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What Do Androids in Taipei Dream of?

“The electric things have their life too. Paltry as those lives are.”
Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

On the final day of the Chinese New Year holiday, I headed to the main shopping area–ATT 4 Fun, which is the large mall that attracts locals and tourists with its shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs. They had plenty of displays set up for the Year of the Sheep. This one had me contemplating the Philip K. Dick classic that was turned into Bladerunner with Harrison Ford.electric-sheep

Seriously, what does this sign really mean? Are these electric sheep? Will I be electrocuted if I pet them? And do Taipei’s androids dream of electric sheep during Chinese New Year?

Christmas Greetings from Taipei

East Asia loves Christmas–I witness this while living in China. My Christmas tradition didn’t change much when I moved to southern China years ago; the movies were on pirated DVDs and the Chinese food was better, but it was still more or less the same tradition.marry-xmas1

While walking around Taipei with my friends the other night I came across this misuse (or maybe it was intentional) of the English language. I’d just like to know who used to be Max and why I should be interested in marrying him.

Anyway, merry Christmas to friends and readers, however you wish to celebrate it!

Map Inaccuracy

“Map-making had never been a precise art on the Discworld. People tended to start off with good intentions and then get so carried away with the spouting whales, monsters, waves and other twiddly bits of cartographic furniture that they often forgot to put the boring mountains and rivers in at all.”
-Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

I consider myself to be pretty good with geography–I can locate more countries than most people can, though some much smaller nations trip me up on occasion. I love looking at maps (not Google Maps, but actual paper maps), especially older ones. I was fascinated by the huge globes at the Doge’s Palace in Venice, which are a bit faded, making it difficult to locate much.

Please, don't point to your home on the globe

Please, don’t point to your home on the globe

While in Florence for a weekend, one of the hostel guests pointed out the map on the hallway wall (I was completely oblivious to the fact that it even existed). He noted that there were more than a few problems.

So, Afghanistan and Pakistan are one country now?

So, Afghanistan and Pakistan are one country now?

Whoever painted this map on the wall did not use much of a guide. The land masses aren’t quite what you’d expect.

You'd think Europe would be more accurate

You’d think Europe would be more accurate

More importantly, countries are missing or completely wrong. I suppose anyone from outside the UK would agree that the island nation is just London and nothing else (that’s all that remains of the British empire, right?), plus that angle of the island isn’t quite right. North and South America were almost accurate, though slightly misshapen. hostel-map

I would have taken better photos of the map, but it was a difficult angle considering the narrow hallway in which it’s painted.

Beyond the Scaffolding of Travel

It’s just my luck. Good grief, if Charlie Brown traveled the world, this would probably happen to him at every turn. Maybe I’m caught in an extended Seinfeld episode set outside New York (I did recently drink a beer called Costanza).

Sometimes I feel like I’m touring construction sites rather than beautiful historic sites.

Just about every time I visit a major tourist destination that I’ve wanted to see for years, it’s undergoing renovations of some sort. I understand the need for restoring artwork and preventing ancient buildings from becoming ruins, but I always seem to time my visits to coincide with such restoration work.

Quite a spectacle to see at the Forbidden City

Quite a spectacle to see at the Forbidden City

When I visited the Forbidden City in Beijing, most of it was shrouded in scaffolding in preparations for the 2008 Olympics. The Hall of Supreme Harmony was even replaced by a picture; it was a rather disappointing sight. Rather than photograph the buildings or artifacts, I focused on the crowds and the scaffolding.

Isn't the Forbidden City amazing?

Isn’t the Forbidden City amazing?

I had hoped that that would be the end of my adventures in renovations, but it wasn’t even close. In Bangkok, I witness the restoration of paintings at the Grand Palace. Watching people work at restoring historical paintings was more interesting than it sounds.

 

Touching up the murals at Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

Touching up the murals at Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

At Angkor Wat, many of the temples were being restored–or, in some cases, saved from encroaching nature. Much of the restoration at Angkor Wat is recent and made possible by international foundations–I was surprised to learn that much of the work was supervised by organizations from China and India.

