Friday, April 18, 2008

Decryption

A lot of people told me that they did not understand those messages I sent from the satellite phone while I was on the ice. I guess I have to decrypt them :)

April 2:
ARV@BARNEO SAF.AM GOOD.-35.ICE DRFT SOUT FST.WHE 2STRT TMR NOT KNOW.AMZN SCNE

We arrived at Barneo (base camp) safely. I am good. It's -35 degree. The ice is drifting south fast. Where to start (ie, the location where the expedition starts from) tomorrow is unknown. Amazing scenary (at the base camp)

April 3:
SLEEP OK.STIL DRFT SOUTH FST.STAY@BASE EXPL AREA 2DAY.-35 & WNDY.STAYIN WRM

I sleep ok (ie, I had a good sleep). The ice is still drifting south fast. We stay at the base camp. We will explore the area today. It's (still) -35 degrees and windy. I am staying warm.

MCKUP TRP SURND.WAS GOOD,QUITE TIRING.WIL B INTRESTNG NXT 7DAY.HAD GOOD INSTNT MEAL.DRFT FSTER 14KM SINCE YESTRDAY.STRT@ICE@11AM TMR

We had a mockup trip in the surrounding area. It was good, but quite tiring. It will be interesting the next 7 days. I had a good instant meal. The ice drifts faster, 14km since yesterday. We will start on the ice (ie, start the skiing) at 11AM tomorrow.

April 4:
GEORGE(G) JOIN TEAM GRT HLP.HELI DRP@89 D40'.CLD BUT MOVNG HLP STAY WRM

George joins the team. It's a great help. Helicopter dropped us at 89 degree 40' (where we start skiing). It's cold but moving help staying warm.

April 5:
YESTRDAY WLK 1.5K.2DAY 7K NOT MCH DRFT.LOONG DAY.MAYB BTTR TMR.DNNR & BED SOON

Yesterday we walked 1.5 km. Today we walked 7km. Not much of drifting. It's a (very) long day (for me). Maybe it'll get bettter tomorrow. Going to have dinner and going to bed soon.

April 6:
CORCTN YESDAY WLK 12K WO DRFT.2DAY SLWER DRFT 300MPH.WLK 7KM W DRFT.32K 2 NP

Correction: yesterday we walked 12k without drift. Today it's a slower drift, 300m/hour. We walked 7km with drift. It's (about) 32km to the North Pole.

CKNG DNNR BCON W NDLE.YUK BUT NEED FAT.MIX HOT PWR DRNK CHOC &MLK BUT MLK TSTE LK CHEES ANOTHR YUK :)

I'm cooking dinner, bacon with (instant) noodle. It's yukky, but I need the fat. I (also) mixed hot power drink, chocolate and milk but the milk tastes like cheese. Another yuk :)

April 7:
TUF TERRN 2 NAV LOTS RDGES.WLK 7K WO DRFT.29K FR NP.ALMST NO DRFT.2 BIZ NOT BAD AS THOT :)

(Very) tough terrain to navigate, lots of (pressure) ridges. We walked 7km without drift. It's about 29k from the North Pole. Almost no drift. 2nd business (number two) is not bad as I thought (it would be) :)

CK MEX CHLI W BCON NOT BAD.CRVE 4 COKE WHLE WLKNG WEIRD EH.A GD AD 4 COCA

I cooked Mexican chili with bacon. Not bad (at all). I craved for (a can of) coke while walking (on the ice). Weird eh? (This would be) a good ad for Coca Cola.

SWET LOTS WHLE WLKNG TNT LOOK LK LNDRY EV NITE.BOIL LOTS WTR,DRNK LK CMEL.BED SOON

I sweat a lot while walking. The tent looks like a laundry place everynight. We boil lots of water, and drink like camel. I am going to bed soon.

April 8:
EVDAY&NITE NICE DAY TIL 2DAY.FOG LOW VISI.CMP WAIT 4 BTTR WTHR.NICE&WRM@TNT

Everyday and night here is a nice day until today. There's a fog and it's low visibility. We are camping out waiting for better weather. It's nice and warm in the tent.

DRFT STRNG AGN 600MPH.HEAR DOGSLDGE TEAM ARND.NICE 2KNW PPL NEAR

The ice drift is strong again, at 600m/hour We hear the dogsledge team around us. It's nice to know people are near.

HAD GD RST.WTHR NICE NOW.MB STRT WLKNG 2 CTCH UP

We had a good rest. The weather is nice now. Maybe we will start walking (again) to catch up.

April 9:
DIDNT WLK TIL MRNG.BTFUL DAY 4WLK.ONLY 5K 2DAY.HELI PCKUP TMR 4 NP THEN BK 2 LAND.BIG DAY.XCITD

We did not walk until (this) morning. It's a beautiful day for walking. (We only accomplished) 5k today. Helicopter will pick us up tomorrow for the North Pole, then back to land (ie, Longyearbyen). (It will be a) big day. I am excited.

April 10:
GRTNG FR THE NORTHPOLE :)

Greetings from the North Pole :)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Few Video Clips

Inside the Antonov to Barneo base camp

video

Melting the snow in the tent

video

Just woke up

video

Glacier Caving In Longyearbyen

There was an event prior to the expedition that I just mentioned briefly in the "An Eventful Day" entry. It was the ice caving trip.

