Sunshine Recorder

Link: On the Flight Path to Global Meltdown

There is no technofix to the disastrous impact of air travel on the environment, argues George Monbiot—the only answer is to ground most of the aeroplanes flying today.

Our moral dissonance about flying reminds me of something a Buddhist once told me: “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do it with love.” I am sure he knew as well as I do that our state of mind makes no difference to either exploited people or the environment. Thinking like ethical people makes not a damn of difference unless we also behave like ethical people. When it comes to flying, there seems to be no connection between intention and action.

This is partly because the people who are most concerned about the inhabitants of other countries are often those who have travelled widely. Much of the global justice movement consists of people - like me - whose politics were forged by their experiences abroad. While it is easy for us to pour scorn on the drivers of sports utility vehicles, whose politics generally differ from ours, it is rather harder to contemplate a world in which our own freedoms are curtailed, especially the freedoms that shaped us.

More painfully, in some cases our freedoms have become obligations. When you form relationships with people from other nations, you accumulate what I call “love miles”: the distance you must travel to visit friends and partners and relatives on the other side of the planet. If your sister-in-law is getting married in Buenos Aires, it is both immoral to travel there, because of climate change, and immoral not to, because of the offence it causes. In that decision we find two valid moral codes in irreconcilable antagonism. Who could be surprised to discover that “ethical” people are in denial about the impacts of flying?

There are two reasons why flying dwarfs any other environmental impact a single person can exert. The first is the distance it permits us to cover. According to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the carbon emissions per passenger mile “for a fully loaded cruising airliner are comparable to a passenger car carrying three or four people”. In other words, they are about half those, per person, of a car containing the average loading of 1.56 people. But while the mean distance travelled by car in the UK is 9,200 miles per year, in a plane we can beat that in one day. On a return flight from London to New York, every passenger produces roughly 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide: the very quantity we will each be entitled to emit in a year once the necessary cut in emissions has been made.

The second reason is that the climate impact of aeroplanes is not confined to the carbon they produce. They release several different kinds of gases and particles. Some of them cool the planet, others warm it. In the upper tropo-sphere, where most large planes fly, hot, wet air from the jet engine exhaust mixes with cold air. As the moisture condenses, it can form “contrails”, which in turn appear to give rise to cirrus clouds - those high wispy formations of ice crystals sometimes known as “horsetails”. While they reflect some of the sun’s heat back into the space, they also trap heat in the atmosphere, especially at night; the heat trapping seems to be the stronger effect. The overall impact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a warming effect 2.7 times that of the carbon dioxide alone.

“Western Frieze” by Bryan Schutmaat

Throughout the ages people have had different ideas about what the American West represents, but many agree that it harbors a certain mystique born from wilderness. Though much of the West has been populated, paved over, and commercialized, I believe it still retains this mystique in various forms, and to find it means looking from various perspectives. This body of work takes on these perspectives and seeks to update our collective impression of the West by putting forth a vision of Americaʼs landscape that uses roadside culture to convey where the West has been and where itʼs going. Yet by no means are these photos meant to be pure documentation of America and its identity, but rather a portrait of what American identity means to me. And by photographing the West – where enigma, nostalgia, and history can be found in everyday scenes – I hope to help viewers find out what it means to them, whether or not they ever visit these sleepy towns and loneliest of landscapes for themselves.

(Source: sunrec)

Link: Nothingness in Antarctica

I had not intended to go to the end of nowhere. Even by Antarctic standards, Dome C was the back of beyond. But one afternoon, while fumbling with gear in a McMurdo warehouse, I overheard an allusion to ‘the source regions’. The technicians used the term casually, discussing what goods would be shipped to a remote camp well over the Transantarctic Mountains. But in my mind the phrase sparked an epiphany of symbolism. The source regions. Here was the geographic place at which the East Antarctic ice sheets gathered and then flowed outward. Here was a place that took nothing from elsewhere save fugitive water vapour and turned it into Ice. I had come here to understand Antarctica, by whatever means I could. Surely that quest demanded a journey to the source, for it must certainly contain the essence of the Ice. So after a trip to the National Science Foundation chalet where I pleaded my case, and then a layover at the Pole, adapting to high elevation, I stepped off an LC-130 (‘The Antarctic Queen’) on a dazzling 1981 New Year’s Eve at Dome C and found myself at the end of the world.

Antarctica is a place only an intellectual could love. The further one moves into the interior, away from the coast and storms and marine life that tenuously valence with the Earth, the more dominant the ice and the more extraterrestrial the surroundings. The commonsense perspective of ordinary people is that there is ‘nothing there’, and they are almost right. Even scientists in keen pursuit of data, precious by being rare — our age’s equivalent to the spice and bullion that inflamed early explorers — find Dome C extreme. The rumour soon spread on site, originating from a knot of geophysics graduate students from Wisconsin, that we were not in Antarctica at all but had been secretly drugged on the plane and taken to a prison camp in Minnesota.

Consider the geographic facts: Dome C is an infinitesimal rise in the East Antarctic plateau, atop 14,500 foot of ice that extends outward hundreds of miles. There is little else. This is the most singular environment on Earth, a synthesis of the huge with the simple. Space and time dissolve. The cycle of days and those of seasons collapse into a single spiral. The energy budget is always negative; none during the dark season, reflected away during the light. There is no life. There is nothing to live on. Here is Dante’s imagined innermost circle of hell as an inferno of ice. Here is the Earth’s underworld.

