Thursday, 15 December 2011

Live Longer—and have a Happy Life

In reality, I cannot guarantee either of these, tomorrow or even right now—as you are reading this you might be hit by a meteor or suffer some other fatal accident—however, in this blog post I will provide to you my condensed and distilled advice on how to have the greatest probability of living a long, healthy and happy life—baring accident or misfortune! 

Nothing here is rocket science, these ideas have been pieced together by me from many sources. Read, think, and modify your behaviour.

Social and political side note: 
The western world faces an ever growing health care burden. Much has been said about how to deal with this. The simplest and cheapest is to encourage people not to get sick. Humans have a maximum life expectancy of 125 or thereabouts. This assumes no genetic problems and no accidents, illness or disease. Only a handful of people will be able to reach this, but the advice given here will allow you to maximise your potential lifespan, and, more importantly, maximise your quality of life.

This is easy. Is there anything dumber than smoking? It kills you. Simple. You are paying good money to multi-national corporations to kill you. Kill you slowly, painfully, and at great medical cost. I could list all the medical conditions smoking causes, but why bother? You will have heard of them by now. Don’t smoke. If you do you are throwing your life away. You are setting a bad example for your children, your family, your friends. If you smoke you are dumb, stupid, a bad person, a bad citizen. If you smoke, and don’t stop, stop reading right here. Nothing will help you.

Don’t drink alcohol. None. Some people will say that drinking in moderation is good for your health. Take these claims with a grain of salt, and also put them into context. Many activities benefit your health (as you will soon see). Do these, not drinking. Alcohol is a toxic chemical. It will accelerate your ageing and screw you up in many ways—heart disease, cancer, immune system failure—and mental health. Keep you body and brain in shape, don’t drink. 
There are many alternatives to alcoholic drinks. Social occasions do not require alcohol to have an enjoyable time, rather the reverse. If you feel that you need booze to relax or to be happy, you need to seriously reconsider your life.

Sex is good for you. Sex reduces stress, generates good brain chemicals, boosts the immune system, and reduces the risk of heart attack. I could go on with this, but Sex Is Good For You. You get the idea.

Here is the big one. You cannot live for a day in the world and not hear or read about diet. There are books and advice aplenty. Arguably, diet is the basis of all other health advice. Eat well and you are 1/2 way there. 

Advice and tips:
Eat lots of fruit and veg, low fat meat (or no meat), unprocessed foods, avoid sugar. Try not to eat late at night. Avoid snacks, or if when you do, eat healthily. Avoid saturated fats, these are found in red meat and dairy products, eat monounsaturated fats, these are found in olive, peanut and canola oils. No soda drinks, ever, conversely, water, drink frequently. Herbs and spices, throw lots into your cooking: garlic, turmeric, chili--go wild, mix and match. Do not overeat.

A few good things. Green tea, excellent for your health, anti-oxidants and good for the brain.

Another biggee. Simple enough. Exercise is good for you. Exercise reduces your health risk, it increases your general health, energy levels, weight, sleep, immune system, and your longevity. The correct exercise regime for each of us varies depending on our health, age and other factors, but go for a mix, and look to change over time. Use weights, peddle a bike or a stepper—get that heart working. Three sessions a week of 45 minutes, getting your heart above 75% of its maximum, will be what you will need. 

How to exercise?
The simplest and most obvious is to hit the gym. Everything you need is there, and a gym membership is not that expensive. Take a look around, find a gym near your home or work and take it from there. Most gyms will offer you a few free visits to allow you to try out the place. Personal trainer? Some people swear by a personal trainer. They can help, certainly if you are starting from scratch. A trainer will help you develop good technique.

If you don’t want the gym, or you are away from home, there are exercises you can do with little or no equipment. Can you do 20 push-ups at a time, 20 situps, 50 star jumps? Try and do 100 repetitions every day. In addition, walk or peddle to work one day a week, take the stairs not the elevator, go for a long walk once a week, run along the beach, soak in some fresh air, and enjoy the scenery.

There are some who say that sleep is the best medicine, and they might be right. The exact amount each person needs each day varies, however, the figure lies between seven and eight hours. Try and get a good nights sleep every night, or as many nights as you can. When possible a nap in the afternoon is good, even half an hour or twenty minutes. An afternoon siesta lowers the risk of heart attack, and is good for your mental equilibrium.
If you have trouble sleeping—solve that trouble. There is no magic bullet for insomnia, but try these ideas: exercise (see above), no TV, computer or electronic gadgets before bed, no snacking before bed, no work before bed. These are simple suggestions, if they do not work do some research, find the cause and create a solution.

