Archive for February, 2012

travel economics

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Great travel memories are like money in a savings account. You build up your  holiday balance while  traveling and having fun. At any point,  when life becomes a bit dreary, you can  withdraw a beautiful moment or two and relive a time when things were sweet and you were at your best. Fill your cup with the brilliant memories you’ve banked ,  sit back and sip away,  make the world  a better place , no matter what the weather outside is doing, especially if it’s frightful . In your catalogue of memories you’ll always look great with that perfect Hawaiian tan, in that skimpy bikini that fit so well in Goa, or on top of that mountain when you pronounced yourself to be  ‘king of the world’ in Tanzania. If  it’s freezing outside or your situation is as equally ‘blah’ , don’t forget, you’re richer than you think.

For exactly this reason I have always considered travel as an investment. Unlike everyone else my life is not perfect, that’s a joke..right? What I have done right is travel extensively and make close acquaintance with others of  like interests. There is never a day that a coffee with a friend on a dark winters day to reminisce, a flip through the photo album  or  a silly email attachment showing up will not adjust the mood switch in your head to ‘HD ‘. Just thinking about traveling causes my internal slideshow to start spinning like a zoetrope . Travel has literally been a lifesaver to me. That it can become a lifestyle and income generator is  very cool.

I love the contrasting experience of leaving a dismal northern destination in mid-winter and arriving in the day glow tropics a few hours later. With the click of a mouse and a flourish of a credit card we can metamorphose into the person(s) we’d like to be.  I originate from one of the most beautiful spots of the world , the west coast Canadian Riviera, Vancouver. The region does have it’s dark days  and see’s perpetually striated  bands of pregnant gray weather systems roll in  between September and June ready to drop bucket sized raindrops for weeks on end. It’s moniker ‘the wet coast ‘ is no idle boast. Overall the province has it’s charms, it never gets down to thirty below zero, but after a few months of steady drizzle and  daily downpour I was always a little antsy for some ‘snorkel time’. There’s no point in getting depressed about weather conditions,  we can’t do much about it, except to flee that is.

Some of us are obsessive escapists. I admit to being one of those, and I know how to spot another. Our homes take on the appearance of shrines to vacation travel. Mine began looking like a curio shop from a diverse collection of far flung countries captured over an indefatigable  period of time. Souvenirs have a habit of taking over, don’t they? When you can’t tell what colour the walls are  and there is no place on your desks , tabletops or shelves  to work at or eat on because of the number of Balinese masks, carved African photo frames’, tin curiosities from India, Thai bone jewellery, crude wall hangings, votive paintings, risque’ statues, cluttered Nepalese religious knick knacks, forgettable tourist memorabilia and  assorted third world tapestry’s you’ve  placed and  hung to overlapping throughout every hallway and room, then you know, you’re ‘one of them’, an unrepentant travel bug.

Maybe your bookcases are lined with out of date dog eared travel guides and the bookmarks you use are water buffalo skin Indonesian shadow puppets. You might have second homes for your plants and pets. You have begun to rotate collections out of your basement, garage or storage locker like a museum curator, it’s official, welcome to the club. Oh, and lets not forget your collection of fridge magnets , bumper stickers and the en suite sunset shower curtain. There might be a collage of torn bus tickets, airline receipts, beer labels and pressed flowers on the back of a door. It’s OK, we all know about each others eccentricities.

There’s nothing so great as to find a good deal from an airline or travel hospitality provider. Because Pat and I travel frequently we are able to bank our travel miles. Every once in a while we’ll have saved enough points for free air tickets and hotel accommodation. We have traveled both directions to Europe and Asia from North America on travel points, it’s a worthwhile program if you manage your account correctly. Better hotels everywhere have loyalty programs that really benefit the frequent traveler, so sign up at the desk when you’re checking in as they will ask you as part of the procedure. They are not trying to scam you onto a mailing list, they want your business in a very competitive environment. If you’re staying in backpackers hotels and  a regular customer, they’re just happy to see you. If you’re lucky they’ll change the sheets.

Airlines for the most part allow miles to be used at any time of year with some rare exception, that has been our experience. We just flew our son West over to Bangkok for Christmas break on points we’d saved from Europe. There was no ‘black out’ period flying with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. His return flight was free through Cathay who are part of the One World alliance along with other giants such as British Airlines,  the points are transferable between partners, very convenient.

I was fortunate enough to be in Bangkok Thailand recently to attend the Bangkok International Travel Show being held at the Queen Sirikit Convention Center. Hundreds of tour operators, agencies, the airlines and hotel chains as well as many alternative and boutique travel operators were in attendance. Along with the great information on new destinations as well as the renovation and renewal of some  classics, there are always special offerings for hotel room discounts and applications for getting onto an airlines email list so that you can be ‘in the loop’ about the special offerings that pop up from time to time.

