So Oklahoma City, yeah. This trip has officially come full-circle. We passed through Oklahoma at the start of our trip 12 days ago but did not stop. Even though I had discovered the raw restaurant 105 Degrees via ye olde google search, time was not on our side and we’d have to waste a good deal of time to try it out. We pledged to come back on the return trip. I mean, c’mon… gourmet vegan dining in Oklahoma City?! We needed to get to the bottom of this.
As it turns out, 105 Degrees’s menu was is created by New York City’s Pure Food and Wine‘s Matthew Kenney. The space houses a living cuisine academy and boutique, another unique destination on our vegan roadtrip. Starting our day with some thrifting we worked up an appetite that grew through our attempt at finding the restaurant’s space. But it was well worth the wait and folly. I started with a first course of kimchee dumplings in a pool of sea foam and sprinkle of black sesame seeds. The dumplings were amply stuffed with a delicious kimchee medley.
My main course was their Arrabiata, a potato gnocchi in a hot chili-tomato sauce around a bed of wilted spinach and some dollops of aged raw chevre. The portion was heated (not above 105 degrees!) and the perfect portion to leave a spot for one of their yummy desserts.
That dessert, a citrus poppy seed cake with vanilla bean cream frosting topped with a blueberry compote. It was the perfect end of a very impressive meal. Here I am below with a cheek full of the cake’s delicately-texture “cake”. I couldn’t put my finger on what the base of this dessert was. I stopped trying to figure it out and quickly became a member of the clean plate club. Check CandyPenny’s blog for details on her special raw Oklahoma City meal.After lunch we headed back towards Texas. On the way we spied a billboard for The Toy and Action Figure Museum in Paul’s Valley, OK. Another exciting and interesting road find, we had to check it out. The museum was home to local artist and collector Kevin Stark’s personal collection. It exhibited over 10,000 pieces including a very extensive bat cave jam-packed with a ton of Batman artifacts. This was the most impressive and extensive exhibit. There were also showcases of DC, Marvel and WWF (WWE?) action figures, a GI Joe section and a relatively small Star Wars wall.
The museum also had a display of Alternative Baking Company‘s vegan cookies! Here the friendly museum employee poses with the cookies. Best action figure museum snack ever.
Oklahoma soon gave way to the Lone Star state. The end. I’ll have one more day in Austin before heading back home to my life, sans car. But not without a few more vegan eats inland…
A must-see in Guanajuato is its mummies. Museo de la Mumias is sure to creep and fascinate. The very popular attraction had a huge line on our first visit and so our second attempt was timed to beat the rush on the morning of our departure. Here’s the draw:
The Museo de las Momias in the little province of Guanajuato in Mexico is full of the exhumed, mummified bodies of unfortunate locals who could no longer pay their graveyard rent. Because of a unique law that is in force in this part of Mexico, graves in the local cemetery have to either be bought for an exorbitant amount or rented every five years. If the deceased’s family fails to pay the rent, the body is exhumed and disposed of to make way for new arrivals. Through some mysterious process that scientists have not been able to explain, a small proportion of the bodies from this graveyard end up naturally mummified. Rather than being destroyed by the local authorities, these bodies are put in the macabre Museo de las Momias. Here they join a vast “human library,” poised in all possible postures of death, that has been accumulating since the museum was founded in 1865. It is not only the death fetish of the Mexican imagination that has kept this museum going (there can be an eerie, almost carnivalesque atmosphere among the visitors lined up outside). The main draw is the air of supernatural mystery about the whole phenomenon. Scientists from as far away as Tokyo have analyzed the bodies trying to find an explanation, but no one has so far succeeded in understanding why five or six exhumed bodies every year have turned into mummies. Some speculate that the minerals in the soil are the cause, while others suspect divine punishment for crimes committed in life – the bodies seem condemned to a perpetually moribund half-life of paralyzed torment. Whatever the explanation, this sort of place is obviously only for those with a strong stomach, and even hard nuts may want to avoid some exhibits – such as shelves full of mummified babies. The only other known mummy-museum of this kind in the world is the Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Palermo. (source)
The odd gift shop’s gummy mummy.
