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TourismHi, we’re Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras. We co-founded a database of the world's 13,000 most hidden and obscure places, Atlas Obscura. Ask us anything!

Dec 21st 2017 by atlasobscura • 7 Questions • 78 Points

The conditions are horrible, the atmosphere is one of despair and desperation, basic necessities are difficult to come by and art supplies almost impossible to find.

People are often held here for years, sometimes for more than a decade, cut off from their families, from their jobs, from the world. It's especially hard during the holiday season with so many being kept from their familes, often with young kids who don't understand why daddy isn't at home.

I'm also the artist behind "Flowers For Bicutan", a fundraiser trying to supply food, medicine and legal aid to the detainees held in a third world detention center. I'll be donating artwork in exchange for donations.

Ask me about living here, about being an artist under these conditions, about the affects of "indefinite temporary detention" etc. Ask me anything.

Proof of location: https://truepic.com/search/?id=xz7ld6nn

Please note that I cannot reveal my identity as Immigration staff forbid us from using social media.

Q:

Can you explain a little bit about your business model and how it came to be what it is?

A:

Why do some ride operators need to repeat the safety message every single ride, rather than just having a pre-recorded message to play?


Q:

You mentioned that your Christmas movies are

on tv non-fucking-stop right now.

What do you feel about how in-your-face Christmas movies/music/etc. are this time of year?

A:

With the ban on social media, how are you able to access Reddit? And that would be the repercussions if they were to find out you’re doing this AMA?


Q:

It evolved really organically over time. Basically we started without one and blindly felt our way towards something that both worked as a business and we felt helped us accomplish our mission of spreading wonder! Now we are a mix of advertising, events, international trips, and book publishing. It's definitely nice to have the mix! -Dylan

A:

It wouldn't a real theme park if you can't understand the safety instructions because they're talking fast and the mic quality is bad. A prerecorded message would take all that away.


Q:

I think all the hate that reddit/Facebook/twitter gives to Christmas culture is kinda dumb. I like all of it when I'm in the mood for it. When I'm not in the mood for it, I can listen to or watch something else. It's a fairly easy adjustment!

That being said, Santa shouldn't appear until the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I think it's dumb to start the Christmas stuff the day after Halloween. Going to the Macy's parade however? OVERRATED.

A:

The ban isnt a ban per se. Nothing written, no clear directive. But.. for example if you post something derogatory towards the Immigration officials on facebook, they confiscate your phone. We had one guy whose x-wife put him here. He posted his story and it got thousands of followers. She complained to Immigration. They confiscated his phone. I expect they will confiscate my phone tomorrow or later this week. Only one artist here. Your phone is your lifeline. Its communication with the outside world, family, wife or girlfriend if you have one, friends, work, attorney, bank.... Its more than that. Its our mental escape. Its movies, games whatever you need to take your mind somewhere else. For me its music, art and ebooks. We have a few paperbacks. Ive read them. Numerous times. The Koreans and Taiwanese own mp3 soundsystems so we get a half dozen compilations of their music playing. Again and again and again... There is a tv which is sometimes on for a few hours, but the guards have the controls so not useful if you dont enjoy beauty contests or local soaps. It makes a world of difference to slip on a pair of earphones, close your eyes and escape into music. Its sanity. Its a very thin thread which can help you hold on to sanity. Without a phone this place is hell.


Q:

how did atlas obscure morph from destination guide to interesting article aggregator?

A:

Now that the park is open 365 days a year, where are they going to find employees to work weekdays? Most employees look like students. Also, how can they make money being open on weekdays when all of their potential customers are in school?


Q:

Well now I’m curious.

What exactly is your hottest take on Rampart?

A:

Are you able to share anymore photos documenting the conditions you are in? Before they come for your phone. ;-) Stay safe brother!


