Galloping eastwards: the glamour of the fertile Pannonia
While still recovering from the hectic but fruitful new year trip in Czech Republic, Hungary, and Serbia, I decided it’s time for me to write something down about this interesting trip before the memory gets blurry. The followings are some of my personal trivial observation from the trip.
We went through Brno, Czech Republic, Budapest, Hungary, Novi Sad, Serbia, and finally Belgrade, Serbia in two weeks. Eastern Europe always appeared mysterious to me because of its turbulent history and unique culture. Waves and waves of steppe nomads came and settled down there, Huns, Slavs, Avars, Magyars, Turks etc. The region with the then-most incredibly heterogeneous demography now become THE most homogeneous countries in Europe (the last one being the secession of Yugoslavia). The fertile Pannonian basin and its surroundings was intricately divided among so many different borders. For example, it is one hour drive from Brno, Czech to Vienna, Austria, and to Bratislava, Slovakia. But you could barely see the trace of any former country and culture once you cross the border, even the villages are ethnically divided in a tidy manner along the border. My land lives my people.
Moravia from the peep of Brno:
You have to give credits to the Czech people, for they have, after all, retained their distinguishing Slavic language and traditions under thousand years of Germanic dominion. One could say the same thing to Slovakia and their Magyar masters, to a lesser extent. Anyway, Czech in Moravia probably tried everything they could to dissociate themselves with the Germans, but old obelisks have still been inscribed in Germans and the Mendel’s garden still stays behind the same old church. The influence of Germany of course does not stop at the stage of mere historical monuments. After the fall of iron curtain, Germany becomes the de facto suzerain of this country. Germans came and bought their industry and made everyone work for them. Germany to Czechs are like the United States to Latinos, people speak way more German than their poor Anglicky in this landlocked country of 10 million souls. It is interesting to see that a lot of people still live in the communist project apartments that were built at least 20 years ago. This is actually the common thing shared by all the countries I visited in this trip, something I, as a Chinese, would not really be unfamiliar. Brno was not touristic at all, unlike Prague. I really like the city because of this. But I guess also unlike Prague, there is a sense of depression among the people, as they do not seem to be happy with the situation, low wage, few employment opportunities, little casinos at the corner of every street. Typical Eastern Europe under the wingspan of EU. But at least people are well behaved and the food and drinks are cheap and of good quality. May their politicians be wise enough to keep the cheap Koruna instead of the shitty Euro.
Budapest is a gorgeous pearl on the Danube River. It has a glorious past but a disheartening present. Though German is still a popular languages among the Magyars, more and more young people could speak some decent English, way better than their Czech neighbors. Once going out of the old town for tourists, the scenery changed totally. There are old project apartments, rusty rail lines and mindless graffiti all over. People still prefer to stay in the past as I understood. Everyone there could easily recited their 150 years of fighting against the evil Turks and victorious defend against the Mongols, even the hipster girls (to my surprise they do have a lot blondes) on the street would point out to a foreigner on the street: “We have fought 150 years against the Turks, now you said our language sounds like Turkisk?!” To them Turks never conquered Hungary, they just flashed off and went to Vienna. Whatever makes them happy out of the current shitty economic situation. Pity I didn’t stay long there, I would be more interested to get to know more about their unique language and yummy goulash.
Serbia: from Novi Sad to Belgrade
How do I start with Serbia. Hmm… It has excellent food and wonderful women. I was told not to bring up any conversations regarding the past with the locals. I did as I was told. I now regretted that I didn’t try harder. Probably I’d get a punch on the face, but it is definitely worth knowing. Either way, the country itself is even a bit less developed than Hungary. Czech -> Hungary -> Serbia. Three different levels, one looks more underdeveloped than another. You could still see a great deal of old Yugo cars driving on the dusty roads. I assume the economic situation could not be better than that of Hungary. On the road to Novi Sad from the northern border we crossed a little town. The only English billboard on the road belongs to an English learning school. The slogan of that advertisement was unforgettable: “School of English: Money is Coming”.
Germans along with their language are clearly not on Serbian’s favor list. Instead, lots of young people speak very good English. In the streets of Novi Sad and Belgrade there are English signs for tourists everywhere, something I didn’t expect at all in Serbia. The two cities are pretty much alike. Both on the Danube river, on the same street you could easily recognize which building was built before the communist era, which was built by the communist, and which was built after the communist (plus some rubble from NATO bombing they deliberately keep). A little bit nondescript, but who am I to judge when China fucked up all old cities in the past 50 years? One interesting observation about the society there is that it appeared to me that there is a tendency among the people to get rid of the trembling past and embrace the ”promising future” with the West, which is quite disappointing for me. New signs and commercials are more likely to be written in Latin alphabets instead of Cyrillic; American style shopping malls were erected in the city with glamorous merchandises that lull people to buy. I was wearing a random shirt in a bar in Novi Sad and the logo was immediately spotted by the young Serbian girls around me. It was the first time I got noticed because of what I wear in the bar since I came to Europe. This somehow reminds me of Hong Kong, and the very reason I left that place… I thought Serbia could be immune to the suicidal cult of western liberalism but I was wrong. The country is leaning itself unconditionally towards the hand of the West. And the only nationalistic group turns to be the red-neck jogging pants gang on the street. This is something extremely lamenting.
But once again, who am I to judge? Those places all have wonderful people, excellent food and very cheap way of living compared to the West. If I could move there sometime, I wouldn’t really hesitate and even would learn their language. I do, however, hope their civilization could revive, emotionally though.