Tag: Thailand

Further travels with Natalie

Natalie returns with her second travel installment.

Almost a month ago, the 18th March to be exact, I introduced Natalie Derham-Weston:

Those who take a close interest in this place (you poor, lost souls!) will have noticed from time to time me posting items that have been sent to me by Bob Derham. He and I first met when we were both based in Larnaca, Cyprus in the late 80’s/early 90’s and we have remained good and close friends ever since.

Natalie is Bob’s beautiful daughter and recently contacted me to ask if she might offer a guest post on her traveling experiences. Natalie has ambitions to be a travel writer and, as you are about to see, would make an excellent one.

On that day Natalie presented the first installment of her travel blog. It was very well received by you good people. Many of you left great comments.

Thus it is with great pleasure that I present Natalie’s next travel  installment.

ooOOoo

Travel Blog: Installment 2: Laos

After having set the standard so high in Thailand, there was a lot riding on our following section of the journey. However before moving on to Laos, the logical next step and easiest route to take, we had a few metaphorical “bridges” to cross. Looking back, the process seems an enormous chore but at the time we didn’t question the operation. Although tiredness did sometimes set in heavily, Hannah and I had to mentally overcome this and remind ourselves how this beat office day jobs hands down.
Our last evening in Thailand was spent in Chang Mai. After some deliberation and consulting of maps and Google facilities, we booked a slow boat trip down to Mekong to take us into Laos. The evening was then free to be spent at our leisure. Pre-travelling I was naïve, and perhaps still am. Though even I had heard tell of the Thai “lady boys” and we had the greatest pleasure of spending an afternoon in their company after having looked lost and forlorn at a cross roads and took up their offer of a pool side beer. They spoke openly about their choice to change gender and what they had to undergo. This meeting was purely circumstantial but very memorable all the same. After this curious incident we caught up in town with a friend I had been to school with in South Africa. Carmen was in Thailand teaching English and had an evening to spare, which was such a lovely chance to assemble and to chew the fat as some may say.
On our wander back to our hostel we happened to bump into Nadine, a girl we had met previously on an overnight train. This is one of my most favourite parts of travelling, crossing paths with friends, having had no plans and no inkling of the others location.
The following morning consisted of some organising, dollars had to be sourced for the Laos border and check out was an early evacuation, drying our towels on the outside of our bags and heaving them downstairs to be left for the later pickup. In the meantime, we bought up some supplies to support us through the epic bus journey that we had to embark upon that afternoon. Fortunately, these snacks barely amounted to anything, and certainly made a welcome change to our expensive sandwiches and bottles of water back in the UK!
Our bus was a 7 hour journey, taking us through minute villages and stopping at temples along the way. One in particular stood out, which was pure white. The only colour was a singular red nail on a hand protruding from a statue of swarming limbs surrounding the building.
That night was our first sighting of the vast Mekong, a fast flowing murky, brown mass of water with grassy banks and elephants grazing alongside. Children were running down to the shore to bathe and play and generally splash around as much as was possible.
Our accommodation had been part of the ticket and so was basic to say the least. Dinner went untouched due to the extensive family of flies feasting on it. In the morning, the pre stated time of 8:30 got blown out the window and there was a quick panic to depart at 8. After yet more busses, there was a process in place at the border for visa stamps and signing of papers. The long queues were hot and felt much longer than they probably were.

At another stop we convened with a load of other tourists. At this point it dawned on us that neither Hannah nor I had any local currency, which was apparently an issue. So the solution to this was for me to jump on the back of a bike belonging to a tour guide within the group and find the nearest ATM and hope for the best. I sauntered back with 500,000 kip, the equivalent of about £50, and felt very wealthy! 12 of us were stuffed into an open tuktuk, with our bags precariously perched on top and sent down a steep slope to a load of boats tied up, surrounded by pigs in baskets, goats running lose and a huge swarm of blue butterflies milling around the general vicinity.