Reading is the all around to do activity. It is good in every way. It opens to the reader new worlds of experience, knowledge and wonder. It exercises your brain, it makes you a better person. Read for entertainment, read for knowledge, read to challenge old ideas and to find new. Red different subjects, new subjects—each year find a new, unexplored topic and read a few books in that field. Know nothing about geology? Start this year.
Consider joining a book club, local or an online club. A club will introduce you to new books, authors, and viewpoints. Think about ebooks rather than paper books. Ebooks are more convenient, consume no space, and there is a huge number of public domain great books awaiting your reading pleasure. Pick up a book today.

Keep a journal, a diary, a list of your travels, create a blog. Write something. Writing is the compliment to reading. It exercises your mind, your creativity, and your tenacity. The act of writing demands concentration, a knowledge of the English language (or your own language) and persistence. Tell the world your story.

Read about your health
Stay up to date with health advice. There is always something extra you can discover, some small piece of good advice that will help you—some small thing to do or to not do. Read good magazines, science journals, talk to knowledgeable people, however, be critical in your acquisition of new knowledge. Have an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out. Avoid fads, question bold claims, seek proof. 

Be Generous
By helping others you help yourself, literally and directly. Giving to others makes you feel better. Altruism boosts your self-confidence, and your sense of self-worth. Humans are social animals, we evolved as community creatures, a sense of returning something to the community that we are part of makes us better people.
Consider donating part of your salary to a variety of worthy causes. I will not list any here, each person’s interests vary, but I suggest a mix of groups, and at least one international. If a monetary donation is not possible then time. Each week or each fortnight spend some time working for a non-profit. You will find it an enjoyable passtime.

Mental exercises. 
Keep your brain active. Essentially—use it or loose it. If you work your brain, keep it exercised and challenged, you will remain mentally healthy for your entire life. If you do not then your brain will shrink to nothing and you will be one more fat, dumbbell, mumbling into their porridge. 
Some mental exercises you can do to keep sharp:
-Play brain teasers. Your choice, there are lots out there.
-Occasionally, use your opposing hand (if you are right handed, use your left hand, and vice versa).
-Break habits, try new ways to do old things—stop using the spell checker, think about that word!
-Do things the hard way, every now and then.
-Don’t look a forgotten fact up, concentrate and force your mind to remember. Put aside for now and stop, concentrate, and dredge that movie name from the recesses of your memory.
-Learn a musical instrument. Even if you are no good, it will stretch those grey cells.
You get the idea, new things, new ways, new challenges. Break out of that comfort space.

This covers a multitude of sins. Wash your hands, carry a small vial of alcohol hand wash. Use it. Far more people die from contaminated meals then are ever killed by lions or tigers (and I am not referring to Apple operating systems), but which do we fear? Our fears are not rational, they were crafted in our brains by evolution on the savannah of Africa. We don’t live there any more. Some people realise this, some don’t.
Bath/shower regularly, clean your clothes, brush your teeth: bacteria = cavities = pain = heart disease. Brush after every meal and floss once a day. 

This could be considered part of mental health, but I feel that hobbies deserve their own listing. They can be and should be an important part of our lives. Most people allow their work and family to dominate their existence, however, for our mental well being we all of us need an escape. Hobbies are that escape. They expose us to new environments, new people, new social networks, and new skills. They stretch our brain and give us a distinct outlook on life. They make us happier, healthier and more knowledgeable. 
Your hobby does not have to be radical or expensive. Anything from photography to coin collecting to nature walking is good. There are many alternatives, find one. And have fun.

Avoid injuries
Is this too simple? No one will die from a terrorist attack, no one will die from a giant meteor whacking the Earth, no one will be shot in a bank holdup—but these are the terrors we fear, or are at least taught to fear. The reality is that more people die in the home than anywhere else, and these folk die of silly accidents: chocking on a hot dog, slipping in the bathtub, falling asleep while smoking (smoking again). It is the seemingly trivial, silly things, which kill most people. I could populate this post with stats, but that is not the point. 

So, what to do? Thinking is a good start. Minimise the risk by exercising good sense and prevention.
Driving, don’t drive while tired or under the influence (drink again)—if your life does not concern you, think of the other people you might kill. Wear sunglasses—UV kills your eyes. Non-slip bath mats. Buy a new ladder. Put on a hat and sunscreen. Install a safety circuit in your meter box. Have a fire extinguisher in the house. Wear appropriate safety gear when performing potentially dangerous activities. And so forth. Think.

The Social side of Life
This covers several related activities. The essence of all of these is to lead an interesting and fulfilled life. To do this lets start with humour.

