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FRIDAY, AUGUST 6, 2004

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Expat's Exotic Trip to Colorado Godzilla-Free
By Japan Window 7/31 1:43pm EDT
I'm drinking it all in. We've been looking forward to this trip for about a year. It's a chance to do things that we "can't" do in Japan. "Can't" is an exaggeration, but it's certainly difficult for us to enjoy the outdoors from our home in Japan. It's not all Japan's fault. Three kids change your life quite a bit. Plus, we're living in Tokyo, not Hokkaido or Nagano. Like most really big cities, Tokyo is not the greatest place for someone who loves the outdoors. Then again, we're surpisingly close to the mountains. In fact, we're just a 2 hour drive from Nagano, the gateway to the "Japanese Alps." So today, as we were walking along, my wife said something like: "When we get back to Japan we need to keep doing things like this somehow." Maybe that was wishful thinking, or altitude sickness. She was barely hobbling along at that point and perhaps fantasizing. But seriously, I was thinking the same thing. Get on the train. Get in the car. Take the kids up and teach them how to sleep in a tent and rough it a little; with no Onsen; no big tray of food with 16 little items on it waiting at breakfast. Those trays are nice, by the way. I eat all that stuff right up.

International Fashion Crime Syndicate Headquartered In Moldova
By Anders 7/21 12:28am EDT
Stefan Cel Mare is the busiest street and the main drag – as busy and happening as Moldova gets. Most government buildings, the national theatre, the opera house, and department stores lie here on a stretch of around a mile. Here is where the stark contrasts are. Mendicants next to Gucci stores. French-style coffee shops next to street stall popcorn for less than a dime. High heels and gold chain next to the frazzled jogging suits that have become the ultimate in post-Soviet male chic. There is a noveau riche atmosphere about many of the people: wealth is there to show off, with no regard for subtlety. And the longing for the West is there. If you have not been there, you would do anything to go. If you have been there, you show it off. With your Mercedes (invariably!), your American sweatshirts, your baseball caps, your gold bracelet, or simply by shouting in heavily accented English into a cell phone.

Saudi Touts Benefits Of Anywhere But Here
By The Religious Policeman 6/24 10:48pm EDT
As I've said before, the idea of attracting tourists here, apart from pilgrims, is a total nonsense. Yes, we have a few old ruins, but nothing like as good as in Jordan and Egypt. We have excellent diving in the unpolluted Red Sea, but you can dive in the Red Sea from Egypt. We have lots of desert to trek in, but you can do that also from the Emirates or Oman. And we have good shopping, but not as good as Dubai. And overlying all of this is the fact that Saudi Arabia, in spite of the basic friendliness of its people, is so unwelcoming to tourists. Imagine a trip to Orlando where Disneyworld ejected its visitors at regular intervals for prayer time; where the Muttawa, no doubt dressed up as Mickey Mouse, asked to see your marriage certificate; where your wife was forced to dress in black, head-to-toe artificial fabric. The only possible group who might be attracted would be "cultural tourists", but it would definitely be a case of "look but don't photograph", unless one wants to sample the cultural experience of a Saudi Jail.
Estonian Taste Factor Goes From A Little To A Latte
By Gastropoda 6/12 9:39pm EDT
Even without the back story, Estonia would be one of the most seductive destinations anywhere in Europe. But starting a visit with someone who grew up under Soviet rule and remembers the days of stringent rationing when a big bar of chocolate would bribe the way into the doctor’s office made it seem even more marvelous, in every sense of the word. Our connection, Maarten Kross, is the son of a renowned writer who was shipped off to Siberia and once saw green coffee beans in a shop there. When he tried to buy them, Maarten said, the owner said no, they were worthless -- she had tried to boil them the day before and after three hours they were still hard. Half an hour after that sad laugh, we were sitting down to huge and excellent lattes in a cafe called Moskva that made Soho seem stuffy.
Exploring Outer Regions of South America Brings Hardship, Wasted Days, and New Friends
By Western Affront 6/3 3:22pm EDT
No tourists ever travel by train through Argentina, because the bus system is so good. But I was feeling experimental. The ride didn't disappoint. It was every bit as long, cold, and sleepless as I expected. I shared my hard bench seat with a weary-looking woman with a baby and a mullet. Though I'm not sure I'd repeat it, the big plus of this trek was that the track runs through areas that are way off the highway, allowing me little glimpses of towns you couldn't see from a bus. The land is flat and arid, a lot like Texas. In the afternoon of the second day, hills began to slope around us, and purple mountains emerged on the horizon as the sun set and Tucuman appeared ahead, a glowing, welcome sight.
Exotic Schmexotic, Croatian Women Have Rounder Asses
By Luboknovich Saltwater Blogs 6/2 10:51pm EDT
Croatian women... they are like Poles but their ears aren't as big and their skin is a few shades darker and their asses rounder. They also have more beauty marks, but not an excessive number. Have we, as men, been tricked into finding beauty marks beautiful simply because they are monikered as such? I think so! Also, have we, as men, decided that so called "exotic" women are more attractive because in sacking them we (in a sense) are acting on an imperialistic urge? Fodder for lunch, perhaps. But why else would we covet them, so?
