Entries Tagged as 'travel & foreign lands'

race & culturetravel & foreign lands

First Impressions of Xi’an, China

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Xi’an, China is a big bustling city of over seven million people. It was a Chinese capital of ancient dynasties that thrived centuries ago, but today takes second stage to the prominent coastal megacities—Beijing and Shanghai and that more recent capitalist “import” to the mainland, Hong Kong. Beijing of course hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics while Hong Kong hosts some of the most amazing economic inequalities anywhere in the world (think ten million dollar penthouse suites while poor city residents rent cages to live in), but Xi’an’s seven million residents would easily make it a top-five city in the United States and the most populous city of a majority of countries in the world. By contrast, my native Philadelphia, America’s fifth largest metropolis according to the 2010 U.S. Census, has a population within city limits of about 1.5 million. [Read more →]

travel & foreign landstrusted media & news

Boris Berezovsky: death of an oligarch

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Boris Berezovsky

Who, me? (Pic by AFP/Carl de Souza)

I arrived in Russia in 1997, when Boris Berezovsky’s influence was at its height. The year before, he had managed to get Boris Yeltsin reelected, and we need not think too hard about how or why that was achieved. In those days Berezovsky was often in Chechnya, and I couldn’t keep up with how much stuff he owned. Then Putin became president, and shortly afterwards the “Godfather of the Kremlin” was out.

Sometime later I read a vehemently anti-Putin editorial in a major British newspaper, before such things were commonplace. Who wrote this? I wondered. And then I saw the byline:

Boris Berezovsky. I was stunned. Hadn’t the editor done a quick web search before paying this “Russian businessman” to write his screed? Evidently not, although I now understand that serial failure to grasp that not every opponent of Putin is a brave Solzhenitsyn is characteristic of the UK and US media.  [Read more →]

photographytravel & foreign lands

Coming Back

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PLEASE NOTE that the following words are penned in a distant land, far to the south and west of that arctic-like realm that is home to so many of you. 

It’s been cooler – even cold! – these last few months … and it’s been grayer, too, from clouds that block the sun, yet deliver no rain … and at times it’s been way too windy for me. Eh, winter!

But today, Spring is coming back. Today, I went out to the side yard of this place where we were staying, and was greeted not just with the head of the house’s septic tank system, and the assurance that all was well with said system … but by a bluebonnet, as well … my first bluebonnet of the new year!

Today, spring is coming back.

I’ve lived in West Texas long enough to appreciate that we seem to have only two seasons in our part of the Lone Star State … SUMMER, and NOT-QUITE-SUMMER.

But not today … for today, at least, SPRING is coming back … and I’m thinking that maybe there are ways I should be coming back, too. More on that later … but, for now, enjoy my bluebonnet.

art & entertainmenttravel & foreign lands

Iran vs. Hollywood

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Xerxes: awesome?

So anyway, apparently the Mullahs of Iran are not scary theocrats after all. They’re actually tender petals with exquisitely sensitive feelings. In fact, I hear they silently weep into their beards when nobody is looking.

No, really: according to The Guardian, the regime has just hired a French lawyer named Isabelle Coutant-Peyre to take the directors and producers of Hollywood to court for something they call “Iranophobia.” Speaking this Monday at the intriguingly titled “The Hoax of Hollywood” conference, Coutant-Peyre said: “I’ll be defending Iran against films that have been made by Hollywood to distort the country’s image, such as ‘Argo.’” [Read more →]
travel & foreign landstrusted media & news

Don’t tear down this wall

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Communism: it sucked.

The Berlin Wall was a powerful symbol for me of the rottenness of Marxist regimes as I grew up in the 1980s. After all, no country in the capitalist West ever built a wall to keep its inhabitants from escaping. Thus when I first visited the city in the late 1990s, one of the first things I did was visit the East Side Gallery of graffiti art, sprayed on a surviving stretch of the Wall.

I remember being surprised by two things: how bad a lot of the art was and the terrible condition it was in. Even the famous images by Keith Haring, Gerald Scarfe and that picture of Leonid Brezhnev kissing Erich Honecker were peeling away. “Hell,” I thought, “even if the Germans want to forget the DDR, they should at least take care of the Wall to keep the tourist dollars flowing in…”

Still, I never thought I’d see a news report about a developer trying to tear down a chunk of the Wall so that he could build some apartments for rich people. But that’s what happened last week, until a crowd of protestors showed up to stop it from happening. [Read more →]

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingtravel & foreign lands

Top ten new slogans for Carnival Cruise Lines

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10. Where the Ship Hits the Fan!

