Imagine yourself standing at the mouth of a great river, looking out at the sea.  Through the mist you can see two islands, Imaklik and Inaklik.  On a nearby pebble spit, native Yukaghirs cook walrus meat beside their yarangas, their baydars stacked neatly against a giant sequoia.  The wind blows the mosquitoes out to sea, leaving the eland and moose free to nibble the wild beets and scallions unmolested.  The sound of the crwth can be heard, along with a maiden singing in a strange language.  Floats made of inflated seal stomachs drift in the river, while overhead a flock of cassowaries fly toward their nesting grounds in the Arakamchechen Peninsula.  The sea, the sky, and the land are pure, clean, and peaceful.  Guess where you are….No, not Moncton, New Brunswick!  You’re in Cotabato City, Philippines!

    Book your trip on Philippine Airlines and pay with your American Express Card, and your recommended vaccinations will be free.  Depart from Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Las Vegas, and fly to Manila, then change planes to Awang Airport, which serves Cotabato City.  Look for the pink luxury bus that says “Raffles Cotabato.”  That’s your hotel.

    Nicholas Emery, the General Manager, runs the poshest inn in the city.  Expect to pay about $275 a night (or if you go during the typhoon season, there’s a 50% discount).  The Raffles touch is unmistakable: Lost Continent seagrass carpet, faux-penguin-skin headboards, petticoat-shaped chandeliers with multicolored lasers, vibrating bamboo bimbo rocker, digitized stereo spider monkey screeching from within the walls and ceiling, Spanish Inquisition brocade wall hangings, giant cactus pedestal, spacecraft-style transformer shelves with wheelchair assist, voice-activated hand-shaped entertainment pods, sandstone bathroom with jungle canopy, objets d’art imported from South Moluccas, Baroque combination desk/bar/coffee table/drug station, robot mini-fridge and rare earth ceramic stove ensemble, oversize walk-in closet with Victorian gynecology sex chair, replica Corinthian spitoon, Lunar Receiving Lab environmental control system with Rocketdyne bug zapper, and Siberian-style gulag party bed, flanked by avant garde waterfall from the House of Szemetlada (Oroszlany, Hungary).  Nick Emery is the author of the children’s book Tomaso, the Unhappy Potato Beetle, and he is the godfather of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

    My host for this visit was Butch Bustamonte, who is the head of the John Ashley Fan Club.  John Ashley, star of Frankenstein’s Daughter and other B movies, is idolized in Cotabato City since he produced several movies in this part of the Philippines, including Beast of Blood, Twilight People, and Mad Doctor of Blood Island.  There’s a monument to the handsome actor in the city’s park, and Butch took me to see it.  It’s a fine life-size statue depicting John Ashley as he appeared in High School Caesar (probably his best film), surrounded by a well-manicured bed of crocuses and Venus flytraps.  The monument is cared for by Cotabato City’s civic organization, the Spitola Dumbasa.  The “SD,” as it is referred to, also runs a cake-decorating school for ex-convicts and sponsors the annual Philippines National Spitting Championships, in which boys compete in various spitting skills.

    “John loved the caves.  They’re the main attraction of the city,” said Butch.  He was referring to the Kutawato Caves, a long underground network right under the city.  No other city in the world has such a feature.  Don’t bring the kids on this outing, because the caves are 7 km long.  It’s pretty spooky down there, even with the lighting.  I thought of a good tag line for promoting the caves: Feel the Evil.  Butch laughed and said it was a good one and he’d suggest it to the City Council.  I noticed there were numerous passages that were roped off, and Butch explained that those areas were unsafe.  However, there had always been rumors — call it an urban myth,  if you like — that those roped-off passages led to the underground caves of an ancient race called the Deroes, who may still be alive.  Mysterious disappearances of people and animals have been attributed to the Deroes, including Amelia Earhart and Gordon Brown’s pet hamster.  Butch said John Ashley always believed that the caves led to something the government didn’t want people to know about.  The caves also have a lot of bats.  Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom visited the caves, because Khloe, like her sisters, is fascinated by cave bats.  Odom hated every minute of the tour, according to Butch, and couldn’t wait to get out.

    After the cave tour, Butch took me to eat at a fancy restaurant called Putanginamo, which specializes in zebra mussels, a delicacy for which Cotabato City is famous.  Head Chef Cornelio Cuevas-Pena is the originator of Zebra Mussels Cotabato, and here’s the recipe:

    For the Sauce Cotabato, put four ounces of butter and three spoonfuls of flour in a saucepan and heat until smooth.  Add one cup of eel broth, bring to a boil, and mix in three egg yolks and a can of evaporated milk.  Add a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper, one chopped clove of garlic, and the pulp of three or four moonseed fruits.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  For the zebra mussels, wash first to remove grit, then put in casserole with four ounces of white wine and one cup of water.  Bring to a boil, add six chopped shallots, and boil until mussels are open.  Remove the mussels to another vessel and strain the broth.  Serve on the half shell with the Sauce Cotabato and a side of french fries.

    The South Seas Mall, which opened in 2005, draws a lot of tourists, although it is plain and unremarkable by Western standards.  You may prefer the funkier old shopping district downtown, with its odd boutiques.  Kulangot T-Shirts, owned by Ramiro Villagrana, specializes in “mistake” t-shirts with unrecognizable faces and misspelled slogans.  They will custom-print anything you want on a t-shirt.  Pokpok, owned by Marin Agudelo, sells local handicrafts such as eelskin wallets and handbags, burqas for Muslim women, and a wide assortment of personal care products that failed safety tests in other countries.  And Braulio’s Sex Shop, owned by Braulio Soto-Loera, specializes in Filipino porn, which is heavy on exploitation and violence (and you don’t even mind that the Filipina women are flat-chested).

    The biggest surprise of my trip was walking into a dimly-lit second-hand bookstore and finding a worn copy of my 1980 classic, Lightning Struck My Dick.  I bought it as a gift for Nick Emery for $2, since he has a weird sense of humor.  You can try looking for this book (and my other ones) at www.abebooks.com, which serves the collector’s market, but don’t blame me for the high prices.

    The theatre district had two hit plays running while I was there — Cebu Boo-Boo, a musical comedy about life in a Filipino prison, and Shoes, a musical about Imelda Marcos. 

    One item you won’t find in any tourist guide, however, is the Washday Problems Center (note the American spelling), which is a CIA front located in a nondescript building above some stores.  I promised the Agency not to reveal the location.  If you should happen to find your way in, you will see people in white smocks doing laundry.  They’re testing laundry products, ha, ha.  The man in charge is named Mike, and he says he’s from Syracuse.  No, I won’t tell you what these people are really doing.

    Cotabato City is steeped in religious tradition.  Filipinos have always been extreme in their religious devotion, and there is no better example than the Good Friday “Procession of Flagellation,” in which devout Christians drag heavy crosses and whip themselves with flails until their backs are bloody.  The procession begins on Ecorse Road at the St. Rodan Church (named after the patron saint of virgins seeking husbands in the U.S., which rules out all Russian and East European women), then goes along Washtenaw Avenue, then along Packard Road, Geddes Road, and Textile Road, arriving finally at Jollibee, where everyone has milk shakes and burgers.  Street vendors will try to sell you souvenir whips, but they are poorly-made Chinese crap that falls apart after one or two uses (big surprise), not like the authentic Western-style horsewhips I use on that Socialist bitch Olivia Chow, who likes severe ass whipping.  (Hazel McCallion used to be into that but now says she’s too old.)

    I should mention that nutrias roam freely in Cotabato City, and tourists are always alarmed because they mistake them for giant rats.  These big rodents are quite friendly and gentle, and it’s okay to let your kids play with them.

    There are a lot of Muslims in Cotabato City, but they’re just as benign as the nutrias, so don’t worry.

    Speaking of Muslims, Cotabato City now has a “sister city” with a Muslim Mayor — Luton, England.  Mayor Muhammad Riaz has come a long way since the days when he stuck windshields on Vauxhalls at the local auto factory.  Now he’s the Mayor of “Britain’s best town” (according to a survey).  He’s eager to network with the prominent Muslims in Cotabato City and find out about such things as e-mail security, banking laws, and the police.  “We can help each other,” he says.  And he doesn’t mind admitting that he’s ambitious.  “So I’m a pushy Paki.  What of it?  Today Luton, tomorrow the world…..Don’t print that.”  England was once such a great country.  You can read about it in books.

    Somewhere in the U.S. there is a Dr. Jeffrey Brown, who was a dead ringer for John Ashley when he was a young man.  Every time I see a picture of Ashley, I think I’m looking at Jeffrey.  If you think you know him, ask him if he went to Syosset High School and if he remembers his next-door neighbor.

    Recommended vaccinations: dracunculosis, cholinergic urticaria, Yunis Varon Syndrome.

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

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    Do you mind if I take you to the driest desert in the world?  Don’t worry.  I won’t let you die (unless you’re an anti-capitalist protester).  I’m one of the world’s experts on desert survival.  Just read my article “How To Survive In The Sahara Desert” at www.pointsincase.com.   

