Category Archives: Travel

Fiji Journal, 2007: Part 2

The next day I showered as usual. The showers have no ceilings and so you look up to see the blue sky, the showerhead, and ivy growing behind it. Relaxing. The water is cold though! Then I caught a 45-minute bus to Lautoka that cost $1.50. The bus stopped once because its muffler started dragging on the road! The driver just pulled it from underneath and stuffed it in the baggage area underneath. Lautoka is known as Sugar City because sugar cane grows all around it and rum is made there. Vijay Singh, the golfer, is from there, as were the day shift girls. Lautoka was very pleasant. I couldn’t get to the shore although I could see it. This part was all rocky — most go to the islands for the water. Lautoka was packed with shoppers as our bus pulled up to the station. I got out and admired the Indian foot/treat carts full of brightly-colored goodies that people were snapping up quickly. Right next to the station was a big market area in an open warehouse. Literally a whole farmer’s market full of homegrown veggies and fruits, many of which I couldn’t recognize. Along the outskirt I found an older Indian woman selling cheap masks so I bought one. Much cheaper than anywhere else I’d found. She gave me “a good price”, naturally. I ran into some white tourists there so I was admittedly happy to see them and then I found out they were kooky missionaries so I left them!

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Summer Financial Risks

I just got back from Barcelona. I went for a couple weeks, mainly to see a certain woman. She is spectacular and we are wonderful together, but at the same time I also got to see how amazing Barcelona is. It’s weird sitting on the beach of the Mediterranean, with hills in the background. And being right next to the train that takes you right back downtown. And then having these completely absorbed Gaudian tributes to God in the middle of a city that is very laid-back and content on just getting by. Barcelona made Spain sexy for me, and I could feel its Roman influence (which continues to pull on me even as the time from when I visited Rome gets even more distant).

It’s safe to say I’m living a very good life right now. I’m intellectually stimulated, being rewarded for being a little different now, and got to travel to an alluring city to see a classic embodiment of the complete modern woman.

But the subject of this post is the economy and the market. I ended up selling everything again, after gradually building up all my positions again. I was fully loaded on Nintendo and on international funds in my retirement account. I still owned some Sirius from way back because the risk was lower than potential reward.

But I ended up selling it all over my iPhone while connected to a random hotspot in Barca.

Things just seemed to continue to worsen in the markets. Still credit problems, still write-downs. Intuitively I know that it’s bad out there, and I had that gut feeling before I left that you get when you know you should sell but you don’t want to. So I held on a bit longer than I should have, and lost a little money as a result.

But afterwards, Nintendo fell over 6 points because of expectations being realized and not surpassed. And the market seems clearly to be in a bear mood.

So I’m 100% cash and following my gut that says things won’t really improve economically until structural changes are made.

You see, we’ve benefited from globalization, but now with food inflation and a breakdown in the Doha rounds and outdating of our institutions, there is risk that countries will make bad decisions that worsen free trade. I think this might be part of what is hurting the markets.

You read among the economists a call for restructuring of the World Bank and IMF and creation of an international economic body. Right now it’s almost becoming a mercantilist environment again. Countries are out to protect themselves in the short-term. Oil has finally sent shocks through the system.

What I am hoping to see is the US reengaging the international community and calling for a new Bretton Woods agreement that makes it difficult for countries to shirk their obligations towards lowering transaction costs and tariffs and other barriers.

I think the market may be waiting for signs of something like this — clearly our current system is inadequate for scaling in a growing international environment.

Meanwhile, that 100% cash is languishing in American dollars. I found that they didn’t go that far in Europe, while meals there were also seemingly 25% higher in cost, along with everything else. There were no “bargains” and it’s clear that there’s a division between where Spaniards ate and went and where tourists went. Spaniards know where the bargains are. Because they have to.

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Fiji Journal, 2007: Part 1

01 May 07

I woke up early and checked out. I walked with my ruck about 15 minutes at 6AM to the bus terminal and took the shuttle to the airport. It went easily and no problems with security. The only issue was the poor signage so I waited first in a Qantas club line, then international line, then was told that since I was going to Sydney first, I had to wait in the domestic line. Sigh…

I read my China book on the plane and kept the new Nine Inch Nails on repeat. “Capital G” is just a fucking awesome song. After Sydney I flew to Fiji on Air Pacific. “mBula” means hello, “vinaka” means thank you, “modeh” means goodbye. On Survivor after the merge, they call their tribe “Bula Bula”, as an example for you. I arrived late into Nadi (pronounced Nandi as Fijian tends to add invisible sounds like “m” before “bula”). Customs was okay. There was an outdoor walk from the deplaning tube to the terminal and it smelled fresh and rainy. A huge Vodafone ad covered a whole wall at the customs area promoting Fiji’s mobile connectivity. One customs guy saw my camo Camelbak and asked if I was a servicemember. I uncomfortably said yes but he was just curious.

