Travails of a Flight Attendant

Posted by Chika On 12:09 PM 0 comments

Visit North America

Nothing to do with the Travails of Travel Writing, but I found the following post by James Wysong more than just funny.

Recently, an irate reader let me know he was sick of me moaning about my job as a flight attendant. His exact words were, "If you don't like it, the last I heard, the drink-tosser's job was voluntary."

I think he got the wrong opinion of my attitude toward the job, but he got me thinking about signs to look out for in the future. So, I drew up an informal poll and asked more than a hundred flight attendants when they would know it was time to take off their wings. Here are some of the best and most interesting answers.

You know it's time to quit being a flight attendant when:

The copilot and the captain are both younger than you.

You can remember when they cooked eggs to order in first class.

Passengers ask you questions at the airport and you aren't even in uniform.

You see a passenger for the first time and know what he wants to drink even before he asks. (I am correct about 90 percent of the time. Some people just look like a ginger ale.)

You wake up in a strange city, don't remember where you are, and don't really care.

Your "secret knock" at home is the same as the code for the cockpit door.

You have a huge collection of miniature alcohol bottles at home. (At last count, I had 512 miniatures from more than 50 countries.)

You take alcohol off the airplane, and you aren't a drinker.

You use the seat backs as support to walk down the aisles. Bless her heart, I flew with an 82-year-old flight attendant who needed the bar cart to prop her up in the aisle.

A younger crew member asks you what it was like in the "good old days."

Several hotel staffs know you by name.

You're the last one to sit down to your family dinner, and the first one to clear the plates.

You know the safety demonstration announcements by heart, and you prove it by reciting them in the shower.

You have airplane disaster dreams, and you like them.

You carry a non-uniform jacket with you just in case the day is full of cancellations and you will need to hide from angry passengers in the terminal.

A younger crew member asks you if you still go out for drinks with the crew "at your age."

You start to smell like a Boeing aircraft. Eau de Boeing they call it.

You are serving dinner at home -- it's either chicken or beef, and not very good, and you think about charging the family for it.

When an angry passenger explains why he will never fly on your airline again, you agree with him and begin to wonder why anyone flies on your airline.

You lie to perfect strangers about which airline you work for.

You are on a tropical-island layover with beautiful weather and a fun crew, and you think the layover should be shorter so you can get home.

On the way to work, you fantasize about phoning in a bomb threat just so your flight will be canceled.

You see oversize luggage and you instinctively start to growl.

Top management's bonuses increase, your paycheck and pension decrease, and you get curious about the going rate for hit men.

You carry a flask everywhere you go.

You start saying "Buh-bye" in your sleep.

Tripso Link

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Blogger Corruption?

Posted by Chika On 12:16 PM 0 comments

World Globe

Gridskipper is a daily blog that covers the urban world of trendy restaurants, flashy hotels, hot nightclubs, and plenty of underground happenings with a snarky appeal. It's a fun site and worth putting in your RSS Reader.

Today, Gridskipper approaches investigative journalism with a story about some 20 bloggers who have been invited on a press trip to Amsterdam, with the only requirement that each blogger place a pair of advertisements on their blog. Tit-for-tat sort of thing.

I don't find this sort of arrangement particularly odious, and god knows I've had plenty of freebies during my many years as a freelance travel writer, though Gridskipper makes some compelling arguments against the travel writer/blogger-freebie situation.

Leaving off that many of the anti-junket bloggers simply object in principle to advertising on blogs, and/or that they equate blogs and citizen journalism as the second coming of Christ, their collective naivete about travel journalism is laughable. The process by which old-media journalists visit destinations and "report" on them for travel editorial is almost without exception supported -- in whole or in part -- by the destinations visited or the vendors described.

Economically it would never work any other way. Newspapers cannot spend thousands of dollars to send reporters and photographers to one city for one story, or even a series of stories, without getting price breaks or comps. Magazines usually have a little more leeway financially, but that's only because they bring in more dollars per story for the ads they already sold around that upcoming story. (Newspapers use the same methodology by selling ads around themed special travel sections.)

Even with the intermediary of the publishing company taking money from a vendor and passing it on to the journalist for expenses, the ad money is what makes the travel possible. Some media outlets insert notices identifying such practicies in the story, but it's all the same game whether they admit it or not.

