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15 Best Articles of 2017

Our top blog posts cover the Paris Catacombs, India’s transsexual hijras, jinns, vintage Halloween, Fès hammans and more.

 

Duke and I tend to be drawn to the bizarre. We’re fans of the strange (chambers lined with skulls and bones, creepy vintage Halloween postcards and photos). We like to meet those who are societal outsiders (like India’s legal third sex, the hijra). We’re obsessed with the supernatural (jinns, gypsy love spells). But we also appreciate a good pampering (at a Fès hamman, say) and architectural beauties (such as the Milan Duomo).

Seems like you do, too. Here are the top 15 blog posts from last year. What was your favorite? –Wally

 

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1. GRUESOME FACTS (AND HELPFUL TIPS) ABOUT THE PARIS CATACOMBS

No bones about it: If you think piles of skulls and hallways formed of bones are pretty effin’ cool (like us), then the Catacombs of Paris are for you.

 

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2. SECRETS OF THE HIJRA: INDIA’S LITTLE-KNOWN TRANSSEXUALS

Prostitution, curses and dangerous sex change operations are a way of life for this marginalized community.

 

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3. HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM JINNS AND BLACK MAGIC

Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.

 

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4. THE BEST PLACE TO MAKE OUT IN PUBLIC IN DELHI

Not a typical tourist stop, the Garden of Five Senses is a whimsical sculpture park worth visiting. It’s also popular with local couples escaping societal judgment against PDA.

 

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5. 24 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN CARDS THAT ARE NOSTALGIC — BUT A BIT CREEPY, TOO

Halloween greetings from the past featured common Halloween symbols: the witch, black cat, jack-o’-lantern, ghost, devil — and one that has been forgotten.

 

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6. 21 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN PHOTOS THAT ARE SO CREEPY THEY'LL GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES

Halloween costumes of the past were scary as hell.

 

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7. WHAT’S THE BEST HAMMAM SPA EXPERIENCE IN FES, MOROCCO?

Reinvigorate yourself at the luxury hammam Les Bains Amani.

 

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8. 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT THE MILAN CATHEDRAL

What to do in Milan, Italy? Visit the gorgeous Duomo di Milano, covered with statues of saints and gargoyles — and don’t miss the amazing view from the rooftop.

 

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9. LOVE SPELLS FROM THE GYPSIES

How to cast a love spell to make someone fall in love with you — or fall out of love with you. Plus, secrets from the Roma that will reveal your future spouse!

 

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10. THE PISHTACO OF PERU

Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.

 

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11. WAT RONG SUEA TEN, THE BLUE TEMPLE

No day trip to Chiang Rai is complete without a visit to this breathtaking wat, between the White Temple and Black Museum.

 

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12. THE BEST AND WORST PARTS OF LIVING IN QATAR

What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?

 

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13. THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM EXPLAINED

Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, untouchable: How did the caste system get started, what is the difference between castes — and how does this shameful practice persist to this day?

 

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14. HOW ST. NICHOLAS BECAME SANTA CLAUS

The surprising origins of jolly old St. Nick include a tie to prostitution, kids chopped into pieces, a devil named Krampus and a racist tradition around his helper Zwarte Pieter, or Black Peter.

 

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15. THE BEST SHOP FOR BLUE POTTERY IN THE ENTIRE FEZ MEDINA

If you’re shopping in Fès, just off of Place Seffarine is a small shop with a friendly owner and great deals.

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2016

What subjects appealed most to our readers? Qatar, a love den in Delhi, jinns, wellness, tapas, guacamole, a Peruvian vampire, a Fès restaurant and Trump. Lots of Trump.

It must be love.

As we reviewed our best-performing posts of our inaugural year, we noticed that you share our same diverse interests. You appreciate our quirky sensibilities (like our post on a garden filled with amorous couples finding release in a repressed society).

But you’re interested in politics, too — from what it’s like to live in a Middle Eastern country to the global effects of our controversial new president.

You also appreciate good food, whether it’s a recipe you’re looking for or restaurant suggestions on your travels.

