Uncornered Market » Humor http://uncorneredmarket.com travel wide, live deep Sat, 20 Dec 2014 11:57:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 My Date With An Ethiopian Hair Butcherhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/my-date-ethiopian-hair-butcher/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/my-date-ethiopian-hair-butcher/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 19:47:03 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=18891 By Daniel Noll

I left my heart in San Francisco, but I left my hair in Ethiopia. The danger sign was there, quite literally. The two hairstyle options apparently available to me at my Ethiopian barber shop of choice: Ricky Martin and Ludacris. I was in northern Ethiopia with a mess I’d deliberately grown out for almost two […]

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By Daniel Noll

Dan's Ethiopian Haircut - Gondar, Ethiopia
My hair style option: Ricky Martin or Ludacris?

I left my heart in San Francisco, but I left my hair in Ethiopia.

The danger sign was there, quite literally. The two hairstyle options apparently available to me at my Ethiopian barber shop of choice: Ricky Martin and Ludacris.

I was in northern Ethiopia with a mess I’d deliberately grown out for almost two months — saving myself, the African haircut virgin — and I was determined to navigate yet another haircut-as-cultural-experience. A World Wrestling Entertainment match, piped in from somewhere in the Middle East (who knew WWE needed subtitles?), blared on the television. All the men in the shop sported either dreadlocks or close cut afros.

Oh, the many forms of adventure travel we embrace.

Barber Shop Tourism. Why?

Sure, I seek traditional thrills while I travel. But I also pursue haircuts. I figure that barber shops serve as a window onto a culture. Haircuts have something to teach me about a place, and also my nerve.

I’ve had my ears torched in Turkey. I’ve enjoyed a 66-cent best-ever haircut in Peru (satisfying), a dazzling butt-cut grease comb in the mountains of Azerbaijan (horrifying), a birth control class with an Armenian barber in Yerevan (puzzling), a doom delivering barber in Malaysia (enlightening), and a street-side shave in Bangladesh that nearly halted traffic (unsettling), among a host of others.

I should note that Audrey, quite wisely and thankfully, does not share my curiosity.

A full account of haircut chronicles are forthcoming. To it I will add Ethiopia, a place that is known to me now as much for its deep culture as it is for its deep cuts.

The Hair Butcher of Gondar

I asked Fekadu, our dreadlocked guide, for barber shop recommendations in Gondar, a well-serviced looking town known for its collection of castles. Skeptical, he narrowed his eyes. In the most diplomatic tone he could muster, he tried to warn me off, “Ethiopia might not be the best place for a white guy like you to get a haircut.

What did he know?

As it turns out, a lot.

The barbers looked a little thrown-off when I sat down in their chair. I might as well have been a fish. There was a distinct hesitation as to who would tackle this customer.

After puzzling for a pause, the one with a huge tattoo of Jesus Christ in a crown of thorns across his left bicep wrapped a cover around me. I pointed to the Ricky Martin poster in the window and offered a charade: “Ricky. Short on the side, little longer on top.”

He gave a quick nod in something that approximated acknowledgement and went to work.

It occurs to me that “work” here is a generous term. Wrecking balls do work, too.

Clippers. Lots of them. Attachments, too. Maybe a dozen. The odd thing was that the barber seemed to switch back and forth between various gauges of clipper extensions in random sequence and at random sites of my skull: number 4, then 9, then 6. Back, then side, then back again.

This struck me as unusual and dubious. Frightening and dangerous. In retrospect, I should have stood up, placed my hands together in a sort of gratitudinous prayer and walked out. Instead, I stuck with it.

My hair began to slough off in uneven chunks.

The barber and I shared no common verbal language. And charades carried their own special danger. There was no escape.

I retreated inward. “Maybe this won’t be so bad after all,” I attempted to console myself. I looked into the mirror, then to Audrey sitting along the back wall. I hoped she might intervene and save me. Instead, she buried her head in Ethiopian men’s magazines.

I wouldn’t have watched, either.

For a brief moment, I became philosophical. Haircuts are instructive, I thought. For in haircuts — as in the whole of one’s life — there are no do-overs. Life is short. Abruptly, my hair was becoming so, too.

Lean into it,” I thought.

As the buzzing continued, it was clear that I would look nothing like Ricky Martin or Ludacris, but rather their love child. Maybe even a little bit shorn, like Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3.

Sigourney weaver hair

Just When You Think It Can’t Get Any Worse

What troubled me were all the little bits, bobs, and tufts that hadn’t quite been trimmed, rounded, tapered or faded properly.

The situation, however, would grow considerably worse.

Dan's Ethiopian Hair Cut
Wrestling on the TV above, about to enter hair hazard zone.

The barber began to focus decreasing amounts of his already waning attention on my head and redirected it to the television. As his focus drifted to the TV, and greased bodies flew on the screen above him, so did his hand. He held the clippers in one hand and sparred in response to the fake brawl playing out on the television with the other. His movements took on a sort of involuntary quality, much like a dog’s might when you scratch its belly and you hit the spot.

Clearly, the wrestling match hit the spot for my barber. While he stabbed at the air with his left hand, his right hand got into the action. It was this right hand that really frightened me. In it were the still humming clippers and its vicinity was my unevenly shorn head.

This wasn’t so bad.

It was grim.

Ummm, yes. My head,” I murmured quietly. I wished to make eye contact but I was afraid to move at all, for any sudden lurch might speed catastrophe. I imagined a zipper cut down a random lane of my skull.

kid shaves head
I kind of felt like this.

Thankfully, one wrestler pinned the other, things simmered down, and my barber returned to work.

I’d exhausted any hope for the sides and the back. Thankfully, there was still a flappy tuft on top and flaky bangs in front.

Then he pulled out a short clipper and bee-lined straight for the bangs.

But, but…” I murmured to myself, in that paralyzed “I’d like to scream, but I can’t” kind of sensation I’ve had during my worst nightmares. I could see the train wreck – like the one that spills over a mountainside and takes out an orphanage along the way — playing out in slow motion.

He’s not really going to do this, is he?

Then he did.

Help…” A meek little voice cried out silently inside of me.

He cut straight under the bangs on the right side of my head. The shingle of hair that remained was probably less than a centimeter long. My head looked like a roof where the right pitch had been removed for repair.

I stared into the mirror in search of solace, paths of restoration.

There were none. The damage was virtually complete.

It was apparent my barber knew not of bangs nor of forward fringes. He left the tuft on top. I didn’t take issue. Better to leave with the devil we know than to find the one we don’t. As I alighted my chair and looked around the shop, no surprise. There were a few dreadlocks, and the others sheer afro cuts at the front of the head.

The barber tried to make me look just like everyone else in the shop.

How could I begrudge that?

Dan's Hair Cut in Ethiopia
With my Ethiopian barber after it was all over. Good times!

The Verdict

I returned to meet our group for dinner, running my hand through the remaining hair to salvage tousle what remained, all in a painfully weak attempt to disguise the damage.

Oh, it looks good,” they echoed. You know, the perfunctory bit everyone utters when she’s shocked that you actually did THAT.

One of our companions took a first look, “Oh, not so bad.”

Then as she moved around, you could see the extent of the mess registering on her face. “Yes, it’s a little uneven.” As she wheeled to the back, “Ohh, yes…

She didn’t need to finish the sentence. Easily, hands down to a hairy barbershop floor, it was my worst haircut ever.

Ludacris? Or ludicrous?

Fekadu looked at my hair and shook his head with a smile: “Yes. But, it was an experience.

He was right. I got exactly what I’d come for.

Have a hair-raising moment of your own, or an odd travel routine that’s your lens of cultural comparison? Sound off.

—–

Disclosure: Our tour in Ethiopia was provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

————-

Our experiences above were from the G Adventures Ethiopia Highlights Tour. If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

Africa Tours with G Adventures

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An Ode to Haggishttp://uncorneredmarket.com/ode-to-haggis/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/ode-to-haggis/#comments Fri, 18 Jan 2013 14:10:22 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=12667 By Daniel Noll

This is a story about making peace with a squishy edible ball of sheep innards, and a song I rewrote to help me through the process. I have a confession to make. I was afraid of haggis, almost deathly so. You could say I harbored an irrational fear of the stuff. Yes, haggis. And yes, […]

The post An Ode to Haggis appeared first on Uncornered Market.

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By Daniel Noll

This is a story about making peace with a squishy edible ball of sheep innards, and a song I rewrote to help me through the process.

I have a confession to make. I was afraid of haggis, almost deathly so. You could say I harbored an irrational fear of the stuff. Yes, haggis.

