These are the official rankings of the Big Ten colleges, based on the number of books by Crad Kilodney found in their libraries.  Online catalogue searches were done on Aug. 27, 2010.  Please note that there are now 11 colleges in the Big Ten since the addition of Penn State.  Michigan is the author’s alma mater.

Rank…………(Books)

1. – 2.

     Michigan (4)

     Wisconsin (4)

3. Minnesota (2)

4. – 7.

     Michigan State (1)

     Northwestern (1)

     Ohio State (1)

     Penn State (1)

Failed…………Zero

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Purdue

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    These are the official rankings of the eight Ivy League colleges, based on the number of books by Crad Kilodney found in their libraries.  Online catalogue searches were done on Aug. 27, 2010.

Rank…………(Books)

1. Princeton (10)

2. Yale (4)

3. Pennsylvania (2)

4 – 5.

     Harvard (1)

     Brown (1)

Failed…………Zero

Columbia

Cornell

Dartmouth

 

    These are the official rankings of Canadian universities, based on the number of books by Crad Kilodney found in their libraries.  Online catalogue searches were done on June 17, 2010.  Books that appeared as indirect holdings through a library network relationship were only counted for the library that actually owned the book.

Rank……………(books)

1. Univ. of Toronto (34)

2. McGill Univ. (24)

3. McMaster Univ. (20)

4. Dalhousie Univ. (19)

5. York Univ. (16)

6. Univ. of Western Ontario (15)

7. Queen’s Univ. (11)

8. Univ. of Waterloo (10)

9. Univ. of Calgary (9)

10. Univ. of Alberta (7)

11. Univ. of Victoria (6)

12. Univ. of Ottawa (5)

13.-15.

        Simon Fraser Univ. (4)

        Lakehead Univ. (4)

        Univ. of New Brunswick (4)

16.-18.

        Univ. of British Columbia (3)

        Univ. of Saskatchewan (3)

        Carleton Univ. (3)

19.-23.

        Athabasca Univ. (2)

        Univ. of Winnipeg (2)

        Univ. of Sudbury (2)

        Univ. of Windsor (2)

        Concordia Univ. (2)

24.-33.

        Univ. of Lethbridge (1)

        Univ. of Regina (1)

        Univ. of Guelph (1)

        Nipissing Univ. (1)

        Trent Univ. (1)

        Univ. de Sherbrooke (1)

        Mount Allison Univ. (1)

        Cape Breton Univ. (1)

        St. Francis Xavier Univ. (1)

        Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland (1)

Failed……….(Zero)

Univ. of Northern British Columbia

Mount Royal Univ.

Brandon Univ.

Univ. of Manitoba

Brock Univ.

Laurentian Univ.

Ryerson Univ.

Wilfrid Laurier Univ.

Bishop’s Univ.

Univ. Laval

Univ. de Montreal

Univ. du Quebec

Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal

Univ. of Moncton

Univ. of Prince Edward Island

Acadia Univ.

Mt. Saint Vincent Univ.

Saint Mary’s Univ.

 

    Our world tour of exotic cities is almost at an end.  I’m sure you’ll agree it’s been great fun and extremely enlightening.  Don’t complain that you’re maxed out on all your credit cards after all this globetrotting.  You’ve still got that Christmas bonus to spend, don’t you?  And we’ve got one more place left to visit: Vinh, Vietnam.

    Vinh is an enchantress among cities, but without the Circean evil that turns men into swine (as in Ottawa, for example).  Vinh is eager for tourism after being overlooked for so many years.  They want to catch up.  And seven out of ten travelers agree: a vacation in Vinh is more delightful than a root canal.

    Vinh is located on Vietnam’s “Gold Coast,” so named because of the anthills containing gold.  In fact, Vinh is the Anthill Capital of the World.  It is home to the Asian tiger ant (Solenopsis mendacis), the same variety that attacked Joan Collins in Empire of the Ants.  Early Spanish explorers noticed the grains of gold in the anthills and took them as a sign that they were close to the Golden Grail, also known as El Dorado.  But they got lost in the Forest of Blinh and were eaten by the monster Smatma.  After this disaster, King Charles II forbade all further exploration in the area, so the French were able to move in uncontested.

    There are no good travel deals to Vinh, unfortunately, because there isn’t a whole lot of tourism yet.  (The round trip from Toronto cost me about $3,700, and Air Canada’s nuts were stale.)  But once you get there, you can load up on counterfeit designer goods that you can resell back home.

    The best hotel in town is the Ramada Vinh, which is surprisingly affordable for all its luxury, with an average room rate of about $150 per night.  In the lobby, gilded domes frescoed with sweeping clouds and hanging gardens frame chandeliers of 24-karat gold and  crystal.  The marble floors are polished to mirror perfection.  A broad arch opens to a garden with a pool.  Goldfish cruise lazily in a rock-rimmed pond.  In the suites, painted cherubs smile down on a massive raised bed, and a 60-channel projection TV screen drops from the ceiling.  The bathrooms of Italian marble and French onyx are stocked with Egyptian-cotton towels, robes, and slippers.  Press a button, and the red satin drapes part, giving a view of the rolling hills and a new housing development.  A masseuse is available 24 hours a day, and she will massage you with her well-oiled naked body.

    General Manager Freddie Ho greeted me personally.  He said he was my biggest fan in all of Vietnam, although my books are officially banned.  I said I was surprised to find such opulence in a  Communist country.  “This is the new Vietnam,” he explained.  “It’s Communist in theory, but it’s becoming more capitalist in practice.  Just get the tourists in and get them to spend their money.  And Ramada wants a piece of the action.”

    Freddie was too busy to show me around town, so he put me in the able hands of his good friend Dan Van Nguyen.  Dan was evasive about his occupation, saying only that he was well-connected and did things for people.  “Sort of a fixer,” he said.  “I help people with their problems and needs.”  He offered to fix me up with hookers, but I declined.

