Sunday, May 31, 2009
A Black African Ghetto in Guangzhou, China
Monday, May 25, 2009
Whitewater rafting under a limestone mountai
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Manado to Bitung Road Trip
Mobile post sent by alew using Utterz. Replies. mp3
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Pygmy Searhorse at More at the Lembeh Strait
Mobile post sent by alew using Utterz. Replies. mp3
Friday, May 23, 2008
NAD-Lembeh Dive Resort
Mobile post sent by alew using Utterz. Replies. mp3
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Mating Mandarins at Lembeh Island, Indonesia
A yellow ribbon fish
A male mandarin fish
I stayed at NAD-Lembeh.com resort.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Oman's Musandam Peninsula
Three Photos from Oman's Musandam Peninsula. More photos can be found in my Oman Set at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alew
Our "Dhow" - traditional Omani wooden fishing boat -- though these are for tourists.
View of part of Bhuka, Oman
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST - in case the player below does not work for you.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Twitter blocked in Dubai - see the message I got
I used Anchor Free Hot-Spot Shield VPN to get around this block. It makes the Internet think your computer is in the USA.
Mobile post sent by alew using Utterz. Replies.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Airline Bankruptcies - Global Implosion
Bankrupt Airlines to date: Maxjet (December), Aloha, ATA, Skybus, Adam Air (Indonesia), Oasis (Hong Kong) - all in these past 2 weeks. Coming soon: Champion Air (pretty much confirmed), and Mesa and Go (rumors on the last two). My prediction: look for the airline bankruptcy disease to spread internationally in the coming months.
Mobile post sent by alew using Utterz. Replies. mp3
Sunday, July 22, 2007
The New Lisboa - The World's Ugliest Building?
I first visited Macau in 1974 as an exchange student in Hong Kong. At that time, the Lisboa hotel and casino (the round building in the lower left corner of this photo) was the tallest building in this quaint Portuguese backwater.
Macau has changed a lot over the years and recently replaced Las Vegas the the world's leader in gaming revenues. I tend to experience some level of culture shock every time I go there, though I have long ago given up my nostalgia for the old Macau that I absolutely loved to visit.
A couple of weeks ago I visited Macau again and got a chance to see (and be shocked by) what I consider to be the ugliest building in the world -- the New Lisboa. The casino part of the New Lisboa is in the gold bulb, while the hotel is currently under construction in the tower behind the casino.
The New Lisboa is taller than any of the other buildings and looms over the old historic district of Macau. It can be seen from almost any point on the peninsula and looks like a Japanese robot transformer toy.
In my opinion, this is clearly the ugliest building in the world, both in its architectural style and in its impact on the city of Macau.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Kota Kinablau, Sabah, Malaysia
FYI - You can find photos from my trip to Sabah, Malaysia at: http://flickr.com/photos/alew
Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you unexpectedly get all the things you were wishing for? Well that happened to me here in Malaysia last week.
As I write this I am at the Universiti of Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. I am here in my capacity as an External Examiner for the tourism degree program. An External Examiner is a concept from the British system of higher education and is technically someone who is brought to the university each year to review the final examination papers to ensure rigor. These days, however, the position involves consultation on a wide range of curricular matters.
This is my second visit to UiTM and I basically set aside two weeks so I would have plenty of time to attend to the duties of the position. Before I got here they told me that I would be going to visit the tourism programs at their branch campuses in Kuching (in Sarawak on Borneo) and to Melaka. I have been to both of these cities before and have no objection to a return visit as they are both interesting (though not new).
However, after I got here they told me that I would instead be going to Kota Kinabalu (in Sabah on Borneo) with the Dean of the Faculty of Hotel and Tourism Management. Cool! I have never been there before and have wanted to go there for a long time -- and especially after hearing the Sabah Tourism Director talk about it at a conference last year.
There were two things that I wanted to do in Sabah: visit Mount Kinabalu, at over 13,500 it is the highest peak in Southeast Asia, and go scuba diving (and hopefully see sea turtles). At first, however, the plan was to only go there for two nights (Wednesday to Friday), as there was another event back at the Shah Alam campus on Saturday that they wanted me to attend. But then they found that the Saturday event was cancelled due to a Muslim holiday, so I was allowed to stay until Sunday in Sabah. Thursday there was spent all day at the university. I was scheduled for more talks at the university on Friday, but we pretty much covered it all, so Friday and Saturday were wide open for doing the two things that I most wanted to do there – the mountains and scuba!
I really liked Kota Kinabalu. Maybe it was the brand new 5-star (I think) Le Meridien Hotel that I stayed in for about US$60/night, located across the street from the Philippine Market, fish market, and wet market. Maybe it was the incredibly friendly and welcoming students I met at the UiTM campus. Maybe it was all the new shopping malls that were going up – far more than the 600,000+ population can probably support. Maybe it was the sea food that the city is famous for. Or maybe it was all the villages built on stilts out over the flood flats that are covered by water at high tide and exposed at low tide. Many of them are actually squatters which, for political reasons, are almost impossible to move.
