Saturday, May 15, 2004

Of Backpackers, Sumatrans and Bobos

Of Backpackers, Sumatrans and Bobos

I decided to do the tourist thing today; so I visited the Royal Grand Palace where the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is. The place was completely swarmed with tourists. After one whole morning of snapping innumerable pictures of ornate Thai buildings and temple, I felt like I've had enough of it. I even did the river boat tour.

Having done that, I then decided to visit Khao San road--the backpacker's capital of Asia--since it is not that far away. The place is a grander and livelier version of Jalan Jaksa in Jakarta: lots of cheap guest houses, sidewalk cafes and the ubiquitous Mat Salleh/Farang backpackers with dusky native partners.

I downed a couple of Singhas at one of the cafes; wrote a page in my diary and decided to check into one of the Internet cafes here for some casual surfing.

And here I am with my daily cyber-diarrheoa purge. For some reason, blogging from an Internet cafe seems more fun: There's a certain immediacy to what you write; and because the clock is constantly ticking (1 baht per minute), you tend to write faster and with more spontaneity too.

I've always envied backpackers for the simple reason that I am not one. Having spent almost my entire working life with multi-nationals I'm by definition a mediocre corporate yuppie and in many ways still am. OK, maybe I'm more of a Bobo.

Most backpackers are Westerners--Americans, Europeans and Australians. I wonder why that is so. The only Asian backpackers you meet are usually Japanese or Koreans. Ironically, backpacking could be a privilege of the affluent.

I once had a conversation with a taxi driver who hailed from Padang, Sumatra in Jakarta. He told me that people from Sumatra are different from the Javanese because they have a tradition of seeking their fortunes away from their homeland--"berkelana". A boy only becomes a man and gains in stature only after he has ventured away from his hometown to see the world.

He could be right. Like what I've written in a previous entry, the first person to circumnavigate the globe could be Enrique, Magellan's Malay slave. And according to Magellan's official chronicler Pigafetta, Enrique El Negro(Henry the Black) was born in "Zamatra" (Sumatra).

Business travel is the anti-thesis of backpacking. The former emphasizes luxury and convenience, the latter adventure and a shoe-string budget.

Which is more fun? I suppose Bobos like me would want to have the adventure of backpacking but with all comforts of business travel. Pathetic.

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