Sunday, December 27, 2009

Book: The Geography of Bliss

With a bit more time on my hands, I've actually managed to pick up and read a book for the first time in a while. Anyway, a few thoughts to share:



The Geography of Bliss examines whether happiness is geographic. Visiting the happiest, richest, darkest, poorest places in the world Eric Weiner compares attitudes / world views and their implied impact on happiness.

Having been to a few of the places he visits, the observations certainly ring true. While not particularly awakening, he articulates some things that otherwise don't automatically receive attention. Envy as a detriment to happiness, and how various societies avoid it (Swiss don't act flashy in public, Thais smile and "don't think", etc) was one such point. That Icelanders derive happiness from drinking, I'll have to go verify for myself, but that Moldovans are quite unhappy because they compare themselves to Europeans I'll take his word for.

While it gets a bit lengthy, I would certainly recommend picking it up and reading the chapters on where you've been, or where you're going. I have only recently begun to appreciate researching (instead of just experiencing) cultural differences, and this is a light first step.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Istanbul - Turkey




Before heading to Germany and the US for the holidays, I spent a few nights in Istanbul. The city of 14 million, straddling two continents, reminded me of many Asian cities I have seen in the past year - stumbling over the development threshold without really knowing how to. This creates a mix of very expensive / modern and very poor / run down.

While the Blue Mosque and the Haga Sofia are both stunning, the cistern - an under ground water reservoir built by the Romans (pictured) - was what fascinated me the most. Beyond the Grand Bazaar and a few other sights (as well as an obligatory trip to Asia) the enjoyment of the city came from the hours sitting in a restaurant / cafe, trying the food (kebab as well as great fresh seafood), and just enjoying a break from the ordinary.

While I wont be rushing back, I would certainly recommend it as worth experiencing - possibly at a slightly warmer time of year.

(more pictures in due course)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Happy Holidays

I hope the holiday season finds you well and happy!

As you may know, this past year I left RBS and Asia to move to London and earn my MBA at London Business School. Before leaving Hong Kong, I did have the chance to travel around South-East Asia, and I strongly recommend visiting Cambodia - the temples are stunning and the people are incredibly welcoming. I am now enjoying the experience in London tremendously. The great diversity that both the school and the city offer is unbelievable. The lessons I am learning will stay with me for a long time to come. While London has finally turned into the grey, rainy place I was warned of, I believe I have avoided the November blues by adding a bit of facial hair and leading our Movember team to £7,000+ in fund raising for prostate cancer research.

It is also exciting to share that Claire and I are newly engaged. I proposed shortly after Thanksgiving, and as I'm sure you can imagine, we are both overjoyed.

Hopefully we will be able to catch up soon!

All the best for 2010 and beyond

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vacation Pictures




After over 2 months, I've finally had all my film developed and scanned. A selection of the 1,800+ pictures from a month of travel are now on Flickr, here and here.

Looking back at these now, it is hard to put into words just how stunning some of the sights were. Although I have a huge number of pictures, they still don't capture nearly enough. I would encourage anyone who gets the chance to go explore that part of the world. You can find my notes from during the trip on this site, but a few things I want to highlight:



Sapa remains one of the most beautiful places I can imagine. It's incredibly painful to get that far up north, but after 6+ hours on the night train you find yourself in a different world. The local tribes still live in small huts dotted amongst the rice fields, and life goes at a much slower pace.





Luang Prabang, again hard to get to but worth the effort. I've made the comment before that it has a religious life which holds to its traditions. The wonderful part, however, is that the locals don't do this to attract tourists, but rather because it is part of their lives.




Out of everything I saw while traveling, the ruins of Angkor are the one thing I would cross the globe for. I can't say it enough - get there before tourists destroy it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Movember

While I am unsure whether many of you know that each year 35,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK alone, I am sure you are familiar with mustaches. Movember is an annual charity which combines these two - participants grow a mustache during the month of November to increase awareness around men's health issues, and raise funds for prostate cancer research.

