Day 5: Plan a world tour of astronomy?

As I mentioned in our very first “Why travel” post, I’m hoping to find some fields that could provide ceaseless technical challenges.  At least for now, Astronomy is a very promising one.

So I posted this question on‘s forum: 

Hi group,

I’m planning an one year world tour with my wife. We’re planning to start from China, go to Austrilia, New Zealand, fly to Chile, Brazil, onto Mexico, US, Canada. From US, fly to Europe and go from north to south from UK to South Africa. What’ll be your recommendation for places to visit or people to meet? I’m definitely trying to visit the Las Campanas Magellan Telescope in Chile. But what else?

Thanks a lot,


Jeff Barton replied pretty quickly with tons of useful information:

For starters, take a look at the book Space Places, which is a photographic tour of observatories and space-science facilities that will give you some ideas.

Not all professional observatories welcome visitors and those who do usually have a set schedule for them. The Keck Visitor’s Center in Hawaii is worth a stop but they keep a strict schedule for tours and outreach nights, so contact them in advance.

In the US, I’m heavily biased in favor of McDonald Observatory in Texas, but I also like to visit Mt. Palomar near San Diego, Griffith Park and Mt. Wilson near Los Angeles and Pasadena — and you certainly should look at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory‘s tour schedule. Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona, and nearby Meteor Crater are nice tours. Sunspot and Apache Point, New Mexico, near Cloudcroft are beautiful places to visit, and the Very Large Array near Socorro is very impressive.

Kitt Peak National Observatory SW of Tucson, Arizona, certainly is not to be missed. The tours there are first rate and observing nights are well worth the cost.

I’ve been to all of the above except the Keck, and can assure you they’re worth the trip — especially if you can arrange your schedule to coincide with their visitor nights. The Smithsonian and National Air & Space Museum I’ve also visited and could have spent a full week there easily. If I were to pick additional US facilities to visit, they’d be Yerkes Observatory and the Marshal Spaceflight Center. Other NASA facilities I’ve visited include the Ames Research Center near Mountain View, CA, and the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston and Apollo museums and research facilities in Clear Lake, TX.

I’ve only visited one site in Europe and that’s Pic du Midi, which is closed when the cloud deck socks in the tramway towers, so make reservations to visit and watch the weather. But the nearby Chamonix ski resort and Mer d’Glas glacier are certainly worth the trip even if you get there and the observatory tours are closed. This is just about the most beautiful place in the world, in my opinion, and well worth the trip.

Use Google and the facility names to find their Web pages and visitor’s schedules.

Boy, this is tons of homework.  But I love it.  Inspired by Jeff’s answers, here are a list of observatories in Australia and New Zealand

Day 6: Goodbye internet; Hello wikipedia dvd

One hour ago, we finished up all the apartment rental paperwork with the owner. Telephone and internet access will be turned off within 24 hours. Then we will start moving all the books, furniture and electronics to a friend’s apartment, visit parents and apply visa.  

Time to say goodbye to the ‘ubiquitous’ ‘always-on’ internet.  Unplugging has already become a great relief to us software geeks. 

But there is one thing I hope I could always take with us: the wikipedia.  I’m getting most of my knowledges from this website now.  Google for ‘offline wikipedia’ shows that there is a 7.8GB database dump from the live site. There are also all kinds of open source toolkits for this. One I especially love is the python parser called WikiXRay. At last, I ran into this hassle free, no software knowledge required! 2008/9 Wikipedia Selection DVD. Even better, there is a torrent file available with a 72.8KB/s download speed.

I’ll keep posting once I finish the download.

Day 4: veni vidi visa

By visa,  I do not mean the plastic cards that will suck your money out before you realize it.  But the single sheet of paper that will cost you both money,  $50-$200, and tons of paperwork headache just to enter a country.   I know I’m ranting now but I couldn’t help condemning all the artificial barriers that’ll dwarf Mountain Everest.   

For example, we’d like to follow this route as a beginning: Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Brazil. 

