Tag Archives: Asia

One Sketch at a Time: How to Record Your Travels

This is a story I wrote for Ethos Magazine about University of Oregon Professor Ken O’Connell. Ken offers some great advice and inspiration for unique ways to record your travel experiences.

On a balmy April afternoon, artist Ken O’Connell sits in his office, chatting about art supplies, tiny Italian villages, and Japanese Anime conventions. Quickly, one thing becomes clear: Ken O’Connell would be the perfect travel companion. He isn’t content with simply snapping a photograph of a beautiful doorway or cathedral on his travels. Instead, he chooses to document what he sees in sketchbooks, seventy of them to be exact.

O’Connell’s collection of sketchbooks are individually numbered with the locations he visited while filling their pages. A peek inside the cover of number sixty-eight reads: “Canada, Japan, Germany, Oregon.” The pages burst with pencil drawings, vibrant watercolor scenes, haphazard notes to himself, various addresses, and stamps from around the world.
O’Connell’s life, like his sketchbooks, is packed with color and creativity. As a professor emeritus at the University of Oregon’s Art Department, he teaches digital arts classes and will begin a product design class in Portland summer 2010. He also is the president of his own company, Imagination International, Inc., which imports brightly colored Copic markers from Japan.

Continue reading here…

BOOKS: Thunder From the East

Kristof and WuDunn, both journalists for the New York Times, authored this book about the rise, fall and rise again of East Asia. This book is almost ten years old now, so it’s a bit dated, but remains an great resource of information about Asia as a world mega-power. Kristof, true to his writing style, includes many anecdotes and narratives from his own travels in Asia. Both Kristof and WuDunn have traveled far and wide in the region and, although they acknowledge that Asia can never be fully understood as an outsider, offer some spectacular insight into Asia cultures and practice. For example, they aim to uncover what has held Asia back economically in the past few centuries (political issues, extreme poverty, failure to utilize women as a resource, etc…).

Thunder From the East is a great starting ground for those interested in exactly how, when and where the Asian economic crisis of 1992 started. The husband-wife team literally trace the collapse to a specific date in Thailand in 1992. From Thailand, the money devaluation, uncertainty and chaos began to spread like wildfire around Asia, reaching places like Indonesia and Japan.

Thunder From the East is a good read for a general overview on recent history, culturally and economically, of East Asia with a focus on Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and China. This book is a good springboard into further readings on the 1992 Asian economic crisis, as well as Asia’s position as a global power.

PHOTOS: Dasain Happenings in Kathmandu

This week rang in Dasain, the biggest and most widely celebrated festival in Nepal.  When I was living here three years ago I left right before Dasain started, so I am now seeing things with completely new eyes.  Most Nepalis have an extended holiday from school and work for Dasain.  For example, I have a ten day holiday from work and my neighbor’s children have a two week holiday from school (which has resulted in a constant stream of banter and fighting between the two kids next door).  My Nepali friends had told me that everything shuts down for Dasain and that Kathmandu completely clears out because a large percentage of the people who live in Kathmandu are not actually from here, but are from villages outside the Valley.  Dasain, like American Christmas and Thanksgiving, is a time to get together with family, feast, pray and give offerings to a huge number of gods who I cannot keep straight.  Because Dasain is a time for everyone to be with family, many people leave Kathmandu to return to their home villages.  This has resulted in a startlingly quiet Kathmandu which I am enjoying immensely.  For example, I went for a long walk around the city yesterday and could actually walk straight the entire time without having to dodge anyone or anything.  It was glorious.

Kathmandu is not quite a “ghost town” right now, but compared to its normal, bustling self, the city is totally different.  As I mentioned, sidewalks are clear, streets are clear and stores are closed.  The shops that remain open are mostly run by Indians or are butcher shops.  The butcher shops are busier than normal because Dasain is a time for feasting on meat, lots and lots of meat.  When I do see people walking on the streets, they are often leading goats around on string or ropes, as we in the U.S. might lead our dogs around by a leash.  The only difference is these goats are doomed for slaughter and will likely be transformed into a delicious, spiced dish later in the day.

