Archive for March, 2007

Day 1: Chinatown, North Beach

(Updated: 04.02.2007)

The air smells something sweet in the way only San Francisco air can, and there’s a gentle breeze rolling off the bay – never a better way to start off a trip.

My girlfriend Janice and I started out the day with bagels and coffee at Momi Toby’s Cafe, a perfectly bohemian spot serving a mean onion bagel and chilling the atmosphere with some Indian-influenced lounge music.

After a liesurely breakfast, we strolled around Hayes Valley – the neighorhood we’re staying in – which oozes original character: from trendy sake shops to hole-in-the-wall organic grocery stores. The buildings are all like vintage clothes: broken in, homey, unique and decidedly hip – a welcome change in a time when many urban areas are going the way of sterile modern design.

We headed up Market St. and then up to Chinatown, slipping into trinket shops and bakeries and milk-tea joints. I absolutely love the Chinatown vibes – it’s like a slice of Beijing…only a bit friendlier because it’s in San Francisco.

Lunchtime we noshed on sandwiches and beer at the San Francisco Brewery with our friend Danielle – who’s generous enough to put us up this week – and chatted about the direction of our lives. She thinks we need to move to the city…we agree.

The rest of the afternoon was spent bookworming at City Lights bookstore (famed as the quintessential beat literary haven) and moseying around North Beach – we walked in the sun, just drinking the city in until our legs hurt.

And so now we’re waiting to go to dinner – sorry for the lack of links and pictures, but we’re still on the run. Expect more details soon!

Happy Travels!

ORD to OAK

Heading to San Francisco tonight, and I’ll be out for a week – but don’t worry faithful reader! I’ll be packing a laptop this trip to post pictures, happenings and reflections.

Until then, enjoy one of my favorite YouTube flicks: a crazy SF bike ride.

PS. The background track is Def Leppard’s Run Riot. Get your bicycle on!

The Tibet Dilemma

Anyone who’s traveled has been there: the infamous “tourist area,” where everything seems to have a false veneer just waiting to be peeled away; the atmosphere is watered down, the people are louder, and the locals are just passing through.

It may seem ironic to the true traveler that it is because of them (or, us) that these touristy spots even exist (although I suppose we could make a distinction between “travelers” and “tourists”) and that the touristification of sites and cities is ostensibly the result of foreign governments wanting to put on a pleasing face for visitors.

Herein lies the rub: how can one travel to a foreign place without in some way contributing to this process of watering down local culture?

If you have, will or want to travel to Tibet, this is a question you should be asking yourself.

China announced yesterday that it will invest nearly $13 billion in Tibet’s infrastructure – to be spent on the region’s first railway, the world’s highest airport, and other more pragmatic needs like clean drinking water, electricity and telephone lines (Reuters).

But I can’t imagine that China won’t be looking for a significant return on its investment in terms of tourism – a Shanghai-based company here has already put together travel packages to the region.

[Lhasa, Tibet, originally uploaded by moniqca.]

That’s not so bad though, right? Healthy economies need tourism, no doubt – but we should be worried about how a tourist boom will affect one of the world’s most sacred and reclusive cultures. Look to Beijing and you see the threat manifest: a Starbucks in the Forbidden City – and people are debating whether this is ok? (PS – An interesting article on that issue here)

And so we feel torn inside. We want access to destinations, and places to stay and eat, but with this access begins the erosion of pure culture. How sacred is a temple once it is featured on a postcard? When we buy trinkets, are we supporting the livelihood of locals, or reinforcing the idea that tourists only come for souvenirs?

Perhaps what is most important is that we are conscious of our choices and of our intentions. If traveling to Tibet (or anywhere) is percieved as a means to an end – a destination to check off, a postcard to send home, a way to become spiritual – then something is lost.

We should travel for its own sake, for the sake of having new experiences and being open to meeting real people.

[For a resource on Tibetan life and travel, check out Life on the Tibetan Plateau blog]

Burma’s New Capital

Burma (or Myanmar) has officially opened its new capital – Nyapyidaw – about 400 km north of the former, Rangoon. The BBC runs an article and photoseries today, as journalists were allowed to enter the city for the first time.

The official Burmese government has yet to offer a reason for moving the capital, although rumors continue to circulate that it was done out of paranoia and fear of student protesters.

The Burmese gov. is quite possibly the most oppressive regime in the world today – but China’s thirst for cheap energy from the nation has stifled opposition from the international community.

Pres. Bush renewed sanctions against the military junta last year, which at least symbolically I agree with (I know – me and Bush agreeing? Hell must be freezing). With Burma’s regime especially, I have no doubt that any material wealth coming in is going straight to military leaders.

It’s difficult to know what it will take to catalyse progress in Burma, as the new capital is further evidence of the government’s reclusiveness and apathy.

For more Burma news, check out Fifty Viss blog – an ethnic Burmese blogger out of California.

Empty Apologies

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been reluctant to admit that Japan was responsible for wartime sex slaves, “apologized” today – choosing his words very carefully:

Mr Abe said, during a debate in parliament’s upper house, that he stood by an official 1993 statement in which Japan acknowledged the imperial army set up and ran brothels for its troops during the war.

“As I frequently say, I feel sympathy for the people who underwent hardships, and I apologise for the fact that they were placed in this situation at the time,” he said. [BBC]

Of course, he stopped short of actually taking responsibility for causing their “situation,” which was the direct result of inhuman perversity in the Japanese war machine during WWII.

Sorry Abe, but your words ring hollow – “apologize” as much as you want, but unless the government owns up and stops editing the history books, there is no justice for these women.

It will be interesting to hear the reaction from China and Korea to the PM’s latest remarks (China’s premier cut his visit to Japan short last week on account of Abe’s continued denial) – but until then, it may be better to consider how these countries can help these women realize justice in their own way; The Metropolitician wrote a great post on how Korea’s sex slaves have become nationalist symbols – to the detriment of their cause.

You know the line: “Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.” The same goes for those who deny history’s darker corners …


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