My Last Breakfast

September 14, 2009 by

Wow.  How can I possibly describe to you how amazing these past three months have been?  I don’t know that I can.  Not yet, at least.

I had my last interview on Friday, and have been relaxing since then – not setting an alarm, reading in the Park (reading fun books about magicians and hobbits, and similar things.  also cookbooks.  which are strangely really cathartic if they’re good. or if I’m hungry).

And, to be honest, I was hoping that a few days of not worrying about the trip, and what it all meant, and what I still have to do (i’m kind of looking forward to the paper, actually), would give me some perspective.  I was hoping I could dazzle everyone with a concise summary of everything that’s happened and what it means, to me, and for everyone.

But that’s not going to be possible.  So we’re just going to run with it.  So here’s the summary of the past three months of my life:

I don’t think you ever really realize how big the world is until you travel all the way around it in a short period of time.  Moving every couple of days (the longest I stayed still was 5) really keeps you on edge, and makes you realize how much of life exists outside of what we currently experience.  Guide books are super popular with travellers (although I never bought one), and when you travel like I did, you realize that 1)I barely scratched the surface of anything in the guide book.  We’ll say 2 pages of 100.  and 2) that the guide books barely scratch the surface of everything that goes on in a given place. we’ll say 2 books in an entirely library.

I hope that made sense, but travelling like this gives you an appreciation for 1)how big the world is, and how small we can seem in comparison. 2)how that doesn’t matter at all, actually. and 3) it givse you an appreciation for where I’ve come from.

Sorry, I keep jumping from you to I to you again.  And excuse my bad grammar, but I’m just going to run with it.  Again.

Traveling, and talking with the people I’ve met, you (aghhh) I’ve come to realize that the best times are when you get to immerse yourself in the culture andt he lives of the people around you – eating with loacls, learning the customs, etc. etc.  The tourist sites are great, don’t get me wrong, but definitely not the highlights.  And I think that there’s a really important truth hidden in this fact.  and I don’t think it has anything to do with traveling.  I think it has to do with how we look at our own daily lives.  Because that’s where the adventure is.  Because, as great as I am, I dont’ think the Circumnavigator’s Club and Northwestern U can afford to sponsor me indefinitely.  I think what I’ve learned is that just because I’m not crossing borders and failing miserably at learning a language, doesn’t mean that I can’t explore the world around me.  Too often, I think we all get caught up in our daily lives, and don’t really get a sense of how amazing and vibrant they actually are.  And that’s the perspective that I think this trip has given me.  It will let me go home and be a “traveler” in my own city, my own country.  It will let me see everything that my life at home has to offer in a completely new light, an exciting light.

Did that make sense?

A summary of the summary then: The world is entirely too big for its own good in that there is such a wealth of experience waiting out there for anyone that has the opportunity (in my case, the blessing) to go explore it.  The people you meet, the places you see, the food you eat, the beers and wines you drink (yes, I’ve been blessed to go to three countries – chile, australia, and s. africa – where good wine is as cheap as water), and everything in between is the amazing experiences that you never forget in a lifetime.  Looking back over the past three months, I’ve done things that I want to tell my grandchildren about, met people that I can’t wait to see again.  And with all of those three months, I’m going to go home in a few hours, and hopefully make Evanston that much more exciting – with the aforementioned perspective, with some hilarious stories, and with an appreciation for everyone that’s helped me on this fantastic journey of discovery.

Did that makes sense?  A summary of the summary of the summary, then:

Traveling is AWESOME, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Did that make sense?  A summary of the summary, etc. etc.:

In the words of Calvin: “The world is a magical place.  Let’s go exploring!”

Thank you everyone for your support, for reading my sometimes really long blog posts, for giving me what has been three of the best months of my life.  I could not have done it without the support of the Circumnavigator’s Club, Northwestern University, my family, my friends,  all of the amazing people that I’ve met and worked with this summer.

Luck to You!

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A race

September 7, 2009 by

to see what dies first- my internet time or my battery. and again I can’t see what I’m writing.  I’m in Kruger National Park, the last Park on my itinerary, and like all of the Parks I’ve been to in Africa – it’s awesome!  Lots of big game, lots of epic landscapes, and some really friendly people.  Kruger is interesting because the Park is actually jointly managedd across three countries.  Well Kruger is only South African, but it’s part of a bigger park, the limpopo park, which is a lot bigger and crosses national boundaries and provides a much better model for game management than three separate parks.  As people like to say, animals and plants don’t respect borders.