It is a scene of absences and abstractions. There are no mountains, valleys, rivers, shores; no forests, prairies, tide pools, corn and cotton fields, sun-baked deserts; no hurricanes, no floods, no earthquakes, no fires. The only contrast is between an ice-massed land and an ice-saturated sky. The descending ice that links them — the ultimate source of the dome — has the purity of triple-distilled water. Yet it too, as with everything else, simplifies into its most primordial elements, as snowflakes crumble and fall as an icy dust. There is no centre and no edge. There is no near or far; no east or west; no real here or there. Words, too, shrink and freeze, as language and ideas shrivel into monosyllables: ice, snow, dark, sky, blue, star, cloud, white, wind, moon, light, flake, cold.

Consider what that does to experience, to mind, to self. Like the flakes disintegrated into slivers of crystal, a mounding of ice dust, the self disaggregates. Your self is not an essence, but the compounding sum of your connections, like snowflakes elaborating uniquely. At Dome C every particle of ice is identical.

Link: Death at Yosemite: The Story Behind Last Summer's Hantavirus Outbreak

On December 10, Yosemite National Park began demolishing 91 tent cabins in Curry Village, a rustic encampment of 408 canvas-sided cabins jammed into a pine-and-cedar glade near the sloping shoulders of Half Dome. It was here that an outbreak of hantavirus began last summer, infecting at least 10 people and killing three.

But on Sunday, June 10, 2012, the campground seemed idyllic. That weekend held all the promise of early summer. The Curry Village swimming pool was open. The smell of hot dogs and nachos curled out of the snack bar. The sun bounced off the face of Glacier Point. Kids in “Go Climb a Rock” T-shirts shouted and chased each other on bikes.

Sometime that day, a 49-year-old woman from the Los Angeles area arrived at Curry Village’s front desk, a plain wood-floor office that’s often cacophonous with the sound of staffers checking guests in and out. A clerk handed her a key to one of the 91 “signature tent cabins” that opened three years ago—the “new 900s” as they were collectively known. Unlike the older cabins, which are sided with single-ply vinyl-coated canvas, the signature cabins boasted double-wall plywood construction and propane heaters, making them warmer and quieter than the older units.

Off she went, this Southern California lady, to enjoy her Yosemite vacation. We’ll call her Visitor One.

About the same time, another guest checked into Curry Village. He was a 36-year-old man from Alameda County, California, which encompasses Berkeley, Oakland, and the East Bay region. He was given the key to a cabin close to Visitor One’s. He dropped off his things and went about his business. We’ll call him Visitor Two.

We don’t know exactly how Visitors One and Two spent their four days in the park. Medical confidentiality laws forbid public-health officials from releasing their names, and they and their families have chosen to keep their stories private. Maybe they hiked to the top of Half Dome or enjoyed the giant sequoias of the Mariposa Grove. By the following Wednesday, June 13, both visitors had checked out of their Curry Village tent cabins and left the park.

Around Yosemite the summer unfolded quietly. The search-and-rescue team went out on minor events: an ankle fracture on the Panorama Trail, a fallen hiker on the Half Dome cable route. Rangers kept a wary eye on the Cascade Fire, a lightning-sparked wilderness blaze that smoldered through a red fir forest.

Then, in late June, Visitor One fell ill. She might have felt like she had the flu: chills, muscle aches, fever, headache, dizziness, fatigue. The flu goes away after a few days. This didn’t. We do know that, back home, she went to see her doctor. When presented with Visitor One’s symptoms, most physicians would have dismissed it as the flu or, at worse, low-level pneumonia. Her doctor didn’t. They talked about what she might have picked up and where. She mentioned her Yosemite trip. The doctor took the unusual step of calling Charles Mosher, a public-health officer for Mariposa County, which encompasses Yosemite, and asking if there were any known hantavirus cases in the area. “Based on her history and symptoms, [hantavirus] was a definite possibility,” Mosher recalled, so he and Visitor One’s doctor agreed that starting treatment for the virus while awaiting lab confirmation was the prudent way to go. 

That was, given the circumstance, about the worst thing Visitor One could hear.



The Wilder Shores of Marx
In 1989 Theodore Dalrymple managed to join up with a group of British communists on its way to the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in North Korea:


The British ‘delegation’ was fixed at 100 and I was accepted as a member because, though neither a youth nor a student, I was a doctor who had practiced in Tanzania, a country whose first President, Julius Nyerere, was a close friend and admirer of Kim Il Sung, Great Leader of DPRK (as the country is known to cognoscenti). It was therefore assumed I was in sympathy with what was sometimes called, rather vaguely, ‘the movement’.


The ensuing trip, one of five to communist holdouts in 1988 and 1989, was recounted in his 1991 book ”The Wilder Shores of Marx”(published in the U.S. as “Utopias Elsewhere”). Throughout two weeks in July of 1989 Dalrymple witnessed an imprisoned nation, attended a mass rally addressed by Kim Jong-Il, and was transfixed