Last time I was in Longyearbyen was in May. It was warm enough so all the glacier caves were closed due to water. I promised myself if I ever had the chance to come back to Longyear, I will do the glacier ice caving. So while waiting for the expedition, I had to do it. It was fun, tho the cost is a little on the steep side, but I think it's totally worth it.

Mark Abouzeid is an American Italian journalist who lives in Tuscany. He was off to a two day expedition to the Pole as a reporter. Mark and I went to the ice caving together. The cave is not as spectacular as some of limestone caves I have been to, but this is inside a glacier. That's what make it special. There were Xmas tree, chandeliers and crystal walls. Quite nice. However, the cave can be very slippery and dangerous. After all, we were walking on the smooth ice surface. I tried not injure myself since I was about to go on the expedition. The walk in the cave was okay until when we headed back out of the cave. That's when I slipped and hit the back of my head against the large piece of ice from which I slided off from. Luckily it wasn't bad, since my body took most of hit. I just got a little bump. But I was in panic. There was something dripping out of my hair. And that's when I made another mistake and stepped into a small water hole in front of me. The water got into my boots and was super cold. I didn't care. All I care was the dripping liquid from the back of my head. I had Mark to check for me. It was just the ice crystals melting from my head. Phew!

On the way back to the tour office, I was the driver. I dressed warm that day, but not for riding a scooter. I needed a face mask and gogles to protect my face from the wind. I got none! Mark and I were freezing on the way there so it would be hell on the way back too. So I thought what I could do to improve the situation. An idea came to mind: I could use the hood to protect my face instead of my head. I did not need the hood because I had the helmet. I ripped out the hood from the back of the jacket and and reconnect it to the front. It worked like a champ!

The tour operator (Poli Actici) is an Italian group so Mark felt right at home, speaking Italian. There are many operators for this kind of activities, but Poli Artici is the one using snowmobile to go to the ice cave. Snowmobile tour are really expensive, so we got a great deal combining both.

Mark described best what we saw and did in his blog. We had a great time riding the snowmobile, at least I did.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Home Sweet Home

As the airplane approaching the Bay Area yesterday morning, a soothing sight of green appearing through the window, I know I am home. It's green, at last. The last two and a half weeks, although most days were sunny and gorgeous, they were white. It's nice to be back to the warm California.

When I went out for lunch in Milpitas Square, I felt I was just there the day before. This is not Asia where things change fast within two or 3 weeks, but I am talking about the perception I have after the trip.

It's like a dream. Going to the North Pole was a dream. Being there was a dream. There was no concept of time, the sun is up 24 hours. Everywhere is white. The air is always supercold. The routine everyday is the same. And all are too unreal and yet very real. I am glad I lived this dream.

Last night when I got home from work and after finishing my dinner, I craved for some sweet. I opened the fridge and found the sugar-preserved lemon (mut chanh) my mom made when she was here visiting me a few days before the expedition. They were yummy and sweet.

Home sweet home.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Souvenirs

Yesterday I went shopping despite of the storm. It was not the kind of shopping I usually do while travelling. It was souvenir shopping. To me, this activity is for tourists (okay, I know that sounds cocky but I would love to be considered as traveller rather than a tourist). As expected, lots of polar bears, mooses, and the famous polar crossing sign. I got a few key chains, some tiny stuffed animals and magnets, all resemble or printed the white bears. When I brought to the checkout, I was stunned at the cost. Norway is notorious for being expensive.

I then went talk to Victoria, a Vicaar staff about the gear purchasing idea that I had asked her about since I got back from the pole. I was told she is in charge of acquiring the equipments so she would be the best person to discuss. I want to buy the skis and the ski poles I used in the expedition as souvenirs. This is first time and maybe the only time I thought of buying the stuffs I rent for a trip. After many times, she said she would think about it, and she finally let me know. The skis and the ski poles would cost 300 euros together, and 50 euros for just the poles. Good Lord, prices in Vicaar are even higher than Norwegian counterpart. But I was seriously considering it since this is probably the only time I can get these. I went back to the hostel and searched my wallet. Not much left, only $300 with a few one dollar bills mixed with some receipts. Our dollars feel just like other paper, no value at all. I decided to just get the poles. I checked xe.com for the exchange rate, USD has dropped even further than when I started two weeks ago. Ouch. I called Victoria to tell her I can only afford the poles and tell her I would pay in US dollar. It is $80 for the pair of ski poles that were beaten up even before I got to use them. Damn expensive. But they have some sentimental value.

And the expedition itself, freaking expensive. But the experience and memory are priceless.

And Vicaar knows it and charges people accordingly.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Small Celebration

I slept very well last night. Woke up feeling totally recovered. No more aching muscles. Last night most of my dream was about the time on the ice, all those vivid images flashed back. Guess I really do miss it. Or maybe I still tried to hang on to the special occasion.

Longyearbyen has a storm to day. Very, very windy. Temperature is about -8, with windchill is like -23. I think normally I would feel super cold but I think after the time on the ice, I don’t think it's that bad. It's all relative I suppose.

