How do you poop on Mt. Everest?

The days of poop-behind-a-rock be gone – a Nepali climber has recently started promoting the use of a packable toilet for hikers up the world’s tallest mountain. Tired of the 965 kilos of waste he picked up during an expedition in May (including a corpse dating back to 1972! wtf!), Dawa Steven Sherpa is determined to make Mt. Everest a cleaner place.

His solution is the Luggable Loo – a portable bucket-cum-toilet that stores waste in a gas-impervious bag. This way, hikers will have a potty to sit on (plus!) but poop to haul out (not so much plus). The bags do their job to keep unwanted aromas from reaching expeditionists while they hike.

Still, if hauling your own waste out seems like too much trouble, what the hell are you doing climbing Mt. Everest anyway? Any good hiker knows that the first rule of messing with Mother Nature is to leave her exactly as you found her. That includes poop, too.

The loo retails from Cabela’s Outfitters for $15 – not too shabby – and 6 of the “Doodie Bags” (as they are so named) will cost you $12.99. If I were Mr. Sherpa, I’d be handing these things out at the base camp. Who wants to clean up someone else’s 20-year-old, iced-over poo anyway?

Sex and the City: Beijing edition

Hehe, that might be a bit of false advertising on my part. So technically Sex and the City isn’t coming to Beijing, though the movie version came out this May will undoubtedly show up in the Beijing pirated-DVD stalls.

No, what I’m talking about now are the “Sexy Beijing” videos that have been absolute hits with the expats. I myself lived off them this summer while working in Beijing. The series is a parody of Sex in the City, but set in Beijing, with a bumbling–but endearing–American expat substituting in for Carrie Bradshaw. The opening sequence alone is worth the watch.

Here are two. The first is about romance in Beijing.
The second is on English language in Beijing (absolute hilarious bit about the Chinese fascination with awkward American names)

Spy games: A look at North Korea’s covert operations (part 1)

In celebration of the latest James Bond flick (granted, it was Die Another Day that featured blatant stereotypes about North Korean goons) and a longish piece in this week’s Harper’s on North Korea’s propaganda machine, I thought I’d give a history lesson into a period of time when North Korea was even crazier than it may seem today (for instance, did you know some 30 North Korean spies managed to get all the way to Seoul and almost assassinated the South Korean president?).

But first, some blatant plugs for additional readings. Be sure to check out former Gadling blogger Neil Woodburn’s excellent series, “Infiltrating North Korea,” from last year. I also reported from North Korea for The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor this August. And if you’re truly as obsessed about all this stuff as Neil and I, check out for part 2 tomorrow.

Anyways, so the North Korea of today, with its Lone Ranger worldview and its detachment with reality, can be traced back to the North Korea of the late 1960s, when it embarked on an unprecedented military and propaganda campaigns. But while the DPRK temporarily caused a fallout in US-ROK relations, the North failed to unify the peninsula as its heavy-handed military forays, following the “Vietnam Model”, only solidified South Korean anti-communism sentiments. Yet perhaps the most important detail of all rests in not what was, but what might have been. Quoted in the summer of 1968 in the New York Times, a top US official exclaimed, “Few people realize how close we came to war.”

Although the period 1967-1969 saw massive turmoil in Vietnam and China, the forgotten conflict on the Korean peninsula left an equally lasting legacy. North Korea permanently escaped the orbit of its two stronger communist brothers, China and the USSR, with Kim Il Sung exploiting the momentary power and attention vacuum in an attempt to become the head of the “anti-imperialist small states.”

Life is stranger than fiction. In one of the most daring covert operations of the Cold War, thirty-one North Korean agents crossed the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on January 17, 1968, on a top-secret mission to assassinate Republic of Korea (ROK) President Park Chung Hee in his own bedroom. As Lieutenant Kim Shin Jo, the only captured agent, later explained, success “would agitate the South Korean people to fight with arms against their government and the American imperialists.”