South Africa is nice, but dangerous.  There’s a lot of electric fences.  But I had a good birthday the other day!  Hung out with Joel, a New Zealand zoo guy who works with elepants and sea lions.  weird combo, yes, but hey, what do  I know about zoos?  Will post tomorrow when I get a chance, and add pictures which I haven’t done in a while.

The Final Countdown

September 3, 2009 by

Wow, so I’ve reached my final country! It’s been an absolutely amazing summer. And before I say more, my computer is being funky, and I can’t actually see anything that I am tying at the moment. So I apologize in advance for any spelling mistakes. I will try to rememer my high school tying class days, but I can’t promise anything.

So where have i been for a week? That is a very good question. I have not been shirking my duties as the moment of truth approaches. I am actually now in South Africa, although when you last talked to me I’m not sure where I was. I think I was in Vietnam, and completely ignored my time in ATanzania (and it wasa very good time) – so I will take a long time to catch you up.

But, anyway. It’s Sept. 3rd. My fellow circumnavigator’s have long started schoool.. I’ve been gone for almost three months now. crazy. wow. when you can’t see what you’re writing, it’s really hard to control what you say. Okay. let’s try again.

In tanzania. What have I done? I was on safari! duh! what does anyone that goes to tanzania do? there’s actually a spot on the visa application for what safari company you are going to book with. because tourism to the national parks is THAT big. actually it’s only big to a few parks – serengeti. ngorogoro. but those make up the entiretiy of the Park services budget (TANAPA it’s called there). anyway. I went on a visit to tthree big Parks on the northern circuit, the circuit that has been the country’s money maker for the past forever, and that is getting hurt by theglobal economic slowdown.

Tourism is great whif you need an alternative for the really bad really environmentally unfriendly pratices of mining oand logging that traditionally go on inside protected areas. Especially if you’re talking about local communities – there’ s an obvious desire to promote tourism. you can involve local tcommunities, rich foreigners get to see the cool stuff, and everyone wins. But what do you do if the economy slows down? well, tanzania does what anyone would do when you don’t have money. you dont’ spend anything (although this might not be true, if you read stuff aout America in general or any of the other stuff going on). And so the big probelm right now in Tanzania is how to fund the asome of teh amazing programs that they have? And they have some good ones – ones that the US Park Service should be jealous of. their outreach program, which basically funds schools, health clinics, and so many other investments in the local areas (this is what my project is about!)! i love it!). has no money. their budge talready a measly 7% of the Park Service’s tourism revenues, has been cut in half. the danger of relying on foreign visitors is what happens if the tourists stop coming, or in Tanzania’s case, they come still, but don’t stay as long, and spend less money. So the communities are seeing less benefit, and one of the programs that could be a model for the rest of the world, is struggling.

but that’s asad. i dont’ want to talk about that. i’m sitting in acafe, eating pizza (with chili sauce , which is definitely NOT pesto! oh my god, i’m crying right now. people are giving me looks.) and I want to talk about happy stuff. Like the cheetah that I saw hunt and kill a gazella. How awesome is that!? The serengeti is absolutely amazing, but like everywhere, none of the visitors are the poor locals. they’re too busy working, usually as cooks for the tourists. although I did learn in a report that the serengeti and the kilamanjaro circuits are actually some of the best tourist ventures thao get income directly to the poor locals, mainly through a strong tipping system and high wages. The problem with a lot of tourism that replaces extractive activities in pakrs is that tehy actually don’t do what they say – they actually don’t provide help to locals, just the business owners (although this is still true in tanzania. everyone and their mother wants to start a tourism business. because only by owning, rather than working for one, do you make money)

where was I? anyway, so tanzania actually does a better job than most for getting a tangible benefit in the the terms of higher wages to local people. Whcich is a good thing. The fact that everyone wants tme to give them my phone number and email so they can get the capital to start their own business shows though that tehere are still really big problems. Everyone wants to move up because the benfits o the owners are so much higher than aworkers. it’s kind of sad. especialyl whne you consider how much work the cooks and guides do,.

god there’s so much! tI haven’t slept in three days – the product of really long bus rides, delays, and sitting in an airport overnight. who wants to pay 30$ for five hours of sleep? so forgive the ctrazy attitude. I’m a little jittery right now on coke (the drink kind. the circumnavigator’s don’t give me THAT much money)

haha. sorry. very poor taste. But again, I’m semi delusional right now, and fortunately my hostel is right down the street from my internet cafe.