Back at Hotel Occidental in Guadalajara I was lucky to catch game 5 of the World Series! After a long drive back north, it was a welcome sight. We—me and the room’s la cucarachas—all snuggled in to watch the Phillies defeat the Yankees. Satisfacción para un aficionado al Los Mets!
The Valentina exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. I’ve always found fashion to be the most trivial of the arts… but then again I’ve been wearing the same clothes and shoes for at least ten years. Had I been amongst New York’s high society in the 1940’s, I may of worn Valentina, who proclaimed “simplicity survives the changes of fashion”.
Also in the Museum of the City of New York was a thoroughly thought-provoking exhibit on the city’s PlaNYC2030. The plan, announced on Earth Day in 2007, is a comprehensive means to making New York City greener by 2030. The exhibit is well worth the trip to the museum alone and left me with a sense of hope. Included within were a few notebooks where visitors were able to share their own suggestions for a more sustainable life in the concrete jungle. There were some vegetarian and vegan shout-outs, which were great to see, as well as countless high school doodlings, tags and proclamations of B.F.F.ness, etc.
And again in the Museum of the City of New York, an exhibit of the history of toys! The museum also included a powerful exhibit on the decline and fall of the South Bronx in the early eighties, the history of New York City ports and commerce and an amazing multimedia portrait of New York tracking the growth of New York from native settlement to one of the greatest city in the world.
My marshmallow sundae with chocolate and vanilla cake batter swirl soft serve from Lula’s Sweet Apothecary. Although I’m thankful this little vegan ice cream shoppe exists, it has never really knocked my socks off. But I’m one who’s always made my own delicious ice cream concoctions… with store bought Ricemellow, Soyatoo and Sprinkelz. And these are the products Lula uses, too. Their ice creams are indeed tasty but, once one has tried the $15 classic sundae from Pure Food and Wine or the scrumdiliumptious Organic Nectar’s gelatos, you know how decadently creamy and rich a cold vegan treat can be!
Ye olde Intestine Scraper muffins! How do you eat a ½ cup of Miller’s Bran easily? You make sure its mixed in some mashed banana, Earth Balance, sugar, vanilla, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. These hearty yet fluffy muffins are the perfect mid-morning snack. Spring cleaning, yes indeed!
With winter gone, the need for a stew diminishes. But I recently scored a gorgeous vintage crock pot from a thrift store in Eastern Long Island and wanted to break it in. I never used a slow cooker before and felt a bit uneasy falling asleep while my stew cooked. I feared electrical issues and faulty wiring of my used and untested appliance may cause a fire! The good news is my apartment is intact; the bad news is my stew was a total bomb. Both aesthetically and taste-wise it was disgusting! Thanks to my watery and overly bouillon-ed broth. I couldn’t even bring myself to snap a photo of my bloated seitan strips, grey and oozing unnaturally yellow-green fluids.
Another recipe I seem to be always whipping up: chocolate chip cookies! This time for a small get-together of old friends. When I was a new vegan about 12 or 13 years ago (I hate that I don’t know the date of my veganniversary.) I used to make batches of vegan chocolate chip cookies in my parents’ kitchen. Back then there weren’t any packaged cookies that were satisfying (or easily accessible) to me. I baked big batches of cookies out of necessity. It is nice to be offering my cookies, again, to the same friends who tasted those old white flour-heavy recipes of my yesteryear.
