Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Social Media used to Help Japan

It's been a few weeks now since the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. with more than 12,000 dead and something like 17,000 people missing as well as an ongoing nuclear crisis, Japan is not in a good place! Obviously, people and governments around the world have been doing a lot to help this country. People throughout Canada, America and so many other countries are donating to charities, arranging relief supplies, starting fundraisers and volunteering to help Japan.

What has been especially interesting for me is to see how so many are taking hold of social media and using it to help. people have been spreading the word about what is really going on in Japan (often when foreign news agencies are getting it wrong). They are organizing fundraisers and charity events on Facebook. They are being creative on You Tube and blogging about it!

Some examples that have recently stood out in my mind are the "partners4japan" project on You Tube that was started by Japan-based video blogger Ciaela. Vloggers from around the world have been donating videos to spread the word about Japan. Also on You Tube, well-known vlogger "Gimmeaflakeman" has started a project called "Ganbare Japan" in which anyone anywhere can send him a video or picture to inspire Japan and he will put them all together into one collaboration video.

#Quakebook is another inspiring project. This book was the brainchild of Japan-based blogger "Our Man in Abiko." HE asked blogger via Twitter to write stories and of their experiences with the big earthquake. It will soon be printed and all proceeds will go to support the Japanese Red Cross.

Myself, I have just started my own fundraiser. I will be collecting funds for Save the Children and their relief efforts in northern Japan. I'll be running a 60km ultra marathon in June in order to do it and I plan to share my experiences leading up to that day through social media. You can check out my Running to Help Japan site here!

There are of course so many other examples of people helping using social media. these are just a few!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Crappy Media Coverage in Japan Explained

I had never heard of the British comedian Charlie Brooker until this evening when I saw this video posted on Twitter. Now I love him! He got it right!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Going in the Food Vlogging Direction

I’ve decided to become narrower in scope these days. I’m not talking about every aspect of my life. I’m talking about vlogging.

I have always known a few things that would probably bring a lot more traffic to my You Tube channel, but have never gone in that direction. I suppose I will focus a lot more on bringing a lot more people what they are looking for. I have always known that most of my most popular and several of my viral videos have been food videos. People love food! People also really want to see food from other countries. My food videos appeal to a much broader spectrum of people than my story vids do. I know that. I also know that if I made my channel food specific, I’d probably achieve a lot more success. So, that’s what I’m going to do.
I recently started a series of videos called, “Japanese Eats.” In these videos I plan to show a very wide variety of food you can find in Japan. Some will be traditional, others new.

Now, I’m not much of a cook and to be honest, my wife and I don’t go out to restaurants very often. I do however buy food at supermarkets and convenience stores. My wife is also an amazing cook and great resource for sharing Japanese cuisine!

So, from now on, my BusanKevin You Tube channel will be primarily for food video. Don’t worry though. For those of you who enjoy the randomness of the channel (former randomness), I do have another channel called “jlandkev.” That’s where you can go to watch story videos and check out the things I see on a daily business living here in Japan.

Here are the fist two installments of my Japan Eats series:

I think it's going to be a lot of fun for both myself and viewers to see the wide variety of cool, popular and off the wall food you can eat in Japan!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How You Can Donate to Help Japan

There are many ways you can donate to the relief and future rebuilding efforts in Japan. You of course must be wary. In times of tragedy, there are those who use it as an opportunity to line their own pockets.

if you are going to donate money to Japan, make sure you do it to a credible organization. Here are just a few who are helping Japan right now:

Canadian Red Cross

American Red Cross

Japanese Red Cross

UK Red Cross

Australian Red Cross

Save the Children

Salvation Army

Oxfam International

Meat Pie and Inarizushi 稲荷寿司

I can’t make all of my posts dark and dreary. I also can’t make them all angry because I am basically a very happy guy!

This past Thursday was Saint Patrick’s Day and I, being of Irish-Canadian descent, had to do something about it. With a new baby at home, I wasn’t really up to going out for St. Paddy’s this year, but I made a steak and Guinness pie at home. I did the same last year as well. I suppose it is becoming a tradition in my house. I of course enjoyed wit with several can of Guinness as well!

Take a look at my creation (served with mashed potatoes as well):

All pictures of my Steak and Guinness pie process were taken with the iPhone app, Instagram.

I also uploaded another in a new series of Japanese food videos called Japan Eats. I have long known that my most popular videos on You Tube tend to be food related. I also decided I need to make a lot more of them!

People Escaping Japan?

I have felt many emotions since last Friday when the big quake hit Japan. I’ve been confused. I’ve been sad. I’ve been grief stricken. I’ve been scared. I’ve been logical. I’ve been thoughtful. I’ve also been pissed off.

That’s right, a few things have made me very angry about the events that have unfolded during the past eight days.
I of course cannot be angry about the actual catastrophe because it was out of the hands of all of us. Mother Nature had a beef to grind and unfortunately the people of Japan had to face the brunt of it.

