November 19. Petra.

Waking up not too early since this is supposed to be a vacation day. We walk to the entrance of the archelogical marvel that is called Petra, and I buy a one-day pass (one day: 21 JD, two days: 26 JD as of november 2009. Be smart and buy a two-day-pass if you really want to enjoy the ancient city of Petra). With that pass, they let me walk around the site. I learn to ignore the many offers of horseback and camel rides and proudly stroll past the regurgitating ungulates and their mercantile owners. It is hot but the walk is quite nice. Rock carvings, niches, columns, chambers, decorative elements borrowed from many different cultures make the stones come to life. Horse chariots rush through the narrow As-Siq gorge to give their current passengers a good time or to pick up new once as the pedestrians gaze at the rock walls that are soaring up 80 metres. At the end of the 1200 m long gorge there is the Al-Khazneh or treasury, the best-kept monument in Petra and probably the picture that pops up when you google the place. A 43 metres high colonnaded facade dwarfs the unprepared tourist and bears witness of the Nabataeans architectural craftmanship and artistic touch. Al-Khazneh was carved in the first century BC as a tomb of a Nabataean king and perhaps used later as a tomb. I continue walking along the colonnaded street and past the Royal tombs, then up a hill for a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape – alas, my breath is already taken by my running to the top. So I run into some Beduins that are guiding two Canadian girls. The Beduins, strikingly resembling the protagonist of Pirates of the Caribbean, don’t like me and so I sit down on the mountain top, overseeing the valley and dozing away in the hot sun. Behind me is the Ad-Deir monastery, another marvellous structure carved in the rocks a couple of centuries ago. Architectural embellishments are sober compared to those of the Treasury, but it has a greater talent to blow you away (be careful not to fall off the mountain though). I am “dozing away”, did I just write that? I don’t like it. I am pondering, meditating, excogitating, reflecting, musing with rigor and vigor those two rugged Russian brothers. There, you don’t read that in your tourist guide.
This is a tourist gathering, and I quickly get enough of it. Imagine me sitting there looking at the mountains, the donkeys, the waving Jordanian flags and the distant clouds, and being exposed to typical conversations like

“I traveled a lot all over the world. I think my life will be too short. I went diving in Australia the last time. Always if I’m traveling in poor cauntries I stay for three dollars the night.”
-“Have you done Syria yet?”
“Yes, I’ve just completed Syria last week. It was awesome.”
-“Where are you going next?”
“I want to check out Egypt, it has a lot of things to offer.”
-“I did Egypt fifteen years ago. It’s a great place.”
“Thanks. Goodbye.”
Take a homo sapiens, put him on an airplane, and put him in front of stones. Be careful alway to tell him how special and unique the stones are, otherwise he might get bored. How to make stones appear unique. 1) Tell their history in an imaginative way. Mention the many layers of ancient cultures involved. 2) Let the homo sapiens take photographs of the stones so that he feels like he is taking them in. 3) Raise an entrance fee that is high enough to make it look important.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this place, but I have to move on. So I descend the mountain, have one more look at the Nabataean rock wonders and reach the exit on time. A taxi takes me a few meters up the road for too much money. Hitchhiking is impossible here, yet a private taxi is easy to find. And so I enjoy a beautiful ride on Jordan’s road to the south, staring at the mountains one more time until the sun sets behind them. I tell my driver about my project and he gives me the story of his traveling to Israel. Of course he was harassed by the police, searched, called out of a nightclub. He knew some person working closely together with Sharon and so one phonecall was enough to make the police let him go. These stories are no exception; it happens to every Arab visiting Israel. Just to cut this short: I do not want to live in a country whose government is suporting Israel as long at the torture is going on, and that’s final.

I am lucky again: there is a ferry to Egypt leaving that night and I can be on it. A visa to Egypt can be purchased at the border upon arrival. I spend a few hours in Aqaba with Mohammed whose dream it is to work in Germany of the Netherlands, yet fails to secure the necessary money due to an obstinate smoking addiction. His salary: 300 JD. His daily expenses: 10 JD. Two for the bus, three for cigarettes, one for a can of energy drink, four for lunch. I tell him to quit smoking and promise him help with documents should he really go to Rotterdam. It’s easy for me to make that promise since very few people actually remember it and actually write me an email. We say goodbye and I take the bus to the ferry terminal. It is crowded. Formalities are swiftly dealt with and I sit down waiting and doing nothing. As a non-Jordanian tourist I get a carte blanche and they take me to the vessel like I’m some special person. At first I cuddle in my sleeping bag on the upper deck, then I explore the ship that will stay in the port for two more hours. I discover a hot shower and lock myself in for a while. The ticket is expensive enough so I decide it should come with a sauna and let the hot water vaporize in the shower cabin. Aaaghh.

July 17. The ferry to Vladivostok.


