What do you think of when you hear “Afghanistan”?  If you’re like most people, you probably think of mindless death and destruction, suicide bombers, roadside bombs, terrorists, the Taliban, Muslim fanatics screaming “Death to America!”, poverty, ignorance, disease, filth, backwardness, and stupid, barbaric men beating, mutilating, and murdering their women because they want to enroll in a typing course.  Sure, all of that does exist — but mainly in the south.  The northern part of the country is very different, which is lucky for you because that’s where you’re going.  That’s right.  You’re heading for the exotic city of Qonduz — the Jewel of Afghanistan, the Gateway to the North, the City That Never Sleeps!

    Just make sure your travel agent doesn’t send you to the wrong place.  Qonduz is also spelled Konduz, and it is not to be confused with Kondoz or Kunduz, which are also in the north but are different places.  You have to book your flight on Ariana Afghan Airlines (“We Make Every Flight An Adventure!”), because no one else flies to Qonduz.  Ariana won’t fly you to Kondoz or Kunduz by mistake, because those cities don’t even have airports, and the pilots are not going to commit suicide by trying to land there.  The suicidal ones are screened out in the job interview.  Or let’s hope so.

    Qonduz used to be a shabby little dump stuck in the 12th Century, but thanks to the presence of American and NATO forces, it has been pushed ahead into the 20th Century — like roughly the 1970’s.  So they’re still behind us but only by a little.  Yes, you will still find a lot of hairy men in sandals working in dirty little shops, but now you will also find modern buildings, nice stores, bright lights, fast food, and normal urban entertainments — including alcohol, gambling, and prostitution.

    There is only one really good hotel — the Radisson Plaza Admiral Qonduz, or “R.P.A.” for short.  It’s an absolute magnet for NATO troops on leave, because it has all the modern amenities, and every room costs $100 U.S. a night, regardless of the number of occupants.  So it’s Party Central!  Manager Dermot McKeown, a transplanted Londoner, is an enthusiastic booster of the new Qonduz.  “This place is more exciting than London and much safer.  Qonduz is jumping twenty-four hours a day, and you can go anywhere any time and not have to worry about getting robbed, shot, or blown up.  Qonduzers are wonderful hosts.  They love Westerners and will pick up tourists spontaneously and say, ‘Hey, you American?  I show you good time!'”

    The fellow who decided to show me a good time was a taxi driver named Ahmad, who was on his day off but offered to drive me around for a few dollars.  We stopped briefly at the Labour Exchange, where people seek any sort of work.  At the men’s exchange (there is a separate one for women), there were mostly poor, young boys.  Ahmad asked me if I liked boys, and I said no.  (It was here, by the way, that Ellen DeGeneres and her partner, Portia de Rossi, “rescued” a deformed 8-year-old boy named Yama, whom they adopted.)  The women’s exchange is largely for girls seeking employment as domestics, although they are mostly picked up by foreigners as daily “companions.”

    The Duck Pond is located in the city’s park.  It has ducks but no fish.  Old men “fish” for the ducks using simple fishing rods and pieces of bread.  If a duck is stupid enough to get hooked, it gets strangled on the spot and is then taken home and eaten.

    The city has an 18-hole golf course, which Tiger Woods has described as the most challenging course he has ever played, thanks to unexploded ordnance in the ground. 

    Qonduz also boasts the world’s second-smallest library, and a museum of amputated limbs.

    The selection of restaurants includes all the familiar Western fast-food chains, which are run according to Western standards, so they have proper toilets and no rats.  The local Afghani eateries must be treated as “high-risk” by Western visitors.  These places have unusual smells and have never seen a health inspector.

    Culinary “fusion” is provided by the popular Lentil Heaven, which offers a variety of Western foods smothered with lentils, such as lentil burgers, lentil tacos, and lentil pizza.  The place is owned by Michelle Obama, wife of President Barack Obama, through her private holding company, Bamco.

    Every great city has its naughty district, and Qonduz is no exception.  Its naughty district is the Batouti Bazaar (or just “Bazaar”) — formerly an area of humble shops and street stalls but now a glitzy circus of bars, cinemas, casinos, and strip clubs.  There is a highly visible contingent of hookers — all Russian. 

    The most notorious attraction in the Bazaar is a raunchy club called the No-Go, which features a woman who has sex with squids.  Her name is Nadira, but she, too, looks Russian.  She’s hot-looking and has big tits.  She comes out naked, in high heels, she lies down on this mat, and an assistant places squids on her body.  Nadira then writhes and moans and pretends to be having sex with these squids, which are sucking her breasts and pubes — sort of like Bela Lugosi pretending to struggle with the giant octopus in Bride of the Monster.  The audience is supposed to believe that the squids are alive and are actually sucking her body.  Rush Limbaugh was in the audience when I visited, and I went over to him and asked him why he was there.  He said, “I’m trying to understand how these people think!”

