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

Post 416: Vang Vieng Skies - Dusty Lens Time Lapse {Posted 12th December 2017}

Shot through a dusty lens on a Canon T3 Rebel in November 2017 ..... apply your own background music.

Post 415: Summer Plans in California 2017 [Posted 19th April 2017]

Summer 2016 was woefully unproductive. My writing intentions were good, but as a person who’s easily distracted, the US Presidential Election, with all of its drama, captured far too much of my attention and time. Needless to say, I achieved very little on the writing front and the first edition of Poor Circulation1 ‘Ashes to Boonville’ remains my only book currently available in print. Sorry about that, but things are about to change.
Thankfully, just like in SE Asia, California allows me to survive on very little money, and although I’ve now reached an age where I can begin drawing income from a couple of small pension plans, I’d prefer to delay doing that for as long as possible.
So, over the course of the next few months, I’ll finish editing ‘Homeward Bound’, ‘The Accidental Nomad’ and edition two of ‘Ashes to Boonville’. Hopefully, these will be published in print and digital formats well before Christmas.
Hopefully the General Election called by PM Theresa May for June 8th, will prove to be slightly less distracting and I’ll try to provide updates as I go.      

Post 414: Songkran Festival Northern Bangkok - [Posted April 17th 2017]

This is the festival of Song Kran - traditional New Year in Thailand - as celebrated far away from the tourist centres of Bangkok.

The water washes away the sins of the previous year, and the white powder wards away malevolent spirits. Cleary, the local Bangkokians believed I needed ample of both…. Enjoy. 

Post 413: Thai Market Food - Lak Si, Bangkok [Posted 25th December 2016]

A travel article on Bangkok that failed to lavish praise upon the city’s eclectic range of street-food, is difficult to imagine. But, in a drive to clear the congested sidewalks and streets on this desperately congested city, street-food has become a victim of of its own success.   
According to the BBC, in 2016 alone, some 15,000 independent street-food vendors were evicted from their traditional sites, and in 2017, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority's campaign to return the streets and sidewalks to vehicles and pedestrians, appears to be gathering pace.
Food writers and tourists love street-food for the overall dining experience, but hard-working cash-strapped Bangkokians love it mostly, for the reasonable price.
Removing 15,000 outlets from a supply chain can not be achieved without consequences, and as food writers go in search of alternative employment for their well-crafted cliches, many Bangkokians are filling-up in affordable meals from the plethora of always present, but often ignored, local food markets.  
Here's a glimpse of what you might find if you wander away from the tourist hot spots ... 

Post 412: Strange Conversations in Bangkok - Aftermath - [Posted 23rd December 2016]

Following my recent encounter at a Bangkok bar with ‘Prepper Jim’ [Post 411], what, if anything, did my subsequent research reveal? Well, what I really discovered was that science is an amazingly diverse field of study utilizing knowledge based upon an overwhelming amount of mathematics and experimental evidence. In stark contrast to science, I found the world of conspiracy theories to be equally large, but it would appear, almost totally lacking in all forms of evidence. I’m not saying that every conspiracy theory will turn out to be false, or even that all science is fully proven, but I’d need to see an awful lot of physical evidence before believing that Earth was actually flat, or, that an ancient gateway in Antarctica allowed Aliens and the Rothschild family to control the New World Order from deep inside our hollow planet. On the other hand, police forces around the world becoming more militarized, mass worldwide development of deep underground bunkers and the US Department of Homeland Security’s recent  order for five-hundred-million rounds of hollow point ammunition, well, that all seems to be true.
(Militarized Police at Standing Rock DAPL)
What I found was that science doesn’t change things, but it certainly changes your view of things. Yesterday, standing on my balcony with the day’s first coffee, the world had seemed totally still. Today it had felt much the same, but today I’d understood exactly how unstill things had been. In reality, I’d been rotating with the Earth at 1,040mph while Earth had been revolving around the Sun at 66,000.00mph. At the same time, the Sun had been spiralling through the Milky Way at 500,000mph while the Milky Way itself had been charging across the Universe at an additional 1,300,000mph. Adding those speeds together, whenever I’m standing perfectly still on my 10th floor balcony drinking coffee, I’m actually moving in several conflicting directions at a combined speed of 1,876,000mph, which by my rough calculation, is about 60mph faster than if I’d been standing perfectly still on the pavement below.
Returning to Prepper Jim, he’d claimed that if I looked at the scientific data I’d see several unprecedented things happening here on our planet. Firstly, I’d see that Earth’s perpendicular tilt had already moved beyond previously recorded norms and that the rotational variance, the wobble experienced as Earth revolves around its polar axis, was erratically wandering away from the traditional Poles. Secondly, that in the coming days I’d see a dramatic increase in the frequency of earthquakes, of all magnitudes and along all tectonic fault lines. These two provable happenings were, according to Jim, the result of external gravitational forces acting upon Earth, energizing its molten core which increases outward pressure on the crust, and at the same time, and in the same way that the gravitational force of the Moon moves the oceans, that same external gravitational force would be pulling Earth’s fragile crust towards it. The source of this external gravitational force was, he’d claimed, the mysterious and as yet unproven, Planet X.

