Monday, June 29, 2009

The Thai Propoganda Machine- extolling the King

I had been to Thailand twice already, and on the plane there I remember feeling somewhat remorseful.
“Why am I going back here, instead of somewhere new?”
Then I start walking around Bangkok and I remember why I came. The city is vibrant, alive, interesting, with the ability to grant almost any wish desired.
Want a cheap tasty dinner of Thai food. Bam. Tailor made clothing. Bam. Too see the latest Hollywood hit in a state of the art theater. Super expensive status labels or cheap knock-off clothes on the street, available as well.
Great dance clubs/bars YES. Girls, food, adventure, seriously, Bangkok has it.

Running into Propaganda
At the Siam Paragon, which is frankly a mall that even I appreciated, (you could fricking live there- great food court, gym, yoga, movie theater, a bunch of shops you women would love that I didn’t dare venture into …) I hadn’t seen a movie in over a month, and like everything else at the Paragon, it’s state of the art.
Thailand's King
However, a warning: Thai theaters have the longest pre-show ever. Sure you have the required previews, but what they devote even more time to is the Thai propaganda machine (like two minutes)- extolling the Thai King.
People stand the entire time, their hands over their hearts, as images of the King flash while people perform acts of kindness and friendship.
No wonder the King is so beloved by his countrymen; look at the unconscious association that is being drilled home over and over again.
I too stood, but was chuckling to myself when I sat back in my seat. I can’t help but imagine what type of propaganda might exist in a North Korean movie theater (if they had any) with their 4’ 11” “Dear Leader” depicted standing nose to nose with Yao Ming, rays of light emanating from his heart as he kindly pats an orphan on the head. One thing for sure, I guarantee you everyone stands in the North Korean theater. If you don’t they probably throw you in the gulag.

(Note: saying anything even slightly against the monarchy can land you in jail in Thailand. The culture takes his highness very seriously, and one day of the week is reserved for honoring the king by wearing the color yellow. Please note: I do love the Thai King! Okay, no handcuffs please.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Surfing Bali- Kuta Beach Wipeout!

Surfing
Ever surfed before? Want to try? Ever try to actually stand up while riding the wave in? You fell right?

surfing wipe out
You got frustrated, and after only one more fall, you kicked your board, and decided to head for shore before the shark, which you could have sworn you saw circling you, decided it was lunch time.
Look, just because you aren’t a natural athlete (cough cough- like me) is no reason to give up. When did giving up get you anywhere? Did it ever benefit you? Come on! Let me give you a little inspiration!

Ride that wave Rich! OOOHHH
I’m going to share with you a simple, but utterly profound wisdom, that is not only applicable to surfing but, when ever you are proverbially trying to stand-up in your life. The simple key to standing-up is …. “Don’t fall down.”

surfing is cool


I actually really enjoyed surfing. Next year- Pipeline.




Funny web sitcom

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Horrifying Legend Of Monkey Forest

monkey on my shoulder
The Horrifying Legend of Monkey Forest

The truth is that there are no real forests left on the island, they have all been cleared and the land turned into plantations or rice patties. Even so, Bali’s lush tropical fauna is a pleasure to look at, a stark contrast to the brown, fire scorched hills of Los Angeles.

Still, there are isolated groves of trees, mainly acting as tourist attractions, and that definitely includes Monkey Forest.

Origin

Monkey Forest derives its name as its trees, in effort to reforest some of their lost lands, were systematically planted by monkeys. The Balinese, believing it cute to see monkeys working in far greater unison and technical proficiency than most human beings, dirtying their little paws as they dug small holes to plant their favorite seeds (banana) decided it would be good to let the trees stand, mainly because who wouldn’t pay big money to see monkeys performing such work.

“These monkeys would make a great tourist attraction,” observed one Balinese man, as he handed a small shovel to a monkey, who, apparently more finicky than the rest, wanted to keep his paws out of the mud. (this particular monkey got manicures too)

Having completed the job, for five minutes the monkeys happily frolicked in their trees. Then the tourists started showing up.
“What do these people think we are?” screamed the monkey chief, “A tourist attraction?!!”

Realizing they had been duped, today the monkeys have a far different attitude. The simians no longer happily leap from branch to branch, groom their cousins, toss their feces at each other, the joy filled life monkeys are known for.
No, today the monkeys have formed gangs of murderous bandits and the moment you enter their forest you are on their "turf."

The Set-up

A friendly Balinese woman sits right outside the woods, selling bananas.
“You are hungry?” she asks, “I have tastiest bananas in the world, just for you,” she smiles at you, winking devilishly, knowing that you won’t live long enough to ever taste the sweet fruits.
Being naïve, you purchase a large bunch of bananas, licking your lips as she evilly waves you into the hell that is “Money Forest.”

I heard many legends of the dark fate that befalls visitors of Monkey Forest, some so awful I have tried to block them from memory. While no one has ever made it out of the forest alive, the Balinese for centuries have told the following fairytale to their young children who ask about this dark place. It might give all but the bravest of you nightmares, but I am only the reporter.

