Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Couch Surfing in the news!

Sedihnya. The gathering yang i never go pulak reporters came :( Thus, my muka not on the news :(

Life: Have couch, will travel (New Straits Times)
An online community of like-minded travellers is hosting visitors for a night or two. SANTHA OORJITHAM finds out how couchsurfing has taken off in Malaysia — and around the world.
“SOFA away! Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?” With apologies to Carole King, twenty-somethings today are putting a new spin on the singer-composer’s Seventies hit. A Tunisian computer science teacher is sleeping on the couch of his host in Shah Alam. A British lawyer has arranged to sleep on a couch in Tokyo. A Malaysian photo researcher was hosted by two writers in Mexico City.

After reading all the positive references, Adida Abdullah (right) agreed to provide a couch to German student Rahel Clormann.

They are among over 1.3 million members of Couchsurfing Group, which claims to be the world’s largest hospitality exchange network. The free, Internet-based project was just a gleam in the eye of American traveller Casey Fenton back in the year 2000.
After finding a cheap flight from Boston to Iceland, he randomly emailed 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking for a place to stay.
More than 50 offered to host him. On the flight home, he began to conceptualise couchsurfing, which was formally launched on New Year’s Day 2004. Its mission: “Participate in creating a better world, one couch at a time.”
“Couchsurfing connects people currently traveling in new areas with regular travelers who are at home and have space to sleep others — be it on a spare mattress, bed, couch or floor space,” explained Jesse Gunsch, a university student in Arizona, United States, who surfed at the home of two Argentinian computer programmers in London last year.
In Malaysia, over 4,000 are registered with Couchsurfing Malaysia Group. Their average age: 29. Not everyone has a spare couch. Those who can’t host visitors offer to meet for a teh tarik or to show them around town. Membership is free but those who want their account verified have to make a donation of at least US$20 (RM70) with their credit cards. A prospective member provides his full name and postal address.

Couchsurfing Group then sends him a postcard with his ID. Members vouch for both hosts and surfers through references on the site (
Before Adida Abdullah agreed to host German student Rahel, she read through all the references (which were positive) and contacted some of them for confirmation. Surfers gather regularly in the 231 countries linked by the group.
In Kuala Lumpur, for example, members meet almost every week, said student Sasha Leong over dinner at a mamak restaurant in Bukit Bintang which attracted members from New Zealand, Britain, Tunisia, Portugal, Latvia, India and Finland.
Members stress that one of the main goals is for the host and surfer to spend time with each other and learn more about each other’s culture. “Some hosts want you to spend a minimum of two nights, because they say one night is not enough to get to know you,” said the Tunisian teacher, Adel Kassah.
Earlier this year, he landed in Istanbul where he spent five nights with his Turkish host before heading to couches in Ankara, Kayseri and Batman. His host enjoyed his company so much that he invited Adel for another four nights on his return.
Photo researcher Lim Paik Yin couldn’t speak a word of Spanish when she landed in Mexico City. If she hadn’t been hosted by fellow surfers, she admitted, “I would have eaten bread and cheese the whole time.” The only plans she had made were to see the Frida Kahlo museum: “For the rest, I fell in with my hosts’ plans. I walked around with them, ate what they ate, talked to them and got to know them.”
Couchsurfers also claim their hosts show them sights off the beaten track. When Leong couchsurfed in Vienna in February this year, her host took her to a “Balkan Party” of Albanians celebrating the first anniversary of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia. The Group provides pointers on being a good host and a good guest — as well as safety tips on how to vet potential hosts and surfers, how to meet (at a cafĂ©, for example, where you can talk first to see if you are comfortable with it) and extra precautions such as emailing the person’s name, address and photograph to a friend.
Voluntary ambassador Mohd Munawar Nurul Amin (one of 12 for Malaysia) adds that moderators remove offensive remarks from the site and will terminate a member’s account “if it is used for politics, aggressive personal attacks, racism or wrongdoing such as stealing, making a business out of couchsurfing or sexual offences”.
In the past two years, he has removed seven members from the group, of whom three were Malaysians, for such offences. (They were all hosts.) But, he stressed, 99 per cent of the experiences were positive. “Like most meet-ups arranged online, it’s as safe as you make it,” added Gunsch.
Women traveling alone should be careful and find other women to stay with, the student advised. “Otherwise it’s really mostly a matter of communicating with your hosts and getting to know them a bit beforehand.”
Leong has met surfers who became members or attended get-togethers for the wrong reasons — to pick up dates or make conquests. But she has had only good experiences surfing with female hosts in Vienna and Frankfurt, and hosting members from Germany and Australia at her parents’ home. And as a cheap way to travel, it’s hard to beat. Her bill for three weeks in Europe was 500 Euros (RM2,500).

Foreign and local couchsurfers gather for a meal in Bukit Bintang.

ierrr. sedih sial :(

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