I can’t be upset at the people of Japan. They did nothing to deserve this. I also cannot be upset at the fact that there were nuclear reactors near the water. There are nuclear reactors in many countries throughout the world and aside from two notable cases; there have never really been major problems with nuclear energy (someof you will probably disagree). There was also a large tsunami wall built in front of the reactor.

Japan, one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world is BY FAR the most prepared for earthquakes and tsunamis. They have building codes unlike anywhere else in the world. They have a tsunami early warning system. They have FREAKIN Nintendo, Sony and Honda robots!

None of this could have prepared them for a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and what we are now finding out, a 15 meter high tsunami in some parts along the coast.

So, I have shared with you that none of these events have made me angry. What does make me angry though is the irrational and sensational coverage of this catastrophe by some news organizations and (mostly) the way some European governments have handled the situation.

I realize that the situation around the nuclear plant in Fukushima is bad. If I were anywhere close to there I would also want to get the “Hell out of Dodge.” Things begun to get a little out of hand when several European countries began telling ALL of their nationals, no matter where they were, to get out of Japan. That was irrational and exaggerated.

Today I listened to the March 17th episode of CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corportation) As It Happens and got more than a little ticked off. I wasn’t angry about the show because I am a HUGE fan of the hosts, Carol Off and Jeff Douglas, but a person they interviewed on yesterday’s show annoyed me.

On the March 17th, 2011 episode (14 minutes into Part 1), a Japanese woman married to a French national was interviewed. Now they had lived in the area close to the Fukushima reactor and were evacuated to Kyoto. I can obviously understand that. What got me was the fact that the woman explained how they were fleeing Japan to France on an emergency flight arranged by the French government because all of Japan was SOOOOOO dangerous! This woman and her family were now in Kyoto and wanted to get further away. She said it was because of the way her husband and all of his French friends felt and the “knowledge” they had of the situation.

This woman, who is also pregnant, said she had to get away from Japan so her baby would not be born deformed! Jeesh!!! Come on!

I can understand this woman being somewhat scared, but her interview was very uncharacteristic compared to most Japanese people I’ve heard interviewed or spoken to in person (I live in Japan and am married to a Japanese person). She explained that she felt this way because of her husband and his French friends in Japan. They were all getting the “Hell out of Dodge”!
Now, I’m not writing this to shit on French nationals or France. I’m pissed off because it is obvious that French media and the government (and many other media organizations) are doing a piss poor job off telling this story accurately.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure that the Japanese media and government are guilty of, at times, underplaying things, but……COME ON!!!!! Let’s not just make shit up!

Most expats living in Japan have very upset families in their native countries. In some cases I can understand. I live very far away from this crisis and do not want my friends and family to worry about me. My Kansai-based friends and I are very safe. Shoddy media reports about Japan cause a lot of concern and worry for our families. That’s why I’m miffed!

Here are a couple of examples of media exaggeration during the past week.

This one is from a British newspaper.

This one is a comparison of the BBC and the Huffington Post.

By the way, I have listened to CBC As It Happens everyday this week (I download their podcast) and I have found they’ve done a fine job covering Japan(I was just miffed about that woman they interviewed).

Friday, March 18, 2011

You Don't Need Money to Help Japan

With the passing of each day I’m hearing countless stories of people all around the world donating money to the relief efforts here in Japan. I’ve heard of individual people donating via text message, online, at their churches, etc. I’m hearing of celebritities and major corporations donating massive sums of money. Canada’s own Justin Bieber donated a million dollars to Japan and Starbucks Japan donated 1.2 million.

I am of course more than pleased that so many are giving so much. Japan will need countless billions of dollars to rebuild after last Friday’s earthquake, tsunami and now nuclear disaster. Millions of people have lost everything, been displaced and infrastructure around most of northern Japan has been damaged.

Of course, donating money is a great thing, but not everyone out there has money to give. There are many people out there with warm hearts, but simply don’t have the extra cash to give away.

There are many ways that out can help the people of Japan without donating money. Here are some ideas I had:

1. Donate your time (volunteer): Even if you don’t have money, you can find the time to help. You can volunteer at an organization that is collecting clothes for the people in Japan. You can contact your local Red Cross and ask them how you can help. Maybe there is something you can do at your local Salvation Army to lend a hand. Don’t underestimate how important just a few hours of your time can be for those in need!

2. Create your own fundraiser: Start your own fundraiser. Start one with your classmates, coworkers or friends. It doesn’t have to be something grand. It could be something as simple as a bake sale. Why not organize a walk-a-thon at your local school track? Hold a yard sale and donate the proceeds to a reputable NGO helping Japan. Set up a table at a fleamarket. Run a race (marathon/half/10k/5k) and ask for donations. Have a carwash. I can even remember doing a 24-hour rock-a-thon (in rocking chairs) as a teenager. There are many great ways to raise money wherever you are!

3. Donate old clothes: The people in northern Japan have lost everything. Most escaped with only the clothes on their backs. They need clothes (adults and children), blankets and shoes.

