Monday, November 29, 2010

Amazing Race 18 spotted in Kunming and Lijiang, China

It looks like others have confirmed that Amazing Race 18 is now in China (or has just left). The gentleman "Steve" whom I ran into and seemed to be the host is not the Phil Keoghan from past seasons so perhaps there were 2 shows being filmed consecutively.

For the request of the person below and for others whom may be reading, here are some pictures and short videos (sorry for the poor production value) I think so I'm only posting some pictures) of what I believe to be various Amazing Race 18 contestants. See my original post (linked here) about the various teams I believe I saw (at least 4 distinct teams, plus watching crew).

Mind you, I didn't get up in people's faces and take lots of photos or videos but I hope what I have is interesting to some.
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Travel Updates: Vietnam impressions & air ticket c...":
It's amazing race 18.. :) if you mind put on blog for picture some amazing race.. :)

Posted by Anonymous to Adventure Naturalist at November 29, 2010 4:34 AM

On Nov 29, 2010, at 18:34 +0800, Anonymous wrote:
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Travel Updates: Vietnam impressions & air ticket c...":
It's amazing race 18.. :) if you mind put on blog for picture some amazing race.. :)

Posted by Anonymous to Adventure Naturalist at November 29, 2010 4:34 AM

A few more words on The Amazing Race, which I saw live while in Yunnan, China.

I saw the teams when I was in Kunming (Yunnan China) waiting to catch a train to Lijiang (the night sleeper train). 

I saw two females with dyed red hair being interviewed by a cameraman and a boom mic hand. I didn't think much of it but overheard the cameraman asking them about whether the flight was a tight connection. 

Then when down by the train platform I saw 2 other camera crew running by the train. I then told my friend who said she saw 2 black guys being interviewed also. I then commented that it would be funny if it was The Amazing Race. 

When arriving in Lijiang early I saw 2 white guys in cowboy hats being filmed as they got into a shared taxi. I then realized it must be TAR or something similar. 

When in Lijiang old town after checking into a hotel I saw a couple more camera crew walking and talking. And one said "where are the lead teams?" to which the other replied "must be heading to the hill by now. I then asked my friend, who is from Likiang, where a high overlook was. We went there and that's when I saw "Steve." I filmed a little but he walked over to speak to me and I asked if he was with TAR but he replied "No I wish. Just a travel show with the Discovery Channel. Why, did you see the Amazing Race filming here?" I then said I loved Discovery and yeah I thought I saw the TAR crew and at least 3 teams (saw a 4th later). He then stopped interacting with his translator and some roadblock or final leg woman, whom he'd been acting out how to respond to teams if they put up a fuss. I figured I was in the way of production so I wished Steve well and left. 

Later I saw some Chinese in local traditional Naxi costumes by a large prayer device with Chinese zodiac symbols and a 4th team answering a puzzle and putting a slip of paper in a slot and ten getting an envelope and running away to their next leg. That's where I took most pictures of the many crew. 
Hope my pictures are satisfying to some because I know they aren't the best (I'm not a journalist and felt uncomfortable getting into everyones' faces but probably should have done more). 

Thanks for your comment and I look forward to contributing and following along though I'm on my own Amazing Race visiting friends in Asia before some work in the Philippines, so I might not be able to comment often. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guest Article by Alex Johnson

This week we have a guest article by a reader, Alex Johnson, on the role of environmental Science in US policy, using the case of asbestos and other issues. I hope everyone enjoys! And thanks Alex for the contribution.
Robert Oceans
---------------------------------------------- GUEST ARTICLE -----------------------------------------------
Environmental Science
As the world’s population continues to grow, so does the demand on the planet’s natural resources. Increased consumption of these resources contributes to a decline in the environment, while ensuring energy depletion for future generations. 

For example, once fossil fuels are depleted that source of energy is gone for good.  Therefore, countries such as the United States are stepping up efforts to develop sources of green energy that are both efficient and affordable for the general public.

Prime Example

The use of asbestos highlights the importance of environmental science for future generations.  Although the use of asbestos actually dates back to Greek and Roman ancient history, more recent information regarding asbestos helps us understand the impact of this natural mineral substance.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the use of asbestos began to steadily increase in America. Because of its fire-retardant nature and insulating qualities, the material was used by construction workers, industrial workers, shipbuilders, and military personnel in the daily performance of their duties.  Although manufacturers and company officials were aware of the potentially hazardous qualities of asbestos, profits exceeded their concern for the environment and the workers that were constantly exposed to asbestos.

It wasn’t until years later that the workers began paying the price for mining and using asbestos.  The microscopic particles that polluted the air embedded in the mesothelium, the lining that surrounds many internal organs, of individuals who breathed in dust from this environment hazard. Decades later, those same particles are responsible for men and women developing mesothelioma, which is an aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis.

Because the cancer cells may lie dormant for decades, and the symptoms are very subtle, individuals are do not frequently show the mesothelioma symptoms, until the cancer has moved from the point of origin, making several treatment options unavailable.  Physicians are left with treatments necessary to reduce the symptoms and improve quality of life for the time remaining.

Another example of why environmental science is so vital to the future of America, and the world, is Dana Reeves.  Famous for her fight to find better treatments for spinal cord injuries, she died of lung cancer.  Dana did not smoke.  She was not a former mine worker. She was probably not exposed to asbestos.  Yet, she passed away from lung cancer at a relatively young age.

Environmental science is dedicated to improving the relationships organisms have with the environment (which includes people), in the hopes that it will improve the lives of this and future generations.

