kathmandu valley rim supermoon

Beauty is a good antidote to generally depressing world news. The Chandragiri ridge from which these pics were taken is favorite trail country for me. They were the closest bit of valley rim from where I used to live, seen its stunning broad Himalayan panorama plenty times. It’s where Mira Rai‘s trailrunning talent was noticed for the first time. The pictures were published by the Kathmandu Post. Enjoy.

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meta meme

My admiration for people that are able to explain something complex in a simple, but not simplifying way, funny, concise, interest arousing, and using multiple layers of meaning, each a comment on the previous one, so as to walk the walk that they talk about, is boundless. Especially when the something is a fancy of mine like memes. Enjoy and pass on.

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guided running to explore Shanghai

It’s taken a while, but the time has come to make a public offer.

I’ve been running Shanghai streets for more than two years now. It’s great fun and I start to know my way around quite some parts of this huge cityscape. Most of it eminently runnable, although bits are best walked (busy street markets, some narrow and crowded sidewalks, temples). Overall, with the regular forced stops at road crossings, the rests when crossing the Huangpu by ferry or eating a street snack, and the stops to have a look at or in a particularly interesting building, what I do is best described as run-walk, dare I say jogging (or if that sounds uncool to you, I’m also OK with pedestrianism). The focus is not on exercise, health, or training, but on exploring my environment.

Shanghai is a treasure trove of fascinating street life, stunning buildings, futuristic mega structures, traffic-free lane house neighborhoods (some bourgeois, some working class, some being upgraded, some being bulldozed) , lively parks, endless kilometers of runnable river-hugging tracks, and much more. Running the streets is a great way to make this metropolis your own. I live in an expat enclave (here that just means that it has many foreign residents, but still a large majority of Chinese) at the Pudong (East of the Pu river) side, Greencity, considered by many to be way out in the boring hinterlands of the metropolis. But did you know it’s less than 5k to the nearest ferry across the Huangpu. And then another kilometer to the working class alley-neighborhoods and street markets of Yangpu? Thus, from a pedestrian perspective Puxi (West of the Pu river, aka Shanghai) really is close by. And for those willing to explore, Pudong itself has lots of unexpected gems. I’ve got only two caveats: when the air is too dirty (AQI 200+) I don’t run, and I’m out of town regularly.

If you are interested in a guided outing I’m happy to show you around. No fixed fee. Pay me what you feel like at the end of it. With one to three fellow runners along, every route is possible.

If you are a runner (or your partner or your visitors are) one or more guided runs are for you/them if:

  • You want to discover some of the countless interesting routes in Pudong and in Puxi (and those connecting the two). People I have run with often take non-running partners or friends for walks along my route because they’ve become as fascinated by it as I am.
  • You’re convinced that you lack the training for longer runs (never run more than 10k? you may surprise yourself with going beyond half marathon distance without suffering).
  • You look for routes that cater to your specific interests (which can include training).
  • You have an interest in low impact running (probably because you’re regularly injured): I can give you some technique advice.
  • You want to get out of the city: I can take you to the hills of Hangzhou or Suzhou.

Interested? Give me call (+8613681905624) or send me an e-mail (rh.summit@gmail.com)

If you want to know more about me, have a look at the rest of this blog (plenty urban running related ramblings).

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why vote for this talented girl?

Two years ago I posted on why spectacular talent deserves support. Sounds like a long time ago but for Mira Rai (also look here and here) to prove me right, two years really isn’t much time. Sure, she confirmed within a year that she’s one to reckon with in big races with very strong fields. But my argument was that she deserves support for more/other reasons than her running potential alone. For proving me right about her potential to make a difference for girls in Nepal, two years is actually very short. But she managed to acquire role model status surprisingly quickly, with lots of media exposure, and becoming brand promoter of ekantipur.com, official website of Kantipur Publications (the largest media house of Nepal). Obviously, that in itself doesn’t yet make a difference for girls, but it certainly is a necessary condition.

Ultimately one needs a critical mass of people’s power to start breaking the attitudinal and institutional supports of serious gender inequality. It’s good to remember how recent some (a crucial qualifier, lots still to change!) of those supports came down in much of the developed world.