After three years of wanting to find out if anything would form on my upper lip, as I am now a student I am planning on finally growing a Mo. I am leading the London Business School Movember team, consisting of roughly 60 other students who have all committed to joining me, and looking slightly funny by the end of next month. Together, we aim to increase awareness of men's health issues, raise funds for critical research, and have some fun along the way.

I would greatly appreciate your support in this effort, and offer you three levels of incentives for donating towards this cause:

- GBP 10; picture of my end of the month Mo
- GBP 20; daily update picture via email so you can track the growth
- GBP 30; voting on how I style my Mo (assuming one grows in)

You can donate here.

Thank you in advance, together we will be able to change the face of men's health around the world!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Trip Itinerary

As previously promised, here is the itinerary from the SE Asia part of our trip:

SE Asia 2009 Vacation

Before hand, we spent 3 nights in Tokyo, 1 night in Hakone, and 1 night in Kyoto. All in all, we were on the road for just about three weeks.

The contrast between Japan and the rest of the stops was remarkable, but I'm not sure I would recommend combining the trips as getting from Japan to Vietnam takes a bit of energy (and money).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Phu Quoc

After my initial amazement of a private villa about 10 feet away from
the ocean for next to nothing, I've now had about 24 hours to get to
know this island. While the hotel and beach leave nothing to be
desired, except maybe the large volume of trash floating in the ocean,
it seems that this island is proof communism is alive and kicking.
Walking a few hundred yards down the miles of beach, hotels which have
been abandoned become a common sight - in some cases they are more
upscale, apparently too expensive for this venue, in others they look
the same as the rest, only they are falling in on themselves.
I say this shows communism is alive, even under "flexible communism,"
because land is owned by the government and therefore no one seems
keen on improving a site which could then be taken away again. Were
this a capatalist environment, I can not see a situation (short of
natural desaster) under which a beach front property would be let to
fall into ruin.
While there have been plenty of other small reminders of just how
different this place is from home, I think this is the one that has
made it clearest to me. If the standard of living is ever to rise,
certain frameworks would need to be established to create the right
incentives for small / medium non-farming businesses.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Phu Quoc

After 12 hours in Ho Chi Min - which I can only describe as a blur or
modern city and developing country moshed into one - I am now on the
beach:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cambodia 2.0

After my visit in January, I have repeatedly said that Cambodia is on
my list for a second visit. We arrived late yesterday afternoon, and
although the tour guide spoke nearly no English, and there was a piece
of packing rope in my food, and it was raining during the sunset, this
remains my favourite place in Asia.

The thousand year old temples are breath taking. I imagine the
grandure similar to the pyrimids, however every surface here has
intricate carvings on it. You stumble through some jungle path and
suddenly there is this mass of rocks, some fallen over, others still
standing - hinting at what they once were - making you feel as if you
are the first person to rediscover them.

Health and Safety would have a field day. There are almost no parts
which are roped off - either for your protection or the ruins - and
many of the stairs leading to the upper heights require you to claw up
on hands and knees.

The countryside also is a distinct reminder of how low the quality /
standard of living is. I think this is the poorest region we will see
on this trip. While I'm not proud/willing to say I enjoyed seeing it,
part of me is glad for the reminder of just how extreme a place the
world can be.

While Sapa was beautiful, and Luang Prabang was untouched, for sheer
wow factor I would recommend Siem Reap and the ruins of Angkor Wat -
try and get here before it does become roped off, and just another
museum, while you can still truely "discover" it.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Monks

It's 6am and I've been up for the last hour - in Luang Prabang there
is a tradition of giving alms (sticky rice) to the monks as they make
their morning rounds. Silent processions from the various temples work
their way through the town, stopping at little corners with a few
ladies kneeling on the ground to hand them clumps of rice.

Much like the chanting yesterday, we were only told "be at this corner
around 530." out of the mornin haze the first group appeared a few
moments later. Again like the chanting, they do not mind the tourists,
however this is not done for us as a show. It is a living tradition
that has gone on for a long time, and will hopefully continue.

