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.