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

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    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

    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

    Take me from the land of Oz,

    Take me far away because

    I want to get back to Darvaza,

    Yes, I want to get back to Darvaza,

    Darvaza, Turkmenistan,

    That’s…Darvaza, Turkmenistan.

    Remember that one?  The Atomic Bananas, 1957.  If you were ever a mental patient in Toledo, you heard it a lot.  Now you can’t find it anywhere — not even on eBay.

    In her book Gurgling Brooks (Bobbs-Merrill, 1929), world traveler Myrna McDougal describes her travels through central Asia, including her visit to Darvaza, in the Kara-Kum Desert of what is now Turkmenistan: “From a distance, the Pillars of Gthoth rose majestically, framing the setting sun, which cast vivid beams of orange light across the flanks of the Schlegpeh Mountains.  Overhead, great bats and eagles looped gracefully above the copper-red sands.  The call of the hyena could be heard in all directions.  And the faint aroma of boxwood and fox grass drifted like a dream over our camp.  Our bearers (native Ayumyalas) told us their legends of how the world was created in this place, making it the center of the universe.  The water in the oasis, they claimed, could give a camel great strength and give a human being visions of Paradise.”

    Okay, so we know the water is really good.  Throughout Turkmenistan, a popular saying is “he drinks the water at Darvaza,” which explains why a person is acting weird or stoned.

    To the locals, the place is always referred to as Darvaza Oasis, because historically, that’s what it is.  It has always been a resting place for merchants from all over central Asia, carrying a wide variety of goods.  Caravans carried beans, rice, mushrooms, yogurt, potash, copper, marble, exotic birds, and umiak eye-glaze murder monkeys from Qarshi to Balkanabat; cedar, incense, dates, gourds, pineapples, girdles, hoses, paint, and gangster art retro pudding sponges from Herat to Novvy Uzen; chalk, gemstones, ladies’ shoes, cosmetics, tubes, nails, springs, farina, and prison cockle subsonic bitchamooga from Uyuk to Qum; animal skins, candles, whips, lard, fireworks, shower curtains, board games, cheese, and harridan space zomba fruit gungles from Jamnagar to Sosnovka; lingerie, cigars, goat meat, kitchen utensils, patio furniture, iodine, tree bark, and marsupial smash hammerhead screaming skulls from Yarkand to Gurgan; and rum, party hats, office supplies, starch, glue, musical instruments, whale oil, carpets, peppers, ropes, dildoes, doilies, pumpkins, and gorgaleptic urine bipolar disorder winkies from Patchogue to Syosset.

    But to the modern world, Darvaza was an unknown town of no particular interest — until 1971, when a gateway to hell was opened!  An oil and gas company drilling for natural gas accidentally punched into a gas-filled cavern.  They decided to empty it by burning off the gas, believing it to be no more than a superficial pocket.  The result was an explosion.  The ground collapsed, leaving a crater 60 meters across, which has been burning ever since!

    “Of course, it’s not really a gateway to hell,” explains Hotel Manager Amanda Hyndman of the Excelsior Darvaza.  “But it’s a great tag line for publicity.  It’s the only tourist attraction in the country outside of the capital.  There’d be no hotel here without the crater of fire.”  The Excelsior offers a good view of the crater, which is about two miles away.  Of course, local people are so used to it, they scarcely look at it any more, even though much of the town owes its livelihood to it. 

    Why has no one tried to put out the fire after all these years?  According to Hyndman, it could theoretically be put out.  “You’d have to bring up a bunch of bulldozers from the capital, but it’s a long trip on a bad road.  And people here don’t particularly want to put it out.”  But what about the effect on the environment?  “What environment?” says Hyndman.  “This is a bleeping desert.”

    Tourists are generally led out on foot in the daytime.  They’ll stand around the crater while the tour guide gives a talk, and then after a half hour or so, they leave.  It’s more impressive at night, but if you go then, you’ll find yourself stepping among a profusion of big, ugly spiders.  They’re harmless but gross.

    Local businesses exploit the crater as a theme: Gates of Hell Ice Cream Shop, Fire Crater Cinema, Hellgate Massage Parlor, Crater Gas Station, Hellfire Donuts, and Kemal’s Crater of Fire Kebabs (which serves extremely spicy goat kebabs).  The local high school calls its sports teams the Fireflies.  (Unfortunately, they have no one else to play against, because Darvaza is so remote.)  And all up and down the main street, you will find a predictable assortment of souvenirs, including post cards, videos, DVD’s, and t-shirts that say “My friends went to Darvaza, and all they brought back was this lousy t-shirt,” along with a picture of the fiery crater.

    According to geologists, the fire could burn itself out at any time or go on burning indefinitely, so the government of Turkmenistan is reluctant either to spend the money to put it out or to invest heavily in the development of Darvaza as a tourist attraction.  Some people are in favor of diversifying the economy; others worry that if the fire goes out, any money invested will be wasted. 

    Elsewhere in Turkmenistan, other towns want to have a crater of fire, too.  Geologists say similar gas deposits could exist.  But the government is afraid of scam artists showing up.  (Like this: “For twenty thousand dollars, I’ll give you a crater of fire like Darvaza.  I know where to dig.”)  I know some Vancouver stock promoters who would jump on that opportunity!