Alex Johnson 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cool People Profile: Dr. J. Michael Fay

Name: Dr. J. Michael Fay 
Age: 54 
Nationality: USA 
Profession: Field Ecologist / Conservationist 
Employer: Wildlife Conservation Society 
Email: via public relations, Wildlife Conservation Society,  
Quote: "I think about GIS [geographic information system] and what it's about. It's about managing the landscape, quite simply. Whether it's oil or logging or crime prevention or conservation, it's about all that is living and all that is not on this planet. You can visualize the landscape and understand cause and effect and you can make change happen."

Social Networking
1. Old fashioned meetings and face-to-face contacts

By profession, Dr. J. Michael Fay is a conservationist and field ecologist, but it is hard to define him on paper. After completing a B.S. degree in 1978 from the University of Arizona he joined the Peace Corps, where he spent six years as a botanist in Tunisia and Central African Republic. He then began work in western Sudan on western lowland gorillas, for which he eventually earned his PhD.

In 1991 he joined the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and made a public name for himself in 1997 through a joint National Geographic Society and WCS-sponsored "megatransect" of central Africa. In other words, he walked for 3200km (2000+ miles) from eastern DR Congo to the Atlantic Ocean in Gabon. Throughout the yearlong journey he surveyed trees, wildlife, and human impacts. His story was featured in National Geographic Magazine, laying the groundwork for future long-distance and time-consuming environmental surveys as well as establishing the first national parks in Gabon.

In 2004 he completed an eight-month "megaflyover" of Africa in a Cessna to reveal photographically the impact of human activity on animal life and the environment.Over 800 flight hours and 116,000 vertical images were recorded, with all images uploaded to Google Earth.

In 2008 he completed an 1125km (700 mile) yearlong hike through California's redwood forests and collected data "critical to understanding the ecology and history of the redwood forest."

Dr. Fay has never taken the safe road, instead spending his time conducting longterm field research in African nations without internal resources or expertise. Dr. Fay has shown his committment to nature in a way few field biologists can claim and that is what makes him a cool person.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cool People Profile: Gaspard Walter

Name: Gaspard Walter
Age: 29
Nationality: France
Profession: Novelist, Photographer
Employer: Studio Chine
Quote: "Il n’y a aucune drogue qui ne m’ait pas lassé, aucune substance que mon corps n’ait pas fini par accepter. L’alcool ne me fait plus tourner la tête, la coke se contente de me niquer les muqueuses. Les taz, la mescaline, le speed ont perdu presque tous leurs effets. Je les avale en quantité industrielle, pour jouir de quelques secondes d’un plaisir qui ne ressemble en rien à celui ressenti lors de mes premières prises. C’est l’accoutumance, le début de l’ennui. La violence, elle, ne change pas." Google Translate

Social Networking

Gaspard Walter is selected as this week's Cool Person Profile because he has never stopped living a life against convention. Like Christopher McCandless (as portrayed in the novel and film Into the Wild) and so many artists before him, he refuses to accept societal rules at face value. Never finishing high school, Gaspard dropped out to make films, which he did for several years. He then sailed for a few years on various boats before finishing his first novel, Snuff, at the age of 28. While working on the novel he became a PADI SCUBA diving instructor, which led him to Thailand, the Maldives, and Cancun Mexico for work. Now he is a professional photographer working for the Paris publisher Studio Chine. He longs to continue seeing the world through his own lens and filter, to write, to photograph, to video, and to lastly die a good death.

For never accepting mediocrity or conventional work regardless of how easy it may have been, and for being the kind of person who seems carefree but really is just braver than most and takes those heartfelt dreams to a tangible reality, Gaspard Walter is certainly a cool person!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cool People Profile: Dr. John Piña Craven

Name: Dr. John Piña Craven
Age: 86
Nationality: USA
Profession: Consultant, deposed King
Employer: Common Heritage Corporation
Quote: "The oceans are the biggest solar collector on Earth, and there's enough energy in them to supply a thousand times the world's needs. If you want to depend on nature, the oceans are the only energy source big enough to tap."

Social Networking
1. Old-fashioned meetings face-to-face and via email

2. Ocean Energy Prospectus

Dr. John P. Craven describes himself as a marine mammal and an ancient mariner. His interest in living as a marine mammal came when he was designated (in his words, "through a bureaucratic mistake") the Project Manager of SeaLab II and III, a project he took over from George Bond, Walter Mazzone, and Robert Barth, and aimed at designing an environment where humans could live and work submerged for months at ocean depths between 100 - 1000 feet.

He also considers himself to be living life in reverse since he was 50 years old because he says that by counting backwards if he reaches his 100th birthday, he'll be in diapers again. On his 79th birthday, his children gave him the choice of picking between two gifts, one celebrating 79 years old and the other celebrating 21 years old. He proudly declared he'd celebrate his 21st birthday. Upon opening the box he had a 6-pack of cheap beer. Curious about what he was given for his 79th birthday, but having to stand by his decision, he saw a bottle of 30 year old scotch, proving that there are often consequences to living by one's convictions.

Dr. Craven has worn many hats, so many in fact that he considers himself as a king deposed every seven years. He holds a BA from Cornell University, an MA from Caltech, a PhD from the University of Iowa, and a JD from The National Law Center of The George Washington University.

1. Dr. Craven served as an enlisted sailor in World War 2 on the Battleship USS New Mexico. In his words, the men in his family either became priests or sailors, so he chose to become a sailor, which spawned his lifelong love affair with the mistress of the sea.

