I've been meaning to write about a lot of stuff in separate posts, but they kept getting delayed, so I'll just briefly share everything in one post.
ThailandIn July I did a 3-week group journey through Thailand arranged by Explorado, but organized by ("outsourced to") the 2 guides of roots of Asia, who did an amazing job. The whole concept was exploring "the real Thailand" by means of Eco-tourism. We've been in Bangkok (twice), Chiang Mai city, a mountain village in the province of Chiang Mai, through the jungle, at a fisherman village in Phuket and at the tropical island of Koh Pha ngan. The latter was at the end of the trip and was timed perfectly to get some deserved rest in a more touristy (although not too busy) area, but the majority of the trip was spent far away from the typical touristy areas so we could be submerged in honest, authentic Thai culture and visit authentic locations, often we were at locations where seeing a group of white folks is not common. We've been at unique authentic temples, stayed with various locals and hill tribes, shared meals with them, took the same transport they did (at one point an entire village collected their bikes so we could borrow them to do a bike trip through rice fields and some of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen). We've had plenty of beautiful moments during those 3 weeks. Like visiting the home of one of the local Thai who built his entire house out of clay, by himself and some friends, or visiting the ancient temple where our guide got married, in a forest in the hills, it was the most beautiful temple of the entire trip, but no other tourists go there because it's not really known (and should probably be kept that way). Or going to a bar in Chiang Mai city (one evening on my own, the next I brought a fellow traveler) to have some good times with some locals. The Eco-conscious part of the travel means:
- green travel (minimize impact on the environment, "leave no trace"). Other than taking the plane over there and back we did a pretty good job, we've used public buses, night trains, biodegradable soap, etc
- local foods (no import, minimal packaging, wrap in banana leaves, etc)
- supporting Eco-conscious projects (like elephant nature park, which is an entire volunteer-based reserve to give mistreated elephants (which has been a big problem in Thailand) a better life, where we washed and fed elephants)
BerlinI've been in Berlin for the first Velocity conference in the EU, which was quite good. The best part was probably the "Velocity Birds of feather" (whatever that means) unconference the day before at betahaus, which was great for meeting some folks such as the soundcloud.com guys (which BTW, is the site we host our music on), although lots more interesting folks attended the conference itself (and it was packed). Berlin itself was nice too. Lots of history (Berlin wall, world war(s)), lots of impressive architecture (old and new), very cheap (albeit mediocre in quality) food, lots of Italian food, a bit cold though.
New York cityI'm still recovering from the awesome time I just had in NYC. I've been way more busy over there than I anticipated. I should have stayed 2 or 3 weeks instead of 1 :). I've met various locals (one of whom who'd love to become a city guide as 2nd job because she just loves showing people around, so that just turned out great!). I didn't go for the typical touristy things (I skipped things like the WTC memorial, empire state building, statue of liberty, to the extent you can skip them, as they are very visible from pretty much all over the place). Instead, I wanted to get a feel of the real city and the people inhabiting it. I've seen parts of Queens, central and North-West Brooklyn, lots of areas (but not enough) in Manhattan and even Staten Island, been to a rock concert, comedy, improv and cabaret shows, the movies, more bars than I can count and mostly ate out with company (just as real new yorkers do, of course, though for breakfast that feels a bit weird). I even went shopping (not mall-shopping, but groceries in the supermarket, the Williamsburg Foodtown - that's what it's called - clerk advised me to enjoy every last second in the US, phrased in a way as if any other place in the world sucks in comparison, which is ridiculous, but turns out I followed his advice anyway) because I stayed at an apartment in Williamsburg, I also had 2 roommates, with whom I ironically couldn't spend as much time as I wanted to as I was so busy meeting up with all those other people, I also visited the Etsy and Vimeo offices (both are awesome) and met up with Dave Reisner (who is one of our latest Arch Linux devs, and who lives in NJ, but don't tell anyone) and who forgot to show me around in the Google office ;-) And I realize some of the past sentences are a bit long and busy but that's one of the things I learned at New York I guess. For one week, I almost lived like a real New Yorker, and it was interesting (but exhausting).
Move to GhentEnough about the trips. Back to daily life. I moved to the city of Ghent. Riding by bike to work every day along the scenic Coupure is fun. I am quite proud to say nearly all of my stuff in this apartment is second hand and I've been lucky to receive some free stuff as well (thanks Bram!). Not (only) because I'm cheap money conscious but I like to give things a second life instead of buying something new, lowering the impact on the environment. Even if it doesn't look too well, as long as it's functional. And this is exactly one of those values I mentioned above which is often not understood in our Western society but I was pleased to find out this philosophy is the standard in large parts of Thai culture.
Death metalWe've done 3 gigs (which had great reception, luckily) and we've got planned a few already for 2012, one of which will be at the From Rock Till Core festival in Merelbeke. We also did a semi-professional photo-shoot, and I made a website (you can tell I'm not a designer).
That wraps up 2011 for me. Good times.. Happy new year everybody!