Of course, there are plenty of freelancers who pay their own way and sell their stories on a mercenary basis, but they are both exceptional and typically doing so for personal reasons besides a pathological fear of compromise. The key is whether you trust the author and/or media outlet to give you an honest opinion. And frankly, it's usually painfully obvious who's been aesthetically bought and who has not.

If anything, the Amsterdam blogger project is going overboard with the transparency thing. Given that the bloggers aren't asked to actually blog about Amsterdam as part of the deal, what the Dutch are doing is trading the trip for publicity, i.e. the adspace. If some of the bloggers have a good time and blog about it, that's great too of course, and who really believes that at least one blogger won't report on a positive experience? And who really believes that at least one blogger won't report a negative experience? Publicity is publicity, and if the Dutch chose bloggers they thought were most likely to say complimentary and relevant things, well duh.

Of course, none of this will convince anyone who is constitutionally allergic to blog advertising in the first place, nor will it allay the suspicions of anyone who views every financial transaction as a political act tainted with potential (or inevitable) corruption. To them, I can only say: You should already be taking travel journalism you read anywhere -- including here -- with anything from a grain to a truckload of salt. And if the citzen journalists of the blogosphere can't collectively tell shit from shinola by now, they aren't much use regardless.

Gridskipper Link

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Flickr and Creative Commons

Posted by Chika On 10:23 AM 0 comments

Singapore Ballerina by Carl Parkes

I just received a rather sweet request from a high school student in Utah, who would like to use one of my Flickr photos in her art project. Several times yearly I receive such requests from individuals and non-profits, and I always say Yes with great enthusiasm.

Hi Carl-

You have some fantastic photographs! I understand you have creative commons license that does not allow derivative works unless permission is granted by the author of the work.

I am 16 years old and am taking AP art in high school, I am also a ballet dancer. In addition, my father works in Irian Jaya Indonesia, so am deeply influenced by many of your photos.

There is one in particular that I would like to paint. The title of it on flickr, is "singapore ballerina." I am unsure if this is how I go about asking for permission to do this, so forgive my ignorance.

Thank you in advance for your reply.

Kristina P.


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Travel Industry Dream Jobs

Posted by Chika On 4:21 PM 0 comments

Yukata Disco by Carl Parkes

I've been a travel writer for almost 20 years and have traveled around the world, and written six guidebooks to Southeast with Moon Publications and National Geographic. I've also updated and written original reviews for several hundred hotels in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore for Reed Travel/Star Service, the largest travel-trade publication in the world. Also, staff journalist for two years at Pacific Asia Travel Association, back in the days when they had an American publication outlet. I've also written for scuba diving magazines and photography specialties.

I know the score.

And then USA Today runs a story on dream travel jobs, and I almost want to throw all the authors out the window for their lying ways. There is NOT a hint of truth in any of these profiles, but they continue to feed the public hunger for notion of travel employee as gifted bird.

I've done most of these jobs in one form or another, and have the real lowdown on these so-called professions.

Jen Leo gets sick and tired of my cynicism, so I don't bother making comments on her excellent blog, but somebody, somewhere needs to drill down some sense of realism in this travel profession. Rolf Potts is also skeptical of my jaded views, but then he did the Round-the-World thing last year and hasn't peeped a word about the reality of that event (disaster?).

Nobody should write for free. Nobody should write for slave wages. Nobody should promote websites that don't pay or pay shitty wages. Thirty years ago the going rate for travel writers was $1 per word.

What are you getting paid today? Blogs will never get you coverage and will not impress any real editor. Don't do it. Don't kill what remains of the travel writing industry.

Who is killing the travel writing industry? It ain't me. I'm just lighting a candle over the corpse.

Ask someone what he or she'd do if they won the lottery and chances are the T-word will come up. For many, travel is the dream realized, the ultimate reward for a job well done.

But there are workers out there who don't need to hit the jackpot to take off. Travel is their job, and it doesn't involve herding passengers onto airplanes or swabbing ship decks, either.

USA TODAY's Jayne Clark looks at five of the best jobs and profiles those who have them.

