I've decided to retire this blog — I don't really see myself updating it any time soon, and haven't for over two years anyway. I intend to leave the content on-line for the forseeable future, but have converted it to a static site. As a result, dynamic things like search and comments aren't really going to work.

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Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Summing Up Three Months in One Post

Friday, April 24th, 2009

The story so far…

Our hero quit his job and was deassimilated from the Borg, travelled to India via Sri Lanka, and was last heard from on a bus from Delhi to Noida.

And now, the unexciting conclusion…

That was, as the dates indicate, about two and a half months ago. Indeed, I returned from India, as expected, in late February and have since taken up my new job (which, oddly enough, has put me back at my old desk) and have been feverishly working on the two productions that I’m expected to edit the India footage into (with, it has to be said, remarkably little success, as the rather depressing supervisor meeting I had on Wednesday reinforced).

Why the break in transmission? I’m not sure, really. I did write a few more journal entries while I was in India, but found that I ran out of energy at a certain point and really just wished I could learn how to sleep on buses, and then with the editing workload back here, combined with picking up the new job baton (a whole 48 hours after I landed back in Perth!), I just don’t seem to have had the creative energy for it.

India, for the record, was good fun. There’s been a little bit of unpleasantness since returning (nothing related to me, but it still casts a slight pall over the experience), but it was an incredibly worthwhile trip, all told. In the end, I think Bangalore was probably my favourite of the four cities we stayed in, but they were all interesting and (often surprisingly) different in their own rights. The filming went OK, but as I’ve said to a few people since returning, it really was no more than OK, and probably reminded me of why I was hesitant to get heavily involved in production units in the first place — I just don’t quite seem to have a natural feel for what needs to be shot and how the way a lot of other people do, and when you’re shooting ephemeral events in a documentary style, you have to have that feel.

I also have a huge queue of photos to upload, too, starting with some from last November (sorry Dean!) and then the photos from India. All… find . -name *.jpg | wc -l… 413 of them. (Yikes, particularly since I know I discarded at least twice as many while I was there, too.) I’ve been meaning to get started on that particular job since I got back, but the thought of sitting down and writing titles and descriptions for each of them has just sapped my energy each time I’ve opened my laptop to get going.

Tonight I’m off to the 4×4 Film Festival at uni, which is the twice-yearly competition between second and third year production students to see who can make the best four minute film. (Third years get handicapped by needing to edit in-camera, which having done it last year, is actually a pretty significant handicap for a lot of genres.) This semester’s theme is horror, which should be entertaining, and for once, I might be scared by more than the usual shoddy student acting.

In that spirit, I’ll sign off with this dodgy YouTube version of a horror film I worked on last year for uni. (We were apparently just a year ahead of the curve. That’s what I’m telling people who ask about the grade I received for it.) It’s seven and a bit minutes of… something. I’m not really sure what.

Balance of Terror

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Date: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 8:45 am IST
Place: Delhi-Noida Road, India

Once again, we’re on the bus. Happily, I’ve been able to get some fresh viewing material, and am presently watching the Star Trek episode Balance of Terror. (Hence the title.) Today, we’re headed for JIIT in Noida, another satellite city of Delhi. The plan is apparently to do a small group activity with the students there this morning, then visit three companies out there this afternoon before returning to Delhi in the evening.

The group activity should be interesting: we’re going to do a game design exercise, which should give us some insights into how their students are taught relative to our students. From my point of view, it should provide some opportunities to start doing some on the ground work in terms of potentially interviewing both our students and theirs, which will be useful practice both in manipulating the microphone and covering a number of groups at once; both areas in which I haven’t done a lot of work in the past.

Yesterday afternoon we went to Aricent in Gurgaon, a company who provide hardware and software to telecommunications OEMs. They were quite proud of their efforts in the human resources field; although progressive by at least the stereotype of Indian companies (only about a 42-45 hour week, somewhat flexible time), it was to a large extent the usual large corporate spin on them being a bit family, having a shared culture, et cetera.

From a filming point of view, yesterday was a bit of a bust, but that was somewhat expected. I grabbed some establishing footage outside of Aricent and then later at India Gate, but since I didn’t have any release forms on me, I decided against taking footage of Aricent employees or within Aricent itself. I’m also intending to start some end-of-day interviews this evening when we get back to Delhi: tonight should be Chris, from whom I hope to get some insight into the purpose of the trip from the university’s point of view.