Humour is the best medicine, so some say, and they are at least partly correct. Stay happy, tell a few jokes, hear a few, and laugh. Laughter will boost your immune system, demolish stress, push away depression, and make your feel better. Don’t take life too seriously. Laugh a little.

Friends. A circle of friends is of great benefit in many ways. We are social animals, we must interact to be fully happy and well. Cultivate around you good people, interesting people, people to both complement and challenge your ideas and thinking. Find worthwhile people outside your work and family, these will provide a different focus for your life and actions, and make your short existence better. 

Travel—the last piece of advice—travel. Travel when you can, either around your town or around the world. Get off the beaten track, and don’t stay in the hotel or resort, get out and meet people—get ripped off, taken to the wrong destination, get lost. Consider all of these vicissitudes a great education in people and a means to hone your survival skills. New environments, new challenges, new languages are all means to expand your mind and make you think new thoughts, to give you a new perspective on your life and society. Break out of the comfort zone. Book a flight tomorrow.

In conclusion
It is easy to give advice, slightly harder to write advice, but it is very difficult to take advice. It is your life, live it how you will, but if you cannot take the time, trouble, nor have the character to change yourself for the better, at least acknowledge the consequences. An unhealthy life means that you will be a burden on society, the health care system, and the people around you. It means that you will have a short life and a low quality life. Think about this reality.

Friday, 28 October 2011

late October/early November—in Pattaya.

My plans were (though they have changed several times this year) were to by now to be in central Thailand, exploring the small and quiet provinces which lie between the bustle of Bangkok and the provincial grandeur of the northern Thai city of Chang Mai, however ... in 2011 (2554 in the Buddhist Era) Thailand has been afflicted with severe floods, first in the south of the country, now in the north. Thus, I am still in the resort city of Pattaya. Not a hardship, but it can be a little wearying for a travelling man.

As at the 28th of October there is no major sign of distress in Pattaya, however, there is little if any bottled water to be purchased in the city. Road transport is being hampered by the floods. Also, there has been an influx of (wealthier) Thais into the city, comfortables refugees from Bangkok. Apart from this, things go on as before in the City on the Bay.

My plan now is to remain here until the end of November, and to then reassess. If I can I will travel north for a few weeks before returning to Australia for year end.

Best wishes for the people of Thailand.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Thailand Floods —mid-to late 2011

I regret to write that Thailand has been suffering the ill effects of flooding for most of 2011. In the first half of the year the southern regions of Thailand were flooded. Now, in the second half, it is the north and central regions that are suffering.

Since the middle of the year the Chao Phraya River, the main river of Thailand, has been carrying an ever increasing amount of water, due to heavier than usual monsoonal rains. This River runs 400kms from central Thailand southwards to and through the capital of the Kingdom, Bangkok, and then discharges into the Gulf of Thailand.

The floods began in the northern province of Chang Mai mid-year, but became serious in the province of Nakhon Sawan—the point of origin of the Chao Phraya River. Since then over 300 people have been killed to date, billions of dollars of damage has occurred as houses, buildings and industrial estates have been flooded. The main roads leading north from Bangkok have been closed to traffic since mid September.

The Thai government and various governmental instrumentalities have taken steps to deal with this situation, however, there have been a number of criticisms of the government. These include accusations that the central government is willing to sacrifice the provinces around Bangkok,  by unreasonably diverting flood water into these provinces, also that the flood prevention and maintenance procedures have been neglected, and an overall lack of planning and expertise.

As at late October it appears as if Bangkok will now be flooded. There is now minor flooding to the north of the city, and the riverbanks along the city have already overflown 10m or more. For a week or so around this time there is a high tide, which decreases the outflow of the River, thus exacerbating the floods.

There have been the usual range of human interest stories. Many people, 100,000s(?) have been displaced and are living in temporary shelters setup at various points in the Kingdom. There are stories of pet crocodiles escaping, though I would expect some of these to be from crocodile farms.

Websites to keep track:

This flood has been described as the most serious in 50 years. Five decades ago Thailand was a very different place, an agricultural nation, with Bangkok a tiny city, with few large buildings. If the capital is severely flooded the economic health of the Kingdom will suffer.

Best wishes.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs RIP

A shock. Steve Jobs was always there. An innovator, a trier of new ideas, a man who pushed. An interesting man for us to watch. A figure. He deserved a longer life. He would have enjoyed watching the next few decades of tech unfold, and been part of it all. A good man. RIP.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Update: Thailand, Bangkok, Pattaya, and Me—early October.

Thailand, Bangkok, Pattaya, and Me—early October.

