Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Final, Crazy Post

That's it, kids, it's more than halfway through September already! We're done documented our great adventure, and moving on to new adventures... if you look for us, silly and bold and thoughtful and silly (and libby and billy) you'll find us, soon enough...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Culinary Wonders of the World

We have - of course - eaten lots of food in the last 3+ months. Some of what we've eaten has been quite memorable - either because it was extremely strange, silly, or special. Here's to some of those...

Ola, our couchsurfing friend in Warsaw, was helped in hosting us by her wonderful mother - here depicted making us yummy potato pancakes.

The story of polish "milk bars," communist restaurants for workers, is much more interesting than the food is tasty:

As for really amazingly good food in Poland, Libby's family friends treated us to this wonderful sundae at one of their coffee shops in Warsaw:

Check out the birthday cake we got for billy's cousin, Emily:

Emily's son, Reese, had a great time with his ice cream + chocolate sauce, in solidarity with his mother:

This is simply the biggest carrot ever imagined:

And this simply looks like fast food, not "vegetarian fast food." Amazing, huh?

Speaking of mouth-watering German health food, here's some sauerkrautsaft (in other words, cabbage brine):

More than a meter of cheese rolled up in a little ball:

We only saw these mushroom chips for sale in Hungary. They don't call 'em Hungry for nothin!

Now, now, that's fine french pastry... (See video above)

WOW! Charlie's Bakery in Cape Town is famous for outlandish cakes:

On the topic of outlandish, take a look at that "Eis Lasagna." The Germans specialise in such crazy ice cream creations, complete with coconut parmesan, strawberry tomato sauce, blueberry meatballs, and on and on...

But nothing knocked billy and bear into a sugar coma better than this ice cream mayhem (see video above)...


Billy Says:

Libby and I ended up our months of travelling with a week in ireland with my mom, and her partner, alex. It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, looping around the island in a rented car, and cruising down the narrow, winding roads of ireland. We had lots of silly time, a ton of beautiful views, some super touristic moments, a dose of AA, and a smaller dose of visiting family. All around, a nice finale to a wonderful trip.

Let's start with the beautiful places.

On our first day in the country, we went to Howth Peninsula, near Dublin.

There's a cool lighthouse and harbor:

An awesome rock formation in the sea:

And an area where you can walk along the cliffs:

We spent a day on the Aran islands, off the coast of Galway:

"Have you ever seen so many rocks in one place?"

We all had fun playing in the ruins of seven old churches clustered together:

I in particular had fun trying to take strikingly "artsy" photographs:

and making particularly artsy poses for others to capture on film:

We also went to a really cool old fort, in a crescent shape along a huge cliff:

and, while we were soaking in beautiful sites, we had a nice restful night at a vegetarian friendly hostel (that gave their guests awesome bathrobes to wear):

We went to the famous Cliffs of Moher, on the west coast, south of Galway. You start your tour of the cliffs at a walled off area, safe and sound, looking at the views (see if you can spot mr. bear and windman):

From there you can either go to the left (a sanctioned, wide path with railing to protect you from falling) or to the right (totally not sanctioned or protected).

We ended up going down the path on the right, past the barbed wire fences, and down along a super narrow path, till we reached those flat rock cliffs you can see in the background, laid down and took in the amazing view, and wind (to learn more about the physics of that area, check here).

On our last day in Ireland, we drove along the Beara Peninsula, in the southwest of the island, west of Cork. The landscape there is absolutely breathtaking (I posed special for you, so you could tell):

We also visited my cousins, and my cousins children (nephews? wow!). We had a big meal with my cousins Daniel, and Jessica, and her sons, Jackson and Evan:

Here's my nephew, Jackson (he's a really big wingman fan). His mama, Jessica, is in the background:

My cousin Emily had her birthday while we were in town, so we took her out to a fancy meal, and went to lengths to go over the top with happy birthday celebrations, like getting the staff to sing over her cake:

and her brother, Sean, is a chef at the restaurant we went to:

We also spent a day in Belfast, trying to get a sense of some of the political and social history of "the north," and also going to a couple of AA meetings (which were, by the way, way more welcoming and friendly than any i'd ever been to elsewhere).

We only ended up getting photos of the Loyalist areas on our camera (so if you want to see the beautiful and inspiring ones from the Republican neighborhoods, you'll have to talk with my mom). But the hilarious offensive nature of these shots should give you some sense of what it's like to be there:

huh? a big bloody hand as an inspiring symbol for a community, and a politics?

a thousand british flags? Ireland and England are islands, so there's no chance that people are simply lost and confused (at least not in the literal geographic sense).

