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A few more pictures from Asia/The Pacific

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I am just now getting around to finishing uploading pictures and videos of my trip across Southeast Asia and some remote archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean... the last pictures ended at the killing fields of Cambodia, outside Phnom Penh. After that I spent a week and a half volunteering with an NGO in the city that works with teenagers, many of whom were orphaned as kids. The place I worked as a boys' home, 35 of them aged 13-18, run by a guy from Washington state.

It was pretty incredible... these kids all graduate high school (nearly unheard of in Cambodia) and then go on to study in universities. They have English lessons daily (I was thrilled to be a part of teaching the lessons while I was there) and by 18 are fully fluent. They usually know Thai, Spanish, and French conversationally as well. In a country torn by corruption and a violent past (the Khmer Rouge killed off two generations of the educated portions of Cambodian society) this kids are THE hope for the future of that nation; in twenty years they will be the doctors and the politicians and the educators. It was a pretty cool thing to be a part of that.

Anyway after that I had a week to kill before catching my flight to Kiribati, where I'd meet up with my brother-in-law. I spent a large portion of it in Vietnam. I explored Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for four days. To date it is the only city in the world I've been genuinely scared for my life while driving in it. Ninety percent of vehicles on the road are motorcycles, and the result is a horrifying spectacle of near misses and rampant road rage (all of which is, to the average Vietnamese, simply an ordinary aspect of daily life.)

I rented a motorcycle and drove it out of the city, wanting to explore the southern part of the country; the Mekong Delta spreads out through the low-lying flatlands of the region, eventually emptying into the South China Sea. I got caught in the middle of a sudden monsoon and found myself being inescapably pelted by driving rain - you take the protection of windshields for granted, I've found. Water stings when you're driving face-first into it at 40mph. I slowed down a bit, but, already soaked to the bone, I decided to just keep riding. All the Vietnamese citizens stared at me. I was a spectacle, a white person far off the path of normal white-people-routes, and moreover I was driving in the rain when they'd all long pulled over for cover.

Eventually it stopped raining and I drove all the way to My Tho, before returning to Saigon, where more rain proceeded to undo all the drying the rushing wind had provided my clothes. Then I got lost in the biggest city in mainland Southeast Asia without a map (have I mentioned I don't speak Vietnamese?) as the monsoon opened up with unparalleled fury. By some miracle I located a restaurant with an English-speaking employee and stood there dripping a lake-sized puddle onto the tile floor in front of gawking patrons while the cashier drew me a map. It turned out I was half a block from my guesthouse - what luck! - and within five minutes I was enjoying a steaming hot shower.

The day before I left I explored the War Remnants Museum, a vast collection of American war craft and munitions left over from the Vietnam conflict. Included in the display was gruesome images and evidence of the American military's use of chemical and biological weaponry. Political and nationalist sentiment aside it is a sobering sight to behold and helps you to think beyond your own borders and biased paradigms. But that's a story for the Tinderbox.

Next I caught a flight to Singapore, where it proceeded to rain for the two days I was there and basically nixed all my plans to explore. Instead I bought a copy of Moby Dick and ate McDonalds for three straight meals in a row (I know that's pretty pathetic but I was REALLY craving western food.) I would like to take a moment here to note that if you're traveling through Singapore you should probably not import weaponry. I bought a machete in Laos that has since passed customs in every single country without a hitch, but in Singapore the customs guys lost their collective minds. They brought in the bomb squad, interrogated me in a separate room for an hour, checked me for narcotics traces, and finally let me go with a signed letter from the national division of explosives and counter-terrorism allowing me to keep it in the country for three days. Those fuggers don't mess around.

Anyway after that disaster sorta struck... long story short I missed my flight because my phone is retarded and somehow didn't register a time change from Saigon to Singapore. Rookie mistake. I ended up spending an extra night in Singapore and spent over a thousand dollars rescheduling flights to get to Kiribati. It caused me to get to Kiribati three days later than i was supposed to arrive, but also netted me two days in Fiji. I couldn't complain. After two days spent crossing the Australian continent (48 hours which cemented my desire to move there) I showed up in Nadi, rented a seven-dollar-per-night room in a hostel on the beach, and did nothing for quite a while. I played volleyball, explored the coastline, took pictures, read my book. I have to say there's nothing quite like reading a great nautical epic on the shores of some distant tropical dot on the map, surrounded by the infinity of the ocean.

