Travelling Samoa (Part 2)

January 28, 2010

Every local Samoan I met during my stay on Apia was genuine, friendly and welcoming. We would walk down the street or amble through the villages in the jeep, as nobody moves quickly in Samoa, and receive only smiles and waves from any local we passed. A young Samoan boy saw us watching the turtles at the side of a stream and jumped in enthusiastically to pull it out the water and show us.

Samoan village communities are friendly and welcoming. Life exists entirely around the immediate family and the extended family within the village, headed by an elected chief who directs the social, economic and political affairs.

On our tour through one village we had to stop unexpectedly at the side of the road and remain silent with the engine off as a large procession of people moved along the road, chanting as one powerful voice.

Pete informed us that a high chief in the village had died and everyone in the village would therefore be present, young and old, to show respect. This chanting and parading down the road was part of the funeral procession which would continue over several days.

The attitudes behind this are so rare. The behaviour of everyone in the village is controlled by an overriding respect for others in the community. People do not vandalise or graffiti, treat others badly or steal, because the result would be shame placed on the family and on the whole village. The law consists of a sense of unity and moral awareness in Samoa. 

An epic moment, that I will remember forever, was the night we were welcomed into a party in one of Apia’s posh  hotels, Aggie Grey’s, where there was a hefty feast laid out, Samoan dancing and fire shows to entertain. Samoan dancing required a high level of fitness and extreme skill.

The New Zealand rugby team happened to be guests at the party that night as they had played and beaten Samoa in a match that day. There was a defiant yet light hearted buzz in the room as announcements were made on stage to congratulate their presence and success. They performed the haka on stage 2 metres in front of me to celebrate their win. It was fantastic. 

The Samoan passion, however, drove a local man to stand up from the audience and challenge the entire team from below the stage. He performed a proud war dance as the team were about to walk off stage.

It was incredibly inspiring and patriotic. The Samoans should be proud of a nation so honest, unified and sincere.


An Asian Christmas in Thailand

January 19, 2010

So, having been back to reality for several weeks now, I still find myself reflecting on the Christmas period of almost a month ago. Don’t we all? Every year, the memories consist of warm fires, mince pies and roast turkey; all those lovely traditions we British love so much.

But this year my Christmas memories are a jumble of days on the beach, scorching heat, island exploration by (dodgy) scooter journeys, sightseeing, Thai noodles and beach parties. 2009’s Christmas in Thailand is not one I’ll forget in a hurry.

I could so easily write a babbling diary of everything we did, from the choice of food on the flight to the length of the fish we saw our hotel owner catch one night on Koh Pha-Ngan (as an after thought I added the photo), but whilst this would be wonderfully nostalgic for me, I’m sure it would eventually bore everyone else. So, instead I felt it best to section off certain issues and write about them separately.

Summarising the two weeks away, I travelled to Patong in Phuket for three or four days, followed by Koh Tao for four days, then onto Koh Pha-Ngan, home of the Full Moon Parties over Christmas Eve, Day and Boxing Day. 

Some things I saw made me think…

Reaching further with renewables in South Wales

December 11, 2009

“What are your views on the community wind farm projects?” Cue blank expression and furtive glance. Most local people in Aberdare just nodded along with interest, despite being unaware of all the details, as I talked about the plans for wind turbines in their area. However, as conversation progressed, the majority response was a resounding “yes” to supporting the community schemes.

These schemes were launched between January and March of this year, throughout Cynon Valley, Afan, Neath and the Rhondda Valleys. Nuon Renewables set up a comprehensive consultation programme within local communities on proposals for a large scale wind energy project. With plans to have over 100 wind turbines up and running by 2013, the community engagement factor was key to their success. By allowing communities to have a say and to even take part in the design stage of the project, this could serve as a positive force for changing attitudes within communities.

Drop-in sessions were held in Aberdare, Cymmer, Glynneath, Hirwaun, Maerdy, Neath, Tonmawr and Treorchy to hear local views. A recent survey found that 73% are supportive of more wind energy schemes in Wales. The fundamental aim behind opening up to the public in this way is a forward-thinking and inspiring one and will hopefully take us to a period when people independently support renewable energy.

