Wednesday, 5 October 2011

My kind of planning


There is always a lot of talk around the Plannersphere town about different types of planning and new types of planning, I guess it's a part of our trade to discuss and define what we do and how we're doing it, which on one side is cool, always interesting thoughts brought to the table, and another side I sometimes find the overuse of often ill defined or even meaningless jargon as well as rehashed conversation themes somewhat tedious.

Now don't get me wrong, I love a good conversation and I think it's a juicy topic for planners, I get into these and I also use quite a bit of jargon, I think it's inevitable. I typically use lots of jargon as an easy or lazy way out of explaining what I actually mean, to impress in a meeting and/or because we talk so much BS most days that no one will question another jargon word in a meeting and nod as if it makes complete sense. Or they'll counter BS with another bunch of jargon words. Until the meeting is over and no one is really clear what it was all about or what the next steps are. And of course, I'm exaggerating to make my point, I'm sure you get it.

Regarding planning there's account planning, brand planning, comms planning, digital planning, PR planning, creative planning, etc. More recently I've seen agile planning, micro planning, real time planning, engagement planning, social media planning, innovation planning planning by doing, etc. Then to make things more interesting there's the conversations about strategy and the difference with planning, if there is one. On top, you can also apply all the previous varieties of planning to strategy, so we get digital strategy, social media strategy, etc. Then we can also blend in order to get strategic planning, or even digital strategic planning, agile strategic planning, etc. I could go on, but you probably get the idea.

However interesting I've found many blog posts, articles or presentations on these topics the more terms of the kind I read, the less sense they make at all. And let's remind ourselves that planning is nebulous for most people to start with, I find adding more varieties and different definitions doesn't necessarily help.

In a rare attempt at a relatively thoughtful post, I'm now going to go against what I just said and I'll add a new piece jargon to our ever growing collection of fancy vocabulary. I'm going to tell you what kind of planning I enjoy, give it a name, and tell you what it is. It's already been said in several other ways by other planners and thinkers out there so it's not ground breaking or rocket science, it's just a variation on a theme.

Over the past few years, I've been asked a few times what kind of planner I am and just saying I'm a planner doesn't seem sufficient. The voice of reason and convention says I'm a digital planner because that's the kind of projects I have the most professional experience with and I enjoy them, but then I also tend to go into a lengthy explanation about the fact that I consider myself a planner and that the digital part of the title is just because some people understand better, or think they do, with that point specified.

I'm now ready to answer this question about what kind of planner I am, and as I previously mentioned I'm lazy so I'm going to give it a jargon name and if people adopt it, then I won't have to explain anymore, and I'll save myself a few minutes for every meeting or conversation where I should have explained it otherwise, which would be fantastic.

I call it Making Shit Happen Planning.

Using it as an acronym will also allow everyone to save precious tiny bits of time, avoid potential awkward usage of an excretion type word as well as add to the general nebulous nature of planning altogether, and lastly so other people don't ask questions in fear of being caught not knowing the latest jargon out there.

You guessed it, now we have MSH Planning. That's my kind of planning.

So what is MSH Planning?

Excellent question, thanks for asking.

I work in the sort of general marketing and communications industry and sometimes clients need stuff to happen. They tell me what they need happening (or if you're in an agency sometimes the account manager type people come up and tell the planner what the client said they wanted happening; a meeting might be taking place) and then I ask them some questions about what they need happening, to make sure I really understand what they want / need. I usually find that the more questions I can think of asking them and the more answers I can get, then the better I am at MSH Planning.

The stuff clients need happening of course often involves making sales happen, but the stuff in question can also be extremely varied and different; anything from figuring out what their new brand should be to posting the right kind of content on Twitter (Yes, those two are totally related). I think that's where all the different types of planning come into play, but let's put them aside for now. Once I'm happy I understand well enough what the client needs happening, or the client gets bored of my questions - whichever comes first, I go away - and this is the tricky part, pay attention - I develop a plan for how the stuff needed by the client is going to happen.

For a quick reminder I just checked planning with my trusty Google Dictionary:
I think in our case, we're more interested in 1.

There are of course a lot of questions involved in developing this plan, but whatever the job is, they can be summed up of a combination of these, in no particular order:
  • What?
  • Who?
  • How?
  • Where?
  • When?

Once I'm confident I have a good plan that is going to make that shit the client wants actually happen, I can go back and present it. Some negotiations may be involved at this stage, in order to come to an agreement on the plan. Then the plan goes ahead and if the shit intended happens, it was a good plan.

That's pretty much it. I'll recap:

  1. A client wants something to happen
  2. I ask a few questions to make sure I understand what they want
  3. I go and develop a plan to make the something happen
  4. We agree on the plan
  5. Plan goes ahead
  6. Results
    1. The something intended happened, the plan was successful
    2. The something intended did not happen, the plan unsuccessful
These steps can take place over any length of time, long or short, repeated or not, it doesn't really matter as the steps are basically the same (That's where I think we're into Agile / real time / micro planning, which could be discussions about the timeline and repetition or lack thereof of these steps - I'll also leave that aside for now). The steps are also very simple though not necessarily easy and there is a lot to learn within each, but we'll keep it here for now.

That's MSH Planning. I really like it, and now I'm developing my own little business and tend to work with small to medium clients that appreciate planning but don't have that much time or cash for much BS, so it's good to keep it simple even though the plan itself may be complicated by the end. And given I'm often in the novel position if implementing and executing some parts of the plan in addition to developing it, I'm discovering that the more freedom and trust I have from the client, the better able I am to do good MSH Planning. 

I'm also realising how really frustrated I was while working at an agency that most of the plans I would develop would not go ahead at all, typically staying stuck forever in phase 4. 'We agree on the plan' or simply canceled altogether. I also know this happens in the industry, though I think it doesn't have to be this way as often as I've seen or heard.

To finish this off, MSH Planning doesn't just apply to marketing and communications, you can use these steps in all sorts of other areas. Plus making shit happen will make you happy and fulfilled. It's often challenging and it's also really worth it.

I you haven't before, I highly recommend you try MSH Planning. I also dare you to use the term in a meeting. If you do, I want to hear about it.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Return of Beersphere - in London!


Hello London planners! It turns out I am unexpectedly coming back to Europe for a few months, and just before leaving I will be meeting with a bunch of Singapore planners for a Beersphere (the first official Beersphere Singapore, I believe) the week before coming to London, so I thought it would be fun to follow it straight away with a Beersphere London and catch up with my planner friends there!

