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Archive for March, 2009

Traveling Around The World For Free

Backpacker relaxing and enjoying the view of the Torres Del Paine national park in Chili

While my travels are usually measured in days or weeks, most of the other travelers I’ve encountered during my journeys were usually on the trail for months on end, and sometimes even years. It requires a completely different pace of life. It’s a lifestyle in itself. For if you’re not pressed for time, the slower you travel, the cheaper you can live.

The article ‘How to travel the world for free‘, goes on to explains how one can explore our planet with just pennies in your pocket. Though I have some doubts if it can really be done completly for free; you can probably go a long way if your goal  is to immerse yourself in the different cultures and customs you may encounter during your travels, while skipping the hightlights and tourist hotspots.

Powerful Photographs of Extraordinary Moments

This is a non conclusive list of photographs which were taken during extraordinary times. Be warned though. You might find some of the following photographs quite disturbing. First flight at Kitty Hawk

First Powered Flight at Kitty Hawk
Date: December 17th, 1903
Place: Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Photographer: John T. Daniels

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The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello


We find ourselves in the city of Gothia, where Jasper Morello, the navigational aeronaut aboard an airship, is sent out on a mission to layout a new trading route. Half way through, the trip goes horribly wrong and they must abandon ship, making their way through uncharted territory. To add to his troubles, Jasper discovers his beloved wife, whom he has had to leave behind in Gothia, has become deadly sick. But can he still return home in time to save her, and if so, at what cost?

This is a beautifully animated short with a strong and engaging story line. The narration is simply well done. And while it makes extensive use of CGI, it has been fashioned in the old Indonesian style of silhouette theatre, giving it a very distinct and moody look. It was nominated for an Oscar in 2004. Though I still haven’t seen them, three other sequels have been made since then, detailing the explorations of Jasper Morello. This animation is almost half an hour long, but it’s defiantly worth the time.

The animation is just short of half an hour long, but it is definitely worth experiencing.

月光 – Moon Dance by Yang LiPing (Dynamic Yunnan)

Liping Yang performing the moon dance as a silhouette with the moon as a backdrop

Traveling through the Yunnan province in China left me with a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was a wonderful experience and I’m glad I did it. With most of the Chinese ethnic minorities living here, there is a very rich mix of cultures to be found here. It’s a place filled with centuries old traditions and ways of living, while at the same time, it is also in constant transformation as it clashes with the new, more modern and bolder China. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative.

On the other hand, the whole trip was also mentally and physically very straining. Many of the people here are very poor and live in crowded and filthy conditions. Despite having grown up in some of the least developed nations on this planet, even I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock I had to experience in the rural areas. And so after three weeks, I was glad to be going home to some peace, quiet and personal space.

But before we left, we went off to see one more show in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan. It was a dance performance by a group called Dynamic Yunnan and choreographed by Yang Liping (杨丽萍). She is known in China for her Peacock Dance which she performed as well. Inspired by the traditional music and dances from around the province, she had created about ten different dance acts, but each time with a modern twist to it. It was an impressive spectacle with at times over forty dancers on stage. It’s quite possible that the story line connecting all the different dances into something meaningful (the use of colors seemed to indicate as such), but even after three weeks, my Chinese wasn’t up to speed yet.

Country of Daughters (Dynamic Yunnan)There were guards present in the theater preventing anyone from filming anything. But I did manage to find a few fragments of the show online. The Moon Dance was the second act. Yang Liping herself is the silhouette in the  performance. Though the quality isn’t that great, here is another act I enjoyed: Country of Daughters. Strange, yes, but I particularly like the costumes and almost hypnotic music that went with it. And thanks to the internet, I also now what they were singing about. The lyrics:

The sun wants to rest, it can rest.
The moon wants to rest, it can rest.
Women want to rest, they can’t rest.*
If women rest, the fire will burn out.

Cold wind blows at the elderly, and women use their backs to block it.
Splinter in child’s feet, and women use their heart to pad it.
If there is a woman there, the old and the young will stay together.
If there is a woman there, the mountain may crumble and men will hold it up.

If there is no women under the heavens, the sky will not light.
If there is no women on the earth, the grass will not grow.
If a man does not have a woman, the man will be ill.
If there is no women under the heavens, there will be no men.

The performance in general was of a very high standard. It was nothing like the Yunnan I had seen in the past three weeks. It did however remind me of some of the Chinese films of recent, such as ‘Hero’ (mind fight) and ‘House of Flying Daggers’ (Beauty Dance & Echo Game). After having seen Dynamic Yunnan, I was at least able to leave China on a positive note. And with that, I leave you with the Two Tree dance.

* While it is true that in many places around the world — especially where poverty prevails — society would come to a complete standstill if it were not for the hard work of women; It was a strange discovery to bicycle into one of the villages just outside of old town Dali where we found the gender roles had been switched. Within this Naxi ethnic minority, it’s the women who are in charge. While they hang out on the streets gossiping and enjoying the care free life, it is up to the men to do the house keeping and take care of the children.