Q:

It hasn't! The site is both a searchable collection of 14K unusual places around the world and our own original articles about forgotten history, or amazing people! My favorite is when we can kind of combine the two, here is a recent example where we wrote an article about this amazing chair farmer (https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/forest-furniture-england-midlands-tree-shaping-chairs-tables) and then complied a list of "arbortecture" spots. - Dylan

A:

Well, a majority of the employees are students but there are still people who aren't. I'm still in highschool so I won't be working during the week except on breaks. And I honestly have no idea how six flags is planning on making a profit. The price that rides and employees cost versus the income they'll be making seems way out of balance for a regular Tuesday in the middle or March. But hey that's just me


Q:

Let Woody be Woody!

A:

We have some photos posted at flowersforbicutan.jimdo.com and there are a lot more out there. Just google Bicutan Immigration Detention Center and some of those sites have a lot of pics. To be honest, Im only allowed to use my phone a few hours a day(international law says I get unlimited access. Local office of the Ombudsman says I get unlimited access. Local Commission on Human Rights says I get unlimited access. I dont get unlimited access). Im borrowing a phone from a Korean. We recently had about 60 Koreans deported, all organized crime, all of whom had been paying bribes to avoid deportation because they have criminal charges back home. The way it works is you pay a bribe to the administration office( the admin staff are nicknamed "how-much-E" by the Koreans because they can be bribed to do ANYTHING) and you get your phone inside, its done monthly just like a utility fee. So some Koreans were deported and there are extra phones inside that other Koreans inherited. Im borrowing one, but if they see me with it taking pictures I'll lose this one. I cant use my phone for this, the admin staff go through your phone pretty often while its in the office. Another detainee here who is a real reddit addict tried to post some pics in a comment here today but the mods seem to have barred it. But there are tons of pics online. Just do a google search.


Q:

have you seen changes in what kind of content drives traffic to the site over time?

A:

Are there any rides that the staff agrees are more entertaining to operate?


Q:

I wish the christmas movie of yours that was stuck on rotation was The Ultimate Christmas Present instead. Also, when am I going to see a dark comedy starring you and Michael Cera as brothers?

A:

If you're the only artist there then logically, they already know who you are just by your making this post.


Q:

I think we discovered at some point that Atlas Obscura wasn't really a "guide" so much as lens, and a way of looking at the world--with a sense of wonder and curiosity. So we started trying to apply that lens more broadly: to history, to science, and most recently to food, in the form of our new site Gastro Obscura: https://www.atlasobscura.com/gastro . -Josh

A:

Easiest to operate would be Justice League. You just need to hit the dispatch button. The tricky part happens when it pops up with an error and you need to know how to handle it. I'm not sure about the most entertaining, but it would probably be one of the launch rollercoasters (Superman or full throttle)


Q:

I haven't seen that movie in forever. I wonder if they're playing it this year. I had the quintessential 90's little boy haircut in that.

As for your question, I don't know. Michael, are you out there? It's me Spencer. We don't know each other but u/mrmightymyth wants us to make a movie. Let's do it. It could be a fucked up "Freaky Friday" type of thing. One of us swaps bodies with Jamie Lee Curtis and the other swaps with Ms. Lohan. Let's do this shit.

A:

Correct. I expect they will seize my phone this week. It might take them a bit longer, it's the holiday season and not many government employees are doing much by way of work. It's a question of how motivated they are to punish me, and how much bad press punishing me will get them. Being European, they are unlikely to send me to the solitary cells for this. Not for very long anyway. If I were from an African country for example the repercussions could be vastly worse for me.


Q:

-What sort of 'vetting', if any, happens to recommended locations in the Atlas? Do you have internal regulation to prevent businesses from adding themselves and cluttering up the directory?

A:

How long is your longest TATSUuuuUuuuuu uuu UU uUUUUUuuU!!!?


Q:

When will we see a sequel to Disney’s The Kid?

A:

If you don't mind me asking,

1.) what got you jailed? 2.) how long have you been there? 3.) what actions can you take to secure your release? 4.) could you contact your family? 5.) would you be able to get a public lawyer? 6.) is it near impossible to secure your release once there?


