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A Very Special U.K. Election Drunken Screed

Jun.09.17

A Very Special U.K. Election Drunken Screed

by Roads and Kingdoms

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For this special edition of our weekly Drunken Screed, we at Roads & Kingdoms asked some of our favorite Brits to have a drink or five and weigh in on the surprisingly exciting U.K. general election. Grab a pint and join us as we rant, rave, and revel over last night’s vote.

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My Whole Brain Feels Like a Bottle of Champagne
Moët & Chandon in South London
By Sam Kriss

I had forgotten, almost, what this kind of sheer joy felt like: the sheer, giddy, terrified pleasure seething through my skull, fizzy and corrosive, dissolving everything, un-concatenating my words, melting through my interior monologue, leaving every considered and conscious thought broken up like a thin layer of scum floating over fathomless, impenetrable happiness. This was how it felt when I first saw the exit poll in last night’s British election. My whole brain felt like a bottle of champagne.

Everyone I knew was loudly insisting that something positive could happen, while quietly expecting the worst. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party was surging in the polls, but the polls had been wrong so many times before, and his message of solidarity and kindness and tremulous impossible hope was facing the dread certainty of a Conservative landslide.

This whole election had been a hideous contrivance: Prime Minister Theresa May had spotted an opportunity to massively increase her hand and give electoral weight to her project—hard Brexit, pitiless social sadism, covert racism bulging monstrously into fully-fleshed being—and she took it. The rest of us were just passengers, mute and helpless. Those of us who believed in something better were about to be crushed. Our enemies, the vultures of common sense and political reality, were laughing in their low, hollow sky. I had expected to stay up until sunrise watching the BBC, alone, inconsolable, mourning a future that never had the chance to be born.

The experts were wrong. The projected result showed a substantial gain for Labour: not enough for them to form a government, but enough to destroy the Tory narrative of inevitability, enough to prove that socialism really isn’t a cultish fringe interest, but the only way forwards. Instead of staring heartbroken at a lonely screen, I found myself speeding in a taxi to the South London headquarters of Novara, an insurgent left-wing media outfit. This was not what was supposed to happen. This is not the report I expected to write.

The whole place was fizzing with terror and excitement. In the foyer, a small group of people—friends, writers, commentators, activists, people who had been on the leftward fringes of British politics for years, but were suddenly discovering that they were right all along—clustered around laptops, smoked frantic cigarettes by the doorway, popped open cans of Red Stripe. Every Tory defeat brought a chorus of roars and a flurry of joyous swearing. A few of us would occasionally bound up to the studio upstairs, to channel our wordless joy into sober political commentary for the all-night live stream. It was impossible: grins kept bursting out on our faces.

Eventually, long past midnight, a few of us went on a booze run, jumping around in the empty London streets between the bright abyssal glare of the all-night KFC and the sullen tenebrosity of shuttered warehouses and silent shops. We must have wandered miles, chasing 24-hour off-licences on Google Maps, before we found one; it felt like a Homeric voyage. When we found one, I impulsively grabbed two bottles of Moët & Chandon I couldn’t really afford. “What are you celebrating?” another shopper asked. She grinned. She knew the answer.

We’d done it. Finally, when dawn broke, the sky was entirely clear. A faint, shining, impossible blue flooded over the city, and I really believed that there would be no more low and drizzly days in London ever again.

*

Fuck You, Theresa May. Signed, A Citizen of Nowhere.
Butcombe Bitter in Brentford
By Alexa van Sickle

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I had a very modest hope for this election. All I wanted was for Theresa May—and the Tories who got us into this mess—to have a bloody good scare.

It’s what they deserved for their vile campaigning, amplified by the even more vile right-wing press, for being so cocky they didn’t bother providing costing details in their manifesto, and for May calling this snap election to strengthen her grip on power. (In case you’re wondering, Corbyn isn’t my guy either. Among other concerns I have, his anaemic support for the Remain campaign was, I believe, a big factor in the vote to leave the EU.)

