food / travel

Extreme Fooding: A Visitor From Laos Compares His Nation's Exotic Eats To China's

Cobras and scorpions, centipedes and seahorses on bamboo sticks are among the things you never thought you'd taste. A Laotian in Beijing compares two of the world's more "out there" eating experiences.

Wangfujing night market in the center of Beijing
Wangfujing night market in the center of Beijing
Souksakhone Vaenkeo

BEIJING - Coming from a country where some people eat poisonous cobra, centipedes and toads, and having heard that the Chinese eat everything that flies except airplanes, everything with four legs except tables and everything that swims except submarines, I wanted to establish who eats stranger food, the Lao or the Chinese?

Wandering around Wangfujing night market in the center of Beijing, I was amazed by the odd creatures that people were eating. Street sellers were selling things that people would normally never want in their mouths. They were tempting tourists with barbecued scorpions and centipedes on sticks.

Although we Lao also eat poisonous insects, they're not that common since it's only the elderly who know how to prepare them. Even so, there are communities in Laos that add insects to their bottles of rice wine believing, despite the lack of evidence, that the alcohol is good for them.

They also flavor their rice wine with herbs, wild animals' bile, or a mix of poisonous animals like cobras, centipedes and scorpions.

Personally, I've never tried these strange foods, but my friend Phonsavanh Sangsomboun, who used to eat cobra salad, told me that such concoctions are popular with the elderly people in his central Laos hometown.

I'll have the cobra salad

The people believed that toxins from different poisonous animals will eliminate poison itself. "But I never drink that kind of alcohol since I am still young. It's a drink for old people, but I did used to eat cobra salad," my friend said.

He said that cobra, wasn't as tasty as the non-poisonous snakes. My uncle even says that he eats cobra salad to relieve pain in his muscles. It's a skill to cook these strange foods; in order to cook cobra salad, for example, you need to remove the poison.

Bile-infused spirits and cobra salads aren't exactly on sale in the shops. The alcohol is a more welcoming gift that Lao offer to visitors.

For those unfamiliar with Indochinese cuisine, Wangfujing's scorpions, centipedes and seahorses on bamboo sticks must seem extraordinary.

"We never eat seahorses. We only put dry ones inside our house because they're believed to bring us good luck. Some jewelry shop owner put them inside their shops because they're supposed to bring in customers," said my shocked Filipino colleague Darwin Wally T. Wee.

And the starfish? "In our place, only kids play with them. We'd never eat them."

Read the original article in The Economic Observer

Photo - Urban Capture

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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