Category Archives: travel

Back from Cuba

Just spend almost 2 weeks in Cuba on a photography trip.  Will start writing about Cuba and posting here.  Fascinating place.  Complicated relationships, between US and Cuba, me and Cuba.  More to come soon.


Random hotel thoughts at the end of a long trip

I haven’t counted, but have probably stayed at a dozen hotels or more on this trip, ranging from simple to luxurious, in 3 countries: Thailand (developed), Myanmar (undeveloped) and, in Laos, Luang Prabang (in between).

  • Having glass (clear or frosted) between a hotel room and its bathroom makes a lot of sense when the electricity is unreliable.
  • Having a refrigerator in a hotel room where all the power goes off when the room key is removed from its slot does not make sense, however.
  • Having an electric hot water pot in the room is nice – but only if there’s an outlet someplace other than behind the TV, and one that fits the pot’s plug.
  • All-in-one bathroom/showers are fine, but the placement of the towel rack needs careful thought.  My current hotel solved the problem by having no towel racks at all — not the best choice.
  • The one-handle faucet is now very popular. But it stinks in terms of usability. You have a 2-ended lever, and one side of the circle is labeled hot, the other cold. But which end of the level is turned toward the temperature indicator? In my current hotel room, pointing the top of the lever at “cold” yields hot water.
  • Why do hotels so rarely restock tea/coffee and minibar?

Ethical Travel

There’s an article in today’s NYT about Jeff Greenwald and Ethical Traveler, the website and organization. I first met Jeff and heard about this effort after my trip to Viet Nam last year, which raised lots of questions for me about how to travel in a developing nation and the effects of the growing tourist industry on that country. No easy answers — but I was happy to find that others are thinking and talking about these issues.

More on Papert and Hanoi Traffic

No news on Papert’s condition, but I ran across this article that says he was interested, as I was, in the emergent behavior that organizes Viet Nam’s motorbike traffic, instead of rules and traffic enforcement. However, as his accident shows, and as my experience showed, it doesn’t always work. Especially for those who can’t react quickly.

In Saigon, I saw how children cross the street: one stood across the street and shouted until she got the attention of a man (probably her father) who came across and got her. And the blind: I saw a blind man shaking a stick and blowing a whistle, which didn’t affect the traffic, but a young man (a stranger) crossed to where the man was and then crossed back with him.

More on Hanoi Traffic

img_5042.JPG img_5043.JPG

Along with Seymour Papert (about whose condition I see no updates), a prominent Vietnamese physicist was recently hit — and killed — by a motorbike in Hanoi, causing some discussion in the Vietnamese press about the traffic situation and how foreigners see it. In the sequence above, start with the right-hand image; if you look near the white van you’ll see a group of schoolgirls crossing the street. Then look at the left, earlier image and see them starting into the traffic. You’ll see that they just walk THROUGH the traffic. What this misses, of course, is the action, the speed, and the bikes going down the wrong side of the road ready to ram the girls while they watch those coming from the other direction. These pictures are from Saigon, where the streets are wider and the traffic not QUITE so crazy.

Foreigners in Viet Nam are obsessed with the traffic — for good reason.

Seymour Papert in Coma, Struck by Motorcycle in Hanoi

Seymour Papert, known for his work on children and technology, is close to death in Hanoi after being struck by a motorcycle while crossing the street.

I wrote in my old blog about the complexity of the traffic in Viet Nam, the vast numbers of motor scooters and the improvisational nature of the traffic interaction: the way pedestrians have to cross the street is to simply walk out into the traffic on a predictable trajectory and trust the motor scooters to go around you. Which they mostly do. Scooters routinely go the wrong-way on one-way streets, go down the wrong side of the road against heavy traffic in multi-lane streets, and use the sidewalks whenever they please. They are often aggressive and reckless. I often saw scooters race through crowded markets full of pedestrians and stalls.

Looking back I see that I tried to stay upbeat reporting from/about Hanoi. I hated Hanoi. It was much more aggressive, and more hostile, than Saigon: the traffic, the selling, the cheating, were all extremely aggressive — in general, and especially toward tourists.

Old town Hanoi, where most of the tourists spend their time, is narrow streets. The sidewalks are filled with things that people are selling, parked motor scooters, and in the evenings families sitting outside their small stores cooking and eating on the sidewalk, all this leaving pedestrians nowhere to walk but in the street with the wild motor scooter traffic.

Just walking around was intensely anxiety provoking. I would wait for a sort of break in the traffic before venturing to cross the street, but then the vendors and motorscooter “taxis” would take that as an opportunity to importune me. I would be trying to cross and a motor scooter would pull up and block my way: “Motorcycle, Madame?”

And it’s not that the system works and we simply don’t understand it. I was not at all surprised to learn that Hanoi has fewer motor scooters but a higher death rate than Saigon. I saw a fatal truck-motor scooter accident on the highway outside Saigon — it wasn’t clear to me whether the fatality I saw was a passenger from the truck, or the cyclist. Although there may have been more than one.

Below is actually a relatively quiet side-street (of which there are few) in Old Town Hanoi, but the sidewalk is typical; if anything, it’s less congested than on the major streets (which are no wider, just busier). I have no pictures of the crazy Hanoi traffic because I wasn’t in much of a picture-taking mood.

In Hanoi I saw a woman hit by someone on a motor scooter: a French woman crossing the street with her daughter, an Asian girl of about 5, somehow made contact with the body of someone on a scooter as she crossed a small street in the Old Town. (I was similarly hit in Hoi An: I stepped off the curb, and motor scooter coming up from behind me turned in front of me, and someone on the scooter made body contact with me.) In Hanoi I wondered if it was deliberate, and if it was because she was a Western woman with an Asian child. The tenor of Hanoi was such that that would not have surprised me.

On the plane from Hong Kong to Saigon I was sitting near an overseas Vietnamese who said that he didn’t think Viet Nam would be able to develop as a country until they reformed their driving habits. At the time I didn’t know what he meant.

Me in front of Ahwahnee Webcam

Me in front of Ahwahnee Webcam

Originally uploaded by NVH.

I keep the browsers on my various computers set on one or another of the webcams hosted by the Yosemite Association, Ahwahnee, Sentinel Dome, and Turtleback Ridge. So, of course, when I’ve gone to Yosemite I’ve tried to track them down. This time I not only tracked down the Ahwahnee webcam but had a cellphone signal and called around and found my friend Morgan by a computer to capture the image. (Morgan also posted one of these images.) My Flickr stream shows the site of the webcam. I’m that tiny figure at the bottom of the image — you need to click on this image to get to a larger version to actually see me.

So for those of you who weren’t parked at your computers watching the Ahwahnee webcam yesterday, here’s one of the images. I’m waving my hat and I’ve got a cellphone to my ear as I moved closer to and further from the webcam (over the door of one of the employee housing units on Ahwahnee Meadow, aimed up at Half Dome, so I had to go way out in the meadow to get into the frame).

And my apologies to any strangers who were monitoring the webcam, as I do, and watched all our jockeying around as I moved closer to the camera and further back and Morgan captured the images.

Others had evidently done the same: there’s not a trail, exactly, but a path through the meadpw where the grass has been walked on, walking out from the webcam to where I was.

(The Tioga Pass webcam has been a bust — it has been on the same image since July 1. The Turtleback webcam appears to be at a PG&E site atop the tunnel between the Valley and Glacier Point road. The Sentinel Dome webcam may be accessible from Glacier Point Road –I almost tried looking for it this weekend, but I was feeling the altitute up at Glacier Point.)