Finally, you’re interested in folklore, be it the jinns of Islam or a fat-sucking vampire you sure don’t want to run into along the Inca Trail.

1. THE BEST AND WORST PARTS OF LIVING IN QATAR

What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?

2. THE BEST PLACE TO MAKE OUT IN PUBLIC IN DELHI

Not a typical tourist stop, the Garden of Five Senses is a whimsical sculpture park worth visiting. It’s also popular with local couples escaping societal judgment against PDA.

3. HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM JINNS AND BLACK MAGIC

Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.

4. TOP 6 WELLNESS TOURISM TRIPS

Yoga on the Mexican beach, hikes to Machu Picchu, Pilates in Morocco — the best health tourism adventures.

5. LA TRANCA: KICK OFF A DAY OF MALAGA TAPAS AT THIS LOCAL HANGOUT

Famous for its empanadas and other tapas treats, this neighborhood bar has many a story to tell.

6. WHAT THE WORLD THINKS OF A PRESIDENT TRUMP

Spoiler alert: From Europe to Asia to Latin America, the outlook isn’t very optimistic.

7. BEST GUACAMOLE RECIPE EVER

Es la verdad. Wally’s famous guacamole never fails to please. Just make sure you get a molcajete.

8. MORE TAKES ON WHAT THE WORLD THINKS ABOUT A TRUMP PRESIDENCY

Is there any country that’s pleased with the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election? (Besides Russia, that is.)

9. THE PISHTACO OF PERU

Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.

10. THE RUINED GARDEN: A FAIRY TALE FEZ RESTAURANT

A magical, secret spot with great Moroccan food, friendly servers, quirky décor and kitty companions.

More Takes on What the World Thinks About a Trump Presidency

Is there any country that’s pleased with the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election? (Besides Russia, that is.)

Donald Trump is pumped he won the U.S. presidential election. But how does the rest of the world feel?

Americans are perhaps more divided than we’ve ever been since the Civil War. Donald Trump won the electoral college and therefore the presidency — despite the fact that more people actually voted for Hillary Clinton.

But what does the rest of the world think about President-elect Trump? I reached out to friends who live abroad or who have family in foreign countries. Read Part 1 of their responses here.

The reactions kept coming in. Here’s Part 2. –Wally


Donovan and Kate, Americans living in Qatar

Regarding the local view of That Horrible Thing That Happened:

The initial reaction in Qatar was probably the same as everywhere else: shock. Everyone here went to bed Tuesday night (Doha time) assuming to wake up to a Hillary presidency, and then…that.

Georgetown University Qatar had an Election Morning celebration, featuring the U.S. ambassador and all kinds of red, white and blue décor. She stayed long enough to realize that Trump would win, and the embassy released a tight-lipped statement saying that they would serve the next president as expected; you could hear the tears in the press release.

Several of the universities here had emergency community meetings to address student fears; these are, after all, schools rooted in the U.S. with students here who have been told they won’t be allowed to travel to the U.S.

From an expat perspective, the kind of person who would live in Qatar is not the kind of person who believes the Trump view of the world, and especially the Muslim world, so the last week has been essentially a funeral out here. All we’ve tried to do is ensure that all our coworkers, friends, etc., understand that we’re on their side, and that tens of millions of Americans are, too.

We’ll wake up tomorrow to the call to prayer, and as is tradition, Donovan will have his morning beer in his underwear while hundreds of Muslims pray beneath us. Is that not the ideal we should strive for?

 

RELATED: The Best and Worst Parts of Living in Qatar


Alan from Spain

Showman: That’s the first idea that comes to me when I hear Donald Trump’s name. Probably because I have seen him and his family since I was a kid on E! television or because the first image that comes to my mind is Trump firing people on a TV show where he was “the boss.” He was not nice from what I remember — he is not nice from what he had said on his political campaign.

His campaign was one of the biggest broadcasted shows ever. People that have followed it have been a total part of it: lovers and haters, critics and passionate homophobic-racist-misogynists.

