November 2016 has seen me in Cape Town, Virginia, Seattle, Colorado, Pohnpei, Guam, and Beijing. I have hundreds of photos to go through and those should appear shortly.
But I write some thoughts about Beijing.
This was my first visit to mainland China (I’ve been to two other Chinas: Hong Kong and Taiwan), and I went in with only the expectation that it would be cold. Which it was – not horrendously cold, but coming from 28° weather in Guam, meeting 3° weather in Beijing was a bit of a shock to the system. I was prepared with a winter coat, hat, and long underwear.
I spent Friday and Saturday in a tourist bubble, being guided by Joe of Beijing Walking on two private tours. Let me just say, before I forget, I unreservedly recommend Joe as a tour guide. He’s personable, worldly, and has a sense of humor that works with mine. It never felt awkward, it felt more like long walks with a good friend.
Friday was Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and other assorted tourist attractions, including an acrobatic show. Saturday was a trip to two un-touristic bits of the Great Wall. The trip out of the city was a blessing: Saturday the pollution in Beijing was incredibly thick: I could barely see across the street out my hotel window and I was coughing continuously (which I’ll attribute 75% to the pollution and 25% to the fact that I’m getting over a cold from earlier in the month).
To me, China needs to do two main things in order to become what I would think of as a solid first world country.
First, China must deliver safe, clean, drinking water from the taps. If South Africa can deliver safe, clean, drinking water from taps in townships, then China can do it in Beijing. Even America gets this right (I suppose with a very visible exception in Flint, Michigan, which only serves to prove the rule).
Second, China must clean its air. Some pollution is inevitable – I get that – but China need not replicate America at its worst moments in development. It can make a leap over the stages during which people wear masks in order to filter the air while walking down the street.
These are, to me, the two basic things that China needs to get right in order to become a solid first world country.
There are a lot of other things China needs to achieve: improving driving behavior would be at the top of my secondary list. Traffic in Beijing is worse than traffic in Honolulu.
I started October in Stockholm, exploring an incredibly beautiful city.
My hotel was near T-Östermalmstorg, a vibrant part of the city. I’d planned to spend Saturday morning taking a free walking tour of the city, but the tour group was excessively large and there was only one tour guide, so I skipped out and found myself on Långholmen, a nice little island.
On Långholmen I wandered around somewhat randomly and found myself climbing one of the hills – and when I got to the top, I surveyed the scene and thought to myself that an object in the distance looked like a chair – and when I got closer, it was. What a fantastic feature.
Stockholm also amused me – near my hotel was a taco-truck – well, at least a restaurant using a neon taco-truck logo. In light of the presidential race in America, I should have had a taco, but I was never near my hotel when it was time to eat.
After Stockholm, I stopped by Leipzig.
Leipzig is my favorite city in Germany. Or at least after it is after Berlin. It’s hard to explain exactly why – but it boils down to the fact that it’s a compact, walkable, fun city. The fact that I have multiple friends living there adds to it, but I liked Leipzig even back when I lived in Weimar.
The tour took just about two hours and was a bit rough in orientation. We started at Shaam, supposedly the favorite restaurant of Syrian refugees in Berlin – or at least of our tour guide and his friends. I learned a lot from the tour, but it was, at best, disjointed – there was a story to be told, but it ended up being muddled.
We even got to see one of the refugee shelters – at least the outside of it. Perhaps the first time I’ve looked at the exterior of a C&A department store and not been immediately repulsed by the contents.
For 18 years, October’s cooler weather and shorter days is a reminder that the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder is fast approaching.
It’s somewhat daunting to pause and reflect – how much I’ve changed. How much America and the world has changed. And how much has not changed at all.
I want what I write to be, in a sense, timeless. Something that somebody reading this 20 years – 100 years – from now could understand – yet I write this in a context of emotions going everywhere.
Matthew Shepard’s murder angers me. Thinking back on how I felt that October day in 1998 when I crawled into my closet on Braeside Drive in Bloomington, Indiana, is a scary. The emotions I felt that weekend, between hearing that a young man was beaten, left for dead, and his death on October 12, 1998, are still palpable in quiet moments. I never want to experience those feelings again.
