Video Of The Day: ‘Half The Sky’ Visits Cambodia’s Toul Kork Road

Watch Meg Ryan Visits Cambodia’s Toul Kork Road on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

Half the Sky” is more than a four-hour PBS documentary series; it is a movement to turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.

The documentary, which premiered earlier this month, is the film manifestation of the best-selling book by New York Times writers Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It follows Kristof and six American actresses as they travel to different countries in the developing world to explore issues facing women, from gender-based violence in Sierra Leone to sex slavery in Cambodia (featured in this clip).

The film swings from inspirational, to horrifying, to unspeakably sad. But while watching it will undoubtedly be a heavy experience, it will also be one that hopefully impels you to action – or at the very least provides a greater awareness of the things you witness in the places you travel.

The full documentary can currently be viewed only on PBS, but selected clips are available online.

Largest mall in the world is a Chinese ghost town

Watch the full episode. See more POV.

While China recently announced 45 new airports due to booming travel growth, several of their development projects have been enormous duds. The New South China Mall is twice the size of Minnesota’s Mall of America, but hovers at around a 1% occupancy. The rows of empty shops are piped with serene elevator music, and guards police the empty halls with echoing footsteps.

Announced in 2005, the mall is located in Dongguan in the Guangdong province of southern China. The location is between Guangzhou and Shenzen in an area that may one day be considered the world’s largest mega city, estimated to have a population near 50 million. Today, the mall has yet to live up to any distinction associated with mega cities, and is a sobering example of what happens when idea implementation precedes growth. Separated into seven districts modeled after international cities, the mall boasts an Arc de Triomphe, Venice canals, and even a mini Egypt. Of the 2,350 leasable store spaces, around 50 are actually in use. Check out this award-winning video directed by Sam Green and Carrie Lozano for PBS that showcases this bizarre mall.

Plane Answers: The Frontline episode regional airlines don’t want you to see

I’ve always been a big fan of PBS’s Frontline. It’s obvious that they study a subject before they report on it. And as any pilot knows, that can be a rarity in the often hyped television coverage of the airline industry.

Frontline has tackled specific airline subjects in the past and I’ve always found them to be accurate and insightful. I’m looking forward to the episode tonight called “Flying Cheap” that may just expose the disparity in pay and working conditions at the regional airlines.

Major airlines have long used separate carriers as a firewall of deniability while playing them off each other to secure the lowest bid. They control the scheduling of these companies, but leave the maintenance and operational responsibility to the regional.

A few carriers, such as Delta and American wholly own and have control over their regionals, but they still contract with other small airlines to some extent.

After the response from last week’s Plane Answers about the NTSB reaction to the Colgan 3407 accident in Buffalo, it will be interesting to see if this PBS Frontline episode spurs enough public interest to cause some changes. PBS has provided an eleven minute excerpt below of the show that may give you an idea of what direction the program is taking tonight.
From the Frontline press release:

In “Flying Cheap,” FRONTLINE investigates the deadly airline crash of Continental 3407 in Buffalo, NY, and what the crash reveals about dramatic changes in the airline industry. The rise of the regionals and arrival of low-cost carriers have been a huge boon to consumers, and the industry insists that the skies remain safe. But many insiders are worried that now, 30 years after airline deregulation, the aviation system is being stretched beyond its capacity to deliver service that is both cheap and safe.

Frontline examines the rise of low-cost regional carriers-who now account for more than half of all domestic US flights-and asks: Is the aviation system being stretched beyond its capacity to deliver cheap, safe service? Watch on air and online beginning Tuesday, February 9 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

In the eleven minute excerpt from tonights program, there’s a gem of a quote from Roger Cohen of the Regional Airline Association, the group that lobbies on behalf of these smaller carriers involved in code sharing.

When confronted with the low pay and how it represents an untenable economic position for the junior pilots, Roger, who looks like he recently came back from an extended Caribbean vacation, defends regional pilot pay with this:

“I just checked the web this morning-you can get a hotel room near the Newark airport for $50 a night.” He proudly claims.

Roger doesn’t realize that, at $21,000, this would represent between 20% of a line-holder and 50% of a reserve pilot’s potential take-home pay. At these rates, even a crash pad looks too expensive and the crew lounge becomes far more tempting.

I had to run some numbers. On a typical one hour and fifteen minute flight, a Dash 8 burns $2,900 worth of fuel. A copilot in his fifth year at Colgan earns $29 an hour, or $36.25 on that flight. (Source: Maybe it’s time to rethink that pay scale. Management doesn’t realize that if they gave this pilot the tools (and incentive) to fly just 1% more efficiently, they could nearly double that copilot’s salary.

But that just touches on pay. Be sure to watch the excerpt below to catch a VP of operations at a regional that comes up with an innovative way to falsify records in order to get a pilot to fly past his FAA mandated sixteen hour duty day:

While not every regional airline pilot earns these kind of wages or flies with this kind of pressure, tonight’s episode just might highlight a few companies that have been driving the pay and working conditions lower for much of the industry. Every pilot I know will be watching. But maybe passengers should take a look at this, as well.


