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

Post 377: Dangerous Fact or Flimsy Fiction?

     Back in 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, in 1977 Elvis definitely left the building and twenty years later, along with her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, Princess Diana was killed in a terrible traffic accident in Paris. I really don’t have much time for conspiracy theories and there supporters. While some of them might at first seem interesting, on closer inspection they all appear to be short on physical evidence and long on innuendo. If they contained more of the former and less of the latter, then we wouldn’t call them ‘Conspiracy Theories’ at all, we’d simply refer to them as ‘History’. 
     So, when the activist group ‘Anonymous’ claimed that they’d prevented Republican operative Karl Rove from stealing the US Presidential Election away from Barack Obama, why hadn’t I just turned the page and moved on? 

     On the evening of November 6th 2012, thanks to the BBC’s live streaming of their ‘Election Special‘, I’d watched the election results rolling in. As the state of Ohio had ‘Declared’ in favour of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney’s race to the Whitehouse had effectively ended. Although not all of the votes had been counted, nor all of the States declared, mathematically speaking Obama had secured a second term in office. 
    Switching to ‘Fox News’ I’d chuckled at Karl Rove’s reaction to the disappointing news from Ohio. His Titanic had sunk, but instead of reaching for his life vest, he remained steadfast in  trying to convince his fellow passengers that it was an unsinkable ship. As the icy waters had lapped around his ample waist, Rove had insisted that the Ohio result had been declared prematurely. There was still a chance, a strong chance, a very strong chance that the Republican Party would still win the election.
     Every news network in America had declared the 2012 US Presidential Election in favour of Barack Obama, but Karl Rove held his ground, argued his point, and waited. Did Karl Rove know something that others simply didn’t?

    Back in the 2004 Presidential Election, George W Bush v John Kerry, at 11:13pm, with most of the votes counted and exit polls suggesting a clear victory for John Kerry, the Ohio electoral computer system had crashed. The fail-safe system had taken over as planned, a system based in Tennessee and operated by SMARTech. The SMARTech arrangement had been engineered by Mike Connolly, the head of GovTech and Karl Roves’ personal technology guru. When Ohio’s electronic reporting service had eventually come back on-line, the results had unexpectedly flipped in favour of George W. Bush and Ohio was declared for the Republicans. 
     Were Karl Roves’ actions on Fox News, his refusal to accept the blindingly obvious, based on the knowledge that another miraculous turnaround was about to happen?

         I have absolutely no idea if Karl Rove attempted to steal the 2004, and or 2012 US Presidential Elections for the Republican Party, but ’Anonymous’ suggest that he did. Anonymous claim that within the Ohio electronic voting system, they found tunnels through which Karl Rove’s "worker bees" could enter and change the results of the vote. They claim to have secretly developed and installed a new firewall within the Ohio system, “The Great Oz”, a device that they claim ultimately kept those worker bees out of the system. They claim to have evidence, evidence that will lead directly back to Karl Rove and by default, to Mitt Romney himself. 
     If this is true, and Anonymous are indeed working for the greater good of the people, then surely this evidence must be released. "Anonymous" claim to have prevented something happening, but as it clearly didn’t happen, then without and physical evidence to the contrary, we must logically conclude that it was never going to happen in the first place.
     As for the 2004 election, Mike Connolly of GovTech did provide written details concerning his involvement to US Authorities, right before he died in what is described as a “mysterious air crash“. Sadly, that evidence appears to remain ’Sealed’ as lawyers argue over its ownership. The people would argue that such evidence belonged with ’The People’, but it appears that the new owners of GovTech believe that it's their property alone and wish for it to remain sealed. 
     Perhaps the thought of a Presidential candidate, or in George W Bush’s case a President, committing what amounts to treason is too far fetched to believe. I can almost hear John Grisham sharpening his quill, but there are certain historical precedents for such wayward actions. Thanks to the freedom of information, certain ‘Conspiracy Theories’ have in fact now been written into ‘History’. 

      Back in 1968, Republican Presidential candidate Richard M Nixon derailed the Vietnam peace agreement brokered by Lyndon B. Johnson in order to better his electoral chances. His actions surely cost countless thousands of lives; American, Vietnamese and Laotian, but did assist in his election as President.     

      As Ronald Regan approached the Presidential Election in 1980, his advisers met with Iranian representatives in Paris and negotiated the delayed release of US hostages until after the election. Regan's actions were planned to further undermine the credibility of incumbent President Jimmy Carter, and it certainly helped as Regan won a landslide victory, but the price of their cooperation was the delivery of weapons, lots of weapons, all directed through Israel, a debacle that later became famous as the ‘Iran-Contra Affair‘.  
     Hopefully, one way or another, the Karl Rove election story will one day be proven and committed to ‘History‘ .... or disproved and forgotten.            

