Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Mahd's Guide to the World, Part 8: Central/South Asia

Today we go west, all the way to the center of Asia. While this may seem pretty close to East Asia, keep in mind that the continent is very, very big.


Myanmar is ruled by a military junta. I think the progression of dictatorial rule goes Dictator-for-life -> Despot -> Evil Council -> "President" -> Junta; so these guys are pretty bad. This country used to be part of Burma as it was called under the rule of the British, but split off like everyone did after WW2. The leaders of the nation decided to make a plan for bringing their country prosperity and joy. But it was easier to grow heroin, so they did that instead. Of course, the ruling junta isn't so bad: in 1989 they promised free elections. Of course, when the elections went against them, they forbid the winners to take office and crushed the rebellion. But when you're a junta, it's kind of expected.


The big boy of South Asia, India is the world's largest democracy, a fact that they trumpet proudly at every opportunity. It's also the world's smelliest, most-disease ridden, caste-bedeviled democracy, but you never hear them say that. In spite of this, India has a beautiful and mystical culture, and you can't find a decent burger anywhere. India has it's problems, from the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan to the ever-present caste system, where, if you have to ask what caste you're in, you're probably in the lowest one (harijan). That's not to say the caste system is a bad thing- after all, what possible downside could there be in belonging to the one that is known as the "Untouchables"? Well, it can all be remedied in your next life...


Bhutan is a tiny country wedged between India and China, and has seemingly ignored the passage of time. A king rules the country, and slavery was only abolished in 1958. Fortunately, the king is a benevolent person, and his court were all atwitter about merchants bringing in television and other electronic goods on the back of camels. Of course, there's only one TV station, and all it shows are reruns of Mork and Mindy.


Bangladesh, or Bengal as it was once called, was a thriving, growing culture where art and literature flourished, where Hinduism and Buddhism both grew, but were eventually ovecome by Islam. Then the Europeans came. As usual and mangled things. After independence and a war or two, Bangladesh was born.
Today, Bangladesh is relatively peaceful, with only a marginal amount of the civil unrest you might expect to see in a third-world nation. The world's largest mangrove belt is here, as are many palaces from the old days. Also, I would expect to see a shit ton of people.


I hear the hiking is good here. That may be because the entire nation is situated on top of a mountain range. The country is a democracy, but since it exists in a land with virtually no economy and such a disparate population, it can sometimes be hard to choose between the No-Starvation cantidate and the No-Pestilence cantidate. Worse, Maoist rebels are attempting an insurrection in the country, which means that with all of the explosions, Nepal will go from a mountain nation to a slightly hilly nation in just a few short years.


From here on out, we're going to be referring to the Stans of Asia. From the fossil record we can determine that there was once a great king named Stanley, and so the following nations all remember him fondly by adding his nickname to their country names.

Pakistan is one of the partitions that the British made when they split up India into different parts. The British, in their wisdom, determined that it would be fine to make one country full of people with one religion next to another with a completely different religion. It didn't help that they told the Pakistanis that the Indians slept with their moms, either. Like other Muslim countries, male and female Pakistanis wear a traditional garb that reflects their culture, but it's really just a dress.
Recently, the government was taken over in a bloodless coup by a military man, Pervez Musharraf. He has simultaneously kept tensions with India at a standstill while supporting the everlasting War on Terror. This is also known as "Give me money Americans."
Pakistan has a sweet called barfi. Overlook the name if you can.


Afghanistan was a nobody. No country really knew where it was, or even really cared. Sure, they had opiates, but those religious Taliban guys were burning those fields down, and also destroying any non-Muslim relics. Then they happened to be caught with the red mark on their hand, and suddenly every 24-hour news channel taught us everything we ever wanted to know about the country. Now, normally learning about different countries is a good thing, but in America when we learn a lot about a foreign country, it usually means that country is going to have the hell bombed out of it. And Afghanistan is no exception.
Today, you can walk down to a cafe in Kabul and have a nice cup of coffee with friends and reminisce about how that bunker buster missile came so close you could feel it. Uh, but don't try it outside of Kabul.


Welcome to the moon. This is Turkmenistan, who probably have the crappiest deal of any country except maybe one of the ones in the Sahara. It's an apt description, because eighty percent of the country is inhospitable desert. The remaining twenty percent is very nice, with lots of shrubs lining the roads. At least the ruler is a crazy man who has renamed the months after himself and has banned everyone from taking a breath without swearing allegiance to him. This is a good place to come if filming a post-apocalypse movie: otherwise, give it a miss.


Uzbekistan was taken by the Russians in 1875 and has been defiantly pro-Russian ever since. They were all for the Communist revolution and when Communism fell, they were for that too. Well, kind of, since their president is something of an authoritarian dictator. But they're ok with that, too. Mostly, the Uzbeks just want to keep Muslim militants from overthrowing their country, because that would upset the delicate fur hat manufacturing conglomorate that makes up their industry.


It's hard to say, but in some ways Soviet dominance of some lands is a good thing. The Soviet control of Tajikistan might have been brutal, but at least it was highly bureaucratic and organized. When the USSR went kaput, civil war erputed here among the ethnic groups. Fortunately, today the capital of Dushanbe is as safe as any other in Central Asia, which is to say that you have only a moderate chance of being kidnapped and murdered.


These formerly nomadic people have one pasttime, and that is drinking fermented mare's milk. Morning, noon or evening, you'll hardly find a Kyrgystaniophite without an animal skin filled with the disgusting brew. Refusing to drink it with them is an insult worse than if you refused to have intercourse with their horses, which itself is a grave insult. And don't even think about not licking the underside of their tent...

Kazakhstan is the largest of the "stan" former Soviet republics, and if you come here, you'll understand why. The entire country seems to have been saved for something special. While this does result in wide open spaces, it also makes you wonder why they haven't exploited their natural resources. The other people wondering this are the many downtrodden individuals who will stalk you as you walk around their cities in capri pants and fedoras. It's at that point you may want to put away your money clip and also hide your fancy camera.


At 12:43 AM, Blogger ChickyBabe said...

Are you making some countries up, Mahd?? :P

India - the IT hub of the world, where everything is a "yes" until it has to be delivered. Oops, did I say that...

At 4:48 PM, Blogger Scorpy said...

Fan-Stan-tastic !!! I loved it!

At 8:21 PM, Blogger chica bonita said...

i'm just really gonna be a bimbo now. i have no idea these countries are in Asia apart from India, Myanmar, Nepal & Bangladesh.

*embarassed smile*

At 8:22 PM, Blogger chica bonita said...

i meant embarrassed. sigh spelling error.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Mahd said...

ChickyBabe, Those Soviets used to own everything! When I call for tech support, I always say I've tried everything they suggest so please send me a new part...

ScorpyThanks! I'll have to think about the next one.

Chica Bonita, it's only through Internet research that I've found this out, myself...


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