Monday, January 25, 2010

Heaven can wait, we're only watching the skies

As I was a student, in my early 20ies, I remember picturing me in the future, like when I’d be very old, like when I’d turn 30. I used to picture me as a mature, full grown adult. I’d have a beard, a wife, kids, and a large car; I’d be paying a mortgage for the house, I’d watch the TV news everyday and I’d spend my vacations in an all-inclusive. And most importantly, I’d have a clear picture of who I am and where I’m going. Well, I’m about to turn 30 and guess what? I didn’t comply with any of those!!! Well, ok, I have a beard. But aside from the beard, the 30-years-old-Rémi is far from the 30-years-old-Rémi-as-pictured-by-the-20-years-old-Rémi.

Since I’m approaching my 30th birthday, I started to get anxious about all this. Was this a legitimate concern or was I just being a victim of peer pressure?

Since the topic was growing on me, I started to bring it up in the discussions, especially with my friends in their 30ies. All of them were reassuring and I tend to receive the same feedback: in his 20ies, one is supposed to try to find oneself and develop his own personality. One is supposed to be dumb and do all sort of plain stupid things to experiment life. But during his 30ies, one gets more mature, self-confident, with a clear path ahead. Being still young, curious and full of energy, but more independent and less naive, one can really enjoy life and make great accomplishments. Some of my even older friends (like in their 40ies ;-) say the best memories they have are from their 30ies.

Anyway, since I’m 2 months from turning 30, that means I have only two months left to be dumb and do plain stupid things. I’d be glad to ear your suggestions. But make no mistake; the list is quite long already:

  • Being DWI and screw the car up …check
  • Intend a double backflip to impress the chicks and end up with a broken wrist …check
  • Get a tattoo that you will have to spend quite some money to get rid of …check
  • Spend 5 years on a relationship that went nowhere …check (I might actually have learned a thing or two from that one)
  • Ride your mountain bike as fast as you can in an unknown, curved, steep dirt path and broke 4 front teeth, and the jaw bone in 3 parts …check
  • Claim to your friends that you can drink a bottle a rum by yourself and that you won’t even get drunk, and find yourself almost brain dead …check
  • Plan a round-trip from Chicago to New Orleans over fall break with a dying 25 years old Oldsmobile and break down in the middle of nowhere, stuck for a freezing night without cellphone …check
  • Drink 4 cups of maté in the evening and still be insomniac after 4am on a Sunday night with a busy week ahead at work, and find yourself blogging about turning 30 …check (actually, this one is just going on right now…)

Youthful indiscretion or life experiment, I could go on like that for a good while. But let’s focus on what’s more important: it’s not the Past. It’s not the Future. It’s the Now. Another feedback I regularly got from my friends in their 30ies is that it makes no difference! That there is no such thing as a sudden enlightenment while turning 30! That they wake up the first morning of their 30ies exactly the same as when they went to bed for the last time of their 20ies! 30 might sound like a big number, but at the end of the day it’s only a number. If a year was only 363 days long, I’d have turned 30 already by now! If it was 369 days long, I’d still have a year before turning 30… Bottom line: no worries, who cares if get married and get kids when I am 29, 31, 32 or even 35, as long as it’s the right time for me! I'll keep learning all my life long, therefore there will always be a few more plain stupid things that will have to be done.

With that in mind, and the book “The Power of Now” in my hand, I’m ready to seize the day more than ever!

Alphaville - Forever Young (1984), here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Summiting El Pico de Orizaba

Ever since I set foot in Mexico, I had in mind to summit El Pico de Orizaba. At 5636 m (18490 ft), this is Mexico's highest (and most beautiful) summit! Shortly before Christmas I had the opportunity to intent an ascent: while doing rock climbing a few months ago, I met Mathieu and Argenis, two mountaineering junkies. They were training for the ascent of the famous Aconcagua and offered me to join them for the ascent of the Orizaba. For them, it was a peaceful Sunday stroll, but for me it was the biggest mountain I ever climbed!

We set camp at the shelter (4,200m) and did an "alpine start": getting started at 2am and do a one-shot ascent. The atmosphere was incredible! Being alone in the dark far above the clouds is just magical! We made it to the bottom of the glacier by sunrise, geared up and finally reached the summit two hours later.

I really felt the lack of oxygen! Ever step forward was a challenge, we had to stop and catch our breath every 10 steps. Quite an experience!

I let pictures speak for themselves:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wondering about wandering

While visiting the little-known Olmec archeological site of Chalcatzingo last weekend, I came across this old Ceiba tree whose roots are crawling along the rock crag, desperately looking for some soil to dig in and feed.

Being so remote and deserted, the site had some cryptic grain of magic, which might have contributed to the burst of thoughts that hit me when I saw those winding roots.

How long can those roots extend their limbs before dying, dried and starving? What hunger is strong enough to compel them to undertake such uncertain journey along this endless parched rock? What’s the point?

