Buddha Toilet In France Causes International Fracas

A small hotel in the Burgundy region of eastern France did what legions of Pier 1 and World Market shoppers have done and used the image of Buddha for decorating purposes, devoting one of its individually themed rooms to the spiritual figure. And they found out that the motif isn’t so innocent when an embassy contacted the management to complain, according to the International Herald Tribune.

The biggest problem was that Moulin de Broaille, the hotel, extended the image to the room’s toilet seat, a placement that is offensive to many Buddhists. A Bangkok newspaper reported that followers in Thailand were “enraged” and wanted Buddha dethroned.

The French embassy in Bangkok and Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs became involved after a group, called Knowing Buddha, fielded complaints. The group works to educate the rest of the world that using the god’s image flippantly isn’t just inconsiderate, but “tramples on the Buddhist’s heart.” Its Facebook page posts images of “overseas disrespectful cases,” including portable toilets in the Netherlands and skateboards in the U.S.

In addition to associating Buddha with bathrooms, the easiest way to misstep is to place the image on or near the ground, especially where someone could walk on it. House slippers, doormats, and skateboards have drawn Knowing Buddha’s reprimand. Wearing the image on the lower half of the body, as on a skirt, is also a no-no. Towels, dinner plates, napkins, toys, furniture, tattoos, bars named after Buddha and Buddha-head soap are other offensive treatments.

%Gallery-181006%The group responds by educating the offender on why Buddhists consider the image rude, and encourages its followers to rectify the situation by, when possible, elevating the Buddha image to a spot above eye level.

If you need an alternative exotic Eastern motif to a Buddha statue that you have no intention of meditating before, ever, the gorgeously graphic letters of the Thai alphabet, as seen on Knowing Buddha’s Facebook page, should keep you off your embassy’s radar.

[Photo credit: Knowing Buddha]

Best Anti-Drug Poster Ever Found In Santander, Spain

anti-drug poster
I was at my local Sanidad Exterior here in Santander, Spain, getting some medicine for an upcoming trip when I spotted this wonderful poster. It reads: “If you bring drugs aboard the plane they’ll cook you lobster and the captain will let you fly.”

The next line reads: “If you believe that taking drugs is the solution to your problems you’ll believe anything.”

This brightened up an otherwise boring wait to see the doctor. While I don’t buy the myth that “all drugs are evil and need to be banned for your own good,” I do think this poster is a quick remedy for stoners who think they can flout international law and common sense just because they’re seeing the world on daddy’s credit card. It’s a big world out there, kids, and it’s just as interesting with a clear head.

Spain has come up with some other fun warnings on the dangers of travel. Last year, I wrote about another anti-drug poster.

[Image courtesy Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad]

Rude US Customs Officials: How Not To Welcome People To The United States

U.S. CustomsSome people should not be allowed to wear a uniform.

While flying from Spain to the U.S. to attend the Gadling annual team summit, I touched down first at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. I got into line at U.S. Customs to enter the country.

The line was in a huge room with a row of bulletproof glass booths manned by U.S. Customs & Border Protection officials checking passports and visas. These booths blocked entrance to the baggage claim area and, officially, the United States. The line for U.S. citizens and Green Card holders was long but moving steadily thanks to several booths being open and the generally efficient work of the U.S. Customs folks manning them.

The line for foreigners was a different story. Only one booth was open and the line was practically at a standstill. There was a bit of grumbling in various languages but no loud complaining. Everyone just stood there looking jetlagged while watching a big flat screen TV hanging over the booths.

It was playing a promotional video about all the things to see in the United States. Images of the Grand Canyon, Alamo, Yosemite and other great attractions flickered across the screen, interspersed with a diversity of smiling Americans saying, “Welcome.”

As I waited my turn, one woman in her early twenties who looked like she was from Southeast Asia walked up to the head of the foreigners’ line where an airport worker stood.

“Excuse me,” the Asian woman said with a heavy accent, holding out her ticket, “I will be late for flight.”

“There’s nothing I can do,” the worker said, waving her off. “Get back in line.”

“But the flight–“

“Wait in line!”

The Asian woman quickly retreated, looking at her watch.I was about to shrug this off as Case #4,589,513 of Airport Rudeness when the tale took a turn for the worse. After a couple of minutes, the airport worker called over a U.S. Customs officer. I hesitate to describe him because you might think I’m exaggerating, but believe me when I say he was short, with a big paunch and black, greased back hair. His face was also greasy and over a poorly trimmed mustache he had a big, pockmarked nose – a boozer’s nose, a Bukowski nose.

The airport official said something to him and pointed at the Asian woman. The passenger looked over hopefully. The officer summoned her by jutting his chin in her direction.

The woman approached with her ticket held out.

“Excuse me. I am late for flight. . .”

The officer gestured at the ticket.

“What’s this?”

“My flight. . .”

“So you’re late? Everybody’s late! Hey, is anyone else here late?”

“I am!” some British wanker chimed in.

“Go,” the Customs agent said, dismissing her with a wave of the hand.

She stood there a moment, looking confused.

“Get back in line!” he shouted.

I almost said something. I almost said, “I’m not late for my flight. I have a three-hour layover. She can go in front of me. And stop being so unprofessional.”

But I didn’t. Unlike last month’s run-in with a rude airport security official, I was trying to enter a country, not leave one, and speaking up against this lowlife wouldn’t help the Asian woman and would almost certainly get me in trouble. So I didn’t say anything. I still feel bad about it, but there really wasn’t anything I could do. The fact that he did this within full sight of several of his coworkers showed that his work environment didn’t discourage that sort of thing.

Another small man with a bit of power treating other people like dirt.

