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Moving server...

Hello All, I'll be moving server this weekend, there may be interruptions and complications over the next week.

Please excuse any problems and touch wood it all goes well :-)

Blog Wars - Ethnography and Content Analysis of Blogs

This is a poster I produced last July for Monash University Sunway Campus (where I am studying). It's using the same material as a paper I presented in August, but focuses mainly on the Social Network Analysis (SNA) potential for combining with content analysis.

I am self-taught as regards SNA, so it is well possible that I have made mistakes. If I have, please tell me as I'd love to know.

blogs malaysia blogwars research social network analysis sna
--Click on the picture to get the larger version - you will have to zoom in and out in order to get the full view and to be able to read it.--

I have anonymised the data, but Malaysian and Singaporean bloggers may recognise the bloggers involved.

Writing fieldnotes

I'm skimming through a useful book, Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, which has made me think more carefully about the notes I'm taking on my research so far.

I've been keeping notes on the meets I attend, archiving relevant posts, and also trying to keep some kind of diary (not been very efficient at this).

When I attend a meet, usually what I do is record voice notes as soon as possible after the meet (e.g. driving home), and then try to write up the note asap too; I focus on describing the event, recording what was said, and noting my thoughts and impressions. However, the book (pp68-74) talks of describing people, and doing detailed descriptions of events - it's not something I have done, focusing more on what people say and do, rather than the people themselves. How relevant is what they wear? I do remember Marina Mahathir saying in the BUM2007 meet that the audience mostly looked like accountants (it was in comparison to her usual type of event, HIV/AIDS activists, etc.) which was relevant in that it reflected the typical type of SoPo audience/bloggers - older males with more education. In a typical Nuffnang meet, it's younger people dressed in casual outfits - reflecting perhaps their greater concern with socialising, and blogs as a means to socialise...

I think I also need to describe and record finer details of how people interact. By focusing mostly on what was said, I am prioritising the verbal interaction as opposed to other types of interaction such as spatial ones (who sits with who, who moves around more than others…) or other types of symbolic interactions - e.g. people who dress similarly may group together, or people with certain body language or non-verbal interactions. Of course, one typical interaction which has a lot of meaning is the cam-whoring - there's a lot of that that goes on! :-D

It would be interesting to know how/if people interact differently online and offline. But that would be very difficult to know for other people; for myself I know that because I am not very good at socialising/making small talk, perhaps I find it easier online – but I don't feel a significant difference in my on and offline social practices in that respect. Small talk is not my forte - at the Nuffnang Halloween party, I met one guy but we only talked a little before he went elsewhere... I think that after I started asking him questions about why he blogs, etc. he may have felt somewhat interrogated. Or maybe he just found me boring :-)
"Ethnographers should attempt to write fieldnotes in ways that capture and preserve indigenous meanings." (Emerson, Fretz & Shaw 1995:12)

Well, that's one thing that I hope I've been getting right - that's one of the important reasons for this blog! The idea is to record my thoughts and observations in blog-post format for other bloggers to see.

Anyway, other things that need to be done are: finalising the survey and getting it running; and deciding who I shall follow in detail - I was advised not to do too many... I want to do a mix of A-list 'blogebrities', SoPo, Personal, Problog and perhaps a couple of not so well known. I think I also need to start taking more notes about the blog posts that I archive - describing the interactions in terms of what bloggers and commenters say, but also in terms of what they do (e.g. linking). Maybe I will start to do that regularly when I start to follow my 'chosen ones'.

Emerson, R.M., Fretz, R.I. & Shaw, L.L., 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Budget hostels in Laos

Here is a short review of the hostels I stayed in while in Laos from in November 2008. Prices were between 50-70,000 Kip, about 5-8 USD, for a 'single' room (often with two beds, or one double bed) with fan and sometimes with a shared bathroom, sometimes with an ensuite bathroom; hot water was usually available with one of those electric heater things. Twice I was able to knock off 10,000 Kip off the price of a 'double' room (with two beds) by asking for a discount because I was alone. (For Malaysians, 1RM = apprx. 2300 Kip; so a room at 60,000 Kip would be RM26).

For this price you get a basic room with no frills, although often there is a towel, bottle of water and soap provided. None of them had particularly nice views (apart from in Vang Vieng) or anything else of particular note. Some places offer breakfast/food, but most did not have food. If you want to go cheaper, you have to look for dormitory rooms which are available, but not as common.

Generally the rooms and bathrooms were clean, and staff helpful and friendly - although the general lack of much English prevented much interaction. The bare switches and exposed wiring in bathrooms made me nervous occasionally. Laundry services were usually available (7-10,000 Kip per kilo), but the clothes never came back ironed, were damp once and also had a t-shirt missing once (they found it when I asked for it). In short, don't expect too much from the laundry service.

I mostly used the Lonely Planet guide and Travelfish to help decide where to go, but in the countryside I just had to take whatever there was.

