Posts Tagged ‘canada’

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

Thailand is experiencing the most prolonged heat wave in the past sixty five years…..lucky us….yay. Temperatures in the mid forties trick your body and mind into wanting to lay down and die. My national phone carrier ‘True’ sends heat advisories every day, as if we need reminding how freaking hot it is out there.

“Trust me…it’s not the heat…it’s the humidity”…some old hand will say.

“No”, I reply…”It’s both”. I don’t need to be reminded that these temperatures are dangerous.

True adds insult to injury by adding what they call a ‘Humidex warning’….a ‘feels like’ calculation to adjust both temperature and humidity into a warning against spending any unnecessary time outside. Today’s number is one hundred and seventeen degrees. Thanks for telling me True. I’m likely to spend my day cowering inside my air conditioned condo not that I know I could die if I go outside. At this point I mentally run through a checklist of what’s left in the house to eat. The choices I have are… frisk a run to the 7-11 across the street for Lime Smoothie….or die of starvation.

The better acclimated Thai’s are suffering…not at all silently…but barely dignified. People outside wear a well practiced grimace. They grit their teeth , as if bearing down for an unavoidable fight against an implacable enemy. They’re stalwart, waiting it out, like a contest between life and death, the battle played out between the passing of light into darkness. It’s a fool errand to wait for a cool evening respite, it’s as hot at three in the morning as it is at three in the afternoon.

There is a brief half hour pause when the barometer drops as the sun goes down and the pressure forces near gale force winds down the narrow soi’s. It’s then when children and mothers with babies will come out into the street to be blown dry while pushed down the asphalt like earthbound kites in a tornado.

My landlord will hate me this month, I’m running the air-conditioning fourteen hours a day….and electricity is expensive here. We need to keep the windows closed for a variety of reasons. Bangkok air is predatory and seeks silent entry through any sliver of open space. With the air comes a fine blanket of exhaust residue and dust. breath too much and your lungs could look like a coal miner at his wake. Seek ‘a breath of fresh air’ and the condo will become an oven.

Monsoon time is also ‘mosquito season’….and there’s Dengue Fever, Malaria and a deadly brain killing strain of Japanese Encephalitis carried up from the vengeful south this year. Thousands of cases this year alone.  There’s no choice except this self imposed isolation.

Look down any street and see tourist trapped behind sheets of glass like the denizens of a zoo. The heat has caught them flat footed. They weren’t expecting to feel debilitated by the fiery temperatures that have attacked them since arriving. They look bewildered and frightened. Many have been bed ridden with dizzy vomiting from heat prostration having mistaken consuming alcohol as a panacea to ‘beat the heat’….which is the worst thing you can do.

A rain came today, thunder and lightning bombarding a distant suburb….good news as we drift towards monsoon season. Only the Gods know when this will end.

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Once upon a time Canadian youth were one of the most visible backpacking travelers anywhere in the world, now they have all but vanished. In the days before the Euro was born Canadians made up a huge percentage of the youth represented among the travel crowds opening new markets like the UK, Spain, Greece, France and Morocco. When Asia was a fresh new destination for young people you would hear the distinctive Canadian accent over many others in a given crowd. These days you’ll be lucky to find a Canadian traveler of any age. We’ve been enslaved into isolation by our own governments policies of hammering our national currency , the Loon, down to below what it costs to travel abroad.

Canada’s ‘low dollar’ policy has killed off the once prolific Canadian traveler. The Canadian dollar now buys half a UK Pound…forty percent less than a Euro and it falls almost every day against the American dollar, now at a forty percent discount in just twelve months. Where I live, Bangkok Thailand, the Canadian dollar has depreciated thirty eight percent against the Thai Baht in twenty four months. Canadians are no longer able to afford to travel as they once did. Today I’m asking why? Is there a concerted effort by members of the Canadian elite bureaucracy to keep Canada’s youth at home, poor and ignorant of world affairs?

Is it a coincidence that unemployment rates for this generation, The Millenials’, is higher than any preceding generation? There are no jobs for well educated Canadian youth, and those who do find work are paid lower than in any other G8 country for the same work. Are poorer and less well traveled people easier to politically manipulate? There must be a reason. It certainly isn’t because the zero interest rate policy has made Canada poor. A recent study proved that a ZIRP policy was the main cause of a lower dollar in Canada and made no economic sense.

In fact today’s elite civil service is being paid more and compensated better than any cohort before it. Why isn’t the benefit of the ZIRP explosion in wages for the elite union members not trickling down to the youth generation? Why aren’t the #elite civil service members vacating their positions upon retiring and giving that employment to Canada’s youth? Why is it allowed that the sitting civil service member is allowed to take early retirement and collect a full pension while being allowed to contract back into their positions, accept full pay and benefits, while also receiving a second pension contribution while Canada’s young grads are suffering in poverty?

Not only are Canada’s youth living in relative poverty, but they are being disallowed the same opportunity to travel and experience the world that the senior generation had done before they blocked the way for the youth of today? These are some of the questions and queries I’ll be exploring as this article expands in scope.

Sucks to be young & Canadian

Sucks to be young & Canadian

I woke up staring down another Christmas on the road, just weeks away. Trish and I have had our Christmas’ in some fairly exotic places. Bangkok Thailand ranks right up there. Luckily we can buy a fuzzy Chinese faux tree and glitzy decorations next door at an American owned grocery chain store. In the past I’ve packed a fold up tree in my suitcase to have a proper Canadian Christmas where ever in the world we found ourselves.

