Why I Love This Travel and Work

December 4th, 2008 by rdm
John Stanturf

John Stanturf, exhausted in Korea

While in Bangkok I got an email from John Stanturf (USFS Scientist in Athens, GA).  It was a pleasant email just asking about my trip and saying that we can catch up later.  In the message John said that he was in Denmark eating at a Thai restaurant and thought of me.  I just chuckled and knew that John was getting much better Thai food in Denmark than I was in Bangkok!

International travel has a mystique and I suppose that it adventuresome and exotic when you are doing it on your own time but traveling for work, especially for USFS work, the experience is mostly grueling.  You spend lots of time in cramped airplanes along with long waits in airport terminals to arrive alone and sleep deprived in a foreign land in search of a reputable taxi to take you to the correct hotel.  The rooms are usually fine but not extraordinary and most of the meals you eat are from hotels and catered events – not the best quality of food.  Trust me.

Preparing for presentations, to me, require much more effort than for other venues because you need to strike the balance of presenting material on a high level for Ph.Ds but also keeping in mind that to most people in the audience, English is a second or even a third language.  Since I only speak English, conversations with people from other countries can be difficult and I sometimes resort to having to type things out on a computer so that people can see the words I am trying to say past my lazy southern tongue.  Of course, some people are experts at English and I often find myself wondering if I am speaking with good grammar. ;-)

There are “junkets” in the USFS but my experience with international travel is that is is time consuming, difficult, and underappreciated.

So why do it?  After a trip or two why do I go back for more?

Easy.  It’s the people.

One morning in Bangkok I stumbled down to breakfast and as I was eating my rice and cabbage I looked across the room and recognized a man I had met in Hanoi.  He is a forest restoration scientist from Mongolia and he was attending FORTROP conference.  It was great to see him again and we immediately struck up a conversation about what has been going on over the last few months along with his current work.  Of course I had to bring GFIS into the conversation and do my part to keep promoting the people who are paying for my trip.

Over the past two trips I have meet and started friendships with people from several countries.  The desire to cooperate and share information is amazing.  I see it from scientists, technicians, and everyone involved in making these events happen.  And more than just goodwill, I see tangible results of how these cooperations benefit developing nations and the world at large.  Real data sharing.  Real advancing of science.

When I get unmotivated (and dismotivated) at my job because of bureaucracy and general unpleasantness of how people don’t get along at work, I just think about these trips and how it is possible to find enthusiastic and intelligent people willing to work together to solve complex issues.  Then I remember, yeah, its worth it.

Plus, when all the work is done, when you physically and mentally exhausted – you can go ride an elephant! ;-)

Randy and the Elephant

Randy and the Elephant

Slight Delay

November 24th, 2008 by rdm

I have been delayed in posting to the blog but I hope to get back to regular updates soon.

Yesterday I took the water taxi to Koh Larn Island.  It is a short and inexpensive trip and although it was touristy I am glad that I went.  There is a geocache at the very top of the island and it now in my smilie list!  :-)

Keep watching for updates!

Buddha?
Buddha?

What Could Happen?!

November 21st, 2008 by rdm
Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished

Thursday afternoon when the main programs of the conference had ended Juha and I decided to go in search of some trinkets to take home as souvenirs.  Even though the main place for such things, the weekend market, was not open we were directed to JJ Market (an indoor shopping mall) and found some nice things to take home.  Mission accomplished!

With a little time to kill before the closing ceremony and dinner we decided to take a taxi into the center of town so that I could look for a new place to stay.  (I’ll be happy to leave the Maruay Garden behind me.)

So, traffic is always heavy in Bangkok, nothing like Hanoi but still congested with lots of little scooters darting in and out of the road and in between cars.  This became a problem for us when we were stopped and leaving the taxi and just as I opened the card door next to the curb (literately it was right next to the curb) a scooter slammed into the open door.

Stop Pig Sacrifices!!

Stop Pig Sacrifices!!

Luckily no one was hurt and the incident did not escalate into violence but I was a little concern, to say the least, that things might take a turn for the worse.  I don’t think that I did anything wrong opening the car door, in stopped traffic next to a curb but let’s face facts – I am a stranger in a strange land and I was in no position to argue my case in downtown Bangkok.

One thing I decided was to get the police involved because I did not want to try to settle things on the street and when I think things are OK, find out that the locals would make more demands.  So after Juha and I, the taxi driver, the scooter drive, the police, 2 westerners and two other Thais came to an agreement (we needed this many people to work through the language problems) I paid 2,500 Bhat for damages to the scooter.  (This is about $70USD.

In hindsight, this was a small price to pay to get out of something that could have gotten very sticky!  And here is a tip for anyone traveling in a foreign country – always have cash on had to settle any differences!

People in Asia Love Sons of Ralph!

November 21st, 2008 by rdm
Lek

Lek

Apparently, everywhere I turn in this city I find more and more fans of the Sons of Ralph!  It seems that their music is very popular with people from Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, South and even North Korea!

Check out their Web site www.sonsofralph.com for more and upcoming photos.

Server Problems

November 20th, 2008 by rdm

Not much time to post to this blog.  There are server problems back in the US and that is taking up most of my time when I am not doing things at FORTROP.  I’m not sure what needs to happen – maybe it will require a complete rebuild.  Whatever is gonna happen seems like it will be difficult.

On thing outside of work is that Juha and I got to see something other than the hotel and Kasetsart University.  Yesterday afternoon we took a quick trip to the national museum and over to Khao San Road and I finally got some good Thai food!

More postings as soon as I’m able.