An early morning-goodbye to my friends in Korea. I hop on the bus to Sokcho, get into the terminal and go to the usual cycles of waiting. Once I’m admitted to the rusty vessel (you should have seen the cardeck) I’m so tired that I crash my berth right away. The berth: they just put some dividers in one of the ship’s chambers, much like office cubicles – a very economical way to offer individual sleeping comfort to the tourist that demands such. I don’t care about anything and sleep most of the day. Sometimes I creep out of the confinement of my berth to watch the sea, to spot a North Korean fisherboat and have instant noodles for lunch. The other passengers don’t seem very talkative and I assume most of them are workers or children of workers who make the trip out of economical necessity. I start exploring the ship and take one intersting photograph. But it is my berth and the lectures I am listening to on my mp3-player that are the most exciting part of the trip.

July 17. The ferry to Vladivostok.


An early morning-goodbye to my friends in Korea. I hop on the bus to Sokcho, get into the terminal and go to the usual cycles of waiting. Once I’m admitted to the rusty vessel (you should have seen the cardeck) I’m so tired that I crash my berth right away. The berth: they just put some dividers in one of the ship’s chambers, much like office cubicles – a very economical way to offer individual sleeping comfort to the tourist that demands such. I don’t care about anything and sleep most of the day. Sometimes I creep out of the confinement of my berth to watch the sea, to spot a North Korean fisherboat and have instant noodles for lunch. The other passengers don’t seem very talkative and I assume most of them are workers or children of workers who make the trip out of economical necessity. I start exploring the ship and take one intersting photograph. But it is my berth and the lectures I am listening to on my mp3-player that are the most exciting part of the trip.

July 10. Avant-garde.

Meet old friends in a coffee near one of Seoul’s many universities. They haven’t changed much. We tell each other about our lives and smile friendly. Then I go and buy a ferry ticket to Vladivostok. The office is in the lively Insadong district. I head back to Tom n Toms coffee house to write despite of my inspirational drawback. I have to go through this.

Meal consists of fried seafood in dough and fish on a stick and I don’t care if there are better ways to name them. The woman next to me is typing much faster than I do and that gets om my nerves. Having this meal entonces, I am sitting at a small table where a Korean guy starts talking to me and offering me soju, the local strong alcohol. He is a translator between Russian and Korea and in the course of our conversation, which is conducted partly in Korea me using words I’d never think I had them in me, so in the course of our conversation he writes down the greetings in Russian, which I already know, but it is very kind. He says I have a good “angle” on my face I take that as a compliment he keeps smiling and we drink to avant-garde. I’m not kidding: this guy says what he likes most is avant-garde, he says it with a naughty smile behind the black frame of his glasses he says it and we toast again. To avant-garde! He asks for my cellphone but I give him my email-address (of course he won’t write me like nobody and I want to prove them all wrong). Then he buys some more food and explains it is symbolic and not for eating. It takes me a while before I ask can I have a little potato, but of course. Not drinking but eating wouldn’t have made me popular among Koreans, but I’ve already built up some credits I can use. A woman joins us and she reads a Korean poem from her cellphone. Maybe she’ll mail it to me, I’m curious… but it’s time to go, the sauna is waiting and I need it as a cure for my sore throat. I really like it. I hang out with a Philippian exchange student and a friendly Korean who offers me something to drink. I’d love to have a conversation with them, but I am so tired I crash a random mat, dreaming a random dream about betrayal.

Helsinki #1. How to grow a Swede.

I got up at 6am (why do I write the ‘am’? Getting up at 6pm is not really about the kind of trip I’m making), so got up at six, slipt slyly out of my bed, packed my back, left a thank you note for Ellu on the table, took a banana and sneaked out of her flat. Then I walked to the port to embark on my ferry to Helsinki. “C-terminal”, where I erroneously believed to be headed, was not that well-known among local’s. Even after showing my left hand with an A and a B stroke through and a C with the hint “Sadam” (port in Estonian) she nodded and said something about Centrum. Although I had lost my map, I still knew where I had to go, and I arrived at the A-Terminal (the right one) on time.
About the “Sadam” thing I made a little joke. It goes like this: We can be lucky that George W. Bush is so stupid to be totally ignorant of every other country, otherwise he would have know that there is something called “Sadam” here – and he would most likely have bombed it.

After half an hour observing other people in the terminal, among them a group of metal tourists with black clothes, I entered the vessel. I went to the upper deck immediately, and I saw the sun rising, and felt alive. A group of Chinese woman were taking pictures of themselves, one of them awkwardly holding a SLR-camera with a huge objective reversed in front of her for a self-portrait against a rising helios, so I offered them a little help. But I don’t seem to have put many buttons there, since I was ignored. It didn’t bother me, since the upper deck was almost empty and I photographed the rapidly brightening morning sky.




