Universite de Paris-Est in the Twenty-First Century: A Photoessay

I’m currently adjusting gradually back to life in 2020, but one of the things I did over the December/January break was to make a collaborative visit with colleagues at Universite de Paris (shortly to become Gustave Eiffel University). The campus architecture is simply amazing, and I want to share the highlights:

The Cats of Foca (2013)

For the season of love, some beautiful Turkish cats, from the equally beautiful seaside town of Foca. The local shop-owners, restauranteurs and fishermen all collectively look out for the cats (at least the ones who aren’t in a long-term living relationship with a  household), and the vets do pro bono work if one of them is sick or injured.

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A Tale of Holiday Aviation

Christmas 1997, in the days before online check-in, airport and airline apps, and mobile phones cheap enough for a student to afford. Yes, this is relevant. Bear with me.

I was preparing to spend the holiday with my parents in Toronto. I’d booked a relatively inexpensive flight; I’d learned the best and cheapest way to get to Heathrow from Oxford (the Heathrow Express coach– this has not been a paid advertisement); I’d filled my rucksack with clothes, presents, and library books (I had a degree to get); and had tickets to fly out of Terminal One. I was getting ready to go when one of my flatmates stuck his head around the door.

“Have you heard the news today?”

Well, no. I didn’t have a television or a working radio, and I’d been too busy packing to look on the Internet.

Which was when I discovered that this was the day when a deep-fryer caught light at a Heathrow branch of Burger King, leading to the Great Terminal One Fire. Firefighters had been at it all night, and it was still ongoing.

The BBC was recommending that travellers contact their airlines. I rang up Air Canada, but the lines were busy. I tried again, and again, as the clock ticked closer to the point at which I’d have to leave if I was going to catch the bus. With no mobile phone, in the end I decided to just go to Heathrow and risk it.

Upon arrival, I got a front-row perspective on how aviation authorities handle emergencies.

In the first place, all flights had been redirected to other terminals. All North American and some Middle Eastern flights were now running out of beautiful, brand new Terminal Four, and I couldn’t quite believe my luck in getting to see what was then a huge attraction for anyone who likes airports.

(Yes, that’s me, in case you haven’t guessed. No apologies for that.)

But the queues for check-in were gigantic. And that was just for check-in. I shuddered to think what awaited passengers once they got into Security.

I asked one of the attendants what I should do. “Join the queue,” she told me, so I did.

A few minutes later, I heard a boarding call go through for a flight to New York.

Immediately, the attendants swung into action, running down the queues, shouting, “New York! Anyone travelling [flight redacted] to New York?” If someone indicated this was so, they were immediately yanked out of the queue and hustled to the front, where they were speedily processed and rushed through Security.

So it was all going to be OK then. I relaxed.

Sure enough, when I was about two-thirds of the way up the queue, a call came for my flight. An attendant snagged me, dragged me to the front, and I was processed, stamped, and throwing my bags through the X-ray machine in minutes.

I made the flight with a quarter-hour to spare.

So I did make it home for Christmas after all, thanks to quick thinking and efficient emergency operations. And I got to do it through Terminal Four.

I’m going to be taking a posting break over Christmas, obviously. See you in the New Year!

Beijing, 2006: A Photoessay

I’ve made multiple visits to Japan and Singapore, and had a visiting fellowship in Taipei for a while, but only ever visited Beijing once. This was in 2006, when the city was clearly well on its way towards becoming a glass-and-chrome metropolis, but really wasn’t all the way there. Looking back, it occurs to me that it’s changed a lot, and people might like to see some of what it looked like at that complicated time:

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Many rickshaws:

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(seconds before the photo below was taken, the chain came off the gears, and the driver literally hooked it back on with his foot)SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

A blacksmith fixing a wheelchair:

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Old buildings and mosaics, probably gone now:

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The old site of the Pan Asia Games:

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A Christian wedding at a church:
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Dong An Market…

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and a state “Friendship Store”.

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Man selling rabbits in the subways under the road:
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Man selling books off the back of, yes, a rickshaw, above the subway:
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Gas masks in the closet in my hotel, a little bit scary:

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Finally, fish. Every shop had its lucky goldfish, this jade retailer was making them do marketing work too:

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Haw Par Villa, Singapore: A Photoessay

I go to Singapore to teach at least once a year, which is good, because I like Singapore. And one of the most amazing things in Singapore is Haw Par Villa. Which, because it largely defies description, I’m going to show you in pictures rather than telling a funny story.

What most people know about Haw Par Villa, if they know anything at all about it, is its famous set of dioramas depicting the Seven Hells of Buddhist folklore. And yes, you certainly can see the damned facing horrible forms of punishment:

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Which, apparently, their victims can watch before going on to their own judgment, which seems rather schadenfreude-heavy to me:
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But that’s, if anything, the most conventional part of the park. For one thing, the park was set up by the people who invented (or packaged and marketed, anyway) Tiger Balm, and one can occasionally run into the ghosts of Tiger Balm mascots past:
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Or a pitched battle between the rats and the rabbits, no, I don’t know either.

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Or scenes from Chinese legends, some recognisable, some less so (even to people in the relevant culture; Malay Chinese friends I’ve asked have struggled to explain some of these).IMG_0552IMG_0567

(this one’s from Journey to the West: Pigsy at his most terrifying)IMG_0639

(According to the plaque, this one depicts the Seven Lucky Gods doing battle with Neptune, who must have wandered in from some other mythological canon)IMG_0667

Then there’s the anthropomorphic animals, similarly ranging from the cute to the disturbing:

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OK, mostly the disturbing.IMG_0610

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There are also more conventionally represented animals, albeit, one suspects, rendered by a sculptor who’s never actually seen one:
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Along with some really quite beautiful gods and heroes

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And, finally, you can take a trip round the monuments of the world!IMG_0668

If you’re in Singapore and want to visit for yourself, here’s a map. There’s way more than I could put in a single blog post, so do go see it.