The Squeaky Robot

A Meddling Robot in a Human's World

Posts tagged “photography

Old Gansu

Posted on August 29, 2015

It is the beginning of that vast and vague place known as Central Asia. In China it starts when the land turns deathly parched, even the lightest winds pull ribbons of dust off the ground, and the brown streets are lit up by things blood red – the dramatic drape of the monks’ robes, prayer wheels spinning non-stop, the glistening paint of sacred buildings. At the very least of it, this is Xiahe. A Tibetan town in southern Gansu, it’s home to the Labrang Monastery, one of the largest of its kind in Tibetan Buddhism. Here I met Tsering, manager of a guesthouse owned by the monastery. He told me he had some old photos of Xiahe and around, given to him by an…

Chongqing Noodle Diaries

Posted on August 16, 2015

Introduction It is early but everyone is alive. Chongqing’s famous hillside stairway alleys are hustling with people, barkers, animals, and shirtless porters carrying cargo with bamboo sticks. Climbing these stairs necessitates a constant meandering, hopping, traversing, colliding; it is early but you feel alive too. Shouldering these paths are vendors of all stripes. You know it’s a food joint if it’s enveloped in a cloud of smoke, a noodle joint in a cloud of steam. I am searching for a noodle place with enough customers so that I can see the variety in their meals and then point to the bowl that looks best. This dark stair alley bottlenecks and opens out onto the main drag, chaos of a greater breadth and caliber. We…

Hunan Looking Glass

Posted on August 11, 2015

A young man lifts my broken bicycle into his tiny red truck. The day is ending and he is heading towards town now, and he picks me up nonchalantly like all his other deliveries. The industrious little engine begins to buzz and cough, the wheels roll forward, and the man smiles. You walk into a train station, let’s say in Changsha, and beyond the large words ‘Ticketing Hall’ above the entrance doors, there is no English written or spoken. You are met with a long hangar filled with a thousand echoes. The back wall is covered with an electronic timetable showing arrays of fire red Chinese characters, a code you can’t access. You think you’re a little smart and you’ve got a piece of…

Guangzhou, Again, Somehow

Posted on August 3, 2015

This is my second time in the city of Guangzhou. I was here exactly four years ago. It is not normally a place a leisurely traveler will choose with fierce intention, let alone twice. It’s one of China’s many megacities without much going for it, as far as the guidebooks will tell you, besides its Canton history and closeness to Hong Kong. Both times coming here it was a spur of the moment decision; though the first time was an exciting seizure of the unknown, while the second was fueled by a mellow curiosity and a penchant for the eternal question: How are things different? I remember how much I loved Guangzhou, but beyond this I remember very little. My memory reaches out for…

Kowloon & Around

Posted on August 1, 2015

I had a plate of roasted goose for dinner, Hong Kong style of course, with absolutely nothing on the side. The meat was succulent, dripping in goose juice and soy sauce, paired with a smoky chili oil dip. There was no English menu so an older couple began talking to me in Cantonese, pointing to items while explaining what they were. I didn’t understand anything so I just gestured to one of the roasted birds hanging in the window. They smiled knowingly and yelled my order into the air, and we clinked beers and ten minutes later you already know how it went.∗

In My Hands, Beneath My Feet

Posted on July 16, 2015

The place was at once in my hands and beneath my feet. My map indicated the road between Buon Ma Thuot and Dalat was a major artery, it had that bolded yellow quality that typically signifies cartographical importance. But the spot where my motorbike – an old semi-auto with the words ‘Splendid Cruiser’ stuck to its side – was then rumbling, eager to dash forward, looked abandoned. It actually reminded me of the roads in Chernobyl town – domed and cracking, overgrown, the bush quietly reclaiming the land stolen from it in the pouring of hot tar. Stark evidence of mudslides also burdened this highway. At times you could only pass with two feet or so of pavement width, the rest covered in lumpy piles…

Projects

Posted on April 8, 2015

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The clouds were whipping by and I was having doubts. The feeling was compounded by my ominous setting: I stood at the flat peak of Bokor National Park in the midst of a colossal development project that was set to take off but never did, like a dead bird in an open cage. This collection of structures and points of interest provoked various degrees of depression. A half-empty mega resort whose lobby smelled like damp rice, a waterfall that totally succumbed to the dry season and was instead small pools of sticky green water, and the place where I then stood, outside an abandoned concrete casino. The views of the surrounding hills were painted by a thick curtain of light gray, a daunting canvas in a sky with no beginning.