2. Dr. Craven has had more than 40 years of experience innovating, developing, designing, constructing, and operationally deploying major oceanic systems. Some of the key projects he was involved with in this respect includes the development of modern nuclear submarines and swath ships. He was the Project Manager for the US Navy's Polaris Program, eventually becoming Chief Scientist. He was involved in "the hunt for the Red September" (a successful US search for a downed Soviet submarine that became dramatized in the story and film "The Hunt for the Red October"). Through pioneering Bayesian search techniques, he was also instrumental in the US Navy's search for a missing hydrogen bomb lost off Palomares, Spain in 1966 when a B-52 bomber crashed and he helped find the submarine Scorpion, lost off the Azores. The cover story for the program was the idea of "mining for manganese nodules" on the seabed, which Dr. Craven designed as a plausible cover while the US Navy searched for the Scorpion.

3. He was Marine Affiars Coordinator for the state of Hawaii and Dean of Marine Programs at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he founded the Marine Option Program, the first undergraduate marine-focused specialty at the University outside of the Oceanography program. He taught for a number of years the 2-semester course "Sea and Society" and helped encourage the formation of a Maritime Archaeology and History graduate certificate program (now defunct).

4. He was Director of the International Law of the Sea Institute and was the chief architect of the Exclusive Economic Zone delimitations now commonplace among all countries with coastlines.

5. He founded the Common Heritage Corporation to develop a technique of taking deep ocean water and piping it to the surface (called Ocean Thermal Exchange Conversion, or OTEC, technology) for agriculture (by piping underground in arid or hot climates, condensation forms on the cold water pipes, and allows agriculture where previously it was impossible through conventional techniques), sustainable electricity generation (through running a turbine driven on hot air and cold water exchange), and creating cheap air conditioning (by running cold water through a radiator before piping back to the ocean) and in the process creating fresh water from air condensation.

For never giving up and continuing to work for the betterment of human kind well into the years many are content to retire, and for always dancing to the tune of his own drummer (often with a lifestyle straight out of a Tom Clancy or Frederick Forsyth novel) while continuously inspiring others to do the same, Dr. John Craven is certainly a cool person!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Geopolitics: New Indian Nation

I based the above map on a National Atlas of the United States with Bureau of Indian Affairs and other Federal Agency lands color-coded.

I modified the map to outline (bright red with black border) my proposed plan to join independent American Indian reservations to make a continuous corridor from Mexico to Canada. Reservations were joined over 95% of the time via lands already under US Government Federal control rather than private lands. Cities were avoided in private lands.

Basically, I believe that any people that fall under their own nation should have access to contiguous borders (island nations would still share cultural boundaries rather than artificial ones). I mentioned this in a past post on Palestine, but I will reiterate my stance through a separate example: American Indians.

Indian reservations are considered separate nations, yet money generated through mineral rights on their lands are used by the government with only about one-sixth (or less) going to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and of that amount, much is spent on bureacracy aimed at perpetuating the functions of that agency.

In 1871 the United States passed a law that essentially stated all past American Indian treaties to be null and void, which paved the way for a major land grab in the East and forcing Indian tribes west. Further treaty breakages are detailed by the American Indian Movement (AIM).

American Indian lands could be almost completely joined through using Federal lands, thereby causing limited disruption of land use and avoiding conflict between the general public, but giving a greater future to American Indians after centuries of neglect and abuse, as well as allowing a continuous corridor (albeit often narrow) from Mexico to Canada.

For what it's worth...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Update: Blog posting schedule and format

I'm trying out a new format by posting Geopolitical topics on Fridays and reserving Mondays for miscellaneous (but non-geopolitical) news. I'll only post environmental topics on Fridays if they have a distinctly geopolitical focus. This means that I'll be posting 5 times per week, so I don't know if I can keep that up once I start traveling in October, but I'll try to maintain that intensity to build up a solid base of "essays," photographs, and links before leaving (though I will still try to maintain frequent posting while traveling around the world, though the focus may be related more to direct observations than traditionally researched articles or ideas as I'm attempting now).

This means that I'll keep the following schedule:
1. Miscellaneous Mondays: weekly news round up or links to videos, pictures, and sites worthy of notice.
2. Travel Tuesdays: Topics related to travel, including travel photographs.
3. Thursdays: Cool People Profiles
4. Fridays: Geopolitics, including environmental topics of a distinctly geopolitical nature.
5. Saturdays: Science Corner weekly reviews of scientific papers.

I've also added a new page with an RSS archive, which I'll use to create an RSS feed-inspired archive of all postings (about 255 character summary) so that readers don't have to go through the past posting archive at the bottom of each post. It is still a work in progress, but I have most of  June and July 2010 included and by the end of August, I'll have every post archived there for ease of access.

I'll continue to add pages (including a media archive) and redesign this blog before officially relaunching (thank you in the meanwhile to all those who have stumbled across this blog -- you are welcome to subscribe or give comments).

I'll begin traveling around the world in October 2010 and will continue traveling (though I may have layovers of a couple months to focus on research collaborations or writing) until about March 2012. My travels will include a scientific expedition to explore and monitor threatened coral reefs in the western Pacific and eastern Indian oceans that I'll elaborate more on by October when I know the complete schedule and scope. Depending on the length of that expedition (prerequisite upon funding) , which should begin in December 2010 or January 2011, I'll determine the rest of my travel schedule, though I'll be traveling around the United States in September 2010, Europe in October, and be in East Asia by November. The expedition will begin in the Philippines (Cebu) so I'll be there between late December 2010 and February 2011.

Once I begin traveling, especially during the scientific expedition phase of 2011, my internet connection will be variable at best, but I'll work very hard to prioritize updates. By October, I'll begin experimenting with Posterous and Twitter so that I can make posts by email and also because I anticipate posts while traveling (except during extended way points) to be shorter.

I hope that I'll continue to build a stronger blog with interesting and original content and photographs as the weeks and months continue.