I know I am a very critical person. To borrow from Sextrology, the sillily-named book with its eerily accurate depiction of the Libra woman, and the Make up‘s Live at the Cold Rice opener: here comes the judge. Naturally, regarding vegan eats and vegan eateries– a subject so dear to my heart– I have lofty expectations. I am happy to say that Brooklyn’s Boneshakers has consistently wow-ed me with each visit. The cafe has an amazing selection of imaginatively tasty sandwiches and vegan baked goods. Pictured here is their SAG Sandwich, faux egg and cheese (Teese, I believe) on a kaiser roll, and their rosemary, sage and vanilla cupcake! Boneshakers is vegan sandwich perfection. My only suggestion would be that they should get some tasty sides to supplement their delicious sandwiches and accept plastic. But then, if they did this, I’d take up too much room in there. You know, with my cot set up and all.
My entree was oozing with flavor! “Pacific rim” gochujang-glazed grilled tofu topped with edamame puree and seaweed shards atop Korean fried rice in a pool of miso glaze. A fabulously balanced dish that was plentiful but not too heavy.
On my side, Brussels sprouts and Tokyo turnips in a mustard cream. Perfectly cooked and spectacular.
Dessert absolutely floored me. Both Wok Man and I and fellow blogstress CandyPenny all opted for the same dessert. A saffron crème brûlée with biscotti. Yes, a vegan crème brûlée! It was heavenly- to the spoon-tap crack of its caramelized top to its soft, buoyant cream innards. This has got to be one of the most fantastic vegan desserts I ever did try!
Being in Philly most of the day, we needed lunch as well as our dinner! We followed the suggestion of the VegPA flyer-hander-outer outside Reading Terminal Market and hit Govinda’s To Go for a vegan-style Philly cheese chicken-steak.
Not to mention a cupcake or two at Gianna’s Pizza Parlor.
On the non-food front, we spent the afternoon at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site. The museum was housed in the residence Poe took in Philadelphia, writing such classics as The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher, among many others. The site’s Poe experts, particularly Joann, gave us a rich context in which to explore the three floors of his old home, including the cellar which was the influence of The Cask of Amontillado. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon! We were hardly able to leave the reading room at the end of our visit. But this had nothing to do with immurement.
Off the well worn track of my daily life here in New York is a different city. A city that the tourists come to see. 46 million tourists just in 2007 (this and other interesting figures here). Among New York City’s countless attractions and world renowned cultural institutions is the Metropolitan Museum of Art: home to over 2 million pieces of art, expansive in size and breadth, one of the largest art museums in the world and maybe the most breathtaking afternoon available between the Hudson and East rivers.
And! the amazing Arts Initiative at Columbia University picks up the tab for all its students’ admission fees to the Met (and about 30 other area museums). Glad the hefty tuition I pay is rewarding me immediately with a cushion of inspiration, art and a new outlook of my homecity.
Marciana, Sister of the emperor Trajan
Ugolino and His Sons
“The story of the Pisan traitor Ugolino della Gherardesca, imprisoned with his sons and condemned to starvation, was told by Dante in the INferno (canto 23). Carpeaux (the artist) shows the anguished father resisting his sons’ offer to their own bodies for his sustenance.”
The Demidoff Table by Lorenzo Bartolini
“The subject is a complex, cosmological allegory best described in the sculptor’s own words: ‘Stretched out upon the plan of the world is Cupid, God of generation, sustaining and watching over the symbolic genius of dissolute wealth without virtue, who snores in his sleep,…dreaming of past diversions in pleasure. Left to himself, the Genius of ambition rectitude in work sleeps the agitated sleep of misfortune and glory,…his head extending beyond the periphery of the world.'”
This weekend marked Wok Man’s 1-year anniversary here in New York City. In light of the milestone, the events planner within grabbed the reigns for a fitting commemoration: A New York City Staycation.
The celebration began with a New York food staple: the bagel. Although many states and locales attempt to imitate it, a New York style bagel does not exist outside the NYC metropolitan area, save for areas dense with NYC-expats, like the tri-state suburbs and other affluent U.S. cities. A true new york bagel is hearty: thick-skinned with a doughy inside (like this New Yorker) and gives you at least 4-5 servings of carbs. Eek. But today, unlike most of my days, this amount of energy intake is justified!