Q:

Good question! We definitely have to swat down the occasional business trying to pass as a wonder, though I kind of like the attempts sometimes. "Have you seen the stuff on the walls in this TGIF? It is truly un-be-lievable!" As for vetting, ee will also often follow up with the user who submitted it, and then from there we do a lot of checking with multiple sources, calling and talking to someone if there is a way to do that, and going in person if someone can! If we can't confirm something we will often just leave it unposted until we can! - Dylan

A:

I don't work at tatsu, but if I did I'd make that mother fucker long


Q:

When I finally become "The Man."

A:

I over stayed my visa. My fault, I admit it. Ive been here for several years and since the people who reported me and then stole everything I owned upon my arrest have no doubt made a complaint against me, I cannot be released. This is the beauty of it, if you are charged with a crime you get a trial, right? You have your chance to tell your side of the story. But a complaint goes to Immigration, not through any part of the legal/judiciary system. You do NOT get to tell your side of the story without an attorney. Hard to hire an attorney when everything you own has been stolen by the people that put you here. There are public attorneys. Once a year they come here, put up a big banner, sit with a few detainees and have their pictures taken. We do not hear from them again. Various human rights groups do the same. Unfortunately Amnesty International doesnt cover "detention camps", I dont know why. I dont have any family but others do and they have limited phone access and laptop access(international law says we get unlimited access. We dont.) to contact them. We get visitors a few days a week(international law says 7 days a week. Isnt applied to us). Getting released or deported varies for every individual. Getting released requires paying bribes. Very large bribes. With no guarentee you will actually be released. We have one guy here, already spent €50k to get bail, hes "out" on bail in a criminal case. He's still here. Its a good game. Getting released if you have criminal charges against you in your own country or an influential country like the U.S. is pretty much impossible. Ive seen it done, but we're talking bribes in the €100k+ ballpark, and even then... For the rest of us getting released is a question of money. Deported may be easier. You see, they dont like to release you once youve been here, you might file charges against them. We file charges against them from inside but we arent taken to the hearings so the charges get dismissed. Another good game.


Q:

What is the most strange thing you have ever seen in your life?

A:

Seen anyone throw up?


Q:

WHY in the hell did they film You Wish! in New Zealand??

A:

Damn. I can't imagine how it must be like.

It's really shitty that you're pretty much like one step higher from how actual criminals get treated just for overstaying.

I'm guessing the reason why they don't want anyone knowing anything is because what they're doing is borderline illegal and their abuse of authority would be put into question if people knew more about the situation.

Hope things get better. If it wouldn't be too risky, getting some evidence as to the conditions there could probably serve as a trump card in the future.


Q:

Hi everyone, it’s great to be here with all of you. This may be the recency effect speaking, but I think my answer has to be this summer’s total solar eclipse. Atlas Obscura organized an incredible 3-day science and music festival around the eclipse in the Eastern Oregon desert. Things happened to light and color in the moments around totality that I had never experienced before. It was like some weird photoshop filter had been applied to everything. The darkness of the moon was the darkest thing I’ve ever seen. The crispness of the shadows was so bizarre. This was my first eclipse. I’m planning to see as many as I can for the rest of my life. -Josh

A:

I haven't seen anyone throwup, but I've seen the aftermath. Not. Fun.


Q:

Cause it’s beautiful! Tax incentives too.

A:

We have it in spades. Doesnt make a difference. Without an Embassy to back you up, you cant get anywhere from within the system. We had a guy was locked up in solitary for months. His x-gf put him here and she told the officials he had TB, HIV, a host of diseases. They locked him in solitary as a protective measure, to keep us from getting infected. Until he payed for a medical examination which proved he didnt have any of those diseases. The first 4 days he was there they forgot to feed him. A rat bit him on the foot and he got no medical attention. This guys story was a nightmare. He joined my complaint to the Commission on Human Rights. They didnt want to touch it. His Embassy(U.S.) said "we cant get involved". He was here with no criminal charges, just a complaint from his x-girlfriend who was jealous that he found a new girl. They got him out after about half a year, thats fast. No Western embassy will touch this place. Unless you include the Israeli embassy. Their citizens dont stay here 24 hours, because their embassy informs the locals that after 24 hours the Israelis will get their citizen out and any dead bodies left behind are not their concern. I wish I was Israeli.


