Kon Tiki Airport Restaurant

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I’ve written a bit before about Thor Heyerdahl’s hyperdiffusionism and the status as a Norwegian national hero he still enjoys despite being completely discounted as a scientist. Last time I passed through Oslo airport I discovered this Kon Tiki-themed restaurant with a faux Ecuadorian Bolivian stele. I think what Heyerdahl interpreted as a full beard is more likely to depict a decorative face plate hanging from the man’s nose. And anyway, a beard is of course not evidence that a man is a civilisation-bearing Übermensch from Europe.

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Rode A Paunchy Plane

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Rode a funny plane to Visby: an ATR 72-500. It’s a 1997 version of a French 1988 design with two propellers whose six blades curve rearwards. The rear undercarriage sits in bulky pods on the fuselage, right below the wings. Makes the plane look like it’s got a beer gut. And its cargo bay is right behind the cockpit! Pleasant ride though.

Cooped Up in Hotel Room

Dear Reader, it’s raining in Hangzhou and I am not well. I have had the shits since Wednesday evening, some headache, and last night I seem to have had a fever. Both of the latter problems are kept at bay by wonderful ibuprophene. I was fully active and enjoyed myself Thursday and Friday. But I’m spending Saturday in my hotel room, with Junior in his across the hallway, because he’s not in great shape either.

I have just finished proof-reading a large chunk of my Östergötland book, mainly killing mishyphenations, though I had to stop for an hour’s nap while the latest ibup pill took hold. I’m thinking of going to the nearby supermarket with Junior to get some sweetened soy milk and other victuals, and also of starting packing, since tomorrow we go home to Sweden. It’s been great here, but two weeks is too long for a vacation. I need to prepare for test pitting in the Pukbergsgrottan cave and call landowners for test pitting in wetlands during July. I’m very happy that at least I’ve been able to stay on top of my email here.

How are you spending your Saturday?

Tombs and Opium in Qingtian

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My mother-in-law grew up in the mountains near Fushan in the prefecture of Qingtian (pronounced CHING-tien), inland Zhejiang province. Though the prefecture’s name means “Green Field”, it’s pretty poor and has been a major emigration area for decades. The owners and staff of many or most Chinese restaurants in Sweden are from Qingtian. Yesterday we rode a train for nearly seven hours from Hangzhou to get to the district capital, and all along the way we were accompanied by a line of enormous new concrete stilts on which a future fast railroad will run. Next time the trip may take only an hour and a half.

This morning we went up to Fushan to see the ancestral hamlet and pay our respects to some of the ancestors. We had a wonderful day, and here I’ll only touch upon three of the things I experienced.

To begin with, as you can see above, Qingtian is extremely beautiful. Endless vistas of steep terraced mountain sides, cloud-obscured peaks and mirror-like rice paddies, and no signs of tourism though the roads are good. Go to Qingtian city on the valley floor, stay in a hotel and make day trips with a taxi. Breathtaking!

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Secondly, we came upon a small field bearing ripe opium poppy right beside the road. The farmer (who looked perfectly healthy) happily informed us that he smokes the stuff sometimes but that it is mainly used in cooking pig’s trotters. “Everybody’s always very merry when we have trotters for dinner.”

Thirdly, I learned about an ongoing conflict between the farmers and the Party officials of the area. The Party has decided that, bearing China’s huge population in mind, too much agricultural land is being wasted on the construction of low buildings and traditional hillside terrace tombs. Modern Chinese people are encouraged to live in high rises and bury their dead in Western-style flat cemeteries. The mountain farmers, however, prefer their old way of doing things, and they either can’t get or don’t apply for building permits. They just build anyway and hope for the best. The authorities respond by sending out semi-official house-and-tomb vandalism crews.

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Tombs and low houses built before some recent cutoff date are exempt from these rules and are never vandalised. Therefore new burials are now often added to old tombs by families who might have been able to afford new ones. But I saw many new house ruins and many vandalised new tombs. When somebody builds a new tomb, however lavish, they try to make it look old and uncared-for by covering it in brush, which must be rather confusing to an ancestor who expects to be venerated by his descendants. The tomb above is unusually large and lavish, covered in brush by its builders and vandalised by the Party — and it was built last year.

I also saw large amounts of destroyed tomb stonework lying around or re-used for road pavement. A lot of it seems to come from new tombs vandalised by the authorities, but other fragments look like they may come from old tombs that have been removed to make room for new ones — which might perhaps save the new structure from vandalism as long as there are no descendants of the original tomb’s inhabitants around to complain. Anyway, for reason’s of taboo, there is no aftermarket for used tomb sculpture.

