I hope you had a good 2017 and I hope your 2018 will be even better. I’ve been in Penang for the past few months because I had some visa issues in Thailand. The Thai consulate here in Penang red-stamped my passport for too many back-to-back tourist visas and told me that if I wanted to stay long-term I needed a proper long-term visa. The problem is such a visa is a bit of a pain to get, much more so than a tourist visa which doesn’t require many documents, a Thai spouse, or a Thai sponsor, e.g., a business or school. The red warning stamp usually means they won’t issue you any more tourist visas at least not for a while or perhaps until you apply in your home country rather than in one of the countries bordering Thailand however I wrote them a letter explaining why I needed one more and luckily they gave one to me. That last 60 day + 30 day extension = 90 day tourist visa finished in October. When I stopped flying in order to do my part to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions I was afraid this would happen. Before I could fly once a year from Thailand to Taiwan and back and that eliminated the need for me to get too many back-to-back visas in either place. If only Taiwan was a short train ride away from my home in Thailand like Malaysia is.
I’m not a fan of Malaysia, but I guess I wouldn’t call myself a “fan” of any country, however I told myself I better get used to staying here since staying long-term in Thailand isn’t really an option at the moment. I’ve been staying in Penang which is where I usually go for my visa runs and soon after I arrived and found a place to stay I started volunteering at a Children’s Shelter. At first it was just for a couple hours a day everyday however this past month I’ve been there for many hours a day everyday. Besides working with the kids I’m also trying to help the the staff improve their management of the place, e.g., how they train and evaluate staff and how they arrange the children’s meals and interact with them in general. It’s been a learning experience that confirmed what I already knew which is there are too many kids/people in general on this planet and not enough good parents and teachers. I really like children in need having a place like this to go because a place like this can help them break out of the cycle of ignorance and poverty they were born into so they themselves don’t end up having 9 children by age 30 from four or five different men none of which they can properly care for. Did you know that some religions are not only against abortion but also against birth control? Crazy!
Anyway I won’t get started on religion or politics just yet however I will make an effort to breathe some life into this blog by posting on the first of each month until I’m ready to start posting weekly. I’ll probably start posting more after I return to Thailand which might not be until Thai New Years which is in April. In the meantime stop by on the first or second of every month and I’ll try and have something for you. The New Years Eve fireworks are now going off and I’m headed for bed, I promised the kids I’d hook them up with an awesome fruit breakfast to get 2018 off to a good start and after that I’m taking a few of the older ones to climb to the top of Penang Hill. Weather permitting I encourage you to get out and do some hiking, biking, swimming, or whatever you prefer however be sure to fuel this increase in physical activity with some fruits and vegetables or some other plant based foods rather than meat, dairy, and/or eggs from abused chickens. Over the past few months I’ve shared my views with the kids and staff regarding many issues, particularly diet and health, and this evening one of the older girls told me that she was going vegetarian starting January 1st and another one said she was going to give it a five day trial.
How about you? If you don’t want to commit to going vegan this year could you at least commit to giving up beef if not all meat? Doing so would significantly reduce your greenhouse gas emissions which means a lot to the biosphere and the future generations that will inhabit it. Abstaining from meat would also significantly reduce the cruelty inflicted on your behalf which means a lot to the animals and all the people who care about how they are treated. Instead of using “What difference can I as one person make?” as an excuse not to take action and make the small sacrifices that we all should have made a long time ago, e.g., giving up meat and minimising our consumption of fossil fuels, realise that your positive impact will be multiplied as you become a positive example for others, an example that shows you can be as happy and healthy as anyone on this planet and without over-consuming, abusing animals, and destroying the biosphere. Good luck getting 2018 off to a good start and I’ll talk to you on February 1st.
2017 begins much like 2016 ended, rain and more rain. After a few days of heavy rain the once peaceful little creek that ran along the side of my home has swollen into a raging river. I’m not too worried about that however I am a bit worried about all the rain bringing down a large tree on a steep slope that has my roof in its sights. Earlier today I went to pick some fruit but was unable to make it to the orchard due to much bigger raging river. I thought about testing my luck but if the rapidly moving knee deep water that was covering the narrow bridge took out one of my legs the other would certainly follow and I’d be washed off the bridge and pummeled against many boulders as I was sent downstream so it wasn’t worth it, not even for some rollinia.
Today is the first day of the last month of the year and I hope this month will be far less disappointing than last month. I’ve been relatively busy with work and thinking deep thoughts the past couple weeks so you may have noticed I haven’t been posting like I was Pre-Trump. I won’t be chiming in here again until New Years however in the meantime I will continue to try and help get important links noticed on Twitter.
P.S. A friend of someone I buy fruit from got hit by a car a few days ago in front of the fruit sellers home, went into a coma, and died a few days later. It reminded me of a very promising individual who was hit and killed on his bike at the age of 14 by a careless driver so with both of them in mind I say please be careful on and around the road especially if you happen to be in Thailand or in one of the few other places with as abysmal of a traffic safety record.
