Faux Cityscapes: 5 Fake Places To Snap A Tourist Photo

Steve Jurvetson, Flickr

What are the main reasons people travel? To see the world, gain new perspective, learn about other cultures, get a photo of themselves in front of a famous destination. Let’s be honest, in the world of social media, the latter is of the utmost importance, so important that some people will take a fake background rather than the real thing.

Five places you can snap a fake tourist shot:

1. Hong Kong with a bright blue sky
When it’s too smoggy in Hong Kong for a blue sky (and most of the time it is) you can still get your photo taken in front of the city’s skyline, thanks to a fabric backdrop. Because nothing says “I’ve been there” than taking your photo in front of a colored sheet.

2. Paris… in China
Can’t make it to the real Paris? There’s always Vegas. Or in China, where a remade version of Paris outside of Hangzhou isn’t the City of Light, it’s more of a creepy deserted ghost town. There’s even a 108-meter replica of the Eiffel Tower, which is perfect for when newlyweds want a romantic backdrop without traveling to Europe.

3. Afghanistan… in California
Given the US military’s presence in the Middle East, it’s no surprise that they would work hard to train soldiers on the ins and outs of where they will be based. And what better way than with a mock Afghan village? Actors on the Fort Irwin base in California create a fake Afghan village, selling plastic loaves of bread and fake meat to provide some sort of cultural context for military personnel soon to deploy. Even civilians can visit, checking out the village and chatting with soldiers afterwards. Obviously much more less complicated than traveling to Afghanistan.

4. The Taj Mahal… in Bangladesh
Local wealthy Bangladeshi filmmaker Asanullah Moni was apparently tired of traveling to India to see one of the new seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, so he built one himself. The structure cost $58 million to construct, and took only five years to build; lightspeed compared to the original building’s construction, which was built over two decades in the 17th century. So thanks to Moni, Bangladeshis can snap their picture in front of the iconic architecture without ever leaving their home country.

5. The Titanic… in the Southern United States
Just because the real boat sank, doesn’t mean you can’t get your photo taken in front of it. Just plan a trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee or Branson, Missouri where you’ll find 30,000-square-foot replicas of the ship that sank in 1912. Welcome aboard.

Preserved human flesh at Amsterdam’s Tattoo Museum

preserved human flesh
This is exactly what it looks like–the preserved human flesh of a tattooed man. Judging from the style and subject, I’d say it’s from a nineteenth century American sailor. I spotted it sitting on the director’s desk at Amsterdam’s Tattoo Museum.

Ah, Amsterdam! I’ve visited you so many times and yet you always have new surprises for me.

Amsterdam is a great city for museums. There are two sex museums, a marijuana museum, and a heap of world-class art museums. In a city known for extremes, it’s hard to stand out, yet the Tattoo Museum manages to do just that.

The product of three decades of collecting by local eccentric and celebrity Henk Schiffmacher, the collection includes everything and anything related to tattooing that Henk has been able to gather up from God-knows-where.

I have dim memories of a previous visit to this museum back in 1993. Then it was in a small space crammed with odd artifacts. It’s been closed for the past several years and now it has just reopened in two rambling old mansions. When I visited they were still setting up and the exhibits were spread out in disarray. Henk was running around screaming at the contractors for being behind schedule while a local TV crew dogged his steps. I wandered off on my own to explore.

%Gallery-139057%It was fun to see this half-completed museum-in-the-making and while most of the collection was still in boxes, there was no shortage of curiosities to study. The Tattoo Museum covers the entire history of skin art and has artifacts from all over the world, including needles, old shop signs, photographs, flashes (ready-made designs), and freak show posters. Some of the items, like the statues from the South Seas and the stuffed monkey, show that like all true collectors, Henk can’t resist a cool item even if it doesn’t exactly fit in his collection. To my disappointment I didn’t see any shrunken heads. Maybe he hadn’t unpacked them yet.

The new space allows much more room for displays and the upper floor is being turned into a tattoo parlor where several expert skin artists can give you a memento of your visit. Henk is a tattoo artist himself and if you’re lucky you might even get him to pick up a needle and mark you. Much cooler than visiting the gift shop!