Post 376: US Election 2012 ... aftermath

    On Tuesday November 6th 2012, the people of America went to the polls and voted in the presidential election. I didn’t vote, I’m not a citizen of the United States of America, just a happy visitor, but on Wednesday November 7th I went to the Redwood Drive-In in downtown Boonville for a coffee.

    “I guess your man won last night?” I didn’t know the man, a stranger in town, but I assumed that by “my man”, he meant President Barack Obama. On Tuesday evening I’d been glued to the computer screen watching the election unfold with Great Britain’s national treasure, David Dimbleby on the BBC. When the State of Ohio had been called in favour of the Democrats, Barack Obama’s second term as President had been certain. Florida had still been undecided, but in electoral terms Florida had no longer mattered. Barack Obama was President and the world outside of America, a world that does exist, had breathed a united sigh of relief.

    “He’s a liar, not even a legitimate American and he stole the election”. I wasn’t sure which would be ruder, to ignore him or to tell him what I really thought. He was dressed for hunting and strapped across the forward rack of his ATV was a pig, a pig most likely killed with a gun, a gun that was probably somewhere in his Ford F250 truck. In the end, I just nodded and muttered that ‘politicians’ and ‘lies’ were a union to be expected.

    “I can’t believe that Romney lost …. In four years Obama has destroyed this country … People have bought Obama’s lies and it’s the end of everything that’s made this country great .. I should pack up and leave while my house is still worth something, before I lose my job …. go and live in Australia or somewhere”.

    I wanted to tell him so much. I wanted to tell him that the earth is really more than six thousand years old, that evolution is a real thing and that climate change wasn’t a notion invented by the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing less competitive. I wanted to tell him that rape sometimes happens and that being pro-life should mean caring for the living  not just the unborn. To tell him that trickle-down economics has failed, that giving bigger meals to the wealthy will never feed the poor and that universal healthcare isn’t in any way related to communism. He needed to know that house prices were actually rising, that job numbers were increasing and that the deficit was slowly reducing. I wanted to tell him all of this and more, but I didn’t.

    I really hoped that he’d just leave me alone, and preferably leave for Australia, a country where they have a female leader, a country where they have universal healthcare and where gay marriage is legal, a country where they have gun controls and more importantly, a country that’s as far away from me as it’s possible to get.

Post 375: Poor Circulation 'Ashes to Boonville'

My blog’s been really quiet for a while. Not because nothing’s been happening in my life, but because too many things have been happening. Between working, travelling and writing to earn my daily crust, little time has been left for the updating of my blog. I hope you’ll understand and forgive me for that, but sometimes life just seems to get in the way of the fun stuff.

After almost four years of work, admittedly not always hard and diligent work, the book Poor Circulation ‘Ashes to Boonville’ is finally finished. It’s taken quite a while to write and rewrite it, but in my defence, there have been many distractions along the way. Today, 25th October 2012, I finally laid down my pen and declared ‘Enough’.

The story begins at the beginning, not the absolute beginning because I really don’t know when that was, and works its way towards an end. It’s not the very end, because obviously I’m still alive and writing this for my blog, but to the end of the outward journey, a journey from London to Boonville California.

One hundred and twenty five thousand words, most of which appear to be spelled correctly and in approximately the right order, charting the ups and downs of that 2008 journey.

I’m hoping to have the book published before the end of the year and will follow it with Poor Circulation ‘Homeward Bound’ and Poor Circulation ‘The Accidental Pilgrim’. After that, who knows? The journey still continues, random and amusing things keep happening and I’m sure that in years to come, there’ll be enough of them to complete a fourth instalment in the Poor Circulation saga.