4. Say a prayer: If you are a person of faith, any faith, this is always a great option!

5. Educate yourself and others about the situation: There is a lot of sensational and bad press coverage coming out of this disaster. I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff on major American networks like ABC News. Do your research. Learn about the situation from multiple news sources. Shop around so to speak. Once you have a decent grasp on what is happening over here in Japan, spread the word!

6. Donate Blood: If you live in Japan this is a great option!

Now, just a word of warning, there are many great organizations out there helping like Save the Children, Red Cross, the Salvation Army, etc. Mind you, there are also scammers out there. It is a sad, but true reality that some people out there will take advantage of an awful situation like this for their own benefit. Make sure you donate to a credible and well-known charity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Shoddy Journalism and the Good Ones: Covering the Crisis in Japan

Last night I stayed up way past my bedtime and the only thing that happened, aside from being really tired this morning, was me getting really pissed off.

I stayed up late and decided to catch up on the "news coverage" of japan by clicking on some stories on the Yahoo News main page. What I saw were puff pieces and downright bullshit by several American news organizations. I saw some journalists who basically should basically pack it in and get a job fetching coffee for camera operators as opposed to standing in front of a camera!

I’ve been basically keeping up on the most up to date news of the disaster here in Japan from a few sources. One of them of course being Japanese television (I do indeed live in Japan) and the other being Twitter. I do realize that Twitter is often a repository for people’s thoughts and opinions, but during this ongoing crisis, something different has happened. Many bloggers and vloggers based in Japan have really stepped up and have become truly credible news sources. They are spending their days and nights scouring news services, both domestic and foreign and sharing links and stories with the world. More often than not, these bloggers have been far more accurate in their reporting and views than many professional journalists.

Now of course, I cannot dump on all foreign media covering this crisis. Many correspondents and writers for foreign print/digital media have indeed been living in Japan for a long time, speak the language and understand the culture. Those journalists stand out.

I’m talking about the representatives of foreign media who are parachuted (not literally of course) in to the tsunami/disaster zone and report with no background or understanding of the people or culture. They are sent in from countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. to quickly publish puff pieces or “hard hitting” news with very few, if any facts correct. These are the folks that piss me off royally! These are the people who sell papers through bullshit and fear mongering.

There is a famous saying in the newspaper industry that states, “If it bleeds, it leads!” Simply put, sensational sells. That has been the case since the advent of newspapers and has not changed. Whether you are consuming You Tube videos, blogs, print or televised media; sensational sells! Unfortunately, sensational usually doesn’t equal accurate!

Now, back to these bloggers on Twitter who have been doing such an amazing job keeping the world informed about what is really happening. Many of them are doing such a great job because of the fact that they have been here for a long time, they speak the language, understand the culture and most of all, I think, are connected to Japan. They care about Japan and the Japanese people. They have a vested interest in the country and want to tell people, both here and abroad the real story. They may not be “professional” journalists, but they cite sources, do their research and work very hard to get things correct.

I suppose I can make the comparison of professional journalists to professional teachers (which I am). I’ve taught in Korea, Canada and now Japan and have met many teachers. Some of the greatest teachers I ever worked with in Korea/Japan didn’t have teaching licenses. They didn’t have the “credentials”, but were dedicated, driven and brilliant at their jobs.

As someone who is a professional teacher in Canada (and a student for many years), I’ve met many “professional” license-holding teachers who were lazy, inept and sloppy at their jobs. I suppose the same can be said for some journalists.

I would like to say something to all the journalists who represent foreign news organizations in Japan during this crisis. Please do your research and get the story right before you publish it! You are the reason my family back home is scared out of their minds. You are the reason so many expats in Japan have scared families in their respective countries. Honour the people of Japan by getting the story right!

Here are just a few bloggers in Japan who are doing an incredible job spreading the news of the crisis in Japan with the rest of the world (some are also journalists I respect a lot):

Mutant Frog Travelogue
Slices of Soup
Martyn Williams
Tokyo Times
Hiroko Tabuchi
Justin McCurry
Steve Herman
Mark Williams
Mark MacKinnon

You need to follow these folks on Twitter, read their blogs or newspaper stories!

I will add to this list as there are many more awesome people out there I follow on Twitter and other means who are doing a great job!

Here is a great video from You Tube video blogger elevencolors who lives in downtown Tokyo. In this video he illustrates a MASSIVE mistake in reporting made by Fox News:

You can of course follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Unnecessary Hoarding Far Away from Danger

I've heard people talking about how folks in Tokyo and other areas close to the disaster zone in Japan are beginning to hoard items such as instant noodles, rice, bottled water and toilet paper. I've even watched videos taken by You Tube video blogger "softypapa" in Shizuoka of the same behavior.

I have to admit that I was a little surprised tonight though when my wife came back from our local supermarket (we actually have 2 small local supermarkets) and told me that all the rice, instant noodles and bottled water were sold out. I decided to go for a walk this evening and check out the state of affairs at the other local market. I was REALLY shocked to find the same thing.

