Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Different country, different lifestyle

One of the things that always strikes me when spending some extended period in another country is how quickly one’s lifestyle changes and adapts to the local environment. Interestingly this includes many areas of life such as sleep patterns, nutrition, communication, etc. which are normally seen as being very ingrained and hard to change.

Anyway, below is a list of areas where I consider my Vienna and Kathmandu lives to be (radically) different.

Sleep: Back home I generally average between 4.5 and 6 hours of sleep per night during the week. Here in Nepal I normally manage to get 6 to 7 hours of sleep which really does make quite a difference in terms of how quickly I manage to get out of bed in the morning.

Food: While I could write a whole weekly column just on the topic of food I’m going to keep it short by saying that my diet here is radically different. Instead of starting into my day with a huge cup of black tea, bread with whatever the fridge offers and yoghurt my Nepali breakfast consists of bottled water and some crackers, a chocolate bar or (if we’ve been to the awesome local German bakery down the street the day before) some croissants or something. Lunch at the office is always daal bhaat (Nepali national meal which consists of rice with various vegetables with quite a bit of curry and chilies) which is served at 11:30AM. In Vienna on the other hand I tend to go out for lunch at 12:30PM or 1PM. Sometimes I buy a snack at the supermarket but most often I eat at university or one of the many eateries close to home or work. In the evenings I almost always eat at home whereas here we always go out to eat something.

Caffeine: I don’t think my caffeine intake has ever been this low in the past 6 years or so. While I’m not much of a coffee drinker - I normally might have 3 or 4 cups a week (and twice that during crunch-periods) - I do drink quite a lot of black tea, ice tea and Coca Cola back home. Around here I only drink two small cups of Chya (tea with milk and some sort of spices) a day and the occasional glass of Coca Cola. I guess it’s really the increased amount of sleep that allows me to stay productive without my regular caffeine fix.

Mobile phone: While I’m not reachable on my mobile phone 24/7 (I turn it off when I sleep) it certainly is a key communication tool for me to stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues. I also use it extensively to check my e-mails when I’m out and about and to manage my schedule, to-do lists and notes. However since my Austrian phone doesn’t work here I bought a cheap €20 Nokia phone (which comes with a very useful flashlight!) and got a local SIM last week. Now except for my daily use of that flashlight and the alarm clock I’ve maybe made and received less than half a dozen short phone calls. Which is interesting because that’s also the way I used my first mobile phone (in late 2001) before these things became mandatory and ubiquitous.

iPod touch: There’s hardly a waking hour in Austria when I don’t have my iPod touch on me or at least within an arm’s length of wherever I’m sitting. I use it to listen to podcasts from/to work or when riding the metro, check  my e-mails and tweets all throughout the day, surf the Web while sitting in lectures or caf├ęs, etc. So I definitely use it *a lot*. In Nepal on the other hand I’ve yet to use the iPod even once. The walk to work is too short to merit listening to a podcast, when I’m out in the evenings or on weekends I prefer to take in the environment around me rather than listen to music and at home I now actually spend more time reading books and articles instead of keeping constant tabs on what’s going on in the depths of the Internet.

Books: As mentioned both above and in a previously blog entry I tend to be quite bad when it comes to reading books while I’m Vienna. However here I’ve already read two books in the 3 weeks since I arrived.

Language: Even when I’m in Austria I tend to spend a lot of time reading, writing and listening to things in English which naturally also leads to quite  a bit of my thinking seemingly being in English. However since I got here I’ve barely written a dozen German e-mails and, what’s more important, have maybe spent a total of 30min talking in German with various people. This is certainly quite an interesting experience which I haven’t really had since my exchange year in Peru in 2000-2001.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Barry Eisler – Killing Rain

One of the things I’m generally pretty bad at when I’m at home in Vienna is reading books. While I have half a dozen books sitting on the shelf right next to my bed there never seem to be enough in the hours in the day to actually open and read them. I didn’t even manage to read more than 20 pages in my Lonely Planet Nepal guide before getting on the plane even though the book was actually lying next to my cushion for several weeks.

Anyway, when I’m travelling or just generally abroad I’m normally quite good when it comes to reading and over the last few days I had quite a good time with Barry Eisler’s Killing Rain. In general it’s hardly more than your average assassin thriller with relatively predictable characters, twists and turns. However the lively and detailed descriptions of the various Asian capitals the story takes place in made it a really enjoyable read. Plus it’s a classic page-turner and I really couldn't put it down. (In both of these regards it also reminded me of William Gibson’s Patter Recognition which I had read some months ago.)