So I’ve spent my time on safair, yes, but that’s not very academic right? I’ve also spent another gruelling few days in teh library of the Park headquarters. The books and reports they have in the libraries I’ve been too have been great. A lot more than you can find on the internet, except for the Park documents. The libraries are alsways super modern, EXCEPt when it comes to actual documents relating to their own parks. The Tanzanian one has books about sustainable development from as recently as 2007 – really cutting edge stuff that I really wanted to borrow, because they’d cost me a bundle normally. and actual readable stuff too, not the typical scientific mumbo jumob that normally plagues penvironmental books. bgut the most recent park management plan – the core tenet of Park services’s plans to manage their parks and the motivation that tehy get their day to day functiosn from – are usually ono newer than the milenium. Explain that!

If you insist. A lot of it has to do with the hadvent of computers and now a lot of Park documents are online. So I’m just being mean right? Wrong! Because al ot of the Park services, especially in teh developing world, barely have a functinoal website that’s been updated in five years, let alone the archives of all teh revlevant park documents that should be on their. Hopefully, this situation can only get better, but still, I wouldn’t mind NOT spending 10 hours a day in a small room that seems to always fill up with dust and the occasional wasp/hornet. The librarians are always nice though. So that’s a plus.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough for one post, and I have lots more to follow – i think you guys will enjoy the one about my actualy safari, which I shared with an italian couple, a surly tourist guide, a devout muslim cook who was fasting all day while preparing our food, and three very annoying, lvoed to whine canadian girls my age. It sounds like a bad joke, and in some sense int was, but it was also absolutely amazing. Makes me miss being a kid again, when I coudl get to experience so many new cool paces.

But who am I kidding? I know this summer has been amazing, but the amount of stunning, breathtaking places let in the world is larger than I could go to in a lifetime.

Sorry for the ramblingness, and the occasionaly offensive joke. I will come back when I have a good two (maybe three ) hours of sleep behind me. Adieu!

Why the desert is the coldest place on the planet + the real reasons I don’t like running.

August 25, 2009 by

Hello from Doha , Qatar – my last layover!  I’m in the middle of a massive two days travel journey to take me from Southeast Asia to East Africa, and I’ve been sitting/napping in a corner of the Doha International Airport for 6 hours now -just a few more, and then I get to get on another 6 hour flight.  I can’t believe I am about to start the last leg of my journey – it’s going by so quickly, it’s unbelievable.

But you know how if you makes something really cold, it will last a lot longer? Well, whoever designed the airport at Doha wanted to make my time here last as long as physically possible.   I feel like Ted Williams, or better yet Dr. Evil in his massive Big Boy statute in outer space.  It’s so cold!  I can barely think, and wearing shorts doesn’t help (all my pants are in my luggage).  Fortunately, I was able to find a small hole to crawl into (not a hole, just a secluded little area) that had a modicum of warmth and let me grab an hour or two of shut eye.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I already miss the sticky, sweaty, dirty, humid air of Hanoi and Vietnam.  I can’t imagine that anyone is actually comfortable in this A/C (if you can call it that – air conditioned is a misnomer.  more like air that’s really really cold and very uncomfortable.  god I can’t even think of witticisms to entertain you!  see what it’s done to me).  They could save a lot of energy and a lot of money just by cranking the thermostat up a few notches, and it’d still be cold.  Definitely overkill.

Anyway, after my last post, I decided that I was being silly and that I’d give running another shot.  Epic fail.  Sam: 0.  Tree & sidewalk: 1.   There were just too many people, and even though I successfully made it to the local Park by not getting killed by traffic (no small feat) – there were just too many people going every which way to ever have a rhythm.  Finally, as I should have predicted, I was coming up on a family when their 3 yr old son ran away from his mother and right into my path.  It was either into the lake or into a mudpatch surrounding one of the nice shade trees around said lake.  Not particularly fond of water, I tried my luck with the mud, slipped, and went down hard.  Fortunately, no broken bones, just some scrapes bruises and wounded pride.  And a strengthened resolve not to run again.