At that moment, I felt I was like those roots. I’ve been away from home for a while now, leaving behind everything that was known, easy and comfortable. Am I running after something or fleeing away from something? Is there something at the end of the quest? Shouldn’t I get closer to what matters most: family? And more importantly: shouldn’t I also settle down and start a family myself? Isn’t it quite egoistic to keep seizing the day and not giving back at some point? Well… am I not sounding a bit too religious now?...

Anyway, this was questioning time…

But shortly after, once I made it to the top of the hill overhanging the archeological site, I had cleared my mind from those doubts. Only sure thing: coming back to the comfort zone is not for tomorrow.

To be continued…

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Impre - sea - ve

Just wanna share with you this humongous wave I shot in Pie de la Cuesta, near Acapulco, last weekend! I miss the South China sea big time ;-)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Closer to you, my Lord

The good thing with el DF is that there are plenty of volcanoes within an 80 km radius from the center, more than enough to satisfy the urge for mountains for the height-addict like me!

I was in particular immediately attracted and fascinated by the Iztaccíhuatl (aka. Ixta). At 5,230 m above sea level, it is the third highest peak in Mexico, only 200 m lower than his famous neighbor: the very active Popocatépetl (access forbidden since the 2000 big eruption).

What first stirred up my curiosity is the Aztec legend. Courtesy of Wikipedia: Iztaccíhuatl was a princess who fell in love with one of her father's warriors. Her father sent her lover to a war in Oaxaca, promising him his daughter as his wife if he returned (which Iztaccíhuatl's father presumed he would not). Iztaccíhuatl was told her lover was dead and she died of grief. When Popocatépetl returned, he in turn died of grief over losing her. The gods covered them with snow and changed them into mountains. Iztaccíhuatl's mountain is called "White Woman" because it resembles a woman sleeping on her back, and is often covered with snow. (The peak is sometimes nicknamed La Mujer Dormida ("The Sleeping Woman").) He became the volcano Popocatépetl, raining fire on Earth in blind rage at the loss of his beloved.

I felt like the Ixta has been teasing me ever since I came in Mexico: I first tried my luck with this ascent last October, but it was the moist season, it started snowing and I was ill-prepared so I had to give up… for the moment! The Ixta is sometimes visible from the center of Mexico City, like a constant reminder of my failure to climb it… Few months later, while on the plane on my way to Peru, the air was crystal clear, I had a perfect close-up view on it. The Sleeping Lady had put on her most beautiful white snowy dress and disclosed her charms to me.

I had to go back, and reach the summit, this time! With two mates, we got all the gear we needed and waited for the snow cap to melt down sufficiently to allow us making it without ice axe or crampons.

The plan was:
  • Leave the DF Friday after work hours (i-e at 2pm, yes, Friday rulez in my company :), arrive at La Joya trailhead (4,000m) few hours before dark, and start the first part of the ascent until a shelter at midway (4,800m), as a nice warm up for the next day’s ascent.
  • Spent a good refreshing night, get acclimated to the altitude overnight and wake-up at dawn raring to go, take a pleasant walk to the summit, take few pictures and come back sun tanned, happy, and invigorated by the fresh air.

But actually it went like:
  • Get jammed in f*cking endless Friday afternoon Mexico jams and arrive really late at the trailhead, actually shortly before dusk, but still stick with the plan and start the first part of the ascent.
  • Get frozen when the night fall and that the temperature drops more than expected. Get lost in the dark because it is just not easy to find one’s way in the dark at 4,500m. Walk the wrong path downhill before realizing and turning back.
  • Arrive exhausted at 10pm at the shelter. Set up the camp quickly and spent the most horrible night: first symptoms of altitude sickness (persistent headache, difficulty to breath regularly), cold (although I got good clothing and sleeping gear). Almost didn’t sleep at all. At dawn that was it, I decided to give up one more time and get back.
  • But… Force chug a large can of Red Bull, swallow 1000 mg aspirin, wait for the first sunbeams to warm you up a bit, get your friends teasing you on… and finally change your mind and decide to stay in the race!

Out of 3, 2 of us eventually made it to the summit at 5,230 m. I have to admit it was really not piece of cake. I had to struggle before each new high pitched slope not to turn back. But it was all worth it: one’s doesn’t get to step everyday on a 5,000 m high crest path above the clouds, with a 360 view as far as 150 km. A bit of an on-top-of-the-world feeling… The most tiring part for me was the 1 km long glacier just before reaching the last crest before the summit.

But once on top… What peacefulness what serenity, what a majestic view… From the top we were able to distinctly see as far as the Orizaba summit, 150 km away… The long descent on the way back was just a knee killer!

I want to go back. But this time with a different schedule, more gradually and with more steps to acclimatize. I’ll hit the Ixta one more time by April/May when the weather is the nicest…

Courtesy of Vincent for all the pictures were I appear.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

¡Ya hace seis meses!