However, the reality of the situation remains that not enough people know about wind energy, as was proved by our day in Aberdare. Despite the thrust of information that has been generated, those who have no prior interest would be unlikely to peruse letters detailing upcoming plans to build turbines. Even the drop-in sessions would appear an effort for those unaware of the issues.

Many local people in Aberdare are keen to become involved in the plans for wind turbines in the area

Therefore, with no knowledge and consequently no involvement, it is much easier for a local to cast the letter aside and to decide that a turbine’s ugliness or inconvenience is the most important worry.

The point to make is that people generally disagree with wind turbines when they are not entirely clued up on the subject. One local man we spoke to in Aberdare, Hywell Williams, actually said: “I thought that they were not an efficient source of energy”. Ideally he should already know that many communities have the potential to generate 5MW each; it all makes a huge long-term difference.

Mick Bates, Assembly Member of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, explains why Wales has failed to meet the 2010 wind energy targets: “It is down to cowardice. All this could have been done but politicians haven’t done enough because people don’t like the look of turbines.” If the message about ever-decreasing renewable energy was more hard-hitting, then aesthetics and noise would not be prioritized issues.

Regular leaflets, a newsletter or even a magazine could be circulated to households explaining about renewable energy on a general level. Workshops or groups could be set up to inform people and local radio, television and even the educational system could become involved. After all, it is our children who will one day either maintain or drop the push for renewable energy. A TV advert recently launched by Waste Awareness Wales proves how important children are to the changes in our society. The community projects need to be more than just part of a plan for one wind farm in south Wales but current as part of a daily lifestyle.

A promising scheme launched very recently, is one aiming to offer communities financial incentives. Windpower Wales has signed an agreement with the Board of the VESTRI foundation and £3000 will be invested in local needs for every turbine installed. People must remember that there is less government money available at the moment so this is surely an effective way to improve local services and avoid raising taxes. Everything remains in the favour of the people. It is just a case of letting them know.

Of course, the battle to inform people correctly can only be entirely successful when fought on a national level. Allowing an environmentally friendly voice to speak out more regularly in the media, pushing the promotion of wind farms and making people sit up and understand the facts without the bias of an opposition butting in; these are the main remedies for success.

This, in the big picture, can only be achieved when we gain strong political support from the Labour UK government. However a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step and community projects in South Wales are definitely a firm step in the right direction.

Perhaps by persevering to eliminate those blank expressions, we can hope to rely on a continuing support for renewable energies in the future. A struggle today will lead to an easier, safer and more efficient tomorrow.

STE-006 by contactcath

Curling up by the fire with a cup of tea and a….Kindle?

December 1, 2009

Something that always makes me want to rant is the mention of the wireless device that Amazon brought out a couple of years ago: The Kindle.

So the idea is you can buy digital copies of books off Amazon, download them and carry them around on what looks like either a large phone or a small laptop. Ok, yes it’s an e-reader, but to me it just appears to be yet another version of the merged gadget that so many of us now use: basic mobile phone, iPhone, iPod, MP3 player…an e-reader falls easily into that list. In fact, you can even use your iPhone to access Kindle books without the need for an actual Kindle. No surprise there, what can’t you do with an iPhone?

A vivid memory from my childhood is the dog-eared, brown pages of the Enid Blyton books passed down to me from my Mum’s own childhood. I can almost still smell the mustiness of the books, which were stored in an enormous brown box in the corner of my room, and eventually ended up strewn across my floor or piled untidily high on my bookshelf.

Evenings sat reading with my parents when I was very young or curled up in an armchair by the fire with a gripping novel as I got older. Unable to keep my eyelids open as I struggle to keep reading late at night, before falling asleep with the book on my pillow. I even enjoyed trips to the library (and confess that I still do!) to peruse the shelves for hours, picking out the best books, and mostly the ones with the eye-catching covers. Holidays spent lying on the beach with a book to shield my face from the sun. Train, bus and car journeys spent reading, sitting reading in the garden in the summer time.

Books shape many of our experiences, just as newspapers did and still do. Picturing myself sat with a portable e-reader does not really conjure the same warm image. Just as I stressed with an earlier post about the days of the thriving newspaper, I honestly feel saddened at the thought of paperback books deteriorating into nothing. It may be ten or twenty years, but the fact is that books are timeless and if at any stage they were to stop existing in a physical form, it would be heartbreaking.

