Book

Reading: Preparing For Your Roman Trip

When we decided to visit Rome, I thought I needed some background study.

So I consulted Wikitravel, which gave me a good recommendation. The book was longer than I thought (and did not expect a sequel!), but it was really really fun to read. (win!)

First book, “Roma,” covers the very begging of Rome to the end of Roman Republic. Its sequel, “Empire,” covers early Roman empire, from the era of Augustus to the end of Hadrian. Yes, these are only fictions, but they cover most major historical events and characters, so you can almost read them as history books. Almost is better than nothing.

(Recommended supplemental reading: Wikipedia)

Thought

Zooming In

I like how it feels when I’m zooming in on Google maps. First you get very blur image, but little by little, you get clearer and more detailed image.

Visiting new places is like that.

Before you visit there, you always have blur image of the place. Based on stories you heard, movies you saw, or perhaps books you read, you create very vague and biased image.

When you actually visit the place, it is almost always different from what you originally thought it was like.

 

Bali was more crowded than I thought.

Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok was more modern and hotter than I thought.

Beach in Hawaii and Australia was more beautiful than I thought.

Australia continent was way bigger than I thought.

Singapore was friendlier than I thought.

 

In fact, everyday on the road is about “zooming in.”

Yesterday I took local train in Taiwan, and was surprised how “familiar” it felt.

Today I visited supermarket in Taiwan, and was glad to know that they had my favorite Japanese snacks.

 

These are tiny, trivial things by themselves, but the collection of these small discoveries shapes my understanding of the world.

 

Suddenly it feels like “zooming in” is a good expression for exploration.

“I’m gonna zoom in Taiwanese train today!”

Thought

Time Management for Travelers

I was listening to Time Management lecture by Randy Pausch last night again.

He talked about that time management matrix created by Stephen Covey. I fell in sleep wondering if that matrix has any relevance to travelers like me.

time management matrix

 

The matrix is about priority. The point is instead of doing items in quadrant 3 (Not Important but Urgent), we should focus on items in quadrant 2 (Important but Not Urgent). Most of us are doing the exact opposite, always carried away by “urgent” tasks. (Of course, quadrant 1 comes first.)

I think I know what it means in business setting, but what it means to travelers?

 

1. Important and Urgent

This is easy one. Visiting places where I wanted to go is the first item. If you are in Australia, and your dream place is Ayers Rock, it is urgent task for you (you never know when you can come back again). Sometimes you meet people, both local people and fellow travelers who you really like. Meeting and interacting people, while you are in the same area, is another important and urgent item.

 

4. Not Important and Not Urgent

Let’s skip 2 and 3, because quadrant 4 is much easier.

Here we have all the junk. Things like watching TV, mindless Internet surfing, checking news and SNS sites. These are all fine activities, but we tend to do it too much and too often.

 

2. Important but Not Urgent

Planning my travel. As much as I enjoy flexible traveling, advanced planning is often the key for saving extra yen and leading to higher satisfaction.

Other activities that I love to do is reading and writing, and they fall in here. I can read or write any other places and time, but then I can forever putting them off. Just like I used to put off this long-term traveling.

 

3. Urgent but Not Important

Realizing this one was a huge aha for me, and I think by carefully avoiding this, I will have better chance leading “successful” travel.

The following might sound familiar.

“I have come this far, and I heard there was this famous place around. I don’t really care about it, but why not check it out while I am still here?”

This is harmless, or maybe encouraged, if you are on short term vacation. Or maybe this kind of extensive traveling is exactly what you are passionate about.

In my case, if I keep checking out every little place in every single place I visit, my brain will explode. List will never end! It might sound like fun first, but it can be really exhausting. Of course I will have to sacrifice time for reading.

 

So… what did I learn?

I will be more selective about travel experiences. I will still stay trying new strange places sometimes, but probably I will avoid visiting places just because it is popular destination. More importantly, I should stop feeling a sense of guilty while reading my book, when I could close my book and explorer area and find new experience instead.

Gear

My Faithful Friend

“A faithful friend is a strong defense; And he that hath found him hath found a treasure.” – Louisa May Alcott

—-

On the very last day in Australia, my old Teva sandal died. He had served me almost seven years..