It looks as if some people are beginning to panic buy. Kobe is located more than 800 kilometers from the nuclear disaster area in Fukushima. We are a very safe place. Just this afternoon I found out that the cities of Osaka and Kobe are supplying free housing to refugees from the Fukushima/Miyagi/Iwate regions.

Why are people beginning to hoard here? A few reasons I suppose.

First of all, Japanese people don't tend to shop as many of us, especially more rural living people, in Canada might. Growing up, my family lived quite far from a supermarket. Although we had some small shops in town, we would load up once every weekend and drive from Louisbourg to Sydney, about 40 kilometers away. We would fill the entire trunk of the car with groceries to stock our refrigerator and pantry. People in Japan simply don't shop that way. They don't have pantries. They have so many supermarkets and 24 hour convenience stores that they tend to shop as they need it.

Also when there are rumours that there may be food shortages (not an issue here) they panic. It's that simple. they are buying large amounts of unnecessary items!

Here is a video I discreetly took this evening with my phone at my local Daiei supermarket in Kobe, Japan:

Why is there no looting in Japan?

Sems that a lot of commentators in the Western media are really surprised that Japanese people aren't looting in the northern areas affected by the disaster. I've also heard many people say that they are very surprised at how orderly things are in areas suffering from food and water shortages. People wait in line for relief without fights or other conflict.

I'm not surprised. Here's my two cents about the situation in the form of a video blog on my "jlandkev" You Tube channel:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Business as Usual?

Today was a little strange for me. Obviously, the last few days have been absolutely horrendous for so many people in the northern part of Japan. Obviously, there are not even words that come close to describing the chaos and horrors so many people faced last Friday afternoon and the tragedy that will continue for some time. Now, what was strange for me today?

What seemed so strange to me was the fact that, when I spent the afternoon downtown in Kobe with my family, everything seemed so normal. Life in Kobe seemed like, “business as usual.”

I have been blessed my entire life to this point. I have never had a personal or even geographical connection to any sort of major disaster. I have never had to face the bleak reality so many, not so far away, are now having to cope with. I suppose because the 24 hours news cycle of horror and tragedy, I expected to see people on the streets of this city acting differently in some way.

That would be absurd though. Of course people here in Kobe are going on with their regular lives. They are going to work, school and dealing with life as the normally would. Kobe is quite far away from the disaster are in Fukushima, Iwate, Sendai Miyagi, etc. This city is far away from the disaster, but I am sure that every person here and in the rest of Japan is thinking about the situation constantly.

As my family and I went home in late afternoon, I did begin to notice something different. Dozens of high school students seemed to be on every street corner and busy area of Sannomiya and Motomachi with boxes. They were standing in large groups and asking for donations to the Red Cross and other NGOs helping the disaster relief in northern Japan.

I have to admit that I probably won’t be blogging much more about this tragedy. I will keep some updates on this blog and on You Tube, but I will, for the most part get down to business as usual myself. I am not a reporter. I am not a journalist. I have often, in the past imagined what it would be like to have such a career, but at the end of the day, I am a teacher. I suppose I will stick to what I know best, sharing my knowledge of education, travel and general silliness.

I will of course continue sharing interesting information about the disaster on Twitter and of course that feed is here on the side of my blog. You can also follow me on Twitter (@jlandkev…which means…”Japan-Land Kevin).

Now here are a few non-earthquake related scenes and videos I took this afternoon with my phone while I was walking around downtown Kobe with my son.

This is the first time myself and family have seen a cherry blossom this spring. I think this tree blossomed a little earlier than most!This was on the grounds of Ikuta Shrine in Kobe.

After the Quake: How You Can Help

Life in Japan has suddenly changed for so many. The people of northern Japan are suffering and simply in a world of hurt after Friday's magnitude 9 earthquake and following tsunami.

Many people may be surprised that I waited this long to make a blog post, but to be honest, I've been too busy with Twitter to write a blog. The news flow is fast and fluid (a little personification there) and I've honestly found that I can communicate with more people, more efficantly, through Twitter, Facebook and my video blogs. Also, my video blogs and Tweets have a much larger audience.

So, as of Monday morning, things are still really bad. Much of the coastal regions of northern Japan have been decimated and thousands dead and missing.

The people of Japan need help. If you are in Japan, you can onate money, clothes and blood, but people are being asked to stay away fromt he disaster area. I'm sure many, myself included, would love to rush to the affected areas and help with the cleanup and rebuilding, but it is simply still too dangerous. I suppose in time, people will be given the chance to go there in person and assist.

For those of you abroad, you can help by donating to several (I'm sure the list is ever growing) NGO's racing to help the Japanese people:

Canadian Red Cross

American Red Cross

Save the Children

Here is a page I found had a lot of useful information from Time Out Tokyo magazine.

Here are a few video blogs I made about it during the weekend. You can also follow my Twitter feed on the side of this page for more information:

For the time being, spreading the word to people about how to donate and help is all I can do. I do have a fairly large social media audience so I will do what I can to help that way.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How Do You Battle Stress?

It's been a long school year and one that certainly brought its fair share of stress. As the year comes to an end (one week left in my school year) and vacation quickly approaches, I've been reflecting a lot.

