A tropical London

imageLast night I arrived to Hong Kong. For my way into the city I decided to take the bus – a slooow magical carpet ride with lots of bumpy stops on the upper deck of the cheapest option, the local “tower cruiser” line E21. It reminded me of my time in the UK a lot: exact same buses, road signs, round-abouts, people from all over Asia getting on and off all the time. But in a place that has palm trees instead of weeping willows. Bewildering.

imageTo get to Hong Kong I took my first flight on this trip. I would have preferred the ferry to Qingdao again, but because  it is no longer possible to get a China visa for tourists in South Korea and I wanted to go to a warmer climate I had not other option. If you look at a map you realise I was stuck, sandwiched by water and countries with difficult-to-get visas.

Green politics in South Korea – File Not Found

Since I am spending some time in this lovely country I looked into connecting to my environmental activism roots a few days ago and checked out what’s going on with tree huggers in the Chaebol kingdom.

It came as a small surprise that green opposition politics don’t really exist here or are at least gravely underdeveloped for a country with recent annual GDP growth around 5%, dramatically growing energy needs and ever increasing urbanisation – a country that is member of the friendly G20 and that features beautiful nature all around.

There was an attempt to establish a Korean Greens party starting in 2003, which failed in 2008. Right now the party is re-establishing itself, after being terminated yet again following a meagre 0.43% result in general elections earlier this year. It looks like the general public in South Korea has no interest in a green party. Now, why is that?

It appears that the current government lulls the population with plans like Green Growth (which Green Korea has solid criticism on) and tries to silence foreign critics of their nuclear energy strategy by simply not allowing them into the country. Details on the recent Greenpeace activist deportation also mention a 30% budget increase to more than $10 million USD after the Fukushima disaster for KONEPA, the South Korean agency for promoting nuclear energy with faces of playing children. This money will most likely not go into spreading information about incidents like the recent shut-down of two reactors in the south of the country on 2 Oct 2012.

The Energy Korea portal aggregates an interesting mix of general environmental news, including critical Greenpeace reports and at the same time greenwashes fossil fuels and nuclear energy, both of which -oops- the maintainer of the site, Daesung Group is heavily invested in.

However, there are people working on change for the better, for example prize-winning Yul Choi, a white-collar activist involved in various South Korean environmental projects since many years. Aforementioned Greenpeace Korea twitters daily, organic farming definitively exists and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Virtual Center for Korean Environmental Exchange (catchy name!) helps to flog off green technology. Friends of the Earth Korea also seem to be doing a lot of things including information centres and an organic online shop, but unfortunately don’t have an English website at the moment.

Also you can contribute by either getting involved with existing groups, or for starters by signing the Nuclear-free Samcheok petition. 🙂

When writing this I relied mostly on websites written in English. If you have pointers to websites in Korean or other languages, please send them to me and I will include links here!

Now hitch-biking, Travel Plan updated

Yep, after working like there is no tomorrow for G+J in Hamburg for a few months — hence the silence here — I am officially on the road again. Still hitch-hiking, but now accompanied by a fully featured small fold-up bike (R+M Birdy premium + mud guards + back carrier) — I call it hitch-biking. Getting from Hamburg to Vienna via Schwerin and Munich was surprisingly easy, despite the relatively big cargo. This tells you how much unused space there is in cars on the road. One empty truck took the bike into its empty cargo room — there would have been room for hundreds of bikes, even unfolded! Anyway, all those moments when I badly wished for a bike while walking for kilometres from a drop-off point to the next good starting point are now past. Unfold bike, mount Greenpeace bags, be cycling happily, cycle a little further just for the fun of it. 🙂

Just so you have a better chance to get hold of me, here is my current Travel Plan for this summer.

The banana analogy

This morning I found a banana on the street and I picked it up. Simple thing to do, but think about it for a moment. You see it from a few meters away, this perfectly fine banana, in the middle of a parking area, you are rushing to work in a disconnected group of office workers coming from the metro. Um, yummy. It’s like someone has placed it there for you. A trick? But maybe it just fell out of someone’s bag. How does a banana fall out of a bag? There is without doubt something fishy and tempting about this banana.

