Friday, May 30, 2008

hypertension and obesity, here I come

the train journey from Irkutsk to Moscow takes 4 days, 3 nights. part of the fun is the grocery shopping -- at the main supermarket in Irkutsk, you usually see other travellers and debate which bread looks less stale, whether you'll get hepatitis from the apples, how long cheese will last without a refrigerator, etc. but considering the limited selection in siberian supermarkets, in the end, there's really no way to avoid a total junk food binge. this is my booty for the 4 days (and this assumes I'll be eating russian train platform food like dumplings, blintzes, etc.!):

in case you couldn't make out everything, here's a list:

5 bowls of ramen, in assorted beef flavors
4 rolls of bread
jar of nutella
jar of peanut butter
4 bananas
bag of oranges
2 types of chocolate cookies
hazelnut chocolate bar
chocolate pretzels
styrofoam tray of apples
canned peaches
2 bottles of unidentifiable fruit juice
can of peanuts

and to think, I demurred on the bacon flavored pringles because I thought they'd be too unhealthy.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Brehmer, this one's for you

I haven't had a toilet post in over a month (gasp!), but central mongolia's, uh, "toilets" certainly deserve a mention. I'm no stranger to squat toilets (see any number of posts on this), and I've definitely used some outhouses before, but the thing I loved about Mongolian outhouses was the combination of sheer-drop-to-the-bottom and wind velocity that combined for a unique bathroom experience. I never understood why guys liked pissing off cliffs so much until I was pissing into a 20ft. deep hole and the wind was causing a sort of arc-ing effect I'd never had the joy of seeing before. folks, I officially have penis envy.

next time, I'm flying

it takes a notoriously long time to get anywhere in the philippines, esp during typhoon season -- you're already talking about buses to ferries to more buses, and delays throw everything off. Michael and I had to go to Marinduque, the island where my grandmother is from, for a family reunion and both legs of the journey were pretty legendary, and apparently, fairly typical.

Getting to Marinduque went something like this:
1) my parents arranged a door-to-door service that picks you up from your house in Manila, takes you to the pier, gets you on the boat, then drives you to wherever you need to go in Marinduque. my mom, aunt, Michael and I are squished into the backseat of a 15-passenger van. Duration of car ride to pier: 4.5 hours

2) we catch the midnight ferry to Marinduque and it is a serious health and safety hazard. the boat fits maybe 300 but there are about twice that number sitting on the floor, standing on the decks, and squeezing into the bathrooms. life jackets are in a locked cabinet in the back of the boat. meanwhile, the waves are so rough that someone is walking around handing out plastic bags for people to puke in. a little kid is puking next to Michael, and his puke bag keeps swinging against Michael's leg. Duration of ferry ride: 3 hours

3) we finally get to Marinduque -- the car from Manila is parked below deck, and we return to find that the people who chose to stay in the car during the boat ride have puked all over the steps to the car. Duration of car ride to final destination: 1 hour

Trip summary: we left the house in Manila at 7pm only to arrive at the resort in Marinduque at 4am.

Leaving Marinduque:
1) all the ferries were cancelled for the whole time we were in Marinduque, due to bad weather. on the day we are supposed to leave, the ferries decide to run again, mid-afternoon. we race to catch the 4pm ferry, only to miss it by 15 min. the next ferry is at 7pm. Supposed wait time: 2 hrs, 45 min

2) the 7pm ferry finally rolls up at 9pm. Actual wait time: 4 hrs, 45 min

3) ignoring the station master's request to please stay in the waiting room, everyone rushes to the pier. we watch as people, then cars are unloaded. then we watch as locals take a cart (note the singular, not plural form) back and forth to the ferry to unload bags of produce, which keep falling off the cart as it is rolled down the plank. Duration of ridiculously inefficient unloading process: 1 hr

4) finally, all the stupid produce is off the boat. the boat guy gives the signal and people start sprinting up the plank to get the choice seats on the top level, i.e. open-air seating with easy access to balconies in case of puking. Duration of wait to get everyone sorted: 1.5 hr

5) we finally, finally leave, 4 1/2 hrs after we were supposed to. Duration of boat ride back to mainland: 3 hrs

6) we catch a bus back to Manila, and the driver is blasting 80's ballads like "lady in red," "you just don't love me no more," and every phil collins song I've ever heard. Duration of bus ride: 3.5 hours

7) we are dropped off at the bus stop near my cousin's house and walk back, grizzled and disheveled. Duration of walk: 30 min., + 10 min. for the guards to verify that these dirty hippies are, in fact, related to someone in this nice subdivision

Trip summary: we left the resort in Marinduque at 3:30pm, only to arrive at the house in Manila at 6:30am

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I triple dog dare you . . .

Balut is probably the philippines' most infamous dish -- it is a half-hatched duck embryo that is boiled at an early stage of development and then eaten with salt. I've heard comparisons to everything from soft-shell crab (since there is a beak and feet) to "it tastes just like chicken and egg, together," but since I was too scared to try it while growing up, I could never verify these claims. however, last night my aunt was kind enough to buy 6 balut for michael and I to try. I made the foolish mistake of trying to dissect mine first (as opposed to closing my eyes and downing it like a shot, my mom's method of choice), so unfortunately, I was so grossed out by what I saw that I backed down at the last minute. but watching my aunt and michael eat was pretty fascinating; if you are ever going to try balut, follow these steps:

1) when you look at the egg, one end should be slightly wider than the other. that's the top, and you want to tap that end against the table until it cracks.
2) take off the top bit of shell and suck out the juice. don't worry, you won't be drinking blood -- it's a clear liquid that is sort of like an eggy chicken broth

3) start peeling off the rest of the shell. you'll notice that the bottom part of the balut is hard -- that is some sort of placenta-esque thing that you don't want to eat

4) scrape off the embryonic membrane (this is where I got a bit squeamish) note: whatever you do, don't separate the wings, because the head/beak is underneath and it actually looks like a chicken. and the black stuff is the beginnings of feathers. just FYI

5) throw some salt on it. bottoms up!