As a fan off all things macabre, I was attracted by the preserved human flesh, one of the few things I clearly remember from my previous visit. There are several of them in the museum’s collection. These pickled tattoos aren’t unique. London’s Wellcome Collection has 300 specimens of preserved human flesh bearing tattoos collected by a French military surgeon who cut them from the bodies of dead French soldiers. I’ve come across examples in other collections too.

A cynic might say they’re fake, and some of them undoubtedly are. Unscrupulous carnies or salesmen could produce them easily enough from animal skin. Yet I believe most are real, like those from the Wellcome Collection. Back around the turn of the last century there was a craze in collecting human remains, whether to study the shapes of skulls or preserving scalps or for various other reasons. It would have been easy enough to collect tattooed skin from cadavers. One hopes that the next-of-kin received compensation, but that probably didn’t happen most of the time.

Rather than see these human remains as something disgusting and demeaning, I find them rather life-affirming. The common working Joe is forgotten soon after he dies. How many nineteenth century sailors can you name who weren’t famous explorers? Yet their self-expression through body art lives on. We can look at these samples and catch a glimpse of someone who has long been dead.

Like the guy whose skin adorns the top of this post. There he is, with his patriotic wife and his ship. Do the letters “A.R.” stand for his name, or hers? Or do they stand for “American Republic” as the U.S. was sometimes referred to back then? We can’t know, but this man hasn’t been entirely lost to history. I know about him now, and thanks to Henk, you know about him too.

I wandered around for two hours and Henk was still bustling around with his contractors. I decided he was too busy to bother. When I go back to Amsterdam next year I’ll arrange an interview, because I’m dying to talk with the man behind such a unique collection.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: Amsterdam’s booming Eastern Docklands!

This trip was partially funded by Amsterdam’s Tourism and Congress Bureau and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own. I have no idea what the Tourism Bureau thinks of preserved human flesh.

The top creepiest statues in New York City

There are countless statues in New York City, each one put into place for a different reason. Many of these statues have been there for decades, often gifts and peace offerings from other countries. The Statue of Liberty, for example, was a peace offering from France, officially dedicated in the year 1886. Lady Liberty represents the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas. While the word ‘creepy’ typically does not pop into anyone’s head when they think of this important statue, there are plenty of other monuments in good ol’ New York which can make the most fearless person’s skin crawl.

Listed here are the top creepiest statues in New York City. Understand that while some of these statues may seem like odd choices, there is always a rhyme and reason behind picking them. Fasten your safety belts and get ready for an interesting journey into the weirdest monuments the Big Apple has to offer.

1. Miguel de Cervantes (right) First on the list is the statue of famed Spanish writer and painter, Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes was born on Sep. 29, 1547 and died April 23, 1616. He lived in Madrid for a large portion of his life and is most popularly known for writing the epic novel “Don Quixote.” A statue of him currently rests on the NYU campus near Fifth Avenue and has been in place since 1986. This particular statue is known for giving the viewer a solemn, lonely feeling. Plus, it does sort of look like he is watching everyone as they walk past him. At any rate, whether some people agree or not, the statue of Miguel de Cervates is pretty creepy.

2. Lin Ze Xu This is probably an odd choice, considering Lin Ze Xu was a widely respected Chinese scholar and member of the Qing Dynasty, advocating peace and moral high-ground during his tenure–but the selection stands. Xu was born Aug. 30, 1785 and died Nov. 22, 1850. A statue was erected by an unknown sculptor in 1999 and is now sitting on the busy intersection of East Broadway St. and Chatham Square. Xu was chosen to be on this list of creepy statues because of his grim expression and stature. Xu’s memorial has him dressed in ancient Chinese garb, looking as if he is lording over the many passerby of Broadway St.

3. Dolly Dimples Now it’s time to kick it into high gear. Dolly Dimples is an extremely odd example of New York statues, currently owned by a local candy shop called Valvo’s Candy. She is a giant 1950’s style little girl and can be seen in the distance waving at passersby, sporting a rather unscrupulous smile. She was originally part of a drive-in restaurant in the 1970s called Pat’s Diner. While Dolly Dimples is probably modeled after the idea of a sweet, innocent school-girl, she at least appears to have ulterior motives hidden somewhere behind that creepy grin of hers.

