malaysia-bali travel diary

Day 1. My server broke the Apache connection into net, possibly due to a Windows XP hot-fix that the online Windows Update wanted to install. Despite last minute attempts, I had to leave unhappy, knowing that the server is offline and e.g. the FTP services (or this blog) do not work. The last two weeks had been a steady increase in efforts to get everything done in time, and now the last twenty minutes sort of spoiled everything. Bus trip to a Helsinki airport hotel was bleak.

Day 2. Early breakfast in the hotel, then into the Frankfurt plane. Tired, really tired. Clearly, I need this holiday. All winter has been spent multitasking, high-intensity, with research, teaching, DiGRA matters and various administrative staff thrown on top of everything. The Finnair flight was ok, even if I was not so into the omelette. Next, the almost-inhumanely long haul into Kuala Lumpur. At least the menu in this 777 looks promising.

Wow. That was a long one. After almost 17 hours of travel, early morning in Malaysia looks dark but hospitable. The KL Airport was very new, clean and apparently well organised. The familiar feelings of jetlag are also hitting in. Everything takes twice the normal time and effort, head feels dizzy. Next to the KL city centre with this (also new, and quite empty) Express train.

Day 3. The boundary between days became quite blurred; arriving to hotel early, around 8 am local time, we got right to bed and slept c. two hours. It was finally very hard to get up and go out to explore city. Jetlags are darned things. The day itself ended up being an interesting, even if a bit superficial overview of the central parts of Kuala Lumpur. The city projected a rather pleasant, even if not particularly personal image of a modern Asian metropolis: clean and imposing, friendly and dominated by Western brand names. The older Chinatown was different, of course, but even those pirate market splendours were of a rather moderate and friendly version, if compared to the bazaars of Cairo, for example.

Very late night now. Arranging the connection flights and accommodation for the continuation of this trip took some energy, but at least we managed to have a quick dinner with Ilari, Laura’s brother who is currently as an exchange student in a Penang university.

Day 4. Spent this day going around Kuala Lumpur, fixing the trip & hotel details, looking around. The tropical butterfly park was real spectacle for an old lepidopterologist. This was also the Valentines day; we had a bubbly bottle of our own (and some sushi) in the hotel room.

Day 5. Early morning the check-out and then via train system into the Air Asia morning flight into Bali. Not exactly on the schedule, but it worked fine. After some deliberation, we took a taxi into the Sanur village, which is popular among tourists. Beautiful, fresh flowers everywhere. This is south of the Equator, and it is even hotter than in Malaysia. Almost killed ourselves by simply walking around the block. The beach was not exactly up to the expectations, so we decided quickly to move on. (Long stretch of very low water growing seaweeds, hiding many spiky sea-urchins.) The dinner on the sand, under the stars, close to the billowing sea was a beautiful experience, though.

Day 6. Night was a bit restless, and wake-up a bit too early. But we wanted to have a ride into a holiday resort in Nusa Lembongan. The island is very beautiful, and our bungalow fine, even if the whole deal was a perhaps a bit pricy. But we did not know a better way to get here, so we took the package deal and were given a lunch and some “holiday action”, after a motor yacht took us over the Badung Straight from Bali. The “Coconuts Beach Resort” has a very beautiful view, but you cannot go straight into the water as we were promised in our previous hotel. The high temperature, combined with the hundreds of steps of stairs really consumes energy. Surrounded by coconut palms, white beaches and coral reefs, we spent the first day mostly by lying on the bed, snoozing and recovering. Its a bit too hot now. The view was great in the dinner: there was a far-away storm with never-ending lightning somewhere beyond the sacred Mount Agung in Bali.

Day 7. After spending the night by trying religiously avoid mosquitoes (hundreds of people die in Dengu fever in Indonesia every year), we were not as well-relaxed in the morning as we would, but the day is looking again fine.

