Becoming the attraction Laos September 2005 PDF Print E-mail




By Ricardo Cabeços
Job Title: Architect
Company: Plan Associated Architects - Portugal
Track Record: CDC Arquitetos - Rio de Janeiro - Brasil
Academic Background: Kyushu and Tokyo University - Japan
Universitat Politecnica di Catalunya - Barcelona - Espana

After 4 hours of non stop trekking through virgin green landscapes, slapping myself to kill the annoying mosquitoes, making way through itchy leaves or leafs ?and literally dripping myself in sweat, we arrived a village where we would stay for the night. With the two of us were a Lao guide and an Irish guy, named Chris. As we enter the bamboo hut village the children started running randomly and screaming as the grown up stood up to greet us.

 We place our backpacks in the palm tree hut designated for us and walk to a small stream of water running nearby. In the water course some children play while some women wash their clothes by the stream bank. They all smile at us. With the water level by our ankles, we use a cup to help pour water in our shampooed heads. Two tiny village girls look at us with curiosity, so I reach them and handle them a bit of my fruit flavoured shampoo. Firstly they just smell that viscous liquid and smile happily at each other and only after I show with gestures how to apply in their long black hair, they start massaging their heads turning it into foam shapes without rinsing it. They run screaming for the village to show their white foamed heads and only a couple of minutes later they return to rinse it.

We return to our hut where one of the villagers slices vegetables into boiling water for our dinner. One hour later, around 5.30pm, our dinner is served, a big bowl of sticky rice and another bowl of cooked vegetables with Lao spices in which we dip our hand shaped balls of rice. It’s delicious, after the long day that started in Luang Prabang, 100km away, this meal came like an answer to our day thoughts.       
After dinner, with still some natural light available we play Tà-krâw with the village kids, a kind of foot volleyball with a rattan ball.

 It gets completely dark. With the dim light of some candles we drink Lao whisky at a table in front of our hut, while most of the village kids in their rotten Chinese and western clothes surround us just to look at us with their Asian stretched eyes wide open, paying close attention to our every move. There’s no verbal communication. They laugh and imitate our gestures and sounds with genuine smiles. They’re there because we are the attraction of the evening.

Pyongyang, North Korea to Dandong, China PDF Print E-mail





By Ricardo Cabeços
Job Title: Architect
Company: Plan Associated Architects - Portugal
Track Record: CDC Arquitetos - Rio de Janeiro - Brasil
Academic Background: Kyushu and Tokyo University - Japan
Universitat Politecnica di Catalunya - Barcelona - Espana


 Right after the border control in Sinuiju, North Korea  we cross the Yalu River to Dandong, China.  The feeling is, and I would never expect, relief to arrive China.  Relief to a living being again, with freedom of thoughts and freedom to express those same thoughts. Glad to be back to life as we know it. 



 On the road there are those key moments, be it in the beginning, middle, end or even weeks after the trip ended that we notice that all the effort, all the money spent, all the resources used to make it happen were paid off, paid back with a unique and unparalleled experience.  North Korea represented this key moment on this trip, an overland journey from Portugal to India, through Europe, Russia and China...  And while I still have two more months on the road, whatever comes will come as an extra. To this feeling of relief follows another enlightening feeling. The trip is paid.

 A week in North Korea was enough, the maximum I recommend to spend in what is the most hermetically sealed country in the world and most distinct reality as we usually understand as reality.

  I would say that it comes naturally for an intrepid traveller to begin grouping the countries visited according to some generalizations, This beach reminds me of the Caribbean ...  This landscape reminds me of the Moroccan Atlas and the Andean Highlands… It’s a typical city of Southeast Asia… This way of arranging destinations according to its characteristics comes like sorting out subjects on the shelves of a bookstore or a library: books of fiction, poetry, science, art and so on.  If I had to place the country, North Korea in my own personal library, I would have a dedicated shelf to it, more than that, I would have a dedicated room to it, while in the other room would rest all other countries I have visited so far.

 Tourism in North Korea comes as a diplomatic move by the North Korean government to show openness to the West by self-interest. North Korea does not want tourists, because they are threats to the current socialist paradise and stain the regime with its dirty and capitalist imperialistic ideas.
Therefore, travelling to North Korea is something like going to a cinema to see a movie - a masterpiece of Propaganda - where the KITA (Korean International Tourism Company), promoter and director of the film leads you to your place, presses the play, shows only the parts that considers relevant, censoring all others, remains throughout the screening of the film, controls your eye direction, controls the room and all the people who work there, keeps dialogue to a minimum during the movie and when finished leads you to the exit, this is China.

 However, as exhaustive and efficient that control is, tourists who go to North Korea will read the lines between the subtitles, see the side parts that cannot be cut, look out for images and sensations given by an accurate sixth sense in order to get an idea of what is going on, and that just makes everything much more challenging and rewarding.



North Korea, or Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, as they name them selves, it’s Not a destination to enjoy, is a destination to change yourself, to change our perception of the world and of ourselves, that shows you in the most breathtaking way, how lucky we are not to have been born there.