Sad to say, Thailand is suffering the worst floods in 50 years. Maybe 1/5 of the country is affected, largely the areas to the north of the capital Bangkok, along the Chao Phraya River.

For me, having returned to Thailand from Cambodia, no great problem. Staying in Pattaya, where now, there is no flooding.

Best wishes for the future.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Pack with care.

Most people will take more meds than they need, and never use them.

good habits:
Most people seem to drift through life, repeating endlessly habits and customs, however, as a traveller, this is not for you. You must develope good habits

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

My friend Claire.

Last year I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of my friend and former neighbour Claire. I met Claire when I moved into my new home. She and I were different in outlook, but I could see that she was a good person. We shared an interest in computers, hers was at a complete starting point. To begin she knew nothing, however, over the next few years she mastered the wintel computer and learned to use sophisticated photographic software far better than I ever could. She also taught herself digital photography, mastering the skill, and turning her hobby into a business. She left two sons. You are missed. Claire RIP.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Perfect Hotel Room

Light speed, as we all know thanks to Albert Einstein is something approached asymptotically. The closer we get, the harder the next increment—or to put it another way—perfection is something we can aspire to, but never hope to reach. This is true for space ships, and it is equally true for hotel rooms. In south east Asia I have stayed in everything from one to five stars in a half dozen countries in, but have never found a perfect room. 

However, for your edification, here, I shall outline what I see as a perfect room.

First the basics, for me a room must be clean, and well laid out. In short, what I refer to as a ‘western room’. Something where I feel at home and in which I can relax. Admittedly, much of what makes me feel comfortable is what we I am used to, what I grew up with, but there it is. I am content, in fact, happier with a single room, a ‘standard’ room in hotel parlance, big enough for what I need, small enough to be unburden-some.

And in this room I require the following: 
• bottled water, a good hotel provides a few bottles of water for their guests, complimentary.
• wifi, we live in the modern world. The internet is what is needed for so many things. Near mandatory, certainly for a stay of over a day.
• Aircon, again mandatory. 
• Private facilities. I don’t like to share the private things. A shower is the minimum, a bath is a relaxing addition.
• Tissues. It is a little thing, but a box of tissues laid out for your use is a convenience.
• Fridge. Useful for storing drinks, fruit or food of any type.
• Double bed. I like my space, and, who knows, a guest might want to stay over.
• Wall hooks. I have a bag, a hat, and a few other things which are more conveniently stored on hooks. 
• Bedside lamp. A small lamp next to one’s bed allows sufficient light without drowning the room in an unfriendly blast of light. 
• decor. Minimalism is best, but one or two eye-catching pieces of artwork is pleasant. A theme for the room, not a jumble of bits and pieces. 
• cleaning. Once a day.

Finding a room such as this is not difficult. Look not at the top spots—on the river or on the main road—but look a block or two back. Here you will find smaller, family or privately run guesthouses and hotels. These provide the services listed above, and do so in a friendlier atmosphere. You can find a room such as this anywhere in SEA (perhaps not Sing) for $15–$25 a night. Discounts for longer stays. 
Booking agencies. I detest these companies. Websites such as agoda, for example. The discounts offered are no more than the standard price, something you can get by a direct approach to the hotel, artificially raised so that the website can offer a discount. They require payment in advance, which is not always good if you are a traveller, and horror stories abound of refunds and general service. Make an effort, surf the net, look for unbiased fellow traveller reviews, then check for the hotel’s website.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

3rd world folk, health, fitness—reality and myth

It is widely regarded as a truism that people in the 3rd world lead a healthy life—that they rarely if ever suffer 'western' lifestyle diseases. This perception is based upon the belief that 3rd worlders eat simple, natural foods, and lead an inherently healthy lifestyle. This belief is a myth—the reality is the opposite—people in the third world, or at least the population of south east Asia (SEA), have a poor and unhealthy diet and lifestyle, and, as a consequence, suffer form a wide variety of diseases.

This poor lifestyle manifests in many different forms, but the most obvious: the large majority of people in these countries smoke excessively, drink too much alcohol, eat too much fatty food, conversely, they do not eat enough of the more healthier foods, and avoid exercise as they would the plague. All of which results in, or or at least exacerbates, a wide variety of illnesses. For example, the number of Thai women who suffer from osteoporosis is astounding. Few women over fifty in Thailand seem to be free of the disease.