Half of the United States supports Trump, while the other half hates what he stands for

In Spain, we have this kind of political behavior and media. It starts being like soccer or football…Red vs. Blue, yelling at each other without listening a word. Passionate hooligans.

For some of us, the idea of a “politician” like Trump seems like a joke. But it makes sense when you realize that there are governments that are not supporting education. Education is the base of the society, and when you segregate people for their origin since they were born, cut the spending for public schools and teachers, and don’t allow people to have real opportunities to grow, there will be a Donald Trump yelling in representation of “everyone else.”

People in the USA seem to be mad. But without asking questions or trying to figure out what is happening with their system, they blame the disadvantaged — those who are trying to survive in a society that exploits their work and undervalues their skills.

Maybe things will change, when in some circles they start realizing that having a black-skinned president does not make your country less racist.


Heather from England

Basically we have had the same response as the level-headed Americans. It’s a worry for us. But we are still reeling from our own stupid decision about Brexit back in June.

This meme circulated after the U.S. election of Donald Trump and draws a connection between the racism/isolationism/nationalism of the alt-right and Brexit voters.

On the plus side, there have been some lovely shots of the new first lady in a furry bikini on the front pages of the tabloids!


Lynn from Guam

I think Guam’s polls were 75% for Clinton. So most people on Guam favored her over Trump.

The doctor I worked with followed the campaign closely and was in favor of Trump: a businessman who made some bad business decisions, while Clinton was an unethical person who damaged computer systems after a subpoena was served.

There are no protests on Guam at this time against Trump as president of the USA. Our governor is full of support for him and hopes to have a valuable presence with him.

The same doctor says, no they won’t impeach him because he is making fast adjustments (i.e., not eliminating the Affordable Care Act but using parts of it.)

There is a movement that says that the USA is not concerned about the island. We are brown-skinned people who would not weigh in with Trump.

I have not heard about predictions for the next four years. In my mind is great uncertainty: fear of global war, human suffering, lack of food and huge immigration.

Perhaps I should focus on hope, joy, harmony and peace that is here and now. I am not in Syria or Africa and we live a very good life because of Uncle Sam.

Humanity is global, so I can only pray for all people to have the quality of life that I am able to enjoy.


Ivo, a Bulgarian living in the United States

In Bulgaria we are mostly for the Democrats, for Hillary.

We have a prime minister, Boyko Borissov, who reminds me of Trump. He is very frank and authoritative. He was actually the bodyguard of the old communist president who ruled for 45 or so years.


Angie, an American living in China

It is hard to give a good answer to what people think about Trump, as I think you are asking about how locals, meaning a typical Chinese person, feels about the elections, and I don’t think they know/care much. My ayi (housekeeper) hasn’t said anything about it.

The day of the elections at school were interesting, however, but I don’t think representative. The students were obsessed with the elections, and it was hard to get anything else done that day. They seemed to be legitimately surprised at the outcomes, as were the teachers here. I am still at a loss as to how this happened. 

I don’t know any teachers here that were pro-Trump, but there may have been some in hiding. The students we teach are from families who chose to send their kids to a liberal school and have plans to send their kids out of the country for university. These kids have been taught by us teachers, so not surprising they were surprised at the outcome, too. For them it seems like a question of discrimination. One student, a Chinese girl in 10th grade, was worrying about where she was going to go to college now. Some of my 12th graders have voiced concerns about going to the U.S. next year for university. In all honesty, I don’t know if I will be keen to send my daughter Fatima to the U.S. in three years for school.

This election puts China in a position to potentially rule the South China Sea. Some policies are starting to be put in place to limit foreigners and Western education here, so we will see how that goes.

 

RELATED: The Truth About Living in China


BONUS! Nicolás, an editor from Spain, presented us with his take. Trouble is, neither Duke nor I speak Spanish fluently. That being said, we can get the gist, and he seems to put quite a bit of blame on Hillary and her supporters for the rise of Trump.

