Tag Archives: wi-fi
March 14, 2012

Thoughts on Malaysia

We were down to the last couple weeks of our trip when we decided to go to Malaysia.  Sitting in Thailand, we had tickets in hand to fly from Singapore to Brisbane the day after Christmas.  The question on the table was, “What do we want to see between now and then?”

The easiest options would have been to stay in Bangkok a little longer or fly directly to Singapore.  Always wanting to see a new place, my preference would have been to bus down through Malaysia, but I knew Oksana wasn’t up for that.  At any rate, there wouldn’t be time enough to do the country justice.  Kuala Lumpur was only a few hours from Singapore by bus, though.  Perhaps we could spend a few days there – and see the Petronas Towers, at least – before moving on?  (And yes, I’ll admit that chalking up a visit to another country’s McDonald’s may have influenced my decision…)

Oksana agreed, so we paid for a one-way flight from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur.

I started taking notes about Malaysia two months before we officially entered the country.  After our first month in Thailand, we had to do a visa run to extend our stay.  Since we were in Phuket, we had only two options. One, we could take an all day bus-boat-bus ride across the border into Burma, but that would have only granted us 15 more days.  To get a 30-day stamp, we chose option number two, which was to buy round-trip airline tickets to Kuala Lumpur.

We left practically all our belongings in our hotel room and just brought along a laptop and iPad to keep us entertained during the 5-hour layover.  We never even left the airport, but even so, that’s when I jotted down my first thoughts on Malaysia. (more…)

May 9, 2011

Thoughts on Chile

If you’re in South America and ask other travelers what they think about Chile, you’ll hear two different things over and over: Chileans speak fast and everything is much more expensive.  I guess it’s not surprising then that those were pretty much the first two things we noticed when crossing the border from Bolivia into San Pedro de Atacama.


The language, I knew, would sort itself out in time.  They speak Spanish there, like pretty much everywhere else we’d been, they just hurry all their words together.  In previous border crossings, I noticed the weird phenomenon where, on one side, I understood almost everything said to me and on the other, practically nothing.  My Spanish usually isn’t good enough to pick up the reasons why; it could be the speed, the accent, or the slang.  The tiny improvements I gain in comprehension over the next week are too small to notice as they happen, but after seven days or so, I’m usually doing alright again.

I never got to that point in Chile.  We were in and out of the country too fast.

(Interesting note about Chilean English:  We were told that Chileans learn “American English,” rather than “British English.”  Not that there’s a huge amount of difference between the two, but sometimes you notice the changes.  Flat for apartment, that sort of thing.  You would think that learning American English would somehow make their Spanish easier to understand, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be wrong.)

Sticker Shock

The sticker shock in Chile was harder for us to deal with.  Coming from Bolivia, we were used to paying, oh, about $20-25 a night for a nice private room.  Our first place in San Pedro ran us $42 and we had to live with a shared bathroom.  (They even charged us for towels, $2 a piece!)  The hotel reception guy saw our hesitation and asked if we were coming from Bolivia.  We nodded and he said, “Yeah, tourists from Bolivia always want lower prices.  It’s just more expensive here.”

Later on, in La Serena, I wandered into a music store and looked around at the prices.  Figuring the Twilight sensation would be a good place to do a price comparison, I checked out what it would cost to buy a book, a DVD, and a Blu-Ray disc of the first in series.  Roughly: 10,000 pesos for the DVD, 13,000 for the (trade paperback) book, and 22,000 for the Blu-Ray.  That’s $21.25 (DVD), $27.65 (Book), and $46.80 (Blu-ray). Not everything costs more than it does in the US, but media certainly does.

It would have been easy enough for us to stick to our $100/day budget if we were only concerned with food and lodging, but we had two other big expenses to consider: Excursions and transportation.  I haven’t look over the budget too closely, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Chile was the first country that broke our budget.  In that respect, it was a good thing we got out of there so quickly.

January 13, 2011

Staying Connected while Traveling

Yesterday, I was asked a question and, after typing up my reply, decided that posting the answer here might satisfy other people’s curiosity, too.