This abusive life style is readily apparent, in many guises. For example, one major cause of ill-health is sugar. It is an addiction found throughout the region, and is the cheapest and perhaps the most deadly of drugs. In a hotel buffet breakfast Thais will line up at the sugar bowl, spoon three or four spoonfuls of sugar into their morning tea or coffee, and then add one spoonful of salt. The reason: they are addicted to sugar, but even with this addiction they find this quantity of sweetness repellent, so they mask it with salt. A different take on this is found in Cambodia where there are 'sugar drink machines'. Essentially, a few lengths of sugar cane are run through a squeezer, the resulting liquid drops into a glass, which is then drunk. This is too sweet for me to contemplate, but quaffed without reservation by Cambodians. These machines are found everywhere, and are usually busy. In the more prosperous Thailand it is the mis-named 'energy' drinks that are the norm. Did I mention diabetes?

Another example of an abusive lifestyle is eyesight. If you were to ask someone over 30 or 35 to read, they will likely refuse—shack their head, turn away with a smile—not because they are illiterate, but because their eyesight is poor. Their eyesight is poor because of their harsh environment, and a corresponding lack of eye care. Tropical countries have a hot, dusty, and sun rich environment.  People's eyesight suffers badly from this combination. The simple use of sunglasses would go a long way to tackle this problem, but few take the trouble to do so.

Much of this ill health and its effects are not readily visible. This is because people do not like to 'air their dirty linen in public', and Buddhists are doubly compelled to show their best face to guests and outsiders. However, if you talk to people, watch closely, and observe, this sad state of health will be all to readily apparent. Take a look down town alleyways during and after public holidays. These will contain drunks, 'sleeping off' their alcohol binges.

The flip side of this lifestyle is exercise, and here again 3rd world folk fail. Exercise for the vast majority of the population is something to be avoided. The dream of most SEAs is to get a job in a bank, with a comfortable chair, lots of cold aircon, and to sit all days shuffling papers. Physical exertion is for farmers and labourers—not successful people. There are gyms and public exercise gear available, and some, a handful of locals make use, but these people are the exception. There are many myths about exercise, some women believe that it will make them too masculine, some young people believe that only older people need to exercise as younger people are 'naturally fit'. Even the simple act of a short walk, 5 or 10 minutes, is regarded as something to avoid.

One cause in all of this are the long work hours most locals experience. Twelve hour shifts are the norm. People finish work tired and drained, with little energy for exercise. A desire to relax, eat and drink with friends, to find some joy in the day, before sleep, is understandable.

This leads to another factor, a lack of sufficient and good sleep. Most locals do not sleep well. This is due to a number of factors. A hot and humid sleep environment, and small and crowded rooms are the most obvious, however, another factor, though hard to be certain of, is a belief and apprehensiveness of 'ghosts'. People are concerned that ghosts/spirits will appear in their dreams or while they sleep. I realise that this last point sounds insane to most westerners, but it is something which is truly there in the social makeup of many people in SEA.

There is one other area of illness that receives even less discussion, psychological. In SEA there are many people with psychological problems. Again, this is something which is hidden from common view, there is little social acceptance of this form of illness, and it is widely hidden and ignored, with little medical assistance available.

I will add one more factor into this equation: intellectual exercise. There is little. Most education is poor, with an emphasis on memorisation and rote learning. After graduation, few people seem to read books, rather, television viewing is a near universally popular, almost compulsive activity. Even when talking with friends a tv will most likely be on in the background, and these shows never revolve around an intellectual theme. The vast majority of tv is a love story, a ghost story, or an historical epic. Docos are few and far between.

The picture I have painted here is a sad one, but one I believe to be true. Personal health in the third world is poor. Smoking, drinking, a poor diet and lifestyle are the culprits. It is a problem that many local health care individuals and institutions are aware of, but few take action. The populations of countries such as Malaysia and Thailand are ageing. With better public health, such as immunisation, better post-natal care, and a safer work environment, people are living longer—long enough to begin experiencing the deleterious effects of the lifestyle described above. Over the next generation this problem will gradually emerge into the public arena, individuals will show greater personal responsibility and institutions great public responsibility, one hopes.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Phnom Penh—the city of Grandmother Penh

Just to bring you all, and myself, up to date.

Journeyed from Pakse in southern Laos to Phnom Penh. The bus trip began early in the morning, and we arrived in PP around about 21.00. We were delayed over an hour with a blown tyre. The stop was interesting, just south of the Cambo border, maybe 100kms in. We had a chance to chit chat and visit locals living in wooden houses along the highway. The bus was only half full, even with a dozen or so backpackers we picked up, who were waiting at the Laos/Cambo border for a ride. Road was a bit bumpy, and the trip a bit noisy, but no hassles (foam ear inserts).

Phnom Penh is as I remembered it (here one year ago). Stayed at the same hotel, BJs, one street back from the Mekong River. Pleasant, small room, breeky, wifi, good service, $21 a night—what more can one ask for?