I went several times during the festival to Pyongyang Department Store Number 1. This is in the very centre of the city. Its shelves and counters were groaning with locally produced goods, piled into impressive pyramids or in fan-like displays, perfectly arranged, throughout the several floors of the building. On the ground floor was a wide variety of tinned foods, hardware and alcoholic drinks, including a strong Korean liqueur with a whole snake pickled or marinated in the bottle, presumably as an aphrodisiac. Everything glittered with perfection, the tidiness was remarkable.
It didn’t take long to discover that this was no ordinary department store. It was filled with thousands of people, going up and down the escalators, standing at the corners, going in and out of the front entrance in a constant stream both ways - yet nothing was being bought or sold. I checked this by standing at the entrance for half an hour. The people coming out were carrying no more than the people entering. Their shopping bags contained as much, or as little, when they left as when they entered. In some cases, I recognised people coming out as those who had gone in a few minutes before, only to see them re-entering the store almost immediately. And I watched a hardware counter for fifteen minutes. There were perhaps twenty people standing at it; there were two assistants behind the counter, but they paid no attention to the ‘customers’. The latter and the assistants stared past each other in a straight line, neither moving nor speaking.
Eventually, they grew uncomfortably aware that they were under my observation. They began to shuffle their feet and wriggle, as if my regard pinned them like live insects to a board. The assistants too became restless and began to wonder what to do in these unforeseen circumstances. They decided that there was nothing for it but to distribute something under the eyes of this inquisitive foreigner. And so, all of a sudden, they started to hand out plastic wash bowls to the twenty ‘customers’, who took them (without any pretence of payment). Was it their good luck, then? Had they received something for nothing? No, their problems had just begun. What were they to do with their plastic wash bowls? (All of them were brown incidentally, for the assistants did not have sufficient initiative to distribute a variety of goods to give verisimilitude to the performance, not even to the extent of giving out differently coloured bowls.)
They milled around the counter in a bewildered fashion, clutching their bowls in one hand as if they were hats they had just doffed in the presence of a master. Some took them to the counter opposite to hand them in; some just waited until I had gone away. I would have taken a photograph, but I remembered just in time that these people were not participating in this charade from choice, that they were victims, and that - despite their expressionless faces and lack of animation - they were men with chajusong, that is to say creativity and consciousness, and to have photographed them would only have added to their degradation. I left the hardware counter, but returned briefly a little later: the same people were standing at it, sans brown plastic bowls, which were neatly re-piled on the shelf.
I also followed a few people around at random, as discreetly as I could. Some were occupied in ceaselessly going up and down the escalators; others wandered from counter to counter, spending a few minutes at each before moving on. They did not inspect the merchandise; they moved as listlessly as illiterates might, condemned to spend the day among the shelves of a library. I did not know whether to laugh or explode with anger or weep. But I knew I was seeing one of the most extraordinary sights of the twentieth century.
I decided to buy something - a fountain pen. I went to the counter where pens were displayed like the fan of a peacock’s tail. They were no more for sale than the Eiffel Tower. As I handed over my money, a crowd gathered round, for once showing signs of animation. I knew, of course, that I could not be refused: if I were, the game would be given away completely. And so the crowd watched goggle-eyed and disbelieving as this astonishing transaction took place: I gave the assistant a piece of paper and she gave me a pen.
The pen, as it transpired, was of the very worst quality. Its rubber for the ink was so thin that it would have perished immediately on contact with ink. The metal plunger was already rusted; the plastic casing was so brittle that the slightest pressure cracked it. And the box in which it came was of absorbent cardboard, through whose fibres the ink of the printing ran like capillaries on the cheeks of a drunk.
At just before four o’clock, on two occasions, I witnessed the payment of the shoppers. An enormous queue formed at the cosmetics and toiletries counter and there everyone, man and woman, received the same little palette of rouge, despite the great variety of goods on display. Many of them walked away somewhat bemused, examining the rouge uncomprehendingly. At another counter I saw a similar queue receiving a pair of socks, all brown like the plastic bowls. The socks, however, were for keeps. After payment, a new shift of Potemkin shoppers arrived.
The Department Store Number 1 was so extraordinary that I had to talk to someone about it. But the young communist from Glasgow to whom I described it simply exclaimed: ‘So what! Plenty of people go to Harrods without buying anything, just to look.’ Nevertheless, I returned twice to Department Store Number 1 because, in my opinion, it had as many layers of meaning as a great novel, and every time one visited it one realised - as on re-reading Dickens or Tolstoy - that one had missed something from the time before.
Department Store Number 1 was a tacit admission of the desirability of an abundance of material goods, consumption of which was very much a proper goal of mankind. Such an admission of the obvious would not have been in any way remarkable were it not that socialists so frequently deny it, criticising liberal capitalist democracy because of its wastefulness and its inculcation of artificial desires in its citizens, thereby obscuring their ‘true’ interests. By stocking Department Store Number 1 with as many goods as they could find, in order to impress foreign visitors, the North Koreans admitted that material plenty was morally preferable to shortage, and that scarcity was not a sign of abstemious virtue; rather it was proof of economic inefficiency. Choice, even in small matters, gives meaning to life. However well fed, however comfortable modern man might be without it, he demands choice as a right, not because it is economically superior, but as an end in itself. By pretending to offer it, the North Koreans acknowledged as much; and in doing so, recognised that they were consciously committed to the denial of what everyone wants.
But the most sombre reflection occasioned by Department Store Number 1 is that concerning the nature of the power that can command thousands of citizens to take part in a huge and deceitful performance, not once but day after day, without any of the performers ever indicating by even the faintest sign that he is aware of its deceitfulness, though it is impossible that he should not be aware of it. One might almost ascribe a macabre and sadistic sense of humour to the power, insofar as the performance it commands bears the maximum dissimilarity to the real experience and conditions of life of the performers. It is as if the director of a leper colony commanded the enactment of a beauty contest - something one might expect to see in, say, a psychologically depraved surrealist film. But this is no joke, and the humiliation it visits upon the people who take part in it, far from being a drawback, is an essential benefit to the power; for slaves who must participate in their own enslavement by signalling to others the happiness of their condition are so humiliated that they are unlikely to rebel.

The Wilder Shores of Marx

In 1989 Theodore Dalrymple managed to join up with a group of British communists on its way to the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in North Korea:

The British ‘delegation’ was fixed at 100 and I was accepted as a member because, though neither a youth nor a student, I was a doctor who had practiced in Tanzania, a country whose first President, Julius Nyerere, was a close friend and admirer of Kim Il Sung, Great Leader of DPRK (as the country is known to cognoscenti). It was therefore assumed I was in sympathy with what was sometimes called, rather vaguely, ‘the movement’.