So if you’re looking for an enjoyable and not-too-deep distraction I can certainly recommend this book.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

1st school visit

Today I visited two schools in the greater Kathmandu area where OLE Nepal has distributed a total of ~180 XO-1 laptops. You can expect a full report over the coming days and for now I’m leaving you with this photo.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Each to their own (wave)

Earlier today I stumbled across an interesting article over on In it the author, Ben Parr, asks: Google Wave: Is the World Ready?

(In case you haven’t heard about Google Wave [wikipedia entry]: It’s a soon to be launched service that aims to combine e-mail, instant messaging, social networking and wiki-like features into a single coherent package. If I remember correctly one of the tag lines at its introduction was something along the lines of: what e-mail would look like if it were invented today)

The article makes some good points about Google Wave breaking many of the currently established online communication patters which might not necessarily fly with many users. Subsequently the author draws the conclusion that Google Wave will either succeed spectacularly or completely bomb.

In my mind this is somewhat of an odd statement to make given that on the Internet many forms of communication are used in parallel. I for example use e-mail, blogging, twitter, forums, wikis, IRC, (to a lesser degree these days) instant messaging and (very seldomly) Facebook. All of these communication tools have their specific up- and downsides, yet at the end of the day I use all of them.

Now even if Google Wave turns out to be the best thing since sliced bread it won’t completely replace all of these other tools. Initially it would probably find a niche (e.g. communicating with my more geeky friends and university colleagues) and then slowly start taking over some of the other communication tasks. However each technology / platform has its set of advantages which will result in it being used.

I therefore view Google Wave as an additional offer that, based on what I’ve seen so far, could be quite attractive for many purposes. But it won’t take over as my single way of communication and I believe the majority of the other 1.5 billion using the Internet today will feel the same way. Hence Google Wave will probably neither be a total failure nor an astounding success but rather something in between (like most other technologies).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Impressions from Durbar Square, Patan

I’ve just finished uploading a small best of selection from the photos I took while hanging out at Durbar Square in Patan [Google Maps] on Saturday. Hope you like them!

My Nepal 2009 album on Flickr.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Signing contracts in Nepal

Today I finally managed to drag myself to a store an get a SIM card and mobile phone since only being reachable when I was online got a bit tiresome in terms of arranging meetings with people. (On a side note: I’m really quite unhappy that my regular Austrian phone is SIM locked and that the fine folks over at T-Mobile Austria don’t even have a roaming partner here in Nepal!)

Anyway, since yesterday’s attempt to get connected failed as I needed my passport and a photo (both of which I didn’t have on me) I went back there today and thought that things should go smoothly. However as it turns out one copy of my password, what the staff had told me yesterday, wasn’t enough so one of the guys working in the shop accompanied me to a copy-shop where we got another copy. Returning to the store it turns out that I’d also need a copy of my visa which they had of course forgotten to mention earlier…

However the real fun began once I started to fill out the forms in order to get my SIM card. Not being all that enthusiastic when it comes to forms to begin with I obviously ended up not filling in some of the information. So when the shop clerk subsequently inquired about my father’s name I was slightly surprised to say the least. It was only after a short chuckle on my part which was quickly ended by a very serious look by the clerk that I realized that she was serious. And to top it off the form also asked for my grandfather’s name, luckily I managed to resist the temptation to ask whether they wanted the one from my father’s side or mother’s side.

The next challenge presented itself when they asked me where I lived. Since there basically are no addresses here in Nepal you normally describe you location relative to the nearest chowk (a street corner in most cases). However I quickly realized that trying to describe where I lived was a pretty pointless endeavor. I do find my way walking around the neighborhood and manage to tell cab drivers where to go. But explaining to someone who speaks very broken English where exactly you live without actually walking or driving along the road is beyond my capabilities. So after some deliberation by the shop clerks the field, which understandably covers a third of a page, remained empty.

Next up I was asked to sign the contract at three different spots, funnily enough one signature was required to confirm the information of where I lived. Thinking I was done it took me awhile to realize that the inkpads suddenly laying on the table were waiting for me. So I confirmed the contract with fingerprints from my left and right thumb (US immigration anyone?). And just when I thought everything was over I was again asked to sign something, this time the photo which was attached to the application form.

So 30min after I walked into the store I left it being 1000 Rupees poorer, having thumbs with blue ink that probably won’t come off for a few days but proudly owning a SIM card.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why this Friday evening is different than others

I’m in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Okay, that one was too easy.)