The city itself, PP is a small city, based upon my baseline of Australian cities. The population is anywhere between two and three million, depending on who you ask, however the city is small. It is just small enough to be able to walk from one side of the central area to the other. The reason for this perceived smallness is that the population density is high. Unlike Australian cities, with sprawling suburbs filled with 1/4 acre occupying houses, the good people of PP live in small rooms, a family or a group of workmates living together, in apartment blocks. There are more than a few larger houses, usually French colonial places, most looking a little the worse for wear. Intermixed with this are new constructions, largely commercial. It is seemingly odd to see a new 'KFC' or a "Wendies" ice cream sitting next to an old, fading French apartment building. But there it is.

The people of Cambodia are caught in something of a poverty trap. Salaries in PP are in the $100+ range. A $200 a month salary is a good salary, however, a small room might cost $100 a month. Thus people on average incomes are forced to live together. Walking around the streets of the city at night you will see many small restaurants, bars, and generally people sitting outside, talking, eating and drinking. Part of the reason for this is that there homes are small, noisy and crowded. It is better to stay out, socialise, than to go home.

As a comparison, a native English teacher can earn something like $10-$15 an hour. You can see how working ~20 hours a week will bring in over $1,000 a month. This will pay for a nice, one room apartment at ~$300 a month, leaving much for a fun month. Food is also (to a western eye) cheap. Avoiding the 4 and 5 star hotels and restaurants, one can eat at a pleasant restaurant for $5 or at at street stall for $1, or of course, if one is so inclined, cook for oneself even more cheaply.

A few other pieces of info. Surprisingly, Cambodia, or at least Phnom Penh imports much of its food from Thailand. The reason, transportation infrastructure. It is difficult to move bulk goods around most of the country, while there are good highways between PP and the Thai border, as well as a few other important cities. Also, there are many Philippine nationals in the city, teaching English and working in general as professionals.

To put aside myths about the city it is not a haven for sex fiends, pedophiles or criminal activity in general. In fact PP seems a depressingly respectable city, not to say that hookers cannot be found, but they can be found in every city of the world. You can walk safely around PP at night. Safe that is from human ill-will. There are dangers, to start: traffic, traffic is a bitch in PP. Lots of cars, lots and lots of bikes, and seemingly no order. This last is not true, there is order, but it is an informal order, also, these vehicles travel slowly, maybe 30kms an hour. The trick is, look, take care, and cross the road. If driving a vehicle, blow that horn to let people know you are approaching an intersection, and slow down. Easy. Next danger: footpaths, they are broken, jumbled and under repair. Watch where you put your feet and you will be ok. The way to avoid danger, keep your eyes open, mind alert, and don't drink alcohol. Easy.

Sex/pedohilia? From a magazine article I read on the subject, from a copper I met last year who works with the task force, and from what I have seen in PP and in SEA, the vast majority of pedo activity takes place within the family, as everywhere. The percentage of foreigners involved is minuscule.

Overall, Phnom Penh is a pleasant city in which to live. The main streets are wide and broad, a legacy of the French design. There are a good range of services, albeit not as broad as say Bangkok. And the good folk of the city are friendly towards foreigners.

It is a nice place to visit, a good place to work (as a foreigner), but to be frank, not that exciting as a tourist destination. There is not a great deal to see in the city. There are of course the standard features: a museum, the royal palace, a few temples, but apart from that, a quiet, 3rd world working city. Worth a look, but head to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, and then back home to the world.

at the border.

Major Stupa, next to the train station.

a Moon festival cake.

2 pretty girls, at a bakery.

Cambodian fruit, no details.

a tasty vegetarian meal, $3.

my preferred hotel.

A classy nightclub.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Mukdahan, Thailand -> Savannakhet, Laos

It has been a while since I posted a personal blog entry, so here goes. For the past month I have been enjoying time in Pattaya, that jewel of a city, nestled on the shores of the Gulf of Siam, however, time to move on. Things to see, places to visit, visas to get. My second Thai tourist visa was due to expire in late August, thus, I needed to acquire a new. Several options available, but I decided to go with visiting Laos, via Savahhakhet.

Sannakhet, is a quiet, poor, visually run down city on the Mekong River, directly opposite the Thai city of Mukdahan. I had visited Sav in 2008 and was interested to see just what changes had taken place. To get there I first arrived in Muk, via the Yellow Bus (which runs from Rayong—south of Pattaya to the city of Mukdahan), a 12 hour trip, best done overnight. I spent a day in Muk, waymarking and generally hanging out and looking around. My hotel this time was the Submukda Grand Hotel, not sure about the 'grand' part, but a solid 500b hotel.

