Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

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

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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It’s not always about the destination, but how the story unfolds along the way. A year ago Trish and I left Thailand, exclaiming we’d never return. We’d had it with the complications of this unfathomable place. When asked why we were leaving this inscrutable country and I’d say…”It’s challenging”. There wasn’t one answer, there were hundreds. Thailand wasn’t the quaint little backwater we’d originally fallen in love with. The country seems to have lost it’s civility, people more grasping than ever before. Thai’s complain about each other having lost their sense of community. “Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there….again”, I’d concluded. We wrote the place off.

Life in Thailand had pissed me off. Everything, under the simplest of conditions, was having to be wary of who and what we were dealing with far more often than I was comfortable with. I was tired of having some jerk off force me to negotiate for saop, ask me to pay more for toilet paper, a candy bar or a bus ticket…annoying.

A last negotiation with a property manager who’d taken over the building we’d called home for twenty years was enough to sour us . It wasn’t just these bitches trying to rip us off for our ‘security deposit’…complaints were piling up among ex pats that ripping off ‘farang’ was epidemic. Leo de Caprio floated an idea about an ideal place. ‘The ‘Beach’ movie  attracted so many farang flakes, freaky fuck ups and burned out losers that the ‘coolness’ of Thailand evaporated and became dangerously soaked with a flammable criminal element….and everyone was running around drunk with burning matches.

So we left..”Fuck ’em”, we said on the way out. “We’ve got better ways to spend our money”. It wasn’t a blood sport, by any stretch of the imagination, as in a lot of other third world shitholes, just annoying. At 62 and  43 years of third world shitholes under my belt I felt I’d had enough third world bullshit.

Hell…we’re Canadian, our dollars never worth shit, so as a people we’re forced into third world shitholes if we want to travel at all. Canadians simply can’t afford ‘nice’. We have to work harder, accept a lower standard of living and travel, lower our expectations and dig deeper for the deals. You’ll only find Canadians in shitholes and toilets, it’s all we can afford.

There I was sitting next to a warm fire in our tidy home in Canada, a place I’d bought my wife to underwrite her retirement…dreaming about our time in Texas, thinking we’d spent enough time ‘on the road’. It occurred to me that in the past dozen years we hadn’t spent more than a few weeks in our ‘home’. We’d come back from business trips and intermittent stops in Asia to check how the place was, who our kid had turned out to be, and file our taxes. We started thinking ‘renovation’.

We’d spent our lives traveling the world, on business and pleasure… and speaking for myself, I was getting old. The guy in my head and the image reflected back from glass windows weren’t in sync. I didn’t feel old…but I was looking my age…..pot belly , grey hair and all.  In the past dozen years we’d been to more countries than an average person would need to visit in a lifetime to call themselves ‘well traveled’. I was ready to retire. My wife wasn’t. She won.

Originally our lives had been designed around ‘Plan A’….a balance to work enough to save for the ‘fuck you’…more travel and to bugger off in a six month rotation. It was the perfect plan when we were younger, but younger minds designed the plan. Young people are blessed with never having to plan ahead…thirty years and more,  down the road for people who’ll be alive when you’re dead.

Nine months passed, and here we are, back again, a few kilometers from where we left, putting up with the same bullshit, camped out in an Air B&B Bangkok high rise, living day to day, with no intention of ever going back, it just isn’t in the cards. This lifestyle has it’s ‘challenges’, but I wouldn’t trade it for a set of golf clubs and a rocking chair. This ain’t tourism friends, this is ’till death do us part’.

don't tell me I can't travel till I die

don’t tell me I can’t travel till I die

I know why I left home early to travel the world, it was to escape my pain and find freedom among strangers. What I realized was that no one I’d left behind was interested in my pain, they envied me for my escape. They thought I was ‘getting one over on them’ and enjoying life more than I deserved. My closest relations envied me for where I’d been and hated me for the stories and scars I’d bring back. The squalid objects in my rucksack were items that disappeared if I let my guard down. I found it hard to believe at first that anyone would covet the talismans of my poverty.