I voted in the Borough of Hounslow, my sometimes-home in the U.K. The polling station, in the squat clubhouse on the edge of a 1970s housing development, was empty apart from myself and two election volunteers. Afterwards, just past noon, the Magpie and Crown, a small Georgian-façade pub on the high street, was slightly busier. But all the customers were solo: reading papers, working, or stroking their chins over pints of ale.

In some ways, I got what I wanted. The Tories are rattled in more ways than we could have hoped for only a month ago. But I can’t help thinking about how my expectations have lowered so much in just one year that I’ve learned to accept, and expect, only crumbs from the political universe.

Here’s another example: I hated her politics, but I wanted to give Theresa May the benefit of the doubt when she succeeded David Cameron when he resigned after the Brexit referendum. Friends who had worked under her in the civil service always said she was sharp; that she read all the materials in her red box; that she cared, that she did her homework. This sounded like a relatively good deal next to a certain orange-tinted bullshit purveyor, and even next to that consummate political dilettante, David Cameron, who made his government an extension of the Eton common room. Above all, I regarded May as a lucky escape from that monumental hypocrite, Boris Johnson—the original fake news merchant who shaped a generation of British EU-bashing as Brussels correspondent for The Torygraph by making up lies about EU directives on the straightness of bananas and the recycling of sex toys. (This illustrious journalism career was after he was fired from The Times for making up a quote, by the way.)

But it turns out, even asking only for a capable pair of hands was asking for the moon. The campaign revealed May is not capable at all. She seemed to have no vision. She repeated meaningless alliterative slogans—for several totally unrelated questions—like a string puppet. She lacked grace under fire. She also didn’t call out Trump when he attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan after the London Bridge attacks. And of course, her policies read like a Daily Mail editor’s wet dream. They probably are.

I got what I wanted. But as poetic as this electoral drubbing feels, it comes with some unintended potential disasters. If somewhere down the line this Tory snafu ends up ushering Boris Johnson back within sniffing distance of the leadership—he’s no doubt already licking his lips—to me that will have been one of her worst misadventures.

Also, the morning after, my gleeful fog of Schadenfreude gave way to another rude realization. May said she called this election to secure a stronger mandate for Brexit talks, which are set to start in 10 days. She’s persevering with the same cliff-edge Brexit, it seems, but her now weaker hand bodes ill for the flexibility and diplomacy required for the task. She has already needlessly antagonized her European partners. She mindlessly repeats that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” She has never explained this gibberish, so allow me: she is laying the groundwork for walking away, so she can blame everything—everything unpopular her party ever does in the future—on the intransigent 27 EU states who (how dare they?) are presenting a united front.

She also says she wants to guarantee the rights of UK citizens in the EU, and those of EU citizens in the UK—but how can that happen if she walks? She is openly disdainful of what she calls “citizens of nowhere”: the people who might—for many different reasons, perhaps even because of something called freedom of movement—call more than one place home. She said we don’t know what citizenship is.

I am a citizen only of the UK. But I was born and raised in what is now an EU country. I have spent most of my life outside the UK. My lack of dual citizenship, which I never knew I would need, (thanks, Brexit!) could certainly cause me some problems later.

But these would pale in comparison to the problems May’s “no deal” would cause for the millions of EU nationals who have settled in the UK, some for decades. Restaurant workers, joiners, bankers, musicians, cleaners, doctors, nurses, students. Not to mention the Polish bartender at the Magpie and Crown who served me my cheeky half-pint of Butcombe Bitter ale—and that Romanian baker who hit one of the London Bridge terrorists on the head with a crate. The same goes for the millions of UK nationals living in the EU whose futures are unbearably uncertain. Many on both sides are already leaving, because May has refused all opportunities to guarantee they can stay.

She says these millions of people are a priority when she starts to negotiate Brexit later this month. I don’t believe her.

