Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Ill-Paid Should Not be Guardians of Antiquities

On paper, the rules for tourists at Luxor's famed Valley of Kings seem pretty strict.  No photos inside or outside the tombs, no speaking or even fast walking inside, and definitely no touching of any walls.  The reason is plain and simple: after 3000 years sealed underground, the world is lucky to just see the colorful wall painting of the royal tombs at all; the paintings are so fragile that anything that can possibly damage it must be avoided.  The strict rules, at least in theory, are the main ways to keep the paintings alive for posterity while keeping the tourists coming.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Should Being “Polite” and “Nice” be Part of Efficient, Professional Customer Service?

The Lebanese, especially the men, are not a people conducive to smiling.  Many seem to be keen on maintaining a sense of personal gravitas through almost a poker face, staring down others in serious expressions that may easily frighten the clueless.  Any smile that come out of such situation probably borders more on the sneer to the point of ridicule, rather than anything that can remotely be taken as courtesy or congeniality.  If anything, smiling between strangers should be avoided in certain cases, for fear that it is taken as a personal offence in disguise.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Young Female Beirutis' Sexy Fashion Sense: A Resilient Sign of Liberalism in a Region of Religious Fundamentalism

Being in Beirut, it is just too easy for one to forget for a moment that the sources of some of the Middle East's most violent religious conflicts are but a few hundred kilometers away.  While ISIS, Hamas, and to a lesser extent, Hezbollah, impose their versions of religious orthodoxy on a hapless local population, Beirutis are still out in force, displaying their socially liberal tendencies that is increasingly one the wane in the region.  One of the most visible, and beautiful, ways for Beirutis to express that freedom, is through how they dress.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Deliberate Invisibility of an Ignored Minority

On his way to Beirut to begin his two-week journey across the Middle East, the author notices an interesting phenomenon at the now-too-familiar waiting areas of Addis airport.  Standing between the author and the boarding gate for the flight to Beirut are 40-some young Ethiopian women, getting their work permits confirmed by the airport officials before preparing themselves for what seems to all, their first-ever flights.  All seemed nervous, clueless as to what is happening around them, and surely uncertain of what awaits them in the completely foreign country they will head to.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Humans Visiting Animals vs Animals Visiting Humans

When the author was growing up as a high school student in San Diego, one of his favorite family vacation spots was the city's fame Wild Animal Park.  It is a place of massive enclosures, simulating the wild African savanna in a highly accessible way.  Around bushes where lions and tigers chase (introduced) antelopes and deer are human spectators being carried in neat little trains, equipped with loudspeakers that constantly inform passengers of the animals and sights of a faraway land with little human habitation.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Advent of Korean Wave in Africa: Cultural Connection or Fascination about Material Modernity?

Out here in rural Africa, cinemas are non-existent and TV access require expensive satellite dishes that few people can afford.  To entertain themselves during their free time, locals tend to buy cheap pirated DVDs for computer gaming, or more commonly, drama series and movies.  Carts and shops selling these DVDs exist not just in market towns but even some bigger villages, allowing common people to access some of the latest visual entertainment from the outside world at quite affordable prices (if not the best of quality).

Friday, January 1, 2016

"There is the High, the Low, but Not Much in the Middle"

That was the key phrase of the night as the author found himself at a posh poolside bar on the rooftop of an otherwise ordinary-looking hotel inside a walled compound of an obscure side street.  It was the last few minutes of 2015, and this neighborhood, like any other in Nairobi after nightfall, remained dark, quiet, and devoid of pedestrians.  But as soon as the heavy metal gates of the high-security walled compounds are flung open, a whole new world opens up.  Smartly dressed young locals and expats (but vast majority being locals) headed up to where the DJ was keeping the music thumping.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Do People Take Bureaucratic Rules Less Seriously Due to Bureaucrats' Attitudes?

Fact: not a single time that the author entered or left Tanzania through its main international airport was he able to go through its lines and paperwork without at least some sort of impeding actions by the immigration officials.  On the way out, it ranges anywhere from "where were you this whole time?"  "why were you here so long?"  "why do you keep coming and going?"  (OK, maybe the last one is quite reasonable, since this supposed resident has been leaving the country once a month for the last three or four months).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Can a City Go from Nothing to Virtual, without the Physical Infrastructure?

In multiple occasions on this blog, the author mentioned how he misses the convenience store culture that is prevalent in many parts of urban East and Southeast Asia.  The ability to walk out to the streets from one's residence or office for five minutes, and find food, drinks, basic medicine, and other daily needs just seem so fitting to a city of the future where dependency on automobiles for personal transport is drastically reduced.  Naturally he thinks that dense cities with pedestrian-friendly blocks of dense street-level shops surrounded by high-rise residential buildings is fitting with that future.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Should One Believe in the Security of Barricaded Compounds Anymore?

