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First Proposers

Rule of thumb: Whenever you arrive to a country or some new place when travelling, the first person proposing something usually tries to cheat or trick you some way or another. In its mildest and most common form the person is overcharging you from his/her service.

Example 1. (Beijing, December 2004)

Made it to the Forbidden City after all.
A 12 hour stopover at Beijing! What a nice chance to go check downtown. Even the day visas could be neatly arranged from the certain counter in the airport. (The embassy in Finland had told that it wouldn't be possible and that we would have to buy visas from them. Wrong! Luckily we didn't believe them.)

Hop into a taxi and off towards the Tiananmen Square. It takes couple of kilometers of driving before the jet lagged and tired travellers notice that the meter is not turned on. In fact, there is no meter at all, just a gaping hole in the dashboard. We start negotiating - the driver asks about quadruple price of what I know should be a 'real price'. At the square we still fight over the price. The driver yells angrily. We manage to drop the price to the half of driver's original amount, still being about double the normal amount. When I pay, the driver is grinning at me. I could read the expression on his face: Sorry pal, this is how it goes.

Example 2. (Irkustk, July 2010)

Next stop: Irkutsk.
Our train pulls into station at 6 am. The hotel is booked and paid in advance, but me and my father still need to get in there. The distance is only couple of kilometres, but I don't really feel like wandering in a Russian city in the morning darkness with all our luggage after four straight days in a train. Especially with my old man. Oh, but we don't have to! A friendly chap in the passenger hall walks to us, offering a 'taxi' ride to the hotel for 300 rubles. Oh well, that's under 10 euros, and people's taxi is almost an institution in Russia. Outside the railway station there is a row of official cabs as well, but we already made the deal. Our driver takes us safely to the hotel and even lifts our bags out of the car. Spasibo & do svidaniya.

After couple of days our voyage continues, and we need to get to the railway station again. The hotel receptionist books us a taxi for 4.30 am. This cab has even a proper taxi sign on the roof. The driver takes us quickly to the station but doesn't take our bags out of the car. My father reckons the fee will have an added nighttime service charge. We end up paying 150 rubles.

Example 3. (Russian-Mongolian border, July 2010)

Right after crossing the border a multitude of money exchangers swarms into the train. You can't get Mongolian tögröks (or tugriks) outside Mongolia, so the first opportunity to get that money is NOW! Well, let's take it easy, we don't need that much cash right now in the beginning, how about 1000 rubles, some thirty euros. Our carriage's exchanger presents a rate of 1:20. Up to twenty tögröks for a single ruble - hey but that is a lot! The fellow explains that they don't accept rubles any more in Mongolian exchange booths, so if we don't go back to Russia any more, we better change now. Hmm, sounds like a sales pitch, but hell, take another thousand rubles and gimme TWENTY GRAND more!
Almost invaluable one tögrök note. (0,0006 EUR)

The ruble rate at Ulan Bator's money exchange offices turns later out to be 1:43. The exchange creep in the train visits our cabin at least twice again before leaving the vehicle - just to make sure if we still want to exchange more rubles. When he walks away the aisle, I hear him muttering to himself: 'money money money money...'


Bird's Snot Drink

In a Vietnamese supermarket it's not unusual to find canned soft drinks made of bird's nest, which consists of bird saliva. Great, a bird's snot drink! They even tend to have many brands available, many of which contain also something called white fungus as a second main ingredient. Both of these key elements in this canned drink are quite common in Asian cuisine, and not very surpisingly because of their medicinal and health benefits on digestion and libido. So of course I had to buy a can. It's a health drink after all!

Something to everyone's taste
To be honest, the can sat in my fridge for about two years before I got around to actually drink it. Guess it was too easy to forget that I had a chilled can of bird's drool somewhere behind the pickled cucumbers and Morello cherry jam. I discovered it recently and noticed that the best before date was still far in the future. What the hell, this is a must-taste.

The first impression when pouring the beverage in a glass was like eww is this gone bad after all. The liquid was much thicker than water, like clear motor oil ...except for the clumps. Along the liquid there fell several little whiteish flaky lumps. Most of them were white and same sized, but there were bigger and more yellow ones here and there. Oddly enough, the clumps didn't sink to the bottom. Instead the viscosity of the bird mucus drink held them floating in the middle of the drink evenly spread within the glass in a most bizarre way. I guess the globs were pieces of that white fungus mentioned in the can.

Notice that yellow bastard near bottom.
My major mistake was that I wasn't thirsty at all when I decided finally to drink the bird's nest beverage. Somehow, when experimenting with exotic and weird food and drinks, it helps a lot if you're hungry or thirsty in the beginning. The bird's nest drink was mainly... sweet. But in a subtle way, like the general taste of the whole  beverage. It wasn't strong in any sense, and the clumps were small and soft enough so you could drink without noticing the solid particles. I even tried to chew on a piece of white fungus, but if I managed to get it between my teeth, I really didn't notice it.

But like I said, I wasn't thirsty, and chugging down the weird thick and clumpy liquid started to freak me out. Suddenly I didn't feel like having that bigger yellow slime gobbet in my mouth after all. Had I been thirsty, I would have only be happy to drink glass of that ice cold semi sweet beverage. Now the experience turned from a pleasant start to slightly ghastly end.