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01 November

12 Wild Thoughts

1 Nov, 2005

Dear all,

You might be wondering: where is this guy now (those who do not bother to ask, please let me know and I will drop you from this mailing list:-)

For your information, I am now in the notoriously commercialized Khao San Rd of Bangkok, Thailand.

(What!? I thought you were in Middle East???)

Well, after my last email about Turkey, I crossed into Syria, a highlight of my Journey of Rogue Nations. I spend 8 wonderful days in this hospitable nation before rushing through the poor but expensive country of Jordan in 5 days. Then I took a ferry across the Red Sea.

(By doing that, I finished my Seven Sea Journey, which was the Caspian, the Black Sea, the Marmara, the Aegean, the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. In case you might argue that Dead Sea is not really a sea, I do have a backup: I passed the Arab Sea when I was in Kuwait yesterday:-)

Afterwards I spent two weeks in Egypt, meanwhile attempted to apply for a visa to Israel, which failed. So I have one week and some budget left (actually by flying to Bangkok instead of Singapore I have already saved enough money). I decided to use it for a detour of land journey across the Malay Peninsula from Bangkok all the way to Singapore. A piece of cake, right?

Well, it’s more than cake. If my Middle East trip is a Journey of Rogue Nations, then this peninsula tour would be called Journey of Nice Food. I gonna stop at Hatyai, Songkhla, Taipin and Ipoh for the variety of cuisine there. What else? Oh yeah. Right now I am wearing a T-shirt bought from Penang four years ago. Maybe it’s time to get a replacement.

This morning I arrived at Bangkok Airport. Crossing bridge to the neighboring train station, getting a dirt cheap 3rd class ticket to downtown, having a delicious Cantonese duck noodle at the entrance of Chinatown and taking bus No. 53 to Khao San Rd, arriving in the humid and hot Bangkok is like coming back at home.

And it denotes that this 3-month journey is more or less done.

So what I gonna tell you in this long long email? Well, I’m going to present 12 wild thoughts generated during this long journey. They bear a minimal relation to travel, therefore could be omitted if you are only interested in the latter. And be warned: they could be very WILD, probably beyond your tolerance.

Moreover, they contain certain political or religious topics, which might not please some of you. For example, in all places regarding the Crusaders, I don’t hesitate to refer to them as CTB, or Crusaders The Beasts, due to their brutality to Muslims, Jews and even Christians. If you feel offended by this abbreviation, you are advised to stop reading upon this point!

These 12 topics are organized into:

1. On honey
2. On democratisation of democracy
3. On spread of Christianity
4. On tolerance
5. On bravery
6. On Saladin
7. On holy war
8. On Venice
9. On terrorism
10. On Alamein
11. On young nation
12. On touts

In the last topic of “On touts” I will use the Arabic story structure so as to pay respect to the region I was traveling. If you have read One Thousand and One Nights you would be familiar with such structure: in one story the guy met 6 barbers, each told his story, and on and on……

So, if you have sleeping problem these days, I believe my long email would definitely help a bit.

OK, let’s start:

1. On honey

Once in Turkey my breakfast was served with honey. I dipped bread into it and it tastes very delicious.

2000 years ago the Roman must be enjoying the same food at the same place. As you know, Romans used honey instead of sugar. Then my question is: how did every Roman afford honey?

In Apamea, Syria, I was deeply impressed by the Roman colonnade that stands along Cardo Maximus, the main road of a city, for 2 kilometers. It’s a stunning view. But soon after the shock, I had to ask again: who’s going to pay for such a huge public expenditure?

A straightforward answer is easy to get: Roman’s vast colony fed their master. At its heyday, the empire had the Mediterranean as its lake. The lions in Antalya were exhausted so as to satisfy the demands for entertaining combat; the Syrian desert was used as a buffer to keep the Persians away; the slaves from North Africa were sold to Roman families as servants; and Spain served as one of the empire’s most important granaries.

As a result, Roman citizens didn’t lead a comfortable life but a luxurious one. The government gave out free feasts with mortal combats as post-lunch entertainment during holidays. Such holidays kept increasing and finally every day was a “holiday”.

But think one step further: how to guarantee 365 free lunches a year? You need to force someone to feed you. If they do not wish to, you have to resort to violence.

Well, the empire was good at using violence and it did conquer numerous nations. Never the less, in the long run violence carries a cost: the maintenance of an ever-growing military force (so as to deter an ever-growing unrest among an ever-growing colony that supplied the ever-growing demand of the empire) and, worse even, the political instability it caused. And it finally cost the Roman Empire.