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iimbsd: come jogging with me

Some time ago I adopted the pedestrianism label for my approach to running. Now I’m finally ready to advertise myself as a running guide for exploring Shanghai I’m reconsidering. Why go for a big word when there is a small one, one that I grew up with? What I want to share is running as a way to explore the cityscape and the ‘relaxed’ attitude that requires regarding any exercise, health, training and other ‘sports’ related associations. I adopted an unconventional term, i.c. pedestrianism, and hoped it would provide protection against some of the the mainstream connotations of ‘running’. An alternative strategy is going for a conventional term, jogging, that seems to have acquired loads of negative connotations since its late-60/70s ‘label for the running boom’ (not serious, clueless, exceedingly slow, etc) but recognizably connotes an approach that is ‘relaxed’.

So be it. We Dutch – kudos to Irene Guijt for coming up with the brilliant I(f) I M(ay) B(e) S(o) D(utch), Duncan Green for sharing it – sort of invented the adoption of pejorative terms as a badge of honour. Get rid of those running hangups, come jogging with me.

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extreme trails

Addendum: anyone doubting my claim that extreme efforts presuppose an ‘outlier’ body, read Bryon Powell’s interview with Pete Kostelnick who just shattered the longstanding trans-USA record, running an average of more than 115k/day for a consecutive 42 days, 6 hours and 30 minutes.

In one of my previous posts I pat myself on the shoulder for correctly divining a trend toward more extreme trails. And I lament that what really matters for considering doing one yourself and for properly appreciating the efforts of others is not yet receiving sufficient attention. All a bit cryptic, so you deserve a bit more detail, and some nuance to my overly judgmental opinions.

Besides the above, three additional triggers to dwell a bit more on the extremes. First: Lizzy Hawker (check out her other big thing: the Ultra Tour de Monte Rosa) has just finished her 42 day unsupported East-West crossing of Nepal, following the Great Himalayan Trail high route wherever that was possible (some sections require mountaineering equipment and a partner – not possible on a solo self-supported attempt – more on the ‘support’ semantics below).

If you want to support Lizzy’s efforts for Nepalese female runners, go here. Continue reading

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the Dutch are coming

Given our lack of a trail/fell/cross-country running tradition, and our pancake geography, it is no wonder that we don’t have many Dutch trail/mountain running podium contestants. But we’re coming. There seems to be a caveat though: first emigrate to an environment that allows you to run technical trails, then make headway. Anyway, this autumn saw a Dutchman (who lives in Scotland) winning the 2016 Skyrunning UK Series and now a Dutchwoman (living in Catalunya) placing third at the 2016 IAU WK Trail in Portugal. Given both the history of Ragna Debats and the time she took on this technical 85k, +5000m altitude course (9:47:38!) she stands out as an exceptional talent. Get to meet her:

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visualizing Shanghai

In a recent post I embedded a great visual about Shanghai. That was just the latest of the videos about this amazing city. Most of those are (sort of) contemporary. The exception being a 1973 documentary. Just learned about this 1947 piece of work. Of interest to anyone with a genuine interest in this metropolis.

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trail?trends

Disclaimer: my version of trendwatching is largely an effort to detect patterns in the echo chamber of my interests. I’ve written a couple of posts on trends in trailrunning, as well as various pretentious reflections on running in general (my blog is easily searched, so they’re not hard to find). The atrocious performance record of the trendwatching species is well known and doesn’t need further elaboration, but with the hedge that trends perceived are as much created by the searching eye as being ‘pre-existing’ realities, I feel I’ve sufficiently covered my ass to continue making a fool of myself while pretending to be intellectually honest.

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illustrating the endless diversity of cityscapes

One may argue that the most difficult aspect to notice is that which is all and ever present (the fish and water argument). Luckily, I’ve been living in big cities not long enough to run a risk of taking them that much for granted. So their specific eco systems have popped up in my blogging regularly.  Given my small town, small country background, the opposite argument (that, wiped clean by the excitement of novelty, my doors of perception let more rather than less big cityscape information in) makes more sense. At least to me because I constantly come across narratives about cities. How much of that is based on the urban as a growing focus of attention in social science, art, media, etc., generally, and how much is due to that unavoidable personal process which turns temporarily paying more attention into a more permanent attentional echo chamber of information consumption, is difficult to say. I would intuit a combination of both. Anyways, I hope that echo chamber serves my fancy well and is  not too much of a perspectival monocle. Again I cannot say, but the below random selection of what I recently came across seems diverse enough.

Let’s start with a short video of Shanghai by locally based urbanist and videographer JT Singh, emphasizing that this, as any metropolis, is its people. Great visuals, but mum on the struggling migrant labour, taking care of all the shitty jobs to clear and (re)build the place, clean it, and keep it running:

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please, criticize me! (why anticorruption practitioners should scrutinize and challenge research methodology)

Although this guest post for the Global Anticorruption Blog is not formally part 4 in a series on Corruption among development NGOs, conceptually it certainly is part of it. For the background of this series, see part 1. The original of this post can be found here (the below is a slightly edited version). The full reports underlying the series can be accessed on my publications page. Parts two and three of the series can be accessed here and here .

