The Boston Aquarium has an extremely important message for you.
Good god, I hate it when my cephalopod slithers away into the dark night. And then ends up at a tastefully appointed pop-up tapas bar somewhere in the dark heart of Chelsea. Just hate it.
“Oh no, honey—that sound you hear late at night? That is merely the wailing of the unpaid interns. You needn’t worry about being among them—we’ll ensure you major in something practical,” he told his child. “In New England.”
He closed the shutters of the child’s bedroom in their handsome Manhattan apartment. It would not be good to tell him the truth. Not now.
“They are lost souls, honey. Lost souls who believed the humanities would ensure them professorships and fulfilling careers someday,and other silly fantasies like that. You mustn’t let them unsettle you,” he said. He flicked off the light. “Now, good night.”
The child stared into the darkness, fixing his eyes on the glue-on glow in the dark stars on his ceiling. “I wonder if Daddy is telling the truth,” he thought.
If you go to an aquarium with your friends, be prepared to argue for approximately 20 minutes about whether Pacu are actually piranha’s, and what exceptionally exciting things might happen if you decided to go for a dip with them with an open, bleeding wound. (That guy on the show about FISH THAT WANT YOU DEAD can provide a pretty compelling answer).
The Mormon Temple of Nauvoo, Illinois. Insert canned Mitt Romney joke here. It’s rather magnificent and was constructed in the 1990s to replace the original, which was taken down when the Mormons decamped to Utah after the death of Joseph Smith in the mid-1800s. My gentile ex-boyfriend was allowed to tour it right after it was built in 1999, before they consecrated it. He said it was more than a little creepy.
It’s also the source of a lot of tourism in the immediate area from Mormons, which explains the remarkable preponderance of local buffets and ice cream parlors. (How else do you unwind when you aren’t allowed to drink bourbon? The mind boggles).
A little scatological humor on behalf of the capitol of world power? Yeah, I can totally do that. (I spent an embarrassingly long period of time adjusting my cameras settings for this photo, while Asian tourists wondered why I was STANDING RIGHT THERE and being very serious).
Thy eyes do not deceive you. That is a Hipster Ice Cream TukTuk (or autorickshaw, if you prefer). Christ, I wish I’d thought of this.
I do intend to someday purchase a Khmer-style tuk tuk, paint it Mardi Gras colors, and haul both my friends and exotic booze around in New Orleans. It’s good to have goals in life.
My mom and I concluded about 10 minutes before its projected 9:30 AM arrival time that it might behoove us to hop in the car and approach the State Capitol, where the shuttle was slated to arrive. So we did.
Much to our surprise, there were people everywhere: standing on the overpasses, packing the kids into the car, gathering in parks. Everyone was looking up. It reminded me of one of those touchingly-creepy scenes from World is Ending Due to Terrible Space Things movies, like Armageddon, where everyone looks at the sky in an anticipatory fashion.
Except instead of anticipating HORROR FROM ABOVE, everyone was anticipating the final hurrah of one of mankind’s most seminal technological achievements. Which we’re retiring for lack of funding.
The Capitol itself was jam-packed with people, who had streamed out of their office buildings in work clothes, driven there with their kids in vans, or arrived via their very shiny motorcycles. It was a rather festive atmosphere. We couldn’t park, so I took photos out of a moving car like a dork. Thankfully, one of them was usable.
As we were driving a bit away from the Capitol and looping back around, we heard a huge roar in the air: that was it. The Space Shuttle, riding on the back of a modified Boeing 747.
My telephoto lens isn’t exactly great, but it was very much recognizable as the Space Shuttle my generation has been seeing on television and in informative classroom videos from early childhood: an iconic image. It was nice to see it in the sky, in tangible form.
As we drove back, there were still legions of people hanging around, wondering if it would make another pass. It was a touching thing to see. The usual busy activity of the Capitol, school days, lingering over the paper: for a remarkable number of people, that took a backseat to tumbling out into the (admittedly lovely) morning and straining to catch a glimpse of one of the final remnants of a majestic, ending era.
