although they officially have the same rights as other Australians and should make part of the country just as every other citizen, I could strongly feel that “Australians” and Aborigines are separated, or separate themselves from each other. White people were driving in cars, whereas I saw not one single vehicle driven by an Aborigine in Alice Springs. I saw them sitting in parks, seemingly doing nothing, or walking outside in the heat.

I was told about their culture, for example that it is impolite to watch someone in the eyes while he is talking to you and I didn’t really get the impression that they were very interested in talking to foreigners. These reasons and the fact that our guide had warned us from the high crime rate stopped me from trying to get into conversation, but probably also because I was too tired when I arrived in Alice. I realized no one else from the backpackers I met had, dared, either. I truly believe this to be a big problem, because how else can you make sure that different societies get along well when their members do not talk to each other? When I think about it, it is actually a big shame. Finally I had discovered what I was looking for since months – typical Australian culture! And I couldn’t even learn about it from those who represent this culture.

However I was really amazed by what kind of landscapes and views Australia’s “red centre” has to offer and I can only recommend every tourist to go there when they come to visit Australia. This is a very special place to see and something you can only experience in this country.