OK... While I'm still up and running, the saga continues with part 4...
In Prague, the beautiful fairy-tale-like capital of the Czech Republic, the city’s ugly side reared its head. Lying outside a pizza store one midnight, I tried to sleep when to Czechans came and stopped in front. Noticing the sleeping bag, they told me it’s trouble if the police caught me sleeping on the streets. They offered me a place to stay. The doubt was there but I decided to check the Czech hospitality.
I was led into a maze of rundown apartments to a one-bedroom flat. Two beds were inside, one occupied by a burly guy and a girl, the other vacant. They offered to take care of my rucksack and let me use the other bed. They were kind, much too kind, I smelled a rat.
As I tried to sleep, there were sounds of zippers being opened. I tried to ignore it, closing my eyes tightly while breathing slowly and deeply. But I was constantly woken by nightmares of my pocket getting picked. So I just laid down vigil, ears opened, eyes-half closed alert for any monkey business.
When the first light of dawn showed, I rose from the bed and looked for the rucksack. The guys shaken by the sudden action tried to lure me away to no avail. The girl was missing, so that leaves only the three of them in the room. I checked my rucksack. The walkman, camera and loaf of bread was missing (God, they must have been really starved).
I questioned them. They shrugged their shoulders feigning ignorance. One of them threatened me. He said he had a Colt .45 handgun. I went for double bluff. "Where’s the gun?" I asked.
At last they pointed the finger to the girl. After some insistence, one of them offered to lead me to the girl.
We went to a train station. He told me to wait since the girl was in a club. "You stranger no enter club bouncer don’t like" he told me. He gaved me two currency notes, one Romanian the other Yugoslavian (useless since the country broke up years ago) and a small glass bottle he claimed containing liquid drug worth 1,000 Kroners. Then he left me waiting.
As he walked away, it occurred to me, my stuff was gone for good and the gifts were his way of compensating. I remembered the guy’s face when we stopped at a shoe store on the way to the train station. There was longing in his eyes as he stared at the Adidas, Nike and other branded shoes inside. Maybe he needs the money to buy a coveted pair of sneakers? Oh well… I guess those guys needed my things more than I did.
Prague was astounding with its old baroque buildings, cobblestone walkways and bridges crossing river Elbe. A thick smell of history and character emanated from the building which survived the ravages of two world wars. It’s like every stone including the pebbles on the street have a story to tell.
At night it was even more breathtaking especially around the Old Market Square with its surrounding buildings illuminated by spotlights and antique street lamps, one looking exactly like a Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale castle. Somehow I can feel the glow of the city, pleasing and dream-like, conjuring memories of old fairy-tales, of castles and palaces, of Camelot and Avalon as I used to read it when I was a kid.
Again amidst the beauty I found ugliness. I remembered joining some Londoners, a mish-mash of Pakistani, Chinese and Italian Englishmen checking the Prague night-scene. All they ever want was girls. And they kept asking me for girls. What am I? The pimp?
These Londoners in chic expensive suits went around thinking Prague, in fact the whole Czech Republic was a cheap sex heaven. To my knowledge, they didn’t get a single girl. Sad gits…
But there was a grain of truth to their expectations. There was this girl who stripped naked at a club we went to in the Old Market Square to the cheers of the crowd, mostly Western Europeans. And it’s not a tiger show parlour for God’s sake!
She had an excellent figure but I was disgusted, not at her but at the naughty eyes and hands surrounding her, mostly of Western Europeans. Why did she do it?
I later found out this was a quite common occurrence. And this kind of behaviour was not confined to Prague.
There was Dobi, a small Czech town near the German border. The girls were dressed to kill as they walked to and fro along the only main road there. Apparently, they were selling their "services" to the Germans who craved for cheap pleasure.
Some of these girls were naturally knock-down dead gorgeus. Why do they have to do this?
It’s like at the Thai border towns where its lasses depended on the relatively richer Malaysians for patronage. I cringe at the thought of long-distance taxi drivers relating their adventures there. "They let me do things my wife wouldn’t let me!" one said once.
I remembered the news reports read in London concerning the spiralling crime rates, theft, murders and prostitution in the capitalist economies, the former Communist bloc countries including the Czech Republic. Was it because of the Communism to Capitalism transition?
The streets of Prague, now invaded by Western market forces with its designer jeans, Mc Donalds and Coca-cola must be a far cry from the days before the Soviet Union went down. But the casualties are the wannabes staring wide-eyed into the shop-windows looking at branded jeans and sneakers that would probably take them half-a-year’s pay to afford.
It’s the same thing in Malaysia. Check it out if you ever walk the back-streets of Chow Kit and its surrounding areas. If you come across muggers and drug-pedallers, gangsters and prostitutes, observe. Most do what they did to support their bright-lights big-city style of living.
And this was probably what’s happening to these Czechs except on a bigger scale. They were suddenly exposed to the blinding light of Western salemanship after several years living like moles in the Communist era.
I can’t shake the thought of such unfairness. The price for a pair of Levi’s jeans was about forty times the price of a meal consisting of a piece of roast chicken, a portion of mash potatoes and a glass of juice.
The thieves who stole my loaf of bread, the girls in Dobi waiting for German customers and their cash, the spontaneous stripper… They were all victims of a standard that prizes buying power. In the light of the Communism to Capitalism transiton at that time, it was a sad situation.
Prague or Praha as the locals call it, somehow you moved me to tears. How I felt at the time despise for the Western world with its material abundance and arrogance with the Westerners walking cockily drunk on the streets amidst the timid locals as if they own the bloody place.
I left the city after spending only one night there. Prague, I will come here again, hopefully under better circumstances.