Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What I learned today from googling about Sunnis vs Shiites

  • Sunnis
    • After Prophet Muhammad died, Sunnis wanted to vote for successor
    • Place their hands on their stomachs when they pray
    • Account for 85% of the world's muslims
    • "Centralized" in Saudi Arabia

  • Shiites (Shia = Noun, Shiite = Adjective)
    • After Prophet Muhammad died, Shiites wanted to follow bloodline
    • Place their hands at their sides when they pray
    • Account for 15% of the world's muslims
    • "Centralized" in Iran
  • There are Sunni vs Shiite mosques, but it is hard to tell visually
  • ISIS is Sunni

  • Some good links:
    • Different between: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/mideast/what-are-differences-between-sunni-shiite-muslims-n489951
    • About Saudia Arabia: http://www.vox.com/2015/12/1/9821466/saudi-problem-isis

Monday, June 20, 2016

Thoughts and Notes about Kyrgyzstan

I like this country, especially the capital, Bishkek.

General feelings:
-The statues are really cool. Badass warriors on horses. Not the lovey-dovey junk that's littered all over Paris. Similar to some areas of prague. (applies more-so to bishkek than to osh, since Osh doesn't have much of anything)

-Children play on the streets and in playgrounds, even if only on dirt or cement fields. They play, they yell, they laugh, and I hear them from my 4th story soviet style apartment hostel. BMX bikers and skate boarders do tricks and jump off the staircases of national monuments and opera houses. Seeing these things gives me hope. Freedom of expression exists.

-The women are the most beautiful I've seen in the world
There are very few overweight women. They all look fit and in shape. They range from appearing as completely caucasian (like blond hair, blue eyes, German), to completely eastern asian (like chinese/japanese/korean), and everything in between (but more asian looking ones than caucasian looking ones). Despite 90% of the population being muslim, people are dressed in a very western fashion. Women here reveal as much skins as women in the US.
I'm sure the guys are beautiful too, but I haven't been paying too much attention to them. A lot of them are like taller, manlier, buffer versions of east asians. They do pullups and dips on the old USSR styled children playgrounds that have a lot of monkey bars with worn out paint.

-There aren't hawkers everywhere asking you if you need a taxi ride. There are taxis, but they don't all rush up to you 5 people at once, asking you where you want to go next (Maybe only when you get off the airport, but not all over the city like the Siem Reap or Phnom Penh)
-There's very little littering on the ground. Unlike western china (Where everyone, from the buddhist monks to the taxi drivers, will litter. The monk was sitting on the ground and reading scripture and praying under a statue while it was raining, and I ducked under the statue near him in order to shelter from the rain. We smiled at each other and nodded. After a while, he finished reading, pulled out what looked like a twizzler sort of candy bar, ate it, and threw the wrapper on the ground, on the grass, and walked on. As for taxi drivers, they just roll down the window and throw out trash. But here in Kyrgyzstan, I have not seen such behavior.)
-Cars actually stop for you when you cross the street, almost like the United States. Nowhere in China does this occur
-The internet is good enough for stream youtube at 720p, and google and facebook are not blocked like it is in China.

-Perhaps it's because of Ramadan that things are open late (since many restaurants are closed during the day since many people are fasting), but at night, there are people on the streets and stores and shops are open, even at midnight. I read from online numerous warnings about how it's unsafe for tourists and foreigners to go out at night, due to pickpockets. But I felt it was alright... China has a weird unspoken curfew system, where it gets very dark and deserted late at night, even in cities like shanghai.

Authorities and corruption
-Though I haven't experienced this yet, the cops are crooked, similar to many other countries. I sort of experienced this in Cambodia, where I was overcharged an extra $5 for a visa from the immigration officer. And I kept arguing with him about why. It's funny, because in any developed nation, I would not be arguing with an officer.

-Kyrgyzstan place is poor and GDP is low. A taxi from Osh to Bishkek, a 12 hour ride, only costs around 1000SOM per person. (Around $15). This is ridiculous, because the gas costs about 2500SOM to 3000SOM (about $45 USD). So the taxi driver only made $15 to $20 that day for 12 hours of driving. And that's not even considering the cost of maintenance or cost of the car.
When I look at the GDP per capita though, it almost makes sense. Kyrgyzstan has a GDP per capita of $1200. That is really low. (The US's is around $50,000). So if this driver in Kyrgyzstan makes $15 per day and works 300 days per year... that's about it that's like $4500, then minus the cost of maintenance and the car... he might even be making more that the national average of $1200.
-A low GDP also means things are quite affordable for foreigners. A burger is usually $1 (65 SOM). Veal was $8.

