Archive for December, 2013

Thai Days: Ink

December 31, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog has cleared many airports and has normally looked fairly respectable. Always a good idea in an airport. Tomorrow I am going to be regarded with suspicion.

I have a hideous right hand.

It is blotched, blackened, my finger nails look revolting and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried, but I can’t get the ink off.

It started, as most disasters do, with a feeling of hope and joy. I’d packed my bags for the forthcoming visit to Lao then I saw a pen. A wonderful pen!

I thought “Hugh! Grab that pen! That’s your drawing pen! And that sketch pad! The one with thick, strong paper! And let’s get to work with a little bit of drawing! Pen and ink! You’ve done it before with spectacular results! Do it again!”

The pen looked healthy but had been half eaten by our beagle puppy.

As I mounted the stairs, filled with an urge to get pen and inking on the great Mekong river I realized that the ruptured pen had shed all its ink on my hand. Such a small pen! So much ink!

An hour later I decided that soap, every stinky fluid my wife could find, anything I could find under the sink, or anywhere else wasn’t going to work. My ink was here to stay. So here I am. With a hand that looks utterly disgusting. I will be using this hand to hand over passports, this hand will be seen by anybody with a bored or curious set of eyes. Airports are full of them!

My plan, and it’s not much of a plan, is to hope the ink will fade away while I’m asleep.

I will also select a sharp set of very good pencils and do my Mekong pictures with them.

Cheers! Hugh. Bangkok. Expect pencil sketches.

Thai Days: Lao PDR deforestation and land grabs

December 30, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog is going to Lao tomorrow. I was feeling cheerful!

Then, to keep the jolly atmosphere intact my wife sent me the following.

A grim picture of Lao. Misery loves company and this (if you are feeling miserable) will give company.

We’ll see how Lao goes. I want to enjoy a holiday. Yes, we’ll see how it goes!

Happy New Year!

Hugh

From: Caroline Petersen
Subject: Lao PDR deforestation and land grabs

The future of Laos

A bleak landscape

A secretive ruling clique and murky land-grabs spell trouble for a poor country

The Economist Oct 26th 2013 | OUDOMXAY AND VIENTIANE |From the print edition

THE Airbus A320 was ordered by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, but somehow ended up as the prized possession of Lao Airlines. From a window seat flying above Laos a visitor gets a sense of the state’s weaknesses. Deforestation stretches all the way to the Chinese border. It is so recent and so extreme that scientists from Sweden’s Lund university picked Laos as a testing ground for a new method of monitoring economic activity from space. By combining night-time satellite images with land-use data, they can estimate, with surprising accuracy, changes in agricultural and non-agricultural activity. For Laos, it also means monitoring the impact of Chinese and Vietnamese cash from space.

On the ground in the northern province of Oudomxay, most jeeps roaming the deforested valley bear Chinese and Vietnamese number plates. Four of the province’s districts are among the fastest-growing rural economies in the country, according to the researchers in Sweden. (Laos’s obscurantist government publishes little information about anything.) Investment is flowing into agriculture, typically rubber plantations, market gardening and other cash crops, much of it destined for the huge Chinese population to the north. The side-effects include a loss of forests and biodiversity, serious soil erosion and growing numbers of people in this multi-ethnic province being pushed off their land.

Chinese firms have secured rubber concessions in the province covering 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres). The idea is that tens of thousands of Chinese workers will eventually be needed to tap the rubber. In the past decade the government has granted land concessions across the country for up to 100 years, often at knock-down prices, to Chinese, Vietnamese and, to a lesser extent, Thai operators. More land is now in the hands of foreigners than is used to grow rice. The fear of one expert in Laos is the emergence of a landless poor.

Not all Chinese influence is welcomed by the government. Recently a deputy prime minister, Somsavat Lengsavad, announced the closure of a Chinese-run casino near the border that had attracted drugs and prostitutes along with gamblers. Yet Mr Lengsavad, ethnically Chinese himself, has his own patronage network built on granting concessions for Chinese-run special economic zones. And he is the point man for one of Asia’s most ambitious projects: a proposed 262-mile (421-km) passenger and freight railway connecting Kunming, in the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan, with Vientiane, the Laotian capital. The $7.2 billion price tag (including interest) is nearly as big as Laos’s entire formal economy. It will take 50,000 workers five years just to lay the tracks. Two-thirds of the route will run through 76 planned tunnels or over bridges.

The collateral for such a huge project lies in the mines of Laos. In other words, the extraction of natural resources in this undeveloped country is about to accelerate. Economic rents already accrue to an oligarchy, for which the railway, one way or another, will prove a bonanza. Among other things the question looms of how wide the corridor accompanying the railway will be. There is speculation about a Chinese road running alongside the track, eventually to the border with Thailand. A man who has seen the blueprint for a planned Chinatown east of Vientiane says that the final stop for the proposed railway is smack in the middle of new living space for over 100,000 Chinese.