 

Tal vez, no hayan entendido nada: Hillary, todas esas Hillary políticamente correctas de “izquierda,” les han arruinado literalmente la vida a esa gente (principalmente del interior, pobre, blanco y aislado), liberalizando la economía al extremo y entregándoles a las corporaciones todo lo que han pedido.

Esa gente, ahora trabaja en Walmart de mierda con horarios infinitos, sin derechos y están envenenados de comer basura porque no pueden permitirse alimentarse a base de otra cosa, gracias a que políticos como Hillary subvencionan la industria alimenticia tecnificada en detrimento de industrias rurales.

El americano rural y clase media está desapareciendo.

Los Hillary (su marido, sin ir más lejos), han quitado todo tipo de regulaciones sobre el mercado de valores (Ley Glass-Steagall) que finalmente ha creado una burbuja para tragarlo todo y quedarse con las casas de quienes no han podido pagar sus hipotecas infladas. Han sido los Hillary quienes han contribuido, como nadie, a la deslocalización de empresas que afectan, sobre todo, a la clase media de ciudades del interior. Han sido los Hillary, de Estados Unidos y el mundo, quienes siguen pariendo monstruos por el hartazgo y la traición que ellos mismos representan...

Fue Hillary, por cierto, quien con su aparato Demócrata amañado frenó las aspiraciones de Bernie Sanders, el único que podía parar este desastre.

Ahora díganme: ¿Qué parte del triunfo de Trump no entienden?

 

RELATED: Learn These Spanish Curse Words to Make Your Conversations More Colorful

The Best and Worst Parts of Living in Qatar

Porto Arabia, Doha, Qatar, as seen from Donovan and Kate’s apartment

Porto Arabia, Doha, Qatar, as seen from Donovan and Kate’s apartment

What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?

 

They’re young. They don’t have kids. They figured, why not?

Deciding to pick up and move from the U.S. to Qatar a couple of years ago, Donovan and Kate are inspirations. Don’t we all dream of embarking on such a journey? After all, you only live once (unless the Hindus and New Agers happen to be right about reincarnation).

Fasting is the real deal. No food, no water, not even gum or Advil until sundown. Even if you’re not fasting, you’re not supposed to do any of those things in public, not even in your car.

Of course they did pick a Muslim country in the middle of a desert to move to. That comes with its highs and lows.

“If we get kicked out of the country for any of these answers, we’re moving in with you,” Donovan threatened. “Warn Duke.”

  

Kate and Donovan tied the knot in Mykonos, Greece. Wedding photos by Shaun Menary Photography

What’s the best part about Qatar?

Qatar’s 90% expat, so every day you interact with people from a ton of different cultures and backgrounds. It creates pretty tight bonds between unlikely people, since there’s a sense that we’re all in this together (being away from home in a sometimes strange country).

We once went out on a Friday night with some casual friends and, several drinks later, all ended up booking a trip to Lebanon together. The next weekend. And it was a blast. And you need that kind of support. 

Back to that Lebanon trip: One of the best things about living in Qatar is its proximity to so many interesting places. It takes three hours to fly to Cairo, four hours to Kathmandu, five hours to Kenya, seven hours to Saigon — it turns out it’s easier (and cheaper!) to get to cool places when you don’t have to cross an ocean.  

 

What’s the worst part about Qatar?

The place changes so quickly that it surprises you, whether you’ve been here for five months or five years! Three days ago, Kate was on her way to work and discovered that, unannounced, the road to get there had closed, and no one bothered to put up any signs to redirect traffic.

That’s the other worst thing: traffic. More or less everyone drives like a lunatic, with no regard for laws, other cars, pedestrians, light posts, etc. It’s every Land Cruiser for himself out there.

  

What surprised you about Qatar?

How normal it can feel. We’re half a world away from home and hear the call to prayer five times a day, but every Sunday during the fall we still drink a few beers and watch football. Donovan still buys his standard-issue White Guy Clothes at the Banana Republic at the mall. We’re still up-to-date on Game of Thrones and Orange Is the New Black. We go to bars less often, but we drink just as much (possibly more!).