Butcher shops are open and brimming with meat, often with ten live goats tied out front for later slaughter.  Besides a time for feasting on meat, Dasain is also the main time in Nepal for animal sacrifice.  There are literally tens of thousands of animals sacrificed on any given day of Dasain.  I was hoping to infiltrate a buffalo sacrifice yesterday, but it is difficult for foreigners to get into these sacred rituals.  I did manage to see a duck sacrifice at one temple, though.  At the Hindu temples there are goat, buffalo, chicken and goat sacrifies to the gods.  There is even one temple in the Terai region in the southern town of Janakpur that completes 20,000 buffalo sacrifices throughout the festival.  The grounds of Janakpur are reportedly sticky with blood after Dasain is finished.  After the animal is sacrificed (this is done by slitting the throat) the family that bought the animal cleans it, butchers it and then feasts on it, leaving very little of the animal to waste. Although many Nepalese families continue to do animal sacrifices every year during Dasain, there are a number that prefer to “sacrifice” pumpkins or coconuts to the gods, instead of slitting the throat of a goat or buffalo.

Yesterday I celebrated Dasain with the family of a friend and got a great taste of what the celebration is really about.  Before I met up with Ravi and Ratika (my hosts for the day) I went on a photography mission around Kathmandu to try to capture the happenings and differences that Dasain has brought to the city. Here’s what I got:

Above: As I mentioned in a previous post, Kathmandu has become speckled with these stages featuring slightly scary statues of the multi-handed goddess Durga, a demon and a lion. Here is one particularly large stage and scene close to my house. The women are giving offerings and money to the gods.

Above: A man tends to another one of the Durga statue scenes near the bridge that connects Kathmandu and Lalitpur.

Above: A close-up of the demon who is trying to slay goddess Durga. Take note of the realistic nipple and armpit hair. Frightening.

Above: This picture is unremarkable except for one thing: there are almost NO cars of motorbikes on it. I have been completely in awe at how quickly Kathmandu cleared out for Dasain. Compared to its normal self, it almost feels like a ghost town. This particular road is usually clogged with all sorts of vehicles.


Above: Sundhara, which is normally one of the busiest bus parks in the city, has transformed into a fowl purchase and slaughter center. Here, a couple on a motorbike picks out a few live ducks to take home.

Above: A man walks around Sundhara trying to sell ducks to customers on motorbikes during Dasain.

Above: Where tuk-tuks usually line the streets, there are now metal and wicker baskets stuffed with chickens for the taking.

Above: A few Dasain customers inspect a live duck at Sundhara bus park on Saturday.

Above: Normally where there are hordes of tuk-tuks and mini-buses, there are now lines of chicken cages. The handy location makes it easy for motorbikers to stop quickly to pick up their fowl.

Above: A cage of doomed chickens. But, they will surely makes some tasty Dasain morsels soon enough.

Above: The Sundhara bus park has turned into a makeshift slaughter house for Dasain. You can stop here, pick out your chicken or duck and also have it slaughtered on location (on the side of the road).

Above: At one of the makeshift slaughter houses on the side of the road, a woman dips a recently killed chicken into a tin of boiling water.

Above: A man then dips the dead, boiled and plucked bird into another vat of hot water.

Above: Where once tuk-tuks packed Sundhara to the gills, there are now tiny makeshift slaughter stations where Dasain customers can have their chickens and geese killed.

Above: Hindu devotees wait in line to enter one of the many Kathmandu temples on the first Saturday of Dasain.

Above: For Dasain people leave offerings of food, rice grains and tikka powder outside their front doors.

Above: Another offering outside someone’s front doorstep for Dasain.

Above: Saturday was the day of Dasain that Nepalis did pujas and gave offerings to their machinery, including their cars and motorbikes. The private cars, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles and rickshaws around town were laden with garlands of marigolds, auspicious scraps of cloth and sprinkled with tikka powder. Here, a woman and her husband give offerings to their motorbike. (Notice the marigold garlands around the handlebars).

Above: A taxi with a garland of marigolds around its license plate. If pujas are done to the vehicles on this particular day, it is said that the vehicle will serve the owner well for another year (and no accidents to boot).

Above: An offering plate that will be given to a vehicle.

