Simian Madness

A few weeks ago my girlfriend and I decided to take a week off, for a short trip to one of my favorite quiet tropical beaches around the Cambodian/Thai border, just a few kilometers away from the beach I wrote about in “Beach Beyond The Guidebooks” We decided to go to this beach, because the Beach Beyond The Guidebooks beach did not have any water or electricity, and this time I was determined to be conveniently clean, and be able to recharge my laptop.

It is a very beautiful beach with many types of restaurants within walking distance, usually cooked by the nationality themselves, things like French Food, Chinese, Italian, Cambodian, Mexican, Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, American, and there is even a Canadian restaurant, I never knew such things existed!

The beach itself has a white powder like sand, the kind of sand that sort of jumps up and separates as you step down on it, there are lots of little crabs running around, who will run and hide in their sandy holes as you approach. The sand continues right deep into the ocean where on stormy days, waves decent enough to surf on, break in the shallow bay.

The two of us ended up renting a normally vacant, thirty year old or so teak house part way up a cliff facing the beach for about twelve US dollars per night, it was clean, had air con, electricity, hot water, and also a very large balcony, with a beautiful sunset facing view, below you can see exactly what I saw from my patio every day. I found I spent a lot of time there on the patio, every morning, afternoon, and evening was a stunning one, but all was not perfect in our little the house on the hill.

View Of The Beach From Our Balcony

View Of The Beach From Our Balcony – Click to Enlarge

Now as you can see in the image, everything pretty much from the water up is covered in virgin rainforest, the kind of stuff that is hard to see these days, because it is first growth, ancient, rainforest, that has probably been there since before the dinosaurs. The area around and above this house was all ancient rainforest also, and in that forest not only are there foot long grasshoppers, centillions of ants, giant moths, scorpions, crocodiles, huge lizards, pythons, cobras, bear, boar, deer, and wild elephants, but there are also some little, annoying, chaotic, but always amusing monkeys.

Monkey Behind Us On The House

Get Off Our Turf

The house had been vacant for a while before we got there, and I think the troop of monkeys that fed daily around and above the house had pretty much decided that we were invading their turf. Mostly they just left us alone, and we hadn’t had any real problems with them, we watched them each morning for a few days, and listened to them calling at one another from a distance in the jungle, but on the fifth day, while returning from a swim on the beach, we found them around and on top of our house, some of them were actually standing right in front of the door. They are fairly large and a few of them together defiantly demand some respect. We approached them slowly and they backed away from the door slowly, eventually we could get in the house. As the monkeys were still running around on top of the house and around the doors we decided to stay inside a bit until they left.

After a while we went out on  our balcony and looked around to see where they were, I brought my camera to take some picture if I could. Some of them were on the trees above us, and some of the others had run over to another house down the hill a bit. After a short while there was a huge bang on the roof, a very large branch had dropped a hundred meters or so from the trees above us where some monkeys were, onto the roof, putting a fairly large hole in it, after a while we went outside again to try and get some pictures, and look what decided to come down and inspect the freshly made hole.

Monkey On The Roof

Are You Seriously Going To Blame Me For This?

There was quite a bit of movement on top  of the house again, so we took shelter back inside, after a few moments, they dozen or so monkeys started screaming, then things started banging all over the house, as the monkey had all decided to throw  branches and fruit at the house for a while. After a  couple minutes of this, all calmed down, and we were once again able to go outside, they had finally moved on.

Later that evening when we were heading out for dinner, we discovered they had stolen one of my girlfriends shoes. We looked around for it for quite a while but it was no where to be found. The shoes were not very expensive, and thankfully she had brought another pair so it was not that big a deal. We enjoyed our evening  and went to sleep to the sound of the monkeys occasionally fighting with one another in the trees.

In the morning I woke up itching, to my horror I soon discovered fire ants all over the bed, I jumped out and onto the floor only to find out there were millions  more all over the floor also, I had never experienced quite so many ants running all over me in my life, nor seen so many in such a small area as I did that morning, and fire ants are some of the worst ants around as they are very aggressive. I jumped in the shower and quickly got the ants off me, then turned on all the lights so as to see a safe passage through the house without getting too many more on me. I went outside on the balcony to see the reason for the invasion. The fruits the monkeys had pelted the house with had attracted all the ants. It is amazing the amount of trouble a group of monkeys can cause in just a matter of minutes. We left later that day, as was planned, though I am sure the monkey were all high fiving each other as we left, thinking it was a victory well fought.