Muk is a pleasant spot, a few sights, though nothing terribly exciting. As last time, farang are not allowed to take the ferry across the Mekong, but have to take the Japanese built 'Friendship 2' bridge. This of course requires, more money: 50b bus faire from Muk, and 1500b one month Laos visa on arrival, and the skim. All good fun.

Sav had changed somewhat since I was first there, the bus station, for example, is completely new. Three years ago it was a gravel patch with a few crappy buildings, now a rather modern looking structure, with pavement! The town itself appears busier, by that I don't mean busy, but busier than last time. The streets are still broken, not many people around—the official tally is 120,000 in the city, I don't see how that can be. I would estimate far fewer, or I could be completely wrong.

Sav is essentially a half dozen streets running parallel to the Mekong, along ~2km of river bank. There are few iconic buildings, there is a xian church of some size, a new ferry building, lots of run down shops and buildings, some abandoned French era structures near the river, and lots of shabby buildings, plus lots of dogs on the streets. The roads are uncrowded. Even the river road, the busiest, is not that busy. You can stand in the road without worrying too much about being hit by a car. I can add that Sav is entirely free of western chain stores: no 711s, no KFCs, nothing.

Sav is also free of significant tourist sights. The most significant in the region is Wat That Hang 13kms outside the city, a not overly large stupa. Inside the town, a few Buddhist temples, a dinosaur (paleo) museum, a new provincial museum, and that is about it.

In Sav I hope to get a 2x Thai tourist visa, then head to Pakse ~200kms south to see the large Kymer era Wat at Champasak. Then head to Cambo and Phnom Penh, or something else.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Macintosh OS 10.7: Lion

Another two years go by, another Mac osx upgrade, thusly do we measure the passage of our years.
My thoughts. I was not in a hurry to upgrade. First, I did not see a huge improvement between 10.6 and 10.7. Second, I was not in a locale which allowed for large downloads, however, this has all changed and last night I did the deed. 
First thoughts: not much to get excited about, and a few minor annoyances. The reverse scrolling for one. Back in the old days, when one scrolled downwards with two fingers on the trackpad the window in which one was scrolling moved upwards, with 10.7 it is the opposite. This mimics both ios and ‘real’ life, so I am told, however, I do not like this ‘feature’, which I reversed.
There is also a general dumbing down present in the new os. Apple wants to make the os transparent, akin somewhat to ios, where file and folders do not exist, at least for the user. For example, where is my drive? By default it is not visible in Lion. I am long past the geek phase of my life, but come on, I like to see something and to be able to do some things.
Another small annoyance, side bar colours. In the good old days the osx finder sidebar had coloured icons. The colours made finding and identifying the different icons easier, now they are all a muted grey. This is doubly annoying as in days gone by grey indicated a non-operational feature. Bring back the colours. Also on the interface, the three little buttons thingees on top of the os windows are now smaller. These buttons exit, hide and maximise the window, great, but the small buttons are slightly more difficult to click.
I am also disappointed about the lack of a speed boost. I assumed that with two years to play around with the os that there would be a small performance increase, but no.
After two days of use I find that most of the changes I am making to the default Lion layout are intended to make Lion look like Snow Leopard. I can find nothing in Lion that I want, and several things I do not. Disappointed.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Thailand: the Pheu Thai Party—the ‘Red Shirts’—take office

A little over a year ago many people in Thailand—certainly in Bangkok—believed that the Red Shirts were over as a political force. After occupying the city centre for months and shutting down several major shopping centres(!), in May 2010 the Thai army ‘swept’ the city of Bangkok clean of red shirt protesters, killing over 90 in doing so, including a 16 year old boy. The city, or at least its ‘elite’ quickly got back to the business of making money and tried to forget that for several months the streets had been dominated by protesters from the rural provinces, however, this death knell was premature, the red shirts did not give up, nor forget.
The basis of the red shirt power is a seemingly unlikely combination between an emergent capitalist class, which came into existence in the previous generation riding the wave of Thai industrialisation, and the rural poor, those who believe that they are getting the sharp end of Thai economic progress. Impatient with the restrictions, which the traditional landed aristocracy have imposed, this new business class made common cause with the effectively disenfranchised rural electors. This alliance had propelled a seemingly unlikely “people’s hero” to high office, the former Prime Minister and now exiled Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, a wealthy business tycoon.  
Now, from July 2011, his sister, the new leader of the Pheu Thai Party, is the new Prime Minister of Thailand, and the first female PM of Thailand. Congratulations.
I am not familiar with the details of how this new PM and government came to power. This would be an interesting story in itself, however, it is clearly an example of excellent planning, design and execution. The past year and a half saw the Reds survive continual harassment from the government and bureaucracy. Red Shirt leaders were arrested for various reasons, there publications seized and destroyed. The Red leaders were forced to have their printing carried out in Cambodia, and of course when they brought the material into Thailand it was seized and destroyed. A continual rain of petty harassment.
During the election campaign this continued. The ballot papers displayed an erroneously small Red Shirt party logo, many more ballot papers were printed than were needed—some speculated that these ‘extra’ papers would be used to increase the government vote, soldiers were arrested for harassing Red electors prior to the election, more Red leaders were arrested or threatened with arrest. Yet with all of this the Pheu Thai party won the election with 265 seats out of 500. 
I do not know what will happen in Thailand, nor if the new government will prove successful, or not, but it is encouraging to see ordinary people organise and achieve victory. Again, congrats.