This is what I expect the two seconds to be like, between the moment when a driver spots me standing beside the street, looking for a hitch, and passing by me. The brave person stops and picks me up.

PS: Hey, this is my blog, I can write what I want, OK? :o) Real news: I am living and working in Hamburg for a few months now, going to the BeWelcome developer (un)conference in Antwerp for the weekend.

Urban weirdness

Last night “after work” at 3am I cycled home from Berlin-Mitte to Berlin-Friedrichshain. A nice cycle, first through a hip bar area full of new wealth, along the old shiny TV tower right through the heart of the former capital of the GDR with all its concrete monuments that people live or work in. Currently Alexanderplatz, the eastern centre, is a tacky Christmas market — which of course will close before Christmas. I go on for a few kilometers always straight on wide streets, bicycle paths and across huge intersections deep into my kiez (Berlinish for neighbourhood). Even at this hour of the night the city does not sleep, taxis rush by, some people walk their dogs, lost men walk around.

Also creeps come out. About half the way, on a wider footpath with the bicycle path on it a group of three young people in their latest urban wear comes my way. I accelerate a little, the dynamo whines some more. One of the guy walks near the bicycle path as I approach, and as I pass him he throws what I believe was an empty can at me, misses and shouts something like “You rat!” — I utter a quick deep “Hey!” — Apparently enough provocation for them to shout more nasty things as I quickly cycle on, crossing a red light. When looking back after a few seconds I see that they must have run after me for a bit and now are still standing looking after me. Wow, ticking time bombs out on the streets at night! What makes them so angry? I was just a random person passing by on a bike. I walk through dark parks at night in Bucharest, and I feel safer. At least there I would know what a person getting in my way wants from me, and I could just empty my pockets. I mean, my three friends just seemed bored and deeply frustrated, looking for some excitement. What went wrong?

I can only hope that people would have helped me in any way if those weirdos really would have wanted to attack me. So, if you see a scene like this some time, somewhere, please at least intervene and ask what’s going on and if everyone is OK, call help if needed. Never ever just look away. It never happened to me so far, but I know this is common in big cities. If social fabric is knit tightly though and even unknown people relate to each other we all gain quality of live, can let go of fears and focus on things that are important to us.

Earlier that night I went to Siggi and Jason’s talk about their No G8 Japan 2008 mobilisation tour through East Asia, learned a lot about Japanese activism and had some nice spicy Wasabi rice crackers. 🙂

Portugal – Cadiz – Gibraltar – Barcelona – Pula/Croatia

Two weeks ago I left Colos in the Portuguese countryside to cross southern Europe and to travel about 3200 km to join the Yaxwe hack/geek meeting in Pula (Map of trip – no routing for Slovenia and Croatia unfortunately). Here are some hitch-hiking impressions:

I started on a Monday, Simon and Jenny gave me a lift to a small road leading to the motorway towards South Portugal. It took me around 5 hours of walking and waiting in boiling heat to make it to the motorway some 20 km away. My conclusion: Either there is a law in that region that forbids picking up people from the road with a penalty of at least one year in prison or hitch-hikers regularly kill drivers and their co-drivers around there. Very weird, I never had this before. Thanks to the friendly philosophy teacher that hitch-hiked all over Europe in the 70s for picking me up. Once I got to the motorway a friendly toll station person tried to convince me that it is forbidden to stay around the small parking next to the ticket machines (for people without a car). He mumbled something about private property and calling the police. The police? Is holding up a sign with a town name a crime now? “Well, obey the orders of your corporate master and go and call your mummy!” — I thought, very happy to have found a place with some long-distance traffic and said “Call whoever you like, I will stay right here.” — A few minutes later indeed a cop car arrived to the crime scene and two sun-glass wearing sheriffs (nice riding boots with spurs, boys!) jumped out to send me away. I walked a few meters across the bridge and did my thing there. What a waste of energy, and hooray for the privatisation of the public sphere. Non-paying members not allowed, sorry. I stayed for another two hours until a nice young lady picked me up and gave me a lift to Faro.