Airborne Chinese Marketplace

On the flight from Amsterdam to Hangzhou Saturday, I observed some interesting behaviour on the part of my Chinese co-travellers. After the main meal, the stewardesses went around hawking tax-free goods. At this time, a bunch of people stood up and formed a large prattling group in the aisles toward the rear of the plane where myself and Junior were seated. They seemed to be discussing the merits of the wares among themselves and with the Chinese stewardess, reading labels and handing packages around for inspection. The whole thing looked like a cross between a cocktail party and an Oriental market, and it sounded like a flock of jackdaws. Everybody was clearly having a good time. Then, after 45 minutes or so, they went back to their seats and most of them fell asleep. Upon landing I learned that these gregarious people were on a group trip and so must have been at least slightly acquainted.

Talking and Listening in Minneapolis

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So Friday morning, we swam in the hotel pool after breakfast. Then we went into town and had lunch with Heather Flowers at the Acadia café, whereupon I gave a well-attended lunch talk about my Bronze Age project to staff and students at the U Minn Anthropology Department. Good to reconnect with Prof. Peter Wells, and I received a tea mug! I’ve already put it to good use as everything on our hotel’s breakfast buffet, plates cups cutlery packaging, is disposable. (We’re re-using our table gear day after day.)

Heather then took us on a road trip to Swedish immigrant country around Lindstrom where we saw bison and white-tail deer and eagles, and finally up to the interstate park on the Wisconsin border where we saw a beautiful stretch of the St. Croix river (above) and loads of interesting kettle-holes in the basalt. Then back into town for gaming night with the undergrads at Nica Carillo’s place. We were fed pizza and cake and played Apples to Apples and Settlers, and I had a blast!

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Saturday was the first day of the annual Undergraduate Anthropology Conference at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, a great big park with a convention centre. Rebecca Dolmon drove me there and I spent the day hearing interesting talks, hobnobbing with people and checking out bits of the as yet leafless park. Finally I gave my own talk on gold in 5th, 6th and 7th century Scandinavia, which was very graciously received. Though I really don’t like having a manuscript like I did. I keep getting ahead of the text and talking about things that are later in the script. I should just have written down the five main points on the back of my hand and spoken as prompted by the pictures I had collected, like I’m used to these days.

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Yesterday morning Mike Haubrich drove me & YuSie to the studio whence the Minnesota Atheists’ Sunday radio show is broadcast, and we met with my Sb blog neighbour Greg Laden. Their hour-long on-air chat with us went by really quickly: my first live radio appearance, and I liked it a lot. Listen to it as a podcast! Afterwards we joined 20 non-believers at a great progressive brunch place and had a long chatty meal together. Very nice people! And Greg’s little son is a real sweetie.

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The proud father then drove us the the Arboretum where we caught three more talks and mingled for a while, before Heather and her hubby Gabe drove us back to the hotel. We went to the nearby Mall of America for a decent Cajun fish dinner and wandered about for a while in search of shoes for Junior, but we soon got tired and fled back to our room. We’ll make a new attempt tomorrow, and then fly home.

My heartfelt thanks go to the students and staff of the Department of Anthropology for inviting me to speak here, to all the friendly and charming people who have taken such good care of me and YuSie, and particularly to my new friend Heather Flowers!

Two Museums in Minneapolis

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Touching down at Minneapolis airport shortly before 19:00 last night, my wife and I were met by the charming Heather Flowers and Erin Emmerich from the Anthro Dept. They got us installed at our hotel and joined us for dinner at the food court of the monstrous Mall of America. (There’s a theme park inside it.) Then to bed.

This morning we negotiated the ample, varied and sugar-rich breakfast buffet here at the Fairfield Inn, and then went to the light rail station. We’re in the second-generation periphery of Minneapolis near the airport, outside the old industrial fringe. The roads are 6-lane highways here, the buildings huge hotels and malls, everything thinly spread like in the recently developed fringes of Chinese cities. And of course anything catering to pedestrians and cyclists is an afterthought: the railway station is under a multilevel parking garage and to get there on foot you either have to go through the mall or wander in via the automobile ramps. The train is a little clunky and rickety, but it speeds along fine, it’s not expensive and it does have bike racks. We changed to a bus at Franklin Avenue and found that apparently only poor people ride buses here. But then, this was at 09:45, so I guess anybody who wasn’t at work already was probably unemployed.