The hotels take bookings  and offer deep discounts to people who can confirm well in advance of their travel dates. I would highly recommend you attend your local travel show if one comes to your town. If you’re on vacation and a show is taking place, by all means attend, the public is always welcome at these events.There are many more considerations to traveling than just money, but if you can receive a lasting benefit from the experience then as we say in my neck of the woods, “If it feels good , do it”.

© 2011 J West Hardin aka Wayne Olson- Poet, Novelist, Travel Writer, Travel Blogger, You Tuber, contributor to HackWriters   ,   Columnist ‘‘The Travel Itch’ magazine

a travelers tale

Posted: February 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

I have never considered luck to be a driving force in my life. I’ve made my own way and have satisfied myself with simple pleasures . I keep my head down and have never built up my hopes with unrealistic expectations. I wasn’t born in the right bed nor did I inherit from a long lost uncle , instead I was orphaned by alcoholism and idiocy. It’s not as if I live with a cloud over my head.  I would describe my  life as  one of strange fortune  resulting from the inconsistent destiny brought about by the economics of living hand to mouth. In colloquial parlance, ‘I work my side of the street’. Looking back, it’s been like flying in the slipstream of an errant wind .

I have  followed whatever direction my intuition has taken , for I lack  any  ties or obligations to bind me. My life is lived between two extremes,  coincidence and accident, there is no middle ground for me. I am either winning or losing, it’s black or white, feast or famine, deeply in love or immersed in isolation. Nothing comes to me in steady and predictable increments, instead there are either unpredictable bursts of activity or long periods of cascading drought that occur with no discernible pattern or logic. I have no fall back position. I am only qualified to fall forward into the next day after being surprised by the generosity of the last and waking whole. A breaking dawn can signal anything.

Experience has made me less patient with the foibles of my fellow travelers than I could be, and I apologize for my impatient hunger. Fate has taught me to grab opportunity with both hands and wrestle it to the ground, while others have the luxury to weigh the probable success of multitudinous offerings. They wait, I am compelled to strike. Indecision is not a skill I possess, my skills are kept sharp by infrequent use and idle time in the scabbard. I never got to live like other people and instead became the  outsider, the shadow in the alley, a back door man. In fact, when I was younger and living ‘out of doors’, I remember watching people on their way to work, disappearing into office towers, and wondering whether they were a separate species.

When the science cult of astrology was enjoying mainstream popularity I was told that my stars were dark and tangled with improvidence. I was born on a cold winters day, a Scorpio with my moon in the trine of shadowy Pluto and distant Neptune.  It all sounded quite ominous and fecund with negative connotation. My star sign suggested that I was a lusty loser and at my tender age I believed it. “Was that why I was tracking such an abominable fate?” I asked.  The 70’s were a weird time for spiritually vulnerable people. I’m glad we’re done with that decade. I believe in ghosts and have seen one manifest itself into a physical form. It was the spirit of a young Hawaiian woman. She approached me, I ran away thinking, “these things can only happen to me”.  I came out of my youth believing that my fate was controlled by a spirit whose will cast a shadow over me. And you think your life has been ‘difficult’?

There have been many instances where I have prayed for normalcy and instead found myself flying upside down in a hurricane of happenstance and the collision of unspecified occurrences . I have wondered at times if I was being challenged by an external force for reasons greater than I could fathom. Was I being prepared for something to come? Did my life have a greater meaning?  At the end of each day I would put my back against the irradiated concrete and brick like a lizard  to absorb the last warmth of the sun before the night caved in around me. I waited for God to remember my name and tell me there was more to life than a sidewalk and an empty glass. I waited in vain and grew away from the idea that divine providence held the winning cards in this game of life.

Conversely I lived in a maelstrom of inconsistency and confusion as my daily meat,  snatching at straws that I would try to spin into fools gold to feed the fool that I was. Others in turn envied my apparent freedom and independence without once breaking away the fragile facade to see what  lay behind my liars smile. I lived as a man floating in the air of a separate world. When ‘things’ happen in your life that have no relation to any action taken on your part do you dismiss it as coincidence? What if it happened a thousand times? Would you put it down to bad luck? If that’s the case I have no luck at all. So there I was, wallowing in the mysteries, not knowing where to turn. Booker T. Jones said it all.

“Born under a bad sign. I’ve been down since I began to crawl. If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”.

