Thursday Through the Lens: Mount McKinley

Picture of Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska

Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, c. 1995


Tuesday Tip: Nat Geo Museum

It’s not free like many other DC museums, but the National Geographic Museum is well worth a visit.

Located near the White House, Nat Geo is perfect for inquisitive tourists and those tired of the sometimes-stuffy buildings on the National Mall. It also tends to be less crowded than its Smithsonian cousins and offers some of the East Coast’s best science-focused exhibits.

The current highlight is Spinosaurus: Lost Giant of the Cretaceous. The largest of all predatory dinosaurs, Spinosaurus was discovered more than 100 years ago but somehow never gained the notoriety of fellow carnivore Tyrannosaurus Rex.

In Nat Geo’s exhibition, visitors will see a full-sized Spinosaurus model, ogle real dinosaur fossils, and trace the discovery and re-discovery of the ancient giant.

If you’re anything like this wannabe-paleontologist (and wannabe-astronomer…and wannabe-physicist…) the Nat Geo Museum is the place for you!

The Nat Geo Museum is open daily, 10AM-6PM. Adult tickets are $11 and can be purchased online. Special note: To celebrate National Fossil Day on October 15, Nat Geo is offering a buy one, get one free admission deal for entries on that day. Use promo code FOSSIL at purchase (purchase must be made online).

China’s Peculiar Classified Ads

China’s city parks ripple with activity. Friends gather around stone tables to play mahjong, lawns fill with slow-moving octogenarians practicing tai chi, lively dancers spin in giant circles. The energy is frenzied and chaotic and completely intoxicating.

But not all is fun and games. No, the Chinese are far too pragmatic for that. They enjoy the present always with a careful eye on the future.

And so they advertise their unwed, adult children.

Picture of signs advertising unwed children in a park in Chengdu, China

Advertisements in Chengdu

Scores of handwritten signs, pleading for a spouse for a child, litter public gathering places. A child’s best qualities are advertised–sometimes this means salary, sometimes a list of a child’s personality traits and desires, sometimes a more-thorough background on the family itself.

More often than not, the children are male. As China struggles with a society that has historically undervalued daughters, the disparity between the number of eligible men and that of eligible women is growing. More and more men are reaching their 30s and beyond never having married, and not by choice.

But women, too, are under pressure to find a mate. The most-educated women are, perhaps surprisingly, the least likely to marry. Again, this is not by choice. Rather, it is the result of these women taking time for education and inadvertently “aging out” of desirability.

It is rare that these highly educated women will find a husband if they have not yet done so by the time they reach 27. At this point they are the “leftover women”–women too old to be desirable mates. Their only hope is to marry someone far beneath them, socially speaking, and even then their pronounced age is a strike against them.

And so parents take to the city parks in a desperate bid to save their children–and their family’s honor–from these troubling marriage statistics.

Halloween in Charm City

You guys! Baltimore is bursting with Halloween events. Of course there are the pumpkin patches and kiddy costume parades, the corn mazes and pub crawls, but I prefer my activities to be a little more “Bawlmer” than that.

Westminster Burying Ground & Catacombs

Edgar Allan Poe died on a dirty Baltimore street on October 7, 1849. He was buried the next day on the grounds of Westminster Hall, his body interred in a cheap coffin with no accompanying headstone.

Some Baltimoreans were distressed with the quality of the gravesite and, more than 25 years later, admirers raised the funds to move Poe’s grave and provide it with an appropriately impressive monument. Poe was reburied in this new grave at Westminster Hall in 1875. (Fun fact: the wrong body was exhumed before gravediggers could correctly locate Poe.)

As the poet had been obsessed with mortality during his life, it is no surprise that in his death he has become a popular Halloween figure. Every year on October 31, Westminster Hall opens its burial grounds and catacombs to the public. There are readings of Poe’s most-creepy works, eerie live music, and re-enactors telling tales of nineteenth-century Baltimore.

The event is $5 and runs from 6PM-9PM. No reservations required.

Fell’s Point Ghost Tour

This one is coming up soon and is not to be missed!

“Edgar Allan Poe died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849 under mysterious circumstances. To commemorate the 165th anniversary of that inexplicable event, from 7-8pm on October 7, 2014, Baltimore Ghost Tours will host a special commemorative ghost tour so you can explore the same streets where Poe once walked, and hear tales of the spirits that haunt historic Fell’s Point.”

Fell’s Point is one of the oldest areas of Baltimore, and even without the Poe connection walking its streets is a fabulously creepy time. Tickets are $13, proceeds going to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum.

Halloween 2014

Hosted by excellent Maryland brewery Flying Dog and set in the Maryland Science Center on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Halloween 2014 is a night of live music, costumes, and craft beer.

The science center’s exhibits will be open as attendees weave through four unique soundstages while partying with witches and ghouls. (Best costume wins $1,000!) Visit the second-floor art gallery or head to the roof for nighttime views of Charm City.

Friday, October 31, 8PM-1AM. Advance tickets cost $30.

Zombie Apocalypse Survival

Okay, this one has nothing to do with Baltimore, but it still promises to be a good time: an obstacle course complete with zombie hordes!

Escape the living dead by climbing into the trees and ziplining to safety. Navigate a ropes course while striving to keep all your limbs intact. Avoid a deadly bite as you enjoy the giant swing.

Located off of I-95 between Baltimore and DC, Terrapin Adventures is just about the most fun you can have outside. The Zombie Apocalypse Survival event runs on October 25 at 9AM, 1PM, and 5PM. Advance tickets are $75.

I hope to see you at one of our city’s creepy-good Halloween events!

An Evening with Shanghai’s Finest

We had only been in Shanghai for a few hours before we realized something was terribly wrong.

It began as we checked in at our hotel. My friend reached for the passports in her bag. The pocket in which they had been safely contained was open, and the precious documents weren’t there.

The bag was dumped out, all contents sorted through. No passports.

Our local guide conversed with the hotel staff–we needed passports to confirm our rooms, and without passports or a police report confirming that they had been stolen, we would have no place to stay.

And so we were whisked off to a local precinct of Shanghai’s police department. The drive there was completely silent, the only sound the patter of rain on the windshield.

Had we been targeted, I wondered with a disgusted feeling in my stomach. We had walked from the airport directly into our tour company’s van…how terrifying that someone had robbed us in that short time.

At the precinct, a police officer took us into a tiny, windowless room. It was stuffy and desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint, with only a card-table desk and a computer to distract the eye.

He recorded all of our information, our guide helpfully translating our responses. He asked when we had arrived in the country and, a few taps on the keyboard later, he pulled up images of us arriving at the Beijing airport weeks earlier. Then, images of us at the Shanghai airport earlier that day.

The images confirmed for him that our story was true and confirmed for me that a terrifying surveillance state is drawing nigh.

Several hours later, we were free to go. The hotel gave us our rooms and an official report of our adventures was uploaded to The Machine.

We got up early the next morning to head to the US and UK embassies. Luckily, we had copies of our papers and so didn’t anticipate temporary passports to be a problem, but I for one was not looking forward to wasting an entire precious day in Shanghai dealing with bureaucracy.

Then, the call came: the passports were found!

Because they had fallen out of my friend’s bag at the airport, and were sitting in lost and found.

Another tour guide swung by the airport to pick them up for us.