2. On democratisation of democracy

Let’s have a closer view of the cost mentioned in topic 1.

Rome was originally a city state. Every male citizen became fighter in time of war. Greek democracy was adopted and its superiority was demonstrated, as the small Roman nation grew into a huge Roman Empire during its continued successes in expansion.

However, when Rome grew upon its citadel, the nature of its democracy changed. Previously every one enjoyed democracy but now only Roman citizens were entitled to it whereas the conquered was deprived of it. The Roman elected their senate but could, for example, Virgin Mary vote?

Well, it’s not too bad if a small group of people manage to enjoy democracy among themselves (if you still call this “democracy”) and base their luxury on others’ slavery. However, things backfired.

The larger the territory expands, the more enemy it may face. It no longer worked to enlist citizen in the eve of war. The empire need a standing army ready to fight 7/24. Such an army needed commanders. Oh no. Then came Caesar. Came Pompey. Came Octavian…… And these commanders could order their loyal legions to enter Rome and claim themselves emperors.

Democracy had to die then.

If you don’t democratise your democracy to everyone, you own share would be endangered too.

And this is the ultimate cost for the honey and colonnade (as well as the violence to obtain them).

3. On spread of Christianity

All roads lead to Rome.

The spread of Christianity benefited greatly from the empire’s highly developed transport infrastructure. Imagine had the Romans not built good roads, how could Christian missionaries move so fast and so far?

Furthermore, the Empire’s exploitation of its colonies provided a hotbed for Christianity to spread among these nations (Armenians, Egyptians, Greeks, etc.) that suffered politically and economically.

The Roman emperor’s conversion to Christianity indicated that the Empire had been losing control of its colonies. Instead of being able to deter the new religion that was undermining its regime, it had no choice but to embrace it, hoping that it would help to pacify the unrest.

In other words, at the moment it converted to Christianity, the Roman Empire’s collapse was sealed.

Well, enough about Roman Empire. Let’s look into nearer history.

4. On tolerance

In Damascus, I went to the Straight Street, which the Bible wisely put it as “Go into the street which is called Straight” (Acts 9:11, Worldwide English Version. Some other translations, such as New International Version, over-simplified it as “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street”) since it’s not actually straight. To its end is the citadel where St. Paul related that “through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped” (2 Corinthians 11:33). This made clear how Christianity was persecuted in its early days.

However, in Philae and Edfu, Egypt I was sad to see bas relief on the wall of ancient Egypt temples was seriously damaged. These were done by early Christians who couldn’t tolerate such perfect art used for pagan religions.

These Egyptian Christians (Coptic Christians) was soon after persecuted and evicted by the Orthodox Christians because they couldn’t agree on whether Jesus Christ is purely divine or both human and divine.

Yet later, when Orthodox Christianity receded from Anatolia, its painting of God, Christ and saints in churches and monasteries were severely defaced by the Ottoman Turks who took over.

Why some people just couldn’t tolerate others who do not share the same faith?

Some may argue: ancient people did such foolish things but we are getting smarter.


One Indian friend once proudly claimed that due to Gandhi’s non-violence principle, an independent India peacefully came into being without bloodshed.

Well, “peacefully”? Maybe. No bloodshed? Not really.

I understand that in 1947 South Asia was split into two (and later three), during which in Bengal alone, a conservative estimation of half million people died of religion-related conflicts during the exchange of Hindu and Muslim population. In Punjab a similar scale of casualty was estimated. Let’s say “only” one million people died. This is probably worse than a civil war, which might have solved problem and united South Asia, instead of the current hostile situation.

If just half a century ago people were killing each other because of different faith, can we still be so confident that history is not going to repeat itself in the future?

5. On bravery

The Krak des Chevaliers (a CTB Castle) of Syria is among the best castles human history has ever witnessed. It’s high; it’s solid; it has a water source inside; and it has food supply for five years.

Nevertheless, merely one month after besieged the brave CTB warriors surrendered to their Seljuk attackers. What a pity!

Well, CTB were otherwise very brave.

I visited Ma’arat an-Nu’aman, a peaceful small town in northern Syria that has not much to see. The only reason I went there is in memory of the CTB conquest.

On 12 Dec 1098, Count Raymond of Toulouse and his glorious warriors attacked this town and killed thousands of civilians. I have to confess that I don’t have such courage to chop armless people.