 

Welcome to Angkor Wat. Please, use the side door

Welcome to Angkor Wat. Please, use the side door

The restoration efforts are most noticeable at Ta Prohm–many walls have had to be reinforced and braced as the trees that have grown into said walls are forcing the ancient bricks to separate and crumble. While it may ruin a few photo opportunities at the temples, the efforts to preserve what remains is commendable. It would be interesting to see the temples as they were first constructed, but it wouldn’t be such an amazing experience as it is now–it would be like witnessing the newly reconstructed Great Wall of China at Badaling versus the ruined preserved section at Simatai.

 

This is not how I imagined Ta Prohm

This is not how I imagined Ta Prohm

The trend continued as I arrived in Rome. A fellow traveler at my hotel told me to not bother visiting the Trevi Fountain because it was closed for renovation. My parents and I wandered past it anyway without intending to. It’s beautiful behind plexiglass, but it loses its allure without the water.

 

The Trevi Fountain in all its glory

The Trevi Fountain in all its glory

And then there’s the the Baptistery in Florence, one of the city’s oldest buildings and supposedly one of the most beautiful (after the Duomo). It was completely shrouded in scaffolding, but that didn’t stop people from paying to go inside. I decided I had had enough of seeing renovated history after paying to see scaffolding inside the Medici Chapel.

 

Check out all that beautiful scaffolding in the Medici Chapel

Check out all that beautiful scaffolding in the Medici Chapel

I should just give in to fate and expect that my travels will forever be obscured. Someday I’ll be pleasantly surprised to encounter an untouched relic.

Is there a recurring theme to your travels that’s beyond your control that leads to disappointment? Or does it at least lead to an amusing anecdote?

Amusing Signs in Asia

Just a warning that the last photo in this post is Not Safe For Work. It is funny, but should not be viewed at work. There are two photos from Vietnam before the photo you shouldn’t view at work.(You’ll get another warning.)

While traveling I always look for things that make me laugh, even a little bit. Store names and warning signs usually provide the most amusement. In China it was because most of these signs weren’t translated properly and turned into Chinglish nonsense.

no-pointing

I can identify 3 out of 4 of these. Am I not supposed to point? Not supposed to have bandaged fingers?

The situation is a little different in places like Taiwan and Korea. I found English to be widely spoken in Taiwan (at least in Taipei), which led to intentionally funny names of stores or products. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get many clear photos of the amusing English in Taipei, except for the GOD massage parlor in my neighborhood.

I haven't tried this bar yet. I'm not sure what to expect

I haven’t tried this bar yet. I’m not sure what to expect

While English isn’t as widely spoken in Korea, most of the entertaining English used here is intentionally amusing. In some cases it’s the placement of two signs for different businesses that make Seoul so amusing.

I'm not sure what's going on here, but it's all over Gangnam district (did Psy approve it?)

I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it’s all over Gangnam district (did Psy approve it?)

I haven’t found too many amusing signs in my neighborhood as there are very few in English. Most of what I’ve found are in touristy or expat areas like Hongdae and Itaewon.

These were two separate businesses that worked quite well together

These were two separate businesses that worked quite well together

Vietnam had its fair share of amusing signs. Some were Vietnamese words that look like something amusing in English.

Must be some amazing art

Must be some amazing art

Even some restaurants were unintentionally funny.

Not what I would expect to find in a communist country.

Not what I would expect to find in a communist country.

Warning: The following photo from near Taipei Main Station is NOT SAFE FOR WORK. You have been warned.

Classiest dessert in Taipei

Classiest dessert in Taipei

What are some memorable signs you’ve found on your travels?

Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na…Bat-Tuk!

I saw a lot of interesting tuk-tuks around Siem Reap. I should’ve taken more photos of them because they were nicer than any tuk-tuk I ever had in Thailand–they were really clean too. But I saw a lot of tuk-tuks that wanted to be Batman. I guess it’s one way to attract more foreign tourists.

Prototype for the Batmobile?

Prototype for the Batmobile?

I’m not sure if these were all from one company or that everyone just wanted to decorate their tuk-tuks like this. Some were pretty simple with the paint jobs, while others wanted a bit more. And a few should’ve checked with a proofreader. Unfortunately, none of my rides was with the Dark Knight.

