Friday, August 28, 2009

Demon Dogs and the unwilling return to normal!

Dear citizens of the world,

The Demon Dogs of September have returned.

They have sunk their bloodthirsty teeth.

The unwilling return to normal has begun!

School is starting soon and September 1st marks the beginning of the end...

...may God have mercy on us all!

The United Statesian

Photo contests - "How to choose?"

Dear citizens of the world,

I am now trying to send photos to participate in as many photo contests as possible. It is a great way to learn and an incentive to improve.

The hard part is choosing the photos. The art of photography is so subjective; each contest has so many possible winners. It is also very personal. Many pictures I take mean something to me, but I don't know how others see them...or what they see. Even if two people agree that they like a photo, they probably don't like it for the same reasons.

The above picture is from a bridge over the Bosphorus, outside of Istanbul:
it is taken in winter,
the weather is cold and crisp,
the shot is taken in Europe,
but the far shore is Asia,
the massive bridge dwarfs the container ship,
the mosque in the foreground is plain, elegant, clean,
double minarets are complimented by the double supports of the bridge,
smaller boats at the bottom help balance the picture and reinforce the contrasts,
both modern and new...

Many more aspects connected to the photo are impossible to see (but they are important to me):
The water is full of thousands of jellyfish,
It is my birthday,
smells of Turkey from the market nearby,
the fuzzy feeling I have after having a hot Turkish coffee,
the cold winter air and the warm afternoon sun,

This picture got me a 7th place in a competition years ago. Now I need to choose another picture for a new (colour) photo contest. Do you like it? What do you see? What do you feel?

Any and all comments are welcome. Please forward the link to anyone that would be interested in commenting.

The United Statesian

Monday, August 24, 2009

The "Pueblo" - Torrico

Citizens of the world,

Today, the topic is the Spanish "Pueblo" (Village). El Pueblo is a very important part of Spanish culture - almost everyone has one, but nobody seems to actually live there.

Most Spaniards live in big or medium sized cities, but that was not always the case. Urban areas have expanded greatly over the past two generations, but there is still a strong link to the pueblo.

The average age of some pueblos is over 60 - a few smaller villages have died out completely. However, there are still thousands of Pueblos that survive, in most part, thanks to the strong family and cultural bonds.

When we are not climbing mountains or traveling, we go to Torrico, our pueblo. The main reason is to visit family, but it is also a way to get away from the pollution and stress of the big city, relax, disconnect, and to get your hands dirty in the fields.

El pueblo also survives for practical reasons. For many families the pueblo and the extended family serve as a cheap babysitter for the long summer and winter breaks.

We usually go there to relax and swap travel stories; however, this weekend, end of August / begining of September, the San Gil Fiestas (the big annual bash) will be in full swing for a week.

The population of the pueblo doubles with everyone coming home and then doubles again at night with all the nearby villages that come to party.

An average day might go a bit like this:

The key word is excess!

14:00 Wake up after a fitful sleep (the party never really ends and the clean up crew is excessively noisy).
14:00 to 16:00 Have brunch and complain about stomach pains, from excessive eating, and the excessive heat.

16:00 to 18:00 Sleep siesta if you can find a shady spot or aircon to fight the 38ºC heat.
18:30 Have a snack (eating in excess) to recuperate from the long siesta.
19:00 to 21:00 Hang out at pool, taking dips to avoid the excessive heat and avoiding excessive use of energy
22:00 Eat a long dinner with excessive abandon ... nothing spared
to 02:00 Hanging out, getting dressed up and waiting for the right time to go out. Most people start arriving at 2:00 and the party gets into full swing at 4:00 or 5:00. There is an excessive amount of alcohol, but few get drunk, the music is excessively loud and the food keeps coming at all hours.
7:00 People are excessively tired from all the excess and try to get some rest to attack the next day of partying. Hard core group that arrived at 4:00 am party until 10 or 11 in the morning (when it is excessively hot to continue)... for a few days and repeat each year at the same time...

The United Statesian

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Toilets - Part I "Achtung! Sit Booboo Sit!"

Dear citizens of the world,

My thoughts have now moved towards the little talked about, but crucial topic of toilets.

This subject may seem benign or vulgar, but as soon as you mention the topic with friends who have traveled extensively there is a digresion that could go on indefinitly.

Each country has it's quarkes, but today I limit myself to Germany and the "Stand or Sit?" debate. Being a United Statesian male I have always been a Stander - always raising the seat, getting close and taking good aim. However, Germans - and a few other cultures - are firm believers that sitting is the way to go (see pictures).