Although the commandos managed to reach within 800 meters of Park’s residence in Seoul, the Blue House, they were eventually detected and a national manhunt mobilized to track down the fleeing intruders. This audacious guerrilla operation was just one of a series between 1967-1969 when Kim Il-Sung reneged on the decade-old ceasefire.

With international attention diverted to China and Vietnam, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) renewed its military offensive as a means of forcing a US-ROK split, with the goal of hastening national unification. Although Kim saw this campaign as a diversion from the country’s stalling economy and an opportunity for him to be crowned leader of the “anti-imperialist small states”, the reunification efforts ultimately failed because he did not anticipate the extent of anti-communist sentiment in the South.

Known as the “Second Korean War,” this period of aggression is often treated as an ephemeral blip on the geopolitical radar. After all, the real war had ended 14 years earlier when the peninsula became locked into a seemingly permanent stalemate. There were, granted, the occasional clashes; statistics for 1966, a typical year, included 50 North Korean DMZ crossings, 35 UN casualties, and 19 exchanges of fire.

So why was it that the very next year, military intrusions increased ten-folds to 566, UN casualties quadrupled to 122, and exchanges of fire increased six-folds to 117? The jump in border conflicts-and a new breed of well-coordinated covert operations, from the Blue House assassination attempt to the capture of a US spyship and an attempted amphibious invasion-turned out to be part of a coordinated DPRK offensive against the ROK and US. It was anything but a blip.

The escalation of conflict between 1966 and 1967 saw the sharpest jump in casualties and clashes, and arguably marked the beginning of the “Second Korean War.” One of the first major incidents was the North Korean attack and sinking of a South Korean naval patrol boat on January 19, 1967, which killed all 40 crew members.

In a trend that would continue throughout the conflict, the DPRK shifted blame to the opposing party, in this case, complaining to the United Nations Command, “Your side has used South Korean fishing boats as a shield to cover up your espionage activities … and to find a pretext for unleashing another war in Korea.” The ROK subsequently relented and restricted its own fishing boats to below the 38th parallel, a victory that emboldened the DPRK for its boldest covert operation to date.

Part 2 tomorrow!

An artificial beach 300 meters from the real thing

There’s an absolutely amazing beach in Japan, filled with white sand, blue water, and a lapping wave. But this beach did not exist before 1993. It’s known as the Ocean Dome, the most popular artificial beach in an arena that’s quickly becoming fashionable. There’s now artificial beaches in Monaco, Paris, Rotterdam, Toronto, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

The heated beach can accommodate 10,000 tourists, even though it’s competing with plenty of other attractions on Kyushu Island – 1,500 kilometers south of Tokyo. The kicker is that there’s an actual beach, which looks decent, 300 meters away. Talk about stiff competition.

Of course, if I was in Kyushu, I would definitely want to check out this place. First of all, the weather’s always fantastic, since it’s situated indoors. Then, there’s the volcano. That’s right, there’s an artificial volcano that spews smoke every fifteen minutes and flames on the hour. If that’s not enough entertainment, professional surfers can be found riding the waves.

You gotta love the Japanese. Check out the link below for some great shots. Absolutely spectacular.


Why you should never travel on Acela Express

Last week I took Amtrak‘s high-speed train service, Acela Express, from New Haven to New York. My options were to take Metro-North, a commuter train which takes a little under two hours to get to New Haven, at a cost of $14.

The Acela train saved me about 15 minutes, but guess what, cost $60 more. Totally not worth it. First, the seats were not very big at all. You see, on most commuter trains, unless you’re traveling at peak hours, you’ll get the whole aisle to yourself. But Amtrak has airplane-style seats, uck right?

The Amtrak trains are also usually packed, since they do not run as often, so I had to deal with that. Plus, even though I was in a silent car, the carriage made a sqeaking sound whenever the train turned (I would advise you to sit in the middle of the car because of this).

I guess I’m not being quite fair, since the New Haven to New York stretch of the rail is the slowest in the Northeast Corridor. But I still advise you to save your money, and just book yourself on regular Amtrak. The seats are essentially the same size and you’ll save at least 50%. And so what if you’ll get there 15 minutes later, take the time to read a newspaper.