4.Big Leather Guy This statue resides off of Route 30 and used to belong to Alvord’s House of Leather. Alvord’s closed in late 1998 and now the statue has found a new home. He looks quite a lot like the fabled character Paul Bunyon and is totally retro, sporting his 1970s suede jacket and high-legged boots. Big Leather Guy is now positioned outside of the entry way at Adirondack Leather Shop, greeting customers with his all-too-warm smile.

5.The Long Island Sphinx Near the beaches of Long Island resides a strange, small-scale ‘replica’ of the mighty Sphinx. This one more than makes the list of creepy New York City statues, not only because of it’s decidedly lecherous expression, but because of an odd inscription carved into his midsection, which reads: “She Who Climbs To The Sphinx’s Head, A Millionaire Will Surely Wed.”

6.The Stoned Shores of Staten Island Finally, the time comes to mention the stone structures of Staten Island’s beaches. These strange monuments litter the shores, taking the viewer on a wild journey to what appears to be a very creepy alien landscape, full of towers, rooms and Stonehenge-like structures. These oddities were in fact built by Douglas Schwartz, who claims that his creations, spanning over a half-mile, are the product of an ecological art experiment. Regardless of their purpose, Schwartz gets awarded the official crown for ‘King of Creepiness.’

The hyena man of Harar: a unique relationship between beast and man

Harar, harar, hyena, hyena man
The hyenas come just after dusk. We’ve been sitting in Yusuf’s modest farmhouse on the outskirts of Harar talking about them when we hear their familiar yipping laugh. Yusuf picks up a big bucket of mule and camel meat, shoos away his well-fed cat, and strolls outside to meet them.

Yusuf is Harar’s biggest celebrity, the famous “hyena man” whom everyone who has heard anything about Harar has heard about. He’s not Harari, though, his parents were Oromo and Somali, and he lives outside Harar’s medieval walls next to the town dump, a favorite hangout for hyenas.

Yusuf calls out into the darkness, and I spot a few hulking, dark shapes beyond the clearing in front of his house. He sets the meat down and whistles, like you’d do with a pet dog. One by one, the hyenas emerge from the shadows, giant canine shapes like Rottweilers on steroids. At first they seem uncertain, creeping closer and backing away again as Yusuf pulls out ribbons of raw flesh from the bucket.

I sit down to watch.

I’ve come with Marcus Baynes-Rock, an Australian graduate student who’s doing his Ph.D. thesis on the interaction between people and hyenas in Harar, and keeps a fascinating blog about Harar hyenas. As Yusuf puts a strip of meat on the end of a stick and holds it out to the lead hyena, Marcus tells me about the strange and unique coexistence that’s sprung up between humans and hyenas in this region of East Africa.

%Gallery-120767%Hyenas are deeply rooted in Harari and Ethiopian folklore. Blacksmiths and the Argobba people and supposed to be werehyenas, turning into the animals at night. The Jews do too, but most of them left for Israel during the last civil war. Hyenas are also supposed to gobble up djinn, evil spirits, and so are useful to have around.

“I met one young guy from Djibouti who had been possessed by djinn and came all the way to Harar to feed the hyenas and have them take the djinn away,” Marcus tells me.

It’s not just the Hararis who have stories about hyenas. The Somalis tell a tale of the Habercha’alow clan, which tried to drive the hyenas out of their territory by killing a bunch of them. The hyenas took revenge, picking off lone Habercha’alow.

“If a Habercha’alow and two men from other clans were sleeping by a fire, they’d take the Habercha’alow and leave the others untouched,” a Somali friend told me.

After suffering heavy losses, the Habercha’alow wanted to make peace. As mediators they hired the Idagalle, a clan well-known for their ability to talk with hyenas. They met in the desert. Delegates from the Habercha’alow sat to one side, delegates from the hyenas sat to the other, and the Idagalle mediators sat in the middle. They communicated, so I’m told, by mental telepathy. The Habercha’alow agreed to pay blood money to the hyenas in the form of a large number of slaughtered camels. And thus the war stopped.

Despite their size, hyenas are timid creatures, as I can see by the amount of coaxing Yusuf has to do to get the first hyenas of the evening to feed from his hand.

“They’re really scared of people,” Marcus says, “Dogs too. They don’t realize their jaws can break us in two.”

As if to emphasize his point a loud snap cuts through the night. A hyena has taken some meat. Yusuf fishes in his bucket for another piece as the hyenas, more confident now, crowd around.

