Bits and Pieces

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Finally Learning Thai

Well, I've been living in Asia for three years now and I think it's high time I learned a language other than English.

Now don't get me wrong.  In the last three years I've picked up enough Thai, Mandarin and Mongolian to get by from day to day, and my Mongolian girlfriend is often impressed by my command of her language (in that polite, patronising way that people who speak three languages fluently display when a dullard such as myself manages to order a meal in broken Mongolian).  Unfortunately, my attempts at anything more advanced than 'restaurant' and 'taxi' language - i.e. enough to order a meal and get home by cab - have fallen flat.  

I've recently been looking into language learning methods, and I've come across a few promising examples of software for language learning.  We're living in Bangkok for the next six months or so, so I've registered for a course to learn conversational Thai in three months.  

So, check back around April and we'll see how I'm going.  Will I be talking Thai like a native, or will I be bumbling along in broken phrases interspersed with English?  Who knows?  Only time will tell. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Freezing in Mongolia

God damn, it's been cold recently.  I've spent the last few days packing for Thailand.

I really want to get out to exercise, but short of wearing my Canada Goose Freestyle vest beneath my Columbia Bugaboo parka (a bulky combination, to be sure) I can barely make it out the front door!  It's just ridiculous, and I can't wait until next week when we move back to Bangkok.

The next four months in Bangkok are going to be the time to get in good shape.  Our apartment block has a gym and two pools, and the bar scene sucks for anyone over the age of 25.  I'll be giving up the beer in favour of the pool most nights, and I don't think I'll miss the bars too much.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Addicted to Gun Games

Right now I'm living in Bangkok, busily researching for a book we're writing for first time visitors to South East Asia.  It's hard work, but it should eventually pay off.

Unfortunately I'm being side tracked every day, from two different directions.  First, the apartment block in which I live has just reopened the pool after a few months of renovation, and it has one of those crazy glass walls that let you swim to the edge of the building and look out on the city from underwater, 25 storeys above the street.  It's pretty wild.

Second, I just can't seem to stop playing these damned gun games.  Every time I sit down to type up a few notes or do a little work on a chapter I black out for three hours.  When I finally wake up I realise I've played several hundred games.  My scores are through the roof, but my productivity has never been lower.

What's worse, I just discovered a whole new section of the site focused on zombie games.  I.  Just.  Can't.  RESIST!  I'll be playing these for weeks, emailing lame excuses to my publisher, and before you know it I'll be stuck out in Bangkok without a book deal but with an awesome high score on 'All We Need is Brain'.

Oh well.  I've made my bed, and now I must lie in it.

We're Moving to Vancouver!

Well, my girlfriend and I are finally looking to settle down.  I'm British, she's Mongolian, and neither of our countries want anything to do with the other.  Fortunately, I also have a Canadian passport, so as soon as we get married later in the year we'll be heading over the Vancouver to find a place to call home.

I'm a little scared about the prospect of buying a house, but a Canadian friend of mine assures me that Vancouver realtors aren't nearly as pushy as those from the UK.  All the same, I hate dealing with salesmen of any stripe, and I'd much prefer it if they'd just hand me the door key, point me in the direction of the house and send me on my way.  If I have any questions, I'll call.

Anyhoo, we've been looking online and the prospects so far are looking pretty good.  Naturally, the property prices are much higher than we've found in Ulaanbaatar and Bangkok, but then again it's possible to earn so much more in Vancouver.  I guess it all comes out in the wash.  Right now I earn just enough to afford a nice condo in Central Bangkok, but back in Vancouver I'd expect to earn at least twice my current salary.  Should be enough to buy a decent property, fingers crossed

I Need the Best Skin Care Products!

Out here in Asia it's pretty tricky to get the best skin care products of the west.  When I was living in Mongolia all I could find were Russai knockoffs of western brands, and now we're in Thailand for a while I daren't buy anything for fear that it will contain a chemical skin whitener (that's a big thing here, a country in which pale=beautiful).

My sister is visiting us in the next few weeks, and this morning I emailed a huge list of skin care products I want her to bring over.  We won't be back in the west for another 8 months yet, so I need enough stuff to last me through most of the year.

I can't wait until she arrives, though.  My skin looks just terrible right now, old and tired, always red from the sun and shiny as hell from the humidity.  I'm desperate for some kind of face mask and an exfoliant.  I want to get rid of this nasty, blotchy skin, slough it all off and replace it with something much, much more healthy.

Good lord, I'm getting giddy just thinking about it.  I'm really looking forward to seeing my sister, but I'm sure that, right after the hugs are done, I'll be grabbing for her bag!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Social Advertising with Linknami

In recent months I've been experimenting with social advertising, and it just got a hell of a lot more interesting with a few recent updates made by Google.

