When other countries celebrate Independence Day by lighting up colorful fireworks in the sky, Pakistan celebrates this special day by firing real bullets into the air! If you think firework is cool, wait till you experience this unique “gunwork” in Pakistan. The trails of light created by the flying bullets are certainly more impressive then the boring traditional firework display you witness every year. When the clock ticked 12 in the midnight of August 14, I went through the first war-like experience in my life. The quiet neighborhood became like a war zone within seconds, and it went on for the next half an hour! It was a competition; whoever creates the loudest blast wins the game. The house owner Mr. S whom I was with fired a few bullets from his gun but was easily defeated by his neighbour’s semi-automatic shotgun within minutes. Sorely challenged, Mr. S took out a machine gun from his well-protected gold safe. Well… I let you imagine what happened next. No way could I avoid this ruckus, so I hid myself well under Mr. S’s tough 4WD, but still I couldn’t escape the thunderous sound of the firing gun that made me deaf for the next two hours. After winning the game, Mr. S generously offered me the fun of releasing 50 bullets in one trigger with his shining machinegun which I timidly rejected. Such a coward I was. Anyway, welcome to Pakistan!

Overly excited by the Pakistan work assignment, I had insomnia the night before my departure. Was it caused by sheer excitement or fear? I couldn’t recall. I flew in to Karachi on June 13, stayed at the same 5-star chain hotel (Pearl Continental) which was blasted to rubbles in Peshawar just 3 days before, what a fun! Not to mention that on 21st Sept the year before, Marriott Hotel Islamabad had the same fate. 40 killed and 200 wounded. I shared with my Pakistani colleague the idea of switching to a safer hotel. “All hotels here have been bombed before, they won’t get bombed the second time. No worries, you are Chinese, China is our good friend, you are safe here buddy!”, he said that. After rounds of debate he still vowed that I would be safe. Well, just a month ago a Chinese from mainland China was kidnapped in the high-profile national multimillion-dollar Gwadar coastline project due to political tension, what the @*#&!

In Pakistan, I had developed a good habit of flipping through the local newspaper ‘Dawn’ that hung on the door knob of my room every morning. Not that I was particularly interested in local news, but rather to find out where the next unfortunate destination was. You know, bombing happened almost every day when I was there, be it big or small. CNN would have felt overly tired to report, and Pakistanis have accepted it as part of their lives. I once overheard someone saying, “Bombing is like going to pray, it has become an everyday thing”. I like Pakistani’s sense of humor, but this comment was not funny for me.

A month went by, like the locals I have slowly developed no-fear-of-bomb antibodies all over my blood. It was the time my close American colleague paid a visit to Karachi. Upon touching down he was escorted by a private bodyguard (a porter) whose role was to walk him through the customs safely until he comes under the safe hand of our company’s hired driver. I had the same honor too when I first touched down at Karachi airport. First time in my life to have a bodyguard! If you follow the Pakistan political news closely, it’s not so good an idea for an American to walk on the streets of Pakistan. Greatly disturbed, my American colleague called me up in his frantic voice even before his car arrived at our hotel, “Your driver has a gun with him? How come mine doesn’t have? What happens if my car is attacked? How come the car windows are not tinted in black, can the locals see me? Blah, blah, blah…”. I didn’t laugh at his anxiety, I experienced the same fear when I first arrived in Pakistan too. I still remember when I renewed my Pakistan visa at the Pakistan embassy in Kuala Lumpur, some Malaysians were exchanging views of whether to take on the Pakistan work assignments offered by their bosses. I stood up and said, “No worries, we are Chinese, China is a good friend of Pakistan, you will be safe there buddy!”. I was like a big brother at that moment, repeating what my dear Pakistani colleague said to me before.


All in all, I must say that it’s not a bad experience to be in Pakistan at all. Although a bit scary, I still felt that my wellbeing was safeguarded at all times, that I was still able to observe and experience freely and safely during my stay there:

  • Roads there have no divider line drawn on the ground. As a driver, you have to visualize the divider and make sure you don’t cross onto the opposite lane. Well, who cares! Every lane is your lane in Karachi.
  • There is only one ‘large’ shopping mall in Karachi, and it closes on Sunday. Nevertheless, I managed to find my favorite home deco shop in this mall.
  • Man-only groups are not allowed to enter the city’s green parks, unless a woman presents in the group; same for the reserved ‘family room’ in restaurants.
  • Needless to say, no beer and no clubbing in Pakistan. Truly a Muslim country, but there is always a way. Buy me a drink and I will tell you! *Hint: house party, man’s only btw
  • Having a glass of lemonade drink after a meal is common. Meal here is, most of the time, meaty.
  • I thought my laundry went missing 2 days after I sent it and was not returned. I found out later that I had to call room service to have the laundry sent back to me. What a 5-star hotel service!
  • Serving food for others is not a common practice here, not even picking food for your girlfriend!
  • A private ambulance with my company’s logo clearly printed on it was parked right in front of the office entrance, getting ready to serve the staff in case of an emergency. Oh my god!
  • Earliest dinner time is 9.30pm. On weekends don’t even think of starting dinner until 11pm.
  • Wedding here goes on for 3 days, 10:30pm to 5am every day. Male guests have to dress in kurta to show respect, I had one made there too.
  • We play cricket on the field but Pakistanis like to it on roof tops
  • Upon checking-in at my hotel, I saw a woman swimming with her full dress in the hotel pool. Oh well, I have to remind myself I’m in a Muslim country!
  • Tarik Road, the largest fashion street (or rather a fashion city) I have ever seen in my life, a place you shouldn’t miss.
  • A local documentary director I met in a party bragged about the best cocaine party he had been to at a white sandy beach in Karachi, not sure how true it is. A rock musician I met behaved in the weirdest way and consistently invited me (and my American colleague) to his Independence Day’s performance.
  • Karachi is building a massive neighborhood which is even more upper-class than Kuala Lumpur’s KLCC district, do you believe that?
  • I experienced an average of 5 times power outage in a day, even in the commercial district of Karachi!
  • The whole Karachi fell into darkness one day when the power station caught fire. The pitch dark seaside was jam-packed with locals even at 2 a.m., who were escaping the heat of staying in the house (fan stopped working). 2 a.m. frolicking on a long sandy beach, what a sight!
  • My witty Pakistani colleague never tires of telling me stupid jokes, “If you sleep with a Black, there is no turning back; if you sleep with a Caucasian, you will never like Asian”. Kind of racist huh?
  • It’s pretty normal to have a communal drinking glass in the office, but it’s certainly not normal to share a communal glass that has never been washed even after passing through many thirsty mouths. I made sure I have my own water bottle when I was there.
  • Camels in Pakistan love beaches very much, and the classic sight of ‘camel on the beach’ has become the most well-received photo in my 2010 Into the Faraway Land calendar (check out the calendar on your desk and you’ll know what I mean)

With all these reasons that spiced up my stay in Karachi, I vow to make Pakistan a country in my backpacking destinations list. Not very soon you will see me walking on the streets of Islamabad and Lahore, and taking a joyride through one of the most beautiful highways in the world – the Karakoram Highway. Pakistan, another beautiful country you shouldn’t pass off!