The Balinese Fairy Tale of Monkey Forest

The traveler stepped into Monkey Forest, the sound of his foot against rock echoing amongst the unmoving trees, the warm sun drowned by the canopy of cloud scraping trees, a shadow of darkness falling over him. The only light in the hushed forest was the glow of fearsome eyes plotting his demise. Three unsure steps forward and suddenly the apes silently leapt down from the branches, surrounding him. He gazed at their crude unsophisticated weapons, a sharpened stick, a rock, a loaded Uzi they recovered from the body of a visiting Israeli Commando.

“Give us the bananas and no one gets hurt,” the monkey chief grunted, knowing his true intentions were far darker.
“No,” thought the brave traveler. He bought these bananas for himself.
Fight or flight? Noting the Uzi, he chose to run. But there was nowhere to go! More apes fell from the trees, some landing on his shoulders, jumping on his leg, picking his prized bananas off him one by one, cackling evilly, until the travelers bananas had been “redistributed.”

Having got what they came for, now it was time for the bandits to tear him to pieces.
“But you said if you got the bananas no one would get hurt,” screamed the frightened traveler.
“I lied,” replied the monkey chief, baring his teeth ominously.

The traveler ran as fast as he could, monkeys chasing after him, grasping at his heels, the spray of the Uzi’s bullets missing him by millimeters. He ran through the dark jungle, jumping, barely clearing the crocodile filled moat marking the forests edge. Confused, frightened, gasping for precious breath he stops. A banana peel hits him in the back of the head. He turned around, but there was no one to be found.


The Awesome Hero of Awesomeness

Despite desperate pleas from the locals, I was not about to leave the island without exploring the infamous forest. Climbing the mountain, the hot sun and humidity trying to beat me into submission, I refused to turn back.

Arriving at the forests edge, I purchased several bunches of bananas from the impish she-devil keeping watch for the bandits, at least one of which I intended on using as a bargaining chip to negotiate the release of one of their hostages.

I step foot into Monkey Forest. It is as exactly as the legends describe. The path, visible only by the glow of evil monkey eyes is rough and dangerous. The monkeys soon appear, demanding my precious fruit.
I refuse, gravely insulting the chief monkey by showing him the sole of my shoe. (like most of Indonesia, the monkeys are Islamic.)
Militant Islamic actually. Instantly the spray of AK-47 and Uzi bullets fills the air. I can feel them whizz by me. Regretting my decision, I sprint, the wrong direction. The simians laugh at my mistake. They don’t even rush after me. They’re going to enjoy this.

They’re closing in on me. Frantically I try to find some sort of escape. A teleport machine would do, but they’re never around when you need them. Beam me up Scotty.
Looking around I see an ancient Hindu Temple. Two monkeys guard the entrance. I race for it, bracing myself for the onslaught. I stiff arm one, and kick the other, and somehow make it through the doors.
“Sanctuary!” I cry out. “Sanctuary!!”
Having seen many movies, the monkeys know better than to violate the santictity of a temple. I’m safe here, however temporarily.

The Hindu Temple

Inside the temple, the evil monkey powers are muted.
Yes, the monkeys here are still banana thieves, but they don’t stop there. Exhausted, I put down my water bottle. Elsewhere on the island, several monkeys tried to grab bottles and run off with them, but they were invariably too big and they all fumbled it, so I didn’t really concern myself.

Like clockwork, a monkey came sprinting full speed towards me, scooped up the bottle like a linebacker does a fumble, and ran towards the end zone, somehow holding onto the “ball.”
Now this was my only source of water, and I was thirsty, and sweating in the humidity; so I took after him. Bounding onto a rock, the monkey turned and grinned at me, but that quickly turned into a full teeth bared warning as I got close. He clearly wasn’t going to give up his treasure.
He actually bit into my water bottle, puncturing it, and its precious fluid began to leak away.
I really didn’t want to fight him for it, and risk going to the doctor.
Doctor: “So what is this gash mark here?”
Me: “Monkey bite.”
Doc (bewildered): “How did that happen?”
Me: “We were fighting.”
Doc: “Over what? Did he say something bad about your Mom?”
Me: “He stole my water bottle, dude.”
Doc calls out to his nurse: “Make sure to give this guy the “idiot surcharge.”
Nurse: “The moment he opened his mouth.”

So what did our hero do? Quick thinking, I pulled out a banana and showed it to the monkey, who immediately became envious of Rich’s possession.
“You want banana?” Rich asks.
Monkey squawks affirmatively. Rich places the banana beside him, theorizing, scientifically speaking, the monkey’s paws are too small to carry both.
The monkey looks at Rich disdainfully, thinking to himself how he will be able to claim ownership over both treasures. Meanwhile life sustaining fluid continues to rapidly seep away.
The lure of the banana is too great. He drops the water bottle and sprints towards the fruit, while Rich leaps towards the bottle. Arriving at the same at each other’s possession, they turn and glare at each other, and take on threatening postures, each baring their fangs at the other.
Suddenly realizing the few drops of precious liquid left, and “il mono” that his banana wasn’t getting any younger, they quickly consumed the contents of their possessions, and walked away with their heads held high, each silently daring the other to make a move.

