Wicked places in Asia
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Everywhere in the countryside
As soon as you leave the densely built area of Dhaka, you will be met by a flat landscape punctuated by tall chimneys. These are traditional brick factories, where slabs of mud turn into red bricks in coal heated ovens (so called kilns). The bricks weigh about two kilos each and some workers carry more than twenty of them... on their heads. The factories only operate during dry season and close down during the monsoon, leaving a strange ghost landscape. Besides being the source of a good part of the country's air pollution, the factories also engage in child labour and pay close to nothing for the bone breaking work. A visit will give you some insight into how harsh conditions some people are living under, and a perspective on how crappy your own job might feel.
Sadarghat, Old Dhaka
Renting a row boat (with boat man) to slowly go up and down the Buriganga river is a great way to get some relieving distance to the mind-blowing chaos on land. But since this is Dhaka, do not expect tranquility. The river is equally packed with boats in any size, from your tiny dinky to the big paddle-wheels ferries, along with swimming kids and waste from the whole capital. The big ships have the right of way, while everyone else is dodging for their life. Along the banks people are using the filthy river for cloth washing and bathing, even though the dark water is dense with floating garbage and the river is officially declared biological dead.
Cycle rickshaws, or just rickshaws as they are called here in Bangladesh, look like a thing from the colonial past. Colorfully decorated with a sweaty rickshaw wallah on the pedals in front, they will zigzag through insanely dense traffic while dodging smashed up buses and other rickshaws. Some of the older rickshaws are down right dangerous with sharp metal pieces sticking out everywhere and they are all surprisingly uncomfortable to sit in, but they are just too darn charming not to ride. While man-powered rickshaws are getting outfaced in the rest of the world, they are going strong in Bangladesh. In Old Dhaka, the narrow lanes are so jam-packed with rickshaws, caring both people and goods, that walking is no longer physically possible. There is only one thing to do - jump on one and join the madness.
Empire Hotel and Country Club
Normally, we don't do hotels here at Globe Spots, but when the construction price tag is in the US$1 billion region, it qualifies. Every part of this hotel is built with the best materials, and the foyer is 80 metres high. All this splendidness is the brainchild of the black sheep of the royal family of Brunei, Prince Jefri. A lot of things can be said of Jefri, but before he got sacked as finance minister, he had wasted billions on personal expenses, including gold-plated toilet brushes, 2000 cars and a yacht named Tits, with two tenders called Nipple 1 and Nipple 2. If that isn't class, we don't know what is.
Abandoned Pepsi factory
When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975, things went wrong very fast. Those who could escape did that, leaving whatever behind, and the Pepsi bottling plant in Battambang is such a leftover. One day the Khmer people were enjoying a cold Pepsi, and the next day everything was banned. The national bank was blown up and the elite was killed in a foolish attempt to make Cambodia a self-supplying Maoist state. Today the Pepsi plant with its faded logo still stands with piles of old bottles inside. You might have to ask the caretaker to open the otherwise locked building. Why the building hasn't been sold off is a mystery to us, but in the meantime it is possible to visit a Pepsi bottling plant which has not made Pepsi for more than 35 years.
Ta Prohm temple, Angkor
Carved on a pillar on the inside of the wall at the ancient Angkor temple Ta Prohm (built in the late 12th century), this strange animal stands out. Most schoolkids will recognise this as a stegosaurus, a dinosaur that has gone extinct a long time ago even by Angkor standards. There have been many speculations about it, and beside the biblical creation explanation and doubts about the carving's authenticity, the going belief is that it's a Sumatran rhinoceros depicted against jungle leaves (sorry to spoil the mystery). When done with the crypto-zoology, take a glance at the temple. Ta Prohm is famous as the Jungle Temple since the early restorations left its untouched with it walls crumpled by huge serpent-like roots of the towering silk cotton trees.
Bokor Hill Station
Bokor mountain in Preah Monivong National Park
To escape the tropical heat of the low land, the French built an elaborated hill retreat in 1921 at the top of Bokor mountain, deep in the Cambodian jungle. At 1062 m, the weather here is chilly with clouds rolling in, probably giving the French colonists a flavour of their Alps. The hill station consisted of a catholic church, post office, and the flashy Grand Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino with a ball hall and gambling rooms. The hill station was first abandoned in 1940 and later in 1972 when the Khmer Rouge took power of the area. During the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, the Khmer Rouge withdraw to the jungle and kept Bokor Hill Station as a stronghold, which was still under Khmer Rouge control until the 1990s. Today you can join a tour to visit the ghost town. The company of Sokimex (yes, same company who owns all the gas stations and the entrance to Angkor Wat) has magically gained a 99-years-lease of Bokor Mountain and is now building another 5-stars resort and casino.
Stung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump
It should not come as a shock that poverty is severe in Cambodia and Phnom Penh's biggest dump site, Stung Meanchey, is a good place to do that reality check. A stinking pile of trash spreads out over more than 40 hectares with a haze of smoke and toxic gases. Here, whole families live of what they can find and resell. On a good day, a grownup can make up to 2 dollars and a kid 50 cents, which sadly makes Stung Meanchey an attracting workplace for some of the poorest of Cambodia. It is understandable that some aid workers have described this place as hell on Earth.
Previously, it was possible to visit the dump site, but when we past by in 2011, the guards at the entrance wouldn't let us pass. You might have more luck than us. The picture is taken right outside the dump site - the sign says "don't spill trash".
Everywhere in China
A visit to a Chinese public toilet is best done for curiosity - and not necessity - for it can be a life changing event. Toilets are of course of the squatting type, and are often super disgusting and foul smelling. The sight of no private cubicle or even a partition walls between the squatting holes can instantly turn your worst diarrhea into constipation. Chinese squat next to each other and just do their thing without the slightest hint of embarrassment – and they expect you to do the same. Toilet paper is non-existing and water for washing hands is rare, so how the Chinese manage to keep basic hygiene is beyond most Western minds.
The picture shows a clean public toilet, but these are rare.
HSBC headquarters, Central, Hong Kong
The first time you encounter this social phenomenon, you think that something must be going on - but it is quite the contrary. Foreign maids, mostly Filipinos, who work as domestic helpers, meet under the HSBC building every Sunday on their only day off. Here, they hang out with fellow maids and chat in their native lingo. Sitting on blankets on the pavement, they share home cooked food, gossip, polish each other's nails or just nap. It is a strange sight, but this is the way they get recharged for another week of domestic work away from their own family.