The Daily Explorer

June 1, 2010

From Hong Kong to the Himalayas

Kathmandu, Nepal: May 2010

MOZZIE BYTE (Editor): A warm welcome back to all our Daily Explorer readers and greetings to those of you who are joining us for the first time. For new readers, Ray has been living nomadically for about four and a half years since he left England in November 2005. He has visited or lived in 16 countries and we have been publishing news and stories about his journey throughout that period. You can find all of these in our Previous Issues archive. Our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you to enjoy, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (ray@thedailyexplorer.com), ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at mozzie@thedailyexplorer.com

Our latest issue has been put together by guest correspondent Po Scard – one of our longest standing team members, who last appeared in 2006. Po, who is from Thailand, re-joins us for Ray’s visit to Hong Kong and his return to Nepal. And he also provides us with an update about the ongoing troubles in Bangkok. Some of you might find some of the pictures in this issue disturbing.

In case you missed our last issue, our global traveller made his first ever visit to mainland China. We caught up with him in the bustling city of Shanghai, which had been undergoing a complete transformation to be ready for the opening of the World Expo 2010 on 1st May. On his return to Thailand, Ray also celebrated the festival of Songkran, visited Chiang Rai and went to the Golden Triangle region in the north of the country. You can read it now at: Shanghai, Chiang Rai and Goodbye

Above: The Pudong district in Shanghai was buzzing when Ray visited recently, in anticipation of the World Expo which is currently open to visitors from all over the world. If you missed our last issue, you can read the full story now at: Shanghai, Chiang Rai and Goodbye

The last time I saw Ray was in September 2006, when I wrote about his visit to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Knowing that he has been travelling for over four and a half years, I was interested to find out how he was feeling and what was coming next on his incredible journey. “For the first time since I left England to start my global adventure, I must admit that I am feeling a little worried about the state of affairs in the world, and (occasionally) for my own safety, particularly in Asia” was his reply. Curious about his statement, I asked him to elaborate a little. “Sometimes, it feels like the world is literally falling apart. For example, when I left Thailand a few weeks ago, it was amidst a worsening situation politically within the country and although at the time the trouble was mainly confined to a small area in the city of Bangkok, the potential for escalation was obviously of growing concern to both citizens of Thailand and visitors like me. The ongoing stand-off between the red shirts (anti-government protestors) and the Army has been devastating for the Thai economy and has severely eroded the country’s reputation as a non-violent society. I know from speaking to people in England that many people are unaware of what has been going on here and normally, it wouldn’t bother me too much either. But in the last couple of weeks, the situation escalated dramatically with a total of 76 lives being lost in the last two months in bloody street battles with the military. And for the first time since I went there in 2005, a curfew was implemented across the country, including Chiangmai, which would have been unthinkable even a few months ago” explained Ray. (Editors Note: For further information about the Thailand protests, visit the BBC News Website)

“It is perhaps understandable why visitors were choosing to leave the country in huge numbers, only to find that flights had been severely disrupted by the eruption of the once dormant Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland” added Ray. “When I first heard about this, I could not believe it but a quick check on the Internet confirmed the story. It soon became apparent that the lives of hundreds of thousands of people all around the world were being affected and I suddenly became acutely aware of how dependent I am on air travel these days. Now I know why businesses have the reference to “Acts of God” in their terms and conditions” said Ray. “Perhaps it is just my bad luck at the moment – heading for Nepal, I am aware from news bulletins that there has been increasing unrest there too. The coalition government that the Maoists forced into existence over the last few years is not working out as it was intended and a number of protests are expected to force the government to resign. Unfortunately for me and the people of Nepal, the chances of disruption and maybe violence are high” said our not too optimistic traveller. “As my primary purpose is to take much needed money to the orphanage there, I feel I have no option to postpone the trip” he added.