So, um, I’m still at the temple. Luckily somehow there’s a wireless signal that reaches here. The monkeys outside are cackling, and hooting, surrounding me. Though I know my demise imminent, there’s no way I’m going back out there. As I told you, I traded my last banana for the now empty water bottle. If it rains I should last for a month here. Please tell my parents I love them.




cute monkey, easy easy






Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Egypt- Final Thoughts; like should I go

Final Thoughts On Egypt

Is Egypt worth visiting? Yes, definitely, though for me the pyramids are the primary attraction and what I will remember most vividly. They are quite breathtaking and once in your life, it's worth the pilgrimage to see them.
Getting to know the culture of Islam I personally found quite interesting as well. While Egypt practices a much more tolerant brand of Islam than Iran, the Saudis, or God forbid (please) the Taliban. I still have my doubts whether or not women are seen as equals as I was told, though assuredly they are far better off than some places.

Without tourism Egypt would be exceedingly poor, think Yemen. It is easy to understand that in the Middle East, where six children + per family is the norm (or at least was) in other lands whose greatest resource is vast quantities of sand, and the corrupt governments do little to provide opportunity for the youth, that there would be an air of discontentment, and make them easier targets of recruitment for militant groups.

A few stories for you—
The Burka Incident

I was at a local Egyptian restaurant and came within millimeters of bumping into a woman clad in a Burka so black I couldn’t see the slits for her eyes. I have no clue how they eat in that thing, maybe they’re only allowed to eat at home, I dunno.
But coming literally face to face with Darth Vader, I couldn’t help but stare for a few moments. I really don’t know what was under the mask, but nevertheless, I sat there for a few awkward beats gazing at what for me was a novelty seen up-close for the first time.
Bad move! My guide Hend had told me earlier that the most dangerous thing in Egypt-- to stare at another man’s woman. (although in fairness, I had no way of knowing for sure that Vader was female) Egyptian men are notoriously jealous, and her bearded husband was with her, and I immediately felt his dagger stare. I quickly turned around and started speaking to Hend.
“Please be careful, Mr. Richard,” Hend warned me.
Well, as it was on my mind, I began asking Hend questions about the burka, specifically how a man could be jealous in this circumstance. Imagine going to the museum and having all the exhibits covered by a dark cloth so you can only see their approximate shape, and then being asked to describe the details of what you saw. You clad your woman up like that for a reason dude. Maybe she’s what I call “low break” (ugly) and you’re embarrassed to be seen in public with her. I realize this is not PC, but I don’t like dagger stares at me either.
I just don’t get it. I believe in allowing a woman to shine, to radiate. No matter how it is explained to me, I disagree with the burka. I wanted to tell the woman, “Girl, you don’t have to dress up like no beekeeper!! Take it off!”
Of course, unbeknownst to me, the man overheard and worse, understood at least part of my conversation, and announced quite loudly in Arabic that he spoke four languages, including English, and he was looking forward to me looking at his wife again. Testy testy.
Well, tempted as I was to see what would happen after Hend related to me what he stated, I did my best to keep my vision averted from their direction.

The Accident

Egyptian traffic is like a video game where you earn points, at a max speed of two miles an hour, every time you get another driver to cow to your will. Also, if you take your eyes off the road for even a split second, someone else will surely jump in front of you, and you’ll hit them (losing points.) This actually happened the last day I was in Egypt, and when my driver, despite my scream of “Whhhhooooaaa!” from the backseat as I saw what was about to happen, rear ended a cabbie at max speed (two miles per hour.)
The drivers got out of their respective automobiles, and in classic human tradition, began to yell at one another.
Now, I have rear ended two people in my life. Both at one mile an hour. The first time I was 16 years old and the other guy just laughed it off, cause it was obvious there was nothing wrong with his car. The second time was like five years ago in West Hollywood, when a BMW inexplicably stopped in front of me while we were both making a right hand turn onto an absolutely empty street.
The guy was an interior designer, and even for a gay guy was prissy, and in all honesty, there was NOTHING wrong with his car, but nevertheless he managed to get $750 from my insurance company for “possible interior structural damage to his fender.”
Now, in the case of my Egyptian driver, it was clear to me even from the back seat, that there was definitely damage done to the rear end of the taxi. They argued for a few minutes, and agreed that my driver would meet the cabbie at a location nearby to site I was supposed to see- Coptic Cairo.
I found out later that the accident, which in the U.S. would have been a minimum of $1,500 to fix, was settled for fifty Egyptian pounds. (About $9.50 US) which is actually a substantial amount for my driver.
I immediately pulled out $10 to pay for the accident. For a second I felt like Bill Gates. I guess the dollar still goes far in some countries.