Why anticorruption practitioners should scrutinize and challenge research methodology

In a previous post, I described a survey used to estimate the incidence of fraud and associated problems within the Cambodian NGO sector. The response to the results of that survey have so far been somewhat disheartening—not so much because the research has had little influence on action (the fate of most such research), but rather because those who have been told about the study’s results have all taken the results for granted, questioning neither their meaningfulness nor how they were generated. Such at-face-value uptake is, paradoxically, a huge risk to the longer-term public acceptance of the evidence produced by social science research.  I am relieved that methodological considerations (issues of publication bias, replicability, p-hacking, and others) are finally getting some traction within the social science community, but it is evident that the decades-long neglect of these problems dovetails with a public opinion climate that doubts and disparages social science expertise. Continue reading

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nepalese eye candy

I’m no mountainbiker, and generally not a fan of the dicovery/nat geo kinda visuals, let alone when accompanied by the spin-doctoring text and sound that characterizes that genre. But taste doesn’t rob me of the ability to appreciate craftsmanship. And this short PR piece is certainly well made. What pushed me to post it, is that its choice of terrain for selling Nepal to mountainbikers, and it could as well have been made for trailrunners, includes the Terai and Kathmandu valley.  The Terai gets zero trailrunning visitors, but it is absolutely lovely, and the footage of the valley includes one of my favorite valley rim spurs (from Kopan to close to Nage Gomba). With a scrapbook of Mustang posts I do not need to add anything about that part of the country. So this is not Nepal, but it is definitely why you should visit:

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corruption among development NGOs, part 3 – the need for collective action by funding agencies

For the background of this series, see part 1. The original of this post can be found here. The full reports can be accessed on my publications page. The previous post of the series can be accessed here.

the need for collective action by funding agencies

Previous posts on development NGO corruption (here and here) described a survey tool and its results in Cambodia and the conundrum of using the upward accountability relationship between local NGOs (LNGOs) and the grantmakers funding them for remedial action. The analysis of the report which underlies much of those contributions includes another foundational premise: Given the systemic functioning of Cambodia’s (and other countries’) LNGO sectors, anticorruption action to hold these LNGOs to account needs to be collective in order to be effective. Continue reading

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corruption among development NGOs, Part 2–the hot potato of upward accountability

For the background of this series, see part 1. The original of this post can be found here. The full reports can be accessed on my publications page. The third of the series can be accessed here.

the hot potato of upward accountability

My previous post in this series described the results of a survey that estimated the incidence of fraud and associated problems within the Cambodian NGO sector. The survey utilized a relatively independent source, the grantmakers that fund local NGOs (LNGOs), and triangulated the results with information supplied by the firms that perform external audits for LNGOs. The basic idea was that grantmakers are likely to have an evidence-based opinion of the quality of their LNGO partners’ financial management, governance, and fraud risk (and fraud incidence). After all, grantmakers assess organizational soundness before awarding a first grant to a potential partner LNGO, periodically monitor the work being funded by that grant, and require extensive, often cumbersomely regular, results and financial reporting, as well as yearly or project-based external audits. To put it simply: Grantmakers conduct regular due diligence (in the broad sense of the term) on LNGOs. Continue reading

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corruption among development NGOs, Part 1–Getting the Facts

I have been conducting  policy research on NGO governance and problematic financial management in the Cambodian NGO sector since late 2014. It’s an ongoing involvement. The material costs have been covered by the grantmaker that commissioned it, but given my board membership of this grantmaker, the actual work has been pro bono. Work on serious organizational weaknesses and fraud by definition needs explicit attention to unintended harm it may cause. Cambodia’s politico-economic elite (read the global witness reports on the entanglement of political and economic power) quite openly targets any NGO activity that it perceives as a political challenge. Any ‘negative’ information about the NGO sector, however true, is potential fodder for government misuse. Reporting on this work doesn’t seek venues for public debate. Sharing is limited to directly involved stakeholders and the objective is to support them in dealing with the issues with as little risk of blowback as possible.

