Thursday, October 28, 2010

YACVic's 50th Birthday Bash

About a month ago was YACVic's 50th Birthday Bash hosted at the Sir Redmond Barry Room where we had Rod Quantock as our MC for the evening. It's a great night to celebrate the occasion and achievements over the years as well as a chance to speak to fellow and past YACVic members, youth workers, etc.

Stories from the past were told as well as a notable story about the clay experiences from our childhoods, i.e., how it often found it's way into our mouths and being eaten. Don't worry, it's only made up of flour and wheat, but it sure brought back memories for many - though surprisingly for them to hear that it was reflective of my own experiences as well. So it's not something that those involved 50 years ago would only have recalled!

Photos from the night are available at: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=221224&id=683918027&l=45895dbe63

Easter Walhalla walk

For all those potential hikers looking to join the Duke of Edinburgh hike with Ray Connor, I'd thought it'll be good to share my post trip report from my past adventure touring Walhalla so you have an idea of what it may be like. Although next time I hear it'll be more exciting than the last and I'll help lead it ;)

7th April 2010 by Tran, Vu Long

Moving along the Thomson river down from the Thomson Dam to Walhalla


Day One
My journey began with a slight detour, after missing a turn, my sister and I found ourselves at the entrance to the Thomson Dam before finally realising where we were and then and making our way to the Mt Erica car park.  Here we meet and greeted what seemed to be very eager and energetic bunch of walkers. One by one they came, and so did the iconic van, and with it, was Ray Connor.

Now Ray wasn’t one to join us on every little bit of our journey, for he was simply a guide for the most part and a helper if things went astray. He told us where we needed to go, detailing the various turns, landmarks and signposts which seemed quite overwhelming to hear. I tried to take down what I could into my memory, thinking that maybe I should have taken notes, or at least someone from our group would. Sadly, no one did. Fortunately, we a few of us had our maps, and with our backpacks set (and in my case, my food bag with me as well), we embarked on our journey from Mt Erica to Walhalla.

It was certainty an interesting beginning, and at first, the paths we set out on seemed simple and straightforward, we followed the same road that we had just driven through. It wasn’t until we were to make a turn into the forest on our own that things seemed a bit concerning.

It seemed to have turned out to be for the best, even as we ventured through the paths and finding ways to navigate through the branches and leaves and unknowingly walking through cobwebs and fighting off falling leeches. For it made us come closer as a team and ready for the challenges that lay ahead.

Steep and rough paths awaited us as we zig zagged and leaped over fallen trees, before reaching a crossroad. We opted to head right before realising that we may have actually set off on the wrong path. Light weight scouts were sent, unburdened by backpacks. After realising and confirming that we had headed to the Southern (‘South’) direction with our compasses we found our way back into the open and to our campsite for the day. We set up our tents nicely and stayed inside away from the mosquitoes which waited restlessly, buzzing us to let them in...

Day Two
Fresh water straight from the Thomson river were the highlights of this day. Our mission for the day was to seek out Coopers Creek hotel, find the opening hours and then embark on our journey to Walhalla, for we were at Thomson station.

Reflecting on the struggles and burden that our backpacks held for us, we established a scout team to achieve our mission, for we were to return to Thomson station after discovering the answer to the enquiry. It was no doubt our best decision, for the scout team took some time to reach this goal after a slight detour - and without the packs were able to reach the target in a reasonable time.

We met up with the Silver crew on the way back to Thomson station, and together we set off on the steep journey towards Walhalla as Ray stood and watched us head up...

When we finally reached the next campsite, Ray had reserved a nice little space atop the camping grounds for us to stay. The campsite itself was quite basic, only having toilets but fresh easy access water. Drop toilets were no more, flush toilets were the new and the second day ended quite peacefully.

Day three
Today is the day we met up with our Bronze crew, and after exploring the town a little we made our journey up towards the cricket grounds, opting to take the longer path first, leaving the shorter path down the stairs to the end.

This was a great decision, however it was not without further obstacles, with Bronzes the only walkers to have their full packs (Gold and Silvers had day packs), we moved slower but with fellow walkers supporting others for the most part. We also neglected to ensure that sufficient water was the norm for the crews and though we managed through this, as well as the slight detours we took; it would certainly be something that would be checked next time.