9. The Greatest Tow on Earth!

8. Drifting Along for Over 40 Years!

7. When You Need to Go, We Give You a Choice: Paper or Plastic

6. The Ship of Stools!

5. Less Port of Call! More Porta-Potty!

4. We Put the ‘Poop’ Back in ‘Poop Deck’!

3. Come for the Buffet! Stay for the Dysentery!

2. The Titanic with Shuffleboard!

1. Ship Happens!

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

fashion & clothingtravel & foreign lands

Who are the hair police?

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Whip my hair

This week, ifeng.com, a website run by Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV network, reported that there are 28 officially acceptable haircuts in North Korea – 10 styles for men and 18 for women. Unsurprisingly, the styles are pretty conservative – dye jobs are out; nothing spiky is permitted (nothing too long either, even on women) and definitely NO MOHAWKS. [Read more →]

art & entertainmentbooks & writing

The good Stalinist

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Àíäðåé Ïëàòîíîâ

“Hm? What? Stalin? Yeah, I kind of dig him…”

As a fan of Soviet literature, one of my great frustrations is the lack of good writing from a pro-Stalin perspective. There is no shortage of books about the evils of Stalin and the system he created- Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov and Bulgakov all spring to mind- but what about those writers who actually believed in his vision for the USSR? [Read more →]

animalstravel & foreign lands

Of Iranian monkeys and other space invaders

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“Space,” as 1970s prog-rock legends Hawkwind once told us, “is deep.” But that’s not all, for as Yuri Gagarin also informed us, it can be a disappointing place for religious believers.

You see, the first cosmonaut apparently took a peek out of the porthole while he was in orbit to see if the Deity was floating about. When he didn’t see an old man with a white beard anywhere nearby, he allegedly declared: “I don’t see any God up here.”

I was thinking about Gagarin’s ultra-scientific observation this week when I read about the Iranian space monkey that the mullahs reportedly shot into the cosmos a few days ago. What did our terrified primate friend see up there as he looked out the window? If he told his theocratic bosses there’s no Allah, then he’d be headed for the chop. On the other hand, since it is strictly forbidden for Muslims to depict Allah, there’s no way the monkey could have recognized his Creator in the first place. [Read more →]
animalstravel & foreign lands

Meanwhile, in Russia…

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…it looks like 56-year-old Russian shepherdess Aishat Maksudova, a grandmother, recently killed a wolf with her bare hands.

Writes an unidentified reporter at Metro.co.uk:

Aishat Maksudova said she was tending to her cattle and flock of sheep when the wolf attacked in the village of Novo Biryuzyak, Dagestan.

The 56-year-old managed to save the calf but the wolf then turned its attention to her, clamping its jaws on to her hand.

Speaking from hospital with her hand bandaged, Mrs Maksudova said she was “not even frightened” during the wolf attack.

“With an open mouth, the wolf suddenly jumped on me,” she said.

“The wolf clawed into my leg and when I raised my arm up the wolf was just holding my hand; trying to claw my hand.”

Mrs Maksudova explained she wanted to throttle the wolf to death but was forced to reach for her axe when she could not prise the animal’s jaws open.

“So I just left my hand, and the wolf was just clawing into it, pulling on it, pulling away like this,” she said.

“And then I took the axe and hit him on the head.”

The bar has been raised, America. What have you done with your weak, flabby hands?

(h/t Adam Orbit)

travel & foreign landstrusted media & news

Yes, they really are in the EU: Latvian nostalgia for the Waffen SS death machine

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t like Nazis very much. Call me crazy, but all that Judenhass, genocide, invading other people’s countries, war and Thousand Year Reich stuff – it’s just not for me. It’s kind of, you know, evil.

Now Latvians on the other hand, they’re a different kettle of fish. They’re totally nuts for Nazis! No, really! It’s incredible! Is it the black leather and the skulls? The uniforms? The cool salute? The goose stepping? The death camps? It’s difficult to say, but one thing’s for sure, in Latvia the Swastika never goes out of style! [Read more →]
sportstravel & foreign lands

More jet packs please- memories of Olympic glory

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Ever since I was a wee zygote, I have had zero interest in sports. Soccer? Swimming? Table-tennis? Nah. It’s only during the Olympics, when the coverage is so overwhelming that I become aware of what’s going on in the world of running and jumping. And indeed, when I look back, I see that in spite of my indifference I actually have numerous memories of Games past.

