South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: Pay Dirt.
Date: May 11, 1995 09:35

After quietly observing me mucking about on a notebook computer in the Sawasdee House, the editor of Expressions, an English-language magazine published in Bangkok, asked if I wouldn't write an article about my experiences traveling with a computer. The following text is the result.

23:22 Saswadee House; Bangkok-Thailand :: 8 MAY 95

Odd things happen to those fiddling with odd things in public places. Try this: while budget traveling through SE Asia, carry a notebook computer rather than that mundane paper journal you usually jot the day's events into. There is nothing unusual about someone writing in a diary but sitting in a remote rural food-stall tapping at a keyboard will gather a crowd. What happens between the writer and this crowd depends on the individual behind the keyboard but certainly conversation will develop and without too much difficulty these can turn into new friendships or even business contacts. In fact, the activity most unlikely to happen during these situations is writing.

18:02 Sawasdee House; Bangkok-Thailand :: 9 MAY 95

If this novelty should wear thin, join the virtually inclined in cyberspace. That is, get an Internet mail address, a modem for the computer and then post all your journal entries as electronic mail to hip friends and family on the Internet. When everything goes right email can be cheaper than post-cards, more informative too and no one has to decipher the minute handwriting employed by those trying to fit novels on a 4X5 card. When they figured out post-cards weren't forthcoming, my parents and sisters climbed aboard the Information Superhighway band-wagon. Now Mom not only gets to hear from her son regularly, she can respond. (I hadn't thought about that possibility.)

Long-term travelers arrange to receive mail from friends and family at home by telling these people where they'll be at certain times. These travelers have what's called an itinerary. I hate itineraries. I often make up my mind where I'm going the day before I go there. No itinerary, no planned mail sites.

10:19 Sawasdee House; Bangkok-Thailand :: 10 MAY 95

Before email, communication home was one-way and carried the postal system's multi-week time lag-if it ever did arrive. And the only budget travelers making overseas long-distance calls carry Dad's AT&T phone card. But plugged in to the global network I can practically carry on a conversation, often for the price of a local call. After just five months of travel my email journal had generated 80 single-spaced type-written pages of material. The total cost for all email transmitted and received over this period came to slightly over $200 in Canadian funds. That may seem excessive for a bunch of electronic letters, however I'm fairly prolific. While receiving about 150 pieces of mail during that period, I transmitted well over 200. My email journal accounted for 55 postings, each of these distributed to a growing list that now includes 35 addresses. That's alot of mailgrams.

What I appreciate most is the immediacy possible with email. For instance, while traveling through Australia, a friend back home in Vancouver initiated a discussion contrasting two feminist writers, Naomi Wolf and bell hooks. Debate raged over a three-week period while I visited Perth, Sydney and Brisbane and moved on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We generated a dozen rather lengthy messages and of these, five were posted within a 48-hour period. Don't even think about trying this with stamps and envelopes.

11:07 Hello Restaurant, Thanon Khao Sahn; Bangkok-Thailand :: 10 MAY 95

The word 'connected' carries a couple different meanings for members of the email community. The more mundane meaning refers to the physical telecommunications connection between computers providing the link over which email is transmitted. Boring-at least when everything works right. The subtler, more interesting meaning applies the connection inter-personally. The phrase 'getting connected' as much implies joining a community as it refers to a successful link between computer and global network.

Twice during this trip hardware problems disconnected me from the community, from friends and family, for a few weeks. What a miserable experience of isolation. What was going on over there? I missed sharing my experiences and receiving responses. Like the yuppie whose answering machine goes bust, I wondered that I ever survived without this technology before. A favourite Chinese proverb reads, 'A bosom friend afar brings distant lands near.' This is true only when the friend is connected.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

Poste restante (at almost any post office) is the best way of getting mail.
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