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A friend asked me today why I was so interested in Nepal and Tibet and I realized I've been fascinated by the region for about 30 years now.

When I was growing up, I loved to read travelogues of remote areas — with mountains and the sea being especially intriguing to me.  I don't recall how old I was when I first began reading accounts of early expeditions to Mount Everest but I remember learning about Mallory's mysterious disappearance around the time I first read Sir John Hunt's account of the successful 1953 ascent.  The great peak became the first entry on a list of sites I wanted to see before I died; a list I've maintained to this day.

My interests in Everest were rekindled when I stumbled across Jon Krakauer's despatches about the disasterous 1996 climbing season, first in Outside magazine and later in his book about the numerous deaths caused by the storm high on the mountain.  And when I found out the Royal Geographic Society had scheduled a presentation commemorating the 50th anniverary of the first ascent the week I was to be in London a couple of years ago, I immediately called to order tickets.  (The event featured speeches by the various surviving members of the 1953 expedition, including Sir John Hunt and Sir Edmund Hillary, as well as Tenzing Norgay's son.  My friend Bryan and I attended the matinee presentation; the evening event became a Royal Gala with HRH the Queen and Prince Phillip present.)

My first real understanding of the Himilayan region's environmental plight as well as my initial introduction to non-Western religious beliefs came from reading Peter Matthieson's The Snow Leopard during a 1979 motorcycle trip to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with my dad.  (I recently found my old copy of the book while sorting boxes; perhaps I'll take it with me to re-read when I venture to Nepal myself next year.)

More recently, I've watched two excellent DVD's about the region — a movie called Himalaya about yak herders in the Dolpo region, filmed on location completely with untrained actors who were actually residents of this remote section of the Earth; and an excellent documentary about Tibet called The Cry Of The Snow Lion which taught me more than I've ever known about the plight of the Tibetans and ignited a desire to learn more and to help in whatever ways I can.

When I become interested in a certain topic, there's no stopping me from wanting to learn all I can about that subject.  I'm sure that in the coming months I'll be renting more DVD's about the region and purusing the library or bookstore for both fiction and nonfiction works about Nepal and Tibet.  And, of course, the culmination (but will it really be the end?) of all this will be visiting; going as a volunteer definitely would be more fulfilling than traveling there as a mere tourist.


I've spent some time over the past few days researching various volunteer programs in Asia.  Although I could probably go to China or Thailand and find a pretty good position teaching English without having a TESL certificate, I feel that I could gain valuable experience and skills as a paying volunteer (skills I can use in the future).

These programs use the fees from volunteers to cover in-country expenses such as food, housing, transportation, activities, etc. as well as providing some financial support to their projects such as schools and orphanages.

After much comparison of time lengths, costs, etc. I believe that I will focus further research on the Nepalese volunteer programs offered by World Endeavors.  Unlike most organizations, they offer multiple start dates each and every month of the year for a duration of one month and more.  Most other companies I found had 2-week programs running between $1,500 and $2,000; World Endeavors costs $1,310 for one month and each additional month is $100.  This covers all in-country travel and accomodation, all meals, an intensive two-week course in the Nepalese language and culture, volunteer placement, 24x7 emergency phone support (many others don't offer any type of convenient outside contact), as well as organized free-time activities such as white-water rafting and an elephant safari.  And, possibly one of the most important things the price covers is proper trip cancellation & medical evacuation insurance (several other programs require the volunteer to obtain this on his/her own).

Of course, the volunteer is responsible for his/her own transportation to/from Kathmandu, plus visa fees and any "souvenirs" purchased (usually my personal obsession during my travels).  I started checking various online booking agencies last night to get a rough estimation of airfare.  It's pretty complicated piecing together a Albuquerque-Kathmandu itinerary (Expedia just returns errors saying that itinerary doesn't exist).