*

Jez We Can!
Sam Adams at Newark Airport
By Yasmin Khan

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I’m sitting in bar at Newark airport, sipping a pint of Samuel Adams that is far too cold. (I never did understand why the Yanks insist on serving me ale the temperature of ice cream, but that’s another rant, for another time). My plane has been delayed and for once I’ve never been happier to prop up the bar in dreary and dank airport whilst clicking refresh on my iPhone every 30 seconds. Why? Because the exit polls in the British election are in and Jeremy Corbyn, the 68-year-old socialist and pacifist from north London has managed to create the biggest political upset in British politics in decades. And I’m over-the-fucking-moon.

Corbyn’s vibrant election campaign went against all of the establishment’s rules and yet still managed to secure a whopping 40 percent of the national vote, the highest share of the Labour vote in 20 years. Voter turnout was high, particularly amongst the under 25s who came out in droves to support his radical platform of redistribution, investment in public services, and peace. Theresa May, the Tory gremlin who pushed an ugly agenda of selfishness and greed, lost her overall majority and the UK is heading for a hung parliament. I gulp down another beer and take a moment to glance up from my phone to smile manically at no one in particular. My cheeks are flushed pink and I have butterflies in the pit of my stomach as I realise I feel something I’ve not for years. Hope. The torture of it is almost unbearable.

A hung parliament? How could that be a cause for celebration. I know us Brits are known for downplaying success, but surely we should have been hoping for better that that, right? Not quite.

The outpouring of electoral support for Corybyn comes in the context of him having faced the most unrelenting barrage of criticism from every section of the mainstream media, as well as most of his (back-stabbing) parliamentary Labour Party. All of them insisted that Corbyn was utterly unelectable and have spent the last two years putting every ounce of their energy into trying to destroy him. They ridiculed and mocked, claiming he was too old school, too unpolished, a dinosaur from another time that wanted to take us back to the 70s. They derided his claims that young people wanted a different kind of politics, insisting instead that the youth were simply apathetic and lazy. They scoffed at the premise that the electorate would ever support a radical programme of higher taxation, change to the economic system, investment in public services, free education, affordable housing, a living wage, abolishing nuclear weapons. Well, guess what? Corbyn and his team put it out there and people loved it. So who’s having the last laugh now?

Disclaimer: I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for 18 years. I first met him when I was student at Sheffield University when he came to speak about nuclear non-proliferation as a member of Labour CND, and when I moved to London and started getting involved in politics I campaigned alongside him in movements against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, in solidarity with Palestine, and against the sale of arms trade to repressive regimes. When I worked for the charity INQUEST that supported families who had lost loved ones in police or prison custody, Jezza, as he is affectionately known, was our local MP and someone we could always call upon to support our work. In short, he was one of us. Never interested in the Westminster career politics circus, he spent his time as an MP diligently and vociferously campaigning on issues of principle, not giving a shit if he was unpopular as long as he took a stand on matters of moral and political conscience. He was principled and honest. Kind and fair. Committed to fighting for equality. And it that my friends, that makes this election result so extraordinary. Because it is those principles that have won.

Never again can the political classes say that a radical left-wing platform isn’t electorally viable. Never again can they say that it’s unrealistic. That young people don’t care about politics. Turns out, they really do, when there is a decent alternative to the status quo being offered. All around the world we are seeing election results that show ordinary people are fed up with our broken political and economic system and want radical change. The grip of the corporate media on elections has been lost and through social media we are seeing that alternative narratives can be shared and be successful. The rules of the game have changed.

I move onto the plane and onto the hard stuff. Gin for me. Vodka for my traveling companion. We raise a toast to another world being possible. I sink back into my seat, still smiling manically and relishing the fact that a new kind of politics has been born in the UK. A new movement has been created and I’m thrilled to have been part of it. A movement for the many, not the few.

*

A Craft Beer Socialist in a World Where the Bastards Don’t Always Win
Pale Ale in Tuscany
By Craig Ballinger

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The exit polls are in and I crack a big bottle. I’ve got 750 ml of the finest Italian Pale Ale to see me through this thing. The fireflies are out and the silhouette of a Tuscan mountain looms beautifully in the moonlight behind my laptop screen.