Yet this is not the selling point at all. You won’t regard this to be bravery if you read their own chronicle:

“In Ma’ara our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled”

Are you brave enough to do this? Again I confess that I am not.

(Note: by using the word “pagan” it indicates that CTBs didn’t merely target at their Muslim enemy, since, as a member of the same Semitic religion family as Judaism and Christianity, Islam is not a pagan religion)

Furthermore, CTB attacked this town for food, which they didn’t find at all. Soon after the feast of BBQ children, they had to resort to eat corpses of their own personnel.

Do you prefer starve to death or eat human body? I have to confess that I don’t have neither the right courage nor the right moral to do the latter.

6. On Saladin

CTB was arguably a mob of greedy rascals and illiterate zealots directed by lords thirsty of both wealth and blood (Richard I the Lion-Heart was a good example among them), all desperate to get out of their barren home land in the uncivilized Europe. On top of that was a merciless Pope eager to leave his name, good or otherwise, to history.

When CTB sacked Jerusalem, they killed almost all its Muslim and Jewish residents. In comparison, when Salah ad-Din al-Ayyoub (or better known as Saladin) liberated Jerusalem, to everyone’s shock he announced to pardon all CTB captives, most of them murderers, robbers, or to the least extent, intruders, and granted them safe passage back to Europe. When reminded of the massacre CTB had committed, he legendary replied briefly: I remember what they did. But I am a Muslim.

When I was in Damascus, I visited his mausoleum twice to extend my highest respect to this great warrior, genuine knight and merciful gentleman.

7. On Holy War

Some people talk about the glorious deeds of CTB as a holy war. Well, as a bachelor of economics I tend to interpret things “meaner”. To me, the ultimate aim of each war is purely about money, or let’s put it in a nicer way, commercial interest.

(USA’s war against Iraq is, of course, an exception. It’s not at all about money or oil. In God We Trust!)

The same principal applies to CTB’s war, who claimed to retrieve the “holy land”. It couldn’t be proven clearer when CTB attacked and sacked Byzantine (now Istanbul), and massacred Christian residents (even when the Islamic Turks sacked Byzantine centuries later, they didn’t massacre the Christians).

The reason was purely commercial: What CTB wanted was money, instead of any religious blablabla pretext, whereas Venice, a competitor of Byzantine in Mediterranean trade, wanted the latter got rid of. So a deal was reached: Venetian merchants invested and CTB fought bravely to achieve their grand aim. Poor Byzantine became the only sacrifice in this deal.

(CTB was so good at maximizing their profit that they even took off bronze from pillars and sold them to Venetian. Today you still can see one of the ugly bare pillars in Istanbul near the Blue Mosque)

And poor Bulgaria and Hungary, both Christian nations! Since the first CTB war they were “pre-raided” each time CTB went on their way to raid the orient.

8. On Venice

After Venice managed to beat Byzantine with help from CTB, it soon collaborated with Mamluk of Egypt, enemy of CTB, to monopoly the trade: goods from China and India finally arrived at Egypt, where through a canal to River Nile they were ferried to Mediterranean and handed over to Venetian who sold them to other grumbling Europeans at an exorbitant rate. The profit was huge and that was why the Venetian nobles afforded to sponsor artists.

However, even such a successful strategy backfired.

Byzantine never recovered from the defeat, thus was no longer able to defend Asia Minor, the entrance from Asia to Europe. Worse even, the Ottoman Empire capitalized on this opportunity. By 15th century the Ottoman Turks had controlled the entire Middle East and blocked the access of goods from Asia. Mediterranean was no longer the trade route and, consequently, Venice entirely declined into oblivion.

What could we learn from this? We might plan well for the short term but it’s extremely hard for the long run, as there is too much uncertainty that people couldn’t foresee. A good strategy for short term could be fatal for the long run.

Well, too much about CTB or ancient history. Let’s look even closer.

9. On terrorism

Terrorism is a very popular term nowadays. To me, terrorism is military violence targeted at civilians. In this sense, CTB was among the earliest terrorist.

(Well, you could argue that in ancient times civilians were often massacred by invading enemy. But note: at that time every citizen was supposed to fight during war, therefore they were regarded as potential military force. There was no serious “civilian” at that time)

However, you might have noticed that nowadays the western media, especially that of US, is making a big wave of propaganda claiming that violence against military force could also be defined as terrorism. So not only people attacking NYC on 9/11 were no doubt terrorists, even those attacking US navy in Yemen as well.

