Traveller’s Tales: The Story of Simon, the Italian Hippie

This is not a picture of Simon, the Italian Hippie. It’s weird to take photos of your fellow airline passengers. This is just to show you what dreadlocks look like. Cool huh? hahah

When I first met Simon (pronounce Si-morn) on the Air Asia flight from KL to Delhi, I thought he looked funny. Probably one of those weirdo Western hippies who come to India for some funny business – party, weed, booze and all. It didn’t help that he wasn’t dressed like a normal Westerner, in a typical T-shirt, jeans and sweater. He was clad in an intricately embroidered loose shirt with some traditional patterns and a pair of red skinny fitting pants. He had a short green scarf tied round his neck. Ah, surely a hippie! I thought.

We were silent for the first 30 minutes of the trip. As much as I would like to chat with people, I wasn’t sure how keen hippies were to talk to Asians.

When they passed down the Indian immigration cards, he asked if he could borrow a pen. Just like a knife that broke the ice, we chatted.

Simon comes from Venice in Italy. He is 24 this year and absolutely cannot believe I am 23 this year.

The only stuff I heard about Venice is found in my Social Studies Textbook in Sec 3. Something about wars and mercenaries. And of course, recently in the tourism aspect, of how the island is sinking, and how young people are leaving the city because there are no job opportunities.

“How long will you be here?” I asked.

Three months he said. He will be travelling North India and Nepal.

That’s very long I said. “I am only here for 12 days”, I told him. “Will your mother miss you?”

“Oh yes oh yes!” he gushed loudly after I repeated my question twice.

“But in Italy it is very hard to get a job now. Better to go outside the country,” he said.

He said he will take a bus straight to Rishikesh, and stay there one week or two before deciding where else to go.

“I hate the cities,” he said. “They are too noisy and very hot.”

Like me, this is Simon’s second time in India. And it is quite strange, that if there is anything that bind travellers in India together, it was the fact that we always face problems at the immigration counters in India.

Simon tells me he spent one full day queuing at the Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) to register – you have to do that if you stay in India for more than 180 days. But when he exited from the country, no one asked him for the permit.

“It was one full day. One precious full day,” he said. “In India, everywhere is different. I have asked many travellers if they need the FRO some say it’s needed but some say not.”

“When I was travelling from Nepal into overland, they stopped me at the border and said that I do not have a special paper. So it’s 2 day bus ride back to Kathmandu to get that piece of paper. And 2 more days back to the border. That’s India.” he said, shaking his head and smiling.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked.

“I will buy some Indian dress, and go back to Italy to sell them. They fetch some good prices in Italy,” he said, with a cheeky grin with very Italian accented English.

I tell him about the office job I have in Singapore. He doesn’t sound too envious.

I asked him where he had come from. He said, Melbourne, then did a transit in KL, and is off to India now.

“Previously, I was in Melbourne working as a kitchen helper in one of the restaurants. I had been there for 3 months. The wage is good but I prefer to be my own boss.”

“Selling Indian dresses is better?” I asked.

“Yes,” he nods his head.

Simon ask if I knew how to play any musical instruments. I shake my head and I asked if he knew any.

His face lights up. “Yes yes. I like to play the percussion. In Melbourne, I perform the percussion on the street. It’s very good. You can earn up to AUD100 in one day.”

I had seen the performers on the streets of Melbourne, and they are very talented.

“Wow that’s great!” I said feeling very impressed. (Singapore should have more of these. Talented ones only.) So you can just set up your instrument and play?”

“Oh no, no. My first time I didn’t know and the police is come chasing. I tell the police sorry sorry, will not do that again. Luckily, they let me off with a warning. Then the other times I go and get a permit. It is okay.”

He asks me when is Chinese New Year. He said in Melbourne, he stayed near the Chinatown, and there was a big party with a dragon a week ago. They had celebrated earlier to make way for Australian Day.

I asked him about the food in Italy. He is rather passionate about it. “Oh yes, we make our own pizza. Very good. Thin and crispy, different from the Americans.

Then what about wine I asked.

“Oh, Italian wine is very good. But I stopped drinking too much sometime ago. I have been drinking too much in the past,” he grinned.

The conversation then moves on to hair. He shows me his long fizzy tail. Prior to that, I had not notice his fizzy tail. If I did, I am not sure if I would have been so friendly.

“This hair, is nice no?” he said. “It looks a bit like the hair of the Sad.. sad.. (Indian holy man).”

“Sadhus!” I guessed.

“Ah yes yes. Correct!”

“Wow.. very cool..” I was stumped for words. I mean his hair is of a nice colour. Blonde with brown and black highlights – nice and natural. But sticking out from the back was a long frizzy dreadlock tail. I think it was pleated.

“Wow, in Singapore I never seen anyone with this. Where did you do it?”

He tells me a friend in Italy has helped him do it.

“Previously this thing is my whole head.” He said, pointing to his tail. “I had all long hair, and my friend would tie these little plaits from the top too bottom.”

Again I am stumped for words. He reminds me of one of those hippies I met during a boat trip in Halong Bay. We never talked.

“It takes very long to dry no? When my hair was very long, it takes the whole day to dry. It was very heavy.”

Was his hair longer than mine then, I asked.

“Oh yes sure sure, much longer.” he said confidently. “Now it is very short, takes only 5 minutes to dry.”

I am a little shocked. My hair has grown way passed my shoulders, and I am shock that a man would grow hair longer than mine.

“But this hair, doesn’t look too nice in black colour no?” I asked, wondering if this sort of hair would be suited for Asians.

“Oh definitely very nice. I see many of my friends, it is okay. Very good.”

He gets up from the seat and leaves for a while. His friend has called him. A while later he returns.

“You are not changing seat?” I asked, thinking that he might have went to sit with his friend.

“Oh yes, we sit together for a while but then they come to chase us away.”

Being the busybody I always am, I asked this, “Your friend, is she your girlfriend?”

“Girlfriend?” he gave her huh look.

“Yupp, girlfriend, like the holding hand, in love kind.” I explained myself.

“Oh yes, you mean like lover? Oh yes we are in love. But girlfriend.. hmm.. It’s a special term. In Australia, they call in only Friend. In Italian, it’s like mio amor (something like that)”

“Ah, I see. Would you like us to change seats?” I asked. I like couples to sit together.

“Oh sure, if it’s not bothering you, no inconvenience caused.”

And with that, we swapped seats.

Oh and before I end of, the source of his embroidered loose shirt? He got it in Cambodia.

Percussion on the streets of Melbourne
Percussion on the streets of Melbourne

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