Sushu's Travel Journal

August 6, 2012

Taiwan, sort of

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , — admin @ 11:18 pm

So on Friday I left China for the second time this summer to fly to Taipei! This trip is actually a school-related trip: next February, me and MJ, the Chinese teacher at our school, plan on taking students to Taiwan as a school trip. MJ was already in Taiwan, but she was in 高雄 Kaohsiung (I hope I’m doing the Taiwanese spelling correctly…), and we were actually planning to meet up in 金门 Kinmen. MJ is familiar with the rest of Taiwan, but neither of us had been to Kinmen, so we wanted to go explore and figure out what are worthy sights to put on our itinerary. So even though I flew to Taipei on Friday, I left Saturday morning on another flight to Kinmen.

This meant that I was only in Taipei from 9pm Friday night to 9am Saturday morning (excluding airport transit time). I had to make the most of my time! I checked into a hostel right by the main train station, and then went up to the Shilin Night Market 士林夜市. That was pretty cool — there were lots of interesting foods and so many stalls full of merchandise. The level of sheer consumer goods reminded me of Japan — it seemed like everything you could possibly want to own (and more!) was on sale. Unlike Japan, though, you could do some amount of bargaining with the shop owners, and only 50% of the items were unbearably cute. The food was also super-awesome. I had fried milk, mango ice, a giant piece of fried chicken slab that was the size of my head (didn’t know chickens had that much continuous meat!), fresh pineapple and guava, and this thing that was half dorayaki and half fried egg (tastes better than it sounds!) If I wasn’t so laden with shopping bags, I would have also been tempted to try one of the carnival games that lined one street. (Funny variant: fishing for live shrimp?!)

Here’s a fuzzy picture of the egg-dorayaki thing:

So I got back to the hostel. The hostel manager was drunk and seemed to have been drinking since 7pm. He would pause occasionally to sign along to some opera snippet that was playing over the speakers, and then pour himself more whisky or baijiu. His mandarin was very hard to understand, and his English more so, but he said my mandarin was incomprehensible and decided to only speak to me in English with random snippets of French and Japanese. He didn’t seem to like Mainlanders much, maybe because his mother is a Taiwan aborigine??

I woke up at 7:30am on Saturday because I figured I would have about an hour to wander around Taipei in the morning. Unfortunately, all of the museums open at 9 or 10am, and I had to get on the subway for the airport by 9am, so I decided instead to go to Longshan Temple, which was just 2 subway stops away and on the same blue line that would take me to the airport. Longshan Temple 龙山寺 was pretty cool! Everyone was dressed in robes and standing around doing chanting and there were people putting food offerings on the table. There were also a whole corner of free scriptures, so I took some small items to show off to my students. After I came out of Longshan Temple, I saw a sign for a Qitian Gong (启天宫), and I was like, “is that a Daoist place?” So I followed the sign, walking through the early morning streets of a night market (lots of closed shops and people looking very hung over), to find a small temple hidden in the middle of a residential district. I decided to take a different path back to the subway station and found yet another Gong in a different residential district where several people were doing more chanting. Man, religion here is srs bsns! I also stopped at a FamilyMart and got a chawan-mushi and 2 onigiri: Buddhist vegetarian and pepper beef. (yum!)

Here’s some pictures of Taiwan alleys and hidden neighborhood temples

And here’s the obligatory “Things you can’t do at a park” image.

Some interesting things about that park:
- it was only a square city block, mostly concrete with not a lot of grass
- it abuts the Longshan Temple
- it is above a giant underground mall/market. There seems to be a lot of those in Taipei…

And here’s a random ad I saw in the metro:

It says something like “pray and you’ll love it!” Well, pray as in do some bowing motions to the god depicted?!

Then it’s off to Kinmen! Kinmen is actually about 30km from Fujian, so it’s really close to China, and actually an hour+ flight from Taiwan proper. Most people in Taiwan have never been to Kinmen, unless they were posted there for their military service.

In the misty distance you can see the city of Xiamen, in China. Yes, we’re THAT close. Even though Kinmen is that close, it still gets its electricity and other materials and services flown over from Taiwan, for political reasons. It’s actually much cheaper to fly to Kinmen from Shanghai by flying to Xiamen and then taking a ferry, but then I wouldn’t have had my 12 hours in Taipei!

I met up with MJ and her 2 kids (16 and 13), and an old friend of her uncle who is a 72-year-old retired military policeman. He was very spry and hired a taxi and took us around the island. We went to some military remants: bunkers, a fort, an underground water passageway, and underground passageways connecting major government institutions. Kinmen has a lot more nature tourists there now, so in addition to some heavily-KMT-biased military museums, we were also subjected to various museums touting the local birds such as the bee-eater.

Here’s some military stuff:

In a bunker, the window has a helpful painting next to it telling the soldiers what kind of gun to use out of which window.

We stayed in this cool village that was built by Chinese immigrants returning from Indonesia. (Here’s the link to the Bed and Breakfast) The village is full of part-western (Indonesian-Dutch inspired) and part-traditional (traditional Fujian style) architecture. It’s kinda cool to see the footprint of the Chinese diaspora.

