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Sifting Through Arthur C. Clarke’s DVD Collection in Colombo

Yes, when this story gets to where it’s going, I end up in Arthur C. Clarke’s armchair. I promise.

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2001: A Space Odyssey (Kindle Edition)


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Rendezvous with Rama (Kindle Edition)


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I started this morning with a strong cup of coffee, an egg hopper doused in fish curry, and the sci-fi classic Childhood’s End. And then a thought occurred to me: Didn’t Arthur C. Clarke live here once?

We’re in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, and it’s the last day of our trip. It’s our last week in Asia. It’s actually, in a way, the end of AsiaObscura. We move back to America on Saturday.

So I did some quick searches, and not only did he live in Sri Lanka, but he lived just a few blocks away. Continue reading “Sifting Through Arthur C. Clarke’s DVD Collection in Colombo”

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21 Amazing Bangalore Breakfast Dishes

The first time I saw the menu, I was lost. Sure, I knew dosas and idlis, but that was as far as it went. The other items were utterly alien to me.

indian-menu

And so I did the only thing I could: I decided to eat them all.

Norpro 3113 Cast-Aluminum Nonstick Aebleskiver Stuffed-Pancake Pan (Kitchen)


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It took longer than expected. Tasted better than expected. And added more pounds than I would have thought possible. But here they are…

Pongal

Poongal Continue reading “21 Amazing Bangalore Breakfast Dishes”

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Beijing’s Single Most Horrific Meal

The Beijing Penis Restaurant, officially known as Guolizhuang, doesn’t just serve cock. You can get absolutely anything there.

Stewed Deer Face. Sheep foetus in brown garlic sauce. Peacock claws. It’s like a Guangzhouren’s wet dream.

And the peacock’s name was as poetic as the plating. It was called A Set of Palms from Heaven and Earth.

I almost gagged.

“Do you have any regular food,” I asked, nervous. Continue reading “Beijing’s Single Most Horrific Meal”

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India’s Incredibly Cool Hand-Drawn Movie Posters

Ramachandraiah prints movie posters for a living. He’s done it ever since 1971, when he bought an ancient lithograph press. He keeps it in a factory north of Bangalore, far from the English town where it was built 111 years ago.

Most movie posters here are lavish. They’re digitally-printed, full-color, and reach up to 30 feet long.

Ramachandraiah’s posters aren’t.

His are five-color, hand-drawn, and measure just 20 inches by 30 inches. They’re printed on thin paper, and illegally slapped up on building sites and highway overpasses late at night. They cost pennies to print. And they’re absolutely gorgeous.

Continue reading “India’s Incredibly Cool Hand-Drawn Movie Posters”

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Collapsing Caves, Dead Spelunkers, Corpse Robbery, and Big Mike’s Mystery House

We stopped just outside of Mammoth Cave at Cave City, a deserted row of run-down attractions. It has teepee-shaped motels, kangaroo zoos, and a hilltop theme park called Gunsmoke Mountain where a rusty chairlift rocked in the rain.

“It’s like we’ve driven back to the 50s,” Laurie laughed.

At the end of Cave City, I’d heard, was a museum devoted to Floyd Collins, the most famous spelunker who ever lived.

His career was cut short in 1925 when a sand cave fell in, crushing a leg and trapping him.

And yet Floyd Collins was still alive. Friends could pass him food, and drink. Newspapermen could interview him. But they couldn’t get him out.

Collins became a national headline. Tens of thousands of sightseers crowded around, to witness the drama. Hawkers sold souvenirs. The scene was an absolute circus. (See Billy Wilder’s amazing “Ace in the Hole” for a vision of it.)

After four days, there was a second cave-in. And the hole disappeared. Continue reading “Collapsing Caves, Dead Spelunkers, Corpse Robbery, and Big Mike’s Mystery House”

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Prosthetic Noses, Red Wigs, and Whiteface… American Characters in Chinese Films

Hollywood’s never been too subtle when it comes to Asia.

Mickey Rooney, yellow-skinned, buck-toothed and slanty-eyed, howling “Horry Gorightry!!!” down the staircase yet again. Warner Oland, carefully quoting his ancient proverbs before smacking Number Two Son yet again. And what was that Long Duck Dong quote? Oh yes, of course, “No more yankie my wankie!”

And yet… as cringeworthy as it is, the same happens back here in China.

Continue reading “Prosthetic Noses, Red Wigs, and Whiteface… American Characters in Chinese Films”

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The Creepiest Amusement Park of All Time?

Singapore is bland. It’s a high-priced row of shopping malls and fine eateries, with a few hawker markets thrown in. “It’s soooooo boring,” warned my hairdresser Miss P.

But then you stumble on something like this. The Tiger Balm Gardens: The most disturbing theme park of all time.

There’s sex, violence, bear-maulings and scabies. Statues of slutty immoral crotch-grabbing wenches, and creepy animals dressed as humans. Down a dark musty cave, a terrifying tableaux displays every vengeance that awaits you in the hell you’ll surely meet. Continue reading “The Creepiest Amusement Park of All Time?”

