Monday, February 28, 2011

Of Herat: Truck and Tuktuk

While the snazzy photos the last few days are courtesy of The Lovely Katherine, I have also been to Herat long ago, and all over Afghanistan by air. Looking at this picture and then thinking of the Afghan landscape, one can only wonder: Where on earth did they find a tree that big, and why did they cut it down?! There are some urban sort of decorative trees in Herat. There are some honest-to-goodness forests a few hundred miles away in Kunar. But neither of those is the likely source here. I'm guessing they felled it as a trophy - the biggest tree ever seen in Western Afghanistan. Don't let it distract you from the sweet paint job on the tuktuk.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Of Herat: Kuchi Huts

These are dwellings of the Kuchi, nomadic people who still roam Afghanistan. I always thought they lived in tents, but The Lovely Katherine informs me that they also sometimes live in these these mud huts. Or, our folks at Consulate Herat were just pulling her leg.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Of Herat: The Friday Mosque

Perhaps the most famous sight in Herat is the Friday Mosque. It's got a lot in common with the famous old mosques in Uzbekistan, which is reasonably close, but more importantly was tied by the Silk Road to Herat, helping architectural styles spread. More important than any of that is that Herat is safe enough that you can get out of a car and go look at the mosque and take pictures.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Of Herat

Your correspondent made a quick visit to Herat, the major city of Western Afghanistan, shortly after his arrival, and tragically failed to come back with any pictures. The Lovely Katherine had a couple days in Herat recently, and avoided any such problems. Several fantastic photos from her visit, as exemplified above, over the next few days.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Delhi

So on the way back home we spent a night in Delhi. We didn't really see too much of the city other than the road from the airport to our too-expensive hotel. We had some nice Indian food. And a colorful ride back to the airport. I think the guy on the chicken bike is telling the bus to go around him. But you never know.

Tomorrow: You may not believe it -- it's been so long! -- but we'll publish some stuff from Afghanistan, which is, actually, where we live.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Of Japan: Tokyo Cliche #4

Sushi. Or, from a more photogenic perspective, the fish market.

But don't worry, we also ate plenty of sushi, as illustrated below.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Of Japan: Tokyo Cliche #3

Crowded Trains. (OK, neither of these trains is really all that crowded. Above, just a picture we like. Below, crowded but no cattle prods needed to get everyone aboard.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Of Japan: Tokyo Cliche #2

Sumo Wrestling. (P.s.: Go Baluto, the Estonian Sumo! I wish there were a Latvian Sumo, but we'll take pan-Baltic pride where we can.) (Oh, and also: If you're ever in Tokyo for a Sumo tournament, the very, very top row of the Sumo arena still isn't all that bad a seat.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Of Japan: Diorama-Rama

After a fine time being outdoorsy in Hawaii, we spent a few days getting back in touch with what it's like to walk around a real city before returning to The Compound. So, Tokyo. What can you really say about Japan at this point, though? We mostly endeavor to make keep this blog lively by pointing out odd details we notice in our travels. But the things in Japan that strike Americans as odd have been so well-documented as to be a little trite at this point. So several of the next few posts will not be path-breaking in their analysis.

But we did find this fun feature that we had not previously heard of: In a swanky Japanese department store (of the old-fashioned variety with 15 stories and you take the elevator to the sixth floor for housewares and the seventh for children's clothes) we found this: There was a whole section of the store dedicated to these not-all-that-small dioramas, always of a man and a woman in traditional Japanese costume, seated in a room with lanterns. I'm sure they must mean something - if I had to guess, this is something you might give as a wedding gift to ensure a prosperous union/home. But who knows? I'm sure one of our many worldly readers who has spent time in Japan will comment shortly to explain.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Previously, in Hawaii...

The Lovely Katherine has forbidden the Holla staff from publishing the pictures of her swimming in one of the two awesome waterfall pools we hiked to because they have her in them. Here's a picture of the waterfall by someone else, though. So anyway, your television-addled (Netflix-addled?) correspondents found a lot of the goofy sights along the way reminded us of Lost. Sometimes just scenic coastlines, like the one above, but then also random towers of loudspeakers (tsunami warning systems, I think) against backdrops of lush green valleys. Driving around Maui, we saw some isolated little towns that seemed very Lost-y.