At the same time, I cannot ignore the broader context around me today: when a bully is running for president of the United States of America. Each time I think that he cannot get any more outrageous and offensive, he manages to out do himself. I spent the weekend pissed off about his comments that reveal how he gets away with treating women.
So I vacillate – on the one hand, I am pissed off about Donald Trump. On the other hand I mourn Matthew Shepard. That is the context surrounding me as I write.
Strangely, I’d rather think about Matthew Shepard – Trump will be in the newspapers whenever I want to get angry.
Wow… This month is flying by, and things are, at least for now, going pretty well.
I skipped out of town last weekend – driven out of town by the prospect of being within drum earshot (and only drum earshot) of a “music” stage set up to motivate the runners of the Berlin Marathon.
My destination? Düsseldorf.
Flying with Eurowings (well, Germanwings), and a highish end city center hotel booked at a very reasonable rate, I spent less than 200€ on these two aspects of my journey.
As for what I did in Düsseldorf – I went to the Neanderthal Museum, which is basically 13 kilometers directly east of the city, and relatively easy to get to on the S-Bahn, assuming you don’t mind climbing up and down steep hills on foot.
Which I didn’t.
The museum is dedicated to Neanderthal Man – one of the first specimens was found near the museum back in 1856.
Unfortunately the museum was, at best, lackluster. I wish I could put my finger on what was wrong with it, but ultimately I don’t really feel like I learned anything, rather I got to wear a pair (well, three, given that the first two did not work) of headphones that I would plug into various jacks to listen to various bullshit.
It took me about an hour, but then I returned the headphones and wandered the outdoor part, over to the site of the cave, headphone-less. I doubt I missed much.
What I can say is that last weekend the weather in Neanderthal Valley and in Düsseldorf was spectacularly nice. Perfect, actually. I could not have picked a better weekend to make my escape.
After I got bored, I returned back up the mountain to the S-Bahn station, where I waited for the next train to town, grabbed a bowl of authentic Japanese Ramen soup (Düsseldorf is famous for having Germany’s largest concentration of Japanese citizens), and found my hotel – where I promptly passed out.
Mind you, I’d woken up at 0530 in order to catch my flight, so I think that passing out at 3:00 isn’t all that bad.
After that, I wandered along the Rhine, watching people and watching the sunset. I took a lot of very nice photos of people, the Rhineturm, and the Stadttor. I even took some lovely pictures of the Rhineturm reflected on the Stadttor. Eventually I found a place for dinner, before passing out early after having read a few pages of a book.
Sunday was, essentially, more wandering: down the Rhine, over a bridge, into a park-like area next to the Rhine, where I did some more reading, before heading back to the airport and my flight home.
The weather in Berlin right now is incredibly warm – mid September and the temperatures are in the upper 20s.
Saturday I hung out with one of my colleagues, hitting up Preußenpark and it’s weekend Thai food market. I’m not sure about the exact history of the market, but the long and short of it is that on warm spring/summer/fall weekends, it’s possible to get home cooked, authentic, Thai food in the park for a song. The dish below cost a mere 5€; a bargain.
Five dumplings: vegetarian, beef, pork, chicken, and (I believe) lamb.
In my experience, there are usually somewhere between 30-50 stands set up with a myriad of delicious options. The key is to bring a picnic blanket – when we were there yesterday, around 1pm, there were plenty of places to sit, but I’ve also seen it so crowded that finding a bit of open space is nearly impossible (as is finding your friends in the crowd).
Some of the booths at Prueßenpark — there were a lot more than just these.
After that we headed over to Tempelhofer Feld, where we had two options for fun: watching firefighters compete to be Germany’s best firefighter or watching the kite festival.
Firefighters pulling the hose up to the top of the structure.