On a different note, apparently PESIT in Bangalore have challenged us to a 20-20 game when we get down there. There’s already some banter going around the bus about who’s going to bat where and, more importantly, what colour box Sameera wants!

Obviously, we’re giving him a pink one.

The Road to Gurgaon

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Date: February 3, 2009 at 2:27 pm IST
Place: Delhi-Gurgaon Road, Haryana, India

The original plan for the trip that said that most people would arrive yesterday has unfortunately gone completely out the window. A delay in the departure of the Emirates flight leaving Perth for Dubai that almost two-thirds of the group were on meant that instead of arriving last night at about 8 o’clock, more than half of the student group didn’t arrive until 9:30 this morning, after a night and (very early) morning embarkation from Dubai. Unsurprisingly, most of the bus is now asleep, and Leisa is wandering down the aisle taking incriminating photos of people who are dead to the world.

We’re pressing on with the programme regardless, so presently the bus is trooping very, very slowly down to Gurgaon for the first scheduled event: a tour of a company called Aricent. This is good, as it gives me a chance to test out some of the equipment I have in a more “real” setting, although I’m not putting any great pressure on myself to get decent footage until the Agra trip the day after tomorrow.

Not an awful lot else to report at the moment. Our SIM cards are being organised while we head down to Gurgaon, so I should have a phone available again later this evening, and I now have a roommate in the form of Hamish. We’re going to room together for our stay in Delhi and see how we’re going after that — it seems like we have a bit in common, so that’s a good start.

Now I just need to figure out how to stop my dead cat to stop shedding!

Flying into Delhi

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Date: February 2, 2009 at 7:21 pm IST
Place: Arrivals Hall, Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, India

As we descended into Delhi this evening, the sun was setting. Sure, it was already down on the ground, but at our altitude it lit up the cabin of the plane in a light first the harsh yellow of the direct sun, where I could see my own shadow so sharply that I could have counted my eyelashes, then the warmer, more muted oranges and reds and pinks as the light bounced off seats and bulkheads to softly fill the plane in a beautiful glow.

It was a peaceful ending to what had been a slightly stressful day. This afternoon, I arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport to find one of those depressingly familiar Asian airline experiences playing itself out: sorry, sir, but your flight has been cancelled. Not enough people, I presume. Fortunately, I got there early enough to get a seat on the earlier flight to Delhi, the only real downside being the extra hour and a half I had to kill before being picked up.

Earlier in the day I’d set out on one of my characteristic missions to get lost in a city I don’t know very well, this time in Colombo. I succeeded a bit too well, as it turned out! After I’d been gone a while I realised that I’d left my Lonely Planet — and hence my maps — in my other backpack, which was safely back at the guest house. Ended up navigating my way back to Galle Road via the sun, then realised I was several kilometres south of the guest house and my taxi for the airport was arriving soon. Time to grab a tuk-tuk!

Colombo itself is a bit of a pastiche of places I’ve been: Singapore’s Little India with the socioeconomic state of Ulaanbaatar and road rules of Beijing, if you will.

Maybe third world cities are just starting to jade me. I hope not.

I do want to return to Sri Lanka at some point, but Colombo bores me in a way few cities other than Tallinn and Canberra have. Still, boring isn’t bad for getting over jetlag, and in Colombo House I at least had good digs. Next time I’m going to Galle and Kandy, though!

Well, that’s part of the hour and a half killed.

Here We Go Again

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Time: Saturday, January 31, 2009, 15:22 IST
Location: Somewhere over the Bay of Bengal

I was supposed to write a statement of intent for this documentary while winging my way from Perth to Colombo. Unfortunately, that went out the window about the same time as I got less than an hour’s sleep on the red-eye from Perth to Singapore last night, so instead I’ll write a possibly incoherent blog post.

Sorry, Keith. Can we count this towards my assessment anyway?

So, to back up a step or two, let me explain why I’m currently en route to the subcontinent for those who aren’t already in the know. As part of my Graduate Certificate in Film and Video, I’ve been offered and accepted the opportunity to tag along with an ECU study tour and make a documentary about the experience as an Independent Study project. Needless to say, I’m rather excited about this — effectively, I get to spend two and a half weeks travelling around India (which I’ve wanted to do anyway for ages) and get course credit in the process.

