Putting the world to rights in five minutes
Our planet is in a mess—environmentally, economically, socially and politically. Hardly a day goes by without some horrific news about villages buried under landslides, politicians arrested for corruption or suicide bombers blowing themselves and everybody nearby to bits. Despite amazing advances in technology during the last century, we don’t seem to have learned anything about how to live together despite our differences. Even the modern sciences of psychology and sociology have no blueprint for improving relationships.
While I can’t condone acts of violence, I sympathize with disaffected youth who see no future for themselves and resort to extreme acts to let their feelings be known. After all, as a radical student in the UK in the late 1960s, I protested about the Vietnam War and threw rotten tomatoes at Margaret Thatcher, ‘the milk snatcher’, when she visited my college—South Bank Polytechnic, now known as South Bank University, in London.
Things don’t look too bright for the future of our planet either, with leaders like Donald Trump and Theresa May to guide us. Topics like Trump’s travel ban on Muslims from certain countries and May’s stance on Brexit are guaranteed to spark off arguments among American and British subjects, and even going on holiday is a nerve-racking experience these days, running the gauntlet of inefficient security systems at airports worldwide.
I get grumpy myself at times—who doesn’t?—but for years I’ve believed that negative attitudes and stress are the quickest way to an early grave, so I try to reduce these conditions to a minimum. In that respect, I feel blessed to live in Thailand, often dubbed ‘the Land of Smiles’, which may sound like clever PR by the tourist board, but it’s actually true; most Thais do go around smiling.
I suspect that it has a lot to do with a Buddhist upbringing (95% of Thais are Buddhist), as in general they don’t bear grudges or grumble when things don’t go their way. Instead, they are always eager to help someone out (it accrues merit towards the next life) and are ready to smile or laugh at any opportunity. Sanuk, or having fun, is a guiding principle for Thais in everything they do.
If I don’t get inspired by Thais smiling all the time, I remind myself of a song performed by the members of Monty Python at the end of the film ‘Life Of Brian’. The characters in the film are in a difficult predicament; in fact they are being crucified, but they cheer each other up by whistling along to a tune called ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. So why not give a listen, and whistle along yourself: just click HERE.
Time to freshen up the website for the new year, so I’ve made a few additions and changes. Firstly, I’ve added a few scans of stories that appeared in printed magazines (an increasingly rare form of media!) during 2016. These are:
- Deep in the Delta, a photo essay on the Mekong Delta for Jetstar Asia magazine.
--Strange Town, a focus on Antananarivo, capital of Madagascar, for the South China Morning Post.
--Blissful Bloom, a story about the sacred lotus for Morning Calm (Korean Air inflight).
I’ve also changed the sample story from my collection ‘Searching for Shangri La’. ‘Sweeping Meditation’ is a chronicle of my changing attitudes to the fascinating activity of sweeping leaves. There’s also an audio version of the story, so rest your eyes for ten minutes and listen to the tale unfold.
"Goodbye hello!”…reminds me of an old Beatles song, but the website hola.org is something much more insidious than anything we knew when we used to go round singing “I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello”.
A friend recommended it as a useful site that would enable me to watch programmes on the BBC iPlayer, which is generally not available outside the UK, as well as any other websites that are generally blocked in the land where I live—Thailand.
Being a sucker for anything that makes life a bit easier or more fun, I downloaded it and for a couple of weeks enjoyed my new-found freedom—watching the final of Wimbledon tennis and a few insightful documentaries—but then the trouble began.
To be a successful guidebook writer, you need not only good research and writing skills, but also a good sense of direction. This is one area of the job in which I normally feel quite confident, as I spent a few years driving minicabs in London as well as driving buses for London Transport, and I reckon if you can find your way around London, you can find your way anywhere.
When I’m on the road researching a guidebook update, I often have a list of 30 or more hotels, restaurants, bars, spas, pharmacies and so on that I need to locate each day in order to decide if they are worth recommending for the new edition of the guide. With the help of maps in the guidebook and online, I usually manage OK, but sometimes things go wildly wrong, and I always get messed up in Mae Sot.
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.