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Vagabond Journey Weekly Roundup, January 21, 2014

A hard week of multimedia publishing is better than a good week of packing boxes . . . though I have to say that this week made me question my resolve in this statement.

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This past week at Vagabond Journey has been . . . extremely . . . fucking aggravating. It was the type of week that makes multimedia publishers fantasize about working at UPS packing boxes or something, anything other than a line of work that hangs on an ever tenuously tied together line of electronic devices. It was so aggravating that I’m delivering the weekly round up two weeks late.

I returned to Xiamen from Poyang Lake a few days ago and had a massive amount of articles to write, videos to put together, and content to publish. I jumped into this full of steam but hit a brick wall: the computer wasn’t playing along. The Compaq Mini netbook that I’ve been using for the past three years is grinding down to a slow and ignominious death. It chugs rather than runs, often taking over five minutes to switch between pages of local applications, even longer for ones that are internet based. No detectable malware, no detectable viruses, five gigs free space on the hard drive, everything else cleaned up, defraged, and updated. The thing, apparently, is just done.

It even looks done. Beleaguered is the word that comes to mind when I look at the computer in front of me. The letters were worn off the keys long ago, there are chunks taken out of the casing, the touch pad glistens with finger oil and there is an overt dent where I touch it the most, and the cavities of the keyboard are full of dust, smog particles, crumbs, lint, and miscellaneous flecks of gunk. Wires are exposed. This thing looks like it belongs in a Fujian e-waste dump, but it continues on — slowly, very slowly. I expect a netbook computer to kick the bucket after one year of travel and constant use; this Compaq Mini got me three. No complaints here.

I spent the past three days kicking this donkey, screaming at it, shaking my fists. I know of no irritation greater than needing to get work done fast but sitting idle 70% of the time waiting for pages and programs to load. Moving a finger across a touch pad and having the cursor stubbornly refuse to move in a form of petty torture for someone who makes a living off a computer.

My last three days were spent with teeth gritted. I couldn’t do anything, I was completely hamstrung, feeling tight inside, like I was tied up to something. It is unsettling the degree to which I’m psychologically and emotionally tied to electronic devices. This is how I make my living, and it’s always a very insecure one in the best of times when the words flow like rivulets, the videos come together, and my rig responds like a finely tuned machine.

So I began shopping for a new computer. I have $800 to get to the other side of China and finish the on-the-ground research needed for the ghost cities book. $500 will go to the computer, and I will sit around Xiamen this month waiting to collect enough earnings for the travels.

In Chinese cities stores segregate themselves by topic. So I went to the electronics district. A foreigner in an electronics mall here is like a slab of chicken being tossed out into a pool of crocodiles. You get feasted on, but there’s no other option. After two evenings of looking, dealing, bargaining, telling people to leave me alone, I settle on an Asus notebook. 300 gigs of hard drive, 4 gigs RAM, and four 1.8 GHz processors. Not bad. I paid for it. The salesman then had a techie/ another salesman/ his cousin/ some dude upload an English version of Windows onto it. So far, so good.

Then the boob broke the damn thing.

I don’t know how, but his English version of Windows ended up being a blank black screen with a reboot order that wouldn’t go away.

The salesmen had a powwow in a corner, and I knew things were not going to end right. They returned and made up every excuse they could think of to give me my money back without telling me that they broke the computer.

“I don’t want my money back, I want my computer.”

“We can’t sell it to you.”


[Chinese “Uhnt” noise]

“I gave you money, just give me my computer. I have a friend who has English Windows, you don’t need to install it.”

[Chinese “Uhnt” noise]

“Is the computer broken?”


The first two “uhnts” meant, “Please don’t ask me that.” The third was an unequivocal “yes.” They shoved my money in my hand and shoed me out of their stall, telling me to come back the following morning when they will have a new computer for me.

I said okay, but I know, as well as everybody else, that you just don’t go back to shops where things like that happen — even in China, where I have not been lead to believe that things like this are very rare at all.

This is Tuesday morning and I’m still entrenched in battle against the mini beast before me. But today, I hope, will be the last that I will sit here watching the worst show on earth: pages loading.


Yesterday morning I was interviewed by a writer for The Atlantic for an article he’s doing for another, rather good website. I didn’t perform my best. I wonder how the final product is going to come out.


Weekly video round up


Vagabond Journey header

new header vagabondjourney

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been experimenting with different headers on Vagabond Journey. We went from a simple logo, to a fancy one that was a little large, to this uber-functional one. This one works the best as far as site nav goes, but what one do you like best?