Thanks for reading,


Geopolitics: Failed States Index

Recently, Foreign Policy Magazine and the Fund for Peace came out with their 6th annual index of failed states. Most are either in states of war or facing other stressors. A couple months ago I talked about the 2009 Failed States Index and how I had a curiosity to see the "most failed" countries in each continent first hand. I still have that mission, but I thought I would discuss a little more the qualification of how a country becomes a failed state.

As I mentioned before, every country "works" to the degree that people survive more than they die and that even when you have humanitarian crises, somehow humanity just keeps trudging along. It may not be a version that most are used to, but what has made humans the most successful of animals is the same reason that ants are among the most successful invasive species: we adapt and change our environment. People work together to obtain their goals. Even if the individuals belong to marauding gangs committing atrocities (as has happened in multiple locations, including Uganda, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) or ruthless drug cartels (e.g., Mexico, Colombia), there is cooperation, albeit for goals that go against normal social needs.

But still, I think all can agree that some governments (or states) do a better job at providing a non-hostile environment full of resources that give individuals relatively unhindered means to satisfy their inner goals (rather than just surviving).

There is debate about what qualifiers should be used to identify the worst states or those so fragile that any disaster could spiral them into chaos (as happened recently in Haiti with the series of 7+ magnitude earthquakes). Looking at multiple lists yields the following:

Top 25 "most failed" countries in the updated 2010 Failed States Index (in order from most to least failed): Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, CAR, Guinea, Pakistan, Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Yemen, Burma, Ethiopia, East Timor, DPR Korea, Niger, Uganda, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. [map from Foreign Policy Magazine]
Top 25 "worst" countries according to the Human Development Index (HDI), again from least developed to most: Niger, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, CAR, Mali, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Chad, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Moçambique, Ethiopia, Guinea, Liveria, Gambia, Rwanda, Senegal, Eritrea, Zambia, Côte d'Ivoire, Timor-Leste, Benin, Mali, Togo, Nigeria. [map from Wikipedia]
And finally, if looking at a list of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) we see (alphabetical): Afghanistan, Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, R Congo, DR Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Moçambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé & Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and the "under consideration" HIPCs of Comoros, Eritrea, Kyrgyz Republic, Somalia, and Sudan. [map from Wikipedia]
The main problem for me with deciding where to travel to better understand why certain places seem so chronically critical or unable to develop in a responsible manner is that all of the above lists show a heavy Africa bias (the Failed States Index is also heavily influenced by war and when natural disasters strike countries without efficient infrastructures, like Haiti). I think that every continent or cultural region should be measured according to their own baselines as values differ significantly between continents and peoples.

Obviously, there is a lot of "food for thought" and I'll continue to post ideas on the subject as the weeks go on. By October I'll know my travel schedule for 2011, which will determine how much time I have to dedicate to this project and travel to failed states. I'm not sure if I'll travel around the entire world in a single year to visit the 30 most failed states (5 worst per continent) and contrast them with the functionally "best" country per continent as people have noted that only about 10 days per country is not enough to "get a handle" on any situation. I don't believe in the other extreme, which says that a person has to live in a failed state for a few years before they understand things, since a friend told me that his Ukrainian and Moldovan friends don't even understand their own countries, and they were born there, so how will I? In the end, I'll compromise between traveling to places I'd like to learn more about versus traveling everywhere. I'll certainly be traveling to the Horn of Africa and Iraq, but the rest seems flexible.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cool People Profile: Dr. Richard Pyle

Name: Dr. Richard Pyle 
Age: 47
Nationality: USA
Profession: Ichthyologist
Employer: Bernice P. Bishop Museum (Honolulu, HI)
Quote: "I'm just a big fish nerd"

Social Networking
1. LinkedIn
2. Old-fashioned Friends, BBQs, and Conferences

1. Bernice P. Bishop Museum
2. Association for Marine Exploration

Dr. Richard Pyle is an ichthyologist (a scientist who studies fish) but he goes about it in a very distinct and unusual way. He was mentored by Dr. John Randall, the greatest living ichthyologist alive (with so many new species discoveries that you have to go back to the 1800s to find someone with more), at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

What makes him a pioneer in his field is that he focuses his collection and research efforts on the 50 - 200 meter deep mesophotic reef (see last week’s Science Corner), which he coins the “twilight zone” because below about 40 meters, light is significantly reduced but not completely absent. In that environment, there is still enough light for photosynthesis to occur and some hardy plants and reef-building corals do grow at the depths he explores.

He started exploring those depths when still a teenager living in the Marshall Islands using traditional air-filled SCUBA diving equipment. Below about 40m a diver will start experiencing nitrogen narcosis, summarized by the “Martini Law.” Basically, for every 50 feet you dive it is like drinking one martini.

When he was 19 years old he “got bent” on such a dive and was paralyzed from the neck down for nearly 6 weeks and couldn’t walk properly for more than 6 months. The experience, rather than detracting him, caused him to pursue studies in diving physics and gas law thermodynamics so that he could better understand the physiological effects that diving at such great depths has on a person. Now, he uses a specially-designed rebreather device to recycle the oxygen he breathes while removing the carbon dioxide. Combined with other technicalities like replacing portions of the nitrogen in his breathing mixture with inert gases like helium (to lessen the effects of nitrogen narcosis and lower the risk of “the bends”), Dr. Pyle now regularly dives between 60 - 160 meters depth throughout the Pacific Ocean. At such depths, he and his team discover up to 1 new species to science for every 7 minutes spent below 50m.

His exploits have been shown in the IMAX film Coral Reef Adventure, the BBC series Pacific Abyss, and many other features. He is the author of numerous scientific, technical, and popular magazine articles and also contributes regularly to the Encyclopedia of Life. In 2005 he won the NOGI Award, which is the highest honor in diving. In 2009 he spoke at the TED conference, with his talk below (complete with pictures and videos from the “twilight zone”). You can read see his TED interview.