Nobody seemed able to direct us to the correct boat so after half an hour of debating and questioning, we finally got some sense out of someone and all started to engross ourselves into a comfortable fashion on a long boat. The seats had previously been in a minibus by the looks of them but made for a relatively pleasant crossing. We exhausted every possible game we could think of, including eye spy and cards and took to gazing out the open windows at the scenery, with our legs dangled over the side, dozing in the sun.
Late afternoon time saw us arriving at our overnight spot, a very small village, running solely on the likes of us, temporary tourists. Our newly made friends were mainly from Europe and we stuck together choosing a hostel on the hillside and later all enjoyed a joint dinner out. I remember this being 79,000 kip = £6.50 and what I thought was fantastic value! The shower back at the hostel was nonexistent so I made do with crouching underneath an outside tap arrangement. As it was Easter Sunday, I took some time to have a phone call back home and caught up on the news of England.
The next day entailed an 8 hour boat journey further down the Mekong into the town of Luang Prabang. Still in our group, we found a local bus into the main high street and found our hostel. We ended up in a mixed dorm with a Japanese man we had shared a bus with a few days prior, who made us endless origami frogs, two Dutch girls we had met in Pai and some others from the boat.
We had a quick nap and were out again that evening to try out the local foods and to witness the night market. I added to my collection of foreign art work with a bright Buddha head painting and some more elephant trousers. These really are the way forward, they are light, don’t crease, are breezy and make long journeys far more pleasurable. The food stalls were a sight to behold, full of black eggs, chicken intestines, heads and feet so I opted for some fresh looking fruit. Later we sat as a huge group at a popular bar called Utopia and as happens when travelling, skipped the polite introductions and befriended each other quickly. This is another part of the whole “travel” life that I appreciate. Nobody judges on mundane things that don’t matter, people just seem to mould more easily and quicker.
In the next couple of days we visited waterfalls and woke up at 5 am to witness the “Giving of Alms”. This is a procession of monks who come to receive gifts of food. We found bookshops and read on recliners overlooking the Mekong. It felt like a world away from parents and friends back home.

Collectively, our group made the decision to bus to Vang Vieng shortly after. The main attraction of this town is “tubing”, an activity for the brave and resilient. An all day drinking marathon down the river in rubber rings. I can’t deny, it was fun. The weather was glorious, and everybody was in good spirits. At each stop down the river, we were pulled in by event staff and were given bracelets (this became an obsession with some of us over our travelling time. Some sort of victorious achievement was to have as many travel bracelets as possible.)
The quick interlude in this popular backpacker location included much watching of ‘Friends’, a tradition even cited in the Lonely Planet books. Although after a couple of days, we craved some more brain stirring activities and more cultural action. So again, we took a bus to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, holding up the piles of bags in the back of the bus and awaited our next mode of transport into our next country…

ooOOoo

Please, all of you, wherever you are, have a wonderful weekend.

Our broken ways.

Our many broken ways!

Introspection warning! Long rant from me!

On the 21st., I published a post Be in peace this day! It was noting this year’s International Peace Day.  One of the comments left by Patrice Ayme, in response to an earlier comment from Alex Jones, was this:

Alex: I read your message, and I approve it. Very well put. As Lord Keynes said: ”In the end, we are all dead.” Death seems pretty violent to me. Yet, one can live with it, and embrace it, because, as there is no choice, we may as well.

War is not anymore a problem than peace is. What matters most is the harmony of the society with the environment, not strife within. Plutocrats have unbalanced the environment, so they should be reduced, and that means war, because peace certainly will not reduce them.

Force is the truth of man. Everything else is delusion, even the vegetarian style.

To which I replied:

Patrice, as much as I deeply respect your intellect, I fundamentally am at odds with the sentiments you express. But rather than hide behind a short reply that few will read and even fewer take notice of, I’m going to write a post exploring my reactions in detail. As always, your comments are welcomed.

