Archive for October, 2010

October 29, 2010

World Traveler: Dave Lumenta

This is my cousin Dave.

Dave is the oldest of our cousins, and my being the youngest meant that by the time I was born, Dave was already grown up. Never mind the age gap, we lived so far apart anyway that my sister and I never got to know him. He didn’t play with us when we visited, we were little kids, and we didn’t really care what he was up to. Now, as I’m finally getting to know him, turns out he’s been up to a lot.

Dave is an anthropologist. He specializes in Southeast Asian cultures, especially in Indonesia and Borneo, where he’s visited places so remote, he’s been the first outsider allowed in by the people. The above photograph with the severed cow head was taken in West Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo, in 2001.

Dave has seen and done things we will most likely never even think about experiencing. And maybe it’s better that way — the preservation of as-of-yet untouched cultures is worrisome. Globalization is an unstoppable phenomenon. He hasn’t updated his blog since 2007, but you can check it out here. His photographs capture the cultures he encounters in a way that is both intriguing and eerie.

His most recent photographs of Jakarta, which he calls “A Dystopian Megalopolis.”

 

This is toxic foam.

These are from his trips to Borneo:

Struggling up the Tekelan river to the Gerugu Naris gorges

Batang Kanyau became the frontline for Indonesian-Malaysian confrontations from 1963-66

Seven needles are bound together to block the colour

The skin swells as it’s injected with soot. Salt is the only disinfectant

For Apai Linggong (1945-2003), his tattoos are his life story. He got this one after he traveled on an airplane for the first time when he went to work in Sarawak in 1975. The other tattoos are traditional designs.

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October 27, 2010

Travel Tales: Bill Clinton Ate Here

The New York Times Travel Magazine posted an article on Monday called “Restaurants’ Best Press: ‘Bill Clinton Ate Here’,” and I giggled. I know this strategy all too well. I have fallen prey to this marketing tactic. Two summers ago, Family Summer 2008, my family and I went on a culinary trek through Holland in honor of Bill Clinton. We were in search of Bill Clinton’s poffertjes.

A few members of my extended family had gathered in Holland before we all headed off to Belgium for my cousin’s wedding. My Aunt Jane had lived in Amsterdam some forty years ago and was really in the mood for some poffertjes.

Poffertjes are balls of fried pancake dough, and they’re amazing. Fluffy and warm and crispy and buttery, they’re served with your basic breakfast food condiments — Nutella, jam, more butter, powdered sugar, syrup, fruit and cream. My mom said that we would be road tripping to a small town called Delft to find a cafe rumored to have the best pofferjtes in the land. “How do you know?” I asked. “Because Bill Clinton ate there!” Ah, of course.

So it wasn’t that much of a trek, more like an hour in the car. Delft is a beautiful little town. If they hadn’t been able to get the permits to film in Bruges, you can be pretty sure Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes would have had their shoot-out in this canal. A fairy tale town.

The cafe, in the middle of the town square, was not shy about their Bill Clinton affiliation. There was a photo in the window, almost the size of a life-size cutout. The wall outside the bathrooms was dedicated to him. Newspaper clippings, framed photographs, a signed napkin. Hillary would pop up here and there but for the most part, it was Bill-only. It is the most concentrated amount of Bill Clinton I’ve ever experienced. And he ate here in 1997. I’m actually surprised their awning wasn’t just a picture of Bill’s face, throwing everyone a thumbs up, “Best pofferjtes in the land!” The menu featured the picture from the window, Bill arm-in-arm with the owner, next to “The Bill Clinton Special” — strawberries and cream. That’s what I ordered, and that’s what I’ll order again. Simple but classic. Thanks, Bill!

Walking through the square, feeling thoroughly satisfied and pleased with the former President, we passed three other poffertjes places that advertised the exact same thing with the photographic evidence to back it up. So much for brand loyalty.

October 18, 2010

Travel Tales: Airlines Hate Us

©BudgetTravel.com

Last month, Budget Travel posted a list of 8 things an airline can do but would never actually tell you. It’s the kind of article you want to print and whip out the next time you’re at the airport and the nice lady behind the counter is charging you an overweight luggage fee. You want to go, “Hoooold it,” look at her over the top of your reading glasses and ask if she’s so sure about that. You’re no chump! Or at least that’s what I’m going to do.

To be fair to the airlines, I understand number four — an airline won’t tell passengers right away if there’s an emergency. My mother used to be a flight attendant and she explained that it’s basically like yelling, “Fire!” in a movie house. (Though, oddly, you could yell “Movie!” in a fire house without consequence. That’s what I’ve heard, anyway.) If there’s nothing the passengers can do to help anyway, better not to give them something that’ll frighten them. There’s enough to be afraid of already.

