Archive for October, 2007

7 Ways to Stay On Top of Your Travel Goals

THE UNFORTUNATE TRUTH FOR travelers who lack trust funds is that we must spend a significant amount of time back home and at work to gather enough funding for our journeys. In this downtime arises a unique danger: a danger that we will fall into a rut of comfortable routines, a danger that we will unwittingly decide to blow our money on things and fancy restaurants, a danger that we will become complacent and forget what we really wanted to do with ourselves and with our lives.

The following tips are designed to help you avoid these dangers, and stay on top of your travel goals.

#1 Keep a Visual Reminder

Don’t keep an ambiguous image of white sandy beaches or an exotic mountain range in your office. Instead choose specific spot, find a photo, and keep it somewhere you’ll see it often. I keep a picture of South Korea’s Incheon International Airport (above) as my desktop background to constantly remind me of why I’m working so hard. (photo: d’n’c)

# 2 Buy a Map

One of the things downtime allows you is space to dream up your journey. Take a page out of Reason to Wander’s book and buy a good map, some pins and string and start planning where you want to go. Keep the map someplace in your house or apartment where you’ll see it and have time to ponder, like above a desk or in the kitchen. (photo: o2ma)

#3 Read Good Travel Writing

Keeping on top of travel goals is largely about keeping inspired, and spending some time with books by writers like Pico Iyer, Carsten Jensen, or Simon Winchester is a great way to do so. Lonely Planet also puts out compilations of travel writing regularly, and there’s always The Best American Travel Writing series.

Literature and poetry can similarly nurse your inner wanderer, so don’t overlook Thoreau, Kerouac (try Satori in Paris for something a little different), Whitman or even more offbeat authors like Haruki Murakami.

#4 Carry a Phrasebook

Knowing the language spoken at your destination is an invaluable skill, and will allow you to have a much richer travel experience. If you already know a foreign language, carry flashcards in your bag or purse. Otherwise keep a phrasebook handy so you can start memorizing when you have a few moments on the bus or at a cafe.

#5 Keep a Foreign Language Journal

Language classes or learn-it-yourself programs like Rosetta Stone are great, but keeping a journal in a foreign language is a really good way to make the language feel more like your own. Record your thoughts, keep clippings from travel magazines or foreign newspapers, do rough translations, and take it with you when you finally make the leap to where you’re going.

#6 Keep Tabs on Your Money

Keep a week-by-week spreadsheet on your computer and take a look at where your money goes. Coffee? Clothes? Figure out what you might be able to cut out and funnel into savings or a plane ticket.

#7 Talk With People Who Love Travel

Endlessly discussing travel adventures or goals with friends who aren’t interested can quickly rub them the wrong way, and won’t give you the support you need when you might be doubting. The travel blog community is great, but finding a group of peers you can talk with face-to-face will be an invaluable resource for travel advice and inspiration. Vagabonding talked about travel meetups back in January, and points to as a great way to find them. Otherwise, make friends with people at your local STA Travel or campus travel center, or make your own travel meetings by putting up a bulletin at a local cafe.

Multiculturalism in Korea

photos on a wall in seoul. photo by SMOKEHARD.

IT’S DIFFICULT TO EVEN grasp the idea of living in a homogeneous society. For most people in the urban United States interacting with people from various cultural backgrounds is a normal part of daily life. My experience growing up near Seattle was no different; African-Americans, Chinese, Latinos, Koreans, Filipinos and so on were my classmates, neighbors and friends, and cuisine from around the planet was within a mile’s reach.

After several subway rides in Seoul – and many unbroken, uncomfortable stares from people of all ages – it began to dawn on me that for many in this world such multiculturalism is not the norm. Contrary to most American cities, where every block offers eclectic dishes of some kind, what is mostly available in Korea is (unsurprisingly) Korean food. In my experience, hearing anything other than Korean spoken away from a university campus was extremely rare, and usually brought on a round of “Name that Language.”

But things are changing.

Several days ago Yonhap News reported that a growing foreign population is turning Korea into a multiracial society. In August the number of non-Koreans living inside the country reached the 1 million mark, largely due to a growing number of rural Korean men marrying women from Southeast Asia and China, and to people from Central Asia and the Philippines immigrating in search of work. Of course the largest foreign population in the country is still Americans, due to continued military presence.

