Leeches on a Plane, and in Other Sundry Places

June 14, 2019 § Leave a comment

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For most people, an uneventful international flight is a good international flight. That wasn’t the case for Ontario native Ippolit Bodounov when he traveled from Russia to Canada last October. His problems started when a Canada Border Services Agency beagle sniffed out a strange scent in his luggage. Actually, his problems started pre flight, when he decided to load a grocery bag with 4,788 wild leeches and put it in his carry on.

Bodounov’s story made the rounds last year when he was caught, and then again in May when he was fined C$15,000 for the illegal importation. Importing leeches, in and of itself, isn’t wrong—they’re often used for medicinal purposes (their saliva contains blood thinners, anti-clotting agents, blood-vessel dilators, and an anesthetic). But the species of leeches brought in by Bodounov are internationally regulated and he lacked the necessary permits. So remember that the next time you think about . . . nah, just forget it.

Hearing about leeches brought to my mind a passage in the book Exodus to a Hidden Valley, which tells the story of the Morse family, missionaries to the Lisu in Burma. They were ordered by the military government to leave the country by the end of December 1965, but rather than leave the Lisu behind, the Morses relocated to a remote area in Burma near the Indian border, away from government control. In describing their trek through the jungle, Eugene Morse writes,

There is no really effective weapon against the leech, Instead of keeping them away, bundling up often tends to hide leeches from your sight. During the rains we learned that even wearing shoes can be a hazard, because leeches hiding in a shoe can turn your foot into a bloody mess before you feel their bite. Leeches dread fire and ashes, and many American British soldiers virtually chain-smoked their way through the Burma campaign of World War II in an effort to keep them at bay. But we learned the Lisu technique of scraping them off with a sharp machete, a process that had to be repeated every few minutes to keep them from sucking blood. On one occasion my brother Robert helped his wife scrape 102 leeches off just one of her legs after she had been walking only five minutes. The mobility of these wormlike creatures is incredible. You can look at what seems to be a totally quiet area of jungle foliage, wave your hand, and suddenly find leeches crawling out from under every leaf, where they have been hiding from the rain. They almost seem to jump the last half inch or so to reach any available piece of warm flesh. If a man opens his fly to relieve himself along a jungle trail, later he will very likely find that at least two or three leeches have managed to make their way to his groin.

Once a leech has attached itself to you, it injects an anticoagulant into the surrounding area of flesh. It drinks until it swells up like a miniature sausage and then falls off. But because of the anticoagulant, you continue to bleed, and anybody who gets a number of leech bites is likely to suffer seriously from loss of blood. Nobody who has lived in the jungle during the rainy season underestimates the danger of leeches or ignores the importance of seeing to it that everything, from houses to latrines and other buildings, is made as leech proof as possible.

In the jungle opening one’s fly can be dangerous. Got it. But as it turns out, opening one’s mouth—or nose—can be risky, too. In 2017, a young Australian man claimed that while eating a pre-packaged salad from a Coles supermarket, a leech attached itself to his tongue. And he has video evidence. “I tried to get it off with a fork,” he tells The Daily Mail Australia, “and it just exploded in my mouth.”

Want more visuals? A report in the Turkish Archives of Ortohinolaryngology shows a leech on the base of a young lady’s tongue, the result of drinking unfiltered spring water. BBC published photos of a leech removed from the nose of a backpacker from Edinburgh, who came back from Southeast Asia with the unwelcome souvenir, which had grown to three inches long over a month before the traveller realized what was going on. And a YouTube video shows the extraction of a veeeery large leech from the nostril of a man from southern China. It had possibly latched on while the man was swimming in a river.

All this got me wondering if anyone makes a habit of putting leeches in their mouths on purpose, as in, for food. From what I’ve found, the answer is a definitive Maybe. In season four of Dirty Jobs, host Mike Rowe spends time with some some leech trappers in Minnesota. After they walk him through the collection and sorting process of the soon-to-be bait, Rowe asks them if there’s anything else he needs to know. “We occasionally eat ’em,” one answers.