Above: This aerial image shows the crater spewing ash and plumes of grit at the summit of the volcano in southern Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier on Saturday April 17, 2010 (Photo: AP/Arnar Thorisson). European airspace was shut down for days, affecting millions of travellers around the world

Below: A small plane (upper left) flies past smoke and ash billowing from the volcano in Eyjafjallajokul, Iceland on Saturday April 17, 2010 (Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson) – “I found these pictures on the photo news site of the Boston Globe” said Ray. “They have some absolutely stunning images which are well worth a look” added Ray

Above: Ray sent us this small selection of photographs from the Boston Globe online news site (originally spotted by avid Daily Explorer reader Susie Moberly, from Ko Samui in Thailand). In the first of eight pictures, all taken on May 19, 2010, is a very rare sight for visitors to Bangkok – Thai soldiers storm through the barricade of anti-government protesters. Downtown Bangkok became a raging battleground as the army stormed a protest camp and toppled the Red Shirt leadership, enraging demonstrators who fired grenades and set fires that cloaked the skyline in a black haze (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E )

Below: Thai soldiers and journalists run towards cover (left) near an anti-government barricade (AP Photo/Vincent Yu). And Red Shirt anti-government leaders announce their surrender to a gathered crowd from the stage inside the protesters’ camp in downtown Bangkok. The protest leaders surrendered and told thousands of Red Shirt supporters to end their weeks-long rally after an army assault on their fortified encampment (Photo: PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Above: Red Shirt anti-government protesters scream and burst into tears as their leaders announce to the crowd their surrender in downtown Bangkok (Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)

Below: A Buddhist monk who was detained by Thai army soldiers sits with his hands tied during an operation to evict Red Shirt protesters from their encampment (Photo: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

Above: The body of a protester who was killed during an operation to evict Red Shirt protesters from their encampment lies in the street in front of a burning barricade (Photo: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

Below: The City Hall building (left) burns after it was set on fire by Red Shirt protesters in Ubon Ratchathani province, north-east of Bangkok (Photo: REUTERS/Stringer). (Right) A Red Shirt protester throws a rock at a burning shopping mall (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

Above: Freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi, 48, of Italy lies on a stretcher at Police Headquarter Hospital in Bangkok, after being shot during a government crackdown on anti-government protestors. Polenghi was later pronounced dead by Thai doctors (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Below: A Red Shirt protester who had been shot in the head is carried into a hospital (AP Photo/Wally Santana). For more news and pictures, visit the Boston Globe photo web site

When we met in Hong Kong, Ray explained that he was stopping on the island for five days on his way to Nepal. I was curious to know if he had been before and what he was doing in the city. “Actually, it is my second visit here” said Ray. “The first time was way back in 1999, before I became a ‘nomad’. When I was running my consulting business in London, my partner and I won a small contract to train some junior managers at Goldman Sachs, which meant a week in one of the finest hotels in town at their expense” recalled Ray. “Back then, I wasn’t really involved in the delivery of the training programme so I had plenty of time to see the main attractions and got to know the place quite well. It reminds me of London in many ways in that consumerism is really ‘in your face’ and the typical lifestyle for people in the corporate world is relatively expensive” said Ray. It is definitely the land of the high-rise as there is an ever-growing population vying for a decreasing amount of available space” added our global explorer.

Above: The impressive Hong Kong skyline at night, viewed from Victoria Peak (Photo: David Iliff). The name “Hong Kong” is an approximate phonetic rendering of the Cantonese pronunciation of the spoken Cantonese or Hakka name “香港”, meaning “fragrant harbour” in English

Below: Ray headed for a small guest house in this very lively street in Causeway Bay on his arrival – “It was a bit like staying in the middle of Times Square in New York” said Ray

The timing of Ray’s appearance in Hong Kong was perhaps a bit ironic as it follows his recent visit to the Hall of Opium Museum in the Golden Triangle region of Thailand, historically associated with Opium smuggling which played a huge part in the history of the trading relationship between the British Empire and China. “Some readers may remember the previous issue of The Daily Explorer – during my visit to the museum – in which I discovered that Hong Kong Island became occupied by British forces in 1841. The refusal by Qing Dynasty authorities two years earlier to import opium resulted in the first Opium War between China and Britain. The territory was formally ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Nanking at the end of the war. The British established a crown colony with the founding of Victoria City the following year. In 1860, after China’s defeat in the second Opium War, the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutter’s Island were ceded to Britain under the Convention of Peking. In 1898, under the terms of the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, Britain obtained a 99-year lease of Lantau Island and the adjacent northern lands, which became known as the New Territories which is pretty much how it has remained to this day, with the exception of the handover of sovereignty to China in 1997″ explained our budding historian.