The last time I was at the Statue of Liberty I was 15 and my 22 year-old boyfriend was able to purchase me a child ticket for the ferry. Since then the “child” age has been pushed down, I’ve realized how skeevy that relationship was and the major landmark installed airport-like security. I see Miss Liberty often through my daily travels but rarely acknowledge her. But now, up close, she is captivating.The Lady lurks within the trees.Making a friend on Liberty Island.Finding ancestors at Ellis Island Immigration Museum. If you’re in downtown Manhattan with limited funds and a hearty appetite, a visit to Little Lad’s lunch buffet is in order. Escape the bustle of Wall Street in this cavern of vegan value and dine with an interesting cross-section of strangers.
You also need to pick up a “need-um”. This time I tried the orange flavored which was scrumptious and sloppy, like a kiss.
Grand Central Station is the largest train station in the world (in terms of platform capacity says Wiki) and one of the most busiest and bustling square footage in New York, second to the kitchen of my childhood home, also often referred to as Grand Central Station by my father. I rarely find myself under the stars in the terminal’s main concourse, reflecting “God’s view of the sky” (e.g. backward constellations), so when I am there I marvel upward like an out-of-towner. For Wok Man’s special day, I read a passage on the secrets of the terminal, including the underground elevator F.D.R., President of the United States and my leading historical crush, utilized for an easy entrance into the fancy-schmancy Waldorf Astoria. The grand train station’s Whispering Gallery is also a hot spot. Here you and your loved one can whisper sweet nothings to each other’s ears from across the room and be perfectly audible.Espying the crowds from on top of the stairs of the main concourse makes for the best people-watching in the city. Many staircases and hallways pool people into the flood of motion. Practice your inference and observation skills while being thoroughly entertained by the beautiful subtleties of your fellow man. The exterior sculpture is also worthy of craning your neck. It depicts Mercury (Roman God of commerce) rising above the lounging Hercules and Minerva (Roman version of Athena). For more spectacular images of Grand Central, look here.
Speaking of Ancient Greeks, we happened upon a protest against the Beijing Olympics and a call to free Tibet. On the eve of the global day of protests scheduled to coincide with the first day of the games, the mostly Asian American crowd overtook the streets of Midtown East, where a more baffled rather than supportive group of on-lookers stood confused.After a brief storm, we headed out on a 3-hour sightseeing cruise circulating the entire isle of Manhattan. It is hard to believe so much is packed onto this tiny island, measuring only about 13 miles long and less than 3 miles wide. The tour took us down the Hudson and up the East rivers, passing those ridiculous Waterfalls. What is the point?, many ask. The answer from the artist’s statement:
“My point is not to reinitiate the discussion of nature versus culture or the natural versus the artificial, but both to open up the possibility of a nature-based experience within an urban setting and allow us to reconsider our experiences of nature.”
Oh. Much like the orange shower curtains in Central Park, grand scale art installations like this leave a bad taste in my mouth.
A rainbow on the river.
After the long cruise, a dinner at Manhattan’s only Zen Palate was well earned. Not to be confused with the restaurant on 9th avenue, turning the corner at 46th street brings you to the upscale Zen with the completely different menu, more enthusiastic service and the higher prices. Pictured below is Banana Bliss, a delicious dessert of pudding, banana and whipped cream in a graham cracker crust.
As we arrived at the Empire State building, there were countless news crew vans in action. Apparently an elevator heading up to the observation deck had been stuck for an hour with passengers trapped inside. Nothing stopped our determination to see the city from 86 stories up. The light show is impressive and worth the hefty fee. Given the constant lines of tourists, viewings continue until 2:00 a.m. daily.
With day-one of the NYC staycation over, the following day continued with a less is more approach: renting a tandem bike and peddling along the Hudson River Greenway. We biked from midtown to the George Washington Bridge in no time, enjoying the crisp, sunny waterfront, lazily docked boats and plush greenery of the parks alongside the Henry Hudson Parkway, all with the oohs, aahs and pointing fingers of children amazed by our double-bike. It was the best time I’ve had in my city, my home and travel destination for the weekend.
