i actually had a lot of expectations in venturing to western europe. of course i wanted to see the art and the history and all. but i had expected a wise air of maturity. a sophistication. all that stuff they told us in morals and ethics classes about a well-behaved civil society of cultured people.
you know where i am getting but mind, i was not completely disappointed. flying over germany was exactly how i envisioned a first world country would be. solar panels. wind turbines. and then in the train to the airport, i notice a little graffiti in the tunnel walls and thought, its okay, we got some creative vandalism at home too.
but as i traveled to paris, the graffiti got more and more and from tunnels, they spanned onto walls of almost the entire track passage. in barcelona, the graffiti crept onto parts of the train. by the time i got to rome, the trains are completely covered on colourful spray paints (pic).
and while the trains themselves are efficient – they come every five minutes, tops – but they are old. i suppose it says something about their engineering if old carriages like those are till used, but i remember standing in a train station in paris feeling kinda disappointed that the train arriving was a box-shaped thing with doors that snapped like an impatient french lady.
heck, i remember taking the train back to my hostel in paris one night, and a drunk man sat beside me and started mumbling to me. he went on and on and on. i was still a few stops from my station and i swapped seats since the train was not full. people looked. it was not nice.
i had maybe too high of an expectation of what a first world state of mind would, or should be. appreciation for health and well-being was one of them. but here’s the truth, majority of the locals i met smoked. you think a lot of people smoke at home, well double or triple that make them all chain smokers while you’re at it. in a crowded street, every other person you see is smoking.
i have nothing against smokers, but i am just shocked by the magnitude. there are cigarette vending machines almost everywhere. people in business suits smoked. parents would smoke in front of children and even while pushing prams. young people, old people, rich-looking ones, homeless, boys, girls, there is specific no demographic to it.
there was a time i was sitting on some steps in trastevere, rome, and a girl with dreadlocks asked me if i had a lighter. and i told her that i did not smoke. she had to pause awhile to register that idea before moving on to ask someone else.
and the LITTER! oh. my. god. they litter everywhere. there is a bin there, but they still litter. i think this is my greatest shock. name it, they’ve discarded it. sweet wrappers. cigarette boxes. cigarette buds. used plastic cups. bits of whatever. in germany, not so bad. paris, more (to my absolute shock and horror). as for barcelona and rome, there was a joke in my hostel that those two cities smell like washrooms – and this is not completely untrue.
crossing roads. in germany, they wait until the little red man turns greens before they cross the streets – even if there are no cars on the road. in paris, if there are no cars, they would sometimes cross the smaller road even if the little red man is not green. in barcelona, if you gather a group big enough, you can stop traffic. in rome, if you run fast enough, you can get across the road before oncoming cars bashes you to bits.
the homeless and beggers on the street are not a nice story. i mean, homeless and beggers anywhere is not a nice story. but over here, i am confused and a greater part of me really does not know how to feel about it. i see immigrants, mostly illegal i am told, on the streets, and refugees and gypsies – all looking for a handout. they tell me stories of war and dead family members and how they come in search of a new life.
and i hear stories about syndicates and how they use these sob stories of the war to pry for money. they wait at the gates of great churches and cathedrals and bear family photos. a number resort to stealing and pickpocketing – i hear so many stories of these too.
walking on the street at night, i see some streets staggered with drunkards, with a bottle in one hand and a foul word on their lips. they eventually collapse on the steps that would be their refuge for the night. steps that are more often a monument of some of the oldest and greatest civilisations in european history, or in the shadow of one, at least.
these are just some examples of my experiences. i had a brazillian roommate in barcelona who shared the same concerns. the latin american people are more caliante, she tells me. i tell her that asians are friendlier.
you know how there are all those campaigns at home that tells us to look to the west for technology and and the first world mentality? i fear that i don’t quite know what is that first world mentality anymore. for the most part, i am undecided about how i feel about europe. i have no regrets taking the trip and would certainly do it all over again. but, you know.
there is something about roving in that continent that gives me the acute awareness of my asianness, and a sense of pride that i have for being an asian. there is just something about these europeans that i just don’t want to be, and i can’t quite put my finger on that that is.
and it is not that europe was a terrible experience. i had loads of fun that i will share with you on the next post (wait for it! it’s gonna be awesome).
maybe i just went about europe the wrong way. maybe things would have been a universe of difference if i stayed at one of those posh hotels with thick embroided drapes and egyption silk bathrobes. things might have been different if i took those fancy tours with a flag waving guide and everyone had matching hats.
but this is the tale of the poor backpacker who walked in the back lanes of europe and found some of the cobbled roads a little uneven.