    The first thing every visitor wants to see is the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh, which is in the village of Kim Lien, about 14 kms northwest of Vinh.  There you will find multicolored dancing fountains surrounding Ho’s statue.  He is holding two children by the hand, and a cocker spaniel sits beside his feet.  The gift shop sells every sort of Ho souvenir, and all the employees are amputees, so if you’re a liberal, you just load up with all you can carry.

    On the outskirts of the Forest of Blinh, where nobody goes for obvious reasons, you will find the villages of the Dogon people.  The Dogon are ethnically unrelated to the Vietnamese, and nobody knows their true origins.  They are a pacifist people who have an ingenious method of preventing fighting.  All their dwellings have such low roofs that you can’t stand up straight.  The idea is that if somebody gets mad at somebody else and tries to stand up, he can’t, so there’s no way they can fight without looking stupid.  Predictably, all the Dogon have a stooped posture.  They worship the ant, and they leave scraps of food at a giant anthill for “protection.”  They also practice a dance on hot coals as a puberty rite.  Boys and girls must dance on the hot coals to become adults.  It’s part of a religious belief system, so you can’t criticize it.

    Quyet Mountain is on the outskirts of Vinh.  It’s the home base of the Vinh Paragliding Club.  Paragliders launch themselves from the summit and glide over the Lam River, which skirts the city.  The Lam has a lot of crocodiles, and the paragliders compete to see who can traverse the river the most times without falling in.  You should check out some of this action on YouTube.

    There is a muscular exuberance in the Lam’s rapids, danger in its floods.  But on most days the river welcomes the adventurer with lyric grace — except in typhoons, when everything up to the size of a water buffalo is swept away and killed.

    Go east to the coast about 10 kms and enjoy the pristine white beach at Cua Lo.  Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart were seen there recently, and according to observers, they were getting pretty romantic.  It’s easy to understand why.  Cua Lo is a romantic dream, with its blue water, palm trees, and strolling troubadours singing Vietnamese love songs and playing the mandolin, while flocks of pink flamingoes circle overhead in search of fiddler crabs, their favorite food.

    Speaking of food, try the seafood at Em Ghet Anh, a popular seaside restaurant.  Their specialty is boiled moray eel served on a bed of seaweed.

    Downtown Vinh is an artful example of East German social realist architecture, with its gray, cube-shaped public buildings flanking its wide streets.  Luxury Soviet-made limos blend in with smoky little Trabants and a few odd rickshaws.  Smartly dressed traffic cops keep everything moving efficiently as they blow their whistles and bark repeatedly “Mu cac tao!…Mu cac tao!…”

    At the top of Quang Trung Street you will find Vinh’s most famous landmark, “Uncle Vinnie” — a 60-foot-high neon ant.  He’s the city’s unofficial mascot.  (What else would you expect in the Anthill Capital of the World?)  The Vinh High School athletic teams are called the Tiger Ants and they wear a logo like Uncle Vinnie.  The cheerleaders do this cute little “Ant Dance,” and if you’re sitting in the right place, you can see the cracks of their asses.

    While on that subject, there is a strip club on Le Mao Street called Thang Nguc Lon, which is always busy, although it is pretty tame by Western standards.  They feature a lot of B-list American strippers who have gotten too old or too fat to work in good clubs in the U.S.  SaRenna Lee headlined there for a month, and the audience loved her.  They thought she had the biggest tits in the world.  But what do the Vietnamese know about big tits?  Their women are all flat-chested.

    That could change, however.  Two enterprising brothers, Sy Ba Tran and Van Quyen Tran, have gone into business as breast implant specialists.  The former auto mechanics don’t have medical degrees, and even in Vietnam they wouldn’t normally be allowed to do any sort of medical work, but Dan Van Nguyen said this was something he was able to “fix.”  The brothers only accept out-of-town patients, by the way, so nobody in Vinh ever gets to see the results of their handiwork.

    The Buddhist monastery is a minor attraction.  The monks are renowned for their extremely long toenails, which are supposed to demonstrate inner peace.  You can make a donation and light a candle and sit with them while they chant, but these guys never bathe, and all that incense isn’t enough to conceal the fact, so pretty soon you want to get up and leave.  However, the Jonas Brothers spent a whole day in there and said it was the most spiritually uplifting experience of their lives.

    Vinh is the home of the Vietnam Museum of Human Rights, but blacks and Jews are not allowed in.  The museum has a big display devoted to Jane Fonda.  What Jane Fonda has to do with human rights is beyond me, but the Vietnamese love her and worked her in somehow.

    The best attraction if you’re looking for something really edgy is the Vinh Arena, which stages matches of an extremely violent form of martial arts cage fighting.  The contestants wear spikes and fight with sticks.  Dan Van Nguyen told me there’s always blood, and they average three or four deaths a year.  He also said that World Wrestling Entertainment had been to Vinh to check it out and were interested in doing some kind of business deal, and he was trying to help them with that. 

    For shopping, you have a lot of street vendors and little shops selling counterfeit goods, which I referred to earlier.  Dan said the authorities don’t mind because the designers and brands are exploiters of Third World labor, so it’s okay to rip them off.  The People’s Committee that administers Vinh calls this “social justice.”  And they collect big licensing fees from the vendors, so it’s a lot of revenue. 

    If you want more sophisticated shopping, you want to go to the Roman Mall, which is designed to look like ancient Rome.  There is a daily royal procession led by a centurion.  Moving sidewalks from the street whisk shoppers into the mall.  But to get out, they must pass through a door that will not open unless they are laden with a certain minimum weight of merchandise.  (So put a brick in your counterfeit Gucci bag before you go in!  Oh, and another thing: don’t use your credit cards, or you will get a rude surprise in a month or so.  Use the local currency.)

    The Ramada Vinh has a very nice French restaurant.  Head Chef Thi Hai Dinh serves up an elegant kea parrot Michels.  Here’s the recipe:

    Season one large kea parrot with salt, pepper, garlic, and sage.  Place in casserole with three ounces of palm oil, two cups of  chopped kale, and two cups of chopped rhubarb.  Put in oven at 350 degrees and baste frequently.  After 20 minutes, transfer to stove top, add six ounces of malt vinegar, cover pot, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Then add one cup of water, once ounce of anchovy paste, and a cup of finely chopped pickled beets.  Bring to a boil and cook for 5 more minutes.  Serve with rice.  (Heston Blumenthal does this with gold leaf on top, but I think that spoils it.)