For his continuing passion for trailblazing exploratory research coupled with an innate desire to share his “fish nerd” passions with a wider audience, and doing things that most didn’t know were possible, Dr. Richard Pyle is most definitely a Cool Person.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cool People Profile: Hazen Audel

Name: Hazen Audel 
Nationality: USA, Coast Salish American Indian
Profession: High School Biology Teacher, Adventure Ecotourism Guide, Artist, TV Show Host
Employer: National Geographic (host of Survive the Tribe TV series), Joel E. Ferris High School (Spokane, WA USA), The Wild Classroom (founder), Hazen Audel Artworks, Untamed Science
Quote: "In nature there is no right or wrong, only consequences."

Social Networking
1. Facebook
2. Instagram

1. Hazen Audel Artworks
2. The Wild Classroom

Variably described as an educational producer, ethnobotanist, adventurer, big kid, wild man, and artist, Hazen exemplifies a modern Naturalist Renaissance Man. I first met Hazen in Hawaii in 1998 and like many others, I was infected by his enthusiasm.

What struck me most was how focused he could be towards whatever task he set for himself. He is half Coast Salish, an American Indian tribe in British Columbia and western Washington. When he was 17 years old, even under threat of being disowned by his Indian mother, he traveled to Ecuador, got on a bus in Quito and took it as far as it went into the rain forest, got off and walked in for several days before setting up camp. Over the next 2 years he would spend a total of more than 15 months living off the land of the Ecuadorean rainforest, eventually being "adopted" by a native Quichua-speaking tribe, learning their language, and later creating an adventure ecotourism company to bring people into the rainforest and help that tribal family economically.

Whenever he set other goals for himself, he also succeeded. One day I was amazed by his trials-style prowess on a mountain bike (leaping stairs, navigating railings, spinning, etc.) and asked him how he learned it. He bought a bike and practiced 8 hours a day for an entire summer: about 700 hours over 3 months. Later, when he sold his first major metalworking art piece to a Washington bank, he took all the money and invested it in machinery and supplies to continue making art, even though many would have taken the mid-five figure commission and lived off it. I was also amazed that he had such a great body but didn't life weights and he shrugged it off saying that he did work out, only he did so in nature. He would regularly hike through the mountains of Hawaii (where we first met) in search of wild mangoes, papayas, and guavas. He would hang from tree branches and do pull ups or climb trees and swing himself along one branch to another tree. He reminds me more of a modern-day Tarzan than anyone else I've ever met, and I mean that as the sincerest compliment.

But that's the kind of man he is: he gives everything he is involved in an obsessive amount of focused energy. And when you look at his videos or meet him in person, you are immediately drawn in to his enthusiasm and captivated. He makes you want to learn more about him and his adventures at every step, without being a self-promoter.

To help share his enthusiasm for nature, he became a high school biology teacher and created The Wild Classroom as an educational outreach site for the group Explore Biodiversity. He still runs sporadic ecotours to the Ecuadorean rainforest, so if you are lucky enough, join him on the journey of your life.

For his unending quest to share his enthusiasm for nature and for being able to make a living as an artist and adventurer, Hazen is more than worthy of the title of "Cool Person."

Update 2015: Since writing this profile in 2010, Hazen Audel and his adventures were picked up by National Geographic in a six-part series called Survive the Tribe. Based on his present exploits teased on his Instagram feed, it seems likely that a second season of Survive the Tribe may be forthcoming, at least in Asia, where his show proved more popular (in terms of ratings) than in the United States. He, more than me, really epitomizes the title of "Adventure Naturalist."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Travel Tuesdays: Why are Americans Afraid to Travel Overseas?

Almost everyone in the world, at one time or another, has wanted to travel. Yet even within affluent societies, most people live and die within a short distance from where they are born. In the US, most people still die within 50 miles of their birthplace. This should be changing as the US population seems to be moving around the country in record numbers in search of jobs (at a level unprecidented since the 1930s following the Great Depression and Dust Bowl)... people have only replaced the old jalopy with U-Haul trucks, but the principle is the same.

I've mentioned it before, but most Americans don't own a passport, though I suspect lots more do than in the past now that travel even to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean requires a passport (heck, I even need one to visit US territories on US carriers, such as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands).

I don't know why, but even though the Caribbean, Canada, and Mexico are so close to the US, I haven't traveled extensively in any of those regions. I've traveled most extensively in the Pacific Ocean and Asia, though my travels have taken me to six continents and the subcontinents of India and the Arabian Peninsula.

I'm in the process of planning another series of round-the-world (RTW) trips starting in October 2010 and ending in March 2012, though the exact details depend on whether a planned scientific expedition gets funded. My goal, if I can't do the scientific expedition as planned (February to December 2011 by sailboat through SE Asia and the eastern Indian Ocean) then I hope to visit some dangerous and unstable places (the most dangerous of which will be Arab Iraq) as well as a liesure tour RTW to visit my friends and colleagues.

As a coral reef biologist, while I haven't made a lot of money, I've been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places. I think it all boils down to perspective and priorities. I choose to prioritize traveling and working in a specific way in specific environments (coral reefs and tropical coastal locations) over making lots of money. I come from a family of entrepreneurs so I could have made much more money but I chose to try and live the life of my dreams. But yeah, money would help!

Anyway, I mention this because I am not wealthy by any means (in fact, most of my working life, I've often slumped below the poverty line though I don't live outside of my means and I don't live like a poor person). Yet, I've traveled RTW and continue to do so for the rest of my life. Life is a journey, so take it!