Take the Moscow Olympics of 1980 for instance. I was five years old and a girl from my small Scottish town was doing something over there. Our teachers told us all about it. Anyway, she didn’t win a medal, but they did name a street in a rubbish suburb in her honor fifteen years later, so her glory is undiminished, although I can’t actually remember her name. [Read more →]
Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingtravel & foreign lands

Top ten signs you’re having a bad summer

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10. You mentally divide your summer into two parts: pre and post weed wacker incident

9. You’re Tom Cruise

8. The B&B you’re staying at evidently stands for ‘bed’ and ‘bugs’

7. What everyone else thinks is a sunburn is actually a rash

6. The cruise director shows you to your bench and oar

5. That giant mouse you saw wasn’t at Disneyland

4. You have to crawl under barbed wire to get to the beach

3. All the resort staff members are wearing yellow biohazard suits

2. The only summer job you could find was as Chris Christie’s lotion boy

1. Your eyebrows haven’t grown back since the Fourth of July

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

photographytravel & foreign lands

Wandering America’s Dairyland and points beyond

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Just returned from a trip to Wisconsin and Michigan.

If this were the 1970s, I’d subject you to endless reels of 8 mm film. But since this is the 21st Century, I’ve got something  far better — Jackie Baisas aesthetically awesome pro photos. Please enjoy.

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art & entertainmenttravel & foreign lands

Nazis, gangsters, sex kittens and unfortunate tattoos

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Last week the directors of the Bayreuth Festival got into a kerfuffle with the Russian bass-baritone Yevgeny Nikitin when a German TV show revealed that he has a swastika tattoo on one of his man-boobs. This was a problem because Nikitin had been invited to perform the lead in “The Flying Dutchman,” an opera by Richard Wagner, the music world’s most famous anti-Semite, whose work was much beloved by Adolph Hitler, another noted anti-Semite. It was a Nazi supernova!

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travel & foreign landstrusted media & news

Around the world with a bunch of embalmed communists

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Recently there’s been some blather about removing Lenin from Red Square and inserting him into a hole in the ground. Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it. About once a year some Russian public figure suggests burying the Father of the Proletariat, everybody talks about it for a day or two, and then the idea fades away. You see, the interesting thing about Lenin is that, after you’ve seen him once you forget that he’s there. I mean, I’m sure Putin never thinks that there’s a hollowed out shell of a human located in a glass box a stone’s throw from his office. I lived in central Moscow for three years and hardly ever thought about it myself. Lenin’s basically invisible. Familiarity breeds indifference.

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creative writingfamily & parenting

The Bicentennial with Grandpa Andy

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In the 1970s, we’d met Grandpa Andy before, on a trip or two to his government-subsidized apartment. It was on a high floor among a cluster of pale brick buildings—the standing tall but defeated housing projects of Newark, New Jersey. I’d learn years later that he was worried enough about the “bad element” living there—what he no doubt saw as young men with darker skin—that he’d ride the elevator with a butcher’s knife in his belt. If anyone enjoying the ride looked menacing enough, Grandpa Andy would contort to reveal the weapon hidden under his trench coat.

He finally appeared in Philadelphia at my father’s house in University City in 1976. [Read more →]

art & entertainmentbooks & writing

Graphic Novel Review: Pandemonium & Whispers in the Walls

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My interest in comics ebbs and flows. So much that is published is embarrassingly bad, but I still love the medium, and so I want there to be books that are good. English language comics publishing remains dominated by superheroes, an exhausted genre which was great when the stories were aimed at young lads, but which stinks now that the target audience is 30/40something anally retentive boy-men. Nor have I ever been able to develop a taste for autobiographical “indie” comics, which are often (though not always) a) boring b) poorly drawn and c) solipsistic. As a result, I search hopefully for European comics in translation, where the standard of craft is usually higher, there is a broader spread of genre and there are no images of Cyclops in a red thong. [Read more →]

politics & governmenttravel & foreign lands

A short history of useful idiots

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Mussolini: you might think he was just a blustering fool in a fez, but once upon a time many people took him very seriously. I remember my shock when, aged 15 or so, I learned from my history teacher that Churchill had spoken approvingly of the black shirts in the 1920s. This week however I was reading a biography of the first Fascist and learned that Winston was not alone. Franklin Roosevelt praised the Italian dictator as a gentleman; Chiang Kai-shek asked for a signed photograph; and even Gandhi (yes lovely, non-violent, vegetable-munching Gandhi) described him as the “Savior of Italy.” Hmm. That’ll be the guy who let his soldiers use live Ethiopians for target practice and ended his political career shipping Jews to Hitler for extermination? All right then! [Read more →]

travel & foreign lands

Day 6 at Sea: A Variety of Experiences and Beers

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Our sixth day at sea aboard Carnival Glory began with a wonderful dose of the unexpected, brought us to the Island of Grand Turk for a day full of EXACTLY what each and every one of us wanted to do, and ended with an appreciation for the many different interests of many different passengers, for how our ship and shore-based businesses cater to those interests … and for the variety of Caribbean beers and rums.

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