Posts Tagged ‘Laos’

Backpacking in the News: ‘The Faces of Travel’

Thursday, October 17th, 2013
Credit: Justin Mott for the International Herald Tribune

Credit: Justin Mott for the International Herald Tribune

I stumbled upon a great little slideshow from the New York Times yesterday, called “The Faces of Travel.”

“The people who help you during a trip often are the ones who make the journey truly memorable,” they wrote.

I couldn’t agree more.

And it’s not just the tour guides and tuk-tuk drivers, but also the random travelers you encounter along the way. Six years ago, My buddy Mitch and I met a 65-year-old Jewish-American guy named Howard in Vang Vieng, Laos. Spent two days with him. He was a real character and an amazing storyteller. He honestly made our Vang Vieng trip. We still talk about him to this day.

When riding a bus from Laos into Vietnam, I sat beside a Japanese guy named Kentaro who happened to be from the Gunma Prefecture. He assumed I’d never heard of it, but I informed him I’d actually visited Gunma on an exchange program when I was 16. He was floored. I spent a few days with Kentaro and we became friends. I ended up visiting him and staying with his family when I went to Japan a couple months later.

Come to think of it, Kentaro and I actually sat on tiny red stools, drank $0.10 beers and ate grilled cuttlefish in Hanoi — just like those two guys in the above photo. Good times.

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49. Photos with Local Children

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

kids6

Why do backpackers insist on taking photos of children wherever they go?

Sure, foreign kids are cute. I’ll give them that. But they’re also often super dirty and smell funny. I suppose all kids are dirty and smell funny though, not just foreign ones.

kids

But do immigrants come to Canada/U.S./U.K./Australia, wander onto a schoolyard and have someone snap photos of themselves with their arms out, surrounded by white children? Just wondering.

The following is a journey into the mind of a backpacker taking photos of local children, particularly in the developing world:

  • “OMG look at how cute these local children are!” (snap)
  • “Look at these kids. they live in tin shacks, but somehow they’re so happy.” (snap)
  • “Look at their genuine smiles and the joy in their eyes. These kids literally have nothing.” (snap)

kids2

  • “I’m honestly shocked they’re not asking me for money or trying to pickpocket me…” (snap)
  • “…like those damn gypsy kids in… Hey, kid. Take your hand outta my pocket.” (brushes kid’s hand away) (snap)
  • “Look at this one, touching my face and my hair. Never seen skin or hair like mine before. WOW!” (snap)

kids5

  • “I am so enlightened by this experience. More enlightened than my friends back home.” (sigh) (snap)
  • “I am so glad I came to (developing world country). I appreciate (developed world home country) more now.” (snap)
  • “Seriously. Look at these children.” (snap)

kids7

  • “I don’t want to say that I’m like Jesus. But I love little children, just like Jesus, which explains my arms-out messianic pose.” (snap)
  • “I hope their parents don’t come out during our photo shoot. I don’t want them thinking we’re exploiting their kids.” (snap)

kids3

  • “Hurry up, Kevin. Take the picture. I think that might be one of their parents.” (snap) (takes off running)

For those of you interested in “The etiquette of photographing strangers” (of any age), check out this article by Lonely Planet author Richard l’Anson.

“Photographing strangers can be daunting, but it needn’t be,” he writes. “Most people are happy to be photographed. Some photographers ask before shooting, others don’t. It’s a personal decision, often decided on a case-by-case basis.”

But approaching foreign strangers and children in a palms-out messianic stance certainly can’t hurt.

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37. Passport/Visa Stress

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

I had a Run Lola Run day a couple weeks ago. It was horrifying.

Cold sweat runs down your back. Your heart rate increases. It feels like the second hand is advancing in a smooth and rapid motion, rather than its usual ticking. There aren’t enough minutes in an hour; not enough hours in the day.

cinemapage-run-lola

Just like Manni, in Run Lola Run, I called my girlfriend in a fit of panic. Short of breath, my world was caving in. I had to fly out of the country in a week and even though I’d sent my passport renewal application away a month ago, it still wasn’t processed (I found out later it takes 20 business days to process, not 20 days). The passport office didn’t even know where my application was. And since I’d sent it by snail mail — rather than by registered mail — it couldn’t be tracked. Like Manni, I was freaking out ‘cuz I fucked up.