Thanks for listening ... Blue88

Post 374: 'In the Shadow of The Tiger'

Rolling into remote Asian villages aboard the Triumph Tiger 955i, I tended to get noticed. Shoulders back and head held high, the Tiger growled and the people smiled and waved. I’d pull to a dusty halt, kill the engine and become the instant focus of attention. A hundred familiar questions would greet my arrival: ‘How fast?’ ‘How big?’ ‘How far?’ ‘How much?’ Cameras would click as adults posed for photographs beside the orange beast while every kid in town looked longingly towards the Tiger’s empty pillion seat. 
Along with the genuine warmth and hospitality I’d actually enjoyed the attention, but as the miles had increased I’d realised that something important had been missing. The people passing fleetingly through my life had probably learned a great deal about my nomadic existence aboard the impressive Triumph Tiger, but their understanding of ‘Me’ had done little to improve my understanding of ‘Them’

Four years earlier in London, my journey had started as little more than a self-indulgent jolly, a magical remedy for mid-life mediocrity, a low-rent Long Way Round that owed far more to POORATECH than TOURATECH. However, somewhere along those dusty roads heading east, the nature of the journey had changed. I don’t remember a particular milestone on the road nor a precise moment in time, but what had started life as a ‘Motorcycle Journey’ had somehow transformed into a ‘Journey by Motorcycle’. 

I was beginning to understand that what I was witnessing along the way wasn’t a true reflection of life, but a performance of life staged purely for the benefit of the foreigner with the big shiny motorcycle. In every home that I’d been invited to enter, of which there were many, there’d always been a metaphorical elephant that I’d wanted to learn much more about; poverty, politics, inequality etc. But, in every home and village those elephants had been hiding in the shadow of the ever dominant Tiger. My European motorcycle had certainly opened the gates to remote communities in the middle of everywhere, but it had done so with the subtlety of a battering ram. In order to break down the barriers between myself and the communities that lay ahead of me, I needed to replace that battering ram with a much more sensitive key. In order to understand more about the real lives of those I was yet to meet, I realised that I needed to slow down the pace, become more anonymous and to start passing through the lives of others rather than simply allowing others to pass fleetingly through mine. 

The Triumph Tiger 955i was an amazing motorcycle, but it was just a little too rude and conspicuous for my changing needs. There was no alternative, it had to go, but parting certainly wouldn’t come easily.  Back in 2008, I’d explained my initial travel plans to the good people at Triumph Motorcycles and they’d offered me some quite unusual advice: ‘The Triumph Tiger won’t make it around the world. It’s just a street bike dressed up in an adventure frock, so we’d advise you to buy a BMW’. Fifty thousand miles, thirty-five countries and several continents later, having witnessed modern BMW’s and KTM’s expensively self-destructing across the wilds of Siberia, my only real mechanical failure had been a blown headlight bulb in Vladivostok. That’s not too shabby for a simple street bike wearing an adventure frock, but the time had come to start shopping for a more appropriate ride. What I needed was a simple and reasonably priced motorcycle, something that would blend into the vast Asian landscape and hopefully go unnoticed.   
Exactly four years after setting out from London on the Triumph, I’m now riding through the chaotic streets of Bangkok aboard a brand new red and white motorcycle. I’m five hundred pounds poorer, but I’m riding the most amazing motorcycle the world has ever seen. It’s certainly the most highly produced vehicle in history, and therefore I hope, the most anonymous. It’s the motorcycle that quite literally changed the world, the motorcycle upon which you’ll meet the nicest people, the iconic Honda SuperCub C90. However, I’ve just bought this little SuperCub in Bangkok, an absolutely amazing city, but a city where things are seldom what they appear to be. Despite the fact that I bought the motorcycle from one of Bangkok’s premier Honda dealerships, it’s not actually a SuperCub, in fact, it’s not even a Honda. I’ve just purchased a Tiger Retro 110, a Thai manufactured copy of the 1960’s SuperCub C90, or as the Tiger Motorcycle Company of Thailand prefer to call it, ‘a faithful reproduction’. However you’d like to describe it, and I’m sure that Honda purists have some colourful descriptions of their own, it’s time to see if this motorcycle is the sensitive key that I’d hoped for.

