Good Food and Street Art Wall Murals in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. And Goodbye.

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) -> [Trans-mongolian Express] -> Beijing (China) -> Hong Kong (SAR, China) -> Guangzhou (China) -> Nanning (Guangxi, China) -> Hanoi (Vietnam) -> [Reunification Express] -> Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) -> Phnom Penh (Cambodia) -> Siem Reap (Cambodia) -> Bangkok (Thailand) -> Butterworth (Malaysia) -> Georgetown, Penang (Malaysia)

After several years away from south-east asia, my tastebuds were eager to be overwhelmed by the manifold spices of Malaysian/SIngaporean (please fight about authenticity and origination elsewhere) cuisine. A quick stopover in Penang would put that right, I hoped, before an overnight coach down to Singapore.

in the ferry from Butterworth to Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
view from the ferry from Butterworth to Georgetown, PenangFoot passengers and vehicles occupied the same space on the ferry from Butterworth to Georgetown on the island of Penang.

The UNESCO World Heritage site had retained many of its pre-war shophouses (the original SOHO):
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

There were old-timey signs, and fake old-timey signs (simulacra ftw!):
Gold Cup Mahjong, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Kedai Biskut & Kek Ming Xiang Tai. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

There were the commissioned Marking George Town Steel Rod Sculptures – a collection of caricatures installed on several streets by Sculpture at Work:
Marking George Town Steel Rod Sculpture. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Marking George Town Steel Rod Sculpture. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Marking George Town Steel Rod Sculpture. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Marking George Town Steel Rod Sculpture. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Marking George Town Steel Rod Sculpture. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

And then there is the recent street art or wall murals (or graffiti), both commissioned and, err, spontaneous:
wall mural, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
wall mural, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
wall mural, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
faded wall mural, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
wall mural, Georgetown, Penang, MalaysiaWould these wall murals by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic be less authentic as an art form because (i) they were commissioned for the 2012 George Town Festival, (ii) he’s not Malaysian, (iii) they have become objects of tourist adoration – marketed not only on official tourist literature but also reproduced on keychains, notebooks, pens, and other kitschy souvenirs?

Penang street artists sure like cats:
cat, wall  mural, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
cat wall mural, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, MalaysiaGeorgetown, Penang, Malaysiaor not:
Bruce Lee kicking cats, Georgetown, Penang, MalaysiaAnd when is it art and when just eyesore?
dog eating steak, Georgetown, Penang, MalaysiaGeorgetown, Penang, Malaysia
man on boat wall mural, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
I want to believe + altar, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
pink elephant, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
gangsta penguins, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
grafitti, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

man cleaning altar street art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
ballet girl street art, Georgetown, Penang, MalaysiaI remembered reading with amusement how some Londoners wrote asking Banksy to go do his art somewhere else, because the graffiti had been embraced by so many Gen Xers that it was no longer counter-cultural, and in fact was causing gentrification of areas and an increase in living costs for original residents.

kelong, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
kelong. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
kelong. Georgetown, Penang, MalaysiaHis fellow graffiti artists, meanwhile, accused him of selling out for making money from his art. Why should it be less authentic to get money from art? Or why should his message be less real if more people embrace it so much they would pay for it? “Just take the f*cking donut!” says Amanda Palmer in The Art of Asking.

Joo Hooi Cafe (more of a coffeeshop really) at the junction of Jalan Penang and Lebuh Keng Kwee managed to retain both its old booth seats and an elderly grumpy drinks aunty. Later, she forgot to be grumpy in her amazement at the amount of food I was putting away. Everything I had was good and full-flavoured, with the right mix of ingredients, cooked at just the right temperature for the right time – something that many of the mainland Chinese employees of Singaporean hawkers could not replicate:

Joo Hooi Cafe, Jalan Penang, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
rojak, Joo Hooi Cafe, Jalan Penang, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
assam laksa, Joo Hooi Cafe, Jalan Penang, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
teh o ais limau, Joo Hooi Cafe, Jalan Penang, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
char kway teow, Joo Hooi Cafe, Jalan Penang, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysiarojak, assam laksa, char kway teow (with duck egg)

Outside the coffeshop, two rival carts of chendol vendors faced each other on the narrow Lebuh Keng Kwee. The popular (and some say original) one is the Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol (as opposed to the Penang Road Famous Chendol). It’s RM0.50 if you want to eat its icy treats in Joo Hooi, or there’s seating further down the road in a coffeeshop space rented by the chendol vendor:
Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
ais cendol, from Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol, Joo Hooi Cafe, Jalan Penang, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

ice kachang, Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol, Georgetown, Penang, MalaysiaSpent a really comfy night at the newly-opened Muntri Grove – the first and last hotel of the trip. I was sold by the much lower rate per night offered by the nice manager.