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Australia, 2007 Journal: Part 6

25 Apr 07

The next day was maybe my favorite. We walked the King’s Canyon, which started off with a steep ascent to get us to the plateau top. We all stuck together. The rocks had layered patterns from sand dune wind shifts and beehive formations from geologic movement. There were cliff faces we got on hands and knees to peer over. Some vistas were literally one foot thick jutting out into the canyon. Don’t step there! Cypress trees, the symbol of Lebanese flags, were up there. We’d step over many large cracks in the rock. One day that whole point would crumble off. Geoff pointed us to a secret water hole and we hung out there. It was called the Garden of Eden because of the lush vegetation growing in this tucked-away spot. We swam and ate oranges in the sun. Mark jumped off a short ledge into the water. We slipped and slide trying to get out of the underwater slimy ledge. We were too afraid to swim down and see how deep the pool was. I felt seaweed in one part and didn’t want to go reaching around in blackness. As we left, a bunch of young girls in bikinis arrived and our men were sad. Rosa was disgusted. I led us out the other side of the canyon and down a neat rocky cemented path. At the bottom was an air-conditioned trailer selling drinks and ice cream. I got two (!) raspberry-pineapple ice pops and a Coke. Oh God it was so refreshing! Mmmmm…

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Australia, 2007 Journal: Part 5

21 Apr 07

By now we had properly entered the desert, the Red Center. We stopped by Talc Alf’s isolated ranch. I believe he is a Dutchy who moved there long ago. He is the mailman for the entire track out there, a massive expanse. He has a workshop for engraving stone and selling it. His area is full of posters and print-outs full of symbols. His most notorious theory is that of his interpretation of the name “Australia”. I don’t remember it off-hand but I have a photo of it. I want to say that Talc Alf, a fierce Aboriginal advocate, had a stack of stickers for a new proposed Australian flag that I’ve only seen deep in the Outback. The Union Jack of Great Britain has been replaced with the Aboriginal flag. This is what I really wanted to bring home!

Talc Alf’s dog carried a deflated ball around to whoever would play. Thje dog would drop it 10 feet away from someone and position himself in a crouch to the side of however someone would kick the ball. The dog’s desire for fetch was not tempered by the blasting heat.

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Australia, 2007 Journal: Part 4

17 Apr 07

We all drove to the house where Heading Bush’s owner, Mick, lives. There, we verified our vouchers, paid $120 AUD for supplies, and signed waivers. We met everyone a bit better and packed up to go. Through my trip I realized I had packed quite well. My new sleeping bag compressed well in a waterproof bag. I had a solid ruck, a multi-tool Leatherman called upon many times to fix things, the brightest Surefire flashlight in camp, a headlamp, a Camelbak for hikes, a Nalgene unbreakable container for drinking water, plenty to read. I should have brought more clothes. Only 3-4 shirts, 1 pair of paints and shorts. And only 3 pairs of socks! I will throw out the shoes and socks because they smell. I already bought a new pair of Nikes in Melbourne.

I also should have brought a towel and soap and shampoo. My ruck was already pretty full so I had to cut down. I think maybe this ruck is too small for longer backpacking trips which sucks. Maybe all the books and supplies took up too much valuable space for amenities? Also my Camelbak could be replaced by a proper backpack for all my electronics, books, and on-hand gear. I was impressed at being able to pack so easily with my minimalist pack. Is this interesting to you at all?! Heh.

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Australia, 2007 Journal: Part 3

17 Apr 07

Heading Bush

Where to begin? I guess I should say that I’m writing this after the tour because I didn’t really have time to write properly to you (as you are a treasure deserving of special treatment). I did take some notes but not thorough ones so I may have to fill in place names using maps and the online itinerary. If I wrote this during the trip, the book would be covered in dirt and I would have to declare to customs that I did indeed bring foreign soil. But as you can see I still got some water damage.

Let me begin with a brief re-cap of the beginning of the tour and then extensive biographies of everyone on board (this will be fun!). Ben, the main tour guide, picked me up at 6:30AM. I was the first of 9 total tourists. I loaded my pack into their trailer, attached to a Range Rover Discovery with facing back seats to fit 4 on each side, with 3 in front. The 4×4 was the same as the ones we used in Iraq. We picked up a Brit, 2 Swiss (not together), 3 Dutch, 1 South African, and 1 Canadian.