Another week, another news of terrorism wrecking havoc.  This time the setting is a high-end hotel frequented by high-flying foreigners in Bamako, the capital of recently politically unstable Mali.  The gunmen shot past the armed guards and front barricades of the building, taking over the building and picking off more than a dozen of foreign guests before being killed in a counter-assault by Malian and French commandos.  With the world still so focused on the aftermath of the Paris attacks, comparatively less attention has been given to Bamako, but for this attack can be more significant.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Memories of Past Disunity as Precondition for Present Unity

Over the past few years, some international media outlets are starting to label Rwanda as "the Singapore of Africa."  On the surface, the idea is ridiculous.  The international commercial and financial depot that is Singapore is at least 60 times as wealthy as Rwanda in terms of per capita income, and the two economies share little in terms of economic structure and development history.  Rwanda's landlocked nature, and the fact that it is surrounded by neighbors with dismal infrastructure, means that strictly following the Singapore model will get Rwanda nowhere.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pride of the Local and the Prejudice of the NGO Professional

Upon arriving at the Kigali Airport on his three-day trip in Rwanda, the author was greeted at the arrival gate of the beautifully constructed and maintained building by a young, uniformed taxi driver.  "Where would you like to go, sir?" the young man respectfully half-bowed and politely asked in fluent English.  The author, usually doubtful of airport taxi solicitors (too many bad memories of getting ripped off in Asia), was initially a bit hesitant to disclose his destination, but quickly relented when shown the car in the impressively well-organized rank of uniform and clean blue taxis.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Sino-American Relations of Not-So-Devolved Bystanders

In front of a downtown hotel in the dusty highway town of Mbeya on Tanzania's far western borderlands with Zambia and Malawi, "the China World" shop still overflows with imported electronic goods coming through distant ports.  Among the goods that arrived via possibly two days of rough slow ride on trucks from the far eastern coast are supposedly the latest cellphones from China.  Advertised on big colorful banners as "high-resolution videos and crystal-clear sounds," the possibly exaggerated descriptions of shockingly inexpensive devices begged first-hand demonstrations as proof.  The permanently emotionless Chinese shop-owner has no qualms about turning on some music videos on these devices for his curious Tanzanian clients.  Out came the sounds and dances of the latest American hip-hop hits, something that the middle-aged shop-owner with little English skills could care any less about.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Pessimism from Empty Promises

Near Iringa's dusty airstrip that sees one flight a day to Dar es Salaam, the villages of Nduli ward remains ironically isolated from the reminder of an otherwise NGO-saturated town.  Speaking to village officials, the author discovered that Nduli, despite being the gateway where practically every single NGO professional in Iringa launched their local careers, have not seen any NGO activity since a full year ago.  And even that one instance one year ago was a small-time trial that never became something significant before its abrupt end.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Attending to Omnipresent Attention

At the end of a poorly maintained tarmac road, crossing a wooden bridge that cracks a bit too loudly every time a motor vehicle drives over it, and then going up a dirt hill...a journey to a remote populated corner of the larger Iringa district brings one to, well, something a bit different.  On the top of the hill is a massive brick cathedral, reminiscent of southern Europe, surrounded by a slew of carefully crafted buildings that also would not feel out of place on the northern continent.  Still, the little area established by Italian missionaries see few visitors, perhaps increasing the level of curiosity showered upon a foreigner.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The White Elephants on Top of Red Dirt

Being the nation's young capital city, Dodoma is becoming a small city with a big political heart.  Extending beyond the obvious presence of political buildings such as grand headquarters of the national parliament and its ruling party, the power of "political money" is starting to permeate every aspect of an otherwise plain and dusty population center of 150,000 people.  Just by looking at its surprisingly orderly cityscape, travelers can comprehend the enormous efforts politicians place in sprucing up the capital so that it is fitting for what they consider East Africa's most potential-filled nation.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Cultual Roots of "Simple Fun"

For a small town where locals do not seem to make much money, Iringa is surprisingly not devoid of nightlife spots.  Blaring into the town's dark main streets without proper street lighting on Friday nights are sounds of American hip-hop mixed in with distinctive local Tanzanian pop music.  Once one walks in, the joyfully dancing local live bands and DJs are joined on the dance floor by crowds of both locals and expats (usually of the white American or European kind), grooving to tunes that are often not found in Western clubs dominated by electronic or house music.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A University Graduate Living on Four Dollars a Day and a Prostitute Making 100 USD an Hour

Back in town at Iringa, the town that graciously hosted the author for the previous interview trip from a month ago, there was a job advertisement on one of the lamppost on the main street leading to the bustling central market.  A renowned international organization was hiring local stuff to do market research and data analyses to help determine the best strategies to gain access to target markets.  In its brief description, the high expectations for the job is clear.  To get the job done, computer and critical thinking skills, a rarity in this mostly farming community, are obviously essential.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

令人悲哀的古跡商業化

上海安遠路玉佛禪寺。一個經歷幾個世紀風雨,度過多次毀而修、修而毀的古刹,今日已不見當年的輝煌。雖然内部佛像依舊完整、傲氣逼人,但其地址已是在一個再普通不過的住宅區内。若不是地圖的標記和路人的指點,著者也不會從一個再平常不過的一個地鐵站走多少個街區將其尋出。不過找到時的興奮還是有的。在一個一棟又一棟、參差不齊但外貌相同的住宅樓叢林中,一個古典木製寺院顯得異常突出,并給一個普通的街區帶來莫名的歷史感。

Saturday, July 25, 2015

What is "Our Country" for the Ethnic Koreans in China?

The Chinese-North Korean border is an interesting place, and not particularly because of sighting what happens across the river in the eerily quiet North Korean border towns.  Tens of thousands of both Chinese and foreign tourists come to the Tumen and Yalu Rivers that make up the border to point fingers at the few North Korean passers-by on the other side, but few bothers to observe the border towns on the Chinese side, where Han Chinese ethnic Koreans, and many refugees of North Korean nationality live side-by-side among the influx of tourists.