He was the most favorite footwear I ever owned. But every great relationship has its end, and it was time for him to go.

teva_broken

So long, my friend.

 

I tried some cheap sandal I found in Bali, two dollars a pair. Died in two weeks. Yes, we do get what we pay for..

 

So I was ready again to try another sandal from Teva, which was little hard to find in this part of the world, but I did find one in Singapore, on sale! I call it destiny.

So, meet my new friend, Tanza. He is very comfy and good looking.

teva_tanza

Teva Tanza

Photo Singapore

Strict Rule in Singapore

Singapore is famous for its very strict rules to keep this country clean.

But… This is just outrageous. 

sg_no_durian

No durian in subway station!

Indonesia Photo

Mr. Bean Bag

So, apparently, Rowan Atkinson has own business in Bali.

He needs to find better marketers… 🙂

seminyak_bean_bag

Indonesia Photo

Starbucks?

street_buck_coffee

street_buck_coffee_large

Food Thought

Scenes from an Indonesian Restaurant

sagitarias

It is always nice to find favorite restaurant during trip. When I do, I visit them often, sometimes daily basis. We are more likely to have good experience with different menu in the proven restaurant than trying different restaurants.

So here we are, paying our fifth visit to this restaurant, we found ourselves discussing why their service is so bad.

Yes, our favorite restaurant in Bali has really bad service. Waitresses are very unfriendly and unwelcoming. Food is often late. One time, waitress dropped used spoon with oil onto my wife’s pants, leaving stain. She laughed and said oops, but no apology.

Everything else is perfect. Perfect location, being on Monkey Forest Rd (yes, it’s a real street). Food is amazing with great price. We keep coming back here because of cheap price and high quality of food (good service is luxury for us).

While we were waiting for our food (it took them 50 minutes to prepare our food this time, and there were only two other groups in the restaurant.), we started talking about why they had to have such a bad service. We came up with a couple of theories.

 

1. Law of Pick Two

You might have seen this triangle chart. In college life, you can only have two of these three qualities (Sleep, Grade and Social Life). If you want good grade with social life, you can not have enough sleep, etc.

Similarly, we discussed, we may only expect two out of three qualities from restaurants: Reasonable Price, Tasty Food, Good Service.

So in this case, if we chose Reasonable Price and Tasty Food, we must say good bye to Good Service. We had also experienced Good Service restaurant with Reasonable Price but crappy food. There are of course high end place with Tasty Food with Good Service, but they are very expensive. So the theory works?

Maybe not. Good Service is cheaper than other two. A major part of Good Service can be achieved by having the right state of mind. What troubling us most was how waitresses are unfriendly. Smiling while talking with customer takes no big effort, yet they can’t do it somehow.

 

2. They are highly intelligent AI robots

You see we were ready to explore every possible way…

Well, they look emotionless. They never smile to customers. Greetings are very automatic. You know Indonesia is one of the fastest growing countries in the world today. Maybe their technology is so advanced without us knowing, and they have already built human-looking super-intelligent android, while my country is stuck with this.

As much as I like to believe this theory, if this is true, then it means the end of Japanese robotics. So, no.

 

3. They were trained to be unwelcoming

They are meant to behave this way. Maybe they are trained to be like this!

First we thought it is very unlikely. I mean, who will train its employees how to be unfriendly, unwelcoming, and unhelpful? But when we examined this further, we realized that this might be it.

 

3.1 They think it’s character

In Japan, there used to be some restaurants, typically run by an old man (we call them Ganko Oyaji), serving really good food with questionable service. If customers were busy talking without touching food, Ganko Oyaji will yell at them, “Stop talking, and finish your food!”. When customers order a food, another Ganko Oyaji may refuse to take order, and force them to eat what he think customers should eat (“Are you stupid ordering this? You should eat this instead.”).

And you know how some (not all, obviously) Japanese react to this? They adore them for its character.

But, this isn’t the case here.

Those Ganko Oyaji had reasons for their raging. They wanted their customers to eat their food in the best condition (Foods are best eaten right after served, and many foods have good season to eat).

These waitresses are unfriendly for no reason…

 

3.2 Battle of who could take tips

Good service leads to better tips, and maybe that was the problem.

