Twenty-three hotel floors above the gritty neon splendor of downtown Las Vegas, I am nearing the end of a bewildering travel experiment: For the past five days, I have been watching the Travel Channel for the entirety of my waking hours, without ever changing the station or (save a few key occasions) leaving my hotel room.
My goal has been to create an intensive, vicarious televisual adventure — to glean five days’ worth of travel experiences from the glowing parameters of a single TV set and figure out what the Travel Channel might be saying about how one should see the world.
In the 77 hours since my experiment began, I have witnessed many wonders. I have, for example, seen three grown men shriek like schoolgirls while locked overnight inside a dubiously haunted English inn. I have learned that ants in the Ecuadorian Amazon taste like lemons, that Gulf Coast raccoons taste like turkey, and that Andean guinea pigs taste like roast pork shoulder. I have learned that nachos are not authentic Mexican food, and that the Japanese have invented a toilet that can both wash and blow-dry your ass. I have seen two separate shows that sing the praises of deep-fried Twinkies, and I’ve heard the phrase “like a party in your mouth” used to describe the culinary merits of three separate food products. I have seen a restaurant full of Americans cheer like hockey fans while watching two guys devour a 10-pound pizza in less than an hour.
I have also watched commercials — more than 2000 of them in the course of five days. According to the tally marks in my notebook, I have been invited to visit Jamaica 16 times, been warned 51 times that my existing health insurance might not be adequate for my retirement needs, and thrice been asked to ponder how Cheez-It is able to bake so much cheesy goodness into such small bites.
I have left my hotel three times in the past five days, and been nearly robbed once.
In exactly 7 minutes (once the guy who ate the 10-pound pizza finishes eating a 4.5-pound steak), my TV marathon will culminate with two back-to-back episodes of a show called America’s Worst Driver, which — like many shows on the Travel Channel — doesn’t appear to be about travel.
Brandishing my notebook, I stare at the screen with a fatigued sense of resolve and ponder the events that brought me to this moment.
I know it’s pretty last minute, but so is life, at times
If you are in or around Toronto this weekend, you may be interested in checking out Sonchy’s Silk Road Adventure Central Asian Film Event.
Michael Soncina is trying to get some attention on a very adventurous part of the world to travel by organizing this festival. His aim is “to showcase the Central Asian region to a wide audience with the hope of increasing tourism to the area and its projects“. Having traveled and loved the region myself, I can only recommend this event to all those Vagabonding readers who happen to be in and around Toronto this weekend.
The main festival event will be the screening of a series of movies, whose titles are definitely intriguing:
Buzkashii! • The Light Thief • Desert of Forbidden Art • Buddhas of Mes Aynak • Boxing Girls of Kabul • Lonely Planet’s ‘Globe Trekkers’ Silk Road Series • Buzkashi Boys
“Buzkashi”, for all those who are unfamiliar with the term, is a sort of polo played using a headless goat’s carcass as “ball”… and that’s where you will start loving Central Asia!! be there, or start saving up for your own Central Asian adventure!
“What do I bring?” is a vexing question that most first-time expats face. You don’t want to bring something and carry it when you could just buy it on the ground. On the flip side, you don’t want to be stuck without an item you really need.
Nick and Tim from The Elevator Life, a video blog for young Western expat entrepreneurs in China, made this video:
Some of the advice, especially dealing with banks and smartphones, were very useful. These are the kinds of things that can cause a lot of hassle if you don’t know about them ahead of time.
Have you lived in Asia? What did you wish you had brought when you first moved there?
Here’s an exciting film for vagabonders: it’s about 7 billion people, 24 hours, and one planet. Check out the trailer:
From the official description:
ONE DAY ON EARTH creates a picture of humanity by recording a 24-hour period throughout every country in the world. We explore a greater diversity of perspectives than ever seen before on screen. We follow characters and events that evolve throughout the day, interspersed with expansive global montages that explore the progression of life from birth, to death, to birth again. In the end, despite unprecedented challenges and tragedies throughout the world, we are reminded that every day we are alive there is hope and a choice to see a better future together.
Documentaries like this are notoriously tough to pull off. Moving that much equipment around, dealing with foreign bureaucracy, etc. The filmmakers hit upon an elegant solution: crowdsourcing. They opened the film to submissions from participants from all over the globe. One upshot of this method is that it adds a local perspective to the production.