I hopped on my bike and pedalled violently, until I couldn’t feel my legs. The passport office requested I provide proof of travel (i.e. a printed flight itinerary) within the next couple hours, so they could put a rush on my application (if they could even find it among the stacks of passports awaiting renewal) and issue me a new one in time for my flight. If it was lost, I’d have to re-apply from scratch (with new photos, a guarantor and all that other bullshit), also on a rush.

I got to my office, printed the itinerary, told my boss I was taking the rest of the day off, hurried home, dropped off my bike, and drove my g.f.’s car back to the passport office and delivered the proof of travel. The back of my shirt was soaked with sweat. “What’s next?” I asked the passport officer. “We’ll see if it pops up on the system tomorrow morning. If not, it’s Plan B: re-apply for a new one.”

Luckily, they found it and I didn’t have to go through the added stress of re-applying. It was over. But I didn’t exhale until my new passport was in my hands, three days later. Hats off to Passport Canada: Their staff was patient and helpful, and putting a rush on it only cost me $30.

Czech Visa in Bratislava: It wasn’t the first time I’d had a day like that. Back in ’02, my buddy and I arrived in Bratislava, Slovakia on July 31. We understood that we needed to get a tourist visa to enter the Czech Republic*, but we didn’t know it would take five to 10 days to get it. Since, we were scheduled to fly from Prague to Amsterdam on Aug. 5, we frantically ran around Bratislava trying to get passport photos and reschedule our flight. When the dust finally cleared, we changed our flight to Aug. 11. So, instead of heading to Brussels and Paris from Amsterdam, we spent the rest of our trip in Slovakia and Prague. Turned out to be more fun (and more affordable) than we’d expected.

*Apparently, as a couple of Québécois guys informed us, the CR imposed a visa requirement for Canadians in 2001, as a reaction to a 1997 Canadian policy that required Czechs to obtain visas to enter Canada. They told us a Czech film (it was actually a TV report on Czech Roma in Ostrava) had showed a family of Czech immigrants flourishing in Canada, which caused an influx of Czechs immigrants and led to Canada’s imposing a visa requirement for Czechs. The Québécois guys were right.

Vietnamese Visa in Bangkok: In ’07, I had another stressful, fun-filled visa day in Bangkok. It was my second-last day in the city and I knew I wanted to go to Vietnam (via Laos). What I didn’t know was that I had to get the visa while in Thailand. It takes at least a day to be processed. Fuck. So I sprinted from my Khao San-area hostel to take pictures of the Reclining Buddha and knock it off my checklist, then I jumped in a metered cab to rush to the Viet Embassy. The traffic was unbelievable; my stress level was climbing. I asked the cabbie how far. He said 20 minutes. I offered him a 50 baht tip if he could arrive in under 20 minutes. He hit the gas and suddenly we were flying, taking all kinds of short cuts on backroads. We got there in 17 minutes.

Once there, I had to fill out the the visa form (among other backpackers who were also tearing their hair out), run to an adjacent business to get my photo taken, submit the form and think on my toes. The visa officer showed me a price list. In order of increasing cost, I had to choose between: single-entry visa ready in three days (no), single entry visa ready tomorrow (?), multiple entry visa ready in three days (no), multiple entry visa ready tomorrow (?). Option 2 cost 2,500 baht (or $77 USD), which was half as much as Option 4. The officer grew impatient. She started tapping her pen on the desk. I picked Option 2 and decided I’d just see as much of Vietnam as possible in one fell swoop.

I picked up my visa the next day, in time for me to catch the night train from Bangkok to the Lao border. Another bullet dodged. When I boarded the train, my back was still drenched with sweat. But maybe it was just the humidity. Yeah right.

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