I am hoping to make a sort of soft launch announcement for the very exciting secret project I have been working on these past few weeks at Beersphere Singapore, and will be talking about it some more at Beersphere London as well if all goes to plan. I'm also thinking of a cool way to bring word of the Singapore planners directly in the hands of the London planners (ideas welcome!).

In the usual fashion of Beersphere, it will be a casual meetup of planners over a few drinks - and given I've been in Asia so long and missing fine British ales, I've for now decided on having it at The Harp in Covent Garden - hoping the weather won't be too bad as it's a small pub and most people usually end up hanging out on the sidewalk, we'll see how it is weather wise and how many people can make it, if needed we can always change the location.

So if you're free, join us for a few beers from 6:30pm!


The Harp:
47 Chandos Place, Covent Garden
London, WC2N 4HS

Please RSVP for the event on
Facebook
Twtvite / Twitter

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Beersphere Strikes Back - in Singapore!


In the grandest of Beersphere traditions initiated by Faris, come and meet other Singapore planners for a drink or three on Friday 7th October at Mulligan's in Clarke Quay, Singapore! We'll be discussing plannery type stuff, having fun, and of course it's an opportunity for close ethnographic observation of the Clarke Quay fauna (credits to Sushobhan for the expression).

Beersphere is an event very close to my heart, it's at a Christmas Beersphere in London that I made my first forays into officially becoming a planner, Neil and Faris are the first planners I met there, had cool conversations with them and they accepted me as one of them. After that, I was definitely a planner, even though I hadn't found a job as one just yet. I also enjoy beer and chatting with interesting people, so that's a big plus for the event.

If you're a planner in Singapore, I hope to see at Mulligan's in Clarke Quay that evening and count on you to spread the news - I don't know that many planners there myself! Let's make it a big one!

Event details:
Facebook
Twtvite

See you there, I'm looking forward to it!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The importance of Multilingual SEO - or lack thereof


This is the second email I receive from this gentleman, here is his email and my reply. Just one question, am I being unnecessarily mean? Or is it relatively measured?


To: willem
Subject: http://www.willemvdh.com/ - Did you receive this email sent to you last week ?
Date: Thu, 15 Sep 2011 00:46:35 +0300
From: martin

Did you receive the e-mail which we sent to you recently (copied here-below)?
Please confirm since I have had problems lately with emails intercepted by spam-filters set too high.

Cordially, 

Martin, Ph.D.
 

I am Dr. Martin and I work for Multilingual Search Engine Optimization Inc. in Washington DC  (Tel:) - I would like to speak with the person in charge of your international clientele. Who is my contact? Who should I speak to??

In fact, after visiting http://www.willemvdh.com/ , I have noticed that your website cannot be found on foreign search engines (I tested it on Hispanic search engines, German search engines, Asian search engines, etc.) Our company is specialized in multilingual search engine promotions in 28 languages . From the Japanese Google to the German Yahoo, from the AOL  in Spanish to the MSN in Chinese, we can show you how to develop a true international online presence by promoting your website on foreign search engines.

Let us show  you how to develop a presence on the multilingual web without having to  translate your website: It is not necessary to translate your website in  order to submit to foreign search engines, however, you need to have at least  1 page in Japanese optimized with Japanese keywords and meta tags in order to  submit to Japanese search engines, at least 1 page in Spanish optimized with  Spanish keywords in order to submit to Hispanic search engines and so  on...

I strongly suggest that you watch our online presentation which explains clearly how to get top rankings on foreign search engines with  only 1 entry page per language (click on the following link or copy-paste it  into your web browser): http://www.languageseo.net/demoFrom the Japanese Google to the German Yahoo, from the AOL  in Spanish to the MSN in Chinese, get users to find your website when  searching with YOUR KEYWORDS in their Native language.

Please call me at xx or email me and let's work on giving your website the true international exposure which it deserves to have with foreign native online  users!!

Regards, 

Martin, Ph.D.
 
------------------------------

From: willem
To: martin
Subject: RE: http://www.willemvdh.com/ - Did you receive this email sent to you last week ?
Date: Thu, 15 Sep 2011 03:05:21 +0000

Dear Doctor,

I did indeed receive your email last week. 

I had started writing a reply but stopped myself because it wouldn't have added any value, I thought it was probably a spam-bot email and it would have wasted my time, which I couldn't afford to do last week as I was very busy. You should probably have left it at that, but you're being insistent now so here I am. You caught me when I was just looking for some content for a new blog post and I can afford to waste a few minutes. 

Given you've sent another email, I'm now thinking you are actually serious in what you're talking about which to me is fairly unbelievable, being a marketing and digital communications professional myself. If you are a real doctor, I'm going to go on a wild guess here and say your Ph.D had nothing to do with the Internet because you don't sound like you know what you are talking about.

As you've correctly identified, I have a personal url, it's my personal and sometimes also business blog. It doesn't have that many visitors and I don't really need them either. 

It is written - in English - so why would anyone searching the web in another language want to come across it? And why would I bother spending time, effort and I suspect cash to make my site 'SEO friendly in other languages' when I'm writing in english, it doesn't make sense. And if I was searching in another language I may well be looking for content in my own language rather than having a blog written in English show up in my search results. I personally happen to be bilingual in French as well as pretty good with Spanish, if I really wanted to focus on reaching a French or Spanish speaking audience, guess what? I'd write in French or Spanish and then my blog would magically be optimized for French or Spanish search terms. 

Moreover it is extremely easy to translate my whole blog for free at the click of a button, you should try Google Translate: http://translate.google.com/. I tried using the link you provided for your presentation and it is broken, though I still found the demo via another journey of clicks on the site. 

That demo is preposterous by the way, and definitely contains erroneous information. I'd like to quote this:
'With the Foreign Web, a Japanese user will have a better incentive to type in keywords using his native Japanese characters in a search engine' - Oh my god, who would have thought!?

I imagine and really hope you are a good person just trying to run a good business here, but please realise the concept is just too silly for me to take seriously, I'm sorry.

Kind regards,
Willem

PS: Spam-filters aren't set too high, I found your email in my junk box. You use quite a lot of spam like terms in your email and the filters get it's a very 'salesy' email. I won't give you a recommendation on how to make your emails better, though I would advise focusing your business in a different direction altogether.