Laos

The travel book starts off describing Laos as one of those places
where people intend to spend only a few days, but end up spending much
longer. I can certainly relate, as I wish we had a few more days to
explore the laid back villages, the winding trails through the hill
side, or go play with the elephants. As it stands, tomorrow will find
us in Cambodia - but I look forward to coming back here.

Yesterday the guide took us to a few temples, and we finished the day
hiking up to, and then swimming in a waterfall. I've already mentioned
my experience with the various tribes - which was a highlight that was
only trumped today listening to monks chanting in their temples. These
small moments are what I hope will stay with me. This isolated country
has been a joy to see, even if I continue to wonder how to visit
responsibly.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Train travel

Surprisingly, a large part of this trip has been by rail, in both
Japan and Vietnam. I've been reading "The Great Railway Bazzar" and
came to the Vietnam chapter just as we were boarding for the second
night on the train. There is something exciting about travelling that
way, and glimpsing the hundreds of years of history wrapped up in the
adventure.

In Japan, I had the trains described to me as tin cans that go fast
and do as advertised - but not much else. In Vietnam the jolting and
thumping of the old line holds a lot more charm (but at a fraction of
the speed take much longer). Thinking about how the line was built by
the French, destroyed in the war, and is now being revitalized to
bring tourists to the remote regions is a brief histroy lesson in how
the country has changed in the last 100 years.

While I am not big into meeting other travellers on trains (to be
honest, I like a berth with a lock I can control), they alsoser e as a
chance to glimpse the culture of who is travelling: in Japan it was a
mix of business people, local tourists, and a very few foreigners.
Vietnam was almost entirely tourists, with the guide explaining that
most locals can't afford the $20 ticket.

The moments like these, whereyou're not spending hours at airports
worrying about security, and are seeing something unique are my
favourite moments of travel - and make me understand the idea of
travelling to travel, not to reach a destination.

Hill Tribes

As part of exploring the countryside in both Vietnam and Laos, we've
had the chance to vist with some "hill tribes" "minority people" or
"local tribes" - large composed of h'mong people displaced from
Mongolia. Their existance is largely based on subsistance farming,
with a bit of income from selling handicrafts to tourists.

Interestingly, in both Vietnam and Laos different tribes live within
about a kilometer of each other, and as a result of their traditions
and culture have significantly different standards of living. For
example in Vietnam one tribe keeps fish and ducks to sell in addition
to their rice, while their neighbours only farm rice. The former enjoy
larger homes built slightly raised from the ground, while the later
live in smaller dwellings built on the cold earth. When asked, the
guide explained that the tribes are too proud of their traditions to
copy what the other does better - even after hundreds of years.

The contrast between Laos an Vietnam is also interesting, as in
Vietnam the government has provided some level of support for the
tribes and used tourism to provide an income stream, while in Laos the
tribes seem to live in a status akin to a trailer park - for lack if a
better comparison.

As I said before, I wonder whether visiting these tribes is truely in
the best interest of preservation, however upon seeing the conditions
here in Laos, it seems it is a positive to have the government act to
try and preserve rather than simply relying on the natural course of
things.

A few othe points of interest;

• in Laos the hill tribes used to make a living growing poppy for
opium

• some of the hill tribes believe in multiple wives, while the budist
tribes do not

• male / female relations are still in a very different place than at
home. We are continually surprised at how these views are applied even
to us.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Off to Laos

To say that our last day in Hanoi was a low point isn't entirely fair,
but it was as long and somber day. We got off the night train from
Sapa around 430am, and the flight to Laos didn't leave until 630pm -
meaning we had 14 hours to get through and no where to take a break
for a bit.

We packed the morning with a few sights like Ho Chi Min's home and a
bike tour, but after lunch (green fish coked over coals) were just
tired and had nothing left to do. At last around 3 we headed to the
airport, o ly to be caught in a rain storm. Whileof little consequence
for us, shortly up the road we saw the body of a motorcyclist who had
been less fortunate. Up until last year there was no helmet law for
riders, and c10,000 people died in accidents. This has come down, but
with 3+ million bikes in Hanoi alone, it is still far from Sade and
we're told scenes like that are still common.