The 2017 general election is a big deal for me. I’ve been charmed by the outsider Jeremy Corbyn, a decent man in a dirty game. I’ve been given the most fragile of feelings: hope. The idea that in this age where all of capitalism’s failings are exposed, that someone can take the reins, lead people through the mess, and bring a party back into power that represents the majority of Britain, is a dangerous one.

This surprise election went weird when it seemed the Conservatives didn’t want to finish the fight they started. Prime Minister Theresa May announced she wouldn’t participate in any TV debates. The Labour party went into campaign mode, many taking on the fight of their lives.

Corbyn, the Labour leader and life-long back-bench MP, stepped up and sharpened up, despite being maligned by the press and personally attacked by the government and his own party. Nobody likes a socialist, apparently. He gave fine speeches, engaged with the public, and oversaw a manifesto that gave the British public some ideas of what a different style of government could offer. I even tracked Corbyn at a couple of events and had a chat to reaffirm my faith. I can confirm he’s a top guy.

When in government, the Labour party lost support over the invasion of Iraq and from shouldering the blame in the financial crisis. When Tony Blair’s Labour was messing up the Middle East, Corbyn was on the streets with the anti-war protesters.

I’m busy doing some bourgeois shit, or at least facilitating it. I’m out in Tuscany catering a flower school, drinking pale ale watching election results roll in, a full Craft Beer Socialist. The most local brewery in Lucca, Tuscany is Bruton, brewing big modern flavours in big bottles. I’m working on it like someone’s going to take it away.

The ruling Conservative party surprised us with a ‘snap’ election, an attempted power grab when the polls were in their favour. Now, their leader is weaker than ever, a disheveled bird knocked from her high perch. The Brexit mess is one of Conservative making, but it’s also one they don’t seem capable of handling.

The party of the rich are generally hard to take on. Britain’s biggest tabloids, the Sun and the Daily Mail, with a combined circulation of over three million, ran a desperate smear campaign full of hatred and Corbyn smiled throughout. Now, we’re facing one of the most incredible turnarounds in political history. A man hounded by the media, undermined by his own party, loathed by the establishment, has changed the debate and set British politics on an entirely new course.

The truly shocking part of this election period so far has been that it has seen two significant terrorist attacks, one in Manchester and the other in London. The tabloids were quick to take aim at Corbyn, levelling accusations that he’s a ‘terrorist sympathiser’ due to his past as an activist and peacemaker. He is a divisive character and marginal wins do not make divisions disappear. But the voter who turns to racism, to hatred, to extremes is also the voter that can be easily influenced, and shown that the world doesn’t have to be ruled by fear.

Big bottles are celebratory; they usually contain champagne. This is a just-perfect 5.5 percent pale, no fucking about. I’d take beer over any other drink, at any point. I’m going to sleep optimistic, despite knowing that I’ll get paid less for this as the pound slides. Such is the nature of an uncertain world. But it’s nice to feel like it’s one where the bastards aren’t always winning.

The Essential Fuel for Evenings in Taiwan

Oct.23.17

The Essential Fuel for Evenings in Taiwan

by Selena Hoy

Boba in Taipei

Evening is descending on Ximending, and the food hawkers jostle for position, their pushcarts lined up along the curb. Each one is peddling a single kind of snack, made fresh before your eyes.

There are hot Yiling onion pies, the size of a child’s palm, golden crisp and sizzling on the grill. There’s stinky tofu, deep-fried and topped with pickled veg, its distinctive pungent funk attracting some and repelling others. The green scallion pancakes, cong zhua bing, large and flat and folded several times, come plain or with fillings.

Ximending, in Taipei’s Wanhua district, is vibrant with youth. Students flock here, their glowing faces bathed in pink neon. Music blares out of shops, and fashion stores stand cheek-to-jowl with massage parlors, the services and prices written on the window in red script. Two fat cats mind a suit shop in Wuchang Street, dispassionately observing customers and passersby. A large banner on Hanzhong Street reads “Taiwan Independence–NOT Chinese Taipei.” Teenagers are pinging off the edges of the alleys, zigzagging back and forth in a flood of frenetic energy, fueled by chewy, sugary tea and juice drinks.