Well, if after repeated propaganda such definition becomes “correct”, what about guerrillas? Were Free French fighters in WWII a group of terrorists?

Since I mentioned media, let’s talk a little bit more about it in next topic.

10. On Alamein

The west point of my journey was el-Alamein on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. It was here that the Allied troops managed to stop the advance of Deutch Afrika Korps commanded by Rommel the Desert Fox, arguably the greatest marshal of the Nazi empire.

Before this decisive victory the Britain was seriously planning to withdraw from North Africa. It is said that the ashes created by burnt files in their preparation for general retreat in Alexandria Port made the sky of Cairo, one hundred kilometers south, dark.

Nevertheless, the German and Italian troops was curbed at Alamein.

Near the Memorial of German Soldiers, there is a post erected by Italian saying: Manco la fortuna, non il valore (We were short on luck, not on bravery).

This is not true.

First, such words shouldn’t come from the Italian since their “bravery” has been well observed during the two world wars. More importantly, bad luck couldn’t explain the Axis’ failure in North Africa. If the elite Afrika Korps had received enough supply and troops, the Allied would have been pushed into the Mediterranean or Sinai desert.

But where were the badly-needed supply and troops for the Axis?

Russia front.

Now let’s come back to the issue about media. The western media is exploiting its more or less monopoly to rewrite many aspects of history. An obvious attempt is that Stalin has been increasingly mentioned together with Hitler as devils. I doubt sooner or later the order of current “Hitler and Stalin” might be shifted as well.

The Allied might have forgotten that if it was not because the “evil empire” USSR, under the leadership of Stalin, destroyed the main force of Nazi Germany, how could they survive, let alone win the war?

Would UK sustain much longer if Hitler kept his army targeting at it instead of turning head to Russia? Could the Ally defend North Africa had Rommel’s troops not been diverted to Russia? And had the prohibitive German armored force not been destroyed by the Red Army, could the Allied troops land Normandy so easily?

The western media keeps bombarding that Russia stabbed Poland on its back by seizing a large land during German invasion in 1939, but never mentions that this land was the one Poland obtained in “stabbing” Russia on its back shortly after Russian revolution in 1917. And how about the fact that UK and France sacrificed Czech to Hitler in a fruitless attempt to lead Germany attack Russia instead of themselves? The western media doesn’t have any interest.

The western media also loves to repeat the sad story how brutal the Red Army behaved when they robbed and raped Berlin residents. They don’t have the same level of enthusiasm to mention that the Allied troops did exactly the same to the poor Berliners.

With such propaganda, no wonder some ignorant European youth would have such ridiculous idea that “Hitler was so evil because he’s a communist”.

Last month I even read an article written by a retired general editor of a “renowned” London-based newspaper, in which this guy put Hitler, Stalin and Mao together. Well, I do think this naughty boy needs some beating and then revisit his history book.

(Well, after all, all “free media” are political-oriented. How honest could you expect these “honest” journalist to be?)

11. On young nation

My hostel in Cairo is in a Europe-style neighborhood. It was built during the reign of Mohamed Ali and his son, who started a new dynasty. They saved no effort nor money to rebuild Cairo into a Europe-style city and, in this attempt, Egypt into a Europe-style country.

Unfortunately, they built too much, spent too much, and had to borrow from the Europeans at an exorbitantly high interest rate. When they couldn’t pay back the loan, UK got a perfect pretext to intervene, invade and put Egypt under control.

A typical mistake made by a young nation, isn’t it?

This makes me think of China. The young Communist China also made mistakes, some of them terrible, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. No doubt many suffered greatly. Yet fortunately we have left it behind and on a fast track now.

Among those who I met and remember most vividly during my journeys is an overseas Chinese old man in Myanmar. He fled China with his landlord family in the eve of the Communist takeover. They lost most property and now he is teaching in a Methodist missionary school in a small hill town with a even smaller income.

When I asked him how he thinks about his home country, he said:

Personally I suffered greatly from the regime change. My life was totally changed. I might have been leading a comfortable life had the old regime remained, but the reality is that at my age I still need to work to make ends meet. Nevertheless, when I look back I am glad to see that the new regime is doing well and the country is reviving. This was unimaginable in the old days. That’s more important to me. I am very happy.

I agree with him.

12. On touts

In tribute to Middle East tradition, let me further divide this topic into 9 sub-topics:


Pakistani must be the most honest people known throughout the world, especially the world of touts.