At present, a bus is the only way to get down from the mountains of Oudomxay. Monsoon rains play havoc with the 200km stretch of road to Luang Prabang, which served as the royal capital until the Communists, after a long civil war, consolidated their power in 1975. (In Luang Prabang the king’s favourite Citroën car survives, unlike him and his family.) It can then take another ten hours, over rugged terrain, to get to Vientiane.

The capital is on the mighty Mekong river, which forms the border with Thailand. Though it still has a torpid air, Vientiane is growing fast in the hands of a Communist kleptocracy whose members queue up on Saturdays in their big cars to cross the Mekong for a dose of shopping across the border. For many of the remaining 6.6m Laotians, unease and sometimes fear are the predominant emotions.

Last December a well-known democratic activist and advocate of sustainable development, Sombath Somphone, disappeared. At the same time, the government clamped down on foreign NGOs, especially those advocating land rights. Two months ago the American embassy hung a banner from its water tower calling for the return of Mr Somphone. In September the head of the American-based Asia Foundation in Laos was told to pack her bags.

Unlike Myanmar, Laos has never had a Western-educated opposition leader to remind outsiders of the nasty nature of the regime. Indeed, Laos has not even the semblance of an opposition—and certainly no free press. It is a land of few books. Clergymen, artists, editors and schoolchildren undergo ideological study sessions. The trauma of its long civil war and of American carpet-bombing during the Vietnam war is never far away. One-third of the country is still contaminated by unexploded American ordnance. Hundreds of people lose limbs every year to cluster bombs.

In few countries do development agencies have to operate in thinner air than in Laos. In e-mails, foreign residents drop syllables from the names of Politburo members in attempts to outsmart new Chinese surveillance technology. The regime is constantly on guard against foreigners who might be seeking to “change our country through peaceful means”.

It is true that cash from China and Vietnam has helped to double the size of the economy in a decade. Dams have brought electricity to four-fifths of the population. Yet indicators of maternal health are worse than in Cambodia (which attempts a democratic façade), and levels of malnutrition are atrociously high. To make things look not quite as bad, NGO types say, the government deliberately went around feeding children in villages monitored by the UN for the Millennium Development Goals—until it was found out.

Despite all that, says one long-term resident who has worked with them, “five or six” people in the government are open to adopting a more balanced path. They hope to reverse rising inequality, repression and environmental degradation.

A senior government spokesman says, with a hint of regret, that Laos has given concessions on 30% of its land to foreigners. He says he loves his country and his people, but, asked what will happen if Laos continues on the current path, he takes out a pen and writes “Lenin 1917 Revolution”. Why such candour? “Imagine you and me and our sons were in a boat that sprang a leak,” he replies. “Would we jump up and plug the leak? Or would we watch the boat go under?

KalashnikofKatastrophy

December 30, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s blog has heard AK 47s fired. They make a snap, a sort of slap in the air. I’d describe it as an impersonal sound.

If the guy using it is incompetent (normally the case) it goes haywire. No more single shots. Auto! Auto AUTO! Bullets spray. Control is no longer an issue. The gun chatters away and every bit of chat is a bullet. The kid holding it can’t control it.

The gun is everywhere. It is hard to destroy. Ice, fire, dust, a dunking in a stream, hot, cold, – the gun works. It has killed more people than any other weapon ever invented. Kal, the Kreator! has died. This week. He invented it after escaping from a tank that had been zapped by a Nazi panzer. He created his gun in his hospital bed and all the authorities had a brief glance and said it wouldn’t work.

Its working really well. A five year old girl just got an AK round through her head in southern Thailand. They were trying to kill her father.

The AK is here to stay! Mr Kalashnikov rot away. You have created a curse.

Thai Days: Frozen

December 29, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s blog is waiting for Captain Phillips but really suggests a pop corn munching, family outing to watch Frozen while we wait for the good captain to thwart those nasty skinnies – the Somali pirates.

Frozen is “loosely based” on the Snow Queen fairy tale according to promotional material and “loosely” is perhaps a generous departure from reality. Or a bare faced lie with Walt Disney bravado. There’s no resemblance. Why bother loosely basing anything on anything or saying it is based on a true story when it isn’t?

The Snow Queen is a great story.

Frozen is a great movie.

They have nothing in common apart from snow and a queen.

I’d call that quite loose, actually.

But, and I must stress this, Frozen is a great film. Beautiful images, annoying songs that stick in your head and make you sing them, and a movie that will move you.

I’m not sure what Captain Phillips will do. He’s “based on real life”.

Hugh (Bangkok)

Unwanted!

