Category Archives: Strange Tourism

Strange Tourism, Top Stories /

We Snuck Into Arthur C. Clarke’s Home, And…

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


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.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 31 Comments
Strange Tourism / ,

Little Girl on a Unicycle on a Tightrope, Jaipur 1986

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?


/ by Dean Pickles / 4 Comments
Strange Tourism / ,



From a night out at Asiatique’s Calypso in Bangkok.

/ by Dean Pickles / 1 Comment
Strange Tourism / ,

Peking Opera Dreams

I’ve long dreamed of full Peking Opera costume and makeup. After five hours and far too much money, it finally became a reality.

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Strange Tourism / ,

Adventures in Cockfighting

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.

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/ by Dean Pickles / Leave a comment
Historical Wonders, Strange Tourism / , , ,

Rediscovering Beijing: Finding the Elephants

On using an 1897 guidebook to explore modern Beijing…

My adventures begin with the elephants.

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.

A central-Beijing stable with kneeling elephants? How much cooler can you get?! I had to find this place.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 3 Comments
Historical Wonders, Strange Tourism / ,

Rediscovering Beijing with an 1897 Guide

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 The copy originally belonged to Herbert Hoover, China expat and one-time US President.

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Strange Tourism /

The Pyongyang Metro

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.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 5 Comments
Strange Tourism /

A Vomit Bag from North Korea

I loved the streamlined 1950s design, like a classic car. This was the look of everything on the Air Koryo flight.

This trip was about two weeks after Michelle and I started dating. (I guess you know some gal is okay, if she’ll agree to go to North Korea on your first date.)

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Strange Tourism /

AsiaObscura is Moving to India

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…

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Strange Tourism, Theme Parks / , ,

Don’t Forget Your Cute Tiger Pictures

After the horrors of the tiger park, I neglected to mention the cute photo ops at the end of the tour. I mean, how awesome is this vertical line of tigerocity?

After taking the picture, the employee wrenched the doped-out cub from our cuddle. He shoved it in a medium-sized tupperware storage container. He clipped on the lid. And he walked away.

The cub struggled for a while, but then went quiet. I wanted to cry.

The other photo opportunity was to pose with a fierce photoshopped Siberian tiger. We didn’t, but this sweet champ did.

/ by Dean Pickles / 3 Comments
Strange Tourism, Theme Parks / , ,

Small Children Feeding Live Animals to Tigers in a Chinese Zoo

In northern China there’s a tiger park. Like so many things in China, it’s nothing like you might expect. To start with, there’s a menu at the gate.

These aren’t animals to take home and domesticate. They’re fodder. Victims to be released on your tour.

“Let’s get a cow,” I said.

Michelle just glared at me.

“But this is nature in its purest form,” I said. “It’s the circle of life. It’s the maintenance and renewal of the microcosm. Come on. So how about a sheep?”

She kept glaring.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 3 Comments
Strange Tourism, Sweet Movies and Wild Books / ,

Porn, Rats, and Antique Projectors at Sri Lanka’s Classic Cinemas

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?

So we wore socks. Rats don’t like socks.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 9 Comments
Strange Tourism /

Our Favorite Kim Jong Il Stories…

I’m very happy, and a little sad, but I know Kim Jong L’il will do a fine job furthering his father’s legacy of madness.

In the meantime, here’s some of my favorite AO Kim Jong Il pieces:
Did you know Kim Jong Il was already a master equestrian marksman at the age of five?
– At birth, the country hailed him as their new divine leader. Get the full true story of Kim Jong Il’s birth here
Kim Jong Il’s film theory writings are pretty classic.
Kim Jong Il issued a series of 3D stamps celebrating the birth of Prince William (and Charles and Di, of course!)

and then there’s also my North Korea tourism video, which the country has yet to adopt as their official promo… but I like it!

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Strange Tourism / , ,

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.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 3 Comments
Our Weird Projects, Strange Tourism / , ,

Mad Costumes Across Asia

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

Egyptians, Shenzhen

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

Miao Minority, Dali

Bollywood Stars


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Strange Tourism /

Plan Your Next Holiday in the Glorious DPRK

North Korea isn’t all doom, gloom, and Kim Jong-il. Sure, there’s vile propaganda, rumors of grim brainwashing, concentration camps and endless misery. But there’s more!

/ by Dean Pickles / Leave a comment
Somewhat Perverted, Strange Tourism / , , , , , , ,

A Postcard from Erenhot

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?”

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/ by Dean Pickles / 3 Comments
Strange Tourism

On Being Chinese-looking in China

Waldo in China sketch from Deep Thinkings

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.

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/ by The WooLand Hotel / 2 Comments
Strange Tourism / , ,

Hey! It’s a Foreigner!

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.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 6 Comments