Luxor of Egypt and Varanasi of India were the two places I saw most rampant touts and scams. Touts there share a common feature. When I relentlessly made clear that I don’t trust them at all, they said:

“Mister: I am not Egyptian/Indian. I am from Pakistan.”


To be politically correct, most people are good. Only a few are not so good.

Yet to travelers, especially those in the aforementioned places, most people you meet are bad. Only a few are not so bad.


I have to admit that a large part (if not a better part) of my fun to travel in such areas is to make fun of and insult the touts who attempt scams against me.

After traveling in five countries meeting honest but “boring” people every day, I had been eagerly awaiting the legendary Egyptian touts. I arrived in Cairo at 10pm, a very vulnerable time for independent travelers. I was expecting such a dialogue when I tried to get a taxi for hotel, as I always met in India:


(I for me and D for the driver)

I: Please go to Hotel Value.
D: Mister, this hotel is closed. No more.

I: Oh really? But my guide book says it’s good.
D: No it’s no good. Closed. Finished.

I: Well, then please take me to Hotel Quality.
D: Mister, Hotel Quality also finished. Fire, vely vely big fire.

I: Oh! So bad! Then how about Hotel Cheap?
D: Oh Mister, Hotel Cheap is no good. Vely expensive. Yesterday a mister……(he made a gesture to mean that the poor guy died)

I (shocked): What!? It’s so kind of you to tell me this information. Then where can I find a place to sleep? Please help me. What I want is just a bed. I am so tired and exhausted and I know nothing about this huge city.
D: No problem Mister. I show you vely good place, vely good price, vely good hotel with HOSTESS.

I: Really? You are so nice. What’s the name of this vely good hotel?
D: Hotel Lousy. It’s vely good, vely good.

I: OK. Vely good. And that’s enough. Now stop your f__king nonsense and take me to Hotel Value. —————————————

Unfortunately this didn’t happen in Cairo. Though taxi drivers there tend to over charge, they don’t cheat thus I don’t want to make fun of them.


I have been criticized of such behavior by my travel partner. He says I am asking for trouble. Yet I am sure that touts resorting to such poor scam won’t have the guts to use violence, even when they are mocked or insulted. If they have, they won’t take such a disgusting profession. They are simply cowards, even worse than the CTB, who raided wealth with swords.


Think further, my behavior released something that has been longly oppressed by our civilized society.

In my daily life, I don’t mock people. I don’t make fun of people. I don’t insult people. I won’t say the four letter word.

It’s because in my part of world I myself and people I deal with are all civilized. I don’t have any object to pour such action against.

But when I meet these touts, I get an excuse.


Therefore, it is their evil that activates my evil deep buried inside myself and makes me do “bad” things that otherwise I don’t have pretext to.

What’s “eviler” than an evil is one that activates more evil:-)


Most touts are too improfessional. They are too lazy, don’t bother to plot a better trap to cheat their potential victims. As a result, they are easily recognized.

Followed are some most frequently used phrases and my formulized answer:


Hello my friend (interpreted by LonelyPlanet as “This way, sucker”)
I don’t know you.

May I help you?
If you could leave me alone.

Can you help me?
Not by buying anything from you.

Excuse me?
No way!


You might say: wow this guy is so impolite to people. Well, I trust you are all fair ladies and gentlemen, thus would never act so rudely as I do.


Some touts are frank. They can tell what you need and they tell you what they have to offer. When you are badly in need of something, they make it clear that they are charging an exorbitant rate.

We met a hostel owner in Luxor who can help my friend to get something he needed, and only this guy could do it. He recognized this situation and offered us a very expensive day tour package to be bound with his service. We had no choice but pay for both.

You may call this extortion but I treat it as a fair deal. Isn’t this exactly how people do business: the price should be at the intersection of demand and supply curve. If you really need it, you have to pay a price no matter how dear.

Yet the point is: no bullshit. You can openly extort me and I would still treat you as a respectable rival. But if you try to cheat me, you will get nothing but insult.


However, there are too few such frank touts. Most touts (frankly and sadly, lots of them in India) idiotically regard others as idiots and try to use very poor scams. Like once in New Delhi a tout tried to convince me that a dark and small tour agency to be the headquarter of Indian Airlines. What I cannot understand is: obviously anybody with decent intelligence won’t believe such stupid scam, then how could these touts expect it to work?

Well, I always expect people to be at least as smart as I myself, but it seems most touts do not think this way.

Best regards,

Wang Yi

drafted in Cairo, Egypt
edited in Bangkok, Thailand
sent from Georgetown, Malaysia

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