    But we’re not going to the Sahara.  We’re going to a secret place — hidden, remote, mysterious — a place where time stands still, as if in a dream.  It has been compared (inaccurately) with Michael Jackson’s Neverland.  Exotic animals roam freely, and men lost in deep thought step in their shit.  It is situated on the fabled Coast of Pirates, near the northern tip of Chile.  It is the “Miracle of the Atacama” — the exotic city of Pisagua, Chile.

    No one knows how old this city really is, for it is built on ancient Inca ruins that have never been accurately dated.  The descendants of the Incas lived here in the Golden Age of Pirates.  They traded with all the legendary pirates, including Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd, and Bill Mazeroski.  The inhabitants of Pisagua traded borax, which they mined in the desert.  The pirates used it for their laundry.  In return, the pirates traded colored beads of little value, because the local people were not good in business.  This may offer a clue as to why the Inca empire collapsed.

    All along the coast north and south of Pisagua, the pirates are reputed to have buried caches of treasure.  They have never been found.  But adventurers still try their luck, walking the beaches with their metal detectors.  Rogues have sold numerous maps over the years purporting to show the location of treasure, but all have been denounced as fakes.  Does this mean there is no treasure?  No.  The coast is still largely unexplored.

    Fly to Arica, Chile, and leave that crowd of tourists behind and take the bus south to Pisagua — a place usually bypassed.  There is one good hotel — the Waldorf Astoria Pisagua, which is moderately priced.  Its General Manager is Dirk De Cuyper, to whom the Atacama Desert is like heaven.  “For years I worked in Shanghai,” he says, “but I got sick and tired of being surrounded by slitty-eyed Chinese bastards.  You’re from Toronto, so you know exactly what I mean.  My soul longed for the desert — but not one with any Muslim bastards either.  The Atacama beckoned to me in my dreams.  I don’t know why, but I just had to come here.  It’s the driest desert in the world, you know.  Dead bodies that are left exposed don’t decompose.  They just dry up like mummies.  The landscape on the other side of the highway is as bleak as the moon.  What hotel manager wouldn’t love a place like this?”  Enough said.  Rent me a suite long-term!

    The Waldorf Astoria Pisagua used to be a prison.  When Pinochet overthrew Allende, he banished thousands of Commie bastards to the north of Chile, and most of them died there.  The prison at Pisagua was eventually closed, and Waldorf Astoria bought it and turned it into a hotel.  (Big secret: Waldorf Astoria is going to buy Alcatraz and turn it into a luxury resort!  You heard it here first!)  Renovating it would be a challenge, so the company gave the job to the famous Mexican designer Carlos Raul Gil Barragan, whose TV show, Prison Makeover, is distributed internationally on satellite by Televisa Networks.  The basic boxy layout was left as is, but the interior spaces are cleverly broken up with mirrors, partitions, and windows, along with avant-garde furniture and unusual wall paint.  So the eye fails to see the right angles and sort of slides over things instead.  It’s a bit like the stealth profiles of modern warships, which scatter radar and are almost invisible.  I’m going to buy one and get close to a Greenpeace ship and blast it out of the water.

    The hotel is known for its excellent spa, which makes use of natural deposits of borax, iodine, and nitrates.  These minerals dissolved in the hot water rejuvenate the skin and cure arthritis.  They also cure eating disorders.  Kelly Ripa, Victoria Beckham, and Tori Spelling have all been to the spa and have benefited from it.

    The Waldorf Astoria Pisagua also has quite a good restaurant.  Dirk De Cuyper gives all the credit to his Head Chef, Roberto Aguayo Briseno.  “He just showed up out of the blue and said he wanted to cook.  I didn’t know anything about him, but I decided to give him a chance.  He’s brilliant.  He could be working in Paris or Rome or London, but I’ve got him here in Pisagua, Chile.”  Chef Roberto’s specialty is llama stew.  Here’s the recipe:

    Remove head from llama and send it to PETA, along with a note telling them to shove it up their ass.  Clean carcass and carve out large rump portion.  Also save blood and liver.  Cut rump into two-inch pieces and put in large pot and cover with equal parts of water and white wine.  Add sliced carrots, coarsely-chopped onions, a bouquet garni with plenty of thyme in it, a tablespoon of salt, and two tablespoons of peppercorns.  Let stand for 48 hours, then drain and remove meat to a platter.  In a large frying pan place one-half pound butter and a half cup of flour, and stir over medium heat.  Add pieces of llama and simmer for ten minutes; then add the juice from the original pot and a glass of water or bouillon, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer slowly.  Separately, parboil and fry in olive oil two cups of pearl onions, and a half-pound of salt pork in half-inch squares.  After 1 1/2 hours of simmering the meat, add the onions, pork, and a cup of  mushrooms, and continue simmering for another 1/2 hour.  Chop the liver fine, mix with the blood, and stir into the stew just before removing from the stove.  Don’t let the liver boil.  Season to taste and serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

    Of course, llama is probably not available where you live, so you’ll just have to come down to Pisagua to enjoy this dish.

    Llamas roam freely in this part of Chile, and they’re seen all the time by the writers and artists in the “colony” outside of town.  This is what I was referring to in the introduction when I mentioned men lost in thought stepping in animal shit.  These artists and writers rent little cabins for next to nothing, and they have a quiet place to be creative.  There are about two dozen cabins scattered in the desert between the town and the Pan American Highway.

    But according to Dirk De Cuyper, the current lot of writers and artists is rather suspicious.  “These guys don’t look or act like writers and artists.  When they come into town, they don’t want to talk to anyone.  What are they writing?  What are they painting?  They’re evasive.  They could be wanted criminals, for all I know.”

    I got curious, so I went over to the Elbow Room, the town’s main drinking place, to try to meet some of these people.  The bartender pointed out two of them for me.  “That one’s a poet, and the other one’s a painter,” he said, indicating two scruffy, sullen-looking guys with hats pulled down over their faces.  So I went over to them, I said I was a Canadian writer, and I asked to see some of their work.  One fellow gave me a suspicious look, then reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a piece of paper that was soiled and yellow with age.  It was a photocopy of a poem:

    Dialogue of Deaf Persons

–Are you an American?

–No, I am another.

–Are you a tourist?

–No, I am two ones,

  for I’m not alone but with me.

–What o’clock is it?

–It is seven o’clock ben.

–Yes, it’s seven o’clock at my sock. 

    I knew the poem was a plagiarism, and I knew who the poet was.  “Very interesting,” I said.  “What have you got?” I asked the other one.

    The “artist” gave me a twisted grin and pulled a much-traveled paper out of his pocket.  “I’m still working on it,” he said, his rotten teeth showing.  It was obviously a tracing of an illustration from a magazine ad for a mail order art school.

    “That’s very good,” I said politely.

    “Thank you,” he said.

    Later, I took a long walk out to the area of the colony and discovered a bank of mailboxes by the road where these people picked up their mail.  I wrote down some names for the benefit of the morbidly curious: Gabriel Tapia-Lemus, Ramiro Hernandez Lucatero, Alberto Molina Infante, Martin Moreno Oseguera,Galindo Nunez Melgoza, and Ismael Rios-Gallardo.  Those are certainly great names for artists and writers.  Maybe my suspicions and Dirk De Cuyper’s are all wrong.

    I spent a lot of time at the Elbow Room, which is mainly a fishermen’s hangout.  The fishermen go out for tuna, skate, pollock, and herring.  Sea lions can also be seen from the window of the tavern, cavorting in the surf, but they are protected by law.  The fishermen drink a local liquor called cara de cona.  I asked what it was made from, and they laughed and said, “You don’t need to know.  Just drink it.”  This is the sort of place where you’re apt to get beaten up for ordering a banana daiquiri.  (Just ask Adam Lambert.  He’ll never come back.)

    Because Pisagua is not yet well known to tourists, visitors can enjoy a relatively uncrowded beach.  A few boats will take tourists out for a day of fishing.  Otherwise, there are no special attractions.  Main drawback: no hot babes anywhere in sight.  This beach needs help. 

    The only day tour you can go on is a bus ride out to the salt flats, where you can watch flocks of flamingos and puffins next to each other.  This is the only place in the world where these species are found together.  On the way back, you will stop at an abandoned borax mine, where hundreds of dead bodies of prisoners are stacked on pallets.  They’re absolutely dry.  Now, that is the sort of tourist attraction you’re not going to find anywhere else!

    The night sky is brilliant with stars (northern Chile has the best viewing conditions in the world), and the local astronomy club likes to set up their telescopes and let tourists have a look (remember to give the boys a tip).  It was here in Pisagua, in fact, that Comet Pelotudo 2005 was first identified.  This comet is now believed to be correlated to the appearance of the 17-year locust, a discovery which, if confirmed, would be “of immense importance to mankind,” according to David Suzuki’s housekeeper.  The comet is also unique for its violet color and approximately rectangular orbit.