    Dan and I had a late evening drink with Freddie Ho, and we talked about the “new” Vietnam.  Freddie said the Vietnamese people were no longer anti-American.  In fact, hundreds of them sent cards of condolence to Jennifer Aniston after the death of her dog, Norman.

    Freddie surprised me by producing two of my books, Junior Brain Tumors In Action and Malignant Humors, which he asked me to inscribe personally.  (You can try searching for these books, as well as my others, at www.abebooks.com, but I have no control over prices on the collector’s market.)

    I asked Freddie and Dan if Vinh had a “sister city,” and they said no.  I offered to find one if Dan could fix it with the People’s Committee.  “Easy as one, two, three!” said Dan with a big smile.  So I found a suitable city the next day.

    I’m happy to report that Vinh’s sister city is Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada.  Mayor John Ruttan liked the idea because Nanaimo didn’t have a sister city and deserved one.  And although he knew nothing about Vinh, he said, “We’re ‘Left Coast,’ as they say, and I guess the Veet-namese are, too, seeing as how they’re Communists, ha, ha!  And if there are any more of those boat people who want to come over, tell ’em we have a real nice harbour where they can tie their yachts.”  The Mayor and his wife will be visiting Vinh sometime in 2010 (and this is a heads-up to Air Canada to make sure their nuts are fresh this time!).  Mrs. Ruttan is keen to pick up a few Gucci knock-offs.

    Recommended vaccinations: retroperitoneal fibrosis, Camurah-Engelmann Disease, parrot fever.

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

    Close your eyes and sit back.  Allow yourself to be borne aloft by fairies.  (The flight crew is gay.)  You’re floating now, as if in a dream, traveling across time and space.  Soon you will land in the Shangri-la of Africa.  The fairies are setting you down gently.  Now you can open your eyes.  A big sign reads: “Welcome to Maiduguri, Nigeria.”

    This is a land where the past meets the present.  Both get drunk and stagger out, looking for the future.  The imperfect is found dead by the side of the road, and the subjunctive gets accused.  A dangling participle and sentence fragment are held as evidence.  A conjunction is held to parse the sentence, and the subjunctive is represented by the future perfect and the conditional, but the active voice is exclamatory and demands an interjection.  Eventually, an adverbial clause is arrived at, the solecism is ruled ungrammatical, and the subject is thrown into a parenthesis until the dative, ablative, and gerundive cases shall be resurrected from their graves and illiterates playing video games shall perish in hell.

    Look for the bright yellow school bus marked “Ritz-Carlton Maiduguri.”  It will whisk you away at a good twenty miles an hour along the airport road, allowing you to take in the color and fragrance of the endless fields of rafflesia on either side.  You’ll recognize the hotel by its lime-green exterior and faux Corinthian columns.  We’re expected.  General Manager Francois Cnockaert is waiting to greet us personally.  The man is ageless.  He has a portrait in his attic that ages for him while he remains young.  I told you this was Shangri-la, didn’t I?

    Nigeria has been made wealthy by its vast oil resources, so you will not find the sort of nasty, horrible things that exist in the “not nice” countries of the Third World.  And it’s not just your ordinary crude oil; it’s Nigerian Sweet Crude.  Ask any refiner.  A tanker full of Nigerian Sweet Crude is worth killing my sister for.  (Come to think of it, a gallon or two would suffice.)  And Maiduguri has its own refinery, so that gasoline can be made fresh on the spot.  It is, in fact, the only refinery of halal gasoline in the world.  An imam stands beside the pipeline chanting “Allah…Allah…Allah…” all day long as the gasoline flows through.

    Francois was frantically busy with a crowd of visitors attending the Shadfly Festival (more on that in a moment) and promised to meet up with me later.  In the meantime, he introduced me to my host who would show me around — Prof. Hani (“Call me Hank”) Rabe, Head of the Canadian Studies Dept. at the Maiduguri branch of the University of Nigeria.

    “You are my hero,” Hank confessed with a blush.  “I have several of your books.  I have told my class that you are the greatest Canadian writer of all time.”  The Canadian Studies Dept. was made possible by an administrative error on the part of the Canadian International Development Agency.  They sent a large sum of money to the wrong account to pay for a hockey rink.  The university simply kept it, and CIDA never caught their mistake.  So Hank got his longed-for Canadian Studies Dept., of which he is the only faculty member.  There is one course, and four students are enrolled, although two rarely show up.

    “The Maiduguri region was the home of an ancient civilization called the Snake People,” Hank told me, as we rode along in his classic ’72 Plymouth Duster, whose Slant-6 engine still purrs smoothly after all these years.  “Almost nothing is known about them, except that they must have been very advanced.”  Why is that? I ask.  “The fact that they left nothing behind means that they cleaned up after themselves.  That proves how advanced they were, you see.”

    “I get it.”

    Although the Snake People are considered extinct, there is, in fact, one of them alive today — Shirley Brown, City Councillor of Bristol, England.  One of my neighbors, Ghrugnanasampa Thavakugathasalingam of 61 Town Centre Court, Scarborough, has called the Snake People “a bunch of ugly nigger monkeys.”  But, hey, look who’s talking!

    The Ngadda River, which flows through Maiduguri, lends a special charm to the city, owing to its pristine nature.  And every November the shadflies come out of the river to fill the air by the millions for several weeks.  It’s one of nature’s great spectacles, and it provides the occasion for the world’s only Shadfly Festival.  Although harmless, the shadflies can be frightening to those experiencing them for the first time. Local people show off their courage by allowing themselves to be covered with them from head to foot.  The shadfly is celebrated with good humor and creativity, and the festival adds a boost to the economy.  The Shadfly Queen is crowned to cap it off.  The current Queen is Basaratu Mojisola Bakare-Giles, a nude volleyball player who has been linked romantically with Tiger Woods.  The shadfly phenomenon also occurs in North Bay, Ontario, in June and July.  No one knows why these insects come out when they do, but they’re only around for a short time, so everyone tries to enjoy them.  All shadflies belong to the order Ephemeroptera.  They are mentioned in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as well as The Book of Mormon.