I found it was easier to get results by plugging in LAX to Nepal but most of the total fares came to around $2,500 before taxes & other fees.  I then tried doing it by segments (on Air Gorilla which I'm starting to like better than Cheap Tickets or Travelocity, among others, for good deals. (Travelocity returned a "lowest" price of $4,361 for LAX to KTM so that's not exactly a good deal!)  I pieced together an Albuquerque to L.A. round-trip for $312.23 including all taxes and fees (and later found the same itinerary for $227.10 through Southwest Airlines), $825.51 r/t from LAX to Hong Kong, and $1,068.93 from Hong Kong to Kathmandu (don't know why the shortest segment was the most expensive) — a grand total of $2281.10 including tax and fees.  For all of this pricing research, I used the same start and end dates of October 19 and November 24.

I also put in an e-mail query for best prices on the route through a travel wholesaler I know and I just received her reply:

The fare in Oct with Cathay Pacific is $1225.00 plus tax approx $200.00.The routing will be ABQ/LAX/HKG/BKK/KTM.
I think we have a winner!  Of course, by the time I decide when I really want to go, I'm certain it will be more expensive.  But having a general idea will be helpful to know how much to lock into a "trip fund" CD.

I won't be doing such a thing for at least a year (the best time to go to Nepal seems to be between October and February, although the location of World Endeavours' programs are in an area that's fairly pleasant year-round — just gets somewhat wet during the summer monsoons) which will also give me time to get in better shape and compose my "statement of purpose."

I think I'll check for a book or two on volunteering, Nepal in general, and a "how to teach English" overseas manual.

At least the wheels are in motion; this is something I've really wanted to do for quite some time and I've felt an even greater desire to help others ever since last December's tsunami hit the coasts of Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, etc.



I was in Wal-Mart around 2:00 this morning purchasing a few supplies (printer ink & paper, envelopes, and blank CD-R's) as well as a snack (soda and peanut butter bars).  I was taken somewhat aback when the cashier asked if I was headed home to do my "homework."  Perhaps it was the way I was dressed (cargo pants — I call them my travel pants because the extra pockets come in handy on the road, a yellow t-shirt from The Back Porch restaurant in Destin, Florida, and Monterey, California, baseball cap) that she thought I was young enough to still be in school.

I replied that I was going home to sleep a few hours.  But I felt pretty darn good walking back to my car.  I guess my (lady) barber earlier this month was right when she told me my (much shorter) haircut would take years off my appearance (I just told her to cut out all the grey hairs!).


It's official — there will be no Marillion Weekend in 2006.  The band had debated whether or not to hold the usually-in-March fan convention next year so soon following a planned Christmas tour.  So the next gathering of Anoraks will be in early 2007, once again at Butlins Holiday Camp in Minehead, Somerset (as in 2003 and 2005).

But there may be a slight twist:  if they schedule the Weekend for January, they can have the entire resort to themselves rather than sharing it with other guests.

This past year, there was a country & western convention held at the same time — bands were performing in the basement ballroom at the same time as Marillion were playing in the main hall upstairs causing some complaints.  Not only did the HeeHaw crowd say the Marillos were too loud (particularly during Saturday night's "Swap The Band" — thousands of fans jumping up and down during the first performance of "Fugazi" since before former lead singer Fish left the band in 1988 caused the floor/ceiling to bounce) but the bluegrass music could also be heard upstairs during the quieter songs.  Always accomodating, Marillion played mainly acoustic songs Sunday night to avoid further noise problems with their neighbors.

Currently, the band's official message board and several unofficial mailing lists are discussing the pros and cons of a January convention.  It seems most of the Europeans are for whatever the band decides is best while the Americans weighing in seem to want the March date as they are worried about England in January or that holding such an event so soon after Christmas would be prohibitive as the credit card bills would be arriving in January.  Also, many Americans are still pushing for a fan weekend elsewhere, not wanting to be adventurous and travel a bit (some wrote in complaining about the lack of "tourist attractions" around Minehead only to have Britons chime with long lists of things to see within walking distance).