    You know by now that I try to find “sister cities” for my Exotic Cities.  In searching for a sister city for Pisagua, I looked for a place in or near a desert, and one that I felt deserved the same sort of tourist boost as Pisagua.  And I found it: Halls Creek, Western Australia, on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert.  I was unable to reach Council President Jim Craig of the Shire of Halls Creek, but I was able to reach Warren Olsen, the CEO of the Council.  “I’m the guy who gets things done around here!” he shouted over the phone.  “The Members of Council are a bunch of useless, do-nothing slackers!  I’m the one who keeps Halls Creek from sinking straight down to the earth’s core!”  Olsen never heard of Pisagua, but the deal was done in less than five minutes.  “That’s how I do things!  Just do it!  Bang!  If you were dealing with the Councillors, it would never get done!  So you tell those Pisagua people, if they need something done here in Halls Creek, talk to me!  And another thing.  Who do you think got the toilets fixed around here?  I did!  And who gets the payroll done?  I do!  And who sends out the tax bills?  I do!…”  I love this guy.  He has a hostile, authoritarian personality, just like me.  Give guys like us some real power, and then step out of the way!  Nuke the homeless!

    Before I left Pisagua, Dirk De Cuyper told me about the town’s biggest mystery — a series of little signs that suddenly appeared by the side of the road about fifteen years ago, long before he came to Pisagua.  “They apparently were put up overnight, but nobody knows who did it or why, and the locals have never understood them.  You’ll see them on your way out, on the right side of the road, just before you get to the Pan American.  They’re spaced about a hundred feet apart.  They’re easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, and the lettering has gotten bleached by the sun and is pretty faint.  But you can still read them.”  De Cuyper refused to tell me any more, but from his smile I inferred that he fathomed this mystery that the locals couldn’t.  So, on my departure by bus, I made sure to get a window seat on the right side.  And, sure enough, I saw the signs:

    When morning sun…

    Shines on your head…

    Forget your job…

    Go back to bed…

    Burma Shave.

    Recommended vaccinations: parvovirus, nemaline myopathy, Eales Disease.

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

    Hey, all you hot and horny singles!  We’re going to party!  We’re taking a trip to — wait for it — GOMA…CONGO!  Bring your friends!  If you don’t have any friends, you’ll make some when you get there.

    Now, let’s be clear on which Congo we’re talking about, because there are two of them.  We’re talking about the big one — the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The good old DRC.  And any country that calls itself the Democratic Republic of whatever has got to be a great tourist destination.  (Remember how much fun we had in North Korea?  Scroll back to June 11 if you missed it.)

    The other Congo is that little wiener country on the left that’s shaped like a turd.  That one’s called the Republic of the Congo, or “Congo-Brazzaville,” which is only known for the song Brazzaville Teenager, written by Bruce Jay Friedman.  It’s populated mainly by mincing fairies, not like the big black studs in the DRC, whose grandfathers stripped the rubber off trees with machetes way back when.  These are the kind of men chicks go for.  So it’s no surprise that loads of single women flock to the DRC to meet the sort of big, hard masculine men they can’t meet here in North America (we won’t count retarded Hispanics).  And Goma is the magnet that draws them, because it’s always been known for its night life and singles scene.

    An air-conditioned luxury bus will take you from Goma’s international airport to the front entrance of the Novotel Citygate Goma, managed by Rod Munro.  Rod numbers among his friends such celebrities as Chris Brown, Ozzie Osbourne, Rachael Ray, Johnny Depp, Sen. John Edwards, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Federline, Venus Williams, John McEnroe, and Dr. Phil McGraw, all of whom have stayed at the Novotel.  (Paul Bernardo also stayed here a long time ago, but he’s not a friend.)  Rooms run from $275-$475 a night, but there are package deals available from several online travel websites.  Many suites are decorated with romantic Valentine themes.  Nicole Richie and Joel Madden spent a week in the most expensive suite and went through endless bottles of  pink champagne and a mountain of caviar.

    Rod was too busy to show me around, so he turned me over to his good friend Mutiat Titiola Olubi, who owns the DRC’s biggest magazine publishing company, Modern Congo, Ltd.  Her stable of magazines includes  Modern Congo Homemaker, Modern Congo Beauty and Fashion, Modern Congo Gardener, Modern Congo Single, Modern Congo Woman, Modern Congo Business, Modern Congo Health and Fitness, and Modern Congo Mercenary.  Because of my reputation as the funniest living writer in the English language, “Muti,” as she prefers to be called, was only too happy to take some time off to be my tour guide.  She enjoys the single life and the glamor of a vibrant, cosmopolitan city like Goma.  “Kinshasa is bigger, but it’s dull.  Goma is the happening place in the DRC.”  And most of what is happening is in the district known as the Magumba Quarter, which reminds me of the Yonge Street strip in Toronto in the 70’s, before immigration turned it into a sewer of imbecility.

    Did you know that Goma is the comedy capital of Africa?  Bet you didn’t.  The Magumba Quarter is famous for its comedy clubs, where up-and-coming stars hone their skills before moving on to the big clubs in North America and Europe.  (What famous comic with initials C.R. has been hiding his Congo roots for years?)  At the Club Ebola, we caught an act by Benjamin Okey Ahuama (don’t change that name!), who was hilarious.  Here’s one of his jokes: Mike Tyson goes into a supermarket looking for rapeseed oil.  He goes to the aisle with the cooking oils, where a stock girl is stocking shelves.  He can’t find rapeseed oil, so he says to the girl, “Don’t you got no fuckin’ rapeseed?”  The girl says, “I don’t even know what that is.”  “You don’t know what rapeseed is?”  “No,” says the girl.  And Tyson says, “Bitch, I’m gonna show you what rapeseed is!”  The crowd couldn’t stop laughing over that one!  (Congo is the rapeseed capital of the world, so that’s why the joke works so well there.  In the West we call rapeseed “canola” — I guess because we don’t like to call things by their proper names.)

    Mike Tyson, by the way, is the biggest celebrity in the DRC, even though he’s never been there.  He’s so popular they even renamed the Virunga National Park the Mike Tyson National Park.  The park, which is not far from Goma, is the home of endangered mountain gorillas, and it has almost as many monkeys as Los Angeles.  It is also the home of Murray, the Congo Wonder Dog, a cartoon character in a rare, collectible comic book by Robert Crumb .

    A great place to eat in Goma is the Mkundu Restaurant, owned by Eustace Kwarko Adjepong, who is also the head chef.  The specialty of the house is rapeseed-fried fish, served on a bed of rapini.  Fresh fish is supplied daily from nearby Lake Kivu.  Ratfish is very popular, as well as striped burrfish and cabezon.  Congo truffles are also on the menu, and they are as good as the most expensive truffles from France.

    The Magumba Quarter buzzes with activity all night with clubs catering to singles.  The music is loud, the drinks are strong, and the women dress for sex.  Wet t-shirt contests are the latest craze.  (Girls Gone Wild will be putting out a video produced in Goma.)  The college students from Kinshasa flock to Goma during spring break.  The hottest club is Disco Mbwajike.  You’ll see people lined up around the block to get in.  (Dress like a pimp or a whore and slip the doorman a fiver, and you’ll get in a lot faster.)  It’s a good place to score drugs, and the police never set foot in the place.  The owner is Mpindi Mbunga, who has a cousin with the same name in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Mbunga says that a lot of Congolese trace their ancestry back to America and should therefore be referred to as “Americo-Africans.”

    Goma also has its own Oktoberfest (in October, of course), which is a bit of the old Belgian influence.  (The DRC used to be a colony of Belgium, and don’t they wish they had it back!)  The favorite beer is Leopoldbrau (in honor of King Leopold II of Belgium, of course).  Goma really swells with visitors during the Oktoberfest — especially visitors from Rwanda.  Goma is right on the Rwandan border, and Rwandans love Goma for its night life, hot women, and great shopping.

    Goma is right on the shore of Lake Kivu, and the lake is a great attraction for its natural beauty, clean water, fishing, and speedboat racing.  The Lake Kivu speedboat races have become a big event, and ABC is planning to televise them.  The current reigning champ is David Sunkwah Yeboah, who is sponsored by Castrol.

    About 20 kilometers north of Goma is the majestic Nyiragongo Volcano, which is a great climb for an experienced climber.  The volcano is active, however, and every few years it erupts and makes life interesting for people in Goma.  The lava flows are picturesque, and if you’re a boomer, you go, “Oh, wow!  Psychedelic!”  And you put on a Ravi Shankar album and get stoned and watch the lava go by.  And when it cools, you can go out and collect nice, fluffy pumice, which you can wash with and not pollute the environment with soapy chemicals.  And then you can make carvings out of the pumice and sell them by the side of the road so you can live frugally in a commune and not have to conform and be a wage slave and pay taxes for the Evil War Machine.  And if the lava destroys your little house, you just build another one and don’t get angry with Mother Nature, who is just doing her thing.  The volcano is the result of the Congo tectonic plate subsiding into the Sub-Saharan tectonic plate, leading to a metamorphic fractal collusion.  This phenomenon was illuminated poignantly in David McFadden’s book A Trip Around Lake Kivu (Coach House Press, 1990).