The ensuing trip, one of five to communist holdouts in 1988 and 1989, was recounted in his 1991 book ”The Wilder Shores of Marx”(published in the U.S. as “Utopias Elsewhere”). Throughout two weeks in July of 1989 Dalrymple witnessed an imprisoned nation, attended a mass rally addressed by Kim Jong-Il, and was transfixed

I went several times during the festival to Pyongyang Department Store Number 1. This is in the very centre of the city. Its shelves and counters were groaning with locally produced goods, piled into impressive pyramids or in fan-like displays, perfectly arranged, throughout the several floors of the building. On the ground floor was a wide variety of tinned foods, hardware and alcoholic drinks, including a strong Korean liqueur with a whole snake pickled or marinated in the bottle, presumably as an aphrodisiac. Everything glittered with perfection, the tidiness was remarkable.

It didn’t take long to discover that this was no ordinary department store. It was filled with thousands of people, going up and down the escalators, standing at the corners, going in and out of the front entrance in a constant stream both ways - yet nothing was being bought or sold. I checked this by standing at the entrance for half an hour. The people coming out were carrying no more than the people entering. Their shopping bags contained as much, or as little, when they left as when they entered. In some cases, I recognised people coming out as those who had gone in a few minutes before, only to see them re-entering the store almost immediately. And I watched a hardware counter for fifteen minutes. There were perhaps twenty people standing at it; there were two assistants behind the counter, but they paid no attention to the ‘customers’. The latter and the assistants stared past each other in a straight line, neither moving nor speaking.

Eventually, they grew uncomfortably aware that they were under my observation. They began to shuffle their feet and wriggle, as if my regard pinned them like live insects to a board. The assistants too became restless and began to wonder what to do in these unforeseen circumstances. They decided that there was nothing for it but to distribute something under the eyes of this inquisitive foreigner. And so, all of a sudden, they started to hand out plastic wash bowls to the twenty ‘customers’, who took them (without any pretence of payment). Was it their good luck, then? Had they received something for nothing? No, their problems had just begun. What were they to do with their plastic wash bowls? (All of them were brown incidentally, for the assistants did not have sufficient initiative to distribute a variety of goods to give verisimilitude to the performance, not even to the extent of giving out differently coloured bowls.)

They milled around the counter in a bewildered fashion, clutching their bowls in one hand as if they were hats they had just doffed in the presence of a master. Some took them to the counter opposite to hand them in; some just waited until I had gone away. I would have taken a photograph, but I remembered just in time that these people were not participating in this charade from choice, that they were victims, and that - despite their expressionless faces and lack of animation - they were men with chajusong, that is to say creativity and consciousness, and to have photographed them would only have added to their degradation. I left the hardware counter, but returned briefly a little later: the same people were standing at it, sans brown plastic bowls, which were neatly re-piled on the shelf.

I also followed a few people around at random, as discreetly as I could. Some were occupied in ceaselessly going up and down the escalators; others wandered from counter to counter, spending a few minutes at each before moving on. They did not inspect the merchandise; they moved as listlessly as illiterates might, condemned to spend the day among the shelves of a library. I did not know whether to laugh or explode with anger or weep. But I knew I was seeing one of the most extraordinary sights of the twentieth century.

I decided to buy something - a fountain pen. I went to the counter where pens were displayed like the fan of a peacock’s tail. They were no more for sale than the Eiffel Tower. As I handed over my money, a crowd gathered round, for once showing signs of animation. I knew, of course, that I could not be refused: if I were, the game would be given away completely. And so the crowd watched goggle-eyed and disbelieving as this astonishing transaction took place: I gave the assistant a piece of paper and she gave me a pen.

The pen, as it transpired, was of the very worst quality. Its rubber for the ink was so thin that it would have perished immediately on contact with ink. The metal plunger was already rusted; the plastic casing was so brittle that the slightest pressure cracked it. And the box in which it came was of absorbent cardboard, through whose fibres the ink of the printing ran like capillaries on the cheeks of a drunk.

At just before four o’clock, on two occasions, I witnessed the payment of the shoppers. An enormous queue formed at the cosmetics and toiletries counter and there everyone, man and woman, received the same little palette of rouge, despite the great variety of goods on display. Many of them walked away somewhat bemused, examining the rouge uncomprehendingly. At another counter I saw a similar queue receiving a pair of socks, all brown like the plastic bowls. The socks, however, were for keeps. After payment, a new shift of Potemkin shoppers arrived.

The Department Store Number 1 was so extraordinary that I had to talk to someone about it. But the young communist from Glasgow to whom I described it simply exclaimed: ‘So what! Plenty of people go to Harrods without buying anything, just to look.’ Nevertheless, I returned twice to Department Store Number 1 because, in my opinion, it had as many layers of meaning as a great novel, and every time one visited it one realised - as on re-reading Dickens or Tolstoy - that one had missed something from the time before.

Department Store Number 1 was a tacit admission of the desirability of an abundance of material goods, consumption of which was very much a proper goal of mankind. Such an admission of the obvious would not have been in any way remarkable were it not that socialists so frequently deny it, criticising liberal capitalist democracy because of its wastefulness and its inculcation of artificial desires in its citizens, thereby obscuring their ‘true’ interests. By stocking Department Store Number 1 with as many goods as they could find, in order to impress foreign visitors, the North Koreans admitted that material plenty was morally preferable to shortage, and that scarcity was not a sign of abstemious virtue; rather it was proof of economic inefficiency. Choice, even in small matters, gives meaning to life. However well fed, however comfortable modern man might be without it, he demands choice as a right, not because it is economically superior, but as an end in itself. By pretending to offer it, the North Koreans acknowledged as much; and in doing so, recognised that they were consciously committed to the denial of what everyone wants.