Both were excellent fun – and I have to say that the firefighter’s competition looked incredibly intense. The men were wearing their full uniforms, complete with helmets, jackets, oxygen tanks – and the race consisted of carrying a bundled fire hose up a stairwell (roughly the third floor), then hauling up another fire hose using a rope, then running down the stairs, using a hammer to knock something (I couldn’t tell exactly what) down a track, then they had to run a slalom down to grab a live fire hose, that they then dragged down the course to a “door”, through the door, use the water to hit a target, then grab a mannequin that weighted 80kg, which they had to drag 30 meters to the finish line.
After dragging the hose down the course, they went through the metal door, turned on the water and aimed for the target.
One of the contestants was 60 years old; here he is dragging his man down the course, getting encouragement from his competitor.
Some of them did it in less than two minutes.
The 60 year old after completing the challenge — gets attention from the support team and the Red Cross.
This month, for the first time since January, I had the time to take a vacation – leaving the boundaries of Berlin, hopping into metal tubes, and escaping to Immenstadt and Kiel – opposite ends of Germany, but fulfilling personal wishes to see friends and hit the beach.
I managed to spend three days on the beaches, enjoying the sun and sand. I did take one day off to look at Kiel. Wish I could say something nice about Kiel, but it was completely flattened during World War II and them most attractive piece appears to be the botanic gardens at the university.
This coming Saturday is Christopher Street Day in Berlin (for those lacking context: Pride, with the German word for Pride being “Christopher Street Day”) – and while I’m not hugely into attending CSD events (too misanthropic ; plus I’ve never really liked being in huge crowds), I’ll probably watch some part of the parade and take some photos.
Musically, though, I’ve been listening to a bunch of new gay anthems lately. The songs tend to be driven by tragedy – Orlando, for instance.
My favorite of this group is Pulse by Eli Lieb & Brandon Skeie. It’s in heavy rotation, with me actively choosing to listen to it while working roughly twice a day.
I have also put Hands into heavy rotation – it was released just a week ago.
Melissa Etheridge’s Pulse is pretty popular, but it doesn’t have the same impact on me – but it’s worth a gander:
After the Pulse massacre, The Memory Palace put out an amazing episode about the White Horse, one of America’s oldest gay bars. This is an amazingly powerful text, told in the way that only Nate DiMeo can tell stories.
Digging a bit into the past – and other GLBT adventures, comes For the Lost and Brave, a song by Ray Toro. The song was released after Leelah Alcorn committed suicide because her religiously insane parents refused to accept her for being the woman that she was.
And then there’s the Pet Shop Boys remix of Panti Bliss’s speech regarding what it means to be oppressed. The original speech is brilliant; the remix somehow makes it even better.
Twenty-Sixteen is turning out to be a pretty hideous year on a number of fronts – it would be impossible to list all of the bad events – Orlando. Brussels. Paris. Dallas. The seemingly endless list of black people killed by the police – or just arrested due to their skin color.
The only times I’ve been a visible minority were in South Africa, Swaziland, Armenia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Samoa – for a total of somewhere around 60 to 70 days of my life. And in South Africa, Swaziland, and Samoa, I came with automatic white-privilege, enhanced by the fact that I carry a US passport.
Consequently, I can tell you the number of times that I have been stopped by the police while driving (one time, Laramie, Wyoming, no ticket received) or while walking (zero).
I do not know what it is like to be afraid of the police – at least in the western world.
(I will admit that I thought that the police in Armenia were incompetent, just based on my quick observation of how they closed the streets for their Independence Day Parade in Yerevan. And once I encountered a crowd control situation surrounding a soccer match in Germany where I thought the local police were behaving in an exceptionally non-optimal fashion.)
But the news of the past week has plunged me into memory land, specifically of my University of Wyoming class on Police Deviance taught by the former Natrona County Sheriff, Ron Ketchum. His name is glued into my head because he talked about how annoying it was to have the rank of Captain with his name. He got promoted as quickly as he could.
As an instructor, he was exceptional – he talked a lot about policing and how he had evolved over the years since becoming sheriff.
The point of the course on police deviance was to talk about the consequences of police going bad – something that is, in Wyoming, not often considered to be even remotely possible.