On the boat I saw something that I’d never seen before, and that really scared me off: the bar was actually… barred. And since I had made no use of it whatsoever, I didn’t find it obvious that a bar was barred – that it was in fact more like a cage. There must be savages on this boat, I thought, that rampage the interior, driving up the prices except for the 8am ferry. There must be ferocious drunks feasting on ethanol and trying to slaughter the bartender, who would probably hide in his cage, reluctantly giving out vodka to hairy claws through the steel bars and wait until the ferry would finally reach the save haven of Helsinki or Tallinn Port Areas. I heard stories about wacko’s doing crazy things on Scandinavian ferries, and I saw the group of heavy metal guys wreathed in dark gowns – connecting those facts I uttered a short “mmm” before laying down for a while.

There is another anecdote. In Tallinn, I read René Girard’s Violence and the Sacred, kindly shared by Ellu, and read about his claim that the sacrifice is fundamental in any religion, and learned about the concept of the surrogate victim, essentially a victim that represents the Father of the clan, but chosen randomly. The play is, Girard claims against Huizinga (homo ludens) not the most fundamental thing, it is originated in religious rites, which are really the very basis of human society. They introduce the aspect of randomness, of choosing the surrogate victim. Canelos-Quichua Indians in Ecuador use dice, and Oedipus, Girard reminds us, is the sun of Tyche.
Hence, gambling is not just a secular practice, but in essence a religious way of dealing with the world. The dice were the voice of the goddess, and quite opposed to being a sin, gambling was understood as a sacred practice. With that in my mind, I heard the rattling slot machines on the ferry, and I had some thoughts that entertained me.

So I arrived in Helsinki, and walked around for a while. People were much friendlier than I thought on the ferry. The famous Esplanade, a showcase park, was interesting. They have a statue of Runeberg, the national poet, and it said due to the scarcity after the war in 1918 they temporarily converted it into farmland, and actually crew potatoes, cabbage and swedes instead of roses. The “swedes” (koolraap in Dutch) thing is particularly noticeable, concerning the fact that the Finnish, a people of some 5.2 million, gained independence from the Swedes only in 1809 (next year big party!), had than been under Russian rule for about a century and finally gained independence in 1917. Aware of this history of Big Neighbour Domination, I looked at the city a bit differently, and walked a few blocks down.

In the Kamppi, a well-known shopping complex (they have a lot of them here), I sat down in a café, observing the working class Finnish, and dozing away – until the waitress woke me up and persuaded me to put a double espresso into my veins. I woke up, asked some guy to use his mobile phone, and got in touch with my host from Couchsurfing, whose address I finally found on the map (ä is not a). I walked around a little and went into a tiny bookstore, where a very kind woman welcomed me in English. I asked her if she had a Finnish phrasebook, but she didn’t. Then she offered me to write some handy words and phrases down. I still have that paper, and I used it several times. She was so kind. So here is the Finnish I promised her to memorize:

“Anteeksi, puhotteko Englanti?” Sorry, do you speak English?
“Saisinko kolme olut.” Three beers please!
“Minun nimeni on…” My name is…
“Kiitos” Thank you
“Päivää” / “Hei” Good day

After a nice conversation with the shopowner, who had studied linguistics, sociology, history, anthropology among other things, I walked again for half an hour – in the wrong direction. I went into a coffee bar with very friendly guys, who offered me pastry on the house. They were not Finnish, but from Morocco and Brooklyn, New York. The NYC-Guy told me his family opens new cafe’s every few months, and move on once they are profitable. The one in Helsinki went quite well, he told me.

It was time to go to the place of my Couchsurfing host. He was very friendly and we chatted about his job as a computer programmer (I studied something like that in my former life). He explained to me he was writing a compiler in C++, overriding the vector of the STL for optimization purposes, coding an API and a VM. It understood some of it. His company intends to sell the language that would eventually produce code for mobile phones to Nokia – the nr. 1 corporation by far in Finland, and pretty inevitable for employees in the technology field.

Late at night we saw this Japanese animation film, spirited away, but we stopped it in the middle of it because the subtitles disappeared.

Helsinki #1. How to grow a Swede.

I got up at 6am (why do I write the ‘am’? Getting up at 6pm is not really about the kind of trip I’m making), so got up at six, slipt slyly out of my bed, packed my back, left a thank you note for Ellu on the table, took a banana and sneaked out of her flat. Then I walked to the port to embark on my ferry to Helsinki. “C-terminal”, where I erroneously believed to be headed, was not that well-known among local’s. Even after showing my left hand with an A and a B stroke through and a C with the hint “Sadam” (port in Estonian) she nodded and said something about Centrum. Although I had lost my map, I still knew where I had to go, and I arrived at the A-Terminal (the right one) on time.
About the “Sadam” thing I made a little joke. It goes like this: We can be lucky that George W. Bush is so stupid to be totally ignorant of every other country, otherwise he would have know that there is something called “Sadam” here – and he would most likely have bombed it.

