Saturday, April 14, 2012

New Photo-Based Travel Journal!

Realising that it will take me many years to write up detailed travel stories, I've decided to start a new picture-focused travel blog! It'll also be easier to read in small bite-sized chunks. I still plan on eventually writing up my detailed thoughts and experiences along with a lot of information about the places I've been, but for new, you can see a fun overview of my travels. Please drop by when you get a chance! Thanks!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Releasing Rough Notes!

As it's starting to dawn on me that it will most likely take me over five years to finish organising my travel stories to post, I've decided to give people an advanced preview, for my family and friends who are interested to see what I've been up to. I am releasing my raw, unedited notes (with some contact details blanked out) from my journeys!

Some of these notes (especially the ones from earlier trips) are somewhat cryptic, but gives you a sense of what I've done. My later notes are much more detailed.

I'm going to start putting all my transcribed notes up here starting from the earliest notes I have to the latest, organised by trip, so keep an eye on this spot!

An additional reason that, and the reason that got me to think about putting up my rough transcribed notes, is that I want a way to prevent me from losing my notes, either by losing hardware or getting a hacked account. Hopefully, the Internet archive sites will craw the text from these posts, and I'll have a nearly un-loseable copy of my notes.

In any case, enjoy! I look forward to the day when all my travel notes are finally posted!

Here they are:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Update: Completed notes for post-New Zealand trip.

Just finished my handwritten notes about my New Zealand to San Francisco trip. After typing these notes up, I'll be back to updating this blog again. It wasn't easy, but I now have a cool hand-written journal for this 116 day long trip, and filled up over 160 pages!

I look forward to sharing my stories with everyone soon! There are some interesting stories from this trip I can't wait to share, such as:
- Getting reported and questioned about smuggling something out of North Korea.
- Hitchhiking in areas with rebel attacks within the past couple of decades.
- Being involved in a road accident in Laos and having to take bloodied people with broken bones and twisted limbs going into shock to a clinic.
- Getting stuck in the middle of nowhere and being invited to sleep in the tribe of some kids I befriended on the side of the road using my terrible French and charade skills, and finding out I was the first outsider visitor the kids had met.
- Visiting areas recently devastated by a tsumani and feeling the impact it had on the community.
- Hanging out and drinking kava from bowls made from old fishing floats with locals while their kids slept on straw mats beside us.
- Riding a bicycle through downpours through jungle roads with ancient ruins all around.
- Swimming over a dark bottomless hole to gurgling sounds in a cave filled with the clearest water I have ever seen.
... so many memories, and I've barely scratched the surface!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Update: Posts Resuming Soon!

Hey everyone!

I realise I haven't updated my blog in forever now, and with good reason. Since my last post, I've been busy interviewing, and left my job as a game programming tutor (lecturer) at Media Design School in Auckland, New Zealand. I embarked on a 4.5 month trip around the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, North Korea and Japan on my way back to North America to work as a software engineer at Zynga in San Francisco, after surprising myself and others by turning down a job offer from Google in Mountain View.

Since I've been travelling, I haven't had the chance to update my blog. I also went right on the Mafia Wars 2 team upon arriving in SF, so going from 5 moths of not working to pulling 100hr work weeks was quite a system shock! I've now just started working on the CityVille team, and now that things have settled down a bit, I can once again start chronicling my travels. I can't wait to write about my (once again) life-changing trip, but there are so many trips to catch up on (I realised the other day I've spent a good 20% of my time since graduating four years ago travelling)!

I'm currently going to dedicate perhaps 30 minutes a day to this travel log. I still need to finish recording my last week of travel (the little I remember from over two months ago) before starting organising my trips into readable posts.

In the meantime, you can get a very tiny random taste of the experiences I have had at some of my friends' blogs. I've found myself mentioned on a few random blogs from people I have met... but didn't think of making a note about it so don't have the addresses.

My friend Jérôme, whom I first met when he couchsurfed my couch in SF a couple of years ago and then took good care of my in New Caledonia keeps a blog. There's a few photos of places we went together, but I'm dissappointed that he hasn't written up our trip to Ouvéa yet! I hope he'll get that up soon! You can see his blog (in French) here:

I also have a quick mention as a "friend from college" in my good friend Ben's new Osaka ramen blog. (Actually, the couch Jérôme surfed in SF was both mine and Ben's, as we lived together back then) You can see a sample of the tasty (get it? "tiny taste") foods I had in Japan in his posts from late August:

OK, better get back to work recording my trip before I forget it, and looking forward to updating this blog once again! It's been far too long!

