JOURNAL: YouTube Comments, Guidebooks, & Myanmar Videos
Friday, July 26, 2019
4:30 a.m. Room 2, Grocer’s Inn
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I wore myself out yesterday because I spent so much time on the computer working on my blog, on videos for YouTube, and on reading about Myanmar. By 7 at night, I was a wreck. I had a terrible headache and my eyes were burning. It’s not healthy to spend so much time staring at a computer screen. I couldn’t do anything else after that, and by 8 p.m., I was in bed. And that means, of course, that I was awake by 3 a.m., and here I am back on my computer at 4:30 in the morning.
I’ve had my first cup of instant coffee, and I’m thinking about having a second one soon. Someone recently asked me about the kettle that I travel with, and I sent them links to pictures of it. I’m not sure if it was the same person, but someone replied that I shouldn’t use a plastic kettle since the boiling water can create toxic chemicals in the water leached from the plastic. That is probably true, but I can’t really be bothered to worry about it. In my lifetime, I’ve heard about how everything is toxic at one time or another. Bananas are good for you. Now they’re bad for you. Then they’re good for you again. Aluminum pots were supposed to cause Alzheimer’s. Then suddenly they didn’t. Coffee is good. Then it’s bad. Then it’s good again. For all I know, all the boiled water coming out of my plastic kettle is poisoning me. Or it’s not. Who knows? This hostel in KL supplies a kettle and I could boil water there, but it is a type of plastic kettle, too. You can’t win when it comes to this stuff.
Speaking of YouTube comments, I’ve spent quite a bit of time replying to comments on my videos, and I really enjoy that. A lot of wonderful people leave long and thoughtful comments, and I’ve had the chance to get to know them. I’ve even met a few of them in person, and I’m hoping to meet more. It’s a fascinating side of having a YouTube channel. Years ago, I thought my website and blog would lead to that kind of social interaction online, but it never did. Now I’m seeing that with my videos. It’s a good thing for me because I have such a tendency to isolate myself socially. The social side of my little video project is pulling me out into the world a bit.
One thing that has surprised me is how nice people are in general and how positive the comments have been. Over the years, I’ve gotten used to a kind of toxicity in the comment sections of most websites and YouTube videos. I remember when you couldn’t go two or three comments deep in any thread without it degenerating into a hate-filled cesspool. But for some reason, it appears to have changed. Not just on my YouTube channel but on a lot of channels, I don’t see the anger and attacks and trolling that was very common just a short time ago. There is so much positivity that it is a bit unsettling at times. I recently joked with a man I met here at the Grocer’s Inn that I miss the old hate-filled YouTube a little bit. I watch a lot of travel vlogs, and I sometimes come across a video or an entire channel that I think is really, really awful. And I expect to scroll down to the comments and enjoy dozens of people attacking them and ridiculing them and tearing them apart. And there is generally nothing like that. The video, in my opinion, will be terrible, but there will be fifty comments praising it and saying how it is the greatest and most inspirational thing ever. Where are the critics? Where’s the hate? Is it all being filtered out? Have the haters run out of energy?
My research into Myanmar continues (the research that I should have done long ago), and it continues to be fascinating. I watched more videos yesterday about the Burma Campaign and the role Myanmar played in World War II. I followed that up with some videos about modern Myanmar and the economic growth going on. I came away with a very strong sense of how rapidly things are changing in Myanmar. These videos (documentaries, mainly) were made just a few years ago, and they look like they are from fifty years ago. The same goes for the travel features. These videos showed places like Bagan and Mingun, and they were barely recognizable to me. There hardly seemed to be any tourism or tourism infrastructure at all.
I also began reading the Lonely Planet guidebook for Myanmar. I have a love/hate relationship with these guidebooks. As a cyclist, they were never of much use to me because they focus on the major cities and tourist attractions that backpackers would visit, and the transportation options they require to get there. And none of that information was of any help to me since I was cycling and didn’t need any transportation. Even the information about hotels and restaurants was useless because I had my bicycle. I would just show up in a town and ride around until I spotted a hotel. I didn’t need any help. And the hotels that are good for backpackers are not necessarily good for a cyclist. We need a different type of place.
Guidebooks could also have a strange effect on your mood and on your experience of a country. I’d go to a new country intending to have my own personal experience. I wanted it to be special and unique to me. That’s one of the main reasons I like to ride a bike sometimes. And when you read a guidebook, it can kind of suck the life out of the experience. It suddenly feels ordinary – something that everyone does. It feels like an instruction manual for life. Plus, it can make you feel inadequate because, if you’re cycling, your focus is usually not on the country’s big attractions. You often don’t even see them. Your focus is on the local roads and the out-of-the-way towns that you come across. The towns you experience as a cyclist will never make it into a guidebook because they are just the regular towns of that country. And that is wonderful. That’s what bike touring is all about. But when you read a guidebook about all of that country’s big attractions, you feel guilty that you aren’t going there or you feel like you are missing out. It just messes with your mind.
However, a Lonely Planet guidebook can be very helpful when it comes to the basics. They contain a nice summary of the country’s history, politics, economics, culture, language and society. And the maps of the big cities used to be very useful (before Google Maps existed). It can also help you get excited about a country. There are beautiful pictures, and the editors at Lonely Planet clearly are trying to sell you something. Their language (especially in the recent era) goes way over the top in terms of how amazing and astonishing and gorgeous and incredible and mind-blowing everything about a country is. They often read like tourist brochures from the country’s tourism department. It can be a bit much at times, but it can get you excited about visiting a new place.