Anyway, one last thought- much more random, but since this whole post is random, why not.  watched North by Northwest on the plane for the first time.  It was absolutely great.  A wonderful movie.  But then I watched Fast and Furious and enjoyed it as well.  So go figure that one out.

Why I don’t like running.

August 21, 2009 by

I’ve been gone for 2 months now, and I have run at most 7 of those days – most of them in Australia, in the big cities.  With senior year coming up, and my last chance at doing anything extraordinary with rowing, I was a little scared that I wouldn’t be able to stay in shape this summer – but I had a plan, and I knew that running chances would be few and far between and that I should use them whenever – after all, doing push-ups in your hotel room can only take you so far.

So why haven’t I run more?  Well, at first I told myself that it wasn’t safe a lot of places – and this is certainly true.  Most of the big cities I’ve been in don’t have Parks nearby, and running on the street, even if there is a sidewalk is almost impossible with the crowds, and dangerous with the cars.  But I’d be lying if I said that that was the only reason that I’ve run so little.  Because, the be honest, some places, there have been opportunities to run – Hanoi is one.  But still I hesitate.

And I didn’t really want to admit to myself why, until I read something in the book I’m reading about fortune tellers in the Far East.  The author was in Cambodia during the UN elections, and one evening at dusk, he was in a fortune teller’s house as UN officials ran by, getting their daily exercise.  The author, now at the end of the chapter, says of the two different lifestyles – that of the old fortune teller and that of the modern jogger: “two worlds that will never meet, however they may run”.

Sidenote: this is kind of hypocritical – the author jogs daily as well, but his entire book is about meeting this old world, about rejecting the modern, even though he accepts part of it as well.   I will come back to this, so don’t forget.

But as for why I don’t like running, I finally realized that there is a chasm between my world of exercising for fun, and the lifestyle I’d be running through and I feel out of place – much more than just walking around or even taking pictures.  Something just doesn’t feel right – I’d feel the same if some one drove a rickshaw down Washington St. in Columbus.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of – it just seems wrong for some reason.  And that uneasiness, no matter how unrational, is what’s truly kept me off the streets.  I am pretty sure that’s kind of crazy, but who knows?  No one else runs, and maybe it’s just me trying to blend in – to be a part of Vietnam or Peru or wherever, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, remember when I told you to remember?  I was talking about the author, who was being kind of hypocritical, which happens to everyone.  His book reminds me a lot of Desert Solitaire, a great book about National Parks in Utah, and both talk at length about the dangers of modernity and how the world is a worse place because of commercialization and modern (read: western) development.  And there is definitely some truth to that, but like all things, there’s another side.  And I don’t even want to say that western modernity is good (even though it is) I take issue with the author’s tacit assumption (although I should note that I’m drawing inferences that could very likely not even be there) that Western culture doesnt’ have a history, that it’s homogenous and lacks any character.  And I really hate that!  I absolutely love stories of my parents’ generation and my grandparents generation – the stories are larger than life in some sense.   Growing up in a small town, I definitely have felt the heritage of middle america.  And it’s lovely.  So maybe the author would say that even that is disappearing beneath industrialization (also probably true), but I dont’ like that he doesn’t specify this.  But it’s his book, and if he had to go to all that trouble, it wouldn’t be as good.  Basically, like the museum in Saigon, and like so many things, I just wish people would clarify their positions a little more to more accurately describe what’s going on.  That might make zero sense, but it’s late, and it’s my bed time.  And I’m going to go running in the morning, so I have to get up early.

Ha.

Walking over a big bridge + a new haircut + finding out why I will never walk back over that same bridge = one of the best days thus far

August 21, 2009 by

After my trip to Ha Long Bay, I had to spend a day in Ha Long the town that serves the Bay and is also a large port for the coal and oil industry that work in the nearby mountains.  And they are big industries – they’ve drudged a channel through the bay so that the big tankers can come through.  Ha Long is famous for the tourism, but the coal and oil industries bring a lot more money and people (70:30) to the city.  The city itself is kind of interesting.   Two juts of land cut off a large portion of the Bay, and the city is built on these two pieces of land that, by car, are actually very far apart.  A ferry service used to connect the two, but this is very uneconomical, and the Japanese gov’t loaned Vietnam (a poor country, so it needed the loan) money to construct a large bridge crossing the channel between the two.  It’s a very large suspension bridge that connects the two, but still allows the tanker ships to pass under and dock in the docile waters behind Halong.  As my Vietnamese host told me, the next generation will be stuck paying back the Japanese, with interest.  The bridge itself is beautiful though – I absolutely adore bridges of all kinds, and was very happy to see that there was a walking path over its span. 

