africans and indians

posted in: cross-culture, travel | 0

In Nairobi, the upper middle class are Indians–and not “fresh-off-the-boat” Indians, but those that have been here for several generations. According to wikipedia, the origin of Indian migration was for the construction of the Uganda railway (or “lunatic express“; see also last post) in the late 19th century. There are now over 100,000 Asians in Kenya today–and all the successful shops and businesses seem to be owned by them.

The other day I went to the pharmacy to get some paracetamol for G (he’s very skilled at getting food sickness whenever we travel). There were 2-3 black Kenyans assisting customers in the shop. After getting a box from one of them I went to the till, which was manned by a distinguished looking older Indian woman.

I was second in line. Just as it became my turn, an elderly, deep-voiced African man cut right in front of me and told the Indian woman that he will pay exactly 932 KSH for this medicine and no more, because the assistant over there had given him a 10% discount. The woman scanned his boxes. “Sorry sir, but we do not give discounts on this product,” and turning to the assistant: “Do not do that again–we can only give discounts here at the till.”

Boy, did that set the customer off: “You Asians do not know how to deal with people! You should have spoken to him in private; instead you humiliate your employees in front of everyone else!” (The ‘everyone else’ in this case being me.)

And so they continued arguing in civil yet passive-aggressive tones, while I felt increasingly uncomfortable being the public witness to it all. In the end the owner gave the man his discount. And I received my first experience of anti-Indian sentiment in Kenya, from a belligerent customer complaining about rudeness. Oh the irony.

the train to mombasa

posted in: travel | 1

G and I are in Kenya for a 3-week holiday, and our only concrete plan was to take the overnight train to the coast. So shortly after arriving to Nairobi, we went to the railway station to check out our options.

nairobi train station

There is only one train route going through Nairobi: Read More

tulip bulbs & temporary passports

posted in: travel | 0

Observations about Schiphol airport, in Amsterdam:
1. They sell tulip bulbs in the gift shops.
2. All announcements in the airport are terse threats to the people late for their flights, who must “come to the gate NOW or we will offload your luggage immediately”
3. Under no circumstances, not even your grandfather’s funeral, will they allow you to board a plane heading to Taiwan without 6 months validity left on your passport.


It’s one thing to be denied at check-in when you’re in your home city. But I had already flown from Oslo to Amsterdam and had further boarding passes for Guangzhou and Taipei. I was at the gate just before departure when this Chinese stewardess just refused to let me on the plane. (It’s a specific policy with Taiwan–they get fined if they allow passengers in with less than 6-months left on their passport, because of the risk that they will be deported.)

Short of having a heart attack, I watched them close the gate while I tried calling the Canadian Embassy in the Netherlands to see how quickly I could get a new passport. As is typical, it was impossible to reach a real person so I left a message. I then went to check at ticket counters in the airport to see if it was even possible to get another flight that would get me to Taipei in time for the funeral. (Great timing, it’s also Chinese New Year, the busiest travel time in Asia.)

I managed to find a ticket that departed 8 hours later, with a layover in Hong Kong. But of course I couldn’t commit before being certain about my passport… still unable to reach the Embassy, I took a train to the Hague to see them in person. (Good thing the city is only 30 minutes away–hooray tiny Netherlands.)

Grabbed a taxi from the train station and got to the embassy after a suspiciously long and rainy ride (yes, he screwed me). Thankfully, the embassy had gotten my message and were very willing to help–I was really pleasantly surprised to see government bureaucracy actually working to help me! Of course I had to fill out an application for a new passport, and they would have to cross-check my references and get approval in Canada–but I got photos done around the corner, paid a 200 euro fee, and I was on my way back to the airport after only 3 hours.

my temporary and 'old' passport

at the airport, I bought an expensive one-way ticket to Taipei from this Chinese dude–which for some reason I had to pay in cash. seemed dodgy, but it was a much better deal than what KLM or Lufthansa could offer me (first-class tickets at four times the price). more waiting, more layovers… and then the discovery that I needed a visa to get into Taiwan because of my temporary passport. more photos, more cash. but I finally made it to Taipei, 36 hours after leaving Oslo.

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