    Another insect of importance to Maiduguri is the wasp.  The city boasts the world’s only wasp apiary, where scientists have used the “royal jelly” of the queen wasp to make an anti-aging skin cream (not yet available in North America).  The 1960 movie The Wasp Woman offers a dramatic look at the possibilities held out by wasp “royal jelly.”  (Omarosa recently ordered a huge shipment by courier, so let’s keep an eye on her!)

    Also of importance to Maiduguri are the famous Nigerian green sheep, also known as Gewad Greens, or just “Gewads.”  The green color is a genetic trait and not related to what they eat.  The sheep are raised on a ranch owned by the benevolent society Boko Haram, which sells wool caps and sweaters to tourists and to stores in many countries.  They also sponsor a fashion school famous for its daring lingerie and swimwear. 

    Get up early for a day trip to Lake Chad, which is shared by Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon.  Lake Chad is home to the African carp (Carpio terribilus), a huge, aggressive fish known to jump out of the water and attack people — even pursuing them onto land in some cases!  It is a favorite among experienced fishermen, who like to stuff this inedible fish for display.  (Eminem landed a 100-pounder after a two-hour battle!)

    The only good beach at Lake Chad is known as Koos Beach, which is a topless beach on the Nigerian side.  Fergie likes it a lot.  Elsewhere, the lake is bordered by marshes and desert shrublands, which are the habitat of several rare species of gerbils, including the horned gerbil, the cyclops gerbil, and the elephant gerbil, whose rough, crinkled skin makes it an ideal pet for Kanapathipillai Suvannavisayagamoorthy of 35 Valleywoods Road, North York, who has two retarded children and a mother who never bathes (see “Dung People of Sri Lanka,” Canadian Wonder Magazine For Children, July, 2002).

    Lake Chad, by the way, was first explored by the Vikings, and fragments of their settlement can be seen on the south side of the lake, just across the Chad border, on the Lake Road, about 100 meters from Nianaiebi’s Lemonade Stand, which is owned by Nianaiebi Diorra, boyfriend of Kayla Kleevage.  Kayla has become a very popular performer in Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic since she became too old for American club audiences. 

    There’s “old” shopping and “new” shopping in Maiduguri.  The old shopping is found in the city’s central plaza, which is bordered on all sides by quaint little shops and outdoor stalls, most with no names.  There are a few noteworthy ones.  There’s a store where traditional Muslim women go to buy their unmentionables.  There’s a shop that sells all sorts of live birds, lizards, and snakes (some poisonous).  There’s an herbal shop run by Madame Folashade Ahiata Price, whose specialty is poisonous plants.  (The CIA has relied on her expertise in bumping people off in such a way that nobody can prove it was murder.)  And there is a large shop that sells ammunition in bulk.  There are dozens of barrels full of bullets of all calibres and types.  You take a scoop and fill a bag, just like a bulk candy shop.  Every round is guaranteed to fire or you can return it for a replacement.

    I mustn’t forget the Walking Stone in the middle of the plaza.  This is a plain stone spire about fifteen feet high, with a plot of grass and a little fence around it.  You will find people walking slowly around this stone any hour of the day or night, and in any weather — and always counter-clockwise.  They could be “walking the stone” for a variety of reasons — to express their piety, atone for sins, search for inner peace, or contemplate a problem; or they could just be lunatics or bums with nothing better to do.  One merchant warned me, however, that a tourist — especially a Westerner — must never walk the stone, or people will think he’s poking fun at them.  One tourist not only walked the stone but walked it clockwise and was beaten to within an inch of his life for such insolence!

   The “new” shopping is located in the Maiduguri Mall, on the outskirts of town.  It’s modern, air-conditioned, and full of happy, prosperous Nigerian consumers.  The flagship store is Mighty Maidi, a department store.  All the sales clerks are young Muslim women, but not like any you’ve ever seen.  They wear a kerchief over their hair, which is normal for Muslim women, but from the neck down they’re dressed like sluts — big tits pushing out of their bras, micro-skirts, black fishnet stockings, and high heels.  (You’ll find this throughout the mall, in fact.)  You’ll be in there browsing for a long time, and you won’t leave without buying something.  These babes know how to be persuasive. 

    The mannequins in the clothing stores are dressed the same way, but since they’re not real, they don’t have to wear a kerchief.  They’re molded with absurdly huge tits and asses.  There’s even a store that just sells life-size foam rubber sex dolls, with tits as big as you want and any combination of features, and with fuckable, washable holes.

    I bought a ton of pipe tobacco at Big M Smoke Shop, and it was so stupidly cheap I couldn’t believe it.  Almost everyone in Maiduguri smokes, by the way, and there are no laws whatever regarding smoking.  And tobacco taxes are minimal.  (If that doesn’t qualify as Shangri-la, I don’t know what does!)

    The Maiduguri Mall is 50%-owned by Mack-Cali Realty.  The other 50% is owned by a Nigerian syndicate known as Manuke Khara.

    Hank Rabe and I had dinner at the Old Sawmill, the most elegant restaurant in town.  It used to be a slaughterhouse, and some of the old fixtures were left in during the conversion to give it a funky atmosphere.  Head Chef Abdoulkadir Ali Musse serves up a mighty fine monkey stew.  Here’s the recipe:

    Hack off arms, legs, and head of monkey, and rip out internal organs.  Trim remaining meat away from bones and chop into one-inch pieces.  Season with black pepper and brown in a skillet with palm oil and a splash of rum.  Transfer to stew pot, add three cups of fish stock, a chopped turnip, a cup of chopped celery, a dozen radishes, two chopped sweet potatoes, a half cup of corn starch, a tablespoon of basil, a tablespoon of marjoram, a tablespoon of sea salt, two or three chopped cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of dry mustard, an ounce of Angostura bitters, and a half cup of mayonnaise.  Simmer over a low-to-moderate heat for 1 1/2 hours.  Jessica Simpson and her date, soccer player Giovanni Tegano, who plays for Juventus, appeared to love it.  They sat at the table next to us.