I posted a message addressing two of the concerns:  I wrote that if they were concerned about the finances after the holidays they should start saving now — open a high-interest account (lots of 12- and 18-month CD's around earning 4% and more for minimum initial deposits of $500 to $1000).  Another concern was possible flight delays traveling that far during the winter storm season.  Well, plan for that as well — instead of booking airfare to arrive in the UK on the day the convention begins, plan to land a couple of days early.  If you miss one of your flights because of a snowstorm, then there's still plenty of time to catch a later flight without missing any of the activities at Minehead.  If all of your flights end up being ontime (miracles do happen every once-in-awhile), then you have a couple of extra days for some sightseeing or relaxation without having to worry about time constraints.  It shouldn't be too difficult to find hotel rooms during that time of the year in London or Bristol (which now has direct flights from the US five times a week and is less expensive to fly into than Heathrow).

My friend Mike in Montana (who I first met at Marillion's Boulder show last September) is definitely planning to attend; it will be his third (he and girlfriend Christie are on the DVD box set Wish You Were Here TWICE).  Also, my longtime friend Bryan in Kansas and his soon-to-be-bride Melissa are considering it (although Bryan just can't plan that far into the future and probably won't make a decision until a month or two before — his wedding is at the end of this September and he still hasn't looked into his honeymoon plans; I just volunteered to do some research for him so Melissa isn't disappointed).

So, Marillion Weekend 2007 will be my "major" trip for that year, whether it's in January or March makes no difference to me.

Now that I've decided on that, my other travel plans will begin to fall into place:  I will now go do my volunteer work in India or Nepal in 2006 and probably return to China — for the Olympics — in 2008.  I've also promised to visit my friend Stian in Norway's Lofoten Islands and will likely piggy-back it with one of these other journeys.

In the meantime, I'm distributing my money into several different investment funds so I can feel comfortable doing what I'd like to do and not have to worry about my financial future.  And that's a pretty wonderful feeling!



I consider myself a fairly big fan of The Rolling Stones (particularly their mid-60's output with Brian Jones and especially the Mick Taylor era).  Judging from their great 2003 Four Flicks DVD box set, they are arguably a better band now than at any time in their previous 40-plus-year career (although there's A LOT to be said for the sloppiness and general mayhem of the 1969 through 1972 shows — my favorites to collect and listen to).

Although I have seen them perform live once each tour since 1989 (which, is to say, exactly four times), I have no desire to attend any of the upcoming 2005-2006 tour shows.

It just seems too much like they are doing it for the money rather than the joy of performing.  It's very appropriate that the tour is being sponsored by Ameriquest as you do need to mortgage your house to be able to afford a concert ticket.

I'd already heard rumors of the high ticket prices but I checked on Ticketmaster last week to see exactly how much they were charging.  I simply searched for "best available" tickets for two shows:  for one ticket at Denver's Pepsi Arena in the lower level to the right of the stage, the price was a whopping $400!  At Glendale Arena in Phoenix, a seat even further away from the stage had a face value of $350.  And these are the official ticket prices, not some scalper or "broker" fees.  No wonder there are still tickets available at those prices but still many shows are already sold out.

Those aren't even the highest prices in the venues.  This tour is called "The Rolling Stones On Stage" — apparently, they are actually selling seating that's on the stage.  I couldn't find any of those amounts, but on the band's official site there were several front-row seating packages (including 2 nights in a hotel, welcome reception, and a "special gift item") in the $1,500 and up range.

To get "preferred" crack at the best tickets (along with an exclusive DVD and poster), you can sign up to become a member of The Rolling Stones Fan Club for $100 (to be fair, if you purchase a ticket for one of their concerts you are automatically a member and just have to activate your membership on their website — maybe that's why the ticket prices are so high so they can pay for all those exclusive DVD's and posters).

True, a band of The Stones' stature can get away with charging these high prices.  But how much is too much?  When does it all end, and does it end before ticket prices become completely out-of-control?

