Nomadic Notes - Travel Reads 1 May, 2020
A weekly newsletter of travel reads and news by James Clark from nomadicnotes.com
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Where I’m At: May, 2020 – Saigon lockdown edition
Where I’m At: May, 2020 - Saigon lockdown edition. My monthly summary of where I’ve been and site news (spoiler alert - I haven’t been anywhere.).
Greetings from Saigon and another edition of Where I’m At – my monthly summary of where I’ve been and site news.
Where I’ve Been
No prizes for guessing that I didn’t go anywhere last month. The month began with a partial lockdown enforced in the city on the first of April. You were still able to go out for essential shopping, but by now most places were closed.
My routine was to work from home and get a takeaway coffee in the morning and at lunch. A normal day would usually have me working in two or three cafes throughout the day. Instead, I spent all day working from home. The highlight of my days was the evening walk to a supermarket to get supplies.
[No mad rush for toilet paper here.]
It was strange to see usually busy streets so empty.
There were some days where you would be forgiven for thinking that my lockdown life didn’t look much different from my normal life. As someone who works remotely I have cultivated the discipline needed to work from home.
Even though as an introvert I am adept at working in isolation, I still prefer to do it on my terms. A normal week for me usually involves coffee dates and dinner with friends, so the complete isolation is a disruption.
Since I got back from Thailand in mid March I had hardly seen anyone I know. On one of my supermarket walks I ran into my cousin, who has a “real job” in an office where they were allowed to work. He was on his way home on his bike and he spotted me walking along. He was the only friend I saw for a month.
As far as getting work done I have been fairly productive. I’ve been saying for years that I need to slow down for a while and knuckle down to work on new things, so it only took a pandemic to do so.
Not that I am the model of productivity. In my case my travel business has collapsed into a pile of rubble, so my productivity has been a forced necessity. This was not my time to write King Lear.
And I was not going to be coming up with new laws of physics either.
I did keep Newton in my mind though. He was a puritanical virgin who preferred to be locked in his room most of the time, so I figured a month living like Newton wouldn’t hurt.
I would love to be able to sit around all day and watch TV, or maybe even discover what Animal Crossing is all about. I am probably not eligible for government assistance in Australia, so video games and TV will have to wait until I start making money again.
I generally avoid watching TV anyway, so I didn’t sink into a morass of subscription TV binge-watching. I’ve still never seen Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, and now was not the time to start. I avoided the hype of Tiger King, as I am exposed to enough dysfunctional people without having to invite into my proverbial TV lounge (I live in a studio room).
I did get round to watching The Mandalorian, and I’m glad there is only one season so far because I would have binged the lot. I’m also enjoying watching The Last Dance (the Michael Jordan documentary), which is being released two episodes per week.
[Dennis Rodman on The Last Dance.]
I have been watching Ian and Dan from the Tropical MBA. They are in lockdown in Austin and have been putting out an informal daily talk show (its tagline should be “loose and sweary”). I know them both, so it’s been a good addition to have familiar voices in the background while I work.
With no demand for travel information I’ve been working on my construction and infrastructure site at Future Southeast Asia (previously known as Living In Asia). Previously I was averaging about one post per month. I’m now committed to posting one article per week and turning it into an authority site for transport and construction in Southeast Asia. To support this I launched a new newsletter at news.futuresoutheastasia.com. Here is my introduction to the Future Southeast Asia Newsletter.
It’s been invigorating to work on something new. It’s hard to get started on neglected projects when you are just coasting along and doing ok. Now that my back is against the wall in terms of business, the pandemic has forced my hand to work on other things. It feels like when I first started out while I was working in crappy jobs in Dublin in 2002/2003.
What has also been refreshing is to work with a new content management system at Substack. Nomadic Notes (and apparently 1/3 of all websites) uses the WordPress content management system. I’ve been using it for over ten years, and this is the first time I’ve been impressed enough with an alternative to build something meaningful on it.
Substack is a hybrid email service and blog. They started in 2017, and they launched with the China news site, sinocism.com (which is a great name for a China-watch site). This site is reported to have over 50,000 subscribers. Substack also offers the ability to be a subscription membership site, so it’s like WordPress, Mailchimp, and Patreon all blended into one site. Apart from a few sites like Sinocism, they don’t offer custom domains yet, but I am ok with the Substack subdomain.
For myself the goal is to reach 1000 paid subscribers – 1000 true fans – in addition to the free subscribers.
Having subscribers at Future Southeast Asia indirectly supports Nomadic Notes as well. I plan to do field trips in the future for Living In Asia that would also become blog posts here.
So far Substack seems to be a popular platform among journalists writing about Asia. Some other sites include:
asiasentinel.com – news, analysis and opinion on national and regional issues in Asia (and another site with their own domain).
darimulut.substack.com – Southeast Asia news round up.
wethecitizens.substack.com – Updates on politics, civil liberties and social justice in Singapore.
In the travelsphere there is couchfish.substack.com by Travelfish, which is keeping your Southeast Asia travel dreams alive while you are stuck on the couch.
Travelfish writer David Luekens has also launched thaiislandtimes.substack.com.
I’ve been subscribed to the Asia news sites for a while, but I haven’t seen Substack used within the travel blogging world.