    Later we went to Neek Hallak, the most popular nightclub.  There we caught a wonderful performance by musician Mbuke Jumgwuthka, the world’s foremost player of the kuntigi, a small, single-stringed lute made out of a sardine can covered with goatskin.  I recognized Madonna and her boyfriend, Jesus Luz, in the audience.  (She was disguised with a wig, but I still picked her out.)  They were clearly enthralled.

    Hank and I went back to the Ritz-Carlton for a nightcap with Manager Francois Cnockaert, who gave me the straight dope on Nigerian e-mails.  The Maiduguri branch of the Bank of Nigeria is the one that has all those secret bank accounts that people who e-mail you want you to help them move out of the country.  However, the money is all in the local currency, the naira, not U.S. dollars, and if you offer to help the frantic person who is praying to God for your benevolent assistance, you will be asked to pay for the rental of the cargo plane needed to transport all those banknotes to Switzerland. 

    Francois had a copy of one of my books, Blood-Sucking Monkeys From North Tonawanda, and asked me to autograph it, which I was happy to do.  (You can try searching for this collector’s item, as well as my other books, at www.abebooks.com, but I have no control over prices on the collector’s market.)

    Francois had heard that I was an expert at arranging “sister city” relationships and asked if I could find a sister city for Maiduguri.  He was close to the Mayor, who couldn’t speak English, and was acting on his behalf.  I told him I would do it before I left.  And I did.

    Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that Slough (rhymes with “cow”), Berkshire, England, is now the sister city of Maiduguri, Nigeria.  The Chief Executive of Slough Council, Ruth Bagley, is “thrilled beyond belief” and calls the new relationship the best thing to happen to Slough during her tenure.  She plans to visit Maiduguri sometime in 2010 and is very keen to get her hands on some of that wasp jelly anti-aging cream.

    Recommended vaccinations: Chikungunya virus, Rosai-Dorfman Disease, epidermolytic hyperkeratosis.

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

    How could we do a world tour of exotic cities and neglect Mongolia?  Impossible!  My many Mongoloid readers would never forgive me.  Mongolia is far too fascinating.  And I have uranium investments there.

    But we’re not going to Ulan Bator.  It’s too crowded with tourists this time of year.  Instead, we’re going to Choibalsan, the capital of Dornod province, in the eastern end of the country.  It’s less well-known but still has a tourist trade.  And the weather is nice right now — just a tad on the cool side, with one sunny day after another.

    So I’m on this cute, little Saab 340 of Eznis Airways, coming from Ulan Bator.  Across the aisle is a lady from New Zealand — Cherie Howie, a reporter for the Marlborough Express.  She looks unhappy.  What’s the problem?  Well, it seems that some nasty person nominated her for New Zealand Media Twit of the Year.  Her co-workers tried to reassure her that it was only a nomination; she hadn’t actually won yet.  But her editor was not amused.  He said she had to redeem herself.  So he put a big world map on the wall, closed his eyes, and threw a dart at it.  And wherever the dart hit, she had to go there and get a story.  The dart hit Choibalsan, Mongolia.

    “It’s not so bad,” I told her.  “The dart could have hit the middle of the ocean.  At least it hit a place with people.  And I’m told that Choibalsan is very interesting.  You’re sure to find a good story.”

    When you get to the airport, there’s a minibus waiting to take you to the Swissotel Choibalsan (comfy, unpretentious, moderately-priced), whose General Manager is Bart Westerhout.  “This is the best posting I’ve ever had,” says Bart.  “I could have gone to Paris or Geneva, but I jumped at Choibalsan.  The climate is invigorating, the people are upbeat, and the food is superb.”  Bart has a vast knowledge of Mongolia and the Choibalsan region, and I learned some surprising things.  “Genghis Khan hated this place.  It’s the only place in Mongolia he couldn’t stand to be in.  He felt there was something evil about it.  And he may have been right.  There is a legend that an evil spirit, which is referred to as ‘The Evil One,’ comes to Choibalsan every thirty-three years.  Two-thousand-and-ten will be the thirty-third year.  That ought to pack in the tourists!”  What happened in 1977?  “That was before my time.  But local people say there was an outbreak of mass hysteria in the Buddhist monastery.  The monks claimed The Evil One had appeared.  They resorted to two days of non-stop chanting to drive it away.  Several people and some animals disappeared.  The government investigated and dismissed the whole thing as superstition and capitalist propaganda.  Today, the older people still believe in The Evil One, but the young people don’t.”  And does this Evil One have a name?  “It has a name,” says Bart, “but you must never speak it aloud, or you will die.  Before you leave, I’ll write it down on paper for you.”  Wow!  Now there’s a story for Cherie Howie!

    Another surprising thing I learned was that, despite the early Mongols’ reputation as horsemen, modern Mongolians are afraid of horses!  “They won’t even get on a pony,” says Bart.  But outside of town there’s a zebra ranch!  The government brought them to Mongolia as an experiment to see if they could adapt to the climate and also as a possible food animal.  The zebras adapted, but no one wanted to eat them.  So they serve only as a tourist attraction.  You can ride them if they’re properly tranquilized.  Another good story for Cherie Howie!

    Choibalsan has an east side and a west side.  The west side became seriously depopulated and fell into ruin when the Russians left, and the east side is where the action is.  But…something really big is brewing on the depressed west side: a hockey arena is being built!  And this story hasn’t hit the media in North America yet, but Bart is in the know, and he gave me the straight dope:  Jim Balsillie, who is trying to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, Ontario, is secretly creating a Mongolian Hockey League!  For what it would cost him to buy the Coyotes, he could build a half dozen rinks, sign a lot of young players from the minor leagues, and create a complete league.  “The Mongolians will love it,” says Bart.  “It’s a novelty.  It’s a sport.  He’s made some good connections in the government.  It’s going to happen.”  There’s another  good story for Cherie Howie!