Nevertheless,  research really really needs feedback on its conceptual framework, methodological assumptions, validity of its conclusions, and best next steps. Apart from conversations with stakeholders in Cambodia, I try to seek input from those more broadly interested in aid, financial management and accountability. Matthew Stephenson, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and Editor in Chief of the Global Anticorruption Blog, has not only been kind enough to allow me some guest posts on his anticorruption hub, but also incredibly generous with his editing time. What you read below is not my original submission but something much more readable, concise and to the point. I really don’t know how he does it, sleep can’t be part of his agenda. But I’m very grateful. Continue reading

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riverfronts, the good, the bad and the ugly

Rivers are redeeming features for any city. I’ve lived in quite a few that are mostly or partly defined by their rivers and haven’t come across any for which their riverfront was a total negative. However, what cities do with and to the rivers can  enhance but also obliterate most of their positive potential. Shanghai is working hard to make the most of it.

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trekking in Tibetan Sichuan

One of the things we did this summer was join our friends Connie, Ignas and their daughter Josien, whom we know from our shared days in Cambodia, on guided treks around mount Zhakra and across the Laghang grasslands. Our base was the still unfinished ecolodge  of Angela and her husband Djarga (near Tagong). They organized the treks for us and made us part of their household for the days we spent with them. Josien’s very distinctive visual perspective on this utterly fascinating region is worth sharing.

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some pedestrian thoughts instead of a 2015 trail running review

For two years in a row I reviewed my armchair trail running impressions (see here and here). Haven’t got much to add. Most trends have deepened (more business, more attention to FKTs and its variations, more extreme events, many more races) rather than much new emerging. So I didn’t bother for 2015.

Also the visuals are also mostly more of the same, so let’s go with this German band the name of which celebrates the subject of one of the trends that haven’t caught on, maybe never were, who is to say, all this trend watching business is as much goat entrails/rorschach blots/coffee grounds/man-in-the-moon illusion as anything else, anyways (if you can find three examples of something you can call it a trend– quote about journalists from a stand-up comedian I really like, Steward Lee).

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booming Shanghai

The China blog of the Asia Society just published a piece on the Dramatic Urbanization in China Over Decades. This is a partial reblog.

Twenty-six years ago, only 26 percent of the Chinese population lived in urban areas. Since then, China’s urbanization rate has risen to almost 56 percent, meaning hundreds of millions of people have packed themselves into the country’s 662 cities. As Jamil Anderlini at the Financial Times notes, this is actually thelargest migration of any kind of mammal in history. While these huge numbers convey the scope of China’s transformation, it’s hard to actually imagine what the movement of millions of people looks like. Struck by this idea, Dheera Venkatraman recently traveled across China, putting together a photo series called “Time Traveling in China.”

Most will have seen pictures showing the changing skyline of Pudong:

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Pudong, Shanghai, approximately 1920 source: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7266/26972586975_79053b1cc9_z.jpg

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the best democracy money can buy

a disturbing (but strangely niche) read for anyone interested in what we settle for when accepting that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Haven’t come across much that added anything to this eye-opener that entered my smorgasboard of influences maybe a decade ago. This documentary does.

Its Stanford prison experiment feel makes it painful to watch. What it tells you about democracy even more so. Haven’t seen many stories with so many layers of meaning.

By way of introduction it deserves either a long and thorough analytic expose or silence. Silence seems better, because something visual that leaves me so  speechless can not be embellished by, should not be tarnished with, whatever my petty mind may come up with if I would make the effort.

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visualizing inequality

One of my resources to keep in touch with development debates is Oxfam GB Duncan Green’s From Poverty to Power blog. Apart from his own interesting posts and guest contributions he regularly publishes a Links I Liked post that always contains click-worthy stuff. His latest contained three visualizations that  really did it for me, but at the same time brought a discussion about Wild Ass Guesses (“unreliable guesstimates  and made-up statistics in the public debates on corruption”) on the Global Anticorruption Blog to mind. Visualization is certainly a fancy of mine so here we go.

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street art with a great story

As long back as I can remember, reading about art has been a slightly upsetting experience, one that I therefore not seek out much. Especially explanations of visual art. Their usually arcane character leave me with a sense of inadequacy and stupidity. I’m sure education would help overcome some of this but why bother? It doesn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying art. I love to wander through museums and galleries and let the work do the talking. Sometimes all is quiet, sometimes one or more pieces totally engross me.

Occasionally I come across an explanation that captures my mind. An explanation that makes me look at its subject with close attention. Even if the work itself doesn’t do it for me, I can still appreciate what the artist or the curator, whoever formulated the blurb, intends to share.

Only very occasionally text and visual are so enmeshed that they enhance each other.

