(Aug., 2000)

File No. 0031 Amsterdam Surprise
A few years ago, I had to stay one night in Amsterdam to catch a connecting flight, so I decided to see this famous city of fun. I arrived at Amster Station at 9:00 PM, so of course there wasn't really much left to see except for the "popular" red light district - a place to view semi-naked girls and fearlessly and legally smoke marijuana in so-called coffee shops. I guess it's easy to imagine the kinds of people at such places, so at a certain point you don't get surprised anymore at what and who you see around you. But one thing surprised me! First, I noticed in the distance a tall couple in the crowd. Being somewhat dark, I couldn't tell if they were boys, two girls or a "couple". They were swaying strangely and slowly so I decided to take a closer look. I then realized it was a young guy with a girl. I then noticed that they were police officers. "Wow" I thought, "even cops here get smashed! What a city!" Then, I noticed they were on rollerblades! That explained every thing. For me, Amsterdam is not a marijuana/sex paradise but a city of cops on roller blades!
-- KDemon, Russia

File No. 0032 Get Your "Butt" Out!
I was at a hot spring in Iwanai. When I got in the bath, three middle-aged Japanese men immediately jumped out. I don't like to jump to conclusions where racism is concerned, so I put it down to coincidence. I went to the outdoor bath. When I got in, the three men got out of that bath, too. That was too much to consider a coincidence, and I imagined what they must have been thinking: "disgusting foreigner." Then I saw a cigarette butt in the bath where they had been. "Disgusting," I thought.
-- Sinead, Scotland

(June, 2000)

File No.0020 Chinese menu
When my Japanese friend went to China, he just had to eat shark fin soup. But entering a restaurant, he had no idea what to call it in Chinese or English. Even the word "shark" didn't come to his mind, so he yelled, "Jaws! Jaws!" The waiter's face lit up and he went back to the kitchen. A few minutes later, the waiter brought exactly what the diner had ordered: dumplings (in Chinese: jo-zu).
-- David, Sapporo / Tour guide

File No.0021 The guide who knew too much
I was guiding members of a social club on a tour through Mexico and Miami. The travelers included four gentlemen who supposedly were candidates for governor. These gentlemen asked the local guides where to pick up a hooker. The local guide turned down the request, saying there were no such women in the towns they visited. Eventually, they even tried to come on to the local guide in Miami. I wondered, is this club a perverts' association or what!?
-- M from Sapporo

File No. 0022 Paris romance
The couples cuddling and kissing along the Seine are a wonderful sight. Although it was my understanding that this was a beautiful habit of Parisian couples, a Parisian said, "They're not Parisian. They're almost all from the countryside." They come from countries like Belgium, he said and shrugged. It seems that it was not exactly his idea of great view.
-- Rin, Eniwa / Office worker

File No. 0023 In Venice
I visited Venice on a weekend in May - the high season. I had a hard time finding a place to stay. I went into a hotel and talked to a lady sitting at the front desk about getting a room. She threw me a key and I had this bad feeling. I went up to a room on the second floor anyway, opened the door, and froze right there. The room had a bed with the slightest of mattresses and a toilet right next to the bed. It looked exactly like a cell. I think it's not a bad idea to book your hotel before you leave.
-- Rin, Eniwa / Office worker

File No. 0024  New York: Not all cabs are yellow
We arrived at New York's JFK Airport in the middle of a downpour and the terminal was in pandemonium. I'd read a few tourist guides about New York and had taken care to plan our short journey from the airport to our motel on the other side of the city. The guide suggested only taking one of those famous yellow cabs. Well that's all fine in a book, but when faced with a few hundred people throwing luggage and baggage trolleys around, even the best-prepared plans can soon fly out of the window. Whilst I collected the last of the luggage, my girlfriend was handing over our suitcase to a giant cab driver resembling King Kong on a bad day. If that wasn't bad enough, we were about to venture off in an old black unmarked private taxi! After 45 minutes of driving I was starting to feel a little uneasy, as we'd been told it was only a short trip across town, plus the fact that we hadn't even crossed the city and we'd just left the highway and were now in what was a ghetto. After a further hour of driving we still hadn't reached our motel, I rechecked the motel name with him and showed him the address on a piece of paper. Apologetically he advised us that in fact we were heading for York Town (miles outside New York) when in fact the address was along York Town road, which was about 50 miles long: We'd passed the motel about 40 minutes ago. We started counting out cash to pay the fare whilst kissing good-bye to our sightseeing highlights. Funnily enough, he turned out to be a really nice guy who went out of his way to make sure we reached our destination safe and in one piece. After a further 40 minutes in the complete opposite direction, we reached our motel. Not only did he drag our incredibly heeavy cases into our room, he even refused to accept the full fare.
-- Victor Tilson, UK

File No. 0025 Travel Mission
In travel, as in life, having a mission can make all the difference. When I mentioned that I would be in Thailand, a friend told me about her foster child there. I had plenty of time, so I figured I would look the child up, to show her that there were people even beyond her own borders that cared about her. The whim turned into an odyssey. I searched half the country looking for this girl. On the way, I was put up at a Catholic church in central Thailand, dined by a woman who had studied in the U.S., treated to countless meals by helpful public servants, invited to stay at strangers' homes and transported on the back of a mailman's motorcycle. The end was anticlimactic: I found the girl, gave her a present, was thanked and that was that. But I will never forget the incredible hospitality of the Thai people.
-- Matt Priza, USA

