Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sometimes it's cool to be a dummy

Khao San Road, Bangkok
Spotted on (the backpacker-filled) Khao San Road, Bangkok

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

the Teacher Tibetan Medicine Fumigation Church

Teacher Tibetan Medicine Fumigation Church, Caochangdi, Beijing

Located in the new art neighborhood of Caochangdi, Beijing. I really really wish I could see what their worship services are like....

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Soldiers and Soldiers


Drill practice, outside the Forbidden City, Beijing

Slooowly bringing the blogging back to China with photos from Xi'an and Beijing, respectively, from the beginning of March when I showed my mom the sights for a week. (and no, my mom isn't in either one of these pictures...)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How much food will a dollar buy?

Ten organic blueberries, apparently. Or a McDonald's cheeseburger. From a project by Jonathan Blaustein, who has simply photographed a dollar's worth of different foods available near his home in New Mexico. Would be very interesting to see what this project would look like here in China, as well. Maybe I'll put it on my to-do list? Oh, wait a minute - I see a homework assignment coming up....!

When cultural relativism flies out the window...

Presenting, for your gustatory pleasure -

Pork Floss Dunkin' Donuts, Xi'an
...pork floss Dunkin' Donuts, and...

Scorpions, Seahorses, and Starfish on a stick, Wangfujing Night Market, Beijing
... grilled seahorse (or scorpion, or starfish) on a stick.

Notable not only for their Western "yuk!" factor, but for their rarity - these particular, um, dishes don't seem to be very popular here, either.

I myself haven't tried either of these two - guess I'm leaving them for my nonvegetarian friends to check out. Though I think that Dunkin' Donuts may be sitting on an untapped gold mine with that pork floss doughnut concept. Sweet, salty, porky, and flossy, all in one bite!

China's provinces compared to other countries

I don't know if the above map will work on your computer, but if it isn't, you should still check out this interactive map of China from the Economist Magazine's web site. It gives you a very good sense of the scale of the country, as well as some interesting differences between its many provinces.

For example, the province of Sichuan, where we are, has roughly the same population as Germany and the same total GDP as Malaysia. Switch to per person GDP, and Sichuan is on the same level of development (whatever that means) as Armenia. Likewise, the huge province exports about as much yearly as the tiny Persian Gulf island of Bahrain.

Okay, fellow map geeks, have at it!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bottle Capitalism

The bottlecap currency exchange, River View Hotel, Bangkok

Just in case you were under the illusion that we spent every day of our travels hauling our kids from one fantastic attraction to another, allow me to share with you one of their favorite activities while traveling - playing "store" in the hotel room, using found bottle caps as currency. (For those of you reading in America, what they call "bottles" in Southeast Asia are these strange containers made from real glass, it seems, and topped off not with plastic, but with a strange crimped metal thing that you have to use a special tool to remove. Weird, huh...?)

trading bottlecaps, River View Hotel, Bangkok

It started out with Zekey, who spent his time while waiting for food to come in restaurants searching for caps, and quickly spread to the two other kids. Once they realized that there were tiny numbers printed on the inside of each cap, the game quickly mushroomed into a bona fide obsession. Letters were soon discovered, and these represented hundreds and then thousands.

We may be sorely negligent with our home schooling curriculum, but I think the boys crammed about a year and a half worth of long sum addition into two weeks of competing to see who's bottle cap collection was worth more. I have no idea what the airport security people thought about the approximately 1,568 bottle caps that were strewn throughout our luggage at one point, but I know I got a kick out of it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happiness engineering

What's not to like?

An enlightening reminder about happiness, and how to find it, from Scott Adams (the creator of the Dilbert comic strip), of all people.

A few good quotes:
"When you feel agitated, try eating some carbs. They're like a miracle drug. I suspect that anger is evolution's way of telling you to go kill something so you can eat."

" Many people make the mistake of incorporating negativity in their humor and thinking the outcome is a net positive. That takes the form of reflexively commenting on what's wrong with, well, everything. I used to be that guy. It was a habit I picked up from my mother. I thought I was being funny. An ex did me the favor of pointing out that I was actually just being an asshole. All the time."
(Whoops, this one is me sometimes... )

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Variations on a theme

Ganesh-O-Rama, Singapore

From a single store in Singapore's Little India, a small sampling of the many representations of the Hindu god Ganesha....

Ganesh-O-Rama, Singapore Ganesh-O-Rama, Singapore Ganesh-O-Rama, Singapore

Ganesh-O-Rama, Singapore Ganesh-O-Rama, Singapore Ganesh-O-Rama, Singapore

Ganesha, among other things, is the protector of the household and the remover of obstacles. More pictures here.