I quote the website of the (street) artist, French-Tunisian eL Seed, on this project:

In my new project ‘Perception’ I am questioning the level of judgment and misconception society can unconsciously have upon a community based on their differences.

In the neighborhood of Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, the Coptic community of Zaraeeb collects the trash of the city for decades and developed the most efficient and highly profitable recycling system on a global level. Still, the place is perceived as dirty, marginalized and segregated.

To bring light on this community, with my team and the help of the local community, I created an anamorphic piece that covers almost 50 buildings only visible from a certain point of the Moqattam Mountain.

The piece of art uses the words of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, that said: ‘Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.’

The utterly simple and adequate explanation from Anne Quito’s article on Quartz about this incredible 50-building-wide street art honors Cairo’s trash pickers, really hit home and enhanced my appreciation of the art: The design illustrates the project’s message about shifting points of view.

For more of this guy, visit his website, go to this older piece by Anne Quito, or check out youtube, quite some short videos about him and his projects. Click! It is really worth it!

 

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everest and ego

Nepal 1978, was my first ever time in real mountainscape, other then crossing an occasional pass in the Alps with my parents on our yearly summer pilgrimage to Italian beaches. Saw Everest from Gokyo peak, and very nearly got myself disappeared when crossing the Cho La.  No experience, no gear, no clue. Humbled and deeply affected, returning to Namche, I passed Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler,  sunburned and blistered, descending from their historic first Everest-without-oxygen. I don’t remember how I knew it was them, or how I knew about their climb. But the celebrity-effect of that encounter has been undeniable, ever since. Mention Everest and this absurd sense of entitlement pops up. Entitlement to what is very unclear. Entitlement to it being part of my personal narrative? My previous post was about similar tendencies to claim credit for what is not yours. We’re all posers, imposters, and fabulists.

This film was shot by Leo Dickinson and only very recently uploaded to youtube. It’s the traditional heroic tale of those out to conquer. But for anyone following Himalayan climbing, and especially the Everest dramas, it is instructive to see how very different the scene was three decades ago.

I mention Dickinson because he is another strand in my vacuous claim to this mountain. In 1991, during my stint as trekking agency manager, my company did the logistics for Leo’s second attempt to balloon over Everest. That movie also made it to youtube recently and for me is an icon of another era of heroic adventure. 1978 was a final chapter of more traditional mountaineering, the ballooning was part of a scene of sponsored adventures to be the first to do whatever wild undertaking (the current mainstream is commercial expeditions guiding paying clients up summits – but that may already be morphing into some new form, I’m out of touch).

Obviously the mainstream is not all, and plenty of very different exploits are happening. My intention is not to  armchair criticize mountain tourism. It is to share my embarrassment at these silly attachments, an embarrassment which in itself is silly, because the ego at the centre of it all cannot help it. The attachment needs indeed to be seen for what it is. And not legitimate any foolish behaviour out there. But embarassment about it changes nothing. It just blocks enjoyment of the show. And the show is all there is, however fictious it may be.

I left Nepal with the feeling that these heroic tales were only very partial stories of what was actually going on. My previous post tells you a bit about that. But that doesn’t preclude in any way a sense of entitlement to both of these archetypical tellings, the mountain at their centre, and anything else in there that my mind-body remembers. The popular uprising in 1990 toppling autocratic Nepalese monarchy? Yes, mine.

Which brings me to a contemporaneous example: Lloyd Belcher‘s documentary about Mira Rai has just been released. Check it out!

To wipe away the embarrassment, I have to close with something that I really have no claim to at all, may you enjoy it too:

 

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memes or bodies?

Some will not even get to this first sentence because they think memes are a crock of shit.  I disagree but would argue that one needs both to make something happen. An either or question is the wrong perspective. But that doesn’t imply lack of preference, such indeed is the cognitive make-up of us all, other than the Phineas Gage‘s and Ramana Maharshi‘s. And memes hold most of the floor space in my room of understanding. We individual specimens of the wise species are but conduits for the vast majority of what clouds our consciousness. Active ones, certainly, playing with the marbles, we make plenty connections, mostly silly,  sometimes amazing, some tinkering here,  some bricolage there, an endless chatterbox of horror, discovery, fun, and nonsense. But foremost conduits, not wells of creation. Given that predilection, our need for personal attribution is weird. That’s the portent of the title. I am the first to admit that seeing bodies feels much better than seeing memes. But truth is much more at the memes side. Sure, you still don’t know what I’m talking about, now how’s that for ignoring any writing advice ever given? But you made it this far, so have probably nothing better to do.

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