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
-- 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,"
-- Sinead, Scotland
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
-- 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
-- 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
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."
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
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
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
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