I was staying on the west shore of Halong, near the port where all of the junks pick up the tourists from Hanoi (and there are lots of junks, and more tourists).  That side of the channel was almost exclusively for the tourism industry, and to get to the main part of Halong, one had to cross the bridge to the east.  This disparity is apparent the moment you can see buildings on each side.  The tourist side is all hotels and nightclubs, but in the east there are large cement apartmet complexes, the streets are narrower, and it’s not quite as clean.  Walking over the bridge though was great, even though it was scorching hot – The views of the Bay on both sides, of the famous stone islands, and of the tankers loaded with their hauls is breathtaking from those heights, and you get a sense of the world that is lost when you’re on the ground.  One of the biggest disappointments of going into the jungle (both in Peru and Malaysia and Vietnam) is that you’re too low to see any majestic scenery.  You can still see cool things, but none of the landscapes that will always characterize National Parks for me.  Suspension bridges like in Halong let you do that, and it’s great.

Once I crossed the bridge to the east (I was killing time before my interview), it wasa different place.  Halong has been the first place in Vietnam or Malaysia that hasn’t felt cramped to me – there aren’t the crowds of people buying and selling, there aren’t the crowds of motor bikes and cars that pollute everything so that you can barely see, let alone breathe.  It was welcome, although the heat was still just as bad.  I was walking along the road that follows the edge of the Bay, and I passed, in turn, three street vendors, a barber, and ten old men playing a board game in a Park.  I stopped to watch their game, of which I understood absolutely nothing, even after 15 minutes, but my thoughts kept going back to the barber.  I hadn’t had my hair cut since I left, and my hair has been bugging me – I moved out of my big hair phase after 8th grade (there was plenty of hair then to last me a lifetime), and especially in the tropics, a lot of hair is a big nuisance.  So I backtracked and watched him work – a test if you will.

Now, this barber didn’t actually have a shop, but had brought a barber chair and a mirror to hang on the wall in the shade of a large tree.  And right there on the sidewalk, he plyed his wares to the locals – a few, older men had congregated and were more interested in gossiping than getting a trim.  So, needing a break from the walking, and walking a break from long hair, I sat down in his chair after agreeing to something (i’m not sure what, exactly).  He spoke absolutely no english, I speak no vietnamese, but I had resigned myself to put my hair into his hands. 

And they were very capable hands.  After a wonderful hair cut, a completely unnecessary shave (I shaved before I left the States, so I was good for a few more months), and some kind of ear cleaning (felt wonderful), I walked away a much happier, and much lighter man.  And for less than 7 dollars.  Best hair cut I’ve ever had.

And then I had my interview with Kung, a local who is running the EcoBoat project in Halong Bay to educate local children about environmental issues.  With his friend Chung, we went to the beach and talked for a few hours drinking coconut milk straight from the large fruit (Is coconut a fruit?) watching the tourists swim and jet-ski by.  It was a lovely evening and we parted ways for a short while so that Kung could go to his second job to teach english – he is an amazing guy with many many talents.

Later that night, we met back up and went to a park underneath the bridge, now lit up and even more glorious than in the day.  After getting a few beers from a street vendor, we sat down to chat – they were very curious about America, especially football – and to enjoy the evening.  Eventually the topic of fortunte tellers came up – they are still very polular in Vietnam.  I am reading a book at the moment about fortune tellers in the Far East, and they’ve always fascinated me.  My two friends told me about the most famous seer in Hanoi, who could locate the bodies of MIA soldiers from all of the wars.  The seer had been proven many correct many times, sometimes even with DNA pulled from unidentifiable bones, and Kung’s family wanted to hire him to locate his grandfather – lost in the Japanese invasion in the 40s.  no luck so far, though, the waiting list is so long.