Here’s some pictures of the village:

This is the Li family temple

This is a western-style mansion built in the 1930s by Indonesian-Chinese

Our own Bed and Breakfast has this blend of Chinese and European

On Sunday we walked around town, and then went to a knife factory where they made cleavers by pounding and grinding the steel from the shells that were lobbed at Kinmen over the years. A shell from the 8-23 incident can make 60 cleavers! And some of the later propaganda shell can make 20 cleavers. :) Talk about literally beating swords into plowshares… or I guess beating shell casings into cleavers…

Here’s the knife workshop

And in the middle here you can see the cleaver that they made in roughly 5 minutes.

Then we had to leave for the airport, where I saw this:

My gate was decorated as a promotion of the 14 recognized aborigine groups in Taiwan, and also of the Seediq Bale movie, which seems to be about indigenous resistance to Japanese colonization? Anyway, here’s the wikipedia article.

So, in all, it was a pretty whirlwind tour of not-really-Taiwan.

Some impressions:
- Kinmen apparently gives its citizens a lot of benefits — mostly $$ from its baijiu sales. On the other hand, there aren’t a lot of jobs on the island — the military tourism is down and the nature tourism has yet to take its place. The military sector there has also declined along with the military presence (around 5000 now).

- The Taiwan people I met were, on the one hand, quite familiar with Mainland China (they have family there, or have visited recently), and on the other hand, very disparaging of Mainland Chinese, sometimes to a point of hypocrisy. Our taxi driver complained about Mainland Chinese tourists jay-walking or walking down the middle of a street, but then does it himself. He complained about how the Mainland Chinese were always scrambling to try to get the best seat on a bus or something. When I pointed out that China has greater population pressures, he admitted that Taiwanese were the same way 30 years ago.

- Language was interesting — most things were announced in both Mandarin and the local Fujianese dialect (although I think people call it Taiwanese now?). I think there has been an increase in Taiwanese in tv shows and such. Taiwanese Mandarin is all over the place — I found some people really easy to understand, but others were really hard to understand, with vocabulary or sentence structure borrowed from Taiwanese. This is in contrast to China, where, thanks to various standardization efforts, it seems like everyone under the age of 30 speaks with a very standard northern Mandarin dialect with only minor variations. (I often sound odd because my Mandarin is very… Shanghainese Mandarin from the 80s??)

- Aspects of Taiwan were more like China than I expected. I guess I was expecting something more like Japan, but the small street-side shops selling 5-7 dishes, with grungy tables and a visible wok, reminds me of China. Other aspects were more ordered — people were generally more polite and professional, and there were nice societal norms like leaving the priority seats for the elderly, or standing on the right side of the elevator and walking on the left side of the elevator.

July 6, 2012

Slave Trade, Zanzibar, and National Parks

Filed under: Africa — Tags: , — admin @ 8:15 pm

While staying at Bomani we went on a daytrip to Bagamoyo, the nearest large city. Although it is a city, it didn’t seem that big. Outside of a small central area of about 6 blocks, it quickly devolved into village-style low brick and concrete houses and dusty roads:

It’s a bit hard to imagine that Bagamoyo used to be larger than Dar Es Salaam. Historically, it was actually a major port of the slave trade, sending slaves from East Africa to Zanzibar and beyond. Even now, the wharf has the poles where slaves were chained:

And nearby is a church that has a museum that goes into the details of the slave trade. It is very interesting learning about the slave trade in Tanzania, for a few reasons. Firstly, a portion of the museum at Bagamoyo (and also the museum in Zanzibar) presents slavery from a generic western stance. For example, they both use the generic slave trade images of slaves crammed into a ship, and they show maps of the Triangle Trade. I wanted to ask what the West African slave trade had to do with East Africa. And when I asked what happened to the slaves that were traded to the Arab world, the tour guide had no idea. It’s strange to find that even at the very heart of the East African slave trade area, the Atlantic trade dominates. That said, there is an East Africa twist to it – here, the British are seen as the good guys, and the Arabs are the slavers. The Christian churches established safe havens for freed or escaped slaves. There is a lot of respect for David Livingstone – he is seen as someone who convinced the British to actively end the slave trade and to pressure the Sultan of Zanzibar to do so as well. The fact that Europeans and Americans also traded slaves was mentioned as a mere side note. (The irony here being that many of the images in the museum are lifted from the Atlantic trade.)

Here is the church that was built on the site of the old slave market on Zanzibar

But I think it’s time to talk about Zanzibar, which we visited for 3 days.

Tanzania is actually a combination of Tanganyika, which was formerly German East Africa that was then ruled by the British after WWI, and Zanzibar, which was for a long time the seat of the Omani Caliphate but then was controlled by the British. After their independence, they were united as TanZania, although Zanzibar has a lot of autonomy. When we landed in Zanzibar by ferry from Dar Es Salaam, we had to fill out customs papers and get our passport stamped specifically for Zanzibar. Zanzibar residents are also very quick to draw the distinction between them and “the Mainland” — often highlighting differences in religion, culture, history, and government. It seems a bit weird, partially because the coastal region that I had just come from was very Islamic, as well. From the Zanzibar perspective, though, Bagamoyo feels like the hinterlands (despite the deep historical connections.) Zanzibar natives mostly stay on Zanzibar, and much of the island lives off of the tourism industry. They mark up the prices of things for tourists, and mark down the prices for residents. For example, ferry tickets for residents of Zanzibar are 18k shillings (roughly $13), but for non-residents it’s $40. We met many more people on Zanzibar who spoke English (meaning that they could afford the 2 million shillings per year tuition for secondary school), and many more who have traveled abroad, either to Dubai, Mecca, or Europe. Between the Zanzibar patriotism and the booming tourist industry, it’s little wonder that Zanzibarians tend to stay on Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is very conservative Muslim – Most women were covered from hair to ankles, and many men dressed conservatively, as well. Although there were female shop owners, the tour guides and taxi drivers were all male. Most Tanzanians don’t like being photographed (perhaps too much objectification), and so I was only able to nab a few photos.

