‘Rum, Sodomy and the Lash’

The Year of No Flying blog chronicles a couple’s year spent travelling around the world while avoiding airplanes, in order to to reduce their carbon travel footprints. Their trip began in Seattle where they boarded a container ship, the MV Hanjin Madrid, for a September, 2009 crossing to Yokohama. They were the only passengers aboard the Madrid on their 22 day voyage to Japan. They have included a slide show of that segment of their journey that nicely shows the layout of the ship’s mess, engine room, passenger cabin and other areas. Also thoughtfully included are pictures of the food and menus. Clearly the ship bears no resemblance to Churchill’s quip about the British Navy: “Don’t talk to me about naval tradition. It’s nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash.”

The MV Hanjin Baltimore on which I will ship has about 30% larger cargo capacity than the Madrid and deployed in 2005, two years after the Madrid.  The Baltimore accommodates ten passengers. Hopefully there will be others on my crossing but I won’t be surprised if people aren’t queuing up for a long sea voyage in mid-January.

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Travel Advice

Last night at a Christmas party I was introduced to a man who had travelled to Shanghai and would, I was assured, have useful advice. “Take your own food” he warned and I rudely laughed at the image of boarding a container ship with armloads of heaping grocery bags. Evidently if you eat local in Shanghai, you may unwittingly be served some kind of eyeball dish.  Also: avoid eating salad in Paris as it once made the man quite ill.

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Siberian Prison Tattoos

In Alix Lambert’s The Mark of Cain the director visits grim Russian prisons in Perm and elsewhere and examines the elaborate tattoos worn by men and women serving time there. Tattooing is forbidden but common. The ink is prepared by burning the sole of a shoe, collecting the soot, and mixing it with urine. The ingenious mechanical tools are made with windup motors and ballpoint pens with steel guitar string for the needle.

Alix Lambert's The Mark of CainThere is a suggestion that the tattoos convey status in a strict criminal hierarchy (the “Thief-in-the-law”) and must be earned, but the convicts who address this are not reliable narrators – it seems to be more about fashion than rank. An elderly former convict named Viktor Tyryakin, who did time for robbery and whose chest is decorated with portraits of Lenin, Karl Marx, and Fredrich Engels, expresses nostalgia for the golden era of Russian prison tattoos:

“Back then, when I was in prison, it was in style.

“It used to be, I could tell you who was in from 1928. I could tell you right away, 1927, 1928. How? Back then, they tattooed eagles on everything. After that they tattooed Stalin and Lenin either on the back or on the heart. Then there were those monasteries. Now, what is it? They have things like Devils frying a priest on a bonfire. It’s all rubbish.”

Another elderly inmate explains the logic behind putting a portrait of Stalin on one’s chest:

“Why did they tattoo Stalin and Lenin? Because if they sentenced you to death, if you had that tattoo, then they wouldn’t shoot you. Because it was a tattoo of the Leader.”

This comes across as pure jailbird mythology. The ruthless sort who killed the Romanovs would not spare a bullet for a hoodlum because he had a soot-and-urine portrait of Lenin on his chest.

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A Milestone

According to data from Akismet and Google Analytics, this site has attracted more spam comments than actual visitors.

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Many Miles, Few Options

My 180,000 Alaska Airlines miles, methodically accumulated mostly in 500 mile segments, are proving worthless for this trip. Alaska doesn’t fly in the Far East and their travel partners there (Korean Airlines and Cathay Pacific) offer limited options for intra-Asia flights. Guangzhou, China to Hanoi, Vietnam is not one of them.

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China and the Web

Wikileaks’s publication of State Department diplomatic cables further shows how attentive China’s rulers are to their image at home and abroad. As noted in the New York Times, a May 2009 cable reported that Li Changchun, a Politburo member in charge of Chinese media relations and propaganda, “was taken aback to discover that he could conduct Chinese-language searches on Google’s main international Web site.”  According to the cable, Li typed his name into the search engine and found “results critical of him.”

Another cable reported that Chinese officials are increasingly confident of their ability to control information on the Internet:

Yet despite the hints of paranoia that appear in some cables, there are also clear signs that Chinese leaders do not consider the Internet an unstoppable force for openness and democracy, as some Americans believe.

In fact, this spring, around the time of the Google pullout, China’s State Council Information Office delivered a triumphant report to the leadership on its work to regulate traffic online, according to a crucial Chinese contact cited by the State Department in a cable in early 2010, when contacted directly by The Times.

The message delivered by the office, the person said, was that “in the past, a lot of officials worried that the Web could not be controlled.”

“But through the Google incident and other increased controls and surveillance, like real-name registration, they reached a conclusion: the Web is fundamentally controllable,” the person said.

I am interested to see how the Internet works in China.

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