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.
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.
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.)
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.
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?”
A couple of days ago, I posted my favorite pictures of cute Korean cosplay girls — but that’s the light-hearted side of Korean cosplay. Flip the switch — today it’s time for the dark half. That’s right: Korean Nazis!
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!
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!
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:
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!
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…
I’ve been scanning our forgotten pictures from our 1980s holidays, and found this incredible picture from our visit to Jaipur in 1986: a girl on a unicycle on a tightrope. So does this still happen here in India?
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…
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.
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.
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.
Well, we made it to the Taj Mahal last weekend. Huge. Overwhelming. Magnificent. I wiped away a tear or two.
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?”