I remember thinking that the $33 to see Paul McCartney in 1990 seemed extremely high (although prices had been lurking just below the $30 barrier for a while by then with stadium shows being somewhat higher than arena concerts — The Who and The Rolling Stones, both at Arrowhead Stadium in late 1989 cost $22.50 and $28.50 respectively.  Some other ticket prices for this period include Eric Clapton at $19.75 in Iowa and $21.50 in Kansas, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers for $18.50 (with Lenny Kravitz opening), The Allman Brothers Band with George Thorogood & The Destroyers for $21.00, and ZZ Top (this was either the tour with Australia's great Jimmy Barnes opening or the one with the even greater Jeff Healy Band, the memory does fade occasionally) for an even $20.00.

Yet, the average price I paid to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band during the 2002-03 tour (the most I'd ever seen any one performer on a single tour) was in the $75-80 range.  In fact, the most I'd ever paid for a single concert ticket was $100 to Springsteen's 2003 holiday show in Asbury Park (however, most of that went to help various local charities).

Nope, I'm not going to pay $400 to see anybody — not even if Bruce Springsteen himself were to play in my living room.  For me, $50 seems very high and I will absolutely refuse to pay over $100 (it will have to be a very special charitable event to get me to part with that much).

In fact, I've all but eliminated my concert-going experiences in recent years.  I know that virtually any show that I'd want to attend will be audio recorded (and probably video recorded as well) and available for download often within hours of the last notes being played onstage.  And it's virtually guaranteed that bands like The Rolling Stones will eventually be releasing a quality DVD and CD souvenir of the tour in time for the next holiday buying season.  Pushing 40, I'd much rather experience a concert while sitting in my living room with the surround sound system and hi-def TV set than to be crammed into a tiny space in a crowded venue with some girl screaming in my ear on one side of me and some guy spilling beer on my shoe on the other side of me.  If I do go to a live show, it will probably be someone in a smaller theatre or club seeing an up-and-comer or perhaps a band of Marillion's stature wanting a more intimate setting (and where you're guaranteed at least some chance of chatting with the band afterwards).

Now that I know my limits, it will be interesting to see how much the music industry thinks is too much.  I think if ticket prices continue to climb upward there will be eventually a huge bust.  With CD purchases slumping because of the easy availability of online downloads, the industry can't bear this looming disaster.  If the bands and managers and promoters were smart, they would lower all ticket prices or come up with more "gimmics" such as the Instant Live releases where you can purchase a CD of the concert you just attended right after the show ends.  If I remember correctly, Prince's last album was initially given away to those who attended his concerts on his Musicology tour.

If ticket prices remain high and get any more expensive, more and more fans of live music will become more choosy about which —if any — concerts they want to spend the cash to attend.  Rather than going to 10 or 12 per year, many will begin to limit those numbers to 3 or 4, or less.  And knowing the music industry, I can see many promoters raising the prices even more to recoup their investments on the lower number of tickets sold rather than doing the smart thing of selling more tickets by making them more affordable.

There are so many bands out there doing it "grassroots" style with low prices and who circumvent the big labels in order to provide significent benefits to their fans.  The big guns like the Stones and The Who can really learn from the "smaller" favorites like Wilco and Marillion, and so many others.

There is still tremendous generosity within the music industry (like Live 8 and other benefits), but that needs to carry over into other areas such as revenues from CD and ticket sales.  I was very impressed by Pink Floyd's recent decision to donate 100% of their royalties from the 2-CD Echoes: The Best Of Pink Floyd set towards poverty relief (an already great seller who's sales increased tremendously by the band's recent reunion — their first public performance with Roger Waters since 1981 — at Live 8).

So, Rolling Stones, where is your money going from this tour — one that is set to break all existing records for top grossing tours?  It's not like you need any more retirement money (and how much longer can Keith Richards live anyway?).  Let's see you donate some money to AIDS research, or send grain to famine-striken areas in Africa.  Even the revenues from a single night's performance would go a long way towards eliviating some pain and hunger among many people less "fortunate" than your average 2005 Stones concert-goer.

