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.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
at 4:01 PM
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
at 1:08 PM
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
at 12:25 PM
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
at 9:21 AM
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
at 3:45 AM
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
at 7:11 AM
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
at 6:03 AM
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
at 4:08 AM
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
at 12:05 PM
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
at 11:26 AM
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
at 12:59 PM
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
at 10:00 AM
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
at 10:30 AM
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
at 6:26 AM
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
at 9:09 AM
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
at 10:25 AM
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
at 2:55 AM
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
Saturday, July 25, 2015
at 11:18 PM
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.