And yes, me. The guy who’s eaten a lot of sh*t and then some. The guy who’s eaten bugs, balls and innards, tongues, goat jaw bones, and all manner of bits and bobs. And that’s the stuff I was aware of. I’m sure I’ve unknowingly eaten cat and dog and maybe even someone’s pet hamster.

But I gotta be honest: before my recent visit to Scotland, the thought of haggis kinda’ freaked me out. Culinary fear of the ground unknown.

I’d had bad dreams — bad dreams about haggis. Haggis was a mystery. I was so afraid of it that I couldn’t even bear looking up to see what it actually was.

(By the way, the official definition of haggis, if you’re wondering: a traditional pudding made of the heart, liver, etc., of a sheep or calf, minced with suet and oatmeal,seasoned, and boiled in the stomach of the animal.)

And all of this made me feel a wee sheepish.

My History with Haggis

Maybe it’s the word. Haggis. It just doesn’t sound right, does it? Haggis. It’s onomatopoetic, like something hanging down, dripping, dragging. Haggis. Like a post-disembowlment draping of innards on a clothesline. I look at the word and it does weird things to me. Haggis. It makes my skin creep, it gives me the willies. Before I got to know haggis, I always — perhaps unfairly — associated it with this photo (be sure to read the caption).

Then there’s the silly film So I Married an Axe Murderer. “Harriet, Harr-i-et, hard-hearted harbinger of haggis,” Mike Myers’ character Charlie MacKenzie would crow during his stand-up routine.

Haggis, you know there’s a problem with you when you have harbingers.

How Then, The Haggis?

Then I visited Scotland. There in Edinburgh, I was introduced to deep-fried haggis logs. Deep fried haggis logs!?!? Why not serve deep-fried antichrist? Actually deep fried logs of just about anything ought to frighten us, but these particular digestive hijackings looked like something we men could never in a million years imagine happening to us.

Yes, that. You know what I mean. And if you don’t, may I introduce you to Lorena Bobbit. Yes, that. Haggis.

There’s a popular rendition of haggis called Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. Basically a poo-shaped pile of haggis sided with piles of mashed turnips (the neeps) and mashed potatoes (the tatties). Haggis, neeps and tatties. The sound of that dish, at once childlike and pornographic. I pull the blanket up over my head. Haggis.

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties - Edinburgh, Scotland
Holy poop, it’s haggis!

I was so stricken with fear that I sought to shield myself. If I were to lose my haggis virginity, perhaps there was a preferred method. I would set off to find it, to seek the haggis with which I might make peace.

I asked our first taxi driver in Edinburgh where to eat it. “You could buy haggis at the butcher, but it wouldn’t taste like much,” he framed his recommendation. “It’s about where you get it and how you prepare it. It’s not going to taste interesting to you…

Sounded fair and balanced, like a good FOX News episode. Innocuous enough. (I kid)

Hmmm,” I said.

That’s when he suggested, “You can get it with a whisky sauce.”

Now you’ve got my attention.

Later, a friend recommended a restaurant that served something she called a “Haggis Tower.” Haggis Tower? Sounds like an office building crying out for its own demolition. A tower of innards, probably pulsing. The Leaning Tower of Haggis. Why on Earth would anyone want a god-forsaken pile of such a thing? Haggis.

Eventually, after multiple consultations with taxi drivers, tour guides and five-star hotel concierges, Audrey and I opted for the Bard’s Haggis at 1780 pub, a mini mountain of the stuff on a pile of mashed potatoes, all drizzled in whisky sauce. I hesitated for a moment, dark bits staring back at me. Then I ate it.

It wasn’t that bad.

Haggis, Mashed Potatoes and Whisky Cream Sauce - Edinburgh, Scotland
Haggis, Mashed Potatoes and Whisky Cream Sauce.

Honestly, it was pretty good. Actually, Audrey and I scarfed it, devoured it like it was our last meal. (I’m certain there was a drug in it.) Or perhaps the truth: just about anything tastes good with whisky cream sauce, and even better when you wash it down with a pint of freshly-pulled Scottish Ale.

In some parallel universe, haggis is probably even good for you — if you are a shepherd who regularly runs marathons with your sheep in the face of fierce winds blowing across the Scottish highlands.

But enough, I said. There’s a lesson in all this haggis. I thought long on it all, and I came to this: It’s easy to be hard on haggis. Haggis takes it on the chin. Haggis is the red-headed stepchild of ground offal. But all that notwithstanding, haggis is really not that bad. Most of all, you’ll never really know for yourself until you try it.

I registered another life lesson on fear, this time from haggis.

Haggis. Sounds like hell, looks like purgatory, and depending on how its cooked, it can taste like Heaven.

Daniel Noll plans a forthcoming novel about the around-the-world travels with his wife entitled “What Haggis Taught Me”

An Ode to Haggis

Finally, I promised to you, in the title, an ode. I’m not sure if you’ve heard that song about Alice. We once saw a rather terrible rendition on a ferry from Stockholm to Estonia many years ago; since then, I’ve never been able to fully purge the tune from my head. (But I digress). Anyway, I decided to rework the song a bit and came up with this. Perhaps you’ll want to listen to the original song to get an idea of the tune.

Eating Lotsa Haggis

Haggis called, and we got the word

It said: “I suppose you’ve heard
– about Haggis”

When I rushed to the counter,

And I looked inside,

And I could hardly believe my eyes -

As a big butcher rolled up

In royal haggis style

Oh, I don’t know why I’m heaving

Or where I’m gonna go,

I guess I’ve got my reasons
But you just don’t want to know,

‘Cos for forty-one years

I’ve been dreaming ’bout eating haggis.


Forty-one years just waiting for a chance,

To tell you how I feel,
and maybe get a second glance,

Now I’ve got to get used to not eating lotsa haggis

We didn’t know each other,

We didn’t share a park

I’d like to carve my initials,

Deep inside its bark,

Me and Haggis.

Now it comes through the door,

With its tower high

Just for a moment,
I caught its eye

As a big waiter pulled slowly

up with a haggis pie.

Oh, I don’t know why I’m heaving
Or where I’m gonna’ go,

I guess I’ve got my reasons,

But you just don’t want to know,

‘Cos for forty-one years

I’ve been dreaming ’bout eat-ing lotsa haggis.


Forty-one years just waiting for a chance,

To tell you how I feel,
and maybe get a second glance,

Now I gotta get used to not eating lotsa haggis…

And haggis called me back and asked how I felt,
 (urp)
And it said: “I know how to help

Get o-ver haggis”.

It said: “Now haggis is gone,

But we’re still here,

You know I’ve been waiting

For forty-one years…”

And then the tall waiter dissappeared…

I don’t know why he’s leaving,

Or where he’s gonna go,

I guess he’s got his reasons,

But I just don’t want to know,

‘Cos for forty-one years

I’ve been dreaming ’bout eating lotsa haggis.


Forty-one years just waiting for a chance,

To tell you how I feel,
and maybe get a second glance,

But I’ll never get used to not eat-ing lotsa haggis…

No I’ll never get used to not eat-ing lotsa haggis.
(cue the nifty early 70s guitar riff)

(note: For those of you who know the alternative Gompie version, please join with the chorus: “Haggis. Haggis. What the f**k is haggis?!”)

Disclosure: Our trip to Scotland and the Blogmanay campaign are brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is sponsored by VisitScotland, ETAG, Edinburgh Festivals, Haggis Adventures and Skyscanner. The campaign bloggers were sourced and managed by iambassador. As always, all opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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I Drove to the Ends of the Earth (A Marriage Proposal)http://uncorneredmarket.com/i-drove-to-the-ends-of-earth-marriage-proposal/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/i-drove-to-the-ends-of-earth-marriage-proposal/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2012 19:44:42 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=10420 By Daniel Noll

In honor of Valentine’s Day, an epic love story — I think. Either that, or an epic tale of misdirection involving 4,500 kilometers, five boats, three flat tires, a few naked men, some drunk Swedes, one very important question…and a surprising response. Going the distance: 4,500 km to propose. June 1999. I was a consultant […]

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By Daniel Noll

In honor of Valentine’s Day, an epic love story — I think. Either that, or an epic tale of misdirection involving 4,500 kilometers, five boats, three flat tires, a few naked men, some drunk Swedes, one very important question…and a surprising response.

Going the distance: 4,500 km to propose.

June 1999. I was a consultant living in San Francisco, Audrey a Peace Corps volunteer in Estonia.