    Or so I thought.  I met the reporter for lunch at the Verena Restaurant and told her about The Evil One, the zebras, and the hockey league.  “No, no, no,” she said.  “The readers of  the Express don’t believe in superstition, they have no interest in zebras, and we don’t play hockey in New Zealand.”  Okay, well, I tried to be helpful.

    The Verena specializes in the local delicacy — sheep brains.  Head Chef Elshad Abasov is a master of it.  He gave me his recipe for Sheep Brain a la Choibalsan:

    Remove outside skin and soak brain in cold water until blood has run out.   Then put brain in pot with two quarts of water, four ounces of red wine vinegar, two onions (quartered), one carrot, one half head of red cabbage, two stalks of rhubarb, six okra, one tablespoon salt, one half teaspoon black pepper, one half teaspoon sage, one teaspoon chopped ginger, one half teaspoon chili powder, one tablespoon juniper berries, one sprig of dill, one sprig of rosemary, and two bay leaves.  Bring to a boil and simmer for one-half hour.  Remove brain, cut in half, and serve on bed of orzo and  cottage cheese.  Pour rest of the pot over the brain.  Heston Blumenthal has added this dish to the new menu at the Little Chef restaurant chain (U.K.) with great success.  (And you thought Brits had no taste, didn’t you?)  Cherie Howie went to the ladies’ room to throw up, but I suspect it was a trick to stick me with the bill.

    Not far from the Verena is the Choibalsan Music Hall.  The Mongolian heavy metal rock band Hurd was in town, so I went.  I have no idea what their songs are about, but they were loud, and they threw pieces of raw meat at the audience.  Hurd will becoming to Canada in April of 2010 for a tour of the Atlantic provinces, and Rita MacNeil will be opening for them.

    The Dornod Midget Ballet Company, based in Choibalsan, puts on a distinctly Mongolian version of Swan Lake.  You can see them at the Choibalsan Little Theatre, located on the bank of the Kherlen River, next to the mental hospital.

    There’s good shopping in Choibalsan, especially if you’re into guns, leather, and liquor.  The biggest surprise, however, is fashion.  The tremendously popular avant garde designer Helmut Lang has opened a big boutique and is setting the fashion world abuzz with what he calls the “Mongolian Psycho” look.  His proteges, Michael and Nicole Colovos, have been managing the label since 2005, but Lang has returned to manage the Choibalsan outlet personally because of his Mongolian roots.

    Lots of little shops sell quaint novelties, including busts of Elvis and Genghis Khan, but most of these stores are run by Chinese, oddly enough. 

    You can rent a Jeep and go visit the Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness, a unique mini-ecosystem an hour’s drive north of town (bad dirt road, so drive slowly).  Here you will find the Mongolian leatherneck turtle in abundance.  Visitors can rent guns and shoot them.  The shells of the leatherneck turtle are fashioned by local artisans to make party hats and protective athletic gear.  (Where’s Cherie Howie?  This is a story!)

    At Bart Westerhout’s suggestion, I went five miles west of town to view the Moukalaba-Doudou Industrial Park, where all plants and animals have been exterminated to allow for coal mining, oil and gas drilling, and the manufacturing of toxic chemicals.  The multi-colored plumes of smoke are breathtaking at sunset, and any birds flying through them fall dead to the ground.

    Beside the park runs the Waka Canal, which carries untreated sewage from Choibalsan.  New grooms are invited to test their fortitude by diving into the canal to retrieve money scattered by their friends as part of a traditional Mongolian marriage custom.  It’s a scene straight out of The Magic Christian.

    Elsewhere, the Mongolian Institute of Aluminum Siding offers the visitor a stunning display of artistic and industrial metalworks.  Tuesdays are “pay what you like.”

    The steppes of Mongolia are mostly devoid of trees, but a rare exception is the forest of okoume trees south of Choibalsan.  The wood is used to make furniture for movie stars in Beverly Hills, and the fruit is used to make weight-loss products advertised in The National Enquirer. 

    Earthquakes happen occasionally in this part of Mongolia.  When the earth splits open, giant prehistoric bugs emerge to devour people and livestock.  But such events do not cloud the spirits of the normally optimistic Mongolians, who are used to adversity.  Indeed, Choibalsan’s official motto is “Gii chii pizda,” which means “The future has to be better.”

    Back at the Swissotel, I asked Bart Westerhout if Choibalsan had a sister city, and he said no.  We agreed it should have one.  So he invited the city’s Mayor, Shukhratjon Aikoraev (“Call me Shooky”) to come over for a drink.  Shooky doesn’t have any real governing authority.  He’s sort of a figurehead, who spends most of his time in a smoke-filled gambling den, but this was the sort of thing he could do within his limited power.  Sister city?  Great idea!  And I knew just the place — Bismarck, North Dakota.  Same climate, same geography, same spirit.  Mayor John Warford (“The fighting orthodontist of North Dakota”) was thrilled with the idea.  Bismarck didn’t have a real sister city (we won’t count Mandan), and with the mayoral election coming up in 2010, what a gift it would be to the community!  John Warford deserves to be reelected, and I urge all Bismarckers to vote for him.

    Cherie Howie happened to meet us in the bar, and I had a ton of story ideas for her: the rock band Hurd, the midget ballet, the Helmut Lang boutique, Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness, the industrial park, grooms diving into sewage for money, the Institute of Aluminum Siding, the okoume tree forest, the earthquakes, giant bugs, and, best of all, Choibalsan’s new sister city!  But it was no, no, no, no, no.  Not for the readers of the Marlborough Express.  “Then what the heck are you going to write about?” I asked.

    “Cats,” she said.

    “Cats?”

    “Yes.  House cats.  How people here love their cats.  Our readers love cat stories.”

    Now that’s journalism!

    Before I left Choibalsan, Bart Westerhout slipped a folded piece of paper into my hand.  “You wanted to know the name of The Evil One — the name that must never be spoken aloud.  Promise me…you won’t even look at it until you’re on the plane back to UB.”  So I promised.

