Thursday, September 18, 2008

T-shirts in Alaska

When traveling, the text on T-Shirts being sold in tourist shops can often provide an understanding of the prevalent stereotypes about the locals. They also give a quick insight into what the locals think of themselves.

Here are a few T-shirts that we found in Alaska recently:

Alaska is 1/5th the size of the entire continental US, much bigger than many people reckon.
T-shirt has a map of Texas looking puny in comparison when overlaid on a map of Alaska and the text:
Isn’t Texas Cute?

It is said that the ratio of men to women in many parts of Alaska is 7:1 or even 10:1. Therefore, a woman’s odds are said to be great and she can have her pick of men. However, the men who end up in Alaska are believed to be eccentric.
T-shirt has a picture of one woman walking, and about 10 men ogling her, and below it:
Alaska: Where the Odds are Good, But the Goods are Odd

Alaska is notorious for its mosquitoes and they are reputed to be very big in size.
T-shirt has a photograph of one mosquito in silhouette in the foreground, with a sunset in the background that makes the mosquito appear large.
Mosquito: Alaska’s State Bird

And finally, one spotted by Rupal in Juneau
A Nice Little Drinking Town With A Fishing Problem

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Hungry Construction Dragon

e all know that China is in the midst of a great construction boom these days. While traveling in the Yunnan province (southwest China) last month, I witnessed one unwelcome side effect of all this construction. In their eagerness to build and in their need for raw materials, the Chinese are gouging out their own hills and mountains.

Picture a big round hill and then imagine someone slicing off a portion of it with a huge knife, as if it were a cake. The slicing is happening as the whole hill is getting gouged out, one truckload at a time. All across Yunnan, mountains that have stood for millions of years now have recently-created blemishes – big and dirty graceless eyesores right in the middle of the green hills. We saw dozens and dozens of such gashes as we traveled by train and bus.

If this continues, in the not-too-distant future, the whole mountain will disappear due to quarrying.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ghost Train To The Eastern Star

Today, I completed reading Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. Last month, when I blogged about his classic book The Great Railway Bazaar I hadn’t known that he had a new book just published, which retraced his earlier journey of 33 years ago.

In Ghost Train, Paul travels by rail (mostly) from London all the way to Japan and back, over 28,000 miles in all, and writes about his trip.

If you listen to Theroux’s critics, they are quick to use words like caustic or acerbic or grouchy to describe his prose. But I find that such one-word descriptions are too reductive for someone with his abilities. Yes, at times he is all of those, but he is also extremely funny and compassionate and a great observer and summarizer of things and places.

I have always maintained that reading a book by James Michener (Alaska, Hawaii) is the equivalent of getting to spend 3 months there. Paul Theroux’s travel books have that same quality – you can ‘travel’ right in your living room with his books.

If you haven’t read anything by Paul Theroux, you have at least three good choices. The Great Railway Bazaar, Dark Star Safari (Africa) and his newly released Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (retracing his earlier GRB journey).

Start with the Ghost Train if you can. If the whole book seems too daunting given your other time constraints, get hold of the book anyway and read the chapters for just the countries that interest you. I can especially recommend Turkey (the intelligentsia he meets and Orhan Pamuk), India (his take on the recent IT boom and the widening economic gap), Burma (how things haven’t changed much in 30 years) and Japan (he writes about the manga craze and his discussions with two well-known authors – Haruki Murakami and Pico Iyer).

Just don’t let the critics rob you of the unique pleasure of reading his lucid prose.

Theroux on Luxury travel

Having just recently returned from a cruise liner trip down Alaska’s Inside Passage, it was very sobering to read Paul Theroux's admonition about luxury (In his book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star):
“Luxury is the enemy of observation, a costly indulgence that induces such a good feeling that you notice nothing. Luxury spoils and infantilizes you and prevents you from knowing the world. That is its purpose, the reason why luxury cruises and great hotels are full of fatheads who, when they express an opinion, seem as though they are from another planet.”