The Intersection

There are is no such thing as a four way intersection in Egypt. Even on major streets you just keep driving til you find a place where you can “attempt” a U-Turn, and then drive the other way until you come to your street where you make a right hand turn. The last successful left hand turn was completed in the time of the Pharaohs.
However, on the smaller side streets, we came to a three way intersection, a T in the road if you will. Three cars arrived at exactly the same time, and because of an illegally parked vehicle, only one car at a time could squeeze through.
the scene of the crime which I had the foresight to take a picture of from inside our car
So, what did our Egyptians drivers do? Immediately all three of us backed up to let the other one through. Realizing that we were all giving each other the right of way, my driver smiled at the other cars, and sailed through the intersection, as they tipped their caps to him, and then made it through themselves.
Haha! And if you believe that could ever possibly occur in Egypt than I also have a rather large pyramid to sell you. Great location too!
No, what happened was all three cars slowly advanced, daring the other to show weakness and back down, but no one did because they all knew they’d lose three points in the manhood depart, not to mention their license if it was reported to the Egyptian DMV.
So now all three cars are inches away from each other, blaring their horns while traffic piles up behind them, further exacerbating the damage to my ear drums by honking their horns as loudly as possible, while the three main drivers got out, and calmly explained to each other why the other was an idiot.
It took damn near twenty minutes before everyone backed up and traffic began to move again. And even when we got through the intersection, a cabbie, who must not have been happy about his wasted time, was occupying the middle of the road, a protest to stupidity while at the same time contributing to it, as we could not get by. It took six cars piled up behind us, blaring their horns simultaneously to get him to finally move out of the way. Egypt is a crazy country.

With that said, if you do choose to go to Egypt, I feel it my duty to recommend to you my guide Hend Harb! She is relatively inexpensive, very very honest, very knowledgeable, punctual, and interesting, and she speaks good English.

Hend Harb- great Egyptian tour guide for Egypt, Cairo, and Alexandria—
contact info
noda2555 AT yahoo.com … I don’t want her email getting spammed.
Cairo – Egypt
Cell phone: +20 10 618 47 26

Peace be upon you
As always
Rich

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pics Of Cute Animals in Bali!!

The plane trip to Bali from Egypt took over twenty hours. On a plane trip so long, it’s impossible to have any idea what the local time will be at your destination when you land. Sure, if you take a plane from LA to New York, you know you're going to land three hours in the future, and when you land in Korea, you know the exact local time will be “tomorrow,” but in the case of Australians travelling from Sydney to Cairo, which is an even longer trip “against the clock,” it’s not uncommon for planes to land in the 8th Century BC, which actually explains some Egyptian hieroglyphics that have translated as “G’d day mate,” which was considered odd by scholars the world over until now, seeing as Australia had not yet been invented.
Finally having arrived, and noting that the year was only 1950, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Seriously, it must be 1950, I mean the Balinese people are sooooo nice. The ride to my hotel was actually quite expensive by Balinese standards … $9 (in Russia it would have been like $2,800)
My hotel was advertised as a 5 star hotel for $100 a night. What a lie. It’s more like a 7 star hotel. Unbelievably beautiful, with the friendliest most courteous staff in history, an absolutely AMAZING breakfast buffet included in the price, gorgeous grounds and gardens, a great gym, should I go on? If you go to Bali, it is called the Melia Bali in Nasua Dua.
I have to tell you, the Balinese people are the sweetest people I have met, rivaling those on the outer islands of Fiji. There is a general simplicity and natural happiness to most Balinese, despite the fact that they live in poverty. What’s funny is that Bali, because of tourism, is the richest island in Indonesia. The average hotel worker makes a $100 a month. A better job is taxi driver, though there is a lot of competition for clients. I hired a guy to drive me around all day from morning to midnight for $40. All over the island, two hours away, back, and fro. What would that cost in America? Or worse, Russia. Cabbies have the added bonus of making commissions by bringing clients to restaurants, art shops, etc etc.
With that said, one of my first stops was the Bali Zoo, one of the best zoos I have been to cause it is so hands on, literally. Here are the pics.

Indonesian Bear Cat


python around my neck


So they brought out the young crocodile, and a man is carrying it towards the showing area, and another zoo employee, is walking towards him, looking back at us. What happens? He bumps into the guy, as the carrier falls, he releases the croc, who flies up intio the air waving it's little legs like "Heellllppp!"and lands in the water, where it lays at the top for a second, like "this is better, and then dissappears underneath. Meanwhile the zookeper falls down by the waters edge, and is glaring the stare of death at the other guy. If he wasn't so obviously angry, I assumed that it was one of the funniest set-ups I've ever seen.
The pic above are the zoo employees trying to get the croc out of the water.

want nothing to do with you when you get bigger

the wise owl

full grown orangutan
This fella was strutting his stuff. It was the first time I ever saw an adult orangutan, and it was pretty impressive. So the ape flexes, and I start applauding it, clapping. The orangutan looks at me, and you know what he does, he SPITS at me. Accross the moat, like he was the world olympic champion in spitting, and CONNECTS. I was very impressed.


bat man!