We had a small celebration at lunch today. Vadim (an experienced polar guide) who works with Vicaar presented us the diploma and the trophy. It was nice to get some diploma or trophy but it's the achievement of personal goals is the most important thing for me.

I talked to another skier, who stayed in the same hostel as mine. His name is Pepe Jijon from Ecuador. He has done the seven summits, including the Everest. He also reached the North Pole, one day before I did. He did the last two degree expedition (while mine is the last degree). A great guy, very friendly. He had a live interview with Ecuador media yesterday and he became the national pride for being the first Ecuadorian to ever reach the North Pole.

This trip has given me the opportunity to meet so many exceptional people. They really inspire me and open up new horizon. I can’t think of how I can meet these people in a normal circumstances. I will have to write about all the people I met in this trip in some other posts.

I am leaving for Oslo tomorrow and stay one night there before heading back to Toronto then San Francisco. More photos and videos to be uploaded once I get better internet connection (that would be in Toronto or back in the Bay Area).

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Day After the North Pole

The first thing I can say is my body is sored, all over. I'd never done anything physically this instense. I felt like I run a marathon everyday. Those sweaty workout sessions in the Cisco gym was nothing compare to this. But I'm glad I did the workout before hand or I don't stand a chance. But even so, I am still weaker compare to the rest of the team.

Another thing is I have to say is I already miss the time on the ice. As we flew in the helicopter from the North Pole to the Barneo base camp, I couldn't help but look out the window and feel that I am missing it. The expedition was extreme, too extreme for someone like me, in any aspect but then it's quite rare to expeirence this kind of extreme, and survive it. I'm glad I did this. But if you ask me now if I jump on any opportunity to get back to the ice, the answer is no :). Not yet anyway.

The first thing I did last night was taking a long shower. Ghosh, I smelled like a pig. Wash my hair twice and my face has layer upon layer of oil :). Most people do not even brush their teeth on this kind of expedition. Every ounce of stuff counts. I slept at the hangar last night since I didn't have an accommodation. Mikhail was nice enough to let me stay at the hangar. It was nice to sleep in a heated room and on a real bed.

There are so much to talk about the expedition. In fact, I wrote diary every night, from day one to 9, almost half of the small note book. I will post them eventually. There are so many things that happened during the expedition and the satellite communication simply could not do it.

Here are a few photos during the expedition:
The tents on the ice

Me


Me lying at the exact North Pole 90 degree, and the rest of the world south of me (well, not really, at least the guy who took my photo was not :))

Thursday, April 10, 2008

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

GRTNG FR THE NORTHPOLE :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

DIDNT WLK TIL MRNG.BTFUL DAY 4WLK.ONLY 5K 2DAY.HELI PCKUP TMR 4 NP THEN BK 2 LAND.BIG DAY.XCITD

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

HAD GD RST.WTHR NICE NOW.MB STRT WLKNG 2 CTCH UP

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

DRFT STRNG AGN 600MPH.HEAR DOGSLDGE TEAM ARND.NICE 2KNW PPL NEAR

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

EVDAY&NITE NICE DAY TIL 2DAY.FOG LOW VISI.CMP WAIT 4 BTTR WTHR.NICE&WRM@TNT

Monday, April 7, 2008

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

SWET LOTS WHLE WLKNG TNT LOOK LK LNDRY EV NITE.BOIL LOTS WTR,DRNK LK CMEL.BED SOON

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

CK MEX CHLI W BCON NOT BAD.CRVE 4 COKE WHLE WLKNG WEIRD EH.A GD AD 4 COCA

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

TUF TERRN 2 NAV LOTS RDGES.WLK 7K WO DRFT.29K FR NP.ALMST NO DRFT.2 BIZ NOT BAD AS THOT :)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

CKNG DNNR BCON W NDLE.YUK BUT NEED FAT.MIX HOT PWR DRNK CHOC &MLK BUT MLK TSTE LK CHEES ANOTHR YUK :)

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

CORCTN YESDAY WLK 12K WO DRFT.2DAY SLWER DRFT 300MPH.WLK 7KM W DRFT.32K 2 NP

Saturday, April 5, 2008

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

YESTRDAY WLK 1.5K.2DAY 7K NOT MCH DRFT.LOONG DAY.MAYB BTTR TMR.DNNR & BED SOON

Friday, April 4, 2008

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

GEORGE(G) JOIN TEAM GRT HLP.HELI DRP@89 D40'.CLD BUT MOVNG HLP STAY WRM

Thursday, April 3, 2008

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

MCKUP TRP SURND.WAS GOOD,QUITE TIRING.WIL B INTRESTNG NXT 7DAY.HAD GOOD INSTNT MEAL.DRFT FSTER 14KM SINCE YESTRDAY.STRT@ICE@11AM TMR

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

SLEEP OK.STIL DRFT SOUTH FST.STAY@BASE EXPL AREA 2DAY.-35 & WNDY.STAYIN WRM

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

SMS from 881641452516@msg.iridium.com

ARV@BARNEO SAF.AM GOOD.-35.ICE DRFT SOUT FST.WHE 2STRT TMR NOT KNOW.AMZN SCNE

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Da Nguyen Code

Ok, that’s too much :)

Just wanted to say from tomorrow everything will be short, no internet to blog properly. Again, I will try to shorten everything due to the limit of the message from satellite phone. Here’s some sample:
CH = Christoph
SG = Sergei
TMR = tomorrow
EZE = easy
WRM = warm
CLD = cold
CLDY = cloudy
STRM = storm
TNT = tent
And pretty much some of the conventional way. Have fun decrypting :)

Ski the Last Degree, Here I Come

I am officially excited.

Yes, we are going to the North Pole, on schedule too. April 2 is the day. Everything is confirmed yesterday after the meeting at the Radisson hotel with Victor.

There was so much uncertainty past few days regarding when we can depart and how many people are going, etc. Last night we know what we will be doing. For the 9 day expedition that I participate, there's only 3 of us including the guide. Christoph Hobenreich (http://www.franzjosefland.com/center_frame.htm), an experience professional polar guide, who has lead 10 polar expeditions and many other mountain climbing will be my guide. Sergei who is a deputy director for a medical supply company is another participant. In the other post I mentioned Mikhail said there was 12. Well, they had been trying to merge our group with an Indian navy group, but they did not like that, so we only have two. The journalists are also participating in an expedition but much shorter one, one day or two on the ice. Vicaar invites them to participate to get some publicity. This is pretty much paid for but they can write pretty much anything, be that good or bad, about what they learn from the trip. I would love to get paid to go to the North Pole.

Since there only two of us for the 9 day expedition, the training/mockup trip around Longyearbyen is cancelled, instead we will do it at the base camp Barneo. And you might have guessed, no fitness assessment test either. What if both of us fail :). Actually, the way it works is this is more tourist oriented, although the 9 day is physically demanding. Those journalists didn't even step on a tread mill, or even know what to prepare, but their trip is only one day.

So this is the plan for the expedition:
- We fly to Barneo tomorrow (April 2)
- We stay there one day, training, and camp outside
- The following day we fly to a location a little less than one degree in the North East and start skiing from there
- We will reach to the Pole a week or so later
- If the nature stop us from reach there by skis after a week (say the ice drift backward or some storms, etc), we will have the helicopter take us there.

The base camp is currently at south of 89 and the ice drifting south fast. So Christophe decide to move to North East a little less than one degree and with the drifting ice to take advantage of the drifting.

Today we went to the airport warehouse again to pack our sledges, pick up food (ghosh, I can't wait to eat those yummy dried food they provide - NOT :)) and test out some of the hardware such as stoves, fuel, tents, and sleeping bags. Before going there, Christoph checked out my gears. He said I am very well equipped. And he's ok with the food I bring with me. We will definitely exchange some of the stuffs we are not going to eat with something more swallowable. It was fun to prepare for this. It seems everyone there is busy. Met more people, one Spanish guide who will lead a group of Spaniards from the last degree (like my program), an Indian navy team (which I video taped them), Frank a British journalist and George. George is a very special character. He's going this time to the pole unguided just to test out his gear. The grandeur he is looking for is crossing the Artic Ocean from Russia to Canada via North Pole, solo, unsupported, and he has to swim too. No one has done this kind of expedition before. He tried this once but failed after 5 days so he has to try it one more time in Jan 2009. Apparently this will cost something like 170K euros. This time it is a test, he has to pay 12K just to have Vicaar just for the flight, no supply or equipment. So the cost for my trip isn't much more than what he pays, but I have pretty much my private guide and all needed the equipments.

Speaking of polar guide, I like Christoph. He's really professional. Maybe a little too professional, but maybe because we just met. We have more than a week working together, day in day out, lots of time to get to know each other. I observe him as we pack, he's a little more of a perfectionist too. Maybe it is Austrian thing (or German - they're known for being perfectionists). Sergei, on the other hand, is totally unprepared it seems. He is still in business mode. He has some paper/docs with him and still calls people at work. Hopefully he doesn't expect we do everything for him. This ain't a regular vacation or even a safari in Africa. He doesn't speak much English, but enough to converse. He has two daughter, one is 6 month old. Christoph prepped us last night, stating all the risks, challenges and all, but one thing he is really make us feel safe and show his resposibility is he said he has a family and his children are looking forward to meet him. And another thing is missing a finger (by frostbite) is not worth the trip, that means our safety and health is the priority. I'm glad he leads us and there are only two of us for him to be responsible for. But on the other hand, I would love to have more people on the trip. To me, I am ready to take on whatever challenges this expedition brings, but one thing I'm not sure is how I will do to make this more enjoyable, in term of human interaction. After all, you're stuck with two other strangers for 10 days. Christoph and I can definitely get along fine but Sergei is a little different. This is a team and we should work as a team. The success of the expedition depends on the team. Anyway, will see how everything turns out. Maybe I'm way too sensitive about this. But I wouldnt mind to have those journalists in my team :). They're fun to talk to.

Oh, Mark and Emma-Kate are going to video interview me today. Boy, I look ugly :) but they said they want real people who are going on the real trip, not like theirs abd they want to interview me in a guest house not at a nice hotel :). Well, that's me at this time, looking ugly, staying at a guesthouse sharing room with 3 other strangers (who luckily don't snore at night so far :)) trying to get everything ready for a biggest trip of my life.

Lights, Action!

Eventful Day

Yesterday was an eventful day. Started out as my glacier caving trip (I might as well do something while I was here waiting) got cancelled. I decided to walk around to "downtown" strip for lunch. Everyday I always find some "excuse" for myself to go somewhere. And as I go, I carry my backpack loaded with stuffs (including the CCNA book :) -- it's been useful as a dumb bell so far LOL). The backpack is bcak breaking heavy, but i need it to stay in shape as a form of exercise. Not sure if it's a good one but there is no stairs master here. Anyway, after the lunch, Mikhail, Sacha (a driver for Vicaar) and I went to the airport to pick up my guide Christophe (Austrian), my partner for the trip Sergei (from St Petersburg) and two journalists Mark (from Italy) and Emma-Kate (an aussie). We picked them up and stopped by the hangar (more like a warehouse) meeting with Victor and some other people then we off to our hotels/hostels. Mark and I then went on the afternoon ice caving trip for 3 hours. After we finished, we rushed to the Radisson SAS hotel for our first meeting with the team for the expeditions. The day finished at 11-something pm for me.
Me riding the snowmobile

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Gears

Mikhail came pick me up and we drove to the hangar where they store all the equipments are gears for the trip. It's not a huge hangar, small rather. There are a few beds inside. I guess the Russian really do it thrifty way. I finally met Victor. Apparently I missed out a lecture he gave yesterday. The communication is broken I supposed. Mikhail seemed to not aware of the lecture hence I did not know about it. Anyway, I tried out all the stuffs for the trip. A lot of them. They equip participants inside out, literrally, from underwear to outter, head to toe. Everything fits me ok except for the boots and the ski pants. The boots are my size for sure but somehow feel a little loose. I probably will opt for my own boots I got from REI and tested in Alaska. The pants are a little long (even tho it is the smallest size -- it's not good to be so "petit" :)) so they digged out the old stuffs and found one pair one size smaller. Those are ok.

Along came with us was Rima. She's from Singapore but probbaly grew up in UK. She speaks English with British accent. She's going to join us to the base camp and from there she and another person will do 20-something day expedition to the pole, unguided! It's really cool to be here and meet these people. Super driven, and tough. She will also conduct some experiments to collect weather data. I didn't have much time to chat with her. I will later on for sure.

I asked Mikhail again about the head count, still unclear. But looks like a lot of them will either have their own guides or unguided, except two participants with a guide (one is me). I will update once I know more about this. My guide will arrive to Longyear tomorrow afternoon, so I am not sure if I will have a training/mockup session as planned or not. Most likely not. This is not the first time these people organize this and yet they're still very unorganized. I will go to the airport with Mikhail tomorrow to pick up my guide and hope I will know more what's coming up next.

These are the pictures I took about two hours ago. Can't be more live than this, can it? :)


The gears I collected today -- the room is different cuz I moved to different hostel.





Me again. It's -20C but seriously not that bad because there's no wind






Rima is trying to sort out the fuel for her expedition





A polar guide for the trip (not my guide) - I didn't catch his name -- he helped find my gears




Outside of the hangar where all the equipments are stored. Notice the cars are very clean, not like those in Toronto in the winter.




A gorgeous morning


video

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Few Pictures

While waiting to collect the gears, thought I should post some self photos



Me in "downtown" Longyear
Frying the onion with butter

Pasta sauce - not bad looking eh


Final product

Waiting Game

As expected, things always get delayed up here. I was supposed to meet up with Victor today but did not get any message. I had to call back to Mikhail and no meeting. He said my guide will arrive the day after tomorrow (3/31), one day later than scheduled. I am going to meet up with Mikhail tomorrow to collect the gears. There also will be an introductory dinner. Will see if I will have any.
One will have to remain very flexible and patient, as I was told my Robert (the agent).

Friday, March 28, 2008

Longyearbyen

It's always nice to come back to the place you visited before. You feel like you know the place and this is the time to kick back and relax and explore things at an easy pace. This is how I feel when I arrived to Longyearbyen this afternoon. This is my second time here. Last was 3 years ago when I came to check out the town and any North pole operator and the possibility of last minute deal just like the one I had in Punta Arenas for the Antarctica. The town is still the same, only more snow and brighter. The sun was out brilliantly. The pilot announced that it was -17C but it felt warmer, probbaly about -10C or so. Picked me up at the airport was Mikhail, an employee of Vicaar, the outfitter for the expedition. We introduced ourselves and the next question I asked was how many people are on this trip. He wasn't so sure but so far it is about 12. That is crowded! However, he said there are some unconfirmed so they only the count early next week. And if needed they will split us into two groups. I am one of the earlier people to show up in Longyearbyen for this trip. Mikhail also said Victor, the guy who runs the company are not around. He's in the base camp. He will be back tonight and hopefully I will get to meet him tomorrow.
I was starving when I arrived. In fact I was hungry since last night. My stomach was bothering me that I couldn't sleep at all (plus the jet lag and the long sleep in the business cabin of the previous flight - damn business class to screw up my sleep :)). I was hungry that this morning at the hostel I shoveled three big slices of bread, lots of meat and an egg plus fruit for breakfast. I almost missed my flight. By the time I got to the airport, the checkin was closed. I had to beg the airline ground staff at the check in counter to let me check in. At first they wouln't but then they found out the flight was delayed for 20 mins. Lucky me. So as soon as I checked in the hostel in Longyearbyen, I went to the grocery store right away to grap some protein and something for a hot dish. I ended up buying beef, pasta and pasta souce. A quick meal but healthy and loads of carb which I need.

Food prices in Norway are outrageous. I paid 27 kroners (approx $5.5) for a hal a litter of Pepsi bottle. And guess what? Water is not free in flight! I don't know if they expect people to dehydrate themselves to dead on a 4 hour flight. I had to pay 4 bucks for a bottle of water. And I remember to pay $16 for a McD's meal 3 years ago in Oslo.

Food is not the only thing that is expensive. Last night I arrived at Oslo late and I did not want to walk around finding the hostel. I jumped on a taxi. I know the distance is very short from the Sentralstajon (Central Station) to the Perminalen Hotel, and expect to pay maybe $10 at most. Soon as I got inside the cab, the meter showed 55 kroners ($11). When I got to the hotel, I paid 127 kroners (~$25) for 1.1 km of taxi ride. Gotta be the most expensive 1.1 km I ever paid.

The following are the newest photos of Longyearbyen. I snapped them on the way to the grocery store. Enjoy.

My bed for the next several days




A school (not sure what - could be elementary)
One of the main transportation

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Perfect Flight

The flight from SFO to Oslo was so smooth. All the connections including bus to the the hostel were seamless. Adding to that is the service in business class. This is my first time in business class on a long trip. I slept 7 hours on a near flat bed/seat. The seat even has massage function. Very sweet. When I woke up, the flight attentdant was so nice to ask how my sleep was. It was good obviously :). Orginally I only wanted the economy class because I wanted to save the miles accrued over the years, but they only have the business class for 20,000 more point. What the heck, i need to treat myself nice before going thru the torture :).

I'm leaving for Longyearbyen tmr morning.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Food for the Expedition

Can you imagine eating the same food as listed below for the whole week?

Breakfast:
  • Muesli ( oat meal )
  • Sugar
  • Butter
  • Milk powder
  • Salami/ Speck
  • Biscuits / bread
  • Tea or Coffee

Lunch:

  • Mixed nuts and fruit
  • Chocolate
  • Energetic drink
  • Cheese

Dinner:

  • Dry soup
  • Mashed potatoes/rice
  • Olive oil
  • Bacon
  • Biscuit / bread
  • Butter
  • Herb tea
  • Sugar
  • Spices

That's the stuff I am going to have on the trip. Yuk.

I decided to bring some of my own, hopefully they'll let me bring them, or at least trade with what they provide:

  • Beef jerky (kho bo)
  • Freeze dried food: Kung pao chicken rice, Mexican chili, Indian curry and teriyaki beef rice
  • Dry shredded pork (cha bong) (half homemade (my mom gave me some) and half I bought from a store)
  • Potato chips
  • Power bar and trail mix bars
  • Instant noodles

If they dont let me bring these, I'll have to smuggle some of them in my jacket :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Satellite Phone

I received the satellite phone yesterday. I was anxious to see how it works, especially with the satellite-phone-to-blog idea. It works like a champ. So we’re on for live blogging. The only thing I can complain about this is the connection is taking too long, like 5 mins. And I hate to type in the message using the phone keyboard. I guess I’m not a teenager anymore to be able to do speed SMS. I also will have to “invent” a lot of shortcuts to limit number of characters (the length of each message is 160 characters including email address and white spaces). And looks like I have to write the message I need to send on paper first, shrink it as short as possible then key in the phone and send. Hope the following message is clear enough:

MET NP TRIBE HU LIV@ICE DANCE 4 US, WAS AMZG :)

It reads “We met a North Pole tribe who live on the ice. They danced for us. It was amazing. :)”
(The NP tribe was a joke from my team at work)


Sponsorship

As you might have guessed the cost of this expedition really expensive. In fact it is too expensive for me. But I value the experience more than money since money I can make (or save, rather) but the experience like not too many people can have. Having said that, I still want to get some form of sponsorship from big corporations or the media to help cover part of or entire the expedition. The first I tried was the Vietnamese newpapers in Vietnam. I thought it’s probably more interesting to the Vietnamese people that a Vietnamese to go to the North Pole. After all, I might be the very first Vietnamese to go there (again, unconfirmed, but I did some search, nothing came up). I sent the two biggest daily newspapers in Vietnam. No echo from the black hole. I then tried BBC Vietnamese version, also no response. Only when I tried the local Vietnamese community here, I got some reply but they were in no position to sponsor since they don’t make that much money. At least they’re willing to pay me for the articles and photos after the trip. I then switched to big corporations. Cisco would be the first. I tried people from marketing and people who might have pointers. Fruitless. I turned to Google, Facebook and Yahoo. For Google, I even drafted out the plan how to make their young social network Orkut to be more popular. They quickly replied with a no. As for Yahoo!, at least my friend Ryan tried back and forth and finally it also died. As I read on thepoles.com, they said to expect lot of no for a yes. It’s true to my case. Next time if I need to raise some money, must do it much earlier and widespread. I certainly gave up the hope to get any sponsor until yesterday my team have a quick meeting. Everyone got together and wished me luck on my trip. And to my surprise they gave me the “sponsor” money, not much compare to the trip but a lot for a “standard” gift as we always have when someone has a baby. I really appreciate this, especially it is quite a bit for them. Thanks guy for your support and going easy on me :)

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Itinerary









Sunday, March 23, 2008

Facebook frustration

I have this idea of live blogging while on the trip using a satellite phone. While the idea is cool and all (it could be the first on Facebook or any blog site -- unconfirmed because I havent done enough of research -- wouldnt be surprised because there are many trekkers have done it before), the Facebook does not support satellite phone. I will be getting the phone tomorrow but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work directly with facebook (will try anyway, maybe I missed some details from representative lady from the phone store). The reason is the sat phone does not have the regular North American phone number so FB wouldn't know how to send the confirmation code to the phone to complete the registration process. The goal is I will send an email via sat phone to somewhere and somehow it will be routed that to Facebook Notes. I have many ideas but the easier (for such a short amount of time) and feasible solution is sending email to webmail then route it to FB. So on last Friday, I tried to come up with this litttle facebook app that could help me archieve the goal. The example I downloaded from Facebook developer doesn't seem to work very well. I could authenticate but that's about it, I cannot retrive or do anything else. It crapped out with "Invalid argument" or things like that. Have to admit that I didn't read much of the help or doc but there seems to be little doc to begin with. Plus Idon't have much time to spend on this. After a few more hours yesterday, no improvement so I decided to ditch the idea using facebook and go for blogger.com. Blogger has mail-to-blog feature which is sweet. The only thing is some how sync this blogger to facebook. I found Mirror Blog app from FB which does exactly what I want but doesnt work too well. Just now I tried out the Facebook import feature (developed by the FB team - hopefully in better quality), will see how it works. If it doesnt work either, then I guess I have to let everyone I know from FB know to start coming here.

Re-post from Facebook (3/3)

Barrow - 01/26
share_data={max_recipients:20}

7:53pm Saturday, Jan 26 Edit Note Delete
Okay, this is the second attemp to write about Barrow. Stupid facebook note delete my note while I was writing it (well myfault since I accidentally click on some button).Barrow is part of the preparation work for the NP trip. It took me 12 hours from SFO to here, with 4 hops and 3 airplanes. It was quite a smooth trip, no delays. I would think traveling East coast in the winter time like this would have more delay problem than this. Guess Alaska Airlines are used to the weather! I arrived in barrow at 7:40pm last night. Before getting of the plane, I was already in my winter gears, except for my hands with out gloves. I was a mistake. Just about maybe 40-50 feet from the airplane door to the airport door enough to make my hands feel numb. It was maybe about -20F. The hotel is just a few steps away from the airport. It’s quite nice hotel, warm and cozy, except for the hotel owner who seems to be quite friendly but I’m not too sure. I checked in and she gave me a bunch of menus for restaurants. Surprisingly they were all Asian food, Chinese or Japanese. I asked her if there is anything American or Italian. There’s Arctic Pizza and a Mexican food. I guess after all, native people are of Asian origin! I decided not to order any take out and eat my pastry and kho bo Vietnamese beef jerky I brought with me for dinner. Not a great dinner but passable. After my dinner, I went out to the lobby to use the internet. I met these two native girls who were trying to jump start their snow machine. I said hi and had a quick chat with them. It turns out one of them (Olivier and her 4 month old daughter Amy) lives here and the other (Roselyn) in a nearby village called Wainwright. When they left, Roselyn’s mom Marleen, came out and we chatted for quite sometime. I learn a bit about their daily life in the village. To come here, they must fly and that would cost about $80-90 one way. There is no access road. If they must use the snow machine it would take about 4 hours. People do do that but they must carry tracking device and the radio just in case anything happen on the way. And of course thermal bottle for tea or coffee. She’s very friendly. Most people in the north are very friendly. Must be the weather and the isolation. Marleen asked me to go out for quick stroll. I was exhaustive but still wanted to jump on the opportunity. So I geared up. Before we leave the hotel, we made ourselves a cup of hot tea. As soon as we go out, my tea got cooler quickly. Because I wanted to drink some tea to keep me warm, didn’t use the face mask. It was a mistake. I my face was frozen almost instantly. I could feel it. I used the tea cup to rub on my face to keep it warm. I might have made it worse because it is add moist to my face. We walked to the pole where it has all the directions to town around the US and the world, I couldn’t feel anything on my face. Marleen had to take out her gloves and rub her warm hands on my face to me warm. We rushed back to the hotel to the heat and comfort. She needed to light a cigarette but her lighter was also frozen, it couldn’t start for a moment!. After taking off the gears, I realized that I have a small frost bite on my wrist because I didn’t cover entire arm and a small part of my wrist were exposed. It feels like scratch or a burn from a stove. Since it is too small so today it is pretty much healed. I then learned a lesson. Go outside well prepared. So this afternoon when I went out for lunch, it took me 10 mins to put on the gears and only 30 seconds to the restaurant! It is ridiculous but that’s how it is here. I went to the Japanese restaurant when the sun rose. That was around 12 something, at high noon. The sun didn’t stay up too long. It set around 2:30ish. The common knowledge “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west” doesn’t work here. The sun rose in the South and set in the South too. From the restaurant owner, I learned that most Asian restaurants here are owned by Koreans. She said she likes it here because it is very quiet and “no jealous” (her word – she used this for those Korean in LA). There are Taiwanese, Filipinos and a couple of Vietnamese people who drive taxis. I should somehow meet these Vietnamese guys.Today I walked about one mile. That is nothing. I need to double or triple or even quadruple that tomorrow. I also probably need to carry the backpack with something to add weights tomorrow. Something I notice is as I first started to walk, my hands got cold real fast. But after a while, it became warm. I guess my body instructed my heart to work harder to pump the much needed heat and blood to the whole body. One thing I am disappointed is the goggles. They are not anti fog at all. After about 15 or 20 mins, they were all fogged up. What should I do? Obviously I need to return them but for now I guess nothing I can do. Also, my long johns didn’t work too well. I must get a different type and a pair of fleece pants. The wool socks and silk liner socks worked the magic. No wet feet and they were so comfortable and warm.

Re-post from Facebook (2/3)

Nasa Mike

5:59pm Saturday, Jan 26 Edit Note Delete
I could not believe fate could bring me to Barow and meet Mike Comberiate, aka NASA Mike, the chief scientist in Goddard Nasa physics facility. This guy is such a down to earth guy, despite his status. He is so passionate about what he's doing, be that work or travelling. I like his "can do" attitude from what he told us. He always wants to be the pioneer and is not afraid of arrow (he said pioneers are the one with arrows in the back). After he present his slides on North pole, I came talk to him and told him about my NP trip and why I am in Barrow. He seems to be very interested, I guess because not too many people here are interested in going to the North Pole. He told how he planned his trips for the North Pole's first live webcam. It was a cool trip. He also show the picture of the Barneo and the trip. I cannot wait to be there and experience it first hand. When I told him about the price, he thought it was a lot since the time he organzied it, it was only 6k-8k person! I guess the Russian really know how to make money. I gave me a tip that i should bring peanut butter with me since the food on the trip is awful! I asked him a question on how realistic the plan to put man on Mars. He did not give a definitely answer. Instead his answer was something that they wanted the Chinese to go to the Moon so they have the push for the program. He refered White House as Dog House for their beaurocracies. At the end I took pictures with him and shake his hands. He wished me luck for the trip and told me to make sure keep in touch. This guy is so famous that if i write Nasa Mike with zip code 20777, it will direct to him (for NASA itself it is 20771). I also met his team, this one guy Steve (dont know his last name) and Ellis (who is very smart, he gave me a 1 on 1 demo of the robot and how it works). They are going back to Maryland this monday night and so do I. So hopefully i run into them again and definitely talk more on space, NASA and trips! This is the unexpected thing which I love about trips to remote or "crazy" expedition, such as I met the Ibanez family in Antarctica.

Re-post from Facebook (1/3)

01/11 - Start of the new thread of notes

6:04pm Friday, Jan 11 Edit Note Delete
It's been a while I got on this notes thing to write something. I guess I should start writing more as it looks like I'm in the biggest trip of my life. It's not just a trip but something even bigger. An adventure of my life to date. Robert promised to send me info either today or tmr for more details. So will see. I must start working out. For some reason, I'm too lazy to drag my ass to the gym. But laziness woulndt help, I know that. I forgot the gym clothes today so i'm excused but I cannot do this longer. The end of the month is Barrow. Must do soemting and this weekend maybe a busy weekend shopping for winter stuffs for Alaska. Found one pair of boots in REI (online) for $100 that could me warm in -40F (-40C). They're ugly but work in extreme weather. I will have to go to the store and grab them. I also need to book the hotel in Barrow. Somehow I feel they're (or rather the receptionist girl) not that friendly - at least over the phone - like a typical northerner. This hotel is recommended by some reviewers online so it must be decent. I dont know what I am going to do there for 3 days but I guess i'll figure something out. Maybe borrow some sledge and walk around in the twilight like a zombie dragging this stupid sledge :). Maybe I'll just borrow some cross country ski and ski around town for 8 hours. Who knows but definitely I will tell them my purpose of the trip and see what they can help. Ghosh, there are too many things to worry about and so many things i need to take care of.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

First entry on blogger

A lot of people know that I am going to the North Pole by now. It's interesting to see different reactions when I told people. Many would say "cool" but a few show the concern. One of them is Tayana. She seems to be freaked out when told her. Her experience of the extreme cold weather didn't bring her pleasant memory when she grew up in remote areas of Russia. Another kind of reaction is mute. Mike just took it as it's just another trip Khai is planning, no big deal. A lot of questions have been asked such as am I nervous or excited. It's strange that I lost the nervousness and even some of the excitement. I think I am ready to take on the challenges. I have to admit that I was nervous about this trip at first. It is a risk, that's for sure. But I guess risk is everywhere. All that I need to prepare for this has been done, well, maybe a few more cross country trips in Tahoe would be nice.

I got most of the stuffs I need for the trip except a few small things. Got some packing to do tomorrow.