I’ve never lived in one place long enough to develop any religious sensibilities or insecurities about the unseen and erstwhile unknowable. I am no prisoner of a particular geography, my culture is the one I happen to be living in. I am cautious of people and remain intelligently suspicious. I am neither superstitious nor intractable. I have witnessed things I don’t understand and remain satisfied that there are some things that I am OK not knowing. I am convinced that there are many experiences that I can simply do without. There seems to be a new god to worship every thousand miles or so, separated from the old by a mountain, valley or river,  the concept of worship is like the dust on my shoes. I don’t live in fear of retribution nor am  I concerned about what’s coming next. But having said that, I have always had a nagging suspicion in the recesses of my mind that I am being toyed with by someone or some  ‘thing’ outside  my knowledge or control.

This idea first came to me as a young man  living in oft times challenging circumstances. There were instances when it seemed to me that time had been made to stand still and that I was observing rather than living through some striking event that might have meant grievous harm to me. Walking away from material violence and extricating oneself  from impending destruction is not a natural talent, unless it is. In the bar fights and protest marches of the late 60’s and early 70’s I was always amazed that I could walk away without being arrested or hospitalized. I started to feel as if someone was watching over me and guiding me in, out and around my vagrants lifestyle. I have walked through life as if dipped in honey.

I began to consider the possibility that there was a supernatural influence at work , present and unaccounted for,  who was guiding me through a series of  ‘tests’ and ‘challenge’s  designed in such a way as to gauge  my strength . ” Can you take ‘this’?”, I imagined it saying as I was thrust into another trial. “How about that?” I often felt pushed to the ragged edges of my capabilities just to prove that I could get through anything that life threw at me. I also thought that it was entirely possible that this ‘trickster’ was simply having malicious fun  as it shadowed me through my  world.

There was the point in my life where I became a traveler and that cloak was my salvation, because the armor of the routard is impenetrable. We are blessed with the powers of invisibility, transmutation and teleportation. As a child I discovered touchstones  amongst the  bits and detritus in my jumble world that  allowed me to fly when I held them in my hand . Certain objects revealed their true nature to me while I was dreaming.

A touch would begin my conversion into spirit  and I would rise out of my body after becoming a wisp of pure energy. One object was the corner phineal of a wooden bed frame. In my unconscious state I would  hold the spindle until I had gathered enough energy to fly and off I went.  I would speed away as if I were a bolt of naked lightning. In that ethereal state I could soar over the town I lived in, looking down from high above like an eagle. The horizon was always clear of obstacles, the moon clear and bright, and I would follow the rivers that passed over a patchwork of fields into country I had no prior knowledge of. Each night I went a little further, becoming bolder as I swept over the lands below.

The short wave radio that I’d salvaged from a garbage dump was another object of power, it spoke to me. I can still smell the dust burning off those  ancient glass vacuum tubes as they heated up in the dark space beneath my bed. I remember how the glow warmed my face. A whistling wave of oscillation would connect me to far flung aviators and the captains of ships  at sea. There were cities listed across the dial that felt for my fingers with sparks of recognition as I passed the control knob from right to left. I was transcendent .  Was it in this dreamscape that my spirit was mingled with that of another? What had I done that I shouldn’t? Something told me that I must visit each and every one of those cities to find what awaited me. My fate, it seems, was sealed.

Whatever the reason I have been disallowed a normal life I can’t say. Be it  by my strange fate, an inexplicable phantasm,  or the  coincidental unraveling of an unintended consequence marked  by my unheralded birth,  I don’t know. I am too far down the road to begin anew. I slipped through the cracks long ago and the timeless world rushing beneath my temporary circumstance swept me away to where I am now. If I am in the company of an unrevealed guardian angel, so be it, it won’t change anything at this point. I am comfortable living the life of a ruin-bagger, making shit up as I go, juggling my chances on a high wire and disappearing  before any of the balls fall to the ground . What I do know is that every cell in my body is conditioned to move, like a shark I may die if I  stall. Traveling and unattended mystery is all I know. My tattered travelers cloak  has served me well in the dark days and kept me warm through the coldest nights. If I am haunted by another, it seems that we’ll grow old together. By the way, do you have a good story to tell as we pass  between dusk and dawn?