In the earliest days of my traveling ways the people I knew all thought I was taking more than my share from life, because we’d come from the gutter, and as a child I was the lowest of all things, among a hierarchy of creatures, myself being less deserving than all, when in fact most days I was laying my head down tattered, torn and hungry. To many I’d become a  revenant, showing up unannounced and unwelcome at a crowded table… and then a despicable stranger when years of absence had gone by without contact, proof of life, or regard. The truth about travel is that it’s a life…lived day to day, on a budget, on a shoestring, often precarious and dangerously, not a lifestyle…something you share with no one as you’re always alone.

A young person I know on Face Book recently posted ” If travel was free you’d never see me again”. I laughed, knowing that travel has always been free if you let it control your life, give yourself freely, unabashedly, and leave everything and everyone you know behind to pursue the path. It’s the possessions and people you leave behind and conversely come home to that control the amount of time you spend ‘on the road’….not money or desire. You’re either a traveler or a tourist…you can’t be both. Being a ‘traveler’ isn’t a euphemism for ‘travel’…or for having fun while others work…being a true traveler is a calling, a thing, it’s who you are because you’re not ‘one of them’…a different person than the rest, a light in your heart that no one will ever see. Travel is a lonesome profession  you’ll rarely be paid for.

If you’re one of the lucky few who organizes their personal lives to become a traveler, and equips themselves with the will, the wherewithal and skills to ‘never come back’, and the instinctive knowledge of how to deal with abject loneliness by making friends with bar fly’s and street walkers, then you’re a rare bird indeed, and the people who knew you will hate you for it. They will respond to you with veiled contempt and palatable envy.

The distance grows day by day, the vibrations in the air between you and where you came from will have changed, the correspondence between you ‘and them’ is less frequent and shorter until it’s cut off into bit’s of necessity. The money you make while working away will find itself fueling another leg of your journey, never a return ticket. There’s never enough time to go home. I’ll tell you what it’s like to forget the street names of your home town and why it’s suddenly so strange to call a distant capital ‘home’. There’s someone living in your room.

Because of the social status and symbolism we decadent westerners put on the ability to travel to rare destinations , to work in foreign countries, change the world you once knew when others can’t….you will become the focus of peoples envy and contempt. You will become the despicable stranger. Ex-friends who’ve had a downturn of fortune and can no longer ‘keep up’ will avoid returning your emails.

What was once home will become alien ground, salted and lifeless. The tribe will have circled inward and abandoned the notion of kinship with an outsider. “If travel was free I’d never go back”, that’s both funny and sad. Always be careful what you wish for. Because once you’ve gone down that rabbit hole my friends there’s no going back. By the time you decide it might be possible to return you might find the world you left behind has changed so irrevocably that there’s nothing to go back to. To travel is to be taken by the wind.

Because traveling is not somewhere you’ve planned to go or somewhere you’ve been. It’s a state of mind, an act of being true to your inner voice. It’s a statement that describes a poem written in the flesh of your soul. It’s the essence of who you are. The traveler is by nature and practice a loner….like driftwood. Travelers are willing to addict themselves to the journey without looking back at the havoc and consequence. It’s not about how much it costs or much you have left in the bank. The clock is never ticking down for the traveler because time is irrelevant.

You seek to refine yourself. Your peers are people who own nothing and carry nothing other than the bare essentials. Travel is not about coming or going. It’s about where you’d like to be next. The journey begins to explain why you don’t fit in anywhere anymore…because you’re fragments of all the places you’ve been and not the mirror image of a place where people seek to emulate each other for security. Travel is that fragile state between life and longing to be somewhere else.

Petroglyphs of modern saloon culture

Petroglyphs of modern saloon culture

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

Two thumbs up from us to the folks at #Air B&B for inventing a service that has freed us from restrictive, expensive hotels and greedy landlords. Another thing I like is where many of the properties are located….away from the sterile tourist frenzy environment of downtown cores. In the past there was no choice, there was hotels or nothing. Traditional hostels aren’t much better, always located near some transportation hub where tourists congregate like flies.