I will return to the beach a few more times over the next couple of years, although the monkeys were an occasional pain in the behind, they provided entertainment, and I am glad they were there. I plan on staying in the same house, and we will probably see them again soon. They probably won’t be there much longer however, as there has been some roadway development on the bluff, someone has begun building condos on a hill, and a five star hotel is being built right in the center of the beach, so soon the trees will be gone, and with it the monkeys, the beach will become spoiled, and in order to find an unspoiled beach, we will be forced to go back to Beach Beyond The Guidebooks once again, hopefully by that time they will have running water.

A Very Inexpensive Way To Travel

A lot of people ask me, how I can afford to travel all the time. The truth is I am not amazingly wealthy, I just don’t spend very much, and save constantly for my next vacation. When I do travel I usually take buses, trains or local boats, and try to avoid expensive transport such as airplanes and cruise ships as much as I can.

Traveling is actually very inexpensive, as long as you can walk, you can travel.

I found out recently though I may have been doing it all wrong, Cathy Barnette from the Today Now show has some travel advice that really would have saved me a lot of money in my life.

I wish I had thought of this.

Different Priorities

Almost two decades ago, I veered sharply away from the track that hosts the rat race, and started to cut my own paths. Nobody really understood why I did it, and some people feel they can no longer relate to me because of it.

Back in 1994, when I was 22 years old, my financial life was going pretty well, I already owned most of my fully furnished 1200 sq foot, 8th floor condo overlooking both a National Park, and the city of Calgary. I had just become the corporate sales trainer for an international electronics company, a job which included the responsibility of hiring, firing, and training about 150 people at any one time.  I was on track for a $60,000 income that year already, but on a recent business trip to Los Angeles, stock options had just been offered to me, as well as a substantial raise. The real serious money was about to come rolling in.

The beginning of my corporate life was like sitting down to play the first two levels of a video game I had been anticipating for quite some time, only to discover it was just too easy for me to invest any more of my time in. As far as I was concerned at that moment, I had already proven to myself that I was going to win the game. The constant business trips eventually became boring to me. Though the meetings were all in different restaurants and cities, I was always meeting with the same people usually we would order the same things, talk about the same business, and have the same discussions after too many of the same drinks.

I decided it was time for me to step out of the rat race for a bit, and try and live a more interesting life than I was living. Making money, talking about how to make more money, training people, and in general just getting the business done was pretty boring after a while. My father had worked very hard until the day he died, and I did not want this to happen to me.

Before I could quit my job, I decided I should sell all my stuff, so I proceeded to sell my condo and car, big screen TVs, my CD and movie collection, my couch, my stereo systems, my dresser, microwave, coffee machine, waffle maker, dinner table, pots, pans, plates, knives, forks, spoons, phones, my bed, bedsheets, and even my towels.

With everything I had accumulated with my five years of productive work since I had left my childhood home turned into cash I was able to buy my backpack, quit my job, and begin my travels.

I bought a one way ticket to India. Why India? you might ask. A very well travelled friend who had hired me at the electronics firm originally had recommended it to me, of course by this time he had actually become one of my employees, but he was still a friend, and wasn’t resentful of me moving up so fast.

One night in a restaurant as we discussed my trip to India over steak and beer, some woman at another table, chose to interrupt us just to tell us that India was a horrible place and asked us why would we go there. We asked her if she had been and she said “No”. I chose to ignore her.

Kovalam India 94

Kovalam Beach In India

India was amazing, I could type story after story here about things that I saw in India, did in India, and experienced in India that are probably well beyond most peoples imagination. So I will skip that for now, but will give a few reasons why India was the best place I have ever been, of course I could also give you the same amount of reasons why it was the worst, but here I will just add the best.

I love beaches, I love waves, and surfing, I love snorkeling and scuba diving and India has the longest coastline in the world, the beaches are incredibly beautiful and usually almost completely unspoilt. It has the oldest cities in the world, with the oldest temples in the world in it. It of course has jungles, deserts, and the Himalayas are the highest mountain range in the world. An amazing history of being the birthplace of most of the major religion in the world. The first churches and temples of every major religion, always seem to be in India. Every jungle topped hill you can climb in India, has a view of ancient temples, stupas, churches, mosques, castles and fortresses, most of which are older than Western written history. It was a fantastic trip, I was present at many astounding parties with thousands of westerners in some amazing places, no one could ever understand without going there.