Late the next day, strolled over to Toh Soon Cafe, where there was a crowd waiting for seats:
Toh Soon Cafe, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
charcoal grilled bread and charcoal heated water, Toh Soon Cafe, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
iced milk coffee, Toh Soon Cafe, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
packs of toast, Toh Soon Cafe, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs, tea and coffee, Toh Soon Cafe, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Shared a table with two interior designers who’d come to Georgetown to see a client. Minimalist designs and the vintage theme, they said, were their most common briefs. The wait for the grilled toast wore on. Hungry, one of the girls went to the coffeeshop at the other end of the little alley and returned with a bowl of wanton noodles to share. The texture of the noodles was “very QQ”:
wanton noodles, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Food was so ubiquitous in Georgetown that every street had some cart or stall to pique culinary curiousity:

you tiao, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
you tiao, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
you tiao, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysiaa couple of ladies making and frying you tiao (dough fritters) – like all fried food, best eaten very hot!

Whilst taking a shortcut, saw someone standing outside a faded signboard that read “Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Koay” (facebook). Went to investigate and found an Aladdin’s cave of kueh delights!

Moh Teng Pheoh Nyonya Koay, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Koay, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Koay. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
framing, Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Koay. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Koay. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Koay. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Koay. Georgetown, Penang, MalaysiaThen, just before the Grassland coach to Singapore overnight, grabbed dinner at Lebuh Presgrave. The last of this whole London to Singapore trip:
Lebuh Presgrave, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
prawn noodles, Lebuh Presgrave, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
ice kachang, Lebuh Presgrave, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Goodbye, freedom of the road. Farewell, the materially-simple backpacker’s life. Tomorrow, re-entry into society, with all the roles, responsibilities, and joys that that will bring.

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

(For reasons known only to my subconscious, everytime I attempt to speak a foreign language, what comes out is French before that segues somewhat into the intended vernacular. And it’s not like I actually know that much French. Useless brain. So after speaking French to several confused Penangites, I switched to Malaysian-inflected English. As my Singaporean-Malay teacher used to say, if you cannot make it, fake it lah.)

*the last part of a photo-journal of my journey overland from London to Singapore

Sleeper Train from Nanning (China) to Hanoi (Vietnam), and Rousseau’s Romanticism

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) -> [Trans-mongolian Express] -> Beijing (China) -> Hong Kong (SAR, China) -> Guangzhou (China) -> Nanning (Guangxi, China) -> Hanoi (Vietnam)

train from Nam Ninh (Nanning, China) to Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
sleeper train from Nanning China to Hanoi, VietnamBid farewell to China and headed down to south-east asia by train. First stop, Hanoi in Vietnam.

Ga Gia Lam, Hanoi, VietnamWalked out Ga Gia Lâm,

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnamand following the familiar smoky aroma of pork grilling on the street, was heartened to see the familiar roadside scenes and hear the beeps of motos coming in both directions. I couldn’t decide if I’d consider Copenhagen or Vietnam my third home.

Phở bò, Hanoi, Vietnam
Phở bò shop, Hanoi, Vietnam
Phở bò, Hanoi, VietnamThen, the first person I talked to, a phở bò seller, laughed at my very rusty Vietnamese.

Ho Chi Minh's Tomb. Hanoi, Vietnam
communist poster, Hanoi, VietnamHere are more photos of lovely peaceful Hanoi scenes interspersed quite randomly (ah, can anything be random?) with a continuing read-through of Andrew Potter’s The Authenticity Hoax:

The Authenticity Hoax: A False Return

“The Romantic response to modernity was an attempt to transcend or mitigate the alienating effects of the modern world and recoup what is good and valuable in human life.”

“What [Jean-Jacques] Rousseau came to realise is that the gap between appearance and reality is not just metaphysical (as Plato thought) or epistemological (as it was for Descartes) but that it has a moral dimension as well, since it is the source of all that is wrong with the world. Appearance is the realm of guilt, reality is the domain of innocence.”

“The problem ultimately lies not with men and their bad intentions, but with society and the inevitable friction it introduces into relations between people. Society is necessarily the land of appearances, and it is society that introduces evil into the world, in the form of the quest for prestige, status, wealth, and esteem.” [Comment: (i) here Rousseau apparently discounts any responsibility Adam and Eve might have had for eating that fruit. (ii) this was exactly what i thought too as a kid! need to find those angsty diaries.]

“For Hobbes, the state of nature is a large, multiplayer prisoner’s dilemma, where what is good for everyone, collectively, is undermined by each person’s individual rational calculations. Without a coercive authority to enforce cooperation, each of us retreats into tactics of self-preservation that are collectively self-defeating. It is not human nature, but the structural lack of restrictions on people’s behaviour, that led Hobbes to assert, infamously, that life in the state of nature wold be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Rousseau has a rather different account…as he imagines it, it is rather a congenial sort of place, in which man enjoys a life of isolation, equilibrium, and self-sufficiency.”

communal dancing, Hanoi, Vietnam
communal exercises in a park, Hanoi, Vietnam“In contrast with Hobbes’s monotonic “psychological egoism” (the claim that we are utterly self-interested), Rousseau sees human nature as characterised by two basic drives…self-love (amour de soi) and…pity…Rousseau sees self-love as motivated by nothing more than the need to promote the survival and flourishing of the individual, by satisfying each individual’s rather modest needs…finding food and shelter, little else, but even this minimal amount of self-interest is moderated by the second drive, pity.” [Comment: a just-so story? The Bible’s explanation of human sin in Romans 1 is far more convincing.]

