Greetings from Karachi!

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April 30th 2007
Published: December 24th 2007
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Salam everyone!

My 1st official day in Pakistan and I just had lunch, so my driver suggested me to use the internet for an hour before we head off to the open air Air Force Museum. It's blistering hot out there, and fortunately, I do not have to don long sleeved here in Karachi! Would have suffocated from the heat! The roads are sooo dusty and the streets are very dirty. In a way, Karachi is like no other cities I have been to. I was quite shocked to see the state of the roads and the condition of the buildings here. There are lots of rubble lying everywhere, as well as piles of rubbish congregated on roadside corners. A combination of Yangon(which isn't as dusty), Mandalay(which is dirty but also not as dusty), Phnom Penh(the roads...) and perhaps Colombo(for the many colonial buildings). But the buildings really are in a very bad shape here...

It was a long day for me yesterday. Got on the plane at 1215pm, and it transited for 4hours in Thailand, before I got to Karachi at 12am Singapore time, but 9pm Pakistani time. It took the entire day for me to get here! And was I glad when i finally landed. Anyway, I was so looking fwd to the new Suvarnabhumi Airport but perhaps my expectations were too high. It was impressive from the outside, but the walls on the 2nd and 3rd levels were not painted, and I even spotted (ahem) cobwebs hanging from corners. The most impressive was the interiors of the 4th floor which had identical shops that repeated themselves in sections. All branded goods. Few bookshops. NO water coolers!! And no FREE internet access! It costs 300B for an hour online! U do the math. I still love Changi Airport! 😊

After landing in Karachi, that was it. I told myself. Gone was the familarity of the aeroplane, of Western comfort, and of a sense of security in the plane itself. I hae to face Karachi now! Which has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Now, come to think of it, isn't Pakistan always in the news for ALL the wrong reasons?

Had a few deep impressions when I landed in Karachi:
1) Our plane was parked beside a PIA plane and the motifs on the tail of the plane showed elaborate motifs and the logo of PIA is so distinctively islamic. Yet I find it has such character that I like it so much. 😊

2) The moment I stepped onto the aerobridge, the signs of US imperialism greeted me. Adverts of Citibank Pakistan! *shock* Ok, Im not in such a 'desolate' part of the world after all. Furthermore, US and Pakistan are such good friends. :p

3) Customs clearance was surpirsingly FAST. It was 9pm at night and there were almost 10counters opened? The counter girls were grumpy though. No smile for me even though I was the only female in line.

4) I ended up in the wrong queue for Pak passports and did not realise it until I heard a man behind me mumble something like, "Pak passport...foreign passport..." I looked up and realised my mistake, turned around and the guy smiled at me. I smiled back with a 'sorry' and 'thank you'. Guess this is the kind of subtle gestures that a friend, Andy, mentioned before? 😊

5) I was reading up on the flight about accom and planning my 'exit strategy' as a Pak friend of a friend and a Pakistani himself have been telling me to be careful and Karachi is nowhere like Iran and blah blah...'Dangerous', 'dodgy', 'arriving at 830pm', 'solo female traveling' are all cause for concern. To be honest, u guys(esp my dear girlfriends) really got me rather worried! I then changed money and looked for a public phone at the airport. None. Asked a security guard and he gestured to the guys at the Emirates counter to let me use their phone! I was extremely grateful. I was even more thrilled when the hotel number that I dialed was not changed and a guy speaking good Eng picked it up! (mind u, the LP guide is so outdated! Sep 04 version!) I asked about a single room and managed to negotiate for a non A/C room for only 400Pak rupees! Which is about S$10! I was so happy! He wanted to offer me a A/C room at 1000RP initially! Imagine my happiness when I got out of the airport and got a cab which sent me straight to the hotel! I was secretly smirking to myself and could not help smiling... It does not seem that hard after all! *lol*

6) Greetings of 'asalaam aleikum' are heard as I exited the airport building. Now I know I'm in an Islamic country. 😊

7) Another sign of imperialism. McDonald smack right in the centre of the carpark of the airport. Gosh.

8) My driver dun speak much Eng and we did not converse. But he was sensitive enough to tune into the Eng radio station for my listening pleasure. And do u know I can actually use my radio receiver here!? THere's a Eng channel and I was tuning in last night before sleeping!

When I was at the Thailand airport waiting to board the plane after checking in, I was aware of my feminine presence in the male-dominated waiting place. The plane was making a stopover in Karachi only and moving on to Oman. So u can imagine that 90% of the plane is packed full of guys. I was immediately more self-conscious as I was when I was in Iran. However, after spending half the day out today with my driver, I must say it's really bearable. Much more bearable than in Iran when guys will simply come up to me and start trying to practise their english or I would hear much wolf-whistling or some lewd comments which I don't understand! The trouble with Karachi is the beggars instead. There are many of them, and children have been hassling me more than guys. Which is a relieve actually. I treated a boy to brekkie this morning after he followed me while I was photographing some buildings. After eating, he still followed me around until I got into a cab. Sigh. Kind of like an assault on my morals cuz I haven't been to a country with such an obvious scene of poor people everyone.

My driver, Jawed, used to be a seaman and worked in Singapore 9years ago at guess where? Mustafa Centre! *lol* What a small world! He could guess I was from Singapore the moment I got on the cab. There's a sense of connectivity immediately. He's sincere and we chatted about life, politics(both Pak and Singapore), Islam and travels basically. What a good start to my trip in Pakistan. He doubles up as a guide and driver. 😊 And it's been enjoyable chatting with him so far...

According to the Economist, Benazir Bhutton is to come back to Pakistan and seemingly act as an aide to Musharraf. However, it's confirmed she is and it seems rightly so that she comes back to claim her assets after so many years in exile. It's a win-win situation. She reclaims her place and acts as an aide to Musharraf who will make her the prime minister. Musharraf gets to regain some of his ermm... name(?) after the unreasonable sacking of the district judge lately. (Correct me if im wrong, Farheen! )

I must say it's a great start to my trip so far. Better than my Iran one in fact. Mainly is really cuz of the lack of attention on me from guys. *phew* And the Pak guys seem to be more respectful. Looking forward to a smashing trip! Will write soon again! And I'm feeling safe here, girls! 😊 Ciao!

Karachian greetings,


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