Mr. Lion


yum, I can;t wait til I;m old enough to eat people

Hobbes!

More pics later !

Islam in Egypt , Learnings of a US citizen- Al Jeezera Interview-- part 2



(One of King Ramses's many statues. That's me in the corner, show you how ginormous this statue is)
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
M: You spent over a week in Islamic countries, tell us your impressions of Islam.

(sound of machetes being unsheathed by audience)

R: Actually, I had many conversations about religion with both my guides. Islam actually means “peace, and submission to God.” Now, for me the word “submission” is key and I’ll discuss that in a second. First off, over 90% of women wear a head scarf or burka in Egypt, which is fascinating because 20% of the country is Christian, which means that many Christian woman do so as a fashion statement as well, and virtually all Islamic females do. However, unlike Saudi Arabia and Iran, woman in Egypt are allowed to choose to do so or not. According to my guide Hend Harb, no one looks down at those who don’t. Now personally, knowing human psychology, I have my doubts whether that statement is accurate, the not looking down part/societal pressure thing, but at least that thought exists in theory.
M: What about the Mosques and the calls to prayer?
R: Mosques in Egypt are like Starbucks in America, they’re everywhere, only less caffeinated. Five times a day the calls to prayer blare over the mosques loudspeakers. And they are LOUD. In Turkey, my hotel was located right next to the Blue Mosque, one of the largest Mosques in the Arab world, which woke me up every morning at 4:30 AM, and I remember wanting to issue a strongly worded opinion to the imam that Islam should modernize and the call to prayer, at least at that hour, should take the form of a mass SMS to phones that were hopefully on vibrate.
M: A text message?
R: And of course, I’d take a massive position in Arab telecom and make a mint.
M: Perhaps you should hold off on your stock purchase.
(five thousand year old cobras guard a pyramid)

R: My guides told me they believed that most Westerners had the view that Muslims were all a bunch of American flag burning terrorists, whereas Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. I pointed out that while I didn’t believe that most Americans held this view, the fact is that of all the world's religions we only see Muslims blowing themselves up as suicide bombers, flying planes into buildings, killing each other over the rightful successor to the Prophet Mohammed.
M: You are referring to the Sunni/Shia—
R: Exactly. And both my guides were almost in tears. “These people are NOT Muslims!” They both independently stated this. “No Muslim could possibly do this! They warp our religion.” I pointed out that Al Queda seems to have the tacit approval of many in the Muslim world, and that moderate Arabs do not seem to speak out against them. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” they stated, your media just does not report on these things. I pointed out that many Americans believe the Muslims behave like nut jobs. Wanting to kill an editor for publishing a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.
M: What was they’re reaction?
R: Now, my female guide almost started to cry here, and my male guide the next day was as angry as I had seen him. “It is against our religion to create an icon of the Prophet. No one knows what he looked like. How can you depict him. And in such a negative way? How would you like it if Jesus was depicted in such a way?”
“It has been done many a time, and in ways far less flattering than Mohammed.” I might not agree with it, but it is not up to me to decide what can and cannot be published.
“But this is wrong. To use freedom in such a way only to make people angry.” Maybe so, but I will defend to my death the freedom to do so.” They understood what I was saying, but still did not like it one bit.
(a view of the Cairo skyline and Nile river)

M: Does Islam’s interpretation change from country to country?
R: Yes. Far fewer women in Turkey dress in burkas or headscarves than in Egypt while in Saudi Arabia, and I pointed this out to Hend in the context that another view we had in the West, that I too am guilty of, is that women are treated as second class citizens and that their freedoms are stifled. Saudi women are not only Required to wear burkas only, but also are not allowed outside without a male relative, are not allowed to watch movies, or drive cars.
M: And she said?
R: She defended her country, and Egypt’s interpretation of Islam, stating that women in Egypt had a choice to wear a scarf or not. The reason behind the headscarf was to protect the woman, to make her less desirable to anyone besides her husband so that men wouldn’t be tempted or make sexual advances towards her, and to do so, women should cover their bodies and hair. Hend then stated that the burka was not prescribed by the Prophet, and this is not true Islam but rather a deviation from Mohammed’s words.
Now, speaking of choice, Hend, who is a lovely woman, is unmarried and thus a virgin, and she will in Muslim tradition, will continue to live with her parents until such time as she is married. There was another tour guide who was going to the same sites we were, nice looking guy with light eyes, and though I didn’t understand the words of their conversation, their body language and tone was very friendly. When I asked why she did not date him, she lamented that he was a Christian, and it was impossible for a Muslim woman to marry a Christian man. “Oh so, it’s not a choice for you?” I asked.
“Yes,” but I am okay with that Hend answered.
“You are able to drive a car, correct?” I asked her.
“Yes, of course she answered.”
“And you would object if someone tried to tell you that you couldn’t.”
“Yes,” Hend replied.
“You know that Laura Bush, George Bush’s wife, went to Saudi Arabia to promote womens’ rights. She spoke of the fact that Saudi women were not allowed to drive. And the Saudi ladies in the audience interrupted her and said, “yes, but we are okay with this.” And Laura Bush answered them, “That’s fine if you don’t wish to drive, I just want you to have a choice.” Now Hend, I must state that it doesn’t matter to me whether or not you’d like to marry that nice guy, but I personally feel that your life might be richer if you had the choice.”
M: Hmmm … and she responded?
R: She didn’t really. I just let her ruminate on it.
M: You mentioned the fact that Islam meant “peace and submission to God, that the word “submission” had special importance.
R: Yes, now bear in mind that I have nothing against somebody’s choice to wear a scarf, and that I would, similarly to someone’s right to publish an offensive cartoon, defend to my death someone’s right to wear a headscarf, on the last day I was with Hend, she told me that she was wearing the scarf so that she would be a good Muslim and be rewarded with a good afterlife. Now, this is not unlike the religion of Christianity being used as a tool by the nobility of the middle ages to suppress the peasants, telling them, work hard for us now and keep your head down, and you will be rewarded in the after life with heaven. Submit to this. Now, again, the challenge here is not Hend wearing the headscarf, the challenge is that based on the definition used to describe Islam, depending on who does the interpreting, Islam could be used as a dogmatic tool to get people to submit to their version of Islam, and make it easier to recruit uneducated people to do their bidding.

