Foreigner

Just as being human can have its pros and cons, so can being a foreigner.  No kidding, right?

I can blend in throughout a fair amount of the world.  Rummaging through bazaars and souks in Istanbul, Cairo and Dearborn are mostly hassle-free, in many parts of Southeast Asia my doppelgängers run amok and in Northeast Asia, I’m ok – from the nape up.  Unrelated tourist tip: commit to memory, the location and names of a few different neighborhoods of where you are visiting.  Even if you haven’t been there before, pretend to taxis or hotels that you know the score.

But then when the cat is let out of the bag, – for instance, when someone says something to me in a language I don’t understand, or when I use soap to wash my hands – that’s when the adventure starts.  No more sauntering into mosques without a hitch, no more ten-cent falafel and no more wandering into the prohibited parts of town:

Yangon - Foreigners Prohibited

Not that the average Burmese resident would confuse me for a peer, but I wasn’t sure why this section very close to The Strand Hotel in Yangon was closed off.  Judging by her reaction, nor was this vendor.  Naturally, I was very hungry, and all of those stalls in the background were awfully tempting…

Shenzhen - Bar Near Shanghai Hotel (No Japanese)

Although this particular Shenzhen, China bar no longer exists (I took the photo in 2006), it’s rather forthcoming proof of a comeuppance for Japanese visitors.  You see, numerous bars in Japan are not keen on rolling out the welcome mat for the rest of the world.  That is, foreign clients aren’t welcome, but female hostesses are.

In any event, this sign reads, from the left “{Prime Minister} Koizumi worships the devil (at Yasukuni Shrine) Six Times, on the right “Militarism” and in the center “Japanese people forbidden from entering.”  No word-mincing here.  Or here.

Or it could be that only foreigners are allowed:

Colombo- Bally's Lounge (Only for Foreigners)
Bally’s is a discotheque in Colombo, Sri Lanka, though I’m not sure as to what distinguishes it from any other…the presence of restrooms, perhaps?

Pyongyang - Bowling Alley (Only Foreigners)

Likely the most random of the four photos, I shot this at a bowling alley in Pyongyang.

Upon looking up what 좌식변기 is defined as, “legless toilet” seems to be a popular choice.  In other words, Westerners rejoice.


Have you come across similarly alluring signs in your travels?

In Other Words, An Airport Terminal

Shanghai- Delayed Flight Lounge

I can’t remember exactly which Shanghai, China airport it was where I spotted this dubious “delayed flight lounge,” but you can be sure that it is no different from the rest of the terminal.  Not to mention, when considering the usual on-time records at Chinese airports, I’m still questioning the reasoning behind this idea.


 

Chinese Lesson

延误 yán​wu= Delay
候机厅 hòu​jī​tīng= Departure Terminal

 

Things the World Needed: Tianjin, China’s Ferris Wheel-in-a-Bridge

Tianjin - Tianjin Eye Ferris Wheel

It’s not quite  Tokyo’s “Big O,” but I’ll give China credit once again for gratuitous randomness.

Located in the city of Tianjin, a quick train ride just south of Beijing, the Tianjin Eye (天津之眼摩天轮) opened in mid-2008.  What makes this Ferris wheel stand out is the fact that it is located in the middle of the Yongle Bridge, close to West Tianjin train station.  Why create a separate amusement park when there’s plenty of space downtown?

They should dedicate an hour everyday for cars to take a spin.

 

 

Food From the Maldives: Illiterate Indigestion

Beaches, at least while I’m traveling solo, are at the bottom of the list of priorities.  I might head towards one for a sunset shot, to try local seafood or to admire the terrain, but not to kick back for a few hours.

Thus, you can imagine my…imagination’s surprise when I flew to the Maldives for a few days in January 2008.  OK, my goal at the time was the Indonesian Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, so visiting the Maldives was a result of geographic convenience.

Beyond snorkeling (slaloming) between schools of tropical fish and rubbish floating by a jetty near Hulhumale’ and getting nauseous from diesel fumes from the public boats, I wasn’t sure what else to do.

Oh, right.  Let’s explore Maldivian food.