I have a free weekly newsletter here at Nomadic Notes which goes out every Friday. I’ve also decided to move my newsletter, and it can found at newsletter.nomadicnotes.com. If you haven’t already done so you can subscribe here:
Lockdown eased, and potential domestic travel
[The Caravelle Hotel – WE are in this together.]
I’ve been lucky to be in Vietnam during this time as they have been one of the leading countries in containing the virus. Wearing masks in public is compulsory here, and everyone is on board with that. It boggles my mind that there is still such resistance to wearing masks in western countries. JetBlue became the first airline in the US to require wearing face masks, which they announced at the end of April. They are only doing this now!
On the 23rd of April social distancing restrictions were relaxed, with some cafes and restaurants opening up. I had my first coffee meeting with my cousin who I ran into during the month.
And after living on takeaway food and instant noodles, this bowl of ramen was heavenly. I wasn’t planning for ramen to be my first meal back from isolation, it just so happened that I was walking by and the ramen chose me.
We are not in the clear yet, so this is no time to relax. It would only take one outbreak to ruin everyone’s day.
My visa runs out in May so I have to get it extended in-country, which costs $305USD for 3 months. I would usually spend that money on a visa run, but no complaints otherwise.
I was hoping that some travel bubbles might be established with other countries, like Australia and New Zealand are considering. Vietnam-Taiwan would be great, but I think a more likely outcome is going to be local travel for a while.
With domestic flights now restarting I will look to do some travel within Vietnam and do my part to help the travel industry reestablish itself. I had almost considered going somewhere at the end of the month to shake off a month of being in my room. Then I remembered that the 30th of April is Reunification Day, and the next day is Labour Day.
[Reunification Day 2020 – 45 years since the end of the war in Vietnam.]
This year those holidays fall on a Thursday and Friday, and as expected there was a mad rush out of the city for the extra long weekend. I had mistakenly booked a trip on Reunification Day last year, so I won’t make that mistake again.
By the end of the month Vietnam had recorded six days straight with no new COVID-19 cases, with 270 cases in total and no deaths. Hopefully, the big travel weekend doesn’t stir up new cases.
[I can’t wait to touch my face in public again.]
Assorted travel links
“The Don Mueang–Suvarnabhumi–U-Tapao high-speed railway is a proposed railway that will connect the two airports of Bangkok with U-Tapao airport in the Eastern Economic Corridor of Thailand.”
“Mt Etna is considered the most active volcano on Earth”
“Air Sinai is shrouded in mystery. But why?”
“The Tren Maya project envisages the development of 1 525 km of railway through the five eastern states of Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Chiapas and Tabasco, serving 15 stations.”
"Sicily is giving vacationers an offer they can't refuse. The government of this storied Italian island has put aside €500 million (about $595 million) to pay for 50% of the cost of airfare for anyone who comes in the months that tourism returns. The fund will also pay for one out of every three hotel nights for visitors."
I have not even considered international travel for the rest of 2020, but if deals like this are going to be offered once it is safe to travel I may end up in Sicily this year.
Travel during and after COVID-19
"Cambodia's Siem Reap thrives and survives on its tourist industry, with millions flocking to the ancient Angkor Wat temple each year. But as Covid-19 halts global travel, writer Jonathan Evans describes life minus the tourists in this once-again sleepy little town."
“By purchasing a gift card for a future visit, you can help the hostels you love cover their costs, get through this difficult time and open once again to the travelling world.”
"Instead of sitting at home in fear of catching COVID-19, two popular Russian travel bloggers hired a yacht and a private island in Indonesia. Makes you sick with envy."
“In 2018, Brent Underwood and his pal, Jon Bier, spent their life savings on the purchase of a California ghost town, “Cerro Gordo” – and life has never been the same since. “
“Designed by Filipino fashion designer Puey Quinones, the uniforms are designed to protect cabin crew from contracting the coronavirus from passengers.”
I checked, this was published 28 April, not 1 April.
“Vilnius gives public space to bars and cafes to allow physical distancing during lockdown.”
"As the city prepares to end lockdown, Mayor Anne Hidalgo plans to use bike lanes, buses, and social distancing to keep more cars off the roads and reduce pollution."
“What do you do when you’re stuck in lockdown, but you also have insatiably itchy feet and the essence of travel running through your veins? You improvise, of course!”
“Rick Steves is an explorer at heart, so it should come as little surprise that he is finding unexpected joy in the midst of an awful situation.”
“The pilots are raising money for The Big Night In charity.”
In last week's newsletter I posted about the women pilots of Garuda Indonesia and the #PassTheHatChallenge on Instagram. Good to see the ladies of BA with their own video.
You can find villas of the same quality cheaper than this, but yes, not a bad hobby while being housebound.
I was blissfully not a germophobe before the coronavirus, but gifs like this are not helping.
“The photograph of a man selling ornamental fish on a motorbike in Hanoi has been chosen winner of this year’s Smithsonian photo contest.”
“Every year, a number of flamingos come to Navi Mumbai, but this year after lockdown measures have been implemented there is a huge increase of between 25% and 30%. The whole area has become a pink carpet.”
"Four times more water is currently flowing over one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World than in April last year."
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