Rumors of the death of popular interest in space may be greatly exaggerated…if the hubbub over the Mars Rover wasn’t proof enough.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour will be stuck in a Los Angeles science museum, where it will doubtless enchant legions of small and impressionable children. But it is awfully sad no equivalent will replace it.
We generally as an aspirational species and as an aspirational nation prefer to move backwards and not forwards when it comes to technology. The end of the space shuttle program is one of those bleak moments when we have moved backwards.
But I am glad so many of us turned up to see it off.
It’s Southeast Asian Mystery Death season again—and this time, coed girl backpackers appear to be especially vulnerable. Cue the B movie screenwriters.
CNN has reported on the curious deaths of a number of people in Southeast Asia, a number of them young American women who appear to have been poisoned by—something. It might be DEET, it might be chemicals used to kill bedbugs, it might be the various chemical dangers of Southeast Asian life. No one is sure. But they are dead, and the media’s collective hands have, inevitably, begun to wringe.
Obviously, investigations to figure out what exactly is killing people are fully warranted, and I hope the cause is ferreted out as fast as possible. That is not really what I want to talk about, although I am damned well going to be doing more through sniff checks of my future Asian hotel rooms. (I don’t drink unidentifiable shit out of buckets, so that’s one base covered).
The articles reiterate the point: “If you allow your promising young daughter to travel overseas and pursue her dreams of adventure, she may be pulled into the dark, slavering maw of the mysterious East. Just so you know.”
There’s even talk that these deaths are somehow linked murders, although a serial killer who has managed to haul his devious rump from Indonesia to Thailand to Vietnam for the singular purpose of offing cute wide-eyed young Western girls would have a really enviable number of frequent flier points. Also, I don’t believe it for a second.
To me, it is obvious: we are looking at Henry James and Isabel Archer’s foolhardiness all over again, Daisy Miller going against the reasonable suggestions of her elders and cavorting in the Colosseum at midnight with mysterious swarthy men, and sweet Christ, just look at what happened to her. (In case no one ever forced you to read the story: Daisy Miller dies. Of a mysterious illness.)
Let me quote James on the topic of Daisy Miller and foolish young American femaleness:
“Winterbourne had now begun to think simply of the craziness, from a sanitary point of view, of a delicate young girl lounging away the evening in this nest of malaria. What if she were a clever little reprobate? That was no reason for her dying of the perniciosa”
A nest of malaria.
That about describes the popular perception of Southeast Asia. Indeed, we’ve been dealing with this particular attitude regarding attractive young women and foreign travel for generations.
It sometimes appears that bad things sometimes only are acknowledged to happen when they happen to young women from nice families, at least when it comes to the Western media.
I followed the expat news pretty closely while living in Phnom Penh, and the deaths of old, non-innocent-and-wide-eyed foreigners in Cambodia were a relatively regular occurrence as anyone could determine by hanging around on the Khmer440 forums for a while.
Some were offed the obvious ways: motorcycle accident, motorcycle accident, and drug overdose, to name the most common offenders.
But other deaths could have been a suicide, could have been a posioning, could have been a murder—the facts aren’t there, and there isn’t exactly a lot of popular interest, either in Cambodia or in the West, for determining the cause of death of middle-aged, un-charismatic outcasts.
They’re not delicate reprobate young ladies, you see. Or admitted punk rock meth heads. Or locals.
This indicates, to me, that these mysterious Coed Backpacker Deaths—while tragic—may be less of an epidemic of suffering and more business-as-usual in the uncertain world of Southeast Asia. We are likely looking at yet another case of pretty young girl from a nice family selection bias.
I hate to see incidents like this used to provide ammunition to the omnipresent It’s Just Too Dangerous Young Lady contingent.