© 2011 J West Hardin aka Wayne Olson- Poet, Novelist, Travel Writer, Travel Blogger, You Tuber, contributor ‘hackwriters’, Columnist for ‘The Travel Itch’ magazine

adapting to tropical weather

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

My neighbor, Ishiro San is called ‘Ice Man”  not just because he’s a cool guy from Japan, which he is. He manages a  refrigerator factory in Chonburi, Thailand producing several popular brand name appliances, hence his nickname. I call him ‘Mr.Cool’ because we Canadians have a unique sense of humor all our own and people around the world seem to like it. Yesterday we were neck deep in the swimming pool discussing the weather like two water buffalo ruminating in a reservoir. Ishiro San reminded me that the ‘hot season’ had officially begun the day before.  There are many kinds of hot here in the tropics, not all of them good or bad, depending on your circumstances. To the casual visitor the weather will seem perpetually hot.. hotter…. and sometimes unbearable.

There are four distinct seasons in Thailand, north east monsoon, south west monsoon , a short intermediate period referred to as ‘yen sabai’ which translates loosely as ‘comfortably cool’,  followed by a ‘pre-monsoon period’. When the Thai people say it’s ‘cool’ , they are referring to conditions that only they can relate to. What is ‘hot or not’ to a local is something completely different for a westerner who has yet to fully acclimate. During the Thai ‘winter’ it is common to see quilted jackets, scarves and sweaters for sale in the malls. I settle for loose shorts and an untucked XL shirt. When I do a walk by the wardrobe mirror I think, “that’s all they’re getting out of me today”.

It is comically counter intuitive  to watch the locals donning woolen clothing and wearing jackets while at the same time we are stripped down to the bare ex-pat essentials of soggy T-shirts, shorts and flip flops. Obviously I have not been in Thailand long enough to consider  90 degrees as ‘sweater weather’. People here  should count themselves  lucky that I am wearing pants when I leave the house if the temperature is in the 90’s and the humidity is off the charts! Once out on the street, a preconditioned acumen, sheer will and the science of geometry takes over. Observe the Thai’s and you will see that they dart past the stripes of fiery light towards  any shade available. As quick as sprites  they sprint like fire walkers across exposed bands of concrete. You’d think they were going to burst into flames if they let the sun linger a moment too long. Mid-day is no time for a casual wander down the sun splashed sidewalks of Bangkok.

In fact, the year round temperatures are fairly consistent at an average of 91 degrees. It may fluctuate between the high 80’s and just under 110 depending on the season and the time of day. During the very hottest time of year, which is the height of either monsoon, Thai’s flock to the higher elevations to enjoy slightly cooler temperatures and an amazing chilly fog that wraps itself around the hill towns. The   national parks are favored destinations for the Thai ‘staycation’  tourists, camping has become very popular . During the monsoon is when Thai’s consider nature to be at it’s best. The rivers are swollen torrents of abundant rain, the waterfalls  robust and the greenery is vibrant and lush.  The Thai  love four wheeling through the muddy valleys and impossible roads of the rugged interior.

From my experience, it is the rapid elevation in humidity that makes living and traveling in Thailand comfortable or not. During a monsoon the air  can become as thick as tepid bath water. I have had a Thai describe this extreme condition as ‘having your face over a pot of boiling water,’ that’s about right. When we first began to travel to Thailand, we were ‘out and about’ in every kind of weather at any time of day. I had always noticed the  Thai’s operated on a very different schedule. After some experience I now understand why my Thai friends always gave me that ‘are you crazy’ look when we announced that we were ‘going out’ in the middle of the day. They would say to us, ‘Rawn mak mak kah’ or ‘kahp’ as the gender may be . We would smile and wave as they shook their heads in disbelief while miming a fanning movement at their faces.

Of course it was too hot, I would come home hours later drenched with sweat  looking as pale and spent as if I’d had the life sucked out of me with a liposuction hose. It wasn’t as if they didn’t try to warn me. I don’t do that much anymore except under special circumstances. Instead, we have become night owls, exiting our shady retreats after the sun has cooled in the late afternoon unless it is to go to the swimming pool. Our Thai friends have taught us to appreciate the pleasant condition of staying ‘unperspired’. Noel Coward captured the essence of a fool under the tropical sun when he penned “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid day sun”, or words to that effect.

As westerners living in an antipodal  environment we have learned to adapt to conditions in such a way that we gratefully assimilate the local culture. As Canadians however,  we do slavishly adhere to our habit of sun worship. The way we bath in the sun and swim uncovered during the day subsequently amuses, confounds and simultaneously astounds the Thai. They spend all their time staying out of the sun  to have their skin remain unblemished while we gradually bake to an even muffin brown. We tell them that tanned skin is considered flattering and beautiful but they laugh as if we’re ‘having one over on them’.