The kids in Taiwan have been slurping and chewing boba tea (also called bubble tea, tapioca tea, pearl milk tea, or 珍珠奶茶 in Taiwanese) for a few decades. It first emerged in the 1980s, probably in Taichung or Tainan, and has been a staple drink ever since.

Even though it started out simple, with black tea, sweetened condensed milk, and a dose of small tapioca pearls, boba tea now comes in a dizzying variety of flavors and incarnations: fruit flavors or coffee; personalized levels of sugar and ice; large tapioca pearls or small, or grass jelly, sago, coconut jelly, or chia seeds instead.

My jam is taro milk tea with large black tapioca pearls, the lavender mixture thick and slightly chalky with tuber starch. I place my order with an efficient, friendly cashier (half sugar, little ice) and then melt into the crowd of people also waiting for their hit. She scoops a ladleful of pearls into my drink, then runs the cup through a machine that seals it with a plastic film festooned with colorful cartoon characters. She flips it upside down once to check the seal, then hands it to me.

Mourning the Death of a Muckraker in Malta

Oct.20.17

Mourning the Death of a Muckraker in Malta

by Steven Bonello

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Beer in Marsascala

In Malta, everyone will probably remember where they were when they heard that investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated. She was killed on Monday, shortly after leaving home, when her white Peugeot 108 exploded. Her son, Matthew, was still at home; he heard the explosion and tried to save her. She was 53.

I was at a pub in the resort town of Marsascala, enjoying a pint of Kilkenny with a journalist friend. We were just at that moment discussing Caruana Galizia when I got a call from my wife telling me that friends were messaging her with the news. I didn’t believe it; I told her it couldn’t be true. But after putting my phone down, I overheard snippets of conversation from the next table, stuff like: “if you live by the sword…” I knew then that it was true. When my shocked friend confirmed the news on her smartphone, it was just a formality.

I first met Caruana Galizia 26 years ago, when I wrote her a letter asking her whether she would write a short note for my second personal exhibition of drawings. That led to her introducing me to newspaper cartooning, something I’ve done ever since. Incredibly, for a small place like Malta, I had only run into her once since then—about two months ago at a local trattoria.

Caruana Galizia was both lionized and hated in polarized Malta. She was a merciless critic of Malta’s ruling Labour government, in particular the two government personalities involved in the Panama Papers scandal, both of whom refused to step down, and both of whom enjoyed the continued support of the prime minister, Joseph Muscat. But she was also scathing about Malta’s main opposition party, and its new leader in particular, whom she accused of having financial links to a brothel in London’s Soho.

The current Labour government was re-elected earlier this year after a snap election, called as a vote of confidence after Caruana Galizia published stories about the prime minister’s wife taking kickbacks from Azerbaijan’s ruling family and stashing the cash in a secret Panama account.

Under this government, Malta has experienced rapid growth. A building boom has been fuelled by skyrocketing rental rates and the need to accommodate an influx of foreign workers. The other side of that coin has been a withering of national institutions, scandals involving government ministers, shady deals with Azerbaijan, and the sale of Maltese passports under the so-called Individual Investor Program, while Malta-born citizens are denied the right to know who their new compatriots are.

This is the first time a journalist has been assassinated on the island. Malta is in shock. The nature of the assassination was brutal, even for Malta, where car-bomb murders happen from time to time.

DCG_last_words_(1)The last words Caruana Galizia wrote on her blog before she was killed have been spray-painted on a wall in Malta.

Most friends I have been talking to are confused, and still can’t quite believe it. The assassination was no doubt a professional job, perhaps pointing to hired, imported hitmen. The motive is still unclear. Caruana Galizia had made many enemies over the years, but the general feeling is that no Maltese would really have gone this far. People are speculating that the murder might have been ordered from outside. There are whispers that she was about to break new stories involving international crime rings.