Today’s modern technology makes it a lot easier to communicate back home. Not like the old days where a traveler had to find a post office with a long distance call box and wait between crackling sentences as voices echoed thousands of miles back and forth down a rubbery trunk line. You don’t have to send your gifts home by sea six months in advance anymore. In many countries the happy holiday was a bit anti-climactic when there was nothing resembling western culture for thousands of miles in any direction. Today’s travelers have it easy.

The Thai people have embraced Christmas as a shopping/commercial opportunity. They love everything western, so Christmas trappings are ‘exotic’ and ‘modern’ , like nonsensical English words  and slogans on T-Shirts and hand bags. People love the giant Christmas tree’s standing outside the mall entrances and can’t get enough cheesecake pictures. They do a decent job of decorating. This years theme at the mall closest us is ‘Snoopy in Space’ all in white and silver. I’m fairly sure something has been lost in translation, and there’s no reference to Baby Jesus, but…it gives us travelers a bit of Christmas cheer and nostalgia for days gone by.

The huge growth in backpacker tourism and telecommunications has initiated more awareness of Western Culture in diverse countries. There aren’t many destinations you won’t find at least a hotel bar with sparkly lights and tinsel. I’m listening to Christmas songs on my favorite Texas radio station online, 95.3 The Range. I spent my last two Christmases in Texas and the fine music got under my skin. I guess while I’m at it  I’ll admit to having a soft spot for Christmas. No matter where we find ourselves on December 25th….we celebrate Christmas…and remember why.

What a world of contradictions we live in. My own self administered paradox is incomprehensible, even to me sometimes. “How can you live like that?” an engineer we met in Dallas asked in astonishment when Trish and I  explained that we hadn’t been ‘home’ more than a few weeks in the preceding few years. In fact we’d lived in the Hyatt Las Colinas in Dallas for almost three years running when we bumped into him at the poolside BBQ one afternoon.

He’d just bought a house in his native country, the Slovak Republic, it was his goal to have security and a sanctuary. The mindset of our engineering friend is common, it just isn’t for us. “I don’t know”, I replied. “Things just have a way of working out”….and they really have. Our recent and free week long stay at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap Cambodia is an example of how ‘things’ can ‘work out’ if you’re organized and travel savvy.

Some people envy us, they covet what we have, but have no understanding of how we came to be the nomads we are. I wouldn’t describe what we have done as sacrifice, we just want different things. As a friend of mine once quipped, “You have to be very organized to be as lazy as I am”. That sums up our lifestyle succinctly, though not entirely accurately.

Trish and I have foregone many things. We don’t have a long term mortgage, own a boat or a car lease. We haven’t renovated the house and stuffed it with material goods. We have never been consumers of ‘stuff’, instead we collect experiences. Our life is personalized, we do only what we choose, and yet we have achieved a level of success by enjoying the banquet and the open bar, but never eating the worm.

I haven’t felt like writing since I wrapped up my last novel. That two year experience was arduous, and I’m not feeling the energy to do that again any time soon. My daily life is consumed with personal thoughts about today and tomorrow, but nothing too far down the line. I feel like I’ve done enough scheduling to last quite some time.

Planning the next act of travel is my only obsession these days. I have fantasies and dreams that don’t include security or pride of place. I don’t work anymore, and with retirement I have allowed myself to exercise a degree of ‘I don’t give a shit’, that I haven’t allowed reign in the past twenty five years or so since becoming a husband and father. Getting older is somewhat like being a teenager again, feckless and cynically disorganized.

I just got back from a trip to Cambodia. I was less impressed by the poverty than I used to be. I looked for happy photographs instead of images of misery and neglect. Trisha and I fed the children beggars instead of artfully ignoring them as many tourists do. I saw far too many people working way too hard at ‘getting everything done’ as they grow closer to the end. The simple facts of life lay strewn on the sidewalks and gutters like cast off flowers . I saw  tell tale signs of utter exhaustion, fear and desperation, disconnected people, no where near the completion of their guide book inspired ‘bucket list’. I seek no such frustrations.

When I was young(er) I  left ‘home’ to travel. My passions took me away for so long that I became disassociated from everything and everyone I’d  ever known. After years away I returned a stranger to family and friends who’d moved on. I remember the impression that the streets of New Delhi were more familiar than those I returned to.

Today I live in Bangkok Thailand, occasionally struck by emotions of longing and separation. Returning to BKK from Cambodia was a homecoming to familiar territory.  I walk around my neighborhood and realize I know everyone, everyone knows me. People noticed I was gone. My favorite soup stall vendor, Khun Fa, remembers what I like, it’s endearing.

I’ve lost the familiarity with what was once my home, once again I will have to start over in Canada, where communities change rapidly with new immigration endlessly churning the population and neighbors last for minutes until they’re replaced with someone elses great expectations. I have no idea what to expect if and when I return. Here in Bangkok, people reside in the same area for generations in giant family units, and give life a sense of continuity. That’s how things are going, I’m floating from one day to the next, unwinding myself. The end of the road for a happily homeless traveler has no stop signs. Fringelords

The worst has happened. Our property managers have drained our swimming pool. This is a disaster !! No not really. We just have to find another pool somewhere in the neighborhood. I had to bus around today looking…and found quite a few that are either frog ponds or not as advertised…the search continues.

I should have seen this coming…they’ve been talking about resurfacing the pool for five years. In Thailand…it’s common to hear of great plans afoot…while very little ever gets done. In honesty the pool does need a few new tiles.

Of course they didn’t tell us because we’re renting and all the strata minutes are posted in Thai. It’s a hell of a thing to wake up and find you daily ritual has changed. Like I alluded to..plenty of pools around, while ours is out of commission for 6 to 8 weeks…..bummer. Or have I gotten so lazy I can’t even travel around my own area….some of that for sure.

BTW…wrong about the silent ninja Gecko’s…they’ve started to sing.

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