Making it to Laos around 9, we simply laughed when the fixer
recommended a 430am start to go see the monks. Need some vacation in
all this travelling.

2 days in Sapa

Having spent the last two days hiking in the wonderful terraced rice
fields of Sapa, we are now again on the night train. Sapa is one of
those places where I feel I could try my hardest, and yet not capture
the beauty of it. The greens are more lucious than my eyes could take
in.

There are several different local hill tribes which grow rice in the
area. Seeing what subsistance farming is actually like gives me a new
appreciation for the hard work they endure. Every task is focused on
getting through the next winter and ensuring survial - something
completely taken for granted anywhere else I've been.

The government seems to be trying to preserve these cultures, but with
the influx of tourists and the awareness of another life outside the
village, I wonder how long these communities will last. Already now,
the youngest girls follow the visitors around with a constant chorus
of "where you from? How old are you? You buy from me?"

And so, while I would say it is worth the visit as the hiking is
wonderful, the people are interesting, and the landscape is
breathtaking, I worry whether more people will be good for Sapa.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Vietnam - first impressions

Having spent the last day in the hectic motor scooter filled world
that is Hanoi, I'm amazed at every corner that this world functions.
Through the chaos and the frantic pace, however everything seems to
have its own rythem and somehow the scooters don't hit the
pedestrians, and aren't hit by the cars.

I will at some point post a copy of the itinerary, so I won't rehash
the sights we've seen, but rather just share some observation:

• there is a distinctly French feel to the place, only further
intensified by the large number of french tourists. The hotel almost
reminded me of New Orleans a bit.

• while not nearly as friendly as the people in Japan, the locals
generally tollerate tourists. There also seem to be a lot more of us
here.

• travelling with a "fixer" (guide who handles just about everything)
is one of the greatest things I've done. As there aren't many open
arms (see above) this makes everything a touch smoother and easier.

• hiking today, I have never sweat so much. Because of the high
humidity things also just don't dry. My shirt and shorts, which are
about as wet as if I'd gone swimming in them, are still a damp mess.

We're now on the night train to Sapa for a couple more days of hiking
and exploring. I'm looking forward to being out of the city, as
crossingthe street should not be a life threatening experience.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Japan

First a quick note: I've not had Internet the last few days, so a
number of posts are sitting in my out box, and will all come through
at once.

Sitting on the plane back to Hong Kong, some closing thoughts on my 6
days in japan:

• the people are among the friendliest I have ever come across.
Always willing to point you in the right direction, or help with many
of the more peculiar customs.

• while food was about on par with most other big cities in terms of
price, transportation is much more expensive. This really hit me in
Hakone. Also, the fact that there are multiple companies serving the
same city doesn't really help all the much in terms of ease of use.

• the food was amazing: I had the best beef, the best sushi, and the
best things on sticks of my life. The dining culture is also very
social which makes a great meal even better.

• while train travel is enjoyable, in Japan it is purely utilitarian
- designed to get you from A to B as quickly as possible - the romance
is certainly not preserved.

• walking through most of Tokyo and other parts of Japan, I get the
sense that this is what we thought the future would be like 20 years
ago. There are lots of neon lights, overcrowded streets, and
everything feels slightly worn down - very much reminds me of
Bladerunner.

• I leave with a sense of wanting to come back - Tokyo was an
enjoyable big city like many others, but Kyoto gave a taste of
"Japanese" culture which I would enjoy seeing/learning more of.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Kyoto

Kyoto was a bit of a whirlwind - After including hakone on the plan,
we ended up with just 20 hours in town (including sleeping time).
Making the best of it, we hit the ground running and headed to the
biggest temple we could find [will update with name]. After strolling
through some of the winding lanes, we ended up on Potocho by the canal
- A small lantern lit alley bustling with restaurants. On nyt
recommendation Cafe Zuzu served up a wonderful dinner, highlighted by
their interpretation of chicken dumplings. This morning was a dash to
the shogun's palace before jumping the train back to Tokyo.