Then, finally, Kiribati. I met up with my brother-in-law and his friend, and we explored the island for a few days. Tarawa is the home of Betio, Tarawa's capital city, if you could call it that. From north to south Tarawa is roughly five miles long, and so narrow in some places that you could stand on the east coast and toss a football to the west coast. Even Jimmy Clausen.

While on Tarawa I explored incredible war relics from an intense battle fought against the Japanese during WWII, got chased into the ocean by two separate packs of wild dogs on two separate occasions, lived on a diet of rice and water for a week, (and cropdusted a plane on the way home because I was dumb enough to toss a load of western food on top of that) got eaten alive by mosquitoes, jumped off a forty-foot bridge on the northern end of the island into a crystal clear lagoon choked with tropical fish, drank some pretty nasty coconut stuff that everyone there seemed to love, discovered that Tsigntao Beer is better than no beer at all, smoked cigars with my bros overlooking a reef crammed with blown-up ships from WWII, freaked out when a crab ran full speed into my crotch, pooped in an outdoor toilet, showered next to an outdoor toilet, overcame a weird cultural uneasiness with naked children running around and wanting to be your best friend erstwhile naked, drove on the runway of the international airport (which doubles as a highway) and all kinds of awesome stuff that I don't have the time to write about/you're probably tired of hearing about as it is.

Now I am home, Air Pacific STILL hasn't gotten my backpack back to me and I need it because I'm going to Peru next Saturday, I'm just now getting adjusted to a Western diet again, and now I'll shut up. Here are some pictures.

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A young Cambodian boy peers out of a tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled method of transportation common in Asia. A volunteer from Ohio sits in the background next to him, one of my buddies who I worked with. This particular picture was taken right before leaving to take a group of kids from one of the orphanages to play soccer and teach them American football (which they absolutely loved.)


Inside a bumper-car arena in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I think it doubled as the country's driving school. The kids we took here had an blast, and as a photographer the lighting was a fun test.


A student listens attentively during the day's lesson in English. That's my blurry mug up in the corner. Teaching this lesson was probably one of my favorite things I've ever done...


A captured American warplane sits on a concrete pad in downtown Saigon, Vietnam, as a part of the vaunted War Remnants Museum. It was surrounded by a host of tanks, artillery pieces, helicopters, and other such craft of war left behind after U.S. forces pulled out in 1973.


Unused artillery rounds. One section of the museum was dedicated entirely to U.S. munitions, from rocket-launchers to rifles to small arms to grenades.


This picture is mounted in a room dedicated to the photography and exposure of the consequences of America's use of chemical defoliants and other non-conventional weapons. The man in this picture, still alive at the time of photograph, was burned by a phosphorus bomb.


"Agent Orange" has an entire floor of the museum dedicated to it. This montage is one of many showcasing the genetic effects caused by the use of Agent Orange during bombing raids. The human cost is truly horrific, and may never fully be known. I have refrained from posting other photos far more disturbing than these; the deformities shown are the tip of the iceberg.


Singpore's Clarke Quay at night. This was literally the only moment during my stay there that it wasn't raining.

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The skyline of Brisbane, Australia, at night. The searchlight in the foreground is positioned to illuminate a portion of the iconic bridge spanning the Brisbane River.


A line of gangling palm trees spans the width of a shoreline on Fiji's west coast.


At one point I discovered several hundred feet of a secluded beach on which hundreds of bright, fresh flowers were strewn. I don't know why they were there or who put them there, but they made for a pretty good photo op.


One of many crabs that live on the beaches. I almost stepped on this one, but managed to spot it and get a close-up before it invariably scuttled away.


A cluster of coconut palms silhouetted by the sunset. This was the view from the front lawn of the hostel where I stayed; not bad for seven bucks a night.


A fishing boat is illuminated by a sinking Pacific sun, hoping for one last haul as dusk fades.


The main highway on Tarawa, headed west towards the sleepy capital city of Betio. Skyscapes here were second to none, though this picture hardly does the blazing glory of a Kiribati sunset justice.