2013 (Yellow) -2016 (Green) Planet Earth's Wandering Axis
For now, I’m going to leave the hypothetical “Planet X”, otherwise known as “Nemesis”, “Nibiru”, “Wormwood”, “Black Star”, “Planet9”, or as everybody’s favourite astrophysicist Professor Brian Cox calls it, “Planet Bullshit”, and concentrate on the factual science behind Jim’s claims. Firstly, has Earth’s axis moved away from the Poles, and is the Earth wobbling more than usual as it rotates? Well, according to scientific measurement by United States Geographical Survey (USGS), the answer to both of those questions is undeniably, Yes. The perpendicular axis of Earth changes throughout the year, predictably tilting in a movement that gives us the four seasons. The chart above shows exactly how far from perpendicular Earth has moved, with 2013 (Yellow), 2014 (Red), 2015 (Blue) until 26th July 2016 (Green) with the black arrows indicating the exact position on annual corresponding dates for the four years.  
(USGS 24-Hour >2.4m Worldwide Earthquakes 21st December 2016 (Site Now CLOSED ))
However, since 2013 the actual degree of tilt has become increasingly pronounced and much more unpredictable. At the same time, the rotational axis of Earth, the points through North and South Pole around which the planet rotates, have been wandering erratically in ways that have never before been recorded. Secondly, the frequency of earthquakes along all fault lines, along with general global volcanic activity, has also visually and statistically increased. Although not mentioned by Jim, I also began observing live seismology charts from USGS ANSS, graphs which constantly record movements on hundreds of permanent seismic monitors located around the world, and each day since our conversation, those readings have also become more and more erratic with Earth’s crust visibly vibrating, on a global scale. I’m certainly still not ready to buy into the imminent arrival of “Planet Bullshit”, and I know that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but according to the data I’ve been following, and the responses and questions from scientists, it appears that beyond the consequences of climate change and fracking, some very strange things are currently happening to Earth. 
(Background normal Seismograph Readings. Front December 2016 Readings)
If strange things are happening to Earth, then the one thing that has greater impact on our planet than human activity, is, solar activity. The Sun evolves through a scientifically predictable 11-year cycle, during which time its magnetic polarity reverses and in doing so, creates calculable Solar Maximums (periods of peak solar activity) and Solar Minimums (periods of low solar activity). The last magnetic pole reversal was completed in 2013, but the solar activity from the new Solar Maximum; geomagnetic storms and coronal mass ejections, was far lower than scientists had calculated. Some, but not all, scientists hold the view that as we near the end of December 2016, the Sun’s energy is still there, but it simply hasn’t been ejected,... Yet. 
(Left 11-Year Solar Cycles - Right Sun's Coronal Hole 21st December 2016)
In October 2016, in a public address President Obama warned of the impact that solar storms can have, saying: "Space weather has the potential to simultaneously affect and disrupt health and safety across entire continents."  (Shortly after Obama’s speech, Congress voted-down the spending required to retroactively harden the USA’s electrical infrastructure against the impact of future solar storms).  Observing live footage of the Sun via the NASA, ESA and US Space Observatory platforms, large coronal holes are clearly visible on the surface of the Sun as it revolves to face Earth. Coronal Holes on the surface of the Sun have a measurable correlation to earthquake magnitude and frequency on Earth, and are known to prelude large solar storms, otherwise known as Coronal Mass Ejections. Then, as if to confirm the coming storm, in a warning issued on December 21st 2016, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported their forecasts of sizeable solar storms directly impacting Earth within the coming days.
[*NOTE: On 23rd December, NOAA released a new statement that appeared to walk-back on the earlier warning:  "What is correct is that G2 geomagnetic storm levels were observed on December 21 and G1 geomagnetic storm levels observed on December 22. The geomagnetic storm levels observed on December 21-22 are fairly typical levels at this time in the solar cycle and were the result of Earth's interaction with a coronal hole high speed stream".  At around the same time, the real-time Rapid Earthquake Viewer provided by USGS announced, unexpectedly, that due to building maintenance, their monitors would be down for the next few weeks]. 
(REV Active Monitoring CLOSED)
Although solar storms are frequent events, and are responsible for what we call the Northern Lights, the last major damaging impact on Earth came way back in 1859, an incident that became known as the Carrington Event. Leading up to September 1st 1859, scientists had observed an unusual number of larger than normal Coronal Holes on the surface of the Sun as it had revolved to face Earth. Then, on September 1st, a massive solar storm glanced Earth and took down electronic telegraph systems across Europe and North America. The Carrington Event, which knocked out those electronic telegraph systems across two continents, arrived twenty years before electricity came to America’s first home. Back in 1859, beyond telegraph systems there was little else electrical that could be damaged, but imagine, in today’s electronically dependent society, the havoc that an equally powerful solar storm could inflict on power grids and all things electrical, which is today, practically everything that supports and controls society.