It’s the second week of April and the beginning of Thailand’s Song Kran Festival, the festival that marks the end of the dry season and the coming of the monsoon rains. Traditionally this was the time when rice farming villagers in the North would take the remainder of their precious water to the temples and use it to cleanse the images of Buddha. In return for their offerings, they’d hope to receive good rains and good fortune for the coming year.  Traditions such as these are often the earliest victims of progress, and in recent years Thailand’s economic and structural progress has been remarkable, but when it comes to fitting square pegs into round holes, the Thai’s have an uncanny knack of making such unions seem quite natural. It was time for me to start finding out if Thailand’s progress had been kind to its culture. 
A few kilometres into my first journey on the smile inducing Tiger Retro 110, I turn away from the main highway and steer gingerly into the temple at Lak Si. Thai’s are very fortunate people. As Buddhist’s they can look forward to the possibility of enjoying many consecutive lives, but as an atheist I’m well aware of my own mortality and I'd like to see my one and only life continue for as long as possible. ‘A faithful reproduction’ is probably a fair and accurate description of the Retro 110, because the Tiger Motor Company seems to have successfully captured the essential essence of the original SuperCub C90, especially it would seem, its ugliest warts. With 1960’s leading link front forks, rear suspension that prefers shocking to absorbing and a front brake that’s bordering on useless, I temporarily discard my atheist leanings and seek a helpful blessing from the monks. If I’d arrived here on the big Triumph there’d be great ceremony now; tables laden with food and drink, beating drums and ringing bells and strings of fragrant orchids with the Abbot Monk centre stage in his finest saffron robes. Today, the three novice monks finish contemplating the sports pages of their newspaper, take the final draws from their cigarettes and only then, rise to assist me. ‘Na-mo ta-sa, pa-ka ra- toe, ah-rah ha-toe, sam-ma, sam-pud ta-sah’.  Three times they repeat the traditional Buddhist blessing before sprinkling the Retro 110 with water and tying a simple white string loosely around its throttle. The little scooter has passed its first test. It’s been blessed as any normal Thai scooter would be blessed. Our future happiness and safety is assured and the road heading north now looks a little less daunting.
An hour after leaving Bangkok, I reach Ayutthaya, the ancient moated capital of Siam with its magnificent temples and countless images of Buddha. The recent flood waters have subsided and restoration work is well underway.  High on ancient bamboo scaffolds, Thai workers toil beneath the burning sun, executing ancient skills with the most modern of cordless power tools. Below them, the early morning tourists are looking uncomfortably hot; sweating, wiping brows and complaining about the smell, the noise, the bugs and the heat. They seem oblivious to the fact that just a few weeks earlier these amazing structures, and no doubt the homes of those repairing them, were drowning beneath several metres of putrid flood water. But why should they know and why should they care? Thai’s recover quickly, it’s in their nature, they just seem to get over things and get on with things far more easily than we ever could in the West. A solitary monk stands silently beside me, watching the same group of people and gently nodding his head. He’s probably also wondering why so many fortunate people seem to travel only in order to find new things to complain about, but as a monk he’ll probably keep those thoughts to himself. He glances down into my open notebook and then points towards the Retro 110, ‘SuperCub, it looks like new’. I tell him that it is new, but that it’s not a SuperCub, and that’s the end of the motorcycle conversation. We talk for an hour about his new life as a monk, and about his previous life as a wayward husband and absent father. The temple had been his saviour, taking him in and turning him around when life had seemed to have abandoned him. I’ve never before talked so openly or candidly with a monk, nor any other man of religion, but his duties at the temple are calling him and we go our separate ways.
The vast Central Plains of Thailand are absolutely flat, perfect for the limited power of the Retro 110 but I suspect not so effective when it come to the draining of flood water. I’ve ridden north from Bangkok for seven hours and the only hills that I’ve climbed have all been made by man. The Gulf of Thailand is at least three hundred kilometres to the south and probably less than a metre lower than where I’m standing right now. I’ve stopped in a small village to replenish the Retro’s three litre fuel tank and I chat idly with the attendant. I point to the traditional wooden houses built high on stilts, and then across the road to the modern western style bungalows with their concrete walls and front yards that are now littered with flood damaged furniture and white goods. The attendant shrugs his shoulders, replaces the nozzle and begins to explain. He lives in the traditional stilted wooden house, the house that was built by his father, naturally ventilated in summer and safe above the damaging flood waters. His daughter lives in one of the many modern western style bungalows, expensively air conditioned in summer and clearly susceptible to flooding. He doesn’t seem to blame anybody for these errors of progress, or even suggest that they should return to the old ways of building their homes, he just shrugs his weary shoulders and mutters the Thai equivalent of ‘whatever’; ‘mai pen rai kap’.    
A little further north, I enter the town of Phi Chit where the local kids are waiting to greet me. Passing every humble home, cafe or market, buckets of water are thrown over me and if I dare to stop, my cheeks are lovingly plastered with a white menthol powder. I haven’t been singled out for such refreshing attention, in fact, unless I lift my visor then they’ve no idea that I’m not Thai but it’s clear that they don’t discriminate. It seems that everybody, even the passing motorcycle policeman, is a legitimate target during Song Kran. The Thai tradition of cleansing the images of Buddha at Son Kran has progressed, and it appears that Northern Thailand is currently engaged in the world’s largest ever water fight. It’s fun and the kid's enthusiasm is addictive, so I park the Retro 110, grab myself a water scoop and join them until darkness dictates that we stop. 

