Archive for May, 2016

Bangkok has become larger than it’s reputation. Everything you can imagine happening happens in this mega city at the speed and frequency of an eye blink. How many monikers does this town carry…let’s see. ‘The Big Smoke’…The Big Mango’, ‘Sin City’…’The Hip Kingdom’. There are probably others…but I don’t hang out in ‘that’ part of town.

The infrastructure build out of the past ten years is starting to rival and surpass many western capitals. The construction is on an insane trajectory. It ain’t the quiet little ‘Asian Secret’ some people still come seeking. And by the way, what are we to make of those tourists who still show up wearing matching ‘jungle wear’ outfits? Man, talk about a time warp. Seriously people, you ain’t on safari… or anybodies ‘Bwana’ in Asia.

This city is sizzling with mod-cons, the likes of which are a first time experience to many of the Europeans who stumble out of a Finland wilderness or Canadian backwater. The fact that Bangkok has an attractive architectural history, amazing beaches and fascinating Buddhist culture is just ‘the cherry on top’ to suck 30 million tourists a year into the country.

But, as my friends often remind me…”Don’t be complacent about the dangers”. It has, in fact, become far more dangerous to travel in Thailand. The crime statistics are higher than ever, many tourists and travelers bring it on themselves. As a casual observer of the ‘Darkside’ I have definatley noticed the pattern and timing of a majority of crimes against tourists.

Aside from horrible occurrence of road related deaths on weekends and holidays, the worst time to be out anywhere in Thailand ( but especially Pattaya, Bangkok or Phuket) is between 1:30 am and 5:30 am ….when the majority of people on the streets are drunk or those hunting drunks. Simple robbery has many times turned to murder, it’s nothing personal, many Thai’s and related peoples don’t manage violent behavior very well, it’s new to them. Many times the robbers are desperate sex workers and villagers who’ve come to see the big city lights and get the first look at foreigners who seem to drip with a wealth they have never seen .

My advice…’stay out of the infamous wild bar scene’. You’ll say, “What fun is that?” I’ll say, “What’s your life worth?” And people…you simply can’t believe the insane behavior of the ‘Farang’ crowd. Anyone living here will tell you that foreigners are more dangerous than the Thai’s. So , if you want to have a great time in Thailand, stay away from area’s where the greatest numbers of tourists hang out. Tourists attract criminals of all kinds…..there are many criminals pretending to be tourists and hiding among the crowds. That’s where you find the most sleaze and crime.

Street crime is not the norm, but the frequency of people being robbed in isolated places, like the beach, or a historic park is growing. Being robbed by a sex worker is almost a given…these people are not your friends. Sex workers are steeped in the anecdotal tactics of the ‘ladies and gentlemen’ who have gone before them. Even the youngest sex worker can drug and rob you if you slip into complacency for even a second when alone with her/him.

Famously, the airport taxi into the city has been many unfortunate tourists introduction to crime in Thailand. Those guys are sharks…and you should always into that relationship with your eye’s open. Never agree to having the meter turned off in exchange for a flat rate. Try to use some common sense and don’t get into the first cab you see. The idea of ‘queuing’ by cabs is only done in Europe.

Here you want to check the cab and it’s driver very carefully and if ‘number six’ is the only one that doesn’t look like a crackhead…you walk past the rest. But…that’s no guarantee. I only use ‘Uber’…or ‘GrabCar’…you can download either app free after buying a data card from ‘True Mobile’ or any of the other kiosks at the terminal. You won’t regret getting better service if you do. I won’t explain how either system works…just sayin’…that they do good work. So many new arrivals get robbed by taxi driver’s that it’s worth paying attention to.

More to come…just not today.

happy days

happy days

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OK, so we were ‘digital nomads’ long before, decades before, anyone had coined a hipster term for it….when it was a lifestyle few people had dared to try…especially with a family in tow. Don’t forget that these were the days before email, Facebook, social media, guidebooks or tourist infrastructure of any kind.

I have been traveling for business for decades. I was not the ‘original hippie traveler’ but….my career did start in the late 1960’s when I discovered that I could manufacture and transport items for trade in the popular culture from one exotic place to the next and finally sell to the ‘wanna be hipsters’ who couldn’t imagine leaving home for a rugged life ‘on the road’.

My inspiration was Adam Smith’s quote in the 1722 ‘The Wealth of Nations’ …” to transport goods from where they are abundant and cheap to where they are rare and dear’. You had to be very tough, open minded and extremely organized to travel in the days when cities like Bangkok only had one long distance phone line.

Hi-Tech communications back then consisted of the Telex system and telegrams. There was a bulletin board at most American Express offices…but those were few and far between. Letters were sent like ricochets from a distant GPO to another Post Restante where a traveler either had to soldier on…or backtrack for a week or more to pick up a single piece of mail that might have been sent months before.

I started in the jungles of South America manufacturing leather products from cattle butchered, tanned and cured in the swampy no mans land between Columbia and Ecuador. I’ve sold and bartered trade goods from one third world country to the next and traded up until finally I had what I wanted to sell into the west for an enormous profit.

I have traded some odd goods…with some odd people…from fresh mint and blue jeans from India for Lapis Lazuli in Afghanistan to rough cut diamonds in Bangkok to exchange for goldsmiths labour to finish my original design garnet and moonstone jewellery…..a process that sometimes started down a muddy mine shaft in Sri Lanka. This is my 43rd anniversary of first arriving in Thailand…and strange to me…I’m still here and sometimes loving it….other times…not so much.