Crossing Sapphires over Pakistan Border PDF Print E-mail
By Diogo F. Caiado

3rd week of November 2008

 All my life Economist, Time or FT have been describing Pakistan as a all-in-one source of troubles: traditional disputes with India alongside Kashmir border, chronicle disagreements with an Afghanistan demanding land until the Indus River, constant wars in North and South Waziristan, earthquakes in North-West-Frontier-Province or violent piracy in the Arabian Sea, coming second after Indonesia in ships takeover.

It is as well a fact that the raw majority of journalists writing these articles are American or European. Eventually they grow up in Zone 1 and play tennis on weekends. Almost for sure, they have never lived in the region and when they do, relying on expatriates’ visions, think tank analysis or embassies’ lobbies usually comes as the best time-for-money solution to catch up with local reality. Finally they are trying to capture the attention of the western readers.

An unbeatable panacea for these authors would be to meet common people from the region and to dig deep into Pakistan culture and history. When you finally listen to their reasons, have their company for lunch or join a local cricket match, hard opinions will soften. You can even find practical evidence of more balance and respect when you listen to their regional neighbours or read their analysis in India Times, Dubai 7 Days or Singapore Business.

 In Pakistan I would get to know that donkey races in Karachi are great, that families in Sialkot are hardworking and humble, and that Lahore, alongside with Marrakech and Istanbul, are the most monumental towns I have seen outside Europe. Moreover, I bet that food in Baluchistan countryside is tastier than most of, say, London or Oslo-based restaurants. I would understand that lot’s of Pakistanis are pro-west, peaceful and addicted to Bollywood movies. Moreover, I would simply discover that the reason why four fifths of the population is currently against government’s position of being an ally of America’s strategy in the region is rational and legitimate: Taliban’s fight both by the army or US secret raids almost always fail to protect natives in Federally Administered Tribal Areas and strike back ultimately results in kidnappings or killings in the rest of the country, such as Benazir Bhutto assassination or the bomb in Islamabad Marriott on the 20th of September that killed 53 people and wounded more than 300. Any such new event brings the rupee to a new low originating higher food prices making poor people even poorer. Political risk comes to a new high, decreasing local and foreign investment as well as setting a natural cap to international trade:
__The revenge against American attacks is after all against innocent people in this very country. The west never suffers, nor their companies… When transaction costs increase I must reflect that in even lower wages since for my clients prices are what they want, otherwise they buy in Bangladesh—says Adil, a friend from the industrial town of Sialkot that studied with me at the London School of Economics and who I discover to be a local tycoon nowadays producing hockey sticks, football shoes and that sort of stuff, detaining control of more than 70 companies…
__Who are your customers anyway?
__Well… Nike, Adidas and many others… I and my father are running a lot of companies together. Anyway, it’s hard to make business in turmoil.

Violence Explained

Now that divergences with India over Kashmir calmed down, all we listen in the news is about the Taliban and Al-Qaeda moves all over the country and its settlement in the NWFP namely in North and South Waziristan. That area is Pashtu land and it belongs to their tribes, which have always maintained their territory safe and free from the Talibans. Why so much violent then nowadays?

When the modern state of Pakistan was established in 1947, tribal areas agreed to be part of the country since they could maintain their autonomy and their system of government and justice—which varies from tribe to tribe. Each tribe is ruled by an elder that protects the land with his own army and has never allowed any other army to protect the region.

By the time of the Soviet occupation 2 million Afghans died which led to a strong migratory trend towards Pakistan and Iran. Consequently, many families settled in the tribal areas mixing with the Pashtu’s. So when recently the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 turned the game serious, many people from the mountainous region of the tribal areas migrated to the other side of the border to help their Muslim brothers, as well as many Taliban fighters took the other way around entering Pakistan to find shelter and a spot to reorganize their attacks.

 As the US troops needed help to kill the Talibans that were hiding in the tribal areas it was asked the government of Pakistan to bring their army into these tribal areas and run a joint war against the terrorism, violating the 1947 agreement. As US target was Iraqi oil from the very beginning US forces were damn scarce in the region. The solution was to offer Pakistan government 12 billion US$ a year to settle their army in NWFP and fight the Talibans in their turn. Since national Pakistani army was recognized as a foreign invader, the elders led their armies against the national army on one hand thinking they were protecting their tribe from the aggressor and on the other because they simply couldn’t know which army was that. In this context the Taliban grew stronger and ultimately started killing the elders that gave them the original protection. Nowadays they are relevant in the region though some tribes are still independent.

The solution for this structural conflict that damages the reputation of Pakistan throughout the world is:

1.    To dialogue with the still independent tribes, building together prosperity and protection into the region, still respecting their way of doing things. For instance, when a kid becomes a man, he receives a gun as an offer, but no one has ever heard of a kiddo starting killing their friends at school.

2.    To regain the occupied areas to the Talibans, deploying a strong and organized international force working together with the Pakistan army to bring peace to the region, instead of paying to the national army that sometimes simulates Taliban killings just to justify the money that it is being received.