Monday, May 12, 2008

and the award for best island ever goes to . . .

Pamilacan Island is right off the coast of Bohol, the #2 tourist destination in the philippines, so it is pretty amazing how tourism has been so slow to develop here -- in the middle of high season, Michael and I were the only foreigners staying on the island. Pamilacan has everything your typical deserted island has to offer -- beautiful skies and seas, no roads (so no loud jeepneys or tricycles), no restaurants (you eat with local families), and not much to do (bring a few books). but the thing I really loved most was how seamlessly we integrated into the local community while we were there.

in most of the places I've been to, tourists are treated like an 'other.' maybe tourism is helping the decline of the local culture, so people aren't very happy to see you, or sometimes touristy spots are nowhere near where families live, so you get a skewed vision of what a country is like, or lord knows what other reasons there are. but in Pamilacan, random people would sit down and talk with us while we ate, and there was no shortage of little kids who were totally happy to play with us, complete strangers. and our hut was in the middle of everything -- the neighbor's roosters would crow right behind our outhouse at down, and at night we listened to singing at the church in preparation for the town's fiesta. perhaps it's the dynamics of the island itself -- Pamilacan is inhabited by whaling families who all know each other, and ever since the ban on whaling was passed in the 90's, they've all been in the same we're-fucked-unless-we-figure-something-else-out boat. in any case, when we arrived in Pamilacan, we were basically treated like family the entire time. which really made me appreciate how easy it is to find a deserted island, but how hard it is to find a deserted community that will accept you.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

on the Bund, everyone is a 13-year-old kid

the Oriental Pearl tower is probably the most striking building on Shanghai's skyline -- it's the one that sort of looks like a giant, unnecessary phallus meets the Jetsons. the best place to see it is on the Bund side of the river, and walking along you eventually get to a stretch of sidewalk that is just clogged with tourists. why? because the building in front of the oriental pearl has two spherical ends to it, and at this point on the sidewalk, they look like . . .well, you know what I'm getting at, we're all adults here. though "adults" might be a stretch, judging from some of the looks of glee on tourists' faces.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

suddenly, the po-po isn't looking so bad after all

the Dongyue Temple in Beijing is a Taoist complex that basically takes the concept of 'hell' to a completely surreal level. I thought the rat temple in deshnok was creepy (see "kind of like being back home on the J train platform"), but Dongyue turns hell into a bureaucracy, with departments lining the temple bearing names like "Department of River Gods," "Deep-rooted Disease Department," and "Department for Suppressing Schemes." huh? considering that about all I know about Taoism is what I gathered from the cover of The Tao of Pooh (having not even read it), all this focus on death, sickliness and sin is a little unsettling. or at the very least, un-Pooh.

this is my favorite department. you know that if you get sent here, you're in for all sorts of fucked up, middle-ages kind of pain. especially since these guys . . .

. . .are the ones who run the department.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

unleashing my inner yuppie

I've been in Beijing for about a week now, and yeah the forbidden city is great and there are a lot of cool temples around, but what I've been really enjoying is eating at all the bougie restaurants I otherwise can't afford in NYC.

I'm not really sure what is going on -- most places we've eaten at have been maybe 1/3 full, usually not even that. perhaps with all the western business in the area, entrepreneurs are jumping the gun and supply is exceeding demand? maybe they're getting ready for the influx of foreigners during the olympics? maybe we're going on off-nights? perhaps chinese people don't like contemporary fusion cuisine? but either way, we're going to semi-empty restaurants that should cost 4 times more than what we're paying. I normally don't care much for how artsy my environs are (I just want good food and a lot of it), but beijing is making me appreciate just how nice it is to dine in the midst of original art, or perch on one-of-a-kind stools.

cafe Sambal URBAN -- I swear to god, that is how it was written on the business card

Garden of Delight, located in a renovated alleyway. that's totally brooklyn as it is, but they also turned their giant white planter (yes, that thing with the banana plant in it) into a toilet pod.  tiiiight.

duck de chine -- exposed brick and handsome mahogany inside a converted factory? please, that is the original bourgeois

my lungs long for los angeles

according to the World Bank, 16 of the world's 20 smoggiest cities are in China -- so I figured Beijing would be bad, but since the olympics is happening in a mere 3 months, it must be getting better by the day, right? not really.

apparently all the coal power plants have been shut down and polluting trucks have been banned in the past couple of months, and soon all construction will be stopped. and locals have been telling us that it used to be so much worse -- doctors used to advise residents not to go outside and sometimes you couldn't see a skyscraper across the street. but even with all the improvements, it sucks to breathe here. and the pollution is so bad that each day, I break out in hives on a different part of my body. good times!

a relatively good day

most days were like this

I took quite a few antihistamines this day