In the end, exhausted, we ended up at Curly’s Vegetarian Lunch. Pictured here, our portraits of each other on the place mats. What a trip!
Wanting to make the most of a day here in Kanchanaburi (or getting lazy?), I booked a leisure day tour to hit a variety of sights in the area. My air-conditioned mini-van brought me to Sai Yok National Park, a 500 square-km park that includes the Sai Yok Noi waterfall (60 kms outside of Kanchanaburi) and the Hin Dat Hot Springs (60 km more past the waterfall), lunch, the Hellfire Pass site and memorial museum and the Krasae Cave & wooden viaduct to catch a train along the Death Railway. The tour concluded at the Bridge of the River Kwai.
The Sai Yok Noi waterfall was a gratuitous tour stop. The falls are very much no competition for Kanchanaburi’s immensely popular 7-tiered Erawan waterfall (tomorrow’s stop as I return to independent travel). Too shallow for adult swim, the falls were flooded with Thai children. Lacking a nature path to explore, the falls were a quick photo stop. But also, like all of the day’s stops, funding the local vendors is a key part of the itinerary. I etched my initials in a bamboo tree because I am that bad ass.
The Konyu cutting, aka Hellfire Pass, is a 4 km span of construction of the Death Railway. Where a mountain once stood whole, force laborers under Japanese control chipped away under fierce conditions. Nicknamed Hellfire Pass because of the flickering shadows upon the mountain walls of the laborers’ emaciated bodies working against the evening campfire, the eerie names of both the railway and the pass gained new meaning with a visit to the site and memorial museum. Below is the actual pass, now a 4 km trail (although construction is underway for a more extensive memorial next to it). Looking at the walls of the mountain, a drill head still embedded within one the rock, was unsettling.
The Australian curators of the museum have put together a thorough display of lives of P.O.W.s and romusha forced to actualize the Japanese scheme. Romusha refers to the Southeast Asians recruited as laborers as the construction of the railway from Thailand to Burma could not be accomplished solely with the P.O.W.s. The project was a huge undertaking. The Japanese promised these men a good wage and safe working conditions but they were underfed, beaten and subject to diseases like cholera and dysentery from unsanitary living conditions.
The 60,000 P.O.W.s, mostly from Britain and Australia (but also Dutch, Indonesian and American, as well), were transported to either Thailand or Burma. In tiny steel rice trucks bound for Thailand from Singapore, P.O.W.s endured a harrowing five day journey. For those to be working in Burma, a train to a boat without food or sanitary conditions. Once they arrived they were to set up camp and begin their work immediately.
One of my favorite panels I read in the museum was the one that detailed the discrete sabotage the workers employed as they were in the horrific disposition of aiding their enemy in the construction of the railway. Risking death, these subtle acts of courage were tremendous. White ant and termite nests were placed in wood piles to lessen the life of the wood. Stronger timber was substituted with a weaker Kapok tree’s wood. Those responsible for pile driving holes randomly did so in loose earth so as to weaken the infrastructure. A local merchant from Kanchanaburi also helped the workers’ plight by smuggling supplies to the famished men.
The museum contained a quick timeline that summed up the WWII with invasions and pivotal Allied defeats. Looking at the sequence of invasions is truly scary. This was not so long ago. As veterans who served in WWII begin to pass away it is important to remember. If you’re interested, Wiki has a extensive timeline that is only slightly daunting.
After the museum, the tour group was nice and quiet and shaken. We headed to lunch at a local restaurant and had the opportunity to feed ginormaus big-lipped fish in the pond. This made us all feel silly and giddy.