The experience of travel has improved with break out technologies like Air B&B. I don’t want to stay where T-shirts all seem to carry the same message…”Hi, I’m boring”. I like the fact that Air B&B properties are primarily located in average neighborhoods where travelers can rub shoulders with ordinary people. With Air B&B you are dealing with average people. The process is much more flexible. In my experience the owner of the suite you’ll occupy is more of a host.

As opposed to short term rentals where a landlord or property manager won’t supply anything except a bare bones flat…and you’ll be responsible to hook up your own electricity, internet and TV…plus buy all the sheets, pillows, dishes etc that you’ll need for your stay…the Air B&B comes with everything included…nice…very convenient.

Unlike hotels, the Air B&B flats are competitively priced and always come with full kitchens. Unlike property managed condo’s there is no restrictive “last month, first month and two month security deposit” to pay before you move in. BTW….good luck getting those security deposits back from a landlord or property manager. I know dozens of people who have fought without success to get their money back. Some have lost thousands of dollars. I’ve had a property manager try to rip me off in the same way…I fought to get the money back….very unpleasant experience…which I don’t want to ever repeat. With Air B&B there’s none of that.

In addition…it’s all paid on Visa….it’s guaranteed…you get travel points or cash back…depending on your card. We always take the travel points option….they add up fast this way. I know I’m paying a bit of an upfront premium by going Air B&B when long term rental would be 20% cheaper. But…I sign no contracts, no leases, no deposits, pay only for the time I’m using the flat, have every thing supplied….so….it’s up to you. I like the ‘no stress option’ of having nothing hanging over my head and no monthly bills to pay, sign up for…or be responsible for.

We ‘LIKE’ Air B&B for the freedom and no stress aspects of the service.

feeling free with Air B&B

feeling free with Air B&B

When I first started traveling there were only seats in travel agents offices, telex machines, long distance trunk call boxes located in a cities largest central post offices, no tourist hotels, guest houses or hostels to speak of, and no guide books. In the decades since there has been the introduction of an avalanche of disruptor technologies like cellular smart phones, email, the internet, Face Book, Instagram and GPS location, and lets not forget the backpacker guide book industry that lists every aspect of what another set of travelers has seen a thousand times before you, etc etc etc. When none of these things existed, travel was difficult, arduous, painful, scary, exciting as hell, dangerous. The world has become a much easier place to travel.

Since all of the things I just listed are taken for granted we seldom talk of their existence, unless you’re unlucky enough to be with a old school traveler like myself. I make traveling historically sound like I rode around on the back of a dinosaur. But, I try to adapt, even though I sometimes catch myself grousing over the numbers of tourists and the negative effects I see are the result of mass tourism on once pristine gems.

There are things I love about the latest disruptor technologies and systems that have evolved to make the travel life so much less hassle than it used to be. A few of these ‘agents of change’ have been very useful to me recently. I’ll focus on Grab Car, Grab Taxi, Uber and Air B&B. Let me start with the fantastic new car transport services that were in the past a horror for travelers to use. Everyone, of a certain age, has horror stories about how a local taxi driver ripped them off somehow. They were taken on long winding freeway drives, past seafood restaurants, tailor shops, jewellery stores…or just sat in angst and horror as the meter ran up while the cabbies drove around in circles for a hour or more. This was a particular problem for us and our friends in Bangkok, where the cab drivers are notorious for gouging everyone, but especially the tourist.

Grab Car, the latest entrant into the transportation space is eating the cabbies lunch, and deservedly so. With a free download of their app, you can call a car to your location, usually have it arrive within minutes, pay a pre-set price for a predetermined distance, and be driven by a driver who has no financial motivation to drive you around in circles as there is no meter. The cars are driven by local persons who use the service to earn extra money.