“How did we get from the congenial state of nature to the cutthroat selfishness of modern life?”

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnami just like the juxtaposition of this evidence of community in Hanoi and Rousseau’s whine

“Before, social intercourse was transient and fleeting. But then these transient relationships started to congeal into a more settled form of life…inevitably, this nascent society led to the idea of comparison, or what Rousseau calls “relations.”…In becoming aware of how they compare with others, men got into the habit of self-regard, and “thus it was the first look he gave into himself produced the first emotion of pride in him.”…The sense of pride…gives birth to a new motivation, and a new form of self-love, which Rousseau calls amour-propre…it is nothing less than the quest for status, from which all the evils of civilization follow.”

“…the real problem with society is not social alienation, but self-alienation. Once amour-propre comes to dominate the relations between men, everyone becomes obsessed with appearances and with questions such as who sings or dances the best, who is the best-looking, or the strongest, wittiest, or most eloquent. Status becomes the only good worth pursuing…”

“In such a world, deception becomes a necessary survival skill. In a society dictated by relations of vanity and contempt on the part of social superiors, and the envy and shame of inferiors, it becomes imperative to appear better than you actually are. The mediated world of seems is now paramount, and the unmediated and unmasked world of is ceases to matter.”

motorcycle jam, Hanoi, Vietnam
on a motorcycle, Hanoi, Vietnam“When it comes to coping with the downside of the modern world, there are two lines of approach. We can try to eliminate the causes of our problems or, alternatively, we can work toward mitigating the effects. That is, we can see about changing society and eliminating competition and inequality or we can focus on building stronger, more self-sufficient individuals within the sphere of modern life. As it turned out, Rousseau thought the second approach had the best chance of success…”

“…Rousseau’s rather dismal account of civilisation…had considerable uptake among his contemporaries. Characteristic of the neo-Rousseauian genre is the work of …Dom Deschamps, who dreamt of a world free of the petty jealousies and enviousness that arose out of prideful men competing with one another in a market economy. In a passage that makes…the Khmer Rouge and the Taliban seem urbane in comparison, Deschamps proposed a world where intellectuals would be banned and everyone would live together in a hut, “work together at simple tasks, eat vegetarian food together, and sleep together in one big bed of straw. No books, no writing, no art: all that would be burned.”…Modern civilization is alienating, while primitive societies promise a return to our lost unity and natural wholeness, where we can avoid the status competition and raw commercialisation of society and embed ourselves in a true community based on simple, nonexploitative relationships. In this view, the search for our lost authenticity is essentially an exercise in retrieval, as we hearken back to our own premodern past.”

“If contemporary evidence is anything to go by, there is nothing peaceful, congenial, or even terribly solitary about tribal life. Instead, it is a world of “despotic chiefs, absurd beliefs, revolting cruelty, appalling poverty, horrifying diseases, and homicidal religious fanaticism” (a state of affairs which has been almost completely eradicated from the modern world).” [Comment: this sort of bunk thinking is truly alive in the present world. Recent examples include the refusal to vaccinate children for measles due to misinformation about children’s “natural immunity” and allegations that it causes autism (what’s wrong with autism? an autistic writer then asked).]

“…a more charitable reading of Rousseau is to think of his state of nature as a “regulative ideal” that is unattainable in practice but that an be used to evaluate actual social institutions and relationships and to measure our progress toward a more egalitarian and less exploitative society.” [Comment: but surely if the basis of the theory is inconsistent with facts, then the purported goodness of such an ideal might not be valid.]

street-side meat seller, Hanoi, Vietnam
street-side meat-griller. Hanoi, Vietnam“…on the living tree of Rousseau’s intellectual descendants, there is one group that has enthusiastically adopted this tunnel vision and developed it into a root-and-branch condemnation of the modern world…Let us call the people who seriously foresee the coming apocalypse “declinists,” and their animating philosophy “declinism”…the rights-based politics of liberal individualism, combined with the free-market economy, have served to undermine local attachments and communitarian feelings, leading us to seek meaning in the shallow consumerism and mindless entertainment that is leading us to ruin.”

“In order to recover from this alienation and restore our lost authentic wholeness, we need to learn “the grammar of harmony”, restore our lost “balance”, and achieve “organic order”, by inventing technologies that “work with the grain of Nature rather than against it.”…It is typical of this genre of critical declinism that any positive programme must remain unstated, and any concessions to the benefits that have accrued to humanity over the past hundred years or so must be grudgingly downplayed or even denied.”

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam“…the central concern of Rousseau’s philosophical project is to distinguish what is natural from what is artificial in the state of men in society. He knows that civilization deforms human nature, but the precise contours of that deformation are unclear.”

“And so the popular, primitivist view of Rousseau’s ambition is mistaken: instead of looking for some sort of modernity-free sanctuary somewhere in the world or in our distant past, he proposed that we look inward and find our authentic self by attending to our most basic, spontaneous, and powerful feelings and emotions. In this view, the authentic person is someone who is in touch with their deepest feelings, whose emotional life is laid bare…Who am I?…Je sens mon coeur…”I feel my heart”…”I truly am what I feel myself to be.””