It’s a nice mix of a “cultural experience” with a bubble you can retreat into when you just want to unwind with a glass of wine and Scandal. If it weren’t for the call to prayer, you’d swear you were back home — though good luck getting a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza out here.

  

What is Ramadan really like? 

Ah, Ramadan. We’re currently right in the middle of the holy month, which for those of us who don’t fast is actually kind of nice. Work hours are shorter, there’s a lot less traffic, and everybody’s generally more laid-back (possibly from lack of energy). The pace of life is a lot slower, since basically everything is closed until sundown.

There are tents set up around town for iftar (the evening meal to break the fast) with giant buffets and entertainment. There are similarities to Christmas in the U.S.: Everything’s lit up at night, people get together with family for meals, and the stores all have sales.

For Muslims it’s a time of reflection and increased spirituality, which fasting is supposed to emphasize. And fasting is the real deal. No food, no water, not even any gum or Advil until sundown. Even if you’re not fasting, you’re not supposed to do any of those things in public, not even in your car. Which is a drag when you go to a matinee and they’re not selling popcorn, even though the whole theater smells like it.

  

What about Muslim culture overall?

Asking about Muslim culture is sort of like asking about “European culture” or “American culture.” The range of experiences is just so broad. On one extreme, you have Saudi Arabia, where women can’t drive and can’t go out in public without a male relative. On the other hand, you have Bahrain, which is connected to Saudi by a causeway and yet is full of Muslim men drinking beer and playing pool in bars.

Qatar is somewhere in between, but certainly leans conservative. Islam is the state religion (hence the short work days during Ramadan, hooray!), so alcohol and pork are restricted but available to non-Muslims. The aforementioned calls to prayer are ubiquitous, but it’s not like people drop everything at that moment to go pray.

It’s been interesting to hear certain orange-hued people in the U.S. [that’s a Trump dig, in case you missed it] claim that Islam is incompatible with modern life, given that every day in Doha hundreds of thousands of Muslims put on their abayas and thobes, grab Starbucks on the way to work and eagerly await the next Star Wars movie.

 

What’s the Qatari view of Americans?

Qataris are pro-America, Trump aside. We’ve both worked at U.S.-based universities over here, and we’ve seen that Qatari students embrace the Western college experience — dorms, sports, study abroad — that doesn’t really exist here otherwise.

One of the great moments we’ve experienced was hearing the brass band at the Georgetown graduation play Pharrell’s “Happy” when the Father Emir — basically Qatar’s George Washington — greeted students.

It’s always an enjoyable thing to see Qataris wrestling their Louis Vuitton shopping bags onto the plane when coming back from a jaunt to Los Angeles or New York.

 

What’s an interesting local custom?

Sharing of food is a major part of the culture here. At Qatari weddings, they’ll have a tent with multiple massive platters of rice with a whole lamb on top of each. Family-style eating is very popular, and our Arab colleagues frequently bring lunch for everyone.

Shisha, the local version of the hookah, is also a big part of restaurant meals, similar to an after-dinner drink when you want to hang out just a little while longer.

 

Most useful phrases for a traveler?

You can get by in Qatar on English alone, but if you want to go local:

Shukran (shoo-kran): thank you

Insha’allah: literally “God willing.” Used to mean “hopefully,” or, in a business setting, “don’t count on it.” For example, “I will get it to you Tuesday, insha’allah” means “I will not get it to you Tuesday.” 

A salaam alaikum: Means “peace be unto you.” Polite greeting to any Muslim, who will respond, “Alaikum salaam.” 

Khalas: “Enough” or “that’s it.” Useful when bargaining.

Yalla!: “Let’s go!”

 

How do you pronounce Qatar?

Khalas, Wally. Khalas.

 

That last answer is because Donovan and I would get into friendly arguments at work about how to pronounce the country’s name. He insisted it was “Ka-tahr,” as most Americans do. But I had heard it pronounced “Cutter” on NPR, and I figured that was a reliable source.

Donovan refused to believe me — until he moved to Qatar. Turns out I was right. Though I’m hardly one to brag.

For the record, though: It’s “Cutter.” –Wally