M: You are speaking of terrorism?
R: Amongst other things, yes. I believe that this is a potential means of control. And speaking of interpretations of Islam, in Saudi Arabia there is nothing, no bars, no alcohol no prostitutes, nothing. But you know who goes to Dubai and Bahrian every weekend where prostitution is rampant, Saudi men. Such austere interpretations run contrary to nature, and thus, frankly, don’t really work other than by force of some type.
M: Is it true that you prayed as a Muslim?
R: Yes, I like new experiences, and believe that all of the major religions are based on Universal truths. On the last day I was there, my guide was going to have me walk about the main commercial bazaar in Egypt while he went and prayed, I told him I'd rather experience prayer as a Muslim and went with him.
M: Was it weird for you?
R: Well, when I entered the Mosque I had that “Be careful,” feeling run through me, cause people were giving me strange looks. So I tread very lightly, until I realized that it’s because they almost never see a light eyed light skinned foreigner in their Mosque (if ever) and I went and did the purification ceremony, wherein you splash your hands, nose, face, feet, and elbows with water five times. I went into the Mosque, and following my guide, prayed as Muslim. It felt no different than the normal way I pray, I was merely connecting to the divine, what truly is. When we were done, many people came up to me, and said something I perceived as nice, and shook my hand. When the well wishers were done, my guide, who was suddenly very popular told me that, “Everyone is asking about you, whether you are a new Muslim, how you find our religion, how you came to be here. Everybody is very happy.”
“Why?”
“Because it is apparent to them that a foreigner is respectful of our religion, and is willing to embrace it. Everyone is very happy.”
M: Nice experience?
R: Yes. Of course. But it was about mutual respect, so we were all happy.
M: What did you think of Obama’s speech he gave in Cairo?
R: I thought it was a fantastic speech. He 100% hit the mark for his primary audience, which for this speech was the Muslim world, and I had specifically asked my guides what they wanted to hear from Obama beforehand, and he nailed it. Basically, Muslims want to feel respected, that their religion is tolerated, as 99% of them recognize the merits of the world’s religions. Obama has a tremendous amount of goodwill, and I guarantee that in electing him, we have not only silenced conspiracy theorists in the Middle East who claimed the powers that be would never let it happen, but we have also, at least while this goodwill lasts, created an environment where it will be far more difficult for Al Qaeda to recruit new members. I have seen some neo-conservative views on Fox News in recent days, some people twisting Obama’s words from the speech, out of context, to show an overly apologetic almost anti-American, our response to 9/11 being unjustified view from the President. No! Not at all. Obama was level and fair to all sides involved, and remember WHO his audience was if you think there is a possibility of that, and his intent of the speech. Let me leave you with, and I believe we are on the right course finally, despite Sean Hannity-- … Whereas war, hatred, and suppression act sow the seeds for extremist ideology; peace, moderation, and opportunity uproots this violent mindset and creates an environment where it is far more difficult for it to grow.