Tight-Knit Mexican Family Moves Drunk American to Tears
By Erica Nix 6/1 10:04am EDT
And then there was this family having a birthday party with ceviche and beer. a lot of beer. Infact, they seemed to have so much beer that they couldn't keep it to themselves. I drank so much of their beer, I was starting to get emotional. Mexican families. They are not like american families. Well, maybe they are. They are not like my family. We all live so far from each other. Mothers never want to swim with their clothes on. Okay, maybe that's typicalfor any person, but when I saw this mother dip into the river in her clothes and play with her baby son, I seriously thought I would cry.
Eritrea Is Out Of This World!
By Tabby in Eritrea 5/30 2:10pm EDT
Nancy: "Hello, I'm inquiring about 2 bags that are being shipped to Eritrea. The reference numbers are B14792 and B14805. They were shipped on September 6, and it has been nearly 2 weeks." Representative of XBG: "Hello, yes, let me see. Just a minute. [pause]. Hi, ok, I'm sorry, but your bags have stopped at Frankfurt. We didn't know where Eritrea is, so we were not able to send your luggage. Eritrea, never heard of it, what a weird country. Your bags will be auctioned off in 4 weeks." Strange world. A cargo company, based at an international airport with multiple flights per week going to Eritrea, is unable to send luggage (via air, no less) because location of said country is unknown. Strange world.
Cannes Isn't Nice, I'll Go To Monaco
By Platonic 5/29 8:32pm EDT
Cannes is very commercial.  I was at a conference in the Palais de Congres, and it seems like the whole town is geared towards hosting conferences, then the film festival, then more conferences.  Nice is a much more enjoyable town to visit, or even St Tropez.  My favourite place along this stretch of coast is a tiny place called Eze, which is built on a spike of rock sticking out of the coastline not far from Monaco.  The only way into Eze is by climbing a set of steep stairs and paths which are cut into the side of the rock.  The village itself is glued onto the side of this pinnacle in a most precarious way, but it has been there for many hundreds of years.  There are breathtaking views from the top and from the terrace of a hotel there, where you can get afternoon tea and gaze out at the mediterranean in uninterrupted peace.
One Wedding and a Korpo
By Francis Strand 7/31 1:53pm EDT
The way to Korpo Island in the vast Finnish archipelago begins with a flight into Turku. Roughly the equivalent of say, Providence, Rhode Island, Turku has an equally faded if a far more glorious past. A cursory 45-minute stroll in grey summer drizzle, the cheap Swedish brands in the tired shops clustered around the main square, the desperate-looking stalls in the middle of the square, everything exudes that cranky, weighed-down feel of a minor provincial city, the people somehow more suspicious and unfriendly than in a place more cosmopolitan and sure of itself. Korpo itself will be far greener than you expected, farms and cows and cottages and the sea, side by side by side by side. The church on Korpo, stone and some 800 years old, is more ancient than you had imagined, the bride even more beautiful and the priest, your good friend, will be no longer nervous about getting everything perfect for her little sister the bride, which somehow then makes everything perfect even if the organist has surpassed the awfulness of the organist at a wedding you were at in Malaysia once, playing very badly an ugly Finnish march by an obscure Finnish composer called Melartinin, a march that lasts some five minutes longer than it takes for the bride and groom to make it to the altar.
Incans Continue Musical Conquest of Old Europe
By Eeksy-Peeksy 5/27 1:55am EDT
In a city square that is still called the coal market, one of the old annual fairs. This place is as old as tea, older if you count from the day the first ship tied up here with tea in the hold. By that clock, it's older than coffee and cocoa and tobacco, older than tomatoes and potatoes and corn, older than the first turkey. As in Breughel's Tower of Babel, the cranes that unloaded ships here were powered by men who walked in squirrel cages. In the sun just now, two black men and a young black boy sit among their rows of shoes. Under the main tent, a Chinese man sits in front of anatomical illustrations and waits to sell herbal mixtures. On the sidewalk near the torture house, what could be Incans sell CDs of traditional instruments and drum machines. The Slavic townsfolk fill the market and look for something new.

Skies Don't Fall in Gay Paris, But Ceilings Do
By Brian Kane 5/25 4:05pm EDT
You'll forgive me if I'm a little weirded out about the collapse of the terminal at Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris over the weekend. We spent several hours in that very place on our journey home from Paris last fall. I even took some pictures, as I recall, because we were so amazed at the sheer beauty and elegance of the terminal. We weren't aware at the time that it had only been open for a few months, nor were we aware that it had been a problematic effort to build it. Of all the possible disasters one imagines thinking about transcontinental air travel these days, the last thing I would have thought about that afternoon was that the building might collapse on top of me at any moment.