Along with this, Yonhap says, neighborhoods like Little Tokyo and the Central Asian Village have been popping up, drawing homesick foreigners together for food, chat and news from home.

In addition to growing numbers of foreigners, cultural trends have been entrenching themselves into a changing Korea. Lee Su Hyun writes for the International Herald Tribune that the government mandated 5-day workweek (adopted in 2004) has given working Koreans more leisure time, and introduced a uniquely Western tradition: brunch. Lee says restaurants serving pancakes and eggs have lines out the door on Sundays, and that people are lingering longer with friends and family.

So what does all this mean for Korea? Many will likely argue that these foreign influences will trigger a slow breakdown of the country’s authentic culture, but I’m inclined to disagree. Like the many immigrants who’ve made America their home, the future generations of immigrants in Korea will similarly adopt the country as their homeland – Korean as their mother tongue. Bringing diverse backgrounds to the cultural pot in Korea will increase cultural sensitivity in the nation, and give cities like Seoul a more distinctly metropolitan feel.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m not advocating a blanket embrace of globalization in Korea or that Korean restaurants be razed for more TGI Fridays. But in an age where information moves in milliseconds and people are highly mobile, nations everywhere are evolving. This process is natural and, for better or worse, unstoppable. While Korea ought to be wary of shifts towards English-only education and of homogenization through international chain businesses, it should also be accepting of what this new cultural dynamic has to offer.

(Edited: 10/30/2007)

Traveler’s Tools: Localize Your Photos

I MAY BE TRAILING behind the bandwagon a bit on this, but I when I came upon through a contact’s flickr photostream today, I was blown away. Perusing digital satellite imagery on this site, I was able to browse gorgeous photos taken by people from around the globe and visualize the very streets on which they were taken (screenshot above).

Flickr’s sluggish geotagging system has always frustrated me; it’s such a cool concept, but the delivery is so slow and the map images are often fuzzy – loc.alize is about as opposite as can be, with quick loading, slick browsing, and crisp satellite maps. A simple java tool provided by Sumaato Labs makes putting your flickr photos on the map extremely simple, a great way to show friends and relatives more precisely where you’ve been as you traipse around the world.

Highway 1 to Capitola

kitesurfers along highway 1. photo by dailytransit.

WE THROTTLE OUT OF San Francisco and are winding southwards on Highway 1, gunning down the roadway precariously close to coastal cliffs. Excited, resigned, taking in all we can as we silently acknowledge that we are headed to our southernmost destination – after Santa Cruz, it’s the way home.

The scenery is fantastic, a rolling gradation of bucolic fields, harsh drop-offs, sand dunes and beaches.

Feeling spontaneous, we spot The Half Moon Brewery and turn off of the highway. At the restaurant, we sit, take in a breath of sea air, and have a look at the menu – and it looks a little pricey. So in the same vein, we “spontaneously” decide to ditch it and are peeling out of the parking lot before we get our waters.

A ways down the road we are greeted by an amazing panorama of the Pacific, and can’t resist pulling off the road to really soak it in. We get out and see the masses of kite and wind surfers dotting the shoreline and cruising out amid the deep blue surf. It’s idyllic. “This is what I picture when I think of Northern California,” I say to Nick.

Miles later (and after we passed the really cool-looking HI lighthouse hostel) we roll into a gas station in Santa Cruz, fill up the tank, and decide we ought to figure out where we’re camping. Nick asks the station attendant, but she can only think of spots back up the way we came – and there’s no town, no nothin’ up that ways.

We pull out a map (purchased back in Portland), and find that the only real spot to camp is a state park on the edge of Capitola – the town adjacent to Santa Cruz.

By the time we get to Capitola (maybe 15 minutes later), we’re starving, and so we park it in town and settle on a delicious Thai joint before trying to make camp. After our meal we stroll out to the beach, checking out the funky multicolor bungalows, and spotting a couple who are happily asleep in the sand.