If you do something like that, I may just have to rethink my ban on attending one of your shows on this tour.  Afterall, I wouldn't mind investing in a ticket if I knew it was doing someone some good rather than just paying for Mick's hotel room at The Ritz!


There are times when it feels as if there's a little black cloud that hovers over me, always ready to make the simplest of processes extremely difficult.  I times like this, I think of the old blues song "Born Under A Bad Sign" with it's lyric, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."

In a post last night, I talked about my frustration with AT&T's DSL service and my intention to switch to Qwest's.  In fact, I ordered the Qwest package online and the e-mail confirmation said my new service would begin on or around July 21st.  It was my intention to not cancel AT&T until the Qwest installation kit arrived in the mail.

A couple of hours ago I received an e-mail from Qwest saying they couldn't begin my service until the existing DSL was removed from my line.  I called AT&T and after sitting on-hold for about a half hour (pretty good for them), I got through and successfully cancelled my high-speed service with them while keeping a dial-up account for at least another week.

It's a good thing I didn't cancel that as well!

Calling Qwest next, I got through almost immediately only to run into problem after problem.  I explained that I had an order on-hold pending my cancelling the other provider's service.  The CSR accessed my account and informed me I had a past-due bill from Idaho in 2000.  Well, I didn't live in Idaho in 2000 or ever (I've never even been to that state).  The bill was attached to my social security number but under a different name; my name was nowhere to be seen as authorizing this so the CSR had to call the Fraud Department.

After an eternity on hold (well, it was only a half-hour but seemed like much longer while I wondered how to deal with this situation — where else has this person used my SSN?), the CSR came back and said the Fraud Department would investigate the billing matter. She could go ahead and place my DSL order.  I spent a bit more time on-hold and she came back and told me because of how their billing is set up they could start my DSL service and send the installation CD, but they could not send me the modem — either as a per month rental or as an outright purchase.  I would have to go buy the modem at Best Buy but wouldn't receive the rebate price.  I said that's fine, that it would even out with the savings between what I was paying AT&T and what Qwest's rate would be.

She then had to manually place the order only to have an error message pop onto her screen saying DSL wasn't allowed on a "dual-loop system."  She had no idea what that meant so had to call her supervisor.  Finally, she came back on the phone and said that she'd have to have the service technicians call me back if it was going to take longer than five business days to determine what the problem was!

So, who knows how long I'll have to wait before I get DSL service back.  If Qwest can't connect me, my only other viable option is to return to AT&T — which will necessitate me to buy a new modem anyway (part of my reason with wanting to leave them is that I've been trying for a year to get them to replace the defective modem they sent in the first place).

Not having DSL for several days or more is somewhat frustrating as I was ready to upload several live recordings for one of my Yahoo Groups and I'm also missing out finishing several BitTorrent downloads (filling some gaps in my Pink Floyd collection including a DVD of a concert I attended in 1994).  I doubt if those downloads will be actively seeded by the time I get my speed back (and I hate to post re-seed requests).

But at least I can use the dial-up on my secondary computer (which seems extremely ancient).  (For some reason, the AT&T dialup on the newer computer keeps saying that either my username or password are incorrect — even after I've entered them manually; I have used the same information with them for several years).  At least I can check e-mail and post to my blog.  I don't plan to do much surfing (I don't do a lot anymore other than checking my favorite BT sites to see if there are any new shows I'd like to download — that's pointless until I can get the DSL restored).

I'd forgotten how slow dial-up can be (and can't believe I used to try and download using it).  Yes, I've been spoiled by fast online speeds (which made the frequent failures in that service even more frustrating).  I've come to rely too much on all this technology, I suppose.  Which is another good reason why I just need to get away from it all — another item causing me to steer towards this desire to work in one of these remote villages in northern India, Nepal, or Tibet that I'm considering.

Ah, life without phones, limited electricity, miles and miles away from the nearest computer...Time to get caught up on actual book reading in my spare time rather than jumping on the computer once again.  This volunteerism gig is looking more and more attractive to me.  Just the ticket to cure these "DSL blues"...