At the petrol station on the motorway I met two young vegan hitch-hikers from Poland (Hello Maria and Krzysztof!), with no hurry at all. Just being around them calmed me down visibly. We were sitting around the tables near the truck parking having dinner for a while when a Brazilian truck driver asked us where in Spain we want to go (I had asked him before, but he said he would rest for a while). All three of us went with him to a petrol station a bit north of my destination Cadiz that night. In my experience bad luck in hitch-hiking is usually balanced out with a portion of good luck right afterwards. When you are just about to give up at a spot after sunset, hopelessly far away from your day’s destination, a car will pull over and bring you all the way. Call it the Benn law of hitch-hiking if you like. 🙂 After having a nice wash at the petrol station bathroom Krzysztof and me stayed in the huge empty loading space of the truck for the night.

The next morning the truck driver dropped me at the last petrol station before Cadiz and the second person I asked, a backpack traveller currently working as a salesman for a medical equipment company, brought me to Cadiz centre after showing me some smaller towns along the way and explaining me about their history. There I quickly found the flat where my Schwerin friend Patrick would host me for the next three nights. Beach, party, beach, party. Hello friendly flat-mates!

Thursday around noon I started hitch-hiking at the only road leading out of Cadiz. After 10 minutes a cool surfer dude with long blond hair and stylish sunglasses in a new van brought me to the next town. There I stood another 10 minutes until another medical equipment salesman gave me a lift all the way right to the gates of Gibraltar. The big rock was just there, so I thought I’d go and check out the monkeys living up the hill. As soon as I walked across the airport runway on the road leading into the city — they really have limited space at this British “overseas” territory” — I found myself in a small entirely English signposted Disneyland with Fish&Chips, Royal Mail post boxes, prices in Pounds and lots of British ex-pats and even more tourists. I walked up the rock a bit on a steep road. A woman in a car coming my way slowed down and told me “You are a brave man” in a strong British accent. Well, that’s my name after all. 🙂 I walked to Monkey’s den to be almost bitten by wild macaques with sharp teeth that were trying to get into my backpack to search for food, turned back into town, back over the runway and continued my trip towards Barcelona.

While walking along the beach road towards the national road leading up to the motorway I held out my sign every now and then. I had not realised that the older person parking on the street, doing something in his car boot and blocking my way had actually stopped for me, so his friendly invitation was a nice surprise. He took me to Marbella, a town some 50 km up north and dropped me right on the motorway. Oh dear, trying to hitch-hike on a slip road in the south of Spain — I am doooomed — I thought. But people at the coast seem to be fairly used to hitch-hikers, so I was back on the road in about 15 minutes. A young black man that had been frying steaks in Hamburg for many years dropped me at a petrol station just outside Malaga. Man, I really don’t have a clue if it is cool to say black person, I simply don’t know many people with other skin colour. Gee, the sound of that. I am making it worse, am I? I found this enjoyable little flick while researching and had a good laugh. Anyway, there I was at this petrol station, sun going down, people only going either to the airport or some “other direction”. There was this nice young man even offering me money to pay for a train or bus. I said I was fine with money and that it is my choice to travel this way. He smiled and drove off. One or two hours of asking every single driver later — attention, Benn law striking again — a young German-Moroccan business man in a fancy car accepted to give me a lift after a small chat while fueling his car. It turned out that he is not only going my direction, but all the way up to Barcelona (1000 km), if possible that night. Bingo! After 7 hours of fast driving on empty roads he got too tired though and decided to look for a hotel. He dropped me at a petrol station past Valencia, 300 km to Barcelona. The parking was packed, there were many people just sleeping all around next to their cars, mostly coming back from northern Africa. So I chose a spot next to another hitch-hiker, safely putting my bag between a tree and myself.

