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Friday, February 22, 2008


Thailand in a day

A few years back on one of my early visits to Thailand I was taken by a friend to visit Muang Boran, the Ancient City, in Samut Prakan province, south of Bangkok. It was such a good introduction to Thai culture that I was happy when Nee suggested I join her and a group of friends making a day visit for the Makha Bucha holiday yesterday.

Muang Boran consists of over 100 exhibits. Many are scaled (but still large) replicas of ancient monuments. If you have time to travel around Thailand you can see the real thing in full size. If you only have a day you can see these replicas at Muang Boran. In fact, it would be a challenge to see it all and do it justice in a day. MB covers an area of 320 acres. The shape of the property roughly represents a map of Thailand. You can follow a map and find the monuments roughly where they exist in Thailand.

Nee arranged to hire a van for the day which picked us up early in Bangkok. We arrived at MB at about 10 am and didn't leave until just before it closed at 5 pm. I filled my 1GB card on my camera. That's over 400 photos in a day. I've never done that before. Although I admit many were of my friends goofing off. There were two other photographers in the group. One was posing all his friends and clicking madly with his Canon DSLR. He seemed to have unlimited memory and battery power. I was content to capture them in the act of posing rather than posed. My third battery had almost run out when we left Samut Prakan just after 6 pm.

It takes time to process all these photos. Keep an eye on my flickr page and you'll see them appear gradually over the next few weeks. There's already a few on my grandchildren's blog.

If visitors to Thailand read this, I recommend you arrange some form of transport for getting around Muang Boran. There are several options available to visitors and you won't get far on foot.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Why I left Cambodia

There are many things I like about Cambodia. I find the people generally to be a delight and in many ways the lifestyle is pleasant for me. There is good and bad everywhere. I accept that nothing is perfect. If one can find a balance then one can put up with the unpleasant aspects of life. If the negative side of life becomes too much, it is necessary to come to terms with it or move on. I don't believe in staying in a situation in which I am unhappy.

I had a rough plan to stay for three months and to reassess my situation. During those three months it never occurred to me that I would not stay. I was generally quite happy with my life in Kompong Chhnang. I had good friends, a simple but pleasant lifestyle, I was learning the language and gaining the ability to communicate with a wider group of people. But after the third month passed my attitude changed.

I have written here before about my aversion to the extreme noise that accompanies any celebration such as wedding, funeral or festival in Cambodia. This noise includes music, speeches and chanting monks broadcast from huge loudspeakers in the open. During those first three months this was fairly occasional and not too close to my home to be a problem.

About this time, I was woken one morning at 4 am by extremely loud noises. They were coming from the house right behind me. Apparently a man from this house had died. As he was relatively wealthy it was considered appropriate to hold a big funeral. It lasted on and off for seven days.

As a storyteller I learned many years ago of the power of a microphone. The first time I was given one I discovered that it saved my voice. I could whisper and still be heard. Most of those giving speeches at this funeral didn't seem to have learned this. I realized this when, in contrast, one man actually knew how to use a microphone. He spoke calmly and quietly and even though I could not understand him and it was broadcast at a loud volume it was not unpleasant. The speakers who preceded and followed him had no idea of this. It seemed that they felt the need to shout into the microphone. I found it most unpleasant.

I kept telling myself that it would end and eventually it did. But after that every time I was woken by yet another celebration at 4 am I became quite annoyed. This was the dry season. People may not choose when they die but they choose to hold weddings and other festivities at this time of the year. It was a regular occurrence.

If I got through the night without being woken I would wake up happy and I would have a pleasant day. If I went two days like this I would be content again and want to stay there as long as I could. But if I was woken the next day I would start thinking again that it was time to leave.

I know that this is my issue. I am not blaming the Cambodian people. This is what Cambodia is like. Cambodians don't find it offensive. If I want to live there, I have to learn to cope with it.

I like to think that I am in control of my own happiness, that happiness is a matter of telling myself to be happy, to put a positive view on things. But I couldn't do it. Whenever the day started with the loud music I would have a bad day. Eventually I decided that I was in control but I had to take control by moving on and that's what I've done.

I came to Bangkok about two weeks ago without knowing what I was going to do. I could be happy to live in Thailand but unlike Cambodia, there are lots of hoops to jump through to get a long-term visa. I started to look more closely at the options. I am entitled to apply for a retirement visa and if I stay here with one I would want to study Thai language just as I studied Khmer in Cambodia. I have discovered that if I enrol for a full-year Thai-language course I can apply for an education visa which is simpler. I am now working through that process. I'll let you know what develops.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008



My son, David, has been experimenting with digital art. I've never tried this myself so I don't know how difficult it is. I gather to some extent it is a random process but as with conventional art, one of the secrets is knowing when to stop. I decided to put just one of his pictures here for your enjoyment. It was hard for me to choose one that I like more than the others. So, if you like this perhaps you would also like his gallery. Enjoy

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Monday, February 18, 2008


Love without attachment

Is it possible to have love without attachment? First we have to agree on a definition of love. Is that possible? I can't even agree with myself on this one. I suggest that for the vast majority of humanity love and attachment are one and the same thing.