All this is happening in a vacuum. Information about the murder has been scant, and in the days after Malta’s highest-profile assassination, the Commissioner of Police—regarded by many as an incompetent stooge—was notable only for his silence on the matter. The police finally called a press conference on Thursday evening, but answered no questions. The prime minister has gone on record to say the FBI and Dutch experts will be joining local investigating forces, which only reinforces the locals’ poor perception of the police. A police sergeant’s Facebook post celebrating her death hasn’t helped.

There is also a feeling that, as with other brutal crimes in Malta, this one will remain unsolved, and forgotten after the international spotlight moves away.

After we heard the horrible news, we finished our drinks in a hurry and, perhaps unforgivably, failed to toast the memory of a very brave woman. All I remember saying to my journalist friend was: “Fuck! And I have to do a cartoon about this next Sunday?”

#Resist in Virginia, with Love and Proper Beer

Oct.19.17

#Resist in Virginia, with Love and Proper Beer

by Alex Court

Imperial IPA in Virginia

“By the power invested in me by absolutely nobody I declare you husband and wife!”

Once those words left my lips I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. I’m no priest, but in a last-minute reshuffle I had been asked to preside over the ceremony of a couple of very good friends in the heavy Virginia heat, and I needed a congratulatory drink to calm the nerves.

Slipping past the international crowd that had assembled for the special occasion, I reached the bar and spotted a beer I’d never heard of: Dogfish Head 120 Minute.

Hoppy and tasty and cold, it hit my lips and I realized why the couple had selected this beverage to get the party started. An American bride of Ghanaian and Filipino heritage was marrying a British chap from Sheffield, a city well-known for “proper” beer.

Orange, Virginia was the venue they had chosen well in advance, and they had invited people with all kinds of cultural backgrounds. Everything had been planned before August, when white supremacists marched just 30 miles away in Charlottesville, Virginia carrying torches and chanting “You will not replace us.”

As I swigged back that bottle of beer the alcohol helped me relax. The speech I had just delivered mentioned the importance of celebrating multicultural and interracial love, and the importance of doing this now, in Virginia.

Finding the right words had not been easy for a white British bloke like me, partial to avoiding all kinds of conflict, but my wife—who is American and black—helped me find them.

As I asked the barman for a second beer, the mother of the bride thanked me for the kind words I had said about her daughter and son-in-law and promptly dragged me to a photo shoot.

Arranging couples in front of the camera, the photographer wanted one of the bride and groom and my wife and I. Four people—two black ladies and two white chaps—smiling wide on the steps of a glorious homestead.

We were not putting our bodies on the line at a rally against white supremacists, but as the camera snapped away, I thought perhaps we were protesting against hate in our own little way.

Absinthe, Meet Tropical Slushie Cocktail

Oct.18.17

Absinthe, Meet Tropical Slushie Cocktail

by Anna Hiatt

Cocktails in St Augustine

Down the bar from us sat a 20-something couple. She’d ordered what looked like an adult shaved ice. Taking picture after picture, she said with a laugh, “I don’t want to drink it.”

What’d she order, I asked the bartender. A Cabana Boy. The bartender took a banana leaf and deftly looped it in a circle, placed it in the glass, and began to fill the lowball with shaved ice—just like the shaved ice we’d had at the beach the day before. It had been soaked with almost sickly sweet passionfruit and mango syrup. Sickly sweet, but delicious, just enough to cut through St. Augustine’s midday heat. She spritzed the shaved ice with absinthe from what looked like a perfume bottle and set the drink in front of me.

I sipped my Cabana Boy and wondered if I should have passed on the second cocktail. I asked the bartender about the incoming hurricane. “People love to panic,” she said calmly. Last hurricane, a second bartender told me, he’d taken shelter at the bar; nothing would bring down the Ice Plant, a former ice factory. The plant was chilled as though the building still stored blocks of ice. I shivered, hunched on my bar stool, did the tipsy calculus, and decided to drink faster. The longer I let it sit, the more the shaved ice would melt, the more I’d have to drink, the longer I’d have to stay in the cold. Let’s get out of here, I motioned, back into the warm night.