FAQ: Solo Travel in Asia

Traveling solo can be daunting: no one to turn to and no one to rely on but yourself.  Especially for women, even the thought of traveling alone in a foreign country can be nerve-racking.  Questions might float in and out of a woman’s brain before a solo abroad trip: Will I be a target traveling alone?  Will I get kidnapped?  Should I carry a knife?  All these questions are valid concerns, but it should be noted that traveling alone in Asia can be very safe as long as you do it right.  The following are some frequently asked questions I get asked about solo travel in Asia:

You traveled alone? Weren’t you scared?

At first, yes, I was scared.  Maybe the feeling should be classified as nervous excitement more than scared.  I went on my first solo travel when I was 20 years old and backpacked around Asia for 10 months.  One of the first places I landed was in Kathmandu.  My heart was pounding as I stepped off the plane and the heat hit my in the face.  I grabbed my bag and walked outside to find a pack of touts trying to drive me to the tourist area of Thamel.  I didn’t know what to do, but I swallowed my nervousness and hired a taxi driver.  My nervousness about being in Kathmandu quickly dissipated and I quickly grew to love the city.

Should I carry a knife?

I’ve been asked multiple times whether or not I carry any sort of protective device like a knife.  I do carry a pocket knife in my backpack, but this is never for self-protective measures.  I don’t recommend carrying anything like mace or a knife.  Traveling alone is safe, just as safe as walking around your own home town (most likely).  Would you carry a knife with you when you walk around a new place in your country?  Probably not.  Also, in an emergency situation, ask yourself if you are really going to whip out a knife and defend yourself.  The best protective measure is not any sort of weapon, it’s being self aware and assertive.

Did anything bad ever happen to you?

Of course there are the random “incidents” that happen to everyone after they’ve traveled extensively.  If you do get mugged (or worse) try to remember that this incident is most likely not representative of the whole country.  The person who did that to you is an isolated being and should not make you think: “I hate (insert country name here) because everyone is a thief!”

This is very important to remember and I learned it on one of my first days traveling in Malaysia.  I (stupidly) shared a taxi with a random man I didn’t know.  The man and the taxi driver, who were in on the scam together, took me to an isolated ATM in Johor Bahru, forced me to take out $120 or else they would leave me in a slum and then deposited me back at the bus station.  After this whole incident, I was so angry at these men and at myself for being so stupid.  I left Malaysia, almost in tears, and went back to Singapore thinking: “I hate this country! How could they do this to me?”  After some consideration, I came to the conclusion that these people should absolutely NOT be representative of Malaysia as a whole, and the whole thing was my own fault for acting so impulsively.

Everyone seems to have a horror story in regards to their solo travels?

Of course they do!  Those are their battle wounds, their travel scars, the really juicy stories to be told over beers and street food.  People like

"Oh s***...."

to talk about their horror stories because, let’s face it, they’re interesting and harrowing tales of life on the road.  Although all seasoned travelers have a horror story to tell, try to remember that those stories are a TINY portion of their travels.  If someone got food poisoning for two days in their year-long trip to India, don’t think: “Ew! I’m never going to India!”  Those two days were a small percentage of their time traveling, during which the majority of the time they weren’t sick.  Take travel horror stories with a grain of salt, internalize their lesson and go to the place anyway with no fear.

Doesn’t it get lonely with so much alone time?

Yes.  Depending on how long your travels are, it can get very lonely, especially in more removed and isolated locations.  Enter: the book.  Traveling solo is a great opportunity to get to know yourself better and explore your own interests.  Read! Write! Draw! You have all the time in the world to do these activities at a leisurely pace when you’re traveling solo, so enjoy it!  Books are definitely the solo traveler’s best friend.  It might be best to stock up on a few at a time, depending if you’ll be traveling outside cities and urban areas.

But when you’re traveling solo, you don’t need to have your nose buried in a book all the time.  Being a solo traveler means you’re opening

Random strangers will soon morph into friends for the solo traveler.

yourself to meeting loads of new people.  A solo traveler is much less intimidating to approach than a group or a couple.  Being unattached equates to meeting more random people, both locals and travelers alike.  Eventually, these strangers will turn into friends whom you may even end up traveling with a bit.  So, yes, it can get lonely, but there are various ways to make connections while traveling solo.

Do you have any advice about traveling solo?  Add you comments below!