I've been thinking about how I was able to cope with the hard times I had and also how I wasn't able to cope so effectively. I suppose I also began to think, not just about the past school year, but other periods of stress in life.

Stress is something we all must face from time to time. It can come from any direction and at times, when you least expect it. I suppose that what's important is how you deal with it.

Ways I've coped with stress over the years:

1. Avoidance: this is if course probably on of the least effective ways of dealing with things. Simply put your head in the sand and pretend everything is all right. While you avoid your problems though, they tend to grow. I've used this method many times, especially in my 20's. Nothing good ever came from it!

2. Vacations: In the past, getting away from things for a few days or weeks has often don the trick! It still does work.

3. Drinking: Often seems like a good idea, but normally ends up being the opposite. Having one or two drinks to unwind is one thing, but anything more than that can just lead to a headache, a lighter wallet, a nasty taste in your mouth and nothing solved (and often made worse) in the morning.

4. Running: An amazing way to release stress. Of course you release so many endorphins and lots of other fun physical benefits, but you have a lot of time to think. It’s also not just a regular way of thinking. Thinking while running a long distance can be so clear and concise that you actually can very easily work your way through problems.

5. Talking with friends and loved ones: This is of course a no brainer! There’s nothing better than unloading on friends and close family for advice and support.

6. Drastic life-altering change: My former life as a tech guy caused me a great deal of stress. What did I do to solve it? I quit my job as a 3D modeler in Canada and moved to South Korea to work as an English teacher! Many years later, I am now a professional teacher with my license and a passion for what I do!

7. Research: Getting online and trying to Google the way you feel and a way to make it better (probably not the most ideal way of dealing with stress).

8. Family Time: Now that I have a family, time with them, maybe a picnic or walk, makes almost anything better!

Stressed Much?

There are of course many other ways one can deal with stress. These are just a few things off the top of my head. Of course, just so all of you wonderful readers know, at the moment, I have very little stress in my life. Things are very good and I'm a pretty happy guy!

How do you deal with the stress you have to deal with? Leave a comment ☺

Follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunburned Shoulders and the Hanoi Hilton – Hanoi, Vietnam

Here we go, another Retro Blog. I wrote this one in 2003:

Sunburned Shoulders and the Hanoi Hilton – Hanoi, Vietnam
by Kevin O'Shea

It was my eighth and unfortunately last day in Vietnam. Within 24 hours, I would board a plane and soon have to face the reality of work. My whirlwind visit to Northern Vietnam had been an exciting and memorable one, but my final day in the capital city of Hanoi was more than I ever could have asked for.

I had visited Vietnam during my brief summer vacation. I was aware of the fact that the end of July was the height of the rainy season there, however, it made no difference to me. Personally, Vietnam was one of those mystical places that reached out to me. For whatever reasons, the lack of throngs of tourists, the fact that it has yet to be completely ravaged by globalization or the fact that it is just so beautiful, I simply had to see it. With a new job in Korea, I found myself in a position that made it financially and geographically possible to just “pop on down” for a short vacation.

I had begun planning and researching my trip to Vietnam several months earlier. I was very excited about the prospects of going somewhere so “cool.” It was to be a solo trip, but as things go, the plan changed. It began with one coworker asking if he could join me and in the end, there were five of us. This presented both positive and negative experiences, but anyone who has ever traveled in a group knows, “that’s the way it works.”

To begin with, there is no possible way that someone can absorb a country in eight days. No matter how small a country is geographically, there are simply too many experiences to have, too many people to meet and too many moments to process. For those reasons I had planned to target a small area of Northern Vietnam. I had eight days to see three major areas and the rest of Vietnam would have to wait until another visit.

This trip had more planning than most I make. I usually adopt a “fly by the seat of my pants” approach, but with limited time, I hoped to get the most out of it.

We arrived in Hanoi in early afternoon and decided to only stay the night. Early the following morning we were off to the “jaw-dropping” UNESCO world heritage site, Halong Bay, where more than 3000 magnificent islands jut out of the water in a dream-like way. From there, we trucked it back to Hanoi. We then hopped a train to the northerly elevations and hill-tribes of Sapa, a former hill station in the days of French Indochina. After a few more awe-inspiring days in the lush north, we would make the journey back to Hanoi.

With a population of roughly three and a half million people, Hanoi is the second-largest city in Vietnam and is home to the country’s Communist government. Hanoi sits only 200 kilometers from China. Once entering the city, the French colonial influence upon everything from architecture to cuisine was immediately apparent. Streets are lined with palm trees and dilapidated concrete buildings, painted in a rainbow of pastel shades. Hordes of people, cars and motorcycles seemed to coexist in a form of organized chaos. The “organized” part of this chaos quickly seems to disappear once you step from your taxi and are on foot attempting to cross the street.

We had all stayed at a guesthouse in the Old Quarter our first night in the city. The staff was friendly and quite entertaining, so we decided to go back. That evening we took one of the more helpful staff members to eat at a lovely little restaurant a few streets away.