The next morning, the pressure had changed. Pea-soup air. Hurricane Irma was coming. We ducked into Catch 27 in downtown St. Augustine for blackened snapper sandwiches and blackened snapper tacos and beers.

We left the restaurant to do one more drive through the city. The storm was coming in from the south: it was still a Category 5 and hadn’t yet torn up St. Martin’s. St. Augustine had quieted after Labor Day weekend, and in the days before Irma. Windows were boarded up, or being boarded up; I wondered if the Ice Plant’s bartenders would take refuge in the old ice factory. We admired a boat moored in the Matanzas River that runs along downtown.

A few days later, after we’d flown out, Hurricane Irma moved in. From my apartment in New York, I watched video footage from St. Augustine and scanned Instagram for evidence of the storm, and what it had done to our little paradise. The streets along the water flooded, though the water quickly receded; the remaining boats in the Matanzas River rocked hard. I couldn’t see ours, and I wondered when, or if, it had been moved. Our oasis momentarily disturbed, but still filled with stubborn Floridians.

The Ice Plant
110 Riberia Street St. Augustine, FL 32084
Cabana Boy: $12

Photo: Mallory Brooks for VISIT FLORIDA

Remember, People: Do Not Get in the Car with the Self-Professed Bad Man

Oct.17.17

Remember, People: Do Not Get in the Car with the Self-Professed Bad Man

by Michael Standaert

Beer in Ngapali Beach

Last year, long before the current wave of terrible violence began, I was in Ngapali Beach, a white-sand, beach-resort town in Rakhine State, having drinks with Sara—a hotel manager—and a local artist.

Our conversation got around to the “troubles” a few years ago. After news spread that Rohingya Muslims had raped a Rakhine girl, a Buddhist, violence ensued. As a result, tens of thousands of Rohingya had been moved to camps to the north of Ngapali Beach, around Sittwe.

Sara told me that during that time, right in front of where we were now sitting on the beach—where boys had been playing soccer just an hour before—a large group of local men had emerged from the shadows into the light from the bar, machetes in hand. They’d heard that “two boats with Muslims” were out there on water, and said if they came ashore they were going to kill them.

Sara finished her white wine and the local artist left after downing his lassi, and I was alone with the last of several caipirinhas. The bar keep made them strong and rummy, squeezed in several small limes and added brown sugar, on the right side of sweet.

There was still a little light, so I walked south down the beach to a clump of restaurants and ordered a local beer. A European couple, the only other customers, left after tiring of a slightly drunk local who was talking to them, wanting to take them to a disco. Each time he said disco, he’d wiggle his hips and shake his arms. Being alone after they left, I attracted the man, who sat down close to me and ordered a beer.

His name was Momo, he said. “I’m a bad man. Bad man. But good father. I own that restaurant there,” he gestured across the road, now dark. “I provide for my family. Take care of my parents, my wife’s parents.” But he was still a bad man, he laughed, because he liked disco.

I didn’t feel like walking back to the hotel, so decided to check the place out. We passed my hotel and about a half-kilometer on, took a left down a dark road into jungle. I could see neon and Christmas lights strung around a large wooden building. I asked if this was a disco, as he called it before. “KTV,” he said.

I decided I didn’t like the vibe of the place. It stank of mildew. Sweat. I stayed close to the door, which was still slightly ajar. He was talking with the doormen, asking about “girls, I want girls.” I could tell they were wary of having a foreigner in here while Momo was trying to line up KTV girls. The doormen were shaking their heads. I grabbed Momo and said, let’s go, some other time. He tried to tell me there are other places, but I convinced him to drop me off at my hotel.

“I’m a bad man,” he said as I shook his hand. He drove off, steady, not a swerve.

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