Thailand has an entire cosmetic’s industry devoted to skin whitening in fact. The very idea of going out into the sun to become purposefully brown is quite provocative. Many times a polite comment has come to our attention that gives us the opportunity to explain our Canadian culture of infrequent and slightly desperate sun adoration after months of bleak overcast skies and generally dreary darkness. As strange as it may sound, the local people  seem politely unconvinced  with the explanation that snowbirds migrate towards the sun. It is in the cool of the evening when Thai families come down to the swimming pool with light snacks and children. We live in opposite worlds.

The culture of gathering by the waters edge after a days work extends far back into Thai history when  Thai’s lived in stilt homes within close proximity to the running rivers. In those days floods were a welcome part of the natural cycle, they brought life. Instead of building roads, traditional  Thailand relied on small but sophisticated water craft to travel and trade. Every home had several boats, like suburbanite North Americans have cars in the driveway. Don’t forget, Bangkok was once a city entirely transited by canals and was called ‘The Venice of the Orient’ by the earliest Europeans.

The images as presented are timeless and romantic. You can really see how the community works away from the frantic pace of the cities urban fundamentals. Mothers and children playing and socializing, fathers discussing daily affairs from a respectful distance. It’s akin to a village lifestyle that should have disappeared from a major city but in fact hides itself away until sundown. I count myself very fortunate to have been accepted into this community,  these types of relationships are so increasingly rare  in western cities. I should add that Thai people are very interested in Canada. We are an undiscovered territory and proportionately under-represented compared to other ex-pat populations. Thai people are fascinated by our stories of snowfall and free air conditioning. The women think that a life of having no sun to assail their professionally whitened skin would be a blessing , cold conditions delight them.

A visitor coming to Thailand would do best to understand the varied weather conditions that take place throughout the year. There is a season for everything. Be prepared to deal with very hot conditions by being appropriately attired. Come knowing what the conditions are going to be and plan your activities around the weather instead of your work schedule. And don’t worry, there’s lots to do in any weather. Best to buy your clothing here where the gauge of the cotton is well suited to this climate. The kind of cotton and denim you would buy in the west is invariably too thick and close knit for comfort here. Do not bring the ‘wick-away’ clothing that is ‘tropical-inspired’ clothing by design meant  to be used for hiking in a western climate. My best recommendation is too bring as little as possible and spend your first days observing  local traits and customs. You could a lot worse than to emulate the Thai culture of adapting to a fiery hot and humid climate with such grace and flair.

© 2011 J West Hardin aka Wayne Olson- Poet, Novelist, Travel Writer, Travel Blogger, You Tuber, Columnist for ‘The Travel Itch’ magazine

travel as a lifestyle

Posted: February 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Patricia and I have relocated to Bangkok Thailand from Vancouver Canada . We live in the pleasant suburb of Bangna that hugs the south east corner of Bangkok. If you were to want to travel to Pattaya, Rayong, Trat or Cambodia overland you would pass directly past my front driveway which abuts the Bangna Trat Highway. We chose this area to live after many previous reconnoitering trips to Thailand to find the place that suited us best. We refer to this area of Thailand as being ‘home, but with better weather’.

Because of our personal interests we require stability, technology and convenience. We like easy access to shopping , facilities and we’re twenty minutes from the airport by taxi. Our two bedroom condo supplies us with comfort and security. Being in one place for a long time allows us to spread out and get some perspective on what we are doing and how we fit into the local scene. Pat is chasing a second degree from a Canadian university that offers an on line program in her area that she can Skype into. I am a novelist-poet-blogger-travel writer, both of us need our ‘focus time’. As an artist I find this region extremely inspiring and has led to a fantastic period of productivity. She gets to follow her dreams while suntanning by the pool  jacked into the wireless ADSL. I find swimming in the moonlight particularly inspiring.

Migrating away from the Canadian winter  is a lifestyle choice. Our love of travel has preceded many other considerations, but that’s just us. We have been traveling together for twenty three years. Our first trip to S.E. Asia together included our eighteen month old son. West  is now a graduate of the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. In the early years of our travels we had decided to home school West so that we could continue our devotion to  travel. We were pleasantly surprised at how easy and fun the whole process was.

The Distance Education Program of the Fraser Valley B.C., was extremely generous and helpful. Don Nichols, who was our mentor and contact throughout the process was always ecstatic that we were using the program for what it was designed for and not another set of parents who had become dissatisfied with the public school system. We carried with us a rudimentary modem internet hook up and an ancient laptop , things worked out ,  leaving us with a great deal of independence to be inventive and create our own definitions when the curriculum didn’t match our geographical circumstance.