Yes, it all sounds depressing, but this is where the tiptoeing of the Kindle is taking us right? If it were to take off successfully, people would no longer need to buy books in shops anymore and could just download the text any time they fancy a read. What are we trying to do? Suck the authenticity out of everything real? These are objects which shape lives and form memories. Having them present online just does not offer the same believability element.

How can text on the screen of a wireless device replace the smells, textures and visual memories of a book, which may have passed down through decades or even centuries. It feels almost like there are less and less physical products existing as time moves on; the world we are moving towards with this Kindle idea is a world where emails replace handwritten letters, and e-cards take over from Christmas or birthday cards…where does it stop?

Further fears over citizen journalism…

November 24, 2009

As a common and relevant issue, I have to carry on with my rambling worries about being outdone by the everyday citizen journalist. Hearing a successful journalist (or web development editor), like Joanna Geary, confirm the same concerns, does not strike up too many positive thoughts.

The situation we are now in, where people have an accessibility to broadcast to the world whenever they wish, is looking dire to us hopeful journalists. Do we really need the skills to be employed anymore? Is our research and insight any more valuable than the average internet user? Or, as Joanna says, is it just “like employing a person with three PhDs to flip burgers.”

The strength behind remaining in the industry certainly seems to be hand in hand with having a considerable online status. It seems that the contacts you make and the number of people you reach (through blogging) defines your status within the journalist world.

Joanna explained how she was offered a job on Twitter??! It is no longer about seeing an ad in the paper, applying and proving yourself as a person with the skills to succeed. It is now about proving yourself in advance in order to be offered the job. Surely an everyday citizen journalist could broadcast themselves in the same way, make the contacts and prove themselves in the online world to eventually achieve the same status? As we are constantly being told, all you need is a passion to write about the subject. You don’t need to do a journalism course to have that.

As a final point, I pondered Joanna’s point about making contacts and assuming they are your friends. I think this boundary is a difficult one. Would you want to assume that people you contacted in order to do research for your profession could be classed as ‘friends’? This is where, for me, the whole idea of a journalist breaks down and merges with that of the average citizen who sits at home and chats to people for fun. Is there actually any difference anymore?

(What should be) A welcome short term solution…

November 20, 2009

It was honestly quite disheartening to hear Jan Cliff, founder and director of Sundance Renewables, talk despondently about her struggle to launch biofuels in Wales. A not-for-profit social enterprise, aiming to increase renewable energy systems, continues its hard work to develop biodiesel and to see it succeed as a legitimate option for running vehicles. Sundance Renewables is Wales’ premier biodiesel producer and has achieved a great deal since starting out but this, apparently, is still not enough.

Their mission is counter balanced mainly by the problem of finding a platform on which to market and distribute the product. Jan explained how the political side is also a large boulder blocking the sun and that the ignorance and disinterest on the legal side is clear: “Some politicians do not even have a clue that vegetable oil can be used for biodiesel.”

Jan emphasised how this issue of renewable fuels should have been attacked over the last 30 years yet it has just not been confronted in the right way. Besides the legalities, the battle lies in getting communities on side: people are embarrassed of filling up with biodiesel as they see it as second rate in some way. How has it developed this bad name? Can we blame the media for this?

Also, people in general do not even consider the issue of biodiesel because we have enough petrol right now to allow us to plod along as we are. There is a worry that until somebody actually stands up and announces that petrol has officially run out, the general public will be content with the current situation.

Petrol and diesel are non renewable petroleum fuels. They are NOT going to last forever and biodiesel could really become an essential transport fuel in the future, even if it were just to provide a stop-gap. Perhaps people should really sit up and think about this. One day these biofuels will be essential and Sundance Renewables will be something of a gold mine. Why wait? As Jan so rightly puts it “the stone age did not come to an end because we ran out of stones. The petroleum age has to end before we run out of petrol.”

Contact Jan at

View the website at

Samoa: an island of unity and passion

November 16, 2009
When I tell people that Samoa was my first stop on last year’s round-the-world trip, I often just get a blank expression or a polite nod. It is an island tucked away in the Pacific, northwest of New Zealand, with a population of less than 200,000. Not many people even know it exists, let alone can picture it on a map. Perhaps this is what helps to make the country such a hidden gem.