Next on the tour itinerary was the Hin Dat hot springs. I looked forward to the hot springs for many reasons, foremost being the condition of my skin. The sunburn I sustained at Hat Karon, Phuket has since blistered and is 80% peeled. But because of my daily travelings with a backpack, many blisters, the body’s natural and perfect dressing, were torn prematurely. To say my skin is irritated is an understatement.. As my arms and legs are healing they are trapped under long sleeves and long pants, as they’re close to unsightly. But the moisture (read: sweat) produced from this climate irritates my wounds further. Summary, my skin is a sherbet swirl of red, brown and, hmmm, cream. I bought this tine of prickly heat which I am hoping has a who-told-you-to-put-the-balm-on effect. Anyway, I also thought that this hot spring would help my skin. Hair of the dog that bit me: hot, hot, hot. (Too Much Information)
The hot springs consisted of 2 springs, both with water temperature between 95 and 104 degrees F. I’d never been to a natural hot spring but had a vary clear image of what I hoped it’d be like. A tranquil, serene opportunity to bathe within the forest in a mineral-rich natural spring of immense heat. Silly me, I expected privacy, cleanliness and a lack of services. Wrong. Wrong. And Wrong. I eventually faced the music and joined the crowd. The result was invigorating and a good therapy for my sorry limbs.
Lastly (I won’t event mention the cave.) was the ride on the death railway route. Silly tourist fodder. The train went 4 stops and was filled with tourists taking pictures out the window. Of what? Who knows. For some extra baht one could have rode the train to the Bridge (over the River Kwai) but the rest of us were then dropped off at the shops, I mean, the Bridge.
Last night I awoke to the pounding of the tin roofs around my guesthouse. Startled and helpless,I thought the worst. Transient looters? Back-alley bandits preying on the seclusion of my rented room? Drunken tourists? Emerging in the morning, the noisy culprit was clear. Mangoes. They were all over the place at Sam’s River Rafthouse. Arriving in the evening I saw nothing of the grounds but the many scurrying frogs and lizards navigating the terrain. In the morning I see I am right on the river: the River Kwai.
My location: Kanchanaburi, home to the Bridge of the River Kwai or Death Railway Bridge. During World War II the Japanese pushed construction of the original bridge from a predicted 5 years to 16 months in hopes to transport weapons into Burma, resulting in the death of their forced laborers: 16,000 Allied P.O.W.s and 96,000 local Asians. The British destroyed the bridge 3 years later in air raids. The new bridge that was built in its place is the central draw of this town and the many WWII memorials and museums within it. My first historical stop here was to the Art Gallery & World War II Museum on the way to the bridge.
The museum was an odd place with a random collection of goodies: stamp collections and dead animals once used as forms of currency housed within an ornate 3-tiered building covered in Buddhist murals.
The small amount of WWII artifacts were housed in a bamboo hut facing the river. Rusted and aged pieces of the destroyed bridge, weapons and warheads peered poignantly out of glass cases. War, in my experiences, has always been through glass: display cases and television screens. Seeing these pieces of history, the laminated stories of the families of those who died during the construction of the bridge brings me to a somber and reflective place.
In the front of the museum, one of the actual trains that road to Burma along with the Japanese intentions of stocking their military camps there. The museum’s only other inhabitant, a young Japanese man, snapped my picture on it. During our brief interaction, I couldn’t help but think of the timing that brought us both there at the same moment, straggly and unlikely representatives of our respective countries, the enemies we once were and tacit acknowledgement of both.
With the bridge only a few minutes away, I thought I’d join the masses I saw taking a closer look. The usual vendors and motorbike taxi herds lined the perimeter of its entrance. With a train secure in River Kwai station, visitors were safe to walk the length of the tracks on the bridge and they did so en mass, with their stationed AC mini-buses waiting strategically after the many shops. The visitors were mostly Asian at this hour.
There was something about watching families and friends excitedly smiling brightly for their snapshots on the bridge’s tracks that was unsettling. I pictured backdrops slideshowing behind them: the Grand Canyon, Egyptian Pyramids, etc. Their same joyous expressions remaining.
On the way back to my guesthouse, I spotted another small memorial. It was erected by the Japanese army in 1944 to honor those who had died constructing the bridge. Volunteers from Japan gather at the memorial annually to pay homage to the victims and hope for a peaceful future.
