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Monthly Archives: September 2007

Singapore to Istabul 3: routes


If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to end up someplace else.
— Yogi Berra

My ambition is to travel over land from Singapore to Istanbul. I don’t really mind ending up somewhere else, but I’ve selected that as a reasonable goal — far beyond anything I’ve done before, but doable. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not going to plan things out in any detail ahead of time. I expect to buy a one-way ticket to Singapore, pack a bag, and hit the ground running. Assuming that’s allowed in Singapore — it may well be a caning offence, from what I hear. But you take my point.

Technically, I could just leave it at that: figuring out a route and learning about the region as I do it. There’s certainly a pretty strong appeal to doing it that way — the romantic idea of the vagabond world traveller. But part of the reason for thinking about this trip now is to keep myself motivated for the next two years, so I need to allow myself the luxury of fantasizing about it. And this requires the input and distillation of information. Plus, just in general, I like to read and do research and know about things. Why deny my natural kittenish curiosity?


View Larger Map

This is the main route I’m investigating. I’ve used BookMooch to trade some of my old books for a few slightly-outdated (but still informative) Lonely Planets and Rough Guides, so hopefully I’ll be filling the map up with interesting destinations over the next few months. Right now, the route goes through:

  1. Singapore
  2. Malaysia
  3. Thailand
  4. Cambodia
  5. Laos
  6. China (Yunnan)
  7. China (Tibet)
  8. Nepal
  9. India
  10. Sri Lanka (maybe)
  11. Pakistan
  12. Iran
  13. Turkey

I figure I can easily spend an average of a month in each of these places and hit Istanbul a year after I set out. However, I don’t know a huge amount about anything after China (and even China, I’ve only just started reading about). So I have a fair bit of work ahead of me. And then there are alternate routes and side-trips, depending on the political situation in Myanmar and the Middle East. I doubt Afghanistan will be very tourist-friendly when I set out, but Syria might be. Not to mention, China is a very large and diverse country, and there’re trains from there to to Mongolia and Russia…

seriously, Rules of the Game?


even_dwarfs_started_small_s.jpgEdward Copeland has compiled his internet-surveyed list of the top-voted non-English-language films (you can see how I voted here). Kudos to him for doing it — it was no small feat, and a list like this is useful and interesting to a whole lot of people, including myself.

But the list itself left me unsatisfied. Ultimately, it really did turn out to be nothing more than a predictable ranking of The Foreign Classics Canon. Of the Top 25 films, the most recent is Ran from 1984 — and it was made by Akira Kurosawa, already acknowledged at the time as one of the pantheon. And if you know anything about foreign film as it is presented in film studies courses and Sight and Sound surveys, I’m sure you can name the other 24 — especially if I tell you that all but one or two were made by Great Auteurs. Cahiers du cinéma, you have a lot to answer for.

I guess what disappoints me is that what we really have here is the internet community reinforcing the academy. I mean, the number one film is Rules of the Game, which to my mind is the classic example of the masterpiece that is only judged such due to groupthink (and aided, of course, by the colourful history of the film itself). Don’t get me wrong — it’s a fine and interesting film. But are there actual film buffs out there — actual film fans, I mean, not Film Studies professors and historians — who would in their heart of hearts say it’s their favourite film? Or has the critical (pun intended) mass around the film grown such that it’s just easiest to go with the flow? And I have the same question about a lot of other films on the list. Are there people out there who can watch Contempt and say, “wow, that really speaks to me”? Or do they, like me, struggle to stay awake, admire what Godard accomplished, and quietly resolve not to ever watch it again?

Of course, the problem with these surveys is that the top films don’t actually have to be the favourites of anyone at all. They just has have to place on enough individual lists. Films that are easy to build consensus around will place highly. This will in turn reinforce the consensus on the next list (people love to vote for winners, especially if they think it will make them look smart), and pretty soon you have a canon of nice, safe, uncontroversial films that may well be excellent without particularly speaking to anybody.

I want to see a different kind of list. I want to see an anti-canon. Instead of a poll of 100 films, I want to see a list of a hundred people’s single favourite films that weren’t nominated. I want to see the top 100 films you would never be shown in film school. I want to see the list of peoples’ votes for “respectable” films that should be striken from the canon. I want a list of buried gems. I want to feel that I haven’t seem everything worth seeing, because I know I haven’t. I want a list that stimulates me to think differently and try new movies I wouldn’t ordinarily, movies that fill my withered veins with cinematic blood. Is that so much to ask you people for?

Singapore to Istanbul 2: travel planning and philosophy


trip-snip-2.jpg“Not many people got a code to live by anymore.”

— Bud, Repo Man

Okay, I’m obviously not going to be able to do this while saddled with grad-school debts, so this winter (2007-2008), I’ll be going on leave from UBC to work full-time for a start-up I’ve been associated with since I started my PhD. This is not only going to provide me with a not-unwelcome respite from grad school, but they can pay me something approximating a salary. Given that my lifestyle is decidedly studentish, and I’m not planning to develop any habits more expensive than martinis, second-hand clothes and DVD rental, I expect to be able to save a pretty good chunk of money — enough to travel for a year (probably more, if I want or I’m really thrifty).

