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Friday, October 28, 2011

Bangkok Under Water

I lost count of how many times I've been to Thailand years ago. It's been one of my favorite countries for decades and-- aside from specific Thailand trips-- any time I go to Asia, I always try to spend at least a week in Bangkok or Phuket or Chiang Mai. A few weeks ago we saw how there is a big threat of flooding and of Bangkok sinking into the sea, but we looked at predictions that Bangkok would be underwater by 2030. Looks like the timetable got moved up by two decades!
Severe flooding in Thailand on Friday threatened central areas of Bangkok, a bustling capital barely above sea level and facing inundation at the next high tide predicted at 13 feet.

Residents who decided to stay in their homes despite government pleas to get out waited anxiously to see if the highest tide, forecast for Saturday afternoon, would overwhelm defenses along the Chao Phraya River and its many canals.

Bangkok's outer suburbs were already submerged but the central city had been largely spared the misery Thailand has been suffering for months in the nation's worst flooding since 1942.

...The high tide Saturday, the Red Cross said, will put "extreme pressure" on Bangkok's elaborate system of dikes and other flood defenses.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ordered work crews Friday to cut channels in roadways to allow faster water drainage, according to the state-run MCOT news agency. But the plan was rejected late in the day in favor of dredging canals and using pumps, the Bangkok Post reported.

Health concerns were rising with the water.

Bangkok residents waded through murky waters without knowing what lurked within, the risk of infection and communicable disease worrying health officials. The government sent out crocodile hunters after reports of crocodiles and snakes in the filthy floodwater.

"We were hearing disturbing reports of dangerous animals such as snakes and crocodiles appearing in the floodwaters and every day we see children playing in the water, bathing or wading through it trying to make their way to dry ground," said Annie Bodmer-Roy, spokeswoman for the humanitarian agency Save the Children.

With the Chao Phraya River overflowing its banks, virtually all the city's best hotels are having flooding problems and the old airport-- mostly used for domestic flights these days-- is also flooded. The main tourist areas (Silom and Sukhumvit) are having serious flooding problems. We're talking about a multi-billion dollar industry. Now we rent an apartment (on the river) when we're in Bangkok but one of the hotels we used to always stay at-- the Shangri-La-- reports that their 70-90% occupancy rate for this time of the year is now down to 30%.

UPDATE: Worst Flooding In Generations

Thais are making the best of it but... what else could they do? The flooding has gotten worse, both around Bangkok and in the city itself. Extensive damage to automotive parts factories, computer parts factories and a major pharmaceuticals center are starting to impact the worldwide supply chain, a quarter of the country's rice crop has been wiped out, and the death toll rises every day.
Thousands of people in Thailand have been living in filthy floodwater for some three months-- the most devastating flood the country has seen in decades caused by unusually heavy monsoon rains. More than 400 people have died in the Thailand floods, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.

As a protracted battle to stay dry unfolds until the massive pool of stinking water and garbage drains into the Gulf of Thailand, which could take months still, even simple things like disposing of human waste can become complicated.

Tourism is the only thing that's dried up in Bangkok and now it's beginning to impact Phuket and other tourist areas in the southern part of the country. And things could well get worse.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Sex Tourism-- Philippines... And Jamaica: Unrestrained Capitalism Taken To The Extreme

Snow means Sweden

One of my friends has taken to fantasizing out loud about "Swedish girls." He should just go get a dvd; I'm sure there are scores of them on the topic. Instead he keeps asking me about planning a trip with him to Sweden. I should probably tell him that since 1999 it's been illegal to hire a prostitute in Sweden-- and that 10 years later Norway adopted the same approach. It's not illegal for the prostitutes to offer their services... it's illegal for the johns to buy them though (the Kvinnofrid law... try the Google). Brothels are also illegal. I suggested he take his fantasies to Bangkok. I don't know if they have Swedish girls in the brothels-- Roland tells me there are foreign girls working there these days-- but I suspect that if you have enough money to spend, you can get whatever you'd like there... kind of a Randian Republican dream market. Alas, he's programmed against Asian women. Plenty of Caucasians aren't. Asian sex tourism is rampant.

The other day the U.S. Ambassador to the Phillipines, Harry Thomas, was forced to apologize to the whole nation after claiming that 40% of male tourists to that country are there for the sex. He sent a cellphone text Friday to Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who was on a visit to Vietnam, expressing regret for his comments.
"I should not have used the 40% statistic without the ability to back it up. I regret any harm that I may have caused," Thomas said in the text message, which was released to journalists.

The US embassy spokeswoman Tina Malone said Thomas "offered his deep regret" for his comment made during a conference last month.

The US would continue to be a "strong and dedicated partner of the Filipino people in combating the global scourges of human trafficking and sexual tourism," she added.