Exactly what the documentary is going to be about is still a somewhat open question. I have some ideas — one in particular that I’d like to pursue — but it will really depend on what actually takes place on the tour. Certainly, had I made a documentary about the Shanghai trip I went on a little over a year ago, that would have turned out completely differently to any preconceived ideas I might have had.

It’s fair to say that my preparation and pre-production processes have been a bit limited. (Horrifyingly disorganised is probably a more honest, less euphemistic way of putting it.) It was basically only by the good graces of Keith on his first day back at ECU yesterday after taking leave that I managed to loan gear from the university, for which I’m extremely grateful. In effect, half of my luggage is taken up by filming equipment — and that’s without having brought any lights!

The travelling itself so far has been interesting. I decided very early on when working out the travel arrangements (travel to and from India was a problem for the individual students rather than the uni due to budgetary constraints and — I suspect — the fact that the uni didn’t want to have to deal with people like me who don’t just do things as a straight return trip from Perth) that I wanted to have a couple of days somewhere before India to unwind, get over the longer flights, test equipment, and so on.

It came down to a choice between Colombo and Kathmandu, and Colombo turned out to be a lot cheaper.

As a result, very early this morning (1:15, to be exact) I got to hop on a Jetstar flight from Perth to Singapore. I was hoping to get some sleep, but as I’ve already mentioned, it didn’t really work out that way. I had everything I needed (even an exit row seat, courtesy of a friendly check-in agent), but the combination of uncomfortable seating and screaming babies just wasn’t conducive to sleep.

I got to spend the morning wandering around Singapore in a sleep-deprived haze. I ended up walking several kilometres (probably at least 10, without having done the maths with a map yet) and that actually woke me up reasonably well. I also managed to get the critical thing that I forgot to pick up on my way out the door yesterday: the Lonely Planet for Sri Lanka!

(Side note: if anyone wants, say, two copies of the Sri Lanka Lonely Planet in a few weeks, get in touch.)

Still, my day has picked up remarkably after the early midnight horror flight. Upon checking in for the Sri Lankan Airlines flight to Colombo, I managed to wangle an exit row seat, with a nod and a wink from the check-in agent that I might end up doing a bit better than that.

Actually, I did a lot better. First class, baby! Not bad, considering I’ve never flown above regular economy before in a rather large number of flights.

Talk about helping one’s mood.

Looking ahead: tonight I’m going to try not to fall asleep too early (I have five mini DV tapes to stripe, and I need to get at least a couple of them done before hitting Delhi), then see the sights of Colombo test the camera equipment tomorrow. I’ll have another crack at the statement of intent tomorrow, too. (I might even consider shaving, although lord knows the scruffy look’s worked for me so far on this trip.)

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Oh, more champagne? Don’t mind if I do…

Interesting Times, Airport Style

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Stalkers Regular readers of this blog will know that I was supposed to be in Shanghai this afternoon to represent my university on a two-and-a-bit week cultural exchange trip. Unfortunately, I find myself sucking down some free Internet at Changi Airport in Singapore still, although I have a boarding pass in my hand for a flight leaving in a bit over an hour.

Long story short: I was sent out a paper ticket for the Malaysian Airlines legs of my trip from Singapore to Shanghai and return. For whatever reason, I never received said paper ticket, and laboured under the misapprehension that it was an e-ticket. Wackiness ensued when I came to check in this morning — although I had a confirmation number from Malaysian Airlines, they (understandably) wouldn’t let me on the flight without the expected paper ticket. It’s mostly my own fault for not re-reading the fine print on the itinerary more closely (it does say paper ticket

under the additional charges section at the end which, frankly, I ignored when I first read it, since I figured it was just taxes — that is the only place it’s mentioned, though), but it does leave a slight lingering sense of general irritation. (Certainly not at Malaysian Airlines or Expedia, though, who both pulled out the stops to make sure I got to Shanghai as quickly as possible. This isn’t like my infamous missed flight in Beijing, which I maintain was Air China’s fault to this day.)

Anyway, once the rescheduled flights were sorted out this morning, I ended up with several hours to kill in Singapore. I decided to hop down to the Hive Backpackers, which is where I’m staying on the way back, and managed to secure a single room for the afternoon to get a bit of sleep courtesy of the helpful staff there. They then excelled themselves by giving me some tips on good places to try in Little India for dinner, which resulted in my enjoying an excellent rogan josh.