Streaming video would have helped but we got by fine without it. Our classrooms were funky cities, overgrown jungles,  serene parks and pristine beaches, wherever we happened to find ourselves. If you’re wondering, we accomplished this by selling our house on a whim after returning from a summer long trip to Fiji. I arranged a quick ‘completion’, we trundled everything into a long term storage facility, including our car, and took a taxi to the airport to catch our flight back to Fiji’s Coral Coast town of Sigatoka on the main island of Viti Levu where we had been inducted as honorary members of the Melevu tribe with a fiery ‘Sevu Sevu’ ceremony by the village chief on an earlier visit. Traveling the world turned out to be the best decision I ever made, for all of us. OK, you get the picture, we’re crazy about travel.

We have chosen Thailand as a base, not only because an economic miracle  has overtaken this country and colluded to provide a modern and accessible infrastructure for us to live comfortably, we also have a deep love for the Buddhist culture.  Thai people have always been extremely generous with us. There is a wonderful contact between women that Patricia loves, she calls it a ‘sisterhood’. It’s true, women treat each other, whether local or foreign born,  with genuine friendliness and respect. You’ll think they’re all just one big happy family, it’s quite charming. If you are traveling with a child or children, be prepared to have them fawned over at every opportunity, the Thai’s  love children. It may explain the obvious baby boom that we see in progress.

The unique geography of Thailand presents the traveler with a set of very accessible destinations within easy reach, not to mention that we are budget conscious and seek inexpensive travel options. The country is situated in the middle of the sector, surrounded by Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia making overland travel a breeze. If you’re looking for travel economy, this is the place to be. I have to mention that Bangkok is as safe a city as any in Canada. Interpersonal confrontation, under any circumstances is virtually unheard of. I have never witnessed violence in Thailand but I have read about isolated incidents through the news media.

Inexpensive air travel gives us access to every other destination in Asia within one to a few hours of flying time. The airlines often have competitive pricing offerings. We have seen prices from Bangkok to Singapore for as little as one dollar during ‘seat wars’ season! Normally, we can fly to Bali, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Vietnam for under one hundred dollars return when tickets are booked in advance. Recently there was an offering of a return fare by Air Asia from Bangkok to Sydney Australia for $99 dollars for travel in the April to July period.

Air Asia is our carrier of choice for the number of flights they schedule but there are many other regional and international carriers such as Jet Star, Silk Air, Lufthansa, Nok Air, Thai Air, Bangkok Air etc., using Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur as a hub. Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Philippines and China are also cheap and popular destinations that are easily purchased from either Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, with KL sometimes being the price leader because that is where Air Asia is headquartered.

You might be asking how much it costs to spend the winter in Thailand. Given that winter in Canada is at it’s worst over a six month period, lets make that time frame a baseline for our projections. From Vancouver Canada  via Hong Kong to Bangkok , return air fares for two on Cathay Pacific Air cost us $1296.64 ( tax inc)  each. You will need a visa to enter the ‘Hip Kingdom’ at a cost of $105.00.  I suggest the multiple entry six month option with reentry options at 60 days. You will have to leave the country every 60 days to renew your visa. The visa runs average cost to us is usually $600.00 for two for any general Asian destination. A forced holiday to some exotic destination every two months . I know, nice problem to have.

We’ve splashed out on a 160 sq. mtr. condo at $700.00 p/m in a highrise. The electric and the water are billed separately and cost on average $40.00 p/m. Cable TV is free with the unit. We have concierge and security. The pool is enormous.   Public transport is very inexpensive. It costs 8 baht to ride a local bus, that’s 24 cents! The air conditioned Skytrain for longer journeys is 65 cents. To ride the entire length of the system costs 40 baht which is $1.40 cents. I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the river and khlong ( canal) boats that are a local staple at 15 baht or 50 cents one way.

Food costs here are so cheap that you will cry in the aisles when you have to return to Canada. An average meal of fried rice or rice noodles with veg and meat or seafood costs 30 baht or one dollar cdn. Ice coffee is 50 cents, but can be had for less if you look. In spite of our having a fully equipped kitchen we have never cooked a meal. It’s cheaper, easier and certainly cooler to eat out every day. We use the microwave for breakfast and coffee.

Our ADSL line is $12 dollars per month for streaming video capability. Our total cost ( including laundry soap and mosquito coils) with airfare averaged monthly as well as all costs runs around $1750 per month. I looked at the weather report for Vancouver this morning, apparently they have extended the snowfall warning. My $1700 per month is money well spent in my opinion.