But then we got to Molokai. It's a whole other world of Lost-iness. First, when hiking deep valleys and crossing rivers you come across wrecks like the jeep immediately above. If only it were a blue VW bus... But to top it all off, we got to our accommodations, which were literally half an hour driving from anything else resembling civilization, and discover them to be this odd arrangement of bungalows, mostly empty, facing the sea and half-overgrown with greenery, studded with random bits of sidewalk leading to nowhere. There can be little doubt that this place on way Western tip of Molokai was the inspiration for the Dharma initiative town where The Others lived. (Pictured by night below.) So we decided to hit the road for Japan to make sure our story didn't end as badly as Lost did.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Of Hawaii: Moss 'n' Lichen

Not a lot of deep meaning on this one: Just two pictures we like of small things we found growing. Above, moss found on a fallen tree as we were hiking to an awesome waterfall-fed swimming hole. Below, lichen growing on the rocks of what was an ancient Hawaiian ceremonial site that we biked to on Molokai. As always you can click on them to embiggen them.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Of Molokai: An Apology

I would like to here publicly apologize to everyone I know in the real world, but above all my brother, for failing to notice this sign at the airport in time. Because the airport is tiny, there's a stop-sign t-intersection where you leave it, and you can't help but read the big sign that says "Slow Down - This is Molokai." But maybe you don't even notice the next sign, which advises that if you go to the post office in Hoolehua you can mail a coconut to someone. My brother obviously needs a Molokai coconut, and I failed him. I could say it's because we were there on a Sunday and a Federal holiday, but really, that wasn't the only issue. Sorry, man.

Oh, also: I promise to get over to ISAF and get your Xmas presents in the mail before our next vacation.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Of Molokai: Incoming

So we did the part about being on Molokai before the parts about getting there. But here are two pictures from the short flight from Maui to Molokai. We could see whales from the plane, which was fun. But also the views were generally kick-ass the whole way, however brief the flight. Picture below isn't totally what it looked like, but what the computer "auto smart fix" thinks it looked like, and it turned out ok.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Of Molokai

After a delightful week on Maui -- spent in equal parts driving scenic roads, being outdoorsy, drinking rum on the beach, and wandering around Safeway (and/or Foodland) -- we parted ways with family and set off for a more secluded island with less resorts and industrial tourism: Moloka'i. And we succeeded, because we got there and had no idea what to do with ourselves for a few days and weren't totally sure we'd be able to figure it out. Fear not: eventually, we did.

More pictures to come, but we're starting off with this favorite, from the green area just a couple hundred yards from a beach that was at least a mile long, completely isolated, and had the hugest, most dangerous-looking surf you can imagine. And of course, that is right where you would need a sink.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Of Hawaii: Pictures from the Top of a Volcano

As nice as our little slice of beach was, your correspondents, intrepid as ever, felt obliged to get out exploring. Diving and kayaking, though we did see amazing wildlife at close range during both activities, were not conducive to photography, what with their proximity to seawater. (And also, divers with underwater cameras are almost always annoying.) We did some hiking around on lava rocks and found an isolated snorkeling beach of our own, but it was cloudy and the pictures are just grey skies and black rocks. Luckily, the top of Maui, and Haleakala National Park is a bit more photogenic. See above, where some Park Ranger arranged this attractive tableau of plants and manhole covers for our enjoyment. Or, if you must, the more traditional shot of the Crater from the hiking trail, below.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Of Hawaii: Wedding Wonderland

We were, admittedly, lodging beside a pretty awesome beach in Hawaii: Nice sunset views, soft sand between pretty rocky points on either side, good for swimming and body-surfing. But that said, it was kind of silly how many sunset weddings there were on the beach. I only managed to ever photograph two brides in at a time, but for a while there were three marriages and/or wedding photo shoots with psychotic photographers on the beach simultaneously, along with us sitting there in beach chairs drinking rum punch from plastic cups.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Of Hawaii

Sadly, we had to leave Shanghai without having sucked the eyeballs out of a fried pigeon head, or having seen a live cricket fight. We showed up at the airport, having carefully packed carry-on only in hopes that our precarious Kabul-Delhi-Guangzhou-Tokyo-Honolulu-Maui routing would go smoothly if we didn't tempt fate by checking luggage. No such luck - our Shanghai-Tokyo flight was cancelled. As we waited in the line snaking around the terminal to see what fate awaited us, The Lovely Katherine had fruitless phone conversations with Carlson Wagonlit, official travel agent and bureaucracy multiplier of your federal government. I stood by and tried not to think about the mountain of sichuan peppercorns I had eaten the night before. Lucky for us, despite Carlson Wagonlit being generally worthless, Delta Airlines (yes, that Delta Airlines) rebooked us on a China Air flight an hour later. Dear Carlson Wagonlit: You got outperformed by the Chinese airport employees of Delta Airlines.