Q:

Hi guys! My question is: with all that Atlas Obscura is already doing, and how much the site/projects have grown...what's next? Are there any new projects or avenues on the horizon?

A:

What ride do you operate, and what do you want to operate? Also, do you know the average number of trains/riders per hour TC on normal op days/any explanation on why it never really gets to duel?


Q:

what is the perfect taco container, hard shell or soft wrap?

A:

As an NBI (like FBI) officer said to me..."you have no rights unless we choose to give them to you".

None of the embassies get involved unless their citizen is close to death. The usual response is "we cannot interfere in judicial matters or the internal affairs of another country".

In fact...sometimes it's the embassies that keep people here. People like Art Benjamin who is dying from multiple stage 3/4 cancers and probably has less than 4 months to live. Immigration wanted to grant him bail so that he could die with dignity in his home with his wife. But the US Embassy objected as he is facing duplicate charges in the US...charges that will go nowhere as he will be dead long before he touches US soul again.

So now he's stuck in an isolation cell, dying alone with no family to comfort or help him. He's in isolation to protect him as his immune system is weakened so severely.


Q:

Yeah, a whole host of stuff! We just launched Gastro Obscura which is our attempt to catalog the world's unusual and fascinating foods and food places, we are working on AO kids book for 2018, and maybe the most exciting thing is that in the last year we started running these real world international trips. So we just took a group to Ukraine and into Chernobyl, we took a group to the Amazon and everyone put a whip spider on their face, ha (not required) and we are going to Romania, Mexico City, the Arctic and like 20 more places next year! -Dylan

A:

I mainly operate Justice League, but I think it would be fun to do Superman or one of those launch rides. Idk qbout twisted though, never worked there. My guess is that they want to launch the trains asap


Q:

A soft corn tortilla does the trick every time.

A:

It isn't legal. No, there is little criticism of our host country as most Western countries have agreements with them that allow them to work around the lack of an extradition treaty. In exchange for co-operation on law and order and security issues, the Western countries turn a blind eye to this place. When you complain to your embassy about your illegal detention you inevitably hear "we can't get involved".


Q:

Hi guys! My question is: with all that Atlas Obscura is already doing, and how much the site/projects have grown...what's next? Are there any new projects or avenues on the horizon?

A:

Who is your man-crush?


Q:

We get them occasionally but I don't know where they come from.

A:

And if you haven't seen it, you should check out Atlas Obscura's foray into VR, hosted by Dylan and our Senior Editor Ella Morton. https://www.atlasobscura.com/vr -Josh


Q:

Iggy Pop.

A:

Umm... Right.......


Q:

Do you have any recommendations for college grads with a summer to spend before starting work?... and limited funds?

A:

What kind of restrictions and rules are put on your animation team and the movie in general and, what kind of splitting up do you do with your budget?


Q:

The best adventure I ever had in my life was the two months I spent driving all over the United States when I was 20. I had a a minivan that I slept in the back of. I think my total expenses for seven weeks was like $1800. But gas was something like $1/gallon back then. I don't think you could pull it off on that budget today. -Josh

A:

I have zero idea. I just know that the bulk of the budget does not go to me. I do know however that animators work their asses off and deserve lots of money.


Q:

what's the happiest place in the database?

A:

What is the best thing that has happened to you this year?


Q:

Well, this is apparently the happiest house in the database: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/happy-rizzi-house -Josh

A:

I got to marry the love of my life! She’s a brilliant artist from Tasmania, and a total babe.