Unexpected Encounters at Banteay Srei

On the second day in Siem Reap, my tour stopped at Banteay Srei–a remarkable 10th century temple with beautiful sculptures that’s about 16 miles past the main group of temples at Angkor Wat. The temple is popular for tourists as a second day around Angkor Wat–tours usually include a few other smaller temples closer to Siem Reap.banteay srei

As we walked into the temple complex, we had our tickets checked once again. A Cambodian police officer approached me and held out what appeared to be police badges, and, I’m fairly certain, he was trying to sell them. This was the first time I have had a police officer attempt to sell me anything at a tourist destination. I walked away, confused and amused. One of the others on my tour asked if he witnessed the same thing that I did, and we laughed.

As we approached the back of Banteay Srei, there was one of numerous “landmine victims” bands (I saw these almost everywhere in Cambodia and began wondering if they were legitimate charity organizations). We stood around talking in the shade while waiting for our guide who was caught up in conversation with some others in our group–it was fine; we were enjoying the view from the shade.

It was at this point that I was approached for a picture. By a Buddhist monk. With an iPhone.

banteay srei monk

Humble monk or secret photographer?

The monk didn’t speak any English, but smiled at me, handed his phone to a fellow monk, and gestured that he’d like a picture with me. Trying to contain my laughter, I agreed. Really, how often do monks ask to take pictures of tourists? There’s just no way to say no in such a situation.

My tour companions caught sight of the situation and decided that they needed to take pictures of what was going on as well.banteay srei monks

This was more amusing than the group of Taiwanese tourists who insisted on taking about 50 photos with a few New Zealand girls at Prasat Bayon–they kept inviting others for photos and waving Taiwan flags. I just laughed while listening in on the Chinese conversations.

Spin for a Drink

More than a few bars in Reykjavik had games of chance in the form of a wheel. The first few times I saw it, I was confused. It was more confusing because I never saw anyone spin the wheels–I began to think it was just for show. I found out that some of the younger customers play on weekends.

Iceland's favorite game show: Wheel of Drink!

Iceland’s favorite game show: Wheel of Drink!

At Lebowski Bar, I asked the bartender about it. It really is a drinking game of chance. For about $10, the bartender will spin the wheel. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your money’s worth back in drinks. Or you could get nothing. There’s even a chance to win 10 drinks (Lebowski Bar paid in beer, but some bars had shots).

I did not play the game. I preferred to just pay for the sure thing in a glass. Although, if I had won 10 beers, I would’ve made some quick friends.

I couldn’t help but think of Weird Al Yankovic’s movie UHF and the Wheel of FishIceland’s drinking version didn’t have the option to take what’s in the box. I am pretty sure that Wheel of Fish would be popular game show in Iceland.

For those who have no idea what I’m rambling about, here’s a link to the Wheel of Fish Youtube clip (for copyright reasons, I won’t embed it on this site).

Sex in the Museum

This post is intended for mature audiences. Or maybe it’s only really appropriate for older audiences with a 5th grade sense of humor.

oralfixLast Friday I joined a Meetup.com group to walk around the Museum of Sex in New York. We met at the OralFix bar in the basement of the museum, which was rather hot–temperature-wise; it really wasn’t sexy in any way unless you count the names of cocktails. After meeting all the people in the group and almost immediately forgetting their names, we headed upstairs to the museum.

On the second floor of the museum is a room with facts and statistics about American porn search habits–there are a lot of perverts searching for some fetishes that some people might find offensive (or really funny). There’s also some commentary about those habits–many of the comments were quickly made into NSA surveillance jokes. I’m still not sure why they’d include QR codes on every porn search term–would anyone actually whip out their phone to check that? (If I had a QR reader app on my phone I might’ve checked to see if I got redirected to safe website.) One wall also had some pixelated thing that sort of looked like Lego porn–as someone in the group said, “That’s the least erotic porn I’ve ever seen.”

I'm really not sure what the point of this game is. It wasn't really erotic either

I’m really not sure what the point of this game is. It wasn’t really erotic either

There was quite a bit about voyeurism and amateur porn, and people’s desire to show themselves to strangers. There’s even an archive of Anthony Weiner’s Twitter conversation before tweeting a picture of his junk, which was even funnier because The Daily Show had just run a segment the night before on politicians on Twitter (“Seriously, don’t tweet your junk”).