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This Chinese Temple is Filled with Insanely Disturbing Sculptures

A few weeks ago, I posted about the Incredible Taoist Gods — cool court officers tasked with enforcing rules of life and the afterlife.

Well, to further display how far traditional Taoism strays from the mystical romance of the Tao Te Ching, here are some of the darker views of the Taoist “Way.”

Continue reading “This Chinese Temple is Filled with Insanely Disturbing Sculptures”

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Beijing’s incredible (and completely fake) Disneyland

I was always sad Beijing didn’t have a Disneyland for weekend fun, but it turns out we do. Well, a fake one. Not far from the center of town, at the Bajiao stop on subway Line 1, is the incredible Beijing Shijingshan Amusement Park (北京石景山游乐园). Admission was about US$1.50, and what a world of wonders lies inside!

The Park!

I know, I know, it looks a little like Disneyland. Continue reading “Beijing’s incredible (and completely fake) Disneyland”

The AsiaObscura Book – in stores now!

That’s right! From the producer of Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, the director of Poultry in Motion: Truth is Stranger than Chicken, and the writer of The Stormglass Protocol for the iPad comes the blog compilation of the decade!

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Featuring unseen photos, original stories, deranged dishes, new adventures and all your favorite AsiaObscura moments, as seen in BoingBoing, io9, The Huffington Post, Ain’t It Cool News, The Phnom Penh Insider, China Daily and The Daily Mail. Including:

A Ton of Hand Drawn Indian Movie Posters…

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Adventures from a Rural Chinese Taxidermy School…

taxidermy Continue reading “The AsiaObscura Book – in stores now!”

Stepping on Human Skulls in Bangalore’s Black Magic Graveyard

As I stepped over the leg bone, I laughed. I’m no bone doctor, but it looked human to me. Orthopaedist, is that what it’s called? I’m no orthopaedist.

Must be from a cow, or maybe a dog. Do dogs get that big? Not a human. Definitely not a human.

But then I tripped, and I stepped on a skullcap, that really nailed it for me.

This Bangalore graveyard was covered in human bones.

“Maybe the dogs dig them up,” suggested Kaveri, as she led the way to the high priestess of the graveyard. “Or the rats.” Continue reading “Stepping on Human Skulls in Bangalore’s Black Magic Graveyard”

India’s Charlie Chaplin-branded Potato Chips

Okay, they’re not really potato chips. They’re about as far from that as you get — offerings like papad chivda, soya chips, sev puri, and mari banana wafers. They’re tasty.

And the bags are all stamped with Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp.

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I loved them so much I bought every kind the supermarket sold.

I think this might be my new favorite Indian snack.

Terribly Cute Beijing Marriage License Photos

I know this is mildly goofy, but many of Beijing’s photo labs will still produce classic Marriage License photos. And they’re just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

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The Polaroid framing, the flowery carved edges, it’s all too cool. And the pose was rigorously enforced — we were molded into those positions over a period of five minutes.

If we got married in Beijing, this would definitely be the picture we’d use. From the large China Photo Studio at 8 Jiaodaokou East, Beijing, China. (And kudos to Tony and Charlene for suggesting it!)

The Ten Great Buildings of China, and Their Gruesome Pasts

In 1959, Mao was one hell of a proud man. As the new Emperor of China, he’d led an unbelievable boom in food production, completely eliminated the need for medicine and science, and “enticed the snakes out of their caves” with a hundred flowers — all in just ten years!

So he decided to erect ten great buildings to honor his grand achievements. They would represent the people, the peasants, the army, the minorities — each building had a great semantic purpose. He would name them The Ten Great Buildings!

And for 18 months I’d been talking with the Professor about hosting a 十大建筑 bike tour. 40km of self-guided Beijing history in 4 hours. (I put up a map here.) This was going to be historic. Continue reading “The Ten Great Buildings of China, and Their Gruesome Pasts”

Photographing India, Then and Now

In London, I found the old box of slides. It was hidden in the back of my parents’ closet. I had to move fifteen other boxes to get to it. It hadn’t been touched in decades. I bought a slide scanner immediately, and went to work.

Going through the treasures inside, I keep gagging at the photos that I’m retaking 30 years later.

Some are awfully obvious, like these crackers of the Taj Mahal…

and Humayun’s Tomb…

But these are the de rigeur shots. Of course Dad shot them in 1983, and of course I re-shot them 30 years later. But then I keep finding less traditional shots, like this so-specific angle of one stretch of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu…

Mahabalipuram? I can’t remember being there, let alone that very specific 15-degree angle. Or how about this off-centered angle shot of Continue reading “Photographing India, Then and Now”

A Museum of Nightmares in the Shadow of the Eiffel Tower

I don’t think about hair. I mean, sure I’m losing mine. And sure, the musical is one of the greatest things of all time.