Q:

[deleted]

A:

Well two heads are better than one. Your wife will hate that joke but being from Tasmania she will get it. Best wishes to you both!


A:

Those are only the Tasmanians who prefer Boag's over Cascade.


Q:

Users, please be wary of proof. You are welcome to ask for more proof if you find it insufficient.

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A:

Isn't that civil war talk down there?

By the way, have enjoyed your movies, always made us laugh. All the best!


Q:

Oh, I have to push back on the the non-obscurity of Gastro Obscura foods. Have you dived into our database yet? https://www.atlasobscura.com/foods -Josh

A:

Thanks!


Q:

I love your website! It's definitely inspired me to travel more, but a lack of extensive transportation funds quickly becomes an issue for me. Have you encountered any lesser-known ways to do travel on the cheap?

A:

What is your honest opinion of Santa Clause 3? Do you think there would ever be a 4th movie?


Q:

We believe that you don't have to travel halfway around the world to discover wonder. It's right around the corner, and in your own backyard, if you're looking for it. That's part of why we created Atlas Obscura. We wanted to give people (and give ourselves!) a tool to find the nearby wondrous and curious places that don't require jumping on a plane to visit. -Josh

A:

I actually rewatched it a couple of weeks ago, as my wife likes to do instagram stories panning back and forth between Little Me on the TV and Current Me sitting on the couch drinking bourbon. Honestly as far as kids movies go I've seen way worse. None of us thought it'd be the next Citizen Kane. It's super cool as a parent getting to show the movie to my (nearly) four year old and to see other young kids getting enjoyment out of it. To quote The Hold Steady, "the kids at their shows, they'll have kids of their own."


Q:

I love your website! It's definitely inspired me to travel more, but a lack of extensive transportation funds quickly becomes an issue for me. Have you encountered any lesser-known ways to do travel on the cheap?

A:

Thanks for being a part of my childhood. What was it like working on the cat in the hat and the santa clause?


Q:

Oh man, Dylan, why are you always dumping on North Dakota? Hello... Nekoma Pyramids (https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/pyramid-north-dakota) and Albino bison (https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/white-cloud-dakota-miracle-and-dakota-legend)! -Josh

A:

I had a really good time and am grateful for those experiences. I was 10 when I made "Cat In The Hat" and "SC2" and I don't think the enormity of those projects between budgets, cultural impact, or whatever really hit me at the time. Looking back I just think about how fucking huge and cool it is that I got to do that at that age.


Q:

I love your website! It's definitely inspired me to travel more, but a lack of extensive transportation funds quickly becomes an issue for me. Have you encountered any lesser-known ways to do travel on the cheap?

A:

Danse Macabre? That's just not true, is it Dylan? I do remember the Encyclopedia of Wonder, which sounds like a series of books my 8-year-old self would have spent a whole lot of time with. -Josh


Q:

Describe your D&D campaign! What kind of obscure stuff do you put in it?

A:

YES! This is the question I have been waiting for. I definitely do take inspiration from Atlas Obscura for my campaigns. I ran a homebrew one set in 1970s america motorcycle culture, that was all about the occult / cults where drug use was kind of like doing magic, ha. When I am running a more traditional game (doing a 5e in a Faerun type setting) I might take something from Atlas like the "Living Root Bridges" and then push them farther into the fantastical by making them sentient and aware of the land's deep geological time. Part of what I love about the Atlas Obscura is that for me it makes the world's feel more like a stange fantasy setting so the line between magical and mundane blurs in both directions! -Dylan


Q:

Wow! I am honored!

When you add elements from Atlas Obscura in, do you sometimes confuse them with things you’ve created?

A:

It all sort of blends together in the game world! Luckily it generally doesn't go in the other direction, or we would have entries like a "bridge built from a magical dragon's spine" in the Atlas Obscura, which would be cool until someone tried to visit it and it was just an Arby's parking lot :) -Dylan