(I would suggest that this is a Republican failing, in many respects. There tends to be excessive respect for policing and the assumption that the police are always right. I remember sitting next to a Republican friend as she watched a video of a police force violently violate the law – and it rocked her world. This was in a completely different context and I don’t want to confuse the issue here.)
Realizing that police can be bad is probably the first and most important step.
Once you realize that police are human beings, with human weaknesses, then things become a heck of a lot easier. Because you can manage and account for behaviors.
When he was sheriff he talked about, as I recall – remember this is going back 20ish years – having paperwork to fill out if a deputy pulled their gun from their holster. Never mind if the gun was shot.
I came away from that class with a great deal of respect for policing, as a profession – when it is carried out by professionals.
But when in the hands of people with prejudices, who are poorly trained, or come to work with an agenda that isn’t to serve and to protect, then trouble lies ahead.
There’s a point to this rambling somewhere – and I guess it’s to say that policing in America needs a radical rethink. Maybe not in every police department, but certainly in a lot. Policing shouldn’t be about adversarial relationships with the people being protected, it should be about building community. It shouldn’t be about having riot gear and being afraid of the citizens – in fact, maybe having riot gear is symptomatic of the problem at hand: policing needs to be about walking the beat and getting to know people.
What happened in Baton Rouge and Minnesota is terrible. What happened in Dallas is terrible.
Saying that BlackLivesMatter is not incompatible with supporting quality policing.
It was déjà vu: For a second time in my life, I heard the edge of a breaking news story and I instantly knew that the rest of the story was going to be painful.
This time it was that there had been another mass shooting, this time at a nightclub in Orlando. That was it – that was the bit of news I heard – and yet, in the pit of my stomach, I instinctively knew that it was going to have been at a gay bar.
That feeling was the exact same feeling I had when I first heard that a student had been pistol-whipped, tied to a fence, and left for dead. The summary was pretty awful – and yet, in the pit of my stomach, I instinctively knew that the student was going to have been a gay student.
And so it is: Matthew Shepard in 1998; Orlando in 2016.
These are, of course, two events in the long, seemingly endless, history of gay bashing – there is an endless supply of horrific events that demonstrate the strange, innate, hatred that many people have of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered, questioning, and intersexed individuals. Or even of individuals perceived, rightly or not, to be of these communities.
This past week I’ve attended two events in Berlin marking Orlando – the first was a moment of silence at noon on Monday the 13th, the second being Berlin for Orlando on Saturday the 18th. Both were held in Pariserplatz, the space in front of Brandenburger Tor, in front of the US Embassy. (For those a bit unfamiliar with the space, we’re talking about the east side of Brandenbruger Tor, a space framed by the US Embassy, the French Embassy, Starbucks, and the Hotel Adlon; not the Tiergarten side.)
The display before the US Embassy in Pariserplatz.
The vibe of the two events could not have been more different: Monday was a media circus: 60% media, 20% politicians and other semi-important people, 20% people like me who were wondering if the media could be any more obnoxious and intrusive. I, and the friend I went with, left without feeling the cathartic sense that we felt was desperately needed.
Mourning with Orlando.
Saturday, on the other hand, was amazing: I have no idea how many people were attending, but according to the Facebook count, 6,100 people said that they would attend. Pariserplatz was packed – from where I was standing, there was nothing but a huge mass of people. I have no idea how many people can fit into Pariserplatz, but surely all 6,100 who said that they would come, plus another few thousand, were there.
Well before the crowd arrived, there was a lot of Pride.
The tone of Berlin for Orlando was cathartic, at least for me: some singing, Mr. Gay Florida, the US Ambassador, reading the names of the 49 victims, and candles.
Mr. Gay Flordia – who had worked at Pulse.
US Ambassador John B. Emerson speaking about Hope and Love winning.
I'm an American living in Berlin, Germany -- which makes me an expatriate, not an ex-patriot. Before landing in Germany, I've lived in Denver, Colorado; Laramie, Wyoming; Bloomington, Indiana; and Weimar, Germany. If you want to write to me, feel free! The username is elmadaeu on the gmail.com service.