We had one full day and night left in Hanoi. Until this point, we remained a group. We had ventured to Halong Bay together and then again on to Sapa. With one day left, we all wanted to do different things. Bernard and Andrew wanted to visit a Buddhist grotto several hours outside of town. Steve wanted to cruise around the city on a motorcycle. J.D. and I decided that we wanted to explore the Hanoi’s Old Quarter and see what it had to offer.

We woke up at dawn, which is always a good idea when traveling. It allows you to squeeze as much out of the day as you possibly can. The tooth-turning, lip-curling, high-octane coffee so common to Vietnam is another fabulous way to start the day. After a few mugs of the caffeine-enriched beverage and a fresh baguette, J.D. and I were off to wander the streets. We planned to hit several museums that day, but it was far too early for anything to be open. We explored the alleyways, observing women selling fruit, vegetables, coal and almost anything else you can imagine.

The shops were just beginning to open. It was still relatively cool during these early morning hours, but what started as a crisp feeling in the air began to change as the morning progressed. The sun was becoming more intense and the streets began to fill with a deluge of motorcycles spewing toxic clouds of black exhaust. We popped in out of shops as we made our way to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. Hoa Lo Prison was dubiously named the “Hanoi Hilton” by American pilots and officers who were held there as POW’S during the Vietnam War. Men such as American Senator John McCain languished there for years. Only a small portion of the prison remains, but it makes a strong impact nonetheless.

As we walked out of remains of Hoa Lo Prison, we started up Hai Ba Trung towards the Temple of Literature. Making our way towards the temple, I could feel the intensity of the sun on my arms. I was wearing a tank top and had forgotten my sun block at the guesthouse, a cocktail for trouble. It was now well above 40°C, and I felt as if my arms had been laid across a hotplate. Within 20 minutes we were at the temple, where I was relieved to find some shade and a cold bottle of water.

We soon retreated to the sanctity of a pub for a bite to eat and a couple of much-deserved Tiger beers. It wasn’t long before we were pounding the pavement again, weaving our way through a series of narrow side streets, searching for Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Hanoi Citadel area.

As we entered the embassy district on the outskirts of the Hanoi Citadel area, the streets began to widen and the buildings appeared more upscale. The sun was intense as we entered the giant square in front of the Mausoleum. The size of square was impressive, and I can only imagine the tens of thousands of soldiers who have paraded through it over the years. Giant red flags emblazoned with a lone yellow star flapped ominously overhead, while soldiers with AK 47s watched us quizzically. At one point, in my naivete, I raised my camera to snap a photo of an impressive-looking white mansion. Soldiers quickly ran towards me, waving their arms frantically. I didn’t take the picture.

We wandered through this area for some time, but decided it was time to make our way back to the Old Quarter. My arms were officially burned to a crisp. We plodded along, shopping and sipping on a few beers as the afternoon soon faded into twilight.

It was dinnertime, and J.D. and I decided to end the day with a small parade of Tiger beer. We decided to sit at a lovely little restaurant on the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake. The Old Quarter looked beautiful at dusk. Everything seemed to have a bluish hue about it as the sky grew darker. It seemed like a fitting end to my first trip to South East Asia.

My eight days in North Vietnam had been wonderful. They were filled with islands, boats, trekking, good people, great food, a typhoon and a terribly sunburned pair of arms. I can’t wait to go back to Vietnam.

I wrote this story in 2003 after my 2002 summer vacation to Northern Vietnam.

You can follow me on TWITTER: @jlandkev

Here is the original link to the story.

Here is a video i threw up on my "jlandkev" You Tube channel this morning. The biggest beans you've ever seen!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Building an Online Following

This morning when I woke up and sat down in front of my computer with my breakfast and coffee. I logged into You Tube and was pleasantly surprised to see that the Tsunami podcast did a profile of me on their weekly podcast about Japan-based content creators. It was quite cool.

In watching the video where Hiroki talked about my online presence and showcased some of my videos, past and present, I got to thinking about how I got to where I am today online.

I am by no means “famous” or even remotely “quasi-famous”, but I do have a wonderful and loyal following on both of my You Tube channels and a small, yet growing readership on this blog. My “success” on You Tube was achieved in a variety of ways:

1. Consistently make content. If you want to get noticed online you have to be constantly putting out a product. The more of “you” out there, the better chance there is that people will notice you. Also, once you begin to build an audience, they want to see you on a regular basis! If you are on You Tube, make videos frequently. If you blog, write several times a week.

2. Make a quality product. I of course mentioned that you must produce content consistently, but remember; no one wants to watch crap! Also, people don’t want to read crap. Make it fun, interesting and well done.

3. Write about or vlog about something you really love. If you love or really like what you are vlogging/blogging about, the passion shows and people will notice.

4. Find a niche. I’m still trying to do this! I know that if I did, I would find more success online. An example of this would be my friend Sara. She has been in Japan for quite some time and LOVES Starbucks. She is a fan of their products and their culture. She recently did a very cool thing. She began a blog about Starbucks in Japan. That is a great topic. There are many Starbucks/coffee fans out there and of course there are many Japan fans out there. She is killing two birds with one stone.