Monday, 12 September 2011

Top Secret Project


It has a been a pretty intense week for me, a lot has happened and I think it's all turning out for the best.

In no particular order:

I have finished two pieces of work I'm pretty happy with; after 7 months traveling (5 of those with no working whatsoever) I had forgotten the kind of intensity and frenzy sometimes involved in finishing work to a deadline when everything suddenly goes wrong. Like those times when you are working on a pitch (plus all your normal work load) and whoever is leading - sometimes yourself - declares 24 or 48h before the pitch presentation that everything is wrong and that the whole thing needs to go back to the drawing board. Don't we all love those moments! And wouldn't you [secretly] agree that some of your best work was born in that weird natural high that takes hold of you beyond exhaustion, when your mind and body are pumped full of adrenalin, serotonin, dopamin, and all sorts of other hormones? This week was a bit like that for me.

You guessed it, I can't sleep. It has never happened to me like this before. I've been operating on an average of 1-3 hours sleep for the past 5 nights or so. it's really weird, I'm alternating between moments of intense inspired creativity / productivity, and moments of total exhaustion. I am slightly worried about  my health, I know it's not a good thing to not sleep and I usually love sleeping, though I also think I'm OK and there's something going on demanding I give it attention (more on that further down). Today I felt I'd reached my physical limits, I had a really hard time concentrating on the deck I was writing and progress was very slow. Fortunately the topic was very familiar so I was wrote a lot from instinct, and triple checking everything I wrote. I finally finished the deck at 8pm, had a quick bite to eat as I hadn't eaten since the muffin in the morning. I was in bed before 9pm, feeling like I was ready to sleep all night. I woke up [good sign] certain I must have slept several hours, and it was 10pm. I stayed in a bed a while, then decided to get back up and write this.

My friend JB and I have known each other since we were 6 years old, a long friendship indeed. Him and his wife Marion have asked me to be the godfather of their newborn son Marcus, very exciting stuff and I'm really looking forward to meeting him. Nothing religious about it in case you're wondering (and interestingly the word in French is 'parrain' derived from the latin word patruus meaning paternal uncle, so the etymology itself isn't directly related to god; unlike the English word), I'm an atheist and they aren't particularly religious. I don't have godparents so it's a brand new experience and I know my friends see it as an important responsibility in their family as a different adult figure to the parents for their son. I was honoured to have been asked and I've of course accepted.

I've had a great time in Kuala Lumpur this week, I find it a city that really grows on you if you give it a bit of patience. It's really not pretty, that's true. On the other hand, the food is just phenomenal and as I'm meeting local friends it only gets better because they know the best places to eat. The people here are unbelievably friendly - I seriously can't get over it. You know the long face syndrome in the tube / bus / metro in all sorts of capital cities? Totally non-existent here. People smile, say hi, strike conversation randomly, with no ulterior motives than being curious and friendly. That's another reason I'm really loving spending time in Malaysia and I'm in no hurry to leave. And KL is also a big modern place with wifi everywhere which makes my life as a laptop hobo easier.

I've had this crazy day helping my friend out with changing her flights. Still not exactly over, though she's got back home in Paris as planned and Qatar Airways contacted her. I'll update the blog separately when I have a conclusion to report about it.

I discovered a great band playing in a bar close by. Travel in Southeast Asia long enough and good live bands quickly become very noteworthy as there aren't many and the majority of people around the region prefer going to dance to some cheesy popular club classics than live bands. I've posted a few songs on Audioboo if you want to check them out.

I thank the reader who has had the patience to come to this point and must by now be wondering what is  so top secret when I'm basically laying out my life on my public blog.

Well, here's the top secret part: I'm pretty sure I now know the main reason I can't sleep. I have a new project I'm extremely excited and terribly inspired about. I just started working on it and I'm keeping under top secret wraps until it is ready to be properly revealed. I'm hoping for the reveal to take place as fast as possible, realistically probably in a month's time, around early to mid October. In any case I will announce the date of the official reveal as soon as possible. Until then, as my photographer friend Vish knows well, Shh!

P.S. 

As I am writing this late at night in Kuala Lumpur and it is already September 12th; so it is early afternoon on 9/11 in New York and memorials of the 10th anniversary must be taking place as I'm writing this. I've decided to publish this post tomorrow, I just wanted to write it now as I can't sleep. I remember 9/11. I was a designer at the time, in a small agency in the suburbs west of Paris. I was shocked beyond belief; actually I hadn't really thought about it in a long time and my eyes are watering with emotion at the memory.

My elder brother Björn who is a chef was supposed to open his first restaurant in Mid-town New York that day and he told me this story. He had been working in the kitchen from really early morning getting everything ready for his opening. His food suppliers weren't showing up. He's stressing out, this is his big day. He picks up the phone and starts shouting at his fish supplier, who says something along the lines of 'You're not going to get your fucking fish today, man. Haven't you seen? Go to your roof!' My brother runs up to the roof of the mid-town Manhattan building, drops the phone to the floor when he sees the giant column of smoke. The first plane had just hit the tower minutes before.

I remember, and my thoughts go to all New Yorkers and Americans on this day.


PPS: After I finished writing this post during the night I was able to sleep again so it's all good. I'm now finishing to amend this post from a super luxury VIP bus on my way from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. I'm the only passenger! It has super comfy huge seats, electricity for my laptop, onboard wifi, had a breakfast, personal video screens, it's unbelievable!! So I'm working from my bus.

I love my life, I'm the king of the laptop hobos!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Qatar Airways Fail - A friend's unfortunate quest to change her flights


UPDATE (8th September 2011): The E-marketing manager for Qatar Airways just contacted me directly by email and is going to take care of contacting my friend in order to resolve her complaint. I'm very happy about that and will update again once it's all done with news.

I haven't blogged in a while and never have I gone to such lengths to publicize a company's customer service failings but this is what has been happening to a friend I have just been helping out and I find it so ridiculously outrageous that my friend and I feel the need to spread the news.

If you happen to read this and feel the same way, please spread and share these news far and wide, I'm sure this kind of experiences happen to a lot of people and I'm also pretty sure not everyone complains about it or receives satisfaction from their complaint(s). As a spoiler for anyone looking for real excitement, go watch a movie or something, this isn't anything to do with horror, thriller or action genres. That said, I do believe it's interesting and valuable.