Yep, time flies, already six months that I moved in Mexico and I finally bring this blog back to life! A lot to catch up on…

Stating the obvious, life is way different by many aspects here. Malaysia and Mexico are not only antipodean geographically speaking but also in the lifestyle, and well, to be frank I am still a bit "lost in translation" trying to find my bearings. Moving from a human-sized city where everything is reachable within a short motorbike ride to one of the biggest and most jammed and polluted megalopolis on Earth is just not an easy thing. And starting over again with learning a new language either.

That said, I’d have already been gone for long if that wasn’t for the kindness and the hospitality of my Mexican colleagues and friends! After a few weeks I already felt like I’d been around for months. It doesn’t take much more than the first meeting to enter the circle, be considered part of the group and be invited to fiestas and outings.

Speaking of which, fiestas are taken very seriously here! The slightest event can become a reason to celebrate! It all starts with a simple get-together after work hours and ends up in the middle of the night. Dance and tequila are the two mandatory ingredients for any fiesta, but there are many others to tune the flavor: singing, mechanical bull, piñatas, spicy tacos, and many more!...

Spanish is still a barrier, sometime quite frustrating, but I spend efforts on it, studying handbooks on a daily basis. And of course I harass my cubicle neighbors for constant feedback on my verbs mistakes and mistranslations… Cada día un poco mejor :-)

Although I have to admit it was not love at first sight with Mexico City aka “el DF” , after a few weekend outings and trips I now know for a fact that Mexico (the country, not the city) really has a lot to offer. More on this coming up soon…

Nuestro "depa" en la colonia Condesa

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

One last word

My time in Malaysia is over. I've just spent two incredible years discovering so many interesting places and learning so much about myself. Although I dedicated most of my time off to travel around, I still feel I barely scatched the surface! South-East Asia has a lot to offer and I'm sure I will be back someday.

But before I start a new chapter of my life and of this blog, I take the opportunity to publish hereafter a few last entries I had on-going for a while.

Jumpalagi Malaysia, ¡Hola México!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Laos, the refuge of the last dreamers, the last lovers, the last troubadours

I managed to get a 15 days off-contract break before heading to Mexico. 5 days dedicated to the tons of paperwork lying ahead and 10 days for one last killer trip in Asia before I leave Malaysia for good. Tough call really! I wanted to deepen my experience of Vietnam and visit the Northern part of the country but it didn’t plan ahead of time and it was too short notice to get the visa. Same for China. I dreamed about a rough trip in Eastern Indonesia (Sulawesi, Ambon, Papua) but I guess I didn’t have the guts to hit such remote and off-the-beaten-path place with so little planning. I thought about a nice trekking/rock climbing adventure in lovely Borneo but my partner stood me up at the very last minute for this trip (any comment on that, Ben?? ;-) Since I was 18 I knew I would do a once-in-a-life trek in Nepal, but July is just not the right season for it. I thought about Mongolia for a while but the airfare from KL was just a rip off. So what’s left? There is this little quiet country I’ve been told about, that is pretty nice and mysterious. It only recently opened to tourism and is still not a widely popular destination. A quite isolated country, stuck between Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, China and Vietnam, with no sea access, only two international airports, and very few border crossings: Laos. It may sound like it was a last minute potluck backup plan. But I don’t regret a single second I spent in Laos. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I will never forget this trip.

Quick background info: Laos gained independence from France protectorate in 1949 and a long civil war took place. The communists (Pathet Lao) eventually came to power 25 years later. (As a result), the country is still ranked as one of the poorest nations in the world. The country’s main ethnicity is the Lao: The Lao belong to the Tai linguistic group who began migrating southward from China in the first millennium AD. They constitute most of the “lowland” population and drive the culture and the economy of the country. In the isolated mountainous areas live the hilltribes people, mainly Hmong and Khmer. When I visited them it immediately reminded me of my visit to the Karen people in Chiang Mai area, Northern Thailand.

My first glance at Laos actually started in Kuala Lumpur airport where I hooked-up with an Australian voluntary worker based in Vientiane for deforestation prevention programs. He told me how nature is preserved in Laos due to the very poor economy. And I was later able to confirm what he said: as much as I love Asia for hosting some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, I have to admit that uncontrolled development and tourism industry has sometime spoiled the best gems. But not (yet) in Laos. The capital’s airport has only two runways. The capital is incredibly calm and sleepy for an Asian capital. There is no highway and it is really pleasant to walk the streets. I especially enjoyed walking along the Mekong banks, facing Thailand. The river conveys some sort of magical spirit. At sunset, the crowd gathers along the banks on stilts terraces above the river. I loved seating there, enjoying some stall food, cheap Lao beer, delicious fried Mekong weed with sesame seeds while watching the fishermen or the travelers cruise the Mekong. History is still present with many colonial buildings still intact. Laid-back and authentic are the two first words that come in mind to describe Vientiane. If an opportunity pops-up, I could definitely live for some time in there.