But the most sombre reflection occasioned by Department Store Number 1 is that concerning the nature of the power that can command thousands of citizens to take part in a huge and deceitful performance, not once but day after day, without any of the performers ever indicating by even the faintest sign that he is aware of its deceitfulness, though it is impossible that he should not be aware of it. One might almost ascribe a macabre and sadistic sense of humour to the power, insofar as the performance it commands bears the maximum dissimilarity to the real experience and conditions of life of the performers. It is as if the director of a leper colony commanded the enactment of a beauty contest - something one might expect to see in, say, a psychologically depraved surrealist film. But this is no joke, and the humiliation it visits upon the people who take part in it, far from being a drawback, is an essential benefit to the power; for slaves who must participate in their own enslavement by signalling to others the happiness of their condition are so humiliated that they are unlikely to rebel.

Link: Death on the Path to Enlightenment: Inside the Rise of India Syndrome

Every year thousands of westerners flock to India to meditate, practice yoga, and seek spiritual transcendence. Some find what they’re looking for. Others give up and go home. A few become so consumed by their quest for godliness that it kills them. 

Jonathan Spollen, a 28-year-old Irishman with long brown hair and a delicate brogue, was at a crossroads in his life. He’d embarked on a career as an overseas journalist, working first as a reporter at the Daily Star Egypt in Cairo and then as a foreign editor at The National in Abu Dhabi. But now he was a copy editor for the International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong, approaching 30, and wondering if he liked where his life was going. In October 2011, following a split with his girlfriend, he bought some trekking gear, sent his laptop home to Dublin, and booked a flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. From there, Spollen made his way to India. He had visited before, spending time with an octogenarian yogi named Prahlad Jani—who claims his mastery of the ancient arts has allowed him to live without food for 70 years—and had come away entranced with the country. This time, Spollen roamed the subcontinent for several months, visiting the holy city of Varanasi, India’s oldest inhabited settlement. In early February, Spollen called his mother, Lydia, to tell her he planned to spend two or three weeks hiking in the Himalayas near the pilgrimage site of Rishikesh, the yogaphilic city on the Ganges where the Beatles visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. She reportedly asked him not to go alone, but he told her that was the whole point. “It’s a spiritual thing,” he explained.

He was never heard from again.

A little over three weeks after that conversation, his parents were worried enough to post to IndiaMike.com, a forum for Western travelers to the subcontinent. Their message contained a picture of Spollen, the details of his last known sighting, and a plea: “Please, all of you, keep in regular contact with your families. Even if they don’t say it, they care for you and worry about you!” A few days later, Spollen’s father, David, flew to Rishikesh to organize a search party. In mid-March, local authorities found Spollen’s passport, rucksack, bedroll, and cash beside a waterfall near the village of Patna, a few miles outside Rishikesh. From there, however, the trail went cold. Members of the IndiaMike community circulated missing-person posters that travelers hung along the Banana Pancake trail, a network of backpacker routes that stretches from Goa to Hanoi, but there were no new leads.

Today, the thread on Spollen’s parents’ initial post has grown to more than 1,700 responses. Some commenters believe he’s dead, while others have speculated that he chose to renounce his previous life and is still living in the mountains somewhere, alone or with some cloistered sect. Many presume that whatever happened to him, his “spiritual thing” is responsible. They’ve seen it before: Some remember Ryan Chambers, a 21-year-old Australian spiritual seeker who visited ashrams before vanishing from Rishikesh in 2005, leaving his passport, wallet, and cell phone behind in his hotel room, along with a note that read, “If I’m gone, don’t worry. I’m not dead, I’m freeing minds. But first I have to free my own.” Other pilgrims have been taken in by false gurus who lure them with sham spirituality, then drain their bank accounts and sometimes imprison them; in March, just weeks after Spollen’s disappearance, Nepalese police freed a 35-year-old Slovakian woman who’d reportedly been held captive for two months by the followers of a man claiming to be the reincarnated Buddha. Neeru Garg, the district police chief of the nearby city of Dehradun, says of his ongoing investigation into Spollen’s disappearance, “We are concentrating on the ashrams and holy men in the area.”

Stories like Spollen’s feel like Eastern versions of Into the Wild, the 1996 book about a young adventurer who died after trying to live off the land in Alaska: They’re tales of willful idealists whose romantic notions of remote lands lead them to embark on quixotic journeys. In April 2010, Spollen wrote a travel story for The National, about spending time with a peasant family in Kashmir, that supports that interpretation: “The simplest things became fascinating,” he wrote. “I found myself becoming enthralled in their lives. And strangely, I felt part of it all.” The region’s spiritual underpinnings appear to have factored into its appeal for Spollen. “He did have a strong interest in spirituality,” a college friend remarked on IndiaMike. “It doesn’t explain … why he’s been incommunicado, but it could be an indication that people are searching along the right lines.” Although Spollen’s parents have stopped commenting on his disappearance, his father told an Irish newspaper in late April that visiting India was an eye-opening experience. “I have, at times, thought I was looking at somebody completely different to the son that I knew,” he said. “To suddenly discover that there may be a whole spiritual aspect to his life that we hadn’t really touched on is astonishing.”

Of course, Spollen is not here to describe the role that devotion played in his disappearance. But he fits the profile of the fervent young enthusiast of yoga, meditation, and Eastern thought who becomes lost—or worse—on a journey of spiritual self-discovery.

Link: What I Will (and Won't) Miss About Living in Moscow

On September 24, 2012, I will leave Moscow after three years of living here, a few weeks shy of the day, thirty years ago, that I was born here. In between, I managed to have half a childhood here, a whole life in America, and a fellowship that brought me to Moscow, on September 12, 2009, for nine months. Instead, I stayed for three years. I never expected to stay that long, and I never expected that these years would make me a real, live journalist. (Medicine was always the completely unrealistic back-up plan.) I never expected to interview the kinds of people I did, I never expected to be able to speak real, educated adult Russian well enough to go on local television, I never expected to see the kinds of things I did, I never expected to write this much, and I certainly never expected that it would be so hard to leave. I never expected to fall in love.