Zanzibar is famous for the spice trade, so we visited a spice farm and was asked to guess a lot of spices. But here is vanilla and cloves – the pride of Zanzibar:

The spice farm was just one of the many places where we could see the agglomeration of cultures and trade that created Zanzibar – many of the spices are from Southeast Asia. Zanzibar is proud of their “spice rice”, which is actually Indian pilau. The fishing boats are actually of Indonesian design. Swahili itself is heavily borrowed from Arabic and Portuguese. In Stone Town, the old center of Zanzibar, there are mosques galore, but also 2 Hindu temples and 2 large churches. On the spice farm I saw the chirimoya that I had eaten in Peru, and also the durian that Jono loves so much. And also rambutans from Malaysia, falsely named to be Lychees:

During my trip we also visited Saadani National Park and Jozani National Forest. Saadani is one of the newest National Parks in Tanzania, and the one closest to Bagamoyo. Although it is a small park and seen as somewhat “second rate” because it’s not part of the north Tanzania circuit of the Serengeti, Ngorogoro, etc, it is still very cool because it’s the only national park that has beach, river, and bush habitats. We went on a river safari and saw three different types of kingfishers, some hippos, crocodiles, and giraffes. What I gleaned from the experience is that (a) crocodiles are really hard to spot! And (b) hippos are ugly and horrible. They are the most deadly animals in Africa because hippos and humans often compete for the same water resources, and hippos are violent and territorial. Whenever we drifted by a family of hippos (roughly 10-20), they would all stare at us. Ugh. At Jozani National Forest in Zanzibar, we saw some cute Red Colobus monkeys, and got a tour through the mangrove forest. Mangroves are cool! I guess my other animal experience in Tanzania was swimming with dolphins and snorkeling around a coral reef (where I lost my glasses).

Red Colobus monkey family:

Mangrove leaves that secrete salt:

But in the end, animals are just animals, and way less interesting than people. (Sorry, animals). For example, before visiting Saadani, I had no idea that national parks had villages. In the case of Saadani, there were 4 villages and a salt plant inside the National Park. The villagers mostly just go on with their own business, riding bikes, fetching water, going to school and praying at mosques, and mostly skirting by the safari vehicles carting foreigners around their land.

And here’s the salt plant:

Warthogs like loitering around this village because the humans provide safety from predators, and since the villagers are Muslim, there is no threat of being eaten by the villagers, either.

At Jozani, the entrance fee that we pay actually goes to the surrounding villages, while the Zanzibar government pays the guides’ salaries. This is good because the red colobus monkeys are actually a nuisance to the surrounding villages – for example, they eat mango peels, but leave the rest of the mango, which would be pretty frustrating if you’re a mango farmer. With Jozani, I have greater faith that the money is going directly to benefit the villages in locally-directed ways, unlike the “community development” initiatives of Saadani Safari Lodge.

Okay, fine, animals are cool, too. Especially when it’s a baboon who sits in the middle of the road and refuses to move:

July 5, 2012

Resorts and Villages

Filed under: Africa — Tags: , — admin @ 8:14 pm

We stayed at two resorts during our trip. First we were at Bomani Bungalows, which is about 10km outside of Bagamoyo, about 2 hours north of Dar Es Salaam. It is a beach resort built by a Norwegian woman. She visited Tanzania and really liked it, so she bought some beach property and built the bungalows. The bungalows are in a large walled complex that is sort of appended to one end of the village of Klingamlini. Next to the resort is a private villa that was built by some other Norwegian – they are only there for a few weeks every year but they hire people to maintain the villa the rest of the time. It is very visually jarring to have this large estate jutting out of one corner of a pretty run-of-the mill village, but the villagers have mostly adapted. Bomani is a bit on the sketchy side – it is essentially run by Nicky and 2 restaurant staff. It took us 2 days to figure out how to get reliable hot water in the shower, and the beach is shared by the village, so there are plenty of fishing boats around. I liked how Bomani allowed us to interact with the village, though – they offered a village walk (where Nicky took us around the village and pointed out things of interest), and also “making food with the locals”, where they invite some local matrons to make food in a traditional house inside the resort, and also seaweed farming, where we got to talk to the chairman of the seaweed farming group and try our hand at collecting seaweed. Nicky taught us some Swahili, and made sure we got practice. There was a village wedding the night we arrived, and if it didn’t start at midnight and go until 6am, we could have attended.