My brother hasn't traveled much outside of the mainland US, with brief forays into Canada, Hawaii, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and a Mexican border town the only exceptions. He's traveled around the US a bit though, which is larger than most countries.

Recently, my brother asked me to take a trip with him to Europe since he's never been. He doesn't have a lot of time (the average American gets 12 vacation days per year, which would be anathema to many Europeans), but he wants to see a few highlights. Specifically, in 10-12 days (including travel from Chicago, his nearest large international airport) he wants to see London, Amsterdam, and Italy. He fully realizes that a month or more would be best (heck, one could spend a lifetime in Italy alone) but he's taking to heart a lesson that I've long realized: if you have only a day or two for a new place, it's better than no days at all. And so, he's thinking 2 days London, 2 days Amsterdam, and 6-8 days in Italy (about 4 cities, one of which on Sicily). His list of Italian cities so far is Venice, Rome, Naples, and Palermo, but if he's concerned with top tourist cities, I've compiled the following list from which he needs to choose (with images from Wikipedia):

Obviously, we can't see all the cities (though I'll do that on my own later) and a couple days in each city isn't really enough, but he says that it will be at least 5 years (in his mind) before he can go back to Europe, so he'd like to do the trip now. And hey, I plan on traveling to Arab Iraq next year, so I'm putting my affairs in order just in case that trip will be my last!

So I've agreed. We're planning on going to Europe together in early October, then I'd stay on and visit some friends in other cities that he doesn't care to travel through (Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Paris, Hamburg, and St. Petersburg) before I continue onward to start the alluded-to scientific expedition (once details are finalized I'll post them).

Based on my past travel experience, I am confident I can get a 10-12 day trip to Europe covered in under $1500 including airfare and once I start piecing all the details together, I'll post what I've purchased and planned so that others can enjoy such travels for small amounts.

I've realized over the years that pretty much anywhere in the world can be reached for under $2000 in airfare (though sometimes many small flights must be assembled when more direct flights are cost prohibitive) and a lot less if stringing together distant locations via a RTW ticket. With this knowledge in mind, there is nothing stopping someone in the mainland US from visiting Hawaii every year for a week or picking a new Caribbean cruise annually.

Since most trips can be completed in total under $2000 (for shorter trips) I have long wondered why so many people I meet don't travel more. Sure, there is disparity of income worldwide and visa issues for many, but most countries in the world are small so there is plenty of opportunity for regional travel. Do you live in Kuala Lumpur? Well, great, then you can visit over a dozen countries with Air Asia and have complete trips under $1000 easily. It is all a matter of prioritization.

So why, if it is cheap and doable, don't more people travel? I think fear of the unknown is the key factor. So many people when the travel to another country seek out the food of their homeland. I've seen many Indian and Chinese tourists travel with their own food. Americans are almost notorious for seeking out McDonalds and Starbucks overseas.

Some might argue that in order to truly get off the beaten track, you must travel to locations without a McDonalds. On the map below, that would be all the grey areas, which now are mainly limited to Central Asian and African countries (with a few other examples spread around the globe).
It is probably not surprising that those grey countries also generally have little western tourism, lending value to my hypothesis that people are afraid to travel and when they do, they'll seek out familiar locations first.

On a similar note, I once read an article somewhere saying that you could track perpetual war zones and economic development by the lack of Coca Cola production plants. Perpetual war zones tend to occur in neglected places (at least neglected from a media or international development perspective) and also tend to be countries with lower values on the Human Development Index (HDI; map below modified from a Wikipedia image).
I think for a lot of Americans, there is a "NIMBY" perspective (not in my back yard), meaning that countries with little cultural similarity and countries that are particularly poor (without mineral values) are neglected. Private companies tend to take over the role of governments (regarding international development) when large mineral or natural resources concessions seem available (examples include DR Congo, Nigeria, Angola, Sudan, Iraq).

When you combine a lack of McDonalds, Starbucks, or Coca Cola with a low HDI, long-term international neglect, and perpetual conflicts, you tend to get failed states and unstable regimes, neither of which are conducive to tourism. And oddly enough, these are exactly the kinds of places that I want to travel to and "figure out," though as a friend once told me, his Ukranian and Moldovan friends can't figure out their own countries, so how am I supposed to?

And that's a question that concerns me and one that drives me to continue to learn about other cultures from an outsider's perspective. I've been doing it long enough and living overseas for most of the last 14 years, to the point where I feel almost like an outsider in my country of birth. But hey, when there's over 300 countries / territories in the world, exile doesn't feel so lonely.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cool People Profile: Robert Young Pelton

Name: Robert Young Pelton
Age: 55
Nationality: Canada, USA
Profession: Gonzo Journalist, Adventurer, Film Maker, Witness to War
Employer: Self-employed
Quote: "I'm a little different. I find the places that make no fucking sense and that's where I want to go."

Social Networking
1. Black Flag Cafe
2. Facebook

Come Back Alive
Iraq Slogger

A self-described “witness to war” and “iconoclast,” Robert Young Pelton is perhaps best known for his nearly 1100-page “travel guide” to The World’s Most Dangerous Places. He’s also the creators of the websites “Come Back Alive” (named after a survival guide he wrote, the website hosts digital chapters of the World’s Most Dangerous Places, a travel forum frequented by military types, adventure travelers, and loose screws called the Black Flag Cafe, and links to survival gear and videos of his travels) and “Iraq Slogger” (a news website aimed at accurate and current information about the Iraq occupation). He is the author of the books: The Adventurist; Come Back Alive; The Hunter, Hammer and Heaven: Three Worlds Gone Mad; Fielding’s Borneo; and a slew of articles and films that have “long been free filler for print, radio, Internet, and television journalists.”