Animation: Alien vs. Coffee Machine

An alien appearing from a cargo bay... scary stuff

A cargo ship is on its way to some distant destination. The pilot suffering from a bad case of travel enui settles in for another day of absolute boredom behind the helm of his ship. It’s just another day in space… or is it?

Game Theory Applied to ‘Batman, the Dark Knight’

Batman pondering game theory late at night

I kind of find it hard to believe that a movie based on a comic super hero was one of the best films of 2008. This is partly because not that many good movies were released that year, but also because ‘Batman, the Dark Night’ offers more than just the mindless entertainment you would expect from such a block buster. Most recent super hero films have tried to make the genre more interesting by making their villains more nuanced. Lex Luthor in Superman is a prime example of the well respected society man by day, and evil doing genius by night.

The Joker in the latest installment of the Batman franchise however bucks this trend. He has no visible nuances at all. He’s just plain psychopathic. But it’s his evil deeds that are quite remarkable: He’s not really out for personal gain and greed like most common bad guys. Instead, he’s simply intent on creating mayhem. And not just any sort of mayhem. He also has a penchant for placing his victims in situations where they have to make really difficult choices. This because on one hand, no matter what choice they make, the outcome is most likely always going to be bad. More interestingly though: many times, that choice is also influenced by the decisions of others instead of coming from just one individual. And this is where game theory comes into play.

If you haven’t seen the Batman film or “A Beautiful Mind”, the following may contain spoilers.

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Short Film: World Builder

Woman walking down a the streets of a virtual world created by a man that loves her

Synopsis: “A strange man builds a world using holographic tools for the woman he loves.”

Really well done and how I would love to have a tool such as the one as in this short film. Then again, I would probably risc creating my own world and never ever leaving it again. The short was done by Bruce Branit, the same person that also worked on another wonderful little film several years ago: flight 405 (and its official site). Using only cheap off-the-shelf soft- and hardware, it was ground breaking at the time. It opened the door to any creative with a good idea and lots of hard work, to create a hollywood style production from the comfort of their home at a reasonable budget. (via kottke)

Why I Drew Cartoons to Subvert the System

Cartoon of a boxing match gone wrong

Improvising My Way Through School

The biggest culture shock I’ve ever had to experience in my life was when I had to return to my own country. I was thirteen when I was sent to a strict Catholic school in my new home town. Until then, most of my youth had been spent in international schools abroad. In comparison, my previous schools had been very lax and easy going. To add to the difficulty and after for years of living in an English speaking environment, I had pretty much forgotten how to speak Dutch and had to relearn it for the third time in my life.. I was given a crash course over the summer with a private tutor. But even then, it would take years before I actually mastered it well enough to take part in conversations. It was a frustrating experience. By the time I had found the right words to say, the conversation had long moved on to something else.

And if the communication problem wasn’t enough, I quickly discovered I had little in common with my most of my fellow students. Frankly, I found them to be close minded. Not that it was their fault. They had simply lived very insulating lives. While I had already seen half the world by then, most of them had rarely ever left the villages they had lived in all their lives.

I also had a serious problem with the strictness of the school system. Being in a position to compare, I found that the way they went about things to be very counterproductive. And to make things worse, I was not only subjected to the normal school curriculum, I also had to spend an hour after school every day in study. It was a moment where one was supposed to do their homework and review the subjects they had seen that day. Doing my homework was rarely a problem, but I was never one to actually study. I simply didn’t have the patience to take the time and memorize stuff. If the subject matter was interesting enough, I would automatically remember it. Otherwise I couldn’t really be bothered. That meant that in practice, the subjects I enjoyed, I usually past with flying colors (Do colors actually fly?). And the subjects that couldn’t hold my attention didn’t get my attention either. When faced with tests and exams, I simply improvised my way through it. This is probably also the reason why I always failed in French. You can’t invent new words and grammar in an existing language spoken by two hundred million people around the world. They simply won’t stand for it, and my French teachers shared the same sentiment. My lack of effort in certain domains showed in my grades and is it’s probably also the reason I was forced to follow study in the first place. What goes around, comes around.

Cartoon of a lost arc

Subverting the System

I had to fill an hour every day in which I was not aloud to leave my desk or even make a sound let alone talk to the others around me. The only thing expected from me was to do my homework and study, and that posed a serious a problem. I really had no intention of wasting my precious time on this planet with such silly things. So I tried to make the best of my less the stellar situation and started to improvise my way out of it. On my first day, I decided to write a book.

Big mistake!