Bringing it into the spotlight is the Samoan strength in rugby, especially the team’s recent trip to Cardiff to play Wales at the Millenium Stadium. The passion they bring to the sport is inspiring. As one of the few teams who still perform a war dance, or huka before a match, their patriotism can be felt and appreciated as they fire themselves up through this powerful tradition. In addition to this, is the recent attention drawn to the island since the devastating event of the tsunami earlier this year; a natural disaster that killed hundreds and destroyed entire villages.

Staying in the beautiful village of Apia for a week was a unique and wonderful experience. The beauty lay in the coastal views, palm trees and dazzling blue sea surrounding the island. Beyond the beaches, the mountains and waterfalls were the hidden natural wonders of the island, located in areas entirely untouched by human hands.

Samoa is a country so far removed from the rest of the world that I found it difficult to fathom such a lifestyle in a permanent form. I spent a day touring the island with a Samoan man called Pete (he had American roots). The insight he provided into the history and culture of the island was priceless. He took us literally into the depths of the island, very much off the beaten track and introduced us to farmers and local people who had lived on the island their whole lives.

The skills of these people are incredible. A quote from my diary actually reads “I never realised a coconut can be used for so much. It’s mind blowing!” We stood and watched as he demonstrated how the outer layer is used as a building material in itself, how the coconut milk is extracted, cream is made and fibres off the shell are used for a number of things. The attitude is: you utilise what God has given you, in as many ways as is possible. They certainly follow this through.

Many local people still live in fales, small wooden huts set up to provide basically just a roof and walls, and there could be up to five or six children living in one fale at one time. The norm is to wake early but not to rush anywhere. The man of the family works on his land at the crack of dawn, as his only source of food for his family is the crops he grows with his bare hands. Life does not present the rush and pace of our working lives and boredom does not seem to exist for Samoans.

Of course, slowly, Samoa is building a tourism industry for itself and moving into a more modern way of life. However it is indeed a world away from the environment we are used to and, for just a week, it was refreshing to move into such a raw existence and consider their priorities in comparison to ours.

The Samoan rugby players show off their talent and sportsmanship

I went along to a 7s tournament on the Saturday to experience the local support for rugby. It was immense; the entire day was professional, jovial and entertaining.

Between matches, announcements such as “Prize for most ridiculous dance” would flash up on the screen and with music blasting, people from the audience would run onto the pitch to try to win the prize….

Daniel’s photo message

November 9, 2009

Daniel MeadowsThe lecture by Daniel Meadows was the most enjoyable so far for me. He seemed genuinely excited about the future of journalism, rather than solemn or terrified and was so inspiring to listen to. Having travelled round the country in a bus for 14 months, taking a photographic documentary of the people he met and places he visited, he has developed such innovative ideas I find it difficult to imagine ever finding such a creative niche for myself.

This and his other projects express his message about the power of photography. If we look at the way photography has revolutionised journalism, it appears almost unstoppable. There are more and more mediums through which we can now capture a moment. Simply by mobile phone, the average person can snap a scene and perhaps store it forever. People record their lives by photos and compare different time periods by the image caught at a specific moment on a specific day. This article highlights just a few of the ways in which war photos have changed history.

 Websites based around photographs are now some of the most used on the internet. Facebook is of course famous for its major sharing of photographs. As we step into a period where anybody can be a photographer and put content ‘out there’ it is yet again worrying to imagine where the future lies for publications. Magazines such as Lonely Planet use photographs from travelling readers, some which look more professional than those taken by the working photographers themselves.

In a world where news is being broken by citizen journalists through text (Twitter, blogging and forums), the same thing is occurring with photographs. However Daniel’s message is not to fear but to embrace the growing ability of technology available to us. We can utilise these just as competently as our citizen journalists and I’m sure having seen Daniel’s inspiring work, many will endeavour to do so.

Twitter, friend or foe?

November 3, 2009

It seems painfully unfair that by simply being in the right place at the right time, as Janis Krums was when the plane landed in the Hudson River (see my previous post), an innocent bystander can steal the thunder from a paid journalist.