I set off on a mission: meet Audrey in Stockholm, make our way to Estonia, celebrate the Summer Solstice, and ask her to marry me somewhere along the way. I carried a “fake” ring, a photograph of the real ring, a ticket from SFO to Stockholm and back home from Tallinn, and two overthought marriage proposal plans.

I had about ten days to get it done.

I also carried with me a truckload of bad karma, apparently.

Plan A: Parry on the Ferry

My first marriage proposal vision: on the boat from Stockholm to Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city.

Balloon over Stockholm - Stockholm, Sweden
Balloon over Stockholm, Sweden

In an episode of gross travel naiveté, I harbored visions of a romantic cruise across the Baltic Sea. You know, just me and Audrey taking a late night stroll on deck, the soft evening breeze lapping us on our love boat as I work up the nerve to propose under the gentle light of a Scandinavian white night.

The reality: it was a ferry, a multi-stage party boat complete with a disco mobbed by scantily clad Russian high school girls and a performance hall featuring a busker with an acoustic guitar singing “Alice, Alice. Who the f*ck is Alice?!

Our Love Boat was a booze cruise chock full of raging Scandinavian, Finnish and Baltic partiers. Everyone drank like fish.

Oh yeah, the marriage proposal. My best chance was on patch of bright green AstroTurf-y carpet on the upper deck.

I should have laid a knee to that patch of putting green and called it a night. Instead, I frantically searched the boat, nook and cranny, for somewhere appropriate.

The whole scene was preposterous.

It’s one thing to have a plan and just miss your mark. It’s another to end up in the wrong solar system. I attempted to soar like an eagle, instead I gaggled with the geese. Bottom of the 9th, bases loaded. Tee up whatever metaphor of gross misjudgment and disappointment, and you’d have captured where I’d landed.

This was not to be the vessel from which we’d launch the rest of our lives together.

Out with Plan A.

This is why you have a backup plan.

I had a backup plan.

Plan B: The Boy, The Girl, The Blossoming Fern

I got burned by romance in Plan A. So I picked myself up, just like good young man might. My fallback was all about thoughtful symbolism, cultural and contextual. I couldn’t join Peace Corps and go off to Estonia with Audrey, but I could certainly co-opt her host country’s folklore as a backdrop when I proposed to her.

We made our way from northern Estonia across to Saaremaa, Estonia’s island of windmills.

My plan was rooted in an old Estonian Midsummer’s folk tale that tells of a boy and girl who go off into the forest to look for a blossoming fern. The thing is, everyone knows there is no such thing as a blossoming fern so it’s just an excuse to go off into the forest together…for a long, long time.

In the spirit of Estonian boys and girls past, I would find an excuse to lure Audrey into the forest, place my knee upon a suitable patch of moss, catch the light, and pop the magical question.

Instead, it rained, the bonfire almost went out and everyone piled into the sauna.

My goal: Propose to Audrey in the forest under the soft light of a midsummer’s night.

The reality: I found myself in a hot shack surrounded by drunk naked men.

After sauna, everyone consumed large amounts of alcohol, sausage, and potato salad while dancing to bad Euro trash tunes. I learned the hard way that this was Estonian midsummer.

Stymied once again, I put my hand into my pocket and fingered a packet of folded white paper into which the ring was tucked.

Time was running out, but I was undeterred. One of the naked men had raved about a road trip to the very north of Finland. This gave me an idea.

Hey Aud,” I said. “How about we take a drive to the Arctic Circle?

You must have determination.

I had determination.

I also had a flight back to San Francisco in four days.

Plan C: Above the Arctic Circle

The following morning, hangovers be damned, we hit the road. We caught the ferry in the wee hours to the Estonian mainland back to the port in Tallinn, and hopped another ferry to Helsinki. At that point, we were roughly 800 or so miles from some unnamed destination on the shores of the Arctic Sea.

Oulu, Finland. If Finland has the last bastion of civilization before Lapland, it’s Oulu. On this midsummer night, it was engulfed in drunk Finns celebrating at our hotel disco. The door would open, belch cigarette smoke and spit out a Finn or two who’d consumed too much vodka.

I didn’t get a chance to party. I picked up a flu, felt feverish, began hallucinating, and swooned like I was going to pass out.

Maybe this whole proposal thing wasn’t a good idea after all.

The next morning, a miracle. The fog of death hanging over me cleared. I was ready to go. Unfortunately, our car wasn’t. As I opened the trunk, I noticed the right rear tire: flat as a pancake.

Fortunately, the spare was a real tire instead of a donut. I jacked up the car, removed the flat, replaced it with the spare, and said to myself, “We are headed nowhere and we have no spare. We are in deep shit.”

Did I mention that we were driving an old Ford Escort?

As we continued north, our path began to fill with reindeer (they are slow to move), and starving mosquitos (extraordinarily fast). The road seemed never-ending.

Reindeer - Lapland, Finland
Reindeer in Lapland, Finland.

Sure enough, as we closed in on the top of the earth, we stopped for a break only to find out that the right front tire had also begun to go flat.

Is this a sign?

We’d rationalized that at the rate of tire deflation, we could make it to civilization somewhere in northern Norway. We’d have to. We were plunk in the middle of nowhere and of the few gas stations that existed, only clerks were on duty. Everyone else was recovering.

We crossed the Arctic Circle, passing Rovaniemi, the purported home of Santa Claus. (I was always under the impression that Santa lived AT the North Pole, not NEAR the North Pole, but that’s for another discussion.)

Let’s keep driving until we reach the Arctic Sea,” I suggested. Just above the Arctic Circle would not be sufficiently dramatic. Audrey was game; she didn’t suspect a thing. So we pressed on.

Then, a third tire began to go flat. It was clearly time to stop. We found Skibotn, a small village with an auto repair shop. The mechanics were so amused by us — crazy Americans driving a puny car in the middle of northern Norway en route to the Arctic Sea — that they plugged all our tires for free.

Every cent we saved on the tire repair was paid to an extortionately expensive guesthouse and for the world’s most expensive fish sandwich.

But we were alive, and so were our tires.

We took a walk along a nearby fjord shoreline and marveled at the sunset. It was 2:00 A.M.

Sunset at 1 AM - Norway
Sunset at 1 AM – Norway

My luck was going to change. I could feel it. Sort of.

One Last Chance: Are You Serious?

The following morning, I surveyed our map and noticed the Arctic Sea was quite a bit further than I expected. This trip is going to kill me. I had to be back in Tallinn in two days for a flight. Maybe we could just return to the home of Santa Claus and wrap this thing up?

I imagined the scene of proposing to Audrey at the home of Santa Claus.

Nope. To the Arctic Sea, it is.

I just drove and drove. I didn’t really know where I was going. One of the tires had begun to go flat again. I used this as pretext to stop at every station and ask, “Can you tell me where I can find the Arctic Sea?”

Who says men don’t ask for directions?

Eventually, the sea, and a clear line of sight across the water. A cute fishing village named Grotfjord. Of all the beauty we’d consumed, this was the place. On the map, the body of water read Norwegian Sea, but honestly I didn’t care. I would always refer to this moment as having taken place on the Arctic Sea.

I might even throw in a few polar bears in the next telling of the story.

Stop stalling! It’s now or never.

Sleepy Fishing Village on the Arctic Sea - Norway
Sleepy Fishing Village on the Arctic Sea – Norway

Audrey and I walked out onto a rock jetty. I shook like a schoolboy. Thankfully, Audrey busied herself with a sea urchin shell as I fumbled with the ring in my pocket, a $5 silver stand-in that I’d purchased at a San Francisco street fair.

I bent down, pretending to find something amidst the rocks and unfolded the fingers of my right hand, “Look what I found.

Then, the ring fell in the water.

OK, I’m just kidding about that last part.

Oh,” Audrey said. “What is it?

It’s the ring I’m going to ask you to marry me with.”

Audrey: “Are you serious?

Hmmm. I was the one who was supposed to be asking the questions. I mean, here we are at the ends of the earth.

Um, yes, I’m serious.” (I was also as white as a sheet and still shaking, I’m sure.)

Amidst the rocks, I got down on one knee, ring in hand: “Do you think you can find it in your heart to spend the rest of your life with me?

A woefully long silence, which in fact was only a second or two.

Yes.”

A Few Lessons

After I began breathing again, I came to: “Wait! I can’t believe you asked me if I was serious!

Audrey had a point. “It would have been a long ride back if you weren’t. You would have teased me the whole time.

True, I was a joker and this was the payback. To pepper the story with some more credibility, I pulled out the photo of the real diamond ring.