I then headed towards Luang Prabang, the cultural capital of the country. The city is notable as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now, you may wonder why! I’ve seen several Unesco sites, and every time I immediately knew why, whether it was a natural wonder like Yellowstone national park in the USA, or a historical site like Borodubur in Indonesia. But in Luang Prabang, it takes time to realize what’s the point, since what the Unesco wanted to reward was not a monument in particular but the atmosphere of the town! It took a few days to realize how peaceful and truly lagging in the past that place is! I enjoyed riding a bicycle to the countryside (even got stuck with a broken chain in the middle of nowhere 40 km away from Luang Prabang, but peasants where kind enough to help me out)… In 1909, Marthe Bassene, wife of a French resident doctor was a visionary and wrote “Oh what a delightful paradise of idleness, this country protects by the fierce barrier of the stream, against progress and ambition, for which is has no need! Will Luang Prabang be, in our century of exact sciences, of quick profits, of victory by money, the refuge of the last dreamers, the last lovers, the last troubadours?

Throughout the whole country, Bouddhism (Theravada style, the only instance in the world) is at the heart of the culture of the Laotians. But it is particularly present in Luang Prabang, gratified with plenty of temples, including the oldest one in the country. It is spreading an inner peace and after few days it definitely started to build up on me!

I finally left Luang Prabang and make a quick overnight stop in Vang Vien to rent a motorbike: I hesitated a lot before doing it, but finally made it: I rod all the way from Vang Vien to Phonsavan to discover the valley of the Jars, and much more. This hell of a ride with the crappiest Chinese-made motorcycle took me through the mountains in one of the least developed countries. I stopped over in hilltribe villages where time stands still since the last centuries.

While in Phongsavan, I had the chance to get to learn a rather little known fact about Laos: the country was massively bombed during WW2. Massive aerial bombardment by the United States followed as it attempted to eliminate North Vietnamese bases in Laos in order to disrupt supply lines on the Trường Sơn Trail. Between 1971 and 1973 the USAAF dropped more ordnance on Laos than was dropped worldwide during the war of 1939-1945. In total more than two million tons of bombs were dropped (almost half a ton per head of population at the time), destroying the country's limited infrastructure and restricting much of its population to living in caves. This was called the “secret war” because Laos was neutral in WW2 and it was illegal for Kennedy and then Nixon to bomb the country. As a result, the lands and rice paddies are filled with unexploded ordnance, mainly bomblets from cluster bombs. The horrors of mine fields in neighboring Cambodia are rather widely publicized and various NGO are raising funds to improve the situation. Unfortunately, being more isolated, Laos doesn’t benefit from as much international support, although the unexploded ordnance takes a terrible toll on the population (and especially on the childs). Now it is important to mention here that the USA faces its responsibility and supports UXO removal programs in Laos with 2.5 millions USD/year. Thanks to this and the local efforts, a significant portion of the soil has been cleared from bomblets, but the threat is still there and will still be for a long time. The photo on the right displays a crater dug by one of those bombs.

One thing that contributed to make that trip so unique for me is that I traveled alone. Most of the time I travel with Marie and I really enjoy it. Sometime I head out somewhere with a group of friends for an extended weekend and end up having lots of fun. But this time I was alone, and it felt really different, like good different. I’m stating the obvious for whomever has been traveling alone once, but travelling all by myself made me closer to people. I really got more opportunities to get to know people, whether for a casual small talk with a spring rolls seller at the marker or for long discussions on a food stall/bar along the Mekong (have I mentioned that the second religion in Laos after Buddhism is the national brewed Lao Beer, which cost less than a dollar a liter)?

Well, everything comes to an end, and I finally had to get back to Kuala Lumpur and get ready for a new chapter of my life in Mexico.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

தைப்பூசம் - Thaipusam

As Wikipedia indicates, the Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb). Pusam refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the birthday of Lord Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of Shiva and Parvati.

But Thaipusam is much more than "just another traditional festival"! Thaipusam is the most intense religious ceremony I ever attended! Thaipusam begins few days before the full moon. Participants gather in an Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur and process to the Batu Caves, 20 km up North from KL, smashing coconuts all over the place as an offering to Gods on their way. One curious thing is that Thaipusam doesn't exist in India, Kuala Lumpur is really the main place to see this ceremony. It also takes places in Singapore, but to a lesser extend.

Once in Batu Caves, the most sacred place for Hinduism in Kuala Lumpur, the devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting for several days. Meanwhile, complex ceremonies take place to prepare the Kawadis. Basically Kawadis are portable altar up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and, wait, there is more, attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back! Some of the most fervent devotees attach offerings to their back with hooks stuck underneath their skin. Fire walking and flagellation can be practiced as well.