Random notes before I go back towards my departure gate:

  • I saw a guy on a Segway this morning here at the airport. Yes, really. He didn’t appear to be doing it for any work-related reason, either.
  • Starbucks hasn’t improved.
  • Bus drivers + torrential rain + overflowing stormwater drains + crosswalks = drenched jeans. I’m not sure they’ll be dry when I get to Shanghai tomorrow morning.
  • I’m really dreading my next phone bill. The roaming charges are going to be enormous.
  • Two nights of red-eyes in a row split by only about four or five hours of sleep isn’t going to do a lot for my ability to be coherent tomorrow for the first day of the study trip programme. It’s a full day, too — I might have to see if I can beg out of the acrobatics show tomorrow evening to catch up on my sleep.
  • The free Internet access here at Changi is pretty sweet, particularly with the array of laptop stations available with Ethernet cables and power points.

Now, off to Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai! Again!

(Yet More) Recycled Air

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

My bank balance has worn one — actually, several — for the team, but I’ve finished a very productive day arranging the various bits of travel that I have planned for this summer. In order, I shall be inflicting myself on gracing the following cities with my presence:

  • Brisbane (and any parts of Queensland I can get to during the five days I’m hitting the road that aren’t infested with schoolies): November 20 to 30, ostensibly to attend OSDC. Also the Muse concert on the 21st. I’m still not sure which one I consider more important.
  • Shanghai: December 5 to 20, for a university study trip. I also have about 24 hours in Singapore (which I’ve never been to — well, outside the airport, anyway) on the way back, so if the lazyweb has any suggestions for things to do there which could be fitted into, say, a morning, I’d love to hear them.
  • Mel8ourne: January 27 to February 3. I note that an open day has been scheduled for my birthday. How good of the LCA organisers to give me such a nice present.

Simplistic maths suggests that I’m going to be out of Perth for ~45% of the time between November 20 and February 3. Sounds like a summer of fun to me!

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Football

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Date: Sunday, September 17, 2006
Place: Bulgan-Mörön road, Bulgan aimag, Mongolia

Just a quick entry to catch up. We’re underway! We have an awesome driver in Hugi and Buddy, a friendly guide. Shopping for the first few days in UB yesterday was a bit of an expedition in and of itself, and we realised later just how many things we forgot! Still, we have enough food, so it’s all good.

Onto more pressing matters. My air mattress had a hole, but Buddy was able to help me get another one in Erdenet. Erdenet is the second biggest city in Mongolia, but very different from UB — the Russian influence is much stronger. It’s certainly more run-down in some ways than UB, but the change in demographics is also noticeable, with fewer gers and even more ugly apartment blocks.

Last night, we camped on the Orkhon Gol (River), which was a lovely spot. Apart from the midges, that is, which were plague-like this morning.

This morning we went to Amarbayasgalant Khiid, a 280 year old monastery. The main temple’s roof contains no nails; every piece of wood is instead help together through perfect shaping and, one presumes, the will of Buddha. The vibe of Amarbayasgalant is spectacularly peaceful, to the extent that even the tour group that was there didn’t seem particularly annoying.

Which brings me here. We’re on a hill just off the road from Bulgan City to Mörön, our jumping off point for Khövsgöl Nuur. As I write, we’re sinking vodka and talking about cultures, girls and punctuality — in other words, the typical conversation of the slightly tipsy.

Anyway, I’ve just been photographed writing by Dirk, so I guess that’s about all. Khövsgöl Nuur in two days!

Sleep Deprivation + Scriptwriting Student = Awful Scripts

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Date: Friday, September 15, 2006
Place: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia



Lightning crashes. Beneath the statue of Sükhbaatar, the Western stereotype of CHINGGIS KHAAN appears, reincarnated, just in front of a bewildered Australian TOURIST.


Uh– wha–


I am Chinggis Khaan!


You– you speak English?




Uh, never mind. Why are you here?


I have come back to see what has become of my people. Where are the horses? What has become of the warriors? Why are there so many foreigners, and why are they not cowering?


Well, it has been 800 years–


Why are YOU here?


I just wanted to see Mongolia before the nomads disappeared altog–




Sorry. Time has marched on. Mongolia is joining the modern world.


This is not the way of Mongolia! The people should fight to resume their rightful place!

CHINGGIS KHAAN has now worked himself into a frenzy. Looking around and unleashing some inarticulate growls of rage, he finally draws his sword and runs the TOURIST through. The TOURIST gasps in shock.