Through navigating and co-navigating, leading, supporting and guiding at various points of the journey, I believe that we were able to witness some of the strength, teamwork, and will of our fellow walkers, as we pushed through together and made our way to our destination in the end.

That night we celebrated with Ray’s special bonfire and cooked marshmallows until rain came to huddle us into our tents. My sister and I’s tent wasn’t without flaws, and before long, water was seeping through from below and we had to seek refuge in a fellow campers generous tent, vacated for our usage. A big thank you to William and Jack for that!

Day four
This day was a simpler and more relaxed day, we learned about the history of Walhalla and were exploring and talking to the townfolk. Through it all, I believe we’d each learned how a country town like Walhalla is kept alive during the busy times and what was to be of the town when the tourists were back from their holidays.

Summary
It was a tiresome, steep and very hands on experience of what it is like to live in what would seem like very basic way of living. The ways we lived were quite modern and more fortunate when compared to some of the ways people are living within the communities around the world. There is so much that we take for granted in the lives that we have become accustomed to, clean water, fresh food, shelter, the things that Maslow deems are central to the basic needs of humans. Too often, we are quite privileged and have many of those needs already fulfilled.

This experience has allowed me to experience the simpler life, and though I can’t say I am used to and would want to change to if I had the choice, it is certainty a life that is a lot simpler and I believe can bring people together. As a group, we worked together as a team to achieve our goals which was to reach our destination supporting each other and without leaving anyone behind - I believe we achieved that. In the more basic communities, their goal is to survive and they achieve this through the same means, i.e. as a team and community, supporting each other...


Other information/Notes (for next time!):
  • Map – a Vicmaps map was carried, but a more local version may be available from local towns, or bushwalking maps with trails.
  • Equipment/ clothing– Basics, heaps of food. I will be looking to carry a specifically designed backpack for backpack camping, and considering a purchase of a smaller affordable sleeping bag.
  • Food– Heaps of hot cross buns, snacks, and tuna. I will be looking to carry more lighter foods, and potentially a portable stove.
Tips from Ray:

Food and Water: Keep to dry type foods if you can. By all means, have food that require the addition of water, but try and save yourself the weight of carrying water other than for drinking. Water is not readily available till very end of first day nor on the third day's walk (though is available before; after walk on 3rd day). Second and fourth day's should not prove too much of a hassle. I'd take at least a 1 litre plastic/metal water bottle (some take more ... but no less). Keep your food simple: which means, unfortunately, it will most probably be pretty bland and boring. Perhaps snack bars, mountain bread (like the Lebanese bread that can roll up), freeze-dried vegies, wafers and crackers, noodles, soups, pasta, perhaps even the ready-made (sealed) camp meals.
Tents: If you have a choice, have a tent as lightweight as possible. You are not in a 5 star resort. Your tent is purely functional - a place to be protected from the elements and wildlife at night enabling you to get some well deserved sleep. If you have more than one person coming along, you might like to consider sharing a tent with your friend/ sibling - saves carrying a tent each. Just as you might share any cooking gear. 

Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation Theory

I was just looking through some old material (from a book titled ‘Managing for innovation’, author unknown) on innovation from a course I did a while ago and was thinking about how this may apply to some current technological developments, in particular tablets and smartphones. The Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation Theory (by Clayton Christensen) brings some interesting insights.

What he discusses how a mainstream market can be disrupted by something that begins initially as a ‘fringe business [which] has moved into the mainstream and eventually changes the rules under which the mainstream operates’.

There is also discussion on how these ‘new players who rewrote the rule book for one generation found their markets disrupted in turn by a later generation of players doing the same thing to them’ and that by ‘riding along on one particular bandwagon makes the enterprise vulnerable in its ability to jump on to the next one when it starts to roll’.

In reference to tablets and smartphones, the fringe business can be seen as the iPads and iPhones, and how iPad tablets have changed the market for consumers (and businesses) who desire basic internet connectivity and specific applications (‘apps’) designed to suit their needs. Now, other firms seeing this shift are starting to introduce their alternative tablets. With the iPhones, the fringe business was offering groovy user-friendly device that facilitated internet access on the go rather than only allowing for calls and sms. It’s now changed that market which is now filled with the growing number of phones with internet connectivity.