In the USA, most young people who want to travel, especially to “weird” places, are already subjected to a gauntlet of confusion and questioning from their less worldly families and friends—who often operate under the curiously common assumption that everyone in the world is desperate to string us Americans up from trees by our pinky-toes upon visual identification.
For young women, it’s much worse. Young female travelers often tend to be subjected to oodles of stories from concerned family and friends about the sexual licentiousness of Those People Over There, an argument that usually has a poorly concealed or just-not-concealed at all racial element.
All that talk about the sexual dangers of travel always sounded to me rather like old, vile assertions about the remarkable attractiveness of Southern white women during the Civil War era: that these white women were so pretty that those terrifying brown people (slaves, foreigners, carpetbaggers of ill repute) simply couldn’t resist a spot of molestation when in their luminous presence.
This, I suspect, is born of nationalist egotism and weird, antebellum sexual paternalism. And lord, does it need to end.
And now, in addition to the omnipresent You Gonna Get Raped!!! threats, these young women will likely have to deal with some sort of poorly-thought out “But you might get poisoned by stuff!” argument from their archetypical Aunt Trudy, the one who always vacations in Disneyland and likes-it-just-fine-thank-you.
And CNN and other media sources are notdoing said women any favors by the particular tone of their coverage, which seems to imply that nubile young Western ladies are specifically being targeted. (Like they always supposedly are!)
I would like to add that I am a young blonde American female who has thus far managed to travel alone in third world countries without real incident.
This is sometimes countered with “You’re lucky!” by certain people back in the USA, and followed with “But wouldn’t you prefer to visit somewhere nice?”, as if my un-dismembered survival up to this point can be chalked up to the vagaries of fate, and not to any amount of aptitude or independent competence on my part.
The reality is that pretty young women can in fact be astute and clever travelers, just like men and middle-aged people and everyone else.
Not everyone in the world is looking to throw pretty young American women into a sack and sell them to the sex slave traders, or to dismember them, or whatever you might think could happen.
(Realistically: it’s infinitely easier to throw some poor girl from a poor country into said Sack of Misery and save the legal fees and drama. Which is a depressing commentary on our planet).
Of course, bad things can happen to young women traveling abroad, even experienced travelers—as these most recent young victims appear to have been.
Sometimes, no matter how clever you are, your luck runs out.
We seem to be much more comfortable as a society with allowing young men to take responsibility for their own safety and fate then we do young women, whose demise often seems to be seen as something of a collective failure of society.
If we want equality, that attitude has absolutely go to go.
What advice would I give young women going overseas? I would first advise them not to be too trusting, because many young American women appear to be trained that every smile and request should be met with amiable consideration. This is not how things are. Young women—and men—should break themselves of this foolishness immediately.
Mostly: for God’s sake, don’t drink things you can’t identify. Don’t do hard drugs in foreign countries, even if they’re totally cheap and it would like, make your evening. Just skip the damned Full Moon parties: you can drink cheap booze out of buckets and paint yourself neon colors and roll around in the sand with Mysterious Strangers back home and save yourself the plane ticket.
My most important advice? Ignore Aunt Trudy, ignore Disneyland, ignore CNN, ignore your peers, ignore that keening voice within your head that tells you it’s probably best to just hang around your familiar neighborhood and watch some nice travel documentaries instead. Yes, bad things can happen to you. But bad things can happen to you in your own backyard.
Hello, Internet. I’m in Iowa for a couple weeks, having successfully flown the Washington DC coop. I am in the process of preparing for and sorting out the details of a trip to Cambodia and Burma (and possibly Laos).
I plan to leave in early October. I miss Asia, and I miss Asia even more when the seasons began to change in the US and a certain foreign crispness finds its way into the air. I am very much a tropical creature, and I have none of the usual US fondness for and nostalgia for snow. Nasty stuff that must be dealt with, more like. Though I suppose you can’t smack your friends in the face with a wadded up ball of rain, so there is that.