We high-tailed it out of Grotfjord, back through Tromso, rewound our trip — the same reindeer, the same long roads, the same slowly deflating tires, the same light unbending. Mosquito carcasses piled up by the pound on the car windshield and grille.

Back in Tallinn, we inflated the tires (the spare, too!) one last time and returned the car to the rental car counter.

How was everything?

Great!

We were engaged. And that’s all that mattered.

—-

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

When have your “perfect plans” gone completely awry?

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Zen and the Art of Laundry on the Roadhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/travel-laundry-zen/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/travel-laundry-zen/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2012 11:00:28 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=10192 By Daniel Noll

This is story about five-sided underwear, a laundry detergent named BARF, socks that smell like goat cheese, and jeans that have never been washed. Oh, and it’s an answer to “What do you do about laundry while traveling?” The other day, Audrey and I walked into a laundry service here in Oaxaca, Mexico and after […]

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By Daniel Noll

Little Girl Scrubbing Clothes - Battambang, Cambodia
Cambodian girl and her laundry. A kindred spirit?

This is story about five-sided underwear, a laundry detergent named BARF, socks that smell like goat cheese, and jeans that have never been washed. Oh, and it’s an answer to “What do you do about laundry while traveling?”

The other day, Audrey and I walked into a laundry service here in Oaxaca, Mexico and after a confounding exchange we discovered that they don’t accept underwear.

You heard right: NO UNDERWEAR!

Now try to imagine the charades that yielded that understanding, before we read the sign:

First underwear rejection in 5 years of travel. #oaxaca #Mexico #laundry
No underwear allowed.

It has been said that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. Allow me one more: laundry.

Maybe you do it yourself, maybe you have someone do it for you, but you gotta’ do it. In fact, laundry is so integral to today’s human existence that “What do you do about laundry while traveling?” is easily among the top five frequently asked questions readers have about our around-the-world travels.

So the intersection of the “no underwear” episode and the general importance of laundry to the human condition got me to thinking about my own complicated relationship with laundry. As I thought deeply about my duds, a few themes and questions emerged.

Laundry As Meditation, Laundry As Martial Art

When things are busy and my mind is crowded (almost always), I sometimes escape to the sink for a little meditative laundry. While the opportunity to dump my duds into a washing machine might satisfy an occasional compulsion for everything to be clean at once, working my duds by hand brings me to higher ground.

Hand washing my clothes is like the martial art I never learned when I was a kid. Wash your skivvies, get into the zone. Sometimes when I scrub the ends together (like they used to do in those liquid detergent commercials), I hear Miyagi from the Karate Kid, “Wax on, wax off.

I keep thinking that if I wash enough pairs of underwear by hand, I will eventually become one with the universe.

Blue = Clean Laundry?

Since when in the world of wash and laundry does blue equal clean? And when and who on high made this decision?

If you do your own laundry by hand, I suppose you have two ways to go in the way of a formal cleaning agent (I say “formal” because it is entirely possible to wash one’s clothes with a bar of bath soap, something I have resorted to more times than I’d like to admit.) The first is a tiny bag of detergent (remember we pack light, sort of).

Barf Detergent Powder - Turkmenistan
Fine print: BARF means snow. International marketing fail.

The second is a bar of laundry soap. Laundry bars come in all flavors and colors, but it’s those universal chalky bright blue bars that make me wonder.

Can anyone explain to me how a bar of soap dyed a horror show dark blue makes everything appear cleaner?

Washing Clothes by Hand - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
How does that magic blue bar work?

Two Birds, One Stone: Laundry in the Shower

Sometimes I like to kill two birds with one stone and do my laundry in the shower. I find this is a little bizarre. And I figured you might, too. It’s my little concession, my little confession.

The broader story? Family and old roommates all know that if I could spend the rest of my life in the shower under a stream of warm water, I just might. Sometimes I use the need to do my laundry as an excuse to get a few more minutes closer to that nirvana.

Aside: I once fell asleep doing my laundry in the shower (a shower rather bizarrely in the shape of a bank vault, turn-lock and all) in Cordoba, Argentina.

The Magic Dryer You Never Knew You Had

Our marriage almost ended over this disagreement, but I finally came around. I’m here to tell you that the quickest way to dry clothes (especially those t-shirts) is to wrap and ring them inside a towel, thereby transferring their moisture to the towel.

Hang your clothes up in your favorite sunny, dry spot and you’ll be ready to go in no time.

I know this is probably an age-old trick that Audrey was wise enough to divine on her own without searching the internet. But I’m a guy. And sometimes I’m stubborn.

OK Audrey, all the time.

Know Thy Laundry, Know Thyself

Laundry can also be a path to self-knowledge.

When you only have a couple pairs of underwear, a few shirts and two pairs of pants, you develop a pretty close relationship with them all. You might even say “intimate” even though that word sounds like it should always be whispered. You know their ins and outs.

Speaking of ins and outs, “turn ‘em inside-out,” you say? Cool, but what happens when my five-sided pair of underwear can’t take it anymore?

Coincidentally, this reminds me of the guy who did a science experiment with his jeans by wearing them continuously without washing them for 15 months. His solution to beating back the stink — which, by the way, jeans resist like nothing else — was to occasionally freeze them.

Well, I know myself and I don’t freeze my clothes. Ever.

You also become familiar with your own stink. That is, if you stink. Which, by the way, I do not.

OK, I kid.

Familiarity with self-stink is double-edged. I will say no more.

Oh, except that when Audrey and I ate southern France out of cheese and decided to sweat it all out in a sauna across the border in Switzerland. I won’t belabor this story except to say that you know you’re in trouble when your wife’s socks begin to smell like crottin de chèvre.

Laundry By the Pound

Sometimes I like to have someone else do my laundry.

When it’s cheap, that is. Because I am cheap. (Ah, there I’ve said it. I feel so much better now. Laundry is also cathartic, apparently.)

Laundry services effectively come in two pricing models: by the pound and per piece.

Per piece laundries are usually a heist. By the time a few t-shirts and underwear are rung up, I’m taking out a mortgage. Unless someone else is paying for it or I’m on business and I need to look like a champ, I don’t do per piece.

I go by the pound (or kilo). Many countries and cultures around the world have laundry shops where you can drop off your laundry and have it returned to you, washed, dried and folded for anywhere between $0.50 – $2 per kilo. Southeast Asia, Nepal, and places in Central and South America come to mind.

Chinese Scale - Chengdu, China
Time to weigh the laundry…

Launderer beware: Some laundry joints feature rigged scales. Be sure that the scale actually balances at 0 and doesn’t somehow mysteriously register your little bag of laundry at 10 kilos (22 pounds). If ever you’re in doubt, take your bag down the street and get a second or third opinion.

Zen and the Art of Lost Laundry

We travelers are a funny lot. We’re all about minimalism and doing without, but god forbid our favorite pair of underwear vanishes at the laundry.

When you hand your laundry over to someone, you must do so with a Zen-like willingness to accept that you may never see any of it ever again. Ever. Sometimes pieces get lifted, most times they get lost to your neighbor, and sometimes they go to the great laundry graveyard in the sky.

That favorite t-shirt. I’ve lost it.

Favorite underwear. Check.

I’m over it. (Sort of.)

On second thought, I’ll never forgive that laundromat in Kyrgyzstan that vanished my Land Mine Museum shirt from Cambodia.

Washing Machines: Of Hummers and Minis

When we’re traveling and we happen upon a guest house or apartment that features a washing machine (I use that word “features” rather deliberately), Audrey reacts like she’s won the lottery. Her eyes light up similarly to the sight of artichokes and avocados.

Here’s the scoop: European homes favor small washers, American ones big washers. No surprise there, but the difference is like that between a Mini Cooper and a Hummer.

American washers are so large I’m certain Audrey and I could live in one if it came to that. (It just may one day.)
Laundry Traveling

But here’s the curious thing about European wash cycles: they go forever. Not sure what’s going on in those small machines, but I’d like to think our clothes come out all the cleaner for it.

European washers are also curious because they usually offer a built-in drying function in the same machine. Not a gas dryer, but an electric dryer without an exhaust. It’s akin to roasting your clothes in a convection oven. When we lived in Prague, we had one. We called it the clothes cooker. Clothes never quite dried. They were warmed, like a pre-dinner face towel at a fine sushi bar.

—-

And when you have neither a large washer or small, you get lazy and wait until your clothes are about to walk out the door on their own in protest of their own stink. Then you go next door only to find that they don’t accept underwear. And finally, you go to the sink, whip out that dark blue bar of soap, throw on some tunes and scrub away.