I was envisioning Kuching, in neighboring Sarawak, which I had visited in early January 1998. That was a while ago, and Kuching was far from very modern at that time. Kota Kinabalu (aka KK), on the other hand, is very a very modern city – modern hotels, shopping centers, streets (with traffic jams), and suburban residential development. There are beautiful island surrounded by coral just a few minutes boat ride from the city. And there are cooler mountain resorts surrounding the slopes of Mount Kinabalu. To me it would be a great place for a family vacation, and I am trying to figure out just when I can do that.
The UiTM campus had set aside a car and driver for me for on Friday and two of the tourism lecturers from the UiTM campus took me up to Mount Kinabalu. We left at 7:30 am, as the peak is often cloud covered by mid-morning. We did not get back to my hotel until 6:30pm. We stopped at a couple of scenic and gift shop places going up the mountain, and at the Poring Hot Springs on the far side of the mountain. The driver and one of the lecturers went to Friday prayers, while the other lecturer and I went to the hot springs and the rainforest canopy walk, which was the first time I had done that.
After lunch we headed up to Mount Kinabalu Park (the Poring Hot Springs is also within the park boundaries). On the way, we stopped to buy three durians, one wild durian (known as a “dalit”) and a small kind of jackfruit with white fruit inside (instead of yellow). We went up to the top of the road, where people head out to hike to the top of the mountain (an overnight trek). The area was covered with clouds when we got there that were swishing around the rainforest trees. We then stopped to eat the fruit.
Although I tasted my first durian over 20 years ago, it has only been in the last couple of years that I have learned to like eating them. I still cannot eat as much as a true durian lover, who will eat them non-stop until they get sick! However, I can eat a fair amount and enjoy it. The wild durian tasted even better because it was sweater. It was smaller than the regular durian and had long pointed spikes coming out of it, instead of the stubby spikes on the durian. The jackfruit was really good – much sweater than regular jackfruit.
The day after I got back to Shah Alam I ran into the tourism program coordinator who had flown over to review final exams. She said that she was surprised that her husband gave me the wild durian because most people get an allergic rash from eating it. I dawned on me that I actually had the same reaction. When I was diving the next day, I would feel occasional pinches on my arms and legs, though I was not touching anything. And the day after diving my face felt strange and I assumed that I had gotten sunburn, despite the spf 50 sunscreen I was wearing. However, now I am convinced that it was an allergic reaction and not a sunburn. I had some antihistamine from my last outbreak of hives (from eating something in Hong Kong in 2000), which I took to relieve the allergy. The worked and a couple days later I was fine.
I was introduced to a faculty member at the UiTM KK campus who is working on his Dive Master certification. He picked me up on Saturday to join him and his daughter on a diver with Borneo Divers (RM267 / US$78 for three dives/tanks). We got all our supplies on Mumatik Island. We took a dive boat out and back to a reef for the first dive (45 minutes), took a boat out and came back on shore for the second diver (55 minute), an did a shore diver for the third (50 minutes). The second dive was the best – the most coral and fish; the third was mostly sand and not great visibility - but still interesting. It was a great day.
One of the major reasons I want to come back to Sabah it to dive at Sipidan Island – one of the best dive destinations in the world. It is an old volcanic neck that is completely underwater and the inside of which is lined with coral, amazing fish and a large number of sea turtles. It is on the far side of Sabah from KK and so takes a day to get to and is best visited for a few days.
The morning before my flight I went to the Sunday market which was several blocks from my hotel. It had a carnival-like atmosphere due to the music buskers and the colorful clothes and knick-knacks that were for sale.
A couple of additional notes about KK and Sabah:
- KK is a popular second home and retirement home for Australians and some Brits. Malaysia has a second home program ("Malaysia My Second Home") that encourages this.
- Despite the amazing level of development in KK, Sabah is actually the poorest state in Malaysia. I did not get beyond the KK urban influence area, but once you do get beyond that the more remote villages are quite poor and seldom have electricity. There are also a large number of ethnic and tribal groups in the more remote areas of Sabah.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Nepal Research Project - Back To Kathmandu
FYI - You can find photos from Nepal at: http://flickr.com/photos/alew
11 January 2007
We, my porter and I, left Jorsalle at 7:30am and have been walking pretty much non-stop until now. We stopped for some tea at Tarakoshi (sp?), on a bluff high above the river. I think we dip down and then start uphill toward Lukla.
We passed Dawa and a group of 11 Khumbu Climbing School instructors. I met Peter and Eric, two big names in the climbing world that Kevin often mentions. We should be running into Chongba dai sometime before we get to Lukla, depending on his flight arrival. (I need to remember to email Dawa about Skype.)
There is not much to do when you are just hanging around the wood heater. Most people read books, but I like doing things on my PDA. That is why I have been writing these relatively long blogs. The following are some random notes that I typed up last night.
So Dhal Bat is a kind of lentil soup that is, preferably, poured over rice. I preferred eating as a soup.
'Hot Lemon' (it is also available cold) is sort of like lemonade. In Katmandu it comes plain with some lemon pulp and optional sugar or honey. Here in the rural hills it is made from a powder mix and is usually sweetened slightly, though more sugar is available. I have been having hot lemon drinks ever since I first came down with a cold about a week ago. I have had three since I arrived in Jorsalle this evening (at 30 rupee, 45 cents US each).
I have not had a shower since I left Kathmandu. Although we are staying in guest houses / lodges, it feels moor like camping out with no heat or electricity. Shower facilities, where they exist, are often outside. This might not be the case for the new upscale lodges (some say 5 star) in Namche Bazaar.