Mid-day I found private transportation to Wat Luangta/Mahabua Foundation, or Tiger Temple, a wild animal rescue center housed on a Buddhist monastery. The grounds hosted a wide selection of animals roaming free: wild boars/brogs, peafowl (peacocks and peahens!), deer, roosters, water buffalo, cows are the ones I spotted. My favorite were the boars. Such strange animals.
But, like the name suggests, tigers are the temple’s claim to fame, the offspring of the 8 original tigers adopted by the temple in 1999. The tigers were all raised by the resident monks so they are mostly tame (although still chained just in case… like the waiver I had to sign… just in case) and used to be touched by humans. The first tiger to arrive at the monastery had a wonderful tale of survival. Her mother killed by poachers, she was sold to a rich Bangkokian who hired a taxidermist to kill and stuff her. The cub miraculously survive the lethal injection. The cub arrived at the temple in terrible health, barely able to eat. A compassionate monk raised her and subsequently established the rescue sanctuary within the forest monastery. The temple asks us doting tourists for 300 baht admission fee as they are in the process of constructing a new home for the tigers but lack funds. Included in this fee are the numerous photo ops with the sleepy tigers, only offered to afternoon visitors as this is their nap time and the most controlled opportunity for the interaction. The process was very automated and involved being dragged by the hand to each tiger while staff snapped pictures. The experience was over very quickly. Reality only setting in at the last tiger, the biggest, whose huge tail whapped my on the leg as he stirred in his sleep. Thump!
Saying goodbye to Sukhothai, I traveled East just about an hour to Phitsanulok. I planned just a quick day trip and boarded a bus further East after my sightseeing was through. Michael, the German cycler, and the woman who ran the guest house in Sukhothai both gave high praises to the popular pilgrimage site located within town, Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, home of the world’s most commonly reproduced Buddha image. This was my first stop. The grounds, which include the famous temple, educational buildings, a market, monks’ quarters and a museum, were in a flurry with Thai tourists (and zero farang). The temple is one of the largest in Thailand in the sense that it receives the largest total of annual donations. This is, no doubt, helped by the many ATMs located in the grounds. I didn’t stay here very long. I didn’t want to intrude upon what is a very sacred visit for Buddhists. I snapped a few pictures, turned a few heads, averted a few monks’ eyes and headed out to find some lunch.
Phitsanulok was bustling yet I managed to make my way about the city easily by foot, finding two vegetarian eateries within 20 minutes of each other. So, before arriving at my second destination, Sergeant Major Thawee Folk Museum, I had had two lunches and was ready to make my way through the museum’s grounds slowly. The museum was a wonderful stop. Much like the amazing Museum of Appalachia in Tennessee I visited earlier in the year, it is the result of an obsessively passionate quest to preserve regional folk life and sustain a cultural heritage that is slowly diminishing. The similarity of both projects is uncanny. Sergeant Major Thawee, the museum’s Director, has recreated daily life for early tribes people of the region through several teak houses. The exhibits were extensive: children’s toys, musical instruments, details of wedding and birthing rituals, early farming tools and procedures, currency, pottery, even cigarettes. Such an interesting trip into the area’s history. The museum also has an gift shop with adorable handmade crafts.
Folk cow bell.
Scary monkey toys.
Baby loin cloths.
Relaxing massage tool.
Thai Sailor Jerry.
And, in case you need to know, this is how to castrate cattle ye olde way. (Click to enlarge/cringe.)
South of the Border. I have long seen these bumper stickers growing up in suburban New York. Being a fan of nonsensical roadside attractions, I had to appease my curiosity and make the swerving merge from the left lane to exit. The time of our visit was perfect: dusk in late January. The place was almost completely vacant. And so the fiber glass zoo of creatures was at our total disposal. Posing for pictures atop large mushrooms, in the arms on tall gorillas and oversized cultural stereotypes, the stop was well worth it. As a side note, the South of the Border billboards received a makeover a few years back as they were beginning to be perceived as insensitive to Mexican culture and non-native English speakers.