Bombed-out gun emplacements from WWII. Japanese forces manned these positions near Betio during the American invasion in 1943; sand-filled bunkers and other war debris, dilapidated but awe-inspiring, abound. Right after this picture my brother-in-law and I got attacked by dogs and it pretty much ended the photography session.

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That's all for now... thanks for checking out my pics! I'm headed to Peru with the above-mentioned brother in law, my father-in-law, and a friend to hike through the Andes mountains in a week and a half, so I will probably have a slew of pictures to post when I return. Be prepared :D

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Great stuff man, I envy your opportunity to capture that stuff.

thanks - thats quite a compliment coming from yourself.

was it difficult getting to Tarawa?

Yeah... but mainly because the flight there from Brisbane got canceled because it hadn't filled up. The flight was only once a week and the airline didn't notify me that it'd been canceled, which caused part of the mess I mentioned earlier on. There are direct flights from Fiji, so it's not entirely out of the way.

If I'm able I'd eventually like to get into the emerging field of aviation archeology, which is basically the hunting down and discovery of crashed planes from WWII, dozens of which still exist undiscovered in the jungles of New Guinea and other south pacific nations.

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These are great. Thanks for sharing. I would love to see more from Vietnam....Mekong Delta. Is Vietnam still poverty stricken? As an amateur history buff, I've studied many of the battles of WWII, and Vietnam so seeing them is really cool. It would be very interesting to take tours of the South Pacific Islands to see the places of WWII battles such as Tarawa, Peliliu, Kwajalein, Gaudalcanal, New Britain, Iwo, Tinian, Siapan and etc. It's amazing that any of those Marines survived these battles. What made you want to take a tour of Cambodia, Vietnam, Tarawa and etc?

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How are you able to travel so much? You may have explained in the past, but did you just take a lot of time off to travel or is there another reason for visiting these places?

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These are great. Thanks for sharing. I would love to see more from Vietnam....Mekong Delta. Is Vietnam still poverty stricken?

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the Mekong Delta... only because the rain was absolutely brutal and unforgiving during my motorcycle ride through the region. I would have loved to have been able to get some shots of the area... maybe next time. Vietnam isn't really any more poverty stricken as a nation than any of the other southeast asian nations... there's definitely a large divide between the peasant classes and the upper class, but vietnam has one of the world's fastest-growing economies, and Saigon in particular is burgeoning beyond comparison.

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How are you able to travel so much? You may have explained in the past, but did you just take a lot of time off to travel or is there another reason for visiting these places?

long story. basically a couple years ago i got fed up with a lot of the things that western society views as important, and completely rejected them, a paradigm shift which led me to quit my well-paying corporate job, sell/throw away most of my possessions, and purchase a one-way ticket to Australia. I biked/backpacked around Australia, Asia, and the Pacific for a number of months, and in the process became utterly and hopelessly addicting to the joy that is international travel and the spirit of the backpacking community.

Since then I have taken every available opportunity to travel and expand my horizons. Ive been back to Asia twice since that first trip, been to Central America twice, heading to Peru in less than a week and maybe - just maybe - Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands in November.

I can do it because the desire to do it is greater than the fears that would keep me from doing it, which is what keeps 99.9999% of people who think this sort of stuff is cool and want to do it, from actually doing it.

I can afford it because I live an incredibly low-budget life. I don't buy movies or game systems or TVs or cars, I don't smoke, I drink but I do so in moderation. When I travel I bust ass to find the cheapest possible flights, and I never stay in hotels - guesthouses and youth hostels, besides being ridiculously inexpensive, are are phenomenal experience and remain one of my all-time favorite parts of backpacking abroad.

To put this in perspective, if you smoke a pack a day and spend a hundred bucks a week on drinking (a very conservative estimate for the average person my age) you're spending between four and five grand a year on these things. If you quit both things, or quit the former and tone down the latter, you'd be able to afford a four thousand dollar trip. You can get to any major airport in the world, round-trip, for $2000. Europe is expensive, but most other places are incredibly inexpensive. A guesthouse in Chiang Mai, Thailand, costs roughly five bucks a night. You can live on fifteen bucks a day.

For four thousand dollars you could live in Southeast Asia for three months EASILY.

It's all about the desire. If you want to do it, you'll find a way.

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