We spent 3½ hours at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer there. They have a bit of everything ancient and modern from around the world, in large numbers and top quality, with free admittance. A very impressive museum. But I was truly appalled to see how much recently looted archaeology they show. The Chinese collection, for instance, appears largely to have been acquired in the past 20 years, and there’s no provenance on anything. “Figurines from an 8th century Imperial burial, probably in the Luoyang region” etc. This is in stark contrast to a temporary exhibition of exquisite 15th century French mortuary sculpture from Dijon, where the context of each piece has been painstakingly documented. It’s the exact same kind of objects: sculpture from royal burials, but under very different circumstances.

The French aren’t looting their heritage, they’re curating it and lending bits of it to US museums. The main reason why the Chinese are looting theirs is demand from unscrupulous art collectors. Why is the art world still allowing this to happen? These are not just “works of art”. At least half of everything in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is archaeological finds. We should demand a detailed excavation report before we even considered touching the stuff, let alone buying it. I don’t want to see objects dug up “probably in the Luoyang region” and donated by an American collector. I want to see pieces excavated by Chinese archaeologists to modern standards of documentation and lent by a Chinese museum. I mean, look at me and my team, pinpointing fucking quartz chips with GPS in a muddy field in Södermanland, while at the same time looters are opening 8th century Imperial tombs in China and carting out T’ang sculpture by the wheel barrow, destroying its archaeological context. It’s sad, so sad.

But as I said, the museum is wonderfully rich, and if you don’t care about provenance or archaeological context you will be able to enjoy it far more than I did. We were intrigued and enlightened by a collection of 16th-17th century classicising bronze statuettes shown to us by a friendly and knowledgeable docent, and those 15th century Dijon Mourners were truly a treat.

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We walked to the American Swedish Institute, which is housed in an early 20th century sandstone mansion built by a Swedish immigrant newspaper baron. Program officer Nina Clark welcomed us, fed us cardamom buns, conversed in idiomatic Swedish and showed us around. She remarked that the house is coeval with early modernism, Frank Lloyd Wright etc., yet is anchored firmly and lavishly in later 19th century bourgeois taste. It reminded me of what the Rettig family was doing with their town house in Stockholm at the same time, now home to the Royal Academy of Letters with one floor being a museum. I used to share a small office there with an extremely overdecorated pink, baby blue, gilded, eagle-topped tiled fireplace, and the ones at the American Swedish Institute are very similar. Above, myself and Nina are standing in front of one such fireplace decorated with Viking gnomes (!?), a relief plaque reproducing MÃ¥rten Eskil Winge’s “Thor Battles the Giants” and odd Oscarian variations on late-1st millennium animal art.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the ASI is not some sleepy outfit commemorating a dying ethnicity and catering mainly to retirees. Quite the contrary: there’s lots going on at the Institute, to the extent that they’re extending the building substantially and in very good taste. The people of Minnesota may not speak Swedish any more, but they’re interested in Sweden, and not just in what went on there in the 1800s. We met Swedish painter/cartoonist Jesper Löfvenborg who is there as resident artist, and best-selling hated-by-critics crime novelist Camilla Läckberg was visiting just as we were. Also, speaking more generally, all three of Stieg Larsson’s crime novels are on the top-10 US sales list for the first quarter of 2011.

Walking east to the light rail though a somewhat run-down neighbourhood of two-story houses, we went back to the hotel for a nap. The idea was to go a barmeet with skeptics late in the evening. If you go to bed at 17:00 you expect to sleep maybe for an hour and a half, and jet lag made me too sleepy to think clearly. I forgot to set the alarm clock and woke at 23:30. Too late for the barmeet, which really disappointed me. And worse, it undid all the work I’d done on resetting my internal clock, and now I’m likely to be sleepy as hell for the boardgame night tomorrow.

So now it’s 02:15 in the small hours and I’m awake. But I’m also sleepy, so maybe I can get in a few hours more towards the end of the night and get my clock reset after all.

New Visa Rules, Lessened US Hospitality

Three years ago I visited the US. Security at Newark was a little slow, but I just showed them my Swedish passport and sailed in. You see, there was a visa waiver agreement back then. And I thought there still was until 1½ hours before I was scheduled to take off to the US again this morning.

I don’t know if any country still has that agreement with the US. Sweden doesn’t, and I found this out at the luggage drop. There’s an on-line application routine for the visum (sing.) that often works really swiftly, but in my case it didn’t. It’s a black box and nobody knows how it works. So I missed my flight and would by rights have been forced to buy a new ticket since the one I had wasn’t rebookable. But KLM air has this semi-official policy of helping people who fall afoul of the new visa rules. So I’m just going to be a few hours late to Minneapolis. Security theatre…

Going to Minnesota

Less than a month now! Dear Aard readers Heather Flowers and Erin Emmerich of the University of Minnesota have invited me to speak there in April. My wife will accompany me and interpret whenever we run into someone who speaks only Mandarin.