USA Today Link

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Nikko by Carl Parkes

Last week, the two good fellows who own the incredibly rich franchise known as WorldHum asked their buddy Tom Swick to pen a few notes about the week-long literary fest in Key West, and Tommy Boy came through in spades. Tom can write like your best buddy in your favorite neighborhood bar, who just returned from a wildly successful fishing trip and not only offers you some fresh trout but also his heartfelt advice and colorful stories.

Tom Swick is a great travel writer because he doesn't act or write like a travel writer. He writes like your friend. He attends the conference but seems half indifferent to most of the speakers with the notable exception of Pico Iyer, who dazzles everyone with his stories but mostly his philosophies about life and love and the art and craft of successful travel writing.

Video Night in Kathmandu has always been one of my favorite travel books, though I always wished Pico had made it a plural night. Just sounds better. But I digress.

Tom is such a casual and cool character that he takes the time to chat with street people and street performers, who honestly seem to be more interesting than the windbags going on inside the tent. And he takes notes, and then translates the notes into prose. It is so simple and so honest, so why don't more travel writers use this simple technique? Beats me.

Anyway, Tom filed five reports with WorldHum and all of them are worth reading. Another view comes from another reporter, who found the Key West event all puffed up and full of itself.

I'm a travel writer and have been know to get all full of myself at times, so I understand the dilemma. Talk, boast, pride, SATW awards, and all that other crap you can take with you to the next life. Yeah.

WorldHum Welcomes Tom Swick

Tom Swick Reports from Key West -- Day One

Tom Swick Reports from Key West -- Day Two

Tom Swick Reports from Key West -- Day Three

Tom Swick Reports from Key West -- Day Four

Tom Swick Reports from Key West -- Day Five

And then there's this cheerful but revealing follow up story about the Key West event:

Lost amid the aimless speech of renowned travel writers
By Chauncey Mabe
Books Editor
Posted January 15 2006

Sometimes the main purpose of literary events seems to lie in giving writers the opportunity to show how inept they can be when they let their mouths, as opposed to their fingers, do the talking.

Take last weekend's Key West Literary Seminar, which gathered top travel writers for three days of bloviation on the meaning of their profession in the not-so-brave new world of the 21st century.

Keynote speakers Pico Iyer and Tim Cahill offered opposing examples of the way writers can make fools of themselves in talking extemporaneously. Iyer, delivering the opening night's John Hersey Memorial Address, spoke with a rapid, breathtaking grace, tossing off thought-provoking ideas like a parade Santa with a bag of candy.

Which was wonderful. Really, wonderful. And yet Iyer's lecture grew wearisome in its unparsed intellectual weight. Iyer would have been more wonderful still had he perhaps blocked up a few ideas, jotted down an outline, spoken to some specific point.

Cahill, a writer known for his use of humor, also spoke without notes when he took the podium for the John Malcolm Brinnin Memorial Talk on Saturday evening. Judging from the ungainly pauses and vast distances between punch lines, Cahill had never spoken in public before. At least, not in English.

Unintentional amusement was offered by many writers, especially in the naked ego category. Barry Lopez, speaking in tones not heard since Moses descended the mount, said that once we've been to the places he's been, met the people he's met, had the spiritual experiences he's had, then we too can go home in the serene knowledge that everyday life is what really matters.

Kira Salak displayed an appalling ignorance of her own literary tradition, declaring the world is yet to be discovered by women, all the classic-era travel writers having been men. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, as the careers of Frances Trollope, Freya Stark and Beryl Markham attest.

That's not to say Key West was anything less than the usual thrilling literary experience. While the great minds on stage never arrived at consensus -- beyond the obvious "the inner journey is what matters" -- they provided much stimulation and entertainment.

Perhaps out of politeness, no one pointed out the obvious flaw in the "inner journey" idea of travel writing, which is that most writers aren't nearly as interesting as they think they are, and surely less interesting than the places they visit. Inner journey, indeed. Tell it to your mom.

To their credit, the writers grappled bravely with what novelist Kate Wheeler called "the costs of travel." Gretel Ehrlich said "almost every ecosystem in the world is in collapse," while Lawrence Millman said the bodies of Inuits are "toxic waste dumps" containing eight times the American average for mercury; all "concerned" travel writers should be radical environmentalists, he said. Others rued the "McDonalds-ization" of the world.