On their website http://www.onedayonearth.org, the founders say that one of the founding principles was to use this film as a “time capsule.” If a picture is a worth a thousand words, how much is a video worth?
What do you think? Have you seen similar documentaries that you would recommend watching? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
On Sunday, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired film footage of San Francisco in 1906. The footage, taken by a camera attached to a cable car going down Market Street, is less than 12 minutes long, and it is mesmerizing in a way a still photo cannot be. We see bodies moving, faces moving, vehicles and pedestrians weaving all over the place in an era few of us ever bother to think about. There is a hauntedness to it all, in part because we know what the people in the video don’t: many will die in just a few days in what will be called the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
Some years ago I used to take a lot of video footage in my own travels, and I’m glad I have it today. On those rare occasions when I watch some clips, they evoke time and place in a way my still photos do not. A photograph can’t capture the crickets at night in Yanjing, Tibet, or the giggles of an innkeeper’s little girl as a radio plays Chinese classical songs in the background.
I’ve not traveled with a proper video camera since 2005. I feel I just don’t have the time to do video when I’m focusing on still photography — and trying to do decent writing at the same time. But my Nikon D300s does have a video function, and I’ll kick it on once in a while. The quality is poor, but it is enough to capture something that a single picture can’t. For this post I’ve uploaded to youtube a few video clips taken in the past year. If any of the following capture your attention, you’re most welcome to check it out (the girl in the photo above is in the first clip):
It’s that time of year again when STA travel picks this summers World Traveler Interns and the two lucky candidates have been announced. The 2011 interns are Brigette Muller and Dutch Simpson. You can read more about who they are and what inspired them to apply for the position here, on the STA website.
This years itinerary takes us across 17 countries. The journey starts with a long winding path across Europe, through a bit of Asia, and finally touches down in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of South America. STA’s World Travel Interns are always fresh and fun to watch. Be sure to check out their progress this summer on what is sure to be an exhilarating journey.
Several weeks ago I wrote about the film Life in a Day that is slated for release in the next few months. Since then, anticipation for the film seems to have gone viral, as the trailer and articles about the film have popped up all over popular websites like facebook, twitter, and other social forums. I feel as if unable to get online without reading some mention of the film.
With seemingly such high expectations, I wonder how the film we ultimately be received. Travel enthusiasts seem to love it for harnessing the carefree energy of travel, and for giving us a glimpse of many places and cultures around the globe. The film may inspire some people to finally hi the road and travel, others may find it to be just a simple feel good film.
Now the film has an intended release date of July 2011 and a polished trailer. Watch it here.
Did you submit a vignette for consideration for the film? Want to see it when it premiers in July? What are your feelings about the film?
A 1972 Monty Python sketch called “Travel Agent” contains a classic scene where the Eric Idle character goes on an over-the-top rant about package tourism, at the expense of Michael Palin’s travel-agent character. Many of the references are dated now — and the whole scene is drenched in hyperbole — but many of the frustrations of overly structured group-travel still ring true. Here’s the rant in full:
“What’s the point of going abroad if you’re just another tourist carted around in buses surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Coventry in their cloth caps and their cardigans and their transistor radios and their Sunday Mirrors, complaining about the tea — “Oh they don’t make it properly here, do they, not like at home” — and stopping at Majorcan bodegas selling fish and chips and Watney’s Red Barrel and calamares and two-veg and sitting in their cotton frocks squirting Timothy White’s suncream all over their puffy raw swollen purulent flesh ‘cos they “overdid it on the first day.” And being herded into endless Hotel Miramars and Bellvueses and Continentals with their modern international luxury roomettes and draught Red Barrel and swimming pools full of fat German businessmen pretending they’re acrobats forming pyramids and frightening the children and barging into queues and if you’re not at your table spot on seven you miss the bowl of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, the first item on the menu of International Cuisine, and every Thursday night the hotel has a bloody cabaret in the bar, featuring a tiny emaciated dago with nine-inch hips and some bloated fat tart with her hair brylcreemed down and a big arse presenting “Flamenco for Foreigners.” And adenoidal typists from Birmingham with flabby white legs and diarrhea trying to pick up hairy bandy-legged wop waiters called Manuel and once a week there’s an excursion to the local