WSJ on Soviet-era Minsk motorcycles in Vietnam

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a story about the legendary Minsk motorcycles1 — and the expats in Vietnam who love the Soviet-era bikes. The piece focuses on the Minsk Olympics, an event in which devotees gather outside Hanoi to perform Minsk-releated feats. There’s a slideshow, too. I love the fourth image.

  1. Long-time newley.com readers may recall that I’ve undertaken three Minsk journeys in northern Vietnam, the first of which was in 2002. My most recent sojourn was for a Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia story that was published in April, 2008. Here’s an image from that trip of me, a Minsk and…a special friend. I can personally attest that the Minsk in an alluring, alluring machine. []

What I’ve been reading

Some links that have caught my eye of late:

2008 Year-End Google Zeitgeist (Via Steve Rubel on Twitter)1

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to look at the big events, memorable moments and emerging trends that captivated us in 2008. As it happens, studying the aggregation of the billions of search queries that people type into the Google search box gives us a glimpse into the zeitgeist — the spirit of the times. We’ve compiled some of the highlights from Google searches around the globe and hope you enjoy looking back as much as we do.

WSJ: “Asia’s Tourism: Boon and Bane: Low-Cost Countries With Popular Spots Better Off Than Others2

Recession in major economies around the world has hit Southeast Asia’s pivotal tourism industry, but increased domestic and regional travel by cash-squeezed travelers based in Asia means some countries will be hurt less than others.

Governments around the region are cutting forecasts for income as both long-haul tourists and business travelers get increasingly cost-conscious. That is a problem because tourism accounts for a hefty 6% or more of most economies in Southeast Asia.

Still, some low-cost countries with attractive tourist spots and large homegrown populations should lose out less.

Daily Routines: How writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days. Sample entry: Truman Capote3

INTERVIEWER
What are some of your writing habits? Do you use a desk? Do you write on a machine?

CAPOTE
I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance.

Foreign Policy: The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008. They are:

1. The Surge in Afghanistan Starts Early
2. Colombian Coca Production Increases
3. The Next Darfur Heats Up
4. The United States Helps India Build a Missile Shield
5. Russia Makes a Play for Africa
6. Greenhouse Gas Comes from Solar Panels
7. Shanghai Steel Fails Basic Safety Tests
8. Aid to Georgia Finances Luxury Hotel in Tbilisi
9. For the First Time, U.S. Citizen Convicted of Torture Abroad
10. American Company Sells ‘Sonic Blasters’ to China

– An interesting motorcycle story from the New York Times’s Handlebars section: “To Attract New Riders, Motorcycles Go Shiftless“: 4

Car sales, already in a deep funk, would probably be slower yet if automakers decided to offer no alternative to manual transmissions.

Makers of street motorcycles have largely painted themselves into that corner. And with the effects of stalled credit markets flattening out a 14-year streak of steady growth — despite the allure of good gas mileage in a wobbly economy — it’s no surprise that manufacturers are mounting an effort to introduce more rider-friendly bikes.

Makers as big as Honda, the world’s largest, and as specialized as Aprilia, a style-centric Italian brand, are working to eliminate the perceived obstacles of shifting gears and mastering a clutch with new models that let riders simply gas it and go.

New York Times: “Holiday Books: Travel

– And last but not least, a wonderful collection of book scans on Flickr: “Nostalgia for the Scholastic Book Club, circa ’60′s & ’70′s

  1. Related: “StateStats: Analyzing Google search patterns“ []
  2. There’s this about Thailand, which should come as no surprise: “Tourism in Thailand, which in 2007 had 14.8 million visitors, naturally is getting seriously impacted by political unrest that for the past week severed Bangkok’s busy air links with the world. While the city’s two airports are now expected to be functioning normally by Friday, the way hundreds of thousands of people have been stranded or inconvenienced by the shutdowns will have a lingering impact on tourist numbers. Dozens of countries have issued warnings to avoid traveling to Thailand.” []
  3. One of my favorite Capote passages, from The Grass Harp: “Below the hill grows a field of high Indian grass that changes color with the season: go see it in the fall, late September, when it has gone red as sunset, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices.” []
  4. A thought: does the barrier to entry presented by the fact that large motorcycles require their operators to understand how to use a clutch and shift gears keep unqualified/unsafe drivers off the road? []

“No helmet? No problem!”