This mortification of the flesh sometime gets a bit too extreme and Thaipusam is often criticized as an incentive to masochism. The look in the devotees eyes is really scary and I could see most of them collapsing after climbing the 200 stairs leading inside the cave, to the temple where they can deliver their offerings. It is hard to believe that there is no drug involved in such behavior, but an Hindu colleague of mine, whose family is very religious and involved in the ceremony, swore me that the devotees reach such level of transe only with food and sleep deprivation and intense prayers all day long during several days. They are supposed to reach such level of faith that they don't feel pain and that their wounds don't bleed when the skin gets pierced. I'm really confused, I don't know what to believe. But I don't underestimate the power of human mind when it comes to spirituality and religious devotion...

Anyway, it was an incredible night: the procession starts at midnight, and one million people are gathered in a huge crowd, so thick that for few hours I litterally didn't see my feet, I was carried by the crowd.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Easter with the Batak at lake Toba

I usually don’t make a blog entry every time I head somewhere for an extended weekend. But I really had a crush on Lake Toba and the Batak people.

Lake Toba (Danau Toba in Bahasa Indonesia) is located 4 hours drive from Medan, in Sumatra Island, Indonesia. The site is just incredible: the lake is inside a huge volcano crater, and is surrounded by pine-clothed mountains slopes. The lake is so large that you can’t see both edges at the same time. The scenery is just fantastic, and the little villages blend in perfectly in the landscape with their emblematic horn shape houses. The area is particularly wild and the atmosphere of peacefulness is a real relief after a terrible 4h drive from Medan on Easter weekend, when the regular small 2 lanes road turns into a heavily jammed 6 lanes “highway”…

The area is the home of the Batak people, who practiced cannibalism rituals until the nineteenth century, when they became Protestants due to the Dutch influence. And they like their religion! What a good idea to visit Danau Toba during Easter weekend! All the villagers brought their “A game” to go to the church, and they just couldn’t greet us, visitors, with enough “Horas!!!” (i-e hello in Bahasa Batak).

After quite a few travels in South-East Asia, I will remember Indonesia as the most beautiful country, full of variety. Variety in the landscapes, ranging from desert black-sand volcano slopes to paradise blue water beaches or breathtaking rice paddies… but also variety in the cultures, traditions, and religions. IMHO, it is the most attractive country for travelers in South-East Asia.

Thanks Marie & Vanessa for the nice pictures!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Finding George Orwell in Burma

Marie suggested me to read this book this book that, among others, made me want to visit Burma. If you are ever interested in understanding the connection between George Orwell, 1984 and Burma, go for it.

Via Bookist:
Larkin (a pseudonym), an American journalist based in Bangkok, believes that it was George Orwell's stint as an imperial policeman in British-ruled Burma during the 1920s that turned him into a writer of conscience. To prove her theory and assess what imprint if any he left on the culture, she bravely journeyed throughout the now brutally totalitarian state to visit the places Orwell lived and worked. A meticulous observer, she captures the masked spirit of a people monitored by military spies and constantly threatened with incarceration and torture. As her risky conversations with Burmese intellectuals, writers, teashop waiters, and students reveal, censorship is severe, yet Burma remains a profoundly literary country as people harbor secret libraries and talk passionately about books. Writing with admirable suppleness and understatement, Larkin reports that Orwell is known as a prophet in Burma, so closely do Animal Farm and 1984 reflect what has happened in this beautiful yet tragically oppressed land. Her quest for the past illuminates the grim present in this true-life Orwellian world.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

¡Estoy en Mexico!

Finally made it to Mexico City after a hell of a 30-hours flight via Taipei and Los Angeles. I´m quite disoriented since I went through two nights and two days since I woke up (that´s the thing when you fly eastwards, days & nights last only about 8 hours)! The circle is now completed, I´ve been "round the world": I´ve been on each and every latitudes on that planet :-)

I have to thank Malaysian Airline´s crew for making this long haul more pleasant: we´ve been chitchatting to kill those long hours over the Pacific, and they ended up offering me a bottle of red wine as a farewell present when they figured I was leaving Malaysia for good! How nice is that?!?!

Jompalagi Melayu!

Monday, June 23, 2008


No, this blog is not dead (yet)!

To make up with my long silence, here is breaking news: my assignment in Malaysia is over and after more than two years spent in Asia it’s time to move on. My next home will in Mexico, Mexico City!!! I have been looking forward to settle there ever since I set foot in this country for a short trip over spring break few years back as I was student in the USA. Besides I got pals over there who can’t seem to stop filling me on how top notch their life is…

This nice opportunity popped 3 month ago and since then I’ve been kept pretty busy. Asides from the troublesome arrangements with the movers and the Mexican custom/immigration officers, I had to deal with Malaysia authorities who tried to rip me off a third of my income this year… And I was in the urge to register on a Spanish crash course cause the extent of my knowledge of this language is more or less limited to ordering a beer at the bar! On top of it I caught the dengue last month in Thailand and it didn’t make things any easier since I got high fever for a whole week :'-( Not to mention the high workload with 2 critical offers that kept me at work a few weekends and nights. I think the message is clear: Asia is kicking me out!