My genius wife Trish changed things up when she came into my life. I was living in a world that was  borderline a thousand or more years years ago. Trisha is a star child…she’s from the future. She was an educator with a beautiful mind at a major university and a computer scientist engineer. Trisha was one of the very first to design functional database technology, and had been recruited away from the university to manage a reorganizing of the worlds largest telecommunications devices manufacturers. At the time they had been communicating between isolated silo’s with post it notes and needed to be brought into the 21st century.

I introduced Trisha to my travel passion within weeks of meeting her. Her first trip was a short hop to get married on the island of Maui where I’d ‘grown up’ stringing naturally produced Puka Shell necklaces from the surfing beaches for tourists in Oahu for ongoing travel money to surf camps along the west coast. She was immediately hooked on the excitement and we began designing a system of personal management and finance for ourselves that would allow us to function as full time travelers.

At the time I thought trading would suffice and keep us ‘on the road’….but I was wrong…there was a new technology and a new way of doing things I hadn’t realized. Apparently I was ‘old school’…and it would be Trisha’s genius that would show us the way to perpetual travel.

Even though we were hi tech digital nomads with electrical equipment that wouldn’t be seen again in some countries for a decade or more…people would refer to us as ‘Gypsies’…because we weren’t ‘dirty hippies’….and we weren’t ‘tourists’….there was no other way to describe us….backpacker tourism hadn’t been seen in many parts of the world…we were something of a hybrid that no one had seen…especially immigration officers.

Trisha would begin to explain the technical specifications of the equipment we carried and that caused the eyes of border officers to roll back as if lapsing into a coma. I had an additional expertise in Emergency Medicine  and carried a portable trauma kit and strange medical devices, pharma and antidotes some of the officers hadn’t seen since their days in the military. I was ready to treat anything from snake bite to gun shot. I was described by friends as ‘The Jungle Doctor’. The moniker culture ‘digital nomad’ didn’t exist yet. Our piles of electronic and household equipage including dozens of  school books, cables, monitors, transformers and including ‘the kitchen sink’ resembled a humpy back camel caravan moving slowly through the airport.

This transition didn’t happen overnight. We had to save, plan and further educate ourselves for several years before taking the plunge. The budding technology of the internet wasn’t quite ready. Personal and financial organization are as important as the latest gadgets when it comes to really making a go of it as a ‘digital nomad’…..more on that in future installments. Big banks hadn’t yet designed the platforms for us to access our accounts by remote allowing us to maintain our trading business wherever we wanted to be. That would come in time.

We ‘practiced’ the art of perpetual travel for a few years, with long months of ‘elsewhere’ during summer vacations, building our skills, fortifying our financial base, before we took the final leap. First it was Trish and I traveling as a couple beginning twenty eight years ago…and then our son came along and his first trip was to Bali twenty five years ago.

We felt it wise to acclimate ourselves and especially our son, as we would literally ‘leaving it all behind’, including all family and friends and the close social infrastructure of school teachers and personal patterning. There is a certain aspect of culture shock creep in when you’ve been away from home for an extended period of time. Trust me, you’ll start craving, favorite foods and comfortable sights.

I remember the day it turned into reality. We’d sold our house, put everything we owned into a long term storage locker and paid two years in advance….including storage for our car…’The Shadow’….and of we three travelers went to the airport ( by then our son West had come along….I know….naming our son West almost 30 years before Kanye and Kim…we really were ahead of the innovation curve) ) to fly away unencumbered for an undefined travel experience without boundaries. Our first stop was the Coral Coast of Fiji. More about how technological change over next almost 30 years would effect our lives coming soon.

End of Part Two…..next …”Being a Digital Nomad with a child in tow”

 

 

the original digital nomads

the original digital nomads

It was the 1980’s and it never occurred to us that we were on the vanguard of a new movement. The idea that we could suddenly do a very rudimentary form of communication and commerce over the latest invention, the ‘internet’ was an idea we picked up on instinctively. Trisha became active in a ‘cyber world’ called ‘Bulletin Boards’, originally reserved for scientists and military…a messaging system that predated email and the World Wide Web, communicating with like minded persons over painfully slow dial up modems that squawked and screeched for several minutes while chewing through the ancient bandwidth of crude telecommunications technology of the time before connecting. The term ‘digital nomad’ wouldn’t be invented for another twenty five years. People thought we were mad for even attempting what we’d embarked on.

‘Graphics’ at the time meant ‘graph’….not pictures. But, we instantly knew how the new medium would free us from our standing constraints….I could still conduct my business in the financial world and we could home school our child through British Columbia Canada’s excellent and still nascent ‘Distance Education System’. The minute we realized how quickly we could cut ties to work, mortgages and schooling….we were gone. Trish would continue to build her own ‘Franken-machines’ from remote locations.

Initially the hardware and wiring we had to carry was enough to fill several large bags and when we went through an airport it looked as if we were moving enough electronics to set up a satellite relay. Thank God for miniaturization. The industrial step down transformer we carried weighed at least forty pounds. For a time my son actually thought we were spies and we still joke about that.

That was the 80’s and the ‘internet’ as a interpersonal communications medium was only a few months old, personal computing was something only a small collection of ‘nerds’ had access to…and like my super nerdy wife, built their own machines from parts gleaned at Radio Shack and a secret coven of back alley electronics stores and mail order. The latest conversations over BBB system were about writing the latest DOS code, floppy disk space, Kilobytes and a mysterious new invention called ‘a motherboard’. The personal desk top computer was years away from being commercially available.

the original digital nomad

the original digital nomad

End of Part One