Wax on. Wax off.

Ommm.

——-

What’s your best piece of laundry kung fu?

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What is American Food? A World Viewhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/american-food/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/american-food/#comments Fri, 09 Sep 2011 20:19:35 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=9291 By Audrey Scott

“We would like to eat American food. You know, you are American, so it would be great if we could try American food with you.” — A dinner request from our Iranian CouchSurfing guests a few weeks ago in Berlin. Dan and I looked at each other, deer in headlights. American food? What’s that? The […]

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By Audrey Scott

We would like to eat American food. You know, you are American, so it would be great if we could try American food with you.” — A dinner request from our Iranian CouchSurfing guests a few weeks ago in Berlin.

Dan and I looked at each other, deer in headlights. American food? What’s that?

The first thing that came to mind was Thanksgiving dinner, one of my favorite meals in all the world. As much as I wanted to be the good host, cooking a full Thanksgiving meal — turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie — in a couple of hours was beyond us.

After a few false starts (hamburgers? tuna casserole? deli sandwich?), we settled on chicken fajitas and refried beans Tex-Mex style. That counts as American food, doesn’t it?

Photographing American Food in Berlin
Iranians are foodie travelers too. Babak photograps our “American in Berlin” Feast

But as we cooked away and our guests queried us about other typical American dishes, we strained: What exactly is American food anyway? A frequently asked question for the American traveler, but one for which we still don’t have a satisfying answer that rolls off the tongue.

American food inspiration in a German grocery store?

In my search for the ultimate American food, I visited a Berlin outpost of Lidl, a German grocery store chain, advertising “America Week.”

Curious. What does “American food” mean to them?

Here are a few examples of the American food I found:

American style yogurt? #berlin
Yogurt, American Style?

I know I’ve been outside the United States for the better part of the last decade, but are these oddball yogurt flavors really the norm these days? Chocolate muffin? Really?

Any Americans here who are caramel popcorn or cranberry-chocolate yogurt fans?

Lady Liberty ought to be shedding a tear.

Good old American food-hamburgers
Microwave Hamburgers. Typically American?

Microwaveable mini-hamburgers. Getting closer to more authentic. Never tried one of those myself, but they do look like White Castle sliders. I can imagine seeing them on shelves across America.

But I’ve also seen similar items in almost every big grocery store in the world. Call it American cultural hegemony.

Does this really count as cheese? #berlin
Is it really cheese?

Bright orange chemicals pressed into a cellophane sleeve and sold as cheese? Getting warmer. But do American stores really sell plastic-wrapped cheese slices expressly for hamburgers?

Barbecue marshmallows in Berlin.
Barbecue marshmallows?

Jackpot! What says American food more than marshmallows? But barbecue(!) ones? There’s a specificity itch being scratched during America week.

Note: Notice the clever branding: McEnnedy. No, that’s not a misspell on my part. That’s a bizarre end-around on trademark. A typo embraced for its uniqueness.

American Food, Our Take

Ask across street corners and in villages across the world about American food. Hamburgers maybe, hot dogs, too. Pizza, too. Everyone’s got that, though. McDonalds and KFC also appear high on the list. Sure, America downs its share of fast food, but show me a country in the world that doesn’t have their own version of hamburgers, hot dogs, and fried chicken.

Though they may be spun with a local twist, those foods have fast become universal.

Happy American Hot Dog in Berlin, Germany
Happy American Hot Dog in Berlin

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tap the usual American food icons Spam and Velveeta (whose generous use of the term “cheese” does not go unnoticed). Tuna casseroles (Hamburger Helper, anyone?). Actually, any sort of one pot meal that combines various packets, cans and some sort of meat could well be characterized as American cooking. (Or is that co-ed cooking?)

Surveys turn up all these usual suspects, but are they really representative anymore?

Maybe I’m missing barbecue (or BBQ) — be it from Texas, Carolina, or Kansas City? Throw in some apple pie, but I often wonder where that was invented.

The reality is that the United States is a country of immigrants, and American food — at least as I have known it –reflects this melting pot. What food Dan grew up with as a kid – poppyseed stuffed pastries, kielbasa, pizza and rye bread – is different than what I grew up with — because our families are of different origins, from different cities populated by descendants from different ethnic groups.

When we think of the food eaten in the U.S. these days, it’s things like pasta, stir fry, tacos, sushi, pizza, curries, deli sandwiches, burritos. The list is long. I could go on.

Or maybe all we need to do is watch the candidates for President of the United States trying to out-America each other while on the stump.

Mac and cheese and corn dogs, anyone?

—-

Help us out here. Next time we host someone who would like to eat American food, what should we prepare? When you hear American food what comes to mind?

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The Travel Apps of Our Dreamshttp://uncorneredmarket.com/travel-apps-wish-list/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/travel-apps-wish-list/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2011 19:54:47 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=9215 By Daniel Noll

It seems like smartphones can do just about anything these days, from waking us up in the morning according to our sleep cycles to translating foreign language signs we’ve just photographed. But our iPhones and Androids still can’t do everything. As we put together travel plans for this coming fall, it occurs to us that […]

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By Daniel Noll

It seems like smartphones can do just about anything these days, from waking us up in the morning according to our sleep cycles to translating foreign language signs we’ve just photographed. But our iPhones and Androids still can’t do everything.

As we put together travel plans for this coming fall, it occurs to us that some travel apps are still missing. Here are just a few of the award-winning ones we’re still waiting for.

10 Dream Travel Apps

1. What Would MacGyver Do (WWMD)

Forget TripIt. When you are in the middle of nowhere and the shit’s going down, who you gonna’ call? If you don’t have a signal, nobody. But wouldn’t it be nice to go all MacGyver, and know that a roll of duct tape, some nail clippers, a bandana, a head lamp and a business card can help you escape the pack of banditos waiting for you at the base of the volcano?

MacGyver Toolkit
Ready for the magic of What Would MacGyver Do?

Enter in the bits, bobs and gear available, describe the situation that needs to be overcome and let WWMD figure a way out.

2. Bedbug Detector

Bedbugs are everywhere: in the news and also in beds across the world, from the spiffiest 5-star hotels in New York to the dingiest of guest houses in Ecuador. If you’ve ever been bitten, you’ll know how truly awful they are. (In one of our worst bedbug bouts, we sustained well over a hundred bites each.)

Enter Bedbug Detector.

Hover over the bed in question and the app delivers a heat map of it. The red spots, those are the bedbugs. And if it looks like your bed is on fire (and not with passionate love), it’s time to hit the road to someplace with a bit less itch in its future.

3. The Haggler

I know, I know. Haggling is half the fun. Heck, it’s all the fun if you are one of those travelers who relishes grinding a street vendor down to $1.00 for that Che Guevara t-shirt.

But let’s say you find yourself in the middle of a market and you don’t know how to begin haggling, you feel at a disadvantage, you don’t know the language, or you just don’t have the energy to play the haggling game.

Audrey Gets in the Midst of Wedding Jewelry Shopping - Udaipur, India
A perfect opportunity for The Haggler?

Open The Haggler.

Haggler Basic allows you to take a photo of the item and have the app suggest a fair local price for it. Then it will give you some phrases to use in your haggling process. Use the “I’m Feeling Lucky” setting, turn the phone towards the vendor and have it do some basic haggling for you.

For more difficult higher-end items, Haggler Pro offers the opportunity to connect with a local. Via video chat, show the person the item you wish to purchase and then allow that person to haggle for you.

4. The Consul Finder

If you’ve ever obtained a visa to one of the stickier countries on the planet, you’ll know that not all consular officers are created equal. Some are traveler-friendly — they offer tea and biscuits. And then there are others. They show you the door. Add to this the fact that visa regulations not only change from country to country, but also from consulate to consulate.

There must be a way to sort through this more efficiently than random travel forums.

There is. It’s called the Consul Finder.

Enter your nationality, the country to which you are trying to get a tourist visa, and where you are currently located. This app will tell you where the friendliest (and least expensive) consulate is in the region.

5. Mini Taser

Tired of that bulldog slackpacker who won’t stop hitting on you? Need to dispatch with a few touts? You just exited the airport, are swamped in cabbies and need some space? A little behavior modification for someone cutting in line to get into the Sistine Chapel? You’re about to hand over your phone to a mugger?

The Mini Taser is just the app for you.

Two settings, subtle and brutal. Subtle is for the transgressor who needs an inconspicuous nudge to adjust his behavior. Brutal is for, well, you know.