For the last few years Facebook and Twitter have been emerging as the new driving forces of viral marketing.  You see something interesting, you like it on your page or tweet it on Twitter.  If it's good, your friends like it and retweet.  If it's really good it goes viral, and in a matter of hours you could see tens of thousands of visitors to your site.  It definitely makes Internet marketing a lot more exciting, knowing that you can find success in a day rather than wait impatiently to rise through the ranks on Google.

In the last few days I've been trying a promising service called Linknami.  If you have a site or page you'd like to promote, the hardest thing is to get the ball rolling.  With Linknami you can hire regular people to publicise your content, paying them a small amount to talk about your stuff.  It's a great idea, and so far it's showing a lot of promise.  I tested the service with a gallery of photos taken over Christmas in Mongolia, paying for ten Facebook likes.  Since then my page has been liked organically another 28 times, and the traffic has begun to increase.

Here's the best part: Google is beginning to take notice of social signals.  A few dozen 'likes' will give you a nice bump in the SERPS, and if you manage to get something to go viral you could potentially push yourself all the way to the top of the results.

Right, back to the grindstone.  I'll keep you updated with my test over the next few weeks.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Smoking a Sähkötupakka

So we're going through a bit of a financial rough spot here in Bangkok right now.  My girlfriend and I arrived a few days ago after a looooong trip down from Mongolia to take advantage of the low cost of living, and while we're here I'll be working 12 hours a day to try to build up a little capital before heading back to Ulaanbaatar for the summer.  

One thing I really miss about Mongolia is the price of cigarettes.  You can get a pack of Marlboro Lights up there for the equivalent of £1.50, which makes smoking pretty damned cheap when you take 2 days to finish a pack.  

It's still reasonably priced here in Bangkok (especially compared to the excessive cost of cigarettes in the west), but it's still expensive enough to make me want to quit.  Fortunately I have a partial solution.  About six months ago a Finnish friend of mine brought me a gift of what he called a sähkötupakka.  When he told me the name I assumed he was going to hand me one of the God awful Finnish snacks he always brings with him, so I was pleasantly surprised when he told me it was just the Finnish name for an e-cigarette.  He's been trying to get me to quit for years, the big lug. 

Anyway, the sähkötupakka went in a drawer until now.  I wasn't too interested until I decided to try to quit.  I've tried it a couple of times and the taste is pretty good.  I even managed to go 24 hours without a real cigarette yesterday!  I'll keep going, and report back.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Replacing Lost Watches

One of the most annoying things about travelling is the fact that, no matter how careful you may be, eventually you'll lose something of value.  In the last two years I've managed to leave an expensive leather jacket in a hotel closet in the middle of India, an expensive pair of sunglasses in a cab in Bangkok and about half my wardrobe in an apartment in Ulaanbaatar.  When you're trying to live cheap it can be frustrating to have to pay to replace all of this stuff.

Right now we're in Hong Kong visiting a good friend of ours, and thankfully he has a spare room for us (Hong Kong hotels are tiny and ridiculously expensive).  When we arrived a few days ago on the train from Beijing I dumped my bags on the floor, did my usual equipment check and noticed that I seem to have lost my watch somewhere along the way.  I suspect I left it hanging on a hook in the bathroom of the train.  I remember putting it there while I washed in the morning.

Men's watches can be damned expensive to replace, so I was pretty pissed off to say the least.  Watches, fortunately, sell pretty cheap in Hong Kong, so I was able to pick up a replacement for less than $30 (nice watch, too).  Still, I'd be much happier if I could just get over my habit of losing things whenever we move to a new city.  Money is tight right now, and I can't really afford to replace another lost item.  

Saturday, January 07, 2012

How to Remove Newspaper Articles

Internet safety experts often complain about the dangers of social networking sites such as Facebook, about the effect our online breadcrumb trail may have on our future employability.  They warn us about those drunken photos tagged in our profiles, and the ill-advised drug and alcohol related status updates.  All of this information will be there forever, they tell us.  It doesn't matter how private we think our data may be.  Eventually the truth will out, and one day it'll come back to bite us right on our collective asses. 

The same holds true for newspaper articles.  Individuals and businesses featured in unflattering articles have never had so much cause for concern as they do today.  Way back before the days of the Internet we could hope to keep our heads low in the wake of a bad article, secure in the knowledge that today's newspapers will be lining tomorrow's litter trays.  Today, though, newspaper articles are not just archived in microfiche form but published and immortalised online.  Every article is available at the touch of a button, and every business should be praying for the development of a 'remove newspaper article' option in their browsers. 

It's no simple matter to have an unflattering newspaper article removed from the records, and every newspaper will put up a fight before deleting a story, but if you feel you or your business has been unfairly portrayed in print you should follow this guide about how to remove newspaper articles.  There's no guarantee of success, but you might as well go down swingin', right?