The key challenge pointed out by Christensen through what he terms the ‘innovator’s dilemma’ is that there may be ‘difficulties established players have in simultaneously managing the steady-state (sustaining) and the discontinuous (disruptive) aspects’. That is, many of the new entrants will be only starting on the learning curve with their initial releases (if these successful enough) will find themselves determining where they stand with the products and/or services that have been offering with the new ones…

I found it interesting to view this from this theory’s perspective. Please feel free to share your views as well if you’d like to share them :) 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

To give or not to give...

Yesterday I was approached by a bloke who was looking for some small change for a train ticket (so I'm told). As I listened to his story I had a look at what change I had on me, and though it seemed that I had only a coin left, I think I must have already made up my mind 'cause I just gave it to him... After which he gave me some kind words and briefly told me about how someone he'd asked earlier simply locked their car door when they saw him...

He departed towards the direction of the train station and I was satisfied that I'd been able to help. Yet as he was leaving I couldn't help notice the looks that I was given by the bystanders around me. I felt a feeling of dissatisfaction and even disgust from them, like I had done something wrong (perhaps fueling these requests? - esp. if they weren't genuine...). The look they gave was enough to make me question the integrity of the individual seeking the small change, and for a second I felt like a sucker...

Even so, I know I did do a quick assessment of the integrity of the seeker. But perhaps it was seeing the look in his eyes that made me determine that I should help - regardless of whether his story was true or not. I think I'm happy that at least from the way he departed that I was given a feeling that he was truly genuine. As rather than continuing asking around as the not-so-genuine often can do (you know those who continue seeking even after receiving small change already), he was satisfied and had enough to be on his way, and this kept my mind reassured and I'm happy to leave it at that...as I'd like to know that if this happens to anyone in a tight situation that there is people around who can help. I guess, as always (and I'm sure you do also) I will judge it by ear...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sharing a simple gift...

They say smiling is one of those things that is one of the easiest gift you can give someone and it doesn't take much effort to do and is free to give anyone you like. It's something that you can give someone even in the briefest moment, yet it can lifts them up and has the potential to change their day and perhaps their lives forever...

It can be quite contagious as well. For instance, imagine yourself smiling at your favourite idol one day and finding them smiling right back at you for that little moment. You generally feel warm and fuzzy inside and in that moment perhaps you may feel empowered to tackle any challenge that comes your way. Challenges often can cause you much frustration and exhaustion and it's up to you to decide whether you'd like to confront it with a smile or a frown.

Each of us will react differently to these encounters and just as we can choose to give our 'smiles' as a gift to someone else; we can choose to smile or frown at the challenges that life gives us. Although crying is often messier than smiling, smiling is not something that you always have to do, there are sometimes you find yourself sharing tears of joy - so regardless of whether you laugh or cry the main thing is that you're sharing something so simple (that little smile or small tears) and that is enough to lift yourself and/ or someone else up...

Here's a nice quote I will leave you with on tears and laughter...
Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.
- Kurt Vonnegut

