Archive for February, 2011

What the hek is a trekdek? (Repost)

So I was looking around for this post and I think I somehow deleted it. I found my original word document and decided to repost it.

The concept:

An online community composed of people who create, accomplish, and write about Trekdek travel challenges. The original 52 challenges (52 coming from a “dek” of cards) will be created by me.

The challenges:

The challenges are designed to truly immerse travelers in their new environments and to get them to “Live Well, Travel Well.” Instead of going to every place mentioned in your Lonely Planet guidebook, you will instead complete challenges like, “Take the local public transportation , get off at a random stop and go exploring” or “Go to a restaurant and find out where your server’s favorite place to hang out is.” The idea is that these small challenges will lead to some crazy experiences that engage you with your surroundings and the people around you. Though these challenges will sometimes be awkward and uncomfortable (they are challenges after all), I believe they will ultimately be more rewarding than any sort of guided tour.

Why I started this project:

Though I’m not the most veteran traveler out there, I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel a few places like France, Morocco, Greece, and Egypt. When traveling to all these places, I noticed that I develop a heightened sense of awareness of my new surroundings and my own thoughts. This awareness comes from the simple fact of displacement. Even the mundane details of everyday life like getting groceries or getting back home become an adventure. Trust me, I definitely feel more connected to my surroundings in a Moroccan Souk than I do at Trader Joes.

This sense of awareness also seems to diminish when I focus too much on a checklist of things I have to see and places I have to go i.e. the Lonely Planet Guide. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the travel guide and it is definitely useful for information, but the best times I’ve had while traveling were the times I didn’t plan anything. Instead of focusing on the checklist, I’m paying attention to where I am and who I’m with.

I realize that Trekdek has the potential to become a checklist of challenges, but it’s my hope that the challenge will merely help focus the traveler on being present. Maybe that restaurant server will invite the traveler to hang out with him and his friends at a local pub. Maybe that random stop the traveler got off at led to the discovery of a beautiful mosque that wasn’t mentioned in his guidebook. Who knows what will happen when travelers deviate from a set itinerary.

Every time I’ve stayed at a hostel; I inevitably ended up trading travel stories with my fellow travelers: Crazy security checkpoints at airports, overzealous local Casanovas, and that time I ate some insert weird animal part without knowing it. I hope to replicate that “sharing stories with people you’ve just met and loving it” feeling online. I will consider Trekdek successful when an Australian from Melbourne and a Moroccan from Fez can trade stories on about that time they were in Istanbul and hopped on the public transportation and ended up at a Korean restaurant eating Kimchi with the Turkish owner.




State of flow in a Portland coffee shop

Erica and I drove down from Victoria to Portland with her dad two days ago and we found ourselves sitting at a quintessential Portland pizza place called Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty. It was Portland in that it was low key, but the food was a bit full of itself. For example, Salami was called Saluni. Still delicious though.

Joining us was Erica’s twin sister Chloe, and her boyfriend Kevin. Kevin is a potential Trekdek co-founder that I’ve been bouncing ideas off. We only recently began talking about his role in Trekdek during my last few weeks in Egypt. It was difficult to stay in touch in the midst of an internet outage in Egypt and my beach hopping in Thailand, but we finally got the chance to sit down and chat in person

There were 5 people at the table. For my purpose, it might as well been just Kevin and I. We immediately begin to talk about the potential for Trekdek and how it could become the next billion dollar business (I never said we were realistic). Though it was bad table manners, I pretty much ended up ignoring everybody else. I only ended up saying a few words to them, “Could you pass the saluni?”

The next day I met with the founder of Supportland a Portland based startup that is replacing the punch card with a common swipe card that could be used at multiple businesses. It is pretty cool stuff. Why was I meeting with him? Well, Kevin is also working at Supportland and Michael was initially worried about a conflict of interest. However, that was about 5% of the conversation. The other 95% was talking about start-ups, Trekdek, Supportland, investment strategies, travel, and how work sucks. It was pretty awesome. Again, I didn’t notice anyone else hanging out at Albina Street Cafe.

The most trusted source on the Internet, Wikipedia, defines flow as
“completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.”