Maybe there were times when waitresses fought over who should take tips from what table. Maybe one day some drunken guy left huge tip, creating huge quarrel. I could see some name-calling and slapping. Maybe the manager thought the root of all evil was tipping itself, and decided to train them to be mean waitresses to avoid further quarrels.

 

3.3 Controlled entry

Tokyo Disneyland celebrate New Year countdown nicely, but they have to limit the number of visitors to ease congestion. Similarly this restaurant, being as awesome as Disneyland, maybe be trying to control the incoming flow of visitors. Having limited tables might not help, because their food and price is good, people will wait inside of restaurant.

I once went to this really popular restaurant. After waiting for over an hour, we got a table right next to the waiting crowd. That wasn’t pleasant. People were chatting right next to me and peeking at our foods. Maybe this is exactly this restaurant is trying to accomplish here. They want to keep all tables full, but they don’t want too many people waiting for their tables. After years of experiences, they found perfect balance in providing great food and price with terrible service…

 

4. Occam’s razor

Do you know Occam’s razor? It’s a principle that says the simplest explanation is the most plausible one.

After maybe 50-minute discussion on dinner table, generating many theories mentioned above, we concluded that the simplest explanation must be the answer here too.

So, what could be the simplest explanation here?

This is just a lousy restaurant. They are just lucky to have a great cook, and they are so lazy to update their price, maintaining the same price for years.

 

Feel like a winner, but I’m sure I will be pondering on this for a while…

Thought

Emptying the Vessel

When you cast away things, you’re also casting away the self-related others that are symbolically related to those things. You start a cleaning-out process. You begin to empty the vessel.

– Glen, from Stephen King’s novel, “The Stand”

I thought it would be a little inconvenient not having many things with me on the road. I now have less than a half of stuff I used to bring for one-week vacation. I only have few clothes. Hand-washing them is my daily activity. On cold night a couple weeks ago in Australia, I had to wear four shirts and two pants to sleep through the night in my rent-a-car.

Inconvenience isn’t all bad.

Picking what to wear for the day is no brainer. For entertainment, I only have kindle, iPod, and my laptop (which is mostly offline). I now read a lot more, and I read slower. Music used to be something in background, but now I enjoy listening them. Offline computer is only good for viewing pictures and writing blogs like this, but I enjoy writing whenever I have power outlet.

There aren’t much to do, but I do few things more, maybe in better “quality.”

Not only my small entertainment became more rewarding, I actually started feeling better in more general way.

While I was enjoying my life with few things, I was reading Stephen King’s novel, The Stand. Glen, one of the protagonists, is a professor in sociology, and explaining to his friends why God in the Bible sent his devoted followers, like Moses, to wilderness to suffer. In his opinion, it was to purify their minds so that they can “charge.”

Your brain runs on chemically converted electrical current. For that matter, your muscles run on tiny charges, too. … Everything you think, everything you do, it all has to run off the battery. Like the accessories in a car.

Watching TV, reading books, talking with friends, eating a big dinner … all of it runs off the battery. A normal life—at least in what used to be Western civilization—was like running a car with power windows, power brakes, power seats, all the goodies. But the more goodies you have, the less the battery can charge.

I still read my books, but by giving up many other “goodies,” I must also be recharging.

When you empty out the vessel, you also empty out all the crap floating around in there,” Glen said. “The additives. The impurities. Sure it feels good. It’s a whole-body, whole-mind enema.”

That was such an a-ha moment. No wonder why I am feeling good. It’s whole-mind enema!

 

Thought

A Perfect Lifestyle

I was daydreaming at my dinner table in Balinese restaurant.

Food here is good price and healthy enough. I can hear sound of wind and rain. Waitress gently smiles at us every time our eyes met.

I once heard creating lifestyle was human’s biggest art piece. You can go mainstream, work from 9 to 5, or you could create your own.

I daydreamed about living in Bali. I wake up to the crying sound of rooster. I have breakfast full of fruits with Balinese coffee. I work in the morning, then have slow lunch. After lunch, of course I will have my usual siesta. Late afternoon, I walk around town, maybe some grocery shopping. I have slow basic dinner, then I am off to reading and some more work.

If we can pick any belief we want, then we might as well pick pleasant one. I believe we should be able to create own lifestyle as we like.

Traveling itself is my passion, but I have several side-projects going on. One of them is to find lifestyle that suits us.

Search continues…