The cars are also from all over the world, like as if this country has no emission policy of its own, and it just imports cars from anywhere that is cheap. Because there are cars with steering wheels on the right side, even though the country drives on the right side of the road. I wonder if that is a sign of how poor this place is. That they'll take cars from any country, regardless of whether they're left or right handed steering wheel. This scares me in terms of safety and visibility while driving. But people seem to be able to live with it.
Public transportation seems to be lacking. There are no subways and not many real "buses". There are marshrutkas (shared taxi minivans that travel specific routes and have bus stops).
Bus taxis are cheap. 1km seems to negotiable for 40 to 50 SOM (e.g. around $0.75). So it'd be about $1 per mile.

The city of Osh
-Not much to do. There are like 5 touristy things to do: 1 mountain, 2 museums, and a yurt. Can all be done in 6 hours.

The city of Bishkek
-Lots of cool squares, parks, monuments, and museums. Can be seen in 10 or 12 hours.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Almaty, Kazakhstan vs Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia, from XiNing, China

I'm in XiNing, which is almost smack dab in the middle of China. There are bullet trains that can get to Shanghai in 10 hours, or Urumqi in 10 hours. Urumqi is supposedly the farthest major city from any ocean in the world.

I'm debating whether to go northwest to Urumqi, and then ultimately Almaty, Kazakhstan, or go north east, towards inner Mongolia (within China), and eventually cross the border into Mongolia, then Ulaan Bataar.

Well, I googled Almaty vs Ulaan Bataar, and it turns out that Almaty has a much less expensive cost of living, has much cheaper flights back to Shanghai (where I already have a return flight back to the US), and Kazakhstan overall is a much more populous country with a higher GDP per capita (approximately $12,000 vs $4,000 USD).


So... I'll go north west.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Angkor Wat tell me your secrets

I got up at 4:30am to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat today.
Angkor Wat is the most famous and well preserved temple in the Angkor temple system in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Other temples include Angkor Thom:

Or the Tomb Raider temple:

Despite this, I've been getting tired and bored of traveling. I'm on week 6.
I think it comes from not having a goal for my travels and not knowing what I'll be doing when I get back to reality and back to home in the United States.

I'm tired of traveling because I don't have a goal of what I'm traveling for. (I'm not on a 2 week trip meant for un-winding from work. No, I left my job and I don't have a solid plan for life and I can travel for months or even years until my savings runs out.) If my travels had a deadline of when to stop, it might allow me to enjoy the limited amount of time even more.

I find that I don't do well without overarching goals and deadlines, and I need one for traveling... It also has to do with me not having a job and not really knowing what I'll be doing when I get back. I think that just makes life overall a bit hopeless. Because when I'm traveling, I'm not really working towards those things related to career development and online classes, where-as if I was at home all day, I probably would. So maybe that's why traveling made the hopelessness even more pronounced. This is one aspect that I didn't think of before...

I think working on side projects while traveling will help. But I would like to have a solid and more detailed goal for traveling too, in addition to "have fun, learn about other country's history and culture"

Angkor Wat, tell me your secrets. What can I learn from you? What can I learn from being here.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

SpaceX makes history. What I am doing with my life?

I'm speechless. In awe. Humbled.
SpaceX did it.
Today, SpaceX landed their first stage.
I used to work 3 miles from their headquarters, making satellites that SpaceX would launch. Now I'm thousands of miles away vacationing in Thailand.

I can't help but think... what am I doing with my life? Will I ever get back to meet and surpass the impact I was making before? I hope and believe that I will.

CNN's article started with a funny, appropriate quote: "If at first you don't succeed, try until you make history."

Or that other quote: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better" And then... success

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bali on a Dirt Bike

Out of my 12 days in Bali, 9 days were spent surfing, 1 spent visiting a cool startup incubator space called Livit (I emailed them asking for a tour and they agreed!), and 2 days were spent on a dirt bike. This post is about the dirt bike days.

Day 1 on dirt bike:
Renting and riding scooters on previous days led to googling for motorcycle or dirt bike rentals, which then led to looking for guided dirt bike tours. There are several companies that do this, but the one I settled upon was Bali Dirt Bike Adventures, rated 5 stars on Trip Advisor.

I picked them because after browsing several companies, they offered the best price for the amount of hours of riding. They had several packages, and the one I picked was the rainforest one, which the owner said was easier than the volcano one, and also had more seat time on the bike.

I was picked up at 8:30am and we didn't arrive at the dirt bike area until about 10:30, and we're basically in the boonies by then (but then most of the island is boonies.)