    The Ebola River lends its name to lots of stores and businesses in Goma, such as Ebola Pizza, Ebola Escorts, Ebola Cinema, and the Ebola Candy Company, which is famous for its licorice women.  Of course, when most people hear the name “Ebola,” they think of Ebola virus.  And it’s true that the Ebola virus originated in the Ebola River region, but that’s more than 500 miles away from Goma, so there’s no need to worry.  (Ebola virus got started by jigaboos fucking chimpanzees, but we shouldn’t criticize them, because white people have spread some diseases, too.)

    Goma now has a “sister city” in Canada — Ottawa.  Mayor Larry O’Brien loves the new arrangement.  “We need some Congo people in Ottawa.  We need their spiritual purity.  We’ve got lawyers who can get them in as refugees.  They’ll like it here,” he says.  And he points out the similarities between the two cities.  Both cities are on a border.  Goma is right across the road from Gisenyi, Rwanda, and Ottawa is right across the river from Hull, Quebec.  And, like Goma, Ottawa is the comedy capital of Canada.  O’Brien’s wife, Colleen McBride, was actually born in the DRC, in the village of Bunia.  The Mayor and his wife like to visit the DRC whenever they can.  The Mayor finds some public official to have lunch with, he calls it official business, and Ottawa City Council pays for it.

    Before I left, I had a nice dinner with Rod Munro, and we talked about the bad press the DRC has gotten and whether it’s a safe place for Americans to visit.  “It’s safe,” he insists.  “Americans have no problem here.  However…there is one person who must never set foot in the DRC.”  And who might that be?  “Michael Moore.  There’s a tribe here called the Jambazi, and they practice cannibalism, and they have a major cannibal hard-on for Michael Moore.  I met their leader, Kuchigku Bunga.  He told me, ‘We gonna cook and eat de big fat man Michael Moore.  He feed de whole village.'”  There’s no obvious explanation why the Jambazi have selected him.  Maybe it’s just the way he looks.  They just want to eat him.  According to Munro, the Jambazi have a plan to lure Michael Moore to the Congo on some pretext of doing a documentary.  And once he’s in their clutches, he’s dinner.  Well, I, for one, would not be sorry.

    Recommended vaccinations: elephantiasis, leptospirosis, Forbes Disease.

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

    Have I got a scoop for you!   There will be big news coming out of Albania, but you’re getting it from me first!  You already know that Cher Bono’s daughter, Chastity, who now calls herself Chaz, intends to get a sex change and marry her girlfriend.  And they intend to have a baby with the help of a sperm donor.  Who will that sperm donor be?  Well, here’s the scoop: the sperm donor will be Edison Begaj, of Elbasan, Albania!

    The world’s entertainment media will be crushing into the airport at Tirana, the capital of Albania, and they’ll be stampeding over each other to be the first to shove a mike into the bushy moustache of the handsome gym teacher at Elbasan High School.  In a matter of weeks, you’ll be reading all about sperm donor Edison Begaj in your favorite gossip magazines, including such need-to-know tidbits as:

    * how he got chosen over 47 other candidates!

    * who found him!

    * what Cher really thinks of him!

    * his secret affairs with Britney Spears and Kourtney Kardashian!

    * his links to the Albanian monarchy!

    * his favorite hang-outs and getaways!

    * how he crossed the Sahara Desert on foot — and why!

    * his kinky sex life and secret vices!

    * how to make him love you!

    All that and more is coming to your local newsstand!

    But for now, let’s learn all about the exotic city of Elbasan, which is located about 25 miles southeast of Tirana, along the banks of the romantic Shkumbin River.  It was here, in fact (right beside the river), that Regis Philbin was conceived during a night of poetic and breathless love.  Today, artisanal gold miners pan the river for nuggets of gold, which are then sold to buy guns.  After all, what is an Albanian without a gun?  Preferably two guns.  For, just like the two-headed eagle on the Albanian flag, the traditional Albanian wants to look in two directions at once, thereby ensuring that he will never be caught off guard.  And his moustache must be big and bushy, for Albanians are proud of having the most masculine moustaches in the world.  King Zog, the last ruling king, had a fine moustache, which was copied by aristocrats around the world.  (The moustache was stolen from his grave in 1975, and its present whereabouts are unknown.)

    The area around Elbasan was fought over many times in Albania’s illustrious history (although no one is sure why), and control was finally wrested by ethnic Albanians from the Uzghurs in the 1780’s.  Today it is rich in Turkish, Italian, and Greek influences, along with a less desirable gypsy influence.

    My host in Elbasan was Hotel Manager Gregory Lehman of the Renaissance Elbasan.  He has an Albanian mother and returned to his roots after growing up in the U.S.  The Renaissance is the only good hotel in Elbasan by American standards, although Lehman admits it’s long overdue for a “refreshing.”  Security costs have been high, owing to occasional political unrest.  All the staff are armed, and the front is reinforced to withstand a good-sized bomb.  But there have been no incidents in well over a year.

    Albanians are a friendly people, but in some ways odd.  Here’s how you shake hands in Albania: bow at the waist while sticking your forefinger up your nose.  Then straighten up and shake forefingers.  Ignore any snot.  Don’t be a wimp.  Be a man.  Snot never killed anyone.  This is how we bond in Albania.  Unfortunately, the World Health Organization has condemned this practice,which is the reason why Albania was for many years an isolated country with a suspicion of foreigners.

    But that’s changing fast.  Now they want everyone to come on over and eat some kebabs, and dance to the music of the cuica (a stringed instrument), and buy souvenirs.

    Tourists are really starting to dig Elbasan, according to Greg Lehman.  The only negative is the gypsies.  They’re all pickpockets and scam artists.  And they use their kids.  One kid will go up to a tourist and distract him with some simple object, and another kid will come up from behind and lift the wallet, and then they’ll run like hell.  What can you do, put them in jail?  Lehman’s advice is to pick up the first kid immediately and throw him against anything hard or in front of a truck.  “The worst punishment that can possibly happen is that you’ll be told to pack up and go home.  But usually the police don’t do anything.  They’re on our side.”

    Elbasan is noteworthy for its donkey monorail, a transport system that is unique in the world.  It was supposed to be a proper electric monorail, but because of political troubles, it ended up as a patchy network of unpowered rails with junked cars hanging underneath.  There are ladders and platforms along the way, and you go up and climb into this car body (such as an East German Trabant), and it gets towed by a donkey on the ground wearing a big harness.  The donkey is guided by a “transport worker,” who wears a pale blue skirt, baggy white shirt, a fez, and soft white shoes with tassels.  This uniform is called a kefte and dates back centuries, and to wear one is a mark of manliness and honor.  The rail lines are mostly in the bombed-out sections of the city and basically go from nowhere to nowhere.  Pay the transport worker whatever you like.  Just remember that he gets no salary and has to feed his family, as well as the donkey.

    Elbasan has lots of cheap little restaurants with garbled American names like Mcdoonald, Bulgar King, Windys, Techo Bell, and Kintky Fry Chiken.  But all the food is the same — goat or lamb kebabs, rice, and lentil soup.  The local brewery, Hoxha (pronounced HO-jah), was blown up five years ago, so you have to take your chances with whatever unlabeled stuff the proprietor puts in front of you.  It could be home-made or bootlegged.  Hey, don’t be a wimp.  Just drink it like a man!  (The Renaissance serves proper beverages, depending on what the manager can get that day from his contacts.)

    Shopping is limited to a few blocks on the main street.  You can buy clothing, ice cream, cigarettes, and guns.  Femi’s, a large store of general merchandise, owned by Femi Rabi, resembles a 1960’s Kresge, except for the anti-aircraft gun on the roof.  Street vendors are everywhere with their bootlegged goods and local “arts and crafts,” such as wallets that are the wrong size for your money.

    Nostalgic pictures of King Zog and dictator Enver Hoxha can still be seen on the sides of buildings, marred by bullet holes.  Politically, Albanians can’t decide what they are any more.  There is a small, die-hard Royalist faction that wants to put King Leka (Zog’s son) on the throne, but he shaved his moustache during his years in exile and became too Western.  Leka is 7 feet tall, lives in Tirana, and trades commodities.

    Elbasan’s most influential citizen is Agim Sufa, an aging cantaloupe mogul, who is occasionally seen riding through town in his armored limousine, shooting at gypsies from the back seat.  The city’s  Mayor, Midat Canaj, is never around.  He spends all his time on a yacht and shows up briefly when it’s time to get re-elected — just like Adam Clayton Powell.

    Elbasan’s most noteworthy geographical feature is the large area of peat bogs east of the city.  For centuries nobody knew what they really were — only that they weren’t safe to walk on, and lots of drunks would wander out on them at night and sink in and die.  But more recently, a proper scientific study was carried out by Prof. Erion Dulaj, of the Albanian Institute of Advanced Studies, in Tirana, who determined that they were, in fact, peat bogs.  An archeological team did excavations and found well-preserved specimens of early man dating back to the Bronze Age, which they named “Elbasan Man.”  According to Prof. Dulaj, Elbasan Man was a hunter and gatherer, enjoyed sports, got along well with people, stayed up late, was kind to children, believed in family values, saved his money, and had a good sense of humor.  One of these specimens of Elbasan Man now stands in the corner of a barber shop owned by Milan Mitic.  He thinks of it as the son he never had.