(April, 2000)

File No. 0017 Misunderstanding
I met an American who was traveling in France. She had studied French, but her speaking skills were rusty. She found out just how rusty when she went to buy some batteries (les pils, in French). Her requests for "la pillule, la pillule" were met with curiousity. She later realized she had been asking for oral contraceptives.
-- Lisa March, USA

File No. 0018 The Hitchhikers
How do you get 10 Irish in a car? It sounds like a joke, but this is how my childhood vacations in Ireland were: 10 aunts, uncles, cousins and brothers packed into a European compact for drives around the coutryside. My Irish relatives took these opportunities to show off their mischieveous humor. Packed 10 to a car, we would stop to pick up hitchhikers. We wanted to see the surprise on their face and whether they would realize we were pulling their leg. "Need a ride?" my uncle would deadpan out the window. One puzzled Scandinavian couple replied with genuine seriousness, "I think you do not have the space."
-- Anonymous

File No. 0019 In Calcutta, India, 1986:
Like countless Westerners in a desperate search for a quick but painless cure to spiritual emptiness, I set off for India. Perhaps I too could find my guru. While en route to a well known ashram, I quite spontaneously decided to make a quick stop at Mother Theresa's orphanage. After receiving a warm welcome from one of the elderly sisters, I was given a tour. The pure, happy smiles of the children were intoxicating. After chatting for a few minutes, the sister asked me why I had come to India. With a tinge of pride, I told her of my spiritual quest. After listening patiently she simply asked, "And what are you planning to do for other people?" Her question caught me quite off guard. I had no answer. In short, service to others had never crossed my mind. It took years for me to realize that in one fell swoop, not only had that sister awakened me to my own self-absorption but she had even offered me a way out of my despair.
-- Pierre D'Amours from Sapporo but originally from Canada

(Feb. 2000)

File No. 0012 in Pisa, Italy
I was travelling around Italy about 5 years ago, and found myself waiting at the station in Pisa for a train to Nice. I had about six hours to kill, so I was playing solitaire on the floor in a corner. I noticed a man watching me, and after about 10 minutes or so, he walked up to me, sat down, collected the cards, and began shuffling. He showed me some magic tricks, and proceeded to teach them to me. Until his train arrived four hours later, we sat wordlessly practicing card tricks and playing poker. As he left he turned and raised his hand to me. It was only a few minutes later that I realized he had taken my deck of cards with him.
-- Simon from Australia

File No. 0013 in Kenya
I once lived in Africa for two years. As a "white" person, tons of colonial baggage affected relations with my Kenyan friends. Unconsciously, because of higher education, better English, or refined style, I was treated as master, or bwana (and unconsciously resented for that as well). Well, one day I was walking down a trail with my boss, an African fellow a bit younger than I. We were chatting about this and that when I noticed he had taken hold of my hand. Having never been touched by a man like that, it felt weird and I immediately wanted to pull away. But my boss kept chatting on and I realized he had taken my hand without thinking, doing something that male friends do naturally all over Africa. I bit my tongue, held on for the next few minutes without flinching, and finally he let go, again without thinking at all about it. In the end I knew I had been given the greatest honor any white visitor could receive.
-- Don from Wisconsin and Hokkaido

(Dec. 1999)

File No. 0005 Express bus
At the age of 18, some friends and I booked ourselves on a bargain tour to the Mediterranean. The low cost of the holiday was largely due to the fact that accommodation was a pre-erected tent and transportation there was by a grueling, 36-hour bus ride. Although far from luxurious, the bus was equipped with a toilet and refreshments and so stops were rare. On the way to our destination, I awoke in the night and noticed the bald bus driver had suddenly sprouted a full head of hair. Slightly intrigued but no less exhausted, I drifted back to sleep only to awake a couple of hours later to find the bus driver once again follicularly under-privileged. As we had not once left the expressway nor indeed stopped at all, I was apprehensive, and my fears were confirmed when I later witnessed the two drivers handing over the controls as the bus did a steady 150kmh down the right-hand lane!
-- David from UK

File No. 0006 Slang
When I was 15, I went to England to study English. Although I could speak pretty good English by then, I felt I missed some basic knowledge of slang and "low" language. So when I was in London, I saw a dirty tramp (a bum), begging for money. I jumped at the opportunity and said to the smelly guy, "I'll give you a quid (1 pound) if you tell me some really bad slang". The guy was a little puzzled and thought a while before suddenly rattling something off at the speed of a light, which sounded like: "Youwurhithelohgtirufirkinh
eotubqopileutdirtysocksinuhdeitunabsushit!" I was impressed! I couldn't make out a word, so I just gave him the pound and left. It was one of best English lessons I have ever taken.
-- Sergei from Russia

File No. 0007 Hospitality
Four years ago I travelled around Korea for a month, and in Pusan I met a group of new hires on their company trip. I was invited to join them on Cheju Island. On the island, a hike up Mt. Hallasan was scheduled. I was rather baffled when they started running up the mountain. It was literally a race. After everybody had joined the top, they started singing the company song and practiced parading in front of their leader. After a quick lunch we all lined up in two rows and marched down the path singing military songs. Most of them had just finished their compulsory military service. Although I felt strange in some ways, I will never forget the incredible hospitality of the Koreans.
-- Daniel from Switzerland