Wednesday, June 04, 2008

More Africa Images

Mark films the rapids at Bujagali Falls, near the source of the Nile

Our guides in Nima, a Muslim district of Accra, wear heavy suits in the scorching torpid heat.

Africa Images

They say a picture is worth a thousand hopefully this will make up for the lost ones over the last few

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Afternoon in the Pu

Only half an hour into our walk through the Pu, we had a group of about twenty teenage boys trailing us and shouting at ear-splitting volume. This is what it feels like to be a celebrity, I thought. This is what it would be like if I were Ben Affleck and showed up at the local mall.

My girlfriend and I headed out on a recent afternoon to what the foreign community here affectionately refers to as “the Pu,” Tuopu, one of the many small villages on the outskirts of the city that have been subsumed under urban sprawl.

The Pu lies out on Daxue Lu, University Road. It is a smallish community, set against a dark river into which people dump their trash. Tuopu is a mix of old-style Chinese houses set close together, and apartments of Soviet bloc architecture. As you go further from the main road, the spaces widen; rough gardens and fields of crops appear. A friend tells me that in the local language, there is a slur against people who live there that translates something close to “Tuopu hillbilly.”

After an afternoon walking around there, though, and getting treated like rock stars, it seems an unfair assessment.

What is true of the Pu, however, is that it seems to be a place in a city — where traffic is generally of the Mad Max variety — of even more boundless traffic freedom. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Chinese Democracy in the Weight Room

No, not the long awaited endeavor by Axl Rose, sorry to pique your appetite...

The school weight room used to be an appalling affair. It was covered in green astro turf that was rotted away in places. Then they redesigned it, tore out the floor and put in a new one, tore out a wall of the gymnasium and replaced it with a giant window. Along with the improvements came bureaucracy; after it reopened, a few caretakers appeared to handle things.

One was a tiny bony man, probably in his 30s. The other was probably 50. The older guy had a perfect Friar Tuck haircut, bald on top with a ring around the sides, in a near perfect imitation of Chairman Mao. I called both of these men as they are called commonly in China, laoban, boss, but I always thought of this older guy as The Chairman.

The Chairman and I did not begin our relationship auspiciously. These two guys had -- and have -- a bizarre system for checking into the weight room. You'd give the little guy five kuai, he'd spend an inordinate amount of time writing out a ticket, then you'd take the ticket. The Chairman then would come find you later and collect the ticket. Often this seemed to be in the middle of some exercise or some other critically inopportune moment.

But little irritated me more than The Chairman speaking "idiot Chinese" to me. The kind where you're retarded, and he is annoyed at having to deal with that. The Chairman would come up to me and shout "TICKET" whenever he saw me. "You want to take my ticket?" I'd say in Chinese, trying not to drop a barbell on my chest. "I'm busy right now. Please wait a minute."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Worst Language School Ever: Shantou Jail

The English teaching racket has its fair share of horror stories. You get off the plane in a foreign country, and it turns out that those modern, lovely facilities you saw on the website were, hmm, from the web. I've heard plenty of these stories -- the Korean hogwans have a particularly bad reputation. I mean when you start with a name like that, what can you expect?

A recent news story, however, has me thinking that you can get a lot worse: A young Malaysian woman acting as a drug mule was captured at Shantou airport and, according to one of the articles, is currently passing her time in jail teaching English.

The stories -- through no fault of their own, they seem well done, especially for something as sensitive as this -- leave you with many questions. Why exactly would Shantou jail inmates be interested in learning English? Since no one in the history of the universe has ever been searched at the Shantou airport -- especially flying in -- who didn't the dealers pay off and therefore piss off and contribute to the ruination of this young woman's life?

Do the women actually know they are being used as drug mules? The stories are ambiguous on this point, with some leaving you believing the women are naively unaware, and others with the impression that the women are reluctantly acquiescing to the pleas of men who have seduced them. In the end I guess it doesn't matter since they are going to jail and, barring some miracle, the grave for this offense.

One interesting point, made in Singapore's New Straits Times, is that the number of drug smuggling offenses committed by foreigners coming into Guangdong has tripled in the last couple of years. Somewhere, somehow, though we read nothing about it and it officially doesn't exist, there is a drug-dealing syndicate or two on the other side of Umi Lazim, the woman in Shantou jail, who will turn 24 years old in a couple of days on January 4th.

Additional articles on Umi Lazim and drug smuggling: