Backpacking South East Asia

How far can fifty thousand pesos take you on a journey across South East Asia?

That would be 10 weeks in 10 countries…on a backpack!

Sounds interesting?  I’d say it is, and maybe more.  It is inviting, enticing and tempting, the thought of it makes me take out my backpack from the closet and file for a leave of absence from work.

I learned this from reading Robert Alejandro’s sketch book journal aptly titled, “The Sketching Backpacker” that I bought from a Papemelroti outlet in SM Southmall.  Robert and his friends took their life- defining backpacking adventure from the Philipines to  Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China plus two other Chinese territories Macau and Hongkong. 


They flew on a jet to Singapore, took the road to Kuala Lumpur, long bus ride to Bangkok, two days in the Mekong River on a slow boat, you name it,  and they’ve tried and used all transport available including the tuktuk, an elephant and the train.  Awesome!

The book

All of the book’s 231 pages of generous information is a big help for anyone who plans to duplicate Robert’s feat in adventure.  True to form, the book is printed in 100% recycled paper reflecting the rudimentary character of backpack traveling as opposed to the touristy (yes, there is such a word– check out HoboTraveler to learn more about the difference between a traveler and a tourist) way of seeing places.  As Robert tells us in his journal, “It is not about the places you go, it is about the people you meet”.    

The sketches


Adding more attitude to the journal are the sketches done by Robert himself.  These are little drawings of everything that Robert sees, from crowds, architectural details, roadside scenes, markets, and even of his own quiet time with himself.  It was such a welcome respite from sometimes  too-good-to-be-true loud and colorful photographs.  Seeing those places in black and white, and in the roughness of a sketch gives the book an element of incompleteness or of something unfinished, enough reason for someone to really see those things for himself/herself to complete the image.   Not to mention that Robert is a very good artist to start with, his sketches are always full of details and yet, he seems to deliberately leave some space for the reader’s imagination.

The words

Here’s the downside:  the editing was poorly done.  There are words that repeats repeats itself, there are misspelled words, and maybe out of Robert’s enthusiasm, he tends to over-used the line this is the highlight of our trip.  

As for information shared in the journal, I’d say it was just enough to arouse one’s curiousity and makes you get a traveler’s guide book or browse the internet for some real and hard facts that Robert has mentioned but failed to elaborate.  But I guess Robert’s intention was to chronicle his adventure more than to give an authoritative travel advisory to his readers, and that’s perfectly okay.

To sum it all, I had fun reading, skimming, admiring Robert’s journal and sketches.  It felt like Robert is a long time friend and I’m reading straight from his letters to me.  That much he has opened his soul to his readers through his narratives and drawings.  I felt the connection, like a real backpacker is connected to that brotherhood of men and women travelers. 

Sometime, somehow, I’ll be one of them. 

The Sketching Backpacker sells at all Papemelroti and Recreational Outdoor Exchange (R.O.X) stores for PhP 395.00 (US$11.15) each.  Photos above are copied without permission from thesketchingbackpacker blog and BusinessWorld online.


Of cats and dogs: India’s winning streak

First there was the cat, a tiger, to be more specific that made its author a winner to the world’s most respected English literary award, the  Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2008 bestowed to Aravind Adiga for his debut novel entitled White Tiger.

200px-slumdog_millionaire_posterThen came the Slumdog Millionaire, that made a lot of noise as a very strong contender in ten categories (and winner of eight) for this year’s Oscars.

Although this year’s Best Picture was not at all an Indian or Bollywood production, the actors and the story are portayals of the realities that hound the second most populated and the world’s 12th largest economy.

That’s two in a row for India.  Make it three if you’d consider the original piece from which the Slumdog Millionaire was based from, Q&A, a novel authored by another first time Indian novelist Vikas Swarup.200px-q_and_a_-_black_swan_edition

Both creative works have received the nod of thousands of critics, and embraced by the world over.

I have read the White Tiger and watched Slumdog Millionaire.  Both are similar in source, tradition and point of view.  They share the same message.  They show the same India: one dependent on the power of the reader’s imagination and sense of translating  words into images while the other is vivid but weaker:  using the lens of the cameras to reflect an honest truth, the biases of the production crew in staging their version of reality, and lastly, the perspective of the moviegoer as a passive audience in the unfolding drama.  

Both were coming-of-age stories, backdropped by the clashes of poverty and prosperity, youth and maturity, crime and revenge, religion and spirituality, innocence and betrayal, fight and surrender, fate and destiny. 

These are not new stories.  These are old stories told in and from a new territory.  Why does it get all the accolades from our American and English brothers?  Is this a manifestation of the their conscience at work?  Is this their mechanism to cope from the worldwide recession they started?  Is this their way of saying, “Don’t look at us. It is more terrible over there”.

And these stories are also our story as a nation.  I remember when Malacañang announced that the Philippines will be a first world nation by 2020, they must have been referring to the India model of development:  rich in macroeconomic indicators but poor in human development.  Big GDP and GNP figures while deeply mal-educated, undernourished and homeless.  Very much Christian but morally bankrupt.  Democratic but voiceless and powerless.  Free yet imprisoned by our own misery.

That is my final answer.