A key pick for the solo female traveler.

6. Street Food Sleuth

Raise your hand if you’ve ever eyed up some fine looking street food and wondered, “Is that going to make me sick?”

Raise both hands if you ate that street food and actually got sick.

Don’t get us wrong: we love street food. While traveling, it’s often the cheapest and most enjoyable way to nourishment and local interaction. But some are still scared of it.

Burmese Street Food - Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar)
You know you want it

Enter the Street Food Sleuth. With this app, you can hover your smart phone over the street food in question and get a reading on lurking parasites and unhealthy bacteria like e-coli or salmonella. Eat street food to your heart’s content without the fear of hugging the bowl later that night.

Warning: Don’t bring the Street Food Sleuth to your favorite restaurant back home. You may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

7. Stag Party Avoider (SPA)

Having lived in Prague for five years and having waded through piles of post-stag party puke on Prague’s fine streets, we go on the record: stag parties (bachelor parties bent on cheap destruction) are a blight.

Worse yet, wading through mobs of would-be vomiters in places like Tallinn, Vilnius, or Bratislava does wonders to scotch a romantic nighttime stroll.

Enter Stag Party Avoider (SPA), the crowd-sourced, artificial intelligence method of avoiding staggering stag partygoers.

Based on your current location, SPA will give you a reading on stag parties in the area, complete with information about nationality (so you can tune your avoidance if you wish, choosing the lesser of evils).

How does it work, you ask? SPA intelligence is based on real-time crowd-sourced feedback (“I’m at Murphy’s pub and there are naked young men wearing matching t-shirts.”) and a patented Facebook activity-scanning algorithm that looks for keywords like “strip club”, “barf”, “beer”, and “There’s no way he’s getting married this weekend.”

8. You’re Off Track

While many of our best travel experiences have taken place in the context of getting lost, there have been times (oh, so many times) when it would have been nice to actually get where we were headed.

And having a map, even a Google Map, doesn’t always solve this problem. We need the genie in the phone – aka, You’re Off Track – who buzzes, rings or shocks us in case we’ve strayed too far off course.

Dan Checks Google Maps on iPhone - Madhabpur Lake, Bangladesh
In dire need of You’re Off Track in Bangladesh

Then we know to take out the phone, find where we are and get back on track.

Maybe you’re thinking “But how about TomTom?” The rub is that we don’t want our iPhone yelling out directions as we walk or bike down the street. Also, can TomTom guide you through the backwoods of Bangladesh in search of 7-layer tea?

You’re Off Track can.

9. Sticky Finger Finder

About to enter a busy market, festival or concert and wondering who’s on the take?

Open Sticky Finger Finder and let it scan the area for pickpockets.

Within seconds, the phones of nearby pickpockets and thieves begin to ring — with a custom ringtone, of course — making it easy for you to avoid them.

Busy Flea Market on Saturday Mornings - Vienna, Austria
Whose phone is ringing now?

Add-on modules include Tout Finder and Scam Finder.

Then, enter the Mini Taser app.

How does it work, you ask? We wish we knew.

10. The Travel App You Wish Existed

What iPhone travel apps or Android apps would you like to see come to life? Leave us a comment below and we’ll select the most clever ones in a follow up post.

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The Bad News Barber of Kuala Lumpurhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/bad-news-barber-kuala-lumpur/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/bad-news-barber-kuala-lumpur/#comments Wed, 23 Feb 2011 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=7504 By Daniel Noll

This is a story about a haircut, some bad news, life in Kuala Lumpur, and crocodile poop. Before I set off for my first trip abroad to India many years ago, I harbored visions — visions of mystical women in colorful saris who would place their hands upon the crown of my youthful head and […]

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By Daniel Noll

This is a story about a haircut, some bad news, life in Kuala Lumpur, and crocodile poop.

Before I set off for my first trip abroad to India many years ago, I harbored visions — visions of mystical women in colorful saris who would place their hands upon the crown of my youthful head and say, “I see great things in your future.” Through osmosis, I would absorb their wisdom and they would enlighten me with the path I might take to achieve such great things.

Instead, 14 years later, as I sat in a barber’s chair in Kuala Lumpur, a man named Deepak, a Gujarati Indian barber from Mumbai decked out in too-tight jeans and a checkered shirt, placed his hand upon the front of my head and told me I was going bald.

Where did I go wrong?

The Chop, The Bad News

My haircut at the Indian barbershop began innocently, as most haircuts do. Deepak began with a few zips of the electric clippers in the back and on the sides, then he grabbed for the scissors to cut the top.

Chop, chop. Cut, clip, cut.

At the Indian Barber in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Inside an Indian Barber in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

After a few sprays of water from his pump bottle and a comb-through, he delivered some astonishingly unsubtle bad news: “Hair very thin. In four, five years — all gone.”

In all the countries I’ve endured a haircut, never has a barber had the courage to deliver such bad tidings. But that’s what I love about barbers, Indians and especially Indian barbers: when it comes to bad news, man, they give it to you straight.

I was shocked. The blood drained from my face. I squinted into the mirror. “Really?!?!”

Deepak didn’t just answer “Yes.” He didn’t even waggle. He went full bore and gave me the side nod, which as much as said, “You’re in deep shit, cue ball. You’d better find yourself a Ferrari and start ridin’ out that midlife crisis.”

Deepak finished. It wasn’t the best cut. Wasn’t the worst, either. But I bore him no ill will. In fact, he was a rather nice guy.

Life’s Important Questions

As I stroked my impending baldness with my right hand, Audrey began taking a few photos and we engaged Deepak and his colleague Suppeiyav.

They asked to look at the photos we’d taken. Meanwhile, Balaji, one of their friends from the neighborhood dropped in to say hello and read the newspaper.

Dan with His Barber - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Dan with Deepak (far right) and Balaji

Eventually, the five of us convened a circle and covered all of life’s critical questions:

Where are you from?
How old are you?
How many hours does it take to fly here from your country?
Do you have children?
Why not?

I love barber shops.

Low Cost Airlines: The Engine of Migrant Labor

A good deal of our time was then spent exchanging information regarding low-cost airlines to and from India. We found out that Kingfisher is good, but only flies within India. We know Air Asia is inexpensive, but discovered it now also flies to once unlikely cities such as Trichy. Tiger Air is OK, too.

We even got a run-down on which airlines allow you to drink their beer for free. (I don’t believe there are many of those left anymore.)

In a fit of excitement, Balaji spoke up, “Sometimes you can find Air Asia to Chennai or Trichy for under 300 ringgit return ($100). Need to pay attention to sales.”

He, too, had figured out how to play the low cost airline price game.

Low cost airline talk at an Indian barber shop in Kuala Lumpur may sound trivial. However, it’s a key variable in the movement of migrant labor. Like many of the Indians you find in Kuala Lumpur, these men live and work in Malaysia, but their wives and children all live in India. For Balaji, a 15-year resident of Kuala Lumpur, cheap flights mean he can now afford to visit his wife and two young children every few months, rather than just once every year or two.

A Doozy of a Massage

Amidst our talk of airlines and southern Indian food, Deepak looked at me once more and pointed to my hairline: “No shampoo. Only conditioner once a week.”

“OK,” I said, figuring that this untimed dose of advice was an indication of just how advanced my hair loss had become in the few minutes since I’d left his chair.

I felt uneasy.

Suppeiyav, sensing my discomfort, waved me in the direction of his chair: “Massage!”

Friendly Indian Barber in Kuala Lumpur, India
Suppeiyav, the master of the Indian head massage

I hopped up and instantly he began squeezing my neck, pounding my shoulders and back, and tugging around the few tufts of hair I had left. Then he administered a stunning barrage of “prayer chops” — his hands placed together, thwhacking every inch of my skull.

I began to see stars, quite literally.

As I prayed for the massage to end, I was reminded of a recent comment from a friend on Facebook. “In India,” he said, “Indian barber means a head and neck massage that will make you see stuff that isn’t actually there.”

When Suppeiyav finished demolishing a few billion more brain cells, I found myself struggling to get up from the chair. I had forgotten my name. Well, my middle name at least.

Don’t ask me why I was searching for my middle name. A mild concussion will do that to you, apparently.

A Chinese Perspective: Traditional Medicine

When we returned to our guest house later that evening, we ran into a Chinese Malaysian man who’d taken up residence. A permanent fixture of the joint, he was also a font of practical local knowledge. We needed a notary public. He knew of three nearby. We wanted an acupuncturist. He told us of a tea shop in Chinatown with a connection.