On the other hand, L’Oasis resort in Zanzibar is much more of a standard resort – with swimming pools that overlook the ocean (it still doesn’t make sense to me), private beach, etc. It is next to the village of Kizimkazi, but you wouldn’t know it by being in the resort – there seems to be a complete segregation between the two, although I’m sure the hotel staff live in the village. We also had lunch at Saadani Safari Lodge, which has a maze of boardwalks to show you just the beach view and isolate you from the rest of Saadani park. What surprised me in all of these resorts was not only how easy it was to spend a week there without leaving the resort, but also how many people choose to do that. The restaurant menu is carefully European generic – pastas, steak, fried fish, and some curry thrown in. We had to work hard to find Tanzanian staples like ugali and chapatti. At Bomani, we met a nice Croatian couple who were there for 9 days and only left the resort twice. We overheard a Norwegian man asking for “chicken masala without spices” for lunch and “bacon and omelette” for breakfast. I…. don’t understand that sort of travel. Why spend all the money and time to go halfway across the world just to get a tan on a beach? Even if you’re Norwegian you can do that much closer than Tanzania – Turkey, maybe?
Here are pictures of Bomani and L’Oasis:


So, the village next to Bomani – I think it’s a pretty standard village, given the other villages that we passed through. The ones near Saadani had more brick, and the ones in Zanzibar seemed richer – more brick/concrete houses and fewer mud houses. But anyway, the village: It is about 80% muslim, and in addition to the government-sponsored western clinic, the school, there is also a mosque and a madrasa. The madrasa had evening classes that taught the Qur’an, and the mosque didn’t have a minaret, but it did have a loudspeaker pole.

Most people in the village lived in mud houses like this: (sorry I don’t have a better photo – I lost my camera en route to Tanzania and so had to resort to the cell phone camera)

It is a framework of wooden poles lashed together, and fine mud is filled into the spaces. I asked where they got the mud, since most of the area had sand. Nicky said that it’s from termite mounds. I’m a bit dubious, but it is rather good mud. The roof is made of palm leaves. It only takes about a week to build, and if well-kept, the mud only needs to be changed every 10 years or so. There is no electricity in these houses – running an electric wire can be a fire hazard given the palm leaf roof. So if you want electricity, you need at least a tin roof, although it seems most people opt to build a brick or concrete house. That is far more expensive, though, so there are many brick houses sitting around half-built, like this one:

We visited Hausa’s concrete house, and although he had electricity, they still mostly used natural light through the windows, so even though it was the afternoon, the house was still very dark. I think people are just used to using natural light. Many people cook outside, or spend their daylight hours lounging or working outside. Cooking for many villagers is done with a small portable charcoal stove. The amount of charcoal needed is about 20kg per month, which, according to Mr. Abbas, costs about 20k shillings (roughly $13). Here are some of the women cooking from our “make local food” activity:

We made chapatti, which is kind of like inferior 葱油饼 (chinese scallion pancake) because it didn’t have scallions or salt in it. We also made maandazi, which are like superior doughnuts. Fish is mostly fried with a tomato and carrot sauce. We also grated coconuts and made coconut milk that was then added to both rice and cassava. (For once, cassava didn’t taste like dehydration!) The red bucket next to the woman is a bucket of water. Most houses don’t have running water, so I often saw people getting water in buckets from the various spigots strewn around the village. I’m very glad they have potable water! At Bomani the shower water was distinctly salty, and everyone drank bottled water.
One thing that impressed me about the village is that it was its own microcosm. There were 3 “cinemas” – mud huts where someone charges young boys a few cents to watch some random movie on a loud tv. There was a tavern, a pharmacy, and about 10 shops selling everything from clothes to household goods to groceries. Perhaps as a jab at Bomani, some houses were painted with labels that said “Sheraton Hotel” “Royal Hotel”, etc. Most of the trees in the village are useful trees – either palm or coconut or papaya or mango. Here and there a chicken would roam down the street, pecking at various objects of interest, and a goat would be tied to a bush and grazing on some grass.
Here is the village school. (notice the world map painted on the wall)

And an interior shot of a 1st grade classroom:

And did I mention there’s a village rock band?

July 4, 2012

The People of Tanzania

Filed under: Africa — Tags: — admin @ 8:11 pm

Here are some of the people I met:

Amon, the man who picked us up at the airport was orphaned at a young age. His father died in an accident and his mother died in childbirth to his sister. After spending some time in an orphan camp, him and his sister got adopted by a Lutheran pastor. Now his sister is in Germany and he has recently returned in order to run a business. He is very angry about the current president, whom he sees as corrupt and weak (in comparison, Hausa thinks the current president is pretty awesome). He went on a giant rant about how only the “big fish” can afford mansions while the poor live on a meal a day, and how there’s no accountability and the courts are like “watching a movie” – just for show. He is married and has a 5-year-old boy and an adopted child. He wants to expand his business, but getting a loan at the bank is hard because he is Tanzanian and not foreign. His wife has started working at a bank, though, so he will try again.

Nicky runs the lodge at Bomani. He runs a tight ship, and is always courteous and friendly. He met a Tanzanian girl in England and they have a 2 year old girl. Whenever he sees young girls in the village around his daughter’s age, his face lights up and he always goes out of his way to talk to them. He wanted to stay in England but his visa ran out, so now his girlfriend and child lives in England while he lives in Tanzania. He is actually from the Kilimanjaro region, and have only been on the coast for 2 years, so many of his references are to the Masai instead of the local Muslim tribes. Like Amon, he is also Lutheran, though he is happy to say “asalaam aleikum” to the villagers. He hasn’t married because he seems to be holding out for a foreign girl.

Hausa, the driver, grew up in Bagamoyo. His extended family lives in a big concrete house with electricity and 6 rooms. All of the young adults in his family speak great English, so they are clearly sufficiently well to do. His sister is working on her tour guide certificate. He has a 4 year old son who is shy. He likes to tell jokes and listens to Tupac and Dr. Dre.

