Chai Digest December 8-14: French Foreign Legion, and US flights to Iraq

My news consumption is down as I get a first-hand taste of how China’s internet situation has further deteriorated since I last was here. So slow, so much blocked, and my hotel’s system is blocking my VPN. NYT blocked. WSJ blocked. Bloomberg Businessweek blocked. Google services intermittent or blocked. Time for Hotmail and Bing.

A few pieces of note I bookmarked before entering the Great Firewall.

WSJ’s At Star, Carrier Rivalry Heats Up looks interesting, will have to wait until I am out of China.

Get ready for US airlines flying to Iraq…well, not anytime soon, but in 2013 they will be able to fly to Erbil and Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq. I have been to Iran and North Korea, and want to complete my ‘Axis of Evil’ tour. GQ’s Operation Iraqi Vacation from 2011 is a must-read.

Vanity Fair’s The Expendables: The Dark Romance and Grim Reality of Life in the French Foreign Legion with the author going from basic training in the Pyrenees to a Sisyphean hunt for Brazilian gold miners in French Guiana. French Guiana is a bizarre colonial outpost, a full département of France, not a colony or territory. The borders then, are supposed to be maintained, yet when I crossed the river from Suriname on my trip, I had to convince the drunk, dozing official to stamp my passport, and he accidentally stamped me ‘out’ instead of ‘in,’ then repeatedly stamped to cross it out, and added an ‘in’ next to the inky mess. I was about to include a picture, but flickr is blocked today.

The Economist’s The Empire Strikes Back is an amusing look at the Commonwealth.

Businessweek’s Dollar-less Iranians Discover Virtual Currency explores how bitcoin has spread where sanctions block.

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  • Justin S

    Sulaymaniyah is an awesome place and the people are amazing. Have made it in on RJ and KK. T here is so much history from the Romans to the Russians and the atrocities of Halabja to bring the story of Northern Iraq and the Kurdish people to Modern times.

  • Glenn

    Sulaymaniyah has an excellent airport by regional standards. I inspected it on my first tour in Nov 2005. Built by Turkish contractors with Italian NAVAIDS, you can feel safe traveling in and out of there as opposed to BIAP (Baghdad) or Basra.
    Beautiful hilly area with a lot of history as mentioned above. Go see the bridge that Alexander the Great supposedly built. Food is pretty good there too, but don’t buy a carpet unless you know what you are doing.

  • @Justin S and @Glenn – I am envious, it is the highest place on my Middle East wish list, I can’t resist those crossroads of empire places dating back to the ancients.

    KK is a new airline for me, had to look it up.

    I feel like if I go out there I want to see Baghdad, too. Any views on the current safety situation?

    And what is it about carpets, those are scams wherever they are sold, I think I need to put up a post on that!

  • john

    very interesting stories; more like this would be appreciated.

  • Jon

    Getting into Erbil has been easy for years. My wife and I went back in 2010 on Austrian. I thought Austrian was getting their new business class with several nonstop options (like Chicago) in 2013. So that’d just be a quick 1-stop flight from the U.S. I used US Airways miles back in the day because United/Continental didn’t have the Erbil airport loaded where agents could find it. Nice business class service, and I got to visit right after they opened the new airport terminal.