Went to Boston to meet with my lovely and benevolent GlobalPost overlords. Stayed at the house of friends from Tulane, who are doing a quite successful job of being adults a bit outside of Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is heartening to see: people my age who have a home, agency, and jobs they don’t hate. It is easy to get sucked into the constant economic mire and convince yourself that the world is sinking into a cesspool, your generation is particularly affected, and Oh Why Bother Anyway. This is not necessarily true.
We visited the Boston Aquarium, where they are removing every last creature from the massive, central ocean tank so that they can clean and renovate it. This meant we got to watch scuba divers wrestle and transport sea turtles and rays. Sea turtles are easier to tangle with: you rely on the element of surprise and swim up under them, hustling them into a plastic box and walking them down the aisles of your aquarium on wheels.
Stingrays are the problem: smooth, slippery, irate, extremely good at bouts of angry thrashing. We saw one huge stingray successfully escape its captors and the mist net they were using to contain it: we watched as it swiftly circled the walls of the tank, a bit of a “Come at me bro” look in its admittedly unexpressive eyes. Don’t mess around with stingrays.
I left Massachusetts in 2007 and have successfully avoided coming back since: not due to any real particular ire towards Massachusetts but more because I’m now pretty convinced I will actually wither and die when confronted with cold climates. Still, Boston is lovely: a city that feels downright exotic to mostly-West Coaster me, where everything is old, cobble-stoned, and has a distinct feeling of age to it.
Most US cities are defined by their sparkly newness, and this is especially true of the West, my West, where the population shifted around the 1950s and bought neon signs and convenient burger salons with them, where no one built inconvenient narrow alleyway houses, where we have boxes made of ticky-tacky. My classmates live in a house from around the 1920s and say this is considered relatively new in their neighborhood: Boston has an enviable connection with its past, and perhaps a more enviable connection with the water.
There are many cities built around ports, on the water, but not many construct as many attractive buildings on the waterfront. And then there’s all the fishing boats, the wharfs, the activity around there: reminds me especially of the Basque countryside in Spain. Same ocean, a few thousand miles apart, give or take. There is probably a chill in the air in very early September in the Basque country too.
One downside of traveling as much as I do: you become a bit detached from the “usual” progress of seasons. If you remain in one place, you are able to subconsciously track about when you should be breaking out your sweaters, or preparing for rain, or worrying about tornadoes: you lose this ability when you are perennially on the road, and must rely on the Weather Channel or word of mouth to fill in the gaps.
A chilly night or a remarkably hot day or a rain storm fill you with surprise: there is no context for This Time of Year. Fall happens now, or it could happen then, or it might not even happen at all, or it might look different from everybody else’s. My brief experience with Massachusetts seasons in Great Barrington left me feeling deeply offended, especially when April rolled around and it was still snowy, frigid, and largely impassable between classes on the Simon’s Rock campus.
I took it as a personal affront, coming from a state where April is the month where summer begins, as if the Berkshires particular geography was an intricate conspiracy designed to make my life suck.
It’s still summer in Iowa, although there has been a little rain since I was here last a month ago, and the plants and grass look a bit less put-upon. The weather is a glorious 70s: I wonder if I could successfully manufacture a life outrunning the seasons, using jet airplanes as a panacea against reality. (They don’t outrun time, but that would be nice).
I am definitely outrunning the election, at least.As was planned.
Washington DC is lamentably short of half-decent Thai restaurants, but there is one exception: Little Serow.
Little Serow is a curious beast, a fixed-menu walk in restaurant that serves intensely authentic Isan-style Thai food to a decidely chic audience. It is apparently owned by a husband-wife team of Westerners who went to Thailand, liked the food, learned how to cook it, and opened a restaurant.
This therefore almost falls into the genre of Nostalgic Anthropology Restaurants, which actually tend to be quite good in my experience.
