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Monday, April 21, 2008

Travel Missive

Many years ago I traveled and lived abroad. I wrote a series of email missives that I sent out to friends and family. I thought I had lost them, but a friend of mine recently dredged them out of her email inbox. I thought it would be fun to share here; note the date, just a few days before September 11th 2001:

September 5th, 2001

Hi everyone. It's been quite awhile since I sent out an email missive.

Right now I'm sitting in a small Japanese restaurant, drinking a draft Sapporo beer. Country music is playing in the restaurant; George Strait to be exact. I just can't get away from Texas. I'm typing on a small IBM ThinkPad I bought here in Japan. It's only sold in Japan, and is really tiny. Here's a picture of it:

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My plan for the next few months (probably 6) is to go to Thailand, where I can live for really cheap (for about 500 U.S. dollars a month) and really well. I'm going to live on an island named Phuket (or possibly one named Ko Samui) and do open-source coding on this laptop and work on ideas. Here's a picture of Phuket from

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It's always been a dream of mine to do something like this, just inventing in a beautiful location, and the affordableness of Thailand makes this possible. I'm also going to learn to speak Thai, and possibly get a volunteer job working with children. When my money begins to run out, I'm probably going to head back to Japan to teach English, which surprisingly nets alot of money. After working there for awhile, who knows how long, I hope to make enough money to afford traveling through Eastern Europe on the Trans-Siberian Railroad; who knows though, that's a long way in the future (probably more than a year).

It's been about 2 months since I sent out my last email missive, so let me fill you in on what's been going on. Last month I was in Vietnam; this month I've been in Japan. After going into the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam, which I talked about in my last email missive, I partied for a few days in Ho Chi Minh City with the expat community. There are all sorts of bars there that the expats hang out at; one is even a themed Guns & Roses bar that was wild, crawling with prostitutes and burned out expats. In Ho Chi Minh City I bumped back into my Aussie mate Curtis who I met on the Mekong Delta tour, and we headed to a beach community named Mui Ne.

Mui Ne was wonderful; there was no one there, unlike Nahtrang where everyone goes. Curtis and I stayed in a thatched hut that was partially open to the air, with mosquito nets, about 10 feet from the sea. The ocean was warm and wonderful.

After Mui Ne, I headed to a town named Hoi An, which is in Central Vietnam. Not much was going on in Hoi An, so I headed to a town named Hue. I hired a motorcyclist to take me around the outskirts of Hoi An for a day, looking at different historical sites, which was fun.

Riding between cities on the buses was a mix of the most interesting thing I did, one of the scariest, and partially the most difficult. The road conditions there are terrible; people drive like crazy. The worst journey was a 20 hour overnight trip from Hue to Hanoi; I hadn't eaten any dinner, so I was starving, and the bus driver never stopped for bathroom breaks, so I was dying. Worse, I had Montezuma's Revenge, so I really needed to go to the restroom. All of this for 20 hours, while simultaneously praying for my life due to how bad the driving was. That was probably one of the low-points of the trip.

The thing that made the bus trips great, though, was looking out the window. Vietnam is really beautiful and wonderful to look at. I would see endless rice fields of a million different shades of green, with workers in conical hats bending over to tend the crops. Bustling cities would pass by, with the houses being what I can only describe as Communist Architecture. Houses can't be too wide there, due to a tax on the width of houses, so houses are really high and narrow. The rich ones have all sorts of French-like decorations on the outside, but most are still open to the air on the front! Some people simply live in thatched huts. All sorts of strange government buildings would pass by too, such as enclosures for the Red Army. In every town was a strange monument and graveyard to those North Vietnamese who fell in the 'American War' (as Vietnam calls the Vietnam War).

The high-point of my trip to Vietnam was definitely meeting Son, a young man in his twenties who lives in Hanoi. Son knows English really well, and we quickly became friends. He took me out to meet his family in the Hanoi countryside. This was an experience that I will never forget for the rest of my life. Son took me on the back of his motorcycle deep into the country-side in Northern Vietnam; it took 2 hours to drive to his parent's place. We would be going 100 km/hour on the highway, and I would grab onto Son for dear life. As I was holding on, I would look out, and see rice fields rush by; motorcycles curving all around us; water buffalo tilling the field and playing in the flooded rice fields; and horse-drawn carts on the high-way. Monsoon rains would start to fall and drench us. In some of the towns the locals had never seen a foreigner, and crowds would form around me and people would just stare. Some corrupt police stopped us and demanded a pay-off because a foreigner was going too deep into the country-side without his passport.

We finally reached his family's house. His father's home is completely self-sufficient. There is a pond where all their fish are caught. They had a small farm, and pigs and chickens. They even make their own wine from leechee fruit! The house is very rustic, small, and open to the air. His father and mother are beautiful. His mother is a math school teacher, and is proud and distinctive. The father is a retired former general of the North Vietnamese, with sparkling eyes and a big smile. He would take my hand and look me in the eyes, speaking Vietnamese that Son translated. We talked about the war and the future, and how Vietnam and America are now entwined and hold a strange attraction for each other, just like Japan and America. Sometimes the worst enemies end up becoming the best friends as times pass, since they have a history together. In the background a little baby kitten and large dog were playing with each other.

