Nepal is Worse Off Than You Think

Yesterday morning, I checked the news to see that Nepal had been hit by a disastrous earthquake that shook the entire country, both literally and metaphorically. The death toll is at 2,500 and rising; international relief efforts are already underway.

As it turns out, yesterday was also the six-month anniversary of my return home from my trip to Nepal last year— and I feel more connected to the country yesterday than at anytime since I got back. Reading through the articles detailing the devastation in Nepal, I recognize many of the place names and landmarks. And I find myself all too able to visualize what the earthquake may have done to the country’s infrastructure.

Even when I was there, Nepal was an impoverished country with poor infrastructure and a dysfunctional government that was not even close to capable of tackling the enormous problems it faced. Electricity is spotty, even in the major cities, where multi-hour outages multiple times a day are the norm. Cholera epidemics are still a regular threat, and the water in the city mains barely qualifies as drinkable. (To Westerners, it doesn’t.) Pollution and dust in the air in Kathmandu is so bad that most people wear masks if they’re going to spend any amount of time near busy roads or commercial districts. Many people who spend more than a few days in the city without such a mask will find themselves dealing with lung and throat problems.

Once you get outside of the main cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara, the roads are often barely navigable, if at all– even the main “highway” between the country’s two biggest cities is a narrow two-lane road that isn’t always paved. Get off the main highways, and you’re lucky if the roads are navigable at all– landslides are a constant problem, and most of the roads need to be cleared or even have portions rebuilt every year after the monsoon season. When we took a six-hour car trip from the end of the Annapurna Circuit to Pokhara, we burst two tires just thanks to the conditions of the road, and I get the sense our experience was not unusual at all. How the buses and trucks that regularly traverse these roads don’t just rip themselves apart after a month is still something of a mystery to me.

Which is why I worry that the initial death toll and damage from the earthquake is only the beginning. Nepal’s population is spread out; many or even most people live in small towns or hamlets deep in the countryside, in remote valleys or perched on high mountainsides, and the roads and trails connecting them to their neighbors may be completely wiped out. Getting emergency food supplies or medical aid to these remote places may be a nigh-on impossible task– it was hard
enough even before the quake, when many such trails were only passable by motorbikes or donkeys– and the high altitude makes it difficult to operate helicopters in mountainous regions.

I suppose I say all this because, no matter what you read about this quake, the effects are almost certainly worse and further-ranging than you imagine, and the damage will be much longer-lasting and harder to fix than it seems.

I suppose if there will be a bright side to this situation, it’s that some of Nepal’s long-standing infrastructure problems may get fixed, or at least improved upon… but that depends on the country and the aid workers having the money and resources to do things right, rather than just band-aid over the problems enough to get in emergency relief and then leave.

The world’s spotlight is on Nepal, and I hope the people of Nepal– and everyone else who is helping there right now– are able to solve not just the short-term problems of food and medical relief, but maybe make some progress on issues like running water, electricity, and health care, so that the day-to-day lives of the people of Nepal are improved, and so that the country will be better able to cope the next time disaster strikes.

With that said, please consider donating to one of the organizations working in Nepal. It is a beautiful, wonderful country with amazing people and an outstandingly rich cultural heritage, but it’s also one of the least developed countries in the world, with very little infrastructure, and nowhere near enough economic or political resources to deal with a disaster of this magnitude without outside help.

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Back From Vacation… There’s a Long To-Do List

On Saturday, I returned to Seattle after six weeks in Asia. Doing any sort of trip recap would be difficult, simply because so much happened– I kept a journal during the trip, which I wrote in daily, and the raw document contains 44,137 words. I also took over 4,000 pictures. I’m sorting and processing those, now that I have access to my editing software again, but if you’d like to see some of the photos that I was able to upload as I went, here are some links to Facebook image galleries:

Trekking in Nepal
Hong Kong
24 Hours in Seoul

So much happened that it’s hard to do it any sort of justice in a short recap. But one of the reasons I travel is to try and broaden my perspective, to remind myself that the corner of the world I see and interact with every day is not the entire world. Because if you spend years fully submerged in your own little corner– not just physically but emotionally, mentally, spiritually– sometimes that little corner does start to feel like all there is.

Having spent four years in Seattle without any serious travel, I felt like I was suffering from that a bit, and I think that going to Asia, visiting the “developing world” for the first time, seeing cultures and parts of the world and ways of living with which I was almost totally unfamiliar, gave me a lot to think about it, not just in the short term but over the coming months and years.

So I will probably do a blog post or two on specific topics in the coming months. I also plan to take that 44,000 word travel journal and spend this year’s NaNoWriMo trying to make it into a readable narrative, complete with commentary and throwing some travel tips and advice as well. I do feel like I came back from Asia with a lot to say; now I just have to collect my thoughts.

In the meantime, I also need to get some business wheels churning again, so I’ll post occasionally with news on that front. Now that I’m back, and now that I’ve rested my way back to a normal sleep schedule and mostly shaken off the intestinal issues I brought back from Nepal, it’s time to get to work and see if I can make my creative aspirations start really paying off.