    Across the street from the No-Go is a strip club called Jihada-Dada, which is always packed with soldiers.  Diamanti Damons was headlining there for an entire month.

    Qonduz has a rodeo every October.  It’s called the Qonduz Stampede.  Afghani cowboys lasso donkeys, ride them, and then shoot them.  The kids love it.

    Be sure to make time for a day trip across the border to Tajikistan to visit the Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve, where many endangered species of wildlife are protected.  It was here that Dennis Rodman, while on an errand for Donald Trump, identified a Chongawarry fruit bat — a species thought to be extinct.  For this contribution to science, Rodman was awarded the Tajikistan Conservancy Medal.

    Tourists in Qonduz need U.S. dollars or euros.  No one wants the Afghani currency.  Your credit cards should be used only when necessary; otherwise, best keep them out of sight.  There is also an informal barter system, so bring a supply of women’s panties, chewing gum, cigarettes, sunglasses, and guns.

    The climate is cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  Spring and fall are pleasant.  However, Qonduz, unfortunately, is directly in the path of migrating locust swarms, which happen occasionally in the spring and fall (but they only last for a day).

    Recommended vaccinations: anthrax, dengue fever, mouse typhoid.

    Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com

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    The lush city of Oymyakon, the “Garden of Siberia,” welcomes the traveler like a ripe concubine parting her legs for the conquering hero returning from his epic journey to lands unknown, raping, killing, and looting.  Take her, traveler, for she is all yours!  Do with her as you wish!  She will never complain, nor will her beauty fade!

    Ivan the Terrible planted his flag on her velvety flank in 1582.  She was fought over by the Cossacks and Koryaks.  She was celebrated in literature by the great Maxim Gorky.  And the Swedish explorer Baron Nils Nordenskjold had to be dragged away forcibly from her by his men to return home.

    Today, Oymyakon is a happy and peaceful city, enjoying its status as a tourist destination for adventurous souls searching for something different.

    Most sources describe Oymyakon as a very cold place, but this claim is disputed by its mayor, Vladimir Zaebanyi, a colorful fellow who dresses like an English aristocrat, drives a Ferrari, and owns a large herd of goats.  “It’s all Western propaganda,” he insists.  “All the jokes about Siberia being so cold.  It’s a huge exaggeration.  Everything’s relative, after all.  Yes, someone from California would say it’s cold, but to us it is brisk and refreshing, and we like it.  There is a natural hot spring nearby, which contributes warmth.   The summer is very pleasant.  You don’t need a coat.  The winter is invigorating.  We like to get out and enjoy it, just like you Canadians.  We ski, we hike, we play hockey, we fish through the ice.  And you can see the aurora borealis on many nights.  It’s breathtaking!”

    The principal item on the mayor’s agenda is the construction of an international airport, which he says would increase tourism ten-fold.  The government is considering it.  For now, travelers must fly to Yakutsk and then take a bus to Oymyakon.

    The city’s only hotel is the InterContinental (formerly known as the Hotel Oymyakon).  Its manager is Pascal Forotti, a Frenchman who visited Oymyakon in 1990 and fell in love with it.  “Many celebrities have visited here,” he says.  “We have a gallery of framed photos over the bar.  Frankie Avalon and his wife, Kathryn Diebel, spent their honeymoon at the old Hotel Oymyakon in 1963.  And Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore stayed here in 1972.  And last year, Paris Hilton was here for a week.  She brought her chihuahua.”

    A 5-day package at the InterContinental will cost you a very modest $400 U.S. per person.  Amenities include a swimming pool, exercise room, indoor squash court, conference rooms, satellite TV, and an underground walkway to the Nedotrahanaya Department Store and Promenade, with its upscale boutiques.  Beautiful (albeit pricey) Russian escorts are also available 24/7 — a must for the business traveler!

    The city has a reputation for excellent food.  The Siber Restaurant, on Ebanutaya Plaza, is the place for haute cuisine.  Chef Yuri Ebanko, who was trained at the prestigious Ukrainian Academy of Culinary Arts, is known for his sophisticated interpretations of local ethnic delicacies, such as pan-fried reindeer testicles, deep-fried reindeer dumplings, rare Siberian truffles, and steamed salmon from the nearby Indigirka River.  A typical meal at the Siber will run you about $30 U.S. per person.  The more budget-minded can eat cheaply and happily at Ivan’s Pizza or Irina’s Bar-B-Cue, both on Avenue Volov.