The plan is: my assignment in Kuala Lumpur ends by end of this week. I'm then off for a quick 10 days break in Laos (it was a tough call to pick up a destination for this last trip in Asia), and back in KL for a few days, time for me to do some paperwork with the Mexican embassy. And then on the 14th of July: en route to Mexico! That's gonna be the longest flight in my life! 24h with connecting flights in Taipei and Los Angeles...

Marie and I can’t wait to re-unite with Latinos culture, live in a city where it is actually possible to enjoy walking to go from point A to point B and where buildings have decades or centuries of history… Of course I’m not gonna sugarcoat it and I also know we will step in one the biggest, most polluted and possibly dangerous cities in the world. But if we survived it once, we should be able to survive it again!

Wow, ¡México! ¡Llego!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Abseiling Batu Caves

Since I got into rock climbing, I became adrenalin junky. In order to get my weekly fix, I hit the Batu Caves last weekend for a scary abseil, along with Rachel and Benoit.

The trip involves crawling in a slippery cave, getting covered in bat's shit, sweating in the dense jungle, getting bitten by mosquito, fleeing away from wild dogs, getting sunburn, and riding a motorcycle through the storm with about 30 cm high water flood on the way back home... But it was definitely worth all of this: the well-deserved reward is a scary 100 meters multipitch abseil both along the crag and inside the cave.

Pictures below speak for themselves!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Uncut, Untitled, Paper House

For those interested in understanding the Malaysian society structure, the influence of religious moral and the relationship among races, don't miss "Uncut, Untitled, Paper House". It will be performed for the next five days in the KL Performing Art Center.

Those three new plays won't turn into an endless boring analysis that will put you asleep: written and directed by up-and-coming talents, this triple bill illustrates serious topics like censorship or parents authority with examples from Malaysian everyday's life.

I was really stunned to see Islam being criticized so openly, and happy not to see the religious police burst into the theater! I see it as a great step forward for Malaysia! Is it somehow related to the latest elections where the BN, coalition holding the power since independence 50 years ago, scored its worse score ever???

Here is the program.


Written & directed by Teng Ky-Gan

Featuring Fish & Aishah Sinclair

This play explores the theme of censorship in Malaysia and the influence of fanatical moral policing over works of art. As he struggles to reconcile his professional and moral obligations, with his basic human instincts, Zakaria the director of the Censorship Bureau finds himself spiraling out of control as he slowly learns that human wants often triumph over didactic logic.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Damned Hanoi-ing cold!

Here I am in Hanoi (Vietnam) on a business trip for the whole week. Temperature is ranging between 10 and 15 Celsius and the weather is all gray and sad. Quite a shock for me! I’ve not been exposed to such low temperature in the past two years, and I realize that I can’t stand it anymore! Or at least that I need time to adapt. It’s really damned annoying and depressing! Barely wanna go out at night and discover this amazing city!

Well, in order to not sound too negative, here is a good side of being here: French colonialism has left a strong influence on the Vietnamese cuisine, and I was happy to re-discover real croissant, cheese and oven fresh “campagne bread”. Not that I’m obsessed with those things, but once in a while it feels good to bite into good old bread tasting like bread.

Edit: One thing I forgot to mention: most of my colleagues around my cubicle are heavily smocking in the open space! Really disturbing, not to mention the impact on health in the long-term… I’m happy I was born in a world where, in most places, smocking in the office is not only frowned upon, but forbidden by law. Gosh that must have been really major annoyance when it was a normal practice in the offices!

Edit 2: I had the chance to secure a few hours on Friday afternoon to visit downtown before heading to the airport on my way to KL. I just fall in love with the city. I loved the narrow and crooked streets, the traditional handicraft in all the market places like Dong Xuan, the peaceful walk around Hoan Kiem lake and its Ngoc Son "floating" temple. I met a very kind lady who spent about one hour trying to teach me "survival vietnamese" in order for me to be able to order food at the foodstalls by the streets. It didn't feel bustling at all, and the whole city seemed very authentic to me. This city still has a soul. I can't wait to be back, but for the fun this time!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Indian hahas

With all respect due to the USA presidency, please enjoy this piece of joke I got from an (American) friend of mine, currently living in India, namely, Jayna:

“Donald Rumsfeld is briefing George Bush in the Oval Office.

‘Oh and finally, sir, three Brazilian soldiers were killed in Iraq today.’

Bush goes pale, his jaw hanging open in stunned disbelief. He buries his face in his hands, muttering ‘My God…My God.’

‘Mr. President,’ says Cheney, ‘we lose soldiers all the time, and it’s terrible. But I’ve never seen you so upset. What’s the matter?’

Bush looks up and says…’How many is a Brazilian?’”

-as seen in Eastern Panorama (January 2008), a monthly publication about North East India

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Singapore Q&A

Kuality Time >> Hi Remi, is it true that last Friday was public Holiday and you took your motorbike out on a trip to Singapore?

Remi >> That's correct!

KT >> Awsome, how was that?