The park ranger at the entrance to New Brighton State Park is out for a break, so we find ourselves a campsite and hope that nobody has it reserved – it’s about 8 o’clock, so we figure if someone is gonna show they’d be here by now. We figured wrongly, as it turns out, and the ranger (who can’t be older than 18) tells us we have to move. We pick up our tent and shuffle across the way to our new site, which is actually a lot nicer.

Tent set up and a fire going, the sky fades from dusk to black. We clink together some beers, and call it a night.

Window into Burma

THE BUBBLES OF RAGE and protest have ceded to a false calm back in Burma – the fragile and still-simmering status-quo restored through brutal force. But this cannot be the end, and we cannot forget the people who have disappeared under the junta’s cloak.

Choe Sang-hun, a reporter for The New York Times and International Herald Tribune, has been doing some serious digging around in Burma, risking his ass to put out some really compelling and insightful stories (for more on foreign journalism in Burma, check out ‘Required Reading’ in the sidebar). His latest gives us a window into the shell-shocked Buddhist sangha, and is accompanied with a surreal photo series – I say ‘surreal’ because to be visually taken from inside of the temple, where monks meditate and read peacefully, to the streets, where they march carrying megaphones and signs, feels otherworldly.

The current situation in Burma presents an endless frustration. Not only do we as ordinary citizens feel impotent to enact real change (my two [perhaps naive] letters to lawmakers went unanswered, likely unacknowledged), but even if we held political clout a despot like Than Shwe would lend no ear. But this is no time to give a shrug and go about business as usual – in a world without real walls or borders, all our fates are intertwined.

In whatever small way we can, we must push, raise a voice, and have courage for those who may feel all is lost and hopeless.

Tips on the World’s Markets

namdaemun, seoul. photo by d’n’c.

From the farmers’ stands of Wisconsin to the open-air shijang of Seoul, visiting the local market is often the best way to get a feel for how life flows in a new place. In that vein, the Guardian’s Been There travel section is currently asking readers for their tips on markets around the world – whether you know where to get the authentic Parisian experience, or where to find the best fruit in Sarawak, submit your tips and the Guardian will publish the best in their Travel section this Saturday.

Harold’s Hawaii

HAROLD WAS FEELING LOST. He’d just gotten a call from his wife saying that she was going out. She didn’t say when – or if – she would be back, or quite where she was going. After that, the persistent muted ring of his office telephone puzzled him, and he could only stare at his receding hairline in the dark reflection of his dead monitor. The monitor had died three days ago, but he hadn’t told anyone in the tech department. He’d just let it be, and did paperwork to appear busy when people passed.

In fact, lately Harold hadn’t involved himself much with technology at all. Something about the idea of machinery and circuitboards had come to grate against his skin. Last Tuesday he opened his garage door, looked at the beige Camry sitting inside, and then just decided to walk the 12 miles to work. Since then he’d risen at four every morning and done the same, and was usually the first person in the office. For the first hour or so he would space out at the anonymous oily pools swimming in his coffee, and then start doodling in the margins of reports he was supposed to review.

Harold took a lime life-saver out of his pocket – the last in the roll – and popped it in his mouth. It was only 2 p.m., but it was time to leave. He contemplated what he could tell Mr. Cory that would sound credible. Maybe something about having a sudden onset of diabetes, or the need to pass a bladder stone.

He settled on the more believable option of a toothache.

“Oh, and Harold,” Mr. Cory called out after Harold had absently said he was going to the dentist, “Maybe stop by the barber too, eh?” Harold felt the shaggy locks that draped from the back and sides of his balding head. He only managed an “um” and a nod as a response.

When he got home, Harold pulled off his shoes (no socks) and pants and sat on the couch. He looked at a calendar hung over his wife’s desk, one of those with pictures of pure white sand and water the color of aquamarine. On the kitchen table was a cold, half-eaten order of chicken teriyaki and a yellow sticky-note with the word “Sorry” hastily scrawled across it.

Harold got in the shower, and turned the temperature to lukewarm. Then he plugged his ears and closed his eyes, and hearing the lulling drum of water droplets bouncing off his head, imagined that he was somewhere on an island in the middle of a monsoon.

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