پولۇ Polo (Xinjiang, China)

Ürümqi- Polo 1From the portion size, you can tell they knew I was coming.  From the reused cooking oil, you can tell I knew what I was getting into.

I consumed this tasty polo, better known to much of the world as mutton pilaf, at a hole-in-the-wall behind a cement truck in Ürümqi, Xinjiang, China.  I got on a bus hoping to get to one of the train stations, and I ended up in a construction zone that made you wish you were running a marathon on a Beijing ring road.

Ordinarily, I’d shy away from this unctuous clump of lukewarm rice with carrots and mutton, but 手抓饭 shǒuzhuā​fàn “rice seized with your hands” (or  炸饭zháfàn “exploded rice”) can count Xinjiang as one of its ancestral homes.  At Xinjiang restaurants in Shenzhen, the Chinese city where I’ve spent the most time, it’s often extremely oily and served at places that won’t give you change for ten kuai (~US$1.64 these days)-  who am I kidding, that’s everywhere.  It’s also sweet, for the carrots impart a flavor that I prefer to reserve for dessert.

Ürümqi- Polo 2That’s the actual serving size.  Oh LOOK, more carrots, but those were a nice, vinegary side dish this time.  Tepid tea made with the freshest tap water, a table that looks like Ocean Drive in Miami and a spoon used by all of Xinjiang finish off the autumnal meal.  Judging only by that quintessential Uyghur lunch, I wouldn’t be loathe to order it again.

How does polo sound to you?

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Taiwan, ever UNinvited

Taiwan, or the Republic of China had served as the sole representative of “China” since the founding of the United Nations in 1945.  They were finally expelled in favor of growing international support for the mainland, or the People’s Republic of China, on October 25, 1971.  Though communism was an early contributing factor as to why the PRC was not given a seat at the U.N. by other prominent countries, China gradually won over Western leaders by not being the Soviet Union.

Though this photo was taken in 2005 – back when Taipei‘s main airport was still called Chiang Kai-Shek International, (named for the strongman generalissimo of Taiwan who fought against Mao Zedong), I’m guessing this issue could be raised again under Taiwan’s current “we’re already independent” president, 蔡英文. 

Regardless of your opinion of the effectiveness of the UN, it’s a rather unique advertisement, no?

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Ethiopian Chechebsa

Addis Ababa - ChechebsaChechebsa, or kita firfir, is a nauseatingly filling breakfast item from Ethiopia.  In one sitting, I’ve eaten six slices of a New York (pizza) pie in a sitting, obscene amounts of cheap sushi and half of a lemon- don’t be envious, even though the seat cushions were – but finishing a bowl of this, nay even 3/4 of a bowl proved insurmountable.

So, get to the point: the main ingredients are kita, a wheat bread similar to chappati that also contains the Ethiopian spice blend berbere, and niter kibbe, or clarified butter.  It’s all fried, then chopped up and placed in front of unsuspecting ferenji looking to waste their vacation time writhing in agony in bed instead of touring the sites of Addis Ababa.  Bonus: For all of those mysophobic readers, this is a rare dish from that part of the world that you don’t need to enjoy with your hands.  You know, the bowl and spoon were washed in the local human spray, but at least your hands catch a break.

Without honey, I would’ve been in much more trouble.  As a dessert in small quantities, it’s nice.  Rich, but agreeable.

It’s a dessert!

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Separate Checks

During my last visit to Japan, I finally tried the Kani Douraku (かに道楽) restaurant chain, that time in Kyoto.  They specialize in crab, or the kani in the Kani Douraku name.

Admittedly, I quite enjoyed the meal, though I couldn’t help but notice something stand out on the check:

The first line reads あかり男性.  The word あかり (akari) is harmless enough, and means “light” or “glow.”  The second, 男性 (dansei) however can be translated as “male,” or “men’s.”  Indeed, when the waitress took our order, she asked which of the three of us (two males, one female) would be eating the akari course.  Same price, of course.

Ladies, if you’re in the mood for Kani Douraku, and you have a big appetite, hire a man to order for you.  Or, bring this post to the waitstaff’s attention.

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A Brief Tour of Al Balad, the Historic Center of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Al Balad Building with Roshan, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Although I was quite looking forward to visiting Al Balad, the historic section of Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, I was already slightly disappointed before my first visit.  Due to various reasons which I will not delve into here  (for starters, check out this link), much of Al Balad had been destroyed within the past century.  That said, although this part of Jeddah was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014- though, which place isn’t these days? – the methods by which numerous buildings are now being restored are highly dubious.