The dining room is dark and colored a minty green one usually associates with bubblegum: there are no Thai antiques or plinky traditional music in evidence. Walk-ins only: expect to wait for you seat if it isn’t a weekend, standing around among the Converse-wearing crowd.
Little Serow also isn’t particularly cheap: about $45 a person for the fixed menu. A good deal in DC, a bit horrifying for me as I got used to spending up to $2 a plate for the same stuff whilst living in Cambodia.
However, the ingredients are more expensive here and few people know how to make this stuff, so I’d be a jerk to begrudge them. The wine list is quite excellent. I suggest prosecco or another kind of sparkler. Prosecco works with really pungent Thai food, as it tuns out. Same reason it works with caviar, I guess.
Little Serow’s pretense and coolness would be tiresome as hell, but as it turns out, the food is pretty great. I haven’t had flavors like this since I was last in Northern Thailand and Cambodia – in fact, I’ve never had Thai food like this in the USA at all.
Oh god, I’m so glad pork rinds are becoming cool again. I ate a ton of them as a little kid – BBQ flavor, the only kind that would do – and was so happy to arrive in Southeast Asia and realize people loved them there too. This would be the Isan equivalent of chips and salsa while watching the game with your boys: pork rinds dipped into a smoky, spicy eggplant dip. I could eat this all day.
Pork rinds are good for you. They’re low carb. Look it up. Pigs aren’t made of carbohydrates.
Glass noodle salad with lime, chili, peanuts, cilantro, and mint. This is a pretty typical, refreshing salad in Southeast Asia – something people eat riffs on in Cambodia a lot, too.
Herbaceous and refreshing, the sort of thing you could deign to languidly consume on one of those 102-in-the-shade-with-humidity-goddammit days that both Washington DC and Thailand are prone to. Little dried shrimps abound.
I should mention that if you are allergic to shrimp, don’t eat here. Just avoid Southeast Asia, really. Especially Cambodia. That’s a good way to die. (My aunt managed it, but I made sure I knew the Khmer for “IF MY AUNT EATS SHRIMP SHE WILL DIE” with accompanying knife-across-the-throat hand signal just in case!)
Now this is something you’ve probably never had before – fried rice cakes in a pungent, hot and sour lime juice and chili dressing with mint, cilantro, shallot, and I think a touch of lemongrass. As it turns out, fried rice cakes soaked in lime take on this almost chicken-nugget like texture that is rather addictive, almost meaty. A good choice for the vegetarian who occasionally feels pangs of remorse. Pungent, crunchy.
I should add I don’t find the food at Little Serow all that spicy. However, my friends claim I fried off all my tastebuds in a childhood accident so you might want to tread cautiously.
This is a Isan-style salad with ground catfish, basil, dill, lime juice, mint, chili, fried shallot, fresh shallot, and probably other spices I’m forgetting. I happen to be a big catfish fan – blame it on the Southern genes – and Southeast Asia is in fervent agreement. Also, catfish get big enough to devour smallish people (like myself) in the Mekong, so my sympathy for the bewhiskered, muddy bastards is minimal.
Ground catfish happens to be fantastic, especially when combined with a lot of pungent spices and eaten out of lettuce cups. I wish I could order this up for lunch. It’s somewhat like a larb gai salad with catfish, by ways of comparison. My favorite dish at Little Serow. Am having occasional dreams of making it myself. Of course, I must first grind a catfish.
Chinese broccoli with fried s,melts in an oyster sauce. I love Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, to an extent that many people find somewhat confusing as most people would probably not regard a cruciferous vegetable tantamount to, say, miniature buttercream cupcakes with likkle sugar heart on them. But love it I do. I especially love it if you put much misunderstood and delightful fried smelts on top of em’. Just eat the heads, they won’t kill you, you weenie. Full of calcium. And eyeballs. Those too.