Having now spent ten days delving into this; so long because the data is so comprehensive and constantly updating, I still believe that “Planet X” is a rabbit hole down which "Prepper Jim" has unintentionally fallen. However, the scientific community driven by data, and perhaps more worryingly, the insurance industry driven by the possibilities of financial loss, believe that there is a high probability, not necessarily in the coming days but certainly within our lifetimes, that Jim’s preparations might not have been wasted.  

*As a side note, perhaps, since 2012 US statistics on home insurance show a ten-fold increase in former Police Officers, Submariners and Coast Guards purchasing properties in the Missouri Ozarks, presumably, all are now neighbours of “Prepper Jim”. Also, within the last five days, three of the four longest standing and most subscribed You Tube Channels covering Space Weather and Planet X, have been ‘Suspended’ due, apparently, to copyright infringement. Have I just fallen down the same rabbit hole as Jim?

Post 411: Strange Conversations in Bangkok - [Posted 17th December 2016]

As conversations go, even by Bangkok’s eclectic standards, that evening’s was certainly a strange one. Without invitation, Jim had introduced himself as a former police officer from New York, three years retired and now living in the Missouri Ozarks: “What about Trump?”   

 I’d arranged to meet friend and fellow motorcycle traveller Greg Frazier for our annual evening of drinking and bullshit on Sukhumvit Road, but due to the unpredictability of Bangkok’s transportation network, I’d arrived almost an hour earlier than planned.  Intent on conversation, Jim had found me on a random barstool killing time with an over-priced beer and desperately trying to avoid all forms of human contact. It’s not that I don’t like people, or that I don’t appreciate the opportunity to speak unbroken English once in a while, it’s just that I don’t particularly enjoy interacting with the kind of people who tend to frequent the bars on Lower Sukhumvit Road, the sin-centre of Bangkok.

Feigning deafness, I’d successfully dodged his political opening question, which experience tells me is a reasonable tactic to employ anywhere in the world, but avoidance of his follow-up would’ve appeared a little too rude, even for somewhere like Sukhumvit Road: “So, what brings you here?” When I’d replied “I actually live here”, I’m sure he’d almost winked at me. But, before I’d had time to qualify what ‘here’ had actually meant, he’d placed my second beer on his account and in doing so, had successfully hijacked the next thirty minutes of my life.