My wife bought a small case of heat packets that are designed to be put in gloves to keep your hands warm. After opening each packet, you shake them for a couple of minutes in open air until they start to heat up. I have been putting them in my boots, under the lower laces, since our second day here and I think they have done a lot to keep my feet warm. I have been doing this in the morning and they still giving off heat at the end of the day.
The owner of the Everest Guest House told me that Jorsalle started receiving electricity from a small-scale hydro project about a year ago. However, that source is not very strong and the lights go out in the kitchen area every now and then for a few seconds. The one solar light in the dining/wood heater room is always on. There is no light at all in the guest rooms upstairs.
12 January 2007
I woke up back at the Hotel Tibet in Katmandu this morning. We had gotten the Sherpa Hotel and Coffee Shop at about 12:30 yesterday and I was almost immediately told that I would be on the next flight out back to Kathmandu. I barely had time to drink my Hot Lemon, and pay my airport tax to Tashi, the owner of the Coffee Shop.
Chongba Sherpa was there, as his group of nine more people for the climbing school had just departed a couple of minutes before I arrived. I did see some American-looking people scattered along the path around the airport, which turned out to be those with Chongba. He was behind trying to find a backpack that did not make it off their flight, which the airline did eventually track down. My own bag was taken by my porter to be checked in. They told me that I should leave it unlocked as I would need to open it for security.
I rushed to the airport with my new boarding pass and was asked for my passport number. But I could not find the photocopy of my passport (which I left in a safe at the Hotel Tibet). The security guy let me go anyway. As I waited with four other people in the lounge I should have been looking for my duffle bag outside the window. They let us out of the lounge and onto the small tarmac and my duffle was nowhere to be seen.
They were unloading a lot of stuff from the plane – more like a cargo plane than a passenger plane – and then loaded these large white bags that appeared to be full of crushed soda cans. Then they started loading some people’s bags, but still I did not see mine anywhere. I asked Tashi, who was keeping track of the loading and unloading a couple of times where my bag was. Finally, just before we boarded he asked someone and pointed toward the front of the plane and said it was already on.
The four passengers and one stewardess all sat in the back of the plane. In front of us all the seats were down and the area was filled with the large white bags. There was also a dog in a box who was not happy about this experience. I did not see my bag, and was hoping that it was put in the nose of the plane, though I was not sure that was possible. At least I had plenty of time at the Kathmandu airport to sort out my bag if it did not make the flight.
The flight was a bit bumpy in parts, but otherwise not too bad. I had a right side window seat and got some good photos of the Himalayas and below.
When we landed, we got off the plane and were loaded on to a shuttle bus. While sitting there I saw them open the nose of the plane and, finally, take my duffle bag out! Whew, that was a relief.
The prepaid taxi ride from the airport to the hotel costs 300 rupee. The car was not a formal taxi, and the driver said it was 40 years old! It stalled once trying to go up a hill. I had forgotten how congested and polluted the streets and sidewalks of Kathmandu were. After being in the mountains it was quite a culture shock to be back in the city! Fortunately, I have a day or so to settle in and regroup and organize my thoughts, as well as our research data, before spending a day taking in the major city sites before I leave. If I can, I hope to record a podcast today in which I review some of the things that I have covered in more detail in these blogs. I have over 970 photos that I have kept (after deleting the rejects) so far, but probably wont be adding photos to these blogs until I get a unlimited email access. Here at the Hotel Tibet I am paying 400 rupee for 30 minutes (about US$5 - ouch!).
Nepal Research Project - Namche Bazaar and Beyond
I had yak steak for dinner tonight. It was lean and a bit on the tough and stringy side, but not gamey. We are staying at the Panorama Lodge in Namche Bazaar and I was hoping to have a room with electricity to recharge my camera and computer batteries. Unfortunately, the deluxe rooms that have that are currently unavailable for some reason. I do have a light bulb, but no outlet. So instead, I am charging everything in the restaurant, where there is one plug. My camcorder battery is fully charged now, and my computer is about half charged. My one dead camera battery is currently plugged into the outlet charging.
I went to an Internet café in Namche Bazaar today. It was relatively fast, though a bit pricey at about US$11 an hour. The 30 minutes I was there I was able to upload my blog to blogger.com and reply to emails to my wife and daughter. Kevin and I then walked around the main streets of Namche and stopped in at a supposedly German bakery. Amazingly, I found some yarn today. There were two skeins hidden next to scarves made by the same yarn. Many stalls in Namche sell these scarves, but none of the others had the yarn -- at least of those that I looked at.
Namche has many new buildings, the biggest of which are modern lodges that are four to five stories tall. There are also a lot of souvenir shops selling scarves, gloves, hats and jewelry. But there are not many tourists at this time of the year. We met a guy from Australia with his two children at a large rest area coming up Namche Hill. And there is a group of 11 Germans staying at the Panorama Lodge this evening.
FYI - You can find photos from my trip to Nepal at: http://flickr.com/photos/alew
We interviewed one of the Germans who we had met around the wood stove in the middle of the restaurant. This was her first time in Nepal and she had been in the Khumbu for the past 10 days -- leaving for Lukla tomorrow. Thought she was a perfect candidate to test our mythology on a tourist, since she was also quite talkative. It actually went quite well with her, though we did tend to avoid questions of changes in the Khumbu over a certain time period.