According to his own biography in The World’s Most Dangerous Places, he has worked as a “lumberjack, boundary cutter, tunneler, driller, hardware store manager, and blaster’s assistant.” He didn’t “get into” journalism... he just ended up there through following his passions. He never believed that everything you need to know about the world can be spoon fed to you through the media so he decided to start traveling to dangerous places during his vacation time while working a desk job. As he kept traveling and making friends with “insurgents, jihadis, rebels, criminals, terrorists” and narco drug traffickers he found himself in the rarified position of war correspondent. The more he traveled the more his stories became marketable and now he’s a full-time gonzo-style journalist (don’t confuse that with a talking head).

He’s survived a “a plane crash, car accidents, a head-on motorcycle crash, killer bees, typhoons, SCUD [missile] attacks, a host of wild animal attacks, Marxist rebels, Russian gunships, Northern Alliance artillery, talib rockets, American B-52s” and being kidnapped by paramilitary drug traffickers in the Darién Gap of Colombia.

His travels and contacts often allow him “firsts” in journalism. He was with rebels during the attacks on Grozny, Chechnya a decade ago. In his words he “was in the bunkers with the ‘terrorists,’ eating pumpkin pancakes and wondering why the media didn’t give a damn about ‘another war in Europe,’ ethnic cleansing, or even the civilian deaths that happened every day.” He found and saved the life of John Walker Lindh at the Qala-e-Janghi prison in northern Afghanistan in those heady days following 9/11/01.

And perhaps coolest of all, Robert Young Pelton shares all information in a very cynical, pragmatic, and humorous light. Frequently witnessing death as well as courage on far-flung battlefields has made him comment that he “hates war and respects soldiers.” He somehow makes you wish you were there too, which is saying a lot about a war zone.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why I Travel Around the World

I've always been keen to explore the world. About 5 years back I heard a frightening statistic about the travel habits of Americans. I don't have the reference, so I'm just going on my memory, though I'll try to find updated facts. Basically, I read that most Americans die within 50 miles of their birthplace. Something like only 1 in 4 Americans had passports and of those 25% that did, only about 1 in 6 went anywhere beyond Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Of those 4% of Americans that did travel somewhere beyond the above choices, most went on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to western Europe (usually London or Paris).

I'm sure that the statistics have changed as international travel becomes more common. Also, many would say that the US is a very large and diverse country with many geographical features. I think this is true and keeps some people from "needing" to travel beyond the borders of the US. However, I think that Americans are generally xenophobic (afraid of the unknown and foreign cultures). Nevertheless, Americans are becoming more adventurous, which can be seen in the surge in "ethnic" restaurants over the last decade.

I've been living mostly overseas since 1996 so I've definitely noticed (since arriving back in the continental US in May 2010) that there are more Asian food choices available. Also, the "animosity" I've generally felt towards vegetarianism has really subsided, though vegans will still find difficulty eating out. I remember an old episode of Growing Pains, where Amanda Peet had a minor role as the vegetarian girlfriend of Kirk Cameron. The mother brought out grass on a plate to the table, which was funny to a lot of people but also exemplified the resentment to the strange that I believe is a hallmark of American culture. Americans have always been resistant to outside immigrants and those that assimilate quickest often have to deal with a variety of idiotic remarks.

I grew up in the Midwest USA just north of the greater Chicagoland area. When I visited my family with my long-time Chinese American partner at the time, I remember an uncle remarking: "I can speak a little Asian" as if Asian were a language and that all Asian countries were like different states in the US and everyone could communicate with different accents. He then proceeded to count to ten in Japanese, to which my partner just replied "that's nice, good for you!" For anyone who'd like to learn more about contemporary Asian-American culture so you can respond to comments like that with clever anecdotes, I highly recommend Giant Robot Magazine, which deals with Asian American pop culture and art.

I've made my own share of stupid remarks, I'm sure, but I've tried to approach cultures with an open mind and believe in learning through first-hand experience rather than just the assimilated versions of immigrant communities and 2nd generation (and beyond) children of immigrants. Hence my obsession with travel.

My first round-the-world (RTW) ticket was in 2004. I traveled on a Star Alliance RTW ticket booked through United Airlines, plus added regional flights using Air Asia (I think it is the greatest and safest low-cost airline in Asia) and Continental Micronesia. My flight route looked like this:

In code, the above trip looked like this: MKE-ORD-IAD-PWM-iad-BOS-iad-CHS-iad-FLL-iad-CAE-iad-SAV-iad-LGA-iad-FLL-iad-ORD-IAD-LAX-hnl-LIH-HNL-LAX-IAD-EWR-iad-ORD-IAD-ORD-IAD-ORD-den-lax-HNL-NRT-icn-SPN-GUM-KIX-HKG-SIN-KUL-MES-CGK-DPS...Nusa Lembonggan...DPS-GUM-NRT-SIN...KUL-BKK...REP, BKK, USM...BKK-khi-MCT-DXB-fra-CAI...ALY, LXR...CAI-VIE-CDG-LHR...CWL, PME...lhr-man-ORD-HNL-GUM.