Abdul is 25 and grew up in Dar Es Salaam with his Mother and stepfather. His godfather sponsored his studies, but when he came up one credit short on his A Levels, cut off his funding. His mother then got laid off and his birth father has his own family, so Abdul can’t find the funding he needs to continue his studies. So he got a computer applications certificate, but then couldn’t afford a computer (400k shillings). Then he came to the village and has spent the last 2 years teaching at the school. He doesn’t have a certificate for teaching, so he doesn’t get paid. Instead he gets along with parent contributions, working with the fishermen, and doing Bruce-Lee-inspired backflips in the Bomani Dance Troupe. It was by doing those backflips that he caught the attention of Solfrid, the Norwegian who owns the lodge. Solfrid is sponsoring the year of studying required for the teaching certificate (dlasses are 400k per term and living expenses are 800k a term). Abdul has great ambitions but doesn’t quite know how to reach them — he says he wants to become a master teacher because then he can earn more money. He says he’d like to promote women’s rights because he sees the suffering of his mother. He wants to find true love, even though he claims to have given up on love after 2 girlfriends left him due to his lack of prospects. He is very actively trying to find another sponsor.

The village doctor started learning his trade from his grandfather when he was 15. To cure people, you describe to him what is wrong, and the he writes an appropriate verse from the Koran on a slip of paper with special ink and the burns it. You then smell it (whether the ashes or the smoke wasn’t clear.) Sometimes there are also herbs to burn and smell or make into tea. He claims to have learned the uses of the herbs when he went “deep into the ocean” and was shown the powers of each herb. He does also do referrals. If a patient shows up with TB or AIDS, he refers them to the western doctor in the village. There is also a pharmacist for when the western doctor is off duty on the weekends. I later find out that this sort of Islamic shaman is called a Mwalimu-Mganga. Many villagers visit him before visiting the western doctor, and sometimes people from other villages come to seek help due to his fame. His patients don’t always pay money – sometimes they pay in gifts. One patient was so satisfied with his healing that he gave the doctor a motorbike. Upon arrival in Tanzania, I heard from Amon that Tanzanian doctors were on strike because they weren’t getting paid enough. I later heard from Nicky that the last time the doctors went on strike (in February – the government still hasn’t responded to their grievances, hence the renewed strike), one of the Bomani drivers got into an accident. Nicky had paid to have the guy air-lifted to a regional hospital, but because of the strike, the driver did not survive. It feels like, between the somewhat sketchy provenance of the mwalimu-mganga and the lack of support for western medical doctors, perhaps the most reliable source of medicine are the pharmacies. The village pharmacist only had about 10 medicines in her cabinet, but the one in Bagamoyo was better stocked (still didn’t have mefloquine, though). The pharmacies in Dar Es Salaam basically had everything, prescription or otherwise.

Isaac was our guide at Saadani National Park. He has been in the guiding business for five years, though mostly in the Arusha region because he grew up in the Serengeti. He recently came to Saadani just for a year or two to further his studies of river and beach habitats. He has a son who is 6 years old… it was an unexpected high school pregnancy. His girlfriend at the time didn’t want to marry him, perhaps because he didn’t have any prospects, or perhaps because their relationship had cooled. He claims it is because women in Tanzania often look for much older men (later refuted by Mr. Abbas, although it did remind me of Kunta Kinte in Roots, though that comparing the two would be like comparing Georgian and Chinese weddings.) So now he works to support his son and be here as a parental figure, though he doesn’t get to see him often. Isaac also stands out because he is Rwandan. He said that his parents and him moved to Tanzania when he was a child, and he grew up in Tanzania. Even though he is culturally Tanzanian, locals have trouble placing him in the tribal schema… he often has to pretend he is from a nearby similar tribe. (I want to know more about this tribal thing. When someone asked Joanne where she was from, she of course said Usa, but then he asked if she was Chinese, and she said her parents were. He was confused until he decided that she was American, but of the Chinese tribe.)

Nick is from a small town in southern England, and 5 years ago went to south Africa to work as a guide. Then, a year or two ago, he came to Saadani to be a lodge manager. He claims that this is the natural next step in the industry, though given that Isaac had been in the industry for just as long, I’m guessing this is the natural next step for white people in this industry. He said he chose to work at the Saadani Safari Lodge because this lodge actually also does eco-tourism and community development… some of the money from the lodge has gone into building a school and a mosque for the local village. (On the way back through the park we passed by a brand new mosque that was a good 2km from the nearest village. I hope that wasn’t the mosque he was referring to, because then the white savior fail would be too extreme.)

I didn’t get to talk to many people on Zanzibar. It is a lot more touristy and people seem less inclined to converse. There is Mr. Abbas, who was our tour coordinator. He runs quite a good racket… he takes our money, and then basically drops us off in different places to different guides (whom we then have to tip) while he runs errands. But he is raking in the money … we are paying him 80 USD tomorrow just for a drive into town and some chaperoning. No wonder he can afford to send his 2 children to a private boarding school in Zanzibar Town (while he lives on the other end of the island near our resort) AND go on trips abroad to USA (Chicago, Miami, Colorado), Dubai, Holland, and Spain. He liked the US and Holland, and wants to go to China next. In comparison, I don’t think much of the money makes its way to the boatmen who took us to swim with dolphins and made us an awesome seafood lunch. Mr. Abbas is a very devout Muslim – he spent 8 years of schooling (probably in a madrasa) memorizing the Qur’an, and he was trying to get me to convert (I expressed a desire to visit Mecca.) We talked about the Hajj – the full Hajj package from Zanzibar is $3500, which is pretty good.