Oh, but the Queen!!?? What a joke...

While the descendents of British settlers keep hammering away at a Colonialist fairy tale of never-ending domination by the Crown, the "Celtic Tiger" charges forward. Ireland is a beautiful place, and it's changing fast. A man on the ferry told us, "We're losing our souls. We've simply got too much money. We've got more helicopters per capita than any other country in the world. Things are getting worse and really fast." Funny to have gone through so much degradation, and finally come out of it, only to be caught up in the whirlwind of globalization, american technology, etc...

Onward we walk, hopefully towards something more beautiful than where we are now...

Picnic in Frankfurt

Billy says:

Travelling from Dubai to Dublin, we had a few hours in Frankfurt. We decided to have a little picnic in the park. The place that seemed most fun to eat seemed to be the litte playground:

It was a good little picnic, with the classic bread-n-cheese, a little direktapfelsaft, water, and...

a good bit of silliness:

We enjoyed our sunny heathen times in good ole' deutschland, until the ole' polizei showed up. They just stood there, mute, looking mean.

Libby asked, "Can I help you?"
One of the cops gruffly replied, "How old are you?"
"Excuse me?" Libby asks.
"That is only for children."
"Sorry I didn't know that it's illegal to have a picnic."
"There's a sign; read it."
"Oh, I'm not used to reading German."

And what of this infamous sign?

We had to read it ourselves, in order to be well-informed, law-abiding citizens...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Dubious Dubai, where everything is the biggest, best, hottest, and most air-conditioned

Billy Says:

I think going to Dubai might have changed my life forever, in ways that I will only understand years down the line. More than anywhere else we went, I spent major portions of my time in Dubai simply saying, "Wow!" A bit of excitement, a bit of horror, a bit of hilarity, a bit of rage and a whole lot of fascination.

We ended up in Dubai because Emirates Airline is the cheapest way to get between Europe and South Africa and they route all flights through their hub in Dubai. After my six hour layover in the airport on the way to Johannesburg, I was convinced that I need to change my tickets to stay for longer on the way back. The airline played a promotional video as we were about to land, calling Dubai, "21st Century Arabia," and when I got off the plane I thought to myself, "this may be the *only* 21st Century place I've ever been. At 3am, the airport was bustling, everything was open, and flights were departing to destinations throughout the world every 10 minutes. A young Arab kid raised in Canada (who returned to Dubai, to work 12hrs. per day, seven days a week, as a form of re-hab after getting thrown in Canadian jail at 18 on drug charges) increased my sense of wonder about Dubai by telling me many things like that Dubai has elevators that go up from one sidewalk, across the street, then back down, and that there are computer terminals on the street with no keyboard, because you simply talk into them.

Those things are both totally false. But here's some gems of truth that I did stumble upon in my few days in Dubai:

* There are 3 men to every woman in Dubai.
* All migrant workers (more than 80% of the population) are required to be tested regularly for HIV, and deported if they have it. The government is considering screening tourists as well, but Emiratis are still exempt.
* Migrant laborers are forbidden to unionize (and may well be deported for protesting at work, and/or have their passport seized by the boss upon employment), rent a house or apartment (they must stay in company housing, as they must not marry the local population and cannot bring wives or partners) and cannot become citizens.
* The UAE (United Arab Emirates - Dubai is one of seven emirates) is trying to "protect the minority" economically, by enforcing quotas for "emiratisation" of the workforce, and (except for within "free trade zones") requiring that at least 51% of every company operating in the UAE is owned by Emiratis. (For more on the economic aspects see the informative article on Dubai in the New Left Review).
* Dubai has a number of "Mega Projects" (this is a great link; tons of photos) under construction, including building the world's tallest Skyscraper, (which is competing against the second place building, also under construction, also in Dubai) three "palms" and one replica globe made out of islands "reclaimed" by "rainbowing" sand in the middle of the gulf.
* Dubai has already built the world's first 7-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, with afternoon tea for 50 EURO or a suite for 1000 EURO, a fleet of rolls royces, a helicopter and landing pad, an "underwater themed" restuarant (one of six, offering food 24hrs. a day) and built on a tiny island 280 meters off the coast (which was "reclaimed" from the gulf over two years).
* Other trivial, bizzare futurist constructions include the world's largest mall, an indoor ski and snowboarding center, the world's largest zoo and world's largest aquarium. Somewhat more substantially, "Dubai also hosts or is planning to build a Humanitarian Aid City, as a base for disaster relief; a free-trade zone dedicated to the sale of used cars; a Dubai Metals and Commodities Centre; a ‘Chess City’ headquartering the International Chess Association and designed as a vast chess board with two ‘King’ towers, each 64 storeys high; and a $6 billion Healthcare Village, in collaboration with the Harvard Medical School, that will offer the wealthy classes of the Gulf region state-of-the-art American medical technology." [Mike Davis, New Left Review]

(a construction project being planned, on display inside a mall. construction happens 24 hours daily, with less than 13cm of rain falling annually).