Now, Dear Reader: can you offer me further Minnesota speaking gigs to help fund the trip? Pointers to Scandy associations that I should contact? I could speak about pretty much anything Scandy, not just archaeology. Heather has already given me an awesome contact list.

Update 13 March: I’m bumping this entry along month by month to gather more reader suggestions. Our schedule is taking shape:

  • Wed 6 April. Afternoon, touch down at MSP.
  • Thu 7 April. Afternoon, American Swedish Institute tour.
  • Thu 7 April. Late evening, bar get-together with the Minnesota Skeptics at the Duplex Bar.
  • Fri 8 April. Lunch, speak at Archaeology Consortium (U Minn archaeology grad students and faculty) on Bronze Age sacrificial sites.
  • Fri 8 April. Evening, gaming night with Ian Light and other members of the Anthro Club.
  • Sat 9 April. Speak at U Minn undergraduate anthropology conference on the Migration Period Scandy gold binge and its Merovingian Period hangover.
  • Sun 10 April. Morning, appear on Minnesota Atheists radio show with Greg Laden.
  • Sun 10 April. Brunch at Q Cumbers.
  • Mon 11 April. Afternoon, take off home from MSP.

Skiing Holiday, Broken Bone

Sweden is shaped like a ski, and people live mainly in the southern quarter, but in the other three-quarters there are many skiing resorts. I’ve been going there every few years since I was three. I’m not a competitive or particularly elegant down-hill skier, but I enjoy it and I can get down all kinds of slopes and I rarely fall.

In recent years my wife and I have taken the kids to one of the country’s southernmost skiing resorts, simply because if one of you is going to spend most of their time on the kiddy slope with a neophyte, then there is little reason to drive for seven hours one way. My wife had tired of Romme near Borlänge, so this year she did the booking and put us in BjursÃ¥s near Falun. It took us less than four hours to get there from Fisksätra, lunch break included.

BjursÃ¥s (“beaver sauce”) offers a modest number of ski lifts and slopes, and few of the latter are very long or steep. This was the year when Juniorette really became a serious skier, who ploughs down the slopes at considerable speed with little fear and few falls. And Junior is an excellent babysitter & skiing partner these days, so part of the time they zipped around on their own.

I don’t like gadget sports. I enjoy buying as little gear as possible, so this year I wore a cap I bought at the Great Wall outside Beijing years ago, a staff jacket from the VästerÃ¥s town paper that my wife got me when she worked there in ’99, a pair of gloves someone left at my house one gaming night, and faded jeans. But oldest of all was my actual skiing gear: given to me by my parents in ’88 and still sporting my childhood phone number written in my dad’s hand. Quality stuff, I just sharpen the steel edges now and then and I’m fine. The boots are actually the best I’ve seen, with a single open/close latch instead of the crazy Gigeresque alien armour current ski boots look like. (I remember now that I wrote about my gear last winter too.)

Anyway, to my dismay I broke one of my poles this year. I was in a sitting lift with a mid-slope station, and when me and Junior passed that station one of my poles got lodged against the wooden deck and bent. Aluminum cylinder, broke when I tried to straighten it. So goodbye 80s ski pole. Still, I did have one perfectly usable one left… So I went down to the rental shop and asked if they had any solitary ski poles of the right length. Sure enough, they did – and they gave me one for free. So now I’ve got mismatched recycled skiing poles and I feel pretty smug about not throwing away gear or money unnecessarily.

Distinctly non-smug is how I felt yesterday afternoon though when Junior came down a light slope at his usual sane clip, braked, fell over in front of me and broke his left arm. So we spent last night at Falun main hospital. But as my friend David the physiotherapist commented, if you must break a bone, break your radius. The ulna will keep it straight and it’ll heal just fine. In this case, we were particularly lucky about it: it’s a “green stick fracture” with no displacement of the bone ends at the break, which is pretty much the kind of fracture you’ll want if you must snap off your radius. And of course you’ll prefer to break your second hand, not your first.

Did you know that patients are no longer encouraged to carry their broken arms in a sling? Apparently this causes immobilisation, muscle atrophy and poor circulation, all of which prolongs and impedes rehabilitation. So Junior walks around with his plaster resting on his left-hand shoulder and uses his left-hand fingers for sundry small tasks. But he complains about difficulties when using the bathroom, and last night I washed his face for him the way I used to when he was a little kid.

Oh, and one of the slopes is named Pot Nook, HarsprÃ¥nget. Dalecarlian stoners…

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