    Climbing into the cool autumn air, with the exotic city of Choibalsan fading from view, and Cherie Howie with her laptop out, putting the finishing touches on her cat article, I nervously unfolded the paper that Bart Westerhout had given to me and read the name of The Evil One.  And please…don’t ever say this name aloud:

    GORGULAX.

    Recommended vaccinations: Dyggve Melchior Clausen Syndrome, sacrococcygeal teratoma, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

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

    A potato-hungry Nicaragua can be grateful for a city like Puerto Cabezas.  This lovely little port on the Atlantic coast is surrounded by vast potato farms, which grow 80% of the potatoes eaten in Nicaragua.  They are the Balurde Brown variety, not seen in North America.  Long lines of trucks rumble out of Puerto Cabezas on the only road into the city, which goes all the way to Managua.  It is referred to, appropriately enough, as the Potato Highway, and it was described by Ernest Hemingway in one of his lesser-known stories, “At Noon Cometh the Spud Truck.”

    This part of Nicaragua belongs to indigenous people, the Shinnecock Indians, who raised potatoes and ducks since their beginnings.  The ducks, however, got wiped out by some sort of bird flu, which was probably brought to Nicaragua by Balboa in 1513.  He was looking for another ocean, and the Indians pointed south and said, “It’s that way.”  So he and his men went that way and “discovered” the Pacific Ocean.  And along the way they had sex with a lot of Indian women, who were “easy,” so that’s how Nicaragua got a large population of Spanish-Indian hybrids.  The women are pretty hot.  Bianca Jagger is a good example.  She got her start at fame as the country’s Potato Queen of 1964, and she is still the country’s favorite celebrity.

    Tourism is just starting to take off in Puerto Cabezas.  Local people still regard North Americans as “los estupidos norteamericanos,” because of the thousands of liberal white kids who went to Nicaragua back in the 80’s to pick crops and show solidarity with the peasants.  It is pretty stupid when you think about it: paying your own way to Nicaragua to pick crops for nothing.  And these are the same fools who protest against “exploitation” of cheap labor in the Third World by big American companies.  Well, as I always say, if you identify with the poor, you’re destined to be poor.   The people I know who went to Nicaragua to pick crops still live like poor bohemians, and when I offer to give them good stock tips or to teach them how to sell options, they laugh and say, “I don’t have any money.”

    But a second wave of visitors is finding Puerto Cabezas as a tourist destination, and that’s good as long as they avoid the rest of Nicaragua.  Managua, for instance, is a total f—ing ripoff.  You must never spend a single minute in Managua.  So forget about getting to Puerto Cabezas via the Potato Highway, which is too dangerous for tourists.  And forget about flying from Managua to Puerto Cabezas.  The airlines suck, they’re a ripoff, and the airport at Puerto Cabezas is, to be euphemistic, rather basic, and landing there is risky except in daylight and in perfect weather.

    So your best access to Puerto Cabezas is the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Joker of the Seas.  Joker is the “cheap” ship in the fleet, and it offers a bargain-priced cruise to some of the less-visited destinations, such as Devil’s Island.  Joker will give you three days in Puerto Cabezas, but you can always get off and stay longer and pick up Joker on the way back.

    You’ll want to stay at the Carlton Hotel Puerto Cabezas, which is the only hotel up to civilized-white-people standards.  General Manager Massimiliano Perversi runs an efficient inn with about 50 rooms, averaging a very reasonable $150 a night, not including the $10 “health tax” the government charges you for bringing your civilized-white-people diseases into the country.  Some of the rooms in the Carlton are fitted out in bizarre fashion.  For instance, you have “crypt” rooms, where you sleep in a big coffin, and there are all these skeletons and monster figures and creepy sound effects.  “It was Daniel Ortega’s idea,” explains Perversi, referring to the President of Nicaragua.  “He comes up here occasionally with a lady, and they like things kinky.”  Other theme rooms are “The Mummy’s Tomb,” “Spider Island,” and “The Tingler.”  There is also a special party room, Room 13, that is reserved for Ortega, but what’s inside is a closely guarded secret.

    Fishing is the other important aspect of life in Puerto Cabezas, besides potatoes.  The city’s canneries process tons of hagfish every day.  When the cannery whistle blows, the whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the silver rivers of fish pour in out of the boats.  Capt. Neptaly Arias, captain of the fishing boat Zorra, is the port’s most colorful character.  His eye for a hagfish is rivaled only by his eye for a  woman.  “Here the hagfish is king,” he says.  “There are many varieties of hagfish, but the Atlantic hagfish is the most delicious.  And they are prized by the ladies, who put them in their vaginas while they are still alive.”

    Arias says that there have been years when the hagfish simply went away for no reason.  Then the Indians had to resort to their sacred magic to bring them back.  One ritual is the burning of zozobra, a 40-foot-high effigy made of wood and chicken wire, meant to represent sin.  All the people must write down their sins on paper and place them in zozobra, or they must place any object connected with their sins in zozobra.  When the effigy is full of all the people’s sins, it is burned to expiate their guilt.  Another ritual is the “stickdance,” which is practiced nowhere else in the world.  The most beautiful Indian women must dance naked around a tall stake.  Then they are tied to the stake and whipped by the old women to make them scream.  The screams are heard by the hagfish, who become excited and return.  It’s  all part of a religious belief system, so you can’t criticize it.

    Hagfish is served everywhere in Puerto Cabezas, but unless you are willing to risk diarrhea, your best place to eat is at the Carlton’s restaurant.  Head Chef Rosalina Dolmo Martinez gave me her recipe for Hagfish Puerto Cabezas:

    Rinse six Atlantic hagfish to remove superficial slime.  Place in pot of boiling milk for five minutes, then transfer to casserole dish.  Sprinkle with cayenne pepper, salt, and turmeric.  Cover with tomato sauce.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.  Prepare bed of mashed potatoes using Balurde Brown potatoes, with two tablespoons of lard blended in.  Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over potatoes.  Pour finished hagfish and sauce over potatoes.  Gordon Ramsay has called this recipe the most outstanding fish dish he has ever eaten. 