Image edited from original at

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Going to Vanuatu

I've booked a cheap (<$400NZD) ticket to visit Vanuatu from Dec. 19 to Dec. 26. I'm really looking forward to the visit, although a bit uncomfortable about the fact that there is malaria, dengue, typhoid, and a variety of other exotic diseases (including leprosy!) there, and supposedly no real modern healthcare facilities. Oh well, I suppose I'll just have to take some extra precautions.

I plan on staying a few days on Efate, as my flight will be landing there in Port Vila, Vanuatu's capital. I plan on spending most of my time on Tanna, where I will visit Mount Yasur, an active volcano that has been erupting constantly since the first European explorers arrived on the island (in fact, it was the glow of the volcano that apparently attracted the first explorers there). I am kind of scared about this volcano trip - although it is not too common, once in a while, with an unpredictable larger eruption, it apparently hurls a shower of lava bombs at the visitors, and people have been killed there before. Apparently everyone is told to watch the lava bombs, and if one comes for you, don't run, but step out of its way. I suppose I'll just be extremely cautious there and hope that no explosions are big enough to hurl lava bombs at me while I am on the volcano. Other than that, I'm looking forward to seeing some of the traditional "kastom" villages there, as well as the cargo cult villages - the most famous of which is the John Frum cult. Although different sources seem to report different beliefs, from what I gather, it is a cult that believes a god manifesting as a white man in western-style clothing will return one February 15th, celebrated annually as John Frum Day, and bring the villagers great riches. It is believed that this will only happen if the villagers return to a very traditional way of life, shunning western technology, missionaries, not attending school, and ridding themselves of money. Some believe John Frum to be a manifestation of a spirit that lives in the volcano, some believe that he is a vision, and some even believe that John Frum and Jesus are the same being after interacting with Christian missionaries. The cult seems to recognise that John Frum is from the USA and is associated with the US army, and they even have a ritualistic "Tanna Army" organisation, who puts on mock military parades. Many speculate the origins of this cult are from anonymous military men from the US army who introduced themselves as "John from the US" during World War II. Interestingly, this beliefs stills seems to be quite strong in the area, strong enough to obtain a seat in parliament for the John Frum political party. I'll report more about it when I learn more from the locals!

In any case, I will definitely take the utmost precautions, but this should be a very interesting trip if the weather cooperates and things go smoothly!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Melbourne - Day 4 (Epilogue)

Today was my last day in Melbourne before heading back to Auckland. Packing up all of my stuff, double checking and triple checking to make sure I haven't left anything behind, I once again headed off to Queen Victoria Market to meet up with Jake, after saying farewell to Damien. I wasn't planning on doing anything too intense today - since I was heading off directly from the city to the airport for a 4pm flight, I was going to be carrying my pack with me all day.

Today, with the market open, it was a very different atmosphere compared to yesterday. With the stores open, many customers were milling around, and it proved to be quite a centre of activity. First order of business was to grab breakfast at a place that Jake liked. There, we had a very cheap, but hearty breakfast, and I enjoyed a flat white to make up for my lack of sleep. From here, we quickly toured the inside portion of the market, which reminded me very much of the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto (although a bit smaller - or perhaps I didn't tour the entire area). I thought I would be happy living near a market like this, with low-cost but fresh-looking butchers, seafood stalls, and boutique beer and wine vendors. From here, we moved on to the main reason that Jake wanted to visit the market - souvenirs. Since he was returning home to the US the next day from his three month trip, he wanted to bring back some souvenirs for his family and friends. The souvenir portion of the market was located in what appeared to be large outdoor warehouses, with a variety of cheap and mostly campy trinkets for sale, but at very low prices. Picking out a few items that fit Jake's limited budget, we headed over to the library for me to check my flight information, where we took turns going online as I couldn't bring my bag into the library, and there wasn't much point in storing it.

From here, there wasn't much time to do much else, so we just wandered around the city, eventually ending up along the southern banks of the Yarra. We ended up just sitting on a bench on the shores of the Yarra looking at the skyscrapers of the Melbourne CBD. We had some great and deep conversations about life, and were enjoying each other's company in the warm sun. These are the kind of relaxing moments that I feel like everyone needs once in a while - and it makes me realise that it's not where you go, but who you go with and who you meet that defines a trip. After sitting there for quite some time, a bit after noon, I decided it was time for me to head off to the airport. We meandered our way to the Southern Cross Station, stopping once to take a commemorative photos of us together in Melbourne. Seeing Southern Cross Station for the first time from the outside, I was impressed with its modern architecture, especially its wavy roof, completed in 2006. There were also odd-looking multi-story yellow boxes with rounded edges perched on thin metal legs, which served as what I think are offices in the station, judging by the contents of the boxes visible from large glass panels.