Yesterday I took what I guess was a 3 or 4km hike up a slippery mountain slope in search of a waterfall. There were no signs just a very narrow path used by off-road motorcycles which the locals use to haul down fruit. However I went late in the afternoon so the motocross fruit farmers had already gone home for the day and there was nobody in the mountain forest and I couldn’t get a phone signal. Although it was only a short hike from 3G and the rest of civilization you could really feel the disconnect. After a bath in what was probably the coldest water I’ve ever experienced in Southeast Asia I headed back just before it got dark to continue working on some work stuff. Continue reading
Yesterday I was working and reading on my computer for most of the day and didn’t get much farther than my front porch so today I decided to get away from my computer and go for a long walk. Today’s walk was around 20km and culminated in a refreshing swim in a cool mountain river followed by some freshly fallen durian. I’m not a fan of dogs or pets in general, particularly those that are more like prisoners such as caged birds that have been robbed the ability to fly, but any dog that loves durian as much as this old stray/abandoned dog did is fine with me.
I was going to spend a night or two away in order to let the paint dry but the fresh mountain air and tree-ripened organic fruit kept me away for three. I slept in a little wooden bungalow surrounded by trees and immersed in the sounds of frogs, crickets, and other small creatures of the night and as I lay in bed last night I wished that more urban dwelling people had the chance to spend a few nights surrounded by nature because it may teach or remind them that they are a part of a world that is much bigger than their country and the rest of human civilization including any of its creation myths.
Here are a few pictures to stimulate your appetite before you lose it watching tonight’s debate and no I’m not talking about the cows because I don’t find slitting the throats of those gentle beasts, gutting them, and eating the human-like flesh off their human-like bones to be very appealing.
Last time on our way back to Thailand we encountered two police checkpoints and our Thai driver had to bribe the Malaysian police in order to pass without being held up and hassled. When I returned from that visa run last July I sent an email to the Malaysian Tourism Authority, Malaysian Police, and their Anti-Corruption Department however it doesn’t seem to have done much good as they are still stopping and hassling Thai mini-bus drivers and probably some other drivers as well. Even though it didn’t seem to do any good last time I emailed another complaint today.
Next time you see or encounter something that isn’t right and could really use some improvement I hope you’ll take a minute to do something, speak up, or write an email because if enough people do these unjust and inconvenient situations will eventually improve. With that said here’s my 4 day visa run trip from Southern Thailand to Penang in 4 photos.
Yesterday I spent the night at a fruit farm in the middle of fruit season and you don’t get any more “right place right time” than that! Early this morning I went tree climbing for ripe fruit and after breakfast the owner offered me to use his scooter so I went to a couple places in the area that I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise since there was no public transportation available to get to them and I didn’t have enough time to try my luck at hitchhiking which is generally pretty good and is what got me there and back home this evening.
Today was the first time, and probably the last time, I’ve ridden or driven any vehicle that wasn’t powered by my legs this year. Besides being super convenient it was also pretty fun and although scooters burn fossil fuels just like your average car they do it way more efficiently. The scooter I rode around on today got somewhere around 51km/l or 120 mpg. The only way you’re going to match that with the average new car is by loading it up with 4 or 5 passengers and that’s only if you compare it to a scooter with one person rather than a scooter with two or three which is very common here.
Anyone who’s lived or traveled in less developed countries learns quickly to consistently watch their head and where they place their feet. Over the years I have on countless occasions avoided stepping into holes, getting poked in the eyes, or smashing my head into something that shouldn’t have been hanging down or jutting out into a public space. However I’ve also had my share of fails and this morning was one of them. As I was squeezing past people at the market I snagged my thigh on a nail that was jutting about 3cm out of a table. Luckily it was the head of the nail but it still hurt and could’ve resulted in a tetanus infection had it broken the skin. Thanks organic cotton shorts! Continue reading
For the first 15 years of this century I recall visiting an emergency room twice however over the past 5 months I’ve visited the same one 3 times. Today’s visit was the result of a fall while bouldering. I landed barefoot on a rock which snagged my second smallest toe and snapped it like a popsicle stick. I didn’t need a ruler to tell me that thing was pointed in the wrong direction, gross/ouch. I immediately ripped the worn-out organic cotton t-shirt I was wearing into a bandage and used it to tie my bad toe to a good one. I then made my way to the hospital for an X-ray. Continue reading
Last night there was a tourist at a bar and she was alone but met some new friends, a couple from California, who this afternoon told me the following story on a little boat returning from the beach it took place. Yesterday evening after a few drinks this young lady left the bar and was later spotted by her new friends walking with a guy. Not too long after in a secluded place not too far from the bar the guy tried to molest her and while fleeing from him she stumbled and fell off a cliff. Continue reading