We only had one other interview today, with Lila Bishop, who first came to the Khumbu in 1960 on a trip with her husband, the late Barry Bishop, the second American to summit Everest and the first to traverse Everest from one side to the other, and Sir Edmund Hillary. She has been here at least 30 times since then.
So today we talked to two tourists -- one who was a first-time novice in the Khumbu, and the other who is among a small group of the most informed of all visitors to the region. Based mostly on the interview with the German lady, we will want to modify our survey when we use it for visitors. We will not ask them about how things have changed, if it is their first visit. We will also add a question on what they knew or heard about the Khumbu before their visit, and whether their expectations were met. And possibly questions about first impressions and likelihood of a return visit.
I had also suggested that we interview one of our porters who is also a climber and speaks good English. He is no longer around this evening, so we will try and get him again later, if possible. However, we are splitting up tomorrow. Lila is staying in Namche, Carl is going to Phortse, and Kevin and I will go to Khumjung tomorrow, then Phortse after that.
Plastic water bottles and glass beer bottles are major environmental waste problems in the Khumbu. To limit plastic, we use tap water that we purify with iodine tablets. I have two bottles, one that I drink from and one that I purify new water in. In addition to the iodine tablets, I have tablets that remove the iodine taste and color.
It was interesting to learn of the close relationship between Sherpas and Tibetans. Sherpas originally came from Tibet, they use the same written script, and their spoken language is almost identical. The large prayer stones that we pass on the left are covered with Tibetan script. Sherpas also practice the same religion as Tibetans, and photos of the Dalai Lama are in most every establishment in the Khumbu.
8 January 2006
I guess 9pm is bedtime here in Namche Bazaar. I was the last person in the restaurant where I was reviewing my photos and charging my batteries, when the owner told me that that it was bedtime.
I came back this morning to try and fully charge my batteries. The German group was having their breakfast, as they wanted to leave by 8am for their hike to Lukla. We learned that they were had come through the German tour company, Hauser, which specializes in trekking and ecotours. For most of then this was their first visit to Nepal.
I am in Khumjung now, waiting for lunch. According to one sign I saw, Khumjung is at 12,475 feet (3790 meters). To get here we basically took a trail that went straight up the hillside behind Namche. The trail took us past the Namche airport (which has a very short grass runway) and the Everest View Lodge, which was, until recently, the highest lodge in the world.
A new, higher one is on a ridgeline high across the valley from Namche. That, and many other large, new lodges and resorts are owned by Sonam Sherpa, the owner of Yeti Airlines and whose wife was the first Sherpa woman to climb Everest. She later died on Everest, as have so many of the people who have made climbing it an important part of their lives. That is one of the things that seems to a recurring theme in the casual conversations that arise now and then.
The view from the top of the hill we climbed was amazing. Everest and it surrounding peaks were all visible to the north, with the Tengboche monastery well below where we stood. Several other dramatic peaks loomed above us in other direction, including Amadablam. I took 360 photo panoramas with both my camcorder and camera.
It was a relatively short jaunt down the backside of the hillside to Khumjung. I was amazed at how fast our two porters were moving coming down hill. Even walking straight on flat land is a bit challenging for me at this elevation. I never really noticed the thin air in Flagstaff (at 7000 ft), but here at 12,475 ft, it definitely takes your breadth away.
For lunch I had Rice Covered With (Ngak) Cheese. A ngak is a female yak. Kevin had boiled potatoes. Almost all the many terraced and rock wall enclosed fields here are used for potatoes, and the area is known for good ones.
Khumjung is a very clean and orderly town spread across a small valley. Most of the buildings are off-white and look relatively new -- and all of the roofs have the same color green tin. Khumjung is the site of a regional High School, which distant students attend as a dormitory school.
In fact, most of Khumjung is empty at this time of year. The first guest house that we went to was closed for the season. Those with money move to Katmandu in the winter to escape the cold. And it is cold. Although we had clear skies through early afternoon, suddenly some clouds rolled in blocking the sun and so I bundled up, putting both of jackets on. Hopefully the clouds will keep the overnight temperatures higher.
Lila and Carl stayed in Namche this morning with two porters, we took two porters with us, and two other porters took teaching supplies up to Phortse for the Khumbu Climbing School that Kevin is teaching in after I leave. Those last two porters just came by to get their final payments from us before they head back to Lukla.
So far we have had only two interviews today. One was with a 82 year old Sherpa who was on many of the earliest Everest expeditions in the 1950s. We did not even try to do the photo categories with him. Instead we just gave him the photos to look at and then asked him questions about how they have changed and his opinion of them. It was interesting, but I think he might have a bit too old for what we wanted to do.
The second interview was with his 26 year old granddaughter, who mostly just takes care of her grandparents. That interview went normal and well. We had gone to the high school to interview one of the teachers earlier, but he was only available for a short time, so we made an appointment to come back tomorrow morning. This is actually the winter holiday for the students, so there are not many teachers around.