Rowe later asks Jason, son of one of the leech wranglers, “Now look, man. Be honest with me. Leeches, are they served in fine restaurants up here in northern Minnesota, or anywhere for that matter?”

“Not too much in the United States just because of the whole food standards and everything,” Jason replies, “but over in Asia, it’s good to go.” He then proceeds to de-vein some leeches and deep fry them. Jason and the cameraman eat some raw, while Rowe waits until they’re cooked, claiming, “You know what? It’s pretty good.”

“But over in Asia, it’s good to go.” Really? Actually, I’m thinking probably not. Asians do eat a lot of things that aren’t normally on Western menus, but it’s a too easy go-to to claim that they eat anything and everything.

In truth, if you’re looking for a good leech recipe, look no farther than Europe. In one episode of Heston’s Feasts, British chef Heston Blumenthal hears from a Transylvanian historian on how to prepare “leeches swollen in goose blood.” Good may be stretching it a bit. After sampling the chewy result, Blumenthal declares, “That’s just congealed goose blood with a leech-membrane casing, and that to me, no matter how I try and wrap that up, it’s not appetizing.”

Dina Fine Maron, “Why Was This Man’s Luggage Stuffed with 5,000 Leeches?National Geographic, February 10, 2019; “Leech Smuggling: Canada Fines Man after 4,700 Carried on Plane,” BBC News, May 28, 2019; Eugene Morse, Exodus to a Hidden Valley,  Reader’s Digest Press, 1974; Nic White and Josh Hanrahan, “Man Says He Found a LEECH in a Coles Salad—and Only Noticed when the Creature Attached Itself to His Tongue,” Daily Mail, January 14, 2017)

[photo: “Bush leech,” by Doug Beckers, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Dot-to-Dots and Murals, Larger than Life

May 24, 2019 § Leave a comment

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A lot of the traffic to this blog comes from Google searches that have nothing to do with cross-cultural issues. That’s the case for visitors who come to “Listening: Connecting the Dots” because they’re interested in connect-the-dot pictures. I know this this happens because of how many click through to Whitney Waller’s piece of art.

I understand. Dot-to-dots are fun. And they’re really fun when they’re really big. Take for instance, the largest one in the world. It was created by Phil Hansen in 2018 and contains 52,901 dots, shattering the old record by more than 43,000. The subject of Hansen’s record-breaking creation is a Native American named Big Head, as photographed by Edward Curtis in 1905.

“I was drawn to that older face,” Hansen tells Ideas.TED.com. “I liked that kind of skin, that texture. It’s the classic image of Native Americans many of us have—a person who looks wise.” But Hansen soon discovered that there is often more to a “classic image” than is first apparent.

“There I was making the piece, when I read that Edward Curtis was looked on poorly by some people because he would edit his photographs to make native people look more ‘native.’ He’d edit out things like clocks, or have people wear headdresses or beaded clothing from a different tribe if they didn’t have any.” This led Hansen to connect the dots in his own background. “I began to realize,” he says, “that I grew up in a culture that edited Native Americans. And I was a product of it.”

Hansen’s relationship with TED.com began with his 2013 TED Talk, “Embrace the Shake.” In it he describes how, as an art student devoted to pointillism, he developed a hand tremor, the result of permanent nerve damage. Initially, this caused him to walk away from art but then later led him to the notion that “embracing a limitation could actually drive creativity.” This brought about art in new and unexpected formats, for example, drawing on Starbuck’s cups, painting with hamburger grease . . . and constructing a huge do-to-dot image).

Learning about Hansen’s art got me looking for other bigger-than-life artistic endeavors, and my search did not go unrewarded. Here are some of those I found.

For starters, there’s the world’s largest outdoor mural, painted on grain silos by 22 artists in Incheon, South Korea.

