The Squeaky Robot

A Meddling Robot in a Human's World

Posts tagged “culture

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…

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…

Welcome to Bangkok

Posted on January 21, 2015

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I left Hanoi over two months ago. There was no real reason I left, other than my mom said she missed me. So I flew home.

And now I’m back. You can expect some photos and some words regarding Southeast Asia, both mainland and maritime, and probably definitely beyond. I’ve obviously got none of it planned. This lack of commitment is deeply satisfying.

Here is a picture of some monks in Wat Pho preparing for their Pali examination (Wikipedia tells us that Pali is a “dead language that is widely studied because it is the language of many of the earliest extant Buddhist scriptures.”) It made me think: how different I am to a monk! And: what can someone like me learn from their lives of steadfast dedication?

The Spring of Magical Thinking

Posted on October 28, 2014

I began with translations. My friend Phuong and I would sit in the Manager’s office discussing the nuances of our ancient text and which English words would be the best to communicate them. “Around the mountain of Hong Linh, silver clouds disperse. The Lam River is formed by two flowing branches, one transparent, one opaque. Night falls on the river, lie and listen to the sloshing of the waves.” The scripts were replete with such prose, heavy on folkloric scenery and the most noble occasions in Vietnamese history – battles won, maidens saved, lands conquered. Always a lotus in a distant mist, forever a drum ringing through still mountains. Consuming these banal narratives for hours on end, it was not difficult to see why…

Hanoi is for Fugitives

Posted on March 20, 2014

Nights in Hanoi aren’t for the sparkling clubber or clean-cut man in business-casual; they should be in Saigon. There is no vanity to Hanoi, and so this city without a mirror lets you into its Vietnamese soul. Nights out begin at a harshly-lit street restaurant with moldy plastic stools that buckle and food like stir-fried noodles doused in hot sauce and an entire tree branch of limes. Its beauty is in its simplicity. Beer must be bought next door, seventy-five cents. Afterwards you’ll find yourself in some sort of dark space with dim bulbs that emanate a pointless light – perhaps live music is playing, maybe radio jazz, or just the quiet whispers of people getting to know each other. No matter the venue,…

An Ethnography of American Hockey

Posted on February 11, 2013

My passion for hockey begins at the stadium entrance and dissipates at the exit. Other than tennis and soccer, most other sporting events are simply that – an event, a primeval gathering of people watching the few chosen to perform and put on a good show with tact and sweat and skills beyond the average denizen. The universality of sports is an infectious and powerful thing: it is the tangible manifestation of good and evil, a time when you have no choice but to be dangerously on edge, your mood subject to more fluctuations in half an hour than a manic depressive person off their meds. When your team approaches the goal, you feel something bubble up inside and you’re dizzy with excitement, or…

You Can’t Go Home Again

Posted on December 26, 2012

My purse pocket was the place I’d scavenge to make the bus fare. Now, finding shiny two-ruble pieces and old bus tickets in every crevice, I’m reduced to a whimper. Suddenly nothing is garbage anymore and every photo is precious regardless of its quality. Suddenly it feels like I’ve been in the US for twenty years, not three days, and Russia is nothing but a distant memory stored away in the farthest corners of my prefrontal cortex. Accurately describing the feelings, the anxieties, the general haziness of heart and mind when arriving Home from a long trip is a feat beyond my capacities. But if you don’t know the heart-wrenching despair you may experience when you step on that place heading home to comfort,…

Mikhail

Posted on December 10, 2012

“Have a good time. Don’t communicate or stand next to boys.” * * * When I decline tea: “Americans. So uncivilized.” * * * After failing to answer a simple addition problem: “I’m a philosopher, not a mathematician! Let’s drink.” * * * Mikhail: “What did you do last night?” Me: “I went clubbing with a few friends.” Mikhail: “What’s clubbing?” Me: “Dancing.” Mikhail: “Oh! What did you dance? Tango? Foxtrot? Waltz?” Me: “. . .” * * * Mikhail: “Do you want seconds?” Me: “No, thank you.” Mikhail: “I’m going to call your mother!!” * * * While I’m eating, Mikhail is on the phone with Larisa (his wife): “Larisa asks how is the food.” Me: “Delicious!” Mikhail to Larisa (smiling deviously): “She…