Making comparisons between cities is never fair because you seldom end
up seeing the best parts of every city and being in the right mood to
enjoy them is a challenge - that being said, Kyoto was hands down my
favorite part of Japan. The old parts felt like what I imagined Japan
like before arriving. There was an energy in the air that made it seem
lively and fun. Lastly, the sights were more accessable, although I
would have enjoyed another couple days to see some of the other parts
of town.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hakone

I'm not sure whether it was the "unlimited" bus pass that only worked
on one line, the hotel only dining options that closed at 8, or the
severe fog - but somehow I felt Hakone is a tourist trap. I'm sure if
it had been clear, and Mt. Fuji had been visable, I would think
otherwise, but as things are I couldn't see my outstretched hand.

Nonetheless, we did eat eggs boiled in a sulfuric hotspring on top of
a volcano (the shell comes out black!) with hundreds of local
tourists. We also found our way to the outdoor museum, which had some
great sculptures and a surprisingly large Picaso collection.

Ultimately, if the weather had been better I would have focused on the
views. With the fog, I will remember a sleepy lake side village, and
struggling to navigate the transport system - a more Japanese
experience.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The food

In the last two days, I have been lucky enough to have a few old co-
workers show me some of their favorite places to eat. Yesterday, we
spent the large part of the night at a small establishment upstairs
called simply "things on sticks". You sit down at a bar, and they
continually serve you various things (meat, veg, both) on a stick deep
fried - amazing.

Tonight found us at a traditional Japanese steak house for a multi-
course dinner including lobster, soup, salad, and culminating in beer
fed, hand massaged beef, which melted in your mouth with a tenderness
I've never experienced before.

While Tokyo has been interesting these meals - plus the fish market
sushi - have been the highlights I will remember. Heading to Hakone
tomorrow, and I'm rather looking forward to the less urban environment.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The kindness of strangers

Coming off the plane, it is immediately reinforced why it is "asia ex-
japan". This place is fully immersive, it scoops you up and you're
along for the ride and nothing works like anywhere else. This causes
the only problmayo have encountered so far - the complete confusion
which sets in when trying to interact with anyone or anything.
Thankfully, strangers are exceedingly helpful. So far a man on the
subway helped make sure we got off at the right stop, another called
the hotel for directions, and yet two more pulled out maps and walked
us to the ryokan after we got lost again. This was promptly followed
by two students explaining that you don't order from a waiter but a
machine in the corner of the restaurant. Thank you to all of you - New
Yorkers should be so kind.

As I write this I am on a tatami mat in the ryokan - while not
uncomfortable, I am a bit curious about the communal stool height
shower tomorrow morning...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Student Again

After 4 years and 9 days, including 364 days in Hong Kong, I walked
out of the office yesterday for the final time. No blackberry, an out
of office and voicemail greeting saying messages won't be returned,
and no obligations for the next month. A strange feeling to walk away
from one of the few constants since college.

I will be starting at London Business School in late August. The
decision to go back to get a Masters was a tough one, but ultimately
the right one. People keep saying things like this is the perfect time
in the cycle to go, or you're at the right place in your career. For
me though, it is much more a chance to reflect and see what comes
next. The impressions from my time in an office are many and varied -
curious to see what stands out in 6 / 12 months.

Immediately, I'm off to Japan followed by Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
A final jaunt through Asia with only a backpack and my camera kit -
stay tuned.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

School Busses

This was written for a project I worked on a few months ago, I share it as I'm curious for feedback and don't want it to just vanish into my hard drive.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Taipei

A couple pictures from Taipei last weekend (and old ones from San Francisco) - more to follow when I get my film developed.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pictures

A few pictures from Borneo, Macau, and Hong Kong from the past couple weeks.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

yet again

In February, I tried to clear the decks to make room for some new ideas. It certainly worked, and since I've started a few new projects which are all floundering at various stages. I thought I'd quickly share, in hopes that some fresh air might push them along...