Roman remains to buy cherryade and melted ice cream and bleeding Watney’s Red Barrel and one evening you visit the so called typical restaurant with local color and atmosphere and you sit next to a party from Rhyl who keep singing “Torremolinos, torremolinos” and complaining about the food — “It’s so greasy isn’t it?” — and you get cornered by some drunken greengrocer from Luton with an Instamatic camera and Dr. Scholl sandals and last Tuesday’s Daily Express and he drones on and on about how Mr. Smith should be running this country and how many languages Enoch Powell can speak and then he throws up over the Cuba Libres. And sending tinted postcards, of places they don’t realize they haven’t even visited, to: “All at number 22, weather wonderful, our room is marked with an ‘X’. Food very greasy but we’ve found a charming little local place hidden away in the back streets where they serve Watney’s Red Barrel and cheese and onion crisps and the accordionist plays ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’.” And spending four days on the tarmac at Luton airport on a five-day package tour with nothing to eat but dried BEA-type sandwiches and you can’t even get a drink of Watney’s Red Barrel because you’re still in England and the bloody bar closes every time you’re thirsty and there’s nowhere to sleep and the kids are crying and vomiting and breaking the plastic ash-trays and they keep telling you it’ll only be another hour although your plane is still in Iceland and has to take some Swedes to Yugoslavia before it can load you up at 3 a.m. in the bloody morning and you sit on the tarmac till six because of “unforeseen difficulties”, i.e. the permanent strike of Air Traffic Control in Paris — and nobody can go to the lavatory until you take off at 8, and when you get to Malaga airport everybody’s swallowing “enterovioform” and queuing for the toilets and queuing for the armed customs officers, and queuing for the bloody bus that isn’t there to take you to the hotel that hasn’t yet been finished. And when you finally get to the half-built Algerian ruin called the Hotel del Sol by paying half your holiday money to a licensed bandit in a taxi you find there’s no water in the pool, there’s no water in the taps, there’s no water in the bog and there’s only a bleeding lizard in the bidet. And half the rooms are double booked and you can’t sleep anyway because of the permanent twenty-four-hour drilling of the foundations of the hotel next door — and you’re plagued by appalling apprentice chemists from Ealing pretending to be hippies, and middle-class stockbrokers’ wives busily buying identical holiday villas in suburban development plots just like Esher, in case the Labour government gets in again, and fat American matrons with sloppy-buttocks and Hawaiian-patterned ski pants looking for any mulatto male who can keep it up long enough when they finally let it all flop out. And the Spanish Tourist Board promises you that the raging cholera epidemic is merely a case of mild Spanish tummy, like the previous outbreak of Spanish tummy in 1660 which killed half London and decimated Europe — and meanwhile the bloody Guardia are busy arresting sixteen-year-olds for kissing in the streets and shooting anyone under nineteen who doesn’t like Franco. And then on the last day in the airport lounge everyone’s comparing sunburns, drinking Nasty Spumante, buying cartons of duty free “cigarillos” and using up their last pesetas on horrid dolls in Spanish National costume and awful straw donkeys and bullfight posters with your name on “Ordoney, El Cordobes and Brian Pules of Norwich” and 3-D pictures of the Pope and Kennedy and Franco, and everybody’s talking about coming again next year and you swear you never will although there you are tumbling bleary-eyed out of a tourist-tight antique Iberian airplane…”
China is a huge country, and an even bigger topic to tackle in a movie. Filmmaker Brook Silva-Braga took on that daunting challenge in his new documentary, “The China Question.” This is the divisive issue that causes American workers to worry, politicians to vacillate, and businesspeople to make deals: “What does China’s rise mean for America?”
One film that vagabonders, or armchair vagabonders, may be interested in is the YouTube film “Life in a Day”.
The day in question is July 24th 2010, when people were asked to go out with their cameras and film some footage that encapsulated their life on that particular day. The film isn’t shot with Hollywood caliber cameras, yet it retains a surprisingly clear resolution throughout.
Over 80,000 submissions came in from 192 countries around the world. Over 4,000 hours of film were cut down to a mere 90 minutes to make the movie. The vignettes from around the world are edited to give viewers a look at the humor of life, the poignant moments, sadness, and even tragedy as 21 festivalgoers are crushed to death during a stampede at Germany’s Love Parade.
The project is directed by Kevin Macdonald, who already has an Academy Award under his belt for a documentary film. Macdonald has said about the film, “It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. Hopefully you feel at the end of it more connected to your fellow humanity, to other human beings around the world.”
The film has already had its premier and will be available to the public later this year.
You can take a look at a few minutes from the film and watch interviews with the filmmakers on the project’s YouTube page