Online Connections from Asia:
Frequent Asia traveler relies on experience and bare wires to keep his laptop online

John Child was an MIS director for a major US consulting firm before opening Friends in High Places, the US arm of a Nepalese trekking company. So naturally John is not shy when it comes to finding or wiring a modem connection during his frequent trips through Nepal and India.

John is based outside Boston, but Roadnews.com caught up with him in Kathmandu to conduct an Email interview about computing conditions on the Indian subcontinent.

What do you use your computer for while on the road?

Email is critical to my adventure travel business. The ability to send and receive faxes comes in a pretty close second. Email is easy once I have a connection and I use a business service that holds and forwards faxes on demand. I also surf the Web, but not that often at the prices one pays for local net access here in Asia — and especially not if I have to direct dial the US.

I write and keep my calendar on my computer, do video phone with friends (CUSeeMe), and even prepare advertising and flyer layouts when I need to, even though it really taxes my aging computer.

Every letter, business file, proposal, or Email I’ve handled since late 1984 is in the machine, along with some 500 photos of Nepal and India I’ve taken.

What type of computer do you travel with?

My road box is a PowerBook Duo with Apple’s internal modem. It’s old and slow, but faithful and reliable. The plastic palmrest and key caps are worn pretty much smooth from use. I’m sure any modern laptop, Mac or PC, would do as well or better as my PowerBook, but there still aren’t many machines as light and convenient to carry.

How do you connect to the world?

I use local Internet Access Providers in India and Nepal, where I have "home bases," and I do the "phone home" game when necessary.

What providers do you use?

In the US I use TIAC (Web: http://www.tiac.com). In Nepal I use Mercantile Office Systems (Email: kgautam@mosnepal.ernet.in). In India I use the state monopoly, VSNL (Web: http://www.vsnl.net.in/business.html).

In which country that you travel to is it easiest to go online?

I find that India, Nepal, and Thailand are all about the same. They all present a multitude of phone line plugs, including US modular jacks (RJ11). I find that a phone wire with one end that terminates in bare wires solves most of my more difficult connection problems.

I do find that Nepal can be a bit more difficult, just because there are a lot of places with no phones.

What gadgets do you travel with for making connections?

I’m not fond of acoustic couplers. Often I simply use a screwdriver and bravery. And I always use a little gadget made by IBM called a Modem Saver. It checks the phone line or jack before use. It has three little lights. One lights up if everything is ready for a connection. Another lights up to tell me I have the wires reversed. A third warns me if there is too much current in the lines that may harm my modem. If no lights light up, then I know I haven’t connected to the right wires and I try again.

I also carry a few electric and phone line adapters.

What else do you travel with?

I now carry a Nikon Coolpix digital camera/notepad/audio recorder with me everywhere. It’s an awesome convenience to be able to record an idea or someone’s voice or a sight quickly. And the box lets you connect the audio, digital ink, and image together for documentation, and to play it back on a TV or download it by SCSI connector to a computer.

What tricks have you developed to deal with special circumstances?

I never hesitate to try whatever it takes to make it work. I find that most people in developing countries will let you use their electrical outlet or phone jack if you are polite when you ask and you let them look at the computer while you use it.

Have you ever had problems getting your laptop through customs?

Most places just aren’t clever enough to find a laptop as small as the Duo. And I always carry a clipboard made of metal just behind the laptop. This makes the computer look less computerish during X-ray customs checks.

And when asked, "Do you have a computer?" I look wistful and say "No" with a big sigh.

John Child runs Friends in High Places from Cambridge, MA, USA, organizing adventure travel to Nepal, Tibet, and India. He can be reached at john@fihp.com. You might also wish to check out his Web site at http://www.fihp.com. With original water colors and John’s own photos, it is surely one of the most beautiful Web sites on the Internet

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