Outside the Hotel Waiting on the Bus to Kasetsart University

Outside the Hotel Waiting on the Bus to Kasetsart University

Roubi

November 19th, 2008 by rdm
Screen Shot

Screen Shot

Seems that Roubi misses me.  The server keeps acting up and apache keeps crashes.  There is not just one thing that seems to causing the problem – one day it’s Tomcat the next day it is the /mnt disk space that has run out of room.

Since it is midnight in BKK and I have now had almost 5 hours of sleep this afternoon/evening I was a little more focused as I poked around on the machine and I think (hope) that I have made it a little more stable.  At least stable enough for the server to keep running until I return to AVL and I can do more sysadmin work.

So, having a wireless connection in my room along with a VPN is a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that when the server has problems I can do everything I normally do in my office while I am 10,000 miles away.  The curse is that even though I am 10,000 miles away, I am doing everything I normally do while I am in my office.  ;-)

Now that things seem more stable I will try to sleep some more before going back to the conventionhall in a few hours.  nighty-night!

Exhaustion

November 18th, 2008 by rdm
Demonstration of harvesting sap from the Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis)

Demonstration of harvesting sap from the Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis)

Today was a good day.  I was able to talk with some people about GFIS and along way I met many interesting people including a Nobel prize winner.  Actually, it was a scientist from the Philippines who was part of the group of people that shared the Nobel prize with Al Gore in 2007.   Always fascinating who you might meet at these conferences.

Now it is 5pm on Tuesday and the travel, workshop, and exhibit staffing has caught up with me and I am exhausted.  Completely exhausted.  This afternoon Juha and I left the conference a little before it officially ended for the day so that we could beat the traffic back to the hotel and get some rest.  There is a dinner at the University this evening and it is within walking distance of the Maruay, however I think I will just stay at the hotel and try to get some sleep.  I know full well what is is like to over-extend myself on these trips and I am backing off from trying to do everything in order to keep myself healthy.

There are several things to blog about for the day but any more writing will have to wait until after I have “spent some quality time with my pillow.”

Exhibit Hall Blogging

November 18th, 2008 by rdm
rdm and Juha

rdm and Juha

FORTROP II officially opened this morning with great ceremony.  At least I assume that it was a great ceremony, Juha and I were staffing the IUFRO/GFIS booth during the opening address.  That’s fine with us, we had to figure out how to put together the high-tech displays and that took some time.  ;-)

During the breaks we had lots of visitors to our table but no one has come back to us from the workshop.  I still wonder if we made a difference yesterday….

This morning I spent a fair amount of time with folks from the DPRK.  They were facinated with Google Earth and I helped them download a copy to their comptuer so that they can take it back to North Korea with them.  All the DPRK folks have buttons of Kim Jong-il that they wear on their suits.  I tried to trade them an Obama button for one of the Dear Leader but so far they have not agreed.  This afternoon I plan to have some mekju with them and perhaps I will have better luck.

IUFRO Exhibit at FORTROP II and the End of the Day

November 18th, 2008 by rdm
Computer Workshop

Computer Workshop

Following the workshop Ho Sang, Juha, and I walked over to the building that will host FORTROP II.  After a long day there is nothing quite like walking in the Bangkok heat in a suit and tie and not quite knowing where you are going!  ;-)

After a few false starts we finally found the location for FORTROP and checked in for the meeting.  Wow. We have the BEST spot for and exhibit.  Everyone who walks trough the doors of this building will have to pass Juha and I (two really big guys) before entering the symposium.  We will NOT go unnoticed!

Registering for Internet access was a pain.  Access to the Intenet is very well controlled.  Only registered people for the event can have names and passwords to access the wi-fi and they even keep track of MAC addresses and passport numbers of each account.

By the time we made it to the “ice breaker” we were exhausted.  We stayed for a couple of orange sodas and then left in search of a taxi. I know that we are far from the city center but at least in this area traffic is not early as bad as Hanoi.  There are fewer taxi’ available but there is much less congestion in this part of the city and you don’t feel like you are taking your life in your hands by crossing the street!

Bt the time we got back to the hotel Juha and I had enough energy to walk the neighborhood before going back to the hotel for dinner, a beer, and listening to Karaoke before calling it a night.

More updates from the exhibit hall!

GFIS Workshop Overview

November 18th, 2008 by rdm
GFIS Workshop

GFIS Workshop

Monday was a very long day for Juha, Ho Sang, and me but one that seemed worthwhile for the GFIS program.  Our workshop was well attended and people seemed interested and, sometimes, even enthused about the project.  That was heartening.

I was a little surprised but most of the people who attended were professors or decision makers and very few Webmasters/technicians.  I was hoping that we would have a more technical people in attendance but instead so we spent a fair amount of time in the morning emphasizing and explaining the GFIS concept than I had imagined.  This was not a problem and it was probably a very useful exercise for the program but I suppose expecting more “keyboard people” like Juha and myself.

I suppose you never really know your audience and their level of knowledge and skill until you are in the classroom setting so you have to flexible and adjust to their needs.

The afternoon session in the computer lab seemed to be very practical and rewarding for me.  I believe we may even have a few new potential information provider partners.  By the end of the session we even had forestry professors writing XML code!  My energy level was really low but I was buoyed by watching people smile and laugh as they wrote their RSS feeds and submitted information to GFIS.  It was great!  :-)

I suppose it is really hard to gauge success for something like this….  The only true measure is if people and organizations follow through on their initial enthusiasm and you can’t tell that for days or even weeks.  So, “we have planted the seeds” and we will keep working with people at FORTROP and keep in touch with people after we lave Bangkok.  Maybe, just maybe, we have made the trip worthwhile.