This, then, is that post.

But where oh where to start?  Perhaps by me setting out this general premise.

Wherever one looks, it seems there are examples of madness bordering on the criminally insane.

In so many ways and at so many levels we are running the very real risk that by 2050 the end of this present era of human civilisation by the end of the century will be unavoidable.  Ergo: Born after 1980? Then brace yourself for the end times.

The only solution is to adopt the core values of humanity.  Very soon!

So on to a few examples of the present madness (and I would be the first to admit that I am, perhaps prejudicially, inclined to see the darkness of our present times).

First: Climate Change

The recent IPCC report made it clear that climate change is most likely a result of man’s activities on this planet.  As the summary for policy makers says (selected extracts):

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

and

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.

and [my emboldening]

Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes (Figure SPM.6 and Table SPM.1). This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.

George Monbiot in his blog on The Guardian newspaper, wrote:

Former Irish President, Mary Robinson.
Former Irish President, Mary Robinson.

But denial is only part of the problem. More significant is the behaviour of powerful people who claim to accept the evidence. This week the former Irish president Mary Robinson added her voice to a call that some of us have been making for years: the only effective means of preventing climate breakdown is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Press any minister on this matter in private and, in one way or another, they will concede the point. Yet no government will act on it.

As if to mark the publication of the new report, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has now plastered a giant poster across its ground-floor windows: “UK oil and gas: Energising Britain. £13.5bn is being invested in recovering UK oil and gas this year, more than any other industrial sector.”

The message couldn’t have been clearer if it had said “up yours”. It is an example of the way in which all governments collaborate in the disaster they publicly bemoan. They sagely agree with the need to do something to avert the catastrophe the panel foresees, while promoting the industries that cause it.

It doesn’t matter how many windmills or solar panels or nuclear plants you build if you are not simultaneously retiring fossil fuel production. We need a global programme whose purpose is to leave most coal and oil and gas reserves in the ground, while developing new sources of power and reducing the amazing amount of energy we waste.

But, far from doing so, governments everywhere are still seeking to squeeze every drop out of their own reserves, while trying to secure access to other people’s. As more accessible reservoirs are emptied, energy companies exploit the remotest parts of the planet, bribing and bullying governments to allow them to break open unexploited places: from the deep ocean to the melting Arctic.

And the governments who let them do it weep sticky black tears over the state of the planet.

The BBC News website published some reactions from notable people.  Take this one:

Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester

What has changed significantly since the last report is that we have pumped an additional 200 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Annual emissions are now 60% higher than at the time of the first report in 1990 and atmospheric CO2 levels are the highest they have been for over two million years.

So what are we doing in the UK to help reverse this reckless growth in emissions? Record levels of investment in North Sea oil, tax breaks for shale gas, investment in oil from tar sands and companies preparing to drill beneath the Arctic.

Against this backdrop, the UK Treasury is pushing for over 30 new gas power stations, whilst the government supports further airport expansion and has dropped its 2030 decarbonisation target – all this alongside beleaguered plans for a few wind farms and weak energy efficiency measures. Governments, businesses and high-emitting individuals around the world now face a stark choice: to reduce emissions in line with the clear message of the IPCC report, or continue with their carbon-profligate behaviour at the expense of both climate-vulnerable communities and future generations.

OK, let’s move to another example of our collective madness.

Second: The way we treat the natural wildlife.

Last Thursday, the New York Times published an item about a recent report confirming the terrible cost to our wildlife of fragmenting their habitat.  Here are the opening paragraphs, including the leading photograph in that NYT piece.

In Fragmented Forests, Rapid Mammal Extinctions

27zimmer-articleLarge-1
An isolated forest in the Chiew Larn reservoir. A Thai government project to supply hydroelectric power to the area transformed 150 forested hilltops into islands. ANTONY LYNAM
By CARL ZIMMER
September 26, 2013

In 1987, the government of Thailand launched a huge, unplanned experiment. They built a dam across the Khlong Saeng river, creating a 60-square-mile reservoir. As the Chiew Larn reservoir rose, it drowned the river valley, transforming 150 forested hilltops into islands, each with its own isolated menagerie of wildlife.