After a fourteen-hour journey via Zurich, I will land at Dulles International Airport, and I will begin my life in Washington, D.C. I will get a new beat and new colleagues. I will make new friends. Perhaps I will come back to Moscow for the occasional story, but my life will be in the Chesapeake basin. And, after months of heartache, Moscow will slowly become a bright blur, fodder for dinner party conversation, or a handshake to inaugurate me into the secret society of all the other American journalists who have come through this place and come away transformed. It will become yet another factoid about me.

But folded deep into those anecdotes will be the fact that this foreign city is also my native city, a place where I feel both completely at home and completely alien, a place I’ve loved and hated for so long. Buried in there will be all the details I will forget with delight and remember with longing. And before my memory irons them out, I want to make note of them.

When I leave Moscow, I won’t miss the traffic and the pollution and the boom-town prices, but I’ll miss that a gypsy cab for $6 still gets you just about anywhere.

I’ll miss the beautifully Soviet metro stations—the stained glass, the marble, the utopian, gilt mosaics. I’ll miss the fact that you rarely have to wait more than a minute for a train. I won’t miss stepping inside at nine in the morning past a cloud of peregar, the smell of metabolized alcohol.

I won’t miss how much Russians drink, but I will miss drinking with Russians. 

I won’t miss the late-night debates in which you find yourself falling down an epistemological black hole. Down there, nothing is provable and nothing is knowable, except for your sparring partner’s increasingly bizarre pronouncements. In Moscow, I have debated the following topics: whether or not the archived kill-lists with Stalin’s signature are forgeries; the allegation that I am naïve for thinking that American traffic cops generally don’t take bribes; that I am a C.I.A. spy; and the reason America is a more successful country than Somalia (hint: it wasn’t founded by black people). I’ve also been asked to prove how smoking causes lung cancer. 

I won’t miss the casual racism and the relax-I-was-just-joking anti-Semitism. I will miss the fact that just about everyone can do a killer Georgian accent and knows a truly wonderful Jewish joke.

I will also miss the fact that, with the anti-Kremlin protests of the last few months, there is still a place in the world where you can debate the things the West has long ago stopped talking about and long ago started taking for granted; that, here, you have conversations full of big words and basic concepts like “freedom” and whether government officials can have fully private lives.

I won’t miss the fact that abstraction can get boring. 

I won’t miss the casual misogyny, but I will miss the fact that it makes for excellent copy, as it did when Bolshoi prima Anastasia Volochkova quit the ruling United Russia party and the partyresponded as follows: “Women, like children, are susceptible to changes in mood. In this sense, Anastasia Volochkova is a real woman.” (As one American friend here once noted, “It’s like ‘Mad Men,’ but with worse clothes.”)

I won’t miss living in a city where virtually everyone is white and wearing an Orthodox Christian cross, where the only places of worship you see are the onion domes of Orthodox churches, and where the Church and the state are in such close cooperation. The medieval beauty of the architecture wears thin when there’s nothing to contrast it to, and when you know of the abuses happening under its aegis. A monopoly is a monopoly is a monopoly.

I won’t miss the fact that Jewish culture and Jewish people have largely disappeared from this city, and that another monopoly—Chabad—has become the only way to be Jewish here.

I will miss the fact that, when you go to someone’s birthday party, you have to bring them a gift or flowers. It gets expensive, but the moment when you hand it over is so nice. And when it’s your birthday, you may have to pay for the food and the booze, but you can barely get the flowers home, to say nothing of the gifts.

I won’t miss the fact that there is no trust in the Russian system: not in institutions, not in people. I will miss the strength of the bonds it breeds when you find that trust.

I will miss the fact that Russians are not afraid of what we in America nervously call “the L-word,” or the messes it can get you into.


The Other Siberian Railroad
“For me, a young girl in Belarus, listening to the late-night radio broadcasts of them building this rail line in the Siberian frontier had a romance that made me want to be part of it,” said my newest train friend, Mila Kozlova, 57, as we rocked back and forth in our coupe across the Siberian wilderness. She gazed contentedly at the ocean of birch trees rolling by our window, and pulled out two jars of home-pickled vegetables from her canvas bag, adding them to the smorgasbord crowding the windowsill table. A day into our trip on the Baikal-Amur Mainline railroad — Russians call it BAM — had become a 2,500-mile all-you-can-eat buffet.
For the last three hours, we hadn’t seen a single road, village or human in this forest wilderness. Looking out, I couldn’t imagine another place in the world that could be more pristine, and devoid of human habitation, all within sight of a transcontinental rail line. Occasionally the rail bed lifted us above the trees where we could see snow-topped mountains gleaming above the green horizon. Mila was right; there was an undeniable romance riding through Siberia’s vast wilds on this implausible, impractical, yet epically scenic railroad.
When most people consider crossing Siberia by rail, they think of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the 5,000-mile-long rail line stretching from Moscow to the Pacific, which was finished in 1916. But two-thirds of the way through the continent from Moscow, the Trans-Siberian sprouts an artery — the BAM — that inexplicably darts north through a blank spot on the map with few towns or even paved roads, a mysterious and enormous railroad loop through nowhere.
Begun under Joseph Stalin as a northern alternative to the Trans-Siberian, the BAM was finished only in 1991 though it’s still being tinkered with to meet growing Asian demand for Siberian lumber, gas and oil. “Stalin built BAM because he thought the Chinese might zip across their border and seize the Trans-Siberian, and that didn’t happen,” Mila said. “Brezhnev built more of BAM to make a pioneer utopia, and that never happened. Now,” she said, shrugging in her bulky homemade sweater, “who knows what will happen other than a beautiful trip?”
For years I had been planning to cross Russia on the Trans-Siberian with my travel mate, Yulia Dultsina, a Russian now living in New York. But then we stumbled upon florid descriptions of the BAM in old Soviet Life propaganda magazines and were intrigued. Tracing the rail line though these enormous blank spots grabbed us — here was an alternative to the tired old itineraries on the tourist-clogged Trans-Siberian.