Below is a copy of the email sent by my friend to Qatar Airways feedback and customer service email address, I just wish to add that the intention is not to accuse any one individual employee of Qatar Airways, nor to have anything bad happen to them, rather it is an official complaint to be lodged with the airline company as a whole. My friend had to run to the airport to catch their flight so I'm helping spread the news.

Qatar Airways claims to be 'the World's Best Airline'. My friend and I certainly don't feel this claim to be true right now. I am interested in corporations and organisations providing excellent customer service and what I've experienced today is probably the furthest from excellence I've ever seen.

The way I see it, they have messed up with one of their customers and now have the chance to make it up to them. If they're fast they have several hours to meet them for their layover in Doha in a few hours, or perhaps more realistically they hopefully contact my friend as soon as possible. We'll see.


Dear Sir / Madam,

I am writing this email today in order to register an official complaint to Qatar Airways as I am extremely disappointed so far with the level of service you have provided me as a paying customer with a problem to solve. As a global airline company wishing to promote world class service I would expect much better, particularly as I see that you are advertising yourself as ‘the world’s best airline’ on this site (http://www.qatarairwaysmelbourne.com) and have won several prizes I can see listed here: http://www.qatarairways.com/global/en/newsroom/archive/PressRelease1_22June11.html.

Unfortunately I haven’t found anyone who could help me directly and I find myself feeling forced to not only write you this email, but also to copy and send it to all the relevant people and organisations whom I feel may either be able to help me or would be interested in hearing about my current situation.

I will start at the beginning and explain to you the series of circumstances I have been faced with and the troubles I have had to deal with as a result of them, both on financial and emotional Ievels.

I booked a flight from Paris to Kuala Lumpur for my summer holidays, departing the 31st July 2011.

My return was planned for the 21st of August, and I decided to postpone my flight and extend my holidays which is where you presented a first barrier to me: the cost to change my booking was 433 RM which could only be paid via a Malaysian bank account or an international bank transfer, no major credit cards accepted whatsoever. I did not have time to process an International bank transfer and being a French tourist on holidays, I obviously do not have a Malaysian bank account. Fortunately, I managed to ask a Malaysian friend to help me with the transfer; my friend was forced to take time out of their working day to visit the Kuala Lumpur Qatar Airways office in order to pay for my flight change fees and of this I am extremely grateful to them, a new friend in Malaysia had already been ten times more helpful than Qatar Airways to whom I had already paid 1,100 Euros for my original flight, plus the flight change fees.

At this point, I am not even mentioning the 25 phone calls and time on the phone and emails looking to reach the Kuala Lumpur Qatar Airways office in order to organise this flight change, which is already unbelievable for an international company of the size of Qatar Airways.

Unfortunately for me, the National holiday celebrations in Malaysia on the weekend of the 3rd of September meant that I have had to change my flight again because I found myself unable to get to Kuala Lumpur in time for my flight. Again, I had to call the Qatar Airways Kuala Lumpur office over 20 times and send three emails to change my flight as well as find another Malaysian friend who would be able to help me transfer the new 435RM flight change fee. My understanding was that my flight had been changed for the 7th September and I arrived here in Kuala Lumpur yesterday morning on the 6th September.

I checked my emails upon arriving in order to make sure the new booking was confirmed, though having no news I managed to reach the Kuala Lumpur office by phone and found out that my booking had been cancelled and that the only flight now available to me would be on Sunday 11th September. At that point, I really want to you to understand that I literally broke down in tears on the telephone.

The stress I’ve been under over the weekend knowing I wouldn’t be able to make my flight on the 5th was already taxing enough, meaning 2 days of unpaid leave from work. The fact that my booking had been cancelled even though the flight change fee had been paid 3 days before for the 7th September meant that because of Qatar Airways’ poor service and/or mistakes, I would have to call back my employer and explain to them that I would have to take an additional 4 days of unpaid leave.

I spent Tuesday afternoon calling the Kuala Lumpur office pleading them to find the bank transfer that had been made and confirm my flight for Sunday 11th September given that still hadn’t been done yet, again more tears and fear of not being able to return to Paris even as late as the 11th. I had to give my Malaysian friend’s number to the Qatar office so they could ask my friend to send the bank transfer confirmation, even though I had already provided all the required banking transfer information several days ago. I don’t even know what words to write now for you to really understand the pain I’ve been through to do something as seemingly simple as changing a flight booking. For me to say it’s completely outrageous is an understatement.

This morning, still having had no confirmation that my flight was booked for Sunday 11th I called again and went to the Kuala Lumpur office in person and after having waited 2 hours, found out it still hadn’t been done. I confirmed the ticket in person, asked again if there was any way to be on an earlier flight with no success and asked to speak to the manager in order to lodge an official complaint.

The first thing that upset me even more if that’s even possible is that the manager told me almost immediately that he could contact headquarters and find an earlier flight for me, and after a few minutes confirmed I could in fact be on a flight to Paris tonight, with an 8 hours layover in Doha. Why this wasn’t possible for the past two days I spent calling and emailing the office I have no idea.

I then asked the manager to register an official complaint with Qatar Airways for all the trouble I had to go through to get the flight changed, to which he told me there is nothing they could do and that my sole recourse was to send an email to tell-us@my.qatarairways.com.

I am extremely upset about this whole situation; I am relieved to finally leave for Paris in a few hours even though I will not be looking forward to spending 8 hours in Doha airport. I will finish this email by saying that I unfortunately do not feel I have the luxury of waiting for a reply from the customer service department so I have decided to try and make this as widely known as possible, sending copies of this complaint to the people and organisations listed below.

I am landing in Doha for my layover at __:__ local time with the flight from Kuala Lumpur and will be hoping that a Qatar Airways representative will be waiting for me so my complaint can be solved to my satisfaction.

My name is G. M. and my flight booking reference is ______.

Kind regards,
G. M.


This complaint is copied and sent to:

Regional Marketing Manager Europe Qatar Airways
via Linkedin Inmail

VP Commercial Europe Qatar Airways
via Linkedin Inmail

Manager - Brand Communications Qatar Airways
via Linkedin Inmail

Head of Corporate Communications Qatar Airways
via Linkedin Inmail

Brand Republic
Marketing Magazine
Business Week
Strategies

Several blogs 
Consumer organisations in France:
·      ASSECO-CFDT (Association études et consommation)
·      FNAUT (Fédération nationale des associations d’usagers des transports)
·      ORGECO (Organisation générale des consommateurs)
·      UFC-Que Choisir (Union fédérale des consommateurs-Que Choisir)

Monday, 4 July 2011

Foursquare Specials in Kuala Lumpur


While I was in Kuala Lumpur a few weeks ago, I had wifi connection and thought I'd fire up Foursquare and check in. I was slightly surprised to see the Specials yellow icon show up with 15 Specials in my area, though I checked it out as I usually do, out of curiosity for how location owners are promoting their services via Foursquare.