April 13, 2012

From the Lima Airport

Filed under: Latin America — Tags: , — admin @ 12:40 pm

So I haven’t written since Chiclayo, mostly because there was a paucity of functioning wifi in our rooms in ollanta and Cusco. So on Wednesday afternoon we visited Pisac and Ollanta Inca ruins in the sacred valley with a private guide that wasn’t very good at explaining things without prompting. Then on Thursday we woke up early and made it through the chilly rain to Machu Picchu. After an unsatisfactory lunch at Agua Caliente, we made our way to Cusco. Early this morning, we took a walk around Cusco, dropping in for morning mass at the giant Cusco cathedral, checking out the mummies and khipu at an otherwise unimpressive Inca museum, visited the sun temple and Dominican church hybrid of koricancha, and bought various tchotchkes. I also tried guinea pig, but wasn’t impressed. A major hamper on our Inca experience was all the illnesses. To begin with, I was recovering from diarrhea from Chiclayo, and so was dealing with a very sensitive stomach. About an hour after landing in Cusco, Jono suddenly got hit with BOTH the diarrhea and the altitude sickness. This continued the next day in Machu Picchu and got so bad that we got medicine for Jono. To make matters worse, Jono got majorly sun burned at Machu Picchu, so by the time we got to Cusco, he was a wibbly feverish mess. :( I was slightly better, having gotten my fever out of the way in Chiclayo. Nonetheless, the altitude affects SUCKED. My heart was pounding even when I was lying down to sleep, and I was short of breath for climbing about 10 steps.

Regardless, it was stunning and beautiful and totally worth it.

Machu Picchu is absolutely amazing. The day before, we had already seen Inca ruins: Pisac that perched high up a bluff, commanding an excellent view of the Urubamba river valley. Ollantaytambo, a temple and military complex where the last Inca held off the Spanish. But Machu Picchu was at a whole new level. We took the early morning 6:10 am train to Agua Caliente, then got on a bus that took the winding switchback road up to Machu Picchu. That early in the morning, there was a light drizzle, and the mountains were shrouded in clouds and mist. As we went up the switchbacks, we alternated between views of the mountains that surrounded the valley, and the mountainside, dense with cloud forest ground cover… all I could recognize were ferns and cacti, but there was just such an intensity of green that was only broken by 2 things: rapids and streams running down the mountain, and the foot-wide staircase of the Inca trail tenuously tracing its way up. There was so much water, especially for us, who had just come from the deserts of the North coast where rain would fall about once every 11 years with the El Niño, where rain was so shocking that the Moche sacrificed people and our taxi driver in Trujillo still remembers the time when it rained for 15 hours straight. And yet here at every turn there are streams, Inca water channels, the mountains shrouded in mist, the Urubamba river below us… look at me, waxing poetic and we haven’t even gotten to Machu Picchu.


Ollantaytambo has been lived-in since the 1200s:

Road to Machu Picchu:

The entrance to Machu Picchu was rather unassuming… a long cabin to buy entrance tickets and 3 turnstiles. But once we got through and rounded the hill, Machu Picchu opened before us. That first look took my breath away. Sure, we spent the next two hours exploring specific areas with a tour guide– the sun temple, moon temple, courtyard, terraces, etc. But in that first view you see all of Machu Picchu before you, and even if you have never seen anything Inca before, it’s plain that this was a CITY, one that had multiple functions, one that was active in trade and life just 600 years ago. I got a similar feeling when visiting Bergama and Ephesus in Turkey this past summer, but what made this even better was the land that surrounded the city. The city was very high up, so there was a great view into the valleys below, but at the same time, it was surrounded by even taller mountains. Unlike in Turkey, the grandeur of the city can be taken in all at once upon entrance. The many different tiers also creates a more dynamic landscape. There is also a sense of seclusion… there is nothing else around except mountains. It was at once sprawling and expansive, but also neatly tucked away in the Andes.

First view of Machu Picchu:

View of the surrounding mountains:

Picture of the central plaza:

Okay, enough for now. It’s almost time for the plane.

April 10, 2012


Filed under: Latin America — Tags: , — admin @ 12:47 pm

So we got to Chiclayo last night. Chiclayo is a very different city from Trujillo. Whereas trujillo’s city Center is an old fashioned colonial plaza filled with churches and convents all within easy walking distance, Chiclayo has clearly moved on from its colonial past. Here we see many more tall buildings, apartment complexes, and the traffic is absolutely atrocious. Trujillo is spread out across a large expanse of desert, while chiclayo, though it has less people, form a denser urban population.

Today we did a tour of the tombs of the Lord of Sipan and some Lambayeque pyramids. Unfortunately, my stomach disagreed with me early in the trip, so while I persevered through two very excellent museums, I wasn’t able to go to the sites themselves. But the museums were truly excellent, and I got to see a lot of Moche bling: giant gold and tourquoise earrings, giant flappy crowns and nose guards… when in full ceremonial regalia the lord of sipan would have about 5 pounds of stuff just on his head alone, not to mention the special armorial and jingly necklaces. The lords of sipan were all buried with their 15 year old wives and at least one attending llama. That’s pretty harsh for the lady folk. Not sure if I like the Moche anymore.