The seer had also made a famous prediction about the bridge, to which our attention now turned to.  Bridges like that take on an other-worldliness in the night, being lit up and quiet and majestic.  They’re very unnatural looking, but very cool.  My friends told me that the famous seer had predicted that 208 people would die from the bridge before harmony was restored.  To date, over 50 young people have committed suicide by jumping from its heights.   Both warned me not to repeat my walk over the bridge again – a warning I will take very seriously.

But then the conversation turned back to lighter subjects, and I ended what turned out to be one of the most pleasant and fun days of my journey on a good note.   I have the weekend left in Hanoi before I fly back to Saigon to connect to Quatar and then Tanzania!  But it’s dinner time, and I’ve eaten nothing but Pringles all day, so until next time.

The creepiest trash cans in the world

August 21, 2009 by

Another thing that I forgot to mention in the last post that added to my general uneasiness and unhappiness in Ha Long Bay (which I enjoyed immensely regardless) were what I found to be the creepiest trashcans in the world.  They were at Surprising Cave, the biggest cave in the Bay, a massive tourist destination, and some were absolutely useless, and reinforced the idea I’ve come across so often that people are easily decieved, especially tourists.

Anyway, enough build up – the trash cans themselves.  They’re penguins!  Giant creepy, with big eyes, that you pull their beak down and drop your trash into their stomach.  I dont’ know what it was, but they seem so out of place already.  (For one, I’m pretty sure the only penguins that close to the equator are in a zoo).  They really freaked me out.

Most of them had a bin inside to collect the trash, and the penguins were probably a way to keep the local monkeys out of the garbage, but there were a few penguins missing the back door.  When a tourist would throw something away, the garbage would just fall out the back, roll down the hill, and collect at the bottom of that part of the cave.  It was completely worthless, but I seriously doubt any tourist realized what was actually going on.  I probably wouldn’t if I wasn’t so creepy out with one to stare at it for a while.

So what’s the point?  it’s about the power of the guarantee – with the new ecotourism boom, which is definitely a good thing, how do you know that anybody is actually doing anything good?  In Malaysia, we stayed at a “litter-free” resort – the junks try to be “eco-friendly”, etc. etc.  They’re all guarantees, but how do you know what’s going on?  I think Chris Farley put it best in Tommy Boy: “Here’s the way I see it, Ted. Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box ’cause he wants you to fell all warm and toasty inside.   It makes a man feel good.  Why shouldn’t it? Ya figure you put that little box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by and leave a quarter, am I right?  But, the point is, how do you know the fairy isn’t a crazy glue sniffer? “Building model airplanes” says the little fairy; well, we’re not buying it. He sneaks into your house once, that’s all it takes. The next thing you know, there’s money missing off the dresser, and your daughter’s knocked up. I seen it a hundred times. “

Now, all hyperbole aside, he’s got a point.  How on earth did I know if the resort was litter-free?  How do I know that the trash from the penguins even gets thrown away?  When I lived in the dorm, I would use the provide recycling bins, but everyone said that it all went into the trash.  So, I think that when there is so that we have to take for granted (I don’t want to spend my vacation making sure that the resort is what it says it is), I think regulation is going to be really important.  Which pains me to say, because I tend to be against regulations – they don’t seem to work effectively, if at all, but I don’t know if there is any alternative.

The Descending Dragon has some technical problems.

August 21, 2009 by

Ah, again, a long absence between posts.  I’m going to chalk this one up to technical problems, which seems to be a catch-all for anytime something goes wrong.  Like my place to Hanoi from Saigon.  I arrive at 7 for a 9 AM flight, but my flight had been cancelled because of “technical problems”.  So when I ask when I can get to Hanoi, they say 8 PM.  Now, I don’t want to sit around the airport for a day, so I ask them to check again.  It turns out they have a 10 AM flight – not bad at all.  But it’s also been cancelled – technical problems again.  Finally, after a lot of smiling, a lot of pleasantries, they find a 2:50 PM for me.  I get my boarding pass, and all is well in the world.

Until 2:50 that is.  They call my flight a little late (no worries), and everyone queues up – I’m about halfway back of a very long line, must be a full flight (a little worried – full flights are never good).  Everything is going swimmingly, until I get to the front, and they pull me aside (big worries).  The manager on duty comes over and says that they’ve cancelled the 2:50 flight because of technical difficulties (massive confusion).  I ask where everyone that is now boarding the plane is going – for an answer, he shows me his computer that has 0 passengers on the 2:50 flight.  Now I am really confused, because there have been at least 150 people get on the 2:50 plane for Hanoi.  Finally, after being told to come back at 8 PM to get another flight, and after just staying standing at the counter smiling, they come to me and ask if I have any luggage.  It is the first time I have been happy that I did carry-on only.  They put me on a bus, and drive me out to the plane, which is sitting far out on the tarmac, obviously ready to take off.  I get the last seat on the plane, and finally managed to get to Hanoi.