    Some environmental busybodies from France showed up at Darvaza and made a fuss about the fire polluting the environment, and they were going to make a complaint to the U.N.  They disappeared mysteriously and have never been heard or seen since.  (Never get up other people’s noses when you’re in the middle of a desert, okay?)

    A few celebrities have visited Darvaza, which always excites the locals.  Brad Pitt got stoned and tried to piss in the crater and almost fell in, but he was saved in the nick of time by a baker’s helper, who was following him.  Pitt swore the boy to secrecy about the incident.

    David Beckham was here to try his luck at Turkmen foot-and-elbow fighting, a martial art peculiar to Turkmenistan.  There’s a big vacant lot behind the Crater Gas Sation, and young men go there for some foot-and-elbow fighting when they’re bored.  Really skinny guys seem to have an advantage in this sport.  Beckham was invited to take on the local champ, who was built like a bean pole, and after allowing the boy to score some points, he knocked him out cold.  Beckham wasn’t sure if the crowd was going to turn on him or not, but after a few seconds of shocked silence, the onlookers cheered.  So now David Beckham is unofficially the foot-and-elbow fighting champion of Darvaza, Turkmenistan.  (In a lot of Muslim countries, they probably would have cut his head off.)

    Paris Hilton was also in Darvaza to obtain a purebred Turkmen Alabai dog.  Muslims generally don’t like dogs, but the Alabai is greatly admired in Turkmenistan because it is very good at killing snakes, Communists, and homosexuals.  Hilton found one she liked and took it home with her.  (And don’t get any ideas.  Unless you’re as rich and well-connected as she is, getting a purebred Alabai in the U.S. is next to impossible.)

    Tourism in Darvaza has been growing gradually, and the increased revenue has led to a few improvements at least.  The bus station has been modernized to include two flush toilets and air-conditioning.  The main street has been paved, and parking meters have been installed (although they are generally used to tie donkeys and camels).  An outdoor tennis court has been built (wrong dimensions), as well as a go-cart track and mini-golf.  And the Turkmenistan government has built a new prison to house the worst criminals in the country.  It has a courtyard with a guillotine and a public seating area for the viewing of executions.

    Foreign capital is cautiously dipping its toes into Darvaza to take advantage of its cheap labor.  Chinese companies are now manufacturing silly putty, pet toys, guns, and glow-in-the-dark shoelaces for the central Asian market.  And Tata Motors intends to set up a factory to build a three-wheeled car called the Firebug.  It will be rugged enough for bad roads, and it will get 50 miles a gallon on any fuel, including cooking grease.  And if it tips over, one person can set it back up.

    There is no official local civil authority or police force in Darvaza.  Instead, the local mullah, Mohammed Orospu Cocugu, who is blind, and his four retarded sons keep the peace as they see fit.  They’ve got their own system, and it works, and you can’t criticize it, otherwise you’re an ethnocentric bigot.

    Darvaza High School offers the only correspondence course for shepherds in the entire world. It is recognized for academic credits in the Province of Ontario, and student aid is available to immigrants with long, unpronounceable names.

    And another highly visible public work is planned for Darvaza, in case the crater of fire should go out.  Architect Bayram Shamuradov has been commissioned by the government to erect a 100-foot-tall  “Spider Tower.”  It will have blinking green lights at night, and visitors will be able to climb to the top and take pictures of the desert (or whatever).  It will be built entirely from scrap metal scavenged from abandoned gas wells.

    Darvaza now has a sister city, and you’ll never guess where!  No, it’s not in the U.S., or in Canada either.  It’s in Australia!  The town of Coober Pedy, South Australia, is Darvaza’s sister city.  Coober Pedy is the opal capital of the world.  Most of its residents live underground.  And from the air, it looks just like Darvaza!  Mayor Steve Baines is delighted with the arrangement.  “They’re in a desert, and we’re in a desert.  They have ugly spiders, and so do we.  So it’s a perfect match!”  Baines still gets confused between Turkey and Turkmenistan, but that’s okay.  He’s just thrilled that I would give his town international recognition on my blog page.  He would also like me to explain to everyone that he is not that seriously into cross-dressing (“just once in a while at a party to get a laugh,” he insists).

    Amanda Hyndman says the Excelsior is pretty desperate for business since natural gas prices fell off a cliff (the hotel gets half its business from the oil and gas industry), so tourists can expect stupidly cheap deals.  By September, the worst of the heat is over, and by December, there are almost no spiders.

    Recommended vaccinations: Binswanger’s Disease, vesicular stomatitis, choroideremia.

    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

    Somalia was created by the union of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland, which were granted independence in 1960.  Today, nearly a half century later, it is a showcase for what the modern Negro can do with his own country once freed from the shackles of European colonialism.  And nowhere is this achievement more aptly demonstrated than in the capital city, Mogadishu.

