The Sister Cities Of Houston: A Critical Appraisal, Part 1

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With the recent addition of Karachi, Pakistan, Houston now is a sister to 18 other cities around the world. Hair Balls is on the case - we studied all of them so you wouldn't have to.

In the interest of brevity, though, we are parceling out our findings over the next couple of days. Here are the first nine:

Sister: Grampian Region, Scotland

How we are sisterly: The oil capital of the UK. Plenty of golf courses.

How we are not: It's a region, not a city, and you can play golf on all those courses maybe three weeks a year. While they allegedly speak English there, they say things like "Och aye the noo," which isn't really English at all.

Fun Facts: If you best all your fellow Grampians in certain sanctioned local events, you are entitled to call yourself "the Grampian Champion." Aberdeen, the Grampian Champion city, is the hometown of Annie Lennox.

Sister: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

How we are sisterly: Oil again. It's also a port. Abu Dhabi's even more of a jumped-up petro-boomtown than Houston, as until about 1960, the entire city consisted of date farmers and pearl divers living in a cluster of mud-brick and palm-frond huts. Today, it's an immigrant-heavy city of 860,000 with shoddy public transport, heavy traffic congestion, and a sprawling ring of suburbs. There's a concerted effort on the part of city fathers - and make no mistake, they are "fathers" in this part of the world - to make Abu Dhabi the home of "world-class" culture, the high-toned, high art capital of the Middle East. Also, it's hot. In short, this place is Houston in 1955.

How we are not: Well, there is that whole Islam deal, so we imagine they don't really have analogues to Montrose or the Washington Avenue strip.

Fun Facts: The city is home Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship and plans are afoot for the largest fireworks display in the history of the whole entire world.

Sister: Baku, Azerbaijan

How we are sisterly: Another port, another oil hub. Like Houston, Baku was shot down in their Olympics bid. UNESCO has said the city does a very poor job of historic preservation.

How we are not: UNESCO said that about Baku and not Houston because Baku is some 1,200 years older than Houston and has the dwindling stock of architecture to prove it.

Fun Facts: In Old Persian, Baku means "wind-pounded city." Texas music legend Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown had a killer instrumental track called "Near Baku." And according to Wikipedia, "Heydar Aliyev Palace, one of the main venues featuring sizeable performances (e.g. that of Coolio), has recently reopened after a major refurbishment." So that's where Coolio went.

Sister: Chiba, Japan

How we are sisterly: It's a port. And they too have a red panda in their zoo. Wikipedia says that Chiba's panda is "Futa, who stands with human-like posture." Muscle-bound former Astros slugger Pete Incaviglia stumbled around right field with human-like posture for the Chiba Lotte Marines after leaving Houston. Also, like Houston, Chiba has exactly six Wards. Cool!

How we are not: Unlike Chiba, Houston does not sport the longest monorail in the world, nor were we the partial setting for William Gibson's Neuromancer.

Fun Facts: Chiba is home to the world's largest shellmound. In case you were wondering, people have dumped lots of shells on the ground in Chiba for many thousands of years. Also, the town's name was briefly used as slang for pot.

Sister: Nanjing, China

How we are sisterly: Oil is one of the city's "Five Pillar Industries." It's an inland port, kinda like Houston.

How we are not: Thankfully, unlike Nanjing, Houston has never been "raped." In 1937, the Japanese Army rampaged through the city (then called Nanking) and massacred an estimated 300,000 people.

Fun Facts: They really dig fruit - yearly Nanking festivals include events saluting plums, peaches, "fruit" generally, and sweet osmanthus, which we are going to presume is one of those fruits we have seen in Hong Kong City Market's produce section.

Sister: Guayaquil, Ecuador

How we are sisterly: Hot, humid, port, lots of Spanish-speaking going on. In both cities, the city government feels the need to boost the self-esteem of the citizens.

How we are not: Five-foot iguanas patrol the city's parks, and Houston has not yet been invaded by the Peruvian military, not even once, much less twice.

Fun Facts: Texan animator/moviemaker Mike Judge was born in Guayaquil, as was the rapper Gerardo of "Rico Suave" infamy. Eat the video raw like sushi here: (You thought he was Puerto Rican, admit it.)

Sister: Huelva, Spain

How we are sisterly: Another maritime town. Houston actually has more Spanish-speakers than this tiny Spanish city of 145,000.

How we are not: Like we said, Huelva is tiny. Like smaller-than-Pasadena tiny. All the major Spanish cities must have been taken when Houston agreed to take in this primordial dwarf of a sister.

Fun Facts: When it was conquered by the Romans, Huelva was under the control of a people known as the Turdetani. Christopher Columbus plotted his voyages here, some (people in the Huelva tourist trade) say.

Sister: Istanbul, Turkey

How we are sisterly: Yes, we are sisters with the mighty Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul, but we are one of 50-plus, a list which also includes places called Osh, Johar Baru and Busan. Anyway, it's also a port, and Houston does have a few good Turkish restaurants and hookah bars.

How we are not: Where to begin? We really outkicked our coverage sistering up with this place. We'll just leave it at Houston never being the seat of World Empire, not once but twice under different regimes. I mean hell, their Galleria is the Grand Bazaar, which was founded in 1461.

Fun Facts: Napoleon once said "If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital." By contrast, we have "Houston: It's Worth It."

Sister: Leipzig, Germany

How we are sisterly: Like Houston, turned down as host of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Both cities have rich musical traditions. Leipzig has been home to Wagner, Felix Mendelssohn, Schumann and Bach over the years, while we have been home to Bobby Bland, Lightnin' Hopkins, ZZ Top, Beyonce and Willie Nelson.

How we are not: Pretty much everything else. Houston is not really landlocked, nor has it ever been either Nazi or Communist, as has the formerly East German Leipzig. Leipzig's 600-year-old university has Rice outclassed at the moment, as former students include Goethe, Nietzsche, Leibniz, and four Nobel Prize winners from various disciplines.

Fun Facts: Lepizig hosts the world's largest Goth and "dark culture" festival in the Wave-Gotik-Treffen at Pentecost. Und now it's time vee dahntz.

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