5. Network like nuts. I still haven’t done much of this with my blog, but have done loads over the years on You Tube. Get out there and meet people. Find other vloggers within your community or who make similar videos. Comment on their videos and blogs. Send them emails and messages. Form a relationship. This can take time, but that’s how you build your network. Once you have online allies, they will look out for you and also promote you!

6. Pay it forward. Karma is a real thing online. Do good for other vloggers and bloggers and you will build a solid reputation. In time, others will do good for you. Shout people out! Make videos or write blogs about other content creators you admire or like. Add them to your blogroll or liked vloggers box on You Tube. Shout people out in videos. When you begin to do this frequently, people will notice that you are a kind web citizen and eventually people will do the same for you.

These are some basic things you can do to help you channel or blog grow. Now, this doesn’t normally happen over night. For most successful vloggers and bloggers out there, it took a lot of time and work to achieve success. It takes time to build a network and build a body of content. If you want it enough and do it wisely though, success can definitely happen!

Now of course, I’d love it if all of you would check out Tsunami Ep. 9 - Busan Kevin, the video made about me, as a content creator:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What a Wild Wall – Beijing, China

I came across some travel stories I wrote back in 2004 for travel website. Here is a blast from the past. A tale from my travels in China:

What a Wild Wall – Beijing, China
Beijing, China
by Kevin O'Shea

The first thing that struck me as I deplaned in Beijing was the cold. It was not the mild form of cold I had been dealing with all winter in South Korea, but a bitter, bone-chilling frigidness. I arrived in the central Beijing area and planned to spend my Christmas morning looking for accommodations and something to eat.

I would be in Beijing for four days before my friends from South Korea were to meet me. I would travel with them for another four days. During my time alone, I saw many of the “must see” major tourist destinations. I toured the “disappointing” National Museum of History, Tianamen Square, The Great Hall of the People, The Forbidden City; equipped with its very own Starbucks, and the breathtaking White Cloud Temple. The White Cloud Temple was once the center for Taoism in Northern China. Founded in AD739, it is an elaborate series of passages and corridors. The light dusting of snow on everything gave it a surreal fantasy-like feeling.

My three friends arrived on the morning of the 29th. I met them at the International Hotel and brought them back to our guesthouse off Wangfujing Dajie. As a group we toured several more sites of the next few days including; the Temple of Heaven, the Silk Market, Panjiayuan Market, the Summer Palace and the circus-like Lama Temple with its hordes of tourists. We were all most excited about seeing the Great Wall.

One of the most famous landmarks in the world, the Great Wall was originally constructed during the Quin Dynasty. It’s purpose was to keep out bands of plundering nomads and bandits. The Wall stretches from Jaiyuguan in Eastern China to the Gobi Desert. Today many parts of the wall frequented by tourists have a Disney-like feel, with restaurants, souvenir shops and more kitsch than you can shake a stick at. This was everything we wanted to avoid when seeing the Wall.

Aaron and I began planning the “ideal” area to see. After pouring over guidebooks and a little debating, we came to an agreement on the area we would visit. Simatai is more than 100km outside of Beijing. It is a rural area and truly off the beaten path. The decision to see this area was only a small portion of the battle. Getting there would be a strange adventure in itself.

After a quick breakfast, Aaron, Laz, Hoa and I piled into a small taxi. We made our way to the central bus terminal in northern Beijing. Dongzhimen Bus Station is a sprawling and confusing area, spread over several blocks. We slowly made our way through the maze of narrow streets, buildings, buses and a sea of people. We were attempting to find a minibus to Miyun. What followed was confusion, panic and a lot of running. Eventually we found our bus. It was more than an hour to Miyun, but the bus was warm and that was more than enough to make us happy.

Once we arrived in the town of Miyun we had to hire either a taxi or a minibus to Simitai. A group of taxi drivers was milling about on a sidewalk, waiting for travelers to employ their services. We bargained and argued and eventually a driver agreed to the 100 Yuan that we were willing to pay. We also collected two more travelers, a couple teaching English in Japan. The six of us wedged ourselves into the microscopic white van and prepared for the 75-minute drive to the wall. The taxi had no heater so being crammed together was actually beneficial. We all suffered from icy cold feet though.

The countryside we drove through was beautiful. Small farming villages popped up along the way. These villages were a stark contrast to the flashy streets of Central Beijing or the Hutongs that surround them. It looked as if life in these villages had not changed in hundreds of years.

We arrived at the Simitai and crawled out of the taxi. Our driver wanted his fare, but we agreed that if we paid him then, when we finished our climb and returned, we would probably find ourselves stranded. Much to his disappointment, we told him that he would get his money once we had returned and he had driven us back to Miyun. He grudgingly agreed and we were off to begin our climb.