Indeed, the writers even hinted at what became obvious to any attentive listener, which is that travel writing is among the trivial genres. Apart from self-discovery and a cool lifestyle for the writer, what do these journeys and the resulting verbiage mean? More than one writer implied that only by crossing the frontier to journalism does travel writing gain heft. "There is a nobility about making the effort to be a witness" to a troubled world, Wheeler said. "All good writing is reporting," added Eddy Harris.

But the best part of the seminar, as always, lay not with enlightenment, but access. If you weren't satisfied with an author's remarks on stage, you could easily talk to them personally afterward. For example, I found Pico Iyer happily pinned in a corner next to the men's room, signing autographs and chatting. I asked about the morality of travel in an age of global warming, social unrest and terror.

"In the modern world travel does all kinds of damage, it is true," Iyer said. "But there is good, too, just in the fact of going to different places and meeting different people. The rest of the world loves America, but you might not know that if you don't travel.

"I take very seriously the idea of `global neighborhood.' It's good to get out and meet the neighbors."

Chauncey Mabe can be reached at or 954-356-4710.

Sun Sentinel Link

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New York Times on Cambodia

Posted by Chika On 3:07 PM 0 comments

Cambodia Portraits

Are you an aspiring travel writer, looking for inspiration and good instructions on the art and craft of the genre? Then run, run, run from anything ever published by the New York Times. Don't believe me? In one of the most arrogant, misguided, self-centered, and off balance travel articles of the year, the NYT wants you to see Cambodia as an ultra-rich tourist, just so you can avoid the realities and wonders of this marvelous country. The attitude is sheer stupidity, overlaid with smug satisfaction that you will be protected by your wealth and never subjected to the long and torturous history of the country, not to mention its perilous present.

Somebody should send this writer to Tuol Seng, to get the Raffles out of his system. Excuse me, I'm gonna puke.

In almost every part of the country, you can find a conceptually and architecturally ambitious hotel: In mountainous Ratanakiri, there's the Terres Rouges Lodge, a former provincial governor's lakeside residence that has, Time Asia said last July, "the best bar in the middle of nowhere." On the Sanker River in Battambang, Cambodia's second-largest city, there's La Villa, a 1930 house that in October opened as a six-room hotel filled with Art Deco antiques. And sometime this summer, you should be able to head south to Kep and stay at La Villa de Monsieur Thomas, a 1908 oceanfront mansion that's being transformed into a French restaurant ringed with bungalows.

Cambodia is not alone in its luxury revolution. Since the mid-1990's, the former French colonies of Southeast Asia have made enormous leaps in catering to tourists who prefer plunge pools to bucket showers. From the forests of Laos to the beaches of Vietnam to the ruins of Cambodia, you can find well-conceived, well-outfitted, well-run hotels that will sleep you in style for hundreds of dollars a night.

Less than a decade ago, there were no hotels with infinity pools, no restaurants serving fricassee of wild boar, no silk merchants who took Visa. (Also, no paved roads.) The foreigners who climbed the 328 steps of Mount Phousi were usually backpackers who sought guidance from Lonely Planet's "Southeast Asia on a Shoestring." Today, the traveler with a Lonely Planet in one hand is likely to have a Mandarina Duck carry-on in the other.

Outside, however, it was a different story: A guest assistant from Hôtel de la Paix carried my bag through the parking lot - past a new terminal designed to handle 1.5 million passengers a year when it opens this summer - to a Lexus S.U.V. As we drove into town, listening to Morcheeba on the car's iPod Mini, the driver and I discussed development on the airport road: I could remember when it had few hotels and restaurants; he could remember when it had none.

At la Paix, an artfully serene white palace designed by the landscape architect Bill Bensley, another assistant led me into the expansive arts lounge, where I sipped fresh orange juice and split my attention between the movie "Indochine," which was being projected on the wall, and the youthful staff members, who moved about with a surprising sureness of purpose.

Soon, an assistant took me to my room - dark woods, creamy fabrics, functioning Wi-Fi and another iPod - and cheerfully helped me plan my stay: a trip to Angkor Wat (with an "excellence guide," he wrote on his notepad) and, almost as important, a local SIM card for my cellphone ("first thing in the morning"). I wandered to the second-floor pool, which flowed like a river from the spa and down to the courtyard, at whose center grew a knotty ficus. Everywhere: calm. The hotel was aptly named.