Cracked.com has a special knack for making traveling mishaps simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. I read their article “7 True Stories That Prove the Airlines Hate Us” a year ago and haven’t been able to forget it. I’ve used the story of the time United Airlines set a woman’s luggage on fire and then kind of just, whatever, shrugged about it, as a conversation piece on several occasion. Their earlier article “The 7 Dumbest Things Ever Done By Airport Security,” as retold by me, has also gotten some laughs. If anything, Cracked makes me a funnier person to be around. But every silver lining has its cloud, and in this case, that cloud would be the gnawing paranoia I now unwillingly pack whenever I head to the airport. (For a very brief moment I was terrified of what would happen if “Sarah Schneider” made it onto the no-fly list. There are a million Sarah Schneiders! My boyfriend even has a cousin named Sarah Schneider. Isn’t it entirely possible that one of them is an international arms dealer not allowed to travel internationally anymore? The paranoia!)

It’s not all Cracked’s fault, though. The Journey Home Christmas 2009 plays a major supporting role. I won’t go into too much detail, but to give an overview: My flight plan was Boston — New York — Chicago — Shanghai. I almost missed my connection in New York, but then was lucky enough to sit next to a very chatty drunk guy. So lucky. Before take-off, he told me how he’s an aspiring actor, and how much it sucks that he has to shoot a movie in New Orleans because “there’s nothing down there. Well, anymore,” and how he wished he were in Texas with his best friend Brett, who shoots guns and drives a Lamborghini, possibly at the same time. I think then he drunk-dialed his grandma? Anyway. After my nine-hour layover in Chicago, we boarded the plane and I fell asleep. I woke up two hours later to discover we hadn’t taken off yet, and instead they’d asked us to disembark. Our plane was defective and we needed to sit tight for eight hours until the good plane got to O’Hare. I missed Christmas Eve, but my family had another one in my honor.

I know that’s not actual proof that the airlines hate us (they gave everyone a coupon for the airport; that was nice, and they did possibly save us from crashing what with giving us a plane that flies and all), but it’s travel stories like the ones on Budget Travel and Cracked, and even my own, that instill travel cynicism that’s pretty hard to shake. Luckily, it hasn’t done any permanent damage yet, but it has added a kind of thrill to it all. The gamble of whether this trip’s going to go smoothly, or if it’ll be a story we’ll still be telling next Christmas.

October 7, 2010

Travel Tales: Paris Signage

It shouldn’t be that much of a shock to find out that I’m a little bit in love with Paris. Kind of like everyone else in the world. Even a recent first-time viewing of Taken starring the incredible Liam Neeson didn’t convince me otherwise. But it did make me pretty suspicious of overly nice guys at airports named Peter. Sidenote: That movie, much to the chagrin of my parents, came out right around when I went on my chaperone-less Eurotrip. Can’t tell you how relieved I am that I only watched it two nights ago. But Paris!

Possibly the best way to get to know a city, and I will argue this in court, is to simply walk around. My junior year of high school, our French teacher took our class to Paris, and that’s what we did. We walked around. A lot. I had been to Paris before with my parents, but I’d never walked around like that. When I sit in a cafe, reading a book or a magazine, having coffee and people watching, I picture I’m in Paris. It feels like that nonchalant cafe chic ambiance is translated throughout the whole city, which makes it so easy to aimlessly wander the streets and never be lost. So maybe you can imagine how much I loved this post on Imprint on Paris signage.

The typography, although not flashy, is characteristic of Paris — cool and distinct, manicured but minimal and casual. With amazing eclairs.

October 4, 2010

Road Songs: Night Train

Night Train by Brown Recluse

This song stands at number one in my traveling playlist. (Click on the song title to give it a listen.) That doesn’t necessarily make it my favorite song, but it makes it my favorite for starting a new trip. It’s cheery and sweet without being obnoxious or overtly sugary. It’s simple and lovely.

When I first heard it, I honestly couldn’t help but bob my head along to the opening bass line. I’m already smiling like an idiot by the time the piano and horns come in. The first time it came on while I was in a car, everything that was happening on the other side of the window seemed to perfectly match up to the music. Bike riders, trees, birds, other cars, traffic cones, everything. It gives a sunshiny day a natural soundtrack, and makes rain days a little brighter. That’s how impossible it is not to imagine good things happening to this song, and that’s exactly what I want when I’m going some place new.