The first thing I see is this:

I thought, sweet... it looks like a really decent bike, I wonder if I'm gonna be riding that.
I was given all the gear to wear including socks, and I left all my belongings with the people there.
It turned out I was the only customer today. I had two guides, one was a funky man in his 30s or 40s maybe and another was a 11year old kid (but man, they both kicked ass on dirt bikes and picked my butt out of a ditch countless times.)

After I was suited up, I was told to get on my bike, and they pointed at the one I was originally eyeing (sweet!!!)

The guides get on their bikes and motion for me to get on mine. They start their engines and motion for me to follow.
"Wait wait wait", I yelled. "Ummm, give me a quick refresher, this right one's the brake right?" (I actually hadn't ridden a motorcycke since the motorcycle riding class I took 4 years ago. That class had about 8 hours total of riding time, and that was all the motorcycle riding experience I had in my life.)
The guides get off their bikes and walk over to my bike. "Front brake, back brake, clutch, shift, engine cut off", he points and says.
"Cool got it, what about that one."
"No touch. ok?" he smiles, pats my back. "Ok, let's go!" And off we went. We first went through some flat ground where the guide did some tight turns, just to make sure I was able to ride. Then we hit the trails.

After a while, we got to a ride terrace, and I was so happy to see it because it was something I had read about it.

We then went up some seriously muddy hills, and that's where I had the most trouble and dropped the bike a lot. Two guides were indeed needed. One guide to ride in front, one in the back to look out after you. And both guides were needed to pick the bike up after I rode it into the ditch and dropped it.

After the rice paddies and going up the muddy hills, we hit up a waterfall to cool off:

We then grab lunch. Food was Nasi Goreng at a local warung (warung=small mom/pop shop)

Next we hit easier trails (no mud) to get to the beach. And at this point, I'm smiling the whole time. It was so beautiful. Breaking waves and roaring ocean to my right, and a beast of a machine under my control, rumbling and pushing me forward.

There were a few times when the terrain just became ridiculous. Like one section where we rode up some stairs (!) onto a beach boardwalk in order to avoid the tide and wait it out a bit. Once the tide went down, we rode back down the stairs and through the knee deep sea water. There's water all around me, the bike is making wakes, pushing through the water like a boat, and I thought the engine was going to drown, choke, and die, but I kept revving, and it kept pushing, and it stayed alive and carried me through. Mad respect for dirt bikes!

We left the beach and made it back to drop off the bikes at around 5:15pm after about 6 solid hours of riding. I was definitely satisfied. The total price came out to be about $135USD + tip (their website says $120 for single person, $100/each for two or more. I also had to pay $10 extra because my hotel was further away, and $5 guide fee, which wasn't mentioned)

Day 2 on Dirt Bike:

After having so much fun on a dirt bike, I decide to rent one of my own from
http://balibikerental.com/. Again, there were several companies that offered this, but this company seemed the best all around, and crucially, their rentals came with a gps/phone holder (this was immensely valuable).

This was my last full day in Bali and there were many things I hadn't seen nor done yet. The two that topped the list was the volcano on the island and snorkeling. So I wanted to tackle both. The volcano required a 1 or 2hr hike that I wasn't going to do, but I at least wanted to get close to it while still on paved road. And then north of the volcano, on the north shore of the island, there was a diving spot called Tulamben with a ship wreck I wanted to check out.

I ride for about an hour, get distracted by some rice terraces

ride for another 30 minutes, and finally see the volcano in the distance.

There's the volcano to the left, a lake to the right, and a road through the middle that reaches the ocean on the other side. I was gonna take that road.

As soon as I start down towards the basin of the crater, inclement weather hits. I mean rain. Massive. Freaking. Rain. And I get completely soaked, as does the ground.

As the rain drops fell into the mud puddles though, they produced some very beautiful droplets (I failed to get a pic of those).

I get through the basin, and start going uphill again on the other side of the basin. It gets really hilly going back up and really wet, and I drop the bike once while going slow. I was unscathed and so was the bike. Along the way I also see all these locals carrying baskets on their heads, waking on this steep foggy terrain. It was really beautiful.

Anyway, about 1 hr later, I finally make it out of that crater lake area and get to the dive spot. People said there's a shipwreck about 30 meters out, but I couldn't see shit.

But I parked the bike, rented snorkels and proceeded to find the shipwreck. I swim aimlessly alone, don't see any shipwreck, nor any other swimmers, and am about to give up and go back to shore, when a guy on a freakin stand up paddle board paddles by (of all things, a SUP, in the middle of the ocean.) He points me in the direction to continue, and I do. And I'm still swimming along looking down, when suddenly, it comes into view. Below me, a huge bow structure. It was huge, amazing, and eerie. (Sorry, no pics).