Later. Morning was spent snorkelling at the sea, and even if seaweed and dust in water were blocking some of the visibility, we spotted dozens of coral fish species. The anemone fish were particularly big and noticeable. Back, it appeared that our air conditioning was broken down for good. We relocated in the hut closest to the pool, which seemed a good idea thinking about my knees and how it felt climbing all those stairs in over 30 degrees temperatures. The adventure of the evening consisted of walking around most of the Lembongan island. We saw some of the village life, with schools, shrines, houses, temples, and some rather poor but happy-looking people. The main source of income here comes from seaweed farming (weed is sold to cosmetics industry for its properties), but farming and fishing are also done. The tourism industry is probably most at the hands of Balinese, who have both boats, hotels, car transportations and island resorts all linked together. The walk took almost two hours, and even if it was close to sunset, it was a bit too exhausting. Sore feet and dehydration. Went to sleep early.

Day 8. Relocating again today. Our feet were too sore to do anything, so we just went back to the beach we had visited earlier to take some colourful (and poisonous?)spider photos. Then relaxing, checking out the resort and getting into a sailing boat (a smaller one this time) that took us back to Bali.

Day 9. Looking for something nice for our last night in Bali, we ended up into the Nusa Dua Spa and Hotel, which supposedly carries five stars as a proof of luxury. The Raja Restauran was actually the best we had visited on this holiday, but it was also the most expensive. After dinner we went to see some traditional Balinese dances (Legong) in the hotel. Nice, but a hotel ballroom is hardly the most authentic environment. After a restless night the breakfast was good, and we were a bit surprised to find it included in our room (we’d got an economy price from an Internet service to start with). This day we tried to get snorkelling, but there was a real infestation of medusas in the sea. To get to the reef (c. two hundred meters away) would have demanded paying to the boat-keepers at the shore, and we decided not to. Looking at the wild life of a local squirrel instead.

Day 10. This day, we did some shopping in the Nusa Dua village area (bought couple of sarongs and sash). Otherwise there was not so much to do; even all the temples seem to be closed. Taxi to the airport, and a (very well-cooled) flight with Air Asia back to Kuala Lumpur. Late dinner was hard to find.

Day 11. Early start from Corus Hotel. This time our carrier was Beryaya Air. There was only a couple of other passengers in the whole Subang airport. This is clearly off-season; the temperature is too high, and there is constant humidity that will fix your shirt into skin. On the other hand you can get good deals, like we did next in the Bangkor Island Beach Resort. This was previously known as the “Pan Pacific” one, and proved much nicer than the alternatives we saw. First day was spent in the sea, swimming & snorkelling, and looking around the area. Breakfast & dinners are included in our package deal.

Day 12. Second day in Pulau Pangkor. A boat trip, with more snorkelling (getting clearly too relaxed to write these notes.. 😉

Day 13. Attempt to walk into the jungle path (too hot). Had a motorbike instead, and drove around the island. Handling the gears of that moped was a bit tricky. Small villages, one of them bit more town-like. There are not so many historical or cultural landmarks in Pangkor. Not much to divert you from laying around at the sun!

Day 14. In the morning, we finally got into the jungle, having got a tip of a good path from a local. These dense, hot and humid forests a certainly an experience. Even if we did not see any wild animals, we saw some tracks, on the path and near a waterhole. More resting.

Day 15. Enough of this laziness. Checked-out from our resort hotel and took a ferry into Lumut, which is a small harbour town. Then with an express bus back into Kuala Lumpur. Last night was spent shopping in the Kinokuniya bookshop, then into bed.

Day 16. This was a very long day. The Malesian Airlines flight was delayed for more than two hours to start with – and no explanation was offered to the passengers. After more than 15 hours in the plane, we were juggled around in London Heathrow and ended missing our connection flight home. We were given some bus and hotel vouchers and sent into freezing London night, without luggage, without money, in our summer clothing, to find our way into a place to spend our night in. Supposedly there is good explanation behind all this mess, but as we heard that also Laura’s parents were similarly delayed as they were flying back with the Malesian, I cannot but advise to avoid the company by all cost. At least I won’t fly it ever again, if I can avoid it. Radisson Edwardian hotel is quite comfortable, though.

Day 17. We should have been home long time ago… Up in a London airport hotel around 4 or 5 am, some sausage & eggs style breakfast, and then back into Heathrow to fight our Quixotic battle against the airport chaos. We had the whole show: delays, missed connections, mysterious double bookings in the system, no bookings in the system, fix of the previous fix in the system that got wrong, missing luggage, incompatible luggage system codes (resulting into complete incapability to track the aforementioned piece of luggage), and so on and so forth. Makes your jet-lagged brain to have that special spin. I just wish this holiday to be over, at this point.

