Archive for March, 2008

This Week’s Wandering News

  • In a recent letter to The Morning News, Rosecrans Baldwin tells readers that Paris is bummin’ him out…and, you know, trying to kill his wife.
  • South Korea is worried about the price of booze — more specifically, soju. In a battle to keep low-income families afloat amid inflation, the government released a list of 52 items that it will price monitor; the potato-based distilled beverage made the cut.
  • Guidebook author Alastair Sawday talks about the Slow Travel movement over at the Guardian, and gives his picks for meandering around Britain.
  • The International Herald Tribune gives a public face to the five women who died during Tibet’s riots: He Xinxin, Chen Jia, Li Yuan, Cirenzhuoga and Yang Dongmei.
  • And finally, all this news might hardly matter if earth is eaten by a black hole.

For more links, check my del.icio.us.

Tourists, Vietnam & the Disconnect

photo by besar bears.

RICHARD BERNSTEIN PULLED INTO Danang harbor on a cruise ship and disembarked to find the lives of locals interrupted in a frenzy of opportunists looking to capitalize on the tourism crush. A few miles south, pristine China Beach was actively being chiseled out by developers of posh hotels.

In his recent piece for the International Herald Tribune, Bernstein observes that Vietnamese towns like Danang are swiftly going the way of Tuscany Villas, pushing aside real life for the sake of nostalgic kitsch that can be sold to the wealthy. Which, he observes, the people of Vietnam should have every right to do — with one major caveat:

What is sad about it nonetheless is the contrast between the wealth of the visitors and the poverty of the country they are visiting. This is one of those countries where the arrival of a tour bus occasions the appearance of hordes of touts, cyclo drivers, would-be tour guides, sellers of T-shirts and ink paintings of women in flowing ao dais and straw conical hats. These are the economic opportunists who aren’t shareholders in the Hyatt or Raffles but who jockey and jostle to have a modest portion of the tourist trade.

Bernstein also points out a disconnect that exists beyond economy, one that lies in our experience. He questions whether travelers to much-exoticized Southeast Asian nations ever really come in contact with the culture and history of those places, or if we’re just touring an “ersatz jungle”.

Is our interest in countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam purely elemental — sun, beach, nature — or are we curious about the people and their lives? It’s a question worth reflecting on before making your next journey.

The Other Side of Town

photo by joshua heineman.

A CHAIR’S WIRY SHADOW was cast on the brick wall like some translucent fishing net, fading in and out as clouds passed over the sun. I stared at this while sipping coffee in a minute of respite, my mind flitting between vague, yellowing memories and thoughts of how friends in other cities were getting on.

It was the first truly warm day of spring. The air had a calm about it that was only occasionally broken by cuts of brisk wind. I took it, shedding my stocking cap to allow the breeze to pass through my naked hair. A melting heap of snow sat stubbornly on the patio, like a nagging reminder of winter’s proximity — and ability to return with the drop of just a few degrees. My hands were still cracked from the cold, dry air.

I hadn’t been on the other side of town since fall, and gazing out at the traffic rushing down East Washington — an ugly, industrial artery — I felt transported; it was as though I was seeing the city from the window of a passing plane. The light seemed to play tricks on time.

I wanted to talk with someone, to share this unruffled moment. But as I felt for my phone I decided against it. The wind was picking up. I went inside, and began to bury myself in the usual roar of thoughts and worries.

Time & the Lost Art of Cruising

photo by 摩根

WE ARE TIME POOR, to borrow the words of Rolf Potts. Or rather, in all seriousness, we can call ourselves time anorexic. As a generation, we starve our activities and endeavours of the attention they deserve. This leaves us tired, creatively drained. The irony is that the more we try to shove into the seconds the sooner they evaporate.

This idea commonly circulates in discussions about the value of slow travel; the reasoning behind not trying to cram ten countries into two weeks is easy enough to understand. But the heart of that philosophy seems to fizz out once we edge back into home routines. The digital age further enables the work-addicted, and our fragmented mind lessens the quality of our experiences.

I noticed this in my own life during my recent trip to Chicago. Though I had barely 36 hours in the city, I filled a backpack with a laptop, dress clothes, etc., anticipating all the work I would accomplish. The reality of the time frame checked me, however, after a mostly sleepless night drained both my inspiration and my ambition. I was left pedaling around a cold city with a ridiculously heavy bag, annoyed that it hadn’t been the productive trip I’d hoped for.

Even in the day-to-day, it seems the more hurried I feel the less I get done.

As a journalist, I’ve learned that the story can’t (and shouldn’t) be forced. Deadlines aside, we need to make sure we understand what’s really going on. We ought to allow the same kind of time to understand ourselves and to evaluate what we’re working towards in life.

In the past, if I was out on my bike and had some spare minutes, I would just float around the city streets. During the last few months I’ve done none of that, and I’d lost something because of it — a simple enjoyment, a sense of life’s randomness. But as the spring sun becomes warm, I’m beginning to get back to the art of cruising.

This Week’s Wandering News

  • The Guardian’s Vicky Baker is looking to get off the Lonely Planet grid by “Going Local” in South America, putting couchsurfing and other hospitality sites to the test. Follow her three month journey here.
  • In South Korea, rising oil prices are getting people to start thinking about greener products, says the JoongAng Daily. Local vendors are selling more bicycles, especially of the folding variety, and Samsung just released a hot new low-energy plasma TV.
  • Never mind the pre-election bullying from local Maoists, The New York Times says tourism is up in Nepal, and is drawing well-seasoned travelers seeking spiritual solace — and yetis.
  • A man was charged on Friday with trying to light an airplane seat on fire during a flight from Las Vegas to Seattle. Maybe he was trying to get them to land closer to his home in Ashland, Ore. — or maybe he just wasn’t happy with his economy seating.
  • Thousands protested American military presence in Okinawa today following gruesome rape cases involving marines, says AFP. I’m scratching my head as to why we still have troops in the pacifist nation.

Happy Sunday. Safe travels, and don’t eat too many peeps.

China Plans New Embassy in Seoul

photo of myeongdong by jungmoon.

IN THE HEART OF the bustling Myeongdong shopping district in downtown Seoul, China is planning construction for a towering embassy that will occupy almost 10,000 square meters, making it the largest in South Korea. Whether this is a sign of the two countries becoming closer — or just another display of the Middle Kingdom’s affection for rampant development — is unclear.

The new embassy will have two sections, says the JoongAng Daily; one 24-story block of apartments for employees and another 10-story building for offices. The compound will also house a pool, a gym and even a hair salon. It will be built on plot of land that was home to the old Chinese embassy before the offices moved to the Jongno neighborhood, and is slated to be completed by 2012.

The consular offices, however, do not appear to be moving. Unless notice is given otherwise you will still need to apply for visas at:

ENG: 50-7, No. 2 Street, Namsan-dong, Chung-gu, Seoul (source)
KR: 서울특별시 중구 남산동 2가 50-7번지 (출처)

Related News: Seoul plans new Chinatown neighborhood.

More Windy City Eats

IN A POST OVER at Jaunted today, I talk about Uncommon Ground, a local eco-friendly restaurant chain in Chicago. Check out that article here, or see reviews at Yelp.


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