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.
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?
Most people come to Bali to Eat, Pray, Love. That’s not what I came for.
I was in Ubud, a town of foreign divorcees. They meditate in temples, crowd organic spas, and queue up teary-eyed outside the toothless medicine man’s home. It’s a town of romantic desperation.
Ironically, it’s also gagging with cock. The art museum has a room of dongs, gift shops sell boner-shaped bottle openers, and our classy hotel — full of erectile gongs and circumcised bathroom locks — resembles a Jack Shamama film. Continue reading “Adventures in Cockfighting”
A few hundred yards westward of (the Shun-chih-men) is the place for the Imperial elephants, the Hsün-hsiang-so, a large enclosure in which the elephants of the Court are kept… The intelligent animals are taught to salute the Emperor by kneeling down, and receive a kind of adoration.
Did you know that Beijing has a dozen or so elephants that kneel as the emperor passes by? Seriously.
At least that’s what my book says. It’s a Beijing travel guide from 1897, author unknown, that Charlie Custer found on archive.org. The copy originally belonged to Herbert Hoover, China expat and one-time US President.
North Koreans are proud of their metro. And so they should be. It’s one of the deepest, it’s breathtakingly gorgeous, and we were only allowed to ride one stop. (Although I’ve heard tourists can now ride the entire length.)
Here are some pages from a great 2004 picture-book I bought in the metro, bluntly titled The Pyongyang Metro.
In a bit of a fit of madness, Michelle and I have decided to move to India. Instead of doing things in a long, planned out way, we’ve decided to jump boat asap. We decided on June 8th. For the last few days, I’ve been calmly insisting we have five weeks. Yesterday she grabbed me.
“Why do you keep saying five weeks?”
“Well, it’s five weeks away.”
“No! It’s three weeks away.”
I’m now a bit of a mess. As we move everything into storage, I’ll be posting bits and pieces of sweet things I find in boxes and drawers that I’d forgotten about.
Like these two Indian transvestite photos I found in a crate in Bombay. I do love the hats…
We heard there were rats in The Liberty. That it smelled like urine. That the sound was awful. But it’s the most famous cinema in Sri Lanka’s capital, a 1955 Art Moderne beauty, and how could we turn that down?
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.)
As regular readers know, we at AsiaObscura love costumes. We’ve captured some incredible cosplay adventures here, here, here, here and even here.
But it goes deeper. Almost every tourist hotspot across north-east Asia has a rack of costumes, a dramatic backdrop or two, and a whole boatload of awesomeness to dive into. All your dreams can come true, in Asia.
Terra Cotta Warriors, Xi’an
Winter Egyptians, Beijing
Guards of Mianshan Daoist Retreat
Cultural Revolution-era Mao and Lin Biao, Shenzhen
Gangsters of Old Shanghai, Shanghai
Stewardess and Captain of Old Russian Passenger Plane, Beijing
“Traditional Americans” at the US Capitol, Beijing
Geisha Girl and Samurai, Shenzhen
People’s Volunteer Army Volunteer Soldier, Dandong’s Commemorative Museum of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid North Korea
Sailor Girl, Bangkok
Pingyao Governor, Ancient Government Building, Pingyao
Two small dogs are attacking a homeless man, while I’m nursing my lingering fever with sidewalk kebabs and a bottle of Yanjing beer. One of them bites at his ankle, and he hobbles away, cursing while diners beside me laugh, and the wind picks up again. I shield my face from the sand.
This is Erenhot, or Erlian (二连), Erlianhaote (二连浩特), Eriyen, or Ereen… a town on the Chinese/Mongolian border with too many names. Every passerby stares at me, and every child shouts “Hello” as I pass. One stranger steals a photo of me with his cellphone. Someone else asks me to pose. “And with my friend, also?” Continue reading “A Postcard from Erenhot”
I’m having a conversation (albeit one-sided) with the neighbor about a leak in our ceiling, with the cab driver about the reasons for the traffic, to the butcher about the right cut of meat. In every case, I nod my head, “uh-huh, uh-huh,” hoping that I will glean something from this conversation before it ends, and god forbid, that I will have to respond with some sort of clear opinion about said current topic.
But for the most part, the way it goes, I eventually break the silence and blank stare at the end (usually them waiting for me to say something) with a, “Uh, duibuqi, wo ting bu dong.” Literally, Sorry, I hear, no understand. Continue reading “On Being Chinese-looking in China”
Yesterday I wrote about Mr Li, the English teacher stuttering he was so excited to meet a foreigner.
But this is China. Passerby, seeing me, will loudly announce, “foreigner!” Strangers stare and point, kids sometimes cry out in horror. Once, on seeing me, a migrant worker dropped everything he was carrying. Wide eyes (his, I mean — mine always are), gaping mouth, a look of pure shock on his face. Continue reading “Hey! It’s a Foreigner!”