At the station, we said our farewells as I boarded the bus, and wished him luck with his plans of retuning to school. I arrived at the airport reasonably early, so I sat at a café to enjoy a mocha while reviewing my photos from the trip and watching the airplanes milling about outside the window. As I sat at various parts of the terminal for some changes in scenery, I was surveyed by Yvette, a representative from Tourism Australia. As it turns out, she was a Couchsurfer, and we chatted for a while after the survey. I asked many questions regarding life in Melbourne and her reasons for moving there. As for the flight and trip back to my flat in Auckland, that was quite uneventful. I had plenty of time to think about the lessons I learned on this trip on the three hour flight, and I arrived home satisfied at my leisurely tour of Melbourne and the time I spent with Jake and our deep and meaningful conversations. In the short time what we have been together in New Zealand and Australia, I feel that Jake and I have gotten to know each other pretty well, and will be checking in with each other for the rest of our lives, hoping, and believing that we will meet again in the future. We had better, as Jake owes me a dinner or two!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Melbourne - Day 3

The third day, I woke up, looked at the various drawings and writings on the other Couchsurfers' van, and headed into town to Queen Victoria Market, where I was to meet Jake. Queen Victoria Market, established in the 1850s, covers an areas of a few city blocks organised into different, but related sections. Located just inside the northern bound of the CBD, is set against a marvellous backdrop of skyscrapers with their tops poking into the low, dynamic clouds that day. Combined with the steam rising from the vents on the high rooftops, the skyline seemed alive.

As I arrived, it was clear that the market had not opened up for business yet, as everything was closed. There were a few workers and truck around, loading and unloading their produce. As we arranged to meet at the south-western entrance to the market, I had arrived at the outdoor fruit and vegetable area, and was greeted by the giant "QUEEN VICTORIA MARKET" sign painted on the slanted roof of the enormous shed there. This part of the market was also the site of a huge parking lot, as well as a large solar installation on the roofs of the various sheds lined up in rows. Covering 2000 square metres, this was the largest urban solar installation in the Souther Hemisphere that is connected to the energy grid.

I tried to look for an indoor area to wait for Jake, but as everything was closed, I had to stand outside and endure the cold - I was surprisingly cold even though I was wearing nearly every article of clothing I had brought on this trip! Luckily, it wasn't long until Jake arrived. Since the market was closed, we decided to come back the next day and head directly to our next destination - Brunswick, to try some of the Lebanese bakeries that Ben had suggested. Since Jake was staying in the Brunswick area, he knew what trams to hop on to get there. However, it turned out that he stayed in Brunswick West, so it was only after consulting the map and hopping on another bus that we arrived on Sydney Road, where the commercial district of Brunswick was centred around. No matter, the detour was pleasant, and I took the opportunity to send a postcard to my parents.

We walked along Sydney Road and stopped off at a few Lebanese bakeries. There were also many other Lebanese shops and supermarkets, which we took the chance to explore. We had a lot of tasty pastries and a few drinks and juices, and were soon quite full and content. This was quite a bustling area lined with cafés, restaurants and shops. I noticed that this area had the typical Melbourne style, which was based on older and decorative brick buildings. There were also some good example of graffiti here as well, which Jake took the time to take some photos of.

Following Sydney road down farther, we exited the Lebanese district and wandered around what appeared to be a mixed community, with Chinese, Caribbean and Greek shops. Since we didn't have many plans, we just wandered around for a while, and stopped in a Greek café for a coffee. I love travelling with others who aren't fussy about seeing as much as possible on a trip. It was clear that Jake valued the company over seeing specific sights, which was great. We sat for a long time on a bench on the side walk, people watching and chatting. I had some deep thoughts about what I wanted to do after New Zealand and how the world fit together. This is also when I started having serious thoughts about moving to Australia, to Melbourne in particular. Unfortunately, we didn't make it to nearby Lygon Street, where there is supposed to be a happening Italian community, but we didn't care.

After chatting for a while, it was time for us to go meet another Couchsurfer downtown. Jake was changing hosts today, so we went to pick up his stuff and head over to his new place. Walking to Brunswick West, we sat for a while at his host's house - no one was home, so we just sat and chatted in the back year. There was an overly-enthusiastic puppy there that peed itself quite often and constantly nibbled at our bags and hands, while jumping around non-stop. Hopping on a tram and searching around for a while, we found Jake's new host in Southbank, near the Eureka Tower.