Climbing the Wall

The Wall snaked along the ridgelines as far as the eye could see. It was a truly dramatic sight. We made our way down an embankment and then across a small suspension bridge. Waiting for us on the other end of the bridge was a woman collecting the one Yuan fee for crossing what was apparently “her” bridge. Then we climbed a steep path that would take us to the beginning of this section of the Wall.

This portion of the Wall sees very few people. With no one to maintain this area, it has fallen into great disrepair and is crumbling. Some areas are very treacherous and will leave you wondering, “What the hell am I doing?” I suppose there is a reason why many people refer to areas like this as the “Wild Wall.”

We arrived at the stairway and made our way onto the wall. As we started making our way up the first icy slope we noticed an old woman scrambling down the wall towards us. She seemed very agile and moved toward us quickly, flailing her arms and yelling frantically. She seemed to home in on Hoa first yelling madly. We realized that she was demanding us to give her money in order to continue our journey. The Great wall is not owned by anyone and there is no reason to pay anyone a fee for walking it, but many people who live close to the wall make their living by demanding fees from travelers. We just continued up the slope laughing as the woman continued to shriek at Hoa. Too many people had tried to hustle us too many times in recent days, so we were firm on not paying. She gave chase, but soon realized that her efforts would be fruitless.

Hiking along the Wall was amazing. As far as the eye could see, barren and lifeless mountains stretched on either side of the wall. The hillsides were a desolate brown color with a dusting of snow. With the wind chill, it was probably about -25°C, but we were all sweating as we trudged up the steep inclines.

At about the halfway point we reached a turret and decided to rest. There was an old man waiting there. As we tried to exit and continue our journey he desperately blocked the doorway and we were about to witness a repeat of earlier events. He wanted some money and we simply did not want to give him any. Being bullied and hassled was not something we enjoyed.
Once we were back on our way we stared ahead at an incline we would have to climb. We were all a little shocked at how steep it was. I had read that some of the inclines were more than 70 degrees and we had met the first one on this hike. My fear of heights slowed me down, but it did not stop me. I was the first one to make my way up the slope, crawling on all fours the entire way. After a quick break to take a few more pictures, I finally made it to the top of the incline and breathed a sigh of relief.

The four of us continued for several more hours. Some sections were very precarious. Some areas were so deteriorated that it was almost like tightrope walking. Moving slowly and carefully was the only way to make our way down some more steep inclines.

As we reached the end of our hike, we saw a lone shack standing by a small stream. Apparently, in the summer, a thirsty traveler can buy a soda and a snack once they have finished their trip. We took some more pictures and then we saw a man, carefully smoking a cigarette, slowly walking along a path toward us. We soon realized that he was our driver and he wanted to make sure that we did not disappear on him. The walk back to the minibus was about forty minutes and our group was joined by a few farmers who walked along with us, chatting to the driver.

The four of us made our way back to Miyun, the driver relentlessly trying to sell us postcards the entire way. We easily found the bus to Beijing. We were thankful to sit on a comfortable seat and have our feet thaw. It was already dusk and we were all very tired and worn out. It was roughly six o’clock when we arrived at Dongzhimen Bus Station. With a complete lack of line-ups in Asia, we had to push our way off the bus. A large crowd was trying to force their way on the bus and not letting anyone get off. No one seemed to realize that if the passengers were not allowed off the bus, they could not get on. After a short taxi ride, we were back at our guesthouse. It was time to clean up and enjoy some Beijing Duck and cold beer.

I would find myself back in Korea in three days, my vacation finished. My eight days in China were fabulous, for the most part. I could have done without the sub zero temperatures and constant wind, but those were never a true problem. I had a great time and was thankful to have seen the Great Wall. The sheer enormity of the Wall was a lot for me to process. It was also incredible to stand on something I had always wanted to see and experience. I hope to return to Beijing soon, but next time, in the summer.

Hope you guys enjoyed that piece I wrote many years ago!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Rule the World

As a teacher, sometimes I like to ask my students some creative questions. It can be a lot of fun to see what creative, fun or sometimes very serious answers they can give when posed with a “heavy” question. Now please remember, my students are 6 years old and would be in the 1st grade in Canada or the United States.

Today’s question posed to my students:

“If you could be the leader of the entire world, what would you do?”

Some select student responses:

Student 1: “I would save all wild boars around the world.” (That’s right…he wants to save wild pigs!)

Student 2: “I want to save all bugs except bees and centipedes.”

Student 3: “I want to eat spaghetti all day, everyday.”

Student 4: “Save all dogs.” (There seems to be a true humanitarian theme.)

Student 5: “I would go to Hawaii and buy LEGO.”

Student 6: “I want to play in a swimming pool everyday.”

Student 7: “ I want to save all people in the world, but not bad guys. I want to punch bad guys!”

Student 8: “I want to save all animals, but not the animals that eat people.”

This was a fun little blog to put together. I love asking young children questions like this. If you enjoyed this one, leave a comment below.

For a little more of Kobe, here is a short video I filmed tonight while heading home. You can take a peak at a small train station I at times use when heading home. This is a stop on the Port Liner, an elevated train that takes people to and from Port Island.