I achieved this state of flow twice within 48 hours of arriving in Portland. I rarely achieved that state of flow while teaching or working in a government office. The state of flow is the exact opposite of the mind-numbing work performed a la Office Space. Richard Florida, an economist who wrote The Rise of the Creative Class, believes the new economy is divided between the creative class (engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, small business owners, etc) and the non-creative class (service and factory workers, office admin people, etc). The creative class tends to be happier, live in nice places, and generally earn more money. The non-creative class are engaged in lower paying menial work. It is this transition to the creative economy that is exacerbating the huge income inequality that is currently prevailing in the US. Florida believes the solution is to turn these non-creative class jobs into creative ones.

I fully believe this to be true and many companies, at least in theory, are trying to empower their employees and letting them exercise their creative faculties to the benefit of the company and the employees. The employees create additional value for the company, and in general, the employees are happier for it and in theory, are better compensated. Even Subway has acknowledged this idea by calling their employees “Sandwich Artists.” Whether or not Subway employees are actually encouraged to employ their creative faculties is another story, but at least they are on the right track.

Sometimes I wonder if its possible to trace back all happiness to the state of flow. Maybe eating dinner with family encourages a state of flow. Maybe religion is a means of channeling spiritual flow. Maybe political rallies, concerts, and football games foster a collective flow. It is Avatar’s “aiwa” and Buddhism’s Nirvana. It is Einstein’s eureka and and Thoureau’s Walden. It is perhaps the Portland coffee shop.


From Koshari to Pad Thai to Chips and Salsa

A week before Mubarak resigned, Erica and I decided to go to Thailand to wait out the revolution and see if we wanted to go back to Cairo. Though feeling a little guilty about taking a vacation while Egyptians anxiously waited for a yet undecided political future, we figured we weren’t really contributing much to the cause while being there.

Though it was a tough decision, we decided to not return to Cairo. It actually had very little to do with the revolution in the end. It was the thought of returning to our jobs. The thought of getting crap about coffee drinking and dealing with general incompetence motivated me to buy my plane ticket to Vancouver Island (yes, in Canada) where I am currently eating chips and salsa.

Its a little weird being back. I’m not going through the complete reverse culture shock experience. The main things I’m noticing is the communication barrier is completely gone and I can cross the street with ease. Weird.

I wish Egypt the best of luck in its democratic transition. WIll be following up with some pictures from Thailand and theories about my near future.



Cairo Protest Pics

Some of my pictures from the protest.

Soldiers across from my apartment. I later saw them napping.

Ramses Hilton where some police/protestor clashes occured


Riot police at Ramses.

Not covered by insurance.

Erica's pic from Tahrir

Civil society and tear gas (observations from the Cairo protests)

While living in San Diego, I had many discussions with my roommate Casey about the role of government and the role of the community in various domains. Liberals tend to believe that government should play a large role in society while conservatives like to push these types of program to the lowest levels (local government, private charities, etc).

This past week I’ve witnessed what happens to a society when the government is perceived to be inadequate and actively working against the people it purports to work for. I’m pleased to say that the Egyptian people will continue to survive and thrive in the presence of a corrupt government, or even without a government at all.

This past Friday I went downtown with a group of friends to witness the protests. Friday was perhaps the most violent day of the protests. Police liberally used tear gas and rubber bullets on Egyptian citizens in a failed attempt to demoralize them. Here are some of the impressive acts I observed firsthand.

1. Egyptians giving damp cloths to each other

These damp cloths were used to relieve some of the symptoms of tear gas. There was no such feeling of “every man for himself.” Resources were liberally shared. Erica was even offered a cloth wetted with vinegar (apparently it does help).

2. Egyptian citizens preventing violent acts and vandalism

On Friday, I saw one protester attempting to set a Tourism police vestibule on fire. Immediately, several other protesters stopped and reprimanded him.

On my street in Heliopolis, various groups of people who have armed themselves with sticks and knives have taken it upon themselves to protect their neighborhoods from looters (some of whom were caught and identified as internal security members).

3. Egyptians risking their own safety for others

I saw several incidences in which Egyptian citizens would grab an activated tear gas canister and either throw it out or douse it in a bucket of water. Trust me, being exposed to tear gas is not fun.

These are all things I’ve witnessed first hand. There also reports of Egyptians in Tahrir Square actually picking up their own trash and lining up. Anyone who has lived in Egypt would find this remarkable.

Though I’ve definitely made critiques about Egyptian society, I’ve always admired their willingness to help each other. This quality has magnified itself 100 times over the past week. They have taken responsibility for each other in a time of crisis and instability and have demonstrated their ability to grow civil society. Go Egypt.


PS: Pictures to follow soon.