The Other Siberian Railroad

“For me, a young girl in Belarus, listening to the late-night radio broadcasts of them building this rail line in the Siberian frontier had a romance that made me want to be part of it,” said my newest train friend, Mila Kozlova, 57, as we rocked back and forth in our coupe across the Siberian wilderness. She gazed contentedly at the ocean of birch trees rolling by our window, and pulled out two jars of home-pickled vegetables from her canvas bag, adding them to the smorgasbord crowding the windowsill table. A day into our trip on the Baikal-Amur Mainline railroad — Russians call it BAM — had become a 2,500-mile all-you-can-eat buffet.

For the last three hours, we hadn’t seen a single road, village or human in this forest wilderness. Looking out, I couldn’t imagine another place in the world that could be more pristine, and devoid of human habitation, all within sight of a transcontinental rail line. Occasionally the rail bed lifted us above the trees where we could see snow-topped mountains gleaming above the green horizon. Mila was right; there was an undeniable romance riding through Siberia’s vast wilds on this implausible, impractical, yet epically scenic railroad.

When most people consider crossing Siberia by rail, they think of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the 5,000-mile-long rail line stretching from Moscow to the Pacific, which was finished in 1916. But two-thirds of the way through the continent from Moscow, the Trans-Siberian sprouts an artery — the BAM — that inexplicably darts north through a blank spot on the map with few towns or even paved roads, a mysterious and enormous railroad loop through nowhere.

Begun under Joseph Stalin as a northern alternative to the Trans-Siberian, the BAM was finished only in 1991 though it’s still being tinkered with to meet growing Asian demand for Siberian lumber, gas and oil. “Stalin built BAM because he thought the Chinese might zip across their border and seize the Trans-Siberian, and that didn’t happen,” Mila said. “Brezhnev built more of BAM to make a pioneer utopia, and that never happened. Now,” she said, shrugging in her bulky homemade sweater, “who knows what will happen other than a beautiful trip?”

For years I had been planning to cross Russia on the Trans-Siberian with my travel mate, Yulia Dultsina, a Russian now living in New York. But then we stumbled upon florid descriptions of the BAM in old Soviet Life propaganda magazines and were intrigued. Tracing the rail line though these enormous blank spots grabbed us — here was an alternative to the tired old itineraries on the tourist-clogged Trans-Siberian.

Driving is a spectacular form of amnesia. Everything is to be discovered, everything to be obliterated. Admittedly, there is the primal shock of the deserts and the dazzle of California, but when this is gone, the secondary brilliance of the journey begins, that of the excessive, pitiless distance, the infinity of anonymous faces and distances, or of certain miraculous geological formations, which ultimately testify to no human will, while keeping intact an image of upheaval. This form of travel admits of no exceptions: when it runs up against a known face, a familiar landscape, or some decipherable message, the spell is broken: the amnesic, ascetic, asymptotic charm of disappearance succumbs to affect and worldly semiology.
— Jean Baudrillard, America


Hong Kong: In China’s Shadow
Fifteen years after the handover to mainland China, Hong Kong residents worry that their identity—and their freedoms—are slipping away.
At the edge of the South China Sea, the metropolis of Hong Kong flickers and glows, its iconic skyscrapers like molten columns, the bay reflecting all the cool blues and fuchsias of the city’s desire. With little available flatland and the most skyscrapers in the world, Hong Kong is so dense with buildings, up to a hundred stories high, that they rise from the mountainsides as if full of helium. Hong Kong is a floating city: It floats between worlds, on fluctuating currency exchange rates and IPOs, real estate speculation, and the yuan of Chinese mainlanders, who come in droves on a wave of new wealth. It floats over the sedimentary layers of its past: the ancient fishing village, pirate haunt, former British colony. Now a Chinese special administrative region, it is being remade yet again under diamond pressure. And increasingly this city of over seven million inhabitants floats on a growing sense of unease, a discomfort that stands in direct opposition to the heady, auspicious days when Hong Kong was one of Asia’s great business capitals.
What has cast the Hong Kong of once giddy acquisitive desire into a deep paranoia, of course, is the new China, the second largest economy in the world, which has become the shadow, the inference, the chimera, and the overlord in every conversation here. Mistrusted at every turn. Looked down upon—and up at in awe. You can feel the vapors of this unease everywhere in the city, like the mist that rises from the harbor or from steaming streets at dawn, a mix of confusion and fear and the sharpening premonition of erasure.
“If you want to see capitalism in action, go to Hong Kong,” economist Milton Friedman is credited with saying. Yet to idealize the city today as a free market paradise, thriving in its 15th year after the British handover to China, is to sorely oversimplify, if not misconstrue, the darkening forces at work here. It’s to miss the tensions and tectonic shifts beneath the glitzy financial center that Hong Kong shows to the world. In the city underneath, one finds asylum seekers and prostitutes; gangsters with their incongruent bouffants; thousands of Indonesian housemaids who flock to Victoria Park on their precious Sundays off; and those barely scratching out an existence, people crammed into partitioned apartment blocks of “cage houses” the size of refrigerator boxes. While Hong Kong’s per capita gross domestic product ranks tenth in the world, its Gini coefficient, an index that measures the gap between rich and poor, is also among the highest.

Hong Kong: In China’s Shadow

Fifteen years after the handover to mainland China, Hong Kong residents worry that their identity—and their freedoms—are slipping away.