What are the best minds in America doing?

In the midst of unfolding natural disasters, foreign military interventions, and domestic political strife, an article from a couple of months ago that I'd like to bring to everyone's attention, about the XM25 Counter Defilade Targeting Engagement System. What is the XM25 Counter Defilade Targeting Engagement System? Why, to quote from the article, it's a "full solution fire control weapon." Or, more simply put, a gun that is now smart enough to send high explosive bullets zooming over a wall to kill people that are hiding behind it.

Don't get me wrong - I'm as leery of snipers as the next guy - but is this the best use of our collective intelligence here? One more instance of addressing the symptoms and not the disease...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Get your red-hot dancing Buddhas here!

... as well as some assorted figures from Greek pottery, some Egyptian scribes, and a Jesus or six. A fun video demonstrating the flow of ideas throughout history, from the ever talented Nina Paley.

The So Muchness of it All

various trinkets for sale, Ubud

This is about the time lapsed after a trip where I start thinking of, well, everything. As in everything that I could write about, but haven't yet, and probably won't. Also everything that exists in the world and the impossibility (fortunately or not) of fully describing one person's journey through it. And instead of getting maudlin or navel-gazing about it, the best thing to do is to pick out what's meaningful at the given moment, appreciate it for a bit, and send it out into the world already. Which is what I'm doing right...

Parked Bicycles, Solo

offering flowers for sale, Ubud market

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More herpetology

Monitor lizard hanging out on the river, Bangkok

New York has its imaginary alligators hanging out in the sewers; Bangkok has at least one real monitor lizard that we saw hanging out under a bridge downtown. No word yet on if they also climb up through toilets and bite people.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

And now for the herpetological section of our program...

The Red Cross in Bangkok runs the world's second oldest snake farm. There, they raise and study all sorts of snakes, and extract venom to produce anti-venom for treatment for snake bites. They also put on a pretty good show for the public, which is a lot less sensational and tourist trappy than others I've seen. Watching the show, we learned that...

Me, X, and snake, Bangkok
Pythons are big!

IMG_2817 are King Cobras.

IMG_2818 IMG_2808
Cobras are bitey-er, though.

Thailand has a lot of other snakes, too. They come in a wide range of sizes, colors, and toxicities.

IMG_2822 IMG_2827

Friday, March 18, 2011

The House(s) of the Spirits


A spirit house in Thailand is just that - a place where spirits can come and live with people. Being more of a tourist than a participant in Thai culture, I don't know much more than that, other that what I've read on the internet very briefly. However, to paraphrase a saying, "I don't know much about spirit houses, but I know what I like." And, being the fan of elaborate miniature architecture that I am, I found a lot of spirit houses that I liked. Here are a few photos of some of my favorites...

One at the end of a vegetable market in Bangkok

Not technically a spirit house, but spirits like to hang out in the roots of banyan trees as well.

Modernist spirit house, Chiang Mai
A modernist version, outside the offices of Thai Airlines in Chiang Mai.

Small shrine surrouned by hundreds of plastic zebras, Bangkok

And the best for last - I have no idea why this one is surrounded by hundreds of plastic zebras, but the effect is amazing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Time sequence no. 2

Riding in the back of a pickup with the boys on top a load of groceries to a good snorkeling beach about five miles away was fine...

ridin' with the groceries in the back of a truck, Bali

... it was just on the way back that things started to get a bit, well, challenging (the red and black in the background is my shirt as I'm hovering over Xander and Zekey) ...

getting a ride in the back of a pickup in a rainsorm, part 1

getting a ride in the back of a pickup in a rainsorm, part 2

getting a ride in the back of a pickup in a rainsorm, part 3

getting a ride in the back of a pickup in a rainsorm, part 4

getting a ride in the back of a pickup in a rainsorm, part 5

getting a ride in the back of a pickup in a rainsorm, part 6

Here's more of Jane's view from the inside of the cab, looking to the front this time:

getting a ride in the back of a pickup in a rainsorm (J's view from a nice dry cab)

The cool thing about tropical rainstorms is that they're not that cold, well, once the pickup stops to let you off, anyway. Oh, and we'd already gotten wet snorkeling, so we, um, got the salt water rinsed off of us quite thoroughly...

Time sequence no. 1

Y rocks! Y rocks! Y rocks!

Ysa rockin' out on a bamboo xylophone at a cafe that we often ate at in the north of Bali.