Awasu » 2014 » March
Sunday 30th March 2014 8:54 AM [General]

Yup, it's official. Just in case there was any, you know, doubt πŸ™„

If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll know that I like to travel. The first time I hit the road was in '93 and while I didn't really know where I wanted to go, I just had a hankering to go somewhere. I eventually decided on Montreal in Canada - the whole French/English thing sounded intriguing, it's got a great music scene, the food's good, what's not to like? I got a ticket from Oz to Vancouver, with the plan of travelling across Canada by train until I got to Montreal.

It was winter in North America at the time, and my guide book told me that temperatures could drop to -20°C or lower, and me, being fairly young and stupid, thought "oh, that won't be a problem, I'll just pack an extra sweater and she'll be right" πŸ™„

Once in Vancouver, a Canadian guy who had worked in central Canada during the winter explained to me the realities of extremely cold weather, so I decided to head south and travel through America instead. It was a great trip, but I never made it to Montreal and it's been a source of amusement to me that, for all the travel I've done in the intervening 20 years, I still haven't been there.

As part of my quest to visit places before they radically change :), I'm going to Cuba next month. I was supposed to play at a blues festival in Thailand next week, but that got cancelled, and I messed up the flight times for my transit through Toronto, so I ended up having to change my ticket and if I had to do that, I figured I might as well spend a few days in Montreal. Woo hoo! :clap:

I checked what the weather was going to be like, and it's spring, so it'll be max'ing out at about 5°C, maybe -10°C at night, and of course, I said to myself "oh, that won't be a problem, I'll just pack an extra sweater and she'll be right" :wall:

And after rebooking my flights and hotels, I found out that the east coast of Canada is being mauled by the worst storm in a decade, sinking ships and closing airports. It's far enough east to apparently not be affecting Montreal, but you never know - I'm this close to making it to City of Saints, so I'm sure the gods will be conspiring to make sure I don't actually get there :drevil:

Anyway, -10°C isn't that bad, and I've got myself a nice warm sweater :), so hopefully it'll all be good. We'll see...

Update: it's gratifying to see that you can still go up against the gods, and win πŸ™‚ First, Air Canada told me that flights that day from Toronto to Montreal were maybe being cancelled, due to weather in Montreal. Then, they didn't want to honor my ticket, although in all fairness, I used an Australian credit card, in Thailand, to purchase a flight in Canada, so it's understandable they were a bit iffy abut it. However, they made me stand in line for 2 hours to repurchase the same ticket, using the same credit card πŸ™ There were only 3 people in the queue but - and I swear on little green onions, I'm not making this up - they were taking 45-60 minutes to process each person :bigshock: Then the flight almost didn't take off because of mechanical problems.

Note to self: never fly Air Canada again. I've been on flights where there were goats on board that were better organized than these guys πŸ™„

Finally made it, though. I had to laugh when I got to Montreal airport - my backpack came out on the conveyor belt with ice on it, and walking out onto the street, I realized how long it had been since I had seen snow. And -10°C is not that bad; cold has never really bothered me, although I'm very glad I brought my new sweater... πŸ™‚

Wednesday 26th March 2014 12:26 AM [General]

I was in Burma the other month and...

Well, the first problem with talking about Burma is what do you call it? It was renamed as the Union of Myanmar in '89, but some people refuse to use that name since it would confer some legitimacy to the military government. On the other hand, some people are unhappy using the name Burma, since that's what the colonial British called it. You can't win, so I'll call it Burma, since I'm old school [1] πŸ™„

Anyhow, I was in Burma the other month, and very excited to finally make it. I had planned to go in 2008, but Cyclone Nargis hit, which put a kibosh on that trip. It affected only a small part of the country, but IIRC, the government was so intent on controlling the message that was getting out, and stopping journalists from running around and reporting on stuff, that they made it very difficult to get in.

Nowadays, it's a completely different story. The government has opened things up for tourism, and while there are still parts of the country foreigners are not allowed to go, it's much easier to get in and travel around, and tourist numbers have been nearly doubling annually for the past few years.

Of course, there's a lot of debate about whether or not people should visit the country, since a lot of your tourist dollars end up in the hands of the government, but many feel (as I do), that small-scale tourism can be very beneficial to people on the street, not only financially but also in terms of bringing in outside knowledge and experiences and influences.

Mrauk-U and Sittwe

Mrauk-U is the old capital of the Arakanese kingdom, with many temples scattered around the town. It's definitely not on the main tourist trail and the area was recently closed off to foreigners due to fighting. Everyone was telling me that road travel was forbidden and you had to fly, but I'd heard word of some people that had made it through by bus, so I decided to give it a shot. Like many things in Burma, there are rules upon rules, but no-one really cares about enforcing them, and I managed to make it all the way by bus. It was a brutal 36-hour trip :bigshock:, including several checkpoints where I slid down in my seat and pulled my cap down over my eyes. Being Asian surely helped a bit there πŸ™‚

I was surprised at how developed Sittwe was, with paved roads, small supermarkets and internet cafes. If you squinted just right, it could just be another small town in country Thailand. No buffalo wandering the main road here. There is some tension between the various ethnic groups, and Buddhists and Muslims, and unlike most of the other places I visited, it was clearly visible, with parts of the town blocked off as Muslim-only areas, armed guards blocking entry.