At the edge of the South China Sea, the metropolis of Hong Kong flickers and glows, its iconic skyscrapers like molten columns, the bay reflecting all the cool blues and fuchsias of the city’s desire. With little available flatland and the most skyscrapers in the world, Hong Kong is so dense with buildings, up to a hundred stories high, that they rise from the mountainsides as if full of helium. Hong Kong is a floating city: It floats between worlds, on fluctuating currency exchange rates and IPOs, real estate speculation, and the yuan of Chinese mainlanders, who come in droves on a wave of new wealth. It floats over the sedimentary layers of its past: the ancient fishing village, pirate haunt, former British colony. Now a Chinese special administrative region, it is being remade yet again under diamond pressure. And increasingly this city of over seven million inhabitants floats on a growing sense of unease, a discomfort that stands in direct opposition to the heady, auspicious days when Hong Kong was one of Asia’s great business capitals.

What has cast the Hong Kong of once giddy acquisitive desire into a deep paranoia, of course, is the new China, the second largest economy in the world, which has become the shadow, the inference, the chimera, and the overlord in every conversation here. Mistrusted at every turn. Looked down upon—and up at in awe. You can feel the vapors of this unease everywhere in the city, like the mist that rises from the harbor or from steaming streets at dawn, a mix of confusion and fear and the sharpening premonition of erasure.

“If you want to see capitalism in action, go to Hong Kong,” economist Milton Friedman is credited with saying. Yet to idealize the city today as a free market paradise, thriving in its 15th year after the British handover to China, is to sorely oversimplify, if not misconstrue, the darkening forces at work here. It’s to miss the tensions and tectonic shifts beneath the glitzy financial center that Hong Kong shows to the world. In the city underneath, one finds asylum seekers and prostitutes; gangsters with their incongruent bouffants; thousands of Indonesian housemaids who flock to Victoria Park on their precious Sundays off; and those barely scratching out an existence, people crammed into partitioned apartment blocks of “cage houses” the size of refrigerator boxes. While Hong Kong’s per capita gross domestic product ranks tenth in the world, its Gini coefficient, an index that measures the gap between rich and poor, is also among the highest.

Link: Paris Syndrome

Paris syndrome (French: Syndrome de Paris, Japanese: パリ症候群, Pari shōkōgun) is a transient psychological disorder encountered by certain individuals, in most cases from Japan, visiting or vacationing in Paris, France. It is similar in nature to Jerusalem syndrome and Stendhal syndrome.

Japanese visitors are observed to be especially susceptible. It was first noted in Nervure, the French journal of psychiatry in 2004. From the estimated six million yearly visitors, the number of reported cases is not significant: according to an administrator at the Japanese embassy in France, around twenty Japanese tourists a year are affected by the syndrome. The susceptibility of Japanese people may be linked to the popularity of Paris in Japanese culture, notably the idealized image of Paris prevalent in Japanese advertising.

Mario Renoux, the president of the Franco-Japanese Medical Association, states in Libération’s article “Des Japonais entre mal du pays et mal de Paris” (December 13, 2004) that Japanese magazines are primarily responsible for creating this syndrome. Renoux indicates that Japanese media, magazines in particular, often depict Paris as a place where most people on the street look like stick-thin models and most women dress in high-fashion brands.

Paris Syndrome is characterized by a number of psychiatric symptoms such as acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution (perceptions of being a victim of prejudice, aggression, or hostility from others), derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, and others.[5]

The authors of the journal cite the following matters as factors that combine to induce the phenomenon:

  1. Language barrier - few Japanese speak French and vice versa. This is believed to be the principal cause and is thought to engender the remainder. Apart from the obvious differences between French and Japanese, many everyday phrases and idioms are shorn of meaning and substance when translated, adding to the confusion of some who have not previously encountered such.
  2. Cultural difference - the large difference between not only the languages but the manner. The French can communicate on an informal level in comparison to the rigidly formal Japanese culture, which proves too great a difficulty for some Japanese visitors. It is thought that it is the rapid and frequent fluctuations in mood, tense and attitude, especially in the delivery of humour, which cause the most difficulty.
  3. Idealised image of Paris - it is also speculated as manifesting from an individual’s inability to reconcile a disparity between the Japanese popular image and the reality of Paris.
  4. Exhaustion - finally, it is thought that the over-booking of one’s time and energy, whether on a business trip or on holiday, in attempting to cram too much into every moment of a stay in Paris, along with the effects of jet lag, all contribute to the psychological destabilization of some visitors.
National Geographic Traveler Magazine: 2012 Photo Contest: The 24th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest is in full swing. The entry deadline has been extended until July 11. The four categories include: Travel Portraits; Outdoor Scenes; Sense of Place and Spontaneous Moments. Last year’s contest drew nearly 13,000 images from all over the world. The pictures are as diverse as their authors, capturing an assortment of people, places and wildlife - everything that makes traveling so memorable, evoking a sense of delight and discovery. The following post includes a small sampling of the entrant’s work, taken from the editor’s picks in each of the categories. (The captions are written by the entrants, some slightly corrected for readability.) And for fun, take a look back at the winners from 2011 at National Geographic Traveler. — Paula Nelson (54 photos total)

London hand-drawn map by Jenni Sparks

London by Hand is a hand-drawn map of London, created by British artist Jenni Sparks for London-based art print producers Evermade. Based on a geographic map of the London metro system, the print replicates the streets, neighborhoods, and landmarks of the city, as well as highlighting lesser-known, quirkier shops, museums, and tidbits of local history. The birthplaces of british celebrities and locations of local markets are among the information depicted in hand-drawn letters and sketches. Jenni Sparks worked for two months to complete the map, which is sold here on the Evermade shop.