    Peat from the bogs is now used as fuel by the Chinese steel mills that impart a lovely brown color to the sky and add their fragrances to the fields of daffodils and petunias nearby.  And a Chinese company is now processing vegetation from the bog for a new breakfast cereal called Weedies.

    The unregulated development of Elbasan has taken its toll on the endangered Albanian marmoset, which has seen its habitat diminished relentlessly by deforestation and the building of a never-completed shopping mall.  The mall’s only tenant is the Albanian Army, which uses it as an armory and for training.

    But the Shkumbin River is still clean enough for fishing.  The river is home to the rare, delectable jaraqui fish, found nowhere else in the world.  Elbasaners eat it fried, with salt and malt vinegar, out of large cone-shaped containers of stiff paper. (Gordon Ramsay gets $40 for one in London.)  The fish is rich in selenium and chromates, which may explain why the average life span in Elbasan is 85 years (not including victims of crime, accidents, genocide, or suicide).

    The river also has many  large black slugs, which are said to cure cancer.  Dr. Mjallaq Pergjika, one of Elbasan’s outstanding physicians, has opened a clinic and now treats people from all over the world.  He also sells his black slug cancer cure over the Internet.

    Ask a taxi driver to take you to see the crop circles.  Three circles about 30 feet in diameter appeared mysteriously one night in 2006 and still remain.  They have never been explained.  Did alien spacecraft land there?  Did they abduct young women to serve as sex slaves?  Hell, I would have.

    Humpbacked zebu cattle graze around the charred stumps of new pastures, boys wearing team uniforms play soccer on an emerald field, and small but proud farmhouses nestle among fruit trees and flowers. A sign on a gas station reads, “Hier Sprechts Deutsch.” 

    Summer is the time for the Elbasan Goat Festival.  Farmers bring their goats in and show them off in a big corral to the admiring public before trucking them over to the slaughterhouse.  The goats are slaughtered in the traditional Albanian way — a bullet in the head.

    The ugliest goat, however, gets special treatment.  Townsfolk decide which is the ugliest goat of them all, and this one is given the name of a hated person.  (This year it was Ed Swiderski.)  The goat is strangled by several strong boys, and then its head is smashed several times with a rock.  To Elbasaners, the Ugly Goat is a symbol of everything bad, so killing it is supposed to bring good luck for the coming year.

    Elbasan now has a sister city in the U.S. — Glencoe, California.  Formerly known as Mosquito Gulch, Glencoe was a mining town long ago and is now an unincorporated town.  Arrangements at their end were handled by State Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, who told me, “Make sure I get full credit for this.”  Okay, I just licked the stamp.  Elbasan is happy about it, and Ahab Books, in Glencoe, is especially happy.  Their manager told me, “Maybe now we can get rid of your books.”

    Before I left Elbasan, I had a farewell drink with Greg Lehman at the Renaissance.  We watched a clique of transvestites in lingerie and fishnet hose making merry.  “We’re getting everything from the West now,” said Greg.  “This is the new Albania.  Like the man says, ‘Get used to it.'”  I asked him what the local people thought about Chaz Bono getting a sperm donor from Elbasan.  “Oh, it’s the talk of the town!  Funny thing is, everyone always assumed Edison Begaj was queer.  And there are a few other things about him you ought to know….”  But this is where I have to cut it short.  I don’t want to spoil things for all those entertainment journalists who have to make a living.

    Recommended vaccinations: Dercum’s Disease, toxoplasmosis, megaloblastic anemia.

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

    I was having lunch with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi at Opera Plaza Sushi in San Francisco about six months ago, and she said to me, “Every so often, I need to get away from it all.  I want to go where nobody knows me, where I can relax and have a change of scenery.  So I go to Filadelfia, Paraguay.  It’s a wonderful place!  You should go.”  So I did.

    Filadelfia is still very much off the beaten track.  Almost all Paraguay tourism is concentrated in the capital, Asuncion, and I certainly won’t knock it.  It’s a great place to buy luxury goods cheap (because they are smuggled in), and the hookers are hot.  But Asuncion is not the exotic Paraguay.  To see that, you have to go to Filadelfia.

    There’s only one bus a day between Asuncion and Filadelfia.  It’s an all-day trip, departing in the morning and arriving in the evening, so pack your lunch.  And keep your eyes peeled for celebs in disguise, because more of them are following Nancy Pelosi’s example.

    As you head north from the capital, you’ll see the scenery change from farmland and grassland to the deciduous scrub forest of the vast Chaco Boreal, which makes up the entire western half of Paraguay.  This is a land where cowboys rope steers and shoot rattlesnakes (or vice-versa), where weird desert cacti burst open with hundreds of deadly tarantulas, where people speak the strange Guarani language (which only they can understand), and toothless hags cut the throats of chickens to cast spells on their enemies.  Unknown creatures leave mysterious tracks in the sand, homosexuals are hanged from gibbets, rowdy men indulge in eye-gouging for sport, and packs of wild dogs howl under the full moon.   So, it’s kind of different.

    When you arrive at the bus depot, you’ll be aware immediately of the German influence that governs the whole town of Filadelfia.  The depot is designed in the Sonntags Geschlossen style of architecture, which was so favored by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, and which finds its finest recapitulation in the Greyhound Bus station in Sudbury, Ontario.  In front of the Filadelfia bus depot, which is (not surprisingly) located on the Avenue Hindenburg, you will see the only statue of Fred Astaire in the world.  Astaire was actually German (born Fred Austerlitz), and his father was born in Linz, Austria, not far from Hitler’s birthplace in Braunau am Inn.  The two families were acquainted, in fact.

    An old bus marked “Westin Filadelfia” is ready and waiting to take new visitors to the only hotel in town.  Hotel Manager Michael Czarcinski (not related to Kazimierz Czarcinski, who opened the first ear wax clinic in Poland, in the city of Cracow, in 1959) personally greets every new guest.  The hotel is never full enough to make him happy, and he is the town’s number one tourism booster.  “We’re not actually affiliated with the Westin hotel chain,” he admits.  “I just stole their name for the hell of it.  I mean, what can they do to me?”  He hints slyly with a wink that he has good enough connections in the capital that no one would ever be able to give him any trouble.

    The Westin Filadelfia is not a bad place.  Quite cheap — only $35 a night.  There’s no TV or air-conditioning, but there are flush toilets, and the maid service is diligent.  (For a few dollars, the maid will tuck you in at night, if you get my meaning.)  The furniture is of high quality.  It’s made locally by the large German Mennonite community that dominates life in Filadelfia.

    The Mennonites started arriving in the 1920’s and built themselves a fine settlement, which is on the outskirts of town.  They live communally, and their economy is based on farming and handicrafts.  Another influx of German immigrants followed in the 40’s, and a lot of them are still alive in their eighties and nineties.  So, Filadelfia is very much a German town in every respect.  The only other significant population is the local  indians, the Guarani, who mostly work as servants or as street vendors living modestly off the tourist trade.

    Werner’s Tavern is open late for new arrivals wanting a good dinner, and it’s all good German food, washed down with the local beer, Fila, which is brewed by the Mennonites.  Werner’s is really the only place to hang out in Filadelfia.  Werner Missgeburt, the owner, is a big, jovial fellow who tends the bar and likes to laugh and tell coarse jokes.  He likes to say that he never has to throw anyone out of his establishment, because it’s easier to let them stay and die of old age.

    Werner’s is cheerfully decorated with Nazi war memorabilia, including a half-size replica of a Stuka dive bomber.  This is where the old Germans gather every night to sing those good old patriotic songs of the Third Reich — although they all insist they were never members of the Nazi party or involved in any atrocities.

    Former President General Alberto Stroessner used to come up to Filadelfia occasionally and drink beer with the Germans.  They all remember him as a good friend, and there are plenty of framed pictures on the walls of the tavern to prove it.  “All the Guarani girls flirted with him,” says Werner.  “And he had his pick of them.”

    The Guarani women are actually quite lovely for indians.  They have big breasts and make money posing bare-breasted with tourists for photos.  It’s actually a pretense.  They don’t normally go bare-breasted, but the tourists assume they do and routinely pay $5 to be photographed next to a half-naked woman with big knockers.  (This is the sort of free-enterprising initiative Canadian indians could learn from, except that they’re all so seedy-looking no one would want to photograph them — with or without their clothes.) 

    The Guarani also have a fake festival for tourists called the Beer Festival, which takes place several times a year.  The highlight is the beer bottle dance, in which a woman balances a stack of ten beer bottles on top of her head — one on top of the other!  Of course, they’re attached to each other, but it’s still an amazing balancing act.  Indian musicians also play bogus indian music, and vendors sell beans and rice, as well as a stew made with capybara, which is a giant rat.  (I didn’t get to try it, but the Krauts said it was pretty good if you have plenty of beer to wash it down with.)

    As I mentioned earlier, celebrities have occasionally been seen in Filadelfia.  They pretend to be ordinary tourists and usually go unrecognized since there’s no TV.  Jack Black, Teri Hatcher, Cindy Crawford, Bono, Peter Tork, and Pete Wentz have all been spotted in the past year, according to Michael Czarcinski.  But they all register under false names, so there’s no proof on paper.