PBS has posted the entire Frontline episode, “Flying Cheap” online to view here.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answer’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work. Twitter @veryjr

Tim Patterson on the Kachin struggle for freedom in Myanmar

My travel writing buddy Tim Patterson has been traveling around Southeast Asia for six months now doing a bunch of things, but when I learned of his latest project in Myanmar, my eyes and ears perked up and I hope yours will too. He and his friend Ryan Libre have been working with the Pulitzer Center to provide crisis reporting in the Kachin state of northern Myanmar. Their first report came in December 13, and certainly brought to my attention a frightening situation that many are not aware of.

Tim and Ryan had been invited to Kachin by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) to lead journalism workshops to young writers. Upon arrival, however, the two were quickly ushered into their hotel room, where they were kept protected from the watchful eyes of the country’s reigning military junta, which has long opposed foreign journalism coverage of any activities taking place in Myanmar.

Instead of telling you, second hand, what transpired during their precarious stay in Myanmar, I thought it would be more worthwhile to hear some of the story straight from Tim. I prepared these questions for him by email, and he graciously and promptly responded.
BY: How did you and Ryan decide on this particular project, through this particular non-profit (the Pulitzer Center)?

TP: Ryan and I had been talking about a trip to Myanmar for several years. He lives in Thailand, where many Kachins go for various training workshops, and met a KIO operative at an ashram near Bangkok. When Ryan asked if I wanted to make the trip it took me about .8 seconds to say YES!

It’s been an immense privilege to work with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and I’m incredibly grateful to Jon Sawyer, Janeen Heath and the rest of the Pulitzer staff who decided to take a chance on this project.

There are a lot of terrific young journalists supported by the Pulitzer Center, like the folks at the Common Language Project, and it’s intimidating to see my name alongside those of more accomplished journalists. Ryan and I have a big responsibility to turn in quality work.

BY: Had you traveled to Myanmar before, and what were your impressions of the country upon arrival this time?

TP: Nope, I had never been to Myanmar before, and now that news of this project is plastered across the web I doubt the junta will ever give me a visa. It’s hard to talk about impressions of the country in general terms, because we were limited to small strips of territory controlled by the KIO.

My overall impression is of a rich and fertile land populated by deeply sincere, ambitious, learned people who – tragically – have almost no opportunity to pursue their dreams. The perpetual rule of the Myanmar military government is a travesty and countries who continue to deal with the junta, notably China and the ASEAN member nations, should be ashamed.

I should also mention that although what Ryan and I did sounds like hardcore journalism, our time in Kachin was quite relaxed. The Kachins were gracious hosts and we spent a lot of time drinking tea in front of a space heater and watching the BBC.

BY: What do you and Ryan hope to accomplish by telling about your experience in Myanmar?

TP: It’s shocking to see how little information on Kachin is available. Our main goal is to get the word out however we can, to make people aware that such a place exists. We’ll do this by hitting up as many forms of media as possible – online, newspaper, magazine, radio and even a short documentary film that we hope will air on the PBS program “Foreign Exchange.”

Our biggest challenge is to make our work accessible and entertaining to a general audience while doing justice to the complexities of the situation on the ground. There’s nothing black and white about politics in Myanmar, and that’s especially true when talking about the ethnic minority areas like Kachin, where the central government doesn’t have total control.

We’ll try to let the Kachins speak for themselves when possible through interviews and personal portraits, but it’s also important for journalists to be skeptical and try to capture the many facets of a given issue.

I’m more comfortable with the sort of personal travel writing where exaggeration isn’t a big deal. With serious journalism, there’s a much greater imperative to stick to the facts.

BY: How many more “Untold Stories” can we hope to read from you, and can you give us a little hint as to what to expect in future dispatches?

TP: A lot! Ryan and I are holed up in a teeny-tiny room in Hong Kong now, living on instant ramen and cheap beer and sorting through stacks of notes, thousands of photos and hours of video. We hope to publish dozens of stories across a range of media.

I’m working on a feature article that gives an overview of the political situation in Kachin, along with a more personal piece for about the power of the Kachin’s Christian faith. We’re also putting together a piece for the Kyoto Journal’s special issue on War and Peace.

Going to Kachin was the easy part. Now the real work begins.

BY: Back in September, you had hinted about growing roots in Vermont. Is this still the plan, or have your plans changed after what you’ve experienced on your extended trip in Southeast Asia?

TP: I still want to settle down in Craftsbury, Vermont, and plan to break ground on my cabin this summer. There are lots of opportunities opening up in Asia, however, and I’ll be shuttling back and forth across the Pacific for a few years to come.