R >> Moist... it rained every afternoon :-( Fortunately I got to wake up early and enjoy some morning sun.

KT >> So it's been your trip on the East coast, then a trip up North to Penang & Pangkor, and now Singapore, not counting all the weekend trips in Selangor... Don't you get any bored of it???

R >> No, really not! It's been different every time: Malaysia is full of variety, and conservative East coast is definitely different from urbanized Penang or wild Pahang! And while driving down South through Johor I got to discover a new face of Malaysia: little towns that are fare less developed than Klang Valley, but that are still very different from conservative East coast. Actually I think this was a glimpse of what Malaysia used to be 50 years ago, before Kuala Lumpur and the whole Klang Valley become so industrialized.

KT >> Did you bring any picture back?

R >> Not really, I'm definitely not good at capturing urban scenes and I'm not happy with was I shot.

KT >> Come on, you're being shy, I'm sure you've got some OK shots!

R >> No, but I wanna work on this aspect of photography and learn how to capture street snapshots...

KT >> So you crossed borders by plane, bus, boat, car, train, taxi, foot... and now motorcycle. How was that?

R >> Actually a bit boring: a crowd of Malaysians from Johor Bahru crosses the border everyday to get to work in Singapore, and the queue of motorcycle is huge! With all those engines idling, I was breezing in exhaust gas during all the waiting time...

KT >> And how was Singapore?

R >> Actually I've been there 5 years ago. I remember when I was roaming through Little India, I thought it was a bit messy and dirty. Now, 5 years later, after living in Malaysia and traveling through South-East Asia, I found Little India was the cleanest Little India I ever saw! Singapore reminded me of some Europeans cities. The memory I had of Singapore from my previous trip 5 years ago was wrong: I forgot how much greenery there is, and how pleasant it is to walk around. Singapore strongly differentiates from other Asian capital in that it is not as bustling. I expect quite a reverse cultural shock when (if ever) I'll settle back to France...

Aside from this I really enjoyed the cultural display in Singapore, like the amazing Asian Civilization museum (currently being renovated btw, can't wait to see the new version). Singaporeans are very good at preserving cultural heritage and old buildings, which is definitely missing in M'sia.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Phil free to visit

After nearly two years spent in South-East Asia and plenty of travels in the region, I consider I've been pretty spoiled with paradise islands, beautiful unspoiled nature, charming little remote villages, fancy jungle treks, you name it. However none of all those great landmarks can compete with Philippines!

Our trip started with an overnight layover in Metro Manila, where Ines was kind enough to show us around and bring us to the very friendly and casual Penguin Bar in Malate, Remedios Circle area. We also had a chance to hang out in Intramuros, where we really appreciated the relatively quite atmosphere compared to the rest of the city. The Rizzal Memorial Park is a real green haven in an ocean of concrete and smoky jeepneys... But we didn't stick too long in the capital since we felt the urge for nature.

Our next hop lead us to Palawan Island, aka The Last Frontier. Believe me, Palawan is totally worthy of this nickname. After few days visiting Puerto Princessa, the capital of the Island, and its surroundings like Honda Bay, or the Subterranean River in Sabang, we headed up North to El Nido. El Nido is a place you got to deserve: we got there by bus from Puerto Princessa. It's only a 250 km journey, but it took more than 9 hours! Indeed, the only road that crosses the island is only paved about half-way, then it gets really rough. The bus was already full long before we reached the departure bus station, so the driver offered us to seat on the roof. After few seconds hesitating, we seized the opportunity to benefit from a perfect view point all along the way. That's only once the bus left that we realized how stressful it is: many power lines or branches are just slightly higher than the roof of the bus, and passengers heads could have gotten chopped off several time. In order to prevent such thing from happening a bus attendant seats on the roof as well: he yells whenever he sees a wire or a branch approaching, in order to make sure everyone bends over... A couple of times, the powerlines were so low that the attendant actually made the driver stop the bus and go very slowly while the first row of roof's passengers grabbed the powerline above their heads and handed it over to the second row, etc... I decided not to imagine what could happened if the isolating coating was worn out. Security standards are not the same in the Philippines...

We eventually made it to El Nido totally exhausted, but with our heads still attached! And that's when we realized that it is totally worth the ride: think of beautiful limestones archipelago like Ha Long Bay in Vietnam or Krabi in Thailand, and remove all the pollution and the tourism infrastructure. Replace the muddy waters with crystal clear turquoise water and the resorts with fisherman stilts villages. That's El Nido. This is pure heaven.