Poyang Lake was a successful mission. I will have two main articles — one on the drying up of the lake and the other on how the “Bermuda Triangle of the East” mystery solved itself this year because of such — and around a half dozen blog posts coming out about it throughout this week. A general overview of what’s happening at the lake will also appear in the ghost cities book, as environmental catastrophes and urbanization go hand in hand.

This next month I plan to lay low and work on the book. It’s Chinese New Year time, and my curiosity about what it’s like to travel in a country where hundreds of millions of other people are traveling was extinguished long ago. This is my fifth Chinese New Year. Though I may do more thorough reporting on it than I did last year.



At the end of 2012 I realized the importance of video in an economically viable blogging operation. In 2013 I made half my earnings from video. In 2014 video will be just as much as part of our daily operations as writing text. Ideally, I would like to publish one video per day, but the rudiments of such a schedule may prove a little too ambitious.

There are two types of videos that I will be publishing this year: raw documentation and short documentaries. The raw documentation type is what I usually publish. They serve the function of sharing an aspect of a culture or place in rough cut, real form. The documentaries will be something that we will be doing new this year.

As of now there are two people working on Vagabond Journey’s YouTube channel, myself and Apol Danganan in the Philippines. If anyone else is interested in contributing, please contact me for more information.


As always, we’re looking for more bloggers here. I’m not looking for the typical tourist/ travel stuff. So if you want to write about people, culture, events, sex, science, the sociological side of sports, or some strange niche interest let me know. I’m also interested in bloggers who travel for other reasons than pure recreation. Vagabonds travel for work (or at least this is what we say we do), and the difference in experiential depth that comes from working somewhere rather than just visiting is extreme. These are the blogging roles that I’m really looking for:

An NGO worker who is willing to write about day to day activities/ interactions/ cultural insights rather than save the world crap.

A tech rep/ worker who travels continuously.

An English teacher willing to blog about the experience from start.

Itinerant sex diaries/ culture of sex. Preferably from a female perspective.

Ideally, bloggers will have a topic or theme that they focus on that goes beyond travel in general and post two or three times per week.


That’s it for now. I hope everything goes well for everyone this week. Look for more regular posting here once I solve this technical difficulty.

As always, thanks for reading.

Filed under: Vagabond Journey Updates

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

4 comments… add one

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  • Scott January 21, 2014, 1:54 am

    Hi, Wade.

    My sympathies about the slow laptop. I’m glad you’ve decided to upgrade. You’re work life will improve immensely.

    However, may I suggest you upgrade to at least 8 GB of RAM, instead of 4? My laptop came with 4 in 2011, but I upgraded it myself to 8 mid-2013, and it made a world of difference, even just for my recreational use.

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    • Wade Shepard January 22, 2014, 3:46 am

      Thanks. Yeah, 8g RAM would be nice. They don’t really come equipped with that here. Will try 4 and if that doesn’t work upgrade it. It’s pretty cheap and easy to get RAM cards here.

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  • Scott January 23, 2014, 12:10 pm

    On the subject of headers, I was looking at your press kit and decided I like the brown star type header (original) and the “walk slow” slogan.

    Now I did love the new bigger header of all the photos of people with the transparent thing going on. But yeah it was rather big, but beautiful. Originally I thought you designed this big header to coincide with the announcement of your book deal and was kind of a roll-out package deal.

    Now with the current header. Simple yet straightforward with just a hint of oak flavor penetrating my palate. Maybe the star could be incorporated into the background transparently.

    And don’t forget to “Walk Slow.” But in the end it’s all in the words of your writings. Yet the logo is the web-masters creative dilemma that wakes him up at 2:30 in the morning and pondering.

    Steve Jobs paid 100,000 dollars for the “NEXT” logo.

    Logo and slogan is always nice.

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    • Wade Shepard January 23, 2014, 7:48 pm

      Yes, very true, the logo is what keeps webmasters up at night. I thought it was just me haha. The simple logo is more a reaction against this, as I’m probably never going to get it the way I want it, and I have to quit this pursuit sometime in the name of time, money, and sanity. You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve been tinkering with this, hiring people, getting help from friends, and it’s never been perfect yet. There is probably more of a problem with me than the logos — so I’m going with this one, which is an adaption of one made by Alex, and just stick with it . . . until the next time I’m woken up at 2AM with that nagging urge for change 🙂

      Superimposing the compass logo in the background somewhere could be done.

      Thanks for the feedback.

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