  • To enter Singapore, you’d enjoy 96-hour “pass through visa” if you hold an airline ticket to Australia or New Zealand. Wow, awesome. So let me apply for Australia first. 
  • To enter Australia, you’ll have to provide your employer’s written permission.  What about an artist or author or a software engineer works on GPL projects who don’t need an employer?  If I am allowed to push one step further, why the hell should everyone on this planet have an employer?  Oh, there is a small line of text saying that a New Zealand visa will be very helpful.  Well, ok, I’m flexible. So let’s try NZ first. 
  • To enter New Zealand, you have to provide the departure date and paid flight ticket as a proof of “intention of leaving“.   This means that we’ll have to buy a flight ticket to Chile before we could even apply for NZ’s visa.  Great, let’s see what Mr. Chile has to say. 
  • To enter Chile, you MUST provide the original “physical” copy of ‘invitation letter’ from Chile.  Physical! Even better, the invitation letter has to be approved by Chile government first.  What if we don’t know someone in Chile?  What if we just want to see the famous Magellan Telescope in Las Serena?   Fine, let’s fly from NZ direct to Brazil then.
  • To enter Brazil, baby, you’ll have to pay a travel agency to do it for you.  Individuals can not apply directly.  Period.  

Great! Perfect!! What a carefully designed chain of visa application.   If Julius Caesar  lives today, he’ll have to say “visa veni vidi”.  

“Before you come and see, Mr. Caesar, may I take a look at your visa first?”


2008年12月28日 晴











房子的交通便利,处在地铁一号线木樨地和军博站之间,距离两站步行都只有5分钟的时间。在建的地铁9号线也从军博经过,可以直达白石桥,中关村,颐 和园。 公交车方面,除了长安街沿线1,4路,802,52路外,还有直达雍和宫的13路,直达上地和中关村的特6和717,727。

房子地理位置也非常好,距离首都博物馆和中华世纪坛也仅为步行7分钟左右时间,背面隔一条马路就是北京市区最大的八一湖和玉渊潭公园,月票4元就可 以搞定。 周围购物的天客隆,美廉美,长安商场都在10分钟之内。几步路就有吃饭的地方,便宜的有军委干休所食堂,金驼饺子城,贵的有茂林居和紫鑫饭店。

房子两居,76平米,卧室一间正南,一间朝东(可以看到中央电视台和世纪坛)。 两个朝南封闭阳台。木地板,家具齐全,房东可以提供电器。有线电视,上网ADSL和电话都齐全。邻居都是研究院里的职工家属,非常安静。楼内有24小时电 梯,屋内有24小时有热水。 暖气非常好,并且已经包含在房费中。 客厅和两居里都有空调。

我们是这间的房客,从04年一直住到现在,与房东关系很好。因为最近要离开北京,所以受房东所托再将房子出租出去。 希望房客诚实可靠,生活习惯良好,房费须年付。 2500的价钱在这个附近大约只能租到80年代的矮层, 而且还是“普通”装修,所以抱歉不能再还价了。





Day 2 & 3: Great friends

You know you’ve got real great friends when you received responses like this:

From Adrian:


… …

I really identify with your feeling of wanting to find that burning passion.
It’s what has driven me in the past 3 years to work on Idapted. At times
it’s at boiling point from the moment I wake to when I collapse in bed (and
then when I’m dreaming) at other times I may even wonder if it has left me
momentarily. No matter how I feel however, deep inside I know that this is
what I want to do and that I’ll have regrets in life if I didn’t give it my
best shot and 300% at trying to make it happen.

Having to make choices is difficult and deciding to put a start up at the
center of my life definitely played a part in us eventually breaking up.
However I believe that was the right choice at that time and it still is
for the stage of life I am in. The important thing was that when it
came to that decision while we were both
upset we didn’t hurt each other in a way that we couldn’t be friends again.

… …

But back on the road to discovering yourself; seeing what the world has to
offer could be one of the most life turning things you can do. I’ve been
fortunate in my life to have had two chances to do this. First when I came
to China in 97 – quite possibly without that experience I would never have
the opportunity to have China be such a great part of my life. Secondly when
I went to do my MBA – meeting so many incredible people, listening to their
stories, getting inspired and helping me decide what to do next.