One fun thing about El Nido is that there is not enough electricity for the whole village, so they round robin different streets of the village. One street can be "the place to be" one night, and be dark and gloomy the next night... Disorientating! We chilled out few days in El Nido, island hoping or motorbike riding. This is a really remote area, pretty much untouched and preserved from tourism industry. Believe it or not, Marie and I managed to find a 4 km long perfect beach just for us! Well, by just for us, I mean no tourist at all, but we spend most of the afternoon playing with a group of young kids. One thing struck us is that they weren't begging for money: as a westerner tourist in Manila or any city in Philippines, you get used to being target number one for beggars, especially for children. But at no point those kids ever asked for money. They were first curious and shy to see foreigners, and then really, sincerely happy to play with us. They saw Marie collect some shells, so they mimicked her and brought her several fistful of it!! They built sand castles with Marie, they taught us some Tagalog words, we taught them some English, asked them about life in the village, school, what they wanna do later etc... A true meaningful exchange. And that shows how untouched Northern Palawan is from the tourism: because unfortunately one of the first things that tourism dollars create in a country like Philippines is beggars.

We met some westerns pioneers who settled in Palawan and live of a small business like boat services, motorbike rental, coffee place, guided tours, diving, etc... They really brought up some doubts in my mind... What kind of life am I really looking forward to?...

Anyway, all things come to an end and we left Palawan, en route to Bohol island, next to Cebu, South of the Visayas. Bohol is much less adventurous, but as friendly as Palawan. There are some really nice rice paddy landscapes to be seen on Bohol. We took the chance to have a look at the two landmarks of the island: the very touristy Chocolate Hills and the Tarsier. We met a very friendly Filipinos at a market, who happened to have spent some time in Kuala Lumpur. She invited us over at her place for some fruits and drinks, that was very thankful of her.

We planned to spend few days South of Bohol, at Alona beach. We came in at evening time, and ended up leaving the place the very next morning: we couldn't stand the atmosphere: this beach is packed with the eye hurting mixed couple of a thin, beautiful, shy young Filipinos lady with an old, fat, sunburned, drunk and rich Westerner. A German guy told us that you can "rent" a lady for 24h. She will do whatever you want. She can do your laundry, cook some food, massage you, or... And it will cost you only 1,500 P, he said. 20 Euros. That's what one day of their life is worth. Just plain horrible. Modern slavery. I hate that. To make things up, we heard many stories of such guys who got manipulated by their lady and end up being tricked into coughing up lots of money. It sounds bad, but somehow I figured it is fair enough. Come on, those repulsive guys can't take advantage of Filipinos beauties for nothing!

We were back in Manila just for new year's eve. Quite impressive: fire crackers all over the streets, lot of people celebrating. In a nutshell, a big mess! Before midnight we ran for our lives and came back in the guesthouse: outside was really too dangerous!

To wrap-up, this trip was one of the best I did in Asia! I was just amazed by he friendliness of the Filipinos. Every country has its own culture, but the Philippines have less in common with most countries of South-East Asia. That's probably due to the strong Spanish and then American influence. The Philippines is definitely the least Asian country of Asia.

As usual, a batch of my favorite pics:

Saturday, December 08, 2007

En route to the Philippines

I'm off for 3 weeks in Borneo / Philippines!
Stay tuned for cool pictures and crazy stories...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

สงกรานต - Songkran

I was browsing through my picture collection and came across this set of pictures taken by Guilhem last April during Songkran (Thai New Year).

Songkran festival used to be the celebration held for the Thai New Year, but since the year now starts on January 1st, Songkran is a public holiday. Traditionally, Songkran used to be a time to pay respect to the elders, visit the Wat (Buddhist monastery) and pray. As part of this cleansing and renewal, Buddha images in monasteries where cleaned by pouring water perfumed with Thai fragrance.

The tradition evolved into showing respect to people by gently pouring a few drops of water on their hands or shoulders. But since April is also the hottest month in Thailand, young people were more prone to actually splash each other with jugful of water...

Nowadays, that's mostly what Songkran is: a joyful mess in the streets where people randomly spill water at each other with jugs, hoses, water guns, you name it! To spice it up, some reload their jugs with nearly freezing water, or with water mixed with plaster usually used by the monks to mark blessing... And loads of alcohol.

The first day of the celebration, Marie and I were in Ko Phangan, on the Northern tip, a pretty remote area. There was almost no sign of this celebration going on. Of course we knew it was Songkran weekend, but we didn't really know what to expect. The frenzy suddenly hit us when we reached the main village: we were crossing the island by motorcycle towards the jetty in order to get a boat to reach Ko Samui, and from there a flight to Bangkok. The village used to be very quiet and peaceful when we got there at first, few days before. But this time everyone was getting crazy, yelling and spilling water all over the place! We seriously thought we wouldn't make it through the village on time to catch our boat!

We eventually made it and reached Ko Samui's jetty. From there we took what we thought to be a short bus trip across the island to reach the airport, but it took forever since the roads were crowded with drunk, swamped people!... They even stopped the bus and got in in order to splash the driver and passengers :-) Works better than AC!

The frenzy was even more intense in Bangkok's touristy Ko San Road...

At the beginning we somehow felt a bit oppressed, because we were just passive "victims"... but once we got loaded with small water guns the real fun started to seriously kick in! We were like kids for the whole afternoon :-) Great time, lots of fun!