    The bars in Puerto Cabezas are on the edgy side, serving mainly fishermen and sailors of the Nicaraguan Navy.  It’s best to have a local person as your escort, otherwise the patrons and staff may play rude jokes on you because we are still “estupidos norteamericanos” in their eyes and therefore fair game.  Capt. Arias took me to the Hagfish Saloon, which is owned by his friend Raul Barahona.  Patrons like to engage in a gruesome variation of arm wrestling involving hot coals, and on Saturday nights the place is turned into a makeshift boxing arena, where drunken toughs can vent their aggression and betting is encouraged.  There is also a dwarf dishwasher who is feeble-minded, and the patrons take turns tossing him into a net.  Raul insists the lad enjoys it. 

    Sailors are also drawn to the city’s two whorehouses.  You need an escort there, too, if you’re an “estupido norteamericano.”   Both are owned by a relative of Daniel Ortega.  Capt. Arias says all the girls are clean.  Many of them are Russian.

    Shopping is concentrated in the Pelotudo Market, which used to consist mainly of farmers selling potatoes off their carts.  But the market has gone upscale for the growing tourist trade.  Tim Horton’s has a donut shop.  Harry Winston has a jewelry shop.  Takashimaya, a big Japanese department store chain, has moved in, as well as American Apparel and Toys R Us.  And guess what!  NO CRAPPY CHINESE MERCHANDISE ANYWHERE!  Amazing!  There is one store that is very peculiar, however, according to Capt. Arias — The Anti-Aging Shop.  “They sell cosmetics to keep the skin looking young.  But there are almost never any customers in the store.  They don’t run sales or promotions.  They don’t advertise.  They don’t have a website.  And they’re not even listed in the Yellow Pages.  Yet they remain there year after year, occupying expensive retail space.  What does all that add up to?” he asks, giving me a sly look.  I confess I don’t know.  “Ach!  Estupido norteamericano!  It’s money-laundering!  Don’t you see?”  Wow!  You could have knocked me over with a feather!

    Puerto Cabezas has two beaches, Malecon and Panocha.  They’re fine to sit on, but that’s about it.  There’s no surfing.  Bathing is at your own risk, on account of the occasional shark.  Don’t go there alone, and don’t carry any money or valuables.  The death rate for Malecon is about one per 10,000 visitors, and Panocha is closer to two per 10,000.  But the latter is a topless beach with lots of hot women with big tits, so it’s worth the additional risk. 

    A mile north of town is the Haunted Lighthouse of Death, so named because a visitor died of food poisoning after eating a hamburger from the snack bar, and his spirit haunts the lighthouse seeking revenge.  Before that it was just the Puerto Cabezas Lighthouse, but these people know how to turn tragedy into opportunity.  The lighthouse actually serves little purpose from a nautical point of view, since there are no reefs or dangerous currents.   But it’s a make-work job created by the government, and if the lighthouse-keeper isn’t too drunk to attend to his duties, the light is turned on at night to serve as an aid to drunken pilots looking for the airport.

    South of Puerto Cabezas is an artificial lake that you won’t find on any map.  It’s referred to as Ink Lake.  This is where the Sandinista government dumps the bodies of writers and journalists who have gotten up the government’s nose.  The name was the inspiration for the Canadian story anthology From Ink Lake (Vintage Canada, 1995), which, unfortunately, was a poor seller because I wasn’t included in it.

    Puerto Cabezas is the site of the world’s only shelter for “hand-walkers.”  These are mentally deficient people who walk on all fours like animals.  Apparently, there are a lot of them in Nicaragua, but no one knows why.  The Indians regard them as cursed.  The shelter is operated by the Church of Santo Cabron, which raises money by selling mail order ministerial credentials through classified ads in tabloids (suggested donation $50).  Father Jesus Humberto Canales, a self-ordained minister not connected to any particular denomination, was once photographed with Hillary Clinton and milks it for all it’s worth.  He also has interests in racetracks and casinos in South and Central America.  The hand-walkers appeared in a documentary on NOVA.  One of them has been offered a scholarship to study sociology at Northeastern University in Boston.

    A new attraction scheduled to open late in 2010 is “Triassic Park,” which will feature large Komodo lizards that roam freely.  Jon Gosselin is the major investor behind it.  He says it’ll be a great outing for parents with too many children.  He also intends to use it for a reality show about a bachelor who has lots of girlfriends, and they all live in this big park full of lizards.  (But TLC isn’t going to get it!)

    Puerto Cabezas doesn’t have a Mayor as such.  Instead, the de facto  power broker of the city is potato tycoon Ernesto Echavarria, who is very tight with Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas.  I was fortunate enough to meet him over dinner at the Carlton, along with Massimiliano Perversi.  By an astounding coincidence, it turned out that Echavarria owned one of my books, I Chewed Mrs. Ewing’s Raw Guts, which was given to him as a gift by an “estupido norteamericano” from Toronto, who went to Nicaragua to pick potatoes.  This book is an out-of-print collector’s item, and you might possibly find it (along with my other books) at www.abebooks.com, although I have no control over prices on the collector’s market.

    I asked Echavarria if Puerto Cabezas had a “sister city,” and he said yes — Burlington, Vermont.  I was surprised, so I investigated further and found that Burlington had seven sister cities, which Echavarria didn’t realize.  We agreed that Puerto Cabezas deserved an exclusive sister relationship, and I said I would find another sister city for it.  And I did — Blenheim, New Zealand.  The deal was sealed with Mayor Alistair Sowman of Marlborough District Council, who will be visiting Puerto Cabezas as a special guest early in 2010.  Capt. Arias promises to take him to both whorehouses and get him drunk at the Hagfish Saloon.  Whether Sowman gets to party in Room 13 at the Carlton, however, depends entirely on President Ortega’s schedule.

    Recommended vaccinations: Colorado tick fever, Erdheim Chester Disease, Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia.

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