From here, we still didn't really have any ideas of what to do, so we went to see if we could catch the last Parliament tour of the day. Unfortunately, we arrived just five minutes late, but at least we got to see the Parliament House, where the government of Victoria was based out of. The parliament building was quite impressive, and the style reminded me of some of the buildings of Kensington Palace in London. Set on a high pedestal of stairs, large towering columns lined the front part of the solid-looking building. The lampposts outside the building were capped with crowns, giving a sense of importance to the site.

From here, we headed to Richmond and walked all around in the area, getting lost a few times. There is quite a bustling Vietnamese and Chinese community here, with many ethnic restaurants, markets and stores. We saw a few typical Melbourne houses (a small unassuming façade, but extending very deep into the property), but decorated with typical Chinese stone lions out front - an interesting contrast. We also saw a lot of houses with beautiful delicate ironwork around the windows and doors in a few of the neighbourhoods. We even wandered as far as Abbotsford, and crossing the murky Yarra, had a brief walk in Dickinson reserve. It was a good, but tiring, tour of that portion of Melbourne, seeing the typical neighbourhoods, including a few rather industrial ones. Jake also told me a story about him and a few other Couchsurfers getting arrested in New Zealand, and how their court proceedings with the judge was just like a casual conversation in an office, with people making jokes and getting them processed quickly - but that's a separate story from the Melbourne trip.

As it started getting dark, we went into the next train station we encountered, and headed back to the CBD. After dinner, we spent some time wandering around Chinatown looking for Berlin Bar, which someone had recommended to us. There were apparently many bars with interesting themes in Melbourne. Berlin Bar, we were told, was very difficult to find and had two rooms. One room, "West Berlin," is lavishly decorated and serves fancy cocltails, while the other room, "East Berlin," through a door, is barren, with only crates as chairs, and serves only cheap beers and other cheap drinks.

As it turns out, although Melbourne Chinatown is not very big, it is very interesting to explore due to an extensive system of alleyways, just like the CBD, albeit smaller. The main street, stretching across three blocks, is quite busy, decorated with lanterns and lined with restaurants. After asking a few people who were not sure where Berlin Bar is, we decided to start at the beginning and walk down each alleyway to look for it.

We found many interesting restaurants and bars, including some open-air bars in the alleyways. One of the most interesting discoveries is the Croft Institute, which is also mentioned in Lonely Planet. To get to the Croft Institute, one has to walk down a winding alleyway that become dodgier and dodgier. Walking past workers from Chinese restaurants smoking outside and taking the rubbish out, the graffiti on the wall becomes denser and denser, which the alleyway grows darker. After one final turn, a door leads to a laboratory/hospital themed landing, from which one can enter the different floors of the bar. Apparently, the bar sponsors the graffiti in the alleyway, and they had recently had a lot of new work done just in the past few weeks. They pointed us in the right direction towards Berlin Bar, and still not finding it, we continued searching. As it turned out, we skipped exactly one alleyway in all of Chinatown - the alleyway with Berlin Bar in it! In fact, we had even passed through this alleyway while looking for the Szechuan restaurant, but the entrance was so inconspicuous that we didn't spot it the first time! In any case, the bar was closed for the night, as they were only open four days out of the week.

On that note, we decided to call it a night, but not until after finding the alleyway where we saw the graffiti artists working the other day. We did a lot of walking today, and I was quite happy that it was time to rest.

Edit (Oct. 24, 2010). Since I wrote about this experience after such a long delay without making any notes about my Melbourne trip, some of the events may be in the wrong order or have been left out. I just remembered an important part of the night that I did not write about in my original post: Jake and I went for Ethiopian food in Footscray. I had been craving Ethiopian food since discovering that none was to be found in Auckland, and after raving about it with Jake, he was sold on the idea. We contacted Kirin and Damien as well, as Ethiopian food is better with more people, since all dishes are shared. Unfortunately, Kirin was busy, but Damien told us that he would be joining us - about two minutes after we ordered! Finding a good Ethiopian restaurant was quite an adventure as well, as Footscray was dodgy to the extreme and relatively empty an night! The restaurant was also dodgy and empty with the exception of a loud Ethiopian family who shot glances over at us from time to time. When Damien arrived, we had nearly finished our portions, but what he ordered was the best dish of the meal - gored gored. This was the first time I had gored gored, as I have always been hesitant to order raw meat at restaurants, but after this, I've decided that the risk was worth it for gored gored! After the meal, I was glad that Damien was there to walk back with me, as the area was quite intimidating at dark, but with someone that knew the area, the walk was quite pleasant under the calm starry night. He tried to take me to a bar (or café?) for a drink, but unfortunately, it was closed. I headed off to bed after a bit of chatting and lounging around with Damien and the others that were present for the night.