You have a great deal of drive, tenacity and intellect – which will make you
successful no matter what you put your mind to. However I really look
forward to that time when you find that thing which you are passionate about
because I’ve no doubt then you’ll change an industry be it spaceflight or

While it’s only been recently that I have got to know you better; I hope we
have more opportunities. I’ll be here for a while and so perhaps when you
feel like doing the Beijing marathon we can chat more over long weekend
training runs =p.

Good luck and cheers to that next chapter of life which starts in the 30’s!

From Walter:

Your decision to turn down all job offers and “see the world” with Z is good news for me since that maximizes my chances of seeing you again in the near future. It is praiseworthy that you amassed enough money to be able to fund your “one year luxury journey”. Only a miniscule portion of the world’s people can make that claim. Nothing is 100% predictable but I believe that you and Z will never regret this momentous decision.
… …
How can I help you?

From Marco, I really love this keep-pushing-it-until-it’s-done type of dude:

As always we will continue to look for good artist and strategy
thinkers to join us. And u r certainty welcome whenever u change your
… …
I have decided to keep you updated with this project, in case you change your mind.
… …
you are making us to want u even more now. So, this will be an open offer until you finish your vacation.

From Phil:

Sounds like a great idea! Which countries are you travelling to? And when do you start?

I think we will be able to make this work remotely. As long as you avoid traveling to countries on our side of the Digital Divide for the first few months so you’ll have access to Internet and can communicate daily about the project until we complete it. Who knows, maybe we can finance your entire trip around the world by sending you more work like this if things go well with the insurance project.


2008年12月26日 晴








Day 1: Why travel?

To turn down all the great job offers is unthinkable. To spend all 10 years saving in traveling around the world is, well, simply crazy.  So why travel?

Here is a letter I sent to one of the friends explaining this:

Thanks for the offer but I don’t think I should take it.

Besides the salary, I really appreciate the trust you have put into.  I’ve spent lots of time in the past 30 days, talking to people, getting introduced to potential opportunities.  The more I see, the more confused I found myself.  It’s not because there are no super smart people to work with. Just that I am not sure I want to continue with the life as it is.

The work as I see it, starts by understanding the techniques, then spending years and years refining the skills until getting to the master level. This could take a very long time. Until now, my deepest urge for work comes from the interests in the business of software.  I’ve done pretty well in software development, and I have confidence that I could do equally well in product design and marketing side. But deep in my heart, these things no longer excites me anymore.  It could no longer provide the burning passion like it does in the past 10 years.  For now, I can’t accept your job offer since I’m afraid that somewhere in the middle of the venture, I’ll have to choose between upsetting the best friends of mine and pressing myself till implosion.  A tough situation I don’t want to get exposed to.

My wife and I have decided to spend one year to travel around the world.  To begin a luxury long journey for discovery.  To know more about ourselves, To meet people and see what they’re working on.  To start finding something that is challenging enough to provide continuous stream of passion for the rest of my life.

Zephyr and I have had this thought for a long time, but we’re always waiting for a ‘better’ chance to do so, “when we have more money or more time” as we always told ourselves. This job finding process made me realize that now is the best time to start.  Both of us have passed the age of 30.  I could sense a long list of mundane burdens lurking on the landscape: to have a baby or two, to get mortgage for a apartment, to buy a car, to support our beloved parents.  Having a baby just like a little myself will be a lot of fun, bu if it’s at the cost of spending many years treat work only as a work, that’ll be awful.

So our plan is to take one year off to do so. After that, we’ll have to decide what to do and take whatever responsibility we have to shoulder.  This won’t be a retreat from modern society, but a journey to look for a better life, to become a better man and woman.  One year is how long our saving can carry us over. We may take some temporary jobs to get some financial support, but more importantly as a window to get to know other people, or a device to hide the traveler identity in order to stay closer to the local life.  And I’m not expecting this to be an easy trip, budget for food and lodge will be quite limited, but the difficulty of finding that magic stream of passion in one single year is simply much harder.

Right now, Astrology, spaceflight, the Universe, especially the Mars Rovers related projects seems to be quite enchanting.  If our budget allows, I’ll definitely check out more on these areas.  Just in case of whatever place or people you think I should see or meet, please let me know.

We haven’t decided when to start yet, but it shouldn’t take too long. If things go well, that’ll be before the Chinese New Year.