The following morning, as the alcoholic haze had finally begun to disperse, my mind had wandered back to that conversation with Jim. During recent summers in California, I’d encountered several people with a similar outlook on life to his; genuinely successful, sane and intelligent people who for often undeclared reasons, believe that the total breakdown of civil society is an imminent danger, and whilst leading seemingly normal lives, are discreetly preparing themselves for any eventuality. I’d always referred to these people as ‘survivalists’, but Jim had preferred the term ‘prepper’, describing himself as a person prepared, both mentally and physically, for whatever event might lead to geographical and social catastrophe on a global scale. In fact, Jim’s 10-day vacation in Bangkok had, according to him, been part of his private preparations, a final chance to flex certain muscles before, well, whatever lay ahead for the world. As for the causation ‘event’ that Jim considered most likely, it wasn’t the socio-economic meltdown and subsequent violent revolution that I’d suggested, but a catastrophe caused by forces originating from far beyond our own solar system…… “Oh, you mean aliens?” I’d asked.

Had Jim responded positively to my admittedly slightly sarcastic question, I could’ve easily walked away without ever casting my mind back to our conversation, but sadly, he hadn’t. Instead, he’d encouraged me to do my own research, to investigate certain natural phenomena using scientific data from such institutions as European Space Agency, United States Geographical Survey and NASA. The fact that Jim hadn’t quoted extracts from Revelations had certainly increased his credibility, but that, unfortunately, had made his departing advice slightly more chilling than it ought to have been. 

Apparently, from December 24th to 27th 2016, I need to be well away from Bangkok, or any other place in the world that isn’t located at least 1,000 feet above sea level and ideally, as far away from tectonic fault lines as possible. In this part of Asia finding such a location would be difficult, but a little research tells me that a home in somewhere like the Missouri Ozarks, would be almost perfect.    

Post 410: President Donald J. Trump - [Posted November 22nd 2016]

This blog’s been inactive for quite some time, but in my defense, I’ve spent the last eighteen months following the pantomime that turned out to be, the 2016 US Presidential Election. 
Of course, we now know that baring unforeseen circumstances, on January 20th 2017, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President, but for me, the biggest surprise of the entire electoral process was that more people hadn’t seen that result coming.
For eighteen long and arduous months the election bounced from one scandal to the next, both real and invented, as the once impartial media shamelessly backed their chosen candidates whilst shafting all other runners in the race. If I’d been asked to describe the process, from distant beginning to recent conclusion, I’d have to say that the entire election cycle became a metaphor for the rest of the world in 2016: “Totally Fucked-up”.
Even now, many of those who didn’t support Trump are protesting the outcome and claiming that based on ‘Popular Vote’, Hillary Clinton actually won the election. No matter how you feel about the Electoral College or Donald J. Trump, and in my eyes there’s a special place in Hell reserved for both of them, just to the right of the plot marked “Bill and Hillary Clinton”, making such claims after the event seems a little churlish. (I don’t remember German fans disputing the outcome of the ’66 World Cup Final because at the end of ninety minutes, instead of going directly to penalties, they'd played thirty more minutes of extra time during which time England scored two more goals). So, despite my best attempts to avoid excessive vulgarity, I think ‘Totally Fucked-Up’ is a fairly accurate description.
For the record, it should come as no surprise to any of you that in the absence of a genuine left-of-centre candidate, I'd "Felt The Bern" and supported the Senator from Vermont. However, with the benefit of hindsight, knowing that Americans had been so determined to send democracy back to the Dark Ages, I don't know why they didn't deploy the nuclear option and simply write-in "King George III".

The irony of writing a critique of US Democracy from my desk here in Thailand hasn’t escaped my attention, and if Alanis Morissette is still following this Blog then perhaps she’ll be in touch.….. don’t you think? 

Post 409: US Presidential Election 2016 [Posted November 7th 2015]

Hold onto your seats, because one year from today the United States of America will go to the polls and elect their 45th President, and my prediction is that during the next twelve months, things are going to get rather messy. Who eventually wins the election on November 8th 2016 depends entirely upon which candidate each of the two main political parties nominate – Democratic Party and Republican Party – and just like with the British electoral system, it’s not simply a question of which candidate receives the most votes on Election Day.

In simple terms, on November 8th 2016 voters in each State will cast a ballot for their preferred candidate, and the candidate who receives the most votes will gain the support of that state’s “Electors”. At some time in December 2016, the 538 “Electors” who together form the “Electoral College”, will vote for their State’s candidate and the first candidate to receive 270 Electoral College Votes will become the 45th President of the United States of America. Simple?

