Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 349: Bankers & Bushido ....

First came the earthquake, level ‘9’ on the Richter Scale. That’s ten times stronger than an ’8’ and a hundred times stronger than a destructive ‘7’. Ten minutes later came the 30M tall, 400kph wave. It wiped away everything in its path and engulfed the nuclear power station at Fukushima. Fusion reactors operate at amazingly high temperatures and the force of the wave took out the primary and secondary power supplies to the cooling pumps. The fuel rods overheated, the pressure built up, the walls of the reactor houses eventually exploded and Japan declared a state of emergency on three separate fronts.

With radiation levels rising and every attempt to resurrect the aging water pumps failing, a small group of nuclear engineers held up their hands and volunteered to continue working in close proximity to the deadly reactors. I believe that there are nineteen of these brave souls and given that they already worked in the Fukushima plant, then I assume that they’ve already lost homes and loved ones to the earthquake and tsunami. These brave nineteen are fully aware that what they are doing today will inevitably result in early and painful deaths for all of them. In order to save their fellow citizens from the toxic mess, that without their efforts would undoubtedly be far worse than it already is, these amazing average-income employees are making the ultimate sacrifice. Never before has so much been owed by so many to so few.

The last case of toxic mess was the banking crisis, but in that fiasco there was a distinct lack of Bushido. The bankers who created that disaster off-loaded the toxic debt onto all of us citizens, collected their bonuses and saved their own souls. Never before has so much been owed to so many by so few. At this moment in time those responsible for the international financial crisis should be hanging their heads in shame, but unfortunately they’re not. No sooner had the tsunami hit the shores of Japan than the bankers were short selling Japanese stocks and making a very different kind of killing. If there was ever a referendum on the introduction of a law against ’Financial Genocide’ then I know exactly where I’d be making my ’X’.

Post 348: Nature is unstoppable ... it's in it's nature

On Sunday the 26th of December, I remember sitting safely at home and watching events unfold on television. In the early hours of that Boxing Day morning, a powerful earthquake centred in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Indonesia brought a new word to the vocabulary of many Westerners ... ‘Tsunami’. Shocking as it was, the true scale of that disaster was not known for days and I doubt that even today it is fully understood. From the tourists on the resort island of Phuket we saw movies of first the vanishing Ocean and then the building of the inevitable wave, the Tsunami. Within hours, News Teams from around the world were on the ground and sending us footage of the disaster. Phuket, western Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the east coast of India were devastated and more than a hundred thousand people were killed. The longest coastline in that region, and directly in the path of the tsunami, was Myanmar. Myanmar was, and is, a virtually closed state and the true extent of what happened there we will probably never know.

The tsunami that hit Japan on Tuesday was probably of a similar size, but for the very first time we were able to witness in real time the truly destructive force. Cars, boats, aeroplanes and buildings were seen being picked up like children’s toys and swept miles inland by the wave. Anybody watching it, and I suspect that most of us were, must have been touched by its awesome and unstoppable power.

If humans have been on this earth for a couple of hundred thousand years, then in the last two hundred years we’ve developed beyond all recognition. We’re the smartest things ever to have inhabited this planet, possibly any planet, and we kid ourselves that we’re in control of our own destiny. We laugh at ancient civilizations who worshipped the Sun and the Elements and claim that we understand science and that makes us somehow smarter than our ancestors. If the tsunami that hit Japan shows us one thing, then it’s that we’re absolutely insignificant, we’re just ants who can drive cars ..... full of bullshit and hubris.

If the lifespan of this planet is represented by the length of the M1 Motorway, then Man’s entire existence on this planet would be a the width of a pussy hair on a single cats-eye in time. We're not even a dime in Bill Gates' pocket. If we’re really as smart as we’d like to think we are, then we’d learn to work with and around the unstoppable force of nature and never try to fight against it. Man can fight wars with himself but he can’t win a fight against nature and entropy ..... never could and never will. The Mayan and Aztec people seemed to be aware of the Pacific Ring of Fire, but they didn't build cities around it's edge. What happened in Japan was a natural event .... but Man made it a distater.

I don't do prayers ... but my thoughts are with those affected by the tsunami across Japan

Post 347: Entering the future

Seasonally typical cold and rain, a ride down to the Ace Cafe’s ‘Adventure Travel Day’ was probably the final straw. A simple reminder that we only have one life and we’ve absolutely no idea how limited it might be. Petrol heading towards £1.50 per litre .... £25.00 and the Tiger still isn’t full. Back at what I jokingly call ‘home’, I’m sharing space with folks who prove the case in favour of crime and idleness. I called this place ‘temporary’, but it’s time to define ‘temporary’. I need to review my relationship with these brick walls and bars .... Review complete .... it’s time to bugger-off.