Hampi India 95

Hampi India in 1995

Ten months into my first trip, I returned to my home country of Canada for my brothers wedding, I had suffered a nasty parasitic infection called giardia in India that nearly killed me, I lost a third of my body mass, and looked almost like a walking skeleton, my short business haircut had grown ungroomed and uncut for almost a year. I tried to tame the hair for my brothers wedding, which had caused it to look really horrible. I guess I didn’t look as much like a winner as I did before I went traveling to at least some people. At the wedding one of my brothers friends came up to me, and said, “Why did you leave it all man? You had everything? ”

“Why did you leave it all man? You had everything? “

I didn’t know what to say to him, he had just finished university studying commerce, and I guess to him I was on a path to having everything he wanted before I left, namely Money.

I said “Everything man? I had nothing.”

I didn’t know what else I could have said, where would I start to explain to him that a life of working under fluorescent lights, and having only slight variations of the same experiences every day was not a life at all. Without the freedom to do what I wanted and go where I wanted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it is just an existence.

I could not write a book about the life I used to have, but the life I have now I could.

Obviously my money could not last me forever, so I often need to work, I returned to my home country in Canada to make a living two times. Although I was able to make good money again, I was not really able to adapt back into life under fluorescent lights. I preferred working in Japan, Korea, and Thailand, although the lighting is pretty much the same, being a stranger in a strange land is always exciting.

I am blessed that I can now work on this website and write for this blog for a living. I enjoy it. I am happy. The best thing about my current job, even though I am not writing about where I am, this particular article has been written during my travels to three different countries, I have been sitting in Kuala Lumpur for part of it, another part I was on a white sandy beach on Ko Samet Island in Thailand with my son, and part of it was written on the edge of the Mekong river in Lao where I sat and enjoyed a meal as the sun set over lush green tropical Asia.

I don’t make a lot of money doing this, I have to take the second class train, and buses where ever I go, but at least I am going somewhere. This to me is more important that being some rich corporate big wig.

I mentioned to a good friend of mine what my brother’s friend had asked me about “Giving it all up”, and he said to me something that seemed to explain the situation completely.

He said “You and him just have different priorities, that’s all.”

Maybe he was right, maybe that is all it is, just different priorities.

I have traveled a lot since then, seen a lot of things, and taken a lot of pictures, these are two of my favorites.

Mentawin People of Siberute 1995

Mentawin of Siberute

Khmer Jungle Temple Angkor Cambodia 1995

Khmer Jungle Temple Angkor Cambodia

Pictures From My Recent Holiday In Lao 2010

Recently I returned from a short trip to Lao, it was good, we had a fantastic hotel room with hot water, air con, satellite TV and everything for only $14 per night,  the rooms were cleaned every day, and the sheets and towels all changed etc.

We ate mostly french food but went to the local all you can eat Barbecue for $4 a person most evenings. The food was good.

The are pictures from a Buddhist park outside of Vientiane Lao.

Millions of tourists every year, cross the bridge within bike riding distance of these two places,  and don’t even know they exist.

Lao Temple Life Heaven Hell

Into The Mouth Of The Giant

Lao Giant Of Death

Giant Carries the Dead to the Next Life

Wold Eather Lao

World Eater

Multiheaded Lao Divine Figure

Divine Figure Watches All

Payana Faces Giant Of Death

Five Headed Payana Faces Giant Of Death

The pictures below are the  only pictures I have with me currently  from the Thai temple in Nong kai that were built by the same monk, after he built the Lao temple.  All though I do have more,  they are in Canada and I am currently in Malaysia. I do plan to travel back to Nong kai in a few months though to take photographs of it.

Thailand Buddhist World Eater

World Eater

Buddha Sits On Piyana, Rising above the Jungle

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If you have any questions or comments  please add them below.

America Has No Culture ?

I have been traveling or living overseas more on than off for almost two decades now, I have spent very little time with people of my native country of Canada, or native continent of North America. I have often worked overseas for Korean, Japanese, Thai, and quite a few British companies as well. Over halve of my adult working life has been spent as a stranger in a strange land.

I had a recent trip to Lao with a group of people, some of them I had met and talked to before, the majority were Brits. For some reason the first thing a group of Brits wants to know is if I am American, I of course tell them no I am Canadian.