Yusuf tells me he learned from his uncle, a farmer who started feeding the hyenas back in the 1950s. His uncle started feeding the hyenas partially to keep them away from his livestock, and partially because he liked them. While many cultures hate the hyenas and try to kill them, or shut their doors in fear, the Hararis are at peace with them. Low doorways in the city wall allow them to come and go at night, eating garbage and taking away djinn. When a Harari passes one in an alleyway, he’ll often greet it by saying darmasheikh (“young wise man”). I tried this myself one night and the hyena looked at me curiously for a moment before padding into the darkness.

But it’s not all peaceful. Yusuf’s feeding is not just out of friendliness, but also to placate the hyenas. As scavengers, they’ll sometimes root out freshly buried corpses and even snatch away small children. A beggar woman sleeping outside Selassie church had her baby taken from her one night a couple of years ago, and there have been other incidents too. When this happens the Hararis say the hyena was rabid or not from Harar. Yusuf himself was bitten by one when he was two years old.

“At that time I didn’t know the difference between a hyena and a dog so I never developed a fear,” he explains.

Yusuf has a large group of hyenas around him now. More come out of the shadows. Fights break out between the powerful beasts for the best scraps, and Yusuf shouts at them and even shoves one away like a misbehaving dog. One wanders into his compound to look around his house.

“Yusuf feeds them inside sometimes,” Marcus says.

Yusuf hands me the stick with a strip of meat hanging from the end. A moment later it’s nearly torn from my grasp as powerful jaws clamp down on it.

By now some tourists have shown up. Yusuf is a celebrity, after all. These are Ethiopian tourists, a middle-class family from Addis Ababa. One man holds his toddler son and I eye them nervously. Yusuf greets them and hands the stick to the most nervous one in the group. As a hyena hurries forward to get the meat this guy literally falls on his ass trying to get away. I think I catch a mischievous gleam in Yusuf’s eye. The man’s wife, unimpressed by her husband’s performance, offers to go next. She feeds it several times and even pets it.

“Not bad,” I say to Marcus, “Maybe you can use her as an assistant.”

Marcus likes to pet the hyenas, even though it means all the dogs in town can smell hyena on him and bark as he passes by. Not that’s he’s out in the daytime much. Usually he only comes out at night to follow the hyenas around town to see where they go.

We’re sitting on a low step in front of a Muslim shrine. Yusuf is next to me, the stick in his teeth as he feeds the hyenas from mouth to mouth. Suddenly a big furry form pushes between us. A hyena has gotten onto the platform behind us and reaches over our shoulders. He grabs a strip of camel meat and jerks it off the stick, slapping me across the face with it as he runs off.

“Would you like some toilet paper?” Yusuf asks, again with that gleam in his eye.

“No thanks, I brought some,” I say as I wipe my face.

It’s just another night feeding the hyenas.

To see the hyena man in action, check out the video below. It’s not mine, unfortunately. Upload a video on Ethiopian dialup? Yeah, right!

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s city of Saints.

Coming up next: The worst zoo I’ve ever seen!

Why your state sucks: the depressing but true map of America

map, maps
The folks over at Pleated Jeans have come up with a funny yet painful new map of America. It doesn’t show our cities or rivers or mountains, it shows our flaws. As you can see, each state is singled out for what they’re worst at. Maps reveal a lot about the territory they cover, and this one shows more than some people may want to see.

I’ve lived in three different states and I have to say that I wasn’t too surprised by the results. New York has the longest daily commute? My job there certainly had the longest commute I’ve ever had to do. Arizona has the highest rate of alcoholism? There was a bar near my house that served $1 pitchers of beer. Missouri being ranked highest in bankruptcy didn’t come as much of a shock either, although I would have guessed somewhere in the Deep South.

I also wasn’t surprised at Utah having the highest rate of online porn subscriptions. Harvard economics professor Benjamin Edelman, whose study came to this conclusion, noted, “Subscriptions are slightly more prevalent in states that have enacted conservative legislation on sexuality.” Ah, the good old religious double standard!

In Washington state, they don’t need online porn because they’re humping animals at a higher rate than anyone. The source for this has a very small sample size, so maybe Alaskans are better at keeping their huskies quiet and Texans take their steers far out on the range.

Do you agree with the assessment of your own state? Tell us what you think in the comments section!