I have a plan. Over the last week I’ve taken some guidance on the last rewrite of ‘The Book’. Ignoring friends who will always say that it’s good, the initial feedback from independent sources is a hell of a lot better than I expected. It’s like they were talking about somebody else’s words. It seems that at last I’ve got it about right .... so all I need to do is finish the rewriting and editing. Easier said than written. Concentration is difficult when all of the distractions are negative ..... so it’s time to change the scenery.

First stop is the US Embassy ... or more accurately their website. It makes for satisfying reading. I should qualify for a 6-month tourist visa and even better ...... it’s free. The process seems simple: Telephone for an interview, complete the application form, pop down to Grosvenor Square for the interview and by the end of the week I’ll have the visa stamped in my passport. The plan is to fly over to California in May and then hang-out until September (ish).

I called to make the appointment. It was a strange number .... with a very long introductory message and a full directory of options. One option was missing .... ‘’press 9 if you think that £1.20 per minute is a rip-off’’. After 11 minutes they asked for my credit card details. ‘’Why do you need my credit card details for a free visa?’’ ...... ‘’Because the appointment costs $140’’ is the reply. Maybe it’s time to redefine the word ‘Free’? The website tells me that the current waiting time for visa interviews is 3 days ....... but I must be special .... because I have to wait 13 days. I follow the website link and complete the electronic application form, gather the necessary documents ...... and wait 13 days.

Of course it’s raining. But it’s not a problem. I park the Tiger, store the waterproof suit in the topbox and wander over to Grosvenor Square. Three checkpoints before you enter the embassy. At the first, they inform me that the application form that I completed is the old version, DS157. I ought to have completed DS160. It’s not a problem and with a Disney smile, she sends me down the road to Gould’s Pharmacy where they’ve set up an impromptu internet cafe with a host of smiling helpers and a very busy cashier. It’s a deficit busting £6 for 30 minutes on one of their 12 laptops and an extra £10 for the taking and loading of electronic photos. I would have used my own laptop, but the US Embassy instructions are quite specific .... don’t bring any electronics with you .. no camera, no phone and no laptop. I wait in the queue, behind every person who was ahead of me in the Embassy queue and wait for a laptop to become free. 29 minutes and 13 seconds ... I finish just before my 30 minutes expires .. but the others are not so lucky and are now another £6 poorer. Gould's Pharmacy, 37 North Audley Street W1 must surely be the UK's most profitable chemist ... but for all of the wrong reasons

Back at the Embassy, they don’t like my crash helmet, my motorbike keys, my armoured jacket or my MX boots. Eventually, I walk in half naked and carrying a small pile of ‘Cloakroom Receipts’, but at least I’m in. My number’s called. I hand over my documents and take a seat. It takes a while, but eventually I’m called for the interview. Why? How long? Will you be working? Will you be returning to the UK? It takes about ten minutes but the girl with the smile says ‘Yes’, visa granted. I now have to pay a courier company to deliver the Passport to my home ..... not optional. A free visa, excluding travel costs, has cost me almost $200. It’s actually fair value for money .... but wouldn’t it be a lot nicer if they simply charged $100 for the visa and did everything else above the counter?

Now .... I wait. The US Visa will take 5-7 working days to be issued and then delivered by courier the following day. Hopefully that will be the 9th of March. Any longer and I'm slightly screwed. I’ve got 2 months before I’m due to arrive in California, and I don’t plan on spending those two months in high rental misery. I’ve burned my bridges, given notice on my ‘Room’ and I’m out of here before the 22nd of March. I've arranged a meeting in Abu Dhabi on the 22nd of March and then a provisional appointment with a certain motorcycle factory in Thailand. It's a factory that I was meant to visit last year, but my Thai being a little too limited, I ended up touring a factory making nothing more exciting than electronic ignition units. Anyway ..... if anybody is interested in acquiring the cuteness of a Super-Cub with a classy touch of modernity, then be sure to let me know.

That all sounds very 'Playboy' but it really isn't like that at all. When most people travel they think about 'Holidays' .... and they tend to be expensive. I can’t afford to do it that way, so I don’t. Before I eat or wipe my arse with tissue paper, living in Blighty costs a minimum of £600 per month. That’s approximately 30,000 Thai Baht. A teacher in Thailand is considered to be middle-class and will earn 15,000 Thai Baht per month. I can’t live quite as cheaply as a local .. but I have enough friends out there to make it a lot cheaper ... and more fun .. than staying in England.