Picture a day - I've actually really been enjoying my camera again. It's hard as I'm shooting film to get through a roll every week, and hence I'm not posting as much as I would like, but it is certainly keeping me busy, and providing a happy feeling when a couple good shots turn up. I would really like to do something more with the photos, particularly after realizing the community that exists around Flickr in Hong Kong - maybe something with MagCloud.


First Class Backpacker - I've been lucky, and have had the chance to see quite a bit in the past year. I keep hearing about other people developing travel tips and sharing insights. I think there is certainly a group of "young professionals" who might take some inspiration from my experience and realize that the world is a lot smaller than it seems, but promoting and writing is a bit of a chore...

EnvironmentalBubble - a social news site for green / environment topics. Slapped this together in about an hour; it's pretty amazing all the free services that are out there to build something with. Still, a site without users, might as well be a book without words.

thoughts and inspirations welcome

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Borneo


I spent about a week in Malaysian Borneo over Easter. While I was mainly there to sit on the beach and relax, I did make it into the reserve to see the orangutans which are being rehabilitated. You can see my pictures here. I think I've managed to figure out how to shoot sunsets, but fast moving mokeys proved a bit harder.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Phones

Being abroad has resulted in me having a rather complex setup of forwards and temporary numbers so that everyone can still reach me on my old number and I can call home fairly inexpensively. Until a couple of weeks ago, I relied entirely on Skype for this. My US cell forwarded to a skype-in number, which rang either my computer or forwarded to my HK cell through skype-out. To call the us, and not have to pay international rates, I used a skype-to go number.

Apparently the Hong Kong phone companies finally got wise of the skype-to go setup, and the service has either been blocked or discontiued as a result. Disappointingly, skype made no effort to notify users who have a HK based number, or even upon inquery provide an explanation - poor customer service; shame on them.

Thankfuly, almost at the same time google updated Grand Central into google voice. As an old user, my account has been ported, and this now nicely fills the skype-to go hole. Logging on to the google voice from my mobile, I can have it call me, and then connect to whomever I am trying to reach at home. This still depends on the skype-in/out setup described above, but incurs no extra cost and actually is a bit easier that skype-to go, as it's a visual interface instead of voice prompt.

Ideally, google voice will add international numbers and porting at some point. This would allow me to plug into their voicemail (and transcription) service, but for now this is working and will keep me happy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Krabi, Thailand

Just back from a week of sand and sun in Krabi, Thailand. Pictures here - suffice it to say it's a pretty amazing place. Well worth the trip, if you can make it.

UPDATE: More on the hotel

Friday, March 13, 2009

Picture of the day

I'm on my third week of trying to take a good picture a day, and thought I'd share a few observations. I've been shooting purely film, as I'm not ready to go spend the money on a digital SLR. This has been the first time I've been shooting film in close to 8 years, as I've relied mainly on a crappy bar point and shoot digital camera lately.

Of the pictures I've had developed, a fair number are blurry - I think this has a lot to do with film vs digital; I get the sense that a digital has the image in it, and when you hit the shutter release, all it is doing is writing to memory. Thus when you move the camera right away, the image isn't effect (or there's just a lot of image stabalization built in). Film, on the other hand only gets exposed when you hit the shutter release and hence any small immediate movements effect the picture.

I'm also getting back quite a number of grainy shots. I think this is a combination of exposure problems and low resolution scanning. Talking to the lady at the processor, they charge $3 per high quality scan, so I'm thinking I might pick a few to have them re-scan and see if I can isolate what's going wrong.

The hardest part has been taking a picture every day. My first week I managed, however, the last two weeks I've been at work too late and have had to do all my shooting on the weekend. I've also been confined in where I've been looking for subjects - while this allows me to keep coming back until I get the shot I want, it also gets a bit redundant.

Check out my pictures here - one goes up every day.