Conservation biologists have long known that fragmenting wilderness can put species at risk of extinction. But it’s been hard to gauge how long it takes for those species to disappear. Chiew Larn has given biologists the opportunity to measure the speed of mammal extinctions. “It’s a rare thing to come by in ecological studies,” said Luke Gibson, a biologist at the National University of Singapore.

Over two decades, Dr. Gibson and his colleagues have tracked the diversity of mammals on the islands. In Friday’s issue of the journal Science, they report that the extinctions have turned out to be distressingly fast.

“Our results should be a warning,” said Dr. Gibson. “This is the trend that the world is going in.”

On a similar theme, many will recall my post back on the 19th, Pity the bees; pity us when I drew attention to the drastic reduction in the numbers of wild bees, including the quote  “the vanishing honeybee could be the herald of a permanently diminished planet.

Guard their future - and ours!
Guard their future – and ours!

Third: Money and power.

Again from The New York Times but this time an essay by Paul Krugman.

OP-ED COLUMNIST

Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted

By 

Published: September 26, 2013

Robert Benmosche, the chief executive of the American International Group, said something stupid the other day. And we should be glad, because his comments help highlight an important but rarely discussed cost of extreme income inequality — namely, the rise of a small but powerful group of what can only be called sociopaths.

For those who don’t recall, A.I.G. is a giant insurance company that played a crucial role in creating the global economic crisis, exploiting loopholes in financial regulation to sell vast numbers of debt guarantees that it had no way to honor. Five years ago, U.S. authorities, fearing that A.I.G.’s collapse might destabilize the whole financial system, stepped in with a huge bailout. But even the policy makers felt ill used — for example, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, later testified that no other episode in the crisis made him so angry.

And it got worse. For a time, A.I.G. was essentially a ward of the federal government, which owned the bulk of its stock, yet it continued paying large executive bonuses. There was, understandably, much public furor.

So here’s what Mr. Benmosche did in an interview with The Wall Street Journal: He compared the uproar over bonuses to lynchings in the Deep South — the real kind, involving murder — and declared that the bonus backlash was “just as bad and just as wrong.”

OK, that’s enough ‘copying’ from me so please go and read more about the plight of those poor billionaires.  But if the NYT and Paul Krugman will forgive me, here’s the paragraph towards the end of the Krugman essay that makes me sick [my emboldening]:

The thing is, by and large, the wealthy have gotten their wish. Wall Street was bailed out, while workers and homeowners weren’t. Our so-called recovery has done nothing much for ordinary workers, but incomes at the top have soared, with almost all the gains from 2009 to 2012 going to the top 1 percent, and almost a third going to the top 0.01 percent — that is, people with incomes over $10 million.

(Patrice Ayme has a parallel essay over at his blog.)

Staying with the struggles of our billionaires for a moment longer, try the recent report on Bloomberg about the recent Monaco Yacht Show that included this:

As the yacht size has stretched — this year saw the launch of a record-holding 590-footer called the Azzam — so has the list of distractions onboard. Soaking in a jacuzzi, shooting hoops on a floating court or playing a baby grand Steinway piano no longer cut it.

“There is a change in attitude of super-yacht owners,” said Bert Houtman, founder and chairman of the Netherlands-based U-Boat Worx, surveying two of his submarine models on display quai-side in Monaco. “They’re fed up with drinking white wine and riding jet skis so they’re looking for another thrill.”

later including:

“A lot of guys who are billionaires have profound financial accomplishments and are now concerned about their legacy,” said Deppe. (Marc Deppe, Triton Subs vice-president of sales and marketing.)

It’s enough to make one weep!