Then I mentioned that the barber told me I was going bald.

Oh, my friend was going bald. He uses crocodile shit.

You have got to be kidding me. He didn’t just say what I think he said, did he?

Before I could respond, he followed up with, “I heard your foot was hurting. Are you diabetic? My friend’s foot was hurting and he went to the doctor. The doctor told him he was diabetic and he had to have his toe cut off.”

“Let’s get back to the hair loss. Tell me more about the crocodile poo.” I redirected.

“I think he uses it once a week. I don’t know where he gets it. I can ask him.”

“Thanks. I think I’m OK. I’m trying to cut back on the excrement treatments these days.”

I ran my fingers through my hair — out of habit, or perhaps in anticipation of it slowly vanishing.

If only I could find those mystical women in colorful saris, perhaps they could help me find the wisdom to go bald gracefully.

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Four Years on the Road: It All Began with a Frozen Pork Butthttp://uncorneredmarket.com/four-years-travel-reflections/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/four-years-travel-reflections/#comments Mon, 06 Dec 2010 13:36:19 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=6205 By Audrey Scott

I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this before, but this journey of ours actually began with a frozen pork butt. Four years ago yesterday: December 5, 2006. The time had come; time had also nearly run out. I was to meet Dan in thirty minutes at the Prague main station to catch a train […]

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By Audrey Scott

I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this before, but this journey of ours actually began with a frozen pork butt.

Four years ago yesterday: December 5, 2006. The time had come; time had also nearly run out. I was to meet Dan in thirty minutes at the Prague main station to catch a train to Dresden, Germany.

I scanned our empty apartment, our home for five years. I was closing the door on another life chapter. Glimmers and fragments — like the empty pots from a summer herb garden, now frozen brittle on the balcony –- hinted at the well-lived and settled nature of our lives there.

The week before we had shed almost everything: selling, giving, tossing. Farewell parties, too. The previous evening, we had bid adieu to one of our most prized possessions: a spice collection in the hundreds of bottles and bags from all corners of the Earth. We had invited our foodie friends over and divided up the precious booty.

After saying goodbye to the last sachet, we drowned our culinary sorrows in one last surviving bottle of wine, a Brunello di Montalcino that had been given to us as a gift. This was a special occasion.

That morning, I picked up the empty bottle for one last trip to the recycling bin. Then I checked the fridge.

Shit!” A five-pound hulk of frozen pork butt stared at me from the freezer. We got it from the butcher with the intent of recreating the slow-roasted puerco pibil in the movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

Unfortunately, we never did get around to making it. And we never got around to finding the pork a good home.

I threw on my too-heavy backpack (I’ve since learned to pack lighter), tucked the pork under my left arm, grabbed the empty bottle with my right hand, closed the door, ran down the steps, and knocked on our neighbors’ door downstairs.

Our neighbors: sweet Czech widow pensioners. They were so patient when our flower pots fell off our balcony and crashed onto theirs earlier in the year. “Maybe they’ll take the pork butt,” I thought.

Only twenty minutes to go until the train departed.

This would be a difficult sell. In my neighbors’ doorway, I felt like a used meat salesman. I mustered as much charm as I could. With a smile and the last of my best Czech, I pitched the women my pork, explaining that it was perfectly good. We were just leaving the country — forever — and we couldn’t use it anymore. Would they please, please take it so that it would not go to waste?

Puzzled, our sweet little neighbors shook their heads. They both looked at me as if I had lost it.

Maybe I had.

Or maybe my Czech really hadn’t improved that much over five years.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s no proper way to express “Would you like my frozen pork butt before I travel the world?” in any language.

After being rejected by my neighbors (pork butt rejection, I’ve learned, is some of the easiest to endure), I threw our apartment keys in our landlord’s mailbox and ran out into the street with the still-frozen, rock solid hunk of pork under my arm.

With all worldly possessions on my back and a frozen hunk of meat in my hands, I must have looked rather deranged. I hoped that one of the people who rooted through our trash regularly would emerge to save the pork from the fate of spoil.

But alas, no. So, I left my frozen meat on top of the trash can. It was wintertime in Prague, so I figured it would remain frozen at least until the following May.

I dropped our celebratory wine bottle into the recycling bin and ran full tilt to the tram stop, as fast as my legs would carry me, as fast as my too-heavy backpack would allow. There was no time for nostalgia for Vršovice, the neighborhood we’d come to love over the years.

With two minutes to spare, I arrived gasping at the train platform.

Dan was pacing, wondering if I had changed my mind. “What happened to you?!?” he asked.

It’s a long story.”

It always is, it seems. And I like it that way.

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Nibbles That Give Me the Shivers (or, Sh*t I Wouldn’t Eat Again)http://uncorneredmarket.com/nibbles-that-give-me-the-shivers/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/nibbles-that-give-me-the-shivers/#comments Wed, 04 Aug 2010 07:40:45 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=4519 By Daniel Noll

The key to eating grilled mutton is to chew and swallow it before the fat cools and congeals on the roof of your mouth. — Our guerrilla eating tip for Central Asia “You guys seem to have only good things to say about your experiences, especially the food. Have you ever had a bad meal? […]

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By Daniel Noll

The key to eating grilled mutton is to chew and swallow it before the fat cools and congeals on the roof of your mouth.

Our guerrilla eating tip for Central Asia

“You guys seem to have only good things to say about your experiences, especially the food. Have you ever had a bad meal? Something disappointing, gross, or even repulsive?”

You bet.

First off, I understand that what one eats is based in great part on habit and how one was raised. So chicken feet in the morning will never do for me what it might do it for the boy we met in Guizhou, China. But I do enjoy peanut butter on toast, something that repulsed our Tajik, Kyrgyz and French counterparts when we served it in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan.

And before I’m accused of throwing cultural stones from my glass house, I understand that the United States knows some of its own rather questionable delights. When we queried the Twitterverse about gross American foods, things like Cheese Whiz, Velveeta, Spam, refried beans in a can, root beer, pop tarts and pizza rolls topped the list.

So here’s a sample of treats — that we’ve encountered, eaten or both — that render me thankful for different cultures while giving me culinary pause.

1. Guinea Pig

As a child, I never owned a pet guinea pig, but some of my friends did. And I never harbored even the slightest interest in eating their furry little friends.

Roasted Cuy (Guinea Pig) - Vilcabamba, Ecuador
Grilled guinea pig for dinner in Ecuador.

Then we visited the Ecuadoran Andes. We priced guinea pig at the market, we photographed guinea pig farmers.

Then came time to eat it.

In the words of our table mate, a fellow traveler who was totally stoned: it’s like “a frog in a chicken orientation with the skin of a duck, almost like pork crackling.” (Coincidentally, I highly recommend eating guinea pig with friends who are baked — very amusing.)

And he took great interest in inspecting – and eventually eating – the little guy’s testicles. We opted for the other bits and were underwhelmed.

On a side note, the owner of the restaurant in Vilcabamba, Ecuador serving the critter told us that pet stores in U.S. cities with large Ecuadoran and Peruvian populations are careful who they sell to because they know their goods may end up on the dinner table.

2. Blood bouillon

Two words that simply do not belong together.

Blood Bouillon - Luang Prabang, Laos
Blood bouillon at the market in Luang Prabang, Laos.

But the blood bouillon chunks are cheap as chips and ready to take away at the otherwise beautiful Phousy fresh market in Luang Prabang, Laos.

3. Goat blood soup and “Five Fingers”

Goat, the gift that keeps on giving.

Our horse-trekking guide in the hills of Kyrgyzstan killed and drained the animal. Then we were invited to a Ramadan feast that involved eating every last bit — and every last drop — of it.

Goat Head at Osh Market, Kyrgyzstan
Staring right back at you. Goat head in the market in Kyrgyzstan.

Your impression of beshbarmak (meaning “five fingers” in Kyrgyz) will depend entirely on whose five fingers are fingering your noodles.

4. Anti-Pizza

I’m all about going outside of my comfort zone, except when it comes to pizza.

Can You Really Call this Pizza? Argentina
The Anti-Pizza in Argentina

To my dear Argentine friends reading this: referring to a crust rubbed oh-so-minimally with tomato sauce and piled high with ham slices, marinated palm hearts and thousand island dressing as “pizza” is almost criminal in my book.

Criminal.

5. Sea Horse

Eating a sea horse strikes me as belonging to the class of offenses that includes “eating a penguin.”

Seahorses for Dinner - Beijing, China
Sea horse on a stick, Beijing night market.