After snorkeling, it was about dark, and I needed to get back to my hostel in Ubud, but I didn't want to ride through the volcano area again so I decided to go around.

Long story short, my phone's GPS malfunctions (because I had tried to take it snorkeling in a plastic pouch and seawater got in), I get lost, I ask for directions in english and get responses in Indonesian, I have to refuel several times, I get dinner, I ride through twisty mountainous areas in the dark (something I didn't intend to do), I try to follow some scooters carrying passengers also riding through the mountain, but I can't keep up with them and they leave me in the dust (even though I'm on a faster bike), but eventually, I make it back alive and exhausted.

Day 3
Alright, last day in Bali, I wake up at 7, my flight's at 10:30, and I need to return the bike. Fortunately, the bike rental company said they can meet me at the airport to pick up the bike. I pack up my stuff and am running a bit late, as usual. Today I need to ride with a 10kg pack:
(Good thing I didn't listen to my mom who told me to get a roller luggage case with wheels. pffftttt. ALWAYS be able to have 2 free hands.)

I'm a little rushed because I was flying from Bali to Bangkok via Tiger Air (a Singaporean airline), and Singaporean airlines don't mess around. I know this first hand because the last time I flew on a Singaporean airline, it was midnight, there were no lines and no one else at the airport, and I arrived 50 minutes before my flight instead of 60 minutes that they demanded, and they wouldn't let me check in and I was forced to miss the flight.

But today, just as I make it to the airport, I see police checking for license and registration. I didn't have an international driver license, and I've heard many stories about how they fine people without an international license, but I super lucked out, because he looked at my California driver's license, we made small talk, I smiled, he smiled, and he let me go! I return the bike and make my flight. Woohoo!!!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tips for Bali

  • Sunscreen will break the bank.
    • It's 150,000 IDR (about $12 USD) per 100mg (~3 oz)
    • Bring that stuff over in checked baggage if you have to. It'll save you money.
  • You can live off $20/day ($10/night at a hostel that will give you free water, shower, and wif + $3/meal that will get you pretty full)
    • But most places don't give you free water
  • But you'll more likely spend at least $50 to $80/day even while on a budget because you have to:
    • rent a surfboard everyday ($10/day)
    • rent a scooter everyday ($5-ish/day)
    • buy alcohol (infinite/day)
    • buy sunscreen and this thing called Zinc, which is some sort of rub that you put on your skin to physically block the sun. You apply this after you apply sunscreen.
      • Sunscreen, Zinc, Aloe Vera, are all 150,000 IDR per about 3 ounces.
  • You can't fully explore and enjoy bali without a scooter
  • Refrigeration rules don't seem to apply
    • The $3 meals can be had at Warungs, where they cooked the food in batches and have them displayed in a non-refrigerated glass cabinet for the rest of the day
    • You point at the things you want
    • The food is usually not warm, so it's hard to guess how many hours they have been sitting there
    • But if you're optimistic, you won't get diarrhea! (or else these shops won't exist)
  • The picturesque waters and surf are in the south (that piece of land south of the airport)
    • This piece of land is broken into 2 parts: Bukit peninsula (west part), and Nusa Dua (east part)
      • In the Bukit Peninsula, you have Uluwatu, Padang padang, etc. Those are the waves on magazine covers. The water is clear and you can see the coral underneath you
      • Nusa Dua includes beaches such as Pandawa
    • North of the airport beaches such Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, and Cangu waters are all greenish and not clear, and most of the breaks are beach breaks, so direction of waves are hard to predict
  • Avoid Kuta
    • Kuta's main attraction is a sleazy street filled with bars and clubs and go-go dancers wearing heavy makeup
    • Every few meters, you will get approached and peddled by locals offering you:
      • taxi? (you say no)
      • scooter? (you continue walking on, saying no, shaking your head)
      • mushrooms? (he follows you and continue asking)
      • massage? (you've stopped responding by now and continue to walk)
      • girls? (he continues to ask)
    • I'm not trying to blame the locals or peddlers. This is just a reality. The discrepancy between how wealthy the tourists are vs how impoverished the locals are is crazy
    • I was haggling with one surf board rental shop, and it got to the point where I didn't want to rent from them because I wanted to see what my other options were first, but as I was walking away, he said, "but I'm hungry! We hungry. We need money. We need food.". He was slightly overweight, so I don't think he himself was starving. But I got the idea. He and his family needed money. But I just wanted to walk down the beach and see some other surfboard rental places, and I apologized as politely as I could, but as I continued walking away, he began cursing at me, and yelling "fuck you". This saddened me greatly.