In any event, I started reading the Lonely Planet guide for Myanmar, and it is turning out to be very useful. And it is driving home even more just how much I missed on my first trip there. I think there is the question of balance at play here. In my life, I’ve kind of resisted the Lonely Planet approach to visiting other countries. Let’s see if I can find an accurate and simple way to sum this up: A guidebook pushes you towards having the same experience as everyone else. You all end up going to the same hotel. You all end up doing the same things. You all end up going to the same places and even eating at the same restaurants. A bike tour does the exact opposite. It pushes you toward having a completely unique experience of a country. And I like that. But that can go too far. The ideal would be a balance between seeing the main attractions and having your own unique experience.
And my approach leans too much toward avoiding the big attractions and enjoying instead just hanging out in any local, normal neighborhood. For example, I’ve always been inspired by travel books like “A Year In Marrakesh” by Peter Mayne. Instead of touring Morocco and seeing all the incredible sights, he just rented a tiny room in a typical neighborhood and tried to live there. I like that idea. It has always struck me as very romantic, and I’m drawn to this ex-pat artist living abroad image.
However, as I said, you can go too far with that. And that’s what happened to me on my first trip to Myanmar. I ended up doing a lot more of just hanging out in Yangon being me and not enough traveling. The balance wasn’t there. It’s one thing to hang out in a local neighborhood and simply absorb the atmosphere. That’s great. But too much of that means you miss so much – especially if you’re not cycling. I think that’s the key difference here. I can go to a country and do a lot of just hanging out as long as I also get on my bicycle and do some traveling. But I went to Myanmar without my bicycle – my main weapon. And I also did not take any pictures – and my camera is my secondary weapon. I took away the two main pillars of my experiences overseas, and I didn’t replace them with anything. I was there as a regular backpacker, reliant on local transportation, and I didn’t know how to do that. I’d forgotten how. Plus, I didn’t even have my usual photo walkabout experiences. I was shooting video, and that is a brand new experience for me, and I don’t know how to do that either.
TLDR: I didn’t do enough on my first trip to Myanmar. So I’m going to go back to do more, and reading the Lonely Planet guidebook is giving me lots of great ideas for places to go. It’s also making me realize that you can’t just la-di-da show up in a country and expect everything to unfold naturally. You’ve got to do some work, you’ve got to do some planning, and you’ve got to do some scheduling especially when you only get 28 days on your visa. So that’s my goal this time. I’ve NEVER thought in terms of an itinerary. I even hate the concept. I remember seeing people on the Lonely Planet forum (called the Thorn Tree) posting their itinerary for visiting a country and asking people if it was a good one. That seemed insane to me. It was just weird. They literally just went to the Lonely Planet guidebook, strung together a series of the country’s biggest attractions, and then assigned days to them. “Here’s my itinerary for Myanmar: Yangon-2 nights; Bagan 3 nights with hot-air balloon ride; Mandalay 4 nights. Is that good?” And then they’d expect people to give it a passing or failing grade. I thought that was so weird. It’s like asking people to judge how you should live your life. It’s like they’re trying to pass a test.
So, I’ve never liked this itinerary approach to visiting another country. However, when you are not cycling, perhaps a little bit of a rough plan isn’t a bad idea. And that’s what I’m trying to put together now.
I also spent some time yesterday working on some videos for YouTube. While I was in Mandalay, I took a day trip on a boat up to Mingun. I shot a lot of video that day, and I finished putting it together yesterday and uploading it to my channel. For better or worse, it follows the same pattern as all my other videos. It is about an hour long, and it has no fancy editing at all. It’s just a video diary of my entire day. In fact, the full version really is about my entire day. It opens in my hotel room with me getting ready and I talk about some random topics that were on my mind. And then it covers the experience of having breakfast at the hotel. I ended up removing all of that simply because the video was far too long. It was like an hour and twenty minutes, and that’s pretty ridiculous even for me.
I thought about keeping everything and just making the video into two or even three parts. But it felt weird to do that. For one thing, there was no natural spot to break the video into sections. Plus, it would have felt unbalanced. The whole video was centered on going to see the massive Unfinished Pagoda at Mingun. And the whole opening section was all about this pagoda and getting ready to go there. And if I cut the video into two parts, the first part would have ended with no actual content of this pagoda. And that felt wrong. It would be like having the introduction and set-up of a movie but it ends before the main plot kicks in, and then you have to wait for the sequel.
So I ended up simply deleting all of the opening stuff. I open the video with me on the streets of Mandalay and already walking to the ferry dock to catch the boat. It felt okay. It’s got more energy than opening with me babbling in my hotel room and then having breakfast. Even with that, there is still plenty of babbling and rambling sections of the video, so it still feels like a typical Cycling Canadian production.
I haven’t spent much time or effort thinking about this, but I do wonder from time to time how to organize these videos in the future. There are so many directions you can take. At the moment, I’m just doing what comes naturally. I’m not really thinking or planning. I just film my day, talk about the things that interest me or are on my mind, and then I put all the clips together. It’s usually a full day from beginning to end, and that’s why they end up being long. It’s a video diary of my day.
Is this a good approach or a bad approach? I don’t really know. It’s what comes naturally right now. Maybe over time, the videos will evolve into something shorter and snappier and more stylish and more focused. We’ll see.
Today, I have to put the final touches on the Mingun video and publish it. I uploaded it to YouTube overnight. That took about 12 hours. And now I need to pick a thumbnail and write a short description and make the time stamps and all that sort of thing. I also want to spend some time today on my blog. I did some administrative work on it yesterday, but there is still a lot more to do. I’ve been neglecting it. And I hope to do a lot more reading and research and planning for my return to Myanmar.