For some reason at this point more often than not the Brits will start talking my ear off about how America has no culture, how they are always telling everyone what to do, and correcting my English. For some reason things like English Football being called Soccer in North America is a big deal. And how Potato Chips are actually Crisps not chips.

I actualy found this fascinating when I first started hearing all the opinions of America and Americans, but very often these things tend to touch a bit of a nerve about my home country of Canada also, the accusations of no culture, of being new, etc etc. Over time this has worn on me a bit. I became tired of this conversation a long time ago. I can pretty much predict what they are going to say all the time because I feel with some of these people this is the same list of things they say to every North American, and often with each other.

Now I have no problem with Brits, I have many British friends, and although we had this conversation once upon a time we eventually got past it and worked our way into truly interesting conversations and proper friendships.

But let me make a bit of a rebuttal here about North American culture.

First of all, games like Hockey, Lacrosse, Baseball, and North American Football did not come out of thin air, they were invented in North America, usually adopted from Native North American games and adjusted into our culture.

Halloween in North America is very different to what it is elsewhere, I dare say it is a unique North American culture.

Rock and Roll, Blues, Jazz, and Hip Hop as well as Country and Bluegrass Music were all invented in North America, this too is part of our culture.

North American Movies and Television are also part of our culture, although Americans have a much stronger influence on entertainment, you will find a large number of Canadians mixed up in the headliners for American music, movies, and television.

T-Shirts and Teddy Bears also come from America.

The problem is not that Americans have no culture, it is that you have adopted so many American cultures into your own you can not identify it anymore.

When I go to the stores in virtually every country in the world the Potato Crisps are called Potato Chips right on the bag, I guess the Americans just did a better job of marketing and selling their products, get over it. Same as too many people mistake Chips for French Fries, if there was a huge chain of fish and chips in the word, this wouldn’t have been such an issue. Yes, I realize that chips and french fries are not the same thing, I had my fish and chips wrapped in a newspaper when I was growing up.

Now I would like to take a look at Canada for a minute here, we have three official languages, English, French, and Inuit, but of course there are many other languages used and spoken. Often people only speak one of these three languages, they don’t generally live in the same neighborhood as each other, places like Vancouver on the west coast usually can not speak french, and 4000 odd KM away in Quebec City, generally they do not speak English, Of course there is the extreme north where there is the Inuit also. If you go all the way over to the east coast to places like Newfoundland, usually speak a mixed dialect of French and English, with some Scottish thrown in.

The US has a much higher population, with smaller gaps between settlements, causing more blending of cultures, but all together it can be called American Culture.

You see what happened is a long time ago now, 500 years ago now, and yes there are actually buildings that are almost 500 years old. People came to Canada, with their cultures intact, from many different places in the world, and generally did not settle together, keeping their culture intact until today, in fact I almost wonder if there aren’t more kilts and bagpipes in Canada today being worn then their are in Scotland.

Now I know 400 year old building aren’t that old, but there are an awful lot of them, and considering there have never been any great wars to destroy them, some of the cities like Montreal or Quebec City look very similar to what it must have been like walking around Europe around that time, even more so than Europe does today, with the exception of places like Austria.

I know England has a particular bar that is almost a thousand years old, but, I have actually been to Varanasi, and drank bang lassies in a lassie bar that has been there for close to six thousand years, so in the same way our 400 year old buildings don’t measure up to your very old buildings, yours don’t measure up to India’s.

There are building in New Mexico in the US that have been constantly inhabited for over a thousand years.

I am not sure exactly what culture we are missing, but we do have culture.

And to be honest, saying things like how rude Americans are is actually very rude of you.

I love Brits, I have had the absolute best times in my life with large groups of British friends, my mother is British, and I am also a citizen of Great Britain.

But just because a bunch of people packed up and went overseas together, it doesn’t mean they lost all their culture. Canada and the United states have just evolved over the last 400 years or so on a path of its own. As you have been evolving also in different directions.

No one however, has no culture.

As for Americans always telling everyone what to do, that is just the pot calling the kettle black, England used to tell 80% of the world what to do until recently, now it’s just America’s turn. England hasn’t been told what to do for many generations, it must be frustrating to be in a different position, the rest of us however are used to following orders already, and it doesn’t seem to bother us quite as much.

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