Now, why didn't they sell this in the gift shop?

Now, why didn’t they sell this quilt in the gift shop?

On the third floor, there were two more rotating exhibits–an art display by William Kent called “My Life Ruined by Sex” and a room full of facts about sex in the animal kingdom (nothing about bestiality). Quite a bit of the art exhibit was humorous, though I’m not sure what the inspiration would be to make a giant twisted penis battering ram out of wood (it’s not even a functional sex toy). The rest of Kent’s artwork was mostly screen prints that were a mix of classical art, propaganda, and sexual content. Some people confused the display of Kent’s woodworking tools with his sex toys, but I’m fairly certain he would’ve been in a lot of pain if used the tools in that way.

The animal exhibit included some sculptures of animal sex because everyone needs to see a chimp with a boner offering sugarcane for sex. It was the most educational part of the museum with documented instances on homosexuality, prostitution, and necrophilia in the animal kingdom–plus there’s panda porn since panda’s are notoriously not interested in sex.

Because everyone needs to see some panda porn

Because everyone loves some panda porn

My recommendation is to save your money and just check out the gift shop full of sex toys and novelty gifts. If you have the chance, go to the sex museum in Amsterdam instead.

Tickets for the Museum of Sex are $18, but I had a $3 discount. Most in the group had a Travelzoo 2-for-1 ticket. The museum is located at 27th St. and 5th Ave.

Peaceful (?) Contemplation

Sometimes signs in foreign countries can be confusing. In China, it was mostly the Chinglish that made signs confusing, sometimes hilarious. In other cases, it was placement of signs that baffled the mind.meditate

After visiting the Thai and Burmese Buddhist temples down the street in Penang, Malaysia, I came across a meditation center that was not so inviting. The barbed wire fence doesn’t quite fit in with the concept of free and open mind.

I Was an Illegal Immigrant

templeguardI arrived at the Bangkok airport on an afternoon in early August 2008. My parents and I took an Air Asia flight from Penang, Malaysia, to Kuala Lumpur before departing for a few days in Thailand.

While most people have horror stories associated with the budget airline, I’ve never had any major problems with them. Almost all of my Air Asia flights have been delayed, but nothing major. My two mishaps have been more comical than horrifying. On this particular trip to Bangkok, Air Asia’s mistake caused my parents and me to be illegal immigrants.

The problem began when we landed at Suvarnabhumi International Airport. My memory of the first flight into Bangkok is hazy as we arrived late at night, but I vaguely recall getting off the plane and boarding a bus that took everyone to the terminal. This time, however, we entered the airport through an actual gate. Air Asia saves money by not using the gates. Of course, no one seemed to notice this.

The last time I arrived in Bangkok, I remember going through customs almost immediately. This time, I didn’t even see a sign for customs. We followed signs for baggage claim for nearly fifteen minutes–it felt like a rather long walk through the terminal, and I grew confused by the fact that we hadn’t noticed a sign for customs.

It was at about that point that an Air Asia representative approached us and asked if we just arrived on the flight from Kuala Lumpur. She directed the group of us (a few people in front of and behind us) to follow someone else. We were led outside to waiting bus that took us to customs and baggage claim.

The airline had let us off at the domestic terminal.

Unshot Photos

My greatest travel regret is not taking more photos. Even now, with my digital camera, I don’t take enough photos. Sometimes I’m just not quick enough at getting the camera out of my pocket.

In Panama, I was disappointed that I never got a shot of the diablos rojos–the colorfully painted American school buses that are used as public transportation. Every time I had my camera ready, I only saw boring ones. And I wasn’t quick enough to catch the most elaborately painted ones as they raced by.

The photo I most regret not taking is from the time before digital cameras. On my final night in Edinburgh, as I had a couple pints before boarding my bus back to London, I came across a curious sight.

Of all the places I should’ve taken a photo, it was in the men’s room of that Scottish pub. As I washed my hands, I couldn’t contain my laughter at the sight of a condom vending machine. It’s not that the presence of a condom vending machine itself was amusing, but rather the type of condom in the vending machine. It advertised “Scotch Whiskey flavored condoms.” That was enough to start the laughter, but it wasn’t the best part. Beneath that was a warning: “Do not use whilst driving.”