Fellow traveler, make sure you buy travel medical insurance every time  you pass out of the jurisdiction of your plan, be that a state, province or international border. A six month international travel medical insurance policy for two from British Columbia that does not enter the United States can be purchased on line from a company such as Coast Capital for just under $600.00. Now that’s money well spent. Don’t forget to keep up your monthly premiums at home so that they don’t lapse and leave you uncovered. Happy travels.

dancing in the twilight

Posted: February 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

dancing in the twilight

who knows how long the night will be

assuredly the dawn won’t break again

bring on what remains

after the callous world has eaten  your time

blind obeisance and grinding mediocrity

and cut you off a meager share

a brief nova shot through with dayshine

you are not one who rests in glory

you don’t respect the status quo

that commands you as if you were a mannequin

and compels you bide your time quietly

until you are too weak to fight the power

this pathetic enlightenment too late

the rhapsody of death so hollow

a sobriety from which there is no rehabilitation

you are tired from the race

to build a little pile of gold

like a desperate thief you  run away

to where a greater impoverishment offers succor

a fool with his delusions

footprints ending at the shoreline

the coming tide that will erase the memory of a tenuous existence

and still you dance

as if all is forgiven

knowing that the end is near

looking back it’s what you feared

the peace we fought for disappeared

stolen by the ones who cheered the flag

to leave you signifying nothing

you never thought they’d suck you in so deep

smoke and music walked the night

oblivious

until they threw you out on your ass when the party was over

and the world outside had changed forever

you shield your eyes from awaits you

when the new world had seemed so promising

until it was revealed to you

that the fairy tale of heaven is just a grand illusion

and a pleasant little metaphor

that life is just an open door

and love is  the blood that runs through you

your dead heroes unresurrected

no dreams could save them

why should it be any different with you

to walk alone into the sunset

knowing that time is not on your side

dancing with the noose  in your hand

after you’d volunteered as executioner

by your indifferent stand

you can dance one last dance

in the twilight

reliving what you thought had been

a life

and as the sun begins to set

you realize

that it was all a lie

so why bother, it’s over

all that’s left is the dying

and the rage against the light

OK, we have white hair, we are recently  retired, travel six months of the year to escape the brutal northern winters, we are snowbirds by definition. My wife and I have spent years of footloose travel looking for the perfect destination to eventually winter during our yearly retirement migration. We are late blooming boomers who are at the tail end of that generation, as such we have different cultural requirements. We consider ourselves too young for Miami, Scottsdale and Las Vegas and too old for youth hostel bunk beds. Living on a golf course doesn’t interest us, we grew up traveling the world and feel comfortable in exotic destinations  preferring the excitement of new cultural experiences. Cruising is definatley out, too restricting, not enough personal space for people like us who came  into the world as young adventure travelers in the 1960’s and 70’s , have tasted the delightful freedom of alternative destinations and enjoy a spirit of wanderlust. Europe is a memory of our youthful backpacking. Long gone are the days of ‘Europe on 5&10 dollars a day’.  The costs of traveling in France, Spain and Great Britain have become so onerous when purchasing Euro’s with Canadian dollars that we simply could not afford to stay six months there, and then there is the winter weather, not good. Of course these are all personal choices. Most Canadians don’t retire wealthy, the national taxation is egregious while working and the pensions in retirement are abysmal to non existent for the majority. We remain budget travelers, almost the same as we were when we first discovered Asia.

We would have  considered destinations like Mexico,  Africa or Near East, which we loved when we were young, but by the time we were retired it was no longer safe to reside there in our opinion based on national travel advisories and the news reports of responsible independent journalists. It is unfortunate for the countries and peoples of Mexico, Guatemala, Salvador, Belize etc.,  but we feel that residing there would be an unnecessary risk to ourselves knowing there were other opportunities. I don’t run as fast as I once could. I won’t paint the whole world with the same brush, but sufficed to say I am increasingly concerned about our safety as we are growing older. Towards retirement our selection criteria began to narrow down to highlight the things we thought were important to us.

In our situation the best course of action was to find a longer term modern apartment rental in a safe inexpensive country that welcomes tourists to hunker down for the winter. This methodology keeps our costs down and under our control. Surprisingly , there are precious few options in the world that met our increasingly demanding set of criteria. We wanted security, easy access, good transportation, modern facilities for medical and finance. We need ADSL high speed internet connections that are reliable, good shopping, inexpensive fresh food and easy communication as well as some proximity to nice people we could socialize with during the time we were here. We wanted an apartment with all the mod-cons at a reasonable cost that included telephone,  cable/satellite.

Here in Bangkok our checklist disappeared with reservation. It was easy to find an apartment over the internet, with the proviso that we had made several scouting trips to Thailand before we decided to make the move and knew where we wanted to locate. We choose not to live in a strictly ex-pat enclave because we don’t want to be discussing the same issues as we would at home for the entire winter. The local Thai’s are fun, active, good hearted and very social. It is a different culture so we realize it’s up to us to fit in, not the other way around.