If you’re curious about a brief history of Jeddah/Al Balad, it was roughly in the mid-600s AD when this Red Sea port became prominent.  Around that time, it is believed that Islam‘s influence began to spread; indeed, as Jeddah was the closest port to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, traders, pilgrims, and merchants from all over Asia, Africa, and other regions began to settle in what is now Al Balad.

The fierce sun and heat, as well as rapidly growing populations caused buildings to be constructed very close together, as if to keep out as much sunlight as possible.  Unique windows called roshan, which provided both privacy and air circulation, were a typical design of the time.  Furthermore, as Jeddah’s Red Sea location incidentally played host to a vast coral reef, much of the masonry in Al Balad counts coral as its main ingredient.

You can also find remnants of city gates and walls, from when Jeddawis had to defend their city from potential attacks by the Mamluks and the Portuguese.

Al Balad Buildings with Roshan, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

As you may have guessed, during the day it’s hot year-round in Jeddah.  So, when I made it to Al Balad at around 14:30 on a Saturday afternoon (the weekend here is Friday-Saturday), it was quite empty.  In other words, excellent for photographing buildings, but yep, it’s a scorcher.  Come 17:00 or better yet, 21:00, and it’s zakhma, or packed with people and wares.

Al Balad Building (under construction) with Roshan, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Al Balad Excavation Site, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Al Balad Building, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Al Balad Buildings with Multicolored Roshan, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Fancy a visit to Al Balad?  Try the visa-free version first.

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But Did You Know That I’d Lose My Wallet?: The Japan Edition

Coincidentally, I did lose my wallet during my first trip to Japan.  The details are rather fuzzy – it happened in 2000 – but it did shock me that it happened in a country known for actually having rather full lost-and-found bins.

Rather than sulk over that one incident from seventeen years ago, I bring to you today one of my stalwart coping mechanisms– Japanese signs.

Previously, I have opined that Japanese department stores are likely the greatest in the world.  The basements are usually full of food, the highest floors generally have restaurants, and there’s bound to be a vending machine lurking somewhere in between.  Then, you have the periodic food festivals happening on the top floors.  Clearly, I hate food.

Occasionally, there will be another fair, event or point of interest on the topmost floor.  If there’s no obvious signage on the ground floor, I’ll make my way upwards, if for nothing else than a view of the city.  During a visit two months ago to Zeze, Shiga prefecture, right along scenic Lake Biwa, I spotted a new one at the Seibu Otsu:

Language lesson time.  The word on the upper line reads レストラン (re-su-to-ran), or restaurant.  OK, nothing out of the ordinary there.

But the bottom two words were what made the visit worth it.

On the left, we have 占い (うらない・oo-ra-nigh), or “fortune-telling.”  Sometimes, that’s shortened to 占; you may have noticed these booths scattered about Ginza, Tokyo at night, or on random streets/at events throughout the country. 

On the right, it says 保険 (ほけん・ho-ken), or “insurance.”

Admittedly, I got a good chuckle out of this one.  Did the department store think about how amusing that combination was?  For instance, the fortune-teller warns that you there will be a flood next month, so you run to the insurance counter to pick up flood insurance.  Better yet, the fortune-teller predicts that your sushi (at one of the department store’s restaurants) will be mostly raw, so…what do you?

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Cinema Rossiya in Yerevan, Armenia

It’s quite obvious that I’m willing to travel out of my way – which amusingly puts things “in my way” – to observe (what I believe to be) unusual examples of architecture.

Though, how does one define “out of the way?”  No planes available?  No roads?  So remote they don’t even sell pancake juice?  No matter what your definition is, I’d say that specimens of the Brutalist architectural style are fortunately often found within capitals and major cities, thus going easy on those visitors pressed for time.  In today’s case, we have the Cinema Rossiya, which can be found in Yerevan, Glendale Armenia:

Constructed between 1968 and 1975 by Armenian architects Spartak Khachikyan, Hrachik Poghosyan, and Artur Tarkhanyan, Cinema Rossiya, later known as Soviets Rossiya and Aryarat, was built to resemble the lower and higher peaks of the revered Armenian symbol of Mt. Ararat…except that Mt. Ararat is geographically located in Turkey.  Ehh, read a bit about the regional history and you’ll understand.

Sadly, Cinema Rossiya has gone to the dogs, and most of it has become a knock-off clothing shopping mall.  If you’d like to pay this anachronistic canoe of a building a visit, it’s right above the Zoravar Andranik metro station, close to downtown Yerevan.

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