I have no idea how many people use Foursquare in Malaysia, I'm guessing not that many, and the amount of people using a phone with a Foursquare application (Android or iPhone - even though, yes I know one can use Foursquare via any old phone, but that requires more commitment than I suspect the average user has). The interesting thing is that's it was the first time I see pretty luxury brands / companies advertising on Foursquare.

In London I'd see either chains of eateries (Domino's, Pho, Pret, etc) or independent small businesses (local pub or sandwich shop). In Kuala Lumpur, it's the Sheraton. I may have missed the fact that Sheraton has signed some sort of deal to advertise on Foursquare worldwide, though I thought it's an interesting point. What kind of advertisers to do see Foursquare Specials from in your area?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Youth in Kunming

I've caught occasional glimpses into youth in the different countries I've visited and as I know it's often a fascinating group of people to many brands and marketers, so here are a few observations that may be useful and/or interesting. I was thinking of writing a post about several countries and observations at once, but after thought that would be way too long and would probably lose focus. In many ways, some of the things I noticed or thought about while traveling have been like looking through a keyhole without getting the full picture, and that's often where I find the most interesting pieces of insight, even if sometimes I don't know what it all means, I have more of an idea where to look next if I'd like to find out more about a topic.

As for the previous post, we are still in Kunming, City of Eternal Spring and capital of Yunnan Province, in Southwestern China, a few months ago. For a bit more background, Kunming is a lovely city, not very large by Chinese standards with about 5 million inhabitants. Similarly to many Chinese cities, the old town has mostly been destroyed to make way for modern roads and buildings, though it seems to have been done particularly well, giving the centre of town an airy and agreeable feel. The people seem rather laid-back and friendly, not moving at the same kind of frenetic pace one can notice towards the large urban areas of the eastern side of the country.

While walking around on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I came across several fairly large groups of young people and teenagers practicing their hip hop dance moves and routines on one side of a pedestrian square, and some dancing to more dance / vaguely electronic music on another (Mostly girls, with what seemed to me like emo or gothic looks, though they probably weren't at all - different references).

Check here for a quick Audioboo sound snippet of the scene (embed didn't seem to work, weirdly).

It was nice to see them express themselves and be quite at ease with dancing or singing in front of all their peers as well as passing strangers, if you think about it, it's not usual characteristics one would associate with teens. The classic stereotypes would probably include being self-conscious, worrying what others think of you and wanting to be part of the right kind of group. I'm not saying they don't have these concerns though they didn't seem to have them as I was observing so perhaps they show up differently.

The closest scene I could imagine elsewhere, and mostly coming from hearsay or movies rather than personal experience, is in the US, kids gathering close to outdoors basketball courts with the boom boxes or car stereos, hanging out and some dancing. It's completely cliché, but that's how this scene in Kunming felt. I wonder if that's where these kids got their cues from to start gathering like that..?

Another thought is about the fact that concepts of personal space or privacy are also completely different in China (perhaps Asia) than they are in the west (I'm generalising). This point alone can easily be the main focus of an all nighter conversation with friends, alongside some wine and/or drinks so I'm not going to go much into it aside from saying that people all over China practice dancing, tai chi and various other physical activities in large groups everyday, interior spaces are often crowded so the streets and public areas are naturally places where people meet and hang out so perhaps what these teens are going it all normal and nothing to do with American culture - apart from the music itself perhaps.

To finish on a different note about Kunming, a few days later I visited a trendy bar / club type of place and noticed this poster in the entrance:
Is it a party for white people? Do white blond girls on the poster attract more Chinese customers? Or the promise of white blond girls? Is it a party where are you are supposed to come dressed in white?

I'm still not sure what this one is about, though fascinating and rather funny I think, happy to get ideas and suggestions about it.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Farewell - The Old Yunnan Hotel!


While walking in Kunming a few months ago, this wall struck me as quite interesting and made me think of a few things on how we view new, old and how these qualities are associated with traditions. Generally the way we see things in Europe, a building, monument, more or less any architectural structure is old and merits the respect due to tradition if it has been there for a very long time. Several hundreds of years at least. That sounds extremely obvious, although most of European civilisations have been building of stone that can last a very long time.

Stonehenge or similar stone structures in Britanny are amongst the oldest left, believed to have been built around 2,500 BC or so. They are landmarks to early cultures and extremely important to us. They are authentic because they are old and because they have been left unchanged over time. At the same time, no other structures or buildings are left from that time and if we were to rebuild an ancient gallic or British village it would be considered an interesting and possibly educational theme park, and not treated with the same respect given to the real thing.

This is something that struck me the first time I visited China about 4 years ago and this time seeing it proudly written on a wall, I had to snap a few photos and scribble a couple of notes. Last time I visited China, I climbed the 3,000 high Holy Buddhist Mountain of Emei. The mountain has been holy for thousands of years, as you probably know China is steeped in ancient history and extremely proud of their traditions and heritage. The mountain has been sculpted over years, steps all the way to the summit, several  large monasteries built on the way, entire murals of intricately sculpted characters in the face of the mountain along certain paths. It was a gorgeous walk and a brilliant experience. 

Still, arriving at the summit was somewhat of a disappointment for us occidentals. We had heard of the statue of the buddha at the summit and were expecting a lot from it. It was, though it was also obviously brand new, wooden or something alike, with ugly yellow-gold plating. 

Immediately we see fake and it kills everything - well for me at least. The Chinese on the other hand see thousands of years of sacred history and tradition. They know it has been rebuilt recently, but that doesn't matter. I imagine it's the idea of it having being built so long ago in the first place and it being rebuilt anew for new generations to enjoy that matters most. Also, the main material used is wood, which doesn't last as long as stone so tradition, new and old are necessarily seen in different ways for Occidental and Chinese people (possibly Asian, but I haven't seen everywhere, tell me if you have any other thoughts).


Same for the Yunnan Hotel, which at the time I saw it was a pile of rubble of the old hotel. When it is rebuilt, it will be over 1,000 years old AND brand new at the same time for Chinese people visiting. The pride of the history for the building is there, as well as being able to enjoy all sorts of clean and modern amenities I imagine. For me that's a paradox, for Chinese people it may well be completely natural.