Friday, October 22, 2010

General flying tips

Flying is exciting, particularly being able to find yourself so high in the sky that you're among or even flying higher than the clouds! You'll see land as you've never seen it before however after a while these clouds can seem endless, a bit like seeing trees in the forest or then it may be just nighttime so everything is quite dark... Either way, I'd thought I would share some little tips from my experiences flying that may help you plan not only how you find but how you also take advantage of things such as duty free!
  • Sleeping on a plane – Sleeping can be quite difficult on the plane, but there are times when you’re on a plane that they turn off the lights and everyone around you is sleeping. I flew Air China to Shanghai which is approximately an 11 hour flight from Melbourne. One of the things I noticed was that the lights seemed to be switched on and off throughout the flight although I am yet to work out what the schedule was. They would often turn on the lights about 15-30 mins so that they could serve drinks and meals for us. It’s the same with Qantas as well, although they generally outline meal times on a little schedule for you.
    Airlines will also often give you a little pillow and blanket to sleep with, and you can also bend the head rest so that you head remains upright. You may want to consider bringing along one of those neck pillows, and possibly a eye cover – although Qantas usually provides you with the latter as well as a mini toothbrush and toothpaste (This is generally only for generally long haul flights such as international flights).
  • Meals - Depending on the airline and flight time, there are normally meals and little snacks that you are given on a plane. I flew Air China to Shanghai and was served two main meals for passengers with many drink servings, whereas Qantas to Los Angles serves one main meal but a couple a snacks (biscuits/ cookies).
  • Changing money – in terms of changing money I’ve found that airports are generally more expensive (for example Travelex charges $4 AUD plus funky exchanges rates). I like to change money (just some small notes) before I go only before I feel money comfortable buying smaller things like snacks or for use for vending machines (though the latter you might need coins!). You can also change money at hotels you stay at as well, however the rates will vary. Sometimes the hotel exchange rate can be good, other times it can be quite expensive. In fact, I was actually advised to go to the local casino to change money as they offered better rates and they did ($0.78 AUD to US compared to $0.68). Either way, you will generally only be able to change notes, coins will often be unchangeable. You can choose to donate those into little charity tins if offered the opportunity – Qantas collects small change on behalf of Unicef in this manner :)
  • Duty free – Duty free is a saving on the tax you would normally pay for items outside of an airport. In Australia that would be a possible 10% duty free tax saving and a larger saving (due to the higher tax) for alcohol and cigarettes. Airport duty free stores generally have laptops, headphones, travel accessories, perfume and other little stores. So the GST saving would be applied to these, but you should always compare this with the prices on the market even with GST included.
    • Australia has what they call the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) where you may be eligible to be paid a refund on goods totalling $300 (GST inclusive) or more, bought from the same store, no more than 30 days before you leave Australia. I haven’t tried it myself personally yet as I only just found out about it but further details can be found at: http://www.customs.gov.au/site/page4646.asp
    • Time zones - All airline documents are in local time. That is, when they say "departing 17:30 New York" or similar, they mean departing 5:30pm local time in New York.
    Well, I hope these tips help!

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Going international from Melbourne airport

    Leaving the country (even for a short period) can be stressful enough having to organise all your pre-flights items, organise travel documents (such as your passport and visa) and not to mention the packing! On the day you might find yourself quite overwhelmed or confused as well, particularly as some things can be quite foreign to you (particularly if you’ve never travelled before!). You can be excited about exploring that distant world out there yet frightened from the unfamiliarity of it all.

    Don’t worry you’re not alone, and I’ve written this to help you through that challenge.  Here is my high level overview of the basic process and procedures for leaving Australia via Melbourne Tullamarine airport from my recent trip to Shanghai, China. Fellow Australians you may this to be quite similar for other Australian based flights.

    1. Find Check in desk – This part is pretty straightforward, you only need to make sure you can find the right desk. These desks I have found remain at the same locations, but finding the right desk the first time can be a challenging task - particularly if you don’t travel that much.
    2. Check in – After waiting in line at the check in desk for your airline, you simply present your passport as required and check in any baggage that won’t fit within the carry on requirements (either the bag is too big or it has items that aren’t permitted for carry on, (e.g. shaving equipment, toothpaste, deodorant). 
    3. International Gate - Enter through the International Gate. You only need to show your boarding pass to the International Gate guard. No food or drinks (as well as prohibited items of course) above the guidelines are permitted pass that gate. At the time of writing it would be anything liquid over 100ml. Sometimes they’ll get you to drink the liquid and then throw it out.
    4. Security check – You simply place all metal items onto the little plastic boxes made available. You will need to make sure that your laptop is taken out of your luggage for independent screening though.  In the US you take off your shoes and belt as well – something that isn’t required in Australia. It was quite funny the first time I went through this check with my shoes on, it made me think of Agent 99 from Get Smart…
    5. Immigration – Fill in an outgoing immigration card (green) and submit it to Immigration/Customs. This can be picked up at check in or from various desks around the Immigration area. They will look at your passport, boarding pass and immigration card and ask you questions about your travelling as required.
    6. Departure Gate – Head towards your departure gate as described on your boarding pass (and/or display boards as flights do change gates). You will simply need to wait for your plane to arrive and board when advised. While you wait to be called for your flight there are vending machines, little food vendors, often bookstores for you to purchase items to keep you occupied and refreshed while waiting. You will be asked to present your passport to your photo page and your boarding pass.
    7. On the plane – Depending on where you go, there will be immigration forms that you will need to fill in as you arrival at your destination. It’s a small yellow card where you put your basic details on it such as your name, DOB, passport and visa details. I remember going to the US and having to fill in a green declaration form whereby I listed if I was carrying a certain amount of money, alcohol and/or cigarettes.
    Well, I hope this helps you plan your trips easier. It’s generally the queues particularly at immigration and customs that can be time consuming so please be sure to factor that in!