Key to the above:
Capital letters = Airport Codes of stopover cities
Lowercase letters = Layovers but not stopovers
Bold letters = Stopovers greater than 2 weeks
Dashes (-) = Flights between locations
Elipses (...) = Overland travel between locations

For those who don't know airport codes, I travelled the following route: Milwaukee WI USA - Chicago IL USA - Washington DC USA - Portland ME USA - (layover DC) - Boston MA USA - (layover DC) - Charleston SC USA - (layover DC) - Fort Lauderdale FL USA - (layover DC) - Columbia SC USA - (layover DC) - Savannah GA USA - (layover DC) - New York NY USA - (layover DC) - Fort Lauderdale FL USA - (layover DC) - Chicago IL USA - Washington DC USA - Los Angeles CA USA - (layover Honolulu HI USA) - Lihue Kauai HI USA - Honolulu HI USA - Los Angeles CA USA - Washington DC - Newark NJ USA - (layover DC) - Chicago IL USA - Washington DC USA - Chicago IL USA - Washington DC USA - Chicago IL USA - (layover Denver CO USA) - (layover Los Angeles CA USA) - Honolulu HI USA - Tokyo JAPAN - (layover Incheon S KOREA) - Saipan MARIANA ISLANDS - Guam GUAM - Osaka JAPAN - Hong Kong CHINA - Singapore SINGAPORE - Kuala Lumpur MALAYSIA - Medan Sumatra INDONESIA - Jakarta Java INDONESIA - Bali INDONESIA ... Nusa Lembonggan INDONESIA ... Bali INDONESIA - Guam GUAM - Tokyo JAPAN - Singapore SINGAPORE ... Kuala Lumpur MALAYSIA - Bangkok THAILAND ... Siem Reap & Angkor Wat CAMBODIA, Bangkok THAILAND, Koh Samui THAILAND ... Bangkok THAILAND - (layover Karachi PAKISTAN) - Muscat OMAN - Dubai UAE - (layover Frankfurt GERMANY) - Cairo EGYPT ... Alexandria EGYPT, Luxor EGYPT ... Cairo EGYPT - Vienna AUSTRIA - Paris FRANCE - London England UK ... Cardiff Wales UK, Portsmouth England UK ... (layover London England UK) - (layover Manchester England UK) - Chicago IL USA - Honolulu HI USA - Guam GUAM.

Obviously a very complicated first RTW trip with multiple tickets used to maximize miles, bonuses, cheap airfares (in-and-out of Washington DC USA at the time), and diverse interests. With such a complicated ticket it must have been really expensive, right? No... actually through multiple bonuses the total cost of all tickets used for the above itinerary was just over US$2800, taxes included. Total mileage gained? Over 80,000 miles after bonuses, enough for multiple free tickets later. And in fact, I did about 1.5 times around the world, since I started in Chicago IL USA and ended in Guam.

Over the coming months I'll share some of the tips I've used for constructing such itineraries. I'll post some pictures as well and BRIEF travelogues for each of the countries visited. I'll give plenty of resources, though a great place to start would be the FlyerTalk forum and the nifty online RTW ticket builder that the One World airline alliance puts out, even if you choose you'd rather use another alliance for your tickets.

I'll also discuss my upcoming plans for another RTW trip that I'm planning for late 2010 or early 2011, which I'll be taking to visit all my friends around the world (21 stops in I think 18 countries at last count). If anyone wants to know more specifics (though I think I've provided a lot), let me know by email.

Thanks for reading!


Friday, May 21, 2010

Failed States Index 2009

I have an interest in geopolitics. I am curious about why some countries fall apart and why the larger world doesn't care enough. The two countries that got me started in this thinking process are Burma (Myanmar) and Somalia. Both have been messed up (in the sense that the populace is routinely killed and tormented and neither country is a bastion of economic or journalistic freedom) to this day. Other similar countries today are DR Congo and Sudan. Past examples (that seem to have mostly resolved themselves) include Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Rwanda, etc. What has always gotten me curious is that billions are spent by the US on certain countries only because of political gain (Iraq and Israel today) or revenge (Afghanistan)... in fact, almost all interventions by the US in other countries has been when it "suited" the national interest. There are some good humanitarian examples too (Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia post-2004 Tsunami and Haiti post-2010 earthquake).

Anyway, I don't know enough to keep discussing the reasons why this is true... but I want to know. And the first step in understanding is to know what I am looking at: countries that are "broken" and people don't seem to care. Conversely, I'm also interested in situations when a de facto country exists but it is not recognized as independent: e.g., Taiwan and Somaliland today.

All countries work to a degree, in that people survive, reproduce, live, etc. in greater numbers than they die. Even in the worst war zone people live. Nevertheless, it would be nice if people didn't have to die or suffer needlessly.

Two regular sources I look to in order to try and understand the state of the world better, especially of those countries that seem to be failing, are: 1) the book "The World's Most Dangerous Places" by Robert Young Pelton and 2) the annual Failed States Index put out by the Institute for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine. Unfortunately, the former hasn't been updated since I think 2004. Therefore, I'll only note the latter.

According to the 2009 Failed States Index (looking at categories such as Political: intervention of other states, factionalized elites, fragmented security, violation of human rights, deterioration of public services, delegitimization of the state; Economic: economic decline, uneven development; Social: chronic emigration, group vengeance or grievances, refugees or internally displaced persons, demographic pressures), in 2009 the most failed states per continent, in order from worst to 5th worst are:

* Africa: Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, DR Congo (most stable Mauritius)
* Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma), DPR Korea (North Korea), Bangladesh (most stable Japan)
* Middle East: Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Iran, Syria (most stable Oman)
* Americas: Haiti, Colombia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador (most stable Canada)
* Australia / Oceania: Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Samoa (most stable New Zealand)
* Europe: Moldova, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Belarus, Russia, Serbia (most stable Norway)

An idea I have is to visit all 36 countries listed above within a single year and try to learn "on the ground" what it is like for people living in failed states. Of course, the security situation in Somalia, Sudan, Colombia, DR Congo, Iraq, and Afghanistan would preclude freedom of travel throughout those countries. Also, I'm not a journalist and not independently wealthy, so I can't afford security details to protect me, so in the "sketchy" countries listed, I'd have to restrict my movements to those areas of the countries that are relatively safe.

But anyway, this is a goal and one I hope to reach in the next few years.