Driving off the continent and into the Florida Keys was a bit unnerving. Finding suddenly white-sanded shorelines, a large pelican population sitting pretty roadside and lengthy seven mile bridges… it plays with your equilibrium. The weather didn’t permit swimming unfortunately, never getting above about 70 degrees and being extremely breezy. Either way, there are no public beaches on any of the Keys (!) until the very end, Key West. It was a beautiful drive but the Keys were more geared to fisherpeople and scuba divers.
From sunny shores to an ice storm in Greensville, SC! Some playful patron of the Econolodge made a little snowman on my car during the overnight. Since I had initially planned on staying in only South Florida during my trip and packed accordingly, I quickly hit some Greenville’s amazing thrift stores to get warmer wear. The folks in Greenville were so friendly (attitudes grew less so as I headed west) and pointed me in the right direction. Greenville also gave me a welcome break from Subway’s veggie delite. Brixx’s offered vegan cheese substitution on all their pies.
I’ve seen ribbons for many issues but this one supported Lap Dancing! This supporter cut me off heading North on the I-95 towards Jacksonville, FL. I was lucky enough to be behind him in traffic and captured his idiocy with my camera, much to his rearview curiosity.
Next time you’re in Key West, FL, look for the brand new roadside attraction: American Gothic muffler man style. I spied her husband, pitchfork in hand, en route earlier in the day so I had to pull over to photograph the Mrs. as the truck driver rested aside the highway.
There is a Fountain in Youth in St. Augustine, FL. You don’t have to follow a fairy to uncover the spring. Just follow the billboards and neon-lit signs, pay the outlandish entrance fee along and experience it between the busloads of tourists. Or take pictures of the signs for kitsch value, use their public rest room and walk back to your rental car.
Looking for something to do in Knoxville, TN, I stumbled upon Trampled By Turtles. They put on a great show that evoked spontaneous line dancing amongst uninhibited on-lookers… something a dame from Brooklyn doesn’t see every day. I even “yee haw”ed a few times but this was under duress. Dave, the banjo player, can certainly duel with the best of ’em.
Living in NYC, I never get to see uninterrupted and expansive sky. Somewhere between Savannah and Atlanta I fell madly in love with her cottony dress and electric blue, thumping the car to the rumble stick-lined lane as I fumbled with the camera. Somewhere abouts Charleston, WV I lost her.
The Museum of Appalachia was one of the big highlights of my winter break roadtrip. About an hour or so north of Knoxville, the museum housed an obsessively thorough collection of Appalachian mountain folk relics. The museum’s 63 acres contained thousands of artifacts and 30+ log dwellings depicting the everyday life of these mountain folk. And they do weddings. I was impressed with the extensive collection of stringed instruments from the era, including this banjo made from a ham can and others made from toilet seats. Those crazy mountain folk!
Colonial Park Cemetery in beautiful downtown Savannah, GA contained the antiquated and dishevelled tombstones you’d expect from a historical cemetery, most being illegible. The majority of the bones earthed there passed with a epidemic of yellow fever that hit the city in the 1800’s. The grey overcast and straw-like grass complimented perfectly the dancing souls within its perimeter. This poor soul seemed to be carrying out the latter half of two consecutive life sentences.
Also within the cemetery was the largest aloe plant-looking monstrosity of chlorophyll I ever did see. So large that hundreds of visitors had etched their initials and hearts upon its leaves. Vandalizing plant leaves: all’s fair in love I suppose.
J.R.’s (North Carolina) is to the I-95 South as Wall Drug (South Dakota) is to the I-90 West and when I first realized I was a long ways from New York. After way too many billboards, our expectations were growing. But ultimately it was a disappointment. Sure, they had talking Jesus, Mary and Joseph dolls, Moonshine jam and Hummer perfume but I wanted even weirder random consumables.
In the Past
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