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Getting a Chinese visa in Melbourne

    I feel that getting a visa for China can be quite tricky and confusing at times, particularly if you haven't been to the country before. Your friends may or may not have been before and if they have it may have been a while ago so things may have changed since they went last.

    For that reason I'd thought I would guide you on how I went about getting my visa for my travel to Shanghai, China from Melbourne, Australia. This process should be quite similar in other states in Australia, but please make sure you also check yourself to make sure. Nonetheless, I will explain how I went about getting mine so it might help you - at least in getting an idea of what the process may be like.

    1. Find the local Embassy/ Consultate of China - To get a visa for China normally they say you need contact Embassy or Consulate of China. So I got those details off SmartTraveller (http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/). I find that this is a great site for understanding travel considerations and what to expect in whatever country you're going to. I like to register my travel details with them so when I go I know the authorities have an idea where I'm going as well as you never know what could happen. On their website I went through the 'Consulate list' on SmartTraveller and got the local contact details for the 'Consulate-General of the People's Republic of China' in Melbourne.
    2. Here's the Melbourne Consultate details - On SmartTraveller it lists that China has an Consulate in Toorak, Melbourne and that their website is http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/ce/cgmel/eng/
    3. Melbourne Chinese Visa Processing Centre -  Upon visiting this website, you should notice that they mention that they now have a nice visa centre that they recently opened that is located 5-10 minutes from the city. 
    4. Their current address is at: Chinese Visa Application Service Center. The address is: PART Ground Floor, 570 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, 3004. Tel: 03-99372308* http://www.visaforchina.com.au/
    5. Visit visa centre - So you head over to the place, they currently say they open Monday-Friday 9am-3pm (at the time of writing this so be sure to check!). They also say that rush (really urgent - but you pay for it) applications should be submitted before 12 o'clock noon.
    6. Items to bring - Make sure you bring your passport (I have an Australian passport), travel itinerary and any other bits and pieces that they may need with you. The details of what you need to bring are on the VisaForChina website under 'Visa Instruction'. It also details whether you need a visa or not, what types there are available, fees, etc. There is also a form that you fill in that is also available at the centre, but I think it's best to prefill it - that way you can ensure you have everything you need before you go there. 
    7. Leave passport with them to verify and add visa to - You leave your passport with them and you'll pick it up however many business days afterwards, depending if you ordered a regular, express, or rush. It should be from 4-5 business days, although ordering by mail would be different.
    8. Receive your passport back with the Chinese visa sticker inside - Return to the centre to pick up your visa on the designated day. Hopefully you will receive your passport with the new visa inside with no hassles as I did. Please note that the visa itself is the size of one page of your passport, so make sure you had a page spare for this. 
    I hope that my outline of how I got my visa has helped you in getting yours.  I know this can be a confusing process and you sometimes wonder how reliable and dodgy sources and places may be. Either way, be sure to check yourself especially take into strong consideration your own circumstances and that their processes may differ and can change in time.

    *Please note that they also say that "Holders of diplomatic, service (official) passport, or applicants qualified for the Chinese diplomatic, service, courtesy visa, or applicants applying for the Hong Kong visa/entry permit should still submit their applications directly to the Consulate-General without changes." So if you fall in that category then I think you'll need to visit the Toorak office.



    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Come over and have a meal sometime...

    These were such kind words from a friend of mine who I haven't caught up in a while, and for some reason it felt so reassuring which someone says it. A bit like someone saying something similar about catching up for a drink or some coffee some time.

    Ah, it makes me think of what a great meal can do, and being quite cold tonight, I'm thinking of some good old warm chicken and corn soup. Oh how much I love food, though I'm probably loving it more as I'm feeling a bit hungry as I write this.

    I just think the role of food in our lives is great, it's such a universal way of sharing something with somebody else, whether it's someone you love, someone you care about like your friends. I particularly love the way it brings people together, even if there may be differences in opinions, everyone (at least I believe everyone) likes to have a nice meal, and sharing it with somebody else makes it extra special

    Several ways of saving farewell

    Here's just a random list of words from various languages that you might find useful for saying good bye and some hellos as well.


    Goodbye adieu adios aloha arrivederci au revoir auf Wiedersehen bon voyage bonsoir bye-bye cheerio ciao farewell godspeed good afternoon good day good evening good morning good night hooroo night-night see you later so long