    For an unpredictable shopping adventure, you have to go to the quaint Doroga Losinogo Govna, a bohemian or “poor man’s” district.  Anyone with anything to sell simply sets up a table in the street, which is blocked off to traffic.  Cartons of American cigarettes, videotapes, DVD’s, electronics, Swiss chocolates, toys, clothing, hand-crafted jewlery, paintings, steaming pots of soups and teas, sausage on a bun, stuffed birds, shrunken heads, car parts, used appliances, housewares, guns, patent medicines, busts of Elvis, scuba gear, pornography, antiques, military paraphernalia, and countless other surprises compete for your attention and your money.  Meanwhile, buskers, magicians, dancers, street artists, and people sticking needles in their bodies perform for audiences.  Some of it is not entirely legal, but it’s a summer tradition, and as long as no one makes a formal complaint, the police look the other way.

    The business district is reassuringly normal, with well-dressed people carrying briefcases going in and out of modern office buildings.  The city is becoming an increasingly important financial center.

    Oymyakon’s most notable landmark is the “Boy On The Bear” — a marble statue depicting a native boy riding atop a large white bear.  According to an ancient legend, a boy was confronted by a ferocious bear while picking strawberries.  He bravely offered the bear some strawberries, which the bear ate from the palm of his hand.  The bear became friendly, and the boy climbed on its back and rode into the forest.  People throw coins at the statue for good luck.

    The Oymyakon Strawberry Festival runs every August at the Prospect Dohloi Sobaki, the local farmers’ market.  It’s largely an excuse for people to get drunk on the local strawberry wine and dance in the streets.

    A recently-built amusement park draws many visitors, although, it, too, is only open in the summer.

    The nature walk is a year-round recreation, however.  Oymyakoners say it keeps them fit.  The natural beauties of the countryside change according to the season, but bring your camera regardless.  A well-marked path takes you along the banks of the Indigirka, and through fields, forests, and hills.  The strawberry fields are lovely, as are the many flowers and plants, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.  The bird population is highly seasonal, ranging from multi-colored species to magnificent birds of prey.  Migrating musk-oxen can sometimes be viewed at a distance.  The hauntingly beautiful and mysterious bat cave is not to be missed.  Oymyakoners are proud of these natural beauties and will never allow them to be spoiled by urban development.

    All major currencies are accepted in Oymyakon, although exchange rates may vary.  Watch out for dishonest taxi drivers who overcharge the inexperienced tourist.

    Recommended vaccinations: smallpox, hepatitis (A, B, and C), Kamchatka tick fever.

    Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com

    I have figured out how to save GM from bankruptcy.  The Chinese are going to do it for us.

    If GM goes bankrupt, the U.S. goes into a depression, and the U.S. dollar collapses.  That would be bad for the Chinese, with all the U.S. government bonds they’re holding, right?  So what they have to do is buy up all of GM’s vehicle inventory and ship it to China.  That will give GM a big cash infusion, and the shipping companies benefit, too.

    The Chinese then sell lottery tickets all over the country, with the GM cars as prizes.  They can easily absorb that many cars, and the lottery proceeds will pay for them, so the Chinese government breaks even.

    Such a lottery would be especially popular in rural regions.  The guy in the village who wins a car becomes the big shot of the village, even if he can only afford to drive his car a few times a year. 

    And think of the subtle propaganda value for the U.S. when those little Chinks sit in cars made for normal-sized Americans!

    We buy so much shoddy merchandise from the Chinese (like can openers that won’t open any can, and tape that won’t stick to anything), they really owe us anyway, don’t you think?

    Now somebody please pass the word on to Rick Wagoner and Pres. Hu Jintao — and I mean now!

    Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com

    Like many people, I’ve been worried about global warming, although I don’t know anything about it.

    During a recent warm spell, I was standing on the corner, waiting for the light to change, and I remarked to the gentleman standing next to me, “I wonder if there is global warming.”

    “Woojathinkso!” the man replied, crossing the street hurriedly and leaving me standing there perplexed.

    Woojathinkso….Is that what he said?….Woojathinkso….I forgot all about the errand I was on and turned around to go home.  What did that fellow mean?

    As I put my key in the door, it hit me!  Wooja thinks so!  Somebody named Wooja thinks there is global warming!  Now I get it! 

    But who was this fellow Wooja?  And why did he think there was global warming?  Maybe he was a scientist.  If so, I definitely wanted to talk to him.