Sunday, February 17, 2008


Real democracy

Do you ever feel that the democracy promoted by the USA is a bit of a farce? Their president gets to rule the world but the rest of us don't get a say in who becomes that president. Would the world community have elected George Bush Jnr? It's time we got to have our say. And while they're not going to give us a vote we can at least tell them what we think through an organisation known as Avaaz.

Avaaz took an online poll of members asking what points they would like made to the next president of the US. They came up with 1) commit to a strong global agreement on climate change; 2) rededicate the US to universal human rights and 3) reject the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive warfare.

If you agree with these objectives sign the petition here. It will be sent to Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama, one of whom will most likely be the next president of the US. At the time of writing almost 100,000 people had signed. I hope you'll join us in this democratic activity.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008


I don't like labels but...

I like to keep up with the news back in my home town so from time to time I read the Courier Mail online. As I also like to keep up with developments on the internet I opened their technology>internet page. One of the articles described many tests that can be taken on the net to assess different aspects of your personality.

Political compass is a site that finds your place on the political spectrum and compares it with others. This spectrum has four sides. The way you answer the questions will register your position from left to right and from authoritarian to libertarian.

Mine came out almost in the middle of the libertarian left corner. They describe me as a libertarian socialist. Interesting, I accepted that label as a young man from reading George Orwell. I thought I'd mellowed with age and travel but there I am in the middle of this corner. Perhaps I was even further left when I was younger.

What is left wing? To me it means caring for those who are less fortunate than yourself. I believe most of the union movement in Australia has lost the right to be called 'left'. If you compare Australian workers to the world spectrum they already have good wages and conditions. If unionists were truly left, instead of campaigning for more for themselves they'd be fighting for the workers in countries like Cambodia, those whose conditions and pay are a fraction of what workers in Australia have.

How do I (or you for that matter) compare with some leading political figures? The political compass people have taken the trouble to answer questions on behalf of some leading world figures and give them a rating. They rate the Dalai Lama in much the same position as I am. I have no complaints with that. I admire the Dalai Lama greatly and am honoured to be compared with him.

Like to see how others rate? Here's how they rated the parties at the time of the recent Australian election. As you can see I'm not going to be represented too much by these guys. Even Labor is in the authoritarian right corner. And yes, I did vote Green.

Interested in the candidates for the forthcoming US presidential election? Most of them, including the front runners, are in the authoritarian-right corner. I guess that's the way it is. Mike Gravel might be a really cool guy but if the Democrats ran him I think he'd scare the US public too much. They'd vote for the Republican and keep America in the war. Better that Barack or Hillary becomes the Democrat candidate. The odds are that one of them will win and hopefully end the war.

I just find it ironic that the so-called 'free' world is run by so many authoritarian right wingers.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008


Taiwan, China & Australia

I recently read a report from Associated Press quoting Australia's foreign minister, Stephen Smith, as saying that Taiwan's decision to hold a referendum on UN membership is 'completely inappropriate'. This Australian would like to stand up and be counted as disagreeing strongly with our new government on this issue.

The unsuccessful previous Labor prime-ministerial candidate endeared himself to many of us by calling John Howard an 'arse licker'. It is good that our new prime minister is not crawling so far up the American arse. It is unfortunate that he appears to feel it is necessary to crawl up the even bigger Chinese arse.

Yes, there are 1.3 billion Chinese people. It is the biggest market in the world. I accept that Australia's prosperity can continue to grow if we cultivate this market but our integrity must be questioned if we do it by selling out the 23 million people of Taiwan.

The 1.3 billion people of China have very little say about their government and its policies. The English-speaking people I met during my two-month stay in China showed an amazing understanding of various political issues and how different countries handled them. I don't know how this compares with the rest of the population but if these people are representative, China is very much ready for greater community participation in government decision-making processes.

So please Mr Smith, tell me why this authoritarian government should have the right to impose its ways on the 23 million people of Taiwan. Taiwan has democracy. Can China do better for them?

China's claim for the right to rule Taiwan is based on historical-legal precedents. It has nothing to do with the good of the Taiwanese people. Why would Australia support handing over Taiwan to the invader of Tibet and the strongest supporter of the military junta in Burma?

I believe this is the best time for Taiwan to take the bold step of holding this referendum. China is in the middle of a massive propaganda campaign called Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. They want the world to see them as good guys. How embarrassing it would be for them if they had to actually deploy any of the many missiles they have pointing at Taiwan.

One never knows what the future might bring. Perhaps one day China will see reason why it should also rule Australia. Sure there are no historical precedents but the Chinese rulers are masters at twisting words to make the unacceptable sound acceptable. I hope this never happens but I am simply trying to make the analogy. If we Australians were in the same position as the Taiwanese, where would you stand, Mr Smith?

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Thursday, February 07, 2008


Not bad for 94

Friends often ask how my Mum is going. Recently I received this picture which was taken by my nephew's wife, Donna Shield. A picture is worth a thousand words, I think you'll agree my Mum looks pretty good for 94. Hope I look half that good in 34 years time.

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