Wichita is home to the world’s largest acrylic mural by a single artist, painted by Armando Minjarez, who immigrated to the US from Mexico in 2001. Minjarez also used grain bins as his canvas, portraying the Mexican laborers who built the train tracks in Wichita 100 years ago.

And then there’s the headquarters of Cacau Show, a chocolate company in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which has been transformed into a giant chocolate bar. Painted by a group led by Brazilian Eduardo Kobra, the image pays tribute to the harvesters of cocoa beans and is the world’s largest spray-painted mural by a team.

Kate Torgovnick May, “How Do You Make the World’s Biggest Connect-the-Dots?” Ideas.TED.com,
July 24, 2018)

[photo: “Big Head [B],” by Edward Curtis, Library of Congress, public domain]

Crossing Cultures in Stealth Mode

May 16, 2019 § Leave a comment

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Have you ever been overseas and wished that you could just blend in—going unnoticed, attracting no stares?

Sometimes, that’s hard to do:

But other times, you’re in a place where you look as if you could fit in. For instance, that could be me in England, where my ancestors are from. I have the genetic foundation for looking like a Brit, but it’s the extra things—the add ons, so to speak—that are harder to manage.

Below is an interesting video featuring Jonna Mendez, the CIA’s former chief of disguise. In it, she says that her goal in the agency was to help people disappear in plain sight. “You want to be the person,” she explains, “that gets on the elevator and then gets off, and nobody really remembers that you were even there.”

But a physical disguise can only go so far. Especially, it seems, for those of us from the States. According to Mendez, “Americans are oblivious to what it is that reveals them to a foreign crowd, or a foreign intelligence service, when they’re out in public.” She then goes on to point out how we use silverware differently than Europeans do (they cut their meat and eat with their forks staying in the left hand, while we switch our forks to the right hand to put food in our mouths), how we hold cigarettes differently (they put their smokes between the thumb and first finger, while we put it between our first two fingers), and even how we stand (Europeans tend to stand with their weight evenly balanced between their feet, while we put most of our weight on one foot or the other).

Of course, clothes can be a giveaway, too. If you’re an American in Europe and don’t want to be a target for those who prey on tourists, she suggests, you could wear clothes that you’ve bought from a local store or put a local pack of cigarettes in your pocket.

Ladies, if you want to blend in in France, here are seven clothing non-nons from Marie-Anne Lecoeur, author of How to Be Chic and Elegant. I must say, I love her accent, especially as she describes tip number two, “No plunging necklines.” I’m pretty sure she says you don’t want to wear a top where “a lot of your bust is explosed.” How appropriate.

Lecoeur is something of a fashionista. American travel guru, Mark Wolters, is nothing of the sort (something he is eager to point out in this next video). But he does have apparel tips for Americans traveling in Europe, aimed mostly at the male population over 35.

Of course, this all requires that you don’t blow your cover by opening your mouth and saying something.

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Once, in London, I was taking a ride on a red double-decker bus and saw two women, fellow visitors also enjoying the sights. Wanting to strike up a conversation with some fellow Americans, I asked, “Where are ya’ll from?”

“Well,” one answered. “Now we know where you’re from. We’re Canadians.”

I can’t even blend in with the tourists.

[photos: “Moth in Stealth Mode,” by feck_aRt_post, used under a Creative Commons license; “Double-Decker Bus,” by Kevin Oliver, used under a Creative Commons license]

Chairs, 2, 3, 4

April 17, 2019 § Leave a comment

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“Bauhaus Movement: Every Time You Sit Down, Thank the German Art School”

Every time you plop yourself down in a chair at work, rush to your favorite seat in class, or lounge at your desk at home, you can think the Bauhaus Movement. The Bauhaus was originally a German arts school started in 1919, whose teachings eventually developed into an art and thought movement that inspired a generation of artisans, architects, and designers around the world. [April 12] was the centennial celebration of Bauhaus, and Google marked the occasion with a front-page doodle.