I don’t usually crash invitation-only garden parties  where all drinks and food (and amazing food that is) are free (with neither having an invitation nor an excuse for leaving early that is).

I don’t usually remember the awesome BBQ that we had in Washington, D.C. in early June 2008.

I don’t usually meet a bunch of people where 80% of them work for one NGO or another.

I don’t usually meet people who will work in Afghanistan for extended periods of time.

I don’t usually have a girl order a drink for me (unless it’s well past the official - and even unofficial - closing time and she knows the bar staff really well).

I don’t usually happen to bump into the main country correspondent for a major international news publication while hanging out at a random bar.

I don’t usually get stopped by police and military police on my cab ride home from going out.

I don’t usually come home after an evening out in town and think it’s interesting enough to merit a blog post;-)

First photos going up on Flickr…

I just uploaded a handful of photos that I took this morning to my new Nepal 2009 album on Flickr. So far the album is limited to some initial impressions from home and work but I hope to go out and get some touristy shots (especially at the gorgeous Durbar Square in Patan) over the weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thoughts on Educational Content Management

I posted some thoughts on Educational Content Management, which is one of the areas which I’m working on right now, over on the OLE Nepal blog:

One of the tasks that I’ll be working on during my brief stint here in Nepal is researching and (hopefully) implementing a way to organize all the different media objects produced by OLE Nepal as basis for their E-Paath learning activities. Currently we are talking about several thousand images, sounds, texts and videos but it’s not hard to imagine their repository containing hundred thousand or more artefacts in the not-too-distant future. Apart from the specific OLE Nepal use-case I also believe that even larger content repositories have to be a core consideration for both the larger OLPC and SugarLabs efforts.

You can find the complete blog entry here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“Ethical living”

I’m currently reading A Life Stripped Bare: My Year Trying to Live Ethically by The Guardian journalist Leo Hickman. The title basically says what it’s all about and while I’m only on page 60 or so I’m certainly finding it an interesting read.

Similarly an upcoming documentary will focus on the efforts of Colin Beavan aka No Impact Man to live in New York City with his wife and daughter without having any net impact on the environment. Having seen the trailer I’ll definitely try and see the film (if it even hits the Austrian cinemas that is).

Both efforts are quite obviously insane on oh-so-many levels but I do think they provide some good food-for-thought and inspiration to start thinking about your own way of life and impact on the environment.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Random observations after 6 days in Nepal

Kathmandu could easily be called NGOville as the number of NGOs in this city is simply insane. Especially the part of town where I live (near Sanepa Chowk) hosts what must be at least two dozen NGOs, ranging from UN organizations to World Vision and GTZ.

Traffic here is just insanely chaotic. And watching it is an experience in itself.

There are basically no street names here in Kathmandu. Directions are given based on the closest chowk which, if I understood it correctly, is normally a major street crossing or market area.

Nepalis eat fast, seriously fast. We are served lunch at work and people are normally done with the second plate right when I’m about half-way through my first one.

Building construction here basically seems to be done without the use of machinery. There are two major construction sites on my way to work and the only machine I’ve seen on both sites is a concrete mixer.

If what the guy I met on the weekend told me was true then I actually spoke to the person who made F1 the standard help-key on PCs.

The streets and newspapers are full of advertisements for (pre-)schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions. One of them even boasts to be connected with the University of Applied Sciences in Salzburg, Austria.

Apparently Sunday is the start of the week around here. Which also means that children have to go to school on Sundays. And in many schools their only time off is Saturday afternoon.

It’s slightly odd to live in a house where a guard is on-site 24/7.

This past weekend must have been one of the most relaxing ones I’ve had in quite awhile.

I originally wanted to mention something about my new disconnected life-style here in Nepal (with only 8 hours of Internet access while I’m at work and not owning a mobile phone) but seeing how I just got connected to the Internet here at home I’ll have to revisit my thoughts on this topics.

An important point of the recently announced Nepali budget for the next year are infrastructure projects such as the road network. Apparently 3 districts are still not connected to the national road network.

Hopefully I’ll have time for a more structured post next week…

Monday, July 6, 2009

Going to Nepal…

YES, I’m back on the road! :-)

I’m typing these lines as I’m making use of a kiosk with free WiFi and charging here at Doha International Airport while waiting for my flight to Kathmandu.

I’ll be in Nepal until the end of September, hanging out with my friends of OLE Nepal and soon to be joined by the one and only Daniel Drake.

However before I get too carried away getting my online fix (and potentially missing my plane like at PDX last year;-) I’ll rather head to my gate and see that I keep this blog updated over the coming weeks and months.