    So what would attract such people to Filadelfia?  There isn’t much to do.  “It’s just a different sort of place,” says the hotel manager.  “They can hang out with the Germans and drink beer and eat schnitzel.  They can go riding on a horse.  Or they can rent a gun and go outside the town and do some shooting, although there’s nothing out there you’d want to stuff and put over your mantel.”

    Czarcinski has a brainstorm for a tourist attraction, however — a sort of theme resort set up like a concentration camp.  “You come for a week, let’s say, and you have to sleep on a bare pallet and live on starvation rations.  They put you to work doing something arduous and beat you if you don’t cooperate.  And there would be a fake gas chamber — just a lot of smoke, that’s all.  We could even make things kinky by tying the women to racks in their bras and panties and whipping them.  But the Mennonites are against it, and they have the most power around here.”

    The Westin has some mysterious permanent residents, who occupy the top floor.  I was told they were ex-Mennonites who left the community and fell in with the old Krauts.  They have laptops and wireless Internet in their rooms, and they do things with money, but they won’t say exactly what or for whom.  So I suspect there is some sort of deep, dark secret in Filadelfia the world doesn’t know about.

    One of the old Krauts in the clique at Werner’s claims to have participated in a secret Nazi polar expedition in 1938-39.  He was an 18-year-old seaman aboard the research ship Schwabenland, commanded by Capt. Alfred Kothas.  The expedition explored parts of Antarctica and brought back valuable scientific information.  He showed me a naval patch with the words “Deutsche Antarktische Expedition” and the outline of Antarctica with a flag marking a region called “Neu-Schwabenland.”  The Schwabenland carried two flying boats called the “Boreas” and the “Passat.”

    Much to my delight, another Canadian writer arrived during my stay in Filadelfia.  Lorette Luzajic, of Toronto, was on a promotional tour for her new book, Weird Monologues for a Rainy Life (irreverent ramblings from the end of the world).  The hotel manager had invited her up from Asuncion in the hope of injecting some culture into Filadelfia, as well as promoting the place for tourism.  However, he had conveniently neglected to tell her that there was no bookstore or library in town.  But everything worked out fine anyway.  When she went over to Werner’s and the old Krauts found out she was of German ancestry, she immediately became everyone’s “girlfriend.”  All the old buzzards took turns having her sit on their laps, and they all told her how beautiful she was and treated her like a goddess.  She sold every copy of her book that she had brought with her and wished she had brought more.  (Find out more about Lorette and her book at www.thegirlcanwrite.net.) 

    Filadelfia has a sister city in the U.S.  (Would that be Philadelphia, by any chance?)  You guessed it!  Mayor Michael Nutter told me, “We don’t have no Paraguanians here in Philly, but they’re welcome to come over, as long as they pay their own way.  We’ll take ’em out for some good Philly steak sandwiches.”  This arrangement was made by Michael Czarcinski, of course, in the hope of stimulating tourism.  He told me, “When you publish your article, the tourists will really start pouring in.  Then maybe I’ll have enough clout to push that concentration camp idea through.”  Okay, good luck with that!

    Recommended vaccinations: Rinderpest, Bowen Hutterite Syndrome, Chombley wart virus.

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

    Astute commentators have declared the 21st Century to be the Century of China.  And no stronger argument supports this view than the example of Guiyu, which is located in Shantou, Guangdong.  Guiyu is the 21st Century Techno-Paradise, Eco-Paradise, and Green Revolution City all rolled into one.

    In the span of one generation, this exotic city has been transformed from a sleepy agricultural village to the world’s foremost recycling center for electronics.  And its inhabitants have been transformed from simple farmers to technological workers who enjoy great prosperity.  The average resident lives in a house or modern apartment, drives an eco-friendly car, and enjoys all the latest electronic gadgetry.  And how about 100-plus channels of cable and satellite TV!

    Every day, long lines of trucks disgorge discarded computers, phones, TV’s, VCR’s, and related items at a large depot.  From there, the sorted items are sent out to over a hundred companies for disassembly and recycling.  Large amounts of precious metals, industrial metals, and rare earths are extracted from all the debris.  Other components are chopped up and reprocessed as raw materials for construction and agriculture.   Nothing is wasted.  The wealth generated from all this activity is enormous.

    Hotel Manager Jonathan Litvak of the Westin Guiyu is a latecomer to this revolution but has still seen remarkable changes since he arrived here eight years ago.  “Everything is green and clean.  The air and water are perfect.  The urban environment is like something out of a futuristic movie.  We have modern buildings, underground malls, sports facilities, an efficient light-rail transit system, lovely parks, hotels, restaurants, you name it.  And it’s all neat as a pin.  In fact, you can’t even spit on the sidewalk.”

    The Westin Guiyu is noteworthy for its glass exterior, which is tinted with real gold.  Under the right conditions, airplanes approaching the international airport can see the sun’s brilliant reflection from ten miles away.  The lobby is a huge atrium adorned with sculpted coral from the offshore reefs and a mosaic of dazzling semi-precious gemstones, and a 60-foot waterfall cascades into a pool filled with pink and purple angelfish from the island of Bali.  Despite all this opulence, the hotel is surprisingly affordable, with most rooms in the range of $129 to $149 a night.

    All visitors tour the industrial parks in air-conditioned buses.  The parks themselves are works of art, with each plant having its own landscaping treatment and garden.

    Downtown Guiyu is a spotlessly clean district of upscale boutiques and shops.  High-tech gadgetry is everywhere, of course.  The Communist government has decided not to meddle with all this success, so the city is unusually free to do its own thing.  You can even buy The Wall Street Journal and Playboy.

    All vehicles, including buses, are electric or hybrid.  The little police cars are especially cute.  They operate on a biofuel made from chicken manure.  And the chickens are fed reprocessed plastic turned into nutrients by a secret process invented by Sha Bi Biofuels. 

    Guiyu gets most of its electricity from a highly unusual power plant that makes use of electric eels — a technology invented by Hung Wa Holding Company.  Thousands of eels are kept in pools, and their discharges are collected and stored in batteries.  The power is then inverted from DC to AC and fed into the local grid.  An identical plant will be built in Laramie, Wyoming, by Hung Wa’s international subsidiary, Dynamic Electro-Fish, of Mississauga, Ontario (see Laramie Boomerang archives for April 1, 2009).

    There are all kinds of restaurants in Guiyu, but the trendiest is Ba Po, which specializes in — what else? — Chinese cuisine.  Head Chef Chee Loong Cheong, formerly of the prestigious Haozhan in London, England, serves up his exotic creations — chop suey, sweet and sour pork, and fried rice.

    But competition has arrived in the form of a Mexican restaurant called El Chapo’s.  Mexican chef and entrepreneur Joaquin Guzman arrived in Guiyu last year with a trunkful of money, saw the opportunity, and seized it.  Now everyone’s going crazy over his tacos and burritos.  Pop star Lady Gaga went gaga over the food!  She claims she put on five pounds eating daily at El Chapo’s during her recent one-week tour.  She performed to packed houses at the Gun Kai Club, whose owner, Chang Chi Kao, considers himself the Lady’s number one Chinese fan.

    And last winter, Mel Gibson was on hand to celebrate the opening of the Friendly Chicken, hilariously designed by artist Chester Brown of Toronto.  Patrons enter the restaurant through the chicken’s head, eat in the stomach, and exit by the anus.  Gibson remarked to the media, “Australians love this sort of humor.”  But Jonathan Litvak of the Westin Guiyu insists it represents an ecological theme.

    Guiyu’s mascot is the bird of paradise, and if you want to see them, go to the park along the bank of the Lianjiang River, where they roam freely.

    The Lianjiang is a pristine river.  And when it freezes over in the winter, residents go ice skating.

    Golden fields of millet and corn surround the tributaries of the Lianjiang, and you can climb at least part-way up the slope of Tharpu Chuli, a dormant volcano, which enriched the soil in the distant past.  A high fence marks off the Gungbung Conservation Area, where the rare white tiger is protected.

    The biggest surprise in Guiyu is an authentic Shaker Village, founded by dissidents who left the South Union, Kentucky, community in 1922 and traveled to China in search of spiritual purity and a population of converts.  Now well-established, it numbers nearly a thousand members, who earn a good living fashioning bar stools and roulette wheels out of maple, oak, and applewood, all crafted with the elegant functionality for which the Shakers are well known.  But these people are not stuck in the past.  Oh, no!  The Shakers have always embraced technology and invention.  The community’s leader, Sister Mary Catherine Park Hui Gee Crucified of Jesus, sees a Divine Hand at work in Guiyu and calls the city “a new Garden of Eden.”

    Guiyu now has a sister city in the U.S. — Compton, California.  Mayor Eric J. Perrodin says, “We be gettin’ down wid dem Chinamen!”  He regards Guiyu as a model to emulate and intends to remake Compton into a major recycling center for electronics, generating thousands of high-paying jobs.  He has not yet traveled to Guiyu himself but intends to go with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this fall.  The Governor sees electronics recycling as the perfect industry to cure California’s financial mess.