In the future I would like to do some traveling like you, but I work on line for about 25 hours a week. How easy would it be to find wireless in other parts of the world that you have traveled? –Rich Marcus, via Facebook

In 1998, my college roommate and I spent three months backpacking around South America.  I had just opened a Hotmail account and once a week or so we’d stumble upon an internet café and I’d send an email update to a mailing list made up solely of family and friends.  It surprised the hell out of me that we were able to get online in Aguas Calientes, a tiny, remote town at the base of Machu Picchu.  Granted, it was with a slower-than-molasses modem connection to Cusco, and it cost an arm and a leg, but I was still able to send an email out of the remote Peruvian jungle.

The lesson I learned then: If a place is popular with tourists, someone will be making money off their internet access.

July 26, 2005


Skype LogoI’ve found a new online toy. It’s called Skype, and you should check it out.

Skype is a free program that resembles MSN (or AOL or Yahoo) Messenger, but instead of a chat utility, it’s a Voice-Over-IP utility. It’s a familiar interface and very easy to use: Just build up a list of contacts, see when they’re online, then click their icon to start talking with them.

That, in itself, isn’t all that amazing – heck, Messenger has voice chat built in, right? Trust me, Skype excels in the details.

The best feature is called “SkypeOut,” which allows you to use Skype to dial out to any phone. To use it, though, you’ll need a credit card. The minimum purchase is 10 euros (~$12 US), but that goes a long way. Oksana’s been testing SkypeOut with calls to Russia and it’s coming in under 4 cents / minute (compared to about 21 cents / minute for a telephone calling card or a whopping $1.54 / minute for direct dialing!) What’s more, both she and her brother agreed that it was by far the best sounding, static-free, no-delay, international phone call they had ever heard. In fact, it was better that any local call they’d ever heard.

(Which isn’t too surprising, really. Telephones are notorious for their substandard audio quality, and even the lowest-quality computer microphone is likely to have a broader frequency range. Not to mention that VOIP compression technology has come a long way in recent years.)

Granted, there were a few problems with Oksana’s Skype-to-Russia test. The call was dropped twice, and she had to redial many times to get through again. I doubt that the trouble was on Skype’s end, though. These things happen consistently, even when she calls direct.

Another great aspect about Skype is that it’ll run on a Pocket PC. Imagine discovering a free wi-fi hotspot anywhere in the world – with Skype installed, you’ve got a free phone that will allow you to instantly talk to anyone on your contact list. With a few dollars in SkypeOut account, you could call them on the phone, too. No more worrying about whether or not your cell phone works in some foreign country; just find an internet connection!

Anyway, Skype has impressed me enough to install it on my laptop. Unfortunately, there’s no one on my contact list yet. If you think it might be something you want to play around with, grab it from Skype.com and add me as a contact! I’m “a_midgett”.

June 12, 2004

Vacation Update

I’m on a plane right now, bound for Seattle (then Orlando, Philadelphia, Norfolk, and Nags Head – should stop moving in just over 24 hours). Considering the week I’ve had, this has been the first chance I’ve been able to even consider writing an update.

In the last couple days, I finally got the opportunity to talk to Oksana. She sounded… tired. I must admit, I expected to hear signs of emotional stress in her voice, but I have a feeling that she’s just too overwhelmed to react anymore. As I wrote earlier, a week ago today she arrived in Irkutsk to the worst possible news. Since then, she and her brother have been working non-stop to make all the necessary arrangements for their mother’s funeral.

Oksana had sent me an e-mail in which she mentioned that she would call as soon as she got back to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski on the 9th. It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, when I received her call a day early – I had forgotten to factor in the whole international dateline thing.

If I have my dates straight, Nadia’s funeral was held on the 10th and Oksana said that it went as well as could be expected. There were about 30 friends and family in attendance and… that’s about the extent of what I know. I never know how to handle conversations about death, even with my own wife, it seems. I didn’t press her for information, and she didn’t talk much about it.