An enormous amount of pressure is now put onto the working journalist as they increasingly need to match the technical skills, passion and connectivity of the general public. Connectivity is a key one. Before the online revolution, there was never a medium by which an individual could broadcast to millions in the way they can now. The internet and particularly sites such as Twitter, have made this possible.

As a student studying to break into the world of journalism at this stage, it is difficult not to feel completely terrified of the revolutions occurring within the journalistic sphere.

What is there to define us from everyday citizen journalists? Everyone now has the ability and access to converse, break news, voice opinions and show their expertise in a subject. Sounds just like the job advert for a journalist doesn’t it?

A case against Twitter could be made after the upset arising from last week’s X Factor. Danyl Johnson, the most talented contestant in the show in my opinion (perhaps I’m biased), was a devastated mess on Saturday after the bad press he had received throughout the previous week.

A defeated Danyl Johnson after somebody tweeted that he was 'more hated than Hitler'.

Should Twitter have the power to make someone feel like this?

In particular, he mentioned how he felt like giving up after reading a spiteful Tweet. “Someone posted on Twitter that I’m more hated than Hitler.” Whoever this moron was, he or she was able to broadcast a shocking claim like this to millions of people, consequently affecting an individual to the point of breakdown. Is this fair?

Sure, as critics have been saying, if he is in the limelight he needs to get used to bad press. But the difference is that a headline such as this would not be published in a newspaper yet individuals on Twitter have no limits.

It is this angle which makes me think Twitter is perhaps not the most positive revolution of all time. As I mentioned in my Trafigura post, some information or opinion just does not need to be shared.

 The Daily Mail has more photos of Danyl from Saturday’s show and provides the full story of his knock-back.

Wireless, typewriters and cigars…those were the days

October 30, 2009

The good old daysLet us step back 40 or 50 years. Mr Jones, husband and father of a household, is hurrying home from work at 5.30pm on a week night and hears the shouts of ‘extra extra!’ from a boy selling the evening newspaper as he is on his way out the tube station. 

Mr Jones pays tuppence for a paper, partly out of interest and partly because it was made so readily available on his way out the station. He would skim the paper from front to back during the journey home, gasp at a few stories and ponder the world issues for ten minutes or so, then he would arrive home, drop it onto the kitchen table and the insight into the rest of the world would be gone and forgotten.

That is it. That was the extent of a person’s news intake 50 years ago. Alternatively, people would actively tune into a television channel at 9 or 10pm to watch a robotic broadcast of the news. Prior to the launch of television, it was a case of tuning into wireless for the daily news. How very quaint, you say.

It was a recognised effort; a conscious decision to seek out information. Either way, the fact that it was always a matter of choice is the essential aspect and is one of the main differences from the lifestyles of today.

In the 21st century a plane makes an emergency crash-landing into the Hudson River and the first alert made is through some random onlooker uploading a photo from his iPhone onto Twitter.

“There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy”

Janis Krums took this photo and uploaded it onto Twitter some 15 minutes before mainstream media got wind of this news. His Tweet (“There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy”) created one of the greatest media storms in history.

It is difficult to take in the full force of this concept. The online revolution, of which Twitter is a fast-growing branch, is difficult to fathom when we consider the ground journalism has covered in the past ten years alone.

The mass media of the current time is a continuous, unrelenting bombardment of news. With the revolution of the internet, we live in an era where it is more difficult to escape the news than to seek it out.

Logging onto your computer, signing into Twitter, turning on your iPhone, switching between the multiple TV channels – the means by which news can be accessed is endless. How has that affected us as people?

My Mum told me how Pathe news was something of a novelty when she was young. Snippets of news were shown before a film at the cinema, a medium which was used for propaganda during the war. Imagine this happening today? I know my first thought would be ‘no, not this again! I see this enough everywhere else in my life!’

I’m not denying the advantages of the access we now have, but does it not make us more stressed and divided than the people who lived 50 years back? There were no messages, alerts, emails and updates to be answered, no constant stream of breaking information.

The very format of sites like Tweetdeck, Mento, and Addict-o-matic would have been incomprehensible to people living in these times. It is not just a case of understanding technology, it is an attitude change. It requires a lifestyle upheaval. Suddenly, you have to care all the time.

There is no time to stop, escape, throw the newspaper down on the kitchen table and forget about it. News is breaking all around us and everybody wants to be the first to hear about it.