Yesterday I decided to go to a hot springs not too far from where I live to soak for a few minutes and swim like a beaver in the muddy brown river that runs next to it. I went to the bus stop to get on a “local bus” which are generally 30 year-old mid-size Japanese trucks with a cap and two benches running along the bed. I happened to know the driver who was in line to take off next and he just happened to be taking the afternoon off and was going to the hot springs to nurse his knee so I went with him. I’ll refer to him as K. K is in his mid sixties and speaks so loudly that I need to use my earbuds as earplugs when I sit up front with him. Continue reading
While in a cave this afternoon I bumped my head on a stalactite. After confirming there was a decent amount of blood leaking from the back of my head I rushed back to civilization to have my scalp pulled back together. Stitches without any procaine aka novocaine, ouch. Luckily I only needed one. The grand total for my emergency room visit was $13. Such a simple and quick procedure probably would’ve cost over $500 in the States. Maybe Republican voters in the U.S. wouldn’t fear socialized medicine so much if they knew how cheap and efficient it could be. Thanks Ministry of Public Health Thailand and all the wealthy and middle class people who paid a little more in taxes so they themselves and everyone else could have access to affordable health care. Physicians for a National Health Program
After hearing about the recent bombings in southern Thailand I figured a few people might visit my site to see if I posted anything about it so I figured I’d post something, but not about it. So what’s up? This past weekend I went for a long walk, about 28km or 17 miles. I set out after a big breakfast at the morning market with no destination in mind. I just knew I wanted out of my room and away from my notes so I started walking. After a couple hours of walking I came across some caves which I did some climbing in and then after a couple more hours of walking I came across a creek which I took a bath in. After that I hitchhiked back home and eventually refueled with a few organically grown tree-ripened bittersweet durians followed by a load of vegetables. Continue reading
I picked up my visa in the afternoon as soon as they started handing them out to all the people that applied the morning yesterday and as soon as I got it I dashed for the border taking a series of local buses in hopes that, unlike last time, I could get through before dark. I made it to the border crossing at dusk and when it was almost my turn to get checked out and stamped in a guy from Singapore in front of me who arrived with me on the same bus told me to put 1 MYR in my passport with my arrival card to speed things up. I told him I would not be doing that and was thinking not only would I not give them the equivalent of a U.S. quarter for simply doing their job and be complicit in corruption I wouldn’t even give them a penny, not even a really dirty one I was just looking to get rid of. Continue reading
Today as I was skateboarding the right way down a one-way road with no traffic I had a guy on a motorcycle drive up from behind in the lane next to me, look directly at me, and pretend to shoot me three times with his finger/hand. I have no idea what that was all about as I’m certain I’ve never met him or did anything in the last 24 hours I’ve been in Malaysia that could have possibly made him want to pretend to shoot me the way he did, which was not in a fun playful way. I got off my skateboard to put some distance between us and to think about what just happened and as I did there was a middle aged Singaporean couple walking towards me on the other side of the street that had seen what happened and were also surprised and the women said “That guy was crazy.”.
I went to the shuttle bus stop to buy a ticket to the grocery store. I could’ve saved a dollar or two by getting into the back of an old truck with a bench running along each side of its cab, aka “local bus” but if I was going to be out on the road during this dangerous holiday I’d rather be in a big relatively safe bus. However I was told the 3pm bus wasn’t coming and since I didn’t want to wait for the next one I told the ticket lady no thanks and was going to head to the local bus stop. Continue reading
I went to the beach today and while I was there I saw a middle aged man carrying his wife’s limp body out of the water. She wasn’t dead but she had at some point in her life become paralyzed. I thought I’d mention this so you could also remember just how great it is to be able to move your legs because we sometimes forget and take things like the ability to walk for granted. So if your legs still work make the most of them and instead of burning fossil fuels every time you need to go somewhere consider burning some plant derived calories.
I was able to pick up my visa yesterday and fortunately I had a t-shirt with me because they wouldn’t let me pick it up in a sleeveless shirt, seriously. For women it seemed to be alright but for men it’s a definite no go and as I waited in line I watched two other guys get stopped and denied as well. Fortunately one of them had a t-shirt with him and the other was with his girlfriend who was able to step up to the counter and stand in line for him. I guess at the Thailand consulate in Penang they’re intimidated by man arms so remember to have some sleeves on hand if you plan on getting a visa there.
I told a kid in a store how soda wasn’t good for his health and then as I stood behind him at the cashier I told his Mom that plastic bags weren’t good for the health of they environment as she put her soda into one. After they left the clerk said “You are very good.” to which I laughed thinking to myself it’s all useless or at least it often seems that way. However I thought about it for a second and told myself “Try until you die.” because that’s all you can do other than quit or die neither of which is an ideal option.
So keep trying and keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to raise awareness and educate people even if it is the billionth time you’ve had to say virtually the same thing to someone who would probably rather you not said it. When it’s safe to do so please speak up when you see someone doing something which harms other people, e.g., children in their care or the environment because although we might not be able to perceive it in real time it does help pull humanity in the right direction.