In Bangkok it has become fashionable for young people to drive the family cars and collect passengers. The cars are new, they use GPS to determine the shortest distance, and practice their English with a smile. I haven’t had a bad experience to date. Nor has anyone we know who are piling into this service to avoid the dreaded Bangkok Cabbie. And just so you know, only fools and drunks use the Tuk Tuk. You’re just asking for trouble if you do.

Grab Car is different from Grab Taxi in that they are private cars as opposed to Grab Taxi who are still Taxi Drivers linked into a reservation system. Grab Taxi is still a taxi service and there is a financial incentive not to avoid the worst traffic areas, so be forewarned. Uber works in a similar fashion except there is no cash exchanged and everything is paid by Visa in advance. But…there is still a KM charge. So far Grab Car has worked the best for me.

Renting a condo in Bangkok used to be a horror show. It’s got easier than the bottleneck that existed between property managers and real estate agents who controlled the exchange between owners and renters. At first renters were obliged to use a word of mouth system of small ads in travel offices and on the outer doors of favorite cafe’s. When the internet arrived and large numbers of travelers arrived wanting to stay for the entire duration of the validity of their visa, property managers and other professional sharks and hucksters saw an opportunity and seized it. Agents and property managers used internet sites and began to control large numbers of rental offerings and used this power to increase rents in popular areas and introduce hefty ‘security deposits’.

How the ‘security deposit scam’ begins is when the agent/property manager demands a ‘first month, last month..and security deposit’ to move into a rental property. The longer the lease period the agent can entice you to sign up for determines the amount of commission they take home. So be wary of agents who’ll tell you that there is a ‘set period of time’…ie: six months, one year ( now common) or two years. It’s the latter demand they use when they think you’re a complete idiot ready to be carved up.

My personal experience and the anecdotal evidence I hear from friends and fellow travelers is that the agents and property managers have been making it impossible to return your ‘security deposit’, instead they have been pocketing the amount, after telling you to wait for the last day before your departure, that something has gone wrong with your transaction and the deposit is being held back. The excuses I’ve heard and that other have told me about are legion. Here’s a few…”The owner went to China and took the money”….”The owner had a family emergency and has gone back to their village”….”We found ants behind your cabinets and you must have brought them in with your books”. Or…as my friend Hiroku has told me after going back to the property manager every month, “It’s coming”….. but it never does.

This is why I now only use Air B&B to rent my condo in Bangkok today. I am able to meet the owner. The condo is ideally located in a new building purpose built for this type of investment. I am able to inspect the condo if I like before occupying. The transaction is paid through Air B&B , there is no money in someone elses hands for me to have to chase down if something goes wrong. And as it is a VISA payment they will act as the final insurer of services rendered and return my money in the event of any scam. I am finding the Air B&B offering is proving to be a fantastic ‘disruptor agent’ to the traditional condo rental market. I do not have to pay three months rent up front…..nothing up front in most cases…unless specified.

I can rent the Air B& accommodation for days or months, whatever I choose to work out with the owner, but pay the same, without the ‘last month and security deposit BS. My Air B&B host will have provided me with a full suite of conveniences, much like a hotel service. I enter a condo full of all the towels, sheets, pillows, dishes, glasses, TV cable, wireless internet connection, …unlike in the old condo rental days, where landlords provided nothing but bare walls.

A great thing about #Air B&B for me is that I’m free to come and go as I please. I can leave for a trip to the southern islands or northern mountains and leave my contract by paying for the time used, and then come back and rent all over again without having to pay for time I’m not in the condo as you would have had to do under the old scheme. I’m finding that #Air B&B offerings are straight up competitive with traditional rentals, dollar for dollar, on a monthly/daily basis. And this is why I think that #Air B&B will eat the traditional rental agents lunch and throw them on the trash heap of history before long.

I believe that just as guide books and the internet replaced the travel agent and tour guide, and smart phones replaced the long distance call box and telex machine that these new entrants into the travel market, like Air B&B and Grab Car will replace the outmoded rental agents and taxi system, and none too soon in my humble opinion. The old guard deserve to have their lunch eaten by companies and technologies offering better, more efficient and honest service to the traveling public.

the people have spoken

the people have spoken