These are my own observations, I might be completely wrong. Does anyone else have similar experiences about new and old in China or in Asia?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Asian questions

                              Image Courtesy

Now that I've pretty much finished on the 'reporting' part of my travels in my blog, I am up picking on a few random notes I made while on the road with half baked thoughts about my experiences; the countries, people and cultures I traveled in. That is going to give me content for a few blog posts at least, though I also thought I would open up the playing field and see if anyone out there may have questions for me as well. Things I haven't necessarily thought but that might be interesting. Of course, none of my answers will be anything close to proper market research, though you never know when the next interesting piece of insight may come from.

We all know Asia is booming in many ways, even just spending a few days in China was awe-inspiring considering how it was when I had visited about 4 years before and how fast things are changing. It is also mind-boggling as one thing I'm sure of is that for anything new I discover while in China I also know I'm not even scratching the surface. Things are moving so fast and based in cultures so different from occidental / Judeo-christian points of views that everything is fascinating and I doubt there is a single straightforward answer to any questions someone doing business in Asia may have about their market and audience.

At the same time for all the differences, everything seems to be moving towards 'Occidentalising' Asia if that makes any sense - the same fashion brands, giant shopping malls, Hollywood cinema, fast food joints, etc. Though I believe assuming these things make Asian cultures and occidental ones the same (or soon to be the same) is a mistake, as the context they are coming from is completely different.

As I said, I only have my own glimpses and experiences, though I'm certain it's a worthwhile topic and I'm sure I can learn from others as well as some may be able to learn from my experiences out here.

Here are the countries I have visited so far and about which I may be able to share stories, experiences and insights:

  • China
  • Hong Kong (technically part of China, though still sort of independent)
  • Vietnam
  • Laos
  • Thailand
  • Malaysia

Any questions?

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Perhentian Paradise

After having enough of a few days of rainy weather in Georgetown, I decided to try my luck on the eastern side of the Malaysian peninsula and took the bus over to The Perhentian Islands. I thought I would probably stay 3 or 4 days enjoying the beach before heading on to the jungle of the Taman Negara National Park.

I did enjoy lovely Long Beach for about 4 days, but then the rest of my plans were thwarted in a very good way as I decided to pass my Open Water diving certification, in the end staying over two more weeks on Perhentian Kecil, the small island of the Perhentians. I really loved it there, started making new friends and discovering scuba diving is probably the best highlight of my whole trip. I fell in love with diving straight away, only wondering why I hadn't tried it before (well, I do know about the two last years, my ears were slightly damaged after a small flight over the Andes so I couldn't really be under water. I realised they were all fine by now after some snorkeling, so I decided it was time for scuba).

I'm still not even certain what I like the most about diving; fish have never been a particular passion of mine, though of course I started learning to recognise the most obvious usual suspects after a few dives (angel fish, butterfly fish, barracudas, puffer fish, clown fish, anemone fish, trigger fish, parrot fish, etc).

I think I really the sensations of being underwater, discovering a whole new world where we're not naturally geared up to be wandering around as human beings, I enjoyed learning new things about diving safety procedures and equipment, I appreciate the calm silence interrupted by the weird quality of underwater sounds, I love the freedom of movement as well as learning to use my body in new ways (Such as using my lungs and breathing to manage buoyancy and which level I stay at under water, or sparing my arm and leg movements to save air). It is magical in many ways and I definitely want to keep diving in the future.

I ended up also passing my Advanced Open Water certification, in which I tried out different types of dives which was a lot of fun: a deep dive where we went down to 29m depth; a navigation dive practicing with the compass underwater; a search & recovery dive learning basic techniques to look for and recover lost objects under water; a wreck dive spotting and writing down points of hazard and interest on the wreck of a fairly large cargo ship; and finally a night dive which was weird, eerie and wonderful.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Eating Indian in Georgetown



After a whole day in sweltering sun begging bewildered Malaysian car drivers to take us just a couple of kilometres to the next junction (and them invariably wanting to drive us to a bus station), we finally covered the 150km or so from the jetty landing of Kuala Perlis to George Town in Penang.

Hitch hiking that day was a lot of fun, it was great to have many random conversations with Malaysian people about their country and culture. For some reason several of the people who picked us up were university professors, so very well spoken in English. I explained to them I was hitch hiking to find out more about Malaysian people and for the fun of the experience (that made no sense to them at all).

We checked in a cheap guesthouse which seemed to be an old travellers hangout, for some reason the average age seemed over 50. Apparently the younger backpacker crowds stayed on newly renovated fancy chic hostels further down the street.

I hadn't mentioned Jean-Roch doesn't drink so I thought it would be good for me to start my month no drinking while hanging out with him (and alcohol is pretty expensive in Malaysia, beer in particular).

I like Georgetown, it was a nice place to relax after the travel rush in Thailand, and there is Little India. We found ourselves our little Indian canteen and proceeded to eat there at least once or twice a day. Cheap and delicious, I was surprised how much I don't get bored of Indian food!


We met Andrea and Franzi again, two German girls on holidays we had met in Langkawi. We had a fantastic evening visiting a few 5 star hotels, crashing a Chinese wedding, and singing cheesy karaoke songs on the revolving top floor restaurant with nice views of the city.


The weather wasn't that great, I was glad to rest for a few days, walk around town, read and eat Indian food. Then it felt like time to move on. We did have one lovely morning before I left though and walked over to the Chinese Clan Jetties, which had great views of the bay and the city.

Duty free Langkawi


On the 9th May 2011, I spent the day travelling with a couple of buses from Ko Lanta South to Satun via Trang. I spent the night in Satun (which I wouldn't particularly recommend doing unless you have to, though the night market is pretty good) and caught the first ferry to the duty free island of Langkawi in Malaysia the following morning.

Langkawi is a pretty large island (it means 'strong eagle' in Malay, the eagle is the island symbol) on the Adaman Sea, pretty developed, though with several protected areas of nature as well.


I stayed at the Gecko Guesthouse on Pantai Cenang, probably one of the cheapest options for backpackers and was glad to like the atmosphere immediately as well as the other people staying there.

The beach seemed nice enough, though again pretty developed: resorts, paragliding, water scooters, banana boats, etc.