Bún Bò Nam Bộ 67 Hàng Điếu, Hanoi, Vietnam
Bún Bò Nam Bộ 67 Hàng Điếu, Hanoi, VietnamBún Bò Nam Bộ, 67 Hàng Điếu – my heart says,”Yummy tum-tum, this is delicious”

“The truth is an elusive beast, and one that ultimately Rousseau does not think is worth pursuing…As he writes in his Confessions:”I have only one faithful guide on which I can count: the succession of feelings that have marked the development of my being…I may omit or transpose facts, but I cannot go wrong about what I have felt or about what my feelings have led me to do.”

“He takes the Cartesian search for certainty and completely upends it, so where Descartes concluded that the search for truth could only begin with an indubitable fact (“I am, I exist”), Rousseau says…truth begins with the indubitability of emotions, and only once you know how you feel can you make any progress.”

rattan goods seller, Hanoi, Vietnam
rickshaw riders, Hanoi, Vietnam
overladen vehicle stuck in traffic, Hanoi, Vietnam“Authenticity becomes redefined as the ongoing process of filtering our experiences through our most deeply felt emotions and constantly interpreting and reinterpreting our lives until we find a story that is uniquely our own.”
Huu Tiep Lake and the downed B-52. Hanoi, Vietnam
business tourists and a train track. Hanoi, Vietnam“…it firmly establishes the quest for the authentic as an artistic enterprise. Being true to yourself, in the sense that Polonius intended it, is now a lifelong creative project from which no one is exempt, and it plants the solitary artist at the center of our moral understanding.”

colourful laquered coconut shell bowls, Hanoi, Vietnam
pop-up greeting cards, Hanoi, Vietnam
iPho, Hanoi, Vietnam“This is the Romantic turn in the modern worldview, heralding the start of a backlash against science, rationalism, and commerce. The authentic individual is one who disengages from the deforming forces of society and looks inward, drawing inspiration from the murky depths of the creative self.”

“…it was Rousseau who launched the first serious volley in the culture wars…the dispute between passion and reason, art and commerce, the individual and society, the bohemian and the bourgeois. To be bourgeois is to be alienated from your authentic self, which is just another way of saying that you’ve allowed your creativity to atrophy in the name of comfort and security. You’ve sold out, in other words, and the only way to get your edge back is to become a bohemian, a non-conformist, a solitary rebel at odds and out of step with the main-stream.”

shopkeepers, Hanoi, Vietnam
bamboo sellers, Hanoi, Vietnam
men drinking coffee, Hanoi, Vietnam“An authentic person is one who, almost by definition, rejects popular tastes, thoughts, opinions, styles, and morals.”

Thereby tripping themselves (their real selves?) over.
*part of a read-through of Andrew Potter’s The Authenticity Hoax

**also part of a photo-journal of my journey overland from London to Singapore

Culture Shock and Eating in Beijing, China

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) -> [Trans-mongolian Express] -> Beijing (China)

Beijing was a bit of a culture shock.

I’d worked in Shanghai before of course, but had been driven around in company cars or taxis, and stayed in hotels where every requirement and request had been met efficiently by the concierge. (Shanghainese friends would say disparagingly at this point that the superiority of Shanghai has nothing to do with this.) Now, my backpack full of Mongolian winter clothes and I were being pushed towards the exit of the 北京火车站 (Beijing Railway Station) by a sea of humanity, drowning in the cacophony of shouting and high-pitched women making the announcements.

I held up a bit of the tide enough to ask a security guard about left luggage, but could barely hear her replies or, be heard.

“Can you speak-a English!” she shouted, waving her handheld metal detector about.

“I AM SPEAKING ENGLISH!” I replied. To no avail. She was not familiar with such a business concept, and said kindly that I could leave my bag with her if I wanted. Outside the 北京火车站, after buttonholing several groups of security personnel, one man left his post to show me to the door of the left luggage facility. It was on an upper floor, but its entrance was along a row of similar looking shops with gaudy red signs.

A further problem: Beijing yuan, or the lack thereof. Surprisingly, there were no moneychangers at the railway station. Across the overhead bridge, the Postal Savings Bank of China did not have a foreign exchange service, but perhaps I could try the bank a street away? That bank did not accept British pounds or Singapore dollars, perhaps I could try another bank a block away? Yes that bank did accept British pounds but they did not look new enough.

I did end up with just enough money to pay to leave my backpack in safe hands for a few hours while I went exploring, avoiding the innumerable globs of spit all over the tiled floors and pavements. Everywhere, you could hear people behind you and in front of you about to hack another to join its fellows on the ground. I could not tell if it was the notoriously polluted Beijing air or the Beijingers’ rampant smoking that caused them this trouble. Worse were the pedestrians who stopped suddenly in mid-stride to empty the contents of their leaky noses onto public walkways.