As-Salāmu `Alaykum – peace be upon you.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Egyptian Pyramid Theft- Al Jezeera Interview Part I

flying into the pyramids
Mahmoud: Live from Egypt- it's Al Jezeera, and the chief of our Egyptian affiliate, Mahmoud Ahmed Abd-Rabou am pleased to be joined with famed world traveler and Simpsons Scholar, Richard Birecki. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Rich: My pleasure Mahmoud.
M: So, you have been in our country for four days, was that long enough to reach your hotel from the airport?
R: I was fortunate; I made it on day three.
M: Lucky.
R: The traffic in Cairo is awful, and possibly more chaotic than in Mumbai India. You run neck and neck in congestion, but I think that Egypt might take the gold because there is not a single traffic light in the entire country, and the cars jostle for position like it’s the Indy 500 time trials and even though no car has ever exceeded 2.1 miles per hour, but they’re going after pole position come hell or high water, and there are no traffic cops, cause no one has EVER attained a speed fast enough to be worthy of a ticket, even through a school zone, and being an Islamic country, devoutly practice the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, who was otherwise quite tolerant, but one day developed road rage and instructed his driver, “Death before yielding.”
M: Haha, but seriously—
R: If you think I am joking about this, then my friend, you haven’t studied the Koran as I have.
M: You studied the Koran?
R: I was at a local Egyptian restaurant which had a very large plasma screen TV which was playing “The Koran Channel 13.”
M: The Koran Channel 13?
R: Every country in the Middle East has multiple privately funded satellite channels devoted to the Koran which operate 24 hours a day without breaking for commercials with only readings from the book. On Koran Channel #13, it was also translated in English subtitles, and when the Prophet was discussing proper traffic behavior, “Death before yielding” was repeated at least five times.
M: Perhaps this was an incorrect translation?
R: Perhaps you haven’t experienced drivers from the Middle East.
M: What was your favorite part of being in Egypt?
R: Without a doubt, the Giza pyramids. The first time I saw them was at dusk. These massive structures in the middle of the desert built over five thousand years ago and still standing.
M: I understand you saw the laser light show in the evening.
the great pyramids of Giza
R: I think the pyramids are most impressive at sundown, when you can’t see the wear of time and desert, and man made destruction. The laser light show was very cool, a history of the pyramids and the Sphinx built to guard them. Look, I was in absolute awe of the pyramids. I sat there thinking to myself whether or not this was because I had seen them so often in pictures as a child, studied them in school, seen them in movies, etc. I sat there and tried to clear my head of any preconceived notion, and wondered if I’d find the pyramids as cool and impressive, and the answer came back, absolutely.
M: Were you able to explore the pyramids, and their interior?
Egyptian pyramids
R: The next day my guide took me to tour the Pyramids and the Sphinx and warned me that going inside the pyramids was a waste, cause there was nothing to see inside, but I insisted, believing that it was my destiny to discover a secret passageway which would lead me to treasures that I would smuggle out of Egypt and become insanely wealthy by selling them to the British Museum. I entered the pyramid via a long miner’s shaft, having to nearly crawl in, and began looking around for one of those bookcases where you pull out a book and a platform rotates you into a secret room; I majored in archaeology at Scooby Doo University, but sadly found only a room with graffiti dated from the year 1812 with some Frenchman taunting me that he had found the bookcase before me.
M: There was a bookcase?
R: Yes, but no books.
M: Tragic.
R: Indeed.
M: What did you think of the National Museum?
R: Pretty amazing. Well worth seeing. I think what I enjoyed the most was the intricate design of the hieroglyphics. Amazing that they have withstood the test of time, and are so clearly legible, if you can read bird, cat, bird, jackal that is.
M: How about the papyrus?
R: The Egyptians invented paper, made out of papyrus six thousand years ago. Today in the National Museum, scrolls made of papyrus are clearly legible and in full color after five thousand years, while the original American Constitution has nearly withered away after two hundred plus years.
M: Did you buy a papyrus scroll?
R: I did indeed. I even purchased the extended warranty- three thousand years.
M: I hope the warranty didn’t cost you a lot.
R: (a long beat of silence) I plan to cash in on it as soon as they invent time travel.
M: (after a couple beats) What else impressed you about Egypt?
R: Well, we drove from Cairo to Alexandria which is located on the Mediterranean, about three hours Northwest of Cairo and through the Sahara Desert. Alexandria was originally the depository of learning, with the world’s biggest library, until it was burned down, helping to plunge the world into the Dark Ages. Several years ago, the Egyptians rebuilt the library, and digitized millions of records, scrolls, books, and it is an extremely impressive building, beautifully designed, and a monument to history and acknowledgement to Egypt’s role in building civilization. I also visited the Coptic Crypts, which date back to the 2nd Century AD, but were unearthed only sixty years ago. I always dig walking through something straight out of Indiana Jones.
M: And economically, how does Egypt compare to the United States?
R: It doesn’t. Not in the least. The infrastructure is poor, nothing works properly, it’s dirty and polluted. Egypt as a country is what I would refer to as “old money.” Basically they had a really wealthy super great great great great great great great super duper great great grandfather who invested incredibly wisely in the form of pyramids and relics, which are still paying huge dividends in the form of ongoing tourism. Unfortunately, that wealth is being divided by his descendents who have eight children per family, and no real means to sustain them. Almost everyone lives within a few miles of the Nile River, and I really doubt that Egypt has enough arable land to support such a population on its own. The only other thing that Egypt has is oil, which will at some time either run out, or be replaced by renewable green energy. Egypt’s lifeblood is tourism, and a good tour guide makes twenty dollars a day plus tips, but only on days when they work, and when the summer heat comes, the volume of tourists drops significantly. The average government salary is $60 a month.
M: People survive on that?
R: Something like 80% of the population makes less than $250 a month.
M: Did you feel any worries in the streets based on all the poverty?
R: None really. Sure everybody tries to befriend you and sell you some junky souvenirs, but unlike Turkey, I felt safe at all times.
The Mosque I prayed in. The security guard has left his machine gun several feet in front of him just lying there
M: What about all the guns?

