It’s one of the most popular attractions in Pyongyang, North Korea, and with a new coat of paint it’s ready to attract more admiring crowds for a brainwashing display of jingoism.
The USS Pueblo is a U.S. Navy spy ship captured by the North Korean Navy in 1968. While on an intelligence gathering mission in the Sea of Japan to check out the activities of North Korea and the Soviet Union, the ship was attacked by several North Korean vessels and two jets. Two of her crew were killed before the captain surrendered. The survivors spent eleven months in prison and were subjected to physical and psychological torture.
Despite this, they were defiant. When posed for propaganda photos they subtly gave the photographer the finger. When the North Koreans discovered what this meant, the torture got worse.
North Korea insisted the ship was in its waters, while the U.S. said it stayed in international waters. The U.S. had to finally admit “fault” in order to get the crew’s release, and then immediately retracted that admission.
Today the USS Pueblo is still in North Korea. It’s been a propaganda piece for some time and is moored next to the Fatherland War of Liberation Museum, where it receives a steady stream of North Korean visitors and a few foreign tours. Now the Japan Times reports it’s been repainted and restored along with the rest of the museum. Presumably the damage caused by North Korean guns was left intact, as that was a star attraction. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Every now and then in my travels I find a spot where I want to stop for a while. Damascus, Harar and the Orkney Islands have all captured my imagination because of their rich culture and laid back atmosphere.
Damascus is lost, sucked into the maelstrom of a country intent on destroying itself. Harar and Orkney are far away. So I’m lucky to have discovered Tangier, Morocco, less than an hour’s flight from my home base of Madrid.
Set in a broad bay next to the Strait of Gibraltar, it’s been an important spot since ancient times. On a high hill stands the Casbah, once the domain of the Sultan but now an exclusive neighborhood for rich Moroccans and an increasing number of expatriates. Below lies the medina, a jumble of houses and labyrinthine streets that are home to shopkeepers and laborers. There’s also a sprawling new city thanks to the booming port.
Tangier is a fascinating city. You can see all the tourist sights in two days and spend the rest of your life figuring the place out. Tangier has one of the most mixed populations I’ve seen. Arabs rub shoulders with Berbers from the Rif, Sahrawis from Western Sahara, and an increasing number of Senegalese and other migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. The men dress in everything from the traditional djellaba to T-shirt and jeans; the women in everything from the niqab to miniskirts. There’s also a long-established expat population of French, Spaniards and British.
This ethnic alphabet soup means you hear half a dozen languages as you walk down the street. The local Arabic is called Darija and is distinct enough that my rusty Levantine Arabic is almost useless. Berber is often heard too. If you don’t speak either of these languages, chances are that any individual Moroccan will speak French, Spanish or English, or perhaps all of them. I’ve never met an African who spoke fewer than three languages.
It’s often hard to know which language to use first. I generally start conversations in Spanish because that’s more widely understood than English, although one young guy immediately switched to English and asked, “Why are you speaking Spanish if you’re from an English-speaking country?” Conversations often slide from one language to another. This is a place where you can end up using four languages just asking a waiter for a cup of tea!
Speaking of tea, sitting in a cafe with a cup of Moroccan mint tea (cloudy with sugar and with the mint leaves still floating in the water) is the best way to see Tangier. The locals love to relax with friends and watch the world go by. My favorite place to sit is the Petit Socco, a small square in the center of the medina through which everyone seems to pass. Not far off and outside the old city walls is the Grand Socco. It’s even more lively but the blaring traffic makes it less relaxing.
You won’t have to sit long before you’ll get in a conversation with someone. Moroccans are very social and you can learn a lot about life in their country by spending a couple of hours lounging in a cafe. I’ve been treated to everything from Berber tales of spirit possession to catty gossip from longtime expats.
Tangier used to have a bad reputation for hustlers and touts. They’ve been mostly cleaned out in recent years although you’ll still have young guys coming up to you asking to be your guide. A polite “no” will work if repeated two or three times. This doesn’t work in Marrakesh or Fez! Once you’ve been around a couple of days they’ll all recognize you and stop asking.
There are other advantages to staying for a while. Most visitors spend only a day or two in Tangier, or come as day trippers from Gibraltar or Tarifa and disappear after a few hours. The locals quite understandably see these people only as sources of money. Once the folks in Tangier have seen you around for a few days they start getting curious. Soon you’ll get to know the people who hang out at your regular cafes. The kids will start following you to get English lessons. You’ll start getting invitations for lunch or parties or day trips.
This, of course, works most places. What makes Tangier special is the diverse range of people to meet and the vibrant feel to the place. It’s a place of constant movement. People come here to make their fortunes or to use the city as a launchpad to get to Europe. It’s welcoming to newcomers because so many people are newcomers. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people with interesting dreams in Tangier and to become part of the scene in this endlessly interesting city requires only a bit of time and an open mind.
Warm days, balmy nights and time off. Summer is prime time for getting outdoors and exploring. Backpacking, kayaking, canoeing, walking, running; whatever your sport of choice, this is the season to be doing it.
Need some inspiration? This photo taken on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters by Flickr user Adam Baker should do it. Sunset on still water from your seat in a boat – what could be better?
Camping is a fun summertime activity, and everyone who cares about the outdoors wants to reduce their impact on the environment as much as possible.
That’s why many people burn their used toilet paper. Dirty toilet paper is ugly and unhygienic. It takes a long time to decompose too, and in the meantime the rain turns it into an unsightly mass as shown here.
Burning your bog roll may not be the best way to spare Mother Nature, however. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has issued a warning not to burn your toilet paper because it increases the risk of wildfires. Scotland had several bad wildfires earlier this year, and the annual wildfires in the United States have caused widespread destruction.
With dry summer conditions, even a stray spark can cause a major conflagration if it isn’t caught in time. The organization also warns of the dangers of campfires. Fires can often smolder undetected along root systems, flaring up hours after campers have doused their campfire and left. The organization suggests using cooking stoves and packing out your used toilet paper.
Transparency International has released its Global Corruption Barometer for 2013, looking at the incidence and perception of corruption around the world.
In its most shocking results, the survey asked more than 114,000 people in 95 countries whether they had paid a bribe to a public servant (bureaucrat, police officer, etc.) in the past year. One in four said yes. Of course the percentage varied widely from country to country, with Finland, Denmark, Australia and Japan at only 1 percent and Sierra Leone coming out at 84 percent. Several populous countries such as China and Russia were not included in the survey.
Some of the results are unsettling. Seven percent of U.S. residents surveyed reported paying a bribe in the past year, and many highly touristed countries have high incidents of bribery. In India, 54 percent of those polled reported paying a bribe. The figure is 22 percent in Greece, 33 percent for Mexico, and 70 percent for Kenya.
Tourists are sheltered from much of this since they don’t deal with most bureaucracy. They’re not trying to open a business or get a land line hooked up, for instance. Sad to say, bribery is the only way to get these things done quickly in many countries.
Tourists do get asked for bribes, however. Personally, I’ve been asked for bribes on many occasions. As far as I can remember I’ve only paid bribes in Egypt, where I joined the ranks of 36 percent of Egyptians and paid a little baksheesh. I did it to get access to closed areas of ancient sites, and got the distinct impression that another bribe would have allowed me to take a few souvenirs home. That’s something I wouldn’t do. “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” applies to ancient temples too. I’ve heard many stories from other travelers of bribery to speed up visa applications or get into closed sites.
The fact that the incidence of bribery in the United States is so high for an established democracy didn’t come as a complete surprise. A friend of mine who used to organize block parties in Arizona regularly paid bribes to the city police in order not to get shut down for breaking the noise ordinance.