Anyway, we made it to Tokyo, and after some time in the surprisingly boring Narita airport, made it to Honolulu, and then to Maui. Above, the view from our condo balcony, which made the airplane time easy to forget.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Of Shanghai: Fighting Crickets

For some, a highlight of the trip, and for others, a kind of creepy diversion: Here are some pictures from the birds and fish and crickets etc market in Shanghai. There were any number of small animals for sale - a variety of fish, a few frogs and salamanders, turtles, tons of kind-of-boring little birds. But the apparent raison d'etre of this market is the fighting crickets. We saw thousands of crickets, though, from tiny little guys to crickets of sizes larger than your correspondent was aware crickets were biologically capable of. We saw any number of people haggling over crickets, and one-by-one taking an endless series of seemingly identical crickets out of their carrying cases (boxes, special cricket canisters, toilet paper tubes, etc.) for up-close inspections. I wish there had been a chance to see an actual cricket fight, because: WTF, cricket fighting?! But we did not. Always good to save something for next time.

Editor's note: This is probably our last post on Shanghai, before we move on to other exotic vacation photos. Sorry, but we haven't been off the compound since we got back from vacation, so until further notice, the travel photos will continue. We hope that we'll get out and take some Afghanistan pictures sometime in February.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Of Shanghai: Killing Time

Ok, we have one kick-ass set of photos from Shanghai, but it's late and we're sleepy, perhaps because we spent all day napping while the power was out in the entire Embassy. So for today, we're just randomly throwing out a couple decent pictures from Shanghai. As we may have mentioned already, this trip in general was not filled with photographic glory, so most photos are a bit more illustrative than intrinsically good pictures. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.

Anyway, above, one of the more interesting pieces of art in the Shanghai Art Museum, which features centuries of historic Chinese Art, demonstrating any number of stylistic shifts in the painting of ridiculous mountain landscapes with little pagodas in the valleys. In the ancient sculpture section was this stele, covered in little carved Buddhas.

Below, the thriving commerce of the streets in Shanghai. The saleswoman, it turns out, was not enthusiastic about being photographed along with her wares, for some unknown reason. You would think it's because the books she was selling were a blatant infringement of copyright, but then again, the guy selling street corn-on-the-cob didn't want his picture taken either.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Of Shanghai: Pigeon Head, Hot Pot

We ate quite well in Shanghai. It's a thoroughly modern kind of place, and in the tony diplomatic neighborhood where our hosts live, we found both Thai food and Mexican food. Which was sort of a waste because Mexican Fiesta Night at the Kabul cafeteria is really one of the least objectionable menus they serve. The Shanghai Mexican Food was good, but still only sort of split the difference between cafeteria Mexican Fiesta Night and Real Mexican Food and/or Mission-Style Burritos.

Anyway, we also took advantage of our hosts' insider knowledge and Mandarin language skills to have such delicacies as fried pigeon head, as seen above. We are duty bound to tell you that while we did have pigeon, we did not eat the heads. Our hosts I think sort of nibbled around the necks. Nobody sucked the eyeballs out, which I thought was how it is properly done.

We forgot to record for posterity what this dish looked like before we ate the chicken out of it, but perceptive readers might note that even if there was previously a whole lot of other stuff in this basket, that is still a substantial pile of those crazy hot little red Chinese-cooking peppers. And you can't even see all the Sichuan peppercorns, which your correspondent ate all of because it's fun how they make your tongue go numb.

Despite all that, the highlight of the trip was probably "hot pot," which term we have seen elsewhere to describe a clay pot of boiling water and various ingredients. We had not seen it to mean a restaurant based on having a little fry-o-lator on every table top (seen above featuring "normal" and "extra spicy" broth), and they bring you all sorts of crazy ingredients like "cuttlefish paste" which you toss in the boiling oil and then fish out and dip in a sauce that you make yourself at the sauce bar from an array of spices, soy sauces, and pureed things. Really a great place for families. They not only provide customers aprons and a special plastic bag to put your cell phone in so it doesn't get boiling oil on it, but also: the mix-your-own-sauce bar features mountains of Sichuan peppercorns. Or maybe they were just pre-positioned in the boiling oil. Either way, despite being warned about eating a small mountain of Sichuan peppercorns the night before flying across the Pacific, your correspondent was powerless to resist.