However, for once in the last few weeks, food was readily available along the streets, and relatively cheap.

老北京炸酱面 (Lao Beijing Zhajiang Mian), Beijing, China

老北京炸酱面 (Lao Beijing Zhajiang Mian), Beijing, China

smoking indoors, 老北京炸酱面 (Lao Beijing Zhajiang Mian), Beijing, China

老北京炸酱面 (Lao Beijing Zhajiang Mian), Beijing, China老北京炸酱面大王 (Lao Beijing Zha Jiang Mian King) was rather bland, even after a week of Mongolian mutton. Note the lack of ban on smoking in enclosed restaurants.

 After this hiccup, there wasn’t another bad meal in Beijing:

Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Beijing, Chinabao in fast food eateries and in holes-in-the-wall along the pavement, one basket for just 10,

Beijing, China

Beijing, Chinadeep-fried garoupa with chilli, washed down with a light Yanjing beer,

Beijing, Chinagiant cotton candy clouds,

Beijing, China北京酸奶 (Beijing fermented milk drink or yoghurt drink),

oh, and those amazingly diverse food choices along dedicated food streets (aka. night markets):

东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

centipedes, beetles, spiders, 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

hearts, livers, and other organs, x东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

deep-fried crab, 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

how to eat so your clothes stay clean, 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

potato spirals, 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

skewers of candied fruit, 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, Chinawe were early at 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), but already, thick clouds of cooking and frying enveloped us as we walked along, deciding what to sample. Would it be 串儿 (chuan er, lamb skewers, كاۋاپ in Uyghur)? Or star fish and frogs and sea urchin? Or beetles and centipedes, finished off with a hairy tarantula spider? Or hearts, kidneys, livers, and other organs and spare bits? Or just deep-fried whole crabs? Or spirals of fried potato? Or colourful skewers of candied fruit?

A few minutes away, equally interesting food on offer at 王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market)

singing noodle hawker, 王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market), Beijing, China

quail eggs, 王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market), Beijing, China

王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market), Beijing, China

baby scorpions, 王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market), Beijing, Chinaa singing noodle hawker, quail eggs on a stick, two men pounding peanut brittle candy, and squirming baby scorpions on skewers.

Not sure what to think of the Chinese costumes – the half- 长衫s with mandarin collars with frog buttons, etc. On one hand, it panders to the Western orientalist (in the Edward Said sense) gaze that would prefer photographs of fake pig-tails to Jeremy Lin basketball shirts. It is a simulated authenticity staged for the benefit of the tourist yuan. Even further, it mixes orientalist signs with authentic differences of language and foods to further confirm themselves as the Other, the Altern, for the consumption of foreigners. On the other hand, why not?

At Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant though, there was modern sophistication a world away from the costumes of the street stalls. Ah, but do the white crockery, white table cloths, chef hats, internal water feature, dramatic setting of the duck ovens not constitute a different category of signs?

北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant), Beijing, China

北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant), Beijing, China

aubergine stack, 北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant), Beijing, China

different ways of eating duck, 北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant), Beijing, China“Look, the eyeball!” exclaimed B, who was determined not to act the part of the squimish Brit,
北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant), Beijing, Chinaand promptly wrote home about her authentic experience. I do love B, and also truly loved the irony. 🙂
Beijing, China

Street Scenes in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia)

In the 6 a.m. darkness, I was the only one emerging from the coal-smoked cocoon that had been home for the last 5 days.

“慢慢走! (be careful!)”, said the Chinese train attendants as they helped me off the carriage. They’d become properly motherly as the days had gone by, always looking out for me. On long train stops, I could feel their eye on me as they smoked cigarettes on the platform, while I went exploring. Also, they did not trust the Mongolians – “危险! (danger)”.

“谢谢你照顾我.(Thank you for taking care of me)” I replied.

They looked properly abashed,”不用,不用!”

On the platform, hotel touts who had been waiting for the arrival of the train swarmed up in busy expectation. But as they scanned the length of the platform, it became apparent that there was only one potential in sight and that person had a hostel booked, I had to keep repeating. But they did speak English quite fluently so as I waited to be picked up from Улаанбаатар өртөө (woohoo, Cyrillic still useful here!)(Ulaanbaatar Station), we chatted. Many were in family businesses catering to tourists – they didn’t like waking up so early, but someone had to do it (“we have hostel in city center, you want to go now?”). Oh loads of things to see in UB but best to go outside (“we have car to national park, you take this brochure?”). At the arrival of my driver (the husband of the lady running the hostel), they scattered with a smile and a wave.

Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaThe driver was a big man, wide and tall with a heavy tread. He had thin eyes that stretched almost to the edges of his wide face and a little moustache and spoke English haltingly. I would meet many similar-looking men in the days to come, some wearing only a white little singlet and shorts and complaining about global warming: “Only -15°C! Who has ever heard of it so hot at this time of the year!”

Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaThe private room in the hostel was basic and clean. Like many similar establishments, it was in an anonymous apartment block and could only be accessed from the sandy parking lot in the back, where there was little in the way of signage to identify the place.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaIn the morning light, a stroll through the city revealed something of a frontier town: basic roads and pavements, shiny new buildings beside shacks or older Communist era blocks, towers left to the elements after construction money ran out, uncovered potholes, too many new cars for the roads, nothing much in the way of greenery but a bit of scrubby grass, and everything covered with a fine dusting of sand.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaThere were snacks sold to school-children from repurposed (or stolen) supermarket trolleys, and an old couple sitting outside the post-office waiting for people to rent their weighing machine.

Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaAround the corner from them, a man was selling secondhand books by the road. I loved the incongruity of the deel and the mobile phone.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

There were quite a few other deel-wearers about town, looking very warm and comfortable, and some fashion magazines might say, stylish.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

And just across the street, in front of the gianormous Genghis Khan memorial (Chinggis Khan apparently, not Genghis), electric toy vehicles, padded with fur, were hired to speed-demon kids. Here, the postcard touts operated. Wanting to support one who claimed to be the artist of several watercolours, I selected a few with Mongolian-ised nativity scenes of three camel-riding men approaching yurts lit by large stars.

“Ah, you Kkrristian?” asked the other touts, who had come over for a look at what had been sold. (“How much did s/he buy?” they asked the artist in Mongolian.)

The history of Christianity in Mongolia is interesting. The first Christian-like religion to hit the big time was Nestorianism in the 7th century. Under Chinggis Khan (Temüjin), in the 13th century, Nestorianism was tolerated alongside other religions and some of the khans even had influential Nestorian wives. Historians have concluded that the Mongolian empire was remarkably welcoming of foreign influences and beliefs, encouraging trade and commerce, putting currency (backed by precious metals) into common use, and facilitated international cultural exchange. Temüjin’s grandson, Mongke, even invited Christians (Nestorians? Orthrodox Christians?), Buddhists and Muslims to debate the merits of their faiths before him.

Since the end of communist rule in 1990, Protestant Christianity has been on the rise. I ended up at one such church on Sunday. After Bible study, we all went out together for lunch.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

It was my first introduction to the ubiquitous mutton and salty milk tea that would be my staple diet in UB. I revelled in the joy of being welcomed by people I had not known previously, who not even included me in their lives, but also bought me a meal! Even though they were a mixed crowd – English teachers from America, ethnic Mongolians who had been brought back from Chicago by their parents so they would “know their Mongolian roots”, Mongolians who had gone to India to study medicine and were hoping to practice soon, they took me in because I was in reality part of their family as they were part of mine. It is as Jesus said:

29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

Trans-Siberian Trans-Mongolian Express Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] ->

An old Russian lady came up to me outside Рижская (Rizhskaya Metro, the site of the 2004 Chechen separatist suicide bombing) to ask how to get to Рижский вокзал (Rizhsky Train Station). The subway wasn’t very visible with all the people milling about the food booths around. Without thinking, I replied in English. There was a bemused pause before she thanked me and trundled off with her luggage.

“вокза́л” is an interesting word – apparently the short form of “vocal hall”, the setting for concerts. The internet has several theories how the genesis of this was London’s own Vauxhall station.

A while later, I exited Комсомо́льская (Komsomolskaya Metro) straight into a group of rowdy men smelling strongly of cheap alcohol. Several other commuters tried to give them a wide berth before beefy security emerged from Яросла́вский вокза́л (Yaroslavskiy Train Station) to ask them for identification. Say what you like about the ubiquitous police presence in Moscow, this traveller (and many locals) greatly appreciated them.

This marked the start of my train journey across Russia, Siberia, to Ulaanbaatar (or Ulanbatar or Ulan Bator) where I would hook up with S. People make far too much of the trans-siberian (or in my case, more specifically, trans-mongolian) train ride, employing adjectives like “epic” and phrases like “once-in-a-lifetime”. If I’d trekked across to Mongolia, that would be “epic”. If I’d crawled across Siberia on a sledge harnessed to a pack of giant snails, that would be “once-in-a-lifetime”. This was just a long trip on a locomotive following an ancient tea caravan route (says Wikipedia), over 4,887 miles and several time-zones to Beijing. Plenty of people use it to get to work/home regularly.

(For the first time in my adult life, I’d used an agency, Real Russia, in London. Since the whole trip had been a decision made on the spur of the moment in the early hours of the morning, a fortnight before I had been due to leave London, I’d thought it worth paying a premium to save the hassle of obtaining travel documents while also attempting to say goodbye to everyone and pack all my personal effects. Real Russia – highly recommended. Efficient, knowledgeable, and kept me informed of their progress in obtaining tickets and the Russian visa (the only one I would require on this trip – whew, Singapore passport!).)

Photograph Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

This weekly Tuesday night train from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia was of Chinese rolling stock and came with Chinese male train attendants who might have left their toothbrushes at home. The upholstery and carpets were frayed and dirty, and the stainless steel loos looked and smelled like something out of a prison. I sorely missed having obsessively clean Latvian or Russian provodnitsas in charge.