Right off the bat, you should know that fish, specifically skipjack tuna, is THE staple of the Maldives.  The canned (tinned for British English viewers) variety is more and more common, but traditionally the tuna was cured – in this case, boiled, smoked and sun-choked – into a product called ari.  Coconuts are also par for the course.

Secondly, I was glad though unsurprised that English was often present.  I had no idea how to say anything in Dhivehi, and the written script looked like one’s breath was trying its damnedest to communicate.

That said, here’s when I had a generally good sense of what I ordered:

Food in the Maldives -  (2)

The first meal I ate in the Maldives was appropriately a tuna-centric one.  It tasted canned, and the chapati – known locally as roshi – was lukewarm at best.  What a disappointment.

Maybe I’m being too hard on the food.  I drank the water, so that’s probably where the disappointment set in.

Food in the Maldives -  (3)

The server knew me well.

Food in the Maldives -  (7)

Oops, more water.

Wandering around downtown Male’ on one of my empty stomachs, I sought refuge in a bustling short eats hole-in-the-wall.

What’s on the menu?  Fried things, round fried things, fried round things, and tuna.  With coconut, fried.  And heavily sweetened tea.  And tuna.

The first plates come by.  The lighter things in the lower-left are called gulha, made with tuna, coconut and chilies, and the darker ones are kavaabu, fried with tuna, potatoes and lime.  To the right, we have riha folhi, curried tuna rolls, and in the back, unfortunately I don’t recall the names.  The yellow item that looks like a swimming turtle is NOT an egg, and the glutinous cubes behind it didn’t have much taste.  It’s safe to say that neither of those contained tuna.  Can anyone identify those snacks?

Food in the Maldives -  (4)

Add the fish curry to the list of foods that made me suffer dearly.  I couldn’t speak for a few minutes because it was flippin’ spicy.  That the rice was boiling hot didn’t help things, nor did the spicy vegetables (including red onions, another Maldivian favorite).  Which is to say, I’d order that curry again, if only I knew the name…

Food in the Maldives -  (5)

Papaya shake.  Although I often think papayas have a Bubblicious aftertaste, they are refreshing in shake-form.  What’s the BuildingMyBento standard?  No sugar, no ice.  That’s usually a woeful order. (Ever try warm cucumber juice?  I couldn’t take a second sip.)

Now it’s time to go into the “what am I ordering” category:

Food in the Maldives -  (6)

You’re supposed to spit it out?  No wonder the Maldives is so popular with Chinese tourists.

This potent combination of a stimulant – the areca nut, cinnamon, cloves, and calcium hydroxide (to help with absorption) usually follows a Maldivian meal. That is, I thought it was a dessert, so down the hatch a handful went.

Another afternoon wasted.

Also odd how calcium hydroxide makes its second appearance in two weeks on my blog, yet has never been mentioned before then.

Food in the Maldives -  (1)

The warning notice and the Chinese on the bottom should have been enough, but I still dared to try a thimble’s worth of khaini, ready-to-roll tobacco.  Who needs Amsterdam when the Maldives are ready to serve you.


Have you tried Maldivian cuisine?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying Socks in China: Tougher Than It Sounds

Before visiting China for the first time in August 2003, I truly expected to find clothes cleaners (洗染店 xǐ​rǎn​diàn) all over the place.  Was this the first thing on my mind as I landed in Guilin?  No.  It was the second.  The first was “do I have SARS?”

Frankly speaking, I don’t recall seeing even one brick-and-mortar launderer in Guilin.  Successive trips to China and Hong Kong have shown me that washing clothes is still very much done at home, and drying clothes is for ANYWHERE you can find space.

In order to do that, you first need to own clothes.

Shanghai - Shoe Socks
I took this photo in Shanghai in 2008.  The sign – which in Chinese, reads wà​zi, or socks – is immensely confounding.  Where are the shoes?  The socks?  The employees?

I’m not even talking about the bizarre sign.  It looks like a store that sells fish, keys and blades, you know, not socks.  MacGyver would be proud.

All of this thinking made me hungry.