I am now taking half a Diamox tablet twice a day, as I have been quite sensitive to the tingly sensation that it causes in my toes, finger and face. Even with half a tablet I still feel that odd sensation now and then. My cold has settled into my chest and even though I occasionally cough up phlegm, it is not really too bad. I think Kevin is more congested than me today.
I took a second look at the summary of the NSF proposal evaluation (the one that was rejected) this evening. Here is what it said...
POSITIVE ASPECTS OF THE PROPOSAL AND PROPOSED RESEARCH: The proposal employs innovative humanistic and qualitative methods to explore an important and timely topic: the perception of regional environmental and social change in a long-time eco- and adventure tourism hub, and contrasts in those perceptions by local Nepalis and visitors.
SHORTCOMINGS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE PROPOSAL AND PROPOSED RESEARCH: The researchers have not defined their terms well, have not identified clear hypotheses, and do not seem to exhibit adequate grounding in the relevant local or theoretical literature. Their methods seem rather convoluted and they have not really clarified how they will use their results to answer their questions.
POSITIVE ASPECTS OF THE PROPOSAL AND PROPOSED RESEARCH: The proposal aims to empower Khumbu residents to better manage their future, and could propagate awareness of tourism-induced changes in Nepal and their impact on local residents and visitors.
SHORTCOMINGS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE PROPOSAL AND PROPOSED RESEARCH: The proposal does not seek to involve local residents except as informants. For example, it employs only one Nepali graduate student in a research effort that is culturally-sensitive and might well employ local students.
SYNTHESIS COMMENTS: This is an interesting proposal but needs further clarification regarding how the methods to be used and the results that are obtained bear on the research questions. Development of research hypotheses could be very helpful in this regard.
These are all valid comments, in my opinion. I think, though, that we can address them in the proposal, now that we have tested our mythology, and now that I have come to know the Khumbu, and Kevin’s relationship to it, better. It is too bad Gyan Nyaupane, our other collaborator on this project, could not be here. I think he will also be an invaluable resource in dealing with more official channels in the government.
9 January 2007
We are in a restaurant at 13117 feet (3975 meter) at the Mong La Pass. We ran into Lila here. She had left Namche Bazaar a little after 9:00am and was teaching her porter (maybe 40-ish and always smiling) how to write his name.
We did two interviews this morning before leaving Khumjung, so I guess we left there about 10:00 am. Unfortunately, the first part of the trek was downhill (which was bothering my right knee), which meant that the rest of the walk was uphill. The scenery was dramatic, as we walked a narrow trail of mostly rocks and steps, and slopes going almost straight above us and down below us. Behind us the Khumbu Valley stretched into the haze back to Lukla where started. In front of us stood Amadablam, said to be the most beautiful mountain in Nepal, With the Tengboche monastery on a ridgeline below.
We are now in our lodge in Phortse. The wood burning stoves give off a ton more heat than the electric stove last night in Khumjung. From Mong La we dropped almost straight down a couple thousand feet to the river, and then up about a thousand feet to Phortse. The walk down was actually a lot harder than the walk up because I developed a pain in my right knee that I only feel when stepping down rock-like steps.
Phortse is where the Khumbu Climbing School takes, which is the main reason that Kevin, Lila and Carl are here. There appears to a climbing culture, based largely in Bozeman, Montana where about half of the climbing school teachers are coming from. Kevin is connected to that world through his mountain guiding experience. And many of the Sherpas are connected to it through guiding expeditions in Nepal. The big names (and often big egos, from what I hear) in that circle are all people who have had their photos on the cover of Outside magazine. Outdoor gear companies like North Face are also a big part of this culture. There is a lot of name dropping when people in this subculture meet, which seems to be a way of establishing common social. I guess that is a common model in most small social structures.
We interviewed one person this evening here in Phortse -- a mountain climbing expedition guide the owner of a lodge that Kevin stayed in last year for the climbing school. He had a lot to say, thought I did learn something about administering the photos that I had not thought of before. Some people have several photos that they are unable to place group with any others. We allow this and treat each card as a separate pile for discussion. In the past, I had saved these single category photos for last. This time, however, I saved his 'climbing' pile for last because he talked a lot about climbing changes before we were able to get him to do the card categories. That was a mistake because after doing all the single photos, he then discussed each of the photos in the 'climbing' category, rather than the whole group together. This extended the interview beyond what would have been enough.
That whole interview took 1 hour and 15 minutes -- not our longest by any means. The length of the interviews is a bit of concern. Most people do not seem to mind the length, though we did have a time problem with the WWF person, and there was the older Sherpa who suddenly cut us off. Another interviewee (who I shall not identify) was surprised that we were able to find people who were willing to do such a long interview process. But out of 18 interviews those were the only times that length was an issue.
My cold has evolved in the 'Khumbu Cough’ -- which is a deep raspy cough that a lot of visitors get here. We decided to put off our last interview until the morning, as we are pretty tired this evening. To me, the fact that we have been hiking for several hours every day has been a problem, as it has cut into the number of interviews that we have been able to do. This is partly due to the one lost day we had at the Katmandu Airport, partly to Kevin's need to get to Phortse for the climbing school, and perhaps partly to acclimatization and physical shape slowing me down. I am hoping to interview the porter who will be carrying my bag back to Lukla -- he seems like a very nice person, though probably with little English.