But that and having dry showers for 5 days was no biggie. And neither was the emptiness of the train. Many online accounts of the journey waxed lyrical about the companionship in the compartments and how there would be an exchange of food and vodka with Russians travelling the route. There was no one in my compartment because the cold season meant low season. I went exploring and wandered into the carriage beyond the restaurant car where most people seemed to be, there was a ruckus and their very stout provodnitsa grabbed me by the arm and pushed me out.

So stayed in my carriage and made chat with the only other people on it – an English couple in the neighbouring compartment. Otherwise really enjoyed the solitude and quiet to reflect on the last few years and to think about the future, and to mope a bit for friends left behind in London.

Photograph dog on platform, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Most contact with the English neighbours and the outside world came at the frequent stops. We particularly liked the longer pauses at stations where:

Photograph another engine, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph another engine, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

train engines were changed,

Photograph coal delivery, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph coal implements, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

and coal was delivered – necessary to centrally heat the carriages and the hot water boiler, and the onboard water-tanks were filled from taps along the tracks.

Photograph warning sign at train station by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph warning sign at train station, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Liked how un-complex things were. Warning signs simply served their intended function. They were not fetishized as poster or postcard designs or printed on t-shirts.

I sleep best on moving objects – boats, trains, buses, cars, so thoroughly enjoyed the nights onboard. And it was good fun to awake each morning to new scenery outside the blurry window:

Photograph first morning on Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph view from Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph sunset, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

there was the sun rising amongst birch trees and setting over partly frozen rivers,

Photograph view of wooden houses, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph abandoned factory. view from Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph water tank? view from Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
there were wooden huts, and abandoned? factories, brick water tank towers,

Photograph view from Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

there were little colourful huts huddled together at the foot of mountains, with a few cattle roaming in the grassland, and there were smoke-spewing industrial buildings,

Photograph view of man fishing, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

and sometimes, there were people possibly ice-fishing.

I’d brought along Bryn Thomas’ Trans-Siberian Handbook: The guide to the world’s longest railway journey with 90 maps and guides to the route, cities and towns in Russia, Mongolia & China. The minutiae of markers and historical titbits helped both compartments to understand the regions we were passing through a little better, but after a few days, I found myself far more content just to stare out the window and think.

Photograph passengers, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

At times, my revery would be interrupted by the Chinese train attendant pointing at one of the English neighbours and saying,”她问我什么? 她说什么我不明白.” And at other times, it would be the English woman saying,”Could you please tell this man…” I was pleased to have been so useful, especially since hardly anyone who knows me will even allow me to order food in Mandarin.

On food. I brought most of my own stuff to save money:

Photograph Dorset cereal porridge on the Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Dorset Cereal instant porridge for breakfast,

Photograph Russian bread, smoked cheese, sausage on Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Russian bread and cheese and sausage for lunch,

Photograph Mama instant noodles and a pdf book, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

a variety of instant noodles for dinner.

Photograph hot chocolate onboard Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

That samovar (hot water boiler) was good for hot chocolate and tea as well.

Photograph chocolate to eat on Trans-mongolian Express from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Alenka chocolate for snacking on Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Russian chocolate, some of which I would have to ship back to London to the church cook who’d requested specifically for “the one with blue packaging and bears” (Mishka Kosolapy, the bears coming from a painting, Morning in a Pine Forest), all sorts of goodies from Alenka from the Red October Confectionery Company. The pointy-ended packaging was a great way to enclose the chocolate without adhesives.

Photograph sunflower seeds, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

And roasted sunflower seeds.

Photograph Restaurant car on Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph borscht in restaurant car, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph fried eggs in restaurant car, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Towards the end, I got bored of dried stuff x hot water and went to check out the restaurant car. The borscht was a welcome change and the English couple (“we’ve come here every day for lunch and dinner and have only seen one other customer from the carriage beyond ours”) said their fried eggs and ham were satisfactory.

Photograph woman selling dried fish on the platform, Transmongolian Train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

At none of the stations did we see any hot or homecooked food being sold. The closest we got to authentic local cuisine were the babushkas selling dried fish near Omsk (i think).

Thus self-contained, we jiggled along, observing changes in the flora and fauna and human habitation and facial features and dress, across Siberia and into Mongolia, where I disembarked at Ulaanbaatar.

After the density of the cities like London, and Amsterdam, and to a lesser extent, Copenhagen and Sweden, just the experience of travelling all this distance (and that’s not even much in terms of circumnavigating the globe) helped me understand a little more how big our Creator must be.

It was like the Disneyland ride where you sit on a tram that brings you through various country-themed halls with robots in traditional costumes singing “It’s a small world after all” in high-pitched voices, except it isn’t small in the sense that as we passed through towns and villages where real people lived, with their hopes and dreams and difficulties and needs and wants and thoughts and ideas and traditions and wisdom and foolishness, there was a sense of the vastness of this world that cannot be contained but in the mind of God.

PS. If anyone wants proper, accurate, up-to-date information, I heartily recommend, as at the date of this post, The Man in Seat 61 as the fount of all train-riding wisdom!