But I didn’t really spend a lot of time there, although writing this I am back after a few days absence.  I went to Ha Long Bay, the famous world heritage site, and one of the most sought after locations in Southeast Asia.   Ha Long means “Descending Dragon” and it’s spectacular.  I had some interviews in Ha Long (the city that adjoins the bay), but I wanted to stay on one of the famous junks that have prowled the bay for centuries, so I joined a short tour from my hotel.  The Bay itself is great – I got to kayak and swim and go through one of the many caves in the area.

But, to be honest, I was a little disappointed.  There are just too many tourists doing exactly the same thing.  This is the first time on my trip that I’ve felt overwhelmed by the amount of tourists near me, and I don’t think I am easily upset – Machu Picchu has tons, Australia has tons, Malaysia tons.  But it hit me sitting on my junk after dinner, and listening to all of the generators running A/C on the boats, looking at the stars being blotted out by all the lights on the Bay, there was absolutely no peace!  It took away so much of the mystery and aura of the place that I was a little disappointed.  But I still had a great time, and the water was absolutely amazing.  It might have been the best water to swim in that I’ve had – it was also fun jumping off of our junk – jumping from two or three stories up is quite a rush.

But if there was ever a place that felt out-of-kilter, it was Halong bay.  But then again, maybe my expectations were just too high – I’ve always expected it to be bathed in fog, and hiding all of its mysteries, but it was really really hot.  I’d like to think I got a little tanner, but I cdan assure you that I am still as pale as when I left.

Good Evening Saigon

August 15, 2009 by

I was looking through the stats for my blog, and I noticed that there there a precipitous drop in viewership when I don’t write for extended periods of time.  Which I would not have guessed.  I have always considered myself to have the re-readability of say, well, I’m not sure.   Because I can’t think of many books that 1)I like to re-read 2)I’m not ashamed of telling you that I read them.   We’ll go with the Boxcar Children.  Those were absolutely fabulous – except for little Benny.  He was kind of annoying.

ANYWAY, I found some wireless internet and wanted to upload some pictures, considering I haven’t since Queensland, which was almost a month ago, and that’s horrible.  So I can inside (hooray for A/C!) and decided to update again, even though you haven’t missed a lot since this morning.

I’ve been walking around Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City (technically, although Saigon is allowed) and I went to the Reunification Palace, the former Presidential Palace that N. Vietnamese captured in 1975 to end the Vietnam War (I think.   I haven’t studied US history since high school, and we focused on rock and roll more than wars. So forgive me if I’m wrong).  It’s a very cool building – a nice break from the city and the heat (which is so much attributable to the million cars everywhere.  Big cities should outlaw them.  Which is a horrible generalization, but the cars are killing me, so oh well.

Then I went to the War Remnants Museum, which is dedicated to the Vietnam War.  It’s very hard to see, and very sad.  There are displays about the victims of Agent Orange, which is still affecting people today, and the pictures are grusome in depicting some of the deformities that these people have to live with.   And as if that wasn’t sad enough, they have a section dedicated to the journalists, from both sides of the conflict, that lost their lives, but succeeded in recording and , in some sense, humanizing (I mean that in that they personalized war, a very general concept, to indivudual people and faces) one of the darkest patches of history in the past century.  As an ametuer photographer, it was very moving to see the heart and soul of these photographers coming through their work, and at such a cost.

But, there was one section in the museum that I was kind of unhappy with – the historical truths section.  It started out with the quote from the declaration of independece, “we take these truths to be self-evident: that men are created equal, etc. etc.”  A good start – there is definitely some truth to that statement.  But then the display consisted entirely of a pictoral walk-through , with accompanying descrptions, of the War.  And it was historically accurate, to the degree that 100 3-sentence descriptions can capture the context and nuances of that war, but I was very uncomfortable with the subtle coloring that the display put on the War – a very anti-American coloring.  Now, I’m pretty sure a majority of people everywhere would say that the war was bad (it was), that they did absolutely atrocious things (they did), and that any anti-American sentiment that is imbued in the War’s history is just self-evident to any moral person.   It’s hard to read the story of how Army soldiers butchered and raped innocent victims and not feel a little anti-American.