Above: The very delightful Mandarin Oriental Hotel was where our global traveller stayed the last time he visited Hong Kong in 1999 – “The service here is second to none, which accounts for the rather astronomic price of the rooms” he told me

Below: How times have changed! Eleven years later and Ray is staying in what is potentially the smallest hotel room in the whole of Asia, and there is no room service! – “It is just about what I would expect for £20 per night in this city” said Ray

For readers who would like to know a little more about the territory, the population is 7.03 million and continues to grow due to the influx of immigrants from mainland China, approximating 45,000 per year. About 95% of the people of Hong Kong are of Chinese descent, the majority of whom are Cantonese, Taishanese, Hakka and Chiu Chow. There are in excess of 300,000 foreign domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines, according to official figures. “They all gather together on a Sunday in the parks and any available open spaces – it is quite an extraordinary thing to witness” said our traveller.

Hong Kong’s de facto official language is Cantonese, a Chinese language originating from Guangdong Province to the north of Hong Kong. English is also an official language, and according to a 1996 census is spoken by 3.1% of the population as an everyday language and by 34.9% of the population as a second language. Signs displaying both Chinese and English are common throughout the territory. Since the 1997 handover, an increase in immigrants from mainland China and greater integration with the mainland economy have brought an increasing number of Mandarin speakers to Hong Kong. The city is one of the world’s leading financial centers. It’s highly developed capitalist economy has been ranked the freest in the world by the Index of Economic Freedom for 15 consecutive years. It is an important centre for international finance and trade, with one of the greatest concentration of corporate headquarters in the Asia-Pacific region, and is known as one of the Four Asian Tigers for its high growth rates and rapid development between the 1960’s and 1990’s. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is the sixth largest in the world, with a market capitalisation of US$2.97 trillion as at October 2007. In 2009, Hong Kong raised 22 percent of worldwide IPO capital, making it the largest centre of initial public offerings in the world.

Above: Hong Kong’s Tramway, which has served the territory since 1904, covers the northern parts of Hong Kong Island and is the only tram system in the world run exclusively with double deckers – “I took the tram most days from Causeway Bay to Central” said Ray. “A front seat up top gives a spectacular view and at only 20 pence for a 20 minute ride, it is one of the best value journeys in the world!” The city also operates a rapid transit (underground) system which has 150 stations serving 3.4 million people a day. And the Star Ferry service, founded in 1888, operates four lines across Victoria Harbour and provides scenic views of Hong Kong’s skyline for its 53,000 daily passengers

Below: According to Emporis, there are 7,650 skyscrapers in Hong Kong, putting the city at the top of world rankings. The high density and tall skyline of Hong Kong’s urban area is due to a lack of available sprawl space, with the average distance from the harbour front to the steep hills of Hong Kong Island at 1.3 kilometres (0.81 miles). This lack of space causing demand for dense, high-rise offices and housing, has resulted in 36 of the world’s 100 tallest residential buildings being in Hong Kong and more people living or working above the 14th floor than anywhere else on earth, making it the world’s most vertical city

Above: The Bank of China Tower (left) is one of the taller buildings on the island. High rise blocks are everywhere, mixing in some parts with the much older low-rise buildings, which are few and far between these days as land is at such a premium

Below: Wellington Street in Central is where the offices of Progress U are located. The company is an Executive Coaching, Training and Leadership Development business that Ray has been in dialogue with for some time about working part-time as an associate – “I recently went to Shanghai to meet the partners and attend one of their advanced coaching courses” said Ray. “I have come to Hong Kong to be trained in how they deliver their ‘consultative selling’ training course, with a view to deliver it to clients myself if the opportunity arises” explained Ray

Realising that Ray had come to Hong Kong for business, I asked him what it felt like to dip his toe back into the waters of the corporate world. “In some ways it feels strange, as I have been walking such a different path these last four and a half years. But in other ways, it feels very familiar. In fact, coming here and doing this training has made me realise that I have so much knowledge and experience of business and it never goes away. It is always there in my mind when I need to draw on it and taking part with the people here has given me a chance to see that I am quite capable in this situation. It remains to be seen whether or not their business can generate sufficient demand that would mean they require additional people like me, over and above the great people they already have on their team. And of course, if and when I receive such a call, I would have to make a decision as to my availability and interest at the time. The partners of the company understand this and have been very accommodating about the way I wish to include work in my life and I feel quite at home with their company culture” said Ray.