Thomas also told the conference on human trafficking in the Philippines last month that the sex tourists included Americans and that it was "something I'm not proud of." He urged Philippine authorities to prosecute all foreign sex tourists, including Americans.

The Philippines is trying to revive its tourism industry and erase its reputation as a sex tourism hotspot.

Wikileaks had posted several U.S. diplomatic cables about the rampant sex trade industry-- including the exploitation of children-- in the Philippines. "Sex tourists reportedly came from Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia to engage in sexual activity with minors," said a leaked embassy cable dated February 17, 2010... "In 2009, the Bureau of Immigration deported two foreign sex offenders and pedophiles, and in a joint program with the Australian Federal Police denied entry to 19 Australian sex offenders upon their arrival in the Philippines. The government also cooperated with the US in prosecuting American nationals under the terms of the U.S. PROTECT Act of 2003, which criminalized the commission of child abuse by American nationals overseas, including child pornography and other sexual offenses against a minor." Another leaked cable named Sabang Beach in Puerto Galeraand the province of Mindoro Oriental as well known destinations for sex tourism.

Trafficking of Philippine women and children for sex is an international business. And according to Rene Ofreneo, a former Philippine labor undersecretary and an expert on the sex trade, "the number of prostituted persons in the Philippines is about the size of the country's manufacturing workforce." That same report cites a recent study that showed there are about 75,000 children, who were forced into prostitution due to poverty. The Washington Times reported that "Teen-age girls are being forced into prostitution due to the Asian economic crisis. In Davao City, the Philippines, there are more than 1,000 prostituted teen-age girls; customers pay as little as from 50 cents to $2.50. This rise in prostitution increases the spread of AIDS, especially as contraceptive costs have gone up with the currency collapse and bankrupt government cuts in distribution programs." Most of the customers are Filipinos but the country is one of the top destinations for pedophile sex tourism, much of it financed with Japanese capital.
A Philippine Adventure Tour costs $1,645, including round trip airfare, hotel accommodations and guided tours to the bars where men purchase sex from prostitutes for as little as US $24. Tour owner and operator Allan Gaynor promises that customers "never sleep alone on this tour" and recommends that the customer have sex with a different girl every day "two if you can handle it."

...13,000 Australians, second in number to Americans, a year visit Angeles City, a center of prostitution surrounding the former Clark U.S. Air Force base in the Philippines... Men from Australia and Great Britain are primary suspects as perpetrators of child prostitution in the Philippines. Two of the three-pedophilia cases recently decided by Philippine courts involved British nationals, although there are reportedly more Australian suspects.

Maybe this is where Ambassador Thomas got his statistics:

Maybe while hubby's away exploiting child prostitutes in southeast Asia, his wife is off on a little sex tourism of her own though:

Monday, October 03, 2011

Traveling While Non-White

A fascinating series of question-- and responses-- were posted in Reddit's travel section recently. The correspondant, who describes himself or herself as an ethnic Chinese who grew up in the U.S., is trying to figure out if it's better to travel abroad as a Chinese or an American citizen. I recall the brisk business in little Canadian flags that American travelers used to sew on their backpacks and jackets at one time-- mostly when there were especially hated and warlike American presidents like Nixon, Reagan and Bush. I'm not sure how far Obama has moved in that direction.

The questions, though, aren't just about Chinese people, not by a long shot.
I'm wondering if non-white travelers face additional challenges while traveling, whether it's racism, unwanted attention, unexpected assumptions by the locals, etc.

For instance:

• What kind of discrimination would non-white travelers face in overwhelmingly white countries like Poland or Russia?

• Are blacks able to blend in while visiting Africa? How about Latinos in Latin America and the Caribbean?

• Are Asians subject to the vicious inter-Asian rivalries while traveling in Asian countries? Do the locals try in vain to converse in their native language?

• Are Indians treated well in Pakistan and vice versa? Do Arabs or Iranians get refused service in Israel?

And, of course, it's the 100+ responses that make the link above worth clicking. No matter what race you are, you'll find these shared experiences worthwhile.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Cusco-- A Video Tour

Incredible food, profound culture, friendly people, mysteriously impressive history and... free alcohol. Where can you go to find this? Peru. Roland loved it; I missed it but I've been assured that when considering travel plans, Peru and the city of Cusco, in particular, offers something for everyone (not to mention that it's quite affordable). Everything from camping, hiking, bungee jumping, paragliding, fine wine, excellent food and mind boggling scenery can be explored all within a 100 mile span. 

If the short blurb above hasn't convinced you, take a peak at this online web-series I've discovered that sets the pace as two young American travelers set forth to explore, the ancient imperial city of the Incas, the town of Cusco. Explore22 is an online travel series from San Francisco's BaseStudio, geared towards all audiences with a focus on helping, discovering and exploring unique communities. You can begin your journey with part 1 of this 4 part web series.