Hungarian furniture designer Marcel Breuer was one of the first and youngest students at the Bauhaus. He was quickly recognized for his carpentry skills, and in short order became the head of the school’s carpentry shop. Eventually, Breuer designed two pieces of furniture that changed chair design forever: the Cesca Chair and the Wassily Chair.

The Cesca was the first chair made out of a combination of tubular steel and caned seating that was also mass-produced, and has since become a common chair in offices and homes. . . .

[The Cesca] eventually became the blueprint for countless chairs after it. Cara McCarty, the former associate curator at the department of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art considered it to be a pivotal invention in furniture design.

“It’s among the 10 most important chairs of the twentieth century,” she told The New York Times in 1991.

Danny Paez, Inverse, April 12, 2019

[photo: “|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|,” by Gerry Dincher, used under a Creative Commons license]

No Matter Where We Are, We’re All Looking at the Same Moon . . . Unless It’s Made in China

March 13, 2019 § Leave a comment

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The Saying

Who said, “No matter where you are you will always be looking at the same moon as I am”?

Romance writer Nicholas Sparks in Dear John? Nope. Immigrant mouse Fievel Mousekewitz in An American Tale? Nope again, though I’ve seen both credited. “Anonymous” is the best source I’ve found (though I’m open to any well-documented suggestions).

My searching, though, did turn up an interesting passage from African-American abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sojourner Truth, in her Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave. The words aren’t exactly the same, but the sentiment is there—regardless of how far apart people are, they can still feel connected when they share the sight of the moon overhead.

In her autobiography, dictated to Olive Gilbert, Truth (born Isabella Baumfree) tells about her mother’s lessons for her and her younger brother. Mau-mau, as her daughter called her, had “some ten or twelve children” in all, but the older ones had been sold and taken away from her. Though Mau-mau Bett, the daughter of slaves from Guinea, spoke Low Dutch, Truth presents her words translated into English:

‘My children, there is a God, who hears and sees you.’ ‘A God, mau-mau! Where does he live?’ asked the children. ‘He lives in the sky,’ she replied; ‘and when you are beaten, or cruelly treated, or fall into any trouble, you must ask help of him, and he will always hear and help you.’ She taught them to kneel and say the Lord’s prayer. She entreated them to refrain from lying and stealing, and to strive to obey their masters.

At times, a groan would escape her, and she would break out in the language of the Psalmist—‘Oh Lord, how long?’ ‘Oh Lord, how long?’ And in reply to Isabella’s question—‘What ails you, mau-mau?’ her only answer was, ‘Oh, a good deal ails me’—‘Enough ails me.’ Then again, she would point them to the stars, and say, in her peculiar language, ‘Those are the same stars, and that is the same moon, that look down upon your brothers and sisters, and which they see as they look up to them, though they are ever so far away from us, and each other.

Thus, in her humble way, did she endeavor to show them their Heavenly Father, as the only being who could protect them in their serious condition; at the same time, she would strengthen and brighten the chain of family affection, which she trusted extended itself sufficiently to connect the widely scattered members of her precious flock.

It’s an idea that crosses continents, languages, and cultures. It’s lasted hundreds of years and very well should last forever. Many miles. One moon. What could possibly disrupt that mathematical simplicity?

Maybe some extra moons?

The Variation

According to China Daily, scientists in China have plans to put an artificial moon in place above the city of Chengdu by the year 2020. Covered with a reflective coating, the satellite would be able to reflect sunlight onto the earth’s surface at night in the same way that the real moon does. But the made-in-China moon would be eight times brighter, says Wu Chunfeng, head of the Tian Fu New Area Science Society. Other improvements over the natural moon are that it’s location and brightness could be controlled and it could be turned off if needed.

If successful, the moon over Chengdu would provide lighting one-fifth as bright as regular streetlights, and could save $174 million per year in electricity costs. If the first, experimental, moon is successful, says Wu, the plan is to launch three more in 2022, with those three being “the real deal with great civic and commercial potential.”