Above: (Left) Progress U partner and founder Charlie Lang explains how he delivers the highly successful “Stop Selling!” course to corporate delegates. Then Ray is given an opportunity to lead a section of the two-day programme himself to get a feel for the best way of doing it and demonstrate his capability to teach the course contents – “It was great fun working with the group I joined, which included people from Belgium, China, India and Brazil” Ray told me

Above: After his training course had finished, our global nomad had a little time to further explore the city, discovering some interesting pieces of artwork including this very colourful, modern and functional public seating system on one of the long stairways in Central

Below: Some parts of the city give visitors an idea of what the place might have been like a hundred years ago (left) but there is little remaining from that era. These days, modern architecture dominates, integrating with the older buildings like the headquarters of the Honk Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) which is in Statue Square, adjacent to the former Supreme Court (now home to the Legislative Council) and the Cenotaph. This pretty area is today filled with fountains and seats and on Sundays, it is usually bursting with Phillipino maids who gather here on their day off.  These young women and girls are usually working in Hong Kong illegally and have families and children of their own to support at home. They meet up all over the city on Sundays and the numbers and noise are quite phenomenal

Above: Bruce Lee fans will instantly recognise this statue in Kowloon of the legendary martial arts fighter and actor

Below: “I loved this guy’s T Shirt” said Ray. “It may sound a bit clichéd, but I really believe that we only get a very short time on this planet – we don’t really know how long for the most part – and I want to make sure that I am totally satisfied with my choices and do everything that is most important to me while I still can” he told me

January 2009 was the last time that Ray was in Nepal. Speaking to him as he was leaving Hong Kong, I got a sense that he was very excited about returning. “You are absolutely right Po and I can tell you why. Firstly, the main reason that I am going back is my orphanage. With my help, they are going to spend $5,000 that was raised last year when I ran the New York marathon on the things they most need. I discovered the orphanage in October 2008 and knew then that I wanted to help. So it has been a long time coming and now the wait is finally over. We can really do so much to improve the lives of the kids there – I can’t wait to get started (for more information about Ray’s global fundraising campaign, see Calling All Angels). But first, I am going to complete the trek to Everest Base Camp – something I have wanted to do for years” he told me. “I missed the chance the last time I was here, opting to do the Annapurna Circuit and the Sanctuary instead. The trek will take me to the highest altitude I have been to so far, at just over 18,000 feet and I am really excited about it. Because of the weather, I will have to complete the trek first and then go to Pokhara to complete my programme with the orphanage; the monsoon season usually starts at the end of May or early June and would make trekking in the Everest region much more challenging, with heavy rain, muddy landslides and leeches to content with. I think I would much rather do the trek in drier, sunnier weather” admitted Ray. I am hoping that when I arrive in Nepal, everything is functioning normally as I have quite a lot to organise around my trek and only a few days to get going to make sure we get inside the weather window I mentioned” explained our well organised traveller.

Above: First the good news for Ray; he arrived in Kathmandu (see map) from Hong Kong in good time to organise a guide and porter for his trek to Everest Base Camp (due east of Kathmandu) ……

Below: Then the bad news – the hard-core Maoist supporters called for a general strike to begin on the day Ray arrived, paralysing Nepal for about six days – “I knew something was wrong when I got to the airport as I would normally expect to be swamped by taxi drivers and hoteliers all looking for business, but there were none to be seen. Although most local people would prefer to be open for business, the Maoists intimidated everyone into supporting the strike, threatening to destroy their property if they tried to open their shop or drive their vehicle on the road. The strike also meant no buses running or ATM’s working, as the banks were too worried about the potential for looting and rioting, which was a serious problem for me as I needed to take sufficient Nepalese Rupees up into the mountains to pay for my food and lodging for 2-3 weeks on the trek” explained our concerned traveller. “It was one of those great opportunities to just relax and go with the flow, knowing that it would probably all turn out alright” added Ray. (Editors Note: For further information about the Maoist protests in Nepal, visit the BBC News Website)