The next morning the other hitch-hiker and all other sleepers were gone. After asking a few people I got a lift by a German couple right to the centre of Barcelona. First the husband said there would be no room in the car, then I saw them discussing and while driving out they pulled over to rearrange things to make some room for me. Thanks! 🙂 She works for a big German Internet company that I am dealing with since my very first Internet years, so there was plenty of food for talk. In the centre I gave them a brief orientation and then walked off along the busy alley “La Rambla“, full of street performers and colourful mimes, some embarrassingly bad, some really good. By metro I went to the outskirts to walk up a little hill to visit my friend Javier at Can Masdeu, my favourite squat in Europe. Cadiz – Gibraltar – Barcelona in less than 24 hours, phew, Spain is big. From Can Masdeu I did little trips to town to visit Mariel, that I met through EYFA a couple of years ago and also to meet Sabina, who coincidently happened to be back in town herself. 🙂

The following Monday I worked a little bit on my things and started travelling some time in the afternoon on Tuesday. While waiting for a bus to bring me to a petrol station north of Barcelona I thought I might as well hold up my sign with Girona on it. After 20 minutes an older guy who had just picked up another hitch-hiker a bit down the road stopped and brought us to a petrol station outside Girona, 70 km away. From there I got a lift by two older French workers coming back from their short holiday at the Costa Brava to a petrol station in the centre of southern France. There I got picked up by a highly energetic lady on her way to Cannes. All the way through France the first night, a great start.

The next morning a retired English engineer and former scout leader living in a farm house in southern France driving to take part in a runners race near Bologna took me half way through Italy. At another big petrol station I found a Slovenian lorry driver on his way to Ljubljana. When we drove off he started a CD with fast Serbian brass folk music – yes, I was back home! 🙂 He dropped me at night at a petrol station past Trieste in the Slovenian countryside and drove off with loud horn-blowing to say goodbye. I tried my luck at a national road going down to Rijeka in Croatia, but put my tent up under a nice old tree near the road after a little while. I was in the mountains, so temperatures dropped to something like 5 degrees at night, brr.

The next morning I got woken up by the tractor cutting the grass around me. I went back up to the road and got a lift to a small village by a milk truck woman on her way to work. There was not much traffic, so I decided to have a nice breakfast with things I got at the local shop.

Beloved Ajvar, o thou orange vegan delight of peppers, aubergine and garlic, I did not realise how much I missed you! You melt on virgin white bread like a princess bedding herself on softest pillows. My life belongs to you!

Err, where was I.. Right, so none of the people liked to pick up a weird guy walking along the curvy road through wonderful hills and Alpine forests, so I walked on and on. A punk-rocker in his 40s coming back from picking berries and mushrooms with his mum drove me to the next town, showed me the social centre he basically grew up in, bought me a beer and gave me a lift to the border some 10 km away. Thanks, man! I crossed the border with a broad smile and stood on the other side for an hour or two until the pretty girl doing surveys on the cars coming through the border was off and gave me a lift to Rijeka. I walked down to the main road towards Pula, waited a little and a truck without trailer stopped. They are the best, accelerating like a sports car and a great view. 🙂 He took the small scenic road through the mountains to avoid the Učka tunnel fare. On the other side of the tunnel a Romanian millionaire picked me up after a few minutes’ wait and brought me to Pula. Yes, Pula means something like penis in Romanian, get over it! 😉 It is also the currency of Botswana by the way. How much is the Pula today? Can I pay with Pula? Hehe. During the trip he got a call by someone that offered him to give him back half of the money through some shady channels if he donates 250.000 EUR to his organisation. During the talk he mentioned that he was on his way to Pula, chuckled, and went on with fending off the guy on the other side. When I came to town I indulged in some more food delights and got Burek at the best place in Pula for it. I walked by the amphitheater, through the centre and up to the Rojc building, home of the Monte Paradiso hacklab. I stayed here a few months in 2004 and I am happy to be back.

What an easy and pleasant trip!