But while checking out temples is fine, I always much prefer just walking around and getting out of town. People were lovely all over Burma, and noticeably honest. There weren't the blatant rip-offs and scams that infest Thailand, and I was happy ordering meals without checking the price first, and letting people pick their change out of my wallet.

And the kids were delightful... πŸ™‚

I also love visiting markets. They're noisy and crowded and chaotic and Sittwe's Central Market was all of that, and then some. Sittwe is on the western side of Burma, near India and Bangladesh, and there were an amazing number of different ethnic groups there. I haven't seen a market like this since the souks in the Middle East! Check out those fish!

Yangon (Rangoon)

Yangon was, until recently, the capital of Burma, when the government decided to pick everything up and move it all to Naypyidaw, although it's still the largest and busiest city in Burma.

The extraordinary rate at which things are changing is most apparent here. Most people have mobile phones, and smartphones at that; I saw only a handful of Nokia's during the entire trip. The roads are clogged with modern cars (motorbikes are banned [2] :shock:), and Western-style hotels and cafes and malls are going up all over the place.

I stayed in the downtown area, which is completely overrun with street markets. Cool! πŸ™‚


Mandalay

The name Mandalay conjures up so many images but in reality, it's a dusty, polluted, crowded city πŸ™

However, there was a huge market near where I was staying and I was there in the late afternoon, when the nuns were making their rounds.

Outside the city, on the other hand, is beautiful. U-Bein bridge is the longest teak bridge in the world and while the guidebook painted a picture of monks daintly crossing it at the break of dawn, the reality was that it was mostly joggers and other people doing aerobics and tai-chi, so the bridge was constantly bouncing up and down. Still very pretty, though... πŸ™‚

Bagan

Bagan is one of the tourist hotspots, with hundreds of temples dotted around the countryside. Many of them are still in active use and easily accessible on the small electric bikes that foreigners are allowed to ride. It's just as impressive as Angkor Wat, but there are hardly any people there!




 

 

As luck would have it, on my last night I saw a post from Ethan Zuckerman about a talk he had recently given in Yangon. Bugger, if I'd've known, I would've gone down. I've been following his work for quite a few years, and his blog is one of those that I recommend to new users of Awasu after they install it.

It was a great post, but I did find one thing that he wrote a bit odd:

... but I am most interested in the question of how the internet may change what it means to be a citizen. There have been great hopes for the internet and democracy, the idea that governments can listen to people’s wants and needs more directly, that citizens might vote directly on legislation or help draft new laws, that we might have robust debates in a digital pubic sphere where it’s possible for everyone to express their opinions.

I would've thought the more interesting question would be how the internet allows individuals to effect change. One can only assume that during the Arab Spring and other similar events, people weren't using the internet to discuss ideas or vote on new legislation πŸ™„ It's about people connecting with each other, spreading news and information and new ideas, without middlemen, with their agendas and spin, and this is one of the big reasons why I favor small-scale tourism in places like this. The government is slowly opening access to the internet and allowing foreigners in, but I suspect they'll find that once they let the genie out of the bottle, it will be difficult to keep it on a leash πŸ™‚


[1] Yes, I also can't get my head around Ho Chi Min City and still call it Saigon.
[2] The rumor is that a general's son was killed by a motorbike.

Tuesday 18th March 2014 6:50 PM [Awasu News]

It looks like, with the introduction of Internet Explorer 11, Microsoft have changed a few things in the way programs access the internet and in the process, broken Awasu πŸ™

Symptoms of this problem are:

  • Awasu gets stuck updating channels. You can tell this when the updating channels count stays the same (see screenshot), yet Awasu doesn't seem to be doing anything. Eventually, Awasu won't update any channels at all and you have to restart it.
  • Awasu won't exit properly. The main window will close, but the process continues to run (you can see this in Task Manager), and if you try to run Awasu again, nothing happens[1].

I've produced a special version of Awasu that contains a fix for this problem and while it's a fairly straight-forward change[2], I'd like to send it out as a limited release for testing.

If you're seeing this problem and would like to give the new version a spin, send me an email and let me know:

  • What version of Windows you are running.
  • What version of Internet Explorer you are running.
  • What version of Awasu you are running.

Again, you should only be seeing this if you are on IE11, but let me know if you're interested in helping out, even if you're not using IE11 - I want to make sure nothing gets broken, even for older releases.

And to the developers at Microsoft, that we all love most dearly, you're sending me important status information that I need to know about after you've told me that the connection is closed? Really? Seriously?! Guys?!?!

Sigh... :wall:


[1] This happens because the new copy of Awasu sees that there's an old copy running, so it just switches over to that one, but since it's in the process of ending, nothing seems to happen.
[2] Famous last words. I've been doing this long enough to know that there's no such thing as a simple change 😐