Later, in the Helsinki plane, somewhere over Holland, I wonder how to summarise this trip. I have been reading “Guns, Germs, and Steel” (by Jared Diamond) that I bought from Kuala Lumpur during this return flight, and that seems to capture one dimension: how the seemingly far-away and exotic cultures and places come together as parts of some kind of global vision. South-East Asia is not so far away from Finland, the cultures of the East continue to dazzle with their richness, multidimensionality (and shabby, smelly street-level realities), but our human destinies are shared and intertwined. Circulating the globe, you start to feel more responsible for it, as an integrated whole. 10 000 years of human history seem suddenly a short flash, the Recent Era, as geologists say.

Evening. Home at last. 1400 unread messages in the inbox, unpaid bills, mountain of newspapers beneath the door, the usual chores. Travel is a strange thing.

pics update

Last days have been busy but fun while starting new course, grading the old ones, meetings with all our projects, and building the new GameLab facilities. Pretty tired every night, when I finally fall into the bed.

At last I got the order fixed in my Japan-Korea travel photo folder: [see this link]. — The JAlbum that I use for building the album UI did not behave as it used, after I updated my systems into the XP Service Pack 2, but then again, it seems to be perfectly normal after that update.

One of the biggest sources of enjoyment last days, btw, has been the Walkie Talkie album by Air, that I have been listening while driving. I is really the soundtrack of Tokyo (cf. Lost in Translation). But it is also so much more. Less is more, really. Made me remember the days when I enjoyed Philip Glass.

Japan-Korea travel diary

I have always admired great travel writers who capture the personal yet quintessential essentials of a country, culture or certain people. It seems that the current day travel author is more likely to jot in some hurried notes into a Nokia Communicator, while trying to get his digital camera to work in time for capturing whatever glimpse of reality outside meeting rooms, airport lobbies and conference venues he has momentary access into.

And apologies for everyone, particularly for the photographs. (See here) 🙂 It just is not so easy to get any pictures of the bigger picture you are in, so to speak.

JAPAN-KOREA TRAVEL DIARY

DAY 1. – It is Sunday 10:30 local time, I am sitting on a bus from Tokyo airport to the main station and I don’t have an idea what it is now according to my internal clock. Probably way too much; I feel like shit. Took couple of pictures of Espen and myself. Yeah. Guess I look like it, too.

Left-sided traffic. Wonder where did that come from? This is a surprisingly green country. Everybody has been only talking about the hyper-urban aspects of Japan, but there is the countryside, too. Lots of pretty gardens.

Later. Forgot my digital camera in the bus, was so totally wasted. Got it back half an hour later with the help of Espen and the super-friendly & organised Limousine Bus staff. Then to the hotel. More super-friendly service, and also total strangers offering their help on the road. Maybe this whole country is like this? Amazing. Big metropolises are usually inhospitable places, but not so in Tokyo.

DAY 2. – Monday. Suppose it is the holiday season in Japan, but we’ll go out to the shopping district in any case. Culinary issues are yet another matter. You can find almost anything here, even if the omnipresent “noodle and things” bars dominate at the street-level. Of yesterday’s two meals the first was in a conveyer-belt sushi place (nice, but not any cheaper or high-quality than the sushi I’ve been served with in Finland), the other one might have been “French” cuisine, but we were not sure. The way to treat the ingredients was so thoroughly Japanese that there was little left of the potential French originals.

After a long day of walking about in central Tokyo (Ginza mostly, I suppose), we spent the evening with Javier Salazar (doing sociology PhD on massively multiplayers in the Tohaku Gakuin University) who first introduced us to the Okonomi-yaki (sort of “salad pancake”; really delicious), and then to the Sega Joypolis entertainment centre. Fine place, particularly the level of 3D in the “Dark Chapel” ride was impressive. Some items were not so, though (please stay away from the “van Helsing” thing). Late night sushi afterwards for Espen, I had an ice-cream. And the Santori time, of course. 🙂

DAY 3. – Still in Tokyo. Somewhat a slow start after the late night yesterday. Missed breakfast, then walk to the imperial garden paths (Japanese black-crows kept on laughing at us). Beautiful spot of nature at the centre of metropolis.