I have a very nice view of Phortse from my room, overlooking dormant potato fields, stone fences and two stupas in the distance. I could see the neighbors burying their potatoes for winter storage. When I went to the outside toilet (the inside toilet is closed during the daytime) I saw three baby yaks scurrying down the path in front of me, followed by a small boy (4 years old?) and then his mom. It was one of the cutest things I have seen.
10 January 2007
It took just under two hours to walk down from Phortse and back up to the Mong La Pass. The climb up was pretty much as bad as I had guessed it would be, although Passang Lhamu was surprised at how fast I was going. The climb up was even hard for her as the air got thinner. I was using Kevin's walking sticks to help push myself up the hill, and I think that helped.
From there is has been almost entirely downhill, which is really starting to take a toll on my knees. My right knee was hurting yesterday, but since I have been using my left knee more, now that is starting to hurt. It took another hour to get to the restaurant at Kyangjuma (11,500 ft / 3600 meters) where I am having Sherpa Stew for lunch. This Sherpa stew is a lot like the chicken noodle soup that I had at the Katmandu Airport, except fewer noodles and only a few slices of potato. The one I had yesterday had dumplings instead of noodles and lots of potato chunks along with the mixed vegetables in a thick white soup.
We got to Namche Bazaar at 2:30 -- only 4.5 hours from when we started. To get to Lukla the next day would require leaving Namche no later than 8am for a long day of walking. So instead, I decided to make a 10min stop at the internet café and then keep on going down the Namche Hill to Jorsalle -- another 1.5 hours of mostly painful downhill walking.
I said goodbye to my guide, Passang Lhamu, and paid her with a generous tip from Kevin and I. And I bought a walking stick, since I gave Kevin's two sticks to Passang Lhamu to bring back to him.
One thing that had made today's walk less comfortable was the wind. It was stronger that before and very cold at the higher elevations. It was noticeably warmer once we hit the river at the bottom of Namche Hill.
By now it was just me and my porter. We chatted some and I thought his English was quite good. So after we got to the Everest Guest House in Jorsalle I asked him if I could interview him with the photos. Unfortunately, he said no.
So now I am sitting around the wood stove at the guest house in Jorsalle (it is spelled with 2 Ls on the sign up the trail) waiting for a plate of Dhal Bat Vegetable Curry. Dhal Bat is what all of the Sherpas we travel with eat, but I have yet to see a westerner eat it. So I am going to give it a try...
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Nepal Research Project - Into the Khumbu
FYI - You can find photos from Nepal at: http://flickr.com/photos/alew
5 January 2007
I am sitting on the roof of the domestic terminal of the Kathmandu Airport. Our flight was scheduled for 6am departure -- it is now almost noon. Initially the delay was due to fog in Kathmandu -- something is occurs almost daily. In fact, we did not even leave our hotel until about 9:30 because we knew all the flights had been delayed.
The sun is now out and a couple of jets have taken off. Now the delay is due to wind in Lukla, our destination. Wind is apparently not common this time of year. But due to the precarious location of the Lukla airport on the side of a large mountain, any winds that arise will cancel a flight. So far, our flight is not cancelled. If it is, we will return to the Hotel Tibet.
I mentioned briefly in my last blog that I had come down with a cold. I woke up yesterday with a sore throat. I felt like something was coming on, so I had taken a couple of Sudafed late in the day before. I did not feel that great for most of the day. I started taking cold medicines (Sudafed at first. And then Panadol cold and flu which I bought), including amoxicillin (after reading the dosage recommendations online), and sucking on lozenges. I also tried to rest, though we still did a couple more interviews, I let Kevin do most of the talking.
After one of the interviews, Dawa took us to the Assan district to look for yarn for me to buy. This district was a maze of narrow streets packed with people selling and buying a great variety of foods, household goods and crafts. Despite my cold, I took a lot of photos of the buildings and street scenes. It was actually hard for me to keep up with the others while taking photos. And we never did find any traditional yarn -- just more modern imports from India.
As exhilarating as the Assan market area was (my favorite part of Kathmandu, so far), I paid for the experience later as I was wiped out by the time we got back to our hotel. We ended up eating a late lunch and late dinner at the hotel, rather than go out, since we still had to pack for the next day.
We interviewed two people today. One was quite you -- 29 years old. The youngest person we interviewed so far was 22 years old. Although based on only two cases, it appears that age has a significant impact on historical perspective and depth of opinion on social conditions in Nepal. This is not a problem with the current research, as we want a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. However, in future years we also want to interview visitors to the Khumbu, and that is what I am concerned about. It is possible that most, if not all, of the visitors who we interview will have limited perspectives on historical change I the Khumbu. To explore this possibility, Kevin and I will interview some tourists on this trip, as well -- just to see how our current methodology works with them. I am guessing that we will need to adjust it to obtain useful information beyond the sorting of the photos.
Another issue that has arisen in our surveys is that a couple of respondents have not placed the photos in piles in the first part of the study, as we had requested. Instead, they spread all of the photos out on the table. The photos are generally grouped next to each other, though they sometimes change their minds during the discussion of them. I am not sure how to deal with this issue, or even if it is an issue at all. I think we need to discuss this with our Sherpa friends.