We kept waiting in line as a succession of TV Americans welcomed us with big smiles. After a while the Asian woman stopped looking at her watch. She’d missed her flight.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

New Georgia border crossing provides a whimsical welcome

new georgia border crossingCustoms checkpoints tend to be dreary, depressing places.

A rare exception is the new Georgia border crossing with Turkey, located right at the crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. There, German architect Jürgen Mayer H. recently unveiled a modern, state-of-the-art border crossing that rises from the shores of the Black Sea in a white, whimsical squiggle. How’s that for a friendly welcome? The building houses standard customs facilities, a terrace viewing platform, a cafeteria, staff rooms, and a conference room. According to J. Mayer H., the project represents “the progressive upsurge of the country.”

Georgia, a former Soviet state, has only recently started to attract tourists drawn by the charming capital city of Tblisi, the ancient religious sites of Mtskheta, and the fresh, delicious cuisine. Hopefully off-beat architecture and design like that of the new Georgia border crossing continues to develop along with the country’s infrastructure.

[via Fast Co.Design, image via Jürgen Mayer H.]

Holiday gifts for food (and drink)-loving travelers

gifts for food loversHoliday shopping is easy if the people on your list like to eat and/or imbibe. If they’re into travel–be it armchair or the real deal–the options are endless This year, think beyond the predictable bottle of wine or pricey “artisan” cookies and give reusable, portable, eco-friendly gifts or small-batch edibles that are the taste equivalent of a trip abroad.

As for where to get these items, look at farmers and flea markets, street fairs, specialty food shops, wineries/distilleries, and boutiques. One of my favorite spots to shop: foreign supermarkets.

For the green at heart

An inflatable wine bag is ideal for wine and spirit-loving travelers. They’re multi-use and work equally well for olive oil, vinegar, or other fluid specialty products.

A logo tote bag (preferably made from recycled materials) from a specialty food shop, winery, etc. is great for practical recipients. A co-worker recently brought me a signature navy blue number from Neal’s Yard Dairy, a famous cheese shop in London. In two months, it’s traveled to South America and across the U.S., doing time as a souvenir satchel, laundry and grocery bag, and all-purpose carry-on. When I don’t need it, i just roll it up and stash it in my duffel bag or day pack. Love it.

Gift a wine key (opener) salad tongs or bowl, chopsticks, or other kitchen utensils made from local, sustainable materials such as wood, antler, bone, bamboo, or shell. Do a quick online search or ask (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: phrasebooks) about the origins of said object. If you have any qualms about the eco-aspect, don’t buy it and let the shopkeeper know why.

[Photo credit: Flickr user noramunro]gifts for food loversDrink coasters are always appreciated. I’ve picked up woven palm versions in Indonesia, as well as purchased colorful Portuguese azuelos tiles for this use. If the country or region you’re visiting is famous for its leather, woodwork, ceramics, or even recycled metal handicrafts, you’ll probably find a nice, inexpensive set of coasters. Again, be sure they’re made from sustainable materials.

Vintage kitchenware–even if it’s not functional–can be a great gift, especially if your intended is a collector. Salt-and-pepper shakers, wine openers, cheese knives, a set of Melamine bowls: hit up antique stores or street fairs, because you’re sure to find treasures at affordable prices.

For the adventurer

A pocketknife or plastic folding knife from a famous cheese shop or winery is indispensable to hikers, campers, foragers, and DIYer’s who enjoy a good picnic while on the road. Just make sure your loved ones aren’t the type who don’t check their bags when they fly. A mini-cutting board of wood/bamboo or slate is also a nice gift.

Know someone who’s into mountaineering or other high-altitude pursuits? Coca leaf tea (or for a less effective but more entertaining option, caramels or hand candy) really works, and it’s legal.

For the locavore

If you have a friend of the “Eat local/Support family farms” variety, a gift from your travels can still fit the mold. Whenever and wherever I travel, I make a point of purchasing local, handcrafted foodstuffs: jam or other preserves, honey, cheese, candy. What I buy depends upon where I am and whether or not I have to abide (cough, cough) by customs regulations or have access to refrigeration.
gifts for food lovers
If customs and temperature aren’t an issue, consider a gift of cheese, charcuterie, or even some spectacular produce (A would-be suitor once presented me with a tiny disc of goat cheese and one perfect peach before I departed on a flight; I wasn’t into the guy but loved the thoughtfulness of his gift).

If you you’re looking for a shelf-stable product, some suggestions: leatherwood, manuka, or tupelo honey (from Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Florida Panhandle, respectively); sea salt (I love the red alaea salt from Hawaii); Argentinean dulce de leche; drinking chocolate; real maple syrup; dried chiles or posole from New Mexico; palm sugar from Indonesia; spices from India or Morocco; Spanish saffron or paella rice–look for Calasparra or Bomba from Valencia; Provencal chestnut cream; Italian tomato paste or canned sardines (canned tuna from overseas is very often not from a sustainable fishery); barbecue or hot sauce; heirloom dried beans; stoneground grits…

I particularly like to buy items grown/produced by farmer co-ops but unless they’re manufactured for export or are a dried good, beware. A jar of manjar (the Chilean version of dulce de leche) I purchased from a tiny bakery wasn’t sealed properly, and was contaminated with mold when opened. Botulism or other foodborne illness is not a thoughtful gift (although I suppose it’s better to give than receive…), so make sure you’re getting professionally packaged goods.

[Photo credits: wine opener, Flickr user corktiques; honey, Laurel Miller]

On a tight budget this year? Make your own edible gifts based upon your recipient’s interests, favorite holiday spot, or ethnic heritage. Check out the below clip for an easy holiday recipe; bonus points if you know where Moravia is.

Moravian Spice Cookie Wafers