CHINGGIS KHAAN moves off, running people — Mongolian and foreign alike — through left, right and centre. As the TOURIST fades, we too:


And So It Begins

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Date: Thursday, September 14, 2006
Place: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

After four flights, one bizarre town in Inner Mongolia, one missed flight, several frustrating hours in Beijing airport and God only knows how many language difficulties — not to mention two whole days — we are in UB.

More on UB later. First, the journey. All was going swimmingly until Beijing, where we were to catch an Air China flight to UB. After standing in the check-in queue for at least half an hour, we were told that we had just missed the flight. (We later realised that the guys milling around the counter were on standby and that when they went through, we should have kicked up more of a fuss.) We were ropable, although I think it may be eternally to our credit that we didn’t lose our tempers, even when told that the next Air China flight with open seats was on Saturday. (Later note: This was taking place on Wednesday, since it’s not entirely clear.)

From there, it was a quick dash to the Mongolian Airlines offices in the back blocks of Beijing airport, which were closed. Given that, we went back down to the MIAT check-in desk, where a helpful lass tried to get us onto the standby list for that morning’s flight, only to be blocked by a very disagreeable manager, who further informed us that he couldn’t help us get onto a later flight.

We retired upstairs at that point to get on the Internet and consider our options. After some research, an option was found to go to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, and then try to arrange a flight to UB. Very Amazing Race. (For the record, there were possibly options through Seoul as well, but they were prohibitively expensive. We also looked briefly at the train, but decided that a visa would be too hard to get at the border.)

So we ended up in Hohhot, with only a verbal agreement from an Aero Mongolia representative there to get tickets the following morning — the morning of the flight. Once there, we tried unsuccessfully to get tickets that afternoon and had a quick look at the city itself.

Hohhot city is an amazing experience. Everything is grey: the buildings, the roads (all concrete, not asphalt) and, most importantly, the sky. The smog is extraordinary — it’s up there with photos of the worst cities in the world.

I think the thing that really got to us was the glimpse of the lifestyle we got. There were no apparent entertainment options beyond standing around in the streets talking — people seemed like they were born, worked in the mines or factories, and died. In between they got to risk death on (or anywhere near) the roads and — well, stand around some more.

It’s hard to describe, really. The people didn’t appear to be starving, or destitute, but the vibe was just that of a city that went through the motions to survive, but that its people just didn’t have the ability to derive much enjoyment from their lives.

Enough cultural imperalism. We ended up at the Air Hotel, simply because it was walking distance to the airport. (Amazingly, there appeared to be no road access to the hotel due to roadworks.) After some massive communication problems caused by neither Jas, myself nor the reception staff having a language in common we were rescued by an Air China pilot who could translate for us. Astonishingly, the staff ended up taking Australian dollars over US dollars and a Visa card — we didn’t have enough Yuan and there was no currency changing available at the airport. Honestly, I think the unusual nature of the notes (being plastic and very colourful) was what got us over the line.

Lest anyone think we short changed them, we gave them about 20% more than the room rate, once you do the conversion. The room featured only half working lights, rock hard mattresses, an inoperative air conditioner, a busted TV, no room key (a staff member had to let us in) and, oddly enough, one of the better showers I’ve seen in a hotel anywhere. Very odd.

So, how nerve-wracking is it to fly into a place where English basically isn’t spoken? Pretty nerve-wracking. Now add in that we didn’t have tickets, our transit visas ran out that day and that our only money was in US dollars and credit cards, and we were pretty jumpy. (We also realised later that the only UB-bound train had left Hohhot the previous night.)

In the end, despite a flight delay, my friend from the phone call the previous day came through with two tickets to UB, accepted US dollars (to our surprise, after the hotel), and got us to UB. I can’t recommend Aero Mongolia enough at this point. The flight crew were great, too.

So, UB. It’s a bit early to make a call, but Jas and I have been surprised by it so far. It’s more cosmopolitan than we expected, and the food thus far has been far less stodgy than anticipated. Jas has noted that it reminds him of eastern Europe, and I can sort of see that.

Still, I think we really just want to get going on the trek now. We leave UB on Saturday (Dirk and Nick arrive tomorrow), and I for one can’t wait, even as pleasantly surprising as UB is.

Most random moments thus far:

  • The taxi driver taking us from UB airport to the city centre playing Kylie Minogue on his stereo system.
  • The Air Hotel in Hohhot. All of it.
  • The Mongolian teenagers at the State Department Store wearing gangster get-up. Quite incongruous.