Spotted in Bangkok: How to Carry a Bucket and Drive a Motorbike at the Same Time

Thanks to the eagle-eyed KB for discovering that a photo I took here in Bangkok in October, 2006 has made its way into an Internet meme1 featuring funny photos of motorcycles and motorcyclists.

Above is the image. Someone grabbed it from my Flickr photostream and added it to this collection of photos purporting to document silly scenes2 in Vietnam. (Many of the images in this Web collection are from other parts of Asia, it appears.) Someone in KB’s master’s degree program at a Bangkok university forwarded her the email and the images, and KB recognized my pic among the others.

While I’m no stranger to Vietnam, I actually snapped the image above — hat tip to A for spotting the guy that day — in the Bang Na area of Bangkok on a Saturday afternoon. The driver seemed to be transporting the bucket on his head since he had no other way to carry it.

But I like the appended caption better: “No helmet – no problem. I got what I need.”

  1. Related newley.com post: “My Buddy Lands a Deer — A Mile Offshore“; verification at Snopes.com: “Deerly Departed.” []
  2. Many of the images remind me of “Bikes of Burden,” a book that, in fact, contains authentic images from Vietnam. []

Tabatinga, Brazil: the Ho Chi Minh City of South America

Here’s a great story from Alexi Barrionuevo in the NY Times. It’s about a town in the Brazilian Amazon, close to Peru and Colombia, where motorbikes are the primary means of transport — a rarity in South America. Check out the link to find out why wearing helmets in the area is discouraged. That Roar in the Jungle Is 15,000 Motorbikes

This sweltering Amazon outpost is a border town on the move — on two motorized wheels, that is.

During the afternoon rush hour, Tabatinga’s main avenue is a sea of scooters and motorcycles. Whole families pile onto a single scooter, even families of five: husband, wife and three children. Mothers breastfeed infants while fathers navigate a road nearly uncluttered by traffic signals.

With more than 15,000 motorbikes and only 47,000 people, Tabatinga resembles a small version of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, another chaotic place where cars take a distant back seat as the preferred mode of transportation.

“I have never seen a place with so many motorbikes,” said Sabrina D’Assumpção, a resident of Rio de Janeiro who was visiting her husband, a military officer, at the army base here recently. “It is practically a city run entirely by motorbikes.”

Tabatinga owes much of its moto-obsession to its location along Brazil’s extreme western frontier. Nestled alongside Colombia and just across a narrow river from Peru, the town has evolved in the last quarter-century from a military town into a hub of cross-border commerce.

(Emphasis mine.)

On Driving a Vespa

Jeremy Clarkson on driving a Vespa:

Recently, various newspapers ran a photograph of me on a small motorcycle. They all pointed out that I hate motorbikes and that by riding one I had exposed myself as a hypocrite who should commit suicide immediately.

Hmmm. Had I been photographed riding the local postmistress, then, yes, I’d have been shamed into making some kind of apology. But it was a motorcycle. And I don’t think it even remotely peculiar that a motoring journalist should ride such a thing. Not when there is a problem with the economy and many people are wondering if they should make a switch from four wheels to two.

Unfortunately, you cannot make this switch on a whim, because this is Britain and there are rules. Which means that before climbing on board you must go to a car park, put on a high-visibility jacket and spend the morning driving round some cones while a man called Dave — all motorcycle instructors are called Dave1 — explains which lever does what.

Afterwards, you will be taken on the road, where you will drive about for several hours in a state of abject fear and misery, and then you will go home and vow never to get on a motorcycle ever again.

Read the whole thing.

(Via Winterspeak.)

  1. I took a motorcycle safety class many years ago in Washington, DC. My instructor’s name was…Dave. []