    I checked the phone book, but there was no listing for “Wooja.”  Maybe he had an unlisted number.  If he was a top scientist, that wouldn’t surprise me.  Scientists don’t want to be bothered by strangers when they’re in the middle of something important.  But he had to be known somewhere.  Surely at the university.  That was it!  He was probably in the physics department of the university!

    So I called the physics department.  “Do you have a Professor Wooja?” I asked.

    The secretary hesitated.  “Uh…do you mean Professor Woods?”

    Woods!  So he has an alias!  A foreigner who goes by an anglicized name!  “Yes, I think that’s the one.  I’d like to talk to him.  Is he there?”

    “I’m afraid Professor Woods retired last year.”

    Retired?  In the midst of a global warming catastrophe?  There was something fishy about this.  “Can you give me his phone number, or tell me where he lives?”

    “Oh, no.  We don’t give out that kind of personal information,” said the secretary.

    “Has he written any papers on global warming, by any chance?” I asked.

    “I wouldn’t know.  You’d have to check with the library.”

    Wouldn’t know!  Ha!  She was stonewalling me.  “So, then, I could just go to the library and read everything he’s written?” I asked.

    “Yes, of course.  Just go to the physics section on the fifth floor and ask the librarian.”

    I thanked her and hung up.

    The pieces were starting to fall into place.  This Professor Woods, who was really a foreigner named Wooja, had mysteriously retired, and his present whereabouts were being kept secret.  He must have discovered something about global warming — probably something too shocking to be made public, although that fellow on the corner knew about it somehow.  He had walked away quickly, so perhaps he was being followed.  It was still a puzzle, but maybe I’d find a big piece of it at the library.

    I had never used the university library before, so I asked the librarian in the physics section for help.  “I want to read whatever papers have been written by Professor Woods,” I said, somewhat out of breath after climbing the stairs (I should have taken the elevator).

    She eyed me curiously for a moment, then pecked away at her keyboard and looked at her screen.  “Would that be Professor Theodore Woods?”

    “Yes, I think so.  The one who just retired from the university.”

    “Theodore Woods is the only Woods we’ve got listed.  Here are his papers.”  She turned the screen around so I could read it.

    I scanned the titles of his papers….Magnetotelluric Technology Applications For Deep Earth Resistivity….Time-Domain Electromagnetic Systems….Maxwell Three-Dimensional Conductive Plate Modelling….Rotating Gradient Data Collection For Enhancement of High-Resolution Total-Magnetic Intensity Measurement….Borehole Gravity Logging Systems For 3-D Models and Measurement of Bulk-Density of Intersected Formations….Problems of Ground EM Pulse Geophysics….2-Axis Tipper EM Applications….Full-Tensor Airborne Magnetic Gradiometrics and Total Gravity Field Measurement….My eyes glazed over.  There was nothing about global warming.  Those papers had obviously been removed!  I was too late!

    Frustrated and angry, I went to the physics department to confront that secretary I had spoken to.  As I was wandering around the halls, looking for the office, a young man stopped me.  “Are you looking for someone?” he asked politely, but not smiling.

    Foolishly, I blurted out, “I want to know what Professor Woods found out about global warming!  Why is it being kept secret?”

    The young man gave me a long, suspicious look.  Finally he said, “Are you connected with the university?”

    “No….I’m…I’m just a layman.”

    “Professor Woods was not involved with global warming.”

    “And how do you know that?” I demanded.

    “I was his teaching assistant.”

    I stood there dumbly for a moment, not knowing what to do next.  “Suppose I wanted to talk to him,” I ventured weakly.

    “Why don’t you write down your name and phone number, and I’ll pass it along to him.”

    So I did.  Maybe that was a mistake.  Now they know who I am!

    Back at home, I pondered the dark mystery I had unearthed.  It was very clear that this Professor Woods, or Wooja, had stumbled onto something  so terrible it had to be suppressed.  A lid of secrecy had been clamped down on the whole matter — probably emanating from the highest levels of government.  Even worse, the people responsible might think that I knew something I wasn’t supposed to know, even though I didn’t know anything — not even what I was supposed to know!

    For the sake of my personal safety, I’m giving up this whole nasty business!  I’m never going to say or do anything more about global warming!  I never should have gotten involved in the first place!

    If you think you’re the brave one who can break through this wall of censorship, I leave it in your hands.  Go ahead.  At least I’ve given you something to go on.  But I’ve just heard the latest weather forecast, and from the sound of it, it may be too late for all of us!  How much time do we have left before…it…happens?  Wooja knows.  And a few others.  But as for me, I no longer want to know!

    Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com