Moments of a Trip

That was being a strange day in Bombay. In the morning I had had a meeting in the NSE (National Stock Exchange of India Limited) with a senior officer whose name was Mr. Roy Aranha, but in the afternoon I was going to meet Mr. A.R. Coutinho, head of Allwin Securities. Both surnames were totally Portuguese and an empirical signal that 500 years ago Mr. Vasco da Gama and his men really liked the women from India. India has lovely women, great music and food. Girls from the Punjab are renown in south Asia for their extreme beauty. In Bombay I had witnessed the colour festival—the most populated celebration in the whole world—and how investment banking deals never stop in spite of the chaos in the streets. But my time was over and I had to say goodbye to my lunches in the Indigo and to my evenings in the Taj looking at the Gateway of India. The next day I was in Delhi having dinner with Michael Schwarz and 2 Indians that formed his team. Michael was visibly sick, with fever and all that contrast between the air conditioning of the offices and the Tuk-Tuk rides in the tropical rain was killing this German dude. I paid them the dinner while informing that the next day I was going to Pakistan.

 I had been informed that the bus to Lahore was escorted by the army and that the line had almost no passengers due to the traditional disputes over Kashmir. This same conflict by the time of the independence led to a mass migration of Sikhs and Indus from the former West Pakistan into India; and of Muslims the other way around. This almost ended circulation of people alongside the border and that subsists until our time. Still, you can find more Muslims in India than in the entire Pakistan—153 M against 150M. For security reasons all passengers were supposed to arrive to the station at 4 A.M. but the trip was only scheduled to commence by 8 A.M. and the bus ended up leaving by 9. All luggage and all the people were carefully controlled. All together there weren’t more than 20 passengers but I could bet not all of them made the journey. I only travel with a small bag  but a guard discovered a ring full of sapphires that I had one day bought in Agra and that was hidden in the shaving cream.
__Sir, people from Pakistan in the border are bad… they will search your stuff and I swear they will steal you the ring. You have just one option: put it in your finger and say it’s a gift from your father…
During the trip I discretely noticed that most of the people including the driver were using rings, so I decided to put the ring in my finger. As the ring was too little I was almost in Amritsar when I finally succeeded. During all the trip there were 2 army cars in the front of the bus and one in behind, going full speed, armed to their teeth, blowing the horn, and keeping distance from other cars with a wooden stick so that no one would get in the way.

I recall that control in Pakistan border was redundant and annoying with so many layers and documents to sign. Conversely, it’s maybe more effective than in Lisbon Airport… At a time, a thin guard with a moustache smiled at me and commented:
__Hum, nice ring!
__It was my fathers—I concluded. But I knew that he knew I was lying.

 My Pakistani friend Ayesha arranged me a room in Lahore’s Country Club: beautiful Victorian buildings and luxurious gardens right in the middle of the town. It was so formal than for me to have breakfast or to go to the tea living I had to wear my linen suit and my Celine tie. There was a very colonial atmosphere in the Millenary City of Lahore. A few centuries ago Lahore was the most important city in south Asia and far more populated than London. During the time I was there I may assure you there were only 3 foreigners in town: a young American teaching English in a private college, a Canadian girl arriving from a humanitarian mission in NWFP, and me.

All Saturdays there were private parties in town, so I went with Ayesha, Mehreen and Bilal to this cool party of someone they knew. It was a modern architecture house with two special but white BMW’s parked in the garden. Music was state of the art, the atmosphere was stylish, drinks were great and people had a very good vibe. All of them had been studying in premium schools and working for excellent companies in London and other major markets. Still I knew that was a bias from Pakistan average reality. That evening when I got back to the hotel I noticed I had no water in the room. So I called reception and no one picked up. I was so damn thirsty that I left the room and approached the sleepy guard asking him for water. 2 minutes after that I had the water in my room served in a mineral water fine bottle. I drank it at once. 2 hours after I concluded that the bottle was closed but not sealed when I started sweating as an animal, and my body temperature got up to 42 degrees.

«Diego, focus man, focus», I was thinking, «So he spared himself from crossing all the yard and just put boiled water into a mineral bottle…». I stayed 3 hours more in the hotel. During that time I got insane trying to take the stupid sapphire ring out of my finger «It’s giving me bad luck». Then I called my friends… that were already in the public hospital of Lahore, the only one opened during the night, because Mehreen’s mother was having high tension. I don’t remember how I left the country club. I vaguely recall Mehreen’s family driver grabbing my stuff, leading me into the car and then I woke up just when in the hospital I was given a very strong medicine. I spent the next 3 days in Mehreen’s family house where gradually I started to get better. I am so very thankful to this great family that treated me like a son. In my last day in Lahore, Mehreen’s family allowed me to assist to a particular wedding celebration of one of Mehreen’s cousins that was about to get married. Women from both the families gathered to sing and dance and change flowers at Mehreen’s house so that all girls from both families could get to know each other. I was speechless.

The day I returned to India it was Pakistan Independence Day, therefore being India Independence Day. So the bus stopped in the Pakistan side of the border and all people—under very warm sun—had to assist on their feet to a 2 hour celebration before the trip back to Delhi could continue. I would be sick for one more week or so… in that moment I understood the real value of water, Amoxicilin and Clavulanic Acid.

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