But really… is hirsituity that big a deal? Big enough for the Musée de Quai Branly to brazenly devote an entire exhibit to it? Lord no! And Lord YES!

(Adapting my professorial voice here, and pushing my glasses up my nose ever so slightly.)

You see, hair is a symbol of sensuality, sexuality, virility. And that’s clearly why this exhibit features a score — yes, A SCORE — of shrunken heads.

Shrunken HEADS? Do they really fit among the Elizabethan ebony busts of African hairdos, and photos of French starlets from the 60s? I mean, I guess they did have hair to kill for… almost Bon Jovian sometimes…

Continue reading “A Museum of Nightmares in the Shadow of the Eiffel Tower”

The Ossuaries of Paris…

This was like the trip to Disneyworld I’ve never taken. My golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory. Our trip to North Korea.

I know you’ve already been. Many times. But walking these two kilometers, I realized why this was one of my mom’s favorite places in Paris. Two kilometers of stacked-up bones, all to us. Entirely alone. So damned romantic.

Continue reading “The Ossuaries of Paris…”

M. Deyrolle’s Lovely Collection of Taxidermy

At 200 euros for a simple mounted mouse, Paris’ 1831 taxidermy haven is overpriced. It’s also bloated with “no photos allowed” signs, and entirely short of anthropomorphic artistry, But it was also glorious.

Oh yes, it was in fact Michelle’s dream to go… Continue reading “M. Deyrolle’s Lovely Collection of Taxidermy”

My Gout, and Jules Baretta’s Wax Museum of Incredible Diseases

The Bangalore doctor frowned at the printouts of my blood tests.

“Do you eat innards? You know, like brains, liver, kidneys?”

Well, dear reader, if you know me, you know the answer is yes.

“And red meat?” I nodded. “And herring and mackerel?” Oh yes! “Well, you must stop. Your urea levels are dangerously high. You are at risk of gout.”

I didn’t tell him about the trip to Paris. And here I am, doing my best to bring this gout on.

Foie gras, smoked salmon, and plates and plates of steak tartare. Fromage–chèvre, bleu, roquefort, some spicy little thing–and islands of egg white floating in a sweet cream sauce. My gout isn’t near. It’s probably already got me.

And that’s one of the reasons we stopped at Paris’ Musée de Moulages de l’Hôpital Saint-Louis, or–as it should have been called–Jules Baretta’s Wax Museum of Sweetly Incredible Diseases for the Edification of Les Students.

musee-des-moulages-1 Continue reading “My Gout, and Jules Baretta’s Wax Museum of Incredible Diseases”

Goodbye Telegram / Hello Telegram

If you’d asked me, I’d have confidently told you the telegram service was long gone, relegated to dusty 1930s spy thrillers, retro New York hipster bars, and awesome games I’m building.

I would have been so completely wrong.

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It turns out India actually still uses telegrams. Barely. The service is closing in days!

When I read this, I sent Woo an urgent SMS. “We’ve got to send a telegram. Pronto.” I looked at the note, and added one word to the end: “Stop.” And I knew, this was going to be awesome.

The local post office didn’t think it was as awesome as we did. “No, we don’t send telegrams,” the guy behind the counter said. “That stopped weeks ago.”

What!?!? Continue reading “Goodbye Telegram / Hello Telegram”

This Hindu God has 1,000 Vaginas!

So I’m in the middle of R.K. Narayan’s condensed version of the Ramayana — one of the great Indian epics — and I have to re-print the amazing story of Ahalya, Gautama and Indra. It’s too amazing.

The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)


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Now Ahalya was gorgeous. Like, insanely gorgeous.

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Brahma had created her from the ingredients of beauty, itself. Of course this led to problems. Continue reading “This Hindu God has 1,000 Vaginas!”

Dr Shankar’s Wonderful Collection of Brains and Other Medical Obscura

It came up over a bowl of brain stew at Karim’s, Old Delhi’s famously-dingy 1913 eatery.

“Tasty,” I said, wiping my mouth. “By the way, did I tell you about the brain museum in Bangalore? The architect told me we should go.”

Michelle tore off a piece of naan, and sopped up a wet chunk of brain. “We have to go,” she said.

And this weekend, we did.

Continue reading “Dr Shankar’s Wonderful Collection of Brains and Other Medical Obscura”

Murder, Incest, and Fratricide led to The Taj Mahal?

Well, we made it to the Taj Mahal last weekend. Huge. Overwhelming. Magnificent. I wiped away a tear or two.

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Shah Jahan built it in memory of his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. That’s like the awesomest romantic gesture, ever.

But I was also reading William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi at the time. It’s a great book. And according to it, Shah Jahan wasn’t just a mad romantic. He was also the head of one seriously fucked-up family — a generation plagued by incest, murder, harems, fratricide, sororicide and even patricide. It’s less Shakespeare than it is Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Continue reading “Murder, Incest, and Fratricide led to The Taj Mahal?”