    Civility, refinement, peace, order, safety, courtesy, and cleanliness: these are the qualities that set Mogadishu apart from most other capital cities.  The natural beauty of the sea, the sand, and the surrounding countryside combine with the calm atmosphere of its pretty, tree-lined streets and the graciousness of its people to make it just the place where you can go to decompress, recharge, and feel human again.

    You can choose from numerous little hotels that are cheap and very basic in their amenities, or you can splurge and enjoy the luxuries afforded by the Park Hyatt Mogadishu, which overlooks a harbor usually full of multi-colored sailboats and yachts.  Manager Paul Verciglio runs a highly efficient establishment with a cadre of bellhops resplendent in their original Versace uniforms of emerald green with gold buttons.  You will find fresh flowers (corpse lily, dragon arum, Stapelia, and Huernia) in your room, as well as a little fridge with wine and cakes and a bar stocked with miniatures.

    “It’s a good life in Mogadishu,” says Paul with a contented sigh.  “Much more peaceful than the big cities in Italy, with all their violence and social unrest.  In fact, it’s an extraordinarily quiet city.  At night you will only hear the gently pounding surf and the cuckoos calling to each other.  By day, if you go downtown, you won’t even hear a radio playing loud or a car horn.”

    Another reason for the peacefulness of the city is the curfew on juveniles under sixteen.  They must be off the street by midnight, otherwise they can count on being picked up by one of the many serious-looking officers clad in stunning scarlet uniforms and white pith helmets designed by Gucci.

    Despite its break from its colonial past, Mogadishu is full of Italian influence in its architecture, food, and fashions.  Along the fashionable Via Jamaal Cabdi-Naasir, you will find shops of Dolce & Gabbana, Georgio Armani, and Roberto Cavalli, fine Italian restaurants, and the Globo Cinema, which runs a lot of spaghetti westerns.  But two Canadians have also opened for business.  Twin fashion designers Dan and Dean Caten, originally from Toronto, have opened a store called Dufarr.  They are the prime movers behind Mogadishu’s nascent annual fashion show, which is rapidly developing into an international event.  And now it is rumored that they have struck a deal to bring Victoria’s Secret to Mogadishu with a show this coming December and the simultaneous launch of a boutique.

    Be sure to have a meal at Pelle’s, an Italian restaurant run by Sebastiano Pelle, former head chef at the prestigious La Pergola in Rome.  The best deal is the “Catch of the Day,” which consists of whatever washed up on the beach that morning, served with no-name pasta and sauce. 

    High culture abounds in Mogadishu — live theater, a Shakespeare Festival, ballet, and the Mogadishu Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Coolio (a Negro), which recently recorded a 12-hour compilation of Songs of the Somali Fishermen for Sony.

    Mogadishu’s large metropolitan area is well-served by a fleet of electric buses, whose operators are splendidly clad in pickle green and mustard yellow uniforms designed by H.J. Heinz of Pittsburgh.  But this is a city that was made for walking, so put on your comfy shoes and just walk.  You’ll notice that there is not a scrap of litter anywhere.  These people are fanatics about clean streets, so don’t litter.  It means a $50 fine. 

    Head for the city’s Central Park, which features spectacular fountains modeled after those found on the palatial estate of Benito Mussolini, and meticulously groomed plots of foxglove, water hemlock, titan arum, and Jimson weed.  It’s the perfect retreat for poets.   Indeed, the Toronto Star once informed its readers that the Somalis were the poets of Africa.  You’ll see them sitting on the benches, scribbling away.  I met Mogadishu’s Poet-in-Residence, Yusef Qanees.  He showed me his latest poem, titled Epiphany:

    The steam from a cup of tea

    sets frogs a-singing

    in the pool of blood behind my typewriter.

    The richest neighborhood is the ultra-chic Wagberi district, where a number of new stately homes have sprouted up.  Robert Pattinson owns one.  Others are owned by Jennifer Aniston, Annie Duke, Michael Vick, and Gene Simmons.

    Mogadishu has joined the growing trend in Third World countries of pairing up with a “sister city” in the U.S.  Mogadishu is now the sister city of Miami, whose Mayor, Manny Diaz, explains why: “Both cities begin with ‘M.’  Both cities are on the ocean.  And both cities consist mostly of minorities.”  Making the arrangements was difficult because Mogadishu tends to be “in and out” of mayors.  Fortunately, a prominent citizen, AbdiRisak Isse, took it upon himself to make the deal, since he manages the Coca Cola bottling plant, a position of even higher prestige than Mayor.

    Mogadishu’s future is indeed bright, thanks to its proximity to vast deposits of silicon dioxide, which one can literally scoop up by the bucketful.  And foreign capital is eager to invest in this grand, exotic city, kissed by the warm waves of the Indian Ocean, where porpoises and sperm whales frolic without a care.

    As I was leaving my hotel, the bellhop, upon learning I lived in Canada, asked, “Do you know Michael Ignatieff?”  I said I didn’t know him personally.  “He looks like a big, stupid dung beetle,” the bellhop continued.  “I want to step on his head and crush it like the dung beetle he is.  I feel so sorry for Canada.”  I tipped him generously.

    Recommended vaccinations: encephalitis, yellow fever, Buerger’s Disease.

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