It is now 1pm and I just had bowl of 'chicken noodle soup' in the airport cafeteria. It cost 80 rupees (about US$1.15), and was really good -- a good-size bowl of thick soup broth filled with ramen noodles, large slices of chicken (in comparison to canned chicken noodle soup), and lots of sliced vegetables. I also has a 'hot lemon' drink, which is a very common drink here (25 rupees = about US$0.40). It comes unsweetened with a side container of either honey or sugar.
The worst part about having our flight canceled (if that happens) is that we would not be able to attend the Saturday market in Namche Bazaar tomorrow. This once-a-week event is supposed to be very colorful, with traders from all over the Himalaya region, including Tibetans who bring factory seconds and plastics and electronics from China.
Photo: View of the Himalayas from out small plane
It is now 8:50pm. I am in my -20 deg F sleeping bag in the Coffee Shop hotel in Lukla. Our flight left Kathmandu a little before 3pm. I sat in the front on the left side, giving me the best view of the mountains on the plane. All the seats on the twin propeller plane were window seats and the flight was full. I was busy taking videos and photos all the way on the 25 minute flight. Unfortunately, I did not get a good shot of our landing at Lukla. The runway is a relatively steep incline on the side of a mountain. The plane lands going up hill, and they take off by going down hill -- quite amazing.
I have a room to myself tonight. There is a neon light bulb in the room, but no electrical outlets. My computer is on as I downloaded audio and photo files on to it, and charged my PDA, which is what I am writing these blogs on.
We did one interview in Lukla. We walked to the other side of town, which was mostly downhill. I was pooped coming back, though, as it was uphill. We leave at 9am in the morning and may get another interview in before then.
6 January 2007
I walked about five miles today. We dropped about a thousand feet from Lukla, but climbed about the same to get to Jorsalle where we are spending the night. Not surprisingly, the straight and down parts of the trail were easy, while the climbs were a challenge. I think the combination of my cold, the altitude, and my general physical condition contributed to my difficulties going uphill. Tomorrow is the big challenge, as we will make a 2000 foot climb up Namche Hill to Namche Bazaar. If the weather is clear we should see Mt Everest, along with other peaks, on the way up.
I took lots of photos and some videos today of the mountains and river, of tourism, of villages and farmers, of tourism, of yaks and prayer stones and flags (always pass them on the left), and of tourism. There is an amazing amount of tourism here. This is the slow season, but we still saw quite a few groups of visitors -- mostly, but not exclusively, Japanese. We passed through a lot of villages today and all of them had guest houses, restaurants, and shops.
The guest houses vary from the very basic ones that we are staying in, with minimal facilities, to upscale ones with attached bathrooms and hot showers, and occasionally internet access. Most all take MasterCard and Visa. Most are also built quite recently, perhaps within the past five years, and the communities look quite prosperous as a result. The standard of living for most of the people, however, is still quite poor by western standards.
The guest houses that we have stayed in, so far, are very basic. They are built of single pains of wood, which means you can hear everything in the rooms next to your own. There is a shared toilet in the hall way -- a western one the first and an Asian style squatting toilet tonight. The place tonight runs on solar power and so has no lights in the rooms, just a candle, which I did not use. The headlamp that I brought works just fine. Although we are indoors, it still feels very much like camping.
We got three interviews in today. The first was with an old Sherpa who has been on many Everest expeditions, which he told us about. In fact, we had a hard time getting him to group the photos because he just wanted to talk about them. With help from our guide, Pasang Lhamu (a very common female Sherpa name), we finally did get him to create the groups and discuss them. However, when it came to the second task, he abruptly said the he had to go and do some other things. He was quite a character.
The second interview was with the Rinpoche of Tengpoche Monastery, which is above Namche Bazaar. He was in the town of Ghat because at 72 years old he does not like the cold of the higher elevation. We offered him a Kata, which is a saffron scarf with some money (500 rupee, about US$7). He took the scarf, opened it so the money would fall out, then put the scarf on around our necks. During our interview a family with two daughters came in and did the same. We were later told that tomorrow he will start three months of meditation.
We did not do the cards with the Rinpoche, but instead just asked him questions that got to the same topics. For the first time, we had to use Pasang Lhamu to interpret his responses, which were quite lengthy -- we were there for an hour.
The Rimpoche gave us each a red string, which he blew on. We took the string and tied it around our necks for good luck. While crossing a bridge later I saw Pasang Lhamu tie her saffron scarf to the bridge rail (actually a wire), so I did the same, along with the many other scarves and prayer flags. Carl later told me that putting the scarf there means that
The third interview was with the young, 23 year old manager of the guest lodge that we are staying in tonight. This one is more remote and there not even a light in my room. We interviewed her in the restaurant area, where we had eaten dinner and had sat around a wood burning stove that gave off lots of heat when it had firewood.
At Kevin’s suggestion I started taking Dyamox to prevent altitude sickness. It makes your fingers and toes tingle, and I may just take them once a day instead of twice a day because of that.
7 January 2007
I just had a bowl of garlic soup for lunch at the Panorama Lodge on the hillside overlooking Namche Bazaar. We left Jorsalle at 9:20am and reached the high hang bridge at 9:50, which is where the switchbacks start up the Namche Hill. We arrived in Namche Bazaar at about 11:20am. The elevation here is 11,300 feet and I have a bit of a headache.