Espen’s friend took us to a lunch at the Tokyo University, after which we had a meeting with some of the games researchers there. Good to see that multidisciplinary study of games is taking off also here. With all that extremely vibrant Asian games culture, it would be a shame if all game academics would be from West.

Afternoon and evening were spend in the Akihabara region, which has an endless suply of games, media and IT stores. Very impressive experience. Also very expensive. My next credit card bill will be frightening…

It is again already 1 am local time. Adaptation really takes days. Jet lag has been terrible.

DAY 4. – The breakfast restaurant at the Grand Palace Hotel is fine, with their Japanese-waterfall-garden-behind-the-glasswall style, but there was some confusion whether our breakfasts were included with room price, or not. Even while I made sure about that on the first night it seems not to be the common practise here.

On the airport limousine bus again. Getting here was troublesome. We should have taken a taxi direct into the TCAT bus terminal, but instead we aimed into a JR Express train from the central Tokyo station, and took a subway. After dragging heavy luggage up and down stairs and along long corridors, we just realized that trains go so rarely that we might be late from the check-in with the next one. Then, there was another series of adventures in and around the Tokyo station before we did find the bus into TCAT. That central station is a huge, messy place – one to be avoided by any means.

Phew. I am dripping sweat all over my seat.

DAY 5. – Ok. Korea today. COEX Intercontinental Hotel seems more modern than the one we stayed in Japan. Traffic jam from the airport was colossal yesterday. But the weather is sunny and everything looks fine. Time for the conference.

Evening now. This is sort of nice, casual event, more national by character rather than international conference. Just by making the information delivery, scheduling etc. a bit more systematic and organised this will be very good place indeed for discussions about the various, global gaming cultures. Went next for a Buddhist temple walk, and almost lost ourselves into the giant COEX mall after today’s session. Nice dinner in Level 34. Hope there will be more time tomorrow to actually see some of Seoul.

DAY 6. – Ok, this was another busy day. First to G– electronics market (not really time there, just scratched the surface of one block full of various e-toys), then into a line-up of lectures and meetings. Got an audience of maybe 20 listeners. Rather exhaustive day. Now at the hotel. They have the Matrix Reloaded running, with Korean subtitles.

DAY 7. – This is a long trip. Luckily, I got my tickets for home travel yesterday (finally!) so it looks like that I will be hitting the base station in c. three days. Today some temple walking, then lectures, then perhaps a shopping raid…

At the lobby bar, 9 pm. Ok, this should be my final night in Seoul. Just got rid of my stack of won in the COEX shopping mall – to the last penny. More Studio Chibli DVD movies for my collection, and some Kiki’s Delivery Service toys. Off with Aphra and the Irish delegation now.

DAY 8. – At a min-bus. Last night actually proved to be rather fun. We were in a strange micro brewery/German music bar place at the COEX complex, had some beer, laughed and relaxed a bit. Irish are definitely one of the best people to spend your evening with. It seems also that both our game design business and game research have some similar challenges and interest areas. So, lets hope we can do also something together in the future.

Well, to sum up, there were aspects of this trip that were very stimulating, well-organised and focused. On the other hand, the conference itself is not yet at the level of an international event, and there was confusion due to lack of communication, poor advance planning and lacking documentation. The generosity and friendliness of our Korean hosts however helped to get over the question marks that we were having during these days. And probably in the future, with more experience and more international collaboration, Koreans can indeed be an important force in games research as well. They already dominate the online games market, with their 50 % global market share. The language barrier nevertheless remain rather high, and much needs to be done to understand the (game)cultural differences better. That is one big area for an international games research initiative.

Lines of blazing yellow sunflowers by the sides of this road. Oh… I suppose it will be freezing already in Finland… The van-Goghian moment of the trip quickly vanishes into the dust of airport highway.