El Senor de Sipan:

The guide was cool. He had to say everything twice because it was a Spanish and English mixed tour, but he did a really good job. He was also very knowledgeable about sugar and rice farming, and very cynical about the government. He said that Peru has a fine if you don’t vote, but since everyone votes, the candidate field is very poor. Ummm…. not sure what I think of that.

Chiclayo rice fields:

Voting signage:

The “X” actually means a check mark, so it means “vote for us!”

April 9, 2012


Filed under: Latin America — Tags: , — admin @ 1:06 pm

Made it to Chiclayo today after visiting two museums this morning. The first one was a small museum sponsored by the Trujillo archeology university. It was interesting but also showing its age a bit… the paint was starting to fade, etc. The other museum I was really excited to see… Museum Cassinelli is a private collection that is in the basement of a gas station but has tons of cool stuff. We tried to go the first day of getting to Trujillo, but it was mysteriously closed. Today, we went again and it remained closed. However, we noticed a sign on the museum door that announced some “poshumo ” event… and another newspaper interview from 2003 mentioned Cassinelli being 83, which would make him 92 this year…. so…. he might be dead? That might be why the museum is currently closed? :X

The ill-fated Cassinelli Museum:

Anyway, yesterday we went on a tour of the Moche temple of the moon and the Chimu palaces at Chan Chan.

The Moon Temple (Huaca de la Luna) is actually 5 temples stacked on top of each other. Every 100 years or so, they would completely bury the previous temple and build a new one on top. The Moche believed that temples had life cycles, as well.

So here’s excavation of temple 4 and temple 3:

Here’s some Moche pottery: (It’s not the best I saw, but many places prohibited photography.

The bricks were contributed by families who couldn’t pay taxes in any other way, so they put their family mark on the bricks:

Then we visited Chan-Chan, which had 10 giant palaces. We visited Palace Nik-An.

View of store-houses in the palace:

Follow the pelicans to find your way out of the storage maze:

This is a huge reservoir inside the Palace/Tomb. It’s somehow linked to the Moche River, and remains a pretty consistent water level:

I think I would prefer living as a Moche rather than a Chimu … the Chimu civilization was so advanced as to be able to support 10 mummy palaces (when a king died, his mummy retains political power and must be housed in giant tomb-palaces). The living people are kind or squeezed in between these palaces. Plus they sacrificed virgin girls aged 18-25 for various ritual occasions. The guide said that they had special virgins whose duty it would be to be sacrificed…. imagine being bred for ritual sacrifice! In comparison, the Moche only sacrificed a warrior every el nino season (once every 25 years or so), it’s part of a large competition, they get the loser high on cactus first, AND make a cool pottery showing his face. Human sa orifice is muy malo, but once every 25 years ain’t bad. But maybe I have a soft spot for the Moche because they made the coolest pottery. You should look up some better ones than what I took pictures of….they’re amazingly lifelike and natural.

The bus to Chiclayo was pretty awesome… it was double Decker, the seats were extra wide and cushy, and they leaned far back and there was even a leg rest. They played the empire of wolves, which is some French film thriller involving the Turkish mafia? And we also watched the beginning of The Darkest Hour, which is about an alien invasion where the survivors are some American schmucks in Moscow? The aliens were cool because they were invisible, electrically charged, and wanted to strip-mine earth. The humans were boring and generic.

Speaking of post-apocalyptic fiction, I’m finally making it to the end of 1491, and reading it has made me want to do post-apocalyptic historical fiction about the death and disintegration of native societies when hit by European diseases. But it’d have to be really well researched, and it’s really not my story to tell.

April 7, 2012

In Peru!

Filed under: Latin America — Tags: , — admin @ 1:16 pm

All right! We made it to Trujillo! Jono is currently reading aloud from 1493 about samurai guarding the silver caravans in Mexico and Spanish barbers in Mexico City complaining about Chinese barbers working harder and taking their jobs.

Unfortunately, we woke up too late in Lima this morning, and so couldn’t do more than admire the parrots and tortoises in the rooftop area of the hostal where we were staying, before hopping on a taxi to theairport and then on a plane to Trujillo. This is a pity because I kinda wanted to see the national museum where I hear there is a really good exhibit about the internal conflict.

Thus far various aspects of Peru has reminded me of China— the many small hole in the wall shops, the cavalier yet practical attitude toward most municipal laws, even the mixture of large fancy ads and government propaganda on the walls. There is also the variance in bathroom quality, and the sense of a burgeoning economy that is leaving quite a signifant segment of its population in the dust. There would be satellite dishes peeking out of run-down buildings and small stores ablaze with the newest gadgetry.

There have been some interesting differences. For example, the parks that I have seen thus far appear to be square city blocks that are fenced off, paved with paths and dotted with swings and see saws, and forced to be green through haphasardly cultivated topiary.

Or, for example, the buildings. Wherever we go, we see buildings with the second or third floor incomplete– only two brick walls would be up, or maybe the beams are exposed, or maybe there is a makeshift roof and no windows. When I asked the taxi driver today, he said that people would build with whatever surplus money they had, and building it piecemeal takes about 3 to 4 years to finish a floor. Very rarely would individuals have the capital to build a 3 or 4 story building in one go.

I guess in Chinese cities it would usually be the government or corporations that build the residential communities. It would similarly be the city that provides the municipal transit system. Here, on the other hand, privately run minibuses stop wherever to pick up passengers all over the city, in lieu of an official transit system. People also share taxis, so that also serves as a private transit system. I’ve seen students take combi (combination) taxis to school.