.. more to come …
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Nepal Research Project - Refining the Methodology
FYI - You can find photos from my trip to Nepal at: http://flickr.com/photos/alew
3 January 2007
We did three interviews yesterday. It was the first time that we were able to test our methodology to see if it worked. (The preliminary methodology is discussed in detail in a recent Geography for Travelers podcast, though I will also get into those details again here.) The night before I was telling Kevin that there were two concerns that I had about the methodology. The first was that because the two techniques were based on standard methods used by other researchers in the past, it was not really focused on environmental and social change, and as such the results we get may be unrelated to our research problem. The photographs we collected were historical in nature (both old and new), but that alone might not be enough to get people to naturally talk about changes over time. The only way we can know if this is the case is to test the methodology.
My second concern was related to time and the number of photographs that were being used. We had scanned 74 photographs originally, and had selected 40 of these for use. Kevin had some concern on the degree to which we could get the Sherpas and other Nepalis to open up and express their views and opinions. Nepalis overall tend to be somewhat reserved and hospitable. Language might also be an issue.
Our first test subject was a young Sherpa woman who is also a trekking guide and an occasional mountaineering instructor. She was born and raised in Lukla, the gateway to the Khumbu region and the town that we will fly into to begin our hike up to Namche Bazaar (the unofficial capital city of the Sherpas.)
Kevin and I had developed a protocol that described, step-by-step what we would say and do in the interview. After a couple of questions about her background, we had her look through the 40 photos and then group them into piles based on categories of her choice. She created nine piles, including: Making food, Crossing rivers, Animals, Entertainment and recreation, Mountains, Culture, Villages, People working, Education. This took quite a long time (over 20 minutes, I think). Then, according to our protocol, we had her describe the groups she had created. This was intended to be an open-ended discussion. However, there was limited discussion beyond the brief descriptions that were given.
I then took the photographs, shuffled them, and gave them back to our respondent, asking her to place them into three piles: (1) those that show the best of the Khumbu, (2) those that show the worst, and (3) those that are in between. She selected 21 photographs for the best and six photographs that showed the worst. We then asked her to tell us why she selected the photographs in the best and worst piles. Her responses were fairly simple descriptions: Mountains and climbing, Education, Culture, Animals, Television, Tourism and hotels, and Old homes. She further elaborated on these with some prompting.
After the first run we discussed how it went and how we could make it better. The discussion included our respondent and the film maker, who had decided not to videotape this session. First, we felt that there were too many photos, which seemed to have made the first task very long to complete. To remedy this, we started by looking at the one group in which our respondent had placed the most photos. This was the village group, which had nine photos – about a quarter of our photos. We discussed the photos in that group and removed three that seemed applicative. We then looked at all of the photos and removed one more that seemed applicative. This brought us down to 36 photos, which was closer to the numbers used in precious studies.
The second issue was how to obtain responses that were more closely related to our research questions. We decided to add certain questions at key points in the protocol. These included: (1) specific questions about the respondent’s background and familiarity with the Khumbu, (2) asking how the topic for each group of photos has changed since the person first came to know the Khumbu (which would be as a child for most), and which changes were good and which were bad, and (3) asking how the best and worst features have changed over time. This third question was optionally and would only be included to encourage additional discussions, if necessary.
We used these changes in the second and third interviews that did today, and we appeared to have great success. The additional questions clearly focused the discussion on our research topic, and the respondents went on at great length about the topics that were discussed. Part of the success, however, probably had to do with the age and experience of the other respondents, both of whom were males and around 50 years old. Despite that, I do not think we will need to make further adjustments to the methodology.
The next big issue will be applying this methodology to a translation situation – where the respondent does not speak English. We will not be facing that situation until we we fly to Lukla on January 5th. At breakfast this morning we heard that all flights out of Kathmandu were canceled yesterday due to the fog in the morning. Apparently flights do not go out in the afternoon due to strong convections (rising air) that can make flying dangerous. I wonder how this might affect our plans?
In preparation for our journey into the Khumbu, we stopped by a pharmacy and bought: Amoxycillin (20 x 500mg) and Erythromycin (20 x 250mg) antibiotics, Diamox [Acetazolamide] (17 x 250mg) for high altitude sickness, Tinidazole Antriprotozal (6 x 1000mg and 30 x 500mg) for diarrhea, and about 175 cough drops. At Kevin’s suggestion, I had earlier bought two rolls of toilet paper, a package of 20 wet wipes, two packets of oral rehydration salts, multiple vitamins (which I forgot to bring from home) and a Sancho (a Nepalis version of the Chinese White Flower Embrocation, or Tiger Balm Oil). Before I left the US, I had also bought (based on an email that Kevin forwarded to me): blister treatment pads, water purification tablets, immodium (for diarrhea) and sunscreen. Am I a bit concerned about getting sick? If I was not before, I am now.
(4 January addendum - I woke up with a sore throat this morning -- big bummer!)
For lunch yesterday we went to a pastry shop near our hotel and had curry puffs and cookies. For dinner we went to the Third Eye Restaurant in the Thamel district. It was the best Indian restaurant that I have ever been to, although we did have to sit on a raised flat platform – no easy on my hips, and the Eric Clapton CD they played got quite loud at times.