Unfortunately the weather started turning bad just after I arrived, skies clouding over around noon and raining soon afterwards. I tried cycling to the cable car one day with Crystal, a girl I met at the guesthouse, we almost got there but it was really overcast, couldn't see the top of the hill anymore and it started raining heavily so we gave up and hitched a ride back to Cenang beach.


On the plus side, we had a good party the night before. It was Bobby's birthday, one of the staff from the guesthouse, so we partied at the guesthouse first, then at the Babylon Beach bar, and ended at the only bar club sort of place, The Sumba. A fun night.


I then met Jean-Roch, a cool French traveler who usually hitch-hikes everywhere. He was heading to Georgetown, Penang in the morning. Given the weather was bad and he sold me the fun of hitch hiking, I joined him for the ride.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

South Thailand

I spent most of a lovely day in the train heading South to Surat Thani, watching the world go by out of the window. I had thought the train line would get extremely close to the shore according to the map and I was glad to see I was right, rewarded with views of the Gulf of Thailand rolling a couple of hundred yards away at some point during the journey.

I moved on straight to Krabi afterwards, nice little town. Enough travellers to meet people around a meal at the night market, but not so crowded with tourists. I spent the following day at Ralay Beach, and booked to go on a sea kayaking tour the day after - both were really lovely, and the sea kayaking was good exercise as well. Not really that much to add, it was all pretty fast, no particular encounters, more nice people travelling and sharing opinions about where they've been and where to go next...




After Krabi, I decided to head to Ko Lanta on the recommendations of several people I met along the way as well as my brother Morgan and my friend Susie. I stayed on Long Beach for the first night and had a nice sunset with views of Ko Phi Phi in the distance. Aside from that Ko Lanta was extremely quiet, too much so for me traveling on my own. I did meet a few people after I moved to Khlong Khong beach the following day and had a nice day motorcycling around the island, but then it was time to start making my way to the Malaysian border.


Briefly in Bangkok


I haven't seen The Hangover II yet, though I'll wager that my 2 days in Bangkok were pretty different: a couple of beers at most, no ping-pong shows, no seedy bars or brothels, no Sikh fortune tellers, walked down Khao San Rd just once.

I spent most of the day travelling from Ayutthaya (80km away, don't ask) and was going to meet Rene, a guy from Cameroon I could couchsurf with, a contact I got via Brian in Khon Kaen.

Very nice guy, he lived fairly close to Sukhumvit and told me of a couple of crazy stories in which he literally picked crying tourists off the street after a party night where they'd lost everything, being drugged and robbed around the trendy bars and clubs of the area.

So we went to the cinema instead, saw Thor. Pretty good in a bad and cheesy way, or something like that. The weirdest part was to stand up during the 2 min film to the glory of the king of Thailand before the movie.

Being far from the main tourist sights, I decided to move closer the following morning. Took the river bus, found a cheap hostel a couple of streets away from Khao San, walked around ChinaTown, Little India, to the train station to buy my onward ticket and walked back, visited Wat Pho and the big (really big!) laying Buddha statue before it closed for the day. I found a nice little quiet bar playing live jazz for the evening which was perfect.

I visited the Grand Palace the following morning, really loved the murals in the temple, that's really what I spent most time looking at. The Palace itself looks nice, though I'm pretty sure it served as inspiration for Disneyland - I think the entrance of Disneyland Paris looks extremely similar.

I then walked over to the Vinmanmek mansion, I think that was my favourite sight, gorgeous all wooden mansion. No photos allowed as well, so I really paid attention and wanted to remember as much as I could.




Then on the way back to the hostel, I was pulling my iPod Touch out of my pocket to check the time, someone bumped into me at the same time. The iPod fell to the ground in slo mo. Screen shattered.

That was Bangkok.

I left early to get my train to Surat Thani the following morning.

Rushing through Thailand



After 6 weeks spent in Laos, taking my time, enjoying the relaxed Lao way of life as well as having a fantastic time with my baby niece, my brother and his wife, it was high time to move on to Thailand, just like it's high time to post on this blog. I left on Wednesday 27th April 2011.

I thought I would get a 30 day visa at the border, but it turned out to be only 15 days so I was already changing travel plans having barely left Vientiane. I cut out a few places I thought I would visit and essentially decided to rush it down South to the Malaysian border.

I stopped in Khon Kaen and met Brian there, a couchsurfing host who showed me around town. It's a nice relaxed university city with no tourists whatsoever, and for me a gentle re-introduction to modern Asian cities (7/11, fast food joints, road traffic, etc) after 6 weeks in Laos.

A train the following morning took me to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam that had been sacked by the Burmese.

I met several interesting people there, including two funky French truck drivers there who were completely in love with Thailand, it was their 4th time in the country and they told me lots about the history of the country and about Thai culture. They also told me about diving in the Similan Islands.

I also met a Dutch surreal artist on his way back from painting a mural in a bar; he has like 9 cats and loves them so much he created cat towers for them he then also sold as useful art, I guess. I saw him again randomly in Bangkok a few days later. I have to find the links to his portfolio website.

There was also super-connector Josh, a cool Ozzie guy who made a point of introducing himself to and then inviting every person in the bar in order to make one big table of happy travellers.

And to finish, the reason we were all there was for Mr Noi, blues rock singer and guitar player extraordinaire. An awesome voice.

Sure, I also cycled around some of the main ruins around Ayutthaya, which was nice but certainly not as interesting as the people I met there.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Laos - Simply beautiful

Out of sheer laziness, I'm titling this blog post using the line from the Lao Tourism Board, I've been seeing it used on quite a few posters. I also agree with the statement / copy line, so after all why not?

I've been in Laos for close to a month now, including two weeks in Vientiane with my brother Morgan. I had planned to update the blog with a post ideas I've jotted down along the way while I have an internet access in Vientiane but have been too busy playing with my baby niece, cycling around and reading for that (plus the connection is pretty slow).

I've been having an amazing time out here so far, the country is gorgeous, it has been hot, mostly very sunny and people are generally pretty nice. It's the time of year when the Lao have a lot of parties and weddings prior to Pimai, the Lao New Year so I've also been invited to a few random parties in villages and on Don Det, one of the 4,000 Islands where I stayed for a week.

From Savannakhet I headed over to Pakse and Champasak, a lovely small town on the Mekong. It's quite touristy in a low key fashion and the main thing to go visit are the pre-Angkorian ruins of Vat Phou, which I went cycling to with some Spanish people who arrived at the same time as I did.