[UPDATE:  The person who had the Qwest bill under my social security number turns out to have been a short-lived roommate of mine — the same one who stole some of my checks and who created so many problems in the two weeks he stayed here that the apartment complex "unofficially" told me to change the locks, illegal to do in New Mexico, and had me call the police for some protection.  Accessing my credit report online told me he's also responsible for one bounced check from the same period that escaped my subsequent account closure, etc.  I never had very good experiences with roommates (apart from the very first while at college) and this one was really the beginning of a series of really bad luck.  But I do think that streak's finally coming to an end!]



Better late than never!  Traditionally, the monsoon season in New Mexico begins on or around July 7th.  With the late night thunderstorms last night and earlier this evening, I think the rains have finally begun along with a bit higher humidity and relatively cooler temperatures (95 degrees rather than 100).

Of course, with these storms comes the danger of lightning.  Last week, we saw a lot of dry lightning throughout the state sparking various wildfires including three or four major ones in and around Albuquerque.  During one afternoon, there were large fires raging in Corrales (a beautiful Hispanic community on the west side of the Rio Grande in the North Valley), on the north portion of Kirtland Air Force Base, and in the Manzano Mountains just southeast of the city.  All were quickly contained and didn't consume too much acreage.  But it's just a matter of time before another monster, uncontrollable, wildfire erupts somewhere in the state.  We've been fairly far.

The monsoons, as pleasant as the rain can seem, won't last for long — and they probably won't moisten the ground enough to lessen the fire danger.  Come mid-August, we'll be right back into the high temperatures and cloudless skies (at least until the 10 days of the State Fair when it always seems to rain!).

I'm going to enjoy it while I can (I love having my patio door open during the storms to hear the thunder and heavy rain and to breathe in that distinctive smell they bring).


July has been a very busy month for me so far — one full of major changes in my life.  While all are still ongoing, they point to a theme of self-improvement.  I'm taking the old adage of "life begins at 40" quite literally.

The biggest of these changes is the search for a different career — one that's fulfilling in all the ways that a mere "job" can never be.  Other activities keeping me busy is a major shift in future financial planning (the best way to invest, etc.) and also obtaining a new vehicle (at least I've narrowed down which type I'll be purchasing soon — an SUV).  These changes don't currently include a relocation plan, although I do suspect I'll be moving sometime in mid-2006 if all goes well.

A somewhat lesser change — one that may seem insignificant until I ponder how many accounts I'll need to update to reflect the change — is that I am finally (after six years or so) cancelling my AT&T Worldnet account.  I'm particularly frustrated with the DSL service which has failed on a regular basis over the course of the past year, along with the seeming inability of their "customer service" to fix the problems.  In fact, the DSL hasn't worked at all for the past five days (it happened to fail towards the end of a 4.1GB download) and the service tech managed to screw up things even worse than they already were (for which I was billed for the housecall, plus the full monthly service!).

So, I've switched over to Qwest — my new modem and installation kit should arrive by the end of the week.  Hopefully, I'll get faster downloads and uploads than with AT&T but I know they have better customer service just from having had home phone service through them for the past ten years or so.

The daunting part of this most recent change is the switch in e-mail addresses.  Sending change-of-address notices to my regular correspondents will be fairly easy.  But trying to remember all the online accounts where I'll need to navigate and change my contact information will be very time consuming.  I suppose I'll begin with the Yahoo Groups (I'm on something like 30 mailing lists, although I've elected not to receive e-mail from most of them — this will be a good time to cancel memberships in those where I was never very active).  And I'm not that active in various online forums anymore (save the ones for BitTorrent downloads).  It's the non-regular newsletters that will be difficult to track down where to change my e-mail address (these are mostly travel-related — the only music ones I read anymore are the ones from AfterDawn, which with their recent format change is usually just a bunch of online links now, and Marillion's eWeb).

Yes, even the "little" changes do require numerous other changes that add up.  But in the end, it is all worth it.

Viva la change!