Over the past twenty years a social and economic miracle has happened in Thailand. Millions have been lifted out of poverty and an explosion in the middle class has created the infrastructure that provides us with a modern and comfortable lifestyle. As we say, “Bangkok is like home, with better weather”.  Spoken English in the institutions, ubiquitous malls and hypermarkets is the norm now as opposed to the first time I arrived thirty seven years ago. Thai hospitals have an excellent reputation and remain inexpensive as are private clinics, doctors visits and dentistry. Thailand is famous among Asians for the low cost and high fashion apparel that is available. Thailand has become known as ‘The Hip Kingdom’ because of the growth in the design industry.

Our costs, including airfare, visa’s, rental, food, transportation allowance and at least one ice cream cone every day amounts to $ 1730.00 per month in Canadian dollars. The fully furnished condo we rent provides us with all the mod-cons, 160 sq meters, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, wrap around deck, overlooking a huge pool for the princely sum of $700 per month. ADSL is $12 p/m, water and electricity total $40 p/m. Laundry in the building costs 30 cents per machine use. The airfare to get here was $1250 x’s 2, the two extra visa expenses add up to $1200 over the six month period. These costs are all factored into the total cost stated of $1730.00. With some adjustments after pensions, our savings are safe at these rates of expenditures. We plan to realign our investments further to exclude risk by purchasing only dividend paying equities as well as finding a short term tenant for the period we are away. In a perfect world our winters away should cost us nothing in the future. That’s ‘plan ‘A’.

We have yet to cook a full meal in our fully equipped kitchen. Except for occasional egg,  morning coffee or microwave snack we eat out 99.9% of the time. It’s so incredibly cheap to eat here. The qualifier is that we eat only Thai food most of the time, and love it. There are many western style restaurants immediately available from which we defer but that is a choice not a necessity. As an example, I just popped out to pick up a take out lunch for my busy wife who’s keeping up by taking university credit courses online towards a degree in education.

At the end of my driveway there are several food outlets that service the office building crowd. You might refer to these  as ‘food carts’ although that would be a generalization as they are permanent fixtures. One dish of  steamed chicken on rice with a celery-cilantro soup and a tall ice tea drink with milk cost a grand total of 50 baht or $1.55 cents cdn. By extension, lunch for two was less than $3.00 for two, delicious. We have never had health issues eating from the local vendors in case you want to know.

Our days consist of pool time, eating out, following our interests, communicating with an international tribe of snowbirds and family via Skype and our social media profile is active, blogging ( https://jwesthardin.wordpress.com) , producing content for our You Tube Channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/patriciaolson9), writing travel articles for various international magazines along with working on my latest novel or text book projects. When the sun cools down, and believe me when I say that only mad dogs and Englishmen venture out in the noon day sun, we venture around the city on the very flexible and inexpensive public transportation system.

Thailand sits at the center of a varied and fascinating geography. We consider all of S.E. Asia a playground. Air fares are very inexpensive. Air Asia is the lowest cost provider in the region. A flight from Bangkok to Georgetown Malaysia on the island of Penang is $100 return when booked in advance. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Air Asia sometimes reduces fares to attract new business and that provides great travel opportunities around the region. We have flown to Bali from Bangkok for as little as $100 and to Singapore for $70.00. No destination is more than a few hours away.  Land borders include Myanmar , Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia where bus and train travel are easy access vehicles for the traveler with some spare time on their hands. I asked myself today, “Is Thailand the new ‘it’ destination for snowbirds?” The answer was an unequivocal ‘yes’.

forever and ever… always

Posted: February 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

do you you remember the time we got caught in the snow

you were afraid

and i played along

you asked me a question

that took my breath away

‘if this was our last day together what would you say?’

i told you that the answer was sitting right in front of me

i said ‘i will love you forever and ever always’

i remember the song on the radio when you fell into my arms

and you sang ‘i will love you forever and ever always’

the next year we were married on that day

we played our song and danced the night away

the snow fell when we made love

and you said ‘i will love you forever and ever always’

when  you told me  that our child was going to come

i couldn’t find a single word to say

i found that song on an Mp3 and played it all night long

i whispered the words as i held you tight

that i would love you forever and ever always

the spring  wasn’t kind when we heard the bad news

the doctor told me i had to keep you in bed

one night the angels came and took you away

i found the note that you left and i  read

‘i will love you forever and ever always’

our little girl is in my arms

she looks just like you

i named her ‘snow’

and her favorite song is the one i sang to you

‘i will love you forever and ever always’