I’m spending the night at the family home of my good friend Nongnoo in the small village of Ban Noen Kum. I sit down to eat dinner with grandparents, young nursing mothers and children of all ages. Aside from my friend Nongnoo and her nursing sisters, there’s nobody of working-age at the table, an entire generation seems to be missing. In fact, I don’t really recall seeing many people of working-age all day, aside that is from those who I’d actually seen working. I pose the question and the answer isn’t quite what I’d expected. I’m told that those who are able to work will be working throughout the whole of the Song Kran holiday. They go on to tell me that it didn’t used to be this way, entire families always came together for the festival, but in these days of easy credit and minimum monthly payments, the aspirations of parents have become the expectations of their children. Isuzu D-Max trucks, iPhones, plasma TV’s and Japanese scooters all cost money, money that’s readily available via Mastercard and Visa, so the workers work in order to keep up with their payments. Looking around me I can see exactly what they mean. Bright orange tractors have replaced the diesel powered tak-taks and grass powered buffalo that used to work the rice fields, everybody here has a phone that’s far smarter than mine, every wooden shack has its own large satellite dish and nobody drives a car that’s any older than the fashionable designer labelled clothes that they all seem to wear. Suddenly, I feel like the poorest guy in the village, but I’m not, I just don’t have as many credit cards. Asian, African, European or American, between us we have many differences, but it seems that we’re all now swimming in exactly the same dream pool.

Rolling into remote Asian villages aboard the Tiger Retro 110, I tend not to get noticed. Shoulders back and head held high, the Retro buzzes and the people simply ignore me and carry on with their everyday lives. I pull to a dusty halt, kill the engine and absolutely nothing unusual happens. Aboard the little scooter I’m blending in, an invisible part of the massive cultural landscape and able to observe without being noticed. Of course, once I park the scooter and dismount the people realise that I’m not local and ask their questions. But, the nature of their questions has changed. Unlike the Triumph Tiger 955i the Tiger Retro 110 isn’t important or special to anybody, it casts no unwanted shadows. A barrier between us had been removed and our conversations are now about the most important things in all of our lives: People and Life.

Post 373: Song Kran Festival 2012

The Festival of Song Kran had arrived again, April 13-15, formerly New Year here in Thailand but now little more than an excuse for merriment and a cursory visit to the Temple ....
It’s a time of year when Thai’s travel back to their home towns and villages, a time of year when buses, trains and aeroplanes are full ....
It was time to head up country and put some Kilometres on the Tiger Retro 110 ....
It was hot, uncomfortably so, so I dressed accordingly and enjoyed the odd splash of water from roadside kids ....
In fact, there was no escaping it ....
Invited or not, everybody becomes part of the national water fight ....
Unless you happen to be a Monk ... mai pen rai kap

Post 372: Asian Markets in Crisis

When I say ‘Asian Markets’, I’m referring not to Stock Markets but to grocery stores, small independent businesses, specifically those here in Thailand....

On and off for the past eighteen months I’ve lived on the very outskirts of Bangkok in an unremarkable housing complex containing 140 single room apartments for young professionals and small families. At a little less than £100 per month including all utilities, air conditioning, Thai cable TV and occasional WiFi, it’s probably quite representative of affordable city living for young Thai’s. The ground floor of the apartment complex is home to several commercial live/work units; two small restaurants, one laundry, a florist and two independent convenience stores, all of whom currently survive on trade from the residents......

This is not a unique situation but something that’s repeated in every suburb around the country. Community living where ‘community’ means exactly what it used to mean; local people running local businesses supported by local people, who they in turn support. Micro economies that react quickly to market needs and survive by offering excellent personal service and by always going the extra mile.  It’s one of the greatest reasons for living here, but it’s a situation that rapidly changing.......
For several years these small independent stores have faced fierce competition from major chains who have expanded into the market; 7 Eleven and Family Mart. However, things now seem to be changing more rapidly, thanks in the main to Tesco Lotus, the Asian arm of Tesco UK. They started with Mega Stores, which I guess was inevitable, but now their smaller ‘Express’ stores seem to be springing up all around us. 7 Eleven and Family Mart tend to be franchise operations owned and operated by local people, but Tesco Lotus I fear are not. Given Tesco’s alleged penchant for litigation, I’ll be careful with my words, but I do fear for the future of this small community and countless others just like it across Thailand.........

