The Israelis are Coming


The Israeli Backpacker is the scourge of many a small business operator throughout Asia’s budget hospitality industry. Well the countries that will have them. Malaysia, Pakistan and Indonesia and Bangladesh won‘t issue visas to Israeli passport holders.
There are guesthouses in India and Thailand who openly advertise their distain with notices at entrances which read- ‘No Israelis’.

I’m staying in a town called Dali in China’s Yunnan province. For want of a better picture builder I’ve coined it China’s Byron Bay as it’s a popular destination for the alternative lifestyle crowd who flock here to escape the conformity of mainstream Chinese life. Since my last visit late last year this town has become a Mecca for Israeli Backpackers.

The inundation has been quite remarkable and I can’t get a straight answer as to what’s brought it about. The most probable explanation is that it’s a charming historical town nestled in between an imposing mountain and a lake. But more importantly it’s bloody dirt cheap to live here. I’m sure there are loads of equally charming towns in Japan that are just as picture postcard beautiful. But I very much doubt you could find a bed for a couple of dollars a night in any of them.

I struggle to spend $10 to $15 a day in Dali.

And by Israeli standards I’m a reckless and extravagant spendthrift. The really frugal can dine at a vegetarian buffet for less than a dollar and non drinkers will rarely find themselves having to dig into their pockets for anything but loose change.
So the word’s got out in Israel and your average Chinese guesthouse owner wouldn’t know the difference between an Israeli and an Irishman so they haven’t had time to properly ingrain themselves yet.

I’ve rented a room in a private house here in Dali. The owner was reluctant to have me stay at first as he told my Chinese friend, “throughout history, foreigners have only invaded us and caused us grief. From Genghis Ghan, the European Imperial Powers during the Opium Wars and the Japanese. It‘s been invasion and plunder”.

I told my friend to tell him that as an Australian I shouldn’t be thrown in with that lot as we never came over here to bother the Chinese.
The Opium Wars were principally the fault of the English and they’ve been breaking other people’s balls for centuries now. With a little persuasion he eventually bought that argument.

In those countries were Israelis visit in considerable numbers, they’ve developed a reputation as demanding, finicky and especially frugal- tight punters.

Even in countries where the cost of living can be embarrassingly cheap by Western standards, Israelis are renown for screwing every last Kip, Baht or Rupee their Shekels will afford them. I met a couple of Israelis in Bangkok who didn’t waste any time in asking me how much I was paying for my room [ in the opening sentence ]. When I told them the rate, one of them- who could have been effortlessly cast in a Seinfeld episode as a neurotic Russian Jewish Taxi Driver burst out with, “ I’ve been robbed… they’re robbing me blind. I’m paying more than double and they even stole my electric shaver. ”

I took pity and introduced them to the guesthouse where I was staying. It didn’t take long for them to check in. With room keys in hand, what ensued was an evening’s worth of slap stick theatre. Which principally centred around one horny middle aged Israeli trying to impress his questionable charms and masseur skills onto two of his coquettish countrywomen. In between shrieks of laughter, shouting, screams of- I think it was pleasure…. and countless demands for more fresh towels to wipe off the copious amounts of massage oil being used.

I overheard the owner of the guesthouse lament,“How many fresh towels are these people using? ” He endured their shenanigans for just one night and gave them their marching orders the following morning. Much to their surprise and disappointment. They’d negotiated a pretty good room deal they’d boasted to me .

The Israeli Invasion in Dali is still in the embryo stage. Unlike their entrenchment in Bangkok’s ‘Little Tel Aviv’ near Khaosan Road. Where I met the Dreadlocked Travel Agent. This guy wins the prize for the most obnoxious-moronic Israeli I‘ve come across, hands down.
He arrogantly prances about his office and doesn’t hold back showing his contempt towards anyone who has the audacity to ask him a question relating to the travel business.

When I asked him, “How much is a return flight to Kunming ?”

He looked at me with absolute distain, as if I‘d asked, “ Hey Izzy, I hear your sister’s started dating some Palestinian guy called Mustafa ?”

I got the impression his principle role for occupying desk space was to show off his dreadlocks which impressively reached down to the back of his thighs. I’d liken it to a rank-ordinary musician keeping his place in a band’s line up because of his prodigious head of hair as opposed to his musicality.

Stereotypes aside, by and large I’ve met countless engaging and pleasant Israelis in my travels. My contempt is generally reserved for inebriated English backpackers. In my experiences, a more obnoxious creature than a tanked up 20 something English Backpacker on the prowl would be difficult to encounter. The genetic offspring of the nation that once ruled the World’s Seas are to be found in number in all Global Travel Hotspots. {Not just cramming into makeshift and illegal hostels in St Kilda flats.}

The Empire’s long gone but their genetic disposition to leave their shores and break other people’s balls continues in their inexorable exodus from the land of Hope and Glory.

Fabrizio Marsani

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