I ate lunch with them on the ground, eating food they had grown fresh on the farm and cooked pig and chicken from their livestock. Son and I then took a siesta. This was definitely one of the best and most interesting days of my life, full of beautiful images and poignancy.

One other event that was great was getting drunk with 2 North Vietnamese doctors in the middle of the day, in a seedy hidden restaurant while my other 2 friends I had met earlier were feasting on cooked dog (I didn't want to eat the shit; I could never look a dog in the eyes again). I didn't want to be rude and cause the doctors to lose face (and get in a fight in this place), so I pretty much threw down lots of rice wine and smoked from this strange pipe. I thought the pipe was tobacco at first, after smelling it, but after puffing on it I'm not really sure; again, I didn't want to get in a ruckus so I did as the Romans do. Since my stomach was empty, as I didn't want to eat at that place, the rice wine hit me really hard, and I was drunk off my arse, laughing and being stupid with these 2 forty-year old Hanoi doctors, the other residents in the restaurant, and the 2 expats I was with. That was a great experience too.

I headed to Japan on September 7th, arriving into Tokyo. I was really glad to be leaving Vietnam, since I was craving air conditioning, movies, cleanliness, being able to drink the water, and being able to let my guard down with food. The month in Japan has been characterized by totally chilling out and not necessarily doing too much touristy stuff, really just sleeping late. I've also gotten sick here alot, which sucks. My first week I was sick as a dog with food poisoning, probably because I let my guard down the last few days in Hanoi in regards to food. I got sick with food poisoning again later, and puked on the train. I also got bronchitis the last two weeks, and am getting over it now. All of that has generally sucked, to say the least. I think my body wasn't used to air conditioning after being in Vietnam, which was why I got bronchitis, and I'm not sure why I got all the food poisoning. Oh well. I went to the hospital for both, just to make sure.

I met my friends Rob and Sean here in Japan. Rob has been wonderful about letting me stay at his place outside Tokyo all month, and Sean was really good about setting up lots of stuff for us to do. He took us into Southern Japan to stay with a wonderful family he knows in Iwakuni. It was cool seeing how another rural family lives in a different Asian country, after seeing Son's family in Vietnam. The Nishimoro's, which were their name, were great to us. They took us to this great beautiful creek to go swimming, which was one of the highpoints here in Japan for me. The river was a perfect cool temperature, and a crystal aquamarine blue. The water was drinkable, and I would dive into the depths and drink the water. A perfect summer's day.

The other high-point was actually one that most people would hate: being partially drunk, alone, and lost in Hiroshima late in the night with no place to stay. I went with my friend into Hiroshima to see the A-Bomb Memorial and Museum (which were a trip), and we went out to some of the expat bars there. My friend and I met two girls. He was lucky, and I wasn't, so I had to head off into Hiroshima at 1 in the morning to find our hotel. Japan doesn't really have street names, so there is no way to tell a cab-driver how to get to a place; it only has wide district names. I had a taxi driver take me to the district the hotel was in, and drop me off. The streets were completely empty; it was dark, and late at night. The thing that made it fun and exciting was that I was completely on my own, and just felt independent. I walked around for an hour, completely ready to just find a dark corner and fall asleep on the street. My Japanese skills rapidly improved, since I depended on them to survive in that occasion. I finally found my hotel, though, and didn't have to sleep on the street. I stayed at a place run by Quakers to educate people about nuclear proliferation, which was strange.

Another fun thing happened while I was looking through the Lonely Planet guide for Japan. The Lonely Planet guide described this bizarre festival that takes place in a small town named Ogi in Southern Japan. All the 18 year olds in the town line up, and repeatedly rush the elders of the town to try to grab a gong. The elders have always repelled them for hundreds of years, and may people end up bloody and hurt. While this occurs, off-key flutes and drums play that Lonely Planet described as "like Tom Watts". Then, to top it off, lots of stuff is lit on fire and a huge spinning poll blows up with fireworks. I was like, damn, thats awesome, and then noticed that it was in two days, on September 18th [this date was wrong], not too far from me. I had to go. I decided to head off with Rob spontaneously to go see this. It turned out to be fun, but not quite as primal as I had imagined it to be. The music was certainly wierd though, and people did get bloody. The 'elders' were all other 18 year olds dressed in 'elder' stuff, like work outfits and authority clothes.

I'll send out an email soon detailing all the funny stuff that is here. I recently bought a nice, cheap digital camera, so future email missives will have pictures. I was spending like 150 bucks a month to develop rolls of film, buy film, and ship the pictures back to the states, so I decided to just invest the money into a new camera that would save me money in the long run. By the way, Internet access is excellent in every country I've been to, so I can check my email every day, so send more email folks! I leave for Thailand on August 9th, and arrive in Bangkok. I'm not looking forward to Bangkok; its a big, smelly, noisy city; hopefully it will be interesting though, and I'll only have to stay there for awhile while I do some preparations there I need to do.

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Evil Genius Project of the Week: NestedVM

This qualifies as an Evil Genius Project of the week. If it works its amazing:

"NestedVM provides binary translation for Java Bytecode. This is done by having GCC compile to a MIPS binary which is then translated to a Java class file. Hence any application written in C, C++, Fortran, or any other language supported by GCC can be run in 100% pure Java with no source changes."

Anyone play with this? How well does it work?

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