Tomorrow we are heading North of Laos, to Luang Prabang and then hopefully by boat to Niong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi.

The Mekong viewed from the guesthouse terrace in Champasak

The ruins of Vat Phou

I was invited for my first shot of Lao Lao (the local rice alcohol) by this fine gentleman. Language barriers made for limited conversation, we coped by drinking shots, sharing cigarettes, smiling, laughing and basic sign language

Beautiful views of the 4,000 Islands from my hammock

My little niece Anahi eating some yogurt - and using it as a hair conditioner at the same time ;)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Slow down, it's Laos



I'm very glad of my choice to move on to Laos, I arrived in Savannakhet on Sunday evening after a fairly long bus ride from Hue in Vietnam. As soon as we passed the Vietnamese border, the sky started clearing, the temperature rising, and the roads cleared as well - there are just much fewer people in Laos.

I loved it straight away. I got to a nice guesthouse recommended in the guide, joined by Tatsuro, a cool Japanese guy at the beginning of a 2 year round the world trip. The guesthouse is pretty close to the Mekong so we just had time to drop our bags and go enjoy the sunset with a BeerLao with the locals at one the food & drink stalls set up there in the evenings. Funny to think I had just crossed the whole width of both Vietnam and Laos in a day to find myself right across the river from Thailand.

I like Savannakhet, there isn't really much to do but I guess that's just what I wanted after being on the move all the time since I left Kunming. Yesterday was full sun and over 35 degrees - perfect to just walk around in the sun and have a nap in the afternoon, followed by beer & sunset time.

I rented a motorbike today to go out for a wander in the countryside, saw the closeby Budddhist stupa of That Ing Hang which apparently is an important pilgrimage site in February when thousands of people visit. I also went to a few villages out on dirt tracks, as well as a couple of lakes, there to irrigate the rice paddies in the dry season such as now. Lovely weather, a few clouds showed up so it was hot buy I didn't get burned in the sun.

Considering I can't drive (don't have my license) and hadn't been on a scooter in about 15 years this was pretty adventurous for me and glad I did it. That said, going on a loop biking for several days on dirt tracks feels slightly out of reach just now - I'll probably need some more practice. Next time I think I might just go back to normal cycling, it's easier to enjoy the scenery like that as well.

I rounded the day off with a traditional Lao massage. Lots of stretching and pressure points - good stuff. I'm now back at the iLounge Cafe for a drink and dinner. Good company, cold drinks, good Thai & Lao food and free wifi!

Tomorrow I'll be moving South to Pakse, then on to Champasak to see the Pre-Angkorian ruins of Wat Phou. After that I'll be heading to Si Phan Don, or 4,000 Islands, where the Mekong stretches out to a width of about 14km before Cambodia.

Not sure I'll get a lot of Internet access down there, most places don't have electricity apparently. A few days on a hammock watching the Mekong flow by sounds great though!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Good bye Vietnam

I have spent just about 10 days in Vietnam, travelled from the very far North where I arrived in Lao Cai to where I am now in Hue, about half way through the country. I've certainly had good times but unfortunately no sun, since I arrived I've been in or under a huge grey mass of clouds and haze, which I find makes the whole experience less enjoyable. Altogether I'm not enjoying the country that much, I have been changing my plans almost every day since I got here, chasing sunnier / warmer climes as well as trying to escape from very busy and ultra touristy areas, with all the fairly aggressive touts and scammers that come with them.

I have probably covered 1,000 km in Vietnam so far and the only grace weather-wise was a clearing of clouds for some sun and blue skies a couple of hours this morning. Anyways, I decided to give up on Vietnam and move on to Laos tomorrow morning. I am taking a bus early in the morning for Savannakhet.

I have some nice photos, met some cool people to chat with as well as spend a day or evening with, so it was all good but I also won't be missing Vietnam very much, nor am I in a massive hurry to come back. I guess it's a spoiled traveler's issue, but I much prefer China - I'd recommend going to Szechuan or Yunnan over Vietnam any day.

I certainly don't want to just sound sour, so here are a few highlights of my time here, with a few photos.

Now you see what I mean when I said Sa Pa was in the clouds and had bad visibility.
I wasn't sure I liked Hanoi much at first though As I met a few people who lived there on the 2nd day, I started to warm up to the busy atmosphere. I think it would be a great city to live in, and it was certainly nice to walk around for a couple of days. I'd say the city has a lot of charm, though not necessarily many beautiful sights for a tourist. I didn't find the food amazing either, good but not great. Maybe I didn't go to the right places, but you may know I can also be a condescending snob about that (well that and probably some other things come to think of it ;).

I decided to give Halong Bay a miss. They closed the site to most tourists the day before for fog reasons and most of the people I talked to who had just come back from it said it was not worth it given the bad weather. It was also a considerable expense for my budget, I decided to keep that money for some other attraction another day.
Busy traffic in the Old Quarter of Hanoi
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
I played around with reflections in the photos
I met some cool people to have dinner  and drinks with, including Ralph, World Traveller - his business card says so.

I went to Ninh Binh instead, with Tam Coc close by and many karstic rock formations considered to be an inland Halong Bay (actually these sort of rocks cover most of the country a I saw during my train ride later on). I spent a nice day cycling around with a Danish chef who showed up - which was good because I think I might've gotten bored by myself and he is a cool guy. I was going to go to Cuc Phuong National Park but the weather still wasn't great so I headed south on the train the following day.

Nice views of the rock formations, though limited by weather.
The long train ride was one of the highlights of Vietnam for me, I enjoyed just watching rice paddies, banana trees, rock formations and occasional trees go by while listening to music and reading for 8 hours.

It doesn't look amazing but it was a bit difficult to take good photos on the train. And it didn't actually look that great either. I enjoyed the train ride nonetheless and had an awesome book to read. 

After a short and random stop in Dong Hoi for a night, I decided on a whim to stop earlier than planned on the train, in Hue rather than Danang and Hoi An as I originally planned. I might have wasted about $5 changing train tickets and destinations, so not a huge deal.

Still cloudy weather yesterday in Hue, I spent a nice afternoon with some English people walking around the Perfume river and the remains of the old imperial palace. Had nice food for lunch, local sort of roll'em yourself spring rolls with a good peanut sauce.

In the old Imperial palace of Hue.
I'm catching up on some writing today, here and i wrote two letters, so that's four letters in Vietnam - still enjoying writing them very much. I think that'll be it for now, folks!