Monday, March 02, 2009

1 Towel, 1 Day

well, not really - but I have been trying to take a picture a day. Actually, my hope is to take one good picture on most days. So starting tomorrow, I'll be putting my shots up. I'm shooting film, so there's a bit of a lag between when I take a picture and when I can post. Also, as there only so many pictures to be taken between home and office, I'm going to try and pick one from the past 7 days to give me a chance to take a couple on the weekends.



let me know what you think, and we'll see how long I can keep this up for.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Pictures: SE Asia


I've been back for a few days, and got my pictures back yesterday. I shot film for the first time in a few years and am quite happy with how it turned out.

As you'll see from the pictures, Cambodia is certainly worth the trip. My time was split between the temples at Angkor Wat, the floating village, and Siem Reap. A few of the shots are also from Singapore and KL.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Clearing the decks

For the past 6 months I've been keeping a tally of project ideas, and I'm coming to realize that most will never see the light of day - as such I think it's time to set them free;

- away gifts: living abroad has made me aware of numerous occasions where I've wanted to give presents (or get them) and short of cash there's no easy source for things. There is the option of sending iTunes songs or e cards, but there have to be better things out there and a way to pull them together.

- hot dog cart in hong kong; seriously, just need one for a quick lunch option.

- donation ecards; those of you who got my Christmas card saw I opted to donate the money I would have spent to charity. While the ecard market is fairly full, I think this non-profit idea might have legs.

- laptop ad stickers; might be too late with ad sales down, and too hard to measure impressions, but people have done this in one offs. Sticker skins to be stuck to the outside of a laptop. Could target based on the user (ie MBA student gets ft ads for when he's in class)

- meetup for drinking buddies; when you're looking for fans of your team in a new town to go watch the game with at a bar.

Face masks with a smile; in hong kong people wear surgical masks when they are sick to contain their germs, I think it would be funny to have facial expresions on these (missy lips, smiles, etc)

Online book sales of English books in Asia; there are lots of expats here and books are really expensive, with a poor selection

Travel guides for the kindle; travel books are heavy, this would seem a prime target for the ebooks, but on last check none were avaiable. It's easy enough to self publish on the kindel, just a matter of pulling content together.

So I don't have the time to take these forward at the moment, but if you do - please just remember me if you strike it rich. Or if you want to help run with one of them, give me a shout.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Traveling Solo

After a week of traveling alone, I'm pleased to say that it wasn't as bad as I had expected. Without anyone else to worry about, I've been able to see and do what I want when I want. However, I do have to say that the hardest part is on days of disappointment. This morning I started in Cambodia, watching the sun rise over a thousand year old temple, with haze misting the air ever so slightly, causing the yellows and oranges to diffuse just that bit more, and now I am sitting in KL in the midst of dirty urban sprawl. The let down of going from high to low without being able to talk about the extremes that are only a two hour flight apart makes seeing this alone a challenge.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Cambodia / Kuala Lumpur

I've just arrived in Kuala Lumpur, this time for a two day stay rather than just a short night's sleep. Before touching on my first impressions, I have been thinking a bit more about my time in Cambodia. Yesterday, I spent the day touring some of the temples further out. They were by far the most impressive, not because of their size or detail, but because they weren't overrun with tourists.

I hired a driver yesterday - the same guy who picked me up from the airport initially - and had some interesting conversations with him while driving back and forth from the temples. Interestingly, he repeatedly described himself as "ignorant" and having married an "ignorant wife," as that is the only woman who would be with him (mind you he speaks near perfect English and used to work as a land mine remover). It is comments like these that made me appreciate just how dire the conditions are for so many in Cambodia. (If you're in Anchor Wat, and looking for a driver give Yong Heng a call - +855 1292 6115)

KL has proved similar to any other large developing city I've been in. There are run down buildings, and then when you round the corner is the world's tallest bi-tower. After a week of traveling I am fairly run down, and hence a bit happy that it is raining out, giving me an excuse to lay low. Interestingly, there's an arrow painted on the ceiling pointing to Mecca).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cambodia: Day 2

Today, my second day in Cambodia, left plenty to ponder. I started my day with a trip to the floating village - the large lake in the middle of the country grows and shrinks depending of the time of year - on a government boat. Apparently, certain boats are run by the government, with the earnings funding local schools, while others are for profit tour companies.