Next week I fly home to the States, where I’ll be recruiting students for Where There Be Dragons educational travel programs. In March I go back to Laos to finish scouting the new Dragon’s Mekong River semester program, then home again for cabin building, then back to Asia to lead a Dragon’s trip, and then maybe back to Kachin….

As much as I want to live a simple, low-impact life, the travel opportunities are difficult to turn down.

Tim continues to be an inspiration for me as a travel writer. He seeks the truth in every experience, no matter how heartbreaking or difficult the story is to tell. He and Ryan’s journey to Myanmar is living proof that stories are worth telling, no matter how dangerous or dire the consequences.

To read recent stories from Pulitzer Center writers, visit their Untold Stories blog site. You can also read up on Tim and Ryan’s project (as well as other Pulitzer Center projects) here.

All photos are courtesy of Ryan Libre. More images taken during the Myanmar project are viewable through his Idioimagers site.

Talking travel with PBS travel host Rudy Maxa (part 2)

I’m here with Rudy Maxa, PBS’s “Savvy Traveler” and host of the awards-winning series Rudy Maxa’s World. His sixth season is currently airing, featuring locales such as Estonia, Argentina, and Thailand (he’s already done a whopping 65 episodes).

He began as an investigative journalist at the Washington Post and then became the “Savvy Traveler” 15 years ago for public radio. He’s now a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler and his work has appeared in GQ, Travel & Leisure, LA Times, and Forbes, among other publications. If you’re interested in more of what he has to say, check out his blog.

Read part 1 here.

What has been your greatest adventure?

“Adventure” is a big word. Watching the northern lights from a lodge in the countryside of Iceland was magical. Safari in Kenya really made me understand where in the food chain we rank-which is well below lions unless you’re talking “zoo.” Surfing in a wet suit down a white-water river in New Zealand–on my stomach with just a little board to keep me (mostly) upright–certainly got the heart pounding.

Worst travel experience?

Waiting before dawn in a tiny, freezing waiting room at what was then Leningrad’s airport for a flight to the States. The room was cold, my fellow passengers were largely drunk, and we boarded the big, old, lumbering Soviet jet through the cargo belly. The plane had to make two refueling stop before it could make it to the East Coast.
Favorite food and restaurant? Bar?

Thai and Italian. Oh, my, I have so many favorite restaurants around the world-Alma in the Twin Cities, where I live. Sushiko in Washington, DC. Cut and Fraiche in Los Angeles. L’Ami Louis in Paris. River Café and St. John in London. I’m not much of a bar guy, but I could live at a tiny hideaway called Vodka Tonic in Tokyo.

Where do you go to book flights? Any tips for getting the best deals?

I check third-party web sites such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. Kayak is handy for overseas flights. Cheapflights shows me if booking a few weeks or even months ahead will save me money. But I also check airline web sites for deals. For last-minute deals, it’s or Book far ahead-given how quickly airfares are rising, if you know where you want to be for Thanksgiving or the December holidays, it’s not too soon to make reservations.

What about travel agencies? When are they a good idea, and when are they not?

A good travel agent is a real find. Use an agent if you want help planning a trip to a specific destination or if you have a complicated itinerary.

Any advice to save on car rentals?

Look for deals on rental car web sites. Enterprise, the largest North American rental car company, has the largest fuel-efficient fleet with hybrids and vehicles that average 32 and 28 miles per gallon. When searching rental cars online, don’t cheat yourself. Look at outside of three summer months, they usually offer 50% off on weekend rentals at their neighborhood locations.

Do you use travel guides when you’re on the road? If so, which ones and why? If not, do you depend on friends and locals?

I almost always depend on locals or friends who know a destination well. There is so much information on the web today, travel guides often can’t keep up. A guide is good in providing a general overview of a destination that is totally new to a visitor.

Are there any truly off-the-beaten-road destinations today? Places that aren’t in Lonely Planet.

Not really, though there are experiences that some tour companies can provide in less-visited countries. But when former outposts such as Ulaanbaatar and Libya are welcoming tourists, it’s difficult to find new, hidden gems.

How do you feel about tourism to places with authoritarian regimes. Myanmar or North Korea or Iran, etc?

While I loathe spending money in a country such as Myanmar that might support a repressive government, people-to-people contact is so important to citizens of those places. At least that’s what I learn when I ask folks familiar with such places the same question you’ve asked me.

What are some easy ways travelers can save money on the road?

If you’re planning a road trip in the US, consider renting a car that might be bigger and more comfortable than yours or one that might get better gas mileage. You avoid wear and tear on your personal vehicle and you may get a nicer set of wheels in the deal.

If traveling abroad, families should consider renting apartments or condos to save on room nights and meals. If you’re going to be in Europe 17 days or longer, don’t rent a car-lease one from a company like to avoid value added taxes and high insurance charges. And with tri-band cell phones (try and Skype, there’s no reason not to stay in touch. Get out of the big cities to save money on lodging and food.