Anyway, tomorrow we will go on a tour of Chan Chan and Huaca del Sol. Tomorrow is also Domingo de la Resurrecion, but people seem to be pretty casual about it.

July 25, 2011

Top 5 Experiences of Summer Trip 2011

Filed under: Europe,Middle East — Tags: , , — admin @ 12:22 am

5) Swimming in the Aegean on Cres Island as the sun set on the waters.

4) Lounging in the luxury of the soft Ottoman couches on the first night in Istanbul, having my first lamb and eggplant experience, and then exploring the Great Palace underneath the restaurant and coming out of another restaurant that happened to be right across from our hotel.

3) Morning exploration of Rome, hitting all the sights at the right time, discovering hidden short cuts, stumbling on random pieces of the Roman Forum, and eating gelato.

2) Eating a lovely dinner of lamb and eggplant with Joanne at the Ottoman House Restaurant in Alanya, listening to "Wish You Were Here" sung by a sweet girl on a guitar and chatting with the friendly waiter after a nice amble down a mountain castle with great views. This was followed by a nice walk on the beach in the moonlight.

1) Walking down the Acropolis in Bergama with Jono, exiting from a hole in the fence and walking through the twisty medieval streets of old Bergama and miraculously finding Joanne a block away by the Red Basilica.

July 18, 2011

castles, churches, opera

Filed under: Europe — Tags: — admin @ 12:00 am

I am on a train to Siena.

After the last update I spent the next morning visiting Milan’s fortress. It was alternately used by Milan lords, Spanish lords, Napoleon, and Austo-Hungarian armies. Says something about Milan and Lombardy’s historical position in Northern Italy. Anyway, it is now home to a cute set of museums. I saw some “Lombardy style” statuary, and pondered Michaelangelo’s last Pieta for a while. It was fun to see the transition from gothic to renaissance as I moved from room to room. Then I came upon the crafts museum, where there was an absolutely wonderful exhibit tracing furniture style transitions from the middle ages to the modern day. The placques were very competantly written, highlighting relevant themes and trends supported with interesting details. It was cool to see the evolution of a cabinet or chest that had paintings on it in medieval times, and then was designed to look like a small building during the 1600s, and then becoming all curby and inlaid in the 1800s, and finally looking like ikea in the 20th century. They also showed some wooden figures that had been painted in the 1500s, but had their paint rubbed off in the 1600s when the paint was seen as”tacky”. As I travel around seeing all this old stuff, it makes me wonder how much we truly need to save in order to remember,value, and learn from our past. On the one hand, the Renaissance owed a lot to the rediscoveries of old stuff. Brunelleschi (sp??) would not have made the dome in the Florence Duomo if the Pantheon in Rome wasn’t around to prove that yes, it is possible. But on the other hand, we need to move forward. I heard that it’s nearly impossible to set up new subways in Rome and Istanbul because when you dig, you hit ruins. People in the past were destroying their past left and right… the Austrians whitewashed the walls in the fortress rooms, destroying the Milanese frescos. I feel like as Americans, we tend to treasure what little history we have. Out in the west, there is also room to expand. What happens if you are living in and on and with 3000 years of history? And not just bones and rocks… we are talking about the great Roman empire, Byzantines, Ottomans, Renaissance, Baroque, etc etc…. would you consider it inspiring or stifling?

Anyway, at 3 euros for all the museums, the fortress was a great deal. Milan is definitely agood city to live in… giant gothic cathedral, giant fortress, nice subway system, not oppressively hot, and modern and fashinable as heck.

I hopped on a train to Verona, then promptly got lost trying to find the hotel. But eventually I did, and then had a nice walk around… checked out 3 churches (they were on a 6 euro church pass), then had a horse meat salad and a nice local sparkly white wine at a pleasant osteria. The three churches were surprisingly different, given that they were within a 10 minute walk of each other. One was pretty conventionally Gothic, but filled with all these painted alcoves sponsored by various local families. Travelling around Italy, it’s kind of amazing to see how much bling churches have… I guess that’s what comes from being centers of culture and community for over a thousand years. It’s great for tourists like me … Churches tend to have longer opening hours than museums, and are often free to visit. Of course, they don’t exactly have curators, and after a while you do tend to get Jesus fatigue. Anyway, the Duomo, the second church I went to, was gothic, but very cheerful. Wait… cheerful gothic? All of those tall arches were painted white with lots of cool patterns, making the inside much lighter and airier. The Fuello had a romanesque crypt on the first floor, and a gothic church on the second floor that wasn’t overly decorated or painted. Today’s church, in Florence, was once again different. The outside was all this grren and white marble, which, capped with the red brick dome, was “uhnf” (my shorthand for that feeling of masculine hubris, also found pretty much everywhere in Rome… the colosseum, the campidoglio, the Typewriter…) And yet the inside is sparse and cooly Romanesque, drawing all attention to the dome, which was exquisitly painted with various heavenly images.

All right, the Opera. Oh my god. So this was my first serious opera experience (that weird German oe in that Istanbul castle doesn’t count). Last night, it was Aida, in the Verona amphitheater. First of all, no microphones, but I could still hear them just fine in my nosebleed seats in an amphitheater that seats 30,000. Secondly, in the scenes of pageantry there wereover 200 people on stage… dancing, singing, playing harps and trumpets, RIDING HORSES, carrying torches… now I understand why operas are such a tour de force. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t play nice, so I left at half time. But still…wow.

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