There are moments in travel when I’m not sure I want to do it anymore. This is a painful thing to write, like saying something unsavory about someone you deeply love. But that unsavory something escapes your mouth anyway, and you don’t regret it entirely.

It was Easter Sunday, and I was people-sick for my mother’s laugh and food-sick for my grandma’s steaming pot of zurek, a thick sour rye soup with hard-boiled egg and smoked kielbasa, so rich it’s practically still smoldering. I wanted nothing more than to hug my dog and take her for a long walk in the mellow spring. I wanted to put on fleece pajamas and play Bananagrams with my siblings. I wanted immediate answers to my most pressing and difficult questions. I wanted to know precisely what I was doing there at Bokor National Park in southern Cambodia, and for the first time my usual answer of “Just to see what’s there” wouldn’t fly. Vulnerable in blinding opacity, in the fog there are no facades to cower behind. And I am too self-aware for most brands of self-deceit.

I filed into the abandoned casino with a dozen domestic tourists who quickly dispersed. I stood in the main hall, a space that was only grand because of what it could have been, like those deep-sea scenes of a rusty Titanic slowly merging into a marvelous candle-lit ballroom, alive with twirling petticoats. The hall had a hollow square dent that once promised to house fires and a tall looming ceiling that oozed a grandeur undeserved. In short, the casino echoed with the subtle terror of unrealized dreams.

I began harboring harsh sentiments towards Casino. I was angered by its futile existence, by its jagged walls devoid of color, its chaotic slapdash blueprint. The thought of this particular project – ill-timed, ill-planned, ill-funded – was suddenly infuriating, the incompetence and waste of it all. I thought of all the avenues that could have benefited from this money but instead sat at the top of this godforsaken mound in the form of ugly vertical concrete blocks glued together in haste and false hope.

What was it doing there? What was it for, I wondered with a furrowed brow. Did it realize how pathetic is was as a building that served no one? I desperately wanted Casino to answer me, and I wanted an answer that was so decent and whole it would relieve me of my own burdens. I stood alone but the room swarmed with my projections.

The air up there in Bokor was alien. Down below, down where water slaps the land, the air was hot and thick and subject to the unrelenting sun, and everything took on an orange hue. Up high the clouds obscured everything, whole monuments even, and you could watch them careening around the mountain like drunks looking for something to hold on to.

One of these clouds came with a forceful icy gust and I rattled in my light beach clothes. I looked in a glass sheet leaning against the wall. If my eyes were murky gray before, they at once looked crisp and turquoise.

I rubbed one of Casino’s dusty walls as bits of debris fell at my shoes and whispered: “I’m so sorry Casino. It’s not your fault you were abandoned.” And I eased my tense shoulders in palpable remorse.

As I walked to my bike the sickness, the demands, the questioning resolved themselves without any resolution. They dissipated like the clouds in which I floated, destined to come and go in the tradition of most things.

February in Myanmar

Posted on April 5, 2015

A man grills and feeds us delicious fish, complete with a homemade sweet sauce and charred greens. Street food in Myanmar is notoriously dirty, but health concerns can generally be quelled if you go to places with high turnover! Insein Road, Yangon. A child monk in the village of Man Loi. Especially among impoverished families, it is common in Myanmar for children to be at least partially educated in the local monastery. Children play in the streets of downtown Yangon. A rice farmer, five kilometers outside of Hsipaw. We rested in the shade of his house while he offered us homemade rice wine. It is easy to feel small in the expansive symmetry and disarray of Shwedagon Pagoda, the largest of its kind in…

Burmese Days

Posted on February 18, 2015

These days I’m in Myanmar, and these days reliable Internet isn’t a thing anymore and neighborhood-wide power outages are very reliable. All my writing regarding this country so far is scrawled on the backs of forlorn receipts and tickets, and I’ve nowhere to put them (Posting a post about why I can’t post has taken me two hours.) For the best, though, as Burma is one of the most compelling places I’ve ever been and it would be a shame to squander it in a dusty Internet cafe surrounded by teenage boys playing World of Warcraft. So until I’m forced to leave this place that has so captured my heart, so much so that I’m seriously considering moving here, The Squeaky Robot will take…

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