December 29, 2013

Bangkok’s Most UnWanted

Buggly, AKA Bugs the Beagle, AKA lots of expletives that are simply too strong to print here, has, in the past week alone:

Defecated and released urine in, on, or within the vicinity of a piano, a piano stool, a sofa, several carpets, some shoes, a travel bag, most of a garden, much of upstairs. Many of these excretions were repeat offences. Many locations revisited. We are looking at a serial defecator here. Anybody in Quantico listening? Agent Starling?

Has also:

Eaten three lunches belonging to somebody else (me), four ballpoint pens (mine), one treasured chopstick (ours), everything on the lower shelf of a library (ours), eight (yes EIGHT) dishes of cat food intended for a cat (the cat’s), seven newspapers (mine), candy bars, and lots of plastic toys. This last lot my daughter’s property.

Has also:

Mauled woodwork, gnashed a petrified toad (then vomited – hardly surprising, it was a poisonous petrified toad), dragged things from here and left them there. Or here, there, anywhere and everywhere. Smashed two framed family photos, and has repeatedly attempted to copulate with another Beagle of the same sex, and…

Dismayed the neighbourhood with his five AM baying.

Members of the public encountering Buggly are strongly advised to SHOOT ON SIGHT. Anybody presenting a skinned Buggly will receive a considerable reward. The more bullet holes in the pelt the bigger the reward.

If you lack an assault rifle, grab an axe, a club, toilet brush and if that fails which it will (the little stinker runs like a hunter and that isn’t surprising – his breed was bred to run, hunt, chew) DO NOT LET HIM INTO YOUR HOME!

ED NOTE: PLEASE NOTE: Some members of the public have already stepped forward with helpful suggestions. Most involved violence; one idea from Hungary was to hang Buggly high. Good ideas about hanging and great goulash and paprika chicken recipes come from Hungary and I feel it to be an under-rated nation. More from Hungary in my opinion! A suggestion from Indonesia was to spray everything with pepper sauce. Yes. And no. Spraying a library with pepper sauce might deter a beagle but it doesn’t really motivate a reader to browse. We are still working on this issue.

A New Year Computer Spring Clean: Deleting a lot but here’s one from the archives that might be worth a read

December 29, 2013

W I N G S P A N

THE INFLIGHT MAGAZINE OF ALL NIPPON AIRWAYS • VOL. XXV

[WWW]

Italy

Going Slow in Tuscany

by Hugh Paxton

Ah! A lunch in Tuscany! The sun is warm. I’m in the mountains in a semi-abandoned medieval village (quite a few of the buildings are sprouting trees but it suits them). Beneath me is a lake, above are peaks and forests and a marble mine that provided the stuff of some of the most inspiring sculptures and buildings in Roman history. The hand written menu suggests options such as wild boar sauce with home made pasta, but I decide to opt for the trout.

The chef agrees that this is an excellent decision and the trout will be served tomorrow because he needs to catch it.

This was my first encounter with “Slow Food”.

Ah! Another lunch in Tuscany. The restaurant’s ceiling looks as if it is about to collapse. Death by salami! Some of the cured meat dangling above my head must weigh as much me! And if one of those things comes loose I’m history!

But heck! The antipasti is a sensation! And the olives are a must! The local wine’s not bad, not bad at all! Hic! Wow! Chianti! And I can see the vines that provided it!

The main course is fuelled by locally grown herbs and veggies so fresh they might have just jumped out of the kitchen garden. The recipe is four hundred years old.

Slow Food again!

I’d never heard of it.

Quick Research: Quick Executive Summary:

A multinational fast food chain opened a burger outlet near Rome’s legendary Spanish Steps. This so vexed Italian wine author Carlo Petrini that he decided to strike a blow for culinary, biological and cultural diversity. And start a University of Gastronomic Sciences. And inspire a very unusual revolution.

We are what we eat, said he. And Petrini reckoned that was why lots of people were getting dull and obese. And Fast Foody. And not having meals with their families and generally losing touch with each other.

To date 100,000 people have joined the Slow Food Movement. They revive traditional recipes, they establish seed banks to preserve varieties of fruit and veg that might not be commercially viable, but that taste nice. There’s a lot of philosophy involved but the bottom line seems to be Slow Foodies want long chatty meals with family.

They want people to enjoy eating together healthily.

Petrini describes Slow Food as a ‘Noah’s Ark’ for species and varieties that would otherwise be consigned to extinction by agro-monoculture and tasteless commercial globalization. Grow local, preserve local, buy local and eat local. Why fly a foreign tomato all the way from Australia when you could grow one yourself or buy one grown by your neighbor?

He might have a point!

I asked the butcher how long it took him to cure a ham. Six to eight months.

“Try some. It’s good.”

I can’t vouch for the trout; ironically, given the theme of my research, I hadn’t the time. But I’m sure it would have been a sensation!

Life In Prison For Being Gay?

