How To Size Pants For A 16 Year Old Boy My Buddy Mario – A True World Traveller and Conoisseur of Intercultural Experiences

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My Buddy Mario – A True World Traveller and Conoisseur of Intercultural Experiences

In the 16 years that I have known my friend Mario, I have heard many different stories about his travels around the world and he is one of those people who has lived, worked and hitchhiked through different exotic countries. Mario is a high school teacher in Toronto and teaches French and world affairs. He spent time living and working in places like Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico and Quebec and came face to face with often very different cultures.

Mario is also an immigrant in two different countries, Australia where he moved as a young child in the 50’s and Canada where he arrived as a teenager. Here is his story, the story of an immigrant, a traveler and a global adventurer.

1. Tell us about your background. Where were you born and raised?

I was born in San Vita al Tagliamento in north-eastern Italy in the province of Friuli. But my parents are originally from Calabrese in southern Italy. After his military service in the north of Italy, my father decided to stay there because of his fondness for the culture of Friuli. In 1953 my father moved our family to Australia where he worked with a French contracting firm and we settled in Brisbane, Queensland when I was 2.5 years old. There I had my first memories of the immigrant reality which was a very simple wooden house. Our roof was leaking into our house and we had plants growing through the kitchen floor. The conditions were very basic, but this would set the stage for 11 years of very challenging cultural adjustment, after which my father moved us to Canada in 1964.

Italians at that time faced great discrimination and even harassment or sometimes violence in various forms, both physical and psychological. My family was actually the target of various forms of attack because we were immigrants. It made for quite a paranoid existence, constantly having to look over your shoulder.

Remember, this was the 1950s and Australia was still governed under the “White Australia Policy”, a form of institutionalized apartheid. I have witnessed various acts of brutality against Australian aborigines who I have often mistaken for dark skin. However, the proximity to the sea made me appreciate the beauty of Australia in its purest form. During this time I developed a strong sense of self-confidence and learned the importance of standing up for myself.

In the mid-70s I returned to Australia and noticed that the labor of many of those earlier immigrants had paid off in the form of comfortable lifestyles and accomplished middle-class experiences. Italians have finally become mainstream and accepted. This also suited Australia’s new multicultural policy. Australia began to open up to different nationalities, leading to a more tolerant society.

2. You are a gifted multilingual person. How many languages ​​do you speak and what are they?

English and Italian are my first two languages. I also speak French, Spanish and Portuguese at a fairly high level. In addition, I am also fluent in Indonesian and speak basic German and some phrases in Russian. The sound of different foreign languages ​​fascinates me and I also appreciate that speaking a language is the key to these foreign cultures. Apart from the initial period in high school when I was first introduced to English, French and German, I acquired the rest of the language through living in culture.

3. What was it like when you first came to Canada?

I remember it was very cold since we arrived in Canada on February 16, 1964. My first observation was a very sudden familiarity with the climate of Canada. For a good few years it was very difficult for me to adapt to the climate. On the other hand, culturally, I was finally able to use my Italianness. In fact, in Toronto, the whole notion of being Italian took on a new meaning for me because I felt accepted. I felt embraced here and I felt I could express my Italian heritage which led me to improve my Italian, as I had suppressed speaking Italian in Australia. When we came to Toronto, I felt the desire to further study the language.

High school in Canada was an appreciation of many other languages. We are offered courses in French, German, Latin and Spanish at the high school level. The school I went to reflected the transitional nature of Toronto at the time, which was very WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) until the 1960s, and since then began to change to a more cosmopolitan environment. There were people from different backgrounds which made you feel comfortable. By the time I went to college, I was pretty comfortable with my intercultural identity.

My respect for the Portuguese began on a construction job in Tecumseh, Ontario, where 2 gangs of construction workers, one Italian, one Portuguese, were confined in a very small house provided by a construction company and forced to live and interact with each other. I began to appreciate the similarities and differences with Portuguese culture, which I found absolutely fascinating. This was my initiation into the Portuguese language.

4. What were your earliest travel experiences?

Aside from immigrant boat trips, my first travel memories were hitchhiking to Niagara Falls and Barrie, a medium-sized city 90 minutes north of Toronto, when I was 15. It gave me a sense of independence and the ability to forge my own path on each trip. I felt in control and decided where I wanted to go. We didn’t realize we needed a passport to enter the United States, so we learned the lesson that you need documents to travel to foreign countries.