At the flight (a KLM jumbo headed for Amsterdam). Apart from the requirement to produce a travel report, there is actually very little incentive to write this kind of notes. The world is already mapped and analysed, and you can easily find various kinds of travel guides that contain great amount of useful information about any part of the world. There is also little chance that I would be able to some up with some useful realization about Japanese or Korean game cultures, for example, during only with a few days of hurried visit. I could see that there was a huge domestic PS2 market in Japan, for example, and that PC games did not play any major part (obviously most Japanese do not have a home PC, e.g. their emails are based on mobile communication). But for example the Korean Lineage community is virtual and you never see it at the streets. It is only present indirectly: the teen-agers’ discussions, Lineage II advertisements in the metro, the game music concert that was advertise all around in the street posts in the cultural district of Seoul. Obviously, games and game playing is very much at the mainstream of Korean culture and society. Yet, as we discussed with Korean games researchers, it also became clear that there are tensions inside Korea towards games, in their public perception and acceptance, even if the Korean government is perhaps the most supportive towards games in the world. (They are aiming at 100 000 games related jobs by 2008, if I remember John’s words correctly – and that would be one major industry then, worldwide.)

So – flying over China currently. There is the Gobi desert below. Wonder if that makes me a China visitor as well?

Probably fell asleep for a while during Shrek 2 was running in the aeroplane TV. Would rather see that in more favourable conditions. Now it is The Terminal again; guess there are reasons for that being carriers’ favourite at the moment… I am cramped in a window seat, with the huge bulk of emergency exit slide occupying most of my legroom. Six hours still left. And then another six from Amsterdam to Finland.

Reise, Reise Seemann Reise
Und die Wellen weinen leise
Im ihrem Herzen steckt ein Speer
Bluten sich am Ufer leer
(-rammstein // reise, reise-)

Still on this damned plane. Eight hours done, three still to go. Suppose I shouldn’t complain, they have done good speed and we’re almost an hour ahead of the schedule. But this kind of cramped confinement could well be classified as an inhuman form of punishment, I think, if it were introduced today into our judiciary system. — The only plus: from this window seat, I can follow the slow but fascinating, almost poetic movements of cloud masses above the Euro-Asian continent. Have been doing that for some hours now…

Finally. We’ll soon land to the Amsterdam airport (Schiphol, some pronounce it “shit-hole”, I don’t know why), and will touch the European ground again. Europa. It is actually easier to perceive the cultural, historical and geographical identity of our continent after spending some time in Asia. Despite all the considerable differences between European cultures, people, languages and countries, it actually rather easy to feel at home here. The cultural heritage creates an important shared background that resonates in the perception and production of meaning in various levels. It is relatively easy to perceive the “aura” of significance of cultural forms that are rooted in familiar framework. Crossing major cultural distances presents us with different kinds of challenges.

In the Helsinki plane. Pheww. The last catch (I hope!) — I almost lost this connection. I had checked the time and destination, and was at the gate c. 1 hour before. The signs were referring to Finnair, rather than KLM, but then again, many of these flights are jointly operated and have multiple codes. About 15 minutes before take-off, at the entrance queue, I made a question about the KLM-Finnair bonus scheme, and the I was told that there was actually another Helsinki flight, leaving exactly at the same time, but from a completely different terminal! That was probably one of the fastest runs through Schiphol. Five minutes before the take-off, I still just about managed to get into the plane.

Travelling is just too stressful for me. But road goes on. Perhaps three hours still before I reach Aki and Satu, who kindly promised that I can crash into their new Helsinki apartment for this night. Oh, well — there is a tired hyperactive child behind me, and he wants to spend the flight kicking and hitting my seat from behind. Thump, thump…

11 pm. Finland. It is wet, cold, and the taxi driver has serious flu and is constantly sneezing and coughing. Great to be back. Tomorrow morning, my day will start with a meeting at 9 am, so I have gone a full circle, starting from a meeting, going around half the world, and returning to a meeting. I hope I will get my laundry done home before the Turku travel next weekend…

rhythm of travel

These days, my life seems to be dancing after the beat of travel. After Germany, it was intense weeks of catching up, then making everything ready for this next trip. Now it is last night (my flight for Tokyo and Seoul via Copenhagen leaves early tomorrow) and there are still couple of projects, courses and some DiGRA stuff to take care for. It is all a bit like waves. And also sort of crazy. I wonder how Japan and Korea will feel like?

Korea Games Conference: http://kgc.gameinfinity.or.kr/en/

off the net

Last week I have busily been rushing towards finishing all the accumulated jobs from my desk. Moderate success only: there seems to be an endless supply somewhere, arriving as a steady stream through email. Anyways, off I go now, happily to experience my first scuba-diving trip ever to Red Sea. So, if this blog never continues, I rest in Egypt.