At least Ray was fortunate enough to have gone online and pre-booked a room in a guest house before leaving Hong Kong. “One of the guys from the guest house told me he would come to the airport to collect me” recalled Ray. “My flight did not arrive until around 10.30pm in the evening so it was great there was someone there to meet me, especially as he had managed to arrange some transportation to the Thamel area of the city which is about seven kilometres away. It took some of the immediate pressure off and meant that my first night was sorted. As I went to sleep, I thought I would go and have breakfast the next morning at one of my favourite restaurants, assuming that as they catered only for tourists, it would be open. No such luck – when daylight broke and I entered Thamel, I was shocked to discover the place was like a ghost town, with absolutely everything closed. Suddenly, just finding any food at all was going to be a challenge” recalled Ray. It dawned on me that the best thing I could do would be to get out of the city as fast as possible and I managed to pull forward the date of departure for my trek to leave within 48 hours. And fortunately, I found one ATM that was still dispensing cash after an exhaustive search, which was a huge relief” added Ray. And the food? “Yes Po, my guest house were able to rustle up some curry and rice – not my favourite but it was a choice of take it or leave it and I definitely wasn’t going to go hungry!”

Above: Anyone who has been to Kathmandu will tell you that these streets in Thamel are usually jam-packed with hundreds of people, rickshaws, motorbikes and cars and that usually, you can hardly move. This picture was taken the day after Ray’s arrival with the general strike in full swing. All the shops and restaurants are boarded up and all the ATM’s are closed

Below: In other parts of Thamel, it is exactly the same – “It seems such a shame to me that ordinary Nepali people are being forced to close their businesses as they desperately need the income from travellers and tourists” said Ray

Above: With everything in Kathmandu at a complete standstill and Ray more or less stuck in his room, he hurriedly made plans to get out of the city as fast as possible and head for Lukla, which is the starting point for his trek to Everest Base Camp – “The main challenge was getting my kit together for the trek with all the shops shut and my guide really helped me” said Ray. “Selecting only the stuff which is absolutely essential is very important” added Ray, who was about to embark on his third trekking adventure in the Himalayas. “My porter should not really carry more than 15 kilos in total (although some do) and nearly half of that will be my sleeping bag and down jacket” he told me. “The remainder will consist of day-to-day clothing, towel, gloves, hat, toiletries, water containers, medicine, torch and other vital equipment” added our traveller. We will be bringing you full coverage of his incredible 200 kilometre, 16 day trek in our next issue

Editors Note: Our thanks to Po Scard for bringing us up to date with Ray’s journey and giving us some exposure to the problems that have been happening in this region. We are currently working on our next issue, “The Roof of the World” which should be online in the next few days and will contain exclusive coverage of Ray’s trek to Everest Base Camp. After that, Ray is heading for Pokhara. Our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you to enjoy, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (ray@thedailyexplorer.com), ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at mozzie@thedailyexplorer.com

MOZZIE BYTE

Above: At Everest Base Camp, Ray talks to a climbing sherpa about to go for the summit – read all about his trek in our next issue, which will be online in a few days. We will keep you posted!

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4 Comments »

  1. WOW!

    Comment by Polly — June 1, 2010 @ 2:44 pm

  2. Love it!!! Smallest room in the world! Lol. Hope you enjoy your time in Pokhara. I’m in Kathmandu now and flying back home tonight. It was really sad to leave the kids yesterday. Big drama, check me out, in my thirties and sobbing like a 4 year old. I was looking at my photos of the Poon Hill trek and got all excited and so a friend and I are planning to do either ABC or EBC over Christmas! I will need some advice and maybe contact of your guide?
    Looking forward to reading next update!
    Have fun!
    Margarita x

    Comment by Margarita Costa — June 2, 2010 @ 6:42 am

  3. It was distressing to see the real pictures of the trouble in Bangkok and Nepal. I counted my blessings and also observed my detatched view of these stories as your pictures brought it into hard reality. I am glad you are safe and thank you for the wake up call. Look forward to the next edition about your trek up in the Himalayas; the picture was a breathtaking taster of what is to come. Thanks for the stories. Lots of Love, Charlie xx

    Comment by charlotte — June 2, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

  4. I never think this situation born in Thailand. I sad with that. I hope peaceful is coming to Thailand. Thank for article.

    Comment by ร้านอาหารเชียงใหม่ — June 16, 2010 @ 12:43 am


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