And for what it’s worth, I do think it’s important to have enough money. And I’m not talking about a lot of money. Just: enough. I have no desire to travel in insulated luxury in a package tour. That’s boring. But at the same time, you see a lot of backpackers in SEA trying to hold to crazy budgets, living off fruit and pancakes, haggling with the locals over the price of a bag of cookies, and bragging about sneaking into attractions without paying. That’s not the life for me.

I figure once I get back to school after working, I’ll be 12-18 months from finishing my thesis, meaning I should be able to head out in the fall of 2009. A long way off from where I’m sitting now (a Vancouver Starbucks, in the historic year 2007), but it’s nice to have something to look forward to other than school and work.

I’ve made a few vague decisions about how I want to travel. I fully intend to break as many of these as I feel like.

  • I’ll be flying into Singapore and out of Istanbul. All other travel is to be over land and water. (My biggest concern here is the political situation in the middle east circa 2010. We’ll just have to see.)
  • I’m not going to plan the route ahead of time, though I’ll be researching the options. If I find myself in some place cool, I want to be able to stick around for an extra week or a month. If I hear about some place cool from other travellers, I want to be able to take a few days to check it out. (This was a big issue on my last trip to SEA: I was with my friend Janelle in Laos and we would have loved to stay longer, but our schedule dictated we had to get to Hanoi or everything would be screwed up.)
  • I’m seriously considering not taking a camera. It’s great to look at pictures later to remind yourself of what you saw, but it really affects the way I travel, and not for the better. It would be nice to just keep a journal of my impressions. Realistically, though, I think I’ll be packing the camera.
  • I really want to travel light. I made that decision on my previous SEA trip and it was so utterly correct I’m just totally smug about it. I’ll be setting out with a carryon-sized backpack and purchasing what I need as I need it, and discarding it when I don’t. A bag twice as big only makes you slightly better prepared, and it’s way more than twice the inconvenience.
  • While I’m kind of looking forward to travelling by myself for a bit, I’m hoping people will accompany me for most of my trip. I’ve been mentioning the possibility to a few folks. We’ll just have to see what happens between now and 2009/2010.

Canadian Indie-Rock Primer


arcade_snip.jpgDon’t you love it when two awesome things come together? My fave pop-culture web site, The A.V. Club delivers a cool primer — complete with tons of videos — on the Canadian indie music scene, which has just been going from great to Ubergreat for the past few years. It’s a pretty cool introduction to give to your non-Canadian and/or non-indie friends, even they do skip the post-rock stylings of Do Make Say Think and Godspeed You Black Emperor, and the offbeat hip-hop of Buck 65 and Kid Koala.

Once you read and watch all that, you’re gonna have to get your hipster-geek ass over to CBC Radio 3 for the podcasts (I recommend starting with the laid-back cheerleading of the endearingly dorky Grant Lawrence).

Travel Geek: Singapore to Istanbul


Singapore to Istanbul, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird

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I’m not remotely a hard-core traveller. I grew up in Saskatchewan, in a fairly large lower-middle class household (some of my early years were in a trailer in northern Saskatchewan). International travel always seemed like an unattainable, exotic thing. As a family, the Brochus took out-of-province trips to Manitoba and Alberta, and I ventured as far into the States as South Dakota on a high school band trip. I was 24 the first time I boarded a plane, 25 the first time I saw the ocean, and 27 the first time I left North America (to visit Australia).

In the few years since then, of course, things have changed. As a grad student in an area of research that is fairly well-funded, I get to take breaks to travel, sometimes on the department dime. In the past few years, I’ve been to Montreal, Miami, San Diego, Australia (twice), New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Japan.

Visiting Southeast Asia had always been a dream of mine, and I loved it. Even the parts that sucked were awesome. At the same time, since returning, I’ve been finding the PhD to increasingly be a drag. I’ve spent literally months on papers that have been rejected, other months doing work I had to abandon, and even a few months where I know I worked every day, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what I actually did. Worse yet, my research failed to turn the field of Artificial Intelligence on its ear. Discouraging. (Though I did recently win a graphics research award, despite that not being my field.)

And so, to keep myself motivated, I’ve started planning out my post-graduate backpacking trek across Asia. As I alluded to in my last post, I’m currently working so that when I finish my PhD, I can take an extended break to do it. Right now, my goal is to travel, without flying, from Singapore to Istanbul, over a period of maybe a year. I may change the start and end locations, and the duration, but that’s the dream.

I know what you’re saying: “Eric,” you say, “that’s totally awesome, yet totally such a cliché.” To which I can only say, “yes, it is awesome. Thank-you. And what are you, the cliché police? Shut up.”

And so, because I’m a total geek, I’m going to start blogging about my investigations and plans. For now, I’m just going to keep it as part of the main blog (under the tag singapore to istanbul — I will really need a better name than that), posting maybe once or twice a week, depending on how things go, and how busy I am with other things.