Mexican Tequesquite: It Is What It Is (So, What Is It?)

Today, I took a trip to Roosevelt Ave. on the eastern frontier of Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City.  The mission expressly revolved around eating food from Mexico.  Continue walking east on Roosevelt Ave. towards Corona, and finding a taco will be as easy as finding a plastic surgeon in Seoul.

I walked into a Mexican supermarket called Bravo and strolled right up to the wall of dried herbs and who-knows-what.  Which is to say, I-know-what, because an amateur background in food and Spanish – in addition to knowing a fair amount of English – comes in handy when sifting through small packets of albahaca (basil), perejil seco (dried parsley) and tomillo (thyme).

Usually…

Jackson Heights - Tequesquite (Mexico)

Known as such.  What am I supposed to make of that? Did someone royally screw up spelling mesquite?  At first glance, it looks like clay, or ancestors of Triscuits.  Clay…are we in Johannesburg again?

Tequesquite, what are you? Similar to salt but composed of various minerals, it originates from the depths of various lakes in what is now Distrito Federal (Mexico City) and the state of MichoacánTrivia time: Name two more Mexican states (if you say Texas, I’d like to see your globe).  The word stems from the Náhuatl language, whereas tetl means rock and quixquitl signifies gushing or sprouting.  During the dry seasons, the beds of salt lakes such as Texcoco would be exposed, thus giving rise to the practical uses of tequesquite.

Aztecs and their descendants predominantly used tequesquite to leaven corn dough, but it was also used to soften corn kernels as well as preserve the green color of nopales, or cacti.  On your next trip to Mexico, when you order a tamale or a corunda, its triangular cousin from Michoacán, you might have tequesquite to thank.

Oh, and as for assigning it an English name, there’s a possibility that builder’s or slack lime are contenders.  Slightly off-putting for use on supermarket shelves, but I can hear an avant-garde Home Depot calling its name.

 


Have you ever made tamales?  Were you able to find tequesquite?

My Allegorical Passport

Firstly, I’ll admit that this post was inspired by one on Flyertalk.

Having a passport from the ol’ US isn’t such a bad thing, if you take a look at how many countries US citizens can visit without requiring a visa, or a visa in advance.  Not that I’m necessarily interested in visiting most of those places – I might need to go to Chinatown to get a Thai passport instead – but hey, we’ve got Venezuela (somehow?) and Western Sahara on them!

In any event, collecting passport stamps used to be fun…for me, but never for immigration officials.  However, now that the US government charges citizens to add pages – I wonder how many pages long that act was; never mind that the I-589 is free – I’m not as keen these days.  Yes, I know that those of us in the states are spoiled by getting passports valid for 10-years and also for being able to add pages, but stop for a minute and think about how embarrassing visa page additions can be.  It serves as an embarrassing allegory for the Department of State.

Jonathan's Passport (2)

Everything is big in America.

Jonathan's Passport (1)
Generally, at this stage in my (now expired; that’s why the front page is hole-punched) passport’s life, border control agents would give up and stamp anywhere they could find space.  This included the signature page and the back page.

Two anecdotes that I recall are a Lebanese immigration officer getting angry that my Lao visa was written in Hebrew, and a hostel owner in Dublin adding a Post-it® to my cover page which read “American Guy’s Passport.”
Jonathan's Passport (3)
What is represented on these two pages – passport stamps from China and Hong Kong – is why my passport had to loosen its belt binding.  While I was living in Shenzhen, the Chinese city that borders Hong Kong, it was extremely easy to hop over the border.  Did I have a reason to do so?  Nah.  For instance, need to use the restroom?  Go to HK.  Want to buy a more expensive bottle of water?  There’s a 7-11 right after HK immigration.  Want to yawn in two different places in five minutes?  Hoooooong Kong.

I can’t forget the most important one– ran out of visa pages?:

Jonathan's Passport (4)

These days, it’s not as much of an issue – neither Hong Kong nor Macao, among a few other places, offer stamps anymore.


No matter where you hail from, do you still like getting passport stamps?  What is the process for getting/renewing passports in your country?