The serious candidates, as I see it, are Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party, and for the Republican Party, which has a much deeper field, I suspect that Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump will be some way ahead of the other runners. By the end of July 2016, through a process of Primary Elections held in each State and Territory, each Party will have nominated a candidate who’ll appear on the November 8th presidential ballot papers.

Had I a vote in this election, my choice would be Bernie Sanders, but I don’t have a vote and I feel that in a close contest, Hillary Clinton will scrape through as the Democratic Party’s nominee. For the Republican Party, I have a hunch that it will come down to a tight and bitter battle between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and whichever one of them wins, in exchange for the transfer of voter support at the Republican National Convention, they’ll select Marco Rubio to run as their Vice President.
In this election more than any other, choosing the eventual winner this early would be a fool’s game, but here goes nothing:

Hillary Clinton v Ted Cruz      =     President Hillary Clinton
Bernie Sanders v Ted Cruz      =     President Bernie Sanders
Hillary Clinton v Donald Trump  =  President Donald Trump
Bernie Sanders v Donald Trump  =  President Bernie Sanders

Of course, this is based on nothing more scientific than my own personal feelings and a little research into each of the candidates and their assumed positions on future policy. I see Ted Cruz as the least likable candidate, very closely followed by Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is as yet an unknown quantity, but as the maverick candidate, he must be taken seriously. And, as for Bernie Sanders, well, beyond those who appear to unquestioningly ‘love’ only Trump, Cruz, Clinton or Wall Street, he appears to enjoy almost universal approval, and the value of a trustworthy politician in dangerous times such as these, ought not to be underestimated. 

[EDIT: In the early hours of 9th November 2016, Hillary R. Clinton, who on the morning of the election had been given a 98.10% chance of winning the Electoral College by a landslide margin, conceded the election .... making Donald J. Trump, President-Elect of the United States of America.] 

Post 408: Major Changes for ‘Tourists’ in Thailand - [Posted November 6th 2015]

For five glorious years, I’ve avoided the ravages of winter by spending six months of the year in, and around, Thailand. By accident of birth, a British Passport has allowed me to access reasonably priced double-entry tourist visas with, thankfully, very few questions asked. However, as of November 2015, the Thai visa system has changed.

Previously, I’d arrive in Thailand as a tourist under the 30 Day Visa Waiver Programme, a programme that remains unchanged. As that initial 30 days began to expire, I’d venture north into Laos, and at the Thai Embassy in Vientiane, I’d apply for a double-entry 60 Day Tourist Visa. That particular visa cost $60 and for a further $60 it could be extended for an additional 30 Days on two separate occasions. Under that system, with the exception of two short trips to Laos or Cambodia, I could remain in Thailand for 210 Days.    

However, as of November 2015, the double entry tourist visa has been withdrawn. It has been replaced by a Multi-Entry 6 Month Tourist Visa, which initially sounded like very good news indeed. However, in the words of the original Night Owl ‘This is Thailand’, a Kingdom where things are never quite as straight forward as they seem. To obtain this new multiple-entry visa you must:
                 1: Apply in your home country
2: Provide six months of bank statements with a balance that never for one day dips below  
   $6,000 (Some early applicants are saying the minimum amount is actually $12,000)
3: Provide a letter from your employer guaranteeing your continued and future employment.

Unfortunately, for me, I fail on all three of the new criteria. So, when the 30 days on my initial visa waiver are about to expire, I’ll head to Laos and apply for a 60 Day Single-Entry Tourist Visa at the Royal Thai Embassy in Vientiane. Hopefully, I’ll be able to extend that 60 Day Visa for an additional 30 Days at my local Immigration Office here in Bangkok. That should allow me to remain in Thailand until February 2016, at which time I’ll have to once again leave the country. Hopefully between now and then, the new system will have settled into place and my options for extending my stay will have become clearer.


Post 407: The Thai Festival of Song Kran 2558 - [Posted April 18th 2015]

Between 13th & 16th of April, Thailand celebrates the arrival of New Year with the festival of Song Kran. Every April, millions of tourists flock to Thailand and join the now infamous water fights in the Silom and Khao San areas of Bangkok. However, in the Bangkok district of Lak Si, the place I call "home", far away from the commercial tourist traps of the city, in an area where tourists seldom tread, this is how Thais really celebrate ….