    Recommended vaccinations: yaws, Mucolipidosis IV, jejunal atresia.

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

   

    North Korea recently fired another missile, and many people are concerned (although not in my neighborhood of brain-dead foreigners and white trash).  But what’s it all about, anyway?  Are the North Koreans a proud, independent people determined to resist the aggression of American warmongers, or are they just a bunch of insane, retarded, slitty-eyed Commie bastards?  Or are they something entirely other?

    For an authoritative answer, I asked a homosexual political science professor at the University of Toronto (who shall remain nameless, but he has a beard and wears an earring, and his lover’s name is Paul) to explain the North Koreans to me.  “The North Koreans are no different from you or me,” he said.  “What do all human beings want?  They want to be understood and accepted for what they are, without prejudice.  Is that so wrong?  Of course not.  It’s the Americans who are clearly the aggressors.  They always have been throughout their history.  I teach a course on the subject.”  Okay, I guess that helps.

    But let’s go check things out for ourselves!

    Pyongyang, North Korea!  Who has not wanted to travel there?  (Put your hands down.  That was a rhetorical question.)  Yes, Pyongyang!  The city that lies in the fabled Valley of Monkeys, whose people Buddha described as “happy, fat, and drunk on wine.”  Let’s throw back the curtain of history and look through the dense fog of time.

    The North Koreans, unlike their southern cousins who call themselves “Koreans” (although the term is anthropologically meaningless, since it merely refers to a peninsula), are descended from the Mogollon people, who settled and controlled the region as far back as 500 BC.  Their early settlements may still be glimpsed protruding from the fields of corn that spread westward from the Taedong River.  They feared only bears and fire.  The Mogollon evolved from hunters and gatherers who shot wild boars with bows and arrows, then became pearl divers and fishermen, and then finally became farmers and breeders of turkeys, until they disappeared mysteriously and quite suddenly in 1211 AD, after a great fall of toads from the sky.  Charles Fort described this fall of toads in one of his books.  Shakespeare referred to it cryptically in Macbeth.  And it was discussed at length in Memoirs of a Lunatic: The Diaries of Lord Archambault of Dorking, by Sir Oliver Sturm-Ruger (Oxford Univ. Press, 1956).

    What happened to the Mogollon people?  If the toads could talk, what would they tell us?  We could go ask them, for the Toad Habitat, one of Pyongyang’s most popular tourist attractions, is located about 20 miles north of the city.  It’s the reason why Pyongyang is unofficially the Toad Capital of Asia.  The toad figure is seen everywhere as a sort of mascot of Pyongyang — a sly, mischievous creature that obviously knows more than it’s willing to tell.  You could try to plumb its secrets, but it will not reveal them, even if you stroke it lovingly, or even if you choke it and suck on its head.  And if you do that, you will be put somewhere where there is nothing sharp, and stern orderlies watch you day and night.  And that wasn’t the purpose of this trip, was it?

    Who really understands these Toad People, these offshoots of the Mogollon, better than a Westerner who has lived in Pyongyang for many years?  That would be Suzanne Gittens, Manager of the Comfort Inn, located on the West Bank of the Taedong.  It is Pyongyang’s best hotel.  From the upper floors, you get a panoramic view of the city — The Monument of the Revolution, the Monument of the Heroic People’s Struggle Against Aggression, the Monument of the Worker, the Soldier, and the Intellectual, the Monument of Peace, the Arch of Triumph, the Arch of the Glorious Future, the Arch of the Iron Will, the Statue of the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, the Statue of the Great Father Kim Il-sung, the Juche Tower, the Tower of Truth Television, the Communist Victory Stadium, the Revolutionary University of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, the People’s Communist Water Purification Plant, the Socialist Democratic People’s Garbage Incinerator, the Eternal Zoo of the Communist Party of North Korea, the Glorious and Prosperous People’s Farmer’s Market, the Democratic People’s Revolutionary Electrical Plant, the Golden Arches Communist Noodle Works, and the Unconquerable Socialist Revolutionary People’s Cineplex Theatre, featuring two screens.  (The Revolutionary Children’s  Monument of Resistance and the Revolutionary Communist Day Care Centre are not visible from the hotel.)

    Suzanne Gittens enjoys special respect as the Westerner who brought peanut butter to North Korea.  Peanut butter is now widely eaten, and the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il has personally endorsed it as a healthy food for long life, even though it was invented in America.

    “The North Koreans think of themselves as being in a state of war all the time, even when they are not actually at war,” explained Gittens.  “And they cannot be defeated, because their will is stronger than the enemy’s.  But they do have one fear — centrifugal force.  Centrifugal force is an American weapon whose purpose is to hold back the progress of the people and their revolution.  It is invisible, yet it has a physical effect on people and objects.  North Korean soldiers march in a stiff manner to reduce the effect of centrifugal force.  The missiles that are being fired are intended to disrupt the waves of centrifugal force sent down by American satellites.  The Juche Tower, which is the most important structure in Pyongyang, contains an energy beam to protect the city from centrifugal force, and it is supposed to be effective.  ‘Juche,’ of course, is the state ideology of North Korea.  It means ‘independence’ or ‘self-reliance.’  It is also the name of the country’s most popular brand of cigarettes, most popular brand of toothpaste, and most popular brand of condom.”

    Because of my reputation as the funniest living writer in the English language (way funnier than Dave Barry, a wanker who refuses to answer e-mail), I was given the same room at the Comfort Inn that Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag stayed in.  Their visit to Pyongyang last December is the best-kept secret in Hollywood.  Even the gossip columns failed to pick it up.  The newlyweds went to Pyongyang to escape the prying eyes of the media, and only Gittens knew who they were, since American celebrities are never seen on North Korean television.

    There is not much television in North Korea anyway.  There are three channels with limited hours.  Korean Central Television (KCTV) is the official broadcaster of news.  It is best known for the hypnotic spiral that appears on the screen as propaganda messages are spoken.  Korean Educational and Cultural TV has lots of shows featuring children laying flowers at the foot of monuments and uniformed children marching with little flags.  Mansudae TV has movies with revolutionary themes (especially the Korean War), sports (gymnasts performing in arenas with no audience in the background), current affairs (missile launches), science (lab techs studying grains of wheat under a microscope), and a popular game show called Name That Enemy, in which contestants must identify American warmongers to win a carton of noodles.

    North Korea’s aversion to foreigners is somewhat exaggerated.  Basically, you have to prove you’re not a spy.  But it’s like every other country’s Customs and Immigration: some officers are nice, and some are mean.  If you are neatly dressed, clean shaven, soft-spoken, and polite, you will probably get in.  If you look like white trash, with baggy pants and baseball cap turned backwards, you will be taken into a room and beaten to death, and your family will be told you died in a boating accident.  (This is the sort of reform we need in Canada.)  There is also a “Kill On Sight” list with specific names.  Currently, Nick Nolte is at the top of the list.

    The visitor to Pyongyang must be accompanied by an escort.  This is actually a good thing, because if you don’t know the language or your way around, you could get yourself into some kind of trouble.  Besides, the escorts need the employment.  My escort was a plain girl named Kim, who desperately needed a makeover and implants, both of which would be considered counter-revolutionary in North Korea.  She took me on a long walking tour of the city.  (We didn’t get on any streetcars, because they have been known to electrocute their passengers.)  We ended up in one of the nice parks for which Pyongyang is known.  I asked her why she was so flat-chested, and she acted hurt.  She said she was a very average and normal North Korean girl.  I told her I had a special skin cream from Canada that would make her breasts grow, and if she came to my hotel room in the evening, I would apply it to her myself to show her the right way to do it.  She was very eager to accept my kindness, but at the appointed hour she never showed up.  The next day, she would only say vaguely that she had not been able to come.

    We took a short ride on the subway, which is the deepest in the world, since it is intended to serve as a shelter in the event of a nuclear war.  Now, the subway is basically for show.  The stations are clean and full of patriotic art.  But for a city of over 3 million people, the crowd is mysteriously thin.  People are supposed to be going to work, but a lot of them are faking it.  Officially, there is no unemployment in the Communist paradise of North Korea, so everyone must behave as if  they were going to work.  But when they get to their destinations, a lot of these riders are looking at factories that are shut down, office buildings with no electricity, and shops with almost nothing to sell.  So they will sit and do nothing at the workplace or go for a walk, and then return home.  The subway is absurdly cheap by anyone’s standards, so it is a major money-loser, but the regime needs it for propaganda purposes.

    In Pyongyang, if you are unemployable for whatever reason, you can be a street vendor and sell cold, wet noodles in a paper cup, or you can be given a job title such as “emotion recognition specialist” or “anti-centrifugal specialist” and sit at a desk in an unheated warehouse, waiting for the phone to ring, which it won’t because it isn’t even connected.  Directing traffic is another make-work program, and you will see lots of girls in blue uniforms standing in intersections, waiting for some traffic to show up. 