R: The NRA would love Egypt. Everywhere you go you see rifles or machine guns. Largely in the hands of the tourist police, it is a little unnerving at first to see AK-47’s strapped around the shoulders of so many people, but you get used to it.
M: The tourist police?
R: As I stated, tourism is Egypt’s bread and butter. Years and years ago, the Muslim brotherhood, in an effort to destabilize the government so they could take over, shot up a bunch of sightseers at the pyramids. Now they have armed guards everywhere to protect tourists, protect their number one industry. You can’t go anywhere; get in any car, cab, without the tourist police taking down the license plate, the driver’s name etc.
M: And the people of Egypt, how did you find them?
R: Basically extremely warm and inviting. Yeah, people in Egypt are very poor, and many of them are looking for any way to sell you something, which, according to my guide, is usually junk, but overall I would say the people are great.
M: Do you believe that we Egyptians have a fascination with death?
R: From the pharaohs on. The pyramids were built as massive tombs for the pharaohs. In Cairo today, they have what they call “City of the Dead,” with it’s minarets, domes, and tombs, it looks like something straight out of Star Wars as you pass it by. Living in the city are the poorest of the poor, ands their sole job it is to look after all the tombs. I actually was curious and asked to be taken inside, and basically it’s a massive grave yard, but no graves, just oddly shaped structures and domes acting as tombs, with very impoverished people milling about them, going on with their lives. It was a little surreal for me. I mean, my guide proudly told me that her sister was excited because she had purchased a very fancy tomb for herself for ten thousand US dollars. They were originally a poor family, and to for Anyone in Egypt 10k is like a several hundred thousand dollars here, so to spend that amount of money for when you are dead, well, it boggles my mind.
M: You spent some time in Islamic countries, tell us your impressions of Islam.

(sound of machetes being unsheathed by audience)


Click here for part II of the interview!! Islam in Egypt- Part II

Monday, June 1, 2009

Do You Have the Prowess to Visit Egypt?-- The $25,000 Pyramid

Congratulations on being a contestant on the first ever, $25,000 Pyramid Game Show! You are first contestant, all you have to do is answer as many of these questions correctly as possible. Get all 7 correct and we here Rich Industries will mail you a check for $25,000 US Dollars. That's right, no strings ** and you'll have a cool $25,000 check in your pocket! So go ahead, take the quiz ...


Egyptology
How Much Do You REALLY Know.

1) You are on Harem Street at 7 PM on Saturday night. You are meeting your friend Ahmed Ahmed five blocks away at exactly 10 PM. At what time should you leave?
a) ha!
b) Oh you were serious
c) sometime around the turn of the century
d) when they began building the pyramids

2) Mahmoud the cabbie's client is in a hurry. The traffic light turns yellow. Mahmoud should …
a) a what?!
b) in Egypt??
c) surely you’re making this up.
d) yeah, and the Loch Ness Monster’s real too

3) Walking on the street you accidentally bump into this woman wearing a burka.
You should
a) assume it’s Halloween and compliment her on her great costume
b) offer to purchase some honey from her colony of bees
c) unsheathe your light saber and prepare to battle Darth Vader
d) prepare your last will and testament because her husband is going to kill you

4) You have brought a white Billabong hat for your four day excursion in Cairo to protect you from the desert sun. At the end of four days you should expect your hat to be …
a) slightly off white due to the dirt and pollution
b) quite dirty and dark
c) pitch black
d) disintegrated

5) Three Egyptians cabbies come to a three way intersection at exactly the same time. Due to a car parked illegally in the middle of the road, only one car at a time can squeeze through, but each driver feels he has the right of way. Which of the following will defuse the situation?
a) I’m sure Egyptians are rational people, and someone will back down on their own and let the others go first
b) a simple polite conversation why it would be in everyone’s best interest if someone backed down
c) a gun
d) the threat of nuclear attack
e) I would expect the deranged drivers to plow into each other at 1 mile per hour until the poorly made cars crumple into a metallic mess, while a mushroom cloud forms in the background


6) Technology in Egypt is
a) not quite up to the par with the US
b) not up to par with Afghnaistan
c) not up to par with the Middle Ages
d) The Internet was faster in the time of the Pharaohs

7) The Pyramids of Giza are
a) cool
b) so cool
c) awesome
d) a spiritually moving experience

We will be discussing the correct answers in next couple days as I give you a more detailed report on Egypt.

To those of you who believe you have correctly answered these questions, feel free to email me to collect your $25,000 check!
** (check will post dated Nov 25, 4029)