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Australia, 2007 Journal: Part 2

14 Apr 07

-I did in fact wake up in time. I felt a bit hung over but not too nauseous, thanks be to God. I checked in as Ben Turner and apparently I was in a group with another person according to Qantas’s system. As it turns out, I had bought the ticket as Victor. There was another Ben Turner on the flight! I have seen a good deal of Turners in Adelaide’s and Melbourne’s rolls of fallen soldiers.

-Security at Melbourne is so nice and polite. No police-state-like threats from the TSA over intercom. You don’t have to take your shoes off. The workers are not low-skill, low-wage grumpy people with no counter-terrorist skills or training looking for terrorists. These people help you smile, and know how to care for people.

-Had a cherry chocolate cookie on the flight. Two-and-a-Half-Men, a proud US export, was on TV.

-Arrived in Adelaide, took $25 cab ride to downtown with an Iranian who lived near the border with Iraq.

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Australia, 2007 Journal: Part 1

Part 1:

I feel I won’t try to be as verbose as normal because instead I want to concentrate on the important highlights. I also want to point out how much I miss you right now. Having not seen you since New Year’s Day, I know it has been awhile and that it is frustrating. There is a part of me that feels very uncertain right now. I do have regret about not going to UT. In a way it seems disloyal against my school, my state, my family, my fiscal situation. But I chose Georgetown to challenge myself. I knew I’d get comfy at UT but Georgetown will throw me into city-living, a class of amazing people much more talented and accomplished than me, and a curriculum that will test me muchly.

I hope you can read this!

I am also insecure because I feel like I should be closer to you by now. Grad school became a certainty and McGill probably wasn’t a realistic option. I don’t know when or if you’ll be able to move. Thus I feel responsible for not being nearer to you. Is this fair (can’t read)? Doesn’t matter, I feel the (can’t read) endless. So, sorry.

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Inefficiencies: Bush and Foreign Language Proficiency

On the radio, the CNN News breaks played audio cuts of President Bush touting his new initiative to improve foreign language proficiency within the military. “It makes sense, doesn’t it?” as he said, to have our soldiers on the front lines be able to interact with locals and infiltrate the enemy in his own environment. He said this in his usual style, stating the obvious as if it was his idea and no one else has ever thought of it. Foreign language proficiency. Three years into the Iraq war and 4 years after 9/11. And, what, 60 years in the Middle East?

But this dream world where every soldier speaks Farsi and Arabic and Filipino and Swahili and French is not going to ever happen, at least not until some technological breakthrough changes how we learn/use language. One, the military does not know how to fully utilize language. Two, it doesn’t fit language into training. Three, most people earn less or as much pay for knowing languages (even Arabic) than they do being airborne-qualified. Yes, it is hazardous to jump out of planes but retention of linguists who earn peanuts for a skill that can earn them $100k-200k outside of the military is unacceptable.

Soldier talks to a local national

Then there’s the level of commitment at the individual level. Ask a soldier about foreign language, and he’ll tell you, “Yeah, our forces should be trained for that,” but when it comes to language classes, everyone balks and finds an excuse to get out of going. Even Special Forces soldiers, who supposedly communicate with foreigners in their own language, in order to train them, hack off random answers on multiple-choice quizzes in order to get their annual “proficiency”. It takes 5 minutes to take their test and they get their minimum requirement checked off.

This demonstrates an important lesson for people trying to get people to be more active in causes. Everyone wants homelessness to decrease, or Americans to speak various languages, or people to travel to poor countries and do humanitarian aid, or have spirited intelligent competitors for political positions.

But when those same people are placed in a position where they could increase their participation, they don’t. The basic mentality is, “Yeah, that sounds good for our people to do, but I’m busy doing my own thing.”

“We need better intelligence agencies.” “We need a better candidate for President.” “Our levee should’ve been upgraded.” “Our kids should be more competitive internationally.”

Well? What the fuck are you doing about it? Go DO IT! Enough talk. Talk was for the 90’s. What we need are people who go out and fix these things, make it their personal responsibility to make the world better.

Another thing.

Decreasing the spread of AIDS or making Iraq a peaceful country or bringing about world peace are things that everyone wants, but no one has the motivation or inspiration to do. Go join the Peace Corps or something! Go see the world! Go live with different people, learn their culture and language! Do things for others, not just for yourself!

People get spun up in their own lives. They don’t want to help, but they do want others to help. The sad thing is, no one wants to start it off. Once a movement gets going, everyone piles on. But we need people thinking about everything and wanting to get involved in fixing it.

The only way you’ll get involved in something like these issues is if you make it part of your own life. If you turn it into your living or calling. People don’t have time to work a 9 to 5 on top of doing a lot of volunteer work. Many actually do do this but I’m sure it’s very challenging.

So yeah, actions speak louder than words or some shit. That’s my profundity for the day. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

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