After half an hour observing other people in the terminal, among them a group of metal tourists with black clothes, I entered the vessel. I went to the upper deck immediately, and I saw the sun rising, and felt alive. A group of Chinese woman were taking pictures of themselves, one of them awkwardly holding a SLR-camera with a huge objective reversed in front of her for a self-portrait against a rising helios, so I offered them a little help. But I don’t seem to have put many buttons there, since I was ignored. It didn’t bother me, since the upper deck was almost empty and I photographed the rapidly brightening morning sky.




On the boat I saw something that I’d never seen before, and that really scared me off: the bar was actually… barred. And since I had made no use of it whatsoever, I didn’t find it obvious that a bar was barred – that it was in fact more like a cage. There must be savages on this boat, I thought, that rampage the interior, driving up the prices except for the 8am ferry. There must be ferocious drunks feasting on ethanol and trying to slaughter the bartender, who would probably hide in his cage, reluctantly giving out vodka to hairy claws through the steel bars and wait until the ferry would finally reach the save haven of Helsinki or Tallinn Port Areas. I heard stories about wacko’s doing crazy things on Scandinavian ferries, and I saw the group of heavy metal guys wreathed in dark gowns – connecting those facts I uttered a short “mmm” before laying down for a while.

There is another anecdote. In Tallinn, I read René Girard’s Violence and the Sacred, kindly shared by Ellu, and read about his claim that the sacrifice is fundamental in any religion, and learned about the concept of the surrogate victim, essentially a victim that represents the Father of the clan, but chosen randomly. The play is, Girard claims against Huizinga (homo ludens) not the most fundamental thing, it is originated in religious rites, which are really the very basis of human society. They introduce the aspect of randomness, of choosing the surrogate victim. Canelos-Quichua Indians in Ecuador use dice, and Oedipus, Girard reminds us, is the sun of Tyche.
Hence, gambling is not just a secular practice, but in essence a religious way of dealing with the world. The dice were the voice of the goddess, and quite opposed to being a sin, gambling was understood as a sacred practice. With that in my mind, I heard the rattling slot machines on the ferry, and I had some thoughts that entertained me.

So I arrived in Helsinki, and walked around for a while. People were much friendlier than I thought on the ferry. The famous Esplanade, a showcase park, was interesting. They have a statue of Runeberg, the national poet, and it said due to the scarcity after the war in 1918 they temporarily converted it into farmland, and actually crew potatoes, cabbage and swedes instead of roses. The “swedes” (koolraap in Dutch) thing is particularly noticeable, concerning the fact that the Finnish, a people of some 5.2 million, gained independence from the Swedes only in 1809 (next year big party!), had than been under Russian rule for about a century and finally gained independence in 1917. Aware of this history of Big Neighbour Domination, I looked at the city a bit differently, and walked a few blocks down.

In the Kamppi, a well-known shopping complex (they have a lot of them here), I sat down in a café, observing the working class Finnish, and dozing away – until the waitress woke me up and persuaded me to put a double espresso into my veins. I woke up, asked some guy to use his mobile phone, and got in touch with my host from Couchsurfing, whose address I finally found on the map (ä is not a). I walked around a little and went into a tiny bookstore, where a very kind woman welcomed me in English. I asked her if she had a Finnish phrasebook, but she didn’t. Then she offered me to write some handy words and phrases down. I still have that paper, and I used it several times. She was so kind. So here is the Finnish I promised her to memorize:

“Anteeksi, puhotteko Englanti?” Sorry, do you speak English?
“Saisinko kolme olut.” Three beers please!
“Minun nimeni on…” My name is…
“Kiitos” Thank you
“Päivää” / “Hei” Good day

After a nice conversation with the shopowner, who had studied linguistics, sociology, history, anthropology among other things, I walked again for half an hour – in the wrong direction. I went into a coffee bar with very friendly guys, who offered me pastry on the house. They were not Finnish, but from Morocco and Brooklyn, New York. The NYC-Guy told me his family opens new cafe’s every few months, and move on once they are profitable. The one in Helsinki went quite well, he told me.

It was time to go to the place of my Couchsurfing host. He was very friendly and we chatted about his job as a computer programmer (I studied something like that in my former life). He explained to me he was writing a compiler in C++, overriding the vector of the STL for optimization purposes, coding an API and a VM. It understood some of it. His company intends to sell the language that would eventually produce code for mobile phones to Nokia – the nr. 1 corporation by far in Finland, and pretty inevitable for employees in the technology field.

Late at night we saw this Japanese animation film, spirited away, but we stopped it in the middle of it because the subtitles disappeared.