Myself at Simatai
I want to apologize for the small errors and editing mistakes such as left out words, misplaced punctuation, forgotten plurals, spell check mistakes and the like. I am currently a one man operation, producing a huge volume of material and editing it myself, and this means some small mistakes slip through. Sorry. I stand by the accuracy of the text, with occasional misspelled names, mistyped numbers and statements that have not been properly qualified. If you find a mistake or something that seems a little amiss please let me know.
LEGITIMACY AND EXPERTISE
I am not professor or an expert on the subjects I write about but I have done a fair amount of reading about them. I try to use good sources (see below) and have been doing what I am doing—collecting and organizing information and facts— for several years now and have developed some skill at it. The text is written as factoids in travel guide, magazine and newspaper styles rather than an academic style. I don’t have footnotes and bibliographies but often I list the source under the first fact in each section. When a source is not listed the information can be taken to be a generally accepted fact (often seen in at least two different places) or has been arrived at through observation (direct or second hand through other sources), by common sense or was taken from a newspaper or magazine article that didn’t attribute it.
I have used mostly print sources such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri (a Japanese newspaper), Times of London, International Herald Tribune, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, Sports Illustrated, Atlantic Monthly, Natural History, Archeology magazine, Reuters, AP, Kyodo News, AFP, information from national tourist offices, tourist brochures I have picked up from places I have visited, Lonely Planet Guides, other travel guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
The books I have used have tended to be ones that have information I can apply to several countries such as books about world religions, animals, funeral customs, marriage customs, eyewitness history accounts, the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, The Rough Guide to World Music, Paul Theroux travel books, Daniel Boorstin history books, regional customs and manners books by Nancy Braganti and Elizabeth Devine, The World Almanac, The Guinness Book of World Records, and art and history books for regions such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe.
Most of the stuff I either: snatch off the Internet and then e-mail the source and ask if it is okay to use; 2) take from some place like Wikimedia Commons, in which the “fair use” principal applies; or 3) take from a tourist office or company in which I help promote the place or company the picture is from.
When I started this project in the 1990s I was living in the Washington D.C. area and called every embassy and national tourist office I could find and asked them to send all the information they had—and started with that. Now I collect the newspapers, magazines and books that I listed above and every few months I spend an entire day cutting them up and putting them in piles based on country or region and put the piles into boxes with previous piles, ending up with huge piles of articles. The piles of articles used so far for China and Japan, when added all together, would probably exceed four or five meters in height. It is a crazy system I know but is ultimately easier, more comprehensive and reliable than simply checking blogs and doing Google searches, which I also do.
When I write about a country I divide the piles into culture, economics, government, history, etc. and pick out and write about facts I think are interesting or informative. The information you see in my website has been chosen after sifting through a lot of information. The process is almost more of an act of labor than of writing—but I find it interesting and putting it on the web, I guess, is my way of being productive. More and more I am cutting and pasting sections of articles that I have gotten off the Internet. I am doing this simply because there is so much information out there and to keep up to date means there really isn’t time to sift through all the articles and write about them. One advantage of this approach is that the newer information in my articles is better sourced than before.
To do what I have done for China and Japan for all the countries of the world—along with some topics and subjects that relate to all countries or are important in understanding the world—in my lifetime. With each country I try to collect information that gives insight and understanding into what that country, its people and its environment are all about and organize them under a a range of categories and subcategories. Trying to give a sense of what a country is really like is a very lofty, complicated and multifacted goal and my way of dealing with that is trying to cover a wide range of topics with brief, to-the-point bits of information. I have already done the work for a lot of other countries. It will just take some time to finish them and put them in Internet form.
I am a teacher and writer currently living in Saga, Japan. I was born in the Mojave Desert in California and brought up mostly in Reston Virginia, in the Washington D.C. suburbs. I graduated from Wesleyan University in 1979 and later took courses to be a high school teacher. Over the years I wrote about rock music and had some pieces published in the Washington Post, the NME, The Face and other publications, wrote a guide about sports in the Washington D.C. area, worked construction, did a stint as bike messenger in D.C. but mostly I have worked overseas as an English teacher—at an elementary school in Istanbul, language institutes and a university in South Korea, as a freelancer in Barcelona and for the last 10 years or so running my own little informal schools in Japan. Being an English teacher is not a very high status job but it does allow one to travel around and has given me ample free time to pursue the website project that you see here.
I like traveling but I don't really like tourism. One of the primary motivations for launching this website was to provide the kind of information I wish I had when I was traveling. My trips have included long bicycle trips in South America, Africa and Asia and a half dozen trips to China and lots of two or three week trips here and there. When I am on the road I like to travel rough and fast and pack a lot in. Relaxing just kind of makes me nervous. My approach to this website is similar. I'm ALWAYS working on it much to family's dismay.
If you have any questions or comments please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep in mind though I am no expert and pretty much everything I know is in my articles. When I am asked questions about things outside these articles I am often no better tracking down the information through Google than you would be.
Thanks for your interest, Jeff Hays