December 28, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog reckons if you are gay, you are gay, and a prison sentence isn’t the solution. There isn’t a solution because there isn’t a problem. An Englishman who helped break the Enigma Code and who was instrumental in destroying Nazi Germany was gay. He was prosecuted for it, sentenced to chemical castration and then killed himself with a poisoned apple. The whole story of his life filled me with unease. Poor fellow. Maltreated. He has just received a Queen’s Royal Pardon. If his restless spirit still walks this world maybe he’ll feel what? Betrayed? Bullied? Pardoned? His was never a sin in the first place.

Anyway that’s enough of that. To the point! Uganda! Life sentences for gays. It’s Kathleen, as usual!

From: Kathleen J., Care2 Action Alerts [mailto:actionalerts@care2.com]
Sent: Saturday, December 28, 2013 11:35 AM
To: Hugh Paxton
Subject: Life In Prison For Being Gay?

Care2 subscriber since Jul 16, 2012 Unsubscribe | Share on Facebook | Take Action
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action alert!

The Ugandan government could make homosexuality punishable by life in prison – unless the president rejects the law.

Please sign the petition today! Stand Against Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law

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Dear Hugh,

The Ugandan Parliament passed a bill that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by life in prison – and the only person who can stop it is Uganda’s president. If this bill becomes law, not only will LGBT people be sent to prison for the rest of their lives, but people like HIV doctors could face prison time, too.

Homosexuality is already a crime in Uganda — LGBT people can face a 14 year sentence just because the government has decided that their sexual orientation "destroys" the Ugandan family unit. LGBT people face horrific discrimination, with local tabloid papers, neighbors, and even family members outing them to turn them in to the police.

This climate of fear and hatred is not the way to protect the Ugandan family unit, and it’s not going to cure the HIV epidemic in the country.

President Yoweri Museveni is all that stands in the way of this vicious bill – and now that foreign governments are speaking out against the bill, he’s saying he hasn’t decided yet if he’s going to pass it. He told the press, ‘I will first go through it, if I find that it is right I will sign but if I find that it is not right I will send it back to parliament.’

Tell President Yoweri Museveni to abolish the Uganda anti-gay bill.

care2 Thank you for taking action,

Kathleen
Care2 and ThePetitionSite Team

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Year-end concert / Kompira update

December 28, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s blog thinks this will be a good one! Richard’s music is first rate. But I’m here. He’s there. So I won’t be there! If you are there (Tokyo) give it a go. There’s also a bit of stuff about saving a mountain. It’s called Kompira and it is rather close to my heart. A lovely mountain. Richard’s trying to save it. He’s like that. Probably why I love him! He is wading through murky waters and he doesn’t stop. He knows what is right and fights for it. In a gentle, but persistent way.

Read on.

Year End Concert.pdf

Thai Days: There’s going to be a cock up coup

December 28, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog reckons there will be a military intervention in the next few days. Everything is too messy, too violent, too reckless and too lacking in direction. And it has been going on for far too long. The Army, in my opinion, doesn’t know what sort of coup to have. Who is the new boss? The new government? The Red Shirts? The Yellows?

I’d vote for the Army. They seem to have some ideas. And more guns than anybody else

I anticipate increased political savagery in my beloved Land of Smiles. Tanks on the streets might calm things down. The riot cops have lost it. They’re protesting about the police authorities and protesting about the protesters and rampaging. If riot cops start fighting riot cops then that’s looking like a bit of new issue.

But, as usual, even in times of floods and turmoil, I stress that Thailand is a lovely country, as a visitor you will not be disturbed. Use your head, read the maps, ask somebody where not to go. And if they say don’t go there, don’t go there! Enjoy your holiday and ignore the frightening advice from your embassies.

This is still a lovely country to visit and a joy to live in!

Hugh

Thai Days: My wife just cut up my Mastercard!

December 28, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog has had a Mastercard for years and has rarely used it. Imagine my surprise to learn this evening that my beloved wife had destroyed it.

She’d obviously had a tiring day – a quick inspection of my lentil veggie stew revealed meat, small slivers of salty bacon, not for consumption but to give it a little bit of spirit and that was an error worthy of complaint.

But my credit card? She’d obviously had a very tiring day! And my credit card got the kicking it deserved.

I hadn’t cancelled my Jib Jab, my daughter had run up US100 in games fees (sneaky or inept, I’m going for inept) and I had bought us all a few Christmas presents. I will always treasure my own presents. A razor, two DVDs that don’t work, a new hat and umm. that was about it for me!

The exciting option awaiting me is that I can apply for a new card.

A word to the wise for women who encounter idiots at work, morons in government, colleagues who are not quite what they could be, heavy traffic, moments of doubt..don’t chop up your husband’s credit card. The poor bastard is trying to make you happy!

Hugh, Bangkok


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