Investing in Web Design

The last year or so have been lean times in the Taylor household.  Lean, lean, lean.  In May of 2011 I moved out to Asia to be with my Mongolian girlfriend, and since then we've been travelling around China, Thailand and Laos, awaiting the day I'm taken off the Mongolian blacklist (I had some visa problems in 2010, and ended up being deported).

Well, in early November we finally returned to Mongolia, and within two months we were ready to leave again - Mongolia sits around -40 degree Celsius right now, which is daaaaaamned cold.  So, we arrived in Beijing yesterday, tomorrow we get the train to visit a friend of ours in Hong Kong, and by the middle of next week we'll be in our apartment in Bangkok.  

Anyway... as you can guess, none of this comes cheap.  Ogi and I haven't been able to work since May and the reserves are just about to run dry.  I'm spending my days frantically trying to turn my random collection of websites into something resembling a small online empire, and pretty soon we may be self sufficient, living on Adsense and Amazon affiliate earnings.  

To achieve this goal, though, I need the help of a web design company.  My stable of sites all look pretty rough right now, and if there's one thing that drives Amazon sales and Adsense clicks it's attractive design.  Readers faced with a shoddy looking site click the back button as quick as a flash, but a good looking layout = instant trust (or at least the benefit of the doubt long enough to wow the reader with your rich content). 

Before spending money I didn't have on web design for all my sites I decided to do a test run on one of them.  I hired a web design company to play around with my Wordpress theme, delving into the coding and modifying the theme to fit my site better.  They rearranged Adsense blocks, added some shiny buttons and inserted a few well-chosen product images.  Three weeks later I've seen my Adsense CTR jump from a pathetic 0.3% to a much more impressive 5.2%.  My Amazon conversion rate has jumped from 3% to 8%. 

In real terms this means that the site is generating about $5 more each day (the traffic wasn't great to begin with).  It doesn't sound like much, but over a year that adds up to an extra $1,825 - 18 times more than the web design fee.  

So, I'm investing much of our remaining cash into my other sites.  If the same performance boost holds true for my stable, an investment today in a web design company should add up to an extra $50 each day - over $18,000 a year.  Worth it?  Definitely.  

Friday, January 06, 2012

I am Pissed Off

Those who know me will probably agree that I'm a pretty mellow, laid back kind of guy.  I take life as it comes, and I'm not easily riled.  The way my life has been for the last couple of years has tested my resolve a little, and for the last two months I've been living in a country in which I would probably be beaten on the street in broad daylight if I held my girlfriend's hand (Mongolian guys need some serious re-education about acceptable behaviour), but all in all I'm usually calm.

For the last couple of weeks Ogi and I have been hanging out with an Argentinian guy on his way around the world.  We put him up for a few nights at our place before booking him in to a local hotel, and when the time came for us to leave Mongolia and return to China for a while, Dan asked if he could take the train with us.

and so it was that last night on the Chinese border at 3AM we handed over our passports to the Mongolian border guards to check ourselves out of the country.  Dan, the owner of a pretty impressively spiky head of hair, was called 'pineapple head' by one of the female guards with who he was clumsily trying to flirt.  He doesn't speak a word of Mongolian, and I made the mistake of translating into English.

He.  Went.  Crazy.

Dan suddenly turned into the human form of the website I am Pissed Off.  He started yelling about professionalism, human rights and God knows what else until we calmed him down and pulled him away.  After being deported from two countries I've learned that you just don't fuck with border guards .

Anyway, here's my point.  There are some people who can happily drift through life without ever getting pissed off.  It's easy.  Most of the people I meet will never see me again, so there's no point getting angry with them.  There are other people, though, people like Dan, who fly off the handle at the slightest provocation.  These are the people who need to head to I am Pissed Off to vent their feelings before they tell the wrong person to fuck off and end up in jail.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Hire a Babysitter in Mongolia? Naaaaah

In recent months my partner and I have been living in Mongolia, an unusual country sandwiched between China and Russia.  Many things about this country are different from the west (obviously), but the one thing that strikes me most is the difference between the level of hovering care provided by a parent for her children.

You see, back in the west we've grown used to living in a society in which our child's every move needs to be carefully monitored lest he or she accidentally run in front of a bus or be abducted by psychopaths.  The real and imagined dangers of parenthood make it a pretty damned stressful experience. 

Out here in Mongolia, though, they're a little more relaxed about parenting.  Parents here would rarely hire a babysitter, for instance.  Instead (assuming there isn't a parent around to do the job) they'd simply knock on the doors of their neighbours until they found someone who'd take the kid for an hour or two.  I'd never dare do that in the US or the UK (I don't know my neighbours, in any case).  

Anyway, my girlfriend and I are toying with the idea of setting up a baby sitting service in the same vein as  I'd love to get kids taken care of by responsible, trained carers rather than the potentially drunk neighbours who look after them now.  We're off to Thailand for a while next week, but when we get back we're gonna launch right into it.
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