Some quotes on dubai that are absolute gems:

* "Despite its blast-furnace climate (on typical 120° summer days, the swankier hotels refrigerate their swimming pools) and edge-of-the-war-zone location, Dubai confidently predicts that its enchanted forest of 600 skyscrapers and malls will attract 15 million overseas visitors a year by 2010, three times as many as New York City. Emirates Airlines has placed a staggering $37-billion order for new Boeings and Airbuses to fly these tourists in and out of Dubai’s new global air hub, the vast Jebel Ali airport." [Mike Davis again]
* As one developer told the Financial Times, ‘If there was no Burj Dubai, no Palm, no World, would anyone be speaking of Dubai today? You shouldn’t look at projects as crazy stand-alones. It’s part of building the brand’.
* ‘People refer to our crown prince as the chief executive officer of Dubai. It’s because, genuinely, he runs government as a private business for the sake of the private sector, not for the sake of the state’, says Saeed al-Muntafiq, head of the Dubai Development and Investment Authority.
* “We want to protect the minority, which is us,” Mr. Kaabi said.
* [Referring to a protest of 8,000 workers for a wage increase - after 18 years without a pay raise - resulting in 185 deportations, an employer stated]
"It was organised violence ... those involved in the violence were educated workers. We have also received letters of apology from remaining workers in which they admitted that they were fooled into staging protests."


As for our time in Dubai, we spent the first day jet-lagged, navigating the bus system out to Luke's (our couchsurfing friend) house. We had a meal in an indian restaurant for workers where the food was $1 for both of us to eat as much as we liked and we were vastly outnumbered by people eating with their hands. Libby and I learned that the section "reserved for ladies" can be sat in by men, but not if there are enough "ladies" to fill the available seats:

Luke slept out in the living room on an air mattress (along with two other couchsurfers, sleeping on their own air mattresses):

and let libby and i sleep in his large, comfy bed:

Luke was an extremely gracious host, doing everything to assist us and help us enjoy our time in Dubai. His apartment was amazing and comfortable (in a skyscraper, surrounded by 20+ skyscraper apartment buildings under construction and bordering "the greens," a section of city where grass is being grown -- at great expense), he took us out for a great meal, and told us all about Dubai. As an "expat" from Scotland, visiting couchsurfers help to ease some of the isolation that comes with living in an essentially apartheid kingdom.

We enjoyed our time also with Cyril, another couchsurfer, on his way to Beijing on Emirates airlines:

We went down to the creek with Cyril...

and he helped us fend off the boatmen trying to get 20 Dirhams (about $5) to take us across the creek and instead we took a water-taxi with workers for 1 Dirham (25 cents).

We wandered around the market areas, and Cyril helped break up the monotonous theatre of non-westerners pushing their wares on westerners by requesting leopard-skin fur coats, sun glasses that covered his whole cheeks, and tight pink t-shirts. He also successfully convinced a vendor, in response to the standard, "where are you from?" that he is from "Pimpistan." The man was sure, though, that Libby was "too white to be from Pimpistan." She didn't try and tell him otherwise.

We also did some gawdier shit, like swimming in the 90degree gulf (in the shadow of Burj Al Arab, springing 170 Dirham on "Wild Wadi" water park, and strolling around a mall which has a different section for each region of the world (each decked out in the motif of that place and sometimes even with a painted sky) and so on.

Dubai is a shamelessly unjust society, with all the foulness of a south africa or usa or israel, but a different spin on how to bring it about. With busload after busload of Indian laborers peeking out through the bars on company owned bus windows, deportation of dissidents and people with AIDS, and the king owning absolutely every inch of land, there's a bluntness to the injustice. But then again, the king would rather set up cameras on the motorway to patrol speeding than fleets of cops, and all of the wealth of Dubai is dependant on an image, so the bluntness has to constantly be toned down.

The image of Dubai is being constructed 24hrs. a day, by the 80% of the population that are "visiting to work," for the benefit of the remaining handful.

The image of Dubai is, for bad now or later, working.

nuf said.
but more to say...