New York Times Link

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Travel Resources for Travel Writers

Posted by Chika On 1:27 PM 0 comments

Young Burmese Monks by Carl Parkes

Each year, the fine folks at the Los Angeles Times go to the trouble to update several very important lists for both the casual tourist and the professional travel writer, and we all humbly thank them for their efforts.

States Government Tourist Offices

Foreign Government Tourist Offices

California Visitors Bureaus

National Parkes in California

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Bob Krist Bora Bora Photos

Posted by Chika On 3:07 PM 0 comments

Bora Bora by Bob Krist

After the amazing stamp photo by Carl Purcell, another longtime member of SATW has hit the mark with his wonderful and rather surrealistic photos of Bora Bora. Congrats to both of the gang, and hope to see you guys on one of the SATW gigs this year.

Bob Krist Photography Link

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Carl Purcell Stamp Photo

Posted by Chika On 3:02 PM 0 comments

Carl Purcell Photo

Major congrats to SATW member Carl Purcell for his photo now posted on new U.S. stamps, though the question remains: will he get one cent per stamp sold? Royalties are the way to go, Carl, so hang tuff.

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Bookstore Theft

Posted by Chika On 1:33 PM 0 comments

Stolen Book

I'm not sure that anyone would bother stealing a copy of my Southeast Asia Handbook, when imprints of the South Beach Diet and the Bible are so available, but never counter the urges of some poor backpacker on his first trip to the region.

If the New York Times were to compile a "Most Stolen Books" list, up near the top would be the Beat Generation classics "Howl," by Alan Ginsberg, and "On the Road," by Jack Kerouac. Also up there, not surprisingly, would be "Steal This Book," the popular '70's hippie guide on how to live for free, by Abbie Hoffman.

And topping the list, in some cities at least, would be none other than the Holy Bible itself.

"It's true, it's absolutely true," says Kevin Finn, the manager at Book People, an independent bookstore in Austin, Texas. "The most shoplifted book is the Bible."

Why? "Perhaps people feel the Bible should be free," he says. "The average King James Bible with a zipper is about 35 bucks."

Nationwide, bookstores net about $16 billion in sales every year, according to the American Booksellers Association; and the several prominent stories polled around the country for this article estimated that they lose anywhere from 1 to 5 percent to theft, some hundreds of millions a year, and much of it during the frenzied activity generated by the Christmas season.

As more and more independent bookstores close because of rising costs and stiff competition, successfully limiting "shrinkage," or unaccounted-for losses, can often mean the difference in ending up in the red or the black.

Stolen Books Link

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Tripoli Report

Posted by Chika On 1:07 PM 0 comments

Nigerian Circus Ape

The following post is cross-posted from my main Southeast Asia blog over at FriskoDude

I've read a few early reports from Americans on their organized tours to Tripoli and beyond, but none of it really rang true. Just accolades about spectacular desert scenery and visits to deserted Roman cities. Not much truth in any of those Slate stories, but fortunately the Los Angeles Weekly has posted a jarring account of the situation in the land of Khaddafi.

Most apartment buildings were more or less equally dreary, but one did stand out. Architecturally it was just another modernist horror. But a 6-by-8-foot portrait of Qaddafi was bolted to the facade three stories up. It partially blocked the view from two of the balconies. The bastard couldn't even leave people alone when they were home.

The posters weren't funny anymore. There were too damn many of them, for one thing. And, besides, Qaddafi is ugly. He may earn a few charisma points for traveling to Brussels and pitching his Bedouin tent on the Parliament lawn, but he's no Che Guevara in the guapo department.

I felt ashamed that I first found his portraits even slightly amusing. The novelty wore off in less than a day, and he's been in power longer than I've been alive.

He was an abstraction when I first got there. But after walking around his outdoor laboratory and everywhere seeing his beady eyes and that arrogant jut of his mouth, it suddenly hit me. He isn't merely Libya's tyrant. He is a man who would be god.

His Mukhabarat, the secret police, are omniscient. His visage is omnipresent. His power is omnipotent.

And he is deranged. He says he's the sun of Africa. He threatens to ban money and schools. He vanquished beauty and art. He liquidates those who oppose him. He says he can't help it if the people of Libya love him so much they plaster his portrait up everywhere. Fuck him. I wanted to rip his face from the walls.

LA Weekly Link

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