Double B Coffee & Tea, Moscow

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia)

Photograph Double B Coffee & Tea, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500pxFlat-white drinking is never more pleasurable than when it is to warm a body that has been trudging through Moscow streets in sub-freezing temperatures.

Photograph Double B Coffee & Tea, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Double B Coffee & Tea, Moscow, RussiaDouble B Coffee & Tea, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
Scored a seat in Double B Coffee & Tea (Милютинский переулок, 3 (Milyutinskiy pereulok, 3)) and thought it extremely cute how the usual coffee drinks had been rendered in Cyrillic. Yes, they’d said, of course they could do a flat white even if it wasn’t a menu. Where was I from?

Photograph flat white, Double B Coffee & Tea, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Then, the coffee chat trope about beans and machines.

Photograph Double B Coffee & Tea, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

On the next table, a group of university boys were talking loudly about going to Singapore in a mixture of English and Russian:
“Where is it?”
“What language do they speak there?”
“That’s very far away! Is it safe?”
“Wow, you’re very brave to be going there.”

How do I love thee Moscow? Let me count the ways

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia)

I would like to say that Moscow was far more than I’d imagined. The trouble is, I hardly have expectations of anything or anyone. But I did really enjoy my time there.

Photograph Burger King in Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

1. Everything was in the vernacular. No one spoke anything but Russian, all the signs were in Cyrillic (except for a few places right in the touristy bit of Moscow). Amazed myself by learning to read Cyrillic in a day or two out of sheer necessity (also, it’s a little like Greek). Love a challenge.

2. Everyone assumed I was native and were physically taken aback when I replied in English. And I did, in fact, meet many Chinese-looking people. “ру́сская?” they’d ask. “нет,”I’d reply,”Singapore.” But few had heard of it.

3. No one smiled much, so I didn’t feel I had to. Since I’m generally lazy on the facial expression front, what’d been interpreted as unfriendliness in London was the norm in Moscow. Cosy.

Photograph dorm-mates dancing, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

4. I stayed in a cheap Russian dormitory for almost a week and got to know other dorm-mates pretty well. They were guarded at first, but whether it was the passage of time or the fact that I wasn’t China-Chinese or Mongolian (it’s confusing since I’ve relatively light hair and eye colour), they started to enjoy talking to me, asking me about my day, wanting to see my photos, even though my Russian wasn’t quite up to chit-chat standard (I could barely follow the news on Ukraine). There was lots of maternal nagging and clucking, and sometimes there was dancing. One woman was from Azerbaijan (she smelled familiar, though by no means in a bad way, like an Indian friend), another was from a small town outside of Moscow, and the third was a singer who slept all day so she could perform in clubs at night.

Photograph Kremlin, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph State Historical Museum, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

5. I loved the show-of-power architecture of the Soviet state: the Kremlin, the State Historical Museum, the Seven Sisters. Stalin wasn’t at all shy about it.

Photograph St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

6. I loved the show-of-power architecture of the Russian Orthrodox Church: the Cathedral of St. Basil, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Photograph Metro, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Metro, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

7. Oh, and the magnificent metro stations – the “Palaces of the People”.

Photograph borscht, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Stolovaya No. 57, GUM, Moscow by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph herring in a fur coat, Stolovaya No. 57, GUM, Moscow by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

8. The borscht I had here was thinner than probably inauthentic interpretations abroad, but happily much of the other food was stodgy enough for the cold weather (hovering around -3°C). In stolovayas (canteens, a good cheap holdover from the Communist…err…oh wait…), we had herrings in fur coats, and dumplings (Georgian, pelmeni), and kvas, and frilly table covers.

Photograph Крошка Картошка (Kroshka-Kartoshka), Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph blini, Теремок (Teremok), Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

9. And on the street, similarly good stodgy baked potatoes (from Крошка Картошка (Kroshka-Kartoshka)), blinis (from Теремок (Teremok)).

Photograph pine nut milk by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

10. Pine stuff! Pine-nut milk. Pine syrup.

Photograph kefir, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

11. Kefir!

Photograph warm sea buckthorn juice, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

12. Sea buckthorn cakes, sea buckthorn juice, sea buckthorn everywhere. I liked it immediately, and was disappointed later to read that it was one of those “miracle berries”. I liked it for itself and not what it could offer in health benefits.

Photograph Yuka the Baby Mammoth, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Yuka the Baby Mammoth, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Yuka the Baby Mammoth, Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

13. Yuka the baby mammoth. SRSLY.

14. Does the security industry have the largest share of the Russian service sector? Uniformed security guards, or soldiers, or policemen everywhere.

15. Oh, and this gem: the dorm-mates, upon hearing that I’d lived in London for years exclaimed: a single woman, all alone, living in London?! How dangerous! England is so dangerous! You must be very brave!. I did not at any point admit that the English were similarly wary of Moscow. Ah, the suspicion of other lands and peoples.

Photograph Moscow, Russia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Yet, there was the nagging sense that all these imposing buildings and severe men in uniforms were at best temporal and fragile. Not even Putin riding a bear or those nuclear bunker underground stations would not be able to protect the Russians from He who came the first time to save his people, and will come a second time to judge the whole world.