Sweet Old Man Shows American Adventurer Where the Real People Live in Sayulita
By Erica 5/24 2:01pm EDT
hey kids. wow. I am pretty tired. I took a nap to try to wake up again. the bars in Puerto Vallarta don't even open until midnight. Two days ago, I think, I let an old man take me to his home. I know. I know. but there was soemthing about his oldness that made me feel safe. he was very old, and drunk, and he had front teeth where he didn't have bottom teeth, and vise versa. so it looked like he had a full mouth of teeth until he talked. then the jig saw puzzle in his mouth would fall apart. We walked all around Sayulita. I saw the part where only locals live. There were many stores along the way, and it was my friend's habit to stop at each of them, drop off an empty bottle and pick up a ice cold beer. Needless to say the old man got me a little drunk. So far it was my most romantic in Sayulita.
Downtown Anchorage Maddens Nomad
By Travel blips 7/17 1:16am EDT
Then I began to draw close to 'downtown' and felt like hitting my head and going, "Doh!" What if downtown Anchorage was like Downtown anywhere in America (except San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Boston)? By that, I mean  a dive... As I got closer, it seemed even more and more likely. Small town America with a few 'high rises' - nothing more than 17 stories (it seemed) - and vast blocks of parking spaces... Sure enough, here it was. Downtown tourist Anchorage. 2 blocks of fun-filled stores filled to overflowing with t-shirts, sweaters, keyrings, caps and other trinkets. And some hot dog stands, no doubt supporting the open air band... Welcome to downtown Anchorage! Only one step up from downtown anywhere, America...
Expat, Australian for Alienated
By Lost in Transit 7/8 8:52pm EDT
Melbourne-based newspaperThe Age has published an interesting article about what it's like to repatriate after having lived outside of Australia for a number of years. It basically details all my fears; that my experience of living and working in London will not be a badge of honour but a hindrance and that I will be forever branded an outsider should I decide to return at any stage. But then no-one quoted in this article works in the media, so perhaps things are different in my line of employment? And judging by the amount of Sydney-based magazine jobs currently being advertised here in London makes me think that this is, indeed, the case . . . Or let's hope so. Is this, however, a peculiarly Australian phenomenon, or is it always the case that when you experience a different culture and live and work abroad, when you return home it's like the big fish will no longer fit in the small pond?
Chinese Tourists Love Karaoke Bars, Tibetans Behind Bars
By Todd Morris 6/28 9:03pm EDT
It was hard for me to see how ignorant and insensitive many of the Chinese tourists were to the Tibetans. Blatantly disrespecting the local religion and customs and in a few cases talking loudly about how "bad" the Tibetans were. This was tough after spending almost two months in China and finding the Chinese to be some of the most wonderful polite hosts in the world. As hosts and friends I still give them the highest marks. As an occupying force they score closer to the bottom. Then there is the separation from the locals. Tibet was the first time I felt alone in China. I was staying in a hotel with a lot of nice westerners and we all hung out together at night because there was not much else to do. Unless we wanted to go over the Han side of town for karaoke. Well it happened, I felt lonely. If a local is seen with the same foreigner more than once there is a very good chance they will get a visit from an official who wants to know why. The secret police are everywhere. So are the video cameras.
Summer the Only Reason Depression-Prone Senator's Assistant Stays in Alaska
By Mike 5/25 2:54pm EDT
In the rest of the U.S. it was Spring weeks ago. But here in Alaska things take a little longer. The season is very brief too. Life explodes in a fury, making the most of the short season. By the end of August, Summer is over. By the end of September, Fall is over. In late-October or early-November the snows come and the world is dormant until mid-May. I have decided in the last few weeks that I no longer want to live through this cycle. I love the Winter, but six months is about three months too long for me. The darkness is hard on me too. In the Summer, Alaska is the most beautiful place I have ever lived. Winter is hell, particularly for someone who suffers from depression.
Traffic Laws Are Hanoi-ing
By Proleptic 5/25 1:06am EDT
City streets in Vietnam are totally insane. Someone somewhere told us that the nationwide ratio of people to motorcycles is 4:1. With a basic understanding of statistics, you might then assume that the remaining 3/4 of the population walks, or owns a bike or car, or doesn't live in an urban area, but no-- the remaining 3/4 of the population just rides on the back. I'd never been to a country before where solid double lines in the middle of the road have little-to-no meaning, and "stop at the stop sign" is only a suggestion. In this zoo of transportation, we had several hair-raising near-death experiences, not counting every time we had to cross the street.
Good Hygiene, Good Shoes Considered Normal In Italy, Not 'Metrosexual'
By Foreign Substance 5/26 1:00am EDT
LA is informal. Everyone sports their own "apre" look designed to make you think they've just finished rollerblading, yogaing, surfing, or running ten miles. I find this studied casualness quite liberating. Only in LA can I have bedhead at three in the afternoon and not even draw a second glance (which I really like, considering that I usually do have bedhead at three in the afternoon). The Italian town where I live is ... well, it's different. Before leaving the house to get a coffee and read the Gazzetta dello Sport I actually perform a morning ritual. It begins with a shower and shave (in the precise manner taught by my town barbers). After spritzing myself with a healthy dose of cologne, I manage to get my hair to sit down (using a variety of industrial products). Then I find a pair of slacks (only worn in Italy) to go with a pressed shirt. This transformation startles anyone who visits me from the US, but it's not complete until I've polished my shoes, because in my town people actually look down at your feet before they look at your face to say hello. Here, your shoes are EVERYTHING.
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