Sitters believe that it is more hygenic because of the splatter effect.

Even a good Stander will always have some splatter effect going on.

At first, the idea seemed like an attack on manhood. On one of my first visits to Germany, while relieving myself, there was a knock on the door and a female voice with a German accent, "I hear zyoo, zyoo are ztandinnnng."

The idea of your "private time" being policed is very un-United feel invaded.

It took a while, but I got used to the idea...and even tend to agree with the Sitters.

When you are the one doing the cleaning, it gets even easier to change sides. However, I still enjoy - can you use "enjoy" for this type of thing? - standing up while using public urinals and during nature breaks.

Standing is still the natural thing, but sitting while in a home is the Richtig thing to do.

The United Statesian

Friday, August 14, 2009

Signs - Part II "Organized Caos"

Dear citizens of the world,

My second blog post continues along the same topic of signs in China. This sign which can be found at the entrance to Tian'anmen square in Beijing has no translation problems. The problem is cultural.

The same as Chris's last post, this sign clearly prohibits exploding vehicles...but it also has many other regulations:
When cycling towards the "Peaceful Heavenly Gate" square I decided to stop to read the sign and make sure I was not breaking any laws that would get me thrown into the Beijing slammer. The square is surrounded by hundreds or thousands of uniformed police, military, plain-clothed police, video cameras, communist lasers of death, etc...

The sign prohibited buses, but there were many buses full of locals and tourists alike.

The sign prohibited bikes pulling large amounts of cargo, but lots of them rode by as I was decifering the sign.

In the end, I decided to push ahead, sure that I was not breaking any rules and that many others were - giving the outsider a general impresion of fearlessness and caos.

This is where the confusion comes in. There are so many rules that the locals do what they please until someone stops them.

A bit further down the road we tried to get into the highly protected pedestrian area (pushing our bikes as the guide book suggested). The skinny rent-a-cop (who was swimming in his uniform) at the entrance stopped us. I explained in Chinese how I wanted to push the bike and not ride it, but he refused us entry, "No Bikes!" he said, as a chinese woman left with a bike. It did not matter and the backup of foot soldiers and many large weapons made me decease in my efforts even though I was quite frustrated. There were many signs, but none prohibiting bikes!

There are many rules - too many - and nobody seems to follow them, but when the authorities put their foot down, there is no way around them - especially in Tian'anmen.

A deeper, underlying feeling in China is fear. The rules that have been enforced in an "effective" way are very much engrained in the minds of the population. This causes a "shock" that leaves an invisible hand on people. Since I was not in China for long enough the fear could only be percieved indirectly, like watching a stream flow around an invisible rock. You can not see the rock, but the effect is visible to those paying attention to the changes in the current.
Overall, these two contradicting feelings leaves China with a feeling of ordered caos.

The United Statsian

I leave you with a sign from 1870 in a small village in Southern Spain. It prohibits washing clothes in the fountain with a one-peseta (less than on cent now and days) fine. This just goes to show that laws need to be updated every once and a while:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Signs - Lost in transation

After reading Chris's most recent blog "Lost in translation" I decided to continue the conversation on translations that could be added and expanded. The true problem with translations comes when no cultural equivalent exisits...

Bad English or just avoiding copyright problems?

There are thousand of cases of mis-translation that have made me laugh and cry over the past sixteen years as an expat...but I will limit this post to the most recent signs I had the time to photogragh during our three-week, whirlwind tour of China and HK.
Future posts should bring more anecdotes and bad translations - part of the fun of being an expat; you always know that there will be a chuckle around the corner, or in the toilet...
Signs do not need to include bad English to be of interest - differences in culture are usually enough to make a sign interesting:

A dog toilet...Hong Kong style:

Perfect English, but not the type of thing I would see in Madrid:

"Entrance to the right"...but five signs down "No Entry"

Another good example of good English, but different cultures:

Keep your "family jewels" in view! Unknown dangers lurking nearby:

This kind of signage was all over Hong Kong. The entire place is constantly being disinfected because of H1N1 fears. Can't blame them after what SARs did to HK:

Pirates? ...where?

The "Roiing" stones need special care....

The Chinese has three characters; therefore, the English should have three parts:

This sign stood out on our trip. We were in the very modern, clean and organized Pudong Shanghai Airport when I spotted this sign. "We can't seem to find the problem with the water quality, but we know that there is a problem...if you find "the" water quality problem, let us know!"

This is where the policing gets done:

There are websights dedicated to bad signage...if you want more of the same:

See ya later,

The United Statesian