As usual, sometimes the hardest journeys don’t start until after you get home.

Off For Some Trekking

Nepal - Google Maps - Google Chrome_2014-09-15_10-05-01Not the Star Trek variety, that is, but the real life version.

I’m leaving Seattle today, and in two days I’ll arrive in Kathmandu, in the country of Nepal. From there I’ll be spending five weeks in Nepal, exploring and hiking. Most of my time will be spent walking the Annapurna Circuit, although there may be time for a side trek or two as well.

This trip is going to fulfill several firsts for me:

-My first time spending more than two weeks overseas

-My first time on the continent of Asia

-My first time in a non-Western country at all, actually

I’m both excited and nervous– mostly excited, though. Needless to say, I’ll be bringing my camera, and taking lots of photos of Nepal and the Himalayas. I’ll also be trying to keep a travel journal, and I’ll probably be posting here when time and interesting events permit.

When I leave Nepal in a few weeks, I’ll be swinging through Hong Kong and Seoul on my way back to Seattle, just long enough to stop in briefly, pay a visit to my Dad, who will be in Hong Kong on business, and snap a few pics before heading home.

Time for an adventure. I’ll be back in a few weeks, America.

Photos, Novels, and Trips, Oh My

clarionwestIt’s been a busy August, and it’s likely to get even busier… more on that in a moment. But first, thanks to everyone who sponsored me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. It’s been a fun Clarion season, with lots of get-togethers and writing evenings… and congrats to my friend Folly Blaine for finishing the full six-week workshop!

For the write-a-thon, my goal was to write the second draft of my current work in progress, Noah’s Dragon. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite finish that– I got about three-quarters of the way through. As I approached the end, I realized that the amount of work the end needed was going to be larger than what I had time for, and so instead of doing a full second draft, I worked on doing a read-through, and planning what needs to change in the third draft.

In the meantime, in addition to working on the third draft, I’m planning to write a synopsis and hopefully get things in shape so I can send out a few agent queries before I travel to Nepal for six weeks in the fall, starting in mid-September. Which will be its own bundle of planning work, even though I’m very much looking forward to it.

Earlier this year, I got an invitation from a friend travelling in Asia to hike the Annapurna Circuit, a three-week walk through the valleys and mountains of Nepal. And since I’ve never been to Asia, and this would be a dream backpacking trek in almost every sense of the word, I decided to seize the opportunity. Now my plane tickets are bought, my destination date is less than six weeks away, and there’s an ever-increasing list of things I want to accomplish in those six weeks before I leave.

One of the things I’ve actually managed to check off my list is rework my photography website, Journeys in Color, to include a comprehensive list of portrait packages, event photography, and retouching services for sale. If you live in the Seattle area, please take a look! I’m hoping to particularly cater to the geek and cosplay communities, since that’s what inspired my original passion in portrait photography.

I’ve also set up a shop where you can buy photo prints (including standard prints, bookmarks, cards and stamps) of selected pictures. You can also buy photos as digital backgrounds, for computers or mobile devices, which have been pre-cropped to 16×9 horizontal and vertical resolutions. If you enjoy seeing the pictures I post, and you’d like to support my photography, please consider taking a look at the store. If there are any pictures which you’d like to buy but that aren’t available in the store, send me a message and I’ll see what I can do!

So I’m attempting to be a bit more “commercial” with my photography. If you have any feedback on the site itself, or the shop, drop me a note via the contact link in the previous paragraph. Also, note that I won’t sell pictures of people without a release, so I won’t use any pictures that I take of cosplayers at cons for commercial purposes unless I have a written agreement with them to do so. I still plan to do hall cosplay, and I still plan to make digital copies of those pictures available for free to people who are in them– though I might offer people the ability to purchase physical prints if there turns out to be any demand for that.

Besides the big Nepal trip coming up, I’ve also gone a few smaller excursions, and had an awesome time. On Tuesday I got to go hiking with some good friends at Sunrise, on Mt. Rainier, up to the Mount Fremont Lookout. It was a fun day– the Sun was sweltering, but the breeze at 6500 feet generally kept us cool. It was also the 34th entry in my Journeys Around Seattle photo series, and you can read the entry and see the pictures at my photoblog here.

The previous week, I went backpacking at Garibaldi Provincial Park with my girlfriend, Lisa, for a few days. We camped on the edge of Lake Garibaldi, which was a beautiful shade of turquoise thanks to all the glacial runoff in the water. The Flickr set of those photos is here, but I’ll also be making some of those landscapes available as prints and pre-cropped backgrounds in my shop. (Did I mention I have a shop over at Journeys in Color?)

Anyway, that’s my life right now. If it seems focused on the photography side of things, that’s kind of because it is, but it’s also because I’ve got a lot of really cool travelling going on right now, and those sort of go hand in hand. I’m also reaching the point where I need to focus on getting the ol’ revenue stream going again, and photography is the first (but not the last) of those endeavours. My writing is still happening, as mentioned above, it’s just that writing tends to take much longer to pay dividends (or even to have interesting news updates).

Lots of cool stories, updates and pictures coming down the pipeline. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.