Coming from schools with a relaxed attitude, the concept of punishment essays was completely alien to me. In my previous schools, you really had to misbehave before a teacher would intervene, and at worst, that meant being sent to the superintendent’s office. Not so in my new school. Any behavior that deviated from what was expected of the ideal student was enough to get you punished. Talking in class? A two page essay on why not to talk in class. Chewing gum? A five page essay on why gum chewing is an abomination of civilization. Not paying attention? Rewrite the school rules three times. Even not knowing the correct answer to a question could at times be punishable by essay.

And each lesson would begin with the students – whom had previously been punished – coming forward handing in their essays. And each lesson would end with a role call of all the students that had received punishment during the lesson as a reminder of how much and when their essays where due.

Cartoon of an airfieldcartoon_11

Metro Cartoon

And there I was, on my first day at study, confidently writing the first pages of my first book. As they saw me write, some of the students around me started to react in excitement pointing their fingers at me, sniggling and giggling. Puzzled by their reactions, I continued writing, but without a clue of what all the fuss was about. Alerted by all the commotion around me, one of the study masters walked up to my table. Once he saw what I was doing gave me a frown. He then asked me if I was writing an essay. Well, actually, I was writing a book. But fearing I had to explain myself in a language I didn’t quite master yet, I went for the obvious answer and replied with a simple ‘yes’. Little did I know right then that ‘essay’ was actually code for ‘punishment’. Unwittingly, I had gained the reputation of a troublemaker on my very first day of school.

I quickly gave up on my idea of writing a book and concluded that if I was going to survive in this environment, I would have to outfox the system and everyone in it. It’s here where I discovered the ninety/ten rule. If you appear to be good ninety percent of the time, people around you will automatically assume you’re also being well behaved in the remaining ten percent of the time. Of course, no one can possibly always be a saint 100% of the time. But in practice, most people never question this assumption unless given good reason to. We generally don’t like unpredictable and complex world views.

And so I was quick to learn how to become a mischievous little bastard without ever getting caught. Especially considering some of the things I pulled off where quite public affairs. I would skip school on occasion, get into fights, commit acts of creative sabotage, sneak my way out of ever writing punishment essays, psychological manipulation, signature forgery, trespass, gamble with money, indulge in chalk graffiti… all while maintaining the image of a boy that would never hurt a fly. As I said before, it was counterproductive system. I was much better behaved in the schools that showed more tolerance.

Cartoon of a clown and balloonsCartoon of a toilet by the meterCartoon of wallpapering the chinese wall

Art School

But back to my problem: how to spend an hour in study without actually studying? I learnt how to pretend. Turns out, it’s really easy to fake. It’s sufficient to just stare at a page to fool a study master that has to keep a watchful eye on a fifty other students. And instead of making notes, I made little drawing instead. And it was during this time that I started dreaming up all kinds of funny situations and translating them into to cartoons.

Predictably, while I was having fun during study, some of my grades suffered. When I passed my second year there, it was deliberated that my scores where ok, but not good enough to continue in this particular school. I was thrilled. I had always wanted to continue studying in an art school, but they had denied me that option on the grounds that I was too intelligent for such a thing (In Belgium, a school education is mandatory until you’re 18 years of age. As a result, art school had a reputation as a place for students who would have otherwise dropped out if it weren’t for this law). But thanks to my laziness and my grades not up to standards, I was finally able to do what I always wanted to do: learn something at school that I actually enjoyed. Add to that, it wasn’t Catholic and it wasn’t strict. It was perfect. It was also a relief. I knew that if I had to remain in a strict school, that eventually, the only thing I would learn was how to be become an accomplished petty criminal.

Cartoon of an operation part one

Cartoon of an operation

But things turned around. The predictions that the lack of discipline at my new school would further make my grades suffer, were proven wrong. It was actually quite the opposite. Though I must admit, I was still not able improvise my way through French, but at least I was passing, though just barely.

The Cartoon Collection

My published cartoonBut after two years of study at my old school, I had managed to accumulate quite a lot cartoon sketches. And it was during my first year at art school that I brought them all together, redrew them in a formal format and started to ink them in. A year later, I had created about eighty such cartoons. I even managed to get one published in a national newspaper. My biggest dream at the time was to one day win a place at the International Cartoon Festival of Knokke. It had even become a yearly pilgrimage to take a train to the coast and visit the festival exposition.

But those dreams came to an abrupt end once my second year at art school commenced. Play time was over. Faced with being creative against constant and extreme tight deadlines plus a very tough grading process to boot, everybody’s stress levels skyrocketed. Those who couldn’t take it bailed out and probably still have nightmares from that period. I managed to hang on long enough to see the light. But it left me with little time for other things. Especially after I quite by accident started publishing my own weekly class newspaper (which I continued doing until I finally graduated from secondary school). Somehow by then, I had lost interest in drawing cartoons. Instead I had discovered I had new passion: though I couldn’t spell, I loved to write.

T-shirts with the god Shiva print