Tag Archive - Travel

Field Tested Books 2008

HST's Proud Highway in Bangkok
The team over at Coudal.com are back at it with the launch of the 2008 edition of Field Tested Books, a collection of book reviews by a variety writers, each with an interesting twist. As Jim explains:

“We had this notion that somehow through experimentation we could identify how our perception of a book is affected by the place where we read it. Or maybe the other way around. Maybe it’s possible to determine how a book colors the way we feel about the place where we experience it.”

This year, the ever-experimental crew are trying their hand at book publishing by offering the Field-Tested Books collection (including all three years of FTB reviews) “in a handsome trade paperback”. I was quite honored to be asked back as a contributor, and in return submitted a gonzo-inspired review of “The Proud Highway” by Hunter S. Thompson as read in Bangkok. (My 2006 submission, “Siddhartha, on a train between Madrid and Barcelona, Spain” can be found here.)

A perfect way to blow a Friday morning: peruse the website, buy the book and be sure to throw it in your backpack this summer when you light out on your own great literary adventure.

Night Diving with Manta Rays

Night Diving with Manta Rays
The sunset that night does not spread itself out like a stain across the sky; it does not explode into great symphonies of crimson and mango but remains strangely minimalist, like a Japanese flag, a simple red disk descending beyond the Pacific. Our boat captain signals its primal retreat with the call of a conch shell and on its note we prepare our own descent into the waters below.

On our journey out to this spot, earlier that afternoon, just off the black lava cliffs that edge the Kona airport, a troop of dolphins had raced our hull, breaking away to leap and spin in the air like exclamation points to the anticipation that we all shared staring out over the bow. For we were going out to night dive with manta rays, a major notch on any diver’s bedpost; an experience that defied comparison I had been told, that was “of an other world.”

From wikipedia:

“Mantas are most commonly black dorsally and white ventrally, but some are blue on their backs. A manta’s eyes are located at the base of the cephalic lobes on each side of the head, and unlike other rays the mouth is found at the anterior edge of its head. To respire, like other rays, the manta has five pairs of gills on the underside…Distinctive “horns” (from which the common name Devil ray stems) are on either side of its broad head. These unique structures are actually derived from the pectoral fins. During embryonic development, part of the pectoral fin breaks away and moves forward, surrounding the mouth. This gives the manta ray the distinction of being the only jawed vertebrate to have novel limbs … These flexible horns are used to direct plankton, small fish and water into the manta’s very broad and wide mouth. The manta can curl them to reduce drag while swimming.”

We have placed lanterns on the ocean floor within a tight square of rocks. Like a campfire around which 20 of us will swim down to and sit, each with our own torch shining up towards the surface; meanwhile, a handful of snorkelers circle above us, they too baring torches that they shine down, all of this creating a concentrated single column of light amidst the fathoms of black. Into this column swarms plankton, the moths of the deep, tricked into the worship of a false god, they in turn become the evening’s sacrifice as we summon our own winged spirits.

And they come, appearing like phantoms from above, like the bat signal over Gotham, soaring in and out of the light and then, suddenly, they are directly in our circle, two rays spanning 8 and 10 feet across swoop down, at times mere inches away, their wide gaping mouths all but swallowing us up along with their microscopic prey. So eerie in the glow of the torches, our campfire ghost stories come alive. And yet they are gentle, nonthreatening, even delicate in the way their hulking bodies navigate the space. At one point the larger of the two begins swimming in grand backward vertical loops, to such an extent that one could almost begin to believe that it was for our benefit.

Our two species make strange bedfellows, and yet there is an amiable exchange between us: an easier night’s meal traded up for a glimpse into a different realm; Never has the world seemed more alien to me and yet at the same time never have I felt more aware of its wider plan. To be a stranger in this world and realize that it is not ours. To be the humbled guest in another creature’s sphere. And so, with our tanks at half, we bid farewell and kick back out into the jet black depths.

Photos (hopefully) to follow. In the meantime, makai.makai’s collection of videos on Flickr does a damn good job of capturing the surreality of the evening. For more info, rates etc. check out Jack’s Diving Locker

On Vacation

Just ducked into the London Apple Store on Regent Street. We are heading to Italy tomorrow, spending a couple of days in Venice, then on to Bologna and then finally meeting up with our friends Jen and Adam for seven days in the Tuscan countryside. I will be back online on the 17th with a full account of the adventures. Until then, ciao!

The Beijing Dispatch

There are people wandering along the side of the freeway.
This is my first impression upon our arrival in Beijing. It strikes a deep set horror in me. Caught in the headlights, choked on the edge of the 10 lanes that spew out an air that you wear like another layer of skin, they look displaced, lost, left behind.

My god, I think to myself, 1.3 billion is too many; China’s population is supersaturated; the levee has broken; people are spilling out everywhere. Continue Reading…

Gochiso-sama

House of Mao - Best Ramen in Tokyo
China/Japan: the photos.

Returning to Asia

michael wolf
We are in the final hours before our flight to Beijing. Plans to blog while on the trip are foggy at best. I may try to fire off a few quick impressions of the digital skylines and cybernetic crowds but I will have to see how it all plays out. As a last blog entry, I leave you with photographer Michael Wolf’s website, a series of photographs and collected posters that best represent the contents of my dreams over these last days before my imminent departure. Mata ne.

Dining out in China

eating out in shanghai
If anyone has any recommendations for restaurants that we should be checking out while in Shanghai, it would be great to hear from you. At the moment, the plan is to check out Cloud Nine for the view at the very least. The other restaurant that caught my eye is Tou Ming Si Kao which looks like something straight out of a Wong Kar Wai movie. As for Beijing, we will probably take most of our meals at the night market. Mmmm…deep fried scorpion.

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