6. Sheep-head somsa

We understand that in the photo below, the Uzbek (or Kyrgyz) somsa looks quite tasty and delicious.

Tea and Somsa - Nukus, Uzbekistan
A beautiful somsa in Uzbekistan. But what’s inside?

Now, imagine it being made:

I once described the filling of a somsa as “akin to a sheep doing a swan dive into a meat grinder.” Head, legs, and all.

I stand behind that assessment.

7. Bats on a Skewer

I just don’t eat rodent, even when it has wings.

Smoked Bat Vendor - Bagan, Burma
Bats on a skewer, Burma (Myanmar).

This Burmese bat vendor had such a sweet smile, but not quite sweet enough to entice me to break my rodent fast.

8. Bugs

Yeah, I know. Everyone does bugs. Everyone loves bugs. It’s a rite of passage for the world traveler.

Grilled Bugs - Battambang, Cambodia
Palmetto bugs as an afternoon snack. Chewy. Crunchy.

I chewed this palmetto bug looking thing for at least five minutes. The texture reminded me of a nightmare I once had where I was forced to eat a bag of shrimp shells and wash it down with licorice-flavored printer cartridge ink.

Would I try bugs again?

Only if I were guaranteed an invitation to a Cambodian Buddhist wedding blessing.

9. Cow Stomach in a Peanut Sauce

Take a cow’s stomach, turn it inside out, cut it into little cubes and stir it into a peanut-based sauce with some potatoes and you’ve got something the Andean folks call guatita.

The peanut sauce has its moments.

But those stomach-y bits — that’s where things start to go wrong. Besides being rubbery, their texture reminds me of dryer balls.

Cow Stomach Dryer Balls

Should your digestive constitution remain intact after the completion of today’s reading, make your way to Ibarra, Ecuador. You’ll find guatita served at night on the main plaza for a tidy $2.

10. Balls

Until I encountered this scene in southern China, I kept a partially open mind regarding testicles as a culinary experience.

Testicles for Sale - Guizhou Province, China
Testicles at the market in China. So many varieties.

Not anymore.

———-

Would we do it all over again? Whether we ate it or just sniffed it, I’m certain we’re all the better for it.

Or are we?

Either way, we’ve only just begun. The world is big…and we are hungry.

———

Editor’s Note: We ask you to excuse the censored profanity in the title. It’s the author’s (Dan’s) birthday, so he’s allowed to do whatever he wants today.

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What’s Missing From My Hotel Roomhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/what-missing-from-my-hotel-room/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/what-missing-from-my-hotel-room/#comments Tue, 20 Apr 2010 19:39:48 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=3806 By Daniel Noll

When I was a management consultant and clients footed the bill for my travel expenses, I had a colleague with a knack for milking his four- and five-star hotel stays for all they were worth. For example, he would request turn-down service multiple times in one night.  “For the chocolates,” he’d say.  Then he’d take […]

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By Daniel Noll

When I was a management consultant and clients footed the bill for my travel expenses, I had a colleague with a knack for milking his four- and five-star hotel stays for all they were worth. For example, he would request turn-down service multiple times in one night.  “For the chocolates,” he’d say.  Then he’d take a walk down the hall and raid the maid’s cart for more.

In the understatement of the century, let’s just say that the nature of my accommodation concerns has evolved. The days of watching colleagues stalk turn-down maids have been replaced by nights searching for hotel attendees in dark, dank hallways that recall films like “Psycho” (cinematic excellence) and “Hostel” (a cinematic abomination).

Hotel Room in San Francisco El Alto, Guatemala
Fisheye Hotel Room in San Francisco el Alto, Guatemala

In the midst of this lifestyle adjustment, I have found that the budget accommodation business can sometimes revolve around a slumlord-style premise: extract as much cash as you can from your property without investing a penny on maintenance, upkeep or improvement.

The upshot for us travelers: some very basic stuff is missing.

Now before we roll with the rant, take note: It’s one thing if you are paying $1-$10 a night for a double room. At prices like those, you can easily turn the other way. But it’s another thing entirely when that bare-bones room runs $20, $30 and up.

Aside: These items are hardly lavish. We know countless hotels, guesthouses, hostels and hospedajes that find a way to provide them all practically, if not elegantly. For those guesthouses who do make the effort, we applaud you. In fact, we often highlight you on this site and recommend you to others on Twitter.

1.  A wastebasket

This strikes me as a no-brainer.  It’s cheap and easy, and the self-serving benefit — to help keep the room clean — seems obvious and compelling.  Throughout Latin America, were it not for the fact that guesthouses often request that you throw your toilet paper in the wastebasket rather than in the toilet, there might be no wastebasket to be found at all.

2.  Hooks

I’m happy to throw my wet towel on the bed or drape it on the door handle. But wouldn’t a place to hang it make more sense?

3.  Sheets that actually fit the bed

There’s nothing like waking up in the morning and turning over to see a bare mattress.  If I had a nickel for every short-sheeted bed I’ve slept on, I’d be rich.

I have a theory on how these sheets end up in my bed:  somebody’s grandmother died just about the time the guest house was opened.  Grandma’s heirloom sheets were passed down just after her death.  The only problem: her bed was five feet long; ours is six. (Well, five and a half, but I’m not complaining — six feet tall, thank you.)

4.  Towels

Yes, I understand that some guesthouses and hostels don’t offer towels, and others rent them out for about $1 per day.   But for guesthouses where it’s clear that towels are included, how difficult would it be to simply place them on the bed rather than to play the game where we hunt you down to ask for them?

5. Electrical plugs, especially ones that aren’t on the ceiling

I often find myself attempting to reverse engineer the logic that placed an outlet on the ceiling or just inches below.  Maybe the building once functioned upside-down?

Gadgets on the Bed
Plug it all in. Travel Photography and Computer Gear

Why should we care?  Imagine trying to recharge all of this out of a ceiling socket.

6.  Pest control

When I’m paying $0.50 to stay with a family in Sikkim (a semi-autonomous region in Northeast India), I’m OK with a rat or two dropping from the ceiling. Really. It’s all part of the experience. Everything fits.

But when we pay $35 for a double room in Coyhaique along Chile’s Carretera Austral and our friend and neighbor is literally shaking 100s of bugs out of her jeans in the morning, there’s a problem. A huge problem. Imagine earwigs pouring forth from the kettle just as you are about to fill it with water for your morning coffee.

Remind me again what I’m paying for, exactly?

7.  Toilet paper

I appreciate the frustration hotel owners must experience with the endless cycle of stolen toilet paper.  When I’m finished traveling, I promise to fund a study examining the origin of toilet paper rolls carried by backpackers.  I’m guessing 80% have been stolen from their last hostel.

But this leaves me in a bit of a bind, particularly when I arrive at my guesthouse after a long bus ride and nature calls rather urgently.  And the roll of toilet paper nicked by the last traveler in the bathroom has not been replaced.

If you run a hotel with a shared bathroom, please stock it with more than one roll of toilet paper per day.

And to you thieving travelers, please buy a roll using the $0.50 you saved while haggling the guy down the street for that t-shirt you are wearing.

Bathroom With A View - Suchitoto, El Salvador
Toilet with a View – Suchitoto, El Salvador

8.  A mop

No, I have no interest in a mop.  But I do have interest in hotel owners getting their hands on one so that our floor is not an encrusted Petri dish whose corners are cobwebbed with decades-old dead bugs.

Bonus:  Add a little bleach or disinfectant to the mop.  Absolutely revolutionary.

9.  The truth about hot water

By no means do we need hot water all the time.  But when it’s offered — or worse yet highlighted — as a benefit to staying somewhere, it had better work — and it had better be more than just barely lukewarm.

Electric Shower Head - Concepcion, Paraguay
Ah, the electrical showerhead of Latin America. You may get a trickle of hot water…and a shock.

And if you are listening India, I better not have to flip two switches in my room, one in the hallway, beg to have another flipped at the front desk, and pay your cousin to turn something else on down the street.

True story.

10.  The truth about internet

“Wifi in room.”  Here’s me laughing.

If I have to hover over your 10-year old router with my laptop to battle for a fraction of a dial-up connection circa early 1990s shared with 30 other guests, guess what:  YOU DON’T HAVE WIFI. Please don’t advertise it in your services list.

—-

So while I’ve traded turn-down service for those small victories when half the things on this list appear in any given guesthouse, I still wouldn’t exchange places with my former self.

Why?  Life happens outside the hotel room.

Now my question to you: What’s missing from your hotel room?

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