If you think it sounds like a bad idea—or maybe too good to be true—you can join the skeptics in the following video:

But don’t count the Chinese out just yet. They already have some experience in creating less-than-celestial bodies. As reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, China has built two islands, one circular, like the sun, and the other in the shape of a crescent moon. Located in Sun Moon Bay in the waters off Hainan, the two pieces of land cover approximately one square kilometer (about a third of a mile). The moon island was begun by private developers in 2015 (go to the Bloomberg article for a photo), but China has since banned such commercial projects because of environmental damage.

China has more credentials on the sun-building front as well. In 2006 (back to China Daily again for details), scientists in China brought its “artificial sun,” the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), online. EAST is a tokamak magnetic fusion reactor located in Heifei that last year reached a record 100 million degrees Celsius (over 180,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s over six times hotter than the sun up in the sky.

And finally, in January, China became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. BBC reports that one of the purposes of the Chang’e-4’s mission is to gain “insights into the internal structure and history of the Moon.” Sounds as if that knowledge could come in handy for building a new one.

The Music

But until China’s lunar creativity comes to fruition, Mau-mau Bett’s words will still hold true. And the belief they represent will continue to be the stuff of longings, of comfort, and of song:

(Sojourner Truth, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave, Emancipated from Bodily Servitude by the State of New York, in 1828, with a Portrait, Olive Gilbert, ed., 1850; Zhang Zhihao, “Man-Made Moon to Shed Light on Chengdu in 2020,” China Daily, October 19, 2018; Sim Chi Yin, “Dubai Has Palm Islands, but China Has a Sun, Moon, and Flower,” Bloomberg Businessweek, March 4, 2019; Cao Zinan, “China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ Achieves Major Breakthrough,” China Daily, November 13, 2018; Paul Rincon, “What Does China Want to Do on the Moon’s Far Side?BBC, January 4, 2019)

[photo: “Moon,” by Milos Golubovic, used under a Creative Commons license]

Barnga: A Card Game for Culture-Stress Show and Tell [—at A Life Overseas]

February 2, 2019 § Leave a comment

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I’ve reworked my original Barnga post from six years ago and put it online at A Life Overseas. Head on over there to read all of it. Here’s how it begins:

Have you ever wanted to show, not just tell, people what culture stress is like? Have you ever wanted them to experience it a bit without them having to travel overseas?

Have you ever heard about Barnga?

Barnga is a simulation game created by Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan in 1980, while working for USAID in Gbarnga, Liberia. . . .

[photo: “Shuffle,” by Melissa Emma’s Photography, used under a Creative Commons license]

School, 2, 3, 4

January 26, 2019 § Leave a comment

 


“More than 145,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Return to School in Bangladesh Refugee Camps as New School Year Starts”

More than 145,000 Rohingya refugee children living in camps in south-east Bangladesh are now attending UNICEF-supported learning centres, as a new school year begins.

Following a huge effort from the humanitarian community to construct a network of around 1,600 Learning Centres throughout the camps—providing vital access to education for children who fled violence in Myanmar—attention is now turning to providing education for thousands of other children who still lack access.

The aim is to eventually reach 260,000 children with education this year through an extended network of 2,500 Learning Centres run by 5,000 teachers and Rohingya volunteers.

. . . . .

“Many children have suffered traumatic injuries from gunshot wounds and extreme violence, restricting their mobility and access to services. We see many children with mixed learning abilities, physical disabilities, visual impairment and speech difficulties,” said Iffat Farhana, Education Officer, UNICEF Cox’s Bazar.  “Each of these children has a right to education. With more Learning Centres and more teachers, UNICEF hopes to reach every child to help them learn, grow and realise their potential.”

. . . . .

It is estimated that there are about 500,000 children under the age of 18 living in the camps, with about 300,000 aged 3 to 14.

About 700,000 Rohingyas fled persecution in Myanmar at the end of 2017, bringing the total population of the refugee camps close to a million people.

(UNICEF, January 24, 2019)

(featuring scenes from Shaolin Tagou, the largest Kung Fu school in China, with over 35,000 students)

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