    Pyongyang has restaurants with such names as Communist Restaurant, Glorious Restaurant, Victory Restaurant, or Happy Smiling Toad Restaurant.  They serve mostly noodles and vegetables and very little meat.  I dropped in at the Communist Restaurant, which is run by Tadamasa Goto.  “Only foreigners can own restaurants here,” he explained.  “The North Koreans are not allowed to.”  I said that had a certain symmetrical logic, since in Canada only Koreans can own convenience stores and white Canadians can’t.  Goto readily admits he is not a trained chef, and his restaurant used to be very bad.  But then something good happened.  “Gordon Ramsay was in town.  He has a Korean grandparent, by the way, which most people don’t know about.  Anyway, he had heard about this place, and when he saw how bad it was, he decided to feature it on Kitchen Nightmares.   The episode will appear on TV over there in September or October.  There were rats, dead cats, stinking pools of grease, mold, you name it.  The chef I had working for me was the son of a Party member and I couldn’t fire him, but Ramsay picked him up and literally threw him out.  He’s an ex-footballer, you know, and these Koreans are small enough to pick up and throw.  After that, he cleaned the place up and updated the menu, and the government sent me a proper chef  out of embarrassment.”  I tried the soy turkey sandwich with gravy, noodles, and peas, and it was not bad — a lot better than the atrocious meat loaf I once had in the Hudson Bay cafeteria at Yonge and Bloor, where the cooks are Korean and put garlic in everything, including  the cole slaw.  Goto doesn’t actually make a living from the restaurant.  He has business contacts in Japan, and he moves shipments of guns, drugs, and counterfeit goods for the North Korean government.

    On one of my walks with Kim, my escort, I commented on the  police on every street corner.  Kim explained they needed the work.  Naturally, there’s no street crime whatever in Pyongyang — exactly the opposite of Toronto, where you have plenty of crime on the streets, and the police are nowhere in sight.  (You have to call them, get it?)  Toronto’s  Chief of Police,  Bill Blair, is a wimp who lets Tamil protesters block streets and highways, because he believes in cultural sensitivity, and he marches in the Gay Pride parade, too.  He looks like a big, stupid rabbit.

    I treated Kim to an ice cream, and we sat on a park bench.  I kept trying to put my hand up her skirt, and she kept resisting, although I could tell she was getting hot.  “It is counter-revolutionary,” she said.  And then I got some insight into North Koreans and sex.  The government strictly suppresses visible sex.  There is no sexual imagery anywhere.  More than that, the government has a long-term plan to eliminate sex altogether and have people reproduce by binary fission.  You may remember such news items as the two-headed snake, or the two-headed dog, or the two-headed sheep.  These were the results of early North Korean experiments to make higher animals reproduce by binary fission.  The animals lived, but the experiments were regarded as failures.  Nevertheless, the government considers binary fission to be the ultimate fulfillment of juche, so they will keep at it.  Kim believed there was some sort of chemical being put in the drinking water to prepare the people for binary fission, so she was only drinking bottled water because she did not want to divide unexpectedly.  She also said there were rumors of experiments gone wrong, resulting in abortions.

    It was all gruesome stuff, so to get her mind off it, I suggested we go for a gondola ride on the Taedong River.  The gondolas look exactly like the ones you see in movies about Venice.  Couples can enjoy a long ride while being serenaded by the gondoliers, who sing sentimental songs of revolutionary victory.  Meanwhile, you can watch pearl divers reviving an ancient custom of their ancestors.  Resplendent in their orange wet suits, they dig barnacles from the river bottom to harvest a variety of brown, sticky pearl found nowhere else in the world.  It’s not in the same class as the fine pearls from Australia but certainly good enough for Canadians who shop in bargain stores.  These divers swim in synchronized fashion, performing an artistic water ballet, while blending in with schools of river porpoises that are extremely happy in the extremely clean waters of the Taedong, thanks to the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.  I guided Kim’s hand to my crotch so she could feel how keen I was for her.  She looked away and pretended not to be aware.  I pressed her hand down more firmly and said, “What is this called in Korean?”  She replied, “Chaji.”  I worked my hand under her skirt and inside her panties to her privates.  “What do you call this?” I asked.  She replied, “Poji.”  I moved my hand around the back and into the crack of her ass.  “And the other one?” I asked.  “Ttong-koo-mung,” she replied, breathing hard.  She started stroking me gently….

    Which reminds me to talk about the ballistic missiles.  The North Koreans have been launching them from a site in the northeast called Musudan-ri (CIA code name: “Boardwalk”).  But it’s getting obsolete already, so they’re building a new one at a site about 75 miles northwest of Pyongyang, called Pongdong-ni (CIA code name: “Park Place”).  The missile workers are looking forward to the move because the new site has a nicer lawn, is closer to shopping, and is in a better school district.  The government will run daily bus tours from Pyongyang to show off the new site, and Suzanne Gittens thinks the tours will be a big money-maker, since visitors have heard so much about the missiles.  The new site will have a gift shop, too.

    The vineyards are on the same road as the new missile site.  It will surprise you to learn that the North Koreans have been making wine for almost fifty years — reviving an ancient Mogollon tradition — although it has taken a while to develop the quality to make it a viable export product.  The People’s Victory wine actually won an honorable mention in an Asian wine competition held in Hanoi, and the Glorious Leader wine was nominated in the “Best New Wine” category on Vancouver’s skid row.  And a bottle of Communist Defeat of American Aggression wine can be glimpsed briefly on an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

    Pyongyang now has a “sister city” in Canada.  Because of my influence as a shameless promoter of uranium mining in Saskatchewan (e-mail me for current stock recommendations!), I was able to arrange the “sistering” of Pyongyang and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (CIA code name: “Mosquitoville”).  Mayor Jim Scarrow is very excited about the new arrangement.  “It’s a very good thing for us,” he says, sweat dripping off his brow.  “After all, they’re developing nuclear weapons, and we don’t want to be attacked.  If we show them we like them, we’ll be helping to keep peace in the world.  I mean, look, we have plenty in common.  Both cities begin with ‘P.’  Both cities are on a river.  They’re Communist, and we’re somewhat socialist, okay?  They just want to do the right thing for their people, and so do we, right?  There’s common ground.  We can all get along.  We love all the minorities — aboriginals, black people, Asians, whatever.  We have Korean people here.  We value them as citizens.  My wife buys milk and bread from them.  The people from Pyongyang are welcome to visit any time.  We’ll show them a good time.  We’re willing to trade with them, to help them.  We’ll do whatever it takes so they don’t attack us….”  He goes on like this for a half hour, but you get the gist.

    I can’t forget the show trial!  The talk of the town during my visit to Pyongyang was the trial of two Americans, which was being broadcast daily on KCTV.  Roger Angell and Ben Greenman were charged with “hostile acts,” including spying and “spreading centrifugal force.”  I have no idea what they actually did, but Suzanne Gittens said it didn’t matter.  “It follows a familiar script,” she explained to me.  “They get a couple of Westerners on a fake charge and threaten them with the death penalty.  Inevitably, the foreign government or company offers a discreet bribe for the release of the offenders, the Party scores propaganda points, and Kim Jong-il’s family pockets the bribe.”  And what if no one is willing to pay?  “Then, of course, they’d be executed.  But so far that’s never happened.”  As of the time of my departure, however, no offer had been made to save these guys, so whoever they are, they must be major bastards.

    When I checked out of the Comfort Inn, I was allowed to keep the souvenir flashlight that is placed in every room in case the electricity goes off.  It’s in the shape of Kim Jong-il.  When I remarked to Suzanne Gittens that it looked a lot like a dildo, she said that she always suspected that some designer made it like that on purpose as a way of poking fun at the government, and the Party still hadn’t caught on.  I decided it would be a cute parting gift for Kim.

    And so we went for one last excursion into the countryside, to skip happily across meadows and bogs and through forests, looking for trolls and fairies and elves, and to fall back in time to be with the Mogollon people, dressed in their sunbonnets of black and purple, chasing the wild boars, babbling of the ancient ways that must never die but live forever, of battles fought and virgins raped, of loves and toads, of days when seafarers navigated by the Milky Way.  We embraced and kissed beneath the ivy bowers, as majestic turkeys screeched above the romantic fields of corn.  Our groins tumescent and throbbing, we sang of the Dear Leader standing gloriously on the Mountain of Monkeys, vanquishing centrifugal force with a mighty sweep of juche.  I did pull the moist panties from my little flat-chested Kim and dragged her into the shrubbery, which was soft and cool and smelled of shrubbery, and she seized my monument and impaled herself on it, while I worked the flashlight figure of Kim Jong-il into her ttong-koo-mung and bit her yearning nipples.  We thrashed about like rabid wombats, and I lost my mind beneath the gathering purple clouds of dusk.  Then the rains came, and we were both at peace….

    The rumors of Anne Murray’s abortion in Pyongyang are unfounded.  The fetus had two heads, but neither one resembled her.

    The North Koreans will accept $500,000 for the release of Roger Angell and Ben Greenman, or $300,000 for just one of them, and that’s absolutely as low as they’re willing to go, so forget about trying to cut a better deal.  The deadline is midnight, July 1st, Pyongyang time.  If no offer is received by then, the spies will be executed by firing squad.

    Recommended vaccinations: Mucha Habermann Disease, mycosis fungoides, ichthyosis vulgaris.

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