Charcoal glazed pork-rib with onions and dill in a semi-sweet chili sauce. This is the dish everyone lauds at Little Serow, apparently, and it’s definitely pretty good. Certainly reminiscent of stuff I’ve eaten from smoky, late-night meat stalls in Cambodia and Thailand, sexed up a bit. (It would be difficult to secure a license for a whole pig food truck here in Washington, I wager, though I am also 99% certain some clever little shit has made the attempt).
Nice and tender meat, although I actually prefer it a little chewier. But that is a truly minor complaint on my end.
Dill is not something we associate with grilling too much in the USA – most of us restrict its use to salmon and perhaps Green Goddess dressing – but it happens to be insanely popular in Vietnam, and widely used elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Americans for some reason don’t really go in for Eau de Aged, Pungent Fish Mashed With Chilis and Tiny Little Bones. Shocker. (This is not something you would be served at Little Serow, relax).
Isan food is also known for being even spicier than the Bangkok-style Thai food we usually encounter in the USA, which is really a feat, as Thai food in Bangkok can easily be blow-the-roof off hot if you ask nicely. I know that the only time in my life I have thought food was going to actually kill me occurred when I unthinkingly told a little old Lao lady at a Bangkok food stand to “make my papaya salad spicy.” Jesus God.
Yelp seems to indicate that a lot of people try this place out and fail to get it, but I’m happy to admit that this is not among the easiest cuisines in the world to fall in love with – pungent, spicy, just-plain-weird flavors are the order of the day. Don’t go in expecting to order chicken pad thai, in other words. Not that there’s anything wrong with that venerable, delicious dish.
I have a lot of beef with people who desperately attempt to find THE MOST AUTHENTIC version of whatever cuisine. Authenticity is nice and all, but in the case of, say, Isan style food, Really Authentic usually involves a lot more wild frog, insects, and breaches of hygiene. (I won’t get into what REALLY AUTHENTIC Khmer food as served through a US lens might be like). Taste should really be everything. I can appreciate Little Serow, but I can also appreciate a dynamite chicken pad thai.
In lieu of anything enlightening: these ancient Iranian drinking goblets on display at the Sackler-Freer Museum in Washington DC are fantastic. I should remake them and sell them at inflated prices to frat boys. It’s infallible.
The lion looks less sure of himself than the lynx. I think he’s subject to more angst. It’s OK, bro. We all understand. It’s hard to be, well, drunk out of.
A trip to the Sackler swiftly reveals the Chinese under the Zhou conquered the art of the insanely trippy drinking jug. This is another object I need to fabricate and sell at Urban Outfitters to dreamy twee girls who want to drink their Barefoot wine in a, like, artsy way in their dorm rooms. You know, when the RA is out of town.
It’s got an owl on it.
I present no snark with this, as it is awesome and I would like to display it on my mantel with tasteful spot lighting. In the event that I ever own a mantel, which is looking doubtful.
Insofar as I am aware, you cannot drink out of this ancient Chinese man. Which is all well and good, because I think the strain would ruin this poor little fellow. I want to get him some psychotherapy. The artist is good at portraying neuroses.
This is just glorious. I must find a poster. It’s titled Shishi, and it’s by Tsuji Kako, a Japanese painter who lived from 1870 to 1931. Shishi, according to the Freer Gallery’s caption, refers to a fierce guardian lion. I would love to have one of these fluffy, befanged green eyed wisps following me about.
A culinary seafood painting – you’d hang it in your sushi restaurant. Why I haven’t seen it before is a mystery. Just marvelous – something else I’d like to have staring at me in my Future Nonexistent Study. Via the Freer: Taki Katei (Randen) , (Japanese, 1830-1901) Meiji era
Perhaps my favorite. I love how contentedly flippant she looks. Shima Se’ien was a female artist, and apparently a rather subversive one, maintaining the flirtatious nature of traditional Japanese female portraits while turning the tradition on its head. I like this girl a lot – she sort of reminds me of myself. A look at Ms Sei’en’s oeuvre reveals she would likely have been a helluva manga artist in latter generations.