Vientiane - Mixay Guesthouse
On Th. Nokeo Khumman, this guesthouse is conveniently located near the river and the centre. It was being renovated when I stayed there. There were two 'zones' with different prices (one dollar difference), I got the cheaper one though I'm not sure what the difference was. I got a single room with no window, fan, and shared bathroom for 6 USD; the room had a bed and a cupboard, the bathrooms were OK. Free coffee, tea, cake and fruits were available downstairs in the morning.

Travelfish review here; Lonely Planet review here.

Vientiane - Pathoumphone Guesthouse
On Th. Manthatulat, this is also close to the river and the centre. It cost 6 USD for a room (knocked down from 7 USD); the bathroom was OK but not kept clean all day and the room pretty dingy. There was a wide veranda useful for hanging out, and shoes were not allowed (which is always a good idea). I only stayed one night and left early in the morning to catch a plane, so I don't know if they had breakfast or food.
Vientiane Pathoumphone Guesthouse Laos

However, I can't recommend this place. There were bed bugs when I went there! Having bed bugs does not mean the place is dirty (they'll survive fine in very clean places); they can come from other travellers or in different ways, and can be very difficult to get rid of - so my sympathies are with any hotel that finds themselves with bedbugs. However, the reaction of the receptionist when I told her (she tried to convince me it was ants), would make me avoid ever going here again.

Kutsambath - Pheth Dao Heuang Guesthouse
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Bedbugs in Vientiane guesthouse, Laos

My first experience of bedbugs, or Cimex lectularius, was in the Salvation Army Hostel in Bombay, in 1989. It was completely infested with them and some were still on my body three or four days later. The second one I remember was while sleeping on a bench in a train station in Poland in 1990; this time I could recognise them well, and did the only really possible thing to get away from them – go as far away as possible.

Well, there have been another few encounters since then (including in Kota Bahru, Kelantan), and in Vientiane on my last night in Laos I met those nasty buggers again. I stayed at the Pathoumphone Guesthouse, on Th. Manthatulat; for USD6 I got a basic room with shared bathroom – clean enough but not spick and span.

Although all the hostels I went to in Laos were generally clean, most of them have a thick blanket to sleep with as the nights get a bit nippy there. I couldn’t help wondering how often they were cleaned… anyway, it’s usually something not worth thinking about too much but here, about five minutes after I lay down with the blanket over me, I realised that I was getting itchy all over. I quickly threw off the blanket and realised I had been bitten.

The three bites close together was an immediate giveaway – it was bedbugs! Argh! I hate those things! And there’s not much you can do apart from leaving the hotel asap, which isn’t really an option at 1am… They are difficult to kill, check out this video of a traveller trying to kill one in a hostel in Kuala Lumpur. They are very tough! But one thing he doesn’t try is burning it, which is what happened to this one that I tracked down
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Robbed in Vang Vieng, Laos

Well I’m back home now, and I have a few more posts to do about Laos before I’m done :-)

Laos is a great place, and I never felt threatened or harassed wherever I went. But that feeling changed a bit after I got some money stolen in Vang Vieng – here’s the story.

It was my last afternoon (of two) in Vang Vieng, and seeing as I had missed out on the tubing, I wanted to see something around the small town before I went. Checking Lonely Planet, they recommend the “Tham Sang Triangle” as a half-day loop around some caves with a little walking. The book implied it was doable on your own – but frankly it could have been complicated, and I wouldn’t go adventuring any distance in those caves without a guide.

Anyway, the scam might have started with the tuk-tuk driver, who suddenly dropped the price from 150,000 kip to 100,000 for a trip (there and back) to Tham Sang. Maybe he called ahead to announce a single visitor ripe for the picking? I dunno.

Anyway, I got to the village – Ban Tham Sang – and a self-appointed guide, a middle-aged man, short dark and wiry, with some kind of heavy-metal t-shirt, attached himself to me as I wandered in the direction of the first (and only) sign I saw pointing towards the cave. He called himself ‘Han’ (I think), and I didn’t mind, expecting to have to pay him 10-20,000 Kip (2-3USD) but not wanting to get lost or something.

We walked through the rice fields, golden with the heavy ripe rice and the steep limestone karst mountains formed an impressive backdrop.

As we got to the caves, I had to buy a ticket from a guy under a concrete shelter, who also lent me a weak torch. The first was Tham Hoi – a large Buddha is at the entrance gazing serenely down at visitors.

'Han' led me past the Buddha and on for a couple of minutes – the ground was a bit slippery and muddy, but easy enough. Then we got to what seemed like a dead end, and he suddenly laid down his torch and started to take off his trousers, indicating to me to do the same! WTF? I was thinking, and through gestures he explained that we would go through the pool of water at the end of the passage and, presumably, see some more caves. Running through my mind was the fact that I would be leaving my wallet, money belt (with passport, etc.) and everything there; also, I didn’t really feel plunging into pools of murky water, going I don’t know where. And I had shoes and socks on, rather than slippers. So, I told him I didn’t want to go there.

So that was that, and we left to the next cave – Tham Sang, aka ‘Elephant Cave’ because of the elephant-shaped stalactite
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