A few more election posters, this time from Bangkok:

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The 2011 National Thai Election

The Kingdom of Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with a free and democratic government—that is what the constitution says. The Head of State is the King of Thailand, King Rama IX, as he is usually referred to in the west. Under him there is an executive consisting of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, an elected parliament, and an independent judiciary. In accordance with the Thai constitution, which requires an election every four years, an election is currently underway in Thailand. On Sunday, the 3rd of July, the people of Thailand will elect a new government. 
The modern Thai government structure dates back to 1932 when an unlikely combination of traditional aristocrats and a westernised upper middle-class Bangkok group compelled the Thai King to agree to a written, democratic constitution, which moved Thailand (Siam, as it was then known) from an autocracy to a democracy. All well and good, however, peace and domestic tranquility was not to ensure. Since that date there have been seventeen constitutions and charters, intermixed with repeated coups, military and militaristic governments, and even the occasional massacre of pro-democracy proponents by the military.
The last such coup was in 2006, when the somewhat reformist, but certainly populist, ‘red shirt’, government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (the winner of two consecutive elections) was overthrown (while he was out of the country) and a (another) military junta took power, which wrote (another) constitution. In 2007, with this new constitution, an election was held in which a pro-Thaksin government came into office. Yet, again, peace and prosperity did not ensure. The anti-red shirt group, the ‘yellow shirts’ (there was a joke in 2008 that one had to carefully choose the colour of one’s shirt), staged a series of disruptive protests, which eventually brought the Thai government down. 
The result of these protests was the assumption of office in late 2008 by the leader of the Democrat Party, which is opposed to the red shirts, the 27th Prime Minister of Thailand, Mr Abhisit. The new PM quickly attempted to ‘move on’, restore the economy and ‘heal the wounds’, but his term in office has been marked by ongoing protests and resistance to government. The greatest protest taking place in mid 2010, which was ended with blood on the streets of Bangkok. 
Now, again, the Thai people have the opportunity to select their government. To do this they will elect, in a system of compulsory voting, two houses of parliament. The upper house is partly appointed, and considered a bastion of conservatism. The lower house, the  House of Representatives, is where most of the action takes place, and consists of 480 members, the majority of whom are elected directly, the remainder from party lists and electoral regions. Most elections produce a party with a definite majority, but not always with an absolute majority in the parliament, thus lots of wheeling and dealing takes place to form a government.

The principal players in the current election are: Mr Abhisit, the current PM. Ms Thaksin, who is, amongst other things, the sister of the deposed and currently exiled former Prime Minister, who is leading the new red shirt party, in her first parliamentary performance. Last, but by no means least, is the Thai military, who so far have repeatedly stated that they will not involved themselves in politics. 
As part of the process of informing my readers of these things, here is a sample of election posters seen by myself. These come from southern Thailand, where I am as I write, however, when I return to Bangkok I will post some posters from the capital city of Thailand.
My thanks to the following for the information presented here: wikipedia,, and the various Thai English language newspapers and journals.


election vehicles, common in Thailand.

lots of signs, everywhere.

A red shirt campaign commitment.
Seems just a tad optimistic.

When visiting the city and province of Phatthalung I came across
a group of red shirt folk. From their demeanour, I gather fairly senior folk.

I don't know anything about this guy,
but he makes a point.

From the Muslim south.

The Democrat party, and Mr Abhisit.

The lady herself, Ms Thaksin.

Red shirt trucks.

Some are demanding a No protest vote.
The goal is to remove the legitimacy of the
resultant government. I gather that portraying
humans as animals is rather insulting in Buddhist Thailand.

I am not sure about this, found a batch of these in
Nakhon Si town, on phone booths. Is this a joke
or political commentary?