The Squeaky Robot

A Meddling Robot in a Human's World

Posts tagged “travel

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 Ngawang, a local teacher. He told me he had some old photos of Xiahe and around, given to him by an American man a few years…

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.∗

Invalid Portraits of Hong Kong

Posted on July 29, 2015

From the icy airplane window Hong Kong looks like an infection. High up we are afforded rare macroscopic glimpses of the Earth, its geology a painting and the plane’s small windows the frame. We puncture thick clouds and through the mist see what teases us down below – cerulean water and deep emerald peaks that surround and infiltrate Hong Kong City. And then there’s the city. Tall sharp apartment buildings arranged in vaguely swastika-like and diamond formations; even higher sky scrapers stand with presence as if surveying their dominion, one of the most economically advanced in the world. Scale is lost on this disease – what seems large from an airplane window is impossibly, swallowingly large from the ground. And these thousands of buildings…

Tale of Two Cities, or Good Bye Viet Nam

Posted on July 25, 2015

My last sights of Vietnam are from the humming nadirs of Saigon’s scraped skies, gazing up at this city in marvel with that flat smoky jungle Hanoi forever the backdrop of my mind. How different these cities are. There are even cutesy illustrations about how Vietnam’s pair of beating hearts differ in their consumption of pho, preferred altar fruits, work relationships with superiors and general communication patterns (the rough translation: Saigon’s talk is straightforward and efficient, Hanoi’s calls for finesse and indirectness). I ask young locals here about their perceptions of Hanoi. Most answers implicate backwardness and a lack of excitement in Vietnam’s capital city, half the size of Saigon at around seven million people. “I wouldn’t be able to live in Hanoi,” says…

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…

Land of a Million Elephants

Posted on May 9, 2015

While in the small city of Pakse, a man named Akamu told me a story. We sat in a noodle shop at lunchtime draining our hot bowls of their contents. Every ten seconds a rotating fan found our table, blowing our dirty napkins away. “It’s a story about a giant jar in the sky. How Lao people came to the earth.” He said how a ‘big evil’ grew from the land, and at its end hung a jar that blocked the sun, casting darkness unto everything. “The gods came to cut the big evil, to give the world light.” Only when the big evil was vanquished and the jar fell, presumably, could humans emerge from the jar. Then came the animals, the “rocks like…


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