Fourth: Politicians and governments not serving their peoples.

Making this my last example.  Simply because a recent item published on Naked Capitalism had so much detail on what is wrong with our leaders; in this particular case regarding the American Affordable Care Act (ACA).  This is how the article opens:

ObamaCare’s shameful and lethal three-year history — and future

Many people, and especially Obama supporters, characterize the ACA (ObamaCare) as “just starting” or a “work in progress” and then go on to urge that the program will have “glitches,” needs to be “tweaked,” isn’t yet “fully implemented,” and so forth. We think it’s a mistake to see the ACA as just starting. We also think it’s a mistake not to weigh the costs of ObamaCare’s stately three-year progress toward partial coverage for the the American people, and just as important to weigh the opportunity costs.

The ACA was passed in March 2010, incorporating many features designed to meet Republican objections to the Bill. Yet, in the end, Democrats never put Medicare for All on the table, abandoned the public option and many other features, and did not get a single Republican vote in either chamber.

The Democrats even saw to it that the bill was fiscally neutral over a 10 year projection at a time when the tanked economy needed more deficit spending and the jobs that would have brought. And to do that, they postponed implementation of most of the bill for more than three years, until now, allowing people to go without care, to die, to divorce, and to lose their homes or go bankrupt due to medical bills, just so they could argue that the bill was fiscally neutral. In gauging the record of the bill, these 3 to 3.5 years of waiting for its implementation and their real costs to the people of the United States must be taken into account.

It also must be taken into account that in the year before the ACA was passed there were some 45 million Americans uninsured, and they were dying at the rate of 1,000 more for every million than in the general population. That is, lack of insurance was causing more than 45,000 fatalities per year. (The cost of those deaths in money terms: $1.38 trillion).

This is how the article closes [my emphasis]:

That’s what we’ve lost by not trying to pass HR 676 and by trying instead to take a bipartisan insurance company conciliation approach to passing the ACA. This post, gives the total for the anticipated opportunity cost by comparing Romney’s 2012 alternative to the ACA, the baseline of no reform at all, the ACA, and Medicare for All over the period 2010 – 2022. Bottom line: the ACA is projected to cost 286,500 lives through 2022, assuming no change. That’s a lot better than the baseline and a lot better than Romney’s 2012 alternative. But it’s still terrible compared to what we might have had if we had a President who really represented people rather than Wall Street.

What if an effort to pass HR 676 had failed in 2009 because too many Democrats in the Senate defected to pass it? Well, I think this would have been very unlikely with the very large Democratic majority and the popularity of the president at its height, but even if it would have failed, then the Democrats could still have compromised with members of their party to pass enhanced Medicare for All for everyone under 26 and over 45, or under 26 and over 50, or whatever compromise would have moved those wayward Democrats up to the 50 vote mark. Such a compromise bill would still have lowered the fatalities substantially by providing insurance for those who needed it most and by enhancing the Medicare program for seniors (full coverage and no co-pays). It would also have been something Democrats could have run on and built upon in each successive election year, rather than having to defend the sorry ACA with its package of inadequate goodies, silly mandate, IRS enforcement, high cost for lousy coverage, and Rube Goldberg eligibility determination. Again there would have been no Tea Party, because Tea Partiers like Medicare, and there would have been no Republican nationwide sweep in 2010, no gerrymandering, no voter suppression, no anti-woman bills, and none of all the rest of the nonsense we’ve seen because the Democrats did what they did.

Earlier in the post I offered a general premise that included, “Wherever one seems to look there are examples of madness bordering on the criminally insane.

To my mind, these examples support that premise. Trust me, there are countless more examples.

So what to do?  Because I am fundamentally at odds with the sentiment expressed by Patrice Ayme; “Force is the truth of man. Everything else is delusion, even the vegetarian style.

The answer takes us to tomorrow’s post, A return to integrity.

And, yes, it does mention dogs!  Rather a lot as it happens!