This got me thinking about how my money is entering the local economy, and whether there are better ways of doing this. As the 16 year old boat driver said "Cambodia can't help Cambodia, only tourists can help Cambodia". I'm staying at a starwood hotel, so short of the wages to local staff, that money is leaving. I've been trying to eat local, and I've been sticking to my tuk tuk driver, which I hope goes directly into their pockets. I've also been questioning buying the trinkets from the children at the sights; they claim they need the money to pay for school, but if they are out selling on a Tuesday afternoon, can school really be a consideration?

All in all, it makes me wish I knew how best to help the locals - poverty does not do the situation justice in a lot of cases, and being able to see a place like this does make me want to show appreciation for it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Singapore Day 2

Walking through Singapore on Saturday, and more so today while exploring the temples of Angkor, I kept thinking how impressive this all would have been 20 years ago. Reflecting on it, I'm sure people 20 years ago said the same thing, which makes me wonder whether 20 years from now people will wish they were seeing it today.

Eirherway, 1,000 year old temples can't be put into words. They were all built and had been in use for hundreds of years before America was "discovered". Some now have hundred year old trees growing through them, and yet the structures are still standing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Singapore

I'm on day 2 of my stay in Singapore, and thought I'd share a few impressions;

I've always heard stories of the rigidity and rule focused aspects of this fine city (pun intended). Therefor I think I was expecting something like Beijing, with a cop on every corner. However, I've only seen one police car during my stay. Nonetheless, the rules are certainly followed.

China town feels more authentic than Hong Kong, I suppose it's the result of it being self contained and concentrated. As a whole, the city seems more diverse than HK, but also more segregated.

The walking lights at intersections make laser like noises when you can walk.

I feel like in two days, I've seen most of the sights. I suppose that you could spend longer and go to the zoo, but 48 hrs seems to suffice for the unique attractions.

Food wise, I tried the chili crab last night, which was comical. Imagine the general difficulty of eating crab, and now add sticky chili sauce to the mix. However, as it's a national specialty, worth the struggle. I've also had some fried dumplings, made befor my eyes, which were astounding.

Heading to Cambodia tonight, with a stop over in Kuala Lumpur.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Getting ready for vacation

Although I've only been back in Hong Kong for two weeks, next Friday I'm heading off to explore a bit more of Asia. I'll be passing through Singapore, Anchor Wat, and Kuala Lumpur while most people around here celebrate the start of the year of the Ox.

As I'm going by myself, any tips or contacts would be welcome.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Christmas Vacation



I've just returned from 2 weeks in Germany and Amsterdam. Rather than go into detail on the entire trip, I thought I'd share a few impressions and highlights:

- Being cold is part of winter. I've been sitting in weather that is in the high 70's since mid-November, only once I plunged into the cold in Germany did it start feeling like Christmas.

- Spending time in Berlin, I for the first time became truely aware of the different histories in the city. Specifically, I had never really distinguished between World War II history and Cold War history. It is interesting to walk from the Museum Island to Check Point Charlie and cover over 100 years of history in about a mile.

- Amsterdam, while nice and relaxed, is not a city I particulary enjoy. It seems too touristy at times, and too local at others. Nonetheless, we were pointed to some fantastic pancakes and were it warmer I'm sure I would have relished a bike ride.

- New Years in Berlin. Everyone celebrates in the streets, not in a bar. When we settled in for midnight, it was a bit surprising to see everyone get up and leave the bar to go set off fireworks in the street. We didn't go to the main "party mile" but stuck to a trendy neighbourhood.

- Apartment rentals are the way to go in Berlin. It was much cheaper than a hotel, and gave us space to be comfortable.

Here are my pictures

I hope you all got into the new year safely, and that 2009 brings you what you hope for

Pictures: Western Market & Lama Island


Here are a few pictures from late last year. The Western Market is by my apartment, and sells a variety of dried Chinese foods, including shark fin, birds' nests, and deer antlers. Lama is a fishing island about 40 min by boat from Central. There are a few hiking trails, and some very nice little seafood restaurants.