Tesco monopolising Thai grocery shopping, what next? ..... Monsanto taking over grain production in Nepal? .... Just a thought!     

Post 371: Honda Super Cub .. Tiger Retro 110

I'd seen them on the road, not in numbers that would overwhelm the more familiar Honda Wave's and Yamaha Fino's that travel the Soi's of Bangkok, but in numbers sufficient enough to make me sit up and take notice. The Honda Super Cub, without doubt the most iconic powered two-wheeler ever made, the bike that mobilised the world, the most produced vehicle in history, 53 years in production and more than 6,000,000 produced to date.   
I'd heard that Honda were reintroducing the Super Cub, but I'd only seen pictures, nothing in the flesh. In photographs the new Super Cub had looked lovely, but it was clearly a representation of the original and not a faithful reproduction. The Super Cub's that I was seeing here in Thailand seemed different to Honda's offering, more original, authentic and true to the original design.

Last year in Phitsanulok, I'd bought a beautiful pair of Converse shoes; comfortable, stylish and robust. They've served me well for a year of walking, riding and travelling. While treating them to a jolly good Spring clean I'd noticed something rather strange written on the side: 'COAVERSE' not 'CONVERSE'. Unless Converse are employing dyslexics in Quality Control, then clearly these beautiful shoes that I've loved and worn for a year are not original 'Converse' products. However, they cost half as much as the originals and with the exception of spelling, pass muster at every inspection.

When the opportunity came to get up close and personal with one of these bikes, I took it. Like my beautiful shoes, the only difference between this bike and a Honda Super Cub seems to be literate in nature: The engine side casings don't say 'Honda', but 'Tiger'. This is in fact the Tiger Retro 110, made in Thailand by the Tiger Motor Company in Bangkok. 

It's a faithful, and I assume legal, reproduction of the original. So much so that when the time comes to source replacement parts, you refer directly to the Honda Super Cub parts catalogue. Owners of original Honda Super Cubs might scoff at the this bike, but after a short test ride I fell in love with it, warts and all; low power, four clunky slick-shift gears, brakes to die from and suspension that ignores all advances in technology and knowledge. In a word, The Tiger 110 Retro is BEAUTIFUL. 

A couple of years ago I rode a Triumph Tiger around the world, now the question is ........
Where should I take this Tiger?

Post 370: Bangkok Ghosts II

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Hopewell Towers running towards Don Meuang Airport in Bangkok, the Ghosts of a mass transit system that was never completed. They've stood for fifteen years and are made from concrete, so should probably stand for a little while longer......

Unfortunately the few sections that had horizontal platforms in place were supported with metal scaffold. Metal prices must be rising because somebody came along and started to steal it .....

....... and on Sunday, just like the Asian economy that had brought them to their current status, it collapsed.

Post 369: Christmas in Bangkok .. New Year in Phitsanulok

Here in Thailand, they celebrate most things .... they don't really need an excuse to drink dance and make merry .... my kind of place. I wandered down to Central World to see the Christmas lights which were really quite jolly, but the crowds were horrendous. Above the main interchange outside of the shopping centre was a huge sign ... 'Happy New Year 2012' .... The last sign that I saw here was 'Peaceful Demonstrators not Terrorists' .... and that was just before the shootings started back in May 2010 
On Christmas Day, I set out on the scooter for a traditional Christmas dinner .... 'traditional' as in here. Chang Wattanna, shrimps and noodles ..... absolutely delicious

For New Year, it was onto a bus with my friend Noo and a six hour journey up to her home town of Phitsanulok. I really like this place, a vibrant city that describes itself as the Indochina Junction .. but I'm not sure why. I love the night markets, the constant festivals, the slow walk of life and the lack of pissed European tourists.

After a night in Phitsanulok, it was off to the home village, Ban Noen Kum a few kilometres from the interestingly named town of Pee Chit.

The New Year countdown started early ..... probably a few days before I arrived. From Bangkok I'd brought fireworks, lots of fireworks. Proper fireworks that fill the night sky and burst the eardrums. In Europe, such pyrotechnics would cost a small fortune, but here they're cheap. They're rudely cheap in fact and 'Safety' seems not to be a problem .... all were ignited using a zippo ... but NOT by me .. the entire bundle of high explosives had cost me less than $10 in Bangkok's China Town ..... so during the ignition stage I was hiding with the kids behind a sturdy brick wall.

Tick Tock Tick Tock .... as midnight arrived, the kum-loy lanterns were released and the night sky filled with an amazing orange light and then it was Karaoke .. so it wasn't all good news.