(WARNING: According to Google Instant, Brown Recluse is a spider, and for some reason, there’s 929 video results on the internet. Do not, do not, do not click on brown recluse spider images. Your eyes will hate you. Luckily, this hasn’t deterred me from liking Brown Recluse the band, but I can’t say the same about Google.)

October 2, 2010

Flashback: The John Butler Trio

We listened to a lot of music on our Eurotrip, but the culminating event was undoubtedly the Optimus Alive!08 Festival in Lisbon. We heard about some kind of music thing from Australian backpackers who were on the train with us from Madrid to Lisbon, but we didn’t realize the scale of it until we saw the billboard outside of the train station. It announced Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine, Neil Young, The National, Ben Harper, Vampire Weekend, MGMT, The Hives and just about everyone else you could think of. But for my best friend, Irem, and I, only one name stood out — The John Butler Trio.

His album “Grand National” gave me one of my favorite songs of all time: “Daniella,” a funky, sexy tribute to his wife. (Listen here.) Besides having the honor of being on my “Favorite Songs Ever” playlist, I instinctively put on “Daniella” whenever I’m on a plane or get into a Shanghai cab. It never fails to put a smile on my face or get me singing and dancing, which is pretty much the criteria for getting on my “Favorite Songs Ever” playlist. It’s just a wonderful song written by a man for his wife. It’s a song you want to jam to, while secretly hoping that someone’s writing a song like this about you too. Unfortunately, the Trio didn’t play it at Optimus Alive!, but they did play “Zebra.”

“Zebra” was the first John Butler song I ever listened to. It introduced me to this bluesy, country twang, sometimes reggae-inspired jam band genre that later made me love Dispatch and the Black Keys. And when I heard John Butler play “Zebra,” I was screaming by the opening note. People turned with raised eyebrows and looked at me, but it really didn’t matter. Come on! It’s Zebra! And it was amazing.

We got to the concert at around four, and after making the rounds and checking out the other booths, we decided to head to the still pretty empty stage area and wait for John Butler. They weren’t scheduled to play until around 7.30, I think, but we didn’t want to risk ending up in the back. The only other people there were dressed all in black. They’d been standing there in the hot sun since the gates opened, waiting for Within Temptation, a goth-rock band following the Trio. They made it very clear that they weren’t moving for nobody. So instead we joined them. By the time the first act, a ska-folk-gypsy big band, was done, the audience had filled the space completely and we were locked in. We had forgotten to get drinks or food, but I had danced so hard to the other band, I asked the kind woman in front of us for a sip of her water. I’ve never asked a stranger that before or since.

Around a quarter to six, an announcement was made that Nouvelle Vague, playing before JBT, were stuck at the airport and wouldn’t make it. Instead, the John Butler Trio had agreed to go on early. Yes. Irem and I were a little disappointed to see that John Butler had cut off his beautiful signature dread locks. “It’s not the real John Butler,” we whined. But as they opened with “Treat Yo Mama,” maybe the only twangy rock song that makes me want to start recycling, we quickly realized that this was definitely the real John Butler. And he’s amazing.

“Zebra” was their closing. Every single person was singing along, which is easy because it doesn’t have that many real words in it. It made me understand why Woodstock 1969 was so special. It truly was music bringing people together. I wrote in my travel journal that night that walking to the gates of Optimus Alive! felt like our holy pilgrimage, and that I only wish it was annual. Irem and I have been to quite a few concerts together, and there’s few things as cathartic and scream-singing with your best friend. That’s what John Butler was, combine with the awe of seeing one of your favorite artists do what they do best.

I found a video of the festival on YouTube, but excuse the poor quality:

Here’s the real video for the song:

Sadly, I lost my camera’s memory card, so none of us have pictures or videos of that night, although many were taken. I found this video from the festival of Shannon Birchall’s solo on the bass, and Michael Barker’s drum solo. It gives you an idea of the musical genius we witnessed. When Michael Barker threw his sticks into the crowd, this very very tall, very very scary Scandinavian guy behind us caught one. We asked if we could have it, but he refused, saying that he’d sell it on eBay later. He didn’t even know who John Butler Trio was! We didn’t press it, though, because earlier he’d yanked a drunk girl by the hair unto the ground because she was pushing her way to the front. He apologized profusely, but still, a very very scary guy.

While I was watching the video, I thought to myself, “You know, we were pretty close to the stage. Couldn’t it be possible that you can see me in this video? I was wearing my red shirt that day!” So I looked, but it was harder than I thought: Red was popular.

But then! Was that me?It could be! But even though that person’s wearing red, I don’t think I had my bag with me that day, and their hair looks darker. Also, I think that’s a man.