The next big trip was at the age of 17, crossing Canada with a fellow student in a VW Beetle. We went to Vancouver for a month, picked strawberries, worked on farms to survive. The second part of that trip was to Mexico via California. This was the Height-Ashbury period, the summer of ’68, and we really experienced Flower Power in San Francisco. It left a lasting impression on me because of the freedom and camaraderie among the youth. Everyone would open their house to you and you felt a connection with many young people.

The paradox of this period was that it was during the Vietnam War. So just as you had young people connecting with each other, believing that peace was the answer to the world’s dilemmas, people were being killed on the other side of the world. The administration in Washington believed that war was the answer and these young people effectively shut themselves out of the system.

Mexico itself was an eye opener. That was my initiation into Latino culture and the dilapidated condition of the masses in the third world. It was my politicization when I realized the plight of the majority of humanity and it made me even more curious to go back and get in touch with those people.

When I came back from Mexico, it was very difficult to adapt to the secular values ​​of the middle class, simply fitting into my place in my system. So I dropped out of my 2nd year of university and continued to travel without a set itinerary.

I went to Europe first, starting in London, working in a hospital, then spent 2 months traveling around Europe on a Eurail pass. After Spain I visited Morocco where I met a guy named Giovanni Pozzi who turned me on to the images and illusions of Afghanistan, a place he had been to before. That created a great desire in me to discover that part of the world as well.

After Morocco, I intended to meet up with Giovanni and travel with him from Brindisi, Italy, overland to Afghanistan. In September 1971 I visited him in Milan after returning to discover my Italian heritage and then linked up with him in Brindisi from where we took the ferry to Greece and began our overland journey towards Afghanistan.

We arrived at the Turkish-Iranian border after a harrowing incident in a Turkish train that derailed. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn the lesson of my teenage years and didn’t check the visa requirements for Canadians. Iran required a visa for Canadians, so I had to go back to the Iranian consulate in the Black Sea where I got my Iranian travel visa. Somehow Giovanni and I got separated and this was the beginning of a real independent journey. I learned to never depend on other people’s information, always check everything yourself.

3. Tell us about your experiences and impressions during your first trip to Asia.

After about a week of traveling through Iran, which was during the repressive rule of the Shah, I hitchhiked with 2 Pakistani truck drivers from Tehran to Mashhad, the site of the Blue Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in the Islamic world. From there we went to Herat, Kandahar and Kabul, Afghanistan, where I was introduced to some of the most fantastic images of Afghan culture. I saw horsemen in light green silk breeches, clothes that looked more medieval than 1970s. The Afghans seemed a very proud people, dignified and fiercely independent.

After a short stay in Kabul I went through the Khyber Pass to Peshawar, Pakistan. And this was an incredible look at the weapon culture of this region. Each man had a gun 4.5 feet long and it was truly an overwhelming sight to see so many weapons on display. Unfortunately, this continued as war would break out between Pakistan and India at that time, and after I left Pakistan, I ended up traveling India during the war.

I traveled on trains with a mobilized army, a people in frenetic movement who did not know what to do. The whole country was in a state of tension. Foreigners were asked to leave the country, so after a month in New Delhi I had to change my plans to visit Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka) and take the next flight from Calcutta to Bangkok. A plane ticket at the time cost US$80 one way in 1971. Calcutta was also home to millions of refugees arriving from what would eventually become Bangladesh. They literally overtook Calcutta. I was about to sleep outside when I was approached by a pair of Anglo-Bengalis who insisted that it was absolutely inappropriate for a European to sleep on the ground in that manner. Then they insisted that I go and stay with them for a few nights. Their only requested favor in return was to send them a Levi jacket when I returned to Australia.

4. You moved to Thailand from India. Tell us about your experience in Southeast Asia.

In Bangkok in 1971 I would stay at the Atlantic Hotel for $1 a night, Bangkok was still a relatively small capital at that time. I left Bangkok and headed south, hitchhiking where I was brutally introduced to Thai culture. I was in the back of a pickup truck and dangling my feet out of it, the truck passed another vehicle whose occupants got out and threatened me, pointing at my feet. Luckily, a young Canadian from Saskatoon, Murray Wright, was sitting in front of my truck explaining that it was a big mistake to show the soles of your feet. This is a great insult in Thai culture. Then I realized that it is very important to understand non-verbal communication when traveling. This was a big lesson for me.

This meeting with Murray was by chance. He had an accident while building a Japanese sugar factory and asked me if I would take over his job as a carpenter. This led to a month of working with Thai people and understanding to some extent Thai culture. It was also my first experience of amoebic dysentery, a tropical disease that nearly killed me. This is how I was introduced to the nutritional conditions in developing countries.

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