The day my hand came back

Yippee, the day before yesterday I got the cast from my lower arm removed in the St. José hospital in Lisboa, after an X-ray picture indicating that things are healing well. Which cast? Six weeks ago in Germany I broke two metacarpal bones of my right hand [X-ray picture] when I fell with a bike cycling down a hill near a lake close to Schwerin. Yes, again and yes, I will be more careful with bikes in the future. 🙂 But why did this kind of stuff not happen before? I was never even in hospital until this March. Are my reflexes becoming slower as I am going towards 30? Am I starting to overestimate my own capabilities? Do I take more risks than I used to do? Just co-incidences? I am not quite sure.

Over the last six weeks I learned to do basic left-handed writing and to brush my teeth with the left hand, and how to use my teeth when opening stupid plastic wrapping and when closing bags. I also found out that it is possible to put up a tent (with some patience) and to cycle a bike with one hand. Hm, the latter one actually contradicts with my promise above. But hey, lets look at it from the the perspective of a rider falling off a horse? Real challenges though are slicing hard bread and cheese. 😉

Now the skin of my hand is cleaned again and the nails are cut, but all the joints still need to wakey wakey again after their long sleep, which causes slight pain in some situations. Typing is fine, but using a bike break or opening a car door does not work yet. To avoid surprises I still give people my left hand.

Thanks to Rita and the Slovenian girl (sorry, forgot the name) for giving me a lift from Colos village to Lisbon. Thanks to Sylvia and Johann for hosting me and thanks for picking me up, people on the road back to Colos yesterday and today. I went to the 1st option recommended by Hitchwiki for going south from Lisbon, was sent back a bit by some cops, was sent back further back by a friendly road patrol worker and got a lift after an hour with a fast car by a calm guy with prison-style tattooed forearms. He dropped me at the next petrol station across the big bridge where I started asking people if they were going south (2nd option on the Hitchwiki page, my first choice next time, hehe). A guy with tattoo studio-style tattooed forearms recommended to “pick up a bus”. A few minutes later a young well-dressed lady in a rental car approached me again after telling me she won’t be going my direction, inquiring where in the south I want to go. 🙂 In the car we had a warm chat and after finding out the right exit at another petrol station she dropped me near the dual carriageway south. Thanks for passing on your positive energy and for being so helpful! I only had a small and light cloth bag with me, so hiked long stretches along the roads and small towns — feeling like a real tramp. I liked Alcácer do Sal so I stayed there for a few hours. The two construction workers that gave me a lift to town waved down from a small balcony while I was having my lunch on a park bench under some old trees, with a welcome cool breeze coming from the river. I was about 100 km from my destination when the sun set. A confusing business man owning a few companies producing house electronic systems stopped despite the dark (“I am not afraid of people.”) and brought me to Ourique, another pretty town, about 30 km from Colos. I tried getting lifts for one more hour, but then there were just no more cars anymore. So I rested on a bench in a small peaceful church garden on the hill, with some cardboard protecting me the night’s cold. The hill was mine for a night. 🙂 This morning I got a lift with a smiling Ukrainian truck driver to Colos. I really have to work on my Russian!

On the road to Ecotopia

I will be offline now for at least 10 days while travelling from Milano to Southern Portugal and participating in the Ecotopia camp. Anything urgent needs to wait until afterwards. Server-related things can be addressed to support at ecobytes dot net. See ya!

Taking off again

After almost two months of silence a sign from me. People were already emailing me, asking if I am alright.. Thanks for caring my dear friends and readers — yes, all is good. 🙂 Well, in another bicycle accident last week I broke my right hand (don’t ask), but that’s healing now. Also I was busy with fulfilling my travel plan, some Ecobytes related work using my new tiny laptop (IBM X31, Ubuntu setup via kernel on USB stick and boot from the internet, hehe). Generally I did not feeling much like self-reflection. Head -> sand? But a start for some travel writing is done, so more should follow soon.

In about one hour — eeek, need to sort my stuff, have a shower and pack — I will get a lift to Switzerland from where I will travel via Milano to Ecotopia in Portugal. See you out there!