So, what was my problem, exactly?  Was I getting defensive for my country, which I know is such a good one, and that the bad things that happened were abberations?  Definitely – if I wasn’t, I probably would not have noticed the coloring that I mentioned above and that I think is so insiduous in so many parts of our lives.  Everyone does it – and it’s just easiest to notice when someone is against you instead of when you do it to others.

Let me give you an example: what’s the difference between these two sentences?

1)The American regime in Vietnam caused much destruction to towns and villages throughout Vietnam during the War; they also captured and, in some cases, tortured Vietnamese soldiers.

2)The repressive American regime in Vietnam pillaged towns and villages throughout the country, and they often captured and tortured patriotic Vietnamese soldiers.

Now, to me, there’s a big difference between the two sentences.  And I don’t think sentences like #2 belong in a section called “historical truths” because they contain so many loaded descriptions, so many opinions, and so many generalities that they are, to me, more propaganda than truth.   I’m reading a great book about all of the highly questionable logic and reasoning that people use in everyday life, and loading the dice is on the list, which is probably another reason why I noticed this.

And it happens so often in everything, including conservation discussions on both sides.  You have industry raping the environment, and you have hippies destroying the economy.  Both are completely untrue statements, based on a modicum of truth, and a big challenge facing those trying to answer the conservation issue (and any issue) is to try to develop communication between the parties that doesn’t use these loaded dice, that my book talks about.

Anyway, I’m sorry to talk philosophy but my book is good, and I have no one to talk to now that my dad and brother abandoned me.  Till next time!

Good Afternoon Saigon

August 15, 2009 by

Saigon is crazy!  This is easily the craziest, busiest, all together whacky town I’ve been in yet.  First, the amount of motor bikes on the roads is crazy.  Even compare to KL, where there were tons, they are everywhere.  And there is a copious lack of respect for traffic laws.  Basically you just gradually push through oncoming traffic when you want to turn and i won’t even talk about crossing streets as a pedestrian.  Needless to say, I’m very happy I had copious amounts of practice playing frogger as a kid.

Plus the people are crazy, but in a good way.  The street life is unlike anything I’ve seen – I’m staying in the tourist backpackers area, and even that is still extremely different from the McDonalds and Starbucks I’ve seen everywhere else (there are some KFCs though).  At night, there’s tons of people sitting together on the curb, eating, drinking, smoking, talking, making fun of the American student who is sweating like crazy, basically just having a good time.  And at night, you pass so many of these small groups, that the city has a certain fascination for me.  It’s quite unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before.

But it’s also unbelievably hot.  Hopefully I’ll get up into the hill country in the North when I go up to Hanoi, b/c that’s probably the only place to escape the humidity.

But I never got to say anything about my time on Borneo!  I don’t think at least.  I might have.  We staying at an eco resort at the island National Park just outside of Kota Kinabalu, the largest town in Sabah.    KK (Kota Kinabalu) is definitely not in tune with the rugged, wild idea I had of Borneo – it’s a big city, and a polluted one, just like every other town in Malaysia.  And the Park definitely has some of that pollution spill over – there are two fairly large shanty towns right on the beach of largest island, and right in front of our bay where our resort was, there were two or three supertankers parked.  Not only did they ruin the view, but kind of makes the whole thing seem a little less eco friendly than before.

We also got to spend a day on Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain on Borneo, and also a World Heritage Site.  Definitely an improvement over any other Park in Malaysia I’ve been too, and it definitely reiterates the idea that international recognition can be everything when it comes to funding infrastruture, and success for National Parks.  But there’s a dark side to World Heritage recognition, more responsibility and to the international community who doesn’t always know what’s going on, plus more tourism which can end up ruining the site you were trying to protect in the first place.  So you need a good balance.  Like everything, I guess.  I’m a little sad that my paper isn’t going to have the cut and dry, black and white, answer that just solves everything right now for National Parks forever, but you’d have to be a moron to expect it to anyway.  Nothing ever is easy.  Especially sight0seeing in this humidity, but I’m going to try.  I must be crazy.